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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 1.5 Casket

Chapter 1.5 Casket 

Hawk, Valour, and the others were all gazing at the iron box, wanting either to grab it or to guard it. They were all frightened by the secret

weapon cutting through the sky. It had come flying from afar, aimed true

and furious, and had knocked the single sword off to the side. Still terrified, they all looked in the direction from which the secret weapon had come.

Presently, an old Buddhist monk with a grizzled beard approached, carrying a chaplet in his right hand.

"Be merciful, be merciful," chanted the monk. He approached in quick strides, picked up something from the ground and strung it onto his rosary. The secret weapon, dispatched by him a while ago, was simply a bead.

The rosary looked heavy, was shiny black in colour and cast from iron.

The monk had shot from some twenty or thirty yards. A bead as tiny as this was able to divert a steel sword of about twelve to fifteen pounds; this was proof enough that the monk could work great strength with his fingers.

Struck with awe, they all looked at the monk dumb-founded.

The monk had bloodshot eyes that sloped outwards, a snub nose, a twisted mouth, grey slanting brows curving downward and a cunning look.

No one could have imagined that he was so mighty and strong in martial ability.

The monk helped Third up and pulled the poisoned dart out of her

shoulder. Immediately black blood spurted out and Third groaned in agony. The monk drew out a red pellet from his bosom and put it into her mouth. Then he eyed them one by one, muttering to himself, "This pellet kills the pain only temporarily. The poisoned dart is a secret weapon used only by the Dragon Lodge. There is not much I can do to save her." Then he fixed his gaze on Valour and said, "I presume this benefactor is an adept from the Dragon Lodge. Please do a good deed, if not out of respect for the monk, at least out of reverence for the Buddha." He greeted them putting his palms together in the Buddhist salute.

Valour and Third did not know each other and had no grudge against each other. As the monk was very proficient in martial arts, Valour knew

well that should he refuse to offer her the antidote, things would not be too pleasant for him. Being an experienced hand among the outlawry, he knew precisely when to press hard and when to give way. When the monk greeted them with the Buddhist salute, Valour immediately returned his greeting. "I will certainly follow the instructions of the Great Master," he said.

Immediately, he reached into the neck of his garment, drew out two small phials, poured ten tiny black pellets from one phial which were taken by Third. Then he handed the other phial to Sign and said, "Apply this to her wound." Sign took the ointment, handed him the iron box and set to

applying the ointment to Third's wound.

"Oh merciful benefactor," said the monk. Then he bowed once respectfully and continued, "You people were here battling, may I know the reason why? There is no grudge under the sky that cannot be undone.

Permit this monk to be so bold as to play the role of arbitrator."

The Company eyed one other; some stayed quiet, while some muttered.

Curio pointed at Peace and said angrily, "This knave plotted against my

Master and stole the house treasure of the Dragon Lodge. Do you not think that he should pay for it with his life?" Thereupon, he whirled his long

sword, smiting and feinting blows.

"Who is your Master, may I know?" enquired the monk.

"My late Master was the Grand Master of the Northern Branch of our Lodge, of the family name Tian," answered Curio.

"Oh!" exclaimed the monk. "So Pastoral had passed away. What a loss!" The manner and tone in which he talked gave the impression that he knew Pastoral Tian, and the way he addressed the Grand Master as Pastoral made one feel that he considered himself Pastoral's elder.

Sign had just finished applying the ointment to Third, and when she heard him, she prostrated herself before the monk, her eyes brimming with tears. "I implore the Great Master to avenge the death of my late father and find out who the true culprit was," she said in tears.

Before the monk had a chance to reply, Curio cried out, "What do you mean by true culprit? We have here both the weapon and the witness. Is this not proof enough that this knave was the true culprit?"

Peace laughed but did not answer. Century could not hold himself back

and shouted out, "Pastoral and I have been friends for some thirty years and we are also closely related by marriage. How could we have plotted against him?"

"Because you wanted to take the treasure," snapped Curio.

