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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 3.5 Myrmidons

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Chapter 3.5 Myrmidons 

Brother went round among the Martial Brotherhood. Upon learning this, the hero fighters and brave warriors in the Martial Brotherhood turned their thumbs up, applauding, 'a job well done.' When word finally reached the native village of the sworn Brother, his son was affected deeply. Gripped by grief, the young man immediately journeyed far west to Kunming to avenge the death of his father."

Century interrupted at this juncture, "Well, his son has nothing to be proud of. The fact was that the three myrmidons were inveterate enemies of the son. But considering the atrocious crime of his father, one worthy of a death sentence, the boy should have been told not to have bothered to take it upon himself to seek revenge in the first place."

Orchid agreed with him, "My father happened to think the same. But that son of his chose to think otherwise. In no time, the young man found himself in Kunming. He located the three myrmidons inside a torn-down temple. A battle ensued. The three myrmidons were no match for their

assailant. The son, equipped with the esoteric feats of his deceased father, was fighting them single-handed. He overpowered the myrmidons in less than half a watch. "The son addressed his enemies, 'The three Uncles here, now please listen. How much do you know of what is behind my father's ploughing the fields of shame and disgrace and bearing the yoke of denouncing his Master for his own fame and fortune? Much lay behind it. Since you once were

sworn Brothers with my late father, I shall release you this time. Now you should all return home quickly and prepare for what is necessary: the upcoming fifteenth day of the third moon marks the anniversary of my

father's death. I shall surely put you to the sword, at the prescribed hour and inside your own house.' With this, he wrenched from them the edged

weapon once wielded by his father in battlefields. Then he rushed on his way, leaving the three myrmidons bewildered.

"It was already a severe winter. The three myrmidons immediately sped up north, travelling homeward. They called a family council, gathering members of the three families together and giving them an exhaustive

account of the blood feud on the boat on that particular day, sparing no details. After listening to the account, the family members reacted angrily, 'He took the life of the great hero, turned himself in as a bodyguard to the traitor, and rendered service to an alien tribe as a ranking official: what good is there left in this man? It was incredible that his son should so openly and craftily defend him by making so bold a claim.' When word reached comrades in the Martial Brotherhood, they immediately swore

allegiance to their cause.

"On the night of the fifteenth day of the third moon, the son turned up as he had promised, alone."

The Company now looked at Orchid, waiting for her to finish her story.

At this moment, Lute, Orchid's personal maid, entered the hall. She was

carrying a quaint tutenag thurible in her hand, snugly inside an embroidered purse. She walked to Orchid and put it inside the bosom of her garment.

Orchid whispered an instruction to Lute, "Burn some incense." Lute followed her order and returned in no time, carrying a miniature cassolette carved from mutton-fat jade. The maid set it down on the teapoy beside

Orchid. A faint plume smoked gracefully from the beak of a phoenix

embellished at the top of the burner. Presently, a subtle scent of delectable perfume assailed their nostrils. The aromatic scent, entrancingly soothing to the senses, was neither that of musk nor of epidendrum. Thereupon, Orchid gave Lute a lecture, "Jasmine is lit only when I am in the chamber by myself. How can you burn this while there are so many

around?"

"It was utterly foolish of me," answered Lute, wearing a smile. She picked up the incense burner and returned with a bigger one.

"The wind is blowing from the north," lectured Orchid once more.

"Though there are no windows opening to the north, the wind is gusty on the top of the mountain, and somehow the gale seeps through. Are you sure you have set the censer in the right place?"

Lute smiled and at once moved the teapoy to a corner facing northwest.

She then served Miss Orchid tea in a bowl before taking her leave.

Seeing this, the Company present remarked to themselves, "It is difficult to imagine that Phoenix, the Gilt-faced Buddha, himself a brazen knight-

errant, could have doted on his daughter so excessively."

