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The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 29

Chapter 29 – The Lady of the Black Marsh 

Riding on the back of the eagle Guo Jing repeatedly shouted, calling the little red horse on the ground to follow them. In a short moment the pair of eagles had covered quite a distance. Although this pair of eagles was extraordinarily big, they were not able to fly too far while carrying humans on their back. Not too long afterwards, they started to descend and finally landed on the ground.

Guo Jing immediately jumped down the eagle’s back and rushed to see Huang Rong’s condition. He found out that Huang Rong had passed out while on the eagle’s back. Hastily he untied her belt and massaged her pulse. After a while Huang Rong regained her consciousness, but she was still in a daze and was unable to utter any word.

By that time the dark clouds were hanging on the sky, blocking the moon and stars from shining their lights to the ground. Having barely escaped from death, when he recalled what had just happened Guo Jing still shivered with fear. He held Huang Rong in his hands, standing in the middle of the wilderness. He felt the world was vast and obscure and did not know where he should go. He did not dare to call his little red horse for fear that Qiu Qianren would hear his call.

After standing still for half a day, he had no choice but to start walking. Every step he took he treaded on either a bush or tall grass; there was no pathway at all. His calves were pricked by thorns along the way. Although feeling the pain, he doggedly walked forward. All around him was pitch- black; even if he tried to open his eyes wide he still could not see his hands in front of his eyes. He was forced to walk very slow, for fear that he would step into an empty space; yet because he feared the Iron Palm Clan people would pursue, he did not dare to pause.

After walking miserably for about two ‘li’s [1 li is approximately 0.5 km] suddenly he saw a big star twinkling low on the horizon to his left. He looked attentively, trying to get his bearing; he found out that that was not a star, but a fire light. And where there was light, there were bound to be people around. Guo Jing was delighted; he sped up his footsteps walking directly to that light. He saw that the light sometimes disappeared among the tree; it looked like the source of that light was inside a thick forest ahead of him. But once he entered the forest he was unable to walk straight, the pathway was bent to the east and turned to the west, so very soon he lost sight of the light. It was difficult to see where he was going in that thick forest, so he jumped up a tree and looked around; he found out that the light was already behind him.

He walked back, but very soon he lost sight again. After seemingly walking in circles his head was spinning; no matter where he went, he simply could not reach that light. He was thinking about his pair of eagles and his horse, but did not know where they went. He was thinking about jumping from tree to tree, but it was so dark that he could not see where to step; also he was afraid the tree branches would hurt Huang Rong. But they had to find lodging for the night for he knew they could not stay in this dark forest waiting for dawn. He determined to keep walking even if he had to bump his head on the trees. Therefore, he decided to calm down and caught his breath first, taking a short break.

By now Huang Rong had slowly regained her consciousness; on Guo Jing’s back she felt how he walked around, turning to the east and curving to the west. Although she could not see anything she began to understand the pathway of the forest. “Jing Gege, walk diagonally to the right,” she said in low voice.

“Rong’er, are you all right?” Guo Jing happily asked.

Huang Rong mumbled indistinctly, she was still too weak to speak. Guo Jing walked following her direction. Huang Rong silently counted his footsteps. After about seventeen steps she said, “Walk to the left eight steps.” Guo Jing followed her instruction. Huang Rong again said, “Walk diagonally to the right again for thirteen steps.” With one giving direction the other following, two people made a good progress in that pitch-black winding forest pathway. When Guo Jing walked back and forth earlier, Huang Rong had deducted correctly that this pathway was manmade. She had partially mastered Huang Yaoshi’s wonderful ‘wu xing qi men’ [five ways strange/wonderful/mysterious gates] technique; even though the pathway was confusing, she could see it clearly with her eyes closed. If it were daylight, she would have arrived sooner, but in the dark she could not identify any safe trail at all.

By following Huang Rong’s instructions, Guo Jing walked sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right, sometimes diagonally several steps to the left or to the right; sometimes seemingly he walked further away from the light, but in less than a time needed to drink a cup of tea the light source suddenly appeared in front of them. Guo Jing was delighted, he dashed forward.

“Not too fast!” Huang Rong anxiously called out. “Aiyo!” Guo Jing cried out. His feet sank straight into a moat. Quickly he kicked his feet to pull out from the moat. Once they were back on solid ground, a strong fume of mud from his feet attacked their nostrils. They looked ahead and vaguely saw two thatched huts surrounded by a thin layer of mist. The light was coming from these huts.

Guo Jing loudly called out, “We are passing visitors, also suffering a serious injury. We beseech the master of the house to grant us a place to rest and some water to drink.” But after waiting for half a day no reply came out from the huts. Guo Jing called again, but still nobody answered. After calling out for the third time a female voice answered from the huts, “You can get this far, certainly you have the ability to enter the house. Must I come out to greet you?” Her voice was exceptionally cold and indifferent; obviously she did not welcome the visitor and did not want to be disturbed.

Under normal circumstances Guo Jing would prefer spending the night in the forest, he also hated to deliberately disturb unwelcoming host; but for now Huang Rong’s well-being was more important to him. However, in front of him was a wide marsh, which he did not know how to cross; therefore, with a low voice he discussed this thing over with Huang Rong. Huang Rong thought for a moment then said, “These huts are built in the middle of a pond of mud. Take a look clearly and tell me whether the shapes of those huts are one square and the other round.”

Guo Jing opened up his eye wide for a moment then he exclaimed, “That’s right! Rong’er, you know everything.”

“Go to the back of that round hut, from there walk straight to the light three steps, then turn diagonally to the left four steps, then straight three steps and diagonally to the right four steps. By carefully walking straight and diagonally like this, you won’t make a wrong step,” Huang Rong said.

Guo Jing followed her instruction to the letter; and sure enough, every time he stepped his foot down, he would step on a submerged wooden stake. Only those wooden stakes were not firm, some of them wobbled and some were planted on an angle; if his lightness kungfu was not good, they would fall into the marsh. He focused all his attention to walk three steps diagonally and four steps straight; and after walking a total of 119 steps they arrived at the front of the square hut.

The hut was actually without a door. Huang Rong whispered, “From here you jump forward, make sure you land on the left side.”

Carrying Huang Rong on his back Guo Jing jumped forward and landed on the left side, he could not help but feel amazed, “Everything is exactly as Rong’er has anticipated.”

There was a courtyard inside the wall, which was divided into two parts: on the left was solid ground, while on the right was a pond. Guo Jing crossed the courtyard and entered the main hall. Outside the hall was a moon gate without any door on it. “Go straight ahead,” Huang Rong said, “There is nothing strange from here on.”

Guo Jing nodded. With a loud and clear voice he said, “The passing visitors took the liberty to enter the house; I beg the esteemed host to forgive our boldness.” He waited for a moment then proceeded to enter the hall. Inside the hall there was a long table; on it were seven oil lamps, arranged in the Big Dipper formation. On the ground squatted a grey-haired lady, her clothes were made from coarse fabric. Her attention was focused on the countless bamboo strip scattered on the ground; so deep was her concentration that even when she heard people came in, she did not raise her head to look.

Guo Jing gently lowered Huang Rong on a chair. Under the lamp light they saw that lady’s countenance to be thin and pallid, as if she did not have any blood; they felt compassionate toward her. Guo Jing was about to open his mouth asking for some water but seeing that lady so engrossed in whatever she was doing, he was afraid to interrupt her train of thought; hence he refrained from making any noise.

After sitting down for a moment, Huang Rong’s spirit was slightly revived. She saw the bamboo strips on the ground to be approximately four ‘cun’s [about 13cm or 5inches] long and two ‘fen’s [about 7mm or ½ inch] wide; they were bamboo strips usually used for calculation. Again she looked closer, those computation were based on ‘shang, shi, fa, jie’ [business/commerce, reality, law, lending (money)] method of calculation with four decimal point. Right now she was calculating the square root of 55,225; with the ‘shang’ position had shown the result to be 230. But that lady was still struggling with the third digit.

Huang Rong quipped, “Five! Two hundred and thirty five!”

That old lady was startled, she raised her head, her eyes were gleaming, looking at Huang Rong with a penetrating gaze, and then immediately lowered her head to continue her calculation. When she raised her head, Guo and Huang, two people saw her face; it was simple and beautiful. They believed she was not even forty years of age yet. Perhaps the hair on her temples had turned grey because she had too much in her mind.

After computing for while, the lady figured out the answer was indeed ‘five’; she raised her head to look at Huang Rong again. She looked confounded, but also angry, as if she was going to say, “You are but a young girl; you have made a lucky guess, what’s so strange about that? Just don’t mess with my business here.” She wrote down ‘235’ five characters [er bai san shi wu] on a piece of paper, then proceed to the next problem.

This time she was looking for the cube root of 34,012,224. She started by putting down the ‘shang’ and ‘shi’ and ‘fang’ [square], followed by ‘lian’ [inexpensive], ‘yu’ [corner] and ‘xia’ [lower], six strips; and found the first digit to be ‘three’.

Huang Rong softly said, “Three hundred and twenty four.”

That lady uttered an ‘Hmm’ sound, how could she believe her? She continued calculating for a long time, and after a time needed to drink a cup of tea later, the result came out, it was indeed ‘324’.

That lady straightened up her back and stood up; it appeared that her forehead was full of wrinkles, but her cheeks were full, her face looked round. The upper half of her face look old, the lower half looked young, looked like both parts differed by as much as twenty years. Her eyes stared at Huang Rong, suddenly she pointed toward the inner room and said, “Come with me.” She took an oil lamp and walked in.

Guo Jing propped Huang Rong up and followed her inside. The inner room’s wall was round; the floor was covered with fine sand. On the sand were written many weird symbols, vertical and horizontal lines and circles; also some characters such as ‘tai’ [great], ‘tian yuan’ [first/primary sky], ‘di yuan’ [first/primary earth], ‘ren yuan’ [first/primary human], and ‘wu yuan’ [first/primary object].

Guo Jing had no idea what they were; he was afraid to mess these symbols up, so he stopped at the door and did not dare to step into the room.

Since her childhood Huang Rong had been trained by her father in all kinds of mathematics. She looked at the symbols on the ground and immediately recognized it was an advance technique in mathematics called the ‘tian yuan zhi shu’ [sky primary technique]. Even though it looked complicated, it should not be too difficult to solve as long as one understood the principle. [Author’s note: It very much resembles the modern day algebra. Our country since the ancient times had developed this calculation technique, with ‘tian’, ‘di’, ‘ren’ and ‘wu’ as four unknown variables; much like the X, Y, X and W variables in western algebra]

Huang Rong pulled the bamboo stick from her waist; leaning on Guo Jing she started writing on the sand. In a short while all seven, eight mathematics problems on the sand were solved. That lady had painstakingly tried to solve those problems in months; seeing the solutions, she could not help but feeling deeply confounded. She was silent for half a day then suddenly asked, “Who are you?”

