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Ode to Gallantry Chapter 7

Chapter 7 - The Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School

Chen Chongzhi took a sword in both his hands and presented it horizontally to Shi Potian, whispering: "Clan-Leader, there is no need to engage them in further talk. Just settle the matter once and for all with force, for the victor will then be correct, and the vanquished wrong." Despite finding Bai Wanjian's swordplay skills superb, he suspected that the man's internal strength would definitely be beneath his clan-leader's. Since Bai's evidence was rather conclusive, the best way to end the matter would be through the use of martial arts. Even if in the unlikely event that the clan-leader succumbed to the enemy, the numerous members of the Clan of Eternal Happiness would certainly ensure that all of the offensive visitors were wiped out.

Shi Potian took the sword from Chen Chongzhi without much thought, for his mind was completely perplexed.

"Shi Zhongyu, listen up!" said Bai Wanjian in a stern voice. "I, Bai Wanjian, have come on the command of our leader, the Gentlemen of Impressive Strength and Virtue, to restore order to our institution. This is an internal matter of the Snow Mountain School, so it has nothing to do with anyone else. If it is inappropriate to settle the matter in the headquarters of the Clan of Eternal Happiness, what say you if we do it outside?"

"Set ... settle what?" asked Shi Potian, his mind still in a daze.

Ding Dang gave him a light push on the back and whispered: "Go and fight with him. Your martial arts skills are way much better than his, so you can just have him killed."
"I ... I do not want to kill him," said Shi Potian. "Why would I? Master Bai is not a bad man." As he spoke, he took two steps forward.

Bai Wanjian did not dare to have the slightest bit of negligence in his response, for he had seen how badly the young man wounded Wang Wanren with a simple wave of his sleeves. After all, he thought, the rascal had probably had an amazing encounter with the opportunity to develop such a profound level of internal strength after he left Lingxiao City. If that was the case, the young man would probably possess extraordinary skills in other areas of pugilistic practice as well. Therefore, Bai Wanjian gave his sword a shake and attacked Shi Potian from four sides and eight directions with a stroke that was known as 'The Plum and the Snow Fight for Spring' (Mei2 Xue3 Zheng1 Chun1). This stroke, which had concrete movements within those that mocked the opponent, as well as mocking ones within the concrete, made simultaneous use of the tip and the blade of the sword as flecks of snow and branches of the plum-tree respectively.

To Shi Potian, there was a sudden flash of white light before eyes, a light so bright that he could hardly tell the tip of the sword from the blade. In a moment of great fear and confusion, he waved his sleeves wildly once more. Yet, his possession of such a profound level of internal strength was a waste, for he did not know how to use it at all. The act of throwing Wang Wanren away earlier was nothing more than a stroke of sheer coincidence. Now, his wild waving was comparatively weaker. Coupled with Bai Wanjian's abilities being far better than Wang Wanren's, all that happened were two ripping sounds as his sleeves were cut away by Bai's sword, followed by the touch of cold metal on his neck. The tip of the sword was pointed at his throat.

Bai Wanjian knew that his opponents included highly-skilled pugilists that were as numerous as the clouds in the sky. Bei Haishi's skills were definitely not beneath his own, while the old man standing behind Shi Potian had such crystal-clear eyes that he too was probably a formidable pugilist. He (Bai) was in a dangerous place indeed, so how could he give his opponents space and time to act?

Having achieved his goal in a single stroke, Bai Wanjian took two quick steps forward and held Shi Potian under the ribs with his left arm. Then, he
exerted his strength and pressed his arm against two different acupoints on Shi Potian's waist. "Friends," he declared in a loud voice, "I have offended you today, but I will return to offer my apologies!"

The sight of Bai's success spurred Ke Wanjun into action at once. Lifting Wang Wanren up without waiting for instructions from his elder brother-at- arms, he began moving quickly towards the main door.

"Release our Clan-Leader!" shouted Chen Chongzhi and Mi Hengye in unison as they drew their sabre and sword. Then, with the sabre aiming for the shoulder and the sword for the legs, the duo attacked Bai Wanjian.

Bai's sword responded with a tremble, and deflected the sabre and sword one after the other. Although the two weapons were fended off in sequence, the difference between the two actions was but only an instant. Yet, Bai could feel that the internal strength exerted through the sabre was not weak. He thought: These two men are already such formidable pugilists, so if all the highly-skilled men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness launched a simultaneous attack, the nine of us will certainly die here. Hence, he moved quickly and stood against a wall. "If anyone comes up," he shouted, "I would have to kill Shi Zhongyu first before dealing with all of you."

The men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness did not expect their clan-leader to be captured within a single stroke, at least not with the kind of skills he possessed. Therefore, they could not help but be at a loss on what to do next. Ding Dang, who had panic written all over her face, kept gesturing towards Ding Busan in an effort to get him to act. But the old man simply laughed things off: That young fellow is highly skilled in martial arts. He deflected my palm effortlessly on the little boat, so how could he be captured with such ease? There must be an agenda behind this move, so why should I push ahead and spoil his plans? Let me just enjoy the excitement first.

When Ding Dang saw the grin on her grandfather's face and his lack of concern over the Shi Potian's capture, relief began to enter her heart. However, she remained rather worried because her man was in the hands of the enemy.
By then, Ke Wanjun had already placed his hands on the main door, exerting his internal strength through them in order to push the door open. The wooden poles that propped the door up from the other side creaked loudly, indicating that the door was about to open soon.

"My friend Ke, you do not need to be so impatient," said Bei Haishi, moving sideways towards him. "Let me get someone to open the door and see you out."

"Move away!" shouted Hua Wanzi, brandishing her sword as she guarded Ke Wanjun's back.

Bei Haishi reached out and made a grab for the blade with his fingers. Hua Wanzi was shocked: Is his palm not afraid of the sharp edge?
Yet, it was this very moment of distraction that cost the woman her weapon, for just as Bei Haishi's fingers came within several cun (1 cun = 3.33 centimetres) of the blade, he suddenly flicked them. A *weng* was heard. Hua Wanzi lost her grip on the sword, causing it to fall out of her hand and drop on to the ground below. Then, almost at once, Bei's right hand reached out and struck Hua on the shoulder. These two movements, akin to the falcon swooping down on the hare, were so swift that they were not beneath the speed with which Bai Wanjian had left the six marks on the pillar earlier.

Ding Busan nodded silently: The Physician Bei does indeed have some true abilities for his 'Palm Technique of the Five Elements and the Six Directions' to be so renowned in the martial arts circle.

By then, Bei Haishi was moving lightly from one side of the hall to the other, flicking a finger here and striking with a palm there, as he fell the disciples of the Snow Mountain School one by one. Each of them managed to exchange a mere three to four strokes at the most with the physician before they were struck down.

"Good skills!" said Bai Wanjian loudly. "Good Palm Technique of the Five Elements and the Six Directions! I will certainly return to seek your advice
some day!" Then, quite unexpectedly, Bai flew upwards and crashed through the roof, taking Shi Potian with him as he made his escape.

"Why do you not get your advice today?" shouted Bei Haishi after him as he leapt upwards and through the hole in the roof in pursuit. A blinding light flashed, as if ten thousand snowflakes had suddenly started to fall from the ceiling. With his body in mid-air and no weapons in his hands, Bei Haishi could hardly fend off any blows that came his way. Therefore, he executed a 'Fall of a Thousand Jin' (Qian1 Jin1 Zhui4) (1,000 jin = 500 kilogrammes) at once and forced himself to drop straight back down to the ground. The move looked rather ordinary and unamazing, but it was actually quite a feat to turn such a strong upward momentum into a downward force in the twinkling of an eye. If he had made any mistake, he would have been struck by the enemy's sword. Thus, all the highly-skilled pugilists in the hall who had witnessed the display found themselves applauding it deep in their hearts.

For Bai Wanjian, the move was all he needed to escape with Shi Potian. Bei Haishi bounced on his toes and went through the roof again in pursuit.
Ding Dang became so worried that she too wanted to go off through the hole in the roof, but Ding Busan grabbed her by the arm and whispered: "There is no hurry!" Just then, they heard a series of *peng-peng pai-pai* coming from above their heads, followed by pieces of tile and mud falling down into the hall through the hole.

Suddenly, a thin and small-sized man leapt up from among the eight Snow Mountain disciples who were lying on the ground. Moving as fast as the leopard cat and as agile as the monkey, he headed for the hole in the roof. Chen Chongzhi executed a back-hand stroke with his sabre and sliced the sole off one of escaping man's shoes, missing his foot by only a cun (3.33 centimetres).

The men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness were momentarily stunned, for they did not expect the Snow Mountain School to have another highly- skilled pugilist besides Bai Wanjian. After all, the thin and small-sized man had managed to get away even after being struck down by Bei Haishi.
Deeply concerned that the remaining seven might escape, Mi Hengye went up to each of them and struck them several times on various acupoints. By then, more than ten clan-members had already set off through the hole in pursuit of the escapees with a variety of weapons among them. They thought: These people bullied us right on our doorsteps and seized our Clan-Leader. If we do not capture them, where will the Clan of Eternal Happiness stand in the realm of the rivers and lakes? We already have seven of them, but even seventy and seven hundred of them are insufficient to compensate for the humiliation of having our Clan-Leader seized.

In addition, they thought: So long as we can detain the one surnamed Bai and exchange two or three strokes with him, all the brothers can go forth together and rescue our Clan-Leader. That would be a great act of merit indeed.

Hence, the men gathered up their courage and began to head out in different directions. The area around the headquarters of the Clan of Eternal Happiness was soon filled with noisy shouts and whistles are more and more clan-members came out in pursuit.

