Use the translation feature to translate novels into different languages

Ode to Gallantry Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - Ding Ding Dang Dang

The young man was perplexed.   "How strange!" he said, scratching his head. "How strange indeed!" When his eyes fell on the box of clay figurines on the table, he said to himself: "The clay people are here, so I am not dreaming."

He opened the cover of the box and took a figurine out. Having just had an unprecedented level of internal energy come to complete formation in his body, he was not aware that he had become very strong. Neither did he know how to control his strength.   Thus, when he pressed the figurine gently -- as he had often done before -- a series of cracking sounds was heard. A moment later, some of the powdered colour-washes, oil-based paints and layers of clay on the figurine crumbled away one after another.

"A-yo!" said the young man, as he began to feel sorry about damaging the figurine. Then, he noticed that there was a layer of lacquered wood where the paint and clay had crumbled away. Since the outer layers had come off, he simply went ahead and peeled more of it away. When a vague human- like shape started to appear, he removed all of the clay and found a naked wooden figurine in his hands.

Varnished with a layer of tung oil (tong2 you2)(1), the wooden figurine had black lines painted all over it. However, there were no indications of acupoints on it at all. The figurine was exquisitely carved, with a life-like face and an open mouth as if in laughter. Its hands were placed on its stomach, completing the overall appearance of great mirth.   It did not look at all like the clay figurine that it once was.
 
The young man was delighted: So there are wooden figurines inside the clay people. I wonder what the other figurines look like.

Having memorised the acupoints and channels on the clay figurines a long time ago, he simply went ahead and peeled the powdered colour-washes, oil-based paints and clay layers away from the remaining figurines. Sure enough, each clay figurine had a wooden one inside, all of which had different expressions that ranged from unbridled joy to bitter tears and from great mouth-splitting anger to utter heart-warming kindness. Furthermore, the channels shown on the wooden figurines for the exercising of one's energy were totally different from those on the clay people.

The young man thought: Since these wooden figurines are so interesting, I will practise my internal strength according to the lines on their bodies and see what happens next. But I will not follow the one with the crying face, for does he not look ugly, weeping and wailing like that? The one that is laughing with his mouth opened wide does not look good either, so I will start with this one that is smiling happily.

Without further ado, the young man sat cross-legged and placed the smiling wooden figurine in front of himself. When he exercised a little of the energy in his abdomen, he felt a stream of warmth rising slowly from it. Then, he directed the stream to the various acupoints according to the lines shown on the body of the wooden figurine.

He would never know that the lines on the bodies of these wooden figurines stood for the 'Arhats' Divine Demon-Subduing Skill' (Luo2 Han4 Fu2 Mo2 Shen2 Gong1), a set of techniques that was created by an eminent monk from an earlier generation of the Shaolin School. Every wooden figurine was an arhat in this exquisite collection that represented one of the greatest achievements in Buddhist internal strength cultivation techniques -- techniques that were extremely profound yet delicately subtle.   The first step -- called 'Preserving the Heart for a Return to the Fundamentals' (She4 Xin1 Gui1 Yuan2) -- required the complete abandonment of all distracting thoughts, something that a single person in a hundred thousand men might not even be able to accomplish.
 
While intelligent and quick-witted people often had too many deliberations to succeed in practising this set of techniques, the dull ones were simply unable to figure out the variations that numbered in the thousands and ten- thousands.

The eniment monk who developed this set of techniques years ago knew that talented individuals who were intelligent, yet honest and simple, were very rare. Although there were monks who had high intellectual capacity as well as a level of spiritual cultivation that was devoid of material desires, practising this set of techniques would inevitably lead them to a whole- hearted embrace of martial arts and the eventual destruction of their Buddhist testimony.

The teachings of Buddha named 'greed', 'anger' and 'infatuation' as the Three Poisons. Money- or lust-induced greed was nevertheless still greed, and if it could bring delight to the practitioner of Buddhism, martial arts would certainly become another form of greed. Therefore, the wooden arhats were covered with layers of clay and powdered paint-washes, before they were painted with the genuine entry-level techniques for the cultivation of internal strength according to the Shaolin School. Consequently, this served to prevent later generations from over-rating their abilities at the sight of the wooden arhats and embarking on a futile training course that would either cause them to lose their lives or lead them away from the true path of Buddhism.

Knowing that the eighteen clay figurines were unusual treasures of the martial arts circle, the Benevolent Elder had put in all his effort into obtaining them. Yet, he soon saw that the internal strength cultivation techniques drawn on them were ordinary and unremarkable. Subsequently, he spent many months and years studying the figurines intensively, but he was unable to find anything that made them valuable. Since he did not doubt their value as unusual treasures, he was very careful in handling them, lest they were damaged. But without destroying the clay figurines, the wooden arhats would never emerge. Thus, the Benevolent Elder never understood the secret of the figurines until the day he died.

In fact, the Benevolent Elder was not the only one who failed to uncover the arhats. Since the days of the eminent Shaolin monk, the set of clay
 
figurines had passed through the hands of eleven people. Each of these individuals handled the figurines with fear and trepidation, thinking deeply and making great efforts to protect them. These eleven eventually died in regret, taking one of the biggest doubts in their hearts into the yellow earth with them.

The young man was naturally gifted with intelligence. Tender in age and having lived all his life in the remote mountains without any understanding of the affairs of the world around him, he simply could not be dishonest and complex in character. Thus, by sheer coincidence, he turned out to be just the right candidate for this set of techniques.

In addition, he was also fortunate to discover the secret of the arhats on the same day that his mind had cleared. If he had not, he would soon be imperceptibly influenced by the sights and sounds of being a clan-leader for an extended period of time. As a naturally kind person, he would probably not be too affected by the killings and the fights, but he would certainly have many more thoughts and deliberations on his mind. Finding the eighteen wooden arhats then and practising the techniques shown on them would not only prove unbeneficial, but thoroughly dangerous as well.

With the fire and water in his body blended, and the yin and the yang harmonised, the young man had already possessed a very rich and profound level of internal strength. When he exercised this strength according to the lines on the body of the wooden arhat, all the blocked channels in his body began to open up.   After doing the same exercise three times, the young man closed his eyes and repeated it again without looking at the figurine. A feeling of immense comfort came over him. Then, he started working with another figurine.

He became totally absorbed in the task after that, working with one figurine after another without hearing or seeing anything that took place around him. He did this from dawn until noon, and from noon until dusk, before going on from dusk until the dawn of the next day.

Initially, Shijian had been afraid that he would violate her, so she did not go further than popping her head through the door to steal glance. When she saw that how focused he was on his training -- laughing foolishly in one
 
moment and frowning bitterly in the next like one who had lost his head -- she could not help but become worried. Thus, she stepped quietly into the room. Then, seeing how he trained continuously throughout the day and the night without stopping for a rest, she quickly forgot to be afraid. Instead, she became so concerned that she left the room to sleep for only one or two shichen (2 to 4 hours) before returning for another look.

Bei Haishi visited several times as well. Looking into the room from the outside, he saw a dense whitish cloud hovering over the young man's head. This told him that the young man's training had once again reached a critical juncture. Hence, he ordered his subordinates to increase their efforts in standing guard outside the clan-leader's room, for no one was allowed to enter the room and disturb the clan-leader at all.

By the time the young man was finished with his practice of the Divine Demon-Subduing Skill that was recorded on the bodies of the eighteen wooden arhats, it was already the dawn of the third day. Under the first faint rays of light, the young man took a long breath before placing the wooden figurines back into their box and closing it. He felt mentally and physically invigorated, for his internal energy could now be exercised and directed at will. Yet, he did not know that he had already made a small accomplishment in the the first step of cultivating the martial arts rarity of a lifetime, the Arhats' Divine Demon-Subduing Skill.

Under ordinary circumstances, one would need at least five or six years' to several decades' worth of training before such an achievement could be made, for there was absolutely no way that it could be done within a day and a night. However, with the harmonising of the twin energies of yin and yang in his body, the young man was already equipped with the right foundations for the practice of the skill. It was as if he was a giant ten- thousand qing (approximately 66,667 hectares) lake that had soaked up an immeasurable amount of water upstream; the Arhats' Divine Demon- Subduing Skill served only to direct that immense volume into the right flow.

As the saying went, when water came, a channel would be formed. The pure yin and yang energies that he had practised diligently for many years
 
were akin to stored-up water that had now become a flowing channel. The conditions had been ripe, and he had achieved success.

+ + +

The young man blinked ... and noticed Shijian leaning face-down against the side of his bed. She had fallen asleep. Getting off the bed, he saw that her clothes were thin and unlayered. By then, Mid-Autumn(2) was already over, and a slight chill had begun to come upon the last ten days of the eighth month. Therefore, the young man took a brocade quilt from his bed and had it placed lightly over Shijian's body.

Then, walking over to the window, he was struck by the refreshing flower- scented air that floated in.

Suddenly, Shijian started talking in a soft voice: "Young Master, Young Master, you ... you must not kill anymore!"

The young man turned around and asked: "Why do you keep calling me 'Young Master'? Why are you telling me to stop killing people?"

Although Shijian was sound asleep, her mind had not found any rest. Thus, when she heard the young man speaking, she woke up and patted her chest. "I ... I feel very frightened!" she said. Finding the bed empty, she turned around and saw the young man standing by the window. She could not help but react with surprise and delight at the same time. "Young Master, you are already awake!" she said with a smile. "Look at me, I dozed off."

