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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 5.1 Message

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Chapter 5.1 Message 

The Company remained silent after Tree had come to the end of his story. Though these brazen and forthright fighters professed to be hard and unemotional, after learning how Gully and his wife had heroically

sacrificed their lives for a principle, they were all filled with sorrow.

Suddenly, a female voice cried out, "Great Master, I do not understand why the story told me by my father differs slightly from yours."

The Company turned round to identify the speaker: it was Orchid. No one had noticed when she had rejoined the group, as each had been listening intently to Tree's story. Tree tried to offer an explanation, "It has been such a long time. This old monk may not be able to remember all the facts correctly. I am curious to know what your father has told you about the incident."

"My father recounted in great detail all the happenings in connection

with the duel," said Orchid. "His description of the events of these few days bears close resemblance to what was witnessed by the Great Master.

However, the scene of the passing away of both Gully and his wife,

according to the version told me by my father, differs significantly from the Great Master's description."

A slight change in colour came over Tree's face. He merely

acknowledged her words with 'Hm', without pursuing the matter any further.

Sign broke in, "Miss Miao, what exactly did your father tell you?"

Orchid reached for an embroidered pouch on her side, from which she drew a stick of pale grey incense. She lit the incense before putting it inside the thurible. A faint fragrance soon drifted to the nostrils of all in the hall.

Orchid looked serious. Eventually, she started her story:

"I can still remember that, from the time when I was little, father would invariably look very unhappy during the winter months. No matter how hard I tried to cheer him up, he would never smile. Every year, at a time

close to the Lunar New Year, father would, without fail, set up two mememorial tablets for the deceased in a secluded nook. One had the inscription 'Tablet for the Blood Brother, the Reverend Gully Hu, the

Knight-errant'. The other had inscribed on it 'Tablet for the Blood Sister-in- law, Madam Gully'. A single-edged knife was placed next to the tablets. It was rusty all over. Apart from the rust, the knife looked exactly like an ordinary weapon. My father would order the cook to prepare numerous meat and vegetable dishes and entremets enough to fill one whole table.

Then, he would pour out ten or more bowlfuls of wine. Every evening of the five days commencing on the twenty-second day of the twelfth moon, father would drain those bowlfuls beside the tablets. He would end by

weeping unconstrainedly.

"I tried several times to ask father who Uncle Gully was, whose name I saw engraved on the tablet. But father just shook his head, refusing to give me an answer. Then came a year when father told me he would describe to

me the duel between him and Uncle Gully once I had grown up and learned to become more sensible. The Great Master here has already described in great detail all the happenings of the duel.

"My father and Uncle Gully had been duelling for four days. The longer they challenged each other in the field, the more closely intimate they grew with each other. Neither would dream of wounding the other. Then came the fifth day of the duel. Aunt Gully finally detected a weak spot on father's back. Uncle Gully, therefore, brought off the move Stealing Jabs from All Angles accordingly, the minute he heard his wife cough, outstripping my father. Master Tree claimed that my father had mounted an uncanny move on a sudden so as to overpower Uncle Gully. But my father described that incident somewhat differently. On the day in question, Uncle Gully

succeeded in making a move to forestall father, thereby making it impossible for him to riposte; instead he had to subject himself to Uncle Gully's mercy. Suddenly Uncle Gully leapt backward, crying, 'Brother Phoenix, there is something for which I need an explanation.'

"'I admit myself defeated,' said my father. 'What is in your mind?'

"Uncle Gully then proceeded, 'You have practised thousands of moves unique to the Miao's Swordplay over and over again, all flawlessly, and yet I do not understand why you invariably twitch your back muscle before moving into Piercing the Stork in Flight. My wife caught your weak spot instantly.'

"To this, father answered, 'My late father trained me vigorously in

swordplay and was extremely strict with me. I can still recall one day at the age of eleven, while father was coaching me on the techniques and movements of this move, a flea suddenly irritated me on the back. I dared not soothe the tickling feeling by scratching with my hand, so I arched my back slightly in the hope of driving the insect away. The more I exercised the muscle on my back, the more itchy it became. The irritation became unbearable. Finding me in so awkard a state, my father admonished me for my slackness and gave me a good thrashing. This incident left a great mark in my memory. Since then, I have been in the habit of twitching my back muscle involuntarily on mounting that move, even though I do not feel itchy on the back. Your wife does have sharp eyes.'

"Smilingly Uncle Gully replied, 'I should not qualify as a winner if I received help from my wife. Grab this!' At this, he flung his knife to my father. "My father reached his hand out for the knife, not knowing what Uncle Gully was really after. Uncle Gully then took my father's sword from his hand, telling him, 'The vigorous fighting over the past four days as well as the lengthy discussions on martial feats on the previous nights have enabled each of us to gain a thorough understanding of the techniques unique to

each other's School for wielding the blade. Why do we not try things out in this way: I shall practise the moves of the Miao's Swordplay of your family and you will execute the moves of the Hu's Knife Techniques of mine. In this manner, we can judge who is the stronger of the two, and also neither of our names will be tainted whatever the outcome.'

