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Ode to Gallantry Chapter 6

CSI
Chapter 6 - Scars

Both Ding Dang and Shi Potian were stunned by Ding Busan's question.

Her heart thumping wildly like a fawn that was leaping about in confusion, Ding Dang thought: Grandfather's martial arts skills are a match for but only a few. If Darling Shi learns these divine techniques, he can roam the length and breadth of the 'jianghu' with even greater fame and prestige. He once said that the Clan of Eternal Happiness will soon meet with a great and terribly thorny catastrophe, so if he can learn Grandfather's martial arts, he will probably be able to head the danger off. He is a man and a true one at that, so as the leader of a populous clan in the realm of the rivers and lakes, he must naturally attach greater importance to his career than the personal relationship between us.

She stole a glance at Shi Potian and found him totally perplexed. It was obvious that he was unable to come to a decision about the matter.

Consequently, Ding Dang's heart could not help but sink in heaviness: Darling Shi has always been an unrestrained romantic in spirit and behaviour. I do not know how many lovers he has had throughout his free and easy life. Although he has been especially intimate with me for the past half-year, I am actually nothing more than a passing cloud in his eyes. Furthermore, my grandfather has such a bad name in the martial arts circle. The reputations of the Clan of Eternal Happiness and Shi Potian are not exactly good either, but they are nonetheless a long way off from Grandfather's. So now that he knows my identity and background, how can he still want me?

Her heart ached so much that her eyes became moist with tears.

"Hurry, speak!" Ding Busan insisted. "Do not think that you can get away with a bargain by learning my martial arts skills first and marrying A'Dang
 
later. You might be even thinking of marrying A'Dang first, because the old man would naturally teach you martial arts on the basis of you being his grandson-in-law. That will definitely not do. Let me tell you: there is no one under the sun who dares to be funny in front of Ding Busan. If you want one thing, you cannot have the other. If not, your little life will be in danger. Speak quickly!"

The urgency of the situation increased Ding Dang's concern. Afraid that her Darling Shi might say 'I want to learn Grandfather's martial arts skills' and thus destroy her life, she said, "Grandfather, I will tell you the truth. He is the leader of the Clan of Eternal Happiness, Shi Potian. He does have quite a reputation in the martial arts circle. "

"What?" asked Ding Busan in surprise. "He is the leader of the Clan of Eternal Happiness? He does not look the part, does he?"

"He does, he does," answered Ding Dang. "Although he is young, all the heroes in the Clan of Eternal Happiness submit themselves to him. Even highly skilled pugilists, like the 'Touch that Brings Back Life', the Physician Bei, listen to his commands as well."

"The Physician Bei listens to him too?" asked Ding Busan.   "That cannot be, can it?"

"Yes, it can, it can," answered Ding Dang. "I saw it with my own eyes, so how can it be untrue? Grandfather, although you are a highly skilled pugilist, imagine if the leader of the Clan of Eternal Happiness learns martial arts under your tutelage...." Her meaning behind were words was clear: The martial arts skills of Physician Bei is not beneath yours. Clan- Leader Shi cannot study under you, so you should just allow him to have me instead.

At that moment, Shi Potian spoke up: "Grandfather, Ding Ding Dang Dang has made a mistake. I am not Shi Potian."

"So you are not Shi Potian?" asked Ding Busan. "Who then are you?"
 
"I am not a clan-leader," Shi Potian continued, "and I am not Ding Ding Dang Dang's 'Tian- ge'. I am Gouzazhong, and Gouzazhong is simply Gouzazhong. Although the name is unpleasant to the ears, I am definitely Gouzazhong."

Ding Busan held on to his stomach and laughed loudly for a long time. "Very good!" he said finally. "I want to reward you with a treasure, not because you are Clan-Leader Wa ('tile') or Clan-Leader Shi ('stone'). Neither is it based on whether A'Dang likes you or not. It is simply because Ding Busan has taken a fancy to you! I do not care if you are a bastard ( gouzazhong), a stinking little boy ( chou xiaozi) or a turtle who is the son of a bitch ( wugui wangbadan). Since Ding Busan has taken a fancy to you, you have no choice but to accept one of my treasures."

Looking in turn at Ding Busan and Ding Dang, Shi Potian thought: This Ding Ding Dang Dang has mistaken me for her Tian-ge. The real Tian-ge will definitely return soon, so if I accept the gift, would I not be deceiving the girl, as well as her Tian-ge? But if I say that I prefer martial arts to the girl, I will break her heart. I had better not accept anything at all.

So he shook his head and said, "Grandfather, I have already drunk your 'Liquor of Dark Ice and Blue Flame'. Since I have difficulty replacing it, perhaps you should just consider it as a treasure that you have given me!"

Ding Busan's face darkened. "No, no," he said. "We have already agreed that the 'Liquor of Dark Ice and Blue Flame' must be replaced. Are you trying to go back on your word? That will not do. So, have you made your choice yet? Do you want A'Dang or the martial arts?"

Shi Potian stole a glance at Ding Dang. At the same time, she stole a glance at him as well. Their eyes met, but they quickly turned their heads away.

Ding Dang's face was pale, and the tears in her eyes finally began rolling down her cheeks. Arrogant and wilful, she would have reached out and twisted Shi Potian's ear -- like she usually did -- or stamped her foot and walked off in a huff. However, she could not display even a tiny bit of her headstrong personality in the presence of her grandfather. Furthermore, twisting Shi Potian's ear and stamping her foot at such a critical juncture
 
would only serve to push the young man towards choosing martial arts. That could never be allowed to take place, so Ding Dang's heart was laden with a mix of anger and pain that she could not express.

Shi Potian glanced at the girl again. When he saw the tears streaming down her face, he could not bring himself to let her continuing weeping. "Ding Ding Dang Dang," he said in a gentle voice, "I am telling you, you have definitely gotten the wrong person.   If I am really your Tian- ge, is there still a need to make a choice? I would naturally choose ... choose you, not martial arts!"

Ding Dang's tears continued to fall like a broken string of pearls, but a smile had appeared at the corner of her mouth. "You are not Tian- ge?" she asked. "How can there be a second Tian- ge under the sun?"

"Perhaps I really do look very much like your Tian- ge," answered Shi Potian. "That is why everyone has made this mistake."

"So you are still not admitting it?" asked Ding Dang with a smile. "All right, there are indeed people in this world whose facial features resemble one another. When I first met you early this year, you grabbed my hand roughly. Since I did not know you then, I turned my hand over and struck you at once, did I not?"

Shi Potian responded with a dumbfounded gaze, for he did not know how to answer her.

Consequently, Ding Dang became unhappy again. "Have you really forgotten everything after a serious bout of illness, or are you trying to wiggle your way out of things by pretending to be idiotic and dim-witted?" she asked angrily.

Scratching his head, Shi Potian replied: "You have obviously made a mistake. How would I know what happened between that Tian- ge and you?"

"You will not succeed in wiggling your way out even if you try," said Ding Dang. "That day, you had both my hands in your grasp. I was very
 
worried, but you kept on laughing. Then, you reached out with your mouth
... and tried to ... tried to touch my face. I turned my head sideways and bit you on the shoulder. I had to bite until the wound bled before you set me free. You ... you should untie your shirt(1) and see if there is a scar on your left shoulder. You say that I have made a mistake ... but ... but you cannot remove the scar that I made with my teeth.

Shi Potian nodded in agreement. "That is correct," he said. "You have never bitten me, so my shoulder would naturally not bear a scar...." As he spoke, he untied his shirt and exposed his left shoulder. Almost at once, he was struck by a sudden shock. "Eh! This ... this is so strange!" he gasped aloud, for there were indeed two curved rows of teeth-marks on the shoulder.

It was also clear to all three people that the teeth-marks formed the outline of a small cherry-sized mouth. The scar that resulted from those marks protruded from the surface of the skin. Thus, there was no doubt that the scar had come from a person's bite, for other wounds would never have produced it.

"The little boy wanted to wiggle his way out," said Ding Busan with a cold laugh. "But he has finally failed. Let me tell you: A person who goes into the mountains a lot will eventually meet with a tiger. You, who have gone about unrestrained in romantic behaviour, will eventually be caught by a woman whom you will never be able to shake off. I too fell for such a ploy when I was young. If that was not the case, how would this world have A'Dang's father, and A'Dang in turn? That good-for-nothing brother of mine, Ding Busi, is the only one who has not managed to take a wife. Consequently, he has become obsessed and crazy in old age, wearing a mournful face the whole day just like a dog-bear coward(2). All right, we do not need a further digression. In that case, you want A'Dang, do you not?"

