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The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 8

Chapter 8 – Each One Demonstrating His Skill

Wang Chuyi went extremely quickly. In little time, they’d left the city. Some li further, they arrived at the foot of a hill. Eager to test the abilities of Guo Jing, the Taoist did not slow and ran more and more quickly.

At the time Ma Yu taught Guo Jing how to control his breathing; he had climbed and descended a high mountain cliff many times. Today, even after a heated battle, this race did not intimidate him. Running against the wind as heavy snow fell, Wang Chuyi sprang up a small hill with its slope covered with slippery snow. Near the top, the slope became increasingly steep, but Guo Jing’s progress made him wonder. He advanced without breathing hard, as if his pulse had not accelerated and as if the ground were flat. The Taoist, extremely surprised, released Guo Jing's arm, “Your kung fu foundation is rather well established! How is it possible that you were not able to beat him?" Guo Jing had no answer and could only remain silent. “Who is your Shifu?” Wang continued.

Guo Jing knew of the Taoist, since, at the top of cliff, he had received instructions to play the part of Yin Zhiping, to mislead Mei Chaofeng. He remembered that Wang Chuyi was one of the martial brothers of Ma Yu and he did not hesitate to tell the truth. He quickly told of how he had been taught by the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’ and also by Ma Yu.

“My senior brother gave you lessons!” Wang exclaimed, delighted. “He is formidable, so I see no reason why I should worry about you!” Guo Jing's eyes widened as he looked at him without understanding.

“This so-called Young Prince, Wanyan Kang,” Wang explained, “is the disciple of my martial brother Qiu Chuji. Did you know?”

“Ah,” Guo Jing was astonished. “I was unaware of it...” Indeed, Ma Yu had taught to him some basics for the control of internal energy, as well as the qinggong technique called ‘Flight of the Golden Eagle’, to enable him to climb the cliff. But he had not given him the least instruction in battle techniques or weapons skills. This is why Guo Jing did not know any Quanzhen kung fu. Hearing the remarks of Wang Chuyi, he remembered his battle with the young Taoist Yin Zhiping, whose movements seemed to come from the same style as those of Wanyan Kang. He believed that he had done wrong and bowed his head. “I did not know,” he said humbly, “that this Young Prince was a disciple of Master Qiu. I behaved out of order with him; please do not hold it against him...” Wang Chuyi burst out laughing. “Your righteousness and gentlemanly spirit appeal to me. How could I reproach you? The rules of our Sect are extremely strict. If a disciple is at fault, he will be punished accordingly and justice will be done. This young boy was impudent and arrogant; I will ask Brother Qiu to punish him severely.”

“If he agrees to marry the young lady, Mu,” Guo Jing pleaded, “please agree to forgive him...”

Wang Chuyi shook his head without answering. He could see that Guo Jing had a good heart and that he forgave readily; he looked on him with even more sympathy. “Brother Qiu has always hated evildoers, and especially the Jin,” he thought. “How did it come about that he agreed to take on a Jin prince as his disciple? Even more strange is that the knowledge he seems to have of our kung fu appears rather thorough. That would mean that Brother Qiu devoted much time and energy on him! However, in his kung fu, one senses the pernicious influences of unorthodox and perverse schools. I'm totally mystified!”

“Brother Qiu told me he was coming to Yanjing,” he said to Guo Jing. “He should arrive in the next few days. We will ask him for an explanation when we see him. I intended to mention that he took a disciple by the name of Yang, who must contest himself against you in Jiaxing. I do not know how powerful this boy is but don't be concerned, I will be there and I’m sure you will come out on top."

Guo Jing was obeying the order given by his six Masters, to go, at the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, to the prefecture of Jiaxing. But they had not explained to him for what reason. “Master Taoist,” he then asked, “why must I test myself against him?”

“If your teachers did not think it needful to explain it to you,” Wang answered, “it would be wrong for me to do it in their place.” He had learned, from Qiu Chuji, the origin and outcome of this business and he felt, for the generous sacrifice made by the Six Freaks, immense admiration. He’d had the same thoughts as Ma Yu and hoped for the victory of the Six. However, as his junior, he could not ask Qiu to back down. Today, encouraged by the personality of Guo Jing, he wondered how he could help him secretly, without damaging the reputation of his martial brother. Then he decided to go to Jiaxing, and to think, on the spot, of some way to aid him. “Let’s go back and visit Mu Yi,” the Taoist proposed. “His daughter seems to be rather stubborn and I fear this will cause him problems...”

They went to the Prosperity Inn, in the western part of the city. When they arrived at the door of the Inn, ten servants richly clad in brocade were waiting there. They came to them and greeted, “Our master humbly requests of the Master Taoist and Lord Guo, if they will agree to attend a banquet held at his modest residence." The red invitation card carried the respectful inscription "Your disciple Wanyan Kang invites".

“Well then,” Wang Chuyi said, shaking his head. “We will come presently.”

“These cakes and fruits,” declared the leader of the servants, “are modest gifts from the Young Prince. If the Master Taoist and Lord Guo indicate to me where to place them, I will put them there.” The servants presented twelve large boxes filled with various fresh fruits and fine cakes, all looking very appetizing.

“Brother Huang Rong likes finely made pastries,” Guo Jing thought, “I’ll keep some for him.” Because of his aversion to Wanyan Kang, Wang Chuyi intended to return the gifts. But, seeing that Guo Jing seemed to appreciate them, he ordered them to leave them at the counter. “Young people are covetous,” he thought with a smile. “It's normal...” They then went to Mu Yi’s room. He was stretched out on the bed, his face pale, his daughter in tears sitting by his bedside. Seeing Wang and Guo entering, they let out a gasp of surprise. The girl rose to her feet and the man tried to get up.

Wang Chuyi examined Mu Yi’s wounds. On each hand, the five wounds dug by the fingers of Wanyan Kang were open to the bone; as if they had been inflicted by a weapon. The hands were extremely swollen so they had been coated with alleviating balsam but, because of the fear of infection, no bandages had been applied. Wang Chuyi could not understand the nature of the wound, “Who taught Wanyan Kang such a cruel and brutal technique? Looking at the seriousness of those wounds, it seemed it would take a long time for someone to reach this level of power. How could Brother Qiu not realize this; or, if he had some idea about it, why didn't he do anything to stop him?” He turned to the girl, “Young lady, you are...?”

“I am called Mu Nianci (Nianci: ‘to remember the mother’),” she answered, casting a grateful glance towards Guo Jing before bowing her head. Guo Jing saw that the banner pole was at the foot of the bed, but the banner itself, with its inscription ‘Joust to find a Spouse’, had been torn to shreds.

“Don't you want to find a husband?” he wondered in surprise.

