The Legend of the Condor Heroes – Chapter 12

Repentance of the haughty dragon.

Original translation by Mojo Jojo

Huang Rong was on the point of cutting up the chicken when they heard a voice behind them:

“A third portion, I will take the tail portion!”

The two youngsters started: how had somebody been able to approach them without them realizing his being there? They turned and beheld a beggar, old, but forceful. The man had a rectangular face, a goatee beard, and vigorous but rather massive limbs. His clothes, frayed on all sides, were however very clean. He held with one hand a green cane, made from translucent bamboo like jade, and carried on his back a large red gourd. He looked so greedy and impatient, one had the impression that if his portion were not given, he was going to seize some by force! Before the two young people had time to answer, he had already sat down in front of them, without further ado. He took his water-bottle and opened it, and a heady alcoholic perfume spread itself in the air. He gluttonously swallowed several mouthfuls before tightening the water-bottle.

To Guo Jing:

” A drink, little urchin,” said he, “with you!”

Guo Jing found the man rather impolite, but sensed distinctly that he was no ordinary individual, so he did not dare to show disrespect:

” No, thank you,” he said courteously, ” I do not drink alcohol, but you doing so causes me no inconvenience.”

” And you, little girl,” asked the beggar of Huang Rong, ” Do you drink?”

Huang Rong shook her head. Suddenly, she saw that the hand which held the water-gourd had only four fingers: the index had been severed at the root. She started and thought of the conversation between the Taoists and the Odd Ones, whom she had overheard behind the window of the inn the other day, concerning the Divine Beggar with the nine fingers. “Would this be a stroke of luck,” she wondered, ” that we fall thus, by chance, on that Elder one? Let us try to probe him a little… ” The eyes of the beggar were fixed on the chicken held in his hand and he salivated with greediness. She could not stop secretly laughing.

He then cut out the bird into two and the tail portion was tended to him. Captivated, the beggar seized some and took a full bite. While devouring it, he did not cease praising:

” Delicious! Delicious! Even I, who am the ancestor of all the beggars, I could not improvise such a delicious “Beggar’s Chicken”!”

Huang Rong traced a smile and tended the other piece to him.

” But no,” protested the beggar, ” you have not eaten yet, you all!”

This attempt at manners was in vain, purely for form’s sake, as that did not prevent him from seizing what was offered to him: in a flash, there remained nothing any more but bones!

He tapped his belly then and exclaimed:

” Ah, my belly! My belly! Hasn’t it been a long time that you have been starved of such a good chicken?”

Huang Rong burst out laughing:

” By the greatest good chance, I prepared a “Beggar’s Chicken” and here it has entered the majestic belly of the ancestor of the beggars! It’s a true honor!”

The beggar burst out laughing:

“Little girl, you are quite brave!”

He withdrew from his pocket several gilded projectiles:

” Yesterday,” he explained, ” I saw several individuals brawling… The missiles which one of them launched shone like gold. I was the one who benefited from it, I took some of them. In fact, inside, it is cheap metal, but outside, to look good, it is genuine gold. Hold, little urchin, take them and have fun. Where necessary, you can draw some funds from them.”

Guo Jing shook his head:

“We regard you as a friend, and when one invites a friend to eat, one does not accept gifts in payment!”

In doing so he honored the rules of hospitality of the Mongols.

The beggar, feeling thwarted, scraped his head:

” Then, I am also embarrassed! I have no trouble begging for scraps from people, but today, you provided me such a good chicken! Such a benefit, that I cannot return it, that…”

“Why speak about benefit and repayment, for such a small chicken?” Guo Jing said. ” And, to be honest, we stole this chicken too…”

” We took this chicken in passing,” confirmed Huang Rong, you ate it while you passed here, very well done…”

The beggar still burst of laughing:

“You two,” said he, ” funny enough, I like you well. Good, if you have a wish to formulate, tell it to me.”

Guo Jing, understanding that he proposed to help them, which again infringed the rules of hospitality, shook his head again. But Huang Rong intervened:

” In fact, this “Beggar’s Chicken” is really not a great thing, I have other small favourite dishes, that I would readily make for you to taste. Why won’t you come with us?”

” Splendid!” exclaimed the beggar, enchanted. “Splendid!”

” What is your honorable name?” asked Guo Jing.

” My name is Hong, the beggar. And as I am the seventh in my fraternity, you can call me “Qi Gong” (“The Seventh Elder”).”

“It is indeed him!” Huang Rong said. ” The Divine Beggar with the nine fingers! But it seems to be younger than the Taoist Master Qiu, how could he be a contemporary of the master of the Quanzhen Seven? Hmm…actually, my dad himself isn’t old, but yet he is a peer of Qi Gong! That must be explained by the incompetence of these seven old Taoists, who wasted their time! ” She always held some resentment against Qiu Chuji for his having wanted to force Guo Jing to marry Mu Nianci.

They went towards the South and arrived in a small town, where they took a room in an inn.

” I’ll go to the market,” said Huang Rong. “You men, it’s better for you to rest a little.”

” She…isn’t she your little wife? asked Qi Gong of Guo Jing while watching her depart with a smile.

The young man reddened, not daring to agree nor to disagree. Qi Gong burst of laughing, and started to drowse on a chair. More than one and a half hours later, Huang Rong returned finally and settled in the kitchen. Guo Jing wanted to help her but the girl closed the door while laughing. Another half an hour passed. Qi Gong yawned, stretched, and inhaled deeply:

” That smells jolly good,” he said. ” But what could that be, well? It’s odd…”

He stretched his neck, trying to look through the door of the kitchen. Looking at him, both impatient and greedy, Guo Jing could not stop himself from secretly laughing. Delicate aromas emerged from the kitchen, but Huang Rong remained always invisible.

Qi Gong did not hold still any more, he scratched his head, rubbed his cheeks, rose, sat down, stood up, as if he were on burning coals.

” I am like that,” he confided to Guo Jing, ” I have this unpleasant vice of greediness: when I think of eating, I forget everything else!

He tightened his right hand and showed its four fingers:

The old man said: “The index finger moves because of greediness.” It was completely true! Each time I see or feel a dish that is original or exquisite, the index of my right hand cannot prevent itself from quivering. Once, because of my greediness, I ruined an extremely important business. Then, I was so much in anger against myself that, with a blow of a knife, I sliced off my index finger!”

Guo Jing started, but Qi Gong sighed:

” But I cut off my finger in vain, because my gluttony remained..”

At this time, Huang Rong entered, smiling, carrying a large wooden plate, which she poised on the table. On the plate, were three bowls of white rice, a cup of wine and two large bowls containing the principal dishes. Guo Jing felt a delicious aroma, extremely appetizing, escaping: in one of the large bowls were laid out the beef sticks roasts which, apart from their odour, did not seem exceptional The other contained a clear soup the colour of jade, in which floated many red cherries and ten pink petals; on the bottom lay young fresh bamboo shoots. The association of the three colours, red, white and green, formed a multi-coloured whole that was extremely pleasant to the eye. The sense of smell was also engaged because the soup emitted a delicate scent of lotus.

Huang Rong poured wine in the cup which she placed in front of Qi Gong while smiling:

” Qi Gong, taste my dishes and tell me what you think of them!”

Hong didn’t need to be told twice: without even drinking the wine, he brandished his chopsticks and seized two meat sticks that he engulfed voraciously. An exquisite taste filled his mouth: this was not merely beef! Whenever he chewed, different sensations struck him; sometimes an oily and juicy flavour, sometimes a succulent freshness. Scents succeeded themselves in complex and unpredictable variations, like the blows of a martial arts expert. Startled and delighted, Qi Gong examined the sticks more closely, and saw that each of them was formed by four small different intertwined sticks. He shut his eyes to savour the taste better:

” Hmm,” he said, ” there is mutton thigh on one stick, another of pig ears of milk, a third one of calf kidney, and the last one…the last one…”

” If you guess,” said Huang Rong with a grin, “you’re really fantastic…”

She had barely finished her sentence before Qi Gong cried:

” Deer thigh mixed with rabbit!”

” Bravo!” applauded the girl. ” Well guessed! “

Guo Jing was completely stunned: ” These meat sticks needed so much work!” he said to himself. ” And Qi Gong is truly astonishing to have known to distinguish the five different meats! »

” There are only five meat types,” Qi Gong went on, ” but the blend of pork and mutton gives a certain taste, the deer with beef another… how many variations there is in all, that, I wouldn’t like to say…”

” If one does not count the order of the variations,” said Huang Rong with a smile, ” there are some twenty-five, corresponding to the five times five petals of the plum flower. As the meat stick resembles a flute, then this dish has a name. It is called “Plum flowers fall to the jade flute’s song” The « that » in the question means that there is a placement sort to the test. Qi Gong, you passed the test, you are the champion of all the gourmets!”

” Bravo!” the beggar cried to himself.

No one knew whether he applauded the name of the dish or his own skilfulness in discerning the tastes. Then he placed two cherries in a spoon and says while laughing:

” This bowl of lotus-leaf soup, with those bamboo sprouts and cherries, is so pretty to look at, one regrets almost to have to eat it!”

He swallowed and cried: « Ah! », Then he said to himself, astonished: « Eh? ». He took two more and exclaimed again: « Ah! » The freshness of the leaf of lotus, the taste of the bamboo sprouts, sweetness of the cherries, all that, obviously, leaps to the tastebuds, but what’s more, the cherries, after having been pitted, had been stuck something…”

” In the cherries,” says Qi Gong while hesitating, ” what’s there?”

He closed his eyes again, trying to recognise the taste:

” This is lark’s meat!” he mumbled to himself. ” No…if this is not partridge, this is turtledove! Yes, that’s it, this is turtledove!”

He opened his eyes, saw that Huang Rong raised her thumb and was all to trust to have found:

” So what’s the complex name of this soup with lotus leaves, bamboo sprouts, cherries and turtledove?”

” Elder,” said Huang Rong, ” you haven’t mentioned one more ingredient.”

” Ah yes?” Hong said, astonished.

He regarded the soup again:

” Yes,” he agreed, ” there are these flower petals…”

” Exactly!” confirmed Huang Rong. ” The name of this soup, can you imagine it from these five ingredients?”

” If this a riddle game, I declare I’ve lost. Tell me quickly…”

” I’ll give you a clue,” said Huang Rong, it suffices you to think about the Book of the Odes!”

” Ah no!” Qi Gong protested, ” I know nothing in the books!”

” The flower hints at a beauty’s complexion,” explained Huang Rong, the cherries to her small mouth, isn’t that right?”

” Ah, this is therefore the «Beauty’s Soup»?”

” No, said Huang Rong while shaking the head, the bamboo is a symbol of modesty, it therefore characterises a gentleman, just as the lotus is the most eminent of the flowers. Thus, bamboo and lotus relate to a gentleman.”

” Oh,” said Qi Gong, ” this is therefore the «Gentleman and Beauty’s Soup »?”

” What about the turtledove?” said Huang Rong. Indeed, all these elements meet again in the first poem of the Book of the Odes, that finishes thus: “The gentleman is in good company”. Thus, this soup is called the “Soup of Good Company”!”

Qi Gong burst out laughing:

” Since there is such a complex and strange soup, it’s good that it has such a complex and strange name. Very well! Very well! You’re a complex and strange little one yourself, I would like to know which complex and strange father that sired you…In any case, this soup is truly exquisite, much better tasting than the soup with cherries that I ate, approximately ten years ago, in the kitchen of the Imperial Palace.”

” You have a pass to the imperial kitchen?” asked Huang Rong. ” Tell me, and see if I’ll try to prepare something that will please you just as well.”

Qi Gong devoured literally, and didn’t have time to reply. He halted himself when he had reached the bottom of the bowls:

” In the imperial kitchen,” he explained, ” there are lots of good things of course, but nothing is worth the two dishes that here… Ah, if, there is well a «Five-flavoured slices of Mandarin duck » that was delicious, but I don’t know how it was prepared.”