Shi Potian did not hear Ding Busan's question at all because he was distracted by the discovery of the scar on his shoulder.   He was actually very astonished, for he could not recall when his shoulder was bitten. The teeth-marks showed that the bite had been done in a very ruthless manner, so how could he forget having suffered such a wound? In his heart, he
 
knew that the many incomprehensible situations that he had found himself in recently had stemmed entirely from a mistaken identity, so this was the only issue that he could hardly find an answer for. Thus, he became lost in his own thoughts.

When Ding Busan noticed the young man's silence and the strange facial expression that that accompanied it, he attributed it to bashfulness at once. To him, Shi Potian was simply too embarrassed to address the matter outright. So the old man laughed and said, "A'Dang, steer the boat and take us home!"

Startled and delighted at the same time, Ding Dang asked: "Grandfather, are you saying that we are taking him to our home?"

"He is my grandson-in-law," answered Ding Busan, "so why should I not take him home? If he sneaks away without warning, will Ding Busan still be able to conduct himself in public? You say that there are people like the 'Touch that Brings Back Life', the Physician Bei, in his clan, so it will not be easy to drag him out once he withdraws into his nest."

Ding Dang responded with a smile that stretched from one ear to the other. Casting a sideways glance at Shi Potian, she suddenly turned totally red in the face. Then, she picked the bamboo pole up and tapped it lightly against the pier. The little boat glided through the arch under the bridge and swung out into the river.

Meanwhile, Shi Potian wanted to ask if he was really going to their home, but there were just too many doubts and suspicions on his mind. Therefore, he swallowed the question although it had already reached the tip of his tongue.

+ + +

The river shone like a piece of green satin in the moonlight.   Whenever Ding Dang's bamboo pole entered the water, ripples would appear. Then, the little boat would glide smoothly over the satiny surface of the river. Sometimes, the grass on the bank would brush against the side of the boat, producing a soft rustling sound. Other times, the low-hanging branches of
 
the willows would sweep against the hair of Ding Dang and Shi Potian, carressing them like soft and gentle hands.

The night, faintly scented with the fragrance of flowers, was so beautiful and quiet that Shi Potian thought he had entered the land of dreams once more.

The little boat slid through the arch of another bridge before gliding through the opening under a third one. Then, it floated along a winding course for a long time before arriving at a flight of steps that was made from a type of white-coloured stone. Ding Dang picked the hawser (mooring rope) up and threw it towards the steps, looping around a wooden stake. Finally, she covered her mouth and gave Shi Potian a smile before skipping up the steps.

Ding Busan laughed and said, "You are Jiao-ke today, so after you, please!"

Shi Potian did not know what to say, so he followed Ding Dang up the steps in a rather confused daze. Walking behind her, he passed through a small door that was painted in black and walked along a lengthy cobblestone path. Then, he passed through a moon-gate(3) and walked through a flower garden before coming to a stop at an octagonal pavilion.

Stepping into the pavilion behind him, Ding Busan smiled and said, " Jiao- ke, please sit down!"

Shi Potian did not understand what Jiao-ke was, but since Ding Busan told him to take a seat, he did as he was told. Then, Ding Busan took his grand- daughter by the hand, retraced his steps through the flower garden and disappeared from sight.

The bright moon shone down from a westerly angle, creating long shadows with the flowers outside the pavilion. At the same time, a gentle breeze began to blow, swaying the trees and causing the swing beside the pavilion to move with a rhythm of its own.

Shi Potian touched the scar on his left shoulder, feeling totally perplexed. After quite a while, he heard a series of light footsteps as two middle-aged
 
women walked through the flower garden towards him. Stopping just outside the pavilion, the women bowed slightly and said, " Xin Guanren, please proceed to the inner hall for a change of attire."

Although Shi Potian did not understand what the women meant, he guessed that they wanted him to go indoors. Therefore, he went with them without further thought. The little group walked past a lotus pond and along a corridor before entering a wing-room (xiang1 fang2)(4). A large tub of hot water stood in the room, with two cloth towels hanging on its rim. One of the women smiled and said, " Xin Guanren, please take a bath. Old Master says that we are rushed for time, so there no new clothes have been prepared. Please make do with what you have, and wear your own clothes." Then, the women left the room and closed the door behind them, cackling gleefully as they went.

Shi Potian thought: I am obviously called Gouzazhong, so how did I become 'Clan-Leader' in one moment and 'Tian-ge' in the next? When they called me 'Shi Potian', I thought that should be the end of the names, but now I have been given two new ones: 'Jiao-ke'(5) and 'Xin Guanren'. Yet, being there, he felt that he might as well stay and make the best of the situation. After all, Ding Busan and Ding Dang did not seem to bear any ill-will towards himself. Thus, throwing caution to the wind, he took his clothes off amidst the fragrance that drifted from the hot water in the tub. Then, he took a bath which invigorated him, before getting dressed again.

He had just finished putting his clothes on when a male voice spoke loudly outside the door: " Xin Guanren, please proceed to the hall and pay your respects to the Heaven and the Earth."

Shi Potian was startled, for he knew what 'paying respects to the Heaven and the Earth' meant. Adding two and two, he soon remembered what Xin Guanren was, for he had once heard his mother telling him a story about a Xin Guanren (i.e. "bridegroom") and a Xin Niangzi ("bride") who paid their respects to the Heaven and the Earth (bai4 tian1 di4) in a marriage ceremony.

Therefore, he stood dumbfounded until the man outside spoke again: " Xin Guanren, you are dressed, are you not?"
 
"Yes," answered Shi Potian.

The man pushed the door open and entered the room. He placed a longish strip of red silk around Shi's neck and pinned a red silk flower on to the front of his shirt. "Congratulations!" he said with a smile. "Congratulations!" Then, he took the young man by the arm and led him out of the room.

Flustered, Shi Potian followed the man through a maze of doors and corridors before arriving at the main hall.

Eight giant candles bathed the hall up in a bright albeit flickering light, illuminating the Eight Immortals Table (ba1 xian1 zhuo1) in the centre of the scene. The table, which had a square top that seated eight, was covered with a red tablecloth. Ding Busan stood in the midst of everything, facing towards the door.

When Shi Potian stepped into the hall, three other men in the corridor outside began blowing their bamboo flutes (di2 zi3). The man who was taking Shi Potian by the arm declared in a loud voice: "May the bride enter the hall."

The two middle-aged women whom Shi had seen earlier emerged amidst the sound of tinkling ornamental rings.   Between the women was a third one who wore a red silk covering on her head and red garments on her body. She appeared to be none other than Ding Dang. All three women then went over and stood beside Shi Potian.

Blinded somewhat by the light of the candles and intoxicated by the fragrance of orchids and musk, Shi Potian found himself feeling confused, afraid and happy at the same time.

The man beside him spoke in a loud and clear voice: "Pay your respects to the Heaven!"

Shi Potian saw Ding Dang kneeling gracefully and bowing towards the courtyard, but he was hesitant about doing the same.
 
"Kneel down and bow your head," the man whispered into Shi's ear before giving him a light push on the back.

It looks like I have to do it, thought Shi Potian, so he knelt and made a few haphazard bows.

The two women beside Ding Dang were so amused by his random bows that they burst into giggles.

"Pay your respects to the Earth!" said the man.

Shi Potian and Ding Dang turned around together, knelt and bowed towards the inner wall of the hall.

"Pay your respects to Grandfather!" said the man again.

Ding Busan got to his feet and stood before the couple. Ding Dang knelt and bowed first, followed by Shi Potian after a moment's hesitation.

"The husband and his wife pay their respects to each other!" said the man.

As Shi Potian watched Ding Dang turning towards him and falling to her knees, his mind suddenly became clear. "Grandfather, Ding Ding Dang Dang," he said loudly, "I am really not Clan-Leader Shi, and I am not your Tian- ge. You have all made a mistake, so you had better not ... not blame me in the future."

Ding Busan burst into laughter. "Little Rascal," he said, "you are still cracking such jokes at a time like this! No, I will not put any blame on you, not now, not ever."

"Ding Ding Dang Dang," said Shi Potian again, "let us lay things out upfront. This ceremony is just a game, or is it the real thing?"

The girl, who was already kneeling on the ground with the red silk covering still on her head, was surprised by the question. But she simply smiled and replied: "Of course, it is the real thing. How can this matter be ... be a game?"
 
"You have gotten the wrong person today," declared Shi Potian. "The matter has nothing to do with me. When you start having regrets later on, you will pull my ear and bite my shoulder again. That will not do!"

Suddenly, the entire hall seemed terribly bright. Unable to contain her amusement, Ding Dang started to giggle before bursting into laughter. "I will never have any regrets," she said softly. "So long as you treat me well and true, I ... I will naturally not pull your ear or bite your shoulder."

