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The Legend of the Condor Heroes Chapter 32


Chapter 32 – Rushing River Rugged Shore
The mute boatman took out an axe and with two chops he cut the mooring rope. Immediately afterwards he raised the anchor. As the boat came free, the rushing water washed it out down the river. It made a sudden turn as the hull slanted sideways and rushed away as though flying down the river.

Mu Nianci let Huang Rong hold her right hand; she looked at the fallen flowers floating on the water and said, “When I saw him kill Ouyang Ke I thought he was going to repent from his evil ways. Moreover I saw the two masters from the Beggar Clan were so respectful toward him when they went to the west. I’ve met those two Beggar Clan uncles before; they were Senior Qigong’s trusted aides. Seeing them treat him that way I was very happy; so I followed them till we get to Yuezhou, where the Beggar Clan was having their congress on Mount Jun.

Before then he quietly told me that he had received Hong Enshi’s [Benevolent Master Hong] order to become the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu [Clan Leader]. I was surprised and happy. In all honesty it was hard to believe, but I saw even the highest ranking Elders of the Beggar Clan treat him with utmost respect, I didn’t have any choice but to believe him. I am not a member of the Beggar Clan, so naturally I could not participate in the congress and had to wait for him in Yuezhou city. I thought that as he become the leader of the Beggar Clan heroes he would be able to do much good for the people and the country, to achieve great things, and in the future would be able to repel the invaders and avenge adoptive father and mother.

That night my mind went back and forth and I couldn’t sleep; I thought from now on everything would be all right. It was almost daybreak when I finally felt tired and was about to fall asleep when suddenly he jumped in from the window. I jumped in fright; I thought he was having some ideas towards me. But he actually spoke in low voice, ‘Meizi [younger sister, term of endearment], things did not go well, we must go.’ I was surprised and asked him what happened; he said, ‘There was an internal dispute in the Beggar Clan; the Dirty Clothes Faction refused to accept Hong Bangzhu’s order. The Clean Clothes Faction and the Dirty Clothes Faction battled each other in this new Clan Leader business; many people were killed.’ I was shocked, ‘What should we do?’ I asked. He said, ‘Because too many people has died, I withdrew my nomination, I did not want to become the Clan Leader anymore.’ Taking the entire situation into consideration, I thought he was doing the right thing. He said further, ‘The Clean Clothes Faction did not want to let me go; fortunately Qiu Bangzhu from the Iron Palm Clan came to my assistance and helped me leave Mount Jun. Right now we’d better go to the Iron Palm Mountain first and we’ll talk it over later.’ I did not know whether the Iron Palm Clan was a good clan or an evil one; but since he said so, I followed him.

When we got to the Iron Palm Mountain, I did not see the Qiu Bangzhu from the Iron Palm Clan, but I was watched over with cold eyes. I noticed that the Iron Palm Clan’s behavior was sneaky, I saw strange things everywhere. I said to him, ‘Although you did not become the Beggar Clan leader, you shouldn’t walk away from them. I think you’d better find your Shifu, the Changchun Zi [Eternal Spring] Qiu Daozhang [Taoist Priest], and ask him to gather the heroes of the Jianghu to uphold the justice, to help the Beggar Clan elect a person of virtue and prestige within their clan to assume the Clan Leader position to avoid a bloodbath within the clan. Hence you will be fulfilling Hong Enshi’s order to you.’ He mumbled indistinctly, neither said yes nor no; but actually raised the matter of his marriage with me. I rebuked him severely; he became angry. We ended up having a heated argument.

The next day I started to regret my harshness; I thought even though he could not differentiate the important from the trivial, friends from foe, and oftentimes acted childish, nevertheless he was always kind to me. I felt I was being too hard on him, no wonder he was mad at me. That evening the more I thought about it the more restless I became. I lit a lamp to write a note, saying I did not blame him. Quietly I went to his room; I was going to slip the note through his window, but suddenly I heard him talking with somebody. I took a peek from the window; I saw a rather short white-bearded old man, he was wearing a yellow coarse-linen short robe, with a large palm leaf fan in his hand.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong exchanged glances, they both thought, “I wonder if he was Qiu Qianren or Qiu Qianzhang?”

Mu Nianci continued, “That old man took a small porcelain vial from his pocket and put it on the table, he said, ‘Brother Yang, if your fiancée does not listen to you, that is a very simple matter. Just take some medicinal powder from this vial and put it in a cup of green tea, let her drink it, I guarantee you will enjoy a wedding night tonight.”

As Jing and Rong two people heard this, they both thought, “It was Qiu Qianzhang.”

Mu Nianci continued, “To my surprise that boy Yang Kang beamed with joy and repeatedly said thanks. I was so angry that I almost passed out. A moment later that old man took his leave. Quietly I followed behind him. After it was far enough, I pounced on him, I beat his chest and struck him down. If I were not in a dangerous place, I would’ve taken a knife and killed him right then and there. I repeatedly hit him until he passed out, then I searched his body. This old man’s pocket really did contain many things; some rings, broken sword, a piece of brick, and all kinds of strange things. I think all of them are things to harm people. I also found a book. I didn’t know what it was, but I thought it might be useful somehow, so I put it in my pocket. The more I thought, the madder I became. I made up my mind to deal with Yang Kang.

I went back to Yang Kang’s room. Who would have thought that he was standing at the door? He smiled at me and said, ‘Meizi, please come in.’ Early on I have decided that tonight I must make myself clear to him, so I went in. He pointed to the porcelain vial on the table and smiled, ‘Meizi,’ he said, ‘Can you guess what’s inside this vial?’ I was angry, ‘Who knows all these kinds of dirty things?’ I said. He smiled and said, ‘A friend gave it to me a moment ago, he said if I take some of this medicinal powder and put it in a cup of green tea and give it to you, then everything will happen as I wish.’ His words have actually blown me away, my anger vanished immediately. I took that porcelain vial and threw it out over the window. ‘Did you do it?’ I asked. ‘I respect and adore Meizi like a deity, how can I engage myself in this kind of filthy business?’ he replied.”

Guo Jing nodded his head, “Brother Yang has done the right thing,” he said. “Humph,” Mu Nianci snorted but did not say anything. Huang Rong recalled that day on the Iron Palm Mountain she peeked through the window and saw Yang Kang sit on the edge of the bed, embracing her and talking softly with Mu Nianci. At that time Mu Nianci was smiling, her face was tender. Apparently that happened after she threw the vial away.

“And then what happened?” Guo Jing asked. Zhou Botong told him that whenever somebody was telling a story, a ‘And then what happened?’ every now and then would help keep the story-teller’s interest high; but unexpectedly Mu Nianci’s face turned red, she turned her head away and hang her head low without saying anything.

“Ah, I know!” Huang Rong suddenly called out, “Afterwards you bowed to the heaven and earth and became man and wife.”

Mu Nianci turned her head back, actually her face was a little pale; she bit her lower lip and her eyes shone with a strange look. Huang Rong was scared; she knew she said something wrong. “I am sorry, I talked nonsense,” she hastily said, “Good Sister, please don’t be offended.”

Mu Nianci spoke with a low voice, “You did not talk nonsense, it was I who messed up. I … I have become his wife, but we did not … we did not bow to the heaven and earth. I hate myself for not having a stronger self control …” Speaking to this point tears came streaming down her face.

Seeing her miserable look Huang Rong stretched out her left arm to hold her shoulder. She wanted to say something to comfort her so after a while she pointed to Guo Jing and said, “Sister, you don’t have to feel sorry, it was nothing. That day in the Ox Village Jing Gege and I also became man and wife.”

As he heard this, Guo Jing was dumbstruck. He was blushing profusely and did not dare to look up; he only mumbled, “We … we did not … did not …”

Huang Rong laughed, “Don’t tell me you did not think about that?” she asked.

Guo Jing’s face was red from ear to ear; he lowered his head and said softly, “I was not being good.”

Huang Rong stretched her right arm and patted Guo Jing’s shoulder. “You want to become man and wife with me, and I like that very much. What do you mean you were not being good?” she said with a gentle voice.

Mu Nianci sighed and thought, “Although Sister Huang is extraordinarily smart, she is too young to understand the man-woman relationship. It is truly fortunate for her to meet such an honest and considerate fellow like this Brother Guo.”

“Sister,” Huang Rong asked, “And then what happened?”

Mu Nianci looked at the creek and said in low voice, “And then … and then … I heard commotion outside, like there was a fight going on. He told me not to make any noise, that it was the Iron Palm Clan’s internal affair, it had nothing to do with us. Some time later somebody knocked our door, saying that Qiu Bangzhu wanted to talk. He hastily got up and told me to hide in the bed and not to move. He lit up a lamp and someone came in. I looked through the curtain and to my surprise I saw that bad old man I met a while ago. I was worried to find out that he was the Clan Leader of the Iron Palm Clan; I feared he came to interrogate me about why I plotted against him. How would I know that … that he was the Clan Leader? Luckily he did not bring this matter up; actually Yang Kang and he discussed things like how to destroy the Beggar Clan and how to support the Jin army movement to the south.”

Huang Rong smiled, “Sister, those two old men are not the same person,” she said.

“Not the same person?” Mu Nianci was surprised.

Huang Rong laughed, “Those two are twin brothers; they look exactly alike. The one you flattened was called Qiu Qianzhang; his martial art was only so-so, all he could do was just some tricks to deceive people. This Qiu Bangzhu, Qiu Qianren is amazing. Luckily you beat the fake Clan Leader; if you came across the real Clan Leader, with just one strike of his Iron Palm, I am afraid your little life would be difficult to protect.”

