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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 5.2 Message

Chapter 5.2 Message 

Although Tree and Orchid felt offended by the servant's rude remark, since both were guests on the premises, they had to try momentarily to

contain themselves. Curio, being the most churlish, broke out before anyone else, "Who is the one that has been lying?"

The attendant, now afraid, said nervously, "I am merely a handyman at everyone's beck and call. How could I dare to explain these events?"

Orchid joined in at this point, "If I have in any way misinformed the group, please tell me so." She delivered these words with the leisurely elegance and composed airs befitting a lady of good breeding and high culture.

At length, the handyman attempted to volunteer more information: "I was present also at the time of the incident, bearing witness to the events just recounted by the Great Master and by Miss Miao. If the rest of you can tolerate my poor verbal gifts, I would also like to venture to give you my

account of the events."

Tree at once shouted, "Were you also there personally to witness the events? Who are you?"

The servant offered him an answer, with an assured air, "I recognize the Great Master, and yet the Great Master fails to recognize me."

Tree turned pale with anger and yelled at him, "Who the devil are you?"

The attendant refused to give Tree an answer. He turned to Orchid instead and addressed her, "Madam, I fear that I may not be able to present the group with a whole picture."

Orchid was puzzled and asked, "Why?"

The man with a scar on the face replied, "I am afraid that it might cost me my life when I am but half-way through the story." Orchid turned to Tree and said to him, "Great Master, you assume overall charge here up on this mountain. As you are a celebrated veteran fighter, held in great esteem and spoken of with awe by the Martial Brotherhood, I am sure no one would dare to harm him if only you were to speak for him."

"Miss Miao," responded Tree sneeringly, "are you taunting me with this?"

The handyman interrupted at this point, "It matters little whether I

survive or die, but what matters is that I may not be allowed time enough to make clear all I know."

Orchid remained pensively silent for a short while. Then pointing to the wooden tablet hung on the left hand side of the calligraphic scrolls on the wall, she directed him, "Take that down, please." The handyman followed her instruction, not knowing what she intended to do with the plaque. He took it from the wall and placed it in front of her. Orchid hastened to assure him, "Read carefully what is written on it. My father's name is inscribed on

this wooden tablet. Hold the plaque in your hands and speak up, drawing on all your courage. If anyone dares to touch so much of you as a single hair, he will be contracting the curse of my father."

The Company present looked each other straight in the eyes, thinking to themselves, "Now that he has the Gilt-faced Buddha as talisman, who

would dare raise a finger against him?"

An expression of satisfaction was written on the face of the servant. He then affected a gentle smile. But the smile served only further to accentuate his already disfigured visage. He seemed to have been transformed by a magic aura to take on an eerie, otherworldly appearance. At length, he was seen holding the wooden plaque tightly in his hands.

Tree reseated himself in the chair, gazing into space and searching his memory for the happenings of twenty-seven years before; but he failed to remember the identity of this man.

Presently, Orchid told the man with the disfigured face, "Sit down here and tell me your story."

The fellow replied, "I will remain on my feet while revealing the account.

May I venture to ask the young lady what eventually happened to the bereaved child of Master Gully?"

Orchid let out a faint sigh, saying, "My father was sorrow-stricken on finding both Uncle Gully and his wife dead. For quite a long while, he stared vacantly at their bodies, stunned with grief. Then he fell on his knees and performed eight full-blown kowtows, the most respectful salutations befitting an elder and a superior. Mournfully he addressed the deceased

couple, 'Brother Gully and Sister Gully, please set your minds at rest. I shall test myself to the utmost to bring up your son.' Having finished the kowtows, my father turned around to look for the baby. Alas, the infant boy was nowhere to be found. Shocked at not finding the child, my father quickly made enquiries around the house. It seemed that everyone had been drawn to the death of the couple, with no one there to heed the child. My father immediately dispatched his retainers, ordering them to go in search of the boy, making all speed. Controlling the pain in his waist, he himself

also conducted enquiries in the vicinity of the lodging-house. Suddenly to his ears came a child's wailing from behind the building: the baby was

crying violently. My father at once dashed to the scene. But he was still in pain at the waist, from the hefty kick dealt by Uncle Gully. The minute he exerted himself, he fell to the ground, losing control of both legs.

"By the time father reached the back of the house, supported by others, he found only a pool of blood and a tiny baby's cap. There was not a trace of the child.

