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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 7.5 Death

Chapter 7.5 Death

Hawk soon picked up his tale: "I decided I might as well lie down under the bed to await this murder. Also, I still had to wait for the poniard. Added to that, how could I make my exit with Brother Pastoral lying awake in his bed? After a short while Miss Tian retraced her steps to the room, in a great hurry and she broke out in a trembling voice, 'Father, he has already dug up the poniard. It was extremely stupid of me. I was but a minute too late. He

... He ... also ...' Fear and fury mingled in Brother Pastoral's breast. He

asked, 'What did he do?' His daughter had been meaning to tell him, 'He has also dug up the body of my child!' But she was too ashamed to say these

words, and was silent for a few moments. Afterwards, she cried, 'l shall go and fetch him!' She at once ran outside, but tumbled to the ground on reaching the threshold, a result of severe panic.

"Hiding under the bed I was provoked by a rankling anger. The poniard was still nowhere to be found. I had been meaning to take the first opportunity to extinguish the candle, and run from the room under cover of darkness. On seeing his daughter trip, Brother Pastoral could not help heaving a deep sigh, but made no attempt to clamber from his bed to raise her from the ground. After getting back on her feet, Miss Tian leant upon the door post, and panted a while before taking to her heels again.

"Brother Pastoral then got up to close the windows. He sat down on a chair, resting his sword on the table while holding the arrow in his hand.

His face was ashen, wearing a most terrifying look. I was also gripped by a feeling of acute uneasiness. He might turn against me the minute he found me out. I might not even be able to stay alive as I was not as martially

accomplished as he.

"Brother Pastoral remained deadly motionless in the chair. He looked like a rigid corpse, and yet his eyes held a flickering gleam. It seemed as though his heart were weighed down by a great anxiety. It was deadly quiet outside. A few barking sounds were heard coming faintly from a distance, echoed immediately by a dog in the vicinity. Suddenly the nearby barking tailed off to a whine, and then stopped abruptly, as if someone had delivered a lightning blow to the brute. Brother Pastoral started. Soon came a knocking on the door. There was only a very short lapse between the barking and knocking. The dog must have been over a hundred yards away. It took the visitor less than a moment to reach the entrance after slaughtering the animal on the way.

"Brother Pastoral posed his question to the visitor in a low tone, 'Fox, so you have finally arrived?'

"The stranger outside replied, 'Pastoral, do you recognize my voice?'

"Brother Pastoral turned deadly pale instantly and he quavered, 'Phoenix!

Phoenix the knight-errant!'

"The man at the door replied, 'It is I!'

"Brother Pastoral demanded, 'Phoenix the Knight-errant, why are you here?'

"The fellow on the other side of the doorway responded, 'I am here to deliver some goods!'

"After wavering for a few moments, Brother Pastoral laid down his arrow and threw open the door. A lanky man, with a waxen complexion, came

striding into the room.

"I stole a close look at his appearance from under the bed and thought to myself, 'This man goes by the sobriquet the Invincible Under the Sky and is an ultimate fighter of the Martial Brotherhood. He looks imposing without having to puff himself up. His bearing awes others into submission.' Phoenix laid down on the table two articles which he was carrying and said, 'Here is your poniard and here is your grandson.' The slender parcel was,

after all, a dead baby.

"Brother Pastoral trembled and slumped in the chair. Phoenix the Knight- errant remarked, 'Your protege buried the poniard secretly while your daughter interred an illegitimate son, both keeping you in the dark. But I

saw all this. I have dug up both objects to return them to you.' Brother Pastoral answered, 'Thank you. Our ... our house is beset by misfortunes.' Phoenix the Knight-errant's eyes turned red immediately, and tears were on the verge of flooding out. However, he speedily assumed a threatening

expression and demanded, 'How did she meet her death?'"

Suddenly there came a crashing sound. The tea bowl slipped from

Orchid's hand, smashing to smithereens. She had always carried herself in a quiet and demure way. But for some unknown reason, these words instantly undermined her composure. Lute, her maid, immediately took out a handkerchief and wiped the tea from her clothes. Lute addressed her mistress in a whisper, "Madam, go inside and take a rest. Do not listen any more." Orchid answered, "No, I shall listen to his story until the end."

Hawk cast her a glance and then continued: "Brother Pastoral said, 'She caught a cold one day and started coughing. I sent for a doctor to tend to her. The doctor diagnosed her as having only a slight flu; nothing serious. One prescription would have been sufficient to set her perspiring and the temperature would then have gone away. But she found the medicine too bitter and poured away the entire concoction. She also refused to take any food, hence she started to grow increasingly weak. I summoned several doctors, but she still refused to take either medicine or food. She simply refused to heed any advice.'"

At this, Orchid started to sob quietly. Hawk and the others found this rather strange, not knowing who the woman was that had refused both medicine and food. They did not know how she was related to Pastoral, to Phoenix and to his daughter. Century, Peace and the Dragon Lodge cohort took her to be the woman that Pastoral had taken to wife on the death of his first spouse. They failed to see why Phoenix the Knight-errant should show his concern for this woman. Neither could they understand why Orchid had become saddened by this part of Hawk's narration. Thereupon, they thought to themselves, "Could it be possible that Pastoral was related to the Miao Family? How come we have never heard anything before about that?"

Hawk continued, "While still hiding myself under the bed, I failed to understand at all to whom they were referring. And I thought to myself that Phoenix had come here making all speed, and yet his only business was inquiring about the health of a sick person. Was not the person who refused to take either food or medicine petty? Phoenix the knight-errant then went on and asked, 'Did it not seem as if she had lost interest in living?' Brother Pastoral answered, 'Later on, I went on my knees, imploring her to take both food and medicine, but she remained adamant, despite my begging and entreating her incessantly.'

