-->

The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 23

Chapter 23 – Big Trouble in the Imperial Palace

Hong Qigong, Zhou Botong, Huang Rong and Guo Jing took a small boat to the west. Guo Jing rowed at the stern, while Huang Rong continuously pestered Zhou Botong with questions about riding sharks on the sea. Zhou Botong devised ways of catching sharks to amuse Huang Rong.

Guo Jing, observing his master’s pale complexion, asked “Master, what are you thinking about?” Hong Qigong did not reply as he hoarsely took small breaths again and again. The strike he received from Ouyang Feng had penetrated to the bone. Although the acupoint had already been unsealed, the internal injury had actually worsened. Huang Rong fed him nine ‘Nine Flower Jade Dew Pills’. Although the pain lessened somewhat, his breathing was just as bad as before. The Old Urchin, with complete disregard for the suffering of others, continued to make a ruckus and shouted that they must catch a shark. Huang Rong knew his behavior was inappropriate and tried signaling him with her eyes to be quite and not disturb Hong Qigong.

Zhou Botong, not understanding in the least, simply continued to cause a disturbance. Huang Rong frowned and said, “You want to catch sharks, but you don’t have any bait to attract them, so what are you going on about?”

The Old Urchin never acted like a respected senior. When juniors drink and swear in front of him, he’s never offended in the least. He suddenly said, “Got it! Brother Guo, I’ll hold your hands while you dip the lower half of your body into the sea.”

Guo Jing respected his sworn brother and even though he did not know his intentions, he quickly agreed. Huang Rong, just as quickly, called out, “Jing ge ge! Don’t listen to him! He wants to use you as bait to catch sharks.”

Zhou Botong clapped his hands and shouted happily, “Exactly! When a shark comes, I’ll immediately whack it and pull it up! Or you could hold my hands and I’ll attract the sharks.” Huang Rong replied, “You two are causing so much trouble on this small boat and if it capsizes, we’ll have you to blame!”

Zhou Botong replied, “If the boat capsizes, that will be great! Then we can all play in the sea!”

Huang Rong replied, “And what about our Master? Do you want him to live or not?”

Zhou Botong held his head, at a loss for words. After a short time, he said that it was strange that Hong Qigong should be injured by Ouyang Feng’s attack. Huang Rong shouted, “If you talk nonsense again, the three of us will not speak to you for three days and three nights!” Zhou Botong stuck out his tongue but did not dare to say another word. He grabbed an oar to help Guo Jing with the rowing.

Although land appeared to be close by, it was already dusk by the time they finally disembarked. That night the four of them slept on the sandy beach. The next morning, Hong Qigong’s illness had worsened considerably and Guo Jing began to cry.

Hong Qigong said with a smile, “Even if I were to live for another hundred years, I’d still have to die in the end. Good child, I only have one wish left. Using this old beggar’s last breath, I would ask that the three of you do something for me.”

Huang Rong replied tearfully, “Master, please tell us.”

Zhou Botong interrupted, “That ‘Old Poison’ is a disgrace. Because of him old Senior is at the point of death. Before he died, my martial brother had to fake his death because of Old Poison. One person had to die twice…isn’t he satisfied? Old Beggar, you go right ahead and die and don’t worry about a thing. I will go and kill him to get revenge for you.”

Hong Qigong replied with a smile, “Avenging a grievance cannot be considered a final wish. What I want is to eat a bowl of minced ‘Five- Treasures Mandarin Duck’ from the Imperial Palace kitchen.” Which of the three would have thought that his final wish was for food? Huang Rong replied, “Master, that’s easy. Since we’re not far from Lin’an so I’ll go steal several large pots from the Imperial Palace so that you can eat to your heart’s content.”

Zhou Botong interrupted again, “I also want to eat.”

Huang Rong gave him a displeased look and replied, “Do you also understand how to differentiate between good and bad food?”

Hong Qigong said, “The minced ‘Five-Treasures Mandarin Duck’ is hard to come by. Back in the day I hid in the Imperial Palace for three months and only managed to try a tiny bit. Just recalling the flavor is enough to make one drool.”

Zhou Botong said, “I have an idea, We’ll grab the old emperor’s chef and make him prepare it.”

Huang Rong replied, “Old Urchin, that’s not a bad idea.” Hearing Huang Rong supporting him, Zhou Botong was very pleased with himself.

Hong Qigong, shaking his head in disapproval, replied, “Not a chance. To make flavorful minced ‘Five-Treasures Mandarin Duck’, the kitchen implements, charcoal fire, and dishes must form a complete set. If even one is missing, the taste will be off. We still need to go to the Imperial Palace.” Seeing that the three still had some misgivings, he said “It will be quite superb and if we go, you will all gain valuable experience.”

Guo Jing immediately placed Hong Qigong on his back and set off to the north. Upon reaching a small town, Huang Rong sold some of her jewelry for cash and purchased a small mule cart to allow Hong Qigong to relax and recover from his injury. Eventually they passed the Qiangtang River and arrived at the outskirts of Lin’an Prefecture where they watched a vast misty sunset and heard the intermittent cawing of a crow. By nightfall they still had not reached the city and were forced to seek lodgings for the night. Looking around, they saw only a small village of several households near the riverbank. Huang Rong spoke out, “This village looks good. We can rest here.” Zhou Botong replied sullenly, “What’s so good about it?”

Huang Rong replied, “Take a look…doesn’t this scenery sort of look like a painting?”

Zhou Botong replied, “How does it resemble a painting then?” Huang Rong stared blankly, having difficulty coming up with a response. Zhou Botong said, “That painting must be very ugly. Unless it is similar to the ‘Old Urchin’s’ paintings, I’m afraid it must be inferior.”

Huang Rong said with a smile, “Heaven has the ability to create a landscape, just like the ‘Old Urchin’s’ random scribbling of a painting.”

Zhou Botong, extremely pleased with himself, replied, “Are you certain? If you don’t believe it, then I’ll make a painting right now and you can ask Heaven to look.”

Huang Rong replied, “Of course I believe it, but you’ve already said that this place is not good enough so don’t rest here…but us three will stay.”

Zhou Botong replied, “If the three of you won’t go on, why on earth would I want to?”

In the midst of this chatter, they arrived at the village. The village center looked very desolate and dilapidated, with only a wine shop banner hanging off a pole at the eastern corner of the village near what sort of looked like the village inn. They arrived in front of the inn and saw two tables under the eaves, on top of which lay an extremely thick layer of dust.

Zhou Botong yelled “Hey!” loudly several times and a young girl of indeterminate age with disheveled hair and clothing came out. She opened her eyes and gave the three a blank, lifeless stare. Huang Rong ordered wine and food, but the girl only shook her head continuously.

Zhou Botong said, “You have neither wine nor food here…what kind of shop are you running?” The girl shook her head and replied, “I don’t know.” Zhou Botong replied, “Ai, you really are a silly girl.”

The girl grinned and laughed, saying, “That’s right, I’m called Sha Gu [silly girl /aunt].”

The three of them laughed and understood. Huang Rong went to take a look at the interior and the kitchen. She found them dust and cobweb covered along with a few pots and other old things. On a bed was a torn mat. One couldn’t help but feel sympathy and sadness. She went back outside and inquired, “Is it just you living here?”

Sha Gu smiled and nodded. Huang Rong asked again, “What about your mother?”

Sha Gu replied, “Dead!” and wiped her hands across her eyes in imitation of somebody grieving.

Huang Rong asked again, “What about your father?”

Sha Gu shook her head, indicating she didn’t know. They noticed that her face and hands were filthy and her long fingernails filled with black crud. Who knew how long it had been since she’d washed her face and hands.

Huang Rong said sadly, “Even if she did cook, we wouldn’t be able to eat it.” She asked, “Do you have any rice?”

Sha Gu smiled and nodded, producing half a jar of unpolished rice. Huang Rong immediately washed the rice and began preparing the meal. Guo Jing went to the west side of the village and bought two fish and a chicken. By the time everything was prepared it was already dark. Huang Rong brought out the food, placed it on one of the tables, and searched for an oil lamp. Sha Gu again shook her head, indicating there was none.

Huang Rong took some firewood and lit a fire in the furnace. Then she tried to find some bowls and chopsticks in the cupboard. She opened the cupboard’s door and a foul stench attacked her nose. She held a burning piece of wood and saw there were about seven or eight shabby bowls. Inside and around the bowls were dozens of dead insects of all kinds. Guo Jing helped her fetch the bowls.

“Wash them thoroughly and then get some small branches to use as chopsticks,” Huang Rong said. Guo Jing mumbled his compliance and took the bowls outside.

Huang Rong reached out to pick up the last bowl and immediately felt a difference. This bowl was cold, colder than a regular porcelain bowl. She tried to pick it up, but the bowl would not budge, as though it was attached to the cupboard. Huang Rong was astonished. She was afraid she might break the bowl, so she did not dare use too much strength. She tried it one more time but the bowl still refused to move. “Could it be that it has been there so long that the dirt made the bowl stick to the cupboard?” she wondered. She took a closer look and saw that the bowl was covered with many layers of rust. It was an iron bowl.

Huang Rong let out a soft laugh and thought, “I have seen rice bowls made of gold, silver and jade, but I have never ever heard of a rice bowl made of iron.” She exerted her strength and tried to lift the bowl up, but still the bowl did not move. She was even more surprised. She thought that with her strength, even if the bowl was nailed to the shelf, the shelf could be cracked. Then she had another thought, “Could it be that the shelf is also made of iron?” She stretched out her middle finger to tap the shelf and heard a metallic sound. The shelf was indeed made of iron.

Her curiosity was piqued and she tried lifting the bowl again but the bowl remained motionless. She tried turning the bowl to the left and did not perceive any movement. She tried turning it to the right and felt movement. She tried turning it harder and the bowl moved. Suddenly she heard a cracking sound and the cupboard slid aside, revealing a dark hole behind it. An even fouler stench came out of the hole, almost making her throw-up.

Huang Rong let out an “Ah!” and quickly leaped to the side. Guo Jing and Zhou Botong heard her cry and immediately came and saw the dark hole. Huang Rong thought out loud, “Is it possible that this is a illegal wine shop and that Sha Gu is just pretending to be insane?”

She handed her burning branch to Guo Jing and walked over to Sha Gu and tried to grab her hand. Sha Gu waved her hand trying to avoid the grab and counterattacked by sending her palm towards Huang Rong’s shoulder. Even though Huang Rong suspected she did not have good intentions, she never expected that this incoming palm would carry such a powerful technique. She could not help but feel slightly startled. Her left hand formed a hook and her right hand came forward as she launched two strikes in succession.

Ever since she mastered the ‘Changing the Muscle Forging the Bone’ technique [yi jin duan gu bian] from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, her speed and strength had increased tremendously. With a loud slap Sha Gu cried out as her right arm was hit, but her attack did not slow down. She counterattacked with two stances one after another. After several more stances Huang Rong was really astonished. Sha Gu’s moves were actually the Peach Blossom Island’s basic skill of the ‘Jade-Green Waves Palm technique’ [bi bo zhang fa]. Although it was performed with shallow skills, it was actually the foundation of all Peach Blossom Island’s martial arts. Every disciple had to learn it. Huang Rong intensified her attacks in an attempt to identify Sha Gu’s martial arts school, but Sha Gu dodged and weaved and was able to resist her for six or seven stances.