"My father read Uncle Gully's mind immediately. The vendetta pursued by the Houses of Miao and Hu had deepened through ancestral transmission. If father had not made the acquaintance of Uncle Gully, there should have been no animosity between them. As you may already know, circulated widely among the Martial Brotherhood is the story about the

sudden disappearance of my grandfather and Uncle Pastoral's father, which still remains a mystery to this day. And the bodies of these two elders have never been recovered. The outlawry and the banditry believed that Uncle Gully's wily scheme was in every way connected with these two missing

men. My father only half believed in the truth of the rumour, having always known Uncle Gully to be a true acolyte of chivalry, high in principles and heroic in deeds. He was also spoken of with awe. It seemed most unlikely that Uncle Gully would ever resort to clandestine means to harm people.

My father tried several times to arrange to meet with him, but all his efforts proved futile. Uncle Pastoral and Fan the Ringleader once invited father to journey to Liaodong Peninsula to redress the wrongs. My father had always been on intimate terms with Fan the Ringleader. He had never had much respect for Uncle Pastoral. Oh! Pardon me, Sister Tian, I am sorry. Do

accept my apology, but these were the very words of my father. He would rather take this matter into his own hands than join Uncle Pastoral. On this occasion, having learned that Uncle Gully would journey also to the Interior Empire, my father took the opportunity to accept the invitation of both Fan the Ringleader and Uncle Pastoral to join them in Cangzhou in order to

challenge Uncle Gully to a duel. But father's real intention of making that trip was to get the truth from Uncle Gully. "Some initial inquiries soon confirmed that Uncle Gully was the real culprit in taking the lives of my grandfather and Uncle Pastoral's father.

Even though father had held Uncle Gully in the great esteem befitting a hero fighter, he was pressed by a more urgent obligation to seek vengeance for his own father. My father would have hated to see the blood feud

stemming from the animosity among the ancestors of the four families handed down to posterity. He sincerely hoped that he could wield some power in bringing this vendatta, more than a century old, to a conclusion. This certainly seemed right and wise when Uncle Gully proposed that they exchange their weapons in the ensuing combat. Should father emerge the victor, he would owe it to the Hu's Knife Techniques, and should Uncle

Gully emerge the victor, he would owe it to the techniques of the Miao's Swordplay. Thus, defeat in the battle could be attributable only to individual fighters, with the reputation of both houses remaining untarnished.

"Presently, Uncle Gully and father swapped their weapons. They were

soon attacking each other. The battle which ensued differed drastically from the fighting on the previous four days. Though the two combatants were

adept fighters, they were not yet completely at ease practising unfamiliar moves, wielding new weapons in their hands. In addition to that, each

contestant already had complete mastery of the esoteric specialties of his School, and could therefore anticipate his enemy's every move as each originated from his house. It followed logically that it would prove

extremely difficult for either to overpower his adversary, drawing only on what skills he had acquired from the other during the previous four days. My father held that the battle on the day in question was by far the most threatening. Uncle Gully might look a boorish fellow, yet he was rather gifted in parading the techniques of the Miao's Swordplay. It appeared as though he had spent several vigorous years perfecting these martial feats. Suffice it to say, one notable example was his recent test of strength with Whiz Shang, the famed courageous fighter of Shandong Province. In that daring encounter, he had unravelled the moves of the Eight Diagram Swordplay, unique to Whiz's house, by practising solely the martial skills unique to the Miao Family. My father was not as fully endowed as Uncle Gully was, but as luck had it, he was well-versed in the whole gamut of martial arts, being equally proficient in each of the eighteen martial

accomplishments. Though he was a novice when it came to practising the Hu's Knife Techniques, his early training in single-edged weapons enabled him to enter the battle enjoying an advantage, and he managed to survive the combat.

"The skirmish raged on feverishly. By noon, each duellist had resorted to parading the moves with ease and equanimity. Their movements became increasingly paced. Suddenly, Uncle Gully alerted his enemy, 'Brother Phoenix, you have followed through this move Shielding with a Sweeping Blade somewhat too soon, and with insufficient strength to sustain it.'

"'The comments are much appreciated,' thanked my father. 'I thought I had timed my moves adequately.'

"The two fighters were utterly absorbed in their struggle, offering each other constructive comments, when they deemed it fit, without reservation. After several hundred bouts of feverish and ferocious fighting, each warrior gradually acquired full mastery of the moves of his enemy.

"Uncle Gully's mounting ability to attain perfection in wielding martial feats unique to the Miao's Swordplay began to fill my father with an acute uneasiness. He pondered to himself, 'Gully is more capable in mastering the sword than I am in commanding the knife. Whatever early training I received in wielding a knife will soon be of no use. I have to bring off

another move quickly or I shall be very likely to suffer defeat.' In a moment, my father brought off the Seagull Skimming the Lake, intending first a defensive blow, followed by an instantaneous offensive stroke. But he suddenly resorted to an expedient and erratic move, smiting first with the offensive stroke, then with the defensive blow.

"Uncle Gully was caught completely off-guard by this surprise move of father's.