"To have one's wife pull one's ear is right and proper!" declared Ding Busan in a loud voice. "After all, it has been like this since Pan Gu created the Heaven and the Earth(6). So what is there to do or not to do about it? My dear well-behaved grandson-in-law, A'Dang has been kneeling towards you for such a long time, so why are you still not returning the gesture?"

"Yes, yes!" answered Shi Potian. He knelt on the red felt rug and exchanged several bows with Ding Dang.

"The husband and his wife have exchanged bows, so the ceremony is complete!" announced the man who acted as the master-of-ceremonies. "Send the couple to the bridal chamber! May the bride and the groom enjoy a hundred years of gracious harmony, many children and grandchildren, as well as five lifetimes of prosperity!"

As the flautists struck up a loud tune on their bamboo flutes, one of the middle-aged women took a pair of red candles and led the way ahead. The other middle-aged woman and the master-of-ceremonies helped Ding Dang and Shi Potian respectively to their feet, and tied a length of red silk between them. Then, they herded the couple towards a room.

The room was much smaller than the one Shi Potian had at the headquarters of the Clan of Eternal Happiness.   It was also not particularly luxurious in its furnishings, with only a pair of tall red candles on the table and pieces of red silk and paper hung and pasted in a haphazardly way. These were signs of a room decorated in haste, but they succeeded in adding quite a bit of cheer and festivity to the atmosphere.
 
The people led Shi Potian and Ding Dang to the bed, and sat them down on its edge. Then, they went over the table and poured out two cups of wine. "Congratulations, Gu-ye, Xiao-jie(7)," they said in unison. "It is time to drink the nuptial cup." Then, they backed out of the room and closed the door, laughing and joking as they went.

Shi Potian's heart thumped wildly. Although he did not understand the affairs of the world, he was well aware that he had become husband-and- wife with Ding Dang after bowing to the Heaven and the Earth in a marriage ceremony. Looking at Ding Dang, he found her sitting up straight with the red silk covering still on her head. She did not move at all. After a moment of wondering what to say, Shi Potian asked: "Ding Ding Dang Dang, are you suffocating with that thing on your head?"

"I am indeed," answered Ding Dang with a smile. "Please take it off!"

Reaching out with his thumb and forefinger, Shi Potian took a corner of the red silk covering and pulled it gently off. He found Ding Dang's face and lips covered with red rouge, which made her look especially gorgeous and bashful in the candlelight. As a mixture of surprise and delight filled his heart, he gazed unblinkingly at the girl and said, "You ... you look really good."

Ding Dang smiled until a tiny dimple appeared on her left cheek before lowering her head slowly.

Just then, Ding Busan's voice was heard speaking loudly from a high place outside the room: "Tonight marks the auspicious return of my grand- daughter for marriage.   Friends from unknown places who have honoured us with your presence, there is no harm in coming down for a celebratory cup of wine."

A voice from another high place replied: "The subordinate of the leader of Clan of Eternal Happiness, Bei Haishi, presents solemn greetings of peace and goodness to Third Master Ding. It is very inappropriate to disturb you so late at night, so please excuse us."

Shi Potian uttered a quiet gasp: "Ah! Mr Bei has come."
 
Ding Dang responded by knitting her elegant brows into a shallow frown. Then, she brought her forefinger to the centre of her lips, telling Shi Potian not to make any sound.

Outside, Ding Busan burst into laughter. "I was wondering which chicken- stealing and dog-pilfering friends have come," he said quite rudely, "but you have turned out to be members of the Clan of Eternal Happiness. Are you going to drink some celebratory wine? But you had better not shout loudly and disturb my grandson-in-law and grand-daughter in their bridal chamber, for you have come too late for the rite of teasing the couple in their room."

Yet, Bei Haishi was not angered. He coughed a few times and said, "So today is the auspicious day on which the precious grand-daughter of Third Master Ding is married. My brothers and I have come in haste, so we have not brought a gift. To make up for our poor manners, we will come again another day to offer our congratulations and show our appreciation for the celebratory wine.   Meanwhile, an urgent matter has come up at our clan, and I would like to see Clan-Leader Shi in person about it.   Thus, I would be eternally grateful if you could lead us to him.   If this was not the case, we would not have had the audacity to enter the esteemed abode of the Third Master Ding in the dead of the night, even if we had courage as vast as the sky."

"Physician Bei, you are also a highly-esteemed senior member of the martial arts circle," said Ding Busan, "so you need not treat me with such politeness. The Clan-Leader Shi whom you speak of is none other than my new grandson-in-law, Gouzazhong, is he not? He says that you have all gotten the wrong man, so there is no need to see him."

The eight men who had come with Bei Haishi were highly-skilled pugilists from their clan, including Mi Hengye and Chen Chongzhi.   When these men heard Ding Busan calling their clan-leader a bastard, a few of them began to utter throaty growls of anger.

As for Bei Haishi, he had heard Shi Potian referring to himself by the unpleasant name a few times, so he knew that Ding Busan had no intention of insulting anyone. However, he found himself secretly worrying about
 
the fact that his clan-leader had become the grandson-in-law of the evil Ding. Eventually, he said, "Third Master Ding, the matter at our clan needs urgent attention, so I must ask our Clan-Leader for his instructions. As for our Clan-Leader's jokes, we are aware that they happen quite frequently."

Shi Potian could hear from Bei Haishi's words and tone of voice that the situation did indeed seem rather urgent. Recalling how the latter that rescued him when he was attacked by the hot and cold streams of energy on the Skyscraping Cliff, and spent days and nights watching over him with concern, he found himself unable to ignore the man's request and allow him to carry on in worry. Thus, he walked over to the window, pushed it open and called out in a loud voice: "Mr Bei, I am over here. Are all of you looking for me?"

"Indeed," answered Bei Haishi in delight. "Your subordinate has an urgent matter to report."

"I am Gouzazhong," said Shi Potian, "not your clan-leader. If you are looking for me, you have succeeded. If you are looking for your clan- leader, you have failed."

A slight expression of awkwardness flashed across Bei Haishi's face. "Clan-Leader, you are speaking in jest again," he said. "Please come out, so that we can step aside for a word."

"You want me to come out?" asked Shi Potian. "Yes!" answered Bei Haishi.
Ding Dang walked over to Shi Potian and tugged at his sleeve. "Tian- ge, do not go out," she whispered.

"I will return as soon as I have made things clear to him," said Shi Potian. Then, he climbed clumsily through the window into the courtyard outside. There, he found Bei Haishi standing on the west wall, with eight men in a row on the roof of the building behind him. On the other hand, Ding Busan sat on a branch of the chestnut tree that grew in the eastern side of the courtyard, his weight causing the branch to bob up and down.
 
Ding Busan spoke: "Physician Bei, you want to speak to my grandson-in- law, but can I listen in?"

Bei Haishi responded by muttering to himself, thinking: You are a highly- esteemed senior member of the martial arts circle yourself, so how can you not understand the rules of the realm of the rivers and lakes? Since I have come to see the Clan-Leader in the dead of the night, the matter that we speak of will naturally be a great secret of clan. Hence, how could an outsider participate in the exchange? I have long heard about the haphazard ways of this man; now, I see that his reputation is not undeserved. Thus, he replied: "I am not in a place to divulge anything. Since our Clan-Leader is present, he should naturally be the one to make a decision on this."

"Very good, very good indeed," said Ding Busan. "So you have pushed the responsibility on to my grandson-in-law. Hey, Gouzazhong, the Physician Bei has something to say to you, but I would like to listen in."

"So Grandfather wants to listen in," said Shi Potian. "What is there to be concerned about?"

"What a dear and well-behaved grandson!" said Ding Busan, laughing gleefully. "What a filial grandson indeed! Physician Bei, please speak quickly if you have something to say, for each moment of a night in spring is worth a thousand pieces of gold. My grand-daughter is in her bridal chamber, but you, an old man, have been here jabbering to no end. Are you not being a wet blanket that spoils the fun?"

Bei Haishi did not expect Shi Potian to make such a decision at all, but since he had given his word, he could hardly take it back. Feeling very displeased, he said, "Clan-Leader, guests from the Snow Mountain School have arrived at our headquarters for a visit."

Before Shi Potian could say anything, Ding Busan said, "There is nothing amazing about the Snow Mountain School."

"The Snow Mountain School?" repeated Shi Potian. "Are they people from Hua Wanzi Hua- guniang's group?"   There were thousands upon hundreds of clans and schools in the martial arts circle, but he knew only about the
 
Snow Mountain School alone. Within the school, there were thousands upon hundreds of members, but again, he knew only Hua Wanzi alone. Hence, he blurted her name out without further thought.

