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The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 18

Chapter 18 – The Three Tests

Guo Jing went towards where the snake noises were coming from. After dozens of steps in the bright moonlight he saw millions of green snakes slithering together as a mass. With them were more than ten men wearing white clothing and carrying long poles herding the snakes.

Guo Jing gulped; he was greatly surprised, “What are those people with so many snakes doing here? Could it be that Western Poison has arrived?” Without regard to his own safety he came closer, snuck behind trees and followed them north. Luckily the men who herded the snakes did not have a high level of martial arts, otherwise he would be detected.

A deaf and mute servant of Huang Yaoshi could be seen in front of the mass, showing the way. They walked on the winding path for several li through the forest and crossed a small hill before finally arriving at a large stretch of grass meadow. To the north of the meadow was a bamboo forest. As soon as they were all on the meadow, the men in white blew their whistles and the snakes stopped with their heads raised high in the air.

Guo Jing knew there must be something in the bamboo groove and he wanted to take a look, but he did not dare to reveal his presence by walking across the meadow. So he stealthily walked to the east and then circled back north, keeping his ears open at all times; but the forest was quiet. He finally arrived and immediately entered the thick green bamboo groove.

Inside the groove there was a small pavilion built from bamboo. Under the bright moonlight Guo Jing could see, written across the pavilion opening, these three characters, ‘Old Jade-Green Pavilion’ [ji cui ting]. On either side hung two couplets: ‘under the shadow of peach blossom the divine sword flew’ [tao hua ying li fei shen jian] and ‘with the jade-colored ocean tide the jade flute arose’ [bi hai chao sheng an yu xiao].

Several bamboo chairs were placed inside the pavilion; the chairs looked rustic and old. In the bright moonlight the bamboo looked no longer green but smooth and shiny yellow. The pavilion was built between two big pine trees. Their trunks and branches spread out looking like dragons lurking in the dark. The trees were several hundred years old. The dark green bamboo surrounding the bamboo pavilion and the trees gave a feeling of serenity and beauty.

Guo Jing looked back and saw that the snakes had arranged themselves in row after row, on the meadow. Only now did he realize that the snakes were not only green but other types of snakes as well: there were rattlesnakes, golden-scaled snakes, black snakes and other kinds of venomous snakes. The snakes kept moving their heads, which made the meadow appear to ripple like ocean waves. The snakes’ tongues flicked in and out of their mouths, looking like tiny dancing chaotic flames.

The snakes’ herders divided the mass to open up a pathway through the middle. Dozens of females dressed in white walked through carrying red lanterns. Several zhang [1 zhang is approximately 10 feet/3 meters] behind them two men walked slowly. The first was wearing a long white satin gown, embroidered with gold thread and held a folding fan in his hand. It was none other than Ouyang Ke.

Arriving at the bamboo groove he said in a loud and clear voice, “Mr. Ouyang from the Western Region pays a visit to the Peach Blossom Island Master Huang.”

“It really is Western Poison,” Guo Jing thought, “No wonder all this pomp and fanfare.” He turned his eyes to the man beside Ouyang Ke. He was big and tall and also wore white clothing, but because the light was coming from behind him, Guo Jing could not see his face clearly.

Those two people stood there waiting. Out from the bamboo grove came two people. Guo Jing’s heart leaped to his throat and he almost called out in alarm; it was none other than Huang Yaoshi holding Huang Rong’s hand coming to welcome the guests.

Ouyang Feng rushed forward and raised his hands in salute. Huang Yaoshi reciprocated by cupping his fists. Ouyang Ke actually knelt down where he was, kowtowed four times and said, “Son-in-law kowtows to the Honorable Father-in-law and wishes Honorable Father-in-law peace and prosperity.”

“Enough!” Huang Yaoshi said, extending his hand to raise him up. Guo Jing could hear clearly what these two people were saying; his heart was in a tumult and he didn’t know what to do.

Ouyang Ke anticipated that Huang Yaoshi would certainly test his martial arts, so he was prepared; even when kowtowing he was fully alert. Suddenly he felt his own right hand moving toward his left hand and pushing it upward. He stumbled and almost fell face down on the ground; only by exerting his internal energy was he finally able to stay standing, but he still staggered. “Aiyo!” he called out. Ouyang Feng immediately stretched the staff in his hand and tapped gently on his nephew’s back. Ouyang Ke took advantage of this force and steadied himself.

Ouyang Feng smiled. “Good!” he said, “Brother Yao [Yao Xiong] (translator’s note: different character, more respectful than Huang Rong’s ‘Jing ge ge’ ‘Brother Jing’), was that your way of greeting your son-in-law at your first meeting ….by making him do a somersault?”

Huang Yaoshi sneered. “Once he helped others bully my blind disciple; another time he frightened her with his snakes. I wanted to see what abilities he possesses.”

Ouyang Feng laughed. “That was a small childish misunderstanding, Brother Yao, please don’t mind him. This child of mine, is he worthy enough to be your precious daughter’s match?” He turned toward Huang Rong to check her out; clucking his tongue in admiration, he continued, “Elder Brother Huang [lao ge], with this beautiful young lady, your life lacks nothing.”

He groped in his pocket and produced a small embroidered box. He opened the box revealing a pigeon-egg sized sphere. The sphere shone brightly in the dark and was dazzling to the eyes. He turned to Huang Rong and smiled, “This is the ‘Rhinoceros Dragon Pill, made from the Western Region’s rarest animal. I further refined it with some other medicinal substances. When you wear it, you won’t be affected by hundreds of types of poison. It is one-of-a-kind in the whole wide world. Later on when you become my nephew’s wife, you need not fear your uncle’s venomous snakes and insects. This ‘Dragon’ pill’s usefulness is not negligible, but it cannot be regarded as the most precious treasure in the world. Your father has traversed the world; what kind of treasures he has not seen? This is only a countryman-from-a-remote-area’s gift of first meeting. I am afraid he would laugh at it.” Then he presented the box to Huang Rong.

Ouyang Feng was an expert at using poison; by giving this precious poison repellent as a dowry he showed his sincerity and was hoping to win Huang Yaoshi’s heart.

Guo Jing saw everything. “Rong’er has always been good to me; she won’t change her mind. Surely she doesn’t want that first meeting gift of yours,” he thought. But unexpectedly he heard Huang Rong say with a smile, “Many thanks to you!” and extended her hand to receive it.

As soon as Ouyang Ke saw Huang Rong’s snow-white skin and face as pretty as a flower his soul had already been bought; now that she was smiling at him, his whole body melted as he thought, “Since her father has given her hand in marriage to me, her attitude towards me is naturally not the same as it was before.” He felt smug. But suddenly something metal flashed towards him. “Not good!” he cried, and immediately bent his body backwards using the ‘Iron Bridge’ [tie ban chiao] stance.

“What are you doing?” Huang Yaoshi scolded. His left sleeve flicked and struck down most of the steel needles shot from Huang Rong’s hand, while with the back of his right hand he pushed her shoulder back.

“Wah!” Huang Rong bawled. “Father, you’d better kill me,” she cried. “I’d rather die than marry this bad thing.” Ouyang Feng thrust the ‘Dragon’ pill into Huang Rong’s hand while his other hand gently fended off Huang Yaoshi’s palm. “Your daughter is just testing my nephew’s martial arts, why are you so serious?” Because he was striking his own daughter, Huang Yaoshi’s palm naturally did not carry a lot of strength. Ouyang Feng’s hand also did not carry a lot of force.

As Ouyang Ke straightened his body, he felt pain in his left chest; he knew he’d been hit by one or two needles. However, he was proud and did not want anyone else to know, so he kept a straight face. But he was embarrassed. “She does not want to marry me after all,” he thought.

Ouyang Feng smiled, “Brother Yao, since our last meeting at Mount Hua, we haven’t seen each other for more than twenty years. Now that you have accepted my nephew’s proposal, should you have some business to complete, your brother will not dare to refuse his assistance.”

“Who dares to provoke you, Old Poison?” Huang Yaoshi replied. “You have stayed in the Western Region for twenty years, what fierce new martial arts have you mastered? Come, let me see.”

As soon as Huang Rong heard her father mention ‘new martial arts’ her interest was piqued. She wiped her tears away and leaned on her father. Her eyes looked closely at Ouyang Feng. She saw a curved black staff in his hand and looked like it was made of steel. The head of the staff resembled a man’s face with its mouth open showing two rows of sharp teeth. The face looked ugly and fearsome. What was more amazing was that there were a couple of silver-scaled snakes slithering up and down the staff.

Ouyang Feng smiled. “I was inferior to you then, and now that I have wasted more than twenty years, I certainly still won’t be your match,” he said. “We’ve become in-laws now. I am thinking of staying on Peach Blossom Island for a few days and asking your advice.”

When Ouyang Feng sent an envoy to propose marriage for his nephew, Huang Yaoshi thought that Ouyang Feng was one of only a handful of people whose martial arts could be compared to his own. Since Ouyang Feng was an educated man, so his nephew must be as well. He knew his daughter was stubborn and strong-willed. If she married just anybody, he was afraid she would bully her husband. Besides, he loathed that Guo kid whom his daughter liked. Ouyang Ke was not only highly educated, but was highly skilled in martial arts as well; not too many young men would hold a candle to him. That was the reason he accepted their proposal. But now as he listened to Ouyang Feng’s sweet mouth, he could not help but feel suspicious. He knew Ouyang Feng was crafty and sly and Ouyang Feng would not easily admit defeat to others in term of martial arts. His Toad Stance had been neutralized by Wang Chongyang’s Solitary Yang Finger; could it be that he had recovered it completely? Huang Yaoshi took out his jade flute and said, “Honored guests who come from afar, Little Brother is going to play a tune to entertain you. Please sit down and listen to this song.”

Ouyang Feng knew Huang Yaoshi was going to play the ‘Jade-Colored Tidal Wave song’ to test his internal strength, so he showed a faint smile and waved his left hand. The thirty-two white-dressed lantern-carrier maidens immediately stepped forward and kneeled before them. Ouyang Feng smiled and said, “Your brother has acquired these thirty-two maidens from various regions in the west. Please accept them as my gift to an old friend. They are trained in singing and dancing even though they come from uncultured places; of course they can’t be compared to Jiangnan’s beautiful maidens.”

“Your Brother does not enjoy this kind of gift very much,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “Since my wife passed away, I regard the world’s beautiful women as dung. I do not dare to accept Brother Feng’s generous gift.”

“What’s the harm in some entertainment to pass the time?” Ouyang Feng laughed.

Huang Rong noticed that these women’s skin was fair and light in color. They were tall in stature and some had blond hair and blue eyes; their noses were high and their eyes deep so they were totally different from the women of the Central Plains. But they were beautiful and had a seductive look that would attract casual onlookers.

Ouyang Feng clapped his hands three times and eight women brought out various musical instruments. They started playing while the other twenty-four women started dancing to the tune. The musical instruments as well as the tune were different from the ones commonly played in the Central Plains and they sounded weird to Huang Rong’s ears. She watched the front row women bend down, turn to the left and then back to the right; their bodies were very supple. The next row did the same as row after row danced in succession, resembling a large snake. After a while each woman spread both hands apart; from the tip of their left hand to the tip of their right hand, their bodies swayed following the tune reminding her of snakes slithering on the ground.

Huang Rong remembered Ouyang Ke’s ‘Spirit Snake Fist’, so she cast a glance towards him only to see that Ouyang Ke was staring intently at her. She hated him deeply and wished that her father had not intercepted her needles. She would find another way of taking his life and even if her father should force her to marry, that person was already dead. It was called the ‘Remove the Firewood from Under the Pot’ tactic. Having had this thought she was happy and a smile broke out on her face. Ouyang Ke saw her sudden smile and thought that she was smiling at him. He was so elated that he momentarily forgot the pain in his chest.

By now the dance movements of the women were getting more intense. Their bodies moved erotically as their hands caressed their own buttocks, then moved upwards to their breasts; then they unfastened their dresses so they showed their upper bodies and posed in various postures.

