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The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 7

Chapter 7 – Joust to Find a Spouse

The ‘Six Freaks of Jiangnan’ and Guo Jing took the southeastern route. The journey promised to be long and many days passed before they’d even left the steppe. One day, they were not very far from Zhangjiakou [known as Kalgan at this time]. It was the first time that Guo Jing had put his feet on Chinese soil; everything was new to him and he was full of enthusiasm. He loosened his hold on the reins of his horse and it ran so quickly that the wind whistled in his ears and the landscape changed quickly before his amazed eyes. The little red horse galloped without interruption until he reached the Black River [Amur River or Heilong Jiang], then Guo Jing stopped at a roadside hostel in order to wait for his masters.

After this long run, the horse was covered with sweat, so Guo Jing took a handkerchief to wipe it down. He was stunned to see traces of blood on the handkerchief! After passing his hand along its neck, he saw more blood when he withdrew it. He almost burst into tears, blaming himself for not stopping his horse and not taking better care of it. He was the one responsible for its loss! He embraced the horse and caressed him nearly one thousand times; yet somehow, the animal seemed to be very healthy and didn’t appear to be suffering any ill affects.

While waiting for his Third Shifu, who would properly care for the horse, he couldn't stop turning his head toward the road, hoping to see him. Suddenly he heard the tinkling of bells as four snow white camels arrived running full speed on the road. Each was ridden by an individual clothed in white. Guo Jing had grown up near the steppe, but he had never seen any camels as beautiful and couldn’t stop staring fixedly at them. The four camel riders, of about twenty years in age, had similar faces with fine lines and attractiveness; a type of beauty rarely seen in Mongolia. With graceful agility they got down from their mounts to enter the hostel. Guo Jing could not take his eyes off them.

One of the four, embarrassed by his staring, blushed and lowered her head. Another one, who was bolder, got angry, “Little fool! Why do you look at us like that?”

Guo Jing, taken aback, turned his head in embarrassment. The newcomers whispered in low voices and laughed. “Congratulations!” one said to another. “You really dazzled that fool!”

Guo Jing knew that the speaker ridiculed him and felt ashamed. His cheeks turned red. Just as he was wondering if he should remain or leave, Han Baoju arrived on his stallion ‘Wind Chaser’. The young man hastened to tell his Shifu of his misadventure with his horse.

“How is this possible?” Han Baoju wondered. He approached the horse, caressed it, examined his hand attentively, and then exploded in laughter. “It’s not blood,” he said, “it’s sweat!”

“Sweat?” Guo Jing stammered, almost speechless. “Red sweat?”

“Jing’er, it is a horse that sweats blood, a rare beast and of inestimable value!” Guo Jing, happy beyond belief to learn that his horse was not injured asked, “Third Shifu, how can sweat look like blood?”

“I heard from my late Shifu, that there existed in the kingdom of Ferghana [a central Asian Valley, shared today by Uzbekistan, Kirghizstan and Tajikistan.] in the Territories of the west, celestial horses whose sweat was red as blood. At a gallop they looked like they were flying and could cover more than one thousand li per day. But that was just a story and since no one had ever seen one, I didn't believe it myself. However, here is this legendary animal and it let himself be tamed by you!”

By this time, the other Freaks had also arrived. They took a room in the hostel then ordered something to eat. Zhu Cong, whose learning was incomparable, said while nodding his head, “It is an anecdotal story confined to historic records in the dynastic history of the Han. The story tells that the Emperor Han Wudi, having heard rumors of the horse that sweats blood, sent an emissary to the Kingdom of Ferghana with a full size gold statue of the animal. The emissary asked to have one of them but the king of Ferghana refused.”

“How did the emperor react?” Han Xiaoying asked. “Did he give up on having the horse?” Sitting at another table, the camel riders in white, turned to listen to the story. At that moment, more bells were heard and four more individuals, also clothed in white, entered and sat down with the others.

“Of course not,” Zhu Cong said. “He became enraged and invaded Ferghana. He began a long and vicious war, during which the kingdom was destroyed. He finally captured one of the famous horses, but at such a price!” All commented on the madness of men and continued to eat.

The eight camel riders had listened to the story attentively and gave covetous looks at the red horse tied outside. They kept whispering in low voices. Ke Zhen’E, whose hearing was especially acute, heard them distinctly even though the tables were relatively distant from each other.

“If we’re going to take it,” one of them said, “we need to do it right away. If he rides his horse again, we won’t be able to catch him!” “There are too many people here,” retorted another. “And he has some friends...”

“If they dare to interfere,” said a third, “we’ll have to kill them all!”

“How can these eight individuals scheme so cruelly?” Ke Zhen’E wondered, but he didn't let anything show and continued to swallow his food greedily.

“We will offer this precious horse to the young Master,” one of them said. “Mounted on such beast, his arrival in Yanjing will be a lot more spectacular! No one will be talked of as much as him, not even vain people like the ‘Ginseng Immortal’ or the ‘Virtuous Supreme Lingzhi’!”

Ke Zhen’E heard them speak of the ‘Virtuous Supreme Lingzhi’, who was an eminent personality from a secret school in Tibet, known in the whole of the southwest for his technique ‘Stamp of a Big Hand’. On the other hand, he didn't know anything about the ‘Ginseng Immortal’.

“These past few days,” another said, “we met a lot of outlaws on the road; they were all Peng Lianhu’s men. They call him ‘Butcher of One Thousand Hands’. They are probably going to the gathering in Yanjing. If they happen on this precious horse, do you think that we’ll get another chance to take it?”

Ke Zhen’E froze. He knew that Peng Lianhu was a dangerous outlaw chief who terrorized the region of Hubei and Shanxi. He had many henchmen under his command and acted with cruelty. He had killed so many people that he had received the nickname ‘Butcher of the One Thousand Hands’. “Why,” he wondered, “are all these sinister outlaws going to meet in the capital? And where did these eight women come from?”

The women continued to plot in low voices and decided to lie in ambush on the road outside of the town, in order to seize Guo Jing’s horse. Then they chattered, talking of clothes and other things of that kind. “It’s you that the young Master prefers”, or “The young Master must be thinking about you now”, etc. Ke Zhen’E angrily raised his eyebrows, but he could not close his ears and he heard everything in spite of himself.

“If we offer the blood sweating horse to the young Master,” asked one of them, “what reward do you think he is going to give us?” “He is surely going to spend more nights with you,” answered another, laughing.

The first sulkily protested, and they continued to bicker while laughing. “Be quiet,” one of them said. “Don’t reveal our intentions, because they don't look to be that easy to...”

“The woman over there,” another said in a low voice, “carries a sword; she practices martial arts for sure. And she is rather good looking! If she were ten years younger, the young Master would certainly be interested in her!”

Ke Zhen’E knew that they were speaking of Han Xiaoying and felt even angrier. “This ‘young Master’ that they speak of can’t be someone very admirable!” The eight women finished their meal, mounted their camels and left.

After their departure, Ke Zhen’E asked Guo Jing, “Jing’er, what do you think of the abilities of those eight women?” “What women?” Guo Jing wondered.

“They were disguised as men,” Zhu Cong explained, “but you didn't realize it, did you?”

“Who knows of the ‘Mount of the White Camel’?” Ke Zhen’E asked. No one had heard of it. Ke told them of the conversation that he had heard. The other Freaks decided that these shameless women didn't lack boldness, but their audacity in wanting to tackle someone stronger than them was something to laugh at.

“Two among them,” Han Xiaoying said, “have big noses and green eyes; they probably aren’t Chinese...” “Very true,” confirmed Han Baoju. “And those pure white camels only exist in the territories of the west.”

“That they want to steal the horse,” Ke Zhen’E said, “is not too serious, but they also said that numerous dangerous personalities are going to a meeting in Yanjing. It may involve an important plot to harm the Song dynasty. It could have disastrous consequences for our people! Since we accidentally discovered this business, we cannot wash our hands of it.”

“Certainly not,” Quan Jinfa said, “but the appointment at Jiaxing is near, we can’t waste any time.” They hesitated, because it appeared impossible to reconcile the two missions.

“Jing’er goes there first,” Nan Xiren suddenly said.

“What Fourth brother wants to say” Han Xiaoying interpreted, “is that Jing’er must go to Jiaxing alone, and that we will join him once we have dealt with this matter in Yanjing.” Nan Xiren nodded his head.

“It’s true,” Zhu Cong said, “it is time that Jing’er traveled alone to acquire some experience by himself...” The young man was saddened to part with his Shifus.

“You are now grown up,” Ke Zhen’E reprimanded. “Don't behave like a child!”

“You go and wait for us there,” Han Xiaoying said, comforting him. “In less than one month, we will join you.”

“We didn't explain the appointment in Jiaxing in detail to you before,” Zhu Cong said. “When the time arrives, on the twenty-fourth day of the third lunar month, at noon, you absolutely must be at the ‘Pavilion of the Drunken Immortal’, even if the sky falls on your head!” Guo Jing agreed.

“Those eight women want to steal your horse,” Ke Zhen’E continued. “Don't look for a fight; your horse is fast and they won’t be able to catch up to you. You have important things to attend to, so don’t get involved in useless distractions.”

“If those women dare to cause any trouble,” Han Baoju said, “the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’ will stop them!”

Zhang Ahsheng died more than ten years ago, but the six still called themselves the ‘Seven Freaks’, never forgetting to associate their dead brother with all their actions.

Guo Jing bade farewell to his teachers. They had witnessed his battle with the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’, and were not greatly worried for his safety. The young man had proved that he knew how to use the skills that had been taught to him. Therefore they let him leave alone. On one hand, the meeting of the outlaws in Yanjing worried them greatly and they couldn’t just ignore it. On the other hand, a youngster has to travel Jianghu alone, in order to learn lessons that no teacher can pass on.

At the moment of parting, each gave his last bit of advice. As usual, when the Six spoke, Nan Xiren was the last one to express himself, “If you cannot defeat an enemy,” he said. “Flee!”

Knowing Guo Jing’s determined nature, he knew that he would rather die than to surrender. If he met a master, he would certainly fight to the bitter end, even at the risk of death. That was the reason Nan Xiren gave him this common-sense warning.

