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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 44

Chapter 44: Foolishly seeking a lovely marriage, but where lies the main destiny?
Duan Yu drifted in and out of consciousness. Slowly regaining his senses after an unknown length of time, he opened his eyes to see a cloth canopy and found himself within the blankets of a bed. He was still in a state of confusion. Thinking hard, he only recalled that he had suffered the consequences of Jiumozhi’s plot. He could not recall how he got into the bed. Feeling that his mouth was strangely parched, he sat up and tried to move a little and felt a terrible pain in his chest. “AH!” he could not help but yell out.

A young lady’s voice called from outside the room. “Master Duan is awake! Master Duan is awake!” Her voice was filled with joy. Duan Yu felt that this girl’s voice was familiar but could not pinpoint it. He then saw a girl dressed in green dashing into the room. A chubby face with dimples – indeed it was Zhong Ling whom he’d met at Wuliang Palace several years back.

Zhong Ling met his gaze and blushed, saying in an attempted joking tone: “Have you long forgotten me? Do you still remember my name?”

Duan Yu saw her expression and recalled to mind an image of her sitting on the ceiling beam of Wuliang Palace’s great hall, both legs waving and chewing on melon seeds. At this moment, he recalled even the yellow embroidery flowers on her pair of green shoes in great clarity. “Where are your yellow flower-embroidered shoes?” he asked.

Zhong Ling blushed again, overjoyed. With a small laugh, she replied: “They wore out long ago. Trust you to remember those. You… You really haven’t forgotten me!” Duan Yu laughed, “Why aren’t you eating melon seeds?” Zhong Ling said: “I’ve been tending to your injuries these few days
 
and almost went mad with anxiety. Who would have the time to eat melon seeds?” Upon saying those words, she felt that she’d revealed her true feelings too much and blushed terribly.

Duan Yu gazed at her intenty, thinking that she could be counted as his wife since the beginning. Who would have thought that she would turn out to be his sister? He sighed and said: “My dear sister, how did you get here?”

Zhong Ling’s face was still red. Eyes shining with delight, she said: “After you left Wan Jie Valley, you never came to see me. I was very upset with you. Duan Yu said: “Why upset?” Zhong Ling gave him him a sideways glance and said: “Upset that you’d forgotten me.”

Duan Yu saw only sincerity in her gaze and was moved. “My dear sister!” he exclaimed. Zhong Ling laughingly scolded him: “Now that you’ve addressed me so affectionately this time, you surely have to come and see me at least this once. I could not rest and went to the Zhennan Palace to seek news. I then found out that you went off with a wicked monk. I was so anxious that I could not help but come and find you.”

Duan Yu asked: “Regarding my father and your mother, has your mother explained it to you?” Zhong Ling replied: “What matter? That night when you left with your father, my mother fainted and was not well for some time. She would keep weeping every time she saw me. I forced her to speak but she would not say a word.”

Duan Yu said: “En, she didn’t say a word. That… that means you don’t know.” “Know what?” Zhong Ling asked. Duan Yu replied: “Don’t know that you are my… you are my…”

Zhong Ling flushed scarlet and bowed her head. Hesitantly, she said: “I knew… That day when we came out from the stone house, as you were carrying me you suddenly met many people and I was both terrified and bashful. I could only keep my eyes shut. However, your father’s words… I heard them all clearly.”

Both she and Duan Yu recalled the day in the stone house when Duan Zhengchun said to Zhong Wanchou: “Ling loves to serve Duan Yu in this
 
house. Given time, a boy and girl undressed in a small dark room, what good can come out of it? My son is the Zhennan prince. Although he cannot marry her as the lawful wife, why can’t she be the third or fourth wife? Would we not be in-laws then? Ha ha!

Duan Yu saw that she was blushing terribly and stammered: “My dear sister… so you still… still don’t know the issue. This… this will never work out.” Zhong Ling cut in: “Is it because of Sister Mu?” Duan Yu said: “No. She… She is also my…” Zhong Ling smiled, “Your father still said something about a third or fourth wife. It’s not that I don’t give want to her but she’s extremely fierce, would I be able to beat her? She stuck out her tongue as she said it.

Duan Yu saw that she was still a picture of brilliant innocence. At the same time, his chest gave pain again. It was not a convenient time to explain the truth to her. He then asked: “How did you get here?”

Zhong Ling said: “I have been searching for you the whole way even to the east and west of the Central Plains but I heard no news whatsoever. I coincidentally met your disciple Yue the Third a few days ago. Although he did not see me, I heard him discussing with others that all the chivalrous heroes need to gather at Shaolin Temple as there was going to be a big and lively event. He told them to come. However, the wicked man Yun Zhongyue sneered and him and said that he would see his master soon. Yue the Third flew into a rage and said that when he saw you he would break your neck. I was both happy and anxious, so I quietly followed along. I was afraid to be spotted by Yue the Third and Yun Zhongyu and so I did not dare to follow to closely, but wandered around the base of the mountain haphazardly. I wanted to warn you to be cautious that your disciple wanted to break your neck. When I came across this uninhabited house, I moved in without reservation.”

Duan Yu heard her speak of matters lightly but her face was flushed with emotion. She no longer seemed carefree like before. Young as she was, she had gone through much difficulty wandering alone throughout the Jianghu to find him. Her feelings toward him were genuine indeed. He impulsively stretched out his hand to hold hers and said in a low voice: “My dear sister, at least Heaven took pity (on us) and allowed me to see you again!”
 
Zhong Ling laughed and said: “Yes, at least Heaven felt sorry for us indeed and let us see each other again. Sitting down on the bed, she asked: “How is it that you came here then?” Duan Yu said to her, eyes wide: “I was just about to ask you that, how did I get here? I only recall that the evil monk did a sneak attack on me and I took a hit of his Formless Saber skill to the chest, taking a heavy injury. I know nothing after that.”

Zhong Ling frowned and said: “That’s really strange! Yesterday evening, I was picking vegetables in the garden. I had washed and cut the vegetables in the kitchen all ready to cook when I heard a moan in the room. It gave me a fright and I took the vegetable knife and entered the room. I only saw that there was a person sleeping on my bed and asked a few times: “Who are you?” There was no reply. I thought it was a bad person and raised the vegetable knife, ready to stab it into the person sleeping on the bed. Fortunately… fortunately you were sleeping face-up. Before the knife pierced you, I got a glimpse of your face and at that moment… I almost fainted from the shock. I didn’t even realise that the knife had fallen to the floor. “ At this point, she patted her chest a few times, recalling the shock of that moment.

Duan Yu pondered: “This place is not far from Shaolin Temple. It should be that someone sent me here after I was injured.” Zhong Ling continued: “I called to you a few times but you only moaned and ignored me. I felt your forehead and you were running a terrible fever. Your clothes were soaked with fresh blood and it was obvious to me that you were injured. However, when I exposed the wound, it was well bandaged. I was gripped in confusion and dared not open the securing string. After waiting for a long while, you were still unconscious. Ai! I was both happy and in a panic, not knowing what to do with you.”

Zhong Ling’s expression suddenly stiffened and she said: “You aren’t a good person. If I’d known earlier that you lack a conscience, I would have long forgotten you. I’ll ignore you from now onwards, regardless of whether you live or die.”

Duan Yu said: “What? Why are you suddenly angry now?” Zhong Ling hummed and said pointedly: “You know very well, why ask me?” Duan Yu replied in a panic: “I… I definitely don’t know. My dear sister, tell me!”
 
Zhong Ling retorted: “Pooh! Who’s your dear sister? What did you say in your dreams? You remember and still ask me? You’re really ungrateful!” Duan Yu asked: “What did I say while dreaming? That must have been nonsense and not accurate. Ah! I remember! I must have seen you in my dream and being very fond of you, I must have spoken rashly and offended you.”

Zhong Ling suddenly teared and said dejectedly: “You’re still lying to me at this time. Who did you actually dream of?” Duan Yu sighed and said: “When I was injured, I was unconscious and really did not know what nonsense I said.” Zhong Ling suddenly exclaimed: “Who is Miss Wang? Who is Miss Wang? Why did you keep calling her when you were in a daze?”

Duan Yu’s chest ached and said: “Did I call Miss Wang’s name?” Zhong Ling said: “Why aren’t you calling her? You kept calling her while in a daze. Even now, you’re still thinking of her. Fine! Go and call Miss Wang to tend to you. I don’t care any more!” Duan Yu sighed a few times and said: “Miss Wang’s heart has no space for me. I only think of her but it is useless.” Zhong Ling asked: “Why?” Duan Yu replied: “She only likes her cousin and has ignored me completely all this while.”

Zhong Ling’s mood brightened and she laughed. “Thank heavens, the wicked get their just desserts!” Duan Yu asked: “Me, wicked?” Zhong Ling tilted her head and laughed, hair style coming partly undone: “Your disciple Yue the Third is one of the Three Evils. If the disciple is so evil, the master is definitely even more so.” Duan Yu laughed and said: “What about the Master-Wife? Does Yue the Third not call you Master-Wife? As he uttered the words, he immediately regretted them. “How can I speak such careless words to my biological sister?”

Zhong Ling blushed again and spat, but her heart was much appeased. She stood up and went to the kitchen to bring out a bowl of chicken soup, saying: “This soup has been boiling for half a day, waiting for you to awaken without once putting out the fire.” Duan Yu replied: I really don’t know how to thank you.” Seeing Zhong Ling bringing the soup over, he tried to sit up but aggravated his chest injury again. He could not help but groan.
 
Zhong Ling busily said: “Don’t get up. I will feed the little evil ancestor.””What little evil ancestor?” Duan Yu asked. Zhong Ling said: “You are the master of the wicked man. Is that not being the little evil ancestor?” Duan Yu laughed and said: “Then you are…” Zhong Ling brandished a spoonful of soup at his face and said in mock anger: “Watch me splash you with hot soup if you keep talking nonsense again!”Duan Yu stretched out his tongue and said: “I don’t dare! Miss Wicked Girl, wicked aunts are indeed formidable and very evil!” Zhong Ling let out a smile, and almost splashed Duan Yu with the soup. Duan Yu with great presence of mind tasted that the soup was not too hot before swallowing it.