+ + +

Bai Wanjian could hardly believe that he had actually seized Shi Potian in a single move. Thus, after breaking through the roof and escaping from the Clan of Eternal Happiness, he thought: I am ashamed of myself! Then, as the din of pursuit grew behind him, he quickly realised that he would never be able to go very far with a captive in tow. Looking around, he saw an arched bridge over the river on his west. Since he did not have the time to give the matter further thought, he simply ducked under the arch of the bridge with Shi Potian, stood on the base of one of its pillars and pressed himself flat against the body of bridge itself.

A short while later, the men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness arrived on the southern bank of the river, and began walking up and down amidst shouts and whistles. Seven or eight of them ran over the arched bridge, crossing from its southern end to the northern one.
By then, Bai Wanjian had already made a decision: If the enemy finds my trail, I would probably have to kill the young fellow first. A moment later, he heard the arrival of yet another group of pursuers from the Clan of Eternal Happiness, this time searching the river along its bank.

Suddenly, a loud *la* sounded from a clump of grass by the bank. Then, someone was heard running off into the east. Bai Wanjian was delighted, for he could tell from the footfalls that the person was his younger brother- at-arms, Wang Wanyi. Wang Wanyi's qinggong was considered the best in the Snow Mountain School, for he could run so fast that he almost seem to fly. Bai Wanjian knew that Wang Wanyi had come to lead the pursuers away, so that he (Bai) could seize the opportunity to escape from danger.

Sure enough, the men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness made a bee-line for Wang.

Bai Wanjian thought: There are quite a number of brilliant and knowledgeable individuals in the Clan of Eternal Happiness, so how can we think that they would give me the opportunity to escape with ease? As he hesitated about his next move, he heard the sounds of sculls (oars used to propel boats from their sterns) breaking through the water. Three open boats came sailing by from the east. Two of them carried melons and vegetables, while the third was fully loaded with rice-straw. The villagers in the vicinity were taking their produce to Zhenjiang City for sale.

Sailing nose-to-tail, the three boats passed under the arch of the bridge. Bai Wanjian was delighted. When the last boat passed in front of him, he jumped forward and landed on the straw with Shi Potian in tow. The pile of straw was so high that it nearly touched the top of the arch, so the villagers on the boat did not realise that two people had landed lightly on it. As Bai sank into the pile of straw, he pulled Shi Potian with him and tunnelled out of sight.

The boat sailed until it reached the firewood market before pulling up to the bank and dropping anchor. The villagers on the boat hopped ashore and headed to the teahouse for some tea.
Bai Wanjian popped his head out of the straw and looked around. Seeing no one nearby, he leapt ashore with Shi Potian at once. When he noticed a boat with a dark-coloured shelter on the western side of the wharf, he went over to it immediately and put a foot on its bow. Then, he took out a piece of silver that weighed three liang (150 grammes) and tossed it on to the deck. "Boatman," he said, "my friend here is very ill. Take us to Yangzhou quickly. This ingot of silver is the fare. You need not find us change for it."

The sight of such a large piece of silver brought the boatman so much joy that he uttered his agreement to take Bai Wanjian to his destination several times. Then, he took up a pole and pushed the boat away from the wharf. The boat took several turns and soon entered a canal for its journey to the north.

Bai Wanjian sat hidden in the cabin of the boat. He knew that the Clan of Eternal Happiness was so powerful in the area that the men of the clan would come running as soon as the slightest bit of information was leaked. Bai Wanjian weighed the situation he had on hand: I am fortunate to capture the rascal Shi Zhongyu, but seven of my siblings-at-arms are now in danger at the Clan of Eternal Happiness. How am I going to rescue them?

Besides the mixed emotions of gladness and anxiety in his heart, he also felt rather afraid, for he was concerned that Shi Potian would use pretence in an attempt to escape. Therefore, he struck the young man on several acupoints at intervals that were less than the time it took to brew a pot of tea (about once every 15 minutes). By the time the boat entered the Long River (Chang2 Jiang1)(1), Shi Potian had already had forty to fifty different acupoints on his body sealed by Ban Wanjian.

By and by, Bai said, "Boatman, just keep on sailing downstream. Here is another five liang (250 grammes) of silver."

The boatman was overjoyed. "Thank you for your great generosity, sir," he said. "My boat is too small for the winds and waves in the middle of the river. But if we sail close to the shore, we would still be able to carry on."

"It is best if we sail downstream along the southern bank," said Bai Wanjian.
After travelling for more than twenty li (10 km), Bai saw a small yellow- walled temple on the shore. He stood on the bow at once and gave a loud whistle. A whistle from the temple answered him soon after that. "Pull in to the shore," Bai said. However, by the time the boatman steered the little vessel to the bank of the river, put away the steering pole and began taking out the gangplank, Bai Wanjian had already leapt ashore with Shi Potian.

A moment later, more than ten people came running out of the temple towards Bai. Shouting happily, they turned out to be a second group of disciples from the Snow Mountain School who had been sent to intercept the earlier one. When they saw the brocade-dressed young man in Bai's grasp, they said, "Elder Brother Bai, this is "

Bai Wanjian responded by throwing Shi Potian heavily on to the ground. "Brothers," he said in indignation, "I have been fortunate to succeed in my mission, for I have captured the chief culprit at last. Do you not recognise him at all?"

When the men looked at Shi Potian again, they saw someone who vaguely resembled Shi Zhongyu, the unruly young man who escaped from Lingxiao City years ago. Consequently, the men became so angry that some began to kick him. Others spat on him. Then, an older disciple said, "We had better not injure him. Brother Bai has seized victory the moment his battle-steed arrived, for he has succeeded in his mission as soon as he came to this place. It is indeed an occasion of great joy and celebration."

However, Bai Wanjian shook his head. "Although I have captured the rascal," he said, "I have left seven siblings-at-arms danger. The loss actually outweighs the gain."

As they spoke, the men made their way back to the small temple. Two of the Snow Mountain disciples picked Shi Potian up between them and followed the others indoors as well.

The temple had once housed the village god, but now it lay in ruins. There were no longer any monks or attendants there. Due to the isolated location of the temple and the absence of passers-by, the disciples of the Snow Mountain School decided to use the place for shelter and contact.
When Bai Wanjian entered the temple, his younger brothers-at-arms served him a meal of rice and vegetables so that he could eat before the group discussed its next move. Yet the discussion was only an activity in name, for there was already a well-thoughtout plan in Bai's mind. Once this plan was laid out, the men would naturally do their very best to carry it out.

"We must send the rascal to Lingxiao City as quickly as possible," said Bai Wanjian, "and hand him over to the School-Leader, so that he can be dealt with. Seven of our siblings-at-arms are in the hands of the enemy, but I think the Clan of Eternal Happiness will not dare to do them any harm because we have the clan-leader with us. Brother Zhang, Brother Wang(2) and Brother Zhao are all southerners, so they will remain in Zhenjiang City, disguise themselves and gather information."

Zhang, Wang and Zhao agreed.

Bai Wanjian went on: "Brother Wang Wanyi is very intelligent and resourceful. Once the three of you make contact with him, listen to all his instructions. Do not think that you can act like big brothers just because you joined the school before he did, and eventually spoil our larger plans."

Zhang, Wang and Zhao had always held their Elder Brother Bai in considerable awe, so they voiced their agreement several times.

"We will wait here until it is dark," said Bai Wanjian. "Then, we will travel east until Jiangyin before crossing the Long River. This round-about way back to Lingxiao City will mean a longer journey, but the Clan of Eternal Happiness would never think that we have chosen such a route. In fact, they would have gone all the way to the north of the River in pursuit of us by now." He dreaded the Clan of Eternal Happiness, and did nothing to hide it when he spoke.

Then, after checking through the temple and its surroundings, Bai and his siblings-at-arms gathered for another discussion. Sighing, Bai said, "Our trip to the Central Region has enabled us to burn Xuansu Manor down and capture the rebellious Shi Zhongyu, but Brothers Sun and Zhu died unnatural deaths. Furthermore, Brother Geng and the others are now in the hands of the enemy. This has really reduced the spirit and morale of our
school by a great extent. In the final analysis, it is still my fault for poor leadership."

Huyan Wanshan, the oldest in age among the men, spoke up: "Brother Bai, you need not blame yourself for these unfortunate events. The real reason for the poor show is the lack of accomplishment in our practice of martial arts. All of us received the same instructions from our teacher, but except for Brothers Bai and Feng, we have managed to only scratch the surface of our teacher's pugilistic knowledge. We have not learnt the essence of our school's skills."

Another disciple, a plump fellow named Wen Wanfu, said, "When we compete against one another in Lingxiao City, we come away thinking that we have amazing skills. We never thought that the opposite would be true once we go out. Brother Bai, since we have nothing to do while we wait for darkness to fall, please give us some pointers on our moves."

When the other disciples voiced their agreement, Bai Wanjian replied: "When Father passes his pugilistic skills on to all of you, he does it without the slightest bit of favouritism. He teaches everyone exactly the same things. Look at Brother Feng. He practises more diligently than I, so his accomplishments are greater than mine."

"Everyone knows that Teacher does not show any favouritism at all," said Wen Wanfu. "However, we regret our gross dim-wittedness that stops us from understanding the secrets of success."

Bai Wanjian replied: "Since our journey back to Lingxiao City may not necessarily be peaceful or uneventful, every additional swordplay move learnt would lead to a measure of increase in our strength. Brother Huyan, Brother Wen, go ahead and exchange some moves. Brother Zhao, Brother Wang, go outside and keep watch. If you notice any enemy activity, sound the alarm at once."

Zhao and Wang were rather reluctant to go outside because they would miss the opportunity of seeing their Elder Brother Bai give pointers on swordplay moves. However, they did not dare to disobey Bai's instructions, so they hurried outside to their posts.
Meanwhile, Huyan Wanshan and Wen Wanfu stirred themselves, took their swords up and stood facing each other. Wen Wanfu, who stood in the position of lower priority (xia4 shou3), said, "Elder Brother Huyan, after you!"

