-->

The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 31

Chapter 31 – Lovers’ Handkerchief

Reverend Yideng narrated all kinds of gratitude and grudges, love and hate that he went through with Concubine Liu in the past. Guo Jing and Huang Rong sat on the mediation mats in front of him, listening intently; while the ‘Fisherman’, ‘Woodcutter’, ‘Farmer’ and ‘Scholar’, his four disciples, stood behind Reverend Yideng.

Reverend Yideng lowered his head and sighed, “Actually I only have myself to blame for this unfortunate disaster. You see, my Dali kingdom is small; although it cannot be compared to the Chinese emperor’s palace where there are more than 3,000 women, speaking about the empress and concubines, I had a few. Ay! It truly was a sin. I was very fond of martial arts; very seldom did I come near a woman. Even my own empress could see me only once every few days; how much less time did I have for my concubines?”

Speaking to this point he said to his four disciples, “This is an inside story, you did not know the details before. Today I am going to tell you everything so you’ll understand.”

Huang Rong thought, “They really did not know it, they did not lie to me.”

Yideng continued, “Day in and day out my concubines saw I train martial arts. Some were interested and expressed their desire to learn. So I casually gave directions to one or two of them. I thought by learning martial arts they would be healthier and might have a longer life. Among them a concubine surnamed Liu was the most gifted. She was so smart that each time I taught her something she would understand everything right off. She was young and she trained hard everyday; her martial art advanced greatly. And so it happened one day as she was practicing martial art in the garden she met Zhou Botong, Zhou Shixiong [Martial Brother Zhou] quite by accident. First of all Zhou Shixiong was crazy about martial arts; his natural disposition was also naïve, he did not guard against male- female relationship. He saw Concubine Liu was training enthusiastically, immediately he came forward and sparred with her. Zhou Shixiong’s martial art came from his martial brother, Wang Zhenren [lit. true/real man, a respectful term to address a Taoist priest]; how could Concubine Liu be his match …?”

“Aiyo!” Huang Rong softly exclaimed, “He did not know whether his hand was light or heavy and has injured Concubine Liu?”

“Nobody was injured,” Reverend Yideng answered, “Only about three moves or two stances later he sealed Concubine Liu’s acupoint, and then he asked if she would admit defeat or not. Naturally Concubine Liu admitted defeat. Zhou Shixiong unsealed her acupoint. He was so proud of himself that he started to talk about the wonderful secret of sealing acupoint technique. Concubine Liu had actually asked me to teach her the acupoint sealing technique before; but just think about it: how could I pass on this profound martial art to an imperial concubine? What she heard from Zhou Shixiong was exactly what she desired. Immediately she respectfully asked him to teach her.”

“(Sigh)! The Old Urchin must be very happy,” Huang Rong said. “You know Zhou Shixiong?” Yideng asked.

Huang Rong laughed, “We are old acquaintances; he stayed at the Peach Blossom Island for more than ten years, never once leave the island even for a single step.”

“With his character, how can he stay that long?” Yideng wondered.

Huang Rong smiled, “My father imprisoned him, and he was released just recently.” “That’s so,” Yideng nodded his head, “Is Zhou Shixiong well?” he asked.

Huang Rong replied, “His body is well, but the older he gets the crazier he becomes. He doesn’t have any manners.” Pointing her finger to Guo Jing she pursed her lips and continued with a smile, “The Old Urchin has performed a ritual to become sworn brothers with him.”

Reverend Yideng could not help smiling; then he continued, “The acupoint sealing technique is only taught by a father to his daughter, mother to her son, husband to his wife; other than that no man can teach a woman and no woman can teach a man …”

“Why is that?” Huang Rong asked.

“Because male and female cannot be intimate,” Yideng replied, “Just think, if we don’t touch one’s whole body acupoints one by one, how can we teach this skill?”

“But didn’t you touch my whole body’s acupoints?” Huang Rong asked.

The fisherman and the farmer was irritated she kept asking questions and diverting the story; they stared at her angrily. Huang Rong stared back and them and said, “What? Can’t I ask any question?”

Yideng smiled, “You can, you can,” he said, “You are a little girl, your life was in danger, of course we have to make an exception.” “All right, so be it,” Huang Rong said, “And then what happened?”

Yideng continued, “And then one taught, the other learned. Zhou Shixiong was at the prime of his life, Concubine Liu was just coming of age; their flesh and skin touched each other everyday, before long their feelings grew and finally they created a problem which was very difficult to rectify …”

Huang Rong wanted to ask; her lips were about to move but in the end she held back. She heard Yideng continue, “Some people came and reported to me. Although I was angry, I still honored Wang Zhenren’s reputation, I pretended not to know. Who would have thought that after Wang Zhenren found out; he interrogated Zhou Shixiong and he did not conceal anything …”

Huang Rong was unable to hold back much longer, she blurted out, “What is it? What is the problem that was difficult to rectify?”

Yideng temporarily at a loss of what to say, he hesitated before answering, “They really were not husband and wife, but they acted like one.”

“Ah, I know,” Huang Rong said, “The Old Urchin and Concubine Liu had a child.”

“Ay! It’s not that,” Yideng said, “They had known each other only for about ten days, how could they have a child? After Wang Zhenren discovered this affair, he bound Zhou Shixiong’s hands and took him to my presence for me to judge. We are martial art practitioners; we value loyalty above everything else, we did not put too much of a regard toward women. How could I injure our friendship over a woman? I immediately untied him and summoned Concubine Liu at the same time. I ordered them to get married. Who would have thought that Zhou Shixiong raised a clamor; he said he did not know what he did was wrong, that if he knew, he would have not done it even if he were to be killed. No matter what, he was not willing to take Concubine Liu as his wife. At that time Wang Zhenren sighed and said, ‘If I did not know any better, that he is a fool who doesn’t know good from evil, a sword would have already cut him into two as he committed this awful crime.’”

Huang Rong stuck out her tongue and said, “The Old Urchin was in a big trouble!”

Yideng continued, “At first I was offended, I said, ‘Zhou Shixiong, I am sincerely willing to part with my treasure and give her to you, do you think I have another agenda? There is an ancient saying, ‘Brothers are like hands and feet, wives are like clothes’; what is a woman for you to consider it a very big deal?”

“Pei! Pei!” Huang Rong spat, “Uncle, you disregarded women, what you said was a pile of rubbish!”

The farmer could not hold his patience any longer, he shouted, “Just shut up and don’t talk nonsense, will you?” “What he said was wrong, I must refute it,” Huang Rong was adamant.

To the fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar, Reverend Yideng was not only their lord, but also their teacher. It never occurred to them to talk back, let alone refuting his words. They regarded him with utmost reverence; now hearing Huang Rong’s unrestrained mouth they were shocked and angry at the same time.

Reverend Yideng actually did not seem to mind; he continued his narration, “As Zhou Shixiong heard me, he shook his head. I became angry, I said, ‘If you love her, why don’t you want her? If you don’t love her, why did you do what you did? My Dali is a small country, but do you think you can just drop in and throw an insult like this?’ Zhou Shixiong was silent for half a day. Suddenly he bent his knees and kowtowed to me several times; he said, ‘Emperor Duan, I am guilty. If you want to kill me, just do it, I won’t dare to hit you back.’ I was taken aback, I have never expected him to say such thing; I was at a loss momentarily. Finally I said, ‘How can I kill you?’ He said, ‘Then I am leaving!’ He took out an embroidered handkerchief from his bosom, handed it over to Concubine Liu and said, ‘I give it back to you.’ Concubine Liu smiled sadly, she did not take the handkerchief. Zhou Shixiong let the handkerchief go and it fell near my feet. Zhou Shixiong did not say anything else; he turned around and stormed out of the palace. It has been more than a dozen years and I haven’t heard anything about him ever since. Wang Zhenren apologized to me over and over again; and then he also left. I heard he passed away that autumn. Wang Zhenren was a brave and heroic man, there was nobody can be compared to him. Ay

…”

“Wang Zhenren’s martial art skill might be higher than yours,” Huang Rong said, “But speaking of bravery and heroic spirit, I think he did not necessarily exceed Uncle. He had accepted seven disciples and they are all just average, there is nothing special about them. Anyway, what happened to the embroidered handkerchief?”

The four disciples were annoyed that Huang Rong cared so much about trivial things like handkerchief or clothes; but they heard their master said, “I saw Concubine Liu was staring blankly, like her soul had left her. I was very angry; I picked up the handkerchief only to see a couple of embroidered mandarin ducks playing on the water. (Sigh), it was Concubine Liu’s gift to her lover. I laughed coldly. I then saw next to the pair of mandarin ducks there was a line of poem …”

Huang Rong’s heart was stirred, she hastily asked, “Was it, ‘Four weaving machines, the weaving of mandarin ducks desiring to fly together right away’?”

With a stern voice the farmer shouted, “Even we do not know it, how did you know? Always talk nonsense and disturb the story!” Who would have thought that Reverend Yideng sighed and said, “It was indeed that poem; you knew it?” At his words the four disciples looked at each other in astonishment.

Guo Jing sprang up and called out, “I remember now! That day on the Peach Blossom Island Zhou Dage [Big Brother Zhou] was bitten by a venomous viper; he was delirious and he muttered this poem. It was, it was … Four weaving machines, a pair on mandarin ducks, and some head turned white. Rong’er, how did it go? I can’t remember it anymore.”

With a low voice Huang Rong recited, “Four weaving machines, the weaving of mandarin ducks desires 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.”

“Exactly!” Guo Jing slapped his thigh, “Zhou Dage once advised me against good-looking women; he said he had seen one and as a result he offended a good friend and provoked his Shige [elder martial brother] to anger. He also said don’t ever let her touch your acupoints, otherwise you’ll be covered with germs. Rong’er, he even urged me not to be good to you.”

“Pei!” Huang Rong angrily spat, “Old Urchin! Next time I see him I am going to twist his ears!” Suddenly she giggled and said, “That day in Lin’an prefecture I teased him that he wasn’t able to find a wife; the Old Urchin sulked for half a day. Turned out it was because of this matter.”

“When I heard Ying Gu recited this poem I thought I have heard it somewhere, but tried as I might, I could not remember where I heard it. Uh, Rong’er, how come Ying Gu also knew this poem?” Guo Jing said.

Huang sighed, “Ay, it’s because Ying Gu is that Concubine Liu.”

Among the four disciples, the scholar was the only one who had already guessed 50, 60%; the other three were extremely astonished, they turned toward their master at once. Yideng spoke in a low voice, “Miss is really smart; truly worthy to be Yao Xiong’s [Brother Yao] daughter. Concubine Liu’s first name was ‘Ying’. That day I tossed the handkerchief to her, afterwards I no longer called for her. In my depression I neglected the affairs of the country; I trained martial art every day …”

Huang Rong interrupted him again, “Uncle, do you know that you loved her very much in your heart? If you did not, you would not be so unhappy.”

The four disciples was shocked at her audacity, “Miss!” angrily they called out in one voice. “What?” Huang Rong said, “Did I say something wrong? Uncle, tell me, was I wrong?”

Yideng gloomily said, “Hereafter in more than half a year I have never called for Concubine Liu, but in my sleep I often dreamt of being with her. One evening I dreamt about her, at midnight I woke up; I could not hold my patience much longer and made up my mind to pay her a visit. I did not let the palace guards or the eunuchs know about my intention, quietly I went to her quarters, I wanted to know what she was doing. As I arrived on top of her roof I heard a child was crying inside. (Sigh), outside the frost was thick and the wind was cold. I stood in shock for half a night and did not get down until it was dawn. Afterwards I caught a very serious illness.”

Huang Rong thought how he was revered as the emperor, yet in the middle of the night roaming around the palace roof to visit his own concubine; it was truly unusual. The four disciples also recalled their master’s sickness. It was not only very bad, but also took a long time to recover. All this time they wondered: with his profound martial art cold wind would not easily make him sick; even if he was sick, he should not take that long to recover. Only now did they know that it was more of a crushed spirit than a physical illness that he did not use his own internal strength to battle the sickness. She asked again, “Concubine Liu had given you a child; certainly it was good, wasn’t it? Uncle, why were you not happy?”

“Silly kid,” Yideng said, “It was Zhou Shixiong’s child.”

“But Zhou Shixiong had left for a long time,” Huang Rong said, “Could it be that he came back secretly to see her?” “No,” Yideng replied, “Have you heard the phrase ‘ten-month pregnancy’?”

