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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 4.1 Tryst

Chapter 4.1 Tryst 

Tree proceeded to treat the party to a lively account of what had actually taken place some twenty years before. "Before I took the vows of celibacy and abstinence of the Buddhist monk, I was a rural practitioner eking out a bare existence with my scanty medical knowledge in a small hamlet, a backwater of Cangzhou, which was directly attached to the Metropolitan

circuit. Practising martial arts was part of the life of the people living in Cangzhou. All youngsters invariably received instruction in pugilism and swordplay, of one kind or another. I was then an osteopath bonesetter and

martial artist of some sort. The village was situated in a remote countryside, with only five to six hundred inhabitants. I certainly had the means neither to support a family, nor to find myself a wife.

"In the twelfth moon of the lunar year in question, I went to bed after

swallowing three bowlfuls of cold gruel. Then I was soon sound asleep and deep in dreams. I dreamt that I had inherited a large fortune and was going to take a beautiful maiden as my wife. Just at that damned moment, there

came a noisy banging from outside: somebody was pounding on the door.

"It was piercingly cold outside. A strong gale was gusting from the north.

The warmth in the kang I was sleeping on had long since died out and the cover was almost paper-thin. I was most reluctant to get myself out of bed, and was particularly vexed to be woken up in the middle of a wondrous dream. But the banging on the door gathered momentum.

"'Doctor! Doctor!' someone could be heard howling outside.

"It was the dialect of the region west of the Pass, definitely not a local brogue. It seemed as though the owner of the voice would certainly break into my place if the door was not opened immediately. Baffled by all that was going on, I quickly grabbed my coat, flung it over my shoulders and leapt out of bed. No sooner was the door unbolted than it was thrown open

with a loud bang. I darted to the side, just in time to avoid being given a big bruise on the forehead by the swinging door. A light flickered. In a trice, a man marched into the room, holding a torch in his hand.

"'Quick! Doctor! Follow me quick!' shouted the man. "'What's the matter? Who are you?' I demanded.

"'This is a matter of life and death,' puffed the man.

"Before I could put in another word the man flung down a silver ingot with his left hand. The precious metal landed neatly on the table with a

clang. That object was a good handsome piece of twenty-tael silver. Such an offer was altogether too tempting. The payment I normally got from

attending the village folks was merely a few tens or hundreds in cash. In truth it took some moments for me to believe that it was a twenty-tael silver ingot. Amazed by the sight of the metal, I speedily tucked the silver object away and pulled my clothes and shoes on. The fellow kept telling me to hurry. I stole a quick look at the man while struggling into some clothes. He had the typical rough, brazen and almost insolent look of a clandestine gangman, except for the worried look on his face. "He snatched my kit-box with one hand before I could find time to button myself up. He then grabbed my hand with his other hand and dragged me out into the street.

"'Hey, let me lock the door!' I shouted out.

"'We'll pay for anything that is stolen,' he answered impatiently.

"He dragged me along with short, quick paces, and in no time we found ourselves at the entrance to the Pacific Staging Post. This was the only hostelry in the village which accepted muleteers and coolies on stage-

coaches to and from the capital. The lodging was not only lacking in space; it was also filthy and squalid. I was wondering how it was possible that rich and wealthy people like my client could tolerate this place. Before I could find time to finish my thoughts, I was dragged into a corridor by the

stranger. Lighted lamps and torches were swaying. Four or five men were sitting there.

"'The doctor is here!' shouted the man, still grasping my hand. The

company's faces lit up with joy and they hustled me forward to a side-room on the eastern wing.

"I was appalled by what I saw right at the doorstep and I started as if I had seen the devil. On the kang were four men lying shoulder to shoulder, drenched in blood. I asked the man to move the lantern closer so that I

could examine the wounded better. They were sorely wounded: some had their faces disfigured and others had upper limbs mutilated by blows from edged weapons.

"I at once posed the question, 'How did they come to suffer such cruel blows? Were they attacked by thugs?'

"To this the man answered sharply, 'Get them back on their feet quickly.

I'll promise you more money as long as you mind your own business, do not pry in the affairs of others, and keep your mouth shut.'

"The fellows in the room were all armed, bold and ferocious. I dared not become any more involved in their business, but immediately set to dressing the wounds of the injured with a styptic concoction specifically prepared for wounds inflicted by edged weapons. The bleeding was finally staunched and the cuts bandaged.

"'More over there,' signalled the man. He led the way to a side-room on the western wing. Three more injured were lying on a kang, covered with wounds from edged weapons. I staunched their bleeding with a herbal preparation, then made them take a medicine brewed from herbs possessed of soporific and anodyne qualities to induce sedation and sleep. The seven wounded eventually all fell asleep.

"Seeing that my herbal preparations worked like magic, the man who had brought me to the inn then assumed a more friendly air, forgetting his previous fierce and ferocious looks. The others told the attendants to

convert a door-board into a makeshift bed for me to sleep on so that I might tend immediately to the wounded should things take a turn for the worse.

