Domestic troubles and foreign invasion.
Zhou Botong raised his head, searching the top of the flag pole, but finding no flag there, he could not help being startled. He’d thought that Jinlun Fawang would be hiding somewhere below, waiting to ambush him, then seize the opportunity to route him completely.
It was a smooth plan but not even ten thousand guesses could prepare him for this: the flag was not there.
He looked around. The camp was filled with numerous tents. Yet, he must try to find it before leaving.
Zhao Zhijing was about to move forward to greet him but he changed his mind. He thought, “If I go and tell him now, he’ll be suspicious. I must first let him look everywhere and when he doesn’t succeed, he can’t help feeling dejected. At that time, I’ll go out and tell him where the flag is. Only then will he be able to show his gratitude towards me.”
He crouched behind a tent to watch the motionless Zhou Botong only to see his body shoot upwards towards the top of the flag pole. He leapt several chi (1chi≈11in) high and used one hand to brace himself against the pole. Then he used his other hand to quickly pull himself up until he reached the top.
Zhao Zhijing was secretly astonished. Grand Martial Uncle Zhou must be almost a hundred years old. Even if he practiced the Taoist doctrines, he still should not be able to avoid the slowing effects of old age. Yet, he is still as agile as a youth. So the stories in Wulin are really true.
Once up there, Zhou Botong scanned the whole camp, seeing several flags fluttering in the wind but none of them was the royal flag. He raised his head and shouted: “Jinlun Fawang, where is the royal flag?”
This angry yell was carried far and wide, its faint echoes bouncing off the cordillera to the West. Fawang had already reported the matter to Huo Bi Lie (Khubilai) so even though the whole army heard his shout, they remained silent.
Zhou Botong warned: “Fawang, if you still don’t reply, I might have to scold you.”
There was still no response.
Zhou Botong scolded: “Jinlun Fawang, you rotten dog, you call yourself a hero? You’re worse than a turtle that refuses to come out of its shell!”
From the East, someone suddenly called out: “Mischievous Old Urchin, if you want to steal the Prince’s flag, it’s right here.”
Zhou Botong quickly rushed down the pole, shouting: “Where?”
But after shouting, that person was silent. Zhou Botong searched countless tents but did not know where to start.
Farther away, the person shouted: “The royal flag is right here! The royal flag is right here!”
Zhou Botong dashed towards that sound but that person’s voice was softer now, growing fainter and fainter. Zhou Botong only took a few steps, but the voice was already fading in and out like gossamer until finally it stopped.
In reality, he did not know how far the voice was from camp.
Zhou Botong called out angrily: “Fawang, you rascal, are you playing hide-and-seek with me? Do you want me to burn down this whole camp so you’ll come out?”
Zhao Zhijing thought, “If he sets the camp on fire, that can’t be good. He hurried forward and said in a low voice: “Grand Martial Uncle Zhou, don’t light a fire.”
Grand Martial Uncle Zhou said: “Taoist priest, it’s you! Why can’t I light a fire?”
Zhao Zhijing quickly lied: “They intentionally want you to light a fire because the whole camp is filled with black powder. When you ignite it, the whole place could explode.”
Zhou Botong was shocked. “It’s a clever trick but also mean and cruel.”
Zhao Zhijing was relieved to see that he believed him. He added: “I secretly inquired around and found out about this clever trick. I was afraid that you did not know about it so I had to tell you.”
Grand Martial Uncle Zhou said: “Mmm, your intentions are good. If you hadn’t told me, this Mischievous Old Urchin could have been killed.”
Zhao Zhijing replied: “I also took a great risk by finding out where the royal flag is. Grand Martial Uncle Zhou, please come along with me.”
But Zhou Botong suddenly said: “Don’t tell me, don’t tell me! If I can’t find it, then I must admit defeat.”
The bet to find the flag was an amusing game. But if Zhao Zhijing gave him directions, he would feel bad even if he won because this kind of game required stealth.
Zhao Zhijing felt anxious. Then suddenly, he remembered,” He is known as the Mischievous Old Urchin, his mood is not ordinary. I must tempt him first so he can get hooked.”
He said: “Grand Martial Uncle, I also want to steal the flag. Let’s have a race to see who finds it first.”
After saying that, he quickly rushed towards the hills. When he got there, he turned to find Zhou Botong following behind. He then darted to the third hill, pondering aloud: “They said that it’s in a cave between two elm trees but where are these two elm trees?”
He rushed around the place but actually did not approach the cave where Fawang hidden the flag. Suddenly, he heard Zhou Botong exclaim; “I found it first!” He was standing between the two elm trees.
Zhao Zhijing smirked, thinking, “He stole the Prince’s flag. He’ll surely favor me now. What’s more, I stopped him from setting the camp on fire. He thinks I saved his life. Everything is going exactly as Fawang planned.
Satisfied, he started to step inside the cave.
Suddenly, he heard a loud shout, the sound extremely sharp. Zhou Botong cried out: “Poisonous snake…Poisonous snake!”
Shocked, Zhao Zhijing quickly withdrew his foot that was already inside the cave. He asked: “Grand Martial Uncle! There’s a poisonous snake inside the cave?”
Grand Martial Uncle Zhou replied: “It’s not a snake… it’s not a snake…”
The voice was already getting weaker.
Zhao Zhijing anxiously gathered some twigs and lit them, using it as a torch so he could see inside the cave.
He saw Zhou Botong on the ground, his left hand still clutching the flag. He was brandishing it as though trying to keep him away.
Zhao Zhijing asked: “Grand Martial Uncle, are you all right?”
Zhou Botong replied: “I have been poisoned…venom…venom…was bitten…”
But before he could finish his statement, his hand had gradually grown limp.
Zhao Zhijing had seen him enter the cave but despite his high kung fu, he was still seriously injured. That was why he did not want to rush in without knowing what kind of fierce poison it was that afflicted him. What’s more, the flag that Zhou Botong was clutching was not the same color as the king’s flag.
He thought, Fawang had connived with me to trick him into entering the cave but it was really his intention to harm him by poisoning him.
He was extremely vexed. He wanted to flee. So, without even bothering to see what it was that harmed Zhou Botong or what kind of poison it was, he just turned around and ran away.
The fire from the torch that he dropped on the way out was beginning to die out.
Halfway out, he was stopped by someone who was holding out a hand to him.
That person spoke softly: “Are you always this disrespectful to your seniors?”
The voice was distinctly stern but also as pure and as clear as jade.