The men who herded the snakes had closed their eyes tightly; they did not dare to look. Even then their minds were disturbed.

Huang Yaoshi simply smiled, put the flute to his lips, and he started playing a tune. The women’s bodies suddenly shook and their dance movements became chaotic. A few bars later both their music and their dance were following the flute’s sound. Ouyang Feng knew something was amiss; he clapped his hands and a maiden stepped forward carrying an iron zither [zheng]. Ouyang Ke began to feel his heart beating faster. The eight women playing the musical instruments had lost their self-control and followed the flute’s tune. The men in charge of the snakes jumped up and down like crazy men amongst the snakes.

Ouyang Feng played a few notes on his zither producing metallic sounds like an iron horse charging toward the enemy; the complete opposite to the soft murmuring sound of the flute. Huang Yaoshi smiled and said, “Come, come! Let us play a duet.” As soon as the flute left his lips, everyone was released from their hysterical condition.

“Everybody block your ears! Island Master Huang and I will play some music,” Ouyang Feng shouted. The people who came with him knew the song would not be an ordinary one; they immediately grabbed anything, including pieces of their own clothing that could be used to cover their ears. They put layer after layer of cotton and pieces of clothing over their ears; yet they still feared the sound would penetrate that barrier. Ouyang Ke also took out some cotton balls to plug his ears.

“My father plays his flute for your listening enjoyment; this is a big honor for you, yet all of you cover your ears. That is so rude! You come to Peach Blossom Island as guests, yet you dare to insult the host!” Huang Rong mocked.

“Don’t be rude!” Huang Yaoshi scolded her. “The ones who do not dare to listen to my flute actually have more sense. They have learned their lesson … ha … ha … Your uncle’s iron zither skill is considered the best in the world, yet you dare to listen to him? Do you want to test yourself?” Then he took a silk handkerchief from his pocket, tore it in halves and told Huang Rong to cover up her ears with them.

Guo Jing was curious about the world’s best iron zither; he wanted to hear Ouyang Feng’s fierce method, so he came a few steps closer.

Huang Yaoshi turned to Ouyang Feng, “Your snakes cannot cover their ears.” Then he turned his head towards his deaf and mute servant. He made some gestures and the servant nodded his head. The servant then signaled the snakes’ herders to leave by waving his hand. These men had been waiting for an opportunity to get away from that place; as soon as Ouyang Feng nodded his head in approval, they hurriedly drove the snakes away with the deaf and mute servant leading the way.

Ouyang Feng said, “Your Brother’s martial arts are not good enough. I must ask Brother Yao to reduce your strength by thirty percent.” He sat cross-legged on a big rock with the zither on his lap and immediately used his right fingers to pluck some strings.

The original ‘qin zheng’ [a zither from the short-lived Qin dynasty 221-207 BC] produced a sad and shrill tone. This Western Region iron zither produced an even more intensely sorrowful sound. Guo Jing did not understand music, but the zither’s tune affected his feelings. The louder the zither’s sound, the harder his heart beat. The quicker the zither’s tune, the faster his breathing became. His heart was thumping very hard, almost jumping out of his throat. It was an intensely uneasy feeling. After listening a while longer he felt his heart beat intensify and he had to struggle hard to stay conscious. “If this zither keeps getting stronger and stronger, how can I not be killed by its music?” he thought. He immediately retreated a few steps and circulated his ‘chi’ according to the Quanzhen method. After a while he managed to calm his heart and the zither’s music no longer adversely affected him very much.

The zither’s music was getting more intense and in Guo Jing’s mind it resembled the metallic clamor of armored cavalry charging at full speed. The thin tune of the jade flute seemed to ride smoothly in the midst of the clamoring zither’s tune. Guo Jing was trembling; his face was red from heat and he was sweating profusely. Again he quickly circulated his internal energy trying to further calm himself.

Although the zither was loud, it was not able to drown out the flute. Two distinct tunes intermingled, creating an eerie melody. The iron zither screamed like an ape from the Wuxia Gorge [one of the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River] or a ghost’s cry in the dead of the night, while the flute sang like a Phoenix from the Kunlun Mountains or the soft murmur of a woman inside her chamber. One resembled the heartrending cry of a mournful soul, while the other carried the feeling of someone leisurely wandering through the wilderness. One high, the other low; one rushing forward, the other leisurely retreating; neither overpowered the other.

Initially Huang Rong watched as these two played music with smile on her face; but later she saw their expressions were getting serious. Her father stood up and started to walk around while playing his flute. His steps were actually following the ‘Eight Trigrams’ [ba gua]. She knew this was the footwork her father followed when he was cultivating his internal energy; it showed her how fierce the battle was for her father as he was forced to use all his strength. Turning toward Ouyang Feng she did not see anything better. Thick steam was coming from the top of his head as his sleeves fluttered following movements of his hands as he plucked the strings. Gusts of wind blew everywhere. His face looked totally focused on his zither playing; obviously he did not dare to be careless.

In the bamboo groove Guo Jing listened to the music attentively. He was pondering in his heart what these two instruments – the iron zither and the jade flute – had to do with martial arts? They sounded so evil to him; how could the sounds affect other people’s hearts and minds? At first he was too busy circulating his ‘chi’ and calming his heart and mind, but gradually he was able to control himself and follow the flow of flute and zither sounds. A little while later he began to realize that those two sounds were actually battling each other. When one sound was on the offensive, the other took a defensive position. Sometimes one attacked the other furiously, while the other blocked the attack while waiting for a good opportunity to counterattack. It really was no different than a battle between two martial arts masters. After pondering some more it suddenly dawned on him, “That’s right! Island Master Huang is having an internal energy match with Ouyang Feng.” Because he wanted to understand better, he closed his eyes and gave his ears full attention.

He began to hear the two sounds were alternately gaining victory or suffering defeat. Being musically illiterate the sound of the music could not affect his spirits; but he did feel openness in his heart as though he was looking at something bright. His mind wandered back to when Zhou Botong taught him the seventy-two stance ‘Vacant Fist’ whose origins stemmed from the words ‘empty/vacant/open’ and ‘clear/bright’. With his mind fully receptive and uncluttered, he could clearly ‘see’ every detail of the internal energy fight between Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng. True, his internal energy was still inferior to those two experts, but he had improved greatly without even realizing it. Besides, as a spectator, he could see better than those two who were involved in the battle. He’d often wondered why Zhou Botong could not resist the flute’s sound while with inferior internal strength he could. He did not know that Zhou Botong carried heavy guilt in his heart because of what he had done in the past. Therefore it was not purely due to one’s internal energy strength that one could withstand the flute’s sound.

Now Guo Jing heard Ouyang Feng’s zither crushing Huang Yaoshi’s flute with a force as powerful as a thunderbolt. The flute evaded to the east and dodged to the west and as soon as there was a gap in the zither’s tune the flute would counterattack immediately. After a while the zither gradually slowed down, while the flute got more intense. Suddenly Guo Jing remembered the theory behind the ‘Vacant Fist’ which he’d memorized. It said, ‘hard must not last long and soft must not defend long’. He thought, “In not too long the zither will launch a counterattack.” Sure enough, when the flute slowed a little bit, an abrupt clank was heard as the iron zither again assumed the offensive.

Guo Jing had memorized the theory well, but his perception of it was still low. Zhou Botong did not explain the meaning of the words he passed on to Guo Jing so his overall comprehension was perhaps only about ten percent. Now, as he listened to the music battle between Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng, he began to understand who was doing what. It followed the theory he had memorized so well. Inwardly he was delighted. The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contained some very advanced martial arts theories. If it were left to him to dissect the theory, even with someone’s assistance, he would probably spend more than a year trying to understand what it said. But as he listened to the two tunes colliding he kept comparing the battle to the theory. However, he saw some discrepancies between the theory and a real battle situation and he attributed those discrepancies to his own shallow comprehension. For example, there were several occasions where Huang Yaoshi was obviously gaining the upper hand as long as he kept the flute’s tune constant. Then, Ouyang Feng was not able to withstand it. But Ouyang Feng also missed several opportunities to exploit to his advantage. Guo Jing had initially thought they were being modest and had backed off; but as he listened more, that didn’t appear to be the case.

His intelligence might not be high, but after those two people repeatedly made similar mistakes he began to realize that the flute and zither had a lot of holes in their defenses. After listening for a little bit more a thought came into his mind, “Compared to the theory of the ‘Vacant Fist’, their offense and defense have flaws and deficiencies; could it be that the theory passed on by Brother Zhou is better than both Island Master Huang’s and Western Poison’s martial arts?” But then he changed his mind, “Nah! It couldn’t be! If Brother Zhou’s martial arts are really better than Island Master Huang’s, how could those two fight countless battles over fifteen years and he still be stranded inside that cave?”

He racked his brain for a long time without coming to any conclusions; then he heard the flute tune climbing higher and higher until, if it went still higher, Ouyang Feng’s defeat would be decided. But the flute was not able to climb any higher; it had reached its peak. Guo Jing stifled a laugh, “I was really dumb! There is a limit to what one can achieve. Among the desires of the heart, nine out of ten cannot be achieved. I know that if my fist could generate a ten thousand catty force [5000kg / 11,000+lb], I will be able to crush my opponent to dust; but how can my fist develop that ten thousand catty force? Seventh Master often said, ‘Looking at others easily carrying a burden on a pole does not mean we can do the same without breaking our back.’ If merely carrying a burden follows this principle, how much more so do martial arts?”

The sounds of music became increasingly fierce and it sounded like those two were engaged in hand-to-hand combat, or fighting at very close quarters with naked blades. Victory or defeat would be decided very soon. Guo Jing was worried for Huang Yaoshi when he suddenly heard a long and loud whistle coming from the direction of the sea.

Both Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng were startled and the flute and the zither slowed down. The whistle came nearer and nearer. It sounded like someone was on a boat coming towards the island. Ouyang Feng moved his hand and stroked two metallic notes, ‘clank, clank.’ The distant whistle went higher to overpower the zither. Not too long afterwards Huang Yaoshi’s flute joined in. Sometimes the flute was fighting the long whistle and sometimes it tangled with the zither in a close fight. The three distinct sounds were fighting each other.

Guo Jing had played ‘four-people combat’ with Zhou Botong, so he did not have any problems dividing his mind to distinguish between the different sounds. He knew a senior with a very high level of martial arts had arrived.

Soon the person uttering the long whistle had arrived at the forest. The whistle rose high then low. It sometimes sounded like a dragon’s cry or a lion’s roar and sometimes resembled a wolf’s howl or an owl’s cry. Then it sounded like a strong wind blowing through the forest which suddenly turned into a gentle rain showering the flowers. It was constantly changing.

The flute sound was clear and bright, the zither sound was intensely mournful, yet the combination of the three made a mysteriously wonderful sound which did not sound too bad at all. The three different sounds engaged each other in a close fight.

Guo Jing was amazed and could not help exclaiming, “Wonderful!” But once he closed his mouth he realized he had made a big mistake. He scurried away, but it was too late! A green shadow flashed by and Huang Yaoshi was standing in front of him. The three sounds were no longer heard. Huang Yaoshi lowered his head and said, “Good Boy, come with me.”

Guo Jing did not have a choice and meekly greeted, “Island Master Huang.” With the hair on the back of his neck raised he followed Huang Yaoshi back towards the bamboo pavilion.

Huang Rong still had her ears covered with silk, so she did not hear Guo Jing’s exclamation. Now Guo Jing suddenly appeared and she was pleasantly surprised. “Jing ge ge! You have finally come ...” she called out. She was joyful, yet sad at the same time; before she could finish speaking tears were already rolling down her cheeks. She rushed forward and threw herself onto Guo Jing’s chest. Guo Jing opened his arms and embraced her tightly.

Now that Guo Jing had appeared, Ouyang Ke was annoyed; then as he saw how intimate Huang Rong was with Guo Jing and his heart burned hot with hatred. With a gust of wind his fist flew toward Guo Jing’s face. “Stinky kid … you are here too!” he shouted.