Huyan Wanshan turned the hilt of the sword away and raised his clasps fists towards Bai Wanjian. "Elder Brother Bai, please instruct us," he said.

As Bai Wanjian acknowledged the request with a nod, Huyan Wanshan turned the top of his sword upwards in a sudden move and sent it sideways towards Wen Wanfu's left shoulder. It was none other than 'The Mature Branch Slashes Violently' (Lao3 Zhi1 Heng2 Xie2), one of the strokes in the swordplay techniques of the Snow Mountain School.

These swordplay techniques were created as a set by the founder of the school, who loved the plum-blossoms that grew in profusion both inside and outside Lingxiao City. Consequently, he had incorporated a number of simple but graceful movements into the swordplay techniques to depict the shapes of the flowers, sepals, branches and trunks of the plum-blossom tree.

The branches and trunks were prized for their withered appearance, while the flowers and sepals were valued for their dense multi-layered growth. Therefore, when the swords of Huyan Wanshan and Wen Wanfu engaged each other in battle, their movements were sometimes simple and unsophisticated, and sometimes complex and impenetrable. When the men swapped for a particular technique from the set for another, the form of snowflakes flying and dancing in the air could be seen. At the same time, the power of the howling north winds could be felt. The swiftness of the men's strikes was akin to the wind-swept swaying of the plum-blossom tree. Periodically, the churning sands of the vast deserts of the north-west, as well as the furious galloping of camels and horses, could also be seen in the movements of the men's bodies.

By then, Shi Potian had been cast aside, for no one bothered to pay him any further attention. Terribly bored, he began to watch Huyan Wanshan and Wen Wanfu as they practised their swordplay skills. Although Shi's internal strength had reached a consummate level, he knew nothing about fist or sword techniques. Therefore, he did not understand the principles and the
ingenuity behind the attacking, defending, advancing and retreating moves that the two men made with their swords. All he saw was only the urgency of the duel, which he watched with considerable relish.

After a while, Shi Potian found the men's swords stabbing to and fro as if they were at play. Each sword could clearly be sent a little further forward to stab the opponent, but it seemed to come to a sudden stop whenever the opportunity presented itself. Then, the sword would simply fall short of success, as if there was a lack of a final effort. Shi Potian thought: The men are brothers-at-arms who are just practising their swordplay skills. They do not really want to kill each other, so they would naturally not complete their moves.

Suddenly, Bai Wanjian shouted: "Stop!" Walking slowly towards the middle of the hall, he took the sword from Huyan Wanshan's hand and struck up a pose. "All this stroke needs to seize victory is a forward move of about two cun (6.66 centimetres)," he said.

"Yes!" said Shi Potian. "Master Bai is right. All this stroke needs to seize victory is a forward move of about two cun. Why does that Master Huyan not deliberately push the sword forward?"

Huyan Wanshan nodded. "Elder Brother Bai, your advice is correct," he said. "However, when my 'Boundless Sand-Storm' (Feng1 Sha1 Mang3 Mang3) reaches this particular point, my internal strength is exhausted. So I do not have any means to push forward even by half a cun (1.67 centimetres)."

"The cultivation of internal strength is not achieved within a day and a night," said Bai Wanjian with a smile. "However, the lack of internal strength can be remedied with variations in one's swordplay moves. To be honest, the key to the internal strength cultivation techniques of our school may not necessarily contain anything remarkable. While we can say that the techniques of the various pugilistic schools have their respective advantages, the relatively short period of time that has passed since the establishment of the Snow Mountain School probably puts us at a disadvantage, compared to the centuries of experience that the Great Schools of Shaolin, Wudang, E-mei and Kunlun have accummulated.
However, the uniqueness of our swordplay techniques can truly be considered unparalleled within the four seas. Brothers, when you face the enemy, you must play our strengths against the enemy's weaknesses. Do not enter into duels of internal strength; instead, make every effort to seize victory through the exquisite and subtle variations of our swordplay techniques."

Nodding their heads in unison, Bai's younger brothers-at-arms thought: Elder Brother Bai's words have identified the most important points of our swordplay techniques.

When the owner of Lingxiao City and the leader of the Snow Mountain School, the Gentleman of Impressive Strength and Virtue Bai Zizai, was young, he had the good fortune to consume a miraculous medicinal concoction that resulted in a sudden increase in his internal strength. The increase was so great that it was equivalent to fifty to sixty years of practice and cultivation by an ordinary man. Consequently, the level of Bai Zizai's internal strength exceeded those of highly-skilled pugilists from Shaolin and Wudang despite the ordinary and unremarkable techniques of internal strength cultivation used by the Snow Mountain School. Since the extraordinary medicinal concoction that Bai Zizai consumed could only be found by a sheer stroke of luck, his own disciples had ended up terribly short-changed in the crucial area of internal strength. Yet, the Gentleman of Impressive Strength and Virtue was so anxious to excel and outdo others that he never told his disciples about the weaknesses of their school. Hence, as the Snow Mountain School isolated itself in Lingxiao City and built its own kingdom, the disciples came to believe that both the internal and external techniques of their school were peerless ... until they arrived in the Central Region and suffered one setback after another. It was only after Bai Wanjian's plain and truthful explanation that these disciples finally understood their lot.

Bai Wanjian went on to demonstrate and explain each of the exquisite variations in their swordplay techniques. When Huyan Wanshan and Wen Wanfu were done exchanging strokes with each other, they were replaced by another pair of disciples. Then, Bai sent Huyan and Wen to relieve Zhao and Wang, who had been on guard-duty outside.
The men's recent experiences had given them a heartfelt understanding of what it meant to use the sword: that the difference between life and death was found in but a single stroke that was not executed to the highest level in terms of skill and completeness. Therefore, none of them wavered in their focus and concentration as they began to train themselves, for they were no longer being diligent merely for the sake of practising like they once did in Lingxiao City.

The strokes that the men used as they trained with one another were almost all alike. With Bai Wanjian's continuous explanations, the intelligent Shi Potian had developed a rough grasp of all seventy-two strokes found in the swordplay techniques of the Snow Mountain School by the time the seventh pair of disciples took to the floor. Although he did not understand or remember the meanings of the names of the strokes, or comprehend all the exquisite variations found in them, he could already visualise how he could fend off an opponent's on-coming sword and launch a counter-attack. These visualisations also fitted accurately into the main ideas behind the swordplay techniques of the Snow Mountain School.

With everyone's attention focused on learning, the active learners soon forgot about their tiredness and fatigue, while the observers did not feel hungry at all. This went on until all eighteen of the Snow Mountain disciples had had their lessons. By then, with the set of swordplay techniques demonstrated nine times by nine different pairs of disciples, Shi Potian had already memorised six- to seven-tenths of the entire routine.

Suddenly, a loud crash was heard. Bai Wanjian had thrown his sword on to the ground. As he let out a heavy sigh, his brothers-at-arms looked at one another in dismay, for they did not know what he intended to do. As they watched, his eyes turned towards Shi Potian, who was lying on the floor. "After this rascal entered our school," he said gloomily, "he understood the essence of our pugilistic arts within two or three short years. While his finesse in executing the techniques could not be compared with those of our uncles-at-arms who have had ten or twenty years of training, there was already a significant accomplishment in terms of flexibility and variation. The swordplay techniques of our school place a premium on agility and flexibility, so Elder Brother Feng was proud to have such a student. In
addition, the leader of our school viewed him with favour and harboured hopes that he would bring glory to the school. Sigh ... sigh ... sigh ..." Regret could clearly be seen on his face as he sighed thrice.

The Frost of the North-West Bai Wanjian was not only highly skilled in martial arts; he was also above most in terms of knowledge and insight. After spending half the day instructing eighteen brothers-at-arms in swordplay, he realised that the men's progress were held back by their innate abilities. They could study diligently and practise as much as they wanted, but they would hardly achieve the heights that they desired. Consequently, the thought that the school would have no successors filled him with considerable regret.

Shi Zhongyu was initially a fine disciple -- a selection in a thousand, one might say -- yet, he wilfully chose not to be good.

By then, Bai Wanjian had become so absorbed in the swordplay techniques and their variations that he had momentarily forgotten about the sorrow of the school and the humiliation of his family. Thus, he could not help but feel a deep pain in his heart about Shi Zhongyu.

When Shi Potian noticed Bai Wanjian looking at him with such deep love and concern in his eyes, he could not help but respond with silent gratitude. He did not understand why Bai looked at him in that manner, of course.

The temple was enveloped in total silence.

A moment passed. Bai Wanjian gave the hilt of the sword on the ground a light tap with his right foot. The sword jumped up as if it were alive and leapt right into Bai's hand. Then, he walked calmly out into the centre courtyard and spoke in a loud voice: "Which men of achievements have arrived? Would you please come down and talk?"

The other disciples of the Snow Mountain School jumped with fright: Are the highly skilled men of the Clan of Eternal Happiness here? Huyan Wanshan and Wen Wanfu are standing guard outside, but why have they not raised the alarm? The visitors have come in silence, but how did Elder Brother Bai know about them?
A gentle tap later, two other people stood in the courtyard. One was a man dressed entirely in black, while the other was a married woman in a white shirt and skirt. She had a red belt around her waist and a large red flower in her hair, obvious indications that she was not in mourning. Both of them carried long swords on their backs. The man's sword had a black tassel that fluttered in the wind, while the woman's had a white one. The visitors had touched the ground at the same time when they leapt down, producing only a single light thud when they landed. In addition to this particular display of ability, the visitors' valiant and heroic bearing had everyone taken by surprise.

Bai Wanjian turned his sword downwards and held his fists up in a clasp. "So Manor-Master Shi of Xuansu Manor and his wife have arrived," he said in a loud voice.

Indeed, the visitors who had leapt into the courtyard were none other than the master of Xuansu Manor, Shi Qing, and his wife, Min Rou.

A smile appeared on Shi Qing's face. Raising his clasped fists, he said, "When Brother Bai visited our manor, we were not at hand to welcome you. We are sorry for being unable to perform the duties of the host."

