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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 9.1 Snare

 Chapter 9.1 Snare 

Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain and Wish, lord of the eyrie on the Jadeite Pinnacle of Mount Ulan, had made an appointment to settle old

debts on the summit on the fifteenth day of the third moon. Wish happened to be away on errantry when Fox first visited the mountaintop and Fox was given the opportunity to meet Orchid instead. He showed her his

appreciation for receiving him. After descending the steep mountain, Fox was filled with exquisite torments: floating before his eyes was a vision of Orchid's loveliness, and breathing in his ears were the languorous

strummings of her qin and the sweet modulation of her maidenly voice.

Meanwhile, Fox, Quad and the twin lictors were indulging in a sumptuous repast of dried provisions inside the cavern. Quad was sorely wounded, but not critically. Fox was much relieved to learn this. He stretched out on the ground, closing his eyes to rejuvenate himself. But the lovely face and graceful manners of Orchid stole sweetly into his mind.

Fox opened his eyes wide, fixing his gaze on the dark wall of the crypt. Heaving a sigh, he began musing silently. "What is the point in savouring the thought of her? Her father is a deadly foe of mine. Because of his having treacherously slain my father, I was orphaned in my infancy, and have lived in extremely straitened circumstances since. Why keep thinking of her, then?" At this thought, rage clutched at his heart. While he was still fingering gold in his mind, restlessness and doubt consumed him. "She was not yet born at the time of the duel. What do the enmities incurred by members of the older generation have to do with her? She is a young lady from a great family; I am but a poor creature who has wandered the world, scraping a living. Why bury myself in such misery?"

Things have always been easier to say than to do. When a person has hurled himself into a net of emotions, how can he hope to extricate himself easily from such miseries? If the silken ties of affection can be undone at once, they cannot be counted as true feelings in the first place.

Torn by these violent and conflicting emotions, Fox passed almost a watch in the cavern, tossing restlessly from one side to the other. His

thoughts were entirely consumed with visions of Orchid. While in the midst of these imaginings, he harboured occasional thoughts like, "My enemy, knowing that he cannot overpower me, tries to entrap me with a beautiful

woman: can this really be the case?" Immediately he tried to banish such suspicious thoughts, lest they should defile her. Fox then debated with

himself. "It cannot be so. She has too much of an innocent spirit to attempt such vile tricks. How could I harbour such mean thoughts?"

Soon, the day turned to dusk. Fox was by now barely in command of his feelings. Thereupon, he instructed Quad, "Uncle Quad, I shall ascend the mountain again. You lie here and rest."

Presently, Fox exercised his levitational arts, sailing across the snow- bound terrain. In a second he had flitted to the base of the mountain. He scaled the precipitous ridge by groping his way up the rope. His heart

throbbed with unabated passion the minute he attained the gate of the eyrie. He entered the main hall. No one received him. Rather puzzled by the silence inside, he cried out aloud, "A member of the younger generation, Fox, is here at your service. Has Master Wish returned yet?" He shouted out his message a number of times, but the eyrie remained empty and quiet. He said quietly to himself, smiling, "Wish is clearly mistakenly considered a great and courageous fighter. For now he is hiding in a closet, hatching vile schemes. You may come out with your foul tricks; I, Fox, will have no fear."

Fox then seated himself in the main hall for a little while. He had intended to leave a few lines behind to expose Wish to public ridicule before making his way down the mountain; yet now he wanted to remain. He was growing increasingly fond of this place. Suddenly, he walked towards the eastern wing. He pushed open the door of the room. Volume upon volume of books were shelved on the walls. The room was exquisitely furnished. Then the trespasser stole inside. He picked up a book lying

within easy reach, seated himself and began to read. He turned the pages, and yet could hardly concentrate on reading intently. Only one thought filled his heart: "Where has she gone? Where has she gone?"

Outside it was growing dark. Fox struck a flame. Just as he was about to light the candle, the sound of many hurrying feet came, muffled because of the snow. He started. It came from the snowy landscape east of the eyrie.

Several adept fighters were approaching, trekking across the snow. People can walk quietly by tiptoeing on hard ground; but not one step can they

steal on compacted granular snow. Those who are better endowed may glance the snow faintly with soft, bare feet, while the less gifted shuffle and stamp dully. People can easily tell such difference. Fox listened to a few

sounds, reflecting, "I wonder who these celebrities could be." Immediately he tucked the match back into the front panel of his robe and listened more intently.