Duan Yu drank a few mouthfuls of chicken soup and admired her looks and her jade-like complexion. He thought: “Such a pity that she’s my biological sister! Ai, if the one now feeding me chicken soup was Miss Wang, even it were poison I would still drink it."

Zhong Ling saw him vacantly staring at her and never in her wildest dreams imagined that he was thinking of someone else. She smiled and said: “What’s so good to look at?”

There was a sudden sound. Someone was pushing the door aside to enter, followed by a teenage girl’s voice saying: “Let’s take a break here for a while.” A man’s voice said: “Good, if we tired you out I would not forgive myself. The girl snapped back: “Nonsense!”


Duan Yu heard the two voices and recognised them to be A-Zi and Beggar Clan Chief Zhuang Juxian. Although he had not met A-zi or spoken to her personally before, he knew that she was another illegitimate daughter of his father’s from what Zhu Danchen told him. Yet another sister! Thank goodness he had no prior involvement with her. This younger sister had been under the guidance of the Xing Su elder since young and was tainted by evil ways. With her wilful ways, the four Zhennan Palace protectors had fallen to her petty anger. Duan Yu had been close to the four protectors since young. On recalling their deaths, he had no wish to see this sister of his. Furthermore, he had recently aided Xiao Feng against Zhuang Juxian
 
and feared for his life if they were spotted. He raised a finger, making a shushing gesture.

Zhong Ling nodded and held onto the bowl of chicken broth, not daring to place it on the table, terrified of making even a small sound. She heard A-Zi call out: “Wei, anyone there?” Zhong Ling glanced at Duan Yu and did not respond, thinking: “This person must have given his heart to Miss Wang, but she’s with her cousin and hence Duan Yu doesn’t wish to see her.” She was itching to take a look at “Miss Wang’s” appearance, wondering how beautiful she must look to bespell Duan Yu so. However, she dared not take a step, thinking that nothing good could come of Duan Yu meeting her. Hopefully, she would call a few more times and leave with her cousin if there was no response.

A-Zi called loudly once more: “Why are none of the people in the house taking a damned step out?” If you still don’t show yourself, I’ll burn your house down!”

Zhong Ling thought: “This Miss Wang is really tyrannical!” You Tanzhi quietly said: “Be quiet, someone’s coming!” A-Zi replied: “Who? Beggar Clan?” You Tanzhi replied: “I don’t know, but there are four or five and may not necessarily be Beggar Clan members. They’re coming this way.” A-Zi said: “Those stinking beggar clan elders! Apart from Elder Quan, none of them are good. They may want to hold this against you. If we’re seen, both of us will be in trouble.” You Tanzhi replied: “Then what should we do?” A-Zi said: “Let’s go and hide in the house first. You’ve been badly injured and can’t fight with them.”

Duan Yu quietly agonised, making a hand signal to Zhong Ling to tell her to hide. However, in this narrow and crampy mountain hut, there was nowhere to do so. Zhong Ling looked around and had no better ideas. From the sound of the footsteps, the duo were walking towards the room. She quietly said: “Let’s hide below the bed-stove! [炕Kang2]. She put down the bowl of soup. Before waiting for Duan Yu’s response, she carried him up and they burrowed under the bed-stove. However, the bottom of the bed-stove was filled with soot. Duan Yu’s nose was filled with dust and he managed to prevent a sneeze with great difficulty.
 
Zhong Ling looked out and saw a pair of feet clad in purple shoes walking into the room. She heard the man say: “Ai, I needed you to carry me around
- it was really unsuitable work for you.” The girl retorted: “One of us is blind and one is broken – we have no choice but to depend on each other.” Zhong Ling was puzzled and thought: “Turns out that Miss Wang is blind and she’s carrying her cousin on her back. No wonder that I can’t see his feet.”

A-Zi placed You Tanzhi on the bed and exclaimed: “Yi! Someone just slept on this bed! It’s still warm!” Suddenly, there was a banging noise. The main door had been kicked open and a few people dashed in. A rough voice said: “Clan Leader Zhuang, the plans of the clan have come to nothing. How could you slip away just like that?” It was Elder Song. He had been leading two Seven-Pouch disciples along with two Six-Pouch disciples to search out You Tanzhi.

With the Xiao, Murong father-son duos along with the Shaolin monks and the assorted heroes of the Central Plains all involved in the Shaolin Temple event, the Beggar Clan felt that they were in great peril. They needed to urgently think of a solution. They were afraid that even being the biggest clan with a foothold in the Central Plains they would be affected by the Xiao father-son feud with Murong Bo that might drag on. They did not care and did not want to interfere. Even if they told Bao Butong that they shared a common enemy and brought ill upon Xiao Feng, their main concern was to avoid British Rule and be led by a strong Clan Leader to restore their original power and glory.

Clan Chief Zhuang disappeared in the mess when they were hunting for him. They thought that with both legs broken, he could not have gone far and searched for him nearby. As to how to deal with him after they had found him, the clan had yet to decide and were still at a loss. However the majority were unanimous in that he was definitely not fit to continue as clan leader. Some lambasted him for taking the Xing Su Elder as his teacher and shaming the clan. Some cursed him for sending people to kill clan members, swearing to settle scores with him. As for Quan Guanqing, he had long been captured by Elders Song and Wu, waiting to be dealt with along with Zhuang Juxian.
 
Elder Song led the four disciples to search the southeast of Shaolin Mountain and saw a flash of purple clothing in the distant forest – someone entering a farmhouse. He recognised A-Zi and saw her carrying a person that looked like Zhuang Juxian. Immediately pursuing, they barged into the farm house and saw Zhuang Juxian and A-Zi sitting on the bed-stove.

A-Zi frostily said: “Elder Song, although you address him as Clan Leader, how can you keep making such a commotion without half a sense of the proper respect? Elder Song was taken aback and felt that her words were not entirely unreasonable. He said: “Clan Leader, we number a thousand members, all who stayed behind on Shaolin Mountain. As to what to do next, we need your orders.” You Tanzhi replied: “Do you still treat me as Clan Leader? You want me to return only to kill me to vent your anger, isn’t it? I’m not going!”

Elder Song turned to the four disciples and said: “Quick, spread the word that Clan Leader is here.” The four disciples acknowledged “Yes!” and turned to leave. A-Zi shouted: “Strike!” You Tanzhi followed the sound and struck out a palm. From below the bed-stove, Zhong Ling and Duan Yu felt a bone-freezing chill suddenly permeate the room. The four disciples fell as four corpses to the ground without making a sound. Elder Song was both shocked and angry. He raised his hand to his chest and yelled: “You… You… You dared to treat the clan brothers so wickedly!” A-Zi said: “Kill him too.” You Tanzhi punched out again. Elder Song blocked with a raised fist and with an “Ah!” sound, fell out of the main door.

A-Zi giggled and said: “This guy is dead for sure! Are you hungry? Let’s go and find something to eat. You Tanzhi carried upon her back, the two of them went into the kitchen and took Zhong Ling’s cooked dishes to eat in the hall. Zhong Ling whispered in Duan Yu’s ear: “These two shameless people are drinking the chicken soup I cooked for you.” Duan Yu whispered: “They are vicious and evil, killing at whim. Let’s sneak out through the back door. Zhong Ling did not want him to see that “Miss Wang” and strongly agreed with what he said.

The two of them lightly crawled out from beneath the bed-stove. Zhong Ling saw that Duan Yu’s face was full of soot and could not help but laugh. She covered her mouth. Sneaking out through the kitchen and just before
 
they went through the back door, Duan Yu’s long suppressed sneeze could no longer be controlled. “Qi chi!” the sound snapped out.

They heard You Tanzhi exclaim: “Someone’s there!” Zhong Ling looked around and saw nowhere to hide in the room. However, there was a small room used for storing firewood behind the kitchen. She grabbed Duan Yu and they tunnelled into the pile of firewood. A-Zi called out: “Who’s there? Such sneaky behaviour, get out here!” You Tanzhi said: “They’re most likely farmers from this countryside. We can probably ignore them.” A-Zi called: “Why do you still ignore me? With your clumsiness you’ll surely suffer greatly in the future. Don’t make a sound!” After she became blind, her hearing became exceptionally sensitive. She heard some rustling in the firewood pile. ‘There’s someone in the pile of firewood!”

Zhong Ling was startled and felt some water dripping on her face. She brushed it with her hand and felt dampness accompanied by the scent of blood. She was horrified and murmured: “You… how’s your wound?” Duan Yu said: “Silence!” A-Zi pointed to the firewood room and called out: “Over there.” You Tanzhi struck a palm towards the room with a ka-la-la sound. The door burst apart and wood splinters and tinder scattered all around.

Zhong Ling called out: “Don’t attack! We are coming out!”. She supported Duan Yu and crawled out of the pile of firewood. Duan Yu had taken a stab from Jiumozhi’s Blazing Sabre skill and his injuries were not light. With so much movement crawling out of the firewood storage wound, his wound opened and fresh blood gushed out. With his injuries, even with his abundant internal energy and his life on the line, he could not recall how to use the Liumai Shenjian (Six Meridians Divine Sword).


A-Zi asked: "Why is there a girl's voice?" You Tanzhi replied: "A man brought a young girl to hide in the wood pile. His body is soaked with blood while the girl just keeps staring at you with shining eyes." Since A-Zi became blind, she had become extremely sensitive to the mention of "eyes". Not only had You Tanzhi mentioned "eyes", he actually said "the young lady's eyes" and it agitated her. "What 'shining'?! Are her eyes so nice?"
 
You Tanzhi was yet to realise how angry she was and went on: "She is scruffy - a farmer's daughter. Her eyes, however are dark and lively." Zhong Ling's face was coated with soot and dirt but her eyes were dark and liquid like summer rain.

A-Zi stormily exclaimed: "Fine! Master Zhuang, dig out her eyes immediately!" You Tanzhi was taken aback and said: "Why should I dig out her eyes for no reason?" A-Zi went on: "My eyes were destroyed by Elder Ding. Hurry, dig out her eyes and give them to me to see the world. Isn't that good?"

