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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 4.3 Tryst

Chapter 4.3 Tryst 

Buddha was about to lift a bowl to quaff the wine, Pastoral Tian reached out his hand and stopped him, remarking, 'Phoenix, be careful: the meat and the wine may have been tampered with.' To this Phoenix replied, 'Gully is known to be straightforward and upright; the deals he strikes are clean and aboveboard. I see no reason why he might wish to harm me.' Thereupon, he held up the wine bowl, tossed his head backward, and finished the wine in one gulp. He also helped himself to a piece of chicken, picking it up with

chopsticks. His table-manners were better than Gully's.

"Meanwhile, Gully's wife threw a gracious look in the Gilt-faced

Buddha's direction. After a short while, she said to Gully, sighing, 'Big Brother, of all the world's celebrated fighters, you cannot expect to find another to equal Phoenix the Knight-errant. He takes you as his bosom friend, pledging you his complete trust. You two are the only people on earth who ever possessed such great spirits and breadth of mind.' Gully answered, laughing aloud, 'My love, you are no less capable than a man.

You can also be counted as one of us.' Immediately, Gully's wife turned to the Gilt-faced Buddha and said, 'Phoenix, I am convinced that you are the embodiment of justice, courage, integrity and chivalry; indeed a true knight-errant. There will be no regrets if my husband dies at your hand.

Similarly, you will remain a hero should you suffer at the hands of my husband. Come, drink this for your goodself.' At this, she poured out two bowlfuls of wine and gulped down one herself before offering Phoenix the other.

"The Gilt-faced Buddha was taciturn by nature. Thereupon, he raised his eyebrows, remarking, 'Excellent!' before accepting the wine bowl. Fan the Ringleader, who had been looking very solemn all this while, rushed forward in a trice, interrupting him. 'Phoenix, watch out! Women are the

world's most cruel-hearted creatures.' Phoenix frowned at this, but immediately quaffed the wine, oblivious of his advice. Gully's wife then stood up. Carrying the baby in her arms, she addressed Phoenix, 'Just tell me what unfinished business you still have that prevents you from setting

your mind at rest. I am afraid your friends here may not be able to finish the business for you should you get beaten by my husband.'

"The Gilt-faced Buddha mumbled a while to himself, and then he said, 'I was called away on a mission four years ago to a place south of the Ridge. During my absence, we had a visitor who claimed to be Whiz Shang of Wuding County in Shandong Province.' Gully's wife interrupted, 'Ah, this man's Master is Fame Wang, who is spoken of with awe in the land north of the Yellow River. Whiz is an adept fighter of the Eight Diagram Lodge,

excelling in both the Eight Diagram Pugilism and the Eight Diagram Swordplay.' Phoenix agreed with her, 'You are correct. When he learned that I go by the sobriquet "the Invincible Under the Sky", he found it hard to

concede my supremacy; therefore, he travelled all the way to my native village to challenge me to a duel. It chanced that I was called away on a mission at the time. Somehow, he and my brothers became involved in a row, and in no time a battle ensued, with Whiz killing my sister and two brothers by executing his pugilistic skills. The protagonists all died from

shocks occasioned by the violent percussion of his palms. In a duel, one of the fighters inevitably emerges as the victor, the others victims. Even though my brothers and sister were not well-versed in martial ability, there was nothing I could hold against Whiz when he took them all. What

angered me was that he dispatched my sister-in-law with just one blow from his fist, she who never had any training in martial arts in her life.' Gully's

wife sympathized with him and said, 'He lacks knowledge of the Chivalric Code. You must take it upon yourself to punish him.' Phoenix continued, 'My two brothers were themselves accomplished fighters. If Whiz could so easily overpower them, he must be an extremely strong and tough protagonist. As I still had some old scores to settle with Gully over the vendetta which has lasted for generations between the Miao and Hu Families, I have not yet allowed myself the opportunity of wreaking vengeance on Whiz. This, perhaps, explains why I have not been able to travel to Wuding County in Shandong Province during the past four years to take revenge on Whiz.' Gully's wife said to Phoenix, with great sincerity in her tone, 'You may entrust us with this matter.' The Gilt-faced Buddha nodded his consent.

"Suddenly, Phoenix raised himself to his full height and whipped out his sword, commanding, 'Gully, prepare for battle!'