“The martial arts have no limits,” Zhu Cong added. “As the proverb says: 'For every peak there is one higher', so for every man there is someone stronger. Whatever your power, you will one day meet a foe stronger than you. A true man knows to retreat when necessary. When facing grave danger, it is necessary to contain one's impetuosity and anger. This is what is meant by the adage: ‘If one preserves the earth and its forests, one does not fear the lack of firewood.’ It is not cowardly to take good advice! When the enemy is too numerous and you cannot face them, it is very necessary to avoid being too reckless. Keep in mind Fourth Shifu's advice!”

Guo Jing agreed and kowtowed to his teachers before mounting his horse to head for the south. He felt great sadness at parting from his masters with whom he had lived every day for the past ten years. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He thought also of his mother, whom he had left alone on the steppe. Of course, she didn’t lack for anything, since Genghis Khan and Tolui had promised to look after her, but his loneliness weighed upon him nonetheless, and he worried for her.

After traveling about ten li, he arrived in a mountainous region. The road wound along the bottom of a valley dominated by craggy slopes dotted with strange boulders. Since it was the first time that he had faced the outside world, he could not help but feel a little apprehensive at the sight of this threatening landscape. With one hand on the hilt of his sword, he paused and smiled, “If Third Shifu saw me thus, trembling and terrified, he would certainly make fun of me!”

The road climbed the mountain flank, becoming narrower and serpentine. Rounding a bend, he suddenly became aware of a group of white shapes in front of him; four women clothed in white, mounted on white camels, blocked the road. Guo Jing, pulling back the reins of his horse, halted. From a distance, he shouted, “Excuse me! May I please pass?”

The four women laughed. “Little man,” one of them replied. “What do you fear? Why don't you come over! We won't eat you!” Red- faced, Guo Jing did not know what to do. Could he amicably negotiate passage, or would it be necessary to rush forward and make the pass by force of arms?

“Your horse is not a bad animal,” another woman said. “Come here; let me have a look at him!” She spoke to him as if to a little child. Guo Jing felt anger rise within him, but the layout of the terrain worried him. To his right rose a craggy cliff, to the left, there was a mist-covered precipice, whose bottom could not be seen.

“Eldest Shifu,” he said to himself, “has given me good advice not to seek trouble. If I ride at them swiftly, those girls will be obliged to let me pass!” He lashed his reins, pressed with his thighs, and the red horse sped forward like an arrow. Sword in hand, Guo Jing cried, “Listen to me, you people! Let me pass! If someone is jostled and falls from the precipice, it won't be my fault!” In the blink of an eye, he arrived in front of the four women. They had leapt down from their camels and attempted to seize the bridle of the horse. With a whinny, the horse leapt over the camels! Guo Jing had the impression that he was flying in the clouds as he landed beyond his opponents, who were just as surprised as him!

Hearing them scream out in anger, he turned and saw the flash of two projectiles flying toward him. This being his first time traveling the Jianghu, he had taken heed of the prudent advice of his masters. Worried that the missiles were poisoned, he did not wish to seize them with his bare hand. He waved his leather cap and intercepted them.

“Well done!” two of the women called. “Pretty good kung fu!”

Guo Jing dipped his head and saw, inside his cap, two silver darts tipped with extremely sharp fish bones. Deadly weapons! He felt both disturbed and upset. “There is no ill-will between us,” he said to himself. “You covet only my horse and yet you are ready to mortally injure me!” He placed the missiles in his pouch, and fearing to meet the other four women, he slackened his horse's reins, not holding it back any longer. It galloped like the wind and in less than an hour had covered 80 li. The other assailants must have been lying in ambush further down the road, but he passed by so quickly that they did not have the time to launch it. After a brief rest, he continued on. Before night fell again, he had arrived in Kalgan [the Mongolian name for Zhangjiakou], sure that he had left those following him far behind.

Kalgan, at the crossroads of commerce between the South and the North, was a small but very lively city, where the trade of the region was centered, especially the fur trade. Holding his red horse by the reins, Guo Jing glanced right and left with great curiosity. Never had he seen a town of such importance and everything appeared strange and new to him. Arriving in front of a large restaurant he felt the pangs of hunger. He tied up his horse in front of the door and went in. Once seated at a table, he ordered a dish of beef, with two pancakes, and having a good appetite, he ate in the Mongol manner, wrapping the meat in the pancake and taking bites out of it. While he satisfied his hunger, he suddenly heard a disturbance at the door of the inn. Fearing for his mount, he rushed to the doorway.

The little red horse was quietly eating its fodder while two inn boys were scolding a young, slender boy, clothed in rags. He appeared to be fifteen or sixteen years of age and on his head he wore an old leather hat with many holes. His face and hands were dirty; so much so that one could not distinguish his features clearly. He held a big bun in his hand and laughed foolishly, revealing two rows of beautiful white teeth that seemed out-of-place in comparison with his general appearance. His black, very lively eyes, shone with intensity.

“Hey you!” one of the boys screamed. “Get lost!”

“Sure.” the young lad said, “Since you want me to go, I'll go…” As he turned on his heels the other inn boy interrupted, “Leave the bun!” He handed the bun back, but it was covered with the marks of dirty fingers and could no longer be sold. The inn boy was furious and launched a blow with his fist that the boy ducked.

Guo Jing, feeling pity for him and thinking that he had to be hungry, interposed himself. “There's no need for violence,” he said. “Put that on my account!”

He took the bun and gave it to the young man who took it and said, “This bun is no good! Poor thing, this is for you!” He threw the bun to a small skinny dog that started to devour it.

“What a waste!” the inn boy disgustedly said, “giving a dog such a good bun!”

Guo Jing was taken aback, for he had believed that the boy suffered from hunger... He returned to his table to continue his meal. The young man followed him inside the establishment and stayed there, looking at him fixedly. Guo Jing felt a little bothered and asked, “Do you want to eat here, too?” “Gladly,” replied the young man with a laugh. “I was bored being all alone and I've been looking for a buddy...”

He had a Jiangnan accent and its familiarity delighted Guo Jing. In fact, his mother was from Lin’an, in Zhejiang province, and the Freaks all came from Jiaxing. Since childhood he had been immersed in the accent of Jiangnan. The young boy seated himself at the table. Guo Jing called the waiter. When he saw the rags and dirtiness of the new guest, the look on his face was not very nice. It was necessary to call him several times before he finally, dragging his feet, brought over a bowl and plate.

“You take me for a pauper,” the young boy said, “and unworthy to eat here. Pah! Even should you serve me your finest dish, who knows if it’ll be to my taste?”

“Ah yes,” the waiter said coldly. “We will assuredly follow your orders, sir. The problem is that we don't know if anyone will pay!” “Whatever I order,” the boy demanded of Guo Jing, “will you treat me?”

“Of course…of course!” Guo Jing replied. He then told the waiter, “Quickly cut up a plate of roast beef and a half plate of mutton liver!” To him, roast beef and mutton liver constituted the ultimate in delicacies... “Do you drink wine?” he asked the boy.

“Wait,” the boy replied. “Don't rush into the meat. Let us begin first with fruit. Eh, waiter! First we’ll have four dry fruits, four fresh fruits, two salted sweetened ones, and four preserved fruit in honey.”

Not expecting such an order the waiter was shocked,. “Which fruit and sweets do you wish, sir?” he inquired.

“In this little establishment, in this pathetic little town,” the boy said, “I imagine it's impossible for you to come up with anything great. We’ll have to content ourselves with lesser things. The four dry fruit are lichis, longans, steamed jujubes and gingkos. For the fresh, you will choose seasonal fruits. For the salted sweetened, perfumed cherries and plums and filaments of ginger, but I don't know if you’ll find those here. As for the honey preserved fruit, you will bring rose perfumed tangerines, preserved grapes, sugar frosted peaches, and pear slices." This knowledge of culinary matters impressed the waiter, who no longer dared to act superior.

“There are no fresh fish or fresh shrimp to accompany the wine,” continued the boy, “so I will be content with eight average... dishes.” “What else do you desire, sir?” asked the waiter.

“Of course,” said the boy with a sigh. “If I don’t explain all the tiniest details, you will be incapable of doing anything properly! Here are the eight dishes: steamed pheasant, fried ducks feet, chicken tongue soup, deer stomach in rice wine, beef ribs with chives, rabbit in chrysanthemum petals, stir-fried thigh of wild boar, and pork feet in ginger vinegar... I'm choosing simple dishes only; it's not worth mentioning more sophisticated ones." The waiter's mouth gaped.

“Those eight dishes,” he said, “are rather expensive! For the duck feet and the chicken tongue soup, we will require a lot of poultry!" “The gentleman is paying,” the boy responded, pointing at Guo Jing, “Do you believe that he does not have the means?”

The waiter saw that Guo Jing wore a sable coat of great value. “Even if you have no means of payment,” he thought to himself, “this coat will suffice to cover the expenditure!” Then he demanded, “Is that all?”

“You will also bring,” the boy said, “twelve more dishes to accompany the rice and eight different dimsum.” The waiter didn't dare to ask for details concerning the dishes, fearing that the boy would order dishes he could not provide. He went to the kitchen and told the cooks to prepare the best.

“Which wine do the gentlemen wish?” he returned to ask. “We have clear rice wine ten years of age. What would you say to two horns to start?”

“Why not,” the boy said.

A little later the waiter brought fruits and cookies. Guo Jing tasted each plate and marveled at all these delicious things he had never known of. The boy talked continuously, telling of local customs and habits, describing famous characters and anecdotes about the country of the South. Guo Jing was fascinated by his eloquence and his immense knowledge. Guo Jing's Second Shifu was a well-read man and a great scholar, but Guo Jing, who had devoted all of his time and energy to martial arts, and had only learned from Zhu Cong, during their rare free time, some basic characters.

It seemed to him that this young boy was as cultivated as his Second Shifu and he was filled with wonder. “I believe,” he thought, “that what seems a poor beggar is in reality a well-read man of culture. The people in China are definitely quite different from those in Mongolia.”

Half an hour later the dishes were ready. It took two large tables together in order to serve them all. The young boy drank very little and ate in the same way and was satisfied with picking at the less spicy dishes. Suddenly, he called to the waiter and thundered, “This rice wine is five years old! How do you dare to serve it with the food?”

“Your palate is really very refined!” the manager came begging for forgiveness. “Please excuse us. The fact is, our humble establishment did not have it, and it was necessary to borrow some from the nearest larger restaurant, The House of Eternal Celebration. In general, one does not find aged wine in Kalgan.”