Huang Rong showed a faint smile and replied, “What’s so special about ‘tian yuan si [four] yuan zhi shu’? The mathematics book has nineteen primaries, after the ‘ren’ there are ‘xian’ [immortal], ‘ming’ [bright], ‘xiao’ [firmament], ‘han’ [from Han dynasty], ‘lei’ [rampart], ‘ceng’ [layer], ‘gao’ [high], ‘shang’ [top/above], and ‘tian’ [sky]. Before the ‘ren’ are ‘di’ [earth/ground], ‘xia’ [below/under], ‘di’ [low], ‘jian’ [subtract], ‘luo’

[drop], ‘shi’ [die], ‘quan’ [fountain], ‘an’ [hidden/secret], and ‘gui’ [sly/crafty]. Once you mastered the nineteenth primary, all problems will look easy!”

That lady looked dejected, her body trembled; she dropped to the ground, holding her head in her hands as she was lost, deep in thought. A moment later she raised her head and with a delighted face asked, “Your mathematics skill is a hundred times better than mine, but let me ask you this: you have a three by three array of number one thru nine, no matter how you add it up, vertically, horizontally or diagonally, the sum of any three numbers has to be fifteen. How do you arrange it?”

Huang Rong thought, “My father established the Peach Blossom Island based on the five ways variation; what’s so mysterious about it? The ‘jiu gong’ [nine palace or halls] is the foundation of the Peach Blossom Island diagram; how could I not know about it?” Therefore, with a calm voice she recited, “The ‘jiu gong’ diagram is constructed like the pattern on the turtle shell [Translator’s note: do a google search with keyword ‘Lo Shu Square’]; four and two are the shoulders, eight and six are the feet. Three on the left and seven on the right; put on nine and tread on one, while five occupies the center.” While reciting this she made a diagram of the ‘jiu gong’ on the sand.

That lady’s countenance turned ashen, she sighed, “I thought I developed this secret formula. Turned out there is a song about it handed down for generations.”

Huang Rong smiled, “Not only ‘jiu gong’, even four by four array, or five by five, down to the hundred by hundred array, are not too difficult,” she said, “Take four by four array for example; we have 16 numbers in four rows. First we determine the four corner pairs; one and sixteen made a pair, so are four and thirteen. Then we determine the four pairs inside; six and eleven make a pair, so are seven and ten. This way the sums of all horizontal, vertical, and diagonal rows are all 34.”

That lady made the diagram on the sand and sure enough, it was as Huang Rong had said. Huang Rong continued, “Each hall of that nine halls diagram can be transformed into ‘ba gua’ [eight-diagram]. Eight by nine equal to 72 numbers. These numbers: 1 to 72 loop around the ‘jiu gong’ like wreaths. Each loop consists of eight numbers; each four-loop forms another bigger loop, there are four corner loops altogether, which make the total number of loops to be 13. The sum of the numbers in each loop is 292. This diagram variation recorded in the Luo Shu [luo – name of a river, shu – book] is divinely wonderful; no wonder you are not aware of it.” While explaining it, Huang Rong also drew the 72 numbers of the eight diagrams of the nine halls on the sand.

The lady was dumbfounded, she faltered and asked, “Miss, who are you?” But before Huang Rong could answer her, she felt a shot of pain on her chest; her face paled, and anxiously she took a vial from her pocket and swallowed a green pill from the vial. After half a day her face relaxed, she sighed and said, “It’s finished, it’s finished!” Two drops of tears rolled down her cheeks.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other; they thought this lady’s behavior was so weird. That lady had not spoken anything when suddenly there was an intermittent call from the outside. It was the Iron Palm Clan pursuers. “Are they friends or enemies?” the lady asked.

“They are enemies pursuing us,” Guo Jing said. “Iron Palm Clan?” the lady asked.

“Yes,” Guo Jing replied.

The lady inclined her ear to listen for a while and then said, “Qiu Bangzhu [Clan Leader Qiu] personally leads his clan to pursue. Who are you actually?” When asking this her voice was stern.

Guo Jing moved forward one step, stood up in front of Huang Rong, and with poise in his voice he said, “We are the Nine-fingered Divine Beggar Hong Bangzhu’s disciples. My martial sister is injured by the Iron Palm Clan’s Qiu Qianren. We took refuge here. If Senior has a close relation to the Iron Palm Clan and is unwilling to give us shelter; then we will take our leave.” Having said this he raised his cupped fist and then turned around to help Huang Rong stood up.

That lady smiled indifferently and said, “You are young, yet so mule- headed. You can survive but do you think your martial sister can? So you are Hong Qigong’s disciples, no wonder you have this kind of skill.”

She heard the shouts of Iron Palm Clan people were sometimes far and sometimes near, sometimes high and sometimes low; she sighed and said, “They can’t find the way, they can’t come in; just relax. Even if they manage to enter, you are my guests, how can Divine … Divine … Ying Gu let other people bully her esteemed guests?” She thought, “Originally I was called ‘shen suan zi’ [Divine Mathematician] Ying Gu; but this young miss’ mathematical skill is a hundred times better than mine. How could I call myself ‘shen suan zi’ anymore?” Therefore, she only said the first word ‘shen’ but could not bring herself to utter the next two characters.

Guo Jing bowed to express his gratitude. Ying Gu slipped the clothes from Huang Rong’s shoulder to see her injury. She creased her brows but did not say anything; she took the vial from her bosom and dissolved the green pill in a bowl of water.

Huang Rong took the bowl but she hesitated, they did not know whether the lady was a friend or a foe; how could she took her medicine?

Ying Gu saw her hesitation, she coldly said, “You are injured by Qiu Qianren’s Iron Palm; do you still think you can recover? If I want to harm you, do you think I need to bother myself? This medicine is a pain-reliever; you don’t want it? Fine!” She grabbed the bowl back and poured the content on the ground.

Seeing her rudeness toward Huang Rong, Guo Jing was unable to restrain his anger. “My martial sister is seriously injured; how can you be so mad at her?” he said, “Rong’er, let’s go.”

Ying Gu coldly smiled and said, “Ying Gu’s two small huts; do you think two juniors like you can easily come and easily go?” With two bamboo strips in her hands, she stood on the doorway, blocking the exit.

Guo Jing thought, “Talk is useless, must use force.” He called out, “Senior, forgive me for being rude.” He bent his knees a little bit; making a circle with his arms he launched the Proud Dragon Repents straight to the door. This stance was his fiercest one; he was afraid Ying Gu could not resist it, so he only used 30% of his strength. His intention was simply to clear the way; he did not want to harm anybody. As the gust of wind arrived at Ying Gu’s body, Guo Jing watched closely how Ying Gu would block this attack; whether he should increase his strength or retract it immediately. Who would have thought that Ying Gu only leaned her body slightly, her left palm made a diagonal moved to lightly push his arm and Guo Jing’s strength was diverted sideways.

Guo Jing did not expect her to posses such a high skill; he was pushed forward half a step from the momentum of his own force. Ying Gu was also surprised that with such strong attack Guo Jing was able to hold his stance firmly on the sand and did not fall down. From this one exchange, both were secretly admiring their opponent’s skill. “Kid, have you learned your Shifu’s entire skill?” Ying Gu loudly called out. While shouting out she used her bamboo strip to hit the ‘qu ze’ [crooked marsh] acupoint on the bend of Guo Jing’s right arm. It was a vital acupoint, Guo Jing did not dare to neglect this attack. He counterattacked with another stance from the 18-Dragon Subduing Palms.

After exchanging several moves Guo Jing realized that Ying Gu’s martial art was purely ‘yin’ [negative, female] in character, from the ‘soft’ side. Obviously she did not have a single frontal strike, but each one of her moves contained a lethal counter-strike; if Guo Jing did not know mutual hands combat, he would have been injured early on.

The more he fought, the more he did not dare to underestimate her; gradually he increased the strength of his palms, but Ying Gu’s martial art was one of a kind; her stances appeared to be soft and powerless, yet it was like a mercury flowing swiftly, penetrating every hole, making her very nearly impossible to guard against.

Several moves later Guo Jing was compelled to withdraw two steps back. Suddenly he remembered Hong Qigong’s advice when he was sparring with Huang Rong’s ‘luo ying shen jian zhang’ [falling leaves divine sword palm technique]; that regardless of thousands of changes or tens of thousands variations the opponent used, he should ignore them all and keep fighting using the ’18-Dragon Subduing Palms’ to secure a victory.

Initially he thought he did not have any desire to fight; besides, the lady looked like a good and kind-hearted Senior. But without having any enmity or committing any wrongdoing she had prevented them from going out the gate. Guo Jing still did not want to be entangled or worse, to injure her life; hence he only used 30% of his strength; who would have thought that this lady was very ferocious. If he was being negligent even so slightly, both of them would die in that place.

Guo Jing took a deep breath, raised up both of his elbows slightly, right hand forming a fist and left hand a palm, one struck vertically, the other pushed horizontally, one quick the other slow, both hands moved out. It was the sixteenth stance of the ’18-Dragon Subduing Palms’, the ‘lu shuang bing zhi’ [treading on frost to reach the ice], which was taught by Hong Qigong at the Liu ancestral hall in Baoying. Within this stance hard and soft complemented each other, upright and upside down completed each other; its advantage was unlimited.

Hong Qigong’s martial art was from the ‘hard’ and ‘yang’ [positive, male] side, but when the hardness reached its peak, by default there would be softness in the middle of hardness. The fundamental of this martial art can be found in the Book of Changes [‘I Ching’], where the older ‘yang’ gave birth to the younger ‘yin’. Hence, within the Proud Dragon Repents and the Treading on Frost to Reach the Ice the hard energy and soft power blended together and was impossible to distinguish.

“Ah!” Ying Gu softly exclaimed and hastily eluded; she managed to get away from Guo Jing’s right fist, but was hit by his left kick. She also could not avoid Guo Jing’s horizontal left palm, which pushed her right shoulder.

As his palm strength hit its target, Guo Jing was certain she would be pushed back against the wall. He was afraid the dirt wall of this thatched- roof hut would not be strong enough and collapse; but strangely as his palm was touching her shoulder he felt like her body was covered with a layer of exceptionally slippery thick lubricant that his palm slipped to her side. But her body was also shaking and the two pieces of bamboo strips in her hand fell to the ground.

Guo Jing was startled, quickly he restrained his force; but Ying Gu’s agility was extraordinary, she had already taken advantage of a favorable situation. Her ten fingers shot forward and attacked the ‘shen feng’ [divine grace] and ‘yu shu’ [jade letter] acupoints on Guo Jing’s chest. Her acupoint sealing technique was excellent.

Guo Jing found it was too late to parry; he leaned slightly to the side. His move resembled the stance he used just now, but a killing strike was concealed within the move. Something stirred in his heart, “Her acupoint sealing technique is somewhat similar to Zhou Dage’s [Big Brother Zhou]; if I had not practiced with Zhou Dage for thousands and tens of thousands times in that cave, I wouldn’t be able to avoid her attack just now.” Ying Gu felt a burst of energy coming out from Guo Jing’s body through his right arm heading toward her own arm; she realized that if her arms were hit by the enemy’s power, her arms would be broken for sure. Hence once again she used her Loach Maneuver to make Guo Jing’s palm slipped by her shoulder.