“That’s so,” Mu Nianci gloomily said, “Actually it would be better if I met with the real Qiu Bangzhu that day and if he struck me dead with one palm.”

Huang Rong laughed, “Our Brother Yang might not want to give you up,” she said.

Mu Nianci twisted her body around so that Huang Rong’s hand fell from her shoulder. “Don’t talk to me like that,” she said sternly.

Huang Rong stuck out her tongue and laughed, “All right, it’s me who don’t want to give you up.”

Mu Nianci stood up and said, “Brother Guo, Sister Huang, I am leaving. You two take care; be careful of the Iron Palm Clan’s evil scheme on the boat.”

Huang Rong hastily stood up and held her hand. “Good Sister, please don’t be angry,” she pleaded, “I won’t dare to talk nonsense anymore.”

Mu Nianci heaved a deep sigh, “I wasn’t angry with you, I … I was grieving.”

“Why?” Huang Rong asked, “Did that boy Yang Kang provoke your anger?” She pulled Mu Nianci to sit back down.

Mu Nianci said, “That night from behind the curtain I heard Yang Kang and that old man surnamed Qiu discussing all kind of plans to betray our country and harm the people; the more I heard the angrier I became. I wanted very much to jump out and kill that old man. They were talking for a long time. Suddenly the commotion outside got louder. That old man said, ‘Xiao Wangye [Young Prince, lit. young king master], I am going to take a look. We’ll talk again later.’ Then he left the room.”

“That’s right,” Huang Rong interrupted, “He went out to pursue Jing Gege and me.”

“After that old man left,” Mu Nianci continued, “Yang Kang went back to make small talk with me. I asked him whether the things he discussed with that old man was a real thing or was he only pretending. He said, ‘We have become man and wife; I don’t need to conceal anything from you. It won’t be long before the Jin army will invade the south. We have received Iron Palm Clan’s great help to strike from both inside and outside. By attacking from two fronts, our victory is guaranteed.’ He was talking excitedly. He said that after the Great Jin destroyed the Song Dynasty, his father king, Zhao Wangye [Prince, lit. king master] will ascend to the great treasure, becoming the Emperor of the Great Jin; he will then be the crown prince. By that time riches and honor will be limitless. I listened without saying anything. He suddenly said, ‘Meizi, at that time you will be the Empress.’ I … I could not hold my patience much longer; I slapped his face fiercely and ran out the door, anxiously rushed down the mountain.

By then the commotion on the Iron Palm Peak had worsened; countless clan members with torches in their hands rushed toward the highest mountain peak. I was the only one going down the mountain, so I did not meet any resistance.

After this incident my heart felt like it was dying; as a matter of fact, I wanted to die very much. I did not know east from west, north from south, I just kept walking and walking, wandering aimlessly. Finally I saw a Taoist temple. I rushed toward the temple and barely stepped into the door when I fainted. Fortunately there was an old priestess living in that temple who gave me shelter. I was sick for more than ten days and I just got well not a few days ago. I donned this priestess garb and set on a journey to the Ox Village. Unexpectedly I met with you two here.”

Huang Rong was delighted, “Sister, we are on our way to the Peach Blossom Island and happened to go the same way. What do you say the three of us travel together? Then our journey will be more fun. If you don’t look down on me, I’ll teach you some martial arts along the way.”

Mu Nianci shook her head and said, “No, I … I want to go alone. I appreciate Sister’s good intention very much.” She stood up, took out a book from her pocket and gave it to Guo Jing; she said, “Brother Guo, this book contains some matters concerning the Iron Palm Clan. Please give it to Senior Qigong whenever you see him; perhaps he will have some use for it.”

“Yes,” Guo Jing said, holding out his hand to receive the book.

Mu Nianci walked quickly so that in a short moment she was far away; never once did she turn her head around to see them. Guo Jing and Huang Rong watched her back disappear behind a row of willow trees in the distance. They were silent for half a day.

Guo Jing said, “She is all alone, traveling thousands of ‘li’s to Zhejiang. I do hope she won’t meet some bullies along the way. It’s a good thing that her martial art is not weak; she does not have to fear ordinary criminals.”

“That is difficult to say,” Huang Rong said, “Even people like you and I are still bullied by some bad people.”

Guo Jing sighed, “Er Shifu [Second Master] often said, ‘In a tumultuous time, people are not better than dogs.’ There is nothing we can do about it.”

“All right, let’s kill that mute dog then,” Huang Rong said.

“What mute dog?” Guo Jing asked.

Huang Rong made some ‘ah, ah, uh, uh’ noise, flailing her hands and feet. Guo Jing laughed. “Are we going to ride this mute’s boat?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” Huang Rong said, “That old traitor Qiu Qianren had caused me a lot of pain, how can I just let it go? I am not his match, but I want to kill some of his disciples and followers first and talk about it later.”

They went back to the restaurant immediately, and saw that mute boatman snooping around the restaurant to find them. As he saw them, his face was beaming, he busily greeted them. Jing and Rong two people acted like nothing happened; they followed him boarding the boat.

The boat was not too big nor it was too small, it was covered with black matting; it held around eighty, ninety sacks of rice. This kind of boat was very common along the Yuanjiang [Yuan River], transporting commodities from the hills of Xiangxi and rice from the fields of the lake front. Two bare-chested young men were scrubbing the deck.

As soon as Jing and Rong two people embarked, the boatman untied the rope and pushed the boat to the river, raising the sail. Under the strong southerly wind and following the current, the boat sailed down the river like an arrow. Guo Jing thought about the affair between Yang Kang and Mu Nianci, and could not help but heave a deep sigh. “Yang Kang is my sworn brother,” he said in his heart, “We have made a vow to share fortune and disaster. Now he is making a wrong choice, I cannot ignore it; no matter what, I have to persuade him to leave his evil ways and go back treading the path of righteousness.” Leaning against the cabin wall he was lost in thought.

Huang Rong suddenly said, “Let me see the book Sister Mu gave you. I wonder what’s written in it.”

Guo Jing took the book out of his pocket and gave it to her. Huang Rong flipped the pages, browsing the book. “Ah, so that’s how it is!” she suddenly called out, “Take a look here.”

Guo Jing moved closer, sat right next to her and read the book in her hand. It was late afternoon, the bright red sunset shone on the river reflecting the ripple of the water on Huang Rong’s face, her clothes, and the book in her hand, creating a waving light dancing on her body.

It turned out that the book was written by the thirteenth Clan Leader of the Iron Palm Clan, Shangguan Jiannan; a journal of important events within the Clan year after year. Shangguan Jiannan was formerly a high-ranking army officer serving under General Han Shizhong. After Qin Gui killed Yue Fei, Han Shizhong resigned from his military duty to live as a commoner. Most of his officers and soldiers also returned to civilian lives [jie3 jia3 gui1 tian2 – lit. removed armor return to the (rice) field].

Shangguan Jiannan loathed the way the traitor ministers run the government, so he led a group of brethrens to become outlaws in the Jing Xiang district, and later on they joined the Iron Palm Clan. Not long afterwards the old clan leader died and Shangguan Jiannan took over the clan leader position. The Iron Palm Clan was originally a tiny underworld organization, after he consolidated it, the clan managed to do much chivalrous deeds. A lot or heroes and warriors around the two Hu’s [i.e. Hunan and Hubei] heard of his patriotism and joined the clan so that in a few years the Clan enjoyed equal reputation among the Jianghu people with the Beggar Clan of the north.

Shangguan Jiannan had never forgotten where his loyalty and patriotism lie, although he lived in the wilderness he had never forgotten his duty to defend the country and destroy the enemy, and to restore his homeland; therefore, he frequently dispatched his men to Lin’an, Bianliang and the surrounding areas to gather information, waiting for a good opportunity.

A few years had passed. An Iron Palm Clan brother happened to be a good friend of the warden where Yue Fei was held prisoner. He learned that after Yue Fei was executed, his belongings were confiscated by the government, among which was a book containing military tactics and strategies. He went to many places to inquire and indeed learned that the book was kept in the imperial palace. A fast horse carrying this piece of information was dispatched to the Iron Palm Peak. That very day Shangguan Jiannan led a group of his highly skilled pugilists to enter the palace in the middle of the night and without too much effort they succeeded in stealing the book away. That very night they delivered the book to his former superior, retired general Han Shizhong.

At that time Han Shizhong was already old; he lived in seclusion by the West Lake (Xihu) with his wife, Madame Liang Hongyu. As he saw Shangguan Jiannan bring over the Yue Fei’s Legacy he remembered how the hero died of false accusations and the injustice had not been avenged, he drew his sword and chopped a table in front of him. Holding up his wrist he heaved a long sigh.

In memory of his old friend, Han Shizhong compiled Yue Fei’s writings: poetry, essays, military strategies, into one volume and presented this volume to Shangguan Jiannan as a gift; with the hope that he would continue Yue Wumu’s [another title of Yue Fei] aspiration of uniting the heroes of the Central Plains to drive away the invaders and restore their land [he2 shan1 – lit. river and mountain].