” And it was the emperor that invited you?” asked Guo Jing.

” Absolutely,” said Qi Gong while laughing, ” the emperor treated me, but he didn’t know that! I lived hidden on a big beam of the imperial kitchen for three months, while tasting each of the dishes intended for the emperor. If I found it to my taste, I kept it for me, otherwise, I left it to him! The cooks believed that there were ghosts!”

” This person really is excessively greedy, ” thought Guo Jing and Huang Rong to themselves, ” but he is also insanely audacious!”

” Little chap,” said Qi Gong while laughing, your little girlfriend is the best cook in the world, your happiness is assured! Goodness! Why didn’t I meet such a woman when I was young?”

He seemed sincerely sorry.

Huang Rong, with a hint of a smile, prepared the remainder for Guo Jing and for her. One bowl of rice was more than enough for her, while the young man put away four big bowls. As for the exquisite placement, it did not seem to make a difference to him. Qi Gong shook his head while sighing:

” Like a bull chewing on peonies! What a shame! What a shame!”

Huang Rong put a hand in front of her mouth to prevent herself from laughing.

“Bulls… do they like peonies?” Guo Jing asked himself. ” There are many bulls in Mongolia, but no peonies, then indeed I have never seen bulls eating peonies. But why does he keep saying ‘What a shame’?”

Qi Gong patted his stomach and says:

” Good, you are both practitioners of the martial arts, I clearly saw that right away. The little one, that went to such trouble to prepare such exquisite dishes for me, certainly has bad intentions, such as, for instance, to persuade me to give you some instruction. Is that not correct? Good, I recognise that, after having so well eaten, I would have scruples to leave me without giving something in return. Come, come with me!” He took up his gourd, his bamboo cane, and went out.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong followed until they reached outside of town.

” What would you want to learn?” Qi Gong demanded of Guo Jing.

” Martial arts are so varied,” said the young man to himself, “if I want to learn something, how is he sure that he’ll be able to teach it to me?”

While he reflected, Huang Rong had begun to speak:

” Qi Gong, his gongfu is inferior to mine, and so he gets angry often, because he’s always trying to beat me.”

” When do I get angry?” protested Guo Jing.

Huang Rong glanced at him, telling him to be quiet.

” For my part,” said Qi Gong while laughing, “I have the impression that all his movements are firm and assured, this that means that it has a good basis of neigong. How would he be inferior to you? Good, why don’t you match skills a little?”

Huang Rong moved aside some steps and cried:

” My Jing, come on!”

Guo Jing hesitated again.

” If you don’t show what you’re capable of,” said Huang Rong, ” how do you expect this Elder to correct you? On guard!”

She jumps on him and attacked with a palm stroke, Guo Jing blocked the blow, but she already had changed tactics, and attacked with a kick.

” Well done, little one!” Qi Gong said. “Pretty blow!”

” Fight seriously,” advised Huang Rong in a low voice.

Guo Jing itself concentrated and executed conscientiously the powerful ” Southern Mountain Palm” taught by Nan Xiren. Huang Rong defended herself nimbly, jumping upwards and downwards. Then suddenly, she modified his technique and executed the « Palm of the divine sword falling the hero », created by his father. This palm technique resembled its name, « divine sword », for it was adapted from a sword technique. She shook her arms in all direction, her opponent was encircled by the palm shadows, incapable to determine if they were feigned or real. It was as though if the wind had got up in the wood of fishings, dropping a thousand flowers: the beauty of the gestures resided in their lightness and their aerial grace, so well that Huang Rong resembled a butterfly taking flight. As her neigong lacked again power, its blows were not as violent and also as terrifying as they should have been. It was of little importance, for Guo Jing, stunned by the multiplicity of the shadows in front of his eyes, had lost all means to resist: in some seconds, he received four palm blows, on the two shoulders, on the chest and on the back, but he was not injured, since Huang Rong had not struck with force. She stepped back with a smile.

” Well done, Rong-er!” Guo Jing exclaimed in genuine admiration. ” What a beautiful palm demonstration!”

” Your father is so powerful,” said Hong in an icy voice. ” Why do you want me to give lessons to this simple-minded one?”

Huang Rong was startled. ” According to Father,” she said to herself, “since he created this « Palm of the divine sword falling the hero », he not some again never is served himself, how the Venerable Seventh recognised it? »

” Qi Gong,” she demanded, “you know my father?”

” Indeed, he is the « Eastern Heretic», and I, «The Northern Beggar », don’t you think that we lacked occasions to match skills?”

” He matched blows with Father,” Huang Rong said to herself, ” and managed to survive, that’s really astonishing. Now I understand how the « Northern Beggar » can be ranked alongside the « Eastern Heretic»!”

” And how did recognise you me?” she demanded again.

” Just look at yourself in a mirror!” replied Hong. ” Your nose and your eyes, are they not even as those of your father? At first, I did not think about that, I felt only that your face appeared familiar to me, but next your demonstration unveiled the jar to the roses! You believe that this old beggar does not recognise the gongfu of the Peach Blossom Isle? Even if I again never had not seen this Palm, I doubted myself well that alone a crafty fellow as your dad would have been able to invent it. Hehe…and the names of your two dishes, what were they? “Plum flowers fall at the Jade Flute’s song”, and the « Soup of Good Company”, it was doubtless your dad that invented them?”

” You really can read minds,” said Huang Rong while laughing. ” Then, according to you, my dad is very strong, isn’t that right?

” Of course he is powerful,” said Qi Gong coldly, ” but he is not the most powerful in all the world!”

” Then, surely you’re the most powerful in this world?” Huang Rong exclaimed while applauding.

“Not necessarily,” Qi Gong said. ” Twenty years ago, we met all five of us, Eastern Heretic, Western Venom, Southern Emperor, Northern Beggar and Central Divine, at the summit of Huashan (Mount Hua), to match ourselves. The confrontation lasted seven days and seven nights. Finally, Central Divine revealed himself to be the most powerful, and we all gladly recognized it.”

” Who then is this Central Divine?” asked Huang Rong.

” Your father never told you?”

” No. Father said that, in the martial arts world, there are more bad things than good, and that there was no point for girls of good family to hear to speak, then it about it speaks me. And then after, he scolded me very strongly, he didn’t love me anymore, so then I ran away. And he doesn’t want anything to do with me…”

Her eyes fell, her face sad.

” Ah, that old monster!” Qi Gong swore. ” What …!”

” I won’t allow you to insult my father!” Huang Rong exclaimed.

” What a pity that I was always too poor!” exclaimed Qi Gong, while laughing. ” No one ever wanted to marry me! Otherwise, I would have a kind girl like you, and never would I have left you…”

” Indeed!” said Huang Rong while bursting out laughing. ” If I left, what would you do to eat?”

” Fair enough!” Qi Gong agreed with a sigh. ” Well, to answer your question, the Central Divine is Wang Chongyang, master of the Quanzhen Sect. But, after his death, it’s difficult to say who’s the world’s most powerful.”

” The Quanzhen Sect?” Huang Rong said. ” There is a fellow called Qiu, another called Wang, and yet another named Ma. This are all of the Taoist obtuse one, but I find their gongfu rather pathetic: they fought with people, and in two times three movements did to spread themselves!”

” Ah yes? They were doubtless disciples of Wang Chongyang. It seems that, among his seven disciples, Qiu Chuji is the most powerful… But, it is certain than they are not even close to their martial uncle, Zhou Botong.”

Upon hearing this name, Huang Rong was startled; she was about to say something then stopped herself.

Guo Jing, who was himself just satisfied to listen their conversation, interrupted:

” It’s true, Master Ma said that they had a martial uncle, but he did not mention the name of this Taoist master.”

” Zhou Botong is not a Taoist,” Qi Gong replied. ” He is a secular person, who was personally taught by his martial brother, Wang Chongyang… Eh, I say, my simple-minded one, you seem me well clumsy! This that your father-in-law, so fine and so crafty, really appreciates you?”

Guo Jing, who had never thought he had a « father-in-law », stammered, without knowing how to reply.

” My father is yet to see him again,” said Huang Rong, smiling. ” If you could be kind enough to give him some pointers, then, thanks to you, my dad will have some appreciation for him!”

” Little rogue!” Qi Gong grumbled. ” Who has learned not even a tenth of her father’s gongfu, but who has inherited all his trickery and cleverness! I don’t like your flattery and your toadying! And, also I never take disciples! Who wants a stupid one like that? To leaves you, that seem to consider it as a treasure? You planned to get me to teach your little dumb husband! Huh, this old beggar will not fall in such a trap!”

Huang Rong bowed her head, red to the forehead. She never had not applied to learn the martial arts. His father himself was so strong, she not nothing had learned seriously of him, why would she want to learn from Qi Gong? Only, see that the gongfu of Guo Jing was not up to the mark, that his six Shifu considered her to be a «little witch », she rejoiced at having met such a master as Qi Gong, hoping that he would accept passing on a little of his knowledge to his well-loved one. So that, in front of his masters and in front of Qiu Chuji’s Taoists, Guo Jing would not have to be scared, like a mouse in front of the cats. Now, Qi Gong was very greedy and always grinning, but he was not stupid, and he had seen through her act all along!

The old beggar, muttering to himself, left without a backwards glance.

The two young people stood silently for a long moment.

“Rong-er,” Guo Jing finally said, ” this Elder has a rather original character!”

Huang Rong heard a light rustle in the foliage, above their head, and realized that Qi Gong had done a big turn before returning, discreetly, to the top of the tree.

” He’s a really kind person,” she said then. ” And his gongfu is much stronger than my father’s.”

” He hasn’t shown his skills,” Guo Jing wondered aloud, ” how do you know that?”

” My dad told me so.”

” What exactly did he say?”

” He said that, in today’s world, there was only one person who could beat him, and that was the Divine Nine Fingered Beggar, Hong Qi Gong. Unfortunately, as this Elder is always is by mounts and by is worth, he has seldom had the occasion to see him and exchange pointers.”

In fact, after he had moved away, Qi Gong had deployed his incomparable qinggong and had returned to the top of the tree, high above the heads of the young people. He wanted to hear their conversation, and to assure himself that they had not been sent by Huang Yaoshi (French translation: “Huang the Alchemist”) to steal his skills. The words of Huang Rong filled him with pride:

” So,” he said to himself, ” Huang Yaoshi never wanted to accept my superiority, but deep within himself, he admires me nonetheless!”

How could he have guessed that it was all pure and simple invention from the girl?

” I didn’t learn great things from my father,” Huang Rong went on, ” but that’s my fault: I enjoyed having fun too much, and never wanted to apply myself! Now, having had the fortune to meet Elder Hong, if he had wanted to give me some lesson, that would have been again better than with my father! What a shame I offended him, without wanting to!”

And she herself started to sob. At first, she pretended, and Guo Jing tried to console her with softness, then she thought about the death of her mother, the intransigence of her father, and started to truly weep. Qi Gong, atop his tree, in was all returned one…

” I heard Father say,” continued Huang Rong while sobbing, ” that Elder Hong had an exceptional skill, of incomparable power, of which even Wang Chongyang was afraid. It’s called… It’s called… How was it called? I can’t remember… Anyway, I had it on the tip of my tongue all the time, I wanted to beg him to teach it…to you- it’s called…it’s called…”

Indeed, she not some knew nothing, and talked big progressively.

Hearing her hesitate, searching without finding, Qi Gong could not hold back, and cried, while jumping to the foot of the tree:

” That is called the «Dragon-mastering Eighteen Palms»!”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong bounded up in surprise, one’s surprise was real, the other’s was feigned…

“Ah, Qi Gong”, Huang Rong cried, ” how did you get up in the tree? By flying? Yes, that’s it: the «Dragon-Mastering 18 Palms»! Exactly! How could I have forgotten it? Father often told me that the gongfu that he admired most in the world was the «Dragon-Mastering 18 Palms»! “

Qi Gong was delighted:

” Then your dad knows what the truth is! I believed that, after the death of Wang Chongyang, he considered himself to be the most powerful in the world!”