The Snow Mountain disciples who had met Shi Qing and his wife in Hou Jian Ji before, had all been captured by the Clan of Eternal Happiness, so no one in the current group knew who the couple was. When they heard that the Shis had actually arrived, they could not help but mumble in their hearts: We wonder if they know that we have already burnt their manor down.

Then, to the disciples' surprise, Bai Wanjian went straight to the point: "We initially travelled east from the Western Region in search of your son. When we could not find him, we burnt your manor down in a fit of anger."

The smile on Shi Qing's face did not fade away. "Our manor was not constructed well in the first place," he said. "Since you, Brother Bai, do not find it pleasant to the eye, you have had it burnt down on my behalf. That is very good, very good indeed! I must express my gratitude for the mercy that you have shown, for you chased everyone out of the manor before
setting it on fire. Your benevolence and kindness is evident because you did not even burn a chicken or a dog to death."

"The male and female servants at your manor have not done anything wrong," said Bai Wanjian, "so how would we dare to hurt anyone for no reason? How then could we bother you with the conveyance of your gratitude?"

"The virtuous men of the Snow Mountain School have always loved my son deeply," responded Shi Qing, "but I regret that the child has not learnt to be good. His wilfulness and defiance is a betrayal of the high expectations that Elder Bai, Brother Feng and Brother Bai have harboured for him. My wife and I are indebted to you, yet we are once again ashamed. Is Elder Bai well? Is Old Mrs Bai well?" At this point, Shi Qing and Min Rou bowed as if they were paying their respects to Bai Wanjian's parents in person.

Bai returned the gesture and replied, "My father is healthy and well, thank you. However, my mother is no longer in Lingxiao City because of your son." By then, his face had clouded over with worry.

"Old Mrs Bai possesses consummate skills in martial arts," said Shi Qing. "She enjoys high prestige among her peers and commands universal respect. Everyone in the realm of the rivers and lakes holds her in reverence because of the countless acts of philanthropy that she has performed in her life. Now that she has gone on a short trip to drive away the cares on her heart, she is certain to be healthy and well."

Bai Wanjian replied: "Thank you for your words of gold, Manor-Master Shi. May they be true. However, my mother is already advanced in years. As her son, I cannot help but worry as she braves the winds and frosts among the rivers and lakes."

"That, Brother Bai, is the mind of a filial man," said Shi Qing. "It is natural and normal in human relationships for children to be filial and obedient to their parents, and for parents to show concern for their children. When sons and daughters engage in preposterous and unworthy behaviours, their parents can only take them home with pain-filled hearts and administer firm discipline."
Now that the subject had been broached, Bai Wanjian said, "Manor-Master Shi, you and your wife are admired throughout the martial arts circle as valiant heroes. I remember seeing a plaque in the main hall of Xuansu Manor that bore the words 'In Sharp Contrast' (Hei1 Bai2 Fen1 Ming2). This probably refers to your ability to make a clear distinction between right and wrong, as well as your strong sense of justice and chivalry, instead of merely standing for the power and prestige of the Twin Swords of Black and White in the realm of the rivers and lakes."

"That is correct," answered Shi Qing. "We really do not deserve to be commended about our sense of justice and chivalry. Since we are all pugilists, we should not be ambiguous on what is right and what is wrong. Yet, I wonder: where has the wooden plaque that bears the words 'In Sharp Contrast' gone?"

Bai Wanjian was taken aback for a moment, before making a calm response: "I have burnt it!"

"Very good!" said Shi Qing. "Our son entered the Snow Mountain School as a student, so if he violated the rules of the school, he should be dealt with by the elders of the school. These elders could have him beaten or killed without any questions from his parents, for this is one of the rules of the martial arts circle. When we last met in Hou Jian Ji, we handed our Twin Swords of Black and White over to your school. We also made it clear that we would take our son to Lingxiao City and exchange him for the swords. Now, did such an incident take place?"

After meeting up with Geng Wanzhong, Ke Wanjun and the others, Bai Wanjian had indeed heard about the matter. That day, after Geng and the others lost the twin swords, they had initially attributed the loss to a trick by Shi Qing and his wife. Then, after meeting and questioning a group of pathetic errand-runners and sedan-chair bearers who seemed to be fleeing from someone or something, they had found out that the occupants of the sedan-chair were actually an adult and a child. The descriptions of the duo and their clothes had indicated that they were none other than the Resident of the Skyscraping Cliff Xie Yanke and the little beggar. (Please refer to Chapter 2 for the details).
Bai Wanjian had long heard that Xie Yanke was very highly skilled in martial arts. Coupled with Xie's uncertain whereabouts, the task of retrieving the Twin Swords of Black and White was really a terribly difficult one. Now that Shi Qing had brought the subject up, Bai could not help but turn slightly red. "That is correct," he said. "Your swords are not here at the moment. We will naturally make a special effort to return them another day."

Shi Qing laughed: "Brother Bai, your words have underestimated me by error. My wife and I are not particularly fastidious about being 'In Sharp Contrast'. You have already detained our son, but you have not released our weapons to us. So I wonder which rule in the martial arts circle that you are adhering to."

"What then do you think should be done, Manor-Master Shi?" asked Bai Wanjian.

"Once spoken, the words of a true man cannot be retrieved even by horses," answered Shi Qing. "If you want the child, you cannot have the swords. If you want the swords, you cannot have the child."

Bai Wanjian was actually a man who was worthy of his name. He valued trustworthiness and kept his promises, so he was really ashamed that the Twin Swords of Black and White had been lost while they were in the possession of his school. Since he had let Shi Qing down, he no longer had any logical reasons to engage in lame arguments. Yet, when he discussed the matter earlier with Geng Wanzhong and the others, they had talked about the possibility of Shi Qing being in cahoots with Xie Yanke. If that was the case, Shi Qing could have asked Xie Yanke to snatch the swords after they were given up. Furthermore, Shi Zhongyu had caused the death of his (Bai Wanjian's) only beloved daughter. Now that the great culprit had been captured, how could he be released simply on the word of another man?

Hence, Bai replied: "I am unable to make a decision on this matter by myself. Please forgive me, Manor-Master Shi. As for your swords, I will take it upon myself to ensure their safe return. If I am incompetent and unable to hand the Twin Swords of Black and White over, I will chop my
head off in front of your manor as a gesture of apology." He spoke with enough determination to cut through nails and iron bars, so there was no leeway left for any alternative action.

Shi Qing knew that a man of Bai Wanjian's reputation would certainly keep his word, so he had to be believed when he said he would give his life up upon failing to return the twin swords. Yet, Shi Qing could not just stand there and look helplessly at his only beloved son, who lay on the filthy dirt- covered ground. He had to rescue him regardless of what the issues were.

As for Min Rou, her eyes had not left Shi Potian from the moment she stepped into the hall. She had been separated from her beloved son for a long time, and now that they had met again in this strange place, she wanted to rush forward, sweep him up in her arms and hold him against her chest in a warm and loving embrace. In fact, tears were already rolling back and forth in her eyes, just short of spilling down her cheeks. Hence, regardless of what Bai Wanjian said, she did not hear a single thing.

However, she had always obeyed her husband's decisions, so she stood beside Shi Qing without uttering a single word during the entire time.

"Brother Bai, that is an overstatement!" said Shi Qing. "What value do our swords possess? How can they be mentioned in the same breath as your life that is worth ten thousand pieces of gold? But as people who roam the realm of the rivers and lakes, we know that most matters cannot depart from the word of reason. The swordplay techniques of the Snow Mountain School may be formidable and you may have many people here, but you still cannot take advantage of us. You cannot have the swords and the boy at the same time! Brother Bai, my wife and I want to take the boy away today."

As he uttered the last word, his left shoulder moved almost imperceptibly. It was a signal to his wife to unsheath her sword and attack the other party together with him.

In a flash of cold light, Shi Qing and Min Rou's swords were already on their way towards Bai Wanjian. When the swords were a chi (33.33
centimetres) away from Bai's chest, they came to an abrupt stop, as if they were being held back by a powerful force.

"After you, Brother Bai!" said Shi Qing, unwilling to launch a sneak attack on his opponent. If Bai Wanjian did not unsheath his sword and use it in defence, the couple's swords would not go forth either.

Eyeing the tips of the twin swords, Bai Wanjian took half a step forward.

The swords in Shi Qing and Min Rou's hands retreated, maintaining that single chi of space between their tips and Bai's chest.

Then, Bai Wanjian slid a step backwards. When Shi Qing and his wife pushed their swords forward, two clangs were heard. Bai had unsheathed his sword in defence, causing all three blades to erupt in a flurry of movements. Shi Qing had originally used the Black Sword, but now, his sword was made of a type of blue steel that glistened and glowed with a greenish light. Hence, the clashes of the three swords filled the entire hall with an icy chill.

Meanwhile, the other disciples of the Snow Mountain School stood against the wall with their swords in hand, watching the battle with rapt attention. They had always been in awe of their Elder Brother Bai's swordplay skills, so despite the one-against-two situation, they were confident that he would triumph.

Initially, Shi Qing and Min Rou could be seen launching simultaneous attacks from different directions with exquisite movements and strokes. However, after sixty to seventy exchanges, the speed of their movements increased so much that the individual strokes could no longer be seen.

Bai Wanjian used the Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School, which consisted of seventy-two moves. His fellow disciples were very familiar with these moves, so they found them ordinary and unamazing. However, when they were used by Bai in offence and defence against the exquisite skills of Shi Qing and Min Rou, these seemingly ordinary moves began to exude great power.
There was only a single candle with a dim flame in the hall of the temple, but the light that reflected off the three swords amidst the shadows of the pugilists was dazzlingly bright to the eye. The battle itself was fused with heart-stopping danger, for any move made with the slightest error would mean bloodshed in the hall.