While Han Shizhong and Shangguan Jiannan were talking, they suddenly remembered: everywhere in this military strategy book Yue Fei always exhorted the people’s loyalty and patriotism to dedicate themselves to the service of their country to match Yue Fei’s life aspiration. This book contained a lesson in life attitude; in no way Yue Fei would write this book to accompany him to the grave. It must be because Qin Gui’s tight guard that he was not able to smuggle it outside the prison. However, considering Yue Fei’s extraordinary wisdom, he must have had some way to overcome this obstacle; only it was not clear to whom did he leave his final words. If his message came too late, and that person came to the palace to fetch the book, wouldn’t he snatch empty air?

After discussing this matter further, Shangguan Jiannan drew a painting of the Iron Palm Mountain, with a piece of paper hidden in between the layers containing this message: ‘Wumu’s Legacy at the Iron Palm Mountain, middle finger peak, second knuckle’. Han Shizhong was afraid that person will not understand the message, so he added a poem written by Yue Fei in the old days. He thought the heir of this military strategy book must be either Yue Fei’s child or younger brother or his former subordinate; so he must be familiar with this poem, therefore, he added some additional details to the painting. Finally Shangguan Jiannan re-entered the palace and left the painting behind, so that the heir could follow the trail to the Iron Palm Mountain.

Afterwards Shangguan Jiannan returned to the Iron Palm Mountain and assembled a group of patriots to discuss a military expedition to the north. Who would have thought that the government was too afraid of the Jins; not only did they not support this movement, they sent out imperial troops to surround and eventually crush the Iron Palm Clan. After all Iron Palm Clan was smaller and weaker than the army, hence the imperial army managed to break through their defense on the mountain. Shangguan Jiannan himself suffered a heavy injury and eventually died on the Iron Palm Peak.

Guo Jing flipped over the last page and sighed, “I did not think this Shangguan Bangzhu was actually a good man. Up to the point of his death he was still holding dear the Legacy’s teachings. I thought he was of the same kind with this Qiu and his brethren; colluding with the Jins and selling our country for his personal gain. I used to despise him very much. If I knew this fact earlier, I would have bowed in front of his remains to show him my respect. I am surprised that the Iron Palm was such a heroic and patriotic Clan in the past, and today it turned into a gang of thieves. If Shangguan Bangzhu’s spirit in the underworld knows, he must be very angry.”

Meanwhile the sky was turning dark; the boatman cast his anchor nearby a village and went out to butcher the chicken for their dinner. Huang Rong was afraid he might put something into the meal, so with a pretense that she did not want his dirty dishes, she took Guo Jing along and went into the village to find a peasant house and prepare the food herself. The boatman was staring at them angrily, but because he pretended to be mute, he could not openly curse them and was forced to swallow his indignation. He saw Huang Rong make some hand signals, saying ‘witticism like a bead of pearl, smart tooth like an ivory’ [or something like that J]. He had no way of debating her, so all he could do was clench his teeth and wait until Jing and Rong two people went ashore; only then he went into the cabin and swore under his breath.

After dinner two people enjoyed the cool evening breeze underneath a tree in front of a peasant home. Guo Jing said, “When Shangguan Bangzhu ran to the Iron Palm Peak, why didn’t the imperial army go up the Peak to capture him?”

“I don’t know the answer either,” Huang Rong said, “It is likely the middle finger peak is dangerously rugged, so the soldiers did not want to risk their lives climbing it. Or it could be that some highly skilled Clan members were defending the peak and the soldiers were unable to break through, so they simply declared victory and left.” After a moment of silence Huang Rong continued, “I did not expect Qu Lingfeng, Martial Brother Qu had unintentionally rendered this great service.”

Guo Jing just stared at her with a dumb look. Huang Rong explained, “This ‘Wumu Legacy’ was originally hidden in the cave behind the waterfall near the Cui Han Tang [Jade-Green Cold Hall], Shangguan Jiannan had stolen the book, he drew that painting, naturally he would put the painting on the original place where the book laid, wouldn’t he?”

Guo Jing nodded, “That’s true.”

“After my Qu Shige [martial (older) brother] was expelled from the Peach Blossom Island, he longed for his school to take him back. He knew my father loves calligraphy, paintings and antiques; he also knew that the imperial palace naturally was the best place to find the world’s rarest treasures. Therefore, he took a risk by entering the palace and robbed not a few of famous paintings, calligraphy, books …”

“That’s right, that’s right,” Guo Jing cut her off, “Your Qu Shige stole this painting together with others artworks, and stashed it away inside that secret chamber in the Ox Village. He meant to present them all to your father; unfortunately he was killed by a palace guard. And then when that old traitor Wanyan Honglie came, not only the Wumu Legacy was gone, the painting containing the directions to find it was also gone. Ay, if we knew this early on, we did not need to desperately risking our lives defending the cave; I wouldn’t be injured by the Old Poison, and you did not need to worry for seven whole days and nights.”

“That’s not necessarily true,” Huang Rong said, “If you did not treat your injury inside that secret room in the Ox Village, how could you have seen the painting? Also how could …” Suddenly she recalled seeing Huazheng in the Ox Village, she could not help but feel depressed. Trying to change the subject she said, “I wonder how father is doing these past few days?” Looking up she saw the crescent moon on the horizon. “Very soon it will be Mid-autumn festival of the eight month. After the martial art contest at the Misty Rain Tavern of Jiaxing, are you going back to Mongolia?” she gently asked.

“No,” Guo Jing replied, “I must kill the traitor Wanyan Honglie first, to avenge my father and Uncle Yang.”

Staring at the moon Huang Rong asked again, “After you kill him, then what?”

“We still have many businesses to tend,” Guo Jing said, “I want to treat Shifu’s injury then I want to take Zhou Dage [Big Brother Zhou]to the Black Marsh to see Ying Gu. And there are my six Shifus, I want to go and visit them one by one at their homes. I also want to find my father’s grave.”

“And after you take care of all these business, must you go back to Mongolia?” Huang Rong asked.

Guo Jing could not say he must go, but he also could not say he would not go; in all honesty he did not know what would be the best thing to do.

All of a sudden Huang Rong laughed and said, “Silly me, why should I worry about all these things? As long as we are together, an hour of happiness must be enjoyed for a full hour. As we go through one day, we will have one less of these kind of happy days. Let us go back to the boat and play a joke on that fake mute boatman.”

At the time the two returned to the boat, the boatman and his two helpers had actually fallen asleep on the stern. Guo Jing whispered on Huang Rong’s ear, “Go ahead and sleep, I am going to watch over them.”

Huang Rong said with a low voice, “I’ll teach you some curse words in sign languages; tomorrow you can show them to him.”

“Why don’t you do it yourself?” Guo Jing asked.

Huang Rong chuckled lightly, “Those are vulgar language; a girl from an honorable family shouldn’t say those kind of words.”

“It turns out mute people can curse others too,” Guo Jing said in his heart; but his mouth said, “Go and take a rest now; it won’t be too late to curse him tomorrow.” After recovering from her injury Huang Rong had not gotten her strength back. In all honesty she was tired, so she put her head down on Guo Jing’s legs and slowly she fell asleep.

Initially Guo Jing was thinking of meditating to cultivate his internal energy, but he was afraid the boatman might be suspicious, so he decided to lie down on the cabin deck, silently reciting the theory of energy cultivation from the Nine Yin Manual, which Reverend Yideng translated from Sanskrit. Then he practiced according to the theory for about an hour and he felt his four limbs and all the bones in his body were full of energy. He was delighted. Suddenly he heard Huang Rong mumbled, “Jing Gege, don’t marry the Mongolian Princess; I want to be your wife.”

Guo Jing was startled, he did not know how to answer her; but then he heard Huang Rong said again, “No, no. I was wrong; I don’t want anything. I know in your heart you love me very much, and that is enough for me.”

“Rong’er, Rong’er,” Guo Jing called in a low voice. But Huang Rong did not reply, her breathing was even, apparently she was sleeping. Turned out she was talking in her sleep. Guo Jing felt deep affection and pity toward her at the same time. He started blankly at Huang Rong’s face illuminated by the moonlight. She was just starting to recover from her injury, her face was still pale and under the moonlight it looked like her face was translucent. Guo Jing stared at her for a long time. He saw her eyebrows wrinkle slightly and there were drops of tears in her eyes. Guo Jing said in his heart, “She must be dreaming of the challenges we are facing. All day she acted like she was carefree, laughing and joking, but in her heart she actually was grieving. Ay, it was I who caused her worries. I wish we did not meet at Zhangjiakou, then her life would be better. But what about me? Would I be willing to give her up?”

One was sleeping with a sad dream, the other was awake with heavy heart; suddenly he heard the water ripple, a boat was coming downstream. Guo Jing thought, “The terrain of this River Yuan is so rugged; what kind of boat is so daring as to travel here in the middle of the night?” He was about to poke his head out of the cabin to take a look when suddenly from the stern of his own boat came three clapping sounds. The clapping was very light, but in the stillness of the night the sound traveled far on the surface of the water. He then heard the sound of a sail being lowered and the oars paddling the water. That incoming boat came closer to the right hand side riverbank and slowly positioned near their boat. A short moment later it was side to side with the boat Guo Jing rode.

Guo Jing gently patted Huang Rong to wake her up; he felt the hull shook slightly. Quickly he raised the cabin covering to look outside, right in time to see a dark shadow leaping from his boat to the incoming boat. Judging from the appearance, that shadow looked like the mute boatman.

“I’ll go over to take a look, you stay and guard here,” Guo Jing said. Huang Rong nodded.