"But Gully continued to gorge himself with meat, oblivious of his command. His wife then addressed Phoenix, 'My husband is martially

accomplished, and yet he may not be able to overcome you.' The Gilt-faced Buddha said, as an afterthought, 'Oh! I had almost forgotten. Gully, what

are the cares that weigh most on your mind?' Gully wiped his mouth, stood up and said, 'If you dispatch me, my child will certainly kill you to avenge my death. Will you simply look after him and take good care of him?'

"Thereupon, I thought, 'A common saying goes: to remove the weed one must attack the root. If the Gilt-faced Buddha were to dispatch Gully, would he also spare his wife and his child? To everyone's surprise, the Gilt-faced Buddha answered, 'Have no fear. I shall take care of everything. Should you have the misfortune to make a fatal mistake, I shall look after your child for you as if he were my own natural son.'

"Fan and Tian stood on the side, frowning and growing impatient. I

considered, 'The way the couple and Phoenix conduct themselves gives one the impression that they trust and respect each other. They are such great friends. Can it be true that they will grapple with each other?'

"Suddenly, Gully drew out the single-edged knife from his girdle.

Flashing it in the air, he cried out, 'My good friend, the first move is yours.' The Gilt-faced Buddha responded by whipping out his long sword, also brandishing and flourishing it in the air. 'I am prepared,' Phoenix shouted, mounting two sham moves immediately on his opponent.

"'Phoenix!' Tian was heard shouting to his comrade. 'Begin quickly and launch your moves!' "All of a sudden, the Gilt-faced Buddha retracted his flashing blade, swung around and commanded, 'Please, all leave the room!' Tian felt

snubbed, but taking note of the sober look on Phoenix's face, he dared not go against him. Thereupon, Tian, Fan and their retainers retreated from the hall.

"After the group had moved beyond the doorway to witness the duel, Gully then cried, 'I am ready. I shall produce my move.' He immediately moved one step closer, flourishing his blade, and dealt Phoenix a hacking blow at the skull.

"Phoenix speedily glided to the side, feverishly whirling his sword, causing its tip to vibrate before plunging it straight at Gully's right ribs.

Gully responded by remarking calmly, 'Take care: this knife of mine is a priceless weapon.' He at once parried with a hewing stroke. Phoenix reacted swiftly, twirling his wrist, thwarting the impending counterblow with his

sword just in time.

"'Excellent move!' cried Phoenix.

"I had witnessed many a fight in Cangzhou with duellists brandishing blades, but I must admit that I had never seen two enemies who were so very agile and alert. My palms were covered with sweat when the match was barely seven or eight tricks old.

"After a few more moves had been unravelled in the combat, the two contestants switched to spinning, manoeuvring their blades to and fro,

cutting crosswise and counter-crosswise. On a sudden, Phoenix's sword was hewn in two with a clash and a clang. But he was not in the least affected,

and betrayed no sign of awe. He speedily thrust the ruined weapon to the ground, ready to challenge his opponent bare-fisted.

"'Take another sword!' shouted Gully, leaping immediately away from the perimeter of the circle.

"'It is no matter,' replied his enemy unaffectedly.

"Tian had already come to Phoenix's rescue, stretching out to him his own long sword. Phoenix thought for a moment, and then said, 'I should take the sword as my fists can never get the better of you with your knife.' Thereupon, he grasped the long sword offered by Tian. The battle immediately resumed.

"At this point, I thought, 'The youngsters from Cangzhou would never concede failure even though they were beaten outright by their opponents. They would invariably say something to boost their spirits. But this Gilt- faced Buddha is quite a character. He considers himself the Invincible

Under the Sky, and yet he verbally acknowledges his losing momentum,

when, in fact, he had not lost even a trick to his opponent.' It took me some time to realize that both duellists, each being an ultimate fighter in his own right, were able after unravelling a few moves to command the respect of the other. They, in fact, would not dream of disparaging each other.

"Presently, Phoenix and Gully wheeled round to the opposite side, planting themselves well beyond the perimeter. All of a sudden, they bounced forward, baffling each other with some surprise moves, before speedily leaping back to the side. In this manner and with this spirit,

Phoenix and Gully fought on for another ten some bouts. Suddenly, Phoenix smote a thrusting stroke at Gully, aiming fast and furiously above his neck. The protagonist dodged the blow in the nick of time rolling on the ground.