Century was spurred to anger; he bounded forward and with his rod dealt him a stroke. Just as Curio was about to fight back, the old monk lashed out his left hand, holding Century's right wrist and causing his rod to rebound suddenly in the wrong direction. The middle of his palm started trembling and the Tiger's Mouth, the web between his thumb and first finger, hurt

terribly. He could not even hold the weapon in his hand. He immediately let go of his weapon, and leapt to the side. His steel rod fell on the snowy ground with a thud, half of it buried in the snow.

The others were closing round the monk. When the steel rod shot up

suddenly and fell again, they all bounded backward, leaving an empty space around the monk. They all stared at the monk in surprise and pondered,

"The Commander of the Eastern Border used to beat all others in the Martial Brotherhood with his might and strength in the limbs. I fail to

understand why he flung his weapon as a result of a slight tug like that."

Century's face reddened as he cried, "What a marvellous monk! So you have been invited here by the Dragon Lodge to plot against us."

The monk smiled. "Benefactor, old as you are, you still have such a temper. You are right in that this monk has certainly travelled here to the Changbai Range on invitation, but not that of the Dragon Lodge."

The Dragon Lodge party and Century and Peace were all taken aback by his words. They thought to themselves, "No wonder he helped to save the life of Third. If he is someone from the Peking Overland Convoy, we will not stand a chance of keeping the iron box." Valour stepped back one pace while Fortune and Curio advanced towards the monk, flourishing their

swords; they guarded him on both sides.

The monk paid no heed to what was happening but went on, "We have no firewood here and no food either. We cannot survive the cold. The manor of the Master is not far from here. Everybody can be counted as a friend of this monk. Perhaps we should stop there for a rest? The Master will be very happy to see the whole lot of us, heroes and good fighters, march into his place. Damn it! Let us go and enjoy ourselves." Then he laughed heartily

and seemed to have forgotten all the recent bloodshed and fierce battle not too long ago.

Though he looked ugly, he was friendly and approachable. It was indeed odd to hear someone called to Buddhism utter the phrase "damn it".

However, when the words fell on the ears of the men of bold and uninhibited character, they caused them to drop much of their defense. "May I know who is the man whom the Great Master referred to as the Master?" enquired Fortune.

To this the monk replied, "The Master would not allow this monk to disclose his name. The monk is hospitable by nature. As he has already

extended his invitation to you all, this monk will feel insulted if you do not honour him with your presence."

Hawk considered the monk rather strange. He made an obeisance by cupping one hand in the other over his chest and said, "I cannot join the company. Would the Great Master please accept my apology." Having finished, he turned and made away at full speed.

The monk said heartily, "Here out on the mountain, in the middle of nowhere, I am so very lucky to have met a stickler. God damn his good luck." He took his time to finish his words and after Hawk had run for some distance, the monk suddenly swung himself round and ran after him in pursuit. He bounded, hopped and rushed headlong in the snow, his form

extremely ugly, as it was heavy and awkward.

Though he looked like a fat goose or a toad, he overtook Hawk in no time. "Now pardon this monk for being impolite to the stickler."

Before Hawk could find words, the monk, describing a circle with his left hand, twisted it round suddenly and grabbed Hawk's right wrist.

Half of Hawk's side was numbed and aching. The next thing, which happened before Hawk could collect himself, was that the monk pinched his wrist, at the Pulse Gate, the point where blood vessels were located and the pulses felt. At this critical moment Hawk flung his left hand at the monk. The latter, who had already gripped Hawk's right wrist with the thumb and index finger of his left hand, now in the face of Hawk's impending left hand attack, immediately raised his own left hand, lifting

Hawk's right arm at the same time. The monk then extended the middle, ring and little fingers of his left hand and hooked Hawk's left wrist with these three strong fingers of his. In this way, the monk was able to grab both of Hawk's hands with only his left hand, while carrying the rosary in his right. Thus, he sped to rejoin the group, leaping and bouncing all the way.

When the others found the state Hawk was in, both hands locked as if by a pair of manacles and being dragged along by the old monk, they were

alarmed and pleased at the same time. They were surprised to find the old monk such a rare adept in martial arts; but they were glad to learn also that the monk was not in league with those from the Peking Overland Convoy. The monk pulled Hawk in front of the others and said, "Master Hawk has agreed to honour me with his presence. Would the others please follow this way?"