"There was a river running rapidly in front of the house; the blood dripped all the way to the bank. Most probably Master Gully's heir had been dealt a blow, dispatching him immediately. His body was then thrown into the stream and was swallowed by the rapid waters. Gripped by mixed feelings of fear and wrath, father presently summoned a group of people

and interrogated them exhaustively. But he failed to pin down the culprit. "From that day, my father became deeply concerned about the outcome

of the incident. He vowed to lay his hand on the creature who had murdered the child. One year, while he was refurbishing his blade, he told me he

would put his sword to just one more person: the true culprit. I tried to persuade him that the child could have been saved by someone, and if such was the case, he might still be alive. Father hoped that it could be true, but deep down in his heart, he considered such chances impossible. Oh, the poor child. I sincerely hope that he is still alive. Once my father said to me, 'My child, I love you more than my own life. Yet if Heaven would allow me to trade you for Uncle Gully's son, I would rather see you dead and Uncle Gully's boy alive.'" The serving-man's eyes reddened: tears were collecting there. He said, in a choked voice, "Madam, I am sure Master Gully and Madam Gully, now living in the Kingdom of the Dead, would feel grateful for the heroic gestures of your father and of your goodself."

All the while, the steward of the eyrie took the scar-marked man to be a servant whom Orchid had brought with her on her expedition. But his

appearance, manners and speech led him now to believe otherwise. The steward was about to clear up the uncertainty but, seeing that the entire

Company was listening to his story with rapt attention, he found it wise not to interrupt.

The man with the disfigured visage took up the story: "Twenty-seven years ago, I was a janitor who fuelled the stove and chopped firewood at the staging post in that small village in Cangzhou. In the winter of the year in question, my family was beset by calamity: my father had borrowed five taels of silver three years before from a rich landlord, Zhao. In the intervening time, with interest compounding and multiplying itself several fold, the debt had finally reached the monstrous sum of forty taels of silver.

Lord Zhao had my father seized. He tried to coerce him into signing a concession to sell my mother into his possession as a concubine.

"As my father staunchly refused to effect the vile transaction, he was savagely beaten up by the landlord's runners. After my father was finally

released, he resolved things with mother. They arrived at the conclusion that the forty taels of silver would double in the following year. They despaired that they would ever be able to discharge their debt during the remaining days of their life. My parents wanted to cancel the debt by taking their own lives, and yet they could not bear the thought of abandoning me. So the three of us clung together and wept bitter tears. In the day-time, I went as usual to chop firewood at the inn. In the evening, even though I was filled with panic and fright, somehow I tried to maintain a close watch over my parents, lest they should commit suicide and leave me behind to strive miserably on my own.

"One evening, there arrived at the staging post many patrons who were

afflicted with cuts from edged weapons. The innkeeper kept me throughout the long night, as he had to have extra staff on duty in the kitchen. Then

came Master Gully on the following day. As his wife had given birth to a young heir the same day, extra hands were needed to look after the kitchen and stove. It went without saying that I was detained by the proprietor of the inn for another night. I missed my parents terribly. I was preoccupied,

and several bowls slipped from my hands. The innkeeper slapped me across the face. I sidled to the side of the stove and sobbed as quietly as I could.

When Master Gully heard my sobs as he walked past the kitchen, he came in and asked me why I was crying. His formidable looks frightened me, and I dared not utter a word. The more he asked me about it, the more violently I cried. Only after he had made himself more approachable and talked to me in a more amicable and friendly manner did I begin to pour out to him all the troubles besetting my family.

"Master Gully grew furious on hearing them. Hastily he assured me, 'This terrorising bully Zhao certainly deserves more than my dispatching him with one blow. But, as I am fully engaged at the moment, I cannot

spare myself to gain revenge for your family. I shall give you one hundred taels of silver instead. You must take the money to your father so that he

can clear his debts. Try to live frugally on the remaining sum and never again borrow money from the usurers.' I did not take his words seriously, thinking that he was just trying to cheer me. I was surprised when he offered me five silver ingots immediately. Did I dare to take the money?

Master Gully then charmed me by saying, 'I was blessed with a baby boy today. I love my son dearly and care for him above all else. Your father and mother feel the same way about you. Now run home quickly! I will let the innkeeper know that I have sent you home, and he will not dare to treat you cruelly.'

"For a long while, I stared at him. My heart was throbbing and thumping, and I was at an utter loss. Master Gully seized a piece of cloth and wrapped the five ingots into a tidy package and strapped it on my back. He gave me a gentle kick, telling me with a laugh, 'Little dumb one, out you go: quick!'