Guo Jing crouched and stealthily walked to the bow; he saw that the incoming boat was swaying on the water, he leaped and landed on the horizontal part of the sail mast, which happened to be the center of gravity of the boat. The hull slightly sunk in, but the inclination of the boat did not change one bit; nobody on that boat noticed. He opened his eyes wide, trying to see through some openings on the cabin’s roof. He saw three men standing in the cabin; they wore the black uniform of the Iron Palm Clan. One of them was quite tall; he was wearing a green cloth wrapped around his head, looked like    he was the leader.

Guo Jing’s movement was so quick that even though that pretend-to-be-mute boatman leaped to this boat first, by this time he was just entering the cabin. He cupped his fists and greeted the tall man, “Leader Qiao.”

“Those two little thieves are still in?” Leader Qiao asked.

“Yes,” the boatman replied.

“Do they have any suspicion?” Leader Qiao asked again.

“No suspicion,” the boatman replied, “But those two thieves did not want to dine on board, so I did not have any chance to do anything.”

“Humph,” Leader Qiao said, “They are going to die at the ‘qing long tan’ [green dragon shore]. The day after tomorrow at noon you will arrive at the Green Dragon Shore. About three ‘li’s from the beach is the Green Dragon Village. Break the boat’s rudder there; we will be waiting for you.”

The boatman gave his reply. Leader Qiao continued, “Those two little thieves are very skilled in martial arts, you must be very careful. After the successful completion of this mission our Bangzhu will heap you with generous reward. Now go back from the water, don’t rock the boat and alert them.”

“Yes,” the boatman replied, “Do you have further instructions, Leader Qiao?”

“No,” Leader Qiao waved his hand. The boatman cupped his fists again and retreated; he went down the water from the side of the boat and quietly swam back.

Guo Jing leaped from the mast back to his own boat and told Huang Rong everything he just heard. Huang Rong smiled coldly and said, “We have been through Reverend Yideng’s torrential stream going up the mountain; why should we be scared away by Green Dragon Rugged Shore or White Tiger Rugged Shore? Let’s sleep.”

Their minds were at ease knowing the bandits’ plot. The next day they enjoyed the scenery light-heartedly; and had a good rest in the evening, did not even bother to keep a night watch. Early morning the third day the boatman was about to raise the anchor when suddenly Huang Rong said, “Hold on, let the horse come ashore first, otherwise it will die when the boat capsizes at the Green Dragon Shore.”

The boatman’s face changed slightly, which could not be disguised. Huang Rong raised her both hands, she could not help to ‘say’ several vulgar words to curse him. Each one of the deaf and mute servants of the Peach Blossom Island was a criminal; their skills at cursing people were naturally above average. When Huang Rong started learning those words, she did not understand their real meaning. This time two of her left fingers made a circle, carrying a vulgar sense; with a giggle she let her hand dropped; and then she came alongside Guo Jing taking the horse ashore.

Suddenly Guo Jing said, “Rong’er, let’s not play around with them anymore. We leave the boat and ride the horse from here.”

“Why?” Huang Rong asked.

Guo Jing replied, “These Iron Palm Clan people are criminals, why should we squabble with them? As long as we can live together peacefully, we don’t have to prove that we are stronger.”

“Can we live together peacefully forever?” Huang Rong asked. Guo Jing was silent. He saw Huang Rong loosen the little red horse’s rein and point to the north. The little red horse had a divine intelligence, it had been separated from its master several times and right now understood that its masters wanted to part again temporarily. Without hesitation it ran to the north and in a short moment its shadow could not be seen anymore.

Huang Rong clapped her hands, “Let’s get on board.”

“You are not fully recovered yet,” Guo Jing said, “Must you brave the danger?”

“You can’t just let it go,” Huang Rong replied and walked the downward slope toward the boat. Guo Jing had no other choice but follow her to the boat. Huang Rong smiled, “Sha gege [dumb older brother], we have been through many strange and fantastic adventures together. Someday when we are not together anymore, we will have many memories we can cherish, wouldn’t that be good?”

“In the future, must we … must we really part?” Guo Jing stammered. Huang Rong stared at him but did not say anything. Guo Jing did not have the slightest idea until today that when at the Ox Village he promised Tuolei he would marry Huazheng he had caused a deep wound in Huang Rong’s heart.

It was almost noon; they have been sailing for a few hours. The further they went, the steeper and steeper the banks became on both sides of the River Yuan. The Green Dragon Shore must be not too far ahead. Jing and Rong two people stood on the bow looking into the distance. They saw that the passing boats were pulled by porters on the banks. Big boats needed more than a dozen men, while the smallest boats needed three, four men. The porters were stooping down at their waists, at several places their foreheads were almost touching the ground; step by step they pulled the boats upstream against the strong current, sometimes as if the boats were motionless, dead as a nail.

The porters wore white headbands, their upper bodies naked, with beads of sweats trickling down their bronze skins, glittering under the bright hot sun; their mouths shouted heave-ho. Several ‘li’s up and down the river the valley was full of their continuous shouts. With these porters’ help the boats were able to move gently and rapidly through the rushing water.

Seeing this Guo Jing was secretly alarmed, he came near Huang Rong and in a low voice said, “Rong’er, I did not know there is such a dangerous part on the Yuan River; we must never let our guards down. It looks to me that the rushing water covers quite some distance. If our boat capsizes while you are not completely fit, I am afraid we’ll face disaster.”

“What do you think we should do?” Huang Rong asked.

“Overthrow the mute boatman, steer the boat to the shore,” Guo Jing replied.

Huang Rong shook her head, “That is not fun.”

“At a time like this you still want to have fun?” Guo Jing anxiously said.

Huang Rong pursed her lips and smiled, “I love to play!”

Looking at the muddy water between the steep river banks, Guo Jing saw the current was very strong. Frantically he tried to think some way out of this, but he was slow, what could he possibly come out with?

Ahead of them, there was a bent on the river. In the distance they saw several dozens of houses by the river banks. The houses were scattered high and low on the side of the hill. The current carried the boat rapidly along the river, swifter than a running horse, so that in a short moment they had arrived near those houses. They saw that several dozens of porters were waiting along the bank. The mute boatman tossed a couple of ropes from the boat to the shore. The porters took the ropes and wound them around a big capstan. More than a dozen porters turned the capstan, pulling the boat closer to the shore. This boat was of a very good size, it required about thirty men huffing and puffing to pull it ashore. As they were done, some of the porters lied down by the water, exhausted; it looked like they were unable to move again.

Guo Jing thought, “It looks like the undercurrent is much stronger than on the surface.” He saw among the porters were some old men with grey hair, yet some of them were youngsters of fourteen, fifteen years of age; all of them were so thin that their ribs were visible. Suddenly Guo Jing realized that everybody in the world had to work hard to earn a living; his throat choked up involuntarily.

As the boat was ashore, the boatman dropped out the anchor. Guo Jing saw there were more than twenty boats that also dropped their anchors on the nearby bank. Huang Rong asked a man standing nearby, “Brother, what is this place?”

“Green Dragon Village,” that man replied.

Huang Rong nodded. She kept a close attention to the mute boatman. She saw him make some hand signals with a big man standing on the sloping bank. Suddenly the boatman took out an axe and with two chops he cut the mooring rope. Immediately afterwards he raised the anchor. As the boat became free, the rushing water washed it out down the river. It made a sudden turn until the hull slanted sideways and flushed away like flying down the river. The people on the shore cried out in alarm.

After the Green Dragon Shore the riverbed changed abruptly, creating a short waterfall. The river current was so strong that water was splashing everywhere. The mute boatman kept his hands on the rudder, with eyes steadily fixed on the surface of the river. His two helpers held long punting poles in their hands, standing on the either side of him. It seemed like they were guarding against the boat from having an accident, but it also looked like they were protecting the boatman from Jing and Rong, two people’s attack.

Guo Jing saw that the current was getting stronger and stronger, the boat sailed like crazy; it could smash against a rock any moment and would certainly break. “Rong’er, snatch the rudder!” he loudly called out and ran to the stern.

The two helpers heard his shout; they raised the poles up and blocked Guo Jing from both sides. Guo Jing ignored these two; he kept going toward the starboard.

“Hold on!” suddenly he heard Huang Rong shouted.

Guo Jing halted his steps and turned his head, “Why?”

With a low voice Huang Rong said, “Are you forgetting about our eagles? We’ll wait for the boat to capsize then we’ll fly away with the eagles. I want to see what they are going to do.”

Guo Jing was delighted, he thought, “No wonder Rong’er is not scared of this torrential river; she has already thought about it early on.” He then beckoned to the pair of eagles to land on his sides.

The mute boatman saw Guo Jing came rushing toward him but suddenly stop dead on his tracks; he did not know that those two had already prepared an escape plan. He thought these two babies, who were still wet behind their ears, were helplessly frightened by the rushing river that they did not know what to do. Inwardly he was very happy.

Amidst the rumbling sound of the water they could hear the heave-ho of the porters in the distance. A moment later they saw another boat similar to their own was pulled against the current; a black flag was fluttering from this incoming boat’s mast. As the mute boatman saw this boat, he raised his axe and with several cracking sound he hacked down the tiller; and then he stood at the port side, ready to jump toward the incoming boat.

Guo Jing pressed down the female eagle’s back and called out, “Rong’er, you go first!”

“No need to rush!” Huang Rong replied. Suddenly an idea came into her mind, “Jing Gege, throw the anchor to that boat.” Guo Jing complied and snatched the anchor.