“Your father's injury is quite serious,” continued Wang. “It should be looked after properly.” Seeing the destitute manner in which they lived, he understood that the father and the girl had few means and would have probably found it very hard to find money for medicines. He took two silver yuan bao [small boat shaped silver ingots] from his pocket and placed them on the table. “I will return to see you tomorrow,” he promised. Without awaiting the thanks of Mu Yi and his daughter, he took Guo Jing by the arm and they left. At the door of the inn, the four brocade clothed servants advanced towards them and bowed, “Our young Master awaits your honored visit, please follow us.” Wang Chuyi agreed.

“Master,” Guo Jing said, “wait for me one moment.” He turned and ran to the counter of the inn, opened the boxes of delicacies given by Wanyan Kang, chose four cakes, carefully wrapped them in a handkerchief and put them in his pocket. Then he followed Wang Chuyi to the residence.

On the two sides of the large bright red door, flags were hung on high poles. Two jade lions, majestic and fierce, stood guard. A flight of white jade stairs led to the large hall. The effect was impressive. Above the large door, there was an inscription in gold letters: ‘Residence of Prince Zhao’. Guo Jing knew that ‘Prince Zhao’ is the title of the Sixth Prince of the Jin Empire, Wanyan Honglie. “So,” he said nervously to himself, “this Young Prince is the son of Wanyan Honglie. He knows me; it'll be dangerous if I come across him!" As he hesitated, there came the sound of drums and trumpets.

The Young Prince, wearing a gold crown, a red tunic, and a gold belt tied around his waist, descended the stairs to meet them. However, he had a black eye, and a swollen face, marks from the keen combat of a few hours earlier. Guo Jing was not much better off, having a swollen eye, swollen lips and a bruised face. Both were amused, and could not prevent themselves from smiling. Seeing Wanyan Kang’s luxurious garb, Wang's eyebrows came together and he followed him to a large room without saying a word. Wanyan Kang invited him to sit in the place of honor.

“It's a distinguished honor that Master Taoist and Brother Guo have agreed to come here!”

Since he did not kowtow to him and did not seem to recognize his membership in the Quanzhen Sect, Wang felt anger rise within him. “How many years were you taught martial arts by your Shifu?” he asked.

“I know nothing of martial arts,” Wanyan Kang answered, laughing. “My Shifu gave me lessons for several years, but what he taught me would make you laugh, because it was no more than a three-legged cat's skills.”

“The skills of the Quanzhen Sect are nothing exceptional,” Wang said, containing his anger, “but it is nonetheless better than a three- legged cat’s skill. Did you know your Shifu will arrive in a few days?”

“My Shifu is here,” retorted Wanyan Kang, still smiling. “Do you wish to see him, Master?” “Where is he?” exclaimed Wang Chuyi, amazed.

Without waiting for him to answer, Wanyan Kang struck his hands together, and ordered, “Serve the banquet!” Then he took his two guests towards the banquet hall. They crossed through several corridors and several decorated pavilions. Guo Jing, who had never seen such a luxurious residence, was overwhelmed. But he was especially worried about the coming confrontation with Wanyan Honglie because he didn’t know what he should do. “The great Khan wants me to assassinate the prince,” he thought, “but it turns out his son is the disciple of Taoist Elder Qiu! Should I kill the prince or not?” He could not decide, so uneasiness plagued him.

In the banquet hall, six or seven people already awaited them. One of them had three lumps on his face; it was Hou Tonghai, the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’. He looked at them with hands on his hips and an angry face. Guo Jing made a movement of retreat, then, reassured, he thought that the presence of the Taoist Elder at his side would dissuade Hou from undertaking anything. However, not being able to suppress a feeling of apprehension, he averted his head and avoided the glance of his adversary. Then, recalling the foolish behavior of Hou during the chase with Huang Rong, he laughed inside.

“Taoist Elder,” Wanyan Kang said with a charming expression on his face, “Here are several people who admire you and have wished, for a long time, to get acquainted. You have already met Chief Peng. This is the honorable Liang Ziwong, also called the ‘Ginseng Immortal’, who is from the Mountain of Eternal Whiteness.”

Liang Ziwong, an old man with a florid face and immaculate hair, greeted him by joining his hands. “What an honor to meet the Perfect Wang, the ‘Immortal with the Iron Foot’! I will now be able to claim that my voyage beyond the Pass has not been in vain. This is Supreme Virtue Ling Zhi, also known as Distinguished Big-hand, from the ‘Secret School’ of Tibet. I myself come from the northeast, he from the southwest; it had required a voyage of tens of thousands of Li so one could say that ours is a predestined encounter.”

Obviously, Liang Ziwong was a very glib talker. Wang Chuyi greeted Supreme Virtue Ling Zhi, and the lama [a Tibetan religious leader] answered by joining his hands. Suddenly, a raucous voice was heard. “Because they feel supported by the Absolute Perfection Sect [Quanzhen] maybe that is why the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan dare to be so conceited!”

Wang Chuyi turned his head and saw a completely bald man with a gleaming skull and bulging red eyes. That man reminded him of someone. “Is it possible that are you the venerable Sha, the Dragon King of the Demonic Group?”

“Precisely,” the man retorted with an angry voice. “So, you still remember my name!” “We have never met,” Wang thought, “in what affair could I have offended him?”

“I've long heard of your great reputation,” he answered in a conciliatory tone, “and I much admire you.”

This Dragon King of the Demonic Group was Sha Tongtian, and he was much abler than his martial brother Hou Tonghai. However, he possessed a quick temper and was constantly angry when teaching. That was why he had only been able to transmit a negligible part of his ability to his four disciples. It was also the reason why the ‘‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’’, when they fought against Guo Jing in Mongolia, were not able to win and lost face in front of Wanyan Honglie. Since then, Prince Zhao did not grant the four men any credibility. When he heard about that, Sha Tongtian fell into a terrible rage; he punished his unworthy disciples viciously and the four demons nearly turned into four ghosts. He ordered his brother-in-arms to capture Guo Jing, but Hou Tonghai turned into a teasing object for Huang Rong and underwent an even greater humiliation.

More and more annoyed, Sha Tongtian, no longer concerned about courtesy in front of others, sprang towards Guo Jing, his hands forming claws. Guo Jing retreated two steps. Wang Chuyi, with a protective move, put himself in front of Guo Jing. “Do you really want to protect this little rascal?” Sha exclaimed angrily. And he struck a palm in the direction of Wang. Wang, considering the brutality of the attack, was forced to defend himself. Their two palms clashed, and as they were about to channel their internal energy, a man suddenly appeared. With his hands, he pressed their wrists and separated them. Wang and Sha felt a shock sensation and withdrew their hands immediately. Being eminent personalities of the Jianghu realm both had anticipated the real abilities of their adversary and had already activated their internal energy. That someone was able to separate them so easily with such a move was unbelievable to them!

The man, dressed in white, wore a light fur coat and a broad belt. Aged about thirty-five or thirty-six years, he moved elegantly, had a distinguished appearance and an undeniable martial air. He seemed to be the scion of a noble family. “This is,” Wanyan Kang said laughing, “the Junior Chief of the White Camel Mountain from the Kunlun mountain range in the Western Territories. His name is Ouyang Ke. The Honorable Ouyang has never been in the Central Plains before. You all meet him for the first time.”