The situation was similar to when Guo Jing fought Liang Ziweng with only one stance, namely the ‘Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’, but her strength was greatly inferior to Guo Jing’s. Moreover, her palm technique was very straightforward and showed not even the simplest variation. It was beyond anyone’s expectations that in this remote village there was a illegal wine shop with a poor filthy girl who could fight Huang Rong for more than ten stances.

Zhou Botong found all these things very amusing. He noted that the gust of wind from Huang Rong’s palm was swift and fierce. Sha Gu repeatedly cried out, “Aiyo!” while resisting Huang Rong’s attack. Zhou Botong shouted, “Hey! Rong’er, don’t harm her. Let me fight her.” Along the way he heard Hong Qigong and Guo Jing calling her ‘Rong’er’ and she did not seem to mind, so he thought he did not need to be polite by calling her ‘Huang guniang’ or ‘Huang xiaojie’ [both mean Miss Huang].

Guo Jing was afraid Sha Gu had other companions waiting in the dark ready to ambush them, so he stayed closed to Hong Qigong and did not dare to leave him.

Several moves later Sha Gu’s left shoulder was hit, which made her left arm go limp and she was unable to move it. If Huang Rong really wanted to injure her, all she had to do was continue her attack, but she showed mercy and called out, “Quickly kneel down and I’ll spare your life.”

“You kneel down too!” replied Sha Gu as she sent out two palms of the ‘Jade-Green Wave Palm’ technique towards Huang Rong. However, only the first two stances were executed repeatedly and her technique was clumsy.

This incomplete ‘Jade-Green Wave Palm’ palm attack lacked internal power but was continuous like waves in water, truly the martial arts style of Peach Blossom Island. Huang Rong’s suspicions about Sha Gu’s martial arts roots became stronger. She called out “How did you learn the ‘Jade- Green Wave Palm’? Who is your master?”

Sha Gu responded with a smile “You can’t hit me no more, ha … ha …”

Huang Rong raised her left hand, moved her right hand to the side, feigned an attack with her left elbow and leaned her right shoulder forward. These four moves were fake attacks. Huang Rong followed with the fifth move by sending both hands curving inward. This fifth attack was also false. The next move, a kick, was real. Sha Gu was unable to stay upright. She fell to the floor and called out as she was getting up, “You used a trick, that does not count, let’s fight again,”.

Huang Rong did not allow her to stand up. She pounced and pushed her down, tore her clothes and bound her hands behind her back. “My palm technique is clearly better than yours,” she said. Sha Gu turned around and shouted in dissent, “You tricked me, unacceptable…you tricked me, unacceptable!”

Guo Jing, seeing that Huang Rong was able to control Sha Gu, walked out of the inn and jumped onto the roof. He looked around for any traces of other people but found none. He jumped back down, walked around the building and noticed that this desolate inn was a stand-alone building, a few ‘zhangs’ apart from other houses in the area. There were no other people hiding around it. Now at last he felt relieved.

When he walked inside the inn, he saw Huang Rong holding a dagger in front of Sha Gu’s eyes, threatening her, “Who taught you martial arts? Tell me quickly or else I will kill you”. While saying that she made two stabbing moves with the dagger.

In the light from a candle, Sha Gu’s smile could be seen. Looking at her expression, it did not seem like she was brave or mad. It was more a stupid smile, completely oblivious to the danger. It seemed like she was thinking that she and Huang Rong were just playing around. Huang Rong asked her again and Sha Gu laughed and said, “You kill me, I will kill you too!”

Huang Rong’s eyebrows rose as she said “This stupid girl is not telling us anything, so we should take a look inside the hidden room. Big Brother Zhou, please take care of Master and keep an eye on this girl. Jing ge ge, let’s go in.”

Zhou Botong waved his hands and said, “No, I am going in with you.” Huang Rong told him, “I don’t want you to come in with me.”

Although Zhou Botong was a Senior with a higher level of martial arts, for some reason he did not dare to defy Huang Rong. He could only beg, “Good Miss, next time I won’t argue with you.”

Huang Rong smiled slightly and nodded her head. Zhou Botong was very happy. He found two pine branches, lit them, and fumigated the dark hidden room for a long time. The fumigated room still emitted a very foul odor. Huang Rong picked up a pine torch and threw it into the room. There was a clatter as the torch hit the far wall and fell to the floor. The room was not very deep at all.

With the light from a torch she looked inside. The room was quiet and there was no trace of people. At that moment Zhou Botong became impatient and snuck past Huang Rong into the room. Huang Rong followed Zhou Botong cautiously. The room was not large. In fact, it was quite small. Zhou Botong cried out “We were fooled…we were fooled, this is no good!”

Huang Rong then let out an “ah!” sound as she spotted the skeleton of a person lying on the floor. The skeleton faced upward and the clothes had decayed. Two rows of the skeleton’s ribs were broken. There was another skeleton in the east corner of the room. This skeleton lay on top of an iron chest. There was a long sword blade penetrating the skeleton’s ribs and piercing the iron chest’s lid.

Zhou Botong noted that the room was small and dirty and he found those two corpses not that interesting. While Huang Rong carefully examined the two skeletons, Zhou Botong got really impatient and wanted to interrupt her. But he feared that Huang Rong might get angry so he did not dare say anything and behaved quietly. Inside, his mind was going crazy. He asked her, “Rong’er, Good Miss, I can go out now, can't I?”

Huang Rong said “Fine, you can go. Get Jing ge ge for me.”

Zhou Botong ran out happily and said to Guo Jing, “Go in quickly, it’s very interesting in there,” He was afraid Huang Rong might call him back but he’d found a replacement. Guo Jing went in.

Huang Rong raised her torch to show Guo Jing the skeletons and asked, “How do you think these two people died?”

Guo Jing pointed to the skeleton on the iron chest; “Looks like this person died while trying to open the iron chest. He died from sneak attack with one thrust. The other person has two rows of shattered ribs, so he was probably attacked by a palm of great internal strength.” Huang Rong said, “I think so too, but there are some things I don’t quite understand.”

Guo Jing replied, “What things?”

“Sha Gu obviously used Peach Blossoming Island’s ‘Jade-Green Wave Palm’ technique. Although she only knew six or seven moves and was not very proficient, her technique was good and correct,” Huang Rong said. “The two dead people…I wonder what their connection is to Sha Gu.”

Guo Jing responded, “I will ask the girl.” Because he was often called ‘stupid kid’ by others he was not willing to call that girl ‘Sha Gu’ [stupid / silly aunt].

“I truly think that girl is retarded, so it will be difficult to get any information from her. Perhaps we can investigate what little evidence we have here on our own,” Huang Rong suggested. She lifted her torch and slowly examined the skeleton on the chest and noticed a shiny object beside it. She picked it up and looked carefully. It was a gold medallion. In the middle, there is a gate engraved into the gold. On the back of the medallion, there were several engraved characters that read ‘By royal decree bestowed on the loyal martial arts master responsible for defending the state, special guard Shi Yanming’.

Huang Rong said, “If this medallion is his, this government officer’s rank was not low.”

Guo Jing replied, “A high-ranking official died in here…this is strange.”

Huang Rong checked the skeleton on the floor again and she noticed something sticking out of the rib area. She used the torch to push on it. The object fell, raising a cloud of dust, revealing a sheet made of iron. She called out in a low shocked voice and picked up the object.

Guo Jing also saw the object in her hand, “Ah!” he exclaimed. “Do you recognize this?” Huang Rong asked. “Certainly,” Guo Jing replied, “This is the iron ‘Eight Trigram’ [ba gua] of Village Master Lu of Cloud Manor.”

“It is an iron ‘ba gua’ alright, but it doesn’t necessarily belong to Martial Brother Lu,” Huang Rong said.

“That’s right!” Guo Jing said, “These two men’s clothes and flesh have decomposed. They have been here for at least ten years.”

Huang Rong was silent for a long time. Suddenly a thought came into her mind. She pulled out the blade stuck in the iron chest’s lid, brought it close to the flame and she saw the character ‘Qu’ engraved on the blade. She could not help blurting, “The one lying on the floor was my older Martial Brother Qu [Qu Shige].”

“Ah!” Guo Jing exclaimed in surprise.

“Martial Brother Lu said that Martial Brother Qu was still alive. Who would have thought that he was already dead in this place … Jing ge ge, look at his leg bones,” Huang Rong said.

Guo Jing stooped down and looked, “Both of his legs were broken. Ah, it was your father who broke them,” he said.

Huang Rong nodded her head. “He is indeed Qu Lingfeng. My father once said that amongst his disciples, Martial Brother Qu had the strongest martial arts. He was also my father’s favorite …” At this point she suddenly dashed out the room. Guo Jing followed.

Huang Rong quickly went over to Sha Gu and asked, “Your surname is Qu, isn’t it?” Sha Gu giggled but did not answer.

Guo Jing gently asked, “Miss, what is your surname?” “Surname…surname!” Sha Gu said giggling.

The two wanted to ask further, but Zhou Botong called out, “I am starving! I am starving!” “Alright,” Huang Rong said, “We’ll need to eat first.” She untied Sha Gu and invited her to eat with them. Sha Gu was not bashful about it as she smiled, held out her hands to take a bowl, and ate.

Huang Rong told Hong Qigong everything she’d found in the secret room. Hong Qigong also thought it was peculiar. “It seems like that government officer named Shi killed your Martial Brother Qu. Who would have thought that your Martial Brother Qu, before he breathed his last, threw the blade and killed him.”

“Most probably so,” Huang Rong concurred. She took the blade and the iron ‘ba gua’ and showed them to Sha Gu. “Whose are these?” she asked.

Sha Gu’s countenance suddenly changed. She leaned her head sideways to think, seemed as though she recalled something, but after a while her expression went blank. She shook her head and took the blade, unwilling to let it go.

“Apparently she has seen this blade before,” Huang Rong said. “But it must have been a long time ago and she can’t remember anymore.”

After they finished eating she took care of Hong Qigong and let him sleep. Then she and Guo Jing went back to the room to take a further look. They thought the key to this mystery must be hidden inside the iron chest, so they removed the skeleton lying on top of it and opened the lid. It turned out the lid was unlocked and could be opened easily. In the torch light their eyes were dazzled by a chest full of gleaming pearls, jade, and all sorts of treasures and antiques.

Guo Jing only felt surprise, but Huang Rong knew each article was a very rare and precious treasure. Her father’s collection was not as extensive as the contents of this chest. She grabbed a handful of pearls and let them roll through her fingers. The pearls made nice clinking sounds as they fell back into the chest and hit other pearls and jades. She sighed, “There must be a history behind all these treasures. If father were here he would be able tell us the origins of each.” She took them one by one and explained what they were to Guo Jing. This one was a jade bracelet, this one a rhino skin case, that one was a carnelian cup, that one was an emerald dish, and so on. Guo Jing grew up on the steppes, and as a result, not only he had never seen these kinds of treasures, he had never even heard of them. He thought, “People spent so much effort to collect these objects. What were they going to do with them?”