Fox could hear the stealthy movements of several more accomplished martial artists. Fox made a quick calculation: five altogether. Soon, three faint claps were heard coming from afar. These distant signals were

answered by three claps near the eyrie. After a short while six more persons met outside the building. In no time, a total of eleven adepts had assembled. Though Fox was himself a paragon of a warrior, bold and brazen, he still felt something close to fear when confronted by a company of deft fighters. He said quietly to himself, "The first thing to do is to depart from the eyrie. My enemy has mustered a force of other hands to injure me. There are far too many for me to handle alone." Thereupon, he quietly stole from the

chamber. Just as he was about to scale the wall, a few pattering sounds came from the rooftop. More fighters had arrived, making escape impossible.

Fox at once retraced his steps. He discovered that another reinforcement of expert fighters, totalling seven, were crouching on the tiles overhead.

Three clapping sounds came from the roof, echoed immediately by three answering claps outside. Seven unidentified figures leapt down, landing quietly in the courtyard. They were coming towards the eastern wing. Fox

was clearly in a very vulnerable position. The enemies were far too many to be challenged single-handed. Fox's last hope rested in taking all his enemies by surprise. He had anticipated that Wish might enlist support from others; but it had never dawned on him that Wish would have invited so many

expert fighters. Suddenly, Fox heard the footsteps of the seven enemies trooping towards the door. He immediately ducked behind a screen, hoping to spy on his foes. He was intent on finding out the snares they had in store for him.

He smelt burning. Someone had lit the firebrand. The screen would soon threaten his safety, Fox told himself. He looked around and caught sight of the gauze curtain hanging down from the side of the bed. No shoes were placed beside the bed. Apparently no one was sleeping on it. Summoning his pneuma in one breath, Fox stole speedily to the side of the bed. He raised the curtain, sat on the edge of the bed, and then slipped under the bedding. Fox congratulated himself quietly on the ease with which he had escaped open confrontation with his enemies. So deftly nimble were his movements that the seven strangers, adept fighters though they were, failed to detect him.

The minute Fox slid his body under the coverlet, he started in horror: his hand felt a human form which was flawlessly fine and smooth-skinned. To his surprise, a woman was already cocooned beneath the quilted cover. Just as he was about to roll from the bed, the light flickered. Footsteps drew

closer. Soon the fighters filed into the room. A man carrying a candle stole a peep behind the screen and began, "No one is here. We can talk." Then he sat down on a chair. A waft of subtle fragrance assailed Fox's nostrils, similar to the thin wisp of faint sweetness which had drifted through the air when Orchid was intoning her thanks and appreciation a while before. His heart almost bursting, Fox was troubled in his thoughts, thinking to himself, "Could she really be Miss Miao? My indecently abrupt entry deserves death a thousand times over; but if I suddenly emerge at this moment, people will believe that we are engaged in an affair as we will be seen to have been swathed in the

same coverlet on the same bed. I would then have defiled Miss Miao's untainted reputation. I shall wait until those people have left the room; then I can get out of bed and apologize to her."

Fox turned around slightly. The back of his hand inadvertently touched the lady's upper arm again. Her limb was like immaculate satin to the touch, as though she were naked. Taken aback, Fox immediately withdrew his hand. Orchid was left yet with her chemise on when Sign had stripped her of her clothes. Believing that she was unclothed, Fox closed his eyes. He dared neither look at her nor move his limbs. He immediately tightened his chest and stomach, drawing them both in. Quietly he inched his way towards the outer edge of the bed, keeping himself at a safer distance.

Though Fox had closed his eyes, the delectably musky fragrance stole into his nose. The scent irresistibly caressed him, seeming to toy with the

soul of this martial man. Fox soon lost command of his senses. Re-opening his eyes wide, he caught a glimpse of a young maiden, lying on her back.

Like a cherry apple, her oval face was flushed and abashed. If she were not Miss Miao, who else could she be? The shimmering firelight filtering through the gauze curtain played upon the beautiful face pillowed next to his own. Such loveliness in a living being Fox had never seen before, nor

ever dared to dream of.

Fox had meant to steal only one glance at Orchid, and then close his eyes. The minute his eyes were closed, his mind was in a frenzy of infatuation, yet touched with indecision and the need to forget her. Once again he had to open his eyes and look fully at her.