The young boy made a gesture to remove it and resumed his conversation with Guo Jing, asking him a thousand questions about the steppe and Mongolia. Since his Shifus had urged him to be discreet so as not to reveal his identity, he was content to tell anecdotes of hunting for hares and wolves, shooting eagles, horse races etc. The boy listened with fascination, applauding the sharpest accounts and often bursting into fresh and childish laughter.

Guo Jing had lived all his life on the steppe. He had certainly had a close friendship with Tolui and Hua Zheng. But Temujin, who loved his youngest son very much, often kept his son near him, so that Tolui didn't have much time for play. As for Hua Zheng, she had a headstrong character and often quarreled with Guo Jing, who was reluctant to do everything she wanted. Although they always reconciled in the end, the relationship wasn't an easy one. However, it was very different with this young boy; they were eating and conversing so that Guo Jing, without knowing why, felt a joy he’d never experienced before.

Usually he spoke little and expressed himself with difficulty. A person needed to ask him questions that forced him to hesitatingly answer. Han Xiaoying gently made fun of him by saying that he was the preferred disciple of his Fourth Shifu, because he had adopted Nan Xiren's motto, "silence is golden". But now, surprisingly, he could talk nonstop, not hiding anything of his life, except his martial arts training and things related to Temujin. He even told of all silly and stupid things. He spoke easily and, at a certain moment, forgot himself and grabbed the left hand of his questioner. He was surprised because this hand was soft, smooth and so flexible it seemed boneless. The boy smiled slightly and bowed his head. Guo Jing noticed that, whereas the boy's face was smudged with dirt, the skin at the nape of his neck had the whiteness of jade. Guo Jing found this a bit strange, but he did not give it further thought.

“Well we've chatted for such a long time,” the boy said, withdrawing his hand, “everything is cold now, the dishes and also the rice ...” “Yes,” Guo Jing said, “but it is not spoiled. It is still good ...” The boy shook his head. “Then we'll get it warmed up ...”

“No,” the boy said, “When it’s warmed up it isn't good anymore ...” He called the waiter, ordered him to throw everything away and prepare new dishes with fresh ingredients. The manager, the cooks and waiters found this attitude quite strange, but they did it readily. The Mongols show extreme hospitability to their guests, and besides, it was the first time in his life that Guo Jing handled money and he didn't know its value. But even if he had known, he got along so well with the boy and he felt such pleasure in his company, he would have spent ten times as much without batting an eye. The new dishes were served and after a few mouthfuls he had had enough.

“You are really an idiot,” the waiter thought, “This little urchin has taken advantage of you.” He brought the bill, which amounted to nineteen taels, seventy-four bao. Guo Jing took out a gold ingot [yuan bao] and ordered the waiter to exchange it for taels at the money changer after which he paid for the food. As they left the restaurant the north wind blew strongly. The young boy seemed to feel the cold. He shivered and said, “I've disturbed you enough... Now, it’s goodbye.”

Seeing that the boy was not dressed warmly enough, Guo Jing felt concerned. He removed his black sable coat and covered the shoulders of the boy. “Brother,” he said, “I feel like we've known each other forever. Please accept this coat.” He had four gold ingots left; he took two and slipped them into the coat's pocket. Without even thanking him, the boy, wearing the sable coat, walked along dejectedly. After walking about ten steps, he turned and saw Guo Jing, holding his horse by its bridle, watching him. He knew that Guo Jing did not want to part like that; he made a gesture with his hand. Guo Jing approached him eagerly and asked, “Does the worthy brother still need something?”

“I haven't asked for the name of my big brother,” said the boy smiling.

“That’s true,” Guo Jing said laughing, “we forgot about that. My name is Guo and Jing is my first name. And yours, brother?” “My name is Huang and my first name is Rong.”

“Where are you bound?” Guo Jing asked. “If you are heading towards the south, we could travel together. What do you think?” “I’m not going south,” Huang Rong said, shaking his head. Suddenly he said, “Big brother, I'm still hungry ...”

“Very well,” Guo Jing happily said. “Let us eat something together.”

This time, Huang Rong took him to the House of Eternal Celebration, the principal restaurant in Kalgan. Its decorations accurately imitated the great establishments of the ancient capital of Song, Bianliang [Kaifeng]. He did not order a feast this time, but only asked for four plates of fine pastry, a pot of longjin tea (aka Dragon’s Well tea, famous green tea of the province Zhejiang), and they continued their rambling conversation.

Having learned that Guo Jing had tamed two white eagles, Huang Rong expressed a certain desire. “Very good,” he said, “I did not know exactly where to go. Tomorrow I'll leave for Mongolia, to catch two white eagles for my amusement.”

“They are not easy to find,” Guo Jing remarked. “Then how did you find them?”

Guo Jing didn't answer and only smiled. “The climate is severe in Mongolia,” he thought, “and the north wind blows icy and hard, how would this slight young boy withstand it?”

“Where do you live?” he asked. “Why don't you return home?” Huang Rong had tears in his eyes, “Dad doesn't want me anymore!” “Why not?” Guo Jing asked. “He locked somebody up,” Huang Rong answered, “and did not wish to set that person free. I took pity on the prisoner because he was lonely; I brought good things for him to eat, and I tried to converse with him. Dad got angry and cursed at me, so I ran away in the middle of the night.”

“I’m sure your dad thinks of you at this moment”, Guo Jing said. “What of your mom?” “She died a long time ago! I haven’t had a mom since I was very small ...”

“If you’ve had your fun, it would be better to return home.” “Dad does not want me anymore,” Huang Rong said crying. “That's impossible!” Guo Jing said.

“Then why doesn't he look for me?”

“Perhaps he is still looking, but hasn't found you ...”

“You’re probably right,” Huang Rong said, who’d changed from crying to laughing. “When I’ve had my fun, I'll return. But first of all, I need to tame two white eagles!”

They chatted again about what they had seen or experienced. Guo Jing told of the incident with the eight women in white, disguised as men, and who wanted to take possession of his horse. Huang Rong asked questions about the small red horse, its capabilities, its character, and seemed full of envy. He drank a mouthful of tea and said smilingly, “Big brother, I want to ask for something of great value to you. Would you agree to that?”

“Of course, why wouldn't I?”

“What I would like, is your horse that sweats blood!”

“All right,” Guo Jing said without hesitating, “I'll give it to you gladly.”

In fact, Huang Rong was joking. He knew very well that Guo Jing adored his invaluable horse. Since they had just recently met and by chance, he was curious to see how this good chap was going to refuse his improper request. However, Guo Jing answered with such generosity and simplicity that he was taken by surprise. Moved beyond words, he could not stop himself breaking into sobs and hiding his face with his arms. Guo Jing was even more surprised, “Brother,” he asked with concern, “what’s happened, don't you feel well?”

Huang Rong raised his head. He had been crying, but now a big smile lit his face. The running tears had washed away the dirt, revealing white skin like pure jade. “Big brother,” he said, “let’s go!”

Guo Jing paid and they left the restaurant. Guo Jing took his horse by its bridle caressing it gently and gave it the following advice, “I've given you to my good friend here. You will act obediently and especially do not show your foul temper!” Then he addressed Huang Rong, “Brother, mount the horse!”

The small red horse usually did not allow anyone else to mount it, but, during the past few days, it had quieted a lot. Since its master had ordered it to do so, it didn't make a fuss. Huang Rong leapt on the horse and Guo Jing let go of the bridle, and clapped him lightly on the rump. Rider and horse disappeared in a cloud of dust. Guo Jing waited until he could see them no more before he turned back.

It was very late when he obtained a room at an inn. Just as he was going to extinguish his candle and to go to bed, he heard a scratch at the door. He thought that it was Huang Rong who had returned, and felt great joy. “Is that you, brother?” he asked. “That's great!”

“It's your old man!” replied a hoarse voice. “What's so great?”

Surprised, the young man opened the door and saw, by the glimmer of the candle, five men. Looking at them more closely, he felt a shiver go down his spine; four of them, armed with a saber, a lance, a whip and twin axes, were none other than the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’, whom he had previously fought on the hill. The fifth one was a lean man of about forty years, with a long dark face with three big lumps on his forehead that gave him an extremely ugly appearance. The lean man sneered and swept grandly into the room. He seated himself arrogantly on the bed of bricks [kang], then turned his head to regard Guo Jing. [In northern China, sleeping arrangements generally were installed on top of a kind of brick "oven", that allowed for heating underneath.]

The senior brother of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’, Shen Qinggang, nicknamed ‘Saber Breaks Down the Soul’, declared coldly, “This is our martial uncle, the renowned Hou Tonghai, known as ‘Three-Headed Dragon’! Kowtow before Lord Hou right now!”

Guo Jing realized that he was cornered. He could never defeat the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ together, to say nothing of their martial uncle, who had to be fearsome. “What do you want?” he demanded, while clasping his fists in greeting.

“Where are your teachers?” Hou Tonghai questioned. “My six Shifus are not here.”

“Huh,” sneered Hou Tonghai. “Then I will give you a half-day respite. If I killed you now, people could say that the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’ was taking advantage of an opponent weaker than him. Tomorrow at noon, I will await your six Shifus in the ‘Black Pine Wood’, ten li to the west of here.” He left without even waiting for Guo Jing's reply. Wu Qinglie, nicknamed ‘Whip Captures Spirit’, closed the door and locked it from the outside.

Guo Jing put out the candle, lay down on the bed, and saw, on the paper of the window, a shadow that came and went continuously. The enemy, clearly, were mounting a watch over him. A short time later, he heard a noise on the roof, someone was tapping the tiles with a weapon, while saying, “Little fellow, don't even think about running away, your old man is watching you.” Knowing that escape was impossible, Guo Jing lay still, glancing at the ceiling, and wondering how he was going to leave tomorrow. He fell asleep before he found even the beginnings of a solution.

The next morning, the inn boy brought hot water for his bath and noodles for breakfast. He was closely followed by Qian Qingjian, armed with his two short axes. Guo Jing reflected that his Shifus were far away and probably would not arrive in time to save him. Since he could not flee, it would be necessary to fight and die like a man! His Fourth Shifu, who had advised him well, said, “If you can't beat the enemy, flee!” But to flee without even being beaten, would not be accurately following the advice... In fact, it would not have been difficult for him to escape from Qian Qingjian alone, for he was not very quick or resourceful. If only Nan Xiren had said to him, “Flee from danger!” he probably would have taken to his heels, and Qian Qingjian certainly would not have been in any position to catch him. The ‘Three-Headed Dragon’, Hou Tonghai, believed that the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’ were located in this area, and that, given their fame, they never would fail to keep an appointment. He never would have imagined that Guo Jing would flee on his own.