"I turned on my heels and went home, making all speed. I did not quite understand what had happened. I told my parents and the three of us at once leapt up, rejoicing hysterically, finding it hard to believe that kind people like him did exist. We still could not believe that the five silver ingots glistening on the bench were real. It took us a while to realize that it was not a dream. Presently, my mother and I helped my father all the way to the inn to express our gratitude to Master Gully. We wanted to perform kowtows. But Master Gully at once stopped us, telling us that he disliked people thanking him. At that, he pushed us outdoors.

"Just as my parents and I were about to be on our way home, there

suddenly came the sound of horses' hooves. A large group of people came barging into the staging post. They were Master Gully's enemies. I could not set my mind at rest. I asked my parents to go home first while I stayed behind to find out how things would turn out. I told myself that, as Master Gully had saved all three of us in the family, I would endeavour to make myself useful, even if it meant drowning or suffering burns. I would never hesitate to assist him.

"Presently, the Gilt-faced Buddha and Master Gully seated themselves opposite each other and began to drink. Master Tree was correct in informing us that Master Gully could not set his mind at rest about his newly born, but what he has overlooked was that, whilst Master Gully and his wife were talking to the osteopath inside their room, a janitor, who was in charge of chopping firewood, was also present, bearing witness to the happenings next door."

Suddenly, at this point, Tree started from his seat. Pointing his finger at the male attendant, the old monk roared out, "Who might you be? Who gave you instruction to blab such nonsense here?"

The story teller remained placid. He simply remarked drily, "I go by the name of Quad. I knew Yama the osteopath. Of course that osteopath Yama did not know me. I was then only a boy-of-all-work, with a scabious head, who chopped firewood at the inn."

The colour rushed into Tree's face when the name Yama was mentioned. Registering vaguely in his memory was a villain at the inn, whose head was scarred by scabies. As he had not even taken the slightest note of his looks or appearance at that time, Tree's memory certainly failed him now. Tree

stared coldly at the wooden tablet which Quad was holding to his bosom. He swore aloud, "Damnation!"

Presently, Quad resumed his narration: "In the middle of the night, I heard Master Gully wailing. It gripped my heart and I could not set my mind at rest, so I hurried to his room. As I was nearing the entrance, I saw a dark outline clearly silhouetted against the casement of the adjoining room.

The shadow was motionless. I wheeled around and looked out through a spy-hole in one of the windows and there was Yama, the osteopath, straining his ears and listening with bated breath to catch every word on the other side of the partition. As I was about to report this to Master Gully, out he walked into the open. He made his way directly to Yama's room and talked to him for some time. I now wonder why Master Tree has divulged

absolutely nothing of the discourse held inside his room.

"Master Gully talked with Yama for a considerable time. Part of their

conversation was beyond me, but what I could gather was that Yama was to embark on a mission the following day, on behalf of Master Gully, to

explain to the Gilt-faced Buddha, Phoenix the Knight-errant, several matters of interest. The task assigned to Yama did, in fact, carry implications of enormous potential consequence. Master Gully should never have entrusted this job to an utter stranger in the first place. The point was that his wife had just delivered a child, making it inconvenient for her to go outdoors. Master Gully was known also to be quick-tempered, and if he

were to go and explain things himself to Phoenix, he would almost certainly end up openly confronting Fan the Ringleader, Tian the Young Master and their retinue, with both parties eventually resorting to arms. Therefore, it

would not matter whether he attempted an explanation or not, as a battle would inevitably ensue. Master Gully's last ploy was to turn to Yama, an outsider, and hope that he would convey the message for him. Master Tree has just told the Company that he was given a handsome reward for delivering a letter for Master Gully. There he has made an error. Imagine: what is the need to give a handsome reward for a task as simple as delivering a letter? Why did the couple have to spend half a day arranging all details? Master Tree might not have remembered all that Master Gully had instructed him; but I registered his every word."

From Quad's account the Company deduced that Tree had once gone by the name Yama, before being called to the Buddhist vocation. Judging from the expression on both Quad's and Tree's faces, the Company realized that the monk must have been intricately involved in the death of Gully. He had also deliberately misinformed the party by holding back from them certain facts when recounting his story. Piqued by curiosity, they eagerly looked forward to Quad's unravelling of this mystery. At the same time, they also harboured the fear that Tree might resort to underhand schemes if he was infuriated by Quad's divulging the real secret. For up here on the summit, Tree was the paragon of fighters: no one was his match, and none was able to offer Quad protection. Even if the Gilt-faced Buddha could eventually retaliate against Tree, the secret in question would die with Quad.

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