The sudden appearance of this man surprised not only Wang Chuyi and Guo Jing, but Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziwong as well, who also didn't know him. After seeing a demonstration of his ability, everyone secretly felt respect; but nobody had ever heard of the White Camel Mountain in the Western Territories.

“Brothers, I should have arrived in the capital several days ago,” Ouyang Ke said, greeting everyone. “But I ran into a small hitch along the way which caused a delay; that is why I have just arrived, please excuse me.”

After learning that he was the Junior Chief of the White Camel Mountain, Guo Jing knew that he was connected to those young women wearing white clothes who had tried to steal his horse on the road. He felt his heart tighten. “Have my six Shifus clashed with him?” he wondered. “Have they been injured?”

Wang Chuyi knew that all the men were of frightening ability. He had experienced the pressure of Ouyang Ke's hand and had displayed internal energy by no means inferior to his own, though it contained a strange viciousness.

If dialogue turned out to be impossible and it became a fight, he was not even sure of being able to beat Ouyang Ke. Should they attack en masse, how could they defend themselves? “And your Shifu,” he asked Wanyan Kang, “why don't you ask him to come in?”

“I will,” the young man agreed, turning to his servants. “Request Shifu to come and meet the visitors.”

Wang Chuyi felt reassured. “If Brother Qiu is here,” he mused, “though the enemy are dominant in numbers, we will be able to at least remain unscathed.”

Some time later, they heard the noise of boots. Through the large door a big old officer of forty years, with a thick beard and dressed in brocade entered with a martial air. Wanyan Kang advanced. “Shifu,” he said respectfully. “This Taoist Elder wishes to see you, and has already asked about you on several occasions.”

Wang felt an upwelling of anger. “Ah, wicked one,” he thought, “you dare to make fun of me? The way this officer moves, he can't have any remarkable skills; he is certainly not the one who taught this rascal his strange techniques.”

“Taoist,” the officer said, “what do you want from me? Normally I hate seeing monks or priests.”

Wang’s anger was so strong that he burst out laughing. “I would like,” he said, “to request alms from Your Excellency, a thousand silver taels.”

The officer was called Tang Zude, captain of Prince Zhao's personal guard. When Wanyan Kang was small, Tang Zude had given him some martial arts lessons; that's why everybody in the household called him ‘Shifu’. Hearing this outrageous request from Wang Chuyi, he was startled. “Rubbish!” he retorted.

“A thousand taels of silver,” Wanyan Kang said, “is nothing, nothing at all. Let someone quickly prepare a thousand silver taels and present it to the venerable Taoist.” Tang Zude remained baffled. He examined Wang Chuyi from tip to toe with his mouth agape, then upwards again, without managing to understand why anyone should show such benevolence.

“Everyone please take a seat,” Wanyan Kang invited. “Taoist Elder Wang, it's the first time you've come to us, the place of honor is reserved for you.”

Wang Chuyi refused modestly, but ended up settling in the place of honor. Three rounds of wine were served. “You are all eminent personalities of the Jianghu realm,” Wang declared then. “You all shall judge how we'll settle the affair of Mr. Mu and his daughter.” All eyes were fixed on Wanyan Kang, waiting to see his reaction.

Wanyan Kang poured wine and raised the wine cup. Respectfully presenting the cup before Wang, he said, “Senior [qianbei], do me the honor and accept this cup first. As for the affair in question, it will be dealt with according to Senior's instructions, your Junior [wanbei] dare not disobey.”

Wang was amazed to hear him giving in so easily. He took the cup and drank the wine in one go. “Very well,” he said. “Let us bring Mr. Mu here and let him speak.”

“Someone must bring him here,” Wanyan Kang said. “Could I charge Brother Guo with the task of bringing Mr. Mu here?” Wang Chuyi nodded.

Guo Jing immediately left the banquet to go to the Prosperity Inn. But Mu Yi’s room was empty; the father and the girl had left, taking all their belongings with them. When asked, the boy at the inn answered that someone had come seeking them, paid for the room and the meals, but he could not say who. Guo Jing hurriedly returned to the residence of Prince Zhao, where Wanyan Kang greeted him with a great smile. “Brother Guo, thank you for your efforts. Where is Mr. Mu?” Guo Jing told him that he had sought him in vain. “Ah, it is my fault,” Wanyan Kang sighed. Turning to one of his servants, he ordered, “Take several men with you and go quickly in all directions. We absolutely must find Mr. Mu!” The servant obeyed and left.

Without the main person of interest, it was impossible to continue. Wang Chuyi could say nothing, but his head was full of suspicions. “To go and seek Mr. Mu,” he said to himself, “one or two servants are enough. This rascal insisted that Guo Jing should go, obviously he wanted Guo Jing himself to discover the departure of Mu, and give testimony of it.”

“It doesn't matter that a mysterious thing happened,” he sneered, “in the end the truth will always triumph.”

“Taoist Elder, you have reason to believe that Mr. Mu did mysterious things?” Wanyan Kang answered laughing, “That is really odd!”

The officer Tang Zude, already furious to see how easily the Taoist had extorted a thousand silver taels, found it intolerable to see him also showing insolence to the Young Prince. He vented his anger, “Taoist, to which temple do you belong? What right do you have to swindle our Master?”

“Officer,” Wang Chuyi retorted. “To which country do you belong? What right do you have to occupy an official position here?” He had noticed that Tang Zude was Chinese, but occupied an officer’s rank in the Jin army. He was benefiting from the oppression of his compatriots, and it was for this reason he made fun of him. The thing that Tang Zude hated most was people mentioning that he is Chinese. He regarded himself to be highly skilled in martial arts, loyal and willing to risk his life for the Jin, yet they still do not allow him to lead an army. He had worked hard for twenty years but was kept in Prince Zhao’s residence for show. Wang Chuyi’s comments had hit his sore point and his face changed as he roared in anger. He stood up, opposite Liang Ziwong and Ouyang Ke and released a fist towards Wang Chuyi’s face.

The later glanced at the fist coming towards him, stretched out two fingers of his left hand to grab Tang Zude’s wrist, laughing, “Even if you are not willing to answer, there is no need to resort to violence is there?”

Tang Zude’s fist was stopped in mid-air and was unable to move. He was surprised but angry, and scolded, “Brilliant witchcraft, you used witchcraft!” He used his strength to release his fist but was unable to. He scowled, feeling very embarrassed.

Liang Ziwong, who was sitting beside him, laughed, “General, do not fret, come and sit down for a cup of wine.” And with that, he stretched out his fingers towards Tang Zude’s left shoulder.