Smiles appeared on the faces of the eight highly-skilled members of the Clan of Eternal Happiness who had come with Bei Haishi: Our Clan-Leader is really amorous and fond of women. He has taken a new wife tonight, but he has not forgotten the beautiful woman from the Snow Mountain School.

"Hua Wanzi Hua- guniang is among the them," said Bei Haishi. "There are also a number of others. The group is led by the 'Frost of the North-west' (Qi4 Han2 Xi1 Bei3) Bai Wanjian, with eight or nine other siblings-at-arms who appear to be highly-skilled pugilists of the Snow Mountain School."

"What is there to be amazed about Bai Wanjian?" snapped Ding Busan. "Even if that old fellow, Bai Zizai, comes in person, what is there to be concerned about? Physician Bei, I have heard that your 'Palm Technique of the Five Elements and the Six Directions' is really not bad, so why are you getting all flustered and alarmed over something as ordinary as the appearance of that little fellow Bai Wanjian?"

When Bei Haishi heard Ding Busan praising his 'Palm Technique of the Five Elements and the Six Directions', he could not help but feel a tinge of pride: This evil old man has always been very conceited, but he has actually given my Palm Technique of the Five Elements and the Six Directions due consideration. Hence, he smiled and replied: "It is but an inconsequential skill that is unworthy of mention. Although our Clan of Eternal Happiness is small, we are not afraid of being bullied or oppressed by any other clan or school in the martial arts circle. We have never had any dealings with the Snow Mountain School, but the 'Frost of the North-west' has come in full power and prestige to demand an audience with our Clan-Leader. We have asked him to wait until tomorrow, but he is unable to wait at all. There is probably a misunderstanding of some sort here, so we have come to seek some suggestions from our Clan-Leader."

"Hua- guniang broke into our headquarters last night," said Shi Potian. "She was captured by Incense-Master Chen, but released this morning. Could the Snow Mountain School be annoyed by this matter?"
 
"There is a possibility of that," answered Bei Haishi. "When I spoke to Incense-Master Chen, he told me that you treated Hua- guniang courteously. You did not even touch a single hair on her head or take her to task for breaking into our headquarters. You offered her birds' nest and silver before she left, so you really preserved the dignity of the Snow Mountain School in this matter. From the looks of things, I am afraid that the 'Frost of the North-west' has come regarding a different issue altogether."

"What do you want me to do?" asked Shi Potian.

"It is all up to you," answered Bei Haishi. "If you say 'Meet them with civility', we will go back and speak to them nicely. We will also give them a few mild rebuffs. However, if you say, 'Meet them with force', we will beat them until they can no longer leave, for who asked them to march up to the Clan of Eternal Happiness with unbridled boldness and make such atrocious demands? It would be much better if you could go and look into the matter personally, because you would be able to respond to the situation then and there."

Shi Potian had been happy being in the same room with Ding Dang just a little while ago, but he was also extremely fearful. There was no peace in his heart, for he did not know what would happen after a night in the bridal chamber. Since he was not Ding Dang's "Tian- ge", the truth would eventually be revealed to the utter embarrassment of all the parties who had been involved in the marriage ceremony. Therefore, he was glad that Bei Haishi dropped by, for the visit had presented him with an opportunity to escape. Hence, he said, "In that case, I will go back and take a look. If they have misunderstood us, I will be honest and make things clear to them." Then, he turned and said, "Grandfather, Ding Ding Dang Dang, I am leaving."

"This is not good," said Ding Busan, scratching his head. "Those fellows from the Snow Mountain School have thrown my plans into disarray, so I had better go and get rid of them. After all, I killed two of their disciples a long time ago and got into a conflict with Old Bai. Even if I kill a few more of them, the grudge between us would still be accounted for in the same way."
 
The Snow Mountain School considered Ding Busan's killing of their disciples Sun Wannian and Zhu Wanchun as a terrible humiliation, so it kept the matter secret. When Shi Qing and Min Rou heard about the incident later, they kept quiet about it as well. Hence, there was no knowledge about this matter in the jianghu at all.

Hearing it, Bei Haishi thought: The Snow Mountain School is very powerful. Not only are its leaders and disciples highly skilled in martial arts, it has also maintained friendly relationships with the clans and schools in the central region. We do not need to engage such a formidable opponent for no rhyme or reason. The Clan of Eternal Happiness has its own problems which will arrive in the twinkling of an eye. So, it is not advantageous to take on additional involvements. Thus, he said, "It is good that our Clan-Leader is willing to meet the people of the Snow Mountain School in person. Third Master Ding, we do not dare to bother you with such a trivial matter. Can we visit you again once things are settled?" He did not mention anything about 'drinking celebratory wine' because he hoped to persuade Shi Potian into giving up his marriage relationship with the Ding Family once they were back at their headquarters.

"Rubbish!" said Ding Busan angrily. "I have said that I want to go, so I will definitely make the trip there. There is no alternative besides bothering me, because I have made up my mind to be involved in this particular matter of the Clan of Eternal Happiness."

Listening to the conversation from the room, Ding Dang guessed that the Snow Mountain School had come to demand for an accounting of her husband's unrestrained behaviour. The man had probably found Hua Wanzi beautiful and went on to act indecently. There was also an eight or nine to ten chance that he had attempted to violate her by force. As for Incense- Master Chen's claim that his Clan-Leader 'did not even touch a single hair on her head', that was probably a ploy to cover things up. If not, why would he invite the woman to strengthen her body with some birds' nest? This did not even take the gift of silver into account.

Then, Ding Dang thought about her own predicament. It was their wedding night, but he actually wanted to dash off and meet Hua Wanzi. He was about to cast her aside, but she was not going to swallow her anger about it.
 
When the argument between her grandfather and Bei Haishi turned into a deadlock, she leaped into the courtyard and said, "Grandfather, Darling Shi has something to attend to in his clan, so he has to return to their headquarters. We cannot allow my personal relationship with him to interfere with his work. Let us do things this way: You and I will go with Darling Shi, and see exactly what amazing people the Snow Mountain School has."

Shi Potian was delighted. Although he wanted to avoid the awkwardness of the bridal chamber, he was unwilling to be separated from Ding Dang. Hence, he smiled and said, "How wonderful; how wonderful indeed! Ding Ding Dang Dang, you and I will go together, and Grandfather will go with us too!"

With the decision made, Bei Haishi and his group did not find it appropriate to raise further objections.

+ + +

The party went to the bank of the river and boarded the big boat that belonged to the Clan of Eternal Happiness for the trip back to the headquarters. By and by, Bei Haishi whispered to Shi Potian: "Clan- Leader, you must persuade the Third Master Ding not to injure anyone from the Snow Mountain School, regardless of what happens. After all, it is meaningless to make many enemies."

"Yes," said Shi Potian with a nod.   "How can anyone kill another man for no rhyme or reason? Would he not become a bad person then?"

When the party arrived at the headquarters of the Clan of Eternal Happiness, Ding Dang said, "Tian- ge, I want to change into a set of men's clothes in your room. Then, I will go with you to meet the Hua- guniang who looks like the flower and the moon."

"Why?" asked Shi Potian, finding the request very interesting.

"I do not want her to know that I am your wife," answered Ding Dang with a smile. "It will also be more conducive for conversations."
 
When Shi Potian noticed how bashful and proud Ding Dang was when she uttered the words 'I am your wife', warmth filled his heart. "Very good, I will go with you to get a change of clothing," he said.

"I want to dress up too!" said Ding Busan. "Would it not be good if I disguised myself as a low-ranking leader of your clan?"

This willingness to use a disguise was exactly what Bei Haishi sought, for he did not want the Snow Mountain School to know that Ding Busan had become involved with the clan. Yet, Bei did not reveal his thoughts and emotions, preferring instead to say: "Third Master Ding, please do anything you wish."

Ding Busan and his grand-daughter followed Shi Potian to his room, where Shijian had dozed off. When they pushed the door open, the maidservant woke up with a start. Jumping off the bed, she was even more surprised to see the Dings.

Unable to make things clear to Shijian within a short period of time, Shi Potian simply said, "Elder Sister Shijian, they would like to put on some disguises. You ... you go and help them." He was deeply worried that the maidservant would ask about this and that, for the marriage ceremony that he had underwent earlier was not something that he could freely speak of. Hence, he headed for the decorated reception hall beyond the room as soon as he had given the brief instructions.

The time needed to cook a pot of rice passed (about 50 minutes). Chen Chongzhi appeared outside the hall and said in a loud voice: "Clan-Leader, all our brothers are waiting for your arrival at the Hall of the Ferocious Tiger."

At that moment, Ding Dang pushed the door-curtain aside and entered the hall. "All right, let us go," she said with a smile.