Huang Rong was suddenly enlightened, “Ah, I know! That child must look like the Old Urchin very much, with pointy ears and high nose; otherwise how did you know it was not your child?”

Reverend Yideng answered, “That is not necessarily so. I haven’t been intimate with Concubine Liu for some time, naturally the child wasn’t mine.”

Huang Rong seemed to understand but she did not understand, but she was aware it was not appropriate to keep asking questions, so she did not pursue further.

Meanwhile Yideng continued, “I was sick for more than half a year; after I recovered, I poured out my attention to internal strength cultivation to dispel boredom and no longer gave thought to this matter. One night about two years later I was meditating in my bedroom, suddenly the curtain on the door was raised and Concubine Liu rushed in. Outside the door a eunuch and two palace guards quickly tried to stop her, but wherever they went, they were struck away by her palm. I looked up and saw she was carrying the child on the crook of her elbow. She wore an extremely panic-stricken expression; she knelt down and cried loudly, she kowtowed in front of me and called out, ‘I ask the Emperor to show mercy, to be infinitely compassionate and spare this child’s life!’ I stood up to take a look. That child’s face was deep red; he was breathing heavily. I took him from her bosom to examine further and found out that five of his ribs were broken.

Concubine Liu wept, ‘Emperor, your lowly concubine has committed a heinous crime worthy of ten thousands death; but I am asking the Emperor to spare this child’s lowly life.’ I was surprised to hear her, so I asked, ‘What happened to the child?’ But she kept knocking her head entreating me. I asked again, ‘Who injured the child?’ Concubine Liu did not answer but kept weeping, ‘Please Emperor, show mercy to him.’ I scratched my head in confusion. She said, ‘If the Emperor bestowed death to me, I would not complain for even half a word, but this child … this child …’

‘Who bestowed death to you?’ I asked, ‘How did the child get injured?’ Concubine Liu looked up and with a trembling voice asked, ‘So it wasn’t the Emperor who sent a palace guard to kill this child?’ I knew something was amiss, I busily asked, ‘So it was a palace guard who injured the child? Which slave did have so much guts?’ Concubine Liu called out, ‘Ah! It was not the Emperor’s imperial edict, so the child’s life can be saved!’ After saying that she fainted and fell to the ground. I helped her up and put her on the bed; I also put the child down on her side. Only after about half a day later she finally awoke. She pulled my hand and weeping she told me what happened.

Turned out she was patting the child to put him to sleep that night, when suddenly from outside the window came a palace guard wearing a mask on his face. The guard pulled the child away and hit his back with a palm. Concubine Liu hurriedly went forward to stop him, but the guard shoved her away. Then his palm hit the child’s chest. Finally he laughed a big laugh and jumped over the window. That palace guard’s martial art skill was very high. She thought it was me who sent him to kill her son; she did not dare to pursue, but she came to my palace to entreat.

The more I heard her story the more amazed I became; I re-examined the child but I could not tell what kind of martial art caused the injury. All I can tell was that the child’s ‘dai mai’ [waist arteries] were shaken and broken. That assassin’s hands were lethal, but obviously he had shown mercy; the baby was so young and weak, but he was still breathing after two palm strikes. Immediately I went to her quarter to investigate, and sure enough, I found very faint tracks on the window sill and on the tile outside the window. I told Concubine Liu, ‘This assassin’s martial art skill is very high, especially his lightness kungfu; it was not a small matter. Apart from me there is no one with this kind of ability in the whole Dali kingdom.’ Suddenly Concubine Liu called out in alarm, ‘Could it be him? Why would he want to kill his own son?’ After saying that her face turned ash gray.”

Huang Rong also muttered in a low voice, “The Old Urchin couldn’t be that bad, could he?”

Reverend Yideng said, “At that time I actually believed it was Zhou Shixiong. Other than him, who in this present age had that kind of ability, and who without any reason at all would injure a baby? I guessed he was not willing to leave an illegitimate child behind and became a disgrace in the Wulin world. After Concubine Liu uttered those words she was bashful and anxious, frightened and ashamed at the same time. She was at a loss. But suddenly she said, ‘No, it definitely was not him! That laughter was not his!’ I said, ‘You were frightened, how could you hear clearly?’ She replied, ‘I will remember this laughter forever, even if I become a ghost I will still remember that laughter! No, it definitely was not him!’”

Listening to this part everybody suddenly felt a chill in the air, goose bumps appeared on their skins. Guo Jing and Huang Rong recalled Ying Gu’s voice and demeanor; they imagined her facial expression when she said those words with clenched teeth, they could not help but shiver in fear.

Reverend Yideng continued, “I heard her so convinced, I believed her. But for the life of me I could not guess who the assassin was. I once thought it might be one of Wang Zhenren’s disciples, maybe Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji or Wang Chuyi? Perhaps they were trying to save Quanzhen Sect’s reputation that they took the thousands of ‘li’s journey to a remote place and kill to close someone’s mouth …”

Guo Jing’s lips moved, he wanted to say something, but he did not dare to interrupt Reverend Yideng’s story. Yideng saw it and said, “You want to say something? You may as well say it.”

Guo Jing said, “Ma Daozhang [Taoist Priest Ma], Qiu Daozhang, they are all chivalrous heroes; they can’t possibly do this thing.”

“I have met Wang Chuyi at Mount Hua,” Yideng said, “His conduct was alright, but I don’t know about the other disciples. But if they could kill the baby with one palm, why did they leave the baby half dead and half alive?” He raised his head and turned his gaze toward the window, staring blankly. Obviously he had not been able to forget the unsolvable mystery of more than ten years ago. The meditation room was quiet. A moment later Yideng said, “All right, let’s talk about that later …”

Huang Rong suddenly exclaimed, “Without a doubt, it must be Ouyang Feng.”

Yideng said, “Afterwards I also suspected him. But Ouyang Feng is a western region’s man, he is big and tall; he is at least a head taller than average local men. Concubine Liu said that compared to average men, the assassin can be considered short.”

“That’s strange,” Huang Rong said.

“My thought precisely,” Yideng said, “Concubine Liu was hugging the child and sobbing. This child’s injury was not as severe as Miss Huang’s, but he was very young; he did not have any immune system yet. If I was to treat his injury, it would have consumed all my energy. I hesitated for a long time. I saw Concubine Liu was crying pitifully. Several times I was going to open my mouth to tell her that I would treat his injury, but every time I remembered that if I do that, I can forget about competing against the other experts at the incoming second Sword Meet of Mount Hua to win the Nine Yin Manual. Ay! Wang Zhenren had said that this Manual was the Wulin world’s big root of trouble; it brought harms to many people and brought out the worst of human’s heart. He was absolutely right. Because of that book I lost my compassion towards others. After hesitating for almost two hours I finally started to lean toward treating his injury. Ay, during these two hours I felt like I was lower than an animal. The worst part was, my decision to treat his injury was not because I wanted to do something good, but because I was tired of Concubine Liu’s constant cry for help.”

“Uncle,” Huang Rong said, “I said you loved her very much, I was not wrong.”

Yideng did not seem to hear her, he simply continued his narration, “As Concubine Liu heard my promise to help, she was so happy that she fainted again. I massaged her acupoint to awaken her, then I started to untie the child’s swaddling clothes so that I could massage his acupoints using the ‘xian tian gong’ [inborn/innate energy]. Who would have thought that under the swaddling clothes that child was wearing a ‘du dou’ [an undergarment covering chest and abdomen] on his chest. I stopped on my track, unable to say anything; because on the ‘du dou’ was a pair of embroidered mandarin ducks, and next to the ducks was that ‘four weaving machines’ poem. Turned out this ‘du dou’ was the handkerchief given to Zhou Shixiong a couple of years ago.

Concubine Liu saw my expression and she knew things had turned bad for her. Her face was ashen. Clenching her teeth she pulled a dagger from her waist and pointed it toward her own chest. ‘Emperor,’ she called out, ‘I do not have any face to live longer in this world. I am asking your infinite mercy and compassion, I am willing to trade my life for the child’s. In my next life I will become a dog or a horse to repay your kindness.’ As she said that she pushed the dagger into her chest, hard.” Although everybody knew that Concubine Liu was still alive, they could not help but gasp in horror.

As he narrated this part, it was as if Reverend Yideng did not tell the past events to others, but it seemed like he was simply thinking out loud, “I quickly used ‘qin na fa’ [grappling, capture and seize technique] to snatch her dagger away. I was fast, but her dagger had already penetrated her chest. Blood was seeping out her clothes. I was afraid she might try to kill herself again, so I sealed the acupoints on her hands and feet. I tended the wound on her chest and let her rest on a chair. She did not say anything, but her eyes looked at me full of sorrow. Neither of us said anything. The room was quiet, save the sound of that child gasping for breath.

While listening to that child’s breathing many, many past events flashed in my mind: how she entered the palace for the first time, how I taught her martial art, how I had loved her. She had always revered me, feared me, gently attended to all my needs, never dared to disregard my will; but she had never loved me. At first I was not aware of her true feelings, but that day I saw the way she looked at Zhou Shixiong, then I understood. When a woman truly and wholeheartedly loves a man, she will look at him with that kind of look. I remembered the way she looked when Zhou Shixiong threw that handkerchief down, the way she looked when he turned around and left the palace. That scene had haunted me for several years, made my sleeps restless and my meals taste like sawdust. Even today I can still see it vividly in my mind.

This time once again her heart was broken; not over her lover, but over her son, whose life she was willing to trade her own with! I am an honorable man, and I felt disgraced. Me, the ruler of a country! Having this thought my heart was filled with fury; I lifted my foot and smashed an ivory stool in front of me. I looked up and was dumbstruck. I said, ‘You … what happened to your head?’ She did not seem to hear me, her gaze was fixed to her child. I have never really understood before, how someone’s gaze could contain so much love, so much compassion. By that time she had realized I was not going to save her child’s life, so she wanted to look at him as long as he was still alive.

I took a mirror and held it out in front of her. I said, ‘Look at your hair!’ In just a short period of time it seemed like she had become several decades older. She was only eighteen, nineteen years old; yet because of fear, anxiety, remorse, despair, grieve, and all kinds of deep emotional attacks innumerable hair on her temples had turned white!

She did not seem to care toward the change in her appearance. She blamed the mirror to be in the way, obstructing her view to the child. ‘The mirror, take it away!’ she said, candidly. She had forgotten that I was the Emperor, her master. I felt strange; I thought she had always treasured her own looks, why didn’t she pay any attention to it now? I tossed the mirror aside only to see without blinking her gaze was fixed on the child. I had never seen such gaze; full of love and hope, a hope that her child would live. I understood that if she could, she would gladly take her own soul and put it inside her child’s body to replace his slowly departing soul.”

Listening to this Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other; both were thinking in their hearts, “When I was seriously injured and there was little hope for it to be healed you also looked at me that way.” Forgetting their surroundings they held out their hands to hold each other. Two hearts beating as one; they felt warmness creeping up their bodies. Amidst listening to how others were grieving of misfortune they could not help of thinking their own good fortune; due to the fact that their loved one was sitting right next to them at that time, that place. Because her injury had been healed; she would not die. Yes, she would not die. In these two youngsters’ hearts their loved one would not die forever.

They heard Reverend Yideng continue, “I could not take it much longer; several times I wanted to just take the child and treat his injury, but I kept looking at that handkerchief wrapped around the child’s chest. The handkerchief with a pair of mandarin ducks embroidered on it, their necks intertwined with each other. The mandarin ducks had white heads, symbolizing they would grow old together. But why it was written, ‘It’s a pity not yet old but the hair on the head has turned white.’? As I turned my head I saw the hair on her temples had turned white, I broke in cold sweats. At that time my heart turned hard, I said, ‘Fine, go ahead and grow old together; just leave me lonely and cast away in this palace as an emperor! This is you and your lover’s child; why would I sacrifice my whole energy to revive him?’

She looked at me, her last glance. It was full of blame and hatred. Afterwards she had never looked at me anymore, but this one look I will not forget till the day I die. She coldly said, ‘Let me go, I want to hold my child!’ She was speaking with authority and determination; it was as if she was my master, made it difficult for me to disobey. Thereupon I unsealed her acupoints.