Wang Chuyi was aware that although his two fingers could suppress Tang Zude’s fist, he knew they would be unable to stop Liang Ziwong’s move. He released Tang’s wrist and aimed a finger at Tang Zude’s right shoulder. With this quick change of moves, Liang Ziwong was unable to restrain himself and two fingers pressed both sides of Tang Zude’s shoulder at the same time. It is really an honor for Tang Zude to have two highly skilled fighters ambushing him at the same time. Both his hands uncontrollably punched forward. With the sounds of two crashes, his left hand punched into a plate of left-over fish and his right hand entered a bowl of hot and sour soup. The two dishes broke into small pieces. The fish bones and broken fragments of the dishes pierced Tang Zude’s hands, mixing flesh and blood with remains of the soup, causing him to yell in pain.

The crowd laughed loudly and quickly moved aside. Tang Zude, by this time very embarrassed and furious, dashed out of the hall. The servants, suppressing their laughter, moved forward to clean up the mess. Sha Tongtian marveled, “The Quanzhen Sect really lives up to its name! This Brother wants Taoist Wang to enlighten me on something.”

Wang Chuyi replied, “It’s nothing much, please ask, elder Sha.”

Sha Tongtian replied, “The Yellow River Clan and Quanzhen Sect have long been at peace; why does Taoist Wang make things difficult for this brother by going out of his way to support the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’? The Quanzhen Sect may have many disciples, but this brother is not afraid.”

Wang Chuyi replied, “I think there is some misunderstanding. I have heard of the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’ but I don’t know any of them. I have a martial brother who made a little bet with them. But I have never planned on helping the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’ against Yellow River Clan.”

Sha Tongtian exclaimed, “That’s good. Then please hand over this rascal to me.” As he spoke, he reached forward to grab Guo Jing’s throat.

Wang Chuyi knew that Guo Jing would be unable to avoid that grab and would get injured. He stretched out his arm to push Guo Jing’s shoulders gently. Guo Jing fell out of his chair uncontrollably and a “ke cha” sound was heard, as Sha Tongtian’s five fingers changed direction towards the floor and the back of his chair was broken. This ‘Claw Smashing Wood like Bean Curd’ is indeed one of the least seen but powerful moves in the Wulin world.

Sha Tongtian, who failed to grab Guo Jing, furiously asked, “So you are going to protect this rascal?”

Wang Chuyi replied, “I brought this child in, so I will naturally bring him out safely. Why does brother Sha not let him off today and find him on another day?”

Ouyang Ke spoke up, “This young chap offended brother Sha, let’s talk this out shall we?” Sha Tongtian thought, “This Taoist priest’s skills are definitely not below mine; my martial brother and I, together, may not be able to make that little rascal stay behind. This Ouyang Ke has good skills and I’m not sure of his background; if he joins up with that idiot, then there will be trouble.” He then spoke, “I have four useless disciples who followed Prince Zhao to Mongolia on a big mission. They were about to succeed when this rascal, whose surname is Guo, appeared and spoiled everything, making Prince Zhao extremely furious. Gentlemen, please think, if we cannot even overcome a little rascal, how can we accept the invitation to eat and drink in the residence of Prince Zhao?”

Although Sha Tongtian was very bad-tempered and rash, he was not stupid; with this speech, Guo Jing immediately became the centre of suspicion. With the exception of Wang Chuji and Guo Jing, everyone else here was invited by Prince Zhao. Wanyan Kang is Prince Zhao’s eldest son. After hearing what Sha Tongtian said, he too was a little displeased, so everyone present decided to capture Guo Jing and present him to Prince Zhao.

Wang Chuyi was anxious deep down and tried to think of a plan to escape, but there were so many strong opponents that it was quite impossible to do so. He’d actually thought that, since Wanyan Kang is his martial brother’s disciple and even though he is a Jin, he wouldn’t dare attack his teacher’s martial brother. However, he did not expect Wanyan Kang to be so arrogant and had even planned to trap them with the help of skilled experts. If he had known this would happen, he would not have come so rashly; but even had he known, he wouldn’t have brought Guo Jing along. If he wanted to leave, no one had any reason to stop him; but escaping with Guo Jing would be very difficult. He thought, “In this situation, it’s best to delay things.” Then he said, “Every single one of you is highly skilled and well-known; I have the utmost respect for each of you. To be able to meet you all today is my honor.” Pointing to Guo Jing, “This child is unaware of the serious trouble he has caused all of you by offending elder Sha. If you want him to stay, I am powerless to stop it, but even so, I cannot agree to it. Thus, I daringly request that each of you display your superior skills to Guo Jing so as to let him know that it is not that I don’t want to fight, it’s because I am unable to help him.”

Hou Tonghai had been suppressing his boredom all the while and immediately jumped out of his chair and pulled up his sleeve, “Let me be the first to taste your skills.”

Wang Chuyi replied, “My shallow skills are unworthy to exchange moves with those present. I hope that brother Hou’s superior skills will impress and teach this little rascal a lesson, and allow him to become aware of the existence of many skilled experts so that he won’t dare to be arrogant in the future.” Hou Tonghai had the feeling that there was sarcasm hidden in his words, but didn’t know what it was and was unsure how to answer.

Sha Tongtian thought, “It’s very tough to compete with Taoists from the Quanzhen Sect. It’s also good that I don’t have to do so.” Turning to Hou Tonghai, “Martial brother, why not display the ‘Burying One in the Snow’ skill for elder Wang.”

The snow outside had not stopped. Hou Tonghai rushed to the centre of the courtyard and swept both of his arms up, drawing the snow in until there was a huge pile in front of him. He used his legs to arrange the pile neatly, retreated three steps then flipped upside down and with a ‘pa’ sound, he thrust himself forward and landed in the middle of the snow pile. The snow was not up to his chest. Guo Jing rubbed his head in confusion when he saw this skill because Hou Tonghai’s head was in the snow pile, motionless.

Sha Tongtian turned to Wanyan Kang and the others and said, “Everyone, please kick all the remaining snow onto the pile which my brother Hou’s head is in.” The audience was curious and laughingly kicked the snow, making the pile even deeper. Sha Tongtian and Hou Tonghai frequently practiced in the Yellow River, thus their water skills are excellent. Those who practice water skills focus on controlling their breathing while under water and Hou Tonghai was able to bury his head in the snow without breathing and then use kung fu to fly out after a long while. The audience raised their cups of wine and praised this display of skill; after along while, Hou Tonghai finally use both his palms to sweep his head out of the snow and flipped back to a normal standing position. Guo Jing, being an inexperienced youth, was the first to applaud loudly. However, Hou Tonghai merely returned to his seat and drank a cup of wine, before staring at Guo Jing fiercely.

Guo Jing saw that there were the remains of snow on Hou Tonghai’s head and couldn’t control himself, he said, “Third master Hou; there’s snow on your head.” Hou Tonghai angrily retorted, “I am known as the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’, but I am not third in position, why call me third master? Even if I am fourth master Hou, is it any of your business? How would I not know if my head has snow on it? I wanted to wipe it away, but now that you mentioned it, I will purposely not do it!” The warm temperature in the room caused the snow on his head to melt and drops of water ran down Hou Tonghai’s head. But he is a stubborn man who keeps to his word, so no matter what, he did not even try to wipe the water off his face.