Shi Potian was taken aback, for an exquisitely dressed and polished young man had suddenly appeared before his eyes. Taking a second look, he realised that it was only Ding Dang, who was dressed in a black robe with a scholar's cloth on her head and a folding fan in her hand. Although he did
 
not know what 'scholarly and refined' meant, he thought that she looked better in the outfit than the bridal clothes that she was wearing earlier.

As for Ding Busan, he was dressed in a tunic made of coarse cloth, with a pair of hemp sandals on his feet. His face was darkened with a light coat of ink, and his right shoulder hung lower than his left. He walked with a limp and regarded his surroundings with a beastly expression on his face.

Shi Potian could hardly recognise the old man at first. Then, he burst into laughter and said, "Grandfather, your appearance has changed entirely."

By and by, Chen Chongzhi whispered to Shi Potian: "Clan-Leader, do you want to take some weapons with you?"

"What weapons?" asked Shi Potian with his eyes opened wide. "Why should I take weapons with me?"

"Yes! Yes!" answered Chen Chongzhi at once, thinking that the young man was making an ironic remark. Then, he led the group to the Hall of the Ferocious Tiger.

When Chen Chongzhi pushed the door of the hall open and stepped inside, the people who had gathered rose to their feet and said, "Our respects to the Clan-Leader!"

Shi Potian was so shocked that he jumped with fright, for he had never expected to see a hall that was so grand and filled with so many people. He also did not know how to respond to the men who bowed in greeting; neither did he know what to say. Thus, he could not help standing shell- shocked and flustered at the entrance.

As he -- a rural young man who had hardly been exposed to society -- took in the brightly-lit candles on the tables, the tall and short men on both sides of the aisle, as well as the empty tigerskin-draped armchair that stood in the centre of gathering, he became so intimidated that he did not even dare to breathe. His eyes looked towards Bei Haishi in an appeal for help, in the hope that the latter would tell him how to handle the situation right.
 
Bei Haishi rushed over to the door at once, took Shi Potian by the arm and said in a quiet voice: "Clan-Leader, we will take our seats first. Then, we will invite our friends from the Snow Mountain School into the hall."

Shi Potian listened to everything Bei Haishi suggested, of course, and allowed himself to be led to the tigerskin-draped armchair.

"Please take a seat!" whispered Bei Haishi.

"Here?" asked Shi Potian as an indescribable fear filled his heart.   He looked towards Ding Dang, hoping that she would take him by the hand and help him escape from the hall. It would be best if they went off to some remote mountains far away, for he did not want to return to this place again.

But Ding Dang responded with only a smile.

Yet, Shi Potian felt a burst of affection from deep within her eyes, as if she was saying: "Tian- ge, do not be afraid. I am here by your side. If anything difficlt happens, I will help you." Almost immediately, his spirits were lifted. As gratitude and assurance filled his heart, he took his seat on the tigerskin-draped armchair in the middle of the hall.

After he was seated, Ding Busan and Ding Dang went up and stood behind his chair. Then, the men in the hall sat down one after the other in accordance to their respective seniorities.

Bei Haishi spoke: "Brothers, our Clan-Leader has been seriously ill in recent days. Fortunately, the Heavens stood by the good man. He was recovered to a great extent; but he was not regained his energy in full. Our Clan-Leader should actually be spending many days in quiet recuperation before he can personally attend to the affairs of the clan again, but our friends from the Snow Mountain School have insisted on meeting with him at all costs, as if our Clan-Leader will never recover from his illness. Heh- heh, our Clan-Leader has a deep and profound level of internal strength, so how can a small illness bother him at all?   Clan-Leader, what do you think if we invite our friends from the Snow Mountain School into the hall right now?"
 
"Mm," grunted Shi Potian in reply, not knowing whether he should be saying "Yes" or "No".

"We will now re-arrange the seating!" declared Bei Haishi to the hall. "All the brothers on the west of the aisle should sit on the other side."

The men began moving and were soon seated on the east of the aisle. Then, several clan-members who were standing by came up and placed a row of nine armchairs on the vacated western side.

Finally, Bei Haishi said, "Incense-Master Mi, please usher the guests into the meeting."

"Yes," answered Mi Hengye, turning around and taking his leave.

Shortly after that, footsteps sounded outside the hall. As four clan-members threw the huge doors open, Mi Hengye stepped to the side and made an announcement in a loud voice: "Clan-Leader, our friends from the Snow Mountain School have arrived!"

"We will go and meet them!" whispered Bei Haishi to Shi Potian, giving the latter's sleeve a slight tug.

"We will?" asked Shi Potian.   He rose hesitantly to his feet and followed Bei Haishi to the entrance of the hall.

The nine visitors from the Snow Mountain School were all dressed in long robes of white. The man at the head of the group was a very tall and heroic- looking fellow about forty-two or forty-three years old. When he was about a zhang (3.33 metres) away from Shi Potian, he came to a sudden stop and stared so intently at the latter, as if he was trying to look right into the depths of his heart.

Meanwhile, Shi Potian smiled foolishly at the guest in what he (Shi) considered to be a greeting.

Bei Haishi spoke: "Clan-Leader, this is he who shakes the western frontiers with strength, impressiveness and a set of peerless swordplay skills, the
 
well-known 'Frost of the North-west' Bai Wanjian, the Big Brother Bai."

Shi Potian nodded his head and gave another foolish-looking smile. The only person whom he knew was the last member of group, Hua Wanzi, so he smiled again and said, "Hua- guniang, you have come again."

As soon as these words were uttered, the expressions of the faces of the nine Snow Mountain disciples changed at once.

Hua Wanzi felt so awkward that she snorted in disgust and turned her head away.

Bai Wanjian was the eldest son of the 'Gentleman of Impressive Strength and Virtue' Bai Zizai, who was also the leader of the Snow Mountain School. Bai Wanjian and his siblings-at-arms had the character 'Wan' in their names as the marker of their places in the generational hierarchy. Since 'Wanjian' meant 'Ten Thousand Swords', the name seemed to indicate a level of accomplishment in swordplay that exceeded those of his peers. On his part, Bai Zizai was indeed proud of his son's pugilistic abilities, so he had given him the name.

Known collectively with the 'Dragon of Wind and Fire' Feng Wanli as the 'Twin Heroes of the Snow Mountain' (Xue3 Shan1 Shuang1 Jie2), Bai Wanjian had really renowned in the martial arts circle. If he had not visited the Clan of Eternal Happiness in person, Bei Haishi would not have rushed over to Ding Busan's home in the dead of the night and had Shi Potian brought back to the headquarters.

By then, Bai Wanjian was furious, for he had waited for Shi Potian in the adjacent hall for two whole shichen (four hours). During this time, his cup of tea had been brewed so often that it was no longer any different from plain water, for the leaves had lost their flavour much earlier. Now that he had finally stepped into the Hall of the Ferocious Tiger, he found a clan- leader who sat ostentiously on his armchair in the middle of the hall. This clan-leader did not even say anything polite -- such as "I have long heard about you" -- when Bei Haishi made the introductions, preferring instead to greet his younger sister-at-arms. How then could Bai Wanjian not hit the roof in anger? He thought: From the looks of things, there is an eight to ten
 
chance that he is indeed the fellow whom we seek. Our enquiries in the jianghu during the past few days have all found Clan-Leader Shi of the Clan of Eternal Happiness to be a lecherous man. Thus, he must naturally be the one. While he cannot be bothered with me, he has eyed Sister Hua with lust and tried to please her with his words. If he can act this way in front of everyone, Sister Hua's experience while being held captive would have been a lot worse.

Yet, as a man of esteemed position, Bai Wanjian was unwilling to create a scene then and there. Instead, he gazed coldly at Shi Potian from the corner of his eye. He had not uttered a single word, but scorn was already written all over his face.

"Hua- guniang, is the wound on your thigh better?" asked Shi Potian again. "Does it still hurt?"

Hua Wanzi's face turned totally red, while the remaining eight disciples of the Snow Mountain School gripped the hilts of their swords.

"Friends, you have come from afar," said Bei Haishi quickly. "Please take a seat, please take a seat. Our Clan-Leader has not been feeling well recently, so he should actually not be receiving any visitors. However, because of your stature, he has come out to meet you despite his illness. We are very sorry that you have had to wait for a long time."

Bai Wanjian responded with a snort of disgust before striding up to the first armchair on the west of the aisle and sitting down. Geng Wanzhong took the second seat, followed by Ke Wanjun, Wang Wanren and the others. Hua Wanzi sat on the last chair.

Several members of the Clan of Eternal Happiness grinned gleefully at the sight, thinking: Our Clan-Leader gained an upper hand over all you as soon as he opened his mouth, for he showed concerned over your younger sister's thigh. Heh-heh, you may be the 'Frost of the North-west', but there was still nothing you could do, could you?