Orchid, piqued at the paralytic points, lay on her back immobilized; but her mind remained as sharp as a razor. Panic had pierced her heart when Fox had slipped suddenly into the bed, lying next to her so that their heads touched. She dreaded assault. Orchid had immediately closed her eyes, resigned to her fate. But Fox, after lying down for only a short while, had decided to sidle towards the outside of the bed, away from her. He had not attempted to move any closer. This diminished her fear. She opened her

eyes minutely to assuage her curiosity. At this moment Fox happened to gaze at her soulfully with his wide open eyes. The two pairs of eyes met, less than six inches from each other. Fox and Orchid both blushed hotly.

Suddenly, a voice was heard from beyond the screen: "Master Sai, your plan is ingenious, and would surprise anyone. Once that warrior fighter,

even supposing he is truly Invincible Under the Sky, is caught like a fly in a spider's treacherous web, he will find not a single weak thread."

Thereupon, the enemy holding the torch broke into deep laughter. He put the candlestick down and moved in front of the screen, remarking, "Master Zhang, cease all these glittering compliments. Once we have the matter

settled, I shall certainly see to it that you are all handsomely rewarded."

Fox and Orchid were shocked to hear them. The adversaries had hatched some vile schemes aimed at Phoenix, the Gilt-faced Buddha. Ignorant of the facts of life among the outlawry, Orchid paid little heed to their remarks.

Knowing well that her father was truly invincible, she trusted that no harm could ever come to him. Fox, however, regarded the matter differently. Sean Sai, Commissioner of the Imperial Guardsmen and the champion fighter of Manchuria, had already excelled himself by transcending the techniques of martial ability. Both his endomarts and exomarts had attained a state of

artfulness, growing from his unconscious. Ruthless and cunning, Sai had inflicted countless brutal and agonizing deaths on loyal officials and righteous warriors. As Principal Imperial Guardsman and henchman to Emperor Qianlong, Sai had travelled as an emissary to the Jadeite Pinnacle in person, bringing his contingent of picked hands all the way from Peking.

Zhang seemed to have indicated that they had devised some evil trick to ensnare Phoenix. Accomplished though he was in martial feats, he would surely have to succumb to their treacherous designs. Sensing that

Commissioner Sai had moved away from the screen, Fox seized this opportunity to act. Quietly he raised the gauze curtain and lashed out his right palm in the direction of the fire. A gust of wind immediately swept across the room, putting out the flame instantly.

Suddenly a voice was heard: "Oh, the fire has gone out." More people

stepped inside the room at this moment, crying, "Strike a flame! Kindle the fire!" The Commissioner interrupted. "It would be better to talk in the dark. Phoenix is exceptionally nimble-witted. The light may deter him from entering this room. He is very much like a fish which has already

swallowed the bait, and yet manages to swim away, wrestling itself free of the hook." The party applauded his plan, echoing each other's praise. "The Commissioner is indeed far-sighted. His moves are indeed meticulously

contrived. He is both exceptional and remarkable."

At length, someone was heard quietly moving the screen to the side. By now fighters and warriors had packed the room. Some were sitting on the floor and others on the table. Three of them were even sitting by the edge of the bed. The feeling of immediate danger never left Fox; rather it grew increasingly stronger.

Fox was afraid that the three fellows sitting by the edge of the bed might lean back when they grew tired. The worst that might happen would be if they should decide to stretch out on their backs. Mindful of this imminent danger, Fox involuntarily edged his way slightly inward, bringing himself closer to Orchid. Orchid's breath filtered through his nose, like the musky perfume of orchids, drowning his senses and bewitching his soul. Fox was haunted by the fear that he would tarnish Orchid's reputation if ever the three fighters sitting by the edge of the bed discovered him. He was also obsessed by another fear that the stubble of his beard might injure her delicate face. Thereupon, Fox vowed to himself: should he be discovered, he would dispatch all eighteen of the fighters assembled in the room,

sparing not a soul, even if it meant sacrificing his own life. He vowed not to let anyone escape, lest the life of this pure and immaculate maiden be

endangered.

As luck would have it, the three fighters all sat upright, and did not move.

