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Ode to Gallantry Chapter 8

CSI
Chapter 8 - The Moron

Although Shi Potian had run himself into Min Rou's sword, he was not seriously hurt; neither was the wound particularly painful. He saw Shi Qing and Min Rou leaving the temple and the flame of the candle going out. Then, as the hall plunged into darkess, he suddenly felt someone putting a hand over his mouth and pulling him silently into the space beneath the altar.

Reeling from surprise, he saw a flash of light as Bai Wanjian brought out his fire-booklet and shouted, "There is a ghost, there is a ghost!" Then, he saw Bai dash out of the temple, because he (Bai) did not know that the missing young man was beneath the altar.

Shi Potian could not help but laugh silently at the scene. Then, he felt someone picking him up and carrying him quickly out of the temple. The person sped along for a while before leaping on to a small boat. Then, someone lit an oil lamp beside him.

The bearer of the lamp was none other than Ding Dang. Delighted at the sight, Shi Potian asked, "Ding Ding Dang Dang, who brought me here?"

"Grandfather did, of course," answered Ding Dang, curling her lip into an expression of disbelief. "Who else could it be?"

Turning around, Shi Potian found Ding Busan sitting on the bow of the boat with his arms wrapped around his knees and his eyes looking upwards into the sky. "Grandfather," said Shi Potian, "what have you ... you brought me here for?"
 
Ding Busan snorted in disgust. "A'Dang, this man is a moron," he said. "Why did you marry him? Since you have not consummated your marriage, perhaps we should just have him killed with a slash of the sabre as soon as possible."

"No, no!" said Ding Dang at once. "Tian- ge has been very ill for a long time, so he has not been able to recall a lot of things. But he will get well in time." Then, turning to Shi Potian, she added, "Tian- ge, let me take a look at your wound." She opened the front of his shirt, moistened a handkerchief with water and began wiping the bloodstains around the wound away. When she was done, she applied some medicine for metal-inflicted wounds (jin1 chuang1 yao4)(1) on the injury before tearing a piece of fabric from the edge of her own garment and binding the injury up.

"Thank you," said Shi Potian. "Ding Ding Dang Dang, so you and Grandfather were both hidden under that table? That was just like playing hide-and-seek. How fun!"

"So you think it was fun?" snapped Ding Dang. "Your father and mother were having a battle of swords with that man who was surnamed Bai! You would never know how flustered I felt, just watching them!"

"My father and mother?" asked Shi Potian. "Are you saying that the man in black is my father? But that attractive woman is not my mother ... my mother does not look like that; she is not as good-looking..."

Ding Dang sighed. "Tian- ge," she said, "your illness has certainly done you quite a bit of harm, so much so that you have even forgotten who your parents are. When you were using the Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School, I could see that you were terribly unfamiliar with it. Could you have completely forgotten even the martial arts skills that you have trained in before? How ... how can this be?"

As it turned out, Ding Busan and his grand-daughter had tracked Bai Wanjian down after the latter made off with Shi Potian. When Bai left the temple to check on the surroundings, Ding and his grand-daughter had seized the opportunity to hide under the altar. Therefore, they saw
 
everything that occurred after that, including the arrival of Shi Qing and his wife, as well as the sword-battles that followed.

Ding Busan had initially thought that Shi Potian had been defeated only in pretence, because he had certainly seemed to have a purpose for doing it. Therefore, Ding had not expected Shi's swordplay skills to be so poor. In fact, the old man soon became so infuriated that he almost burst! What a moron, what a moron! he had cursed repeatedly in his heart. Then, when Bai Wanjian went searching for a set of flint and steel, Ding had seized the opportunity to rescue Shi.

Just then, the old man heard Shi Potian ask: "What martial arts do I know? I do not know any martial arts at all, and I have even less understanding of what you are saying."

Ding Busan could no longer be patient. Getting to his feet abruptly, he turned around and said in a stern voice: "A'Dang, what exactly has happened to you? Are you so obsessed that you can no longer think clearly? How could you have insisted on marrying this little nonsensical, baffling and inexplicably odd wretch? I will just kill him with a strike of the palm ... I assure you, I will find another handsome, intelligent, refined and caring young man who is also adept with both pen and sword to be your spouse."

Tears welled up in Ding Dang's eyes. "I ... I do not want any other young hero," she sobbed. "He ... he is not a moron; he has been seriously ill, so he is somewhat confused at the moment."

"What do you mean 'confused at the moment'?" roared Ding Busan in anger. "His father is obviously a highly skilled pugilist, but he prefers to call himself 'Gouzazhong' -- a bastard -- instead. If he is not a moron, your grandfather is! Look at the ghastly way in which he used the sword. I would be surprised if the sight did not cause anyone to explode in a fit of anger. He was so clumsy that there was not a single move without a hundred flaws. The holes were everywhere. Heh-heh, his opponent had clearly withdrawn her sword, but this wretch had to throw himself towards the blade. He just had to suffer an injury before he could be happy. If I do not kill such a worthless pus-filled good-for-nothing today, he would still be slaughtered by someone else sooner or later. Then, if the news of Ding Busan's
 
grandson-in-law being killed by someone else gets out into the realm of the rivers and lakes, how can I still show my face in public? No, he must not be left unkilled!"

Biting her lower lip, Ding Dang asked: "Grandfather, what do you want done, if there is a way to spare him?"

"Eh, why should I spare him?" asked Ding Busan in return. "He must not be left unkilled. Then, he would not be able to embarrass me. When people hear that Old Ding the Third killed his own grandson-in-law, they would not find it strange. But if they hear that the grandson-in-law of Old Ding the Third was killed by someone else, what I am going to do?"

"What else?" quipped Ding Dang. "Just go and have him avenged."

Ding Busan burst into laughter: "Ha-ha! I would go and have this worthless pus-filled good-for-nothing avenged? What do you take your grandfather for?"

"It was you who told me to go through the marriage rites with him," wailed Ding Dang. "He has already become my husband. If you kill him, are you not asking me to become a young widow?"

Ding Busan scratched his head. "When I tested him that day, I did not find his internal strength poor," he said. "He could qualify as my grandson-in- law, but I did not expect him to turn out to be a moron. Since you insist on stopping me from killing him, I will let it pass. But you would have to comply with a condition that I set."

"What is it?" asked Ding Ding, delighted to hear an opportunity to turn the situation around. "Tell me quick, Grandfather, tell me quick!"

"I say that he is a moron who should be killed," answered Ding Busan. "But you say that he is not a moron, so he should not be killed. Fine, I will give him ten days to track that Bai Wanjian down for a duel of swords. If he can kill or defeat that 'Frost of the North-west' or whatever, I will spare his life and allow both of you to become true husband-and-wife."
 
Ding Dang heaved a cold mouthful of breath. She had seen with her own eyes how exquisite Bai Wanjian's swordplay skills were, so how could her Darling Shi be the match of this great and well-known swordsman? He could practise for another twenty years without any avail, so she said, "Grandfather, this is obviously a difficult task that is almost impossible to complete."

"If it is difficult, so be it," said Ding Busan, "and if it is easy, so be it. If the moron cannot defeat Bai Wanjian, I will have him killed with a single strike of the palm." He felt that he had come up with a very good quest, for the wretch would never be able to succeed regardless of what anyone would say. Therefore, he could not help but feel pleased and satisfied with himself.

On the other hand, Ding Dang was filled with sorrow. When she turned towards Shi Potian, she found him looking as if he did not have a single care in the world. "Tian- ge," she said to him in a low voice, "my grandfather has given you ten days to defeat that Bai Wanjian. What do you have to say about it?"

"Bai Wanjian?" asked Shi Potian. "His swordplay skills are very good, so how am I going to defeat him?"

"That is true," answered Ding Dang. "My grandfather says that if you do not defeat him, he is going to have you killed."

Shi Potian laughed. "Why does he want me killed for no rhyme or reason?" he said. "Grandfather is joking with you, so why are you taking him so seriously? After all, Grandfather is a good man, not a bad one. So how ... how can he kill me?"

Ding Dang sighed. Darling Shi's illness has indeed caused him to become so dim-witted that he no longer understands reason, she thought. The only thing I can do now is to agree to Grandfather's quest. Then, I will have to find a way for Darling to escape within the next ten days. Hence, she turned to Ding Busan and said, "All right, Grandfather, I agree. Let me go and defeat Bai Wanjian within the next ten days."
 
Ding Busan replied with a sarcastic sneer. Then, he said, "Your grandfather is hungry; go and make me something to eat! But let me tell you: one, teach not; two, escape not; three, spare not. 'Teach not' means that I am not going to impart any martial arts skills to that moron. 'Escape not' means that you had better not think of ways for him to flee for his life. If I find out that he is thinking of running away, I will have him killed without waiting for the end of ten-day period. As for 'spare not', it is something that I need not speak more of."

"Since you say that he is a moron, he would not be able to learn any martial arts even if you teach him," said Ding Dang. "So why must you say 'one, teach not'?"