Seated on the bed, he practiced meditation and controlled his breathing according to the pointers given to him by Ma Yu. Standing next to him, Qian Qingjian whirled his axes while shouting and criticizing his methods. Guo Jing paid no attention to him. Towards noon, he rose. “Let's go,” he said to his jailer.

He paid his bill to the innkeeper and both headed to the west. Ten li further on, they indeed came across woods of thickly foliaged pines. Qian Qingjian left Guo Jing and entered the woods.

The young man pulled out the supple whip that he always carried at his side and cautiously entered the undergrowth. Progressing slowly and watching carefully in all directions, he followed the small path for a little more than one li without seeing anyone. All was silent, with an occasional bird call now and then. As he advanced, his apprehension grew. “No one is watching me,” he said reassuringly to himself, “and since the wood is so thick, why not hide? Hiding is not fleeing!" Just as he prepared to slip into a bush he heard swearing above his head, “Little bastard! Idiot! Moron!”

Guo Jing jumped back, his whip held at the ready. He looked up, and then burst out laughing; there, at the top of four big trees, the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’, hands tied behind their backs and each hanging at the end of a rope, wriggled in the air. They struggled hopelessly but could not escape. Seeing Guo Jing, they renewed their cursing.

“You guys playing at swings?” Guo Jing asked, still laughing. “This is very funny, isn't it? Good-bye then, I'll take my leave.” He took a few steps away, and then returned. “How did you guys end up like that?”

“Damn you!” Qian Qingjian growled. “We were taken by surprise; this is not worthy of a real man!”

“Little man,” Shen Qinggang shouted, “if you're brave enough, let us down, and we will fight one on one to decide between us. If we all attacked you, we would be cowards!"

Guo Jing wasn't very intelligent, but neither was he completely stupid. He burst out laughing again and said, “I'll concede that you're brave, without needing to match blows!” Afraid that Hou Tonghai, the Three-Headed Dragon, might arrive, he had no desire to linger; he hastily departed and returned to the city. He bought a horse and resumed his journey south without delay.

“Who secretly helped me?” he asked himself. “Those ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ have excellent kung fu; who was it that succeeded in tying them up, and suspending them from the trees? And the Three-Headed Dragon that had seemed so frightening, why didn't I see him again? My Shifu always said, ‘When an appointment is made, it is necessary to keep it, even if the sky falls on your head’. I kept his appointment; if he didn't arrive himself, that's not my fault."

The journey went on without incident. One day, he finally arrived in Yanjing. It was the capital of the Jin Empire and the most prosperous city in the country. Even the former capital of the Song, Bianliang, or the new one, Lin’an, could not compare with it. Guo Jing, who had grown up on the steppe, had never seen anything even slightly similar. Red buildings of stunning architecture with decorated panels and majestic doors. Splendid attachments graced the front of the sumptuous residences. Fiery standards impeded passage in the streets. Merchandise of all sorts was displayed in immense stores. A colorful crowd of people in luxurious clothes crowded themselves in the tea parlors and the wine houses. The streets were full of brilliant signs, multicolored standards, and the air resounded with the sound of music. A hundred perfumes filled the air with fragrance. Guo Jing did not know where to turn his head. There were so many things before his eyes that he did not recognize one object out of ten!

Not daring to enter a restaurant that was too richly furnished, he chose a small stall where he ate quickly, then continued to walk randomly about. Suddenly, he heard continuous cheering and saw a crowd in the distance, massed around something.

Pressed on by his curiosity, he approached and slipped in amongst the onlookers. They pressed themselves around a wide open area, in the middle of which was planted an ornamental standard with the phrase ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’ embroidered upon it. Beneath the standard, two people faced each other in unrelenting combat; one was a girl dressed in red, the other a big fat fellow. Guo Jing saw right away that the girl, whose every movement was measured and controlled, had good kung fu, while the fat fellow was clearly not up to her level. After a few exchanges, the girl feigned lowering her guard, and the fat fellow advanced to attack with a blow ‘Twin Dragons Leaving their Lair’, projecting both fists towards the chest of his opponent. But the girl stepped back lightly; her left arm pivoted and struck the back of the fat fellow, who tumbled to the ground. He got up, covered with dust and an embarrassed look on his face, before disappearing into the crowd. The spectators applauded and acclaimed the girl.

She rearranged a strand of hair and returned to the standard. Guo Jing regarded her more attentively; she was about eighteen years in age, very graceful and her face extremely pretty and lightly marked by life. Gusts of cold wind made the standard flutter. On either side of it an iron spear and two short halberds had been planted.

The girl exchanged some words in a low voice with a middle-aged man. He nodded, and stepped forward, clasped his hands and saluted the onlookers. “Your servant is named Mu Yi. I am from Shandong. Visiting your honorable city, I seek neither fame nor fortune. Because my girl is of the age to put a comb in her hair (after the age of fifteen years, the girls, now considered adults, can groom and hold their hair in place with a comb) and she has no fiancé. She made a vow and, though she does not desire a prosperous husband or a noble one, she will accept a valiant martial arts expert. That is the reason we have the audacity to propose a contest for her to find a husband. All young men, aged less than thirty years and who are unmarried, can match themselves against my girl. If he can vanquish her in a single move, I will give her to him in marriage. We’ve traversed the country from the south to the north, but all the renowned experts are already married, and the young brave ones doubtless did not dare to try...that is the reason we have not yet been able to find a good husband... Yanjing is a place where 'tigers and dragons hide in the shadows'. There are certainly many heroes and valiant men here. If my actions seem presumptuous, I beg your kind pardon!"

This Mu Yi looked sturdy and strong to Guo Jing, but his back was slightly hunched. He was white-haired and his face wrinkled. He appeared melancholy and was clad in coarse fabric, patched in several places, while the girl was clothed in lively colors. After making his speech, Mu Yi listened for some time. He heard louts making vulgar comments, but they did not dare to enter the arena. He raised his eyes to the sky, saw leaden clouds gathering and the wind grew stronger.

“It appears that a blizzard threatens,” he said in a low voice. “Ah, it was so dark, that day...” He turned back, took down the banner from the standard and prepared to stow it away. Two simultaneous shouts were heard from the east and west. “One moment!” and two men leaped into the open space.

Seeing them, the crowd burst out laughing. The one who had come from the east was obese and elderly. He had a large beard and had to be at least fifty years old. The one that come from the west was even more comical; he was a shaven-headed monk.

“What are you laughing at?” the fat one shouted to the crowd. “Isn't this a contest to find a spouse? I am not married, why can't I try my luck?”

“Venerable ancestor,” the monk said, giggling, “Even if you win, you wouldn't want this girl, as beautiful as a flower, to become a widow right away!”

“And you,” the fat one angrily said, “what are you here for?”

“If I can have such a pretty girl,” the monk replied, “I'll return to the secular world!” The crowd was roaring again.

The girl frowned, apparently annoyed. She removed the cape which she used to cover herself and readied to continue the fight. Mu Yi held her arm, told her not to be irritated, and replanted the banner in the ground. The monk and the obese person continued their bickering; each wanted to fight the girl first.

“Why don't you start by fighting against each other?” the spectators hilariously suggested. “The winner will have the honor of fighting the girl!”

“All right,” the monk said. “Old fellow, let's have a little fun!” He threw a blow with his fist; the obese one avoided it by lowering his head, before returning the blow.

Guo Jing recognized the style of the monk, the Arhat style from the Shaolin Temple. The obese one practiced the style of the ‘Five Movements’. Thus both were practitioners of external kung fu. The monk showed himself to be of great agility, whereas the obese one, in spite of his age, made use of heaviness and power. The monk stealthily struck three blows at the stomach of his adversary, who fought stoically, waiting to batter his right fist on the head of the monk. The blow succeeded and the monk fell to the ground, dazed; then he regained his senses, took a knife out of his robe and ran to the attack. The crowd let out a cry of surprise. The obese one leapt back before wielding an iron whip which had been rolled up around his waist. Both had come armed! The fight began again, still desperate, but more dangerous. The spectators applauded while moving back, fearing injury by straying blows.

Mu Yi approached the two men and said with a loud voice, “Stop! We are in the imperial capital, it is forbidden to display weapons! The two adversaries, carried away by their fight did not pay any attention to him. Mu Yi leapt forward suddenly, kicking away the knife of the monk while seizing the end of the whip. He pulled with force, and the obese one could not resist and released his whip. Mu Yi threw the whip onto the ground. The two adversaries, not daring to fight any longer, collected their weapons shamefaced and disappeared enduring the jibes from the crowd.

Then the tinkling of small bells attached to the harnesses of horses was heard and a flamboyant company appeared. Several tens of vigorous servants accompanying a young nobleman had arrived. He looked at the brocade banner and examined the girl from head to toe. Then he smiled, got down from his horse and came forward. “Is this the girl who seeks a husband through a contest?” he asked. The girl blushed and turned her head without answering. Mu Yi advanced, clasped his fists and greeted him, “My name is Mu. What does the young Lord wish?” “What are the rules of this contest?” Mu Yi explained them to him. “Then I want to try my chances as well...” He was a young and handsome nobleman of about eighteen or nineteen years old, dressed in a lavish brocade coat.

“At last a boy,” thought Guo Jing, “who could make up a beautiful couple with this girl? Fortunately the monk and the old fat one a while ago were not up to par, if not... if not...”

“Your Lordship is joking,” Mu Yi said, mortified. “What do you mean?” the young man said.

“We are only wanderers without abode, how would we dare to measure ourselves against you? And it is not an ordinary contest, because it decides the marriage of my daughter ... Please forgive us.”

“How long have you been holding this contest?” he asked.

“It has been more than six months that we have traveled the roads.”

“That long and nobody could overcome your daughter?” the young nobleman said with disbelief.

“It is undoubtedly,” Mu Yi answered smiling, “because the experts in martial arts are all already married, or they won’t condescend to be measured against her.”

“OK, OK!” the young dandy exclaimed. “I will test ...”