He turned towards Guo Jing:

” Indeed, your gongfu isn’t inferior to that of your little friend. The problem is that your palm technique is not at all up to the mark. Good, granddaughter, you return to the inn!”

Huang Rong realized that he was going to give a lesson to Guo Jing, and she went away, all satisfied…

Qi Gong addressed Guo Jing solemnly:

” You will kneel down and promise me: without my permission, you do not must transmit my gongfu to no one else, even to your crafty little woman!

Guo Jing was greatly embarrassed: “If Rong-er insists that I teach her,” he said to himself, ” how could I refuse?”

” Qi Gong,” he says then, ” I do not want anymore to learn, so what if she is stronger than me…”

” And why?” asked Qi Gong.

” If she wants me to teach her, I cannot refuse without offending her, and I cannot accept without offending you…”

” Simple-minded though you are,” said Qi Gong while laughing, ” you have a good heart, and you speak straight. That is good. Very well: I will teach you a stroke called «Resisting the Dragon means Regret» (author’s interpretation – original French translation is “The Inflexible Dragon Repents”). I would imagine that Huang Yaoshi has enough pride that he won’t, although he would crave to, copy my superior skills. In any case, our schools are completely different, I cannot learn his gongfu, he cannot learn mine…”

At that, he bent his left knee, pivoted and straightened his arm, made a circle with the upright hand and pushed outwards with the other. His palm touched a great pine and « crack », its trunk broke!

Guo Jing stood petrified, shocked by the power contained in this blow.

” This tree cannot move,” said Qi Gong, ” if it was a human, it would obviously try to avoid the blow. The difficulty of this technique, is precisely to strike so that your opponent cannot, no matter what, avoid it. So well that once you land your blow, «crack », the enemy will collapse like this pine!”

He repeated the demonstration twice, explaining in detail how to concentrate and project the internal energy. It was only one stroke, but the lesson took more than an hour.

Guo Jing was not clever, but he had a good basis in neigong. And to learn a move such as this, made with simple movements but having unequaled power, suited him perfectly. He trained conscientiously and, at the end of two hours, had grasped the majority of this technique…

” In that little imp’s technique,” said Qi Gong, ” there are many more feints than real attacks. If you try to follow her, she will run around you like you were a donkey and you will always fall, since you never will be able to be as quick as her. You will think that, after all these feints, the next blow will be real, but no, it will be a feint! And the blow following after, you will believe that it is a feint, but no, she will strike a real blow, and you will be in trouble!”

Guo Jing nodded his head in agreement.

” Thus, to fight her, the clever way is to completely put the thought of whether it is a feint or not out of your mind. When she attacks you with a palm blow, whether it is a feint or not, return it with a blow of “Opposing the Dragon means Regret”. Against of the power of your attack, she will be forced to withdraw and defend herself, so well that all her tricks falls to water!”

” And after that?” asked Guo Jing.

” What do you mean, ‘and after that’?” Qi Gong replied, his face suddenly darkening. ” You great idiot, do you think she is able to withstand this blow that I taught you?”

” But if she can’t withstand it, ” said Guo Jing, very worried, ” won’t she be injured?”

Qi Gong shook his head and sighed:

” If, in such a blow one seeks only to send out the force and not to keep it, if one cannot somehow control its lightness or its power, firmness or softness, how can one consider himself a master of these unique ‘Eighteen Dragon Mastering Palms’?”

Guo Jing was eager to consent, but he had taken an inner decision: ” As I haven’t learned to control my force perfectly, I won’t fight with Rong-er!”

” You don’t believe me?” said Qi Gong. ” In that case, try it!”

Guo Jing took up position, imitating his senior’s posture, picked a pine with a particularly slender trunk and he struck it a violent blow. The pine was a little shaken but not at all itself broken.

” You big idiot,” Qi Gong said, ” why are you shaking this tree for? To catch squirrels? Or to drop pinecones?”

Guo Jing, red with shame, laughed with an air of denial, not knowing what to reply.

” I already repeated it for you,” said Qi Gong, ” it is necessary to put the opponent in a position such that it cannot back up or get away. Your blow just now had enough force, but all it needed was for the pine to shake itself a little for it to escape the full force. It is necessary that you learn to approach and strike in such a way that the tree cannot budge, in order to be able to break it at one go.”

This was, for Guo Jing, an illumination:

” Then,” he cried joyously, ” it’s necessary for the force to be particularly swift, delivered in such a way that the opponent has no time to defend himself!”

Qi Gong shot him a black look:

” Absolutely! That goes without saying! You sweated blood for such a long time, and you only now understand this truth? One really can say that you aren’t clever! For this stroke, known as “Resisting the Dragon Means Regret”- it’s essence is not found in the word “Resisting” but rather in the word “Regret”. If one concentrated only on pure violence, brute power, a little forces in the muscles would suffice. But then, how could this technique be admired by Huang Yaoshi? As the old saying goes: « The inflexible Dragon itself repent, the surplus will not last a long time ». This is the reason that if there has transmission, there must be rétention. When you send out a force of ten, it is necessary again to preserve within yourself a force of twenty. The day where you will know to appreciate the full meaning of the concept “Regrets”, then you will be able to consider that you have understood thirty percent of this stroke. Just as a fine old wine, that has had time to season: at first taste, it is not strong, but afterwards that it releases its full heady flavour, that explains the concept “Regret”.”

Guo Jing didn’t understand anything about these matters, but he tried to memorize them, in order for him to calmly reflect upon them later. To learn the martial arts, he always had adopted the same method: “That which others may assimilate in a morning, I will devote ten days!” Then he concentrated on the study of the palm technique.

At first, the pine balanced itself to each of the blows that it received. Towards the end, these became more and more powerful, but the tree moved less and less. He realized that he had progressed and rejoiced somewhat. The face of his palm had become red and swollen, but he did not treat it, and continued to train with determination, never relaxing.

Qi Gong, who had initially laughed at his persistence, had stretched himself on the ground and snored calmly.

Little by little, Guo Jing felt more comfortable, he attained a mastery of his energy, to carry the blow and to keep it. He brought up his breath into his dantian, advanced his palm violently, withdrawing his force immediately, so well that the tree did not move at all. Delighted, the young man repeated in the same way while concentrating his force on the edge of his palm: he heard a creak, and the small pine broke apart.

” Bravo!” cried Huang Rong, who had seen the scene from a distance.

She approached slowly, carrying a heavy shopping basket.

Before even opening his eyes, Qi Gong had smelt the delicious aroma of the food that she brought.

” That feels good! That feels good!” he cried while jumping to his feet.

He seized the basket from the girl’s hands and opened the lid. He beheld a dish of roasted frogs thighs, a very fat duck suited to the Eight treasures, and a big bowl of white and immaculate money noodles. With joyful cries, he pounced on the foods, not drying up any praises on this that it devoured to beautiful teeth. But, as his mouth was full, one couldn’t understand anything he said. In an instant, the bowls containing the frog thighs and the duck were emptied. Realizing that Guo Jing again had not eaten, the old beggar felt a little ashamed of his gluttony:

” Go on, eat up,” he says, ” these noodles aren’t bad…”

And as he felt really bothered, he added:

” They are even better than the duck!”

Huang Rong laughed and says:

” Qi Gong, you haven’t yet tasted my best dishes!”

Surprise and delighted, the old beggar eagerly asked:

” What dishes? What dishes?”

” You can’t name them all,” replied Huang Rong. “For example returned cabbage in the wok, steamed tofu, hard eggs, roasted meat…”

As a well-informed gourmet, Qi Gong knew well that it was in the most simple dishes that the true masters really showed their talents. The same applied to martial arts: wondrous execution of the most simple techniques, that was the hallmark of the great masters! These words of Huang Rong delighted him, therefore, so well that his face itself was almost imploring:

” Good, good!” he says. ” I always said that you were a brave little you want me to buy you cabbage and tofu? Please?”

” It’s not worth your while”, said Huang Rong while laughing. ” And then, what you will buy will not suit me necessarily.”

” Fair enough,” said Qi Gong. ” None other than you can choose your ingredients…”

” Just now,” Huang Rong said again, ” I saw him break the trunk of a pine: he’s already more powerful than me!

” Not at all,” Qi Gong protested, shaking his head. ” He isn’t up to standard at all! It’s necessary that the point the trunk breaks be perfectly neat. Look, it’s all twisted, like a saw’s teeth- what pathetic gongfu! And then this pine is as slender as a stick, no, as slender as a toothpick! This kid isn’t up to the mark at all!”

” But if he attacks me with this palm,” objected Huang Rong, ” I will not be able to defend myself. This is all your fault: if he bullies me later, how will I do?”

Qi Gong, who wanted to get back into her good books, did not want to keep annoying her, even though he clearly saw that she was being duplicitous:

” So what, according to you, must I do?”

” Teach me a skill with which I can beat him. After that, I’ll cook for you.”

” Very well, we’re agreed,” said Qi Gong. ” He learned only a single blow, it’s easy to beat him. I will teach you a fist technique called “Wandering Strides”.”

No sooner had he finished speaking that he rose to his feet to demonstrate: he jumped to right and to the left, with grace and nimbleness, while his big sleeves flew away…

Huang Rong not some lost a crumb and silently memorized every movement. When the old man had finished the complete chain, she had already half-learned it. After it him given all the supplementary indications, it didn’t take two hours for the girl to execute perfectly the thirty-six movements of the “Wandering Strides”. At last, she executed the skill at the same time as Qi Gong: they themselves tinrent coast to coast and sprang in concert, the one to right, the other to the left, twirling as a jade swallow and a great eagle gliding in the skies. At the end of the thirty-six movements, they landed on their feet at the same time, regarding each other, and burst into laughter, while Guo Jing applauded vigorously.

” This little one is hundred more intelligent times than you,” says Qi Gong to Guo Jing.

” So many movements and variations,” marvelled the latter while scratching his head, ” how did she learn so quickly? And how does she manage not to forget? Me, when I remember second movement, I’ve already forgot the first one!”

Qi Gong burst out laughing:

” Indeed you absolutely cannot learn this «Wandering Strides»! Even if you memorized the steps, you are incapable, in the practice, to produce the spirit of striding! Executed so painstakingly and clumsily, this fist technique would become a real chore!”

” You’ve got a point!” conceded Guo Jing while laughing.

” This «Wandering Strides»,” Qi Gong said, ” is a gongfu that I practiced in my youth. I have brought it out again to match the direction of the original gongfu of the little one, indeed, it doesn’t correspond to the martial arts that I use currently. Thus, I myself haven’t used it once during the last ten years.”

He wanted to mean that the «Wandering Strides» was a lot less powerful than the «Eighteen Dragon Mastering Palms».

Huang Rong was delighted:

” Qi Gong, if I beat him again, he’ll surely be unhappy, so teach him again some blows.”

She herself had no real intention to learn, it was only a pretext to push the old beggar to give more lessons to her lover. If she really had wanted to obtain martial arts, she had at her disposal a great master in the person of her father, of which she not never all could have learned.

” This dumb kid,” said Qi Gong, ” He hasn’t even fully digested the single blow that I learned for him. Who too kisses poorly embraces! It suffices that you prepare me a lot of dishes, and I will grant all your wishes!”

” Very well,” said Huang Rong, smiling. ” Then I leave for the market.”

Qi Gong laughed heartily and himself returned to the hostelry, leaving Guo Jing alone in the pine wood, where he returned to training with determination, late into the night.