She held the child in her bosom. The child was so much in pain that he wanted to cry, but no sound came out of his tiny lips. His small face had turned purple; he looked at his mother as if asking her to help him. I was so hard-hearted; I did not have the least bit of compassion. I saw one by one her black hair had turned to ash grey, and from ash grey to white. I don’t know whether it really did happen, or it was my imagination playing tricks on me.

I heard her gently saying, ‘Child, Mama does not have the ability to save you, but Mama also can’t let you suffer. Child, have a peaceful rest. Sleep Child, sleep. Don’t wake up forever!’ I heard she sang a gentle lullaby. It was a very beautiful song. It went like this, ‘hmm, hmm …’ Listen!”

Everybody heard him say those words, but actually they did not hear the least bit of a song. They looked at each other in bewilderment. “Shifu,” the scholar said, “You have talked long enough, you must be tired. Please take a rest.”

Reverend Yideng did not seem to hear, he kept talking, “The child’s face showed a faint happiness, but the pain made his whole body spasm. With a gentle voice she said, ‘My precious, my heart and my soul, sleep tight, then you won’t feel the pain anymore, not the least bit of pain!’ Suddenly ‘stab!’, her dagger went straight into the child’s heart.”

Huang Rong screamed in fright; she grabbed Guo Jing’s arm tightly. The rest of the listeners were also so shocked that their faces did not show any trace of blood.

Reverend Yideng was oblivious to his surroundings, he continued, “I was so shocked that I cried out and drew back several steps, almost tumbled down. My heart was in turmoil, I was totally at a loss. I saw her slowly stand up and in a low voice she said, ‘There will come a day, I will stab your heart with this dagger.’ She pointed her finger to the jade bracelet on her wrist and said, ‘You gave this to me the day I entered the palace. Just wait, the day I return this jade bracelet to you, will be the day my dagger will follow!’”

Speaking to this point Yideng spun the jade bracelet on his forefinger one time; he showed a faint smile and said, “This is the jade bracelet, I have waited several years for this. At last that day has come.”

“Uncle,” Huang Rong said, “She killed her own son, what did it have to do with you? You did not injure her child. Moreover, she had used poison trying to kill you; what enmity she had for you had been paid in full. I am going down the mountain to send her off, I won’t allow her to create any disturbance here …”

She had not finished her words when that young monk came rushing in. “Shifu,” he said, “Somebody delivered this at the foot of the mountain.” He held out both hands to present a small cloth bundle to his master.

Yideng took the bundle and unwrapped it. Everybody called out in alarm as one voice. Turned out inside that bundle was the ‘du dou’ made of the embroidered handkerchief. The silk had turned yellow of age, but the embroidered mandarin ducks were still bright as new. There was a knife hole in between the ducks; the edge of the hole was black from the bloodstain. Yideng stared blankly at the ‘du dou’, overwhelmed with grief. After a long time he finally said, “The weaving of mandarin ducks desiring to fly together right away, hey, desiring to fly together; in the end it was just a dream. She hugged her child’s lifeless body tightly, uttered a long laugh, and jumped over the window sill, flew out of the room and in the blink of an eye disappeared without any trace. I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t eat, and was miserable for three days and three nights. Finally I came to my senses. I bequeathed the throne to my eldest son and decided to tread the immortal path by becoming a monk.” He pointed at his four disciples and said, “They have followed me for a long time and did not want to leave me. Together we went out of the Dali city wall and lived at the ‘tian long si’ [celestial dragon temple]. For the first three years they took turns in helping my son to run the country. Later my son has understood the government affairs; the kingdom was at peace and nothing serious happened. So we went to the Big Snow Mountain to gather medicinal herbs. There Ouyang Feng injured my disciple and we moved to this place. We have never gone back to Dali ever since.

I was so hard-hearted that I was not willing to save that child’s life. Hereafter for the last ten years or so, day and night I have never had a peaceful rest. I always hoped to save many people to redeem my great sin. They did not know my miserable inner feeling, so they always tried to hinder me. Ay, even if I could save thousand people, ten thousand people, that child would still be dead. How else would I repay his life if not with my own? Everyday I have been waiting for Ying Gu, waiting for her to stab her dagger into my heart. I was afraid she might come here too late; I am already dead, then it would be difficult to redeem my sin. Good, finally she will be here. Why would she mix the poison into the Nine-flowered Jade Dew Pills? If I knew she would arrive soon after she poisoned me, I wouldn’t have wasted these past several hours trying to survive, also my martial brother would not need to waste his divine power to neutralize the poison.”

Huang Rong indignantly said, “This woman’s heart is so evil! She had found out Uncle’s dwelling early on, but was afraid that her own martial art would be insufficient; so she deliberately waited for a good opportunity. Coincidentally she met me, suffering the Iron Palm injury, so she guided me to seek your help. She wanted to employ two methods to achieve one goal; first she wanted you to waste your strength, then to seize that opportunity to poison you. I was so gullible to become the unaware weapon of this wicked woman. Uncle, how did Ouyang Feng’s drawing ended up in her hand? What does this drawing have to do with her?”

Reverend Yideng took The Great Buddist Scripture from the small table beside him, turned several pages and started to read, “The story of the picture is originated from an ancient Indian city: Once there was a king, his name was Shipi. He was a diligent ascetic practitioner, always followed the way of the true enlightenment. One day there was a hawk chasing a pigeon. The pigeon flew in and hid underneath Shipi’s arm, seeking refuge. The hawk demanded the king to return the pigeon to him, he said, ‘If the king saves the pigeon, the hawk will die of starvation.’ The king realized he could not save one without harming the other. Thereupon he took a knife and cut his own flesh for the hawk. The hawk said, ‘If the king cuts his own flesh, it must be the same weight as the pigeon.’ Shipi ordered his guard to fetch a balance. He placed the pigeon on one end and his flesh on the other; but no matter how much he cut his flesh, the pigeon end was still low. The king cut his chest, his back, his arm, his side, but the pigeon was still heavier. Finally he put his whole body onto the balance. Right away the earth shook; music came from the sky, the deities scattered flowers and sweet fragrance filled the whole earth. The dragons, the demons and all heavenly creatures sighed, ‘Shan zai, shan zai [lit. good, peace], there has never been this kind of bravery.’” It was only a myth, but Yideng narrated it full of compassion and mercy, and the audience’s hearts were moved.

“Uncle,” Huang Rong said, “She was afraid you might not be willing to treat my injury, so she used this picture to move your heart.”

Yideng smiled and said, “It seemed that way. When she left Dali that day, her heart was set on seeking revenge, so it seems logical for her to roam the Jianghu [lit. rivers and lakes] to learn martial art from a highly skilled person. Some way or another she met Ouyang Feng, and as Ouyang Feng learned about her intention he helped her plan this scheme, he drew this picture and gave it to her. This book is well-spread in the western region, and Ouyang Feng is from the western region, so he must be familiar with this story.”

Full of hatred Huang Rong said, “The Old Poison used Ying Gu, in turn Ying Gu used me. This is an evil plan of murder with a borrowed knife.”

Yideng sighed, “You don’t need to be upset. If you had not met her, she would injure someone else and send that person to me to be treated. Only if that person does not have a highly skilled escort, he won’t be able to go up the mountain easily. Ouyang Feng must have drawn this picture a long time ago; they have been setting up this plan for at least ten years. Contrary to their expectation, they were unable to find someone for ten years; that is also because of fate.”

“Uncle, I know it,” Huang Rong said, “She has something else in her mind which is more important than harming you.” “Ah!” Yideng exclaimed, “What matter?”

Huang Rong replied, “The Old Urchin was imprisoned by my father on the Peach Blossom Island. She wanted to help him out.” And then Huang Rong told him how Ying Gu painstakingly learned ‘qi men’ [strange/wonderful/mysterious gate] and mathematics. Finally she said, “Afterwards she found out that even if she studied for a hundred years more it would still be difficult for her to overcome my father, plus she saw me getting injured, thereupon …”

Yideng uttered a long laugh; he stood up and said, “Fine, fine. All’s well that ends well. Everything has come together. Today finally she will get her wish.” With a calm face he turned to his four disciples and said, “You go and welcome Concubine Liu, no, welcome Ying Gu and take her up the mountain. You must not utter even half a word of disrespect.” As if by prior agreement the four disciples bowed to the ground and cried, they called out together, “Shifu!”

Yideng sighed, “You have followed me for many, many years, don’t you understand your Shifu’s heart?” Toward Guo Jing and Huang Rong he said, “I am asking you two a favor.”

Jing and Rong answered together, “Just say it, we won’t dare to disobey.”

“Good,” Yideng said, “Now I want you to go down the mountain. All my life I owed Ying Gu a lot. In the future, whenever she is facing a difficulty or is in danger, I am asking you for the Old Monk’s sake, to lend a hand as much as you can. If you two can help in the matter of successful conclusion of her and Zhou Shixiong’s affair, the Old Monk will be forever grateful.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other in astonishment; they did not dare to reply. Yideng saw those two were silent, he pressed again, “This Old Monk’s request, is it difficult for you to give your consent?”

Huang Rong reluctantly replied, “Since Uncle has asked, we will obey.” She tugged Guo Jing’s sleeve and bowed down to bid farewell. “You don’t have to meet Ying Gu,” Yideng said, “Go down from the back of the mountain.”

Huang Rong gave her reply, pulled Guo Jing’s hand and turned around to go. The four disciples saw she appeared calm without any trace of grief, they secretly scolded her as cold-hearted and mean, seeing her savior was facing danger she was indifferent and walked away. Guo Jing knew Huang Rong would not rest before she cooked another plan, so he followed her out.

When they got to the door Huang Rong whispered something in his ear. Guo Jing looked hesitant but finally he nodded his head. He turned around and slowly walked back.

Yideng said, “Your heart is honest and upright, you will accomplish great things in the future. I am entrusting Ying Gu’s business to you.”

“Very well!” Guo Jing replied, “Junior will do my utmost to tend to the Reverend’s business.” Suddenly he reached backward and grabbed the Indian Monk’s hand sitting next to Yideng. Guo Jing’s left hand went straight and hit his ‘hua gai’ [fancy canopy] and ‘tian zhu’ [heaven’s pillar] two main acupoints. These acupoints were located one on the hand, the other on the foot; once they were sealed then four limbs would be immobilized. This move totally took Yideng and his four disciples by surprise; they called out, “What are you doing?”

Guo Jing did not reply, his left hand went straight toward Yideng’s shoulder. Yideng’s right palm made a turn and fast as lighting grabbed Guo Jing’s left hand. Guo Jing was startled; he thought Yideng was already shrouded inside his palm’s strength, unexpectedly not only he managed to break through but launched a counterattack as well. Moreover, Yideng’s attack was targeting his vital point. It was truly an exquisite skill. Only as Yideng’s palm came within an inch of his hand he could feel Yideng’s palm was weak. Guo Jing took this opportunity to turn his palm around to protect his hand, while his right hand launched ‘Divine Dragon Swings Its Tail’ to repel the fisherman and the woodcutter who attacked him from behind. The forefinger of his left hand was still moving straight forward to seal the ‘feng wei’ [phoenix’s tail] and ‘jing cu’ [near energy] on Yideng’s side. “Uncle,” he said, “I beg your forgiveness.”

Meanwhile Huang Rong had pushed the farmer out of the door using the Dog Beating Stick technique. The scholar was surprised with this abrupt turn of events; he did not understand Guo Jing and Huang Rong’s intention. “If you have something to discuss, say it; please don’t fight!” he repeatedly shouted.

Seeing his Shifu’s condition the farmer was like a mad tiger; neglecting his own life he charged toward the meditation room. But the Dog Beating Stick was too much for him, he charged three times and three times Huang Rong’s stick pushed him back.

Guo Jing’s palms moved in circles with a strong gust of wind, forcing the fisherman, the woodcutter and the scholar to move back step by step toward the door. Huang Rong abruptly swung her stick from the ground upward to the farmer’s eyebrow. This move was so swift that the farmer cried out, “Aiyo!” He threw his head backward and leaped back several feet.

“Good!” Huang Rong exclaimed. She reached backward and closed the door. With a chuckle she said, “Gentlemen, please hold your hands! I have something to say.”

Every time the woodcutter and the fisherman met with Guo Jing’s palm they felt their arms went numb and their feet staggered. They saw Guo Jing was about to strike again, quickly they stood side by side, ready to receive Guo Jing’s palm with their combine forces. As Guo Jing heard Huang Rong’s words he stopped his palm midway and withdrew it back. Cupping his fists he said, “Please forgive my offense.”