By now their boat had already lost its rudder, it floated along the fierce current uncontrollably. Very soon the distance between two boats was only a little over one ‘zhang’ [about 3 meters or 10 feet]. The incoming boat changed its course to avoid collision. The men on the incoming boat, together with the porters on the hill shouted in alarm. Guo Jing threw the anchor with all his might; the iron anchor flew and hit the pole where the towing rope was tied on the bow of the incoming boat.

The tow rope was made of several hundreds ‘zhang’s of bamboo fibers tightly braided together; it was strung tight like the string of a bow. The iron anchor hit the pole squarely and with a loud ‘crack’ it broke into two pieces. Dozens of porters were pulling the rope with all their might; as the pole broke, they tumbled down to the ground. The incoming boat was like a kite with its string broken; the strong current turned it around so that its stern faced forward and its bow faced backward, it was flushed away downstream. Everybody shouted in alarm; their voices reverberated on the surrounding hills above the noise of the rushing river.

The mute boatman was taken by surprise; his face turned deathly pale and with a loud voice he screamed, “Hey! Help! Help!”

Huang Rong laughed, “The mute can speak, it truly is a wonder of the world.”

Guo Jing had thrown one anchor away; the boat still had one more anchor. He saw that their boat and the incoming boat floated together almost side by side at a very close distance. He took a deep breath and lifted the other anchor, turned his body around three times and hurled the anchor toward the rudder of the incoming boat. He was sure the anchor would hit the rudder and then both boats would be completely destroyed; but suddenly somebody leaped in front of the cabin. That person snatched the long punting pole and shook it toward the handle of the anchor. He exerted his strength toward the pole and made it bent like a bow. ‘Crack!’ the pole broke; but the anchor’s trajectory was also diverted. With a loud splash both the anchor and the half punting pole fell into the water.

The person holding the pole wore a short yellow coarse robe, his white beard curled to his ear, blown by the river wind. Even though the boat was violently jolted by the water, he was standing steadily on the deck. His presence brought an impressive air around him. He was none other than the Clan Leader of the Iron Palm Clan, Qiu Qianren.

Seeing Qiu Qianren on the boat Guo Jing and Huang Rong were startled. They have not recovered from the shock when suddenly there was a loud crashing sound; the bow of their boat was colliding with a reef. The crash was so hard that two people were sent flying until their backs hit the cabin door.

The boat sank so fast that in a short moment the water had risen to their ankles; they did not have enough time even if they wanted to escape by riding the eagles. In this critical moment Guo Jing acted without thinking; he flew forward and called out, “Follow me!” With the ‘dragon flies to the sky’ he threw his body toward Qiu Qianren. He knew at this moment the difference between life and death was only as wide as a hair strand; if he landed someplace else on the enemy’s boat, Qiu Qianren would definitely make a surprise attack from the side. With his power right now he knew he would be able to bear that attack, but it would compel him to take the defensive and would not give him any chance to set a foothold on the enemy’s boat.

Qiu Qianren was fully aware of his intention; he swung the broken pole in his hands to stab several points on Guo Jing’s body in the air, forcing him to change his direction and not land on the boat. Guo Jing inwardly groaned, “Not good!” Stretching his arm toward the pole his body continued falling toward the enemy’s boat; but because of this the ‘dragon flies to the sky’ lost its momentum.

With a long laughter Qiu Qianren let the pole go and his palm struck toward Guo Jing’s chest. With him standing steadily on the deck while the enemy was in the air, and his palm striking up, the enemy would be forced to plunge into the water. But before the pole fell, another bamboo stick intercepted it, and borrowing the momentum someone was leaping to the boat; it was Huang Rong. Before the person landed, her stick had already arrived, striking downward three times with killer strikes. Qiu Qianren did not anticipate she was capable of moving this fast; his left eye was in danger of being poked, so he had no choice but immediately withdrew his palm.

Guo Jing seized the opportunity to land on the bow and immediately launched a converging attack. Qiu Qianren did not dare to underestimate this attack, he moved sideways to evade the bamboo stick, while his right leg swept away, forcing Guo Jing to retreat one step; and then ‘swish, swish’ both of his palms struck out.

How can Iron Palm martial art be ordinary? The Iron Palm Clan built their headquarters on a mountain and for the last several hundred years its power and prestige spread over the Central Plains; it was all because of the exquisiteness of their palm technique. Shangguan Jiannan and Qiu Qianren added even many more subtle variations and refined the stances. Although its overwhelming power was inferior to the ‘Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms’, but its palm technique was ingenious and finer than the ‘Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms’.

In a short moment two men had exchanged seven, eight stances on the bow of the boat. Although they were wary of each other, their palms and feet did not stop moving. The noise of the rushing water was loud, but it could not cover the strong gusts of wind from the four palms.

By now an Iron Palm Clan member had taken over the rudder, slowly steering the boat on the right direction so that they were swiftly floating downstream. The mute boatman’s boat had already broken into two sections; the planks, the sail, the mute boatman and his two helpers were marooned on a big silt in the middle of the river with vortex of water all around them. The mute boatman’s miserable cry for help could be heard from a distance; surely his voice was loud and clear.

Huang Rong busily waved her left hand behind her back, making a hand signal, ‘scolding’ the mute boatman. In any case nobody was watching her, so she could be as vulgar as she wished.

Even though the mute boatman and his two helpers were holding to the silt for their dear lives, the vortex was too strong; in a blink of an eye they were sucked into the bottom of the river.

The black-flagged boat was floating swiftly so that when Huang Rong turned her head around, they were already two, three ‘li’s away from the vortex. The pair of eagles was flying in circles above them, continuously crying. Huang Rong wielded her bamboo stick to push the Iron Palm Clan people from the bow; she intended to help Guo Jing fight Qiu Qianren. Suddenly with the corner of her eye she caught a flash of a blade inside the cabin, somebody was about to chop something inside. Without knowing clearly what it was, her left hand launched a steel needle, hitting that person’s arm. That person’s saber fell and slashed his own right thigh, and he screamed loudly.

Huang Rong rushed into the cabin, lifted up her leg to kick him out of the way, only to see someone was lying on the deck; with all her hands and feet bound that she could not move. Her cold eyes were staring at Huang Rong; she was the Divine Mathematician Ying Gu.

Never in her life did Huang Rong expect to save Ying Gu’s life in this place. She picked the saber from the deck and cut of the ropes binding Ying Gu’s hands. As soon as her hands were free Ying Gu stretched out her right hand and snatched the saber from Huang Rong’s hand. Huang Rong was startled; she saw the blade flash and Ying Gu had killed that black-dressed man. Only then did she stoop down to cut off the ropes on her own feet.

“Although you have saved my life, don’t expect me to repay you in the future,” she said.

Huang Rong smiled. “Who wants you to repay?” she said, “You have saved my life, and today I saved yours. Now we are even, nobody owes anybody anything.”

Before she finished speaking she had dashed forward to the bow with her bamboo stick to help Guo Jing. Qiu Qianren was attacked from both front and rear; he increased the strength of his palms, trying to stay on the offensive side. But then he heard ‘splash, splash’ and ‘aiyo, aiyo’ successively; Ying Gu with saber in her hand had attacked the Iron Palm Clan people and forced them to fall into the river. In this turbulent water they could not expect to keep their lives.

Initially when he was fighting Guo Jing, Qiu Qianren had gradually gained an upper hand; but now Huang Rong came to Guo Jing’s rescue with her Dog Beating Stick technique, he was alone against two enemies. A dozen or so stances later he was forced to move back around the boat defending himself. His back was facing the water so that Huang Rong could not attack him from behind.

Guo Jing launched several fierce attacks successively, but Qiu Qianren’s feet were as if nailed to the deck, he could not be pushed further even for half an inch. By now he was so close to the edge that one more step backward would make him fall into the river.

Huang Rong said in her heart, “Although your title is ‘Iron Palm Floating on the Water’, but with the ‘floating on the water’ part you are merely boasting your excellent lightness kungfu. Not to mention this turbulent water and wild waves of this river, even on a mirror-like calm lake you won’t be able to float on the water; unless you have mastered your older brother’s trick by planting several thousands or several hundreds wooden stakes under the water beforehand.” She noticed that while his palms moved steadily, his eyes were repeatedly scanning the water; it seemed like he was hoping another boat would come to his rescue. She thought, “This old fellow’s martial art skill might be high; but with three against one today, if we cannot defeat you, we can consider ourselves as dung.”

By then Ying Gu had swept the boat clean of all Iron Palm Clan people, except the man who control the rudder. She saw Guo Jing and Huang Rong could not gain an upper hand, she coldly said, “Little girl, move away, I am coming!”

Hearing the condescending tone in her remarks Huang Rong could not help but be angry; her bamboo stick moved forward and she launched two stances successively; while her feet kept moving forward. When Qiu Qianren stepped aside to evade, she leaped backward two steps while pulling Guo Jing’s sleeve and said, “Let her fight.” Guo Jing used his palm to guard then he pulled back.

Ying Gu coldly said, “Qiu Bangzhu, your reputation in Jianghu cannot be considered small, but while I was resting in an inn unguarded you used incense to drug me. It was low, even for you.”

“You are captured by my subordinates, what else do you have to say?” Qiu Qianren replied, “If I personally went into action, using only this pair of hands I would be able to capture even ten Divine Mathematicians.”

Ying Gu coldly said, “When did I ever offend the Iron Palm Clan?”