He thought his martial arts skill was higher than Guo Jing’s and furthermore, his attack could be considered a sneak attack and Guo Jing was unprepared. Lashing out in hatred, he thought he might break Guo Jing’s nose. Not in his wildest imagination could he know that the Guo Jing now was not the same Guo Jing as when they fought each other at the Baoying Ancestral Hall. Guo Jing saw a fist coming and he leaned to the side to evade; then his left hand launched the ‘Swan Gradually Lands’ [hong jian yu liu] while his right hand launched the ‘Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’; both from the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’.

The ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ were unparalleled in the world; one move was very difficult to withstand, much less two stances at the same time. How could Ouyang Ke face them? Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng were actually standing close-by, but they did not anticipate Guo Jing’s counterattack. Both were startled and were unable to do anything.

Ouyang Ke saw his opponent’s left hand threatening his right side. He knew the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ were very fierce and he could evade but could not parry. Quickly he leaned his body to the left at exactly the same time as Guo Jing’s right hand’s ‘Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’ came in. ‘Crack!’ his upper torso was squarely hit and one of his ribs was broken.

He was aware of the fierceness of his opponent’s attack, so when Guo Jing’s hand arrived he had already focused his internal energy into his chest to protect his heart and lungs against the incoming force. Furthermore, as soon as he was hit he tried to lessen the injury by trying to jump up. The incredible force from Guo Jing’s hand had added to his own energy and sent him flying towards the bamboo pavilion’s roof. He managed to land standing, albeit staggering badly; then slowly slid down. He was terribly embarrassed and his chest hurt badly. He walked back slowly.

Guo Jing’s counterattack had surprised both the Eastern Heretic and the Western Poison and taught Ouyang Ke a lesson he wouldn’t easily forget. It also received Huang Rong’s accolades. She clapped her hands and bounced up and down with great happiness. Guo Jing himself did not realize that his martial arts had improved tremendously. He simply thought that Ouyang Ke was being careless and was caught off guard. He was afraid Ouyang Ke would launch a counterattack, so he withdrew two steps and waited for his opponent with rapt attention.

Ouyang Feng glared angrily at Guo Jing as he called out loudly, “Old Beggar Hong … congratulations on your fine disciple!”

Huang Rong had removed the silk handkerchief from her ears and upon hearing Ouyang Feng’s loud call she knew Hong Qigong had arrived. Truly a savior sent from heaven. She rushed outside the bamboo groove and loudly called, “Shifu! Shifu! [Master]”

Huang Yaoshi was astounded, “Why did Rong’er call the Old Beggar Hong ‘Shifu’?” Right at that moment Hong Qigong appeared with a scarlet wine gourd on his back, a bamboo staff in his right hand, Huang Rong’s hand in his left and smiling broadly as he entered the bamboo groove.

Huang Yaoshi and Hong Qigong greeted each other and exchanged some pleasantries. Then Huang Yaoshi turned to his daughter and asked, “Rong’er, what did you call Qigong?”

“Senior Qigong has taken me as his disciple,” Huang Rong replied.

Huang Yaoshi was delighted. He turned to Hong Qigong saying, “So Brother Qi [Qi Xiong] has accepted my daughter; your brother appreciates that very much. But my daughter is mischievous; I do hope Brother Qi will teach her some lessons.” Speaking thus he raised his hands in respect.

Hong Qigong smiled. “Brother Yao’s martial arts are both broad and profound. This girl won’t be able to learn them all in her lifetime; why would I need to meddle? But since you asked, the reason I took her as my disciple was so that I can eat for free. She prepared a lot of good food for me, so you don’t need to thank me,” he said. Huang Yaoshi and Hong Qigong both laughed heartily.

Huang Rong pointed her finger at Ouyang Ke and said, “Father, this bad man bullied me. If not for Senior Qigong looking after me on your behalf, you wouldn’t have seen Rong’er so soon.”

“Nonsense!” Huang Yaoshi reprimanded her, “How could he bully you for no reason?”

“If you don’t believe me, ask him!” Huang Rong replied. Turning her head towards Ouyang Ke she said, “You have to swear an oath that if you answer my father’s question with even half-a-lie there will come a day when the vipers on your uncle’s staff will bite you.”

Listening to her words Ouyang Feng and Ouyang Ke’s faces changed. Ouyang Feng had spent more than ten years raising the vipers on his staff. They were a mixed-breed of various venomous snakes so their poison was extremely lethal. Ouyang Feng used to punish his rebellious disciples or his enemies with a bite from these snakes. Once the poison entered somebody’s system, the victim would suffer a terrible itch all over, followed by a violent painful death. Ouyang Feng did have the antidote; but after the poison entered one’s body, even if the antidote saved one’s life, one would lose all his martial arts and would live forever as a cripple. Huang Rong of course did not know this; she simply felt that the snakes entwined on Ouyang Feng’s staff were peculiar so she capriciously mentioned them. Who would have thought that she had touched exactly on the main taboo subject of the Western Poison family?

“I dare not answer Honorable Father-in-law’s questions untruthfully,” Ouyang Ke promised.

“You are speaking nonsense again!” Huang Rong spat. “You make me want to slap your ears really hard. Let me ask you this: Did you or did you not see me in Beijing at the Zhao Palace?” Ouyang Ke had a broken rib and his chest had been hit by her steel needle, so the pain was nearly unbearable; but he was too proud to show his weakness in front of others. He gritted his teeth and was able to speak, but the pain was getting worse and resulted in a cold sweat showing on his forehead. Even though he wanted to answer Huang Rong, he did not dare to open his mouth. All he could do was nod in the affirmative.

“At that time you, along with Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu, Liang Ziweng, and Monk Lingzhi, surrounded and bullied me, did you not?” Huang Rong asked again.

Ouyang Ke wanted to defend himself by explaining that he was not a collaborator with those people to bully her; but all he could say was, “I … I did not collaborate with them …” His chest was in so much pain that he could not say another word.

“Very well,” Huang Rong said, “I don’t need your answer; all you need to do is nod or shake your head in reply to my questions. Let me ask you this: Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu, Liang Ziweng, and Monk Lingzhi meant to harm me, did they not?” Ouyang Ke nodded.

“They wanted to capture me, but failed miserably. Then you showed up and went into action, did you not?” Huang Rong asked again. Ouyang Ke had no choice but to nod his head again.

“At that time I was alone inside the Zhao Palace; I had nobody to help me and my situation was precarious. My father did not know my whereabouts, so even had he wanted to rescue me, he would not have been able to. Isn’t that right?” Huang Rong continued. Ouyang Ke knew she was trying to win sympathy from her father and incite her father’s hatred toward him, but what she said was a fact, so he had no choice but to nod his head again.

Huang Rong reached out for her father’s hand and said, “Father, you don’t love Rong’er anymore. If Mother was still alive you wouldn’t treat me like this …” Huang Yaoshi heard her mention his beloved wife and he felt a stab of pain in his heart. He reached out his left arm and hugged her.

Ouyang Feng was smart and he felt something was not right; before Huang Rong could ask another question he interrupted her. “Miss Huang,” he asked, “Those well-known martial arts characters wanted to capture you; but since you have mastered your family’s peerless skills in wushu [kung fu] they could not overcome you, could they?” Huang Rong nodded her head and smiled sweetly. Huang Yaoshi listened to Ouyang Feng praising his family’s martial arts and showed a faint smile.

Turning to Huang Yaoshi, Ouyang Feng said, “Brother Yao, ever since my nephew first saw your daughter his heart was captivated by her beauty and excellent skills. He sent a pigeon to summon me and I came from the White Camel Mountain, thousands of li away, crossed the Central Plains and the sea to Peach Blossom Island to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage. You have considered my haste and, although unworthy, have received me well. Other than Brother Yao, there is no one in this present age that would do such thing.”

“I do not dare to accept such compliments,” Huang Yaoshi smiled. He thought that even with his high position, Ouyang Feng was still willing to travel a long way to see him and he felt honored.

Ouyang Feng then turned to Hong Qigong and said, “Brother Qi, we uncle and nephew admire Peach Blossom Island’s martial arts; but you…how could you belittle us by bullying the juniors? If my nephew had been unfortunate, he could have died from your unique skill of the ‘Steel Needle Rain’.”

Actually, it was Hong Qigong who saved Ouyang Ke from the ‘Steel Needle Rain’ launched by Huang Rong, but now Ouyang Feng had placed the blame on him. He knew Ouyang Ke must have lied to his uncle and his uncle was using that to discredit him. Hong Qigong was an honest, straightforward man and he did not want to argue; he simply laughed a big laugh, unplugged his wine gourd and took a big gulp.

Guo Jing could not keep his patience any longer, “It was Senior Qigong who saved your nephew’s life; how could you say such thing to blame him?”

“Kid, we are still talking, how dare you interrupt?” Huang Yaoshi barked.

“Rong’er, tell him … tell your Father what happened to Miss Cheng,” Guo Jing hastily said.

Huang Rong knew her father’s temperament very well; he was not one who followed customs and traditions. He often said, “What do those customs have to do with us?” His way of thinking was different from the common people of his time. What other people thought to be right, he would consider it wrong; what other people thought to be wrong, he might think it to be right. That was how he earned his title ‘Eastern Heretic.’ Huang Rong thought, “Ouyang Ke’s behavior is really disgusting, but Father might think that he did what any normal romantic young man would do.” She noticed that her father was looking at Guo Jing with fiery eyes so she hastily came up with an idea.

“I am not done with you,” she said turning to Ouyang Ke, “That day when we were having a martial arts contest at the Zhao Palace you tied both your hands behind your back and said that you didn’t need any hands to subdue me, did you not?” Ouyang Ke admitted with a nod of his head.

“Later on after I took Senior Qigong as my master we met again in Baoying,” Huang Rong continued. “You said that no matter what kind of martial arts I used, whether it be from my father or the ones taught by Hong Qigong; you would only use your Uncle’s martial arts to defeat me, didn’t you?” Ouyang Ke thought, “It was your own idea; I did not say such thing.”

Seeing his hesitation Huang Rong quickly continued, “You drew a circle on the ground with your feet and said that if I could get you out of the circle using the martial arts I learned from my father you would admit defeat, didn’t you?” Ouyang Ke nodded again.

Turning to her father Huang Rong said, “Father, did you hear that? He did not have any respect for Hong Qigong and he did not have any respect for you. He said that the martial arts of the two of you are inferior to his uncle’s and even if you two came together you still cannot defeat his uncle. I don’t believe it.”

“The little girl has a long tongue [she’s stretching the truth],” Huang Yaoshi said. “Who among the people under the heavens do not know that Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor and Northern Beggar’s martial arts are like a pound to sixteen ounces? No one is superior to the others.” Although his mouth said those words, he resented Ouyang Ke’s arrogance, but he did not want to discuss this matter anymore. He turned his head to Hong Qigong and asked, “Brother Qi, your presence has brought honor to Peach Blossom Island. I wonder if there is anything I can do for you?”

“I’ve come here to ask you for a favor,” Hong Qigong replied.

Although Hong Qigong loved to joke around, he was an honest and straightforward man, always upholding justice. His martial arts skill was very high, so Huang Yaoshi had always respected him. Huang Yaoshi knew that whatever business Hong Qigong was dealing with, it was always taken care of, if not personally, then with the help of his numerous Beggar Clan members. This time Hong Qigong was asking him for a favor. He was extremely delighted and said, “We have been friends for dozens of years; if Brother Qi has anything to ask, how can your younger brother not oblige?”

“Don’t comply too quickly,” Hong Qigong said, “I am afraid this matter is not easy to manage.”

Huang Yaoshi smiled, “If the matter was easy, Brother Qi wouldn’t think of asking your younger brother.”

Hong Qigong clapped his hands. “That’s right!” he laughed, “That is the sign of a real friendship! You have decided to comply to my request then?”

“Speak up!” Huang Yaoshi said. “Even if it means going through fire or water, I’ll do it.”

Ouyang Feng swung his snake staff and opened his mouth, “Slow down Brother Yao, first we must ask Brother Qi what it is that he wants.”

