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The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 9

Chapter 9 – Iron Spear, Broken Plow

Guo Jing and Huang Rong went to the back of Prince Zhao's palace and leaped over the wall into the courtyard. Huang Rong whispered to Guo Jing in a soft voice, “Your lightness kung fu is excellent!” Guo Jing, crouching by the foot of the wall watching out for any movement in the courtyard, felt ecstatic hearing such praise from her.

After a moment they heard footsteps approaching; two men were laughing and talking as they walked towards them. One man was saying “What do you think the young prince has in mind for the young lady?”

The other man laughed and said, “It's obvious isn't it? Although she is a pretty woman, after giving birth who would give her another glance?”

The first man retorted, “With your dirty mind, you had better be careful that the young prince doesn't cut your head off. Although this girl is pretty, she cannot compare with the princess.”

The second man exclaimed, “She’s peasant girl! How can you mention her and the princess in the same breath?”

The first man replied, “The princess, you said she...” He suddenly stopped, coughed twice and changed the subject saying, “The young prince really suffered a loss at the hands of that big fellow today, you’d better be careful not to give him any cause for taking offence or you’ll surely get a beating!”

The second man said, “If the young prince tries to beat me, I'll simply dodge - and return with a kick...” The first man laughed, “Stop talking bull shit.” Guo Jing thought to himself "So Wanyan Kang already has a pretty sweetheart, no wonder he cannot marry the Mu girl. But if this is true, then he shouldn't have taken up the challenge in the first place let alone grab her shoe. Why would he concern himself with other people's affairs? Is it possible that a person, unwilling to agree to something, would use force to coerce them?”

At this point the two men had walked very close to Guo Jing and Huang Rong. One was carrying a lamp and the other a basket of food. They were servants wearing green clothes and caps. The man with the basket laughed and said “Speaking of other people, I fear that someone has become very hungry, we had better deliver these vegetables quickly!”

The other man replied “How can he win a young girl’s heart if he doesn't gain her sympathy?” Both men laughed as they walked away into the night.

Huang Rong became very curious. She whispered to Guo Jing “Let's go and see what type of pretty girl they’re talking about.” Guo Jing asked “What about getting the medicine, isn't that more urgent?”

“I want to see the girl first!” Huang Rong said stubbornly as she started off after the two servants.

Guo Jing thought “What's so interesting about seeing some girl? That’s really strange.” What he didn't know was that when a woman hears about another beautiful woman, she will never be satisfied until she has seen her with her own eyes. If the women that hears about this other woman is herself especially beautiful, then the greater is the desire to see that other woman so she can compare herself with her! Guo Jing, however, did know enough about girls to know that they can be extremely difficult at times so he had no alternative but to follow.

The Zhao residence was huge. Guo Jing and Huang Rong followed the two servants for quite some time before arriving in front of a big building. At the entrance a few guards stood with weapons in hand. Guo Jing and Huang Rong hid behind a corner and heard the two servants whispering something to the guards before the guards opened the door and allowed them in. Huang Rong picked up a stone and threw it at the torches to put them out, before pulling Guo Jing along to follow the servants inside. Huang Rong was so swift that she and Guo Jing overtook the servants and were in front of them in a flash. The servants and guards didn’t notice that they’d slipped in and cursed and joked while re-lighting the torches. The servants entered a large room, opened a small door in the corner, and walked in. Guo Jing and Huang Rong silently followed them and saw rows of iron bars forming a large prison cell. Behind the bars sat a woman and a man.

One of the servants lit a candle and placed it on a prison table. In the candlelight, Guo Jing saw the man’s anxious and angry face; it was none other than Mu Yi. The young girl sitting beside him was his daughter, Mu Nianci. Guo Jing was suspicious and thought, “How did they end up here? Ah, Wanyan Kang captured them. What does he intend to do with them? Does he love this lady or not?” The two servants took out some wine and dishes from their basket and pushed them into the cell.

Mu Yi picked up a plate of snacks and threw it out before yelling, “I have already fallen into your trap, so kill me if you want to. Why pretend to be nice?”

Amidst the commotion, the guard outside suddenly said, “Greetings, young Prince!”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong exchanged glances and hurriedly hid behind the door and saw Wanyan Kang rushing in and scolding, “Who made Hero Mu angry? Let’s find out whether or not I will break your legs when I leave.”

The two servants were frightened and dropped to their knees, “We dare not.” Wanyan Kang answered, “Hurry up and get out of here!”

The two servants replied, “Yes, yes.” and turned to leave; but when they reached the door, they stuck their tongues out at each other and made funny faces as they left.

Wanyan Kang waited until they closed the door before saying gently, “I invited Hero Mu and Miss here for a different reason. Please don’t be offended.”

Mu Yi was furious, “You lock us up like prisoners and you dare use the word ‘invite’?” Wanyan Kang said, “I’m so sorry. Please bear with it for the time being. I really am sorry.”

Mu Yi retorted angrily, “You can use this kind of talk to fool a three year old, but I’ve seen enough vicious officials to know better.”

Wanyan Kang tried to speak several times but was shut up by the angry Mu Yi. Yet, he still remained good natured and laughed good humoredly without a hint of anger. Mu Nianci listened to the argument and whispered to her father, “Father, let’s hear what he has to say.” Mu Yi grunted before becoming silent.

Wanyan Kang said, “Your daughter has rare talents and beauty. I’m not blind so how can I possibly not like her?” Mu Nianci blushed deeply and lowered her head. Wanyan Kang continued, “However, I am the heir of Prince Zhao and my family rules are very strict. If people find out that I married a commoner, my father will be furious and face a lot of trouble.”

Mu Yi replied, “Then what do you plan to do?”

Wanyan Kang replied, “I was thinking of letting Hero Mu and Miss stay here for a few days to recover from any injuries, before going back home. After a year and a half, when the situation is better, I will come to you and ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage, or Hero Mu may send Miss to me so as to complete the marriage. Isn’t that a perfect solution?”

Mu Yi remained silent, as though he was thinking about some other thing. Wanyan Kang continued, “My father has gotten into trouble because of me. The emperor even reprimanded him three months ago. If my father learns about this now, he will never agree to the marriage. I hope that Hero Mu keeps this a close secret.”

Mu Yi became furious, “If I listen to what you say, then my daughter will suffer because everything has to be kept under wraps.”

Wanyan Kang replied, “I have everything planned. I will get some grand officials to ask for her hand in marriage; it will be a grand and joyous affair.”

Mu Yi’s faced suddenly paled and he said, “Please ask your mother to see me so that I can discuss the matter with her.” Wanyan Kang smiled and said, “How can my mother meet you?”

Mu Yi yelled, “If I don’t get to meet your mother, I won’t give in to you no matter what you come up with.” With that, he picked up the jar of wine and threw it.

By the time Mu Nianci finished fighting with Wanyan Kang, she’d already fallen for him and was delighted when she heard his plan. But her father’s sudden outburst changed everything and she didn’t know whether she was surprised or dejected. Wanyan Kang moved quickly, caught the wine jar in time, and put it back on the table. He laughed and said, “I’m leaving.” before turning to go.

After hearing Wanyan Kang’s words, Guo Jing felt that the Prince was reasonable and had a very good plan; but who would expect Mu Yi to lose his temper. He thought, “I’ll try to convince him.” He was about to go to him when Huang Rong pulled his sleeve and took him out of the building.

They heard Wanyan Kang ask a servant, “Have you brought it?” The servant nodded and raised his hand to reveal a rabbit. Wanyan Kang took the rabbit from him and broke it’s hind legs, before placing it in his pocket and hurrying off. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were curious and followed behind him. After a while, they saw a small three-roomed hut. It was a normal looking hut like any commoner’s, but looked out of place amongst the grand surroundings of the Zhao residence. Now they were very curious. Wanyan Kang opened the door and entered the hut. They silently moved to the back of the house and peered through a window. They were sure that there was something secret about the hut, which Wanyan Kang kept to himself. Then they heard something they did not expect when he called out, “Mother!”

A woman’s voice answered him and Wanyan Kang walked into the room. Huang Rong and Guo Jing saw a middle-aged woman sitting beside a table, gazing blankly into space. The woman looked no more than forty, had very delicate features with little powder on her face and wore very common robes. Huang Rong thought, “This princess is indeed prettier than Miss Mu, but why does she dress so shabbily and live in a hut like this? Has she fallen out of Prince Zhao’s favor?”

Guo Jing thought the same thing at first but later regarded it as nothing special. He mused, “She must be like Rong’er. She purposely dresses like a peasant just for fun.”

Wanyan Kang walked to her side took her arm and said, “Mother, are you ill again?” The woman sighed, “I was worrying about you.”

Wanyan Kang leaned on her and giggled, “But your son is standing healthy in front of you.”

The woman replied, “With swollen eyes and a broken nose? You call that healthy? You are getting more and more disobedient. It’s alright if your father knows, but if your teacher learns about it, you’ll be in hot soup.”

Wanyan Kang giggled again, “Mother, do you know who the Taoist priest is that came today?” The woman asked, “Who?”

Wanyan Kang replied, “He is my teacher’s martial brother and is my elder. I purposely pretended to be ignorant of that fact and called him Taoist this, Taoist that. He scowled and was furious but couldn’t do anything.” With that, he started laughing.

The woman was alarmed and said, “Oh no! I’ve seen your teacher flare up before and he can kill people. It’s really a frightening thought.”

Wanyan Kang was curious and asked, “You’ve seen teacher kill before? When? Why did he kill people?”

The woman lifted her head and gazed at the lamp, as if she was somewhere far away and said gently, “That was a long time ago. Ah, I cannot remember anymore!”

Wanyan Kang did not probe further; instead he grinned smugly and said, “That Taoist Wang came to ask me how was I going to deal with the marriage and I told him that if he brought Miss Mu to me, I would listen to whatever he said.”

The woman asked, “Have you asked your father’s permission? Has he agreed?” Wanyan Kang smiled, “Mother, you are too honest. I asked my men to trick them into coming here and locked them up in the back cell earlier. How can Taoist Wang find them now?” Wanyan Kang was going through the events in an excited manner while Guo Jing fumed outside.

Guo Jing thought, “To think that I actually thought that he had good intentions! Luckily Hero Mu was wise enough not to fall into his trap.”

The woman answered exasperatedly, “How can you make fun of this man and his daughter and lock them up? Hurry up and release them now. Remember to apologize and give them some money.”

Guo Jing nodded his head and thought, “That’s more like it.”

Wanyan Kang said, “Mother, you don’t understand! These people don’t care about money. If I release them and they go round telling people what happened, father will hear about it.”

The woman became anxious, “Do you plan to lock them up forever?”

Wanyan Kang smiled, “I tried to sweet talk them into going back to their village and stupidly wait for me forever.” With that, he burst out laughing.