The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar looked at each other in consternation. With a serious face Huang Rong said, “I have received Honorable Master’s kindness; now I know that Honorable Master is facing a difficulty, how can I just leave and do nothing? We have offended you with the intention to help.”

The scholar stepped forward, bowed deeply and said, “The enemy is our Master’s wife; it would be inconvenient for us to offend her. If she wants to go up the mountain, we won’t have any way of stopping her. Moreover, ever since that … that young master died, for more than ten years our Shifu’s heart was restless. Even if his energy were still intact and he were not poisoned, when he saw Concubine Liu arrive he would not defend himself against her dagger. We cannot disobey our master, yet our hearts are burning with anxiety. We have exhausted our wisdom and used up all our strengths, still we don’t know what to do. Miss is so smart; if you can show us a way, even if our bodies and bones are ground to dust we will wish to repay your kindness.”

Hearing him speaking earnestly Huang Rong did not dare to joke around like she previously did, she said, “We, martial brother and sister, are very grateful for the Honorable Master’s kindness, no different than the four of you, we will use all means possible to help. It will be best if we can prevent Ying Gu from entering the meditation room, but to think that she has been waiting patiently at the Black Marsh for more than ten years, she must have made ample preparation. I am afraid it won’t be easy to block her. Little sister’s plan involves a great danger. If we succeed, we can expect smooth sailing in the future, without any imminent trouble. But it is extremely risky, that Ying Gu is very astute and sly, her martial art skill is also high, so there is a possibility for failure. My ability and wisdom is very shallow and simple, I can’t think of any foolproof plan.”

The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar said, “We beg your explanation.”

Huang Rong raised her pretty eyebrows and laid down her plan. As the four disciples listened to it, they looked at each other and did not say anything for half a day.

.o0o.

It was the tenth hour (5 – 7 pm), the sun slowly sank behind the mountain. The strong mountain breeze swayed the leaves of the palm trees planted in rows outside the meditation courtyard. The withered lotus leaves on the pond also made a rustling noise. The evening sun cast its light from behind the mountain peaks, the mountain ridges looked like a silhouette of a giant reclining on the ground. The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar sat cross-legged on the ground by the stone bridge. They opened their eyes wide looking to the front. Each heart was heavy with restlessness.

They had waited for a long time. The sky had darkened, the dusk gradually turned into night. The crows crowed while they were flying in the valley below. A thin white mist rose up from the canyon below. But still no one appeared from the turn at the mountain cliff beyond the stone bridge. The fisherman thought, “If only Concubine Liu has a sudden change of heart and does not blame Shifu, maybe she reined her horse beyond the cliff and decided not to come over …”

The woodcutter thought, “This Concubine Liu is very crafty; she must have been preparing a really sinister plot.”

The farmer was more anxious and impatient than the others, he thought, “The sooner she arrives, the sooner we can get it over with; whether it will be disaster or fortune, good or evil, we will find out sooner. She said she would come and she hasn’t arrived yet, it really is exasperating.”

The scholar thought, “The more delayed she is, the more dangerous the threat will be. This matter is really difficult to be solved nicely.” It goes without saying that he was a good schemer and tactician; he had been the prime minister of Dali kingdom for more than a dozen of years. He had seen major battle and faced many difficult situations, yet this time he was nervous. He had given this matter a lot of thoughts, but could not put out the least bit of idea. His eyes scanned the darkened surrounding area; his ears heard the distant cry of an owl. Suddenly he remembered when he was a child he often heard people say, ‘The owl [lit. night cat] hides in a secret place and stealthily counts human’s eyebrows. Whoever got his eyebrows counted correctly, that person will not live to see the daylight.’ It was obviously a myth to deceive little children, but in this situation suddenly hearing the cry of the owl, he involuntarily shuddered. “Could it be that Shifu won’t be able to escape this disaster and die under this woman’s hands?” He had just finished his thought when suddenly the woodcutter whispered urgently with a trembling voice, “She is here!”

The scholar lifted his head and saw a black shadow flew across the stone bridge and light as a feather jumped over the gap, as if floating without exerting any energy at all. The four people were astonished, “When she started training with Shifu, we have already been under his tutelage for a long time. How can her martial art exceed ours? In this last dozen of years or so, where did she go to learn such a marvelous skill?” they thought. As they saw that dark shadow come near, four people stood up and positioned themselves on either side of the way.

In a blink of an eye that dark shadow has arrived at the end of the stone bridge; she was wearing black clothes, and her facial features could be vaguely recognized as Concubine Liu whom the Emperor Duan loved very much in the years past.

Four people knelt down and kowtowed, “Xiao Ren [little/lowly people] greets Niang-niang [madam, or in this case can be translated as ‘empress’].”

“Humph,” Ying Gu snorted. Her gaze swept the four people’s faces and she said, “What Niang-niang? Concubine Liu had died long ago, I am Ying Gu. Hmm, the Prime Minister, the General, the Admiral, and the Commanding Officer of the ‘yu lin jun’ [lit. defending woods troops. I am not sure, but I think ‘yu lin jun’ is the personal bodyguards of the emperor] are all here. I thought the Emperor had forsaken worldliness and became a monk, who would have thought that he is hiding in this remote mountain and lives in peace and security as an emperor.” Her voice carried so much hatred that their hearts trembled.

The scholar said, “The Emperor does not look like his former self. I am sure Niang-niang will not recognize him anymore.”

Ying Gu laughed a cold laugh, “You keep saying Niang-niang this and Niang-niang that; are you mocking me? You are stiffly sitting on your knees down here, are you wishing me dead?”

The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar looked at each other and then they stood up. “Your servants wish for your health,” they said.

Ying Gu waved her hand, “The Emperor ordered you to stop me here, do you still have to perform this empty obeisance? If you want to fight, then just fight. You are lords and royalties, I don’t know how many common people you have harmed; why would you still pretend in front of an ordinary woman like me?”

The scholar said, “Our Emperor loves the people like his children, full of generosity and benevolence, the common people of Dali country still praise him even until today. Our Emperor not only has never harmed the innocent all his life, even toward criminal with grave offense oftentimes he bestowed abundant favor. Doesn’t Niang-niang know?”

Ying Gu’s face turned red, with stern voice she said, “Do you dare to offend me?” “Wei chen [lowly officer] doesn’t dare,” the scholar replied.

Ying Gu said, “With your mouth you acknowledge me as your superior, but in your heart how can you still think there is any royalty- officer relationship between us? I want to see Duan Zhixing; will you let me or will you not?” ‘Duan Zhixing’ was Reverend Yideng’s given name. Although the fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar knew it, they never dared to mention it casually. Now that Ying Gu mentioned his name irreverently they could not help but feel offended. The farmer was formerly the Emperor Duan’s personal bodyguards’ captain; he could not endure patiently. With a loud voice he shouted, “One day became an emperor, he will be honored for the rest of his life. How can it be that you speak without propriety?”

Ying Gu let out a long laugh and without saying anything charged forward. Four people respectively shot out their arms to block; they thought, “Even though her martial art skill is high, with us combining our efforts we should be able to stop her. We are going to disobey our order, but the situation is dire, we’ll talk later.”

Who would have thought that Ying Gu did not use her palm or fist to attack, but utilizing her lightness kungfu she bumped them. The woodcutter saw her coming fast, he did not dare to touch her body, he moved aside swiftly, then stretched out his hand trying to grab her shoulder. His hand was quick and powerful, but as soon as he touched her shoulder he felt like he was trying to grab something exceptionally slick, so that his hand slipped away.

By this time with a loud shout the farmer and the fisherman attacked from left and right. Ying Gu ducked and just like a slithery snake she slipped underneath the fisherman’s armpit. The fisherman’s nostrils caught a faint whiff of fragrance, it smelled like an orchid but not quite like an orchid, like musk deer but not quite like musk deer. He was frantic and did not dare to catch her body in between his arms; he opened up his arms instead for fear of touching her body.

The farmer was indignant, “What are you doing?” he shouted. With his ten fingers forming a pair of claws he tried to grab Ying Gu’s waist.

“Don’t be impolite!” the woodcutter called out.

The farmer turned a deaf ear to him, very soon his fingers had reached Ying Gu’s waist, but somehow it was like his fingers were touching a very smooth and oily surface that they slipped away from her waist.

Ying Gu had used the ‘ni qiu gong’ [mud loach maneuver] she perfected in the Black Marsh to go through these three people. Now she knew that these four were helpless to block her. Her palm slapped backward toward the farmer. The scholar swung his arm with his finger aimed toward the acupoint on her hand. To his surprise Ying Gu did not retract her hand but stuck her index finger up and quick as lightning two fingers collided in the air. The scholar had exerted all his strength to his right hand finger, suddenly he felt his finger went numb, his body felt like he was electrocuted. “Aiyo!” he cried out and fumbled down to the ground. The woodcutter and the fisherman busily stooped down to help.

The farmer’s left fist went straight ahead like a hammer hurled toward Ying Gu’s body. This attack carried a strong gust of wind, the force was astonishing. Seeing this strong attack Ying Gu stood her ground and did not evade. The farmer was alarmed; he thought if his fist hit her head, her skull would be cracked. Hastily he tried to withdraw his power, but by that time his fist had already touched the tip of Ying Gu’s nose. Ying Gu leaned her head slightly, the fist slipped from her nose and slid to her cheek. The farmer retracted his left arm, but it was too late. His hand was grabbed by his opponent and with a ‘crack’ sound he felt a shot of pain on his arm. His elbow joint was broken by the back of her fist. The farmer gritted his teeth, ignoring the pain, his right hand index finger swiftly attacked the crook of the opponent’s elbow.

The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar’s acupoint sealing technique was taught by Reverend Yideng. It was inferior to the Solitary Yang Finger with its infinite variations, but it could be considered as a first class acupoint sealing technique in the Wulin world; how would they know that fighting Ying Gu they were like fighting their black star. She was determined to avenge the death of her son; she fully realized Reverend Yideng’s finger skill was very fierce, thereupon she spent a great deal of time and energy to find a method to subdue that skill. She was very skillful in embroidery, so she found her inspiration from the wonderful needlework technique. She wore a tiny golden hoop on the tip of her right hand index finger; on the hoop was a three-fen (about 1 cm) long golden needle, which tip was dipped in poison. Her vision was excellent, her hand was steady; after training hard for several years she was able to prick a fly flying in the air. This time fighting the enemy she was able to prick the scholar’s index finger. Seeing the direction of the farmer’s finger she laughed coldly, lifting up her delicate hand she aimed her fingertip to his and pricked the farmer’s finger.

As the saying goes, ‘ten fingers join the heart’, the tip of the index finger is connected to the hand’s ‘yang ming’ [positive and bright] passage to the large intestine. As the golden needle pricked in, it hit the ‘shang yang xue’ [positive quotient acupoint] squarely.

In his last effort to score victory amidst a defeat, the farmer had exerted all his strength to his finger. Ying Gu on the other hand, did not have to exert any strength; all she needed to do was to position her golden needle right on the path of the farmer’s finger. Hence she let the farmer prick his own finger by the needle.

As his finger was pricked, the farmer roared like a tiger and fumbled to the ground. Ying Gu coldly mocked, “Nice Captain!” and she dashed toward the courtyard in front of the meditation building.

“Niang-niang, stop!” the fisherman shouted.

Ying Gu halted her step and turned around; “And just how are you going to stop me?” she sneered. By that time she had already at the front of the lotus pond. The pond was connected to the meditation building by a small stone bridge. Ying Gu was standing on the bridge’s end, staring at the fisherman. The night was dark, barely enough ambient light to recognize her face. The fisherman stood facing her, he felt her stares were very cold; he shivered involuntarily and did not dare to step forward to stop her.

Ying Gu coldly said, “The Prime Minister and the Captain have been hit by my ‘qi jue zhen’ [seven lethal needle], nobody in this world can save their lives. Do you want to send your own life off?” Without waiting for an answer she turned around and slowly walked forward. Not once did she turn her head; apparently she was not afraid of any sneak attack.

It was only about twenty steps from the small bridge to the building. As she reached the end of the pathway, suddenly someone came out from the darkness; cupping up his fists he said, “Senior, how are you?”