Hong Qigong laughed. “Old Poison, this matter does not concern you. You are being nosy. You’d better prepare your belly to drink ‘celebratory wine’.” [xi jiu - the term used for wine served at a wedding banquet.]

“Drink ‘celebratory wine’?” Ouyang Feng wondered.

“That’s correct,” Hong Qigong replied, “‘Celebratory wine’.” Pointing to Guo Jing and Huang Rong he continued, “These two are my disciples; I have agreed to ask Brother Yao on their behalf to let them marry each other. Brother Yao has agreed to it.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were both frightened and happy at the same time. They exchanged glances with each other. Ouyang Feng and his nephew, as well as Huang Yaoshi, were startled.

“Brother Qi!” Ouyang Feng said, “You are wrong! Brother Yao’s ‘precious one’ [qian jin - thousand gold’] was betrothed to my nephew earlier. We came to Peach Blossom Island today to deliver the dowry and arrange for the ceremony.”

“Brother Yao,” Hong Qigong asked, “Is that so?”

“I am afraid so,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “Brother Qi, please don’t play jokes on your younger brother.”

Hong Qigong put on a sour face. “Who plays jokes on you?” he said. “You have betrothed your daughter to two families; your family’s reputation is at stake here.” Turning his head to Ouyang Feng he asked, “I am the Guo family’s primary matchmaker, where is yours?”

Ouyang Feng was dumbfounded; he did not expect Hong Qigong to ask him that question. Stammering he tried to answer, “Brother Yao has consented to this marriage, I have also consented; why would we need a matchmaker?”

“Are you aware that there is somebody who has not consented to this arrangement?” Hong Qigong cut him off. “Who?” Ouyang Feng asked.

“Ha ... ha … it’s yours truly, the Old Beggar Hong!” Hong Qigong laughed.

As soon as Ouyang Feng heard this and knowing Hong Qigong’s character to be strong-willed and his conduct to be firm and resolute, he knew a fight was unavoidable; his face did not show even a slight change but he delayed saying anything.

Hong Qigong smiled, “Your nephew’s behavior was improper. How could he be compared to Brother Yao’s beautiful-as-a-flower daughter? If you force them to get married, they will fight over all kinds of things everyday and they might end up killing each other. What good would it do?” Huang Yaoshi listened attentively and his heart was stirred. He looked at Huang Rong, who was gazing lovingly at Guo Jing. Then he looked at Guo Jing. He hated this dumb kid to the core…Guo Jing’s intelligence was questionable; he knew nothing of literature or martial arts or music, chess, calligraphy and painting. He would not be a talented scholar or a gallant knight. Both he and his wife were intelligent people and he knew their only daughter’s brainpower was not far below theirs. If he let this scatterbrain marry his daughter, it would be like throwing a fresh flower into cow dung.

Right now he saw Guo Jing standing alongside Ouyang Ke; he could not help but compare those two. Ouyang Ke’s intelligence and smart appearance was a hundred times better than Guo Jing’s. His mind was set to take this young man as his son-in-law. But Hong Qigong’s face showed he would not easily give up; so he cooked up a scheme and said, “Brother Feng [Feng Xiong], your nephew is injured. You’d better take care of that first; we will discuss this matter further later.”

Ouyang Feng had been worried about his nephew’s condition for a while and was hoping Huang Yaoshi would give them a chance to take care of his injuries. He immediately beckoned his nephew and the two walked back into the bamboo groove. Huang Yaoshi then engaged Hong Qigong in some pleasantries.

In about the time needed to cook some rice later, the uncle and nephew returned to the pavilion. Ouyang Feng had extracted the steel needles from his nephew’s body and mended the broken rib as well.

“My daughter’s posture is as weak as a willow tree; she is stubborn, disobedient and hardly worthy to be a gentleman’s wife. But Brother Qi and Brother Feng have both unexpectedly given me the highest honor by asking her hand in marriage. My daughter was already betrothed to Mr. Ouyang, but Brother Qi’s request is also difficult not to accept. I have an idea and I wonder if you two brothers would tell me if this idea will work or not?” Huang Yaoshi said.

“Say it quickly … say it quickly!” Hong Qigong interrupted. “The Old Beggar doesn’t like listening to your twisting and flowery words.”

Huang Yaoshi smiled faintly. “Brothers, even though this daughter of mine is unworthy, I still hope she will find a good husband,” he continued. “Mr. Ouyang is Brother Feng’s honorable nephew, while Mr. Guo is Brother Qi’s outstanding disciple. Both are very fine gentlemen and it is very difficult to choose one of them. I have no alternative but to come up with a three-subject test and I will betroth my daughter to whoever passes this test. I will not favor either one of them. Will both old friends tell me if this idea is good?”

Ouyang Feng clapped his hands. “Clever! Wonderful!” he called out. “The only thing is, my nephew is injured; if the test involves martial arts then we have to wait until he is fully recovered.” He had seen the fierceness of Guo Jing’s attack that injured his nephew; he knew that if they contended in martial arts his nephew would no doubt lose. So he used his nephew’s injury to their best advantage.

“Certainly,” Huang Yaoshi said. “A martial arts contest would harm the good relationships between two families anyway.”

Hong Qigong thought in his heart, “This is so typical of Old Heretic Huang. We all are Wulin people; if the test involves literary and not martial arts skill, do you expect an ‘academic scholar’ [zhuang yuan] to become your son-in-law? If you come up with music or poetry, even if he was reincarnated, my stupid disciple will not be able to take the test. Your mouth says no favorites, but obviously you totally favor the other side. My stupid disciple will lose for sure. This is confounding! I will fight Old Poison first and talk later.” He looked upwards and laughed hard; then, staring at Ouyang Feng he said, “We are all martial arts practitioners; instead of a contest of martial arts, would you prefer to have an eating contest or defecating race? Your nephew is injured, but you are not. Come … come … come! We will fight in their stead.”

Without waiting for an answer he sent his palm towards Ouyang Feng’s shoulder. Ouyang Feng stepped back several feet. Hong Qigong put his bamboo staff down on a small bamboo table. “Watch out for this!” he shouted. While his words were still hanging in the air both his palms had already moved seven times in rapid succession.

Ouyang Feng dodged to the left and evaded to the right and all seven attacks flew past. His right hand shoved the snake staff into the bricks in front of the pavilion, and in a flash his left hand had also sent seven counterattacks.

Huang Yaoshi cheered, but did not prevent them from fighting. He wanted to watch these two world-class martial arts masters, who were his peers, and see what kind of improvements had they made twenty years after their last meeting.

Both Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were the experts of their respective martial arts schools. They had reached the pinnacle of their martial arts twenty years ago. After the Sword Meet of Mount Hua both had trained hard and improved their skills tremendously. Their skills were incomparable to when they had their meet on Mount Hua and now they meet again on Peach Blossom Island. Each launched swift attacks and counterattacks, but they were actually still probing their opponent’s skills. Both combatants exchanged fast and forceful palms and fists so that the gusts of wind created swayed the bamboo leaves around them. Although they were only testing each other, their moves carried profound martial arts techniques.

On the sideline Guo Jing was watching with full attention; whether it was an attack or a defense, every single move was a wonderful one and beyond his wildest imagination. The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contained the deepest martial arts theory in the world whether it be internal or external energy cultivation, bare hands or swordplay, and other kinds of the most profound martial arts imaginable. After Guo Jing memorized the content by heart and even though he did not understand every single one of them, those theories were actually ingrained in his brain. Now as he watched those two combatants exchanging exquisite moves, those theories came flooding back into his mind, forming a fuzzy shadow in his brain.

Earlier he’d listened to Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng’s flute versus zither battle. That was an invisible internal energy battle and it was extremely difficult to clearly see their relationship to the theory in the manual. This time the battle was fists and kicks and much easier to perceive. In his delight, his heart was itching to try what he had seen.

Very quickly Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng had exchanged more than three hundred stances. Both were surprised at their opponent’s skill and could not help but praise each other in their hearts. On the side-lines Huang Yaoshi looked on with a sigh and thought, “I have trained myself painstakingly on Peach Blossom Island and I thought, after Wang Chongyang passed away, my martial arts would be number one in the world. Who would have thought that the Old Beggar and Old Poison have both taken their own paths and reached these frightfully respectable levels of martial arts?”

Both Ouyang Ke and Huang Rong were deep in their own thoughts and each hoped that their side would gain a quick victory. But they actually could not comprehend the exquisiteness of the martial arts being displayed in front of their eyes. From the corner of her eye Huang Rong saw a black shadow dancing erratically with flailing hands and feet moving constantly. She turned her head and discovered that the shadow was Guo Jing. Guo Jing’s expression was strange and it looked like he was in ecstasy. Her heart skipped a beat. “Jing ge ge!” she called with a low voice.

Guo Jing did not hear her; he was too busy moving his hands and feet. Huang Rong felt anxious, so she watched attentively and discovered that Guo Jing was actually imitating Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng’s movements.

By now those two had changed the way they were fighting; every fist and every kick was sent out slowly. Sometimes they would stand still for a moment, and then send out a fist. After they exchanged one stance, they would sit down on the ground to take a rest; then stand up and exchange another move. In fact, the way they were fighting was slower than two disciples practicing martial arts. But looking at their faces, one could see the seriousness of their expressions, almost to the point of being very tense.

Huang Rong glanced towards her father and saw him looking intently at those two and his face was also unusually tense. Ouyang Ke was the only person around who’d maintained his calmness. He looked at her flirtatiously while lightly waving his folding fan.

Guo Jing saw an unconventional move and he could not restrain from cheering loudly. Ouyang Ke was irritated, “Your dirty kid does not understand anything, what is he shouting about?”

“Just because you don’t understand, how would you know whether or not other people understand?” Huang Rong shot back.

Ouyang Ke laughed, “He’s just flailing his hands and feet foolishly. Given his young age, how would he know the wonder of my uncle’s divine martial arts?”

“You are not him; how would you know what he knows?” Huang Rong replied.

While the two were bickering on the side, Huang Yaoshi and Guo Jing turned a deaf ear on them; they were watching the fight with rapt attention.

By that time both Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were squatting on the ground; one with his left middle finger pointed to his forehead and the other used both hands to cover his ears. Both were thinking very hard with their eyes closed. Suddenly they shouted and simultaneously leapt towards each other; one sent his fist and the other used his leg; then they separated again.

Those two people had reached the level where each and every single one of the martial arts belonging to their own family or school had no flaws whatsoever. However, they both knew that no matter how fierce their stance was, the opponent would easily break it. Therefore, they had to create a new and unknown move in order to gain the upper hand.

After their sword meet twenty years ago, both men, one residing on the Central Plains, the other from the Western Regions, had not met or even heard of the other’s present state, so they did not know how much the other man had improved his martial arts. Now that they were fighting each other, the situation was not much different. Each had his own strengths; each had his own weaknesses and neither could tell who would overcome who. In the meantime the moonlight had faded and one could see a streak of sunlight glowing in the east. Both had racked their brains and had created innumerable new and wonderful moves; fist or palm techniques along with tens of thousands variations thereof, but still, no one could tell which one was better.

Guo Jing witnessed the fight between two top experts of the present age’s martial arts world; wonderful moves and exquisite techniques came one after another. Sometimes he understood, but more often he did not. Sometimes he saw something that was related to the theory taught him by Zhou Botong which made him excited and he wanted to try. But before he could finish half a stance, Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng had already launched new moves and Guo Jing had already forgotten the previous move he was trying to master.

When Huang Rong saw Guo Jing like that, she was alarmed. “I have not seen him for dozens of days; could it be that he’s had some profound martial arts lessons from a divine being?” she thought, “I’m watching the fight and I got confused; how could he exclaim in admiration?” But then another thought came to her mind, “Could it be that this silly brother of mine missed me so much that he went insane?”

She had not seen Guo Jing for quite some time and now that they’ve seen each other again, the situation was not conducive for them to be affectionate. She moved forward, wanting to hold Guo Jing’s hand. Right at that moment Guo Jing was imitating Ouyang Feng’s palm technique; he was turning his body around and launched a palm attack. It looked ordinary, but in actuality it carried enormous hidden energy. Her hand barely touched Guo Jing’s palm when she suddenly felt a surge of incredible energy pushing her. She was sent flying upward.