Fox did not realize that Orchid was piqued at the paralytic points. All he could sense was that the young lady had made no attempt to shun him by

shifting towards the inward side of the bed. Feeling both apprehension and ecstasy, Fox felt he was floating adrift in mid air, treading on clouds and gliding over fogs.

Presently came the voice of Commissioner Sai: "Attention everybody, may we now call upon Master Wish to introduce each one in this group." Then came a low voice in the room: "I am most delighted that you honour me with your presence. Over here is Master Sai, Commissioner of the Imperial Guardsmen. Master Sai wields deadly fear, and is held in awe by the outlawry, as each one of you must surely know." Without a doubt, the one delivering the speech was Master Wish, lord of the eyrie on the Jadeite Pinnacle. Soon a medley of voices ensued, speaking words of welcome and admiration.

Increasing chill smote Fox's heart as he listened to the names of the assemblage introduced by Wish. Besides the Imperial Guardsmen

comprising Commissioner Sai's regiment of seven emissaries, the remainder were each renowned warriors in their own right from among the outlawry.

Present in the room were Profundity the Taoist Phongie of the Kokonor- Tibetan School; Spirituality the Buddhist Devotee of the Altyn Tagh in Chinese Turkestan; and Jiang the Senior Mentor in Pugilism of the

Absolute Lodge south of the Caramoran. Others among the group were

either Grand Masters and famed champion fighters of different Lodges or Principal Chieftains of the Outlawry or Chief Escorts of various convoys, each attracting celebrated titles in his own right. As for the seven Imperial Guardsmen, they were reputed veteran experts in the Martial Brotherhood.

Slowly considering everything in her mind, Orchid reflected, "So scantily clad am I, and yet I am so very close to him. A web of all-embracing treachery has entangled his and my families. I do not know what he will do to me. Crude and brash he appeared at our first meeting this morning, and yet he is a marvel, accomplished in both martial feats and scholarly works. It is hard to imagine that he would have the impudence to be unmannerly."

Though Orchid did not consider Fox's behaviour towards her to be in any way appropriate, somehow neither grudge nor wrath was in her heart. She could not help liking him a little and grew oblivious to the excited discussions around her.

Fox was by ten years Orchid's senior and had seen much of the world so he understood that the topic under discussion amounted to a matter of great consequence. He was at a loss, feeling both glad and afraid. But every word muttered on the other side of the curtain registered itself in his ears.

Counting on his fingers the number of accomplished fighters Wish had introduced, Fox came only to sixteen. Wish stopped at that figure, causing Fox to ponder, "Eighteen altogether on the other side of the curtain.

Discounting Wish, the number should stand at seventeen. Who is the last person?" Fox pricked up his ears with a curious sense of foreboding. Some attentive ears on the opposite side of the curtain also noted the discrepancy. A voice was heard asking, "Who is the remaining one?" No answer came from Wish.

After a pause, Commissioner Sai offered his answer, "Good! I shall tell you now. He is Fan, Ringleader of the Cathay Outlawry."

The remaining group was taken aback. One or two of the fighters had heard earlier that the Imperial Court had already captured Fan. The remainder knew also that Fan the Ringleader had always fought against authority; there was no possibility that he would join with the Imperial

Guardsmen. Fan's sudden appearance on the mountain, therefore, brought puzzlement to the assembly.

To ease their anxiety Sai began explaining, "The story is as follows: you have all been invited to this mountain by Master Wish to join with him

against Fox Volant of the Snowy mountain. But before going for the fox, we have to carry a buddha down the mountain first." Laughter followed.

"Is it the Gilt-faced Buddha?" asked someone.

"You are right." Sai replied. "We took pains to capture Fan the Ringleader intending to hook him as bait for Phoenix in Peking. Nets were spread and pits were dug in the Imperial Jail to await the visit of his honour. However, Phoenix was so nimble-witted that he eluded our hook." One of the Imperial Guardsmen present made a choking sound but remained silent.

Sai had, in fact, held back part of the story. Did Phoenix not travel to Peking? He fought his way to the Imperial Jail, on his own, to rescue Fan the Ringleader. Though he failed in his attempt, he dispatched eleven Imperial Guardsmen with blows from his long sword. Commissioner Sai also received a blow on his arm. Ingenious though his plan was, Sai failed to capture Phoenix whose feats were outstanding. This failure counted as the most shameful defeat in his life, and would, of course, forever be kept an absolute secret by the Commissioner.