Ying Gu was startled; she thought, “This person waited quietly here and appeared suddenly; why didn’t I heard his breathing before? If he had evil intention I would have been dead or at least wounded.” She fixed her eyes to look closer and saw this person was tall and broad-shouldered, with thick eyebrows and big eyes; it was precisely the person she gave directions to, Guo Jing. “Is the young miss’ injury healed?” she asked.

Guo Jing bowed and said, “Thank you so much for your directions, Senior. Reverend Yideng has cured my martial sister’s injury. “Humph,” Ying Gu snorted, “Why didn’t she thank me in person?” Her mouth was speaking, but her feet also kept walking forward. Guo Jing was standing at the other end of the bridge. “Senior, please return!” he hastily said.

Ying Gu ignored him; she slightly leaned her body sideways and utilizing the ‘ni qiu gong’ she slipped past by him. Even though Guo Jing had fought Ying Gu at the Black Marsh, he did not anticipate she would slip pass him while still talking and that her body could be this slippery. In his desperation Guo Jing flung his left arm backward, attacking Ying Gu using the marvelous Vacant Fist of Zhou Botong.

Ying Gu thought that she had already slipped through Guo Jing; who would have thought that suddenly a soft yet strong gust of wind came from his fist pounced toward her face, forcing her to draw back. But Ying Gu was determined not to return, so no matter how strong Guo Jing’s attack was, she bravely charged forward as if wanted to receive the blow head-on.

“Watch out!” Guo Jing hurriedly shouted. He felt a warm and soft female body was thrown into the crook of his own elbow. He was stunned. Taking advantage of his situation Ying Gu swept his feet and both of them fell into the lotus pond.

When they were still midair, Ying Gu’s left hand slipped underneath Guo Jing’s right arm pit, wound around his back and grabbed his left shoulder, her middle finger curled toward Guo Jing’s throat while her thumb and index finger pinched the back of his neck with all her strength. It was the fiercest ‘qian feng hou bi qi’ [sealing front throat shutting air] technique from the ‘qin na shou’ [grab and capture]; so long as one pinch hit the mark, the enemy’s air passage would be sealed and he would not be able to breathe.

While he was falling down Guo Jing felt his shoulder was grabbed, he knew his situation was not good. He bent his right arm to clasp Ying Gu’s neck. It was also a technique from the ‘qin na shou’ called the ‘hou xie jing bi qi’ [clasping the back of the neck to close up breathing]. Ying Gu knew Guo Jing’s arm strength was devastating, and that her own strength was far too inferior; she knew although she attacked first but she could not compete with him in terms of brute force, so she let her hand off Guo Jing shoulder and stretched her finger to prick him instead. Guo Jing used his left arm to parry her finger.

Falling from the stone bridge to the lotus pond actually took a short moment, but two people had exchanged attacks and counterattacks swiftly; in a blink of an eye they had exchanged no less than three stances. Both were utilizing close combat techniques of ‘qin na shou’. Ying Gu’s skill was profound, yet Guo Jing’s strength was astonishing. In these three stances victory and defeat could not be decided. ‘Splash!’ two people fell into the pond.

The bottom of the pond was covered with mud about three feet high; as they fell, they were immersed in the water up to their chests. Ying Gu’s left hand scooped down some mud and smeared it toward Guo Jing’s mouth. Guo Jing was shocked and lowered his head to avoid the mud. Ying Gu had lived on the Black Marsh for more than ten years. Her Loach Maneuver was developed based on watching loach diving and moving around in the mud. Fighting on land she was exceptionally slippery, how much more in the mud? She was like a tiger that grew wings. She intentionally dragged Guo Jing to the pond because she was aware of his martial art; she knew it would be difficult to cross the bridge with Guo Jing guarding it. Her finger-pricking technique was actually several times faster in the mud than on dry land; plus every now and then she scooped a handful of mud and smeared it on Guo Jing’s face.

Both of Guo Jing’s feet sank deep into the mud; moreover, he did not dare to use too much strength and accidentally injure her, so after about only four or five stances he was already at a disadvantage. He heard a swishing sound of mud coming toward his face; hastily he dodged sideways. Who would have thought that as the first mud flew past; the second mud had arrived, followed by the third handful of mud, which hit him squarely on his face so that his mouth, nose and eyes were covered in stinky mud.

The Six Freaks of Jiangnan had taught him well, so he knew if he was hit by a secret projectile, he must not frantically trying to pull out the projectile, because then the enemy would seize the opportunity to assault and make a kill. At this moment he could not breathe and could not open his eyes; he moved his palms and launched three fierce stances so no one would be able to come within five feet near him. Just then he wiped the mud from his face with his left hand and opened his eyes; but Ying Gu had already leaped up to the stone bridge and dashed toward the meditation courtyard.

As Ying Gu successfully went through Guo Jing she secretly scolded herself, “Ashamed! If there were no pond, how would I overcome this dumb kid? It looks like the Heaven is helping me to seek revenge today.”

She sped up her steps and arrived at the temple door shortly. She raised her hand to push; the door was not bolted, it opened immediately with a soft creaking sound. This time she did not rush in, expecting an ambush or some booby trap on the door. She waited outside the door only to see the room was empty, nothing astir. Slowly Ying Gu entered the room. She saw it was a meditation room with a single oil lamp illuminating the image of Buddha with a dignified face. Ying Gu’s heart turned sour, she knelt on the meditation mat and offered a silent prayer. She just barely prayed for a short moment when suddenly she heard someone chuckle softly behind her. Immediately her left hand flung backward in a sweeping movement to block any potential sneak attack, while her right hand pushed down the mediation mat, borrowing the momentum to leap upward and made a graceful somersault in the air before landing back down to the ground.

“Excellent skill!” she heard a woman’s voice applaud. Ying Gu turned to look and saw a young girl wearing green clothes with red belt around her waist and a bunch of golden hoops flickering under the lamp light on her hair, her pair of beautiful eyes stared at Ying Gu with a hint of smile in them; there was a gleaming dark green bamboo stick in her hand. Needless to say, it was Huang Rong. “Senior Ying Gu, I thank you for your kindness in saving my life,” she said.

“I gave you directions to treat your injury, but my real intention was to harm others,” Ying Gu said matter-of-factly, “So I really was not saving your life. Why should you thank me?”

Huang Rong sighed, “Vengeance and debt of kindness is really difficult to understand. My father imprisoned the Old Urchin Zhou Botong on the Peach Blossom Island for fifteen years. In the end he still could not save my mother’s life.”

As she heard the name ‘Zhou Botong’ was mentioned, Ying Gu was extremely shocked. “What relation did your mother have with Zhou Botong?” she asked sternly.

Hearing her tone Huang Rong knew she suspected Zhou Botong had some love affair with her mother and consequently was imprisoned by her father on the Peach Blossom Island. Apparently even after more than a dozen years her feeling toward Zhou Botong did not subside; otherwise why would she drink vinegar over nothing?

Lowering her head, in a mournful voice Huang Rong said, “My mother died of exhaustion due to the Old Urchin.”

Ying Gu was more suspicious than ever. Under the dim light she could see Huang Rong’s skin was as white as snow, her eyes and eyebrows were beautiful; even Ying Gu in her prime years was not as beautiful as she was. She deducted that Huang Rong’s mother must also be beautiful; it would be difficult for Zhou Botong to see her and not be attracted to her. Ying Gu frowned involuntarily.

“Don’t you have any ideas,” Huang Rong said, “My mother is like an angel; that Zhou Botong is as stupid and stubborn as a cow. Unless the woman has eyes but fails to see, nobody would have a crush on him.”

Ying Gu knew Huang Rong was mocking her, but her suspicion was gone; she was instantly relieved. Without batting an eyelid she coldly retorted, “Since there is someone who loves Guo Jing who is as stupid as a pig, there must be someone who loves a man as stupid and stubborn as a cow. How did the Old Urchin cause your mother’s death?”

Huang Rong pouted and said, “You scold my martial brother; I won’t talk to you.” She brushed her sleeve and turned around, pretending to be mad.

Ying Gu really wanted to know about Zhou Botong, so she busily said, “All right, I won’t do that anymore. Your martial brother is actually very smart.”

Huang Rong halted her steps and turned around. “That Old Urchin did not intentionally cause my mother’s death,” she said, “It was very unfortunate of my mother to die because of him. In his anger my father imprisoned him on the Peach Blossom Island; but afterwards my father regretted it. Injustice has its cause, debt has its originator. If someone killed your loved one you should go to the ends of the earth to seek vengeance on the murderer. Why would you vent your anger toward others?”

This speech was like a severe blow on Ying Gu’s head; she stood still without making any noise. She heard Huang Rong continue, “My father had long ago freed the Old Urchin …” Ying Gu was pleasantly surprised, “Then I don’t have to rescue him?” she asked.

Huang Rong smiled, “If my father had not released him, were you going to rescue the Old Urchin?” she asked. Ying Gu was silent.

When Ying Gu left Dali her intention was to look for Zhou Botong. The first few years was spent without hearing any news about him. Then quite by accident she heard from the Twin Killers of the Dark Wind that Zhou Botong was imprisoned on the Peach Blossom Island by Huang Yaoshi; but as for the reason behind it she could not inquire. That day when Zhou Botong renounced her and left Dali she knew that it would be very difficult for him to have a change of heart if not because of some significant cause. This time as she learned about his predicament she was both happy and sad at the same time; sad because the man she loved was in trouble, happy because she thought this was a good opportunity. If she managed to rescue him, how could he not have deep affection toward her? Who would have thought that the roads and pathways on the Peach Blossom Island had a thousand turns and a hundred detours? No need to mention rescuing anybody, she almost died of starvation for three days and three nights. If Huang Yaoshi did not send a deaf and mute servant to show her the way, she would never leave that island alive. Thereupon she made the Black Marsh her residence, diligently learning math and theory of numbers. Now she heard that Zhou Botong had been released she stared blankly with all kinds of thoughts bubbling up in her heart.

Huang Rong smiled and gently said, “The Old Urchin is most willing to listen to me; he won’t dare to turn down whatever I say. If you want to see him, follow me and go down the mountain. Let me be the matchmaker between the two of you; just consider it my way of saying thanks for saving my life.” Her words had made Ying Gu’s cheeks turn red with her heart thumping wild.

Seeing her speech might turn murderous intent into a happy occasion Huang Rong felt smug. Suddenly she heard a slapping sound; Ying Gu’s palms struck each other. Her face looked like it was covered with a layer of frost; sternly she said, “What makes him listen to you, a girl surnamed Huang? Why would he follow your direction? Because of your good looks? I have never shown kindness to you, I don’t need you to repay. Quickly make way for me, or else don’t blame me for being merciless.” “Aiyo, you want to kill me?” Huang Rong laughed.

Ying Gu raised her eyebrows. “What if I do?” she coldly said, “Others are scared of the Old Heretic Huang, I am not afraid of the heaven and the earth.”

Huang Rong chuckled, “Killing me is not a big deal,” she said cheekily, “But who would help you solve the three mathematical problems I left for you?”

Since that day Huang Rong wrote three mathematical problems on the sand inside the thatched hut at the Black Marsh, Ying Gu had painstakingly racked her brain day and night; but she did not have any clue on how to solve them. At first she studied mathematics with the intention of rescuing Zhou Botong; but later on she was captivated with this complex yet mysterious subject. The further she dug into it, the more fascinated she became that sometimes she forgot to eat or sleep, and could not stop even if she wanted to. She knew perfectly well that even if she could solve these problems, compared to Huang Yaoshi’s, her skill would still be like heaven from earth; in other words, it would not help her the least a bit in her plan to rescue Zhou Botong. But curiosity had forced her to rack her brain; without a clear answer it would be difficult for her to keep her mind at peace. Now that Huang Rong mentioned it, the three subjects immediately flashed on her mind clearly; without realizing it her face showed hesitation.

“Don’t kill me, I’ll teach you,” Huang Rong said. She took the oil lamp from the image of Buddha and placed it on the ground. Taking a golden needle out, she started writing numbers and letters on the brick floor.

The first subject was the ‘qi yao jiu zhi tian zhu bi suan’ [seven dazzling nine grasping Indian method of calculation]. As Ying Gu saw the solution she was dazzled and could not help but secretly sigh in praise. Huang Rong continued with the second subject, the ‘li fang zhao bing zhi yin gei mi ti’ [lit. standing up soldier supplying silver topic] had profound changes in it. As Ying Gu waited for her to write the last answer she sighed and said, “This middle subject surely has an endless wonderful secret.”