You Tanzhi was quietly shocked and thought: "If her eyes are restored and she sees how ugly I am, she may ignore me. Furthermore, if she recognizes my face and knows that I am the 'Metal Clown', that would be dreadful! I can't do this." He said: "If I can heal your eyes, that would be wonderful…
… however, I'm afraid this plan of yours will not work."

A-Zi knew that taking someone's eyes to replace her own would not work. However, since she had lost her sight, she had become filled with rage and hoped that everyone in the world would lose their eyes as well. She said: "If you haven't tried, how would you know it wouldn't work? Quickly make your move and dig out her eyes." She walked towards Duan Yu and Zhong Ling with You Tanzhi on her back.

Zhong Ling was alarmed to hear their exchange and dashed away. A-Zi being blind and carrying You Tanzhi had difficulty pursuing her. Furthermore, You Tanzhi had no intention of catching Zhong Ling and frequently gave A-Zi the wrong directions in a garbled way.

A-Zi hearing, Zhong Ling's footsteps, knew that she could not catch her. She called back: "If young Miss escapes, the man will die soon!"

Zhong Ling heard this and got a fright. She immediately stopped and turned back, only to see Duan Yu collapsed onthe floor with a pool of fresh blood around him. She dashed back and called out: "Little Blindy! You can't hurt him!" At this point when she faced A-Zi, she noticed that she was certainly a beauty. Who would expect that her heart was this vicious?
 
A-Zi cried out: "Seal her acupoints!" Although You Tanzhi was unwilling, he had never dared to defy A-Zi, whether it be in the Liao Manor or being the Beggar Clan lader. Immediately raising his finger, he sealed Zhong Ling's acupoints and she fell to the ground.

Zhong Ling called: "Miss Wang! Do not hurt him! He called your name in his dreams and has nothing but honest intentions towards you!" A-Zi asked in confusion: "What did you say? Who's Miss Wang?" Zhong Ling said: "You… you aren't Miss Wang? Who are you then?" A-Zi smirked and said: "Hm. You called me 'Little Blindy'. You're about to become blind yourself now. Why ask so many questions? You still have a pair of eyes now. Better take a few more looks quickly." She placed You Tanzhi on the ground and said: "Dig out her eyes!"

You Tanzhi replied: "Yes!" and stretched out his left hand, grabbing Zhong Ling's head. Zhong Ling in shock cried out: "Don't dig out my eyes! Don't dig out my eyes!"

Duan Yu lying on the ground in a daze realised that the two of them were about to remove Zhong Ling's eyes to place in A-Zi's eye sockets. He knew Zhong Ling had already escaped but returned and placed herself in danger to save him. He sighed and said: "You should take my eyes, we… we are family… they would be more suitable."

A-Zi had no idea what he was talking about and did not care. She urged You Tanzhi: "Why haven't you moved?" You Tanzhi had no choice but to acknowledge: "Yes". He pulled Zhong Ling toward himself and stuck his right index finger towards her right eye in a digging motion.

They suddenly heard a lady's voice calling out: "Wei, what are you doing here?" You Tanzhi raised his head and his expression changed greatly. He saw two men and four women below the home's willow tree. The two men were Xiao Feng and Xu Zhu, while the four ladies were Xu Zhu's servants, the four swords: Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum and Bamboo.Glancing into the room, Xiao Feng saw Duan Yu collapsed on the floor and dashed in to carry him up. Frowning, he said: "Your wound has opened again with so much blood." He knelt down on his left leg to support Duan Yu's body and examined his wound. Xu Zhu came closer and saw Duan Yu's wound,
 
saying: "Elder brother, do not be alarmed. This [Nine-changing Bear Snake Pill] is very effective for treating wounds. He sealed the acupoints around Duan Yu's wound to stop the bleeding, then fed him the pill.

Duan Yu called out: "Elder brother… second brother, quickly, save her! Don't let him dig out Miss Zhong's eyes! She's… she's my good sister." Xiao Feng and Xu Zhu looked at You Tanzhi. You Tanzhi was startled. As he had originally not wished to dig out Zhong Ling's eyes, he let her go immediately.

A-Zi called out: "Brother-in-law, what did my sister say before she died? After you beat her to death, did you forget all about her requests?" Xiao Feng, hearing her bring up A-Zhu, was once again hurt and frustrated, letting out a sigh. He did not reply. A-Zi continued: "You didn't take good care of me. Elder Ding destroyed my sight but you weren't even concerned. Brother-in-law, everyone says you're the number one hero, but you can't even protect your sister-in-law. Are you actually worthless? Hm, Elder Freak Ding can't defeat you, but it's just that you didn't take care of me and protect me."

Xiao Feng dejectedly replied: "You were taken by the Beggar Clan and lost sight in both eyes. It was truly that my protection was inadequate. I really cannot make it up to you enough for this. He had seen early on that A-Zi was up to her unreasonable ways and asking others to dig out Zhong Ling's eyes. He was angry and yet when he saw her blind gaze, he recalled A- Zhu's last wishes on that stormy night at the Green Stone bridge where A- Zhu took his killing blow, telling him in his arms: "I only have a good sister from the same parents. While we cannot continue being together, I beg you to take care of her as I fear she will go astray." He had also himself said: "Not only one task, I would do a hundred or a ten thousand tasks for you." However, A-Zi's losing both eyes were his fault for his inadequacy of care no matter what she had done wrong. His heart ached when he thought of all this and his eyes shone with warmth towards her.

A-Zi had spent a long time with Xiao Feng and knew his character well. As long as she mentioned A-Zhu, she would manage to make him agree to difficult requests for sure no matter what. She hated how Zhong Ling called her "Little Blindy" and thought to herself: "I'm going to make you have a
 
taste of being a "Little Blindy" for sure". She then sighed a few times and said to Xiao Feng: "Brother-in-law, I'm blind and can't see anything. It may be better for me to just die." Xiao Feng said: "I had already returned you to your father and mother. How is it that you're with Clan Leader Zhuang once again?" At this time he had already seen that Zhuang Juxian was fully willing to follow A-Zi as well as being very obedient to her words. "You'd better return to your father to Dali. Although your eyes are blind, Dali Palace has many servants to wait upon you and it will not be too inconvenient."

A-Zi replied: "My mother isn't a real palace concubine. If I were to go to Dali, with all the palace intrigue and plotting happening one after another, should Father's underlings hate me, I will be at their mercy with my blindness." Xiao Feng thought that she had a point and then replied: "Then follow me back to Nanjing where you can lead your life peacefully without taking risks in the Jianghu."

A-Zi retorted: “Now you ask me to go to your own palace? Ai yo! I was bored sick there even when I could see. How could I ever return there? You refuse to be like Clan Leader Zhuang, never disagreeing with me. I would be rather drift along in the Jianghu and be happier.”

Xiao Feng glanced at You Tanzhi and thought: “Looks like little A-Zi seems to be fond of this Beggar Clan Leader. He said: “Have you asked about this Clan Leader Zhuang’s background?"

A-Zi replied: “Naturally. However, asking someone for their own background may not necessarily be reliable. Brother-in-law, when you used to be the Beggar Clan Leader, would you have willingly told others that you were a Khitan?”

Xiao Feng upon hearing her acerbic words sighed again and did not continue. He was undecided if he should leave her alone to continue following this Beggar Clan Leader.

A-Zi asked: “Brother-in-law, are you ignoring me now?” Xiao Feng frowned and said: “What do you want then?” A-Zi said: “I want you to dig out this girl’s eyes and give them to me.” She paused and continued: “Clan
 
Leader Zhuang was about to do it for me. If you hadn’t interfered, he would have been long done. En, even if you let me do it myself it’s fine. Brother- in-law, I want to know if you or Clan Leader Zhuang treats me better. In the past, you used to carry me around all the time to get my wounds treated. Then, you also obeyed me dutifully, doing whatever I asked. When we stayed outdoors in the same tent, you carried me closely regardless if it was day or night. Brother-in-law, have you forgotten all this?”

You Tanzhi stared at Xiao Feng with a vicious expression, seeming to say: “A-Zi is mine, from this day on, don’t even think of touching her!”

Xiao Feng cared not about him and said: “You were heavily injured then. To use my internal energy to keep you alive, I had no choice but to go along with you. This girl is my sworn brother’s friend. How can I dig out her eyes to suit your order? Furthermore, the medical technique to install nerves does not exist. This desire of yours is futile!”

Xu Zhu suddenly interjected: “I took a look at Miss Duan’s eyes. It’s only the surface layer that has been destroyed. It may be possible to do a transplant with a living person to cure her. The Xiaoyao Sect’s medical skills were very advanced. Furthermore, Divine Doctor Xue was Xu Zhu’s martial nephew. Although Xu Zhu did not have much medical knowledge, he had followed Tianshan Tonglao (Child Elder) for a number of months and had heard her mentioning many things.

A-Zi cried “Ah!” with joy and cheered, saying: “Mr. Xu Zhu, you aren’t fooling me right?” Xu Zhu replied: “Monks do not fight or lie……” then paused and flushed a little as he thought about himself no longer being a monk. He continued: “Naturally, I am not fooling you, however…” A-Zi asked: “However what? Good Mr. Xu Zhu, you are sworn brothers with my brother-in-law – both of us are practically family!” You also heard my brother-in law earlier. He dotes on me greatly. Brother-in-law, brother-in- law, regardless, you must ask your sworn brother to cure my eyes!” Xu Zhu said: “I heard my martial uncle mention before that if the eyes are not completely destroyed, it is possible to regain sight by transplanting part of a living person’s eye. However, I am not familiar with the method of doing so.”
 
A-Zi said: “In that case, your martial uncle must surely have the method. Please help me to ask him! Xu Zhu sighed and said: “My martial uncle is no longer alive.” A-Zi yelled: “So you were making tales up to mess with me!” Xu Zhu repeatedly shook his head and said: “No, no! There are many medical books kept in Lingjiu Palace. I believe the method to transplant eyes should be available there. But… but…” A-Zi was both pleased but anxious and said: “You’re a grown man and yet speak in such a stuttering wishy-washy manner. Ai! What do you mean by ‘but’ this and ‘but’ that?”