When Shijian stood up, the brocade quilt on her shoulders slipped off. She turned pale with fright at once, for she thought that she had been violated by her philandering and loose-living clan-leader while she was asleep. Then, lowering her head, she realised that she was still properly dressed. As a mixture of bewilderment and suspicion gripped her, she began to stammer: "You ... I ... I ..."

The young man smiled. "You were talking in your sleep a moment ago," he said, "telling me not to kill people. Do you see me killing people in your dreams too?"
 
These remarks were not unfounded, so Shijian's heart became slightly calmer. Then, realising that nothing out of ordinary had happened, she asked herself: Was I wrong to accuse him? Thank the Heaven and the Earth... Finally, she spoke aloud: "Yes, I was dreaming a moment ago. I saw you holding knives in both your hands and killing indiscriminately until there were bodies strewn all over the ground.   Each of these bodies was not ... not ..." At this point, her face turned red. Then, she stopped talking altogether.

The things observed during the day often became one's dreams at night. For Shijian, she had seen nothing before the young man's bed for a day and two nights except those eighteen naked wooden figurines, so she saw naked male corpses in her dream as well.

But the young man did not know about it, of course. So he asked, "Each of the bodies was not ... what?"

Shijian blushed again before saying: "Each of them was not ... not a bad person."

Subsequently, the young man said, "Elder Sister Shijian, there are many things that I do not understand. Would you explain them to me, please?"

"A-yo!" answered Shijian with a smile. "Has the serious bout of illness changed your character? You are even using titles like 'Elder' and 'Younger Sister' when you speak to lowly servants like us."

"I really do not understand why you call me 'Young Master' and talk about 'lowly servants'," said the young man. "Those elderly uncles call me 'Clan- Leader', while Big Brother Zhan says that I robbed him of his wife. What exactly is going on?"

Gazing at him for a moment, Shijian found the expression on his face very sincere. There was no trace of an intention to joke or make fun of the situation. Therefore, she said, "You have not eaten anything for a day and a night. There is some ginseng and millet porridge (ren2 shen1 xiao3 mi3 zhou1) on the stove outside. I will get you a bowl."
 
The mention of food caused the young man to realise how unbearably hungry he actually was. "I will go and get the porridge myself," he said. "How would I dare to bother you, Elder Sister? Where is the porridge?" After sniffing the air for a moment, he smiled and said, "I know where it is!" Then, he strode out of the room.

Beyond the young man's sleeping quarters, was yet another large room. A small charcoal stove stood in one of the corners, with a bubbling pot of millet porridge on it. The young man threw a glance at Shijian, who turned totally red at once. "A-yo!" she exclaimed. "The porridge is burnt! Young Master, please have some pastries and other light refreshments (dian3 xin1) first. I will go and make another pot of porridge at once. How terrible of me to sleep like I was dead!"

The young man laughed and said, "Burnt porridge is good too, so what is there to fear?" When he lifted the lid of the pot, a strong odour entered his nostrils. The porridge, which amounted to about half a pot, had almost become as dry as burnt rice, yet he took a spoon, scooped some of the burnt porridge up and sent it into his mouth.

Ginseng and millet porridge was usually a little bitter in taste. Taken without sugar, the burnt mouthful had an even greater level of bitterness.

The young man frowned before swallowing the mouthful in a single gulp. Then, he stuck out his tongue and said, "How bitter!" Yet, he scooped another spoonful from the pot and sent it into his mouth. After swallowing the second mouthful, he said, "How bitter!" again.

Shijian reached out to take the spoon from the young man's hand. As she did, she turned red and said, "It is already so burnt, but you are remarkable to eat it!" By then, her fingers had touched the back of his hand, but he was unwilling to release the spoon. Consequently, a unpremeditated burst of reflexive energy went forth from the muscles on his hand and pushed Shijian's fingers away. The shocked maidservant withdrew her hand at once.

As for the young man, he went ahead and ate another spoonful of the bitter porridge without realising what had happened.
 
Shijian cocked her head to one side and watched as he ate like the wolf and the tiger. The expressions on his face were especially amusing, for he seemed to find the porridge bitter, fragrant and sweet at the same time. Eventually, Shijian could not help but smile. "Well, I really cannot blame you for eating like this," she said. "You must have been starved for the past few days."

The young man continued eating until the entire half-pot of porridge was gone and the bottom of the pot exposed. Although the meal was burnt, it contained high-grade aged wild ginseng (lao3 shan1 shen1) that served as a powerful supplement to health. As a result, the young man was soon alert and radiating with vitality.

When Shijian saw the reddish glow on his face, she smiled and asked, "Young Master, what martial arts have you been practising? When my finger touched the back of your hand just now, it bounced off. Your complexion has also become better-looking."

"I do not know what it is called," answered the young man. "I simply followed the lines on the bodies of the wooden people. Elder Sister Shijian, who ... who exactly am I?"

"Have you really forgotten?" asked Shijian with a laugh. "Or are you just talking in jest?"

The young man scratched his head. Then, rather unexpectedly, he asked, "Have you seen my mother?"

"No," answered Shijian in suprise. "Young Master, I have never heard you mention that there is an Old Madame. Ah, that is it! You must be very obedient to Old Madame; that is why your character has somewhat changed in recent days." As she spoke, Shijian glanced at her clan-leader, for she was concerned that his old temper might suddenly flare up. Fortunately, nothing happened.

"My mother's words must naturally be obeyed," said the young man. Then, after a sigh, he added, "I wonder where my mother has gone."
 
"Thank the Heaven and the Earth," said Shijian. "There is someone in this world who can actually discipline you at last.

Suddenly, a loud voice spoke from outside the room: "Has the clan-leader awakened? His subordinate has a matter to report."

The young man was stunned, for he did not know what to say. Turning to Shijian, he whispered: "Is he talking to me?"

"Of course, he is," answered Shijian. "He says that he has something to report."

"Get him to wait," said the young man quickly. "Elder Sister Shijian, you must teach me what to do first."

Shijian took one look at her clan-leader before raising her voice and saying: "Who is it outside?"

"His subordinate, Chen Chongzhi from the Hall of the Impressive Lion," answered the visitor.

"Our Clan-Leader instructs you, Incense-Master Chen, to wait for a short while," said Shijian.

"Yes," came Chen Chongzhi's reply.

The young man beckoned towards Shijian and went into the inner quarters. "Who exactly am I?" he asked her in a whisper.

A slight frown appeared between Shijian's brows. With increasing anxiety in her heart, she replied: "You are the leader of the Clan of Eternal Happiness. Your surname is Shi; your given name is Potian."

"Shi Potian ... Shi Potian," mumbled the young man. "So I am called Shi Potian ... so my name is not Gouzazhong."

When Shijian saw the concern on his face, she comforted him and said, "Young Master, you do not need to be worried. Take your time, and you
 
will remember everything. You are Shi Potian, Clan-Leader Shi of the Clan of Eternal Happiness; not bas- ... well, naturally not that!"

The young man, Shi Potian, whispered another two questions: "What is the Clan of Eternal Happiness? What does the clan-leader do?"

It is not easy to describe the Clan of Eternal Happiness, thought Shijian, so she said, "There are many people in the Clan of Eternal Happiness, like Mr Bei, the Incense-Master Chen outside ... they are all very capable people. You are the Clan-Leader; everyone must listen to you."

"So what should I say to them?" asked Shi Potian.

"I am a young maidservant, so what do I know?" said Shijian. "Young Master, if you cannot come to a decision, there is no harm in asking Mr Bei about it. He is the strategist of the clan and highly intelligent man."

"But Mr Bei is not here," said Shi Potian.   "Elder Sister Shijian, what do you think that Incense-Master Chen wants to say to me? If he asks me something, I will certainly not be able to give him an answer. You ... you had better ask him to leave."

"I am afraid it is not very good to ask him to leave," said Shijian. "Just nod your head to whatever he says."

Shi Potian was delighted: "Well, that is not difficult."

With the matter settled, Shijian walked ahead and led Shi Potian into a small hall outside where he could receive visitors. There, they saw a very tall man standing up suddenly from his seat. The man bowed in greeting and said, "Clan-Leader, you have recovered well! Your subordinate, Chen Chongzhi, pays his respects."

Shi Potian bowed in return and said, "Incense ... Incense-Master Chen, you have recovered well too! I also pay you my respects."

Almost at once, the expression of Chen Chongzhi's face underwent a great change. Then, the man took two steps backwards. He knew his clan-leader
 
as an arrogant, rude and wicked fellow who loved to kill, so the act of him bowing and greeting in response to his own gesture of respect was a clear indication that the intention to kill had been aroused. The clan-leader would soon launch a cruel strike against him.

Although Chen Chongzhi was startled inwardly, he was nonetheless a highly skilled pugilist and a proud man of the greenwood who would never give in to force. So how could he be willing to wait for his death as if his hands were tied? Hence, he directed his energy towards his palms in silence, before speaking up in a serious voice: "Your subordinate wonders which rule of the clan he was violated.   If the Clan-Leader wants to mete out punishment, a major ceremonial meeting must be convened and the violation declared before all who are present."