These several moves were very exquisite, each one of them was unanticipated by the opponent; both were startled, they leaped back several steps almost simultaneously, both were taking defensive position. Guo Jing thought, “This lady’s martial art is so weird! If I can’t touch her, then I will be the one who will always fall under attack.”

Ying Gu was also astonished, she thought, “This youngster is so young, how can he possess this kind of martial art skill?” Following which she thought, “I have been hiding here for more than a dozen of years, diligently training hard; inadvertently mastering a wonderful martial art skill, thinking I have become invincible in the world, very soon I can go out of this forest to seek revenge and to rescue someone. Who would have thought that in mathematics I am inferior to this young girl by a long shot, in term of martial art I can’t even match this youngster who is still wet behind his ears? Much less he is carrying somebody on his back. If we fight for real, I would have lost early on. For dozens of years I endured pain and suffering, will it all be flushed in running water? Shall I give up my desire to seek revenge and rescue someone?” Having thought this, her eyes turned red and her nose ache; she could not restrain tears from rolling down her cheeks.

Guo Jing knew the strength of his own palm had shaken her, he busily said, “Junior had rudely offended Senior, I truly did not mean it; please forgive me and let us go.”

Ying Gu noticed that while speaking Guo Jing repeatedly looked at Huang Rong with utmost concern in his face. She recalled her own misfortune, how she was separated from her lover and could not see each other until that day; her jealousy raged and she coldly said, “This girl was hit by Qiu Qianren’s Iron Palm. There is a dark shadow on her face, she won’t live to see the fourth day; why are you still concerned about her?” Guo Jing was shocked, straightaway he examined Huang Rong’s face, and indeed he could see a layer of dark shadow in between her eyebrows like it was smeared with ink. His heart turned cold, immediately he held Huang Rong up and with a trembling voice asked, “Rong’er, you … how do you feel?”

Huang Rong felt her chest and abdomen fiery hot while her four limbs were icy cold. She knew that that lady did not speak nonsense; she sighed and said, “Jing Gege, during these three days, don’t ever leave me even for a single step. Can you?”

“I … I won’t leave you even for half a step,” Guo Jing said.

Ying Gu sneered and said, “Even if you won’t leave her for half a step, you will only have seventy-two hours.”

Guo Jing raised his head up, his eyes full of tears. He looked at that lady earnestly implored her not to say anything that might hurt Huang Rong’s feeling.

Ying Gu was an unfortunate woman, dozens of years of suffering had given her a calloused heart. Seeing these two people who loved each other were going through a disaster, her heart was filled with delight. She was going to say something to hurt their feeling when she saw Guo Jing’s miserable expression. Suddenly an idea come flashing like a lightning strike in her mind, she thought, “Ah, ah, the heaven sent these two here to help me fulfill my wish to revenge.” She lifted her head and mused, “Heaven, oh Heaven!”

At that time the sound of people shouting outside the forest was getting louder. Apparently they had searched everywhere and came to the conclusion that Jing and Rong, two people were still in the forest; only they were unable to find the way to enter.

After about half a day, Qiu Qianren’s voice was heard calling out from outside the forest, “Divine Mathematician Ying Gu, Qiu from the Iron Palm requests an audience.” His words were shouted against the wind, but surprisingly could be heard clearly, an indication of a profound internal energy. Ying Gu walked to the window, gather her ‘qi’ on her ‘dan tian’ and shouted back, “I usually don’t see outsiders; whoever comes to the black marsh die, don’t you know it?”

“There were one man and one woman who came into your black marsh; please deliver them to me,” Qiu Qianren replied.

“Who can come into my black marsh? Qiu Bangzhu underestimates Ying Gu too much,” Ying Gu called out.

Qiu Qianren let out a ‘hey, hey, hey’ cold laugh; seemed like he believed her words. Then they heard the shouting of the Iron Palm Clan people gradually getting father away. Ying Gu turned around to Guo Jing and asked, “Do you want to save your martial sister?”

Guo Jing was dumbstruck, immediately he bent his knees to kneel down and said, “If Senior is willing to give direction …”

Ying Gu’s face suddenly appeared to be covered with a layer of frost, sternly said, “Senior! Do you think I am old?”

“No, no!” Guo Jing hastily said, “Not too old.”

Slowly Ying Gu’s eyes moved from Guo Jing to look outside the window, she muttered softly, “Not too old. Hmm, after all, that means I am old.”

Guo Jing was happy and anxious at the same time; listening to the way she talked, looked like Huang Rong could be saved. But his words had offended her, he was not sure if she was still willing to render assistance. He wanted to say something to correct himself, but actually did not know what to say.

Ying Gu turned back to him, saw him to be sweating profusely, looking so distressed; there was a stab of pain in her heart, “If only my man showed one-tenth of the compassion this dumb kid has, ay, my life won’t be in vain,” she said in her heart. Then she softly recited, “’Four weaving machines, the weaving of mandarin ducks desiring to fly together right away. It’s a pity; not yet old but the hair on the head has turned white. When the green spring grass ripples, in the deepest of dawn’s cold, standing face to face taking a bath wearing red clothes.’” Listening to her reciting this short poem, Guo Jing’s heart was stirred, he silently thought, “It sounds familiar, I have heard it before.” But tried as he might, he could not remember who wrote it. It was not his Er Shifu [Second Master] Zhu Cong, it was not Huang Rong either; so with a low voice he asked, “Rong’er, who composed the poem she recited? What does it mean?”

Huang Rong shook her head, “This is the first time I hear it, I don’t know who composed it. Hmm, ‘It’s a pity not yet old but the hair on the head has turned white.’ That was good! Mandarin ducks always have white head …” [Translator’s note: ‘bai tou’ literally means ‘white head’, but can also translated as ‘white haired head’ or ‘old age’] Speaking to this point her eyes involuntarily turned toward Ying Gu’s grizzled hair. “Exactly ‘It’s a pity not yet old but the hair on the head has turned white.’!” she thought.

“Rong’er was taught by her father, she knows everything. If it was a well- known poem, she would definitely know who composed it,” Guo Jing thought, “Who recited this poem then? It couldn’t be her, couldn’t be her father, also I am sure it couldn’t be the Cloud Village’s Master Lu. But I am sure I have heard it before. Ay, it doesn’t matter who recited this poem as long as this Senior really has a way to save Rong’er. She asked me a question and I gave her a wrong answer. I wish I have a way to make amends. I don’t care what she will ask me to do …”

Presently Ying Gu was still immersed in the memory of her past; her face sometimes showed delight, sometimes showed sadness. In a short moment her heart was recalling decades’ worth of gratitude and grudges. Suddenly she raised her head up and said, “Your martial sister has been hit by Qiu’s Iron Palm. I don’t know if he restrained the strength of his palm, or if it was you who blocked his palm, that she did not die immediately. Either way, in just three short days … Hmm, there is only one man in this whole wide world who can save her life!”

Guo Jing was listening to every word she said, his heart was thumping madly. Hearing her last sentence he dropped down to his knees and ‘bonk, bonk, bonk’ knocking his head on the ground three times while calling out, “Please Sen … No, no. Please, help us. We will be forever grateful.” Ying Gu coldly said, “Humph! Do I have the skill to save others? If I do have this divine power, why do I have to endure a damp and bitterly cold place like this?” Guo Jing did not dare to open his mouth. A moment later Ying Gu continued, “Just consider yourselves lucky you met me and I know this person’s whereabouts; also consider yourselves lucky that he lives not too far away; you might be able to reach his place within three days. Only whether that man is willing to help or not, it’s really hard to say.”

Guo Jing was delighted, “I will earnestly ask him to help,” he said, “I believe he won’t go so far as seeing someone in distress and doesn’t want to help.”

Ying Gu smirked, “What do you mean ‘won’t go so far as seeing someone in distress and doesn’t want to help’? Seeing someone dying and do nothing is human’s natural behavior. You are going to ask earnestly, do you think other people did not? Do you think you can persuade him to help you? What have you done to him? Why would he want to help you?” Her voice was full of bitterness and resentment.

Guo Jing did not dare to open his mouth; presently there was a ray of hope for Huang Rong, he was afraid he might make a mistake even for half a word and thus ruined this opportunity. He saw that lady walked outside to the square room, sat down at the table, took a pen and started writing.

After writing for a while she folded the paper and wrapped it with a cloth, and then she took a needle and sewn the cloth into a tight pouch. In a similar matter she made three pouches, only then did she return to the round room. “After leaving this forest, avoid the Iron Palm Clan people, go straight northeast. When you arrive within the border of Taiyuan County, open the white pouch. Inside you will find what you are to do in detail. You are not to open the pouch for any reason before you arrive there.”

Guo Jing was very happy, he gave his promise repeatedly, and held out his hand to receive the pouch. Ying Gu drew back her hand and said, “Not so fast! If that man is not willing to help, so be it. But if he is willing and can save her life, I have a request to make.” “We have received your kindness,” Guo Jing said, “If Senior has anything for us to do, just let us know.”

Ying Gu coldly said, “If your martial sister did not die, within a month she has to come back here and stay with me for a year.”

“What for?” Guo Jing wondered.

“It’s none of your business,” Ying Gu sternly said, “I only ask her if she is willing or not?”

Huang Rong interrupted, “You want me to teach you ‘qi men shu shu’ [lit. strange/wonderful/ mysterious way counting method]. How difficult is that? All right, I give you my promise.”

Ying Gu cast her glance toward Guo Jing and mocked, “It’s useless for you to be a man; your intelligence is not even one-tenth of your martial sister’s.” But she handed out the three pouches to him anyway.

Guo Jing held out his hand. Other than the white pouch, he saw the other pouches were red and yellow. He put everything securely in his pocket and then bowed down to express his gratitude.

Ying Gu quickly moved aside, did not want to accept his gratitude. “You don’t have to thank me,” she said, “I don’t need it. You two are neither my family nor my friends, why would I want to save her? Even if we were related you still don’t need thank me profusely! Let me be frank with you in advance, I am helping her for my own behalf. Humph, whoever does not do things for themselves, let the Heaven punishes them to their death.”

Her words sounded so cruel in Guo Jing’s ears, but he had never been good with words, so he did not want to contradict her; besides, this time he had Huang Rong to think about, he did not dare to say anything even more, he simply listened respectfully.

Ying Gu looked at them condescendingly, she said, “You two must be tired tonight, also hungry. Have some porridge.” Huang Rong lied down on a couch, half awake and half asleep. Guo Jing stood by her side with heart full of disquieting thoughts. A moment later Ying Gu came back with a wooden tray in her hands. There were two big bowls of steaming and sweet-smelling rice porridge on the tray, along with a big plate of wild chicken dish and a small plate of preserved fish.