"Even if your grandfather is willing to teach," said Ding Busan, "how could he defeat Bai Wanjian in ten days? Ten years of instruction may not even be sufficient for the task."

"Well, that is due to your poor ability in teaching," said Ding Dang. "Your martial arts skills are peerless beneath the sun, so if you train an apprentice up well, how could the apprentice be any weaker than the disciple of Bai Zizai from the Snow Mountain School? Could the Gentleman of Impressive Strength and Virtue Bai Zizai be better than you?"

Ding Busan smiled. "A'Dang," he said, "your prodding and goading is not going to work on me. Even the deities and fairies would not be able to do anything about a moron such as he. Did you not hear what Shi Qing and his wife said to Bai Wanjian? The moron studied martial arts at the Snow Mountain School for many years, only to succeed in picking up the swordplay skills of a one-legged cat!"

Named Ding Busan (literally, Ding 'Not Three'), the old man had a taboo about the use of the word 'san' (three). Therefore, he changed the idiomatic expression of a 'three-legged cat' (san1 jiao3 mao1) -- meaning 'a jack of all trades' -- to a single-legged one.

By then, the boat had begun sailing against the currents of the Long River towards the west as the east winds filled its sails. As the sky grew brighter, a whitish layer of mist could be seen on the surface of the water.
 
"All right," said Ding Dang. "Since you are not going to teach him, I will. Grandfather, I am not going to cook any meals. I want to teach Tian- ge martial arts."

"So you are not going to cook," roared Ding Busan in anger. "Are you not making a deliberate attempt to starve your grandfather to death?"

"Since you want to kill my husband, I had better starve you to death first," answered Ding Dang.

Ding Busan spat in disgust. "Go and cook quickly," he said.

Ignoring the old man, Ding Dang turned to Shi Potian and said, "Tian- ge, let me teach you a set of martial arts techniques. I assure you, you will be able to defeat that Bai Wanjian in ten days."

"Rubbish!" said Ding Busan. "How can a girl like you succeed in something that even I am unable to do?"

The quarrel between the old man and his grand-daughter had resumed without any signs of abating.

Deep in her heart, Ding Dang was really worried. She knew that her grandfather had such an eccentric temperament that gentle pleas would never result in any success. The only way to change his mind was, perhaps, through the use of trickery. She thought: I will not cook for him. When he is terribly hungry, he will have to moor the boat and go ashore to buy something to eat. Then, I will seize the opportunity to get Darling Shi to escape.

Yet, no one could have foreseen Shi Potian's response to the hunger-induced frown and dismay on Ding Busan's face. Since he too was feeling hungry, he stood up and said, "I will go and cook." After all, there was no way that he could have guessed the intentions on Ding Dang's mind.

Reacting in anger, the young woman snapped: "So you want to go and slog over a meal. If your wound breaks open, what are you going to do?"
 
"The medicine for metal-inflicted wounds that is used by our Ding Family is as efficacious as the deities," said Ding Busan. "It heals a wound as soon as it is applied, so what is there to be concerned about, considering that his sword-inflicted wound is not particularly serious? Dear child, go quickly and make your grandfather something to eat." He had actually stopped referring to the young man as 'the moron' for the sake of a meal.

"So he is going to cook for you," said Ding Dang. "Are you still going to have him killed?"

"Cooking is one matter," answered Ding Busan. "Having him killed is another. Both are not related, so how can they be discussed in the same breath?"

Meanwhile, Shi Potian pressed the wound on his chest. Sure enough, it did not hurt very much any more. Hence, he went off to the stern of the boat to wash and cook some rice. There was an old helmsman steering the boat at the stern, who did not appear to hear the exchanges that had taken place between the Dings and the young man.

All his life, preparing meals was something that Shi Potian did best. Within a short period of time, he had already fried two fish to a crisp, and cooked a pot of hot and fragrant white rice.

Ding Busan praised the young man as he ate. "If your martial arts skills were as good as a tenth of your ability to cook," he said, "I will not have you killed. If you did not go through the rites of marriage with A'Dang that day and became my cook instead, I would not have even spoken about having you killed. In fact, if anyone wants you dead, I would certainly not allow it at all. Sigh, it is a pity that I have already laid the ten-day deadline down. The word of Ding Busan is as steadfast as the mountains, so it will never be changed. If I had given you a month-long period instead, I would have had the opportunity to enjoy your cooking for another twenty days. Would that not be wonderful? But regret is not going to get me anywhere at this point, for there is nothing else that I can come up with." Then, he heaved a seemingly endless string of sighs.
 
After the meal, Shi Potian and Ding Dang went to the stern to wash the bowls and chopsticks side by side. Seeing that her grandfather was sitting at the bow, Ding Dang whispered: "I will teach you a set of seizing techniques (qin2 na2 shou3 fa3) shortly, so you had better remember it with all your heart."

"When I have learnt it, am I to go and challenge Master Bai?" asked Shi Potian.

"Are you really a moron?" asked Ding Dang in return. "Tian- ge, you ... you were not like this in the past."

"How was I in the past?" asked Shi Potian.

Turning a little red in the face, Ding Dang replied: "When you saw me in the past, your mouth would be sweeter than honey. You were so quick- witted that we had plenty to talk and laugh about. You teased me until I was filled with delight, for the words that came out of your mouth were often unexpected and unimaginable. Now, you have become really dim-witted."

"I am not your Tian- ge in the first place," said Shi Potian with a sigh. "He knows how to make you happy, but I do not. You had better go and find him instead."

"Tian- ge, does this mean that you are angry with me?" asked Ding Dang in a gentle and persuasive voice.

Shi Potian shook his head. "Why should I be angry?" he asked in return. "I am telling you the truth, but you do not believe me at all."

Ding Dang gazed at the water that swept by the side of the boat and began mumbling to herself: "I wonder when he will return to his former self." As she became lost in her thoughts, a porcelain bowl slipped out of her hand and fell into the river. After bobbing twice in the greenish waves, the bowl disappeared.

"Ding Ding Dang Dang, I will never become that Tian- ge of yours," said Shi Potian. "If I were a ... a moron for the rest of my life, you would never
 
like me, would you?"

"I do not know, I do not know!" wept Ding Dang. Terribly vexed, she picked one porcelain bowl up after another and threw them into the middle of the river.

Shi Potian spoke again: "If I ... I am quick and clever with words, and can make you happy with what I say, I do not mind talking unceasingly all day. But ... but I am really not your 'Tian- ge'. I cannot pretend to be him even if you want me to."

Ding Dang gazed at Shi Potian. The sun, which was rising at that time, cast a reddish glow on Shi's face. Although his eyes darted about in a lively manner, his entire countenance was actually one of whole-hearted sincerity. Ding Dang let out a faint sigh. "If you are not my Tian- ge," she said, "how can my bite leave a scar on your shoulder? Why do you find similar enjoyment in toying with flowers and grass, and dallying with the women who come your way? Not only did you seduce the wife of your clan- member Incense-Master Zhan, you also took liberties with that Hua- guniang from the Snow Mountain School? If I say that you are my Tian- ge, why have you suddenly become dim-witted and moronic, without any of your former finesse and poise?"

"I am your husband," said Shi Potian with a laugh. "Is it not good for me to be honest?"

"No," answered Ding Dang with a shake of her head. "I would rather have you lively and mischievous like you once were. If you rob someone of his wife, so be it. If you take liberties with someone's daughter, so be it. I just do not like your good behaviour, discipline and mannerisms."

The matter of robbing someone of his wife had nagged at Shi Potian since the day he first heard about it, so he asked: "Robbing someone of his wife? What is the purpose of that? Elderly Uncle says that a person who takes someone else's things without permission is a petty thief. Since I have stolen someone's wife, does that make me a petty thief?"
 
Ding Dang found Shi Potian's words increasing convulated, so much so that they soon became too ridiculous for her. As a fit of anger rose inside her, she reached out, took his ear and tugged it hard. Almost at once, the base of the young man's ear began to bleed.

Reeling in pain, Shi Potian reacted by pushing Ding Dang's hand away. As he did, Ding Dang felt a burst of energy so strong and extraordinary that she tumbled backwards and almost broke the wooden mast in her fall.

"A-yo!" she cried. "Ghastly creature, are you beating your wife? Why did you use such a great amount of strength?"

"I am sorry!" said Shi Potian at once. "I ... I did not do it deliberately."

Ding Dang looked at her arm and found a huge and swollen bruise in green and purple. Then, quite unexpectedly, the anger on her face turned into delight. Reaching out for Shi Potian's hand and swinging it, she said, "Tian- ge, you have indeed been pretending and deceiving me all along."

"Pretending?" asked Shi Potian, stunned.

"You have not lost any of your martial arts skills," answered Ding Dang. "I do not know martial arts," said Shi Potian.
"If you keep on spouting nonsense, look and see if I will pay you any attention again," snapped Ding Dang. Then, she raised her hand and sent it towards his left cheek.