While their swords reflected the light of the candle, the faces of the three pugilists were bathed alternately in darkness and light. Bai Wanjian appeared proud and aloof, while Shi Qing seemed amiable and at peace. As for Min Rou, she had not lost any of her usual warmth, elegance, gentleness and finesse. From these countenances alone, the three pugilists did not look any different from when they had met and exchanged greetings earlier. Yet, the vicious and ruthless moves they made with their swords were obvious indications that they were battling one another with all they had.

+ + +

When Shi Qing and his wife entered the hall of the temple earlier, Shi Potian had recognised Min Rou as the kind-hearted woman who had given him some silver in Hou Jian Ji years ago. However, the couple had talked unceasingly with Bai Wanjian as soon as they had come inside. Then, they had unsheathed their swords and begun to fight. Therefore, Shi Potian had no opportunity to open his mouth and identify himself. As for the conversation that had taken place among the three, Shi Potian did not understand a single word of it at all. He could only gather that Shi Qing wanted Bai Wanjian to return two swords and a child of some sort. He knew what the Twin Swords of Black and White were, but it never crossed his mind that the subject of the three pugilists' contention was himself.

Having seen the eighteen disciples of the Snow Mountain School practise their swordplay skills earlier, Shi Potian assumed that the three pugilists had unsheathed their swords and begun fighting for the same purpose of polishing their skills. After all, the three did not exchange a single word of anger, blame or abuse. At the same time, their countenances were very calm.

By then, Shi Potian was already familiar with the 72-Stroke Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School. The sight of Bai Wanjian
executing these strokes with natural dexterity, vigour and viciousness brought him freedom of heart and ease of spirit.

After a while, he turned his attention to the techniques exhibited by Shi Qing and his wife. Almost at once, he realised that their moves were very different from each other's as well as that of Bai Wanjian. Shi Qing's moves alternated between being open and guarded, with all of them coming together in a tightly woven and very reliable set of techniques. On the other hand, Min Rou's moves flowed with the battle, for she used the sword as if it was a narrow length of fabric. Although Shi Qing's techniques were different from his wife's, their respective use of strength and grace, the Yang and the Yin, the linear and the non-linear, high and low speeds, as well as divergent methods of internal strength execution, complemented one another. Consequently, their techniques worked as one against the sword of Bai Wanjian.

Shi Qing and his wife were originally brother- and sister-at-arms during their days of pugilistic training at the Taoist Temple of Greater Clarity (Shang4 Qing1 Guan4). As their feelings for each other grew during this period, their mutual affinity began to show in their way they handled their swords. In the twenty-odd years of marriage that followed, there was never a day in which they were apart. Neither was there a day when they stopped practising their swordplay skills together. Therefore, they had already reached the point where each knew the intentions in the other's heart, as if the two were one. The knowledge of the Yin and the Yang, as well as the concepts of union and separation in swordplay, that Shi Qing and his wife possessed could not be matched by any other pair of pugilists in the martial arts circle.

Shi Potian did not understand this advanced principle of swordplay at all.

+ + +

The swordplay skills and internal strength that Shi Qing and his wife had were each comparable to Bai Wanjian's. Therefore, Bai would have crumbled under their combined onslaught, if not for the swiftness and ferocity of his swordplay skills. Furthermore, Min Rou was a gentle person by nature, so she often left a three-tenth leeway in the execution of her
strokes. Consequently, the three pugilists could fight for a longer period of time.

But Min Rou's fragile and timid appearance belied her ability with the sword, for her skills were not beneath that of her husband's. Shortly after Bai Wanjian executed his seventieth stroke in the fight, he was almost slashed on two consecutive occasions by Min Rou's blade. He groaned inwardly, but he was so strong and unyielding by nature that he would rather die under the couple's swords than to admit defeat. As time went by, his offensive and defensive positions became increasingly disadvantaged.

A few of the disciples of Snow Mountain School soon noticed that something was wrong, so one of them called out: "You are fighting two against one. How unreasonable! Manor-Master Shi, if you have the guts, fight Elder Brother Bai alone. If you want to do in a group, we will all join in as well."

Shi Qing laughed. "Is the Dragon of Wind and Fire, Elder Brother Feng, here?" he asked. "If Brother Feng is here, he could join hands with Brother Bai. Then, the four of us can have some fun in comparative swordplay." His words made things very clear: Except for Feng Wanli, the other disciples of the Snow Mountain School were not necessarily capable of partnering Bai Wanjian in the fight. With Bai as their only match at the moment, Shi Qing and his wife were in a position of great advantage. But if Bai took their only beloved son to Lingxiao City, how could the boy still continue living?

There were altogether almost twenty disciples from the Snow Mountain School in the temple. Shi Qing and his wife could each take ten of them on, because besides Bai Wanjian, the others were mediocre pugilists. Then again, who told the Snow Mountain School not to send more capable men out from their midst?

Meanwhile, Bai Wanjian became angry at Shi Qing's mention of Feng Wanli: Elder Brother Feng had an arm chopped off by Father merely because he had taken your devilish son in as his student, so how could you have the nerve to speak about him?
A highly skilled pugilist could not allow himself to be emotionally distracted during a fight. Bai Wanjian was already in a precarious position. Now that he had been angered, his execution of the stroke 'The Bright Camel with the Feet of a Fine Horse' (Ming2 Tuo2 Jun4 Zu3) was inevitably compromised.

Shi Qing saw the weakness in the move at once. Exercising his internal strength as he lifted his sword in defence, he caused Bai Wanjian's blade to adhere lightly to his own. Bai responded by sliding away in a quick burst of strength, but Min Rou's sword appeared between the two men's blades and headed directly for Bai's chest. All these moves happened within a lightning-fast instance in time.

Bai Wanjian closed his eyes, for he knew that the sword would pierce his heart. There was absolutely no way that he could fend it off.

To his surprise, Min Rou's sword came within half a chi (16.67 centimetres) of his chest before going into an immediate retraction. Then, the woman and her husband leapt away shoulder-to-shoulder before returning their swords to their respective scabbards without uttering a word at all.

Bai Wanjian opened his eyes. Turning pale, he thought: Their intention in sparing my life cannot be any clearer. They want to take their son away. I have lost, so how could I pester them for another fight, and stop them from leaving? Even if we fought again, it would be difficult for a pair of fists to defeat four hands. I would not succeed in defeating the couple at all.

He thought about his beloved daughter, whose death was caused by the couple's son. He also thought about the team that he had led to the Central Region, of which seven members had been captured by the Clan of Eternal Happiness. He had managed to capture Shi Zhongyu in return, but now the captive was lost. He had regarded the Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School with pride all his life, but after their failure to defeat the Twin Swords of Xuansu Manor, his own heroic reputation flowed away like the water in a stream.

In a twinkling, Bai Wanjian became so disheartened that he could only stand and stare blankly into space.
By then, Huyan Wanshan and Wen Wanfu had already heard about the goings-on and returned to the temple. When they saw how dejected their brother was, they said, "'They' are trying to overcome few with many, so can we not follow their example?"

Almost immediately, eighteen men raised their swords and attacked Shi Qing and Min Rou from all directions.

"Elder Brother Bai," said Shi Qing, "although I have gained the upper hand working together with my wife against you, victory and defeat have not been determined yet. Take this!" He raised his sword and sent it towards Bai Wanjian.

Bai had just had his life spared by his opponents, so in accordance to his status as a pugilist, he could not start another fight with the same opponents within such a short period of time. However, now that Shi Qing had sent his sword out on his own accord, Bai could actually make his defence. He thought: All right, I will fight you one-on-one to the death. Lifting his sword, he moved his body aside and struck out in response.

This fight between Bai Wanjian and Shi Qing was naturally different from the earlier one where Bai had gone against two opponents alone and found himself being pinned down repeatedly. Although he had been able to put up a very tight defence, he had had great difficulty launching suitable counter- attacks. Every attack against Shi Qing at that time had to be guarded against raids by Min Rou, while every stab taken at Min Rou had to be accompanied by a corresponding stroke against Shi Qing.

Now, battling the opponent one-on-one, with a single sword against another, and reeling from the shame of his previous defeat, Bai Wanjian went all out as soon as he began and executed the 72-Stroke Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School in incisive detail.

Shi Qing was shocked: The reputation of the Frost of the North-West is not undeserved. He is indeed a first-class swordsman of our time! Hence, Shi Qing stirred himsef up and began to execute the skills that he had learnt throughout his life. He thought: It must be made known to you that the Swordplay Techniques of the Taoist Temple of Greater Clarity is not
beneath those of the Snow Mountain School. I ordered my son to enrol as a student in your school for a deeper and more profound purpose. So you had better not indulge in false pride and think that Shi Qing is inferior to Bai Wanjian.

The fight between the two pugilists was truly a well-matched one. Bai Wanjian executed his strokes with violent swiftness and sent his sword everywhere, while Shi Qing moved with a rock-steady rhythm that underscored the rigour of his skills.

Failing to gain the upperhand after more than ten consecutive variations in technique, Bai Wanjian began to feel alarmed: The level of this man's swordplay skills is way beyond the reputation he enjoys, yet why did he order his son to enter our school as a student? Then, he thought: I could attribute my earlier defeat to the fact that two fists could not match four hands. Now that I am fighting one-on-one, another loss by even half a stroke would certainly cause the reputation of the Snow Mountain School to be dragged in dust. I must gain control over his vital points, for I cannot spare his life, or this terrible humiliation would hardly ever be avenged.

As the urgency to triumph increased in Bai's heart, the movements and strokes that he used became inevitably riskier.

Shi Qing was pleased: The greater your urgency to win, I am afraid the easier it will be for you to taste defeat in my hands.

More than ten strokes later, Bai Wanjian began to encounter one threatening response after another from his opponent.Thus warned, Bai re-focused his thoughts at once and returned to the right track of seeking early entry into each exchange instead of pushing urgently for attacks.