After touching Huang Rong’s hand, Guo Jing came back to reality. “Aiyo!” he shouted and jumped up to grab Huang Rong’s waist. While falling back down to the ground, Guo Jing’s left hand grabbed the bamboo pavilion’s eave. He swung their bodies and they landed on the roof. The two sat shoulder to shoulder on top of the bamboo pavilion watching the fight on the ground.

By that time the battle situation on the ground had changed again. Ouyang Feng was squatting on the ground with both arms bent at the shoulder, resembling a big frog about to strike at its enemy. His mouth created some deep rumbling noises like a cow mooing; sometimes it was audible and sometimes it wasn’t.

Huang Rong was amused; she smiled and with a low voice asked, “Jing ge ge, what is he doing?”

“I don’t know,” Guo Jing replied. But suddenly he remembered Zhou Botong’s story about Wang Chongyang’s ‘Solitary Yang Finger’ breaking Ouyang Feng’s ‘Toad Stance’. “That must be it!” he exclaimed, “This is his fiercest martial art; it is called the ‘Toad Stance’.”

Huang Rong clapped her hands and laughed, “He does look like a toad!”

Ouyang Ke had observed the two sitting close and leaning toward each other, talking and laughing; his heart was burning with jealousy. He wanted to leap up and fight Guo Jing, but his chest was still hurting and he could not exert any strength. Besides, he did not have any confidence that his martial arts were superior to Guo Jing’s. But hearing Huang Rong say ‘he looks like a toad’ he thought they were ridiculing him and saying that he looked like a dirty toad desiring to eat swan’s meat [a lascivious man lusting after an innocent maiden?]; he was furious. With his right hand holding three hidden projectiles he quietly walked around toward the back of the bamboo pavilion. Gritting his teeth he moved his hand and three silvery streaks flew towards Guo Jing’s chest.

In the meantime Hong Qigong was launching his palms to the front and to the back, busily fighting Ouyang Feng’s ‘Toad Stance’ with his Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms. These two martial arts were the highest skills of each combatant, so the fight was no longer slow and sluggish like it was before. Now it became fierce as the two used their dozens of years of martial arts training trying to gain victory; life or death could be decided in the twinkling of an eye. Guo Jing had learned the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms, but he had not seen his master using this technique before. It sent shivers along his spine to see how wonderful the palm techniques were, with infinite variations in them. It was truly incomparable to the ones he had already mastered. He was completely captivated with what was happening on the ground; why would he expect that someone would sneak in from behind and stealthily attack him?

Huang Rong was not aware that the two fighting on the ground were using their highest martial arts skills; she was still laughing and joking around when she suddenly realized one person was missing from the bamboo pavilion. Her mind immediately went to Ouyang Ke since she was afraid of his craftiness. Her eyes scanned the area, but it was her ears that heard the wind generated by the hidden projectiles coming towards Guo Jing’s back. From the corner of her eye she could see three silvery streaks coming fast. She did not have time to think and immediately threw herself behind Guo Jing’s back. “Puff…puff…puff!” three hidden projectiles landed squarely in her back. She was wearing the ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’ [ruan wei jia] so she was not injured, but she felt some pain nonetheless.

Her hand reached back and grabbed the hidden projectiles. She turned around and smiled sweetly, “You are scratching the itch on my back, aren’t you? Thank you, but I need to give these back to you.”

Ouyang Ke saw how she intercepted the projectiles with her own body to protect Guo Jing and he was more jealous than ever. Hearing what she said he thought she was going to throw the projectiles back his way, so he readied himself. But after a moment he saw Huang Rong holding the projectiles in her hand palm up, as though she was expecting him to take them back from her hand.

Ouyang Ke kicked his left foot and leaped to the bamboo pavilion’s roof. He intended to show off his lightness kungfu and, lightly perched on the edge of the roof, he looked like a white shadow swaying gently in the wind. It was indeed an excellent skill; as elegant as that of a deity.

“Your lightness kungfu is truly wonderful!” Huang Rong exclaimed. She stood up and walked towards him, arm extended with the projectiles in her hand.

Ouyang Ke saw her white complexion and he was mesmerized. Absentmindedly he stretched out his hand to take the projectiles, with the ill intention of rubbing her hand. Suddenly some metallic streaks came his way. He had twice fallen for Huang Rong’s tricks and did not want to repeat it. He somersaulted down from the roof waving his sleeve and parrying an abundance of Huang Rong’s steel needles.

Huang Rong giggled and threw the three silver projectiles to the ground, right in front of the squatting Ouyang Feng.

“NO! Don’t!” Guo Jing shouted in alarm. He grabbed Huang Rong’s waist and jumped down from the roof. Before his feet even touched the ground he heard Huang Yaoshi’s anxious shout, “Brother Feng have mercy!”

Guo Jing felt an earth-shattering force coming his way. Quickly he pushed Huang Rong aside and exerted all his strength to his hands with one of the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms, the ‘Sighting a Dagon in the Fields’ [jian long zai tian].

A loud ‘bang’ was heard as his force collided with Ouyang Feng’s ‘Toad Stance’. As a result he staggered back seven or eight steps. Guo Jing felt blood rising from his chest to his throat. He was alarmed and also afraid Ouyang Feng would send another attack, so he forced himself to move and stood in front of Huang Rong, ready to take another blow. Then he saw Hong Qigong and Huang Yaoshi had already stepped in between them.

“I’m so sorry! I am so ashamed!” Ouyang Feng said as he stood up. “I was not able to retract my force. I hope I did not hurt the young lady, did I?” he called out. Actually Huang Rong was frightened and her beautiful face was pale; but hearing him say such a thing, she put on a bold face and laughed, “With my Father around, how could you hurt me?”

Huang Yaoshi was very anxious; he took her hands and quietly asked, “Do you feel anything different in your body? Quickly breathe in and out a few times.” Huang Rong listened to her father and quietly circulate her ‘chi’ but did not feel anything unusual, so she laughed and shook her head.

Huang Yaoshi was relieved. “Your two uncles are practicing their martial arts just now, what was a little girl like you doing carelessly intervening?” he reprimanded. “Uncle Ouyang’s ‘Toad Stance’ is not a small matter; if he had not shown you mercy, do you think your little life would be spared?”

In order to launch the powerful ‘Toad Stance’, Ouyang Feng had to concentrate all of his strength in the whole of his body. As soon as the opponent attacked, he would be able to counterattack by launching the full power already stored. That was exactly what happened when he was waiting for Hong Qigong to attack; his strength was concentrated, ready to be launched like an arrow on a completely drawn bow. Unexpectedly Huang Rong tossed something at him that he instinctively counterattacked towards her.

When he realized it was Huang Rong he was extremely shocked; but his force had already being released so there was no way he could pull it back. He sighed inwardly, thinking he had created a terrible disaster and that this beautiful flower-of-a-girl would die a violent death at his hands. Moreover he’d heard Huang Yaoshi call out, ‘Brother Feng, have mercy!’ He frantically tried to divert his force, but there simply was not enough time. Then he suddenly felt another force colliding with his. He took this opportunity to retract his force. When he looked carefully, he discovered that the person who rescued Huang Rong was Guo Jing! He secretly admired Hong Qigong, “The Old Beggar is very good; he has succeeded in teaching this young disciple to such a high level of martial arts!”

Huang Yaoshi had seen Guo Jing’s martial arts at Cloud Manor; he thought, “This youngster did not know the height of the sky or the depth of the earth, yet he dared to parry Ouyang Feng’s fierce ‘Toad Stance’. If Ouyang Feng had not seen my face and showed him mercy, his bones would have been shattered.” He did not know that the Guo Jing he met at Cloud Manor was not the same Guo Jing as now. However, he acknowledged that Guo Jing had selflessly saved Huang Rong’s life without any regard for his own safety. His hatred towards him was, for the most part, gone. He thought, “This kid really has a good heart and he really loves Rong’er. I can’t give Rong’er to him, but I can certainly reward him by teaching him something.” The rascal in front of him looked rather stupid and the word ‘foolish’ had stirred up anger in him.

“Old Poison…you are really good!” Hong Qigong called out, “But victory or defeat has not been decided yet; let us fight again!” “Very well!” Ouyang Feng replied, “I will risk my life to accompany a gentleman’s play!”

“I am not a gentleman,” Hong Qigong laughed. “You are risking your life to play with a beggar!” With a jump he was standing in the courtyard again.

Ouyang Feng was about to join him when Huang Yaoshi suddenly lifted his left hand, “Hold it!” he called out, “Brother Qi, Brother Feng, you have fought for more than one thousand moves and you two are equally strong. Today the two of you are Peach Blossom Island’s honored guests; you are entitled to drink several cups of your brother’s own wine. The sword meet at Mount Hua is at hand. At that time not only will you two see who will gain a victory, but your brother, along with the Southern Emperor will be there to practice our martial arts. Why don’t we end today’s contest right now?”

“That’s fine with me!” Ouyang Feng laughed, “If this fight continues, I will be forced to admit defeat very soon anyway.”

Hong Qigong turned back and laughed, “Old Western Poison is crafty; when he said he will admit defeat, he actually means he’s going to win. I don’t believe what he said one bit.”

“Well, then,” Ouyang Feng replied, “Let me ask Brother Qi’s expert opinion again.” Hong Qigong flicked his sleeve and said, “Nothing would be better!”

“I see,” Huang Yaoshi interrupted, “So your arrival on Peach Blossom Island today is actually to show off your martial arts,” he said with a smile.

Hong Qigong roared in laughter. “Brother Yao is right! We came here to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage, not to fight each other.”

“I said earlier that I am going to provide three subjects to test both gentlemen,” Huang Yaoshi continued, “The one that passes the test will be my son-in-law; but the one fails won’t be going home empty handed either.”

“What? Do you have another daughter?” Hong Qigong asked.

Huang Yaoshi smiled, “No, I don’t. Even if I found another wife, I don’t think we want to wait that long do we? Your brother has many other skills: medical, astrology and a lot of other stuff. To the gentleman who fails the test, so long as he does not belittle my shallow knowledge and is willing to learn one particular subject, I will devote my time and teach him with all of my heart so that he won’t leave Peach Blossom Island empty handed.”

Hong Qigong was fully aware of Huang Yaoshi’s abilities; he thought that if Guo Jing could not be his son-in-law but managed to learn just one skill from him, he would gain a lifelong benefit nonetheless. He thought that whatever subjects the tests would be, Guo Jing would undoubtedly suffer a loss and he felt badly for him. Ouyang Feng, noticing Hong Qigong’s reluctance, took the opportunity to say, “Good…let it be that way! Brother Yao has actually accepted my nephew’s proposal, but he honored Brother Qi’s face. So let these two kids be tested. That way it won’t damage our friendship.” Turning towards Ouyang Ke he said, “Later, should you lose, you will only have your own lack of ability to blame and you cannot blame anyone else. We will happily drink Brother Yao’s vintage wine [xi jiu]. If you later have a mind to create other problems, not only will these two seniors not let you off easily, but I myself will not spare you.”

Hong Qigong looked up and burst out in laughter, “Old Poison, you are ninety percent sure that you are going to win. Your speech was actually directed at me and my disciple; what you are saying is ‘be a dear and just admit defeat’.”

Ouyang Feng smiled and said, “Who wins and who loses, how would you know in advance? Even for people of our level, do you think it is easy to claim victory so shamelessly? Brother Yao, please present the subjects of your test.”

Huang Yaoshi had determined to give his daughter to Ouyang Ke, therefore, he had to come up with three subjects that would guarantee victory for Ouyang Ke. But first of all, a man of his stature could not be blatantly one-sided; secondly, he did not want to offend Hong Qigong. But while he was still carefully considering what he was about to say, Hong Qigong opened his mouth, “We all live by our fists and kicks, the test Brother Yao will administer must be related to martial arts. If your subjects are poetry, music, reciting scriptures or painting, then we – master and disciple, will simply admit defeat and take our butts out of here; there’s no need to lose face.”