"Phoenix the knight-errant asked, 'What were her parting words?' Brother Pastoral answered, 'She asked me to have her body cremated, and then to

sprinkle the ashes on the driveway so that people would trample on her.' Phoenix the Knight-errant started at this, bawling, 'Did you carry out her instruction?' Brother Pastoral answered, 'I had the body cremated, but the ashes are still here.' At this, he stood up and retrieved a tiny porcelain jar from the inner side of the bed. He placed the container on the table.

"Phoenix the knight-errant gazed at the porcelain jar. Grief and wrath were visible on his face. I stole one glance at him. Afterwards, I dared not look at his face any more.

"Presently, Brother Pastoral fumbled inside the bosom of his garment. He drew out a pearl-studded hairpin, embellished with a gambolling phoenix.

He put the pin on the table, saying, 'She wanted me to return this pearl- studded pin to you or pass it to Miss Miao. I was told that this article belongs to the Miao Family.'"

At this the Company turned their eyes in the direction of Orchid. The pearl-studded hairpin at the side of her temple trembled slightly. The phoenix motif at the head of the hair ornament was exquisitely fine and the pearls were fully spherical with an impeccably smooth surface. The hairpin, the pearls of which were covered with an ivory patina, was an antique dating from ancient times.

Hawk continued his account, "Phoenix the Knight-errant picked up the pearl hairpin and pulled a hair from his head. He pulled it slowly through the hole on the head of the phoenix. The hair came through the other end of the hairpin. The ornament was, after all, hollow inside. He then jerked both ends of his hair slightly, causing the phoenix motif to snap open on one

side. Phoenix the Knight-errant then twisted the pearl-studded pin to one

side and immediately a paper crumb fell from the head of the bird motif. He laid the crumb of paper out flat, remarking coldly, 'Do you see what is here?' Brother Pastoral turned swarthy in the face. After a considerable

while he heaved a deep sigh.

"Phoenix the knight-errant said, 'You have tried many ways to lay your hands on this map. In the end, she saw through you and therefore refused to confide the secret in you by returning the pearl hairpin to my family. The map of the treasure is right inside this very hairpin. You could never have dreamed of this!' Having finished his words, he put the paper crumb back into the head of the phoenix, locking the gadget by giving the hair a smart pull. Then he placed the hairpin on the table, commanding, 'I have already taught you how to open the head of the pin. You have only to take this and follow the map to recover the treasure!' Brother Pastoral did not dare to stir a finger, holding his lips tight and uttering not a word. I took in all the details under the bed in great exasperation. The map and the poniard were only a few feet from me, and yet I could not lay my hands on them. Phoenix the Knight-errant presently gazed blankly at the porcelain jar. He slowly

stretched out his hands to pick up the jar and put it inside the bosom of his garment, looking terrifying as he did so."

To the ears suddenly came a soft moaning. Orchid was resting her head on the table, sobbing and wailing. The pearl-studded hairpin adorned with a phoenix worn behind her temple was bobbing incessantly. The Company looked at each other, not knowing the cause of her grief.

Hawk picked up his story: "Brother Pastoral pounded the table with his hand, crying, 'Phoenix the Knight-errant, if you charge at me now, I shall die regretting nothing!' Phoenix the Knight-errant let out a sneer, saying, 'Why should I take your life? One who lives may not necessarily be any happier than the one dead. I can still recall the scenes of the duel between Gully and me. He and his wife finally died when the skirmish ended after a few days. Though I have remained alive, my heart was gripped by distress. Later, it occurred to me that Gully and his wife who had loved each other until their dying day, sharing their life and death with each other, were most certainly happier than I who had continued to lead a lonely life in this

world. You had this map near you for many many years, and yet you failed to detect its presence, ending up returning it intact to me in person. Why do I need to kill you? Would it not serve you better if I allowed you to live on to regret it for the remainder of your life?' At this, he picked up the pearl-

studded hairpin and marched out of the room. Though Brother Pastoral was equipped with both arrow and sword, would he dare to take up his arms?

"After sighing for a few moments, Brother Pastoral placed both the dead baby and the poniard on his bed. Then he turned around to bolt the door, muttering to himself, 'One who lives may not necessarily be any happier than the one dead.' Then he sat on the bed, crying, 'Orchis, Orchis, you have committed a folly on my account, and I one on yours. Why this torment?' Then came a swishing sound, as if an object had pierced the flesh. After tossing a few moments with pain in his bed, Pastoral lay still.

"I was taken aback and immediately wriggled from under the bed. He had thrust the arrow into his heart and was dead. Now you should all listen: Brother Pastoral took his own life, and he was not killed by anybody. Peace did not kill him, neither did Fox. It was he who killed himself. As I am a friend to neither Peace nor Fox, there is no incentive for me to plead their innocence.

"With Pastoral lying dead on his bed, I immediately blew out the candle. Just as I was about to reach for the poniard before departing, Brother Peace knocked at the door. I was forced to go back into hiding under the bed. As to what happened afterwards, you have already heard it from Brother Peace.

He took the poniard and ran away with it to the place beyond the Pass. I was filled with a great sense of anger for having hidden such a long time under the bed. Would this gain me nothing? Added to that, Brother Prime

and I still had some old debts to settle with the Horse Spring Banditry, and thus the two of us decided to follow the group here."

Having finished his account, Hawk dusted his clothes with his hands and ran his fingers through his hair as if he were again on the point of wriggling from under the bed. He then took two sips of tea, looking relieved and complacent.   

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