Bei Haishi accompanied Shi Potian back to his seat, while their servants served tea.
 
By and by, Bei Haishi raised his clasped fists and said, "Members from every level of our clan have long heard about the glorious name of the Gentleman of Impressive Strength and Virtue from the Snow Mountain School, as well as those of the Twin Heroes of the Snow Mountain and the friends who are present here. However, due to our location in the south of the Great River, we have been unable to develop a closer relationship. We are honoured to have Master Bai and the others here today, for it is indeed our great fortune to meet with the heroes from the Snow Mountain of the North-west."

Bai Wanjian returned the greeting by raising his clasped fists.   He said, "The Physician Bei possesses the touch that brings back life, and the peerless Palm Technique of the Five Elements and the Six Directions. Thus, I have also admired you for a long time. Furthermore, your clan has numerous members of outstanding ability. While I do not know many of them in person, I have heard of their names a long time ago." While he spoke a few words of praise for Bei Haishi and the members of the Clan of Eternal Happiness, he did not mention Shi Potian at all.

"You flatter us, you flatter us!" answered Bei Haishi humbly. Then, pretending that he was not aware of the purpose of the visit, he said, "I wonder how many days have all of you been in Zhenjiang.   Have you toured the Golden Hill (Jin1 Shan1) and the Burnt Hill (Jiao1 Shan1)? Let our Clan-Leader play host one day and treat all of you to some drinks at a wineshop in town. Then, we can go and take in the scenery of modest Zhenjiang." He spoke casually, without broaching the subject of the Snow Mountain School's visit at all.

Eventually, it was Bai Wanjian who reached the end of his tether first. Raising his voice, he said, "Many people in the jianghu know that your Clan-Leader Shi excels in martial arts. I wonder which clan or school his skills come from."

The question caught the interest of the members of the Clan of Eternal Happiness: Our Clan-Leader has never spoken about the affiliation of his martial arts skills. Whenever anyone brings the subject up during a compliment, he would only smile silently in response. Mr Bei told us that he is the nephew-at-arms of the previous Clan-Leader Situ*, but his skills
 
are entirely different from that of the latter. Would he be willing to divulge the information now?

Shi Potian began his reply in a hesitant manner: "This ... er ... are you asking about my martial arts skills? I ... do not know any at all."

Almost at once, the remaining doubts in Bai Wanjian's mind vanished. Laughing sarcastically, he said, "The Clan of Eternal Happiness has innumerable heroic and capable members. If Clan-Leader Shi does not know any martial arts, how can you lord over such a large group of outstanding men? Your statement can only be used to deceive little children. Perhaps you are ashamed to tell others about your teacher and origin, and I wonder why that is so."

"You say that I am deceiving little children?" asked Shi Potian. "Who is a child here? Ding Ding Dang Dang, she ... she is not a child. I did not deceive her. I have told her long before that I am not her Tian- ge." Although he was talking with Bai Wanjian, his nose was distracted by the fragrance that came from Ding Dang's clothes. Therefore, his heart was turned entirely towards the girl behind his armchair.

Bai Wanjian did not know what the Ding Ding Dang Dang that he spoke about was, so he simply attributed Shi Potian's reply to a guilty conscience as well as a consequent and deliberate attempt to drag irrelevant matters into the conversation.   Therefore, Bai's face became even sterner as he made his response: "Clan-Leader Shi, we will just open the windows and speak in the light. Putting things bluntly, you have not forgotten entirely about the martial arts skills that you learnt in Lingxiao City, have you?"

Almost at once, the expressions on the faces of the members of the Clan of Eternal Happiness changed. The men knew that Lingxiao City in the western region was the home of the Snow Mountain School. If Bai Wanjian was right, could their clan-leader have practised martial arts under the tutelage of the Snow Mountain School before?   These people had come with such power and prestige, so could their visit be related to an internal matter of their school?
 
"Lingxiao City?" asked Shi Potian dumbly. "What place is that? I have never practised any martial arts before. If I have, how can I forget all about them?"

By then, even the members of the Clan of Eternal Happiness found Shi Potian's statements incredulous. There was no one in the martial arts circle who did not know the name of 'Lingxiao City'. He, Shi Potian, was the leader of the Clan of Eternal Happiness, yet he actually pretended that he had never heard of the place before. In addition, he said that he had never learnt any martial arts. Such a blatant lie harmed his reputation, of course, yet there were individuals who felt that there was a greater purpose behind these words.

To Bai Wanjian and his group, the words were a great insult, for they clearly indicated that Shi Potian had little care or respect for the Snow Mountain School. He even brushed 'Lingxiao City' off with a single casual remark.

Unable to restrain himself any longer, Wang Wanren spoke in a loud voice: "If you put it this way, Clan-Leader Shi, you are looking too much down your nose at us.   In your eyes, all the disciples of the Snow Mountain School are not worth even a single qian (5 grammes of silver)."

Shi Potian saw the anger on his face and guessed that he had said the wrong thing. Thus, he replied quickly: "No, no.   How can I say that the disciples of the Snow Mountain School are not worth even a single qian?   Like ... like ... like ..." During his stay on the Skyscraping Cliff, he would follow Xie Yanke to town several times a year to buy rice and salt, so he knew that the greater the worth of an object, the better the object would be.   He wanted to say a few nice words to make up for his mistake and calm Wang Wanren down, yet after uttering "like..." three times, he could not come up with a suitable illustration.

He had seen Geng Wanzhong, Ke Wanjun, Wang Wanren and the few others before at Hou Jian Ji, but he did not know their names. However, he was more familiar with Hua Wanzi. Therefore, in a moment of desperation, he said, "Like Hua Wanzi Hua- guniang. She is worth a lot of qian ... a whole lot of silver..."
 
A *hu* sounded. The nine visitors from the Snow Mountain School got to their feet at the same time. A brilliant flash of light followed as eight swords came out of their sheaths. Except for Bai Wanjian, the visitors held their swords before their chests and stood in a semicircle around Shi Potian.

Raising his finger in accusation, Wang Wanren said, "You who are surnamed Shi, you have gone too far in uttering those obscenities. Although we are in the pool of the dragon and the den of lion right now, we will not take the insult lightly!"

Shi Potian could see that the visitors' anger had shot up into the sky, yet he could not grasp what was happening at all: I said something that was obviously nice, but why are all of you upset? So he turned to Ding Dang and asked: "Ding Ding Dang Dang, did I say something wrong?"

Having heard her husband humiliating Hua Wanzi in front of everyone earlier, Ding Dang knew that he did not care about her (Hua) at all. Thus, she was both delighted and comforted. Now, hearing his question, she smiled and replied: "I do not know. Perhaps Hua- guniang is not worth a whole lot of silver, but there is no way of knowing it at the moment."

Nodding, Shi Potian said, "So let us say that Hua- guniang is not worth much silver. She is very cheap and lowly, but that is not a reason to get angry!"

The members of the Clan of Eternal Happiness burst into laughter.   To them, their clan-leader's statement was an indication of his decision to enter into battle with the Snow Mountain School. Amidst the noise, someone piped up: "I cannot afford anything expensive, but if it is cheap, heh-heh, we can consider getting together..."

A greenish light flashed, followed by a *ding*. As it turned out, Wang Wanren had become so furious that he had sent his sword towards Shi Potian's chest. Bai Wanjian had responded at once, unsheathing his sword casually and pushing his brother's weapon away lightly. However, Wang Wanren's wrist felt so numb that his sword almost slipped out of his hand. Therefore, he was unable to resume his attack.
 
"Our conflict with this man is as deep as the ocean," said Bai Wanjian in a loud voice. "How can he be despatched with a single stroke of the sword?" Returning his sword to its sheath, he added: "Clan-Leader Shi, do you recognise me?"

"I do," answered Shi Potian with a nod of his head. "You are the 'Frost of the North-west' Bai Wanjian, Master Bai of the Snow Mountain School."

"Very good," said Bai Wanjian. "Do you acknowledge the things that you have done before?"

"Of course, I do," said Shi Potian.

Bai Wanjian grunted in affirmation and said, "Let me ask you then: When you were at Lingxiao City, what was your name?"

"I was at Lingxiao City?" asked Shi Potian in return, scratching his head. "When did I go there? Ah, I know! The year I left the mountains in search of Mother and A'Huang, I passed through many cities and towns. I did not know their names, so one of them must have been called Lingxiao City."

The expression on Bai Wanjian's face became cold. However, he continued to speak in measured tones, with each word coming slowly out of his mouth: "You had better not drag irrelevant matters into the conversation and pretend that you do not know what is going on! Your real name is not Shi Potian!"