"The next morning I woke up at the crowing of the cocks. The sounds of horses' hooves were heard coming from a distance. In no time the beasts halted in front of the staging post. The gang of fellows then marched to the doorway to receive the visitors. I pretended to be asleep, but all the while my narrow peeping eyes were intently following all that was going on

around me. Presently two men entered the room. One was dressed like a vagabond, but had a penetrating gleam in his eyes. The other had fine, handsome features and appeared quite young. The two visitors walked

straight across to the side of the kang and examined the wounded. The injured struggled to a sitting position despite excruciating pain, attempting to show great respect for the visitors. The vagabond fellow was heard being addressed as Fan the Ringleader and the other one as Tian the Young


Tree paused at this point, and then addressed Sign, "The first time I met your father was long before you were born. Your father was shrewd and

capable. To this very day, I can still recall the decisive, sharp look he had on that day." Sign's eyes moistened and she lowered her head.

Immediately Tree continued his tale: "One of the wounded men was heard whispering in the ears of the visitors, 'Master Fan and Master Tian, the Zhang Brothers have been tailing these two confidence artists all the way from beyond the Pass down south, and our investigation has led us to

believe that the iron casket is now definitely in the possession of these two. All the information has already been verified.'"

On hearing the words "iron casket" the Company looked at one another, thinking to themselves, "Tree is now getting to the core of the story."

Tree soon continued his narration: "Fan the Ringleader nodded his head, acknowledging the man's words. The man then continued, 'We had all positioned ourselves at the town of Tang, ready to dispatch our men to take word to the two of you and to the Gilt-faced Buddha, Phoenix the Knight- errant. Unfortunately the confidence artist saw through our plan and detained us on our way, telling us, "We have never met and I do not believe I know any of you here. Why are you following me? You must be sent by the Miao, Fan and Tian Families; am I right?" Thereupon Big Brother

Zhang answered, "Much better that you know it." Thereupon the confidence artist straightened his face and wrenched Brother Zhang's knife from him, pressing his hands to each end of the blade. The knife immediately snapped in two. The victor thrust the broken parts to the ground and remarked

angrily, "I hate to hurt anyone more than I have to. Leave my sight!" Seeing that the confidence artist had really worked wonders with his hands, we all rushed forward to Brother Zhang's rescue. Immediately, Brother Zhang flung out his leg and dealt a blow on the belly of his pregnant wife. The

confidence artist grew furious and bawled at us, "I intended to let you go, and yet you are so insolent!" Snatching up a knife, he showered blows and strokes on us, wounding seven of us in one breath.'

"At this juncture Master Tian broke in, 'What else did he say?' The man replied, 'The confidence artist meant to shower more blows and strokes, wounding more of us, but at that point his wife called out from inside the carriage, "Let them go! Earn a little merit and some good karma for your unborn child." At this, the confidence artist smiled faintly, withdrew his hands and snapped up his knife.' Tian looked at Fan with meaning in his

eyes before addressing the man again, 'Are you sure he snapped it with his hands?' The man answered, 'I am positive. I was standing next to him and

saw it all very clearly.' Tian expressed boredom and turned his face upward, staring into space. Fan quickly assured him, 'My dear Younger Brother, do not worry. Phoenix the Knight-errant can certainly aim his sword at this insolent fellow.'

"The man then continued, 'He is now on his way to the land south of the Yangtze River and will have to pass through this place also. If the two of you stay behind, he certainly cannot hope to get away.' His suggestion

aroused serious looks in both Fan and Tian, and they began to discuss matters in low whispers. A few moments later, they both walked slowly out of the room.

"I kept on pretending to be fast asleep until they had left the room. Then I arose and changed the dressings for the seven wounded. I asked myself, 'I wonder who this confidence artist is? He harboured no intention of killing his assailants, but spared their lives instead. Though these seven here are seriously wounded, they have not been dealt a single fatal blow.'

"At dusk, while we were having supper in the hall, a man rushed into the room, shouting out, 'Here comes the man!' The fellows changed colour.

They immediately flung away their rice bowls and chopsticks, whipped out their blades and rushed outside. I quietly followed them, very much frightened; yet I wanted to join the crowd, to be where the action was.

"The driveway was murky, covered with clouds of dust. A big carriage rumbled in from a distance. Fan and Tian, conducting their train of retainers, moved to the doorway, ready for the party's arrival. I was the last one to follow. The big carriage finally pulled to a halt in front of the group. Fan shouted to someone inside the carriage, 'Hu! Get yourself out into the open.' Presently an answer came from behind the blind of the coach, 'Paupers awaiting their alms, eh? Fine: some money, then, for whoever is present.' In no time, their eyes were dazzled by the glittering and glistening of gold and all dropped to the ground in a second, letting out cries. Fan and Tian, being proficient in martial arts, were the only two who survived the ordeal. They managed to maintain themselves in an upright position, even though each had caught one of the dispatched arhat quoits in the wrist, forcing them to slacken their grip on their weapons, so that they dropped to the ground. Tian reacted quickly, 'Big Brother Fan, move to the side quickly!'