Xu Zhu said: “However… However… Eyes being as precious as they are, who would want to donate theirs to you?” A-Zi laughed and said: “I was wondering what difficult matter you meant. Getting eyes from a living person? Isn’t that easy? Just dig out that girl’s eyes!”

Zhong Ling loudly exclaimed: “No way! You can’t take my eyes!” Xu Zhu replied: “Yes! Putting yourself in her shoes, you didn’t wish to become blind. Naturally, neither does Miss Zhong. Although Siddharta used to be a Buddha in his previous life and was willing to give his flesh and blood to others, how can Miss Zhong compare to Tathagata Buddha? Furthermore, Miss Zhong is a good friend of my third brother.” He was suddenly startled and exclaimed: “Ai ya! Not good! That time in Lingjiu Palace, I was having a heart-to-heart talk with Third Brother after drinks. It turned out that his loved one was my “Dream Maiden”. It seems now that Third Brother is very close to this Miss Zhong now. From what he said earlier to A-Zi, he would rather have his own eyes dug out than to let Miss Zhong be hurt even though the eyes are the most important of the bodily organs. Could it be that this Miss Zhong is actually the “Dream Maiden” whom I spent three nights with?

After thinking up to this point, he involuntarily shivered and turned his head to sneakily glance at Zhong Ling. Although she was covered in soot and grass, it did not conceal her underlying beauty. The time Xu Zhu had spent with his “Dream Maiden” was not that insignificant, however as it had been in the darkened ice room, he had no idea what she looked like. If he could use his hand to feel her face, he could get some hint; if he could hug her waist, he could be even more certain. However in broad daylight, how would he be able to feel her face? Not to mention hugging and cuddling.
 
While having these thoughts, he blushed furiously. Although Zhong Ling’s voice was different from his “Dream Maiden”, to recognize a voice within the ice room and in the open would be very different. It was not surprising that they would not be alike. Xu Zhu gazed at Zhong Ling, feeling as if he could stretch out a hand from his heart and gently caress her face so as to find out if she really were his “Dream Maiden”. His face glowed with tender warmth towards her as he had these overflowing feelings.

Upon seeing that Xu Zhu had an amiable expression and did not seem likely to be about to gouge out her eyes, Zhong Ling was slightly relieved.

A-Zi said: "Mr. Xu Zhu, I’m your third brother’s sister by blood. This Miss Zhong is only his friend. There’s a big difference between a sister and a friend.”

After Duan Yu had taken the Lingjiu Palace ‘Nine-Changing Bear Snake Pill’, his bleeding rapidly stopped and he regained his senses. Although he had not fully understood the exchange regarding eye-switching, A-Zi’s last few words made everything clear to him. He could not help but sighed and said: “Since you had long known that I am your brother, how could you ask others to harm me?”

A-Zi laughed and said: “I have never spoken to you before. How would I recognize your voice? It was only when I heard Father and Mother speaking yesterday that I knew about my brother-in-law and Mr. Xu Zhu becoming sworn brothers and that the one who thrashed Young Master Murong was actually my blood brother. This is wonderful. Both my brother-in-law and my own brother are great heroes, how admirable!” Duan Yu shook his head and said: “What great hero? A laughable disgrace.” A-Zi laughed and said: “Ai ya, don’t be courteous. Little elder brother, when you hid in the wood storage room, how would I have known it was you? I can’t see. It was only when I heard you address my brother-in-law as “Elder Brother” did I know it was you.”

Duan Yu felt that she had a point there and said: “Second brother should know the method of treating your eyes and he should be able to concoct a treatment plan for you. Miss Zhong Ling’s eyes must not be touched at all costs. She… She is also my sister by blood.”
 
A-Zi cackled: “Earlier on that mountain, I heard you desperately trying to ingratiate yourself with Miss Wang. How did you start eyeing this Miss Zhong in the blink of an eye? You even managed to call her your sister by blood. Little elder brother, are you not in the least shy?” Duan Yu turned scarlet at her words and said: “Nonsense!” A-Zi replied: “If this Miss Zhong becomes my sister-in-law, I would naturally not touch her eyes. However, if she is not my in-law, why can’t I use her? Little elder brother, is she or is she not my sister in law?”

Xu Zhu gave a sideways look at Duan Yu, his heart pounding wildly. He did not know if Zhong Ling was his “Dream Maiden”. If she were not, it would not matter, however if she were and Duan Yu married her, he would not know what to do. He had a depressed expression as he waited for Duan Yu’s reply, the moment seeming to drag on for a long while.

Zhong Ling was also waiting for Duan Yu’s response and wondered: “So this lady is your younger sister and even she says that you keep trying to get in Miss Wang’s good books. It can’t be untrue then that your heart is with Miss Wang. Why did you say earlier then that I am Yue the Third’s martial mother? Why did you even agree to use your eyes in exchange for mine? Why did you call me your own sister in front of everyone?”

She heard Duan Yu say again: “No matter what, you are not allowed to harm Miss Zhong. You are young and always doing bad deeds. Our Dali elder brother Zhu Wanli was angered to death by you. If you start your wickedness again, my second brother will refuse to treat your eyes.”

A-Zi pursed her lips and said: “Heng! Putting on airs now! Speaking to me for the first time, you aren’t being affectionate but attempting to lecture me!”

Xiao Feng saw that Duan Yu was speaking coherently although his energy level was low and his energy seemed to be improving. He knew that the Lingjiu Palace “Nine-Changing Bear Snake Pill” was miraculous and Duan Yu’s life was no longer at risk. He then said: “Third Brother, let us go to the room to rest and discuss. Duan Yu replied: “Good timing!” He straightened up and stood. Zhong Ling called out: “Ai ya! You can’t move carelessly. Don’t cause your wound to open up again!” Her voice was filled with
 
tenderness. Xiao Feng delightedly said: “Second brother, your amazing medicine is truly a miracle second to none.”

Xu Zhu made a few “En” sounds but his heart was still flustered over Zhong Ling’s few emotion-filled lines and filled with great regret.

The group entered the room. Duan Yu lay on the bed-stove while Xiao Feng sat in front of it. Night had fallen and the Lingjiu Palace Four Swords lit oil lamps, while preparing tea and food to serve to Xiao Feng, Duan Yu, Xu Zhu and Zhong Ling. However, they pointedly ignored You Tanzhi and A- Zi. A-Zi was annoyed and in keeping with her character wanted to secretly harm the Lingjiu Palace Four Swords, but when she thought about her blindness and that she would have to rely on Xu Zhu for treatment, she had no choice but to swallow her rage.

Xiao Feng did not notice or care about A-Zi throwing a tantrum and opened a drawer of the stove-bed. Duan Yu and Xu Zhu saw that the inside was filled with toys for young children. There were carved wooden tigers, clay puppies, woven grass cages for insects, bamboo containers to store crickets and also a few rusty small knives. These toys were common to farmer homes and nothing out of the ordinary. Xiao Feng however took the wooden tigers and stared at them blankly.

A-Zi had no idea what he was doing and was restless and bored. She swept a hand through her hair and shifted her elbow, knocking into a cotton loom. She took out her sword and with a ‘Shua!’ sound sliced the machine into two.

Xiao Feng’s expression darkened and he cried out: “You… what are you doing?” A-Zi replied: “This sewing machine hit and injured me, how does it trouble you for me to destroy it?” Xiao Feng angrily yelled: “Get out! How dare you damage the things in this house?”

A-Zi retorted: “Fine, I’ll go!” and she rapidly ran out. She walked briskly in her anger and with a banging sound hit her forehead on the top of the door. She grunted and rapidly kept going even though she could not see the way out clearly. Xiao Feng’s heart softened and he grabbed her right arm to stop
 
her, gently saying: “A-Zi, are you injured?” A-Zi turned and wilted in his embrace, sobbing.”

Xiao Feng gently patted her shoulder and said in a low tone: “A-Zi, it’s my fault. I should not have been so harsh on you.” A-Zi sobbed: “You’ve changed! Unlike in the past when you were so good to me.” Xiao Feng tenderly said: “Sit down and rest for a while. Sip a cup of tea, all right?” He took his own teacup and placed it at A-Zi’s mouth, his left hand supporting her waist.

In the past when he had broken A-Zi’s rib-cage, Xiao Feng attended to her with his utmost for more than a year. Not just with tea and food, even assisting with her dressing, hair combing and personal bodily functions, Xiao Feng assisted her intimately, denying her nothing. When she had been unable to sit upright then, Xiao Feng when feeding her soup and medication had become accustomed to supporting her body with his left hand. He instinctively did so now when feeding her tea. A-Zi sipped a few cups of tea in his arms and felt soothed. She broke a laugh and said: “Brother-in-law, are you still chasing me away?”

Xiao Feng let go of her and turned to place the teacup on the table. In the darkness, he suddenly saw two eyes shining fiercely like those of wild beasts with a vicious bloodlust directed at himself. Xiao Feng was taken aback slightly and saw You Tanzhi sitting on the corner of the room clenching his teeth tightly, nostrils flaring, as if he were about to pounce towards himself to bite. Xiao Feng thought: “This person’s background is unknown and his behaviour is extremely odd.” He heard A-Zi saying again: “Brother-in-law, I only damaged a few broken sewing looms. Why did you have to fly into such a rage?”

Xiao Feng gave a long sigh and said: “This home was my godparents’… The sewing loom you destroyed was my godmother’s.”

Everyone was shocked.

Xiao Feng grasped the small wooden tiger in his palm, gazing into the distance. In the yellow lamp-light, his large shadow loomed on the clay wall. He gently rubbed the wooden tiger’s back with his index and middle
 
fingers, a tender expression on his face and said: “This was carved for me by my godfather when I was five. Godfather… I used to call him Father then… carved it by the light of this very lamp. Mother was sewing. I sat beside Father’s leg, watching the form of the tiger’s ear appearing, then the nose. I was delighted.”

Duan Yu asked: “Elder brother, was it you who brought me to this place?” Xiao Feng nodded and replied: “Yes.” While the nameless elderly monk had been reciting scripture to the group, Jiumozhi suddenly struck and injured Duan Yu. The nameless monk waved his sleeve and shoved Jiumozhi out, where he rapidly turned and fled down the mountain.

