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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 6.4 Encounter

Chapter 6.4 Encounter 

After the steward wheeled round the screen wall in the central hall, he found the man dressed in white with his arms akimbo, holding up his head and looking outside with his back towards him. Thereupon, the steward

cried out, "Master Fox has travelled some distance coming here, and yet was not greeted beyond the gate. Please do not take any offense." Then he

offered him tea. Having taken in every word enunciated by the steward, the man clad in white turned himself round, only to find standing demurely in front of him an elegant and graceful young lady, delicate and sprightly, with eyes like limpid pools brimming with intelligence. A look of surprise

spread over his face. Orchid glanced at the stranger standing at the door. The lower part of the young man's face was overgrown with curly whiskers, grizzled, thick and firm. His thatch of hair was in disarray, wildly dishevelled, coiled like

weeds on top of his head. His unkempt looks surprised Orchid. Ever since she had been little, Orchid had harboured a piteous feeling for Gully's heir. In her mind, he was still a poor little boy, trampled on and ill-treated by others. When she saw right before her eyes a man brazen and audacious, a mixed feeling of fear, bewilderment and disappointment mingled in her

breast. Immediately it struck her, "Uncle Gully was awe-inspiring: it should come as no surprise that his son takes after him. It was really my own fault to have imagined him otherwise."

Presently, she pulled the lapels of her garment together and bowed respectfully to him in a manner both easy and graceful, addressing him in a soft voice, "Every blessing to the young Master."

Fox Hu, known also as Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain, when making this trip up the mountain had expected to grapple with all the adept fighters assembled on the summit, and yet coming forward to greet him was an

exquisitely beautiful young lady. Gripped by curiosity, he began to wonder, "I must see what vile tricks these people have planned." Thereupon, he returned her respects by making a low bow, putting his hands in front, and remarking, "The humble one is Fox Hu. I offer you my respects. May I venture to ask what name the honourable young lady may carry?"

Immediately, the steward cast Orchid a look, signalling her to fabricate a surname, remembering never to disclose her true identity, Phoenix's daughter, to this stranger. But Orchid seemed not able to understand his

well-intentioned gesture. Instead, she went on, "Brother Fox, our families have been friends for generations. It is a shame that we have never been acquainted. My family name is Miao."

Though Orchid's answer sent shivers down Fox's back, he managed to

compose himself and look placid, requesting, "How do the young lady and the Gilt-faced Buddha, Phoenix the Knight-errant, address each other?"

This last question threw the steward into a panic, causing him to give her sleeve a discreet tug. Orchid again paid no heed to his well-meant signal but simply put forward her answer, "The Gilt-faced Buddha is my father."

Fox was panic-stricken, thinking to himself, "So, that is who you are!" He posed another question, "How is it that your father is not here to show his face?"

The steward had a firm grip on the tang of his blade for fear that Fox might contrive an aggressive move at her. The steward followed Orchid from the corners of his eyes, and found her as unperturbed as ever. He began to worry, "This young lady here is naive and has not seen much of the world. In front of her is her father's deadly foe, and yet she is not being prudent. She has even confessed everything."

Orchid continued, "My father is not up on the mountain yet. If he knew you were the son of his deceased friend, he would certainly have arrived here a long while ago to meet with you, even if it meant putting aside other matters of consequence."

Fox, confused by Orchid's reply, then asked, "The young lady knows my background, and yet your father does not: how is that possible?"

Orchid at once provided him with an answer, "That is because I have just learned it from your friend Quad."

Fox answered, with anxiety in his voice, "Oh, so Uncle Quad is here already. Where is he?"

The steward was stunned and he quickly scanned the hall. Quad had long since disappeared, but the quantities of bright red blood were still wet,

staining the floor. The steward went over this in his mind, "Everybody was preoccupied with descending the mountain the moment the white pigeon flew in with the thread and seemed to have forgotten about him. Quad saved Fox's life and is his benefactor. If anything untoward has occurred, we will surely incur more animosity."

Sensing that the steward had become uneasy on a sudden over the bright red blood on the floor, Fox shouted, "Is that blood Uncle Quad's?"

The steward did not dare to hide the fact. As an answer he forced himself to blurt out, "Yes."

Fox had lost his parents at a tender age and had been looked after ever since by Quad. They looked upon each other as parent and child. How

could he be not concerned by the steward's reply? Thereupon, he bounced forward in a leap, flung out his hand and grasped the steward by his right arm, snarling, "Where is he? How ... how is he?" The steward felt an

agonizing pain in the arm as if a metal hoop were tightening and tightening by the moment. He gnashed his teeth to counter the excruciating pain, with sweat appearing on his brow, bead after bead, rendering him motionless. Immediately, Orchid answered Fox calmly, "Brother, please do not worry.

Quad is managing capably on the other side of the eyrie." At this, she motioned with her hand at a side room on the western wing. Fox immediately loosened his grip on the steward's arm, leapt and lashed a kick at the door of the side room on the western wing, flinging it open with a

crash. Quad was seen lying on a couch, panting heavily.