While she spoke, Huang Rong continued to grope around in the chest. Her hand touched a piece of hard board and she knew there must be another layer underneath it. She moved the jewelry aside and saw rings attached to the board, so she inserted her little fingers inside the rings and lifted the board up. Beneath it were a bunch of greenish bronze colored antiques. Her father had shown her illustrations of some antique bronze ware. She recognized them to be an imperial culture tripod [long wen ding], an article from the Shang Dynasty (16th to 11th century BC) [shang yi], a plate from Zhou Dynasty (1027BC) [zhou pan], another article from Zhou Dynasty [zhou dun], tableware from Zhou Dynasty [zhou ju lei] and so on. In the end she had to admit she did not know much detail about the articles. If the pearls and jades were considered treasures worth a fortune, then these bronze antiques were priceless.

The more Huang Rong looked at them, the more she marveled. She lifted another board beneath the antiques and discovered rolls and rolls of paintings. She asked for Guo Jing’s help and together they unrolled the paintings one by one. She was shocked! The first painting was Wu Daozi’s ‘Send off a child heavenward’ [song zi tian wang tu]. The next painting was Han Ganhua’s ‘Herding horses’ [mu ma tu] and the other was the Southern Tang Dynasty’s Li Houzhu’s ‘Crossing the forest spring’ [lin quan du zhui ren wu]. Altogether there were more than twenty scrolls and every single one of them had originated from the brush of a famous artist. Several scrolls were calligraphy and paintings by Huizong, while several others were by contemporary artists. Each one of them was of the most exquisite and highest quality. Among them were examples of the imperial court’s artist Liang Kai’s unique two-rolls splashing ink characters, with very vivid images. Some of it reminded her of Zhou Botong.

Huang Rong had only looked at about half of them but did not feel like continuing, so she returned everything to the chest, closed the lid and sat on top of it, hugging her knees. She thought, “Father has amassed all kinds of treasures during his life, but the value of his collection might only be one tenth of the contents of this chest. How did Martial Brother Qu have the ability to obtain so many rare and priceless treasures?” No matter how hard she racked her brain she could not think of a good explanation.

When Huang Rong was thinking hard, Guo Jing never dared disturb her train of thought. He stayed quiet until he heard Zhou Botong calling from outside, “Hey! Get out of there quickly! We need to visit the old emperor’s house for some minced ‘Five-Treasures Mandarin Duck’!”

“Tonight?” Guo Jing asked.

Hong Qigong replied, “The sooner the better. I am afraid I can’t hold on much longer.”

“Master, don’t listen to the Old Urchin speaking a lot of nonsense,” Huang Rong said, “We can’t go tonight. We will enter the city gate tomorrow in the early morning. If the Old Urchin gets anymore weird ideas, we won’t let him come to the palace with us.”

“Humph!” Zhou Botong snorted, “Once again I am to blame.” He sulked and refused to talk.

That night the four slept on the straw beds laid-out on the floor. Early the next morning Huang Rong and Guo Jing prepared some breakfast and the four, plus Sha Gu, ate together. Huang Rong turned the iron bowl, closed the cabinet wall and put all chipped bowls and broken utensils back inside the cabinet. Sha Gu was indifferent to what was going on around her as she held the handle of the sword in her hand and played with it.

Huang Rong took a small ingot of silver [yuan bao] from her pocket and gave it to her. Sha Gu took it and casually tossed in on the table. “If you are hungry you can use it to buy rice and meat,” Huang Rong said. It was hard to say if Sha Gu understood, since she only giggled foolishly.

Huang Rong felt sadness creeping into her heart knowing that this girl must have some relationship with Qu Lingfeng. If she wasn’t a member of his family, then she must be his disciple. Her six or seven stances of ‘Jade- Green Waves Palm technique’ [bi bo zhang fa] definitely came from Qu Lingfeng, even though she had only roughly learned it. What Huang Rong did not know was whether she had been retarded since birth, or did she have a horrifying experience which shocked and damaged her mind. She wanted to find more information about her in the village, but Zhou Botong kept urging them to move onward. Therefore the four, with their cart, went straight through and entered the city of Lin’an.

Lin’an was, at this time, the world’s most bustling city. When the Song government moved south, it was established as the new capital. All kinds of people converged on the city and it continued to flourish.

The four entered the city via the east gate and went straight to the ‘Beautiful Portal Gate’ [li cheng men] of the Imperial Palace. Hong Qigong remained inside the cart while Zhou Botong and the others looked around. They saw golden nails in the scarlet doors, painted beams, engraved railings and copper tiles covering the roof. There were sculptures of flying dragons and phoenixes, all magnificent in their splendor dazzling their eyes.

“Interesting!” Zhou Botong called out loudly as he took a step to enter.

The palace guards stationed in front of the gate had noticed these three people, one old and two young, with a mule cart making noises in front of the Imperial Palace gate. Four guards with axes in their hands had already stepped forward with menacing looks on their faces.

Zhou Botong loved creating a disturbance very much. Watching the guards with their distinctive armor, tall and powerfully built, he was itching to have an interesting fight.

“Go quickly!” Huang Rong called out.

Zhou Botong stared at her. “What are you afraid of? Do you think these babies can eat the Old Urchin?” he asked.

Huang Rong quickly said, “Jing ge ge, let’s go and play someplace else. Since the Old Urchin is not listening, we’ll just ignore him.” She flicked her whip and the cart sped along to the west. Guo Jing followed behind. Zhou Botong was afraid he would get left behind while they went someplace more interesting, so he ignored the guards and ran to catch up. The guards thought they were simple villagers looking around the city, so they laughed loudly and did not pursue them. Huang Rong drove the cart to a deserted place. Seeing that nobody chased them, they stopped.

“Why didn’t we break into the palace? Could those wine bags and rice sacks [the guards] stop us?” Zhou Botong asked.

“Certainly breaking in is not difficult, but let me ask you…are we here to fight or to go to the kitchen and steal some food?” Huang Rong said, “If you break in, the palace will be in chaos. Do you think the chef will quietly make some ‘Five-Treasures Mandarin Duck’ for Master to eat?”

“Fighting and capturing people is the guards’ business and it has nothing to do with the chef,” Zhou Botong reasoned. Actually, what he said did make some sense and Huang Rong was momentarily at a loss, but she was not willing to yield to him, so she argued, “The imperial chef can both prepare food and capture people.”

Zhou Botong stared at her but did not know how to respond. A long while later he conceded, “Fine, let’s just consider I was wrong.”

“What do you mean ‘consider’? You were wrong right from the start,” Huang Rong said.

“Fine, fine,” Zhou Botong said, “Don’t consider anything…don’t consider anything.” Turning his head to Guo Jing he said, “Brother, all the women in the world are very ferocious. That’s why the Old Urchin said don’t take a wife.”

Huang Rong laughed, “Jing ge ge is a good man, so other women won’t be ferocious towards him.”

“Are you saying I am not a good man?” Zhou Botong asked.

Huang Rong smiled, “Are you? You don’t want to take a wife and other people don’t like the way you handle things. You only create trouble and disturbances. Tell me, why don’t you want to take a wife?”

Zhou Botong leaned his head to one side to think, unable to answer. His face turned red, and then pale and it seemed like his mind was full of anxiety. Huang Rong had very seldom seen him this serious, and was astonished.

“Let’s find an inn to stay in. We’ll come back to the palace tonight,” Guo Jing said.

“That’s a good idea!” Huang Rong agreed, “Master, as soon as we find an inn, I am going to prepare a couple of simple dishes as your appetizers and we will have a feast later on tonight.” Hong Qigong was delighted and he cheered repeatedly.

The four stayed at the Jin Hua inn on the street west of the Imperial Palace. True to her word, Huang Rong prepared three dishes and a soup for Hong Qigong. The aroma spread around the inn causing the guests to ask the innkeeper which famous chef had cooked this fine cuisine.

Zhou Botong was still mad at Huang Rong’s words hinting that he could not find a wife, so he sulked and refused to eat. The three of them knew his childish behavior. They only laughed and did not pay any attention to him.

After eating, Hong Qigong lay down to rest. Guo Jing asked Zhou Botong to go out and play, but he was still angry and ignored Guo Jing. Huang Rong chuckled and said, “Then you’d better look after my Master nicely and when I return, I will buy some fun things for you to play with.”

“You are not lying?” Zhou Botong asked, delighted.

Huang Rong smiled, “‘When a word has already left the mouth, it is difficult for four horses to chase it’ [yi yan ji chu, si ma nan zhui].”

During the spring when Huang Rong left home to go north, she visited Lin’an for one day, but that city was too close to Peach Blossom Island and she was afraid her father might find her. She did not dare to stay too long so her visit was a quick one. This time the days were long and nothing burdened her mind. Hand in hand with Guo Jing they went to the West Lake (xi hu).

She noticed Guo Jing’s countenance showed anxiety and knew he worried about their master’s injury. “Master said there is one person in this world who can heal his injury,” Huang Rong said. “But he would not allow me to ask. From the way he talked, it must be that Emperor Duan, but we don’t know where he is. We must find a way to ask him to heal Master.”

“That’ll be great,” Guo Jing said happily. “Rong’er, do you think we can ask him?”

Huang Rong replied, “I am still thinking of how to ask. During our meal today I tried to fish some information from Master. He was just about to say something when he realized it and stopped talking immediately. I must get this information from him eventually.” Guo Jing knew her abilities very well so he was greatly relieved.

They were still talking as they arrived at the Broken Bridge by the lakeside. That ‘duan qiao can xue’ [the broken bridge where people can see the remnants of the snow] was one of the West Lake’s more famous sights, but it was summer so all they saw were the lotus under the bridge. Huang Rong saw a neat little wine shop by the lakeside. “Let’s drink a cup of wine while we enjoy the lotus,” she said.

“Very good,” Guo Jing agreed. The two went in and sat down. The shopkeeper delivered some wine and dishes of meat which tasted very good. They drank wine while enjoying the scenery and were in a good mood.

Huang Rong saw a screen by the eastern window, covered with jade-green muslin. Obviously the shop owner regarded the screen as a very precious object. Her curiosity was piqued, so she went over to take a closer look. It turned out that beneath the muslin there was a poem inscribed on the screen. It was the ‘Wind Entering the Pine’ [feng ru song], which read,

‘Spring time is always spent wasting money, drinking daily by the lakeside. Riding a buckskin horse along the road toward the West Lake, proudly passing in front of a tavern. Singing and dancing amidst the sweet fragrance of red apricots, swinging in the shadow of green willows. Warm winds embraced ten ‘li’ of beautiful women and sky, crushed flowers adorned the sides of their temples. Picturesque boats carrying incense going back and forth are like smoke covering the water. Comeback tomorrow supporting the remnants of drunkenness, seeking the fancy golden inlay on the pathway.’

Huang Rong said, “This poem is a good one.”

Guo Jing asked her to explain the meaning of the poem. The more he listened, the more upset he became and he said, “This is the capital of the Great Song Dynasty and these government officials spend their days drinking wine and enjoying flowers. Don’t they care or even pay attention to the affairs of the country?”

Huang Rong replied, “Exactly, these people talk shamelessly!”

Suddenly someone behind them said, “Humph! What do you two know enough about to talk such nonsense?”