A moment later she said, “If we say the third subject to be easy, then it is easy; but if we regard it as difficult, then it is difficult. There is an unknown number; three and three has a remainder of two, five and five has a remainder of three, seven and seven has a remainder of two. What number is that? I know it was twenty-three; but that was a hard guess. I need to line up every number for all interchangeable computational patterns, but even after thinking until I split my head I could not figure it out.”

Huang Rong smiled, “It is very easy. Calculating three and three, it amounts to seventy. Calculating five and five, it amounts to twenty- one. Calculating seven and seven, it amounts to fifteen. Adding three numbers together, if not greater than 105, then that’s the correct answer. Otherwise, subtract 105 or its multiple.”

Ying Gu calculated it in her heart and sure enough she got the correct answer. With a low voice she recited, “Calculating three and three, it amounts to seventy. Calculating five and five …”

Huang Rong said, “You don’t have to memorize it like that. Let me give you a poem to help you memorize it easier: Three people travel together in seventy directions, five plum blossom trees have twenty one branches, seven children reunite for half a month, a hundred and five remained to be known.”

Listening to ‘three people travel together’ and ‘reunite for half a month’ Ying Gu felt offended, she thought, “This girl knows him, she knew my shameful secret from early on. ‘Three people traveling together’ is me one woman serving two men. Could it be that by ‘reunite for half a month’ she was ridiculing me of having a love affair knowing him for only a dozen of days?” What she did in the years past had become a matter of the heart to her, unavoidably she became quite over-suspicious to everybody. “All right,” she said flatly, “Thank you for your directions. ‘Asking direction in the morning, bored to death in the evening’. Must I stay to listen to you speaking more nonsense?”

Huang Rong smiled, “’Asking direction in the morning, bored to death in the evening.’ The one who died is the one asking; but I’ve never heard the one asking question kill the one preaching the sermon.”

Ying Gu stole a glance toward the meditation room; she knew Emperor Duan must be residing in the back. She saw Huang Rong kept pestering her, something was amiss. Even though Huang Rong was young, her intelligence and eccentricity was not inferior to her father’s. How could a thirty-year-old lady bicker with a baby? She was afraid her luck would turn bad just like a ship capsized in the gutter. She had wasted not a few moments because she wanted to look at Huang Rong’s calculations; while a very important matter was still ahead of her. How could she allow senseless thought over mathematics consume her energy? Therefore, she decided not to answer and immediately lifted up her feet to walk inside.

Crossing over the worship hall she saw there was a dark room ahead with only one flickering light inside. As a wary person she did not dare to rush in; raising her voice up she called out, “Duan Zhixing, are you or are you not going to see me? You hide your tail in the dark, what kind of real man are you?”

Huang Rong followed behind her, laughing, “You don’t like there is no lamp in here? The Reverend was afraid too much light would scare you away, so he ordered us to put the lights out.”

“Humph,” Ying Gu snorted, “I am the kind of person who is not afraid to go to hell, why would a mountain of blades or boiling oil scare me?”

Huang Rong clapped her hands and laughed, “That’s very good! I want to play around the mountain of blades with you.” Taking out a flint from her pocket, lighted it up, then she stooped down and lighted a lamp next to her feet. Turned out there was an oil lamp on the ground; it surprised even Ying Gu. She looked closer to see that it was not an oil lamp, but a small porcelain tea cup filled halfway with oil, with a cotton ball dipped in it as the wick. Next to the cup was a sharpened bamboo stick about a foot long, inserted on the ground with the sharpened end on the top; it looked really sharp.

Huang Rong did not pause, she kept moving and in just a short moment the floor was filled with flickering lights like stars on a dark night. Next to each cup was a sharp bamboo stick. Before Huang Rong even finished Ying Gu had started counting, and she found out there were 113 teacups with 113 bamboo sticks next to them. She was greatly baffled, “If it is the ‘mei hua zhuang’ [plum blossom stake] arrangement, then it must have either 72 sticks or 108 sticks, but it has 113 sticks; what kind of arrangement is this? The array seems random, not the ‘jiu gong ba gua’ [nine-palace eight-diagram], also not ‘mei hua wu chu’ [plum blossom five arrangements]. Moreover, these bamboo sticks are so sharp, how can somebody stand on them? Ah, right, she must be wearing iron-soled shoes.” She further thought, “This girl is prepared, I can’t fight her on these things yet I can’t ignore this. I’ll just go through it then.” Thereupon with big strides she walked forward, but the bamboo sticks were densely packed, it was difficult to walk through them, so she kicked around and broke five, six sticks while saying, “What crafty trick is this? The old lady doesn’t have time to play around with the baby.”

Hurriedly Huang Rong called, “Ah, ah! Don’t do that! Don’t do that!” Ying Gu ignored her and kept kicking. “All right!” Huang Rong called out, “You don’t want to talk reason with me, I am going to turn off the lights. Quickly memorize the bamboo sticks’ positions.”

Ying Gu was startled, she thought, “If these people gang up and plan to attack me, they must have memorized the position of these sticks early on. I could get killed among the bamboo sticks in the dark. I must leave this dangerous place quickly!” She gave her spirit a boost and sped her steps up, kicking furiously.

“Shameless!” Huang Rong called out. She brandished her bamboo stick trying to block Ying Gu. The oil lamp shone on the dark-green bamboo stick, creating a spooky shadow dancing in front of Ying Gu’s face. Of course Ying Gu did not think much about a teenage girl’s stick technique. Her left palm hacked vertically down; she thought one palm should be enough to break the bamboo stick. Who would have thought that Huang Rong’s stick technique was the Dog Beating Stick’s sealing technique; the stick moved horizontally, it was not aimed at the enemy’s body, but it turned into a piece of jade-green wall blocking in front of the door. As long as the enemy did not tread a step, the wall would not hurt the least bit, but if one attacked one would immediately hit.

As Ying Gu hacked down her palm, ‘crack!’ her palm was hit by the end of the stick. Hastily she withdrew her already pain and numb hand. She was not hit on a vital acupoint, but the pain was severe. Formerly Ying Gu did not think much of Huang Rong’s martial art, but as she was hit she became startled and angry. She realized now that this young crafty kid was not easy to deal with. She swallowed her anger and cautiously guarded against the opponent’s martial art, trying to gain more understanding before deciding on the next course of action. She thought, “I have seen the Twin Killers of the Dark Wind’s martial art. Their skills were very profound, but they were already thirty, forty years old. How can this little girl attain this kind of level? It must be that Huang Yaoshi has passed on his lifelong achievement to his only beloved daughter.”

When she went to the Peach Blossom Island she had suffered a bitter defeat without even seeing Huang Yaoshi, almost died on the island; therefore, she always feared the Master of the Peach Blossom Island. She actually did not know that this Dog Beating Technique was the Beggar Clan Leader’s unique skill, that even if Huang Yaoshi were there, he would not necessarily be able to penetrate the stick’s defense immediately.

While Ying Gu hesitated and held her attack back, Huang Rong kept moving her stick with the sealing technique, blocking Ying Gu from entering the door. In the meantime Huang Rong’s feet did not stay idle, she moved from one bamboo stick to the other with agility like a dancing butterfly, kicking the flames one by one. In a short moment she had extinguished most of the 113 oil lamps.

The way she kicked the lamps was amazing; not only she did not step on any teacup, none of the teacups was kicked upside down or smashed, also only a little bit of oil was splashed over. She was fully utilizing the Peach Blossom Island’s ‘sao ye tui fa’ [sweeping leaves leg/kicking technique]. Her movement was swift and accurate, but Ying Gu could see that her skill had not yet reached perfection, it was far inferior to the marvelous changes of the bamboo stick technique. Moreover, although her injury had been healed, her strength had not fully recovered yet. Ying Gu thought that if she attacked the lower part of Huang Rong’s body she might score a victory within dozens of stances. However, as Ying Gu was contemplating her course of action only about seven or eight oil lamps were left flickering in the wind on the northeast corner of the room; while the other three corners were already pitch-black.

Suddenly Huang Rong’s stick moved twice, Ying Gu was startled; under the faint yellow light of the oil lamp she saw a clearance in between two sharp bamboo stick on the ground, giving her an opportunity to retreat one step. Huang Rong stuck her stick on the ground and using it as a pole her body floated in the air horizontally; her long sleeve whisked off and extinguished the seven, eight remaining lamps.

Ying Gu groaned inwardly, “Although I believe I have a way to score victory, among these sharp bamboo sticks every step I take can pierce a hole on my foot; how am I going to fight?” she thought. In the darkness she heard Huang Rong call out, “Have you memorized the bamboo sticks position? Let us fight for thirty stances; if you can defeat me, I will let you go in to see Emperor Duan, all right?”

Ying Gu replied, “You are the one who arranged these sticks. I don’t know how much time you spent practicing here; while you only gave others a wink to look at these many oil lamps.”

Huang Rong was still young and proud, she always tried to outdo others, she also had a high confidence on her excellent memory, so she smiled and said, “What’s so difficult about it? If you want you can light up the oil lamps rearrange the bamboo sticks as you wish, then extinguish the lamps before we fight again, all right?”

Ying Gu thought, “This is not a martial art contest, but a memorization competition. This little demon’s intelligence is matchless, how can I risk my life playing memory game with her while my big enmity is not avenged?” But suddenly she got an inspiration; after thinking about it for a moment she said, “Fine, that’s fair enough. Let the Old Lady accompany you playing.” Taking a flint from her pocket she lighted the oil lamps.

“Why do you keep calling yourself an old lady?” Huang Rong laughed, “I think you are beautiful, you are prettier than a sixteen years old girl. No wonder Emperor Duan was so crazy about you.”

Ying Gu was about to pull a bamboo stick and move it someplace else; hearing this she stopped dead on her track. “He was crazy about me?” she coldly said, “I was in the palace two whole years; just when did he pay any attention to other people?”

“Ah,” Huang Rong was surprised, “Didn’t he teach you martial art?” she asked. Ying Gu retorted, “Is teaching martial art considered paying attention?”

“Ah, I know,” Huang Rong said, “Emperor Duan was training the ‘xian tian gong’ [innate/inborn strength/energy], that’s why he could not get intimate with you.”

“Humph,” Ying Gu snorted, “What do you know? How come he got the crown prince?”

Huang Rong leaned her head sideways; she thought for a moment before answering, “The crown prince was born before he started training ‘xian tian gong’.”

Ying Gu snorted again but did not say anything. She kept pulling the sticks and inserted them back in different places. As she inserted the bamboo sticks one by one Huang Rong memorized their positions carefully; she did not dare to be careless. It was a matter of life and death, if she missed just a few inches during the fight, it would mean immediate disaster to her foot.

A moment later Huang Rong spoke again, “Emperor Duan was not willing to save your son because of his love for you.” “You knew everything?” Ying Gu said, “Humph, because of his love to me?” Her voice was brimming with bitterness.

“He was jealous of the Old Urchin,” Huang Rong said, “If he did not love you, why would he be jealous? He saw your ‘four weaving machines’ mandarin ducks handkerchief and was extremely grieved because of it.”

Ying Gu had never thought Emperor Duan had this kind of feeling toward her, she could not help but be lost in thought. Huang Rong continued, “I think you’d better come back.”

Ying Gu coldly said, “Only if you have the ability to defeat me.”

“All right,” Huang Rong said, “Since you insist, I have no alternative but risking my life to accompany you. If you can break through my defense, I definitely will not hinder you anymore. But what if you can’t?”

“I will never go up this mountain again,” Ying Gu said, “I will also free you from your obligation to accompany me for a year.” “Wonderful!” Huang Rong clapped her hands, “It would be really unbearable for me to accompany you on that rotten black marsh.”

While talking Ying Gu had already inserted about fifty, sixty sticks; immediately she kicked the oil lamps one by one and said, “The rest of them can stay as they are.” In the darkness her five fingers formed a claw fiercely attacking Huang Rong.

Remembering the sticks location Huang Rong slanted her body sideways and without hesitation her left foot landed exactly in between two sticks; while the dog beating stick in her hand shook and attacked Ying Gu’s left shoulder. Who would have thought that Ying Gu ignored her attack, she kept moving forward in big strides and with a series of cracking sound she broke about a dozen bamboo sticks with her feet; hence freely she walked to the rear courtyard.

