+ Reply to Thread
Page 2 of 2 FirstFirst 12
Results 21 to 36 of 36

Thread: The Crane Startles Kunlun, by Wang Dulu

  1. #21
    Senior Member littleli's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    276

    Default

    Remaining part of Chapter 4

    Langzhong City was very prosperous. There was so much to see that Jiang Xiaohe had no time to blink, looking constantly in both directions. Yang Xiantai shifted his gaze around as well, but he focused his attention on the women in the streets. When they'd walked to the main southern street, Yang Xiantai said, "Why don't we leave past the south gate and take a look around?" Jiang Xiaohe asked, "What's out there?" Yang Xiantai said, "It's quite bustling outside of the south gate. There's a big wharf there, as well as taverns and all kinds of businesses. And also... Hey! Brother Jiang, you don't go see beauties often, do you? There's plenty of those out there too." When he said this, he grinned and radiated a kind of youthful lewdness. Jiang Xiaohe asked, "What are beauties?" Yang Xiantai said, "I mean, *****s. There are more than thirty parlors by the river and each one has five or six beauties. There really are some that look like they've walked out of a painting. There once was one called Luna, but don't talk about her with anyone; she belongs to our captain! I know a really pretty one called Abalonette, but she's probably not awake yet. We'll wait until we're done drinking and eating, and I'll take you there for a gander on the way back. When they see how young, good-looking and rich you are, well! I'm not sure what they'll say to seduce you!"

    Jiang Xiaohe understood that Yang Xiantai's so-called beauties must be prostitutes. He thought, Visiting prostitutes is no good thing, but I guess I should go take a look. Roaming Jianghu without having been to a brothel, wouldn't that make people laugh? The two walked and talked, and left through the south gate before they knew it. A glance and they saw the billowing, surging Jialing River. This river was truly much, much bigger than the Ba River or the Qu River, and the masts on the water looked like a forest, they were simply countless. There was a large section of buildings on the wharf and a street alongside them. It was short, but there was a myriad of shops lining it, and the crowd of passersby was thicker here than in the city.

    Jiang Xiaohe felt exhilarated and gave praise, "Langzhong really is a great place!" Yang Xiantai said, "Langzhong is the biggest place in Northern Sichuan. Why do you think I came here and didn't want to leave?" Jiang Xiaohe asked, "How long have you been here?" Yang Xiantai looked up as he counted, saying, "I was fifteen when I came to Sichuan. I studied martial arts under my master in Hezhou for three years, and then I joined the Fuli Security Firm in Langzhong. I'm 22 this year, so I've lived here more than three years." Jiang Xiaohe asked, "You're not from this province?"

    Yang Xiantai shook his head and said, "No, I'm from Henan, where my father still lives. He made some enemies in Jianghu and was afraid I would eventually be the target of dark plots, so he sent me to Sichuan and told me to learn martial arts from Han Jing, the Drunk God of Pestilence. The Drunk God of Pestilence's martial arts are pretty decent, but he drank all day. He wasn't really serious about teaching. I haven't really learned much in three years, so I lean on his reputation to be able to mess around out here. But I'm always thinking that there isn't much of a future doing what I'm doing, so I still plan on going back to Henan to look for my father. That county's even better than here, but I just haven't been able to scrape together the travel expenses. To get to Henan, at the very least I'll need more than a hundred silver taels on hand." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Don't worry, when you go, come talk to me. I can lend you a hundred taels, and when you get rich, you can pay me back."

    Hearing this, Yang Xiantai was elated. He walked to the bank of the river and looked outward. Many of the helmsmen and skippers on the boats were acquainted with Yang Xiantai, so he greeted them and introduced Jiang Xiaohe to them one after another. He heaped some praise on Jiang Xiaohe as well, saying, "This is the famous hero from Hanzhong, Jiang Xiaohe the Three-headed Tiger. He's our captain Jiao's newest friend!" Seeing that while Jiang Xiaohe was young, he was also quite tall, well-built and well-dressed, no one dared look down on him.

    Jiang Xiaohe stood at the riverside for a while with Yang Xiantai, watching the vigorous waves of the flowing water. He suddenly felt a pang of sadness in his heart, so he turned to Yang Xiantai and said, "Why don't we find a place to get a drink?" Yang Xiantai replied, "Sure, sure." They left the river bank and went north a short distance to a tavern on the west side of the street. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't read its name. He followed Yang Xiantai up into it and saw that there weren't many people here. Since it was a local, upscale tavern, most of the people who came to drink here were rich merchants and bodyguards with money, but since the big boats had not yet arrived, there were only four or five patrons there besides the two of them. They found a table by a window and sat down, ordering all kinds of food and a few pots of wine. The two then enjoyed their wine together. However, Jiang Xiaohe was still very unhappy inside.

    Looking out of the window, there was the roiling Jialing River. Water birds chasing the sails glided back and forth, appearing carefree and unhurried, while Jiang Xiaohe had a belly full of worries. The more he drank to drown his sorrows, the more sorrows he had. He suddenly pointed out the window and said, "My surname is Jiang, and the big river over there is me!" [Note: Xiaohe's surname Jiang and the word for river share the same character.] Yang Xiantai raised his cup and laughed, "This river doesn't count as big. Brother, if you want to compare yourself to a river, you should use the Great River. You haven't come across it, have you?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No, I haven't." Yang Xiantai said, "That river is much bigger than this one. Comparing the two, it's like the Great River is the dad and the Jialing River the son." Jiang Xiaohe laughed out loud, but afterwards, he thought again of his father's tragic demise, his remarried mother, and his little brother who had gone with their mother to become a son in the Dong household. He couldn't help becoming angry, sad and ashamed all over again. He forced himself to hold back his tears as he took another sip. He sang to himself, first a clapper opera song from his hometown, and then a short ditty, and from the short ditty he moved onto a mountain tune.

    Sitting across from him, Yang Xiantai the Short Blade smiled as he listened to him sing, but Jiang Xiaohe only reached a couple bars of the mountain tune before abruptly stopping. He slapped the table and gave a long sigh. Yang Xiantai smiled and asked, "What's up, brother? Are you troubled?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and sighed, saying, "Very." Yang Xiantai said, "Nothing will come of your worries. A real man should be generous. If there's money, he'll spend it; if there's wine, he'll drink it. The enormous problems, he'll deal with them later. We men of Jianghu have no home and no job, but we have a body of martial arts and two arms of strength. What's to fear? What difficulties can stand in our way?" Then he added, "Let's hurry up and finish off this wine and I'll take you to a place where we can have some fun."

    Jiang Xiaohe asked, "What place is that?" Yang Xiantai said, "It's that place I was talking about before with the beauties; there's a good one. Hey! You only need to see it and you'll completely forget all your troubles!" Saying this, he laughed and poured Jiang Xiaohe another cup of wine. Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right, take me there for a look on the way back." Thus, the two hurriedly ate and drank with nary a word passing between them. In a short time, the few pots of wine were finished and the food all eaten. They were both a little drunk, and after Jiang Xiaohe paid for everything, the two left the tavern.

    Yang Xiantai was himself only 22 years old and Jiang Xiaohe was not yet fifteen, but the pair of flush-faced young men rocked and swayed as they walked along, finally dipping into a small alley. Yang Xiantai pointed at the three characters written on the wooden arch at the entrance to the alley and said, "Look! Beauties Alley!" Jiang Xiaohe could only recognize the middle character, so he thought, Not only do I have to learn martial arts, but I need to find a way to read a few books. Otherwise, I won't be able to understand any letters that people send me!

    Walking down a lane, they saw a sparse few huts, all of them with open gates and all of them made of earth and straw. Yang Xiantai led the way, guiding Jiang Xiaohe into one of them. Right when they entered, a half-old granny in the courtyard smiled and said, "Sir Second Yang, how come you don't come by as often as you used to?" Before Yang Xiantai could respond, a woman came out of the eastern room pointing and said while smiling and feigning anger, "Hmf! And I'd figured you dead somewhere out there!" A relaxed smile spread over Yang Xiantai's face and he said, "Ah, what a heartbreaking thing to say about me!" The woman walked over and grabbed hold of Yang Xiantai's arm, saying, "Fine! Just get yourself inside, all right?" Then she turned around and pointed at Jiang Xiaohe, asking, "Who this then? He's like a little big man!" Yang Xiantai winked at the woman and said, "This is Sir Jiang, a famous Jianghu man." The woman smiled suggestively at Jiang Xiaohe and said, "Oh? Well, my mistake. Pardon me, sir!"

    Upon seeing this woman, not only did Jiang Xiaohe's troubles not go away, he in fact became even less happy, thinking, What the hell? This is a beauty? She's at least thirty. She's dressed all in red silk, and the rouge on her face is redder than a monkey's ***. Her eyes are slanted, her nose is crooked, her lips look like Pigsy's, and she's got two duck feet that look like catfish. Beauty, indeed! The woman was about to pull Xiaohe in, when he immediately glared at her. Yang Xiantai hurriedly nudged her on and smiled at Xiaohe, "Brother, you first!" Jiang Xiaohe went inside and saw that the place was relatively clean, furnished with a red lacquered table and stools. There was a flower vase and vanity mirror on the table, and a red damask blanket and pillows embroidered with flowers on the bed. The character of double happiness was even stuck onto the wall, like a newlywed's room. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help daydreaming, thinking, If there would be a day that I could marry Aluan and live in a house like this, everything would be okay.

    It wasn't until now that Yang Xiantai and the woman came in. They were probably talking outside, so while the woman continued flirting with Yang Xiantai, she dared not joke around with Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe sat on a stool a while and stared into space, living out the fantasy in his head. When he was done, he became bored and said to Yang Xiantai, "This is kind of pointless. Why don't we go back?" Yang Xiantai couldn't bear to leave that beauty of his right then, so he said, "Brother, what's the rush? Why don't we go back after we eat?" Jiang Xiaohe stood up and said, "If you don't go back, well then I'm leaving!" Saying this, he pushed open the door and left. Yang Xiantai chased after him and quietly said, "Brother, don't go!" Jiang Xiaohe stopped and turned around, asking, "What?" Yang Xiantai caught up to him and whispered, "I didn't bring any money. Lend me a couple taels!" Jiang Xiaohe angrily took out a banknote and without seeing how much it was worth, flung it at Yang Xiantai. He turned around and walked away. The woman could be heard saying something seductively behind him, probably asking him to go back, but Jiang Xiaohe couldn't hear as he stomped toward the gate to leave.

    Right then, a man was coming in and Jiang Xiaohe ran headlong into him. The man became furious, raised his foot and kicked at Jiang Xiaohe's midsection. He put a lot of force behind it and since Jiang Xiaohe was a bit drunk and dizzy, the kick knocked Jiang Xiaohe onto his bottom. Jiang Xiaohe fumed as he crawled up and rushed at the man to hit him, yelling, "You son of a *****! Why'd you kick me!?" He swung his fist but the man dodged it and yelled back, "Little bastard! What are you doing here? You look like you just got pushed out of your mom. Watch where you're going!" Jiang Xiaohe leapt up with a brandished fist to strike him in the chest. The man caught his wrist and pulled inward, almost causing him to fall over again.

    Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help running a couple steps. He quickly stopped himself and turned around, throwing another punch at the man. The man was about to catch Xiaohe's wrist with his hand again, when Jiang Xiaohe moved his hand out of the way and bounded behind the man. The man hastily turned around, but Jiang Xiaohe had already jumped up and landed a punch right on his face with a crack. Though his fist was small, he packed a lot of weight behind it. The man immediately felt dizzy with an ache in his nose.

    Jiang Xiaohe was about to strike another blow, but was held back by Yang Xiantai. Yang Xiantai urgently said, "Don't fight, don't fight! We're all friends!" Jiang Xiaohe rebuked him, "What friends? He raised his foot and kicked me for no good reason!" The man used the sleeve of his big blue coat to wipe the blood from his nose, and then reached into it and took out a dagger with a leather scabbard. He unsheathed it and the glare from it dazzled. Jiang Xiaohe saw that the situation had gotten worse since he had no weapon at hand, and afraid he would lose badly, ran out of the gate in a few steps. He pounded his chest and yelled, "You can't beat me with your damn fists, so you pull out your dagger? All right, kid, don't you run. Wait here for me while I go get my fellow, and then we might as well fight to the death!" Saying this, Jiang Xiaohe went towards the alley entryway. At this point, the man was going to give chase with dagger in hand, but was urged bitterly to stop by Yang Xiantai.

    Jiang Xiaohe had exited the alley and sprinted all the way back to the Fuli Security Firm at the eastern limits. Upon entering, he went to the room to fetch his saber, and then went to the stable to get his horse. Without preparing a saddle, he led the horse out of the shop while carrying his saber. Just then Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God was coming from the east. Seeing Jiang Xiaohe like this, he hurriedly ran over and asked, "Brother, what are you off to?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Don't concern yourself about it, captain. I'm going to Beauties Alley to fight some goon!" He leapt onto his horse and galloped west. Jiao Dechun shouted after him, "Brother! Jiang Xiaohe, stop and tell me what's going on first!" Jiang Xiaohe was in no mood to listen. He spurred the horse on toward the river bank and as he rode, he yelled, "Out of the way! Out of the way! I'm not going to care if the horse runs you over!" The people on the street ducked to the side in succession, looking in surprise at the lively child atop the horse.

    Jiang Xiaohe's horse arrived in short order at Beauties Alley by the river. When he got to the gate of the brothel, he stopped his horse, climbed off and tied its reins to the door rings. Then, holding his saber, he charged in and yelled loudly, "Bastard, son of a *****! Get out here and we'll see who's better. We'll see who lives and dies!" At that moment, the man with whom Jiang Xiaohe had had fisticuffs was sitting in the northern room seething, as he had one of the harlots clean up his nosebleed. The girl was offering up fawning words, saying, "Sir Cheng, why would you fight with that child? It's not worth it. Even your son is bigger than him!" Yang Xiantai the Short Blade had known by now that the situation wasn't good and had since slipped away.

    When he heard Jiang Xiaohe yelling in the courtyard, the one named Cheng hurriedly snatched up his dagger as he yelled from inside and dashed out of the room. He saw Jiang Xiaohe striking the Side-striding Shoe pose as he glared his way, raising his simple saber askew in his right hand and saying, "Good little one, come here! It's best you go change your fellow for that knife of yours is a bit short!" Cheng's face was purple with fury. He sneered with his thick lips and scoffed, "Exchanging blows with a kid like you, do I really even need a weapon?" Having said this, he suddenly lunged forward in an attempt to snatch away Xiaohe's steel saber. Jiang Xiaohe slashed his saber down as Cheng quickly dodged to the side, grabbing hold of Jiang's left arm with his left hand. He thrust forcefully with his body turned, aiming to stab Xiaohe's left underarm with the dagger in his right hand. Jiang Xiaohe quickly threw his body to the right while cutting downwards with the saber in his right hand.

    In the nervous flurry, Cheng released his grip on Xiaohe's left arm with a grunt and fell sitting on the ground. Fresh blood leaked out of his left leg. He suddenly propped himself back up and holding the dagger, stabbed again at Xiaohe with the true ferocity of a hungry wolf. Jiang Xiaohe jumped a couple steps back and swung at Cheng's head with his blade. Cheng's disadvantage was that his weapon was not long, so he threw his dagger like it was a dart. However, it missed its mark and flew over Jiang Xiaohe's shoulder, sticking in the wooden window. The harlots inside the window called out curses with fright.

    Jiang Xiaohe stood up straight and asked angrily, "Are you so quick to want death?" Cheng was weaponless and hurriedly backed away, but because the wound in his left leg was too deep, retreat was not convenient and he stumbled again to the ground. Jiang Xiaohe wanted to give him another non-fatal wound and was about to slice down with his saber when two people stormed in from outside and blocked Xiaohe, saying, "You mustn't! You mustn't! We are all familiar!" Xiaohe saw that it was Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God and Qi Yong the Hooked Blade. Both of them were out of breath and appeared extremely anxious. Jiang Xiaohe held his blade askew as before and fumed, "What do you mean familiar? I don't know him! Tell him to get out of here and come find me after he's healed his wounds. I'll be waiting for him!" Though Cheng was wounded he had not yet given up. As he was helped up by Qi Yong, he said haughtily, "Fine, you just leave me your name! Where do you live? Let's meet again three days hence!"

    Jiang Xiaohe beat his chest and said, "I am Jiang Xiaohe! I've come to Langzhong to visit friends though I've yet to arrange a place to stay. Anyhow, a year or half a year, I'll not leave. I'll be strolling daily upon the main road!" Cheng nodded and said, "All right, we shall fight again then!" Nearby, Jiao Dechun and Qi Yong became even more worried and desperately pleaded to both sides, with Qi Yong finally persuading Cheng to go back into the brothel.

    Jiao Dechun pushed and prodded Jiang Xiaohe out past the gate. Jiang Xiaohe turned back and mocked, "Good little one, you try and think of a way! Lord Jiang is not afraid of you!" Jiao Dechun nervously stamped his feet. He had ridden his horse here as well, so he urged Jiang Xiaohe onto his horse. He climbed onto his own and followed behind, out of Beauties Alley and toward the eastern gate.

    When they reached the eastern gate, Jiao Dechun spoke to Jiang Xiaohe gravely, "Brother! Let's not go back to the security office just yet. Come to my house, as there are many things I still need to discuss with you!" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right!" Thus with Jiao Dechun leading, they entered a small lane and came to a black lacquered door. Jiao Dechun climbed off his horse and said, "We're here. This is my house." The door was closed when Jiao Dechun stepped up to it and used the knocker. A servant man opened the door from inside.

    The servant was in his 40s and wearing a short jacket just like the attendants at the security office. Jiao Dechun told him to take the two horses and Xiaohe's saber, saying, "Send them back to the office, would you?" He hastened over and said another few things to the servant before coming back to Xiaohe, smiling, "Please, enter! There aren't many people in my house." Xiaohe went inside and Jiao Dechun with him, shutting the door behind them. He then welcomed Jiang Xiaohe into his receiving hall. The receiving hall was only three rooms, but the window lattices were of glass. The middle of the hall was decorated with a few pieces of cumbersome furniture, while swords and sabers hung on the walls. There wasn't much in the way of paintings or books.

    Jiao Dechun invited Jiang Xiaohe to sit. He walked back outside with his large belly and shouted some while standing by the screen door. He then came back inside and said, "In my house, there's only me and your sister-in-law. I'd just plucked her out of the brothel last year. I do have an old housekeeper who does the cooking and the menial housework, and then there's old Lu the servant. I got him from the security office." Just then the old housekeeper brought out a teapot and teacups from behind the screen door. She'd just entered the room and was about to pour the tea when Jiao Dechun waved his hand and said, "Put it away, put it away! We're not drinking tea. Quick, go heat the wine and bring it out, and then go get a few of those salted eggs!" The old housekeeper left the room.

    Jiao Dechun's dark face looked worried as he said, "Brother, you've gotten yourself into some trouble today!" Jiang Xiaohe frowned at him and said, "Brother, what kind of trouble are you talking about? Was it because I beat that guy up? What's his story? I'm not afraid of him!" Jiao Dechun waved his hand vigorously, saying, "It's not like that! Brother, you're young but you've come here all the way from Southern Shaanxi, so you must understand these matters of Jianghu. It's said, 'Fight the office, but not the official!' They also say, 'You're better off cutting a good man ten times than glaring at a bad man once.' That man you cut named Cheng, not only is he an official, but he's a bad man."

    Jiang Xiaohe angrily asked, "What does he do?" Jiao Dechun said, "He's part of the prefectural government, in charge of overseeing the sending and receiving of money and grain. It's very broad! He's the favorite of the prefect, and there isn't anyone in Langzhong Prefecture that doesn't know that there's an Sir Eighth Cheng in the government office." Jiang Xiaohe then asked, "Does he know any martial arts?" Jiao Dechun said, "How could he not? He's the disciple of Li Liansheng the Flower Fist in Bazhou, and he has many friends in Jianghu. You should ask around. You won't find one who knows Sir Eighth Cheng and doesn't know that he is well-rounded in both learning and martial skill!" Jiang Xiaohe scoffed coldly, "Who cares if he's well-rounded? I can't beat him in learning, but I would like to try out his martial skill. When he's healed, if he doesn't come find me, I'll go find him!" Jiao Dechun forcefully waved his hand again, saying, "That won't do!"

    By this time, the old housekeeper had brought out the wine and a couple plates of drinking food. Jiao Dechun filled a cup of wine for Jiang Xiaohe and smiled, "Please, drink first!" Xiaohe accepted it and drained it in one gulp, and then poured himself a refill. Jiao Dechun praised him, "You can drink!" And then said, "Brother, I feel like I've known you for a long time, so please excuse me if my words are too direct. If we're talking about martial skill or courage, guys like you are few and far between, but brother, you lack a bit of experience if only because you are still young. For instance, that Eighth Cheng from today is one never to be provoked. He strolls every day along Beauties Alley and doesn't pay when he visits the girls. There isn't one person in Langzhong Prefecture who doesn't fear him. You gave him a cut today, and there'll be no appeasing him. He may pull some levers in short time and take you to the government office. Would that not be a pointless defeat?"

    Upon hearing these words, Jiang Xiaohe became rather a bit frightened because of the lesson he'd learned in Xuanhan County when his buttocks were flogged by planks. He knew that most of the officials at court listened not to reason, and when he lifted his wine cup, his hands were a little shaky. Jiao Dechun said, "Brother, think about it. Could we really beat him? He's a bad guy, nothing like a hero of Jianghu where rigor meets rigor and it's fist against fist, blade against blade. If that were the case, we'd have nothing to worry about!"

    Jiang Xiaohe slammed his wine cup on the table and said, "I'm going!" Jiao Dechun shook his head and said, "You can't go! Unless you leave Northern Sichuan altogether. Even then, he has more than a few friends out there and words travel quickly on the wind. He'll be able to scheme against you anywhere. Furthermore, you fought him today in Beauties Alley, and word of things that happen at the brothels spread quickest. Before two days are past, upriver and downriver everyone will know. And people won't say you left; they'll say you fled, and that will look bad even to me!" Jiang Xiaohe fumed, "Then don't worry about it, brother. I'll wait for him, and before he can send anyone to capture me, I'll have it out with him!"

    Jiao Dechun shook his head and said, "It would be impossible to have it out with a nasty piece of work like him. I have a way. You'll stay here for now, but you mustn't go out, not even to the security office. I'll arrange a room for you in the inner yard. In these years I've been traveling in Jianghu, I've earned quite a bit of money, but the people in my house are few. Also, I'm often at the office doing business and entertaining friends, so I don't have a lot of time to take care of the household. In the last few days, there've been thieves in the night though I haven't lost much. Your sister-in-law is extremely scared however, and it's been very inconvenient for me to find someone to come here, so I'm begging you, brother, to stay here. For one, you'll be hiding from Eighth Cheng, and two, you'll be looking after my household for me..."

    Before Jiao Dechun could scarcely finish, Jiang Xiaohe sank into displeasure, thinking, So you want to be my friend so I can watch your house for you, huh? Jiao Dechun poured another cup of wine for Xiaohe and continued, "In a day or two, I'll go seek out Eighth Cheng, but not to apologize for you. I'll make him understand where you come from. I think if he gets to know your background, he must be able to speak a little of friendship. Then, when he's better, I'll throw a feast and have the two of you meet. Today's incident will be old news and you'll be given a pass for cutting him. Afterwards, if you wish to be friends with him, you can, and if you don't, then just pay him no attention. After all, you're here to seek out the Xia of Langzhong, and you won't leave until you meet him. Whether or not you make other friends here is secondary; we just have to make sure we don't offend anyone. Brother, do you feel I speak correctly?"

    Xiaohe took another gulp of wine and nodded, saying, "Okay, I'm relying on you, but I can only stay here four or five days. After that, I won't be able to take it if you keep me from going outside every day!" Jiao Dechun said, "It won't take four or five days. I'll go see Eighth Cheng today and by tomorrow or the next day, I'll be able to bring you two together." Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right! I'll leave it up to you. Let's drink wine for now!"

    Thereafter, the two talked loudly and drank heavily. Jiao Dechun shared a few of his exploits from his time in Jianghu with Xiaohe, and then talked about Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong. Jiang Xiaohe learned that Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God very much admired the martial arts and reputation of Xu Lin. He admitted that he was no match for Xu Lin, but at the same time Jiao Dechun was very disapproving of his temperament. It seemed like the two were not on good terms, or had even exchanged words once. Jiao Dechun was not a weak drinker, and as he talked and drank, that round, dark face of his gradually turned deep red, as if it was a giant ball of blood. Xiaohe had drank wine with Yang Xiantai the Short Blade at a tavern that morning, and though he had gotten into a fight, he had not completely sobered up. With the new wine adding to the old wine, he couldn't help his head becoming hazy and his eyes clouded.

    A short time later, the old housekeeper brought over more food, but the two couldn't eat much more. Jiao Dechun stood up and asked, "Brother, you done eating yet? Go! Go to the inner courtyard and I'll introduce you to your sister-in-law!" He rubbed his beard and stuck his ample belly out, laughing, "You'll know once you see. Your sister-in-law is truly a beauty. When she was in Beauties Alley, her nickname was Luna. There were more than a few people vying for her, but she ended up falling into my hands." He added, "I sure spent quite a bit of money. With that much, I could have married ten women! Ha ha!" The two drunkards went outside and stumbled to the inner courtyard. There were three buildings surrounding the inner yard. The northern house contained three rooms, while the east and west had two rooms each. The western house was probably the kitchen due to the fact that smoke was fuming from a window.

    Jiao Dechun pulled Jiang Xiaohe into the northern house. Through Jiang Xiaohe's drunken eyes, the reds and greens that made up the interior were even more beautiful than that room in the brothel on Beauties Alley. Jiao Dechun stuck out his tongue and said, "Hey! You inside! Come out and meet our good brother!" A delicate voice answered from inside and a red curtain lifted, out from which walked an elegant twenty-something beauty wearing a red coat and green pants, both satin-lined. On her face, rouge was pressed against powder, red and white like a peach blossom, but more able to smile. Her hair was brushed with much oil, shining so brightly it dazzled Xiaohe. A pair of golden earrings hung from her ears, swinging this way and that. Jiao Dechun stood a bit hypnotized as he stunk of alcohol, saying to his wife Luna, "Come and meet our brother Jiang Xiaohe newly from Southern Shaanxi. I've invited him to stay in our home. When the thief finds out, he won't dare to come again, because though you may think Brother Jiang is young, he is mightier than us all!"

    Upon hearing this, Luna put a smile on her face and said, "Oh my! That's the best! Truly..." She put on a look of dismay and said to Xiaohe, "Your brother is always at the office. At night, it's just me sleeping here with the old housekeeper. Starting last month, a thief has been disturbing us. Once midnight arrives, the roof tiles above always start making noise. At first I thought it was a cat, because nothing's gone missing so I didn't say anything. One day, your brother came back at night and saw it with his own eyes: a big man flat on the roof. But when the man saw him coming, he ran off scared!"

    Jiang Xiaohe thought, That's strange. If this thief doesn't steal anything, then why does he go crawling up on the roof? Standing by and hearing his wife tell about his scaring the thief away, Jiao Dechun's drunken face became ever redder and ever more purple. He became so angry his beard almost stood on end, fuming, "That thief must not think much of the Golden-armored God if he dares to come make trouble here! I can't tell anybody about this, because if they found out, it would do damage even to the reputation of the security firm!" Luna blushed and thrust her red lips askew, "Are you really in the security business? You can't even protect your own home!" Jiao Dechun patted Xiaohe's shoulder and earnestly asked, "Brother, you must help me! Stay at my home a few days!" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right! With me, no thief would dare come!" He added, "You need to prepare a weapon for me." Jiao Dechun nodded and said, "Yes, yes. I've already arranged everything for you. There probably isn't much going on at the office tonight, so let's go drink a little bit more!" He led Xiaohe back into another building, whereupon Xiaohe saw that the things he'd left at the Fuli Security Firm had all been brought here, including the saber he'd just used in the fight with Eighth Cheng along with its scabbard.

    Jiang Xiaohe was so drunk he had a bit of a hard time standing, so when he spotted the bed, he collapsed headlong into it. Jiao Dechun nodded, "Good. Brother, get some sleep now so you'll have the energy later to nab the thief!" He told the servant to lay a blanket on Xiaohe and then went back to his wife's room to take a nap.

    Upon laying on the bed, Jiang Xiaohe fell deep into sleep, and when he woke, the sunlight remained but a sliver on the window. It was not early in the day and Xiaohe's drunkenness had left him. He remembered the events of that morning and thought, I don't know how influential that Eighth Cheng is, but if he really took me into government custody, it would be the end of it all. Those officials all talk to each other and if they found out about what I did in Xuanhan, then wouldn't it be even worse? Then he thought, Jiao Dechun is no good friend. He's roped me into this to keep thieves away, but I still have to show off some moves for the people of Langzhong! When it came dinnertime, Jiao Dechun returned from the security office and once again ate food and drank wine together with Jiang Xiaohe. He said, "The Xia of Langzhong is almost back, and when he does, I'll take you to meet him for certain." He then added, "The cut you gave Eighth Cheng this morning wasn't shallow! Afterward, he had to be carried out of the brothel on Beauties Alley. Not long ago, two government officers went to the security firm looking for you, and asked about where you came from and where you were staying. The situation was they wanted to arrest you immediately, but I put a stop to that. I told them that we're all familiar, to wait until Sir Eighth Cheng's leg was better. They could do anything then, but first to leave me some appearances. Then I gave them five strings of silvers each, and they left after that. For now, things aren't so bad as any situation, but even so, it'd be better if you didn't go outside for the next few days just in case that Eighth Cheng tries something else!" Jiang Xiaohe laughed coldly, "As long as he doesn't send officials after me, I'm not afraid of anything else!"

    Jiao Dechun raised his cup again and prodded Xiaohe to drink. Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "I'll drink no more. I have to defend against thieves tonight!" Jiao Dechun laughed, "With you looking after my home for me, I can go to the office with an unburdened mind. When I originally started a security firm this big, whether day or night, I had to oversee everything myself. I couldn't just spend all my time at home looking after my wife!" When he finished, he laughed loudly, drank a cup of wine and left.

    When Jiang Xiaohe finished eating, the servant took away his cup and plates, and before long, lanterns were hung as it grew dark outside. Because Xiaohe had taken a long nap during the day, he was now glowing with energy. He fastened his belt, rolled up his sleeves, and eagerly drew the saber from its scabbard. He brought it to his chest, and then sauntered outside with his chest puffed out. He looked up and saw the stars, dense and numerous, and the littlest bit of moonlight. The eastern, western and northern houses were all lit with lanterns. Jiang Xiaohe shook the saber with a whoosh as the moonlight reflected off of it. He stepped across chains and ran through a course of Kunlun bladework in the courtyard. He thought, If the thief comes, he won't leave without a few cuts from my saber! Then, he came to the front of the northern house and jumped straight up, almost reaching the eaves. He fell with a thud onto his bottom. His buttocks ached, but he had not let go of the saber in his hand.

    The lady in the northern house asked in surprise, "Oh dear! Who is it?" Jiang Xiaohe angrily replied, "It's me! Sister-in-law, don't be afraid!" He was extremely embarrassed. He thought, This won't do. My skills are weak yet. I'm afraid I won't even catch a thief tonight! But he was undeterred. He stuck the blade in his hand on his back and then took another leap for the roof. He grabbed onto the eaves with his two hands and, not caring if he made any noise, he climbed up hurriedly. His body had made it onto the roof, but the heavy tread of his feet sent a few roof tiles crashing loudly onto the ground. The lady in the house screamed out in fright again. Jiang Xiaohe drew out his saber and sat furiously down on the roof, thinking, I'll just wait here. We'll see if that thief will come or not.

    At this time, the first watch rang out on the street. Jiang Xiaohe waited on the roof straight from the first watch up until the day grew light. He was on the verge of falling asleep on the roof tiles, but there hadn't been even the shadow of a thief. Both disappointed and annoyed, he hopped off the roof and went into the eastern house to sleep. He slept until it was time for lunch, at which point Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God had already come back from the security office. They ate lunch together, but as before Jiang Xiaohe dared not drink too much wine. Jiao Dechun heard that Xiaohe had waited the night previous on the roof to no avail and said, "It must be that the thief knew you were here. He was shaken by your renown and dared not come!" Xiaohe's face reddened and couldn't help feeling ashamed.

    After lunch, Jiao Dechun returned to the office. Jiang Xiaohe closed the gate and practiced jumping onto the roof in the courtyard. He practiced falling and jumping back up, and then jumping up and hopping down. He had kicked off more than a few roof tiles in the process and frightened the housekeeper so, she didn't dare go to the northern house. In the northern house, Luna lifted aside the window curtain and peeked out. She smirked, dropped the curtains, and hummed a tune she learned in the brothel from inside. Jiang Xiaohe didn't do anything but practice roof-jumping. After ten-some turns, he had actually improved quite a bit. This was a slight relief to him as he went back inside to sleep.

    When evening came, Jiao Dechun had not returned and Jiang Xiaohe ate dinner by himself. Afterwards, he polished his blade, and then went outside. With the blade on his back, he continued to practice roof-jumping. By now, Luna was no longer smiling, nor was she singing. Instead, she quietly muttered curses. They were curses from the extremely vulgar patois of the brothels, and on top of that, they were in her mumbly, mountain-magpie-like accent. Jiang Xiaohe didn't understand a word, so he paid her no mind. He hopped down from above and then jumped up from below. After training thus seven or eight turns, Xiaohe felt winded, so he sat down on the roof tiles. The sky was dark now, but this night's moon was bright than the last making the stars less visible. Below, the eastern house was without light. At first the western house was lit, but after the second watch, the light went out, likely because the housekeeper had already gone to sleep.

    In the northern house, the lantern light always bright. Luna began playing the pipa, and the more she played, the louder and better sounding it became. Jiang Xiaohe was so entranced by it he forgot he was on the roof. He thought to himself, The women from Beauties Alley are good with their hands after all. They can even play stuff like this, but it's too bad she can't sing. If we got Aluan to come out here and had her sing a mountain song, it would be that much better! Thinking of Aluan made his heart ache. I have money now, and a horse and clothes. Were I to return home, no one would look down on me. But there is still one thing: I haven't completed my martial arts training. How can I go home to get revenge and take a wife? Thus he hoped for Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong to return more quickly, to meet him and see if he would make a suitable master for himself. If that wasn't the case, then he would leave Langzhong and travel upon Jianghu again, searching for the Dragon of Shu to ask him to be his master. Sitting on the roof made his buttocks hurt, so he crouched to the side and faced down, holding the saber in his hand.

    Before he knew it, it was past the third watch, though in the northern house, Luna had still not yet slept. She would play the pipa for a while, and then she would stop for a while. It seemed as though she knew a lot of melodies. The pipa lulled Jiang Xiaohe near to sleep. Just then, he spotted someone across the way jump over the wall at the end of the screen door. Taken aback, Jiang Xiaohe grasped the saber in his hand more tightly and stared down below. It was clear under the light of the moon, a handsome man in his 20s, tall but skinny, wearing a blue satin short jacket and pants. He wasn't holding a weapon, and furthermore didn't appear to be fearful at all. He swaggered along to the sound of the pipa straight toward the northern house. He didn't looked up to the roof, but Jiang Xiaohe had stood up and brandished his saber, thinking, What a bold thief!

    At this point, the man had arrived in front of the northern house. He sang a lyric along with the pipa music, "Upon meeting the lovely lady, my spirit is broken!" Jiang Xiaohe jumped off the roof with a thump and swung his saber, yelling, "Your mom's spirit!" The man hurriedly ducked away in shock and leapt to the side, pulling out a thirteen-link iron chain coiling-dragon flail from his waist. The stick flew and the chains rattled, as he countered Xiaohe's attack. Xiaohe met the flail with his saber, but it caught in his opponent's chains. Xiaohe quickly pulled his blade out and pressed forward with a diagonal cut. The man sneered as he dodged to the side and shook his flail once more, seeking to snag Jiang Xiaohe's steel saber once more. Jiang Xiaohe swung his sword directly at the man, causing him to step back a few paces, and then pressed forward hastily with a few steps of his own. The saber and the flail met for five or six exchanges until the man's coiling-dragon flail was cut through by Xiaohe's steel saber. Xiaohe continued to rush at him with everything he had, swinging his blade in a horizontal cut. The man flew up onto the western house and looked down with a scoff, "Little one, what is your name?" Jiang Xiaohe didn't answer as he too leapt onto the roof carrying his saber. "We'll meet again!" said the man as he turned to a neighbor's roof and fled.

    Jiang Xiaohe was unable to give chase. He stood incensed on the roof for a while, and then gave the roof tiles a chop, saying, "This wasn't a thief. It must have been Luna's lover!" He hopped off the roof and immediately noticed that not only had the pipa music stopped, but the lamps had also been put out. Jiang Xiaohe angrily ran to the door of the northern house and pushed on it forcefully, yelling, "Good woman! It turned out you're not a good person at all! I have to tell Brother Jiao about this!" He cursed some more, but the door wouldn't budge and no one answered from within. Jiang Xiaohe slashed at the door a couple times before going to the outer courtyard with his saber to look for the servant, but the door to the servant's room was shut tightly as well, and behind the window came the snoring of a sound sleeper.

    It wasn't until Jiang Xiaohe kicked the door a few times that the person inside stirred, asking, "Who is it?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Hurry and get up! Go find that captain of yours. I have some things I need to tell him." The servant inside said, "Young sir Jiang, what is it you want our captain for?" Jiang Xiaohe's anger had not yet subsided, "Just get him back here quickly. I'll tell him myself in person. If you ignore me, I'll kick down your door and kill you! Look at the saber in my hand!" Saying this, he gave the ground a few nicks with the blade. The servant frightfully sputtered, "I'll go! I'll go! Please be patient, young sir Jiang!" Thus, the servant put on his coat, opened the door and stepped out. Jiang Xiaohe threatened him again with the saber and said, "Hurry and go to the security firm office. No matter what, you've got to tell the captain to come back immediately. Or else, I'll go find him and end our friendship!" The servant agreed repeatedly before opening the gate and leaving under the moonlight. Jiang Xiaohe shut the gate and paced in the courtyard with his saber. Neither the housekeeper in the western house, nor Luna in the northern house made a peep.

    A while after the servant left, a knock came to the gate. Jiang Xiaohe rushed to open it, still holding the saber. He saw that the servant had brought back Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God. Xiaohe said, "Brother Jiao, do you know what just happened here? Your wife..." Jiao Dechun quickly waved his hand and said, "Brother, stop shouting! Let's talk inside!" Jiang Xiaohe carried the saber angrily and walked with him through the inner courtyard and into the eastern house, whereupon the servant lit the lamp. Jiao Dechun told the servant to leave and said quietly, "Brother, look at me. I have yet to sleep. There are still five or six guests, all important businessmen from the city. There looks to be one job that sets off in a couple days to Lüzhou! I might even have to oversee this one myself!" Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Don't you care only about your bodyguard matters. You need to think about what to do with your wife. You told me it was a thief, but it wasn't one. It was your wife's lover. He comes when you're not home. Your wife plays the pipa to let him know. He uses a seven-jointed flail and I just fought him off!"

    Upon hearing this, Jiao Dechun stood speechless for a while, and then he waved his hand, saying, "Brother, you mustn't make this public! I'll lose all my face as the Golden-armored God if this gets out! I'd already guessed that this was the case early on. Your sister-in-law, that woman, I took her out from Beauties Alley, so how good could she possibly be? There's nothing I can do. Do you really want me to face a death sentence for killing a woman like that? It's not worth it, so that's why I invited you to live here. I figured if that person knew that even if I was away, there'd be a friend of mine at the house, he wouldn't dare come!" Jiang Xiaohe scoffed, "That pipsqueak wasn't afraid! It looks to me he'd come even if you were at home!" Jiao Dechun glowered when he heard this, saying, "Don't get angry, brother. I have a way." As he said this, he rolled up his sleeves and went outside. In short order, Xiaohe heard the sound of kicking against the door of the northern house, then the sound of the door opening. After that, he heard the whacks of a face being slapped and the weeping of a woman. The woman cried for a while, and then petered out. The door of the northern house closed again as if nothing were going on inside.

    Jiang Xiaohe grew angrier, thinking, Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God is such a big man, but it turns out he's afraid of his wife. What would I do with a friend like that? Why would I keep staying here? I'm leaving early tomorrow for the Fuli Security Firm to get a horse and then I'll find somewhere else to stay. I'll wait three days for the Xia of Langzhong, and if I haven't heard that he's returned by then, I'll leave and look for another famous master with skill and ask to be his disciple. Thus, he shut the door and fumed for a while longer before falling asleep.

    By the time he got up the next day, it wasn't early, but he saw that the door to the northern house was still closed. Jiao Dechun had probably not awaken. Jiang Xiaohe put together his traveling sack alone, and with it slung over his shoulder and the saber under his arm, he opened gate and left, without even the servant knowing. He grumbled to himself angrily as he came out of the small lane. He immediately saw a bigger cluster of human activity on the eastern gate road than on previous days with many people buying and selling things. In fact that day was a market day. Jiang Xiaohe entered the main office of the Fuli Security Firm and saw Yang Xiantai the Short Blade there. Yang Xiantai looked a bit surprised, asking, "Why aren't you staying at the captain's house anymore?" Jiang Xiaohe simply shook his head, saying, "I'm not staying anywhere. I'm leaving!" As he said this, he threw his bundle and saber onto the ground and went outside to prepare a horse.

    Yang Xiantai went after him, saying, "Didn't you want to meet the Xia of Langzhong? I heard he returned yesterday!" Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe stopped in his tracks. He came back quickly and asked, "Is that true? Where does he live? Tell me and I'll go meet him immediately!" Yang Xiantai the Short Blade looked sheepish after having divulged the information, saying to Jiang Xiaohe, "Yesterday, our captain told me not to tell you that the Xia of Langzhong was back!" Jiang Xiaohe glared at him and asked, "Why?"

  2. #22
    Senior Member littleli's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    276

    Default

    CHAPTER FIVE

    Arduously seeking a master, he resolves to raise the rafter.
    The well-traveled gallant angrily banishes the Motley Star God.


    Yang Xiantai waved his hand and said, "Not with any ill intentions! It's just that our captain thought you were young and skillful, so he wanted to become good friends with you. In a couple days, he'll be going to Lüzhou with an escort party, and he wanted to ask you to look after his household until he got back in at most a month. Then, he was going to invite you to become a bodyguard at this security firm. In the end, he'd have an additional reliable aide. If you were to meet the Xia of Langzhong, then it would all be uncertain, since the Xia of Langzhong is also most fond of young men of skill. If he met you, he'd be sure to like you!" Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly said, "Cut the nonsense. Just tell me, where does the Xia of Langzhong live?" Yang Xiantai said, "It's not far from here. Head east, and then follow the big road south. Go five miles and that's it. His village is called Junction Hamlet. There are a few shops there too, so it's like a town market." Jiang Xiaohe nodded, "All right, I'll go meet him now!" He picked up the steel saber from the ground.

    Yang Xiantai asked, "Are you really going to go fight him?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "None of your concern. You go put my stuff away!" He went outside to the stable and readied his own horse. He then led his horse out of the security office and saw that there were even more people on street. Riding a horse through this was simply impossible. Xiaohe slipped the saber next to the saddle and headed east with the horse while carrying a leather whip, shouting, "Make way!" Before going very far, he spotted a large man standing across the way, watching him with an unwavering smile. Xiaohe saw that this slim-faced, small-eyed man was in his twenties and wearing a blue satin short jacket and pants. Indeed, it was the man that Xiaohe had clashed with the night before but without the coiling-dragon flail at his waist.

    Upon seeing him, Xiaohe's rage grew, to say nothing of the man's sneer. Xiaohe pushed forward and grabbed hold of him, saying, "Okay! You dare show your face on the street? And you dare laugh at me? You're a thief!" The man grasped his arm and snickered, "What? Do you really want to fight me? Forget you, where's the Golden-armored God?" At this point, Jiang Xiaohe had tucked the whip into his belt. He raised his right fist, jumped up, and punched the man in the mouth. The man became furious and leapt forward, yelling, "You little rat! How dare you hit me!" As he said this, he shoved Xiaohe's left arm away and swung his fist at Xiaohe.

    Xiaohe dodged it and swung hard but missed. He performed a Left-right Whipping motion while rushing forward. The man bent to the side and reached out to push Xiaohe, but Xiaohe cut slightly to the right and took hold of the man's approaching fist with his left hand. With his right hand in a tight fist, he ferociously pounded at the man's left flank. The man bent his body in pain, flailing his right hand and grabbing with his left, while also kicking in Xiaohe's direction. Xiaohe hastily dodged away and ran a couple steps to the right. The man turned and rushed at Xiaohe. Xiaohe threw a feigned punch and leaned swiftly down. The man quickly raised his right foot for a stomp, but Xiaohe took the opportunity to perform a Hall-sweeping Leg, catching the man's right foot and sending him crashing to the ground. Bystanders ran off to the margins in fright as the man rolled himself back up, pulling a leather sheath from inside his jacket. Out of the sheath he pulled two bright and shiny daggers and held them one in each hand. His face showed murderous intent as he waved Jiang Xiaohe over, saying, "Come here!"

    The bystanders scattered even farther away at this point. Jiang Xiaohe ran next to his horse and drew his saber from its saddle. Just as he did this, he heard a sudden loud bustle from the bystanders. It was because three horses were galloping from the east. A black horse immediately caught Jiang Xiaohe's eye for he recognized it. It was one that he'd hurriedly mounted after jumping down from the inn in Wanyuan County. Later on, a thief from the dilapidated temple in Xuanhan County had stolen it, and because of that, he had even been dragged unjustly to court. Jiang Xiaohe no longer had any interest in dueling with that man. He raised his steel saber and stormed at the man riding the horse, saying, "Get off! Get off! That horse is mine!" The gawking bystanders erupted in laughter, saying, "The kid' probably a lunatic!" The man holding the daggers lost some of his ferocity when he saw the three horses approaching, but still angrily prepared to take the opening to get at Xiaohe.

    Xiaohe used one hand to parry with the saber as he used the other to grab the bridle of the black horse. He looked up and glared, saying, "Return the horse to me and nothing will happen! I lost this horse in Xuanhan County! A god damn horse thief fell off of it to his death, and now it's in your hands. Does that make you a thief?" The man on the horse was in his thirties, handsome with a slightly red face and dressed affluently. The two men who followed behind both looked to be servants.

    The man smirked, and though Jiang Xiaohe's manner was offensive, he didn't grow angry, asking calmly, "You don't speak erringly. This horse was brought here from Xuanhan. Yet, I did spend several hundred taels of silver in buying it. If you like it, I can give it to you without accepting one silver in return. However, you must stop talking like this!" Jiang Xiaohe jumped in anger and said, "The horse was lost by me. I can stop calling you a thief, but do you expect me to start complimenting you?" He jumped up in an attempt to pull the man off the horse.

    To his surprise, the man leaned over with a slap to Xiaohe's forehead, dizzying him and sending him backward. He quickly steadied his feet and swung his saber at the man on the horse. The man jumped off the horse and came in sideways, grasping Xiaohe's wrist with his left hand and snatching away the saber with his right. He gave a low kick, causing Xiaohe to fall to the ground with a thud. Xiaohe yelled angrily. Just as he stood up, the man kicked again, making Xiaohe fall another time. Xiaohe rolled away and got up, yelling, "Okay, okay, okay. Throw down that blade and we'll have a contest with fists!" The man smiled, tossed the saber to the ground and beckoned with his hand, saying, "Come over here!" Jiang Xiaohe rolled up his sleeves and charged at him, employing a Long Fist rolling chop. The man waited calmly for Xiaohe to draw close and easily again sent Xiaohe face-first into the ground with an angled kick.

    Xiaohe rolled over, picked the saber up from the ground on his way up, and swung it at the man who'd kicked him. The man had already gotten back on his horse when he smiled and said, "Need you come back for another hit? If you're undeterred, we can go to my house and contest with swords. There are too many people here, and it wouldn't do to hurt any of them." Jiang Xiaohe beat his chest and said, "Who's afraid of you!? Where do you live? I'll go with you!" He spun to look for his own horse so he could get back into the saddle. By now, the well-dressed man on the black horse had already turned his horse around and was riding off to the east with the two servants. As he left, he looked back and beckoned with his hand, "Come, child!"

    Jiang Xiaohe had just mounted his horse and was about to brandish his whip to give chase when suddenly someone stood in the way of his horse. It was Yang Xiantai the Short Blade. Jiang Xiaohe said with frustration, "What are you doing? I can't suffer this loss! Getting bullied by someone in the middle of the street, I have to go to his house and have it out with him!" Yang Xiantai waved his hand and said, "Don't go hurrying off! Get off the horse, and we'll go back so we can talk!"

    Jiang Xiaohe urged his horse to go, saying, "Anything you have to say, just say it to me here!" Yang Xiantai urgently signaled Xiaohe with his eyes, "It's something I can only tell you when we return. It's very important!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "Forget it! Get out of the way! Let me go after them!" When he said this, he swung the whip and spurred the horse on, but Yang Xiantai stood stubbornly in front of the horse, anxiously saying, "Who do you think you're chasing? Do you know who that was? That's Sir Xu the Xia of Langzhong!" Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe was instantly dumbstruck and stared off into the east where the three horses were already far gone. It was as if all the courage had left his body. He was unable even to lift his whip.

    Yang Xiantai said, "Come down! If you have something to say, let's say it back at the security office. If you'd chased after him, you wouldn't have made it to the Junction Hamlet; you'd be injured by Sir Xu at the side of the road!" Jiang Xiaohe sat in a daze. He slowly dismounted the horse, whereupon the people watching all laughed, one saying, "This little one was defeated by Sir Xu!" Another said, "We should've told him to give chase, just let him go all the way with it!" The man who Jiang Xiaohe had just thrown to the ground, Luna's lover was still holding the two daggers in his hands. He sneered at and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Little one, do you still dare to face me? Do you have the skills?"

    Jiang Xiaohe made a fist and fumed, "Who wants to face you? You're nothing but small fry!" The man charged at him with the two daggers, but was obstructed by Yang Xiantai. The man snickered, yelling, "Little one, if you have the skills, come to the Junction Hamlet today. I'm staying in Sir Xu's home! Come and we'll face off. We wouldn't even need to disturb the Xia of Langzhong. Just come with your long weapon and I'll punish you for him!" Yang Xiantai seemed to know the man as he pushed and urged him to go away.

    Jiang Xiaohe led his horse despairingly back to the Fuli Security Firm with his saber. Jiao Dechun's nephew Jiao Rong had seen the Xia of Langzhong give Jiang Xiaohe a beating on the street and followed them back. He couldn't help but glance over at Xiaohe through the corner of his eye, grinning with satisfaction. Jiang Xiaohe paid no one any attention. He entered the office and tossed down his saber. He sat in a chair though his buttocks ached from being thrown to the ground, and stared into space with a furrowed brow. Yang Xiantai walked over and said, "Brother, you're too foolish! No one could suffer the losses you've suffered today! The man you were fighting at first, he's one of the Xia of Langzhong's subordinates, Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God, but there's a limit to his abilities. Then, the Xia of Langzhong came with some men. Couldn't you tell by that manner of his? Even if you didn't, you should have first asked him for his name before you fought him. How hard did you stumble today, I wonder? Not only can you never become a bodyguard, you can't stay here any longer!"

    Hearing Yang Xiantai prattling in his ear, Jiang Xiaohe stood up and stamped his foot, saying, "Stop talking. If you keep talking, I'll cut you with a blade!" Jian Rong smiled darkly and said, "Young Sir Jiang, getting angry at us is easy, isn't it? If you had the ability, you'd go find the Xia of Langzhong. He lives at Junction Hamlet south of here!" Jiang Xiaohe stomped and said, "Fine! Just watch me!" He scooped up his saber and hurried outside. Yang Xiantai hastened after him and when he left the office saw that Jiang Xiaohe had already led his horse through the gate. By the time he reached the gate of the security office, Jiang Xiaohe had already mounted his horse, riding to the east fearlessly. Yang Xiantai stamped his feet and said, "Oh no! He's gone this time! He'll get gravely injured and the Xia of Langzhong will send people to carry him back here. It'll truly be shameful for the security firm!"

    Jiang Xiaohe rode his horse with whip in hand, driving people off the street until he reached the road outside of the eastern gate whereupon he let his horse fly. Behind him, a number of the idle men at the marketplace ran after his horse, shouting, "Look, look! The kid is going to Junction Hamlet to fight the Xia of Langzhong!" Jiang Xiaohe looked for the road heading south as he whipped his horse continuously, sending his horse into a soaring gallop.

    After he had rode for over three miles and long lost those idle men behind him, he reined in his horse. He wasn't afraid, but he thought, What a hero the Xia of Langzhong is. He sent me to the ground three times without even breaking a sweat. Perhaps his ability surpasses that of Bao Kunlun. He truly is suitable to be my master! Then he thought, Why did I run away from Zhenba County? I didn't do it to find my fortune, nor was it to look after someone else's wife. I know I can fool the average man of Jianghu, but I'm far too weak if I want to fight Bao Kunlun and kill the Long brothers. I need to take advantage of my youth and learn quickly, find a famous master and learn a full body of martial arts! He whipped his horse and rolled thoughts around in his head as he gradually made his way forward. Before another three miles, he saw a small town with over a hundred households in it. There was a very short street upon which there was a noodle shop, a tavern and a couple other smaller shops.

    Just as Xiaohe's horse entered the short street, he spotted five or six men standing outside the gate of the tavern, one of which was Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God, the man that Xiaohe had just fought with. They were all holding sabers and staffs. Upon seeing Xiaohe, they approached and surrounded his horse, saying, "Good little one, you sure have the balls. Get off your horse and fight us first!" Jiang Xiaohe ignored them and spurred the horse to leap over them and gallop to the south. The men behind him gave chase, yelling and laughing and cursing him. Xiaohe didn't look back and continued south past a few villages before his eyes gazed again upon the roiling waters of the Jialing River.

    It wasn't until he reached the river's edge that Xiaohe dismounted his horse. It wasn't a dock, so there were no boats stopped here, nor were there people, only a sparse row of weeping willows, reflecting green in the waters of a clear day. It was very beautiful. Jiang Xiaohe tied his horse to a willow and sat on the grass by the river. He watched the waters of the river and comings and goings of the boats to and from far places. He thought, How can I ask the Xia of Langzhong to be my master? With those annoying men, they all have it in their heads to fight me. I'm actually unafraid of them. They anger me. I have to fight them, but they're a greater number, not to mention that they are the Xia of Langzhong's men. If I beat them, then the Xia of Langzhong and I would become enemies. How could he possibly pass his martial arts to me then? Thus, he began to worry. He sat by the river for a while as the sunlight on his body made him sleepy. He decided he would take a nap on the ground, and then go find a place to eat lunch. After he ate, he would try again to think of a way to see the Xia of Langzhong. As he considered this, he felt a sharp pain in his lower back as a thud rang out. Someone had thrown a stone at him.

    Jiang Xiaohe looked all around and cursed loudly. He spotted a black horse galloping on the road to the north. The man on the horse was Xu Lun the Xia of Langzhong. Jiang Xiaohe brightened up immediately as he hastened to untie his horse from the tree. He mounted the horse and let it fly over to him. The Xia of Langzhong reined his horse and stopped. Just as Jiang Xiaohe approached, the Xia of Langzhong drew a sword from under his saddle with a scrape and smiled, saying, "Child, have you come for a contest? Are we doing this mounted or on foot? Reveal your blade!" But Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, saying, "I'll not fight you! I know your martial arts are stronger than mine by far!" The Xia of Langzhong asked, laughing, "Then what am I going to do with the blade I've brought with me?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I would like you to become my master. Please pass your martial arts onto me!" The Xia of Langzhong heard this and roared with laughter, saying, "What a joke! Who told you that I, Xu Lin, had ever accepted disciples? Especially a young rascal like you. Even if you gave me however much silver, I couldn't accept you!"

    Jiang Xiaohe was about to speak when the Xia of Langzhong quickly shook his hand, saying, "Speak no more. There's no way I'd be willing to become your master. I've come now because I thought you were looking for me to fight over this horse. Since you're not brave enough to face me, you go back about your business. I'm leaving!" He turned his horse around and rode toward the north road. Jiang Xiaohe spurred his horse to follow. The Xia of Langzhong spurred his horse on as well and looked back as he rode, smiling and waving his hand, "Don't follow me! You best go find Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God. He'll be your master!" Jiang Xiaohe kept on chasing behind and pleaded, "No matter what, you have to accept me as a disciple. I have money, so you wouldn't need to provide me food. I can even pay you. I came to Northern Sichuan just to find you, because I heard from Long Zhiteng and the others that you were a great man of Northern Sichuan!"

    Upon hearing this, the Langzhong Xia's face turned instantly. He stopped his horse and held out his sword, asking angrily, "What? So it was the Long brothers who asked you to come find me?" Jiang Xiaohe had reined his horse in as well and said, shaking his head, "No, they're my enemies. I fled because I'd wounded the Long brothers. They'd even come after me. In Wanyuan County, I was able to escape because I jumped out of an inn and stole that horse. The horse you're riding on now once belonged to Long Zhiqi!" The Xia of Langzhong laughed coldly, "The Long brothers' martial arts aren't strong, but I doubt a small child like you could hurt them or steal their horses. Don't think you can use these words to trick me. Since you know those men, then I am even less able to accept you as disciple. Consider it a favor that I left you your life today. Get out of here!" Saying this, he sheathed his sword and spurred his horse forward.

    Jiang Xiaohe had still not given up and continued chasing him closely. He saw that they were approaching the village of the Xu household. As Jiang Xiaohe followed, he very anxiously said, "Though I know the Long brothers, we're all enemies. My father was murdered by them. It's because they're my enemies that I came here looking for you. Since your martial arts are greater than theirs, I wanted to learn them and return to Ziyang to kill them, to avenge my father!" At this point, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't hold back his tears. Ahead of him, the Xia of Langzhong heard as his speech became gradually more miserable, eventually stopping his horse and turning around. He stared for a while and then asked, "Do you sincerely intend to learn martial arts from me?"

    Jiang Xiaohe stopped crying and nodded, "Very sincerely! I can swear an oath. If I'm not sincere, let lightning strike me!" The Xia of Langzhong laughed but then said sternly, "However, if you want to be my disciple, first you have to do three things for me!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I can do a hundred things for you!" The Xia of Langzhong smiled and said, "The first thing, I don't accept complete novices as disciples. You must know at least a little martial arts." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I do! I've learned martial arts for over a year. Bladework, fists, kicks, I know a few moves of each, and I can jump onto and across rooftops too!"

    The Xia of Langzhong said, "Second, to be my disciple is also to be my lackey. No matter what manner of hard labor, you must do it. I see you dressed in satin-lined clothing with money and a horse. You seem the young master of a household!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, "No, I'm a poor kid with no dad and no mom. I've herded pigs and fed horses. As long as you're willing to pass your martial arts on to me, I'll do any sort of hard or tiring work. What's the third thing?" The Xia of Langzhong smirked, "The third? Ha! I doubt you're up to it! I want to accept a strong disciple, one able to lift a ton!" Jiang Xiaohe lifted his arms, saying, "I have strength enough to carry 70, 80 catties with one hand!" The Xia of Langzhong said, "It doesn't count for you to just say it. You have to try it." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Whatever you want, except for mountains. I can't move those!" The Xia of Langzhong said, "All right! Come with me!" Jiang Xiaohe was elated as he hurried his horse after the Xia of Langzhong, entering the expansive Xu Farmstead. Upon seeing their leader bringing Jiang Xiaohe in, the Motley Star God and a dozen or so villagers looked on in amazement, hoping to see him fight it out with Jiang Xiaohe.

    The two horses entered through the main gate and turned north where stood a big yard with two weapon racks set up on it. In the southeastern corner, there was a small door that probably led straight the inner residence. When they arrived here, the two dismounted, and a servant boy came to take their horses. Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God watched from the side. The Xia of Langzhong was smiling as he waved Xiaohe over, "Come!" Jiang Xiaohe followed him to the base of the southern wall and saw three iron bars placed on the ground. They were all over seven feet long, and each was thicker than the last. The thickest one was as wide as the mouth of a small bowl, and couldn't be held with one hand. The surface was rusted and half of it had sunken into the dirt. It looked very much like the beam of a house. The second one was a little thinner but was likely over 200 catties. The slimmest one looked like a metal rafter, itself over a hundred catties.

    Jiang Xiaohe saw them and was taken aback. He asked, "What, do you want to use these to test my strength? There's no way I could lift the thickest one!" The Xia of Langzhong said, "Let me first explain to you about where these three bars came from." Jiang Xiaohe thus saved his strength and listened attentively as the Xia of Langzhong said, "A few years ago, a monk came from Jiangnan. He was called the Iron Staff Monk. He carried the thickest of these iron bars here asking for alms, a thousand taels he wanted. He laid this iron bar across the main gate and said that if I didn't give him a thousand catties, he wouldn't take the iron bar away. At the time, I didn't care. I reached out my hand and picked it up." When he said this, the Xia of Langzhong tucked in his clothing and rolled up his sleeves. He bent down and lifted the rafter-like iron bar. He raised it with one arm and then spun it a couple times with both hands before tossing it with a heavy clang back onto the ground.

    Jiang Xiaohe admired him silently, thinking, The Xia of Langzhong's body doesn't look particularly built, yet he has such great strength. The Xia of Langzhong bent down and wrapped his hands around the next thickest iron bar. He raised it up with both arms and then just as quickly put it back down. He went on, "The first time the Iron Staff Monk saw that I could swing the bar around, not only did he leave without one silver, but he left the iron bar behind as well when he departed. The next year, he brought this next-thickest iron bar with him. He asked for two thousand taels in alms, but he still was unable to trouble me, so he left again. He didn't come the third year, but in the fourth, he brought with him this heaviest and thickest one. He carried it on his shoulder and looked worn out from having done so. He told me that if I could carry it as he did, he would give up and leave without even one silver, never to come back. But I couldn't, and so I gave him four thousand taels of silver."

    At this point, the Xia of Langzhong looked upon Xiaohe and said, "These three iron bars have been here several years. Except for the fact that I can lift two, no one else can lift even one. I swore an oath that if anyone could lift the heaviest one, I would ask him to be my master. If anyone could lift the second one, I would become his friend. And the one who could lift the lightest one, I'd accept him as a disciple. Over the years, a good many have come here to try, but I haven't even accepted a disciple yet. To travel Jianghu, you need not only martial arts to overcome the masses, but also strength to defeat others. You can seek to become my disciple, but you must first raise up the lightest of these iron bars with your own hands for us to see!" Jiang Xiaohe said boldly, "Done." He bent down and grabbed hold of the iron bar of a rafter's thickness, and then lifted with all his strength. The Xia of Langzhong stood beside and said, "Raise it!" Jiang Xiaohe was only able to lift it half a foot before his hands ached and his legs gave out, whereupon he dropped the bar back onto the ground with a clang. He took a deep breath and tried again, gritting his teeth, but this time he couldn't lift it even half a foot before the bar went back down. The Xia of Langzhong smiled and said, "This won't do! You can come and train daily, and whenever you manage to raise up this iron bar will be when you bow down to me. Then, I'll transmit my martial arts to you." When he finished, the Xia of Langzhong straightened out his clothing and went through the small door back to his residence with a smile on his face.

    Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God and the others were all standing nearby and laughing loudly. Jiang Xiaohe was furious, but he had no time to pay them any mind. He stared at the three iron bars on the ground, not hoping to lift up the heavier two. But how the small one opposed him! He rested his breath and bent down again. He grabbed hold of the iron bar with both hands and pulled up with all his strength. Gritting his teeth and staring intently, he lifted it a little more than half a foot and exerted his strength to extend his arms and raise it up, but he couldn't. His arms became sore and the iron bar slammed back onto the ground immediately with a clang, bringing Xiaohe to the ground as well. Jiang Cheng and the others clapped and laughed again. Jiang Xiaohe's face turned all red as he turned his head and glared at them. He didn't say a thing however, as his gaze returned numbly back toward the iron bar.

    Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God walked over carrying a steel saber and scoffed, "Little one! Go home to mommy to suckle at her breast! Come back and try again when you've grown. Or else you'll never raise that bar, no matter how many times you call it daddy!" The other men laughed. Jiang Xiaohe suddenly felt a wave of hunger and realized that he hadn't eaten lunch today, thus he didn't have the energy to fume. He furrowed his brow and turned around.

    Those men were all sneering and smirking at him, saying, "Go back where you came from! Coming here to blow off steam!" Jiang Xiaohe wanted to glare at them and give them a beating to vent some of his frustrations, but he thought, Then it would be even more impossible to get the Xia of Langzhong to be my master! Where else could I find someone whose martial arts are so powerful and strength so great as the Xia of Langzhong? Thus, he held in his anger and asked the stable boy for his horse. Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God said, "Don't give the horse to him!" Jiang Xiaohe was so mad he reached under the saddle for his saber. Jiang Cheng didn't back down, but approached him with his blade raised, saying, "What? You really want to fight?" The other men came to talk the two down. On one side, they were holding on to Jiang Cheng, and on the other, they were urging Jiang Xiaohe, "Since you're now familiar with our good sir, you can come whenever you like. You couldn't move the iron bar today, so try again tomorrow. Don't cause trouble here, because Sir Jiang is a friend of our good sir. You must respect our leader!"

    Jiang Xiaohe bore down his ire and sneered silently as he led his horse away. When he left the Xu compound, he walked north gloomily. He wasn't angry about Jiang Cheng and the other men, but rather distressed over the iron bar.

    It wasn't until he walked over half a mile that he mounted his horse and whipped it in the direction of the east gate. In a short while, he reached the front gate of the Fuli Security Firm. He got off his horse, but didn't lead it inside, instead tying it to a post. He entered and saw Yang Xiantai, Lü Xiong, Qi Yong, Jiao Rong and the others all inside. Upon seeing Jiang Xiaohe return, Yang Xiantai was the first to ask, "Brother, what happened when you went to the Xia of Langzhong's house?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, saying, "Nothing, we talked for a while and he told me to go to his house every day to practice." Qi Yong said, "When you left and didn't return, you worried our captain. He's also been busy these couple days and he's leaving for Lüzhou the day after tomorrow." Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "Your captain is a good friend. Tell him not to worry about me, but I'm not willing to stay over at his place."

    Yang Xiantai was surprised and asked, "Where are you moving to then?" Jiang Xiaohe furrowed his brow and wanly went into the back to retrieve his things, saying, "I'll move into an inn first, and then after a couple days, I'll move into the home of the Xia of Langzhong." Yang Xiantai, Qi Yong and the others were each taken aback and saw that Jiang Xiaohe looked a bit ill, but none dared stand in his way. He left carrying his travel bundle.

    Jiang Xiaohe exited the gate and untied his horse. He walked forward with his horse in one hand and his bundle in the other. After a short distance, he saw an inn south of the road and went inside to get a room. He then asked the innkeeper to prepare some food and wine for him. After he ate, he laid down on his bed to rest for the purpose of saving up enough strength. He was prepared to go to the Xia of Langzhong's house tomorrow to raise that iron bar. After a nap, Xiaohe woke to find the innkeeper showing Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God into his room. Seeing Jiang Xiaohe, Jiao Dechun appeared both ashamed and anxious, saying, "Brother, it won't do to have you staying here! Just move into my place or stay in the security office! Right now, Eighth Cheng hates you to the bone, and he won't budge no matter how I plead and beg. He's still injured from your fight, but if he were better, he would certainly come here to face you. If you were to stay at my place, no matter what, he would have to respect me. He wouldn't be able to drag you from my house. The day after next I'm leaving for Lüzhou, and after I'm gone, there'll be no one to protect you, unless you came with me!"

    Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Brother, don't worry about me! You're a good friend, this I know. I moved here now so I could get some good rest, because I'm very tired today! I'll rest here a day and then I'll probably move into the Xia of Langzhong's farmstead tomorrow." Jiao Dechun was astonished when he heard this, saying, "How is this? Does the Xia of Langzhong also think you good? I'd heard that you'd scuffled with him in the street early this morning." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Brother, I told you long ago that I came here to meet the Xia of Langzhong. If his martial arts were ordinary, I would become his friend. But if his martial arts were extraordinary, I would ask him to be my master. This was what I had to do. This morning when I dueled with him, I found out just how much poorer my martial arts actually were. He really is a good fit to be my master, so later I went to his farmstead to look for him..."

    Jiao Dechun interrupted with a question, "Didn't he ask you to lift those three iron bars?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "That's right. He told me that if I could only raise the slimmest of the iron bars up, he would take me as a disciple and pass his martial arts onto me. But while we say the iron bar is thin, it isn't light at all. I can lift it a little with my hands, but I can't raise it up high. My body's tired because of the fights I've had today, so I'm thinking that if I rest up an entire day and go tomorrow for a try, I'll definitely be able to raise it up." Jiao Dechun heard this and was even more astonished. He sat dazed for a while before nodding and saying, "But this is good as well. If you're living at the Xia of Langzhong's house, Eighth Cheng can't bother you. He may be a cruel tyrant here, but he wouldn't dare provoke the Xia of Langzhong." Jiang Xiaohe nodded and smirked, "Don't upset yourself over this Eighth Cheng business, brother! I'm not afraid of him. Brother, you aren't leaving until the day after tomorrow, right? If you have more to talk about, let's do it tomorrow. I need to rest today so that I can lift that iron bar tomorrow." Jiao Dechun nodded and thus left.

    Jiang Xiaohe then rested very peacefully, and when it came the next day, he felt himself full of energy. He prepared his horse, exited the gates of the inn, and galloped to the farmstead yard of Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong. It was still early when he arrived. The Motley Star God and a few villagers were training fists in the yard. Upon seeing Jiang Xiaohe, he all smiled, saying, "This kid is back again. He won't give up! You can't build up so much brawn in a day's time, unless you've taken a power pill!"

    Jiang Xiaohe remained silent as he tied his horse to a post near the wall. He approached the three iron bars on the ground. He exerted his strength and stooped down. He took hold of the rafter-like iron bar and pulled up. At the same time, he straightened his body and used all his energy as a yell squeezed itself from his throat. He lifted it above one foot before someone behind him kicked him in the rear. Jiang Xiaohe immediately fell forward with a crash. The iron bar was flung to the left and Jiang Xiaohe landed face first. He was incensed beyond all at this point. He quickly stood up and bore a fist as he turned around, seeing Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God standing next to him with a saber in his hand and a sneer he couldn't keep from his face. Xiaohe was about to rush forward, grab the saber and fight, but then he thought, The iron bars are still more important! He swallowed his hatred into his heart and said not a word. He turned around and went for another attempt at lifting the iron bar, thinking, I'll bear this anger this one time, but if you kick me again, I'll really go after you.

    When Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God gave Jiang Xiaohe the kick, Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong had unexpectedly come out of the small door already. He saw everything clearly and felt immediately indignant. He went inside to retrieve a leather whip and walked over to Jiang Cheng with a look of displeasure. He leapt up suddenly and kicked the saber in Jiang Cheng's hand away with a clatter. The Xia of Langzhong swung his whip and showered Jiang Cheng with blows. Jiang Xiaohe looked back when he heard the crack, crack, crack, and saw Jiang Cheng take several licks from the whip. At first he'd held his arms up to block, but then simply turned to run. The Xia of Langzhong caught up with him and sent him to the ground with a kick from behind. He raised his whip and with whooshes and cracks, he let more lashes loose like raindrops upon Jiang Cheng's body.

    The men simply stood by and watched; none dared to step up to stop it. The Xia of Langzhong yelled as he thrashed angrily with his whip, "How dare you ruin my reputation in this place? You take advantage of those unprotected to kick them from behind. What kind of Jianghu man behaves like this..." Jiang Xiaohe ran over and tried to stop the Xia of Langzhong, saying, "Don't hit him because of me! I came here to lift the iron bar and ask you to be my master, not to anger him! I just ignore him when he's trying to humiliate me, and I'll deal with it later!"

    The Xia of Langzhong struck Jiang Cheng a few more times with his whip and ended with a kick, yelling, "Get out! Get yourself the hell out of Langzhong, and from this moment on, you'll no longer know me. Get the hell out! Get out right now! Or else I'll have your life!" Jiang Xiaohe kept trying to talk him out of this when the Xia of Langzhong stopped. When Jiang Cheng crawled up, his face was covered with lash marks and blood. On his arms there were blue and purple blotches, and his clothes had been torn to shreds by the whip. He had now truly become the Mottled Star God, though he lacked even a bit of the Star God's might. He hung his head and silently went inside.

    Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong stood tall holding his whip and vented his rage for a while. He calmed down gradually, and then asked Jiang Xiaohe, "What is it? Can you raise up that iron bar today?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Come and see." He watched as Jiang Xiaohe employed all his strength and tried lifting it six or seven times, though not once was he able to raise it all the way up. He smiled and said, "No, no! Your strength has a long way to go. You must train every day. In truth, it isn't hard; you just need patience. Train daily and you can raise it for certain. When that happens, I must accept you as disciple." Having said this, he told Jiang Xiaohe to keep trying to lift the iron bar. He ran through a couple fist exercises and then the motions of a sword exercise.

    Jiang Xiaohe sat next to the iron bars and thought the Xia of Langzhong's fist technique magnificent, his form like a wolf or tiger, and his swordwork was even more entrancing, brilliant to the extreme. Xiaohe grew ever more envious, thinking, Acknowledging this sort of master and learning his martial arts, what could stop one from running wild upon the world? It's just this iron bar causing me so much trouble!

    When the Xia of Langzhong finished the training he had set for himself, he went back through the small door to the inner residence. Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God packed up his things, prepared a horse and left mournfully with his head hung low. Just before he'd left, he'd given Jiang Xiaohe an evil, vicious glare. Jiang Xiaohe paid him no mind, his attention unable to be directed away from thinking about raising the iron bar. He rested a while and tried again, and when his tries failed, he rested. He did this twenty or thirty times until his power was spent and his two arms were sore and out of energy. It was now past noon and someone invited him to eat lunch, saying, "Our good sir invites you to eat here before going back to your training." Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and stood up listlessly. He walked his horse out the gate, mounted it and rode toward the east gate.

    When he got back to the inn and ate whatever was available, he laid on his bed and rested. Today he was more convinced than ever of the Xia of Langzhong's honorable conduct and martial technique. However, he couldn't raise that iron bar, which meant he couldn't acquire a master and learn martial arts, which also meant he couldn't use those martial arts to gain vengeance, and so he became even sadder. In the evening, Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God called upon him again to tell him that he was to set off on the morrow to Lüzhou as an escort. He also said that Eighth Cheng had been everywhere asking after friends, probably to deal with Xiaohe. He urged Xiaohe to be careful and that it was best if he went to live with the Xia of Langzhong. But Jiang Xiaohe shook his head over and over, saying, "None of that is important. I don't fear any of it, so brother please go without worry!" Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God sat with him a while longer and then departed.

  3. #23
    Senior Member littleli's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    276

    Default

    CHAPTER SIX

    A steel saber defeats an iron sword as the famed valiant crushes resolve.
    High ridges succeed lofty peaks as a curious man reveals his skill.


    The following day, Jiang Xiaohe woke very early and rode his horse again to the Xu Farmstead at the Junction Hamlet. When he arrived, he saw only Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong dancing with a sword in the yard. He noticed Jiang Xiaohe, but didn't say anything to him. Jiang Xiaohe tied his horse to a post and went to try again with the iron bar. He made three attempts in succession, all of which failed. On the last attempt, Jiang Xiaohe had used every last bit of the energy in his body and lifted the bar with both his hands. When he brought it more than two feet, past his elbows, he exerted more strength and it seemed as if he was going to raise it up. But then, he felt a pain in his chest as his vision went dark, and he threw up blood. When this happened, the Xia of Langzhong was still practicing his swordwork and was not watching him. Jiang Xiaohe felt all the strength leave his body and cast his eyes down, discouraged. When he saw his blood on the bar, he couldn't help but cry! Thus he walked away slowly, untied his horse and led it out of the gate. He wiped his tears away as he spurred his horse on at an unhurried pace, all the way back to the east gate. He thought, I can't live here any longer. Without being able to lift that iron bar, I don't have the face to ask the Xia of Langzhong to be my master! I'll rest a day and then leave! It doesn't matter where I go! He went first to the front gate of the Fuli Security Firm. His body was exhausted and he hadn't the energy to even get off his horse, so he called inside a couple times.

    When Yang Xiantai came out of the office, Jiang Xiaohe asked, "Has Captain Jiao gone yet?" Yang Xiantai said, "He just left. He's probably twenty or thirty miles gone by now. Did you need him for something, brother?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and replied languidly, "No, not really." Yang Xiantai smiled, "Brother, how about you get off your horse and come inside for some fun? Afterwards, we can go to Beauties Alley again. There's a girl who's about your age; you should check her out. In the evening, Sir Seventh Chen will want to throw some dice with you!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, saying, "No, I'm not feeling too well right now. I'm going to back and rest a while. I'll come find you later tonight!" He peeled his horse away and headed to the inn.

    Just as he arrived at the front gate of the inn and before he'd dismounted his horse, he spotted several men running from across the street, all carrying wooden clubs. Jiang Xiaohe was startled as several men behind pushed him off his horse. Jiang Xiaohe knew that these men had been sent by Eighth Cheng to scheme against him, so he yelled curses at them anxiously as he crawled up. He made for his saber next to the saddle for the confrontation, but the men pressed him back down. The flurry of clubs came all at once, whack after whack, beating Xiaohe's all over his body. At first, Xiaohe struggled, cursed and yelled wildly, but then because the blows from the clubs numbered too many, and especially because of those that struck his head, he grew stiff and his head started spinning. It was as if his body was suffering countless bites from poisonous snakes as he was gradually beaten into unconsciousness.

    There was no longer traffic on this street though numerous people were watching from far away. However, because these attackers were sent here by Eighth Cheng and the victim was a child from out of town, no one dared to raise a hand to stop it. Though Jiang Xiaohe was laying on the ground unconscious, the crowd kept clubbing him without mercy. Whack, whack, the blows fell upon Jiang Xiaohe's dead-seeming body.

    Just then, a black horse came suddenly from the east. Everyone on the street knew the rider, for it was Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong. The Xia of Langzhong waved his leather whip and cried out, "Stop this! Stop this!" When he arrived, most of the attackers stopped their clubbing, though a few didn't know what was good them and continued striking. The Xia of Langzhong furiously pulled a sword from below his saddle and its glimmer frightened the men into scattering away. The Xia of Langzhong dismounted his horse and went to take a look at Jiang Xiaohe. He saw only this determined, tireless young hero, single-minded in wanting him to become his master, with his head covered in blood and his body in bruises, as if he were dead.

    The Xia of Langzhong couldn't help but feel compassion, so he called some people on the street over to take Jiang Xiaohe to his house at Junction Hamlet. Jiang Xiaohe's entire boy ached and his head was a complete haze. They arrived at the Xu house, and under the care of Xu's household servant, he received medicine for his most pressing injuries. He gradually regained consciousness, moaning with his eyes open a sliver. The Xia of Langzhong came and comforted him, "Don't be rash and angry about what happened today. Nurse yourself back to health here at my place in peace. Wounds from clubs and sticks are easily healed. When you are well, I'll go with you to settle this!" A faint, weak smile floated to Jiang Xiaohe's lips. He wanted to speak, but he lacked the strength. He groaned a couple times and closed his eyes again.

    Jiang Xiaohe nursed his injuries here. He didn't know how many days had passed, but felt that the Xia of Langzhong checked up on him frequently and the servant of the Xu house served him attentively. Eventually, Xiaohe was able to stand, though his legs were still weak and he required the use of a wooden crutch to move, albeit slowly. By this point, the Xia of Langzhong did not come see him daily, though the servant didn't lessen his attention one bit.

    On the day that Jiang Xiaohe was able to toss aside his crutch, he strolled slowly in the yard and felt only a bit of soreness in his legs where his injuries had been. This yard was the same that had been used for martial training and Jiang Xiaohe was currently staying in the eastern house. As he walked, he saw again the three iron bars again at the base of the southern wall. He knew quite well that he couldn't lift them up, but he was still a little bit eager to give it another shot. He made his way over and looked down at them, thinking to himself impatiently, I need to heal up quickly. I have to raise up this iron bar and get the Xia of Langzhong to accept me as disciple! The sound of horses hooves resounded as the Xia of Langzhong returned on his black horse, followed by three of his men, also mounted.

    He dismounted as soon as he entered the yard, and when he saw Jiang Xiaohe, the Xia of Langzhong walked over and asked, "Are your wounds healed yet?" Jiang Xiaohe respectfully replied, "Almost!" The Xia of Langzhong asked Xiaohe to undo his shirt and pull up his pant legs. He examined the speckle of nearly-healed bruises on his body and nodded, "There's no need to worry. Another ten days of rest and you'll be able to run." Just as he said this, another horse abruptly rode in from outside. The person on the horse was seven- or eighteen years old with the bearing of a hero. He wore silk clothing and carried a sword at his side.

    The youth came down from his horse. The Xia of Langzhong nodded from him to come over and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "This is my son, Xu Yanyun. He's been learning martial arts from me for ten years now and he's almost done. When next you see Bao Kunlun or Long Zhiteng or any of the others, you can tell them that the Xia of Langzhong is not easily bullied. Even this son of mine could take on the disciples of the Kunlun School. Sooner or later, we father and son will call on them to settle the score!" When he said this, the Xia of Langzhong smirked at Jiang Xiaohe with no trace of happiness in his face. Jiang Xiaohe thought this extremely unusual and was about to voice a question, but the Xia of Langzhong had already marched through the small door with his son Xu Yanyun and returned to the inner residence. Jiang Xiaohe stared into space for a while and thought, The Xia of Langzhong's been pretty good to me. Why has his attitude changed suddenly today, like he's become indifferent towards me? I should ask him.

    From then on, Jiang Xiaohe no longer saw the Xia of Langzhong. Sometimes, Xiaohe asked the servant who attended to him to invite the Xia of Langzhong over, but the Xia of Langzhong never came. After a few days, Jiang Xiaohe's wounds had healed completely and he could walk as he did before. However, he hadn't been able to see the Xia of Langzhong and couldn't think of how he might have offended him, so he was both bewildered and anxious. This day, he told the servant seeing to him, "Tell Sir Xu that my wounds have all healed without any permanent damage. I can walk and run now. Please tell him to come see me. I have a few things I'd like to say to him." The servant appeared to be a little troubled, but since Jiang Xiaohe was hurrying him, he could only say, "All right, I'll go inside and look for our good sir. He may not be at home." Jiang Xiaohe exhorted him further, "If he is home, tell him to come see me no matter what. I only have a few things to say to him." The servant consented and left, heading toward the inner yard.

    Jiang Xiaohe waited a while, but the Xia of Langzhong didn't show up, so he paced nervously in his room. He thought, How strange! What kind of person is this Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong? I did nothing to offend him. He saved my life that day and then had me heal up here. It seemed like he was treating me quite well, so why has he suddenly become so distant? Could it be that Eighth Cheng and those bad guys spoke poorly about me to him? But I, Jiang Xiaohe, am truly an open and honest man. Even if he has a problem with me, he should at least tell me why! After some more time had passed, the door opened and two people stepped in. One was the servant from before, holding onto Xiaohe's possessions, saber included. Following behind was the Xia of Langzhong's son, Xu Yanyun, wearing a long blue silk shirt. He was very polite as he clasped his fist upon entering, saying to Jiang Xiaohe, "Brother Jiang, you're all well. It's heartening. Truly heartening! These are your things, brother Jiang, and your silver taels are inside as well. My father brought them here for you from the inn. Now, brother Jiang, if you'd like to stay here another couple days, there's no harm in that. Otherwise, please go on your way! We shall see each other another day!"

    Jiang Xiaohe listened dumbstruck, but then clasped his fist as well, saying, "Is Sir Xu at home right now?" Xu Yanyun nodded, "He is." His manner was very cold. Jiang Xiaohe said, "Since he's at home, please ask him to come see me. I, Jiang Xiaohe, came from very far away to ask him to be my master. I can't help that I'm unable to raise the iron bar, so I'll go elsewhere to train. Whenever I am able to raise that iron bar is whenever I'll come back. But he saved this life of mine, and I have been able to nurse my wounds well because I've troubled him here for so many days. I should see him and bow to him to thank him for the kindness of saving my life. Then, I have some other things I'd like to say to him before I leave!"

    Xu Yanyun waved his hand and said, "There's no need! We men of Jianghu help each other out. It was nothing, so you need not concern yourself, brother Jiang. You should hurry back to your Zhenba County! If you truly consider us father and son to be good friends, then in the future when we fight the Kunlun School, you keep yourself out of it." He then sneered and said, "When you go back, you can tell Bao Zhenfei, Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi, Jia Zhiming, Ge Zhiqiang and the others that we father and son of the Xu house will go find them this autumn. Tell them to ready themselves!" When he finished, he turned around and left. Jiang Xiaohe anxiously hurried to him and held him back. He stamped his foot and said, "Brother Xu, I don't understand these words of yours. I'm the son of a disciple of the Kunlun School, but they are my enemy!" Xu Yanyun pushed Jiang Xiaohe away and scoffed, "Bullshit!" Jiang Xiaohe was almost pushed over, but hurriedly followed Xu Yanyun outside and grabbed hold of him. He beat his chest and swore, "If I, Jiang Xiaohe, speak one falsehood, then let heaven and earth strike me down! When my daddy was murdered by the Long brothers, I herded pigs for old man Bao and suffered the humiliation of Bao Zhilin to no end. It was when I wounded the Long brothers that I had to flee. I wanted your dad to be my master so that I could learn martial arts and then go back and take revenge!"

    Xu Yanyun's demeanor loosened a little. He had turned around and was about to ask Jiang Xiaohe for more details when suddenly the Xia of Langzhong came out of the small door, holding two letters in his hand. Fury spread across his face, he said, "Don't listen to his tricks. He's one of Bao Kunlun's men, sent here to scout out our condition, to find out how we're going to deal with the Kunlun School!" When he drew near, he held the letters out at Jiang Xiaohe and said, "Had I not opened these two letters, I would have fallen for your lies. Go back now and tell your Kunlun School that I'm not afraid of them. When autumn briskness arrives, I'll go to them in Ziyang and Zhenba to decide victory or defeat. If you have any conscience, when the time comes don't help them, or else my sword will know no mercy!" Jiang Xiaohe looked confused, just as if he had been caught in the midst of fog. The anxiety blazed within him as he stamped his feet wildly, saying, "What are you talking about!? I can't read. Who gave you these letters?" The Xia of Langzhong laughed and said, "You gave them to me! I found them in your belongings. Bao Zhilin of the Kunlun Security Firm in Hanzhong sent his disciple-brothers Zhang Zhiqi and Miao Zhiying to take these to Li Dacheng the Tiger of Emei to set him against me, so I would be pinned down here and unable to go and fight all of you!"

    Jiang Xiaohe turned this over in his head before he figured it out. Gasping, he said, "Sir Xu, you've got me all wrong! Let me tell you where this letter really came from. After I'd fled from Zhenba, I jumped from an inn and stole a horse in Wanyuan County. That horse is the one you ride now. In Xuanhan County, I lost that horse in the middle of the night, while I was staying in a broken down temple. This horse was by nature fierce and killed the horse thief by throwing him off on the side of the road. I looked everywhere for it to no avail, and instead was taken to court unjustly. Later, when I escaped my chains, I encountered Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther, who brought me to Trunk Mountain. However, I didn't want to become a bandit so when they descended the mountain to raid an escort caravan—I heard that the caravan was being protected by Bao Kunlun, but they left me on the mountain to look after the hideout—I seized the opportunity to take a few taels of silver and run away. When I was walking on the road late in the day, I met with two men chasing me on horses. I wounded one of them and took one of their horses. The travel bundle I have now was taken with that horse. There were some taels of silver in there and two letters. I can't read, so I left them in there without looking at them. Sir Xu, it wasn't until you said these things today that I realized the man I wounded that day was a disciple of the Kunlun School. Those two were escorts."

    The Xia of Langzhong listened to Jiang Xiaohe's words and sunk deep into thought for a moment. Then, he said, "Are your words the truth?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "If I speak a lie, then let me die a horrible death! Bao Kunlun and the Long brothers murdered my father, so my mother remarried and took my little brother with her. I was left all alone, so I came to find a renowned master and learn martial arts, to prepare myself one day to return and take vengeance. Sir Xu, if you're willing to pass your martial arts onto me, I'll study for two years and leave. Of the Kunlun School, only Ma Zhixian and Lu Zhizhong are all right. The rest of them, I'll kill them all!"

    The Xia of Langzhong heard this, smiled coldly and took a couple steps back, asking bluntly, "Are you really in a hurry to find Bao Kunlun and the Long brothers to gain vengeance for your father?" Jiang Xiaohe shed mournful tears and said, "Of course. If I could learn martial arts today, I'd go tomorrow. I'll do nothing else until I kill the Long brothers. I don't even care that Eighth Cheng send people to beat me. That's not important. What I can't bear is the hatred I feel for those who killed my father!"

    The Xia of Langzhong said, "Fine! Let's go today, first to Ziyang, and then to Zhenba. You'll get your revenge, and with them I'll resolve once and for all who is victor and who is loser. Then, we'll come back to Langzhong and I'll pass my martial arts onto you!" Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe went from crying to smiling. He was so happy he started jumping, saying, "Okay! Okay! Sir Xu, let's go today, but how many people are you bringing with you?" The Xia of Langzhong shook his head and said, "We won't bring anyone. We'll go, just us two. When the time comes, you needn't even raise your hand. Relying simply on my single sword, I guarantee you that Bao Kunlun will kneel to me. And as for his thirty-some disciples, if they're not dead, they'll be wounded!" Hearing the Xia of Langzhong saying this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but be a bit puzzled. Xu Yanyun's fright drained the color from him. He stood in the way of his father, saying, "Father, why don't you talk this over with brother Jiang more? Or perhaps I should come with you." The Xia of Langzhong waved his hand and said, "You're not going. I need you to stay here and look after the household." Xu Yanyun sputtered, "But I've heard tell that Bao Kunlun's disciples are legion, and that many of them have powerful martial arts. Father, How can you defeat them all by yourself?" Hearing this, the Xia of Langzhong immediately grew angry and rebuked him, "It's not your concern! Since I've declared it, how can I then go back on my word?" Thus, he commanded his servants to prepare horses and went inside to put together travel items.

    Jiang Xiaohe had brought his own things out from inside and though he was happy, he was also a bit apprehensive, thinking, Even if the Xia of Langzhong has powerful martial arts, how will he be able to beat all the men of the Kunlun School? Then he thought, The Xia of Langzhong's willing to go all the way. How could it be that I can't? Thus, he took courage and went into the stable. The villagers at the Xu house all looked worried, but none dared speak up. The servants prepared two horses: one was the black horse, and the other was tall of head with a large mane and entirely white as snow. It seemed stronger than the black horse.

    After a short while, a servant came from the inner residence, carrying the Xia of Langzhong's simple travel bag and sword, more than three feet long and in an iron scabbard. He put both on the white horse, so Jiang Xiaohe put his bundle and saber on the black one. A short time passed before the Xia of Langzhong came from the inner residence in high spirits, wearing a blue creased long robe and a pair of fish scale patterned shoes. A large straw hat hung on his back as he walked over cheerfully. Seeing the horses prepared, he said, "Let's go!" A servant led the two horses as Xu Yanyun walked the two of them out with a crowd of villagers and servants. They took horsewhips and grabbed the saddles, mounting the horses. The people behind them said, "Safe travels, good sir!" The Xia of Langzhong just smiled and gave them a brief "Go back inside!" He waved the whip and pressed the horse forward.

    Jiang Xiaohe followed closely and then turned around to clasp his fist toward Xu Yanyun and the others. The Xia of Langzhong didn't even look back. When they left the village, he shook his whip lightly when he saw a path east, and they rode on with the white horse in front. After going a little more than ten miles, the city of Langzhong was no longer in sight. The Xia of Langzhong wore his large straw hat and continued east after finding a big road. Jiang Xiaohe's black horse followed the white horse ahead closely, while he observed the Xia of Langzhong on his horse. He noticed that when they were still at home, he had the look of a rich man, but now he seemed dashing and uninhibited, like a man who had long traveled Jianghu. His finely-woven straw hat fit well with his striking creased robe, as well as his slightly red face and wide, lively eyes, and his sword clinked against his copper stirrups. This vigor truly was the envy of Jiang Xiaohe as he thought, In the end, a man with powerful martial arts traveling Jianghu has a boldness all his own. When we get to Ziyang and Zhenba County, the men of the Kunlun School wouldn't dare look down on him after one look at him.

    It was now drawing close to noon, and after the two rode over forty miles of road, they found a small town in which to stop for lunch. In a very small food stall, they ate very course rice and very unpalatable dishes, but Jiang Xiaohe watched as the Xia of Langzhong ate it all the same while not drinking a drop of wine. Jiang Xiaohe was originally going to drink some wine, but seeing the Xia of Langzhong thus, he was so ashamed that he didn't dare even mention the word "wine." After the Xia of Langzhong finished eating, he turned to Jiang Xiaohe with a smile, saying, "Let's go!" After he paid for the meal, they both mounted their horses and continued east and north. On the road, they encountered escort wagons twice. When the escort wagons saw him, they stopped completely and all the escorts came down off the wagons, clasping their fists toward him, deferentially asking, "Sir Xu, where are you headed?" The Xia of Langzhong clasped his fist from atop his horse and smiled, saying, "I'm going east to take care of some small business." The escort wagons waited until his horse had passed them before they dared carry on.

    The weather was very hot, and not only did sweat cover Jiang Xiaohe's head, but it had drenched his back as well. His black horse was also excessively headstrong. No matter how hard he pulled the reins, nothing could slow this horse, and though Jiang Xiaohe's horse would often fly forward, it would never surpass the white horse in front of it. While Jiang Xiaohe huffed and puffed, the Xia of Langzhong was at ease, frequently looking back and smiling, hastening Xiaohe, saying, "Hurry up!" Jiang Xiaohe bridled his horse with great effort and rode forward. After another fifty or sixty miles, he saw a verdant mountain range ahead in the distance. The Xia of Langzhong spurred his horse on to lead the way toward the mountains. At this point, the travelers on the road grew sparser as the mountains ahead grew clearer and clearer. In a short while, they reached the foot of the mountains, and when they could see the entrance into them, the Xia of Langzhong suddenly stopped in his horse. Jiang Xiaohe was startled and hurried to rein in his horse as well, but it continued forward, almost throwing Jiang Xiaohe off its back.

    He saw the Xia of Langzhong pull a very small folded hand cloth from his side and open it, revealing very small objects inside. The Xia of Langzhong turned around and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Catch!" He hoisted his hand and Jiang Xiaohe quickly reached out to catch. When he did, he looked inside and saw a little bell made of crude gold with a string wrapped around the top. When he undid the string, he saw the crude gold glimmering in the sunlight. The Xia of Langzhong smiled in front of him, saying, "Tie it to your horse!" Jiang Xiaohe thought it novel and tied it to the front of his horse. By this time, the Xia of Langzhong had already finished tying his and it tinkled as he pressed his horse on into the mountain entrance. Jiang Xiaohe hurried after him. With the two horses wearing two golden bells and the horses' hooves knocking on stone, in addition to the iron scabbard clanging against the copper stirrups, the sound rang out like a rhythm using the echoes in the valley and was pleasant to listen to. Jiang Xiaohe smiled as he rode his horse and become happier. He thought, The Xia of Langzhong is truly a great xia, plus he's distinguished and unrestrained. If I didn't ask him to be my master, it would really have wasted a life.

    They followed the mountain road, winding their way twenty or thirty miles without encountering anyone. When they were about to exit the mountain, they saw seven or eight men ahead waiting for them. Jiang Xiaohe was secretly surprised, thinking, Oh no! Bandits! By the time they drew near, he noticed that none of them were carrying sabers. Instead, one of them was holding a pot of wine and cups. Upon the Xia of Langzhong's approach, they all clasped their fists in respect. The large man who led them specifically wore a big coat that didn't suit his frame. He heaped on the smiles and said, "Sir Xu! Where are you headed? It's so very hot today, so please have a cup of wine! Or perhaps you'd like to come up the mountain and rest a while!" The Xia of Langzhong smiled and clasped his fist. He then waved his hand, conveying his thanks and that he mustn't. Without uttering even one word, he gently urged his horse forward. Jiang Xiaohe followed along a half mile's distance and looked back. The men were still standing by the entrance of the mountains watching them. The Xia of Langzhong turned and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Take off that bell. Hang it again when we reach another mountain."

    It was then that Jiang Xiaohe understood. A golden bell was the Xia of Langzhong's signifier. When the mountain bandits heard the bells ringing, they knew that the Xia of Langzhong was coming. Not only didn't they dare to come down to raid, but in fact would offer wine and respect. Jiang Xiaohe now truly took the Xia of Langzhong to be divine. He thought, For a man to travel on Jianghu alone and reach a status such as this, how great must his skills be? If man like this went to Ziyang and Zhenba, how could I have been worried that he wouldn't defeat the Long brothers and the old man Bao? However, I, Jiang Xiaohe can't avenge the great wrong that was my father's murder by myself, and instead am relying on another to do it for me. What kind of person does that make me? Even if I gained great skill, no one will ever be able to call me a hero! This made him miserable and justly indignant. He thought of arriving in Ziyang and seeing the Long brothers. Though the Xia of Langzhong was sure to hold him back and tell him not to attack, that just wouldn't do! He hadn't learned enough martial arts, and he was short and weak, but he wanted to face them first. He had to take vengeance for his father's murder with his own hands! Thus, he grew impatient riding upon the road, pressing his horse to go faster.

    The Xia of Langzhong seemed unwilling to let the black horse behind him to ride ahead of his white, so the faster the black horse went, the white one went even faster. They rode until dusk, having covered over 200 miles, and arrived at the edge of Nanjiang County. The Xia of Langzhong brought Jiang Xiaohe not to an inn, but to a village. In the village there were about a dozen large dogs following the two horses and barking wildly. After a short while, two villagers approached them and asked sternly, "Who goes there? Why have you entered the village without dismounting your horses?" The Xia of Langzhong proudly replied, "It is I, the one surnamed Xu!" When they heard his voice, their severe tone turned immediately to one of deference, saying, "So it's Sir Xu! We didn't imagine it would be you, good sir." The Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe both dismounted as one of the villagers hurried over to take their horses and shoo the dogs away, while the other respectfully welcomed the Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe into a large courtyard where two village leaders received them and treated the Xia of Langzhong with absolute reverence.

    The Xia of Langzhong was very gracious with them as well, as he referred to Jiang Xiaohe and introduced him to them, "This is my disciple." Jiang Xiaohe heard this and felt honored by his words, acting quite generously himself. They were shown into the receiving room by the village leaders. It wasn't until they entered that Jiang Xiaohe was able to see that both men were in their forties. One was round of face and stout of body with a thick black beard that covered his cheeks. The other was short with a brown face and the look of a frail intellectual. The Xia of Langzhong said to Jiang Xiaohe, "These two village leaders are uncle and nephew. That one is Yuan Yong the Purple-faced Lion, and this one is Yuan Zishao the Slender Hegemon. They are both men of renown in Northern Sichuan." Jiang Xiaohe dared not belittle the two of them, so he treated them with great respect. The Yuan kinsmen paid close attention to Jiang Xiaohe, and asked the Xia of Langzhong when he'd accepted this disciple, since they'd not heard of him the last time they met. The Xia of Langzhong smiled, "He has asked me to become his master, but I have yet to teach him any martial arts. Tell them to prepare some food and I'll slowly explain all the details to you."

    Thus, Yuan Zishao instructed a servant to prepare wine. Though the Yuan kinsmen poured some for the Xia of Langzhong, he refused to drink any. Jiang Xiaohe hadn't drank any wine for days and seeing it now made him salivate, but since his master didn't drink, how could the disciple dare to? So when Yuan Zishao sent a cup over to him with a smile, saying, "Brother, please drink. Your master won't have anything to say about it." Jiang Xiaohe stood up and respectfully declined, saying, "I don't really drink." When the wine cup made its way back to Yuan Zishao, he felt a tinge of regret. By now, the Xia of Langzhong had already related most of Jiang Xiaohe's background to the Yuan kinsmen, and mentioned why he had come north this time, his plan to face the Kunlun School, first in Ziyang and then in Zhenba.