On seeing that Duan Yu had suffered a heavy injury, Xiao Feng had given Duan Yu special medication as he was anxious to help him. Jiumozhi’s [Blazing Sabre Skill] was extremely dangerous. Had Duan Yu’s internal energy not been extremely dense and strong, he would have died on the spot after his vitals had been struck.

Xiao Feng saw that the mountain’s weather was harsh and it would be bad for Duan Yu to endure the strong winds with his severe injury. He carried Duan Yu to his childhood home, placing Duan Yu on the bed-stove. Immediately turning, he was about to meet up with his father as well as the eighteen Khitan warriors, when he was surprised to find that someone had been living in the empty home these few days, and that it was an old acquaintance of Duan Yu’s.

He returned to Shaolin Temple to find that the situation had calmed down. Xiao Yuanshan and Murong Bo had decided to become Shaolin monks under the guidance of Nameless Monk. Not only had they resolved their enmity, they had even become senior and junior disciples.

Xiao Yuanshan had not spread the knowledge of Shaolin’s martial arts to the country of Liao. The heroes of the Central Plains were relieved and reassured. During Xiao Feng’s disappearance, the eighteen Khitan Warriors were unable to cause any harm under the direction of Lingjiu Palace. The various heroes saw that the matter had been settled and dispersed from the mountain. Xiao Feng had no wish to meet others and begin the struggles
 
anew. He hid in a cave beside the mountain until night before going to the entrance door requesting to meet his father.

The monk in charge of handling guests for Shaolin Temple went in to report. Returning after a time, he said: “Elder Xiao has become a monk in this temple. He wishes me to inform you that he has buried his grievances and his heart is now filled with peace and joy. He intends to devote himself to scripture study from now on. When he was a Liao official, he only hoped for peace between Liao and Song. If the Liao Emperor has the intention of invading, please dissuade him to protect the millions of lives in the two countries.”

Xiao Feng replied: “Yes!” His heart was awash in sorrow and he wondered: “Father is getting old. If he does not wish to see me today, I fear that I will not get to see him again.” He thought: “I have been charged by the Liao Emperor with the heavy task of subduing the South. If Great Song wants to invade Liao, I am a general and will have to defend the North, however if the Emperor wants to kill the Song soldiers, I will have to dissuade him.”

He heard footsteps whilst he was deep in thought. Seven or eight eminent monks including Shenshan and Daoqing came out of the temple along with Zheluoxing (Indian Monk) and other foreign monks. Monks Xuanji (Discipline Hall head) and Xuansheng had their hands clasped in the Buddhist greeting. Boluoxing (Indian Monk Zheluoxing’s junior) stood behind Xuanji as they exchanged courtesies.

Zheluoxing said: “Junior, I will be heading to the West. When we part today, we will be separated by thousands of miles. Who knows when we will meet again? You are determined not to return home to Tianzhu (old name for India). Do you want to spend your remaining days in the Central Plains?” He spoke in Chinese to his junior disciple to avoid any misunderstanding or suspicion from the Shaolin monks.

Boluoxing laughed lightly and said: “Senior Brother, why do you keep asking me this? Tianzhu and the Central Plains are one and the same. Bodhidharma came to the East as well.” Zheluoxing was shaken and said: “Junior’s words have enlightened me. You aren’t my junior, but my teacher.” Boluoxing laughed and said: “When following the Dharma,
 
understanding may come early or late. It is fine whether late or early just to achieve understanding.” The two shared a laugh.

Xiao Feng remained inconspicuous at the side and waited until Reverends Shenshan, Daoqing, Zheluoxing had gone down the mountain before slowly following behind. He had only gone a few steps when another person came out from the temple. It was Xu Zhu. He saw Xiao Feng and was elated, rushing over and saying: “Elder brother, I was looking all over for you. I heard that Third Brother was heavily injured. How is he?” Xiao Feng replied: “Fine, fine!” The two went off together. Before they had gone a short distance, the Four Sword sisters came out from the forest to follow Xu Zhu.

Xu Zhu said that the Lingjiu Palace maidens as well as the folk of the Seventy Two Islands and Thirty Six Caves had already left the mountain with the Eighteen Khitan warriors and he believed that there would not be any reckless conflict with the Central Plain warriors. Xiao Feng felt that this was praiseworthy and thought: “This sworn brother of mine is really amazing. It was my Second Brother who became sworn siblings with him. Who knew that he would be such a great help to me?”

Xu Zhu then mentioned that Ding Chunqiu been placed in the care of Shaolin Temple’s medical wing. The Shaolin monks would give him the Lingjiu Palace medication twice yearly during the Dragon Boat and Double Nine Festivals to allievate the agony he felt from the Life and Death Talisman. His life and death was in the hands of others and he dared not do evil.

Xiao Feng gave a hearty laugh and said: “Second Brother, you have eliminated a great evil from the martial world. This Ding Chunqiu will be under Buddhist influence, but whether it will draw him away from his evil ways remains to be seen.” Xu Zhu was a little upset and said: “I wished to become a monk again in the Shaolin Temple. However, I was chased away by the senior masters. This Ding Chunqiu is extremely wicked and has done many evil deed and yet he can remain in Shaolin Temple to meditate. Why is there such a double standard in our treatments?
 
Xiao Feng smiled and said: “Second Brother, you envy Old Freak Ding, but he envies you a thousand times more. You are the master of Lingjiu Palace and leading the thirty six cave masters as well as the seventy two island masters, with your great fame shaking the heavens, what’s not to like?” Xu Zhu shook his head and said: “Lingjiu Palace is all women. It’s really awkward being a little monk and not knowing what to do with myself. Xiao Feng laughed gustily and said: “You mean you’re still a little monk?”

Xu Zhu said: “Those sycophantic lackeys of the Xingxiu Sect have turned to pestering me. I have no idea how to deal with them.” Xiao Feng replied: “These people were likely not originally this way. Under the influence of the Xingxiu Elder Freak, it they had not learned to be this way they would likely not have been able to survive. Second Brother, just treat them more strictly and if they refuse to change then throw them out.”

Xu Zhu thought about his parents acknowledging each other in a single day and then dying together. How tragic! He could not help but tear up.

Xiao Feng said consolingly: “Second brother, unfortunate happenings are common everywhere. When I was expelled by the Beggar Clan, the heroes of the world all treated me with much enmity and I was extremely upset. But after some time, things got better.” Xu Zhu replied: “Right, right. Tathagatha Buddha once preached Scripture on the Lingjiu Mountain of Rajgir. The word Lingjiu has its origins in Buddhism. Perhaps one day, I will turn Lingjiu Palace into Lingjiu Temple and ask the women both old and young to be nuns.”

Xiao Feng bellowed with laughter and said: “A monk temple filled with nuns, that will truly be an oddity!”

Both people chatted and as they arrived at Qiao San Huai (乔三槐) house (the House of Qiao?), they came across You Tanzhi just about to dig out Zhong Ling’s eyes and it was fortunate that they stopped him in the nick of time.

Duan Yu asked: “Elder brother and second brother, have you seen my father?” Xiao Feng replied: “Not afterwards.” Xu Zhu said: “The heroes were fighting chaotically and I could not pay my respects to Uncle, truly
 
disrespectful.” Duan Yu replied: “Second brother, no need to be polite. That Duan Yanqing is a great enemy of my family and I am afraid that he would cause trouble for my father.” Xiao Feng replied: “This matter needs to be dealt with. Let me go and seek Uncle (Duan Zhengchun) out.”

A-Zi cut in: “You keep talking about elder uncle and little uncle, why don’t you address him as ‘Father-in-law’?”

Xiao Feng sighed: “This is something I will hate myself for the rest of my life for, what else is there to say?” He stood up and left the room.

At this time, Plum Sword carried in a bowl of chicken broth and was entering the room to serve it to Duan Yu when she heard their discussion. She said: “Hero Xiao, you don’t need to ride off personally to search. Your lowly servant will spread Master’s order and Lingjiu Palace will search everywhere. If Duan Yanqing is spotted to be doing evil, we will set off smoke signals and we can go in and capture him. What do you think?” Xiao Feng joyfully said: “Great! Those under Lingjiu Palace number in the thousands. If they split up the work, it will be far better than the few of us going out to look.”

Plum Sword went off to give the instructions for the search. Lingjiu Palace had a very efficient communications network. Once Xu Zhu returned to the House of Qiao, the Xuantian Section women had already obtained information. Under Fu Minyi’s leadership, they rushed to the vicinity and secretly increased security.

Duan Yu was reassured and then started to think about Wang Yuyan, thinking: “She hates me deeply. I fear that she will ignore me in the future.” He could not help but sigh a few times over his strong yearning. Zhong Ling was concerned and asked: “Does your wound hurt?” Duan Yu replied: “Not much.” A-Zi said: “Miss Zhong, although you like my little elder brother, you do not understand his heart. I see your confused thoughts – the future is uncertain.” Zhong Ling replied: “I wasn’t talking to you. Who asked you to interrupt?” A-Zi laughed: “It’s irrelevant whether I interrupt or not. I only fear that there is a lady ten times more beautiful than you are, ten times more devoted and caring who may interfere. My brother would then have no place for you in my heart. Why he sighs, don’t you know? Sighing
 
means that his heart is unfulfilled. You are contented to be with my brother and do not sigh. My brother’s frequent sighing – certainly it is because of another lady!” A-Zi could not dig out Zhong Ling’s eyes, so she used her words to pierce her and wanted her to be miserable. That gave herself cheer.

Zhong Ling upon hearing this was angry and upset. However, she felt that A-Zi had a point and she became gloomy. When she had been younger, she had always been innocent and lively. Although she had been fond of Duan Yu, it was not a very deep desire, just that she felt that her heart had no words to describe the comfort and joy she felt being with him. Duan Yu’s heart being with someone else and not bothering too much about her was rather saddening. Although she was a little upset, there was nothing much to be done about it.