Shi Potian turned away and lifted his own hand in defence, but the move that Ding Dang used came from a palm technique that had been passed down through her family. Sudden but swift, the move was naturally beyond the reach of Shi Potian's unskilled hand. All he felt was a burst of pain on his face, for he had already been struck without a single sound.

As for Ding Dang, she felt a terrible jolt on her arm. Her palm sprang away from Shi Potian's face as if it had been pushed aside by his cheek, prompting her to utter another "A-yo!" in even greater shock and fright than
 
before. After knowing that Shi Potian had not lost his martial arts skills, she had thought that he would be able to avoid her palm with ease. Consequently, she had exercised a gentle yet highly toxic form of internal strength on to her palm, without realising that Shi Potian would actually be so clumsy in deflecting her move. He had acted as if he did not know any martial arts, but when her palm touched his cheek, the palm was jolted off by his internal strength.

As Ding Dang caught her right hand with her left, she saw the dark print of a small palm appearing on Shi Potian's left cheek. Her 'Black Palm of Death' (Hei1 Sha4 Zhang3) was a formidable technique that she had learnt personally from her grandfather, but she was not very advanced in its practice. This, together with the presence of a very profound level of internal strength in his body, had enabled Shi Potian to escape with only a very minor injury. However, the black palm-print on his face would not fade until at least half a month later.

Aching with tender affection and feeling apologetic at the same, Ding Dang reached out and held Shi Potian around the waist. "Tian- ge," she sobbed as she pressed her cheek against his bruise, "I really did not know that you have not recovered in full."

The embrace of such a beautiful maiden caused Shi Potian to sigh. Since his face did not really hurt very much, he said, "Ding Ding Dang Dang, first, you are angry. Then, in the next moment, you become delighted. I still do not understand why this is so."

"So...so what should I do?" asked Ding Dang, becoming worked up once more. "What should I do?" Sitting straight up, she took a ceramic bottle from inside her shirt and poured a medicinal pellet out of it. Then, after getting Shi Potian to ingest the pellet, she said, "Sigh, I hope it will not leave a scar."

The duo snuggled against each other and sat on the stern. No one spoke.

After a long period of silence, Ding Dang put her mouth against Shi Potian's ear and whispered: "Tian- ge, although you have forgotten your martial arts skills after your recent bout of illness, your internal strength
 
remains. I will teach you that set of seizing techniques, for it will be very useful to you."

"Since you are willing to teach me," said Shi Potian with a nod, "I will learn it with all my heart."

Ding Dang reached out with her fingers and caressed the black palm-print on the young man's cheek. Feeling very apologetic for hurting him so, she leaned over impulsively and kissed the bruise. All at once, the duo's faces turned thoroughly red with embarrassment. However, their hearts were filled with an incomparable sweetness. Then, after sweeping aside the strands of hair around her face, Ding Dang began demonstrating the eighteen moves that make up her set of seizing techniques.

That day, Ding Dang taught Shi Potian six moves, all of which were duly memorised. Then, the duo practised using the moves one by one. The next day, Ding Dang imparted another six moves. By the end of the third day, Shi Potian had learnt all eighteen moves to the point of familiarity. Although there were only eighteen moves in this set of seizing techniques, the variations within them were numerous and complex.

During these three days, Shi Potian spent all his time practising the techniques with Ding Dang. Meanwhile, Ding Busan observed the goings- on with a sceptical eye. Sometimes, he would make sarcastic remarks to ridicule them.

By the fourth day, the sword-inflicted wound on Shi Potian's chest had more or less healed. Ding Dang was delighted at the extremely quick manner in which her Darling Shi had progressed, so when she heard Ding Busan calling the young man 'a moron' again, she asked: "Grandfather, how many days would it take a moron to learn the eighteen moves that make up the Seizing Techniques of our Ding Family?"

Ding Busan was momentarily dumbfounded, for he could see that Shi Potian had already learnt the set of seizing techniques. This meant that the wretched fellow was certainly not dim-witted, so was he pretending to be stupid or had he really forgotten everything in the past? Yet, unwilling to lose out even in words, Ding Busan eventually came up with an answer in
 
self-defence: "Some morons are clever, while others are dense. Clever morons will learn the techniques in half a day, but brainless ones like your Darling Shi need three days to learn them."

A smile appeared in the corner of Ding Dang's mouth. "Grandfather, how many days did you take to learn this set of seizing techniques years ago?" she asked.

"How many days would I take?" answered Ding Busan. "Your great- grandfather had to instruct me only once, and I learnt the techniques within half a day."

"Ha-ha!" laughed Ding Dang. "So you are a clever moron, Grandfather!"

"How rude!" snapped Ding Busan, his countenance darkening. "Sheer nonsense!"

Just then, a small boat sailed up from the lower reaches of the river. The banks on both sides of the river at that particular spot were open and wide, while the water current was smooth and steady. The on-coming boat had a large sail and four oarsmen who moved their wooden oars at a very fast pace. Small and light, the boat came closer to Ding Busan's vessel.

Two men in white clothes stood on the bow of the small boat. One of them called out in a loud voice: "Is the fellow who is surnamed Shi on the vessel before us? Quick, stop your vessel, stop your vessel!"

Ding Dang responded with a light snort of disgust: "Grandfather, people from the Snow Mountain School have come in pursuit of Darling Shi."

Ding Busan broke into a smile. "Let them capture the moron and take him away," he said. "Let them dismember him into ten thousand pieces with a thousand sabres. Only then will the desires of your grandfather's heart be fulfilled."

"Will they be taking the clever moron?" asked Ding Dang. "Or the foolish one?"
 
"The foolish one, of course!" answered Ding Busan. "Who dares to capture the clever moron anyway?"

"That is true," said Ding Dang with a smile. "The clever moron is highly skilled in martial arts, so no one dares to offend him at all."

Taken aback, Ding Busan roared: "Girl, how dare you curse your grandfather in a roundabout way?"

"Well, when the Clan of Eternal Happiness asks Old Ding the Third for their clan-leader after the Snow Mountain School has had your grandson-in- law killed," said Ding Dang, "would you not be left without much respect?"

"Why not?" asked Ding Busan. "I would gain much respect indeed." Then, feeling that his words could not justify themselves, he added: "I will twist and break the neck of anyone who dares to say that Old Ding the Third would lose respect."

Ding Dang began talking to herself: "Most people would not dare to say anything, of course, but I am afraid that Fourth Grandfather would spout nonsense and say that if he had a grandson-in-law, he would certainly not allow anyone to have him killed. I wonder if Grandfather would dare to twist and break the neck of his own younger brother? Even if he has the courage to do so, I do not know if he has the ability to get it done."

Fuming with anger, Ding Busan said, "So you say that Old Fourth has better skills in martial arts than I? What a fart, what a fart! He is far beneath me in pugilistic skills."

As the elderly man and his grand-daughter spoke, the small boat came nearer. The men in white on the boat shouted again: "Hey you, arrogant fellow! You look like the rascal Shi Zhongyu from the Clan of Eternal Happiness. Why are you not stopping your boat?"

"Ding Ding Dang Dang," said Shi Potian, "someone has come in pursuit of us. What do you say we do?"
 
"How should I know what to do?" asked Ding Dang in return. "You are a man, so do not tell me that you do not have the slightest idea about this."

By then, the small boat had come within a zhang (3.33 metres) of its quarry. The two men in white shouted in unison and leapt towards the stern of Shi Potian's vessel. They had long swords in their hands, weapons which gleamed and shone in the sunlight.

When Shi Potian saw that the duo were Snow Mountain disciples whom he had met at the temple of the local deity, he thought: I wonder how I have offended them, that they would pursue me with such relentlessness. Then, a
*zip* later, he found a sword heading towards his shoulder.

The past three days had seen Shi Potian constantly practising an array of martial arts moves with Ding Dang. Whenever he was slow in using his hands and feet, she would box his ears and pull his hair. After suffering quite a bit of hardship in this way, Shi Potian had become faster and more agile in responding with his body and limbs. Now, his responsive abilities were different from those he had shown in the temple of the local deity during the martial arts exchange with Shi Qing and his wife. When he saw the sword coming at him, he did not take time to even think about what to do. He simply exercised the eighth move, 'The Hand of the Phoenix's Tail' (Feng4 Wei3 Shou3), making an arc with his right hand and grabbing the aggressor's wrist before giving it a twist.

"Ah!" shouted the victim, dropping his sword at once.

Shi Potian followed through by lifting his right elbow and striking his victim on the chin with a *smack*. The victim's chin shattered at once, as a mouthful of blood and more than ten teeth spurted out on to the deck of the boat. Never did Shi Potian expect the Hand of the Phoenix's Tail to have such power, so he was shocked involuntarily out of his wits.