Guo Jing had been hungry for a while; previously he forgot about food because he was deeply concerned about Huang Rong’s condition. Right now he was in a better mood. Seeing the chicken, fish, and rice porridge he was forced to swallow a mouthful of saliva. Gently he tapped Huang Rong’s hand and said, “Rong’er, wake up and eat some porridge.”

Huang Rong opened her eyes slightly, shook her head and said, “My chest hurt very much, I can’t eat.”

Ying Gu sneered, “I have medicine to stop the pain, yet you were terribly suspicious.”

Huang Rong ignored her, “Jing Gege,” she said, “Take a Nine Flowered Jade Dew Pill and give it to me.” These were the pills given by Lu Chengfeng at the Cloud Village the other day. Huang Rong always carried them around in her pocket. When Hong Qigong and Guo Jing were injured by Ouyang Feng, they took some of these pills. Although the pills could not heal their injuries, but they could stop the pain and refresh their spirits. Guo Jing complied and untied her pouch, taking a pill out.

When Huang Rong mentioned the ‘Nine Flowered Jade Dew Pill’, suddenly Ying Gu’s body slightly shook; afterwards she saw the red pill, she sternly said, “Is that the Nine Flowered Jade Dew Pill? Let me take a look.”

Guo Jing thought the way she spoke was really strange, unconsciously he lifted his head to stare at her. He saw a glint of fierceness in her eyes, he felt even more strange; but he gave the pouch of pills to her nonetheless.

Ying Gu took the pills and brought them up to her nose. A whiff of fragrance attacked her nostrils, giving them a cool feeling. She looked at Guo Jing with penetrating gaze and asked, “This is the Peach Blossom Island’s special medicine. Where did you get it? Tell me, tell me!” Her last sentence carried an extremely fierce tone.

Huang Rong’s heart was moved, “This lady learned ‘qi men wu xing’ [mysterious gate five path]; is she related to one of my father’s disciples?” She heard Guo Jing replied, “She is the daughter of the Peach Blossom Island’s Master.”

Ying Gu jumped up in shock, “She is the Old Heretic Huang’s daughter?” Her eyes shone brightly, one arm extended, the other pulled back, as if she was about to strike.

“Jing Gege, give those three pouches back to her!” Huang Rong said, “She is my father’s enemy, we don’t need her pity.”

Guo Jing took out the pouches, but he hesitated to hand them over. Huang Rong said, “Jing Gege, Just put them down! I may not necessarily die. Even if I die, so what?”

Guo Jing had never disobeyed Huang Rong from the start; he put down the pouches on the table with tears streaming down his cheeks.

Ying Gu was looking outside the window, muttering, “Heaven, oh Heaven!” Suddenly she walked to the other room. Her back was facing them, so they did not know what she was doing.

“Let us go,” Huang Rong said, “I am sick of seeing this woman.”

Before Guo Jing could answer, Ying Gu walked in and said, “I diligently studied mathematics because I want to enter the Peach Blossom Island. But judging from the Old Heretic Huang’s daughter, even if I study for another hundred years it will still be useless. It was fate. What more can I say? Just go. Take away these pouches.” While saying it she pushed the Nine Flowered Jade Dew Pill pouch and the three pouches she made into Guo Jing’s hand. To Huang Rong she said, “These Nine Flowered Jade Dew Pills are harmful to your injury. Don’t take it no matter what. After you are healed, don’t forget your promise to stay with me for a year. Your father had destroyed my life; I’d rather give all these food to the dogs than to let you eat them.” She threw the porridge, chicken and fish out the window.

Huang Rong was seething with anger; she wanted to answer back sarcastically, but then she changed her mind. She held Guo Jing’s hand and stood up, then with her bamboo stick she wrote three mathematics problems on the ground:

The first one included the ‘ri, yue, shui, huo, mu, jin, tu’ [sun, moon, water, fire, wood, metal and earth] collection of the ‘qi yao jiu zhi tian zhu bi suan’ [seven dazzling nine grasping Indian method of calculation].

The second one was ‘li fang zhao bing zhi yin gei mi ti’ [lit. ‘standing up soldier supplying silver’ topic]. [Author’s note: This is the vertical theory of numbers in western mathematics].

The third one was ‘gui gu suan ti’ [ghost valley mathematic problem]: “There is an unknown number; three and three has two as the remainder, five and five has three as the remainder, seven and seven has two as the remainder, what mathematical operand is that?” [Author’s note: this problem belongs to the theory of numbers of higher mathematics; our Song Dynasty scholars have been quite profound in this kind of study.]

After writing these three problems, Huang Rong slowly walked out, holding on Guo Jing’s arm. As he stepped over the door, Guo Jing turned his head around and saw Ying Gu’s hand grasping her computing device, her eyes fixed to the ground like she was entranced. As soon as they were outside Guo Jing carried Huang Rong on his back, still following Huang Rong’s direction, walking step by step out of the marsh. Guo Jing was afraid he might miscount his steps, so he did not dare to say anything; but as soon as they left the forest he asked, “Rong’er, what did you write on the sand?”

Huang Rong smiled, “I gave three mathematical problems to her. Humph, I doubt it if she will be able to solve them in half a year. Let all her gray hair turn white. Who told her to be so rude?”

“What enmity does she have toward your father?” Guo Jing asked. “I have never heard Father mentioned it,” Huang Rong replied. After being silent for about half a day she suddenly said, “She must be very beautiful when she was young. Jing Gege, don’t you agree?” Actually she bore a suspicion in her heart, “Is it possible that in the former days my father and she were lovers? Humph, most likely she wanted my father to marry her but my father did not want her.”

Guo Jing replied, “Doesn’t matter if she was beautiful or not; even if she cannot solve your problems she still won’t be able to chase us and take the pouches back.”

“I wonder what’s inside those pouches. I doubt it if she had our well-beings in her mind. Let’s open them and take a look,” Huang Rong said.

“No, no!” Guo Jing hastily said, “We must follow her instructions, we must not open it until we arrive at Taoyuan.”

Huang Rong was very curious; she persuaded Guo Jing to open it, but Guo Jing firmly refused; finally Huang Rong resigned.

After being busy the whole night finally the sky turned brighter. Guo Jing leaped up a tree to take a good look around; he was relieved not to see any trail of the Iron Palm Clan disciples. He whistled loudly several times, and the little red horse came galloping fast. Not too long afterwards his pair of eagles was also seen flying above their heads.

Two people were just mounting the horse when suddenly they heard shouts coming out of the forest. Dozens of Iron Palm Clan disciples came rushing forward. They have been guarding around the forest for half a night. As soon as they heard Guo Jing’s whistle they came out to catch them. Luckily Qiu Qianren was not among these people. Guo Jing called out, “You missed!” He squeezed his legs on the horse’s belly and the little red horse ran like the wind; in a moment they could not see their pursuers anymore.

By noon that day the little red horse had run for more than a hundred ‘li’s; they stopped by a small restaurant by the roadside. Huang Rong’s chest was still hurting, but she managed to drink half a bowl of rice soup. Guo Jing asked around and found out that they had arrived within Taoyuan County border. Quickly he took the white pouch and cut the thread. Inside he found a map with two lines of characters which read, “Follow the route shown on the map. At the end of the road you will find a waterfall with a thatched hut next to it. Open the red pouch when you arrive there.” Guo Jing did not tarry any longer; they remounted the horse and galloped away.

After traveling for about seventy, eighty ‘li’s, the road was getting narrower. Eight, nine ‘li’s later they entered a narrow passageway with mountain walls on both sides. Soon the pathway turned into a winding alley so narrow that one person could barely squeeze through. They were compelled to leave little red horse to graze by itself on the side of the hill. Guo Jing took Huang Rong and carried her on his back; together they entered the alley. Following the steep mountain pathway they walked for about two hours. Sometimes the alley was so narrow that Guo Jing had to lift Huang Rong up and he walked sideways, squeezing in between the mountain walls.

It was already the seventh month, the weather was scorching hot and it felt like the heat would be enough to melt metal. Fortunately there were skyscraping mountain peaks around them cooling down their path.

A moment later Guo Jing was hungry; he took some dried buns from his pocket and tore several pieces to feed Huang Rong. He did not stop walking however; he was eating while walking forward. After eating three buns he was thirsty. Suddenly he heard from a distant a faint sound of a waterfall. His spirit arose and he sped up his steps.

In the quietness of the mountain, that waterfall echoed in the valley, creating a loud rumbling noise like a torrential flood. The closer he got, the louder the noise became. When he reached the top of the hill he saw a big waterfall like a white dragon coming out from in between a pair of peaks opposite the hill where he was standing, falling down to a big pond below with astonishing force.

From the top of the hill Guo Jing looked down and saw a thatched hut next to the waterfall. Guo Jing sat on a piece of rock and took the red pouch from his pocket. Inside was a piece of paper with these words: ‘The injury this girl suffers can only be healed by Emperor Duan …’

Seeing those three characters ‘Duan huang ye’ [Emperor Duan] Guo Jing was startled, “Emperor Duan, isn’t he the Southern Emperor who share the same fame as your father?” he asked.

Huang Rong was exhausted, but hearing him mentioned the Southern Emperor her heart was stirred. “Emperor Duan?” she said, “Shifu also said that his injury can only be healed by Emperor Duan. I heard my father mentioned Emperor Duan is the emperor of Dali in Yunnan. Isn’t that …” Suddenly she remembered that this place was separated with Yunnan by ‘ten thousand rivers and a thousand mountains’ [wan shui qian shan – meaning ‘the trails and tribulations of a long journey’]. It was impossible to reach in three days. Suddenly her chest felt cold. She made an effort to sit down and leaning on Guo Jing they read the paper together.

‘The injury this girl suffers can only be healed by Emperor Duan. Because many of his conducts were not righteous he hid himself in Taoyuan and made it very difficult for outsiders to see him. Anyone seeking medical help is a taboo to him; if you mention your intention, before you reach his residence you will be stopped by the vicious hands of a fisherman, a woodcutter, a farmer and a scholar. Therefore, you must say that you have an important message from your master Hong Qigong and want to have an audience with the Emperor. Once you are in the presence of the Southern Emperor, give him the yellow pouch. Your fate depends on this.’

Finished reading Guo Jing turned his head to Huang Rong only to see her frowning silently. “Rong’er,” he asked, “Why did Emperor Duan do many unrighteous conducts? Why is it seeking medical help is a taboo to him? What are the vicious hands of a fisherman, a woodcutter, a farmer and a scholar?”

Huang Rong sighed, “Jing Gege, please don’t think that I am so smart that I know everything.”

Guo Jing was taken aback; he held out his arms and gave Huang Rong a hug. “Very well, let us go down,” he said. Casting his glance to the distant he could see there was a man sitting under the willow tree next to the waterfall. That man was wearing a bamboo hat, but because the distance was quite far he could not see clearly what that man was doing.