Guo Jing was shaking with fury by this time; he raised a palm towards the window frame and was about to yell when he felt a soft and smooth hand cover his mouth and grab his left wrist. A gentle voice whispered into his ear, “Calm down.” Guo Jing recovered and turned towards Huang Rong with a faint smile before looking back into the room again.

Wanyan Kang continued, “That Mu fellow is really cunning; he didn’t take the bait. Let’s see how long he can last if I keep him locked up for a couple of days longer.”

His mother replied, “I’ve seen Miss Mu and I find her beautiful and talented. She is quite likeable. Why don’t I talk to your father and ask him to let you marry her; then everything will be solved.”

Wanyan Kang laughed, “Mother, for the last time, we are royalty. How can I marry a commoner? Father always tells me that he will arrange a respectable match for me. But it’s a pity that we are Wanyans.”

The woman asked, “Why?”

Wanyan Kang replied, “If not, I could marry the princess and become the crown prince.”

The woman sighed and said in a low voice, “How can you look down on poor commoners…do you really think that…”

Wanyan Kang laughed, “Mother, I have a joke for you. That Mu fellow says that he will only believe me if he meets with and discusses it with you.”

The woman responded, “I won’t help you to lie and do such despicable things.”

Wanyan Kang giggled and walked around in circles. He said, “Even if you were willing to do so, I will not allow it. You don’t know how to lie and will be exposed on the spot.”

Huang Rong and Guo Jing studied the room, which was furnished with normal wooden furniture and normal farming tools. On the wall hung a moldy sphere, a broken plough and an old wooden cart was placed in the corner of the room. Both of them thought, “This woman is a princess. Why is her house so plainly furnished?”

Wanyan Kang pressed his chest and the rabbit in his pocket let out a squeal. The woman asked, “What’s that?”

Wanyan Kang replied, “Ah, I almost forgot. I saw an injured rabbit just now and picked it up. Mother, please tend to it.” He took out a little white rabbit and placed it on the table. The rabbit’s hind legs were broken and it couldn’t move.

The woman said, “Good child!” She hurriedly took out some implements and medicine and tended to the rabbit’s injuries.

Guo Jing began to fume again and thought, “This man purposely injured the rabbit because he knows that his mother is kind-hearted and will tend to its injuries. Then she’ll forget about the bad stuff that he has done. How can he be so evil as to make use of his mother’s kind nature to deceive her?”

Huang Rong was leaning on him and felt Guo Jing’s whole body quiver. She knew that he must be burning with anger and was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to control it and burst out at Wanyan Kang. She pulled his hand and said, “Let’s ignore them; come, let’s go and find the medicine.”

Guo Jing asked, “You know where they’ve hidden the medicine?”

Huang Rong shook her head and said, “No. So we have to go and find out.”

Guo Jing thought about how huge the Zhao residence was and wondered where to start the ‘finding’, “It will be disastrous if we alert Shao Tongtian and the rest…” he was about to discuss this with Huang Rong when there was a flash of light in front of them. A man came carrying a small lantern while humming a tune and he was walking closer and closer to them. Guo Jing was about to slip behind a tree when Huang Rong rushed forward, towards the man. The man was alarmed and before he could say anything, Huang Rong flipped her palm and shot out a shiny steel object which pierced his throat. She asked, “Who are you?”

The man, having had the fright of his life, only managed to answer after awhile, “I…I am the caretaker. What…what are you doing?”

Huang Rong answered, “What am I doing? I am going to kill you! You are the caretaker? That’s good. Where do you keep the medicines that your young prince had people buy during the day?”

The caretaker replied, “I…I don’t know. The young prince kept it himself!”

Huang Rong used her left hand to twist his wrist and used her right hand to push forward slightly, causing the steel object to pierce even deeper into his throat. The caretaker felt a sharp pain shoot through his wrist but didn’t dare scream out loud. Huang Rong said in a low voice, “Are you going to tell me or not?”

The caretaker responded, “I really don’t know.”

Huang Rong used her right hand to remove his cap and stuff it into his mouth. Following that, her left hand pulled and twisted his arm. A ‘crack’ was heard as she broke the bone in his right shoulder. The caretaker tried to yell before fainting but the cap in his mouth had muffled his yell. Guo Jing was stunned. He didn’t expect this petite young lady to be so vicious and cruel in her actions. Huang Rong shook the caretaker and he came around. She swiftly removed the cap from his mouth and placed it back on his head before saying, “Do you want me to break your left shoulder as well?”

The caretaker wept in pain and answered weakly, “I really don’t know. Even if Miss kills me, I still won’t know.”

Now Huang Rong believed him; she lowered her voice and said, “Go and find young prince now and tell him that you fell and broke your shoulder. Also tell him that you suffered serious internal injures and the physician says that you must take the medicine that he bought up earlier. Beg him to give you some of the medicine.” The caretaker listened attentively to Huang Rong’s instructions and dared not question anything.

Huang Rong continued, “Hurry up, young prince is with the princess. I am going to follow you and if I see that you do not act properly, I will break your neck and dig out your eyes.” With that, she stretched out her fingers and made a clawing move at his eyes. The caretaker shivered and stood up; he clenched his teeth, ignored the dreadful pain and dashed towards the princess’s house.

Wanyan Kang was still talking with his mother when the caretaker suddenly dashed in, sweating and crying. He repeated what Huang Rong instructed him to say. The princess saw that his face was as white as a sheet and knew he was in great pain; she didn’t wait for Wanyan Kang’s answer and immediately ordered him to give the caretaker the medicine. Wanyan Kang frowned and said, “The medicine is with Master Liang, go and find him yourself.”

The caretaker wept and said, “Young prince, please write a note for me.” The princess immediately took out some paper, ink and a brush and Wanyan Kang wrote the note. The caretaker bowed and thanked them while the princess said gently, “Hurry and take the medicine to cure your injuries.”

The caretaker came out of the house and walked a few steps when he felt the cold blade of a knife on the skin of his neck. He heard Huang Rong say, “Go to Master Liang now.” The caretaker walked a little ways but he could stand the pain no longer and fell to the ground.

Huang Rong said, “If you don’t get the medicine, your neck will be broken.” With that, she grabbed his head and turned it forcefully. The caretaker was shocked and had a sudden wave of determination. Sweating continuously, he hurried on. They passed by seven or eight servants but no one asked anything when they saw Guo Jing and Huang Rong.

When they reached Liang Ziwong’s quarters, they found the door locked. A servant told them that he had gone to the Fragrant Snow guest hall. Guo Jing saw that the caretaker was having difficulty walking and helped him along. Just as they reached the guest hall, two guards carrying lanterns in one hand and sabers in the other called, “Stop, who’s there?”

The caretaker took out the note written by Wanyan Kang and gave it to the guards. They glanced at it and let him through before going up to question Guo Jing and Huang Rong. The caretaker said, “They’re our own people.”

One of the guards said, “The prince is having a banquet with important guests, no one is allowed to disturb them. If you have anything to say, you can come back tomorrow to…” he didn’t finish his sentence before the two guards felt their strength disappear. They were unable to move because Huang Rong had sealed their accupoints. She hid them in some bushes before grabbing Guo Jing’s hand and they made their way towards the entrance of the hall. She gently pushed the caretaker forward. She and Guo Jing swung up and caught a wooden window frame and peered inside the hall.

The hall was brightly lit with a huge banquet table in the middle. Guo Jing looked at the people sitting around the table and his heart beat furiously. He has seen the same people in the same room earlier. There was the Junior Chief of White Camel Mountain, Ouyang Ke, the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’, Sha Tongtian, his martial brother the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’, Hou Tonghai, the ‘Ginseng Immortal’, Liang Ziwong and the ‘Butcher of One Thousand Hands’, Peng Lianhu. At the head of the banquet table was the Jin sixth prince, Wanyan Honglie. At one corner of the table was a thickly padded grand chair in which sat ‘Superior Virtue’ Lingzhi, who had a golden complexion and looked seriously injured. Guo Jing laughed gleefully, “You ambushed Taoist Wang, so it serves you right to have a taste of your own medicine.” The caretaker entered the room and bowed in front of Liang Ziwong before handing him the note written by Wanyan Kang. Liang Ziwong read the note, glanced at the caretaker and handed the note to Wanyan Honglie, “Esteemed Prince, was this written by the young prince?”

Wanyan Honglie read through the note and said, “Yes, please do what it says Master Liang.”

Liang Ziwong turned and instructed a dwarf dressed in green, “Go and take out five grams each of the medicines that the young prince delivered today and give it to the caretaker.” The dwarf nodded and followed the caretaker out.

Guo Jing whispered to Huang Rong, “Let’s go, these people here are too formidable.”

Huang Rong smiled and shook her head. A strand of Huang Rong’s soft hair brushed past Guo Jing’s face and he felt a tickling sensation not only on his face but also in his heart. He didn’t argue with her and dropped down. Huang Rong hurriedly grabbed his wrist, flung her body forward, locked her legs around a high wooden pole and gently lowered Guo Jing to the ground.

Guo Jing was relieved, “That was close! Had I just jumped down, wouldn’t it have alerted the high level fighters inside?” Guo Jing was not a veteran Jianghu traveler and tended to be careless at times.

The caretaker and the dwarf came out and Guo Jing followed behind them. He walked ten steps before turning around and saw that Huang Rong had flipped up and was peering into the hall with her legs hooked on the roof’s edge and her head hanging below. There was a light breeze, causing her white robe to float gently; the image looked like a blooming white lily in the darkness. Huang Rong glanced into the hall and saw that no one had noticed her presence; she turned her head and watched until Guo Jing’s figure disappeared into the darkness before turning her attention back to what was going on in the hall.

Peng Lianhu suddenly turned around, and with eyes quick as lightning, he did a check of the windows. Huang Rong didn’t dare look any longer, and crouched near the window to hear what was going on. She heard a rasping voice say, “Do you people think that Wang Chuyi turned up coincidentally or was it for a reason?”

A high pitched voice replied, “No matter whether he had ill intentions or not, being injured by ‘Superior Virtue’ Lingzhi will leave him dead, or at least crippled.”

Huang Rong glanced into the hall and saw that the person talking was Peng Lianhu, who was small and had eyes that flashed like lightning. She heard a clear voice laugh, “We have even heard of the ‘Seven Masters of Quanzhen’ in Tibet. They really live up to their name; if it were not for ‘Superior Virtue’ Lingzhi’s attack, we would have been defeated by him.”

A deep and rough voice answered, “Master Ouyang, you don’t have to flatter me, both that Taoist priest and I are injured, there is no winner.”

Ouyang Ke said, “Yes, but you just have to recuperate quietly for some time whereas even if he doesn’t die, he will end up handicapped!”

After this comment no one spoke. The host could then be heard toasting all the assembled guests. Guest by guest he said “Sir, you have come from a great distance to visit me, I am deeply honored! It reflects greatly on the Jin nation to have such honored guests as you!” Huang Rong thought that the person speaking must be the Prince Zhao, Wanyan Honglie. The assembled guests then all answered with the modest protestations as decorum required.

