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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 7.4 Death

Chapter 7.4 Death

Hawk passed this off with a squall of laughter, saying, "Brother Valour, what a thorough reprimand! What a straightforward admonition! You are correct in singling my humble self out as the one hiding under Pastoral's bed on the night in question. You are also right in denouncing me as burgling like a dog thief or a chicken thief." Then putting on quite a

complacent look, he continued, "But take note that I conducted myself like a petty burglar only as ordered by the Imperial Decree!"

The Company found it strange that Hawk should utter such nonsense. However, having further reflected that he was by profession an Imperial Guardsman, it could have been the case that he had indeed been there to deal with the Dragon Lodge at the behest of the Imperial Court. When fighters of the Dragon Lodge, who were all men of wealth with family, heard this, a feeling of distress descended upon them. Fortune, a man possessing great fame and wealth in Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces, was attacked with a feeling of acute uneasiness.

Seeing that his words had awed the Company into submission, Hawk began to feel more elated. Thereupon, he addressed the group pompously, "As events have taken such a turn, I might as well share what I know with you all, as later on I may have a favour to beg of you. Here is an article

which, I believe, none of you may have set eyes on before."

At this, he fumbled inside his bosom and retrieved a large yellow

envelope marked "Confidential Edict" on the outside. He opened the flap

and took out a sheet of parchment, and recited aloud, "Hawk Liu, Principal Imperial Guardsman, is ordered by a confidential edict to execute without further ado the decree entrusted to him by Sai the Commissioner." Having finished his recital, he laid the yellow paper on the table, inviting the others to inspect it closely.

On seeing the red seal affixed to the yellow paper, Fortune, Century and the others, who were already very well informed on worldly matters, knew immediately that this was indeed a confidential decree issued at the behest of Sean Sai, Commissioner of the Imperial Guardsmen. Commissioner Sai was known to be the champion of the Manchurian warriors, to whom Emperor Qianlong always entrusted heavy responsibilities.

Hawk continued, "Brother Valour, there is no need for you to fix your gaze and blow your whiskers at me. To begin with, it was your esteemed Brother Pastoral who first played a part in this whole matter. One day,

Commissioner Sai invited us eighteen guardsmen to dinner at his residence. Our friends outside conferred on the eighteen of us the title 'Eighteen

Champions of the Imperial Court'. We were actually more like a three- legged cat, a long way from deserving the epithet 'Champions'. But as our friends chose to bestow such a title on us, lavishing such respect on us, there was nothing we could do about it.

"The minute we arrived at his home, Commissioner Sai informed us that he would introduce to us a celebrated figure of the Martial Brotherhood. We hastened to ask who the personage was, but the Commissioner only smiled, offering no answer. In the middle of the feast, he brought someone in from the inner room. His back was as straight as a ramrod. He carried himself briskly and his eyes darted penetratingly. His airs and appearance certainly bespoke an accomplished fighter of the Martial Brotherhood. Though he had turned greyish at the temples, he was still handsome and dashing. He must have at one time been a handsome man. Commissioner Sai presently

announced, 'Brothers, this is Brother Pastoral, Grand Master of the Northern Branch of the Dragon Lodge, a famed character of the Martial


"We were all surprised by his words. Pastoral Tian as a famed figure

should come as no surprise to anybody. Nonetheless, the Dragon Lodge did not involve themselves with imperial administration, and we began to

wonder what honour the Commissioner could have brought upon himself to persuade Pastoral to accept his invitation. During the feast, we took turns to offer him drinks. Brother Pastoral was most polite and amiable, conducting himself with the usual formalities. In the course of the evening, never once did he mention his reason for journeying to the capital. It was only after the banquet was over, when Commissioner Sai invited the group to have tea in the side chamber, that the two of them began to steer their conversation to the purpose of Pastoral's visit.

"Even though Brother Pastoral belonged to the outlawry, his service and fealty to the Emperor and to the country were in no way less staunch than ours.

"The reason for his making the trip to the capital was to proffer a great treasure to the Imperial House. As to this great treasure, it comprised the gold and precious stones looted by the bandit Li Zicheng in Peking.

According to Brother Pastoral, retrieving this treasure would necessitate piecing together two clues. One of the clues rested in the Dashing King's military blade which was in the safekeeping of his Dragon Lodge; and he had the poniard with him then. As for the other clue, obtaining it might present some difficulty. It was a map showing the location of the hidden treasure, which had been handed down from generation to generation to members of the Miao Family, who distinguished themselves in the Miao's Swordplay. The map alone would not provide the key to the treasure, while the poniard by itself would not establish the location of the fortune either. If one managed to get hold of both the poniard and the map at the same time, then retrieving the treasure would be as simple as finding something in one's own cloak. "Even though we had sold our service to the Imperial House, we sprang originally from the Martial Brotherhood. On hearing the words 'Miao's Swordplay', we thought to ourselves, 'That Gilt-faced Buddha, Phoenix the Knight-errant, the Invincible Under the Sky, is such an audaciously daring fighter, who would dare challenge him?' Seeing the reluctant expressions on our faces, Brother Pastoral said, wearing an encouraging smile, 'Had I not

already formulated a plan to deal with Phoenix, I would not have journeyed here to trouble you.' Thereupon, Commissioner Sai hastened to press him

about the plan. Brother Pastoral then detailed everything, causing us all to nod approvingly and laud the idea. I am not going to reveal to you the details of his marvellous idea, but you will certainly learn more about it when the time comes.

"Brother Pastoral took leave of the capital the following day.