“This is a young man with a refined and distinguished bearing,” Mu Yi thought. “If he came from an ordinary family, he would make a husband of choice for my child. But obviously, he belongs to the nobility. We are in the capital of the Jin and his family is perhaps well known at the Court. In any case, he is certainly rich and powerful. If my daughter wins, that could bring great trouble to us; if she loses, how could I marry her to such a person?”

“We are just wanderers in the realm of Rivers and Lakes [Jianghu],” he said, “We cannot measure ourselves with you. Please forgive us! We will leave!”

“This is an honorable contest,” the young nobleman said, laughing. “I assure you, I will not harm your daughter.” He then turned to the girl and said amiably, “It will be enough for the young lady to touch me to win, all right?”

“In a contest, it is necessary to comply strictly with the rules,” the girl protested.

“Hurry up with the fight!” a cry came from the crowd. “The speedier you fight, the more quickly you will be married, and the more quickly you will have babies!” The spectators burst out in laughter. The girl raised her eyebrows and removed her cape moodily. She greeted the young nobleman, who bowed in return.

“This young dandy grew up in affluence,” Mu Yi thought, “Does he know martial arts? It is better to defeat him quickly and leave the city as soon as possible, in order to avoid trouble.”

“All right,” he said, “perhaps Your Lordship wishes to get rid of his coat.” “That is not necessary,” the young dandy said, still smiling.

The spectators, who knew the abilities of the girl, thought that, for him to act that carelessly, he was going to suffer! But some of them thought that since the Mus have experience in the Jianghu realm, they certainly will not cause offense to the son of a noble family. They will probably make sure that he does not lose face.

“Do you believe,” whispered some, “that they are really performing a ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’? It’s likely that old Mu only wants to benefit from the beauty and kung fu of his daughter to extract money from fools! This young dandy should watch his wallet!”

“Ready?” the girl said. The young nobleman swiveled toward the right, while his left sleeve flew with flashing speed towards the shoulder of the girl. She, surprised by the speed and skill of the attack, leaned and ducked, thus escaping the blow. But the actions of her adversary were stunning, and the right sleeve had already arrived near the head of the girl, endangering both sides. She had to leap back with the quickness of an arrow.

“Good!” the young nobleman shouted. Then he advanced without giving her the time to settle on her feet. The girl, still in the air, twisted and attacked to defend herself, kicking with her left foot in the direction of the young man’s nose. He had to move back hastily, and both landed simultaneously on their feet. The young man had attacked with three stances, and the girl had defended herself with agility; they both began to feel respect and watched each other closely. The girl blushed, and took the initiative. The battle started anew, but more desperate; it was performed so quickly that the young man looked like a shadow of shining brocade, whereas the girl resembled a red cloud.

Guo Jing was increasingly amazed: “These two young people are of my age,” he said to himself, “and yet they possess such a high level of martial arts; it is really extraordinary! They would make a perfect pair. If they marry, they could, during their leisure hours, replay some of the ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’, and it would be fun!” With his mouth agape, he followed the spectacle with anticipation. Suddenly, the girl clutched the sleeve of her adversary and tore it off with force. She jumped back immediately, holding her trophy up. “Young Lord,” Mu Yi shouted, “We apologize!” Then he turned to his daughter. “Let us go now.”

“Not so fast,” the young man shouted with a grim look on his face. “Nothing is really decided yet!” He caught the two sides of his coat and pulled, causing the jade buttons to pop off. One of his servants helped him remove his coat, while another collected the buttons. Underneath, the young man wore a water green satin tunic, tightly held to his waist by a delicate green scarf, which gave him an even more captivating air. He raised his left palm and sent a blow, showing his true kung fu this time. An extremely violent gust of air passed very close to the girl.

Guo Jing, Mu Yi and his daughter were dumbfounded. “How could,” they wondered, “a person of such distinction have such a cruel and brutal kung fu?”

The young nobleman was not looking for fun any longer; his blows were so powerful that his adversary could no longer approach him.

“We have a formidable expert here,” Guo Jing thought, “The girl is no match for him. It appears that marriage is in sight. And I am quite content for them ... My six Shifus always said that there are legions of exceptional men in the Central Plains. Indeed, this young nobleman has an original palm style with sophisticated variations. Should we fight, I would probably not win against him!"

For his part, Mu Yi could also foretell the outcome of the duel. “My daughter,” he shouted, “it is useless to continue. The young Lord is much stronger than you!”

“This young man has excellent kung fu,” he said to himself, “thus he is not like one of those idle, gambling and whoring sons of certain families. I will ask for information about his family. If he is not related to the Jin government authorities, I will approve the marriage. My daughter's future will be secured ...” He shouted to both to stop their fight. But the battle was full blown and they did not stop.

“If I wanted to injure you now,” the young man thought, “nothing would be easier; but I do not have the heart to do it.” Suddenly, his left palm changed into a claw, and he clutched the wrist of the girl. Surprised, she sought to break loose. The young man pushed slightly forward and the girl lost her balance. As she was about to fall, the right arm of her adversary pulled her gently, and she fell into his arms. The spectators applauded and hollered with enthusiasm causing a great tumult.

Shame-faced and blushing, the girl begged in a low voice, “Release me, quickly!”

“Say ‘my dear’ to me,” he answered, laughing, “and I'll release you!” Outraged by such impudence, she struggled, but he held her firmly and she could not break loose.

Mu Yi advanced and said, “You've won, please release my daughter!” The young nobleman burst into laughter but did not release her.

Losing patience, the girl directed a kick in the direction of the solar plexus of her adversary, trying to make him release her. He indeed released his right arm, parried the blow and caught the foot immediately; his qinna [grabbing and holding] technique was perfectly timed and he could seize anything he wanted. The girl panicked, and sought to release her foot by pulling with force. She at last succeeded, but in doing so she lost her small shoe which was embroidered with red flowers. She sat down on the ground, head lowered and flushed with shame, holding her foot covered by a white fabric sock. The young aristocrat smiled unsteadily, moved the embroidered shoe to his nose and sniffed it. In this situation, the hooligans were obviously not going to let this action pass without comment. “Bet that smells good!” they shouted in chorus. [Women’s feet were considered erotic in ancient China, hence her embarrassment.]

“What is your name?” asked Mu Yi.

“It's not worth saying,” laughed the young aristocrat. He put on his brocaded coat, cast a glance in direction of the girl, and placed the small embroidered shoe in his pocket. At that moment, the wind doubled in strength and large snowflakes began to fall.

“We live at the Inn of Prosperity,” said Mu Yi, “in the western part of the city. Let us go there together, in order to make plans.” “To plan what?” the young aristocrat retorted. “It's snowing now, it is necessary that I hurry home.”

Mu Yi turned pale. “You won this challenge, and I made a promise that I would give you my daughter in marriage. This is a serious business; one cannot treat it so lightly!"

The young aristocrat burst out laughing. “We had a little fun with martial arts,” he said, “it was rather interesting... as for the marriage, ha, I am obliged to decline that honor!”

Anger choked Mu Yi and prevented him from speaking, “You... You...”

“What do you take our young Prince for?” shouted a servant while laughing. “Do you believe that he would wed the daughter of vulgar traveling performers from Jianghu? Only in your dreams, old man, in your dreams"

Mu Yi was so angry that, with a blow, he struck the servant senseless. The young aristocrat did not seek any explanations. He had his servant carried away and was at the point of mounting his horse.

“You make fools of us!” Mu Yi shouted, clutching him by the left arm. “In any event, my daughter cannot marry such an insolent person as you. Please return the shoe to her!"

“It was her that gave it to me!” the young aristocrat said, laughing again, “Why do you make a nuisance of yourself? I won the tournament, I've declined your marriage, but I'll keep the consolation prize!” He pivoted his arm, exerted some inner force and pulled away.

“It won't happen like that!” Mu Yi exclaimed, trembling with anger. He leapt and struck with both fists, sending a blow called the ‘Bell and Drum Sound Together’, towards the temples of his adversary. The young man dodged, placed his left foot in his stirrup and propelled himself from it into the arena.

“If I beat you, old man,” he said, laughing, “then you won't try to force me to become your son-in-law any more?” The crowd, indignant at the impudent and arrogant attitude of the young man, remained quiet. Only some hooligans and good-for-nothings coarsely burst out laughing.

Without saying a word, Mu Yi tightened his belt, and attacked with the move ‘Sea Swallow Skimming the Flood’ at the young aristocrat. The young aristocrat knew that he was extremely angry and did not take the attack lightly. He dodged, replied with a blow to the belly, ‘The Poisonous Snake Seeks its Den’. Mu Yi dodged, and struck with his left palm at his shoulder. The young man turned, advanced his right palm under Mu Yi’s left arm. It was an extremely vicious blow, called ‘Benefit from the Cloud to Change the Sun’, executed without the knowledge of his adversary. However, Mu Yi parried effectively and clapped his two hands on the cheeks of the young aristocrat.

At that moment, no matter what move the aristocrat made, he could not avoid the blow! He frowned, bit his lips, and decided to employ another technique. His two hands flew like flashes and his ten fingers were planted in the back of the hands of Mu Yi. When he withdrew them, the ends of his fingers were smeared red! The spectators shouted in surprise. The girl, now in a panic, supported her father. She tore a strip from her tunic to wrap his hands, which bled profusely.

Mu Yi pushed his daughter back. “Move aside,” he said. “This day, it's either him or me!”

The girl, pale faced, looked at the young aristocrat fixedly, and drew a dagger intending to plunge it into her own heart. Surprised, Mu Yi sought to stop her hand, and the girl did not have time to pull the blade aside, which was planted in the hand of her father.

The spectators sighed. They deplored seeing a beautiful scene finishing in such a bloody way! Even the hooligans seemed indignant at such an outcome. The comments started to focus on the improper attitude of this young aristocrat.

Faced with such unrighteousness, Guo Jing could not remain standing by. He gently moved aside the people in front of him and advanced into the open space. “Ha!” he shouted, “to act like that, that's not good!”

Disconcerted for a moment, the young aristocrat laughingly retorted, “Ah, not good? Just why is it necessary to act well?" The young aristocrat’s servants, noticing that Guo Jing was dressed like a peasant and that he spoke with a marked southern accent, made fun of him.

Guo Jing did not understand the mockery, and said seriously, “You should marry this young lady!” “And if I don't marry her?”

“If you didn't want to marry her, why did you come down to fight? It was well marked, on the banner, ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’!” “Kid, why are you interfering?” the young aristocrat retorted, in a threatening voice.