Shi Potian did not understand his words at all. "Punishment?" he said in surprise. "What punishment? Incense-Master Chen, are you talking about punishment?"

The incense-master became angry.   "Chen Chongzhi is totally devoted to the clan and the Clan-Leader," he said. "I have not committed any violations, so Clan-Leader, why are you speaking words of ridicule again and again?"

Recalling Shijian's advice to first nod his head at the things he did not understand and later ask Bei Haishi about them, Shi Potian acknowledged Chen Chongzhi's outburst with a series of nods and several grunts.   Then, he said, "Please sit down, Incense-Master Chen. Do not act like a guest."

"How can there be a seat for your subordinate in the presence of the Clan- Leader?" said Chen Chongzhi.

"Yes, yes!" answered Shi Potian, nodding his head again.

Standing face-to-face, the two men suddenly fell silent. One of them looked at the other, only to have the other return the gaze. Chen Chongzhi wore an expression of total guardedness that was marked by anger and fear, while Shi Potian appeared to be perplexed and at a loss. Yet, he had a warm and amiable smile.
 
According to the rules of the Clan of Eternal Happiness, no one was allowed to be in the room when subordinates reported secret matters to the clan-leader. Therefore, Shijian had left the hall much earlier.   If she had not, she would have been able to explain to Chen Chongzhi that their Clan- Leader had just recovered from a serious bout of illness, and was therefore still rather depressed. Hence, Chen did not need to have any misgivings about the exchange.

By and by, Shi Potian noticed two bowls of tea on the table. Taking one of the bowls in his left hand, he offered the other to the visitor with his right. However, Chen Chongzhi was afraid that the tea was poisoned.   He was also concerned that Shi Potian would seize the opportunity to launch an attack. Therefore, he did not dare to reach out and take the bowl. Instead, he took a step backwards.

Crash! One of the porcelain bowls fell to the ground and broke into smithereens.

"A-yo!" said Shi Potian, before smiling and adding: "I am sorry, I am sorry!" Then, he offered the bowl of tea that he had not drunk to his guest: "Here, drink this one!"

Chen Chongzhi raised his eyebrows at once: I will not escape from your evil hands, regardless of what I do. If a true man must die, so be it. Why should he be carrying his heart in his mouth? Although he knew that the clan-leader's martial arts skills were beneath his, he would never be able to flee from the dragon's pool and the tiger's den that the dangerous Clan of Happiness was often compared to. This was especially true once the clan- leader had already launched his attack. Furthermore, he would probably not last beyond ten strokes in a fight with Physician Bei, which would certainly lead to an indescribably cruel death. Hence, he took up the bowl and drunk its contents dry with a few noisy gulps. Then, placing the bowl heavily on the table, he said in a miserable voice: "Clan-Leader, because of the way that you treat your loyal subordinates, may I wish the Clan of Eternal Happiness a thousand years of permanent joy. Long live Clan-Leader Shi!"

Shi Potian understood what 'Long live Clan-Leader Shi!' was, but he did not know that Chen Chongzhi meant it to be an ironic remark. Thus, he replied:
 
"May Incense-Master Chen live a long life too."

To Chen Chongzhi, these words sounded once again like venom to the ears. Laughing bitterly, he thought: My life is already left with nothing but a moment, yet you wish me a lengthy life. Hence, he said in a loud voice: "Your subordinate does not know how he has offended the Clan-Leader. Since this is his lot in life, there is nothing more to talk about. I have come today to make a report: Last night, two people broke into the Hall of the Impressive Lion at our headquarters. One of them was a middle-aged man about forty; the other was a woman about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old. They used long swords, with techniques that were similar to those of the Snow Mountain School at Lingxiao City. I led my men in an attempt to capture them, but their swordplay techniques were brilliant. Consequently, three of our brothers were killed. Eventually, we seized the woman after she was slashed in the leg, but the man escaped. Therefore, I have also come to admit my guilt in this matter."

"Hmm, so you captured the woman, but the man escaped," said Shi Potian. "I wonder what they came for.  Did they steal anything?"

"The Hall of the Impressive Lion has not been relieved of any objects," answered Chen Chongzhi.

Shi Potian frowned. "The two people were really ferocious," he said. "Why did they kill three people with such ease?" Then, struck by curiosity, he said, "Incense-Master Chen, will you take me to see the woman?"

"I obey your command," answered Chen Chongzhi with a bow. As he turned and walked out of the hall, a thought flashed through his mind: The woman whom I captured has beautiful facial features.   Although she is a few years older than she could have been, she is still quite attractive. If the Clan-Leader takes a fancy to her, he may just give me the antidote in a moment of delight. Then, he spoke to himself: Chen Chongzhi, Chen Chongzhi, Clan-Leader Shi's moods have never lasted long. He has also never shown any care or respect for anyone, so the Clan of Eternal Happiness is no longer a place of shelter for you. If you escape today by sheer luck, you had better fly far and high, concealing your surname and burying your given name without ever getting involved in such troublesome
 
matters again. But ... but to leave the clan and flee is a great offence that cannot be pardoned. The Clan of Eternal Happiness will never let me go, even if that means having to pursue me to the ends of the earth. What then can I do?

Meanwhile, Shi Potian followed Chen Chongzhi through a maze of rooms and halls, as well as two flower gardens, before arriving at a large door that was made of stone. Four men stood on either side of the door with weapons in their hands. As Shi and Chen approached, the men rushed forward and bowed in greeting. They looked respectful, yet cautious and somewhat frightened.

Chen Chongzhi gestured with his hand. Two of the guards pushed the stone door open, revealing an iron gate that was secured by a huge iron lock. Chen took a key out and opened the lock by himself.   Stepping inside, he led his clan-leader down a very long corridor that was lit by large candles. Four more guards stood at the end of the corridor, before yet another iron gate. Beyond this gate was a thick stone door. Chen unlocked the door to reveal a stone-walled cell about two zhang squared (approximately 100/9 metres squared).

A woman dressed in white sat with her back towards the door, but when she heard the door open, she turned around.

Chen Chongzhi took a candlestick from the corridor and placed it on a rack by the door. When the light from the candle fell on the woman's face, Shi Potian gasped. "You are the Woman Warrior of the Icy Plum (Han2 Mei2 Nü3 Xia2), Hua Wanzi, from the Snow Mountain School," he said.

Years ago in Hou Jian Ji, Hua Wanzi had repeatedly provoked Xia Yanke with her words. At that time, Shi Potian did not understand anything that was said; neither did he know what the 'Snow Mountain School' and the 'Woman Warrior of the Icy Plum' meant. However, he had good memory, so he did not forget the words that he had heard.

Although seven or eight years had already passed since the incident in Hou Jian Ji, Hua Wanzi's facial features had not changed very much. Therefore, Shi Potian could recognise her at once. On the other hand, Shi Potian was
 
only a little beggar with a dirt-stained face when Hua Wanzi first saw him years ago. Therefore, it was only natural that she could not recognise the tall, healthy and luxuriously-dressed young man. "How do you know who I am?" she snapped in indignation.

"This is our Clan-Leader," answered Chen Chongzhi in a loud and rather angry voice. "You had better be more respectful in your speech." He had responded in this manner after hearing Shi Potian identify the woman's school, nickname and name as soon as he (Shi) had seen her. In his (Chen's) mind, an unexpected feeling of admiration had arisen: This young fellow is remarkable in his knowledge. He does have his abilities indeed.

Hua Wanzi was shocked, for she did not expect to meet the notorious leader of the Clan of Eternal Happiness, Shi Potian, in her prison cell. She had broken into the clan premises with her elder brother-at-arms, Geng Wanzhong, during the night to investigate the background and identity of Shi Potian. Shi Potian was commonly known as an incorrigible lecher who destroyed the chastity of many a woman, so Hua Wanzi was certain that more harm than good would befall her, now that she was in her hands. Thus, she turned her head towards the wall at once, unwilling to allow the young man a longer look at her face. As she did, the sound of rattling metal was heard, for her hands and feet were bound in cuffs and fetters.

Shi Potian's mother had mentioned these cuffs and fetters in the stories she told, but he had never seen them until that day. Therefore, he turned to Chen Chongzhi and asked: "Incense-Master Chen, those things on Hua- guniang's limbs ... are they cuffs for the hands and fetters for the feet?"

Chen Chongzhi did not know the reason behind the question, so he simply answered: "Yes."

"What crime has she committed, that she must be put in these cuffs and fetters?" asked Shi Potian again.

A light went off inside Chen Chongzhi's head: So the Clan-Leader is upset that I have offended Hua-guniang. That is why he launched a cruel attack on me just now. I must find a way to rectify the situation quickly, for it is really an injustice for a true man to lose his life because of a woman.
 
Hence, he replied: "Yes, yes, your subordinate knows that he is wrong." Then, he took a key out of his pocket and unlocked the cuffs and fetters on Hua Wanzi's limbs.

Free at last, Hua Wanzi became so alarmed that her hands and feet trembled. She was actually not weak in pugilistic skills. Neither was her resourcefulness, courage and insight beneath those of men of similar standing in the martial arts circle. If Shi Potian had threatened her with death, she would not have frowned. Instead, she would have denounced his wrong-doings in a calm and confident way. However, by reprimanding Incense-Master Chen for her capture, Shi Potian was obviously trying to get into her good books with intentions that would certainly be off the track.