Qiu Qianren replied, “These two little thieves without authorization broke into our Iron Palm Peak’s holy ground; why did you give them asylum at the Black Marsh? I spoke nicely to you asking you to release them, but you dared to lie to me; do you think I, Qiu Qianren, am an easygoing person?”

“Ah, turns out it was because of these two little thieves,” Ying Gu said, “If you have the ability, go and get them; I won’t mind other people’s business anymore.” After saying that she went back several steps and sat cross-legged on the side of the boat, her face looked indifferent; it seemed like she determined to watch the tigers fight, expected Jing and Rong two people and Qiu Qianren to suffer injury. Her action was truly unexpected by Qiu Qianren, Guo Jing and Huang Rong.

It turned out that when her plan to assassinate Reverend Yideng was thwarted by Guo Jing in disguise, and then seeing Yideng bare his chest to her, suddenly she realized Yideng’s kindness to her and she did not have a heart to make a move. She went down the mountain dejectedly, with memory of the tragic death of her son lingering in her mind. She stopped by at an inn to spend the night; confusion, anger and resentment filling her heart, putting her in a very vulnerable situation. Right at that time the Iron Palm Clan people used incense to drug her. Otherwise, with her skill and intelligence, how could she fall into the hands of some lowly, nameless juniors? Right now she saw Guo Jing, Huang Rong, two people, she wanted to vent her anger and frustration by hoping those three people all die in this rushing river.

Huang Rong thought, “All right, we will cope with Qiu Qianren first, we’ll deal with you later.” She made a facial signal to Guo Jing and two people, one with a bamboo stick, the other with his pair of palms, attacked Qiu Qianren side by side. In a moment three people were engaged in a fierce an inextricable combat.

Ying Gu watched the fight with rapt attention. She saw that even though Qiu Qianren’s palm technique was swift and fierce, in the end it would be difficult for him to score victory against these couple. She noticed Qiu Qianren kept moving step by step; it looked like he was trying to defeat the enemies by a surprise attack.

Guo Jing was concerned over Huang Rong’s condition; her serious injury had just recovered, she might lose her strength if this fight was prolonged. “Rong’er,” he said, “Take a rest for a while, then you can come back to help me later.”

“All right!” Huang Rong said with a smile. She raised her stick and withdrew from the fight.

Ying Gu saw the closeness of these two people; Guo Jing loved Huang Rong very much. “Throughout my life, when did someone treat me this way?” she thought. From envy she became jealous, from jealousy came hatred. Suddenly she stood up and called out, “Two against one, what kind of skill is that? Come, let us four people fight in two pairs to determine victory or defeat.” She reached into her pocket with both of her hands and took out two bamboo planks. Without waiting for Huang Rong to reply the pair of planks went down vertically and swept away horizontally, attacking Huang Rong.

“You are a crazy old woman,” Huang Rong cursed her; “No wonder the Old Urchin did not love you.”

Ying Gu raised her eyebrows and intensified her attacks. Once she went into action, the situation on the boat changed considerably. Although Huang Rong’s Dog Beating Stick technique was exquisite, her internal energy level was still inferior to Ying Gu’s; not to mention after a heavy injury her internal strength had not fully recovered, her movements were not as agile as they used to be. She had to rely on the ‘sealing’ technique with all her strength to barely guard herself against the enemy. Ying Gu was slippery as a fish, the jolting and swaying of the boat only added to her fierceness.

On the other front Guo Jing fought Qiu Qianren; for a while it would be difficult to decide victory and defeat. After receiving instructions from Reverend Yideng on the internal energy cultivation his level of energy actually increased one layer; to his own surprise by exerting all his strength he was able to protect himself thus far. On the other hand Qiu Qianren was baffled by Ying Gu’s action; first she acted as his enemy and did not care to help either side, suddenly now she came to lend him a hand. Inwardly he was delighted, his spirit rose and his palms became fiercer. He believed with a prolonged fight he would eventually subdue Guo Jing.

Qiu Qianren saw Guo Jing’s palm wipe out fiercely, he leaned sideways to avoid a frontal attack, his right palm high, left palm low, they clapped down together. Guo Jing responded by stretching out his palms and four palms collided with a great force. “Hey!” two people shouted together and both withdrew three steps.

Qiu Qianren stumbled toward the stern and grabbed the rudder to steady himself. Guo Jing’s left foot tripped on a rope and he nearly tumbled down. Afraid of the enemy’s subsequent attack while his defense line was empty he continued by rolling down on the deck while readied his palms to protect his body. Qiu Qianren thought victory was at hand, watching the enemy tumble down and at a disadvantage he let out a long laugh and stepped forward.

In the meantime Ying Gu had succeeded in making Huang Rong huffing and puffing, panting for breath; she saw beads of sweat trickling down her forehead, she was delighted. Suddenly she heard the laughter, she was greatly shocked; her countenance abruptly changed and absentmindedly she withdrew the attack with the bamboo plank in her left hand.

Huang Rong saw this opportunity and she did not want to miss it; the bamboo stick in her hand turned to attack Ying Gu’s chest. But as the bamboo stick was about to hit the ‘shen cang’ [divine storage] acupoint on her chest, Ying Gu’s body shook as if she was suffering from a sudden illness. “So it was you!” Ying Gu screamed and pounced toward Qiu Qianren like a mad tiger.

Qiu Qianren saw her with arms opened wide, fiercely throwing herself at him without any regard for her own life. Her mouth opened wide exposing rows of white teeth, as if she wanted to bite him alive. Although his martial art skill was high, seeing this disregarding-her-own-life kind of attack he could not help but was startled. Hastily he leaped sideways to evade and called out, “What are you doing?”

Ying Gu did not answer; she kept throwing herself on him. As soon as her feet landed, she would pound him again and again. Qiu Qianren struck with his left palm toward her head, but Ying Gu kept going with arms extended as if she wanted something; she completely ignored the incoming attack, still ferociously trying to throw herself at him. Qiu Qianren was shocked; he thought if he was caught by this insane woman, he would not be able to break free easily, and if at that time Guo Jing came up with a palm, how could he still alive? Therefore, he abandoned his palm strike immediately; saving his own life was more important, hastily he ducked to the left.

Huang Rong pulled Guo Jing’s hand; they moved to the side. Seeing Ying Gu suddenly lost her mind they could not help but feel scared. They saw Ying Gu madly pounced forward, her mouth let out ‘heh, heh’ sound, her lips opened to reveal her teeth, trying to embrace Qiu Qianren without regard of her own life.

Although Qiu Qianren’s martial art skill was high, but Ying Gu attacked him like she did not want to live anymore, he could not keep up with her; he was forced to dodge to the west and evade to the east. He saw the muscle on her face twitch, her expression so ferocious, he became more and more afraid. “Revenge, revenge!” he inwardly groaned, “Today I will die under this mad woman’s hands.”

Ying Gu pounced several more times, Qiu Qianren evaded her until he arrived next to the rudder. Ying Gu’s eyes were red as if they were going to spurt blood. One more time her grab missed its target. She raised her palm and ‘bang!’ she struck the man controlling the rudder throwing him into the river; then her leg flew and she kicked the rudder broken. The boat immediately floated chaotically as it lost its rudder.

Huang Rong groaned inwardly, “This woman was going to turn mad sooner or later; it seems that we, four people, will have difficulty escaping death this time.” Immediately she pursed her lips and whistled loudly to summon the eagles down to save their lives.

Right at this moment the boat hit a big rock. With a loud crashing sound a big hole appeared on the bow. As Qiu Qianren saw Ying Gu break the rudder he knew she had made up her mind to die together with him. He saw the shore was not too far; he thought whether dead or alive he must risk everything to escape; therefore, he jumped toward the shore with all his might. But the shore was still a distance away, ‘splash!’ he fell into the water and immediately drowned to the bottom of the river. He was aware that as soon as he went up to the surface, the strong current would flush him away and it would be impossible for him to struggle free; hence he firmly held onto the rock at the bottom of the river and using his hands and feet he crawled underwater toward the shore. Utilizing his outstanding martial art, plus the fact that near the shore the current was not as strong as at the middle of the river, although he had to swallow about a dozen mouthful of water, he finally reached the shore. He was utterly exhausted, he sat on a rock to catch his breath and saw the boat quickly turned into a black dot in the distance. Remembering Ying Gu’s clenched teeth and scary expression he shivered in fear.

As Ying Gu saw Qiu Qianren jump out the boat she loudly called out, “Evil thief, where are you running to?” She rushed toward the side of the boat, ready to jump into the water. But by then the boat had been flushed to the middle of the river where the current was strongest; in this dangerous billows, how would she survive if she really jumped into the water?

Guo Jing could not bear to see her; he rushed forward to grab her back. Ying Gu was angry, she reached behind her back to attack. Guo Jing hastily ducked to evade. Huang Rong saw the pair of eagles had landed in front of the cabin. “Brother Jing,” she called out, “Why do you mind this mad woman? Let us go quickly.”

The water violently surged up and very soon it rose up to their ankles. Guo Jing let his grab went loose. Ying Gu covered her face with both hands, crying loudly. “Child! Child!” she shouted miserably.

Huang Rong repeatedly urged him to go, but Guo Jing remembered Reverend Yideng’s request to look after Ying Gu. “Go ashore with the eagle, then send them back here to rescue us,” he called out.

“There’s not enough time,” Huang Rong anxiously objected.