"That is correct, that is correct!" said Shi Potian with a smile. "I have never been Shi Potian in the first place, but everyone has been making this mistake. Master Bai, you are amazing, for you know that I am not Shi Potian."

"So what is your original surname and true name?" asked Bai Wanjian. "Speak it out, so that all of us may hear."

"What is he called?" roared Wang Wanren in anger. "He is ... Gouzazhong (Bastard)!"
 
This time, the men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness rose to their feet, and responded with shouts and curses. More than ten of them also drew their weapons.

By making that statement, Wang Wanren had already given his life up. He thought: I want to curse that bastard, so if I end up being chopped to pieces, I would not even frown.

Yet, Shi Potian burst out laughing. Clapping his hands, he said, "Yes, that is right! I am actually called Gouzazhong. How did you know?"

The words caught everyone in surprise that they could not help but look at one another for answers. None of them -- except Bei Haishi, Ding Busan and Ding Dang -- had heard him mention the name of 'Gouzazhong' before, so they were rather bewildered.

Yet, Bai Wanjian thought: This fellow has turned out to be very treacherous and cunning. It is remarkable how he can take abuse in such a calm manner, so I have to be even more careful with him. I cannot take things lightly at all.

Meanwhile, Wang Wanren threw his head back and laughed. "Ha-ha, so you are actually called Gouzazhong!" he said. "Ha-ha, what a joke, what a joke indeed!"

"What is so funny about my being called Gouzazhong?" asked Shi Potian. "The name is not a good one, but if it is what your mother called you in the past, you are Gouzazhong no matter what."

"Rubbish!" roared Wang Wanren. Lifting his sword in a stroke known as the 'Flying Sand that Moves the Rocks' (Fei1 Sha1 Zou3 Shi2), he concentrated his internal energy on the tip of his sword and sent it towards Shi Potian's chest in a cold flash of light.

This time, Bai Wanjian did not stop him, for he wanted to see what strange and amazing pugilistic skills that Shi Potian had picked up in recent years, for he (Shi) had been able to get such a large number of outstanding men to obey him as the leader of a clan despite his young age. So, Bai Wanjian
 
simply said, "Brother Wang, do not be violent." He left his chair, as if he was about to restrain his brother, but he allowed the latter to pass by and pounce on Shi Potian.

Although Shi had mastered a top-class skill in internal strength, he had not learnt anything about fighting with the enemy at close quarters through the exchange of strokes. Therefore, he did not know how to avoid Wang Wanren's sword that approached at a terribly swift pace. Neither did he know how to fend the sword off. Hence, in a moment of desperation, he reacted with a reflexive push of his hands. The lengthy sleeves of the long robe that he wore swept out towards the on-coming sword.

A loud *ke-chi* was heard, followed by a *hu*. Suddenly, Wang Wangren flew backwards and crashed heavily into the main door.

Earlier, when the nine visitors from the Snow Mountain School entered the Hall of the Ferocious Tiger, the members of the Clan of Eternal Happiness had propped the main door up with wooden poles. In the event of a disagreement and a fight, they would simply trap the enemy as if it was a turtle in an earthern jar.

Th main door of the Hall of the Ferocious Tiger was made from the wood of the pear tree. Besides being exceptionally hard, the door also had inlays of sheet-iron and rivets of copper. After Wang Wanren's back struck the door, a *bu-bu* sound was heard as the man's shoulders were pierced by the two broken halves of his own sword.

As it turned out, the energy that was created by Shi Potian's sweeping sleeves had broken Wang's sword into two. Then, it had pressed so strongly against Wang that he could hardly breathe. The strength in his body had somehow vanished, so his arms had followed the on-coming force and turned the broken sword on to himself.   Consequently, he sat slumped on the ground, for he could no longer move. Blood flowed profusely from the wounds on his shoulders, staining his white robe red within moments.

Ke Wanjun and Hua Wanzi rushed over to him as quickly as they could, checking his breath and taking his pulse. Fortunately, Shi Potian did not
 
know how to use the rich internal strength that he had, so the injuries that Wang suffered were merely external ones that did not not threaten his life.

The incident startled the disciples of the Snow Mountain School, of course, but it also made them furious. On the other hand, the men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness were delighted. Yet, they were greatly surprised by what they had witnessed, because earlier displays of their clan-leader's martial arts skills had not shown them to be particularly wonderful.

The only reason why they had made the young man their clan-leader was his willingness to sacrifice himself to save the lives of all the clan-members, in exchange for the opportunity to escape from trouble. Furthermore, Bei Haishi had thrown in all he had to assist the young man in his new position. Thus, the members submitted to Clan-Leader Shi largely because they feared Bei Haishi. They never thought that Clan-Leader Shi would have such a profound level of internal strength.

As for Bei Haishi himself, he simply nodded in silence, his heart filled with a mixture of concern and joy.

By and by, Bai Wanjian sneered and said, "Clan-Leader Shi, we are all members of the martial arts circle, so there is a generational hierarchy that guides us. He who defies his superiors and starts a rebellion can be put to death by anyone else. The common saying puts it well: He who teaches one for but a day, is one's father for life. Since you were once a martial arts student at our Snow Mountain School, my Brother Wang can be considered your uncle-at-arms. So what is the reason for your violence towards him? There is nothing under the sun that can supercede the word of reason. You may be highly-skilled in martial arts, but can you blot all the generational hierarchies and the righteousness of the pugilistic schools out with a single wave of your hand?"

Shi Potian was lost. "What are you talking about?" he asked. "I do not understand even one sentence of what you say. When did I study martial arts at your Snow Mountain School?"

"So, we have come this far," said Bai Wanjian, "but you are still not acknowledging who you are. You call yourself Gouzazhong, heh-heh, I
 
have nothing to say if you choose to degrade yourself. But your parents are renowned heroes of righteousness in the jianghu. Yet, you are unafraid of being a disgrace to their heroic names. You do not acknowledge who your teacher is, so are you denying your parents as well?"

"You know my parents?" asked Shi Potian in delight. "Nothing is more wonderful than that! Master Bai, please tell me, where is my mother? Who is my father?" As he spoke, he got to his feet and bowed deeply, with an unusually sincere expression on his face.

Bai Wanjian was stunned, for he could not figure out the intentions behind the young man's pretence. Then, he thought: This fellow is treacherous and wicked, so he must not be dealt with according to the common principles of life. He is even willing to deny his parents for the sake of hiding his identity. Besides, his willingness to call himself a bastard shows that he has long forgotten about his forefathers and parents. Suddenly, his heart was overcome with a great sorrow. Sighing heavily, he said, "Such a beautiful character and so much talent, yet so unwilling to be good. How detestable! How regrettable!"

Shi Potian was shocked: "Master Bai, what do you mean 'detestable' and 'regrettable'? What has happened to my father and mother?" Care and concern were visible on his face as he spoke.

Realising that the young man's emotions were both spontaneous and genuine, Bai Wanjian said, "So you are not totally devoid of conscience, for your parents are still on your heart. Your father and mother are heroic and formidable people with remarkable skills in swordplay, so what danger can they be in, roaming the realm of the rivers and lakes hand-in-hand?"

Bai's statements caused the men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness to exchange puzzled looks: We know absolute nothing about the background and identity of our Clan-Leader. But now, his parents seem to be well- known people in the jianghu, people who are 'heroic and formidable with remarkable skills in swordplay'. There are not many couples in the martial arts circle who can live up to Bai Wanjian's commendation, so who are they?
 
However, Bei Haishi knew the answer at once: Could he be the son of the Twin Swords of Black and White from Xuansu Manor? If that is the case ... things will be somewhat of a bother.

Just then, Wang Wanren -- who had had the wind knocked out of him earlier
-- heaved a lengthy groan.

The groan from the man, who was being supported under the arms by Ke Wanjun and Hua Wanzi, sounded so painful that Shi Potian became very concerned. "Why did this Big Brother here suddenly fly backwards a moment ago?" he asked. "It looks as if the knock has wounded him, does it not? Mr Bei, what do you think? Does his condition look serious?"

None of those who were gathered could say that these questions were not intended to ridicule the hapless Wang Wanren, so much so that half of the men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness burst out laughing. Some of them said, "The man's injuries cannot be called 'serious', yet they were not particularly light either." Others said, "The highly skilled pugilists of the Snow Mountain School came in the middle of the night during the third watch(7) to create trouble with such power and prestige, so we thought they were really people with astonishing accomplishments in martial arts. Heh- heh, they have turned out to be so astonishing that their reputations are well-deserved."