All her life, Hua Wanzi had kept herself as pure as jade, so the thought of Shi Potian's notorious reputation sent chills down her spine. Pressing her face against the icy-cold wall of stone as if her entire life depended on it, she thought: I wonder, is he the one? All I need is a few careful looks and I will know. Yet, she did not dare to turn around and look at Shi Potian's face, regardless of the thoughts in her mind.

Meanwhile, Chen Chongzhi exercised his internal energy in silence, and found that there were no obvious ill-effects in his body from drinking the 'poisoned tea'. Therefore, he concluded that the poison was not particularly strong. His life could be saved, so he decided to take a proactive step in getting into the clan-leader's good books. "Shall we invite Hua- guniang to the Clan-Leader's room for a discussion?" he asked. "It is dark and cramped here, and there is neither tea nor wine.   Honoured guests should not be seen in this place at all."

"Good!" said Shi Potian in delight.   "Hua- guniang, there is birds' nest in my room. It is very tasty, so you should go and have a bowl."

"No!" said Hua Wanzi in a trembling voice. "I am not going, and I am not eating."

"It is very tasty," said Shi Potian again. "Go and have a bowl!"
 
"Kill me if you want to!" said Hua Wanzi angrily. "I am a descendant of the formidable Snow Mountain School, so I will never beg you for mercy. Wicked man, you are utterly shameless, for you actually have the audacity to harbour such presumptous thoughts. I would rather run my head into the wall of this stone cell and die, than ... than go to your room."

Surprised, Shi Potian said, "You sound as if I love killing people the most. That is really strange, for how would I dare to kill you for no rhyme or reason? If you do not want to eat birds' nest, so be it. You probably prefer to eat chicken, duck, fish, meat or something. Incense-Master Chen, do we have any of those?"

"Yes, yes, yes!" answered Chen Chongzhi. "Whatever Hua- guniang wants to eat, our kitchen has, so long as it is available in the world."

Hua Wanzi responded by spitting in disgust. "I would rather die than eat anything offered by the Clan of Eternal Happiness," she said in a stern voice. "Your food would just tarnish my mouth."

"So you would prefer going out on to the streets to buy food by yourself?" asked Shi Potian. "Do you have any silver? If you do not ... Incense- Master Chen, do you have any? Can you give her some, please?"

Chen Chongzhi and Hua Wanzi responded to the questions at the same time. One of them said, "Yes, yes, I will go and get some now," while the other said, "No, no, I would rather die!"

"So you have some silver," said Shi Potian. "Incense-Master Chen tells me that your leg has been hurt. I could actually ask Mr Bei to take a look at it, but since you dislike the Clan of Eternal Happiness so much, you had better go out on to the streets and find a physician who can treat the wound. It is not good when it bleeds too much."

Hua Wanzi did not believe that Shi Potian had the intention of releasing her. Instead, she thought that he was making fun of her, just like the proverbial cat playing with the mouse. "I will never fall for your tricks, regardless of what they are!" she snapped in anger.
 
Greatly surprised, Shi Potian replied: "This stone room looks very much like a prison, so what fun is there here?   Although I have never seen a prison before, the prisons that my mother tells of in her stories do not look different from this room. Hua- guniang, you had better go quickly."

Hua Wanzi did not know what he was getting at, for his last few sentences about his mother telling stories seemed rather inappropriate for the situation at hand. However, his intention of releasing her did not appear to be false. So, she said: "Hmmph, where is my sword? Are you returning it or not?" In her mind, having a weapon in her hands was important: If Shi Potian makes a move to violate me, I may not be able to defeat him, but I can always turn the sword on to myself in suicide.

Chen Chongzhi looked at his Clan-Leader.

"Hua- guniang uses a sword," said Shi Potian. "Incense-Master Chen, please return the weapon to her. Is that all right?"

"Yes, yes," answered Chen Chongzhi. The sword is just outside. When the lady leaves, it will be given to her."

Knowing that it would never do to spend the rest of her life in the stone prison, Hua Wanzi decided to take each step as it came. She was also certain that she would die, so there was really nothing more to be afraid of. Hence, she stood up and strode out.

Shi and Chen followed, retracing their steps through the corridor and stone door until they left the prison altogether.

Then, Chen Chongzhi walked quickly ahead, took Hua Wanzi's sword and presented it to his Clan-Leader. He did this in an attempt to get further into the latter's good books, but Shi Potian simply took the sword and handed it to Hua Wanzi.

Concerned that Shi would seize the opportunity to launch an attack, Hua directed her energy into her arms before grabbing the sword and its sheath with a sudden two-handed move. As she did, she put her right hand on the hilt of the sword and pulled the blade out by five cun (16.65 centimetres).
 
Then, she looked at Shi Potian's face and had a shock: It is he ... the rascal! There is no mistake!

Meanwhile, Chen Chongzhi grabbed a sabre from one of the clan-members behind him, for he was afraid that she would harm others with the sword. After all, her swordplay techniques were amazingly brilliant.

As for Shi Potian, he said, "Hua- guniang, the wound on your leg is not causing you trouble, is it?   If the bone is broken, I can set it for you, just like setting A'Huang's broken leg."

This was a casual remark on the young man's part, but it sounded suspicious to Hua Wanzi, especially when she saw his eyes looking towards her leg. Turning red, she scolded him at once: "Philandering rascal who utters obscenities!"

"What?" asked Shi Potian in surprise. "Should I not say such things? Let me take a look at your wound." He was but an innocent and artless fellow who did not have a single scheme in his heart, yet Hua Wanzi was absolutely sure that he was teasing her.

Therefore, she unsheathed the sword with loud *shua* and shouted: "You who are surnamed Shi, if you dare to take one step forward, I will fight you to the bitter end!" The tip of her sword glowed green as she aimed it directly at Shi Potian's chest.

Chen Chongzhi smiled. "Hua- guniang," he said, "my Clan-Leader is young, talented and handsome.   So it is your great fortune that he has looked upon you with favour. You do not know how many young and beautiful girls have waited in vain to spend a night with him."

Hua Wanzi turned deathly pale. Then, with a highly-energised stroke called 'Dispersing the Sand of the Vast Desert' (Da4 Mo4 Fei1 Sha1), she sent the sword into Shi Potian's chest.

Although Shi Potian's internal strength was very rich and profound, he had never learnt any techniques of handling the enemy in a face-to-face fight. So when he saw Hua Wanzi's sharp blade coming right at him, he was so
 
alarmed and confused that he turned around immediately and fled! His movements were terribly clumsy, yet amazingly quick because of his highly-refined internal strength. Therefore, he was already several zhang (1 zhang = 10/3 metres) away within the time it took to utter a single *hu*.

Hua Wanzi did not expect him to flee at all. Although his movements looked as ugly as those of a bird flapping its wings in panic, but the extent of his qinggong (qing1 gong1)(3) was clearly something that she had never seen before. The sight stunned her so much that she ended up standing dumbfounded.

As for Shi Potian, he stood and waved both his hands from afar. "Hua- guniang," he said, "I am now afraid of you. Why do you take out your sword and kill people without rhyme and reason? All right, leave if you wish, stay if you want. I ... I do not want to talk with you anymore." He guessed that there was a great and important reason behind Hua Wanzi's desire to have him killed, but since he did not understand the crux of the matter, he had better go and ask Shijian about it first. Thus, he turned and walked away.

Hua Wanzi was even more surprised. "The one who is surnamed Shi," she said in a loud voice, "you are releasing me, are you not? Or do you have an ambush to stop me outside?"

"Why should I stop you?" asked Shi Potian in surprise, stopping and turning around. "Anyone who is careless for but a moment will be stabbed by your sword. That would be awful."

Hua Wanzi was unconvinced, for she did not really believe that he would not make things difficult for her: I will not think about his schemes at the moment. Let me just take things one step at a time.   Glaring at him in anger, she thought: It is really you! And you have the audacity to be so rude to the Snow Mountain School! Then, she turned and stalked off, limping as she went. She forced herself to endure the painful wound on her leg and walk at a considerable speed because each step taken ensured a greater measure of safety from her evil captors.
 
Chen Chongzhi smiled. "Although the headquarters of the Clan of Eternal Happiness is not worth very much, there are still people guarding its gates," he said. "Hua- guniang, by coming and going as you please, are you taking us for wineskins and rice-bags who know only to drink and eat?"

Hua Wanzi stopped and turned around. Raising her willow-shaped eyebrows and hold her sword defensively in front of her chest, she asked, "What then would you suggest?"

"I think it is best that I escort you out," answered Chen Chongzhi with another smile.

Hua Wanzi considered the offer: I am still under his eaves, so I cannot refuse. I can only blame myself for being too impetuous in my quest and underestimating the opponent. As a result, I failed.   I am afraid it will not be easy for me to break out of the headquarters of the Clan of Eternal Happiness alone. I will bear with them for now, but I will return with my elder and younger brothers-at-arms and seek redress for the humiliation that I suffered today. Thus, she said in a quiet voice: "In that case, I will have to bother you with the task."

Chen Chongzhi turned to Shi Potian and said, "Clan-Leader, your subordinate will see Hua- guniang out." Then, lowering his voice, he added: "Are you really releasing her, or do you want her recaptured once she is outside?"

"I am really sending her away, of course," answered Shi Potian in surprise. "Why should she be recaptured?"