Flourishing and twirling his knife, Gully cleft his enemy's sword once again with a clang. He immediately bounded to his feet, crying, 'I am sorry, not that I have harboured any arrogance about my keen blade, but your last move was devastatingly threatening, and I had to unravel it by resorting to

such means.' 'I do not resent it,' replied Phoenix, nodding his head.

"Phoenix then took over another sword proffered by Tian. Gully matched Phoenix's move by addressing his group of enemies, 'Hey, allow me one of your knives. Mine is too true and keen to allow us fair play in demonstrating our real ability to each other in an authentically chivalric fashion.' Tian was only too happy to learn Gully's true intention. He therefore lost no time in taking a knife from one of his comrades and passing it to Gully. Gully felt the weight of the new weapon in his hand.

Phoenix watched him and remarked, 'Not heavy enough?' Thereupon, he

stretched out his right hand, holding his blade lengthwise. Nipping the tip of the sword using his thumb and first finger, Phoenix snapped the point off the blade briskly with a clang, demonstrating the strength in his fingers. My heart swelled with awe. 'Phoenix, you do not take advantage of others,' said Gully with a laugh. 'You believe in fair play. You are indeed the

embodiment of high principles and chivalric spirits, and you have the honour of a true knight-errant running in your blood.'

"Phoenix quickly remarked, 'My conduct hardly merits such

compliments. There is one more thing I wish to make clear.' 'I am attentive,' commented Gully encouragingly. Phoenix then told him, 'I have known all along that you are an adept in martial ability. I, Phoenix, may not be your equal. As to my tramping the length and breadth of the country, boasting that I am the Invincible Under the Sky, I hope you will not take me to be one who is ignorant of his true ability, arrogant and lacking a sense of

shame.'

"Gully commented, 'I have known your real intention for a long time.

You wished to challenge me to a duel, and yet could not discover my

whereabouts. You then resorted to boasting about this sobriquet of yours so as to induce me to travel here from beyond the Pass to challenge you to a duel.' Gully smiled bitterly and continued, 'Now that I have presented myself, if I am defeated, then you certainly will deserve that sobriquet of yours and can keep your title. Go ahead and bring off your next move!'"

Only then did the Company present come to realize the true reason behind Phoenix's adopting such a sobriquet.

A few minutes elapsed before Tree picked up his story: "On finishing their conversation, the two combatants launched themselves once more into feverish battle, flashing and lashing their weapons, goring each other, with neither being able to strike a decisive blow. Phoenix and Gully both paraded their most threatening killer tricks, with neither gaining the advantage after the first two hundred or so tricks. However, Gully gradually began to show signs of suffering defeat at the hand of his enemy, resorting eventually to fighting only on the defensive. Fan the Ringleader and Tian the Young

Master grew excited, unable to hide their delight. Gully shielded himself, parading stroke for stroke and parry for parry, while Phoenix attacked him ferociously from all angles, smiting blow after blow without being able to inflict a decisive stroke. Suddenly, Gully reverted to a different strategic

approach, not wielding his knife, but merely countering with hacking blows and hewing strokes. And Phoenix responded, in like fashion, twirling himself around the room, lunging and smiting feverishly.

"My Master had also trained me vigorously for seven to eight years in the art of wielding a knife. I, therefore, came to know that a knife is divided into five parts, namely Heaven, Earth, Ruler, Parent and Mentor. The back of the knife is Heaven; the edge, Earth; the grip, Ruler; the guard, Parent

and the pommel, Mentor. Of these five parts, Heaven and Earth play the two most significant roles in fencing with a knife. Gully was utterly magnificient in following through both the Heaven and Earth movements and was no less proficient following through the Ruler, Parent and Mentor movements when attacking and shielding. Phoenix occasionally invented new moves, flourishing his sword. He plunged at Gully, aiming unexpectedly at parts of his body that were most vulnerable, making it

absolutely impossible for him to parry the blow with either the edge or the back of his blade. But Gully reversed his blade in a moment and struck a powerful blow with its hilt, forcing his enemy to abandon his intended moves. The six movements of Whirling, Swiping, Hooking, Scraping,

Hewing and Hacking, being the cardinal rules of wielding a knife, allow martial artists an endless display of moves and movements that are mysteriously unfathomable.

