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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 1.2 Casket

Chapter 1.2 Casket 

The animals which they rode were thoroughbred horses of the border region and they made good speed. Soon the five horses in front were within sight.

Curio cried out, "Halt, if you are with us!" The five riders took no notice of his command, but spurred their horses on.

Curio shouted at the top of his voice, "Halt or we will attack."

One of the five wheeled his stallion while the others galloped on. Curio rode ahead. The stranger fitted an arrow to his bow and aimed it at Curio's chest. Curio was a man of courage and skill, and was not a bit shaken.

Cracking his whip, he cried, "Is that Peace, our family friend?"

The man had fine features and slanting eyebrows. He was in his early twenties and was very beautifully dressed. At Curio's cry, he laughed out aloud, "Watch out for the arrows." Instantly three arrows sped through the air, one above the other, aimed in quick succession at his head, trunk and lower limbs respectively.

Curio was surprised by the great speed at which the three arrows travelled; his heart trembled. Lashing his whip, he managed to ward off the arrows aimed at his head and trunk. He simultaneously pulled in his reins hard, and his horse reared. The third arrow sped between the beast's four limbs, narrowly missing the belly. The young man laughed aloud, pulled round his horse and galloped off into the distance.

Curio was purple with rage and wanted to spur his horse on in pursuit of the archer. Valour cried out, "Easy, now. He will never get away."

Dismounting, he picked up the three arrows from the snowy ground. They were the same as the arrow that had killed the wild goose. Fortune's face darkened and he muttered, "So it is that brat!"

"Let us wait for our Sister," said Curio. "We shall see what she has to say."

The four waited a while but no sound of horses' hooves reached their ears. Curio became impatient. "I'll go and find her," he cried. He put his spurs to his horse and charged back in the direction from which he had

come. Valour watched him disappear into the distance and sighed, "It's hard for him."

"I beg your pardon, Brother Valour?" asked Fortune. Valour shook his head and made no reply.

Curio rode a few miles and found an unattended grey horse. A lady in white was kneeling, searching for something in the snow. Curio cried,

"Sister, is everything well?" The lady did not reply but drew herself up to her full height suddenly. In her hand was a thin, golden object that glittered in the sunlight. Curio moved closer, and took it from her. It was a tiny bodkin made of gold, about three inches long, tapering to a sharp point, and of very fine craftsmanship.

On the side of the bodkin was engraved a tiny character, "An," meaning "Peace." The bodkin looked like a plaything, and at the same time like a secret weapon. Curio frowned.

"Where did you get it?" he asked.

The lady replied, "You were all gone and I just followed. When I got here, a horse suddenly caught up with me from behind. It was making great speed and overtook me in no time. The rider waved and threw me this little bodkin. I was .... I was " She suddenly blushed and could say no more.

Curio gazed at her. She lowered her eye-lashes. She was extremely beautiful, and Curio's heart contracted within him. Then he grew suspicious and asked, "Don't you know whom we are after?"

"Whom?" returned the lady.

To this he replied coldly, "Are you sure you really don't know?" She raised her head and answered, "How could I know?"

"It is your true love," said he.

"Peace Tao?" burst forth the lady. No sooner was this out of her mouth than her face crimsoned completely.

Curio's brows darkened. "I only said that it was your true love and now you have given yourself away."

Hearing his words, the lady flushed even more. Tears glistened in her clear, dark eyes.She stamped her foot in protest. "He "

"What about him?" asked Curio.

To this the lady replied, "He is my husband-to-be. Of course he is my true love."

Curio was wild with rage and whipped out his long sword. But the lady

advanced one step and cried, "Kill me if you have the stomach for it." Curio gnashed his teeth, gazed at her slightly uptilted face and was at once full of tender affection for the girl.

"Let the matter end now," he answered. He reversed his sword and aimed it furiously at his own chest.

The lady responded with alacrity, whipped out her sword with her hand reversed and in no time swung her arm around ready to charge. Then they came together lashing and smiting with their swords until sparks flew.

Curio said bitterly, "As you no longer care for me, what is the point in letting me live and be miserable?"