Orchid next held up her bowl of tea gently. She uncovered its lid and examined the tea leaves and petals of Banksian inside the bowl. After taking a tiny sip, she laid the tea bowl down gently. The assemblage

expected her to continue her story. To their surprise, she apologized to the group, "I have a slight headache and would like to retire to my room. Would all the Uncles here kindly excuse my absence?" At this, she raised herself from her seat and retired to the inner chamber.

The Company present eyed each other. No words were exchanged. Curio was the first person who could no longer contain himself. Just as he was

about to speak, Sign signalled to him with her eyes, causing him to arrest the words which were already on the tip of his tongue. He choked them back.

Presently Orchid returned to the hall to rejoin the group. She had changed into a beryl green chrysochlore-lined mantua and a chrysoidine yellow plaited skirt. Orchid had also cleansed her face of the rouge which she had worn since her ascent of the mountain, looking now much fresher and more natural. She had used a headache as an excuse to retire to the inner room to rearrange her toilet. Immediately, Lute walked in after Orchid. She placed a cushion made from the pelt of a silver fox on Orchid's seat. Orchid sat down slowly. Her lips quivered slightly, revealing teeth like pearls.

After a short while, she proceeded with her account, speaking gently,

"Remember on the evening in question, the feldsher was hosting a banquet in his mansion. Over a hundred celebrated heroes and champion fighters were invited from among the Martial Brotherhood to the feast. They gathered there to await the arrival of the offspring of the sworn Brother.

When the first watch of the night was announced, there suddenly was heard a conspicuous thud and an intruding guest suddenly appeared right in front of the group. In spite of their number, not a single adept fighter in the hall

could understand how the man had stolen so surreptitiously into the room. The trespasser was about twenty, coarsely garbed in the everyday vestment of a knave, wearing a white coif on his head. In his hands he was holding a staff used by chief mourners. A backsword was slung across his back. He

strode boldy across to where the feldsher, the tramp and the porter myrmidons were, oblivious of the eyes in the assemblage. There and then he addressed the three myrmidons, 'Would the three Uncles please move so that we may discuss matters discreetly and privately?'

"A veteran champion fighter of the Omei School darted in before the three myrmidons could reply, 'If you consider yourself an utterly brazen fellow, just say so here and now. What sneaky and sheepish tricks are you up to? Your father sold out his Master for his own selfish gains. You also strike me as a sinister fellow up to some wily schemes. The three elder

Brothers should take care not to be ensnared by this rascal.' No sooner were the words out than the uninvited guest showered six hefty slaps across the

speakers's face, causing six resounding smacks to be heard and, making the fighter's head reel, creating a droning in his ears. Suddenly, he coughed up dark red blood, and his teeth spattered to the floor.

"All the loutish fighters in the hall started from their seats, panic-stricken. Aghast, none of the hundred people assembled dared utter a sound, keeping quite silent and thinking, 'This man is supremely alert and agile.' The victim, Mentor of the Omei School, shattered by the blow, was horror-

struck, unable to utter a sound. Everything was over in a moment. Before the assemblage could find time to recover their breath, the assailant had already wheeled around to where he originally was. He did not seem to have moved any muscle in his body in this wheeling back and forth. The

three myrmidons, who had travelled around the world living through good times and bad with the father of the young assailant, immediately recognized this move as the Spirit Meteoring the Yonder Sky, an esoteric levitational feat unique to his House. But the son surpassed all his Masters, even his own father.

"'Uncles,' said the young man, 'if I wanted to take your lives, why did I allow you to leave the ancient temple in Kunming? I would like to have a private word with you in a room. You may find it inconvenient here.'

"The three myrmidons found his suggestion quite sensible. Thereupon, they moved to an inner room, the feldsher leading the way. The hundred or so celebrated hero fighters and champion warriors all at once ceased feasting in the hall, looked at each other and watched closely all the movements inside the chamber.