"At that time, I knew very little about the techniques of wielding a sword. As Phoenix managed all the while to remain the equal of Gully, who was so proficient in wielding his knife, Phoenix proved himself an equally furious fighter. The knife, the sword and the spear are the three major weapons

wielded by martial artists. A common saying goes, 'The knife is a ferocious tiger; the sword is a gambolling phoenix; and the spear is a prancing dragon.' Gully brandished his lashing knife like a ferocious tiger, prowling down the mountain for food, whereas Phoenix flourished his flashing sword like a phoenix gambolling. As one fighter paraded might and power in his

actions, the other simply followed through all his moves effortlessly and deftly. Since each contestant was already a celebrated Master in his own school of martial ability, neither was able to gain much advantage in the ensuing battle. In the beginning, I managed to follow several moves and their movements, but as the duel wore on, my head began to reel. I was

growing dizzy and I decided not to witness the battle any more. I turned my head away lest I should faint to the ground.

"Suddenly, blades were heard whirring through the air, crossing occasionally with a clash and a clang. I darted a look at Gully's wife, who was calm and composed. She seemed not at all worried about her husband's fate in the contest.

"When I turned my head around, I found Gully also keeping calm. He became increasingly detached as the battle raged on, his mouth set in a

smile, confident that he would be able to turn the tide against his enemy. Meanwhile, the Gilt-faced Buddha also retained his calm and his sense of proportion. He looked utterly unperturbed, tenacious to the very end, and his swarthy face concealed beneath it all signs of his innermost feelings.

Gully next charged threateningly close to his enemy, forcing Phoenix to retreat and causing Fan the Ringleader and Tian the Young Master growing anxiety. I asked myself, 'Can it be possible that the Gilt-faced Buddha will be defeated by Gully?'

"Suddenly Tian produced his catapult, firing bullet after hurtling bullet at Gully, aiming true and fast at his head, torso, and legs. Gully let out a loud laugh and immediately thrust his single-edged blade to the ground. Phoenix, his face looking sunken, speedily diverted the trajectory of the bullets by intercepting them with his whirling blade. Then he leapt with a bound to Tian's side, wrenched the catapult from him with his pinched fingers, and

snapped it with a crash, hurling the fragments far from the doorway. Phoenix then commanded, in a controlled low tone, 'Get out!' I was puzzled: 'Tian had good intentions and did not want you to lose. But here you are, being ungrateful.' Tian turned purple. He cast Phoenix a wrathful look and stamped out of the room.

"Phoenix retrieved Gully's blade from the ground, hurled it to him, and then said, 'Let us continue.' Gully immediately grasped the blade, reaching out his hand and following it through with a hurl and a thrust. In a trice, the two weapons crossed with a clang and a clash. The battle then raged on feverishly until well past noon. Thereupon, Gully cried out, 'I am starving. Do you wish to take your lunch now?' 'Yes, I shall take a quick repast,' replied Phoenix. Immediately, the two fighters seated themselves at a table, and began to eat. Gully bolted down the food like a ravening tiger and ferociously gobbled in an instant some ten buns, two chickens, and a leg of mutton. As for Phoenix, he merely helped himself to two chicken thighs.

"'You are eating very little,' said Gully. 'Is my wife's cooking at fault?'

"'Oh no, it is wonderful,' replied Phoenix. He then picked up a good piece of mutton with his chopsticks and finished it all.

"The meal being over, Phoenix and Gully wiped their mouths, and then resumed their fight. In no time, they moved into practising levitational arts, whirling and whistling their ways across the hall. Even though Gully was husky and brawny, he was deft and nimble at advancing, retreating, ducking and dodging. Phoenix proved himself equally agile, even though he was long in the hand and leg. My eyes were almost blinded by the dazzingly swift moves executed by the two duellists. Suddenly, Gully slipped on his left leg, falling to his knees and crying out aloud. Gully's error presented an exceptionally opportune moment for Phoenix to initiate vile tricks against him. One simple, hacking blow would suffice. Gully was rendered powerless either to counter the impending attack with a parry or to duck

away from it. However, Phoenix withdrew by bouncing backward unexpectedly, shouting out, 'Take care! You have a bullet under your foot.' Gully was already well on his feet before his knees ever touched the ground. He cried, 'Your are right!' Then he picked up the bullet with his left hand and flicked it with his middle finger, whirling the lead bead straight through the centre of the door.