Duan Yu hurriedly said: “Zhong… Zhong… Younger sister Ling, don’t listen to A-Zi’s blind words.” Zhong Ling on hearing Duan Yu address her as Younger Sister Ling and no longer Miss Zhong, felt that it was a more intimate form of address and was cheered, saying: “She loves to hurt others with her words – I don’t care about it.”

A-Zi was furious. After she had become blind, she hated others mentioning the word “Blind”. Duan Yu had meant to say that she was speaking rashly or without logic, but he managed to use the word “Blind” twice. She said: “Brother, do you actually like Miss Wang more or Miss Zhong more? Miss Wang has already arranged with me to meet on the morrow. I will tell her the words you speak with your own mouth."

Duan Yu upon hearing that sat up and hurriedly asked: “You arranged to meet with Miss Wang? Where and when? What are you discussing?”

On seeing his desperate expression, Zhong Ling knew that regardless of what he said, Miss Wang was far more important to Duan Yu than herself. She was easygoing and straightforward in character. She had been upset earlier but it had dulled greatly by now. She would be very upset if she were in Wang Yuyan’s place but knew that her beloved’s heart was not with herself. Mu Wanqing had gone straight for Duan Yu; A-Zi must be planning some wickedness towards Wang Yuyan. Despite all her thoughts, Zhong
 
Ling said: “Don’t get up, be careful or your wound may open up and bleed again.”

Xu Zhu was watching the three of them from the side and pondered: “Miss Zhong is so devoted to Third Brother. It’s unlikely that she is my Dream Maiden. Otherwise, how would she be so indifferent when she heard my voice?” However, he thought a little more: “Aiyo, that’s not right? The ladies like Elder Tonglao, Li Qiushui as well as Jade Granny, Stone Aunt and Aunt Fu are complicated and think very differently from men. Perhaps Miss Zhong is really my Dream Maiden and she recognized me from the start, however she deliberately did not show any recognition to keep me in the dark?”

Duan Yu kept questioning A-Zi as to when she was meeting Wang Yuyan the next day. A-Zi saw his anxiety and wondered how to mess with him. Thinking that she could obtain some benefits, her answers were all perfunctory.

Orchid Sword returned to report and said that the Xuan Tian Section had already sent out word and requested Duan Yu to be at ease. Duan Yu said: “Many thanks Sisters for your effort, I am extremely grateful.” Orchid Sword saw that he carried himself like a Dali Prince but without any trace of haughtiness. She thought well of him and on hearing him ask A-Zi again about the next day, she could not stand but cut in: “Master Duan, your sister is only playing a joke on you but you take it so seriously!” Duan Yu said: “How do you know that she is playing a joke on me?” Orchid Sword laughed and said: “If I explained, Miss Duan (referring to A-Zi) would blame me for it, and I do not know if Master allows it.”

Duan Yu hurriedly said to Xu Zhu: “Second brother, please ask her to speak!”

Xu Zhu nodded and said to Orchid Sword: “Third brother and I are close. You need not hide anything.” Orchid Sword said: “Earlier on, we saw Master Murong’s group going down Mount Shao and heard them discussing whether to head to Western Xia. Miss Wang followed her cousin in the group. They must be tens of Li away by now. How could she possibly meet Miss Duan tomorrow?”
 
A-Zi shrieked: “Stinking wretch! You know that I would blame you and you persisted in speaking. You four sisters are a bunch of blabbermouths. Your master’s family is speaking and you have no respect to cut in like that.”

There was a sudden voice from outside the window. “Miss Duan, why do you scold my sister? Lingjiu Palace’s Divine Farmer (Shen Nong referring to Medical) Department’s key is kept by myself, don’t you know? Master wants to find the method to heal your eyes and the only way is to go to the Shen Nong Department to find the relevant books.” The one who spoke was Bamboo Sword.

A-Zi was taken aback and thought: “I’m afraid that what this wretch says is true. Before this idiotic Xu Zhu monk heals my eyes, I cannot offend the servant girls by his side. Should they do anything such as changing the medications, my eye treatment will go wrong. Hng! Once my eyes are healed, I’ll let you learn what I can do.” She remained silent.

Duan Yu asked Orchid Sword: “Many thanks Sister for your information. They went to Western Xia? Whatever for?” Orchid Sword said: “I didn’t hear them say the reason.” Xu Zhu said: “Third Brother, I know of this matter. I heard Mr. Gongye (Gongye Gan) tell the Beggar Clan elder that along the way, they had met a Beggar Clan member returning to the Central Plains from Western Xia, carrying a written proclamation by the King of Western Xia saying that the Princess is of marriageable age and would be looking for a suitor during the Mid-Autumn festival in the eighth month. Western Xia would be inviting all the best heroes in the world to perform their skills. Should they pass the King’s selection, they would become the Prince Consort."

Plum Sword could not help but speak up: “Master, why do you not go to Western Xia and give it a try? As long as Hero Xiao and Master Duan do not compete with you, becoming the Western Xia Prince Consort would be a piece of cake for you.”

The Plum, Orchid, Bamboo and Chrysanthemum Sword sisters were beautiful and bright. Tonglao (Child Elder) had treated them very well, like her own children. Although they were master and servant in name, they
 
were actually more like grandparent and grandchildren. It was only that Tonglao was strict and ruled with an iron fist. The four sisters did not dare to be too audacious. Xu Zhu however was easygoing in his interactions with them. He did not have the strict demeanour of a Master and treated them with courtesy and respect. Hence, the four sisters did and spoke as they pleased without any reservation.

Xu Zhu shook his head and said: “I won’t go! I am a monk…” he once again spoke the words of ‘being a monk’ but swallowed the very last word. The four sisters laughed out loud together at the same time. Xu Zhu blushed and turned to secretly glance at Zhong Ling. He only saw her devotedly gazing at Duan Yu with no heed for his words. His heart suddenly wavered: “Going to Western Xia, I… I and my Dream Maiden met in Western Xia’s Lingzhou Palace’s ice storage area. My dream maiden may perhaps be in Lingzhou. Third Brother probably would not be willing to say where she lives. Maybe I should go and take a look at Western Xia?”

As he thought this, Duan Yu said: “Second Brother, your Lingjiu Palace and Western Xia are in close proximity. As you’re about to return, why not go and visit Western Xia? This sister whose sword I do not know… apologies, you four look identical. I cannot tell the difference. This sister wants you to become the Prince Consort. Although it was a joke, but on thinking about the Midautumn Festival, everyone heading to Lingzhou would definitely mean that it would be very lively and rowdy there. Elder brother, you need not hurry back to Nanjing. Let’s go together to Western Xia and then visit Lingjiu Palace to taste Tianshan Tonglao’s (Child Elder of Mount Tian) best aged wines. It would truly be a joy to be be drinking myself dead drunk with Second brother in Lingjiu Palace.

[Translator note: Duan Yu’s exhibiting some really sneaky cunning in manipulating them to head to Western Xia where Wang Yuyan is.]

When Xiao Feng had arrived at Mount Shao, the eighteen Khitan warriors had carried big skins of wine with them. However, the group was not with him and he had not drunk wine for a long time. On hearing Duan Yu mention about tasting Lingjiu Palace’s best brews, he could not help but smile in anticipation.
 
A-Zi hurriedly said: “Go, go, go! Brother-in-law, let’s all go together.” She knew that she would have to go with Xu Zhu to Lingjiu Palace to treat her eyes. However, without Xiao Feng’s support, Xu Zhu may not necessarily be willing to treat her and should his four Sword sister underlings give her trouble, she would be all alone. She heard Xiao Feng pause without replying and thought: “Brother-in-law’s appearance is roughshod but he is a
delicate soul [姊夫相貌粗豪,⼼中却着实精细]. It may be easier for me to ask him directly to get him to agree.” She stood up and tugged a few
times gently at Xiao Feng’s sleeve, pleading: “Brother-in-law, if you do not bring me to Lingjiu Palace, I…I will never see the light of day again.”

Xiao Feng thought: “To return her sight would truly be a great matter.” He then thought: “While I commanded great respect in the Great Liao, I had no close friends whom I could talk to. I have offended all the heroes of the Central Plains. If I could easily go with these two easygoing and magnanimous brothers of mine, even for a few days it would be a joy. Since I have located A-Zi, even if I return to Nanjing now without anything to do, it would be extremely boring.” He then said: “Fine, Second brother, Third brother, let’s make a visit to Western Xia, and later on to Second Brother’s Lingjiu Palace to drink ourselves silly for days, as well as request that Second Brother treat Miss Duan’s eyes.”

The group headed off on the road the next day. Xu Zhu returned to Shaolin Mountain’s entrance to pay his respects. The first bow was to thank the Buddha for his blessings, the second was to thank the masters in Shaolin temple for caring for him for the past twenty years and the third bow was to bid farewell to the souls of his father Xuan Ci and his mother Ye Erniang.

Arriving at the base of the mountain, the Lingjiu Palace servant girls harnessed up the donkey cart to allow Duan Yu and You Tanzhi a rest in the carriage. You Tanzhi was extremely dissatisfied but he preferred to endure it silently rather than to part with A-Zi. As long as A-Zi occasionally pulled aside the doorway curtains to say a few words to him, he would be happy for half the day. However, it was just that A-Zi would ride on the horse, closely sticking to Xiao Feng all the time. You Tanzhi was upset about this but dared not speak a word to her about it.
 
Walking for two days, the Lingjiu Palace divisions slowly gathered. The Luan Tian division head delivered their report to Xu Zhu and Duan Yu that they had already returned to the Zhennan (South-Suppressing) King to inform him about Duan Yu’s recovery going well. The Zhennan King (Duan Zhengchun) was relieved and asked the Luan Tian Division to tell Duan Yu that he should return to Dali soon. The Luan Tian division girls also reported: “Zhennan King’s party has been heading to the north-east. Duan Yanqing and the Crocodile Deity of the South Sea together with Yun Zhonghe have been heading to the west. Both parties will not meet. Duan Yu was delighted and gave thanks to the Luan Tian division girls.

Zhong Ling asked Duan Yu: “If the king wants you to return to Dali soon, why is he going to the north-east instead?” Duan Yu smiled and did not reply. A-Zi laughed: “Dad must have been pulled by my mother and forbidden to return to Dali. Miss Zhong, if you want to seize my brother’s heart, you need to learn from my mother.”