Wanyan Honglie then continued, “Lingzhi is Tibet’s foremost monk, Liang is a master of great learning and integrity, Chief Ouyang is a legendary leader of military virtue, Master Peng's prestige is widely feared on the central plains, and Formidable Sha rules over Yellow River! If any one among the five heroes lends a hand, the Jin Nation's challenges could be overcome; but imagine what could be achieved with all five of you united together! Ha…Ha! That would be akin to having a lion using all its strength to catch a rabbit!” This speech made him sound very arrogant indeed.

Liang Ziwong smiled and said, “If Your Lordship has a task for us to carry out, you need only say it and we will gladly do it. Unfortunately this old man's (referring to himself) kung fu is very shabby and weak. I fear that if I was to be entrusted with such a task by your Lordship I would fail and not be able to show my worthless face again, ha…ha!.” Peng Lianhu also added a few self depreciating remarks in the same vein. These men have always been the center of attention and power in their own regions. Their speech and manner showed that they did not consider themselves inferior to Wanyan Honglie.

Wanyan Honglie again toasted each guest in turn with a cup of wine “This humble prince is deeply moved by your presence here tonight. I will now speak of a great matter. This matter cannot be mentioned to any other person outside of this room. If word got out, it would cause great trouble for my Jin nation. This humble prince has great confidence in your ability to keep this secret.”

These words, although humbly spoken, implied great importance and caused everyone present to take note that this must be a very serious matter that required the utmost secrecy. Everyone therefore replied, “Your Lordship need not fear, no words spoken here tonight will be heard outside this room!” The five invited guests knew that the reason for their invitation must be a matter of great importance; something that would require no small measures to carry out. Having spared no expense at sending them presents of gold, silver and other valuables, Wanyan Honglie still had not made any mention of the task he would ask of them. Now that he was about to reveal this deeply held secret, there was not a person present who didn't feel extremely interested and excited.

Wanyan Honglie continued: “ During the reign of the Great Jin Emperor Taizong, in the third year of the Tianhui era [the seventh year of the Song Emperor Huizong’s Xuanhe era], our Jin soldiers, led by the generals Youzhanmeihe and Wolibu, captured the two Song Emperors, Huizong and Qinzong. From ancient times there has never been such a great victory.” All the guests cheered his speech.

Huang Rong thought to herself angrily, “How shameless! Everyone, aside from that Tibetan Monk, is Chinese. The Jin Prince is boasting about how his country invaded our country and held our two emperors captive and you actually cheer him on!”

She heard Wanyan Honglie speak again, “At that time, our Great Jin soldiers were vigorous and their numbers vast, but now, after almost a hundred years, the Zhao officials serve our emperor from Huangzhou. Esteemed guests, can you guess why they serve from there?”

Liang Ziwong said “Please enlighten us Honored Prince.”

Wanyan Honglie sighed “The year Yue Fei defeated us and had us in his grasp, there was no one who did not know it, but who would dare say it out loud? Our Jin Generals knew how to lead soldiers, but when they encountered Yue Fei they were always defeated. Even after Qin Gui ordered Yue Fei's execution, our soldiers were still demoralized by their earlier defeats so that they lacked the willpower to act further against the Southern Song. Although this humble prince has the ambition to act, he lacks the abilities to succeed. If my guests, with their god-like skills, were to help with this enterprise, then there is no way that we cannot succeed and earn great merit.”

The guests looked at each other without fully understanding exactly what he meant. Each thought: “Charging enemies and fighting valiantly, taking cities and seizing territory… these are not my strengths. Could it be that he wants us to assassinate some Southern Song generals?

Wanyan Honglie’s face showed self importance [de yi]. His voice trembled slightly, “A couple of months ago, this humble prince was looking through some old files in the palace when I stumbled across a letter left behind by the former emperor. It was actually a few lines written by Yue Fei, the phrasing of which was most peculiar. I puzzled over this for a few months until at long last I figured out its hidden meaning. It turns out that when Yue Fei was languishing in prison he realized that he had no hope of leaving with his life. His loyalty towards his country was so great that he wrote down his entire life's learning regarding battle tactics and other secret military arts in this letter in the hope that it could be passed on to other loyal countrymen who could use them in defending China against the Jin invaders. Luckily Qin Gui was very clever and feared that Yue Fei would try to communicate with people outside of the prison, so he was very careful to prepare against such an event. Every guard assigned to watch over Yue Fei was personally selected by Qin Gui and was known to be completely trustworthy and loyal to him (Qin Gui). If the soldiers formerly under Yue Fei were to get word from Yue Fei and rise up in rebellion against the court, who could stop them? At that time, the only reason that there was not such a rebellion was entirely due to Yue Fei not being willing to rebel against his emperor. Had he changed his mind and decided to do so he would have certainly succeeded. What Qin Gui did not know though was that Yue Fei didn't have any desire to save his own life, only to save the ‘rivers and mountains’ [jiang shan…literally the country] of the Song Empire. Fortunately this letter never left the palace even after his execution.” Everyone was listening intently to this story, so intently that they forgot to drink their wine. Huang Rong, hanging outside the window, was also listening mesmerized.

Wanyan Honglie continued: “Yue Fei had no alternative but to secrete his military manual in his clothing. Then he wrote four poems entitled ‘Buddhist Barbarian’ [Pu Sa Man], ‘Shameful Slave’ [chou nu er], ‘Congratulating the Imperial Court Sage’ [He Sheng Zhao], and ‘Level Heaven Music’ [Qi Tian Yue]. Each piece of writing appeared to be nonsense. The style did not follow the proper rules and the tonal sequences were all wrong. The sentences were jumbled to the point of incoherence. Qin Gui, who was said to have wisdom and talent the size of the oceans, was not able to figure out what hidden meanings lay in these pieces, so he dispatched some men with these letters to the Jin. Many years later these four pieces of nonsense writing found their way into the secret files of the Jin palace. No one was able to comprehend the meaning of these letters. Everyone thought that Yue Fei, who was near execution at the time he wrote these letters, was venting to his anger and frustrations by writing such disjointed and senseless verse. Nobody guessed that the apparent nonsense verse was in fact a riddle hiding a very great secret!”

“This humble prince though continued to work on these letters until I finally discovered their secret. It turned out, that if you took every third word in a piece and put them together, and then reversed the order, a hidden message was revealed. In these four letters Yue Fei instructed his successors in the arts of military strategy and to continuously attack along the Yellow River and wipe out our Jin armies. In spite of his diligent work for his emperor, it turned out to be in vain. Ha…ha!” The guests gasped in surprise, then, one after another, began praising Wanyan Honglie's intelligence for cracking such a difficult code.

Wanyan Honglie said “Yue Fei's military abilities were unparalleled; when he attacked there was no one more formidable or successful. Imagine if we were to have his book of secret military strategies, then the whole empire would be ours for the taking!"

Wanyan Honglie went on “This humble prince thinks that this great book must be with Yue Fei in his tomb.” At this point he paused. Everyone suddenly realized what was being asked: “Prince Zhao invited us here to do a bit of grave robbing!”

He continued, “Honored Guests, you are all brave heroes and by now you must be wondering how I could be asking you to rob a tomb? Although Yue Fei was the Jin's sworn enemy, his spirit and loyalty is something that is world renowned; we can't possibly disturb his resting place. This humble prince searched through the historical reports by spies of the Southern Song to look for further clues. It turned out that the day Yue Fei died he was buried beside the Zhongan Bridge. Later, Emperor Xiao Zong moved his body to Lin’an’s West Lake [Xi Hu] to a temple he had built for him. His clothing and other personal belongings were placed somewhere else and this must be where his book is. This other place is also in Lin’an.” As he spoke this last sentence he watched his guests intently. Everyone was waiting for him to reveal the exact location of the book.

However, Wanyan Honglie suddenly changed the topic: “This humble prince had another thought; since someone moved Yue Fei’s belongings, I feared that the book must have been taken by them as well. After some very detailed research I now know that this could not be possible. The people of Song venerate Yue Fei so much that they would not have dared interfere with his belongings. We are certain to find the book at this place. However, in the south there are many martial people of high abilities. If we are to succeed we cannot allow the slightest word of this to get out or else some of them may try to search for the book themselves. That would cause no end of trouble! This task concerns the fate of two nations and it is not something I would lightly undertake unless I had the help of the greatest heroes of the Wulin world.” Everyone nodded their heads.

Wanyan Honglie then said, “The location of this book is no small matter and is indeed difficult to speak of; but in the presence of people of such great ability it is easier to speak. The location of the book is...” At this point the door to the hall was suddenly pushed open and a man rushed in, his face swollen and pale. He rushed forward to Liang Ziwong and called out, “Master...” everyone recognized him as the dwarf dressed in green that Liang Ziwong had sent to fetch the medicines.

o0o

When Guo Jing went with the caretaker and dwarf to fetch the medicine, he used his left hand to support the caretaker and help him walk, but also to ensure the caretaker would not try to warn the dwarf in any way about Guo Jing. The three of them went through a long corridor and past some rooms before arriving at Liang Ziwong’s storeroom. The dwarf lit a candle, opened the door and entered.

Guo Jing stood close to the room where he smelled the pungent scent of various medicinal herbs. He also saw that a table, couch, floor and everywhere else was covered with all types of dried herbs. There were bottles, big and small, jars, bowls, vats and so forth. It seems that even though Liang Ziwong was a guest here, he still couldn't help but play around with different medicinal herbs trying to concoct different drugs. The dwarf seemed to be well versed in the nature of herbs as well and he quickly selected portions of four different herbs and wrapped them up in separate packets of white paper which he gave to the caretaker.

Guo Jing reached out and took the packets before turning and leaving the room. Now that he had the medicine in his hands, he didn't pay any more attention to the caretaker. Unfortunately for him, the caretaker was a slippery fellow. When Guo Jing and the dwarf left, he deliberately hung back, waiting until they were past the door. Then he suddenly slammed the door shut, grabbed the door bolt and locked the door, shouting “Robber, Thief!” Shocked, Guo Jing immediately turned to try and push open the door only to find that it wouldn't budge, the door stood firm. The dwarf, although he was small, was by no means slow witted. He immediately sized up the situation and took advantage of Guo Jing's distraction. He quickly snatched the four medicine packets out of his hand and threw them into the pond beside the room. Guo Jing tried to hit the dwarf with his fists, but the dwarf was too quick and managed to slip away.