"After the time it would take to finish a meal, the four returned to the hall together. The feldsher myrmidon bowed deeply to the people in four

corners, placing his hands in front of them. 'Thank you all for coming to the banquet,' he said. 'This is a real gesture of sworn Brotherhood, a true testimony of our pledge to uphold the great integrity, high principles and heroic spirits of the Martial Brotherhood.' Just as the assemblage was about to return his salutations, he whipped out his blade and slashed it across his throat. It was all over immediately. The Company present was taken aback. As they were about to rush forward to resuscitate him, the tramp myrmidon and the porter myrmidon wrenched the weapon from his hand, each slitting his own throat. Death struck instantly. This dramatic incident took everyone by surprise. In spite of their number, none of the celebrated fighters had

succeeded in forestalling their actions.

"The son of the sworn Brother fell to his knees and performed several kowtows to the three bodies. Then he picked up the short blade with which the three myrmidons had committed suicide and bounded to the rooftop in one leap. The assemblage cried out aloud, 'Do not allow the villain to

escape!' They immediately leapt to the rooftop in close pursuit. But the warrior had already vanished.

"The offspring of the three myrmidons wept loudly, throwing themselves on the corpses and clinging to them. The rest of the famed fighters proceeded to question the maids and servants carefully. None seemed to have any idea as to what the discussion inside the room had been about. No one could establish what wily scheme the young man had crafted which had induced the three myrmidons to take their own lives in the midst of the

assemblage. The very sight of the bodies lying on the ground filled the gathering with wrath. They vowed to wreak vengeance upon the young man who had escaped.

"But the culprit has never been seen since. No one knew where he had gone into hiding. The bereaved children of the three myrmidons were raised and brought up by the other courageous fighters. They were saddened to see such righteous and devoted people as the true fathers of the orphans meet

such a tragic end in avenging the death of their Master in the cause of justice and honour in pledged allegiance. Eaten away by this, the

courageous fighters put themselves heart and soul into bringing up the bereaved and training them well in various martial skills. These offspring, each already equipped with the esoteric martial specialty entrusted to them through ancestral training, were also given vigorous instruction by the

celebrated Masters. They developed their innate proficiencies, perfecting themselves by blending thoroughly all the acquired skills, developing them further and creating new styles. They each emerged as pioneers and became Masters in their own right."

At this juncture, Orchid let out a sigh. She then continued, "The more advanced they grew in martial ability, the more pressing they found it to

seek revenge. I am still baffled by this business of practising martial arts. Is this in itself a bane or a boon to the human race?"

Orchid was staring at the fires in the brazier, occupied with her own thoughts. The Company present was impatient to discover what happened next. Tree interjected at this point, "We are all captivated by the story told by Miss Miao. Though she has not alluded to any specific names in the

story, we may guess who those people were without being too wide of the mark. The sworn Brother in her story was the Dashing King's ultimate myrmidon, Lynx of the Sky, bearing the surname Hu. The sham porter was from the Miao Family; the tramp bore the surname Fan, while the feldsher had Tian as his last name. The progeny of each of the three myrmidons who had gone into disgrace further advanced and developed the esoteric martial ability of each family. Later, each family distinguished itself by establishing a name for its house. The martial specialty of the Miao Family is the Miao's Swordplay. Fan became Ringleader of the Cathay Outlawry. The Tian Family eventually founded the Dragon Lodge."

Though Valour, Fortune and his party were veterans of the Dragon Lodge, they only learned about the history of the Lodge there and then. Their ignorance made them feel quietly ashamed of themselves.

Presently, Tree continued his version of the story: "In the end, the descendants of the Miao, Fan, and Tian Families succeeded in tracking down the son from the Hu Family. It took them around twenty years of wild endeavour. Their enemy was found seriously ill, suffering from extremely poor health. He was forced by the three families to end his own life immediately. Ever since then, the vendetta has continued and the issue of these four families spared no efforts to procure the death of each other. Over the past century or so, children of these four families, every single one of them, without fail, met a violent death. I once bore witness to a savage battle involving the four families. It was a frightening and soul-stirring

experience."

Suddenly, Orchid lifted her head. She looked at Tree and said, "Great Master, I know the story already. Please stop immediately."

"But our friends here have not yet heard the story," answered Tree. "Why do you not carry on with the story?"

