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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 3.1 Myrmidons

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Chapter 3.1 Myrmidons 

The long-necked fellow was the steward of the eyrie and bore the surname Yu. He had been a paragon of a fighter among the outlawry and was a man of sharp sense and shrewd ability. When the bamboo basket was halfway up the mountain, he craned his neck out to look below. But all he saw was

shiny black bundles packed inside the basket, not in the least resembling any human figure. After the basket had been hauled closer, he was able to

make out several chests and trunks, as well as flower-pots, censers, and the like, so that the basket was packed to the brim. Steward Yu began to

wonder, "Are they here to pay tribute to the Master?" Three women were pulled up the mountain when the basket made its second ascent. Two of them were in their forties and were dressed like

servants. The third woman, apparently a maid, was fifteen or sixteen years old, with big round eyes and a dimple on her left cheek. She stepped out before the basket had come to a complete halt, glanced at Steward Yu, and addressed him smilingly. "I presume you must be Big Brother Yu. You have a long face and a neck which I have heard about." She spoke in the northern dialect of the capital, and her voice was decidedly pleasing. The steward disliked any reference to his neck and head, but, noticing that the maid was beaming with delight, he found no cause to lose his humour and merely nodded whilst forcing a smile.

"I'm Lute," the maid introduced herself. "And this is Mama Zhou. She was our lady's wet-nurse. This woman over here is Auntie Han. Our lady thinks highly of her culinary arts. Let down the basket quickly to bring the lady up." Steward Yu was about to ask to which family her lady belonged, but Lute just went on chattering as she busily unloaded the basket. She

removed a bird cage, a civet cat, a perch for the parrot, pots for the orchids, plus much more strange paraphernalia. "This summit is so high," she

commented with a sigh. "There is neither grass nor flowers. I do not think the lady will like it here. Big Brother Yu, do you never get bored staying up here all year round?"

Steward Yu frowned and thought to himself, "The Master is well on his way to meeting his strong opponents; yet, arriving now, from heaven knows where, is this chit cackling on and on." Thereupon, he asked, "May I know to which family you belong? Are you relatives of my Master?"

"You are guessing stupidly," Lute answered sharply. "I could tell that you were Big Brother Yu the minute we met. Why is it that you do not even know which family my lady is from? If I had not told you that my name is Lute, I am sure that you would never have guessed who I am in a thousand years. You, stop it! Stay where you are or the lady might get angry." Steward Yu was stunned on hearing this, but he then saw Lute bending down to pick up a small cat. She had, in fact, addressed the last few words to the animal.

The steward helped the maid unload all the paraphernalia from the basket. "Aiya, do not touch anything," said Lute, annoyed. "There are books inside this chest. If you have the box the wrong way up like this, the books will all be jumbled up. Now, now, leave the orchids alone. They are to be kept away from men or they will be tainted by their breath. The lady says orchids are the most elegant and graceful of all flowers. If any man exhales nearby, the flower will surely wither the same evening."

The steward immediately put down the small pot of orchids he was

carrying. Suddenly he heard a voice chanting behind his back, "The mind leaps at playing music on a stringed instrument; the heart is unhappy that no one is able to share your music's true delight." The squawking sounded

eerie.

The steward started and turned around at once, ready to engage his opponents, only to discover the white parrot reciting a poem from his perch. Feeling annoyed, yet amused, he ordered the bamboo basket to be sent downhill to bring the lady up. The nanny, however, insisted that the cases be unpacked before anything else, and a fur be unpacked to upholster the basket lest the lady should find it too hard and uncomfortable. The nanny took her keys and had the trunks unlocked. Turning next to Auntie Han, she started a discussion with her about whether to have the basket upholstered with a mink or a pelt of the silver fox. The steward was growing impatient

and could not hold himself back any longer. His mind was still preoccupied with the battle raging in the hall, and he was worried about Valour's fate.

Soon, he instructed an attendant to tend to the lady, and dashed back into the hall.

The steward had been away receiving the visitors for some time.

Meanwhile, the fight had continued as before, without any decisive gains by either side. Valour was still cornered by the younger twin, except that his

situation had become more precarious. He lost the shoe from his left foot,

and the queue braided as a bun on his crown was sliced in half, giving him a dishevelled appearance. Curio, Fortune, Radiant, and the others had taken up weapons from the domestic helpers. Twice they had attempted to assist Valour, but they could never move beyond the circle described by the elder twin and they ended up drifting farther and farther away from Valour.

Hawk and his party had intended to wrest the iron casket from Valour, but they, too, were forced to step back after suffering several defeats at the hand of the elder twin and his dagger. They could not accept losing. They saw very little that was special in the moves practised by the twins, who were also limited in their internal energy. The twins only had two unsurpassedly keen daggers and a series of moves for mutual support, be they on the offensive or defensive. But the two lads were in danger of forcing an outright submission from the entire group of agile and

courageous fighters.

Thereupon, the steward studied the floor for a moment, remarking to himself, "The Master has entrusted me with the overall charge of the eyrie while he is away. If he learns that these honourable guests have been greatly humiliated and shamefully beaten on his own premises, how is the Master going to preserve his honour? I have to rescue this fellow Valour even if it

costs me my life." Thereupon, he rushed to his own room, grabbed the broadsword, forged with purple of Cassius, puce in colour, wielded by him when an outlaw but lying disused since. He spun round to the hall. After

examining the moves and movements of the twins for a while, the steward cried aloud, "If the two little brothers do not halt right now, we of the

Jadeite Eyrie will but have to resort to force."