Sha Tongtian said. “My martial brother’s skills are rough and clumsy, please pardon him.” With that, he stretched his hand into a plate, grabbed some melon seeds, and shot the seeds out in a straight line with a flick of his middle finger. The seeds stuck into the snow pile which Hou Tonghai had earlier made and formed a ‘huang’ [yellow] character. The snow pile was quite a distance from Sha Tongtian’s seat and yet, he was still able to neatly form a word on it using the melon seeds. His eyesight and accuracy was indeed amazing.

Wang Chuyi thought, “No wonder the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ rules the Yellow River area, his skills are indeed spectacular.” Turning his head, he saw that the snow pile had received another wave of seeds, forming the ‘he’ [river] character and the ‘jiu’ [nine] character; it seemed Sha Tongtian wanted to form four words, reading ‘huang he jiu qu’ [Nine Songs of the Yellow River].

Peng Lianhu laughed, “Brother Sha, I cannot help but admire your remarkable finger skills. Let us make a deal; since elder Wang wants to study our skills, I will borrow Brother Sha’s finger skills to display some of my own.” With that, he threw his body forward and landed near the doorway. By this time, Brother Sha had already shot out the rest of the seeds to form the remaining ‘qu’ [song] character. Peng Lianhu suddenly stretched out both hands to catch the seeds; it looked as if he were picking the seeds from midair. The seeds were very tiny and traveled at amazing speed, but Peng Lianhu did not miss a single one and had them all in his hands. The audience broke into praise and Peng Lianhu retuned to his seat with a smile. Only then did Sha Tongtian manage to finish forming the ‘qu’ [song] character with the seeds. Peng Lianhu’s sudden display did steal away some of Sha Tongtian’s limelight, but the two were very close and Sha Tongtian did not seem displeased and even smiled a little. He turned to Ouyang Ke and asked, “What does master Ouyang plan on displaying to enlighten us inexperienced people?”

Ouyang Ke heard the sarcasm in Sha Tongtian’s words and knew that he was still sore at him for interrupting his hits earlier. He thought hard about what to display so as to make Sha Tongtian admire him. At that moment, the servants brought in four types of dessert and replaced the used chopsticks with clean ones. Ouyang Ke snatched up the used chopsticks and, with a wave of his hand, twenty chopsticks flew out at the same time, stuck into the snow and neatly formed four flower shapes. To throw a chopstick and stick it into the snow with a wave of the hand is child’s play, but to neatly form the shape of a flower using twenty chopsticks was more difficult. This skill was deep and complex, so much so that Guo Jing and Wanyan Kang were not able to comprehend it fully; but people such as Wang Chuyi and Sha Tongtian secretly praised him.

Considering the high number of experts, Wang Chuyi thought, “One of them would be quite a handful, yet there are so many gathered together here. Why? Even people like the young Chief of White Camel Mountain, ‘Supreme Virtue’ Ling Zhi and the ‘Ginseng Immortal’, who do not reside on the central plains are here. There must be a dangerous plan here!”

The ‘Ginseng Immortal’, Liang Ziwong laughed as he stood up and acknowledged the group. He reached the centre of the courtyard with light steps. He stretched out his right foot and lightly landed on the chopsticks, which Ouyang Ke had stuck into the snow. Then he started his display of skills , ‘Hugging the Moon’, ‘Two Gentlemen up the Hills’, ‘Pulling the Arrow’, ‘Turning Without Shoes’, and then displayed his ‘Sparrow Light Fists’. His feet looked like he was jumping one moment and flying at the next moment; every step he took would end by landing on a chopstick. After his ‘Giving Way to Step on a Tiger’ and ‘Retreating to Wrap it Up’, Liang Ziwong finished his display with his ‘Sparrow Light Fists’. The amazing thing was that the twenty chopsticks were still neatly in place. With a satisfied smile on his face, Liang Ziwong retreated back to his seat. The hall exploded into applause and even Guo Jing praised him. At this moment, the banquet ended and the servants brought golden bowls of warm water for the guests to wash up a little.

Wang Chuyi thought, “Now, Superior Virtue, Ling Zhi will display his skills before they all attack.” Wang Chuyi glanced his way only to see him still dipping his hands in the water slowly, disregarding everything else. After everyone finished washing, his hands were still in the bowl of water, as if thinking of something. Everyone was feeling a bit curious and after a while, steam began rising from his bowl. The bowl made a noise just before bubbles rose from the bottom of the bowl as if water was boiling. Wang Chuyi was secretly anxious, “His internal energy is powerful! I have to take a chance and attack first.”

Because all the attention was focused on Ling Zhi, Wang Chuyi thought, “I have to take them by surprise and make the first move to gain the upper hand.” Suddenly, he flew forward, with supreme speed, caught and pulled Wanyan Kang away with his right hand, before sealing his accupoints. Sha Tongtian and the rest were taken by surprise and did not know how to react.

Wang Chuyi picked up a bottle of wine with his left hand and said, “To be able to meet with so many heroes today is my honor, let me give a toast to everyone.” From the bottle he took a large mouthful, spat out and drops of wine landed in everyone’s cup. It didn’t matter whether the person’s cup was near or far away from him, or whether the cups were half-filled or empty, the wine kept landing accurately in the cups. Afterwards, every cup had the same proportion of wine, and there was not a single drop of wine spilled. From the way Wang Chuyi spat the wine, ‘Supreme Virtue’ Ling Zhi knew that he had excellent internal energy. Also he was able to hold the wine bottle in one hand while holding Wanyan Kang with the other. Although they knew that it was possible to attack Wang Chuyi at this moment, no one dared to for fear of Wanyan Kang getting hurt. Wang Chuyi poured wine for himself and Guo Jing, and then, raising his cup, said calmly, “I have no animosity towards anyone and have no strong ties with little brother Guo; but seeing that he is compassionate, heroic and has backbone, I want to plead with all present to let him go on my behalf.”

Everyone was silent. Wang Chuyi continued, “If everyone is magnanimous, I will free the little prince. A royal descendent in exchange for a commoner is a very good trade, right?”

Liang Ziwong laughed, “Since Taoist Wang is so forthright, it’s a deal.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Wang Chuyi released Wanyan Kang. Wang Chuyi knew that although these people were well-known for their evil, cold-blooded, unorthodox and underhanded ways, they would not dare to break their promise and attack in front of their fellow Wulin experts for fear of tarnishing their reputation.

Wang Chuyi took Guo Jing’s hand and said, “I bid you farewell and may we meet again”. The crowd, unable to stop them, watched their prey escape from the trap, sighed and looked crushed.

Wanyan Kang recovered and laughed, “Taoist Wang is superior, please feel free to visit anytime so that I can learn from the great elder.”

Wang Chuyi snorted, “I haven’t solved our problem; we will definitely meet again.”