First, he was in a hurry, second, the pathway down was a lot easier, therefore, without needing to much time Guo Jing with Huang Rong on his back quickly arrived by the waterfall. He saw that man was wearing a raincoat, sitting on a piece of rock, fishing.

The falling water created a strong rapids, the water flowed too fast, how could there be any fish? Even if there was, how could the fish have time to take the bait?

Guo Jing saw that man was about forty years old, his face was black like the bottom of a pot, full with beards and whiskers sprouting out like wire brush. His eyes stared motionless toward the water. Seeing he was fishing with a full concentration Guo Jing did not dare to disturb, he put Huang Rong down by the willow tree to rest, while they waited to see what kind of fish live in that waterfall.

After waiting for a long time suddenly a golden streak of light came flashing out of the water; that fisherman’s face showed delight, his fishing pole was bent downward. They saw something about a foot long biting the fishing line. That something did not look like either a fish or a snake, it looked so strange.

Guo Jing was astounded, he could not restrain from calling out, “Ah! What is that?”

By that time another golden streak jumped up the water to bite the fishing line. That fisherman was delighted, he kept the fishing pole steady. But the pole was bent more and more. The fisherman struggled to keep it straight. ‘Crack!’ suddenly the pole broke. Two strange fish let the fishing line go, then swam away complacently. The water current was very strong but it seemed like those fish were swimming in a still water. In an instant they disappeared under a rock. The fisherman turned around with eyes bulging, glaring angrily, shouted loudly, “Stinky kid, your old man has waited painstakingly for half a day, and then you little thief came and scared them away.” His hands stretched out with palms open wide, moved forward two steps ready to pounce. But for an unknown reason he managed to control his temper and held his big hands; his finger joints made cracking sounds; his face was full of anger.

Guo Jing realized he had inadvertently caused trouble therefore he did not dare to talk back. “Uncle is angry, that was my fault. But what kind of strange fish are they?” he humbly asked.

That fisherman scolded him, “Are you blind? Those are not fish, those are ‘jin wawa’ [golden baby or baby doll].”

Guo Jing was not angry even though scolded; he smiled and asked further, “Please forgive my ignorance, but what is a ‘jin wawa’?”

That fisherman flew into a rage, he shouted, “’Jin wawa’ is ‘jin wawa’, why do you stinky little thief want to know anyway?”

Because Guo Jing earnestly wanted to ask him to show the way to see Emperor Duan, he did not dare to say anything, he simply raised his cupped fists to apologize.

Huang Rong could not hold her patience much longer, she interrupted, “‘Jin wawa’ is a golden colored giant salamander. We raise several pairs of them in my home. What’s so strange about it?”

Listening to Huang Rong correctly explained what a ‘jin wawa’ really was, the fisherman was slightly confounded, he scolded, “Humph, you are blowing your horn very loud! Raising several pairs of them! Let me ask you, what’s the purpose of a ‘jin wawa’?”

“What’s the purpose?” Huang Rong asked, “They are attractive, can make a ‘ya ya ya’ noise like a little baby, so we raise them to play with them.”

Hearing her saying the right thing, that fisherman’s face softened, he said, “Little baby girl, if you raise several pairs in your house, then you must give me a pair to compensate my loss.” “Why must I compensate you?” Huang Rong asked.

The fisherman pointed to Guo Jing and said, “I happened to catch one with my fishing pole, but he came and rudely shouted, so the other one appeared and pull apart my fishing pole. This ‘jin wawa’ is very smart; once it escaped danger, don’t ever think of catching it for the second time. If I don’t ask you to compensate me, whom should I ask?”

Huang Rong smiled, “Even if you did catch it, you only caught one. Try as you might, but how could the second one be willing to take your bait?”

The fisherman could not find any word to answer this; he scratched his head and said, “All right then, just give me one.”

“If you separate a pair of ‘jin wawa’, within three days both of them, the male and the female, will die,” Huang Rong said.

That fisherman did not have any doubt anymore; he cupped his fists and bowed respectfully to Guo Jing and Huang Rong, “All right, just consider it my fault,” he said, “Would you share a pair with me?”

Huang Rong smiled. “Tell me first, what are you going to do with ‘jin wawa’?” she asked.

The fisherman hesitated a little bit, then explained, “All right, I’ll tell you. My martial uncle is an Indian. He had come to visit my master these past few days. On the way here he managed to catch a pair of ‘jin wawa’; he was very happy. He said there was an extremely poisonous insect harming a lot of people in India. There was no way of exterminating this insect. This ‘jin wawa’ is actually the insect’s adversary. He asked me to take care of them for a few days, and then hand them back to him by the time he is done talking to my master and is ready to go down the mountain. He is going to take them back to India and breed them. Who would have thought …”

“Who would have thought you were not careful and let the ‘jin wawa’s run away into this waterfall,” Huang Rong cut him off.

That fisherman was startled, “Ah! How did you know?” he asked. Huang Rong pouted her little mouth and said, “Is that so difficult to guess? This ‘jin wawa’ is really not easy to keep. Originally we have five pairs, later on two pairs ran away.”

The fisherman’s eyes gleamed, his face showed a happy expression. “Good Miss, please give me a pair. You will still have two pairs. Or else my martial uncle will be mad at me; I may not be able to take it,” he begged.

Huang Rong laughed. “It’s not difficult to give you a pair, but why were you so vicious to us earlier?” she asked.

That fisherman smiled awkwardly, he sheepishly said, “Ay! My bad temper; I really have to change. Good Miss, where is your mansion? Is it alright if I follow you? Is it far from here?”

Huang Rong gently let out a deep breath and said, “If you say it’s near, it is not; but if you say it is far, it isn’t either. Maybe about three, four thousand ‘li’s from here.”

That fisherman was startled, his brush-wire whiskers stood up, he roared, “Little girl, you are swindling me!” His vinegar-bowl sized fist raised up, ready to smash Huang Rong’s head; but realizing she was only a young and feeble girl, he was afraid he might kill her. His fist stayed midair then slowly dropped down to his side.

Guo Jing was ready, as soon as that fisherman strikes, he would block the attack immediately. Huang Rong smiled and said, “Why worry? I have already had a good idea from the start. Jing Gege, please call the white eagles.”

Guo Jing was not clear of her intention, but he whistled to call the eagles anyway. That fisherman was secretly surprised; Guo Jing’s whistle echoed throughout the valleys and mountains, supported by a profound internal energy. “Luckily I did not fight with him earlier,” he thought, “Otherwise this little kid will beat me to death.”

Not too long afterwards, the pair of eagles came flying by, following the whistle sound. Huang Rong peeled a piece of tree bark, and then carved a line of characters with a needle, ‘Father, I want a pair of ‘jin wawa’. Let the eagles carry them back here. Your daughter Rong pays respect.’

Guo Jing was delighted; he cut two pieces of cloth from his belt and firmly tied the bark on the male eagle’s foot. “Go to the Peach Blossom Island, quickly go and quickly come back,” Huang Rong told the pair of eagles.

Guo Jing was afraid the eagles did not understand, he pointed to the east and said three times, “Peach Blossom Island.” The pair of eagles let out a long cry, lifted up their wings and soared away. They made a circle in the air, headed east and then disappeared behind the clouds in a short moment.

The fisherman’s jaw dropped and stayed open for a while; he muttered, “Peach Blossom Island, Peach Blossom Island? What is Huang Yaoshi, Venerable Huang to you?”

“He is my father, why?” Huang Rong proudly said.

“Ah!” that fisherman exclaimed; he was at a loss of words.

Huang Rong said, “My white eagles will bring the ‘jin wawa’ here in a few days; it won’t be too late, will it?”

“I hope not,” the fisherman said. He looked up and down Jing and Rong two people to size them up with eyes full of suspicions.

Guo Jing bowed and asked, “We haven’t found out Uncle’s honorable name.”

The fisherman did not answer, instead he asked questions, “What are you doing here? Who told you to come here?”

Guo Jing respectfully answered, “Junior has come to seek an audience with Emperor Duan.” Initially he wanted to say as Ying Gu had directed them to say, that Hong Qigong had sent them to come; but he was not able to lie, eventually he did not say anything.

“My Shifu does not see outsiders,” that fisherman sternly said, “What do you want from him?” By Guo Jing’s natural disposition, he wanted to speak the truth, but he was afraid they would not be able to see the Southern Emperor, and thus jeopardizing Huang Rong’s life. He could not say the truth, yet he did not have the power to lie; so he hesitated before answering the question.

The fisherman noticed his indeterminate expression, also Huang Rong’s thin and pale countenance; he had guessed 70, 80% correctly. “You want my Shifu to heal your injury, don’t you?” he roared.

Guo Jing felt like a heavy load was taken from his mind, he had nothing to hide any longer. He had no other choice but nodded hid head, but his heart was filled with anxiety and regret, he hated himself for not be able to tell a lie.

The fisherman was almost shouting, “Don’t ever think of seeing my Shifu. Even if I have to bear my Shifu and Shishu’s [martial uncle] scolding, I don’t want your ‘jin wawa’ or ‘yin wawa’ [silver baby] anymore. Just go gown the mountain, quick!”

His words without any doubt did not give them the slightest amount of leniency. Guo Jing was silent for half a day, sucking in cold air. After a moment he stepped forward and bowed respectfully. “The injured is the Huang Daozhu [Island Master Huang] of Peach Blossom Island’s daughter. Currently she is also the Bangzhu of the Beggar Clan. I am asking Uncle to consider Island Master Huang and Hong Bangzhu’s golden faces and show us the way so that we can seek an audience with the Emperor Duan.”

Hearing the three characters ‘Hong Bangzhu’, the fisherman’s countenance softened; he shook his head and said, “This young miss is the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu? I don’t believe it.”

Guo Jing pointed his finger to the bamboo stick in Huang Rong’s hand, he said, “This is the Beggar Clan Leader’s Dog-beating Stick; certainly Uncle recognize it.”

The fisherman nodded. “What is the Nine-fingered Divine Beggar to you, then?” he asked. “He is our Benevolent Master,” Guo Jing replied.

“Ah!” the fisherman exclaimed, “Is that so? Are coming to see my Shifu on the Nine-fingered Divine Beggar’s instruction?”

Guo Jing hesitated before answering, Huang Rong quickly answered, “Certainly.”

The fisherman lowered his head in doubt, he thought, “The Nine-fingered Divine Beggar has an extraordinary friendship with my Shifu. How should I handle this matter?”

Huang Rong understood his hesitation, she wanted to take advantage of this opportunity; she said, “Our Shifu sent us here to seek an audience with Emperor Duan, other than to ask him to treat injury, also to respectfully inform him on a very important matter.”

The fisherman suddenly raised his head up, with eyes blazing like a thunderbolt he fixed his gaze on Huang Rong and sternly asked, “The Nine- fingered Divine Beggar told you to seek audience with Emperor Duan?”

“That’s right!” Huang Rong said.