    When the Yuan kinsmen heard this, their mood changed a little bit. The Xia of Langzhong spoke seriously, "We left home this morning and have hurried our way over two-hundred miles in less than a day's time. We'll rest a night here, and tomorrow we'll leave the Bagu Pass, through the Micang Mountains, and head to Ziyang County. I know, it is no easy thing that I've come north in a fury to pick a fight alone against the thirty or forty men of the Kunlun School. I don't underestimate them, but they've really crossed the line! In these past ten years, I've never gotten along with the men of the Kunlun School, but there weren't any serious bouts. Now I have to decide victory and defeat. If none of them can beat me, I'll tell those of the Kunlun School never to set foot in Northern Sichuan again. If they injure or defeat me, then I'll never cross the Ba Mountains ever again." The Xia of Langzhong said this spiritedly, but it left the Yuan kinsmen at a bit of a loss.

    Yuan Zishao crinkled his brow and said, "Uncle Xu, with just the two of you going, master and disciple, isn't the force perhaps a bit meager?" Yuan Yong quickly glared at his nephew. The Xia of Langzhong smiled, saying, "If I had invited a few dozen more to come and help me, then why bother going at all!?" Yuan Yong said, "Sir Xu, victory will surely be yours this time. Bao Kunlun is old, and only a few of his disciples have true skill." The Xia of Langzhong said, "I don't mean to take advantage of Bao Zhenfei's advanced age. As for his men, I've heard that Ge Zhiqiang and Lu Zhizhong are quite proficient." Yuan Yong changed the subject, taking a drink of wine and smiling at the Xia of Langzhong, saying, "In all these decades, this is the first time I've seen the Xia of Langzhong with a disciple. This young brother here looks exceptional as well. I think he's sure to win you many honors in the future. My own child turns ten this year. You didn't get to meet him last time..." He turned to Yuan Zishao. "Go and get your cousin." Zishao responded with a sound and left the room. Jiang Xiaohe was himself curious about the little village leader, wanting to see what kind of person he was and how he measured up. After waiting a moment, Yuan Zishao brought out his cousin.

    Xiaohe saw that he was a ten-year-old, skinny and short little child, dressed entirely in silk. Yuan Yong said, "Come meet Uncle Xu. Don't you keep saying that you want to learn superhuman martial arts? Then you've got to ask Uncle Xu to become your master!" The boy bowed toward the Xia of Langzhong, and then his father introduced him to Jiang Xiaohe. Xiaohe clasped his fist toward him but he paid no regard, simply glancing over at Xiaohe. Yuan Yong was afraid Jiang Xiaohe might get angry, so he said, "This brother of yours is too disobedient. The reason is because he has not spent much time out in the world. Please don't blame him." Xiaohe laughed but did not say anything. The Xia of Langzhong asked, "What's his name? Haven't you taught him any martial arts?" Yuan Yong said, "His school name is Jingyuan. I've been training him since he was seven, so it's been three years. But his body is too weak, so I don't think he'll be able to practice heavy skills. I want him to learn some lighter diversions."

    The Xia of Langzhong smiled and said, "What are lighter martial arts? Other than dianxue, but dianxue is not something that all can learn." Yuan Yong sat deep in thought for a moment, and said, "In any case, I need to go out and find him a master. If he only learns from me, he'll never learn any good martial arts." The Xia of Langzhong laughed, "You are too modest!" Yong Yuan guffawed loudly and told his son Yuan Jingyuan to take a seat at the end. When they finished eating and drinking that night, Yuan Zishao prepared places for the Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe to sleep. The two spent the night peacefully at the Yuan Farmstead, and rose together at daybreak the next day. Then the Yuan household, father, son and nephew, saw the two of them out of the village, saying their farewells with fists clasped.

    The Xia of Langzhong spurred his horse forward and Jiang Xiaohe pressed his likewise. After riding about thirty or forty miles, they came out of the Bagu Pass and not far later they came upon the Micang Mountains. This place was the border between Northern Sichuan and Southern Shaanxi. The Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe tied those two golden bells onto their horses again and rode into the mountains with the bells tinkling noisily. The Xia of Langzhong's bearing was bold, looking all about as they went. They rode the entire length of the mountain road without one sight of mountain bandits. When they left the mountain entrance, they were in an area under the jurisdiction of Hanzhong Prefecture. Ziyang County was due east, and Zhenba County was east and south.

    When they arrived here, Jiang Xiaohe didn't quite know the route, but he followed behind the Xia of Langzhong and thought to himself, I'm almost back home, and I'll soon see Aluan. If the Xia of Langzhong and old man Bao fight, I'll naturally side with the Xia of Langzhong, but is there any way Aluan won't be angry? This thought bothered him very much. In the end, he thought, Old man Bao is sixty or seventy, so I feel bad for him. Plus, he's treated me well enough, and it wasn't him that killed my father. I should urge the Xia of Langzhong to show a bit of mercy, not to hurt him. We should also find another place for the fight. We mustn't fight in his home, or it might scare Aluan to death! Thus he was of a mind to relate these requests to the Xia of Langzhong. However, he saw that the Xia of Langzhong cared only about pressing his horse forward, speaking not one word to him, in addition to the severe expression on his red face. He hadn't untied the golden bell from his horse either. It tinkled on as if he purposefully wanted to draw the attention of the people on the road, warning them, "The Xia of Langzhong has arrived in Southern Shaanxi!"

    When he saw this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but be frightened and dared not speak idle words to the Xia of Langzhong. They spurred their horses east another dozen miles of road when they spotted a large escort caravan making its way north to south. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but blurt out, "Master, look quickly! These are probably security wagons of the Kunlun School." The Xia of Langzhong looked back at Xiaohe and laughed, "Fear not!" He swung his whip continuously and rushed straight over on his horse. Jiang Xiaohe was afraid of lagging behind, so he spurred his horse to follow closely behind, thinking to himself nervously, A fight is unavoidable!

    In an instant, the Xia of Langzhong's white horse had already charged its way to the caravan and cut it into two parts. Xiaohe rushed his way through as well, the two horse bells jingling wildly. The escort wagons and the horses accompanying them had all stopped, and the dozen or so escorts watched them with surprise and hatred in their eyes. The Xia of Langzhong looked back astride his horse with an arrogant smile as the men spoke a few words to each other before holding their ire inside and hurrying their security wagons southward, still looking back over this way. The Xia of Langzhong was extremely pleased, turning back to Jiang Xiaohe and saying, "They all know me yet none of them dares step up and exchange blows with me. Do you know? Charging one's horse through someone else's escort caravan is a most offensive thing in Jianghu. If it'd been someone else, they wouldn't have let it go so quickly!" Jiang Xiaohe heard the Xia of Langzhong's words and cast his look backward, watching and at a bit of a loss. Suddenly, the Xia of Langzhong pointed west and said, "Look! More come from the west!"

    Jiang Xiaohe looked west and saw a roiling dust cloud. About ten horses came their way, causing Jiang Xiaohe to say in surprise, "Who's this now? Are they of the Kunlun School too?" The Xia of Langzhong turned his horse around and reined it in, raising his head to look. He waved his hand and said sternly, "Let us see! Who are these men that come this way?" The group of horses rode from the west drawing closer and closer, raising the dust cloud behind them higher and higher. In a short while, when they had almost arrived in front of them, the two men in front raised their hands at them high in the air.

    The Xia of Langzhong suddenly looked displeased. Jiang Xiaohe finally saw that the men who came were the Yuan kinsmen, bringing several villagers with them, totaling nine horses in all, and all carrying weapons with them. Jiang Xiaohe reveled in his heart, thinking, It's truly good that these helpers have come. Now we needn't fear that the Kunlun School's superior numbers. The Xia of Langzhong was extremely unhappy and pressed his horse to them, asking loudly, "Why have you come as well?"

    Yong Yuan the Purple-faced Lion laughed loudly, saying, "The Xia of Langzhong fighting the Kunlun School alone is an event not to be seen in a hundred years. I will have wasted my life if I pass up the opportunity to watch it happen! We're just here to watch, not to help you." Yuan Zishao the Slender Hegemon added, "Truly, we're just here to watch, not to give Uncle Xu our encouragement. Indeed, Uncle Xu doesn't need our encouragement!" The Xia of Langzhong smiled coldly, saying, "Then we needn't ride the road together." Yuan Yong the Purple-faced Lion said, "Yes, yes, we'll go separately. You'll be in front and we'll be behind. We'll not disturb each other."

    Yuan Zishao gave Jiang Xiaohe a look from his horse, and Jiang Xiaohe understood. The uncle and nephew were good friends to the Xia of Langzhong and were concerned with his rash challenge to the Kunlun School, so they didn't say anything yesterday, but instead followed in secret today, bringing some villagers with them. In the event that the Xia of Langzhong was overwhelmed by the number, they would step up to help. The Xia of Langzhong shook his whip at Jiang Xiaohe and rode away with Xiaohe without further speaking to the Yuan kinsmen. The Yuan kinsmen purposefully held their horses back so that they wouldn't catch up with them.

    The Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe rode another few dozen miles due east and it was noon when they arrived upon a town. The Xia of Langzhong found a food stall and the two hurriedly finished their lunch before setting off again to the east. Jiang Xiaohe noticed that the Xia of Langzhong didn't ask the way of people on the route, as if he has very familiar with these roads. He was even more surprised, so he hurried forward to ask, "Master, do you come to Southern Shaanxi often?" The Xia of Langzhong smiled and said, "I don't come often, but I did pass through here once six or seven years ago, and once more three years ago though Bao Kunlun and his didn't know about it." They continued along as the Xia of Langzhong said, "The enmity between Bao Kunlun and myself did not grow overnight. Early on many of the Kunlun School took escort jobs through Northern Sichuan, but they ran lawlessly about and thought nothing of anyone, so I beat them all back. I think Bao Kunlun must hate me to his bones. He's old now, but if this was twenty years ago, were I not coming to look for him, he would come to Langzhong to find me."

    After he said this, he stopped talking, hurrying his way east with Xiaohe. When dusk came, they found a town and the Xia of Langzhong reined in his horse, turned back to Jiang Xiaohe and said, "This place is twenty miles from Ziyang County. Let's spend a night here, and first thing tomorrow, we'll go cross swords with the Long brothers. However, when you sleep tonight, you must stay alert in case something happens, because they know that we've come!" When Jiang Xiaohe heard this, he became ever more nervous. After the Xia of Langzhong found an inn, the two ate and went to bed.

    Jiang Xiaohe didn't sleep well this night, seeming often to hear noises on the roof or in the courtyard. He was afraid the men of the Kunlun School had come, but also seemed to look forward a bit to their arrival. The Xia of Langzhong spent the night with his sword at his side, though he appeared to sleep peacefully. The next day, the Xia of Langzhong awoke calm and composed. Though he hadn't fallen completely asleep all night, Jiang Xiaohe was full of nervous energy. At about the eighth hour in the morning, the two ate little for breakfast before the Xia of Langzhong told Jiang Xiaohe to prepare the horses. When Xiaohe was finished, the Xia of Langzhong came out of the gate, having paid for their room already, and mounted his horse.

    It seemed the Xia of Langzhong could tell that Xiaohe was restless. He smiled and said, "Don't be afraid! In my hands, the Long brothers are no better than dogs. When it comes to Bao Kunlun, he may be old, but I wouldn't dare underestimate him." He said this as he spurred his horse east, and after about twenty miles, they saw a city ahead of them and the road became crowded with people, wagons and horses going this way and that. Jiang Xiaohe's blood bubbled through his entire body as he rode, asking, "Master, is that city ahead of us Ziyang?" The Xia of Langzhong nodded, "That's right. Fear not. Just follow me." Jiang Xiaohe said haughtily, "I'm not scared one bit!" His hands and feet were hard to control as he often felt like pulling out his saber or leaping off the horse to fight in close quarters with another. Ahead of him, the Xia of Langzhong remained unruffled, and in fact urged his horse to slow. In a short time, they entered through the west gate, the golden bells on their two horses still jingling noisily amid the crowd, causing many people to take notice of them.

    Shortly, they came in front of a rail gate. Upon the gate and the wall, written large with a brush were the words, "Jingyuan Security Firm." When they arrived, Langzhong turned back to Xiaohe and said, "We're here!" He peeled his horse off and led it straight in through the rail gate. Inside the security office, a chair was placed in the courtyard and in the chair sat an injured man with a blue face and a big beard; it was Long Zhiteng the Cloud-piercing Swallow. The abdominal wound he'd received from Jiang Xiaohe's blade that day he was staying with his master in Zhenba was not yet healed. When he suddenly sighted the Xia of Langzhong riding his horse into the security office, he cried out in alarm and then saw Jiang Xiaohe riding in as well. The Xia of Langzhong pulled his sword from under his saddle and Jiang Xiaohe also flashed his saber. Long Zhiteng wasn't able to stand, but bellowed loudly, "Fine! You've come for revenge! If you seek to kill, then kill me!" Jiang Xiaohe glared with eyes both red and wide. He leapt from his horse and approached Long Zhiteng with brandished blade to kill him, but the Xia of Langzhong shouted, "It's not allowed!" Then he sneered and said, "What kind of hero would kill a sick man like him?"

    At this time, three escorts had already come from the front hall, two of them carrying steel sabers and one taking up a spear from the weapon rack after coming outside. Jiang Xiaohe saw that this one was Chen Zhijun. Chen Zhijun saw Xiaohe as well and glared, saying, "Good! You little bastard!" He was about to raise his spear and take a stab at Xiaohe when his two brothers next to him held him back. These two were Jia Zhiming the Wave-shattering Sea Serpent and Hou Zhiqiang the Divine Fist. Jia Zhiming turned his saber down and clasped his fist, asking, "Friend, your honorable name, and your worthy intentions here?" Before the Xia of Langzhong said a word, the seated Long Zhiteng blurted out, "He's Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong!" Upon hearing this name, Jia Zhiming's expression changed immediately!

    The Xia of Langzhong tilted his body and dismounted, giving his horse over to Xiaohe. He took a few steps forward and shook his sword, glowering angrily at the three men and asking, "Are you all disciples of Bao Kunlun? There was nothing you didn't do when you ran escorts jobs to Northern Sichuan. Long Zhiteng and his brother especially took advantage of when I wasn't home and killed two of my villagers. If he were not sick and unable to move today, I would kill him immediately with one stroke of my sword. I come here now with no other purpose than to cross swords with you men of the Kunlun School. Unless you all lower your heads and concede, come and face me so that we can decide who lives and dies. Then, I'll go look for Bao Kunlun that old coot!" When Jia Zhiming and Hou Zhiquan heard him insult Bao Kunlun, the two sabers immediately charged at him, clanging with the Xia of Langzhong's sword as they began to fight.

    Chen Zhijun stepped forward first to pull Long Zhiteng's chair aside with his spear, and was about to thrust it angrily at Jiang Xiaohe for a stab. However, the Xia of Langzhong had already cut Hou Zhiquan down with a slash, so Chen Zhijun hurriedly lunged with his spear to help Jia Zhiming out. In just three or five exchanges, his spear had been knocked away by the Xia of Langzhong's sword and with another cut, Chen Zhijun's left shoulder began to bleed. All that remained was Jia Zhiming displaying his saber skill against the Xia of Langzhong. The sword in the Xia of Langzhong's hand was just like lightning, suddenly up and suddenly down. It was truly hard to parry, but Jia Zhiming was a distinguished person of the Kunlun School, one of the Magnificent Three of Ziyang. With his bladework exhibited, he didn't allow the Xia of Langzhong to win immediately. The Xia of Langzhong's sword was aimed closely for his head, and after meeting it a few times with his saber askew, he felt the great impact of the Xia of Langzhong's strength causing his wrist to ache a bit. Jia Zhiming didn't dare meet his opponent head-on any further, evading every stroke his opponent sent his way. He took advantage of an opening and swept his saber toward the Xia of Langzhong's lower body. However, not only did the Xia of Langzhong come in for a stabbing attack, at the same time he also blocked his body very tightly, not allowing Jia Zhiming to connect.

    After fifteen or sixteen exchanges, with Jia Zhiming stepping back as he fought, he'd been driven almost back out of the rail gate. Jiang Xiaohe waved his arms and yelled, "Master! Don't let him run away!" At this time, a burly man with steel saber in hand came charging in suddenly from outside. It was Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger. His dark face was already twisted inhumanly as he bellowed, "The good Xia of Langzhong!" He advanced and fought the Xia of Langzhong alongside Jia Zhiming. Jia Zhiming had recovered by now and the two sabers flew viciously left and right with cuts and slices. However, the Xia of Langzhong refused to be pushed back even one step as his sword blocked left and parried right while constantly advancing upon the two men. After another fourteen or fifteen exchanges, a wretched cry rang out and Jia Zhiming crashed down with a wound. Long Zhiqi turned around and ran outside.

    The Xia of Langzhong leapt over Jia Zhiming and went out in pursuit. Jiang Xiaohe charged outside as well, hanging on to the two horses and waving his saber. Many of the people outside the gate and on the street had run away in panic as Long Zhiqi ran for his life toward the west. The Xia of Langzhong chased close behind and before long, he saw a dozen or so men coming out of another security office at the side of the road. They all carried sabers and spears as they let Long Zhiqi through and stood in the Xia of Langzhong's way. The Xia of Langzhong knew these were all Kunlun men and mercilessly waved his sword to break through them. He cut several of them while rushing past them, continuing his pursuit. Jiang Xiaohe mounted one of the horses and led the other. He waved his saber, yelled out atop his horse and charged past those men. He caught up with the Xia of Langzhong as he chased Long Zhiqi, and he yelled, "Don't let him get away! He's the most hateful of all the Kunlun men!"

    Long Zhiqi could do nothing but take to his heels and run west. After running but a mile, there appeared a large group of horses and men in front of them. Upon seeing Long Zhiqi, the riders all unsheathed their sabers to block the way. Long Zhiqi recognized them as well for they were the Yuan kinsmen of Nanjiang County in Northern Sichuan. He became furious and brandished his saber to give fight to the Yuan kinsmen and their group of villagers. The Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe had near caught up by now. Long Zhiqi saw danger imminent, so he yelled wildly as he battled with his saber, making himself an opening to flee. Just then, a black horse galloped up from behind Jiang Xiaohe fast as an arrow, the rider of which was a man recently called here to help, Lu Zhizhong. Lu Zhizhong spurred his horse ahead of Xiaohe and caught up with the Xia of Langzhong. He swung his blade for a cut as the Xia of Langzhong hurriedly turned around to meet it with his sword.

    Lu Zhizhong leapt off his horse and locked short weapons with the Xia of Langzhong, battling on the spot. The Xia of Langzhong wasn't keen on fighting long, so he used treacherous moves, thinking to cut down Lu Zhizhong in two or three sword attacks, but Lu Zhizhong was unexpectedly able to resist. Thus, the Xia of Langzhong was a bit taken aback and displayed even more of his sword skill, closing in on Lu Zhizhong with cold swooshes. Lu Zhizhong's steel saber was likewise blocking up and down as if flying. Seeing a savior come to his aid, Long Zhiqi's energy revived and he cut down one of the Yuan kinsmen's villagers. He took his horse and jumped onto the saddle, taking flight to the west as if soaring.

    The Yuans and their men didn't chase after Long Zhiqi, instead turning back to surround Lu Zhizhong. Jiang Xiaohe urgently shouted from atop his horse, "Don't hurt him! He's a good man!" Lu Zhizhong blocked the Xia of Langzhong's sword and said, "Xia of Langzhong, stand down! Tell me first, for what reason have you come here to fight us?" The Xia of Langzhong lowered his sword and sneered, "What reason? You don't know? In recent years, you disciples of the Kunlun School have come to Northern Sichuan and caused no end to trouble! I've come here now to defeat you all." He gestured toward the Yuans and their men, saying, "This has nothing to do with them. It wasn't I that called them here for assistance. If you don't yield, bring that saber over here and we'll have it out!"

    Lu Zhizhong clasped his fist and said, "Xia of Langzhong, I've long heard you were a good man, renowned in Sichuan. If there is some enmity between your people and ours, we should be able to talk it out face-to-face. Need we go so far as to clash saber and sword? If people in other provinces hear of this, how could they not joke about us?" The Xia of Langzhong held his sword and scoffed, "Do you come and talk to me of righteousness because you've forgotten that the Long brothers came and killed two of my household? I haven't the time now to carelessly waste words with you. You are but one man so I'm even less willing to fight you!" Following this, he took the white horse from Jiang Xiaohe's hand. He sheathed his sword and mounted the horse, saying, "Let's go! To Zhenba county to find Bao Kunlun!" Lu Zhizhong's entire body trembled with anger as he said, "You need be careful not to let up even one moment of your strength!" Jiang Xiaohe felt a little bad, but he uttered not a word as he sped his horse to the west with the Xia of Langzhong. The Yuan kinsmen led their villagers to follow. The sounds of hooves rumbled and dust roiled upwards as they went south by west, rushing straight towards Zhenba.

    Yuan Zishao the Slender Hegemon slapped his horse and caught up with Jiang Xiaohe. He said, "Young brother, your father was named Jiang Zhisheng, was he not?" Jiang Xiaohe looked back from atop his horse and said dejectedly, "That's right! The Long brothers are the enemies who killed my father!" Yuan Zishao said, "You shouldn't complain only of the Long brothers. I've asked around and it's said your father Jiang Zhisheng was killed by the old man Bao's own hand. All of his disciples know this, but none of them would admit it to anyone else!" Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe's heart dropped and he felt so lightheaded he almost fell off his horse! He quickly tightened his grip on the reins and his legs clenched onto the horse's saddle. Tears rolled down as he said, "I knew long ago that Bao Kunlun had not only killed my father, but was also planning on offing me. But then..." Sitting on the horse, he began to sob loudly, saying, "Because he killed my father, my mother was forced to remarry, and now I have a brother who can longer be a Jiang. The old man Bao had wanted to kill me, but later on for reasons I don't know, he took me into his home to herd his pigs and feed his horses. That son of his Bao Zhilin tormented me all day!"

    The Xia of Langzhong turned back to say, "You needn't weep, for today I'll take your revenge for you!" But Jiang Xiaohe still cried, saying, "Master, I don't need you to take revenge for me. I'll fight Bao Kunlun myself." The Xia of Langzhong smiled and said, "How could it be that easy?" He spoke sternly to the group of people, "In a moment, we'll arrive in Zhenba. When I'm fighting with Bao Kunlun, I'll not allow any of you to help, or else we'll speak no more of friendship!" Yuan Yong the Purple-faced Lion laughed loudly, "We'll certainly not help! We're just here to watch a good show!" The band of horses led by the Xia of Langzhong galloped southwest as if flying, traveling at utmost speed. After passing through a mountain they entered the boundaries of Zhenba County and it was now three or four in the afternoon. The men hadn't eaten lunch, but they didn't stop, instead going all the faster.

    After a short time, Jiang Xiaohe saw Zhenba City and the Bao Homestead ahead. He grew more nervous as he thought of his enemies, the Bao father and sons, and then thought of the adorable Bao Aluan and further of his mother and brother in the city. The horses rode to the edge of the Bao Homestead and they spotted five or six men already waiting for them, carrying sabers. Jiang Xiaohe saw that they were the old master Bao Zhenfei, Long Zhiqi, Ma Zhixian, Liu Zhiyuan, Qin Zhibao and another he didn't recognize, though Bao Zhilin wasn't there. The girl Aluan stood beside a small tree carrying that short saber of hers. She pointed it at Jiang Xiaohe as she glared and clenched her jaw to show her loathing! She was wearing a red silk shirt. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help his shame reddening his face, but upon seeing the old master Bao, the fire reignited in his eyes.

    The old master Bao Zhenfei held his Kunlun blade as he approached alone, holding his disciples back with his hand. That purple face of his showed a pale color and his ashen beard twitched erratically. His tall and fat body looked as if it had trouble walking from the ire he felt. He beckoned and said loudly, "Whoever is the Xia of Langzhong, please come off your horse." The Xia of Langzhong held the Yuan kinsmen and their men back as he dismounted his horse. He drew out his sword and approached, presenting a calm expression. He said, "I am Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong." Old master Bao stared with eyes wide up to down, sizing up the Xia of Langzhong, and then clasped his fist, saying, "An honor, an honor! I'd heard of your renown ten some years now, and today I get to meet you." The Xia of Langzhong clasped his fist as well with sword in hand.

    The old master Bao took a deep breath and then asked, "Brother Xu, have you come here now to avenge Jiang Xiaohe's father? I was the one who killed Jiang Zhisheng, so I invite you, brother Xu, to kill me with your sword. I warn you not to hurt my disciples!" The Xia of Langzhong shook his head and said, "No! Jiang Zhisheng is a man of your Kunlun School, and the animosity you have between master and disciple is none of my concern. Jiang Xiaohe has come with me this time, but I'm not here to help him, and he's not here to help me. I've come to find you for the sake of my own matters!" Old master Bao said, "I have never provoked you." The Xia of Langzhong said, "You may not have, but you've allowed several of your disciples to run wild in my Northern Sichuan!" Old master Bao said, "That'll be easy to take care of! Identify which of my disciples have provoked you, and I'll call him out here to apologize for his wrongs."

    The Xia of Langzhong said, "I have little enmity with your other disciples. It is only that the Long brothers caught me unprepared and came to my home, killing two of my household. I must have them to pay with their lives. At the moment, Long Zhiteng is suffering from serious illness so I'm not willing to hurt him, but as for this Long Zhiqi who's here at your side, you need to give him into our custody!" Upon hearing this, the old master Bao shook his head back and forth, saying, "Xia of Langzhong! Don't go too far! These disciples of mine have been with me many years. They're like sons to me. If they've broken the rule against lechery, I would certainly kill them without mercy, but even then I must be the one who kills them. If another thinks they are to hurt even one hair on one of my disciples within my sight, ha ha! Don't say it's because you're the Xia of Langzhong, or any of those who've come after me in Jianghu. Even the Dragon of Shu and the Xia of Longmen had better think twice!"

    Hearing this, the Xia of Langzhong immediately pressed forward with sword raised. Under the tree, Aluan hurriedly yelled, "Grandpa, watch out! He wants to hurt you!" The old master Bao turned and looked over at his granddaughter, waving his hand with a bitter smile on his face, "Don't worry, the Xia of Langzhong isn't that sort of person!" Then he turned back toward the Xia of Langzhong and said, "I know your martial arts are more powerful than those of all my disciples, but I, Bao Zhenfei, have confidence that I can match up to you. Twenty years ago, I would definitely not have let you come to Ziyang or Zhenba to cause trouble and injure so many of my disciples!"

    When he finished, the old master Bao's two big eyes flashed with ferocity. The Xia of Langzhong glared back, saying, "We needn't talk further. Let's just have a contest!" Old master Bao slanted his saber with one hand and stroked his beard with the other, saying, "Not so fast! I have a few more things to say." He shook his beard and said, "I'm old now and I have too many disciples. Sons I have two, and their martial arts are ordinary. I'm not willing to make enemies for them. Otherwise once I die, they'll be bullied by others. Thus, I don't even want to sow animosity with Jiang Xiaohe."

    The Xia of Langzhong said, "In that case, just give the one man Long Zhiqi over to us. It's got nothing to do with you or your disciples!" Old master Bao waved his hand and said, "That I can't do! No matter what, I must protect my disciples. That is how things stand now!" When he said this, the old master shook his blade. The Xia of Langzhong quickly used his sword to block the saber, though he felt the old master's great power. Old master Bao suddenly glared again, saying, "Let's have a contest of a few exchanges. If you win, I'll slit my own throat and you can kill whichever one of my disciples you'd like. However, Xia of Langzhong, what if I win?" The Xia of Langzhong fumed, "I'll never come to Southern Shaanxi ever again, and you may all travel the Jianghu of Northern Sichuan as you wish!" The old master Bao boomed, "All right!" The clanging of saber against sword rang out as the two connected with each other.

    The Xia of Langzhong held his head straight and his energy was relaxed. His eyes saw everything as he swung his sword. Swoosh, swoosh, he cut three times in succession as he leapt straight forward, not taking intermediate steps as he did so. The old master evaded the previous three sword moves by stepping back, and on the fourth, he raised his Kunlun blade and with a deafening clang, knocked the sword immediately back. The Xia of Langzhong hurriedly performed a Curling Flower with his right hand and cut downward again at the old master's left arm. The old master swiftly tilted his body to the right, tucking his left leg back behind his right, and swung his saber, sending the sword back again while at the same time aiming his saber at his opponent's lower body for an attack.

    The Xia of Langzhong's sword quickly met it with a back chop also intended to knock it away. However, old master Bao's force was extremely heavy and his saber had not been knocked away. Instead, it pressed against the sword as he pushed with his saber. The Xia of Langzhong stepped back hastily a couple steps and changed his sword form. He sprang up and displayed his sword like the golden Peng spreading its wings. The sword stretched toward old master Bao's abdomen, but was pushed aside by old master Bao's saber. The Xia of Langzhong shifted to another sword technique and old master Bao's saber technique changed with it. They went back and forth for five or six exchanges, and though the nearby men watched them directly, none could see a winner or loser. But then the Xia of Langzhong suddenly jumped to one side and pulled out of his sword stance, while the old master held back his saber as well and panted. The Xia of Langzhong's face was pale as death as he ran to his horse, mounted it and departed.

    Jiang Xiaohe and the others had no clue as to what had happened. Stunned, they hurriedly urged their horses after him. The Xia of Langzhong found the main road and turned south as Jiang Xiaohe, the Yuan kinsmen and the others followed closely, though also afraid to ask him any questions. In an instant they'd crossed the Southern Mountains and returned once again to the ground of Northern Sichuan. It was then that the Xia of Langzhong reined in his horse. Jiang Xiaohe hurried forward and asked, "Master! You weren't losing! Why did you stop fighting and leave?" The Xia of Langzhong sat on his horse and smiled bitterly, waving his hand saying, "You must call me master no longer!" He raised his right arm and with a look, Xiaohe saw a hole slashed through the Xia of Langzhong's blue silk sleeve, the inside drenched with fresh blood. The Xia of Langzhong said, "This is Bao Kunlun not wanting to sow animosity for his disciples, so he cut me here very lightly. Otherwise, my arm here would have been crippled. He's stronger than me. He's in his old age, so his body isn't as able and his energy is lacking, but if he were still young, I would be even less of a match for him!" The words he spoke frightened Jiang Xiaohe and the Yuan kinsmen such that they changed color.

    The Xia of Langzhong continued, "From today on, I'll never go to Southern Shaanxi again!" Then he addressed Jiang Xiaohe, "If you learn martial arts from me, you'll never be able to beat Bao Kunlun. You ought to find another master of renown!" Jiang Xiaohe got off his horse and wept, "There are no other masters!" The Xia of Langzhong shook his head and said, "No, Gao Qinggui the Divine Hawk in Kaifeng is adept in dianxue. His martial arts are greater than mine. Seven years ago when we were playing chess in a garden in Kaifeng, he once played a trick on me with dianxue. Mention this to him and he will surely accept you as disciple. If you don't learn the martial arts outside of sword and saber, it would be difficult indeed if you intend to defeat Bao Kunlun!" When he finished, he nodded at Xiaohe and said, "We shall meet again!" He then departed with the Yuan kinsmen and the others in tow.

    Jiang Xiaohe watched as the silhouette of horses and their dust cloud grew distant. He stared into space and thought, The Xia of Langzhong don't lie. Unless I learn dianxue, I won't be able to avenge my father. Luckily, I have enough in travel money, so I'll go to Kaifeng! He got on his horse and felt his stomach grumble. Thus he thought, It's better if I find a place to eat a meal first. He spurred his horse to the east and after traveling not far, he arrived in a small town. He thought, This place is secluded, so it's probably unlikely that the Kunlun School will pursue me here. I should rest up thoroughly here. Thus he found a small tavern, entered after dismounting his horse, and asked for rice, dishes and wine.

    After downing a few pots of wine, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but stir up his anxiety once more. He thought, The Xia of Langzhong is truly a hero, but if even a hero like that can't defeat Bao Kunlun, then the old master Bao's martial arts are much too great! I didn't know early on, nor had I figured out that the enemy who killed my father was actually old master Bao! When he thought of his father's murder, he felt a miserable pain in his heart. He thought, I've come to my hometown for nothing. I didn't even see my mother. Even though my mother's now married to Elder Dong who runs a wool shop, in the end she's the one who gave birth to me. Plus, my brother Xiaolu is my flesh and blood. No matter what, I should go see them since I don't know when I'll next be able to meet with them! He wiped away a few tears and was of a mind to turn back and secretly go to Zhenba to visit his mother and brother. He had to be cautious wherever he went, or else he'd lose his life if those of the Kunlun School captured him. I was the one who brought the Xia of Langzhong here this time, so they probably hate me in some way. Just then, I even saw Aluan clench her teeth at me. Ah! Aluan likely hates me. Could it be she still doesn't know the resentment I suffered in her home? She is good to me, but she can't get in the way of my revenge!

    The more he drank, the worse he felt, so he slammed down his wine cup and ate a bit of food. He departed after paying for it, going outside and mounting his horse. Continuing north, he found an isolated road and furtively crossed through the Ba Mountains. He then turned another direction and purposefully took a long way around to avoid the Bao Homestead before galloping north. It was now late in the day and the sky was embroidered with sunset clouds. After traveling for a short while, he looked back and saw Zhenba City behind him. Jiang Xiaohe turned his horse swiftly around and flew through the city's eastern gate with determination. When he entered the city, he saw the streets of his hometown and couldn't help but feel a burst of sorrow. At the same time, he paid careful attention to whether or not there were familiar people in the streets.

    Shortly he arrived in front of Elder Dong's wool shop. It was very small and dark inside, and all that was there was Elder Dong face down taking a nap on the counter. Jiang Xiaohe dismounted and tied his horse to the flagpole in front of the door. As he went inside, his face flushed red. When Elder Dong was making to stand up to greet a customer, Jiang Xiaohe clasped his fist and calling him Uncle Dong said, "You may not recognize me, but I'm Jiang Xiaohe. I was passing by today and thought I might see my mother and my brother!" Hearing this, Elder Dong stuck his head out and carefully examined Jiang Xiaohe up and down from behind the counter. He grew angry and said, "Ho! So it's you, child! Did you forget the big trouble you caused last time you were at the Bao home? What a brave kid you are! Hurry and go away! Who do you think you are? When your mom married me, she became mine. I won't let you see her, so you won't see her. Now, go, go away! I'm about to call for other people. I'll tell them you hurt someone at the Bao Homestead!" Jiang Xiaohe was so angry he jumped across the counter to beat Elder Dong to death, but a person suddenly entered and grabbed him from behind. Jiang Xiaohe was startled and hurriedly looked back to see that it was his Uncle Ma Zhixian.

    Ma Zhixian was so unnerved he almost couldn't speak. He said, "Hurry and run! Long Zhiqi is in the city. Ah! You've sown quite the hatred here this day." At this, Jiang Xiaohe hurried out of the shop, untied his horse and mounted it. He turned back and clasped his fist at Ma Zhixian, saying, "Good-bye, Uncle!" He spurred his horse out of the west gate, found a large road and headed directly north. After he passed through some mountains, he urged his horse to go at a slower pace as tears poured unbidden out of his two eyes. He thought, If old master Bao hadn't killed my father, would it have been that I wouldn't be able to know my own mother? That I wouldn't dare even to stop in my own hometown? Thus, a fury burned in his chest as he loosened the reins and sped north. After a while, the day grew dark and there was no moonlight. He found a secluded town and stopped at an inn to rest.

    Early the next day, he left the inn and set off, crossing through Xixiang County. He veered east as he went and by noon, he'd arrived in Ziwu Town. Ziwu was a bustling place as well. To the north across the Ziwu River, after another forty or fifty miles were the Zhongnan Mountains, and after the Zhongnan Mountains, it was the Guanzhong Plains. Jiang Xiaohe planned on galloping straight toward Kaifeng after exiting the Hangu Pass. When he finished inquiring about the route there from those at roadside, he found a tavern because the day was hot and his throat dry, and it was also time to eat. He got his horse at the gate and went inside.

    As he stepped in with one foot, someone entered closely behind his other foot. Jiang Xiaohe felt uneasy and turned around quickly, but saw that it was an old man. He was probably about sixty years of age and wore glasses. His beard was a bit white and he wore a small hat on his head. He was dressed in a blue cloth robe and a green muslin waistcoat, and on his back he carried a small bundle. Jiang Xiaohe found a table and sat down, and the old man sat down across from him. Jiang Xiaohe asked for wine, and the old man did as well. Then he pulled a book out of his bundle and read it as he drank, looking particularly entranced with it. Jiang Xiaohe felt envious, thinking to himself, It's still better to be able to read. With a book, I could get rid of anxiety and relax, but I don't know even one character. He smiled and asked, "Old mister, what book are you reading?"

    The old man looked up from his book and turned his head to glance at Xiaohe. He said, "I'm reading Tang poetry." He had a southern accent. Jiang Xiaohe could still understand him though, thinking, This old mister is probably a xiucai. He must be very learned. After a couple cups of wine, he saw that the old man was still reading with great interest. Jiang Xiaohe didn't understand what was so engrossing about the book, so he respectfully asked, "Old mister, are you a xiucai?" The old man shook his head, but didn't say anything. He continued reading that book of his. Jiang Xiaohe had just about finished his wine when he called for some dishes and rice, and then asked, "Old mister, do you want to have some?" The old man waved his hand and said, "Nay, I don't."

    Jiang Xiaohe swallowed large mouthfuls of food. After a while, the old man put down his book, poured himself half a cup of wine and drank, gazing over at Xiaohe. Xiaohe smiled and asked, "Old mister, where do you come from?" The old man said, "I'm from Jiangnan." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Are you an official, old mister?" The old man shook his head again and said, "I've never been an official. I've come here to travel for pleasure." Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "Old mister, you have quite the spirit!" He thought that scholars were friendly people after all. Comparing the old mister and Bao Kunlun, this old man is like a bodhisattva, while Bao Kunlun is basically Yama the King of Hell! The old man then began to ask Xiaohe some questions. He smiled, "Child, where do ya come from, and where are ya going?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I come from Zhenba, and I'm going to Kaifeng." The old man looked surprised as he said, "Oh ho! That's quite far. Will ya be able to make it there?" Jiang Xiaohe pointed outside and said, "I have a horse." The old man asked further, "What are ya going to do in Kaifeng? Are yer parents all right with ya going so far away?" These words really stirred up Xiaohe's sorrow, and Xiaohe let out a long sigh. He shook his head, "I don't have parents. Old mister, I'm a child of hardship. You can say I'm only fourteen this year, but I've suffered every hardship! Old mister, there really are very few people who are friendly like you!"

    The old man was even more taken aback, asking, "Why is that? What do ya do? Yer father's dead, so what are ya living on? Whom are ya looking for in Kaifeng?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm going to Kaifeng to find Gao Qinggui the Divine Hawk. Northern Sichuan's Xia of Langzhong told me to ask him to be my master. Ah! You're a scholar, old mister, so I'm telling you. Ah! I'm a man studying martial arts, so even if I tell you, you wouldn't understand. I suppose I'll tell you anyway. My father was murdered, causing my family to splinter apart. I can no longer see my mother and brother. I'm going to Kaifeng to learn dianxue from Gao Qinggui, so I can better avenge my father."

    When he said this, he couldn't help but wipe his tears away. There were no other patrons beside them at the tavern, and when Jiang Xiaohe finished speaking, his mind seemed to feel a bit more at ease. When the old man heard this, he nodded continuously and said, "Y'ave quite the resolve, child!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Old mister, do you have any business in Kaifeng? I can take care of it for you while I'm there." The old man shook his head and said, "I don't." Jiang Xiaohe then settled his bill and was about to pay for the old man as well. The old man waved his hand and said, "Ya needn't be so courteous. I'm going to eat still, so I don't know how much money the total will be." Jiang Xiaohe clasped his fist and said, "Old master, farewell." The old man just nodded and didn't bother getting up.

    Jiang Xiaohe exited the tavern and untied his horse. He led it north, found a fodder shop and fed it. He then mounted his horse and shook his whip, crossing the Ziwu River and continuing north. After riding twenty or thirty miles, he sighted the Zhongnan Mountains. It was still early in the day, but there weren't many passers-by on the road and there were no wagons at all. Jiang Xiaohe felt things difficult here, thinking, These Zhongnan Mountains are much higher than the ones we have back home. Plus, I don't know how deep or far these mountain roads are. It's early now, but what if it grows dark before I get thirty miles into the mountains? Where am I to find lodging if there aren't any inns? It would be the end of things if I encountered a tiger or leopard. Thus, he found a farmer walking on the side of the road and reined his horse in, asking, "Pardon me, brother. I want to cross the Zhongnan Mountains to get to Guanzhong, but I was wondering how far into the mountains I'll have to go before getting to an inn?"

    The farmer said, "There are no inns in the mountain, only people's homes, but you can stay in any of them. However child, you can't enter the mountains on your own. In the mountains..." When he said this, he walked closer to the horse. He pointed to the high mountains to the north, saying, "If you went into the mountains by yourself, you'd be giving up your life for nothing. There are a dozen or so bandit hideouts in the mountains, and the bandit leaders are all men of renown. Hu Li the Silver Dart has the utmost skill and he is very bold. He'll often ride out of the mountains on horseback for amusement. If you want to cross the mountains, it's best if you go to Ziwu and wait. In a day or two, there'll be an escort wagons. You'd certainly do well to follow behind the escort wagons across the mountain. Otherwise, something will surely happen to you before you ride two miles into the mountains!"

    Jiang Xiaohe listened and thought, The escort wagons on this road will all belong to the Kunlun School. If I followed behind them and they discover who I am, would they be able to spare me? Not to mention that I wouldn't dare delay even one moment. If I tried my hardest to cross the mountains, perhaps I won't encounter any bandits, and even if I did, it's no big deal. I'll tie the golden bell to my horse and throw some Jianghu talk at them. Once they find out I'm the Xia of Langzhong's man, they wouldn't dare hurt me. He clasped his fist at the farmer and said, "Many thanks!" He then immediately waved his whip and made his way toward the mountains. In a short while, he spotted the mountain entrance, whereupon he spurred his horse on through it. It wasn't until he rode a dozen or so miles on the winding mountain road that Jiang Xiaohe saw that the Qin Mountains were unlike any of the mountains in Northern Sichuan. Not only were the peaks high and the ridges steep, but the myriad mountains were also stacked close together, creating various upward or downward formations. Every peak was several hundred yards high, extending up into the distance without end. There were also a great many trees, making numerous areas lush and verdant with forests that seemed never to have been felled by people before. He traveled a long while without encountering anyone, though sometimes he spotted a few caves in the recesses of the mountain spitting out dense cook fires. There were probably people living there.

    He continued on the twisting mountain road for another twenty-odd miles and felt it becoming narrower and steeper. Jiang Xiaohe was nearly at point he couldn't ride his horse anymore, but he carefully kept a close rein on the horse and continued step-by-step upwards, going higher and higher. Soon the boy and horse had almost reached the top of a ridge when looking up he suddenly espied a man up ahead carrying a bundle on his back. The man walked up effortlessly and was soon about to crest the ridge. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but be envious, saying, "Don't think too much of that man walking. He's having an easier time climbing this mountain on foot than me riding my horse." Then he thought, Hearing that farmer tell it, these mountains have more bandits than rocks. A group of eight or ten wouldn't dare go through it, so how could this one? He's carrying a pack as well, so he definitely doesn't seem to live in the mountains... He thought this as he rode and after a few more steps, he gave the man walking ahead a careful look and was suddenly taken aback, crying out with surprise, "Strange!" The man ahead of him was wearing a small hat on his head and clothed in a blue cloth robe and green muslin waistcoat. He would occasionally tilt one way and his light, white beard would blow in the mountain winds.

    Jiang Xiaohe could see very clearly from behind, thinking, This is too strange. Isn't that the old man I met at the tavern in Ziwu? When I'd left the tavern, he was still leisurely waiting to eat. My horse rode ceaselessly fifty or sixty miles north and then traveled a long while after entering the mountains, so how could this old man be ahead of me while walking with a bundle on his back. I don't believe it. Hence he uncovered his voice and shouted ahead, "Old mister!" The traveler who was about to crest the ridge turned his head and looked down, whereupon Jiang Xiaohe almost toppled from his horse in disbelief. He urged his horse up the mountain as quick as possible and shouted, "Old mister, how did you walk so quickly? Oh my! You're already walking ahead of me! Wow, old mister, you must have divine legs!"

    The old man looked down and laughed loudly, nodding. The man's beard fluttered pleasantly in the wind. Jiang Xiaohe thought, He must be an old immortal! He huffed as he whipped his horse, making it over the mountain ride with great difficultly. He was so tired it was hard to catch his breath and sweat ran from his head to his neck like rain. However, the old man was already long waiting for him at the summit, appearing very much at peace. He wasn't breathing heavily at all, looking simply like an idle cloud or wild crane that had floated across a hundred miles and landed upon the top of the mountain.

    Jiang Xiaohe reined in his horse and panted, saying, "Old mister, how do you travel so quickly? Ah! If I had two legs like yours, I wouldn't need a horse to travel upon Jianghu." The old man smiled plainly and said, "I took a shortcut 'ere." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I thought so! Old mister, do you think I'm going in the right direction?" The old man nodded and said, "Very right. After going down this mountain ridge, cross another two and the road will widen. There will be people's 'omes there and ya'll be able to get a drink of water." Jiang Xiaohe clasped his fist and said, "All right. Thank you, old mister. Farewell, farewell." Thus, he let loose his horse and ran down, clop, clop, clop, along the slope of the mountain. He reached the bottom of the ridge in a split second and reined in his horse as he looked back upwards. He saw that the old man had not yet started his descent.

    Jiang Xiaohe urged his horse along the mountain path and rode north another five or six miles. He came upon an even higher and steeper mountain ridge that seemed to run straight up and straight down and considered to himself whether or not he could ride the horse up. When he lifted his head up, ah! He suddenly spotted once more the old man carrying a bundle on his back, walking boldly upon the precipice. He saw him ascend the mountain ridge in an instant and disappear over it in the blink of an eye. Jiang Xiaohe held his gaze upward, baffled. Though he was sweating, he started trembling, saying, "This is no good! He's either an immortal or a ghost. He's certainly not a person!" He peeled his horse away and entered a secluded mountain road. He was still shaking and it seemed as if the curious old man was crouching among every crag and pine tree. Twisting and winding, he rode a very long length of the mountain path and arduously passed over two more mountain ridges, not seeing any more of the curious old man.

    All of a sudden piercing cries like those of a hawk reached his ears, though they sounded to him like the signal whistles of the brigands he'd heard on Trunk Mountain. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but shudder. He hastily pulled his saber from under the saddle and looked all around, raising his eyes and turning his head. All he saw were the trees moving in the mountain wind and the white clouds fleeting by over the edges of mountain ridge. He didn't even hear the sound of a single bird. However, Jiang Xiaohe kept his mind alert and his saber out of its scabbard. He constantly looked back as he rode and cross another couple hills, noticing that the path became gradually wider. However, after riding a short distance, another disturbing situation arose in front of his eyes! Seven or eight bodies laid flat across the mountain road. Jiang Xiaohe was in shock, saying, "How bizarre!" He reined his horse in and proceeded slowly. He saw that though seven or eight people were laying this way and that upon the ground, there was not one spot of blood, only sabers and staffs strewn about. He spurred the horse to walk closer for a look and heard only groaning from the men on the ground. One of them even said, "Brother! Quick, go and report to the captain! None of us can move!"

    Jiang Xiaohe was dumbstruck. He approached to see that there were eight men, all wearing short shirts and pants, just like those bandits he'd encountered in Northern Sichuan. None of them were wounded and all had their eyes open, but they couldn't move. Some were on their stomachs and some on their backs. Some could even speak, but others just moaned, as if they felt great pain somewhere on their bodies. Jiang Xiaohe's eyes widened in surprise as he asked, "What's happened to you all? Who beat you guys up? What did they use to do it?" The immobile bandits had seen by now that Jiang Xiaohe was just a passerby and not one of their own, when one of them said, "Friend, do a good deed. Take a message to the eastern side of the ridge for us. We're all men of Captain Hu Li the Silver Dart. We just ran into an old man with a white beard who unleashed dianxue skill on all of us! Tell them to come and carry us back!"

    When Jiang Xiaohe heard the words dianxue, he seemed to have been reminded of something and immediately urged his horse on without uttering a word. He put his steel saber away as he rode, thinking, I get it. The old mister I encountered must've been a great and famous xia. He knows how to hit the vital points, so could it be he's Gao Qinggui? Ah! How stupid I was. I should have kneeled on the mountain ridge and asked him to be my master, but I just let him go! Thus, he spurred his horse forward and looked from side to side, but he was unfortunately hard-pressed to find a trace of the old man. He grew ever more anxious as the path seemed ever more to oppose him. He climbed over two or three more mountains until both he and the horse were so exhausted they could go no further.

    By this time the sun was already tilting west and the dark clouds of the valleys had gathered. Even the paths became gradually obscured, though it was fortunate that the road he was currently on was both level and wide. Jiang Xiaohe rode another dozen or so miles of the road when he suddenly heard someone shouting ahead of him, "Where are you coming from? Hey! I'm asking you!" Jiang Xiaohe drew nearer before he saw a flat valley in front of him populated by several dwellings and a large crowd of people. There were also wagons, horses and mules. The one asking him questions looked to be an escort.

    Jiang Xiaohe approached and stopped his horse, saying, "I've come from the town of Ziwu. What about you, friend? What honorable place do you come from?" The man said, "We are from the Lishun Security Office in Xi'an. We are on our way to Hanzhong with Captain Ge." Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but become more alarmed, thinking, This isn't good! I've run into Ge Zhiqiang. In the Kunlun School, his name rings even greater than those of the Long brothers! What do I do now? He sunk into a bit of a panic. The escort across from him asked further, "Are there others behind you?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "No one. It's just me!" The other man was a bit astonished, asking, "Just you? You risked crossing the mountains on your own? Don't mess with us, little one. Those who travel upon Jianghu can't just make jokes whenever they want!"

    Jiang Xiaohe didn't dare to get off his horse and anxiety crept onto his face. He nodded, saying, "It's true! It's just me. I had no choice, because I had urgent business. Even if there were hills of blades and pots of hot oil on the Qin mountain road, I would still have had to travel it. But even now I can't rest here. I have to hurry on!" As he said this, he spurred his horse forward to get through them, intending to escape from these men of the Kunlun School. Unexpectedly, the escort he was talking to grabbed hold of his horse's head and said, "Don't you value your life, you little fool? Your damn courage ain't so trifling! You crashed your way through thirty-odd miles of road. It wasn't that Hu Li the Silver Dart didn't see you; it was that he didn't think you were worth robbing. Open your eyes and have a look! How many escort wagons are stopped here? Our great Captain Ge is here too. Why haven't we dared to proceed? Could it be we don't want to make the mistake of incurring Hu Li's one-hundred-hits-in-one-hundred-shots silver darts? If you're thinking to head north, you need be careful of their northern hideout. If you go that way and they see you, we'll not speak of darts. Even if they sent a rock at you, it might blow your brains out, little one!"

    Jiang Xiaohe's temper flared at this man's reaming of him, but he truly didn't dare provoke a situation here, so he suppressed his anger and smiled coldly, "Friend, it's none of your concern. Even if I die, I have to take care of my urgent business!" Thus he waved his whip and urged his horse on, planning to break through them with haste, but someone behind the wagons abruptly smacked Xiaohe in the hip with the heel of their hand. Caught off guard, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't keep from yelling out as he tumbled from the horse. The person behind it was none other than Bao Kunlun's second son, Bao Zhilin. This time he had been entrusted by the Long brothers with the task of going to Xi'an and inviting back Ge Zhiqiang. Ge Zhiqiang was escorting a Lishun caravan south and had come to this point in the mountains. Since it was late in the day and they'd had apprehensions concerning Hu Li's darts, they could proceed no further and had stopped here, not thinking that they would encounter Jiang Xiaohe.

    Though Bao Zhilin was unaware of Jiang Xiaohe bringing the Xia of Langzhong to cause trouble in Ziyang and Zhenba two days past, he'd pushed Jiang Xiaohe off his horse and hurried over to give him a kick, yelling, "You little piece of shit! How the **** are you still alive? The wound you gave Sir Long still keeps him from walking, you bastard!" Jiang Xiaohe rolled over and crawled up. He ran over to his horse and pulled out his saber, swoosh, sending a chop at Bao Zhilin, yelling, "You mongrel mutt! When you strike young Sir Jiang, young Sir Jiang will come and find you!"

    Bao Zhilin spread his arms and ran, shouting out, "This is Jiang Zhisheng's son! He's the one who wounded our eldest brother Long!" Three or four of the Lishun Security escorts approached swinging their sabers and staffs and started fighting with Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe knew well that he was all alone, but as things were, he could only put his all into it. He shook his blade, whoosh, whoosh, slashing and cutting every which way. His opponents weren't weak, but none were able to draw close to his person.

    After battling for ten-odd exchanges, he saw Bao Zhilin bringing a person forward. In the midst of the evening's valley, he couldn't see this man clearly, but he could tell roughly that his body was imposing and his manner daunting. In his hand he held a Kunlun blade just like the one used by the old master Bao. When he drew near, he pointed with his saber and yelled, "Stop this! Which one is Jiang Xiaohe?" The ones who were fighting Xiaohe withdrew their sabers and staffs and jumped to one side. Jiang Xiaohe panted and held his saber in front of him, answering, "I am Jiang Xiaohe. Who are you?" From beside the man, Bao Zhilin said, "The little one doesn't even recognize my sixth disciple-brother. Other than my father, this is the Kunlun School's most famous hero, Sixth Sir Ge the Iron Hegemon of the 'Golden Saber and Silver Whip'!"

    Jiang Xiaohe knew that this was Ge Zhiqiang. Even the Xia of Langzhong had said before that he was the most skilled disciple of Kunlun. Thus, he anxiously said, "I didn't provoke you guys. You've all kept me here and bullied me, taking advantage of me because I'm young!" Ge Zhiqiang sniggered coldly and advanced a few steps with Kunlun blade in hand. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly stepped back. Ge Zhiqiang yelled, "Throw down the saber in your hand and let us tie you up. We'll send you back to Zhenba and listen to how our master wishes to handle you. If you dare resist in the slightest, I will immediately hack you to death with one cut! You little criminal, your dad Jiang Zhisheng tarnished the reputation of the Kunlun School, and you yourself ran away after wounding our second disciple-brother. Let's see where you'll run now." After he said this, his saber came down viciously.

    Jiang Xiaohe quickly brought his saber up to meet it, but with a clang, Jiang Xiaohe's wrist pulsed with pain and his saber was thrown onto the ground. He was just about to turn and run, but Ge Zhiqiang kicked him from behind—a kick real with the power to topple mountains and stamp out seas—sending Jiang Xiaohe rolling over several times like an egg. A few of the escorts ran over and pinned Jiang Xiaohe down. Jiang Xiaohe struggled and shouted, but his neck was pinched down and both his arms were twisted and held down. He was just like a little captured chicken. Bao Zhilin shouted, "Get rope! Get rope and tie him up! Tie him up!" He was immensely pleased and shouting when he abruptly felt a numbness in his spine. He said, "Ah!" before fell onto the ground with a thud. There had suddenly appeared behind him an old man carrying a bundle on his back. All those around were very stunned.

    Ge Zhiqiang grew furious, brandishing his saber as he approached threateningly, "Who are you?" The old man silently stood his ground and waited until Ge Zhiqiang's saber was coming down on him. The old man just raised his left hand slightly and pinched the Kunlun blade with two of his fingers. Ge Zhiqiang tried with all his Iron Hegemon's might, but he couldn't press the saber down any further, nor could he pull it away. He used both his hands to grip the blade's handle and exerted his strength in an effort to wrest the saber away, but the old man's two fingers seemed to have the force of several tons, not budging even the tiniest bit. The old man then applied a little bit of strength and took the Kunlun blade away with the saber's edge clasped between his fingers. He placed it on the ground and stamped on it. With a clatter the heavy pure steel Kunlun blade promptly broke into two pieces just as if it were a thin slat of wood. Ge Zhiqiang the Iron Hegemon shouted out in fright. His color drained as he asked, "Who are you?" The old man's right hand remained clasped about his pack as it had the entire time. He spoke calmly in his southern dialect, "I am this boy's master, and I cannot stand by and watch ya harassing him!"

    By this time, the people in the area were all stupefied and the men holding Jiang Xiaohe down had all loosened their grips. Ge Zhiqiang was trembling from head to toe when he told everyone to let Jiang Xiaohe go. He then knelt and bowed with his hands held in front of his head, saying, "Respected elder, please grant us your name!" The old man shook his head and said, "I don't need to say my name. Just go visit yer master Bao Zhenfei and ask him whom he encountered in the Tongbai Mountains thirty years ago. He'll know my name." Ge Zhiqiang stuttered, "Y-yes, yes," and dared not inquire further.

    Jiang Xiaohe came over crying and kowtowed to the old man. The old man spoke kindly, "Don't be afraid! Mount yer horse and ride on. I'll protect ya!" Jiang Xiaohe crawled up, but didn't bother to pick up his saber. He led his horse with his head hung and walked north with the old man under the day's twilight.

    In the valley after they departed, Ge Zhiqiang the Iron Hegemon and the other escorts talked with each other in low tones and quietly went about their business. They dared not raise their voices, as if that old xia's supernatural actions had frozen their souls with fright! There was only the brushing sound the trees made as the mountain winds blew. They picked up two pieces of the stamped apart Kunlun blade and lifted up the crippled Bao Zhilin. They spent the night in the dwellings of the people in the valley, and the next day they somberly brought the escort wagons through the Qin Mountains with Bao Zhilin in tow. Whenever Ge Zhiqiang came to Southern Shaanxi, he did so with power and bravado, because not only was he a prominent disciple of the Kunlun School, he was also the wealthiest man in Guanzhong and influential in security circles. However, this time he came gloomily without sound or gusto. He ordered his subordinates to take the escort wagons to Hanzhong while he brought only two men, three horses and a wagon with him. In the wagon laid an immobile Bao Zhilin who could only speak. They hurried to Zhenba County before the night was out.

    Because he had calmly subdued the Xia of Langzhong and scared away Jiang Xiaohe, the old master Bao believed he could sit back in the Bao Homestead and relax, but to his surprise, Ge Zhiqiang arrived that morning. Old master Bao had brought his granddaughter out in front of the gate along with Lu Zhizhong, Long Zhiqi, Ma Zhixian, Liu Zhiyuan, Qin Zhibao and the others. When they sighted Bao Zhilin being lifted off the wagon like a dead man, they were all dumbstruck. Ge Zhiqiang was spiritless and looked ill at ease. After he paid his respects to his old master, he asked his master aside and quietly related to him what had occurred on the way through the Qin Mountains.

    At first, when old master Bao heard of Jiang Xiaohe traveling the Qin Mountains alone, he clenched his fists angrily and his face turned purple. Later, he heard that a curious old man had dropped Bao Zhilin by hitting his vital points and split a Kunlun blade with a stamp of his foot. His face turned pale and he looked gradually more startled by the time he heard Ge Zhiqiang say, "This man said he didn't need to say his name. He just told me to return and ask you, master, about thirty years ago in the Tongbai Mountains..." Before he could say anymore, the old master Bao stamped his foot anxiously and cried out "Ah...!" before he collapsed onto the ground, having lost consciousness. All his disciples were panicked! They hurriedly came forward to help carry him inside. The young girl Aluan began to weep loudly. The old master laid on his bed surrounded by his disciples, two of his daughters-in-law and his young granddaughter, all of them seeing to him. They fed him ginger soup a while before the old master slowly came to.

    Young Aluan was sobbing over her grandpa's body as he breathed deeply for a time before he shed some tears and sighed, "It's over! All over! I, Bao Zhenfei, behaved too viciously in the past and have caused all of you to suffer cruel retribution with me. I know that man. Thirty years ago when I was young and spirited, I encountered this man in the Tongbai Mountains of Henan and he'd taught me a lesson. If a man such as me with my martial arts fell into his hands, I'd be as good as worthless. I've never told anyone about the loss I suffered in the Tongbai Mountains. I believed him long dead. I didn't think he was still in this world, and even less that he would take in Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe is bold and fierce, hardworking and eager to excel. If in three years' time he returns accomplished in martial arts, not one person of the entire Bao clan, including the thirty-some disciples of my Kunlun School, will be able to survive! Ah! This is all because I, Bao Zhenfei have handled matters excessively throughout my life and then wavered that I've tied this knot of an enemy that I can't undo!" When the old master finished speaking, all his disciples were grimly brushing their tears away.

    Ma Zhixian wiped his tears and consoled the old master, "Master, don't worry! If Jiang Xiaohe learns martial arts and returns to take his revenge, I'll meet with him. There are things I could say to him!" The old master shook his head and said with a trace of anger, "You're his uncle. He grew up in your house, so of course he wouldn't hurt you. We of the Kunlun School won't be a match for him in the future, but we'll die before we admit defeat and concede!" Young Aluan jumped to her feet and cursed Jiang Xiaohe, "Grandpa, don't be afraid! If Jiang Xiaohe comes, I'll beat him up!" Long Zhiqi and the others fumed as well, "Can't we intensify our martial arts training and invite the world's heroes to wait for him and deal with him? If he brings his master here, can't we all fight against him as one?"

    The old master Bao stared into space a while as he was laying down. The dark purple color gradually returned to his pale and bloodless face. He abruptly got up from the bed and struck his breast assertively, saying, "Not to fear!" He clenched his fists and puffed out his chest, booming, "None of you have finished your martial arts training, because when I instructed my disciples, I have always excluded four sets of fists and eight sequences of the saber. I kept them secret and didn't teach them. From this day on, I'll teach them all to you so that you may all learn as much martial arts as me. Don't tell me that thirty Bao Zhenfeis cannot defeat one Jiang Xiaohe! What are we afraid of?"

    The grief of all his disciples turned instead into exhilaration, as their spirits were all raised as one. From that day forward, the old master Bao gathered together Long Zhiqi, Jia Zhiming, Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong, Ma Zhixian, Chen Zhijun, Qin Zhibao, Jiang Zhiyao, Miao Zhiying, Yuan Zhiyi, Yuan Zhixia, Han Zhixin, and Zhang Zhicai, along with his eldest son Bao Zhiyun, a total of fourteen disciples at the Bao Homestead in Zhenba County, where daily they trained in the secret martial arts of the old master. The old master roused his spirit as well. His body grew even stronger and his movements more agile by the day, restoring him to the bravery and haughtiness of his youth. Above all, in the evening of every day the old master always instructed his granddaughter Aluan in a few secret moves within the secret moves. Several years passed in just this way and the reputation of the Kunlun School grew ever more extensive, yet none in Jianghu heard even tiniest nugget of information concerning Jiang Xiaohe.

  4. #24
    Senior Member littleli's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    276

    Default

    -

    CHAPTER SEVEN

    Under the moon at the imposing pass, Bao Aluan sets off alone.
    By the bridge over the River Ba, Li Fengjie battles a multitude.


    Time travels like an arrow as the seasons turned amid the swinging of sabers and the thrusting of fists, and several years passed one after another. The old master Bao's body was as robust as it had ever been, but his ashy beard had already turned white as snow, as he was now a man of seventy-six. Most of his disciples had grown beards and their disciples were all already men grown. In the ten years since, the changes in the affairs of Jianghu had come extraordinarily quickly, but never at any hour of any day did the old master forget about Jiang Xiaohe. Whenever a disciple came from afar to call on him, he necessarily asked in earnest, "Have you heard of Jiang Xiaohe's whereabouts? Have any young men of exceptional martial arts appeared anew in the Jianghu of other provinces?" But their answers always disappointed him. This was because he thought, Jiang Xiaohe will come to Zhenba after he has completed his martial arts training and kill all of my disciples and their disciples. Wouldn't it be better if I were alive then to meet him when he comes? I could defeat him, that would naturally be good, but if I can't, it would be all right. I could ask him to take just my old life. I was the one who killed his father, so if I was killed by him, it would be no injustice.

    Currently, his eldest Bao Zhilin was still managing the Kunlun Security Office in Hanzhong and had accepted many disciples of his own, becoming ever wealthier. Ever since the mysterious xia hit his vital points on the Qin mountain road, his second son Bao Zhilin had become crippled. Though they had invited many doctors to treat him and he could now move, his lower back was still bent like a hunchback. Whenever he saw people, he would forever appear to be bowing to them. The old master's first daughter-in-law Fang-shi had passed away three years prior to illness, while his second daughter-in-law lived without incident. His granddaughter Aluan was now of twenty-two years already, and she had blossomed simply into a flower. No, better yet, she was like an exquisitely carved, as lovely as clear jade, prominently straight and tall mountain peak. Her hair was like a dark cloud, her eyes twinkled like stars, and her face was delicate like a flower. She had the elegance of a spring willow, and her bone structure was like a winter pine. She was neither tall nor short, and neither skinny nor fat. Her feet weren't small, and her temperament and speech were neither common nor wild. She had long since learned the martial arts. She could jump high and leap far, roll, parry, pull and block. She was especially skilled in the secret saber arts of the Kunlun School and could maneuver without rival, exceeding Lu Zhizhong, Ge Zhiqiang and all the good Jianghu men of Guanzhong or Hanzhong.

    The old master Bao had once said that his granddaughter's martial arts had surpassed his own, and that if Northern Sichuan's Xia of Langzhong returned, there was no way she could lose. Though he didn't say it aloud, he often thought such things of Jiang Xiaohe. I wonder how powerful Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts are now. Can he defeat my granddaughter? Aluan hoped every day for Jiang Xiaohe's return, saying to the old master, "Grandpa, I wish Jiang Xiaohe would come to us for revenge right now. The sooner he comes, the sooner I'll kill him, and the sooner I can make you feel more at ease!" When the old master heard this, he just smiled, but in his heart he knew it wouldn't be as easy as that.

    In the customs of Southern Shaanxi, any maidens who hadn't married into another family by fifteen or sixteen beckoned others to laugh. The girl Aluan's feet were a little big and she spent her entire day riding horses and doing bladework like a man, but those who were hardworking and prudent naturally dared say nothing about her. However, many noted masters and escorts competed to bring their sons before old master Bao to ask for Aluan's betrothal. Old master Bao refused them all without exception, and sometimes when he thought it annoying, he said, "My granddaughter will not get married in this lifetime!" Bao Aluan immersed herself in martial arts the day long. In the early morning she practiced her fists, in the afternoon she rode her horse, and she went inside late at night. Spring and autumn hurried past thusly. The flowers bloomed and the leaves fell with nary a thought of hers given to emotion. But there was one thing she couldn't forget, and it was that one time in her childhood when she agreed to be someone's wife.

    Jiang Xiaohe climbed a tree to fetch her kite on the condition that he call her wife. She still remembered what it was like then. When she thought about it her face flushed red and she hated Jiang Xiaohe for it. She didn't hate him just because Xiaohe was an enemy of her house. There seemed to be some other reason she couldn't speak aloud that often made her clench her teeth in irritation. She thought she couldn't be happy until Jiang Xiaohe came now for a great battle of three or four hundred exchanges with her, whereupon she would kill him and his body would rot, and then she might cry over him, or perhaps she would slit her throat in front of the corpse that she'd killed! This morning after she'd finished her martial arts training, she galloped her pomegranate red steed outside of the village straight through to the Southern Mountains before retracing her steps back. She came upon a willow at the side of the road, pulled her saber out and hacked at it. When a large piece of bark dropped off with a crack, she felt a bit of her anger subside and a bit of her hatred dissipate. It was because this willow had tangled her kite ten years ago that she chopped at it every day until it was covered in notches and cuts. It hadn't fallen over yet, but its branches had slowly disappeared and the willow leaves were no longer lush. It likely wouldn't survive the next few years.

    Bao Aluan returned home, tied up her horse, set down her saber, and ate lunch. She always ate lunch with her grandpa, and the two, grandfather and granddaughter, talked about everything. Today, however, old master Bao stopped their conversation and after a while said, "Aluan, would you be willing to venture out?" Aluan's chopsticks stopped and she smiled, saying, "Where do you want me to go? Grandpa." The old master said, "To make your way upon Jianghu! To travel high mountains and great rivers as you please, to see things you can't see at home, to meet heroes outside of our Kunlun School." Aluan joyously said, "Yes, I want to! Grandpa, let's go together! How long it's been since you've traveled Jianghu!" Old master Bao waved his hand and said, "I can't leave home." Aluan smirked, saying, "You can't leave home? Well, I can't leave you." After she said this, she continued pinching food with her chopsticks and eating.

    The old master Bao furrowed his brow for a while and then said, "Don't think that you've learned all the martial arts you're going to. Far from it, actually! You definitely won't learn any special skills within the circle of our Kunlun School. You need to go out there to make your way and train. Go to Hanzhong from here, from Hanzhong across the Qin Mountains to Xi'an, and then exit through the Hangu Pass and follow the Yellow River to Kaifeng. When you get there, find Gao Qinggui the old xia, ask him to be your master and learn dianxue." Aluan scoffed, "I'm not learning any dianxue! Real heroes speak with sabers and spears. If they've used dianxue to win, they're no champion!" The old master shook his head and said, "You can't say it that way. Dianxue must be learned. In addition, I'm telling you to venture out and train for other reasons as well. First, you can go out and inquire about Xiaohe'd whereabouts..."

    Upon hearing this, Aluan immediately raised her eyebrows and said, "If I go out and am able to ferret out where Jiang Xiaohe is, there'll be no way I won't kill him when I encounter him!" The old master said, "If he doesn't pick a fight with you, or if he hasn't learned much in the way of skills, we can leave him alone. As for the second matter, it's that you're already twenty and then some this year. Just as a man grown must take a wife, and a woman grown must be betrothed, you must also go and find a good husband. None of the men among those we know will do, so you have to go outside and seek one out. In these last dozen years, there have appeared not a few heroes of your generation on Jianghu, so there must certainly be one suitable for you. But you need always remember that he must one handsome in appearance, upright in conduct and stronger than me in his martial arts. If you find him, come back and tell me, and I'll send someone to make the match."

    When the old master finished speaking, he saw that his granddaughter was red in the face. She said nothing and had stayed her chopsticks and stopped eating. The old master sighed to himself with regret and thought, In the end, one can't keep a girl around once she's grown! Then he said to his granddaughter, "You must remember! I'm sending you out to Jianghu to choose a husband, but if you find him, all you need do is remember his name and his background. I still need to test him to make sure his martial skill is greater than mine. And then I'll let you marry him, but it wouldn't do if he were lacking even a little bit. You'll be traveling upon Jianghu, but you still need to peaceably and graciously follow the rules of courtesy. You'll not act excessively and damage my good name!" The girl Aluan rested her chin in her hands and kept deeply silent. It was as if she had become another person that day, for after lunch she neither touched a saber nor swung a sword.

    The old master chose a date of departure for his granddaughter; she was to set off the day after next. The following day, he ordered traveling clothes prepared for her and assigned his fourth disciple Jiang Zhiyao to accompany her on her journey for protection and guidance. Jiang Zhiyao was once a disciple the old master had been very proud of, but because he flirted with a married woman from a good family while watching a festival play in his youth, he had broken one of the Kunlun School's rules. The circumstances were not as serious so his life was spared, but his left eye had still been scooped out. He lived a hermit's life for seven or eight years to keep his right eye, and trained in the martial arts with great progress. He traveled upon Jianghu these past few years and increased his reputation daily so that most called him "the One-eyed Vanguard." He was now a man of forty-some years and very upright and honest, so the old master had sent for him to accompany his granddaughter and repeatedly asked of him very many things about it.

    The day they were to set off arrived. It was a clear and tranquil day early in the fourth month, and Ma Zhixian, Chen Zhijun, Yuan Zhiyi, Zhang Zhicai and others had come to the Bao Homestead, all to send off the girl Aluan. Zhang Zhicai was originally the eighteenth disciple of the Kunlun School, but because his martial arts saw daily progress in recent years, the old master Bao had summoned him this time to look after the household. He asked, "Where does Young Aluan plan on going?" Old master Bao replied, "I told her to go to Hanzhong first to see her father, and then to cross the Qin Mountains to visit Ge Zhiqiang in Xi'an. I'm having Zhiqiang take her to meet some of the famous figures in the security firms of Xi'an. From Xi'an, they'll head east to see Li Zhenxia of Huazhou and Zhang Debao of Tongzhou, and then exit through the Hangu Pass to call upon Liang Gao the Iron-armed Monkey of Luoning county, the Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva of Mount Song, and Gao Qinggui of Kaifeng. Afterwards, she's to head south to visit Lu Boxiong the Divine Whip in Shangcai, Liu Kuang the Peer to Huang Zhong in Xinyang subprefecture, and Second Pang the Flower Spear in Xiangyang city. Thereafter, she'll enter Sichuan Province to meet Southern Sichuan's Tiger of Fuzhou and Northern Sichuan's Xia of Langzhong!"

    When the group of disciples heard the girl Aluan's ambitions this time, they were all extremely envious. However, Jiang Zhiyao couldn't help turning his single eye about, thinking, This journey is nothing more than a punishment. If the young lady runs into a little trouble on the road, this right eye of mine will be scooped out too. But since the old master had assigned this to him, he didn't dare turn it down. Hence, everyone drank wine together and had a farewell feast for the girl Aluan and Jiang Zhiyao, all wishing them a peaceful voyage. Aluan again felt a little reluctant to leave, holding back her tears as she said goodbye to her grandfather, her uncle and her aunt. She left the village and mounted her horse, and then set off with Jiang Zhiyao, heading north.

    Riding a white horse, Jiang Zhiyao was dressed in a green coat and pants, and inside the travel roll behind his saddle was enclosed a saber. He rode ahead, neither fast nor slow. The young lady Aluan's horse was pomegranate-red, and short and strong, a true small river horse. It had a new saddle and shiny stirrups, and its bridle and reins were very finely made. The young lady, however, wore clothes that were not brightly colored, a blue silk jacket and pants and green shoes, on the toes of which were fastened only a few small crab flowers. Her head was covered with a piece of blue silk and her braid was hidden inside her jacket. A blanket roll was behind her saddle and a white saber hilt poked out of it. The young lady shook her whip and spurred her horse to follow as she lifted her two sprightly eyes up and took in the landscapes, wheat fields, rice paddies and cottages at the side of the road. It was considered departing Zhenba county after they crossed the mountains to the north, at which point they would ride west.

    Jiang Zhiyao twisted his body while atop his horse and smiled at the young lady, saying, "Miss Luan, we're leaving your home now. This journey of ours is not to places near. We're to go two-to-three thousand miles at the very least, and who knows whom we'll encounter on the road and what will happen. Miss Luan, your martial arts are powerful, but you haven't gone to places far away. I've traveled upon Jianghu for many years, but even I haven't left the province. When we go out there, we must always be cautious and be careful in everything. No matter who it is, we must be modest and respectful. We need start with words of praise and even make way for mountain bandits. We're both carrying weapons, but we can't just use them whenever we like, nor can we reveal our martial ability lightly. Otherwise..."

    Aluan listened to here, she widened her eyes and said, "I get it! Stop the nonsense!" Jiang Zhiyao crinkled with his unmatched eyes and smiled, saying, "It's not nonsense. It's the truth. No matter how skilled a person is, no one runs wild, fighting every person they meet." Aluan's temper flared as she said, "Uncle Jiang, if you keep talking this nonsense, I'm going to travel by myself. If you don't want to come with me, then go back home!" Jiang Zhiyao said, "All right! All right! I'll stop! I'm just urging you to remember this word: caution!" Aluan replied bluntly, "I know!" Jiang Zhiyao flapped his whip and smiled, "As long as you know." Thus, the two horses trotted their way strictly west and reached Hanzhong that very day.

    At the Kunlun Security Office, Aluan saw her father Bao Zhiyun and several of her disciple-uncles. When Bao Zhiyun heard that his daughter was to travel far upon Jianghu, he felt very anxious, but because it was his own father who had told her to come out, he had no way of sending her back home. He was originally thinking to assign two or three men to go with her, but first, there weren't enough men at this security office to spare, and no one would be willing to take a journey so far. And second, his daughter had a proud character and would definitely not want any more people to come with her. Thus, Bao Zhiyun wrote a letter and gave it to Jiang Zhiyao to pass on to Ge Zhiqiang when they arrived at the Xi'an office, telling Ge Zhiqiang to find a way to send men to protect Aluan from the wayside.

    Aluan spent one night here, and in the early morning of the next day, she bid her father farewell and set off once again with Jiang Zhiyao. From Hanzhong they traveled a day and arrived in Liuba county where they lodged at the security office of her disciple-uncle Zheng Zhibiao. They continued on the following day and by noon they were crossing the green and majestic Qin Mountains. Fortunately, the weather was clear and bright. There were a good many traveling merchants and visitors in the mountains, and they didn't come upon any bandits. In the evening, they came to the Dasan Pass where there was a Kunlun Security Office. It had been opened only three years past and its escort captain was Lu Zhizhong.

    Upon seeing the young lady Aluan approaching, Lu Zhizhong couldn't help but be taken aback. Jiang Zhiyao related to Lu Zhizhong the course of the journey as spoken by the old master. Lu Zhizhong's expression changed completely and said, "You must not continue on, young lady, by any means. You can go and amuse yourself in Xi'an, but you mustn't go any further. It's extraordinary right now. A few young heroes of great martial skill have appeared in Henan Province. The best known is the grandson of Ji Junyi the Xia of Longmen. His name is Ji Guangjie and his years have not exceeded twenty, yet his martial arts are very strong! Even Gao Qinggui of Kaifeng suffered defeat by his hand. It's said he's making his way west to meet with Li Zhenxia of Huazhou, and by chance he wants to go to Zhenba to test his strength with our old master. This man's skills are above those of our Kunlun School. Young lady, if you run into him and he finds out you're Bao Kunlun's granddaughter, he will certainly maltreat you!"

    Upon hearing mention of the Xia of Longmen who that year was called one of the Two Pinnacles of North and South, and of his grandson now entering the world, Jiang Zhiyao widened his single eye in alarm and changed his expression, saying, "We mustn't provoke them. The Longmen School is far superior to our Kunlun School! Our old master had warned us earlier never to be complacent in learning martial arts. He spoke often of the examples of the Xia of Longmen and the Dragon of Shu. They didn't take disciples, but if they had turned one out, even one of them could stand against a hundred of ours." Lu Zhizhong said, "There is one more thing I have yet to report to our master, and it's that people who come from the east say that a young xia has newly come from Jiangnan. His sword skill is very strong and his movements are secret. Some suspect that he's Jiang Xiaohe reentering the world having learned his martial arts!" Jiang Zhiyao was taken aback and looked gravely at Aluan. He was about to say that it really was time to reconsider things and to abandon thoughts of roaming Jianghu and think of some way to look after the household, or else what good could come of Jiang Xiaohe finding his way to Zhenba? However, to his surprise Bao Aluan's pretty eyes lit up as she said, "Uncle Lu and Uncle Jiang, just leave it to me. I must meet face-to-face with the Xia of Longmen's grandson. If Jiang Xiaohe really had come back out, then even better! If he's in Jiangnan, I'll look for him in Jiangnan, and if he's in the Far North, I'll look for him in the Far North. My only worry is that I can't find him, but I'm not afraid of him coming to find me!" She said this with one hand on her hip and her eyebrows lifted, looking not at all like a maiden in a lady's chamber, but instead like a hegemon harshly fighting his way upon Jianghu. Jiang Zhiyao was about to speak further, but Lu Zhizhong shot him a glance, stopping him. In a short while, after they had finished dinner, Lu Zhizhong prepared a clean room especially for the young lady Aluan and invited her to go rest. He and Jiang Zhiyao together discussed ways to dissuade Aluan from going on tomorrow. The two knew well of her proud nature, but they figured she was a woman in the end. Tomorrow, they would insist a bit and then exaggerate the advantages and disadvantages. She would behind and think of nothing else. Little did they know that Bao Aluan would leave Jiang Zhiyao behind that night and set off to the north alone on her horse.

    The Dasan Pass was a strategic pass in the shadow of the Qin Mountains. There was a town with about ten shops there. During the day, merchants went back and forth while horses and carts came continuously. During the night, however, it was deserted, with just the bright moon above the mountain peaks shining down upon an empty town with one courier road. Lu Zhizhong's security office had been set up outside the town walls, which was very convenient for Bao Aluan. She took advantage of when the people in the office were sound asleep to secretly take up her belongings and her horse. She departed through the gate, got on her horse and rode north. She was afraid Lu Zhizhong would find out and chase after her, and then urge her further to turn back, so she urgently swung her whip and galloped north under the moonlight and in the mountain winds. This courier road stretched straight through to Xi'an, and after Bao Aluan rode sixty or seventy miles of it, the day gradually broke. After riding a bit more, the road became sparsely populated by travelers. The travelers all took notice of this lone woman, but she pretended not to see anyone and continued spurring her horse onward. Around midday, she found a shop and ate lunch. Afterwards, she inquired about the way out and continued on. She rode straight until dusk and arrived outside a county seat. Because she was exhausted, she stopped at an inn and stayed there. It wasn't until she asked the innkeeper that she came to know this was Xingping county. Xi'an was only two way stations away.

    There were many people staying at this inn and its yard was completely filled with horses and carts. All the rooms in the inn were lit with lamps and people with various accents were conversing loudly. No one paid much attention to Bao Aluan when she arrived here. A server at the inn brought her food and when he saw her remove her head cloth, revealing a crimson braid base, he asked, "Miss, are you by yourself? Where are you coming from? Are you going to Xi'an?" Bao Aluan nodded, but kept silent. When she finished eating, she called the server to brew a pot of tea. She closed up her own door and laid on the kang to rest. She thought about what she should do when she arrived in Xi'an the next day, whether or not she should go see her disciple-uncle Ge Zhiqiang. She considered this for a while before deciding against seeing him. Not only would she not go find them, but she thought it unnecessary to enter Xi'an at all. She would go around the city and head east straight through the Hangu Pass. Once she left Guanzhong, there wouldn't any people of the Kunlun School there, and likewise no one to stand in her way any longer.

    She thought, I wonder how powerful the Xia of Longmen's grandson's martial arts are, the one surnamed Ji. Could it really be stronger than mine? I don't believe it. Then she thought, Lu Zhizhong said he heard people say that Jiang Xiaohe had now entered the world again and that he had quite a name in Jiangnan. I have to find him and see who has learned better martial arts in these ten years. Though my grandpa said that his master's martial arts were very strong, practically like those of a god, so the martial arts that he's learned must be pretty good, I don't believe that either. I have to compare mine with his. Whether his martial arts are stronger than mine or weaker, I must think of a way to kill him no matter what. I simply can't allow him to live in this world. When she thought this, she felt a little sad though she didn't know why. She grit her teeth, pulled the covers over her head and fell asleep.

    She rose early the following day and after washing up, she called for the innkeep to prepare her horse. She settled her debts and led her horse out of the gate. When she left the busy streets, she mounted her horse and galloped east. She had ridden thirty of forty miles before the sun had risen high up by which time she had arrived outside of Xianyang city. An expansive river crossed in front of her with a very lively ferry crossing. A dozen or so large boats were carrying people back and forth. Aluan climbed off her horse and asked a nearby person, "Excuse me. Might I ask, need I cross this river to get to Xi'an?" The person appeared to be a merchant with a donkey wagon at his side. He was gazing straight on at the boats on the river's surface before turning to look at Aluan. He simply nodded, saying, "It's not a matter of the boats coming. When there are too many people, if you don't squeeze yourself onto one, you won't be going."

    Aluan was taken aback, for she saw that this was her disciple-uncle Liu Zhiyuan. Liu Zhiyuan was currently an escort working under Ge Zhiqiang at the Lishun Security Office in Xi'an, and hadn't been back to Zhenba county in two years. When someone had hastily called to him now, he hadn't thought the one speaking to him would be Aluan. He led his horse over and said, "Miss Luan, what are you doing out here?" He appeared astonished as he said this. Seeing yet another familiar face, Bao Aluan couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed. She greeted her disciple-uncle and gave her courtesies, and then she said, "It was my grandpa's idea. He told me to go out to make my way and train, and sent my uncle Jiang to come with me. My dad had been very agreeable. But when I got to Dasan Pass and saw Uncle Lu Zhizhong, they abruptly urged me to turn back. I'd already come out, so wouldn't going back make people laugh? So I left alone in the middle of the night, and now I plan to go to Xi'an first before continuing east, out through the Hangu Pass and off into Henan. My grandpa even told me to go to Xiangyang, and Langzhong too!"

    Hearing this, Liu Zhiyuan was so shocked sweat started dripping from his head, but he had watched young Aluan grow up in Zhenba, so he knew very well the young lady's pride and temper. Thus he smiled insincerely and said, "Lu Zhizhong is so very like our old master. His martial arts grow stronger as his years grow older, but on the contrary his courage diminishes! With your martial arts, never mind about Henan, Xiangyang or Langzhong, even if you traveled to Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan or Guizhou, only those who no longer want to live would dare bully you. Don't hurry, young miss. Come with me to Xi'an first and rest at the security office. Enjoy yourself for a day and then I can tell Brother Ge I'm taking leave and take you across the pass. I had always wanted to leave the province and see the world." Upon hearing this, Aluan burst with happiness and nodded, asking, "When I go see Uncle Ge, will he try to stand in my way?" Liu Zhiyuan smiled and said, "Who can stand in your way? It was the old master that told you to come out here, so how could anyone stop you and send you back? Unless it was Lu Zhizhong. That man is just like an old mother. He's afraid of every little thing and is always careful and timid!"

    A boat arrived shortly and the people on the boat came down off of it at the same time that the people, wagons and horses on shore crowded themselves on board. Liu Zhiyuan led his own black horse as well as Aluan's red one as they squeezed themselves onto the boat. The deck of the boat was fairly big. It could hold three wagons, four or five horses, and had additional standing room for a dozen or more people. There were a total of five ferrymen, all of them with bare arms and each holding a ten-foot-long punting pole capped with iron. They dipped them into the water and gave a shout as they exerted their strength. This boat drifted forward across the vast and turgid water's surface, though it approached extremely slowly. After a long while, it still seemed as if they had not moved at all.

    By this time, the sun had already risen very high as it shone on the surface of the water yellow amid a field of purple, sending off a glitter of golden stars. Xianyang city behind them grew slowly ever more distant. On the boat, Bao Aluan asked Liu Zhiyuan, "My Uncle Lu said something about Jiang Xiaohe reentering the world?" Liu Zhiyuan furtively waved his hand at Aluan, but didn't reply. Aluan was a little confused, but didn't seem to want to give up, so she spoke aloud to herself, "Jiang Xiaohe has studied the martial arts, so I want to see how well he's learned. Though my grandpa sent someone to kill his dad, in those days that my grandpa took him in, he never mistreated him. But he had no conscience, bringing back the Xia of Langzhong and making my grandpa angry. Now that he's found himself a master to teach him martial arts, I'd like to meet this master of his. And then there's this Xia of Longmen's grandson. I must meet him as well!"

    Liu Zhiyuan stood beside her, anxious to the point that sweat trickled from his head as he said, "Young miss, look how muddy the Wei River is, and then look how clear the Jing River is. Strange, isn't it? And look, young miss, owls in the sky!" He spoke at random about this and that in an attempt to use his words to change the subject away from what Aluan was saying, but not a single person in the boat was not paying attention to Aluan. When they crossed the river, Liu Zhiyuan mounted his horse and headed south with Aluan. He let out an exasperated sigh and said, "Young miss, don't you have the least bit of experience traveling upon Jianghu? How could you say such things so casually out there? The Xia of Longmen's grandson Ji Guangjie himself might have been on that ferry!" When he finished, he looked back again as if he was afraid someone might have come after them.

    Aluan sneered and said, "Even better if we encounter him. I came out here so I could find myself some adversaries." Liu Zhiyuan spurred his horse ahead of Aluan's and turned his head back to warn her, "Young miss, you mustn't be so impatient! Even if you did find adversaries, you must first think things over. How are my opponents' martial arts? Is it possible for us to win? And then you can fight them, better if you have some help. Young miss, your martial arts are very powerful, but in the end you are..." Liu Zhiyuan was not finished speaking, but Aluan, fuming with anger, said, "Uncle Liu, just stop! If you keep talking, I'll skip Chang'an completely, and continue east to look for Jiang Xiaohe and Ji Guangjie!"

    Liu Zhiyuan nodded and smiled, saying, "I'll stop! However, I do have a few more words of advise for you, young miss. There is surely enmity between Jiang Xiaohe and us, and given the incident of his bringing the Xia of Langzhong to cause great trouble in our Zhenba and Ziyang, that enmity will not undo itself in even ten thousand years. No matter how great the martial arts are that he's learned, if he were to step foot in Hanzhong, we would have to fight him. But Ji Guangjie has no grievance or animosity with or towards us. He's just appeared in the last couple year and hasn't traveled much. He's not even come to Guanzhong yet. However, it's said that Gao Qinggui of Kaifeng saw defeat under his hands, so it's clear his martial arts are powerful and he must know how to perform dianxue. Since he is the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, he must probably be reasonable. If he doesn't come looking for us, there is no need to go looking for him." Aluan scoffed bitterly but didn't speak.

    The two horses followed the main road south and when it was close to noon, they arrived in Xi'an. Coming upon this bustling place, it was really more than Aluan's eyes could take in at one time. In all these hundreds of thousands of people, she thought, if Jiang Xiaohe or Ji Guangjie were to come to this place and were blended in with this sea of people, there would be no way for me to find them. Liu Zhiyuan hurried his horse forward and turned back to look at Aluan, saying, "Young miss, look at how lively this place is. It's much busier than our Zhenba, isn't it? Let's go see your Uncle Ge first. He's the top escort here and one of its few wealthy men!"

    Thus, Liu Zhiyuan brought Aluan in through the south gate. They dismounted their horses when they arrived at the entryway to the Lishun Security Office on the big southern street. The security office was very large and imposing, and there were four or five men in front of the gate. When they saw Liu Zhiyuan, they all came to greet him. Liu Zhiyuan spoke of the young lady and told them that she was the granddaughter of the old master Bao come on her own from Zhenba. They were all amazed when they heard this and looked upon the young lady and made their salutations to her. Their horses had long been taken away, so Liu Zhiyuan brought the young lady inside where they ran into Ge Zhiqiang's son, Ge Shaogang.

    Ge Shaogang was quite a bit like his father. He was of a commanding build; his strength was great and his character fierce. He was currently twenty-some years and had acted as a junior captain, taking security wagons to locales far away many times. Because they had met once five years prior, he rushed over and bowed, saying, "Sister Aluan, why have you come with Uncle Liu? Is our old master-grandfather doing well? Please come in, sister. Let my mom have a look at you." And so he brought Aluan into the inner yard where Ge Zhiqiang's personal residence was located.

    Ge Zhiqiang's wife Xu-shi was a woman of forty-some years, and his daughter-in-law was named Cheng Yu'e. She was the daughter of Cheng Fengshan the Long Spear of the Fengshan Security Office in the same city, and she knew some martial arts. Ge Shaogang gave introductions, "This is my mom, and this is my wife." After introductions, he took a look at Aluan, and then looked at his wife. He thought things unacceptable for the two of them looked much too different. Aluan was nothing less than a heavenly immortal, but his wife couldn't even be counted as an earthly immortal. He left to retrieve his father, so Aluan chatted with Xu-shi and her daughter-in-law. Though Xu-shi and her daughter-in-law belonged to families in the security business, both of them were women who stayed inside and attended to the home. Aluan couldn't stand listening to them talk of trivial matters. She told them only the purpose of her coming out here and what happened on the road before she stopped talking. Cheng Yu'e brought her some tea, but she didn't seem to know any words of politeness, so Xu-shi made a bit of a joke out of it.

    She remained there a while before Ge Zhiqiang came. Aluan quickly stood up and performed her courtesies. Then she smiled and said, "Uncle Ge, why have you grown a beard?" Ge Zhiqiang laughed and said, "I'm almost an old man myself! I've heard from Liu Zhiyuan about the young miss's matters. Since it was the old master and my disciple-brother who sent you out this way, naturally we cannot stand in your way. However, I must still invite you to remain several days, young miss. We can discuss things and we must get someone who knows the way to accompany the young miss forward." Aluan shook her head and said, "I don't want anyone to accompany me. I know the way on my own. I've brought my own travel expenses and I have a saber to protect myself with!"

    Ge Zhiqiang laughed and said, "Young miss, don't let your emotions make your decisions for you. Didn't you want to meet up with Jiang Xiaohe and Ji Guangjie, or something? From what I've heard, a man of skill has indeed come out of Jiangnan, but his surname is Li, a man of Zhili Province. It is not Jiang Xiaohe. This man shouldn't matter to us for now. As for Jiang Guangji, he's in Kaifeng right now. I've already sent someone to invite him here. It will probably be ten days to a fortnight before he comes to this place."

    Upon hearing this, Aluan was elated and nodded, saying, "Great! Then I shall wait here for ten days or a fortnight. I'll meet with Ji Guangjie first. As long as I defeat him, he wouldn't ever dare come to Hanzhong to look for my grandpa! Then, I'll go find Jiang Xiaohe. When I see him I won't let him off easily. Whether or not he's learned martial arts or not, I have to kill him because I hate him so!" When she said this, tears unexpectedly fell from Aluan's eyes. Ge Zhiqiang gave her a few words of exhortation before going outside with a furrowed brow. It turned out that as the young lady Aluan and Liu Zhiyuan walked in with their front feet, Lu Zhizhong had hurried here close behind their back feet.

    Lu Zhizhong was extremely anxious and complained of the old master doing things foolishly, that he shouldn't have allowed the young lady to come out here. He said, "Never mind Jiang Xiaohe; he might have already died these past several years. It's that grandson of the Xia of Longmen. How could we provoke him? Hence I've caught up with the young miss, and no matter what, we mustn't allow her to go any further. I've asked Jiang Zhiyao to return to Hanzhong and tell Brother Zhiyun to come get her himself!" Ge Zhiqiang said, "Don't worry. She can't go on for the time being, because I've misled her into thinking I've sent someone to invite Ji Guangjie to come. She's already agreed to wait here for Ji Guangjie. I plan on telling her to go have fun every day, and when she's done so for ten days or a fortnight, she'll feel the bustle of this place and naturally won't be anxious to leave." Lu Zhizhong nodded and said, "However, we must still ask Brother Zhiyun to come. If she stays here for a while, something is bound to happen. I know well that this young miss's temper is not the greatest!" Thus, Lu Zhizhong stayed here, daring not to return to the Dasan Pass and daring not to face the young lady.

    The young lady Aluan entertained herself all day by riding her horse in the streets, and when she returned, she would ask Ge Zhiqiang, "Hasn't Ji Guangjie come yet?" It was such every day and soon eight or nine days had passed in succession. On this day, it was Ge Shaogang's idea to take his wife sixteen miles south of the city to the Dayan Pagoda to burn incense and sightsee. When he asked the young lady Aluan whether or not she wanted to go, she said, "What's fun about going to the Dayan Pagoda?"

    Ge Shaogang thrust his large, dark, round head forward and smiled with his mouth open, saying, "What's fun about it? Ha! Miss, you'll know when you see it, if you come. It's a pagoda from the Tang Dynasty. Sir Lu Ban supervised its construction, and Monkey's master Tripitaka is buried below it. It's not far from the city. Miss, you should come with us for some fun!" Thus, he pushed his wife to get ready more quickly and then went outside to tell people to horse the cart. In a short while, his wife Cheng Yu'e came out of the inner yard with Aluan. [Note: Neither of Ge Shaogang's claims about the pagoda are true. Lu Ban died a millennium before it was built, and the Tang monk Tripitaka is said to be buried at Xingjiao Temple, further south of Xi'an than the Dayan Pagoda.]

    Aluan had changed into a pink shirt and light green pants today, and had also rouged her cheeks. She was simply much prettier when compared to Cheng Yu'e. When she got to the front courtyard, she ordered someone to prepare her horse. Ge Shaogang's eyes darted towards Aluan as he asked, "Miss Luan, you needn't prepare a horse. Why don't you ride in the cart with your sister-in-law? I'll stand on the cart shaft." Aluan shook her head and said, "No, the last thing I want to do is ride a cart." Ge Shaogang smiled and said, "Then I'll ride a horse too. Miss Luan, we must race later, to see whose horse is fastest. I've run this horse across the Northern Mountains before." Thus, an attendant prepared two horses. Aluan led her small, pomegranate red horse out first as a servant woman climbed into the cart with Cheng Yu'e.

    Ge Shaogang ran into the inner yard. He had changed into a creased blue coat and pants and put on a pair of ground-gripping boots before coming back out as an attendant was leading his horse out. His horse was black with not one tangled hair on its entire body, and its saddle and blanket were brand new. A steel saber with an iron scabbard hung below the saddle and a piece of silk was fastened to its hilt. Ge Shaogang was very pleased as he received a whip that an attendant had handed to him. He was about to grab the saddle and mount his horse when they heard someone calling out from behind, "Where are you going?" Atop her horse, Aluan said, "We're going to take a look at the Dayan Pagoda. Are you coming, Uncle Liu?" Liu Zhiyuan shook his head and said, "No, I'm not." And then he urged Ge Xiaogang quietly, "You'd better keep yourself close to the young miss, and don't cause any trouble!" Ge Shaogang nodded and climbed onto his horse. With the cart in front and the two horses behind, they left through the south gate and made their way directly to the Dayan Pagoda.

    Before traveling very far, they spotted in front of them a stone tower reaching high up into the sky. Though it looked as if it was right in front of them, it would be a time before they would reach it. It was surrounded on both sides by fields of wheat, boundless waves of jade. There weren't many people traveling on the road. Ge Shaogang spurred his horse to rush up in front of the cart and turned his head back toward Aluan, calling, "Miss Luan, shall we race our horses?" Aluan just smiled and otherwise ignored him. Ge Shaogang became ever more delighted as he hurried his horse forward to a flying gallop. He bolted for more than a mile before charging his way back. His wife Cheng Yu'e grew angry and yelled from the cart, "Are you mad!?" Ge Shaogang gave his wife a brief, vicious glare and then glanced over at Aluan. A look of annoyance appeared on his face. His brows furrowed tightly too and he huffed, though he didn't run his horse alone again.

    They arrived at the Dayan Pagoda shortly. Aluan saw that its temple wasn't very small, and the tower had been erected in the middle of the temple. It had a total of seven tiers with windows on all four faces. There were even people looking down from the highest of the windows. Aluan pointed with her whip, saying, "So we can go up the tower, then?" Ge Shaogang said, smiling, "Exactly! We've come just so we can go up and enjoy ourselves!" Because this day had not been set as a temple fair day, there weren't many people here. Only two or three carts were stopped in front of the gates with a few tethered donkeys and horses. A few people went in and out sporadically. Ge Shaogang had already hitched his horse when he took Aluan's horse over to tie to the hitching post.

    By this time, Cheng Yu'e had already been helped off the cart by the servant woman. They walked into the temple and made their way first to the main hall to burn incense and pray to the Buddha, and then they headed through the back of the hall and walked into the tower. Inside the tower, there were winding stairs that could be climbed up to the highest level. Ge Shaogang led the way as his wife and the servant woman followed behind Aluan. When they reached the second floor, Cheng Yu'e could not go any higher because her feet were small, but Aluan had to go to the highest part to have a look. Ge Shaogang told his wife and the servant woman to wait here while he took the young lady Aluan further up. From the second floor, they reached the third floor, and then the fourth, fifth and sixth. On each floor there were a few visitors at the windows gazing down. By the time they reached the highest part of the seventh floor, they saw an offering made to the Buddha and a young scholar with a brush in hand writing on the wall. Ge Shaogang thought, This scholar is probably composing a poem. It's too bad my reading abilities are limited. He only saw that when he finished writing his verse he signed it, "Li Fengjie of Nangong."

    Ge Shaogang couldn't help but laugh to himself, Bookworm! But beside him, Aluan paid close attention to this person. She could only see that he wasn't past his early twenties, and that he was handsome in appearance, wearing clothes that were quite nice. After he wrote his poem, he stepped back and set his brush down. Next to his inkstone laid a small bundle and a sword that had an iron hilt and an iron case. Aluan's grandfather had previously told her that this was a "weresword." A person who doesn't need to charge through a host of enemies or compete with martial arts for supremacy has no use for a weresword such as this one. She immediately paid even closer attention to him. Aluan saw him glance at her briefly before he put his brush and inkstone away. He picked up his bundle and sword and descended the steps of the tower.