Guo Jing, even more frantic and angry, placed both his palms against the door and used his internal energy to break it open. There was a loud crack as the door bolt snapped and the door flew open. Guo Jing rushed in and silenced the caretaker immediately by smashing the caretaker’s jaw with one swing of his fist. Luckily for Guo Jing, Liang Ziwong did not like to be disturbed, so his room was located in an out of the way place in the palace compound. Being far from other buildings, the caretaker’s screams had not alerted anyone. He rushed back out of the room and saw that the dwarf was already a long way off. Guo Jing sprinted after him and in no time at all caught up with the dwarf and grabbed him by the neck. The dwarf, when he heard Guo Jing behind him, tried to use his leg to sweep Guo Jing off his feet. The dwarf was no stranger to fighting, having encountered many rough types in his travels with Liang Ziwong, so his skills were not weak. Guo Jing knew that he was in danger of not only failing to get the medicine for Wang Chuyi, but also, if the alarm was raised, Huang Rong would be in mortal danger if she was caught. Since there was no time to lose he made use of his most vicious moves such as the ‘Disconnect the Muscles and Separate the Bones’ move taught him by one of the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan.

Guo Jing soon had the dwarf unconscious and he hastily hid him in some bushes beside the path. He then hurried back to the medicine store room and lit a candle which revealed the caretaker still lying unconscious on the floor.

Guo Jing cursed himself silently for being so careless. “Which four jars did the dwarf select the medicine from? I wasn't paying attention and now I have no idea of which herbs he used.” All the jars were marked with strange signs but no words. He thought hard: “I remember he was standing here so maybe I should just grab a little from each jar around here and bring them all back to Wang Chuyi to select from.” He hurriedly snatched a pile of paper and began grabbing a handful of each type of herb/medicines which he then wrapped up into several packets all the while worried that someone had heard the caretaker’s shouts earlier.

As soon as he had packed up all the medicines he felt much relieved. As he turned to leave, his elbow accidentally knocked over a large bamboo basket which fell onto its side. As soon as the lid came off there was a sudden hiss and a huge blood red snake shot out of the basket straight towards his face.

Guo Jing was startled and jumped back. He saw the snake was still partly coiled in the basket so he wasn't sure how long it was. Its head waved back and forth as its forked tongue flickered at him. Mongolia has a cold climate and all the snakes that he had seen there were small. This blood red snake certainly didn't look like any snake he’d seen before. He felt terrified as he slowly stepped back until he bumped into the table knocking the candle over. In an instant the candle went out and the room was plunged into total darkness.

With the medicine in hand he quickly rushed towards the door. Just as he reached it he felt something loop around his leg as if someone was wrapping a thick rope around it very tightly. Without time to think he tried to jump up. However the thing wouldn't let go and then he felt a cold sensation on his right arm and found that he could no longer move it.

Guo Jing knew that the snake had wrapped around him so he used his left arm to feel around his waste for the knife that Temujin had given him long ago. The sudden stench of a pungent medicine like smell assailed his nostrils and he felt something cold on his face. It was the snake's tongue flicking on his cheek. By then there was no time to find his knife so he grabbed the snake firmly by its neck. The snake was incredibly powerful and began to squeeze tighter and its head moved closer to his face...

Guo Jing tried to hold the snake back but his arm was becoming numb and it became difficult to breathe as the snake tightened its grip around his chest. When he tried to use his internal energy to loosen the snake’s grip it did give him slight relief, before the snake resumed its crushing grip. Guo Jing's left arm was beginning to lose strength. The stench of the snake’s breath was unbearable and made him feel nauseous. He knew that he would not be able to hold off the snake for much longer. Eventually he might lose consciousness, loosen his grip, and then the snake would finish him.

o0o

When the dwarf, knocked unconscious by Guo Jing, eventually came around his first thought was, “Where is that guy?” He looked over to his masters store room but saw it was dark and silent. He assumed Guo Jing had already fled. He rushed back towards the ‘Fragrant Snow Hall’ to report to his master Liang Ziwong.

Huang Rong was shocked when she heard the dwarf's report. She executed the move ‘Goose Lands on Flat Sand’ to quietly drop to the ground. When the guests in the hall were listening to Wanyan Honglie's story no one paid any attention to what was going outside. However, as soon as they were interrupted by the dwarf's news this was no longer the case. In a room full of people with high martial arts abilities who were no longer distracted, would any of them fail to notice Huang Rong's almost silent move outside? Liang Ziwong was the first to move. In a flash he was outside and standing in front of Huang Rong, blocking her path. “Who are you?” he demanded.

Huang Rong could see by the way Liang Ziwong moved that his ability exceeded hers. Considering that there was a room full of highly skilled martial artists this was no time to start a fight, so she simply smiled and said sweetly, “This plum tree has such beautiful blossoms, could you please break a twig off for me?”

Liang Ziwong didn't expect to see such a beautiful young woman standing outside dressed in splendid clothing. When he heard her delicate laugh, ‘like pearls tinkling on jade’, he couldn't help being surprised. He thought that she must be a palace lady, possibly the lady Qian Jin, so he immediately broke off a twig of plum blossoms to give to her.

Huang Rong smiled and received the blossoms saying “Thank you kind sir.”

By this time, the rest of the guests were standing by the door watching the proceedings. Peng Lianhu turned to Wanyan Honglie and asked, “Sire, is this lady from the palace?” Wanyan Honglie shook his head and said, “No.”

Peng Lianhu went over and stood in front of Huang Rong blocking her way, saying, “Please wait for a moment lady. Let me also break off some blossoms for you.” His right hand moved to execute a holding lock, grabbing her wrist, extending his five fingers towards her side, then suddenly flipping his hand into a claw and striking at her throat!

Huang Rong initially intended to pretend to be a simple lady with no martial abilities and not that bright so as to play for time and find a way to escape. She didn't expect that Peng Lianhu not only had great martial abilities but that he was very sharp and saw right through her deception. His blow was so strong that she had no alternative but to dodge, raise her right hand in a sweep, thumb touching index finger, the remaining fingers outstretched, like an orchid shooting out. Her execution of this move was not only of the highest skill but also exquisitely beautiful.

Peng Lianhu knew that if she landed her strike on his ‘Corner Pool’ accupoint then his whole arm would become numb and useless, so he was suddenly forced to change his strike to avoid her counter strike. He was shocked that not only did this very young lady have outstanding skills and speed, but she also knew accupoint kung fu. Although he had seen many types of kung fu in his time, he had never seen this ‘Orchid Touch’ accupoint style before.

The ‘Orchid’ style relies upon speed, accuracy, surprise and purity. Of these, purity was the most important. It requires graceful execution and an easy, relaxed manner to execute properly, as if the person using it had not a care in the world. If it was executed with too much urgency or viciousness then it would lose its advantage in a fight.

As Huang Rong executed the ‘Orchid’ style everyone else watched in astonishment. Peng Lianhu laughed, “Little girl, what is your good name please? Who is your honorable master?”

Huang Rong smiled and replied, “This sprig of plum blossoms is quite pretty is it not? I must go and put it into a vase!” She didn't answer Peng Lianhu at all. Everyone else looked at her suspiciously wondering where on earth she came from.

Hou Tonghai said sternly, “Elder Peng asked your name. What's the matter, didn't you hear?” Huang Rong asked innocently, “He asked something?”

Peng Lianhu had actually seen Huang Rong earlier in the day, in disguise, making fun of Hou Tonghai; seeing her here now, acting so impertinently, he suddenly thought, “That filthy beggar boy was actually you in disguise!” Suppressing a laugh he said, “Old Hou, don't you recognize who that girl is?”

Hou Tonghai was shocked. He looked Huang Rong over a couple of times while Peng Lianhu said, “You were chasing someone around in circles all day today, how could you forget?”

Hou Tonghai looked blankly at Huang Rong until at last he recognized her, “Yeah, that filthy boy!” When he was chasing Huang Rong, he never stopped cursing her as ‘Filthy boy’. Even though ‘he’ had now become a ‘she’ he couldn’t help but curse her as before. He raised both fists and charged at her only to grab air as Huang Rong deftly dodged aside.

The ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ Sha Tongtian's body became a blur as he moved forward and clasped Huang Rong’s right wrist calling out “Where are you running to?”

Huang Rong’s left hand shot up and struck at his eyes with two fingers, but Sha Tongtian was too fast and grabbed her left wrist as well. Huang Rong struggled to free herself, but try as she might she was not able to. Instead she shouted, “Shameless!” Sha Tongtian asked, “What’s shameless?”

“Big men bullying a girl and trying to take advantage of her!” she replied indignantly.

Sha Tongtian was surprised at this comment. He was after all a famous elder martial artist and this did appear to be a case of the strong bullying the weak. He relaxed his grip and said, “Go into the hall and we will talk.” Huang Rong saw she had no alternative but to enter the Hall.

“Before we do any talking let me cut this filthy tyke down to size first!” Hou Tonghai angrily demanded as he raised his fists to strike.

Peng Lianhu stopped him, cautioning, “First we need to find out who her Shifu is and what school she belongs to.” He could tell from her fighting style and appearance that she must be from a great school. It would be better to find out who she was before doing anything too hasty. Hou Tonghai didn't pay any attention to him and launched an attack at Huang Rong.

She stepped aside and responded, “So you really want to fight eh?”

“You're not going to get away”, Hou Tonghai retorted. He was afraid that if she did get away he would never be able to catch her again.

“If you want to have a little competition with me, that’s not a problem.” she said as she took up a full wine bowl from the table and placed it on her head. She then grabbed another full wine bowl in each hand and continued, “Do you dare to take up this challenge?”

Hou Tonghai was suspicious, “What kind of mischief is this?”

Huang Rong looked around at the assembled guests and smiled as she said, “This big-horned uncle and I have no deep grievance. If I am able to defeat him, what happens then?”

Hou Tonghai angrily stepped forward and yelled, “You defeat me? Listen you smelly little brat, this is a carbuncle not a horn. Take a good look and stop spouting crap!”

Huang Rong didn't pay any attention to him and continued addressing the others. “Let him and I compete with three full bowls of wine each. Who ever is the first to spill a drop will be considered the loser, is that fair enough?” She had seen Liang Ziwong, Peng Lianhu and Sha Tongtian in action and knew that she would be no match for any of them in a fight. However if this three horned dragon, with more teasing, can be enticed to fight using lightness skills and quick wits she will have the advantage. If you were to compare true martial ability she may not be his equal but she thought, “Right now my only chance is to play the fool and hope they don't find me a threat and let me go.”

Hou Tonghai yelled, “Who wants to play monkey tricks with you!” and with that he launched another fierce attack.

Huang Rong again dodged still holding the wine and laughed, “Ok! I'll hold the three bowls of wine and you can attack without any bowls. Let's compete!”

Hou Tonghai was more than twice as old as she. Although his name was not as famous as that of his martial brother Sha Tongtian, he was still a fairly respected member of the martial arts world. To receive such a taunt in front of his peers was enough to make him even angrier. Without further thought he grabbed three bowls of wine, placing one on his head and the others in his hands. He bent his left leg and sent a vicious kick towards Huang Rong with his right.

Huang Rong laughed, “Well done! This shows the talents of a true hero.” She then began to display her ‘Lightness’ qing gong by moving all around the room. Hou Tonghai launched a series of kicks at her but she was able to avoid them all. Everyone began to roar with laughter seeing such a ridiculous fight.