As they walked towards the doorway, ‘Supreme Virtue’ Ling Zhi suddenly said, “The Taoist elder has brilliant skills of which I am in awe.” He joined his palms in the prayer position and bowed. Suddenly, he released both palms in the air and dashed forward with all his might.

Wang Chuyi also pushed out both his palms in defense, using internal energy to meet Ling Zhi’s blow. Just as the palms were about to meet, Ling Zhi suddenly switched from internal to external energy and used his left hand to grab Wang Chuyi’s wrist. Wang Chuyi reacted swiftly by grabbing his opponent’s wrist; both sides used their utmost force and both wrists met briefly before separating.

Ling Zhi’s face paled but he forced himself to say, “I really admire the Taoist skills.” Before retreating Wang Chuyi laughed, “The Abbot is famous throughout Wulin, but why do you not keep your word?”

‘Supreme Virtue’ Ling Zhi was furious and spat out, “I wanted to make you stay behind, not the Guo rascal….” He had received a blow from Wang Chuyi and was injured; had he quietly sat down to recuperate, it would not have become serious. But being mocked by Wang Chuyi had made him furious and he had not finished speaking when he vomited a mouthful of blood. Wang Chuyi did not dare stay any longer and took Guo Jing’s hand and quickly made his way out. Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu and the rest did not want to break their promise and, seeing that ‘Supreme Virtue’ Ling Zhi had suffered, they did not move forward to stop them.

Wang Chuyi had left quickly and was quite a distance from Prince Zhao’s residence before he turned back to check if there was anyone behind them. When he confirmed that there was no one, he quietly said to Guo Jing, “Carry me back to the inn.”

Hearing his weak voice, Guo Jing was shocked; he studied Wang Chuyi’s face and saw that it was pale and he looked very sick. It was a vast difference from the quick and swift Wang Chuyi of earlier on. Guo Jing quickly asked, “Taoist Wang, are you injured?”

Wang Chuyi nodded and could not balance himself properly. Guo Jing quickly lowered his back to carry Wang Chuyi and hurried to a large inn. He was about to enter when Wang Chuyi whispered, “Find…find the most isolated…. and smallest…. smallest inn.”

Guo Jing thought for awhile and then understood that Wang Chuyi was afraid that enemies may be looking for them. If they met rivals, with Wang Chuyi injured and him lowly skilled, they would definitely lose. With that thought, Guo Jing lowered his head and started running to look for another inn. Guo Jing was unfamiliar with the city and headed for roads with very few people on them; the further he went, the more deserted the road became. He felt Wang Chuyi’s breathing getting weaker and weaker before he found a very small inn. The inn was small and dirty, but fearing for Wang Chuyi’s safety, he immediately dashed in and laid Wang Chuyi down.

Wang Chuyi said, “Find me a big tub…of water…..fresh…clean water…hurry…hurry up.” Guo Jing asked, “Is there anything else?”

Wang Chuyi remained silent and just waved his hands to hurry Guo Jing. Guo Jing hurried out of the room and asked a waiter to help him prepare the water. He gave him some money for doing so and then rewarded the boy with some extra coins.

Since Guo Jing had come to the central plains, he’d learned the importance of bribing. The inn boy was overjoyed and quickly fetched a huge tub and filled it with clean water. Guo Jing went back to inform Wang Chuyi that the water was ready. Wang Chuyi responded, “Good…good child, now put me in the water…don’t allow…anyone to come in here.”

Guo Jing did not understand why Wang Chuyi wanted to do this but did as he was told. The clean water covered Wang Chuyi except for his head. Guo Jing instructed the inn boy to keep everyone out. Wang Chuyi sat quietly with his eyes closed and breathed deeply. After awhile, the water turned black and colour began to return to his cheeks. Wang Chuyi said to Guo Jing, “Help me out and change the water.”

Guo Jing changed the water and helped Wang Chuyi in again. It was some time before Guo Jing realized that Wang Chuyi was using his internal energy to force out the poison in him and allowing it to float in the water. Guo Jing changed the water four times before no more poison came out of Wang Chuyi and the water stayed clear.

Wang Chuyi finally smiled and said, “It’s okay now.” He climbed out of the water and sighed, “That lama’s skills are deadly.” Guo Jing was relieved and asked whether there was poison on the lama’s palms. Wang Chuyi replied, “Yes, I have seen the ‘Poison Sand Palms’ many times, but this is the strongest one yet. It almost cost me my life.”

Guo Jing replied, “Luckily you are alright now. What do you want to eat? I’ll ask the inn boy to buy something.” Wang Chuyi asked Guo Jing to borrow some ink and a brush before writing down a list of medicines.

Wang Chuyi explained, “ Although my life is not in danger now, my internal organs are not fully cleansed of the poison; if I do not cleanse the poison in twenty-four hours time, I may be crippled for life.”

Guo Jing took the medicine list and rushed out; he saw that there was a medicine shop nearby and quickly asked the owner for the medicine on the list. The owner checked his shelves, but returned empty-handed and said, “So sorry, you came at the wrong time, the medical herbs that you need are out of stock.”

Guo Jing did not wait for him to finish and dashed off to find another medicine shop. To his surprise, the second medicine shop he went to also didn’t have the things he wanted; it was the same result even after he went to eight other shops. Guo Jing was anxious and angry by then and ran to all the medicine shops in the city, only to get the same answer. They’d had a huge stock of the herbs he wanted but they’d been bought by someone earlier. It was then that Guo Jing realized that the people at the Zhao residence must have guessed that Wang Chuyi needed the medicine for his injury and purposely bought up all the medical herbs.

Dejected, Guo Jing returned to the inn and told Wang Chuyi what had happened. The latter responded with a sigh and also looked dejected. Guo Jing was so miserable that he leaned on top of a table and cried. Wang Chuyi laughed, “Everyone has to die sooner or later; when is up to heaven, and we have no say. Besides, I may not die, so why all this crying?” Then he started singing.

Guo Jing dried his tears and felt better. Wang Chuyi laughed and sat upright on the bed and began using inner strength to recuperate.

Guo Jing did not dare to make any noise and crept out of the room, he suddenly thought, “If I rush to another nearby city, they may not have finished buying up the medicine.” Happily, he was about to set off when he saw the inn boy running towards him with a letter, on the top of the envelope it said, ‘ Please read it yourself, big brother Guo.’

Guo Jing felt curious and wondered who would write to him. He hurriedly tore open the letter and shook open a white piece of paper on which was written, ‘I have something urgent to tell you, will be waiting for you at the small lake by the river which is ten meters west of the city.” At the bottom of the letter was a vivid drawing of a little beggar who was laughing, it was Huang Rong.

Guo Jing thought to himself, “How does he know that I am here?” and turned to the inn boy, “Who sent this letter?” The inn boy replied, “It was brought here by a wandering commoner.”

Guo Jing returned to his room and saw Wang Chuyi stretching his limbs. He said, “Taoist Elder Wang, I’m going to the nearby cities to buy the medicine.”