    Ge Shaogang smiled over at Aluan and said, "What a bookworm. He came to such a high place and even brought his brush and inkstone to compose a poem on the wall. All Hoity-toity, I don't even know what he was writing." But Aluan appeared perplexed, saying, "I think this person must know martial arts. His sword was unlike any ordinary sword. It was a weresword, its weight heavy. A person who didn't know martial arts could surely not hold such a sword." However, Ge Shaogang shook his head, saying, "No, it wasn't. You've been tricked by him, sister. A good portion of those bookworms like to carry around a sword for fun, pretending they're well-rounded in both the literary and the martial. How could there be people like him populating Jianghu? Furthermore, he wrote it clearly on the wall, Li Fengjie of Nangong—I, Ge Shaogang, have already traveled upon Jianghu a few years now, and I've never heard his name."

    Aluan pursed her lips and shook her head to show she didn't believe him, as she held onto the tower railing and gazed downward. Ge Shaogang ran over to the window in the eastern wall and pointed outside, saying, "Miss Luan, quickly, come and look! You can see the Ba River from here." He asked her to come a couple more times before looking back to see that Aluan had already followed Li Fengjie down the tower steps. Ge Shaogang couldn't felt but feel a bit angry, thinking, This young lady is no good lady at all. It's a lucky thing I didn't take her as my wife. One look at a pale-faced scholar today and she's all confused! Thus jealousy filled Ge Shaogang's chest as he ran crashing down the tower steps as well, straight on to the second floor, where he saw his wife Cheng Yu'e and the servant woman both still there. Ge Shaogang looked directly at them and asked, "Where did Miss Luan go?"

    Cheng Yu'e glared at him askance and said, "How should I know? Let me ask you, are you going back or not? If not, I'm leaving with Mother Jiang!" Ge Shaogang hastily waved his hand and said, "Don't rush! Don't rush!" He then followed the tower steps down and saw Aluan standing in front of the tower looking to the west. Li Fengjie of Nangong was on the west side carrying the brush and inkstone in one hand and clasping the sword and bundle in under one arm. He was standing in front of a stela with his lips moving as if he was reading the words inscribed on it.

    Ge Shaogang said loudly, "Miss Luan, what are you looking at that bookworm for? How could a pecker like him know any martial arts, carrying around his pecker sword to fool people with? Damn it, if he aggravates me, I'll go and break that pecker sword of his!" Li Fengjie turned his head and looked over, though he paid no mind as he thought Ge Shaogang likely a madman. When he finished reading the stela inscription, he walked off and returned the brush and inkstone to the monks' house. He exited the gate and mounted his horse, intending to enter the city and go back to his inn. Before he had rode north two miles, he heard the sound of horses' hooves behind him. Li Fengjie looked back and saw that it was the man and woman he'd encountered at the Dayan Pagoda with a cart hurrying his way. Li Fengjie wasn't willing to engage himself in any unnecessary disputes, so he smiled proudly behind him and continued spurring his horse on, though the horses followed closely behind him.

    At this time, Aluan had grabbed hold of a gust of determination. Because she saw this man carrying a weresword, she had concluded that he knew martial arts, and she furthermore concluded that he was a gallant from another province come here especially to pick a fight with her Kunlun School. Hence she had to chase him to see where this man was staying. By now only jealousy was in Ge Shaogang's heart as he felt that Aluan had fallen in love with the pale-faced scholar. Relying on the saber Ge Shaogang had brought with him, he spurred persistently until he caught up with the white horse in front of him. He shouted loudly, "Halt, little one! What are you doing here?" Ahead of him, Li Fengjie quickly reined his horse in and turned it around. This time his face showed annoyance as he said, "Why do you want to know?" Ge Shaogang puffed out his chest and made a fist as he said, scowling, "I, the Great Sir Ge, am asking because you don't look like the good sort, little one!" Li Fengjie restrained his anger and sneered slightly, "You'll get no answer from me!" When he finished, he turned his horse around to leave. Ge Shaogang spurred his horse to fly forward and the two horses rubbed against each other. Ge Shaogang originally intended to knock Li Fengjie off his horse with a push, but he hadn't thought that the other person would lean out from his horse and with a shove of the hand, send Ge Shaogang toppling down with a crash from his saddle. He was immediately furious as he rolled over and stood up. He ran over and grabbed a hold of his horse. He drew his saber, turned around and charged at Li Fengjie.

    Li Fengjie had by now revealed his own weresword. The sun reflected off the blade in a bright, glimmering array. Ge Shaogang's Kunlun bladework was closing in when Li Fengjie flicked his sword, knocking away Ge Shaogang's saber, and then with a quiver of his sword, he sent Ge Shaogang's saber into a blur of confusion. Nearby, Bao Aluan shouted, "This is bad!" Cheng Yu'e anxiously blurted out from the cart, "You, stop fighting!" However, before the words had finished being said over here, Ge Shaogang had already suffered injury by sword over there as he laid face down on the ground. Li Fengjie sheathed his sword and climbed onto his horse. He quickly spurred his snowy courser on as it galloped like a white line to the north.

    Aluan was so furious she cared little about how serious Ge Shaogang's injury was as she scooped up his saber from the ground, mounted her horse and gave urgent chase. As she pursued, she shouted at the people in front of her, "Stop the one riding a white horse! Stop him! He's hurt someone!" However, the people coming and going in front of her were all carrying baskets and pushing carts, so who among them would dare get in the way of that white horse? Aluan fumed while she watched the one riding a white horse fly into Chang'an city. She pulled up her horse, panting loudly, and then turned it around to see that Cheng Yu'e had already climbed out of the cart and was sitting next to her injured husband crying bitterly. Ge Shaogang's injuries were considerably deep. His arm had been sliced by the sword, leaving only a bit of tendon intact, and his upper body was soaked with fresh blood. He had by now lost consciousness.

    Aluan was at once angry and worried as she said to the driver of the cart, "Lift the young captain into the cart!" The driver wrinkled his brow and said, "How could I move him on my own? Plus, with such a serious wound, won't moving him—" Aluan said, "Then take the young mistress back first and tell the people in the security office to hurry here. I'll stay here and look after him!" She carried the sword spiritedly. Cheng Yu'e's face carried a hidden hatred as she shed tears and glared at Aluan a moment. She climbed into the cart with the servant woman and told the driver to hurry into the city.

    Just then, two horses appeared from the north running very quickly, and Aluan saw that it was Lu Zhizhong and Liu Zhiyuan. She spurred her horse to meet them and called loudly to them, "Come quickly! Brother Ge's been injured by someone, and the enemy's fled!" The two horses facing her drew near speedily. Lu Zhizhong asked, "What happened? Who did you encounter?" Aluan seethed and said, "We encountered someone atop the tower and then chased him down. A fight erupted between him and Brother Ge and he hurt Brother Ge after two or three exchanges. I regret not bringing my saber with me today!"

    Lu Zhizhong and Liu Zhiyuan dismounted. Upon seeing the severity of Ge Shaogang's wounds, they both furrowed their brows together. Lu Zhizhong was first to complain to Liu Zhiyuan, "I'd determined that something would happen today. You and I should have come sooner!" Then he quickly told Liu Zhiyuan to return first and tell the attendants at the security office to come with a wagon, and then he ordered the driver to take Cheng Yu'e back into the city. He was asking Aluan the details of what had just happened when Ge Shaogang came to and cried out in pain. When he saw Lu Zhizhong, he said, "Uncle Lu! You must avenge me. His name is Li Fengjie of Nangong!" Lu Zhizhong frowned and said to the young lady, "I arrived the same day that you did, young miss. I dared not leave for I knew that someone would happen before long. It is not the same as it was ten years ago. Back then we dominated like lords over Guanzhong and Hanzhong. We can't do that anymore as so many of these young heroes have come out of the other provinces!"

    Aluan did not wait for Lu Zhizhong to finish speaking. She angrily took up the saber and mounted her horse. She stared at Lu Zhizhong and said, "Uncle Lu, you can't stop me! It was my grandpa that told me to venture out, so no matter who it is, no one can stop me. You watch over him. I'll enter the city. I must find that one named Li who rides a white horse and kill him to avenge my Brother Ge!" When she said this, she set off on her horse, leaving Lu Zhizhong to stamp his foot and sigh in exasperation.

    Aluan whipped her horse into the south gate of Chang'an and encountered Liu Zhiyuan with a few attendants and a wagon on their way out of the city to retrieve the injured. Liu Zhiyuan asked, "Miss Luan, how was Shaogang's wound when you left him?" Aluan replied irritably, "How should I know?" When she returned to the Lishun Security Office, Miao Zhiying, Yuan Zhixia, Jin Zhiyong, Zhao Zhilong and others were there, and they all came to her to ask her questions. Aluan went through the whole thing angrily and then sent out the attendants to ask around about where the white horse-riding, sword-using Li Fengjie was in fact staying. She didn't have the saddle and blanket on her horse unstrapped when she tossed down the saber and entered the inner yard. She heard Xu-shi and her daughter-in-law crying despairingly. Cheng Yu'e didn't dare say anything, but Xu-shi wept and said, "I only have the one son. When he went out on those escort jobs before, nothing happened to him. This time, it was because there came a..."

    Aluan only listened up to here as no doubt the rest of the words of blame were about her, which couldn't help but make her even angrier! She thought, It was originally your son who picked a fight with another. His skills weren't good so he was wounded. How could you fault me? She wanted to give her a few words of rebuke, but she was her own disciple-aunt after all and Ge Zhiqiang couldn't be compared to any of her other disciple-uncles, so she bore down her ire. She went into her room and picked up her saber, and then led her horse out of the gate and rode it to every corner looking for Li Fengjie. Miao Zhiying were helpless to restrain her, so they had no choice but to sent two attendants to follow after her.

    Ge Zhiqiang had gone to Fuping county to handle some business, so when this incident occurred at the security office, it had erupted into disorder. Miao Zhiying urgently rode a quick horse to Fuping county to find Ge Zhiqiang. Lu Zhizhong tried to quell the crowd, urging everyone to settle down, saying, "Right now, Miss Luan is in the streets looking for the one called Li, and none of us can stop her. However, we must all control ourselves for the time being. If you have something to say, wait until Brother Ge comes back to say it!" Thus, he quickly sent for a well-known local doctor specialized in treating traumatic injuries to treat Ge Shaogang's wounds. That day many fighting masters engaged in the same trade and well known in the city came and asked after them, some to right the wrongs committed, some to discuss endlessly, and a few even to offer to run around outside and inquire about Li Fengjie's location and background.

    It wasn't until the evening that Ge Zhiqiang was able to race back from Fuping county. He looked at his son's wounds and rapidly stamped his foot. Aluan also returned shortly, saying that she had looked in and out of the city all day without seeing Li Fengjie. Then she said, "That man's sword skill was actually pretty good. I think it must be the Xia of Longmen's grandson, Ji Guangjie. He's come and gotten into trouble so he's run back to Henan. Tomorrow, I might as well chase him east!" Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand and smiled coldly, saying, "If he really is Ji Guangjie, it is very unlikely he would have run away. We'll hold back our tempers for now and search the vicinity of Xi'an a few days for him. If we don't turn him up, he must be one of the younger generation of Jianghu and his martial arts are likely only slightly stronger than my son's. It won't matter who we send; they'll be able to capture and bring him back. If we discover that this man has yet to leave this place, the cost to us may be considerable."

    Upon hearing this, no one could help but become angry, asking in shock, "Why do you say that?" Ge Zhiqiang sighed lightly and said, "You may not know, but a very famous young xia has come out of Jiangnan, and some suspect that he is Jiang Xiaohe. However, I myself have heard people from Jiangnan say that this man is surnamed Li and that he's a man of Zhili Province. If Li Fengjie is this xia from Jiangnan, then we may be in deep trouble!" Nearby, Lu Zhizhong said, "No matter what, it would do well for us to show restraint at all times!"

    Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand and said, "That's not right either, Brother Lu. No matter who was in the wrong today, my son has been gravely injured and he may die tonight. If we don't settle our grievances, not only could we not keep this security office of mine open, but none of us brothers would be able to feed ourselves by traveling upon Jianghu!" When Ge Zhiqiang said this, it aroused the righteous indignation in Miao Zhiying, Liu Zhiyuan, Yuan Zhixia, Jin Zhiyong, Zhao Zhilong and the attendants and all the others. They all rubbed their fists, impatient to search for Li Fengjie. Aluan then said, "I ask all my uncles to hold back and leave me to fight him one-on-one!"

    As she said this, several people came in from outside. They were all locals of the same trade. One was Liang Zhen of the Taifu Security Office, another was Han Bao of the Fengshan Security Office, and with them they brought Eldest Liu, the innkeeper at the Auspicious Inn by the western gate. Cheng Fengshan said, "We've found him. The one named Li is currently staying in Eldest Liu's inn." Hearing this, Aluan took up her saber and grabbed hold of Eldest Liu, saying, "Take me to him!" Ge Zhiqiang held the young lady back and said, "No need to rush. Let's find out where he's come from." [Note: I believe a small portion of the text is missing from the copy I'm translating this from. As we will see later, Han Bao is actually the captain of the Guanzhong Security Office and Cheng Fengshan of the Fengshan Security Office has also come with the other captains. This must be the result of a copying error somewhere in the long publication history of this novel. I've kept the translation faithful to the text I have, but know that this passage is likely not entirely whole.]

    Eldest Liu of the Auspicious Inn said, "He's a stranger, so I don't know very much about him. He said he was surnamed Li, and he's stayed at the inn for the past four days. He goes out to enjoy himself every day and when he comes back, he reads in his room. Today, he was the first to leave and didn't come back until noon. He hasn't left again since he's come back." Yuan Zhixia and the others said, "He must know he's gotten himself into trouble, afraid that we're going to go look for him." Eldest Liu said, "But he didn't look like he was scared. When he came back today, he read and wrote in his room. He didn't even bother eating the meal we sent to him. He seems to me like a bookworm. All he's got with him are his travel pack, a bundle of books, a sword, and a white horse. He looks to be very unassuming, not like one who trains in martial arts." Aluan said, "That's him. Innkeeper Liu, take me over there!"

    Ge Zhiqiang still hesitated, though Yuan Zhixia and most of the others all went to fetch their weapons. Lu Zhizhong stood in front of the door and waved his hand, anxiously saying, "Everyone, let's not be rash! This grievance will surely be settled, but we must think over how it should be done. The master has told us before that there are two kinds of people who travel upon Jianghu that we can't underestimate. The first are ascetics. The second are refined scholars. Since most of these two kinds of people have traditions separate from our own, the martial arts they've learned are unlike ours. If we act without careful consideration, we will inevitably suffer losses!"

    Yuan Zhixia and the others said, "Brother Lu, you think too much. Right now we should take advantage of the fact Li Fengjie hasn't left yet and quickly capture him. Even if you think his martial arts are powerful, he's no match for our numbers. If we don't go get him today and he runs away tomorrow, it will bring great shame upon our Kunlun School! In the future, anyone will think they can come and harass us." Ge Zhiqiang made up his mind then and motioned with his hand, saying, "Let's go! Over to the western gate!" Yuan Zhixia and Zhao Zhilong pulled Lu Zhizhong aside and everyone went to get their weapons. With Ge Zhiqiang and the young lady Aluan taking the lead, the twenty-odd people headed to the western gate together.

    At this point the western gate was already half-closed. Ge Zhiqiang personally met with an officer of the city guard and asked him to leave half of city gate open, as they would return in a short while. Ge Zhiqiang was well known in Xi'an, so the officer didn't dare not to comply. Thereafter, the better part of the group made their way to the Auspicious Inn. The innkeeper Eldest Liu first asked of Ge Zhiqiang, "Good sir Ge, please take only the one named Li. Don't take my other guest along with him, or else I won't be able to keep this inn of mine open." Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand and said, "Not to worry." He instructed all his subordinates not to be reckless, though the young lady Aluan had already entered the door of the inn first with her saber raised. Ge Zhiqiang asked, "Which room is he in?" Eldest Liu pointed to the room at the southwest corner and said, "It's that room. Do you, good sir Ge, that the man is currently inside?"

    Ge Zhiqiang saw bright lamplight coming out of the room's window and a motionless shadow. Ge Zhiqiang instructed everyone not to move. He walked to the door of the room carrying his saber, and then rushed into it after pulling the door open. In the room, Li Fengjie was reading beside a lamp, but next to his book was resting a weresword already unsheathed. Upon seeing someone coming into his room, he took the sword into his hand and stood up. Though anger had filled his chest now, Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand and said, "Friend! Don't lose your nerve! There are a few things I'd like to discuss with you first." Li Fengjie didn't look the least bit frightened and nodded calmly, saying, "Very well! If you have something to say, then say it! You and I are complete strangers. You've suddenly barged into my room with saber raised. What is your intention?"

    At this point, Aluan had come into the room as well. She slapped the desk with her saber with a crack and glared at him, saying, "Are you still playing dumb? Weren't you the one who injured another at the Dayan Pagoda today?" She brandished her saber and made to hurt him. Ge Zhiqiang hurriedly held her back, so Aluan planted one foot on a stool and pointed her saber at Li Fengjie. Li Fengjie made no move evade. He smiled slightly and nodded, saying, "That's right, around noon today I wounded someone outside the south gate. But that man brought his injury upon himself, because he got in my way and insulted me, and it was he that attacked with his saber first." Aluan wanted to charge at him again, saying, "Don't speak that nonsense. You are to pay with your life now!" Her saber slashed with a swoosh, but Li Fengjie halted it with his sword. A deafening clang was all that was heard. The twenty-some men outside all wanted to charge into the room, and they had already cut away the paper on the windows with their sabers. Many had reached in with their sabers, and many had squeezed in with their heads.

    Li Fengjie moved back one step and slanted his sword to protect his body. He laughed saying, "Oh my! There are a good many of you who've come. There are men and women, and all of you know how to fight!" He swung his sword with a whoosh and pressed forward two steps in return. Aluan met him with her saber, and they could hear only the clattering of saber against sword, chopping at each other several times. Ge Zhiqiang extended his saber and stopped the two, saying, "Don't start fighting! Let us get some clear answers before we make another move. He can't run anyway!" Li Fengjie laughed, "What else do you have to ask? You shameless group of men and women, relying on numbers for a victory. You're a complete disgrace to all those in the world who train in the martial arts!"

    Ge Zhiqiang felt hatred and shame by turns. He turned around and stamped his foot, shouting, "All of you, get out! Let me reason with him alone! We'll not let him ridicule our Kunlun School!" Yuan Zhixia, who had just poked his head in, and the others moved back. Aluan and Ge Zhiquan were the only ones who remained in the room. The manner of their opponent Li Fengjie remained calm as he asked, "What is your honorable name?" Ge Zhiqiang clasped his fist and said, "I am Ge Zhiqiang of the Lishun Security Office, a disciple of the Kunlun School." Li Fengjie showed no deference to Ge Zhiqiang's reputation, saying, "The Kunlun School? I've traveled upon Jianghu a few years now, but I've never heard mention of such a school."

    Hearing this, Aluan could stand it no longer. She sent a chop at Li Fengjie with her saber, saying, "How dare you look down at our Kunlun School!" Li Fengjie quickly met her with his sword. Ge Zhiqiang advanced as well with his saber out. Li Fengjie jumped up onto the desk, kicking over the oil lamp with one foot and blocking the two sabers below with his sword. The room filled with the noise of metal striking metal, and the outside erupted in chaos and a cacophony of human voices. It wasn't known who had cut away the wooden window frame as swords and spears came in one after another.

    Li Fengjie's sword slashed sideways and cut forward, flipping over and over again as if flying. The sound of blades rang out in confusion, peppered with the sound of raw screams. After cutting down two men, he leapt out the window. Once he did so, Aluan and Ge Zhiqiang raced out of the room after him, hearing someone shout, "I see him!" Because it was now dark out, everyone stood in a circle and attacked at random. It was hard to tell which one was Li Fengjie. They fought for a dozen more exchanges before they saw the glimmer of the sword turn a whole circle and someone leap from amidst the crowd on the roof. Ge Zhiqiang bellowed, "He's run away! He's run away!" Thus, a few of them hopped onto the roof as well and gave chase, while the rest came out of the inn's gate. By now there were very many people in the streets, including all of the guests staying at the inn. Someone said, "He's long gone, run to the west." Thus with Aluan as the lead, a dozen people flew west in pursuit.

    Ge Zhiqiang entered the inn where it was suddenly quiet. He told the innkeeper to light four lamps to illuminate every space. He saw that any trace of Li Fengjie was long gone and six wounded lying on the ground. One among them was Miao Zhiying, who had a stab wound in his chest and had already breathed his last. Upon seeing him, Ge Zhiqiang immediately cried in anguish. Liu Zhiyuan too wiped tears away and commiserated with him. He looked around at the several wounded men strewn about and saw that they were all attendants at the security office, though none of their injuries were fatal.

    Ge Zhiqiang shed tears and stamped his foot, saying, "Who could have thought? Brother Miao came to Fuping county today to bring me back, and now he's died in such a way. We must take vengeance for this!" Thereafter, he told some attendants to find a cart on the street and take the injured and dead back into the city. After a short while, Aluan, Yuan Zhixia, Jin Zhiyong, Zhao Zhilong and the others returned and reported that they chased him for ten-odd miles, but weren't able to catch up to him. Li Fengjie had likely hidden himself away somewhere.

    When they heard that Miao Zhiying had died in the conflict, they yelled and cried. Some chopped at the ground with their sabers and swore vengeance. Aluan was especially angry and groused, "It's all your fault. What a mess you all made with your help! A lot of people could be advantageous in daylight, but in the evening it's a hindrance! If in the beginning it had been just me, fighting against him by myself, I would never have let him escape with his life!" Liu Zhiyuan sighed, "What use are these words now? Let's go inside and see what the one named Li has thrown away."

    Liu Zhiyuan and Zhao Zhilong went inside with a lamp and rummaged through the things Li Fengjie had left behind. They found quite a bit of silver in his belongings; the banknotes and cash together totaled over a hundred taels. Outside of that, there were a few changes of clothes, a brush and inkstone, an iron sword case, several books and a scroll of verse. Zhao Zhilong knew how to read and write, so he skimmed the scroll and said, "I know where this man has come from. His name is Li Fengjie and he's a man of Nangong county in Zhili Province. He has just passed twenty years this year, and he is an unsuccessful civil service candidate. The master who taught him martial arts is surnamed Tong... Oh no! It's the Dragon of Shu! Look, he's written one called, Bidding My Master Farewell at the Gates of the Capital: 'In Western Shu this year hides a crouching dragon...'"

    Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help but be stunned, nodding, "The Dragon of Shu is named Tong Qingyan, but I'd heard he was long dead, so how could he have gone to the capital? And how could he then have passed everything on to just this one disciple? Aluan asked who the Dragon of Shu was, and Ge Zhiqiang replied apprehensively, "Tong Qingyan the Dragon of Shu is a xia from thirty years ago. Together with Ji Junyi the Xia of Longmen, they were called the Two Dragons of North and South, as well as the Two Pinnacles of North and South!" Aluan scoffed, "Who cares whose disciple he is? I'll wait for him at this inn tonight. If he dares return, I will certainly kill him. If he doesn't, tomorrow we'll send people all over and capture him. If she can't capture him within three days, I'll go to Nangong in Zhili and look for his home." Thereafter, Ge Zhiqiang ordered all of Li Fengjie's belongings be brought into the city. Aluan, Yuan Zhixia, Jin Zhiyong and ten men remained here. Ge Zhiqiang and the others entered the city. At night, nothing much happened in the city or without.

    The following day, all of Xi'an was in an uproar, saying that the Dragon of Shu's disciple Li Fengjie had come and the Kunlun School had suffered losses. Neither Ge Zhiqiang nor the old master Bao's granddaughter were any good, as the one named Li faced twenty-odd people on his own. He ended up wounding several and stepped casually over them. Word spread farther and farther, and in the space of a day, there was no one within a hundred miles of Chang'an who didn't know about it. This was especially the case with those in the security business, as one could see that they sent men to the Lishun Security Office to ask after them, to pay their respects to Miao Zhiying and to offer promises of assistance. They were all actually on the alert themselves, for none wanted to provoke Li Fengjie. Miao Zhiying's coffin sat at the Dabei Temple in the city, while Bao Aluan remained at the Auspicious Inn by the western gate, waiting for Li Fengjie. Ge Zhiqiang was aggravated the entire day and sent people all over to chase out Li Fengjie's whereabouts. He also sent people to Hanzhong, Zhenba, Ziyang and other places with letters.

    On the third day, they began the funereal rites for Miao Zhiying at Dabei Temple, and many famous escorts and fighting masters came to Guanzhong. Ge Zhiqiang spoke to everyone, saying, "People of the Kunlun School have traveled upon Jianghu for thirty, forty years, and we've never been demeaned before. Now this has happened, we have nothing else to say but that no matter what, we must capture Li Fengjie and take revenge for our dead and wounded. I do not care what school this Li Fengjie belongs to, or whose disciple he is. All those gathered here are my good friends of many years, and those of the same trade follow the same principles. I hope that everyone will help our Kunlun School in this matter, and right this wrong against those of us who have learned the martial arts in Guanzhong!" Those escorts and masters that came naturally shook their arms and beat their chests as one, each and every one of them said, "We swear to avenge Miao Zhiying and do justice to the Guanzhong security trade." When the service was over and the monks finished chanting scripture, those who came gradually dispersed.

    Ge Zhiqiang drowned his sorrows in several cups of wine. His body felt flushed and it was like an inferno blazed in his heart. He left the temple and got into a cart, thinking to himself, Where have I, the 'Iron Hegemon of the Golden Saber and Silver Whip,' in all my life ever suffered such a loss? We trained in the martial arts for ten years to deal with Jiang Xiaohe, and now Jiang Xiaohe has not come, nor has Ji Guangjie, but this Li Fengjie! If these young ones are called heroes on Jianghu, then those of our Kunlun School are as good as useless! Thus, Ge Zhiqiang vowed that he would put all at risk to strive for justice. Under the darkness of night, the mule cart wove its way through small alleys for a while before he reached his own security office. Once he entered, he saw Lu Zhizhong greeting him, saying, "Sixth Brother, come inside!" Ge Zhiqiang went to the front hall and Lu Zhizhong said, "Qin Deyu from the Huazhou Security Office has just arrived. He's staying at the Zhang Inn right now. According to him, Ji Guangjie has already reached Lingbao county. He truly is young and talented with powerful martial arts. Why haven't we sent someone to ask him to help us?" Ge Zhiqiang said, "Brother, among our Kunlun School, only you and I and the Long brothers are the old master's exceptional disciples. How is it you've now become so craven!?"

    Lu Zhizhong said, "It's not that I'm craven. I'm thinking that our Kunlun School is no match for the successors to the Dragon of Shu and the Xia of Longmen." Ge Zhiqiang said crossly, "Even if we aren't a match for them, we must still put it all out there. Otherwise, we disciples of Bao Kunlun can forget about traveling upon Jianghu ever again!" He continued seething and left the room to go into the inner yard to sleep for the night. The inner yard was made up of three houses. His son and daughter-in-law were living in the western house, and because his son was recovering, his room was still lit by lamp. The eastern house was his and for twenty years now, he and his wife had slept in different rooms. When he wasn't inside, no one dared go inside the eastern house.

    At this moment, Ge Zhiqiang made his way angrily to his room. As he was reaching out to pull open the door, he heard movement inside the room. He was taken aback and stepped back three or four paces. He directed a question inside the room, "Who's there?" The person inside laughed a little and then said, "It's Li Fengjie." Ge Zhiqiang was so startled the little bit of drunkenness left in him fled! He ran to the northern house, took a saber down from the wall and went back outside, where he saw that Li Fengjie had already come out and was standing on the roof, peering down and laughing. Ge Zhiqiang pointed his saber up at the roof and said, "Friend! Don't leave yet!" From the roof, Li Fengjie said, "All right, I won't leave. What business do you have?" Ge Zhiqiang said, "Friend, do you dare come down?"

    Li Fengjie said, "I'll come down!" When he said this, he leapt down from the roof with a whoosh. A cold glimmer shielded his front; it was the sword he held in his hand. Ge Zhiqiang retreated another few steps and then said, "No wrongs in the past, no feuds in the present. Why must you mistreat us to such an extent?" Li Fengjie said, "I haven't mistreated you. It was you who attacked me for no reason. At the Dayan Pagoda, it was your son who picked a fight with me, so I wounded him." Ge Zhiqiang said, "What is your background?" Li Fengjie said, "That you needn't inquire into. You and I are no friends. There's no use in telling you my background."

    Ge Zhiqiang said, "However..." When he said this, he took a step forward, and then said proudly, "You'd best ask around about my reputation and the stature of our Kunlun School. My master Bao Zhenfei is still alive, and he remains healthy. Some years ago the strongest man in Northern Sichuan, Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong suffered a great loss at the hands of my master. Your martial art and swordwork are pretty good, but do you surpass the Xia of Langzhong? Right now word of what's happened here is swiftly making its way to the ears of the old man. When he finds out, he'll be livid! You should be careful. I have a business to run right now, so I don't want to incite anger or start any feuds with those of Jianghu. You've wounded my son and killed my brother, but I still don't want to hurt you. I encourage you to leave here quickly and never come back to Guanzhong!"

    Li Fengjie laughed coldly, saying, "Shut up! Stop trying to use your big talk to scare me. Bao Zhenfei isn't even in my field of vision, and neither is your Kunlun School! If you want to fight, then fight. I, Li Fengjie, never involve myself with modest courtesy. I came here to visit and look around, and I don't want to leave. No matter who it is, no one can drive me out!" Ge Zhiqiang said in fury, "Ha! I left you a road out of this alive, but you don't take it! And you dare to insult my master!" He brandished his saber and Li Fengjie quickly met it with his sword.

    Clang, clang, clang, the saber and sword went back and forth three or five times, before someone rushed in from the front courtyard and caught Li Fengjie's sword with a saber, urgently saying, "You must not fight!" Li Fengjie held out his sword and asked, "Who are you?" The man said, "I am Lu Zhizhong. I have come here from elsewhere as well. The two of you mustn't fight right now. If you have things to say, say them calmly! Ge Zhiqiang impatiently said, "Brother, what else could I have to say to him? I gave him a way out alive, telling him to leave Guanzhong. He refused to leave. He has deliberately set himself against our Kunlun School!" Li Fengjie scoffed, "You want me to leave so you can tell others that I, Li Fengjie, am afraid of your power and preserve your dignity. Although that is easy enough provided there is someone among you who can defeat this sword in my hand!"

    Ge Zhiqiang stamped his foot and said, "Very well! I will fight you here and now!" The weapons on either side rang out as they touched. Lu Zhizhong stood between them to stop them and said, "Even if you wanted a contest, the middle of the night is not the time to put your life on the line. There's no harm in setting a day where both sides can invite their friends to watch the contest with their eyes." Li Fengjie said, "I have no friends here, so you may decide the day!" Lu Zhizhong said, "What about tomorrow?" Li Fengjie said, "Great! Bring as many people as you like, whether to watch or to help. All I need is this one sword!" Having said this, he turned around and marched fearlessly toward the outer yard.

    Ge Zhiqiang was about to go after him with his saber, but Lu Zhizhong struck him and admonished him, "Brother, don't be impatient!" Whereupon he tossed down his saber and walked Li Fengjie outside. When they reached the gate, he said, "Brother Li, please stop. I have more to say to you!" Li Fengjie turned around and saw that Lu Zhizhong's hands lacked a weapon, so he slid his sword back into its scabbard. He then listened as Lu Zhizhong said, "You've hurt my brothers, but my two families must not breed a deep enmity over this. We shall have a contest at the Ba Bridge tomorrow, but I ask that you be sensible!" Li Fengjie smirked and said, "Well that depends on all of you. I, Li Fengjie, am certainly not so self-centered as that!" After he said this, he swung his just-retrieved bundle of books and silvers over his shoulder and strutted off to the north.

    When Lu Zhizhong returned to the inner yard, a lamp had already been lit in the eastern house. Ge Zhiqiang sat in a chair angrily, and when he saw Lu Zhizhong, he said, "Why did you let Li Fengjie go? Don't tell me that our two sabers couldn't have defeated his one sword." Lu Zhizhong said, "At the Auspicious Inn by the western gate, a dozen were not a match for him, so how could the two of us have beaten him now? Not to mention we're in our own courtyard, and it wouldn't do at all to alarm the womenfolk. If we're hurt, then we've lost for nothing, and if we hurt him, the authorities will become involved."

    Ge Zhiqiang said, "I'm not afraid of involving the authorities!" Lu Zhizhong said, "But we don't need to have the authorities pushing us around over an outsider. Don't worry about tomorrow, brother, and moreover don't tell Miss Luan. I'll go to the Ba Bridge and settle this grievance for our Kunlun School!" Ge Zhiqiang said, "We'll invite over a few more friends tomorrow. At the Ba Bridge, I'll face him first, and when things aren't going well for me, all of you will attack him!" When he finished speaking, he let out a long growl of anger! After Lu Zhizhong departed, he closed his door and went to sleep.

    Ge Zhiqiang woke up early when the next day arrived. He sent people to invite over the renowned escorts and masters in the city and prepared wine at the security office. In a short while came Liang Zhen of the Taifu Security Office, Cheng Fengshan of the Fengshan Security Office, Han Bao of the Guanzhong Security Office, Qin Deyu of the Huazhou Security Office, in addition to the fighting masters Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger and Pang Yin the Divinatory Fist, and also Lu Zhizhong, Jin Zhiyong and the others. They filled the seats of two tables. Ge Zhiqiang related to them the previous day's events where they had agreed to meet Li Fengjie at the Ba Bridge this day for a contest.

    Cheng Fengshan of the Fengshan Security Office immediately slapped the table angrily and hollered, "We'll all go later! We'll see what kind of person the one named Li is. Since he wants a fight, we must kill him and not let him get off with minor wounds. And then I answer the murder charge!" Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger jumped up as well and said, "When the time comes, none of you should raise a hand. Allow me face him alone. I hurried back from Wugong county last night just so I could fight that little one and get justice for our friends of Guanzhong!" Lu Zhizhong waved his hand continuously, saying, "It cannot be as such. The arrangement made yesterday was with me, and when we see him later, we need only defeat him. We needn't hurt him and sow enmity. This is because it's said he is the Dragon of Shu's disciple!"

    Qin Deyu of the Huazhou Security Office subdued some of the aggravated men and said, "Brother Lu is right. We of the security trade in Guanzhong can't afford to start any more feuds with those from other provinces. Ji Guangjie has already reached Lingbao county and may arrive in Guanzhong in two or three days. He's told others that he's dissatisfied with our security trade in Guanzhong, saying that we're dominating Jianghu and harassing those from other provinces. If we kill Li Fengjie today at the Ba Bridge, Ji Guangjie may hurry here and settle this wrong. One is a disciple of the Dragon of Shu, and one is the grandson of the Xia of Longmen. The two must know each other!"

    After Qin Deyu said this, Ge Zhiqiang sat in deep thought while many of the others lost their drive. Only Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger remained scowling as he said, "What 'jie'? I don't care who it is, I'll chop him in two all the same!" The gathered men drank their wine quickly and poured out of the office gate. Some of the escorts were riding wagons while others were riding horses as they filled up one of the streets. Ge Zhiqiang was riding a black horse and Lu Zhizhong rode a white horse up ahead. Jin Zhiyong came out of the gate and then went back again. He found an attendant and secretly gave him some instruction. Thereupon the mass of wagons and horses made their way to the east gate in disarray. The people on the road all stopped to gawk, knowing that Sixth Sir Ge had invited all the famed escorts in the city to have a martial contest with someone at the Ba Bridge. [Note: Eighth Zhang makes a pun here on the fact that both Li Fengjie and Ji Guangjie both have "jie" in their names and that a homonym for "jie" can also mean "section" or "part," so keeping "jie" untranslated, it might read: "What 'jie'? I don't care who it is, I'll chop him into two jie all the same!"]

    The great group of wagons exited the east gate of Chang'an and passed ten miles of shops. Another ten miles, and they were at the Ba Bridge. This was one of Guanzhong's famous scenic locales. The Ba River sprawled across the great plain like a wide ribbon. The waters weren't deep, but they were clear with a lovely shade of jade, and a scattering of green willows cushioned either bank. The landscape was beautiful and serene. The bridge was several hundred feet long and level, and large, tall tablets had been erected on both sides of the bridge, east and west, with imperial edicts on them. Cottages spread out on both banks among numerous rice paddies, and a flourishing town sat on the eastern bank called Ba Bridge town.

    His horse at a gallop, Lu Zhizhong was the first to arrive, with the horses and wagons still half a mile behind him. He spotted Li Fengjie standing at the foot of the bridge holding his sword. Lu Zhizhong dismounted and hitched his horse to a willow tree before he approached unarmed. He clasped his fist and said, "Brother Li, you're early!" Li Fengjie cupped his fist, looked over at the mass of horses and wagons and laughed, saying, "So many of your people have come!" Lu Zhizhong said, "Many have come, but I'll be the only one to fight with you. Those friends are here but to bear witness. Today, we will talk of real martial skill, real martial arts. You may not use tricks or hidden weapons to harm people." Li Fengjie said, "I've never employed hidden weapons, only this sword of mine."

    While the two spoke, the horses and wagons drew near. Qin Deyu spurred his horse ahead and climbed off of it. He cupped his fist at Li Fengjie and said, "Is this Brother Li Fengjie?" Li Fengjie cupped his fist as well and asked, "What is your honorable name, brother?" Qin Deyu said, "My name is Qin Deyu. Li Zhenxia of Huazhou is my father-in-law. I've come today to help your two houses with these matters. We and you are all friends of Jianghu. If any problems arise, we should be able to resolve them in a few words and phrases. We needn't insist on going so far as I-live-and-you-die to settle the greatest of feuds."

    When he finished, he saw that Ge Zhiqiang's horse and wagon had arrived. He raised his hand and called out, "I ask that friends on both sides humor me by not touching your weapons, as real martial skill lies in the hands and feet. This place is very spacious, and you'll soon test your fists against each other here. As I see it, whoever does not act fairly is not considered a friend, nor will they be considered a real man!" Han Bao, Liang Zhen and the others all gave their approval. Having already drawn their sabers, only Cheng Fengshan and Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger inevitably did not accept this fully after hearing these words. Lu Zhizhong said, "All right, all right. It was I who arranged yesterday to meet Sir Li here, so I invite Sir Li today to show me a thing or two!" By this point, a great many travelers from east of the bridge and local farmers had gathered to watch the crowd of men fight.

    Li Fengjie flung his sword to the ground and rolled up his sleeves. Lu Zhizhong threw down his saber as well and the two of them walked a half-circle around each other holding fists, whereupon Li Fengjie sprung at Lu Zhizhong with a swinging fist to attack. Lu Zhizhong leaned to evade and started by masking the advance of his right foot. He sent a fist at Li Fengjie, but, slap, Li Fengjie pushed it aside with his left hand and leapt up with a fwoosh, and then tilted his body and swung at Lu Zhizhong's back. Lu Zhizhong quickly reached out his left arm to grab hold of Li Fengjie's right wrist and took the opportunity to strike his midsection, but Li Fengjie planted his feet and freed his right hand without moving an inch. He changed his fist form and counter-charged Lu Zhizhong. They went back and forth with another cycle and Lu Zhizhong recognized that the fistwork Li Fengjie used was all internal technique. It could not be underestimated, so he kept dodging, all the while figuring out how to defeat it with the moves of his own Kunlun School.

    Lu Zhizhong kept retreating and noticed that he was about to back himself to the edge of the river under the willow trees as Li Fengjie closed in on him step by step. Cheng Fengshan said, "Lu Zhizhong is such a disappointment to the Kunlun School!" He threw down his saber and sprinted over. By now, Li Fengjie had reached Lu Zhizhong and was sending heavy slugs at him. However, Lu Zhizhong ducked and dodged and knocked away Li Fengjie's left hand. He leapt to the right and came down abruptly, swish, with the sweep of a leg. Li Fengjie sprung up with both feet and brought two fists down from above for an attack. Lu Zhizhong opened his arms and reached up, grasping both of Li Fengjie's wrists. At that, Qin Deyu cheered, "Good martial skill!" Cheng Fengshan thought this an opportunity to take advantage of and unexpectedly came behind Li Fengjie with a kick.

    Li Fengjie snatched back his right wrist and trapped Lu Zhizhong's right arm, making to strike his midsection while at the same time ducking out of the way, causing Cheng Fengshan to kick the air. Lu Zhizhong addressed Cheng Fengshan angrily, "Stay out of this!" Li Fengjie used this opportunity to free his left hand and flung Lu Zhizhong a couple paces using the Split-body Cross form. He then advanced with an alternating fist and step cycle three times. Lu Zhizhong only blocked two of them, and the final one struck his right arm. Lu Zhizhong was sent back a few steps, but he didn't fall.

    At this time, Cheng Fengshan came charging from behind. Li Fengjie turned around to meet Cheng Fengshan and struck him in the chest with a fist knocking the aged Cheng Fengshan to the ground. Ge Zhiqiang rushed over and tangled himself with Li Fengjie. The two fought and twisted, practically losing the shapes of their hands and feet. They were winding toward the riverbank when Li Fengjie suddenly pushed Ge Zhiqiang away and with a flying kick, sent him tumbling into the river. Pang Yin and Jin Zhiyong approached with sabers drawn. Li Fengjie remained unflustered, his body turning, leaping and shifting to evade the two men's weapons while at the same time sending punches a through openings. The two surrounded Li Fengjie, one in front and one in back.

    Dripping with water, Ge Zhiqiang had now climbed out of the river. He snatched up his saber and approached Li Fengjie to kill him. Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger had picked up Li Fengjie's sword earlier, but he didn't go over there, instead hopping up and down, saying, "Kill! Kill! Kill him!" Li Fengjie had by now struck Pang Yin down with his bare hands and picked his saber up. He then repelled Ge Zhiqiang and Jin Zhiyong with a single saber. The three sabers flipped up and flew down for ten-some exchanges. Ge Zhiqiang had run through all the bladework of the Kunlun School but had yet to prevail, and Jin Zhiyong could withstand the attacks no longer. Suddenly, a voice called from the crowd, "I'm coming!" As Li Fengjie was locked in battle with both Ge and Jin, he glanced over and saw a red horse fly on the main road from the west. A woman sat on the horse, wearing a silver-red shirt and white pants. It was the woman whose bladework was very familiar to Li Fengjie. Jin Zhiyong ran to one side and waved her over, saying, "Hurry, come quickly!"

    By the time Aluan neared, she had already drawn her saber. She leapt off her horse and sprinted over, saying, "Out of the way, Uncle Ge!" Ge Zhiqiang's bladework was a mess at this point, so he hurriedly turned around and cleared out. Li Fengjie didn't give chase. He simply smiled and waited for Aluan's saber to come at him with a whoosh, whereupon he met it with his saber. Above the riverbank and outside of the willow trees, the two sabers of this one man and one woman flew in a flurry with neither yielding a step. All one could see was the dazzling glimmer of the sunlight reflecting off the blade. Clang, clang, the sound of metal on metal rang out as they fought fiercely for over twenty exchanges.

    Lu Zhizhong and Ge Zhiqiang were afraid the young lady would suffer a mishap, so they both advanced with sabers swinging. Li Fengjie resisted the two of them, but after fighting for five or six exchanges, he was gradually being driven back. Han Bao dashed over holding up a spear and lunged viciously at Li Fengjie. As Li Fengjie backed up, he laughed and said, "You surely are worthy to be called heroes of Guanzhong with your many sabers and multitude of hands!" He stepped back and then abruptly turned and ran. Jin Zhiyong, Cheng Fengshan blocked the foot of the bridge. Pang Yin, Eighth Zhang, Qin Deyu and others obstructed the western side, all of them saying, "Don't let him get away!" Li Fengjie charged straight at Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger and cut him down with one slash. He hurriedly seized his own sword on the way and threw down the saber. Now that he had his sword in hand, he was like a tiger that sprouted wings or a dragon that reached water. He revealed the sword's glimmer and turned back to charge at the crowd. All that was heard was clang, clang, clang, as Li Fengjie's sword knocked back the mass of sabers one-by-one. His body was like that of a flying swallow, bounding and darting about in the cluster of sabers. He parried right and blocked left, resisted in the front and restrained in the back, ending the notion that anyone else's blade would near his body.

    Currently, Lu Zhizhong and Bao Aluan were the only ones who could still withstand him; none of the rest could keep up. In an instant, they heard a few screams. The sword had stabbed both Cheng Fengshan and Jin Zhiyong, as Li Fengjie swung his sword and turned towards Han Bao. Han Bao met him with his spear, but with a thock, the sword severed the shaft of the spear, and Han Bao turned tail and fled. Li Fengjie dashed after him, his sword striking like an eagle's wing. Another wretched cry rang out as blood splattered and Han Bao fell to the ground. The people on the bridge all cried out in shock, "Someone's lost a life...!" Aluan yelled loudly as well, "You can forget about leaving!" She flew at him and chopped viciously at Li Fengjie's back with her saber. Li Fengjie hastily turned around and met her with his sword.

    Clang clang, the sounds rang out in succession. Aluan felt her hand aching but she didn't flinch. One hand tried to grab hold of Li Fengjie as the other swung her saber in a chopping motion at Li Fengjie. Li Fengjie flicked his sword, knocking aside Aluan's saber, and then tilted his body and pulled back with the sword. This positioning was most malicious, as soon the point of the sword would make contact with Aluan's chest. However, just then someone shouted from atop the bridge! Li Fengjie hurriedly withdrew his sword and jumped to one side. There was a youth riding a white horse on the bridge, bolting over with sword already raised.

    Li Fengjie threw off Aluan and readied his sword for this person. The youth brandished his sword and told the three of Aluan, Lu Zhizhong and Ge Zhiqiang to all step aside, and then he faced Li Fengjie in single combat. All they could see were two hectic flashes of cold light and two agile bodies jumping and leaping back and forth. They moved as they fought and were still locked in stalemate after more than a hundred steps. Aluan wanted to sprint after them, but Lu Zhizhong pulled her back. She held her saber and panted, as she watched the two trade attacks for over thirty exchanges. Li Fengjie was gradually driven south. The youth persisted without quarter, advancing closely upon him with his sword extended, and after another dozen or so exchanges, they saw Li Fengjie sitting on the ground with his sword held crosswise to block his opponent's sword.

    The youth suddenly thrust his sword at Li Fengjie's chest for a stab, and in a jumble of cold light, Li Fengjie had rolled over and again protected against his opponent's sword with his own. The youth pulled his sword back and tapped Li Fengjie on the waist, whereupon Li Fengjie stood up. Aluan, Lu Zhizhong and others all rushed over, but all they saw was Li Fengjie walking into the river with his entire face flushed red, and treading through the knee-deep water toward the other side.

  5. #25
    Senior Member littleli's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    276

    Default

    -

    CHAPTER EIGHT

    As two Exemplars decide victory and defeat, blood sheen stains a sword.
    Holding his enmity for ten years, a letter brimming with anger is sent.


    The youth turned around and waved his hand, saying, "Never mind! Just let him go! Anyway, he knows he was defeated." Aluan turned and ran over to her horse, taking it in hand to cross the bridge and chase after Li Fengjie. The youth rushed over with one hand holding a sword and the other grabbing hold of Aluan's arm. He laughed and insisted, "Miss, why are you going after him? I dare guarantee once he's crossed this river, he won't venture to come west of the bridge again." Aluan flushed red as she wrested her arm away and stamped angrily, saying, "But then he'll just run away! We'll have let him killed for nothing!" The youth smiled and said, "It's you were in the wrong, with all of you fighting just him!" Qin Deyu came over to talk her down as well. Lu Zhizhong clasped his fist toward the youth and asked, "What is this brother's honorable name?" The youth said, "I'm surnamed Ji." Qin Deyu asked in surprise, "Could it be that our friend here is Ji Guangjie?" The youth nodded and smiled.

    Upon hearing that this was the Xia of Longmen's grandson Ji Guangjie, Ge Zhiqiang and the others hurried over to greet him, all saying, "Brother Ji, it is a true honor to finally meet one as great as you!" Ji Guangjie cupped his fist as well and said some polite words. The young lady Aluan had originally admired the youth's exceptional swordwork and martial arts that surpassed Li Fengjie's, but then grew angry at the frivolity of his actions. Now that she heard this was the much talked about Ji Guangjie, she was even more startled into attention. She saw that Ji Guangjie was no older than twenty-four or twenty-five years. He looked confident and open, and his body was short but robust. His complexion was a little bit dark, and he wore blue creased coat and pants. A tassel of red thread was tied to his sword.

    Ge Zhiqiang and Lu Zhizhong called over idle men to lift the dead and wounded into wagons while also trying their hardest to involve Ji Guangjie, asking him to wait here a moment and then to enter Chang'an city together and go to the Shunli security office to rest up. However, Ji Guangjie said, "I've come to Chang'an to see my uncle, and I'll be staying here for at least two or three months. There will be many days for us to gather together to come, so allow me to trouble you another day!" He went beside the bridge where a servant of his was holding on to two white horses, and he sheathed his sword. The three, Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong, and Qin Deyu walked over and asked, "Might we know which lane of the city your esteemed kin lives on?" Ji Guangjie said, "My humble kin lives on the salt shop street and runs the Guangyifu money dispensary. You will be able to find me there." He mounted his horse, cupped his fist and said, "Farewell!" He departed with his servant in tow. He went a short distance and looked back. He cupped his fist again, and then turned around and rode off. [Note: I believe there to be another textual error here. "Shunli" should be "Lishun."]

    Aluan, Ge Zhiqiang and the others watched the two horses grow distant before turning back around. They saw that the idle men they had temporarily employed had already carried the injured Cheng Fengshan, Jin Zhiyong and Eighth Zhang, and the tragically dead Han Bao, all into wagons. Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help but sigh and wipe away tears. It wasn't until then that two officers from this town dared approach. Ge Zhiqiang said, "The attacker's already fled. You needn't report this to your higher-ups." He gave the officers ten taels of silver and entrusted them to distribute it to those who had helped and those who had come to watch, instructing them not to tell anyone else what happened here today. Then, Ge Zhiqiang and the others mounted their horses and returned to Chang'an city with the wagons.

    Ge Zhiqiang sighed all the way, saying, "The decades-long heroic reputation of our Kunlun School is all but lost! We've let this one insignificant Li Fengjie cut and hurt us, twice wounding and killing seven or eight of us. And then once another comes, this Ji Guangjie, he defeats Li Fengjie without breaking a sweat. What a disgrace! How can we run security offices like this, or travel upon Jianghu? It seems to me it's best for all the disciples of our Kunlun School to go see our master together to cry bitterly. Then, we'll shutter all the security offices!" The sunlight had already dried the muddy water on his person, but his appearance grew increasingly pitiful. Lu Zhizhong, Liang Zhen and the others all sat silent on their horses with their heads lowered.

    Aluan was so furious her delicate countenance was entirely purple. She fumed, "On what basis would you close all the security offices of the Kunlun School? If none of you will run them, I'll do it. Not only will I still be called a hero in Jianghu, but two days hence I will have a martial contest with Ji Guangjie. In a few days, I'll take revenge on Li Fengjie. This feud must be settled. If you had all allowed me to fight him one-on-one, I guarantee you I wouldn't have let him go. With all of you a confused mess in there, I couldn't even properly display my saberwork!" At these words of hers, even Ge Zhiqiang stopped talking.

    When they returned to the city interior, Ge Zhiqiang had the dead and wounded brought back to their homes first. When he got back to the security office, he laid troubled on his bed. Aluan sat angry in the room she was staying in and cursed ceaselessly with rage, slamming the table and stamping her feet. All the people in the security office hung their heads, disheartened, none of them were as happy as they had been in days past. Lu Zhizhong sat fretting in Ge Zhiqiang's room for a while and thought things over. Then, he lifted his head and said, "Brother, there's no use in us just worrying here. Among men, there are martial arts both strong and weak, and when they fight, there are winners and losers. This incident can't be counted as much. The security offices can remain open, Jianghu can still be traversed, and vengeance must also be taken. If Jiang Xiaohe comes, we must still deal with him!" Ge Zhiqiang said, "I'm not afraid of Jiang Xiaohe coming. But right now, I truly do not have the face to go out and meet with people!"

    Lu Zhizhong shook his head and said, "It seems to me the imminent danger is still Jiang Xiaohe! Ah! Let's not mention him for now and speak only of the present. We saw Ji Guangjie's martial arts today. Not only are his martial arts stronger than ours, they surpass Li Fengjie's. A character like him is truly worthy to be the Xia of Longmen's grandson. We were in the wrong today when we fought Li Fengjie, a group against one, but he can help us drive Li Fengjie away. It was clear he thought highly of our Kunlun School. He was very genial, both young and enthusiastic. Wouldn't it be better for us to become good friends with him? On one hand, it will guard against Li Fengjie's retaliation, and on the other, it will prepare for Jiang Xiaohe's arrival when we'll have a good helping hand."

    Before his disciple-brother finished speaking, Ge Zhiqiang shook his head and said, "So we have to ask the grandson of the Xia of Longmen to boost our strength because our Kunlun School can't do it alone. Well then our master's thirty years' reputation will be completely smashed!" Lu Zhizhong said, "No, the master would surely agree. On the day that brother Jiang Zhiyao arrived at Dasan Pass with Miss Luan, he told me that this journey wasn't only to allow Miss Luan to see the world, but also to find a husband for the young miss. Before he departed, the master whispered this to Brother Jiang. No matter where it is, if they encountered a young man of talent, someone whose martial arts surpassed Miss Luan's own, he could have them get married." Ge Zhiqiang jumped off his bed, saying, "All together, Ji Guangjie is true enough a young man of talent. Not only do his martial arts far surpass the young miss Aluan's, but even the master may not be able to beat him. In terms of family background, how thunderous it is to say the grandson of Ji Junyi the Xia of Longmen!"

    Lu Zhizhong said, "This match is sent from the heavens, and we must not pass this opportunity by. What's more, Jiang Zhiyao is already on his way back to Hanzhong to ask our eldest brother to come." Ge Zhiqiang said, "Even if our eldest brother didn't come, we can still make decisions for his daughter." Ge Zhiqiang had Lu Zhizhong remain at home to keep a close eye on Aluan and to not let her leave the house. He hurried back to the northern house to change his clothes and told those outside to prepare a wagon. Shortly, Ge Zhiqiang changed into a clean set of clothes, so that he looked like a different person than the one who had previously crawled out of the river. Bringing a servant with him, he departed in a wagon toward the salt shop street to call upon Ji Guangjie.

    Ji Guangjie was currently staying at the Guangyifu money dispensary. It was not a large business, and it was run in partnership by his uncle Zhao Baofu and another man. Ji Guangjie was resting in the counter house, so when Ge Zhiqiang came to visit, he was there to receive him. The two exchanged some words of Jianghu courtesy first, before Ge Zhiqiang inquired into Ji Guangjie's family background. Ji Guangjie said, "My late father passed away before my late grandfather. My grandfather had long been disillusioned with Jianghu, so when my father was still living, he gave up his arms and took up scholarly study. The examination rooms were unfavorable, however, and he only attained xiucai status and had a rough life until the end. In my childhood, I studied under my father and achieved xiucai rank at fifteen years. Yet, my grandfather didn't want the transmission of his martial arts to end with him, so he had me learning literature from my father and martial arts from him, for the sake that if I couldn't rise in the ranks of the civil service, I would still be able to make a living using martial arts. In the ten years since, both my grandfather and my father have passed on and all that remains at home are my widowed mother and a cousin and his wife. The examination rooms have not been advantageous to me either, so I've set forth for some experience and made some friends in Henan. I've come now to Guanzhong to see my maternal uncle, and after two or three months, I'll set out for the capital to seek out an official position."

    Ge Zhiqiang listened to Ji Guangjie's words and came to like him even more, quickly saying, "Brother Ji, you should stay here longer and enjoy yourself. You needn't hurry off to Beijing. Our brothers feel an immediate familiarity with you, and our master Bao Kunlun may come to Chang'an after a few days. The old man would be pleased to meet one as great as you." Then he added, "If you hadn't helped us by beating Li Fengjie away today, our Kunlun School would have lost all our men! Afterwards, the master's granddaughter praised you highly at the security office and asked me to bring you back, so she could meet you and consult with you about martial arts."

    Hearing this, Ji Guangjie couldn't help but smile. He nodded and said, "Very well. I'll go over there tonight and we'll speak more then!" Since this counter house was rather small and the attendants were often going out or coming in, it wasn't convenient to talk. Ge Zhiqiang sat for a while longer before taking his leave. After he left the money dispensary, he went to the homes of Han Bao, Eighth Zhang and the other wounded to check up on them, earning himself a chest full of worry and grief. However, the sliver of comfort in his heart was that he had already made friends with Ji Guangjie. With such a highly skilled man, they could safeguard their current occupations. Moreover, if the match is made for Aluan, he would be family to the Kunlun School.

    When he returned to the office, he ordered a feast to be prepared and also had people clean out a room across from the counter house. That day, many friends of the security trade came to ask after them. Ge Zhiqiang had no choice but to put on a face, saying, "We very quickly overpowered Li Fengjie, but because he is the disciple of the Dragon of Shu, his martial arts were quite remarkable. The escorts Han and Cheng, Eighth Zhang, and our brother Jin Zhiyong were wounded, the worst of which was truly the escort Han's, who was injured for our sake and died." The others all gave Ge Zhiqiang some encouragement and then brought up the matter of Ji Guangjie. Ge Zhiqiang naturally boasted some, saying that Ji Guangjie and I were old acquaintances, and that his grandpa and our master were also old friends; that he was heading into the province today and when he crossed the Ba Bridge, he came upon us as we surrounded Li Fengjie, about to take his life; and that it was because Ji Guangjie had hurried over to talk us down that we let Li Fengjie go. In actuality, the others had already found out all the details about what happened during the fight that morning by the Ba Bridge, but they couldn't point out the truth, so they commended Ge Zhiqiang and then all left.

    After these men departed, Ge Zhiqiang felt very ashamed. He went into the inner yard to check up on his son's wounds and saw that they were still very serious. He listened as his daughter-in-law said that a moment ago, Aluan had wanted to leave, but when Lu Zhizhong stood in her way, she almost raised her saber against Lu Zhizhong. Upon hearing this, Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help but be extremely concerned. He hurried to Aluan's room and said, "Young miss, don't be impatient. In any event, Li Fengjie has fled, but eventually we will capture him and settle our grudge. Not long ago, a person coming from Hanzhong told us that your father would set off in half a day. He'll probably arrive in four or five days. I've also sent friends to Zhenba county to invite over the old master. The old master hasn't ventured out in many a year, but our Kunlun School has encountered a great enemy this time. The old master can't afford to set out."

    After Aluan heard that her grandfather and father were on their way here, she believed it to be the truth, and though her anger had not yet abated, she nodded and said, "All right. I'll wait for my grandpa. The old man and I will go out and look for Li Fengjie together. No one else's help would be of any use." Then she asked, "Where is that Ji Guangjie staying right now? Didn't I hear some time ago that he wanted to fight our Kunlun School?"

    Ge Zhiiang shook his head and laughed, "All that talk before was all people spreading misinformation. Actually, he's just like family to all of us. See that he helped us drive Li Fengjie away today by the Ba Bridge and you'll know this. This man is truly a young hero, only twenty-five years this year. He hasn't yet started a family, and he's come now to see his uncle. I plan on keeping him here to stay a few days, a perfect chance to consult him about the martial arts of the Longmen School. I've invited him here tonight for food and drink, so you can meet him, young miss."

    Aluan shook her head furiously and said, "I'm not meeting him!" Ge Zhiqiang said, "Don't get angry, young miss. If you were still at home, I wouldn't be able to bring him to meet you, no matter who it was, but now that you've ventured out to travel upon Jianghu, you can't be so particular about rules and etiquette. Not to mention, Ji Guangjie has long been a friend of our Kunlun School. You and he are just like sister and brother with different surnames, so there's no great harm in seeing him. I went to call on him just now, and right when he saw me, he said, 'Who was that young lady who was confronting Li Fengjie at the Ba Bridge?' I told him that it was my master's granddaughter. He then said, 'No wonder her martial arts are so good.'"

    Hearing that Ji Guangjie had praised her, Aluan couldn't help but feel a little happy, but when she thought more about it, she still shook her head, saying, "I'm not meeting him, unless he wants to compare our martial skill a bit. Uncle Ge, when he comes later, inquire about Li Fengjie's background, and ask him where Li Fengjie's now run to. The way I see it, he let Li Fengjie go today at the Ba Bridge, so the two of them have probably known each other a long time. Perhaps they are even disciples under the same master. Otherwise, why are they both called something-jie?" Ge Zhiqiang cut in, "That is not the case. They definitely don't know each other, or else how would Ji Guangjie be able to help us out? No matter how you look at it, Li Fengjie was considered defeated today."

    When he finished, Ge Zhiqiang went to the outer courtyard again to attend other matters. He discussed a long while with Lu Zhizhong what to say to Ji Guangjie, and how to ingratiate themselves with him. When evening came, there came only Qin Deyu of the Huazhou security office, whom Ge Zhiqiang had asked to come to assist him.

    It wasn't until they lit the lamps that Ji Guangjie arrived. He brought his servant as before, riding atop two horses. The servant was carrying his sword for him. Ji Guangjie was wearing a purple garnet silk vest on his person, a cap on his head and thin-soled officials' boots on his feet. In his hand he held a folding fan. He had a natural charm and a straight-forward bearing. The three Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong and Qin Deyu invited him into the western house with the utmost modesty and politeness. When Ji Guangjie saw the table laden with a lavish feast, he clasped his fist and said, "Sirs, there's no need to be so courteous. It would have been enough just to have a bit of any sort of wine. This really concerns me!" Ge Zhiqiang laughed, "It's the first time we've invited you. In the future, we'll see each other daily and it'll be as if we were family. We won't be so courteous again."

    Ji Guangjie laughed and took off his long coat, revealing a rice-colored silk shirt and pants. Ge Zhiqiang and the others motioned him toward the seat of honor. He declined it weakly before sitting down at the head of the table. Ge Zhiqiang offered him a toast first, and Ji Guangjie said, "Why don't we pour our own and drink our own? You needn't be so polite." Thus the four sat facing each other, drinking enjoyably and talking loudly. Ji Guangjie spoke of his grandfather the Xia of Langzhong's life's deeds, and of his own experiences knocking about various places in Henan this time. He told them about how he wounded Liang Gao the Iron-armed Monkey with his sword in Luoning, and how he defeated Gao Qinggui the Divine Hawk with his fist in Kaifeng. He narrated with brows flying and his expression dancing, causing Ge Zhiqiang and the others to truly revere him.

    Lastly, Ji Guangjie spoke of Li Fengjie, saying, "I have known his name for a long time, and I even encountered him in Kaifeng briefly. He probably failed his civil service examinations as well, and according to him, he's the disciple of the Dragon of Shu, but I don't know whether that's true or not. Yet, his sword technique is quite good, and in these last couple years he's conducted himself quite honorably on Jianghu. Thus that I only defeated him today and didn't take his life was for this reason. But this was just the first time. If there's a second time I am presented with his offenses, it would be difficult to guarantee he won't be hurt!"

    Ge Zhiqiang nodded, threw back a cup of wine and then said heatedly, "Brother Ji, you may have been unwilling to hurt him and released him, but we have an enmity with him that cannot be undone. In the last ten days, he's wounded my son and killed my disciple-brother Miao Zhiying. Today, he's killed and wounded another good many. If we let him go, it would reflect too much incompetence on all of us in the Kunlun School and the escorts and fighting masters of Guanzhong. Thus, we now have people going to various places to ask our friends to come. When they arrive and after our funereal rites are finished, we will split up and look for Li Fengjie. We may not have to harm his life, but we must make him answer for his wicked injustice."

    Ji Guangjie said, "When the time comes, I will certainly help all of you out. Li Fengjie was spared my sword today by the Ba Bridge, but if he doesn't accept defeat, he will be back to face us sooner or later. I, however, do not fear him one bit. Forget about the Dragon of Shu's disciple. Even if the Dragon of Shu himself was still living and had treated me poorly, I would give him a fight!"

    When Ge Zhiqiang and the others heard Ji Guangjie consent to aid them against Li Fengjie, they all became extremely cheerful. Lu Zhizhong asked at this time, "Brother Ji, you've come from another province. Do you know of anyone in Jianghu called Jiang Xiaohe?" Ji Guangjie shook his head and said, "I've not heard of this name. Might I know where he comes from and how Brother Lu knows him?" Ge Zhiqiang sneered, "He is an insignificant one of the younger generation, and he has accumulated much ill-will with the Kunlun School. He was then accepted by an old master, another insignificant personage in Jianghu." Ji Guangjie waved his hand, saying, "Then that's nothing to worry about! Besides my late grandfather the Xia of Longmen, the only other renowned man of Jianghu in the last century is the Dragon of Shu. Lately, we've seen that the skill of the Dragon of Shu's disciple Li Fengjie is only so great, so how good could the disciples of any other be?" Qin Deyu nodded and said, "Well spoken!"

    Thus, Ge Zhiqiang raised a full cup of wine and passed it over to Ji Guangjie. Ji Guangjie laughed and accepted it. He was about to bring it to his mouth to drink, when they suddenly heard a very loud whack as a roof tile flew in from outside, shattering the porcelain plates on the table. The men in the room all stood up in alarm. Ji Guangjie ordered the lights extinguished, whereupon the few lamps and candles in the room were all immediately put out. Ge Zhiqiang and the others took their blades down from the wall, while Ji Guangjie pulled his sword from the hands of his servant into his own. He instructed Ge Zhiqiang and the others in a whisper, "Don't panic! This must be work of Li Fengjie. Just leave him to me!" By the time he said this, people had already started fighting atop the eastern house. They heard the striking of blade against blade ringing out loudly.

    Ji Guangjie rushed out of the room with his sword in hand and Ge Zhiqiang and the other followed behind. They heard a woman's voice shouting out from the roof of the eastern house, "No one is permitted to help me. If anyone tries to do so, I'll cut them with my saber!" Ji Guangjie couldn't help but smile when he heard her. He leapt onto the roof with his sword and the woman turned her saber at him, asking him sternly, "Who are you?" Ji Guangjie dodged her saber and raised his sword to engage Li Fengjie. Li Fengjie used the time to jump onto the neighboring roof and stood laughing brashly. Ji Guangjie grew indignant and tread as if flying across the roof tiles to give chase. Li Fengjie dashed from roof to roof as if he was running on level ground and soon he disappeared without a trace. Because the buildings under Ji Guangjie's footsteps were all inns, the people inside all woke up in distress and lit lanterns and shouted out about catching the thief. It was no longer opportune for Ji Guangjie to continue his pursuit, so he could only return with his sword to the security office in frustration.

    At this point, Ge Zhiqiang and Lu Zhizhong had already urged Aluan off the roof and blocked her from giving chase. Aluan stamped her foot repeatedly and yelled loudly, swinging her saber erratically. Ge Zhiqiang snatched the saber from her hand and said, "Niece, you cannot be so petulant in this matter right now. With him hidden and us exposed, how are we to chase him? If anything were to happen to you, how will we face our master and brother when they come in a few days?" Aluan stamped her foot and said, "What are you talking about? You are all too timid, too weak and powerless! You've let him humiliate our Kunlun School to the end and you are still loath to put it all out there!"

    Ji Guangjie had already jumped off the roof by now. He waved his hand and said, "Miss Bao, don't be impatient. It's good that Li Fengjie has come looking for me. I don't think he'll be able to leave here within half a day. I will surely be able to catch him tomorrow, tie him up and hand him over to this security office!" Aluan stamped her foot angrily and said, "Who says you can butt into our business? Could it be you think that we wouldn't be able to capture him without you and your Ji surname?" Ji Guangjie simply smiled. At this time, two of the rooms were lit once again. Ji Guangjie said, "I invite Miss Bao to come and have a drink with us. I think Li Fengjie might come back again later. If he does, none of us will raise a hand. We'll rely on you to fight him, miss." He then laughed and walked into the western house, giving his sword to his servant to sheathe. He sat tall at the head of the table and poured himself some wine to drink.

    Aluan followed Ge Zhiqiang inside, but she didn't drink wine. She simply sat on a stool with her saber firmly in her hand. Her eyes were directed out the window, as if she anxiously craved for Li Fengjie to come again. Ji Guangjie remained at ease and continued raising his cup and drinking with Lu Zhizhong and the other two, sneaking a glance every now and then at Aluan. At this point, Ge Zhiqiang was very upset and he couldn't shake it, though he forced himself to talk and interact with Ji Guangjie. By the time they were done with the food and wine, it was already late at night. Ji Guangjie was a little drunk and was looking over at Aluan more often. He praised repeatedly, "The miss's martial arts are truly powerful. I really respect you. There aren't very many xia women in Jianghu right now." Aluan did not say one word to Ji Guangjie. She sat in the room a while before she left the room with her saber. She leapt onto the roof and went in search of intruders.

    That night, Ge Zhiqiang kept Ji Guangjie in that room to spend the night after they cleared it out, and Qin Deyu slept in the counter house. Refusing to let go of the saber in her hand, Aluan walked back and forth atop the roofs of the various houses in the front and back courtyards, not sleeping a wink all night. Ge Zhiqiang and Lu Zhizhong were constantly on the alert for intruders as well. By no means did they close their eyes, though fortunately, nothing else happened that night.

    When the following day came, Ji Guangjie ordered his servant to return to the Guangyifu money dispensary to retrieve his belongings, for he had decided to stay here long-term. Wearing a silk vest and clasping his sword, he roamed through the streets of Chang'an. Taverns and teashops and numerous inns, he searched them all, but found no trace of Li Fengjie. In the evening, he returned smiling to the security office and Ge Zhiqiang prepared wine so that they could drink in the western house again. Saber and sword were both at the ready, and the door to the western house was opened wide, especially for the sake of their awaiting Li Fengjie's arrival. The young lady Bao Aluan too had ridden her horse with saber in hand, searching all around for half the day, and in the evening, she walked back and forth on the roofs, carrying her blade. However, they heard not the slightest about Li Fengjie, making all of them extremely nervous.

    After another two or three days, Ji Guangjie had numerous strips of paper cut out and wrote on them under his own brush: "Wanted: Li Fengjie. The outlaw Li Fengjie killed and wounded several escorts from this office a few days ago. In his cowardice, he fears punishment, and has gone into hiding without a trace. If anyone knows of his whereabouts, and they disclose the information to the Lishun security office, they will be rewarded with twenty taels of silver, absolutely guaranteed." In total, he wrote more than a dozen slips of paper. When Ge Zhiqiang entered the room, he saw this and furrowed his brow, saying, "I'm afraid this might be an empty exercise. Li Fengjie is very cunning. If someone comes to inform on him, I'm afraid he'll have long fled before we go looking for him." Ji Guangjie smiled and said, "Don't worry about it. I'm sure my method will bring results and we'll be able to capture Li Fengjie tonight." Thus, he had the attendants at the security office split up and post the bills. The bills were posted in and out of the city as well as at various important intersections, causing a lot of people to crowd around to look at it. This caused even more of a stir around the matter. Ge Zhiqiang also went to every government office to call in favors and explain the situation. Bao Aluan still rode her horse to search everywhere, and Ji Guangjie sharpened his sword at the security office while he waited, but straight into nightfall they heard nothing of Li Fengjie.

    Ji Guangjie was truly annoyed, so he went out the door without wearing his long coat or taking his scabbard, carrying only his brightly glimmering sword as he walked through the jumble of people. Many people looked at him as he crossed several streets, and he listened closely to the conversations of others, but he still didn't obtain the whereabouts of Li Fengjie. He entered a large inn and gloomily drank wine until he was half-drunk before he left with his sword. The drum of the second watch had already rolled past and the people walking the streets were now sparse. The moon and the stars were vastly arrayed above the horizon.

    When he walked to the front gate of the Lishun security office, he suddenly heard a clap as someone slapped his lower back with a blade. Ji Guangjie was surprised and his drunkenness left him. He twisted, brandishing his sword, and sent a chop behind him. The person behind him hurriedly used their sword to meet his. Clang, clang, clang, the swords clashed against each other a few times. The other person abruptly stepped back, smiling with his sword held up, and said with the voice of Li Fengjie, "Stop!" Ji Guangjie extended his arm and sword and sneered, "Afraid are we?" He stabbed at his opponent's chest fiercely, like a viper striking a heart. Dong, Li Fengjie knocked it away with his sword. Li Fengjie countered with a horizontal sweep of his sword and Ji Guangjie hit it away with his own. The two advanced at the same time with sword pressing against sword, hand grabbing onto hand, and foot stepping down on foot, but they were evenly matched in every aspect.

    Li Fengjie grinned again and said, "If I were afraid of you, why would I come looking for you?" He pressed down heavily with his foot. Ji Guangjie quickly stepped back and used his right hand to hold down Li Fengjie's sword, intending to knock it outwards and counter with a stab of his sword. At the same time, his left hand went for Li Fengjie's chest for a strong strike. However, Li Fengjie had already freed his hand and retracted his sword. He changed his sword form and ducked straight forward with his left foot ahead and his right up, coming in for a sudden thrust using the thenar of his right palm. Ji Guangjie, however, hastily bounded back to stoop and then shook his blade in a horizontal cut using the Returning Wind form. At that, the two swords rang out with another clang. Li Fengjie stepped back and laughed loudly, saying, "My admiration and respect! It's too bad this place is narrow and we can't display our swordwork!" Ji Guangjie hollered angrily, "Quit your nonsense! Today I will have your life, the disciple of the Dragon of Shu!" Li Fengjie kept smiling and exerted his strength to block with his sword. By this point, there were people who had seen the two of them fighting and run into the Lishun security office to make it known.

    Li Fengjie withdrew his sword and retreated. Ji Guangjie hurried after him and when he reached the lane opening, Li Fengjie suddenly turned and held his sword out crosswise, saying, "The one named Ji, don't push me too far! That day by the Ba Bridge, it was because I was one person in a bitter fight with many, and you hurried over when I was spent that I was defeated under your hand. Yours was all a triumph by luck. We don't know who would emerge victor if we really crossed swords! There are many problems with having a fight here, since the place is too narrow and you have too many cronies." Ji Guangjie shook his head and said, "Those people aren't my cronies, and I'm not releasing my wrath for their revenge. It is just that I detest when others use a sword against this sword of mine. If you were to relinquish your sword and take up a saber, I may be able to spare you!"

    Li Fengjie scoffed, "What big words! Is your single Ji family of Longmen the only one who is allowed to use the sword? It's late now and if the two of us fought, we wouldn't be able to see whose swordwork was good or bad. We are not far from where I'm staying. What's the harm in going there to converse for a while? We'll work out a place for our sword contest, and not let anyone else know about it. When the time comes, the fight will only be between the two of us and we'll decide victory and defeat. Also, don't worry. There's no ambush waiting for you where I'm staying." Ji Guangjie laughed derisively, "Would I be scared even if there was an ambush? Lead the way!"

    At this time, men of the Lishun security office had made their way into the alley. Ji Guangjie said to Li Fengjie, "Go!" Thus, the two stopped fighting and departed with their swords. After turning their way through several dark, narrow lanes, they arrived at Li Fengjie's dwelling. They stood outside the gates of a residence. Li Fengjie stepped forward and knocked on the door, and someone opened the door after a brief amount of time. Ji Guangjie saw that it was an elderly woman. Li Fengjie invited Ji Guangjie in and the elderly woman closed the door behind them.

    The courtyard was exceptionally quiet, with only a faint light coming from the northern house. Ji Guangjie followed Li Fengjie inside and saw no one there. The four walls dazzled him, all of them filled with books, and a stack of scrolls sat on the table. Ji Guangjie asked, "What is this place?" Li Fengjie said, "This is the home of a friend of mine. I stayed here the day before yesterday after coming back from the Ba Bridge. But when you return, you mustn't tell anyone about this." Ji Guangjie laughed, "You think me, Ji Guangjie, not a hero at all!" He sat down next to the table and couldn't help but flip through the books on top of it with his left hand, while holding onto his sword in his right. He saw tucked into a volume of the New Book of Tang a slip of verse paper threaded with crimson and green. It was a new composition by Li Fengjie, a couple lines of which read, "The chill waters of a river at night surprises the jade sword. The spring evening of passes and mountains releases the fine colt." Ji Guangjie looked it over and couldn't help but be struck with esteem.

    Li Fengjie had placed his sword on the table and was trimming the candles when he smiled, asking, "You see, this outlaw here can write poetry. You posted only twenty taels for my capture. Isn't that a bit too low?" Ji Guangjie flushed red and replied, "I didn't know you were this sort of person. What's more, I had people post notices everywhere to goad you into showing your face. It wasn't really to capture you." Li Fengjie smirked, saying, "If you had really planned on catching me, I'm afraid it wouldn't have been as easy as capturing any other outlaw!" Upon hearing this, Ji Guangjie threw down the book and sprang up, holding his sword and intending to fight with Li Fengjie again. Li Fengjie waved his hand and smiled, saying, "This isn't the place for fighting. The friend who lives here has very little courage and we mustn't alarm him. Moreover, I've allowed you here with good intentions. You should be more courteous, as I hear you are a scholar as well."

    Ji Guangjie lowered his sword and looked at Li Fengjie. He asked, "You are young and your learning and martial arts are quite good. Why don't you seek an official position, instead of doing this sort of thing?" Li Fengjie scoffed, asking, "What have I done? Have you told it true? Am I an outlaw?" Li Fengjie became a little infuriated at this point, continuing, "Ji Guangjie, your grandfather and my master were both successors to the Wudang School, and they were good friends in their day. According to reason, you and I cannot become enemies, and yet now you've falsely accused me of being an outlaw. You have done me too great a wrong! I am unwilling to fight with you amid the trouble stirred up here with those of the Kunlun School. If you have the guts, we can meet each other at the Tong Pass tomorrow."

    Ji Guangjie said, "A meeting at the Tong Pass would be very good. When the time comes, will you show up?" Li Fengjie said, "Of course I'll show up. We are to bring no help. We'll meet tomorrow afternoon at the Tong Pass to have a simple contest to see who's stronger, with no regrets even if either of us are killed or wounded!" Ji Guangjie nodded, saying, "All right! It's settled then. I'll be going!" He turned and left the room, and then jumped onto the roof while carrying his sword. Li Fengjie did not see him out. Ji Guangjie walked from the roof of the northern house to the eastern, and saw a light flickering inside. It was Li Fengjie's shadow as he read inside. Ji Guangjie couldn't help but hold a secret admiration, thinking, What a young, scholarly xia. It's a pity we have inadvertently come to adversarial positions.

    When he returned to the Lishun security office, it was in an uproar. Ge Zhiqiang and the others were in front of the gate with sabers in hand, looking around. When he saw Ji Guangjie come back, he asked, "Did you let Li Fengjie go again?" Ji Guangjie waved his hand and said, "It wasn't Li Fengjie, but another friend of mine. We sparred a little, and then went to his home to talk." Lu Zhizhong and the others were all very taken aback and regarded Ji Guangjie suspiciously. Just then, Aluan returned and made straight for Ji Guangjie, saying irritably, "What's the matter with you? Could it be you're colluding with Li Fengjie to cause us trouble here?" Ji Guangjie waved his hand, saying, "Miss, you've truly wronged me with these words. If I really knew him and we were deliberately causing you trouble, just the one of him would be enough for you to handle. Why would I have to help him?" The young lady Luan was about to quarrel angrily with Ji Guangjie, but Lu Zhizhong urged her back into the inner courtyard.

    Ji Guangjie sighed and said to Ge Zhiqiang, "Just now, my friend told me that Li Fengjie really is the Dragon of Shu's disciple. He is well-versed in literature and martial arts. We should have been friends, but for the sake of your business, I've sown hostility with him. It's possible in the next day or two that we may fight to the death with our swords!" When he finished, he returned sulkily to the room he was staying in, though he was also so excited he couldn't fall sleep.

    After the third watch, the main gate of the security office was already closed, and the attendants who were frantic for half the day had all gone to sleep. Ji Guangjie's ears perked up at noises coming from outside and heard continuous, light footsteps as well as the faint sound of the roof tiles. Ji Guangjie thought it funny and opened the door, stepping outside with his sword. He heard a woman's voice ask, "Who is it?" Ji Guangjie laughed, replying, "It's me." On the roof, Aluan didn't say anything, treading on the roof tiles toward the houses in the rear courtyard. Ji Guangjie looked all around, noticing that the lights in all the rooms had already been put out. He leapt onto the roof without making the slightest bit of sound. Then, he placed his sword on the roof tiles and crept slowly to the rear courtyard as well.

    At this time, Aluan had already jumped down from the roof to the surface of the rear courtyard. She made a few circuits in the rear courtyard with saber in hand and appearing quite exhausted, he entered a lit room on the western side. Ji Guangjie jumped off the roof as well, and suppressing the sound of his footsteps, he walked to the window of the western house. He waited a while, holding his breath, and then, after wetting his fingernail with saliva and gently scratching open a small hole in the paper window, he peered inside. He saw the young lady Aluan undoing a button in her shirt, as if she was going to change clothes or go to sleep. Ji Guangjie suddenly pulled open the door.

    Aluan cried out in shock and instantly brandished her saber. Ji Guangjie waved his hand and said, "Miss, don't worry. I've come to say some things to you!" Aluan immediately turned a dark shade of red, and then from red it became purple. She glared furiously at him and said, "What are you doing, coming into my room in the dead of night?" Ji Guangjie smiled and said, "I actually did meet with Li Fengjie earlier. We've agreed on a place to meet on the morrow to compare our martial arts. Miss, if you'd like to come, I can bring you to watch, but you can't let anyone know about it!" Upon hearing this, Aluan asked impatiently, "Where are you meeting tomorrow? I'll go too when the time comes!" Ji Guangjie waved his hand and said, "Please speak quietly, miss! I saw Li Fengjie earlier and he ridiculed us, saying the Kunlun School relies on their numbers to match up to him, and that in actuality you are all useless." Aluan said, "When there are so many people, our hands are all in disarray. That's why he was able to overcome us those few times. As for tomorrow, you needn't go at all. Just tell me the arranged place and I'll go fight him on my own."

    Ji Guangjie smiled and said, "How could I do that? He agreed to fight and compare martial arts with me. If you went, he surely wouldn't fight you. He would try to run away and then it would be hard thereafter to find him. How about this? I invite the miss to ride your horse to Ba Bridge. I'll meet you there, and then we'll go find Li Fengjie together. When the time comes, miss, you can watch the two of us contest with swords. You can't join and help though, lest we suffer ridicule again. If my strength isn't enough, then the miss can come forward and capture him." When he said this, he grinned and looked at Aluan with his bright and spirited eyes. Aluan nodded and said, "Let's plan on meeting at the Ba Bridge, early in the morning tomorrow. Now, go!" Ji Guangjie smiled and instructed Aluan again not to let anyone else know about it, before turning and leaving the room. Aluan closed the door behind him.

    Ji Guangjie vaulted onto the roof, padded across the roof tiles to the front courtyard, and picked up his sword. Then he jumped off the roof, entered his room, closed the door, and went to bed. However, his mind kept fantasizing about Aluan, as he felt her to be a true beauty, rare in the world, and a xia woman, hard to find upon Jianghu.

    When the following day arrived, Ji Guangjie got up early in the morning and found that Aluan had already led her horse out the gate, taking her saber with her. Ji Guangjie smiled to himself as he calmly changed his clothes. He then instructed the attendants at the security office to go everywhere without delay and tear down all the notices concerning a reward for the capture of Li Fengjie that they had posted the day before. In a short while, Ge Zhiqiang came to his room and said, "Counting the days, those people we've invited here are to arrive soon. There may be some coming today from Hanzhong. If Li Fengjie has fled the province, we have to go out and find him. Brother Ji, I'd like to ask you to stay here with us for a few more days and help us take care of this matter. In the future, all of us in the Kunlun School will call you a good friend!" Ji Guangjie nodded and said, "I'll definitely help you resolve this matter. In fact, I'm leaving the city today to search for Li Fengjie!"

    After Ge Zhiqiang left the room, Ji Guangjie ordered his horse prepared. Then, he left the security office, carrying his sword with him, and headed east. He spurred his horse through the east gate of Chang'an, and then loosened the reins and sped off. Though was morning time, it was blisteringly hot. Ji Guangjie rode too quickly. By the time he reached the Ba Bridge, he was drenched in sweat. He lifted his eyes and looked ahead, seeing a red horse hitched under the shade of a willow by the river and Aluan, wearing a small white silk jacket and scallion green silk pants. She was standing under a tree as she held her whip up high toward him. Smiling, Ji Guangjie hurried his horse closer. Aluan had already unhitched her horse and was straddling it. Ji Guangjie said, "The day's too hot. Why don't we rest here for a bit?" Aluan said, "Rest? It would not be too late to hurry and capture Li Fengjie, and then rest when we return to Chang'an!" She started riding off as she said this. She waved her whip and continued across the bridge.

    Ji Guangjie could only spur his horse across the bridge after her. When he was behind Aluan's horse, he said, "Although, we are not meeting with Li Fengjie until the afternoon. Even if we were to prevail right away, I don't think we'd be able to make it back today." Aluan asked, "Where did you arrange to meet?" Ji Guangjie said, "At the Tong Pass, over two-hundred and seventy miles from here." Aluan scoffed, "You consider that far? Let's go!" When she said this, she released her horse and flew off in a gallop. Ji Guangjie followed closely behind, shaking his silk whip and regarding Aluan's elegant rear view. He kept sweating, but he completely forgot about the heat of the weather. He developed a fantasy in his mind, thinking, It looks as though those of the Kunlun School really respect me, and this young lady has probably yet to be engaged. If I mention it to Lu Zhizhong, Ge Zhiqiang and the others, they would surely be willing to make the match for me. I'm the Xia of Longmen's grandson, so my background is not humble. How could the old master Bao be unsatisfied by that? In the future, after we have formed our marriage bond, we'll set off upon Jianghu together. Who wouldn't envy us pair of hero lovers? The more he thought, the happier he got, as he urged his horse on.

    When he hurried ahead of Aluan's horse, he turned and smiled, saying, "Miss, your martial arts are truly strong. I think the old master must have been a little bit partial to you when he imparted his martial arts. Otherwise, how is it that the miss's martial arts are better than those of your uncles? I have many friends who don't believe there are still xia women in Jianghu nowadays. In the future, I'd like to invite the miss to come with me to meet them, to give them a surprise." He continued, "Miss, I really admire your martial arts. Asking just the miss to come and help me out today is much superior to asking all the men in Chang'an who know martial arts for help." The young lady Aluan could withstand Ji Guangjie's continuous complements no longer. She smirked and said delicately, "It looks to me your martial arts are really pretty great as well. No wonder you are already so famous, even though you haven't traveled upon Jianghu for very long!" When she said this, she couldn't help the blush that rose to her pretty cheeks, but then she seemed abruptly to have thought about something else. Her expression changed and she waved her whip impatiently, saying, "Hurry up! Hurry up! Let's stop the idle chatter already!"

    Ji Guangjie became ever more thrilled. With his horse in front and Aluan's at back, the pair of riders kicked up a cloud of dust as they drove hard toward the east under the flame-like sunlight. Because the day was hot and it was approaching noon, there were not many people, horses or wagons on the road as they arrived in Weinan county. Ji Guangjie suddenly spotted a white horse not far ahead of them, and on the horse there was a man dressed in blue, looking back periodically. It was Li Fengjie, and he had a blue cloth wrapped about his head. Ji Guangjie waved his whip to catch up with him, yelling, "Good! We've no need to go to the Tong Pass. Since we've run into each other here, the earlier we decide victory and defeat, the earlier we finish our business!" Aluan pursued close behind and shouted sharply, "Li Fengjie! Don't let him get away!" Ji Guangjie turned around and urgently implored her, "Miss, you must by all means hold your temper. Wait until he and I are done fighting before you proceed. Otherwise, he will laugh at us!"

    By now, ahead of them, Li Fengjie had already reined his horse in and was looking back at them. He waited for the two horses of Ji Guangjie and Aluan to draw near before he tilted off his horse, drew his sword and walked towards them, laughing, "Ji Guangjie, can't you travel by yourself? Are you afraid to fight on your own?" Ji Guangjie flushed red with anger and said, "The lady isn't here to help me. She's just here to watch." By the time he finished speaking, he had already pulled his sword from his horse into his hand. He tilted his leg, jumped off his horse and charged forward. His sword tilted up from below in a Reverse Blossom, and he stabbed viciously at the center of Li Fengjie's chest.

    Li Fengjie stepped back and flipped his sword, turning his opponent's sword away with a clang, and then used his momentum to lean and advance, sending a chop straight at Ji Guangjie. Ji Guangjie met it with his sword and another clang rang out. The two swords struck each other and shook their spirits. At one side, Bao Aluan couldn't restrain herself any further. She hurried off her horse, drew her saber and flew forward. Li Fengjie took a few steps back, Ji Guangjie swung his sword after him, and Bao Aluan brandished her saber and charged. Li Fengjie's sword alone was a match for Aluan's fiercely chopping saber and Ji Guangjie's wildly thrusting sword. The gleam of the blades went back and forth, and the agile bodies flipped and turned.

    After battling for another twenty exchanges, Li Fengjie suddenly felt a pain in his right flank and couldn't hold in a yelp. He turned around and ran east with his horse running alongside him. Aluan shouted loudly, "You miscreant! Stop running away!" She swung her saber and gave chase, but Ji Guangjie gripped her left arm, saying, "I've already given him a stab and wounded him gravely. Just let him go! Or else, with the two of us capturing the one of him, we wouldn't be considered any sort of heroes!" Aluan brandished her saber and stamped her foot, saying, "Stop pulling on me!" She pushed Ji Guangjie aside and went forward in pursuit. By now, Li Fengjie had already grabbed onto his horse and was heading east at a flying gallop. At this, Aluan mounted her own horse and chased him hard, swinging her saber about. Ji Guangjie urged his own horse on and likewise followed.

    After a pursuit of another thirty or so miles, Li Fengjie's horse had run far ahead, and they could see no trace of him. Aluan reined her horse in and gasped continuously. Ji Guangjie sheathed his sword and walked forward, saying, "Doesn't this count for washing away the humiliation the Kunlun School suffered these few days? I'm willing to bet Li Fengjie won't get past the Tong Pass. He'll surely fall off his horse and die miserably. Miss, let's go back!" Bao Aluan still appeared not to have completely let go of her anger. She sheathed her saber and looked back at Ji Guangjie, saying, "You go first. I don't want to go back with you." Ji Guangjie laughed and said, "What's the reason for this? Miss, for those of us who travel upon Jianghu, we cannot be particular about the separation of men and women!" Bao Aluan stroked the hilt of her saber and glared briefly at Ji Guangjie before she said crossly, "You're not a good person!" Ji Guangjie smiled and said, "There's nothing bad about me. It's just that I've grown fond of the miss!" Bao Aluan turned her horse and set off. Ji Guangjie followed behind her.

    The two horses were once again like flying dragons, galloping intensely to the west. Aluan rode ahead, not looking back once. Ji Guangjie said to her from behind, "Miss, don't be angry at me. I'm twenty-five this year and have not yet taken a wife. I really like that your martial arts are so strong and your person so elegant. Miss..." Aluan seemed not to hear him as she whipped her horse to run faster. Before it was the third hour of the afternoon, she had returned to the Lishun security office inside Chang'an city. Right when she arrived at the gate, she saw a few wagons stopped there, as well as several hitched horses. Someone in front of the gate called out with open hands, "The young miss is back! Quickly, come off your horse! Your grandpa is here!" The one speaking was her disciple-uncle Jiang Zhiyao the One-eyed Vanguard.

    Upon hearing that her grandfather had come, Aluan was immediately both alarmed and happy. She jumped off her horse and ran inside, asking, "Where is my grandpa?" She glimpsed the bamboo curtain to the western house raised up and her granddad, the old master Bao talking to his disciples. Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong, Zhao Zhilong and Yuan Zhixia were all beside him, listening intently. Aluan called out as soon as she walked in the door, "Grandpa, why have you come on such a hot day?" Old master Bao had bared his upper arms and his over-seventy-year body was sturdy as a rock.

    Zhao Zhilong was continuously fanning his master with a large, goose feather fan so that the old master's silver side locks fluttered. The old master was speaking furiously, but when he saw his granddaughter enter the room, he began to smile a little, saying, "Aluan, do you see how badly our Kunlun School has been brutalized? I have accepted more than thirty disciples, and worked as a security escort for over forty years, but have I ever encountered anything like this before? In a place as big as Chang'an city, with your Uncle Ge and Uncle Lu here, we've let the insignificant Li Fengjie run amuck!" Aluan said, "Grandpa, don't you be angry. Li Fengjie was just wounded by us." Ge Zhiqiang quickly asked, "Where did this happen?" Aluan related to them what had just occurred.

    Ge Zhiqiang, Zhao Zhilong and the others all expressed pleasure, while old master Bao sneered, "We've been shamed so deeply by another brutalizing the Kunlun School, and our grievance was settled by the Xia of Longmen's grandson!" Aluan shook her head and said, "No, it was when Li Fengjie and I were locking sword against saber that Ji Guangjie took advantage of the situation to stab Li Fengjie. Ji Guangjie alone did not have any great ability." Then she said, "Li Fengjie suffered a heavy wound in his chest and fled atop his horse. He probably won't have ridden past the Tong Pass before dying!" But the old master Bao sighed, "Though we've made yet another enemy!" Lu Zhizhong then asked, "Where did Ji Guangjie go?" Aluan replied, "He's likely come soon after!"

    The old master Bao put on a light brown shirt and said to Aluan, "I haven't journeyed away from home for twenty years now, yet since you've left, I don't know why but I've not been able to be at ease. So when your Uncle Ge returned to find me, I came back out with him. When we got to Hanzhong, we didn't even enter the city gates. We hurried across the Qinling Mountains and then ran into your uncle Yuan Zhixia. It wasn't until then that I got a rough idea of what had happened here, so we rushed here that very night." Aluan asked, "Grandpa, have you eaten lunch yet? I still haven't even eaten breakfast!"

    While she talked, Ji Guangjie returned as well. The old master Bao rose to meet him, saying, "Worthy nephew Ji, it is fortunate we have you to help us. Otherwise, it would have been all over for these disciples of mine and their disciples. I've come to offer you my gratitude." Ji Guangjie bowed very respectfully and said, "The honored elder is too kind. I truly do not deserve such praise!" Because he was thirsty, he entered the room to speak briefly with old master Bao before he hurried off in search of water to drink. Ge Zhiqiang knew that he and Aluan had not eaten anything, so he called on the kitchen to quickly prepare food. He set out some wine first, and then sat down to drink with the old master and Aluan.

    Ji Guangjie recounted how he had arranged for a martial contest the day previous with Li Fengjie, how they had battled that day in Weinan, and also how he had stabbed Li Fengjie with his sword. He didn't mention though that it was he who had invited Aluan the night before, saying instead that he had encountered her outside the east gate by happenstance that morning. Seeing this young hero speak so assuredly, the old master Bao couldn't help but intensify his interest several-fold, drinking deeply and talking loudly. They did this until they finished eating, and the old master told his granddaughter to go back to the inner courtyard to rest. Then he and Ji Guangjie kept on, the more they talked, the happier they got. That day in the city, another great number of security escorts and fighting masters came to them to pay their respects to Bao Kunlun, and shortly the Lishun security office became especially lively again.

    When evening came, the old master Bao and Ji Guangjie passed the night in the same room. The elder and the youth, both of them gallant heroes, spoke of much, discussing the Xia of Longmen, the Dragon of Shu, and old master Bao's proud feats over the course of his lifetime. Then they conversed about the state of Ji Guangjie's family and also his current journey, passing all over Henan, fighting Gao Qinggui, defeating the Iron-armed Monkey, and thrice climbing Mount Song the Central Peak. Even the Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva fled from him, daring not to compare martial arts and the like with him. There was food and wine as they talked straight into the third watch, and it wasn't until then that they slept. This night was a peaceful one.

    When the morning of the next day arrived, old master Bao took his granddaughter into the courtyard to spar with fists and swing their sabers. Ji Guangjie showed off his grandfather's secret technique, running through a few courses of sword skill that astonished people. Old master Bao watched and couldn't help nodding and exclaiming praise, "These are the internal martial arts at their purest. It is much stronger than that of our Kunlun School!" That day, he gathered Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong and others in private to discuss the matter of betrothing Aluan to Ji Guangjie, and then he sent Lu Zhizhong to speak of this to Ji Guangjie. During lunchtime, Lu Zhizhong especially invited Ji Guangjie to a restaurant and mentioned it to him. It was exactly what Ji Guangjie wanted, so when he heard this, he quickly became elated and wanted to offer a bride price then. Lu Zhizhong said, "Since you're willing to do this for us, I will go back and report this to my old master. He cannot stay long in Chang'an, so he may have you both complete this happy occasion quickly, in order that he can leave here with his mind at rest." Thus, Lu Zhizhong returned to the security office and related this to the old master. The old master nodded, but didn't say anything.

    After Lu Zhizhong left his room, old master Bao walked to the inner courtyard and entered the house his granddaughter was staying in. Bao Aluan had just finished taking an afternoon nap and was in front of the mirror fixing herself up. When she saw the old master enter, she looked back with a smile, saying, "Grandpa, look how hot the day is. Didn't you take a rest?" Old master Bao smiled and shook his head, saying, "I don't think it's too hot, and I'm not tired. I haven't journeyed out in twenty years, but now that I've left, it's as if I was young again." As he said this, he sat down on a stool and stroked his snow-white beard. Then he smiled and said, "Aluan, I've come to give you some happy news!"

    Aluan was taken aback, seeing her grandfather through the mirror a face full of smiles. For as long as she could remember, she had never seen the old man as cheerful as he looked this day. She heard her grandfather say, "When you departed, I told you I was sending you out, first of all to gain some experiences, and second to find a good husband. You are of more than twenty years now, and you shouldn't waste your youth any longer. I now consider that young chap Ji Guangjie to be very good, and I plan to betroth you to him..."

    Aluan listened to here and couldn't help but feel a gust of sadness pass through her, as well as a hidden bitterness she was unable to express aloud. Tears began falling from her eyes. She was about to shake her head in protest when she heard her grandfather sigh and then say, "There are many things that I have no choice but to tell you. I'm old now, and your father and those uncles of yours have skills that just won't do. In the years gone by, those of Jianghu we've offended are not an insignificant number, and now successors of the Wudang School have entered the world as well. Just look how powerful Li Fengjie's swordwork is! If we didn't have Ji Guangjie now, it would've been all over for the Kunlun School. Furthermore, I've heard that the Xia of Langzhong of ten years past want to go to Hanzhong to fight our Kunlun School again. If we don't find someone highly-skilled to help us, in the event that I die, your father, your uncle and all your disciple-uncles will suffer mistreatment at the hands of others. Ji Guangjie is the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, he's very accomplished in learning and martial arts, and he comes from a good family. His age and character are also well-suited for you, which is why I've thought to betroth you to him. With a heroic son-in-law like him, our Kunlun Bao family need fear no one from now on."

    The old master spoke with a slightly mournful tone as he looked upon his granddaughter with a pair of old, woeful eyes. Aluan cried for a while, and though she tried a few times to articulate what was causing her pain in her heart, she couldn't. In the end, she wiped her tears and nodded. Seeing his granddaughter give her consent, the old master Bao revealed a smile and said, "Good child. You've really saved me from worry. I'm already of over seventy years. After I take care of this business of yours, I will have considered all the matters of my life completely finished. If I were to draw my last breath now, I would do so without apprehension!" When he finished, the old master stood up and left the room.

    That evening, they had another great banquet at the security office and Ji Guangjie offered the bride price. From then on, Ji Guangjie became a perfect son-in-law of the Kunlun School, waiting until the cool of autumn before marrying the young lady Aluan. During this time, Ji Guangjie was the happiest he'd ever been, spurring his horse all day long to various locales in and out of the city with his sword beside him, going on excursions and assembling feasts. Near or far, there was no one who didn't know the handsome youth that was the Xia of Longmen's grandson and the worthy son-in-law of Bao Kunlun, and the security escorts and fighting masters all strove to come and curry favor with him. However, the young lady Bao Aluan's mood had changed greatly from days past. Before, she had been vivacious, wanting to ride out into the streets every day, but ever since her engagement with Ji Guangjie, she hardly went outside. The old master Bao, Ge Zhiqiang and the others thought the young lady was being shy and following custom, so they weren't very concerned. Yet, Ge Zhiqiang's daughter-in-law Cheng Yu'e and the serving women of the inner residence often saw Aluan alone in her room, sitting unhappily or shedding tears. They neither dared to speak of this to anyone else, nor could they guess what it was in Aluan's heart that made her miserable.