“Did he really say ‘Emperor Duan’ and not some other name?” the fisherman pressed.

Huang Rong knew there must be something in the way he said that name, but she could not correct herself; she had no choice but nodded her head in affirmative.

The fisherman moved two steps forward and with a loud voice shouted, “Emperor Duan has been no longer in this world for a while now!”

Jing, Rong, two people were shocked; with a shaking voice they asked, “He died?”

The fisherman said, “When Emperor Duan was leaving this world, the Senior Nine-fingered Divine Beggar was by his side. How could he tell you to visit Emperor Duan? Who told you to come here? What kind of evil scheme are you playing? Quickly tell me.” While still speaking he took a big step, his left hand brushed away, his right hand stretched horizontally to grab Huang Rong’s shoulder.

Guo Jing had guarded from the start against the possibility that he would resort to violence. As soon as his right hand was within a foot from Huang Rong’s body, Guo Jing’s left palm made a circle, his right palm went straight forward, in the ‘jian long zai tian’ [Seeing Dragon in the Field] posture, blocking in front of Huang Rong’s body.

This move was a purely defensive in nature, like a strong invisible wall was suddenly appeared in between Huang Rong and the fisherman. The fisherman saw that although Guo Jing sent out his palm, but he was leaning to one side, hence he did not actually attack him; he was slightly surprised, but his hand continued to grab Huang Rong’s shoulder. When his hand was about half a foot apart from his target, Guo Jing’s palm met his, and he felt a shot of pain on his arm, flowing up to his chest, like his attacking force rebounded and attacked his own body. He was afraid Guo Jing would take advantage of this unfavorable situation and launched another attack; he hurriedly leaped back with arm horizontally situated in front of his chest. “I heard it when Hong Qigong discussed martial art with Shifu; this is precisely his ’18-Dragon Subduing Palms’. Then these two youngsters are truly his disciples; they were not lying,” he thought.

He saw Guo Jing cupped his fists across his chest with modesty and respect; even though Guo Jing had gained the upper hand, yet his expression did not show the least bit of self-complacency, making a good impression on the heart of the fisherman. He said, “Although you two are really the Senior Nine-fingered Divine Beggar’s disciples, but he was not the one who sent you here, was he?”

Guo Jing did not know how he could guess correctly, but since their lie had been uncovered, he was unable to deny and was compelled to nod his head. The fisherman’s face was not as fierce and full of enmity as before. “Even if the injured were the Nine-fingered Divine Beggar himself, Xiao Ge [lit. little ‘elder brother’, he was referring to himself] still cannot take the Senior to go up the mountain and see my Shifu. I beg for your forgiveness.” “Even if my Shifu is here you still cannot take him up?” Huang Rong asked.

The fisherman shook his head, “I can’t! Even if you kill me I still can’t!” he said.

In her heart Huang Rong was thinking over, “He clearly admitted that Emperor Duan is his Shifu; but he also said that Emperor Duan has already died, and that Benevolent Master Hong was by his side when he died. There are too many strange things here, but this man is really difficult to talk to.” She thought further, “His Shifu is on this mountain, for that I am certain; whether he is Emperor Duan or not, we have to go up and see him.” She lifted her eyes to see the mountain was so high that its peak disappeared into the cloud above; it was higher than the Iron Palm’s Middle Finger Peak, the mountain rocks looked slippery, not even a blade of grass grew. It looked like the waterfall was coming out of nowhere. There was no visible path going up the mountain. She thought, “Li Bai [a famous poet from the Tang Dynasty] said the water of Huang He [Yellow River] went up to the sky; this water truly comes from the sky.”

Following the waterfall her gaze moved down; her mind was still churning a way to climb up the mountain, suddenly her eyes caught a golden light glittering under the water, something was moving in the water. Slowly she walked to the side of the waterfall to see more clearly. Turned out it was the pair of ‘jin wawa’ beneath a rock, their tails were swaying back and forth outside. Quickly she beckoned Guo Jing to come over and see.

“Ah!” Guo Jing exclaimed, “Let me go down to catch them,” he said.

“No! Don’t!” Huang Rong said, “The current is too strong, how can you set your feet down? Don’t be so foolish.”

But Guo Jing thought, “If I take the risk to catch these two strange fish for the fisherman, maybe his heart will be moved and he will take us to see his master. Otherwise, will I have to see Huang Rong suffer from her injury helplessly without anybody to heal her?” He knew Huang Rong would stop him, therefore, without saying anything, without even took out his shoes or socks, he jumped into the waterfall below. “Jing Gege!” Huang Rong anxiously called. She stood up and tried to rush forward, but her legs were feeble, she was staggering.

The fisherman was also stunned, he extended his hand to hold Huang Rong; then immediately rushed toward the thatched hut. It looked like he was going to fetch something to rescue Guo Jing.

Huang Rong sat back on a rock to watch Guo Jing. She saw he was standing steadily in the water; the waterfall flushed on him crazily, attacked him fiercely, but surprisingly his body did not falter at all. Slowly bending his waist he grabbed the ‘jin wawa’. With each hand holding the ‘jin wawa’s tail, he gently pulled them out. He was afraid to injure the strange fish, hence he did not use too much strength; who would have thought that the ‘jin wawa’s body was really slippery. By wriggling their tails they managed to get loose from Guo Jing’s grab and sneaked back under the rock. Guo Jing quickly reached out, but he was still a little bit slow; in an instant the fish disappeared without any trace.

Huang Rong cried out in dismay, suddenly she heard somebody called out in alarm behind her back. She turned around and saw the fisherman stood behind her. There was a shiny black small boat on his left shoulder and two iron oars in his left hand; obviously he was ready to rescue Guo Jing.

Guo Jing sent his strength to his feet, with ‘qian jin zhui’ [thousand-catty fall] he stood firm on a rock, steady as a pillar. He held his breath and reached down to the rock under which the strange fish escaped, trying to lift it up. To his delight the rock slightly moved. Using the ‘dragon fly to the sky’ from the 18-Dragon Subduing Palms his hands jerked the rock up; with a loud splash that huge rock was unexpectedly lifted up.

Guo Jing moved wonderfully fast; with the ‘qian long wu yong’ [hidden dragon is useless(?)] he shoved the rock horizontally. The rock was hit both by his palm and the waterfall; it fell down next to his body, with a rumbling and gurgling noise it disappeared into the deep abyss below. The noise echoed throughout the valley for a long time. Guo Jing lifted high his arms with a ‘jin wawa’ in each hand; step by step he came out of the waterfall. Day and night the water fell down, with the passage of time it had created a gully some two ‘zhang’s [1 zhang is approximately 10 feet or 3 meters] deep. The fisherman saw Guo Jing was standing at the bottom of this gully; how could he jump up? Hence he held out his oar for Guo Jing to grab, then he would lift it up. But Guo Jing hands were full with a pair of strange fish, he was afraid if he loosened up his grip the fish would slip away. Gathering his strength his right foot pushed the bottom, followed by his left foot kicking the edge of the gully; he managed to borrow the strength to leap up ashore.

Even though they have been together for a while, Huang Rong did not expect his skill had improved this much. She was pleased and amazed at the same time to watch him standing firm under water, lifting up the rock, grabbing the fish, and leaping up from underneath the strong force of the waterfall like it was nothing.

Actually, in order to save Huang Rong Guo Jing did not think about how he recklessly braved the danger, but as he was ashore he turned his head to see the rushing water splashing everywhere, he could not help but feel dizzy and scared. He could not believe he had this kind of guts to go underwater.

The fisherman admired him endlessly; he knew that if Guo Jing’s internal energy, lightness kungfu and external strength were less than excellent not only he would not be able to catch the fish, but he would certainly drowned into the deep abyss underneath the fall.

The two ‘jin wawa’s struggled in Guo Jing’s hands with their ‘wah wah’ calls, just like a baby’s cry. Guo Jing laughed, “No wonder they are called ‘wawa’ fish, they sounded just like a baby crying.” He held out his hands to give the fish to the fisherman.

The fisherman’s face bore a delightful expression, he dropped his oars and held out his hand to receive the fish when suddenly he remembered something. He withdrew his hand and said, “Just throw them back into the water, I can’t take them.”

“Why?” Guo Jing wondered. “Even if I receive your ‘jin wawa’ I still can’t take you up to see my Shifu,” the fisherman said, “Receiving a favor and did not pay it back; won’t I be the laughingstock of the world’s heroes?”

Guo Jing was startled, with a solemn face he said, “Uncle cannot take us up, you must have your own difficulty, how could Junior force our will? But this pair of fish is such a trivial matter, who said anything about favor? Uncle does not need to think about it, please take them.” While saying it he shoved the fish into the fisherman’s hand.

The fisherman finally took the fish, his face looked awkward. Guo Jing turned to Huang Rong and said, “Rong’er, as the saying goes, life and death is in the fate’s hand, a long life is difficult to predict; even if your injury is incurable, on the cloudy road of life you will always have your Jing Gege to keep you company. Let us go!”

Listening to Guo Jing revealing his true feeling Huang Rong’s eyes turned red; but she still had something in her heart. She turned to the fisherman and said, “Uncle, you are not willing to lead us up, that’s all right. But there is something I don’t understand. If you don’t tell me, then I will die unsatisfied.”

“What is that?” the fisherman asked.

“This mountain peak is smooth as a mirror,” Huang Rong said, “There is no pathway to the top. Even if you are willing to take us up, how would you do that?”

The fisherman thought, “If I don’t take them up, there is no way they can go up the mountain by themselves. I guess it won’t do any harm to tell them.” Thereupon he said, “If you think it’s difficult, then it is, but if you say it’s easy, it really is very easy. Just around that horn-shaped hill on the right there is no waterfall, the current is not as strong. I can sit on this iron boat and paddle against the flow. One time up I can take somebody with me, the second time up I can take two people.”

“Ah!” Huang Rong exclaimed, “That’s how it is. Farewell now!” She stood up and leaning on Guo Jing for support she turned around and left. Guo Jing cupped his fists across his chest but did not say anything.

The fisherman saw they were walking down the mountain, he was afraid the ‘jin wawa’ would escape, he dashed toward the thatched hut to put them away for safekeeping.

“Quick! Grab the iron boat and the oars and go to that horn-shaped peak,” Huang Rong said,

Guo Jing was stunned. “This … isn’t this inappropriate?” he stammered.

“Fine! You want to be a gentleman, then be a gentleman!” Huang Rong said.

“Which is more important? Saving Rong’er’s life or be a gentleman?” This thought flashed through Guo Jing’s mind several times; it was hard for him to decide. But then he saw Huang Rong had started walking quickly to the peak; he did not have time to contemplate much longer. He heaved the iron boat up and hastily went to the peak. With a loud shout, “Up!” he tossed the boat onto upstream of the waterfall. Once the boat was out of his hands he grabbed the iron oars and held them underneath his left armpit, while with his right hand he embraced Huang Rong.