Wang Chuyi answered, “If we thought of this, they will too, there’s no need to go.”

Guo Jing would not give up and was determined to try, he thought, “Brother Huang is so intelligent, I will discuss this with him first.” He told Wang Chuyi, “My good friend wants to meet me, I will return afterwards.” With that, he showed the letter to Wang Chuyi; the latter thought awhile and asked Guo Jing how he knew this fellow.

Guo Jing related the story to Wang Chuyi and the latter thought, “I saw how that fellow tricked Hou Tonghai; his skills are very weird and unusual…..” He turned to Guo Jing and said, “You must be careful, this kid’s skills are much higher than yours and seem unorthodox. I have not been able to guess his origins.”

Guo Jing replied, “He is my newest best friend; he will not harm me.”

Wang Chuyi sighed, “You have not known him for long; how can you be sure if he is truly your best friend? He may be small in size, but if he wants to trick you, you won’t be able to defend yourself.”

Guo Jing was not the least suspicious of Huang Rong and thought to himself, “Taoist Wang says this because he doesn’t know brother Huang’s character.” And with that, began singing the praises of Huang Rong non-stop.

Wang Chuyi laughed and said, “Alright, go then, young people must meet some danger in order to gain experience. This person….considering his build and voice….he is not a…..can’t you tell?”

Wang Chuyi stopped here and just shook his head. Guo Jing placed the list of medicines in his pocket and ran out. When he reached the outer city, he could see snow, but it was in isolated patches. He walked ten meters west and saw some reflections of water; it was indeed a small lake by the river. The weather was not that cold, so the lake was not frozen; flower petals covered with snow floated on the water and beside the lake were rows and rows of plum trees. The plum flowers looked magnificent with the snow.

Guo Jing could not see anyone and for an anxious moment, he thought, “What if he waited for me too long and then left?” and began to shout, “Brother Huang, brother Huang.”

Guo Jing suddenly heard a sound and turned around sharply, only to realize that it was made by river birds. Guo Jing was very disappointed, and called out two more times, before thinking, “Maybe he hasn’t reached here yet, I’ll wait for him.” Sitting down by the lake, Guo Jing thought about Huang Rong, and then he thought about Wang Chuyi’s injuries and was in no mood to enjoy the scenery. Besides, since he grew up in Mongolia he was used to seeing snow and he did not bother to look out for the differences in landscape between Mongolia and the central plains. He waited for a long while and suddenly heard some noises among the trees.

Feeling curious, he walked in that direction and heard a rough voice say, “Why still act like a big brother when all of us, including you, wasted time just now?” Another voice answered, “Damn it! If it were not for you being such a coward we would have won had the four of us ganged up on that one.” Another answered, “What’s the big deal? Even you tripped while running away.” It sounded like the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’.

Guo Jing summoned up his courage and stepped into the cluster of trees, only to see no one. He suddenly heard a voice, “If we had fought directly, how could we lose? But who would have thought that the little beggar had so many tricks up his sleeves…”

Guo Jing looked up and saw four men dangling in mid air from a tree, swinging to and fro, yet squabbling non-stop; it was indeed the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’. His heart jumped for joy, since he knew that Huang Rong was nearby, and let out a laugh before asking, “Hey, are you guys practicing your lightness skills again?”

Qian Qingjian retorted angrily, “Who says that we are practicing our lightness skills? Haven’t you got the eyes to see that we were hung up here?”

Guo Jing laughed loudly and Qian Qingjian angrily tried to use his leg to kick Guo Jing; but how could he when the distance between them was so large?

Ma Qingxiong scolded, “Rascal, if you don’t go away, I will pee on you!”

Guo Jing laughed until he could hardly stand up and said, “I’ll just move aside, then your pee can’t reach me.” Suddenly came the sound of gentle laughter and Guo Jing turned around, only to hear the splashing of water and saw a leaf floating down from a tree. Then, he saw a girl at the back of a boat, rowing gently. She had long hair below her shoulders, was dressed in white from head to toe and had some golden pins in her hair which shone like fire. Guo Jing thought the girl’s dress looked like a fairy’s and was dumbstruck. The boat slowly came nearer and he saw that the girl was barely fifteen or sixteen years of age. She had very smooth skin that was as white as snow, with beautiful color on her cheeks and had a beauty which was incomparable. Guo Jing was dumbstruck by her beauty and retreated a few steps before turning away, not daring to look at her.

The young girl tied the boat to the bank and called out, “Brother Jing, come on board!” Guo Jing was astonished, and turned around, only to see the girl smiling sweetly and her robe floating gently in the wind. Guo Jing felt like he was in a dream and used both hands to rub his eyes.

The young girl giggled and said, “You don’t recognize me?”

Guo Jing thought that she sounded like Huang Rong, but how can a dirty and lowly male beggar suddenly transform into a beautiful fairy? He couldn’t believe his eyes.

He heard the voices of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ behind him shouting, “Little miss, cut the ropes that are hanging us up and let us down! If you help us, I’ll give you a hundred taels of gold! Each one of us will give you a hundred taels; you’ll get four hundred taels all together. We can even give you eight hundred taels!”

The young girl ignored them and smiled at Guo Jing, “I am your brother Huang, don’t you care about me anymore?”

Guo Jing studied her face and saw that her features were exactly the same as Huang Rong’s and stuttered, “ You………you ”

he only managed to say the word, ‘you’ before stopping.

Huang gave a little laugh and said, “That I am actually a girl, who asked you to call me brother Huang? Hurry, come onto the boat.” Guo Jing felt like he was dreaming, moved forward a little, and stumbled onto the boat. On the other hand, the ‘Four Demons’ kept making much noise in the background as they raised the amount of their reward.

Huang Rong rowed the boat to the middle of the lake, brought out some food and wine and giggled, “And don’t you call me sister Huang, call me Rong’er. My dad always calls me that.”

Guo Jing suddenly remembered something and said, “I brought some cakes for you.” He took out the cakes that Wanyan Kang had given him and Wang earlier on. But because he had carried Wang Chuyi, taken care of him and ran around trying to find medicines, the cakes were smashed into little pieces.

Huang Rong saw the mess and laughed softly. Guo Jing reddened and said, “They can’t be eaten now” and was about to throw them into the water when Huang Rong stretched out her hand and took the cakes from him saying, “I’d like to eat them.” Guo Jing was surprised but she had already placed a small piece into her mouth and started eating. After watching her eat a few mouthfuls, his eyes grew red and tears started slowly forming, he didn’t understand her actions.

Huang Rong said, “My mother died after I was born and no one has ever remembered my likes and habits so well before         ” Then a

few tears flowed from her eyes. She took out a clean handkerchief and Guo Jing thought that she was going to dry her eyes; but instead, she used it to wrap the smashed cakes and placed it in her pocket, before turning back to him with a smile, “I’ll eat them slowly.”

Guo Jing did not know much about romantic relationships, but he felt that ‘brother Huang’s’ actions were very special and unique. He asked her, “You said you had something important to tell me; what is it?”