Hawk had set an example for the others. Though they did not feel like accepting the invitation, they dared not openly decline it, mindful of the unpleasantness that would follow. The monk now held Hawk by his wrist and went on his way slowly.

After a few paces, he turned around and asked, "What is that noise?" The others halted and listened carefully. They could just discern the faint sound of panting and yelling coming from afar. It seemed like people wrestling

with each other. Valour woke up suddenly, crying, "Curio, go and help Radiant quick!"

"Oh, I had forgotten!" returned Curio loudly. Thereupon, he sped in the other direction brandishing his sword.

The old monk still would not let go of Hawk. He made full speed joining the others in the pursuit, dragging Hawk along. After running forty or so yards, Hawk's legs began to give way. Though he had activated his inner

energy for a headlong dash, he still was not the old monk's equal in speed

and agility. Hawk, with both hands held fast and tight, and hard as he might try, still could not free himself of the old monk who showed no sign of loosening the grip of his five long and bony fingers. In another few paces, the monk outstripped him by half a foot. Hawk could no longer stand erect; he stumbled, falling face down flat on the ground, his still uplifted arms

crossed over his head, almost touching the ears on both sides. Hawk was now hauled along on the snowy ground by the old monk. He was angry and upset at the same time, waiting for an opportunity to kick the old monk. But the monk dragged him along faster and faster.

Presently, everybody was back near the pit where Radiant and Prime

were found struggling madly, rolling back and forth in the snow. Both were now without weapons, fighting hand to hand. They were caught in an

extremely distressing and embarrassing situation, both badly battered, resembling not at all expert fighters of the Martial Brotherhood meeting each other in fair fight. They were more like spiteful and sharp-tongued women of the marketplace mauling each other. Curio then moved up

brandishing his blade, awaiting an opportunity to lunge at Prime. The two were so embroiled in their fight that they kept rolling, turning and

stumbling. Curio dared not thrust his sword at Prime for fear of hurting his Junior Brother in the confusion.

The old monk advanced a few paces, grabbed Radiant's back with his right hand and lifted him up in the air. As Radiant and Prime now had their limbs hooked together and wrapped round one another, they had become virtually locked. In lifting Radiant, the monk lifted Prime as well. The two were still so embroiled in their battle that they continued fighting against

each other after they had been lifted off the ground. The old monk laughed out aloud and gave a sharp jerk with his right hand, numbing the limbs of both men. Prime was thrown some five feet and fell to the ground with a thud. The monk then put Radiant down on the ground, letting go of Hawk's wrist at the same time. Hawk, having been dragged for quite some time, found it difficult to bend his arms upon his release. He therefore continued to hold his hands up over his head for some time before dropping them

slowly to his sides. He was overwhelmed with shock on seeing how deep the monk had sunk his nails into his wrist, leaving their marks.

"A pox on you all!" bawled the old monk. "Let us proceed quickly. We can still arrive in time for breakfast at the lord's."

They eyed each other and followed the monk. Third was hurt sorely in the thigh and Hawk carried her on his back, disregarding the social taboo

which deemed this improper. Century and his son, Peace, were wounded, so were Radiant and others. The snowy ground was dyed a dark, rusty red, all the way to the north.

For a mile or so the group walked; the wounded moaned and groaned, finding it difficult to keep up. Sign pulled a clean, cotton gown from her backpack and tore it into strips. With these, she first bandaged Radiant, then Century and his son, Peace. Curio was about to protest against this when Sign cast him a glance from the side of her eyes. Though he could not quite make out what she meant, he managed to check himself.

About half a mile further on, the ground on the other side of the mountain was covered with thicker, knee-high snow. Treading on snowy ground like this was strenuous work even though they were all skilled in martial arts,

and they found it difficult to pull their legs from the thick snow. "I wonder how far away the Master's place is?" thought each to himself. The old monk seemed to have read their minds, and pointing to a towering summit on their left, he said, "It is not too far. It is up there."

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