As Shi's heart thumped wildly, the second disciple of the Snow Mountain School -- who had gone off to launch a simultaneous attack at the bow of the boat -- suddenly found his elder brother-at-arms seriously wounded within the blink of an eye. That elder brother-at-arms was more highly skilled in martial arts than himself, so if he went further forward, he would
 
certainly not have much success. Therefore, he rushed towards his brother and picked him up.

By then, both the large vessel and the small boat were sailing side by side. The Snow Mountain disciple took the wounded man and leapt back into his own boat, shouting out orders to lower the sail and turn the rudder as he went.

Soon, the small boat could be seen turning around and sailing downstream towards the east. A short while later, the boat was already far away. However, curses and shouts of anger could still be heard, carried upstream by the east wind.

+ + +

Looking at the pool of blood and the teeth on the deck, Shi Potian was both rather astonished and very stricken by his conscience. "I ... I am really sorry!" he muttered to himself.

Ding Dang came out of the cabin, walked over to Shi Potian's side and gave him a smile. "Tian- ge," she said, "this 'Hand of the Phoenix's Tail' turned out rather efficiently. You used it quite well."

"Why did you not explain things earlier?" Shi Potian asked, shaking his head. "If I had known how severe it would be when I struck someone with it, I would not have learnt it."

Ding Dang's heart sank: This stupid man is having another bout of brainlessness, and talking foolishly again. Then, she said: "Since we are learning martial arts here, it is only natural that the more formidable ones are better. If you did not execute the 'Hand of the Phoenix's Tail' right just now, that man's sword would have pierced your shoulder. If you did not hurt him, he would have hurt you. Do you like hurting others, or being hurt by them? Getting a few teeth punched out is the least serious of injuries. When people fight in the martial arts circle, their lives can be put in danger any time. You have a kind heart, but your opponent does not. If you get yourself killed by a single stab of the sword, what good does a kind heart do?"
 
"It is best if you teach me a martial arts skill that would not hurt or kill anyone," muttered Shi Potian, "or allow anyone to hurt or kill me. Then, everyone can laugh things off and become good friends instead of enemies."

Ding Dang laughed in exasperation. "What a load of foolish talk!" she said. "Nothing but a mouth full of nonsense! We are pugilists; when we fight, our lives are at stake. Do you think that we are playing hide-and-seek, or playing in mud and sand?"

"I like hide-and-seek, and playing in mud and sand," answered Shi Potian. "I do not like fighting with people and putting lives at stake. It is a pity that I have never had anyone to play hide-and-seek with, and A'Huang does not know how to play it at all."

The more Ding Dang heard, the angrier she became. "You muddle-headed egg!" she snapped. "Anyone who talks to you is totally unfortunate." Thoroughly piqued by now, she decided to pay Shi Potian no further attention and returned to the cabin to get some sleep.

"Is that so?" said Ding Busan. "I have said that he is a moron, and he has eventually turned out to be one. He can have good martial arts skills or poor ones, but he is still a moron. Perhaps, he should be killed as soon as possible, so that he does not anger us further."

Ding Dang thought: If Darling Shi really remains as muddle-headed as he now is for the rest of his life, how am I going to spend my life with him? Perhaps I should just listen to Grandfather, have him killed with a stab of the sabre, and get some peace and quiet in return.

Then, she thought about the sweet nothings that he would say to her before that major bout of illness. Even if he looked silently at her without uttering a single word, his brows would still be able to communicate and his eyes could talk. His refined manner was indeed akin to the drinking of fine wine, so much so that the heart and soul would be totally intoxicated. Then, after parting ways, the pining and longing that followed often went beyond her control. Never did she expect that the bout of illness would turn the handsome, quick-witted and talented young man into a pedantic and dense
 
block of wood. The more she thought about it, the more frustrated she became. Soon, tears began to drop, prompting her to pull a thin blanket over her head.

"What purpose is there in crying?" asked Ding Busan. "Crying is not going to turn a moron into a gifted scholar!"

"I am going to cry until the brainless moron becomes a smart one!" Ding Dang retorted angrily. "Is that all right?"

"So you are spouting nonsense again!" snapped Ding Busan.

As Ding Dang wept in silence, she thought: Going by the attitude of that Hua Wanzi from the Snow Mountain School and her boiling anger against Darling Shi, it appears that she has not been won over by his charms. How can he be a true man if he can look at a beautiful woman without getting into a dalliance with her? Now that I am married to this disciplined, well- behaved and dense block of wood, what delight do I have left in life?

She cried until midnight before giving the matter more thought: I have already undergone the rites of marriage with him. I am now his lawful wife. During the past few days, he had been focused on practising martial arts. He did not seize any opportunity to touch my body at all when we were practising the moves together. At night, we slept barely a few 'chi' (1 'chi' =
33.33 centimetres) away from each other, but he did not even come over to touch my hands or legs, much less make any attempts to kiss me. How can this be the life of a newly-wedded couple? All right, I will not talk about newly-weds. Even elderly couples in their seventies or eighties would indulge in moments of affection.

Then, her ears heard the sound of Shi Potian sleeping on the stern. His long and steady breaths indicated such blissful sleep that anger soon rose in her heart. Reaching for her willow-blade sabre (liu3 ye4 dao1) and drawing it gently out of its scabbard, Ding Dang gritted her teeth and said to herself: "What purpose is there in keeping such a dense wood-block of a husband in this world?" Then, walking quietly to the stern, she thought: Darling Shi, Darling Shi, this has come upon you because you have changed. You must not blame me for being ruthless.
 
Lifting the sabre, Ding Dang prepared to bring it down on Shi Potian's head
... only to feel her heart soften. Hence, she turned him over by the shoulders, so that she could take one last look at him before his death. As Shi Potian turned over in his sleep, the pale moonlight picked out the sweet smile on his face. He looked as if he was having an unknown but rather pleasant dream.

Ding Dang thought: You will die in the blink of an eye, so I can wait for you to finish your pleasant dream before having you killed. After all, there is not much of a difference between doing it now or half a moment later. Thus, she sat down beside him, hugged her knees and gazed at his face. As soon as his smile faded, she would swing her sabre and bring it down on its target.

After a while, she suddenly heard Shi Potian mumbling unconsciously in his sleep: "Ding Ding Dang Dang, why ... why are you angry? But ... but you look very good when you are angry, you are truly ... truly very good- looking ... I can look at you for a hundred days, a thousand days, without getting enough of you, ten thousand days ... a hundred thousand days, no, five thousand days ... would not even be enough..."

Ding Dang could not help but feel ripples of emotion going through her heart as she listened in silence. "Darling Shi, Darling Shi," she said, "so I am constantly on your mind, even when you are asleep. If you speak such pleasant words to me during the day, would it not be wonderful? Sigh, a day will eventually come when your the roots of your confusion and muddle- headedness are healed. Then, you will speak such words to me again."

By and by, Ding Dang noticed that the planks on the side of the boat were moist with dew. Then, when she saw how thin Shi Potian's clothes were, she began to take pity on him. Hence, she pulled a thin blanket out from the cabin and draped it gently over his body. She continued to gaze longingly at him for a long time before going into the cabin once more.

Ding Busan began to scold his grand-daughter: "It is the third watch (11.00
p.m. to 1.00 a.m.) in the middle of the night, and a small cowardly rat is scurrying here and there. What good is there in thinking about doing
 
something without actually daring to get it done? I wonder: Are you a descendant of my Ding Family?"

Ding Dang knew that her grandfather had seen everything, but she was too happy at that moment to take notice of the old man's sarcastic remarks. All she thought about were these words: But you look very good when you are angry ... I can look at you for a hundred days, a thousand days, without getting enough of you, ten thousand days ... a hundred thousand days, no, five thousand days ... would not even be enough...

Suddenly, she burst into a giggle: Silly Tian-ge, you sound silly even when you speak in your dreams. Even if we live to a hundred years of age, there would only be thirty-six thousand days. Where would the 'one hundred thousand' days of looking come from?

After crying and laughing for half a day, Ding Dang finally fell asleep during the fourth watch (1.00 a.m to 3.00 a.m.). Before long, however, she was jolted awake by Shi Potian's voice.

"Eh, this is strange!" the young man shouted from the stern. "Ding Ding Dang Dang, how did your blanket end up on my body in the middle of the night? Could the blanket have sprouted some legs?"

Greatly embarrassed, Ding Dang leapt out of the cabin and hurried to the stern.

"Ding Ding Dang Dang," said Shi Potian again as he held the thin blanket in his hand, "what do you say? Is this matter not strange? This blanket..."

Ding Dang turned totally red in the face and snatched the blanket away. "Stop it!" she growled in a low voice. "What is there so strange about a blanket that sprouts legs?"

"A blanket that sprouts legs is not strange?" asked Shi Potian. "Where would you say the legs of the blanket are?"

Ding Dang turned her head and caught sight of the old helmsman casting a sidelong glance at her with a smile on his face. Yet, he did not seem to be
 
really smiling at all. At that time, the helmsman was just beginning to steer the boat into deeper water. Ding Dang became so embarrassed that her face looked like a piece of red cloth.

