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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 4.4 Tryst

Chapter 4.4 Tryst 

My energy and strength will mount when I get a good night's sleep this evening.'

"Phoenix then asked, unable to hide his surprise, 'You stayed awake all night? It cannot be true.'

"'Brother Phoenix,' answered Gully, wearing a smile, 'I have a present for you.'

"Gully went to his room and returned carrying a parcel. He flung it to Phoenix. The latter took it and unwrapped the bundle. What struck his eyes was a human head, cut off only recently. And lying next to it were seven gold chakrams. Fan the Ringleader darted a look at the skull and cried out, with fear in his voice, 'It is Whiz Shang, the Eight Diagram Knife!'

"Phoenix picked up a gold chakram, felt the weight in his hands, and found it solid. The inscription 'Shang of the Eight Diagram Lodge' was engraved on the throwing weapon. Phoenix then asked, 'So you made all speed to Wuding County in Shandong Province last night?'

"Gully answered with a laugh, 'I wore five horses to death to make it in time to keep our appointment this morning. I have managed it, after all.'

"Gripped by fear and awe, I stole a look at Gully. The distance between Wuding County in Shandong Province and Cangzhou, which was directly attached to the Metropolitan circuit, was close to a hundred miles. Gully had managed the journey in one night and had returned with the head of a celebrated martial artist. Gully was clearly unique, coming and going like a god or a demon.

"Phoenix then posed Gully a question, 'Which blade techniques did you use to dispatch him?' "Gully replied, 'Whiz was apt and deft at wielding the Eight Diagram

Knife. After catching the seven chakrams darting forth in rapid succession,

I then brought off the move Punching the Sky Carrying a Sword and

succeeded in unravelling the twenty-ninth move in the series Spinning Round to Hack the Mountain of his Eight Diagram Knife.'

"Phoenix shuddered and asked in a tone of surprise, 'Punching the Sky Carrying a Sword? But it is an esoteric specialty of swordplay practised only by members of our Miao Family.'

"Gully answered, smiling, 'Just so: I learned this move from you yesterday by carefully watching the way you wielded your sword. I dispatched him with a sword, not with a knife.'

"Thereupon, Phoenix applauded, 'Beautiful! You have gained revenge for the Miao Family using the Miao's cult of swordplay and have honoured us tremendously with your deed.'

"Gully replied, laughing, 'The swordplay of your School ranks second-to- none. I was just aiding you by killing him with a move from a series of

swordplay techniques that was bound to dispatch him.'

"Only then did it dawn on me that Gully was honouring Phoenix in every respect. Whiz Shang had taken the lives of four members of the Miao Family. Had Gully dispatched him with a knife, would it not imply that the Miao's Swordplay was not as capable as the Eight Diagram Knife? And not even as good as the Hu's Knife Techniques? It really filled one with awe to learn that Gully was able to master the killer trick of the Miao's Swordplay in one day, and then be able to employ it to dispatch a famed martial artist

so quickly and so soon. Gully offered the head to Phoenix only after the battle had been concluded for the day. Such a gesture was proof enough in its own right that Gully had harboured no intention of claiming credit for himself or currying favour, which only helped to make his candid and dignified nature shine more brightly. Likewise, he also made it clear that he was confident that he would not be defeated by the end of the day.

"It occurred to me that the real intentions of Gully should also by then have made themselves utterly clear both to Fan the Ringleader and to Tian the Young Master. Both their faces turned pale. They darted a look at each other before turning round and sweeping out of the room, thoroughly

crushed. The Gilt-faced Buddha glanced affectionately in the direction of the baby in Gully's arms. He then unstrapped the yellow knapsack from his back and undid the bundle. I craned my neck forward, expecting to see

strange paraphernalia inside; but I was disappointed to see only some very ordinary-looking clothing. Phoenix parted the yellow wrapping, studied the inscription embroidered on the outside and muttered to himself, 'The Invincible Under the Sky: all balderdash!' He reached his hands out for

Gully's baby and wrapped the cloth round the little one. Turning to Gully, he vowed, 'Brother Gully, if anything untoward should happen to you, you may rest assured that no one will dare to trample on your child.'

Overwhelmed with joy, Gully at once expressed his gratitude.

"Soon after Phoenix had taken his leave, Gully once again gratified his enormous appetite by indulging in a sumptuous repast, after which, he retired to his bed. Gully snored all night like a thunderous hurricane.