They turned around and saw a man dressed as a scholar, roughly forty years of age, sneering at them. Guo Jing greeted the scholar by cupping his hands and said, “Junior does not understand and would like to ask Mister for advice.”

The man replied, “This is the most splendid work of Yu Guobao in the year of Chun Xi. That year the retired Emperor Gaozong came to drink wine, saw the work and praised it greatly. That very same day the emperor granted Yu Guobao a government position. This is a scholar’s lifelong dream, and the two of you ridicule absurdly it!”

“So it is because the Emperor saw this screen that the innkeeper covers it with jade-green muslin?” Huang Rong asked.

The man laughed coldly and said, “How can it be so? Look at the sentence ‘Comeback tomorrow supporting the remnants of drunkenness’ on the screen. Did you notice that this one sentence has two revised characters?” Huang Rong and Guo Jing examined it more closely and found the character ‘fu’ [carrying or supporting somebody] was formerly ‘xie’ [bringing/carrying along], and the character ‘zui’ [drunkenness] was actually ‘jiu’ [wine].

The man then said, “Yu Guobao originally intended to write ‘Comeback tomorrow bringing the remnants of the wine’.” The retired Emperor smiled and said, ‘Although this phrase is good, it is rather simple-minded.’ Hence he took a brush to revise those two characters. That was truly heaven sent wisdom and farsightedness, like transforming iron into gold.” He swayed his head and sighed as if he was enjoying it tremendously.

Guo Jing listened and became angry. He yelled loudly, “This emperor Gaozong put Qin Gui in an important position in order to harm and kill Master Yue [General Yue Fei]!” His leg flew out and kicked the screen, smashing it. He reached backwards to catch the scholar and pull him forward. With a splashing sound wine spilled everywhere as that man, head up feet down, sank into the wine vat.

Huang Rong loudly applauded and laughed, “I too will make correction to those two sentences. They are, ‘Today standing upright spoiling the wine, the gentleman sank into the vat drunk.”

As the scholar’s head emerged from the wine jar with wine dripping from it, he said, “The oblique tone of ‘drunk’ does not rhyme well.”

Huang Rong replied, “‘Wind entering the pine’ does not rhyme well. My poem ‘Man entering the jar’ rhymes better!” She extended her hand and firmly pressed his head down inside the wine jar, and then flipped the table over, causing an outburst. The customers and the wine shop keeper scrambled out of the shop. Guo Jing and Huang Rong stood up and pounded and smashed all the wine vats, pots and cauldrons. Finally, using the ‘Eighteen-Dragon Subduing Palms’, Guo Jing exerted all his strength to strike the main support pillar of the inn, causing the roof to collapse. In a brief moment, a large restaurant was transformed into a pile of wood that hardly resembled anything. Guo Jing and Huang Rong laughed loudly. Holding each other’s hands, they walked north. Nobody knew where this mad young man and young woman came from but who dared pursue them?

Guo Jing laughed, “That was such a good trashing that all the bad air in my chest went away completely.”

Huang Rong replied happily, “Whenever we see anything unsightly, we will smash it.”

Guo Jing replied, “Good!”

Since leaving Peach Blossom Island, the two had gone through many unfavorable situations. Although they were reunited, their Master had suffered a serious and difficult to heal injury and this made their hearts heavy with worry. At this time they unexpectedly had the chance to break up a restaurant and it had helped to vent their frustrations. The couple leisurely walked along the lake-shore and saw poems everywhere…on rocks, on trees, on pavilions and on the walls. They were written either by travelers bidding their farewells, or young men expressing their love.

Guo Jing did not understand the poems, but when he saw the words ‘wind’, ‘flower’, ‘snow’ and ‘moon’ he sighed and said, “Even if we had a thousand pairs of fists, we can’t break them all. Rong’er, you have learned literature and art…what are all these for?”

Huang Rong smiled. “There were some good ones among these poems,” she said.

Guo Jing shook his head. “I still think fists and kicks are more useful,” he said.

While walking and talking they reached the ‘Flew in Peak’ [fei lai feng]. There was a pavilion built on that peak. Above the gateway there were three characters ‘Jade-Green Small Pavilion’ [cui wei ting] in Han Shizong’s handwriting. Guo Jing knew Han Shizong’s reputation. Upon seeing the handwriting of the general who resisted the Jin army he was delighted. He quickly walked into the pavilion. There was a stone monument inside, with a poem inscribed on it reading:

‘With the passing years dust has settled on the battle uniforms, especially seeking some fragrant jade-green wine, not enough to only see good mountains and good rivers, taking advantage of the bright moon light the return of horse hoofs.’

This seemed to be the handwriting of Han Shizhong as well.

“This is a good poem,” Guo Jing praised. Actually, he did not know a good poem from a bad one, but he believed this poem was Han Shizhong’s. It also contained words like ‘battle uniforms’ [zheng yi] and ‘horse hoofs’ [ma ti], so it must be good.

Huang Rong said, “That was Master Yue, Yue Fei’s work.” Guo Jing was surprised and asked, “How do you know?”

Huang Rong replied, “I listened to father tell the story. In the winter of the eleventh year of Shaoxing, Master Yue died at the hands of Qin Gui. In the spring of the following year, in remembrance of him, Han Shizhong built this pavilion and engraved this poem as a memorial. Unfortunately, Qin Gui was very influential during that period, so he could not openly commemorate Master Yue.”

Remembering the previous dynasty’s General, Guo Jing reached out his hand and ran his finger along the inscriptions in the stone. While he was lost in thought Huang Rong suddenly pulled his sleeve and jumped towards the bushes behind the pavilion and pushed his head down. As they were crouching, they heard the footsteps of people entering the pavilion. A moment later they heard someone say, “Han Shizhong was a hero. His lady, Liang Hongyu, although a former prostitute, helped her husband achieve victory by beating drums during the battle. She could be considered a heroine.”

Guo Jing thought this voice was somewhat familiar but could not remember who it was. Again another man said, “Yue Fei and Han Shizhong were heroes, but the emperor wanted them dead and stripped them of their military leadership. Both Han and Yue had to follow orders. Obviously the emperor held the power that even heroes like them could not defy.”

Guo Jing listened to the accent and recognized that this person was Yang Kang. Guo Jing was startled and wondered, “What is Yang Kang doing here?” Still surprised, another broken cymbal-like voice confounded him even more. It was the Western Poison Ouyang Feng. He heard Ouyang Feng say, “That’s correct. With muddle-headed ruler reigning, just like the previous dynasty, it doesn’t matter how great a hero is…he is useless.”

The first man then said, “But if a wise ruler is on the throne, a great hero like Mr. Ouyang could help him greatly to achieve his aspirations.”

Listening to those two speak, Guo Jing suddenly recognized that the other one was the enemy who’d killed his father, the Sixth Prince of the Great Jin, Wanyan Honglie. Even though he had seen Wanyan Honglie’s face before, he’d not often heard his voice and was therefore unable to recognize it for a moment.

The three talked and laughed and then they left. Guo Jing waited until they had gone far enough and then asked no one in particular, “What are they doing in Lin’an? How come Brother Kang is with them?”

“Humph,” Huang Rong snorted, “I realized earlier that this brother of yours is not a good person. You still say that he is the descendant of a hero. You have been deceived. Now you understand his real intentions. If he is really a good man, how could he accompany those two scoundrels?”

Guo Jing was very much bewildered, “I don’t understand,” he said. Thereupon Huang Rong told him everything she’d heard in the Fragrant Snow Hall of the Zhao Palace. She said, “Wanyan Honglie gathered Peng Lianhu and the other fellows to help with his plan to steal Master Yue’s Wumu’s Legacy. Now they suddenly arrive here. Perhaps this Legacy is in Lin’an. If they succeed, then our Great Song’s common people will suffer great calamities.”

Guo Jing shivered with fear, “We simply cannot let them succeed,” he said. Huang Rong said, “The problem is that the Western Poison is traveling with them.”

“Are you afraid?” Guo Jing asked. “Aren’t you?” Huang Rong asked back.

Guo Jing replied, “Naturally I am frightened of the Western Poison, but this is not a small matter. We … even if we are afraid, we cannot simply overlook it.”

Huang Rong smiled, “If you must take care of it, then naturally I will follow you.”

“Very well,” Guo Jing said, “Let’s go after them.”

Leaving the pavilion they could not see any trace of Wanyan Honglie’s group and were forced to look randomly around the city. Lin’an was a big city, so how could they find what they were looking for in a short period of time? After walking for a long time, the sky turned dark as the two arrived in front of the ‘Martial Arts Garden’ [wu lin yuan] at Zhong Wazi. Huang Rong saw a shop with a lot of masks with vividly drawn features hanging in its entrance. She was amused and remembered her promise to buy something fun for Zhou Botong. She spent five silver coins and bought ‘the king of ghosts’ [zhong kui], ‘the judge of hell’ [pan guan], ‘kitchen god’ [zao jun], ‘earth god’ [tu di], ‘soldier of heaven’ [shen bing] and other ghosts and supernatural beings, more than a dozen masks in all.

While the shopkeeper was wrapping the masks with paper, there came the sweet fragrance of food and wine from a restaurant next door. The two had been walking for a long time and were starving. “What restaurant is that?” Huang Rong asked.

The shopkeeper smiled and said, “So it turns out you two are new to the capital. No wonder you don’t know. The ‘Three-Primary Tavern’ [san yuan lou] is very well-known in our Lin’an. The wine, the food, and the utensils are number one under heaven. You two cannot not leave without trying it.” Huang Rong’s heart was stirred by what he said. She took the masks and then pulled Guo Jing to the front of ‘Three-Primary Tavern’. They could see that the building was decorated with colorful paint and had a row of red and green fencing. Beneath the second floor roof hung flower-patterned lanterns. The interior was lined with luxurious wood inlay and the pavilion looked elegant and unconventional. It was truly an exquisite tavern.

As the two walked in they were welcomed by a waiter with a smiling face and were led through a corridor to a chamber already set with bowls and chopsticks. Huang Rong immediately placed an order and the waiter left to prepare the food.

In the candlelight Guo Jing saw more than a dozen courtesans with heavy makeup sitting in a row on a nearby porch. He wondered who they were and was about to ask when, from the chamber next door, he suddenly heard Wanyan Honglie’s voice call out, “That’s fine! Send somebody to sing and join us drinking wine.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other and thought, “Just like the saying goes, ‘wearing out iron shoes to look around, finding the result without any effort.’”

A summons was heard and a woman gracefully stood up and walked towards the chamber next door with a pair of ivory planks in her hands. A short moment later the woman started to sing. Huang Rong tilted her head to listen to her song:

“The southeast appears victorious, the rivers and lakes (Jianghu) convene, Qiantang River always flourishes from the ancient times. The bridge looks like a painting of smoking willow; the wind blows the wine shop sign and the jade-green curtain, amidst a hundred thousand people. Cloudy trees wind around the sandy dike, angry waves roll up like frosty snow, the sky and the moat around the city are boundless. Rows of pearls line up in the market, the homes compete with each other to show their extravagance. The clear water lake is surrounded by three autumn cassia buds and ten ‘li of lotuses. Along the clear alleys the water chestnut songs floating through the night, enticing old gentlemen to the lotus-like dolls. A thousand riders gather around the ivory tower, intoxicated by the sound of flute and drum, enjoying the rosy-cloud smoke. A particular day to paint fine scenery, as the phoenix returns to the pond of praise.”