"Uncle Quad!" cried out Fox, excited beyond measure. "Is all well?"

Quad, who was lying inside the room, had already heard him a while ago.

He muttered, "I am doing fine. Do not worry." Fox rushed forward only to find him ashen-faced and hard on breathing. The excitement at seeing Quad soon vanished from his face. Instead he was overwhelmed with a feeling of acute uneasiness.

"How did this happen?" asked Fox, with genuine concern in his voice. "Is it serious?"

"It is a long story," mumbled Quad. "I would never have seen you again if Miss Miao had not come to my rescue." What actually had happened was that Orchid and Lute had sneaked Quad into the side-room while the rest of the party were all taken up with the pigeon that had brought the silk thread into the hall. In the general flurry of activity no one had bothered to check where he was. The excitement being over, Tree had been meaning to inflict fatal blows on him, and yet Quad was nowhere to be found.

Fox nodded approvingly. Then he reached inside his gown, retrieved a

scarlet tablet and put it in Quad's mouth, telling him, "Uncle Quad, take this medicine now for your wounds."

Fox felt much relieved after Quad had chewed the tablet into powder and swallowed it all. Presently, he returned to the hall and made a low bow to Orchid, placing both his hands in front of him with his head almost touching ground. He addressed her, "Thank you for saving Uncle Quad's life."

Orchid immediately returned his obeisance, remarking, "Your humble sister has always held in respect a man as honest, upright and helpful as Quad. This is too trivial to deserve a mention."

Fox returned her thanks, "It was a matter of life and death: how could that be trivial? I am truly grateful to you."

Though Fox struck her as being rough and brazen, yet he conducted his speech in a gentlemanly manner. Presently, Orchid addressed him apologetically, "Brother Fox has come a long way to the eyrie, but the place is inadequately stocked at the moment to honour your arrival."

Orchid next told her maid, "Lute, prepare some wine and food quickly."

Fox alerted Orchid, "The lord of the eyrie has arranged a meeting with me at precisely noon today. How is it that he is not here to meet me in person?"

Orchid replied, "The Master has been summoned away on matters of importance and must have been detained on his way back. Please allow your humble sister to apologize in advance for his failing to keep the

appointed hour."

Fox found her answer very sensible and well expressed. He mused, finding himself more baffled. "There has never been a lack of prime fighters among the Miao, Fan and Tian Families, and yet all these manly fellows are retreating at the first opportunity, abandoning a fragile maiden to assume their duties. Could it be possible that she is martially adept beneath her

cloak of innocence?"

Presently, Lute entered the room carrying a wooden tray, resting on which was a large wine-kettle and a cup. She carried the tray in her left hand while pouring wine into the cup with her right. Similingly Lute remarked, "Master Fox, I am afraid all the chicken, duck, fish, meat,

vegetables and fruits have been ravaged by that Master Quad of yours. I am sorry we can afford to offer you only wine."

Fox instinctively sensed that the wooden tray was placed too close to both him and Orchid. He at once reached out his left hand and gave its edge a slight push, sending the wooden tray lunging straight at Orchid's shoulder. Though very little energy was expended in the pushing, it was channeled propitiously to strike at his enemy. If Orchid failed to ward off the attack in time, the blow would be as fatal as one inflicted by an edged weapon.

Orchid, being ignorant of martial arts, met the impending danger by shifting her body slightly to the side, attempting no timely move to dissipate the deadening energy driving towards her. Great danger was imminent.

The clandestine attack launched at Orchid frightened the steward terribly.

Fully aware of the fact that he was far inferior to Fox in martial ability, he was almost convinced that his efforts would prove futile even if he

endeavoured to charge forward, risking his life. Thereupon, he reacted by only letting out a loud cry, "Aiya!"

Fox arrested the wooden tray with two nimble fingers of his his left hand.

It was a timely rescue achieved at the last possible moment. The tray recoiled immediately after glancing Orchid's outer garment with its rim. Never would it dawn on the maiden that she had passed through the hands of Death with only a hair's breath to spare. She had been so close to

greeting Fate in the transient Nether World, riding the Wheel of Incarnation.

At length, Fox asked Orchid, not without surprise in his voice, "I understand that your father is the Invincible Under the Sky. Why did he not transmit to you his esoteric martial feats? I have heard that both genders in your house have equal entitlement to the Miao's Swordplay, as the esoteric techniques of your family are passed on to all male and female descendants alike."

To Fox, Orchid gave the explanation, "My father vowed to dissolve the deadly feud which has become increasingly entangled during the past hundred or so years. That explains why he ceased to accept any disciples. So, the Miao's Swordplay will die out after him."

Fox was stunned to learn this: it took him a second to raise to his lips the wine cup which he had been holding for a while in mid air. He emptied its content in one gulp, crying aloud, "Phoenix Miao, Phoenix the Knight-

errant, Bravo! Your title 'the Knight-errant' is certainly befitting!"