That night, Huang Rong indeed prepared a cabbage dish and a plateful of tofu for Qi Gong. She had carefully selected the most tender cabbage heart and leaves, than she had done to return with hen grease and filaments of duck leg. But the plateful of tofu was really extraordinary: she had cut a ham in two, then dug twenty-four small spherical cavities, in which ones had placed balls of tofu, before closing the ham and beginning to steam it. At the end of cooking, the whole flavour of the ham had passed into the tofu, while the ham himself was left out. After tasting of this dish, Qi Gong evidently was conquered. This steamed tofu had an equally inspired name of poetry Tang and was called « Full Moon Night on the twenty-four bridges ». If the girl had not had at his disposal the family technique called « The Orchid Skims the Point », her ten nimble and delicate fingers would not have been in a position to cut twenty-four small balls in the fragile mass of the tofu. To do that demanded as much delicacy as to engrave characters on a grain of rice, or to sculpture a boat in a nutshell. It would have been easy to cut pieces of tofu in cube, but where had one seen square full moons?

After the dinner, each went to go to bed. Qi Gong was astonished to see Guo Jing and Huang Rong going to separate rooms:

” Huh? Aren’t you husband and wife? Why don’t you sleep in the same room?”

Huang Rong, that had not stopped joking with him without reserve, felt all embarrassed. Her cheeks blushing, she looked upset.

” Elder, if you continue to talk nonsense, I won’t cook for you tomorrow!”

” What’s this?” Qi Gong was astonished. ” What did I talk nonsense?”

After an instant’s reflection, he realized:

” I’m old and senile, indeed,” he said while laughing. ” You’re clearly dressed as a girl, and not as a wife. You are yourself therefore promised to each other secretly, without the consent of the parents or a matchmaker, or the wedding ceremony. Don’t worry, I will be your go-between. If your dad does not accept, I’ll provoke a duel and we’ll fight, my goodness! for seven days and seven nights if we have to, until he yields!”

Huang Rong was precisely worried about this matter: she feared that her father would not like Guo Jing. The words of the old beggar filled her with joy and she returned to her room, her face radiant.

The next day, Guo Jing went back to the pinewood at dawn. He practiced to about twenty rounds with much sweat, but rejoiced at the progress he accomplished, when he suddenly heard a voice speaking behind the trees.

” Shifu,” says a voice, “we must have travelled more than thirty li this time, isn’t that right? “

” Indeed,” replied another voice, ” you’ve achieved some progress in endurance…”

This voice seemed very familiar to Guo Jing, who then saw four individuals appear, of which the first one had white hair and ruddy complexion: it was none other than his number one enemy, Liang Ziwong, the Thousand-Year Ginseng! He pesta internally and took to his heels.

But Liang Ziwong already had recognized him:

” Where do you think you’re going?” he cried while thrusting himself forward in pursuit.

The three other men were his disciples. See their Shifu running after an enemy, they themselves split up in order to surround the young man.

” I need to get out of the pinewood and get back to the inn in order to be safe,” said Guo Jing to himself, while running even faster.

The first disciple of Liang Ziwong barred the way and shouted, while crossing the two palms:

” Little peasant, kneel!”

He attacked with a technique of qinna taught by his master and sought to seize Guo Jing to the chest. The young man folded his left leg lightly, the straight arm turned in, made a circle with his right palm and struck powerfully outward: it was precisely the blow that it had just learned, “Resisting the Dragon Means Regret”. His opponent feels the sudden power, and attempted to dodge it, but it was so powerful that it broke his arm, throwing him a distance of six or seven feet, and made him lose consciousness. Guo Jing, that never would have believed that his blow was going to be so strong, demeura forbids, before resuming his race.

Surprised and irritated, Liang Ziwong jumped in front of him. Guo Jing had just left the pines when he found the immortal one in front of him. Very frightened, he himself got in position and launched once more his “Resisting the Dragon Means Regret”. Liang Ziwong did not know this blow but, in front of its power, knew that he could not handle it. He had to roll to earth to avoid it. Guo Jing took the opportunity to flee.

When Liang Ziwong itself recovered, the young man had reached the front of the inn and screamed:

” Rong-er, disaster! Here’s the evil one that wants to drink my blood!”

Huang Rong poked her head out the window. ” How did this old monster get here?” she asked herself. ” That’s good, I’ll try out on him this new “Wandering Strides” that I have just learned.”

” My love,” she cried. ” Don’t be scared of this old crust. Begin the fight, I’ll come to help you, we’ll teach him a good lesson!”

” Rong doesn’t know the power of this old monster,” said Guo Jing to himself, ” that’s why she speaks so lightly.” But Liang Ziwong already jumped on him. In front of the violence of the attack, the young man had no other option but to launch once more his “Resisting the Dragon Means Regret”. Liang Ziwong twisted and dodged several feet to the side, but his straight arm was almost touched by the breath of the palm, that left a burning and painful track. The immortal one, frightened inside, was amazed that this kid, in the space of some months, had progressed so much. ” This must be,” he said, ” due to the absorption of the precious blood of the snake.” This thought the mit outside him and he jumped to the attack. Guo Jing defended himself again with the same blow. Conscious that he could not oppose it, Liang Ziwong retreated, but, seeing that the young man did not have at his disposal other such fearful blows to press his advantage, his fear lessened:

” Little idiot,” he cried, ” Do you know only that one blow?

Guo Jing tumbled right into his trap:

” Even this one blow,” he replied, ” you still won’t be able to avoid it!”

And he advanced, launching once again his “Resisting the Dragon Means Regret”. Liang Ziwong dodged and jumped behind Guo Jing to attack it. He turned and attempted to attack again same manner, but his opponent was itself, once of more, slipped behind him. Thus, the young man, that knew only to attack in front, was completely perturbed and did not arrive anymore to face.

Seeing him on the verge of losing, Huang Rong cried:

” My love, let me take me care of him!”

She sprang forward and interposed herself between the two fighters, attacking Liang Ziwong with palms and kicks, who returned the attack. Guo Jing retreated two steps to watch them. Huang Rong had well learn this wonderful technique that was the «Wandering Strides», but, besides the fact that she had obtained it too recently to truly master it, Liang Ziwong was in fact a lot stronger one than she. Thus, without the protection given by her soft armour, she already would have received several blows and certainly would have been injured long ago. Before even to have deployed the thirty-six movements of the “Strides”, she was located already in bad posture. The disciples of Liang Ziwong, surrounding their elder injured brother, observed the fight and, see their Shifu was winning, shouted out, the better to encourage him.

Guo Jing prepared himself to assist Huang Rong when all of a sudden Qi Gong was heard to shout, from behind the window:

” His next blow is called “The nasty dog blocks the road”!”

Very surprised, Huang Rong lives that Liang Ziwong, the legs firmly spread in the “Rider Stance”, the stretched fists horizontally, indeed taking the stance of the “Terrible Tiger blocks the road”. She couldn’t prevent herself from laughing internally. “Qi Gong changed the name of this blow! But how was he able to guess that this would be that one?”

She heard then the old beggar shout again:

” And his next blow is “The stinking snake inhales water”!”

She realized that it was a matter of the «Green Dragon inhales water », for which one lengthened the fist forward, this that unveiled a rift to the back, in the back. Venerable seventh had at pains finished to speak that she already had slipped herself behind Liang Ziwong. He attacked effectively with « Green Dragon inhales water », but as the girl, warned in advance, had the advantage and attacked from the back, he made himself safe only because of his exceptional technical mastery, that allowed him to change position right in the middle of a movement, and to fly himself further away. He landed on the tips of his toes, surprised and furious at once:

“Who is the powerful master that hides in the shack?” he cried towards the window. “Why don’t you show yourself?”

But there was only silence behind the window. Liang Ziwong lost himself in wonderment: ” How could this person succeed in predicting my blows?”

Fortified by the support of a great master, Huang Rong now feared nothing: she regained the initiative and launched herself to the attack. Liang Ziwong resorted to killer blows so that the girl herself was forced to give up the upper hand.

” Don’t fear anything!” Qi Gong cried then. ” He will do as a «Monkey with a rotten bottom climbs to the tree »!

Huang Rong burst out laughing, leva the fists and attacked downwards. Liang Ziwong effectively had sketched a « phenomenal Gorille climbs to the tree », and had, after to have jumped in the air and attack downwards. But Huang Rong had preceded him, then if he continued to jump, that meant that he simply was going to offer the head to the falling fists! He had to change his technique immediately… If, in a fight, the opponent knew in advance all your blows, it would not take long for him to overcome you! The immortal one, fortunately for him, was a lot stronger one than Huang Rong, and this allowed himself to extricate himself from a bad situation at the last moment. Suddenly, he jumped back and shouted:

” If you persist not to show yourself, I won’t hesitate to be ruthless towards this girl!”

Changing his tactics, he rained down his blows like hail in a storm, so much so that Huang Rong absolutely could not adorn, and that Qi Gong had not the time to call out his blows.

Seeing his loved one in danger, reduced to dodging right and left, Guo Jing leapt forward and sent out once more his “Resisting the Dragon Means Regret”. Liang Ziwong jumped back.

” My love,” said Huang Rong, ” give him again three blows!”

She turned and went back into the inn.

Guo Jing took position, awaiting the approach of Liang Ziwong and, no matter what technique the Immortal employed, he returned it with a “Resisting the Dragon Means Regret”. His opponent not some could but, furious and entertained at once: ” Where on earth,” he asked, ” did this dumb little fellow learn this strange blow? And why does he know only that one!”

But even if he knew only one blow, the dumb little fellow held it in respect and it there could not nothing. All two restèrent therefore immobilized on their position.

” Silly fellow!” Liang Ziwong cried then. ” You’d better watch out!”

He jumps on his young opponent, who turned to his many times tested formula. Now Liang changed direction squarely flight and sudden struck out three «Acupoint Piercing Bones», that sped towards the young man in three different directions. Guo Jing hurriedly dodged, Liang Ziwong took advantage to thrust himself forward with the speed of light, and seized him by the nape of his neck. Very frightened, the young man struck an elbow blow at the chest of his opponent but, to his great astonishment, he felt the impression that his elbow had sunk itself in a soft mass, like cotton.

Liang Ziwong prepared himself to deal a fatal blow when he heard Huang Rong scream:

” Old monster! Look here!”

Knowing that she was very crafty, he decided not to take any risk: he struck Guo Jing upon the «Jianjing» point, so that he was unable to move, before turning his head. He saw then the girl advancing slowly, and anxiously saw that in her hand was a bamboo stick, its green as clear as jade, which froze him in terror.

” Hong…” he stammered, stunned. ” Grand Master Hong!”

” So, why haven’t you released him!” threatened Huang Rong.

At the time, when he had heard someone calling out his blows before he even carried them out, Liang Ziwong already was very surprised, but he had not thought that it could be Qi Gong. Now, at the appearance of the green bamboo stick, he realized that the voice behind the window was indeed that of the person that he dreaded most in the world. Terrified, he quickly freed Guo Jing.

Brandishing the stick, Huang Rong approached him and said severely:

” Qi Gong wants to ask you how, while he deigned to speak, you dare again to do evil here? What impudence!”

Liang Ziwong tumbled to his knees:

” Your servant did not know that Grand Master Hong was there,” he stuttered. ” Even if I had courage, I never would have dared to offend Grand Master Hong.”

” This fellow is, nonetheless, very powerful,” Huang Rong said to herself, astonished. ” How is it that he is so terrified of just the mention of Qi Gong’s name? And why does he call him Grand Master Hong?”

But she didn’t allow any of her thoughts to appear and assumed a threatening air:

“And which punishment do you deserve?”

” I beg you to please say some words in my favor with Grand Master Hong! Said him that Liang Ziwong recognizes his great sins and that he implores Grandmaster Hong to spare his life!”

” To say a word in your favor, why not? But several words, this would be really too much to ask. In the future, you mustn’t cause trouble to both of us.”

” Your servant offended you in his ignorance,” said Liang Ziwong. ” I you taken of not to hold some for me harshness. In the future, indeed, I will not dare anymore to do…”

Huang Rong, very proud of herself, smiled and reentered the inn, hand in hand with Guo Jing. They found Qi Gong sitting in front of a well-laid table, a knife in the left hand, chopsticks in his right hand, in the process of treating himself.