Orchid consented, though unwillingly. She agreed to render her version of the story: "The same year after he had told me the story about the four myrmidons, my father also told me another story. It is on account of the

events connected with this story that he had to burnish his backsword in order to take one more life with it. This story is indeed a very tragic one.

My heart contracts the moment I think of it. I wish my father had never told it to me."

She paused for a few moments before continuing: "The incident in question took place ten years before I was born. I wonder how the poor child has been faring. I pray he is still alive, keeping himself well."

The Company present looked at each other, wondering who that "poor child" was to whom she was referring; how did this child come into the relevant picture? They looked at Orchid, and then turned to Tree, waiting for one of them to solve their puzzlement.

Suddenly, an attendant serving tea by the side volunteered an answer:

"Madam, some good might yet come of your kind heart. I like to think that the poor child in question is still alive, and prospers." His voice was rather hoarse. The Company turned round as one to find the owner of the voice was an old man, with thin grey hair, a weak appearance, and with his right hand removed. He was carrying a tea tray in his left hand. A wide scar, caused by an edged weapon, ran straight from his right eyebrow, directly

across to the left corner of his mouth, cutting through the ridge of his nose. At the sight of this man, the Company thought to themselves, "This man has suffered sore wounds, and yet lived: it must have been a miracle."

Orchid let out a sigh before going on: "After hearing this story from my father, I would often pray fervently in silence, asking the Old One above to be merciful to this child, to be a good patron to him as well, so that he might grow up properly. My only hope is that he has not dabbled in martial arts, as I myself have not. After all, it is a blessing not knowing anything

about martial arts."

The Company present felt surprise: "Of course she is not trained in martial arts. How could she be, with her fine looks and graceful deportment. However, she is, after all, the darling girl of the Gilt-faced Buddha, Phoenix the Knight-errant, and the Invincible Under the Sky. How could it be possible that her father had not passed on to her a few of the killer tricks of her family?"

Orchid read their minds, knowing that they were eagerly awaiting her answer. She then offered them one: "My father's story has it that in the

intervening one hundred or so years, the progeny of these four families took it upon themselves to gain revenge on each other. They all ended violently. Adepts in martial arts are forced to lead a harried life, busy all their life- time with killing and avenging, or racking their brains for ideas with which to foil their enemies. They hardly have time to indulge themselves in meals with free minds. They can, at most, enjoy only a few months out of the twelve. Also, when their ends are drawing closer, they all inevitably finish by dying under a fatal blow from their adversary, even though they are destined to attain the great age of seventy or eighty. The martial ability, in which they are all experts, ironically enough can neither protect nor save them at the very end. Their martial accomplishments only help to incur for them more dangers and curses. Hence, my father laid down a scriptural

canon for the house, decreeing that all family members, effective from his day and forever after, should abstain from the arts of martial ability. He also decided not to take on disciples. He believed that if he had the misfortune to die at the hands of his enemies, no family member would be able to avenge his death as none would be skilled in martial feats. He hoped thus to bring to an abrupt end the vendetta which has been growing since the last century."

At this, Tree clasped both hands together in the Buddhist salute, chanting, "Praise be to Buddha! Praise be to Buddha! Phoenix the Knight-errant had indeed attained Enlightenment. He will force the unique techniques of the Miao's Swordplay to die after him, which in itself is a fit and good deed,

although this might mean a great loss for the Martial Brotherhood."

Orchid was puzzled by a strange gleam which flickered in the eyes of the scar-faced servant. Thereupon, she addressed Tree and the remaining party, "Would you all please excuse me? I would like to retire to my room." She drew the lapels of her garment together and saluted respectfully to the group before retiring to the inner room.

"Miss Miao is a kind-hearted and good-natured lady," remarked Tree. "She finds it hard to endure this any more. Well, I might as well continue now that she is gone."

The day had not yet reached noon, and yet the Company had already experienced a great many strange revelations in the few watches since

dawn. Some puzzlement went through their minds and they were eager to understand the matter fully.