"To our ears came a sudden pounding of footsteps on the rooftop in the

second watch. A voice was heard bawling out, 'Gully, crawl out of your den to meet your fate!'

"Gully was not in the least affected by the roar outside, but continued

snoring in torrents in his deep sleep. A confused hubbub ensued. Soon the burst of noise grew, to the accompaniment of curses and profanities uttered by an increasing number of enemies outside. All this tumultous commotion fell on the deaf ears of the inmates of the room. Gully remained fast alseep. He struck me as an accomplished fighter, but not a particularly nimble and agile fellow. He remained drowned in his slumber despite the presence of numerous hostile visitors at the door. Strange as it might seem, Gully was truly immune to the thunderous abuse roaring on the other side of the partition. His wife was wide-awake, and yet she was absorbed in humming tunes to her child, totally oblivious of the storm continuing unabated outside.

"Though the rumpus went on outside, the mob would not dare an attempt to break into the inn. Gully merely continued grunting horrendously, wholly undisturbed. The turmoil was a combination of both the uproarious demonstration outdoors and the heavy bellowing indoors. After this chaotic confusion had been dragged on for half a watch, suddenly Gully's wife was heard murmuring to her little boy, 'My darling baby, there are hordes and hordes of jackals outside. They are barking all night long for the sole purpose of rousing Papa from his sleep so that he will be defeated by Uncle Phoenix in tomorrow's duel. Aren't these wild beasts nasty?' The little one of course could not respond in words as he was only a few days old. Gully's wife interpreted his babbling, telling him, 'That's a good baby. You also think these roving dogs are naughty. Shall Mama go and scare them off?' The babe in her arms again prattled away. The mother then addressed him, 'Hey, you approve of my idea? You are truly our bundle of joy.' Thereupon, the woman, holding the heir close to her with her left arm, snatched a silk

sash from the head-post of the bed with her right hand. And with a whirl she leapt out through an open window.

"I was panic-stricken. I could not believe that Gully's wife, a young lady as dainty and delicate as could be, should excel in levitational skills. I quickly sidled around to the casement, poked a tiny spy-hole in the

window-paper and squinted through. Twenty to thirty big, hefty fellows, of different heights, were planting themselves atop the roof, brandishing

weapons and howling abuse. As soon as she had landed outdoors, Gully's wife flung out her right hand, twirling the white silk ribbon like a long

snake, catching a husky fellow on his blade. She then manipulated the

shining reptile by alternately tugging and loosening it. Another hefty fellow was soon entangled. He lost his grip on his weapon and was hurled down the roof with a heavy thud.

"The remaining troopers at once bawled out the most appalling language, rushing forward and brandishing their weapons in the most confused melee. In the moonlit night, the ivory-silk ribbon wielded by the lady writhed and flared like a white dragon waltzing in the air. In a trice came the rapid

sounds of clacking, squawking and swooping. In less time than it would take to eat a meal, Gully's wife succeeded in wrenching all the edged

weapons from the marauding strangers. After falling from the roof with a thump, the remaining raiders, now disarmed and helpless, dared not press further with the fight. They scrambled to their feet and fled, making all

speed. Some even abandoned their horses in their hasty retreat. Gripped by fear, I was dumbstruck. After Gully's wife had kicked all the weapons down the roof, she carried her baby inside for feeding, bothering not at all to pick any weapon up from the ground. All this while, Gully was spread out on his bed, sound asleep, snoring like howling winds and torrential rains,

apparently turning a deaf ear to all that was going on round him.

"The next morning, after preparing several dishes of food at the crack of dawn, Gully's wife ordered the attendants to retrieve the loot from the ground, string the weapons with a rope, and hang them under the awning. When a gust from the north swept past these knives, swords, flails and rods, a symphony of weapons was orchestrated.

"When the Gilt-faced Buddha again presented himself at the staging post after a light repast in the morning, he tilted his head in the direction of the

sound. Seeing the weapons, Phoenix immediately knew it all. He looked his retainers angrily in the face. They all hung their heads, not daring to meet his eyes. Phoenix reprimanded them, 'Shame on you all! You still consider yourselves brazen and upright? Leave me at once!' They retreated a few paces, not daring to remonstrate. I realized it would not have been hard for Gully's wife to have dispatched the men. If she had floored them all with one jab, that would have been no harder. Of course, such endeavours would have greatly humiliated the Gilt-faced Buddha.