    A dozen or so days passed in succession and the weather became ever hotter. Miao Zhiyin's coffin had already been interred, and though Ge Shaogang, Jin Zhiyong and the others' injuries had not yet healed completely, they were no longer a danger to their lives. Within these days there also came Chang Zhigao, Chen Zhijun, Zheng Zhibiao, and Yang Zhijin. Including Liu Zhiyuan, Lu Zhizhong, Ge Zhiqiang and the others, there were a total of ten-some disciples of the Kunlun School here.

    Aluan's father Bao Zhiyun came too from Hanzhong. As soon as he arrived, he wept bitterly because Miao Zhiyin, who had been wounded and killed by Li Fengjie, had once been his capable aide, previously taking escort trips for him with their disciple-brother Zhang Zhiqi to Sichuan Province. Zhang Zhiqi had been killed below Trunk Mountain by a lowly bandit, and though Miao Zhiying had escaped with his life that time, Bao Zhiyun hadn't thought that he would then meet his end here. Thus, it made him incredibly aggrieved. He cried a while, and then met with Ji Guangjie. When he heard that his daughter Aluan had already been betrothed to Ji Guangjie, he became very happy.

    The old master Bao was also happy and sad at the same time, and in the evening, he had Ge Zhiqiang prepare wine and set up three tables in the main hall. Old master Bao sat at the place of honor, beside him were his eldest son Zhiyun, his granddaughter Aluan and his grandson-in-law Ji Guangjie, and the rest of them were all his disciples. They all raised their cups, made toasts and drank merrily. Lu Zhizhong was about to discuss with the master and his brothers how to deal with their enemies in the future, but Ji Guangjie quickly stopped him and said, "Uncle Lu, let's speak no more of Li Fengjie or the Xia of Langzhong. If they come, we needn't all take action. With just my sword, I, Ji Guangjie, can wound them into retreat. The weather's too hot right now, but after the autumn cool I will raise a contest platform in Chang'an, and sell off all my family possessions for the prize. I'll beat away a few men of Jiang who've overrated their own strength, and win fame for our Kunlun School. We will display our might. Today, we will not permit anyone to speak demoralizing words to the elder sir. Let us instead enjoy this wine to the fullest!"

    Chen Zhijun, Liu Zhiyuan and the others all said together, "All right!" Yuan Zhixia carried the wine pot over and laughed, "I must offer Master Bao three large cups of wine today. Eldest brother must also drink three cups. Ji Guangjie and Miss Luan should drink at least one. On the one hand, to show my filial thoughts and respect, and on the other, to be the first to offer my congratulations on the happy event!" As he said this, he held up a pot with both his hands and deferentially filled his old master's cup to the brim. The old master smiled and poured it into his mouth.

    Yuan Zhixia poured out a second cup, and the old master received it smiling. As he was about to take a drink, Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger rushed in, distraught and covered in the dust of travel. Upon entering, he first bowed to his master and then clasped his fist at all of his disciple-brothers. Ge Zhiqiang approached and asked, "Third Brother Long, why have you come just now? Do you know of all the happy and unfortunate events that have occurred here?" Long Zhiqi gasped for breath and waved his hand, saying, "Let's not talk about the matters here just yet! I have news of the utmost importance to tell all of you!" The old master Bao hurried out of his seat and asked, "What is it?" Lu Zhizhong too stared straight at Long Zhiqi. They watched as Long Zhiqi pulled out a written message from his side, saying "I...I received a letter in Ziyang. It's about Jiang Xiaohe, the one we've been watching out for for ten years. He has learned his martial arts and he's almost come to call on us!" Old master Bao slammed the table and raged, saying, "Quickly, read the letter to me." Breathing heavily, Long Zhiqi handed the letter to Lu Zhizhong. Lu Zhizhong read the letter under the lamplight with his brow creased, reciting:

    "Addressed to Long Zhiteng and Long Zhiqi of Ziyang county. Pass this on to the father and sons of the Bao family in Zhenba. Let it be known: We parted ten years ago, but the enmity arising from the murder of my father has never been forgotten. During that time, I was young and weak, and suffered at your hands mistreatment, humiliation and attempts to hurt me, nearly to the point of death. There was resentment in my heart, but there was nothing I could do. I have now become an adult and learned true internal martial arts from a great master. I am confident that I have sufficient ability to annihilate the Jianghu thugs that you are, and eliminate your great wickedness for all humanity. I will be concurrently avenging the numerous and grave offenses of the last twelve years, as the death of my father and my mother's remarriage, the estrangement of brothers, the misery of being cold and hungry, and being coerced by blade and lashed by whip. Among the Kunlun School, all but two or three are my sworn enemies. I will set out west within a day. I will go first to Ziyang, and then I will go to Zhenba. I am telling you the particulars because I hope that you will take care in protecting yourselves! Signed, Jiang Xiaohe."

    Hearing this, the old master Bao's purple face had turned blue, and of his disciples, some were angry and some were silent in a daze. Ji Guangjie turned around and drew his sword with a shoom and slammed it loudly onto the table, stunning everyone. He said haughtily, "Everyone, do not fear! What does he count for, this Jiang Xiaohe character? We needn't wait until he comes to Ziyang city. I will head south first and intercept him. When I face him, I guarantee I can kill him in three sword moves!" Bao Zhiyun stepped forward and asked, "Who brought this letter to you?" Long Zhiqi replied, "It was a customer from Henan, a medicine peddler. He saw Jiang Xiaohe in person in Xinyang subprefecture in Henan. According to him, Jiang Xiaohe's renown has shaken lands north and south of the River. There are none who can match up to his sword and his dianxue technique. Second Pang the Flower Spear in Xiangyang city, Liu Kuang the Peer to Huang Zhong in Xinyang subprefecture, and Lu Boxiong the Divine Whip in Shangcai county have all suffered defeat at his hand. It's said he's first to head north to battle the Chan master Taiwu of Mount Song, then Gao Qinggui of Kaifeng prefecture, and also Ji Guangjie the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, before turning at the Tong Pass to go to Ziyang and Zhenba!"

    Ji Guangjie heard these words and laughed bitterly, saying, "Good Jiang Xiaohe. He's not too bad, as he knows my name. That's even better. Since he's coming to Guanzhong first, I won't have to take to the road to meet him. I'll wait for him to come and I'll teach him a thing or two with my sword!" He then turned to look at his intended wife Aluan. He saw that Aluan's delicate face had already turned purple, but he didn't know if she was angry, apprehensive, or if it was some other sadness. She soon pushed her cup away, left her seat and went into the inner courtyard.

    Within the time it took her lithe body to slip out the door, in his daze the old master Bao suddenly remembered an old occurrence ten years past. It was that snowy night when Jiang Xiaohe hid a blade at his chest to take vengeance. The old master had given him an explanation, pushing the killing of Jiang Zhisheng completely onto the heads of the Long brothers, and Xiaohe promptly left. But then Aluan chased after him, and the sight of the two children fighting had been most endearing. From that day on, the old master had taken Jiang Xiaohe into his home for a time, and he'd had the notion to betroth Aluan to Xiaohe. At that time, he had very much reflected upon his regrets, but he hadn't expected the hatred not to go away. Now, the feuding sides were about to face each other, and it was inevitable that there would be fierce battle in the offing. However, was it a certainty that Ji Guangjie could stand up to a Jiang Xiaohe who has learned his martial arts? Upon thinking this, he couldn't help sadness from piling atop his worried indignation and his very quickly his gaze became fixed and he started to tremble. Ge Zhiqiang saw his old master growing unwell and rushed over to offer his support. The room immediately erupted into disorder.

    Old master Bao was carried to a bed by his disciples. His stiffness was like that of a corpse. It was a long while before he came to and recovered his senses. He said to his disciples, "Jiang Xiaohe is not to be feared. When he comes, I will face him. At most, my death will end this. It's just that I urge all never to sow enmity in your lifetimes, and not to behave too selfishly, or else it will too late for regrets. I'm old now, but you are all still young. You must always remember my words! You must act with leniency and tolerance!" When he finished, he turned to Ji Guangjie and exhorted, "I've given my granddaughter to you, so you are very nearly a man of my Bao family and you must remember as well. If Jiang Xiaohe comes before I die, then leave him to me. I'll allow none of you to participate. If he doesn't come until after my death, you should first try resolving this matter with him through courtesy, and only if that fails should you fight him. Though when you fight him, you must be merciful!"

    Ji Guangjie fumed, "Elder sir, what need is there for you to worry so much? How skillful can that Jiang Xiaohe be? Can his master's abilities really be stronger than those of the Dragon of Shu and my late grandfather the Xia of Longmen?"

    Hearing these words, old master Bao couldn't help but sigh deeply and gave a pained smile, saying, "Worthy grandson-in-law, you haven't traveled Jianghu for long, so how could you know? Forty years ago upon Jianghu, the Xia of Longmen and the Dragon of Shu were called the Two Pinnacles, but over the course of their lives, the Xia of Longmen never dared cross the Great River, and the Dragon of Shu never dared leave the Three Gorges. Now why was that? Very few likely know the real reason, and it was that outside of the Two Pinnacles, there was the One Enigma. The martial arts of this mysterious xia were so powerful they were immeasurable by others, and he could toy with the Xia of Longmen and the Dragon of Shu if he wished. I was in my prime at that time, and my martial arts were much stronger than they are now, but when I encountered this mysterious xia in the Tongbai Mountains, aih! There's no need to say it, for if I did, none of you would believe me. When I, the Bao Kunlun who had crossed the entire world, came into his hands, it was just as if I was an ant!" Ji Guangjie stared intently, asking, "Could it be that this man is the master of Jiang Xiaohe?" The old master Bao furrowed his brow and said, "If Jiang Xiaohe had taken another to be his master, why would I have worried and feared to such an extent these past ten years?" Ge Zhiqiang retold once more of his confrontation with this mysterious xia ten years ago on the Qinling mountain road, and he did so with a bit of remembered dread.

    Ji Guangjie couldn't help his indignation. He thought things over and then laughed coldly. He comforted the old master, saying, "Elder sir, you are advanced in years and you can't be bothered to settle a feud with that one of the trifling generation. The elder sir should go back first, and soon after I will head east with my sword. I'll simply face Jiang Xiaohe, and the two of us shall decide victory and defeat!" Ge Zhiqiang and the others all heard this approach and thought it very good. They all urge the old master to do this, and in the end that was what they decided.

    The following day, the old master took his granddaughter Aluan with him as they headed to the Dasan Pass. Ji Guangjie took up his sword, his manner imposing. That same day, along with Jiang Zhiyao, the two set off to the east to face Jiang Xiaohe in battle.


    [Note, concerning the chapter title: The word I've translated "exemplar" is jie (傑), which appears at the end of both the names of Li Fengjie (李鳳傑) and Ji Guangjie (紀廣傑), so the title is a pun on their names. Bao Aluan remarks on this aspect of their names in this chapter as well.]

  6. #26
    Senior Member littleli's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    276

    Default

    -Chapter Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve

    CHAPTER NINE

    With bitter will and a resolute heart, he acquires top skills in ten years.
    In gentle wind and light rain, two valiants meet in a desolate village.


    It was just now early summer, and the great plain outside the Hangu Pass was dense with fields of grain growing boundless far off into the distance. The Yellow River was like a blue dragon, feverishly spraying clouds of mist high into the air. Mount Song the Central Peak, however, was a cool world. On the mountain, there were dense forests and babbling brooks, holding back the hot winds blowing from the great earth. There was a dwelling below the mountain where someone was staying currently. This person was none other than he who had caused a great disturbance in Chang'an by battling one against the Kunlun School, losing the fight only after encountering Ji Guangjie, and then had gone out of the Hangu Pass having suffered an injury, Li Fengjie. He was originally the child of a peasant family in Nangong county, but because his natural character was uninhibited, he both enjoyed literature and liked the martial arts. However, the only literature he enjoyed was poetry. He despised writing eight-part essays, and because of that, he was unable to obtain an official position in the civil service examination rooms. The martial arts he'd learned were Short Sword and Long Fist, Eave-flying and Wall-walking. If you asked him to go to a martial arena to lift rocks and swing great sabers, he couldn't be bothered. Thus, while he was well-versed in literature and martial arts, he could complete neither the path of literature, nor that of the martial arts, and as a result, he had over twenty years, yet had accomplished nothing. He could not measure up to his brother, younger by a year, Li Fengqing, who could at least till the family's acres of fields and act the expected role of farmer.

    When Li Fengjie learned his martial arts, he sought a Daoist priest as his master. The priest was of seventy or eighty years by that time, and he called himself the Longshan Daoist. This Daoist roamed far and wide and stayed at the Lüxian Inn in Handan county for two years. It was during that time that he passed his martial arts on to Li Fengjie. Later on, he headed to Beijing and bid Li Fengjie to go with him, so the master and disciple lived together for another half year, and Li Fengjie learned the general idea of dianxue from his master. Thereafter his master commanded him to temper himself in Jianghu. Just before his departure, the Longshan Daoist explained to his disciple his background. He turned out to be the one whose name shook Jianghu, one of the "Two Pinnacles and Two Dragons," the Dragon of Shu.

    Prior to sending his disciple off, the old xia the Dragon of Shu introduced him to two men. One was Zhang Xiong the Iron Crossbow, a renowned security escort from Changzhou prefecture in Jiangnan, and the other was the Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva of Mount Song in Henan. These two were both previously subordinates of the Dragon of Shu, and they were the Dragon of Shu's arms in the years when the Dragon of Shu traveled everywhere and roved about Jianghu, acting as xia in pursuit of righteousness and defeating miscreants and tyrants in the four corners of the world. When Li Fengjie took leave of his master in Beijing, he headed to Mount Song to see the Chan master Taiwu. Then he went to Jiangnan and stayed for a time at the security office of Zhang Xiong the Iron Crossbow. Afterwards, he roamed the landscape, making inscriptions and composing poetry, and aiding the helpless in the name of righteousness, and for that, he made a name for himself in Jiangnan.

    From Jiangnan, he headed north to Chang'an and the Wei River to visit historical sites at the ancient capital of the Han and Tang. Little did he know his encounter with Bao Aluan at the Dayan Pagoda would later lead to all kinds of trouble. He had been wounded in his right flank, not too seriously at first, but because he hadn't the face to remain in Guanzhong any longer after his defeat, he endured the pain of his injury and rode his bloodstained white horse through the Tong Pass. He rode through the night day after day, never having time to rest, and by the time he reached Mount Song, he was not able to get up again after he dismounted his horse. Fortunately, he had stopped at the Chan master Taiwu's Baisong Temple, and the Chan master Taiwu had a wonder medicine with a secret formulation called "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder," for treating injuries from swords and sabers. Applied to his wound, it healed completely before half a month was up.

    Li Fengjie wanted to reenter the pass immediately and fight Ji Guangjie, but the Chan master Taiwu had hidden his sword and all the silvers he had carried with him and appealed to him, "You mustn't go again. Ji Guangjie is the Xia of Longmen's grandson, and it is a matter of course that he will have secret sword techniques. You've only trained in the martial arts with the Dragon of Shu a little over two years, so your swordwork will naturally be a little weaker than his. Not to mention that there are many people there. If you go, you will not win. It would not be a waste of time to stay here with me for now, and wait until you've studied more sword techniques and made some loyal friends before looking for Ji Guangjie to determine who is stronger than the other." Thus, Li Fengjie listened to the Chan master Taiwu's exhortations and sequestered himself at the Baisong Temple.

    There were a great many temples on Mount Song, with the Shaolin Temple being the largest and having the greatest population of monks, and its Central Peak Tianqi Shrine burning most densely of incense. The smallest was Baisong Temple and its incense burned most sparsely. The reason was that Baisong Temple had been built at the highest summit, and no one would go easily to so high a place to offer incense. Even mountain litters couldn't make it up there. The Chan master Taiwu did not descend the mountain lightly either, nor did the monks at his temple leave the mountain to collect alms, yet whatever things they had at the temple were all very lavish. Only Li Fengjie had puzzled out the reason for this. To hear Taiwu himself tell it, all of his coin was earned from selling medicine, but Li Fengjie did not believe him. This was because he regarded "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder" as most precious, and not only was he unwilling to sell it, but he was unable to give it away casually to even those who had developed a very close friendship with him. He had likely become a monk halfway through his life after having amassed great fortune. If it wasn't that he encountered a formidable opponent and suffered a crushing defeat, then it was that he had involved himself in too great a feud, or committed too serious a crime, and thus he concealed himself in the life of a monk and went into hiding atop a mountain. Other than a few old friends who would occasionally come once to visit him, he did not generally receive guests. Li Fengjie did not ask him about these things in great detail. He spent his days atop the mountain, taking in flower scents and birdsongs amid the shadows of the mountain mist and the wave-like rustling of pine trees, reading a few books, and running through a few sword sequences. His mind and body were quite relaxed and free from worry.

    On this day, Li Fengjie felt lonely on the mountain all of a sudden, so he descended the mountain and went to a village called Zither Stream. The village was on the eastern side of a mountain stream, and the stream flowed down with spring water year-round. When it hit between the mess of rocks, a tinkling sound rang out like that of a zither playing. Li Fengjie's white horse was currently being kept in this village at the home of a woodsman named Hu Erzheng of the Iron Shoulders.

    Li Fengjie led his horse from the Hu house and galloped about on a large road below the mountain. He went back and forth for a while until he grew tired and the sun had risen above the top of the mountain. The time of day had almost reached the seventh or eighth hour and the number of travelers and horse-driven wagons gradually increased. It was the first day of the fifth month and the many local people all went to Tianqi Shrine to offer incense. Today was only the first day, but by Duanyang on the fifth day, it was said the Tianqi Shrine would be even livelier than a market. Li Fengjie was afraid of crashing into people, so he pulled his horse over to the side of the road and stood watching people walk by, men and women, old and young, especially the made-up young wives and young women.

    Li Fengjie did not have the mind that the licentious Master Dengtu had, but he couldn't help but think of the many verses on love that people of ancient times composed, so he sat atop his horse and quickly completed a poem. He shook his silk whip and recited, "A purple hairpin, red sleeves and jade green skirt, one gaze and Mount Song gives rise to beautiful clouds. A roaming valiant atop a horse in rapture, the sword point cuts with difficulty the myriad regrets."

    Just as he looked longingly into the distance, extremely pleased with himself, the sound of a bell jingling suddenly arrived at his ear. From the east came a black horse, upon which a golden bell had been fastened, and depending on the speed at which the horse traveled, it rang out either quickly or slowly. Mounted on the horse was a youth of over twenty years, handsome with long eyebrows and big eyes. His body was big, as well as sturdy and tall. On his head there rested a big straw hat with two black silk streamers fluttering in the wind. He wore blue coat and pants, and straw sandals on bare feet as if he had come from Jiangnan. The things that most caught Li Fengjie's attention were a simple travel bundle attached to this man's horse, a sword hanging below the saddle, and the sword's iron case brushing up against the horse's copper bridle, its clanking sound answering the sounds of the bell.

    Seeing these circumstances, Li Fengjie spoke, "This man surely isn't here to climb the mountain and offer incense. He's probably one who travels upon Jianghu. But who is he going up the mountain to find?" He made these sorts of guesses in his head, but didn't go following after the man. He spurred his horse along the road, and when he entered a crude wooden door, he saw Hu Erzheng eating. Hu Erzheng's age was about twenty-seven or eight years. The flesh on his entire body was almost dark as coal, and his head was like an iron ball. He had bared his upper body and exposed a robust physique, craggy like mountain rocks. He was sweaty all over, and it was both dark and slick, as if he had been given a layer of black lacquer. In his two large hands he held a piece of dark flatbread of which he was in the midst of taking large bites. As he chewed on the bread, he said, "Brother Li! Come eat! My mom's baked some good bread!"

    Li Fengjie shook his head and said, "I'm all right. I'll eat when I get back to the temple." Hu Erzheng said, "The food at the temple isn't as good as at my home. Come eat! There's bread inside the house!" He then pointed at a bundle of firewood placed in the yard. This firewood bundle had just been put together and brought down from the high mountain. It was no less than a hundred and fifty or sixty catties. If it wasn't for his Iron Shoulders, no one could bear it down the mountain. Hu Erzheng said, "I can sell this bundle for two strings of coin and cut down a few catties of meat. I'll treat my old mom, and I'll treat you." Li Fengjie smiled, "You needn't buy meat to treat me. I'll eat one of your flatbreads right now." After he finished hitching his horse, he entered the grass hut puffing with smoke.

    Hu Erzheng's mother was paralyzed and neither of her legs could move off their kang. She could only sit on the kang and in front of it was placed a small mud stove where she was baking flatbread for her son. The filling was very dry, and the flour for the flatbread was extremely coarse, so Li Fengjie had frowned a bit, but because he was simply too hungry and also too lazy to go out and buy something to eat, he tore off half a piece of bread and picked up a pickle, and then went outside to chat with Hu Erzheng while he ate. Hu Erzheng spoke of the pointlessness of being a woodsman, now that the trees on the mountain all had owners. If they didn't belong to the monks at the temples, then they were claimed by the affluent households below the mountain. If he was seen by others, he would be beaten and scolded. He wanted to go to the city to find work, but he didn't want to leave his old mom.

    Li Fengjie added, "Since your old mom can't move, she needs your constant care, so how could go to the city to find work? It'd be better to accept making a living gathering firewood. When you don't have enough money, I can lend some to you." Hu Erzheng waved his hand and said, "Brother Li, don't lend me any money. If you did, I wouldn't be able to pay it back. I would keep thinking about it and not be able to sleep well." Li Fengjie laughed, quite appreciating Hu Erzheng's honesty. When he finished his half piece of bread and sated his hunger, he sat for a while until the sweat on his body was gone. Hu Erzheng had already finished eating and had gone to feed Li Fengjie's horse.

    It was now past noon, so Li Fengjie said to Hu Erzheng, "Erzheng, I'm going. I'll see you again tomorrow!" Hu Erzheng grunted a response and Li Fengjie departed through the wooden door. He left the village and walked alongside the lake. He heard the running water tinkling just as if a zither was playing. Strange rock formations jutted out before the stream, piled one on top of another boundless to the eye, forming a high mountain ridge. The trees on the mountain ridge grew dense and shady, and when the wind blew, they would swish and rustle. He didn't know which leaves were making the sound, but when it combined with the tinkling of the mountain stream, it couldn't help but rouse Li Fengjie's desire to write poetry again. He stopped and stood next to the stream. He looked up at the clouds floating atop the mountain ridge and then down at the flowing waters of the stream. He suddenly spotted a stone bridge to his right, extending over the stream, which could be crossed to enter a mountain path. The path was precipitous yet wound deep into the mountains, as if some spectacular landscapes were hidden inside.

    At this, Li Fengjie didn't want to compose verse anymore, thinking, What a great place. I wonder if it goes all the way up the mountain or not. I've been on the mountain for so many days, and yet I didn't know about this path! Thus, he walked across the stone bridge, and headed into the small trail, seeing on the ground two broken straw sandal straps made of hemp twine. He walked a little more and noticed a few piles of human excrement on the ground, knowing then that people must use this trail often. And so Li Fengjie continued up step by step. Above his head there were pines and cypresses offering him shade from the sunlight, and a mountain wind blew at his face. Various mountain birds flew in front of his eyes and called into his ears.

    Li Fengjie suddenly thought, Why must I strive for fame and fortune in this messy human world? Why must I seek revenge from Ji Guangjie or fight bitterly with the Kunlun School without end? Should I just secure myself a portion of property on or below the mountain and become a hermit, enjoying the quiet fortunes of the mountain woods? What could be better than that? He pondered this as he walked and turned past a mountain ridge. The trail became steeper and narrower, and more and more mountain birds appeared.

    He abruptly noticed a bout of weeping amid the disorderly twittering and chirping of the birds. It was the sound of a woman crying. Li Fengjie couldn't help but be taken aback, and carefully discerned where the crying was coming from. The crying drew nearer and nearer and became more and more anxious, and was now mixed with the sound of cursing. Li Fengjie immediately found his way toward it and saw running down from the mountain, a woman dressed in rags, her hair disheveled. She cried out, "Help! There's a bad man after me!" Sure enough, chasing behind the woman came a yellow-faced man of forty-odd years, broad of body, wearing silk coat and pants.

    The man saw Li Fengjie, but continued chasing the woman as if he had not, yelling, "You little *****! The good sir here's doing you a favor, and you think you're too good for me? ****, you'll go with all of them, the pig herders and shit collectors... When I'm happy, I intend to do you favors. There are good things in it for you. I'll get you new clothes and give you some money to spend!" He chased after her, intending to carry her off. The woman ran down as fast as she could and stumbled onto the ground, screaming.

    Li Fengjie found it hard to hold his fury as he leapt forward with a whoosh and grabbed hold of the yellow-faced man with one hand, angrily asking, "What do you think you're doing? Mistreating a defenseless woman!" The man said, "This ***** is mine! Who do you thi—" Before he could finish, Li Fengjie punched him in the head, sending the man unconscious onto the ground with a crash. Li Fengjie turned away from the man and went to assist the woman. He lifted the woman up with both hands and saw that she had only about seventeen or eighteen years and was very pretty. Li Fengjie felt himself a bit impetuous, so he let go of her and said, "Don't be afraid! You should get out of here!"

    The woman was bleeding from her forehead and her tears were seeping into the blood as she choked with grief. She said not a word and started back up the mountain. Li Fengjie stopped her and asked, "What do you still need up the mountain? Do you live there?" The woman shook her head and sobbed, saying, "I dropped a basket!" Li Fengjie said, "I'll come with you to get it!" When he said this, he saw that the yellow-faced man had regained consciousness. He rolled over and stood up, and then pulled a knife from his side. At a flip of his hand, he threw it at Li Fengjie with a swoosh, just as if it was a dart. The woman shouted in fright, but Li Fengjie caught it in his hand and sneered, "Do you have any more throwing knives?" The man glowered with his vicious eyes and pulled throwing knives from the belt at his waist. Swoosh, swoosh, he flung two more of them in quick succession. Li Fengjie caught both of them with one hand, and the man couldn't help but become unnerved.

    Li Fengjie's face darkened and he cursed, "You bastard!" He flicked his hand and sent the throwing knife back. It pierced the man's left cheek so that the man couldn't even yell out. Blood ran from his cheek down along the knife. He pulled it out without hesitation, and then turned to run. Before he took two or three steps upward, a rock flew down from above and struck his face with a crack. He yelped and toppled onto the ground once more unconscious.

    Li Fengjie couldn't help his astonishment as he heard the sound of laughter from above and the clop, clop of hooves. A youth walked down the mountain leading a horse, and it turned out to be the same one Li Fengjie had seen in the morning from the side of the road. He saw him clasp his fist as he asked Li Fengjie with a smile, "Friend, does this path go all the way down the mountain? Can I get down there with my horse?" Li Fengjie sized him up and then clasped his fist, saying, "The trail's too narrow, so you won't be able to get through it with your horse. Friend, I saw you go up the mountain on the eastern side. Whey aren't you going down from that same path? It's much wider and more level." The youth in front of him said, "Someone told me that this mountain trail would lead me to Peakfront Village where the Baisong Temple's lower courtyard is. I want to go there to find someone."

    Hearing this, Li Fengjie couldn't help being puzzled, thinking, Baisong Temple doesn't have a lower courtyard, and Peakfront village is on the north side, quite far from here. This person has obviously been tricked. Then he said, "Who are you looking for, friend?" The youth said, "I'm looking for the Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva of the Baisong Temple." Li Fengjie said, "That's no problem. The Chan master Taiwu is a friend of mine. I can go with you to see him. Sit tight for now. I'm going to finish taking care of this first." The youth smiled and said, "All right, all right."

    Li Fengjie took the woman up and found her broken bamboo basket. The basket was filled with dug up wild vegetables and foraged pine nuts. Li Fengjie understood that this woman's family must be very poor, so he said to her sympathetically, "Try not to go up into the mountains anymore, but if you do, you should walk on the main road. Not many people travel on this one, so if you ran into another bad man, it would be very hard for you to deal with!" The woman assented with tears dropping from her eyes. Nearby, the youth said, "Ask her where she lives, and then take her back there!" Li Fengjie asked the woman where she lived, and the woman pointed down the mountain, replying, "I live at Zither Stream." Li Fengjie said, "I just came from there. I'll take you back there!" Then he said to the youth, "Friend, please wait a moment for me here. I'll be back shortly." The youth nodded and said, "All right, all right. I'll wait for you here." Li Fengjie carried the basket for the woman and walked down the mountain while protecting her.

    The woman's feet were very small, and then she'd injured her leg when she fell, so she had much difficulty in walking on the uneven mountain road. At this time, Li Fengjie thought, We can't think about the separation of men and women now! Thus, he supported her arm and they walked down the mountain path much more easily. It wasn't until they crossed the stone bridge and entered the village at Zither Stream that Li Fengjie handed the basket over to the woman, instructing her, "You must not go up into the mountains again!" The woman limped away holding the basket.

    Li Fengjie quickly made his way back up the mountain. When he went back to the place he had been, he saw that the injured yellow-faced man had come to again, but the youth had him locked in his arms and was questioning him. Li Fengjie walked over and hit him another couple times with his fist and yelled, "You don't look like you're young anymore, and yet you're mistreating a helpless woman. You're below even a mere beast. Get out of here! Go back up the mountain and find another trail. You're not to use this one to get down!" The man didn't utter a word. He hung his head like an injured dog and headed up the mountain.

    Li Fengjie clasped his fist at the youth again and asked, "Would you do me the honor of giving me your great name?" The youth cupped his fist as well and said, "I am named Jiang Xiaohe." Upon hearing Jiang Xiaohe's name, Li Fengjie couldn't help being struck for a moment, as if he'd heard mention of the name before. He said, "Well met! Well met! Brother Jiang, from where are you coming?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I've come from Xuzhou especially to see the Chan master Taiwu. When I went to Baisong Temple a moment ago to call upon him, a monk at the temple told me he's gone to the lower courtyard in Peakfront Village. He gave me directions and told me to descend the mountain to find him. When I was walking here, I ran into you, brother, punishing that maniac. Your skill is quick and clean. I truly admire it. Dare I ask how I might address you, brother?"

    Li Fengjie imparted his name, and Jiang Xiaohe came to like him even more, saying, "Oh my! It is Li Fengjie, the brilliant disciple of the Dragon of Shu, who stands before me. In Jiangnan, I heard tell of your many gallant exploits." Li Fengjie smiled and said, "You praise me too much!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Brother Li, since you are acquainted with the Chan master Taiwu, I ask you please to quickly take me to see him. The reason is I have a friend who was wounded in Xuzhou, and though the wound wasn't serious, it's become swollen and festered. I heard that the Chan master Taiwu has some kind of divine medicine here called "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder." I plan to ask him for some and hurry back so I can save my friend." Li Fengjie said kindly, "That can surely be done. Vajrapani's Restoration Powder is indeed a wonder medicine. I suffered a bit of a wound myself last month, and was healed by the medicine. It's only that the Chan master Taiwu considers this kind of medicine very precious and will not easily consent to giving it away. If you offered money for him, he'd be even less likely to sell it to you. I'll speak for you, however, and he will certainly feel ashamed if he didn't give you some." Jiang Xiaohe said, "The friend of mine who is wounded is a man of Jianghu, and the Chan master Taiwu used to travel upon Jianghu himself. Now that he's become a monk, he ought to hold mercy even more in his thoughts, so what could a bit of medicine be for him?" Having said this, with Li Fengjie in front and Jiang Xiaohe following behind, leading his horse, the two headed up the mountain.

    They spoke as they walked, and Li Fengjie asked Jiang Xiaohe about his background. Jiang Xiaohe wasn't willing even to say where he had been born, and simply smiled and said, "I am a man alone, wandering about out here, and I don't know much of the martial arts, though it's not been so bad that I've been harassed by others while traveling upon Jianghu. I've just now come from Jiangnan, and I encountered an old friend when I arrived in Xuzhou. He was injured, so I came to ask the Chan master Taiwu for some medicine. When I get the medicine, I'll take it myself to Xuzhou, and then I want to go to Guanzhong to meet with some friends." Hearing this, Li Fengjie was taken aback and said, "Guanzhong...? I wonder what business Brother Jiang's friends in Guanzhong are in." Jiang Xiaohe said, "They are but a few in the security escort field." Li Fengjie asked, "The security firms in Guanzhong are mostly men of the Kunlun School. Could it be Brother Jiang is friends with them?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "I know them some, but the friendship is not deep."

    Upon hearing this, Li Fengjie's attitude changed immediately as he considered Jiang Xiaohe a henchman of the Kunlun School. He became extremely unhappy and sneered, "Those of the Kunlun School are all inconsequential, not to mention contemptible and treacherous, relying only on their numbers. Recently there was one Ji Guangjie, the Xia of Longmen's grandson, and his swordwork could be called powerful. He arrived in Guanzhong and aided those of the Kunlun School. Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong and the others revered him as a god." Jiang Xiaohe seemed surprised, saying, "The Xia of Longmen's grandson?" Li Fengjie said, "It's said he is the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, and I believe it not to be false. His swordwork indeed has several moments of excellence, and he seems to be of an age with us. Although it is a bit too much of a shame for a young xia to increase the might of that Kunlun School and grow their influence!" Jiang Xiaohe then asked, "Brother Li, have you previously crossed swords with these people?" Li Fengjie hesitated a moment before saying, "There have been a few exchanges, but I would not shy away from another struggle with them!"

    They spoke all the way and arrived at the highest peak of Mount Song. At this point, Jiang Xiaohe's horse could continue no further. Li Fengjie said, "Hitch your horse here. No one is likely to steal it." Jiang Xiaohe thus hitched his horse to a pine tree, and carried his travel bundle and his accompanying sword on his back. Then, he followed Li Fengjie in climbing through the trees and scaling the crags, just as if they were two simians, and ascended to the highest pinnacle of the mountain. It was the second time Jiang Xiaohe had come into the misty Baisong Temple. Li Fengjie invited him to rest in his room, and then went to the abbot's chambers of the Chan master Taiwu. Chan master Taiwu was browsing through sutras when Li Fengjie asked, "Are you aware that someone named Jiang Xiaohe came looking for you to ask for medicine? He's come now once again."

    The expression on Chan master Taiwu's yellow face dropped and he revealed a look of displeasure, saying, "Why has he come again? He'd just come by earlier. That Vajrapani's Restoration Powder of mine is used for guarding people of my temple from the injuries they get falling down when going up and down the mountain. How could I just give it to a man of Jianghu? If I gave it to them, after being healed, they'll continue looking for fights and committing evil acts!" Li Fengjie said, "I think you should just give him a little bit and send him on his way. He seems to be a man of the Kunlun School, but he's come here from very far away, not an easy matter all said."

    Upon hearing of the Kunlun School, Chan master Taiwu further shook his head and said, "I'm even less able to give it to someone from the Kunlun School. At any rate, I simply do not give that Vajrapani's Restoration Powder of mine to men of Jianghu. If you and I hadn't known each other for some time, I wouldn't have taken care of your last sword wound." Li Fengjie said, "I'll tell him to go then." The Chan master Taiwu said, "Tell him that I've gone to wander the world, that you don't know when I might be back and don't know where the medicine is stored." Li Fengjie said, "Why say all that? I'll just tell him you've long given all your medicine away." Chan master Taiwu nodded and said, "That'll do. I don't have much medicine left anyhow." Li Fengjie then went back to respond to Jiang Xiaohe. At this moment, Jiang Xiaohe had been waiting in the room for a while and had grown very anxious and suspicious. When he saw the sword mounted on Li Fengjie's wall and the books placed on his desk, he thought, This man is well-rounded in both literature and martial arts.

    Li Fengjie returned to the room and said, "Brother Jiang, your arrival is not fortuitous. The monk Taiwu has already given all his medicine away." Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but be confused, asking, "The medicine's all been given away? But...can you ask the monk Taiwu to lend the prescription to me? I'll descend the mountain and make up a dose or two, and then return it. I, Jiang Xiaohe, swear to the gods that I will not copy down the prescription and pass it around. It's only for saving my wounded friend." Li Fengjie exhorted him, "Brother Jiang, I urge you to leave! There are famous healers everywhere. Hurry and invite them to fix your friend up. Don't waste time while your friend's in that condition. The monk Taiwu's medicine is obtained from another person as well." Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe's face soured and he waved his hand, saying, "I don't believe you! Brother Li, I haven't come to ask you for medicine, and the medicine isn't in your possession. You are not a man of this temple, and neither do you have anything to do with it. I'm going to find the monk and speak reason with him!" As he said this, he pushed Li Fengjie aside with his hand and left the room. Feeling Jiang Xiaohe's push, Li Fengjie thought his strength extremely great, and couldn't help his astonishment.

    Jiang Xiaohe ran into the courtyard and called out loudly, "Taiwu! You needn't hide from me. Come out and we'll reason with each other. You used to be a man of Jianghu. My friend is now suffering from an injury. Show your Jianghu face and bring that medicine out with you. Furthermore, you've become a monk, and ascetics act first with benevolence. Hiding that bit of blade wound medicine won't help you attain enlightenment. However, if you give me a little, you'll be able to heal my friend and save him first from suffering!"

    Li Fengjie trailed him out of the room and stood in Jiang Xiaohe's way, saying, "Brother Jiang, I was the one who brought you here. If you cause a disturbance, it will reflect badly on me!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "He who is surnamed Li, this isn't your concern! This has nothing to do with you. I came to this temple once before I even met you, and they sent me elsewhere. I'm not here now to pick a fight with the monk Taiwu. I am here to reason with him. The monk Taiwu, come out!" As he stamped his foot and shouted thusly, he saw a tall, broad, yellow-faced monk walking out of the abbot's chambers. Jiang Xiaohe asked, "Are you Taiwu?"

    The face of the Chan master Taiwu showed anger as he chided, "What are you raging about in my place? I do have medicine, but I just can't give it to you people of Jianghu!" Jiang Xiaohe said to Li Fengjie, "Oh! He has medicine, and you were aiding him in his lies!" He approached a couple steps and said to Taiwu, "Don't worry. I, Jiang Xiaohe, am not willing to fight with anyone, but you are not correct in reproaching those of Jianghu. Don't tell me that you weren't once a man of Jianghu." The Chan master Taiwu said, "When I traveled Jianghu before, we were walking the path of xia for righteousness. Now you men of Jianghu are nothing but wicked thugs and depraved lechers. If I gave you Vajrapani's Restoration Powder, you would only go on behaving maliciously after you've healed yourselves!" Jiang Xiaohe jumped up and asked, "How can you know that?" Then he swung his arms and charged at the Chan master Taiwu, saying, "If you don't give me the medicine today, I won't leave. I'll cause such trouble you won't have any peace and quiet!"

    The Chan master Taiwu turned up his lip slightly and sent a palm out to strike at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe didn't make to dodge it, waiting until his palm almost struck him, and then took advantage of an opening to take Taiwu's wrist in his hand, saying, "Ah! Good! Does the Golden-faced Bodhisattva really mean to fight me?" He grabbed Taiwu's wrist and turned him aside, causing Taiwu's iron tower of a body to run several paces outside of his control. Li Fengjie saw this and couldn't help but be taken aback. He quickly stood in Taiwu's way and said, "Master, don't provoke his anger. It looks to me this person has quite the background. It is far from worth it to suffer defeat at his hand!" The Chan master Taiwu said, "I would rather suffer defeat at his hand than give him any of Vajrapani's Restoration Powder!" When he said this, he flung his robe and leapt forward, swinging a fist at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe charged back at him, clenching his two fists tightly like a pair of iron hammers, as he and the Chan master Taiwu came at each other.

    The Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva had originally been one of the Dragon of Shu's loyal aides, and he was now the best of the best of Henan Province's heroes. He was large of body and thick of arm, fierce of might and firm of fist. Any ordinary person would be struck to the ground by him in one or two moves. However, Jiang Xiaohe didn't flinched even a little now. All one could see was his body, quick and agile, spinning and flying, like a turning hawk or pouncing tiger. Taiwu was calm and steady, sending punches and kicks to and fro. There'd been over ten exchanges when Li Fengjie waved his hand and said, "Stop fighting!" Jiang Xiaohe's aim had been to ask for medicine, and had no wish to seek a fight, so he withdrew from a fighting stance and was about to make peace, but he saw Taiwu was once again taking advantage of the opening and sending a punch at him. Jiang Xiaohe really couldn't take it any longer, so he formed a palm with his right hand and a fist with his left, and sent a brutal blow at Taiwu's chest. With a thump, Taiwu's iron tower body fell backwards, but fortunately, Li Fengjie was there to support him, so he did not tumble onto the ground.

    Jiang Xiaohe jumped to one side, not breathing heavily at all, and extended his hand, saying, "Do you want to keep fighting? Just give me the medicine!" The Chan master Taiwu found his footing, the color of his face flashing ever more golden yellow, and looked Jiang Xiaohe from head to toe one more time, asking, "Whose martial arts were passed on to you?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "There's no use in asking for particulars. I studied with my master for ten years and even I don't know what his name is."

    Li Fengjie saw that Jiang Xiaohe's fighting was of the highest skill, and his bearing seemed very mysterious, so he approached and exhorted, "There's no need to fight. I'm quite certain that Brother Jiang did not learn his martial arts from the Kunlun School. To be specific, they are surely all of the internal school." Jiang Xiaohe said harshly, "The Kunlun School? The men of the Kunlun School are all my enemies! I learned martial arts for ten years just for the purpose of killing every last one of them!" Having said these few sentences, he huffed and then said to Chan master Taiwu, "Monk, there is no injustice nor animosity between us. If you are sensible today and give me a bit of medicine, I have absolutely no fight to pick with you, because I, Jiang Xiaohe, am a reasonable person. Now, if you have nothing else to say, you still have some medicine to give me!"

    The Chan master Taiwu tightened his golden face and stared into space for a while. Then he nodded and said angrily, "Fine! I'll give you the medicine!" In two or three steps, he walked into the abbot's chambers. After a short while, he brought out four or five bundles of medicine and tossed them onto the ground. He then furrowed his brow and a furious flame burst forth from his two eyes as he said, "This is all of my medicine. I'm giving it all to you, and you can give it to whomever you like. And this...!" The Chan master Taiwu held a written piece of paper in his left hand, saying, "This is the prescription. Without it even I cannot make it. Let us destroy it from its base now. I'm an ascetic who lives outside of the world, not someone who's here just to make medicine for the people of Jianghu!" As he said this, he tore the prescription into little pieces, and then continued, "Take the medicine and get out. Let's consider this due to your superior abilities!"

    Jiang Xiaohe's expression shifted, but he did his best to hold down his temper, smiling coldly and saying, "I don't need this much of your medicine. One bundle will do. The rest you can scatter to the mountain winds!" He said this and picked up a bundle of medicine. He went to Li Fengjie's room to retrieve his travel pack, and then left the temple and descended the mountain. Here, the Chan master Taiwu became extremely despondent and went back to the abbot's chambers to sigh long and wordlessly.

    Li Fengjie scooped up all of the few remaining medicine bundles, went to his room to get his sword, and rushed out of the temple and down the mountain. When he reached the midway point of the mountain, he spotted Jiang Xiaohe riding his black horse as it galloped down the mountain. Li Fengjie wanted to call out to him and follow him, but it was already too late, so he hurriedly stepped down crags and jumped across streams, taking a shortcut first to the Zither Stream to retrieve his horse. When he arrived at Hu Erzheng's house, he saw that Hu Erzheng had gone into the city to sell firewood and hadn't yet returned, so Li Fengjie unhitched his own horse and left. After exiting from the gate, he mounted his horse and set off east. Before he left the village, he noticed a ragged fence behind a large mulberry tree and a woman hurrying out for a look when she heard the sound of the horse's hooves. Li Fengjie saw that it was the woman he had saved in the mountains earlier. The woman had already cleaned her face of any trace of blood or tears, revealing delicate and pretty features, though she still wore those tattered clothes. She leaned on the broken fence and watched Li Fengjie, expressing grateful emotions on her face.

    Li Fengjie hadn't the time to pay her extra attention, so he spurred his horse out of the village and onto the main road, flying eastward. After passing through Dengfeng city, he raced east another twenty-some miles before he caught up with the black horse. Li Fengjie waved from his horse and shouted loudly ahead, "Brother Jiang Xiaohe! Stop a moment!" Jiang Xiaohe immediately reined up his horse and looked back. Li Fengjie galloped toward him and when he was a few dozen feet away, he clasped his fist and said, "Brother Jiang, I've followed you here especially so I could beg your forgiveness! Just then at the temple on the mountain, I wasn't helping Taiwu trick you. The reason was I didn't have any of the medicine, and he said he wouldn't give out any of it, so there was nothing I could do. At the time, I'd also suspected you were a man of the Kunlun School, so I treated you quite scornfully. Now I see from your martial arts that you cannot be of the Kunlun School. You must have received a real tradition from a famous master!"

    When his horse drew near, Jiang Xiaohe turned at the waist and cupped his hand, laughing, "Brother Li, you are too kind. I have long known of your reputation of gallantry in Jiangnan. When I happened upon you in the mountains and observed your amazing martial arts, I should have talked with you more, but as I still have that wounded friend in Xuzhou, I must bring him the medicine. I still need to head to Guanzhong afterwards, likely within ten days, and I'll have to return here. Let us deepen our friendship then. Brother Li, you will find in the days to come that I, Jiang Xiaohe, am a man who likes making friends most."

    Hearing this, Li Fengjie was delighted, saying, "Brother Jiang, when you come again, you needn't ascend the mountain, lest you stoke the anger of the Chan master Taiwu. You may come to Zither Stream on the south side. It's a village, and in the village there lives Hu Erzheng, a woodsman. Just ask him where to find me." Jiang Xiaohe cupped his hand and said, "Very good. Farewell! Farewell!" When he finished, he heeled his jet black colt and galloped across the vast earth under the searing heat towards Xuzhou.

    Atop his horse, Jiang Xiaohe regarded Li Fengjie's refinement, conduct and martial arts all with rather much esteem. However, when he thought of Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva, whose name shook the world north to south, and how useless his martial arts were, he couldn't help thinking it ridiculous. Ten years ago, from the time Jiang Xiaohe encountered that elderly man at the tavern in Ziwu town, the old man had followed along with him and purposefully displayed his uncanny skills ahead of him, because the old man had found him young and earnest and had also heard about his tragic experiences. Later on, in the valley of the Qin Mountains, when Jiang Xiaohe was surrounded by Ge Zhiqiang, Bao Zhilin and the others, the old man in a fit of righteous indignation served Ge Zhiqiang and the others a crushing defeat and rescued Jiang Xiaohe away.

    Jiang Xiaohe's aim had been to find a renowned master, so when he saw the elderly man's superhuman martial arts, how could he let the opportunity pass him by? Thus he implored the old man with utmost effort to accept him as disciple. The old man seemed to feel quite strongly that he and Jiang Xiaohe had been brought together by fate, so he smiled and nodded, saying, "Well, why don't ya come with me then!" Thereafter, Jiang Xiaohe followed the old man out of the Qin Mountains, through Chang'an, and across Hangu, and traversed the great expanses of Henan and Anhui. Finally, the old man took him over the Great River to Mount Jiuhua in Chizhou.

    The old man had built a straw hut in the deepest part of the highest peak and kept a few acres of mountain fields where he had planted tea trees, employing a deaf-mute servant to take care of them for him. The old man was alone in the world, and this was how he made a living. Because the mute couldn't speak, and the old man wasn't willing to say his name, Jiang Xiaohe never knew what to call his master. However, he was certain that the old man had been a great xia of extraordinary talent in his day. Not only did his abilities far surpass those of the Dragon of Shu and the Xia of Longmen, they might simply have exceeded even those of the immortals. Compared to Bao Zhenfei, this elderly man was like the majestic Qin Mountains or the peculiar Mount Jiuhua, and Bao Zhenfei was nothing but a broken chard of stone.

    The old man treated Jiang Xiaohe extremely well, but he didn't pass his martial arts onto him in earnest. In the first year, all he had Jiang Xiaohe do was collect firewood and plant tea, and when he was free, he had him moving rocks. After a year of moving, rocks great and small were piled just like a small hill. The old man did not like how great a space they occupied, so he gave Jiang Xiaohe ten days to carry them away. Carrying away rocks accumulated in the space of over a year in ten days was no easy task. However, Jiang Xiaohe had by now trained until his arms were thick and his strength great, so it was not much for Jiang Xiaohe to hold a hundred-catty rock in one hand. In addition, without anything else to do, he moved rocks day and night, and before six or seven days were up, he had sent all the rocks he'd piled up with great effort over a year's time back onto the high peaks and tossed them into mountain streams. When the old man saw this, he became elated, and thus taught him to leap mountains and jump ridges, and in his spare time, he also taught him how to recognize characters.

    After another year, the elderly man showed him a few fist skills. In the third year, the old man departed from the mountain. In that year, Jiang Xiaohe exclusively practiced the fistwork the old man had passed on to him. There weren't many moves for the fist skills, but they were most extraordinary and hardest to practice. After Jiang Xiaohe trained for two months, he discovered that these few fist skills turned out to have endless variations. He then used his current fistwork to disassemble the fist skills he'd learned earlier with Ma Zhixian of the Kunlun School, and found it exceptionally easy. Indeed, from this he figured out countless brilliant fist techniques.

    After another year or so, the old man returned and brought him an extremely heavy sword, and also gave him several books. These books wrote of secret sword techniques, and the old man charged Jiang Xiaohe with reading them in the light of day and learning the sword under the moon and stars at night. Before a month was done, Jiang Xiaohe had committed all of the books to memory and the old man took them back and departed once more. Jiang Xiaohe relied on the secret sword techniques etched in his memory and practiced his sword assiduously day and night. The old man would come and go abruptly. When he came, he would direct Jiang Xiaohe in a few kinds of swordwork by mouth and correct the mistakes he was making. Jiang Xiaohe concentrated on his training year after year, and in his spare time he would go to mountain streams and practice swimming. By the beginning of the seventh year, he had already mastered the sword techniques and was confident his martial arts had surpassed those of the Xia of Langzhong, Bao Kunlun and the others by a hundredfold. In the eighth and the ninth years, the old man didn't journey away, instead staying on the mountain to personally teach Jiang Xiaohe qigong, dianxue, and other mysterious skills lost to Jianghu. He also taught Jiang Xiaohe how to read.

    It wasn't until the spring of the tenth year when the old man asked Jiang Xiaohe a question, "How do ya think yer martial arts training is going?" Because Jiang Xiaohe was impatient to descend the mountain and take vengeance, he said, "I have learned everything the master has taught me!" The old man said, "Y'ave only learned half of my martial arts, not yet as much as the mute. He's learned a sixth of my martial arts." Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help being startled into a cold sweat, thinking, In these past ten years, when the mute isn't cooking for me, he's planting tea. He doesn't look like he could lift even a rock, but it turns out his martial arts are greater than mine!

    The old man said, "'He's yer older disciple-brother. Ya should learn from him and see how much hidden skill he has. Internal martial arts are never easily laid bare. However, y'are not the same. When ya were young ya suffered the greatest of hardships. If ya want to avenge yer father, I can't stand in yer way. But ya must remember a few things. First, other than the enemies that killed yer father, ya are permitted to do harm to anyone, no matter who. Second, ya can compare your martial arts with others, but you may not fight to the death. Third, you are to help the weak and hold up the fallen, and take pity on the widowed and orphaned. Martial arts are for helping others, and cannot be used for selfish gain nor can ya rely on yer strength to do ill. I don't need to go on in length with ya about the rest, so go and leave the mountain!"

    Jiang Xiaohe knelt once again and said, "I don't want to leave the mountain just yet. I would like to learn more of the master's martial arts!" The old man laughed and said, "If ya learn more martial arts, no one will be able to subdue ya. But even the martial arts that ya know now are more than enough to crush the Dragon of Shu and the Xia of Longmen. In yer hands, Bao Zhenfei will be as a child, and the rest will be less than crickets and ants. And yet you're still not content? Quick, go and leave the mountain!"

    Thus, Jiang Xiaohe kowtowed a farewell to his master, took up a travel bundle and his sword, and happily made his way down the mountain. Before he was half a mile away from the mountain, he heard someone calling out unevenly behind him. Jiang Xiaohe looked back and saw that it was his disciple-brother the mute. He stopped immediately, turned around and clasped his fist. The mute touched his bare lips, then tapped the air with his forefinger, and then waved his hand. Jiang Xiaohe understood that the old man had sent him down to relay a message, instructing Jiang Xiaohe never to use dianxue, so he nodded. The mute pulled the sword from Jiang Xiaohe's travel goods and swung the sword about, truly with the power of a flying dragon or bounding tiger. These few forms were none that Jiang Xiaohe had learned from the elderly man, so he received the sword and practiced it once. When the mute saw that he had learned it, he smiled, and the two parted ways. Jiang Xiaohe walked onto the main road.

    The black horse on which Jiang Xiaohe had originally ridden from Sichuan had already died four years ago on the mountain. However, Jiang Xiaohe hadn't touched any of the silvers he'd won gambling in Langzhong ten years ago, so he figured that he had to buy a good horse after he crossed the river. He walked the road by foot, and as it was just springtime, the paddy fields of Jiangnan were populated with young women planting rice. Upon seeing these women, he couldn't help but stir in his heart. He thought again of the childhood sweetheart who came up in the household of his enemies, Bao Aluan. She was probably past twenty now, and in all likelihood had already married and perhaps forgotten all about the promise of marriage they'd made in earlier days. He also didn't know how aged his mother had become, or how tall his brother had grown, and for this, he stamped his foot and gave a long sigh. Though it was such, he had learned a body of exceptional, superhuman martial arts, and was likewise thoroughly proficient in letters. He was no longer Jiang Xiaohe the Three-headed Tiger of ten years ago. As a result, his bearing was dignified and his spirit free and open.

    After he crossed the river, he purchased a black horse, found that golden bell from ten years ago and hung it off his horse. He then galloped north, hiding his true abilities as he tried his skills through Hubei and Henan. First he fought Second Pang the Flower Spear in Xiangyang, and then he went to Xinyang subprefecture to fight Liu Kuang the Peer to Huangzhong. While he was in Xinyang, he wrote a letter and found a medicine peddler from Ziyang to deliver it to the Long brothers. Afterwards, he went to Shangcai to fight Lu Boxiong, and Shangshui to fight Liu Qingkong. However, these were all competitive in nature. At the same time that he fought those valiant heroes, he joined in friendship with them, and it was due to this that he heard others mentioning the names of Li Fengjie and Ji Guangjie.

    He was about to set off west to take revenge on the Kunlun School when a man employed in the security trade unexpectedly came to Liu Qingkong's place in Shangshui to call upon him. Yang Xiantai the Short Blade, the friend he'd made in Langzhong ten years ago was originally from Henan. Five years ago, he took leave of Sichuan Province and returned to his hometown to open a security office. Little did he know that he would suffer grave injury in a battle with another in the same trade. When he heard tell of Jiang Xiaohe's name, he sent someone to bid him come so they could see each other. Jiang Xiaohe was immediately reminded of his good friend who walked through Beauties Lane with him ten years ago, and thus he rushed to the inn in Xuzhou city where Yang Xiantai was staying. Lying in his sickbed, Yang Xiantai endured the pain of his wound and talked a while with Jiang Xiaohe about things that had happened since they parted ten years past. After that, they came to talk about the condition of his injury and spoke of how only the monk Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva of Baisong Temple on Mount Song's secret formula of "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder" could heal it, but no one dared go to request any.

    Jiang Xiaohe couldn't bear the pained groans of his injured old friend, so he volunteered to go, racing his horse to Mount Song. He didn't know that because of this, he would defeat the monk Taiwu and make the acquaintance of Li Fengjie. He presently braved the summer heat and with the golden bell on his horse ringing the whole way, he returned once again to the city of Xuzhou. When he saw Yang Xiantai, he applied the medicine for Yang Xiantai himself as he spoke delightedly of meeting Li Fengjie and fighting the monk Taiwu. Yang Xiantai thus said, "Brother, you've caused trouble for me again! I don't know much of this Li Fengjie, but why did you have to fight the monk Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva? He's the greatest and most famous hero in Henan!"

    Jiang Xiaohe said, "Don't worry! When I requested the medicine, I didn't mention your name, so there's no way he will come looking for you. Now that the medicine is here, you needn't worry about your wound, though I cannot stay until you are better. I must hurry to Guanzhong, to Zhenba and Ziyang to take care of my business. We will meet again!" Yang Xiantai insisted he remain, so Jiang Xiaohe stayed there for two days. On the third day, he saw for certain that the swelling of Yang Xiantai's wound was gone, and thus knew that "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder" was truly effective. Thereupon, he left without bidding farewell and proceeded to Mount Song.

    When he arrived at Mount Song for the second time, a light drizzle was falling. Jiang Xiaohe was wearing a large straw hat and was cloaked in a short oilcloth jacket, though his horse was drenched. The horse's jet mane when soaked with rainwater shone like black ink. The mountain in front of him and the wheat fields on either side were shrouded in mist, and not one person could be seen in the haze. Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself, Who could I ask about Zither Stream? Thus, he took out the golden bell again, hung it on his horse, and loosed the horse to the west.

    As he rode, he suddenly saw through the misty rain a white shape bounding his way. Someone in front of him was shouting loudly, "Brother Jiang! Jiang Xiaohe!" The white horse had burst from the misty rain and drawn near before Jiang Xiaohe saw that this person was wearing a large straw hat on his head as well. It was Li Fengjie. Li Fengjie said, "Since the second day after we parted, I've been waiting for you every day at the side of the road. I thought a few more days would pass before you could come, but little did I know you'd show up on this rainy day!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Since it was fitting that we meet again to talk, I hurried my way here." Li Fengjie asked, "Is the condition of your friend's injury good?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "His wounds will heal completely before ten days are up. The monk Taiwu's medicine is truly effective. I would like to ascend the mountain and offer him my gratitude, to forget about the fight and become friends with him."

    Li Fengjie said, "Brother Jiang, you are really very straightforward. Very well, in a day or two you'll come with me to Baisong Temple to see him. With a mention of what happened that day, and we can be done with it. Brother Jiang, let me tell you something. I have a woodsman friend in Zither Stream by the name of Hu Erzheng. That day after you left, I moved into his place, and in his village there's a family Chen with only a wife and daughter. They're extremely poor. Guess who the daughter is." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm unfamiliar with the people or places here, so I cannot guess." Li Fengjie said, "It's the woman I rescued that day on the mountain. Her mother is adamant that I marry her. I was thinking that I've wandered about for a few years now, and I'm already twenty-some years. Getting a wife and a household is something I ought to be doing." Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "Good, then I offer you my congratulations. I'll go into the city to find an inn to stay at first, and when the rain stops, I'll come back to see you and the sister-in-law. Let us consider today a timely meeting." Having said this, he cupped his fist and turned his horse to leave.

    Li Fengjie stopped him and said, "Brother Jiang, you misunderstand. We are betrothed, but we need to wait until after the festival to marry. The eighth is an auspicious day and it's less than four days from now. No matter what, you must drink at my wedding banquet before you leave. I've presently built two straw cottages at Hu Erzheng's place and invited over someone to help me out who can cook. I've also prepared some good wine for you. Let's take advantage of this rainy day. It's drizzling and dusk is at our door, and not to mention that you are also a xia. Come, let's go to my place and drink and talk, and in the evening, you'll stay at my place. What do you think?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I came here only because I wanted to talk with you for half a day. I must go tomorrow since I still have urgent matters to take care of!" Li Fengjie said, "Regardless of when you leave, right now you must come to my place and talk."

    Seeing that Li Fengjie's clothes had soaked through by now, Jiang Xiaohe laughed and rode along with Li Fengjie. The two horses entered the home of Hu Erzheng in the small village, hazy with the misty rain, and they dismounted together. Li Fengjie pushed open the wooden door and led his horse inside first, with Jiang Xiaohe following after him. The man Li Fengjie employed hitched both horses to a small elm tree in the yard, and brought the travel bundle from the black horse inside. Jiang Xiaohe followed Li Fengjie into the newly built thatched cottages. He took off his oilcloth jacket and set it on the couch.

    Inside there were two worn tables and a wooden stool. Li Fengjie moved one of the tables near the couch, and the two of them both sat on the couch. The hired man brought wine to them. There weren't wine cups, only one large rice bowl filled to the brim with wine that the two took turns drinking from. All they had for drinking snacks were some cucumbers wedged in between with coarse salt. Li Fengjie said, "I didn't know for sure you'd come today, so I didn't prepare any dishes at all. In a bit, I'll have someone go into town and get some wine and food, and we'll eat in the evening." Jiang Xiaohe said, "This is already very good. Over ten years I've been roaming about out there, and I've drank a few cups of wine from time to time, but none were as happy as this today!" Li Fengjie asked, "Where is your home?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Zhenba in Southern Shaanxi."

    Upon hearing this, Li Fengjie couldn't help growing displeased, but he kept putting on an esteemed face, laughing and saying, "So you and Bao Kunlun are from the same place!" Jiang Xiaohe pounded his fist on the table, nearly collapsing it and splashing much of the wine in the bowl with its shaking. He said resentfully, "Do not bring him up!" Li Fengjie couldn't help being taken aback. Jiang Xiaohe took a big mouthful of wine and sighed at length, saying, "Brother Li, you don't know me. I studied the martial arts in Jiangnan for ten years, and I've only been off the mountain now not even two months. I have fought those such as Second Pang, Liu Kuang, Lu Boxiong, and Liu Qingkong, and made a bit of a name for myself in Henan, but most people do not recognize me. However, if you go to Zhenba, Ziyang or Langzhong in Northern Sichuan and ask around there, I am well-known from ten years ago. At the time, I was only fourteen when I stabbed and wounded the Long brothers with a sharp saber!" Li Fengjie took the opportunity to ask, "What's this? Is there no friendship between you and the Kunlun School?"

    Jiang Xiaohe sighed and drank. The wine entered his worries, bringing out his old, ten-some year hatred, and he told Li Fengjie everything. Afterwards, he said, "Why can't I stay here longer? It's that I yearn to go immediately to Zhenba to take revenge. I originally should have went straight to Southern Shaanxi from Xinyang, but I didn't take that route. I purposefully went a more circuitous path. I wanted to make a name for myself first, and let Bao Zhenfei know that I would be looking for him, to give him time to gather his disciples and think of a way to resist me. Then I would go and battle the disciples of the Kunlun School and their disciples. Otherwise, it would look like I was bullying the single, old man that is Bao Zhenfei!"

    When Li Fengjie understood Jiang Xiaohe's background, he came to even more wonder and admiration. He undid a button and revealed his chest. He pointed to a scar on his right flank and said, "Look, Brother Jiang. This wound just healed. Last month, I fought alone against the Kunlun School in Xi'an and took out six or seven of their men. I did not meet with Bao Kunlun, but I encountered those such as Ge Zhiqiang and Lu Zhizhong. Their martial arts were exceptionally pedestrian. The so-called Kunlun saber skill was also extraordinarily clumsy, though there was one person we ought be mindful of, and he was the Dragon of Shu's grandson, Ji Guangjie. In Weinan county, he and a woman of the Kunlun School fought me, two against one, but I suffered a loss. This wound was caused by a chop from Ji Guangjie's sword!"

    Jiang Xiaohe was amazed at hearing this. He didn't inquire further about Ji Guangjie, but asked instead, "A woman of the Kunlun School? What was this woman's surname?" Li Fengjie shook his head and said, "I don't know. I think she must be the daughter of a disciple of the Kunlun School. Her bladework proficiency was better than that of Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong and the others." Jiang Xiaohe leaned forward and said, "What did she look like? How old was she?" Li Fengjie said, "About twenty, give or take. She was very pretty. I feel it pointless to fight with a woman, so I was constantly avoiding facing her and didn't give her a good look." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Without a doubt, that must have been Aluan!" As a result, he couldn't help feeling a pang of sadness. He sighed and took a few sips of wine.

    At this time, the rain continued to fall outside, and furthermore, the pattering of the rain grew louder than before. Li Fengjie called on his servant to brave the rain to go to the town in the east and procure some meat and vegetables. He poured wine into the bowl once more and the two talked and drank. Jiang Xiaohe said despondently, "Even if it keeps raining this hard tomorrow, I still must go!" Li Fengjie said, "Brother Jiang, you're in a hurry to go and avenge the great wrong of your father's murder, and even I know I cannot keep you here. But I wish to find Ji Guangjie again and repay the disgrace of his sword. I plan on going with you tomorrow." Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "You are about to have a wedding. How can you leave with me? Not to mention I myself am proud in nature, and I am resolute against anyone else helping me. Even if you are thinking to call on Ji Guangjie, you should wait until I finish settling my matters. Otherwise, when the time comes, the two of us will certainly help one another, and when you triumph over Ji Guangjie, it will be hard to avoid being laughed at by those of Jianghu." Li Fengjie thought deeply for a moment and then nodded, saying, "Wait until the rain stops tomorrow before you leave, Brother Jiang. If it continues to rain, it would be best if you remained another day so we could talk further." Jiang Xiaohe nodded his head slightly.

    The rain was still falling noisily outside, and the time was not yet past three or four hours after noon. The two men spoke more of Jianghu matters and internal martial arts, and unconsciously finished another bowl of wine. Li Fengjie wanted to refill the wine, but Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Let's drink no more! We'll leave it for dinnertime and drink again then!" Li Fengjie went back outside. He went to Hu Erzheng's house, but saw only the old woman inside, curled up on top of the kang, sleeping. Hu Erzheng wasn't at home. Li Fengjie saw his shoulder pole leaned up on the corner of the wall and thought, What is Hu Erzheng up to, in this rainy weather? He went back to his house and saw Jiang Xiaohe reclining on the couch flipping through a book of his manuscript poetry.

    Li Fengjie asked, "Brother Jiang, it is likely you can compose verse as well?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, saying, "No, I can't! I used to not be able to read at all, but then after I obtained a master, he was a man fond of literature. He would from time to time teach me to study and recognize characters, and it wasn't until then that I gradually became able to read books. Compared to Brother Li's literary skill, of course I come up short, but with the few characters I recognize, it's enough to use while traversing Jianghu." When he said this, he couldn't help but be reminded of an old incident that had happened that one year in Langzhong, and he sighed reluctantly, "Those who cannot read are at a true disadvantage. During the time I was in Langzhong, it was because of two letters that caused the Xia of Langzhong to suspect me a spy for the Kunlun School." From here, he spoke further of the Xia of Langzhong.

    Li Fengjie had long heard the Xia of Langzhong's great renown. He'd heard tell that the Xia of Langzhong suffered a grave defeat at the hand of Bao Zhenfei, so he figured that the martial arts of Bao Zhenfei were more powerful than those of his disciples by a hundredfold, and though he was now old, he could not be taken lightly. Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts were very strong, and he was young and robust, but whether or not he could actually overcome Bao Zhenfei was an open question.

    The two men reclined on the couch at opposite corners, and the more they talked the happier they became, when the door opened suddenly, blowing in a gust of wet, misty rain. Li Fengjie sat up and looked. It was his hired man returning. The man he employed was holding a tattered umbrella in his hand, but he was still as wet as a moorhen. He placed the pork, vegetables and a single live carp he'd purchased in town on the table. He seemed not to be able to catch his breath, and not only was there a layer of rainwater on his face, but also an expression of panic. It was a while before he could say, "Hu Erzheng is in deep trouble! He's killed a man in town!" Li Fengjie couldn't help his astonishment, hastily asking, "For what reason?"

    Jiang Xiaohe sat up as well! He watched as the hired man panted more and said, "It's raining today. Hu Erzheng couldn't go up the mountain, so he went into town to collect debts owed. After he was done, he ran into Baldy You the Dogskin from the Hao Farmstead, who hauled him to Xu's shop to gamble. Hu Erzheng lost all his money and panicked. He held down Baldy You and told him to get his losses back. Because of this, they got into a fight, and Hu Erzheng punched Baldy You, but how could one like Baldy You take hits from him? All of a sudden, he was beaten to death. Many of the gamblers were villagers at the Hao Farmstead, so then they all attacked Hu Erzheng together, where Hu Erzheng injured seven or eight of them. Later, all of the men from the Hao Farmstead arrived, even Second Sir Hao came with his tiger's head hooks. Everyone in a flurry of action caught Hu Erzheng, tied him up, and carried him back to the Hao Farmstead. Everyone's saying what a real dope Hu Erzheng is, he's in big trouble now, he's sure to be beaten half to death by the Hao Farmstead."

    Upon hearing this, Li Fengjie couldn't help the fury welling in his chest. He said, "I must go have a look. I can't have the men of the Hao Farmstead bullying Hu Erzheng." As he said this, he put on his straw hat and took up the umbrella. Jiang Xiaohe came off the couch as well and tied on his straw sandals, asking, "What is the Hao Farmstead about? Are they the local thugs?" Li Fengjie shook his head and said, "I wouldn't count them as thugs yet, but no one within ten miles of Dengfeng county dares provoke them. The Hao family has two brothers. Eldest Hao is a general elsewhere. His official position is not low. Second Hao stayed at home and became a rich man. He's the wealthiest in the few counties near Mount Song. He knows martial arts and is a devout Buddhist. I've seen him at Baisong Temple before." Jiang Xiaohe said, "You're just going to meet with him, and you'll probably not get into a fight, so it isn't necessary for me to come with you." Li Fengjie said, "Brother Jiang, you needn't come with me. I'll be gone a short while and then I'll be back." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Put my oilcloth jacket on!" Li Fengjie waved his hand and said, "There's no need." He then went outside, opened the umbrella and left.

    Jiang Xiaohe leaned back down on the couch and rested a moment. He felt extremely bored, and the wine he'd just had was going straight to his head, making it very hot, so he wanted to go outside to cool off. He draped his oilcloth jacket over himself and left. Outside of the wooden door, he saw the village amid the misty rain. He couldn't see a single person nor even a dog. This view couldn't help but make recall his childhood. He was about ten when once it rained and he stayed inside and listened to his mother tell jokes. In the midst of a joke, his father Jiang Zhisheng came back from martial training wearing a large straw hat. He took the large straw hat for himself and wore it on his head, braving the rain to play outside. The scene of a happy family remained a vivid memory. But then, Bao Zhenfei murdered his father, causing him to be separated from his mother and brother, and then he suffered abuse in the Bao household. All these things were as if they'd happened yesterday.

    The rage in his chest blazed up. The rain was falling on his head, but he was still emanating heat. Soon after, Li Fengjie's servant brought him a large straw hat and pointed east, to a big mulberry tree swaying in the misty rain. He said, "Look, Sir Jiang. The makeshift hut under the mulberry tree is Miss Chen's home. Her old dad used to be a huntsman, but on account of chasing a fox on the mountain, he fell off the mountain to his death. I feel very bad for the mother and daughter two. It'll be all good after a couple days when Miss Chen marries Sir Li."

    Jiang Xiaohe suddenly remembered, Li Fengjie's wedding day is in sight, and I'll be leaving tomorrow. He's received me so diligently, and I've got no gift to give him. It's inevitable I will come off as if I don't know how to make friends. I'll take this opportunity while he's not at home, and since I'm getting restless inside, wouldn't it be better to brave the rain and go into the city to get some gifts for him? Seeing that it was still early, Jiang Xiaohe hurried inside the gate to prepare his horse. When the hired man saw him, he asked, "Sir Jiang, what are you off to?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm going into the city to buy some things. I'll be back in a bit."

    He went inside to get his silvers, and then he went out, mounted his horse, and galloped out of the village. He found the main road, as the horse's hooves tromped through the loose, wet mud on the ground, and raced east, straight to Dengfeng city. Jiang Xiaohe had come by here four times back and forth, but never entered the city. Now, when he did arrive at the city, he saw wide streets and an overflow of shops, and though it was raining, there were still more than a few pedestrians with umbrellas on the streets.

    Jiang Xiaohe dismounted his horse and looked to the shops on either side, coming now to some difficulty. He thought, What gifts should I get Li Fengjie? It would be too feminine to get makeup and silk, and I don't know his wife-to-be at all. It'd be better to buy some things that Li Fengjie can use, but all he uses are books and a sword. If I were to buy books on this rainy day, they're sure to get wet, and he already has a sword, not to mention that there are surely no good blacksmiths who make good swords in this small city. He stood in the rain at the side of the road and pondered for a while, when he suddenly thought it best to buy a few chickens for him. After all, when the day came for him to take his wife, he would certainly need to slaughter some chickens and entertain guests. Even if he didn't entertain any guests, it would be good to have some chickens, because he would eventually start a household and live his life, and a family ought to raise a few chickens. He asked someone at roadside for shops where they sell chickens, and the person told him he still had to turn down two streets. That area was called the Poultry Market.

    Jiang Xiaohe led his horse and looked for it relying on the directions, eventually finding it. There were four or five poultry shops here. The ducks were quacking wildly and geese curled up in cages as if sleeping. Jiang Xiaohe thought, It might be nice to buy a goose. They're big and meaty, quite a bit like a heroic xia. Thus, from one of the shops, he purchased a goose, two large hens, and a rooster. The three chickens' wings and legs were bound with rope, and he hung them next to the saddle. Only there was nothing to be done about the large, white goose. Its short legs were hard to tie, and its wings were big. One flap sent all the goose, chicken and duck feathers at the shop into the air, like snowflakes flying up. Jiang Xiaohe had no choice but to hold the goose in his arms. When he got onto his horse, he had to free one of his hands to carry the reins. Having the chickens with him and holding on to the goose, he turned his horse and left.

    After turning up two streets, he planned on going through the west gate, except the goose kept raising its head and honking, while the chickens hanging below the saddle kept struggling from rubbing up against Jiang Xiaohe's leg and the iron stirrups. At the same time, the horse found this quite uncomfortable. It would constantly jump and twist backward, and not pay heed to its master's prompts.

    With the goose clutched in one hand, Jiang Xiaohe pulled out a whip with the other and flogged the horse hard, shouting to the people on the street, "Pardon me! Out of the way!" He had originally thought to gallop out of the west gate in one breath, loose the horse and return to the Zither Stream in an instant. However, he didn't know that this horse was as good as crazy. It leapt one way and dashed another, and the umbrellas of the people on the street confused its vision. Someone wearing a straw raincoat came abruptly out of a small alley, looking just like a large hedgehog. The horse couldn't help being startled, and leapt up suddenly, sending Jiang Xiaohe tumbling off the horse. The horse fled to the west, taking the three chickens with it, and the goose spread its big wings and flapped itself into flight. Luckily, because Jiang Xiaohe's body was agile, he didn't fall onto the ground.

    At this point, someone was laughing loudly. Jiang Xiaohe twisted his head to look and saw that it was the man wearing the straw raincoat. Anger immediately redoubled in his chest as he made fists and leapt forward, yelling, "Are you laughing at me? Wasn't it your ratty raincoat that scared my horse into running away?" He swung his fist at the man. The man unexpectedly dodged to the side with a whoosh, his body extremely nimble. He pushed away Jiang Xiaohe's right arm and made to tap Jiang Xiaohe in the ribs with his right forefinger. Jiang Xiaohe was taken aback and hurriedly took a step back, saying, "Oh ho! You want to display your dianxue skill with me?" He quickly leapt forward once more. The man had taken off his raincoat and was now carrying out fist skills, constantly wanting to win by using dianxue. However, Jiang Xiaohe was himself proficient in this, so how could he possibly allow him to succeed? They went back and forth for four or five exchanges before there was a dunn as the man fell down into the mud.

    Jiang Xiaohe laughed loudly and gave him a kick, saying, "Get up!" He gave this man's face a closer look and couldn't help feeling a little stunned, because he felt it very familiar, as if he'd seen him before somewhere. He then asked, "Hey! I think I may know you. What is your surname?" The man was very thin and very short, and he was about twenty or so. When he got up, his clothes were covered in mud. He picked up his straw raincoat and said angrily to Jiang Xiaohe, "You know me? Well, I know you! You're the bastard the Xia of Langzhong wouldn't accept for a disciple, and now you've come here calling yourself a hero?" When he was done yelling, he turned around holding the raincoat and left.

    Thought Jiang Xiaohe was yelled at by him, he wasn't mad. He kept thinking, Who was that? By now, a few poor children had stopped and brought back his fled horse, and had captured the flying goose. Jiang Xiaohe thanked them and gave each of them a few hundred coins. Afterward, he had one of the children buy a hempen rope from a nearby sundry shop, and viciously tied the goose atop the horse's rump. He mounted his horse, waved his whip and headed toward the west gate.

    While on the road, he tore through his mind exhaustively, but still could not recall who it was he'd just struck down or where he'd seen him before, and this caused him quite some consternation. The rain had become gentler, and he could now see faintly through the mist the towering Mount Song ahead of him. Jiang Xiaohe thought, Could it be the man I just beat is one of monk Taiwu's at Baisong Temple? But then how could he know that ten years ago the Xia of Langzhong refused me as his disciple? Not being able to think of it made him very irritable. When he arrived back at Zither Stream, he saw that Li Fengjie had already returned and rescued Hu Erzheng.

    Hu Erzheng had fought this day with several villagers from the Hao Farmstead while in town, though he was tied up by those from the farmstead and given a beating. If it wasn't Li Fengjie that went to ask for mercy, Second Sir Hao would not have let him go. His upper torso was bared, and his iron shoulders and spine were covered with purple lash welts. His scalp was also split and bleeding. He sat under the elm tree in the yard with his big lips pursed and his belly sticking out, as angry as ten toads, and when Jiang Xiaohe led his horse in, he paid him no mind. Li Fengjie walked over and said, "Brother Jiang, what did you do in the city?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Since I'm leaving tomorrow, I went into the city to get you a goose and three chickens, so I could offer you a gift of congratulations." As he said this, he untied the chickens and the goose from the horse. The three chickens had a scattering of feathers remaining and drooping heads, and when he dropped them onto the ground, they laid there, unable to get up, already half dead. Li Fengjie couldn't help but burst into laughter. Jiang Xiaohe said, "You'd best kill them quickly and leave them for when you have guests over! If you want to raise them, I'm afraid they won't live. It was quite the effort getting these three chickens and this goose. I even got into a fight with someone!"

    Li Fengjie spoke with alarm, "What's this? You got into another fight? You shouldn't offend people here on Mount Song. I'm not talking about the monk Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva. The monks who know martial arts at Shaolin Temple number more than five hundred. However, the rules in their temple are very strict, and they are never allowed to descend the mountain and get into fisticuffs." Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "No, no, the man I fought was from outside of the province. I recognized him, and he knew me." Having said this, he hitched his horse and took the big straw hat and the oilcloth jacket inside. Li Fengjie followed him in and asked, "So why did you get into another fight, brother?" Jiang Xiaohe told him what had happened and then said, "He was extremely thin, and his face extremely familiar. It seems as if I'd met him ten years ago when I was traversing Jianghu, but I can't think of who he is. His fistwork was fairly good, and other than me, no one today could take him on. I also saw that he knew dianxue skill."

    Li Fengjie said with bewilderment, "Dianxue skill...?" He flipped his eyes around in consideration for a while and said, "According to what I know, there are only three in this world who can perform dianxue. One is my humble master the Dragon of Shu, and one is Ji Guangjie's grandfather the Xia of Longmen, but neither of these two old xia would pass it on lightly. I only learned the general idea behind it, but I don't know how to perform it. Ji Guangjie and I have fought against one another two or three times, and I've yet to see him use dianxue skill. The other one is Gao Qinggui of Kaifeng, and his was transmitted within the family. He knows but four or fives moves. Other than them, there is likely no one else." Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but laugh to himself, since his own master and the mute his brother-disciple were both proficient in this skill, though Li Fengjie did not yet know this, so Jiang Xiaohe simply shook his head a little. Li Fengjie said some other things to him, but he didn't really listen, as he searched his mind for the familiar-looking thin man.

    In a short while, the servant employed by Li Fengjie entered and said, "How do you want the fish prepared?" Li Fengjie said, "I haven't bought any bean paste or oil, so we'd better just pan fry it. Do we have vinegar?" The servant said, "That we do have, and I've picked up some ginger too." Li Fengjie nodded and said, "Good." He looked out the door and saw that Second Hu the Dope was still sitting in the yard under the tree. Li Fengjie called out, "Erzheng!" Hu Erzheng replied with a sound, but didn't stand up. Li Fengjie called out to him, saying, "Erzheng, come here. Let me introduce you to a friend." Hu Erzheng then slowly got up and walked barefoot to the door.

    Li Fengjie indicated Jiang Xiaohe who was inside and made introductions, saying, "This is my friend Jiang Xiaohe. His martial arts are more powerful than mine." Hu Erzheng didn't come inside. He peered into the room and, seeing Jiang Xiaohe's tall and sturdy frame, as well as his heroic features, he dared not underestimate him. He cupped his fist, and then turned around and went back to letting the rain fall on him under the elm tree. Jiang Xiaohe saw the lash welts twisting about his dark iron-colored back, and in several places where his flesh had cracked open, blood leaked out. Jiang Xiaohe fumed, "That Hao Household must be cruel bullies!" Li Fengjie said, "But he gave the Hao villagers not a light beating. Hu Erzheng often gets into fights with other people." Jiang Xiaohe kept silent.

    Though the sound of the rain grew quieter outside, it had not yet stopped, and the day turned gradually darker. Hu Erzheng was in the yard feeding the two horses, as the servant brought the fried fish, heated wine, stewed soup and cooked rice into the room. The room was lit with two rapeseed oil lamps while Li Fengjie and Jiang Xiaohe commenced their talking and drinking once again. They dragged Hu Erzheng inside as well and treated him to some wine.

    Jiang Xiaohe was to set off the next day, so Li Fengjie raised the large bowl even more, inviting him to drink. He said, "Brother Jiang, don't look just at my background as a scholar. I've actually always admired your sort of generous person. As I see it, no matter how strong one's martial arts are, if their temperament isn't generous, you can't count them to be true xia. When we look at the Grand Scribe's Biography on Roaming Xia and men like the Curly-whiskered Guest that people of the Tang Dynasty spoke of, none are not passionate and generous, brave and straightforward. Thus I hate the people of the Kunlun School most. Because they lack an iota of the courageous xia spirit. Once at the western gate of Chang'an, and once by the Ba Bridge, both times they fought against me, they always came at me, twenty or thirty men strong, not to mention they threw a woman into the mix. I really think them disgraceful, and I regret having wasted my time provoking them!"

    Upon hearing this, trouble welled up again in Jiang Xiaohe's heart. He took a sip of wine, and sighed to himself. He asked again for more details about the appearance of the woman who had helped the Kunlun School against Li Fengjie. However, Li Fengjie still said that he did not pay very close attention to her and would be hard-pressed to saw anything about what she looked like, though he could say her features weren't crude and that's it.

    Jiang Xiaohe heard this and even more sighs spilled from his heart. He thought to himself, The likelihood is that it's Aluan. I just wonder if she's gotten married or not. Does she hate me? If she's married, then I won't go as far as to feel great sorrow, and I'll slowly disabuse myself of the notion. If she's not yet engaged, then it would really be hard for me to manage. If I want to avenge my father, then I cannot marry her. If I want to marry her, then not only can't I avenge my father, but I have to confess my crimes to the Kunlun School and beg them for forgiveness, plead with them, beseech them. Can I, Jiang Xiaohe, do such a thing? He thought till here and sighed a long sigh. He took a few large gulps of wine in succession and then set down his chopsticks and pushed away the bowl of wine, saying to Li Fengjie, "I'm drunk. Even if it rains tomorrow, I'll still have to set off and hasten away to Chang'an, Ziyang and Zhenba, to battle the Kunlun School. When I take my vengeance, I may just die there!"

    Li Fengjie asked in surprise, "Brother Jiang, who do you say such words? If you really think the Kunlun School and Ji Guangjie are tough to fight, then I can offer you the strength of one arm. This business with my marriage is not important." Jiang Xiaohe laughed bitterly, saying, "Eight of the Kunlun School or sixteen of Ji Guangjie, they are all nothing to me. What bothers me does not concern revenge or combat. I have something else on my mind, something from ten years ago that I have never forgotten. I traveled Jianghu and met with hardship and trained deep in the mountains, not simply to avenge my father. There is another matter for which I've done this, and it will be harder to accomplish than revenge!"

    Li Fengjie said, "You're not being forthright. What is it you're not telling me and why? We may not have known each other long, but we already know of loyalty. It's only because you're leaving tomorrow. Otherwise, I would surely ask you remain and stay a few more days. If you are not opposed, I'd even be willing to swear a friendship of life and death!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "All right, as you've said these words, I consider the two of us sworn brothers. But my troubles can really not be explained in a few words and phrases. Also, if I did tell you, you wouldn't be able to think up any good ideas concerning it, and it would make me feel even worse. It's best if we wait until I've taken care of it before I tell you about it." When he finished speaking, he rested his head and fell asleep.

    Li Fengjie sat and watched him for a while with a blank expression on his face, though in his mind he already had some idea. Jiang Xiaohe questioned him three times over about the appearance of that woman from the Kunlun School. It was likely she had been his sweetheart from ten years ago, but ten years ago, the both of them were so young! Could it be a boy and a girl of thirteen or fourteen had some kind of love affair? Thinking about this, he couldn't quite believe it. The soft pattering of rain came from outside, and the oil from the two lamps had almost burned up. The plates and bowls were scattered across the table, along with piles of lots of fish bones. Li Fengjie moved the table aside, preparing to ask the servant to clean it up the next morning. He poured the oil from the two lamps into the bowl of one of them and blew out the other. He pressed down the wick on the remaining lamp, and then closed up the door. He was about to lie down on the couch to sleep when suddenly Jiang Xiaohe turned over and opened his eyes, whispering, "Put out that light!"

    Li Fengjie jumped with a start, not thinking that Jiang Xiaohe still hadn't fallen asleep, so he laughed, "Isn't it better to leave a little bit of lamp light? What are you afraid of? Do you think someone will come and steal our things?" Jiang Xiaohe said, again whispering, "Blow out the light, quickly! I hear something outside!" Li Fengjie was even more stunned. He turned around and blew out the light, taking his sword from the wall as he did so and unsheathed it gently. He walked to the door and peered outside through a crack in the door. He saw that the sky wasn't black, but only a muddled gray, and he couldn't tell if it had stopped raining or not. However, when the wind shook the elm tree in the yard, water droplets scattered across the ground with a patter.

    Li Fengjie was about to open the door and go outside for a look when Jiang Xiaohe, who had himself already gotten off the couch, stopped him from behind and whispered, "Don't go outside. Don't worry about it. It's probably the man I fought with during the day come to find me to discuss friendship." Li Fengjie smiled and said, "I don't think there's any sound at all. You've probably misheard!" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "I heard clearly someone pushing in our wooden gate. It's definitely not a mishearing. For ten years I studied martial arts on Mount Jiuhua. If you dropped an embroidering needle ten paces away, I would be able to hear its sound." Li Fengjie laughed, for he didn't yet believe him, thinking that even if it was the wooden gate sounding, it was perhaps bumped by a village dog, surely not any sort of thief.

    Jiang Xiaohe didn't appear the slightest bit nervous, just very amused. He motioned for the sword in Li Fengjie's hand and said, "Go to sleep. I'm sure it's nothing. I might capture a plaything later for you to look at." Li Fengjie laughed, "All right. I'll be watching." In his mind, he was thinking that he wanted to see whether Jiang Xiaohe's guess was real or false, and to go one step further and observe his martial arts. Jiang Xiaohe stood next to the crack in the door and peered outwards. He then returned to the couch to sleep with the sword placed beside him. Li Fengjie remained lying on the side facing out. Neither of the two of them spoke.

    After half an hour passed, Jiang Xiaohe appeared to have fallen asleep again as the sound of footsteps came from the yard. Li Fengjie was about to turn and sit up when Jiang Xiaohe pressed him back down, saying, "That's the sound of Hu Erzheng." Li Fengjie pricked his ears up to listen, and sure enough heard the footsteps coming from outside to be very heavy. After a moment, someone in the yard yawned loudly. It really was Hu Erzheng. He was probably unable to sleep inside due to the fact that he was upset and the lash wounds on his body hurt, so he went outside to refresh himself. Li Fengjie couldn't help but feel admiration, thinking Jiang Xiaohe to be much more skillful and capable than himself. Hu Erzheng took big steps in the yard, grunting as he panted and yawning continuously. Li Fengjie laughed again and turned to Jiang Xiaohe to say, "Hu Erzheng's up. We should have him make a patrol for us." Jiang Xiaohe did not reply.

    After some more time, Li Fengjie was drifting off into sleep when suddenly Hu Erzheng was heard in the yard raising an alarm, "Thief!" Just like a leopard cat, Jiang Xiaohe immediately hopped over Li Fengjie's body with sword in hand. When he went outside, Li Fengjie hurried for a sword. From outside he heard the clanging of steel on steel ringing out a few times, and then he heard Jiang Xiaohe saying, "Don't run away, old friend!" By the time Li Fengjie sprung outside holding Jiang Xiaohe's sword, he saw that Jiang Xiaohe had already charged out of the wooden gate after the other person. A large man was lying stiff on the ground; it was Hu Erzheng, felled by dianxue. Li Fengjie proceeded first to bring Hu Erzheng to safety. Then, he gave chase outside holding the sword, but he didn't find Jiang Xiaohe there. The rain continued to fall as Li Fengjie ran out of the village. It was there by the side of the main road he saw Jiang Xiaohe fighting with someone. That man was using an iron staff, his two hands dancing. Other than swinging it across and blocking, he would often send dianxue moves at Jiang Xiaohe's chest. Jiang Xiaohe's sword was just like lightning in the sky on such a rainy night, white flashes fluttering about, following his nimble body, now above and now below, now to the left and now to the right, forcing the man constantly backward.

    Li Fengjie saw them fight for no more than a dozen exchanges before the man could withstand it no longer, pulling his iron staff up and taking to his heels. Jiang Xiaohe flew after him as if a hawk, grabbing hold of him from behind and first taking his iron staff from him and tossing it aside. The man turned around hastily and came at Jiang Xiaohe with dianxue, but Jiang Xiaohe knocked his hand away. Li Fengjie rushed forward with his sword. Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Don't hurt him!" Then he turned to the man and smirked, saying, "Old friend, I warn you not to try your dianxue against me. These abilities are only for picking on those of Jianghu, though I don't use them at all!"

    When the man realized he could not defeat Jiang Xiaohe, he stopped resisting, saying between deep breaths, "I'll let you punish me! However, I must tell you, I didn't come tonight to hurt you. I wanted to have a martial arts contest with you. Because ten years ago, when we met in Nanjiang county, our martial arts were not far from each other. Now that we've both completed some martial arts training, I wanted to see how mine compared to yours."

    It wasn't until Jiang Xiaohe heard this that he suddenly remembered. Ten years ago when he went with the Xia of Langzhong to Shaanxi to battle the Kunlun School, they passed through Nanjiang county. They'd spent the night at the Yuan Farmstead, and Yuan Yong the Purple-faced Lion had brought his son Jingyuan out to meet him. Jiang Xiaohe asked in astonishment, "Aren't you the Yuan chieftain's son Yuan Jingyuan? How is it you've come to here?" Yuan Jingyuan sighed and said, "Ever since the Xia of Langzhong was defeated by Bao Kunlun, he returned to Langzhong and never again traversed Jianghu. My father and my cousin Yuan Zishao had offended many people throughout their lives, and later without the Xia of Langzhong's help, their enemies in Jianghu came to their door looking for them. My father and cousin were both killed by others one after the other, and all our property was taken away. Fortunately, there was an Iron Staff Monk who, because my father had previously given him a lot of money when he was in dire straits, remembered fondly the old friendship and saved me. He took revenge for me and brought me to his temple to train in the martial arts. He especially passed his dianxue skill to me, so I suppose I was his disciple. He changed my name to Jingxuan, and would later call me the Haired Adherent."

    Jiang Xiaohe said, "All right, I'll call you Yuan Jingxuan from now on, but if you recognized me, why didn't you make things clear when we met in the city, instead displaying your dianxue skill against me?" Jingxuan said, "I really had no ill intent. It's just I'd heard the people of Jianghu say in the past several years you'd taken a great master to learn martial arts. Now that Ji Guangjie has come to Henan to capture you, when I ran into you today I wanted to feel out your martial arts. Actually, I came here to worship at Shaolin Temple and to meet the monk Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva."

    When Jiang Xiaohe heard that Ji Guangjie was now in Henan looking to capture him, fury filled his chest. He asked, "Who did you hear say that Ji Guangjie wanted to capture me?" Jingxuan said, "So you don't know yet? Ji Guangjie has already reached Luoyang. He's traveling with two others, one called Jiang Zhiyao the One-eyed Vanguard, and another called Liu Zhiyuan the Star God Blade, both of them powerful disciples of the Kunlun School. Ji Guangjie is posting notices along the side of the road that he wants to capture Jiang Xiaohe!" Nearby, Li Fengjie laughed, "Still at his old tricks. In Xi'an he'd posted papers about capturing me." Jingxuan said, "It's only to provoke you into popping your head up."

    Jiang Xiaohe spoke angrily, "He need not post notices everywhere. I'll set off now to find him. Brother Jingxuan, we will meet again another day. I have committed many offenses against you today, but you are a ten-year acquaintance of mine, so I think you mustn't blame me!" After he finished, he clasped his fist and turned around, running back to the village of Zither Stream. Li Fengjie invited Jingxuan back to his place to talk, but Jingxuan said, "I mustn't. I'll come see you after a few days. But you must tell Jiang Xiaohe, Ji Guangjie's martial arts are not to be taken lightly." After he said this, Jingxuan picked up his iron staff, turned around and left.

    Li Fengjie hurried back into the village and saw that Jiang Xiaohe was already leading his horse out of the wooden gate. Li Fengjie stopped him and said, "Brother Jiang, need you so impatient? If you want to leave, you ought to wait until tomorrow." Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "I cannot put up with this. I haven't gone to look for the Kunlun School, but the Kunlun School has already sent Ji Guangjie to find me, and not just that, but to capture me. If I don't hurry to meet him in battle, it will show me, Jiang Xiaohe, to be as cowardly as a rat, wasting the martial arts I learned for ten years on Mount Jiuhua!" Li Fengjie knew he couldn't stand in his way, so he said, "Brother Jiang, you're to leave and I cannot stop you, but I do know the martial arts of Ji Guangjie. The swordwork transmitted to him through the Longmen School are extraordinary. When you meet him, you must not underestimate him, and I say this not to dampen your drive."

    Jiang Xiaohe scoffed, "I wish his martial arts to be extraordinary. And when I face him, I'll use only twenty or thirty percent of my martial arts in dealing with him. I don't mean to use my true martial skill. I'm going now to defeat him, and then I'll go and find the Kunlun School to take my vengeance. I'll be able to return in a month or so." Li Fengjie nodded and said, "All right, good! I'll be here waiting for you." The two then exchanged swords. Jiang Xiaohe mounted his horse, clasped his fist at Li Fengjie and headed out of the village.

    A dense mist covered the earth, so much so that even the way was not clear. Jiang Xiaohe was cloaked in his oilcloth jacket and wearing his large straw hat which clattered with the sound of falling rain. The rainwater at the side of the road babbled as it flowed into the mountain streams and creeks. The black horse he sat atop splashed through the water as he headed north.

    -

    CHAPTER TEN

    He sees flood victims on the road, and valiant deeds vanish his enmity.
    He comes to the inn in the night, and expertly plays a trick on a hero.


    He traveled through the night, and when the sky lit up the next day, the rain had not yet stopped. Jiang Xiaohe found himself a shop where he had some food and tea, though he didn't rest long before spurring his horse on north. He turned through the northern foothills of Mount Song, and turned his way west. By evening he came to a small town thirty miles east of Luoyang city. Because it was no longer early, Jiang Xiaohe found a hostelry in which to rest one night, and to guard against the possibility that Ji Guangjie knew that he was here and would implement some secret ploy, his sword never left his side.

    When the morning of the next day came, he left the hostelry. The rain had already stopped, but a thick fog still covered the earth, making it both humid and hot. On his horse, Jiang Xiaohe took off the short jacket, revealing his sturdy arms, and spurred his horse on to the east gate of Luoyang. He thought, Ji Guangjie isn't some sort of important high official. How could I know where he's staying while he's here? He reined his horse up and thought for a moment. Then he said to himself, "I'll look for a security office and ask around." Thus he turned his horse around and looked around at the shops on either side, suddenly spotting a security office with a sign on the door, reading, "Taiping Security Office, Famous near and far." On the white wall, there was another line of text, though the ink had been mostly washed away by the rain. He could still see it faintly, however, and it read, "Capture Jiang Xiaohe" in large characters.

    Jiang Xiaohe saw this and said, "Ah! So it turns out Ji Guangjie that scamp is here!" He jumped off his horse immediately, and leading it, barged through the gate of the security office. At this security office, the front hall was right behind the gate, which was closed. Jiang Xiaohe walked up and kicked it open. There had still been a few people sleeping inside and they were roused by Jiang Xiaohe. Two or three people got up from the kang, and asked angrily, "Hey! What the hell gives you the right to kick our door in?" Jiang Xiaohe replied by pulling out his sword and saying, "Does it not say to capture Jiang Xiaohe in the front? I am that good sir! Which one of you cretins wants to capture me? Come the hell out, and we'll have a little contest!"

    When those people heard him, their complexions all changed from fright. One who was about forty said, "Oh! So that's what this is about! Sir Jiang, put your sword away and hear me out. The writing on the wall was not put there by any of us here. It was a few days ago, someone came by the name of Ji Guangjie. He's the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, and he came with two men of the Kunlun School—" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Where are they staying right now? Tell me, quickly!" The man spoke as he put on some clothes, "Ji Guangjie stayed in Luoyang for two days, writing those words in many places in and out of the city. Everyone knew his martial ability, and if anyone displeased him a little bit, he would beat them up. That's why we had no choice but to let him write. We dared not stop him. They left a few days ago, and after they left those of us here washed the words off the wall with water, though we probably didn't wash it completely out."

    Jiang Xiaohe asked, "Where did Ji Guangjie and the others go?" The man said, "We heard they went south. We have nothing to do with him, though we all know his name. Sir Jiang! Think. We are all men who travel Jianghu and rely on our friends to eat. Who wants to offend their friends? To say nothing of the fact that we have never sown enmity or hatred. He wanted to write on our clean walls, and we were helpless, because if you stopped him, you had to be prepared to fight!" Jiang Xiaohe asked angrily, "Ji Guangjie and the others, they went south to where?" The man said, "We don't know. You could go to the Zhenying Security Office in the city and inquire there. When Ji Guangjie came, he stayed there. Ji Guangjie and Lu Zhenying are good friends."

    Jiang Xiaohe nodded and went outside, carrying his sword and leading his horse. He gave the faint words on the wall a few chops of his sword, sending pieces of plaster down. Then, he mounted his horse and entered the city. Before going far, he saw the Zhenying Security Office. He looked first to the wall, and spotted a large black smear on it, likely having originally read, "Capture Jiang Xiaohe." Jiang Xiaohe asked as soon as he went through the gate, "Which one is named Lu Zhenying?"

    There was a man in the yard with bared arms swinging a spear about. Upon seeing Jiang Xiaohe enter with sword in hand, he hurriedly ceased his spearwork. He gave Jiang Xiaohe a once-over and then said, "Lu Zhenying is on a security job. What business do you have with him, friend?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm looking for Ji Guangjie. I heard that Ji Guangjie stayed here." The man nodded, saying, "That's right, because he and our captain know each other. He came a few days ago and stayed here a couple days. Then, he left." Jiang Xiaohe glared at him and asked, "Where did he go?" The man said, "They say he went to Shangshui county to look for Liu Qingkong."

    When he heard this, Jiang Xiaohe was taken aback. He thought, That he's gone to find Liu Qingkong is not important, but if he finds out that Yang Xiantai and I are friends, and vents his anger with Yang Xiantai, then wouldn't it be all over? It would mean that I've caused my friend harm! Thus, he led his horse preparing to leave, but then thought, Since the captain of this security office is close with Ji Guangjie, I ought to let them know who I am! So he said spiritedly, "Let me tell you, I am Jiang Xiaohe. When I heard that Ji Guangjie was displaying those words of his, posting notices everywhere and writing on walls that he wants me captured, I came here especially to find him. He needn't capture me. I'm the one who will capture him! I'm leaving now for Shangshui county to look for him."

    As he said this, he noticed a stone stake nearby used for hitching horses, very thick and very sturdy. Jiang Xiaohe went over and struck it. All they heard was a loud crack, as he knocked half of it off with his palm, sending splinters of rock falling in a spray. The man who was practicing his spear and a few others who looked like security escorts all paled with fright as they stared at him. Jiang Xiaohe said, "When your captain comes back, tell him about this!" After he said this, he mounted his horse and departed through the gate.