Guo Jing did not understand the sing-song sound of her singing, but he did enjoy the gentle tapping of her ivory planks and the melodious sound of the flute.

As the song finished, both Wanyan Honglie and Yang Kang proclaimed their praise. “You sing very well!”

The woman repeatedly expressed her gratitude and jubilantly went out with the musicians while wishing Wanyan Honglie much enjoyment.

Wanyan Honglie said, “Son, do you know that this Liu Yong [Eternal Willow] poem, ‘Gazing at the Ocean Tides’ [wang hai chao], has a close relationship with our Great Jin?”

“Your child does not know,” Yang Kang replied. “Would Papa [Die] please explain?”

Hearing him calling Wanyan Honglie ‘Papa’ in an affectionate tone, Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other. Guo Jing was angry and broken hearted. He wished he could go over, grab him, and ask for an explanation.

He heard Wanyan Honglie reply, “During the prosperous years of our Great Jin, the Jin Lord Liang saw this poem by Liu Yong, which praises the beauty of the West Lake’s scenery. Thereupon he sent an emissary south and at the same time dispatched a famous painter to paint the scenery around the City of Lin’an. The painter inserted the Jin Lord’s image in the painting, sitting on horseback on the peak of Wu Shan [Wu Mountain]. The Jin Lord wrote this poem on the painting: ‘Ten thousands of li riding on a chariot, how can there be another border to Jiangnan? Dispatching soldiers by the millions to the West Lake, on a horse’s back to stand on Wu Shan’s first peak!’”

“What a grand and heroic spirit!” Yang Kang praised. Guo Jing was so angry hearing him that he clenched his fist so hard, his knuckles made cracking sounds.

Wanyan Honglie sighed. “Jin Lord Liang’s desire to dispatch soldiers to the south and to stand on Wu Shan on horseback did not come true, but his heroic spirit to cross the river was inherited by us, his descendants. Once he inscribed this poem on a folding fan: ‘With a great fan in the hand, bringing a cool breeze over the entire world.’ That’s the kind of ambition he had!”

Yang Kang repeated that poem. “With a great fan in the hand, bringing a cool breeze over the entire world.” He sounded like he was really impressed by it.

Ouyang Feng laughed and said, “Someday the Prince’s dream of having great authority and standing on Wu Shan will come true.”

Wanyan Honglie quietly said, “I do hope Sir’s words will come true. There are too many ears and eyes around here…let’s just drink some wine.” So the three people changed the topic of their conversation immediately and instead talked about the scenery, what they’d seen and heard about local conditions and social customs.

Huang Rong whispered into Guo Jing’s ear, “They are having a good time drinking wine and I don’t want them to have a good time.” The two slipped away from their chamber and went to the backyard. Huang Rong took out her flint and ignited the firewood in a shed and spread the fire around. In a short moment flames arose and people shouted in confusion, “Fire!” Then they heard copper gongs being struck noisily.

“Quick…we must go to the front or we’ll lose track of them again,” Huang Rong said.

Guo Jing was filled with hatred. “Tonight I must kill that traitor Wanyan Honglie!” he said.

Huang Rong said, “First we must take Master to the palace to eat. Afterwards we will entreat the Old Urchin to face the Western Poison. Only then can we deal with the other two traitors.” “That’s right,” Guo Jing said.

Amidst the commotion, the two walked to the front of the restaurant just as Wanyan Honglie, Ouyang Feng and Yang Kang emerged from the building. Guo Jing and Huang Rong followed them at a distance through streets and alleys towards the west market. They entered the Guan Gai Inn. The two waited outside the inn for a long time without seeing Wanyan Honglie or the others coming back out. They concluded that they must be staying here. “Let’s return to our inn, fetch the Old Urchin, and come back here to deal with them,” Huang Rong said. They went back to the Jin Hua Inn immediately.

Approaching the inn they heard Zhou Botong shouting. Guo Jing was frightened because he thought his Master’s injury was getting worse. He rushed forward anxiously only to see Zhou Botong squatting on the ground squabbling with six or seven boys. As it turned out, he was gambling with these kids in front of the inn’s gate and he’d lost. He argued with the kids, and the kids argued back, hence the noise.

With Huang Rong’s return he was afraid she would scold him, so he turned around and went back into the inn. Huang Rong smiled and brought out the masks. Zhou Botong was delighted and squealed again and again. He put on a mask and become the ‘Judge of Hell’, and then became a little demon.

Huang Rong expressed their desire to take him back to help them fight the Western Poison. Zhou Botong readily agreed. “Don’t worry,” he said, “My two hands can use two different fist techniques to fight him.”

Huang Rong recalled the time on Peach Blossom Island when Zhou Botong was afraid he might involuntarily use the martial arts from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He tied his own hands and as a result was injured by her father. “The Western Poison is very bad,” she said, “You can’t be considered disobeying your martial brother’s death wish if you injure him with the martial arts from the manual.”

Zhou Botong stared hard at her. “No, I can’t do it” he said. “I have trained hard and I don’t need to use the techniques from the manual.” By this time Hong Qigong’s heart was already inside the Imperial Palace’s kitchen. He had waited until the second hour of this night with great difficulty. Guo Jing carried Hong Qigong on his back and the four walked on the roofs towards the Imperial Palace. The palace was taller than the other buildings and its roof glittered with gold inlay. It was very easy to identify. Before long, very quietly and without making any noises, the four leaped over the palace’s wall.

The security inside the palace was tight and guards patrolled everywhere. But with the level of lightness kungfu Zhou, Guo and Huang possessed, how could they be caught by the guards? Hong Qigong knew where the kitchen was and in a low voice he explained the way to it. In a few moments they had arrived at the imperial kitchen, located behind the ‘Six Ministry Hill’ [liu bu shan]. The kitchen was to the east of ‘Fine Bright Hall’ [jia ming dian], where the imperial meals were being prepared. These places were adjacent to the imperial sleeping chamber and the imperial personal office. All were closely guarded with alarm gongs everywhere. By this time the emperor had already gone to bed and the imperial kitchen staff had been dismissed. The four people arrived at the well-lit kitchen where several young court eunuchs slumbered inside.

Guo Jing helped Hong Qigong sit on a beam while Huang Rong and Zhou Botong looked for already cooked meals in the kitchen cabinets. Very soon the four began to eat.

Zhou Botong shook his head, “Old Beggar, the food here can’t be compared to Rong’er’s culinary skills. I don’t understand why you so earnestly desired to come here.”

Hong Qigong replied, “I wanted to eat the minced ‘Five-Treasures Mandarin Duck’. I don’t know where the chef lives…but tomorrow we will catch him. Then we’ll force him to prepare something more to your taste.”

“I can’t believe his culinary skill is superior to Rong’er’s,” Zhou Botong said.

Huang Rong smiled. She knew he wanted to thank her for the masks, which was why he praised her repeatedly. “I want to stay here and wait for the chef,” Hong Qigong said, “Since you are bored, why don’t you and Jing’er go out of the palace and let Rong’er stay with me. Tomorrow night you can come back.”

Zhou Botong put on the ‘City God’ mask and laughed. “No,” he said, “I want to stay here with you. Tomorrow I am going to wear this mask to scare the old emperor. Brother Guo, Rong’er, you keep your eyes on the Old Poison. Don’t let him steal Yue Fei’s legacy.”

“What the Old Urchin said was very reasonable,” Hong Qigong said. “Go quickly and be careful.” The two gave their promise.

“Don’t fight the Old Poison tonight. Wait for me tomorrow,” Zhou Botong said.

“We can’t beat him so naturally we won’t fight,” Huang Rong said. She, along with Guo Jing, slipped away from the imperial kitchen with the intention of going back to the Guan Gai Inn to observe Wanyan Honglie and the others’ activities.

They tiptoed through two halls in the dark. Suddenly they felt a cool breeze and faintly heard the sound of water. In the stillness of the night they could also smell a faint delicate fragrance from deep in the palace courtyard. Unexpectedly they’d come across a wooded hill placed inside the palace.

Huang Rong sniffed and knew there must be a flower garden nearby. She thought there must be many wonderful flowers and unusual plants in the Imperial Palace garden. Since she was there, she certainly could not pass up this rare opportunity to take a look. So she tugged Guo Jing’s hand and followed the flowery fragrance, looking for the garden.

Gradually the sound of water grew louder. The two walked on flower-lined paths and saw pine and bamboo trees blocking the deep blue sky above along with beautiful hills quietly standing in the background. Huang Rong was deeply impressed with this place. Even though the landscaping was inferior to that of Peach Blossom Island, the flowers and trees were exquisitely beautiful. They walked several zhangs further and saw a streak of water appearing like a silver waterfall coming out from the side of a hill. The water ran down to a pond, and in turn, a stream of water came out of the pond so that it would not overflow. There were countless red lotuses strewn across the surface of the pond. Directly in front of the pond was a hall entrance dense with flowers. Just above the entrance were written the three characters ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’ [cui han tang].

Huang Rong walked to the front of the hall. Below the porch she saw some stairs leading upwards, surrounded by many kinds of flowers: ‘jasmine’ [mo li], ‘fragrant vegetable’ [su xin], ‘musk deer fragrant rattan’ [she xiang teng], ‘vermillion hibiscus’ [shu jin], ‘jade cassia’ [yu gui], and ‘red banana’ [hong jiao]. Each was the kind of fragrant plants that bloom in summer. Towards the back of the hal, orchids and other scented plants hung. Sweet smelling incense burned, filling the hall and assailing their nostrils.

On a table inside the hall were several bowls of lotus root, sweet melon, loquat, and many kinds of wild fruits from the forest. Several round fans were strewn about on the chairs. It seemed that this was the hall where the emperor enjoyed the cool evening breeze before going to bed.

Guo Jing sighed. “The emperor really knows how to enjoy life,” he said.

Huang Rong laughed. “Now you can be one,” she said, pulling Guo Jing along to sit on a couch. She offered him the bowl of fruits and knelt down. “Long live master. Please enjoy some fresh fruits,” she said.

Guo Jing smiled and picked up a loquat. “Please rise,” he said.

Huang Rong laughed, “Emperors never says ‘please’. That is too polite,” she said.

As they talked and laughed in low voices they suddenly heard someone shout in the distance, “Who’s there?” They were startled. Leaping out of the hall they hid behind a fake hill. They heard heavy footsteps as two men came shouting loudly. Guo Jing and Huang Rong listened to these people and knew their martial arts skills were low. They was nothing to worry about. The guards brandished their sabers while rushing towards the front of the hall. They looked around but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

“You saw a ghost,” one guard said, laughing.

The other one was also laughing. “I am always seeing things these past few days,” he said. They walked away, still talking and laughing.

Huang Rong was inwardly amused. She tugged Guo Jing’s hand to leave, but suddenly heard those two guards grunt…‘hey…hey’. Although the noise was deep and muffled, they knew it was the sound of exhaling because their acupoints were being sealed. Guo Jing and Huang Rong both thought, “Did Big Brother Zhou get bored and came out to play?”