"And you are still going on about it?" she snapped at Shi Potian, before reaching out with her left hand to twist his ear.

Shi Potian raised his right hand and carried out a spontaneous execution of the 'Hand of the Circling Crane' (He4 Xiang2 Shou3) from the eighteen moves of the Seizing Techniques of the Ding Family. Ding Dang responded by turning her right hand over and grabbing him under the ribs with a backhanded grip. In turn, the young man brought his left elbow horizontally across his torso and locked the young woman's grip. Then, he made a grab for her shoulder with his right hand.

Casting the blanket on to the deck, Ding Dang responded with another move. She knew that Shi Potian had a swift-moving and formidable level of internal strength, so she did not allow her hands, palms and arms to come into contact with his fingers and palms.

Within moments, the duo had exchanged more than ten moves. The more Ding Dang fought, the faster her movements became. Shi Potian took everything in with full attentiveness, so much so that nothing escaped him. After many more moves, Ding Dang executed 'The Claw of the Soaring Dragon' (Long2 Teng2 Zhao3) and made a direct grab for the top of Shi Potian's head. The young man turned his wrist over and deflected the move with such amazing speed that the young woman could not withdraw her hand before his five fingers touched an acupoint on her wrist.

Ding Dang felt a strong stream of heated energy running straight from her wrist up her arm and down her torso to her waist. Then, the stream of energy went from her waist straight down to her leg. By then, she could no longer stand steadily. Her body tilted and fell, right on to the thin blanket on the deck.

A spark of childish glee struck Shi Potian. Bending down, he bound Ding Dang in the blanket and picked the entire bundle up. "Why do you want to
 
twist my ear?" he asked with a laugh. "I am going to throw you into the river to feed the big fish there!"

Despite being separated from Shi Potian by the blanket, Ding Dang could not help but become soft and limp in his embrace. Blushing in embarrassment and delight, she laughed and replied: "You would not dare!"

"Why not?" asked Shi Potian with another laugh, before giving the bundle a light toss and sending it into the cabin of the boat.

Ding Dang crawled out of the blanket and went out to the stern once more. Concerned that she might want to fight again, Shi Potian reacted by taking a step backwards and holding his hands up in a defensive pose.

"I am not playing any more!" said Ding Dang with a smile. "Look at you! Even in putting up a defensive pose, you look just like a farmhand. You do not have the bearing of a highly skilled member of the martial arts circle at all!"

Shi Potian laughed. "I am not a highly skilled member of the martial arts circle in the first place," he said.

"Congratulations, congratulations!" said Ding Dang. "You have learnt this set of seizing techniques to the point of the indigo being better than the blue. As your teacher, I am already not your match."

Just then, Ding Busan's voice was heard from the cabin. "If you want to fight with Bai Wanjian, the highly skilled pugilist of the Snow Mountain School," he said coldly, "you are still a long way off."

"Grandfather, he learns martial arts at such a fast pace," said Ding Dang. "If he studies for a year or so under your tutelage, he would not embarrass you any longer as your grandson-in-law, even if he does not become peerless under the sun."

Ding Busan sneered. "How can the words that Old Ding the Third has spoken be withdrawn?" he asked coldly. "One, I have said before that since he wants to marry you as his wife, he will never have any opportunity to
 
learn my martial arts skills. Two, I have given him ten days to defeat Bai Wanjian. His life will be gone in five days, so what 'year or so' is there to speak about?"

A chill entered Ding Dang's heart. She had wanted to kill Shi Potian with her own hands the night before, but now, she could no longer bear the thought of her Darling Shi dying in her grandfather's hands. Yet, her grandfather's words had always counted after they were spoken, so what should she do now?

After thinking about the matter from a variety of angles, she decided to continue with the original plan of deriving a way out through the set of seizing techniques and its eighteen moves. Hence, the few days that ensued saw Ding Dang practising the variations of the seizing techniques with Shi Potian. She stopped only to eat and sleep.

On the morning of the eighth day, Ding Busan coughed and said, "There are only three days left."

"Grandfather," said Ding Dang, "so you want him to go and defeat Bai Wanjian. As far as I can tell, it is not a difficult task. Although Bai's Swordplay Technique of the Snow Mountain School is formidable, it still cannot be matched against the martial arts techniques of our Ding Family. Darling Shi has practised the set of seizing techniques almost to the point of using it well. Now, he can take Bai's sword away with his pair of bare hands. If he takes someone's sword away with his bare hands, does that count as victory?"

Ding Busan replied with a sneer. "The little girl speaks with such triviality!" he said coldly. "He can take a sword away from the hand of the 'Frost of the North-west' with that mere ability? I tell you, you had better stop having the inflated dreams of a clear autumn as soon as possible. Even your grandfather may not be able to relieve Bai of his sword with a pair of bare hands."

"So you are not able to take his sword away," said Ding Dang. "In that case, I think your martial arts skills ... hmmph, hmmph, is probably just ... hmmph, hmmph!"
 
"What 'hmmph, hmmph'?" growled Ding Busan.

"'Hmmph, hmmph' is 'hmmph, hmmph'," answered Ding Dang, lifting her head and looking up into the sky. "It means that your martial arts skills are formidable."

"What ghastly words are you speaking?" snapped Ding Busan. "'Hmmph, hmmph' means that my martial arts skills are sloppy, trivial, common and ordinary."

"It did not come from me," said Ding Dang. "You called your own martial arts skills 'sloppy, trivial, common and ordinary'."

"You can go 'hmmph, hmpph' or 'ha-ha'," said Ding Busan, "but at the end of it, I will have that moron killed if he is unable to defeat Bai Wanjian in ten days."

Ding Dang pouted with her small mouth. "You want him to defeat Bai Wanjian in ten days," she said, "but if Bai is not found within ten days, Darling Shi cannot be held wrong."

"I have said 'ten days'," replied Ding Busan, "and ten days it will be. If he is found, so be it. If he is not found, so be it. I will have the little moron killed if he is unable to defeat the man in ten days."

"There are only three days left," said Ding Dang anxiously, "but where should we go and look for Bai Wanjian? You ... you ... you are absolutely unreasonable!"

Ding Busan laughed. "If I can be reasoned with," he said, "I would not be called 'Ding Busan'! Go and ask around the realm of the rivers and lakes: When has Ding Busan ever spoken with reason?"

By the ninth day, Ding Busan wore a sliver of a smile on the corner of his mouth. Sometimes, he would cast sidelong glances at Shi Potian with a very strange glint in his eyes. Three-tenths of the glint was scorn, but the remainder was pure murderous intent.
 
Ding Dang knew that her grandfather would certainly have her Darling Shi killed on the tenth day. To make matters worse, Shi Potian's martial arts abilities were still poles apart from Bai Wanjian's. Even if Shi could defeat Bai, how could the 'Frost of the North-west' be found within two short days, especially when Shi was still floating along on the boundless expanse of the Great River?

+ + +

It was already past the Wu hour (11.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m.) when Ding Dang and Shi Potian spent some time practising their seizing techniques with each other. As her cheeks became rosy with the exertion, Ding Dang began to yawn. "The weather is still so hot despite being the eighth month," she said as she sat down beside Shi Potian.

By and by, she pointed to two waterfowl that were swimming side-by-side in the Long River. "Tian- ge," she said, "look at that pair of waterfowl swimming like husband-and-wife in the middle of the river. See how carefree and happy they are! If an arrow kills the cock and leaves its mate all alone, would the hen not be pitiful?"

"I have never thought about animals and fowl being male and female when I hunted them in the mountains," answered Shi Potian. "But since you have mentioned it, I will shoot only the hens when I go fowl-hunting."

Ding Dang sighed: My Darling Shi is dim-witted after all. She yawned once more and leaned against Shi Potian, before placing her head on his shoulder and closing her eyes.

"Ding Ding Dang Dang, are you tired?" asked Shi. "Is it all right if I take you into the cabin so that you can get some sleep?"

"No," mumbled Ding Dang sleepily. "I love sleeping like this."

Finding it inappropriate to brush her off, Shi Potian allowed Ding Dang to use his left shoulder as a pillow. Soon, her breathing began to sound long and relaxed, an indication that she was falling increasingly deeper into slumber. Shi Potian felt a little ticklish when Ding Dang's hair brushed
 
against his left cheek, yet there was also an indescribable comfort in the sensation.

Suddenly, an extremely faint sound floated into his left ear, one that was as light as the buzzing of a bee. "I am talking to you," said the almost- imperceptible voice. "You must only listen. You must not nod your head or say anything in return. In addition, your face must not show any expression of shock or astonishment. It is best if you close your eyes and pretend to be asleep. Then, make some snoring sounds to hide my voice."

Greatly surprised, Shi Potian initially thought that Ding Dang was talking in her sleep. When he cast a sidelong glance at her, he found her long-lashed eye-lids closed. Then, quite unexpectedly, her left eye opened, winked twice at him and closed again.