Presently, Tree started his story: "Ever since the vengeful deeds of the Dashing King's four myrmidons, offspring of these four families, over the past hundred or so years, have never missed any opportunity to wreak vengeance upon each other. As old Lynx had sold out his Master for his own selfish ends, the Martial Brotherhood therefore turned their backs on his family. Thereafter, the younger Hus were to fight single-handed in all the furious battles that ensued, and they were almost invariably beaten.

Nonetheless, in avenging the death of their forefathers, the progeny of the Hu Family had shown to perfection the threatening effects of the esoteric martial feats of the family. It was a marvel to witness how one or two of their adept fighters managed to bring about chaos every thirty or so years, shedding blood in abundance, whether they emerged victors or losers.

"The Miao, Fan, and Tian Families beat the Hu Family in numbers and in their ability to enlist the sympathy and support of outside groups, as they

were believed to have attained Dao, the Way of the Cosmos, in their righteous fight for the cause of honour and rectitude. Nevertheless, descendants of the three families lived in constant fear of the Hu Family, whose members were always prepared to stage clandestine attacks or resort to wily schemes. Then came a time in the wake of the reign of Emperor Yongzheng when a battle broke out among the three families over the

safekeeping of the Dashing King's military weapon. It chanced that two exceptionally gifted and peerless fighters had appeared in the Hu Family.

They were brothers. Both fought fast and furious, wounding ten or so opponents in one breath. The three families were panic-stricken. Finally the Tian Family took it upon themselves to bring in reinforcements: fierce and ferocious fighters of the Martial Brotherhood. Only with a strong common front were they finally able to put their blades to the two brothers. Also in the same year, all famed warriors and celebrated fighters were called to travel afar, to Luoyang, an ancient capital, in the interior empire. There the hero fighters assembled and pledged to aid each other. There it was also decided that the Dashing King's poniard was to be in the safekeeping of the Tian Family of the Dragon Lodge. Should members of the Hu Family make any move to provoke a quarrel in future, the Tians would use this very poniard to enlist the support of brazen and courageous fighters of the

Martial Brotherhood, and join in league with the others against their

common foe. All hero fighters were immediately to come to the call of the poniard even if it meant extricating themselves from matters of

consequence.

"Many years passed. This incident seemed almost to have been forgotten.

Nevertheless, the Grand Master of the Dragon Lodge still attached great

significance to the poniard. Later, word travelled that the Dragon Lodge had split into the Northern Branch and the Southern Branch, with each Lodge taking turns at safekeeping the poniard on a ten-year basis. Brother Valour, and Brother Fortune, I presume I have this part correct?"

"The Great Master is correct," answered Valour and Fortune in unison. Immediately, Tree continued, beaming, "With the passage of time, the proteges of the Dragon Lodge came to regard the poniard as an heirloom of

their Lodge, and yet few took the trouble to trace the origin of this house treasure. Well, this should not come as a surprise as so many years had

already elapsed. But there is still this one thing that puzzles the monk, and I hope Brother Curio will be able to enlighten me on this matter."

"Just ask!" said Curio. Tree then put his question, "This old monk was told that on the day the poniard was passed from the retiring Grand Master to the Grand Master designate, the old Grand Master always made it a point to brief the new one on the history of the heirloom. Brother Curio has had the honour to become the Grand Master, and yet he is ignorant of its history. Does this mean that Pastoral, the old Grand Master, has overlooked this sacred duty of the Lodge?"

Curio's face reddened. As he was about to make a reply, Sign interceded, "It was a misfortune to the Lodge that my father was taken away so

suddenly, before he could find time to expound all the details to Brother Curio."

"This may be so," answered Tree approvingly. "Well, well, well. This is the second time I have set eyes on the poniard. The first time, when I come to think of it, must have been more than twenty-seven years ago."

Immediately, a thought went through Sign's mind, "Miss Miao is around seventeen. She said the fatal incident took place ten years before she was born, which should make it over twenty years ago. Mostly probably what the old monk witnessed then in connection with the poniard must have

some bearing on the intricacies of the matter revealed by Miss Miao."   

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