“Naturally,” Huang Yaoshi assured him, “The first subject is a martial arts competition.” “That won’t do,” Ouyang Feng said, “My nephew is injured at present.”

Huang Yaoshi smiled. “I know that,” he said, “I cannot let two brothers have a martial arts contest on Peach Blossom Island and damage their friendship.”

“They are not going to fight?” Ouyang Feng was baffled. “That’s correct,” Huang Yaoshi answered.

“Ah!” Ouyang Feng smiled, “Then the test giver will try each person’s martial arts?”

Huang Yaoshi shook his head, “No, if I do that, no one can guarantee that I will be fair since I can make my moves heavy or light at will. Brother Feng, you and Brother Qi have reached the pinnacle of your respective martial arts skills and the fight just now was the proof. You have fought for more than a thousand moves, yet nobody knows who gained victory or suffered defeat. Brother Feng, you test Brother Guo, and Brother Qi, you try Brother Ouyang.”

Hong Qigong thought to himself, “This is very fair indeed. Old Heretic Huang is really smart to have thought of this method. Old Beggar would never come up with something like that.” He laughed and said, “This method is not bad! Come…come…come! Let us play!” He beckoned Ouyang Ke.

“Wait!” Huang Yaoshi said, “There are some rules for the game we need to address. Rule number one: Brother Ouyang is injured and he cannot exert any energy; both of them, therefore, will be tested in terms of martial arts, not in terms of strength. Rule number two: The four of you will fight on top of these pine trees,” he pointed to two big pine trees outside the bamboo pavilion, “The junior who falls to the ground first will lose. Rule number three: Brother Feng and Brother Qi, if one of you puts too heavy a pressure on the junior and accidentally injures him, he will lose.”

“Injuring a junior is considered losing?” Hong Qigong mused.

“Certainly,” Huang Yaoshi explained, “The two of you have such high skills, so if I didn’t have this rule, should you put forth a heavy hand, do you think the junior will live? Brother Qi, if you even scratch Brother Ouyang’s skin, you lose. The same goes for Brother Feng. Of these two juniors, one will be my son-in-law; how can they be injured by your hands?”

Hong Qigong scratched his head and laughed, “Old Heretic Huang is quite strange and really lives up to his reputation. Injuring an opponent will be considered a loss; this strange rule has never been heard of in thousands of years. Fine! As long as it is fair, the Old Beggar will comply.”

Huang Yaoshi gave a hand signal and the four of them jumped up into the pine trees, forming two parties. Hong Qigong and Ouyang Ke were in the right tree and Ouyang Feng and Guo Jing in the left. Hong Qigong still had an amused look on his face, while the other three looked serious, almost tense.

Huang Rong knew Ouyang Ke’s martial arts were actually higher than Guo Jing’s, but luckily he was injured. However, the competition on top of the pine trees relies heavily on lightness kungfu, in which Ouyang Ke obviously had some advantages over Guo Jing. She was unable to avoid feeling anxious. In the meantime she heard her father’s loud and clear voice, “I will count to three, then you can start. Brother Ouyang, Brother Guo, whoever falls to the ground first will lose!”

Huang Rong thought of helping Guo Jing somehow, but Ouyang Feng’s martial arts were very high; how could she fight him with her present abilities?

Huang Yaoshi had started counting, “One…two…three!” Four shadows danced on top of the pine trees; they had begun.

Huang Rong’s gaze never left Guo Jing and saw him fight more than ten stances against Ouyang Feng in the blink of an eye. Both Huang Rong and Huang Yaoshi were secretly surprised, “How did his martial arts suddenly improve by leaps and bounds? He’s managed to fight this many moves without showing any signs of losing.”

Ouyang Feng was anxious, so he gradually increased his strength bit by bit. But he was afraid to injure Guo Jing. Suddenly an idea came into his mind and his legs rotated like a wheel, trying to sweep Guo Jing from the pine tree. Guo Jing used the ‘Flying Dragon Soaring Through the Heavens’ [fei long zai tian] from his Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms; he repeatedly leaped high with both palms hacking down like knives trying to hit his opponent’s legs.

Huang Rong’s heart was thumping madly. She turned her gaze toward Hong Qigong only to see his fight taking a different path. Ouyang Ke was using his lightness kungfu and leaped to the east and dodged to the west; he did not want to engage with even half of Hong Qigong’s moves. Hong Qigong was compelled to chase him, but Ouyang Ke kept running around. Hong Qigong thought, “This stinky creature is cunning and he is trying to buy time. Guo Jing is a dumb kid; he actually fights the Old Poison. If he keeps it up, he will certainly fall to the ground first. Humph! Little rapist! Do you think the Old Beggar cannot fold you under my arm?” Suddenly he leaped high into the air and with fingers like two steel claws he struck towards Ouyang Ke’s head.

Ouyang Ke saw that this incoming force was swift and fierce; it was certainly not a contest type attack but was intended to take his life. He was shocked and hastily tried to flee to the right. Unbeknownst to him, Hong Qigong’s attack was a feint. Hong Qigong had anticipated this movement and as soon as Ouyang Ke turned right, Hong Qigong bent over mid-air and flew to the right. His hands came fast towards Ouyang Ke and he shouted clearly, “I don’t care if I lose; today I am going to kill you stinky kid.”

Ouyang Ke was startled because Hong Qigong was able to turn his body in mid-air; he was frightened and froze for a moment after hearing Hong Qigong’s shout. He did not dare to parry this attack, so he frantically stepped back onto empty air. He fell down from the tree with this thought in his mind, “I’ve lost the first test!” Suddenly he heard a rustling noise beside him as Guo Jing also fell down from the tree next to him.

After fighting Guo Jing for quite a while, Ouyang Feng lost patience, “If I let this kid fight me for another fifty moves, how can I maintain the Western Poison’s pride?” he thought. Suddenly a wicked thought came into his mind. His left hand moved lightning fast towards Guo Jing’s neck while shouting loudly, “Down you go!”

Guo Jing ducked this attack and lifted his left hand and tried to parry with the back of his hand. But Ouyang Feng suddenly put more force into his hand. “You … you …” Guo Jing stammered. He was going to say, “You don’t follow Huang Yaoshi’s rules?” but was not able to say it because he was forced to use all his energy to withstand this attack. Ouyang Feng smiled and coldly said, “I what?” and put even more force into his hand.

Guo Jing tried to get a strong foothold for fear that he might be internally injured by this ‘Toad Stance’ force. Who could have imagined that the tremendous force pushing him down would suddenly disappear? It was fortunate for him that his skills had improved; if not, he wouldn’t have been able to withstand Ouyang Feng’s force which suddenly got stronger, then suddenly disappeared. Luckily it was similar to the seventy-two moves of the ‘Vacant Fist’ he learned from Zhou Botong, in which a hard force contained softness in it. If not for this knowledge he would’ve been injured just like when he fought Huang Yaoshi at Cloud Manor and his hand was caught and broken. Nevertheless, he lost his balance and was thrown down from the tree head first.

Ouyang Ke fell down right side up, while Guo Jing fell upside down and both men saw the ground approaching fast. Seeing Guo Jing falling beside him Ouyang Ke had an idea; he stretched his hands toward Guo Jing’s legs. He wanted to use Guo Jing as a stepping stone, so he would be able to jump back up while Guo Jing would certainly fall faster to the ground. Or so he thought.

Huang Rong noticed Guo Jing’s precarious situation and called out, “Aiyo!” But incredibly it was Guo Jing who she saw jumping back up into the tree while, with a loud crash, Ouyang Ke was hitting the ground. Guo Jing landed on a tree branch out of breath and panting hard.

Huang Rong was extremely delighted. She did not see clearly how it happened or how, at the critical moment, Guo Jing was able to turn defeat into victory, but she was delighted nonetheless and was unable to restrain herself from crying out, “Aiyo!” But those two ‘aiyos’ carried entirely different emotions.

By that time Ouyang Feng and Hong Qigong had already come down from the trees. Hong Qigong was laughing hard and repeatedly uttered, “Wonderful! Wonderful!” Ouyang Feng’s face was green with anger. “Brother Qi,” he said gloomily, “Your smart disciple’s martial arts are so diverse as to even include Mongolian wrestling skills.”

Hong Qigong laughed and said, “I don’t know how to wrestle, so it wasn’t me who taught him. You can’t blame me.”

What really happened was: as Guo Jing was pushed down by Ouyang Ke, he fell faster. He saw Ouyang Ke’s legs flying up right in front of him. He did not have time to think. In that critical moment he instinctively stretched out both arms to grab Ouyang Ke’s calves and pulled himself up by twisting his body from the upside-down position to the upright one. It was precisely a wrestling technique the Mongolians used.

The Mongolians had trained and perfected their wrestling techniques for generations; they were considered one of the best. Guo Jing grew up on the Mongolian steppes and before he even learned martial arts from the Six Freaks of Jiangnan he had played and wrestled everyday with Tolui and his friends. Mongolian wrestling was to him as natural as eating rice. He was slow by nature and he was falling down fast; even though he knew Mongolian wrestling techniques he would not have had enough time to think. He didn’t consciously think: “Oh, a pair of legs, nice! Hey, why don’t I use those legs to jump back up into the tree?” It happened so fast so that even after he managed to land on his feet on a tree branch he did not know what had happened! And so he won against all odds. Huang Yaoshi shook his head slightly and thought, “This Guo Jing is a slow-witted kid. This victory is obviously due to sheer luck.” He gave his decision, “The first test was won by Worthy Nephew Guo [Guo Xianzhi]. Please do not to worry Brother Feng, you have taught your honorable nephew well. Who knows, maybe he will score victories in the second and third tests.”

“Brother Yao, please present the second test,” Ouyang Feng replied.

“The second test will be …” Huang Yaoshi started, but before he could finish Huang Rong cut him off, “Father, you are obviously being one-sided. Just a moment ago you said you would only test their martial arts skill, how come you want to test with other subjects? Jing ge ge, you might as well admit defeat and leave.”

“What do you know?” Huang Yaoshi said, “After reaching a certain level of martial arts skills, do you still want to fight everyday? Yes, we are martial arts people; but unlike ordinary military people, we don’t live day after day for martial arts alone. Also, we don’t amuse ourselves by jousting to find a spouse …” After listening to this part, Huang Rong stole a glance at Guo Jing. Guo Jing was also looking at her. They were thinking of the same thing: Mu Nianci and Yang Kang, who met each other in the capital by ‘jousting to find a spouse’. In the meantime Huang Yaoshi continued his speech, “… My second test subject therefore is to ask these two nephews to listen to this old man playing a tune on my flute.”

Ouyang Ke was ecstatic; he thought, “What does this stupid kid know about wind or string instruments? The victory is mine for sure.”

Ouyang Feng on the other hand was not so sure. He suspected that Huang Yaoshi was going to test these two peoples’ internal energy strength with the flute’s sound. He knew Guo Jing’s level of internal energy to be quite strong and his nephew would not necessarily exceed him. Also, he was afraid his nephew would be internally injured by Huang Yaoshi’s flute sound. He said, “The Juniors’ internal energy cultivation is shallow and I am afraid they won’t be able to listen to Brother Yao’s elegant melody. I wonder if Brother Yao would consider …”

Huang Yaoshi did not give him a chance to finish, “My song is an ordinary one without any high level of internal energy. Brother Feng, set your heart at ease.” Towards Ouyang Ke and Guo Jing he said, “Nephews, please take a bamboo stick and follow my music by tapping it to the rhythm. The one who can follow best will win the second test.”

Guo Jing stepped forward and cupped his hands, “Island Master Huang, disciple is very slow and stupid. I know nothing about music, so let me admit defeat in the second test.”

“Don’t be hasty…don’t be hasty,” Hong Qigong intervened, “At worst you will lose, so why don’t you try? Are you afraid that others will laugh in your face?”

Guo Jing thought his master made some sense; seeing Ouyang Ke take a bamboo stick he did the same.