    Jiang Xiaohe left Luoyang city and rode east with fury in his heart. He didn't mind that Ji Guangjie was helping the Kunlun School to fight him, but that he was writing "Capture Jiang Xiaohe" everywhere was not something a hero would do. Before riding forty miles east, he entered a narrow ravine with loess plateaus on either side. Into the earthen wall was carved the words, "Capture Jiang Xiaohe," every character of which was writ large. Not to mention that they were carved deep, as if it was done with a sword. Jiang Xiaohe grew even angrier. Sitting on his horse, he brandished his sword and sliced and chopped at those words crazily. Many clumps of dirt fell off until the words were unrecognizable, whereupon Jiang Xiaohe left.

    When he came out of the ravine, he kept both of his eyes looking around to catch sight of any place where Ji Guangjie might have left words. In the evening, he lodged at the limits of Xinzheng county and asked the innkeeper if someone by the name of Ji Guangjie had passed through here. He gave a general description of Ji Guangjie, that he was a young man carrying a sword and writing everywhere, with two helpers alongside him. Hearing this, the innkeeper said, "Right, that's it! That man came through here around noon the day before yesterday and even wrote a few words on our earthen wall! It read something like, 'Capture Jiang Xiaohe.' We thought he was an official, so we didn't dare get in his way. After he left, we took an iron shovel and scraped those words off." Jiang Xiaohe grew ever more furious at hearing this and wanted nothing more than to leave and chase after Ji Guangjie that very night, but he truly felt at this time that his body was a bit worn out.

    When the following day came, Jiang Xiaohe continued his pursuit, asking people along the way about the route to Shangshui county and the whereabouts of Ji Guangjie and the others. At about the ninth hour of the morning, he came upon a small town. He spotted a large locust tree at the side of the road, upon which where posted in disarray a dozen or so strips of paper, all of which read, "Capture Jiang Xiaohe," "Capture Jiang Xiaohe"! Jiang Xiaohe was so angry his face paled. He dismounted his horse, plucked all the paper strips down and tore then into shreds. There were several people nearby watching him carefully. Jiang Xiaohe then asked the people nearby, "Who put these strips up? It looks to me like they're all new." One of the people pointed to the east and said, "It was Fatty Ma from that tavern."

    Jiang Xiaohe was in a rage. Leading his horse, he walked to the front of the tavern and left his horse there. He burst inside with sword in hand and saw that there were no customers here. A portly barkeep was telling a young attendant to grind out some ink. Holding a blunt brush, he was jotting down the same characters "Capture Jiang Xiaohe" over and over again, just like a schoolchild doing his writing drills. Beside him were placed strips of paper in excess of twenty or thirty. Jiang Xiaohe approached, grabbed the inkstone and, slap, struck the barkeep across his pockmarked face with it. Fatty Ma yelled out in pain with both ink and blood on his face. Jiang Xiaohe ripped all the strips of paper to shreds and kicked the table over as well. The young attendant had long fled outside in fear.

    Fatty Ma was lying on the floor, unable to get up. He shouted indignantly, "Why did you hit me?" Jiang Xiaohe slapped him on the head with the flat of his sword and asked angrily, "I am Jiang Xiaohe! Why are you writing these strips about capturing me? You're not an official, and I haven't broken any laws!" Upon hearing that this was Jiang Xiaohe himself, Fatty Ma couldn't help his whole body from shaking from fear, hurriedly explaining himself, "It wasn't that I wanted to write it. It was the day before yesterday, a customer gave me five taels of silver and told me to write it, the more the better, and after a couple days, he would come back and give me more money. Actually, I can't even read these few characters!"

    Jiang Xiaohe yelled furiously, "You scoundrel! He gives you five taels of silver and you incite things for him, and dishonor me as you wish?" Suddenly raising his head, he noticed a dozen or so jars of wine stacked in a cabinet, and on each of five was written a single character, which put together read, "Capture Jiang Xiaohe." Jiang Xiaohe became even madder at seeing this. It took quite a bit of effort for Fatty Ma to pick himself up. He said, "Good sir Jiang, I didn't write those characters on the jars. It was the customer named Ji himself who did it. There were three of them in all, and he was carrying a sword in his hand. Even our Fourth Sir Zhang here flattered him. Don't say it's because he gave me money. Even if he hadn't, I didn't dare not to listen to him!" Jiang Xiaohe indignant, found a steelyard in the room, held it in his hand, and hammered at the wine jars. Crash, crash, splash, was all they heard! It turned out that while three of them were empty, two of them were still filled with wine, and as soon as the jars were shattered, the wine flowed out! Fatty Ma stamped his foot and cried loudly, "Oh no! Those two wine jars of mine are worth six or seven taels of silver!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Why don't you go find the one named Ji and have him compensate you for it? If you dare write any more and I find out about it, I'll come back for your life!" When he finished, he turned around and left the tavern angrily. He went out the gate and was about to mount his horse when he spotted six people approaching from the north, all armed with sabers and staffs. Jiang Xiaohe quickly stopped in his tracks and waited for them with his sword held in front of him. [Note: "Capture Jiang Xiaohe" is written with five characters in Chinese: 捉拿江小鶴.]

    The men who came were all wearing short pants, with a few of them dressed in small coats, and some with arms bared. One of them was the young attendant who'd fled earlier. The young attendant pointed at Jiang Xiaohe and said, "That's him!" Instantly, the men rushed towards him carrying their weapons, and surrounded Jiang Xiaohe. They said together, "Don't even think about leaving. So you are Jiang Xiaohe. There are people out to capture you!" At this point, Fatty Ma had stuck his head out from the tavern, not yet washed of ink and blood, and bellowed angrily, "Grab him! He hit me! And he destroyed two jars of my wine! Get him to repay me!"

    Jiang Xiaohe brandished his sword and asked furiously, "What do you think you're doing? Was it Ji Guangjie sent you here? If he's around, hurry and tell him to come meet me. This has nothing to do with you. If you don't know what's good for you and you get me angry, my sword knows no mercy. If I kill or wound any of you, don't come crying to me!"

    The men said together, "Enough with your boasting, you cretin! Throw down your sword while you still can, and come with us to see Fourth Sir. Our Fourth Sir and Sir Ji are kinsmen. When Sir Ji left the day before yesterday, he entrusted our Fourth Sir with a task. To capture you, if you were to come. Since you are a bandit who has committed serious crimes, the Kunlun School and the Xia of Longmen's men all want you captured!"

    Hearing these words, Jiang Xiaohe angrily rebuked, "Hogwash!" He swung his sword and sent chops at the five or six men. None of the men knew how great a skill Jiang Xiaohe had, and surged forward, charging at him together, brandishing their sabers and staffs.. However, with casual shakes of Jiang Xiaohe's sword, after three or four exchanges, three of four of the men had thrown down their weapons and fallen wounded to the ground. The street immediately erupted in chaos, with people saying, "There are injured!" Fatty Ma had run out of the tavern as well with his thick arms open, running north like a pig, shouting loudly, "Officer! Officer! Something's happened here!" Jiang Xiaohe flew onto his horse, after which he injured another two men, and then he galloped to the southeast.

    It was as if a flame blazed in his heart when he thought of how hateful Ji Guangjie was. If he were to see him, he would kill him for sure. It didn't matter if he was the Xia of Longmen's grandson, and he didn't care about his master's rules! After he rode for ten or so miles, he noticed a group of horses following after him from behind. Jiang Xiaohe reined up his horse and said in surprise, "Could they be coming after me?" Thus, he reached out and unsheathed his sword.

    In a short while, the horses caught up to him. There were a total of twelve horses, and atop each horse sat an able-bodied man. The one in the lead was a tall man, dressed nicely and riding a brown horse. Jiang Xiaohe turned his horse around and held his sword out to meet them. He asked them, "Hey! Are you chasing after me?" The tall man on the brown horse looked up and said, "We're just riding on the road. What would we be chasing you for?"

    Jiang Xiaohe saw that all twelve of the riders were wearing sabers, though none of them had baggage, so he couldn't help but sneer a little and nod, saying, "All right. You'll go your way and I'll go mine, and neither of us will bother the other." He turned his horse back around and galloped southeast. The twelve horses behind him trotted quickly behind him, and Jiang Xiaohe was enraged! He pulled his sword back out and was about to turn his horse around when he saw the twelve horses charging at him in a row. Hearing a crash like an oncoming tide, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't dodge them in time and he was knocked off his saddle by the horses behind him. However, his body being nimble, when he felt off balance in his saddle, he quickly leapt down and at the same time flashed the sword in his hand. The glimmer of the sword frightened the horses that were charging up from behind into lifting their hooves up, and two of the men fell off their horses. Jiang Xiaohe disregarded all else, and turned to pursue the brown horse.

    The tall man riding the brown horse had already run far away with several of the others. The horse ran quickly, but Jiang Xiaohe's legs were not slow. In a split second, the tall man riding the brown horse turned his head to look, and oh! Jiang Xiaohe had nearly caught up to him. There was but twenty-some paces between them. The men nearby were all in shock, saying, "What fast legs! Fourth Sir, watch out!" The tall man on a horse they called Fourth Sir hastily waved his whip and went for the saber next to his saddle. However, before he could pull his saber out, he saw Jiang Xiaohe leap up, just as if he was a red-crowned crane in flight, and the sword in his hand like a crane's wing.

    In the blink of an eye, a crack and a doleful cry was heard. Jiang Xiaohe had cut down the tall man with one slash of his sword. The riders nearby quickly withdrew one after the other. Jiang Xiaohe brandished his sword and slapped the tall man across his body with the flat of his sword, and then gave him a kick. A gush of fresh blood flowed from his shoulders as he rolled over a few times and passed out. Of the remaining eleven riders, three witnessed Jiang Xiaohe's extraordinary martial arts and hastily spurred their horses into flight. The other eight knew not their own limitations, together drew their sabers, and dismounted their horses to fight. Jiang Xiaohe's sword turned and jumped, much like a white cricket leaping about in a saber forest. He didn't display any sort of swordwork; he simply needed a quick eye and a quick hand. Seven or eight exchanges and he had sent six men down with stabs. The two left over took hold of their horses and fled.

    Jiang Xiaohe didn't chase after them. He withdrew out of his sword stance and looked down at the seven lying about the ground. Because Jiang Xiaohe obeyed his master's instructions, he wasn't willing to harm anyone's life. Thus when he used his sword, he exerted very light strength. Not only did the six strong-looking men suffer from very light wounds, but some of them were even able to get up. And though the tall man who fell from his horse had a heavy sword wound on his right shoulder and his torso was covered in blood, he was gradually coming to. It was only that he cried continuously in miserable pain.

    Jiang Xiaohe first went to go find his horse, and then he rode it back. When he came to the wounded men, he scoffed, "Don't say that there were only twelve of you. With your skill, even if there were a hundred and twenty surrounding me and I let you harm one hair on my body, I would not be the one named Jiang! I, surnamed Jiang, did not want to hurt anyone, but your methods were too cruel. Good men emphasize one saber or one spear. Even if a group of people ganged up on one person and triumphed, that would be the conduct of petty men. Just now you lined your horses up and charged me. If it had been any other person, they would already have been trampled to death by your mess of horses. ****! Even bandits aren't as vicious as you!" When he said this, he dismounted his horse in fury with sword in hand to punish those men further.

    Some of the men then knelt on the ground and begged for forgiveness, pleading with him, "Sir Jiang! We were blind! But don't blame me, and don't blame our Fourth Sir Zhang. This is all because of Ji Guangjie. Not only did he post notices everywhere about capturing you, but he goaded our Fourth Sir. When our Fourth Sir saw you come, he brought us to chase you down. He wanted to knock you down with our horses so it would be easier to capture you, and let Ji Guangjie see his ability. Because our Fourth Sir is Old Sir Ji the Xia of Longmen's nephew, if you think about it, Ji Guangjie is then his cousin!" Jiang Xiaohe impatiently asked, "Where is Ji Guangjie now?" The man kneeling on the ground said, "Ji Guangjie left the day before yesterday, heading to Liu Qingkong's home in Shangshui county looking for you, Sir Jiang!" Jiang Xiaohe immediately nodded and said, "All right. I'll go look for him!"

    He turned his horse and was about to leave when he caught sight of a throng of carts in the distance. Jiang Xiaohe wondered if it was more of this Fourth Zhang of the brown horse's friends, but then after a careful look, he discovered it was a band of traveling merchants. Because of the fight that occurred here, they'd all been stopped, afraid to come this way. Jiang Xiaohe put his sword away and approached on his horse. When he drew near, he clasped his fist and said, "You have all come from far away. Did you perchance see any notices posted at the side of the road, or writing on walls that said to capture Jiang Xiaohe?" Some of the merchants replied, "We didn't pay much attention on the road."

    Jiang Xiaohe nodded and then said, "The person writing the notices is Ji Guangjie. Jiang Xiaohe, the one he wants to capture is me. I am a straightforward and upright man, and I've never been a thief, nor have I ever broken the law. Ji Guangjie and I are complete strangers, and have no grievances with each other. It's just that he's been prodded by those of the Kunlun School to dishonor me in this way everywhere. I truly cannot put up with this. These men I've wounded now are all henchmen of Ji Guangjie, and you have all likely seen what happened. It was they who first tried to hurt me, not I who wounded them for no reason. I invite you all to bear witness and relate this matter everywhere you go. I also ask from now on that if you see any writing about capturing me, whether on the wall or not, to please rip it up for me, or rub it out."

    The entire band of merchants agreed, saying, "All right! If we see anything like that, we'll for certain get rid of it for you." Jiang Xiaohe then cupped his fist and said, "Thank you! Thank you!" When he was done, he abandoned the several injured men and continued spurring his horse on to the southeast. When he thought about it, he still got very angry, speaking to himself, "The master told me I wasn't allowed to harm people's lives at will, but I cannot spare Ji Guangjie. He has mistreated me too deeply. If I meet him, he will have absolutely no mercy under my sword!" He hurried his horse urgently south, and by evening he came to the limits of Shangshui county.

    Liu Qingkong was not considered a wealthy man in these parts, but he owned a small farmstead. When Jiang Xiaohe arrived, he dismounted his horse and walked straight into the farm. A few of Liu Qingkong's disciples greeted him and made their salutations together, saying, "Uncle Jiang, you've come back." Jiang Xiaohe had come here a month previous to compare his martial arts with Liu Qingkong. He'd knocked Liu Qingkong over with one fist, and the two ended up becoming good friends. Jiang Xiaohe had stayed here a few times before and had received the hospitality of Liu Qingkong, so these disciples all knew him. Xiaohe hurriedly asked them, "Has anyone come here looking for me?" One of the disciples said, "Ji Guangjie came here looking for you yesterday. There were three of them in all who came."

    Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe's stare immediately intensified as he said, "Where are they now?" The disciple said, "They left yesterday, the same day they came. He heard us say that our master had gone to Xinyang, so he suspected that you had gone there as well. He posted some notices on the door before he left, reading, "Capture Jiang Xiaohe." We grew angry when we saw them, but because we knew his martial arts were powerful and since our master was not at home, we didn't dare provoke him. We waited until after they left before we scraped the strips of paper down." Jiang Xiaohe heard this and fumed, "I'm going after them!" Saying this, he mounted his horse while he was still at the farm and galloped out.

    He hurried his way through the night and when the next morning arrived, he came to the limits of Zhengyang county in Jiangnan. At this time, Jiang Xiaohe's spirits were still very active, but he was both thirsty and hungry. When he looked up he saw the northern gate of Zhengyang in front of him. He still didn't see any teahouses, but bleak scenes did enter into his sight. There was a large mass of the destitute, wearing clothes even more ragged than those of beggars. Each of them was propping up the elderly or holding the young, carrying worn out travel bundles on their backs or supporting broken clay pots. They were teeming their way south. Jiang Xiaohe was afraid of running over these poor people, so he hastened off his horse. He stopped one of them and asked, "What are you all doing here?" The poor person said something and then hurried away.

    What was spoken was in an unfamiliar accent, and Jiang Xiaohe hadn't understood it. Nearby, someone who looked like a businessman said, "These are all disaster victims from Huaibei. The Huai River opened its mouth and caused a flood, flushing over all their fields and destroying them, so they've all fled to Henan. Someone over there is providing relief today, so they're all rushing to receive some money." Jiang Xiaohe nodded and thought to himself that he didn't know who was providing the relief, but it must be a kind and rich man.

    More and more of the disaster victims came, and it was hard to count how many hundreds of people there were. They had jammed up an entire street. There were several large carts stuck in the middle of the street, the drivers of which all climbed onto their carts, not daring to go below, afraid of being trampled by the disaster victims. Leading his horse, Jiang Xiaohe naturally could not go forward any either. Luckily, he found an inn to the side, so he shouted, "Give way!" He led his horse through the gates of the inn, and handed it over to an attendant. He thought, I have three or four hundred silvers on me. Why don't I pass some of it out and help save some of these disaster victims?

    The attendants and guests inside the inn were all standing by the door watching the activity. One of the guests sighed sadly, "This is what they mean when they say, it's hard to open the doors of charity, and it's hard to close those doors! There's a young guest staying at the Mi Inn on the south side. Looking at him, he doesn't seem like someone who has a lot of money. Not long ago, he took out five taels of silver and changed it into cash, dividing it up among a few of the disaster victims. That was too much! One told ten, and ten told a hundred! More and more of the disaster victims came, so many that they've almost toppled the main gate of the Mi Inn, squeezing through it! Unless that guest can make money from nothing, even if he had five hundred silvers, it wouldn't be enough to provide relief."

    Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe thought it very novel, wanting to see what kind of person this young guest was. Perhaps it was the young master of an official's household. Thus he forced his way into the multitude, and though it was congested as if they had rendered the street into a dead stop without even a small gap anywhere, Jiang Xiaohe was strong and light. In an instant, he arrived at the Mi Inn. He saw a mass of people gathered in front of its gates. All shouting out lamentations, "Good sir bodhisattva! I haven't been given anything yet! I'm starving to death! And I have an eighty year old mother too!" There was also a woman holding a bone thin child in one hand, with her other hand raised up, calling miserably, "Help me! Save me!"

    The gates of the Mi Inn had already long been closed. He saw a young man climb on top of the wall, and shout with his hands in the air to the hundreds of disaster victims below, "I don't have even one coin left. I've given away all of my hundred or so taels of silver! I've even given out all of my friend's money. I don't have any money anymore!" The disaster victims below refused to leave, still crying out mournfully, "Bodhisattva! ...Save me! ...Give me some!"

    Jiang Xiaohe saw that the young man's age was not far from his own. He was short but sturdy and his complexion was slightly dark. He was dressed in a blue silk coat and pants with a blue muslin belt fastened about his waist. His feet wore blue boots, at the tips of which were attached silk tassels. He appeared to be a man who practiced martial arts. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but secretly admire him, so he waved his hands and called out to the disaster victims, "He doesn't have anymore money! But I do. Come with me. I have three or four hundred taels of silver, and I'll distribute it to you all at once. Come with me!" He shouted this three times, but the jumble of sounds buried his voice, and no one heard what he'd said, many even thinking that he was asking the man on the wall for money! The mass of disaster victims kept their faces raised, pleading to the young man on top of the wall, calling out, "Sir bodhisattva!"

    Jiang Xiaohe was very anxious, and it was hard to bear being crowded on all sides by people. He hated that his money pouch was not at his side. If it was, he would certainly hurl it to the young man atop the wall and tell him to give it out for him. But then he thought, That wouldn't work! My cash is all in whole silvers, and the other half are bills from a Langzhong moneychanger. I wouldn't even be able to break it up into change here.

    The young man on the wall, seeing that there was nothing he could do, shouted down again, "I really don't have any money left today! Come back tomorrow, and I'll give everyone two silver coins each for certain. I'll prepare several hundred silvers, and give it all away!" Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe thought, What a large promise! He figured he must be a very rich man. At this point, two others climbed onto the wall from inside the inn, and shouted out at the same time, "Are you still not leaving? Come back tomorrow morning. We'll give you money for sure." Of the two speakers, one was thin of build and had one eye. The other was a little fat, with dark features and a bit of a black beard.

    Jiang Xiaohe felt this man very familiar, and thought it over before saying, "Oh! Isn't that Liu Zhiyuan?" Then he knew. The young man providing relief was none other than Ji Guangjie. At this moment, Jiang Xiaohe expectedly felt very discouraged. He turned around and left, following the continuously dispersing flood victims and returning to his inn. He drank some water, ate some food and rested on a kang. The attendants and guests in the courtyard were all still discussing the disaster relief. He heard someone say, "That young guest is likely a famous constable, here to handle a case. Right now, he's on the streets with some others, posting notices that read, 'Capture Jiang Xiaohe.'" Jiang Xiaohe could hear this clearly from his room, but it didn't stoke much anger. He thought, He can go ahead and post it! As Jiang Xiaohe, my sword will never harm a righteous person.

    He didn't leave his room for the rest of the day. When evening came, he had the innkeeper's men go out and ask around, finding out that the young man providing relief that morning was indeed Ji Guangjie and that he was still staying at the Mi Inn. Because the flood victims were waiting until the next morning to receive relief, many of them spent the night in front of the inn. A question suddenly appeared in Jiang Xiaohe's mind. He thought, Ji Guangjie isn't any sort of rich man. He gave all his money away today, so from where is going to prepare several hundred more taels to pass out? Just as an attendant brought by a lamp, Jiang Xiaohe asked him, "With a place as small as this, you probably don't have a hugely wealthy man, do you?"

    The attendant said, "How do we not have one? Who is wealthier than Millions Gu of the Gu Farmstead on the north side?" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "So you probably only have one Millions Gu here. Is there anyone else who can be called wealthy?" The attendant shook his head and said, "No! Is one not enough? One of his forebears was a minor official in the Ministry of Revenue. The household says they have millions, but actually they have tens of millions! There isn't even anyone as wealthy in all of Xinyang county in Jiangnan."

    Jiang Xiaohe then asked, "A lot of disaster victims have come here. Why doesn't he take out ten or twenty thousand taels to provide relief?" The attendant said, "People with money don't do that sort of thing! Millions Gu, that big landowner, thinks even one copper coin too dear to hand out. Otherwise, why is his other nickname Miser Gu!" Jiang Xiaohe smirked. The attendant placed the lamp on the table for him and left. Jiang Xiaohe immediately blew it out and left his room.

    It was now already past the first watch, though there were still more than a few people coming and going through the streets. There were an especially lot of those flood victims who had no home to return to, all pleading after people for money and standing by shops begging. Not all of the shops had closed up, and there was one tavern with a straw shed set up in front of the door, lit with two or three bright oil lamps, in which many men with arms bared and fans waving were drinking, conversing and playing chess. Jiang Xiaohe walked towards it, found himself a table corner and sat down, ordering a few pints of wine. He drank slowly and listened as the people around him discussed the hearsay of the streets.

    After a length of time, past the knock of the second watch, the people in the straw shed had mostly dispersed. Jiang Xiaohe had already finished his wine, but did not yet leave, as he gazed out into the street. Shortly, he spotted someone hurrying their way from the south side, wearing a short shirt and pants of blue cloth, with a very long and thin bundle clamped under his arm, appearing as if he was on his way to take care of some urgent business. He passed in front of Jiang Xiaohe's eyes in an instant, but Jiang Xiaohe still saw him very clearly and knew that it was Ji Guangjie. Jiang Xiaohe tossed down the wine money and rushed after Ji Guangjie toward the north.

    It was now the dark of dusk all around as Jiang Xiaohe followed closely after Ji Guangjie, with twenty paces or so of distance between them. Ji Guangjie was walking along the main road, while Jiang Xiaohe walked close to the sorghum growing at the side of the road, unbeknownst to Ji Guangjie. Ahead, he walked very quickly, and in a short while he turned east into a dense pine forest. Jiang Xiaohe now couldn't help but be a bit more careful. Before, he had been in shadow, while Ji Guangjie had been in the open, but now it was the complete opposite. If Ji Guangjie had pretended not to see him enter the forest, but was actually hiding in the darkness, he would be in great trouble since he himself had not brought his sword. Thus, he waited a while for Ji Guangjie to proceed further in before he crept slowly into the forest.

    Stepping on the green grass in his straw sandals felt both warm and soft. After a few paces, he heard a rustle as something hopped through his legs, though he wasn't sure if it was a rabbit or a fox. Jiang Xiaohe froze in place and bent his ear to listen carefully, but all he heard amid the forest were the jumbled swishing of the pines, the chirping of insects in the brush, and the faint sound of footsteps ahead. Jiang Xiaohe pulled himself up the limbs of the tree and sat atop, peering down. He waited for a time, and when Ji Guangjie exited the forest with sword in hand, Jiang Xiaohe jumped down and followed him out. He saw a small brook before the forest, bright with the light of many stars floating upon the surface of the water. Ji Guangjie slowly made his way west, stepping across a bridge plank across the brook. Jiang Xiaohe followed after him.

    On either side here was planted sorghum and corn, and a breeze blowing made their leaves swish. Before walking far, he saw lamp light ahead and knew that there must be a village there. Ji Guangjie walked forward into the sorghum. It was inconvenient for Jiang Xiaohe to continue along the path, so he walked into the field as well, his two hands separating the leaves that hurt when they struck his arm, winding his way forward. He walked a while before he made it through the field, but Ji Guangjie was already nowhere to be found.

    Between the trees a country house stood with the light of two lamps still remaining, though they were both very dim. Jiang Xiaohe shifted into the trees, and turned amid them to the rear of the house, where he saw a large courtyard. The walls of the courtyard were built tall with stacked rocks, and the top was covered with sour date branches. It was just like the walls of a prison. Jiang Xiaohe stood under the wall and waited a moment. He heard the third watch ring out from the village. Jiang Xiaohe bent down and tightened his straw sandals a bit, and then leapt upward onto the high wall. One foot came down on the sour date branches, and he quickly exerted himself and jumped onto one of the back rooms inside the walls of the large house. One of the sour date branches was attached to his straw sandal. He pulled it free and set it on the roof tiles. Then he crouched down and crawled to the front, whereupon he saw that the farmstead was quite large. He thought, He's worthy of the name Millions Gu! But with such a wealthy household, why doesn't he take his money and provide relief? Then he thought, Just before I left the mountain, my master instructed me to help the weak and poor and pity the widowed and orphaned. If I took a few silvers from the large house of this miser to help Ji Guangjie provide relief for the flood victims, it wouldn't be considered stealing, would it?

    He crawled on the roof tiles and peered downwards, seeing that both the eastern and northern halls were lit, especially so the northern hall where the lamp light was particularly bright. Jiang Xiaohe thought, It's still early, so this won't be easy. He stayed on the roof for a short while longer and then heard the sound of the northern hall's door screen. A servant woman came running out and headed to the western hall. Xiaohe hurriedly crawled from atop the northern hall to the roof of the western hall. He saw that the servant woman hadn't gone inside, but stood outside the door instead and inquired inside, "Sir, the second wife is asking you to come to bed. It's getting late!"

    The click-clack of an abacus came out of the western hall and a very impatient-seeming man said, "I'm not finished balancing the accounts yet. Tell her to go to sleep!" The servant woman returned slowly to the northern hall, probably to give their second mistress his response. The door slammed shut, and the light went out suddenly, like it was blown out in a fit of anger. In the western hall the light was low, the fitful sound of the abacus rang out, and people were speaking softly. After a while, it abacus continued to clatter. Jiang Xiaohe laid prone across the eaves, and with one hand holding onto the roof tile, he lowered his body and peeked briefly into the room through a muslin covering the windows. Everything in the room was reflected into his eyes.

    The room appeared to be a study, more than a few books and scrolls populating the cabinets. Within, there was a large table and a tin lamp holding very little oil. Around the round table were situated three people, a couple of whom were flipping through books, though someone was using an abacus as he was reading. The one using the abacus was an old man with a white beard, wearing a silk coat and pants. Another's beard was a bit darker, and he'd bared the fat flesh of his upper body. Next to him was a servant girl of twelve or thirteen years waving a fan for him. It was likely that man was the master here. He had in his hand a few thick books, and he recited, "Two-hundred fifty, three-thousand seven-hundred sixty, four-hundred eighty, five-hundred even..." The man with the white beard moved the abacus beads about. Jiang Xiaohe then understood that the old sir wasn't reading, but balancing accounts.

    The girl fanning him had probably been doing so for a long time. Her hand was sore, standing had made her legs ache, and she was so tired she was dozing off. In a moment of carelessness, she extinguished the lamp with the flame. It suddenly became very dark inside the room, and Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help moving with a start. He hurriedly straightened his body and pulled his entire body back onto the roof. He heard the old sir yelling from the room below, "You fool!" And then he heard a slap, likely the old sir's hand striking the face of the servant girl, but the young servant girl dared not cry.

    Jiang Xiaohe took advantage of the room being dark and jumped off the roof. He gently pulled the door to the room open and slipped inside, all without making a sound. The old sir became impatient and shouted loudly, "Where's the fire? Where's the fire?" The man using the abacus said, "I've got one over here!" He struck a match and relit the lamp. The old sir was so angry the fat on his whole body quivered, yelling again, "You stupid, stupid fool! ...Let's start the calculations over! Seven-hundred sixty, two-thousand thirty, four-hundred fifty strings of cash..." The older man lowered his head once again and manipulated the abacus beads, and the young servant girl wiped her tears away and continued fanning the old sir carefully.

    At this point, Jiang Xiaohe crawled slowly from beside a standing cabinet to the space under a bamboo couch by the wall. Fortunately, with the lamp on the table so dim, the two old men concentrating on their accounts, and the young servant both tired and dejected, no one noticed him. Jiang Xiaohe was furious and wanted to overturn the bamboo couch, dash over and rip their account books into shreds, toss the abacus aside, and then demand money from the greedy, ruthless, miserly old sir and force him to provide disaster relief, but he wasn't willing to be so obvious about it.

    After waiting for another half hour or so, it was almost the fourth watch. When the old sir and the other man in this room finished balancing the accounts, they were so fatigued they barely looked like people anymore. The old sir took out a key to open the large cabinet. He placed the account books inside, and then locked it up again. Afterward, the young servant girl blew out the lamp. The three left the room and locked the door with a click. Once the door lock sounded out, Jiang Xiaohe crawled out from under the couch and stood by the window to look out. He saw the old man with the white beard heading to the outer courtyard, and the young servant girl returning to the northern hall with the old sir.

    The light from the northern hall shone for a little bit, but was put out before long. Jiang Xiaohe walked in front of the large cabinet to handle the lock. It was very heavy and very sturdy, but in Jiang Xiaohe's hands, it did not take very much energy to pry it open. He reached his hand in and felt around, making out a dozen or so account books, two large packs of silvers, and four or five wicker baskets of copper coins. Jiang Xiaohe went first to the windows and pulled down one of them, and then he took the packs of silver and tied them together. He lifted it over his shoulder and felt that it was very heavy, over forty or fifty catties. He thought, It's a lot. It should be enough for Ji Guangjie to give out aid. He snatched the account books up under his arm as well and jumped through of the window. He was about to get onto roof when he abruptly heard the clashing sound of a gong from outside the farmstead. Jiang Xiaohe was startled and hurriedly flew up onto the roof and ran to the top of the northern hall from the western hall. Upon hearing the gong, the old sir in the northern hall, who was probably about to fall asleep with his second wife, shouted out in alarm, "Intruder!"

    Jiang Xiaohe employed the mountain leaping, stream jumping skill he learned on Mount Jiuhua and took a heavy step back with both his feet atop the northern hall and then with a whoosh, he bounded nimbly over even that high wall. When he landed on the ground, he moved around the road and walked into the sorghum field, winding his way to the small path. He looked back and saw the village in the woods light up with lanterns and heard the sound of fighting closing gradually in on him. Jiang Xiaohe thought, In the end, Ji Guangjie wasn't good enough. He must have failed and was discovered by the men patrolling the courtyard. He was about to go back and help Ji Guangjie, but then he thought, Who told him to spread word everywhere about capturing me? Now, it's his turn to be captured! Following the path, he sprinted southwest and soon came to the edge of the small brook. Jiang Xiaohe tossed the account books he was carrying under his arm into the water of the brook, and then he jumped across it. With the pine forest behind him, and the brook before him, he stopped running at this point and watched the lanterns moving in disarray.

    After staying a moment, he suddenly spotted three men running along the path. Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself, Ji Guangjie is coming. When Ji Guangjie arrived at the edge of the brook and before he could find the bridge plank, there appeared two guards already holding sabers chasing after him, both shouting loudly at him, "Stop, thief!" Ji Guangjie quickly turned around to meet them. Here, Jiang Xiaohe said, "Good! They're going to fight!" He couldn't see very clearly the saber and sword skill of the three men across the brook, but he could see flashes of light and hear the sound of clashing blades. Ji Guangjie and the two guards had probably battled for twenty-some exchanges without outcome, but all the lanterns and torches in the north were coming along the small path, growing closer and closer. Ji Guangjie feinted with his sword and withdrew a few paces, and then he flipped around and hurdled across the brook. Jiang Xiaohe had already run into the forest by now when Ji Guangjie was about to flee within the trees. The guards and villagers were stopped beside the brook, not daring to enter the forest to search for him.

    Jiang Xiaohe no longer cared about Ji Guangjie at this point. In a short while, he had run back to a street in the northern outskirts of Zhengyang county. Other than the flood victims huddled this way and that about the ground, there were no travelers on the street. Jiang Xiaohe ran to the gate of the Mi Inn and taking the opportunity of no one paying him notice, he jumped onto the roof. However, here he ran into some difficulty, because he didn't know in which room Ji Guangjie was staying. So he set the packs of silvers on the roof, and sat down beside them, waiting.

    Before waiting ten minutes, he saw someone leaping over the wall from outside. Jiang Xiaohe knew that it was Ji Guangjie returning, so he snatched up the packs of silver next to him and tossed them at Ji Guangjie. He heard a thud as the packs fell beside Ji Guangjie in the courtyard. Jiang Xiaohe stood on the roof and had a laugh. Ji Guangjie jumped onto the roof with a whoosh in pursuit, but Jiang Xiaohe had already left without a trace. He returned to his room and felt extremely happy and content. Thus, he rested his head and slept, though he was awakened before long by the clamor of people outside.

    Jiang Xiaohe opened his eyes and glanced. The paper on the window was light gray, as the day was very nearly light. He quickly got up. He could hear the noise of people outside in waves. He left his room to look and saw that the gates of the inn were not yet open. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly opened them and saw the mass of flood victims crowding once again. Some were rushing forward, while others were running back having received relief money. Jiang Xiaohe even caught sight of a bone thin girl holding a piece of silver in her hands, ecstatic. Jiang Xiaohe knew then that Ji Guangjie had distributed the money that he had stolen the night before, and he couldn't help smiling to himself. The flood victims were getting money exceeding what they'd lost, and smiles were appearing where bitter expressions used to be.

    The sky was almost bright when he spotted three horses coming from the south. It was Ji Guangjie, Liu Zhiyuan and that man who was blind in one eye. They ran off after having finished distributing the silvers and many of the flood victims were kneeling on the ground calling them bodhisattvas. There was no happy expression on Ji Guangjie's face however. Jiang Xiaohe hurried inside and rushed the inn attendants to prepare his horse. He got some water and hastily washed his sword, and then settled his room and food bill before getting on his horse and leaving. He saw the flood victims in the street slowly dispersing, and the shops had all opened up their door planks.

    Jiang Xiaohe spurred his horse on through the northern gate and saw flood victims sitting by the side of the main road, munching on a large piece of flatbread they'd bought. Jiang Xiaohe asked them, "The man giving aid, which way did he go?" The disaster victims pointed and said, "Those three saviors galloped south!" Jiang Xiaohe then urged his horse on south. He chased after them for twenty straight miles, but didn't catch up to Ji Guangjie and the others, and became less inclined to pursue them. He thought, What am I chasing them for? At first, I wanted to cross swords with Ji Guangjie, because he posted bills about capturing me all along the road. Now that I see he's a young xia, why must I decide victory and defeat with him? I'll leave it to him to catch me! I should hurry to Chang'an to see Aluan, and then I'll go to Zhenba and Ziyang for revenge. That is what my proper business is.

    He was a little bit hungry, so when he saw a town in the distance ahead, he urged his horse on and galloped over there. When he spotted a tavern, he got off his horse and hitched it outside the door, and then went inside and ordered wine and noodles. Just as he was about to finish eating, he suddenly heard someone calling sternly from outside, "Whose horse is this?" Jiang Xiaohe quickly went outside and saw four men there with horses in hand, two of which were wearing officer's uniforms. The two officers pointed at Jiang Xiaohe's horse and asked, "Whose horse is this?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "It's mine. Is there a problem?"

    One of them said, "There's no problem." When he finished speaking, he turned to leave. However one of the men, who was short of stature and wearing a fine silk coat and pants, cupped his fist towards Jiang Xiaohe and asked, "There was a man named Ji who stayed in Zhengyang county and provided disaster relief. Do you happen to know where he's run off to?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "I don't. I don't know that man." The man nodded, and was about to leave when Jiang Xiaohe said, "Hey! I was in the middle of drinking wine when you called me out here and asked me questions. Is that all?" The two officers glared at him and said, "What? Are you saying we need to give you some money?"

    The short man paid him a smile and said, "I apologize! Since we saw a sword hanging off your horse, we thought the one named Ji might be inside drinking. This Ji is a thief. He went to the house of Millions Gu in Zhengyang county last night and stole over seven hundred taels of silver, and then gave it away as disaster relief. He quickly distributed it and then fled. I am Yang Gongjiu, a guard of the Gu household, and my humble designation is the Xia of Ruzhou. This is my sworn brother Liu Ying the Speckle-faced Leopard. Those two gentlemen are officers of the Zhengyang county government, Eldest Sir Pang and Fourth Sir Jiang. We are on our way to arrest the one named Ji. Very sorry to have troubled you!" After he finished, the four men all mounted their horses and rode south.

    Jiang Xiaohe now knew that Yang Gongjiu and Liu Ying were the two men who fought against Ji Guangjie by the brook the night previous, and couldn't help thinking it funny. He thought, The martial arts of these two were far from weak, not to mention the they had two officers with them. If they arrested Ji Guangjie and took him back to the government office, how could that be anything but an injustice? It was I who took the silvers of Millions Gu. As charges are being pressed, I must be the one to face them. I couldn't be called a good man if I let someone else take the fall! Thereafter, Jiang Xiaohe entered the tavern. He took another swig of wine, tossed down money for the food and drink, and then went outside to undo his horse. He mounted it, swung his whip and galloped to the south.

    After riding south for fifty or sixty miles, he came once again to Xinyang subprefecture. Jiang Xiaohe trailed Yang Gongjiu the Xia of Ruzhou and the three others the entire way and saw that they met with quite a few acquaintances along the way. When they got to Xinyang, the four men stopped at the security office of Liu Kuang the Peer to Huang Zhong. Jiang Xiaohe had compared martial arts with Liu Kuang and stayed in Xinyang for several days, so there were more than a few people here who knew him. Thus, Jiang Xiaohe felt things very difficult, as he was genuinely afraid of encountering someone familiar and revealing his movements. So he didn't enter the city, planning instead to find a teahouse to drink a few bowls of wine first and then to rest a bit. However, he saw on the streets of the eastern outskirts, on the outer walls of the inns, on the stone tablets at intersections, everywhere there were written the words, "Capture Jiang Xiaohe." Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help his anger when he saw this. He found man who owned an inn and pointed at the words on the wall, asking, "Who wrote these words?"

    The innkeeper said, "Someone named Ji wrote them. It wasn't done for free. He spent two strings of cash every time." Jiang Xiaohe grew furious as he thought, Fine! I gave him the silvers I took from the house of Millions Gu, and he must have had some money left over after he provided relief, so he used it to rent space everywhere to taunt me. This is just too unjust for me! Thus, Jiang Xiaohe glowered and said, "Scrape off those words now! Don't you know that Jiang Xiaohe is an acquaintance of the great captain Liu the Peer to Huang Zhong of the Liu Security Office? Jiang Xiaohe came here last month and defeated the Peer to Huang Zhong!" The innkeeper said, "It was even on the walls of the Liu Security Office, though it may have already been washed off. When that Ji came here, he called upon the great captain Liu. When he wrote these words on our walls, the great captain Liu stood beside and watched! He seemed to be quite good friends with that one named Ji."

    Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe grew even more angry, saying, "All right! So the Peer to Huang Zhong has turned out to be this hateful as well. I must go find him and give him another beating!" He was about to head fuming to the Liu Security Office when he saw four horses up ahead galloping past him and then turning to the south. The riders were Yang Gongjiu the Xia of Ruzhou, Liu Ying the Speckle-faced Leopard and the two officers. Jiang Xiaohe quickly mounted his horse and went after them, leaving Xinyang and heading southwest. After following them for thirty miles, the four men in the fore all reined up their horses.

    Yang Gongjiu the Xia of Ruzhou turned his horse around and rode to meet Jiang Xiaohe. He smiled and asked, "Friend, you've ridden seventy or eighty miles with us. Did you think we didn't notice you? What are your intentions, friend?" Jiang Xiaohe reined up his horse as well and laughed, "I've come to watch the action, to see how you're going to capture Ji Guangjie." The two officers had urged their horses over too, both glaring at him as they said, "Do you know Ji Guangjie as well?"

    Jiang Xiaohe said, "I've just come from Zhengyang county myself. I stayed there for a couple days. Ji Guangjie was giving out relief money there. How could I not know of him? I had no idea that he was a thief. I've followed you all now because I want to see the commotion." Liu Ying the Speckle-faced Leopard glowered and said sternly, "He's a liar! He must be in it with Ji Guangjie. Let's arrest him first!"

    However, Yang Gongjiu waved his hand at Liu Ying, and then took another look at the sword next to Jiang Xiaohe's saddle. He asked, "Friend, might we know your honorable name? How do you usually make your living?" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "I am surnamed He, and I have a security office in Jiangnan. I've come to the north to spend some leisure time, so I don't have any sort of urgent business." Yang Gongjiu said, "As we are all friends of Jianghu, we can speak frankly. It is Ji Guangjie we are currently after. He's heading west, probably to go through Xiangyang into Hanzhong. No matter where he flees, we must chase after him. If we are to see him, we must arrest him. If you really want to come with us to watch us strike, it's nothing to us. However, if you have things to do, you'd better run elsewhere. There's not much point in coming with us!" When he finished, he smiled coldly, turned his horse around and galloped off.

    Liu Ying the Speckled-faced Leopard and the two officers muttered curses under their breath and turned to the southwest. After riding for another one or two miles, to their surprise they saw Jiang Xiaohe again following them from behind. Liu Ying pulled out his saber and said angrily, "What a contemptible man. He must not be harboring good intentions!" The two officers pulled out their sabers as well and shackles too, fuming, "Arrest him! Arrest him!" Yang Gongjiu stood in the two men's way and said, "Don't be rash! This man likely knows some martial arts. He may be Jiang Xiaohe himself. Didn't Liu Ying the Peer to Huang Zhong just tell us that Jiang Xiaohe was wearing a straw hat and straw sandals, that he employed a sword and rode a black horse?" Liu Ying said, "We are going after one such as Ji Guangjie. Who's afraid of Jiang Xiaohe?"

    Jiang Xiaohe had by now pressed his horse nearby. He sat atop his horse and smiled, saying, "You mustn't suspect me. I'm heading to the west to take care of my own matters. I'm not going to run with you. However, let me tell you. Ji Guangjie is the grandson of the Xia of Longmen. His martial arts are like those of most people. Not only will you be unable to capture him, but you'll suffer for it!"

    Liu Ying brandished his saber and yelled furiously, "Who the hell do you think you are? You look to me like you're in it with Ji Guangjie. You're a thief too!" Having said this, he pressed his horse after Jiang Xiaohe. Atop his horse, he leaned out and whirled his saber at Jiang Xiaohe for a chop. Jiang Xiaohe turned the head of his horse away and dodged the saber, then swung his whip at Liu Ying's wrist. With a crack, pain shot through Liu Ying's wrist and he immediately dropped his saber.

    Yet Yang Gongjiu the Xia of Ruzhou had now already dismounted his horse and drawn his saber, and was running towards Jiang Xiaohe to hack at him. Jiang Xiaohe stayed on his horse and waited to him to draw near. He pinched the back of the saber with his fingers and gently snatched it into his own hand. He then smiled, and spurred his horse to gallop away. The two officers chased hard after him and shouted loudly, "Cretin! You are also a thief! Do you think you can get away?" Jiang Xiaohe laughed as he rode, and knocked the saber against his knee. With a clang, he snapped it in two, and then tossed it onto the ground, laughing loudly. When he saw that neither the two officers nor the two guards dared chase after him, dazed by fear, Jiang Xiaohe loosed his horse and galloped away in self-satisfaction.

    He headed west, all the way to the border of Hubei. When he arrived at a small town, it was quite late, so Jiang Xiaohe took a room in an inn and spent the night. Afternoon the next day, he entered Xiangyang city and saw two men who looked like inn attendants, carrying a bucket of lime and scrubbing the walls of various places. Jiang Xiaohe followed them and saw them arrive in front of a fodder shop. On the brown earthen wall before the door was written in dripping black ink the words, "Capture Jiang Xiaohe." With brushes in hand, the two men dipped them into the lime and then scrubbed away the words on the wall.

    Jiang Xiaohe fumed and laughed, getting off his horse and asking, "What are you doing?"

    The two men said, "We were hired by our local Second Sir Pang the Flower Spear. Midday today, Ji Guangjie the grandson of the Xia of Longmen arrived with two men who looked like constables. When they came here, they called upon the Second Sir Pang, and then took up a brush and wrote on every street, 'Capture Jiang Xiaohe.' In these days, Jiang Xiaohe is a hero of the greatest skill in Jianghu. He came to Xiangyang last month, and even Second Sir Pang the Flower Spear wasn't a match for him. When Second Sir Pang heard that the one called Ji wanted to capture him, he thought him too arrogant and went to ask him a few questions. He didn't know that Ji Guangjie would be so vicious, knocking Second Sir Pang to the ground with one fist and angering the Second Sir Pang to an extreme. When they left, Second Sir Pang hired us to blot out all the words they had written on the walls."

    When Jiang Xiaohe heard that Second Pang had been struck over his own business with Ji Guangjie, he became furious, asking, "Is Ji Guangjie gone?" The two men who were scrubbing the walls and covering up the words said, "They're already gone half a day! After they beat the Second Sir Pang, they grilled him about Jiang Xiaohe's whereabouts. When Second Sir Pang said he didn't know, Ji Guangjie said, 'If Jiang Xiaohe ever comes to Xiangyang again, tell him that if he has the guts, he can come to Chang'an.'" Jiang Xiaohe listened to here and grew so angry his complexion changed, though he purposefully kept a calm demeanor and asked, "Did you see which way they headed?" The two men said, "They had all come from Chang'an, so they must have gone back that way. However, before they left they did ask people about Mount Wudang."

    As soon as Jiang Xiaohe caught mention of Mount Wudang, he perked up, because in the years he had been training on Mount Jiuhua, he'd heard his master say, "Mount Wudang lies in the territory of Xiangyang prefecture. The internal tradition of martial arts came out of this mountain, and nowadays most of the Daoists on the mountain still know martial arts. If you travel there, you must remember to be careful!" Jiang Xiaohe now asked, "How far is Mount Wudang from here?" The two men said, "It's not far. Head north out of the city a few dozen miles and you'll see it." Jiang Xiaohe said, "All right!" He led his horse out, and upon leaving Xiangyang city, he mounted his horse and swung his whip, galloping to the northwest. Before going far, he did indeed see in front of him a lush mountain ridge, about a hundred and ten or so miles of road from where he was. Jiang Xiaohe spurred his horse on faster, and after riding about forty or fifty miles, he spotted three horses ahead of him, all galloping quickly along, and all heading also in the direction of Mount Wudang.

    Jiang Xiaohe could see very clearly that it was Ji Guangjie, Liu Zhiyuan and the other one, and he couldn't help feeling a little hesitant. He thought, What should I do now? If I press my horse and pass them, a fight would surely erupt straightaway, and in a fight, it would be hard to keep from injuring Ji Guangjie. Actually, it would not be unjust to hurt him. He's been writing everywhere that he wants me captured, harassing me to an excessive degree! And yet, he is a man who walks the path of the righteous xia. I really respect that he gave disaster relief in Zhengyang. To say nothing of the fact that he is the grandson of the Xia of Longmen! Right now, Mount Wudang lies in front of me. It was there that the founding master Zhang Sanfeng attained the Dao. For us heirs of the internal tradition to be killing each other in the face of the founding master would truly be too shameful!

    Thus, Jiang Xiaohe tamped down the anger in his chest, reined his horse up, and purposefully continued slowly. He let Ji Guangjie and the others in front of him gain some distance on him before he started on again. None of them had caught notice of him, but Jiang Xiaohe would still often look ahead into the distance. Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself, If I tail them secretly as I've been doing all the way to Chang'an, and if at that point Ji Guangjie still aids the Kunlun School, then there is no way for me to let him off the hook.

    In a short while, he approached a large river obstructing the road. Ji Guangjie and the other two riders made a detour in search of a ferry crossing. Jiang Xiaohe followed them, and waited for the three riders to get into a ferry before he stood by the crossing and called a boat of his own. As he sat on the ferry, he listened to the ferryman and found out that this river was called the Nan River and it was connected to the Han River. Gucheng county laid across the river, and from there, it was not far to Mount Wudang. Most of the people who made pilgrimages to Wudang got off their horses in Gucheng, since there were no inns at the base of Mount Wudang. Furthermore, if one rides their horse to Mount Wudang, the Daoist priests on the mountain will be unhappy.

    Jiang Xiaohe was taken aback, asking, "Are there many Daoist priests on the mountain?" The ferryman said, "There are quite a few. There are more than forty Daoists at the Yuzhen Monastery, and even more at the Xuanwu Shrine. All these Daoists are very skilled, and even for important security escorts from various places, if they travel within ten miles of the mountain, they must get off their horses." Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe felt this curious, thinking, I've trained under a great master of the Wudang School for ten years and I still don't know what Mount Wudang looks like. The swordwork passed down by real Daoists may be different than that which we've learned in Jianghu. Perhaps I should go up the mountain for some lessons.

    Across the Nan River was Gucheng. Jiang Xiaohe found an inn on its western outskirts, and led his horse inside. It was already rather late, and Jiang Xiaohe instructed an attendant to serve him a meal. The attendant brought out rice and food, and when he saw that Jiang Xiaohe had placed a travel bundle and sword on his couch, he asked, "Might I ask where the guest is headed?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm making a pilgrimage to Mount Wudang." The attendant said, "Might I ask if the guest is an important officer in the security business?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "I've done some security work in Jiangnan previously, but I don't do it anymore. I'm on my way home for a visit. My home is in Hanzhong, and while I'm passing through here, I might as well stop by Mount Wudang and burn some incense for the Daoist master Zhang Sanfeng."

    The inn attendant nodded and said, "The Yuzhen Monastery is but a small shrine. The largest shrine on the mountain is the Zhenwu Shrine. Do you know why this mountain is called Mount Wudang? It's because the lord Zhenwu attained the Dao atop the mountain. Lord Zhenwu was served by the Two Generals Tortoise and Snake, and they were extremely capable! They frequently appear as visions!" He pointed at Jiang Xiaohe's sword and said, "Dear guest, you cannot take your sword up the mountain. There's a place five miles from the mountain called Shedsword Spring. No matter how high your title is, or how strong your skills are, when you arrive there, you must shed your sword and toss it into the water. Otherwise, not only will lord Zhenwu be angry, but the founding master Sanfeng's disciples will also not let you off."

    Jiang Xiaohe quickly asked, "Who are the founding master Sanfeng's disciples right now?" The attendant, however, did not answer him, but continued telling stories of lord Zhenwu, saying, "Long ago, there was a great general, an official of the highest rank in the dynasty of the time, who was in charge of the Three Armies. Once, he went to Mount Wudang to offer incense. When he reached Shedsword Spring, the military officials who had come with him exhorted him to take off his sword, but he refused to do it. To his surprise, before he had traveled two miles up the mountain, he met with a sudden, violent wind, and a giant snake pounced at him, immediately scaring the general to death. It turned that the snake was none other than the General Snake who served under the lord Zhenwu, and it was also the sword in lord Zhenwu's hand. The divine image of lord Zhenwu has him holding the Seven-stars Sword with a banner of apricot yellow behind him and the Two Generals Tortoise and Snake on either side. Thus, no one is ever allowed to go before him wearing a sword. Even in his own divine image, the founding master Sanfeng is only holding a flywhisk, for he isn't allowed to carry a sword. There are forty some Daoists at Yuzhen Monastery who know the martial arts, the most famous of whom are the Seven Great Sword Sages, but none dare take their swords out of the temple gates."

    This long folk tale flowed out of the inn attendant's mouth with the utmost ease, as if he had imparted these words on more than one occasion and was now very familiar with it. Moreover, it seemed as if everyone within a hundred miles of Mount Wudang already knew these things. Finally, the attendant kindly instructed Jiang Xiaohe, "When you go on your pilgrimage to Wudang tomorrow, you must not carry your sword with you. Otherwise, at the very least you'll come down with a terrible illness!" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "Well, naturally! I came to offer incense, so how could I dare disrespect the gods?" He thought to himself, I wonder if Ji Guangjie knows about this rule or not. If he pays Wudang a visit tomorrow and continues his recklessness by wearing a sword up the mountain, writing "Capture Jiang Xiaohe" everywhere, I'm afraid that not only will Zhenwu's subordinates, the two gods Tortoise and Snake, perhaps become angry, but those Seven Great Sword Sages at the monastery will certainly not let him off easy either.

    He finished his meal shortly and went out to stroll through the streets. He ran all over the place, both within the city and along the main road outside of the city, and saw quite a few shops along the streets, though there weren't many people coming and going. When he arrived at the southern outskirts, he saw someone wearing white silk pants and coat with a sword at his waist, a short yet sturdy man walking his way. With one glance, Jiang Xiaohe recognized him as Ji Guangjie and became excited. He watched as Ji Guangjie walked into a small tavern on the west side of the road, and then followed him inside. Lamps had already been lit in the tavern, and there were not yet too many customers inside. Jiang Xiaohe found a space at a table with a lamp at his back and sat down. Ji Guangjie was sitting at a space two tables down from him. He unfastened his sword and placed it on the table. He ordered some wine and poured haughtily for himself and drank.

    At first, Jiang Xiaohe had thought, In a moment those two from the Kunlun School will surely come. Liu Zhiyuan knows my face. If he recognizes me, then there'll soon be a fierce battle. And though I don't want to fight with him, it would be unavoidable. However, after a while, the other two men did not show up. Jiang Xiaohe drank as he watched Ji Guangjie. Ji Guangjie abruptly stood up and called out, "Barkeep! Bring me a brush and ink! There's something I want to write on the wall."

    The barkeep stood beside a cabinet and said, "Good sir! The wall is newly-painted, and it won't look good after it's been written on. If you want to write something, good sir, we have paper here, and when you finish, we'll post it on the wall. There are a few xiucai in this city who write poetry at our place here, and when they finish, they tell us to post it on the wall. Sometimes a passing customer will see a poem they like, and then give us money to take it off the wall."

    Ji Guangjie smiled bitterly and said, "Are you afraid that if I write directly on the wall, you won't be able to sell it? Here, let me give you two strings of silver up front as payment for borrowing your brush and ink!" Upon hearing about the two strings of silver, the barkeep happily had a brush and ink sent over to him, as well as water for grinding ink. Jiang Xiaohe's temper flared now and he stood up suddenly as well. He watched as Ji Guangjie, with brush in hand, wrote on the wall five large characters. They were, "Capture Jiang Xiaohe." Jiang Xiaohe was so furious he wanted to punch him and knock him down, but he suppressed his anger with all his might. After Ji Guangjie finished the five-character inscription, he further wrote three poems: A sword embarks upon the weariness of travel, in all places spreading righteous gallantry; a prodigy is at the Dragon's Gate, his cutting edge yet untested. Riches exhausted at the wave of a hand, ten thousand miles traveled at the swing of a whip; that insignificant Jiang Xiaohe, how can he battle me? I come to Wudang with sword in hand, under boundlessly cloaking mist; far away an earnest heart, for my sake toils away at a dream.

    Jiang Xiaohe looked on from the side and couldn't help a smile, as he uttered, "That's pretty good!" Ji Guangjie was going to write a fourth poem, but with this, Jiang Xiaohe broke his poetic mood. He glanced at Jiang Xiaohe, but because Jiang Xiaohe had not brought his sword with him and was wearing clothes of coarse material, he didn't much care about him. He tossed down money for the wine, picked up his sword and left. Jiang Xiaohe quickly paid for his wine and followed him outside. He walked in front, and Jiang Xiaohe trailed him from behind. Shortly, Ji Guangjie entered an inn, and Jiang Xiaohe followed him inside. Jiang Xiaohe ascertained which room he was staying in before leaving and returning to his own inn.

    That evening, Ji Guangjie lit a lamp in his room and picked up a brush, wanting to compose another poem to make a set of four. Then, when he and Aluan wed, on the night of the bridal chamber, he could form these four poems into an adornment-hastening poem and read it for her, in order to show himself to be a man well-rounded in both the martial and the literary. But regardless of how he planned it out, the fourth poem would just not come to him. Instead a lovely vision of Bao Aluan appeared before him, which pleased him greatly. He thought himself truly unworthy of such a life. He had traveled to Guanzhong by chance and ended up with a xia woman as talented and beautiful as Bao Aluan for his wife. It really was a match made by the heavens. My foray into the south in search of Jiang Xiaohe, it too is a show for Aluan. I've now traveled hundreds of miles and written "Capture Jiang Xiaohe" in no less than a hundred places, and I have yet to turned up Jiang Xiaohe. But to hear Liu Qingkong, Liu Kuang, and Second Pang tell it, Jiang Xiaohe is certainly dithering about in Henan and Hubei. It's clear he fears me and is afraid to meet me. Then he thought, Ever since that dark night in Zhengyang county when an unnamed xia gave me silvers to help me in providing relief, Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao have refused to sleep in the same room as me. And while on the road Liu Zhiyuan is always on edge. It's obvious to me those men of the Kunlun School are so afraid of Jiang Xiaohe that their nerve is broken. Even if we were to encounter Jiang Xiaohe en route, Liu Zhiyuan would be reluctant to point him out. I fear that I'll never in a lifetime find him, searching for Jiang Xiaohe like this. Not only am I wasting my energy, but Bao Aluan is also in Guanzhong yearning for me day and night. It would be better to remain here another half day, visit Mount Wudang tomorrow, and then leave in the afternoon. I'll return first to Guanzhong and marry Bao Aluan, and then I'll deal with Jiang Xiaohe. I also need to try and find out who that xia was that helped me with disaster relief.

    Ji Guangjie pondered for a while, and then felt his body tired. Without packing his brush and inkstone away, he put out the light, laid down on the bed, still wearing his white silk pants and shirt, and fell into a deep sleep. The night was very peaceful and uneventful. When he opened his eyes the next day, it was already bright outside, and his door was still closed tightly. However, when Ji Guangjie got up, he saw a bit of ink on the bedding. He figured he must have gotten some ink on his hands when he was composing poems and had inadvertently gotten it onto the bedding, so he paid it no mind. He opened the door and called for an attendant to fetch him some water for washing up.

    The attendant came into the room and took up the water basin, but then didn't leave. He stood staring at Ji Guangjie's back with his two eyes as if in a daze. Ji Guangjie became annoyed and said, "Go get me some water! What the hell are you looking at? Are you an idiot?" The attendant quickly left carrying the basin, but looked back once more as he did. Ji Guangjie thought it both irritating and laughable. Liu Zhiyuan had now already gotten up. He came in and said, "Guangjie, are we still going to climb Mount Wudang today? I don't think it's necessary..." He suddenly began to stare as well, saying with surprise, "Why have you written on your clothes too?"

    Ji Guangjie was taken aback, and quickly took his shirt off. He saw on the back of his white fine-woven silk shirt were written the words "Capture Jiang Xiaohe" in large characters. He couldn't help breaking out in a sweat, though it was a cold one! He thought, Who did this? They took advantage of my deep sleep and snuck into my room to play this trick on me. His astonishment immediately turned to anger, and his face became deathly pale. Liu Zhiyuan though spoke with sympathy, "Look, a perfectly good shirt, and you've written on it. Why did you do that?" Ji Guangjie pretended to laugh and said, "I've just written these words too many times. They're too familiar to me now! I drank some wine yesterday, and when I got back here, the more I thought about that thug Jiang Xiaohe, the madder I got, so I couldn't help but write these words on my shirt." As he said this, he angrily flung the shirt to one side and rubbed his fist continuously.

    Liu Zhiyuan's expression changed, as if he was a little doubtful, but he spoke still as if nothing had happened, "Jiang Xiaohe has likely already caught wind of us and gone far away. We needn't run around blindly because of him. Let's go back to Chang'an! Otherwise, if we stay out here too long, something might happen back there!" Ji Guangjie seemed as if he had not listened to any of this. He impatiently said, "We'll discuss it later!" Liu Zhiyuan withdrew back to his own room.

    Ji Guangjie stared into space and fumed for a while. Then he picked up that shirt and looked at the scribbling on the back. He saw that he handwriting was clumsy, and he couldn't tell who had written it. The anger he held tightened up inside him and he ripped the shirt to shreds, putting on another one. He took up his sword and went outside, walking on the street with his head held high, though he didn't notice anyone who looked suspicious. He thought, In my life as a hero, how was I toyed with in such a way? He returned to the tavern he had written poetry at the day before and went inside, calling out, "Bring me wine!" He then suddenly noticed that after the three poems he had written on the wall himself, another had been added in characters larger than his own. It said, "In vain he calls himself a heroic figure, for his arts are in fact pedestrian; if an aspect of mercy was not yesterday, in mourning you would already be for the remainder of your life."

    Ji Guangjie broke into another sweat, but he also grew furious, seizing the barkeep and saying, "How dare you allow another to write nonsense after my poems?" The barkeep said, "He also gave me two strings of silver! I don't even know what he wrote on the wall!" Ji Guangjie held out his fist and asked, "What did he look like?" The barkeep said, "He...he was young! He just now finished writing." As he said this, he heard someone laughing heartily outside, saying, "Ji Guangjie! Come with me if you have the skill, and we'll meet atop Mount Wudang!"

    APTER ELEVEN

    Crossing swords on cloudy ridges, a cliff fall chances him upon a young valiant.
    Blowing out the candle in the bridal chamber, her swinging saber repels the bridegroom.


    Ji Guangjie was furious as he bounded out of the tavern, whoosh, with his sword held out. He shouted crossly, "Don't even think about running away, little one!" But all he saw was a black horse flying away to the south, being ridden by a man wearing blue who didn't bother even turning his head. Ji Guangjie angrily chased after him a few dozen steps, but there was just no way to catch up. He could only run back to the inn and retrieve his horse. Without even saddling it he led it urgently outside. Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao were in the courtyard then, and they walked forth and asked, "Guangjie, where are you going?" Ji Guangjie stamped his foot indignantly and said, "Never you mind!" He went through the entrance and mounted his horse, and then rode as if in flight toward the south and then to the west, heading to Mount Wudang straight after that man.

    In actuality, Jiang Xiaohe and his horse had long been hiding amid a dense pine forest. He watched as Ji Guangjie rode his horse with sword in hand toward the west. He himself turned his horse around and returned to the inn that Ji Guangjie had been staying at. He called out, "Liu Zhiyuan, come out!" Liu Zhiyuan had been inside, sitting anxiously with Jiang Zhiyao, puzzling over the fact that a man of great skill was currently secretly following Ji Guangjie. The man didn't have any bad intentions toward Ji Guangjie, but neither were they good. As they spoke, he suddenly heard someone calling his name from outside. It was a young man wearing blue and leading a black horse, standing before the gate.

    He was perplexed as he approached and asked, "Friend, are you the one looking for Liu Zhiyuan? What is your honorable name? What do you require Liu Zhiyuan for...?" When he drew nearer and gave a closer look, he couldn't help the color in his face draining from fear, uttering, "Oh—" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and nodded, saying, "Come out here with me! There are a few things I'd like to speak with you about!" Liu Zhiyuan couldn't help his legs going a little soft as he walked outside. Jiang Xiaohe said, "Don't worry. There is no enmity between the two of us!" Liu Zhiyuan relaxed a little at that and came closer, saying, "Brother, I haven't seen you in ten years. You've really grown both tall and strong! We've heard you've learned your martial arts!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "It's unsuitable to talk here. Come to the south side with me for some words. I hold no malice toward you. Otherwise, I would have taken all three of your heads last night!"

    Liu Zhiyuan went with him out into the southern outskirts until they came to a patch of wilderness. Here there was erected a very thick stone post, upon which had been carved a few characters indicating that this was the boundary of the Zhang family. Jiang Xiaohe led his horse over and stood beside it. He turned toward Liu Zhiyuan and said, "Let me tell you! My father was murdered by Bao Zhenfei, and in my youth, I suffered mistreatment in the Bao household. You know all of this. You did not treat me well before, but neither did you treat me poorly. I've learned my martial arts now. Look!" Jiang Xiaohe swung his right palm across the stone post. With a crack, he split the very thick stone post into two pieces, though Jiang Xiaohe's hand remained unhurt, nor did his color change.

    Jiang Xiaohe smirked smugly as he said, "This is but hard martial arts. If I were to show you soft martial arts, you would not comprehend it." Liu Zhiyuan was trembling a little and fear had paled his face, but he forced himself to remain calm as he said, "I have long known that you've learned your martial arts, brother. I had no choice but to come out here with Ji Guangjie this time, and it is the same for Jiang Zhiyao. Brother, you know the rules for our Kunlun School are the most strict. We must do what the old master sends us to do!" Jiang Xiaohe placed his hand on his sword and said angrily, "Speak no more of the Kunlun School! Bao Zhilin, Ge Zhiqiang, Long Zhiteng and Long Zhiqi of the Kunlun School are all my enemies! I must kill them all! I have no enmity with the rest of you, however, as long as you don't attack me, I will certainly not cause needless harm!"

    Liu Zhiyuan shuddered again and sighed, saying, "There's nothing to be done! No one can intercede in the grudge between your two houses. However, ugh! In any case, we must stay out of it where we can. The old master sent us out with Ji Guangjie, so we could only come with him. However, if I see you or encounter you, I won't give any indication that you are Jiang Xiaohe!"

    Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "Fine. No matter when you see you me, you must not tell anyone who I am. But you have to realize that it isn't because I'm afraid of anyone!" Liu Zhiyuan nodded and said, "I do! That you delivered at night seven hundred and more taels of silver for relief in Zhengyang, and that you wrote words on Ji Guangjie's body, I realize it all. To bring up the martial arts you've learned through ten grueling years, brother, no one has as great a skill. That kid Ji Guangjie is still foolish, thinking that his martial arts are exceptional. In reality, it is because you aren't willing to strike against him, brother, or else Ji Guangjie be dead even if there were eight of him!" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right! I'm off to look for Ji Guangjie!" He mounted his horse, swung his whip and galloped off toward Mount Wudang.

    A branch of the Ba Mountains, Mount Wudang was the most famous mountain in Northern Hubei. It encompassed eight hundred miles, and held thirty-six cliffs and twenty-seven peaks. Its highest summit was called Tianzhu Peak, and that was where Zhenwu cultivated asceticism. Else, there was the South Cliff, Wulong Peak, Zixiao Peak and Zhanqi Peak, and upon each peak sat a Daoist monastery built by the founding master Zhang Sanfeng. Zhang Sanfeng was a man of Huizong of Song's time who lived for more than two hundred years, finally ascending to immortality during the reign of Chengzu of Ming. The internal martial arts techniques had all come from him, so it was called the "Wudang School." The Daoist priests on the mountain have all learned his secret martial arts, but they are unwilling to show them to others rashly, so those of Jianghu cannot easily know their ins and outs.

    On this day, the dawn mist had not yet dissipated, and it was cool on the mountain. Renowned xia of the internal school Ji Guangjie and Jiang Xiaohe made their way up Mount Wudang one after the other. Ji Guangjie was the first to come, and he pressed his horse up the mountain way. He held anger in his heart, thinking, What kind of person dares toy with me? To bully me, the Xia of Longmen's grandson? I must fight him! The horse's hooves knocked upon the mountain rock as he rode, frightening the mountain birds and wild hares into scattering. After he crossed a peak, he heard the trickling of a spring in his ear. Three or four goshawks shot down from the high peaks and white clouds in a spiral, directly below the ridge, and flew circles about the legs of Ji Guangjie's horse. Just as suddenly, they swept swiftly back up into the sky, their wings angled. Ji Guangjie regretted not carrying a sling with him, thinking, If I'd brought a sling, I'd be able to strike down these four goshawks in five or six shots.

    He looked from side to side as he pressed his horse on, not seeing so much as a woodsman. Crossing another ridge, he spotted across from him a waterfall flowing from a high cliff that looked just like a strip of white silk. It beat against the mountain rock and splashed forth countless water droplets. The droplets sprayed both high and far, causing even Ji Guangjie's socks and shoes to feel damp. He could also hear the urgent gurgling of the water. This was because this waterfall rushed past countless creature-like mountain rocks, twisting and turning its way down. Below was a deep and wide mountain stream, and its waters surged as if it were the Yellow River or the Great River. When he looked up, he saw carved above the high cliff in large characters, "Shedsword Spring."

    Ji Guangjie thought to himself, I wonder if this is some sort of historical site. It's unfortunate I didn't bring a brush and ink, or I'd be able to climb up the cliff and write "Capture Jiang Xiaohe" in large characters, and then note my name below it. In the future, if Jiang Xiaohe ever comes here and sees it, he'll surely become frightened out of his wits. He searched for the mountain road and then ascended with quite a bit of exertion up the mountain crag with his horse. He unexpectedly came upon a boulder blocking the road, and when his horse saw it, it became timid and wanted to go back down. Ji Guangjie whipped and spurred his horse on firmly. The horse leapt with its four legs over the boulder like a white dragon. Afterward, Ji Guangjie jumped off his horse, and standing by the boulder, drew his sword and swung it. He gave a long whistle and said, "Hey! I, Ji Guangjie, am here! Come out, little one! Let me show you, here on Mount Wudang, our real, internal Wudang martial arts, and the Longmen School's spectacular sword skill!"

    He shouted this with head held high, but all he heard in response were the echoes of innumerable mountains, all saying, "...spectacular sword skill!" It was as if the founding master Zhang Sanfeng was replying to him from the sky. Again seeing two goshawks flying back his way, Ji Guangjie quickly picked up a rock shard and lifted his face up. He waited for one of them to wheel back, and then raising his hand, Ji Guangjie flung the rock at it, striking the goshawk's wing. The bird careered down at an angle, like a kite with a broken string. Ji Guangjie quickly looked down and watched the bird falling several dozen feet before slowly regaining its strength, flapping its wings and soaring upward. It called out, hark, hark, as it circled twice, and then flew into the distance.

    Ji Guangjie couldn't help but laugh loudly. When he turned his head, he noticed a Daoist priest standing on the peak behind him with a long, black beard. His hand was resting on a pine tree as he looked down at Ji Guangjie. Ji Guangjie turned around and looked up, asking loudly, "Priest, have you seen a man coming up the mountain on a black horse?" The priest said something, but he couldn't hear a word of it, with it mixing in with the sound of the spring. Ji Guangjie thus walked his horse to the side and tied it to a date tree. Then, with his sword in one hand, he waved with the other.

    The Daoist priest said loudly, "You can't bring a sword up here! Did you not see it carved on the rock face below, 'Shedsword Spring'? It was written by the celestial hand of the Perfected Incarnation of Profundity, founding master Zhang Sanfeng. You may not bring swords up the mountain. Throw your sword down quickly, or the lord Zhenwu will become angry!" Ji Guangjie's look hardened as he said, "You are not lord Zhenwu, nor are you Zhang Sanfeng. Can you stop me? I was invited up the mountain to compare my martial skill with someone. I know the martial arts, those actually of the Wudang School. Mount Wudang is my ancestral home, so I can do what I like. No one can tell me otherwise!"

    Upon hearing Ji Guangjie's words, the priest's bearing changed a little, inquiring, "To which branch of the Wudang School do you belong? The Wudang School only has three branches of descendants. One was in Guanzhong, where the great xia Wang Zong passed it on to a few disciples, but in the hundred years since, the transmission in that branch has long ended. Another was in Wenzhou, passed on through the master Chen Zhoutong, and in our day, of this branch there remains only the Dragon of Shu. The final branch was in Southern Hubei, passed on through the master Wang Laiwei, but I hear none remain of that one now. There is also the Iron Staff Monk and the Goose of the Great River, but they have merely appropriated a bit of the internal martial arts for their own, and are thus not authentic Wudang."

    Hearing this, Ji Guangjie was astonished, thinking, This priest is quite familiar with the splinter schools of Wudang. I suppose he must know the martial arts. Then he laughed and said, "You speak accurately, but there are things you may not know. The martial arts of the Wudang School have already left the mountain for two or three centuries, and there are things out there which are much different than the news you receive on the mountain. There are many people whom you've never heard of, and their martial arts are more powerful than those that are passed down here. I am surnamed Ji, a man of Hedong. My grandfather is called the Xia of Longmen. You surely know of him?"

    The Daoist priest heard this and said with surprise, "So you are a descendant of the Xia of Longmen. That's even better. Your grandfather's martial arts are of the Shaolin School, though he then trained at Wudang. Thus his martial arts have the strength of two schools together, and he has proved to be a great, old xia. However, he made a few pilgrimages to Wudang twenty years ago and even he had never dared to take his sword up the mountain. As his grandson, how can you be so arrogant? You must understand, I am doing you a favor by telling you these things, because I have but wandered here. I am not of the mountain. But if you encounter the priests of the Yuzhen Monastery, they may not be as generous as I've been."

    Ji Guangjie said indignantly, "Since you're not from the mountain, then you should mind your own business! If lord Zhenwu appears, then he can only blame me. It's got nothing to do with you!" After he said this, he paid no more mind to the priest and jumped up onto a high cliff and looked all about. He saw continuous peaks and ridges, heavy clouds and mist, and not even the shapes of those goshawks. Even more, he did not see the man from the tavern in the southern reaches of the county who called for him to compare their martial arts. He couldn't help smiling to himself, What an imbecile. He called me out here, and then ran away. I think he must have been a Jianghu thug. His nighttime tricks may have been better a little better than mine, but he doesn't dare cross swords with me! Thus, he shouted a few times in succession, but excepting the echoes from the empty valleys, no one responded to him. He looked back again to see that the Daoist priest had already left. Ji Guangjie felt very disappointed, thinking, I probably won't lose my horse here, so I might as well continue upwards and see what Mount Wudang has to offer in the way of priests with exceptional martial arts!

    Thereafter he made his way upwards, holding his sword. He saw all over the mountain deep green pines and jade-colored grass. It was so secluded, he saw not one person. After crossing another ridge, he saw a red wall before him, peeking out from behind pine trees. Ji Guangjie increased his pace and walked closer, seeing that it was a small temple. He found the door and read the three characters written across a tablet, which said, "Xuanwei Monastery." The door was shut tightly. As the birds chirped and the sea of pines rustled, it really appeared to be a heavenly paradise.

    Ji Guangjie used his sword to knock on the door lock, knocking for a while, yet no one opened the door. Ji Guangjie grew irritated, and leapt up onto the red wall. He looked down and saw no one in the courtyard, though it had been swept very neatly. Ji Guangjie jumped into the courtyard, walked to the eastern temple hall with his sword in hand, and directed a question inside, "Is there anyone in there?" Before anyone inside answered, Ji Guangjie heard light footsteps behind him. He quickly looked back and saw the black-bearded Daoist priest from before, now wearing short clothes. In one hand he carried a sword and his other hand was reaching out with two fingers extended toward Ji Guangjie's lower spine, advancing with the utmost speed. Ji Guangjie turned back swiftly, swinging his sword. Clang, the two swords rang out as they clashed.

    Ji Guangjie hollered furiously, "All right! You Daoists are plotting against me!" The black-bearded priest thrust his sword for another attack, himself yelling angrily, "No one has dared carry a sword up the mountain in two hundred years! Whence do you come, brigand, who dares to pretend he is an heir of Wudang? On your guard!" Ji Guangjie held his sword up to knock away his opponent's sword. Hearing the sound of a door behind him, Ji Guangjie quickly jumped to the side and saw a young priest coming out of the eastern temple hall, also armed with a sword and coming at him, yelling, "Leave!" As Ji Guangjie displayed his martial ability, his one sword holding itself against his opponents' two swords, he smiled and said, "As I've come up the mountain already, I won't leave. Mount Wudang is my grandmother's home. I want to show off my martial arts here to allow you uncles to get a look at me!" He didn't flinch one bit as his sword spun around through changing moves. The red tassel on the sword danced along with his long and nimble arm.

    The two priests were also quite adept with the sword, but they were unable to overcome him, as they were driven back almost into the rear courtyard. Just then three more priests came out from the rear courtyard, all brandishing their swords and charging at Ji Guangjie. The five swords surrounded Ji Guangjie, in front and behind, on his left and his right. With his sword, Ji Guangjie covered his front and shielded behind him, blocked to the left and attacked to the right. All one could hear was the sound of footsteps and the increasingly urgent clash of swords. After more than twenty exchanges, Ji Guangjie changed his sword form and fought and moved at the same time. When he was before the temple gate, he leapt up onto the wall. The young priest pursued him onto the wall with sword brandished. Ji Guangjie jumped outside the temple and withdrew up the mountain ridge. With the five priests chasing after him, Ji Guangjie nodded and said, "Come! Do you dare come up here?" He stood atop a cliff and smiled smugly down at them.

    The black-bearded Daoist priest and the young priest came at him with their swords held out. Ji Guangjie bent forward with his sword and contended with them. After battling for another dozen or so exchanges, none of the five priests could advance onto the cliff. Ji Guangjie used one hand to protect his body with his sword and used the other to hold onto the rock face and make his way up the mountain. The five priests refused to back away, and pressed on as before, yelling at him, "Throw down your sword and we'll let you go wherever you please!" Ji Guangjie continued laughing unrestrained and continued backing his way up the mountain, teasing the priests with his sword. The Daoist priests were now in a fury and charged him all at once. Ji Guangjie shielded his body and proceeded up on a mountain road, thrusting his sword in combat with the five priests. The more they fought, the more his spirit was stirred. The five priests had been pressed by his rapidly changing sword until they no longer dared to advance upon him.

    At this time, Ji Guangjie heard bell sounds behind him, droning on as if two or three bells were all being struck at the same time, and very urgently. Ji Guangjie knew then that more people were coming. He retracted his sword with a flip, turned around and ran up the mountain. Upon reaching an even higher mountain ridge, he saw the cliffs here to be sheer, without even a bit of level ground.

    Behind the ridge there was a temple, its top exposed along with pine trees, with white clouds drifting among the trees. The mountain-shaking droning of the bell was coming from there. Amid the sound of the bells, two more Daoist priests ran out, both holding swords in their hands. These two priests were older, with one over forty and the other with an already faded beard. The ashy-bearded priest came near to Ji Guangjie very quickly. He held his sword out crosswise and shouted, "Halt your advance!" The five priests below the ridge had now caught up, and when they saw the ashy-bearded priest, they all bowed their heads to the ground in deference.

    The black-bearded priest pointed at Ji Guangjie and said, "This is a hateful man! He calls himself the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, and he passed by Shedsword Spring without leaving his sword. I kindly exhorted him, and he became vicious, using malicious words to slander the gods. The few of us tried to drive him away but were unsuccessful, and he continued his way up the mountain." The ashy-bearded priest listened and sized Ji Guangjie up from top to bottom. He smiled and said, "I didn't imagine that Ji Junyi would have this sort of grandson. This being the case, you should be even less able to flout the rules of the mountain! Now throw your sword into the water and I'll take you to burn incense before the lord founding master and beg the lord founding master for forgiveness!"

    Ji Guangjie, however, brandished his sword and said, "Make things clear first! I ask you, who is your lord the founding master?" The ashy-bearded priest's mood turned immediately angry, as he said, "The founding master of the Wudang School is Zhang the Perfected Incarnation of Profundity! How can it be your grandfather has not told you this?" Ji Guangjie asked arrogantly, "Is the Daoist master Zhang still alive? Tell him to come out and see me!" The nearby Daoist priests all became furious, all brandishing their swords and saying, "This man lacks reason. The Second Daoist Master need speak with him no further!"

    The ashy-bearded priest laughed coldly, saying, "The Iron Staff Monk came here ten years ago, causing trouble, but he was expelled from the mountain by us through the divine light of the lord founding master. Not since then has anyone ever dared come before us without rationality. I did not imagine there would now come one as lowly as you who has just entered the world. I ask you, as you are the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, you must have heard him speak to you of the Seven Great Sword Sages on Mount Wudang?"

    Ji Guangjie smiled and shook his head, saying, "Never. I don't believe that any kind of sword sage still exists in this world. Even if there were, I should like to fight with them!" Upon hearing Ji Guangjie's foolish talk, the ashy-bearded priest sneered ever more coldly and said, "What a lowly person who doesn't know right from wrong! It is necessary for me today on behalf of the Xia of Longmen to keep his grandson in line. However, I must first give you my name. I am the second of this mountain's Seven Great Sword Sages, the Swordsman of Chu!" Ji Guangjie said, "Who cares what kind of bear you are! Let us face off!" As he said this, he sent a chop over with his sword. [Note: Ji Guangjie insults the Swordsman of Chu by using a pun on his name. The word for bear (熊, xiong) is homophonous with the last character in his style, the Swordsman of Chu (楚劍雄, Chu Jianxiong).]

    The Swordsman of Chu quickly raised his sword and knocked away Ji Guangjie's sword, and then spun a half-blossom to cut at Ji Guangjie's right wrist. Ji Guangjie urgently pulled back his sword and then immediately sent out a thrust, hoping to thrust away his opponent's sword, but the Swordsman of Chu spun his sword in a rear blossom, sending a chop at Ji Guangjie's head. Ji Guangjie pulled his sword back hastily and then swiftly met him with sword held crosswise. The two swords clashed and, clang, rang out very loudly! The Swordsman of Chu's strength was great and Ji Guangjie couldn't repel his blade. He took a hasty step back, and then went back at his opponent having changed his swordwork. To his surprise, the Swordsman of Chu's sword came flying with three chops in rapid succession, one following close behind the last. Ji Guangjie could only exert his strength to resist the attack, and then turn tail and run.

    The Swordsman of Chu rushed after him, when Ji Guangjie suddenly flipped around and swung his sword across to strike at the Swordsman of Chu's neck. The Swordsman of Chu quickly ducked down, but then bobbed his head back up. His sword pushed his opponent's sword away, and he advanced at an angle, changing his sword stance and attacked Ji Guangjie from the right side. Ji Guangjie had already jumped onto a large crag, taking the high ground to face the Swordsman of Chu. The Swordsman of Chu charged at him a few times, though he was obstructed by Ji Guangjie's sword every time.

    Ji Guangjie became even more arrogant, yelling out, "Priest, if you can make it onto this rock, I'll throw down my sword and ask you to be my master!" The Swordsman of Chu bellowed angrily, "Who wants a disciple like you!" His sword was as if a python, moving in all directions, front, back, left, right. He soared up to attack, intending to defeat Ji Guangjie. However, Ji Guangjie just stood on the large crag, reaching down with his sword, jumping and turning side to side. Whenever the Swordsman of Chu's blade came, he sent a chop down with his own. No matter what sword skill his opponent employed, or how much strength was exerted, he didn't not allow him to step up onto his fortress-like crag. He smirked, angering the Swordsman of Chu into brandishing his sword and pointing it at him. The six Daoist priests nearby swung their swords and advanced. Ji Guangjie could do nothing but jump off the crag and bare his sword to battle the group.

    The seven swords flew this way and that for another ten exchanges before Ji Guangjie cut down the black-bearded priest. The droning of the bell came now once again from the temple, and in an instant came four more Daoist priests armed with swords. The nine men swung their swords and advanced upon Ji Guangjie together. The Swordsman of Chu's swordwork was especially novel as they pressed forward step by step. Ji Guangjie was aware that he wouldn't be able to keep up, so just as he stabbed down another, he turned and ran next to a precipice, where he was unable to find a path down. Below were bottomless mountain streams, but with the clouds drifting across them, he couldn't tell where it was water and where it was rock.

    Ji Guangjie dared not jump down, so he could only turn back, grit his teeth, and with a hardened stare, twirl his sword about like a flower to protect his body. However, he saw that more and more priests were coming, and the glimmer of the blades in front of him were blinding him. Dealing with his left made it so he could not deal with his right, and at the same time his strength was exhausted. He felt his vision go black, a foot go soft, and he was no longer in control of his body. Closely following, he heard a rushing rumble and felt an odd ache course through his body, whereupon he lost consciousness.

    He didn't know how much time had passed before he felt someone holding him and splashing cold water on his head. Ji Guangjie opened his eyes and saw that it was a young man wearing blue. He looked a little familiar, a man tall of stature. He appeared to be the man who, in front of the tavern in the southern reaches of the city, provoked him into coming to the mountain for a contest of swords, the same sturdy young man who, when he was inscribing poetry at the tavern the night previous, had praised his "good poetry" from nearby. Ji Guangjie took a look at the wounds from his tumble. They weren't serious, and except for his left arm and his face, nowhere else did it hurt. He jumped up and grabbed a fistful of the young man, cursing angrily, "You cretin! You tricked me into going up the mountain."

    The young man took his wrist and sent a foot out, kicking Ji Guangjie into the mountain stream. The water was very deep and Ji Guangjie couldn't swim very well, so struggling, his head broke through the water twice before a torrent rushing down from some high place above submerged him completely. The young man Jiang Xiaohe, who had been standing on the mountain rock, jumped into the water. Like a fish, he swam with ease, pulling Ji Guangjie out without breaking a sweat. He pressed a few mouthfuls of water out of Ji Guangjie before he came to once again, who saw that both of them looked like drenched chickens. He hadn't any strength, so he laid on the rock and asked Jiang Xiaohe, "Who are you? Tell the truth!"

    Jiang Xiaohe smiled and replied, "My name is Gao Jiuhua." Ji Guangjie sneered, "Nameless cretin! And here I thought you were Jiang Xiaohe!" Jiang Xiaohe smirked back, "If I were Jiang Xiaohe, why would I rescue you? Right now, you'd still be handing off a tree branch!"

    Ji Guangjie looked up and saw cliffs rising up more than a hundred yards. A host of trees had grown perpendicular out of the cliff face, white clouds drifted above their branches, and spring water flowed down below their roots. Ji Guangjie was very astonished, thinking, I lost my footing and feel from above into the trees. With cliffs as sheer as this, that this man could rescue me from the trees is no small feat. Not to mention his hand-to-hand skills are very good, his strength great, and his swimming proficient. He must be some obscure good guy. He laughed and said, "I, Ji Guangjie, have never encountered a person like you before. You really are a first rate one of cock calls and dog burglaries!" [Note: "Cock calls and dog burglaries" (雞鳴狗盜, jiming goudao) is an idiom referring to small tricks useful in emergency situations. It comes from a story in the Records of the Grand Historian about the Warring States minister Lord Menchang escaping from King Zhao of Qin, via a theft performed by a man disguised as a dog and another man imitating the sound of a rooster.]

    Jiang Xiaohe smiled and asked, "What do you mean by cock calls and dog burglaries? Don't litter your speech with literary allusions with me. I can't even read!" Ji Guangjie was taken aback, asking, "Could it be you are not the one who wrote a poem after my own on the wall of the tavern? Last evening...that wasn't you?" Jiang Xiaohe laughed, "You're pushing everything onto me. Let me tell you! I followed you from Zhengyang county. I meant to compare my martial arts with yours, to see just how great a skill this Capture Jiang Xiaohe person had. I knew it wasn't permitted to wear swords on Mount Wudang, and that bringing one up the mountain would cause trouble. That's why I provoked you into ascending the mountain, so that you would battle with these Daoist priests. Now I see, you're not capable at all!"

    Ji Guangjie sat up angrily with a rebuke, "Shut your mouth, Gao! How dare you look down on me? I lost on the mountain just now because I was one man by myself. Of course there was some difficulty in holding off their dozen or so swords with my one. But in the end, I was not injured, though I did wound several of them. All said, the ones who lost today were them, not me!"

    Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "Overall, your martial arts are still not great. If it were me, I wouldn't need a weapon in my hand. Against an attack by dozens of their swords, I wouldn't be the least bit fearful. I guarantee I would defeat them all."

    Ji Guangjie scoffed, "None of your offhanded nonsense! Dare you go up the mountain and fight those priests?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "They haven't done me any wrong, not to mention that Mount Wudang is sacred ground for our internal school. I dare not be discourteous before the founding master Zhang Sanfeng." Ji Guangjie laughed loudly and said, "Those words coming out of your mouth will kill people, they're so funny!"

    A bit of ire showed on Jiang Xiaohe's face as he said, "I'm not funny. The funny one is you! How dare you write 'Capture Jiang Xiaohe' everywhere with your level of martial arts? It's just that Jiang Xiaohe respects the renown of your grandfather, the Xia of Longmen, and thus is unwilling to shame you upon Jianghu. That's all. Otherwise, if he found you, he'd need only three fists and two kicks. Light ones, and you'd be injured, Ji Guangjie. Heavy, and you would certainly die!"

    Upon hearing this, Ji Guangjie jumped up suddenly, holding both hands in fists and glaring at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe smiled smugly. Ji Guangjie looked down abruptly and caught sight of his reflection in the mirror-like water. His face was covered in blood, probably injured by pine branches when he fell off the cliff. Ji Guangjie touched his hands to his face and felt a lot of pain. In addition, his hands became stained with blood. He sneered at Jiang Xiaohe a moment but didn't speak. He then peeled off his soaked, tattered short shirt and, using it as a towel, he crouched down and washed his face and body with the water from the stream. Then, he laughed disingenuously and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Friend, let us not quarrel today. In Zhengyang county, you stole money to help me give relief, and we'll count what just happened as you saving me. The two of us ought to become friends. As to whose martial arts are better, and whose are worse, let's decide that on a later date. Wait for me here while I go up the mountain to get my horse now. Then, I'll call out to you and we can return to the city together, to my inn to talk and drink a few cups of wine. What do you say?"

    Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right! You go get your horse, and I'll wait for you below the mountain. Let me get your sword!" Saying this, Jiang Xiaohe scaled up the cliff to a large, crooked willow, where he took hold of the sword that Ji Guangjie had lost and tossed it down, saying, "Look out! Catch!" Below, Ji Guangjie reached a hand out and grabbed the hilt. Holding onto a tree with one hand, Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "I'll be waiting for you below the mountain!" Saying this, he climbed up the cliff and scaled through the trees like a monkey, very quickly making his way to the top.

    Looking up and watching him, Ji Guangjie couldn't help but feel admiration, thinking, This person's body and hands are nimble, truly more so than my own. If he is Jiang Xiaohe, then this will really be troublesome! He waited until there remained no trace of Jiang Xiaohe, before slipping his sword into his belt and climbing through the trees and scaling the cliffs to the top. However, before he got twenty feet, he saw no more trees to climb and no more cliffs he could scale, so he quickly went back down. He felt anxious, thinking, If I can't climb out, even if I don't end up starving to death here, the one named Gao will ridicule me. Thus, he jumped through the mess of rocks by the stream and headed upwards. It took quite a bit of effort for him to look up and see a mountain crag above that he could scale. Ji Guangjie exhausted his entire life's capabilities, very carefully climbing his way up.

    When he reached the top, he heard the crashing of water and realized he was in the vicinity of the waterfall at Shedsword Spring. Ji Guangjie checked the direction and then wandered a while back and forth between the mountain ridges before finding his white horse. Looking up and seeing the green peaks layered upon each other and the drifting white clouds, Ji Guangjie wanted to draw his sword and make his way back up the ridge to clash once more with the group of Daoist priests. However, right now his body was extremely tired, and several of his cuts and bruises hurt a lot, so he just glared viciously upwards. He thought, The Swordsman of Chu! You bunch of priests! We won't fight anymore today. After a couple days, I'll come back up the mountain to do battle with you! He fumed as he slid his sword into its scabbard, and then he led his horse down the mountain. When he saw he was about to arrive at the base of the mountain, he got onto his horse and loosed the reins, trotting down the mountain.

    There was a herd of sheep below the mountain, over two hundred of them grazing on the grass. Looked upon from afar, they appeared much like piles and piles of snow. Jiang Xiaohe was holding on to his horse and standing amid the herd of snow white sheep, talking to two sheepherder children. Ji Guangjie waved his hands high in the air and called out, "Friend! Let's go!" Jiang Xiaohe led his horse out of the flock and over to the main road, whereupon he mounted his horse. Ji Guangjie paid special attention to the sword by Jiang Xiaohe's saddle and the straw sandals on his feet. He smiled and said, "Let's go! We'll head back to my inn and chat. I have two friends there as well!"

    Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right!" Thus, the two horses galloped back to the city's southern outskirts. At this time, Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao were in the courtyard feeling the breeze. Liu Zhiyuan was silent with a tightly furrowed brow, while Jiang Zhiyao was exchanging small talk with the innkeeper. Abruptly, the two horses white and black arrived. As they were led through the gates of the inn, Ji Guangjie and Jiang Xiaohe were both covered in mud. It was especially the case with Ji Guangjie, who had earlier departed looking quite good. Now, he was no longer wearing a shirt, with cuts and bruises all over his face and arms, and bleeding in several places. Jiang Zhiyao stared at him with his one eye and asked, "What happened!?" Liu Zhiyuan glanced blankly at Jiang Xiaohe.

    Jiang Xiaohe calmly handed his horse over to an inn attendant, and Ji Guangjie introduced him to Liu Zhiyuan, saying, "This is Liu Zhiyuan, an exceptional disciple of the Kunlun School, whom people call the Star God Blade. This is a friend I've just made, Gao Jiuhua." Jiang Xiaohe smiled and clasped his fist, saying, "It's an honor to meet you!" Liu Zhiyuan didn't dare not assume a spirited air, so he clasped his fist and said, "I'm not worthy of the honor!" Ji Guangjie watched this with great disappointment, thinking, I've wrongly doubted this one named Gao. It turns out he really isn't Jiang Xiaohe. Thereafter, he introduced him to Jiang Zhiyao.

    Jiang Zhiyao looked him over with his single eye and observed Jiang Xiaohe to be a man of skill, so he cupped his fist again and again, saying, "Let's sit down in the courtyard! It's too hot inside!" He then pulled a stool over. Ji Guangjie said, "I need to go inside for a change of clothes." Liu Zhiyuan was about to follow Ji Guangjie inside. Jiang Xiaohe hastened over and pulled him back, saying, "Brother Liu, please sit. Let's talk!" He tightened his grip. Liu Zhiyuan felt his bones ache though he dared not cry out, and said, "That's fine! All right!" He stumbled as Jiang Xiaohe jerked him back and pressed him onto a stool. It hurt so much beads of sweat large as soy beans rolled down his head.

    Jiang Xiaohe said, "It's really hot out, isn't it?" Liu Zhiyuan grimaced and nodded, saying, "Yes, it is. Very hot, very hot!" Jiang Xiaohe took off his short jacket, revealing his robust, cast iron-like body. Liu Zhiyuan then said, "Brother Gao, where do you come from? What do you do?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm from Chizhou in Jiangnan, and I don't have a set occupation. Sometimes I help friends do escort work, and sometimes I teach a month or two of fists. When I'm poor and have nothing to do, I'll pull together an audience wherever I happen to be and perform some martial arts tricks. I've drifted across the north and south for more than ten years, and I've never gone a day without food and wine for my person, or hay and feed for my horse. I've come here now on pilgrimage to Wudang. Little did I know that ascending the mountain, I would come upon brother Ji Guangjie fighting with some Daoist priests, where Ji Guangjie was forced off a cliff. I rescued him, and now we're both friends."

    Ji Guangjie had changed into a beige jacket and pants by now and was coming outside as Jiang Xiaohe was saying this. He couldn't help his face flushing and saying agitatedly, "Brother Gao, if you don't have any important business to take care of, let me invite you to stay here a couple more days, so you can watch me go back up Mount Wudang. Not only to defeat the Swordsman of Chu and all those priests, but to force all the Seven Great Sword Sages to kneel before me!"

    Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "I'm afraid it wouldn't be that easy! Mount Wudang is mountain of the internal school's founding master. How could those priests not have knowledge of the secret martial arts passed down from the time of the Daoist master Sanfeng? As for the Seven Great Sword Sages, I may not know their names, but I don't think there's any way they could be like those lowly ones in Jianghu who carry empty renown and speak highly of themselves!" Ji Guangjie color deepened, saying angrily, "Brother Gao, can you come with me on another visit up the mountain? To watch me face off against that group of priests once more?" Saying this, he made to take up his sword and head back to the mountain to fight, but Jiang Zhiyao stood in his way, saying, "Let us talk this over first. There are many priests on the mountain, and there are only a few of us. No matter how great the hero, they would still have misgivings. No one would be willing to join in this instance of one against a multitude!"

    Ji Guangjie sat down fuming, and Jiang Xiaohe poured himself a cup of tea to drink. Ji Guangjie stared angrily into space for a while before asking, "Brother Gao, where are you planning on heading now?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm going to Chang'an!" Nearby, Liu Zhiyuan was startled. Ji Guangjie then asked, "What business do you have in Chang'an?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I have a few friends there whom I haven't seen in over ten years. They owe me some debts that I plan to go and collect on!"

    Liu Zhiyuan was so scared that not only did his color change, but he began to sweat profusely once more. Jiang Zhiyao seemed also to feel a bit astonished, so he asked, "I wonder, Brother Gao, what business your Chang'an friends are in?" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "There are all smalltime merchants, though the debt they owe me is not small at all. This time, I will go and there is no chance I won't be repaid!" Sweating, Liu Zhiyuan started to shiver.

    Ji Guangjie bit his lip and shifted his eyes back and forth, thinking very carefully through what Jiang Xiaohe had just said. After a moment, Ji Guangjie said, "Brother Gao, since you're heading to Chang'an, why don't we travel together? I have many friends there, and some family as well. Brother Gao, you must know of the old fighting master Bao Kunlun, yes? The old man is currently in Chang'an. Additionally, Little Kunlun Bao Zhilin, Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger, Ge Zhiqiang the Iron Hegemon of the Golden Saber and Silver Whip, Lu Zhizhong, Yuan Zhixia, Jin Zhiyong, and Zhao Zhiqi, all heroes of the Kunlun School, all of them are in Chang'an. When you go, I can introduce you to them. If you still want to have a martial arts contest, you can. Other than the supreme martial arts of the old master Bao, to which you cannot compare, I think you may at least be on par with the rest of them!"

    Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "I do want to compare our martial arts, and of course I will go find Bao Kunlun! Moreover, I think Bao Kunlun elderly, so were I to triumph over him, I couldn't be called a hero. When we fight, I'll do so empty-handed, and tell old man Bao to use his Kunlun saber. If I can't snatch away his Kunlun saber, or knock him down, I'll never call myself a hero before another person!" Ji Guangjie scoffed, "Brother Gao, you exaggerate too much with your big talk. Let's not talk of the old master Bao. I'm afraid you wouldn't even be a match for old master Bao's granddaughter, the young lady Bao Aluan!"

    Upon hearing mention of Bao Aluan, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help a wave of sadness in his heart, resentment mixed into grief, so he asked loudly, "Is the young woman Aluan also currently in Chang'an?" Ji Guangjie nodded and said, "Yes, she is!" Jiang Xiaohe quickly asked, "How do her martial arts compare to yours, Ji Guangjie?" Ji Guangjie said, "We've never fought, though I think I am slightly better. He was just an even match for the Dragon of Shu's disciple, and I was able to wound Li Fengjie." Jiang Xiaohe contemplated this silently, a limitless yearning burned in his heart, causing a pained expression to show on his face with his eyebrows drawn together. He asked, "I wonder, has the young woman been married off to someone yet?"

    Ji Guangjie gave a self-satisfied smile and said, "She's been promised to someone." Jiang Xiaohe was taken aback and his look hardened, hastily asking, "To whom? Has she married or not?" Ji Guangjie abruptly slapped the table and said sternly, "What are you asking about her for? She is to be wife to me, Ji Guangjie. I will marry her in the fall!" Jiang Xiaohe was so angry he stood up suddenly and reached his finger below Ji Guangjie's ribs for a tap. Ji Guangjie turned his body away and fell onto the floor with a thud. Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao were so alarmed they jumped to one side, and the attendants and other guests in the courtyard were all shaken, asking, "What's going on?"