Turning a deaf ear to the comments, Bai Wanjian said loudly: "Clan-Leader Shi, we have come today because of a private matter that concerns you and you alone. It does not involve the other friends here, so the disciples of the Snow Mountain School do not wish to engage in meaningless arguments with anyone else. Shi Zhongyu, I want to ask you only one question: Do you admit it or not?"

"Shi Zhongyu?" asked Shi Potian in surprise. "Who is Shi Zhongyu? What do you want me to admit?"

Bai Wanjian replied: "Your teacher, the Dragon of Wind and Fire, lost an arm because of your unscrupulous and evil actions. Yet, Elder Brother Feng's kindness to you was as great as the mountains.  Is there therefore any
 
shred of shame left in your heart?" He spoke with such sincerity, hoping that the young man's conscience would eventually lead him into repentance.

However, Shi Potian did not understand what these statements were about. "The Dragon of Wind and Fire, Elder Brother Feng?" he asked.   "Who is he? Why did he lose an arm because of my unscrupulous and evil actions?" What ... what unscrupulous and evil actions did I do?"

To Bai Wanjian, the young man's refusal to admit to anything was clearly a bid to force himself (Bai) into a public revelation of the tragedy of his beloved daughter's humiliation and her subsequent ravine-leaping suicide. So he became so furious that his eyes almost seemed as if they were about to pop out of his face. A loud *shua* sounded as he unsheathed his sword. Then, with a shake of his wrist and a loud *tu*, he pushed the blade back into its scabbard. Finally, he pointed to the three marks on one of pillars in the hall and said in a loud voice: "Friends, the swordplay techniques of my Snow Mountain School are lowly and unworthy of your smiles of approval. However, these swordplay techniques that have been handed down by the founder of our school would often leave six-sided snowflake-shaped scars on opponents who are fortunate enough to be stabbed with them. That is also how our school received its name."

The men in the hall looked towards the pillar, which bore a total of six marks made by the sword on its red-lacquered surface. These marks were arranged symmetrically to form the six points of a hexagon, with each point being shaped like a snowflake. Earlier, Bai Wanjian was seen pulling his sword out and putting it back within the blink of an eye, so no one would have thought that he had already stabbed the pillar six times. Since each snowflake-shaped stab was made by the movement of the wrist, the speed needed to achieve this was really incomparable indeed.

When Wang Wanren was thrown back by Shi Potian's internal strength earlier, the men in the hall had already begun to dismiss the abilities of the Snow Mountain School. However, some of them could not help but become filled with a measure of respect for the school after Bai Wanjian's exquisite display of the swordplay technique that was rarely seen and heard even within the martial arts circle itself. Others simply showed their appreciation with loud cheers.
 
Bai Wanjian raised his clasped fists and said, "Friends, I do not know how many among you are actually better than I when it comes to the use of weaponry. How then would I dare to act like the one who shows off his skill with the axe before Lu Ban the master carpenter, and display my measly skills before a gathering of experts? How would I dare to come to the headquarters of your esteemed clan and act as audaciously as I please? However, there is a matter for which I seek your witness. Seven years ago, our school had a good-for-nothing disciple called Shi Zhongyu. He was so bold and reckless that he fought with my Younger Uncle-at-Arms Liao. Consequently, Uncle Liao stabbed him six times on his left thigh as a lesson, each stroke creating a snowflake-shaped mark. While the swordplay techniques of our school are mediocre and unamazing, there is no swordplay technique from any other school that can leave such scars."

At this point, he turned and glared at Shi Potian. Then, he continued darkly: "Shi Zhongyu, you have deceived everyone here because you do not dare to reveal your true identity. Can you pull your trouser-leg up and show these friends if there are such scars on your thigh? The truth will then be differentiated from falsehood with just one look."

"You want me to pull my trouser-leg up and let everyone take a look?" asked Shi Potian in surprise.

"That is correct," answered Bai Wanjian. "If there are no such scars on your thigh, I will acknowledge that my eyes were blind. Then, I will bow before the Clan-Leader in apology for harrassing your esteemed organisation. But if there really are these scars on your thigh, what ... what then?"

Shi Potian laughed. "If there really are six sword-inflicted scars on my thigh," he said, "that would be very strange.   Why would I not know about it at all?"

Bai Wanjian, who had been keeping his eyes fixed on Shi Potian, found a chestful of self-confidence in the way the young man spoke. Therefore, he (Bai) could not help but mumble in his heart: This fellow is definitely the rascal Shi Zhongyu. Although his appearance has changed with adulthood and the way he carries himself is quite different from what it was several years ago, his facial features have remained the same. Sister Hua insisted
 
that he is the one after she slipped into this place for a look, so all of us could not have been mistaken, could we? Hence, he did not respond to Shi Potian at all.

Meanwhile, Chen Zhongzhi laughed and said, "You want to see the scars on our Clan-Leader's thigh, but our Clan-Leader wants to see the scar on your Hua- guniang's thigh. There are many people here, so it is not an appropriate place for bare bodies. Perhaps we should just allow both of them to go into an inner room together. Then, you can look at me, I can look at you, everyone can take a close and careful look at one another!"

The men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness burst into such loud and side- splitting laughter that the tiles on the roof rattled and shook.

Bai Wanjian was terribly furious, yet he simply cursed the people in a low voice: "Shameless!" Then, he turned and stood right in the centre of the hall. "Shi Zhongyu," he roared, "you have a conscience that is as guilty as a thief's, so you are unwilling to show us the scars on your thigh. In that case, you had better follow me to Lingxiao City to bring the matter to an end!" A *shua* sounded, and his sword was in his hand.

"Master Bai, why do you need to be angry?" asked Shi Potian. "You say that there are scars on my thigh, but I say that there are none. We will all take a look, so what is there to be anxious about?" As he spoke, he raised his left leg and placed it on the arm of the tigerskin-draped chair. Then, he pulled the trouser-leg up so that his skin was exposed.

The hall fell silent at once.

Suddenly, everyone gasped in shock. There were six dots on the outer side of his left thigh, with each dot having six points of its own. Although the marks on the young man's skin were not as distinct as those on the pillar, their hexagonal shapes were clearly discernable.

The one who had the greatest shock of all was none other than Shi Potian himself. He reached out and gave the six scars a vigorous rub, only to find that they were indeed part of his thigh. They were not forgeries at all. He rubbed his eyes and looked again, yet the six scars on his thigh were exactly
 
the same as the ones on the pillar. As the eighteen eyeballs on the nine disciples of the Snow Mountain School glared coldly at him, Shi Potian rubbed the left leg of his trousers and touched his shoulder. With sweat dripping from his brow, he mumbled: "The shoulder and the thigh are all scarred. Why do other people know about them, but I do not? Could I ... could I have forgotten everything that has happened before?"

He looked at Bei Haishi, only to see the latter shaking his head slowly in response. Then, he turned to Ding Dang. Ding Dang screwed her nose up, gave him a smile and made a funny face. Finally, he looked at Ding Busan. The old man pointed his index and middle fingers forward into the crowd, indicating that he should turn to force and start killing people.




* In some editions, the "previous Clan-Leader" was surnamed Dongfang.




Definitions, explanations and/or words left (mostly) in their original form: Those covered in earlier chapters are not repeated.
1.Untie [one's] shirt = In those days, shirts had front openings that were closed with short fabric ties. Buttons were not used widely by the Han- Chinese until the Qing Dynasty came into power and brought their style of dressing to the masses.

2.Dog-bear coward (gou3 xiong2) = This is a play on words with similar sounds. Since a brave/hero is known as 'ying xiong' (ying1 xiong2), a rhyming albeit slightly derogative term for its opposite, the coward, is taken from the Chinese word for "black bear" (gou3 xiong2). The character "gou3" alone also means "dog", which is another oft-used derogative for people in Chinese culture. I have chosen to translate "gou3 xiong2" as the somewhat redundant "dog-bear coward" instead of the simpler "coward" to preserve the uniqueness of this play on words.
 
3.Moon-gate (yue4 dong4 men2) = This is large circular opening in a wall that is characteristic of Chinese architecture.

4.Wing-room (xiang1 fang2) = In those days, houses were built with wings, usually one each to the east and the west of the main building. Rooms in these wings were known as "wing-rooms".

5.Jiao-ke (jiao1 ke4) = Son-in-law. It can also mean 'pampered guest'.

6.Pan Gu created the Heaven and the Earth = This is in accordance to the Chinese legend of creation and life.

7.Gu-ye, Xiao-jie (gu1 ye3, xiao3 jie3) = These are terms of address used by the servants of a young woman for the woman and her husband. The woman is known as 'xiao-jie' or 'young mistress', while her husband is known as 'gu-ye' or roughly, 'husband of the young mistress'.

8.The third watch = between 11.00 p.m. and 1.00 a.m.
 

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