“Brother Qi, Brother Feng,” Huang Yaoshi smiled, “Younger brother will show off his lack of ability.” Lifting the jade flute to his lips he started to blow. This part of his song did not carry any internal energy and it wasn’t any different than what an ordinary person would play.

Ouyang Ke listened attentively, trying to follow the rhythm; then he started tapping his bamboo stick correctly. Guo Jing did not have a clue, so he held his bamboo stick high in the air but did not dare tap it. It was only after Huang Yaoshi had played for about the time needed to drink a cup of tea, he began to move his stick.

The Ouyangs, uncle and nephew, were very smug. They thought that this time victory was guaranteed. Since the third subject would be literary, they were ninety percent sure they would win.

Huang Rong was feeling anxious so she lightly tapped her right hand finger on her left knuckles with the hope Guo Jing would follow. Who would have thought that Guo Jing would sit staring blankly at the sky, lost in thought; obviously he did not see her signal.

Huang Yaoshi kept blowing the flute. Guo Jing raised his hand and struck the bamboo stick in between two beats of the music. Ouyang Ke stifled a laugh, thinking that this stupid kid strikes on the wrong beat. Guo Jing struck again, still in between two music beats. He had struck four times with his bamboo stick, all in the wrong places.

Huang Rong shook her head in dismay, “My stupid brother does not understand anything about music,” she thought, “Father shouldn’t have tested him.” Having had this thought, she racked her brain, trying to find a way to disrupt the test. But when she turned her gaze toward her father she was surprised; her father was showing astonishment in his face. She heard Guo Jing tap several more times and the flute sound suddenly became a little bit slow, but then it immediately resumed its original tempo.

Guo Jing kept tapping his bamboo stick, always on the off-beat: sometimes tapping faster, sometimes slower. He drove the tempo faster, and sometimes slower. On several occasions the music from the flute almost could not maintain its steady rhythm and was nearly forced to follow the bamboo stick’s erratic tempo. Huang Yaoshi was not the only one who was astounded; Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng also felt something strange was happening.

Actually Guo Jing remembered listening to the battle between the three people earlier: the flute, the zither and the whistle. He noticed that the sounds fought each other systematically, like a battle strategy in war. He did not have the slightest degree of comprehension about music theory, but listening to Huang Yaoshi’s flute he wanted to try to battle that sound and thus he struck the bamboo stick erratically to disrupt the melody. He tapped the bamboo stick against an old bamboo tree, creating a loud ‘bonk, bonk’ sound. The sound made Huang Yaoshi feel like he was inside a hot furnace and the fire was glowing white hot, forcing the flute to surrender and follow the erratic tempo of the bamboo stick. Huang Yaoshi’s spirits were roused as he thought about this kid unexpectedly possessing this kind of ability. The flute sound changed again; this time it flowed faster and slower seemingly having infinite variations. Ouyang Ke only stopped to listen for a moment, then he could not resist lifting his bamboo stick and brandishing it erratically in the air. Ouyang Feng heaved a sigh, quickly took his nephew’s hand, and pressed the main artery on his wrist. Then he took out a silk handkerchief, tore it into two pieces and plugged Ouyang Ke’s ears. After a while Ouyang Ke started to calm down and Ouyang Feng let his hand go.

Since her childhood Huang Rong had listened to her father’s ‘Jade-Colored Tidal Wave Song’; one time Huang Yaoshi even explained, in detail, every variation there was. The father and daughter’s minds were like one so this song did not affect her at all, but she was fully aware that her father’s flute carried enormous power. Therefore, she was worried that Guo Jing would not be able to defend himself.

This song simulated the vastness of the ocean with its thousands of waves, coming slowly from afar, and then crashing on the shores. The wave was foamy white and high as a mountain; but in the tide the fish leaped and the whale floated, while above the water seagulls flew. In a moment the water turned wild, like a group of devils was stirring it; the weather turned cold and icebergs came floating by. In another moment it turned hot, extremely hot, so that the sea was rippling and bubbling like boiling water. The next moment, just as quickly, the sea became calm and the surface was as smooth as a mirror. The water flowed strongly, yet quietly; but beneath the surface there was a very strong current threatening those who were unwittingly brave enough to enter and challenge its power. Such were the complexities of the song.

Guo Jing sat cross-legged on the ground as he exerted the Quanzhen Sect’s internal energy to suppress the turmoil in his heart and refresh his spirit, all the while resisting the temptation of the flute’s sound. At the same time he kept tapping the bamboo stick disrupting the flute’s song.

When Huang Yaoshi, Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were battling each other with sounds earlier, they were on the offensive and defensive alternately. They had to guard their own hearts and minds while looking for an opportunity to launch a counterattack; each trying to subdue the other’s hearts and minds. Guo Jing’s internal energy was much inferior to those three; he was only able to put up a strong defense, without being able to launch a counterattack. But Huang Yaoshi was not able to penetrate his defense either.

After a long while, the volume of the flute gradually decreased, making it difficult to hear. Guo Jing stopped tapping to listen. This was the moment Huang Yaoshi was waiting for; unexpectedly, as the sound became softer, the stronger the energy it carried. Because Guo Jing was listening attentively, his heart began to follow the rhythm of the flute. Had this happened to someone else, they would fall into the trap and would not be able to escape; but Guo Jing was different. He had learned the ‘Left/Right Mutual Hands Combat’ and he was capable of dividing his mind. He used his left hand to take the shoe from his left foot to knock on the bamboo pole. “Knock! Knock! Knock!” again, disrupting the flute’s sound.

Huang Yaoshi was startled, “This kid possesses some extraordinary skills; he truly cannot be underestimated.” He started to walk around according to the ‘Eight Trigrams’ while he continued playing.

Both of Guo Jing’s hands were striking the bamboo pole with an erratic tempo opposing the flute’s rhythm. His hands were like two people joining forces to defend against Huang Yaoshi’s attack. “Bonk…bonk…bonk! Knock…knock…knock!” His defensive power was doubled.

Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were quietly focusing their attention and energy guarding themselves against the internal energy battle between these two people. Even though one party was only on the defensive, they did not dare to carelessly ignore the offensive energy from the flute.

The flute sound suddenly ran from high to low; ever changing, strange yet wonderful. Guo Jing suddenly felt a burst of cold air carried by the flute’s sound. He felt like his body was wrapped in a thick layer of ice, which had him shivering violently.

The flute sound gently climbed up the hill, getting more and more intense. Guo Jing felt cold to his bones. He struggled hard to divert his mind and to think about a burning sun in the sky, or of touching iron exposed to the heat of the day, or of holding a burning coal in his hand, or that he was entering a very hot stove; in short, any kind of heat inducing thoughts. He succeeded. Huang Yaoshi saw Guo Jing’s left side was blue and shivering from the cold, while his right side was red, sweltering from the heat.

Huang Yaoshi was inwardly amazed. Once again he changed the flute’s sound: now winter had passed and summer came around. Guo Jing struggled hard to resist, but his clapping tempo began to follow the flute’s rhythm. Huang Yaoshi said in his heart, “If this kid keeps on resisting like this – even though he is still young, he won’t be able to withstand hot and cold successively and he will suffer a severe illness in the future.” The flute sound became graceful, dispersing into the forest then stopped.

Guo Jing exhaled a long breath, stood up, staggered and nearly fell again to the ground. Only after taking several deep breaths did he manage to steady himself. He knew Huang Yaoshi was showing mercy; so he stepped forward, bowed and thanked him. “Thank you very much for showing mercy, Island Master Huang,” he said, “Disciple is very grateful.”

Huang Rong noticed Guo Jing’s left hand was still holding his shoe and could not stifled a laugh, “Jing ge ge, put your shoe back on,” she said.

“Yes,” Guo Jing replied, and put the shoe back on his left foot.

A thought suddenly came into Huang Yaoshi’s mind, “This kid is so young, yet his martial arts are actually quite profound. Could it be that he is just pretending to be a fool, but is in reality a very intelligent person? If that’s the case, what would hinder me if I wanted to give my daughter to him?” A faint smile appeared on his face and he said, “You are very good, why do you still call me Island Master Huang?” What he was saying was, that since Guo Jing had won two out of three tests then Guo Jing should call him ‘Father-in-law’.

Who would have thought that Guo Jing really did not have a clue as to what he was talking about, so he only stammered, “I … I …” his eyes looked at Huang Rong; asking for help. Huang Rong was in seventh heaven; she bent her right thumb, signaling Guo Jing he should kowtow. Guo Jing understood this signal, so he bent his knees and kowtowed four times to Huang Yaoshi, but he still did not open his mouth to speak.

Huang Yaoshi smiled and asked, “What do you kowtow to me for?” “Rong’er told me to,” Guo Jing answered honestly.

Huang Yaoshi sighed silently, “A dumb kid is a dumb kid,” he thought. Extending his hand he took the silk handkerchiefs from Ouyang Ke’s ears, and gave his decision. “Regarding internal energy, Nephew Guo is stronger; but my test subject was music knowledge, in which Nephew Ouyang is much better … Let’s just say that the second test was a draw. I am going to present the third subject and let the two Nephews decide victory or defeat.”

Ouyang Feng knew his nephew had lost, but he did not expect Huang Yaoshi would do him a favor, so he quickly replied, “True, true! Let them compete one more time.”

Hong Qigong was upset but didn’t say anything, he thought, “The girl is your daughter and others can’t meddle. You want to give her to that rotten playboy. I’ve always wanted to fight you, but right now it is difficult for my two fists to fight your four hands. Wait until I ask Emperor Duan to help me. Then we’ll see …”

Huang Yaoshi produced a thin book with a red silk cover from his bosom and said, “My wife and I only had this one daughter. Unfortunately she died prematurely. Today Brother Feng and Brother Qi are both here to ask her hand in marriage. If my wife were here, I am sure she would be very delighted …” Listening to her father speak, Huang Rong’s eyes turned red. Huang Yaoshi continued, “This book was written by my wife the same year she passed away. It was the fruit of her hard work. I am going to let both Nephews read it and then recite it from memory. Whoever manages to recite the most will be betrothed to my daughter.” He caught sight of Hong Qigong with a slight cold smile on his face, but he continued on, “Actually, Nephew Guo has won by one subject, but this book has impacted my life tremendously since my wife died because of it. Now I silently wish her soul in heaven will personally choose our son- in-law and that she will bless the Nephew that wins.”

Hong Qigong could no longer maintain his patience. He shouted loudly and clearly, “Old Heretic Huang! Who wants to listen to your sentimental ghost story? You know perfectly well that my disciple is a dummy and does not know books or poetry, yet you insist on testing him on that very subject. Then you frighten him with talk of your dead young wife. You are shameless!” He brushed his long sleeve and turned his body to walk away.

Huang Yaoshi sneered, “Brother Qi, if you came to Peach Blossom Island to flaunt your power, you still need to practice for several more years,” he said coldly.

Hong Qigong stopped dead in his tracks, “What?” he raised his eyebrows, “You want to fight me?” he asked.

“You don’t understand the ‘Five Elements Strange Gates’ [wu xing chi men…referring to the maze-like pathways on the island] techniques,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “Don’t even think of leaving this island alive without my permission.”

Hong Qigong was angry, “I am going to burn down your smelly trees and flower bushes!” “If you have the ability, go ahead and try!” Huang Yaoshi coldly challenged.

Guo Jing knew those two were about to fight and he also knew that Peach Blossom Island was not to be trifled with; he was afraid his master would fall into a trap on the island. He quickly stepped forward and said, “Island Master Huang, Shifu, let this disciple and big brother Ouyang compete in this book memorization contest. Disciple is really stupid; if I lose, I lose.” But in his heart he was thinking, “I’ll wait until Shifu is safe, then Rong’er and I will jump into the sea and swim as far as our strength will take us. Then we will die together in the sea.”

“Great!” Hong Qigong said mockingly, “You just can’t wait to lose face, can you? Be my guest, then! Be my guest.” His thought was, ‘if you are going to lose anyway, why compete?’ He intended to take his disciples along and walk away to the seashore, snatch a boat and sail away from the island. Who would have thought that this stupid disciple of his would not act according to the circumstance? He had no alternatives but to concede.