Commissioner Sai entrusted us with the mission and we were to execute the plan at his behest. All the while he was turning the business over in his mind, he had the feeling that Brother Pastoral, who himself was neither interested in establishing himself with the Imperial Government, nor in

amassing a fortune, was yet proffering a gift worth a fortune all for nothing.

Could it be true that there really were selfless people like him? He

suspected there must be some hidden motive behind the scene. Thereupon, he dispatched several aides to make discreet enquiries outside the capital. Soon after I had left the capital, I heard about Brother Pastoral's forthcoming retirement and Sword-sealing Ceremony; hence I prepared a gift and went to his home to offer him my congratulations.

"Brother Pastoral was overwhelmed on seeing me. My honouring him with a visit was what he had been eagerly seeking. Then he asked me to have some business quietly resolved for him. Brother Fortune, I hope you will not be offended when I now reveal the secret. He wanted me to get

word to the Imperial Government to throw you into prison on a trumped-up charge and have you locked up for at least a few years."

Fortune gave a start; his hair was standing on end. Then he emitted in a trembling voice, "Brother Pastoral was such a character after all. It was indeed my good fortune to have run into Sir Hawk, who knew distinctly what was right and what was wrong, and therefore took it upon himself to act mercifully. I will certainly reward him handsomely in due course." Hawk answered, his face wreathed in smiles, "It is very kind of you to say so. I then asked Brother Pastoral what enmity there was between him

and Brother Fortune. He told me he had no old debts to settle with you. But, as Grand Master of the Northern Branch of the Dragon Lodge, he was due

soon to hand over the poniard when his term for its safekeeping expired. This was an established practice of their Dragon Lodge. He was to adhere to the rule strictly without further ado. And yet he was afraid that, once the poniard had fallen into the hands of Brother Fortune, he would have to go to much trouble before recovering it from him.

"I could not help growing increasingly suspicious. I avoided giving a definite yes or no, neither committing myself to assist nor turning down his request. All the while, I stood aloof, subjecting him to my careful scrutiny.

"After the banquet was over, the time came for Brother Pastoral to hand over the poniard. He could not find an excuse to put it off. I thought that I could perhaps help him out then. If I hid the poniard away quietly, he

certainly would not be able to produce it. Though Brother Pastoral would be annoyed, there would be nothing he could do then. It would also provide me with an opportunity to render distinguished service to repay the Imperial

Benevolence. How could I afford to let the chance slip from my fingers? Thereupon, I stole into Brother Pastoral's room. As I was about to rummage for the poniard, there suddenly came footsteps from outside the door.

Brother Pastoral was returning to the room. In a flurry of desperate activity,

I quickly hid under the bed

"Brother Pastoral entered the room. He opened the trunk and took out the iron casket. Suddenly he cried out in alarm, 'Where is the poniard?' His voice was infused with genuine fear and he was not feigning surprise. It

seemed as if the poniard had been stolen. Thereupon, he summoned his daughter and asked her about the poniard. Miss Tian also knew nothing and she too became worried. Presently, Brother Valour announced his presence. A row between the Brothers-at-Arms over the transmission of the Grand

Mastership ensued immediately, and the illicit affair of Brother Curio and Miss Tian was also mentioned in the course of their argument. After a

while, Brother Pastoral told Brother Valour to fetch Brother Peace.

"Brother Pastoral handed the iron casket to Brother Peace, ordering him to bury it in the land beyond the Pass. I caught every word under the bed and thought to myself that Peace, the fool, was going to be taken in very easily.

"After Peace had taken his leave, Brother Pastoral thumped on the bed

and began to sigh. He muttered to himself, 'Gully, the unbeatable! Phoenix, the invincible!' At that time I had no idea who Gully was. I realized that Phoenix must be the one who had made away with the poniard. Later I found out that Brother Pastoral's fear stemmed from his having received a visiting card from Fox, Gully's son, and thus he had realized that his days were numbered.

"It so happened that the poniard was also missing at the time, which made it the more impossible for him to flee, leaving matters unresolved.

"Presently, Miss Tian entered the room and said, 'Father, I have discovered the whereabouts of the poniard.' Brother Pastoral leapt up,

crying, 'Where is it?' Miss Tian moved a few paces closer and whispered in his ears, 'It was stolen by Brother Radiant.' Brother Pastoral immediately

asked 'Really? Where is he? Where is the poniard?' Miss Tian answered, 'I saw him bury the poniard in a certain place.' Brother Pastoral responded

enthusiastically, 'Good. You should go and dig it out immediately.' Miss Tian then said, 'Father, there is one thing I want you to do, and I hope you will not blame me for this.' Brother Pastoral asked, 'What is it?' Miss Tian then replied, 'Persuade Brother Radiant to come here. I shall be hiding behind the door. You must ask him if he has made away with the poniard. When he admits he was in the wrong, I shall thrust a Lethal Dart in his back.'

"I told myself that this was a cruel maiden," continued Valour. "Brother Pastoral immediately answered, 'At the most I shall beat him severely and cripple him. There is no need to dispatch him.' But Miss Tian insisted, 'If you do not accept my way, I will not fetch you the poniard.' Brother Pastoral pondered for a while, and then said, 'All right, you fetch me the

poniard quickly. Deal with him in whatever way you like.' Thereupon, Miss Tian turned around to leave the room. I did not know at the time what

animosity there was between this young lady and her Brother-at-Arms.

Having now heard the story from Brother Peace, I begin to realize that Miss Tian was intending to murder Radiant to silence him. Poor fellow that he

should have been there to see a maiden interring an illegitimate son." At this moment, the Company all directed their gaze at Radiant. His face was ashen and his eyes were blinking nervously.

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