Huang Rong kept her upper body completely steady as she glided about the room. Lumbering behind her, taking large steps was Hou Tonghai. She began spinning as she moved, her skirt forming a circle, as she alternated between dodging and attacking. She tried to use her elbows to knock over one of Hou Tonghai's wine bowls; however he was always able to avoid her attacks.

Liang Ziwong thought to himself, “This girl's kung fu is certainly considerable; but all things considered, she is still no match for brother Hou. However who wins and who loses is of no concern to me.” His main concern was for the treasured medicinal herbs in his storeroom, so he turned and headed out the door to find the thief.

He thought, “The four medicines listed on the prescription, ‘Dragon's Blood’, ‘Pseudo Ginseng’, ‘Bear Gallbladder’ and ‘Myrrh’ are the same as those the Prince ordered to be bought up. Those herbs are nothing special and not very expensive, so their loss is minimal; but what does concern me is what else he may have taken while he was in there.

o0o

Guo Jing was beginning to lose consciousness as the snake squeezed tighter and tighter. From the smell and the feel of the snake's breath on his face he knew its head must be getting closer. If the snake was able to bite him he would surely die. The snake’s body was already brushing against his mouth. His body was immobile, held fast in the snake’s deadly vice-like grip. His left hand, which was desperately trying to hold back the snake, was growing weaker. The only thing that he could move was his head and mouth; so he opened his mouth and bit hard into the snake’s neck. The snake began to writhe and squeeze even tighter as it felt pain from Guo Jing’s teeth. Guo Jing felt a gush of snake blood flow into his mouth. It tasted extremely bitter and was hard to bear. He didn't know if it was poisonous or not but he was too afraid to let go and spit it out. He feared that he might not get a second chance to bite the snake again so he had no option but to swallow. He also thought that the more blood the snake lost the more strength it would also lose and would eventually loosen its grip. He redoubled his efforts to suck out the snake’s blood and continued to swallow. After continuing this for a while his stomach became full and the snake did gradually begin to loosen its grip. Finally, after a few spasms, the snake loosened its grip entirely and moved no more.

Guo Jing was by now exhausted and had to lean heavily against the table to remain upright. His first thought was to flee; however both his legs were still numb from the lack of blood flow so he was forced to wait for the circulation to reach all of his limbs again. After a few minutes he felt his body getting hotter as if he was burning up. He was very worried but after a short while he found that he could move again. However the feeling of extreme heat still coursed through his body. When he pressed the back of his hand against his cheek it felt burning hot.

The packets of medicine were still safely in his coat. “Now that I have the medicine I can help Wang Chuyi. Mu Yi and his daughter, though innocent of any wrong doing, were locked up by Wanyan Kang and are likely to be killed. I must help them escape before I leave.” With this thought he left the storeroom and, after looking for the right direction, headed off to the prison where Mu Yi and his daughter were being held.

When he arrived at the prison he saw a group of guards patrolling and keeping a close watch. Guo Jing waited a time but found no way to get in as they had the first time. He went around to the back of the building and waited for a guard patrol to go past. Then he leaped lightly onto the roof of the building wall, then quietly into the courtyard within. Leaning against a wall he listened for the presence of soldiers. When he was sure that the coast was clear he whispered quietly “Elder Mu, I've come to help you get out of here.”

Mu Yi was shocked. “Kind Sir, who are you?” he asked. Guo Jing replied, “Junior's name is Guo Jing.”

Mu Yi vaguely heard the name Guo Jing, but after the events of the past day and being weak from injuries, it didn’t register at first. Then the two words 'Guo Jing' hit his brain like a thunderclap. With a trembling voice he asked, “What? Guo Jing? Your...your...surname is Guo?”

Guo Jing replied, “Yes, junior is the one who fought with the young prince earlier today in front of the arena.” Mu Yi asked, “What is your father's name?”

“My late father's name was Xiaotian.” When Guo Jing was young he didn't know his father’s name. It was only later after Zhu Cong taught him to read that he was able to learn his father's name.

Mu Yi's eyes filled with tears. He raised his head and said softly, “Heaven, oh Heaven!” He reached his hands through the bars and tightly held Guo Jing’s hand.

Guo Jing could feel Mu Yi's hands trembling and at the same time felt tears dropping onto his hand. He thought to himself, “Elder Mu is very grateful that I’ve come to rescue them.”

He quietly whispered, “I have a sharp knife which I am going to use to cut away the lock and then both of you can come out. Earlier I heard the young prince talking. I know he is trying to deceive you, please don't trust him!”

Mu Yi however asked, “Your mother…is her surname Li? Has she passed away or is she still alive?” “Oh!” Guo Jing asked surprised, “How do you know my mother’s surname? My mother is in Mongolia.” Mu Yi became even more excited when he heard this. He continued holding Guo Jing's hand.

Guo Jing said, “Let my hand go so that I can cut off the lock.”

Mu Yi held Guo Jing's hand as if it were the most precious treasure in the world. He was afraid if he let it go he would lose Guo Jing so he continued to hold fast, sighing, “You...you have grown up into such a big man. Ai! I only have to close my eyes and I can see your father, now long departed from this world.”

“You knew my father?”

“Your father was my sworn brother. We swore to help our fellow countrymen.” At this point his throat became choked with emotion and he was unable to continue. When Guo Jing heard this, he found his eyes becoming moist with tears as well.

Mu Yi was in fact Yang Tiexin. During the battle with the government soldiers he suffered a deep spear wound in his back. He managed to cling to a horse and was carried for several li before he finally lost consciousness and fell off into a clump of bushes. The next morning, when he awoke, he crawled to a nearby farmer’s hut where he remained for over a month recovering. By then he could struggle out of bed with the aid of a walking stick. The village nearby was called Lotus Pond village and was only about fourteen to sixteen li [7-8 kilometers /4-5 miles] from his own Ox Village. Luckily the farmer’s family was very kind and took care of him as he slowly recovered. However he was worried about his wife and wanted to go back and look for her in Ox Village. Since he was afraid that government soldiers might still be there searching for him, he waited until midnight before returning to his old house to look around. When he arrived there he saw the door ajar which made him fear that the worst had happened. He pushed it open and walked in. He looked around and saw things were very much as they were the night that they had to flee. There were some half finished clothes that his wife, Bao Xiruo, had left lying on the bed. On the wall, where his two family spears usually hung, one was missing, probably taken by one of the soldiers that night. That left one, looking as if, like himself, it too had had lost its partner/wife. Apart from that, nothing else was disturbed and everything was covered by a thick layer of dust...

When he went over to his sworn brother’s house, it too was much the same as the night they left. He thought about the old wine seller Qu San with his incredible martial arts skills and wondered if he might be able to help him find his sworn brother's family and his wife. However, when he went to the wine shop he found it was locked up and no one was there. Yang Tiexin (now disguised as Mu Yi) made inquiries amongst his acquaintances in Ox Village but they all said that after the soldiers had left there had been no news of Guo or Yang.

He went to Red Plum village to ask about his wife at his father-in –law’s house only to find that his father-in-law had died of shock shortly after hearing the news of the soldiers attack. Yang Tiexin wanted to cry, but had no tears left to shed. Dejected, he returned to Lotus Pond village and the farmer's family who had cared for him.

However, as the saying goes, ‘Troubles never visit in isolation’. An epidemic of plague had broken out and one by one the farmer's family was stricken. After only a few days six of them died leaving only a newborn baby girl alive. Yang Tiexin was duty bound to care for her so he made her his adopted daughter and took her with him on his quest to find Li Ping and Bao Xiruo. Since one was halfway to the northern steppe and the other already in the north what chance did he have of finding them?

Yang Tiexin didn't dare use his real name since he was a wanted man hunted by government soldiers. So he 'split' the character of his surname, ‘Yang’ in half and used the left side to form the new character ‘Mu’ for his assumed surname and the right half to form the character ‘Yi’ for his personal name.

[Translators Note: The character "Yang" is made up of the character "Mu" or wood and "Yang" for the sound. The whole character actually means Poplar Tree as well as being a surname. The "Mu" of his assumed name actually means solemn and has another part of a character on the right side. The "Yang" character is pronounced as "Yi" by itself and means "Change" as well as other meanings. This is coincidently the same "Yi" as the "Yi Jing" or "I Ching" - classic of changes. I'm sure there are quite a few allusions in this simple name change from which those who know Chinese history and culture well could have hours of fun analyzing. Also it is a common fact that when a man is forced to alter his name he is reluctant to lose touch with the original name, so the name Yang Tiexin choose is not in keeping with custom. Anyway - on with the story!]

After ten years of fruitless searching the ‘Rivers and Lakes’ region [Jianghu] his adopted daughter Mu Nianci had grown like a flower into a lovely young woman. Yang Tiexin thought that his wife had likely died at the hands of marauding soldiers by now. But he still held out the hope that heaven was not blind to the sufferings of man, and that Guo Xiaotian's wife had given birth to a son (Guo Jing) who was alive. As soon as Mu Nianci was of marriageable age he stuck his spear into the ground, erected a banner proclaiming a competition to win the hand of his daughter and waited with the hope that Guo Jing would one day come and win her hand in marriage, thus fulfilling his hope and pledge to become the father-in-law of his sworn brother's son.

Although many tried, no Guo Jing was among them; after the better part of a year, his hope of finding Guo Jing began to fade. Now he would have to be content to find any man of good character and martial ability to marry his adopted daughter. Then, suddenly, on this one day, they encountered embarrassment at the hands of Wanyan Kang, help from a heroic stranger and by nightfall to find out that the heroic stranger is none other than Guo Jing. How could he help but be overwhelmed with emotion?

Meanwhile, Mu Nianci began to grow impatient listening to them talk about the past. She wanted Guo Jing to help them escape first and then, when they were safe, talk over old times at leisure. Then she had a sudden thought, “If we leave now, I will never see 'him' again!” As soon as the thought came to her, she hurriedly pushed it aside. Guo Jing was also thinking that getting everybody out was the most important thing so he slowly raised his golden knife ready to strike the lock and cut it open.

Suddenly a glint of light appeared under the door and the sound of many footsteps could be heard approaching. Guo Jing quickly slipped behind a door just as the prison doors were pushed open and in marched several people. Through the crack in the door Guo Jing could see the person in front was a bodyguard carrying a lantern. Behind him was the Prince’s Consort, Wanyan Kang's mother.

She asked the bodyguard, “Are these two the people whom the young prince imprisoned?” The bodyguard replied, “Yes.” confirming it was them.

She then ordered the guard on duty, “Release them immediately.”

The bodyguard hesitated, reluctant to obey the order so she said, “If the young prince asks why you released them, tell him I ordered it; now quickly open the lock and free them!”

The guard dare not refuse the order any longer and opened the lock freeing them. The consort then produced two ingots of silver from her cloak and passed them to Yang Tiexin saying softly, “Please go safely!”