Only then could the two pugilists fight on equal footing, each no better or worse than the other.

+ + +

Watching the fight from the sidelines, Shi Potian became rather engrossed, despite being unable to understand the principles that underscored what he
saw. Soon, even Shi Qing and Bai Wanjian hardly remembered the matters that each had on his shoulders. After two hundred strokes, Bai's spirits were so uplifted that he considered the fight one of the happiest events of his life. The earlier shame of being restrained by Min Rou with a single move of the sword had long been relegated to the recesses of his mind. On his part, Shi Qing was also very pleased with this formidable opponent.

Consequently, a feeling of mutual fondness began rising in each man's heart. As the animosity between them faded away and the desire to learn from each other grew, the men started using their most unique skills to see how their respective opponents would respond. When the fight first began, the *ding-ding dang-dang* of clashing weapons seemed to flow like a continuous string of sounds, but now, the *zheng-zheng* sounds of a sword hitting the other could be heard.

When the men finally reached their limits, Bai Wanjian executed a stroke called "The Hidden Incense Has a Dim Shadow" (An4 Xiang1 Shu1 Ying3) that slashed diagonally at his opponent without giving the latter a distinct view of the sword.

"Good technique!" said Shi Qing in a low but appreciative voice. He brought his blade into an upright position, and met Bai's oncoming sword.

The two men had exercised their internal strength for this move, so a loud
*pa* sounded as soon as their weapons struck each other. Then, the blue steel sword in Shi Qing's hand snapped. Almost at once, another sword appeared on Shi's left. Taking the sword, the man executed a stroke called "Gaining an Advantage from the Left and the Right" (Zuo3 You4 Feng2 Yuan2), drawing the sword across the front of his body in an arc from the left to the right to prevent his opponent from continuing with the attack.

Taking a step backwards, Bai Wanjian said, "This turn of events is due to the poor quality of your weapon, Manor-Master Shi. It is not an indication of victory and defeat in swordplay. If you had the Black Sword in your hands, could the treasured blade have snapped? I am still at fault."

Suddenly, Bai's countenance underwent a great change, for it was then that he realised that the person who had handed Shi Qing a sword from the left
earlier was none other than Min Rou. In addition, his own eighteen younger brothers-at-arms were all sprawled haphazardly on the ground.

+ + +

As it turned out, Min Rou had struck the eighteen disciples of the Snow Mountain School down while Bai Wanjian was totally focused on battling Shi Qing, stabbing and wounding the eighteen one after another with the sword. Although the injury on each man's body was extremely minor, Min had exercised her internal strength through the tip of her sword right into her victims' acupoints. Consequently, none of the eighteen could move after being struck by her sword.

This skill was a speciality of Min's swordplay. Kind-hearted and benevolent, the woman had always been unwilling to injure and kill her opponents. Hence, she had come up with the original approach of incorporating the acupoint-sealing methods of the Taoist Temple of Greater Clarity into her swordplay techniques. Although the eighteen disciples of the Snow Mountain School had been struck by the sword, they were in reality victims of Min's acupoint-sealing techniques. However, Min's internal strength had not reached the top-most levels, or she could have had the men immobilised as soon as the tip of her sword touched their acupoints. Then, there would have been no need to injure the flesh.

After Min had handed the sword to her husband, she had used the point of her foot to lift another sword -- which had been dropped by one of the Snow Mountain disciples -- from the ground. Then, holding the sword in her hand, she had positioned herself three steps behind her husband and to his left, ready to move forward and attack.

+ + +

Bai Wanjian's heart sank at once: Regardless of what the situation is, the battle between Shi Qing and me can only result in a draw. If Mrs Shi joins in, the earlier results will be replayed; so why should the fight continue? Feeling rather dejected, he said, "It is a pity that Elder Brother Feng is not here. If he was, we could have joined hands and fought both of you. Now that the defeat is clear, what else is there left to say?"
"That is correct," said Shi Qing. "When we meet the Dragon of Wind and Fire in the future..." Before he could finish, Shi remembered how Feng Wanli had his arm chopped off by his teacher because of his (Shi's) son, Shi Zhongyu. Even if they did meet each other in the future, they would not be able to engage in a sword-fight anyway. Thus, Shi Qing stopped speaking at once. He could not help but feel a deep sense of shame, for he could not find joy in the fact that he had defeated nineteen disciples of the Snow Mountain School together with his wife.

When Shi Potian saw the pale and pain-wrought countenance that Bai Wanjian had, as well as the sympathetic expressions on Shi Qing and Min Rou's faces, he thought: These eighteen diciples of the Snow Mountain School are all fools. None of them can help him engage Manor-Master Shi and his wife in a good round of sword-fighting or two. How very disappointing indeed!

Then, recalling how Bai Wanjian had gazed at him earlier with such love and concern, he thought: Master Bai treats me rather well. That Mrs Shi has given me some silver before, so she does not treat me badly too. They want to have a sword-fight, but are short of an opponent. There is an Elder Brother Feng somewhere, but he is not here right now. So everyone is not happy. Although I do not really know any swordplay techniques, I have already become quite familiar with them after watching everyone just now. It might be good for me to help them and join in the fun.

Hence, he got to his feet, copied Bai Wanjian's earlier actions and used the point of his foot to tap the hilt of a sword on the ground. As soon as his internal strength touched the sword, the blade leapt up with a *hu*. Making a bumbling grab for the hilt of the sword, he smiled and said, "You are short of one person, so you cannot have a competition with your swords. Let me join hands with Master Bai just for the fun of it. But I do not know what to do, so please give me some pointers."

The sight of the young man suddenly standing up gave Bai Wanjian, Shi Qing and Min Rou a great shock.

Bai Wanjian knew that he had struck the young man on a few dozen acupoints earlier, so how could he suddenly take a step and move around?
Hence, he was sure that Min Rou had released his acupoints after striking the eighteen disciples of his school down.

As for Shi Qing and Min Rou, they had expected Bai Wanjian to seal the young man's important acupoints as soon as he had been captured, so how could he even move?

"Yu..." Min Rou began, but before she could finish calling the name 'Yu'er', she stopped. Then, she turned and looked at her husband.

+ + +

Shi Potian had been lying on the ground for more than two shichen (4 hours) after Bai Wanjian struck him on the acupoints. Anyone who had his acupoints sealed by Bai had to wait for at least six shichen (12 hours) before these acupoints became open once more. Although Shi Potian did not know how to release his own blocked acupoints, he did have the benefit of a very rich level of internal strength. Therefore, his acupoints began opening up one after the other within one shichen (two hours) of being sealed, due to the natural flow of the internal strength in his body.

Muddled-headed and ignorant, Shi Potian had absolutely no idea what was happening. All he knew was that the arms and legs that were initially numb and immobile had gradually began to regain their strength and mobility.

+ + +

"Why do you want to join hands with me?" asked Bai Wanjian in a loud voice. "Do you want to try out the Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School that you have learnt?"

Shi Potian thought: I have indeed learnt some swordplay techniques from watching all of you, but I am afraid that I have made mistakes in my learning. So he nodded and replied, "I am not sure if I have learnt the right thing. Please teach me, Master Bai, Manor-Master Shi and Mrs Shi." As he spoke, he held his sword up diagonally and stood beside Bai Wanjian. The move was none other than "Two Camels Coming to the West" (Shuang1
Tuo2 Xi1 Lai2), one of the stances in the Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School.

Shi Qing and Min Rou gazed at Shi Potian. They had not seen him since he was sent to Lingxiao City to learn swordplay many years ago. Now, seeing one another again in a place far from home, Shi and Min found themselves grappling with a hundred different emotions, including affection, joy, resentment and shame. They could both see that their son had grown tall and sturdy. Although the young man had a rather weather-beaten and tired appearance, there was no mistaking the air of quintessence that he had. His eyes, in particular, were bright and clear, as if he had an extremely rich level of internal strength in his body.

A stern father according to the conventional perception of parenthood, Shi Qing began thinking about the various rules and regulations in the martial arts circle. Since the day his unworthy son damaged the reputation of Xuansu Manor so badly, he and his wife had become ashamed of meeting people in the realm of the rivers and lakes. In recent years, they had taken to making discreet queries on their son's whereabouts, without seeing any of their associates in the martial arts circle at all. Now that the young man had seen his parents, he did not even step up and offer them any greetings. Instead, he had asked for a competition in martial arts skills. This act alone was sufficient proof that the various frivolous and inappropriate behaviours that the Snow Mountain School had complained about were not untrue. Hence, Shi Qing could not help but gnash his teeth in silence, for his ability to keep his temper under control, as well as Bai Wanjian's presence, prevented him from erupting in anger then and there.

On the other hand, Min Rou was the epitome of the compassionate mother, her joy and delight far outweighing the anger and resentment she felt. She had originally given birth to two sons. After her second child suffered a tragic death in the hands of the enemy, she was so grieved that she eventually placed her love for both her children on her elder son, Shi Zhongyu, alone. Hence, she often explained her son to her husband on the former's behalf, saying that the one-sided claims of the Snow Mountain School were not necessarily trustworthy. Their son could have been bullied to the extent that he could no longer find shelter in Lingxiao City.
Furthermore, Bai Zizai's grand-daughter was probably a very spoilt girl who oppressed their son until he finally retaliated in indignation. If that was not the case, how could someone so young defy his elders with such an act of lewdness? After all, the girl from the Bai Family was only twelve or thirteen years old when the assault took place. Zhongyu would not do such an outrageous thing to a little girl.

Min Rou often shed silent tears in the years that she spent braving the winds and frosts of the realm of the rivers and lakes without any news of her son, afraid that he had perished in the great snow-covered mountains of the Western Region or become a victim of tigers and wolves. Thus, the sight of her beloved son was sufficient for the compassionate mother in her to forgive all his wrongdoings, including those that were as great as the Heavens. When she saw him walking up with a spring in his step and a sword in his hand, she could not help but respond with joy. In fact, she was dying to sweep him up in an embrace, hold him close and shower him with love.