” Qi Gong,” said Huang Rong while laughing. ” He’s on his knees and doesn’t dare to move even a hair.”

“Give him a hiding to unwind you, he certainly won’t dare to defend himself.”

By the window, Guo Jing saw Liang Ziwong kneeling petrified, with his three disciples behind him, also kneeling, all four looking miserable. He felt pity for them and said:

” Qi Gong, why not forgive them?”

” Little good-for-nothing without character,” Qi Gong reprimanded. ” Someone comes here to trouble you, you aren’t capable of defending yourself, I you except the placement and you want to forgive to your enemy! To what that resembles, I ask you?

Guo Jing wasn’t sure how to reply.

” I’ll take care of him,” said Huang Rong while laughing.

She took up the bamboo stick and went out of the inn. Liang Ziwong remained kneeling respectfully, his face full of fear.

” Qi Gong said that you persist to do evil,” thundered Huang Rong, ” and that was absolutely necessary to cut your throat today! Fortunately, my dear Jing has a good heart, he did not stop pleading your cause, so much so that Qi Gong, finally, agreed to spare you.”

She wielded the stick and struck him a blow on the buttocks while screaming:

“You go in!”

Liang Ziwong addressed himself to the window:

“Grandmaster Hong! I want to see you, to thank you for sparing my life!”

Only silence greeted his plea. Liang Ziwong did not dare to rise, and continued to kneel humbly. Shortly after, Guo Jing came out and waved his hand:

” Qi Gong is asleep,” he said in a low voice. ” Do not disturb him…”

Then Liang Ziwong got up, shot a hate-filled look at the two young people, and left, along with his disciples.

Huang Rong, heart full of joy, re-entered in the inn. She saw Qi Gong laying on the table while snoring. She touched him on the shoulder to awaken him:

“Qi Gong!” she cried. ” Your magic precious stick has a wonderful strength, now you not some done nothing… Why would you give it to me?

Qi Gong raised his head, yawned and said:

  • You about it speak with your comfort! he says while laughing. ” That is the work instrument of your old man! A beggar without a dog-beating stick, what would that look like?”

Huang Rong continued to tap it while simpering:

” You have such powerful gongfu! Those wicked ones flee just from hearing your name, to what serves you again to have this stick?”

” You rotten imp! said Qi Gong while laughing. ” Quickly prepare me some dishes, I’ll explain it for you presently…”

Huang Rong obeys and quickly went into the kitchen to prepare three small dishes.

Right hand holding a wine cup, left hand squeezing the bone of a ham that he gnawed slowly, Qi Gong began:

  • The proverb says: « That resembles itself assembles itself ». The full richards to the have form a clan, the outlaws of the highway who rob the passersby form a clan, us others that freely pass our lives begging food leftovers, let us form also a clan…

” I understand,” exclaimed Huang Rong while clapping her hands. ” That old Liang called you «Grand Master Hong », are you thus the chief of the beggars!”

” Precisely. Us beggars, one we walk over, one launches the dogs on us, if one did not group together oneself in a band, how could we survive? The ordinary citizens, in the north of the country, are for the moment under the authority of the Jin; in the south, they are under the authority of the Song emperor; but every beggar in the country…”

” Whether they be in the south or the north,” interrupted Huang Rong, ” are placed under your authority!”

” Eh, yes!” Qi Gong agreed with a smile. ” This bamboo stick and this gourd have been from generation to generation, since the end of the Tang dynasty until today, in other words, for several centuries ago, between the hands of the Grand Master of the Beggar Clan. This is as the jade seal of the little emperor, or the seal of now mandarin chinese.”

” Just as well you didn’t give it to me,” said Huang Rong, sticking out her tongue.

” Why not?”

” If every little beggar in the country came to find me, for me to sort out their affairs, that would be a catastrophe!”

” You have good reason,” Qi Gong sighed. “As I am of a lax and lazy nature, the weight of grandmaster of the Beggar Clan is really too heavy for my shoulders. But I can’t find a person to whom I can entrust it. Then I have well to do with… “

” So that’s why old Liang fears you so much: if all the beggars of the country came to give trouble to him, he would be in big trouble. If each one dropped a louse in his collar, that would trouble him until the end of his days!”

Qi Gong and Guo Jing burst out laughing.

” No,” the old beggar said at last, ” not just for that; he’s also scared of me.”

” What is that?”

” Nearly twenty years ago, he was committing an evil deed when I fell upon him…”

” What evil deed?”

” That old monster,” said Qi Gong hesitantly, ” believed a section of the adage «Gather the yin to nourish the yang… » He had obtained for himself several virgins, of which he violated their bodies, supposedly to obtain immortality.”

” What’s that, to violate the body?” asked Huang Rong.

The girl, whose mother had died in childbirth, had been taught by her father. After the treachery and escape of Chen Xuanfeng and of Mei Chaofeng, Huang Yaoshi, furious, had crippled his other disciples and they had all fled. No others remained on Peach Blossom Island than some mute servants. No one had therefore spoke to the girl of the things that happened between men and women. Since that she had met Guo Jing, she felt a joy and an unspeakable softness in his company, a melancholy and an unbearable solitudes when she was separated of him even for an instant. She believed that to be husband and wife meant nothing more than never to part from each other, that was why for so long she had considered Guo Jing as her husband, without knowing the nature of conjugal relations.

Her question therefore put Qi Gong in great difficulty.

” To violate the body of the virgins,” the girl insisted, ” this is to kill them?”

” No,” Qi Gong responded, ” when a woman undergoes a such outrages, this is sometimes more painful than the death itself. The proverb says: «To be dishonoured is grave, to die of hunger is nothing». That says well what I want to say…”

Huang Rong did not understand not yet:

” Does that mean to cut the ears or the nose with a knife?”

” Peuh!” said Qi Gong, bothered, ” not at all! Little imp, you better ask your mother when you get back home…”

” My mother is dead…”

” Ah!” said the beggar. ” Then you will understand after your wedding night with our silly young fellow!”

Huang Rong reddened, understanding at last that it was a matter of shameful things. She said softly:

” If you do not want to explain, so worse… Therefore, you fell on the old monster in the process of committing this evil deed, than itself is it passed then?”

Qi Gong, relieved to see that she did not put anymore embarrassing questions, continued:

” Well, I intervened, that’s right. I caught this rascal, I gave him a good thrashing and pulled out all his hair! After, I obliged it to bring back these girls at their place and to promise solemnly that he would not recommence ever again. If I resumed it to do that, he would regret ever having been born! It would seem that, for all these years, he never broke his promise, that’s the reason why I spared him today. He said then, goodness, did his hair grow back?”

” Oh yes! said Huang Rong while bursting out laughing. Pull out all the hair of the head, that would have been really funny!”

All three finished the meal.

“Qi Gong,” Huang Rong then said, ” now, even if you wanted to give me this bamboo stick, I wouldn’t want it. But we cannot anyway to remain close to you all our lives! Now, what if we come across this Liang fellow, and he says to us: “Well, little brat, last time, you sheltered yourself under the name of Grand Master Hong and you hit me with his bamboo stick, today I’m going to avenge myself: I will pull out you all your hair!” That will we do then? When my Jing fought with him, his one and only blow, “Resisting the Dragon Means Regret”, that is of course powerful, but that means little all the same, no? I am sure that Liang said in his heart: ” Grandmaster Hong has gongfu of an infinite power, but when it begins teaching to a disciple, this is really not that terrible!”

” I know well,” said Qi Gong, ” that you hurl all these stupidities, provoking and threatening, so that I’ll sign off all my skills to you two! Well, so long that you get ready some good dishes for me, I won’t disappoint you.”

Huang Rong, delighted, took Qi Gong by the hand to go in the pine wood.

Qi Gong imparted then to Guo Jing the second blow of the «Eighteen Dragon-Mastering Palms», called ” Flying Dragon in the Heavens”. In this blow, it was necessary to jump in the air and strike from the top down, an extremely powerful attack. Guo Jing took three days to assimilate it. During these three days, Qi Gong took the snack occasion to about ten more delicious placement them a than the others. Huang Rong, for its part, asked nothing from him for herself; provided that he consented to teach her loved one, she was more than enough satisfied.

In the space of a month, Qi Gong had taught to Guo Jing fifteen of the «Eighteen Dragon-Mastering Palms», from “Resisting the Dragon Means Regret” to “Sighting the Dragon in the Field”.

These “Eighteen Dragon-Mastering Palms” were Qi Gong’s ultimate skills. He had originally learned them from his Shifu, instrumental invented himself. The number of blows of course was limited, but each of them was full of exceptional power. At the time of the first Huashan tournament, when the five supreme Masters had measured themselves, these Eighteen Palms were not completely up to the mark, but they had already given rise to respect and general admiration. Thereafter, Qi Gong often had expressed his regrets: if he had concentrated all his efforts to perfect this technique some years earlier, the title of “First in the Martial World” might not have been fallen to the grandmaster of the Quanzhen Sect, Wang Chongyang, but to himself!

At first, Qi Gong had no intention to pass on more than two or three of these Eighteen Palms to Guo Jing, which would already have far sufficed for him to defend himself. But Huang Rong was really an unparalleled cook; every day she prepared new dishes of exceptional taste, never repeating herself, and the old beggar could not resolve himself to leave. So, day after day, he ended up teaching the fifteen blows. Guo Jing did not understand quickly, but the little that he learned, he retained, and repeated day and night, working with determination, so well that he achieved a good mastery of the fifteen blows, lacking no more in power than time and practice alone could give to him. Thus, in a little more of a month, his gongfu had achieved such progress that he was no longer the same person!

That morning, after breakfast, Qi Gong said, while sighing:

” My children, we’ve been together for more of a month, it’s time we took leave of each other.”

” Ah, but no,” protested Huang Rong. ” I have many more small dishes for your taste…”

” There is not endless banquets, but there is an infinity of dishes… I never have, of all my life, taught anybody for more than three days. This time, I’ve done that for more than thirty days! If this continues, it’ll be a catastrophe!”

” How’s that?”

” Well, you will strip me of all that I know!”

” You’ve started a good work, why not go to the end! Teach him therefore the Eighteen Palms, that would be an accomplishment!”

” Peuh, that would be an accomplishment for you two, but not for me…”

Huang Rong, full of worry, wondered what strategems she could invent to get Qi Gong to teach the three remaining blows to Guo Jing, but the old beggar did not give her the time: hitching his gourd over the back again, he left without speaking further.

Guo Jing chased after him, but Qi Gong went so quickly that he had disappeared in a wink. The young man raced to the pines and cried, “Qi Gong, Qi Gong!” Huang Rong had followed him and joined her cries to his.

Sudden, a shadow arose from the pines, it was Qi Gong, who addressed them angrily:

  • That do You Have, dirty kids, to stick me to the truss? If you want me to teach you more, this is absolutely impossible!

” You have already taught us too much,” said Guo Jing. ” I am more than satisfied, how could I wish to want more? It’s only that I did not thank you once again for your kindness!”

He knelt then and kowtowed, striking the ground with his forehead, several times.

Qi Gong paled:

” Stop,” he cried, ” That which I taught you, is nothing other than a suitable payment for the small dishes that she prepared for me. There has never been a relationship of master and disciple between us!”

At that, he knelt also and himself kowtowed in front of Guo Jing. Stunned, he attempted to kowtow again, but Qi Gong extended a hand and touched on a point under the armpit of the young man, who remained petrified, legs half bent. The beggar released him only after to have prostrated itself four times in front of him:

” Remember, you,” he cautioned, ” Never mention that you kowtowed to me and that you are my disciple!”

Understanding that he had a stubborn character, Guo Jing didn’t attempt to contradict him.