Yang Tiexin didn't take the silver but just stared at her without so much as a blink. The consort assumed from his stare that he was angry with her and felt remorse for what they had suffered. In a gentle voice she apologized, “Please forgive us, my son, by his disgraceful behavior, has wronged both of you most gravely today.”

Yang Tiexin stared at her a while longer before slowly taking the silver and putting it in his robe without a word. He then took his daughter's hand and walked out of the prison.

The bodyguard called after him. “Hey you scum, don't you have any manners? When our lady saves your life you should get down on your knees and kowtow to show your thanks!” But Yang Tiexin kept on walking as if he had not heard.

Guo Jing waited until they had closed the door. Only when he heard the consort was far enough away did he emerge from hiding and look around. By then there was no sign of Yang Tiexin or his daughter. He thought that they must have left the palace by now so he had better return to the ‘Fragrant Snow Hall’ and pull Huang Rong away from her listening so they could hurry back with the medicine for Wang Chuyi. As he rushed off following the winding path he saw two figures carrying red lanterns coming directly towards him in what seemed a great hurry. Guo Jing tried to hide behind some decorative rockery but he was too late, he had already been spotted.

“Who's there!” shouted one man as he dashed forward with his hands raised in a claw stance.

Guo Jing could only raise his arms to block the strike. In the light of the two lanterns he was able to clearly see that his attacker was none other than Wanyan Kang!

As it turned out, the bodyguard, after releasing the prisoners, had hurriedly reported the consort's actions to the young prince. Wanyan Kang was shocked when he heard this.

He thought to himself, “Mother's heart has always been too soft and she does not know the consequences of the old man and his daughter getting away! If my Shifu were to hear about this, and were to bring them to face me, how could I deny what's been going on! I would really be in much trouble!” He immediately rushed off to search for them and see if he could stop them in time before they actually escaped from the palace compound. Running into Guo Jing was the last thing he expected.

They had already fought viciously that day and now they meet again in the middle of the night. One was in a hurry to rush back with medicine, the other in a hurry to kill two people to seal their lips. Now they fought even more viciously than before. Guo Jing tried to escape a couple of times but was blocked by Wanyan Kang. When Guo Jing saw the bodyguard coming forward drawing his sword ready to assist his master he thought things were going badly indeed!

o0o

Liang Ziwong thought that Huang Rong was about to be defeated and turned to leave, but to his surprise he heard a call from the crowd that indicated a change in the situation. Huang Rong suddenly raised both her arms and tossed her head sending the three bowls of wine soaring straight up in the air. She then swung both fists towards Hou Tonghai and struck using a move called ‘Eight Steps to Overtake the Moon’. Because Hou Tonghai was holding the wine bowls he couldn't block the strike and instead dodged quickly to the left. Huang Rong followed through with a flash of her right hand leaving Hou Tonghai no option this time but to block with his arm. Not only was he unable to stop the wine in his hands from spilling, but the bowl perched atop his head also tipped over and fell to the floor with a crash.

Huang Rong instantly stepped back and caught two of her bowls in mid air while the remaining one fell neatly onto the soft cloud of her hair, all without spilling so much as a drop of wine. Those present could not help murmuring ‘Excellent’ after seeing this brilliant performance of skill. Ouyang Ke however didn't murmur his praise but said it rather loudly. Sha Tongtian shot him an angry glare; but Ouyang Ke did not notice and again called out, “Brilliant indeed!”

Hou Tonghai's cheeks flushed red, “Try that again!”

Huang Rong laughed and touched her cheek with a finger and said, “Now, now, aren't you ashamed?”

Sha Tongtian, seeing his younger martial brother's loss of face, let out a grunt, “Young girl, you are certainly full of devious tricks. Tell us, who is your master?”

Huang Rong smiled sweetly saying, “I'll tell you tomorrow. Right now I must be on my way.”

Without appearing to bend a leg or take a step Sha Tongtian suddenly appeared in the doorway blocking Huang Rong's exit. Just a few minutes earlier Huang Rong had already learned just how powerful Sha Tongtian's kung fu was when he had grabbed and locked both of her hands. Now his ‘Change Form Exchange Place’ maneuver only served to highlight just how powerful an opponent he would be. Although she felt a slight rush of worry, her face didn't betray her feelings. Instead she showed a slight frown and asked in a slightly annoyed tone, “Why are you blocking my way?”

Sha Tongtian replied, “I want you to tell me which school you belong to and why you came barging into the palace.” Huang Rong arched her pretty eyebrows and asked, “And what if I don't tell you?”

Sha Tongtian snapped, “When the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ asks a question, there is no choice but to answer!”

Huang Rong saw that she was surrounded and there wasn't much chance of her making a run for it. She had seen Liang Ziwong about to leave and called out to him pleading sweetly, “Uncle! This bad man is blocking my way and won’t let me go home.”

Liang Ziwong laughed when he heard her pleading in such a cute manner. “The ‘Dragon King’ has only asked you a question, why don't you be a nice girl and answer him? I'm sure he will let you go then.”

Huang Rong laughed in her most charming way and replied, “But I just don't feel like answering.” And then to Sha Tongtian she said, “OK - If you won't make way, I'll just have to dash through.”

Sha Tongtian laughed coldly, “Only if you have the ability to get past.” Huang Rong demanded, “You must not lay a finger on me!”

Sha Tongtian replied, “What need is there for me, the ‘Dragon King’, to move a finger in order to stop a little girl like you.”

Huang Rong exclaimed, “Good, it's settled then. A gentleman cannot go back on his word. Dragon King Sha, do you see that?” She pointed with her left hand off to one side of the room. Sha Tongtian looked over to where she was pointing and at this point Huang Rong made a dash to get past him while he was distracted.

She moved with blinding speed, but Sha Tongtian's reaction was even faster. He shot his right two fingers up and aimed towards her eyes as she moved forward. If she didn't stop she would be blinded. Luckily she was agile enough to stop in time and leap back away from the danger. She tried again and again from many different angles but each time she found her way blocked no matter how quickly she moved. Finally, when she found her nose almost smashing into Sha Tongtian's shiny bald head threatening to stain it with blood from her broken nose, she gave up with a little shriek of frustration.

Liang Ziwong laughed heartily, “Dragon King Sha is a master at this, there is no point in continuing. Why not just admit defeat?” He then turned away and set off at a rapid pace back to his medicine store room.

As soon as he stepped into the room he smelled fresh blood and knew that all was not well. He looked down and saw, by the glow of his torch, the shriveled body of his prized red snake. All its blood had been drained and his stores of medicines were strewn about the place. Liang Ziwong's blood ran cold. Twenty years of work had been destroyed in one night! He clutched the body of his dead snake and couldn't control his tears.

The Ginseng Immortal was originally a ginseng picker on Changbai Mountain. Later he killed a seriously wounded senior master and from inside his sack he took a manual of martial arts secrets along with ten or so prescriptions for the preparation of different types of medicines, drugs and potions. The study of this book combined with use of these drugs would lead to martial arts of incredible power. Part of the preparation of the drugs required the raising of a special type of venomous snake. He searched deep in the forests and mountains to find this type of snake and fed it the most precious of herbs and other medicines. The snake’s body was originally black, but over the years as he fed it cinnabar it gradually began to turn a bright red. After twenty years of feeding the snake it had only a few more days before it completed its transformation. Then he was called to Yanjing to meet with the Prince. When the snake was ready he need only drink the blood of the snake and meditate to gain the full benefit of the martial arts power. This would make his kung fu more powerful than ever. Seeing his life’s work not only lost to him, and possibly someone else having benefited instead, was more than he could bear.

After a few moments he managed to compose himself and saw that the traces of blood on the snake had not yet congealed. He realized then that it couldn't have been very long since the snake died, so the culprit must still be near by. He immediately leapt up into a tall tree and looked all around for any signs of the thief. From there he saw the vicious fight between Guo Jing and Wanyan Kang going on in the garden. Burning with fury and anger, he leaped down and sped off towards the fight. As soon as he arrived he could already smell the pungent smell of the snake's blood coming from Guo Jing.

Guo Jing was not yet Wanyan Kang's equal when it came to fighting, so from the start he was already at a disadvantage. To make matters worse, he felt his stomach burning with an unbearable heat as if it were full of boiling water. He was terribly thirsty and itched excruciatingly all over his body.

“This time I'm certain to die.” he thought. “The snake's poison is beginning to take hold.”

In the midst of these fearful thoughts he was being struck repeatedly by Wanyan Kang's fists which were made even more painful by the effects of the poison.

“You filthy bastard!” Liang Ziwong yelled, “Who sent you to steal my precious snake?” He couldn't imagine that some stupid kid would know the secret of the snake. He thought it must be someone else who put him up to the task. In fact he was almost certain that it was Wang Chuyi who had sent Guo Jing.

When Guo Jing heard this he was furious. “That precious snake of yours attacked and poisoned me! I've got a bone of contention to pick with you!” and he leaped towards Liang Ziwong with his fists raised ready to attack.

Liang Ziwong however smelled the scent of medicines mingled with the snake blood and had an evil thought. “He has drunk the snake’s blood. If I kill him now and drink his blood then I may still gain the beneficial effects. Who knows, maybe the drug's effects will be enhanced...” As soon as he thought of this his anger vanished and he leaped towards Guo Jing to meet his attack. With his superior kung fu he was able to easily lock Guo Jing's arms and legs and hold him down. He then prepared to bite into Guo Jing's neck to extract his precious medicine...

o0o

Meanwhile Huang Rong, no matter how quickly she moved, had not been able to get past Sha Tongtian. She was getting anxious about what would happen if he decided to catch her. She decided that a change of tactics may be appropriate. “If I can get through the door then you promise to let me be, okay?” She asked.

“If you can get through the door I will admit defeat.” Sha Tongtian replied. “Ai yo! What a pity my father only taught me the skill of entering, not the skill of leaving.” she sighed. “What is this 'entering' and 'leaving' skill?” Sha Tongtian asked half doubting, half curious.

“Your ‘Change Form Exchange Place’ skill, although not bad, is still far below those of my father's skills. Way below in fact.” she boasted.

“Don't talk nonsense you stupid girl.” Sha Tongtian retorted angrily. “Anyway, who is your father?”

“If I told you my father's name, I'm afraid I would scare you out of your wits, so it's best if I don't say.” Huang Rong replied mischievously. “When he taught me the skill of entering he hid by the door way and I tried to rush in from outside. I tried many times but was never able to get past him. However, even though I cannot get out against you with your piddling skills, there is no way that you could stop me from getting back in. I wouldn't even have to raise a sweat!”

Sha Tongtian laughed coldly and said, “From outside going in or from inside going out, what's the difference? OK you come here and show me!” With that he moved aside to let her demonstrate the great 'entering' kung fu of which she boasted.

Huang Rong immediately shot outside and laughed, “Ha, you fell for my trick. You said a minute ago that if I could get through the door that you would admit defeat and would let me go. Well am I outside now? Did I not go through the door? Come now Dragon King Sha, you are an honorable man; your word is your bond. You cannot think of going back on what you promised in front of all these gentlemen.”