"Yes, yes," said Chen Chongzhi, thinking: The Clan-Leader must certainly dislike her for being too old. That is why she has not found favour in his eyes. To be honest, this woman has a snowy-white and tender-looking complexion; she is actually quite palatable! Since the Clan-Leader does not like her, I do not need to be too polite towards her as well. So he turned to Hua Wanzi and said, "Let us go!"

Shi Potian was rather frightened of the sharp sword that flashed and glowed in Hua Wanzi's hands, so he did not dare to spend time talking with her.
 
Instead, he was glad that Chen Chongzhi was willing to see her off. Hence, he returned to his room on his own. Along the way, every person whom he met moved aside with expressions that were full of respect and caution.

Reaching his destination at last, he was about to ask Shijian the reasons behind Hua Wanzi's imprisonment by Chen Chongzhi as well as her wanting to stab him with the sword when suddenly, the guards outside announced: "Mr Bei is here."

Shi Potian was delighted. Walking quickly into the hall, he said to Bei Haishi: "I encountered something strange just now, Mr Bei." Then, he recounted the incident with Hua Wanzi.

Bei Haishi nodded in acknowledgement before responding with a serious expression on his face: "Clan-Leader, your subordinate would like to beg you for a favour.   Incense-Master Chen from the Hall of the Impressive Lion has always been respectful and submissive towards you. He has also contributed greatly to the clan. Therefore, please have mercy on his life."

"Mercy on his life?" asked Shi Potian in surprise. "Why should I not have mercy on his life? He is a very good man. Mr Bei, if he has been taken ill, do think of a way to save him."

Bei Haishi was delighted. Bowing deeply, he said, "Thank you very much, Clan-Leader, for your show of mercy." Then, he rushed off.

Apparently, Chen Chongzhi had gone to see Bei Haishi after sending Hua Wanzi away, requesting for the man's assistance in seeking their clan- leader's mercy and the granting of an antidote for his poisoning. Bei Haishi had turned Chen Chongzhi's eyelids over in examination and taken the latter's pulse before concluding that the poisoning was not serious. He had thought: All that is needed is a nod of the Clan-Leader's head, for it is as easy as turning one's palm to detoxify the victim. Initially, he had been quite certain that Clan-Leader Shi would not forgive Chen Chongzhi with ease, especially when the man had already been poisoned. Thus, Bei Haishi had been secretly worried, for the clan-leader had acted in such ruthlessness despite his young age. To his surprise, his request had been granted the moment he opened his mouth, enabling him to save a friend and retain a
 
measure of strength within the clan. Clan-Leader Shi had been listening to his words and taking his advice, so he was not difficult to deal with. Therefore, the plans that he had set in place for the great event that was to come should also proceed with little unforeseen change. Hence, the delight that Bei Haishi had felt could only be imagined.

+ + +

After Bei Haishi left, Shi Potian began asking Shijian about the things around him. Soon, he learnt that he was in a place called Zhenjiang, an important crossroad between the north and the south. This was the location of the headquarters of the Clan of Eternal Happiness. He, Shi Potian, was the leader of the clan, with Three Inner Circles (Nei4 San1 Tang2) and Five Outer Halls (Wai4 Wu3 Tang2) under him. Together, they led members from various walks of life.

Populated by many highly-skilled pugilists, the clan had grown much in prosperity in recent years. The induction of highly-capable individuals like Bei Haishi as members indicated that the power and prestige of the Clan of Eternal Happiness was something not to be trifled with. As for the actual business of the Clan of Eternal Happiness in the realm of the rivers and lakes, and how it ended up in conflict with the Snow Mountain School, these were simply beyond Shijian. After all, she was only a young maidservant.

Shi Potian did not fully comprehend Shijian's explanations as well. Although he was bright, he did not have much knowledge of the world around him.   Therefore, he was unable to make any connections between the information that he had gathered and the events that he had experienced. After a moment of muttering to himself, he said, "Elder Sister Shijian, you must have gotten the wrong person. Since I am not dreaming, the clan- leader must certainly be someone else. I am only a young man from the mountains; I am not a clan-leader of any sort."

Shijian smiled. "Even if there are people whose facial features look alike," she said, "the similarity should not be as close as this. Young Master, I am afraid that you have hurt ... hurt your brain while practising martial arts
 
recently. I will not speak further of this. Please rest, and you will remember everything in due time."

"No, no!" said Shi Potian.   "There are many questionable things that I do not understand. I need to ask you about them. Elder Sister Shjian, why do you want to be a maidservant?"

Shijian's eyes turned red. "Would anyone be willing to serve as a maid?" she asked. "My parents passed away when I was a child, leaving me without anyone to depend on. Someone took me in for a few years before selling me to the Clan of Eternal Happiness. Supervisor Dou wanted me to wait on you, so here I am."

"In that case, you are actually unwilling to be a servant," said Shi Potian. "Go then, for I do not need anyone to wait on me. I can do all the chores myself."

"I do not have any kith or kin," said Shijian in an anxious voice. "Where do you want me to go? If Supervisor Dou knows that you do not want me to wait on you, he will certainly accuse me of doing a half-hearted job.   He will surely beat me to death."

"I will tell him not to beat you," said Shi Potian.

"But I cannot walk away just yet, because you have not recovered from your illness," said Shijian. "Besides, so long as you do not bully me, Young Master, I am willing to serve you."

"Well, it is very good if you are unwilling to leave," said Shi Potian. "To be honest, I had hoped in my heart that you would not go. Why would I bully you? I have never bullied anyone before."

Shijian found his remarks upsetting and funny at the same time.   Pursing her lips into a smile, she said, "If you put things this way, people will think that our Great Clan-Leader Shi has really given up on evil and returned to good." To her, he seemed totally serious, without a single intention of flirting or acting in other frivolous ways. Attributing it to a momentary
 
expression of good spirits and a deliberate display of propriety, she was nevertheless delighted.

Meanwhile, Shi Potian fell silent. Mumbling to himself, he thought: In that case, the true Clan-Leader Shi appears to be very evil and fierce, for he likes to kill people and bully those around him. That is why everyone is afraid of him. He even robbed a man of his wife, but what did he do it for? Did he want her to cook his rice and wash his clothes?   What ... what exactly am I going to do now? Yes, I had better go and clarify things with Mr Bei. They have gotten the wrong person indeed.

His thoughts swung back and forth like the waves of the ocean. Sometimes, he felt that it was fun being the clan-leader, for everyone had to listen to him. Other times, he felt that it was terribly dangerous to pretend to be someone else, for when the real clan-leader returned, he would certainly be greatly angered. He might even have the imposter killed.

+ + +

Dusk fell, and the kitchen sent eight dishes of fine food to Shi Potian's room. Shijian waited on him as he ate. When he asked her to sit down and eat with him, her face turned red. She declined the invitation regardless of what he said. But her refusal did not matter much to Shi Potian, for he ate four big bowls of rice one after another with relish after that.

He chatted with Shijian after dinner, asking about this and that, as if there was nothing that he did not find novel or amazing.   Soon, the sky was totally dark, but he did not seem to have any intention of releasing the maid. Concerned that her young master might suffer a relapse and start having inappropriate ideas again, Shijian took her leave, closing the door of the room as she went.

Left with nothing to do, Shi Potian sat on the bed and circulated the internal energy in his body according to the lines shown on the torsos of the eighteen wooden figurines.

Suddenly, three knocks on the window broke through the silence of the night. As Shi Potian watched with his eyes wide open, the window shutter
 
lifted. A fair and slender hand reached into the room and waved twice at him. When he saw the pale green sleeve around the wrist, a thought flashed through his mind. Remembering the girl with the melonseed-shaped face and greenish clothes that had come many nights ago, he leapt off the bed and ran towards the window. "Elder Sister!" he called.

"Why are you calling me 'Elder Sister'?" came the clear, melodious and somewhat slightly disgusted-sounding response. "Come out quickly!"

Shi Potian pushed the window open and climbed out. There was no one there. As his stood wondering about the strangeness of the incident, things went totally black. A pair of soft and warm hands had closed over his eyes. A moment later, he heard a giggle behind him and smelt the fragrance of orchids. Startled and delighted at the same time, he knew that the girl had come to play with him. Growing up in the barren hills, he had often felt bored and lonely, until he found companionship in his yellow dog. Thus, he was very happy that a young person had suddenly come to play with him.

Reaching backwards, he said, "Watch out, I am going to catch you." Although he was fast in his movements, the girl was even faster, slipping away with such unusual speed that he caught nothing. Then, noticing a greenish swirl of clothes among the flowers, he rushed forward and make a grab for it, only to come away with two handfuls of thorns from the rose bushes. "Ah!" he cried out in pain.

The girl poked her head out from the shade of a Chinese redbud tree (zi3 jing1, or Cercis chinensis) at once. Giggling softly, she said, "Do not make any noise, blockhead. Come with me, quickly!"

Shi Potian followed her without another thought.

The girl ran until she reached the foot of the wall that surrounded the compound of the Clan of Eternal Happiness. As she was about to leap over the wall, two men came running up. They had heard the noise that the girl and Shi Potian made. Brandishing a sabre and a pair of short-handled axes respectively, the men stood before the girl and shouted: "Stop! Who goes there?"
 