Shi Potian understood at once: So she wants to tell me some secrets without allowing Grandfather in on them. Consequently, he yawned and said, "I am very tired!" Then, he closed his eyes.

Ding Dang was secretly delighted: Tian-ge is not a moron after all. He understood what I wanted as soon as I gave him a hint. He can even pretend to fall asleep with such skill. Then, she whispered: "Grandfather says that your martial arts skills are minimal and poor. He finds you a moron, and thus, unworthy to be his grandson-in-law. The ten-day period comes to an end tomorrow, and he is certain to have you killed. Yet, we cannot find Bai Wanjian. Even if we could, you would still be unable to defeat him. The only way out is by making an escape. Both of us must flee and hide away in the remote mountains, so that Grandfather is unable to find you.

Shi Potian thought: Everything is going on fine, so why does Grandfather want to kill me? Ding Ding Dang Dang is a child after all, for she has taken Grandfather's joke as the truth. But her suggestion of hiding away in the remote mountains so that Grandfather is unable to find us, seems like a lot of fun.

All his life, Shi Potian had lived with only one other person in the most remote of mountains. Thus, he felt that nothing was more natural than such an existence. In addition, his recent experiences had left him feeling so
 
frustrated and lost that he longed to return to the wilderness. Now, he could not help but feel very excited at the thought of having the beautiful and adorable Ding Ding Dang Dang for company for the rest of his life.

Ding Dang spoke again: "If both of us go ashore and run away, Grandfather will certainly be able to track us down. Therefore, we will not escape his clutches regardless of what we do. Now remember: During the third watch (11.00 p.m. to 1.00 a.m.) tonight, I will grab Grandfather suddenly and cry, 'Grandfather, spare Darling Shi! Do not kill him, do not kill him!' You must dash into the cabin at once. Execute 'The Hand of the Tiger's Claw' (Hu3 Zhao3 Shou3) with your right hand and grab the exact centre of Grandfather's back. At the same time, execute 'The Jade Maiden Picks a Needle Up' (Yu4 Nü3 Nian1 Zhen1) with your left hand and get a grip on the small of his back. Remember, you must act quickly when you hear me shout 'Do not kill him!'. Use 'The Hand of the Tiger's Claw' and 'The Jade Maiden Picks a Needle Up'. Grandfather will not be able to fend you off because I will be holding his arms down. Once you grab him, your rich internal strength will keep him from moving."

Shi Potian thought: Ding Ding Dang Dang is really mischievous, asking me to help her play such a big prank on Grandfather. I wonder: Will he be angry? Well, it does not matter. Since she wants to play, I will go along with her and do as she says. Come to think of it, the prank will be very interesting indeed.

Ding Dang whispered once more: "These acts of grabbing and gripping are linked to our lives and deaths. Now, use your left hand to touch the Ling Tai (Ling2 Tai2) acupoint in the centre of my back. That is the spot on which 'The Hand of the Tiger's Claw' must be used."

Keeping his eyes closed, Shi Potian lifted his left hand slowly and gave Ding Dang's Ling Tai acupoint a gentle rub.

"Yes, that is the one," said Ding Dang. "You have to move quickly in the dark and identify the acupoint accurately. I will be holding Grandfather with all that I have, but it will be effective only for a twinkling. Once he has been alerted, he will push me aside. By then, you will find it extremely difficult
 
to get a grip on him. Now, touch the Xuan Shu (Xuan2 Shu1) acupoint in the small of my back, so that I can see if you have gotten it correct."

Shi Potian moved his left hand slowly down Ding Dang's back and gave her Xuan Shu acupoint a gentle scratch with two of his fingers. He did not use any internal strength, of course, but the scratch was too much for Ding Dang who was both a virgin and rather afraid of tickling. Bursting into a giggle, she said, "You are mischievous!"

As Shi Potian responded with laughter and mirth, Ding Dang reached out and tickled him under the ribs. Within moments, the duo had forgotten all about pretending to be asleep.

+ + +

At dusk, the old helmsman moored the boat at the edge of a small riverside town. Then, he went ashore to buy some wine and vegetables.

"Tian- ge," said Ding Dang, "let us go ashore for a stroll as well."

"Very well!" answered Shi Potian, as Ding Dang took his hand and led him ashore.

The town had only eighty or ninety families, but more than ten of them were involved in the fishing industry.

When Shi Potian and Ding Dang reached the end of the town and found no one there, the young man said, "Now that Grandfather is sleeping in the cabin on the boat, are we not making an escape by walking off like this?" By then, all he hoped for was simply to return to the remote mountains with Ding Dang at the earliest opportunity.

"How can it be so easy?" Ding Dang remarked with a shake of her head. "He can still catch up with us even if we manage to travel ten or twenty li (5 or 10 km)."

"That is correct," a hoarse voice said suddenly behind their backs. "You could travel a thousand li (500 km) or even ten thousand (5,000 km), but we
 
would still be able to track you down."

Shi Potian and Ding Dang turned around, and saw two men with menacing grins coming out from behind a large tree. The sight was especially frightening to Shi Potian, for he recognised the men as Huyan Wanshan and Wen Wanfu from the Snow Mountain School.

As it turned out, two disciples of the Snow Mountain School had tracked Shi Potian down on the Long River earlier, and boarded his boat. During the scuffle that ensued, one of these disciples had become seriously wounded. After Bai Wanjian got wind of the matter, he had sent his younger brothers-at-arms out in pursuit on both land and water. Huyan Wanshan and Wen Wanfu had ridden westward along the river, and had eventually come upon Shi Potian in the small riverside town.

Huyan Wanshan was a prudent man. He was certain that neither of them were necessarily Shi's match when it came to martial arts skills. Hence, he had wanted to follow his Elder Brother Bai's instructions and launch a rocket into the sky to alert the other members of his school. Unfortunately, Wen Wanfu had been too impatient to wait. Thus, he had shouted at their quarries as soon as he could.

Ding Dang was startled too: These two men are disciples of the Snow Mountain School. I wonder: Is Bai Wanjian in the vicinity? If Bai appears, Grandfather will force Darling Shi to fight with him. That would be terrible indeed! Then, glaring at the men with the corner of her eye, she snapped: "We are talking among ourselves. Who needs your interruption? Tian- ge, let us return to the boat."

Shi Potian, who was already feeling intimidated, nodded in agreement. Then, he turned and walked off with Ding Dang.

Wen Wanfu, who had always despised this particular nephew-at-arms of his, thought: Elder Brother Wang Wanren and Elder Brother Zhang Wanfeng were both defeated by this little rascal, so I do not know what they were up to. If the rascal is indeed highly skilled in martial arts, how could he have been captured by Elder Brother Bai in a single move? I will capture
 
the rascal today, earn myself a great amount of merit and henceforth, stand out among the members of my school.

Thus, Wen Wanfu shouted after his quarries: "Where are you going? You, the rascal who is surnamed Shi! You had better come with me, like a dear little child would!" At the same time, he made a grab for Shi Potian's shoulder with his left hand.

Shi Potian avoided the oncoming grasp by turning his body sideways. Then, using the seizing techniques that Ding Dang had taught him, he deflected Wen Wanfu's hand with a horizontal move of the arm.

Having missed his target in the first move, Wen raised his leg and kicked out at Shi's abdomen, an attack that the latter had never learnt to respond to.

By then, Shi had spent half the day thinking repeatedly about 'The Hand of the Tiger's Claw' and 'The Jade Maiden Picks a Needle Up'. Now pressed for a response, he thought only of these two moves as well. However, with Wen standing face-to-face with him, he could not use these moves that targeted the opponent's back. Yet, he quickly proceeded to get behind his opponent, for he could not be bothered about the appropriateness of the moves at a time like this. He had a rich and profound level of internal strength that gave him incomparable speed in movement. Hence, he avoided Wen's kick as soon as he dashed away. At the same time, he grabbed Wen's Ling Tai and Xuan Shu acupoints by executing 'The Hand of the Tiger's Claw' with his right hand and 'The Jade Maiden Picks a Needle Up' with his left respectively. Wen shook a little when he was struck by Shi's internal strength; then, he fell to the ground.

Huyan Wanshan had wanted to enter the fray, but when he suddenly saw Shi Potian holding the vital acupoints on his younger brother's body, he became so concerned that he did not even wait to unsheath his sword. He simply went up and sent his fist into Shi's waist with all his strength. The fist struck with a *po*, followed by a *ka-cha*. Huyan's right arm broke.

On the other hand, Shi Potian did not feel any pain on his waist. When he released Wen Wanfu, he saw the latter curling up into an immobile ball. Turning him over by the shoulder, he found Wen's eyes in a horrifying stare.
 
Shocked, Shi Potian said, "A-yo! This is bad! Ding Ding Dang Dang, why has he ... he become all cramped up? Could he be dead?"