“This young lady is not only very beautiful, but she has excellent kung fu. Why don't you want her? Didn't you see that she felt so offended that she wanted to commit suicide?”

“You're such a moron that it isn't worthwhile explaining it to you...” The young aristocrat turned on his heels to leave. Guo Jing restrained him. “Huh! How can you leave like that?”

“What do you want?”

“Didn't I tell you to marry this young lady?” The aristocrat laughed and again was about to leave.

Mu Yi, seeing Guo Jing’s intervention, understood that he was affronted but naive and little acquainted with the ways of the world. He approached and said to him, “Little brother, don't worry about him. So long as I have the breath of life, I will avenge this insult.” Then he shouted at the young aristocrat, “At least leave your name!”

“I told you I can't call you ‘father-in-law’,” he retorted insolently, “why do you still want to know my name?”

Very annoyed by this, Guo Jing leapt forward while shouting, “Then return that embroidered shoe to the young lady!”

“Is this any of your damn business!” the nobleman said furiously. “You've taken a fancy to this young miss yourself, haven’t you?”

Guo Jing shook his head and said, “No! Are you going to return it, or not?” The young aristocrat stiffened his hand suddenly and slapped Guo Jing heavily. Guo Jing moved instantly, and employed a qinna technique, seizing the wrists of his adversary by crossing his hands.

He sought to escape, in vain. “Do you want to die?” he shouted, surprised and annoyed, while aiming a kick towards Guo Jing's lower abdomen.

He flexed his muscles and pushed the young aristocrat back towards the open space. Obviously, this person had a good lightness technique [Qinggong], for, instead of falling on his back, he kept his balance and landed on his feet. He nimbly removed his brocaded coat and exclaimed, “Don't you want to continue living, little fool? If you've got guts, come and test yourself against me!”

“Why would I fight with you?” Guo Jing said, shaking his head. “Since you do not want to marry the young lady, return her embroidered shoe!”

The spectators, seeing the intervention of Guo Jing, wanted to see what he was capable of and didn't think that he would retreat. Some hooligans even hooted, “Talk without action, it's unworthy of a hero!”

For his part, the young aristocrat, having been caught by Guo Jing, realized that his kung fu wasn't insignificant and especially noted that he had powerful internal energy. He was happy not to fight; but, of course, he couldn't return the embroidered shoe without losing face! He therefore gathered his coat and laughing, turned on his heels.

Guo Jing caught him by the side of the coat and repeated, “How can you just leave?”

The young aristocrat had a sudden idea. He cast his coat over the head of his opponent and struck two fists into his chest. Wrapped up in the coat, Guo Jing could not avoid the impacts. Fortunately, he had practiced two years of orthodox neigong with Ma Yu, so that these blows, although extremely painful, could not truly injure him. Goaded by anger, he successively launched nine fast kicks while alternating stances; it was a skill technique developed by Han Baoju, which had already enabled him to beat other enemies. Even if the disciple did not yet have the skill of the master, and even if the kicks were made while he was blinded, they disturbed the young aristocrat, who could avoid the first seven, but was caught by the last two fully on his chest.

The two young men simultaneously leapt back. Guo Jing, still amazed, got rid of the coat that hampered him. He could not believe such treachery on behalf of his adversary. “He knew full well,” he thought, “that he’d entered a ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’. He won, and yet refused to marry the young lady! Moreover, when I tried to reason with him, not only was it he who struck first, but he used a shameful trick! If I hadn't practiced neigong, he would have broken my ribs and crushed my internal organs!” Being of a simple and open nature, and since he had always lived with decent people, he did not know anything about the perfidy of human nature. Even though, during the past years, his Masters had not failed to warn him about tricks and treacheries which one might meet in Jianghu, he’d listened to them the way one listens to stories and they did not remain in his memory long since they had not been experienced. At that moment, he was furious and perplexed, not able to believe in the existence of such low methods.

The young aristocrat, angered by the two kicks he had received, advanced on Guo Jing with his fist raised. Guo Jing defended, but could not avoid the rain of blows which fell on him and he fell down. The servants were laughing. Their Master puffed out his chest and said while laughing, “So you think you can play the deliverer of justice with your three-legged cat technique? Go back home and tell your Shimu [this is a put-down of his Shifus since it means ‘the wife of a teacher’] to give you lessons for twenty more years!”

Guo Jing got up, breathed in deeply, circulated his chi in his whole body so that the pain diminished. “My Shifu doesn't have a wife,” he retorted.

“Then tell him to marry one quickly!”

Guo Jing was going to answer, “I have six Shifus, and one of them is a woman..." but did not have time. He saw that the other was going to leave, so he advanced on him, fist raised, and shouted, “Prepare yourself!”

The young aristocrat dodged, Guo Jing swung a left hook right at his face which the other blocked. They stood, their arms holding onto their adversary's, each one trying to use internal energy to overcome the other. Guo Jing was a little stronger but his opponent had better techniques and it was difficult to decide between them.

Guo Jing breathed in deeply to concentrate his internal energy, while the other suddenly loosened his pressure. Guo Jing fell forward. As he tried to regain his balance, he felt a stroke coming from behind. He hastened to avoid it but, not having regained full balance, he stumbled. While falling, he supported himself on his elbow, rebounded and, while spinning in the air, delivered a kick with his left foot. Watching this fast and spectacular recovery, the crowd applauded.

The young aristocrat moved away and attacked with two palms, one was a feint to confuse his adversary, while the other was the real stroke. Guo Jing then used the technique ‘Disconnect the Muscles and Separate the Bones’; his hands fluttered in all directions, aiming at all the tendons and joints of the body. Seeing the violence of this attack, the aristocrat suddenly changed tactics; he began to use the same technique! There was a difference however; the one learned by Guo Jing had been invented by Zhu Cong, the ‘Magical Hands Scholar’. It diverged from the orthodox technique taught by the masters of the central Plains considerably. The two looked similar in their principles, but had some differences in execution. One extended his index and middle fingers trying to seize the opponent’s ‘Supporting the Old’ [Yang Lao] accupoint behind the wrist; the other tried to hook and seize the opponent’s knuckles. The two felt mutual apprehension and didn't dare to commit completely, barely sketching a movement before changing to another. After forty or so exchanges, they still couldn’t tell who had the upper hand.

Snow continued to fall and a fine white layer covered the heads and the shoulders of the spectators that surrounded them. Suddenly, the young aristocrat seemed to leave an opening on his chest. Guo Jing saw it immediately and tried to benefit from it by pointing his index finger at the point ‘Tail of Turtledove’ on his adversary. But he had some reservations about using this action. “There is no hate between us,” he said to himself, “I can’t use such a deadly stroke on him!” He then diverted his finger and touched another point which had no effect on his adversary. The young aristocrat had enough time to catch his wrist and pull him, while hooking him with his foot. Guo Jing lost his balance and fell once again.

Mu Yi, whose hand had just been bandaged by his daughter, also watched the two. He saw Guo Jing fall for the third time and understood that he was not experienced enough to face the insolent youngster and he hastened to lift him from the ground. “Little brother,” he said, “let it go. There’s no point in staying among scoundrels of this kind any longer!”

Guo Jing had seen stars and was hurt, but he felt rage mounting in his head. He moved away from Mu Yi and rushed at his adversary, while increasing the number of strokes. The young aristocrat, surprised to see him insist on continuing in spite of the beating that he had received, moved back three steps. “Don't you admit your defeat?” Guo Jing didn't answer and continued to attack.

“If you don't stop,” the young aristocrat threatened, “I am going to be obliged to kill you!” “If you don't return the shoe,” Guo Jing retorted, “I will never be finished with you!”

“But this girl is not even your sister, why do you persist in wanting to be my brother-in-law?”

“To be the brother-in-law of someone,” constituted an insult in the Jin capital, and the scoundrels in the crowd exploded with laughter when they heard it. Guo Jing didn't understand any of it.

“I don't even know her,” he said, “and she isn’t my sister!”

The young aristocrat no longer knew whether to laugh or to be angry! He ended up saying, “Then protect yourself you stupid fool!”

The two young people continued to fight. This time, Guo Jing was more prudent and didn't fall into the repeated traps that his adversary prepared for him. In fact, from a strictly technical viewpoint, the kung fu of the young aristocrat was superior, but Guo Jing never gave up and fought like a barbarian. Even after he received blows, he continued to attack with persistence and without retreating. He had fought like this when he was small, during the fights with the kids of Dukhsh’s gang. Even though he had acquired more agility while learning martial arts, his way of fighting hadn’t fundamentally changed and it was in his nature to fight with savagery. He had forgotten the recommendation of his Fourth Shifu. ‘If you can’t defeat the enemy, flee!’ In his mind, the more important formula had always been, ‘If the enemy is unbeatable, persist!’, except that he didn't realize it!

The spectacle attracted more and more spectators and the area was completely filled. The wind and snow had increased in intensity, but no one left.

Mu Yi, with much experience in the Jianghu region, well knew that, if the fight continued, the crowds were going to attract the attention of the authorities and maybe provoke their intervention. He knew that it would be better to not expose themselves to that possibility! But, this young man had generously come to help them; he could not leave him here alone. He felt very anxious. He raised his eyes and was vaguely viewing the assembly, when he noticed in the crowd, several individuals who seemed to belong to the martial world. He had been so focused on the fight that he had not even noticed their arrival.

He then moved slowly, approaching the servants of the young aristocrat who were standing in a group. Watching them out of the corner of his eye, he saw, among them, three characters with a martial look. The first wore a scarlet Buddhist monk’s dress and a golden cap; it was a very tall Tibetan lama. The second, medium-sized, had silvery white hair and a ruddy, beaming face with smooth skin like a baby, without one wrinkle. He was clothed in a long robe, but one couldn’t tell if it was Taoist or Buddhist. The third was very small, but his blood-shot eyes had a piercing look, and he wore a proud small mustache.

The presence of these unusual faces astonished Mu Yi. He then heard one of the servants say, “Supreme Virtue, have the goodness to rid us of this stupid fool, please! If this continues and something serious happens to the young Prince, we servants could face death!”

Hearing this, Mu Yi was shaken. “So,” he thought, “this young scoundrel is a prince! If the fight continues, misfortune might happen to him. Apparently all these experts are part of the royal house and the servants have summoned them here to lend assistance to the prince.”