    Jiang Xiaohe was so furious the color of his face was white as galvanized iron and both his hands were held tightly in fists. He wanted nothing more than to go over and kill Ji Guangjie with one fist. However, he thought over again, If I kill him fighting over a woman, it would be too obviously unheroic. Not to mention, my master instructed me not to employ the dianxue skill. It would be too improper to abuse it now in a fit of jealous hatred! At the same time, he felt in his heart a rush of sorrow, difficult to describe. He then took a few deep breaths and asked Liu Zhiyuan, "Bao Kunlun, Long Zhiqi and Bao Aluan, are they in Chang'an or not?" Liu Zhiyuan nodded and said, "They really are in Chang'an!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Good. I'm going to look for them!" Afterwards, he walked over and gave Ji Guangjie a kick before angrily turning and leaving.

    He hurried back to his own inn, paid his bill and walked through the gates of the inn leading his horse and carrying his sword. He then mounted his horse and departed. He originally wanted to press his horse hard through the night to hurry to Chang'an, but for some reason, the ache in his heart was hard to bear, so his horse did not travel quickly. After he rode north three or four miles, he saw a white horse flying after him from behind. The rider was Ji Guangjie, who hollered with sword in hand, "Jiang Xiaohe! You little one, afraid to reveal your real name. Halt! One triumphing over another using dianxue is no hero at all. Dare you compete with me by sword?"

    Atop his horse, Jiang Xiaohe held his sword crosswise and turned back, smiling coldly, "You too are a descendent of the Wudang School. Must you and I fight to the death? I can kill you very easily, but I don't want to. This is because you and I have no grudge between us. The one I'm looking for is Bao Zhenfei and the Long Brothers." Ji Guangjie yelled, "With me, Ji Guangjie, here, you'd best not think about touching a hair on anyone from the Kunlun School. On your guard!"

    Ji Guangjie sent a vicious slash of his sword at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe blocked it and a deafening clang rang out, sending Ji Guangjie's sword away. Ji Guangjie pressed his horse, passed Jiang Xiaohe and obstructed the road. He then leaned forward and sent an attack at Jiang Xiaohe's torso with his sword. Jiang Xiaohe used lower part of his sword to strike at Ji Guangjie's upper wrist, and seized the opportunity to try to cut at Ji Guangjie's head. Ji Guangjie bounded off his horse and met the attack with his sword horizontal. Jiang Xiaohe's sword came down from high up in a Crimson Phoenix Facing the Sun move. Ji Guangjie hastily stepped back. Jiang Xiaohe leapt off his horse as well and charged straight at Ji Guangjie. Ji Guangjie sprinted north a few steps and then waited for Jiang Xiaohe to catch up to him before turning and unleashing a sword attack.

    Jiang Xiaohe leaned back and swept his sword diagonally. Clang, the two swords clashed once again. Ji Guangjie soared up and swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, sent three cuts, their power ferocious, but Jiang Xiaohe dodged them all. Ji Guangjie continued to press him with chops, though Jiang Xiaohe met them with his own blade, and then took the opportunity to attack Ji Guangjie's lower body, his movements like a hawk turning, his body closely following his sword. It was but an instant, and Ji Guangjie had no way to deflect it, only able to jump up with a whoosh. Jiang Xiaohe no longer wanted to continue the attack, unaware that after Ji Guangjie dodged his sword, he would return with an angled downward slash. Jiang Xiaohe parried it with his sword and charged two steps in suddenly, sending a foot flying out, making contact with Ji Guangjie's abdomen. Ji Guangjie hit the ground bottom first with a thud. Yet he then quickly exerted his strength and stood up immediately. With a glare and both hands on his sword, he sliced at Jiang Xiaohe straight on. Jiang Xiaohe held his sword crosswise to meet it, and all they heard was clang, clang, clang, clang! Ji Guangjie realized then that Jiang Xiaohe's might was unparalleled, as both his wrists shook with pain.

    Jiang Xiaohe sneered, "How come your Longmen School swordwork is so muddled? If I weren't afraid of wounding you, you would already have lost your life!" Saying this, he hardened his stare and thrust his sword at Ji Guangjie's hand, which Ji Guangjie quickly moved away from the sword. Jiang Xiaohe's sword spun in a Curling Blossom and came out from his chest in a stab. The sword went up at Ji Guangjie's heart. Ji Guangjie couldn't evade it in time, but Jiang Xiaohe attack was particularly measured, and the point of his sword made contact with just the surface of Ji Guangjie's chest before he quickly withdrew it. He then smiled coldly and said, "Go home! Dig your way into your grandfather's tomb and train another several decades!" Saying this, he flew up onto his horse and grinned coldly again, and then swung his whip and galloped off to the north.

    For a while, Ji Guangjie stood holding his sword, in a daze. He looked down at his chest. He was bleeding a little and felt a bit of pain. A small half-inch slit had been cut into his short, beize shirt, and spots of red colored his shirt like a rouge. Ji Guangjie breathed a sigh, and then stamped his foot angrily before mounting his horse and galloping back. Upon seeing Liu Zhiyuan when he returned to the inn, smack, he nearly knocked Liu Zhiyuan out. He sent a second fist over, but it was blocked by Liu Zhiyuan. Ji Guangjie was about to give him a third when Jiang Zhiyao quickly grabbed hold of Ji Guangjie's hand. Ji Guangjie still wanted to kick him with his feet as he yelled furiously, "I brought you out here because you knew what Jiang Xiaohe looked like. Little did I know you would pretend not to recognize him when you saw him, letting him play me like a fool. What did you have in mind? Did you want me, Ji Guangjie, to die?" Though Liu Zhiyuan had been struck by Ji Guangjie and he too was angry, since he had no way of disputing that he had been in the wrong, he simply walked out of the room, his face flushed red.

    Jiang Zhiyao persuaded Ji Guangjie to sit down on a stool, and then said, "You can't blame brother Liu for this. Just think, Jiang Xiaohe is Jiang Zhisheng's son, and he'd been but a small child. Liu Zhiyuan didn't pay much attention to him when he saw him. It's been over ten years now, how would he still recognize Jiang Xiaohe?"

    Ji Guangjie flashed a sneer and said, "You don't need to come up with excuses for him. I know you all fear Jiang Xiaohe as if he were a tiger. You're afraid to recognize him when you meet him, so let's not even talk about fighting him. It's because your master was the first to be scared of him. When Bao Kunlun heard Jiang Xiaohe's name, he was so frightened, he stopped breathing! I truly find this hilarious. If it wasn't for the sake of the young lady Bao, I really wouldn't help your Kunlun School, because you are all too inept!"

    Being spoken of in this way, Jiang Zhiyao couldn't do anything but remain speechless, looking about with his one eye for a while. He then said, "In-law Ji, you cannot go around saying this to other people. It will make laughingstocks of us, including you. You're not wrong, the old master Bao is scared of Jiang Xiaohe. It's because the more capable he becomes, and the older he gets, his courage in fact becomes weaker. That may also be the case for Liu Zhiyuan. He knew for certain that Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts were powerful, and that the three of us were no match for him, so he was afraid of pointing him out!"

    Ji Guangjie slammed the table and jumped up, fuming, "Shut up! Your Kunlun School may fear Jiang Xiaohe, but I, the one named Ji, do not! Just now when I went after him, I wasn't able to catch up to him. Otherwise I would have taken his head with my sword and given it to you to look at!" When he said this, he felt a faint pain in the wound on his chest. This seemed to have dissipated all of his fury, and he slowly began to ease up. He furrowed his brow and stared off into space.

    Jiang Zhiyao then asked, "In-law Ji, what should we do now? You can't still want to capture Jiang Xiaohe?" Ji Guangjie said, "We let him get away because Liu Zhiyuan was too scared to point him out when we saw him, so how are we supposed to capture him? He's likely now making his way north through the Tong Pass to get to Chang'an. It'd be best for us to hurry into the Jingzi Pass and go to the Dasan Pass first to see the old master. Since the old master is frightened of him, we can ask that he remain at a distance. We'll then head to Chang'an to meet and kill Jiang Xiaohe. However, we need to be swift. Otherwise, Jiang Xiaohe will surely reach Chang'an before us."

    Jiang Zhiyao said, "Good! Let's pack up our things and leave immediately!"

    He returned to his room and found Liu Zhiyuan sitting on the bed, seething. Jiang Zhiyao said quietly, "The kid Ji Guangjie wants us to go with him first to the Dasan Pass to see the master, and then head to Chang'an to battle Jiang Xiaohe. We're leaving now." Liu Zhiyuan scoffed, "What do you mean, battle Jiang Xiaohe? Didn't you see the blood on Ji Guangjie's chest? It must have been from a stab by Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe didn't have it in mind to harm his life. Otherwise, he would have lost his head last night!" Jiang Zhiyao couldn't help being so scared his expression turned grave.

    Liu Zhiyuan sighed, "We have nothing to blame but our master conducting himself too fiercely throughout his life, killing too many people to the extent that he's created this adversary. It'll be hard to speak of the future. Not only is it over for our entire Kunlun School, but with the master as old as he is, I'm afraid he'll meet with an unhappy end!" Liu Zhiyuan was so worried, he was on the verge of tears. Jiang Zhiyao pressed him, "Hurry and pack up your things, and we'll rush back to Dasan Pass. Just now, Ji Guangjie did not speak incorrectly. He said that we should invite the master to stay away. I don't think it's very safe at Lu Zhizhong's place. It's best if we have the old man escape into Northern Sichuan." Liu Zhiyuan said, "But the Xia of Langzhong is in Northern Sichuan!" The two men spoke and put their things in order. By now, Ji Guangjie had already settled their bill and ordered the attendant to prepare all three of their horses. He stood in the courtyard and called out, "Pack up! Let's go!" Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao clasped their baggage under their arms and left their room. They tied them on the backs of their horses, and then they all left the inn together, mounted their horses and headed north.

    Ji Guangjie was anxious on the road, so much so that he felt Liu Zhiyuan was riding too slowly. He yelled at him impatiently, and at times he wanted to draw his sword and force Liu Zhiyuan to go faster. However, Liu Zhiyuan was afraid that Jiang Xiaohe had not gone far, and were they to catch up to him, there would occur yet another fierce battle. Of course, Jiang Xiaohe wouldn't do anything to him, but if he and Ji Guangjie began to fight and Ji Guangjie was unable to keep up, he wouldn't be able to stand by and watch with arms folded. Thus, even with Ji Guangjie rushing him and yelling at him, he never dared to press his horse to ride faster.

    Unexpectedly, after traveling only four or five miles of road, four horses flew their way from the rear. When he heard the sound of horses' hooves behind him, Ji Guangjie quickly turned back to look. He looked at the four men riding atop the horses, and saw two were officers, and two were wearing plain clothes. The night in Zhengyang county when Ji Guangjie went unsuccessfully to the Gu house to steal silver for disaster relief, he fought with the guards there for a while. He had seen the faces of two of them under the light of fire, and inquired of them their names. One was called Yang Gongjiu the Xia of Ruzhou, and the other was called Liu Ying the Speckle-faced Leopard. When he saw that both of them had come now along with two officers, he quickly reined his horse up and drew his sword from beside his saddle, saying to the two men Jiang and Liu, "Be careful! These two men are guards at the farmstead of Millions Gu. Their martial arts are both quite good."

    Yang Gongjiu and the other had by now galloped up to them, all with their sabers drawn. Yang Gongjiu pointed with his saber and said, "Ji Guangjie! Throw down your sword and get off your horse so that we can lock you up and take you to court!" Ji Guangjie joked, "Lock me up? Take me to court?" As he said this, he suddenly struck preemptively, pressing his horse on and swinging his sword at Yang Gongjiu for a chop. Yang Gongjiu hastily met it with his saber, as Liu Ying the Speckle-faced Leopard brandished his saber to wound Ji Guangjie. The three men battled on horseback for several exchanges before jumping off their horses to fight in closer quarters.

    Seeing that officers had come as well, Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao dared not get involved. Ji Guangjie displayed his swordwork and fought against Yang Gongjiu and Liu Ying for more than ten exchanges before he cut down Liu Ying with his sword. He looked back and saw that Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao had evaded to place far off. He grew furious and stopped fighting with Yang Gongjiu, snatching his horse up and fleeing. When he rode the distance of a mile, he turned back to see in the distance that Yang Gongjiu and the two officials had Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao surrounded, and after a moment, he saw them being taken away in chains.

    Seeing the two men Liu and Jiang being taken to court in place of him, he smiled coldly and felt cheerful. He didn't race back to rescue them, instead pressing his horse to a gallop and flying straight toward the Jingzi Pass. Along the way, he inquired about the route west, and then went through the Jingzi Pass, across Mount Shang and into the Qin Mountains, riding through night after night. Dust roiled the entire way, making the moon and stars hazy, and before the third day, he arrived at the Dasan Pass. He and his horse were now truly exhausted, and upon entering the front hall of the Kunlun Security Office, he tossed aside his horsewhip and collapsed into a couch to rest.

    Lu Zhizhong had been in the front hall, and when he saw Ji Guangjie suddenly arriving here by himself, he was bewildered. He waited until Ji caught his breath before he approached and asked, "In-law Ji, where did you come from? Did you find Jiang Xiaohe? Why haven't Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao come?" Ji Guangjie jumped off the couch and said nothing except to ask, "In which room are the old master and the young lady?" Lu Zhizhong said, "They're staying in the rear area." Ji Guangjie hurriedly left the front hall and sprinted into the back in two or three bounds. When he came to the door of the rear courtyard, he saw the young lady Aluan, wearing a light red silk shirt and holding a Kunlun saber in her hand. She was performing the Chasing Wind, Leaping Lightning and Subduing Tigers, Felling Dragons moves. Ji Guangjie raised his eyebrows and laughed, saying, "Miss, I found Jiang Xiaohe on Mount Wudang. The two of us had a great battle of over four hundred exchanges. If he hadn't jumped into the stream and swam away, I could have brought you his head today for you to chop at for fun." Aluan withdrew her saber stance, her expression turning. Ji Guangjie snickered as he gazed upon his bride-to-be.

    The old master Bao came out of a room with his back bared, and upon seeing what looked like the unmarried, young couple flirting, he became a little unhappy. However, he was puzzled at seeing Ji Guangjie's travel-worn face with mud and sweat all over his body, saying, "You met with Jiang Xiaohe?" When he said the words Jiang Xiaohe, his aged face flashed deathly pale.

    Ji Guangjie said, "When I crossed through the Hangu Pass, I posted notices everywhere proclaiming to capture Jiang Xiaohe, but he evaded me wherever I went. I encountered him one day on a street in the north of Gucheng county, calling himself Gao with the name Jiuhua. He was very amiable toward me and grew closer to me, though I was unaware of the malice he was harboring in his heart. The most hateful was Liu Zhiyuan! He recognized Jiang Xiaohe but didn't tell me, allowing me very nearly to fall into Jiang Xiaohe's trap. Luckily, I spotted a hole in Jiang Xiaohe's story and drove him onto Mount Wudang. Jiang Xiaohe called on the many Daoist priests there to help him battle the one of me. I fought through three or four hundred exchanges with them, and then forced Jiang Xiaohe to the edge of a cliff. I gave him a cut, and he jumped off the cliff, escaping by swimming along the stream. I myself suffered a minor injury on my chest... Afterward, I came down the mountain and demanded answers from Liu Zhiyuan, and we got into an argument. Before we were fifty miles out from Gucheng county, he and Jiang Zhiyao deserted me and headed elsewhere. When I was fighting with Jiang Xiaohe, he boasted that he was going to Chang'an to find the old master and take vengeance for his father. I was afraid the old master would be at a disadvantage, so night after night, I rushed back to bring word. I would like to ask the old master to find an isolated far off county and hide there for some time. Aluan and I, as huband and wife, we will go to Chang'an to face Jiang Xiaohe."

    At this point, Lu Zhizhong had followed him into the courtyard and upon hearing Ji Guangjie's lies, he couldn't help his mood changing. The old master's entire body was shaking as he laughed coldly, "How could there be anywhere for me to hide? Unless it's to hide in a tomb! Now that matters have come before me, there's nothing left to say. All that remains is for me to go to Chang'an and await him. When he comes, I'll give my aged life over to him!" Saying this, he hardened his look and called for Lu Zhizhong to prepare his horse. The old master was to travel to Chang'an immediately. The young lady Aluan stopped her grandfather and said, "Granddaddy, you mustn't go see him. Let me go. When I see him, not only must I kill him, but I have some things I have to say to him before I kill him. I need to ask him—!" As she said this, she screwed her beautiful face up and became angry. Tears flowed forth, and she stamped her foot as she wept, "Granddaddy, don't try to stop me! I'm going! I'll go see him by myself! I'm leaving now!"

    Saying this, Aluan ran out of the courtyard carrying her saber, to prepare her own horse. Ji Guangjie rushed after her and pulled back on Aluan's arm. Aluan returned with a swipe of her saber, intending to wound her husband-to-be. Ji Guangjie jumped backward to dodge her saber. Aluan's pretty eyes were open wide as, swoosh, she swung her sword down a second time for a slice. Ji Guangjie ducked down and bounded to the left, while at the same time leaning forward with his arm stretched out in an attempt to grab Aluan's wrist and take her saber from her. However, Aluan brandished her saber viciously as she thought, First I'll kill Ji Guangjie, and then I'll kill Jiang Xiaohe. By now, Lu Zhizhong had taken up a saber and hurried over, snaring Aluan's saber. Old master Bao bellowed, "Aluan, stop! He is to be your husband!" Hearing her grandfather's words, Aluan dropped her saber and went back inside, crying with both her hands covering her face.

    The old master Bao chuckled riotously, saying to Lu Zhizhong, "Look, Zhizhong. I have a granddaughter and grandson-in-law, both so skilled in the martial arts. How could I truly fear just the one Jiang Xiaohe?" Lu Zhizhong pondered a moment and then said, "How about this? I ask the master to stay here, and send Ji Guangjie to Chang'an to discuss with my brother Ge how best to deal with this. I'll be here as well. In the case that Jiang Xiaohe comes here, I will go to meet him."

    After nearly being killed by his bride-to-be, Ji Guangjie's face was completely red as he stood nearby, staring silently into space. By the time he heard Lu Zhizhong's words, he came a couple steps closer, waving his hand and saying, "That's no good! I'm not afraid of Jiang Xiaohe's open attacks, only that he harms people with dark tricks. When I was fighting with Jiang Xiaohe, I noticed that his swordwork was not as good as mine, but leaping and jumping skills were certainly stronger than my own. On the road, I'd also heard people saying that Jiang Xiaohe was a flying robber and that his night-walking abilities are especially good. This place is not far from Chang'an. If he found out that the old master was staying here, he would come in the middle of the night to do harm. How do we guard against that? The old master has spent a lifetime crossing the length and breadth Jianghu. Were he to suffer a dark plot, would that not be too great a wrong? So I think the old master should go somewhere no one knows about to hide for some time. I will go to Chang'an with Aluan to meet him. We need only see him, and the two of us, husband and wife, will surely be able to kill him!" Hearing of Jiang Xiaohe's adeptness in night-walking abilities, the old master couldn't help feeling his hairs stand up on end.

    Lu Zhizhong considered this for a while, and then said, "I think we should follow our in-law Ji's suggestion! I can go with the master to He Tiesong's home in the Shanyin Valley of Luoyang county. In years past, the master saved the life of He Tiesong, and in the twenty years since, he has lived secluded in the mountains, never coming out into the world again. That place of his is extremely isolated, not to mention that his home is quite thriving. I think the master and I should go and stay there for two or three months without telling anyone else. Even if Jiang Xiaohe were an immortal, he would have no way of finding it."

    Old master Bao suddenly recalled the old friend with whom he hadn't corresponded in ten years, and began to change his thinking, but he still shook his head, saying, "I cannot go! If I do and all my disciples are hurt or killed by Jiang Xiaohe, I may remain alive, but how will I be able to face them?" Nearby, Ji Guangjie said, "Once the old master leaves, things will be more easily handled. Before I fought with Jiang Xiaohe on Mount Wudang, he told me that he wasn't out to eliminate the Kunlun School, just that he wanted to...kill the old master and the Long Brothers!"

    The old master gave a long sigh and thought back to ten years ago, in the mountains north of Zhenba, when he'd led the Long Brothers after Jiang Zhisheng. That tragic scene was still fresh in his mind! Jiang Zhisheng had already abandoned his wife and children, running for his life. Why did he have to chase him down and kill him? It was a bit too ruthless! Now, it was a matter of course that Jiang Xiaohe would come to take revenge. Thus, the old master lamented for a moment, his eyes growing moist, and then said, "I suppose we'll do it this way! I'll find a place to conceal myself with Lu Zhizhong, and Ji Guangjie, you're to go quickly to Chang'an to see Long Zhiqi and tell him to hurry back to Ziyang and take his brother and Ge Zhiqiang into hiding as well. Afterward, you must instruct those disciples and their disciples that no matter who they are, if they were to encounter Jiang Xiaohe, none may recklessly fight him. Only when they absolutely must may they battle to the death. Also, there is Li Zhenxia of Huazhou. He's an old friend of mine as well, his martial arts no weaker than mine. We can ask his men to come help too." When he finished, he lowered his head in silence, as if this old fighting master had felt himself arrive at the end of the road and was now devoid of courage.

    Ji Guangjie then added, "However, when I go to Chang'an to face Jiang Xiaohe in combat, though I'm confident in my certain triumph, I'm afraid that Li Fengjie might find his way there to join the battle. If he helps out Jiang Xiaohe, this could turn out to be problematic. It's not that I think little of the old master's disciples, but I feel Ge Zhiqiang and the others are all unfit for this task. You must have the young lady Luan come with me. With her help, I know I can do it!"

    Old master Bao said, "Naturally, I'd like to tell her to come with you, but..." The old master sat deep in thought for a moment before he said sternly, "You likely already know this, but though my Bao household depends upon Jianghu to make our living, we are a house of propriety. With my granddaughter as yet unmarried to you, I certainly cannot have the two of you sharing the road and a room at night. It would dishonor our family's principles. So how about this? Today, we'll have the two of you kneel in a wedding hall here and get married. Tomorrow, I'll go to Luoyang, and you two will go to Chang'an as husband and wife!" Upon hearing this, Ji Guangjie was struck in his chest. He was so happy he almost laughed, and immediately nodded in agreement. Old master Bao ordered Lu Zhizhong to quickly prepare a bridal chamber and a wedding hall, and then he turned and went into the inner courtyard.

    At this time, Aluan's heart was filled with bitterness and grief as she sat in her room and wiped her tears away. The old master Bao entered and exhorted his granddaughter, "Don't feel bad for my sake. The blame is in me, handling matters too brutishly in years past, and now I'm reaping the vengeance I've sown, involving my descendants in the humiliation by others! But though Jiang Xiaohe is closing in to kill me, I still respect him. He is a good young man! I've lived more than seventy years and I've not seen a second man as determined and ambitious as him, a man of integrity and resolve! Tomorrow, I'm going to my old friend He Tiesong's place in the Shanyin Valley in Luoyang to hide out for some time. If I can survive with this old life of mine, then the two of us, grandfather and granddaughter, can meet again. If I cannot escape this and I die by Jiang Xiaohe's hand, you must not see it as an injustice, because I admire him!"

    Crying, Aluan stood up and tugged on her grandfather, saying, "I'm coming with granddaddy!" The old master waved his hand and said, "You mustn't come with me. I'm having only Lu Zhizhong come with me, and that'll be enough. You must go to Chang'an to help Ji Guangjie face Jiang Xiaohe and protect your uncle Ge and the others. For the purpose of making it more convenient for you to travel together, I've having you kneel in a wedding hall with Ji Guangjie to get married. From now on, it'll be right and proper—" When the young lady Aluan heard her grandfather say this, her color drained in shock, and quickly shook her head, saying, "No—" The old master waved his hand to stop his granddaughter and said, "No matter what you must do what I say! To finish taking care of your marriage quickly will put me at ease so that I can die content!"

    When he finished, the old fighting master went outside to look for Lu Zhizhong, to see how the adornment was going. When he arrived in the outer courtyard, he saw several of the security office attendants in a busy flurry. Ji Guangjie was especially happy. He had hastened here through the night and had yet to take a rest, but he was occupied with putting things in order as well. Lu Zhizhong didn't have a family here, but it was unacceptable for no womenfolk to be involved in matters of marriage, so he invited to help him here, the wives of a few minor officials with whom he was familiar from day to day, and the wives of several of the attendants.

    He left the decorations for the bridal chamber to the women, and they also brought from their homes a red, embroidered dress, a blue phoenix jacket, as well as a phoenix crown, phoenix hairpins, a veil, and other items to dress Aluan in. At this moment, Aluan could do nothing but let others jostle her around. The women nearby wished her good tidings and spoke with accommodating words, but Aluan's tears fell like rain, an unbearable sorrow in her heart. The women comforted her, saying, "Don't cry, young miss! It's such a joyous occasion! Yet when a woman crosses the threshold, she must cry a little, because she can't stand to leave her mom and dad. But your mom and dad aren't here right now, not to mention you're getting married away from home, so what do you have to be sad about? Now stop crying. If your young groom sees your eyes are red, he'll be heartbroken!"

    Aluan was so mad she jumped up and threw the dressing mirror onto the floor, shattering it into pieces. She then snapped the wooden comb into two and tossed her jacket and dress down as well. She rended viciously at the new bride's bun that had been brushed for her into dishevelment, and then she laid on the bed and choked with sobs. The women were so scared they scattered from the room, and a commotion formed in the inner courtyard. The old master found out about it. Sighing deeply, he entered the room and said, "Aluan, what's the matter? What's made you so angry? Come, get up! Don't make things difficult for your poor granddaddy!"

    His sad, gentle voice reached Aluan's ear and she couldn't help her warm tears flowing again. She felt a bit of regret in her heart, so she swallowed her pain and looked up at him, saying, "It's nothing! I'm feeling anxious and I didn't want them bothering me!" Old master Bao said, "There's nothing to be done about that. A wedding happens only once in a woman's entire life. It's a bother, but you must endure it. This hasty wedding now, if things had not been forced to this point, I would not have wanted it to be this way. However, though we've said not to make it too elaborate, we cannot be negligent of the rules of propriety. You must make yourself look like a new bride. We cannot be like those less than third-rate in Jianghu, who don't even wear bright red clothes when they marry their husbands!" The old master was not only sad, but he was clearly angry as well. Ji Guangjie had been standing in the outer courtyard, peeking and listening inside in secret.

    After a moment, the old master Bao came outside. He bowed to the startled womenfolk with hands clasped and apologized, imploring them to dress and make Aluan up anew. These women were all upset, but there was nothing they could do but to go back inside and rebrush Aluan's hair and repowder her. However, everyone was extremely quiet, not daring to say even one word to this new bride.

    Old master Bao came into the room again for a look and saw Aluan sitting with her head down, obediently letting the others do her up once more. At this, the old master was able to relax a little, but he was still worried, as he walked into the front courtyard with his two dense, snow-white eyebrows tightly knit and his continuous sighs. Ji Guangjie, on the other hand, was still elated, walking all about the entire courtyard, where he saw that of the three rooms of eastern hall, two were lit while one was dark, as it was now being decorated as a bridal chamber. The unlit room was to be the bridal chamber, with its wooden bed arranged with a newly bought red satin blanket and mandarin duck pillows. On the walls and two hinged doors were posted red happiness characters, and the windows were draped with shades of red cloth. Ji Guangjie was truly bursting with joy and could not wait for night to arrive.

    The northern hall was to be the wedding hall, in the middle of which were set up ancestral tablets. Incense and candles were arranged and red flowers were hung. Even the table drapes were embroidered with bright red peonies. On the sides and in the courtyard were placed many tables and stools, ready for guests to sit. The hectic sound of knives rang out from the kitchen, as two or three of the office's attendants had become cooks for now, busy inside making food.

    Shortly, Lu Zhizhong came in from outside. He'd found a local man selling second-hand clothes and was bringing back a large bundle. Inside was an entire official uniform with a hat and boots. Ji Guangjie put them on and found the size to be just about right. Wearing a blue, patchless, cotton official's robe, a knobless red-tassel hat, a pair of blue official's boots that didn't fit quite right, and rocking a fan he'd found, he strut about, often glancing over at the inner courtyard. It was about four in the afternoon when local minor officials, merchants, and security escorts, who had all run into Lu Zhizhong and admired the reputation of the old fighting master, arrived one after the other to present gifts and offer their congratulations.

    Lu Zhizhong and a few of the security escorts that served under him had all changed into tidy formal clothes and received the guests for Ji Guangjie one by one. Old master Bao hadn't ever worn a formal robe very many times. Presently he was wearing a formal robe of summer material that had been purchased, but his body was too tall and too fat, making the robe appear both tight and short. He rocked a large, three-foot long chicken-feather fan, and when he met with guests, he clasped his hand, carrying a smile on his face never before seen. Yet, as only Lu Zhizhong could tell, his master's smile was forced. His master's expression was often that of fear and worry. Moreover, whenever a wedding guest arrived who was young, the old master would look at him carefully and pull Lu Zhizhong aside to ask what the man's name was and what he did in this town for a living. It was as if in his mind he was still afraid of someone with secretive behavior and ill intentions arriving, mixed in with the wedding guests.

    Ji Guangjie face, however, was one of true elation. He spoke with a few of the local security men raucously. He talked first about lifetime feats of his grandfather the Xia of Longmen, and then he talked about his own various proud deeds since his arrival upon Jianghu. Afterwards, he spoke of this last time in Henan, about how he wrote "Capture Jiang Xiaohe" everywhere, and how Jiang Xiaohe never dared to attack him head-on. He talked then about how he drove Jiang Xiaohe onto Mount Wudang, and how if Jiang Xiaohe hadn't jumped into a stream and escaped by swimming away, he would surely have given his life under Ji Guangjie's sword. The people around him heard the bridegroom speaking in such spirits and believed the things he said to be real, since it was not unusual enough to think that the grandson of the Xia of Longmen would be able to defeat a Jianghu no-name like Jiang Xiaohe.

    However, Lu Zhizhong listened from nearby and held a little doubt in his mind, feeling Ji Guangjie's words not to be the most reliable, and at the same time thinking it even more suspicious that neither Liu Zhiyuan nor Jiang Zhiyao had returned. But because the current matter was pressing, he had no spare time to consider and inquire about it. At the moment, the old fighting master was sitting by himself in a far corner, his long eyebrows locked tightly together, as if in a deep worry, not listening to any of what Ji Guangjie was saying.

    After a stretch, it came time for the kneeling ceremony. Ji Guangjie put on his red-tassel hat, and two of the female guests supported Aluan as she emerged from the inner courtyard, entering the wedding hall slowly. The young lady Aluan was currently covered by a veil of red cloth, so it was hard to see if she was happy or sad, but there were droplets of what looked like water, dripping from under her veil onto her embroidered dress and her flowered shoes. A ritesmaster stood by a called out in a loud voice the various rites: the homage to Heaven and Earth, the homage to the ancestors, and the homage to the groom's father and mother. Each rite was held, one by one, until Ji Guangjie and Aluan had both kowtowed numerous times. Afterwards, firecrackers were lit, and many beggars ran into the courtyard, taking turns singing songs of happiness. The guests sat down in succession and drank and played finger-guessing games. The voices of people all at once clamored into even more of a lively bustle.

    The young lady Aluan had already been led into the bridal chamber, and old master Bao had also retired into a quiet room to rest. The guests could only rely on Lu Zhizhong to tend to them, as Ji Guangjie had received many wedding toasts, his head feeling dizzy and his heart impulsive. He couldn't help calling on everyone to leave so he could go into the bridal chamber.

    However as the day turned gradually into night, after finishing their food and drink, some of the guests decided to stay and gamble. Lu Zhizhong delegated the matter to a man named Liang who had also opened a security office here, saying frankly, "Why did my master want to give his granddaughter a speedy wedding? It was because he wanted them quickly married, so they could travel to Chang'an together to meet our enemy Jiang Xiaohe in battle. The old master is setting off for elsewhere tomorrow as well to try to find a way to deal with this same matter. So though it is a time of celebration right now, there is a layer of anxiety in each of our hearts. It's true that everyone coming to offer their congratulations is a kindness, but if they were to disturb the three of them so that they don't sleep well tonight, they won't be able to depart tomorrow." The one named Liang nodded and said, "All right, I know how to solve this!" Thus he went over to them and invited the guests to continue their gambling over at his security office.

    After the guests left one after another, Lu Zhizhong ordered the main gate closed and instructed three of the security escorts who lived here that they were not permitted to shout bawdy jokes into the bridal chamber. It was now already the second watch, and the old master Bao was sleeping in the front hall. Other than the two red candles burning in the wedding hall, the only other bit of dim light floated through the new red cloth shades. This was because a longevity lamp had been lit inside, which was not ordinarily permitted to be extinguished on this night.

    Ji Guangjie had long already taken off the official's clothes and shoes, and changed into a nice set of light silk clothes, white socks and green-black shoes. He was full of joy and his blood flowed through his body with increased speed. He had never felt the nervous happiness that he felt now ever before. He made his footsteps heavy, yet calm and deliberate, to express that the new groom was arriving and to let Aluan know this inside the room. However, as he walked before the window, the longevity lamp in the bridal chamber suddenly went out. Ji Guangjie was taken aback, but he laughed and thought, She's a xia woman who traverses Jianghu, and it isn't as if we've never met. We've even gone to Weinan together to fight Li Fengjie! How come she's become bashful all of a sudden?

    He thought this both funny and even more so, he thought it adorable. He craftily and lightly coughed, and then went inside. He felt it dark inside, and when he ran into a heavy chair, he almost stumbled over. Ji Guangjie couldn't help but laugh, saying quietly, "This is what they call teasing the groom!" He proceeded another couple steps when he heard an abrupt clang as water splashed onto him! There was a large copper basin on the floor that Ji Guangjie stepped on and flipped, drenching the clothes, socks and shoes that Ji Guangjie had just changed into. He couldn't help feeling irritated, but soon again he smiled.

    He went forward to push open the door, but found it was closed very tightly from the inside. Ji Guangjie tapped gently on the door with his finger, saying, "Open up! I'm here!" There was no reply from within. Ji Guangjie then knocked lightly on the door a couple times with his fist, and addressed the other side of the door, "Open the door! Don't be shy! My new bride!" There was still no response from inside. Ji Guangjie laughed and pushed at the door, saying, "Stop playing! It's late. This is a major event in a person's life!" The bride inside said sternly, "Go away! Don't come into my room! Go! I dare you to push the door again!" Ji Guangjie laughed on this side of the door, "What a difficult bride I have! Who's ever heard of one who tells her groom to go away? My dear wife Aluan, tonight we are a match made by the heavens—" The voice inside said forcefully, "Go away!" Ji Guangjie laughed even harder and stopped pushing at the door. He stood in thought for a moment, and then squatted down to gently unhinge the door. He did so shortly and the two doors fell down with a clatter. The two benches propped up behind the door fell as well, almost knocking Ji Guangjie over. Ji Guangjie quickly pushed the doors aside and, whoosh, leapt into the room, only to be met with a flash of cold light. Startled, Ji Guangjie hurriedly dodged away and heard a clack as the bride's saber missed the groom and cut into a chair. Ji Guangjie said, "Good! Let's compare our martial arts first, and then we'll consummate the marriage!"

    He took hold of Aluan's wrist to try to grab the Kunlun saber away, but Aluan gave him a kick, striking his lower abdomen. Ji Guangjie backed up a step and hit his head on the cabinet as Aluan came at him viciously with a cut. Ji Guangjie bent down and rolled at Aluan's feet, hoping to wrap his arms around them, but Aluan kicked him in his left eye. Ji Guangjie nearly cried out in pain, but he hurried rolled away as Aluan turned for a thrust of her saber. Ji Guangjie quickly leapt out of the room. His shoulder received a heavy blow from the back of the saber, and his lower back suffered a kick, as he and a bench came tumbling out of the room. He immediately got up, and panting, he asked into the room furiously, "Aluan! What do you mean by this? Are you trying to take my life? I'm your husband. Your granddad gave you to me in marriage!" Inside the room, Aluan brandished the saber and stamped her foot, crying, "Go away! Go away! I don't acknowledge you!"

    Ji Guangjie was angry, but he turned up a smile again. He thought, She has always been the daughter of a security escort and is ordinarily proud to the extreme. If I do not subdue her with my martial skill, she will never be willing to be my wife. Fine! We'll fight first, and then will come conjugal love. Thus, he went into a side room to retrieve a sword and he lit a lamp. He returned to the bridal chamber with the lamp, but found that the door had been shut up tightly once more. Ji Guangjie put the lamp on the ground and thought again to unhinge the door, but, afraid some sort of ambush might be hidden inside, he stood blankly, carrying his sword, and bent his ear toward the room. He heard his bride inside sobbing bitterly. Ji Guangjie couldn't help feeling a little discouraged and thought to himself, What's going on here?

    He was staring into space when he noticed someone coming in from the courtyard. Ji Guangjie saw that it was Lu Zhizhong. That they had just been fighting, that Aluan was now crying in her room, Lu Zhizhong seemed to know about it all. He waved his hand at Ji Guangjie and said, with a face full of concern, "In-law Ji! Please be patient! The young lady's temper has never been good. Though this is a joyous occasion, she is bearing much pain in her heart right now. Tomorrow, the two of them, grandfather and granddaughter, will separate. Her granddad is advanced in age and will be calling upon a friend and hiding in the mountains. She is naturally not at ease. Don't be angry with her today, in-law Ji. In the days to come, she will become better on her own. Before Jiang Xiaohe is defeated and the two of them can reunite peacefully, she cannot be happy. There's nothing to be done about this, except to ask in-law Ji to be a little patient!"

    Ji Guangjie nodded and knit his two eyebrows, saying to Lu Zhizhong, "That is no matter. It's just that..." He was about to say that his bride should not have used her saber, and that when she slashed at him, she did so very viciously. But then, he felt himself a bit too pathetic, so he said, "Uncle Lu, go to sleep! You needn't worry about us. I will not surely not fight with her. I understand. I know she is very anxious!" Lu Zhizhong gave Ji Guangjie another look and saw his very fine silk clothes were once again dirty and wet. His hair was unkempt, and his left eye was bruised like an apricot. Lu Zhizhong dared not laugh, nor did he dare ask. He just turned and left.

    Ji Guangjie stood in a daze again for a while longer, and then he went in front of the door to bridal chamber and gave it a push. He no longer heard any cursing from his bride inside, but just her continued sobbing, Ji Guangjie stood before the door and said, "Aluan, don't be sad. I'm not angry with you. Your marrying me was your granddad's idea. I had not requested it of the Bao family. Now that we've knelt in the wedding hall, the marriage is already set. That you don't want me to enter the bridal chamber tonight, that's not important! I know it's because your Bao family has been forced by Jiang Xiaohe into a corner, and you're very sad. I can forgive you for feeling unhappy. However, you must believe me. I guarantee you that I'll kill Jiang Xiaohe within ten days. You'll see! That's all I have to say to you right now!"

    Inside the room, Aluan seemed to become even sadder, sobbing loudly and bitterly again. Ji Guangjie was very upset and heaved a deep sigh. He put a few of the chairs outside together and closed the outer door. He placed the sword by his side and blew out the lamp. He stewed for a bit, and then, his body tired and his mind discouraged, he laid on the chairs and fell into a deep sleep. This was how he spent the night of his wedding festivities.

    Early next morning, Ji Guangjie's expression was not one of joy. The door to the bridal chamber opened and Aluan came out, her two eyes red and swollen from crying, still wearing red satin. Without so much as a glance at Ji Guangjie, she returned to the inner courtyard. Ji Guangjie felt very discontented. A clueless young attendant smiled at Ji Guangjie and said, "In-law Ji, what was all that commotion coming from the room last night? I heard a faint crashing sound. In-law Ji, you must have had a great time." Then, he pointed at Ji Guangjie's left eye and said, "How did you get that black eye? Did you hurt it? Let me go out and buy you a bottle of eye medicine!" Ji Guangjie was furious and, crack, punched the young attendant, who yelped in pain. At this time, Lu Zhizhong came over and asked nicely, "The old master is asking when the in-law Ji plans on setting off today. So that he can tell the young lady to get ready." Ji Guangjie said, "We're leaving right now. I wouldn't mind it if I could meet with Jiang Xiaohe immediately. Either he dies or I do!"

    Lu Zhizhong hurried back to inform his master. Ji Guangjie ordered his horse prepared as he himself went inside to put his things together. After a while, he had put his baggage together and over on the other side, Aluan had finished her preparations as well. Aluan stood in the courtyard with her head hung, still wearing her red satin clothes. Upon seeing her elegant features, he forgot all about his anger from last night, and the kicks and blows he'd received, and came out of his room, smiling.

    The old master Bao looked over his granddaughter, and then looked over his grandson-in-law. He sighed regretfully and carefully instructed them, "All right! I'm counting on the two of you to help me stop my enemy. Weapons wound easily, so I have to say some inauspicious things as it will be difficult for you to avoid any kind of mistake. I am ill at ease, but there's nothing to be done about your misfortunate of being my granddaughter and her husband. I'm going to visit an old friend's place to hide for the time being, so after you depart, I will leave as well. As old as I am now, I may not reach there. Perhaps I'll die en route..." When he said this, he saw tears flowing from his granddaughter. Ji Guangjie said haughtily, "Old master, why must you speak such disheartening words! I think that Jiang Xiaohe might have already reached Chang'an by now. When we get there, we'll be able to kill him. Old master, you are only going west this time but to have a pleasurable trip. There's no need to be sorrowful, nor is there need to worry about us!" [Note: Luoyang is actually to the east of the Dasan Pass. It is unclear why Ji Guangjie says "west."]

    The old fighting master Bao gave a pained smile, and then pulled two letters from his shirt, saying, "Take these two letters to Chang'an with you. Give one of them to Ge Zhiqiang. For the other one, wait until it is absolutely necessary, when you are sure you cannot defeat Jiang Xiaohe, then give it to him." When he finished, he handed them over to Ji Guangjie. Ji Guangjie took them into his hand and noticed that the letter to Ge Zhiqiang was especially thick, as if many sheets of paper were folded inside. Both letters were sealed very tightly. He put them on his person, and then said to the old master, "Old master, you need not give any further instruction. I can handle any situation. We'll set off now, old master! Farewell!" Dripping tears, Aluan saluted her grandfather once more. Ji Guangjie walked boldly out the door with Aluan following him out.

    Two horses stood ready outside the gates of the security office. Aluan mounted her red horse first, and then gazed over at the old master, Lu Zhizhong, and the others who were seeing them off. Tears flowed as she said, "Granddaddy and uncle Lu, please go back inside!" Ji Guangjie hung his sword next to his saddle, mounted his horse nimbly, and then clasped his fist, laughing, "All of you go back inside. Farewell! Farewell!" Many people stood nearby, all envying the newly-married, valiant husband and wife. The two horses headed to the north, seen off under the gaze of many. Aluan continued looking back from atop her horse, shedding tears and saying, "Granddaddy! Please, go back inside!" With Ji Guangjie's horse in front, they rode farther and farther away. She had no choice but to follow as the image of her old grandfather disappeared behind her.


    -

    CHAPTER TWELVE

    Resting whips on a courier road, the late night contradicts sweet dreams.
    With his sword held ready at the Ba Tomb, he laughs bitterly at the lover.


    When they came out of the Dasan Pass, Aluan thought back again to a month ago when she'd left here alone under a starry night and raced straight to Chang'an. Recalling the courage she'd had then lessened the sorrow she felt right now, as her scabbard by her saddle knocked against her copper stirrups, tink, tink. Aluan held back her tears, hardened her heart and pressed herself on, thinking, Hurry! We'll get to Chang'an to meet Jiang Xiaohe! I must kill him, and then soon after die myself. Or else I'll have him kill me. If he is unwilling, I won't take that as an answer and I'll run into his sword. But before I die, I have to make things clear. What's happened in ten years, thousands and thousands of things, I must explain it all to him! Whether he dies or I die, we can't do so until after things are all clarified! So thinking, her tears came again, streaming down onto her horse's back.

    Ji Guangjie looked back and couldn't hold in a chuckle, saying, "Aluan, at first I thought you were a present day xia woman with a resolute temperament like that of men. But now I see that you are very delicate, just like other women. Your Kunlun School has just been scaring itself. Jiang Xiaohe isn't actually any sort of extraordinary person. You'll see. In a few days when we reach Chang'an, Jiang Xiaohe will come and you'll watch how I overcome him!" Aluan continued sitting on her horse, wiping her tears, not making any replies.

    Ji Guangjie then said, "Yesterday was a day of great happiness for the two of us, but you treated me so heartlessly. If I hadn't shown extreme restraint, we, new husband and wife, would have already become enemies. But you need to understand something. I'm not afraid of you. It's that I adore you. Now that we've set off together and are traveling and lodging together, I hope you won't continue being stubborn. Otherwise, it'll make the people on the road laugh at us. Right now we have no other ambitions, so we should do as we did on the Wei River while battling Li Fengjie and join together to face Jiang Xiaohe. Afterward, I still want to take you back to Longmen to meet my family, and then roam Jianghu. After all that, I want to go to Beijing and test in the martial arena. I want to work for the future so that you can become a wife of the highest class." Aluan glared at him and said, "Stop talking nonsense, you! Ride faster!"

    Ji Guangjie couldn't help but laugh a little and feel utterly content inside. Though Aluan's pair of eyes had given him a very fierce glare, he felt they contained tenderness inside, especially when she said the word, "you." He simply felt his shoulders go numb. Thereupon he swung his whip high in the air and released his horse to go faster, purposefully to show off his adept horsemanship. Aluan quickly released her own horse after him.

    The two spoke no more on the road as they continued galloping east, and that evening they arrived at the boundary of Xingping county. Aluan wanted to keep riding so they could race to Chang'an that very day. However, Ji Guangjie said, "We can't. When we get to Xianyang, there won't be any ferries on the Wei River and we don't be able to cross it. Even if we did find a ferry, the city gates of Chang'an will be closed, so there's no way for us to see your uncle Ge today." Aluan could only rein up her horse and follow Ji Guangjie into an inn without saying a word.

    Ji Guangjie purposefully found a single room with only one earthen kang inside and not even a table to speak of. Aluan entered the room and sat on top of the kang with her shoes on and the Kunlun saber placed next to her. Ji Guangjie smiled and asked the inn attendant for food and wine. The attendant saw that the two were husband and wife and naturally brought two wine cups. Ji Guangjie poured himself a full cup, and then poured another and handed it to Aluan, smiling and saying, "Tonight the two of us should drink another cup of nuptial wine! Relax a little bit!"

    Unexpectedly, Aluan pushed the wine cup away with her hand, sending it falling onto the kang, splashing over Ji Guangjie's silk pants. Ji Guangjie couldn't help screwing his face up in anger, asking, "Why did you do that? If you don't want to drink, that's fine. Why then did you knock the wine cup over? Since our wedding yesterday until now, other than to yell at me, you haven't said one word to me! Could it be you hold me, Ji Guangjie, in disdain? Are you unwilling to be the woman of Ji Guangjie!?"

    Aluan glowered at him immediately and reached over to touch the hilt of her saber, asking sternly, "Who is your woman?" Ji Guangjie laughed, "You! You are my woman. We kneeled in the wedding hall together yesterday, and now we've set off together. You are now a part of the Ji family. You are my woman. You are my wife. You are my bride!" He said this to express his love, but unexpectedly, shink, he heard the sound of Aluan's Kunlun saber coming out of its sheath. Ji Guangjie quickly ducked down below the kang as the saber cut the air above his head. Ji Guangjie took the opportunity to run into the courtyard, though Aluan did not chase out after him.

    This time Ji Guangjie was in a rage, thinking, This is absurd! In whose house can a new wife treat her husband like this? If she doesn't like me, why did she marry me? Thus, in anger he wanted to ready his own horse and race back to the Dasan Pass, so that he might find the Shanyin Valley of Luoyang county to ask the old master Bao to come and ask his granddaughter what in the end she was thinking. However, when he got to the stables, found his saddle blanket, and placed it on his horse's back, he then took it off again and thought, If I do that, it will harm the new marital relationship between the two of us, and husband and wife we'll never be able to reconcile for the rest of our lives. There may be other women in the world who know the martial arts, but where will I find another as pretty as Aluan? Thus, Aluan's delicate features flashed across his mind, and his anger dissipated immediately. He went back outside the room and thought, I should see what Aluan is doing. Thereupon he gently opened the room door a crack and saw Aluan crying with her head down and her saber by her side.

    Ji Guangjie couldn't help but sigh. He entered the room, but didn't dare draw near to her. He stood far away and waved his hand, saying, "Don't be sad. I know you may not like me, but must a formidable man like me, Ji Guangjie, win over the love of his wife? Not to mention, my helping your family against the two men, Li Fengjie and Jiang Xiaohe, was not simply to pursue your beauty. I am fighting to right an injustice. I cannot let a lowlife Jianghu newcomer to mistreat your family's aged fighting master. I tell you the truth, when I fought with Jiang Xiaohe on Wudang, his sword skill was not as good as mine, but his dianxue was very powerful. When we meet in Chang'an this time, I don't know yet who will triumph and who will be defeated, who will live and who will die. If I die, then consider it a sacrifice for my friends of the Kunlun School! I will die without complaint to give my life for the old master! If I kill Jiang Xiaohe, I will go away and never come back to Guanzhong again. Whether you remarry or remain at home a grass widow, I care not. I will never find another wife. I'll simply roam Jianghu to the ends of the world, championing justice and righteousness. When I am old, I will either become a monk or return home and live in seclusion!"

    Ji Guangjie said these things passionately and vehemently, and when he was finished, he sat down on the kang and started eating without looking over at Aluan again. He heard Aluan say through her tears, "Who told you to kill Jiang Xiaohe? You can't kill him! He's an enemy of our family. We don't need you to kill him. If you kill him, I'll kill you!"

    Ji Guangjie couldn't hold in a laugh. He then sighed heavily and said to Aluan, "Let's stop talking. Aren't you not speaking to me? I'm going to stop speaking to you too. The two of us will be husband and wife in name, but we'll actually be as strangers. You can't see anything in me, Ji Guangjie, but in the future you'll find out on your own!" He sat in anger, and when he finished eating and drinking, he called for an attendant to take the cups and plates away. He then closed the door, drew his sword and crouched down next to the wall at a place far from Aluan. With his sword in hand, he fell into a deep sleep.

    In the middle of the night, he opened his eyes to find that the lamp had not yet been extinguished, though it was almost out of oil. Aluan was also sleeping against the wall fully clothed with her saber propped up on her legs. Under the light of the half-lit lamp, he looked over at Aluan's pretty eyes, gently closed in an elegant slumber, and her freshly combed hair bun. Two stray locks of her beautiful hair hung over her forehead as she made the faintest of snoring sounds. It was especially her red jacket and pants and embroidered flower shoes that aroused a yearning in Ji Guangjie, exciting his heart into a continuous thumping. He slowly stretched out his hand to try to take Aluan's saber away and then subdue her with his sword, but before his hand reached her, Aluan opened her eyes widely. Ji Guangjie dropped in the position he'd been in, lying on the kang with a hand extended, and snored, pretending to be asleep. His head was near Aluan's embroidered flower shoes, and his hand was next to her saber. Aluan scooted farther away, moved her saber aside, and blew out the lamp. Ji Guangjie pretended to talk in his sleep, viciously pounding on the kang and yelling, "Jiang Xiaohe!" After a while, he fell back into a real sleep.

    When he woke at daybreak the next day, he glanced briefly at Aluan, but didn't say anything to her. Aluan was by the window where she'd propped up a small mirror she'd brought, putting herself together. Ji Guangjie hastily braided his queue, and then sat on the kang and ate breakfast, often raising his eyes to look at Aluan from behind.

    Shortly, Aluan ate some breakfast, as Ji Guangjie instructed the attendants to ready the horses. After he paid the bill for the inn, he went outside with Aluan, where they both mounted their horses and headed east together. Before long, they came again to the banks of the Wei River in Xianyang and rode a ferry across the river. By midday they arrived in Chang'an. On the way, Ji Guangjie didn't say one word to his bride, but his two eyes often peered over at Aluan, as he pondered by what method he'd be able to win over his bride and make her love him.

    The two riders entered the city of Chang'an and arrived at the gates of the Lishun Security Office. Upon seeing Ji Guangjie approach, accompanying Aluan by himself, the few security escorts in front of the gate were extremely astonished. Then when they saw Aluan with her hair combed into a cloud bun, wearing the clothes and adornment of a new bride, they stared even more. Ji Guangjie dismounted his horse, handing it over to another person, and then cupped his fist to the group of people before he entered the security office with Aluan. Ge Zhiqiang, Yuan Zhixia, Chen Zhijun, Yang Zhijin, Zhao Zhilong, and Jin Zhiyong were all conversing in the front hall. They seemed to be in the midst of discussing something important, but upon seeing Ji Guangjie and Aluan coming, they came out of the door to greet them.

    Ge Zhiqiang said, "What's this? In-law Ji and the young miss Aluan, have you performed the wedding ceremony already?" Aluan blushed a little and walked into the room with the group of men. Zhao Zhilong then asked Ji Guangjie, "Why haven't Jiang Zhiyao and Liu Zhiyuan come back?" Ji Guangjie breathed heavily, but didn't say anything. He sat for a moment before he related to them old master Bao's decision for him and Aluan to get married. Then he spoke of how he went to Mount Wudang in Hubei to meet and fight Jiang Xiaohe. According to his empty talk from before, he said that he'd defeated Jiang Xiaohe. Then he got to Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao, saying that the two of them took a separate route than he did, and that they likely knew that Jiang Xiaohe was to come to Chang'an. They might not have dared return, or they had purposefully hidden far away to serve as lookouts. He then complained about Liu Zhiyuan once more. Afterward, he pulled from his waist the letter that the old master entrusted to him for Ge Zhiqiang, but didn't take out the one for Jiang Xiaohe.

    Ge Zhiqiang received it and found that inside the envelope, other than a letter, there was another unsealed envelope with the words, "To Jiang Xiaohe" written on it. Ge Zhiqiang handed the letter over to Zhao Zhilong to read aloud. Zhao Zhilong thus recited it loudly and added commentary. The general idea was that he gave Ge Zhiqiang the letter to tell him that he had seen Ji Guangjie and his granddaughter Aluan married at the Dasan Pass. It was done in a hurry so that after they became husband and wife, they would be able to travel together more expediently. He himself was going into hiding elsewhere, not out of fear, but truly because he was listening to the advice of Lu Zhizhong and his granddaughter.

    Zhao Zhilong pulled out the included letter for Jiang Xiaohe as well and read it. The words in the letter were very plaintive. It said, "What happened ten years ago, after I did it, I felt immediate regret. However, Jiang Zhisheng had an affair with another's wife, thereby in truth choosing the path to his own death. You have come now, Jiang Xiaohe, but if you are able to understand these circumstances, then abandon the prior enmity, and we two can still become friends, never bringing up the events of the past. If you cling still to your resolution and must take vengeance, then that will also be easy to manage. I ask that you declare openly that you will not harm a hair on my disciples. When that happens, I will immediately come out and deliver this old life to you!" When the group of disciples heard this, some were taken aback, some were so mournful they wanted to cry, and some still said angrily, "There is no way we can give this letter to Jiang Xiaohe. When we see Jiang Xiaohe, we must attack and have it out with him." Aluan pulled out her handkerchief again to wipe away her tears, and Ji Guangjie place his hand on his sword and smiled, not saying a word.

    Ge Zhiqiang folded the letters up and said to the group, "It looks to me this matter is still easy to deal with. If Jiang Xiaohe comes, we cannot rashly enter into combat with him." Nearby, Yang Zhijin said, "Then could you possibly mean to have our old master come out and hand his life over to him?" Ge Zhiqiang shook his head and said, "Of course not. Even if we're all dead, we can't have the master come out!" Yang Zhijin said, "Then what do you suppose we do? Hand the letter over to him?" Ge Zhiqiang nodded and said, "The letter must be given to him. Because that was the master's instruction, it is necessary we do as he says. When Jiang Xiaohe comes, we will invite him to come to the security office, and show him the master's letter. Then we will ask brother Chen to tell him about the foul deeds his father Jiang Zhisheng did then, and also the rules of our Kunlun School and the particulars of how our master led the Long Brothers into the mountains in pursuit of his father, killing him. I imagine Jiang Xiaohe has roamed Jianghu for at least some time and is unlikely to be too unreasonable."

    Chen Zhijun hardened his stare, saying, "That kid knows how to talk reason? If he did, he should have already thought about it. Though we killed his dad, the master treated him quite well in the days he lived in the master's home!" Aluan insisted, "When Jiang Xiaohe arrives, don't any of you go to meet him. Have just me go out first. Not only do I want to reason with him, I have many things to ask him and I want to see how he answers me!" So saying, she started crying bitterly again. Ji Guangjie pulled his wife back, and Aluan glared impetuously at Ji Guangjie once more, but because they were in the presence of so many of her disciple-uncles, she could not get angry.

    Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand repeatedly at the group, saying, "Let's stop worrying about this for now. It's not something hard to manage. I heard it said that Jiang Xiaohe has entered the Tong Pass already. I've made preparations here. I've notified friends from all over. The office of the inspector-general, the office of the general, the two commissioners treasury and judicial, the Xi'an prefecture and the Chang'an county government, I have developed good relationships with all of them. If Jiang Xiaohe doesn't come, then that's that, but if he does, he will be walking right into a trap!" Aluan said urgently, "Must we rely on government power to arrest him!?" Ge Zhiqiang said, "We're not having him arrested. We're still going to meet with him first to talk reason, but if he really is unreasonable, then I cannot guarantee anything. I, Ge Zhiqiang, have always been a man. Never in my life have I been willing to use government power to overcome others, but we have now come upon Jiang Xiaohe, who is pushing us around from above. I cannot be gracious with him. I plan to use the smallest means to land him in prison. I don't care if they behead him at once, but at the very least I want them to sentence him to lifetime imprisonment!"

    When he spoke he puffed out his imposing chest and opened his two eyes widely, as if he would not feel thorny and scared this time with Jiang Xiaohe as he had been the last time with Li Fengjie. He then said loudly, "Let us stop talking about this and first offer our congratulations today to the young couple, in-law Ji and the young miss Luan! We haven't had an event as happy as this in twenty years, so who cares about some bird like Jiang Xiaohe?" Thus, everyone put smiles on their faces, called out rowdily, and surrounded Ji Guangjie and his wife with congratulations. Her disciple-uncles teased Aluan until her two cheeks, still wet with tears, blushed red. She quickly ran into the inner courtyard to find Ge Zhiqiang's wife Xu-shi and their daughter-in-law.

    Ji Guangjie was full of joy, but he seemed to be hung up on something. He talked with the men of the Kunlun School for a while, and then he went to check in on the wounds of Ge Zhiqiang's son Shaogang. Afterward, he said he wanted to go see his uncle Zhao Baofu at his money dispensary, though he didn't actually go there. He left the Lishun Security Office and walked back and forth for a while through the main east and west streets before finding a smithy. This smithy sold blades and weapons exclusively, particularly for the fighters of Chang'an's security profession. Inside the shop hung many bright and shiny broadswords. On the walls were suspended sabers and swords, and also things like tiger's head hooks and heavenly halberds. There was even stacked several whiteash poles.

    Ji Guangjie walked in and asked, "Shopkeeper, do you have any darts?" The shopkeeper said, "Darts are only available by order." Ji Guangjie said, "Then never mind. I need them now." The shopkeeper asked, "Which security office are you from?" Ji Guangjie said, "I'm from the Lishun Security Office on the main south street." The shopkeeper gave him a good look, as if he didn't quite believe him, since he had never seen that the Lishun Security Office had this particular escort. It wasn't until Ji Guangjie stated his name that he said in surprise, "Oh! So it's Sir Ji, is it? Didn't the good sir go through the Tong Pass to capture some Jiang Xiaohe or other?" Ji Guangjie said, "I've come back. Now stop talking nonsense. If you don't have darts here, I'll go somewhere else to buy them." The shopkeeper said repeatedly, "We do, we do." He went into the back for a moment and came out holding a small wooden box, inside of which were placed several spearhead-like darts.

    Ji Guangjie looked them over and found them very unwieldy. The shopkeeper saw that they were not much to Ji Guangjie's liking, so he said, "These were actually struck a few years ago. Later, Little Kunlun, the great escort Bao of Hanzhong and Sun Bao the Living Devil from here were both wounded by Hu Li the Silver Dart of the Qin Mountains, and there were some who suspected the darts that Hu Li the Silver Dart used were bought in Xi'an prefecture, so local public officials and private citizens informed the smithies that they were not permitted to make darts and sell them. If we were discovered to be doing this, we'd be punished, so if you were not Sir Ji here today, we wouldn't dare bring them out, no matter what." Ji Guangjie said, "If I wasn't in a rush to use them, I also would not be here to buy them. My grandfather was the Xia of Longmen. You may have heard of him. The old sir was unmatched with the sword and never missed with the dart. But the darts our Ji family used were not as heavy and unwieldy as yours. It's a pity when I left home, I didn't think I'd be using them, so I did bring any with me." The shopkeeper said, "No need to worry, Sir Ji. If you can draw what it looked like, we can strike you some for certain. I guarantee that the ones we strike will be exactly like the yours." Ji Guangjie nodded and said, "That sounds good." [Note: It is actually Bao Kunlun's second son, Bao Zhilin, who calls himself "Little Kunlun," not his eldest son, Bao Zhiyun of Hanzhong.]

    The shopkeeper went to fetch paper and a brush for him at once, and Ji Guangjie illustrated the shape of the dart and noted the dimensions as well. It was certainly lighter and sharper than most darts. He ordered twenty to be struck, and when they agreed on a price, he paid the order fee. Ji Guangjie then asked for the shopkeeper's name, and the shopkeeper replied, "My surname is Fei. If you go back and ask Sixth Sir Ge about Eldest Fei of the Defu Smithy on the main west street, he'll know me. He is one of our old customers. The Kunlun sabers employed by those at the Lishun Security Office were all forged here." Ji Guangjie nodded and selected five of the completed darts to use since he had a pressing need. When he left the smithy, he found an upholsterer and ordered a dart sheath made. Afterward, he made his way back.

    He was in the vicinity of the Lishun Security Office when he spotted a stela erected at the corner of a wall, on which were carved the words, "Mount Tai Shigandang." The bottom portion of the character dang had sunk into the earth, making it read, "Mount Tai Shiganshang." Ji Guangjie abruptly stooped down, picked up two small rocks from the ground, and stepped back a dozen or so paces, thinking, I'm going to hit the little hook at the bottom of the tai character. So saying, one of the rocks flew out as he widened his eyes and watched it straight on. It struck exactly at that spot, and he couldn't help smiling. With the second rock, he thought to himself, I'm going to hit the peak of the shan character. A flick of his hand, and the other rock went flying. He ran over to look and sure enough, he saw a white mark, struck atop the shan character. Many people were standing nearby and watching, all hoping he would do it again, but satisfied, Ji Guangjie walked back to the Lishun Security Office. [Note: In Chinese, the words carved onto the stela read: 泰山石敢當 (Taishan Shigandang). The top portion of the character dang (當) is similar to the character shang (尚).]

    In a short while, the group at the security office ate lunch together with he and Aluan sitting at the places of honor. Ge Zhiqiang and the others all raised their cups to toast them as husband and wife and offer their congratulations. Ji Guangjie snuck glances at Aluan and saw that Aluan still did not drink any wine or eat any food, as if she was being shy, though it seemed more as if she was sullen. This truly made Ji Guangjie feel unhappy. Someone there started talking about Jiang Xiaohe, so Ji Guangjie began to talk about him as well. Now that he'd readied a few darts on hand, he was no longer afraid of Jiang Xiaohe's quick and unpredictable martial arts.

    As a result, with his head held high, he began talking animatedly, and when he spoke of things that made him angriest, or that made him proudest, he would pound on the table with his fist. At this moment, Aluan got out of her seat and left the room. This hall was across from the eastern hall, which Ge Zhiqiang had ordered tidied up for the husband and wife to stay in. Aluan went inside, sat on the bed dejected, and couldn't help the tears that dropped from her eyes. The door to the room opened suddenly, and Ji Guangjie came inside. Ji Guangjie didn't say anything to Aluan, but he smiled once more, a smile meant to convey the love between a husband and a wife. Without even looking up, Aluan stood up at once and left the room to go to the inner courtyard.

    Ge Zhiqiang's wife Xu-shi was in the inner courtyard, currently ill, and though there were two servant women, she still needed her daughter-in-law to wait upon her. Her daughter-in-law Cheng Yu'e had not one moment of leisure time these past couple months, nor one instant of an unburdened mind. Since her husband nearly died after being wounded by Li Fengjie at the Dayan Pagoda that time, his wound was only now barely a lesser injury. But then her mother-in-law fell ill, so much so that her face was drawn and pale, and her mind was full of suffering. Now, seeing Aluan already married, with her hair combed beautifully into a bun, wearing golden jewelry and pretty clothes, especially that pair of embroidered flower shoes, she felt the utmost envy. She pulled Aluan by the hand to the outer room and whispered, "Sister, please sit. Isn't being a new bride nicer than that last time you came?" Aluan flushed red and forced a smile as she sat down.

    Cheng Yu'e moved closer and asked quietly, "How is the groom treating you? You two must be in so much love. But you have to think of a way to control his spirit, to break him first. Otherwise, that husband will be hard to keep in line. He's skilled, famous, and of good character. In the future, he'll be sure to do atrocious things behind your back. Then how angry would you be?" Aluan turned scarlet at her words, but grew a bit annoyed as well, so she said firmly, "Sister-in-law, stop joking with me. My granddad arranged this for us. I had no say in it..." When she said this, she became very sad. She forced back her tears and continued, "It was so we could come here together to face Jiang Xiaohe, so that it would be much more convenient!" Cheng Yu'e laughed, seeming both from jealousy and to ridicule her, and patted Aluan's shoulder, saying, "It may be a little convenient now, but it'll slowly become inconvenient. There will always be a time for us women when our bodies become inconvenient, not like those men, who can roam across Jianghu forever."

    Aluan didn't quite understand what she meant by this, simply feeling very irritated. She first thought to leave this room and return to the front courtyard, but then she remembered that Ji Guangjie was there and he was even more loathsome. Suddenly a bout of sadness struck her heart and she couldn't hold her tears back from rolling out in drops. Cheng Yu'e was very alarmed, changing her countenance and asking in a panic, "Sister, what's the matter? I've angered you. Oh! I was just teasing you before!" At the same time as Aluan wiped her tears, she waved her hand. Just then a servant woman barged in and said, "Good miss Bao! In-law Ji is heading to the salt shop street to see his good uncle, and he's wondering if you'd come with him. The wagon is all ready to go." Before Aluan could answer, Cheng Yu'e said, "Of course she'll go! Is there any reason a new niece-in-law wouldn't go meet her uncle?" Aluan thus wiped her tears and nodded, and then went to the outer courtyard with the servant woman.

    At this time, Ji Guangjie had tied his queue both black and bright, and shaved his face very neatly. He wore a dark blue creased robe and white-soled quick boots, and carried in his hand a fine silk fan, appearing just like a distinguished young gentleman. Aluan went into their room as well and reapplied her rouge. As Ji Guangjie watched his wife making herself up, he took the opportunity to pat her supple shoulder and say quietly while smiling, "I told you before that if you ignore me, I'll ignore you too. But I have to tell you now, this is the only kin I have in Chang'an, and he's my maternal uncle by blood. Since you've become a daughter-in-law of the Ji family, no matter if you think I'm good enough for you or not, you must come with me to pay formal respects to my uncle. We two may be as strangers inwardly, but on the surface we must pretend to be in marital love. Otherwise, people will be liable to doubt, and if word of it gets back to the old master, the old sir will definitely be saddened!"

    Hearing these words, Aluan couldn't help a wave of sorrow, though she didn't say anything as she finished her adornment. She followed Ji Guangjie out the door and onto the wagon, and they headed toward salt shop street. While on the wagon, Ji Guangjie sat across the wagon shaft and couldn't help but look all around, as if he looking for something in the crowd. He had even placed his sword in the wagon. They arrived at the Guangyifu Money Dispensary on the salt shop street shortly. The married couple paid their respects to their uncle, and then headed back. When they came back to their room at the security office, Aluan still sat down glumly, with her brows still knit tightly, never ever looking at her husband straight on. Ji Guangjie couldn't help being very distressed. He couldn't stay in the room, so he went outside to inquire about Jiang Xiaohe.

    The walked around all day and visited every single tavern and teashop without finding any trace of Jiang Xiaohe. When he returned, he came upon a large horse-drawn wagon stopped in front of the security office. When he entered the front hall, he saw two men in official uniform, talking with Ge Zhiqiang about this and that while addressing each other as brother. Through Ge Zhiqiang's introduction, Ji Guangjie came to know that these two were from the prefectural government office. One was Second Sir Liu, an official from the punishment bureau, and the other was Second Sir Deng the Divine Hold, the head of the department. When the two men heard that Ji Guangjie was the grandson of the Xia of Longmen and Bao Kunlun's grandson-in-law, they told him it was an honor to meet him and began speaking very warmly with him. In a short while, Ge Zhiqiang ordered a banquet set up and invited the two officials to eat, accompanied by Ji Guangjie and the others. As they dined, of course talk turned toward Jiang Xiaohe.

    Ge Zhiqiang declared Jiang Xiaohe a criminal, committing serious offenses in Zhenba and Northern Sichuan, and if he ever came here, he asked the government to arrest him. The two officials both agreed wholeheartedly and said they had already sent out bailiffs to various places in order to find and capture him. Ji Guangjie sat by silently. He was not much approve of Ge Zhiqiang setting officials to arrest Jiang Xiaohe. He had experienced Jiang Xiaohe's abilities, and it was of no use to speak of the few inconsequential sheriffs and bailiffs of Xi'an prefecture. Even if there were more of them, they could still forget about capturing even a trace of Jiang Xiaohe. His sole hope now was the darts he had on him, and if Jiang Xiaohe could arrive a few days later, until after the darts he'd ordered were struck, it would be even better! He believed that his darts would not miss their mark and that Jiang Xiaohe could not defend against them.

    After some time, lamps and candles were lit in the room as it grew dark outside. Ge Zhiqiang had stopped talking about Jiang Xiaohe, and whenever someone else brought him up, his mood would sour and he would glare at them continuously. When the banquet was finished, the two officials took their leave. Ge Zhiqiang instructed everyone to be on the alert this night, to be more cautious than they had been previously, to have their Kunlun sabers ready at hand, and not to sleep too soundly. If they came upon anything unexpected occurring, they should call out and rap the gong. Once the gong sounds out and those on patrol in the street hear it, they'll go call for the officers. This is the manner that they had decided on in his discussions with the two officials.

    Ji Guangjie stood by and scoffed. He hadn't thought Ge Zhiqiang so foolish a man. When we entered his room, he saw two wax candles lit on the table, and Aluan loosening her hair and redoing it in a mirror. Ji Guangjie was puzzled by this, but didn't dare ask her about it. Instead, he stood by to watch what she was up to. Seeing Aluan's full, raven hair, shining in the candlelight, Ji Guangjie couldn't help becoming enchanted once more, thinking, A bride as good as her has come now into my possession, but she can't seem to make thing easy. She won't even talk to me. How painful this makes a man feel! Then he thought, It's all because of this matter with Jiang Xiaohe, stirring agitation in her. Or else, she and I would reconcile for certain. Thus, he silently grit his teeth and seethed about Jiang Xiaohe. He wanted him to come immediately, so he could fling a dart and pierce his belly. Aluan had now finished tidying up her hair, turning her new bride's bun back into the braid of a maiden, as if she had never been married.

    Ji Guangjie really couldn't hold in his anger, and immediately hardened his glare, asking, "What do you mean by this? Why did you change your hair? Could it be you're unwilling to be a new wife?" Aluan acted as if she hadn't heard him as she got up and turned around, fuming. She was currently wearing a short green muslin jacket over a red undershirt, so red was hidden within the green, and again under the two reddish lights, her face was simply a delight for Ji Guangjie to look upon. Ji Guangjie turned his annoyance into a smile, saying, "Actually, the braid is much prettier than combing it into a bun. You can wear a braid at night, but tomorrow morning you should change it back. Otherwise people will laugh at us."

    He then noticed Aluan's open collar, revealing her silky white chestcloth fastened with a niello chain. Ji Guangjie couldn't keep himself from reaching out to touch it, asking with a smile, "Is that pure gold? Where was it made? There can't be such good craftsmanship in Zhenba city, can there?" Aluan batted him away again, and Ji Guangjie quickly countered by grabbing onto her wrist, laughing, "What is it that you and I aren't on good terms?" Aluan bit her lip tightly, took her hand back without saying a word, and took her saber off the wall. Ji Guangjie was afraid she was going to slash at him again, so he hurriedly turned around to get his sword. Except he saw Aluan taking her Kunlun saber from the wall and sitting down on the kang. She unsheathed the saber and wiped it down with a light, red silk handkerchief.

    Ji Guangjie couldn't help but laugh as he set his sword down. He had originally thought to walk closer and say some more kind words, but then he realized it would be just be spurned in vain. Thus, after staring into space for a moment, he proudly said, "Jiang Xiaohe may not come tonight, but if he does, it would be truly great! I am ready to face him right now. I will take his life without letting him see me! And then..." Ji Guangjie wanted to mention once again that he would drift away after he helped the Kunlun School eliminate their direct enemy, never again to cherish Aluan being good to him. However, Aluan glared briefly at him before picking up her saber and leaving the room. Ji Guangjie quickly followed her out and saw Aluan fly onto the room. Ji Guangjie smiled and, whoosh, leapt onto the room himself.

    Just then, upon seeing people on top of the roof, an attendant hiding behind a wall shouted out loudly in fright, "Intruder!" He rang the gong. Ji Guangjie jumped down and kicked the attendant, sending him and the gong onto the ground. Ji Guangjie cursed at him, "Idiot! Could it be that you didn't see the lights still burning in my room, and that I'd just come out of there?" There was now a flurry of voices, as Ge Zhiqiang, Zhao Zhilong, Chen Zhijun, Yang Zhijin, and Yuan Zhixia all ran over with their weapons. The attendants had lit lanterns, and someone was rapping noisily on a copper basin. Ji Guangjie brandished his sword and yelled quickly, "It's nothing! It's nothing! It's just me and my wife. We went onto the roof to look around. This idiot didn't give us a careful look before ringing the gong!" He kicked the attendant who'd just gotten back up down again, and walked over and gave the sleepy-eyed attendant rapping on the basin two slaps across the face.

    Hearing that it was a false alarm, Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help feeling angry and embarrassed, so he waved his hand and said, "Stop making a racket! If the people outside find out about this, they'll laugh. What escorting will we do then? ...Ayh!" Carrying a Kunlun saber and heaving a sigh, he kept the group in check, but then an urgent knocking came from outside the door. When the gong was just ringing out, it was heard by the men on watch duty in the streets, who then reported it to the officials, and so Second Deng the Divine Hold brought a good many officers over to them. The officers came in, all carrying hooked poles or pronged daggers. Second Deng himself had a waist saber held up high, as he asked loudly, "Where's the intruder?" Ge Zhiqiang's entire face turned red, saying only, "He's gone. Just now someone heard a noise on the roof, but we got here and looked, the intruder had left without a trace." Second Deng the Divine Hold said, "It must be a flying robber. It's likely he hasn't run far, but we can't be sure where he's hiding." Thus, he ordered men to move ladder over, so he could go onto the roof himself to investigate. However, it was just as Ge Zhiqiang had said. There was no sign of any intruders on the roof or anywhere else.

    Afterward, Second Deng climbed off the roof and said to Ge Zhiqiang, "Don't worry, Sixth Sir Ge. Why don't we leave a few people here tonight as protection?" Ge Zhiqiang said, "That isn't necessary. We have our own night watch, and it's quite a few men. When we have the intruder surrounded, we'll ring the gong and have you, Second Brother, bring your group to give us a hand then." Second Deng the Divine Hold thought this over and said, "Then we'll do it that way. We're heading back! After hearing the gong, I think the flying robber will likely dare to come back." So saying, he took the many officers and left.

    It was now quiet again after the bit of commotion. Ji Guangjie had long since angrily returned to the room, and in a short while, Aluan came in as well. Ji Guangjie said to her angrily, "Look how incompetent those people are. I really don't know how they've managed to lead security escorts for so many years. How do those useless men do business and travel Jianghu? Long ago, I'd heard that Sixth Sir Ge was a good man of renown, but I see now that the Iron Hegemon of the Golden Saber and Silver Whip is no more than this. If it weren't for the involvement of these men, I'd long have captured Jiang Xiaohe!" Aluan let him have it out without giving any reply. Her rage turned her face a deathly white, as she slammed her saber on the table and sat down in the chair next to it. She put one of her arms onto the table and leaned her head against it.

    Resentment grew in Ji Guangjie's mind as he thought, How could this be? What was I thinking when I came to the aid of the people of the Kunlun School? The old man Bao's granddaughter has been given to me in marriage, but it's just as if we'd never married. She looks down on me, the one named Ji. I, the one named Ji, have put my future on hold, offended many friends of Jianghu, and even suffered mistreatment here. Can I still be considered a man or a husband? Thus, he flung his sword forcefully onto the bed and thought, I don't care anymore! I'm leaving Guangzhong tomorrow. Jiang Xiaohe can come as he likes and cause whatever trouble he wants. I don't care! But then he thought, That won't do! If that happened, it would be clear to all that I was forced away by Jiang Xiaohe without being able to take my wife with me. That would be humiliating! He snuck a glance at Aluan's silhouette in profile next to the light. With her hair comb into a braid, she looked even more beautiful. Even though she dealt with him without the least bit of heart, he didn't know why, but he just couldn't let her go, and it was because of this that he felt a great difficulty. He then thought, In the end, it's old man Bao who's formidable, ensnaring me with a beautiful woman! For now on, not only need I defend myself against Jiang Xiaohe, but I need also defend myself against the people of their Kunlun School, never revealing to them my true feelings.

    From there, he suddenly remembered something. He thought, Before we left the Dasan Pass yesterday, the old man Bao gave me two letters. Inside the one for Ge Zhiqiang, there was already a letter addressed to Jiang Xiaohe, so why was there then another one? Could it be they're different? He thus pulled out the letter, went near the light, and opened it up. Inside were written a few paltry lines by hand. They read:



    To the Honorable Jiang Xiaohe:

    If you must want to kill me for revenge, then I can only surrender this old life to you. I invite you to come to the Shanyin Valley in Luoyang county, and I will offer this white-haired head to you immediately, without regret.

    Zhenfei


    After Ji Guangjie finished reading it, he handed it over to Aluan to look at, but then, afraid that Aluan might not know her characters, he read it aloud especially for her. Afterward, Ji Guangjie sneered and tore the letter into bits, saying, "You see now. The old sir told me to give this letter to Jiang Xiaohe when we had no other options. But no matter how dire the situation, even if Jiang Xiaohe's sword had pierced my chest, I could not divulge to him the old sir's hiding place. I was fully aware that helping the Kunlun School would bring me no benefit, and it was even more clear to me that you lacked the slightest bit of heart for me, not to mention that I'm telling you the truth when I say that Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts are much greater than my own. But since I am helping, I will help until the very end, never stopping unless I am killed by Jiang Xiaohe. This is isn't that I'm being foolish, but because I'm preserving my honor!" When he finished, afraid that any vestige of the torn up letter remained, he put it straight into the candlelight, burning it into ash. Afterward, he spoke no further to Aluan, turned around and got into bed, sleeping sullenly with his hands around his sword.

    Ji Guangjie's passionate behavior in fact surprised Aluan. Not only was she not angry, but she also turned to look at Ji Guangjie. She saw him, a short yet strong man whom she'd married and was nominally her husband. Even though he was curled up on the bed with his hands wrapped tightly around his sword, still in his clothes and shoes, if Jiang Xiaohe arrived now suddenly, he would surely jump up and fight him with his sword, perhaps to his death. But if he really did die, wouldn't that be pitiful? During the first bout with Li Fengjie, if he hadn't been there to obstruct him, I'm don't know how many of our Kunlun School may have been lost. And in the second bout, this time with Jiang Xiaohe, I still don't know how it went, but he gave it his all. I haven't treated him very well, yet he continues to exert his strength to keep my poor old grandfather from death. In name, I have married him, but what is it actually? I have taken him for an enemy. When she thought this, she couldn't help feeling a boundless, dismal sorrow, so she stood up quietly and walked to him. She nudged Ji Guangjie, intending to explain to him her true feelings. But then she felt an odd ache in her heart and started crying. She sat back down and sobbed into her hands. Ji Guangjie did not get up to console her, though had Ji Guangjie consoled her this time, she may really have cried into Ji Guangjie's chest. It turned out that Ji Guangjie was already sleeping soundly, so Aluan wiped away her tears and stood up again with the intention of pulling a blanket over Ji Guangjie. But then something else in her mind blocked her from it, so she stopped what she was doing and stared off into space.

    Just then, a rumble was suddenly heard from the courtyard, a huge sound as if a mountain had collapsed. Aluan quickly took up her saber, Ji Guangjie jumped up holding his sword, and they pushed open the door and bounded out. At this point, the attendant on night watch in the courtyard was too frightened to ring the gong again, instead dropping the gong mallet and running inside. Seeing a massive stone lying in the courtyard, Ji Guangjie hurriedly called for people to light lanterns. Ge Zhiqiang, Zhao Zhilong, Chen Zhijun, Yang Zhijin and the others had all woken with a start and come running. Some of the attendants lit lanterns, and others went to ring gongs, while in the middle of the courtyard sat a large rock. It was the "Mount Tai Shigandang" stela from nearby the security office, that had been uprooted by someone and tossed here. Very soon, the entire group of people were standing pale in astonishment. Ji Guangjie then said, "This must mean that Jiang Xiaohe has come." He followed Yang Zhijin and others, leaping onto the roof to investigate, but there was no trace of Jiang Xiaohe anywhere. Second Deng the Divine Hold came once again with his officers, moving a ladder in place and climbing onto the roof, making the situation even more disordered.

    Having seen Jiang Xiaohe do this sort of astounding thing before, Bao Aluan was not surprised this time, only feeling much grief in her heart. She didn't even bother raising up her saber and wanted to go inside. Suddenly, her eye caught sight of the window to the room and she was taken aback! It was because she remembered that when she and Ji Guangjie heard the noise from outside just now, they ran outside without blowing out the light in the room. Now, however, it was pitch black inside. The people around her were currently in a frenzy to capture the intruder, discussing plans of action one after the other, none noticing this fact, but Aluan thought it extremely peculiar. With saber in hand, she entered the room slowly, yet when she was inside, she sensed nothing out of the ordinary. She struck a match and lit a lamp, closing the door behind her as she did, but there was no one else in the room. She even looked under the bed and found nothing.

    At this point, Ji Guangjie had come in as well, asking, "What are you looking for?" Aluan straightened up, feeling anxious and blushing a little, but she didn't say anything. She looked up unexpectedly and saw high up on the wall was posted a strip of paper, with what appeared to be writing on it. Aluan was about to jump up, reach out and grab it, but Ji Guangjie was quick of eye and long of arm, and had already taken it down into his possession. Aluan rushed over to snatch it from him, threatening him with her saber, saying, "Show it to me!" Ji Guangjie was unwilling to give it to her, and as the two struggled for it, they ripped the strip of paper to pieces.

    Holding half of it, Ji Guangjie jumped out of the room, leaving in Aluan's hand the other half. Breathing heavily and her hand shaking, she went closer to the light and looked, seeing it written on this half of the paper, "Worthy sister Aluan, we are ten years parted, yet I always... Things have already gotten to... but we two must first... Tomor... Jiang..." The rest of the words had been snatched away by Ji Guangjie, leaving only these twenty-some broken words that couldn't be put together to form sentences. Yet, from them, Bao Aluan still had some idea of Jiang Xiaohe's meaning, and she couldn't help from crying, as she burned the remaining shreds of paper in the lamp.

    At this time, Ji Guangjie had gone to another room and found a lamp as well. He assembled the scraps of paper to look at them together, but he couldn't make any complete sentences. They said roughly, "...talk. ...row morning, let us meet at the Ba Bridge... Xiaohe," and there were also the words, "think of," and "this point." Ji Guangjie then thought, "Think of this point" must be referring to the stela he threw down, a declaration of his strength and ability. Thus, he smirked coldly, put out the lamp, and went back into the courtyard. He shouted to Ge Zhiqiang and the others, "Jiang Xiaohe must not have gone far! Quickly, capture him!" He went back into Aluan's room and saw that Aluan was already laying down on the bed. He asked of her, "Jiang Xiaohe took advantage of the disorder in the courtyard and the absence of people inside to sneak into the room and leave a note. Show me the other half!"

    Aluan just laid there, not saying a word and with her hand holding onto her saber. Ji Guangjie didn't dare approach her, so he urgently stamped his foot and said, "This is very important! This has to do with the fate of your Kunlun School, the life or death of your granddad. Show it to me now! This is very important!" Aluan angrily said, "I burned it already!" Hearing this, Ji Guangjie fell into a daze and then laughed, "You don't have to be so deliberately stubborn with me. It's got nothing to do with me if you hold things up. In the end, I can leave this and stop caring about any of it." Aluan lifted her head and glared, saying, "But you won't just stop caring about it, will you? You won't just leave it and go about your own business, will you?" Ji Guangjie sneered, "Exactly. First, because of what I'd just said about my honor, and second, because you and I are already husband and wife." Aluan laughed derisively, but then subsequently felt a pang of sadness as she laid back down.

    Ji Guangjie sighed and said, "You don't have to be like this. I may not know how you're really feeling, but your loathing of me is extremely hard to bear. That note was torn in half, but I understand Jiang Xiaohe's meaning. He's invited us to go to the Ba Bridge tomorrow to fight. When the time comes, you needn't go. Just wait here. I guarantee that I will have him wounded before noon tomorrow, and I guarantee I will have him captured. All right, there nothing else that needs to be said!" So saying, Ji Guangjie turned around and left the room.

    Aluan was very surprised upon hearing Ji Guangjie's words and they deepened her sorrow. Ji Guangjie now went into the courtyard and invited inside Ge Zhiqiang, Zhao Zhilong, and the others, and even Second Sir Deng the Divine Hold. These men talked in secret tones. Ji Guangjie said straightforwardly, "Just now, I am certain Jiang Xiaohe used the chaos to sneak into my room, whereupon he left a note before he fled."


    Chapter 13 onwards please visit, http://tu-shu-guan.blogspot.in/, there are total twenty chapters.. Blog also contains, completed translation of Demon Child and Sea of Wind

  7. #27
    Senior Member LuDongBin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Posts
    469

    Default

    Thanks for the lead. Have been following this novel ....

  8. #28
    Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    117

    Default

    Thanks for the translations and the link! its getting interesting as you go deeper into the story

  9. #29
    Senior Member whiteskwirl's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Taiwan
    Posts
    204

    Default

    All the way through chapter 14 of this novel has been completed so far: http://tu-shu-guan.blogspot.com/. This translation really should be getting more attention.

  10. #30
    Senior Member littleli's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    276

    Default

    CHAPTER THIRTEEN

    Love and hatred twist together, every instance drawing hot tears.
    Twixt high peaks and ridges, they unexpectedly encounter a silver dart.


    Upon hearing this, Ge Zhiqiang and Second Deng the Divine Hold were both very astonished. Ji Guangjie then said, "Jiang Xiaohe's flying robber martial arts are exceptionally crafty. It won't be easy to hunt him down. We have to come up with a plan, or wound him with a hidden weapon. I have some darts on me, though it's a pity I had to buy them premade and not made to order. They're not of great use, but they'll do for now. If Jiang Xiaohe comes before me, I can wound him for sure with a flick of my hand. I have never employed lightly the dart skills of our Longmen School, but when I do, a hundred throws will be a hundred hits. The note that Jiang Xiaohe just left in my room—" When he said this, Second Deng the Divine Hold quickly interjected, "Where is the note?" Ji Guangjie said, "I ripped it up in anger. There wasn't much written in it, only that he invited us to the Ba Bridge tomorrow morning to meet with him in battle."

    Ge Zhiqiang heard this and couldn't help his face turning dusty from fright, for he recalled the lesson learned the last time they fought with Li Fengjie. They were not able to overcome Li Fengjie, nor could they capture him, but if they fought with Jiang Xiaohe the following day, they could even less afford to lose. There was also a possibility that Ji Guangjie's darts could not be depended on. If they didn't go to the arranged meeting at the Ba Bridge the next day, people would laugh at them, not to mention that they would then have to go find Jiang Xiaohe. What if they did go? It was likely that several more would die. If they stumbled again, the Kunlun School wouldn't need others to kill them, for they would die themselves out of shame. Here, Second Deng the Divine Hold and Ji Guangjie were speaking to each other in low voices, so Ge Zhiqiang rushed over to listen to them discuss how to capture Ji Guangjie the following day. Second Deng's martial arts were not powerful, but his plans of action were very impressive. He sketched out a strategy that provoked high admiration from both Ji Guangjie and Ge Zhiqiang.

    Thereafter, Ge Zhiqiang stopped feeling anxious and whispered to Second Deng, "Good. We will rely on Second Sir Deng tomorrow. We must not tell anyone else about the plan. I'm not afraid that it'll make it back to Jiang Xiaohe, just that Jiang Xiaohe might be eavesdropping." Ji Guangjie waved his hand and said, "Uncle Ge, don't worry too much. From what I've seen, Jiang Xiaohe's capabilities are just so. He doesn't have any supernatural ability. Let us invite Second Sir Deng to return first. We'll leave a few people on the night watch here and meet again tomorrow at the Ba Bridge. For certain, we will capture Jiang Xiaohe alive!" Second Deng the Divine Hold said, "There's only one more thing. If we do arrest Jiang Xiaohe, we cannot accuse him of any great crime, so there's no way to request the death penalty for him."

    Ji Guangjie said, "We don't need to put him to death. We just have to capture him and throw him into prison on flying robber charges. After four or five years of imprisonment, his martial arts will waste away, and by the time he gets out, we will have nothing to fear from him." Ge Zhiqiang said, "Four or five years in prison will be enough. It will be unbearable for someone who is trained in the martial arts to crouch, immobile, for four or five years. He won't even be able to train again after he's released, because his joints will have become stiff." They spoke a little more before Second Deng the Divine Hold took the officers and left.

    Ge Zhiqiang, Ji Guangjie and the others went into the courtyard and noticed that the large stone had already been carried away by some attendants, who had returned it to its original location. Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help feeling a wave of anxiety, thinking, Jiang Xiaohe has such strength and such extraordinary abilities. Even if we did capture him tomorrow, I'm afraid a prison won't be able to hold him. If he escaped from prison, he would certainly want even more vengeance. I'm afraid no one will survive that. Thus, he knit his brow. He called on Zhao Zhilong, Yang Zhijin and the others to keep careful watch for the rest of the night. He returned to the inner courtyard and closed up tightly the room he slept in, even going so far as to locking it and putting a table and benches up against it before he went to sleep. There was no way he could fall into slumber, however, because of the excess of fright felt every time he thought about the fight the following day at the Ba Bridge.

    Ji Guangjie was still in the outer courtyard, looking all about the rooftops once more before he returned to his room. He saw the light still gently glowing and Aluan lying in bed, still dressed, holding her saber, appearing to be asleep. Ji Guangjie carried the lamp over to shed light on Aluan's face. Aluan's stunning visage enchanted him, but he could not get close to this beauty, which really made his heart both ache and pine, a feeling he found hard to express. He didn't dare allow the light to linger too long before Aluan's face, scared that Aluan would wake and swing her saber at him, so he set the lamp on the table and stood gazing off into space. He thought, Were I to fawn on her with all my might, I'm afraid she would hate me even more. It would be better to wait until we catch Jiang Xiaohe tomorrow and then express to her my intention to leave. Once I do that, Aluan might try to stop me, and maybe she'll begin to hold me dear. He closed the door in passing and blew out the lamp. He climbed onto the bed as well to sleep, placing his sword beside him, and purposefully laid far away from Aluan, though he hoped very much that Aluan would ask him to come closer.

    He did not sleep very long before it was daylight. He opened the door to the room and saw that it was hazy out in the courtyard. There was a heavy overcast and a rain like cow's fur, falling in a thick drizzle. Ji Guangjie quickly told the attendants to prepare his horse, and then ran into the inner courtyard to see the others. Ge Zhiqiang was then washing his face, and Ji Guangjie rushed him, saying, "Is it really necessary to wash your face? Let's get on our way. If we're late, the plan we're putting into action will surely become known. Jiang Xiaohe will run away!" Inside the room, Ge Zhiqiang hurried agreed, saying, "Quickly, Ji Guangjie. Order them to prepare the horses and wait for me a moment in the outer courtyard."

    Ji Guangjie went back to the outer courtyard and saw that Zhao Zhilong, Yuan Zhixia, Yang Zhijin, Chen Zhijun, and Jin Zhiyong had all tied up their baggage and finished their preparations. Ji Guangjie went back into his room, changed into a set of blue silk clothes, hid the darts on his person, took up his sword, and came back out. By now, Ge Zhiqiang had already come out of the inner courtyard carrying a Kunlun saber and was looking up at the sky, as if the Heavens were worrying about him. He hardened his heart and said, "Everyone, today we go to the Ba Bridge to face Jiang Xiaohe. This will be different than the last time we fought with Li Fengjie. We fought Li Fengjie but to preserve the reputation of our Lishun Security Office. Now we of the Kunlun School are to resist an enemy, to eliminate this mortal foe for our master. None of the ones who will venture forth together will be outsiders. We are all disciples of old master Bao and his grandson-in-law. When we see Jiang Xiaohe, we must put our lives on the line. Whether we kill him or capture him alive, we must not let him get away!"

    Ji Guangjie said from the side, "Uncle Ge, you needn't say any more. Let's hurry and go!" Several of the attendants brought seven or eight horses in front of the gate, as Ge Zhiqiang and the others went outside. Ji Guangjie went back to his room however, and saw Aluan lying on her side on the bed in slumber, her saber still sitting next to her. Ji Guangjie pulled a blanket over her body, and then put on a large straw hat and went back outside. When he exited through the gate, he came upon Ge Zhiqiang and the others already mounted on their horses, now rushing him, saying, "Hurry up! Hurry up!" Ji Guangjie ordered an attendant to close the main gate of the security office. Afterward, he leapt onto his horse and swung his whip repeatedly, pressing his horse until he was at the very front, so that he was leading while Ge Zhiqiang and the others followed. The clop, clop of the horses' hooves rang out, and like seven or eight flying dragons, they hurtled through the densely peopled city streets. They left the city and under the hazy morning drizzle, raced straight to the Ba Bridge.

    When they arrived at the Ba Bridge, the riders all stopped, each and every one nervous, and each drawing their weapons. Ji Guangjie felt his darts with his hand, but when he peered as far as he could in every direction, he saw only smoky willow trees and a dense rainy mist hovering above the surface of the river. Other than a couple people walking this way and that holding umbrellas and baskets, he saw no one else upon the Ba Bridge. Ge Zhiqiang said, "We've come too early!" Chen Zhijun said, "Could it be that Jiang Xiaohe's deceived us?" Ji Guangjie sat on his horse and looked around, carefully scrutinizing even amid the leaves of the willows, afraid that Jiang Xiaohe was hiding somewhere. Jin Zhiyong said, "Let's find a place to take a rest. There's a teahouse on the eastern side of the bridge." Thus, the horses crossed the bridge.

    At the foot of the bridge were two teahouses, both of which had put up woven canopies. Under them had been laid platforms of brick at varying heights to be used as seats. It was the early morning and raining, but the two teahouses were both doing decent business. There were many melon pickers, market shoppers, and hurrying travelers with baggage, all eating and drinking tea under the canopy. Some were conversing and chatting. However, Ji Guangjie could tell that most of them were constables of the Xi'an government in disguise, especially here to arrest Jiang Xiaohe. Ge Zhiqiang was afraid of giving up their movements, so he said to Yang Zhijin and the others, "Let's go into town. There are too many people here." The men were about to head to the streets of the town to look for a teahouse when another person came from the east, carrying an umbrella in one hand and a laughingthrush cage in the other, as if he were a shopkeeper. It wasn't until he grew closer that Ge Zhiqiang recognized him as Second Deng the Divine Hold.

    Second Deng greeted Ge Zhiqiang and the others as if he didn't know them, and then, after he was in front of Ge Zhiqiang's horse, he whispered, "The net has been cast, and we've already determined that Jiang Xiaohe is staying at the Fuyuan Inn on the eastern side. But he didn't return to the inn last night, so I think he'll surely turn up later. Right now, the village of five miles is entirely embedded with our men. Unless he can fly, there's no way for him to escape! You should rest up here. I'll be here as well. If Jiang Xiaohe comes, give me an eye signal and we'll strike!" Ji Guangjie heard everything from nearby and said, "If Jiang Xiaohe comes, everyone needs not to get into a frenzy. Tell a couple people to obstruct him, but not to fight him. Distract him with some nonsense, and then we'll surround him from all sides, so that he'll immediately—"

    Just as he was speaking, he suddenly heard the tinkling of a little bell. He saw a black horse galloping their way from a road in the east. Atop the horse sat a tall, young man wearing blue clothes and a straw hat. It was Jiang Xiaohe. Chen Zhijun hadn't seen Jiang Xiaohe in ten years, but he still recognized him and immediately and tugged at Ge Zhiqiang, saying urgently, "Jiang Xiaohe has come! That's him!" Second Deng the Divine Hold hid to one side and many of the men turned to regard the man on the black horse attentively. They saw that Jiang Xiaohe was calm and smiling, and the golden bell and his sword were ringing out, their crisp sound startling the people even more. He swept past Ji Guangjie, Ge Zhiqiang and the other riders on his way west. He went on top of the bridge and then looked back. He pointed at Ji Guangjie and called out, smiling, "Come here!"

    Ji Guangjie was touching his darts, but upon seeing Jiang Xiaohe's bearing so relaxed, he didn't dare take out his hidden weapons. He first instructed Ge Zhiqiang and the others, "You must be careful not to act without thinking, nor can we have the officers attack suddenly. Jiang Xiaohe is an expert in the water. If he jumps from his horse into the water, we'll have no way of capturing him!" After his instructions, he peeled his horse away to the foot of the bridge and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Friend, victory or defeat, life or death, we must determine which it is for us this day. But tell me first, how are we to fight today, on horseback or on foot?" Jiang Xiaohe looked a little puzzled as he asked, "Who was it who summoned all of you here to battle with me?" Ji Guangjie spewed angrily, "It was you! Last night, you posted a notice in my room!" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "I didn't ask for you. I came to Guanzhong to avenge an old wrong. Other than those surnamed Bao or Long, I am looking for no one."

    Ji Guangjie's hand was pressed on the hilt of his sword as he barked, "Was that note last night written by you or not? You invited us to come here in the early morning to compare our martial arts with yours. Did you write that or did you not?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded unyieldingly and said, "That's right, I wrote that note and those words are mine, but I didn't invite all of you to come." Ji Guangjie glared and asked, "Who did you invite?" Jiang Xiaohe stretched his face out and said, "The one I invited was Bao Zhenfei's granddaughter, Bao Aluan. It's got nothing to do with you group of unworthy scum!" Before he finished speaking, he saw Ji Guangjie pulling his sword out with a shink and thrusting it angrily at Jiang Xiaohe's chest. Jiang Xiaohe pulled his horse away a little to dodge, and Ji Guangjie's second sword attempt came as another pressing thrust. Jiang Xiaohe drew his sword as well and blocked his opponent's sword. By now, with a steel whip in one hand and his Kunlun saber in the other, Ge Zhiqiang rushed toward the foot of the bridge, bringing behind him Zhao Zhilong, Yang Zhijin, Yuan Zhixia and Chen Zhijun, all of them charging at Jiang Xiaohe with weapons brandished.

    Jiang Xiaohe was about to engage these men in close combat when he suddenly spotted another horse coming from the west, racing its way to the foot of the bridge. Jiang Xiaohe saw that it was Bao Aluan and held his sword crosswise to protect his body, saying, "Halt your attack! She was the one I invited here, and now she's come. Let's us exchange some words first, and then we'll fight after!" He pulled his horse close to the bridge railing with his sword held out in one hand, gazing towards Aluan with both eyes. He saw that Aluan had grown into pretty young woman. She had not remade herself up as a married woman, but the two little braids she wore in youth had turned into a single long one. She looked even prettier than she had as a child, but she was now less innocent. She hadn't put on any makeup and was wearing light blue silk garments and embroidered shoes the color of apricots. She was riding a red horse with a saber next to its saddle, and the saber was no longer the short, light one struck for her at the Ma Smithy, but a Kunlun saber.