They heard someone speak in a low voice, “According to the Imperial Palace map, the building next to the waterfall is the ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’. We are going there.” The voice belonged to Wanyan Honglie.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were very shocked. They grabbed each other’s hands and hid even deeper behind the fake hill, not daring to make a sound. In the dim glimmering starlight they saw shadows moving in front of the hall. They vaguely recognized that, besides Wanyan Honglie, there was Ouyang Feng, Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian, the Venerable Lingzhi, Liang Ziweng and Hou Tonghai.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were puzzled. “What are these people doing in the Imperial Palace?” they thought. “Could it be they also want to steal some food from the imperial kitchen?”

They heard Wanyan Honglie speak again, still in low voice. “The Little Prince has carefully examined the secret letter Yue Fei left behind and also the documents from the dynasties two emperors, Gaozong and Xiaozong. I concluded that the Wumu Legacy is hidden fifteen steps east of the ‘Jade- Green Cold Hall’.”

Everyone’s eyes automatically followed the direction of his hand. Fifteen steps east of the hall was the waterfall and nothing else. Wanyan Honglie said, “How the book could be hidden in the waterfall? The Little Prince found hard to understand, but according to the documents, this is the correct place.”

Sha Tongtian was known as the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ [gui men long wang] and his water skills were excellent. “I’ll go and take a look at the waterfall,” he said. Without waiting, he stepped forward and jumped into the water. Not long afterward he reemerged. Everybody rushed forward to meet him, only to hear him say, “The Prince reasoned correctly. Behind the waterfall there is a cave with a closed iron gate.”

Wanyan Honglie was ecstatic. “The Wumu Legacy must be inside the cave,” he said. “I am afraid I’ll have to inconvenience you gentlemen and have you to open the iron gate.”

Everybody unsheathed their prized sabers and sharp blades, ready to comply with his request and each wanting to render meritorious service. They raced to the waterfall. Ouyang Feng laughed coldly and stayed at Wanyan Honglie’s side. He felt his reputation was different, so he was not willing to fetch the book with the others.

Sha Tongtian was the first to duck under the flowing water. Suddenly a gust of wind assaulted his face. He’d just come in to take a look and saw nothing. How could he guess an enemy would suddenly attack him? He hurriedly avoided the attack, but his left wrist was suddenly grabbed by the enemy and he was pushed hard. Against his wish, his body flew out and hit Liang Ziweng hard. Luckily both men’s martial arts skills were quite high and they were not injured.

Everyone was taken by surprise. In the meantime, Sha Tongtian entered the waterfall again…but this time he was ready. He raised both palms in front of his face and, sure enough, from behind the waterfall a fist came flying out. He used his left hand to parry while launching a counterattack with his right. During all this, he had not seen clearly who the enemy was.

Liang Ziweng had also jumped into the waterfall. A stick suddenly came sweeping close to the ground. Liang Ziweng tried to evade it, but he was too late. The lower part of his leg was hit squarely and he could not maintain his balance and fell backwards. As his chest was being hit by the waterfall, his leg was again hit by the stick. Against his will, his body fell outside the waterfall.

By this time Sha Tongtian had also been pushed outside of the waterfall by a swift and fierce palm. The ‘Three-Headed Dragon’ Hou Tonghai did not think about the martial arts skills his martial brother had compared to his own skills. If his martial brother was so easily defeated, how could he hope to achieve success? Relying on his superb water skills and his ability to open his eyes and see underwater, he charged into the waterfall.

Looking at the adverse situation, Peng Lianhu rushed forward to join the battle. Suddenly a dark and rather shiny shadow flew above his head. With a ‘Bang!’ that shadow fell to the ground and then he heard Hou Tonghai cry loudly in pain. Peng Lianhu quickly went over and said in a low voice, “Brother Hou [Hou Xiong]…be quiet! What happened?”

“Damn his granny!” Hou Tonghai cursed. “My butt is broken into four pieces from the fall.”

Peng Lianhu was confounded and amused at the same time. “Is there such a thing?” he whispered. He stretched his hand to check Hou Tonghai’s buttocks, seemingly checking to see if they were still in one piece. He found nothing injured. He knew something was amiss, but he did not want to face the danger rashly. “Who’s inside?” he asked.

Still in pain Hou Tonghai became angry. “How would I know?” he snapped. “As soon as I went in, I was thrown back out. That scoundrel of a bastard!”

In the starlight they saw the Venerable Lingzhi’s red robe fluttering as he entered the waterfall in big strides. Amidst the sound of the water gurgling, they could hear his loud shouts in Tibetan. It seemed like he was fighting an intense battle with the man inside.

Everyone looked at each other in surprise. Sha Tongtian and Liang Ziweng had been thrown out. But in the darkness they vaguely saw, behind the curtain of water, a man and a woman. The man was barehanded and the woman had a stick in her hand. At this time they heard the Venerable Lingzhi’s loud roar. It seemed he had suffered hardships as well. Wanyan Honglie frowned. “Why is this Venerable so reckless? He called out so earth shatteringly loud. If the palace guards heard it and come here, how will we get the book?” he said.

He had just finished speaking when they saw the Venerable Lingzhi’s red kasaya [Tibetan Robe] fly out from the waterfall and land floating on the red lotus pond, followed by two clanking sounds as the two copper cymbals that he used as weapons also flew out. Peng Lianhu was afraid the cymbals would make a loud noise if they hit the ground and thus alert the palace guards. He stretched out his hands and caught the cymbals. They heard loud shouts of Tibetan curse words coming from the waterfall, which nobody could understand, followed by a huge body flying out.

Luckily the Venerable Lingzhi’s martial arts were different from Hou Tonghai’s. Although he fell backwards, he was able to land softly, so his buttocks were not injured at all. He cursed aloud, “It’s the boy and the girl we met on the boat.”

When Guo Jing and Huang Rong were hiding behind the fake hill, they heard Wanyan Honglie order the people to go into the cave and steal the book. They thought that if the Wumu Legacy was obtained by him, the Jin army could follow Yue Wumu’s military strategies to invade the south, which would be disastrous. They realized that Ouyang Feng was around and that they were not his match, but if they did not step forward bravely, how would they bear it if, in the future, the common people of the world suffered such a disaster?

At first Huang Rong wanted to find a way to scare these people away, but Guo Jing knew that the situation was critical and they had no time to hesitate. He immediately grabbed Huang Rong’s hand and slipped behind the waterfall. They were hoping to set up an ambush and attack Ouyang Feng by surprise. Luckily the waterfall’s rumbling was so loud that nobody heard their movements.

The two did all they could to repel Sha Tongtian and the others. They were pleasantly surprised with the results and did not expect the Manual’s ‘Changing Muscles Forging Bones’ to be that marvelous. Huang Rong’s ‘Dog-Beating Stick’ had infinite variations. So amazing were they that even men of Sha Tongtian and the Venerable Lingzhi’s caliber were thrown into confused helplessness. Guo Jing took advantage of the situation to send out his palms and as a result they managed to throw everyone out of the waterfall.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong knew that as Sha Tongtian and the others were defeated, Ouyang Feng would go into action and that they absolutely could not fight against him. “Let’s get out of here quickly!” Huang Rong said, “We have to raise the alarm and let the palace guards come and prevent these people from acting further.”

“That’s right!” Guo Jing said, “You go out and raise the alarm. I am staying here on guard.”

“You must not fight the Old Poison,” Huang Rong said. “Yes. Now go! Go!” Guo Jing said.

Huang Rong was about to go out through the hole behind the waterfall when they suddenly heard a loud grunt and a great burst of energy came through the waterfall from the outside. The two did not dare to block it and leaped sideways to evade that energy. With a loud roar, Ouyang Feng’s ‘Toad Stance’ energy penetrated the waterfall and hit the iron gate. Water splashed everywhere and the force was astonishing.

Although Huang Rong managed to leap sideways, her back was still hit by the ‘Toad Stance’s’ lateral force. She felt her blood rushing and her vision blurred. She tried to focus her mind and then dashed outside shouting at the top of her lungs, “Seize the assassin! Seize the assassin!” She ran away while continuing to shout.

As she shouted, the palace guards all around the ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’ were startled awake. Shouting began immediately from everywhere, raising the alarm. Huang Rong jumped up on the roof of the hall, picked up some roof tiles, and ‘Bing…bing…bang…bang!” randomly threw them to the ground. “Kill that little girl first, then we’ll talk,” Peng Lianhu cursed. Launching his lightness kungfu, he gave chase. Liang Ziweng jumped to the left, trying to block her.

Wanyan Honglie was still calm. He said to Yang Kang, “Kang’er, go with Mr. Ouyang and get the book.”

By this time Ouyang Feng was already squatting on the ground in front of the waterfall. With another grunt he sent another burst of energy and the double iron gate at the cave’s mouth flew in. He was about to enter the cave, when from one side, a shadow suddenly attacked. Before the person even arrived, his palm had already come, launching the dangerous stance of the ‘Flying Dragon Soaring Through the Heavens’ [fei long zai tian]. Although he could not clearly see that person’s appearance in the dark cave, as soon as he saw the stance he knew it must be Guo Jing. He was delighted, “The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is exceptionally difficult to comprehend and I only understand two out of ten sentences. If I can capture this kid, I can force him to explain it.” He leaned sideways to evade the attack then swiftly stretched out his hand, trying to grab Guo Jing’s back.

Guo Jing was determined that no matter what he had to do to guard the entrance, he would not let the enemy enter. As long as he could hold it for a while, the palace guards would come. Although this group of traitors’ martial arts was high, they would have to run away eventually. He was slightly puzzled to see Ouyang Feng not trying to kill him but merely trying to capture him. His left hand swept the attacking hand away and his right hand counterattacked with the ‘Vacant Fist’ technique. Even though, in terms of strength, this technique was inferior to the ‘Eighteen Dragon- Subduing Palms’, by using the ‘Vacant Fist’, his palms floated with tricky movements.

“Good!” Ouyang Feng exclaimed. He dropped his shoulder and pulled back his hand while trying to catch Guo Jing’s right arm. His hand did not carry the gust of wind that came with his usual swift and ferocious force.

While he was on the deserted island, Ouyang Feng studied the Manual Guo Jing wrote out. The more he practiced it the more he felt something was wrong. It never crossed his mind that the Manual in his hands was altered to the point of being somewhat unintelligible. He thought that the Manual carried a very deep and profound meaning which could not be deciphered in a short period of time. Later on he heard Hong Qigong mumbling some gibberish on the raft which he thought was the key to understanding the Manual. Also, every time he met Guo Jing, he noticed that his martial arts were continuously progressing. He was startled yet delighted at the same time. Startled: because this kid’s skills were improving so rapidly. Therefore, the power contained in the Manual must be truly something to be feared. Delighted: because the Manual was in his hands. By strengthening his own background, his advancement in the future would be limitless.

On the raft he fought a life and death battle against two enemies. This time he felt that he had gained the upper hand and wanted to fight at a leisurely pace. He thought he would be able to dissect the manual by watching Guo Jing’s every single move. He did not care whether the Wumu Legacy would be stolen or not. In his heart the only important matter right was the martial arts in the Manual.