Ding Dang answered with a laugh. "Tian- ge," she said, "you used the two moves very well, but the panicky way in which these moves were executed was just too unsightly. This man will not die from your strikes, but he will not be spared from disability. His arms and legs would have to be given medical treatment for a year or so."

"I am really ... really sorry," said Shi Potian, reaching out to hold Wen Wanfu. "I did not mean to hurt you, so what should I do now? Ding Ding Dang Dang, we have to find a way to cure him."

"So do you want him to suffer less?" asked Ding Dang. "That would be very easy." She pulled Wen's sword out of its scabbard and said, "Just have him killed with a single stab!"

"No, no!" said Shi Potian at once.

As for Huyan Wanshan, he reacted to the suggestion with anger. "Shameless little goblins!" he roared. "The disciples of the Snow Mountain School can be killed, but never humiliated. Since my brother and I have fallen into your hands today, just hurry up and have both of us killed. Why utter so many annoying words?"

Shi Potian took the sword from Ding Dang's hand as quickly as he could, for he was deeply afraid that she would really have Wen Wanfu killed. Pushing the blade slightly into the ground, he said, "Ding Ding Dang Dang, hurry, let us leave." Then, he pulled Ding Dang by her sleeve and walked quickly towards their boat.

"People say that Leader Shi from the Clan of Eternal Happiness is vicious in his thoughts and ruthless in his acts," said Ding Dang sarcastically. "He kills people without batting an eyelid, but why has he suddenly become as sentimental as an old woman? You had better not tell Grandfather about what happened just now."
 
"No, I will not," said Shi Potian. "That man back there -- do you really mean that his arms and legs will eventually be crippled?"

"Well, you grabbed two of his vital acupoints," answered Ding Dang. "If that did not cripple him, what purpose is there in the eighteen moves that make up the Seizing Techniques of our Ding Family?"

"Why then did you ask me to grab Grandfather in the same manner?" asked Shi Potian again.

Ding Dang smiled. "Silly man," she said. "Who do you think Grandfather is? How can he be compared with the pus-filled good-for-nothings from the Snow Mountain School? If you are fortunate enough to grab these two acupoints on Grandfather's body, and exert some internal strength on them, you would be able to immobilise him for three shichen (6 hours) at the most. Do you really think that you could cripple him?"

Yet, Shi Potian remained very much disturbed as the image of Wen Wanfu's horrifying appearance played on in his mind.

+ + +

Shi Potian spent the evening drifting in and out of sleep. At midnight, he heard Ding Dang shouting from the cabin just as she had planned: "Grandfather, Grandfather, spare Darling Shi's life! Do not kill him, do not kill him!" Leaping to his feet, Shi Potian dashed into the cabin and saw Ding Dang holding Ding Busan's torso in the murky darkness. At the same time, she kept on shouting, "Grandfather, do not kill Darling Shi!"

The young man reached out with both his hands, but when he was about to grab Ding Busan's back, he suddenly remembered the horror of seeing Wen Wanfu all curled up into a ball. He thought: If Grandfather ends up like that after I grab him with my hands, I would have done him a great disservice. I
... I must not carry this plan out. Hence, he retreated quietly from the cabin at once and went back to sleep.

As for Ding Dang, she was initially delighted because Shi Potian had entered the cabin at the right moment. Yet, he had left after a moment's
 
hesitation, an outcome that she had not expected at all. Success was within her grasp, but now, she was left with failure. Thus, she could not help but feel frustrated and angry at the same time.

Meanwhile, Shi Potian's heart thumped wildly as he lay in the stern. After a while, he heard Ding Dang say, "A-yo, Grandfather, why am I holding you? I ... I had a nightmare just now, and saw you killing Darling Shi. I begged you ... you to spare his life, but you did not agree. Thank the Heavens and the Earth; it was just a dream."

Then, he heard Ding Busan say, "If it was a dream, so be it. If it was not, so be it. Once the sky is bright, it will be the tenth day that we have agreed on. Let us see if he can find Bai Wanjian and have him defeated within the day."

Ding Dang sighed. "I know that Darling Shi is not a moron!" she said.

"Yes, he has a kind conscience!" said Ding Busan. "A man with a kind conscience is a fool, and a fool is a moron. He certainly deserves damnation and death. Sigh, grabbing the Ling Tai acupoint with 'The Hand of the Tiger's Claw' and the Xuan Shu acupoint with 'The Jade Maiden Picks a Needle Up' ... an excellent plan, an excellent plan indeed! What a pity that the moron has a conscience so kind that he could not bear to carry the plan out."

The last two sentences gave both Ding Dang and Shi Potian an enormous shock as soon as they heard it: How did Grandfather know about our plan?

While Shi Potian did not react much beyond the initial shock, Ding Dang could not help but burst into cold sweat. She thought: So Grandfather knew about the plan way ahead of time. Hence, he would have certainly made preparations to deal with it. I wonder: Was it good or bad that Tian-ge did not act just now?

On his part, the muddle-headed Shi Potian did not believe that Ding Busan would have him killed the following day. Then, without much ado, he fell asleep.
 
+ + +

Barely after daybreak, loud shouts were heard coming from the bank of the river: "Here it is!" "This is the boat!" "Do not let the old monster escape!"

Shi Potian sat up, and saw more than ten people on the bank with lanterns and torches in their hands. The people approached the boat at a fast pace, and before long, the first four or five men had climbed on to the bow.

"Where is the old monster?" they shouted. "Where has the goblin who harms all men gone?"

Ding Busan came out of the cabin and roared in return: "What creatures are making such a racket here?"

"It is he, it is he!" shouted one of the men. "Hurry, splash him with it!"

Two men stepped out from behind the first with bamboo contraptions that looked like modern-day spray-guns, took aim at Ding Busan and shot him with gushing streams of blood.

"The blood of black dogs has struck the old monster!" shouted the people on the bank with glee. "He can no longer escape!"

Yet, how could these two streams of dogs' blood hit Ding Busan? As the old man leapt away, anger filled his heart: Where have these ignorant and presumptuous people come from? How could they think that I am a monster that must be splashed with the blood of black dogs?

Ding Busan would often raise his hand and kill a man at whim, so now that these townspeople had come all the way to antagonise him, how could things be any different? Hence, he kicked out with his feet as he landed on the deck, and struck the two men with the bamboo contraptions. Then, he sent his palm out and caused the first man to fly all the way off the boat. The three men did not know any martial arts at all, so how could they live after being attacked by this strange but outstanding resident of the realm of the rivers and lakes?
 
The two victims of Ding Busan's kicks died there and then on the bow of the boat, while the one who was thrown off the boat vomitted copious amounts of blood even in mid-air.

When Ding Busan began raising his fists and feet against the remaining people, he heard Ding Dang's cold voice behind him: "Grandfather, not more than three a day!"

The old man was taken aback, for he had been so infuriated that he had almost forgotten the oath sworn years ago. Hence, he forced himself to withdraw the foot that had gone within a chi (33.33 centimetres) of the townspeople on the bow.

By then, the townspeople were scared out of their wits. "The old monster is so formidable!" they shouted. "Run! Run!" Within moments, they were all gone, their lanterns and torches cast either into the river or on to the ground. The three corpses -- one on land and two on the boat -- were left behind as well.

Ding Busan kicked the corpses on the boat into the river. Then, he turned to the helmsman and said, "Set sail quickly, for I cannot kill anyone else who comes by."

The command frightened the helmsman so much that his hands could not stop trembling. He did not seem to have any strength to steer the boat as well. Consequently, Ding Busan picked the bamboo steering pole up and pushed the boat away from the shore.

Although the dogs' blood had not struck its target, it had splashed into the cabin and left an unbearable odour there.

Ding Busan turned to his grand-daughter and asked in a cold voice: "A'Dang, why did you come up with such mischief?"

"Grandfather, do you mean what you say?" asked Ding Dang in return, a smile on her lips.

"When have I not meant what I say?" asked Ding Busan.
 
"All right," answered Ding Dang, "you said that you would have Darling Shi killed at the end of the ten-day period if he does not defeat the one who is surnamed Bai. It is the tenth day today, but you have already killed three people!" Feeling pleased with herself, the young woman smiled and went on: "The Third Master of the Ding Family has always meant what he says. You say that you would have this rascal here killed on the tenth day, yet you have 'Not More Than Three A Day'. You have already killed three people today, and he would be the fourth. Therefore, he cannot be killed. Since you cannot kill him on the tenth day, you cannot have him killed in the future as well. As far as I can see, this grandson-in-law of yours is not really a moron. He will recover gradually, and when that happens, there will naturally be a great advancement in his martial arts skills. I assure you, your dignity and reputation will be preserved."

Ding Busan lifted his foot and stomped hard on the bow. As the planks beneath his foot broke with a *ka*, he roared in anger: "That will not do, that will not do! Ding Busan has already lost his dignity, for he has been defeated by a little girl!"