She knew that her son had been craftier than most since young. Now that he wanted to join hands with Bai Wanjian in a sword-fight, he would certainly have a profound reason for it. She was deeply afraid that her husband would reprimand the young man in a fit of anger, yet she wanted to see how her son had progressed in his study of martial arts. Hence, she said, "All right, let the four us deliberate over our skills in two pairs. After all, we are just going to stop short of doing actual harm, so there is nothing to be really concerned about." She spoke with a soft and gentle tone that was filled with tender affection, but her voice quivered because of the emotions in her heart.

Shi Qing cast a sideways glance at his wife before nodding his head in agreement.

Gentle and amiable by nature, Min Rou had always left the making of decisions in her husband's hands. She hardly ever offered any ideas of her own, but on the occasions that she did, her other half did not show any disagreement.
Shi Qing could guess the intentions of his wife's heart -- first, to see their son's pugilistic skills; and second, to ensure that Bai Wanjian was genuinely convinced of his defeat. He did not expect Shi Zhongyu to possess swordplay skills that exceeded those of his uncles-at-arms whom Min Rou had struck down, regardless of how intelligent the young man might be. In addition, Shi Zhongyu would certainly not provide Bai Wanjian with any real assistance in going against his parents.

Bai Wanjian had thoughts of his own as well: If you use the Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School in partnership with me against the enemy, you will be identifying yourself as a disciple of the school. So long as I am not killed by your family of three, I will go and get the plaque of command from our school-leader. Then, you would have to return to the Snow Mountain School with me regardless of the outcome of the fight. Any further resistance by Shi Qing and his wife would mean that they are breaking the rules and regulations of the martial arts circle. Hence, lifting his sword, he said, "Two against two is fine; so is three against one. After all, I have already tasted defeat under the Twin Swords of Xuansu Manor. I will just throw my lot in with you once more at the risk of my life." He had already made his mind up to die, so if the three members of the Shi Family closed in ruthlessly on him, he would only focus on having Shi Zhongyu killed. It was a task that he could accomplish, so long as he did not harbour the desire of keeping his own life.

When Shi Potian saw the trembling in the tip of Bai Wanjian's sword and the diagonal way in which it was pointed at Shi Qing, he realised that the blade was positioned more for defence than attack. Hence, he said, "In that case, I will be the one who goes on the offensive." His own sword trembled like Bai's before it was pushed towards Shi Qing's right shoulder. As soon as the stroke was executed, a sudden wave of raging sword-based energy (jian4 qi4) swept by. The sword had not moved very quickly at all, but the abundance of internal strength that accompanied the weapon had caused it to rip audibly through the air.

Bai Wanjian, Shi Qing and Min Rou gasped beneath their breaths. The move that they had just seen was part of the Swordplay Technique of the
Snow Mountain School, but the internal strength exhibited was far beyond what Bai was capable of.

Bai, in particular, had initially looked upon Shi Potian's move with scorn: When you executed this "Clouds Across the Western Mount" (Yun2 Heng2 Xi1 Ling2), you raised your right elbow so much that the stroke ended too easily. Your left fingers were all placed in the wrong places, so you were unable to reach out and strike your opponent's acupoints in a follow-up of the initial stroke. Your left foot took a step that was four 'cun' (10 centimetres) further than necessary, so your opponent did not have to fear your kicking his shin if he chose to counter-attack... In a glance, he could see eight or nine mistakes in Shi Potian's move, but his scorn turned into shock an instant later.

The level of sword-based energy that Shi Potian exhibited through that stroke was indeed something that Bai Wanjian rarely saw. In fact, the only time he saw a similar level of richness in internal strength was when his father gave a swordplay performance to a few highly-regarded disciples after drinking too much wine. Even then, the older Bai had to execute thirty to forty strokes before his internal energy could become sufficiently concentrated to create a wind-ripping force. As for Shi Potian, he created the wind-ripping force as soon as he began using the sword. Could a strange object, such as a whistle, have been attached to his blade? Yet, as quickly as the thought occurred, Bai knew that he was wrong. Then, he saw Shi Qing lifting his sword in defence as soon as the latter had gasped in shock.

*ke* The sword in Shi Qing's hand snapped into two at once. The upper half of the blade shot through the air and pierced several cun (1 cun = 3.33 centimetres) into the corner of a wall. Shi felt a wave of heat between his thumb and index finger (hu3 kou3). His arm shook and the lower half of the sword almost fell out of his hand. Although he was upset with this loser of a son, he could not help but express his appreciation for the young man's skills, just like all the other martial artists would do when they met a brilliant pugilist. Hence, the word "Good!" went forth from his mouth.

As for Shi Potian, the sight of Shi Qing's sword snapping into two was such a shock that he shouted: "A-yo!" He retracted his sword at once, with an apologetic and concerned look on his face. By then, he was already facing
the light of the candle, so both Shi Qing and Min Rou could see his expression well.

A wave of warmth swept through the couple's hearts: Yu'er is still a filial and obedient son after all!

Casting the broken sword aside, Shi Qing used the point of his foot to lift another blade from the ground and said, "Do not be apprehensive. Come on, take this!" Then, he sent his sword towards Shi Potian's left leg.

But Shi Potian had never had any practice in swordplay before. Hence, despite the richness of his internal strength and the resulting ability to use an impressive amount of force in an attack, how could he respond to the mix of mocking, concrete, left and right movements that marked Shi Qing's style of swordsmanship? Consequently, a single stroke from his opponent was enough to throw his arms and legs into confusion. Fortunately, he could think and react in a considerably fast manner, so he managed to carry out a bumbling execution of "The Great Pine Greets the Visitor" (Cang1 Song4 Ying2 Ke4) by making a horizontal sweep with his sword.

Shi Qing responded with another diagonal stroke of the sword. This time, the blade went so close to Shi Potian's right leg that if the young man had been an implacable foe who had to be killed instead of a beloved son, the sword would have sliced the limb into two. The sword had only been given a light shake in this move, but it was already enough to give Min Rou a fright. Breaking out in cold sweat, she gasped: "Qing- ge(3)!"

When Shi Potian looked at his right leg, he found that there was already a rip in the trousers there. However, the sword that ripped through his trousers did not injure his flesh. "Thank you very much for showing me mercy," he said with an apologetic smile. "I have gone completely wrong in learning these swordplay techniques, so my skills are far worse than yours!"

He spoke in full honesty, but the remark was one that could sound significant to a suspicious listener. Bai Wanjian, in particular, found the words terribly unpleasant to his ears: So you told your father that your swordplay skills are far worse than his. Is that not an obvious way of belittling the Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School? You
even said that you have gone completely wrong in your learning, which just means that we have been keeping the methods selfishly to ourselves instead of teaching them to you. In one mere sentence, you have criticised the Snow Mountain School twice and without mercy! So long as I, Bai Wanjian, am still alive, how can I be subject to such denigration and humiliation?

Shi Qing raised his eyebrows as well: 'Shi-mei'(4) has told me time and again that Yu'er had been bullied by his uncles- and elder brothers-at-arms at the Snow Mountain School, but I have always felt that Elder Bai and Feng Wanli are honest, open-hearted and chivalrous enough not to allow such a thing. Since they have accepted my son as their disciple, they would certainly not treat him poorly. Now, considering the two moves that he made with his sword a moment ago, I can see that the postures are all wrong. There are also a hundred flaws in the moves themselves, so how can he face the enemy with them? It does really look as if he has not learnt any concrete martial arts skills at Lingxiao City at all. Furthermore, the internal strength that he used with his first move was extremely powerful, but it has absolutely no relation with the Snow Mountain School in type and form. I do not even think that the Gentleman of Impressive Strength and Virtue has such a level of accomplishment in the cultivation of internal strength, so he (Yu'er) must have had a separate and amazing opportunity to learn it. I would have to look into the goings-on until the water subsides and the rocks emerge, so that the rights and wrongs of the matter can be distinguished more easily in the future.

Hence, he said, "Come, come, come. Let us not feel apprehensive about things, and have a good swordplay contest instead." Bending the fingers of his left hand into a mnemonic for the move that he was about to execute, he pointed ahead before raising his sword and sending it towards Bai Wanjian.

Bai Wanjian lifted his sword and fended the blow off. Then, he responded with a stab of his own.

Min Rou sent her sword forth as well, stabbing Shi Potian in a slow and relaxed move. The lack of speed was intentional, so that her son had the opportunity to respond before it was too late.
When Shi Potian saw how slow the sword was coming at him, he remembered how Min Rou had given him some silver at the marketplace of Hou Jian Ji years ago. Thus, he gave her an open-mouthed smile and a nod of gratitude before lifting his sword and deflecting the oncoming blade with a gentle move.

Min Rou was delighted, for she interpreted the expression as a son's greeting to his mother. Then, she sent her sword towards his waist.

This move is best countered in this way, thought Shi Potian, using a move from the Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School to deflect the oncoming blade.

Min Rou could see that the young man was terribly unfamiliar with swordplay, especially when he showed some hesitation in his response. He also handled the sword in a very inexperienced manner. Hence, Min Rou could not help but feel upset: These swordsmen from the Snow Mountain School consider themselves righteous and chivalrous beyond the norm, but this is how they teach my son when it comes to swordplay! Then, she took a stab at Shi Potian's left shoulder.

She had to wait for him to think about a response before executing every move she made in full. If he had any difficulty in responding, she would simply wait and wait until he was done. Was this then a contest of swordplay skills? If her actions were compared to those of a teacher and his student at a session of practice, hers were certainly carried out with twice as much affection and patience.