The Tibetan llama smiled without saying a word. The old man shouted while laughing, “The ‘Supreme Virtue’ Lingzhi is an eminent member of a secret school in Tibet, he cannot stoop so low as to exchange stances with a lowly skilled fighter of this kind, it would be too demeaning... If something should happen, the Prince would at most break your legs; he wouldn’t go so far as to kill you, would he?”

“Anyway,” intervened the small man with the blood-shot eyes, “the young Prince is stronger than this kid, what do you have to fear?” He was small, but also had a piercing voice. The spectators around them jumped when they heard it and turned around to look at him. Made nervous by his menacing look, they lowered their eyes immediately.

“Our young Prince did put in a lot of hard work to learn this kung fu,” the silvery haired old man said, “if he can’t give a public demonstration of it, he would really be frustrated if all these years of effort remains unseen! If someone actually helps him, he will surely be vexed...”

“Venerable Liang,” the small man said, “to what school does the palm technique of the young Prince belong?”

“Brother Peng,” the old man answered, laughing, “Do you want to put me to the test? The young Prince has a palm technique combining agility with complexity that is indeed difficult to acquire. If I am not mistaken, he has learned his kung fu from a Taoist of the Quanzhen Sect!” Mu Yi was again startled. “Could this inconsiderate youngster be a disciple of the Quanzhen Sect?”

“The Venerable Liang has a remarkable eye,” the small man said. “You’ve spent your life at the foot of the Mountain of Eternal Whiteness and you’ve dedicated yourself to meditation and to alchemical practices. People say that you rarely come into the Central Plains, and yet you seem to know by heart the styles of the Chinese schools. I admire you greatly.”

“Brother Peng is too generous with his praise,” the old man said, while smiling.

“But,” the small man pursued, “the Taoists of the Quanzhen Sect are of bizarre and surprising character. How could they accept the young Prince as a disciple? That would be rather astonishing.”

“If the Sixth Prince wants to, who can he not entice to join him? Just like you Brother Peng, you are a great hero who dominates Shandong and Shanxi, yet you are now part of the Prince's household.”

The small man acknowledged this. Their attention was again focused on the fight. They noticed that Guo Jing had changed styles again; the rhythm of his palm technique slowed, and his defense was extremely tight. The young Prince had repeatedly searched for ways to attack but had been repulsed by very heavy strokes.

“In your opinion,” the old man asked the small man, “where does this young boy’s kung fu come from?”

“His kung fu is very mixed,” he answered after a moment of hesitation. “One would say that he had several Shifus...” “Chief Peng is right,” interrupted someone nearby. “This kid is the disciple of the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’.”

Mu Yi examined the person who had just spoken. It was a skinny man with a dark face and three lumps on his forehead. “He called him Chief Peng; would this small man be the bandit Peng Lianhu, the ‘Butcher of One Thousand Hands’, who slaughters without frowning! As for the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’, it has been a long time since I heard their name mentioned, could they still be part of this world?”

At this time, the skinny man with the dark face suddenly roared, “Little brat, I finally found you.” He drew a steel trident, rolled up his sleeves and bounded into the arena. Hearing the noise behind him, Guo Jing turned around and was nose to nose with the man with the three lumps on his forehead; it was the Three-Headed Dragon, Hou Tonghai, the martial uncle of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ . Surprised and worried, he hesitated, not knowing what to do. The young Prince took advantage of this hesitation to hit him on the shoulder bringing Guo Jing back to the fight.

Seeing Hou Tonghai bound into the arena, weapon in hand, the spectators believed that he was going to help one of the fighters and, finding this unworthy, began to hoot. Mu Yi, who now knew that he was also part of the royal household, moved forward, ready to fight him if he tried something against Guo Jing. He remained conscious of the fact that the enemy was superior in numbers. However, Hou Tonghai was not angry at Guo Jing. He sped along to the other side and into the crowd where a puny young boy in rags jumped up after seeing him and turned tail. The ‘Three-Headed Dragon’ rushed after him, followed by four men.

Out of the corner of his eye, Guo Jing realized that it was Huang Rong, the new friend that he had gotten acquainted with in Kalgan. Hou Tonghai pursued him with his weapon in hand, followed by the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’. Very worried, he threw a kick and jumped backward. “A moment please!” he exclaimed. “I need to stop for one moment; we will continue our fight later.”

The Young Prince, tired of this fight, had lost all desire to continue. This request could not have come at a better time. “If you admit your defeat,” he sneered, “you can go...”

Preoccupied with his friend's safety, Guo Jing got ready to lend him assistance when he heard the sound of footsteps; it was Huang Rong who had come back dragging a worn-out old shoe and laughing. Hou Tonghai pursued and called him names and tried to hit him on the back with his trident. But Huang Rong was extraordinarily agile and the trident always missed its target by a small margin. The young boy adroitly slipped through the crowd and had already come out again on the other side. When Hou Tonghai came nearer, one could see the black marks of two palms on his cheeks; obviously, the fragile boy had managed to slap him twice. Hou Tonghai pushed aside everyone in his way and managed to find a path through the crowd, but Huang Rong was already far away. Hou Tonghai stopped and made gestures to show Huang Rong what he had in mind. “If I don't succeed in catching and slicing you up,” Hou Tonghai howled, insane with rage, “I don't want to be called a man any longer!”

Huang Rong waited until Hou Tonghai came nearer before fleeing again. Everyone burst out laughing. In the meantime, three breathless men arrived, they were three of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’; the one missing was Qian Qingjian, known as ‘Axe Buries Family’.

Seeing such a spectacle, Guo Jing was surprised and pleased at the same time. He thought, “This friend of mine must have excellent kung fu. The other day, in the Black Pine Woods, it must have been him who lured Hou Tonghai away and hung the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ from the trees!” The surprise was not less in the opposition camp.

‘Supreme Virtue Lingzhi’ asked: “Ginseng Immortal, that little beggar has remarkable agility, to which school does he belong? Apparently, Brother Hou has lost this skirmish...”

The white-haired Master of the Mountain of Eternal Whiteness was called Liang Ziwong. Since his youth he had consumed natural ginseng and other herbs which had protected him from the advance of old age. He didn't recognize the kung fu style of the little beggar and shook his head. Then, after a moment, he said, “When I am outside the Pass (the border crossing between China proper and the lands to the north), I’ve often heard claims that the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ was a frightening expert; who would have thought that his martial brother was such a pitiful figure, even to the point of not being able to handle a mere child?”

The small man was Peng Lianhu. He frowned without answering. He was a great friend of the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’, with whom he often collaborated and assisted in robbing raids. He knew the kung fu of Hou Tonghai, which was not bad, but couldn't explain how he could be toyed with that easily.

The diversion with Huang Rong and Hou Tonghai had stopped the duel between Guo Jing and the young Prince. The latter clearly had the edge on Guo Jing, since he’d succeeded in making his adversary fall several times; but he himself had received a multitude of blows and felt tired out. He wiped off the sweat which ran down his face with the scarf he wore as a belt.

Mu Yi, who had stowed the brocade banner, held Guo Jing’s hand, thanking him warmly and urging him to leave this place. Suddenly, the pitter-patter of feet was heard as Huang Rong and Hou Tonghai returned, one chasing the other. The former held two pieces of fabric, two pieces which matched pieces missing from the tunic of the latter; the torn tunic exposed a hairy chest. A little later, Wu Qinglie and Ma Qingxiong appeared, weapons in hand, faithfully and breathless following. Missing was Shen Qinggang, whom Huang Rong apparently managed to dispose of in some mysterious way. The commotion provoked more laughter and jibes from the audience.

Shouts came from the west as several tens of soldiers, wicker rods in their hands, shouted and struck the onlookers to open the way for a large red and golden sedan chair carried by six well muscled men. “It is the Princess,” exclaimed the servants of the young Prince.

“Which idiot had the insolence to inform my mother?” the latter thundered, frowning. The servants, who did not dare to answer, hastened to approach the sedan chair which halted at an emptied spot.

“Why are you fighting?” a soft female voice was heard from inside. “It’s snowing and you don't have your coat on, you will certainly catch a cold ...”

Hearing that voice from a distance, Mu Yi seemed as if struck by lightning. “How is this possible?” he thought, dumbfounded. “That voice resembles hers so much! But that's impossible, she is a Jin princess ... Perhaps I've thought too much about my wife and I've become crazy ...” Despite everything, he could not stop himself from edging nearer to the sedan chair. He saw a dainty hand with a handkerchief appear from inside the sedan chair and tenderly wipe the sweat from the face of the young nobleman, who listened to the words pronounced in a low voice, undoubtedly of reproach and admonition ... “But mom,” the young Prince said, “I was just having fun, all is well ...”

“Put your coat on quickly,” the Princess said, “and let us go home ...”

“How could two voices be that similar?” Mu Yi, still astonished, saw the white hand disappearing behind a silk curtain on which peonies were embroidered in gold wire. He tried to peer in but couldn’t see through the bright curtain.

One of the servants collected the brocade coat of his Master and yelled at Guo Jing, “Animal! Look at the state this coat is in and you’re the cause!” One of the soldiers that came with the Princess raised his wicker rod and violently slashed down at Guo Jing's head. Guo Jing dodged, seized the wrist of his attacker, took the rod away, and tripped him. The man fell on the ground and Guo Jing whipped him with the rod. “You dare to strike wrongly and viciously?” he shouted. The crowd, some of whom had received blows from the rod, applauded in appreciation. The other soldiers shouted and hastened to the rescue of their companion, but Guo Jing took them by pairs and tossed them away.

“Still showing off?” the young Prince shouted. He leapt at Guo Jing and both exchanged blows again. The Princess shouted for him to stop, but the son did not seem to fear his mother, “Look at me, mom,” he exclaimed. “This bloody peasant is doing wicked things in the capital! If he is not taught a good lesson, he won't respect his old man!” He wanted to give his best performance and he doubled his efforts. Guo Jing, not being able to parry his nimble and fast palms, was struck by several blows and stumbled twice.

Mu Yi, for his part, was still hypnotized by the sedan chair. A corner of the curtain had been opened; he saw two caring eyes, some hair strands and part of the face of a mother, full of tenderness and worry for her son. Mu Yi remained frozen.