” Qi Gong,” sighed Huang Rong, ” you were so good for us, now we must part. I had the intention to prepare you again small dishes, when we would review ourselves, but… Unfortunately… I fear that this be not anymore possible… “

” And why not?” Qi Gong asked.

” Many people want to do evil to us… leaving aside that old monster Immortal Ginseng, there are many more evildoers! One day, we will end up dying at their hands!”

” What is death?” Qi Gong said with a smile. ” Everyone must die one day.”

” Of course,” replied Huang Rong while shaking the head, ” it’s not a big deal to die, but I’m scared that they would capture me and, learning that I received your teaching and that I cooked for you, they would force me to do them all these flat vouchers that I prepared you. This would be a stain on your reputation!”

Qi Gong knew well that the girl was trying to trick more skills out of him, but, at the thought that someone might force her to cook, while himself could not taste these succulent dishes, he couldn’t prevent himself from feeling great anger.

“Who are these villains that scare you?” he demanded.

” There is,” replied Huang Rong, ” a certain old monster of the Yellow River, Sha Tongtian. He eats in such a disgusting way! What a shame it would be for him to have my delicious dishes!”

” There’s no need to fear Sha Tongtian!” said Qi Gong while shaking his head. ” In one or two years, this dummy Guo Jing will be stronger than him. There’s nothing to fear…”

Huang Rong mentioned again the Tibetan monk Ling Zhi and Peng Lianhu. To which Qi Gong replied again: ” Nothing to fear!”

But when Huang Rong mentioned the young master of White Camel Peak, Ouyang Ke, Qi Gong seemed taken aback. He questioned her on the techniques and moves of this new opponent, before nodding his head:

” That’s indeed him!”

In front of the seriousness of his face, the girl s’inquiéta herself:

” He’s very powerful, isn’t that right?”

” There’s nothing to fear from Ouyang Ke!” said Qi Gong. ” It’s his uncle, the old Venom, that is fearsome.”

” The old Venom? But no matter how fearsome, he cannot be stronger than you, isn’t that right?”

Qi Gong didn’t reply. He thought for a while, before he stated:

” At the time, we were equals. But that was twenty years ago… For those twenty years, he’s surely trained harder than me, who’s lazy and gluttonous. Huh, but to beat this old beggar, nonetheless, won’t be easy… “

” Then he certainly can’t beat you!”

” We will see,” said Qi Gong, shaking his head. ” Good, since the nephew of the old Venom, Ouyang Feng, is after your head, we must be careful. I will eat of your cooking for fifteen days. But let’s make one thing clear: if, during these fifteen days, you present the same dish to me twice, I’ll get up and say good-bye…”

Huang Rong was delighted. She was decided to give the measure of all sound talent: thus, not only she never repeated the same dish, but she proposed even infinite variations in the accompaniment in noodles and rice, in different takings to every meals: fried doughnuts to the frying pan, steamed stuffed dough boulettes, ravioli to the vapor, flat noodles in broth, Cantonese rice, soft rice, rice cake slimy, Rice, tofu, etc. Qi Gong, for his part, himself took pains to teach the two young people the art to adapt itself to all the fight positions, to react and to better defend themselves. Only, he never taught the three blows lacking in the « Eighteen Dragon-Mastering Palms». Guo Jing deepened of course his mastery of the fifteen blows, but he increased equally in the power of all the martial arts he had learned with the Jiangnan Odd Six. Qi Gong had, before the age of thirty-five, practiced a very diversified gongfu, learning innumerable fist techniques and of palm, among which ones he deliberately chose bizarre types for Huang Rong, but it was just as a joke. These techniques were beautiful to look at, but their real effectiveness in battle were far inferior to the fifteen Palms, simple and direct. Huang Rong herself looked only to have fun, without really to invest herself in this apprenticeship.

As dawn arose the next day, Guo Jing was already in the forest practicing the first move of “The 18-Dragon Subduing Palms,” “The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse.” He began to sweat heavily after 20 minutes of drilling but felt encouraged by his progress. Then he heard voices approaching him.

“Master, we walked over 30 miles this time, right?” one voice said.

“Yes, your endurance has improved slightly,” the other voice said.

The spoken dialects sounded familiar to Guo Jing. Soon, four people came into view, lead by a young man with white hair. He was none other than Guo Jing’s greatest foe, Liang Ziweng, the immortal ginseng fairy.

Silently cursing, Guo Jing turned to run away, but Liang Ziweng already recognized him. “Where can you run?” he said as he and his disciples began their pursuit. They broke up into three groups to catch Guo Jing.

“If I can get out of the forest and make it back to the inn, I’ll be safe,” Guo Jing thought as he started running faster.

Liang Ziweng’s top disciple intercepted Guo Jing, crossed his palms and shouted, “Little thief, kneel to me!” Using a powerful technique taught by his master, the disciple tried to grab Guo Jing’s chest.

As he shouted back, Guo Jing slightly crouched, bent his right arm and made a circle with his right palm, beginning, for the first time outside of practice, “The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse.”

The top disciple felt the powerful force approach, so he changed his attack and grabbed at Guo Jing’s arm, hoping that would stop the palm. Instead, he lost consciousness as his arm broke and his body was thrown six to seven feet away.

Guo Jing couldn’t imagine he possessed so much power. He stared in shock before starting to run again.

Startled and angry, the immortal ginseng fairy jumped out of the forest. When Guo Jing finally emerged from the trees, he found Liang Ziweng standing in front of him. He immediately crouched, bent his arm and made a circle with his palm, executing “The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse” once more. Although Liang Ziweng did not recognize the move, he threw himself to the ground to escape its pure, powerful force. Guo Jing took his chance and ran. When Liang Ziweng began his pursuit again, Guo Jing had already reached the inn.

“Huang Rong! Huang Rong!” Guo Jing yelled. “That evil man is here to drink my blood!”

When Huang Rong came out of the inn, she saw that it really was Liang Ziweng. “How did this old, strange man get here?” she thought. “Well, this is a good chance to test out my ‘Wandering Strides’ kung fu.”

“Brother Jing, don’t be afraid of this strange, old man,” she said. “You start the fight, and I’ll come help you. We’ll make him suffer.”

“Rong-er doesn’t understand how powerful this strange, old man is,” Guo Jing thought. “That’s why she’s so relaxed.” He attacked.

Recalling what happened before, Liang Ziweng recognized the force being thrown at him as “The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse,” so he twisted his body out of the way. But the palm slightly brushed across his right arm, burning him painfully. Guo Jing’s unimaginable improvement in just a month convinced Liang Ziweng that the blood of the venomous snake really did bestow miraculous powers. He was filled with even more anger as he attacked again.

Guo Jing once again used “The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse.”

Liang Ziweng saw he could not stop the fierce attack. But then he observed Guo Jing never followed up the stance with another, accompanying strike. His fear quickly dwindled.

“You little idiot,” he said. “Is that the only move you know?”

“You can’t resist my only move,” Guo Jing said without thinking. Then he once again used “The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse.”

But Liang Ziweng jumped out of the way and landed behind Guo Jing. Guo Jing turned on a dime and threw the palm again, but Liang Ziweng leapt behind him once more. After three more rounds, Guo Jing felt tired and confused.

Seeing him about to lose, Huang Rong said, “Brother Jing, let me fight.”

Huang Rong leapt into the middle of the fight as Guo Jing once again unleashed “The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse.” Liang Ziweng leapt away from both attackers. In the meantime, Guo Jing retreated two steps to watch Huang Rong fight the immortal ginseng fairy.

Although Huang Rong learned the mysterious “Wandering Strides,” she had just absorbed the knowledge and therefore did not possess absolute mastery. Against Liang Ziweng, whose skill level was far superior, she held her own because she was wearing the soft-hedgehog armor, which protected her from injury. Nevertheless, before she could complete all 36 moves of the “Wandering Strides” style, Liang Ziweng forced her into a bad position.

His two junior disciples, supporting their injured elder disciple brother, saw their master on the verge of victory and cheered him on.

Guo Jing prepared himself to help Huang Rong with an immediate strike, but Hong Qigong’s voice emanated from the window.

“His next move is ‘The Vicious Dog Blocks the Way,’” he said.

Surprised, Huang Rong noticed Liang Ziweng’s legs were spread in the horse stance with both his fists forming “The Evil Tiger Blocks the Road.” She couldn’t help but giggle at how Hong Qigong changed the name of “The Evil Tiger Blocks the Road” to “The Vicious Dog Blocks the Way.” Then she wondered about how he managed to predict the stance.

“Here comes ‘The Smelly Snake Drinks the Water,’” Hong Qigong said.

Huang Rong knew he meant “The Black Dragon Drinks the Water,” a fierce frontal attack that exposed the back. By the time Hong Qigong finished speaking, Huang Rong had circled around Liang Ziweng, putting him in the position of defender instead of attacker. But with his profound abilities, he managed to escape from danger by changing mid-movement and flying away. When he landed on his feet, he angrily shouted at the window, “Why won’t the venerable master come out?”

He received no response. “How can this person predict my stances?” he thought.

Knowing that she possessed a powerful master on her side, Huang Rong fearlessly took the initiative and attacked. Liang Ziweng responded with a ferocious blow. Huang Rong knew she was in danger when she felt the powerful force approach.

“Do not fear,” Hong Qigong said. “He will use ‘The Little Monkey with the Rotten Bottom Climes the Trees!’”

Huan Rong giggled as she saw Liang Ziweng lift his fists and strike downwards with tremendous strength. He was indeed preparing for “The Ape Climbs the Trees.” He jumped up into the air to strike Huang Rong, but she positioned her fist in such a way that if Liang Ziweng continued his jump, his head would be hit by her first. He had to change immediately. When an opponent approaches an enemy who has predicted what his next move will be and cannot change, then he will suffer a great defeat. Luckily for Liang Ziweng, his level of accomplishment in the martial arts was so much higher than Huang Rong’s that he could quickly escape from his precarious position.

With another move broken apart, Liang Ziweng jumped away from the fight and shouted at the window, “If you don’t show yourself, brother, then it’s no wonder that I won’t be merciful to this girl.”

Liang Ziweng then attacked with stances that quickly flowed into one another like the pouring rain in a violent storm — a new blow starting before the prior one finished. Huang Rong was pushed back by the flood as Hong Qicong could no longer shout out the moves early enough time for her to react.

Not being able to bear watching Huang Rong in a state of confusion as she dodged frantically, Guo Jing once again unleashed “The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse” and forced Liang Ziweng to end his deluge and jump away.

“Brother Jing, attack him again three more times,” Huang Rong said as she went back into the inn.

Guo Jing simply waited for Liang Ziweng to attack and, without any logic, returned all of the immortal ginseng fairy’s stances with “The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse.”

Both angry and amused, Liang Ziweng thought, “I don’t know where this dumb kid learned this move, but no matter what I do, he uses it.”

Although Guo Jing only knew this one move, Liang Ziweng couldn’t tell for certain if Guo Jing actually knew more. The two men stood a few meters apart, motionless and rigid.

“Little fool, here I come!” Liang Ziweng said as he suddenly jumped into the air and attacked.

Guo Jing threw out his palm. Unexpectedly, Liang Ziweng twisted mid-air, raising his right hand to release three separate attacks to the top, the middle and bottom of the body. Guo Jing quickly dodged, but Liang Ziweng took advantage of the situation and grabbed Guo Jin’s throat with a hand as fast lightning.

Startled, Guo Jing elbowed Liang Ziweng, but he felt like he just hit a wad of cotton.

Liang Ziweng prepared to deliver a killing blow, when he heard Huang Rong shout, “Old man, look at what I have!”

Aware of her cunning, Liang Ziweng grasped Guo Jing tightly before turning around to see Huang Rong approaching with a bamboo stick, greener than the finest jade.

“Hong … Master Hong,” he said shakily.

“And yet you still don’t release him?” Huang Rong said.