By that time the iron boat had been floating downstream, carried by the current. Suddenly he heard a sound of secret projectile behind his head; immediately he ducked and let the secret projectile flew over his head. He leaped forward and in an instant both of them landed inside the boat. A secret projectile hit Huang Rong’s back, fortunately it hit the soft hedgehog armor inside the sack on her back. Amidst the rumbling noise of the water they heard the fisherman’s loud roar, but they could not hear clearly what he was saying.

Very soon the boat was on the verge of the waterfall. If they fell over the edge in this fast flowing waterfall their bodies would certainly shattered to dust. Guo Jing’s left hand grabbed the iron oar and hastily rowed with all his might; the boat moved upstream a few feet. His right hand released Huang Rong and grabbed the other oar and pulled; again the boat moved a few feet forward. The fisherman stood by the bank, pointing his two fingers, angrily cursing and scolding. Amidst the wind and the water noises they could hear some ‘stinky girl’ and ‘lowly scoundrel’ words. Huang Rong giggled and said, “He still thinks you are the good man. He is only cursing me.”

All Guo Jing’s attention was focused on rowing the boat; he did not hear what she said. His arms frantically paddled the boat against the flow; the iron boat’s keel was slowly cutting the wave. The current on that place was not as strong as the waterfall, but it was strong and rapid enough to make Guo Jing’s face turned red from exerting his strength. Several times he was almost pushed back downstream.

A moment later they arrived at the part where the current was slightly slower; by that time Guo Jing had started to understand how to handle the oars. Using the mutual hands combat technique he launched the ‘divine dragon swings its tail’ successively. Each paddling movement was supported by the 18-Dragon Subduing Palms’ strength; his palm strength was transmitted to the end of the oar. The left hand paddled with ‘divine dragon swings its tail’, followed by the right hand with ‘divine dragon swings its tail’, the iron boat slowly moving upstream through a winding river ways.

“Even with that fisherman paddling, the boat would not necessarily move faster than this,” Huang Rong complimented.

A short moment later there was sandy beach on either side of the river; and after turning a bend, the scenery was picturesque: the clear brook softly murmured, the river flowed very smoothly, on some parts it even looked like a still water. The river was only about a ‘zhang’ wide, with weeping willow trees on either side, their leaves brushing the water. Just behind the green willow trees they could see countless peach trees. It must be very beautiful in the spring time when the peach trees were in full bloom. Currently there was not a single peach blossom in sight, but the river banks were full of clusters of white florets, the air was thick with their fragrance.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong both were very relaxed; they had never expected that in this high mountain peak there was a whole different world. The water was deep green like a jade, so deep that they could not see the bottom. Guo Jing lowered the iron oar, trying to gauge the river’s depth; but he was startled since the oar was almost slipped from his grip. Turned out while on the surface the water was smooth like a mirror, there was a strong current flowing deep below the surface.

The iron boat slowly moved forward; birds were flying and chirping among the green willow leaves. Huang Rong sighed, “If my injury is incurable, I’d like to be buried here; I don’t want to go back down again,” she said.

Guo Jing was about to say some encouraging words when the iron boat suddenly entered a tunnel. Inside the tunnel the fragrance was very thick while the water flowed faster; they heard some loud noise ahead. “What’s that?” Guo Jing asked.

Huang Rong shook her head, “I don’t know.”

Very soon they saw a light, the iron boat had come out of the tunnel; two people could not help to gasp, “Beautiful!”

Outside the tunnel they saw an enormous fountain, perhaps its height reached two ‘zhang’s. The white bubbles and jade-green streams formed a giant water column spurting straight up to the sky from the middle of a rock. The noise they heard came from this fountain. The creek stopped here; turned out this fountain was the spring from which the river and the waterfall originated.

Guo Jing helped Huang Rong came ashore. He pulled the iron boat up a rock and turned his head around. He saw the sun light shone through the water column, created a dazzlingly beautiful rainbow. The scenery was out- of-this-world; even if they had hundreds praises, they would not be able to find one that is suitable to describe what they saw. All they could do was holding each other’s hand and sat side by side on a rock; their heart was bright and clean, with nothing to worry.

After enjoying this scenery for half a day, they suddenly heard a sound of singing coming from behind the rainbow. The tune was ‘shan po yang’ [hillside sheep]: “Cities and towns turned bad, where are the heroes? Can the dragon in the cloud explain? Thinking about prosperity and decline, constricting the chest. Tang Dynasty arose Sui Dynasty declined, the way of the world is like an ever changing cloud. Quick, is the heaven and earth’s fault; slow, also is the heaven and earth’s fault!”

The ‘hillside sheep’ was a popular song from the end of the Song Dynasty, everybody everywhere could sing the song. The tune was only one, but the lyrics could be changed as the singer wished, so unavoidably there are hundreds of thousands variations out there, only most of them were rustic and vulgar.

Huang Rong noticed that this song was lamenting the rise and decline of human race, carrying a profound meaning; she secretly applauded the singer. She saw the singer came out from behind the rainbow; his left hand carried a bundle of firewood, while his right hand holding an axe; turned out he was a woodcutter.

Huang Rong recalled Ying Gu’s note that read, ‘Anyone seeking medical help is a taboo to him, if you mention your intention, before you reach his residence you will be stopped by the vicious hands of a fisherman, a woodcutter, a farmer and a scholar.’ At that time she was not clear what ‘a fisherman, a woodcutter, a farmer and a scholar’ meant, but now she realized the man catching ‘jin wawa’ was the fisherman, and now she saw the woodcutter. Then the fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar must be Emperor Duan’s disciples or trusted aides. She could not help feeling anxious, “It was really not easy to go through that fisherman. This woodcutter’s song was not vulgar, looks like he is not easy to deal with. I wonder what kind of people are the farmer and the scholar?”

In the meantime the woodcutter continues to sing, “On the Tianjin bridge, leaning against the railing looking afar, the air of the royalty has withered and fallen. Amidst the dark green trees and the vast water, from the cloud platform the resurgence is nowhere to be seen. From eternity, in a cycle of life, everything perished. Merit, won’t last forever! Name, also won’t last forever!” He slowly walked near and looked toward Jing and Rong, two people’s direction; but it was as if he did not see them, he simply drew his axe and started chopping wood on the hillside.

Huang Rong noticed this man’s face was grand and heroic, his appearance like that of a tiger’s. The way he lifted his hand or took a step carried an impressive power like that of an army general. If he wasn’t wearing coarse clothes and chopping woods in this secluded mountain, he surely gave an impression as the general who is in charge of a large army. Huang Rong’s heart was stirred, “Shifu said that the Southern Emperor, Emperor Duan is actually an emperor of Dali in Yunnan; could it be that this woodcutter was actually his general? Only why did his song carry a desperate and mournful sentiment?” she thought.

The woodcutter continued singing, “Mountain peaks stand as if they are gathered together, the billows roll as if they were angry. The mountains and rivers in and around the road to Tongguan; looking to the west, hearts full of doubts. Grieving Qin and Han dynasties, their palaces have turned into dust. Flourished, common people suffered; perished, common people suffered!”

Listening the last two lines, Huang Rong remembered her father often said, ‘What is emperor or general? All are criminals harming common people. Toppling dynasty, changing surname; in the end the common people suffered!’ She was unable to restrain from shouting her praise, “Good song!”

The woodcutter turned his head, inserting the axe back to his waist he asked, “Good? What’s good about it?”

Huang Rong was about to answer, but then she thought, “He loves to sing, why don’t I sing the ‘hillside sheep’ to answer him?” Thereupon she smiled slightly, lowered her head and sang, “Green mountains waiting for each other, white clouds love each other; not even dreaming of purple robe and golden belt. One thatched hut among the blooming wild flower; why worry over who flourished and who perished? Sufficient is a humble pathway and a single ladle. Poor, spirit does not change; success, the will does not change!”

She had concluded that this woodcutter must be the general who followed the Southern Emperor to this secluded place; formerly he must be in charge of the whole army, one who once held a prominent place in the kingdom. Accordingly the song she sang was a praise to his merit and name, to the one who lived contentedly in a wild mountain forest. Actually, even though she was witty and intelligent, by all means she was not a scholar who in a short time was able to compose a good song like the one she had just sung. When she was on the Peach Blossom Island she heard her father sang this song; only she changed several characters to emphasis this woodcutter’s former days of riches and honor and place great importance on his meritorious achievements. It was a pity she was suffering an injury that her internal energy was not as strong and her voice was rather weak. As the saying goes, ‘qian chuan wan chuan, ma pi bu chuan!’ [lit. thousand times bore through, ten thousand times bore through; horse’s fart does not bore through – meaning “Anything gets through me except horse fart” (Courtesy of Sunnysnow)] This song had made the woodcutter very pleased when he heard it. He had noticed that Jing and Rong, two people were riding on the iron boat and using the iron oars to paddle along the river; surely it must be the fisherman down the mountain who lend the boat to them. He did not have any suspicion, and without asking too many questions he simply pointed to a hillside and said, “Go up that way!”

They saw a long rattan about the size of a human’s arm hanging along the hillside going up to the peak. Jing and Rong, two people looked up above to see half of the peak was hidden in the cloud, it was unclear how high the peak was.

When Huang Rong and the woodcutter were singing songs, Guo Jing did not understand even half a word of what they were talking about. As the woodcutter let them go and directed them to go up, he still did not know the reason; but fearing the woodcutter might change his mind, without saying anything he carried Huang Rong on his back, grabbed the long rattan with both of his hands, and with a heave started climbing up. His arms alternately pulled and they crawled up fast. Just in a short moment they had climbed about a dozen of ‘zhang’s; indistinctly they could still hear the woodcutter singing something like, “ … in the past people struggled, but where are they now? Victory, they all turned into dust! Defeat, they all turned into dust!”

Crouching on Guo Jing’s back Huang Rong laughed and said, “Jing Gege, according to what he said, we don’t need to seek medical help.”

Guo Jing was baffled, “What?” he asked.

“In any case everybody will die; if I am healed, I will turn into dust! If I am not healed, I will still turn into dust!” Huang Rong said.

“Pei!” Guo Jing spat, “Don’t listen to him.”

Huang Rong softly sang, “Alive, you carry me on your back! Dead, you carry me on your back!”

Along with Huang Rong’s playful song, two people had entered the cloud; all they saw was a vast expanse of whiteness everywhere they looked. It was still summer, the weather was hot, but actually they felt the chill in the air. Huang Rong sighed, “Right in front of our eyes are countless marvels; even if my injury cannot be healed, our trip here will not be in vain.”

“Rong’er,” Guo Jing said, “Can you just not mention life and death anymore?”

Huang Rong lowered her head and laughed, she gently blew her breath on the back of Guo Jing’s neck. Guo Jing felt his neck warm and itchy, he called out, “Don’t give me trouble! If my hands slip, both of us will plunge to our death.”

Huang Rong laughed, “Fine!” she said, “This time it wasn’t me who talk about life and death!”