The lady returned the sword to its scabbard slowly and lowered her voice, "As you already know, it is my father who betrothed me to him. Could I have decided things?"

Curio's eyes shone. "I shall wander about the world with you," he said. "We will live together on uninhabited islands or way out in the high

mountains, away from this world, till the end of our lives. Why do you turn away from me?"

"Brother," sighed the lady, "You love me to distraction, that I know; I am not a fool. How could I fail to appreciate your kindness? You are Grand

Master of the Northern Branch of our Dragon Lodge; it would be a

shattering blow to the name of the Dragon Lodge if anything were to happen between us. How are you going to preserve your honour among the outlawry?"

"For you, I would dash myself to pieces, protested Curio. I care not if the sky falls down upon me, Grand Master or not."

A slight smile crossed the lady's face as they joined hands. "Brother, what I dislike is this quick and violent temper of yours."

Hearing her words, Curio could go on no further but checked himself and sighed, "Why did you handle his plaything like a pet?" asked Curio.

"Did he give it to me?" returned the lady. "When has he been near me?" "This is an expensive toy," said Curio. "Would people use it as a secret

weapon? His name is clearly engraved on the bodkin. Who else could have given it to you, if not he?"

The lady became angry and said, "If you choose to become suspicious, you had better stop talking to me now!" She sprang astride the grey horse. She then laid her hands on the bridle and instantly the beast was away at full gallop.

Curio immediately mounted his horse, kicked it fiercely with his heels, and galloped away in pursuit. He overtook the lady in no time. Moving forward, he held the bridle of the grey horse with his right hand and

addressed her. "Sister, now listen."

The lady lashed her whip across his hand and shouted, "Let me go. Don't be ridiculous." Curio would not listen. The next minute, her whip came slashing at the back of his hand, leaving a red weal.

The lady regretted her blow. "Pray tell me, why do you come after me like this?" asked the lady.

"I am at fault in this," pleaded Curio. "Strike me again."

The lady smiled a light, contented smile and answered, "My hand hurts. I cannot go on any more."

Curio laughed out aloud, "I will make it feel better." He reached out for her arm.

The lady lashed at his skull. Curio dodged and warded off the blow just in time. He said cheekily, "How is it that your hand did not hurt just then?" The lady frowned and retorted, "Will you not leave me in peace?"

"All right, all right," Curio chuckled. "Just tell me how you came by this golden bodkin."

"My true love gave it to me," said the lady teasingly. "If he did not give it to me, who else could have? Could it have been you?"

Curio was seized with jealousy and felt hot blood rushing to his head. He was bursting with rage but held himself back at the sight of her blooming face, her quivering red lips and teeth that shone like pearls.

The lady looked him in the eyes and heaved a sigh. "Brother," spoke the lady in a soft voice, "I have been well looked after by you since I was very young. You even treat me better than my own brother. I am not wholly ungrateful and I do appreciate what you have done. I will surely repay your kindness. After all, we. Don't be hard on me over this matter. You have

always cared for me and seen that no harm came my way. My father died in great misfortune, and the Dragon Lodge is now entangled in a matter of life or death. Yet you fail to see my problems and make no allowances for me." Curio was taken aback by her words and remained silent. Then he waved his left hand and said, "You are always in the right, I am always wrong. Go now."

The lady smiled a sweet smile and said, "One moment, please." She drew out a handkerchief and mopped his forehead, now beaded with sweat. "In

snowy country like this, if you leave your perspiration, you will catch a

cold," she said. Curio found her feminine touch soothing and all his pent up anger presently subsided. He tapped lightly on the rump of the lady's grey horse with his whip and the two trotted off side by side. The lady went by the name of Sign Tian. Though she was young, she had already made a name in the Martial Brotherhood of the border region. As her beauty was matched by sharp intelligence and quick wit, the elder members of the Liaodong Martial Brotherhood had given her the title of

Glistening Sable. The sable can make great speed on snowy ground, and is sharp and intelligent; "Glistening" described her beauty. Her father, Pastoral Tian, had only recently passed away which was why she was clad in white silk, in deep mourning.

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