Although Sha Tongtian knew that she had tricked him, she was correct, his word was his bond and he could hardly go back on what he promised. He scratched his bald head and flushed red but could see no way to get out of it.

Peng Lianhu, however, was not about to let Huang Rong get away. He suddenly shot out a stream of darts [fei biao] towards her. The darts were extremely fast but they were aimed near to the back of her head rather than right at her. When they hit the stone pillar by the door however, they ricocheted towards her. They were too fast for her to catch and she had no choice but to leap forward a pace to avoid them. The darts continued in a stream and each one forced her to move forward a few inches. Before she knew it she had moved back inside the hall again!

Peng Lianhu’s objective all along had been to force her back into the room and everyone watching proclaimed their praise at his skill. He just laughed and said, “What's this? You've gone back inside again!”

Huang Rong scowled, “Huh! You used your concealed weapons to bully a girl and force her to move, what's so fantastic about that!” “Who was bullying you?” he asked incredulously. “I never laid a finger on you or harmed you!”

“Then let me go!” she said angrily.

“First tell us who taught you your kung fu.” he demanded.

Huang Rong smiled and said, “I taught myself whilst in my mother's womb!”

Peng Lianhu said, “If you're not willing to tell us then perhaps I can find out another way!” With this he shot his fist straight towards her shoulder. Huang Rong didn't move or try to block the blow. She figured that he wouldn't dare to act so shamelessly as to hit a girl who refused to fight back.

When Peng Lianhu saw she wasn't going to fight he pulled his punch and withdrew his arm shouting, “Come on, show me what you've got. Stupid girl! I bet I can find out who your master by your style of fighting within ten moves.” He had seen many styles during his life and although he had seen that Huang Rong was a very crafty girl, he was confident that she would not be able to hide her real martial arts style from him in a true fight. In fact he thought he needed no more than ten moves to do so.

Huang Rong asked, “And if you have not found out within ten moves?”

“Then I will let you walk free.” he replied. Without further ado he launched an attack using 'Triple Linked Penetration' so called because it incorporated three movements.

Huang Rong turned her body and dodged while forming a ring with her thumb and little finger and stretching the remaining fingers to form a three-pronged fork. Using this she counter attacked using the 'Night Trident Searches the Sea'.

Hou Tonghai cried out, "'Night Trident Searches the Sea’! Senior Brother, this brat must be from the ... our school of martial arts!”

“Rubbish!” Sha Tongtian scolded. He knew the Huang Rong had already been teasing and making fun of Hou Tonghai for some time before tonight. He figured that she must have picked up the 'Night Trident Searches the Sea!' from her earlier encounters fighting with Hou Tonghai.

Peng Lianhu couldn't suppress a laugh as he whirled around to attack again. Huang Rong turned obliquely to the left and without bending a knee or taking a step suddenly 'moved' to the side.

Hou Tonghai again exclaimed, "‘Change Form Exchange Place’ ! Senior Brother, did you teach her that?” Sha Tonghai again scolded him saying, “Can you shut up - okay? You’re always saying stupid things!” However, inside he couldn't help but admire Huang Rong's intelligence and skill in learning the basics of such a move after only having seen it once. Even if the execution of the move wasn't entirely correct, she had been able to dodge Peng Lianhu's strike. An amazing achievement!

As the fight continued Huang Rong attacked using the ‘Soul Smashing Knife’ followed by the 'Soul Snatching Whip’ strikes. When Hou Tonghai saw these attacks and heard her call out "Yi Yi Yi" with each strike he couldn't help but call out, “Senior Brother! This brat must be from our school...” If he hadn't seen Sha Tonghai's face growing angrier by the minute he would have again called out the name of the sects moves.

Peng Lianhu was also getting angrier. He thought to himself, “So far I've been kind and have shown mercy with my attacks, but this girl is craftier than a witch. If I don't start using more vicious attacks I take the chance of not forcing her to reveal her true style.”

Martial Artists, after training in their chosen style, may pick up moves from other styles and over time can even become quite proficient at them. However, in a life and death struggle, they will always return to their roots and use the style that they first learned and are most familiar with.

Peng Lianhu's first four strikes had been mild and contained no desire to injure. However from his fifth strike on his moves became like a whirlwind. When the spectators saw his moves take on a vicious turn they couldn't help but become worried for Huang Rong. No one had any idea of her background and although she had been stubborn, no one actually had any real grievance with her or wanted to see such a young, pretty and charming girl come to harm.

No one except for Hou Tonghai that is, who actually thought, “The sooner the bitch is dead the better!”

Huang Rong continued to hide her style by using strikes from Wanyan Kang's ‘Absolute Perfection School' [Quanzhen] and Guo Jing's 'Southern Mountain Fists' style. She had only just learned these moves by seeing them earlier the same day when Guo Jing and Wanyan Kang fought using them in the arena. For the seventh move she even used Peng Lianhu's 'Triple Linked Penetration' that she first saw only six moves ago! However now it was getting more and more dangerous. Even in a straight fight with Huang Rong using all her strength and true skills against Peng Lianhu she would not be able to prevail, how could she expect to survive using tricks picked up by observing others? She was gambling against the fact that, even though he was using vicious strokes, he wouldn't actually go so far as to kill her.

Ouyang Ke thought, “This little girl is remarkably smart. She can hold herself against that Peng guy's fists.” Aloud he said, “Ai yo. Watch out, watch out. Why haven't you dodged left?”

Peng Lianhu's style used a brilliant mixture of false and real strikes, which he was able to switch between at will. On the eighth move he made a feint with his left and a real lunge with his right. Huang Rong expected him to do the opposite on the next move and feint with his right whilst attacking with his left. This meant that she ought to dodge to her right, but when she heard Ouyang Ke call out she immediately changed her mind and leapt elegantly to the left. This sudden posture was exquisite, and it turned out that nobody in the crowd recognized it.

When Peng Lianhu heard Ouyang Ke's crucial words of help he became furious. He thought, “Do you think that I wont kill you if I have to you stupid girl!” His nickname wasn't 'Butcher with a Thousand Hands' for nothing. He had an extremely cruel nature when angry. When he first saw Huang Rong he thought, that she being so young, and a girl, it would be shameful to kill her; but now, having reached the second last move of the contest and still unable to find her real school, he was so angry that he no longer cared. He struck with 'Push Open the Window and Watch the Moon' using all his force, left hand "Yin", right hand "Yang", one soft, one hard, both pushing out simultaneously.

Huang Rong knew that things were desperate. She stepped back as she saw his fists coming towards her face. All that she could do was to duck her head, bend both her arms, point both elbows forward and strike at his chest.

Peng Lianhu expected her to try and block this strike and intended to follow up with the tenth stroke. However he was taken aback that she should actually try a counter attack against such a vicious strike. He had already half executed the tenth strike 'Falling Star Great Void', but immediately had to concentrate his internal energy to stop it, which was like trying to reign in a horse to keep it from running over a cliff. “You are a disciple of the 'Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’!” he called out with a shiver in his voice.

Huang Rong leapt back several feet. When Peng Lianhu called out these words a wave of fear went through the room. Everyone present, with the exception of Prince Zhao, knew of the dreaded 'Twin Killers of the Dark Winds'. Even the feared ‘Butcher of a Thousand Hands’ Peng was afraid to touch her now.

Before Huang Rong could say anything a cry sounded in the still night air. It was Guo Jing, and he sounded as if he was in real danger. Huang Rong was suddenly concerned about his safety and her face went white with fear.

Guo Jing's arms and legs were held down by Liang Ziwong. He wasn't able to move an inch, but as he saw Liang Ziwong coming closer ready to bite his throat he felt a sudden surge of strength born of desperation. Executing the ‘Carp Arching Backwards' he was able to free himself and leap upright. Liang Ziwong quickly struck again. Guo Jing tried to leap away but Liang Ziwong's speed was like the wind and there was no way Guo Jing could escape him.

"Smack!" a punch hit him square on his back and it was not at all like the earlier punches from Wanyan Kang. This one felt like it penetrated to the bone. Guo Jing was frightened out of his wits and didn't wait for another hit. He continued running straight ahead, away from everyone. His 'Qing Gong' (lightness skill) ability was very good and he used it to his maximum ability to speed through the trees and rockeries of the garden. Liang Ziwong was not able to keep pace. Initially Guo Jing ran very fast but after a short while felt himself becoming slower and he began to pant heavily. There was a big hole torn in the back of his gown and he felt pain from where he had been hit. He thought that the Liang Ziwong’s last punch must have actually been a claw and had taken some of his flesh away along with the back of his gown. He was very worried now and looked frantically for some place to hide. Straight ahead was the Prince’s Consort's shabby compound. He rushed in with the hope that they wouldn't search there and he might be able to make his escape later. He lay down behind the wall at the back and didn't dare to move a muscle. Soon he heard Liang Ziwong and Wanyan Kang, one calling and the other answering, coming closer. Liang Ziwong was so angry he couldn't control his voice as he called out.

Guo Jing anxiously thought, “If I wait here by the wall it's only a matter of time before they find me. The Prince’s Consort seems to have a kind nature, perhaps she will save me.” Given the critical situation he didn't have any time to think further and he quickly slipped inside the house. There he found a lighted candle on the table in the middle of the room. The consort must be in another room. He quickly looked around the room and saw a wooden wardrobe in the east corner which he opened and slipped in before partly closing it, leaving only a crack to see through. He then pulled out his golden knife and allowed himself to relax a little.

He heard footsteps and saw the Prince’s Consort slowly walk in. She sat down at the table and looked at the candle as if in a daze. Before long Wanyan Kang entered and asked "Mother, did some bad man come in and give you a fright?"

The consort shook her head, so Wanyan Kang went outside again and continued searching elsewhere with Liang Ziwong.

Wanyan Kang’s mother then closed the door and seemed as if she was going to bed. Guo Jing thought, “As soon as she blows out the candle I'll slip out through the window and escape. No - I had better wait a while first, in case I run into the young prince and that white haired fellow again. That crazy guy tried to bite my throat. That sure is some weird kind of kung fu! My Shifu's never taught me anything like that. I really must ask them about it next time I see them. Going around and biting people’s throats! What's with that?” He then thought some more, “After fighting so much and being away for so long, Huang Rong must have gone by now. I had better get out as well otherwise she might be wondering what's been keeping me.”

Suddenly the window creaked open and someone leaped in. Both Guo Jing and the consort were shocked. She let out a gasp but Guo Jing noticed that the person who had just entered was none other than Mu Yi or now Yang Tiexin. Guo Jing couldn't have been more surprised. He had assumed that he and his daughter had fled the palace long ago.

When the consort recognized him she quickly said, “Please hurry and leave, before they find you.”