Guo Jing laughed, he could not answer; he crawled up faster and a short moment later they got to the end, or to be precise, the root where the rattan grew. Turned out they had arrived at the peak. They had just set their feet on solid ground when suddenly a loud rumbling was heard, as if a mountain rock burst apart; and then they also heard an ox bellowing loudly, followed by a man’s loud shout.

Guo Jing was surprised, “This peak is so high, yet there is an ox here. So strange!” Carrying Huang Rong on his back he rushed toward the noise.

“The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar. If there is a farmer, then there must be an ox,” Huang Rong said.

She had just finished talking when they saw a yellow ox on the hillside with its head lifted up, bellowing loudly; but the ox was actually in a very odd position. It was lying on its back on a rock, its four legs struggled but could not stand up. The rock was shaking, ready to fall down, below the rock was a man suspending the rock with both of his hands on top of his head like a letter T; if his hands slipped, both the rock and the ox would fall down into the canyon below. That man was standing on a piece of protruding cliff, there was nowhere he could step back. If he did not want to give that ox up, the rock would crush down and not only break his arms, but his legs as well. Looking at their condition, apparently that ox was grazing on a hillside and stepped on a loose rock. That man being near tried to save the ox by catching the rock but ended up in this precarious situation.

Huang Rong smiled, “Just now we heard the song ‘hillside sheep’, and now we see the ‘hillside ox’!” she said.

On that mountain peak there was a piece of flat land, already plowed ready for cultivation, about twenty ‘mu’s [around 1.6 acres or 2/3 of a hectare] rice field. There was a hoe by the edge of the field. The man who held the rock was bare-chested, his legs were covered with mud up to his knees; looked like the ox fell down when he was weeding the grass.

Huang Rong looked around to assess the situation, she mulled over in her heart, “This man obviously is the ‘farmer’ from ‘the fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar’. The ox weighs approximately three hundred catties [about 300 lbs or 150 kg]; looks like that rock is not lighter that the ox. Even though half of the rock is leaning on the hillside, yet looking at his steady feet, this man has an astonishing strength.” Guo Jing had already put her down and rushed to help. Huang Rong hastily called out, “Not so fast, don’t be rash!” But Guo Jing thought helping others was more important; he had already arrived by the farmer’s side.

He crouched underneath the rock and lifted it up while saying, “I’ll hold it, you go and save the ox first!”

That farmer felt his load was getting lighter, but he was still afraid that Guo Jing might not be strong enough to support both the ox and the big rock. He let go his right hand and leaned to the side, but his left hand was still supporting the bottom of the rock. Guo Jing steadied his legs, then exerted his internal strength and pushed upward with both of his arms; the rock was lifted up for about a foot, giving that farmer an opportunity to let his left hand go.

The farmer waited for a moment. After seeing that the big rock would not crush down, he knew Guo Jing’s strength was enough to support it. Finally he stooped down and got out from underneath the rock, leaped to the hillside to save the yellow ox. He could not help but stealing a glance toward Guo Jing to see what kind of hero had suddenly come and offered help. He was astonished since what he saw was an eighteen, nineteen years old youngster. More surprisingly, this youngster’s hands were holding up the rock and the ox seemingly without straining himself.

That farmer was always proud of having an outstanding physical strength, but obviously this youngster’s strength was far above his. His suspicions arose; he also looked down the hillside and saw a young woman leaning against a rock, her facial expression was weary, like she was suffering from a serious illness. His suspicion deepened, “Friend, what are you doing here?” he asked Guo Jing.

“To seek an audience with your master,” Guo Jing replied. “For what purpose?” the farmer asked again.

Guo Jing was startled and for an instant did not know how to reply. Huang Rong on the side called out, “Quickly pull the ox to safety first, it won’t be too late to ask question later. If his hands slip, won’t the man and the ox fall down together?”

The farmer thought, “These two are here to see Shifu, how come my two elder martial brothers down the mountain did not shoot whistling arrows? If these two broke through them, that means their martial arts are not to be trifled with. Now while his hands are not free, I need to understand this matter better.” Thereupon he asked, “Are you going to ask my Shifu to treat your injury?”

Guo Jing thought, “The people down the mountains are already aware anyway, there is no need to hide the truth from him.” He simply nodded his head.

The farmer’s countenance slightly changed, “I need to ask first,” he said. Without pulling the ox away he leaped down the hillside.

“Hey!” Guo Jing shouted, “Help me put down this rock first, then we can talk!”

The farmer smiled, “I will be back right away.”

Observing what was going on, Huang Rong had already guessed early on that farmer’s intention; he wanted to waste Guo Jing’s strength. He would deliberately wait for Guo Jing to be weary from suspending the rock, and then he would comeback and lent a hand. By that time it would be easy to expel these two people to go down the mountain. She hated herself for being injured at a time like this that she was unable to help Guo Jing shove away the big rock. She saw the farmer dashed out of the field, did not know when he would be coming back; she was anxious and angry at the same time. “Hey, Uncle!” she called out, “Please come back!”

That farmer paused and smiled, “He has a tremendous strength, nothing bad will happen to him in three-quarter or an hour time, don’t worry,” he said.

Huang Rong was angry, she thought, “Jing Gege was kind enough to help you, but you actually tricked him and let him trapped for three-quarter or an hour. I have to find a way to give you a lesson.” She creased her eyebrows and thought of an idea, “Uncle,” she called, “You want to ask your Shifu’s advice, that is very reasonable. Here is a letter from Benevolent Master Hong Qigong to be delivered to your master. Can you take it with you?”

“Ah!” hearing Hong Qigong’s name that farmer exclaimed in surprise, “Turned out Miss is the Nine-fingered Divine Beggar’s disciple. Does this Xiao Ge [lit. little/young elder brother] also belong to Senior Hong’s school? No wonder he is this good.” He came back to fetch the letter.

Huang Rong nodded, “Hey, he is my martial brother, capable of lifting several hundreds catties. Speaking of martial art he is not too far below Uncle.” Slowly she opened her sack, pretending to find the letter; but first she took the soft hedgehog armor, and then turned her gaze toward Guo Jing, her face had a frightened look. “Aiyo! Not good!” she called out, “His palms are about to be smashed up. Uncle, quickly find a way to help him.”

The farmer was startled, but then he laughed, “He is fine,” he said, “Where is the letter?” He held out his hand to get the letter.

“You don’t know,” Huang Rong anxiously said, “My martial brother is practicing the ‘pi kong zhang’ [hacking/slicing/splitting empty air palm technique]. His palms were soaked in vinegar just last night, but his training is not complete yet. If his palms are put under pressure for a long time, they will be destroyed.” On the Peach Blossom Island her father had trained her in ‘pi kong zhang’ hence she was familiar with the training method.

Although the farmer did not know this martial art, but he was a martial art expert’s disciple, his knowledge was extensive; he had heard about this particular martial art, he thought, “If for no apparent reason I caused injury to the Nine-fingered Divine Beggar’s disciple, not only my Shifu would rebuke me, but I would also regret it for the rest of my life. Moreover, he was kind enough to help me. Only I don’t know whether what this young miss said was a truth or a lie. I am afraid she is just tricking me into releasing him from underneath the rock.”

Huang Rong understood his hesitation, she took the soft hedgehog armor out and shook it. “This is the Peach Blossom Island’s most precious treasure, the soft hedgehog armor; blade and sword cannot harm it. I am asking Uncle to put it on his shoulder as a cushion and let him support the rock with his shoulder. That way he won’t be able to walk away, but he won’t suffer any injury, won’t that satisfy both parties? Or else you will cause injury to his palms and my Shifu won’t hold you innocent and will find your Shifu to settle the score.”

The farmer had also heard about the soft hedgehog armor; half believing and half doubting he took the armor. Huang Rong saw that he was not convinced yet, so she said, “My Shifu taught me not to lie to others, how can I deceive Uncle? If Uncle does not believe me, then try chopping this armor several times.”

The farmer saw her innocent face, he thought, “Nine-fingered Divine Beggar is an honorable Senior with high skill, his words are like gold and jade; whenever my Shifu mentioned his name, he always do so with utmost respect and admiration. This young miss also does not look like a liar.” It was because he was thinking about his master’s safety and well-being that he did not dare to act carelessly. Hence he drew the short blade from his waist and chopped the soft hedgehog armor several times. Sure enough, the armor did not show any trace of damage; it was truly one of the Wulin world’s treasures. All his doubts were gone, “Very well, I will put this on his shoulder as a cushion,” he said.

Not in a million years did he know that behind Huang Rong’s innocent and childlike face hid a heart and mind full of tricks. He took the soft hedgehog armor and went toward Guo Jing. He threw the armor on Guo Jing’s shoulder and exerted his strength toward his arms he lifted up the rock and said, “Let your hands go, support this rock with your shoulder.”

Leaning on a mountain rock Huang Rong kept her attention toward those two men. As soon as the farmer picked up the big rock she called out, “Jing Gege, ‘fei long zai tian’ [dragon fly to the sky]!”

Guo Jing felt his hands were free, he also heard Huang Rong’s shout; almost without thinking his right palm pushed forward, his left palm made a turn from the right wrist, launching the ‘fei long zai tian’ from the 18- Dragon Subduing Palms. He leaped to the air, again his right palm turned ahead of his left palm and pushed forward; he landed by Huang Rong’s side, with the soft hedgehog armor still perched nicely on his shoulder. He heard the farmer shouting curses; so he turned his head to see the farmer with his hands high in the air, supporting the big rock and was not able to move.

Huang Rong was very proud of herself, she said, “Jing Gege, let’s go.” Turning her head to the farmer she said, “You have a tremendous strength; nothing bad will happen to you in three-quarter or an hour time, don’t worry.”

The farmer cursed her, “Little girl, you deceived this old man! You said the Nine-fingered Divine Beggar always keep his words. Humph! This honorable Senior’s illustrious name is ruined by a little girl.”

Huang Rong smiled, “What did I ruin?” she said, “My Shifu taught me never to tell a lie, but my father said that deceiving people once in a while is not a big deal. I love to listen to my father, my Shifu cannot do anything about that.”

“Who is your father?” the farmer was angry.

“Ah! Didn’t I let you test the soft hedgehog armor?” Huang Rong asked.

The farmer cursed even more, “I deserve to die! I deserve to die! Turned out this sly little girl is the Old Heretic Huang’s daughter. Why was I so muddleheaded?”

Huang Rong laughed, “That’s right! My Shifu’s words are like a mountain, he has never deceived anybody. This is very difficult to learn, I don’t want to follow his teaching. I’ll say my father’s teaching is better!” She giggled and pulled Guo Jing’s hand, leading him to follow the pathway.

[Author’s note: the popular tune originated from the Northern Song Dynasty during its peaceful years. Since its appearance, the tune had become a popular folk song during both the Song and Jin era. The source of “Hillside Sheep” sung by the woodcutter and Huang Rong was actually the later version of the tune.] End of Chapter 29.