To this the younger twin responded boldly. "Our Master has instructed us to dispatch a written challenge but has not instructed us to start a fight. We shall let him go as soon as he replaces my pearl." Having said that, the younger lad took one step forward and caught Valour on his left shoulder,

slashing it with a whir.

The steward was about to respond to the lad when, from behind his back, echoed a female voice, "Aiya, stop all fighting, please. Stop all fighting, please. I really hate to see people taking to arms." There was a soft

spontaneity in her voice that fell with gentle melody on the ears of the

Company present. The group assembled could not help but turn their heads around.

A young damsel clad in gamboge was seen smiling from the portal. She had a fair complexion. Her eyes were like limpid pools and she cast a

couple of glances at the people assembled. Her looks and manners showed unusual refinement and inexpressible grace. Her brows gave her the air of a literateur. She seemed like an orient pearl or an effulgent jadeite. All those present in the hall were bold and brave members of the Martial

Brotherhood, outlaws who had adventured across the kingdom. They

seemed to be mesmerized by suddenly chancing upon a damsel as fair and fine as she. They were all captivated by the ethereal grace of her poise, and were quelled by her beauty. They stood uncomfortably, spellbound and enraptured.

Nevertheless, the twins appeared to be totally unaffected by her charm.

They took no note of her presence. While Fortune and his party were

standing entranced by the damsel, the twins seized this opportunity and quickly cleft every single weapon with a clash and a clang.

"The two little brothers please cease all this," implored the maiden. "How distasteful it is to have wounded people like this."

To this the younger lad remonstrated. "That is because he will not replace back my pearl."

"What pearl?" inquired the damsel.

The younger twin pointed the tip of his sword at the chest of Valour, bent down, and picked up the pearl already broken in half. Then he addressed her in a mournful tone, "See what he has done to my pearl. I want him to repay me."

The damsel moved closer, held up the pearl, and examined it. "Oh, what a prize pearl!" she exclaimed. "I could not afford to repay you either. Why do you not settle it like this?" At this, she turned round to her maid. "Lute, get me the pair of jade stallions and give them to the twins." Lute followed her instruction most unwillingly, remonstrating, "Miss..."

"You mustn't be that niggardly!" reproached the maiden, wearing a smile. "See how exquisitely fine the two little brothers look. The jade stallions can certainly set off to perfection their fine features."

The twins eyed each other. Lute then opened a gilded chest, from which she took two matching embroidered purses, and handed them to her mistress. One purse the damsel opened and from it produced a tiny, jade

stallion; embedded in its mouth was a silk filigree, its reins. The damsel then fastened the jade ornament onto the girdle-sash of the younger twin and handed to the elder twin a matching jade stallion which she produced

from the other brocaded sachet. The elder lad took the gift and thanked her, paying his respects. The jade stallion, a radiant and glittering statuette, was an exquisitely fine piece of glyptic art. The horse assumed a leaping and prancing stance. Tiny as it was, the miniature was a rarity, succeeding in

capturing vividly the elegant prance of a fast-moving steed. The lad loved the stallion, but wavered a moment, wondering who the damsel was. He

was pondering whether he should accept a gift worth a fortune. Meanwhile, the younger twin picked the other half of the pearl from the foot of the wall, saying, "This pearl of mine is one of a set as it matches my brother's. Jade

stallion or no jade stallion, the imperfection can never be repaired." At this, he felt decidedly unhappy.

It dawned instantly on the maiden that the twins were closely attached to one another; their looks and attire enforced this impression. After all, it might not matter significantly that the pearl was damaged, but what distressed them most was to find their ornamental wear distorted so

wretchedly, no longer able to form a set. Thereupon, the damsel picked up the jade stallion, set the two halves of the orient pearl over the orbits of the steed, remarking, "I have an idea: set the eyes of the jade stallion with these two blister pearls. As the pearl emits a glow in the dark, the eyes of the jade stallion will also light up at night. They will look marvellous."

The elder twin was greatly exhilarated. He immediately plucked the pearl from his plait and sliced it into two hemispherical pieces with his dagger.

Turning to his twin brother, he said, "Now, our pearls and jade stallions look exactly alike." The younger lad managed to check his anger and brightened up at once. He thanked the damsel whole-heartedly and also paid respects to Valour, saying, "Now, an end to our quarrel."

Valour was badly stained and was consumed with rage, yet he dared not remonstrate at all.

The younger lad then held the hand of the elder twin, both ready to take their leave. Addressing himself to the damsel, the elder twin said, "Thank you for your generous gift. May I know who you are? So that if my Master asks any questions, I shall have for him a ready answer."

"May I know who your Master is?" asked the maiden. "My Master bears the family name Hu."

At this, the maiden turned pale, observing, "You are then the servants of Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain."

The twins bowed in unison and replied, "Yes, you are right."

The damsel replied in a changed tone, "My family name is Miao. Should your Master ask anything about me, inform him that these two jade stallions are gifts from the daughter of the Gilt-faced Buddha."

At this those assembled found themselves in great discomfiture. The august name Gilt-faced Buddha was known far and wide. It defied all imagination to find his daughter such a winsome, elegant and demure maiden. She was endowed with the deportment of a young lady from a

wealthy and aristocratic household. She seemed like an unmarried daughter from an illustrious family of letters. No element of this young lady resembled the daughter of a famed knight-errant among the outlawry. The twins signalled to each other with their eyes. Both put the jade stallions down on the teapoy, spun round and left the hall quietly.

The maiden smiled gently, also uttering not a word. Lute collected the jade stallions, joyfully. She turned to the damsel and said, "You were

casting pearls before swine. Imagine: the twins threw away prize gifts like that. If I were in their place, I would. " The damsel interrupted with a

smile. "Hush, or we will be taken for doltish mules."

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