Orchid responded at once, "My father has told me what happened to your father on the day in question. On that particular day, your father served

wine to my father. The others warned him against poisoning. But he only answered, 'Gully is an authentic hero fighter, one who is open and

aboveboard in all matters. How can he be capable of playing such vile tricks?' I am now also serving you wine. Brother Fox has drained it down in one gulp. Are you not afraid that people may attack you underhandedly?"

Fox let out a laugh. He spat out a yellow pellet, saying, "My late father died as a result of deceit. I would be a fool if I did not take any precaution. This pellet is an antitoxin, a miraculous drug. I have been made to look deceitful by what you have just said." Thereupon, he poured out a cup of wine and again drained his cup.

Orchid went on, "I must apologize for the eyrie's being short of delicacies with which to enhance your wine. As the humble sister does not have a good head for wine, she cannot, therefore, join the gentleman in drinking. The ancients used to recite the History of the Western Han Dynasty to

enhance the wine. This humble sister has a Han qin and would like to play a piece to add merriment to your drinking, but is afraid that it may bring displeasure to your ears."

Fox was delighted and answered encouragingly, "I would be glad to listen to you play."

Before Orchid could go any further, Lute had already returned from the inner chamber with an antique qin, a horizontal, zither-like musical instrument. She placed the qin on the table before Orchid. Then she replenished the censer with lighted incense.

Presently, Orchid raised her hands deftly and gracefully, feathering lightly the strings on the qin with her fingers and tuning the instrument to a few notes from the air 'Immortal Sage'. Then she began fingering the

strings, chanting softly, "Calamity will the future behold, all lips parching

and tongues sweltering. Merry-making of the moment throws everyone into ecstatic joy. The ancients travelled far and wide in search of the elixir plant on famed mountains. Finally Wang Qiao the Immortal advanced offering a bolus." The stanza soon came to an end, while strains of music still lingered in the air.

Fox had experienced many hardships and agonies during his tender years and hence had devoted himself vigorously to the mastery of martial arts. He had, however, also applied himself in earnest to books after reaching some twenty years old. He knew that the piece she chanted was "Act of

Benevolence", which was played by hosts and guests at banquets to offer mutual thanks when the feast neared its end. But this piece was seldom played after the Han and Wei Dynasties. It therefore came as a great

surprise to Fox that he should encounter an ancient practice like the present one on a trip up the mountain which he had made expressly for wreaking vengeance. The first half of the stanza chanted by Orchid contained the lines pressing the guests to drink, whereas the remaining half stanza

consisted of lines bestowing congratulatory wishes of longevity upon the guests. One of the lines alluded to the elixir plant, an apt pun on the miraculous drug Fox had held a while before in his mouth.

Presently, Fox began tapping gently on the table and started intoning in turn, "I regret to say that my sleeves are short and I feel cold in my arms. I am sorry that I do not possess a ceremonial chariot to repay the kindness of Zhao Xuan." The lines described the hospitality of the host and how the guest felt ashamed at not being able to reciprocate the generous gesture with a propitious gift.

Orchid was assailed by a joyous feeling on finding that Fox was able to return her chanting with lines from the same piece of music "Act of

Benevolence". Thereupon, she told herself, "He is both a martial artist and a scholar-gentleman. My father would be overjoyed to learn that Uncle Gully had an heir as accomplished as this."

After a brief pause, Orchid began chanting again, "The moon wanes to its close, with the Dipper lying across the sky. Friends arrive at the door, and there is no time to gratify hunger." What Orchid was trying to convey through these lines was that, although it was getting late, one was so overjoyed by the arrival of guests that dinner was ignored.

Thereupon, Fox picked up where Orchid had ended and started chanting, "The days endured in agony outnumber those filled with joy. Drinking and singing to the music of the harpsichord can drown all worldly cares. Eight

elders from Huainan are relentless in their quest of enlightenment. Borne on six dragons, they wander delightedly in the clouds." The second half of the stanza was a congratulatory note wishing the host longevity, which mirrored cleverly the lines intoned earlier by Orchid, the host.

Having finished chanting, Fox held up the wine-cup and downed the

contents. He paid Orchid respects, folding his hands. Immediately, Orchid stopped the string, brushing her finger along a fret on the qin. She arose facing Fox and they exchanged respects.

Fox returned the wine-cup to the table, announcing, "As the lord of the

eyrie is away, I shall pay him another visit tomorrow." Thereupon, he strode to the side room in the western wing and hoisted Quad on his back. After making an obeisance to Orchid, bending his body slightly, Fox took leave of the eyrie. Orchid saw him to the gate. Soon, his back was seen fleeting

across the edge of the cliff, skimming down the mountain, grasping the rope.

Orchid stared rigidly at the snow blanketing the whole mountain, lost in a daze. Presently, Lute addressed her, "Miss Miao, what are you doing? Hurry inside or you will catch cold."

"I am not cold," answered Orchid. Her heart jumped. She did not know herself what was turning over in her mind. After being pressed twice by her maid, Orchid then retraced her steps slowly to the eyrie.

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