By now the light from the many lanterns carried all around the area had made the ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’ bright as daylight, as more and more palace guards arrived. Wanyan Honglie noted that Ouyang Feng and Yang Kang had been behind the water’s curtain for a very long time without coming back out. Meanwhile the palace guards gathered around them. He was getting increasingly anxious. Fortunately the guards’ attention was concentrated by Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziweng on the roof chasing after Huang Rong, oblivious that there was a bigger fight going on inside the waterfall. He realized, however, that sooner or later the guards’ would detect their presence there. He stomped his feet and waved his hands continuously, while urgently calling out, “Quick…quick!”

“Don’t worry Prince, little monk will go in again,” the Venerable Lingzhi said. Shaking his left palm in front of his body he entered the waterfall. By now the light from outside had penetrated the water curtain. He was able to see Ouyang Feng exchanging stances with Guo Jing in front of the cave entrance, while Yang Kang, at one side, was trying to get into the cave. But how could he pass through the two people’s ferocious gusts of wind created by their palms?

The Venerable Lingzhi watched for several stances until he could not endure it any longer. He knew the present situation was very urgent. But Ouyang Feng was sparring leisurely with this kid. Truly he was a bastard. “Mr. Ouyang, let me help you!” he shouted.

“Don’t come near me!” Ouyang Feng replied.

The Venerable Lingzhi thought, “In a situation like this you still flaunt yourself as a hero and display your reputation as a grandmaster of a martial arts school?” He bent his knees and attacked Guo Jing’s left side. His ‘Big Hand Imprint’ [da shou yin] slapped Guo Jing’s ‘Sun’ [tai yang] acupoint.

Ouyang Feng was angry. His right hand stretched out to grab the back of Lingzhi’s neck and fling him out. As soon as his neck was grabbed, the Venerable Lingzhi became very angry and he shouted a series of the most obscene cuss words he could think of. Unfortunately he was speaking Tibetan, so Ouyang Feng naturally did not understand a word he was saying. All he heard was “Ba ni mi hong”… half a sentence because water started to get into his mouth and his curses were drowned. As he fell backwards with his face facing the sky, he landed in the pond and water began filling his mouth.

Wanyan Honglie saw the Venerable Lingzhi come flying out and fall like he was mounting the clouds and riding the mist. Then he heard a loud clanking noise as the big flower pot in front of the ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’ was crushed. He groaned inwardly. He also saw many palace guards coming in succession, so he hastily tucked in his robe and went inside the waterfall.

Although he had learned some martial arts, his skill was only so-so. As soon as he was inside the waterfall he stepped on the slippery surface and fell down. Yang Kang rushed forward to help him up. It took a while for Wanyan Honglie to scan the cave and see what was going on. “Mr. Ouyang, can you expel this youngster?” he called out. He knew that no matter how he begged or entreated, Ouyang Feng might not necessarily pay any attention to him. Therefore he resorted to subtlety by asking if Ouyang Feng was capable of expelling Guo Jing. This was called ‘dispatching a general is not as good as inciting a general’.

Sure enough, as soon as Ouyang Feng heard that, he replied, “Why not?” He squatted and with a loud grunt, sent his ‘Toad Stance’ energy forward through his palms. This one push was backed by his lifelong cultivation of internal energy. Even if Hong Qigong or Huang Yaoshi were here, they would not be able to resist this attack head on, so how could Guo Jing block it?

Ouyang Feng had just exchanged several stances with Guo Jing, compelling him to use the ‘Vacant Fist’ technique. He noticed that Guo Jing’s movements were subtle with marvelous variations. In his heart he was secretly pleased and thought this must be the ‘Nine Yin Manual’s’ martial arts. He wanted to watch Guo Jing use enough of this technique so that he could steal as much as he could. Unfortunately, Wanyan Honglie barged in and questioned his ability. He still thought that Guo Jing would be useful, and he knew the ferociousness of his own strength, therefore, he voluntarily withdrew his push.

But unexpectedly, Guo Jing was determined to guard the Wumu Legacy with his life. He knew that if he stepped to the side, the cave entrance would be defenseless and the Wumu Legacy would fall into the enemy’s hands. Although there were numerous palace guards outside, how could they defend against Ouyang Feng and the others? He knew the incoming force was ferocious. He could not block it, yet he must evade it. His feet kicked jump about four feet upwards to escape the attack and landed back in front of the entrance. He heard a loud noise behind him as sand and rocks fell because Ouyang Feng’s force had hit the cave wall.

“Good!” Ouyang Feng called out. With exceptional speed he sent out the second attack. The previous force had not yet dissipated before the next force arrived.

Guo Jing felt a sudden gust of wind blowing on his upper body. He groaned inwardly and immediately launched both palms forward using the ‘Tremors Shake a Hundred li’ [zhen jing bai li]. It was one of the most powerful moves of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’. This time he’d blocked hard with a ‘hard’ stance. For an instant both of them stayed motionless. Guo Jing realized his strength was not a match for his enemy’s and he knew he would suffer defeat, but there was no alternative.

Wanyan Honglie watched these two men fighting, leaping and eluding. As one rose up the other dropped down. Suddenly they were as rigid as corpses. Not even a finger stirred and they did not even seem to breathe. He was greatly astonished. A short moment later sweat began to drip from Guo Jing’s body. Ouyang Feng knew that if this fight continued his opponent would suffer a serious injury. He had a mind to yield for half a stance, but as soon as he lessened his power his chest tightened because his opponent’s power was pressing in. If not for his profound strength he would certainly have been injured.

Ouyang Feng was startled. He had never expected that at such a young age, Guo Jing’s strength would be so fierce. He took a deep breath and counterattacked immediately, pushing the incoming force back. If he just added a little bit more strength to his push, he would be able to overcome Guo Jing easily. But at this time, both parties palm strength was equal. If he wanted to score a victory he would have to inflict heavy injuries on his opponent. It would not be difficult should he really want to kill Guo Jing, but this kid was the key to understanding the Manual, so how could he destroy his only resource? Therefore, he intended to wait for Guo Jing’s strength to become depleted and then capture him.

Not too much later it became obvious that as one’s strength declined, the other’s increased. Wanyan Honglie and Yang Kang, who watched from the sidelines, did not know how much longer this situation would last. They became very anxious. Actually, the two people had only been in this deadlock for a short time, but because the light from outside was getting brighter and the noise from outside was getting louder, it seemed in Wanyan Honglie and Yang Kang’s minds that they had been motionless for a very long time.

With a loud noise, two palace guards suddenly came barging into the waterfall. Yang Kang swiftly pounced. With a ‘ta, ta’ sound both of his hands penetrated the guards bodies. It was the deadly ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ [jiu yin bai zhua gong]. The reeking smell of blood assailed everyone’s nostrils as the guards died instantly. Yang Kang then drew a dagger from his boot and jumped forward to stab Guo Jing in the side.

Guo Jing was resisting Ouyang Feng’s palm with all his strength. How could he avoid this incoming thrust? He knew if he moved even a little bit he would die violently from the Western Poison’s ‘Toad Stance’. Therefore, even though he knew the dagger would penetrate his body soon, he was forced to ignore it. He suddenly felt a severe pain in his side and his breathing stopped. He instinctively swung his fist and hit Yang Kang’s hand.

By this time the difference in the levels of martial arts between these two was vast. Guo Jing’s fist struck Yang Kang’s hand like it was about to crack bones. Yang Kang hastily withdrew his hand so that the dagger’s blade only penetrated halfway into Guo Jing’s side. Right at that moment the ‘Toad Stance’s’ force came surging into Guo Jing’s chest. He let out a noiseless grunt, bent over, and fell down.

Realizing that in the end he had inflicted injury, Ouyang Feng waved his hand and shook his head. “What a pity! What a pity!” he called out. He was dejected and knew that this kid could not be revived. There was no reason why he should hang around since he still had to get the Wumu Legacy. He stared at Yang Kang angrily and thought, “This kid has spoiled my big chance.” He turned around and entered the cave in big strides. Wanyan Honglie and Yang Kang followed behind.

By that time there were a lot of palace guards there. Without turning, Ouyang Feng reached back and, one by one, flung the guards away. In the end, no guards were able to enter the cave.

Yang Kang lit a torch to see the cave’s interior. He saw thick dust everywhere…a sign that nobody had entered it for a very long time. There was a stone table in the middle of the cave and a stone box on top of it, measuring about two feet square. The box was sealed. Other than that, no other objects could be seen inside the cave. Yang Kang brought his torch closer to take a look. The writing on the seal looked very old and the characters were not recognizable.

“The book must be inside this box,” Wanyan Honglie called out.

Yang Kang was delighted. As he reached out his hand to take the box, Ouyang Feng’s left arm gently pushed his shoulder away. Yang Kang staggered back several steps before falling down. He was startled and saw that Ouyang Feng had taken the box.

“The great work is accomplished…everyone withdraw!” Wanyan Honglie called out.

With Ouyang Feng in front leading the way, the three went out of the cave. Yang Kang saw Guo Jing, his body covered with blood, lying motionless among several guards at the cave entrance. He felt slight remorse and muttered under his breath, “You don’t know good from bad and always meddle in other people’s business. You can’t blame me for this in spite of our sworn brotherhood.” Remembering his dagger was still in Guo Jing’s body, he stooped to retrieve it and suddenly saw a shadow appear outside. “Jing ge ge, where are you?” the shadow called out.

Yang Kang recognized Huang Rong’s voice. He was startled and without taking his dagger he jumped over Guo Jing’s body and ran outside of the water curtain to follow Ouyang Feng and the others.

o0o

Earlier, Huang Rong had been rushing to the east and running to the west on the rooftops with Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziweng in pursuit. Not long afterwards, palace guards began to gather in the area. Peng and Liang were frightened and did not dare chase Huang Rong any longer, so they went back to join Sha Tongtian and the others waiting for Wanyan Honglie by the waterfall. They killed several guards outside the cave before Ouyang Feng came out.

Huang Rong was concerned about Guo Jing, so she went back inside the cave and called out several times without getting an answer. She was beginning to get nervous, so she struck her flint to her fire-starter bundle and saw Guo Jing, his body soaked in blood, lying next to her foot. Huang Rong was scared to death and her hands began to tremble, her fire-starter bundle fell and the fire went out.

Outside the cave, the guards were still shouting loudly, calling to each other to capture the assassin. More than a dozen guards were grabbed and tossed away by Ouyang Feng with broken necks. No one dared go near them any longer. The palace guards carried a heavy burden of responsibility and presently there was an assassin in the palace. If they did not shout loudly and appear bold by not running away, how else could they show their loyalty?

Huang Rong stooped down to hold Guo Jing, noticed that his hand was still warm and felt relieved. She called out several times without getting an answer from him, so she decided to carry him on her back and quietly slipped away from the waterfall towards the back of the false hill.

By now the area around the ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’ was as bright as daylight from the guard’s lanterns. Guards from other parts of the palace had heard the news and arrived in abundance. Even though Huang Rong’s movements were quick, it was impossible to avoid being seen by several guards. They shouted loudly and began to chase her. Huang Rong silently cursed. “You are a bunch of scum. You don’t pursue the bad people but chase after the good people.”