These couple of days, Duan Yu had been thinking if he should explain that Zhong Ling was his sister, however he felt that speaking of this matter would be extremely awkward and might hurt Zhong Ling’s feelings as well as reflect badly on his father’s name. He decided not to speak of this for the time being.

Zhong Ling knew that Duan Yu wanted to go to Western Xia wholly because he wished to meet up with that Miss Wang. Seeing Duan Yu on a daily basis, her heart was at peace and she did not bother to think how things might change after that. A-Zi’s cold spiteful words mattered little to her.

Noon time was scorching during the hot summer. Luckily, it was a long way to the Mid-Autumn Festival. Most people made haste to travel in the early morning and the evenings, only covering 60 - 70 Li a day before taking a rest. As the days steadily passed, Duan Yu’s injury healed quickly. Xu Zhu mended the bone of You Tanzhi’s broken leg and splinted it with planks of wood. It looked like he had some hope of recovery. You Tanzhi spoke to no one. As Xu Zhu was treating his leg, he wore a bitter expression and said not a single word of thanks.
 
The group arrived at Xianyang Road. Duan Yu spoke about the historical areas of the Liu and Xiang conflicts at the area to Xiao Feng and the group. Xiao Feng and Xu Zhu both had little education and were delighted by Duan Yu’s information.

Suddenly, horse hoof steps rang out. There were two horses rushing over from the back. Xiao Feng and party pulled their horses to the side to allow the rear guests to go ahead first. However, A-Zi blocked the road by herself. When the two horses had arrived almost beside her, she raised the horse- whip and went for the horse’s head. The rider behind raised his own horse- whip to deflect A-Zi’s and said: “Master Duan! Great Hero Xiao Feng!”

Duan Yu turned to look and saw that the man in front was Ba Tianshi (Dali King’s Royal Bodyguard) and the one behind was Zhu Danchen (Duan Zhengchun’s Royal Bodyguard). Ba Tianshi hit A-Zi’s horse whip away and jumped down from the horse with Zhu Danchen to kowtow to Duan Yu. Duan Yu hurriedly returned the greeting and asked: “Is my father safe?”

He heard a “Sou!” sound. A-Zi had waved her horse-whip again to strike down at Ba Tianshi’s head.

Ba Tianshi had yet to get up and was still kneeling on the ground. As A-Zi’s whip was striking, Ba Tianshi shifted to the side and caught the whip. A-Zi tried to pull it back with force but could not budge it. She knew that her internal energy was not a match for her opponent. She waved her palm and thrust the handle of the whip straight for Ba Tianshi. Ba Tianshi was still angered at how she had angered Zhu Wanli to death and originally wanted to teach her a lesson. He had not expected that even with her being blind, her movements were still swift and the handle flew over at a high speed. He heard the rush of wind and hurriedly turned his head to avoid it. Although his head and face were untouched, with a “Pa!” sound, his shoulder had been hit.

Duan Yu yelled: “Sister Zi, you dare cause trouble again!” A-Zi replied: “Me? He wanted my whip. I just gave it to him, that’s all.” Ba Tianshi laughed and said: “Many thanks Miss for the whip.” He stood up and took out a letter from his chest pocket, presenting it to Duan Yu with both hands.
 
Duan Yu received it and took a look. He noticed that the letter was addressed to “Son Yu” with the three words written in his father’s handwriting. He hurriedly straightened his attire and respectfully opened the letter. It appeared that his father was be instructing him to go to Western Xia to seek the princess’ hand in marriage. The letter said: “My Dali Kingdom in the South is a small country with a weak military and cannot repel external threats well. If we can become relatives with Western Xia, we would be stronger and better able to protect our people. This matter is of great national importance and you must do your best.”

Duan Yu finished reading the letter and his face flushed between scarlet and white. He said: “This… this…”

Ba Tianshi took out a large envelope. It was stamped with the large official official seal of the “Dali Country King’s Younger Brother, Zhennan General”. He said: “This is his Majesty’s personally written missive to the Western Xia emperor requesting the marriage. Young master should kindly give this to the Western Xia emperor after arriving at Lingjiu Palace.

A-Zi laughed and said: “This is a father that truly knows his son well. Father heard that Murong Fu went to Western Xia and guessed that Miss Wang would also follow. His own son would naturally follow. Hng, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Does he think that the emotional woes of his son are more important than the country’s matters? Why does he not return much after leaving for so long?”

Ba Tianshi, Zhu Danchen, Duan Yu on heard A-Zi voicing out such disrespectful words directed towards their father figure and their expressions darkened. Although what she said had some truth to it, being his daughter, how could she speak ill of her father like that?

A-Zi continued: “Brother, what did father write in his letter? Did he mention me?” Duan Yu replied: “Father does not know that you are currently with me.” A-Zi replied: “En, yes, he does not know. Did Father not ask you to look? Did he ask you to plan how to take care of this blind younger sister of yours?”
 
Duan Zhengchun’s letter mentioned nothing of the sort. Duan Yu felt that he would hurt his sister’s feelings if he spoke the truth and he gave Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen a glance, trying to hint to them that they should admit that her father did order them to search for A-Zi. Who would have expected that the two of them did not understand his intention and did not play along. Zhu Danchen said: “The Zhennan King ordered the two of us to find Young Master to instruct him to seek Western Xia’s princess’ hand in marriage. If we returned to Dali instead, even if his Majesty did not blame us, we would not have the face to see anyone. The meaning conveyed was that Duan Zhengchun ordered them to find Duan Yu to become the Western Xia’s Prince Consort at all costs.

Duan Yu laughed bitterly and said: “I originally could not do martial arts and furthermore was badly injured and unable to access my internal energy. How could I compete with the great heroes of the world?”

Ba Tianshi turned to look at Xiao Feng and Xu Zhu. Bowing deeply, he said: “Zhennan King ordered his lowly servant to greet Hero Xiao and Mister Xu Zhu, and to request that in the name of your brotherhood to assist our young master.” Zhennan King also instructed to present gifts to the two of you whom he knew in the chaos at Mount Shao. Saying this, he took out a carved jade Lion and presented it to Xiao Feng with both hands. Zhu Danchen took out an ivory fan with Duan Zhengchun’s calligraphy to present to Xu Zhu.

Both receipients received their gifts with thanks and said: “This matter of Third Brother’s we will naturally assist with all our ability - why should we trouble Uncle Duan? We dare not covet these precious gifts.”

A-Zi said: “Do you think Father is showing goodwill? He’s asking the two of you not to compete with my brother in becoming the Prince Consort. My father is afraid that his precious son cannot defeat the both of you. By agreeing this way, you have fallen for my father’s trap!”

Xiao Feng gave a small sigh and said: “Since when have I had the thought of marrying another ever since your sister died?” A-Zi replied: “It’s natural for you to say this but who knows how your heart feels? Mr. Xu Zhu, you are loyal and honest unlike my philandering and lecherous brother leaving
 
broken hearts everywhere. You have never formed any relationships with any girls. Would it not be perfect to marry the princess of Western Xia?” Xu Zhu turned scarlet and waved his hand hurriedly saying: “No, No! I… I am lacking and will naturally do my best to assist Third Brother in this matter.”

Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen glanced at each other and then paid their respects to Xiao Feng and Xu Zhu, saying: “Many thanks to both of you for your help.” Words said in the martial world are hard to take back. Ba and Zhu hurriedly left not because they were afraid of the two reneging on their words but because they wanted to put more pressure on Duan Yu to accept.

The group headed to the west, slowly getting closer to Lingzhou and meeting more Wulin warriors along the way. Although Western Xia was smaller than Great Liao and Great Song, it was a great country in the Western frontier in its own right. The king of the time was addressed as Emperor Li Qianshun. He was also known as Zhong Shengwen? and the country enjoyed peace and prosperity under his reign.

The Wulin person who married the Western Xia princess would enjoy great riches and benefits; was there a better deal in the whole world? The only issue was that most of the famous Wulin names were already married with children while the new upstarts were not as skilled. There were a large number of senior heroes who brought their sons and disciples along to try their luck. There were also a number of bandits and members of various clans who came alone with high hopes. Many thought: “Perhaps if I have good affinity with the Western Xia princess, she may fall for me when she sees me and I would have a chance to be the Prince Consort even if my martial skills aren’t the best.”

Along the way, the youths they saw were clad in fresh, bright clothing. Even their tools and weapons were in tip-top condition, as if they were off to some great competition. A common saying going around was that the poor studied literature while the rich studied martial arts. Those studying martial arts were mostly fairly well-to-do and frequently used money to offset their misconduct. The young martial artists heading to Western Xia were bedecked in their best finery in the hopes of obtaining the princess’ favor. When these similar types of people met, they frequently jibed at each other and tried to obtain information about what the princess looked like as
 
well as tried to assess if the other party was a strong contender or not. If things didn’t work out, they would treat the other party as an enemy.

This day, Xiao Feng was going on his way when he suddenly heard the pounding of horse hooves and saw a horse headed their way. The rider’s arm was in a white cloth sling and his clothes were tattered. He looked to be in dire straits. Xiao Feng thought that this person certainly did not fall but was likely attacked by others which was rather alarming. He did not expect that before long, another three horses came over with all the riders also badly injured, either with broken arms of legs. The three new riders had distraught and regretful expressions on their faces, passing by with heads bowed, not daring to look Xiao Feng in the eye. Plum Sword asked: “Is there a fight going on in front? Why are so many people injured?”

As she spoke, another two people came along. These two were not on horseback and their faces were covered with blood. One of them had a green cloth tied on his head and blood was continually oozing out from it. Bamboo Sword asked: “Wei, do you want medication? How did you get injured?” That person glared ferociously at her and spat at her before slinking off. Chrysanthemum sword was extremely angry and whipped out her longsword, wanting to hack at him. Xu Zhu shook his head and said: “Forget it! This person has been severely injured. You need not mind him.” Orchid Sword said: “Sister Bamboo offered him medication out of goodwill but he dared to be so insolent. It would be better to let him die of pain.”