Sai again picked up his story: "Master Wish and Master Fan, whose great heroic spirits are much talked about by Brothers of the outlawry, pledged to assist us. I am most humbly grateful and will report the case to the Emperor after the matter has been concluded and you will certainly be rewarded handsomely ..."

At this point, the sound of footsteps was heard coming faintly from afar.

Sai, whose ears were extremely sensitive, at once sensed these footsteps, though they were faint and distant. Sai lowered his voice, "The Gilt-faced Buddha is on his way. Imperial servants should lie in ambush here while the rest of us go and receive him outside." Thereupon, Master Wish, Fan the

Ringleader, Profundity the Taoist Phongie, Spirituality the Buddhist

Devotee, Jiang the Senior Mentor in Pugilism and others all got to their feet and walked out of the room together, leaving only seven Imperial

Guardsmen behind in the room.

In a moment the footsteps reached the outside of the eyrie. Hardly

anybody had expected Phoenix to arrive in such a short time. It could be likened to a boat entering a storm in the vast ocean. No sooner are the signs visible far off than the sails are smashed by stormy rainwater. Or it could

also be likened to a person's failing to muffle his ears with his hands before thunder strikes. No sooner is lightning seen than thunder is heard.

Commissioner Sai and his six henchmen were given the fright of their lives. They all instantly whipped out their blades. "Lie flat and be still!" ordered Sai. One guardsman raised the gauze curtain, intending to hide in the bed. Sai bawled at him, "Stupid fool, would you not be found out just as easily in the bed?" The man drew back his hand. The seven then hid themselves either under the bed, inside the closet or behind the bookcase.

Deeply amused, Fox thought to himself, "You call others stupid fools, when you yourself are the biggest fool." Orchid brushed his face gently with breath from her nostrils. Once more Fox faltered. He reached out his lips and stole a kiss on her cheek. Feeling both exhilarated and ashamed, Orchid tried to avoid his move but to no avail as she had been rendered immobilized. This one kiss instilled guilt in Fox who could not help

thinking, "She is such a gentle and fair lady, how could I put her to shame?" Just as he was about to shift his body outward to move a little away from her, two guardsmen under the bed fidgeted a little. They cursed in low voices. The space under the bed was too confined to hold so many people.

One guardsman chanced also to thrust his elbow into the nose of another, hurting him and causing him to swear.

Fox always had in store a sense of good humour for his enemies. On another day, his temperament would have dictated that he rip open the bedding and urinate copiously down beneath the bed, thereby pounding

wisdom of a sort into each of the brains of the guardsmen. But the thought of Orchid lying close to him dispelled all thought of such a malicious prank. How could he dare? A short time elapsed. Master Wish, Jiang the Senior Mentor, and others were returning with someone towards the eastern wing, all laughing and talking. The new arrival was Phoenix Miao. Someone led the way with a candle in his hand.

Earlier on, Wish had begun to wonder where all his family members and servants were. Not a soul was in sight. However, he had pushed such domestic thoughts to the back of his mind once Sai had announced his presence and was followed by Phoenix arriving on the mountain. Wish gave Phoenix a sidelong glance. Phoenix wore a solemn and grave expression.

Something was occupying his mind.

After seating themselves inside the room, Wish began, "Brother Phoenix, your little brother here made an arrangement to settle an old debt with Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain. Little brother is most grateful that Brother Phoenix and the good friends here have imparted to him their heroic spirits by travelling all the way here to join together against Fox. Now it is getting dark and Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain has not yet arrived. The

celebrated titles of all you here must have scared him off, forcing him to flee with his fox-tail between his legs." Rage at once filled the proud chest of Fox. He would have liked to leap out and deal a resounding slap to Wish's face.

Suddenly, Phoenix cleared his throat and addressed Fan the Ringleader, "Brother Fan finally escaped unscathed, then?" Thereupon the Ringleader got to his feet and performed a low bow, remarking, "Master Phoenix penetrated the perilous zone himself. Such benevolence and merit will be deeply ingrained forever in the mind of little brother. Brother Phoenix

created havoc in Peking. Later, Brothers from my humble outlawry mustered forces for my rescue. Fortune ensured that a mass of supporters showed up. And wielding the awe of Master Phoenix, little brother finally managed to escape danger."

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