She gritted her teeth and flew away. Several guards with higher martial arts skills managed to get close to her, forcing her to launch several steel needles. “Aiyo!” she heard several guards cry out and fall down. The rest of the guards did not dare pursue her and could only look helplessly at her as she leaped over the palace wall and disappeared without a trace.

Those people were so noisy that the whole palace was frightened. In the dark of the night nobody knew if it was a coup with somebody trying to usurp the emperor’s throne, or some government officers inciting a rebellion. The palace guards, the imperial army, and all the armed forces personnel were alarmed, but not a single high-ranking military officer knew what was going on for sure. They were confused for the rest of the night. Come daybreak the cavalry was dispatched and the city was turned upside down in search of ‘the rebels’ or ‘the assassin’. Quite a number of people were arrested. Unfortunately, later investigations proved that these people were nothing but petty thieves and local ruffians. The officials were forced to fabricate oral confessions and randomly execute some people in order to appease the throne and to assure their own safety and position.

After leaving the palace that night, Huang Rong ran without looking where she was heading. She randomly chose her way and only slowed down after realizing that nobody was pursuing them. She entered a small alley and stretched her finger to feel for Guo Jing’s breath. She was relieved to find Guo Jing was still breathing, but since her flint had been lost in the palace, in the darkness she could not examine him to determine where the injury was. She knew if she waited for dawn, it would be more difficult to find shelter inside the city walls, especially with her having a blood-covered person with her, so she decided to leave the city that very same night and headed towards Sha Gu’s wine shop.

Huang Rong’s martial arts skills were high, but after running fast for half the night and carrying Guo Jing on her back, it was with a nervous heart that she shoved open the door of Sha Gu’s shop. She was out of breath and her body felt weak. She sat down to calm herself. After catching her breath she found a piece of firewood and lit it so she could look at Guo Jing’s face and examine his wound. She was even more shocked than when they were at the palace.

Guo Jing’s eyes were tightly closed, his face was as white as a sheet, and he looked more dead than alive. Huang Rong had seen him injured several times before, but had never seen him in this kind of critical condition. She felt as though her own heart was about to jump out of her throat. As she stood lost in thought with the torch in her hand a hand suddenly reached out from the side and touched the torch. Huang Rong slowly turned her head and saw that it was Sha Gu. Huang Rong sucked in a deep breath. Now that there was someone beside her, she felt somewhat better. She remembered that she was going to examine Guo Jing’s injury. Under the bright light of the torch she could see a blackish object protruding from Guo Jing’s side. It looked like the ebony hilt of a dagger. She lowered her head for a closer look and saw that it was indeed a dagger with the blade stuck in Guo Jing’s left side.

By this time Huang Rong’s panic had reached its limits and her mind became calm. She gently tore the clothes from around his waist, exposing bare skin and muscle. She saw that the blood had coagulated around the blade, which had penetrated the muscle several ‘cun’ deep [1 cun is approximately 1 inch]. She was afraid if she pulled the dagger out, Guo Jing would die immediately, but if she waited too long it would be even more difficult to save his life. Biting her lips, she reached out to grab the dagger’s hilt, but doubt suddenly came creeping into her heart and she withdrew her hand. This happened several times. She just could not make up her mind.

Sha Gu became impatient. The fourth time Huang Rong withdrew her hand, she suddenly stretched out hers, grabbed the hilt and abruptly pulled the dagger out. Both Guo Jing and Huang Rong shouted in shock, but Sha Gu thought it was fun and laughed happily.

Huang Rong saw blood gushing like a spring from Guo Jing’s wound, while Sha Gu was still laughed foolishly. Huang Rong went from shock to anger. Her palm struck backwards sending Sha Gu rolling on the floor. Then she immediately stooped down to press the wound with a handkerchief.

When Sha Gu fell, she took the torch with her. The flame was extinguished and the room became pitch-black. Sha Gu was angry. She jumped up and kicked Huang Rong’s leg. Huang Rong did not avoid the kick. Sha Gu was afraid Huang Rong would retaliate, so she jumped back immediately after kicking. After a while, she heard Huang Rong sobbing softly. She was surprised. Hastily she re-lit the torch and came asking, “Did I hurt you bad?”

When the dagger was pulled out, the pain was so severe it woke Guo Jing up. In the torch light he saw Huang Rong kneeling beside him. “Master Yue’s book … was it … was it stolen?” he quickly asked.

Huang Rong was delighted to hear him speak. Knowing he was very concerned about this matter she felt it was not the right time to add to his anxiety. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Those traitors were not able to get their hands on the book …” She wanted to ask how he was feeling but her hands were still warm from his blood.

“Why are you crying?” Guo Jing asked in a low voice. Huang Rong forced a smile and said, “I am not crying.”

Sha Gu suddenly opened her mouth, “She is too, isn’t she? Look, there are still tears on her face.”

“Rong’er, don’t worry.” Guo Jing said. “There is a section about treating injuries in the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. I won’t die.”

Upon hearing this, Huang Rong was like someone in the dark suddenly seeing a beacon of light. Her eyes shone brightly and her delight was unspeakable as though nothing could dampen her spirits. She wanted to ask for the details but was afraid she would make him weary. She turned around to hold Sha Gu’s hand. “Sister, did I hurt you just now?” she asked, with smile on her face.

Sha Gu’s mind was still set on seeing her cry so she ignored her question and asked, “You were crying…won’t you admit it?”

Huang Rong smiled, “Fine, I was crying but you weren’t. You are a good girl.” Sha Gu was delighted to hear her praise.

Guo Jing slowly circulated his ‘qi’ because the pain was unbearable. By this time Huang Rong had cleared her mind. She took out a steel needle and pierced the acupoints around his left side, both to slow down the flow of blood and to reduce the pain. Then she washed his wound, applied some medicine and re-wrapped the wound with clean cloth. She also gave him a ‘Nine Flower Jade Dew Pill’ to help stop the pain.

Guo Jing said, “Although the dagger went in pretty deep, but … luckily it did not hit any vital organs, so it … it won’t be life-threatening. I suffered more dangerous injuries from the Old Poison’s ‘Toad Stance’. Fortunately it seems like he did not use all of his strength, so it looks like I can be healed. Only I will have to make you suffer for seven days and seven nights.” Huang Rong sighed. “You know that even if I had to suffer seventy years for you, I would still be willing,” she said.

Guo Jing felt a sweetness creep into his heart and at the same time felt dizzy. After waiting for a moment his mind cleared up a little bit and he said, “It was a pity that when Master was injured I missed several days’ opportunity to treat him. Had it been otherwise, even though the snake venom was fierce, it wouldn’t have been too hard for him to fully recover. He wouldn’t be … he wouldn’t be disabled like he is today.”

Huang Rong replied, “When we were on that island, even if we could have healed Master’s injury, would the Old Poison and his nephew let us? Please don’t think that way. Just tell me your method and set my mind at ease.”

“First we must find a peaceful and quiet place,” Guo Jing said. “Then, following the Manual’s instructions, we circulate our ‘qi’ together. Each will hold the other’s palm. By using your internal energy you are helping me heal my injury.” At this point he closed his eyes to catch his breath before continuing. “The only difficulty is that for seven whole days and nights our palms cannot be separated even for a second. Your breathing will be closely linked to mine. We can talk to each other, but we definitely can’t have a third person interrupting us by even a half sentence. Also, we must not walk even half a step. If someone else disturbs us, we may …”

Huang Rong realized this kind of treatment was similar to the meditation for cultivating someone’s martial arts. Before reaching a satisfactory result, one cannot experience any external interruptions. Otherwise, the mind would be disturbed with bad thoughts or would go out of control. Unavoidably the result would be a fire deviation and not only would the whole energy cultivation be wasted, but at the very least the person could suffer an injury or even die. That is the reason warriors who cultivate internal energy will find a secluded and uninhabited mountain or field, or at least close their doors and not leave, and have a skilled and powerful master or friend protecting them from the sidelines to prevent their training going astray. She thought, “With this short notice it’s difficult to find a peaceful and quiet place and I am the only one who can help him treat his injury. It’s impossible to rely on Sha Gu to guard against external disturbances. She could even come and create endless disturbances herself. If only Big Brother Zhou would come back. But even then I don’t think he will be able to focus his mind on guarding us for seven days and seven nights. Success won’t be guaranteed and more than likely, things will go wrong. What should I do?” She mused over this matter for a long time. Then she glanced over at the iron bowl in the cabinet. An idea came into her mind, “I’ve got it. We can hide inside the secret room. In the past Mei Chaofeng practiced martial arts without anybody protecting her. Didn’t she hide herself in a cave?”

It was now dawn. Sha Gu went to the kitchen and cooked some rice porridge for the two to eat. “Jing ge ge,” Huang Rong said. “Wait here for a moment. I am going to buy some food and then we can start your treatment immediately.”

She thought that with the weather being blisteringly hot, if she cooked some rice and dishes, they would definitely spoil if kept in the room for seven days and nights. She went to the village market to buy a picul [approximately 50 kg or 100 lbs] of watermelons.

The farmer who sold the watermelons brought everything back to Sha Gu’s inn and stacked them on the floor. On the way out after being paid he said, “Our Ox Village’s watermelons are sweet and crispy. Once Miss tastes them, you will agree with me.”

On hearing the words ‘Ox Village’ [niu jia cun], Huang Rong’s heart skipped a beat. “So it turns out this is Ox Village,” she said to herself. “This is Jing ge ge’s hometown.” She was afraid that if Guo Jing found out his mind would be disturbed and therefore, she replied noncommittally.

She waited until the villager went out before going to the hidden chamber. Guo Jing was asleep and blood no longer seeped out through the cotton cloth wrapped around his waist. Huang Rong opened the cabinet, turned the iron bowl to open the secret chamber’s door, and took the watermelons inside one by one. Then only one thing remained outside…Sha Gu. Huang Rong had repeatedly warned Sha Gu not to tell anybody that they would be staying inside the chamber. No matter what kind of earth shattering things happened, she was not supposed to call out from outside.

Sha Gu did not understand her intentions, but seeing Huang Rong’s serious expression, she said she understood and repeatedly nodded her head. “You want to eat watermelons inside and you don’t want anybody to know. After you finish eating watermelons, you will come back out again. Sha Gu will not tell.”

Huang Rong was happy. “If Sha Gu doesn’t tell, Sha Gu is a good girl,” she said. “If Sha Gu tells, Sha Gu is a bad girl.”

“Sha Gu won’t tell…Sha Gu is a good girl,” Sha Gu said repeatedly.

Huang Rong fed Guo Jing another big bowl of rice porridge and ate one herself. Then she helped him enter the secret chamber. As she was closing the door from the inside, she saw Sha Gu’s simple face showing a smile. Sha Gu said, “Sha Gu won’t tell.”

Suddenly Huang Rong’s heart fluttered. “This girl is so dumb and what if every time she meet someone she says, ‘Those two eat watermelons inside the cabinet, but Sha Gu won’t tell?’ The only way to ensure our safety is to kill her.”

She grew up under the influence of her father. Benevolence and justice, the differences between good and evil didn’t matter to them. Although she knew that Sha Gu had a very close relationship with Qu Lingfeng, right at that moment she presented a danger to Guo Jing’s life. Even if there were a dozen Sha Gus, she would kill them all.

She took the dagger from Guo Jing’s waist and walked out of the room.