When Liang Ziweng first heard the voice from the window predict his movies, he never expected it would be Hong Qicong, but once the bamboo stick appeared, he remembered the timbre of the voice and the dialect. He realized it was the man he feared the most, so he immediately released Guo Jing.

With both her hands holding the bamboo stick, Huang Rong said, “Qicong wants to know why you dared to cause trouble around here.”

Liang Ziweng knelt and said, “This nobody really didn’t know Master Hong was here. Even with all the courage in the world, I wouldn’t have come if I knew Master Hong was here.”

Huang Rong thought to herself secretly, “ This person is so highly skilled, yet is scared out of his wits when he hears Qi Gong’s name. And why does he address Qi Gong as Leader Hong?”

However, Huang Rong maintained a neutral expression and said, “ How do you plead guilty?”

Liang Ziwong answered, “ Lady, please put in a few good words for me, tell Leader Hong that I know my wrongdoings and plead for him to spare my life.”

Huang Rong answered, “ I can put in a good word for you, but to put in a few good words is tough. You must never try to find trouble with both of us again.”

Liang Ziwong answered, “ Humble one here was ignorant in the past and offended Lady and Sir, please forgive me. I wouldn’t dream of doing it again.”

Huang Rong was pleased and smiled, she pulled Guo Jing’s arm and led him back into the hut. They saw four big dishes in front of Hong Qi Gong, whose left hand held a wine cup and right hand, a pair of chopsticks and was enjoying his meal.

Huang Rong laughed, “ Qi Gong, he’s quietly kneeling there and doesn’t even dare move a bit.”

Hong Qi Gong answered, “ You can beat him up to let loose your anger and he’ll not fight back.”

Guo Jing looked out of the window and saw Liang Ziwong kneeling straightly and three of his disciples behind him were doing the same. He thought it a pitiful sight, didn’t bear to do it and said, “ Qi Gong, just spare him.”

Qi Gong scolded, “ Useless Bum, people beat you up and you do nothing to resist. I saved you and yet you ask me to spare them. What is the meaning of this?”

Guo Jing remained silent.
Huang Rong laughed, “ I’ll beat him then!”

She took the bamboo stick and walked out of the hut. Seeing a frightened Liang Ziwong kneeling in an upright position, she scolded, “ Qi Gong says you go round creating havoc and was going to deal with you today. Luckily my brother Jing is kind enough to plead for Qi Gong to spare your life.” Speaking, she raised the bamboo stick high and brought it slapping down onto his butt. She then said, “ You can leave.”

Liang Ziwong spoke through the window, “Leader Hong, a million thanks for sparing my life.”

There was no response from the hut and Liang Ziwong did not dare move. After a while, Guo Jing came out and waved his arms, “ Qi Gong is asleep, don’t disturb him.”

Liang Ziwong then stood up, glared at Huang Rong and Guo Jing before leaving with his disciples.

Huang Rong was delighted, she walked into the hut and saw Qi Gong leaning on the table. She immediately pulled his arm and said, “ Qi Gong, Qi Gong, your precious stick is so powerful. Since you don’t use it…why not give it to me?”

Hong Qi Gong raised from the table, stretched and laughed, “ You are so highly skilled, people only have to hear your voice and they’ll be afraid, what use has this stick to you?” He smiled, “ Silly lass, hurry and prepare some nice dishes for me and I’ll slowly tell you the story.”

Huang Rong obeyed and went to prepare three dishes. Hong Qi Gong lifted a wine cup with his left hand and took a drumstick with his right hand and slowly savored it before saying, “ There are different species of animals and plants and there are different groups of people. There are those who love wealth, there are those who rob and there are those like me who beg for scraps of leftover food…”

Huang Rong clapped her hands and said, “ I know, I know already! That Liang creature called you ‘Leader Hong’, so you must be the leader of the beggar sect.”

Hong Qi Gong answered, “ Yes. We people who beg for food are often bullied by people and bitten by dogs, if we do not unite as one, how on earth do we survive? The north is controlled by the Jins and the south is controlled by the Song emperor, but all the beggars on this earth…”

Huang Rong cut in, “ Be it north or south are all under you!”

Hong Qi Gong smiled and nodded before continuing, “ Yes. This stick and wine bottle has been the trademark of the beggar sect leader, ever since a few hundred years ago, even before the start of the Tang dynasty, It’s like the golden seal of the emperor’s.”

Huang Rong stuck out her tongue and said, “ Luckily you didn’t give it to me.”

Hong Qi Gong asked, “ Why?”

Huang Rong said, “ Imagine how troublesome it would be if all the little beggars of the world come and find me and ask me to solve their problems.”

Hong Qi Gong sighed, “ Yes, you are right. I’m lazy by nature so it is troublesome to be the leader of the beggars, but they couldn’t find a suitable candidate, so I had to accept the responsibility.”

Huang Rong said, “ That’s why that Liang creature was so afraid of you, since it’ll be terrible if all the beggars in the world come finding him. If every beggar picks a flea from their body and puts it on his head, imagine how itchy he’ll be.”

Hong Qi Gong and Guo Jing burst out laughing and after a while, Hong Qi Gong said, “He’s afraid of me not because of that.”

Huang Rong asked hurriedly, “Then why is he afraid of you?”

Hong Qi Gong said, “ About twenty years ago, he did an evil thing which was discovered by me.”

Huang Rong asked, “ What was it?”

Hong Qi Gong said, “ This old creature believed some superstitious nonsense and kidnapped many virgins and violated them, believing that it’ll help him attain immortality.”

Huang Rong asked, “How do you violate a virgin?”

Since her mother died after a difficult labor, Huang Rong was brought up by her father. After Chen Xuan Feng and Mei Chao Feng betrayed Huang Yao Shi and eloped, the latter under a moment’s fury, severed the limbs of his other disciples and chased them out of the island. Only a few mute servants were left on peach blossom island. Huang Rong had never known anything about the relationships between man and woman. Ever since she had been together with Guo Jing, she always felt an unexplainable happiness and sweetness in her heart. She would feel lonely and sad whenever Guo Jing was not with her. Therefore, she thought that as long as she and Guo Jing were always together, they will be like husband and wife and thus, Huang Rong always thought Guo Jing to be her husband. But she didn’t know anything about the sensual relations a couple had on the night of their wedding. Her question thus placed Hong Qi Gong in an awkward position.

Huang Rong asked again, “ To violate them, is it to kill them?”

Hong Qi Gong said, “ No. When a girl receives violation of this sort, it is even worse than death, as the saying goes, ‘ To lose one’s honor is a grave issue as compared to just starving to death’.”

Huang Rong still did not understand and asked, “ Is it to use a knife to chop off their ears and nose?”

Hong Qi Gong laughed but scolded, “ Peh! It’s not that either. Silly lass, go home and ask your mother.”

Huang Rong answered, “ My mother’s long dead.”

Hong Qi Gong let out an “Ah” and said, “ You’ll understand when you go through your marriage night with this dumb boy.”

Huang Rong reddened and pouted, “ It’s alright if you don’t want to tell me.” She then realized that it’s a touchy subject and asked, “ What happened after you found out what that Liang creature was doing?”

Hong Qi Gong saw that she wasn’t probing into that matter anymore and thus asserted his stern torn again and sighed, “ Then I naturally had to do something. I caught that fella and beat him up. I pulled off all his white hair and forced him to return those girls to their homes. After that, I forced him to swear that he would not do such stuff again and if I caught him doing it, he’ll meet a fate worse than death. I heard that he didn’t create trouble these couple of years and therefore spared his life today. Damn it, has his hair grown back?”

Huang Rong laughed and said, “ It has grown back! But imagine how terribly painful it was for him to have all his hair torn out.”

After the three finished eating, Huang Rong said, “ Qi Gong, now even if you give me that stick, I wouldn’t dare take it. But we cannot be together with you forever right? If we see that Liang creature again in the future and he says, “ Alright you little rascal, you used Leader’s Hong stick to hit me in the past, now it’s time for my revenge. I’ll pull out all your hair!” then what are we to do? Before, when Brother Jing fought with that old creature, he could only display the ‘Proud dragon shows remorse’ stance, which though is powerful, though is not spectacular enough right? That old creature must be thinking, ‘ Leader Hong’s skills are so impressive but his disciple is however just an average performer.’”

Hong Qi Gong laughed, “ You are just scaring and provoking me into teaching both of you more skills. Alright, you both don’t have to worry as long as you cook more nice dishes for me.”

Huang Rong was delighted and dragged Qi Gong into the forest. Hong Qi Gong passed the second stance of the ’18 subduing dragon palms”, called the ‘Flying dragon in the sky’ to Guo Jing. The stance falls in mid air and is a powerful one, which attacks one below from high above. Guo Jing only mastered it after three days. In the three days, Hong Qi Gong was able to taste more of Huang Rong’s delicious cooking. She did not pester him to teach her any more skills, she was more than happy as long as he concentrated on teaching Guo Jing. In a month’s time, Hong Qi Gong finally was able to pass fifteen stances of the ’18 subduing dragon palms’ to Guo Jing, from the very first ‘Proud dragon shows remorse’ to the ‘ Dragon battles in the wild’. The ’18 subduing dragon palms’ was Hong Qi Gong’s specialty. Half of it was due to his teacher’s guidance and the other half was his own experimental effort. Although the number of stunts were limited, each stunt carried with it immense force. During the last Hua Shan tournament with Wang Chong Yang and Huang Yao Shi etc, Hong Qi Gong had not fully mastered the skill and yet Wang Chong Yang and the rest were still in awe of it. Hong Qi Gong often lamented later on that if he had fully mastered the skill earlier, he would have gotten the number one title instead of Wang Chong Yang, leader of the Quan Zhen sect.

He was actually only willing to teach Guo Jing two or three stances, which would be sufficient for the latter to protect himself. But who would have guessed that Huang Rong possessed such wonderful culinary skills and was able to wipe up interesting and delicious dishes everyday such that he could not bear to leave. As the days went by, he had actually passed fifteen stances to Guo Jing. Although Guo Jing is not intelligent by nature, every time he learns a new stunt or advice, he would spend the whole time practicing and examining it, such that at the end of one month, he had mastered the fifteen stances perfectly, and would have improved even more if time had permitted it, his skills were totally different and tons more powerful compared to a month ago.

This morning, after Hong Qi Gong had his breakfast, he sighed, “ You two babies, we three have accompanied each other for more than a month, thus it’s time we parted now.”

Huang Rong answered, “ Ah, no way, I still have so much more dishes I haven’t cooked for senior you,”

Hong Qi Gong answered, “ There is no one banquet which doesn’t end on earth, but yet, there are so much food which one cannot fully taste. Old beggar here has never taught anyone more skills for more than three days, and yet, this time I end up teaching someone for more than thirty days. It would really be terrible if I continue.”

Huang Rong asked, “Why?”

Hong Qi Gong answered, “ Very soon, all my skills will be learnt by you two.”

Huang Rong answered, “ Since you’ve started, why not pass the whole set of ’18 subduing dragon palms’ to him, it’ll be a success then no?”

Hong Qi Gong sneered, “ Yes, it’ll be an accomplishment for you two but not for me.”

Before Huang Rong could devise a scheme to make Hong Qicong pass on the remaining three moves of the “18 Dragon Subduing Palms” to Guo Jing, the beggar had already picked up his gourd and walked away without saying another word.

Guo Jing quickly pursued Hong Qicong, but the beggar was so fast that he was already out of sight. Guo Jing continued to chase after the beggar into the forest, all the while shouting, “Master Hong! Master Hong!”

Huang Rong ran into the forest and shouted after Hong Qicong too.

At the very edge of the forest, they perceived the shape of a man. It was Hong Qicong, approaching them once more. “What, you two stinky children want to entangle me — make me teach you more?” he scolded.

“Master, you’ve already taught this junior so much, how would I dare to ask you for more?” Guo Jing said. “I just wanted to thank you.” He promptly knelt down and kow-towed.