"Fan the Ringleader proved himself exceptionally alert and agile. He bent down to retrieve his iron shaft and whipped around in a trice, planting himself upright beside those lying on the ground, intending to revivify their piqued points. When I received my training in osteopathic arts, my Master gave me a few lessons on the thirty-six major paralytic points of the body.

When Fan the Ringleader set to revivifying the piqued points of his people, I knew a little about what he was doing. Though he applied himself with vigour to massaging and applying pressure onto the vital parts of the bodies of those attacked, he failed to get the expected response. Those piqued remained lying on the ground, completely paralysed.

"Presently the man inside the carriage broke out into loud laughter, 'Very well. One lot of cash is not good enough for the job? Here comes more.' All at once, ten or more coppers sprang out in quick succession, flying in every direction, each aiming at a paralytic point. There and then the victims previously inflicted by the coins thrown at them now recovered their senses in their limbs, all raising themselves to their full height.

"Guarding his front with his sword, Tian cried aloud, 'Hu! We admit defeat. Stay where you are, if you have the courage.' No answer came from inside the carriage. Suddenly a copper came whirring from the vehicle,

striking the tip of Tian's knife with a clang, deflecting the blade, causing it to fly from him before plunging into the ground. Tian then raised his right hand, the one he wielded his weapon with. Blood was dripping from the web between his thumb and the index finger.

"Taken aback by the might and vigour of his enemy, Tian flung out his hand, beckoning Fan the Ringleader to take the party back to the inn with him. Once there, they immediately carried the seven wounded on their backs, mounted their horses and fled southward. Tian left me another twenty taels of silver before taking his flight. He struck me as a very generous person. He was indeed a true gentleman and a gallant knight-

errant. I said to myself, 'The person inside the carriage must be a recklessly wicked villain. Master Tian, being kind-hearted as he is, would never have incurred animosity on his part.' I was just on the point of setting off on my way home when suddenly the big carriage swung round and stopped right outside the door of the staging post. Gripped by curiosity, I hid under the

counter and glued my eyes to the carriage door, trying to find out what the villain looked like.

"The curtain of the carriage was raised and out leapt a brawny and husky fellow. He was pugnacious-looking, with a swarthy complexion and thick grizzled whiskers covering his cheeks. His hair was unbraided, tousled and unkempt on the top of his head, making him look dishevelled. I started at his appearance and remarked to myself, 'What hellish creature could have begotten this aggressive-looking ruffian?' I was very anxious to return home. Yet strange as it might seem, I could not take my gaze from the man, and I cursed myself in silence, 'Running into a ghost in broad daylight! This fellow must possess the power of witchery or sorcery.'

"The man then asked the innkeeper, 'Excuse me, innkeeper, where can I find a doctor?' The innkeeper pointed at me and told the man, 'This is the doctor.' I immediately waved my hands in utter confusion and stammered out, 'No ... no ...' The man responded with a laugh, 'You will be perfectly safe: I do not intend to cook you in a cauldron.' Thereupon, I tried to answer deprecatingly, 'I ... I ...' But the man went pale and blurted out, 'If I were to eat you, I would eat you raw.' I was frightened all the more by his sentence. All of a sudden he burst out laughing: he was, after all, just teasing me. I thought to myself, 'Joke or no joke, you could have picked someone other than me.' This went through my mind, yet I dared not utter a word of it out loud.

"The man then continued, 'Innkeeper, give me two clean rooms facing

south, the best you have. My wife is in labour. Go and find me a midwife— quickly!' Then he frowned and said, 'The travel has upset the foetus: she might not have an easy delivery. Doctor, please stay behind.' The owner

was most reluctant to see a patron brought to bed of a child, soiling his inn with childbirth. But the man's formidable appearance made the innkeeper wise: he dared not remonstrate any further, except to tell the man directly that Mama Liu, the village midwife, had passed away a few days before. At this, the man looked even more terrifying. He produced a silver ingot and hurled it at the table, saying, 'Innkeeper, you must go and find a midwife

from another village. The sooner the better.' I could not believe my eyes and told myself, 'Silver ingots are nothing to these people. They throw away a twenty-tael block without blinking an eye.'

"After the innkeeper had set up the rooms, the man with the formidable looks helped a woman out of the carriage. She was entirely wrapped in a fur coat, revealing only her oval face. On my life, I could not believe my eyes. The man was a ferocious warrior and his wife, a kingdom-quelling beauty. I was taken aback by the stunning beauty of the lady and tried hard to understand this strange union: 'She must be a genteel daughter of a ranking official. Somehow, through some misfortune, she was forced into marriage with this wicked devil. That must be the story behind it all. The bandit

seized her and made her mistress of his stockade.' Suddenly I was possessed by a strange idea: 'This lady and Master Tian would surely have made a perfect match. The fierce-looking fellow might have snatched her from

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