Guo Jing’s moves had changed for the better but he was confronted with an adversary with renewed vigour. The young Prince sought to deliver mortal blows, hoping to injure his adversary seriously, in order to put a definite end to the combat. But Guo Jing had a thick skin and a good neigong basis so he was able to endure many blows. Moreover, the techniques of the prince lacked sophistication; his power was limited because of his youth and lack of experience. He tried on several occasions to grab Guo Jing with ten fingers forming claws, using the technique which had enabled him to injure Mu Yi, but the disciple of the Six Freaks defended himself using the technique ‘Disconnect the Muscles and Separate the Bones’. As the brawl reached its climax, one could again see Huang Rong and Hou Tonghai running after each other. This time, the latter had a long straw in his hair. Usually this is a sign indicating an item is on sale. A bit of straw on his head thus meant that the head was to be sold. It was obviously Huang Rong’s doing, of which Hou Tonghai was not yet aware because he was so occupied with the chase! The remaining two ‘Demons of the Yellow River’ had also disappeared, obviously disposed of in some way ...

Liang Ziwong and his companions racked their brains over the identity of Huang Rong. They watched Hou Tonghai running swiftly, but he never managed to catch up with the boy in rags. “Could this kid be a member of the Beggar Clan?” Peng Lianhu asked suddenly. The Beggar Clan was at this time the most powerful secret society in the realm of Jianghu (Rivers and Lakes region). Liang Ziwong twitched, but didn't answer.

The two young people attacked each other more swiftly and with increasing strength. Occasionally Guo Jing received a palm blow on his shoulder and sometimes the prince got a kick on his thigh. They fought body against body, raging and panting. Even an amateur could see that the fight was becoming increasingly dangerous; the least distraction could cause a fatal injury. Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziwong prepared their hidden projectiles covertly, in order to intervene when necessary. Although Guo Jing was a very obstinate person, his kung fu was not yet a match for the young prince. The two experts persuaded themselves that they would be able to take control of the situation in time to prevent a disaster.

Guo Jing's type of development was difficult to reproduce. Having grown up on the steppe, he had undergone all the rigors of life there and had experienced and was hardened by numerous battles. The Prince, on the other hand, had always lived in luxury; it was no wonder, that in this utterly brutal and merciless endurance battle, he began stumbling as he began to suffer from fatigue. Guo Jing suddenly uttered a great cry, seized his adversary by the collar, raised him high and violently threw him to the ground. It was neither the technique ‘Disconnect the Muscles and Separate the Bones’ nor qinna [the art of seize and control], but a unique Mongolian wrestling technique that Jebe, his archery teacher, had taught him.

The Prince reacted promptly by jumping up as soon as he touched the ground and seized Guo Jing’s legs so that they both fell. He got up quickly, tore a long lance from the hands of a soldier and thrust it towards Guo Jing's stomach. Guo Jing rolled to the side, while the other continued handling the long lance with dexterity. Guo Jing tried to grab the lance with the stance ‘To Seize the Blade’, but in vain!

“My son,” the Princess exclaimed, “do not injure him! Be satisfied with winning!” However, the Prince, who seemed really eager to pin Guo Jing down with the lance, turned a deaf ear.

Guo Jing, seeing the gleaming tip of the lance a few inches from his nose, parried with his arm, and something collapsed behind him. He seized Mu Yi’s brocade banner. Using the stance ‘Drawing Aside the Clouds to Peer at the Sun’, he used the pole like a long staff to counter the circling lance.

With both fighters armed now, Guo Jing employed the techniques of the ‘Exorcizing Staff’ taught by his First Shifu. In spite of the length of the pole, which obstructed him a little, he could deploy all subtleties of this art methodically developed by Ke Zhen' E to counter Mei Chaofeng. Each movement used variants, often unexpected, but always effective. Surprised by the ability of that weapon, the Prince was forced to defend. But his dexterity with the lance was still impressive.

As Mu Yi watched the Prince handling that weapon, he was astonished; all his stances corresponded with the spear style of the Yang family. This technique, which was only handed down from father to son, was rarely seen even in the South. He was really dumbfounded seeing it now in the capital of the Jin. In spite of his nimble movements, this version of the lance style did not seem completely orthodox; it appeared devoid of its essence as if it had been copied without the knowledge of its rightful owner. The watchers saw the crossing and swaying of the lance and the banner pole, scattering the snowflakes in all directions.

The Princess, seeing her son almost sweating blood, could not contain her anxiety any longer, “Stop!” she exclaimed. “Stop fighting both of you!”

Hearing these words, Peng Lianhu advanced with large steps into the arena and he struck the banner pole brutally. Guo Jing felt a sharp pain in his hands and released the pole, which flew away. The brocade banner spread in the wind and one could read, through the falling snowflakes, the golden letters: ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’. Very surprised, Guo Jing did not even have time to see the face or the silhouette of his adversary as he felt the coming blow. He leapt back, but was too slow; the palm of Peng Lianhu had already touched his arm and he lost balance and fell to the ground.

“Young Prince,” Peng Lianhu said, laughing, “I will get rid of this thoughtless young man, so that he can not intrude any longer ...” He raised his palm, inhaled deeply, and sent a brutal blow at Guo Jing’s head. Guo Jing, who was on the ground, knew that he did not stand a chance, but regardless, he raised his arms to parry the blow. ‘Supreme Virtue’ Lingzhi and the ‘Ginseng Immortal’ exchanged glances; the arms of the young man would be lost, the blow of the ‘Butcher of One Thousand Hands’ was violent and was obviously going to smash them.

At this critical moment, a shout came from the crowd, “Hold on!” A gray silhouette holding a strange weapon leapt forward and wrapped up the right wrist of Peng Lianhu. Peng Lianhu withdrew with force, cracking and breaking the weapon, then attacked with his left palm immediately. The man avoided the blow by lowering his head, while seizing Guo Jing by the waist and carrying him away. The spectators saw a middle-aged Taoist, dressed in gray, who had been holding a fly-whisk in his hand, of which only the handle remained. The torn-off strands of the fly-whisk were still around Peng Lianhu’s wrist. They looked at each other; although they had exchanged only one stance, they’d been able to fathom each others kung fu.

“You are undoubtedly the famed Master Peng?” the Taoist said. “It is a great honor to meet you here today.” “You are overly courteous. May I ask the name of Master Taoist?”

The Taoist, on which all eyes were fixed, did not answer. He stepped forward with his left foot and then withdrew it. One could see on the ground, covered with a very fine layer of snow, a ten inch deep hole! The simple pressure of his foot had dug such a deep hole, revealing extraordinary kung fu.

Peng Lianhu was startled and said, “Are you the ‘Immortal with the Iron Foot’, Jade Sun Wang?”

“Now Master Peng is over praising,” the Taoist answered. “I am indeed Wang Chuyi, but I am not worthy of the title ‘Immortal’.”

Peng Lianhu, Liang Ziwong and ‘Supreme Virtue’ Lingzhi knew very well that Wang Chuyi was an eminent member of the Quanzhen [Absolute Perfection] Sect; his fame was only slightly less than that of ‘Eternal Spring’, Qiu Chuji. They had only heard of, but never seen him. They examined him attentively. He was a man with fine features and a little goatee on his chin. He wore immaculate white socks, gray shoes, and seemed to take much care to his clothing. If he had not demonstrated his kung fu, nobody there would believe that he was indeed the ‘Immortal with the Iron Foot’, who, by keeping one foot on a cliff's edge and swaying like a "lotus leaf in the wind", had much impressed the brave men of Hebei and Shandong.

Wang Chuyi smiled and said, pointing at Guo Jing, “I don't know this young friend at all, but seeing him intervening with such bravery and courage, I was full of admiration. That is why I permit myself to beg Master Peng to let him live.”

“The request was made with such courtesy,” said Peng Lianhu, “and when an eminent Quanzhen master intervenes, who wouldn't grant him a request?”

“Very well,” Wang Chuyi answered, cupping his hands, “thank you     ”

After thanking Peng, he asked Guo Jing his name. Then Wang Chuyi turned and his expression changed; his face darkened and he asked the young Prince sternly, “What is your name? Who is your Shifu?”

The young Prince, after having heard the name of Wang Chuyi, felt ill and would have liked to disappear unnoticed. However, the Taoist had kept an eye on him, “My name is Wanyan Kang,” he answered, “I cannot reveal the name of my Shifu.”

“Your Shifu has a red mole on his left cheek, hasn't he?” Wanyan Kang wanted to divert the question with a witty remark, but the terrible glance of the Taoist frightened him; he suppressed what he intended to say, and nodded. “I suspected it,” Wang Chuyi said, “You are the disciple of Brother Qiu. What did your Shifu tell you before teaching you martial arts?”

Wanyan Kang understood the situation had become very untenable for him. He thought, “If Shifu hears of what has happened today, it will be a catastrophe!”

“If Master Taoist knows my Shifu,” he said in a servile manner, “you deserve my complete respect. Why don't you come to my modest residence, so that I can benefit from your advice?” Before Wang Chuyi could answer, the prince turned to Guo Jing and said while bowing, “After exchanging blows, a friendship may grow,” he said smiling. “I admire the kung fu of Brother Guo very much. I invite you both to come to my house in order for us to get to know each other better.”

“And what will happen about the marriage?” Guo Jing asked, pointing at Mu Yi and his daughter. Wanyan Kang seemed embarrassed. “This matter deserves further pondering ”

“My friend,” Mu Yi said, after approaching and drawing Guo Jing by his sleeve, “let us go, we don't need to occupy him any longer.”

Wanyan Kang bowed again to Wang Chuyi. “Master Taoist, I will await you at home; you only have to ask for the residence of Prince Zhao. The weather is very cold, all things are freezing. It is an ideal time to sit together by a fire and admire the snow. We shall drink to celebrate this meeting.” He climbed on the horse, whose bridle his servant held, and galloped off into the crowd without any concern about trampling somebody. This contemptuous behavior triggered Wang Chuyi’s anger, “My little friend,” he said to Guo Jing, “come with me.”

“I must wait for a very dear friend,” Guo Jing said. As he said these words, he saw Huang Rong jumping up in the middle of the crowd and shouting to him, “Don't worry about me, I'll find you in no time at all!” Huang Rong turned and his diminutive figure soon disappeared into the crowd. Hou Tonghai, the ‘Three Headed Dragon’, gave chase. Guo Jing turned and kowtowed in the snow, to thank Wang Chuyi for saving his life. The Taoist raised him and took his arm. Both found a path through the crowd and ran in the direction of the outskirts of the city.