"'Wrong move!' blurted Uncle Gully.

"'Watch out!' warned his enemy immediately.

"Twirling his blade, my father likewise substituted the defensive blow with another expedient, offensive stroke. This strange move of his was his latest martial innovation, which owed its origin to one of the moves borrowed from the Hu's Knife Techniques. This newly-invented move was

highly unusual, making it deceptively unpredictable. Had father's opponent been another accomplished fighter, he almost certainly could have avoided this uncanny and elusive stroke. Uncle Gully, being immaculately skilled at his own Hu's Knife Techniques, would least have expected father suddenly to change the move and design his own on the spur of the moment.

Catching Uncle Gully by surprise, my father immediately brought his keen blade down across his victim's left arm, slashing it open.

"All onlookers gasped in surprise. Suddenly, Uncle Gully flung out his leg, throwing father to the ground. My father was piqued at the paralytic point Imperial Gate at the waist. He fell to the floor in a flash, unable to regain his footing again.

"Fan the Ringleader, Tian the Young Master and the others at once rushed forward. Uncle Gully thrust his sword to the floor. Afterwards, by elbowing and stretching his arms in turn, he succeeded in grappling and hurling every single person out of the hall. Presently, he raised my father up from the floor and began revivifying his piqued point, remarking with a laugh, 'Brother Phoenix, you are outstanding at improvising moves. But you forgot that each move in the Hu's Knife Techniques is unique, shrouding itself

with an immediate next. When you attempted two consecutive offensive strokes, you inevitably opened yourself wide at the waist.'

"My father was not able to utter a sound. Gnawed by excruciating pain at the waist, he appeared to be completely drained. He could hardly find the

strength to speak. Uncle Gully then continued, 'If you had not been restraining yourself, I would already have had my left arm slashed off. I

shall cease for today: we are still equals. Now, you return and take a good rest. Should we resume the duel tomorrow?'

"Trying to control his pain, my father answered, 'Brother Gully, I admit that I was sparing in smiting blows. Even if I had hewed off your left arm, you could still have dealt me a fatal blow with your leg. Being such as you are, you could not possibly have brought yourself to launch a clandestine attack on my father. I simply wish to hear from your own lips how my father met his death?'

"'Have I not made it clear to you?' asked Uncle Gully, with an expression of astonishment on his face. 'You refused to take my word for it, but insisted on challenging me to a duel. That being the case, I had no choice but to go

all the way to meet the challenge, even if it meant losing my life.'

"My father was taken aback by his words. He demanded, 'Have you already told me that? When was that?'

"Uncle Gully looked back over his shoulder. Pointing his finger at someone, he said feebly, 'You ... you ...' He could go no further, when suddenly his knees failed him and he collapsed to the ground, falling at my father's feet. Stunned by this, my father immediately reached out his hand to help him up. Uncle Gully's face suddenly changed to a different colour. He cried out, 'Well, well, you ...' He dropped his head and then passed away.

"My father was most distraught at Uncle Gully's parting words and his

sudden death. He thought that, strong as Gully was, a slight gaping flesh on the arm could not possibly have cost him his life. My father flung himself frantically upon the corpse and cried aloud, 'Brother Gully! Brother Gully!'

The dead body gradually turned purple in the face: undoubtedly a case of

acute poisoning. My father at once ripped open Gully's sleeve and found his arm swollen to twice its size. Dark blood was oozing from the cut.

"Uncle Gully's wife was stricken by grief and shock. All at once, she threw the baby from her arms. She picked up the single-edged weapon and examined it closely. My father had already determined that the edge had been dipped in poison. Finding my father pensive, Uncle Gully's wife turned to him, 'Phoenix the Knight-errant, this is a knife borrowed from your friend. Big Brother Gully certainly had no knowledge that its edge was smeared with poison. I presume you had no knowledge of that either, otherwise neither of you would have wielded such a deceptively vile

weapon. As fate has it this way, no one is to blame. I promised Gully that I would raise the child by myself. The past five days convinced me that Phoenix the Knight-errant is a true acolyte of chivalry, high in principles

and heroic in deeds. As you have promised to look after the boy for me, I shall simply treat myself to a rest and not endure the hardships of bringing

up the child for the next twenty years.' At this, she slashed the blade across her throat. It was over in a minute.

"This is precisely what my father told me about the circumstances surrounding Uncle Gully's death on the day in question. Master Tree's version, however, differs greatly from what I learned from my parent.

Though the incident took place some twenty years ago, and one's memory may have failed in the intervening years, the facts, after all, should not differ so much. I simply do not understand," said Orchid.

Tree let out a sigh. Shaking his head, he stated, "Your father was then utterly involved in the grappling, hence it may be possible that he was unable to have as clear a picture as the onlookers." Orchid simply acknowledged Tree's statement with a murmur. She lowered her head, refraining from further comment.

Presently, a hoarse voice came from the side, "The two accounts differ because one person has been deliberately lying."

Startled by this sudden interruption, the Company quickly turned their heads round. To their surprise, the interlocutor was the servant with a scar across his face.

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