“Go, quick!” Guo Jing said, “We can’t neglect Reverend Yideng’s entrusting.”

Huang Rong recalled Yideng’s kindness in saving her life, reluctantly she mounted the eagle, knowing she did not have any choice. Suddenly her body shook. With a violent crash the boat hit a big reef in the middle of the river. The water bubbled up toward the cabin, in a flash the hull sank several feet.

“Jump to the reef!” Huang Rong called out. Guo Jing nodded, he went over to take Ying Gu along.

By then Ying Gu was in daze, she knew Guo Jing held out his hand to hold her, she did not resist. Her eyes were staring blankly at the river. Guo Jing slipped his right hand under her armpit and called out, “Jump!” Three people jumped to the reef.

That reef was actually about a foot under the water; the river surrounded three people, splashing their clothes wet. When they stood firm on the reef, they saw the boat slowly sank beside them. Although she had played in the great waves since her childhood, but seeing the muddy water swirling around her Huang Rong could not restrain from having a dizzy spell; she raised her head up looking at the sky, did not dare to look directly into the water.

Guo Jing whistled to call the eagles to come and carry them over; but the eagles were afraid of the water. They flew in circles overhead but did not dare to set their feet on the submerged reef.

Huang Rong looked around and saw a big willow tree on the bank toward their left, about a dozen ‘zhang’s away. Immediately she had an idea, “Jing Gege,” she said, “Hold my hand.” Guo Jing took a good grip of her left hand. With a splash Huang Rong disappeared into the water.

Guo Jing was startled; he saw she dove to the sunken boat, he quickly stooped down until his upper body also went into the water. He extended his arm as far as possible while his legs firmly gripped a sticking rock on the reef. With all his strength his right hand gripped her left wrist, lest the current was too strong and he lost his grip, then she might never be able to come up.

Huang Rong dove toward the mast; she pulled down the sail rope, then wound it around the reef. Next, her hands alternately pulled the sail rope until she got about twenty ‘zhang’s of rope; then she took out her dagger and cut the rope down. Afterwards she extended her arm, calling the female eagle to perch on her shoulder.

By now the pair of eagles was grown and they were quite heavy. Guo Jing was afraid Huang Rong could not take it, so he extended his arm to take the eagle. Huang Rong wound the end of the rope to the female eagle’s foot, she pointed to the big willow tree and made a hand signal telling the eagle to fly.

The eagle took the rope and flew in circle several times above the willow tree, then flew back. Huang Rong anxiously said, “Ay! I told you to fly around the tree before coming back.” But of course the eagle did not understand what she said, so Huang Rong sighed anxiously. They tried again and on the eight try the eagle coincidentally flew around the tree and came back. Jing and Rong two people were delighted; they pulled the rope to tighten it, then firmly tied the other end to the protruding rock on the reef.

“Rong’er, you go first,” Guo Jing said.

“No,” Huang Rong replied, “I am staying with you. Let her go first.”

Ying Gu stared hard at them. Without saying anything using both hands she pulled herself along the rope, coming ashore.

Huang Rong laughed, “This is my way of having fun when I was little. Master Guo, please be generous with your rewards!” With one leap she landed on the tight rope and utilizing her lightness kungfu to the fullest she walked along the rope just like a tight-rope walker; brandishing her bamboo stick, traversing the great waves of the rushing river below, toward the willow tree on the shore.

Guo Jing had not learned the same trick, he was afraid to make a wrong step, so he did not dare to fool around like her. Just like Ying Gu, he used both hands to pull himself hanging on the rope, heading to the shore.

He was still about several ‘zhang’s from the shore when suddenly he heard Huang Rong called out, “Hey, where are you going?” She sounded baffled. Guo Jing was afraid Ying Gu had not come to her senses and did something foolish, so he sped up and before even arrived at the willow tree he jumped down.

Huang Rong pointed to the south and said, “She is leaving.”

Guo Jing focused his eyes and saw Ying Gu was running with all her might over the rocky mountain path. “Her mind is confused, I am afraid she would hurt herself. Let us pursue her,” he said.

“All right!” Huang Rong said; lifting up her legs she was ready to run, but suddenly her legs went weak and she fell sitting down, shaking her head.

Guo Jing knew that she had used excessive strength after the injury; she was exhausted and did not have enough energy to run. “Just sit here and take a rest, I will pursue her and take her back,” he said. Immediately he ran toward the direction Ying Gu was last seen; but after crossing a plain in front of him was a fork on the road going three separate directions. Ying Gu’s shadow was nowhere to be seen; he did not know which way she took. Here the rocks were big, the grass reached his chest; everywhere he looked he did not see anybody else. Meanwhile the sun was setting behind the mountain, the sky was turning dark; he was afraid Huang Rong would be worried over him, so he decided to go back.

Two people spent the night among the rocks, hungry and tired. At daybreak they woke up and started to walk along the small pathway by the river banks. They had to find their little red horse before coming back to the main road.

After walking for half a day they found a small inn by the roadside; they bought three chickens, one for them to eat, while with the other two they fed their eagles. The pair of eagles perched on top of a tall tree, eating their cockerels that the feathers fluttered down like snowfall.

They were eating heartily when suddenly the female eagle let out a long cry, dropped the half-eaten cockerel, raised its wing and flew to the north. The male eagle followed its mate with an anxious cry.

“Those two eagles sound very angry, I wonder what they saw?” Guo Jing said.

“Let’s take a look,” Huang Rong said. Two people ran along the main road. They saw the eagles fly in circles in the distance; suddenly they swooped down and soared up again. They circled several more times, then swooped down again.

“They are fighting an enemy,” Guo Jing said.

They sped up their steps and after about two, three ‘li’s they saw a row of houses standing very close to each other; it was a small town. The pair of eagles circled above this town, it seemed like they had lost their enemy’s track. Guo Jing and Huang Rong hasted to the outskirt of the town; they tried to call their eagles down, but the eagles ignored them, they kept circling above as if they were still looking for the enemy.

“I wonder with whom do these eagles have big enmity with,” Guo Jing said.

Only some times later the pair of eagles finally did come down one after another. The male eagle’s left foot was dripping with blood from a really deep saber cut; looked like if its muscle and bone were not strong, that foot would be chopped through. The female eagle’s right claw was firmly grabbing a piece of blackish object. They looked closer and found out that it was a piece of human scalp, with a big clump of hair on it. It looked like the scalp was freshly plucked right from a head, with stains of blood still around it.

Huang Rong applied some cut wound medicine on the male eagle’s foot. Guo Jing flipped over the scalp he took from the female eagle and muttered, “This pair of eagles is so tame ever since they were small; they had never harmed anybody unless they are provoked, how could they suddenly fight with someone?”

“Something is amiss here,” Huang Rong said, “If we can find this person who lost the scalp, we’ll understand everything.”

Two people went into town and found an inn to spend the night; then they went out separately to inquire. But that town was rather big, with quite a large number of people around; they investigated until dark, but did not find the slightest clue.

“I’ve been everywhere to look for a person without a scalp, but could not find anything,” Guo Jing said.

Huang Rong smiled, “A person without scalp could always wear a hat to cover his head,” she said.

“Ah!” Guo Jing exclaimed, suddenly enlightened. He remembered seeing quite a lot of people wearing hat in town, but of course he could not take their hats off one by one to take a look.

By daybreak the pair of eagles came back with their little red horse. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were worried about Hong Qigong’s injury, also the martial art match at the Misty Rain Tavern on the mid-autumn festival was drawing near, besides, the enmity the eagles had with whoever was not that important, so they decided to start their journey to the east immediately.

Two people rode on the speeding little red horse with the pair of eagles followed above them. Along the way Huang Rong kept talking and laughing, playing around, looking a lot more lively than she was; sometimes far into the night she was not willing to take a rest. Guo Jing knew she was exhausted, he often urged her to take a rest, but Huang Rong simply ignored him. Sometimes late at night she sat cross-legged on the bed chit-chatting with him over some trivial matters.

One day from the western Jiangnan road they arrived at the southern road within the Zhejiang border. They had been riding the horse for a whole day. It was not too far from the Eastern Sea shore. They stopped by an inn to spend the night. Huang Rong borrowed a shopping basket from the innkeeper; she wanted to go to town to buy some meat and vegetables to prepare some dishes.

“You are tired after traveling the whole day,” Guo Jing tried to persuade her, “Let us just eat in the restaurant here.”

“I want to cook for you,” Huang Rong replied, “Don’t you like my cooking anymore?”

“Naturally I like your cooking,” Guo Jing said, “But I want you to take a lot of rest. Wait till you are well, then you can cook for me. It won’t be too late, will it?”

“Wait till I am well; at that time …” Huang Rong said. Her arm carried the shopping basket, one foot had already stepped outside the room, she paused as if she was startled.

Guo Jing did not understand her thought; he gently pulled the shopping basket from her arm and said, “That’s right. Wait till we find Shifu, then we can enjoy the food you prepare together.”

Huang Rong stared blankly for half a day. Finally she returned to the bed and soon she looked like she was asleep. The innkeeper came with their food. Guo Jing called her to eat. Huang Rong jumped out of bed at once and said with a laugh, “Jing Gege, we won’t eat this food, come with me.”

Guo Jing complied and followed her out of the inn, they walked toward downtown. Huang Rong randomly picked a house with white fence wall and black door, a rich family’s house. They circled to the back and leaped over the wall, broke into the house. Guo Jing did not know what was going on, but he followed her nonetheless. Straightaway Huang Rong went to the front hall only to see the hall was bright with candles; the host was having a party.