Shi Potian's confidence grew after ten moves, enabling him to respond at a quicker pace. Happy with his progress, Min Rou nodded in affirmation whenever he managed to execute a move without too much trouble. By then, Shi Potian could see that Min Rou was actually giving him pointers on swordplay. Hence, he would re-execute a move whenever he did not receive a nod from her. As for Min Rou, she would attack him with the same stroke for a third time if she felt that his response was poor. She would only move on to the next stroke if there were no mistakes in his response.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, Shi Qing and Bai Wanjian fought for the third time that day. Now familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of their respective opponents, the men were even more unwilling to be indolent and neglectful.

After many moves, Shi Qing and Bai Wanjian entered the state of total absorption once more, for they could no longer hear or see the things that went on around them. They were not bothered about the way Min Rou fought with Shi Potian, or whether they were really fighting or not. Neither did they care about the winner and the loser. In fact, they could not pay attention to the other fight even if they wanted to, for the slightest loss of focus and concentration in their own fight would lead to injury and death.

On the other hand, Min Rou, who was giving Shi Potian pointers on swordplay, had ample opportunity to take in the fight between her husband and Bai Wanjian. Listening quietly as her husband inhaled and exhaled in long unhurried breaths, she could tell that his internal strength remained abundant. Hence, even if he did not emerge victorious in the fight, he would certainly not be defeated. Then, noticing that Shi Potian had forgotten more than twenty of the seventy-two strokes in the Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School, she began to guide him through the practice of the entire set again.

Shi Potian made better progress the second time around, so much so that he could come up with a counter-attack once in a while as a follow-through of a particular move. The speed of his responses increased as well. When he had finished performing more than forty of the strokes that he had learnt, Min Rou turned and found her husband still engaged in a heated fight with Bai Wanjian. She thought: Once all the strokes have been performed, it will be time for me to enter the fray and provide some assistance. We do not need to carry on quibbling with Bai Wanjian, so we will just take Yu'er and go.

By and by, Shi Potian took a stab at Min Rou, who raised her sword and fended the blow off before responding with a move of her own. She was sure that her son could take the strike well because he had learnt to deal with it earlier. Then, everything went black before Min Rou's eyes...
Apparently, the candle in the hall had been completely burnt, so its flame had gone out without warning.

Min Rou retracted the sword that she had sent out at once.

Shi Potian did not have any experience in facing the enemy, so he reacted to the black-out in an unexpected way. Instead of retreating into the darkness, he moved forward in an attempt to express his gratitude to Min Rou for teaching him swordplay. This forward step, however, took his body right into the woman's sword.

All Min Rou felt was a slight give in the sword, and the blade entered human flesh. Greatly shocked, she retracted the sword and threw it away. "Have you been stabbed?" she asked in fear as she reached out and hugged Shi Potian in the dark. "Where is the wound? Where is the wound?"

Shi Potian tried to reply, but he only managed to say "I... I..." before a coughing fit stopped him from talking.

Min Rou quickly shook her fire-booklet (huo3 zhe2) alight. She was usually very calm and collected, but when she saw blood all over Shi Potian's chest, she became so frightened that she was lost for words. As panic took over, she looked up at Shi Qing and asked, " Shi-ge(5), what ... what should we do?"

+ + +

Despite the darkness, Shi Qing and Bai Wanjian had not stopped fighting at all. Instead, each man had moved and fought according to the sounds that his opponent's sword made as it moved through the air.

When Min Rou shook the fire-booklet alight and cried out in shock, Shi Qing cast a sideways glance at the commotion and found Shi Potian lying wounded on the ground. Min Rou looked very frightened. As a father who cared about his son, Shi Qing soon became a little distracted.

That tiny flaw was all Bai Wanjian needed. Taking advantage of Shi Qing's lack of focus, Bai sent his sword towards a vital point on his opponent's
chest in a move that he (Shi) had no opportunity to ward off. When the sword was eight cun (26.64 centimetres) away from its target, it stopped.

Earlier that day, Min Rou had spared Bai Wanjian's life after getting him into the path of a fatal move. Now, Bai had done the same for Shi Qing, sparing the latter's life in return. Henceforth, no party could be said to owe the other anything in this regard.

But Shi Qing was so concerned about his son's injury that he was not even bothered about the gains, losses, glory and disgrace that were associated with the fight he just had. Bending quickly over Shi Potian, he saw blood seeping slowly out of the wound on the young man's chest, an obvious indication that the wound was not very deep. As it turned out, Min Rou had been extremely fast in her reflexes, retracting the sword as soon as its tip entered the flesh. Hence, both Shi Qing and Min Rou were somewhat comforted and relieved.

Then, they saw an icy-cold blade pointing at Shi Potian's throat. "You son humiliated my beloved daughter," said Bai Wanjian in a frosty voice. "As a result, she committed suicide by throwing herself over a cliff at such a young age. This grievance must not be left unaddressed. If both of you would allow me to take your son to Lingxiao City, he would live for at least another two months. If you insist on wresting him away by force, I would have him stabbed with the sword at once."

Shi Qing and Min Rou exchanged a glance.

Min Rou, in particular, could not help but shiver, for she knew that this man would carry his words out in action. By the time his sword had done its work, the situation would not change for the better even if she joined hands with her husband and had Bai Wanjian killed beneath their swords.

Then, Shi Qing gave a signal with his eyes, took his wife by the wrist, leapt up and dashed out of the hall. Just before she stepped outside, Min Rou turned and looked at her beloved son who was still lying on the ground. Her eyes were filled with warm affection as well as bitter sorrow. At that moment, the fire-booklet in her hand went out, plunging the hall into darkness again.
Bai Wanjian turned sideways and listened as the footfalls of Shi Qing and his wife went further and further away. He knew that the couple would certainly not stop in their efforts to retrieve their son, so the journey back to Lingxiao City would definitely be fraught with troublesome disturbances and violent fights.

Now that the couple was temporarily gone, Bai had a moment to reflect on the fight that he just had, for he had never been involved in such an extraordinary level of danger all his life. If the candle had been half a cun (1.67 centimetres) longer, that little rascal who was surnamed Shi would certainly have been taken away by his parents.

Bai re-focused his thoughts and took a breath. After that, he reached into his shirt for his flint and steel(6), only to find them missing from their usual place. It was then that he remembered having given the objects to his younger brother-at-arms, Wen Wanfu, prior to visiting the headquarters of the Clan of Eternal Happiness. At that time, he had to avoid being burdened by unnecessary weight during heated fights. After all, the difference between the skills of one top-notch pugilist and the next was usually nothing but a hair. Therefore, a lighter body would mean greater agility and ease of movement.

Without much ado, Bai took the flint and steel, as well as some touch paper (huo3 zhi3; a type of paper coated with potassium nitrate that is used for lighting fires), from one of his younger brothers-at-arms who was lying on the ground. Then, after lighting the fire, he began looking around for a candle ... only to be shocked out of his wits!

Shi Zhongyu, who had been near his feet, was gone!

A chill ran down his spine and all the hairs on his body stood on end: There is a ghost, there is a ghost!

If not for the appearance of ghosts and monsters, how could Shi Zhongyu have disappeared without a trace in a mere instant, without Bai even realising it at all?
Thus alerted, Bai threw the flame aside, picked his sword up and rushed outside the temple. There was absolutely no one in sight. He had initially thought that the perpetrator was a 'ghost', but he quickly realised that a highly-skilled pugilist had probably been lying in wait for a long time. When he was groping about in the darkness for the flint, the pugilist -- who was probably Bei Haishi -- had seized the opportunity to carry the rescue out.

Bai leapt quickly on to the roof of the temple. Looking around, he saw that the only place where anyone could have hidden was a clump of trees in the south-east. Thus, he leapt off the roof and hurried to the edge of the woods. "Sneaky men have no courage," he shouted. "Come out and fight to the death!" He waited for a moment, but there was no answer from the woods. "Physician Bei, is that you?" he called out again.

The woods remained silent.

By then, Bai could no longer be bothered about the possibility of an ambush by the enemy amongst the trees. Lifting his sword before him, he charged into the woods ... only to find it empty as well.

A cold wind blew, rustling the leaves that had fallen on the ground. It was already late autumn in Jiangnan.

Bai's anger subsided. After his last fight with Shi Qing, he had no longer dared to look upon the pugilists of the land with a narrow mind. Now, he had become even more convinced of the saying: "Beyond the sky, there is another; above a man, there is another."

A vague chill entered Bai's heart as his daughter's young and tragic passing came to mind. Sorrow crept up on him once more.

Definitions, explanations and/or words left (mostly) in their original form: Those covered in earlier chapters are not repeated.
The Long River (Chang2 Jiang1 ⻓江) = This is the longest river in China. It is commonly -- and somewhat erroneously -- known as the Yangtze River.

Brother Wang = The "Wang" (wang2 王) used here is a very common surname that is different from the "Wang" (wang1 汪) in Wang Wanyi's name. Wang Wanren, the one who had been seriously wounded in Chapter 6 and captured by the Clan of Eternal Happiness soon after, uses the common "Wang", but he is unlikely to be the one referred to here. In the 3rd edition, the confusion is cleared by naming the person in question as "Brother Qian" (qian2 钱).

Qing- ge (清哥) = The "ge" (ge1 哥) here is a term of affection. See Terms of Address in Facts and Figures.

Shi-mei (shi1 mei4 师妹) = This term of address means "younger sister-at- arms". When Shi Qing and Min Rou first met as martial arts students at the Taoist Temple of Greater Clarity, they addressed each other as "younger sister-at-arms" (shi-mei 师妹) and "elder brother-at-arms" (shi-ge 师哥).
After they fell in love and got married, they continued using these terms of
address. In order to differentiate this romantic relationship from the ordinary ones that siblings-at-arms can have, the translation has retained the Chinese terms of address that Shi Qing and Min Rou use for each other.

Shi-ge (shi1 ge1 师哥) = See Shi-mei above.

Steel and flint (huo3 dao1 huo3 shi2 ⽕⼑⽕⽯) = These are instruments with which fire can be created.

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