“Aiyo!” Huang Rong was startled; she realized immediately what had happened, “I am duped. Turned out when moving the sticks around she exerted her strength and secretly pinched the sticks broken.” Because she was trying to outdo others she had not suspected Ying Gu would do such thing; she could not help but feel really vexed.

Rushing to the rear courtyard Ying Gu stretched out her hand to shove the door open. She saw an old monk sitting on a meditation mat in the middle of the room; his silvery beard hung down to his chest, a thick monk robe wrapped around his body up to his cheeks, his head hung low in meditation. The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar, along with several old monks and young apprentices stood on either side.

The woodcutter saw Ying Gu came in, he stepped forward to the old monk, clasped his palms and said, “Shifu, Liu Niang-niang has come to visit.” The old monk slightly nodded his head without saying anything.

There was only a single oil lamp in the entire meditation room, so Ying Gu could not see everybody’s face clearly. She had known earlier that Emperor Duan had become a monk, but actually she did not think that after about a dozen years without seeing each other a heroic martial artist emperor could turn into such a fragile old monk. Recalling Huang Rong’s speech she realized now that the Emperor was not totally pitiless toward her. Her heart melted and her firm grip of the dagger slowly turned loose.

Lowering her head she saw the embroidered handkerchief that was wrapped around her baby was laid in front of the meditation mat where Emperor Duan was sitting. On top of that ‘du dou’ was the jade bracelet which the Emperor gave her. Instantaneously past events like entering the palace, training martial art, meeting Zhou, love and passion, giving birth to her son, mourning his death, everything came flashing through her mind one by one like scenes on the stage; then she saw her son’s look when he was in so much pain. Although he was still a baby it seemed like his eyes spoke thousand sentences ten thousand words wondering why his mother did not alleviate his pain and suffering. Her anger rose, she raised her dagger up and with a swift movement the dagger stabbed Emperor Duan’s chest, all through the handle.

She knew Emperor Duan’s martial art skill, this stab might not necessarily kill him; moreover, when the dagger went into his chest she had a slightly different feeling. Right away she pulled the dagger back to stab him the second time. Who would have thought that the dagger was firmly stuck between his ribs; she was unable to pull it back in a moment.

The four disciples called out in alarm and rushed forward simultaneously. In her bitterness Ying Gu had painstakingly practiced this stab thousands of times over a dozen of years period. She knew perfectly well that Emperor Duan would surely guard against her attack, so while her right hand did the stabbing, her left palm had already fluttered around, guarding the left, right and the back, three sides of her own body. Now that she could not pull the dagger back, she saw the circumstances had turned to her disadvantage. Her feet moved and she leaped toward the door. Turning her head around she caught a glimpse of Emperor Duan with his left hand on his chest, seemingly in great pain.

Now that her big enmity had been avenged, just as quick she was not sure of what she did anymore; suddenly remembered, “I had an affair with someone else and gave birth to a child, he did not speak even half a word of reproach and left me live freely in the palace. Not only he did not execute me, but he abundantly provided everything for me. In actuality he was always very good to me.” All along she only remembered that Emperor Duan did not save her son’s life, her heart was filled with hatred. Only after stabbing his chest did she remember all his kindness. She heaved a deep sigh, turned around and went out the door.

As she turned around she gasped in horror with sweats came pouring down her body, because she saw an old monk clasping his palms in front of his chest was standing on the door. Under the lamp light she could see his face looked grand and his eyes showed compassion; although he was wearing a monk robe it was as clear as the day that he was the former ruler of the southern kingdom, Emperor Duan. It was as if Ying Gu was seeing an apparition; like a flash of lightning a thought came into her mind, “Did I just kill the wrong person?” She swept her gaze backward and saw the monk she had just stabbed was slowly standing up; while removing his monk attire his left hand pulled on his chin and the white long beard came off. Ying Gu uttered another cry of shock; it turned out that old monk was Guo Jing in disguise.

It was precisely Huang Rong’s scheme: Guo Jing sealed Reverend Yideng’s acupoint and deliberately took his place to receive Ying Gu’s dagger. He was afraid the Indian Monk’s martial art skill might be high, so he attacked him first; who would have thought that the Indian Monk did not even know martial arts. Later on Huang Rong delayed Ying Gu by explaining the three mathematical problems in the courtyard; and then using the dog beating technique she fought her amidst the sharpened bamboo sticks by the oil lamps. In the meantime the four disciples quickly helped Guo Jing wash up the mud and shave his head clean. They also shaved Reverend Yideng’s long white beard and stuck it underneath Guo Jing’s chin. Actually the four disciples did not feel comfortable treating their master in such a disrespectful manner and to let Guo Jing brave a grave danger; they were feeling very uneasy. But in order to save their master’s life they did not have any other choice; if it were one of the four disciples disguising themselves, their martial art was inferior to Ying Gu, they might die under Ying Gu’s dagger.

As Ying Gu stabbed her dagger Guo Jing deftly moved his two fingers inside the monk robe to pinch the flat sides of the dagger. Who would have thought that Ying Gu’s stab was so powerful that even with Guo Jing’s finger strength the blade still cut through about half an inch of his flesh; luckily it did not break his ribs and he only suffered a superficial wound. He could have worn the soft hedgehog armor, which was impenetrable by the dagger; but Ying Gu was cunning; she would perceive the difference, then they would not get rid of the source of the disaster. If she failed this time, she would come back to seek revenge in the future.

Everybody was delighted to see this ‘jin chan tuo qiao zhi ji’ [lit. golden cicada sheds its shell tactic] accomplished successfully; who would have thought that Yideng chose this very moment to make a sudden appearance. Not only Ying Gu was startled, but everybody else also did not anticipate this to happen.

Because Yideng suffered a heavy injury and lost his strength, Guo Jing did not dare to seal his acupoint with too much strength for fear of injuring him further. In the back room Yideng slowly circulated his internal energy to unseal his own acupoint, and then he went back to the meditation room, arriving exactly at this moment.

Ying Gu’s face was pale like that of a corpse, she thought she had fallen into this trap and certainly would not have a good fortune. But Yideng told Guo Jing, “Return the dagger to her.”

Guo Jing did not dare to defy, he returned the dagger to Ying Gu. Ying Gu absentmindedly took the dagger while staring at Yideng. She was wondering what kind of torture he would use against her. But she saw that he slowly removed his monk robe and also his undergarment, and then said, “Nobody shall give her any trouble, let her go down the mountain in peace. All right, go ahead and stab me; I have been waiting for you for a long, long time.”

These words were said very gently, but in Ying Gu’s ears they were like thunderous lightning in a bright daylight. She stood motionless for half a day, then her grip loosened and the dagger fell to the ground with a clanking sound. Covering her face with both hands she rushed out of the room. They heard her footsteps as she went farther and farther away until finally they could hear her anymore.

Everybody looked at each other in shock, nobody made any noise. Suddenly ‘thump, thump’ the student and the farmer fell backward to the ground. Turned out because their fingers were poisoned, in the commotion that followed they suppressed the poison using their internal energy; by now the saw their master was well, their hearts were relieved and could not hold the poison much longer.

“Hurry, invite Martial Uncle!” the woodcutter called out. Before he finished Huang Rong had already accompanied the Indian Monk walking into the room. He was an expert in treating poison related illness. He quickly gave two people some medicine to take, also cut their fingers to get rid of the black blood. His face looked very serious, while his mouth mumbling in sanskrit, “A ma li, ha shi tu, si gu er, qi nuo dan ji.”

Yideng understood Sanskrit, he knew his disciples’ lives were not in danger. They would have to be treated for two months then they would be healed completely.

Meanwhile Guo Jing had removed his monk robe and treated the wound on his chest; he bowed to the ground in front of Yideng to apologize. Yideng busily held out his hand to raise him up; he sighed and said, “You risked your life to save mine; nothing to forgive.” Then he turned toward his martial brother and explained in Sanskrit what Guo Jing had done.

The Indian monk said, “Si li xing, ang yi na de.”

Guo Jing was startled; he knew these two sentences, and he could even recite the next line, “Si re que xu, ha hu wen bo ying …”

Zhou Botong had taught him to recite the Nine Yin Manual in its entirety. The last part of Manual was full of all these strange sentences. Guo Jing did not understand its meaning, but he was forced to memorize the entire Manual including all these mumbo- jumbo; hence he was able to recite it effortlessly.

Hearing him speaking Sanskrit Yideng and the Indian Monk were stunned; moreover, what he had just said was related to excellent technique to cultivate internal energy; they were even more astonished. Yideng asked him the whole story and Guo Jing told him without concealing anything. Yideng was endlessly marveled, he said, “I have heard the story behind the Nine Yin Manual from Chongyang Zhenren. Huang Shang, the person who compiled the manual was not only highly skilled, he was also well-versed in the Daoist canon, skilled in the internal energy cultivation, and understood Sanskrit. When the manual was complete, the last chapter was actually the essence of it. Suddenly he realized that if this manual falls into the hand of criminals, they would be able to turn the world upside down without anybody controlling them. But he was also unwilling to destroy this last chapter; thereupon he rewrote the chapter in Sanskrit, but with Chinese transliteration. He thought that it was difficult to say whether the Manual could be passed on to the future generation; the people of Central Plains who knew Sanskrit was very few, and even more rare was the number of people who were well-versed both in martial art and Sanskrit literature. If the Manual fall into the hand of an Indian, although he is proficient in Sanskrit, but he does not speak Chinese. Huang Shang arranged it this way; actually it was the same as not allowing the future generation to understand the content. Because of this Sanskrit part even Chongyang Zhenren did not understand the Manual’s meaning. Who would have thought that through divine intervention you who do not understand Sanskrit can actually memorize this lengthy great theory that sounds like incantations? It is truly a very rare opportunity.” Thereupon he asked Guo Jing to recite the Sanskrit part slowly while he translated it into Chinese, wrote it on a piece of paper and gave it to Guo Jing and Huang Rong.

The overall guiding principle of energy cultivation in the Nine Yin Manual was mysteriously deep; although Reverend Yideng was a proficient scholar with profound internal energy, he could not dissect the theory completely in such a short period of time. “Stay on the mountain for a few days, let me dig into it comprehensively, then I will transfer my knowledge to you two,” he said. He further said, “Usually as my internal strength is damaged, I will need five years of continuous training for a full recovery; but if I practice according to the Manual, it seems like in less than three months I will get a five-year-worth of internal energy cultivation. Although what I practiced is a Buddhist martial art, which was different from the Taoism method of internal energy cultivation in the Manual, but looking at this principle, as the martial art is trained to the highest level, different approaches will lead to the same result; it is no different than the Buddhism method.”

Huang Rong told him how Hong Qigong was injured by Ouyang Feng. Reverend Yideng showed great concern. “You two must tell your Shifu about the Nine Yin internal energy cultivation method; I am certain he will recover his internal strength,” he said. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were very delighted to hear this.

Two people stayed on the mountain for more than ten days. Everyday Reverend Yideng explained the Nine Yin energy cultivation method to them. Huang Rong also took this opportunity for her own recovery.

One particular day they were walking idly outside the meditation building when suddenly they heard anxious cry of eagles in the air; they saw a pair of white eagles in the distance coming from the east. Huang Rong clapped her hands, “Jin wawa [lit. golden baby – see Chapter 29] is here!” The pair of eagles folded their wings and landed, they looked weary. Two people could not help to be alarmed; they saw a gaping wound on the breast of the female eagle. It looked like an arrow wound, but the arrow was no longer there; apparently the eagles had pulled the arrow themselves. There was a piece of green cloth tied on the male eagle’s foot; but they did not bring any ‘jin wawa’ with them.

Huang Rong recognized this piece of green cloth as coming from her father’s robe; then the pair of eagles had indeed been to the Peach Blossom Island. Could it be that there were powerful enemies on the Island? Could it be that Huang Yaoshi was too busy engaging the enemy that he did not have a chance to fulfill his daughter’s request?

The pair of eagles was smart animals, yet the female eagle was hit by an arrow; indicating the person shooting the arrow must have been an excellent martial artist. Guo Jing quickly applied some ointment and wrapped the wound on the female eagle’s breast. Huang Rong was thinking hard for half a day, but in the end she still did not have any clue as to what was happening. Too bad the eagles could not talk, otherwise they would be able to tell what they saw on the Peach Blossom Island.