    Jiang Xiaohe's two eyes looked Aluan's body over and couldn't help laughing bitterly, saying, "Miss Bao! I haven't seen you in ten years. Do you still recognize me?" Aluan was deathly pale now, glaring with both eyes which were welled up with tears, but none of the tears could fall, nor could she say anything, as her entire body appeared to be shaking. By now the rain seemed to be heavier, soaking her head and soaking her body. Her light blue clothes had been drenched by the rain, and raindrops hung off her hair and rolled onto her face. Her tears appeared to drip from her face along with the rain.

    By now, Ge Zhiqiang and the others had already surrounded Jiang Xiaohe, but seeing this situation between Jiang Xiaohe and Bao Aluan seemed to have them all stunned. Ji Guangjie took advantage of Jiang Xiaohe's lack of readiness to thrust ferociously at him, but he was blocked again by Jiang Xiaohe's sword immediately with a clang. Ji Guangjie was about to return with another stab, but Aluan obstructed his sword, at the same time drawing her own saber, saying to Ji Guangjie and the others, "None of you are allowed to attack. I'll be the one to kill him! I have things to ask him!" Jiang Xiaohe said as well, "Right! This is between our two families, Jiang and Bao. It has nothing to do with anyone else!" Ji Guangjie sneered angrily, "You must know that she is already my wife. We've already kneeled in the wedding hall and gotten married. If you insult her, your life is immediately forfeit to my sword!"

    Jiang Xiaohe laughed bitterly again, and then looked over at Aluan, saying, "The two of us must find a place to talk. The words of the past ten years are too many, and we need to speak them fully. After we talk, if I can take revenge, I will take revenge. If I can't, then I'll have no regrets in being killed by you all!" Aluan wept and nodded, "I wanted to have a careful discussion with you as well! We must make everything clear. Let's go, to the east side of the bridge!" Jiang Xiaohe nodded too and said, "All right, let's go to the east side." Then he clasped his fist at Ge Zhiqiang and the others, saying, "I ask everyone to wait a short while. I am going to the eastern side with Miss Aluan to discuss a few things." Yang Zhijin said, "Miss Aluan, don't go with him. He holds no good intentions!" Ge Zhiqiang wanted to follow her with the group of men, lest Aluan suffer disadvantage alone. Ji Guangjie stood in the way of the group, however, and said, "Don't go after them. Let them go and talk!" At the same time, he winked at them.

    Aluan turned her horse to the east and rode, as Ge Zhiqiang and the others made way for her. Jiang Xiaohe headed east as well behind Bao Aluan. Just as he was about a dozen paces from the bridge, he heard the whoosh of wind behind him. He quickly ducked down on his horse and felt a dart fly above his head. Ji Guangjie was at the foot of the bridge and flicked his hand up, sending a second dart over. Jiang Xiaohe reached out with two of the fingers on his left hand and pinched a hold of the flying dart. Ji Guangjie urged his horse closer a few steps, and the third dart zoomed over again on its mark. Jiang Xiaohe used the just-caught dart in his hand and knocked the flying dart onto the ground with a tink. He waited attentively for another flying dart, as he smiled at Ji Guangjie and asked, "Are there any more?" At that time, he noticed a dozen or so polehooks coming at him. Three were on the horse's legs, while another had hooked onto Jiang Xiaohe's right arm. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly reached out with his left hand and grabbed it away. Whoosh, whoosh, again two darts came flying his way, but he dodged both of them. The horse had now been pulled down, as Ge Zhiqiang and the others charged over, spurring their horses and swinging their sabers.

    Jiang Xiaohe was now caught in an extremely desperate situation, but his hands and feet were nimble, so though his horse fell, he did not himself tumble. It was only when he escaped the polehook that two strips of flesh were torn from his right arm. He endured the pain and, swinging his sword boldly, he engaged in battle with Ge Zhiqiang, Ji Guangjie, Zhao Zhilong, Jin Zhiyong, Yuan Zhixia, Yang Zhijin, and the throng of officers led by Second Deng the Divine Hold. In a split second, on the eastern side of the bridge over the Ba River, men and horses roiled and surged into a large flurry of disorder.

    Because Aluan's horse had been up ahead, she had already entered the streets of the town. She felt very sad and was considering what she would say to Jiang Xiaohe, so she was unaware that Ji Guangjie and Second Deng the Divine Hold had ambushed Jiang Xiaohe. She suddenly heard a tumult behind her and saw that Jiang Xiaohe's horse had already been forced down and that he had been wounded, as his right arm was bleeding. Aluan couldn't help her alarm and hastily turned her horse back. Jiang Xiaohe was now fighting dauntlessly at close quarters. With Yuan Zhixia and Yang Zhijin already cut down by him, he ran back onto the bridge. Ji Guangjie spurred his horse after him, and with one atop a horse and the other below, the two swords crossed in four or five exchanges. Jiang Xiaohe stabbed with his sword and sent Ji Guangjie off his horse.

    Jiang Xiaohe took his horse and fled to the western bank. Aluan chased hurriedly after him and called out bleakly from her horse, "Xiaohe! Xiaohe!" Jiang Xiaohe was now so angry his face was both red and purple. He supposed that Aluan, Ji Guangjie, and the others had all planned together to ambush him. He furiously sliced a willow branch off with his sword, and gazing at Aluan through the misty rain, he laughed coldly, "Fine! How very clever and very cruel of you all! Aluan, you lowly woman, you've forgotten that you'd promised to be my wife before. In the ten years since, I've..." When he got to here, a burst of sorrow surged into his heart, a hurt more painful than the one on his arm. At this point, another large troop of officers on horseback were charging their way from the west, and Ge Zhiqiang, Second Deng the Divine Hold, and the others were running after him from east of the bridge. Jiang Xiaohe threw the willow branch in his hand at Aluan, and then turned his horse and fled south along the riverbank.

    Aluan dodged the branch and pressed her horse after him, calling out, "Xiaohe! Xiaohe! Come back!" Without even looking back, Jiang Xiaohe sat high on his horse and rode angrily away. Aluan pursued him for a mile before she saw that Jiang Xiaohe had already ridden Ji Guangjie's horse far away. She could only rein up her horse and pant breathlessly as a pair of tears flowed ceaselessly like the strands of rain that fell ever harder.

    Shortly, Ge Zhiqiang and Second Deng the Divine Hold had rushed over with the officers, and the troop of constables on horseback had also come. Second Deng mounted a horse himself and led the officers in pursuit. Aluan was stamping her foot and weeping, as she shouted, "Stop chasing him! Jiang Xiaohe's already hurt!" Ge Zhiqiang said, "They are doing the public business of the government. We cannot stop them. Right now In-law Ji and the others are injured. Let's hurry and carry them back into the city to treat them!" Aluan lazily wiped the rain and tears from her face, and galloped back to the Ba Bridge with Ge Zhiqiang, where they saw that some of the officers there had already rented two wagons, and were lifting the wounded Yang Zhijin, Yuan Zhixia and Ji Guangjie onto them. Among them, Yuan Zhixia's injury was gravest and Ji Guangjie's was lightest. While the two other wounded laid moaning, Ji Guangjie was restless in the wagon and wanted to jump down. He was bleeding from his left thigh, which had stained his clothes red, but he was still in a thunderous rage, demanding a horse and a sword from the people nearby, so that he could chase after Jiang Xiaohe.

    When Aluan arrived, Ji Guangjie sneered and said, "Family member, look! I, Ji Guangjie, have incurred a wound for your Kunlun School. This blood is red. It is one color with your dress when we two married." He pounded his chest and said, "Don't see only that your husband is wounded, but that he is a hero! Sooner or later I will likewise give Jiang Xiaohe a cut with my sword and give him a wound even worse than mine!" Ge Zhiqiang sighed and exhorted him, "Forget it. Let it be. In-law Ji, hold your anger for now, and let us first go back into the city to rest. Right now, Second Deng is leading more than ten officers on horseback in pursuit. They will be able to arrest Jiang Xiaohe for certain. The wound Jiang Xiaohe suffered was quite heavy. He won't be able to run far!" Aluan was still shedding tears, and because she saw Ji Guangjie's injury, she felt quite a bit of pity for Ji Guangjie, and she thought herself too unworthy of him. Thereupon she sheathed her saber and led her horse to Ji Guangjie's wagon. She held back her tears and urged him, saying, "You needn't be angry now! Go back to the city first. I feel very bad fro the pain you've suffered over our problems!"

    Ji Guangjie in fact felt utterly heartened at Aluan's words, his whole body in comfort so that his wounds seemed not to hurt anymore. He was on the verge of laughter, and indeed he couldn't hold it in. He smiled and said, "This is nothing. Not just the injury, but what I'll do for you in the future, for the old man, and for all my friends in the Kunlun School who have been hurt by Jiang Xiaohe. It is all nothing to me. I will prove myself to be the grandson of the Xia of Longmen!" Aluan wiped her tears once again. Ge Zhiqiang issued a command, "Let's go!" The two wagons, along with Ge Zhiqiang, Bao Aluan, Jin Zhiyong, Chen Zhijun, Zhao Zhilong and the other riders, and seven or eight of the officers, some riding horses, some on foot, made their way together back to the city of Chang'an.

    At this time, the rain was still falling hard. The fields, forests and dwellings all around them were permeated with the misty rain, and off in the distance, Chang'an city appeared amid a smoky fog. Though they were also returning this time after a great defeat, Ge Zhiqiang didn't feel as dejected and ashamed as he had the last incidence fighting Li Fengjie, because this time Jiang Xiaohe had also been wounded, and relying on the officers, they might be able to capture Jiang Xiaohe soon. It was only that, if they couldn't capture him, it would be all over! Seeing Jiang Xiaohe's swordwork this day and his dexterity when he caught the dart with one hand, not only was he much more powerful than Li Fengjie, but in his hands, Ji Guangjie was not much of a hero. Due to this, he very greatly respected his master. In the past ten years, he had even sometimes thought the old man was worrying excessively in his constant fear of this matter approaching, but now he saw it truly was something worth concern. The old master Bao was now robust for his years, but when compared, the old man's martial arts were far below Jiang Xiaohe's. But in the case of the young lady Aluan...

    Atop his horse, Ge Zhiqiang thought back to the initial moment Aluan saw Jiang Xiaohe, and the scene of Jiang Xiaohe throwing a branch at her, and her shouting through tears not to chase him. Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help the suspicions developing in his mind, thinking to himself, What's going on here? When Jiang Xiaohe was a child, he was brought up for a time in the master's home. Could it be something had happened during that time between him and Aluan? How peculiar! Because he was speculating about this, he was forgetting about everything else.

    In a short while, they entered the city and when they returned to the Lishun Security Office, they first carried the three wounded men separately to their own rooms. Afterwards, Zhao Zhilong and the others busily applied cut wound medicine to the injured, and sent attendants to fetch a doctor specialized in treating bruises and cuts. There were also many local fighting masters and security escorts, as well as friends both public and personal whom Ge Zhiqiang was acquainted with, all calling upon them to give consolation and inquiry. Ge Zhiqiang forced himself to be energetic and performed the social niceties. With great difficulty, they finally departed as he'd wished, whereupon Ge Zhiqiang was able to take a breath. He went to check on Yuan Zhixia and Yang Zhijin and saw that neither had reached a point where their lives were in danger. Lastly, he went to visit Ji Guangjie and saw Ji Guangjie lying in bed talking with Aluan. Aluan was still frowning with worry, and her two eyes glistened with tears.

    Ge Zhiqiang asked Ji Guangjie about the current condition of his injury. Ji Guangjie sat up immediately and patted his wound with his right hand, laughing, "What is this? If Jiang Xiaohe were to come again, I would put my life on the line as before!" He spoke rowdily, but his face was pale and beads of sweat as big as soybeans rolled down from his forehead. Ge Zhiqiang said, "You must hold your temper. If you ask me, I think those officers have already arrested Jiang Xiaohe by now. Even if he were to get away, with what happened today, he would now be considered a criminal, and he'll be caught sooner or later. Now focus on getting better! We'll talk about what to do after you're healed."

    As he said this, he gave Aluan a look. His meaning was, seeing that Ji Guangjie's wounds couldn't be considered light, you'd best attend to him well and not get him too excited. Aluan's face became even more worried and sad. Ge Zhiqiang could also see that things would be hard from now on, and couldn't help feeling very anxious. He left the room and went back to the main hall to eat lunch with Zhao Zhilong, Chen Zhijun, and the others.

    Second Deng the Divine Hold came while they were eating lunch. He was panting heavily, as if he had just gotten off his horse after having come from far away. Ge Zhiqiang asked him at once, "Have you captured Jiang Xiaohe?" Second Deng the Divine Hold waved his hand and said, "It wasn't possible. That man is what I'd truly call fierce! I've handled cases for over twenty years, catching grass gliders and carryings leopards in clouds, but I've never encountered an outlaw as slippery as him. Sir Ji's horse was not itself very fast, but in his hands, it was as if it was flying. We chased after him for more than thirty miles, through a few forests and across a couple rivers. After that, I don't know what happened, but both man and horse disappeared completely! That man comes from outside of this province, yet could it be that he is more familiar with the geography than we are?"

    Upon hearing this, Ge Zhiqiang felt even more anxiety, staring into space for a moment. Then, he said, "This escape will cause no end to trouble." Second Deng said, "It would be excellent if he were to come tonight, and if I let him go again, I will resign from my appointment in the government. I'll first go back and rest. Don't worry, Sixth Sir Ge. Tonight I'll bring some men for the night guard." Ge Zhiqiang gave Second Deng some further instruction, and then Second Deng left.

    Presently, the men finished eating, and Ge Zhiqiang asked his disciple-brother Chen Zhijun in particular to join him in his room inside. The two spoke in confidence, as Ge Zhiqiang furled his brow and said, "Brother, did you see how Miss Aluan looked today at the Ba Bridge when she saw Jiang Xiaohe? Usually, whenever we mentioned Jiang Xiaohe, the miss would always grow angry, gritting her teeth and tearing up. Logically, their meeting today should have been a meeting of enemies. They should have been exceptionally hostile. However, Jiang Xiaohe simply smiled, and she did nothing but cry at Jiang Xiaohe. She did not immediately draw her saber and engage him, instead going east of the bridge with Jiang Xiaohe to talk with him about things she didn't want us to know about. And I haven't yet mentioned that later on, when Second Deng pursued Jiang Xiaohe with the other officers, the miss wept and tried to stop them, saying something like, 'Jiang Xiaohe's already been injured, so stop chasing him!' I have some real doubts concerning this matter. Could it be that Miss Luan's temperament has changed? Otherwise, did she never truly hate Jiang Xiaohe, and had she had some sort of personal affair with Jiang Xiaohe before? But that doesn't seem to be case!"

    Chen Zhijun stared blankly and thought for a while before saying, "I don't dare speak on that, but what I saw between them today was a bit strange. When Jiang Xiaohe and Aluan were younger, they often played together. However, Xiaohe was only fourteen, and Aluan was only twelve." Hearing this, Ge Zhiqiang's suspicions rose further, and he sighed, saying, "One fourteen and the other twelve, but you cannot say they didn't understand anything at that age!" Chen Zhijun shook his head and said, "I don't think anything ever reached that point, for the master was very strict about these things. Not to mention, Jiang Xiaohe did not stay very long in the master's home before he stabbed our elder brother Long and ran away. By the time that Jiang Xiaohe brought the Xia of Langzhong to Zhenba, I saw with my own eyes Aluan gritting her teeth angrily and cursing daily about Jiang Xiaohe's inability. I am certain there was no personal affair between Aluan and Jiang Xiaohe. In fact, it looks to me right now that with Ji Guangjie, there is much love between the young couple!" Ge Zhiqiang listened, but still could not rid himself of his doubts. They then discussed what further precautions they should take this evening, before Chen Zhijun went back outside.

    The rain stopped in the afternoon, but the sky did not clear up. Ge Zhiqiang spent the entire day with a worried frown, and the later it got, the tighter his two brows were knit. The day grew dark gradually as if a devil was about to descend. Everyone roused up their spirits, but inside they were harboring dread. Whenever they heard a noise somewhere, a good many of them would take their sabers and investigate. After dinner, Ge Zhiqiang ordered the kitchen to make a few dishes to put inside and prepared some wine for the men on the night watch. He hoped urgently for Second Deng the Divine Hold to come quickly, bringing those officers with him, but he waited until after the second watch before a constable named Zhang came with a dozen or so officers. He said that Second Deng the Divine Hold had caught a bit of a cold today and couldn't come, so he told us to come help protect the Sixth Sir. There were men readied at the government office as well, who could hurry here immediately upon hearing the sound of the gong.

    Ge Zhiqiang said, "It'll be all right if only a few come. Nothing may happen tonight, as Jiang Xiaohe's injury was not light. Not to mention that both he and the horse are exhausted, and won't likely be able to come again." The man named Zhang said, "If it was only the one Jiang Xiaohe, it would be no trouble to manage, but if he brought that Li Fengjie from earlier, then that would be problematic." Ge Zhiqiang laughed and said, "Jianghu is large, and there are many who know the martial arts. Li Fengjie and Jiang Xiaohe will not know each other." Chen Zhijun piped in, "Both their martial arts are very good, but they have both suffered injury, so neither of them can be considered to have won outright. Our Kunlun School has not been disgraced." Ge Zhiqiang quickly steered the conversation away, not allowing Chen Zhijun to continue speaking on this.

    He invited the officer named Zhang and the dozen or so lawmen inside, and drank and talked, accompanied by Chen Zhijun and Jin Zhiyong. Ge Zhiqiang secretly instructed the kitchen not to serve them any more wine to drink, so that the dozen or so men drank at most two catties. This was because he was afraid they would all get drunk, and when the time came that something happened, they would be unable even to stand up. How could group of drunkards capture Jiang Xiaohe? It was now the time of the third watch, and the western rooms were lit brightly with lamps and candles. There were many people and little wine, and the few dishes were eaten up, but everyone spoke energetically. Moreover, one of the officers pulled from his breast a treasure box, and everyone started betting on odds and evens.

    Two large lanterns were set up in the courtyard, held up by tripods. These lanterns could be opened and folded over and were nicknamed "wind-flouters," since no matter how strong the wind, it could not blow the light out. Next to the lanterns were two benches, upon which sat four attendants, holding up a large copper gong. Three of the attendants were nodding off. The attendant holding the gong mallet kept both his eyes eternally peering east and gazing west, and would also constantly look up at the roof behind him, as if he were afraid someone would heave another stela from the roof and shatter his skull.

    Ji Guangjie and Aluan were staying in the rooms across from the front hall. Because Ji Guangjie was anticipating Jiang Xiaohe, he couldn't fall asleep, and the sword wound on his right thigh was very painful as well. He was also unwilling to groan out in front of his wife, so he simply grit his teeth and bore the pain, as he tossed back and forth. Aluan sat by the wall, awake but wordless, as she broke into several fits of crying, with sorrow winding its way through her heart. The lamps in her room had all been put out, but the light shining into the room from outside was still quite bright.

    She glanced over at Ji Guangjie laying in the bed and felt him very pitiable. It was truly not easy to act for the sake of her grandfather and for the Kunlun School. Then she thought of the distant Jiang Xiaohe, ambushed today before she was allowed to make things clear with him. If it hadn't been for his powerful martial arts, he would have lost his life instantly on the Ba Bridge, or been arrested. The hook wound on his arm didn't appear too serious, yet how does he hate me so? He broke off a willow branch and tossed it at me. Wasn't that an expression of his internal hatred? She then thought of him reining his horse up on the Ba Bridge today and holding his sword in front of him, bitterly laughing and saying these words to her, " The words of the past ten years are too many, and we need to speak them fully." I see that he has not forgotten about me in the past ten years, but he must not have thought that I would've married Ji Guangjie. Does his further inability to forgive me for marrying Ji Guangjie stem from him having no other alternative? He'll can't know that though Ji Guangjie and I are married in name, we are not married in truth...

    When she thought to here, she heard someone outside asking urgently, "Is In-law Ji asleep?" Aluan's sorrowful train of thought was broken by these words. She could tell that it was Ge Zhiqiang's voice. She answered, "He's already asleep. Is something the matter, Uncle Ge?" Outside, Ge Zhiqiang said, "It's nothing. I wanted to tell him to stop worrying and rest up. There are more than ten officers on night watch in the front hall, enough for us not to worry. Jiang Xiaohe will not dare to come again." Aluan acknowledged him and heard Ji Guangjie laughing heartily, but only for a moment before the pain of his thigh wound caused him to draw in a breath. Then he said, "I'm not asleep. I'm certain that Jiang Xiaohe will turn up again tonight. I'm waiting to face him and fight him to the death!" Ge Zhiqiang heard this and couldn't help but shudder. He had been exhausted and wanted to go to sleep, but after hearing these words, he didn't dare sleep. He forced out a laugh and said, "Stop worrying! Nothing much will happen tonight."

    So saying, he took a few steps back and looked up at the roof again. Then, he went into the inner courtyard, where there was another "wind-flouter" lantern with Zhao Zhilong and an attendant keeping guard here. Lamps still lit his wife's quarters and those of his son and daughter-in-law. He could tell they were both very frightened right now, neither being able to sleep. Ge Zhiqiang looked at the roofs all around him, and then raised his head to peer at the sky. He felt a little of the Water Star hanging from its surface and thought, It'll rain again. The more rain the better, actually. Then Jiang Xiaohe won't be able to come. He then yawned a couple times and said to Zhao Zhilong, "I'm really tired. I'm going to sleep for a bit. I'll wake up in a short while and take the next shift."

    Ge Zhiqiang opened the door to his eastern quarters and entered, seeing that while there were no lamps or candles lit inside, it was still bright from the light shining outside. He closed the door on his way in. He yawned again and sat at the edge of the bed to take off his shoes. When he'd only taken off one of them, he suddenly spotted a hand reaching out from under the bed, holding a glimmering sword within. Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help yelping in fright, wanting to run out the door, but Jiang Xiaohe had already glided from under the bed and had him constrained on top of it. With Ge Zhiqiang's cry coming from inside, along with the shuffling of the bed, in the courtyard, Zhao Zhilong rushed outside the room with saber in hand, and asked urgently inside, "What's the matter?"

    Ge Zhiqiang had always been sturdy of body, stronger than others, but right now he was just like a rat, pinned to the bed by the tomcat-like Jiang Xiaohe. With the blade of a sword pressed against his neck, he was too scared to make a sound. Jiang Xiaohe spoke a warning quietly into his ear, "I'm not going to kill you. I just want you to tell me where Bao Zhenfei and the Long Brothers are hiding, and then I'll leave!" Ge Zhiqiang said, in a panicked whisper, "Let go of me and I'll tell you!" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "I'll let you go." Thus, he released his hold and pulled his sword. Ge Zhiqiang crawled up to a sitting position on the bed. He sighed and said, "Brother Jiang, there is not grievance or enmity between us, so why have you come me?" Jiang Xiaohe scoffed, "How can you say we have no grievance or enmity? Ten years ago on the Qin mountain road, if my master hadn't rescued me, I would have already been killed by you. But I'm not here now to quibble about those small grudges. I'm only looking for the old man Bao and the Long Brothers. Quickly, tell me!" He slapped Ge Zhiqiang on the head with his sword.

    Ge Zhiqiang said, "Long Zhiteng is still in Ziyang. Long Zhiqi departed from my place here some days ago, to where I know not. My master went into hiding at the home of an old friend of his. He has a lot of old friends, and I don't know who he is, or where. According to Aluan, her granddad left by himself, and even she doesn't know where he went." Jiang Xiaohe scoffed again. Ge Zhiqiang then said, "However, she brought a letter for you from our master. It's in the front hall right now. If you want to see it, I'll go get it for you!" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "I want to see what he has to say in his letter. I'll come get it with you." He opened the door and had Ge Zhiqiang in front of him, while he followed behind carrying his sword.

    By this point, the courtyard and the roof were filled with men. Some of them held polehooks, while others had flying darts and crossbows at the ready. Ge Zhiqiang was so scared he wasn't able even to take a step. Jiang Xiaohe clutched him from behind and said, smiling, "Don't worry. You need not fear. They wouldn't dare hurt me, and likewise I can't hurt you." Ge Zhiqiang hurriedly spoke to the group of men in high and urgent tones, "None of you make any rash moves! Jiang Xiaohe has come this time without any ill intentions. We just need to talk about some things." He pulled a string of keys from his breast, and tossed them to Zhao Zhilong, saying, "Brother, open the big chest in the front hall and bring back the letter the master wrote for Jiang Xiaohe. He wants to see it. Quickly!" Zhao Zhilong acknowledged him and hurried into the front courtyard to retrieve the letter.

    The officers and security office attendants surrounded Jiang Xiaohe so tightly wind or rain could not get through. It was only because Ge Zhiqiang was being held by Jiang Xiaohe, making them afraid to hit the rat for fear of breaking vases, that they didn't dare draw nearer, but they all watched Jiang Xiaohe intently. Jiang Xiaohe held onto his sword with one hand, while the other clutched Ge Zhiqiang, as he stood straight and calm, without a hint of fear.

    At this time, Aluan came into the courtyard, holding her saber, but she didn't come close. She stood by a screen door and thought simply, The letter my granddad wrote for Jiang Xiaohe is of the utmost sadness. He's basically begging Jiang Xiaohe for pity. No matter how great the elderly man's faults had originally been, Jiang Xiaohe ought to be moved some now by so pitiful a request, let go of his former enmity, and become reconciled anew. When that happens, I must hold the group the back and not let them hurt him. I'll take him elsewhere and tell him how I felt about him when I thought of him for the last ten years. Thus, she concealed herself, not letting Jiang Xiaohe to see her, as she stared intently at Jiang Xiaohe under the light of the lanterns.

    Shortly, Zhao Zhilong brought out the letter and was about to hand it over to Jiang Xiaohe, when Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "I don't need to read it myself. Why don't you read it to me?" And so he continued holding onto his sword, as he observed his surroundings to prevent any others from taking an opportunity for a secret attack. Zhao Zhilong unfolded the letter and read it aloud in the lamp light. The people nearby all listened with bated breath, especially Aluan, who paid attention to every word and phrase. She heard her grandfather's letter say, "What happened ten years ago, after I did it, I felt immediate regret. However, Jiang Zhisheng had an affair with another's wife, thereby in truth choosing the path to his own death. You have come now, Jiang Xiaohe, but if you are able to understand these circumstances, then abandon the prior enmity, and we two can still become friends, never bringing up the events of the past. If you cling still to your resolution and must take vengeance, then that will also be easy to manage. I ask that you declare openly that you will not harm a hair on my disciples. When that happens, I will immediately come out and deliver this old life to you!" Aluan couldn't help a pair of tears falling, and then she opened her two glistening eyes and looked over at the lamp-lit Jiang Xiaohe, ten paces away.

    She saw only a mournful expression appear on Jiang Xiaohe's face at first, but by the time he finished listening to the letter, he became angry and sneered, saying, "Good Bao Zhenfei, how truly crafty you are. Now he's using this letter begging for pity to deceive me, hoping that I'll show compassion and have mercy on him. Afterward, he'll direct you all to plot against me. You tell him, no matter how pitiable he is, I will not spare him! Back then, my father Jiang Zhisheng was forced into the mountains by him to suffer days of chill and hunger, and then he snuck back home for a few mouthfuls of cold rice before he took some taels of silver and fled in a hurry for his life. Let's say he was a bad man. By that time he was most pitiful and had not committed any mortal crimes, yet Bao Zhenfei could still not pardon him, going so far as to chasing my father into the mountains and killing him. He had not spared my father then, so how can he beg me to spare him now?"

    When he said this, a fiery rage burst forth from his two eyes, even brighter, it seemed, than the lanterns. He then brandished his sword again and said, "But let's not speak of all that. After he murdered my father Jiang Zhisheng, he didn't even send us a message. How sad it was for the widowed and orphaned of the Jiang family! He, that vicious old man, once tricked me into a wheat field, intending to kill me with a knife. Though he hadn't killed me then for fear that someone would see him, if it wasn't for my uncle Ma Zhixian urging us to move into the city, he would already have killed me. In those two or three years, how pitiful it was, my family splintering, how great the hardship I bore. Later on, he told me to live at his house, purposefully showing me a smiling face, when actuality he had me herding the pigs and feeding the horses every day, conniving to have his second son kick me, step on me, hit me, yell at me. Can I really forget these things? Now, this has nothing to do with some men. I only want to kill the Long Brothers and Bao Zhenfei. No one can convince me otherwise, not even if Bao Zhenfei himself knelt down and kowtowed to me would it be enough!"

    When he got to here, someone brandished their saber and bounded at him, sending a chop at him. Jiang Xiaohe hurried blocked his opponent's saber with his own sword. He looked and saw that it was Aluan. He said, "Today, in the light of day, you helped Ji Guangjie ambush me at the Ba Bridge. You weren't successful, and now you have the nerve to meet me? I truly hadn't thought that in ten years, you would have become this sort of person. I have no more desire to pay you any more attention!"

    Aluan felt both sadness and anger, but she wasn't able to say a thing. Shedding tears and gritting her teeth, she brandished her saber at Jiang Xiaohe for a chop. Jiang Xiaohe pushed Ge Zhiqiang away with his hand, and entered into battle with Aluan. In two or three exchanges, he kicked the Kunlun saber out of Aluan's hand. At this time, the men advanced together from all directions with their sabers and staffs, and Aluan charged forward empty-handed, wanting Jiang Xiaohe to kill her. Jiang Xiaohe shook his wounded right arm about to deflect the crowd of men, while at the same time he reached out and clasped Aluan with his left arm. Aluan struggled in his hold and shouted out tearfully, but Jiang Xiaohe's arm was like an iron hoop, binding Aluan's body so tightly, she could stop thinking about trying to break free. He swung his sword, sending several men back with wounds and then flew up onto the eastern hall, upon which Chen Zhijun was waiting, leading two attendants. Chen Zhijun swung his saber at him and asked angrily, "Jiang Xiaohe, what are you doing with Miss Luan?" Jiang Xiaohe swayed his sword to meet Chen Zhijun, and in one or two exchanges, kicked Chen Zhijun off the roof. The two attendants panicked, both tripping and tumbling from the roof as well.

    Jiang Xiaohe stood on the roof, clasping onto Aluan with one hand and holding his sword crosswise with the other, as he shouted down, "Anyone who dares come up on the roof can forget about their lives!" He then lowered his head and said to Aluan, "Don't be afraid, Aluan. I'm going to take you away somewhere. There are many things I want to say to you." Aluan cried out and struggled, and bit Jiang Xiaohe's arm, saying, "I can't go with you. I have nothing left to say to you! Let me go! Otherwise, just choke me to death!" The bite she gave Jiang Xiaohe's left arm was very painful, but Jiang Xiaohe didn't find it hard to bear. In fact, he smiled faintly. It was only inside that he truly felt extraordinary hurt. He wanted to flee, but he couldn't seem to move his feet.

    By now, Ji Guangjie had rushed into the courtyard with sword in hand. He saw that Jiang Xiaohe had taken his wife onto the roof, so he brandished his blade and cursed loudly, intending to leap onto the roof. It was just that the wound on his left thigh was too deep, so after leaping a few times, he was not able to make it up. Ge Zhiqiang and Zhao Zhilong stopped him and exhorted him together, "Don't be rash. We have Jiang Xiaohe surrounded now. There's no way he'll be able to escape." Ji Guangjie roared, "Are you really going to let him take my wife?" At this time, because Jiang Xiaohe was in despair on the roof, the strength left his arms gradually, and Aluan shook free of him. She was about to snatch his sword away, but Jiang Xiaohe pushed her lightly away, and then turned around to run. Just as she turned around, shoom, shoom, the crossbows on the opposing roof let fly at Jiang Xiaohe in succession. Jiang Xiaohe swiftly bent down to dodge and fled crouched to the rear manse. Several officers put ladders against the rear manse and climbed up, carrying polehooks and trying to hook onto Jiang Xiaohe again. Jiang Xiaohe wasn't willing to hurt the officers, so he evaded them and fled as if flying, stepping across the roof tiles.

    At this point, the various roofs, and even the tops of walls, were filled with attendants of the security office and government officers. These men had weapons in their hands, all shouting, "Catch the criminal! He's heading for the eastern hall! After him!" They shouted very loudly, but as soon as Jiang Xiaohe charged their way, flashing his sword, they became like a pile of wet mud, so afraid that none of them dared to advance. Once they panicked and lost their footing, they didn't need Jiang Xiaohe to come and lift his leg to kick them, for they would fall off the roof on their own. In this way, Jiang Xiaohe ran without the least bit of obstruction upon the roof as if he was treading on the level earth. They pursued him to the courtyard and then outside the main gate, but they had by then long lost any trace of Jiang Xiaohe.

    Second Deng the Divine Hold rushed over with a dozen or so officers, and searched all over the place once more. Ge Zhiqiang had lost heart, however, and couldn't help but sigh, saying, "Never mind! Forget it! There's no way for use to capture him!" However, he wasn't able to stop these men who were feigning power. Ji Guangjie was held up by Zhao Zhilong and others. Because he had just watched Jiang Xiaohe dishonor his wife, he was furious. He didn't care what condition his thigh wound was in, dauntless in wanting to give chase and engage Jiang Xiaohe with all he had. But Zhao Zhilong and others, fearing that something bad might happen to him, took his sword from his hand. It was like they were fighting, as they twisted about in the courtyard and argued clamorously.

    Aluan leapt back onto the roof alone with her sword in hand to chase after Jiang Xiaohe. She passed over seven or eight courtyards, her feet treading upon buildings of other people's shops. She looked all around, but saw only the night muddled and the dark clouds thick, as the rain slowly began to fall once more. Thunder rumbled in the horizon, and the crackle of lightning stabbed at her eyes. Tears were still streaming from her eyes, and in her urgent hatred, she cursed to herself, "So it turns out that Jiang Xiaohe is this sort of bad person. My granddad begged him for mercy in his letter, but he wasn't willing to let go even a little, insisting instead that he had to kill my granddad. He treated me so heartlessly, dishonoring me in the presence of everyone!"

    Thus, she acted as if crazy. Though she didn't know where Jiang Xiaohe had fled to, she did not give up, wanting to continue her pursuit and deciding that she would not be finished until she could catch him and kill him herself. In this way, she stepped across several shops, their courtyards all dark below. No one became aware there was someone on the roof, though a few places had dogs, who seemed to see her and barked wildly without end. Once one dog barked, many other dogs all answered by starting up. Aluan jumped down from the roof.

    It was a small lane here, pitch black without any bit of lamp light or people, probably quite far from the Lishun Security Office. Aluan stood here panting and crying. After a moment, just as she was about to take a step out of the lane, someone behind caught her by surprise and grabbed onto both her hands. Aluan cried out in alarm, "Who is it?" She twisted her head back as a bolt of lightning just happened to flash, allowing her to see the person behind her clearly. It was Jiang Xiaohe.

    She did not immediately struggle, instead breathing urgently. She said, "Let go! Let me go!" But Jiang Xiaohe continued to hold her hands tightly from behind, saying with bitter sorrow, "I can't let you go. I want to make things clear between us. Let me tell you, the hardships I suffered in the last ten years, running about and learning martial arts, I did it in order to take vengeance, but I also did them for you. I hadn't thought that you would've lost all kindness!" Aluan said impetuously, "You aren't willing to spare my granddad, so how could I have any kindness?" She wept as she spoke. Jiang Xiaohe heard her, and couldn't help the pain striking his heart. He gave a long sigh and released his hold on Aluan's hands. He turned around, and with a whoosh, he leapt onto the roof of a house and left.

    Aluan did not chase after Jiang Xiaohe. Weeping, she walked out of the small lane with her saber in hand. She discovered that it was the main south street outside of the lane, as the rain began to fall more heavily, the thunder cracked more urgently, and the lightning flashed more fiercely. By the time she returned to the Lishun Security Office, she was completely soaked from head to toe as tears continued to spill from her eyes.

    The security office had gradually calmed down by this point, but none of the officers had left, and Ge Zhiqiang and Zhao Zhilong were sitting worried. It wasn't until they saw Aluan return unharmed that they could now be at ease. They asked in succession, "What's happened? You didn't catch up with Jiang Xiaohe, did you, Miss? Do you know which way he ran?" Aluan wiped her tears and shook her head. Ge Zhiqiang sighed and said, "We needn't set ourselves against him any longer. We were so strictly vigilant today, and there were also so many of us, yet we still let him come and go as he pleased. His skill is too great, and that leaves us with nothing we can do. Luckily, things with him were settled today. He won't be coming back here to make trouble, nor will he be able to hurt any of us anymore. It's just that, our master and our two brothers Long must be especially careful. If he finds them, he won't be as reasonable as he was here."

    Chen Zhijun said, "I think we should send people to Ziyang tomorrow, and quickly tell Brother Long Zhiteng to find a place to hide. We needn't worry about Long Zhiqi, as he's likely outside of the province. Afterward, we ought to follow Miss Aluan to hurry to see the master and listen to what he says. If the elderly man is willing to fight it out, we will all put our lives on the line with him. If a man of the Kunlun School dies, then we all die. It is ludicrous that he wants only to kill the master and the Long Brothers. If the master doesn't want to fight, then we'll ask him to escape to Beijing with all of us protecting him on the way. The city of Beijing is the place before the feet of the Son of Heaven. How would Jiang Xiaohe dare to cause trouble there?"

    Ge Zhiqiang thought deeply for a moment, and then waved his hand, saying, "We cannot do it that way. If we go visit our master, Jiang Xiaohe may follow us in secret and we'll have lead the way for him. We must consider this deliberately. The good thing is the place where the master is currently staying is very secluded. Even if we told Jiang Xiaohe the location, he would not be able to find it." He sighed, and then encouraged Aluan to go back to her room and rest.

    Aluan returned to her room, holding her saber, and saw that Ji Guangjie's wound seemed to have gotten worse. He laid on the bed and groaned endlessly. The sound of his suffering burrowed into Aluan's ear, and it was as if her heart had been pricked by a knife. At first, she had not cared much about Ji Guangjie, but now, she couldn't help feeling that Ji Guangjie's wounds were her own, or that his pain was hers.

    She set her saber down with frustration and lit a lamp. She was not crying anymore. There was only hatred in her as she gnashed her teeth with loathing for Jiang Xiaohe. She hated Jiang Xiaohe for shaming her this day, and she hated the words he'd spoken. He said that I lacked kindness, how truly hateful he is! The most hateful had been when he'd once taken advantage of me, using the situation of fetching my kite as coercion and tricking me into becoming his "wife"! That childhood incident has occupied my heart. In these ten years, I often felt a secret sorrow, a secret worry. What was it all for? Wasn't it all for his sake! It was all for the sake of that cruel, pigheaded man. After lighting the lamp, she sat down and fumed for a while and swallowed again a multitude of tears.

    At this point, the sound of the thunderstorm outside grew more insistent, and Ji Guangjie's groans became more miserable. Aluan walked quickly to the side of the bed and comforted Ji Guangjie, saying, "How are you feeling? Does the wound hurt a lot?"

    Ji Guangjie held back his moans, smiled, and looked up at Aluan. He shook his head and said, "It's nothing. It won't kill me. This life of mine needs to stay around so I can battle Jiang Xiaohe. Aluan, because of what happened today, I understand now. I saw that there are feelings between you and Jiang Xiaohe. Otherwise, you wouldn't have started crying at the Ba Bridge right as you laid eyes upon him, nor would he have taken you onto the roof just now. As for when you developed feelings for each other, or what both of you plan to do in the future, I don't care. I, Ji Guangjie, am a good man with a family background better than that Jiang Xiaohe, but I won't cherish you as my wife. When my wound heals, I'll go see the old sir myself, explain everything to him, and then I'll leave. I'll fight Jiang Xiaohe by myself. It will have nothing to do with your family. Then, even if you help Jiang Xiaohe fight against me, or if your Kunlun School views me as an enemy, I won't be afraid. I have a sword in my hand, and my darts will be finished in half a day. I'll fear no one!" After saying this, he sighed and spoke no more.

    Aluan felt ashamed again after the talking-to she received from Ji Guangjie, lowering her head and shedding a few tears. She had originally thought to explain the tiny sprout of love that she and Jiang Xiaohe had cultivated together in her childhood to express her present remorse, but then she felt those were things she could not say aloud, regardless of whom. She wasn't afraid of being laughed at, but scared that if those matters ever made their way to the ears of her grandfather, he would surely be deathly furious. This was on account of the fact that he hated illicit relationships between men and women, to say nothing that she had participated in one when she was little, and that the one she'd liked was in fact the son of an enemy. Thus she quickly picked an argument with Ji Guangjie, saying, "You're speaking utter nonsense! What feelings are there between me and Jiang Xiaohe? He's my family's enemy. He's forced my granddad and my uncles into such a situation, so how could I have any feelings for him? I cried today at the Ba Bridge because I was angry. When he humiliated me just now, what could've been done about that? Whose fault is it that none of our abilities match up to his?"

    Ji Guangjie scoffed, "Don't match up to his? Until now, I have yet to speak soft words. My sword and my nightwalking, it's true they are not as good as his, but believe that my flying darts can still drive him to his doom. It's just too bad I haven't used darts in many years, so my hand is a bit unpracticed. After I recover from my wounds, I'll train for a few days and then try again with Jiang Xiaohe. If he manages to catch my darts again, then I'll swear never to travel Jianghu again!" Aluan wept and said, "No matter what, you can't say that there are feelings between me and Jiang Xiaohe. If you say it to anyone, I cannot abide by it." Ji Guangjie groaned a few times before resisting his pain again to say, "I can't tell other people about it either, but I have to ask you. Why are we on such bad terms, even though we're married? If I hadn't been wounded today, you would still not be talking to me!"

    Aluan became choked up when she was asked this. She wept, grit her teeth, and breathed heavily, and then fumed, "It's not just you I'm not good with. I'm not good with anyone. My mother's dead, and my father spends the year out there doing security work. We are not very close. The only one who's good to me is my granddad, and when my granddad tells me to do something, I do it. I cannot disobey him and cause him hurt. Now I'm married to you, also because I followed his instruction. I didn't actually want to. I wanted to spend my entire live with my granddad!" Ji Guangjie moaned a couple times and scoffed again, "It's just a pity that your granddad's fate isn't good, encountering a foe such as Jiang Xiaohe. Once he finds your granddad, that old man will lose his life. If you go looking for others to help your Kunlun School, I'm afraid you'll find no one who will put as much effort into it as me!" After he finished, he shifted his body a bit, groaning a little, and then he fell asleep.

    Hearing Ji Guangjie's ridicule, Aluan couldn't help taking offense. She no longer felt sadness in her heart, only hatred, as she thought, It was never going to do, relying only on others. If we live, we live, and if we die, we die. We should put ourselves out there. Since my granddad killed a man before and sowed enmity, we couldn't complain if now Jiang Xiaohe kills him. We just need to be tough, and we will be heroes! Being pushed on one side and ridiculed on another like this, what kind of people are we? We'd be better off dead! Aluan resolved then to set off by herself the following day to the Shanyin Valley in Luoyang to see her grandfather and ask him to come out of hiding. If the two, grandfather and granddaughter, were to live, they'd both live, and likewise, if they were to die, they'd die together. Once she had decided this, she closed the door to the room, put out the light, and laid down, falling asleep with her Kunlun saber placed still by her side.

    Through the night, the patter of the rain outside and the moaning of Ji Guangjie next to her disturbed her sleep. By the next day, the rain had not yet stopped, but was falling a bit more lightly, much like it had been the previous day by the Ba Bridge. Aluan had originally wanted to take the opportunity while all the people in the security office had yet to awaken, to prepare her horse herself and leave Chang'an city, braving the rain. But then she saw that Ji Guangjie was finally sound asleep, his brow knit tightly, as if even in dreams he was suffering from a great deal of pain. Aluan was a little perturbed and a little hesitant, as she thought, We are not good together, but we did become husband and wife after all. He also became injured over my family's affairs. If I leave now without discussing it with him, not only would it be too heartless, but when I see my granddad, my granddad would certainly be angry and perhaps command me to return at once. She felt troubled for a while, and then she thought she'd best not depart immediately.

    At this time, the attendants of the security office, Ge Zhiqiang, and others had gotten up. Ji Guangjie had woken up as well, groaning, and he said to Aluan, "Get me something to drink!" Aluan called for an attendant, and then steeped some tea, poured it into a bowl, and brought the tea bowl to Ji Guangjie's mouth herself.

    Ji Guangjie drank it down and felt more comfortable. He said, "Miss Luan, it was wrong, what I said last night, but you can't blame me for it. Jiang Xiaohe is your family's enemy. Ten years ago, when the Xia of Langzhong caused trouble in Ziyang and Zhenba, if it wasn't for the old sir fighting him off, that would have been the end of the Kunlun School's reputation. I think the old sir's martial arts are powerful, and they may not be inferior to Jiang Xiaohe's. He doesn't dare face Jiang Xiaohe because he is weak in spirit, and because of Jiang Xiaohe's master, who once terrified the old sir, believing that Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts must be the same as his master's. In actuality, from what I've seen, the old sir is overly worrisome. If the old man really plucked up the courage to fight against Jiang Xiaohe with the help of the two of us, I don't think we yet know who will be the winner!" He continued, "Yesterday, when I said there were feelings between you and Jiang Xiaohe, I wasn't thinking right. I'm sure there's nothing of that sort. Jiang Xiaohe brought the Xia of Langzhong to your family's door ten years ago, and wounded many of your Kunlun School, so no matter what, there can't be any good between you and him. I spoke wrongly because I'm injured and muddled. Please forget what I said!"

    Aluan heard this and couldn't help her face flushing, her heart feeling both sorrow and shame. She thought back ten years ago, when Jiang Xiaohe had arrived, bringing the Xia of Langzhong and several men on horseback to her village to cause trouble. The Xia of Langzhong was a renowned xia in Northern Sichuan, who was also relatively young. If her grandfather's martial arts hadn't been good, she herself may even have been killed that day. At the time, she had hated Jiang Xiaohe furiously, but for some reason, she could never manage to forget him. She'd thought him despicable, but had also felt adoration and compassion for him! Rectifying her mood with all her might, Aluan treated Ji Guangjie with special kindness and gave up her plans to set off that day.

    After a while, many of the city's security escorts, fighting masters and friends that Ge Zhiqiang had developed close ties to everyday, all came to offer consolation after hearing about what had happened there the night before. At once, the Lishun Security Office became lively again. Among the men was Qin Deyu, one who had helped Ge Zhiqiang the last time against Li Fengjie. Qin Deyu was son-in-law to Li Zhenxia, the old xia of Huazhou. He now operated his own security office, and was also quite famous in Jianghu. He came now, and when he saw the three, Ji Guangjie, Yang Zhijin, and Yuan Zhixia, all wounded, he quickly sent a man to ride through the rain on a fast horse to Huazhou to retrieve medicine for cuts he'd made with a secret formula. Afterwards, he conversed with Ge Zhiqiang in private. According to him, Li Fengjie was currently in Xin'an county in Henan, and was likely to make his way west again to Guanzhong.

    Upon hearing this, fright turned Ge Zhiqiang's color, and he knit his brows tightly once more, thinking, Jiang Xiaohe is not as important, as he is only looking for my master and the Long Brothers, and is unlikely to harm my life. Li Fengjie is not the same, however. He has his sights set on me, and he's also suffered losses in Guanzhong. If he comes this time, will we be able to stop him? Ji Guangjie is now wounded and yet to heal, and Lu Zhizhong isn't here. Who will be able to face him? Because of this, he was so anxious he couldn't sit still. He nodded his head, and purposefully skimmed over the issue with Qin Deyu, saying, "Not to worry." After Qin Deyu left, Ge Zhiqiang was so nervous he began pacing through the entire room, thinking this way and that, and felt he had to abandon the security office and flee. Nothing else would do. If Li Fengjie came a second time, not only would he be stronger than the last time, but he would certainly be more ferocious than Jiang Xiaohe. He worried the entire day, but didn't tell anyone else about it.

    When evening arrived, Qin Deyu had the laceration medicine sent over. It didn't compare to "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder," famous throughout Jianghu, from the Chan master Taiwu, but it was also remarkably effective, unlike any that could be purchased from a medicine shop in the market. Ge Zhiqiang ordered it applied to all three of the injured. He especially put it on Ji Guangjie's thigh wound himself, using two full packs of it. He wanted nothing more than for Ji Guangjie's wound to get better immediately. Ji Guangjie's thigh wound had never been too serious, as neither tendon nor bone were nicked. From this, he could tell that when Jiang Xiaohe gave him the wound, he was not being cruel, but just paying Ji Guangjie back for his hidden attack.

    Ten days passed with Ge Zhiqiang anxious day and night and Aluan constantly irritable. Ji Guangjie's wound, however, gradually became better. Without waiting for it to heal completely, he went out to the Defu Smithy on the main west road to retrieve the twenty darts he'd ordered struck and the dart sheath as well. He brought them back to the security office and practiced with them the entire day. It wasn't until evening arrived that Ge Zhiqiang had a discussion with the married couple Ji Guangjie and Aluan. He didn't mention that he'd heard Li Fengjie was on his way back to Guanzhong. He said only, "After the bouts of trouble caused by Li Fengjie and Jiang Xiaohe at my Lishun Security Office, I no longer have the face to keep it open. In these two months, I've lost the will to do any more business, nor has any patronage come to our doors. It is clear that others in the business know all the details of what's going on, and they all know our name is not as it used to be. Even the old master has gone into hiding at an undisclosed location. How could anyone feel at ease with entrusting us to protect their goods?"

    Aluan said, "I feel it's not right for my grandpa to hide like this. We don't know anything about the old man's situation. If he were to become sick, we wouldn't even be able to go attend to him. Furthermore, Jiang Xiaohe will certainly be able to find him sooner or later. Wouldn't it be better for me to go urge my grandpa to come out of hiding?" Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand vigorously and said, "The old master cannot come out of hiding. At his advanced age, if he were really harmed at the hands of Jiang Xiaohe, how could any of us of the younger generations face the world? The place where the old man is staying is extremely secluded. Jiang Xiaohe will not be able to find it. The old master's body is also robust, so he will not become ill." Ji Guangjie said, "But I think it might be better to tell the old sir to come out. With all of us helping him, the old man should just have a life-or-death showdown with Jiang Xiaohe. Otherwise, the matter will never be resolved. Not to worry, Uncle Ge, you are a man of means. Even if you don't continue the security work, you'll be able to eat. However, if all of the Kunlun School's security offices are shuttered, there will be many who will starve to death." Aluan added, "The security offices mustn't close. Thirty, forty years, my grandfather's enterprise was not easily built, and it's not as if we did not truly have business right now. The patronage here at the Lishun Security Office may be lost, but those of other places are all quite good. Once this one closes, the business would dry up elsewhere as well. The Kunlun School security offices in Chang'an, Hanzhong, and Ziyang count as the largest in these three locations."

    Ge Zhiqiang changed his comportment and smiled bitterly, "It's not that I want to close the security office, nor have I become discouraged. I simply wish to free myself to focus my strength on dealing with Jiang Xiaohe and Li Fengjie!" Ji Guangjie quickly asked, "What's this? Uncle Ge, have you heard something about Li Fengjie? Has he not he died? Is he coming for us? I fear him not!" Ge Zhiqiang waved his hard hurriedly and said, "No, no! Li Fengjie has not reappeared. Whether he's died or not, I do not know, but he cannot come to Guanzhong again. It's Jiang Xiaohe. Don't just see that he's been silent these last few days. We haven't a clue where he's gone. Allow me some unfortunate words. For all we know, the Brothers Long may have already lost their lives. I plan to set off in half a day to Hanzhong." Aluan asked, "Uncle Ge, what will you do in Hanzhong?" Ge Zhiqiang said, "I'm going to Hanzhong to find your father. We will gather the disciples of the Kunlun School there and call in heroes from every province to combine our strength and beat back Jiang Xiaohe and Li Fengjie!"

    Ge Zhiqiang's original intention was to flee by himself, and the one he was frightened of was only Li Fengjie. His words now were all spoken to save face, conceived on the spot. Little did he know that when Ji Guangjie heard him, he would immediately push himself up and strike the table, saying, "Yes, I will go see my father-in-law as well. He's the eldest son of the old sir. Since the old sir will not come out, perhaps he will step up. I will go help him and battle Jiang Xiaohe anew to decide who lives and who dies!" Aluan added, "All right! Uncle Ge, settle all the matters here quickly. We will set off tomorrow." Ge Zhiqiang thought it over carefully, and then nodded decisively in agreement. That night, he ordered the baggage readied and entrusted the Lishun Security Office to Zhao Zhilong and Chen Zhijun, instructing them that while the sign for the security office needn't be taken down, they were not to take any business for the time being. "No matter who comes looking for trouble, you must all show restraint. Leave everything for when I return." Afterward, he returned to the inner courtyard to settle matters of the household. By now his son Ge Zhaogang's wounds had largely healed, leaving only a disfigurement on his left shoulder, his appearance gaunt, and his spirit low. Nothing of his earlier bravado remained. After Ge Zhiqiang finished the assignment of the household duties, he went to rest.

    The next day arrived, clear and very hot. Early in the morning, a cart sat outside with its cover on and five horses stood prepared. Because Ji Guangjie's thigh wound was not completely healed, he would not be able to ride a horse, but he was impatient as soon as he climbed into the cart, telling the driver, "You'd best proceed with speed when we're out of the city! You need to be able to keep up with the horses. Don't hold them back with the cart!" The driver could do nothing but nod. The five riders were Ge Zhiqiang, Bao Aluan and three men from the security office. Aluan still kept her hair in a long braid, wore blue silk shirt and pants, and sat atop her rouge-colored red horse, looking dignified and beautiful. Yet, some of those who lived nearby and had seen the young lady a month or two ago felt that her face was thinner, and that she used to be just as energetic as a spry, young man. Now, a sullen expression shrouded her face.

    Ge Zhiqiang gave a few of the neighbors some more matters to take care of, and then he mounted his horse. With the three attendants in the fore, the five riders and the cart departed Chang'an through the south gate and headed west, then north, proceeding along the courier road. Because of the mule cart, the five horses were not able to go quickly. No one else thought much of it, but Ji Guangjie became most irritable, angrily thinking, Who could have thought there would come a time when I, Ji Guangjie, wouldn't be able to ride a horse? This is too shameful for my forebear, the Xia of Longmen. He picked up the scabbard beside him and gave the driver sitting on the cart shaft a poke, saying, "Stop the cart! I can't ride in this derelict mule cart. That it's slow is secondary. It's so bumpy I can't take it!" So saying, he climbed off the cart and addressed one of the attendants ahead, a seventh of the surname Sun, "Seventh Sun! Come sit in the cart! Let me ride that horse!" Ge Zhiqiang reined in his horse and said to Ji Guangjie, "Son-in-law Ji, your thigh wound has not yet healed fully, so how will you ride a horse? You'd best get back on that cart!" Ji Guangjie shook his head, saying, "That won't do! I cannot sit in the cart. I must ride a horse!" He ran over and pulled Seventh Sun off his horse so that he could get on it.

    Seventh Sun could do nothing but get off the horse, and help Ji Guangjie onto it. He then retrieved the sword from the cart and hung it off the saddle for him. Ji Guangjie was pleased. He smiled at Aluan, whereupon he shook his whip and went forward. Ge Zhiqiang gave Aluan a look and whispered, "This isn't good! He's only just gotten better. How will he be able to endure rubbing up against the saddle? We have no choice but to ride slowly." Thus, the horses and cart in the back proceeded at a deliberate pace. When Ji Guangjie rode his horse about a mile, he looked back. The horses and cart were too far behind, so he could only rein up his horse and press them on, "Quickly, now! Let's go! Otherwise, we should send the cart back. What's the use of keeping this cart around? It's nothing but a nuisance!" Ge Zhiqiang and Aluan ignored him. They left him to his anxiety, as the four of them rode with the cart. The weather was hot, and by the time they arrived at the Wei River and crossed it, it was already noon. After they ate a midday meal in Xianyang City, they rested for a while before continuing west.

    This occasion of Ge Zhiqiang's departure from Chang'an had no other purpose than to escape from Li Fengjie. He understood well that even if they were to arrive in Hanzhong, it didn't mean they would be able to think of some brilliant way or invite some powerful people to resist Jiang Xiaohe. So now that he had left Chang'an, he was relieved, not feeling an ounce of concern on the road. Though Aluan very much wanted to hurry to see her father, Bao Zhiyun, she knew for certain neither his martial arts nor the people they were acquainted with would be able to fight off Jiang Xiaohe. For the entire journey, she did nothing but think and worry, her mood lingering. She thought, Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts are too strong! What person can overcome him? He's persistent and hasn't forgotten his enmity. He won't be satisfied until he kills my grandpa. What is there to be done? He's too despicable! Our poor Bao family! Thus Aluan constantly broke into mournful tears, though she also clenched her teeth in hatred and carried with her a trace of the infatuation she could neither cut away nor forget. She too was anxious, yet she could not ride quickly.

    Ji Guangjie was the one most impatient. Though they hadn't yet traveled fifty miles, the chafing had caused the wound on his thigh to bleed, and it hurt as if it had been sliced by a blade. However, he grit his teeth to bear the pain and spurred his horse on quickly, often placing his hand on the hilt of his sword and feeling his dart sheath, thinking himself extraordinary. Seeing that the cart and horses behind him weren't willing to speed up, he became truly restless and truly angry! Had Aluan not been among them, he would have cursed at them loudly, and perhaps even left them behind to ride by himself.

    It was as if a raging fire burned in his chest, pressing him to fight it out with Jiang Xiaohe. He knew he could not beat him, but he had to face him! No matter what hidden weapons or secret tricks he had to employ, it was imperative for him to send Jiang Xiaohe to his death, so that Aluan would look upon him as a great hero, and it would be then that Aluan would fall whole-heartedly in love with him. Yet, though he was bold and full of vigor, he couldn't help the limits on his physical strength. By the time it was dark, they had just reached Wugong County. At this time, there was moonlight across the horizon now, and he had originally intended to take advantage of it to continue on, but by now his thigh wound was in very acute pain. He couldn't help letting out a moan, as he couldn't even dismount his horse. Ge Zhiqiang quickly ordered the attendants to help him down. They found an inn nearby, walked Ji Guangjie inside, and once again applied the laceration medicine onto him. Ji Guangjie was in so much pain he couldn't even sit up, but he was dissatisfied with lying down, so he leaned against the wall and with struggling spirit he pretended as if he was fine. He called for the innkeeper to prepare food for him and warm wine, and he laughed quietly as he conversed with Aluan.

    Aluan now thought Ji Guangjie quite tough, quite brave, and quite worthy of the title hero. Thus, even though she harbored many painful matters in her heart, she replied genially to Ji Guangjie whenever he asked something of her. At this time, Ge Zhiqiang was lodging in another room, while the three attendants stayed in the main hall. There were many guests staying at this inn, with people talking in every room, and even some singing an opera in a regional dialect. Children selling steamed buns were walking into the inn to hawk their goods, and there were official inspectors with whips in their hand, arguing with the innkeeper in the courtyard. It was a large jumble of noises. However, after the second watch of the day, all of the commotion stopped. The noisy people all seemed as if to drop dead, all of them snoring. The snores mingled together, zzz, zzz, to sound like the tide and to sound like a great wind blowing. The lamps in every room had been extinguished, but everyone dreaded the heat, so all the room doors were open widely. The exception was Ge Zhiqiang's door, which was shut tightly, in addition to the room where Ji Guangjie and Aluan were staying. Their door was shut in vain, as the lamp light shining through their windows was very bright.

    At this moment, a feathered fan was swaying about in Ji Guangjie's hand, as he fanned himself a couple times. He was recounting to his wife some of his own proud accomplishments while in Henan, as well as telling her about the amazing things his grandfather, the Xia of Longmen, had done. Aluan had originally been annoyed as she listened, but since she couldn't fall asleep, she had nothing better to do than to let Ji Guangjie speak as she thought to herself about other matters.

    Though they were still outwardly together yet separated at heart, all in all it was not the same as when they had first gotten married, where they hadn't said a word to each other and would brandish their blades in close combat at every turn. Aluan was now slowly starting to feel affection for Ji Guangjie, which made her heart ache even more. She thought, Is this how it will be? Will I be married to Ji Guangjie for the rest of my life? After we finish my grandfather's business and Ji Guangjie's injuries heal completely, Ji Guangjie and I will be husband and wife in both name and truth, just like other married couples. What of that incident in my youth? What can I do to forget him? If only someone would kill Jiang Xiaohe! As she thought this, she couldn't help the tears roiling up behind her eyelids, ready to flow out. Ji Guangjie smiled and said, "You can lay down and go to sleep first if you'd like. Get a good rest, for when we wake up first thing tomorrow, we'll need to hurry on our journey!" Aluan shook her head and said with a delicate weariness, "I'm not tired!" Ji Guangjie could help but feel tenderness toward her and pushed his body up to sit straighter, but Aluan shifted away from him.

    Just then from outside the window, Aluan heard a faint sigh as if right next to her ear. Aluan was startled, so she got up quickly, opened the door, and looked out. Ji Guangjie, struggling with his injury, picked up his sword and went outside for a look, seeing only the bright moon and a scattering of stars across the horizon. Five or six people were lying every which way in the courtyard, all sound asleep. They looked all over the tops of the rooms and saw nothing but what looked like a firm frost on the roofs. The night wind blew intermittently, seeming to come from the direction of the Wei River.

    Ji Guangjie was standing behind Aluan when he whispered, "Did you hear something, or did you see someone?" Aluan shook her head silently, and then turned and walked back into the room, her face a baleful white. Ji Guangjie held onto the door frame and laughed coldly toward the outside, saying in a purposefully loud voice, "The moon is bright, and there are people asleep in the courtyard. Jiang Xiaohe isn't a ghost, so how would it be possible for him to come over here?"

    Just as he said this, he saw a dark shape on the roof across the way. He quickly pulled a dart from the sheath and flung it with a whoosh. He heard an odd cry from atop the roof as the dark shape was hit by the dart and rolled off the roof. Ji Guangjie limped his way over, and picked a wounded black cat off the ground. By now a couple of the men sleeping in the courtyard had awoken and sat up, asking, "What's happened?" Ji Guangjie said, "It's nothing, just a stray cat." He brought the wounded cat into the room and showed it to Aluan. He laughed, "What alarmed you just then was probably this." Aluan saw that it was a very large, black cat with a dart sticking out of its belly. It was still alive, and struggling to stay that way. Ji Guangjie pulled the dart out and let the wounded cat go. He then washed his hands and closed the door. He put out the lamp to go to sleep, and kept his sword next to his body. Aluan thought anxiously to herself for a while before going to sleep as well.

    On the following day, after they broke their fast at the inn, they continued west. Ge Zhiqiang and the three attendants all encouraged Ji Guangjie to ride the cart, but Ji Guangjie remained stubborn, insisting he had to ride a horse. Now though, he didn't dare ride the horse very quickly and traveled bridle-to-bridle with Aluan. He was very happy, but Aluan kept her worried frown. They journeyed until late in the day, arriving at the Dasan Pass, where they went to the Kunlun Security Office to unload the cart and rest the horses.

    Lu Zhizhong was here at the moment and had already been told long before about Jiang Xiaohe's great disturbance at the Ba Bridge where Ji Guangjie was wounded. When Aluan saw Lu Zhizhong now, she hurriedly asked, "How is my grandpa doing?" Lu Zhizhong said only, "He's fine." He didn't want to go into detail, but as he received Ji Guangjie, Aluan and Ge Zhiqiang and they finished the evening meal, Aluan's constant questions made it impossible for him not to say anymore, so he said, "Let me tell you all, you've nothing to worry about. The old master's gone to stay in the home of He Tiesong in the Shanyin Valley, and it's very secluded. However, He Tiesong is very advanced in age. He's older than the master by five or six years, and he's already surpassed eighty this year. He spends the entire day praying to Buddha, hardly ever opening his eyes. He has two sons, both of whom know the martial arts and were security escorts previously. They've now returned to the mountains to farm, but many of their friends in the security business often visit them. He has several grandsons, all of them in their twenties and learning the martial arts. They have even more of their friends coming and going. Thus, our master felt that though the place was secluded, there were too many people coming and going, so it wouldn't have been good to stay there too long. Five days ago, the old man departed from there, alone on his horse and a saber in his hand, and refused to allow me to follow him."

    Upon hearing this, Aluan became so anxious she started tearing up, quickly asking, "Where did my grandpa go by himself?" Lu Zhizhong said in a hushed voice, "The old man headed south, likely to Sichuan. He said he had some old friends in Sichuan." Aluan said, "I have never heard before that my grandpa had friends in Sichuan, only some of his enemies, like the Xia of Langzhong... He's only enemies there!" Ji Guangjie said, "It looks to me like the old sir must have had a surge of resolve, coming out of hiding to find Jiang Xiaohe!" Lu Zhizhong said, "That's not possible. The old man went south from Luoyang. I accompanied him all the way to the Jinniu Gorge. The old man became angry and forbid me from following him. That's when I headed back here. If you'd have come yesterday afternoon, I wouldn't have been back by then."

    For a moment, none of the four of them said a thing, with Lu Zhizhong and Ge Zhiqiang knitting their brows. Aluan had her head down, one hand supporting her head and the other wiping away her tears. Ji Guangjie held onto his arms and stared intensely into space for a while, clenching his jaw. He then laughed grimly and said, "Jiang Xiaohe has quite the skill. He's forced Bao Kunlun into such a pitiful state that he's wandering Jianghu with no home to return to!" Ge Zhiqiang hurried waved his hand and said, "Lower your voice!" Aluan suddenly slapped the table and stood up. Stamping her foot, she wept, "I can't take it anymore! I need to find my grandpa and the two of us will have a showdown with Jiang Xiaohe! Jiang Xiaohe..." And as if Jiang Xiaohe was standing outside, she stomped to the window and cried bitterly, yelling, "Jiang Xiaohe, you heartless man! Why don't you come! If you want my grandpa's life, why not come and take mine first!"

    Lu Zhizhong and Ge Zhiqiang hastily went forward to talk her down, saying, "Young miss, don't worry. The old master's body is robust, and I guarantee nothing will happen to him. The old master is well familiar with Jianghu. Even Jiang Xiaohe were to go after him, he would not be able to catch him!" Aluan wept, "My grandpa hasn't gone into Sichuan in over thirty years, and he doesn't know his way around there. Jiang Xiaohe knows many people there. The Xia of Langzhong is one of his associates. As soon as the Xia of Langzhong spots my grandpa, he'll capture him and then send someone to bring the news to Jiang Xiaohe. Then Jiang Xiaohe will go kill my grandpa!" Ge Zhiqiang shook his head and said, "That can't be. The Xia of Langzhong can do no such thing. Ten years ago, the old master defeated the Xia of Langzhong, and because he didn't want to sow enmity, the old man was quite merciful. So the Xia of Langzhong returned to Sichuan and traveled Jianghu no more, offering his heartfelt respect for Bao Kunlun at his every mention!"

    Ji Guangjie said, "Even if the Xia of Langzhong had come out to face the old sir, it would not be cause for concern. I still want to meet this Xia of Langzhong and let him have a taste of my sword and darts." It took everyone quite a while before their appeals stopped Aluan's heaving sobs. She didn't sit down, however, instead leaning against the window. The window was covered over with green muslin, but outside the bright glow of the moon could still be seen. Aluan stared blankly out into the moonlight. Ge Zhiqiang observed the young lady closely, fearing that she would do as she did last time and set off by herself under the light of the moon.

    After the second watch, everyone retired to their rooms to sleep. Aluan and Ji Guangjie stayed in the bridal chamber that had been prepared for them before. This time Ji Guangjie was very happy, and he brought up to her the incident on their wedding night when Aluan kept him out of the room, laughing, but no matter how he joked, Aluan simply ignored him. With her brows knit tightly, she laid down on the bed and fell asleep without undoing the buttons on her clothes. Ji Guangjie laid on his back in the bed, facing the still brightly colored double happiness character, and thought wishfully. It was a shame the wound in his thigh was still rather painful and Aluan had been especially troubled this day. He grew slowly disappointed, and then fell asleep.

    When the next day came, in the early hours of the fifth watch, Aluan took her saber and some basic travel items and silently snuck out of the room, heading to the stables to ready a horse. Everyone as asleep in their rooms at this time. In order to prevent Aluan from going off on her own like she had the last time, Lu Zhizhong had kept his eyes open all night, but had just fallen asleep now. After stealthily preparing her horse, attaching her saber, and tying down her baggage, Aluan quietly removed the stone barricading the main gate and led her horse through it. As soon as she came through the gate, she mounted her horse, she swung her whip, and left the Dasan Pass, still in its slumber. She pressed the horse along the mountain road south. At the moment, a mist pervaded the mountains and the towering peaks were engulfed in clouds. The nearby trees were but faint, swaying shadows before her eyes, and the huts were even harder to see. Even the mountain birds were still perched in the trees sleeping, none of them calling out nor flying. Aluan and her horse were the only ones in the mountains, and except for the crisp, rhythmic clopping of the horse's hooves, there were no other sounds.

    But before she had ridden two miles into the mountains, she heard someone behind her calling out, "Miss Luan! Aluan!" The shout bounced amid the mountains, loud and clear, echoing so it sounded like two people calling her without waiting for an answer. Aluan spurred her horse on faster, but the sound behind her continued calling out, getting closer and closer.

    Aluan bolted another three or four miles, twisting her way through five or six mountain loops before she met with a rider blocking her way. Aluan was about to draw her saber from beside her saddle, but the man in front of her puffed and gasped, "Miss Luan, please go back now! Let us talk it over some more. There must be another way. You cannot go on by yourself. Not only are you unfamiliar with the roads in Sichuan, but you won't be able to cross these Qin Mountains. There are too many forks in the road. Another five or six miles further and you would be lost, turning this way and that way. You may proceed an entire month and still not make your way out of these mountains. Not to mention that Hu Li the Silver Dart and his sons are in these mountains, and they are all wicked men! It would be a little better were you a man, but how can you travel alone as a young wife? You cannot compare this to that previous time you went to Chang'an." The one who had spoken was Lu Zhizhong.

    Of all her many disciple-uncles, Lu Zhizhong was the one Aluan revered. Right then she began to weep once more, saying, "There is no way I can return! I heard you speak last night of my grandfather traveling on his own, and I have been uneasy since. I must find my grandfather, and no one can stop me. No one can tell me to return to the Dasan Pass!" Lu Zhizhong sighed and said, "Even I am not comfortable with the old master traveling on his own. I also wished to continue on with the old man, but the old man has too fierce a temper and would not have allowed me to accompany him. If in the end the young miss were to catch up with the old man, I know the old man would not become angry with you, but first, you must come back with me and wait a few days until Ji Guangjie's thigh wound is completely healed and he is able to ride a horse quickly. Then, you two should set off as husband and wife, and perhaps I will come with you." Aluan sneered, "How long will that be, to wait until his wounds are healed? He's actually riding even now, but he cannot drive the horse day and night. Uncle Lu, if you are not content to see me proceeding on my own, then come with me right now! How about it?"

    Lu Zhizhong thought for a moment and then said, "If you look, you'll see I haven't one coin on me, nor did I bring my weapon. Wait for me here. I'll return to retrieve money and a saber." Aluan said, "Uncle Lu, if you were to go back, Ji Guangjie would certainly want to come with you. If he does, we will have no way to hurry our way forward and it will be difficult to catch up to my grandfather. I still have twenty-some taels on hand right now, enough to use to reach Hanzhong. Once we arrive in Hanzhong, there will be nothing to worry about. As for your saber, it's not much of a problem. The only bandit in these mountains is Hu Li the Silver Dart, but I have heard that Hu Li has been rather good to us in recent years, and hasn't robbed any of the Kunlun School's wagons." Lu Zhizhong thought it over some more and nodded, saying, "All right! I'll take you to Hanzhong. We'll speak more about it when we get there!" Thus, Aluan was pleased and hurried Lu Zhizhong, saying, "Lead the way quickly then, Uncle Lu. We'll be able to reach Hanzhong in two days and two nights. We'll take a rest in Hanzhong and then head into Sichuan."

    Lu Zhizhong turned his horse around and proceeded ahead, all the while talking things over with Aluan, saying, "Miss Luan, don't be too impatient, since it is certain we will be able to see the old master in Sichuan and nothing will have happened to him. I believe your father must know what friends the old man still has in Sichuan. The old man is a cautious person, so he wouldn't go into Sichuan without having a refuge there." He continued, "I would like to meet with Jiang Xiaohe. To tell you the truth, when Jiang Xiaohe wounded Long Zhiteng that time in your home and fled on a stolen horse, the old master had been extremely furious and had ordered me to run him down and kill him. However, when I chased him down in the Southern Mountains, his martial arts were not yet great, and I could have captured him, but I remembered that his father and I had been disciple-brothers. Not to mention, he was but a child, so I could not bear to harm him. I even pointed out a mountain road to Northern Sichuan and sent him on his way. Later on, when Long Zhiqi and the others caught up with me, I followed them in pursuit to Wanyuan County in Northern Sichuan. At the time, Jiang Xiaohe was staying at an inn there. Because Long Zhiqi recognized the horse tied out front, he went inside carrying his saber to kill Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe was in a moment of danger, but luckily I climbed the stairs first and signaled him with my eyes. That's when Jiang Xiaohe shoved open a window, jumped out and fled. That is to say, I saved his life twice over. I believe that if he were to see me, he would be able to speak reason with me. As a result, I would like to meet with him."

    Riding along with Lu Zhizhong and listening to his words, Bao Aluan couldn't help the emotion welling up in her heart. When she thought back to it, Jiang Xiaohe had just been a child with his father dead and his mother remarried. It was truly tragic, and her own grandfather and the Long brothers had been a bit too cruel to him! Because of this, the hatred in her heart for Jiang Xiaohe began to fade gradually.

    The two riders trod along the mountain road, and though they weren't going their fastest, Lu Zhizhong knew the lay of the land well, so the path he took was the shortest and most level. At this time the clouds slowly receded and the sun shining upon the mountain peaks made them seem golden. The mountain birds chirped and fluttered about. The densely growing trees on the mountainside pushed their way out of the mist, appearing ever greener. The slightly cool morning breeze on their faces was very pleasant and brought with it the fragrance of mountain flowers and wild grass. After traveling for a little longer, they saw that they were about to cross over the Qin Mountains, though they had not encountered a single person amid the mountains.

    By this time, the sun had already risen and Aluan had ridden until she was covered head-to-toe in sweat and the clothes on her back were soaked. Lu Zhizhong however proved himself to be an "old hand," riding in the front, calm and unflustered. Aluan was already a bit out of breath, so she said, "Uncle Lu, I'm feeling a tad thirsty! Is there anywhere we could find some water to drink?" Lu Zhizhong turned his head back and whispered, "After this mountain loop, there will be a few resident households, and I know one by the surname of Cheng. We can take a break over at their place. I need to have them take a letter back to the Dasan Pass for me. Otherwise, with the two of us suddenly vanished, they'll worry for certain!" He then instructed her seriously, "Be a bit careful! Not far from here is a mountain stronghold. The people there are under the direction of Hu Li the Silver Dart. There are many of them, they are all quite vicious, and they do not recognize the code of Jianghu."

    Hearing this, Aluan remained unconvinced, not fearing the bandits, but since she was burdened by urgent business, she didn't want to provoke any unnecessary trouble. She kept silent, gently stroking her whip, and proceeded forward alongside Lu Zhizhong.

    Before they had ridden half a mile, and before they had turned through this mountain loop, they heard the urgent sound of horses' hooves behind him. Lu Zhizhong and Aluan both turned around to look, seeing five riders rushing up from the rear. The five riding the horses were all strapping young men wearing short clothes with sabers hanging off their horses. Aluan knew that they were bandits, so she reached down to pull her saber from her saddle. When her blade was halfway out, she was stopped by Lu Zhizhong, who said, "Don't be rash! The one in silk clothing is the son of Hu Li." He then turned his horse around, rode toward the men and waved to them. He smiled and said, "Old Second Hu, please lend us the opportunity to travel this road. Offer us a little bit of face and please ask after the old captain's well-being!"

    That man was Hu Li the Silver Dart's son Hu Baoshan, called the Young Yang Jian, and he'd brought with him four henchmen. His eyes did not pay much attention to Lu Zhizhong, instead regarding only Bao Aluan. After Lu Zhizhong hailed him, he laughed, "Not to worry. There is friendship between us. Need we talk about lending passage?" He motioned at Aluan and asked, smiling, "Hey! Who's this young lady?" Lu Zhizhong said, "She is no outsider, but the granddaughter of my master. She is now married to Ji Guangjie." Hu Baoshan said, "Oh ho! So this is Bao Aluan? Well!" His two eyes moved all around the view of her back, simply lost in his leering. Lu Zhizhong said, "We have urgent matters to attend to, so we must go quickly. Second Brother, we shall see you another day!" Hu Baoshan the Young Yang Jian gave his cronies a look, and the four of them loosed their horses. They rushed forward and turned their horses to obstruct the mountain road, not allowing Lu Zhizhong and Aluan to pass.

    Aluan was so angry her face turned purple, and her hand was pressed against the hilt of her saber. Lu Zhizhong changed his expression as well, though he held back his ire, asking Hu Baoshan, "Second Brother, what is the meaning of this? We are all friends here!" Hu Baoshan smirked and said, "There's no meaning but that this is my first time meeting Aluan. I want to talk to her and get to know her better. I'm inviting you and her to come up to my mountain to drink a few cups of wine together!" Lu Zhizhong said, "Second Brother, we offer our utmost gratitude for your good intentions, but we truly do have urgent matters and we cannot tarry any longer. We will definitely come up the mountain another day to visit you, and trouble you for your hospitality then!" Upon hearing this, Hu Baoshan the Young Yang Jian's face turned and he scoffed, "Old Lu, don't be someone who doesn't appreciate generosity. You are a man of the Kunlun School. It's reasonable to say that not only is there no friendship between us, but that there is actually bad blood. It's because you usually conduct yourself rather well that my father instructed me to treat you in particular with respect and not block any of your wagons. Now I've seen a wench that I've taken a liking to, and I'm inviting her to come up the mountain for a couple cups of wine. It's not as if I'm asking her to accompany me in—"

    By the time he got here in his head-shaking rant, Aluan had already drawn out her saber, turned her horse around, and was charging at him, yelling, "Shut your mouth! You bastard!" Hu Baoshan saw the blade coming and hurriedly shrank his head away while at the same time turning his horse to back away, but Aluan rushed forward another step and sent the saber down for a chop. Hu Baoshan the Young Yang Jian screamed out in pain, his entire right arm severed, whereupon he fell from his horse and died. His four henchmen charged forward together with their sabers brandished. Aluan unleashed the Kunlun saber skill from atop her horse, and in three or five exchanges, wounded another couple of them. The remaining two spurred their horses and flew to the north. Aluan was about to go after them. Because Lu Zhizhong had not a weapon on hand, he had dodged to the side, but he now came over and said in a panic, "Let's get out of here! Go!" Jumping off his horse, he took up a saber and hopped back on it, and then bringing Aluan, the two rode as if flying, twisting past the mountain loop, and galloped their way south.

    However, just as they came upon another towering mountain ridge, ten-some riders caught up with them. Lu Zhizhong looked back with alarm and saw behind him Hu Li the Silver Dart's eldest son, Hu Baojiang, and the cruelest, most violent bandit of their stronghold—Yu Dabiao, a man known as the vice-captain of the stronghold. They were leading fifteen or sixteen of their henchmen. Before Hu Baojiang and his horse were even close yet, he sent two darts over, whoosh, whoosh, with a flick of his hand, but Lu Zhizhong and Aluan dodged them. Lu Zhizhong was both angry and nervous, saying to Aluan, "We'll fight! We'll fight as we go!" Thus the two awaited them with sabers held in front of them, careful to guard against the hidden weapons. Hu Baojiang led the group of brigands flying forward, yelling loudly, "Lu Zhizhong, Bao Aluan, neither of you will leave here alive today, to repay the life you took from my brother!" Yu Dabiao glared ferociously at them and held his long spear up, saying, "There is nothing left to say now. Get off your horses and accept your death!" Together, Lu Zhizhong and Aluan dauntlessly spurred their horses to meet them while brandishing their sabers, and very soon the short blades clashed against each other. At first they were all on horseback, but then they all leapt down and the dozen or so horses all scattered from distress in all four directions. Here, under this mountain ridge and on an uneven mountain road, the ten and more people entered into a chaotic battle.

    Nothing could be heard except the erratic sounds of sabers and spears. Before even a quarter hour of fighting, though the brigands had numbers on their side, they could not endure the masterful bladework of Lu Zhizhong and Aluan. This was especially true of Aluan. Several days of sorrow and hatred had accumulated in her heart, and she was giving vent to all of it now. It was as if she had gone mad, swinging her Kunlun saber to would and kill, cutting down five or six of the bandits one after the other. Yu Dabiao had followed Hu Li the Silver Dart in these Qin Mountains for over ten years. He had taken the lives of countless people and his spear skill was of the highest caliber, yet after but a dozen or so exchanges with Aluan, he was cut to death by one of Aluan's strokes. At this time, Lu Zhizhong's saber had sliced off two of Hu Baojiang's fingers. Hu Baojiang bore down his pain and ran, bringing the surviving henchmen away with him. Aluan wanted to give chase, but she hadn't the strength. She panted heavily with her face deathly pale. Lu Zhizhong quickly pulled her to hurry away.

    By the time they climbed the ridge and were about to look for their horses so they could flee out of the Qin Mountains, they spotted Hu Li the Silver Dart hurrying over, leading six or seven brigands. Lu Zhizhong said in a panic, "This is Hu Li the Silver Dart. His flying darts never miss. Quickly, let's go!" Aluan suddenly recalled that Hu Li the Silver Dart was an enemy of hers, for ten years previous he had wounded her father Bao Zhiyun by dart. Thus, she widened her eyes, took several deep breaths, and ignored Lu Zhizhong's urging. She turned her hand, holding her saber out, and ran down the mountain as if flying, meeting them with a call, "Which one is Hu Li the Silver Dart? If you have the skill, come and fight me one-on-one...!"

    Before she could finish, she saw Hu Li the Silver Dart with his sideburns raise his right arm upward while atop his horse and whirl it back. He then pat his right elbow with his left hand, and immediately flying darts came at her. Aluan dodged to the right, but felt a pain in her left ribs as one of the darts grazed her. Aluan grimaced as a second of Hu Li's darts flew at her. Aluan was not able to get out of its way, and the dart pierced her right shoulder. It hurt so much she let go of her saber and pulled the dart out with her hand. Hu Li and his gang of bandits surged up the mountain slope on their jumble of horses, and Lu Zhizhong rushed down to fight in close, mortal combat with the brigands. Hu Li the Silver Dart first ordered his henchmen to tie up Aluan, and then with a dart in his hand, he sized up Lu Zhizhong. He displayed a ferocious expression as each whisker on his dark face stood up on end. He laughed derisively at Lu Zhizhong, saying, "Good! I've tried my utmost to stay on good terms with your Kunlun School for ten years, yet now a granddaughter of the Kunlun School has killed my son. I leave you to hurry off. Go and tell the father and son of the Bao household to come up the mountains to see me within three days, and they may yet see this granddaughter of theirs alive. After three days pass, I will cut this wicked woman's head off and send it to Hanzhong!"

    Lu Zhizhong quickly cupped his fist and said, "Captain Hu, I truly could not have thought that something like this would have happened today! The young lady has a forceful temperament and has done you wrong, but regardless, I beg that you let her go, since she is the wife of Ji Guangjie." Hu Li the Silver Dart gave another mocking laugh and said, "Stop trying to use Ji Guangjie to scare me. I'm not afraid of the grandson of the Xia of Longmen. I haven't killed this vile woman as a small courtesy to him. But it's good now that you've brought him up. Tell him to come as well. Ji Guangjie, Bao Kunlun, and Bao Zhiyun, all three will come kowtow to me and admit their guilt. They will hand over a thousand taels of silver before I can spare the life of this wicked woman. I'll loosen the requirements and give you all five days' time, but if you do not come after five days, then don't bother coming at all!" Lu Zhizhong was going to plead further, when Hu Li the Silver Dart aimed a dart at him and spat a vicious threat his way, "What are you still doing here? I've let you off lightly by sparing your life. Are you still looking to die!?"

    Lu Zhizhong knew the power of Hu Li's flying darts, so he didn't dare to go against him. Aluan had been tied with rope by the brigands and was still cursing and struggling, but she was overwhelmed by the number of brigands. In addition, Lu Zhizhong lacked the strength to help her, so all he could do was watch as Aluan was tied on top of a horse by the bandits and led away. Lu Zhizhong couldn't help stamping his feet and weeping heavily. As Hu Li rode away, he turned his head and raised his hand to compel Lu Zhizhong to leave. Lu Zhizhong could do nothing but walk back up. However, when he crossed this mountain ridge, he threw down his saber and sat on the ground, crying bitterly and thinking, What face have I left to see my master and my brother? The master has entered into Sichuan. How could I find him and bring him back within five days? If I went to find Bao Zhiyun, there is animosity between him and Hu Li the Silver Dart, and were he willing to come, it would be of no use. He sat for a while and then felt the urgency of the situation. He had no time to waste, so he stood up on a crag and looked in all directions. He spotted in a mountain crook on the western side a black horse eating grass. It was his own horse, not yet led away by the brigands.

    Lu Zhizhong took up the saber and descended the mountain ridge. He walked over and grabbed the reins of the horse, thinking, I have only to go back and see Ge Zhiqiang, and ask him to come and rescue Miss Luan. Since Ge Zhiqiang has passed through the Qin Mountains on escort jobs for the past twenty years and never clashed with Hu Li the Silver Dart, I will ask him to come up the mountain to reason with him. Thus, Lu Zhizhong put his saber away, mounted his horse, and followed the route they had taken on the way in, heading north.

    Before he rode very far, he encountered a large party of travelers accompanied by two security escorts, both of whom worked under Li Zhenxia of Huazhou. There was some bit of friendship between them and Lu Zhizhong, so they met and engaged in some idle talk. Lu Zhizhong did not mention that Aluan had been kidnapped by Hu Li the Silver Dart. He only asked if these escorts were acquainted with Hu Li the Silver Dart or not. The two security escorts both answered, "Is there anyone acquainted with him? It's nothing beyond giving his men five taels whenever we encounter them, as a buying of passage. It's an example set from back when the old escort Li Zhenxia ran security jobs through the Qin Mountains himself. It's not that we fear Hu Li, as his martial arts are not strong, just that his flying darts never miss, and it's not worth it for us to provoke him."

    Hearing this, Lu Zhizhong lost hope and quickly bid the two security escorts farewell. He continued hurrying his way north, and before he left the mountains, six horses came towards him from the front, upon which were riding Ge Zhiqiang, Ji Guangjie, and two men each from the Lishun Security Office and his own security office. While there was still quite some distance between them, Ji Guangjie asked him anxiously and loudly, "Uncle Lu, have you seen Miss Luan?" Lu Zhizhong was extremely ashamed. He spurred his horse over and said with knit brow, "It is unimaginable! Miss Bao slew one of Hu Li's sons, and then she slew Yu Dabiao. She's been...she was wounded by Hu Li's darts and was taken up the mountain!"

    Ji Guangjie did not let Lu Zhizhong finish before he drew his sword in anger from the side of his saddle, bellowing, "Come! Let's go find Hu Li the Silver Dart!" So saying, he spurred his horse on. Ge Zhiqiang followed quickly behind him, trying to dissuade Ji Guangjie, "You must not be rash right now! Hu Li's darts truly never miss!" Ji Guangjie looked back and scoffed, "Why would I fear his darts? I have some of my own. We'll have a little competition and see whose darts hit their mark!" Because his wife was abducted by mountain bandits and he found this sort of humiliation extremely difficult to endure, he ignored all counsel, and despite the pain of his injury, he urgently shook his whip and spurred his horse, riding as if flying to the south. As he rode, he shouted, "Hu Li! You cur of a bandit, get yourself off the mountain and come fight with the great sir Ji! Otherwise I, the great sir Ji, will crush your brigands' nest under my feet!"

    Ge Zhiqiang and Lu Zhizhong went after him, together with the four attendants, and exhorted him together, "We need to be a little patient still! One of our people is up on his mountain. If you agitate him with your cursing, we may not be able to safeguard the life of Miss Aluan!"

  11. #31
    Senior Member littleli's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    276

    Default CHAPTER FOURTEEN

    A rescue is for naught; an embroidered shoe is left deep in the mountains.
    Grace and enmity are as ere when a crisp song is heard in his hometown.


    Hearing these words, Ji Guangjie seemed to have some apprehensions and reined up his horse, breathing deeply as he said angrily, "Then what is it you suppose we do? I, Ji Guangjie, have done nothing but suffer the losses of your Kunlun School since arriving in Guanzhong, not only the losses of your men, but those of your women as well. After Aluan was given to me in marriage, she's done nothing in accordance with me, even escaping behind my back this morning to run straight into the tiger's mouth. Is this to intentionally tarnish the name of the descendants of the Xia of Longmen?"

    Ge Zhiqiang heard him speak and couldn't help his own indignation. Lu Zhizhong tried to mollify them, saying, "Right now, Miss Luan has been taken into the mountains, so how can we now fight amongst ourselves? I do not think a firm tack is possible now. Our only option is to ask Brother Ge to let go of some face and go up the mountain to meet with Hu Li the Silver Dart. Speak with him a bit or agree to give him some money, and only then might he let Aluan go!" Ge Zhiqiang sighed, "Why would I be afraid of losing face now? By this day the Kunlun School has already long ago lost all of its face! When I see Hu Li the Silver Dart, if he's willing to release Aluan, I'll even kowtow to him!" Ji Guangjie said, "I'll come with you up the mountain to see this Hu Li!" Ge Zhiqiang said, "If you are coming with me, would it not be easier for you to kill me here and now? If you go up the mountain to see Hu Li, you will not be able to hold your temper. You will surely engage him in battle, and I will surely die up on that mountain. It's not because I fear Hu Li's blade or spear, nor do I fear those brigands atop the mountain. I have qualms about those darts of his!"

    Hearing this, Ji Guangjie smiled slightly and tossed his sword with a clatter onto the ground. He untied his darts sheath and threw that down as well. He then patted around his body and opened both his empty hands for Ge Zhiqiang to see, saying, "Look, there is not an inch of metal of me now and my thigh is injured, so how would I be able to fight with Hu Li the Silver Dart? It's simply that, no matter if Bao Aluan is good or bad, she is still my wife. My wife has been abducted by mountain bandits, and that is dishonor enough for me. If I do not then go to reason with Hu Li in person, how could I face anyone else in the future!" Ge Zhiqiang thought it over for a bit and then nodded, "All right, then I will not need to bring a weapon either." Lu Zhizhong threw a look at Ge Zhiqiang, signaling him not to take Ji Guangjie with him up the mountain. Ge Zhiqiang, however, did not catch his meaning and said, "Zhizhong, wait for us here. We'll be gone momentarily, and then come back." So saying, he turned his horse around and rode off with Ji Guangjie. Lu Zhizhong and the four attendants hurried after them and said, "Wouldn't it be wiser to bring at least a small weapon?" Ji Guangjie added to Ge Zhiqiang, "I am not carrying a weapon because you are afraid I will fight with Hu Li, but there's no harm in you bringing a saber."

    Ge Zhiqiang reined his horse in and thought about it, but then shook his head, saying, "There's no need. If I bring a saber, that Hu Li will be able to use his darts against us without letting us uttering a word." Thus, with his horse in front and Ji Guangjie's horse behind, they followed the mountain road, winding off into the distance. After turning through a few mountain loops, they spotted a tall peak in front of them, thick with trees. A smoky mist hovered about and the path was both narrow and steep. Ge Zhiqiang sat atop his horse and looked back, saying to Ji Guangjie, "Look, that's it." Then he whispered, "This mountain is called Harrierfall Peak, for even harriers cannot fly through to it. Now you must understand how dangerous it is! Hu Li has occupied this mountain peak by relying on his silver darts, and in over twenty years not a single man has dared provoke him. Not even large groups of military officers and soldiers have been successful in eliminating him." They rode as he spoke, until they reached halfway up the mountain where the horses could go no further.

    Ji Guangjie's left thigh was in intense pain when Ge Zhiqiang said, "Let's dismount. From here, we will have to walk the horses up. If we were to ride them and they lost their footing, it would too dangerous!" Thus, the two got off their horses together. When Ji Guangjie dismounted, a tinkling sound came from his chest area. In fact, he had hidden a couple darts on himself, though Ge Zhiqiang did not hear this sound. The two men led their horses up a short distance when they spotted two date trees growing out of a crack in the rocks by the road. Ge Zhiqiang said, "Let's tie our horses up here, so they don't get lost." The two men then both hitched their horses here. Just as they were tying the reins onto the tree, someone suddenly shouted loudly from a higher place, "Hey! Who goes there?"

    Ge Zhiqiang looked up and saw five or six brigands standing atop the mountain, all holding sabers in their hands and glaring down at them as they questioned them. Ge Zhiqiang clasped his hand to them and faced upward, saying, "I am Ge Zhiqiang of the Lishun Security Office in Xi'an. I am here with Ji Guangjie, and we'd like to meet with your good captain, the great sir Hu. We did not bring weapons with us, and come here without ill intentions. Can we trouble you good brothers to take our message back?" Some of the brigands hardened their glares as they looked down at them, and then talked amongst themselves before sending one of them back to the stronghold with the message.

    Ge Zhiqiang turned back to Ji Guangjie and said, "We'll just wait here!" Ji Guangjie angrily cursed to himself and sat down on a rock on account of the pain in his thigh. Ge Zhiqiang then instructed him, "In-law Ji, when we see Hu Li, no matter what he says, you must hold your temper. Even without mentioning his silver darts, there are over a hundred brigands on that mountain of his, and we are no match for that. Not only would the two of us die, but Miss Aluan would also be killed!" Ji Guangjie nodded and remained silent.

    They waited a short while. Ge Zhiqiang recognized one of the bandit leaders who was holding a saber in each hand. He was one of Hu Li's more useful men, Second Qiu the Red-faced Monkey. Ge Zhiqiang walked up a few steps and said, "Second Brother Qiu, could I trouble you to bring us to see Captain Hu? I could never have imagined that today my disciple-niece Bao Aluan would hurt the two brothers of the Hu household, or that Great Brother Yu would also die tragically. We have come here now, not so much to plead leniency for Aluan, but to see Captain Hu and beg him for forgiveness." He then pointed behind him at Ji Guangjie and said, "This is the good grandson of the Xia of Longmen, Ji Guangjie. He is Aluan's husband."

    The Red-faced Monkey frowned and said, "How do you people still have face enough to see our captain? Lu Zhizhong brought that Bao girl with him. She caused grievous harm to our two young captains and the great sir Yu! We let Lu Zhizhong off lightly by letting him go, and you still dare come here courting death? Even if you wanted to see that Bao girl again, you couldn't. She accompanied several of our brothers to early bed, and just now we've dismembered her..."

    Hearing this, Ji Guangjie became so furious he rushed upwards, but Ge Zhiqiang hurriedly held him back, urging him, "Don't cannot trust the words of the Red-faced Monkey! Hu Li the Silver Dart is a bandit, but he is not so cruel as that. I am certain Aluan is still alive!" Ji Guangjie was so angry his face was a deathly white and he was breathing heavily. Ge Zhiqiang then said to the Red-faced Monkey, "Second Brother Qiu, please show me some face. I, the one named Ge, have traveled below your great mountain for more than twenty years and our friendship is much more than a day old. Bao Aluan killed the young captain Hu, so it concerns me not if you put her to death. But regardless, I must see the Captain Hu." Ji Guangjie pounded him from behind with a fist and said, "You should go back now, and let me see Hu Li by myself!"

    Ge Zhiqiang turned around with a furrowed brow and said to Ji Guangjie, "Have you still not born down your anger? What good will come of it! Aluan is still alive. I guarantee it, because Hu Li the Silver Dart is afraid of sowing enmity with us. He is especially fearful of our master. When he wounded Bao Zhiyun ten years ago, he very urgently sent men to our master to apologize for his offense. This time, if he was willing to let Lu Zhizhong go, we can see that he is still afraid of us. But that doesn't mean we should force him into a corner. If we do that, then Miss Luan will not go on living!" Ji Guangjie was still fuming as he said, "Even if they have not killed Aluan, she cannot suffer their dishonor!" Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand, saying, "That is even less likely! Hu Li the Silver Dart and our master have a similar character. He absolutely loathes the lecherous. Those henchmen who follow him may do any manner of bad deed, but they may not rob from women. Otherwise, if he comes to find out, he will kill them." It wasn't until Ji Guangjie heard this that he settled down a little bit and lessened his fury. By now, Second Qiu the Red-faced Monkey had already sent a brigand to notify Hu Li the Silver Dart and, with a pair of sabers in his hands, he had brought a dozen or so men to stand guard on the mountain path while he glowered downward.

    After waiting another short while, they saw Hu Li the Silver Dart show up on the mountain peak with several men. Ge Zhiqiang hurriedly instructed Ji Guangjie that by any means he had to be patient, and then he ran up a few steps and clasped his fist at Hu Li, saying, "Great Brother Hu! I have come with Ji Guangjie to apologize for our offenses!" Ji Guangjie's face still carried an angry expression, but he uttered not a word as he trailed Ge Zhiqiang up.

    Hu Li the Silver Dart's face tightened and his whiskers stood up on end, as he gazed down on Ge Zhiqiang with eyes glowering with ferocity but also a bit of grief. Ge Zhiqiang had made his way onto the peak and had arrived in his vicinity before he spoke, "Sixth Brother Ge, I have nothing to say to you. You'd best go back. Don't cause trouble here and damage our ten and more years of friendship. Tell Ji Guangjie to come up here. I have long esteemed his great name, and I must talk with him!"

    Ji Guangjie had followed Ge Zhiqiang up to the peak. He opened by saying, "Bao Aluan is my wife. She killed your son and we shall speak of that later. Let me ask you right now, is she still alive?" Hu Li the Silver Dart fixed his eyes on Ji Guangjie and said, "So what if she has died? And what if she hasn't?" Ji Guangjie sneered, "Then naturally there are two ways this conversation could run!" Hu Li the Silver Dart's face sunk a bit as he said, "Ji Guangjie, you have come to my place, so do not be presumptuous. Do not think that I fear you because you are the grandson of the Xia of Longmen! Bao Aluan murdered my son today and killed my subordinate, Yu Dabiao. I have never suffered such insult before. If she was not married to you, I would long have already punished her!" Upon hearing this, Ji Guangjie laughed and said, "Now, this I can understand!" He gave Hu Li's shoulder a pat, whereupon Hu Li hastened back several steps in alarm, thinking that the Xia of Longmen's grandson must know dianxue.

    Hearing that Hu Li hadn't killed Aluan because he himself was feared, Ji Guangjie became ever more arrogant, saying proudly, "As things are such, why don't we be friends! Send my wife out safe and sound and let me take her away, and in the future I will owe you a favor. Right now there is one Jiang Xiaohe, who will soon come to the Qin Mountains. Once he does, he will flatten your mountain stronghold. Your silver darts will be of no use, but at that time I will come to your aid, for I am the only one who can cause him to yield!" Hu Li angrily stamped his foot and said, "Do not mention Jiang Xiaohe here to scare me! And I fear you even less. Now that I have Bao Aluan in my keeping, I cannot just free her to leave the mountain. Just as I cannot put her immediately to death, I cannot also let her live as she pleases. I have already told Lu Zhizhong, call the father and son of the Bao household, and the one named Ji, to come to my mountain within five days. After you've spoken your nice words, you are to kneel down and kowtow to the two coffins. You are then to send up five thousand taels of silver and ten horses, whereupon I will cut off one of Aluan's hands. Only then can I let her off this mountain. Otherwise, I am liable to do just about anything!"

    Ji Guangjie was so enraged he raised his fist to strike, but Ge Zhiqiang quickly held him back. Hu Li jumped back a few steps and laughed wildly, "Ji Guangjie, don't display your strength here! Right now your wife in my hands. I, Hu Li the Silver Dart, have been a good man all my life, but if things get out of hand presently, I may have to ruin her a bit!" Ji Guangjie angrily stamped his foot, thump, thump, but Ge Zhiqiang held onto him once again so he couldn't charge over. As Ge Zhiqiang kept Ji Guangjie back, he pleaded with Hu Li, "Great Brother Hu! Please leave us some face. Is it necessary for you to create such extraordinary enmity between you and our Kunlun School and the Ji household of Longmen?"