At this moment, another four horses blazed towards them, two on either side. They could hear the riders on the horses having a great quarrel. Someone said: “It’s all your fault for being a lascivous toad lusting over swan meat. Without even considering your own abilities, you dare think of heading to Lingzhou to be the Prince Consort!” Another person scolded: “If you had the skill, why don’t you go for it yourself? You lost and decided to take it out on me.” The person on the other side said: “If you had not carried out a sneak attack, how would I have lost?”

These four people were rushing past and speaking fast. It was unclear as to what they were quarreling about. In the blink of an eye, they were in front of the group. The four of them saw Xiao Feng’s sizeable party and did not dare to cause trouble. Hence, they pulled the horses to the sides and rushed
 
on. However, they continued to squabble amongst themselves. From their dressing, it looked like the four intended to head to Lingzhou to be the Prince Consort, however for some reason the circumstances had changed and they had to return home.

Duan Yu said: “Eldest brother, I think…” As the words left his mouth, another two people came along on foot, also covered with wounds from head to toe, one bleeding severely and one limping. Zhong Ling could not control her curiosity and drew her horse forward, asking: “Wei, are the people ahead at the pass very strong?” A middle aged martial artist replied: “Hng! You’re a girl so they will not stop you from passing. It would be better for males to obediently turn back here.” As he said this, Xiao Feng and Xu Zhu felt that it was very strange and decided to go ahead to take a look, urging their horses forward.

As the group progressed seven to eight Li ahead, they saw the curving mountain path heading upwards. After turning several bends, they saw a dense group of people gathered. Xiao Feng pressed on and saw two towering men in the centre of the mountain pass, each one taller than six feet. On held a large metal club in one hand and one held a pair of copper hammers in both hands. They eyed the crowd ferociously.

Gathered in front of both men were at least seventeen or eighteen men, all saying different things. Some said politely: “Excuse me, we are headed to Lingzhou, please let us pass.” Some said: “Are the two of you collecting road taxes? Do you want one silver tael or two each? If you state your price, we can work something out.” Some said” “If you both don’t move and irritate me, I will chop you both to meat paste so fine that it will be hard to piece you both back together. You’d better get out of the way to avoid a tragedy.” Some said: “Both of you are imposing and grand, why do you not head to Lingzhou to become the Prince Consort? Would it not be a waste if the beautiful princess selected someone else? Despite the ongoing chatter, the two men ignored them all.

Suddenly, someone in the crowd yelled: “Move it!” He waved his sword with a cold gleam and charged towards the man on the left. The towering man was large and his weapon was heavy, however his movement was unexpectedly swift. He struck out with his twin hammers and trapped the
 
sword. These two hammers weighed at least forty jin each. With a loud ‘Dang!” sound, they shattered the longsword into more than ten segments. The hammer-user gave a kick at the man’s lower abdomen. With a large shout, the man flew seven to eight zhang away and fell without further movement.

The next moment, another man brandishing twin knives charged forwards, the twin blades whirling in a flash of white light to defend his entire body. When he reached the two towering defenders, he gave a loud yell and switched to the Di Tang knife technique, rolling on the ground with twin knives stabbing towards their legs. The club-user barely spared a glance as to the direction that the knives were coming from. He raised his metal club and struck violently at the blur of white light. With an “Ah!” sound, the second man’s twin knives were broken and the hilt of the knife was buried in his chest. He rolled down the hill.

The two defenders had injured two people in a row and the remaining people dared not approach again. A sudden beating of hoof sounds was heard and a donkey approached from around the mountain bend. On the donkey’s back was a young scholar who looked no older than eighteen or nineteen. He was dressed in a scholar’s gown and wore an intelligent, cultured expression. His features were delicate and beautiful. As he rode his donkey past Xiao Feng and the others, the group felt that he was a world apart from the other Jianghu wanderers and could not help but glance a few more times at him in curiosity. Duan Yu suddenly exclaimed: “Ah!” and said: “You… You… You…” The scholar never glanced at him but proceeded to the front of the group.

Zhong Ling asked in puzzlement: “Do you know him?” Duan Yu blushed and said: “No… I made a mistake. He is a man, how would I have recognized him?” A-Zi suddenly burst out laughing and said: “Brother, so it turns out that you only recognize ladies and not men.” She paused and asked: “Is the person who just went past really a man? Clearly, it’s a woman.” Duan Yu replied: “You say that he’s actually a woman?” A-Zi replied: “Certainly, her body has a strong fragrance. It’s clearly a feminine scent.” Duan Yu heard the word ‘fragrance’ and his heart started pounding. “Perhaps… Perhaps it’s really her?”
 
The scholar rode his donkey into the midst of the two tall men and demanded: “Move it!” As these words rang out clearly, it was indeed the voice of a woman.

Duan Yu’s suspicions were confirmed and called out: “Miss Mu! Wan Qing! Sister! You…you…you… I… I… I…”. As he called out, he rode ahead. Xu Zhu called: “Third Brother, be careful of your wound!” He whipped his horse into action and rushed forward along with Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen.

The young scholar on the donkey’s back stared at the two towering man and never once turned back Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen upon examining her profile noted her feminine features and identified her to indeed be Mu Wanqing. The two men cursed themselves and silently thought: “How regretful, we have eyes to see but are no match for a blind person.” They did not know that A-Zi’s hearing had sharpened beyond a normal person’s and that she had identified Mu Wanqing being a girl from her lingering fragrance. The group saw the young scholar in their midst but had difficulty differentiating the scholar’s gender.

Duan Yu hurried to Mu Wanqing’s side and placed his hand on her shoulder, gently saying: “Mei-zi (sister), where have you been all this time? I pined greatly for you!” Mu Wanqing dodged away from his hand and turned, asking coldly: “You thought of me? Why did you think of me? Did you really think of me?” Duan Yu was dumbfounded. He did not know how to answer these three lines of hers.

The defender with the club laughed heartily and said: “Fine, as you are a girl, I will let you pass.” The hammer-user said: “Girls can pass but stinking men cannot. Wei, get back, get back!” As he spoke, he pointed at Duan Yu
and called out: “You little gigolo (⼩⽩脸), it makes me angry just to see your face. If you take a single step forwards, I will certainly pound you into
pulp.” Duan Yu retorted: “You must be mistaken. This is a road for all. Why can’t I pass? Kindly explain.”

The defender replied: “The Tibetan King Zong Zheng has decreed: This pass will be sealed for ten days and only reopened after the mid-autumn
 
festival. Before then, ladies may pass but men cannot. Monks may pass but lay-people may not. Elderly may pass but youth may not. The dead may pass but the living may not! This is called: Four can pass but four cannot!” Duan Yu replied: “What kind of logic is that?” The defender shouted: “Reason? Reason? My copper hammer and his metal club are reason enough! King Zong Zheng’s words are reason enough. You are a man. If you are not a monk or an elderly, the only way you can pass is dead.”

Mu Wanqing angrily retorted: “Pei! Who cares about your stinking rules!” With a wave of her right hand, two ‘chi’ sounds were heard and two small arrow points shot towards the two defenders. However, two beating sounds were heard and the arrow points fell to the grass. The points had clearly shot into their chests and yet the duo were unhurt. The defender with the club angrily bellowed: “Insolent girl, why did you use concealed weapons?” Mu Wanqing got a great shock and thought: “These two must be wearing armor that they did not die from my poisoned arrows.” The club-wielder struck a palm towards Mu Wanqing. He was extremely tall such that even though Mu Wanqing was on the donkey’s back, he could strike directly towards her chest with his height.

Duan Yu called out: “Do not be disrespectful!” and his left hand stretched out to block the strike. The defending warrior flipped his palm and grabbed Duan Yu’s arm in a vice grip. The hammer-user shouted: “Wonderful! Brother is going to rip this young dandy into two pieces!” He grabbed both hammers and used his right hand to pull hard on Duan Yu’s wrist.

Mu Wanqing urgently shouted: “Don’t hurt my brother (哥哥)!” She shot out multiple darts but the effect was like throwing stones into the sea. Although they impacted the bodies of the two warriors, they hardly dealt any damage. She wanted to shoot at the eyes of the duo but Duan Yu was trapped between them and she was afraid to injure him. Xu Zhu, Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen were mounted on horses and unable to assist immediately.

Xu Zhu blazed down from his horse and sped beside the club-wielding warrior, extending his finger to seal his acupoints. He instead heard Duan
 
Yu laughing loudly and saying: “Elder brother, do not be alarmed. They cannot hurt me.”

Duan Yu puzzledly asked: “Ai, how did you know?” Mu Wanqing replied: “My mother got the truth out of your dear father. I was with Mother and naturally heard all about Father’s matters.” Duan Yu said: “So that’s the case. You know that I wanted to go to Lingzhou and then decided to come and take a look, is that it?” Mu Wanqing’s face blushed lightly. This statement of Duan Yu’s was spot on. However, she was naturally inclined to replying harshly and said: “What would I be watching you for? I wanted to investigate the beauty methods of the Western Xia princess, but everything became so complicated.” Duan Yu wanted to say: “If she were half as pretty as you are, it would already be quite remarkable!” He then felt that this line was suitable for a lover but not his younger sister. He stopped just before he spoke. Mu Wanqing said: “I also wanted to see if your Dali Country’s great prince Duan would take on this matter of marriage.” Duan Yu said in a subdued tone: “I will not become the Western Xia Prince Consort. Sister, keep this to yourself. If Father wants to force me to it, I will flee far away."

Mu Wanqing said: “You dare defy Father’s order?” Duan Yu said: “I’m not defying it, I’m escaping!” Mu Wanqing laughed: “What difference is there? Why do you not want the princess who has been brought up in the lap of luxury?” Ever since they had met, this was the first time she had laughed. Duan Yu was overjoyed and said: “Are you like Father? Falling in love with everyone as you meet them until eventually becoming inseparable?”

Mu Wanqing said: “Hng, I don’t see much difference between you and Father. Looks like its true that father and son are alike. It’s just that you don’t have Father’s good fortune. She sighed and said: “Like mother. She keeps saying how much she hates Father, however once she saw him, she was overjoyed and agreed to forgive everything. The young ladies of today are not as good as my mother."

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