Yang Tiexin replied, “Many thanks for the consort's kind concern. If I didn't come here to thank you in person I would regret it to my dying day.” His words contained the element of sarcasm as if full of bitterness.

The Prince’s Consort sighed and said, “Please forget it. It is my son who has wronged you and your daughter.” Yang Tiexin looked around and saw that besides a table, lamp, bed and wardrobe there was not much else. Everything seemed to be old, worn and familiar. He suddenly felt a wave of sadness and he could not suppress a tear as it trickled down his cheek. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve and walked over to the wall where a lone spear was hanging. He took it down and saw that it was covered with rust. He could still make out the four characters ‘Tiexin Yang Clan’ written on the spear’s blade.

He gently stroked the spear’s shaft and sighed, “This iron spear is rusty. It has not been used for a long while.” The Prince’s Consort spoke softly, “Please don't touch the spear.”

“Why?” Yang Tiexin asked.

“Because this is the most precious possession I have.” she murmured.

Yang Tiexin was suddenly angry. “Really?” he asked bitterly. He paused before going on, “This spear used to have a matching partner, today however only one remains.”

“What?” The Prince’s Consort asked surprised, but he didn't reply. He hung the spear back on the wall and gazed at the broken plough tip while saying absentmindedly, “This plough tip is worn. Tomorrow you should call on Zhang Mu’Er in the east village to take a catty of iron and see if he can repair it.”

When the consort heard this she felt as if she had been struck by a bolt of lightning. For a moment she was speechless as she stared at him. Finally she stammered, “Who...who are you?”

Yang Tiexin replied slowly but evenly, “I said the plough tip is worn. Tomorrow you should call on Zhang Mu’Er in the east village to take a catty of iron and see if he can repair it.”

The woman felt her knees going weak. She again stammered, “Who...who are you? How...how could you know what my late husband said...said the night he died?”

The woman was none other than Yang Tiexin's wife, Bao Xiruo. When Wanyan Honglie was wounded by an arrow that day near Ox village, Bao Xiruo had saved his life. When he saw such a beautiful woman saving his life he couldn't stop thinking about her after he escaped that night. He bribed Duan Tiande to have his soldiers raid Ox village that night so that he could arrange to "save" Bao Xiruo and appear to be a hero. Once her husband and friends were dead she would be alone in the world and would naturally look to her "rescuer" to protect her. If he took her north and was patient enough she would sooner or later give up hope of return and agree to marry to him and start a new life together. During the eighteen years at the palace, her face had not changed much at all. Yang Tiexin's face though had undergone changes from the hardships he’d encountered on the road searching for her. Now, when they’d met again, she could not at first recognize her former husband. After all these years of mutual longing to be together again, this night with so much danger made it seem as if they were in a dream.

Yang Tiexin didn't reply, he just walked over to the table and pulled open a drawer. Inside, he saw a couple of sets of a man's blue coats exactly the same as the ones he used to wear. He picked one up saying, “I have enough coats to wear. You are tired and should rest now that you are pregnant. No need to make more clothes for me.” These words were the same ones spoken by him to her eighteen years earlier when she was pregnant.

Bao Xiruo rushed over to his side and grabbed his sleeve. When she pulled it up she saw an old scar. A mix of surprise and joy suddenly enveloped her. For the past eighteen years she had thought her husband dead and now to recognize him standing before her was like seeing a ghost coming back to life. She immediately hugged him, holding him tightly and crying, “Quickly! Quickly take me with you. Let us leave here now. I will show you a secret gateway where we can slip away unseen. I am not afraid of ghosts. I would rather become a ghost and be together with you than part with you again.”

Yang Tiexin held his wife as warm tears rolled down his cheeks. After a long while his asked gently, “Do you think that I am a ghost?”

“I don't care if you are a man or a ghost, I wont let go of you again.” she sobbed. “How is it that you are still alive? After all these years I can't believe that you are still alive. Where...what..”

Yang Tiexin was about to reply when Wanyan Kang's voice suddenly called from just outside the window, “Mother, why are you crying? Who are you talking to?”

Bao Xiruo had a fright. “It's nothing,” she called out, “I was just dreaming.”

Wanyan Kang had clearly heard the sound of a man's voice talking inside the room. He immediately became suspicious and walked around to the door, knocking gently saying, “Mother, I would like to have a word with you.”

“Tomorrow,” She replied, “Let's talk tomorrow. I'm very tired now and want to sleep.”

When Wanyan Kang heard that his mother was not willing to open the door, his suspicions only increased. “I just want to have a few words then I'll go.”

Yang Tiexin knew that Wanyan Kang was intent on coming in, so he went over to the window with the intention of making a quick get away. He tried to push open the shutter, but to his surprise he found that it wouldn't budge. Someone had locked it from the outside! Bao Xiruo was in a panic. She thought she would play for time and keep talking while Yang Tiexin found a place to hide. She hurriedly pointed to the wardrobe and motioned for her husband to hide inside. Imagine their surprise when they opened the door and found Guo Jing there! Bao Xiruo couldn't help but let out a little scream.

When Wanyan Kang heard this he became extremely worried. He thought someone was trying to harm his mother so he began trying to break open the door with his shoulder. There was no time to lose; Guo Jing grabbed Yang Tiexin and pulled him into the wardrobe and closed the door just as the wooden bar on the bedroom door gave a loud crack and flew open. Wanyan Kang rushed in. He saw his mother's face was pale with fear and her cheeks were wet with tears; but apart from her, there was no one else in the room.

“Mother, what's wrong? What’s been going on?” he asked anxiously.

Bao Xiruo made an effort to compose herself before saying, “Nothing. I’m just not feeling well.”

Wanyan Kang rushed over to her and said, “Mother, I promise I won’t be doing anything stupid again. Please don't be worried. I've been a bad son to make you so worried.”

“OK.” She said in a comforting way, “I'm feeling so tired. Please let me go to bed. I'm very tired and want to sleep.” But Wanyan Kang heard a wavering in her voice and asked, “Mother, are you sure that no one has been here recently?” “Who?” she asked.

“Recently a couple of bandits entered the palace.”

“Really?” She replied. “You really should be going off to bed too. Don't let these things concern you.”

Wanyan Kang said, “Yeah, I'm sure the guards, even though they’re a useless bunch, will be able to take care of them. You need not worry. Please have some rest.”

He was just on the point of leaving when he noticed the corner of a man's robe sticking out from a crack in the wardrobe door. Now he knew that something strange really was going on. He didn't say anything but instead sat down at the table and poured himself a cup of tea which he began to drink slowly while he mulled over what to do. “A man is hiding in the wardrobe, but I don't know if my mother knows this or not.” He took a few more sips of tea before standing up and slowly walking over to the wall where the spear was hanging. “Mother, what did you think of your son's spear skills that your saw earlier today.”

“I have already told you that I don't like you using your skills to bully other people.” Bao Xiruo said in a disapproving tone. Wanyan Kang replied in a hurt tone, “Bully people? I was merely competing one to one in a fair competition with that stupid boy.” He then grabbed the spear off the wall and playfully tried a few strokes. The red tassel on the spear danced about as he executed the 'Rising Phoenix Soaring Dragon' strike aiming straight at the wardrobe. If this stroke went through the wardrobe, Yang Tiexin and Guo Jing, who could not see what was happening, would have no hope of fending off the attack. They would be dead for certain. Seeing this Bao Xiruo immediately fainted!

Wanyan Kang stopped short with his strike. Seeing his mother’s reaction he immediately knew that she knew about the man hiding in the wardrobe. Propping the spear beside him, he lifted his mother up, but watched the wardrobe for any signs of movement all the while.

Slowly Bao Xiruo regained consciousness and when she saw the wardrobe still intact with no spear hole she immediately felt immense relief. Having undergone so many extreme highs and lows of emotions over the past hour she felt very weak all over.

Wanyan Kang was very angry, “Mother, am I your son or not?” he demanded. “Of course you are my son. Why do you ask?"

“Well then, why do you keep so many things secret from me?”

Bao Xiruo thought to herself, “I must tell him about today's events and let him be reunited with his true father. After that I will take my life since I have lost my virtue and thus deeply wronged my husband. In this life I can never be reunited with my husband Tiexin...” At this thought she again burst into tears which now flowed freely.

When Wanyan Kang saw his mother acting so strangely today he didn't know what to think. Finally Bao Xiruo said, “Please take a seat and listen to what I have to say very carefully.” Wanyan Kang sat down as told but he stayed near the spear and continued to watch the wardrobe.

Bao Xiruo asked, “Do you see the four characters written on the spear?”

“When I was a small boy I asked you about those characters, but you refused to tell me what 'Yang Tiexin' meant.” “Well now I am going to tell you what they mean.”

Yang Tiexin hiding in the wardrobe could clearly hear every word that was being said between the mother and son. Having an impulsive nature he thought to himself, “She is a Prince’s Consort now. How could she possibly want to live with me again in a shabby hut in the wilds as a villager’s wife? She is about to reveal my identity; could she actually be planning to have her son kill me?”

He heard her continue, “This spear is originally from a place call Ox Village in Jiangnan near the Song city of Lin’an. I sent men on a journey far away to fetch this for me. That plough, this table, lamp, bed, wardrobe, everything in this room was brought here from Ox Village."

Wanyan Kang interrupted, “I really don't understand why you insist on living in the shabby old shack. I can get you the most beautiful furnishings but you always refuse!”

“You say that this place is shabby. But to me it is better than the most intricately decorated palace! Child, you are not fortunate. You have never lived with your true mother and father in such a shabby place.”

When Yang Tiexin heard this he felt a sudden wave of emotion and could not keep himself from shedding tears.

Wanyan Kang laughed, “Mother, the more you talk the stranger you become. How can father possibly live in this place?”

Bao Xiruo sighed: “Your poor father wandered all over the country for eighteen years living among the Jianghu [rivers and lakes]. He never had the opportunity to live peacefully in this house for even a day.

When Wanyan Kang heard this, his eyes opened wide and asked in a trembling voice, “Mother, what are you saying?” Bao Xiruo asked in a sharp voice, “Who do you think your real father is?”

Wanyan Kang, mystified, said, “My father is the great Jin Prince Zhao. Mother…why are you asking me this?”

Bao Xiruo stood up and took the spear, cradled it in her arms, and with tears flowing again, said. “Child, you don't know, so I can't blame you. This...this is your real father's spear that he used many years ago...” Pointing to the characters on the spear she continued, “This is your real father's name!”

Wanyan Kang felt his body shake. “Mother!” he cried out, “You are talking rubbish. You must be going crazy. I'm going to call for the doctor.”

“Am I talking rubbish? You say that you are a Jin? You are Chinese! Your name is not really Wanyan Kang, it's Yang…Yang Kang!” Wanyan Kang was shocked and very angry. He turned to go, shouting, “I'm going to ask father.”

Bao Xiruo called out, “Your father is in there!” With this she took a bold step towards the wardrobe, pulled open the door and taking Yang Tiexin's hand led him out into the room.