"I am your grand-daughter," said Ding Dang with a smile. "We are family, so what dignity is there to lose? Besides, I will not tell anyone about the matter."

"I become upset when I lose," snapped Ding Busan. "What does it have to do with you telling people or keeping quiet about it?"

"Then, let us take it that you have won," said Ding Dang.

"Losing is losing," said Ding Busan. "Winning is winning. I am not that good-for-nothing Fourth Grandfather of yours. When we fought as children, he would blow his own whistle and say that he had won even when he had lost."

Listening to the exchange between the old man and his grand-daughter, Shi Potian finally understood what was going on. As it turned out, Ding Dang had led the townspeople to the boat with the intention of having them killed by her grandfather. After the old man had killed three of the townspeople, he would be stopped by his oath of 'Not More Than Three A Day' from
 
killing Shi himself. Now that he had seen the cruel, ferocious and rapid manner in which Ding Busan had killed the three people, the threat to have him killed was probably not a joke.

Hence, when Shi Potian saw Ding Dang walking to the stern with a grin on her face, he said, "Ding Ding Dang Dang, you caused the death of three people for no good reason because you wanted to save my life. Is that not ... not too cruel?"

Ding Dang's countenance darkened. "You caused it!" she answered. "Why are you turning around and putting the blame on me?"

"I ... I caused it?" asked Shi Potian, feeling somewhat exasperated.

"How could it be otherwise?" asked Ding Dang in return. "When things came to a head last night, you did not dare to follow through. If you had done it, both of us would have been gone long and far by now. Then, would those three innocent people have needed to die?"

Shi Potian found her words true; hence, he did not have anything to say for a while.

Suddenly, Ding Busan's laughter was heard: "Ha-ha, I have got it, I have got it! You, the little rascal who is surnamed Shi! Your grandfather will gouge your eyeballs out and chop both your arms off, so that you are unable to die even if you want to, but live on as a useless cripple! So long as I do not take your life, I would not be breaking my oath of 'Not More Than Three A Day'."

Ding Dang and Shi Potian looked at each other, as the expressions on their faces underwent a great change.

"What an excellent idea!" said Ding Busan, feeling increasingly pleased with himself as he thought deeper about his plan. "What an excellent idea! Little moron, I will not kill you, but I will ensure that you become a man who does not look like a man, and a ghost that does not look like a ghost. A'Dang, that would be acceptable, would it not?"
 
Unable to come up with a counter-argument, Ding Dang said, "The tenth day is not over yet. Perhaps we will run into Bai Wanjian later, and Darling Shi will have him defeated."

"That is correct, that is correct," said Ding Busan, cackling with laughter. "We must work through this deal in a fair and just manner, without cheating the young and the old. Your grandfather will wait until the third watch (11.00 p.m. to 1.00 a.m.) tonight before taking any action."

+ + +

Now weighed down with anxiety, Ding Dang could no longer think of another plan to help Shi Potian escape the impending danger. To make matters worse, Shi Potian acted as if he did not know that a great disaster was about to befall him.

"Why are you wearing a frown on your brow?" he asked Ding Dang. "Are you worried about something?"

"Did you not hear what Grandfather said?" snapped the young woman. "He wants to gouge your eyeballs out and chop both your arms off!"

Shi Potian laughed. "Grandfather is just trying to scare us with his jokes," he said, "but you are taking it as truth! What purpose is there in him gouging my eyeballs out and chopping both my arms off? Besides, I have not offended him."

Ding Dang, who was already annoyed, became furious: This man acts like a sentimental old woman, and his brain is totally muddled. If I live out my days with him, life will be very uninteresting. Since Grandfather wants to have him killed, I may as well allow him to die. Then, she thought: If I change my mind and want him again after Grandfather has gouged his eyeballs out and chopped both his arms off, I would end up being married to a husband without eyes and arms. That would be even more unpalatable.

As the sun sank slowly into the west, Ding Dang sat facing the stern and watched as her shadow and that of Shi Potian floated on the surface of the
 
river. The shadows looked as if they were swimming right behind the boat as it sailed west.

When Ding Dang turned towards Shi Potian and found him sitting with his back towards her, she reached out and made a grab for the vital acupoints on his back. Holding his Ling Tai acupoint in her right hand with 'The Hand of the Tiger's Claw' and his Xuan Shu acupoint in her left with 'The Jade Maiden Picks a Needle Up', she succeeded in immobilising him because he was caught totally unprepared. While he felt a numbing ache all over his body, she found herself being thrown back by his internal strength.

Grabbing the sail with a hand to stop herself from falling into the river, Ding Dang began scolding Shi Potian: "Grandfather wants to gouge your eyeballs out and chop both your arms off! Even if a useless fool like you can be left in this world without being an embarrassment to Grandfather, I would still be too ashamed to see anyone. Grandfather does not need to take any action, for I will gouge your eyeballs out myself!"

Then, Ding Dang took a long rope from the stern and bound Shi Potian's hands and feet. Then, she wound the rope tightly around him, from his shoulders right down to his legs. The rope was coiled at least eighty or ninety times, causing Shi Potian to end up looking like an enormous rice dumpling.

Anyone who had his acupoints grabbed in this manner could hardly open his mouth to speak, but Shi Potian's rich and profound level of internal strength enabled him to talk even when his limbs could not move. "Ding Ding Dang Dang, are you playing with me?" he asked.

Despite his light-hearted question, he knew that something was terribly wrong from the vicious expression on Ding Dang's face. Hence, a pitiful expression began to appear in his eyes.

Ding Dang gave him a ferocious kick in the waist and said, "Hmmph, am I playing with you? Death is upon you, yet you are still having the inflated dreams of a clear autumn. There is no injustice when I have a stupid fool like you dismembered into a ten thousand pieces with a thousand sabres."
 
She withdrew her willow-blade sabre with a *sou* and rubbed it twice against Shi Potian's forehead, as if she was having the weapon sharpened.

Shi Potian was greatly astonished. "Ding Ding Dang Dang, I will listen to you from now on," he said. "If you kill me, I ... I will not come alive again!"

"Who wants you to come alive again?" snapped Ding Dang heartlessly. "I intended to save your life, but you insisted on disobeying my instructions. You chose the road to death yourself, so who else can you blame? If I do not kill you now, Grandfather will. Hmmph, you are my husband and I should be the one to kill you myself. If someone else does the deed, I will not be happy for the rest of my life."

"Do spare me," said Shi Potian. "I will not be your husband anymore." His words were an impassioned plea, but since he was taught by his mother never to beseech another, he did not utter the word 'beg' at all.

"We have already paid our respects to the Heavens and the Earth in a rite of marriage," said Ding Dang. "How can you not be my husband? If you continue talking, I will chop that cursed dog-head of yours off with my sabre!"

Shi Potian was so frightened that he clammed up at once.

Then, he heard Ding Busan's voice. "Very good, very good!" the old man said with a laugh. "Very wonderful indeed! Now that is how the dear grand- daughter of Ding Busan should act: Frank, outright and cut cleanly into two with a single stroke of the sabre!"

Unfortunately, Ding Dang's act of raising her sabre frightened the old helmsman so much that he shook from head to toe. As the rudder in his hands went askew, the boat cut diagonally across the river, right into the path of a smaller vessel that was being swept along by the currents. A collision was imminent.

"Pull the rudder, pull the rudder!" shouted the helmsman of the smaller boat.
 
When Ding Dang lifted her sabre once again, the setting sun reflected off its blade into Shi Potian's eyes. As Shi Potian reacted to the glare by narrowing his eyes, he saw Ding Dang's arm coming down at a hurried pace. *Pai* The sabre missed its target, sinking into the planks several cun (1 cun =
3.33 centimetres) beside Shi's head.

Then, Ding Dang released her grip on the sabre, took Shi Potian in both her hands and hurled him as hard as she could towards the cabin of the vessel that was passing by.

"What ... what are you doing?" shouted Ding Busan in anger. He had not expected his grand-daughter to execute such a trick at all, so he leapt quickly out of the cabin and pounced towards Shi Potian. Then, he reached out to grab the young man to no avail.

The currents in the river were so swift that the two boats were already more than ten zhang (33.33 metres) apart in a twinkling. Hence, regardless of how highly skilled Ding Busan was in qinggong, he could not jump across the expanse that separated the two vessels. Infuriated, the old man turned around and gave Ding Dang a tight slap.

"Turn the rudder, turn the rudder!" he roared at the helmsman. "Get that boat!"

But with such strong winds and swift currents in the middle of the Long River, how could any helmsman turn the rudder around in a mere instant? In addition, the lighter body of the smaller boat enabled it to move a lot faster and go increasingly further away, until it could no longer be caught up with.




Definitions, explanations and/or words left (mostly) in their original form: Those covered in earlier chapters are not repeated.
Medicine for metal-inflicted wounds ( ⾦疮药 jin1 chuang1 yao4) = A common type of medicine for treating wounds caused by weapons; usually
 
found in powder form.

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