"Immediately, the Gilt-faced Buddha alerted Gully, 'Now, watch out for my sword.' At this, he charged forward, whirling and twirling his blade.

Thereon, Phoenix and Gully engaged in ferocious grappling and wrestling until dusk. During the intervening hours, the two combatants had adopted many a move and readjusted many a movement, and yet neither was able to gain any vantage.

"The battle raged on fast and furious with no signs of flagging. Finally, Phoenix leapt out the circle and addressed himself to his opponent, 'Brother Gully, you are an adept martial artist and you command all my respect.

Shall we continue through the night or resume the fight tomorrow?' "'Just allow me to live one more day,' answered Gully, laughing.

"'I would not dare,' responded Phoenix humbly. Then, he paraded the move, Phoenix Facing the Sun, twirling his sword before spinning around and walking away. Before Phoenix attempted this move for wielding the sword, he had moved back three paces, thus transforming the move

ceremoniously into a formal salutation. Gully responded by standing in a stiffly deferential manner opposite Phoenix, holding his knife with its tip pointing slightly upward and practising the move Worshipping the Big

Dipper, a gesture of returning respect to the other party. The duel had first started with each duellist grappling for his life. But by the end of the day, each fighter commanded the respect of the other. When they finished, they ceremoniously honoured each other with the ultimate heralding salutation of the Martial Brotherhood.

"After Phoenix, his enemy, had taken his leave, Gully helped himself to a hearty and sumptuous repast. Then he mounted his steed and galloped into the far distance. I told myself he must be on his way to the big mansion in the south to spy on his enemies: most probably he would stage a clandestine attack there and then. Once he had wounded the Gilt-faced Buddha, no one would be his equal. I was very eager to get word to Tian the Young Master, to warn him to be on his guard. But I dared not attempt the move for fear of running into Gully.

"That evening, although there was no one snoring next door, Gully's

absence still made sleeping difficult for me. For the entire, long night, I lay tossing and turning on the bed, intent on catching the pounding of horses' hooves which would announce Gully's return. I strained my ears till mid- night, and yet not a sound was heard. I thought it would take less than a

watch, making all speed on horseback, for a journey to the large mansion in the south. Could it be that Gully had been caught red-handed by Phoenix,

and was outnumbered by Phoenix and his party? Had he eventually lost his life at their hands?

"An increasingly oppressive feeling of dread came over me as the time slipped by. I also found it strange that Gully's wife should be humming

songs to pacify the infant next door. She seemed not in the least worried about her husband.

"The time wore on. Finally came the crowing of the cocks. The fifth watch had already begun when Gully approached, galloping on a steed. I

hurried out and found Gully riding a different horse. He had departed on a black stallion, but was returning, on a brown beast. It galloped fast and halted in front of the inn. As soon as Gully had dismounted by leaping down, the animal swayed and fell with a thud to the ground, foaming at the mouth like a devil. It all happened very fast. I moved forward to take a

closer look: the horse was drenched in sweat, brought to its death by

exhaustion. All signs pointed to the fact that Gully had been on the road throughout the night, covering a great distance to an unknown destination. I began wondering to myself, 'He still has to fight the Gilt-faced Buddha this morning, and yet he has worn himself out by staying awake all night. He

should have taken a good rest to rejuvenate himself for the furious combat this morning. He is indeed an eccentric character.'

"Gully's wife was also up by this time. She once again prepared a vast number of dishes and entremets, arraying a full table. Gully did not take any sleep; instead he played with his child, tossing him up and catching him again. Soon it was bright morning. Presently, Phoenix, Tian and their party presented themselves again at the inn. As soon as Phoenix and Gully each had gulped down three bowlfuls of wine, facing each other without saying a word, they kicked aside the benches, whipped out their blades, and immediately began to battle feverishly. The battle raged fast and furious until dusk. It ended once again with Phoenix and Gully each honouring the other with formal salutations. Phoenix remarked to Gully, 'Brother Gully, you are failing in your strength and energy today. You will probably lose out tomorrow.'

"'Not necessarily so,' answered Gully. 'Yesterday I did not sleep all night.

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