“Be a good girl and sit quietly. Don’t get any weird ideas,” Huang Yaoshi told his daughter.

Huang Rong did not say anything, but she expected Guo Jing would fail this next test. Her father said that he would let her deceased mother pick their son-in-law; that meant the previous two tests Guo Jing had won did not count at all. Of the three tests, Guo Jing had obviously won the second one, so the decision that it was a draw was hard to accept. In short, she believed that the reason her father insisted on administering the third test was so that Ouyang Ke would win. She started to cook up an escape plan as to how she would get Guo Jing off the island.

Huang Yaoshi told Ouyang Ke and Guo Jing to sit side by side on a big rock; then he presented the book in front of them. Ouyang Ke saw the cover was written in seal characters [the ones found on official documents] with the six characters, ‘Nine Yin Manual’ [jiu yin zhen jing]; he was ecstatic. “The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is the world’s most profound martial arts manual; Father-in-law must be very fond of me to let me read this wonderful book.” Guo Jing, on the other hand, also saw the six characters but had no idea what they were; he thought, “He intentionally wants to make things difficult for me. How would I know those kinds of curving-tadpole characters? In any case I am going to admit defeat.”

Huang Yaoshi opened the cover and the book was actually written in normal characters. The handwriting was graceful and obviously written by a female hand. Guo Jing started to read and his heart skipped a beat. The first line read, “The way of Heaven: A simple fix is not enough to repair damage; it truly is an empty victory, insufficient for a real one.” It was exactly like a sentence Zhou Botong told him to memorize. He looked further down and to his surprise, the sentences were the ones he already knew by heart.

Huang Yaoshi waited a moment, and when he thought the two had finished, he flipped the page. On the second page the words and phrases were slightly out of order, and further into the book, the sentences were becoming more confusing and the characters looked soft and weak.

Guo Jing’s heart was shaken again as he recalled Zhou Botong’s story of how Madame Huang had re-written the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ from memory and how it drained her emotionally and physically so that she died while giving birth to her child. This book was obviously the one she wrote before she died. “Could it be that what Big Brother Zhou taught me was the ‘Nine Yin Manual’?” he wondered in his heart. “No. It can’t be. The second volume of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ was lost by Mei Chaofeng; where did he get it from?”

Huang Yaoshi saw him staring blankly, lost in thought and even looking dazed. He did not pay any further attention and slowly turned the pages one by one. At first Ouyang Ke was able to memorize what was written, but later on when it got to the training methods the sentences were garbled and there was no clear relationship between the previous and the next ones. Further into the book, even the characters were unclear. His heart sank and he could not help sighing inwardly, “It seems he is still unwilling to show me the real full- text Manual.” But then he had another thought, “Even though I can’t see the full Manual, compared to this dumb kid I am sure I have memorized more of the text. With this test my victory has been decided.” Having had this thought he felt smug and could not help but cast a glance towards Huang Rong.

Huang Rong caught his glance and she stuck her tongue out while making an ugly face. “Brother Ouyang,” she said, “You captured Sister Mu and put her inside the coffin at the ancestral temple. You suffocated her to death. She came into my dreams last night; her hair was disheveled, her face covered with blood and she told me she is looking for you; she wants to take your life.”

Ouyang Ke had forgotten about her long ago and now, out of the blue, Huang Rong mentioned her name; he was startled, “Aiyo! I forgot to get her out of there!” He thought in his heart, “It’s a pity a young girl like her died of suffocation.” But then he noticed Huang Rong was smiling; apparently she was joking. “How did you know she was in the coffin? Did you rescue her?” he asked.

Ouyang Feng knew Huang Rong was trying to muddle his nephew’s mind, so that he would not be able to remember the text. “Ke’er,” he said, “Don’t bother with other matters; just concentrate on the book.” Ouyang Ke shivered. “Yes,” he said; and quickly turned his eyes back to the book.

Guo Jing noticed that the sentences in the book were nearly the same as the ones Zhou Botong taught him. The ones in his memory had even more integrity than the ones in this book. This book contained many holes, incomplete sentences and missing words, in it. He raised his head and looked up at the tree branches, trying to make some sense out of it all.

A little while later Huang Yaoshi turned the last page. “Who will recite first?” he asked.

Ouyang Ke thought, “This book is confusing and very difficult to memorize. I’d better recite it while it is still fresh in my memory.” Snatching the opportunity he said, “I will.”

Huang Yaoshi nodded his head, then to Guo Jing he said, “Please go to the bamboo groove over there. You cannot listen to him reciting.”

Guo Jing obeyed him and walked a few dozen steps towards the bamboo groove. Huang Rong saw this as a good opportunity for them to escape together, so she quietly walked towards him. Huang Yaoshi suddenly called out, “Rong’er, come here! You have to listen to them recite, otherwise you’ll say I am one-sided.”

“You are one-sided,” Huang Rong replied, “You don’t need other people to say that.” “That’s nonsense!” Huang Yaoshi laughed, “Come here!”

With her mouth Huang Rong silently said, “I don’t want to come,” but she knew her father’s temperament very well; once he’d decided to keep her under his watchful eyes, it would be even more difficult for her to escape. Slowly she walked back towards them, giving Ouyang Ke her sweetest smile and said, “Brother Ouyang, what’s so good about me that you like me so much?”

Ouyang Ke’s heart melted and his vision blurred. Grinning widely he replied, “Little sister, you … you …” he could say no more than that.

“Don’t go back to the West too soon,” Huang Rong added, “Stay on Peach Blossom Island for several days. The west is very cold, isn’t it?”

“The west is much bigger than you think. There are some cold regions, no doubt, but other parts are warm and sunny, much like the south (Jiangnan),” Ouyang Ke replied. “I don’t believe you,” Huang Rong smiled, “You love to deceive people.”

Ouyang Ke was about to debate with her, but Ouyang Feng coldly said, “Child, you can chat again later; right now you need to recite the book.”

Ouyang Ke was startled; he realized that Huang Rong’s conversation was intended to confuse him, and indeed he had now forgotten many characters from the confusing parts. He therefore refocused his attention and slowly recited the book. “The way of Heaven: A simple fix is not enough to repair damage; it truly is an empty victory, insufficient for a real one ...”

His memory was quite good; he managed to remember most of the theory in the front part, but towards the latter part of the book – where the training methods were explained, he missed a lot. It was not surprising actually, since Madame Huang did not know martial arts and it was some time later that she re-wrote the book from memory, so the words were unknowingly jumbled. Ouyang Ke only managed to recall about ten percent of this latter part. All the while Huang Rong kept trying to divert his attention by saying, “Not right! You remembered wrong!” He could not even remember ten percent towards the end of the book.

Huang Yaoshi smiled and said, “You remembered that much and that was very good!” Raising his voice he called out, “Nephew Guo, it’s your turn to recite.”

Guo Jing walked back and, seeing the smug expression on Ouyang Ke’s face, he thought, “This man is really smart, he only read it once, yet he can still recite this mumbo-jumbo text. I don’t have that capability, so I’d better recite the ones Big Brother Zhou taught me. If it is incorrect, oh well ... I don’t have any choice.”

Hong Qigong said, “Stupid kid, they intentionally want to make fools out of us; they planned it all.”

Huang Rong suddenly kicked the ground and leaped to the top of the bamboo pavilion. With a flick of her hand she pointed a dagger at her own chest and said, “Father, if you insist on my going to the West with that stinky boy, I will die right here right now in your presence.”

Huang Yaoshi knew his precious daughter would do what she said so he called out, “Put that dagger down! We can talk it over.”

Ouyang Feng thrust his staff onto the ground and with a humming sound something flew from the staff straight towards Huang Rong. The hidden projectile was very fast; before Huang Rong could see what it was, she’d already heard a clanking sound and the dagger flew from her hand, falling to the ground. At the same time Huang Yaoshi leaped to the roof, stretched his hand, grabbed his daughter’s shoulder and softly said, “It’s all right if you don’t want to get married. You can stay on Peach Blossom Island and accompany your father for the rest of your life.”

Huang Rong flailed her arms and legs, crying, “Father, you don’t love Rong’er! You don’t love Rong’er!”

Hong Qigong was amused to see Huang Yaoshi, who roamed the lakes and the sea fearlessly, who killed people without batting an eye, was actually having trouble controlling his own daughter. He could not help laughing very hard.

Ouyang Feng thought, “I will wait for the final decision and then I’ll take care of this Old Beggar and that boy surnamed Guo. We’ll sort out the other things later. If this girl acts like a spoiled brat, what do I care?” Therefore he said, “Nephew Guo’s martial arts skill is excellent; he is a real young hero. His intelligence must be excellent as well. Brother Yao, you’d better ask him to recite.”

“Exactly!” Huang Yaoshi said, “Rong’er, if you keep babbling you will disturb Nephew Guo’s concentration.” Huang Rong closed her mouth immediately.

Ouyang Feng wanted to humiliate Guo Jing very much. “Nephew Guo, please start reciting. We are going to listen respectfully,” he urged.

Guo Jing’s face reddened as he thought, “I can’t do it; I’d better recite what Big Brother Zhou taught me.” Thereupon he started reciting, “The way of Heaven: A simple fix is not enough to repair damage; it truly is an empty victory, insufficient for a real one ...” He had recited the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ from beginning to end hundreds of times before; by now it was deeply imbedded in his brain. He recited slowly but steadily with no hesitation at all.

About half a page later everybody was stunned and they thought, “This kid seems slow and dim-witted, who would have known that he is actually very smart.”

Very soon Guo Jing had reached the fourth page. Hong Qigong and Huang Rong knew very well that Guo Jing did not have that kind of intelligence and they did not know what had possessed him, but they were extremely and pleasantly surprised.

Huang Yaoshi listened attentively and compared every word with the ones in the book. He discovered that Guo Jing’s sentences were ten times more logical; firmly resembling the original text that he remembered. His heart turned cold and he unknowingly broke into a cold sweat. “Could it be that my deceased wife’s spirit in the underworld is so smart that she managed to recall the full text and passed it on to this boy?” The words kept coming out of Guo Jing’s mouth like trickling water. Huang Yaoshi was beginning to be convinced that his wife’s spirit was helping this youngster; he looked up to the sky and softly muttered, “A Heng, A Heng, you loved me so much that you have used this boy’s mouth to impart the manual to me. But why don’t you let me have a glimpse of you? I’ve played my flute every night for you; did you hear it?”

‘A Heng’ was Madame Huang’s nickname and nobody else but him knew this; naturally no one else knew what he was talking about. They saw that his face looked different; his eyes were glazed with tears, his mouth quivered but nothing came out of it; they were puzzled.

After being in that dazed condition for a while Huang Yaoshi suddenly had another thought. He waved his hand to stop Guo Jing. His face was as cold as if there was a layer of frost on it; fiercely he asked, “The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ that Mei Chaofeng lost, where did you find it?”

Guo Jing saw his eyes had a murderous look and he was really frightened. “Disciple really does not know Mei … Senior Mei’s Manual’s whereabouts. If I did, I will gladly help retrieve it and return it to the Island Master.”

Huang Yaoshi looked at him with his penetrating gaze yet did not see even the slightest bit of deceitfulness on Guo Jing’s face. He was compelled to believe it was his late wife from the underworld who’d taught Guo Jing; he felt joy and grief at the same time. With a loud and clear voice he gave his verdict, “Very well. Brother Qi, Brother Feng, it was my deceased wife who chose our son-in-law; your brother does not have anything else to say. Child, I betroth Rong’er to you. Treat her well. I have spoiled Rong’er badly, so you need to yield thirty percent of the time.”

Huang Rong was ecstatic and she grinned from ear to ear, “I am a completely well-behaved girl; who said I am spoiled badly?”

Guo Jing might be stupid, he might be slow, but this time he did not need Huang Rong to prompt him; he immediately kneeled down and kowtowed, “Father-in-law!”

He had not yet stood back up when Ouyang Ke suddenly called out, “Hold on!”