Huang Rong giggled, “I wanted to tell you that I’m not brother Huang but Rong’er, isn’t that important?” Guo Jing smiled and said, “You are so pretty, why disguise yourself as a little beggar?”

Huang Rong turned her head slightly and said, “You say I’m pretty?”

Guo Jing replied, “Yes, very beautiful, like the fairy on top of our snow mountain.” Huang Rong laughed and said, “You’ve seen a fairy?”

Guo Jing said, “Of course not, if I’d seen one, how can I still live?” Huang Rong asked, “Why?”

Guo Jing replied, “The elders in Mongolia always say that whoever sees a fairy will never want to return to the grasslands again; he will just stay in a daze and freeze to death after a few days.”

Huang Rong laughed and asked, “And do you feel dazed after seeing me?”

Guo Jing reddened and quickly answered, “We are good friends, so it’s different.”

Huang Rong nodded and said seriously, “I know you sincerely care for me, regardless of whether I’m a girl or a boy, pretty or ugly. If I dress like this, it’s not surprising that people are good to me; but you were nice to me even when I dressed like a little beggar, so you are truly good to me.” At this point, Huang Rong was in high spirits and smiled, “I’ll sing a tune for you, alright?” Guo Jing replied, “Can you sing tomorrow instead, we have to get medicine for Taoist Wang first.” With that, he related the story of how Wang Chuyi got injured and how all the medicines were bought up by Wanyan Kang.

Huang Rong replied, “Ah, no wonder you were running anxiously from one medicine shop to another.” Guo Jing thought, “She was following me and that’s how she knew where I stayed.”

He said, “Brother Huang, may I ride your little red horse to buy the medicines?"

Huang Rong said seriously, "Firstly, I am not your brother Huang. Secondly, the horse is yours; do you think that I would actually take it? I just wanted to test you. Thirdly, you may not be able to get the medicine even if you travel to the nearby cities.”

Hearing what she said, Guo Jing felt anxious. Huang Rong smiled a little and said, “I am going to sing now, listen well.” Huang Rong gently turned her head, leaned to the edge of the boat, and then started singing in a crystal clear voice:

“The wild geese penetrated the cold frost curtain. Tender ice covered the pale moon of the first month. The creek flowed like a comb on the bride’s hair.

Wishing to keep the fragrance of the face powder, looking at the adornment makes one difficult to study.

The weak muscle delicate as jade, covered by layer upon layer of dragon-lining silk. With an easterly wind, one captivating smile,

tens of thousands flowers bashfully hope to be left behind.”

[Ignoring my own inadequacy, I tried to translate this part just for completeness sake – Frans Soetomo, after the chapter has been edited by the team of editors]

Guo Jing listened carefully to each and every word. Although he didn’t know the meaning, Huang Rong’s voice was gentle and sweet such that he felt like he was in a daze. The beautiful scenery gave him a feeling of warmth that he had never felt before.

Huang Rong finished singing and said in a low voice, “This is a song composed by the official Xing, which describes the plum flowers which bloom after winter; was it good?”

Guo Jing replied, “I don’t know about these things, but the song sounded very nice. Who is official Xing?”

Huang Rong answered, “Official Xing is Xing Qiji. My father says that he is a good official who loves his people. When the Jin captured the north and villains harmed mister Yue, official Xing was the only one left struggling to restore our lost lands.”

Although Guo Jing often listened to his mother talk about how violent the Jin were, and how they mercilessly killed many Chinese, he had grown up in Mongolia and did not feel that strongly about the Jin. Guo Jing replied, “I have never been in the central plains before, you’ll have to tell me the stories slowly another time, the most important thing now is to save Taoist Wang.”

Huang Rong said, “Listen to me, we’ll play just a little while longer so don’t worry.”

Guo Jing replied, “Taoist Wang said that if he doesn’t take the medicine in twenty-four hours time, he will be crippled!” Huang Rong retorted, “So let him be crippled; anyway, it’s not you or me who will be crippled.”

Guo Jing let out an “Ah” sound and jumped up saying, “This…..this……” his face became furious. Huang Rong giggled, “Don’t worry; I’ll make sure that you get the medicine.”

Guo Jing heard the confidence in her voice and thought, “She is much smarter than me, and besides, I don’t have any brilliant ideas so maybe I should listen to her.” He had no choice but to follow her wishes for the time being. They both clapped with laughter when she told of how she tricked the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ and how she teased Hou Tonghai. The combined colors of the white snow, the water in the lake and the plum flowers was beautiful; Huang Rong slowly stretched out her hand and put it into Guo Jing’s and whispered, “I’m not afraid of anything now.”

Guo Jing asked, “Why?”

Huang Rong replied, “Even if my father doesn’t want me anymore, you will want me to follow you right?” Guo Jing answered, “Of course. Rong’er, I…I…like…like being with you.”

Huang Rong leaned gently on his chest and Guo Jing smelled a sweet scent surrounding his whole body, surrounding the lake, surrounding the whole world; he didn’t know whether it was the plum flower scent or if it came from Huang Rong. The two just held hands silently. After a very, very long while, Huang Rong sighed and said, “It’s so nice here, such a pity that we have to go.”

Guo Jing asked, “Why?”

Huang Rong said, “Don’t you want to get the medicine to save Taoist Wang?” Guo Jing rejoiced, “Ah, where do we go then?”

Huang Rong asked, “Where have all the medicines in the shops gone to?”

Guo Jing answered, “The medicines have been bought up by people in Prince Zhao’s residence.” Huang Rong said, “Yup, that’s right, so we’ll go to his residence and take it.”

Guo Jing was shocked, “To Prince Zhao’s residence?” Huang Rong replied, “That’s right!”

Guo Jing said, “We can’t go there, we’ll only lose our lives.”

Huang Rong said, “Then you can bear to see Taoist Wang crippled? Or if his injuries take a turn for the worse, do you want to see him dead?”

Blood rushed up to his face and Guo Jing replied, “Alright, but you can’t go.” Huang Rong asked, “Why?”

Guo Jing answered, “Just promise me that you won’t go.” But he couldn’t find a reason.

Huang Rong lowered her voice and said, “I won’t be able to stand it if you continue to worry for me. If you meet with any danger, how do you expect me to live alone?”

Guo Jing’s heart gave a leap and gratitude, happiness, and love dashed into his mind; he suddenly felt a hundred times braver and wasn’t the least afraid of people like Sha Tongtian and Peng Lianhu. It was as if nothing was impossible in the world. He said, “Alright, we will both go to get the medicine.”

They rowed the boat to the bank and started towards the city. Halfway there, Guo Jing suddenly remembered that the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ were still stuck in midair and said, “Hey, do you want to release those four people?”

Huang Rong giggled, “Those four fellows call themselves ‘Iron Strong Heroes’ so they are very powerful; they won’t freeze or starve. Even if they do starve to death, ‘Four Demons of the Plum Forest’ is superior to the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’.”