    When Hu Li heard this, he changed his attitude a bit and said, "It is not that I want to sow hatred with you. I have been very courteous to you all in the past ten years, and there is even less animosity between me and those named Ji. It is you who have come looking for me. Come and see!" So saying, he told Ge Zhiqiang and Ji Guangjie to follow him up. Ge Zhiqiang turned back again and whispered to Ji Guangjie, "You must be more patient!" Ji Guangjie thought it over and bore down his anger. Thereafter, the two men walked up behind Hu Li the Silver Dart. The Red-faced Monkey brought several other bandits to gather around them, all armed with sabers, and glared crossly at them.

    In a short while they arrived at the mountain stronghold. Inside, there was an earthen structure with about thirty-some rooms and twenty or thirty cave dwellings carved into the mountain, in which people lived. As Ji Guangjie and Ge Zhiqiang came here, more and more brigands gathered, until they numbered fully more than a hundred, all of them with weapons in hand, surrounding them layer upon layer. Ge Zhiqiang's face was yellow with fright. Ji Guangjie felt a bit of dread, but he kept a haughty expression on his face. Hu Li the Silver Dart brought the two of them in front of two coffins and couldn't help but shed tears, saying indignantly, "Look at this! My son Hu Baoshan was twenty-five years this year and he has a wife. Yu Dabiao was with me for over a dozen years and his entire household is in this place of mine. Now, they've met with violent deaths this morning. You both traverse Jianghu and neither of you are unreasonable men, so think: How excessively malicious were Bao Aluan's actions? Can we truly complete this matter indifferently?" Ge Zhiqiang sighed and said, "This truly is unimaginable! However, I know that Aluan must not have deliberately taken these two men's lives. This was certainly done by accident!"

    Ji Guangjie added, "When two sides raise their blades and engage in combat, one cannot say for certain who will hurt whom. It is tragic when an innocent dies, and that is considered a grave offense. But when one dies in battle, there is nothing to begrudge. I, Ji Guangjie, suffered a sword stroke from Jiang Xiaohe in my left thigh. The wound is not light, but I do not hate Jiang Xiaohe. In the future when we meet again, if I have the skill, I will stab him in turn, and if I haven't, he will stab me again. You, Hu Li the Silver Dart, have dominated this mountain range for more than twenty years and it's not as if you haven't hurt others before. But now that someone else has hurt you, you feel it is a tragedy!"

    Hu Li glowered and said, "If that's how you'll speak, then I have captured Aluan, which means that I can kill her without any mercy!" Ji Guangjie said, "If you kill her, then I cannot let you live!" Hu Li guffawed and said, "Are you still being so discourteous and unreasonable?" With a grin, he had his henchmen on all sides advancing together with sabers brandished, but Hu Li then signaled them with his eyes to stop. The color to Ji Guangjie's face turned, but he still laughed arrogantly, "Don't scare me with your numbers. If you really want to attack, then be clear about it and we shall have ourselves a fight!" Hu Li looked down for a while and said, "In fact, it would be an easy task to kill you, but because your thighbone is already wounded, even if we did kill you, we would not be heroes. Get off my mountain! Bring the Bao father and son to see me within five days, and we will talk further."

    Ji Guangjie took a deep breath and he relaxed a bit, saying, "You tell me again to leave the mountain and invite the Bao father and son to come here. That's simple. To kowtow before these coffins, that's naturally impossible. However, I am certain we can give you the five thousand taels of silver. But before I can go, you must take me to see my wife so that I can be assured she is still alive!" Hu Li the Silver Dart thought this over and then nodded, saying, "Fine. I will take you to see her!" Thus again with Hu Li in the lead, they went before the caves as the many brigands thronged around Ge Zhiqiang and Ji Guangjie.

    These caves had been carved into the mountain rock, some very deep, though even the ones that weren't had windows that resembled mouse holes from a distance. There were two caves on which very thick iron bars had been installed, like in a jail, and the interiors were darker and bleaker than caves toward the front. Ji Guangjie peered inside and saw Aluan rushing to the iron bars. She was not yet disheveled, but her right shoulder to her wrist was fully stained with blood. Her spirit remained strong though as she widened her eyes and said, "What are you doing here?" Ji Guangjie said, "While wounded, I have put myself in danger to come here with Uncle Ge to rescue you!" Aluan said with anxiety and frustration, "I don't need to be rescued. They can go ahead and kill me if they like. Get out of here! And don't tell my grandfather to come!" She wept as she spoke. Ge Zhiqiang said, "Miss Luan, please be patient here for a few days. The great captain Hu does not intend to harm you. I assure you we will get you out of here within five days."

    Ji Guangjie said, "I won't need five days. I can get you out of here today or tomorrow!" Hu Li stood by and couldn't help but sneer a bit. Ji Guangjie became furious and turned to Hu Li and said, "I want you to release my wife now. If there's anything to be said, we can talk about it afterwards. I am sure we can resolve this, but I will not stand for this humiliation of me, Ji Guangjie!" Still sneering, Hu Li said, "That's very easy for you to say, but if I let her go, then will my son and friend have died for naught? We have nothing further to discuss. I am giving you five days to bring me the Bao father and son. Otherwise, do not bother coming to the mountain and forget about this Bao Aluan." He walked over, tapped the iron bars, and felt the large iron lock, smirking, "Look, this cave cell could keep even a cougar. If you were to make a futile attempt at coming up the mountain under cover of night to rescue her, you would be walking to your own death!"

    When he said this, he was but twenty or so paces from Ji Guangjie, whose face was now white with fury. Ji Guangjie suddenly pulled out a dart and clapping his hand, flung it at Hu Li. He was unaware that, as a great bandit who had long traversed Jianghu, Hu Li had already seen early on that Ji Guangjie was concealing hidden weapons on his person and was ever watchful. As he saw Ji Guangjie's dart coming at him now, he quickly ducked out of the way, dodging it completely. At this time, the mass of bandits nearby surged forward with sabers brandished and immediately cut Ge Zhiqiang down. Ji Guangjie had stolen away a saber and engaged the bandit mob in close combat. The brigands numbered too greatly, with their sabers, spears and shouts coming at him all at once from every direction, so Ji Guangjie had no real way to hold them off by himself. He cut down several of the brigands and charged his way out of the encirclement. Enduring his thigh wound, he headed down the mountain at a sprint, but the entrances had been blocked by the bandit mob, so Ji Guangjie could only climb his way back up the mountain. However, because his thigh injury caused him weariness, climbing was difficult. There were also too many brigands and Hu Li was waiting for him with a dart in hand, so he only made it a dozen or so paces up before Hu Li's dart came from below and struck him in his left crotch. It hurt so much he couldn't stay up, so he came tumbling off the mountain. The bandit mob advanced on him, swinging their sabers, about to chop Ji Guangjie into a meat paste. However, Hu Li whistled and the mob all stopped at once.

    Hu Li ordered his men to have Ji Guangjie bound as well, and when he frisked him, he found yet another dart in his clothes. Hu Li scoffed, "Young one! Did you really dare to use darts against me? This is exactly what we call, blowing tornadoes before Tianshi, or peddling the Three Character Classic in front of the sage's gate." Even tied up, Ji Guangjie did not surrender, saying, "Little one, what will you accomplish by killing me? There were one or two hundred against me, not to mention that you used hidden weapons to capture me. What is heroic about that?" Hu Li laughed, "What are you still blustering about? As the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, you thought you were a hero peerless upon Jianghu, but you too have been caught by me!" Ji Guangjie glared angrily at him. Though his body was bound with a very thick rope and he was bleeding from wounds on his left leg both old and new, he still struggled to get up and strike at Hu Li, but he was pressed down by a few of the brigands.

    Hu Li ordered a few of his men to hold Ji Guangjie up as they came before the cave where Aluan was imprisoned and he called for Aluan to look. Seeing Ji Guangjie wounded and also in their custody, Aluan couldn't help feeling a deep sorrow. She held onto the iron bars and wept, "You tell them! Tell them to kill both of us! We will be husband and wife in the underworld, and when we get there I promise I'll be good to you!" A heavy bleakness came to Ji Guangjie's face, but he forced himself to smile, saying, "There's no need to say that. Whether they kill us or not is all up to them. I'll die with no regrets except that I was not able to kill Jiang Xiaohe for your Kunlun School!" This made Aluan even sadder and she lowered her head and cried bitter tears. Ji Guangjie said to Hu Li, "The one named Hu, let me beg one thing of you: kill me before you kill my wife. Otherwise, you must imprison us together." Hu Li smirked slightly and without saying anything, turned and left.

    He returned to his residence and rested for a spell. Then, he was overjoyed, feeling that capturing the two, Bao Aluan and Ji Guangjie, was sufficient to avenge his own son and Yu Dabiao. At this time, his bandit henchmen Second Qiu the Red-faced Monkey and Fourth Jiao came to his room and asked him for instructions, "What are the captain's plans? That Ji Guangjie is causing a terrible racket. We were thinking, wouldn't it be better to dispatch him first?" Hu Li shook his head and said, "He is the grandson of the Xia of Longmen. He must have a good many disciple-brothers. If we killed him, we would sow a grave enmity, and in the future there will surely be others more skilled than him coming to look for us!" The Red-faced Monkey said, "I hear that Ji Guangjie's martial skill is one of the best in Jianghu. Even the disciple of the Dragon of Shu, Li Fengjie, was driven out of Guanzhong by him. If we kill him and others come for us, they will not be able to beat the captain's silver darts." Hu Li still shook his head, saying, "Put him in another cave first, one a little far away from the girl's, but don't hurt him." The Red-faced Monkey looked over at Fourth Jiao to signal to him that he disapproved. Fourth Jiao then asked, "How do we deal with that Ge Zhiqiang? He is not yet dead." Hu Li the Silver Dart said, "Bring him here!"

    Presently Second Qiu the Red-faced Monkey and Fourth Jiao the Copper Hammer left his room. After a little more time, Fourth Jiao and some brigands arrived supporting Ge Zhiqiang. Ge Zhiqiang had not yet been tied up, but he had severe cuts in both his shoulder and his back. His face was sallow from pain and he couldn't stop groaning. Hu Li instructed the men to help him onto a stool and then said, "Sixth Brother Ge, I am truly sorry for what happened today, but it was not my aim to hurt you. This was all caused by Ji Guangjie. It's likely he did not harbor good intentions when he came up the mountain with you, and you suffered the consequences for him." Ge Zhiqiang muttered, "Why continue talking about it? This have gotten this far and there's nothing I can do about it. Since you are still willing to speak of friendship with me, I ask that you send a few men to take me down the mountain. Lu Zhizhong is waiting for me there right now. Bring me to him and I'll tell him to take me back to Chang'an to recover my wounds. I no longer care about any of this!"

    Hu Li nodded and said, "Very well! As you no longer care, then this no longer concerns you. In the future, however far I take it with Bao Kunlun, it will have nothing to do with you, Sixth Brother Ge." He then commanded the brigands to ready a plank on which to carry Ge Zhiqiang down the mountain to Lu Zhizhong. Afterward, he brought several brigands for an inspection of the front and back of the mountain, and also each cave. He instructed his underlings that from today forward, none were allowed to leave the mountain to do business. They were only to keep the mountain stronghold secure day and night. He then told them not to deprive Ji Guangjie or Bao Aluan of food or drink and to apply some cut medicine to their wounds. He stressed that they not be allowed to die. After he gave his orders, Hu Li returned once more to his residence.

    After a while, the brigands that had taken Ge Zhiqiang down the mountain all came back, and they said, "We have handed Ge Zhiqiang over to Lu Zhizhong. Lu Zhizhong told us to ask the captain to allow them a few more days' time so that they could find Bao Kunlun." Hu Li smirked slightly, but didn't say anything as he waved the brigands away.

    Hu Li had occupied this mountain range for twenty some years, and because his silver darts were always on target, not only did the various security escorts not dare to provoke him, but none of the other bandits here dared to usurp him. There were three summits in the area. One of them was Harrierfall Peak. Another was Cowstongue Ridge to the west, which had been held by his son Hu Baoshan the Young Yang Jian. The other was Horseneck Ridge, which used to be guarded by his eldest son, but now that he had been wounded by Aluan, it was secured in his stead by a bandit called the White Tiger along with several dozen brigands.

    In the evening, the White Tiger came to Harrierfall Peak. The first thing he did was to go before the coffins of Hu Baoshan and Yu Dabiao and weep for a spell. Then, he went inside with Hu Li the Silver Dart, Second Qiu the Red-faced Monkey, and Fourth Jiao the Copper Hammer, and the four bandits conversed. The White Tiger said, "Lu Zhizhong rode south today on his own. When we stopped him, he told us he was going to look for his master Bao Kunlun. Since it was the captain that told him to find him, we let him pass. Now we wait for Bao Kunlun to arrive, and I will make him pay!" The White Tiger continued, "I doubt Bao Kunlun would dare come, since Jiang Xiaohe is making his way to Zhenba to find him to avenge Jiang Zhisheng. He's already fled, his whereabouts unknown." Hu Li pondered for a while, and then asked, "What kind of man is Jiang Xiaohe?" The White Tiger said, "I hear his martial arts are very powerful, well above those of Ji Guangjie, Li Fengjie and the Xia of Langzhong. Otherwise, how has he gotten Bao Kunlun so scared?"

    Second Qiu the Red-faced Monkey said, "I was thinking, why don't we befriend Jiang Xiaohe? We should send someone to try to find him and invite him back to the mountain to be our vice-captain. As for Ji Guangjie, we needn't make it a public event. We'll get rid of him secretly and save us great trouble. That Bao Aluan's just a wench. There are limits to her skill, so we needn't harm her life. We'll keep her locked up here forever and I'll watch over her. I assure you she won't escape. It would be fine if Bao Kunlun comes up the mountain with some silver taels to see his granddaughter, but if he wants to take his granddaughter back down the mountain, that wouldn't do. We need to keep her as a hostage, or else in the future Bao Kunlun will surely plan his revenge."

    Hu Li heard these words but was yet undecided, because he was running these two scenarios in his head: The first was about Jiang Xiaohe. He wasn't sure if this man would come to the mountain and join their gang, and if he did join the gang, Hu Li wasn't sure if Jiang Xiaohe would slowly overshadow him and crush him under foot. The second matter was Bao Kunlun. Though Hu Li had kept the disciples of the Kunlun School in check with his silver darts for twenty years, he still harbored an awe of the old master Bao inside. He knew that old master Bao's martial arts were extraordinary and that he was robust despite his years. If he really did come up the mountain and wouldn't be able to leave without his granddaughter, he would without a doubt acknowledge the wrongs done. However, it would be hard to anticipate events after letting his granddaughter off the mountain. If he didn't care whether his granddaughter lived or died and engaged Hu Li in a mortal battle, then perhaps he would be an even harder knot than Ji Guangjie to untie.

    The four bandit leaders spoke for a while, but didn't come to a conclusion, after which they drank some wine together. After the wine, the White Tiger, Fourth Jiao the Copper Hammer and the Red-faced Monkey split up to patrol around once more before they went inside to sleep. However, Second Qiu the Red-faced Monkey couldn't fall asleep, as he was thinking about a woman. This woman was the one who had kill their young captain and Yu Dabiao today, and then been injured and captured: Bao Aluan.

    There had never been very many women atop this mountain peak. There was Hu Li's wife, but she was already half an old woman. Then there were Hu Baoshan and Yu Dabiao's wives. They had both been abducted from mountain families and both of them were exceedingly ugly. This year, the Red-faced Monkey was over twenty years and he had been a bandit now for seven or eight years, yet he still didn't have a wife. He had never before laid eyes on someone like Aluan, who was young and looked as if a heavenly immortal, so he wasn't about to fall asleep this night. He thought, That little wench, with skill so powerful and actions so tremendous, if she were willing to be my wife, I would definitely consider it. But I need to take advantage now of the fact that she is wounded and imprisoned in the cave. Thus, he picked up a saber and left the room. At this time, the moon and stars were distant in the sky and the mountain wind was blowing urgently. The Red-faced Monkey walked several paces and then stopped in his tracks. It had come to him that he hadn't the key to open the jail on him. The key was always put away by Hu Li himself after its use, and the lock was a very special one, both big and heavy, and could not be opened with any other key.

    The Red-faced Monkey stared into space for a moment and decided that he would have to think of a way to get the key from Hu Li tomorrow. Today, he would tell the little wench his feelings so that she could keep him in her mind first. Thus he walked quietly to the cave cell where Aluan was being kept and came upon two brigands squatting in front of it. When they saw him coming, they both stood up and asked, holding their sabers out, "Who goes there?" The Red-faced Monkey said, "It's me!" The two brigands recognized the Red-faced Monkey's voice and made out his face under the hazy moonlight. They said to him, "Second Sir Qiu, we were just squatting here. We weren't asleep!" The Red-faced Monkey said, "I know you weren't sleeping. Get out of here! I'll stand guard." The two brigands hurried away with their sabers.

    The Red-faced Monkey walked in front of the iron bars and it was pitch dark inside. He couldn't see where that pretty little wench was crouching nursing her wounds. He called inside, "Aluan! Aluan!" several times, but no one replied. He tugged a the lock and found it still shut very tightly, so he pressed himself up against the bars and said, "Bao Aluan! Wake up! Let me tell you, I'm the third captain here. They call me Second Qiu the Red-faced Monkey. I am a good man. If you're good to me, I can save your life!" Aluan spat angrily from inside, "Go away!" The Red-faced Monkey laughed and said, "Let me tell you, don't be suspicious! I am a good man and I've very young. If you can obey me, I'll see you tonight. After a few days, I'm sure I can rescue you..." When he got to here, he suddenly felt someone wrapping both their hands around his neck from behind. He stamped both his feet erratically and dropped his saber, but he wasn't able to make any noise. The person behind him took his head and slammed it violently onto the iron bars. He very soon lost consciousness.

    Inside the cave cell, Bao Aluan was in disbelief. She had been feeling the pain of her left rib and right shoulder dart wounds all day, and after Ji Guangjie and Ge Zhiqiang's capture on this mountain for the sake of rescuing her, she'd felt even more miserable. She didn't fear death, but the dark and dank cave cell with its floors covered with centipedes and large ants were truly hard for her to bear. The words just spoken by that bandit, the Red-faced Monkey, almost made her mad with fury! She wanted to find something on the ground and throw it at him, striking that ill-intentioned bandit dead. Presently, she abruptly heard two or three bizarre sounds and saw the Red-faced Monkey collapse to the floor as if he had died, as a tall figure loomed outside the bars.

    Aluan was taken aback. The tall figure reached out and handled the iron lock. With a loud click, the lock fell to the floor and the cell door swung open. The tall figure walked into the cave cell and startled, Aluan asked him, "Who are you?" The man stood in place and said in a serious tone, "Do not fear! It is Jiang Xiaohe!"

    Hearing this, Aluan felt at turns pleasure and sadness. Her heart beat rapidly and tears streamed from her face, but she was unable to utter a word. She heard Jiang Xiaohe say into the darkness, "Aluan, come with me, quickly!" Aluan asked sternly through tears, "Where would I go with you? If it weren't for you, I would not have fallen into this place!" Jiang Xiaohe sighed faintly and said, "Let's not talk about that now. Come with me first. I have a place set up for you. Afterward, I must still hurry back and save your husband Ji Guangjie!" Aluan wept and walked a few paces reluctantly. Jiang Xiaohe wrapped his arms gently around Aluan and picked her up, as Aluan grabbed Jiang Xiaohe's sturdy back tightly with both her hands. She was still weeping unceasingly when Jiang Xiaohe instructed her, "Stop crying! If those brigands hear you, it will not be easy to save Ji Guangjie!" Carrying Aluan on his back, he came out of the cave cell and gave the halfway-dead and unconscious Red-faced Monkey a few kicks, rolling him into the cave. With one hand holding onto Aluan and the other pulling on the crags, he climbed nimbly up the mountain without being detected by the bandits.

    As Aluan was being carried on Jiang Xiaohe's back, she continued shedding tears. She watched as Jiang Xiaohe moved with swift agility and couldn't help but think mournfully back on their childhood, of Jiang Xiaohe's agility when he climbed the tree to retrieve her kite for her. She had admired Jiang Xiaohe when they were little, and now Jiang Xiaohe's martial ability was even more admirable. Jiang Xiaohe climbed over the peak with her, crossing several places where there were only footholds in the precipice and jumping down a distance of thirty or forty feet. Aluan was frightened and nervous, but Jiang Xiaohe's feet didn't slip even a little bit. Shortly, Jiang Xiaohe placed Aluan gently on a large, flat and smooth boulder, saying, "Do not be afraid, Aluan. Wait for me and in a moment I will rescue Ji Guangjie!" Aluan sorrowfully choked out a response. Jiang Xiaohe then turned around and bounded off like a cougar back up the mountain peak.

    By this time, the peak was ablaze with fire. The one who had been kicked by Jiang Xiaohe into the cave cell, Second Qiu the Red-faced Monkey, had regained consciousness and shouted out from inside the cave, rousing the bandits, including the White Tiger, Fourth Jiao the Copper Hammer and Hu Li the Silver Dart. Once Hu Li discovered that Aluan had been broken out, he immediately ordered each bandit henchman to lead the other brigands in a search. Twenty or thirty torches were lit into a glorious blaze and shone upon the valley as if it was daylight. However, Jiang Xiaohe was standing somewhere high up on top of a crag that wasn't illuminated. Jiang Xiaohe saw many cave dwellings in the mountain rock below his feet, several of which were lit from inside. The brigands were like rats, leaping and running out of the caves one after the other, towards the area lit by fire to help others on the manhunt.

    Jiang Xiaohe took the opportunity to leap down. Three brigands ran at him head-on, asking, "Who are you?" Jiang Xiaohe spoke not a word in reply, instead swinging his sword, cutting two of them down and seizing the other one unharmed, demanding from him, "Where are you keeping Ji Guangjie? Take me there!" The brigand trembled in fear as he took Jiang Xiaohe to a cave on the eastern side. At this time, several other brigands spotted Jiang Xiaohe clutching one of their men and whistled, fweee. The flames and murderous sounds from every direction converged on him. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly forced the brigand into the cave.

    This cave was very deep and was lit by a dim rapeseed oil lamp. There were currently four brigands inside keeping watch over Ji Guangjie. Seeing Jiang Xiaohe bursting in, they brandished their sabers and raised their staffs and charged at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe swung his sword and wounded two of them. The remaining two ran out of there, along with the one that Jiang Xiaohe had released. Jiang Xiaohe quickly picked up Ji Guangjie from the floor, his hand and feet bound. Ji Guangjie had seen that it was Jiang Xiaohe that had come to rescue him and said, "Jiang, use your sword to sever these ropes on me. I can walk on my own." Jiang Xiaohe was too busy to reply to him, and with one hand carrying Ji Guangjie and the other swinging his sword, he rushed out of the cave door.

    By now, Hu Li and a hundred of his bandits had caught up with him. They shouted loudly, their sabers and spears coming at him in a jumble. Jiang Xiaohe's sword swung quickly and gracefully, blocking the multitude of weapons and cutting down a good many brigands. He then bounded up onto a mountain crag. He was without injury, nor did he allow Ji Guangjie to be wounded. Just then several darts came flying at them, all of them either dodged by Jiang Xiaohe or knocked away with his sword. Jiang Xiaohe caught sight of the man who had thrown the darts standing amid the crowd of torches. He had kept sideburns, so Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself, This man must be Hu Li. He sheathed his sword on his back. Under one arm, he held onto Ji Guangjie, while the other arm was unfolded, as he waited for more darts from below. Beneath them, Hu Li was extremely aggravated because the mountain crag that Jiang Xiaohe had leapt onto was thirty feet above the ground and was a lone rock formation onto which there were no paths to scale. All they could do was stand below and look up at him, for no one was able to climb up there.

    When none of his darts had hit their mark, he ordered the brigands to climb onto the shoulders of others to make their way up, and then he prepared another dart. He aimed this one with special care and flung it up. This time, the dart did not fall back down, but it was because Jiang Xiaohe reached out and caught it. Jiang Xiaohe cracked a smile and flung the dart he'd obtained back at Hu Li. It struck Hu Li in the top of his head and he collapsed onto the ground. The mass of bandits below were sent into a panic, and the brigands who were trying to climb up were sent tumbling back down after being wounded by Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe bounded upwards while carrying Ji Guangjie, again like a cougar. He jumped across the mountain peak and came to the place he had put Aluan.

    He set Ji Guangjie on the ground, not bothering to cut him free as he went to find Aluan first. Yet, when his eyes made contact with the large, flat rock, he was startled! The rock was there as before, but there was no trace of Aluan. Under the faint moonlight, he looked in every direction. He saw tree branches swaying in the mountain breeze, but not one person. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help shouting in alarm, "Aluan! Aluan!" The echo from the valley replied, "Aluan! Aluan!" But, no person gave a response. Jiang Xiaohe became anxious. Ji Guangjie was also anxious as he said, still laying on the ground, "Cut these ropes off of me first!" Jiang Xiaohe went over and severed Ji Guangjie's ropes with his sword, and then continued crying out, "Aluan! Aluan! Aluan!" Ji Guangjie had wriggled up and shouted a couple times. When no one replied, he asked Jiang Xiaohe, "What's happened? Was Aluan just here?" Jiang Xiaohe stamped his foot rapidly and said, "I rescued Aluan first and then I brought her here and told her to wait. Then, I went to rescue you. It has not been a long time, so how could she then disappear?"

    Ji Guangjie heard this and became even more anxious and shouted again with alarm, "Aluan! Aluan! I've come!" However, no matter how they called out, there was still no reply. He said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Could she have been recaptured by the mountain bandits?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No, no, there are no paths to ascend to this peak. Excepting me, no one else can climb to here." Ji Guangjie said, "Could she have been carried away in the jaws of a cougar? Every kind of wild beast lives in the Qin Mountains." Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help be taken aback. He searched everywhere once more, but didn't find any animal tracks or blood trails. Seeing Jiang Xiaohe turning this way and that worriedly, he became more fretful, calling out, "Let us go down and have a look. She may not have liked it here and jumped down the mountain on her own."

    Jiang Xiaohe said fretfully, "She couldn't have made it down on her own. This area before us is all jagged rocks. If one fell, they would certainly die. And behind is a deep mountain stream full of water!" When he said this, he suddenly thought, Could Aluan have killed herself? He became even more worried and anxious. Ji Guangjie called out another few times, "Aluan," but still there was no answer. He walked over slowly and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "You do things poorly. If you had kept your nose out of this, Hu Li the Silver Dart would never have dared kill me. I could have escaped on my own and Aluan would not now be lost!" Jiang Xiaohe stood angrily in place but did not speak. Ji Guangjie then asked, "Who asked you to come up the mountain to save us? How did you know that we had been struck by Hu Li's darts up here?"

    Jiang Xiaohe said, "I followed you secretly when you left Chang'an. I felt you were riding too slowly and became impatient following, so I crossed the Qin Mountains ahead of you. When I arrived in Ziwu, I encountered an old of mine, Qi Yong the Hooked Blade. I entrusted him with the task of making some inquiries for me, and I stayed in Ziwu to await his return. After two days, he had still not completed the inquiries. This evening, Lu Zhizhong passed through and we met. Though there is bad blood between me and many of the Kunlun School, Lu Zhizhong has always been good to me. We met and spoke and I came to know that you and Aluan were both wounded by darts and captured, so I hurried my way to rescue you two. Because I am only one person, I had to save one of you before I could save the other. I didn't think that Aluan would—ah!" He sighed and stamped his foot.

    Ji Guangjie laughed bitterly and asked, "If there is enmity between you and us, why did you come save us? Aluan is the granddaughter of Bao Kunlun. Why are you so anxious now that she's missing?" Jiang Xiaohe said frankly, "There is no enmity between you and me. You may have written that 'capture Jiang Xiaohe' nonsense everywhere, but since that time you offered disaster relief in Zhengyang, I saw that you were also a righteous xia and could not harm you. Elsewise, though you are the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, if I intended to harm you, it would be no effort at all." Ji Guangjie sneered and asked, "You speak the truth. From whom did you learn your martial arts? I have heard it said that your master is a thin, elderly man, but no one knows his name." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I do not know my master's name either, but I haven't the time to explain this to you. There is a horse at the foot of the mountain, a white one that I rode away from the Ba Bridge on. You may leave atop it. When you arrive at the Mou Inn in Ziwu, Lu Zhizhong will be there. After you leave, I will give the mountain another careful search for Aluan."

    Ji Guangjie heard this and grew angry, saying, "Why should you go and look for my wife? Jiang, what feelings do you have for my wife?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "It was because I rescued her that she is now missing, so I must look for her as a matter of course. There would be no way for you to search, Ji Guangjie, in these high mountains and lofty peaks, these forests and deep mountain streams." Ji Guangjie laughed bitterly again, "That is only because my crotch and leg have both suffered injury. When my wounds are healed, not only will I come to this mountain and take revenge on those bandits, but we shall have another match, you and I!"

    Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "Very well. We can fight later whenever you want, I grant you that. But right now, I cannot wait here with you any longer. I'll carry you down on my back, and you can leave on my horse. After I've located Aluan, I will send her to Ziwu. There is no reason to doubt me. I, Jiang Xiaohe, am an open and honest man. Though Aluan and I were sweethearts since we were young and there is some affection between us, her grandfather is my enemy and I cannot abandon the great wrong of my father's murder for the sake of my personal feelings. That is not to mention that she is already married to you. I am even less able to have improper feelings for a woman with a husband. If you do not believe me, then if there ever comes a time that I, Jiang Xiaohe, perform immoral acts, you can go to Mount Jiuhua in Jiangnan and find my master. Either my master or my disciple-brother will definitely come and slay me!"

    Being given this impassioned speech by Jiang Xiaohe, Ji Guangjie was dumbstruck. He called out "Aluan" several more times, and as before there was no response. He gave a long, bleak sigh and peered down from the mountain peak, seeing only an expanse of misty clouds, not knowing how deep it went. He could do nothing but rest upon Jiang Xiaohe's back as Jiang Xiaohe sped downward, pulling upon trees and stepping on boulders, cutting through brambles and leaping streams. There were several times that Ji Guangjie saw very serious danger and was so frightened he wanted to scream, but Jiang Xiaohe was not the least bit apprehensive. There wasn't much difference for him in running across this precipice and running on level earth. Ji Guangjie couldn't help but be impressed, thinking, Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts are too powerful. I cannot compare to him. I truly must concede to him.

    Shortly, they arrived at a mountain road. Jiang Xiaohe placed Ji Guangjie on the ground. Ji Guangjie hadn't the strength to get up and walk himself. Jiang Xiaohe said, "Wait here for me a moment. I will quickly return with the horse!" So saying, he sprinted away. Ji Guangjie sat on the ground and sighed, looking up once again at the little pebble of the hazy moon peeking through the unruly mountain. He became anxious again and shouted "Aluan" loudly several more times. Still, no response. In a short while, he heard the rumbling of hooves, as Jiang Xiaohe arrive on a white horse. He dismounted and helped Ji Guangjie onto it. He gave directions for the route south out of the mountains and then draw his sword from his back and handed it to Ji Guangjie, saying, "You may encounter bandits before you make it out of the mountains, so I'm giving you this sword to protect yourself with!"

    Ji Guangjie was so touched by Jiang Xiaohe's gesture that no amount of arrogance remained in him. He sighed and said, "Brother Jiang, from this day on I, Ji Guangjie, will respect you! If you do not refuse it, I wish to become friends with you. From now on, I will only try to bring your two houses together and never again side with the Kunlun School against you!" Jiang Xiaohe also sighed, saying, "Save those words for another time. You must depart quickly. By tomorrow, the bandits will come down the mountain and leaving will not be so easy!" Ji Guangjie then said, "Stay here and look for Aluan. If you find her, you must convince her to go to Ziwu. When she gets there, I have much to say to her. If you cannot find her, it is no matter. Life and death are decided by fate. No amount of force can change that!" Jiang Xiaohe acknowledged him with a sigh. That moment, Ji Guangjie sheathed the sword in his hand into the scabbard below the saddle and spurred his horse southward.

    Jiang Xiaohe stood alone amid the multitude of mountains as he listened to the sound of hooves grow distant. He stared blankly into space for a while before he starting walking to search in every direction. At this time, the moonlight was fainter and the clouds were thicker, making it so that nothing around him could be seen. He called out as he walked, but the whistling mountain wind muddled his shouts. He sighed and laid down on a rock by the path. At first, he glanced up at the misty clouds in the sky and the hazy moon as he held misgivings in his mind concerning Aluan's disappearance. Then, because his body was beyond exhaustion, he drifted off into a deep sleep.

    By the time he was awakened by the twittering of mountain birds, the day was already light. The clouds were slowly dissipating and dew covered the rocks and grass. Jiang Xiaohe's body was wet as well, and he felt cold. He stood up and stretched his limbs, and then leapt onto a crag with a whoosh. He ran up the ridge in a circle and came once again to the ledge upon which he had dropped Aluan off the evening previous. The large bluestone remained flat across there as he searched carefully all around, still finding no trace.

    Jiang Xiaohe felt frustrated. He stood at the brink of the precipice and looked down, seeing only that the water in the mountain stream was quite shallow, as if it was just the runoff from the rain. Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself, Could Aluan have jumped into the stream last night to kill herself? Why would she commit suicide? Was it because of her sorrow? Thereupon, Jiang Xiaohe bounded down the mountain and swam in the mountain stream for a spell. He was holding on to a crag covered in moss when something distinct caught his eye, laying upon a crag to his side. Jiang Xiaohe jumped over and picked it up. It was a woman's embroidered red shoe. He was immediately startled and felt an ache in his heart. He thought painfully, Aluan must have fallen into the stream and died! If she hadn't killed herself, some wild animal must have forced her down... He entered the water again. The water only reached his knees, so he used his feet to try to find Aluan's body and pull her out. However, he walked the entire mountain stream up until its end and saw only a cliff beyond it where the water from the stream wound its way downward.

    Though the water on the rock face was deep enough to cover one's feet, many trees had grown here, and some of the trees looked like they had been chopped at before with an ax, as if there were woodsmen that were able to come here. Jiang Xiaohe searched all around, finding only a very steep and very narrow path by which a person could walk down. Jiang Xiaohe tucked the embroidered red shoe into his chest and made his way downward while holding onto the rocks and trees that lined the path. Before long, he had descended by this path and came upon a flat valley opening up in front of him. The water from the mountain stream flowing from above became a small river here, snaking its way down.

    Four or five cave dwellings had been carved into the rock here, but none of them had windows. Jiang Xiaohe entered all of the caves to investigate and found them all uninhabited, save for a few mountain hares that scuttled into their holes upon seeing a person. Jiang Xiaohe realized that there had been people living here before, but looking at its current state, it had been a long time since there was any trace of people here. But then he thought, Could Aluan still be alive? And then he shouted loudly, "Aluan! Aluan!" He called several more times in succession, and when still no one responded, he couldn't help but give another long sigh.

    He paced the valley once around and then continued his way down. When he left the empty valley, he came to a mountain ridge, calling out "Aluan" as he walked. After he crossed the mountain ridge, the sun in the east shone upon his face through cracks between the peaks. He then spotted two hunters, one carrying a trident, and the other a crossbow, walking up the ridge. While they were still rather far away, Jiang Xiaohe hailed them.

    By the time they drew near, Jiang Xiaohe clasped his fist and asked them, "Did the two of you happen to see a young lady coming down the mountain?" After hearing this, the two hunters both appeared confused and asked, "A young lady? How old was she? What was she wearing?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "She was twenty and more years, already a young wife, and she was wearing...blue clothing, I think. She's only got one red shoe on." The two hunters noticed that Jiang Xiaohe was wet from head to toe and that his hands were dirty with moss and the straw sandals on his feet were wet as well. They thought him a madman, so they said, "We haven't seen her. There aren't often women in these mountains. There aren't even very many men walking these trails so early in the morning." Jiang Xiaohe then asked, "What sorts of wild animals are there in this range?" The two hunters said, "We've got every kind! Hares, foxes, wolves, tigers, cougars." When they finished, they laughed and followed the trail up the mountain ridge.

    Jiang Xiaohe stood there and stared into space, thinking, Aluan must be dead! After I left her last night, a ferocious beast must have come, and with no weapon in her hand, she was naturally unable to drive it away. The beast carried her back to its lair and ate her, leaving only this one embroidered red shoe! Once his thoughts reached here, in his mind the elegant figure he'd longed after for so many years turned into the apparition of a pile of scattered flesh. He couldn't help feeling both grief and revulsion, wanting to scour the entirety of the mountain ridge and kill off all of its wild animals to avenge Aluan. But then he suddenly thought, I am being ridiculous. Aluan is a daughter of the house with which I have enmity, not to mention that she has already married another. It was already intrusive of me to expend so much effort to rescue her this time. The reason I learned the martial arts for ten years was to take vengeance for my father. It's been half a year since I left my master and descended the mountain, and all I've done is stirred up these useless entanglements and sought these pointless worries. I have yet to meet my true enemies Bao Kunlun and the Long Brothers, nor have I even inquired into the fates of my birth mother and my natural brother. How could this be anything but a disappointment to the hard work of learning the martial arts from my master and a violation of the determination I have kept with me for the past ten years? Thus, he forced himself to suppress the grief and anxiety in his heart and descended the mountain ridge, looked for a mountain road and made his way south.

    After traveling a while, he became very hungry and his body short of strength. He continued on and saw several cave dwellings at the side of the road. It turned out to be a mountain inn. Jiang Xiaohe entered and called for the innkeeper to cook some dark, thick noodles for him to eat. He questioned the innkeeper, mentioning Aluan's age and appearance again, but the innkeeper too said that he had not seen her. Jiang Xiaohe forced down his heartache, finished his noodles, and departed. The innkeeper chased after him and said quietly, "Dear guest, do not continue south. Not far down that way is Horseneck Ridge." Jiang Xiaohe asked him, "Why's that? Are there still tigers on that ridge?"

    The innkeeper said, "Well, there are no tigers there, but there are things more terrible than tigers." He pulled Jiang Xiaohe back into the cave and whispered, "I can tell by your look that you are well-traveled, so how is it you don't know that Horseneck Ridge is a splinter of the stronghold at Harrierfall Peak? Just now the White Tiger came by with several of his henchmen and returned to Horseneck Ridge. I knew some of those he'd brought with him and they said they had come from Harrierfall Peak. Last night the Mountain Chief Hu Li the Silver Dart was killed by someone with a flying dart." He lowered his voice even further, saying, "Hu Li employed the silver dart his entire life. Who knows how many people have fallen to them? Now that he's been slain by a dart, we can only see this as retribution. But now those bandits will be in disarray. Those brigands will surely attack unrestrained. After hearing this news, the few guests staying in our inn are all afraid to leave. After several days, the officials will likely catch wind of Hu Li's death and come with soldiers to subdue them. We'll see a large flood of guests, some of which will be security escorts, and you'll be able to cross over with them. For now, it'd be best for you to rest here with us a while. Whether you have money or not, it doesn't matter!"

    Jiang Xiaohe grinned and said, "Innkeeper! I thank you for your concern, but I have no money on me, so I fear not the bandits robbing me. At most the bandits will take my life, but I do not think they will have any use for it." So saying, he clasped his fist and left the inn. The innkeeper was about to call him back, but another guest said, "Leave him to it! Let him go court death! The White Tiger and the rest of them are in a panic right now!" Jiang Xiaohe was not far from the inn and heard every word spoken behind him. He simply smiled and walked southward.

    He had tried as hard as possible to forget about Aluan, but for some reason, his heart was constantly suffused with sadness and misgivings kept cropping up in his mind. He felt even more as if a kind of angry hatred was pressing down on him. He wished he could encounter a few ferocious tigers and vicious cougars and kill all of them himself. He wanted to find the bandits' lair and wound several dozen of them, and then steal a good horse and speed his way to the town of Ziwu. He walked with large strides, and sure enough, after turning through a few mountain loops, he spotted a sinister mountain ridge whose form resembled a horse rearing its head high. Jiang Xiaohe was certain then that this was Horseneck Ridge, the territory occupied by Hu Li's subordinate, the bandit called the White Tiger.

    When he had come before the ridge, Jiang Xiaohe looked up and saw a clump of people, approximately numbering a dozen. Because they were too high up, their faces could not be seen clearly, but no doubt they were brigands. The group of them seemed to be able to see the person below as well, but Jiang Xiaohe was alone, not mounted, and did not carry any baggage on his back. They thought he was a poor mountain man and not worth robbing, so they didn't come down. Jiang Xiaohe walked up toward the mountain bandits, causing them alarm. They all called out signals and soon more of the bandits from the ridge gathered. The White Tiger himself appeared, holding a long spear. Before Jiang Xiaohe drew near, he asked angrily, "What are you doing here? Stop right there!"

    Jiang Xiaohe continued walking up and when he was a few dozen paces from them, he spoke to them dauntless, "Are you the White Tiger? I've come to borrow a horse from you. I encourage you all to disband quickly and seek another livelihood. Otherwise, not only will government officials come to suppress you, but sooner or later I must eliminate every last one of you. I cannot allow men like you to hold such a main throughway and stand in the way of travelers and merchants." The White Tiger was immediately enflamed and hollered, "Who the hell do you think you are! How dare you speak to me like that?" Jiang Xiaohe widened his gaze and said, "I am Jiang Xiaohe. Hu Li the Silver Dart was struck down by me last night!"

    Upon hearing this, the brigands all raised their weapons immediately but the White Tiger held his subordinates back. In amazement, he took careful measure of Jiang Xiaohe for a long moment before he sneered slightly and said, "It is a great honor to meet you! So the one who killed the great captain Hu last night and broke out Ji Guangjie and Bao Aluan was you. Good! No wonder they say that you encountered some extraordinary man and learned yourself a set of great martial arts. You have found your way here today to borrow a horse. Fine! I'll bring out a few for you to pick. Let us be friends!" He then ordered someone into the stronghold to bring back some horses.

    Seeing his manner, Jiang Xiaohe's anger subsided and asked, "I do still encourage you all to disband."

    The White Tiger laughed and said, "Don't you worry. Now that the great captain Hu has died, we won't be able to hold our ground here. We have no problem leaving the Qin Mountains on our own, but if anyone thinks to come and force us out, we would have no choice but to fight. Brother Jiang, this is the first time you and I have met but I know all your history. You are the son of Jiang Zhisheng, and your father was murdered by Bao Kunlun. You learned your martial arts in order to find Bao Kunlun and avenge your father. Those of us in the Green Woods all very much admire you. Even Hu Li the Silver Dart when he was alive, he had hoped you would come and eliminate that old man Bao Kunlun. But now I see that you haven't got it in you. Your martial arts are powerful, but your conduct has fallen much too short. You haven't gone to see Bao Kunlun to enact your revenge, but instead come to set yourself against us. Ji Guangjie is Bao Kunlun's lackey and Aluan's but a girl who's disgraced the Kunlun School, yet you'd risked your life to save them. You can't even tell the difference between grace and enmity, so how can you be considered any kind of hero?"

    Jiang Xiaohe's glare grew ever wider and he charged forward, yelling, "How dare you lecture me!" The White Tiger stepped several paces back in fright, but then scoffed, "What is your bullying worth? There is no grievance between us from the past, nor is there recent enmity. Even if you killed us all, you wouldn't be able to boast about it to others. Why don't you properly go and look for your enemies! Not being able to kill your enemies and killing others instead, you're asking for ridicule from those in Jianghu!" He cupped his fist again and said, "Don't you think so? Jiang Xiaohe, you are a good man, so give it some careful thought. Bao Kunlun killed your father and forced your mother to remarry..." Jiang Xiaohe dreaded hearing this these words most, as grief surged into his heart.

    By now the brigands had brought three healthy horses out. The White Tiger invited him to select one, saying, "No need to be courteous! If you're lacking in travel expenses, please speak up. Two hundred, five hundred, we can give it to you. Because we respect you and you are a good man! If it had been Bao Kunlun who'd come, we wouldn't be doing this. Even if he killed us, we wouldn't hand any horses over to him." Jiang Xiaohe did not reply as he took a random horse, mounted it, and galloped down the ridge. On the ridge, the White Tiger instructed his henchmen to shout loudly together, "Jiang Xiaohe, until we meet again!" Jiang Xiaohe did not look back and fuming, spurred his horse on.

    He pondered as he rode, feeling the White Tiger a rather crafty brigand. He knew he was no match for me, so he didn't dare fight me, inciting me to go kill Bao Kunlun instead. He's hoping that neither Bao Kunlun nor I will come out a victor, but the words he spoke were very correct. Ten years ago Bao Zhenfei acted too mercilessly against my family. Had I not encountered my master, even if I hadn't died in the mountains ten years ago, who knows what condition I might have fallen into. I ought think of nothing else but to express my grievance.

    Thus, he came out of the mountain pass, freed his horse to gallop even faster, and arrived in the town of Ziwu. He hastened off his horse and entered the Mou Inn. He called Lu Zhizhong out of his room and asked him, "Has Ji Guangjie come yet?" Lu Zhizhong said, "He arrived early this morning. Anything of Aluan's whereabouts?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "She is still missing, likely wounded by some sort of wild animal. I searched everywhere to no avail!" Lu Zhizhong knit his brow and said, "Come inside and rest a bit, why don't you? Ji Guangjie is sleeping right now. I'll go wake him and you can talk to him!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "I have no need to speak with him. If he has not given up, tell him to return to the Qin Mountains and conduct a closer search. Hu Li the Silver Dart is dead, so there is nothing left to fear. I have urgent matters I must attend to, so I must leave quickly!" He asked Lu Zhizhong to go to the room and bring his sword out. He put it away, turned around, and led the horse out.

    Lu Zhizhong ran after him and said, "Xiaohe, do not be in haste. I have a couple things I'd like to speak with you about!" Jiang Xiaohe stopped and listened to Lu Zhizhong say, "Great heroes must be generous. Bao Zhenfei has been excessive in his actions during his lifetime, but he is quite old now. Can you not spare that old life of his?" Jiang Xiaohe heard this, but could not help but remain in sad silence. It was a moment before he said, "Fine! Because of Uncle Lu's words, when I see Bao Zhenfei, I will certainly show him a bit of mercy!" So saying, he cupped his fist and led his horse away. There was another inn a short distance south. Jiang Xiaohe went inside with an inquiry and discovered that Qi Yong the Hooked Blade had already returned.

    As it turned out, Jiang Xiaohe had peeked into window of Ji Guangjie and Bao Aluan's room at the inn in Wugong and seen the affection between the married couple. He became disheartened and focused his thoughts on going first to Ziyang to find the Long Brothers, and then to look for Bao Zhenfei. He came to Ziwu and by chance encountered the friend he had made a decade ago in Northern Sichuan, Qi Yong the Hooked Blade. Qi Yong, Yang Xiantai the Short Blade, and Lü Xiong the Flower Blade had all been disciple-brothers. In the last year tens, Yang Xiantai had returned to his hometown in Henan, and Lü Xiong had died from illness. Qi Yong had had a disagreement with Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God at the Fuli Security Office in Langzhong, quit as a security escort and gone elsewhere to make a living.

    Qi Yong had fallen on hard times for the past few years and had drifted his way to Hanzhong, performing saber shows and peddling medicine. One day he was working in Ziwu, hawking his wares while carrying his hooked saber and holding his medicine tray, he ran into Jiang Xiaohe. The two had not seen each other in ten years, but Qi Yong had already heard people upon Jianghu speak in detail of Jiang Xiaohe's deeds. Thus, Qi Yong packed his things up, brought Jiang Xiaohe back to his room at the inn, and the two caught up with each other as old friends. Afterward, Qi Yong declared his willingness to assist Jiang Xiaohe in his revenge, and in his estimation, Bao Zhenfei must not have gone far, hiding instead somewhere nearby Zhenba. Because Bao Zhenfei had offended so many people in Jianghu when he was in his prime, now that he was old, he wouldn't dare travel far so easily.

    Jiang Xiaohe asked Qi Yong to help him make inquiries while he himself waited in Ziwu, so that he could catch Bao Zhenfei off guard. He wanted to uncover his whereabouts and capture him without alerting him to his presence. As a result, after Qi Yong departed, he stayed for two days, rarely stepping foot outside the gates of the inn. In the evening, he went to a tavern to drink some wine, unaware that he would encounter Lu Zhizhong. Lu Zhizhong had always treated Jiang Xiaohe well, so Jiang Xiaohe was the first to greet him. Lu Zhizhong hastily informed him of Aluan and Ji Guangjie's wounding and capture in the Qin Mountains, and mentioned that he had just sent someone to return an injured Ge Zhiqiang to the Dasan Pass. Now he was to hurry south to Nanzheng to see Bao Zhiyun and find out what was to be done.

    Upon hearing that Aluan had become trapped in a bandits' den, he became very concerned and undertook to go there. He rushed into the Qin Mountains, killed Hu Li the Silver Dart, and rescued Ji Guangjie and Bao Aluan, but he hadn't counted on Aluan disappearing. Now that Qi Yong the Hooked Blade had returned, Jiang Xiaohe met with him. Qi Yong said, "This is what I've discovered. The old man Bao is already on his way to Northern Sichuan. Some have seen him in northern Jiange, heading south, but no one knows where he is going. He is riding by himself. The Long Brothers are still in Ziyang, though they are both pretending to have gone elsewhere on an escort job. In actuality, they are both staying within the walls of Ziyang City, but I was not able to get a clear answer as to whose home they were hiding in."

    Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help clenching his jaw. He thanked Qi Yong with a clasped fist, said, "Farewell," and went inside. He picked up the baggage he had set down here the previous day, went back outside, mounted his horse, and departed from the south. The horse he was riding was still the one he had demanded from the White Tiger, pure black and very energetic. He determined his route and headed north to look for Bao Zhenfei. Though he had already promised Lu Zhizhong that he wouldn't put Bao Zhenfei into the ground when he saw him, at that moment he couldn't say for certain whether or not he would be able to hold in his anger, or grant any mercy. He urged his horse on, straight through Hanzhong without stopping. The more he traveled, the closer he got to the city. However, the grief in his heart grew more and more, his pain mixing with his anger.

    At approximately the second hour of the afternoon, he arrived at Zhenba City. Perhaps because he had been to Jiangnan, or because he had just come from large cities like Chang'an and Hanzhong, he felt his hometown much smaller and more humble than he had remembered a decade ago. He didn't want others to take notice of him, so he dismounted his horse before entering the city. However, once he walked in with his horse in hand, he felt his two feet weighed down and as if something heavy was pressing down on his chest. All five of his viscera were as if they had been sliced and both his eyes ached. There were quite a few people walking on the street, some of whom he had known before. Now they had become old, thin, poor, as if they had all changed appearances. Jiang Xiaohe walked by them, but no one recognized him, and Xiaohe did not greet any of them. At the same time, he suspected that he himself had gone through a change in appearance in the last ten years.

    He sighed with every sort of emotion and made a supreme effort to keep in his tears. Before walking very far, he came to the door of the Ma Smithy, and some of his tears couldn't be held inside. He hitched his horse to the shop sign and peered inside, seeing only pitch darkness and hearing absolutely nothing, not even the clang of striking metal, nor was there anyone there. He was taken a bit aback and stepped inside the shop with his heavy feet, calling out with sorrow, "Uncle! Uncle!" There was a young apprentice squatting by the base of the smoke-blackened wall dozing off. He was no more than eleven or twelve years, about the same age as Jiang Xiaohe had been when he was an apprentice here.

    The young apprentice woke up and asked, "What are you buying?" Xiaohe said, "I'm not buying anything. I'm here looking for the shopkeeper Ma." The young apprentice stood at the door to the courtyard and called out, "Shopkeeper, there's someone here for you." Someone seemed to answer from the inner courtyard and Jiang Xiaohe stood and waited. He looked around and saw very little in the way of inventory at the smithy. Only two or three woks hung from the wall and were all covered in a thick layer of dust. A few hoes and shovels were laying on the ground, and they too appeared neglected for a long time. Jiang Xiaohe knew then that Ma Zhixian too must have fallen on hard times in recent years, and his heart ached even more.

    After a moment, a man came from the inner courtyard, sallow and thin, wearing pants covered with mending nails. His queue was rolled up on top of his head, caked with mud. At first, Xiaohe was unable to determine if this was his uncle, but after looking for a while, he recognized him. Hot tears flowed from his eyes and he took a deep bow, calling out, "Uncle!" Ma Zhixian was astonished and looked directly at him as he asked, "Are you Xiaohe?" Xiaohe replied sorrowfully, "I am Xiaohe. Uncle, we have not seen each other in ten years!" Ma Zhixian jumped up in elation and took hold of Xiaohe's large, thick hands and said, "Oh my! Have you returned? Good child, you have quite the spirit! I really admire you! Come! Come into the inner courtyard and we'll talk!" He was buzzing with tension as they came to the inner courtyard and he led Jiang Xiaohe inside the house where his wife Li-shi was preparing to cook dinner.

    Li-shi was also thinner, paler and much older than she had looked ten years ago. She had once been a young wife who wore rouge on her face, but now she was bony and yellow, truly half an old woman, her clothes extremely tattered. When she saw her husband bring inside a tall, dark-faced, robust youth, she was very taken aback as well. Ma Zhixian smiled and said, "Look who it is. Do you still recognize him?" Xiaohe took a deep bow and called her "Aunt." Li-shi knew then but was still in shock, saying, "Is it Xiaohe?"

    Ma Zhixian laughed, "Who else could it be? Look what a good man he's become. Who knew that our cousin-in-law would have such a good son?" When he said this, he couldn't help the mournful look on his face and the tears rolling from his eyes. He said to Xiaohe, "Sit! Sit!" Xiaohe sat atop the frayed seat on the couch and wiped his tears, saying, "Uncle, how have you been lately?" Ma Zhixian waved his hand and sighed, "Let's not dwell on it! The countryside has had poor harvests these past few years. If it wasn't a drought, it was a flood. Business in the city is hard to come by. I haven't fired the stove at the smithy for two or three days now, and it's already been a long time since I've had to let all my assistants go, leaving just one apprentice to watch the door for me. I stay at home all day and after dinner, I leave the city for the Gong Farmstead and keep watch for the Juren Gong. It's through this that we are able to have some coarse grains to eat and haven't starved. But these few years, I've been getting sick quite often and spent not a little money on medicine, oh!"

  12. #32
    Senior Member littleli's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    276

    Default

    CHAPTER FIFTEEN

    A steel point engages a multitude; from Ziyang an unfettered man leaves.
    A wicked tiger wounds others; in Northern Sichuan violence erupts.


    After Ma Zhixian sighed, he stretched his head forward and asked in a whisper, "Whom did you acknowledge as your master? Where have you now come from? Did you not meet Ji Guangjie, the old man Bao, and Aluan?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "I met them all!" He then proceeded to tell in great detail most of what had happened to him in the past ten years.

    As he heard this, Ma Zhixian could not help smiling with delight. He held out his thumb in admiration, saying, "You must now be the greatest hero in all of Jianghu! Ever since you left the Qin Mountains with that elderly man, old man Bao and those of the Kunlun School have been constantly troubled, afraid that you would learn the martial arts and come after them for revenge! The old man betrothed Aluan to Ji Guangjie, also so that he could use the grandson of the Xia of Longmen's martial arts to resist you!" Jiang Xiaohe sighed, "I'm not concerned about that now. I dare believe that Bao Zhenfei, the Long Brothers and that Jia Zhiming cannot escape my sword. I will be deliberate in doing this!" Ma Zhixian knit his brow once more and said, "Yet, I urge you not to be too harsh!" Jiang Xiaohe didn't respond to these words, saying only, "I've come today, first to pay you a visit, Uncle, and second to see my mother and my brother Xiaolu." When he said this, he started tearing up.

    Ma Zhixian gave a long sigh and turned to his wife and asked, "You went to see your cousin some days ago. How was she?" Li-shi knit her brow as well and said, "She hasn't recovered from her illness yet! She has terrible coughing fits! Xiaolu doesn't send any letters, and Eldest Dong's business hasn't been very good either. Little Fu and Little Shou are both so very pale and thin!" Ma Zhixian sighed, "Do not be sad, Xiaohe! Your mother remarrying to Eldest Dong was the only thing she could have done. The land and house your father left behind were all taken away by relatives and sold. She was protecting herself from having to live the last ten years in abject poverty, and you could not have learned any skills safely on the outside." Jiang Xiaohe nodded and shed tears of grief.

    Ma Zhixian continued, "Eldest Dong's wool shop was closed five or six years ago. He was not able to find new work, so he shook a drum and wandered the alleys as a peddler. He was able still to eke out enough to eat. That brother of yours, Xiaolu, he must be...twelve or thirteen now? The year before last, they had a merchant from Shanxi take him to learn business in Yishi County in Hedong. I hear he's in the grain trade. The merchant's surname is Qu. One letter did come from them last year, but there haven't been any more since. After your mother joined the Dong household, she gave birth to three children: one died, leaving two, a boy and a girl. The older one is named Fuwa, a girl of eight or nine this year. Your mother was quite well off when she got remarried, but then the days became tougher and tougher. Eldest Dong has a terrible temper, so she was sad every day and came down with consumption. She's been ill for more than two years now, and I doubt you will recognize her when you see her. A fortnight ago, she came here and I told her that you had learned the martial arts! And that you would soon return to Zhenba to seek vengeance. She wept and said that she wanted to see you!"

    Jiang Xiaohe heard Ma Zhixian's words and couldn't help his tears falling like rain, wetting his two sleeves completely. Li-shi wept as well and said, "Your mother is in such a pitiable state! Don't resent your mother for not caring for you these past dozen years or so! It's all because of that old man Bao who's done you both harm! She was married into the Dong Household, but she still often dreamed of your father. She told me that your father's soul was still in the Southern Mountains, yet to be reborn. He often seeks her in her dreams, begging her for some cold rice!" Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but burst into a loud wail.

    Ma Zhixian shed tears as well and hurriedly waved his hand, saying, "That's unbelievable! Could someone really die and still not be reborn twelve years later? Dreams are the imaginings of the mind. Your mother cannot forget about your father grabbing a bite of cold rice to eat at home before he ran away, and so she often dreams of it." Jiang Xiaohe collected himself and stopped his tears, saying, "May I ask, Uncle, if you could find my mother for me? To allow us, mother and son, to meet." Ma Zhixian said to Li-shi, "Quickly, go now when Eldest Dong is not at home and tell Cousin to hurry over!" Li-shi immediately wiped the chaff from her hands and departed at once. Ma Zhixian pulled an earthenware wine pot from under the table and said, "Xiaohe, wait here. I'm going to the Liu wine shop to get some wine on credit, and then we'll drink!" Jiang Xiaohe quickly fished a silver ingot from his side and said, "I have money, Uncle. Use it to buy the wine!" Ma Zhixian received the silver and walked out with the wine pot in hand.

    Jiang Xiaohe stepped outside to the gate and led his horse back into the rear courtyard. He didn't unload his baggage, only pulling from his bundle a stack of banknotes. These notes were still those he had won gambling in Langzhong ten years prior. Because they carried the great mark of the Litong Money Dispensary, they could be used here as well. After waiting a while, Ma Zhixian brought back the wine he'd purchased, along with salt pork and shaobing. He placed them next to the couch and said, "Xiaohe, go ahead and drink! Eat some!" Xiaohe nodded, but he was so nervous about meeting his mother that he hadn't the appetite for anything.

    Ma Zhixian drank wine as he conversed with Jiang Xiaohe, and before long, they heard the sound of a woman weeping outside. It was Li-shi, bringing along Jiang Xiaohe's mother, Huang-shi. Upon seeing Xiaohe, Huang-shi embraced him with both arms and cried so hard she nearly couldn't breathe. She said through coughs, "Child, I never thought I'd see you again! My son! ...I'm so sorry! You shouldn't acknowledge me as your mother anymore! Go and avenge your father! The old man Bao, how cruel that heartless old creature was when he murdered your father! Your brother is studying business in Hedong, poor him! But he knows he has a strong older brother. When your revenge is done, you should hurry to Hedong to see him. You...mustn't concern yourself over me! Don't think of me as your mother anymore. I'm sick and I'll die soon enough! After seeing you today, I can pass away peacefully...!" So saying, she had a coughing fit, spit out a mouthful of phlegm, and gasped urgently for breath.

    Jiang Xiaohe truly could not bear seeing his mother in such a dismal state. He wept for a moment and forced back his tears, following which he spoke kindly, "Mother! This doesn't have to be! I have fifty taels of silver in notes right now and I'm leaving it for you to use to get better. Don't die yet, Mother. You must wait until my brother and I can fulfill our filial duties to you. Vengeance must be taken!" He grit his teeth in anger and handed the fifty taels in banknotes to Ma Zhixian. He then knelt down on the ground and kowtowed one time each to his mother, to Ma Zhixian and to Li-shi. Afterwards, he stood up and walked outside.

    Ma Zhixian chased after him, saying, "Xiaohe, what's the rush? Why don't you speak some more with your mother?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No, I will be back before long!" His face had grown pale, as he led his horse outside with his jaw clenched. Ma Zhixian went after him, calling out, "Xiaohe, I still have some things to tell you!" Jiang Xiaohe mounted his horse, and without looking back, he shook his whip and left. Upon exiting the south gate, he loosed his horse and flew directly to the Bao Homestead at a gallop. There was now not the least bit of sorrow in his heart, but impatience instead. He thought, Even if old man Bao isn't home, that second son of his won't have been able to go far. Bao Zhilin humiliated me excessively back then. When I face him in a short while, I must kill him with a swing of my sword.

    The horse was swift and before he knew it, he entered into the Bao Village. In the last twelve years, Jiang Xiaohe's home village had also changed. A majority of the dwellings had crumbling walls and collapsed structures, displaying a destitution that was difficult to fix. There were two elderly people conversing in front of the gates to his old house, neither of whom he recognized. When he came to the entrance of the Bao House, he saw that its prosperity had also fallen off somewhat from before. Because the training grounds in front of the door had not been tidied for many a day, rainwater had already eroded the plaster, giving it a pockmarked and uneven appearance. The crude door that used to lead to the pigpen had been sealed with brick. The walls of the residence had been built higher, and its double doors were shut tightly. By now, Jiang Xiaohe found it hard to bear down his fury, the blaze in his chest threatening to burst out of his mouth and ignite this house in front of him! He leapt off his horse and drew his sword out with a shink. He walked quickly forward and pounded on the door several times with his fist. A man's voice came from inside, asking, "Who is it?" Jiang Xiaohe replied, "It is I!" The man inside asked again, "Who are you? What's your name?" Jiang Xiaohe answered boldly, "My name is Jiang! Open the door!" The man inside neither said anymore nor opened the door.

    Jiang Xiaohe took a couple steps back and stood a while with sword in hand. Shortly, he saw someone from inside leap on top of the wall. This man was thirty-four or five years, yellow-faced, and wearing white cloth shirt and pants. He raised the Kunlun saber in his hand and directed a question below, "Why have you come here?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I am Jiang Xiaohe. Go and tell Bao Zhenfei to come see me!" The man on the wall's expression changed with alarm as he said, "There is no one at the Bao House. The old master has been away from here for over two months." Jiang Xiaohe asked, "What are you doing here?" The man said, "I am named Zhang Zhicai. I am the eighteenth disciple of Kunlun. I was told to stay here and look after the house." Jiang Xiaohe noticed this man still had some courage in him, so he said, "Fine. Since you're just looking after the house, I have no quarrel with you. Open the door. I want to take a look inside." Zhang Zhicai stood on the wall and held his saber crosswise, sneering, "Don't be lawless, Jiang Xiaohe. You're searching for someone while carrying a sword. That means you are harboring bad thoughts. If I called out for an officer, we could have you arrested and taken to the government office at once. Let me tell you now to leave immediately! With me, Zhang Zhicai, here, you'd best forget about breeching the walls of the Bao House!"

    When Jiang Xiaohe heard these words, his face turned, and with sword in hand, he jumped up onto the wall. Zhang Zhicai brandished his saber and sent a vicious chop at him. Jiang Xiaohe knocked away his opponent's Kunlun saber with his sword and shot his foot up into the air, sending Zhang Zhicai and his saber thumping and clattering onto the ground outside of the walls with a kick. Jiang Xiaohe jumped into the courtyard and heard a woman's high-pitched scream coming from the northern quarters diagonally across from him. Jiang Xiaohe stopped in his tracks and yelled, "Bao Zhilin, come out here! The Young Sir Jiang has arrived!" Jiang Xiaohe heard a whoosh behind him and quickly turned around and swung his sword. A clang rang out as the sword struck the Kunlun saber. Zhang Zhicai had jumped back inside, and thus the two engaged in close combat.

    Zhang Zhicai was a rising talent of the Kunlun School and had put in continuous hard work in recent years. His martial arts now surpassed those of Ge Zhiqiang as well as the Long Brothers. It was thus that he unfolded his saber skill, chopping upward and slicing downward, in a vicious attempt to send Jiang Xiaohe to his death. Jiang Xiaohe was unwilling to harm him and was constantly looking for a way to kick him down again and snatch his saber from him, so he employed his swordwork conservatively and without malice. One could see only glimmers of light as he swept right and blocked right, leaving no openings for Zhang Zhicai's saberwork. However, after five or six exchanges, Jiang Xiaohe became a bit impatient. He swung his sword rapidly and advanced with his body. His first stroke pressed his opponent's saber down, and his second, after tilting his body and pulling back his sword, was a sudden chop downward. His attack came too quickly and Zhang Zhicai had no way to avoid it. His right thigh was instantly wounded by the sword. He tumbled to the ground, bleeding.

    Jiang Xiaohe said, "You cannot blame me for this. It was you who came seeking pain!" Zhang Zhicai grit his teeth, bore down his pain and charged at Jiang Xiaohe again to fight to the bitter end. Jiang Xiaohe sent his foot out again and kicked Zhang Zhicai very far away. Jiang Xiaohe picked the saber up off the ground in passing and flung it onto the roof. He then walked towards Bao Zhilin's quarters, armed with his sword, and shouted angrily, "Get yourself out here, Bao Zhilin!" The woman inside screamed again as if she was being murdered. Jiang Xiaohe stopped walking and took a deep breath, before addressing the room, "The woman inside has nothing to fear. I will not harm you, but you must tell Bao Zhilin to come out. Do you remember how you humiliated me before? Your day has arrived, so come on out!"

    The woman inside said as she wept, "Xiaohe! Please spare him!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "How can I? When I was little, he treated me as if I wasn't a person, worse than a pig, worse than a dog! I must slay him this day!" So saying, he kicked open the door with a crash and burst inside. The woman ran onto the bed in fright, spread her arms out and screamed sharply. A foot was poking out underneath the bed with a satin shoe on. With a yank, Jiang Xiaohe pulled Bao Zhilin out from under the bed. Bao Zhilin trembled in fear from head to toe and cried out incoherently. He said, "Sir Xiaohe! Please spare me! I used to be a bastard and I deserve to die! But I'd never dare anything like that anymore! Oh no, oh no, mercy! Mercy!"

    Jiang Xiaohe had already raised his sword resolutely when he suddenly noticed that though Bao Zhilin's clothes were more elaborate than they had been before, there was a hump on his back. As he crawled upon the floor, he resembled a camel. Against a man as crippled and incapable as this, Jiang Xiaohe was unable to carry out his vicious action and gave him a forceful stomp instead, saying, "Kill you? I would be afraid of befouling my sword!" After being stomped on, Bao Zhilin rubbed his buttocks and moaned ceaselessly. His wife Lü-shi knelt on the bed and bowed over and over to Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Do not be afraid. I will never be so cruel to others, but you remember ten years ago, how harshly the Bao father and son treated me!" From the courtyard, though he was too hurt to walk, Zhang Zhicai was still shouting curses toward the room. His insults infuriated Jiang Xiaohe and he headed out of the room. Just as he stepped outside, he saw another person jumping in off the wall. It was Ma Zhixian.

    Ma Zhixian's head was covered in sweat and he was gasping for breath. He said, "Xiaohe, you mustn't go too far! The only one who killed your father was Bao Zhenfei. It hasn't anything to do with his family. Hurting anyone but him would be excessive!" Jiang Xiaohe breathed heavily in anger, saying, "Of course I will not harm the innocent. If Zhang Zhicai had not stood in my way and tried to kill me with his Kunlun saber, I would not have wounded him!" Ma Zhixian urged Zhang Zhicai to cease his cursing and went inside. Still on the floor, Bao Zhilin kowtowed to Ma Zhixian and implored him, "Brother Ma, please beg him for leniency. Beg your nephew not to kill me. I was in the wrong before. I deserve to die. I dare not do anything like that again!" Jiang Xiaohe lifted his sword and sneered, "How shameful it would be if I killed someone like you! But you must tell me truthfully, by whose hand was my father murdered?" Bao Zhilin said, "I cannot tell you with any certainty. Some say it was Long Zhiqi, but later Long Zhiqi told people that Jiang Zhisheng was killed by old master Bao himself and that it had nothing to do with him."

    Ma Zhixian said, "I believe the old master was very charitable afterward. There's no way he could have killed anyone!" Xiaohe clenched his jaw and said, "Regardless, I cannot allow those two men to live!" So saying, he stomped on Bao Zhilin again and walked outside, fuming.

    By now, the wounded Zhang Zhicai was sitting in the courtyard, still scoffing at Jiang Xiaohe, "The one named Jiang, you cannot be too merciless. If you kill our master, in the future someone will avenge the old man!" Ma Zhixian had followed Jiang Xiaohe outside. He said urgently, "Xiaohe, don't go. I still have some things to say to you. When you meet our master, you can just ask him. You must not—" Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Uncle, leave it. This is not your concern!" So saying, he leapt over the wall. Once outside, he sheathed his sword, mounted his horse and departed.

    When he exited Bao Village, he galloped southward. Before he traveled far, he heard a sound that was extremely delicate and winding. Jiang Xiaohe reined up his horse and turned his head all around. It turned out to be a several girls on a small path amid rice patties behind him, singing a local, popular mountain song. Jiang Xiaohe was dumbfounded, as he turned his body atop his horse for a look. He saw a total of five girls, all dressed in ragged clothes, each hanging a small bamboo basket from her arm. It appeared to Jiang Xiaohe as if Aluan was among them. He gave them a closer look. The five girls were already walking across a makeshift bridge from the small path, tugging on each other, laughing and singing. Some were looking up and some were looking down, but all of them seemed to be quite happy. None of them noticed Jiang Xiaohe sitting on his horse.

    Jiang Xiaohe got off his horse and smiled, saying, "You sing beautifully!" The girls were all startled and turned to look at Xiaohe. Xiaohe smiled and walked his horse closer to them. Two of the girls ran off with their baskets in fright. The remaining three didn't move, but their expressions had turned. Jiang Xiaohe spoke very warmly, "Misses, fear not! I have some questions for you. I am from this village as well." The three girls said, "No, you're not. We don't recognize you." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I am originally a man of Bao Village, returning now after having been away for ten years. Let me ask you, the old man with the white beard of the Bao Household—that is, Bao Kunlun—is he living at home right now? Or has he gone elsewhere?"

    When the young ladies heard mention of Bao Kunlun, they all seemed to get angry. Two of them said, "Who knows? We are not familiar with him!" The one among them who was a bit older said, "Bao Kunlun hasn't been at his home for a while now, along with his granddaughter. He isn't a good person, though his granddaughter is all right." The two beside her pulled on her and told her not to speak ill of Bao Kunlun, as if any criticism of Bao Kunlun would invite immediate disaster.

    Seeing these circumstances, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help thinking angrily to himself, Bao Kunlun must have remained a terrible man in these ten years, and his disciples must still be running wild. A pang of sorrow struck his heart upon hearing mention of Aluan, so he asked, "Bao Kunlun's granddaughter is Bao Aluan, is she not? What did you mean when you said she was all right? Can you tell me?" Jiang Xiaohe smiled at the girls. The girls came together and held onto each others' hands, as if they were still very suspicious of him. They all glared at him with their little eyes and responded no more. Jiang Xiaohe sighed gloomily and looked about him, like he was searching for something. Once again he felt that since he'd gone away a decade ago, not only had the people appeared to be poorer than before, but the scenery had changed as well. He searched for quite a while before catching sight of the large willow tree to the south by the side of the road. Under the setting sun, its leaves and branches were sparse and dreary, looking like a tree of autumn.

    Jiang Xiaohe walked closer with his horse and gave it a careful look. Sure enough, he was right. This was the tree that he had climbed to get Aluan her kite for her. The tree was still so tall, but older and withering. What especially surprised him were a multitude of scars where the tree had been chopped at. It was very clear that these marks had not been made by a woodsman's axe, but by another with a bladed weapon of some sort. He was taken aback. By now, the five girls were walking hand-in-hand in a line by the side of the road, using their eyes to try to slip by Xiaohe, as if they doubted Jiang Xiaohe was a good man. Cautious and vigilant, they were about to run back to the village. Jiang Xiaohe smiled at them again and said to them amiably, "Please don't be afraid! I used to be a child of this village long ago. My name is Jiang Xiaohe. Go back and ask your family. They will likely still remember me."

    Upon hearing Jiang Xiaohe say his name, the girls were suddenly astonished and gave him a closer look. They didn't seem to be much afraid anymore as they approached him and surrounded him and his horse. They looked up at him and asked, "You are Jiang Xiaohe?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "Yes. I left home twelve years ago, and I've just returned now. Most of your fathers are friends that I played together with when I was little." One of the girls jumped up and said, "All the people in the village know you. They say you left the village to look for a someone to teach you martial arts so that you could avenge your father and kill Old Man Bao and Hunchback Bao. They both fear you! That's why Old Man Bao ran away."

    Jiang Xiaohe's heart filled with regret, but he smiled and asked, "Do the villagers say good things about me, or bad?" The girls said, "They all say you're good! They all hope for you to come quickly. Old Man Bao, his son and his disciples are very hateful! They do nothing but bully others!" Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help the righteous indignation rising in his heart, as he thought, So the Bao father and son rely on force to mistreat people. I am not the only one to suffer at their hands. I truly must kill them all, for the sake of ridding a great harm to my hometown. Thus, he was about to return immediately to the Bao Village to kill Bao Zhilin.

    One of the girls said angrily, "The most hateful one is the dark fatty named Long! He's called the Mountain-moving Tiger, and Old Man Bao protects him the most. He comes often and rides his horse all over the place. Last year they beat Chen Decai until he was paralyzed over land sales! And they don't let people talk about it." Another girl said with a frowning, worried face, "My father's leg is lame because of a beating from Second Long. And then when Old Man Bao asked how it happened. My father told him he'd fallen off of a donkey. He didn't dare say it was the one named Long that caused it!"

    Jiang Xiaohe fumed as he stood straighter. After looking into space for a moment, his facial expression paled as he nodded and said, "Go home and tell your parents that without a doubt, I will slay the old man Bao and the Long Brothers to remove this evil for them." He then pointed at the willow and asked, "Who's the one who's been cutting at this tree? Isn't it a good tree to leave for travelers to cool themselves under? Why use a saber to cut it every which way!" The girls said, "It was Old Man Bao's granddaughter, Bao Aluan, that did it. Every day she rides her horse back and forth, and every time she passes this tree, she gives it a chop, and sometimes two or three. She really hates this tree!"

    Upon hearing this, a vein burst in Jiang Xiaohe's head. He thought, Ah! So Aluan has hated me all this time? Not only does she hate me, but she hated this tree and she hated what happened when we were children! Since that's the case, what's the point of my thinking of her? Whether she is dead or alive in the Qin Mountains, I should no longer care. He smiled bitterly to himself and mounted his horse. He gave a nod to the girls and then shook his whip and urged his horse on southward. The girls stood and watched as he departed.

    Jiang Xiaohe rode farther and farther, as the flames of fury burned in his heart and the bitter humors corroded it. The blood red glow of the sunset clouds shone upon him as he turned beyond the corner of a mountain on the road to Ziyang. To get to Ziyang from the mountains of Zhenba required crossing the Ba Mountains, a distance no more than seventy or eighty miles. Jiang Xiaohe could hurry there in one surge were it not for the fact that it was too late in the day. Also, because the sorrow he had tasted today was exceptionally deep and the provocation he'd suffered was excessively severe, his anger had made him lightheaded and his five viscera felt as if they were about to burst open. So he thought, I need be patient today and find a place to cultivate my spirit. Then I'll head to Ziyang tomorrow and end the lives of the three: Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming. And after that, I will continue my search for Bao Kunlun.

    Thus he located an inn in a very small town and walked his horse inside. He untied his baggage and sword and handed his horse over to an attendant to feed. He found a single room, went inside and rested. An attendant brought him a meal and lit his lamp. After Jiang Xiaohe finished his food, he thought the room hot, so he unfastened his chest button. Something abruptly fell from his breast flap. It was the small shoe he'd picked up that day by the mountain stream. He angrily threw it onto the ground and cursed, "Aluan, you thoughtless woman!" He sat fuming on the bed for a while before his mind came back to it. He thought to himself, I am the enemy of her house and she's been without conscience in dealing with me, so should I hate her? That is to say...

    Jiang Xiaohe thought back to the three or four meetings they'd had: once on the Ba Bridge, once in Chang'an, and the last one in the Qin Mountains. The moment he found hardest to forget happened that night. He had entered the cave to rescue her and said to her, "Aluan, come with me, quickly!" She replied, weak and dejected, "Where would I go with you? If it weren't for you, I would not have fallen into this place!" When he then pulled her up, she obeyed him without any resistance. When he carried her across the mountain cliffs and put her on a large boulder, she still seemed amenable when she cried... So how could she be an unkind person! She didn't forget the closeness the two of us felt when we were young. It's nothing but the circumstances that have pushed us here. She cannot do anything about it either...! As he thought this, his hatred of Aluan dissipated completely, replaced by sadness. He suspected that Aluan may not have passed away, that she did not die in the mouth of a wild beast, so he wanted immediately to return to the Qin Mountains and look for her again.

    He sat in a worried daze and stared at the dim lamp on the wall. He could stop a few tears from falling as he thought, There's nothing to be done! She and I do not share a prior destiny. There must have been some sin or debt unpaid in a former life. It matters not whether she is dead or alive. I will simply never marry for as long as I live! He stepped off the bed, picked the small shoe off the floor and studied it in the light. He could see only that it was red satin and elaborately embroidered with flowers. It may happen that it was done by Aluan's own hand. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help feeling adoration and appreciation. But then he thought, This isn't right. A man of character must act with resolution! Not to mention that Aluan is already married to Ji Guangjie. Even if Aluan isn't dead, I cannot take her by force. If she really has died, I must find a way to give this shoe to Ji Guangjie. Thereupon, he tucked the embroidered shoe into his baggage, formed the bundle into a pillow, laid onto the bed, and in short while, he fell asleep.

    On the following day, when he awoke first thing in the morning, Jiang Xiaohe was radiating with energy, and the hatred in his chest surged. He ate a bit of breakfast, packed his baggage, and readied his horse. Then he paid for his lodging, led his horse out and rode along the Chaoyang Roadway. He had previously traveled to Ziyang with the Xia of Langzhong, and so this road was familiar to him. His horse was very swift, and after riding less than three hours, he arrived in Ziyang. He knew that the Long household's Jingyuan Security Office was on the western edge of the city. He went to the southern edge first, found an inn there and went inside. He instructed the innkeeper not to remove the saddle and blanket, just to give it some water. He himself was going to take care of some matters before returning. The innkeeper agreed, and Jiang Xiaohe took out his sword and walked out of the inn. The innkeeper kept a very close eye on him, but Jiang Xiaohe was calm and collected, not at all like he was under any urgency. He left the southern part of town for the western.

    In short time, he arrived at the gates of the Jingyuan Security Office. There was a large bustle outside, with a multitude of stopped wagons and men with the look of security escorts going in and coming out. As Jiang Xiaohe walked inside with his sword at hand, several of the men stood in his way, saying, "Who are you? What's your business here?" Jiang Xiaohe pushed them aside and barged inside. At that moment, he saw a man coming out of the front hall. Jiang Xiaohe recognized him. This man was Jia Zhiming the Wave-shattering Sea Serpent, one of the enemies who had a hand in killing his father. When the Xia of Langzhong came here ten years ago, he was wounded by the Xia of Langzhong's sword. Looking at him now, he could tell his injury had long since healed.

    Jiang Xiaohe jumped forward suddenly and grabbed hold of Jia Zhiming with one hand. With his sword in hand, he spat, "The one named Jia, do you still recognize me?" Jia Zhiming was taken aback and widened his eyes, giving Jiang Xiaohe a careful look. He said, "Ah! Jiang Xiaohe!" By now, those around them had snatched up weapons. Jia Zhiming's face paled from fright and he immediately waved them off. Jiang Xiaohe raised his sword and sneered, "I don't care how many of you come at me. I, Jiang Xiaohe, have no fear. If I had come at night, I wouldn't be much of a hero, but I have come now in the light of day, so you may fight me as you want. However, you must know that I have come only for Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming. It has nothing to do with anyone else. I do not wish to harm anyone with whom I have no animosity, but if you cannot tell the difference between good and bad, and dare take up arms against my sword, then you are but seeking death!"

    These men were all disciples of the Kunlun School and they had not known who this was that had marched in carrying a sword. Upon hearing now that it was Jiang Xiaohe, none dared to advance. They simply fixed their eyes upon him, as if they were trying to figure out the mystery as to why this man had their Kunlun School scared into submission. The color had not returned to Jia Zhiming's face. He stuttered, "S-s-sir...Jiang, do not be hasty. Even if you wish to get your revenge, you must first talk reasonably. I knew the day before last that you were to come and the others all fled. Yet I did not, because I have a clear conscience. Your father Jiang Zhisheng was my brother-disciple. When he broke the rules, old master Bao sent Ma Zhixian to come get the three of us. It was the master's command and I did not dare not to follow it, but I was very uneasy about it. We pursued Jiang Xiaohe into the Northern Mountains, and I swear to the heavens, I did not give him as much as a lash of my whip. When he died, I had even reproached Long Zhiqi, and Long Zhiqi had nearly started a fight with me!"

    Jiang Xiaohe glared at him and said, "So it was Long Zhiqi who struck the blow that killed my father?" Jia Zhiming said, "With things in the state that they are, I might as well give you the entire truth. Injustices have perpetrators and debts have creditors. You must not wound others with abandon. That time..." Jia Zhiming stared into space for a moment and then sighed, "That time, the old master had called for us and commanded us to kill Jiang Zhisheng on sight, but this truly did not sit well with me. We searched for him in the Southern Mountains for several days without finding him. Then late one day we heard Bao Zhilin say, 'Jiang Zhisheng crept back to his home and then snuck away again.' So we looked for him in village after village, but found nothing. On the second day, the old master took the three of us to the Northern Mountains in pursuit of him and we caught up with him. Before the old master could open his mouth to speak, Long Zhiteng gave your father a lash with his whip and Long Zhiqi, in his impatience, with his saber..." At this moment, he suddenly saw the deep-blue face and large beard of Long Zhiteng, as he came through the door, carrying a Kunlun saber and bringing with him a band of men. He pointed viciously at Jia Zhiming and cursed, "Jia Zhiming, you have abandoned all virtue. You are afraid of Jiang Xiaohe and now present yourself as blameless!"

    Jiang Xiaohe released Jia Zhiming, turned around, and swung his sword at Long Zhiteng. Long Zhiteng brandished his saber and engaged him. The men nearby advanced on him as well. Jia Zhiming yelled urgently, "Men, do not jump into the fray! Jiang Xiaohe, go to Northern Sichuan to find Long Zhiqi. Your father was killed by him alone. Our master did not harm him. Injustices have perpetuators and debts have creditors...!" Before he could finish, he watched as Jiang Xiaohe rampaged about like a ferocious tiger caught among a flock of sheep. Several of the men were cut down by him in an instant. His sword flipped up and flew down, and though Long Zhiteng's body was robust as a bear's and his saber skill was exceptional, before they had fought for ten exchanges, he fell to a vicious slice of Jiang Xiaohe's sword. A few of the men shouted, "A life is lost! Do not let the murderer get away!" Jiang Xiaohe fought his way out of the mob, his body following the glimmer of his sword as he charged outside.

    There was a chaotic tumult out on the street now, as men from other security offices and government officers had all come. They all came at Jiang Xiaohe with their weapons to kill him. Jiang Xiaohe could have slain them all without much effort and taken his leave. However, he didn't want to cause more harm than necessary, so right when he came out of the security office gates, he jumped onto a parked mule cart and stepped up onto its cover. The men surrounded the cart and used their long weapons to stab and cut, but Jiang Xiaohe knocked their weapons away with his sword. From the cart cover, he leapt high over the heads of the men and landed on the roof of a building. A few of the men who could jump onto roofs leapt up to try to capture him, but once they drew near, Jiang Xiaohe would parry their weapons with his sword and kick them off the roof with his foot. He kicked four or five of them down in succession, and those that he did kick were then unable to climb back up. Thus, resembling a cougar, Jiang Xiaohe bounded across a great number of roofs and returned to the inn at the southern edge of the city. He dropped off the roof and unhitched his horse from the stable. The innkeeper saw his guest return suddenly by the roof and jumped with alarm, saying, "Oh, oh my! What's going on?" Jiang Xiaohe sheathed his sword and led his horse outside quickly. Once outside, he flew onto his horse and rode directly south. Before riding very far, he began to hear the jumbled sound of hooves behind him. There were ten or more riders chasing after him.

    Jiang Xiaohe looked back and cracked a smile. He whipped his horse into a pressing gallop and the horses behind him were unable to keep up. Jiang Xiaohe continued on a dozen or so miles and came to a small brook. He forded the water atop his horse and when he reached the other side, he dismounted and allowed the horse a drink from the brook, as he stood by and looked to the north. He watched as the other riders hurried gradually nearer. Among them were officers wearing hats with red tassels. Thereafter, Jiang Xiaohe mounted his horse again and rode off. There were rice paddies on either side of a small path. He rode down it three or four miles and entered the verdant and endless Ba Mountains ahead. After a while on the mountain road, he came out of the mountains and into the territory of Northern Sichuan, a land he had previously traveled a decade ago. He had many friends here, but the last time he had come, he was but a child fleeing for his life. Now, he was a strapping man of incredible skill, and thus he boldly urged his horse to travel unhurriedly. His aim was first to go to Langzhong to call on the Xia of Langzhong, though he hoped even more that he would be able to encounter one or two familiar people on the way, so that he could task them with finding out the whereabouts of Bao Kunlun and Long Zhiqi.

    He went west by way of Tongjiang, and every time he traveled through mountain roads, he hung the golden bell that the Xia of Langzhong had given him on his horse. The common bandits in these mountains did not descend the mountain to greet him with wine, nor did they know that he was Jiang Xiaohe, but when they saw that he was a tall man on a large horse, bold in spirit and traveling alone with a sword, they understood that he was a man of skill and dared not come down the mountain to rob him.

    It was the end of summer and the beginning of autumn now in the wide expanse of Northern Sichuan. The weather was still very hot, but the lush trees in the mountains were already starting to turn yellow. Ever since Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong was defeated ten years ago in his fight with Bao Kunlun in Zhenba, he vanished from Jianghu. This being the case, Northern Sichuan no longer had any men who were powerful in the martial arts, and it was as if the place lacked stewardship. The robbers in the mountains increased in number and those who knew a bit of martial arts relied on their strength to bully those weaker in Jianghu, the worst of whom was one named Black Tiger Zhang, who resided in Bazhong. Early on he had learned martial arts from the famed xia in Southern Sichuan, Gao Long the Tiger of Fuzhou, and then later he had encountered the strange xia called the Iron Staff Monk upon Jianghu and learned several days of the iron staff from him. Thereafter he ran unchecked over Jianghu, stopping at nothing, and befriended the bandits of every mountain and the thugs of Jianghu. Thus in six or seven years, he became the "Tyrant of Northern Sichuan." At this moment, however, Northern Sichuan increased its number of brutes by one. It was one of the Three Exemplars of Ziyang: Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger.

    Long Zhiqi was the third disciple of Bao Kunlun and Bao Kunlun's only favored disciple. He, Long Zhiteng and Jia Zhiming jointly opened the Jingyuan Security Office in Ziyang, and in the two decades since, not only did they earn the title, "the Three Exemplars of Ziyang," but they had also made a very large fortune. He and his brother separated their households, and by himself he established a number of estates in each of Zhenba, Hanzhong and Ziyang, so he was now a wealthy man. Besides his wife at home, he had several women in other places, and among them the youngest was only sixteen or seventeen. He kept these matters hidden most severely. Only Jia Zhiming knew a little bit of it. He had once threatened Jia Zhiming with a saber, saying, "If you dare tell any of my business to the master, I will first come for your life!" Thus, he and Jia Zhiming did not get along at all. This time, he had been forced to come to Northern Sichuan by Jiang Xiaohe, and he had brought with him seven or eight hundred taels of silver that had been deposited at the Jingyuan Security Office. He did not wish to return to Ziyang, nor did he even desire to keep any of his women. He wanted to come to Northern Sichuan and find new ones. However, in order to establish himself in Northern Sichuan, he needed to first befriend Black Tiger Zhang. This he did not worry about, for he felt he would be able to make friends by presenting him with money.

    Long Zhiqi arrived in Northern Sichuan more than half a month before Jiang Xiaohe. He was by himself but very ostentatious. He rode a black horse and wore a blue silk shirt and pants, thin to keep cool in the heat, and a black silk headband. He had originally grown a full beard, but he had shaved it clean off now. His dark, fleshy face was bright, but every now and then gloom would envelope it. Those were the times he thought of Jiang Xiaohe. He often scolded himself, "Jiang Xiaohe, that son of a *****! I'm not afraid of some scabby-headed child, but my master surely is, so what can be done? Damn it! Had I known it would be like this, I would have sliced into Jiang Zhisheng a few more times in the Northern Mountains ten years ago!" For the entire journey, he had visited brothels, drank wine and gambled. Whenever he encountered a woman who was at least a little bit pretty, he would leer at her and mutter obscenities. He was nothing but a savage. On this day, he was traveling in a place called Riversnail Ridge. The mountain was deep and the road was circuitous, winding and extremely hard to navigate. At times, he was riding at the top of a cliff with a mountain stream thousands of feet below him.

    On the road, he encountered a mule carriage and two horses. Because it was hot, the carriage screen was drawn up. Long Zhiqi was riding ahead, and when he took a look back, he saw two women riding inside the carriage. On the outer side sat a matronly woman of forty-some years, while on the inner was a beautiful young married woman, wearing pink silk garments with her hair in a cloud bun and two gold earrings hanging from her ears, glimmering as they whirled. Long Zhiqi reined up his horse. The two men escorting the carriage from behind were both wearing officer's uniforms, quick boots, and sabers at their hips. One of them even held a pipe in his mouth. They were having a leisurely conversation with each other and paid little attention to the dark, fat man riding ahead of them. The women inside the carriage called for the driver to let down the muslin screen, but Long Zhiqi kept his two large eyes fixed upon it. Shortly, the carriage drew near and Long Zhiqi cupped his fist once at each of the two officers, saying, "Fellow brothers, I have lost my way. I am headed for Bazhong. Can I travel this way?"

    The two officers together swept their gazes over Long Zhiqi. The one smoking was in his forties. He said, "You could, though you would be going around the long way. What are doing? Are you a security escort?" Long Zhiqi nodded with his large, dark head and said with his brow knit, "What bad luck! Damn it! We were five escorts, traveling from Xi'an to Chengdu, and halfway along the route, I came down with something. The others went on and left me at a decrepit inn in Wanyuan. I laid there for more than ten days and it's my damn luck that I didn't die. Now I must catch up with them. Otherwise, I will be shamed when I return home and lose my livelihood!" The other officer, sallow and slight and in his thirties, laughed, "Fate is not good to you. The season is bad this year in Northern Sichuan. Those who journey in the summer can very easily get sunstroke as well. We have traveled a hundred miles on this trip and already we have seen coffins being carried out of inns in many places."

    Long Zhiqi spit on the ground and rode alongside the two officers, conversing with them about idle matters. After some asking, he was able to find out that the ones riding inside the carriage were the wife and household of the Peng'an county magistrate and that the two men were officers for the county government. They were now coming from Xing'an to take the official's family to his appointment. The two officers seemed as if they had long traversed Jianghu. They were extremely familiar with the lay of the land and were not shaken at coming across a stranger who looked as fierce as Long Zhiqi. They only inquired Long Zhiqi about his background. Long Zhiqi said, "I am an escort from the Lishun Security Office in Xi'an." The old of the officers immediately said, "The Lishun Security Office in Xi'an. Is that not the one operated by Ge Zhiqiang the Iron Hegemon of the Golden Saber and the Silver Whip? Brother, are you a part of the Kunlun School?" Hearing this, Long Zhiqi realized that these officers knew everything. He was taken aback and hurriedly replied vaguely, "That's right, but I am not of the Kunlun School. It would be great if I were. Then those other fellows would not have left me behind." The younger of the officers quickly asked for his name, and Long Zhiqi blurted out, "I am Jiang Xiaohe!" The two men did not seem to find what he said disagreeable. They continued conversing and turned across another mountain ridge shaped like a snail, after which the mule carriage in front and the two horses in back began to gain speed, leaving Long Zhiqi behind.

    As it turned out, the mountain road ahead was extremely narrow, allowing only one carriage to pass on it, or two horses side-by-side. The two officials appeared to have long figured out that Long Zhiqi's manner was suspicious, so they pressed their horses to go faster. This was because they only needed to pass through this treacherous mountain road and then travel a bit further, before they were able to exit the mountain. Above them were sheer cliffs with trees growing out of them, while below was a deep mountain stream upon which misty clouds fluttered. Not even a single bird was present.

    At this moment, Long Zhiqi's cruel heart began to beat, as he urged his horse, clop, clop, to catch up. He said, "Fellow brothers, wait up! Let us ride together, as I do not know the way!" The younger officer rode ahead with the carriage, while the older one humored Long Zhiqi and dropped back to ride alongside him. His horse was on the outer edge of the road and Long Zhiqi rode on the inside. He now had a look of panic on his face, though he still paid Long Zhiqi a smile. He took up his pipe, stuffed it with tobacco and handed it to Long Zhiqi, laughing, "Brother, smoke one why don't you?" Long Zhiqi widened his gaze and gave him an abrupt push with his hand. The officer cried out in terror as he tumbled from his horse down towards the mountain stream. His horse was startled into a stampede. Long Zhiqi's horse began to stampede as well and nearly sent him careering down into the gorge. He immediately jumped off his horse, drew his saber, and caught up with the carriage ahead and with the younger officer.

    The officer dismounted his horse and drew his saber as well, engaging him and saying, "Brave bandit, how dare you rob an official's family!" Long Zhiqi glared and said, "Ha, official's family! Those women are mine!" At this, the two sabers clanged against each other as they entered into battle. Long Zhiqi had a ferocious strength, but the officer's martial arts were by no means weak. The two battled on this steep and narrow road for a dozen or so exchanges when Long Zhiqi's left shoulder sustained one from his opponent's saber. He spun his own saber and reengaged, and after several more exchanges, he hacked into the officer and sent him down into the gorge. His shoulder bled as he noticed the mule carriage had already gone surprisingly far away. Long Zhiqi went back to look for his horse. He then mounted it and gave chase, while shouting, "Driver, you son of a *****, stop the carriage! Do you not value your life?" The carriage promptly came to a stop and the driver jumped off of the carriage. Long Zhiqi caught up with him and brandished the back of his saber, giving the driver two cracks on his lower back. The driver cried out in pain. Long Zhiqi rode to the carriage and tugged open the window screen. The two women inside were pale and frightened out of their wits. Long Zhiqi reached his large hand in, gripped the servant woman, pulled her out and threw her from the carriage. He then reached in again to stroke the hair of the young woman hiding inside. He grinned and said, "Little sister, you belong to me now!" The young woman cried and screamed in fear.

    Long Zhiqi's face soured. He climbed into the carriage from his horse, grabbed hold of the young woman and gave her a vicious punch as he yelled, "You *****! How dare you scream! I am Jiang Xiaohe, a hero of renown throughout the world! If a ***** like you obeys me, then you will receive no mistreatment from me. But if you dare utter a peep, I will have your life!" He popped out of the carriage again and tossed the large bundle that had been on his horse into the carriage. He opened it, pulled a few tabs of silver out and tapped them together, saying, "Take a look, you slattern! I have silver, so you'll never suffer hardship when you're with me. If you want anything, you'll get it. It is much better than being the wife of some magistrate!" He got out of the carriage and cut down the kneeling servant woman begging for her life with his saber. Then, he pinched the driver's ear, pulled him up and threatened him with his saber, saying, "Get back on the carriage! Let's get going! You listen to me. If the horse slows down even a little bit, I'll kill you immediately with this saber!" How could the driver go against him? He called out, "Oh my, oh my," as he complied with Long Zhiqi.

    Long Zhiqi brought his bundle full of silver back to his horse and ripped a strip of cloth from it. He stopped up the bleeding wound on his shoulder and pulled out a purple silk jacket to put on. He impelled the driver to hurry on, putting pressure on him as he rode behind. The young married woman inside the carriage was still sobbing, so Long Zhiqi knocked the carriage window with the back of his saber, threatening, "You are not allowed to cry. Once we get out of these mountains and find an inn, we'll kneel to heaven and earth and get married."

    He rode on, pleased with himself, and though his shoulder hurt, he was cheerful in his heart. He thought, It's so much better going to another province. Back at home, when I visit brothels, I'm afraid of the master finding out, not to mention that I have to watch out for that son of a ***** Jiang Xiaohe! Long Zhiqi began cursing him aloud again, forgetting that he had just pretended to be Jiang Xiaohe. He ranted on and on about Jiang Xiaohe as he swiveled his dark, flesh head back and forth, looking in all directions, afraid that someone up high had caught sight of what he'd just done. Yet the peaks here crossed each other in every which way and the lofty ridges went on forever, so he saw not one person. He noticed a trunk on the roof of the carriage and two pieces of baggage, all tied up with rope. He thought, Hot damn! I may have gained a woman and a fortune today. I've got the Peng'an county magistrate's wife and a trunk that might have a few ingots in it. That son of a ***** Jiang Xiaohe has caused me to come upon this fortune. If he had not forced me away, I would not have come to Northern Sichuan. By now the woman in the carriage was too afraid to weep, and the driver often peeked over at Long Zhiqi, as he quivered while steering the carriage.

    Long Zhiqi was at ease, so he slipped his saber into its scabbard. However, the wound on his shoulder hurt quite a bit and would not stop bleeding. He cursed the officer he'd sent off the cliff with his saber and then cursed at Jiang Xiaohe. With the rumbling of the carriage wheels and the clopping of the horse's hooves, they turned through another snail-shaped mountain road and the road began to open up. Long Zhiqi widened his eyes and threatened the driver and the woman inside the carriage once more. Before they traveled much farther, he spotted a large company of wagons and riders coming from the other direction. Long Zhiqi's expression changed in alarm, and he quickly said to the woman inside the carriage, "Be watchful for your life! If you make so much as one sound, I'll kill you first before I run!" He reined his horse up and then called for the driver to stop the carriage. When the wagons and riders drew near, he could see that it was a caravan of security wagons with a flag that read, "Langzhong." He was taken aback and thought, It would be bad if the Xia of Langzhong is among their number! He examined them and recognized none among the several security escorts. He put on a mournful face and said, "All of you, do not go any further! There is a bandit ahead! My shoulder was cut with a saber, but luckily I was able to flee quickly!" The security escorts became flustered and said, "Bandits? How many in all?" Long Zhiqi said, "Just one, but he's a vicious one. He announced his name, calling himself Jiang Xiaohe." The escorts in front of him all looked ahead. The one who appeared to be the captain, with a dark face, a large beard and a body thicker than Long Zhiqi's, waved his hand at his men and laughed, "It is no worry! Jiang Xiaohe is an old friend of ours. I have not seen him in over ten years, but if he were to see us, there is no way he would not let us pass. I did him a favor a long time ago." So saying, the big-bearded man proceeded past Long Zhiqi with his wagons.

    Long Zhiqi looked back at the wagons to catch sight of another of their flags. On closer inspection, he saw that they belonged to the Fuli Security Office in Langzhong. He couldn't help sucking in a cold breath, thinking, Incredible! Jiang Xiaohe has a reputation in Northern Sichuan and knows a lot of people here. I cannot pretend to be him! He glowered again and spurred the driver to hurry on. As they came to the edge of the mountain a short while later, the driver asked with trepidation, "Good sir! Where shall I take the carriage?" Long Zhiqi did