“Wonderful!” Huang Rong called out in delight, “I picked the right house.” Giggling and walking forward she shouted loud and clear, “Everybody get out of my way!”

There were three banquet tables in the hall; the host and about his thirty guests were startled. They saw her as a beautiful looking young girl; they looked at each other, puzzled. Huang Rong casually seized a fat man, her foot moved to trip that fat man, sending him tumbling to the floor. “You still don’t want to scramble?” she said with a laugh.

The guests scrambled at once in great confusion. The host cried out, “Guards! Where are the guards?”

Amidst the commotion two martial art instructors led about a dozen villagers with sabers and sticks in their hands came rushing in. With a laugh Huang Rong rushed forward and with two moves she flattened the two instructors. She snatched a saber and brandished it, creating a bright white light, pretending she was about to make a kill. The guests screamed in terror; they staggered along and running against each other trying to escape.

As the host saw the unfavorable situation, he tried to slip away; but Huang Rong reached out and pulled his beard, her right hand brandished the saber as if she was going to chop him away. The host was so scared that he dropped to his knees and with a trembling voice said, “Nu … Nu Da Wang [lit. female big king; ‘Da Wang’ was how the people addressed a robber], Good … Good Miss; you want gold or silver, I will certainly present everything to you. Please just spare my old life …”

Huang Rong laughed, “Who wants your money?” she said, “I want you to accompany us to drink.” Grabbing his beard with her left hand she pulled him up. The host was in pain but he did not dare to cry out. Huang Rong pulled Guo Jing along to sit at the head table.

“Everybody sit down!” Huang Rong ordered, “Why are you still standing?” Raising the saber in her hand she hacked down and the saber stuck on the table.

The guests were startled and scared, they crowded around the other two tables, nobody dared to sit at the head table.

Huang Rong shouted, “You don’t want to accompany me drinking, do you? Whoever don’t come over, I’ll butcher him first!”

Everybody rushed forward, shoving and elbowing one another, causing seven, eight chairs to tumble over. Huang Rong shouted again, “You are not three years old, are you? Why can’t you sit nicely?”

Still shoving and elbowing one another the guests scrambled over and after half a day they finally managed to sit nicely around the three banquet tables.

Huang Rong poured herself a cup of wine and gulped it down in one go. “What kind of party is this?” she asked the host, “Anybody died in your family? How many have died?”

The host stammered, “Actually, a child was born for me in my later years. Today he is one month old, so I invited friends, relatives and close neighbors to celebrate.”

Huang Rong laughed, “That’s wonderful! Let me take a look at your child,” she said.

The host turned pale; he was afraid Huang Rong would harm the child, but seeing the saber stuck on the table he did not dare to refuse; he ordered the wet nurse to bring the child out.

Huang Rong held the child in her arms; she looked at his small face under the candlelight, and then she looked up to the host. Leaning her head sideways she said, “He doesn’t look the least bit like you; are you sure he is your child?”

The host looked awkward; his whole body quivered, he said, “Yes, yes!” It was unclear if he was saying that the child was his, or he was saying, “What Miss said was true.” The guests felt funny, but nobody dared to laugh.

Huang Rong took out a gold ingot from her pocket and gave it to the wet nurse; she also handed over the child back to her. “It’s a small gift. Just consider it a first meeting gift from his maternal grandmother,” she said.

Everybody could see that she is very young, but she called herself a grandmother; they could also see her grand appearance, she looked both heroic and rich; they looked at each other.

The host was overjoyed with this unexpected turn of events, he repeatedly expressed his thanks.

“Come,” Huang Rong said, “I’ll toast you one bowl!” She took a big bowl and poured wine to the brim, shoving it in front of the host.

The host said, “This old man’s drinking capacity is shallow. Miss, please forgive me.”

Huang Rong raised her beautiful eyebrows, stretched out her hand to pull his beard. “Are you or are you not going to drink?” she barked.

The host had no choice but to raise his bowl and ‘glug, glug’ he drank the whole bowl down.

“That’s right!” Huang Rong laughed, “Now we are having fun. Come, we’ll have drinking stories.”

If she wanted to have drinking stories, who at the banquet table dared to refuse? But the guests around the table were not rich merchant or educated people, only peasants and villagers, how could she find a true scholar among them? Everybody was trembling with fear trying to make up some wild stories.

After a while Huang Rong became impatient and shouted loudly, “Everybody stands aside!”

Like they had just received pardon everybody scrambled to stand up. Suddenly ‘boom!’ the host fell backward on his chair. Turned out he was totally drunk and could not stand up anymore. Huang Rong burst out in laughter. She kept drinking wine and talking with Guo Jing as if there was nobody else around, letting the guests helplessly standing on the side just watching them.

They were eating and drinking until the first watch of the night. Several times Guo Jing tried to persuade her and finally Huang Rong had enough and was willing to leave.

Returning to their inn Huang Rong asked with a laugh, “Jing Gege, are you having fun today?”

Guo Jing replied, “Without reasons you scared people to their deaths; why bother to come in the first place?”

“I am looking for my own well-being and enjoyment,” Huang Rong said, “Why would I bother over other people’s life and death?”

Guo Jing was startled; he felt her manner of speaking was rather unusual, but momentarily he could not figure out the profound meaning behind those words.

Huang Rong suddenly said, “I want to go out and take a walk. Are you coming?”

“It’s the middle of the night,” Guo Jing said, “Where do you want to go?”

“I think that child is amusing,” Huang Rong said, “Grandmother wants to hold him and play with him for a few days; then I’ll give him back to his family.”

“How can you do that?” Guo Jing anxiously said.

Huang Rong only smiled and headed out the door, leaping over the wall. Guo Jing hastily overtook her, pulled her arm trying to stop her, “Rong’er, you have played around for along time,” he said, “Don’t you have enough?”

“Definitely not enough,” Huang Rong stood still and replied. She paused for a second then continued, “I want you to keep me company. Only then will I have enough fun. In a few more days you will leave me, you will be with that Princess Huazheng; she definitely won’t let you see me again. Our time together is numbered. Each day that passed means one less day I am with you. I want to make one day lasts like two days, like three days, like four days. Still it’s not enough for me. Jing Gege, I don’t want to sleep at night, I want to play around and talk with you. Do you understand my feelings? Please don’t try to stop me.”

Guo Jing grabbed her hands tight, he felt deep compassion and love. “Rong’er,” he said, “I am so dumb, I have never realized you have this kind of love to me. I … I …” Speaking to this point he actually did not know what else to say.

Huang Rong smiled slightly. “Father used to teach me to read many classic poems about anxiety, about hatred, and the like. I only know that he missed my departed mother, that’s why he loved to read about those kinds of things. Today I discovered that happiness and joy only come for a moment, but pain and suffering are the matters of a lifetime.”

The crescent moon rose atop the willow tree, the night was as cold as the water, gentle breeze brushed their clothes. Initially Guo Jing was ignorant, even though he knew Huang Rong’s deep feelings toward him, he did not realize she loved him this much. As he listened to her speaking, everything that happened all throughout that day became clear to him. He said in his heart, “I am a crude and straightforward man. In the future I won’t be with her. Although I will certainly think about her often, miss her, eventually I will get over her. But what about her? She will live alone on the Peach Blossom Island with only her father to keep her company. Won’t she be lonely?” He thought further, “Someday her father will die, then only some deaf and mute servants will accompany her. She loves to have new ideas, doing new things. With nobody to accompany her, won’t she die of boredom?”

Thinking about these things his body trembled involuntarily. His grip on her hands tightened, his eyes stared hard at her face. “Rong’er,” he said, “Even if the sky falls down, I want to be with you on the Peach Blossom Island for as long as I live!”

Huang Rong trembled, she raised her head and said, “You … what did you say?”

Guo Jing said, “I don’t care about Genghis Khan, about Princess Huazheng. All my life I want to be with you.”

Huang Rong let out a soft cry and buried her head in his bosom. Guo Jing stretched out his arms and embraced her tightly. This matter had been vexing him for a while. This moment, ignoring everything else he suddenly made up his mind; his heart felt happy and relieved. Two people hugged each other tightly; they had forgotten everything else around them.

After a while Huang Rong gently asked, “What about your mother?”

“I will fetch her and take her to the Peach Blossom Island,” Guo Jing replied.

“Aren’t you afraid of your master, Jebeh, and your sworn brother Tuolei?” Huang Rong asked again.

“They love me very much, but I can’t have a divided heart,” Guo Jing answered.

“What about your six masters of Jiangnan? What about Ma Daozhang [Taoist Priest], Qiu Daozhang? What will they say?” Huang Rong asked.

Guo Jing heaved a sigh and said, “They will surely be enraged, but I will slowly talk to them earnestly. Rong’er, you must not leave me, I also won’t leave you.”

Huang Rong said with a laugh, “I have an idea. We can go hiding on the Peach Blossom Island and do not come out forever. My father arranged the island in such a mysterious way that even if they come to the island, they won’t be able to find you and scold you.”

Guo Jing thought this idea of hers might not be appropriate; he was about to ask her of a better idea when suddenly they heard footsteps about a dozen ‘zhang’s away outside the room. Two night-walkers were using their lightness kungfu rushing from the south heading north. One of them said, “The Old Urchin has fallen into Brother Peng’s trick; we don’t have to be afraid of him. Let us go quickly.”

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