Two people worried over Huang Yaoshi’s safety; hence they bid farewell to Reverend Yideng immediately. “We can still be together for many days to come, but since there is something happening on the Peach Blossom Island I cannot retain you anymore. However, Yao Xiong [Brother Yao] is all-resourceful; he is wise and smart. I believe no one in the present age is able to harm him; you two do not have to be too anxious.”

Yideng then sent for the fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar; together with Guo Jing and Huang Rong they sat on meditation mats in front of him. He explained the essence of martial art for several hours. When he was finished Guo Jing and Huang Rong bid their farewell reluctantly. The scholar and the farmer had not recovered yet, so they only sent them off to the gate. The fisherman and the woodcutter walked them off to the foot of the mountain. They waited until the two people found their little red horse and at last said their goodbyes with heavy hearts.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong returned via the same road, the scenery was still the same; but their feeling was entirely different from when they went up the mountain just several days ago. Remembering Reverend Yideng’s profound kindness could not help but cause her to bend her knees and bow toward the mountain peak. Guo Jing followed her and kowtowed several times.

Along the way although Huang Rong was concerned about her father, she thought that all the time he had roamed the world far and wide he rarely suffered any setback. Even if he met a powerful enemy, perhaps he would not win, but at least he had enough ability to defend himself; just like Reverend Yideng had said, “No one in the present age is able to harm him.” Therefore, she was not overly anxious.

Two people sat on the little red horse’s back, chatting casually in light mood. Huang Rong laughed, “I don’t know how many times we faced dangers since we met each other, but every time we suffered some loss, we also had some gains. Like this time I suffered injury under that old Qiu Qianren’s palms; in the end we found out the marvelous secret of the ‘jiu yin shen gong’ [lit. nine yin divine strength/energy]; which Wang Chongyang himself did not understand.”

“I would rather not know any martial art as long as you are safe and well,” Guo Jing said.

In her heart Huang Rong was very happy but she laughed and said, “Aiyo, if you want to flatter others you don’t need to blow such a big horn! If you don’t know martial art, you would be long dead. Let’s not talk about Ouyang Feng, Sha Tongtian and the others; even a black-dressed Iron Palm Clan member would be able to cut your head with a knife.”

“No matter what I can’t allow you to be injured anymore,” Guo Jing said, “Last time when I was injured in Lin’an I felt all right; but these past few days looking at you suffering so much pain, ay, that was really not good.”

“Humph,” Huang Rong smiled, “You are a heartless man.” “Why?” Guo Jing wondered.

“You would rather be injured,” Huang Rong said, “Do you think I will feel all right?”

Guo Jing was taken aback; and then he let out a long laugh. His legs kicked the little red horse’s ribs and the horse ran faster; it looked like its four feet were flying above the ground that by noon they had arrived at Taoyuan prefecture. Huang Rong had not yet recovered fully; after half a day of riding she was very tired, her cheeks were flushed and she was panting for breath. There was only one decent restaurant in the city of Taoyuan, it was called ‘bi qin jiu lou’ [evading qin (dynasty) wine shop; lou – multi-story building]. Its name came from the ‘tao hua yuan ji’ [a note on the origin of peach blossom] a literary work of Tao Yuanming [Translator’s note: different characters from the ‘Taoyuan’ prefecture].

Guo Jing and Huang Rong took a seat and immediately called for food and wine. To the wine shop attendant Guo Jing said, “Brother, we need to go to Hankou; I am wondering if you could go down to the river and invite a boatman to come over here to talk to us.”

The wine shop attendant said, “If Sir is willing to ride the boat together with other people, you will save quite a bit of money. To charter a boat just for the two of you will cost you a lot of money.”

Huang Rong rolled her eyes; she took a silver ingot worth five ‘liang’s and tossed it to the table. “Is it enough?” she asked. “Enough, enough,” the wine shop attendant busily said with a smile. He turned around and went downstairs.

Guo Jing was afraid Huang Rong’s condition has worsened, so he forbade her from drinking wine; as a result, he also restrained from drinking himself, they only ate the meals. They just ate half a bowl of food when the wine shop attendant came back with a boatman; saying that the boatman agreed to take them to Hankou, the rice was included but the dishes were not, and the total cost would be three ‘liang’s and six ‘qian’s of silver. Huang Rong did not bargain; she simply gave the silver ingot to the boatman. The boatman took the silver and cupped his hands in an expression of gratitude; he pointed to his own mouth and made several hoarse throaty ‘Ah’ sounds. Turned out he was a mute. His hand flailing to the east and pointing to the west, making some hand signals. Huang Rong nodded and also made some hand signals. It seemed like their signals were very complicated and they were communicating at length, exchanging signals incessantly. At last the mute looked pleased, he nodded his head repeatedly and left.

“What were the two of you discussing?” Guo Jing asked.

“He said we’ll leave as soon as we finish eating here,” Huang Rong replied, “I told him to buy several chickens, several catties of meat, some good wine and vegetables; and not to worry about money. I will reimburse everything later.”

Guo Jing sighed, “If I met this mute boatman by myself, I wouldn’t know what to do,” he said. Since all the servants on the Peach Blossom Island were deaf and mute, Huang Rong had learned how to communicate in sign language since she was two years old.

The honey-steamed cured fish of that restaurant was really tasty; Guo Jing ate several pieces and remembered Hong Qigong. “I wonder where ‘en shi’ [benevolent master] is, and how is his injury?” he said, “Thinking about him makes me worried.” He wished he could wrap some cured fish and gave it to Hong Qigong.

Huang Rong was about to reply when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs. A Taoist priestess appeared. She wore grey Taoist robe with a veil over her face to protect her against the dust. The veil covered her mouth and nose so that only her eyes were visible. The priestess chose a table in the corner and sat down. The wine shop attendant promptly greeted her. The priestess talked in low voice. The wine shop attendant gave his reply and went downstairs. A short moment later he came back with a bowl of vegetable noodle. Huang Rong thought this priestess looked familiar, but she could not figure out where she saw her.

Guo Jing followed her gaze and turned his head toward the priestess, who hastily turned her head around. Apparently the priestess was also looking at him. Huang Rong smiled and whispered, “Jing Gege, that priestess’ heart is moved by worldly desire; she must thinks that you are outstandingly good-looking.”

“Pei,” Guo Jing spat, “Don’t talk nonsense. How can you make fun of ‘chu jia ren’ [lit. people who leave their homes to become monks or priests]?”

Huang Rong laughed, “If you don’t believe me, just wait and see.”

They finished eating and walked to the stairs. Huang Rong was still in doubt, she cast another glance toward that priestess, who at that moment lifted up her veil a little bit, revealing her face. Huang Rong gasped and almost cried out in surprise. The priestess shook her hand, put the veil back down immediately and lowering her head she resumed eating the noodle. Guo Jing had walked down and was oblivious to what was going on.

They went downstairs and settled the bill. The mute boatman was already waiting outside the restaurant door. Huang Rong made several hand signals, saying that they needed to buy some things and would be little bit late coming to the boat. The mute boatman nodded, pointed to a boat with a black sail by the river. Huang Rong nodded, but she saw the boatman did not leave, so she took Guo Jing walking to the eastern end of the road. As they walked to a corner they stopped and hid behind a wall, so that they were not visible from the restaurant while they could still see the restaurant entrance.

Not too long afterwards the priestess left the restaurant; she looked at the little red horse and the pair of eagles nearby. It appeared she was looking for Guo Jing and Huang Rong. After looking at four directions without seeing anybody she turned and walked to the west.

“Right, just as I expected,” Huang Rong said in a low voice. She pulled Guo Jing’s sleeve and hastened to the east. Guo Jing was baffled, but he did not ask any questions, he simply followed her obediently.

The town of Taoyuan was not big; in a short moment they had arrived at the eastern gate. Huang Rong turned around to the south. After passing the southern gate they turned again to the west.

“Are we following that priestess?” Guo Jing asked in a low voice, “Don’t play a joke on me.”

Huang Rong laughed, “What joke?” she said, “The priestess is so beautiful like an angel; if you don’t pursue her you will regret it later.”

Guo Jing anxiously halted his steps, “Rong’er, if you keep making this kind of talk I will be angry,” he said. “I am not afraid,” Huang Rong said, “I want to see you mad.”

Guo Jing was dumbfounded; he had no choice but to continue walking. Approximately five, six ‘li’s later they saw in the distant that priestess was sitting underneath a locust tree. As soon as the priestess saw Jing and Rong arrive, she stood up and walked along a small pathway leading to a hill. Huang Rong pulled Guo Jing’s hand and they walked toward the pathway.

“Rong’er,” Guo Jing anxiously said, “If you deliberately want to create trouble, then I’ll have to hold you and drag you back.” “I am really tired of walking,” Huang Rong said, “I think you’d better follow her by yourself.”

Guo Jing’s face showed a deep concern; he squatted and said, “If you are tired then let me carry you on my back.”

Huang Rong giggled and said, “I am going to pull her veil away so you can take a look at her face.” She sped up her footsteps to pursue the priestess. The priestess turned around, waiting for them. Huang Rong grabbed her veil and uncovered her face.

Guo Jing followed behind, he called out, “Rong’er, don’t create trouble!” But as he saw the priestess’ face he was stunned and was at a loss of words. He saw a deep crease between her beautiful eyebrows, her eyes brimming with tears, her face had a pitiful look; obviously she was in distress. She was none other than Mu Nianci.

Huang Rong hugged her waist, “Mu Jiejie [elder sister Mu], what happened? Did that kid Yang Kang bully you?” she asked. Mu Nianci hang down her head without saying anything.

Guo Jing came near and greeted her, “Sister.” Mu Nianci uttered a soft ‘mmm’ sound.

Huang Rong pulled Mu Nianci’s hand toward a weeping willow by a small creek; they sat down underneath the tree. “Sister, how did he bully you?” Huang Rong asked, “We’ll find him to settle the score. Brother Jing and I also suffered and our two lives were almost gone under his hands.” Mu Nianci lowered her head, still did not say anything. Huang Rong and her images were reflected on the clear creek water. Petals of flowers fell down on the water and slowly floated by, disrupting the reflections.

Guo Jing sat on a rock a few feet apart from the two, his mind was filled with questions: why did Sister Mu dressed as a priestess? Why didn’t she greet them at the restaurant? Where did Yang Kang go?

Seeing Mu Nianci’s grieving look Huang Rong did not ask anymore questions; she quietly held her hands tight.

After a quite while Mu Nianci opened her mouth, “Meizi [younger sister, term of endearment], Brother Guo, the boat you hired belongs to the Iron Palm Clan. They are setting up a trap to harm you.”

Jing and Rong two people were startled; “That mute boatman?” they asked with uneven voices.

“Exactly,” Mu Nianci said, “But he is not mute. He is one of the Iron Palm Clan’s henchmen, his voice is so loud that he is afraid if he opens his mouth he will rouse your suspicion; hence he pretends to be mute.”

Huang Rong was secretly alarmed, “If you did not say I wouldn’t see through his disguise,” she said, “No wonder this fellow’s sign language is very good; he has often disguised himself as a mute many times.”

Guo Jing leaped up the willow tree; he swept his gaze around, but other than two, three farmers in the field he did not see anybody else. He thought, “If not because of Rong’er and Sister Mu walked in circle I am afraid the Iron Palm Clan people would be here by now.”

Mu Nianci heaved a long sigh and slowly said, “You have already known my affair with Yang Kang. Later on I brought adoptive father’s and mother’s coffin to the south. I met him again on a desolate place in the Ox Village of Lin’an.”

Huang Rong opened her mouth, “That, we also knew; we even saw him killing Ouyang Ke with our own eyes.” Mu Nianci looked at her with eyes wide open, Huang Rong’s words were hard to believed. Thereupon Huang Rong told her briefly how Guo Jing and she were hiding in the secret room to treat his internal injury, also how Yang Kang had assumed false identity as the Beggar Clan Leader, how two people narrowly escaped danger and so on. It was a long story with all its takes and turns, but Huang Rong was eager to know Mu Nianci’s experience, so she only raised the important parts.

Gritting her teeth Mu Nianci said, “This man did all kinds of evil, someday he will not have a good end. I regretted myself to have eyes but failed to see, that I will have to go through all these calamities by unexpectedly meeting him.”

Huang Rong groped her pocket for a handkerchief and gently wiped the tears on her cheeks. Mu Nianci’s heart was troubled; all kinds of bad things had come her way that in a moment she did not know where to start. She tried to gather her thoughts and slowly calmed herself down; only then did she open her mouth to tell her story.