Just then, Shi Potian arrived.   The two men, being clan members on patrol in the garden, stepped aside as soon as they saw the smiles on the faces of Shi Potian and the girl.   Bowing, they said, "Your subordinates did not know that she is the Clan-Leader's friend. Do forgive us for the offence." Then, they bowed slightly to the girl as a gesture of apology.

The girl responded by sticking her tongue out at them. Then, she beckoned to Shi Potian before leaping up to the top of the wall.

Shi Potian knew that he would never be able to clear such a great height regardless of how hard he tried, but the sight of the girl beckoning and the two clan-members watching with their eyes opened wide did not make it possible for him to ask for a ladder with which to scale the wall. Thus, pretending that he was not bothered by the situation, he proceeded to make the jump with both his feet. To his amazement, a burst of energy appeared beneath his soles and propelled him upwards. He did not know where this energy came from, but it sent him right over the wall on to the other side in a light and graceful-looking manner. He did not even need to stop at the top of the wall.

"Good skills!" said the two clan-members loudly in admiration, for the sight took them by surprise.

Then, a *crash* was heard on the other side of the wall, as if something heavy had fallen on to the ground.   As it turned out, Shi Potian did not know how to land, so he had taken a tumble. The noise stunned the two clan-members so much that they exchanged enquiring looks. They would never know that their clan-leader had fallen flat on his back in such a clumsy manner despite the exquisite display of the qinggong that they had witnessed.

The girl, however, saw everything clearly from her high perch. Alarmed that Shi Potian was unable to get up after the fall, she quickly leapt off the wall. "Tian- ge, how are you?" she asked gently as she reached towards him. "You have not recovered from your illness, so you should not have flaunted your skills." Then, she put her hands against his rib-cage and helped him up.
 
The fall had indeed cause Shi Potian a lot of pain in the buttocks, but he was finally able to stand with the assistance of the girl.

By and by, the girl said, "Let us go to our old place, shall we? Are you still hurting? Can you walk?"

Although the fall was a serious one, Shi Potian's profound internal energy took the pain away within moments. So he said, "All right! I do not hurt anymore, so I can certainly walk!"

Reaching for his right hand, the girl said, "You have not seen me for many days. Do you miss me?" She lifted her head slightly and looked into Shi Potian's eyes.

In return, the young man saw a fair and delicate face looking up at him, with a mischievous smile at the corner of its lips. The eyes on that face shone like two bright stars in the moonlight, while the fragrance of the body to which that face belonged wafted into his nostrils. His heart could not help but skip a beat.   Although he did not understand a single thing about the matters of men and women, he reacted like most twenty-year-old young men would in a situation like this. Regardless of how poor their knowledge might be, these young men would naturally develop the feelings of admiration for such a beautiful girl.

After a moment of dumbfoundedness, he said, "You came to see me the other night, but you left almost immediately. I thought about you a lot."

The girl gave him a winsome smile. "You went missing for such a long time," she said. "Then, you were unconscious for many days. You do not know how anxious my heart was. I have been visiting you every evening for the past two nights. Do you not know? You seemed rather engrossed in your martial arts training, so I did not dare to call out to you. I was concerned that I might disturb your efforts in treating your injuries."

"Really?" asked Shi Potian in delight. "I did not know anything about your visits at all. Dear Elder Sister, why ... why are you so good to me?"
 
Suddenly, the expression on the girl's face changed. Casting his hand aside, she asked angrily: "What did you call me? I ... I should have guessed why you did not return after such a long absence. You must have been ... been out together with a bad woman. Hmmph! You have become so used to calling her 'Dear Elder Sister' that you are using the same address on me as well!"

Shi Potian was stunned, for she had been talking and smiling in a relaxed manner only a moment ago. He could not understand why she had suddenly become unusually angry: "I ... I ..."

Unfortunately, his lack of explanation only served to make the girl angrier. Reaching out and pulling his right ear, she said, "Which slut have you been with recently? Do you address her as 'Good Elder Sister'? Speak quickly! Speak quickly!" She tugged hard at his ear each time she uttered the words 'Speak quickly!', so she had given it three consecutive tugs by the time she was done with her three questions.

The tugs were so painful that Shi Potian shouted: "A-yo! You are so fierce. I am not playing with you anymore!"

The girl pulled even harder at his ear.   "Are you thinking of casting me aside and ignoring me?" she asked. "Well, it is not so easily done. Which woman have you been with? Speak quickly!"

"I have indeed been with a woman," answered Shi Potian with a miserable face. "She sleeps in my room..."

Furious, the girl exerted so much strength into tugging Shi Potian's ear that it began to bleed. "I will go and kill her right now!" she screeched.

Shi Potian panicked. "That is Elder Sister Shijian," he said. "She cooks birds' nest, as well as ginseng-and-millet porridge for me to eat. Although the porridge was burnt and became very bitter in taste, she is still a very nice person. You ... you cannot have her killed."

By then, there were already two streams of tears rolling down the girl's cheeks, yet she suddenly stopped crying and started to smile. Spitting in
 
disgust, she gave his ear another forceful tug. "I was wondering which 'Good Elder Sister' she was," she said. "But you were actually talking about that stinking maidservant. You liar! You are so glib-tongued that I refuse to believe you.   I have been observing you through the window for the past few nights. You have been well-behaved and disciplined in the presence of that stinking maid, so there, I will consider you a good boy!"

When she reached out and touched his ear again, Shi Potian jumped with fright. He wanted to turn his head away, only to find that girl rubbing his ear gently with the palm of her hand. "Tian- ge, does it hurt?" she asked with a smile.

"Of course, it does," answered Shi Potian.

"You deserved it!" said the girl with another smile. "Who told you to deceive me? You even called me an odd-sounding 'Good Elder Sister'!"

"My mother says that it is polite to refer to others as 'Elder Sisters'," said Shi Potian. "Have I been wrong to address you in this way?"

The girl responded by glaring at him. "When have I asked you to be polite towards me?" she asked. "All right, since you feel unjustified, I will allow you to pull my ear." She turned her head and offered her ear to the young man.

As a faint fragrance wafted from her face towards Shi Potian, he lifted his hand and fiddled a few times with her ear. Then, he shook his head and said, "I will not pull it. In that case, how should I address you?"

"How did you address me in the past?" asked the girl, feeling upset again. "Have you forgotten even my name?"

Shi Potian refocused his attention and offered a serious reply: " Guniang, I would like to tell you that you have made a mistake.   I am not your Tian- ge. I am not Shi Potian; I am Gouzazhong."

The girl was stunned for a moment. Then, she put her hands on his shoulders and turned him to one side, so that the moonlight shone on his
 
face. She gazed at him for a while before bursting into laughter: "Ha ha ha! Tian- ge, you really know how to crack a joke. You sounded so real that I had a fright, thinking that I had indeed gotten the wrong person.   Let us go!" Taking his hand in hers, she walked off.

"I am not joking," said Shi Potian in alarm. "You have indeed made a mistake. Look, I do not even know your name."

The girl stopped and turned around. Taking his left hand in her right one, she smiled like a flower in bloom and said, "All right, I will let you have your way if you want to take full advantage of the situation before putting the matter to rest. My surname is Ding, and my given name is Dang. You have always called me 'Ding Ding Dang Dang'. Do you remember?" As soon as she finished talking, she turned around and started running like the wind.

Shi Potian surged forward with her, his feet stumbling as he went. He did not have any alternative except to run along with her. Initially, he found himself gasping for breath because it was very energy-consuming to keep up with the girl, but after running for a while and adjusting the energy in his body, his steps became increasingly lighter until he was moving with no effort at all.

He did not know how far he had run, but he soon saw a moon-lit body of water. They had reached the bank of a river. Ding Dang pulled at his hand and leapt lightly on to the bow of a little boat that was moored at the water's edge. As for Shi Potian, his unability to turn his internal strength into qinggong caused him to land heavily on the boat.   Crash! Water splashed up the sides of the tiny vessel at once, as it shook and bobbed incessantly.

Ding Dang gasped. Then, she smiled and said, "Look at you. Do you want the bottom of the boat turned towards the sky?" She picked a bamboo pole up from the bow and pushed it gently against the bank. The little boat floated towards the centre of the river.

The moon shone its light on to the river, causing an incomplete reflection of itself to shine back from the surface of the water. When Ding Ding touched
 
the water with the bamboo pole, the moon in the river shattered and turned into rivulets of silvery light. The little boat continued to float forward.

By and by, Shi Potian noticed that there were poplars and willows growing on both the banks of the river. There were also a few houses, but these were located far away from him and one another. As a light and pleasant fragrance wafted towards him in the stillness of the night, he found himself wondering: Did it come from the flowers on the banks? Or was it the scent of Ding Dang's body?

The little boat made a few turns along the river before entering a narrow waterway and coming to a stop under a stone bridge. Ding Dang secured the boat to the branch of a willow tree with a thick rope. This tree stood with other poplars and willows that grew densely by the water's edge, almost hiding the bridge from view.   With the moonlight shining through the branches of the trees, the bridge became a small house that Nature built for the little boat.

"This place is really good," said Shi Potian in admiration. "Even if it is daytime, I am afraid most people would not even know that there is a boat here."