"Immediately, Phoenix turned to Gully, 'Brother Gully, the gang of

worthless creatures of mine shouted all night, disturbing your sleep. We shall not fight today. You should go back and have a good sleep, and we shall do battle tomorrow.'

"But Gully answered with a laugh, 'My wife held the fort by herself. I was sound asleep and did not know what was happening. Come, let us

commence!' Flourishing his blade, Gully immediately adopted an offensive stance.

"Phoenix next turned to Gully's wife and said, 'Thank you for not killing them and for releasing them.' The woman returned his appreciation with a smile. After complimenting each other for a little while, Gully and Phoenix then crossed blades.

"The battle raged fast and furious till dusk, with no side able to put in a decisive blow. Towards the end of the day, Phoenix retracted his sword and said, 'I shall be staying here tonight. I would like to treat you to a feast.

After that, we shall share the same bed and hold a hearty discussion on martial arts.'

"Gully replied with a laugh, 'Bravo, bravo. I have taken up the Miao's Swordplay and I still have a lot of questions for you. I should be able to get all the answers tonight.'

"Phoenix then told Fan and Tian, 'You two take your leave now. I am staying here for the night.' "Fan the Ringleader was taken aback and he turned pale in the face, crying out, 'Phoenix, watch out for his wily schemes ...'

"Phoenix answered with a sneer, 'I shall go my own way; you look after your own affairs.'

"Tian interrupted at this point, 'Do not forget to take vengeance on him for your ancestors, or you will not be a filial descendant.'

"Hearing that, Phoenix paled. Fan and Tian dared not venture any further, but tore out of the place, taking their small troop of retainers with them.

"In the course of the night, Gully and Phoenix engaged themselves in

enjoyment and exchanging many views on martial arts. Phoenix explained the principles as well as every single move and movement of the Miao's Swordplay to Gully. Likewise, Gully confided in Phoenix all the secrets of the Hu's Knife Techniques. The two of them were soon carried away in a

spirited conversation. They seemed to have struck up such an immediate rapport that they regretted not having met earlier. After emptying a few bowlfuls of wine, they rose to their feet, paraded a few moves and then seated themselves for more wine. Their conversation dealt with the most

advanced and intriguing aspects of martial ability. Though I heard all the words, I could not make much sense of their talk.

"Gully and Phoenix thus engaged in conversation well into the night.

Gully then asked the innkeeper to give them a good room. They were truly going to share a bed together. I began wondering to myself, 'Both of them will walk into the room alive. One will certainly be dispatched by the morning. I wonder who will attempt the first move? Phoenix does not look a crafty and scheming villain; he will most probably place himself in great danger.'

"Later I reconsidered the matter. Though Gully was a great fighter, he was not Phoenix's rival in strategic planning. In terms of martial ability, they might be equals. Phoenix definitely was superior to Gully in both wit and trickery. If matters stood as they were, Phoenix would be the one to

step out of the room alive, and Gully would die.

"Gripped by curiosity, I stole quietly to the edge of the window, intent on eavesdropping. Their conversation by then had become quite animated,

steering away from the different aspects of martial arts and turning instead to some of the strange happenings and clandestine matters of the Martial Brotherhood. They were also engrossed in lauding their deeds of bygone days. Phoenix recounted the episodes of executing a certain villain, while Gully spun a yarn about helping someone in distress. They clapped their hands in their enthusiasm and laughed out loud when recounting their tales. I listened aghast to their eventful experiences. I was not surprised to learn that Gully had dabbled in such dreadful deeds; after all, he was a wily and pugnacious character. However, I did not at all expect Phoenix to have

committed evil deeds like murder, for he carried the adjunct Buddha in his sobriquet.

"As their conversation progressed, the Gilt-faced Buddha suddenly let out a sigh, crying, 'What a pity! What a pity!'

"Puzzled by this, Gully hastened to ask, with curiosity, 'A pity about what?'

"Then came Phoenix's reply, 'If only you had not borne the family name Hu, or rather, if only I had not had Miao as my surname, a deep friendship would certainly have cemented the two of us, inspiring us also to share each other's fate. I, myself, who have always been arrogantly vain, must bring myself to admit that ever since our first encounter, you have truly

commanded my utmost respect. Haih! Though the number of celebrated

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