"Why have you waited until today to utter your praises?" Ding Dang remarked with a smile. Then, she went into the cabin, brought out a straw mat and placed the mat on the bow. Next, she brought out two sets of cups and chopsticks as well as a pot of wine. "Please sit here, and have some wine!" she said. Finally, she brought out a few plates of peanuts, broadbeans and dried meat, and set them all in front of Shi Potian.

The young man was struck by the fragrance of the wine as Ding Dang filled out a cup with it. Xie Yanke drank once in a while, because he did not really like wine. Shi Potian would sometimes drink along with him, but the wine had always been baijiu. Thus, when he looked at the wine that Ding Dang poured, he found it glistening with a yellowish-red glow. Gulping it down in a single mouthful, he felt a sense of warmth coursing through his stomach. However, a slightly pungent and bitter aftertaste remained in his mouth.
 
Ding Dang laughed.   "This is Nü'er Hong from Shaoxing (Shao4 Xing2 Nü3 Er2 Hong2)(4) that has been aged for twenty years," she said.   "It tastes good, does it not?"

Shi Potian was about to answer when a elderly voice spoke from above them: "How can twenty-year-old Nü'er Hong from Shaoxing not taste good?"

*Crash!* The wine-cup in Ding Dang's hand fell on to the deck of the boat, its contents spilt all over her skirt. The cup itself rolled until it dropped into the river with a *plonk*. Colour drained from Ding Dang's beautiful face and her body began to tremble. Holding Shi Potian's hand, she whispered: "My paternal grandfather has come!"

The young man lifted his head towards the voice from above and saw a leg swinging over his head.   It was clear that the visitor was sitting on the bridge with his legs sticking through the branches of the willows. If those legs hung about a chi (33.33 centimetres) lower, they would have touched Shi Potian's head.

The single swinging leg wore a white cloth sock and a type of twin-ribbed men's shoe (shuang1 liang2 xie2) that was typical of Song and Ming times. Made of purple satin and embroidered with the character 'shou' (shou4, meaning 'longevity'), the shoe, as well as the sock, were all very clean.

"That is right," said the elderly voice again. "Your paternal grandfather has come. Cursed girl, I cannot be bothered if you want to meet your lover in private, but why did you steal the twenty-year-old privet(5)-flavoured Shaoxing wine that I went through so much trouble to obtain, and serve it to your lover?

Forcing herself to remain smiling, Ding Dang replied: "He ... he is not a lover. He is just a ... a friend, an ordinary friend."

"*Pei!*" spat the elderly man in anger and disgust. "Does an 'ordinary friend' deserve such wonderful treatment from you? Including the audacity of stealing your grandfather's lifeblood? Little Thief, come out right now
 
and let the old man see what sort of ugly monster his grand-daughter's lover is."

Ding Dang took Shi Potian's right palm in her left hand and began writing on the palm with her right index finger. At the same time, she said, "Grandfather, this friend is foolish and ugly. You are certain to dislike him as soon as you see him. I stole the wine, yes, but it was not meant specially for him. Hmmph! He is unworthy of it. I wanted to have a drink, so I simply grabbed someone to accompany me."

However, she wrote 'You must not say that you are the leader of the Clan of Eternal Happiness' on Shi Potian's palm. Unfortunately, his mother had never taught him to read. Neither had Xie Yanke, so he could not even recognise the character for 'one' (a single horizontal stroke similar to a 'dash') if he saw it. He did not know what she was up to, touching and stroking his palm in such a disorganised way, but the ticklish feelings produced were quite fun. But when he heard her calling him 'foolish and ugly' and declaring him unworthy of drinking her wine, he could not help but feel angry. Thus, he shook her hand off without further thought.

Almost at once, Ding Dang reached out and grabbed his hand again. After writing 'Your life is in danger; you must listen to me' on his palm, she pressed it several times, as if to show affection. At the same time, the act appeared to be a warning given out in secret. Yet, Shi Potian thought that she was simply being warm and friendly. So he became quite happy without realising the truth behind her actions.

Just then, the old man above them spoke again: "Both of you had better come up here now! A'Dang, how many people has your grandfather killed today?"

"It seems like ... like you killed only one," answered Ding Dang in a trembling voice, prompting Shi Potian to think: I have run into people here and there, but why do all of them go around with the word 'kill' in their mouths?

"All right," said the old man on the bridge, "I have only killed one person today, so I can kill two more. It is not a bad idea to kill another two people
 
to go with my wine."

Killing people to go with wine? thought Shi Potian. This old man really knows how to joke.

Suddenly, Ding Dang's grip on his loosened. Something moved before his eyes, and a man appeared on the bow of the boat. Sporting a white beard, a mop of white hair and a pair of laughter-filled eyes beneath mottled eyebrows, the newcomer seemed to be a kindly old man. However, anyone who met the old man's gaze would be struck immediately by an involuntary shiver, for the latter's eyes exuded an indescribable terror and malice that chilled people right into the marrow of their bones.

Smiling, the old man tapped Shi Potian on the shoulder and said, "You rascal, your good fortune is certainly not insignificant, for you have drunk my twenty-year-old privet-flavoured Shaoxing wine!" The tap on the shoulder was a light one, yet Shi Potian's bones creaked loudly for quite a while, as if all those bones were about to shatter into smithereens. The sight shocked Ding Dang so much that she clung on to the old man's arm and pleaded: "Grandfather, do not ... do not injure him."

Apparently, the old man had exerted seven-tenths of his energy during that simple tap on the shoulder. This would normally have had all the bones on Shi Potian's shoulder and arm shattered.   However, when the old man's palm touched the young man's shoulder, he (the old man) had actually felt a very rich and highly stable stream of internal energy coming from it. Not only had the energy stream served to protect the young man, it had also shook the old man's palm off in an upward thrust. If the old man had not responded with an immediate exertion of additional strength, his palm would have bounced away. This, in turn, would have caused him quite a bit of embarrassment there and then.

Therefore, the surprise that the old man felt was not beneath that of Ding Dang's. Yet, he smiled brightly once more and said, "Good, good. The rascal seems fit to drink my fine wine. A'Dang, fill a few cups with wine and bring them up. I will not blame you for stealing the wine because I want to invite him for a drink myself."
 
Ding Dang was overjoyed, for she had always known her paternal grandfather as someone who considered everyone else beneath his notice. In addition, he rarely approved of those who were known as highly-skilled pugilists in the martial arts circle. Therefore, the fact that he wanted to invite Shi Potian for a drink as soon as he saw him was indeed beyond her expectations.

Her lingering affections for Shi Potian led her to believe that he was a peerless young hero, so she was actually not amazed by her grandfather's show of favour upon him. However, she was thrilled by her grandfather's swift and sudden change of tone -- from wanting to kill the young man to inviting him for a drink -- for it was clear that even the old man fell for Darling Shi's (Shi2 Lang2)(6) handsome appearance, talent, brilliance and poise. These conclusions were, of course, nothing more than wishingful thinking, for she had absolutely no idea that Shi Potian had been at the brink of great danger a moment ago.

Her grandfather had changed his attitude simply because he had discovered the astonishing extent of his opponent's internal energy, for he could not be bothered about the young man's 'handsome appearance, talent, brilliance and poise'. Furthermore, Shi Potian was not exactly handsome to begin with, although he was not ugly either. As for 'talent, brilliance and poise', these characteristics could not even be used to describe him at all.

+ + +

Feeling quite happy, Ding Dang went into the cabin of the boat and reappeared with two cups. She filled one of them with wine for her grandfather, before filling the other for Shi Potian. Finally, she filled out a cup for herself as well.

"Very good, very good indeed!" said the old man. "Boy, since you have found favour in my A'Dang's eyes, you must certainly have quite a background. What is your name?"

"I ... I ... I ...," said Shi Potian. By then, he knew that 'Gouzazhong' was a term of abuse. Used among familiar people, it would not have done much harm, but strangers would probably find it somewhat crude. Yet, he did not
 
have another name, so he uttered "I" three times without any means to continue.

"Do you not dare to tell me your name?" asked the old man, displeased and indignant.

"What is there to be afraid of?" Shi Potian responded in boldness.   "The only thing is, my name is very unpleasant to the ear. I am called Gouzazhong."

Momentarily stunned, the old man soon burst into laughter. He laughed so loudly that his voice carried far into the distance. At the same time, his white beard flew and flapped around him in mirth. After laughing for quite a while, he said, "Good, good, good. The little boy's name is very good indeed. Bastard (Gouzazhong)!"

"Yes, Grandfather," said Shi Potian. "Did you call me for something?"

Smiling so widely that her teeth could be seen, Ding Dang looked at her grandfather and Shi Potian in turn with an expression so lovely that it could not be compared to the scenery of an autumn's day. To her, the natural way in which Shi Potian addressed her grandfather as his own meant that there was no longer any difference between the two of them. In addition, she thought: I wrote on his palm, telling him not to reveal his identity, and he actually took my advice. He is the dignified and respected leader of a clan, yet he is willing to call himself a bastard. That he would suffer such an inconvenience for my sake is indeed an extreme indication of his deep love for me.

The old man was very happy as well. "Good, good!" he said again and again. To him, Shi Potian's immediate response to the word 'Bastard' meant that he (Shi) had actually placed himself in a subservient position despite being in possession of a consummate martial arts skill. The absolute lack of stubbornness on the young man's part contributed even further to the old man's good spirits. He said, "A'Dang, you told your lover your grandfather's name a long time ago, did you not?"
 
"No, I have not told him about it yet," answered Ding Dang, shaking her head in bashfulness.

The old man's countenance darkened.   "What exactly is going on?" he asked. "Are you really being nice to him, or is it just a farce? Why have you not told him about your identity and background? If you are taking this for a farce, why did you steal my twenty-year-old Shaoxing wine for him? Why did you take even the 'Liquor of Dark Ice and Blue Flame' that I have kept for saving lives and feed it to the boy for several nights in a row?" His voice became increasingly stern as he spoke, reaching a peak with the words 'Liquor of Dark Ice and Blue Flame' which were uttered with pauses between them and accompanied with a terrifying glint in his eyes.

Even Shi Potian, who was watching the goings-on from the side, could not help but feel afraid and threatened.

Ding Dang turned her body sideways and tumbled into the old man's arms. "Grandfather," she begged, "since you know everything, please have mercy on A'Dang."

"Have mercy on A'Dang?" repeated the old man with a sneer. "That is easy for you to say. Do you know how effective and potent the 'Liquor of Dark Ice and Blue Flame' is? Is it not a pity that you wasted it in such carelessness?"

"I will help you find a way to re-create the drink," said Ding Dang.

"You speak as if it is a simple and trivial matter," snapped the old man. "If I can re-create it at will, I would not have placed such value on it."

"Well, his body was burning hot for moment before turning icy-cold in the next," said Ding Dang. "I remembered that your miraculous liquor could harmonise the yin and the yang, so I stole it and gave some to him. It certainly worked as I had expected, so I gave him more. Before I knew it, it was finished. Grandfather, tell A'Dang how the liquor is made. I do not care if I have to steal and rob, but I will certainly make a few bottles of it for you."
 
"A few bottles?" asked the old man. "Ha ha, a few bottles? You can wait until your hair turns white, but you may never find all the precious medicinal herbs that are needed just to make me a bottle or even half."

Listening to the exchange between the old man and his grand-daughter, Shi Potian eventually understood that Ding Dang had stolen her grandfather's precious 'Liquor of Dark Ice and Blue Flame' for him during the period when he was lying unconscious and suffering from the effects of the colliding hot and cold energy streams in his body. His survival could partly be attributed to the drinking of the liquor, so Ding Dang had, in effect, done him the great favour of saving his life.

As the old man became increasingly forceful in his words, Shi Potian spoke: "Grandfather, since I was the one who drank the liquor, you should come after me for its replacement. I will certainly think of a way to return the liquor to you. If I am unable to do so, I am willing to let you deal with me as you see fit. Please do not put Ding Ding Dang Dang in a spot."

"Very good, very good indeed!" said the old man with a laugh. "So you have a measure of moral integrity. In that case, there is still a little bit of meaning to this issue. A'Dang, why do you not tell him your identity?"

An expression of awkwardness appeared on Ding Dang's face. "He ... he has not asked me to," she answered, "so I have not told him anything. Grandfather, do not be suspicious. There is no other agenda in this respect."

"No other agenda?" asked the old man. "I do not think so. I am afraid that there is a big agenda behind this; in fact, it is a very big agenda indeed. Do I not know the thoughts in the little girl's heart? You have fallen whole- heartedly in love with him and hoped that he will take you as his wife. If you tell him your full identity, hmmph hmmph, you will definitely frighten this boy out of his wits. Therefore, you chose to hide the truth from him for as long as you are able. Hmmph, tell me, am I correct?"

The old man's words had described Ding Dang's thoughts without mistake. A highly-skilled pugilist who killed people without batting an eyelid, the old man struck fear in the hearts of the people in the realm of the rivers and
 
lakes by his name alone. These people regarded him from a respectful distance, for they were unwilling to have any relationships with him. Yet, he wanted others to show affection for him.   However, if anyone showed the slightest bit of fear or disgust, he would have him killed at once.

Ding Dang felt embarrassed, for her grandfather had shown that he knew exactly what was going on in her heart a long time ago.   If she lied there and then, she would just infuriate him and allow the issue to get totally out of hand. But if she revealed her grandfather's name, there was a nineteen to one chance that Darling Shi would become so frightened that he would never dare to see her again. How could that be good?

Almost at once, she was struck by both anxiety and fear.   She was afraid that her grandfather would kill Darling Shi in a fit of anger, and worried that her lingering affections would flow away like water once her lover knew her identity. It did not matter if Darling Shi died or left, for she did not feel like living any longer. Hence, she said in a trembling voice: "Grandfather, I
... I ..."

The old man laughed loudly. "You are concerned that people would despise us, are you not?" he asked. "Ha ha, Old Man Ding shakes the realm of the rivers and lakes with his impressiveness, but my grand-daughter does not have the courage to utter her grandfather's name. Not only does she not consider her grandfather as her honour, but she even views him as her shame. Ha ha, what an extreme joke!" He put his hands on his belly and laughed with complete ease of mind.

Ding Dang knew that a great crisis had come upon them there and then. Her grandfather had always placed great value on the 'Liquor of Dark Ice and Blue Flame', but she had stolen it to save Darling Shi's life without daring to mention the old man's name. Therefore, his loud laughter was really an indication that his anger had reached its limits. Therefore, she bit her lips and said, "Tian- ge, my grandfather is surnamed Ding."

"Yes, you are surnamed Ding, and your grandfather is surnamed Ding as well," said Shi Potian. "Everyone is surnamed Ding. Ding Ding Ding ... that is quite pleasant to the ear."
 
Ding Dang continued: "His given name consists of the characters 'Bu' and 'San'. His nickname is ... is ... 'Not More Than Three A Day'!" She thought that as soon as the words 'Not More Than Three A Day, Ding Busan' came out of her mouth, Shi Potian would be greatly alarmed, so she fixed her eyes on him as her heart thumped wildly.

To her surprise, Shi Potian did not seem affected at all. Smiling a little, he said, "Grandfather's nickname sounds very nice indeed."

Ding Dang's heart skipped a beat before it was overcome with great joy. However, she was still concerned, for she was afraid that he was speaking in irony. "Why do you say that it sounds very nice?" she asked.

"I cannot really tell you why," answered Shi Potian. "It just feels very nice. 'Not More Than Three A Day' ... that is very interesting indeed."

Glancing at her grandfather out of the corner of her eye, Ding Dang saw him stroking his beard in delight. Then, he reached out and gave Shi Potian another tap on the shoulder. This time, however, the tap did not come with an exertion of internal strength. Shaking his head, the old man said, "You are the friend who knows me best (zhi1 ji3). That is very good.   People who hear the name of 'Not More Than Three A Day' would either sing my praises in a despicable attempt to get into my good books, or shrink timidly away in sheer terror. A few impulsive ones would point their fingers at me and utter angry curses, but you are the only one who has remained calm and collected. In fact, you even say that my nickname is pleasant to the ear. That is very good, little boy.   I will give you a reward.   Let me think and see what is best."

He sat down, put his arms around his knees and thought: I killed too many people in the past, so after I turned over a new leaf, I laid a rule down for myself and restricted the killing to only three a day. Thus, I was able to control myself. Even if I killed three people a day, I would have killed only a thousand a year. I often went for several days without killing anyone; if I did, I might kill only one or two, like the day when I killed Sun Wannian and Zhu Wanchun of the Snow Mountain School, I killed only two. The nickname 'Not More Than Three A Day' makes great sense, of course, but it is a pity that the rascals amongst the rivers and lakes do not appreciate its
 
subtlety.   The young man here neither puts on airs nor licks my boots. These characteristics are very hard to come by, but I do not really care about them. However, he likes my nickname very much after hearing it. I am already past my sixtieth year, so what sort of person have I not seen yet? I can tell the truth from falsehood in just one glance, so I know that the young man really means it when he says that my nickname sounds very nice.

After muttering to himself for a while, the old man said to Shi Potian, "I have three treasures. The first, the 'Liquor of Dark Ice and Blue Flame', has already been drunk by you.   I am not giving it to you, so you have to replace it. The second treasure is my accomplishment in martial arts. You will benefit much if you learn these martial arts. As for the third treasure, it is none other than my grand-daughter, A'Dang. Of these last two treasures, you can have only one. Do you want to learn my martial arts, or do you want my A'Dang?"




Definitions, explanations and/or words left (mostly) in their original form: Those covered in earlier chapters are not repeated.
1.Tung oil (tong2 you2) = the oil of the tung tree (genus Aleurites, native to China and Japan) that is commonly used in paints and varnishes.

2.Mid-Autumn (Zhong1 Qiu1) = takes place on the fifteenth day of the eighth month.

3.Qinggong (qing1 gong1) = the highly-practised ability to run lightly at great speeds over long distances and to leap over great heights.

4.Nü'er Hong from Shaoxing (Shao4 Xing2 Nü3 Er2 Hong2) = a type rice wine from Shaoxing City in Zhejiang Province that is made at a daughter's birth and kept underground until her wedding feast.

5.Privet (nü3 zhen1) = a partly evergreen shrub of the genus Ligustrum with small white flowers and black berries.
 
6.Darling Shi (Shi2 Lang2) = 'Lang2', whose approximate English equivalent is 'Darling', is a term of affection used by a woman when addressing her husband or lover. It is usually used as a suffix after the husband/lover's surname.]

Post a Comment