“Stop!” Hong Qicong shouted as his face colored. “I taught you only in exchange for the magnificent dishes the girl made. There is no master-disciple relationship between us.” He then knelt down to Guo Jing.

Shocked, Guo Jing attempted to kow-tow back as per social custom, but Hong Qicong hit his acupuncture point, which left him without movement. Hong Qicong knelt four more times to Guo Jing before releasing the younger man’s acupuncture point.

“This way, your bowing to me won’t make you my disciple,” Hong Qicong said.

Guo Jing understood Hong Qicong’s strange conduct and decided not to press the matter.

But Huang Rong sighed.

“Master Hong, you have treated us so well that I am sorry to see you leave us,” she said. “I fear … I fear … I just wanted to make you so more small dishes for you to enjoy, so that in the future, we would have no one to fear.”

“Who do you fear?” Hong Qicong said.

“I am afraid we won’t be able to deal with the immortal ginseng fairy,” Huang Rong said. “I fear that we will die at his hands.”

“Death follows death,” Hong Qicong laughed. “Who doesn’t die?”

“I don’t fear death,” Huang Rong reasoned. “I fear being captured and it being made known that I followed your teachings and made you food. They might compel me to make for them the same dishes I made for you — the dishes I learned from the Jade Flute family on Plum Blossom island, including the ’24 Bridges on a Moonlit Night.’ Wouldn’t you be embarrassed if others kept eating these?”

Hong Qicong knew Huang Rong was just trying to get him to teach them more kung fu. But when he thought about others eating her sumptuous dishes, he couldn’t bear the thought. “Who are these people?” he said.

“There is the Yellow River ghost, Sha Tongtian, who might eat my dishes,” Huang Rong said. “He would spoil all my little dishes.”

Hong Qicong shook his head and said, “What can Sha Tongtian do? In another one to two years, Guo Jing can surpass him if he practices.”

Huang Rong then suggested the Tibetan monk Ling Zhi and Peng Lianhu.

“Their techniques are like farts.” Hong Qicong said. “What can they do?”

Then Huang Rong mentioned the master of White Camel Mountain, Ouyang Ke.

Shuddering, Hong Qicong asked about the styles employed by Ouyang Ke. After hearing Huang Rong’s description, he said, “Yes, it’s him!”

Huang Rong noticed Hong Qicong’s serious expression. “This Ouyang Ke is very powerful?” she said.

“What can this Ouyang Ke do but fart?” Hong Qicong said. “No, it is his uncle, the old poison, who is very strong.”

“The old poison?” Huang Rong said. “He might be strong to others but surely not to you.”

Hong Qicong didn’t answer and looked as if he were deeply contemplating the matter.

“We weren’t too far apart over 20 years ago,” he said finally. “But in the 20 years since then, he must have made great progress in his skills compared to me, given that he isn’t lazy or gluttonous like me.”

Hong Qicong laughed. “That isn’t to say he would find me easy to deal with.”

“He can’t possibly defeat you,” Huang Rong said.

Hong Qicong shook his head.

“That remains to be seen,” he said. “Fine, old poison’s nephew will certainly be difficult for you to deal with, but he’s not that big of a problem. I will stay with you for another half month, and you will make me two dishes every day. But if you repeat one dish, I will immediately leave you.”

After getting her heart’s desire, Huang Rong proceeded to make a number of different dishes with skillful variations, including pot stickers, various dumplings, fried rice, lunar new year cakes, steamed rolls and rice noodles.

Hong Qicong taught them the essence of fighting by reacting to the enemy and changing the defense of the body. He did not teach the last three moves of the “18 Dragon-Subduing Palms”

Nevertheless, Guo Jing’s understanding of the first 15 palms solidified under Hong Qicong’s continued tutelage, as did the skills he learned from the Six Freaks of Jiangnan. His improvement was not negligible.

In over 35 years of training in the martial arts, Hong Qicong had learned a lot of diverse techniques. He passed on some of these strange fist techniques to Huang Rong Although the skills possessed many strange variations, the techniques were inferior to the simple power of the first 15 palms of the “18 Dragon-Subduing Palms.” Furthermore, Huang Rong only learned them to amuse herself.

Guo Jing was practicing his palms one evening, when Huang Rong climed a tree to gather bamboo shoots and plums for an unconventional dish called “The Three Friends of Winter,” which tastes of three distinct flavors.

Hong Qicong couldn’t stop himself from drooling. He then suddenly bent into a thicket of grass and fished out a two-foot-long blue snake.

“Snake!” Huang Rong shouted.

With his left hand, Hong Qicong lightly pushed Huang Rong on her shoulder, forcing her a few feet away.

The thick patch of grass rustled again, revealing more snakes. Hong Qicong struck each snake with the doggy-beating stick on the center of its head. The blow immediately killed them.

Huang Rong shouted as her face colored. Two snakes didn’t flee from Hong Qicong. They climbed the tree and bit Huang Rong.

Hong Qicong knew the blue snakes, although small, possessed a highly venomous poison without compare. He immediately wanted to cure Huang Rong, but suddenly a large hoard of blues snakes materialized. He grabbed Huang Rong by her waistband and took Guo Jing’s hand before running back to the inn. There, he knelt to examine Huang Rong and discovered her complexion to be normal. “How?” he said.

“It’s not a problem,” Huang Rong laughed.

Fear struck Guo Jing when he saw the two snakes bite Huang Rong. He reached down to pull them off of her body.

Hong Qicong told Guo Jing to be careful. As Guo Jing prepared himself to remove the snakes, he noticed blood dripping from their heads. They were already dead.

Hong Qicong understood. “Your father gave you his soft hedgehog armor.”

When the snakes bit Huang Rong, they were immediately killed by the spikes on her armor, which pierced their heads.

Guo Jing went to pull the other snake off of Huang Rong when more snakes emerged from the forest.

Hong Qicong placed a yellow herb in his mouth and chewed.

By this time, over a thousand snakes had emerged from the forest. Many more were out of the sight of the heroes.

“Master Hong, let’s get out of here,” Guo Jing said.

Hong Qicong didn’t answer. Instead, he unstopped his gourd and took a large swig from it. He mixed the yellow herb with the wine, which he spit from left to right, creating an arc in front of the three.

When one blue snake attempted to cross the medicated wine, it immediately keeled over. None of the other blue snakes dared to cross the wine afterwards. Indeed, the ones in the front attempted to retreat, but more snakes were emerging from the forest. Both groups crashed into one another causing a great deal of chaos.

Huang Rong clapped her hands and shouted in pleasure.

The forest suddenly emitted a strange noise before three men dressed in white emerged from it. They used a pole to shepherd the snakes as if they were oxen.

Huang Rong found this all amusing. But then she suddenly felt like vomiting.

Hong Qicong struck at a snake with his doggy-beating stick. He then took the snake and used two fingers to extract its gallbladder.

“Quickly swallow this,” he said to Huang Rong. “Don’t bite or chew them, or you will feel pain.”

After swallowing the gallbladders, Huang Rong’s chest immediately felt at ease.

“Brother Jing, do you feel dizzy?” Huang Rong said.

Guo Jing shook his head.

Because he drank the blood of the giant snake, Guo Jing had become impervious to over a hundred poisons. The snakes also felt fear whenever they smelled the scent of the blood on Guo Jing. When they emerged from the forest, they were really after just Hong Qicong and Huang Rong.

“Master Hong, these snakes were raised by people,” Huang Rong said.

Hong Qicong nodded and angrily glared at the three men in white.

The three men were also angry after they saw Hong Qicong feed the gallbladder to Huang Rong. They reorganized the snake line.

“You three bastards!” one of them shouted. “Are you tired of living?”

“No, you must be the three bastards who are tired of living!’ Huang Rong shouted back.

Hong Qicong clapped Huang Rong on the shoulders in approval.

The three men became even angrier. The sallow-cheeked, middle-aged man standing in the middle thrust the long pole at Huang Rong with a surprising amount of force.

Hong Qicong pressed the doggy-beating stick against the pole, which immediately stopped.

Startled, the man pulled on the pole with both of his hands.

Hong Qicong shook the doggy-beating stick and shouted, “Be gone!”

The man stumbled and flipped over, landing right in the middle of all the deadly snakes. He had luckily eaten a herb earlier, so the snakes were unwilling to bite him.

Shocked, the other two men took a step back. “How?” they said.

Indeed, the other man had fallen so hard that he crushed 10 snakes and felt sore all over.

One of his companions, a fair-skinned man, held out the pole to the sallow-cheeked man to support him. They were reluctant to fight again.

“Who dares to stop our snakes with that herb?” the sallow-cheeked man said.

Laughing, Hong Qicong paid no attention to them.

“Who are you to send out so many poisonous snakes to injure people?” Huang Rong replied.

The three men looked at one another, trying to figure out how to respond when another man dressed in white appeared at the edge of the forest. He walked through a narrow path between the snakes while fanning himself.

Both Guo Jing and Huang Rong recognized him as Ouyang Ke, the master of White Camel Mountain, whose presence amongst their ranks caused the snakes to disperse.

The three men welcomed their master and told him of Hong Qicong’s amazing ability and the situation that had just transpired.

Ouyang Ke was surprised. Then he nodded.

“These three brothers were ignorant and affronted seniors,” he said. “They apologize.”

Then he turned to Huang Rong and smiled.

“The lady is here,” he said. “I am at your service.”

Huang Rong turned her attention to Hong Qicong.

“Master Hong, you should take care of this bad egg,” she said.

Hong Qicong nodded and said to Ouyang Ke, “How can you lawlessly herd these snakes through the country in broad daylight? You obviously intend to use these snakes for reckless acts. Who do you intend to use them on?”

“These snakes have traveled a long distance,” Ouyang Ke said. “They can’t feed themselves in the conventional manner.”

“How many people have you hurt?” Hong Qicong said.

“We’ve herded the snakes though the country,” Ouyang Ke said. “Not many people have gotten hurt.”

Hong Qicong glared at the other man.

“Not wounded many people!” he said. “Your family name is Ouyang is it not?”

“That’s correct,” Ouyang Ke said. “The lady must have told you. And what is the venerable one’s name?”

“This man’s rank is a generation above yours,” Huang Rong said. “If he told you, he’d scare you to death!”

But Ouyang Ke didn’t get angry. He laughed instead and cast a sidelong glance at her.

“You are the son of Ouyang Feng, aren’t you?” Hong Qicong said.

Ouyang Ke didn’t respond, but the three snake herders shouted in anger, “Old man, how dare you use the given name of our master!”

“I say what others do not,” Hong Qicong said with a smile.

The three snake herders continued to yell at Hong Qicong, when the beggar, who was on the ground with the doggy-beating stick, suddenly appeared in sky like a large bird. He struck down three times so quickly that the three men had no time to react. Before their bodies hit the ground, Hong Qicong had already jumped into the air again.*

“Good move!” Huang Rong said. “Why haven’t you taught it to me yet, Master Hong?”

The three men could not make a sound because Hong Qicong hit them on the tiny muscle near the chin that connects to the jaw.

Startled, Ouyang Ke said to Hong Qicong, “Senior knows my uncle?”

“You are Ouyang Feng’s nephew,” Hong Qicong said. “It’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen the old poison. Is he still not dead?”

Ouyang Ke grew angry, but he knew the level of Hong Qicong’s wugong was very high. And since he knew his uncle, he must also be a senior figure of enormous ability.

“Uncle has often said that he would never die before any of his friends,” Ouyang Ke said. “So he dares not go to heaven before you.”

Hong Qicong looked skyward and laughed.

“Good! You turn my words around and insult me!” he said.

“Now, why did you bring all these treasures?” he said, indicating the snakes.

“I have spent all my life in the West,” Ouyang Ke said. “This is the first time I have ventured south of the Yellow River. The journey is lonely and solitary, so I thought I’d bring these snakes for some fun.”

“That’s a lie,” Huang Rong said. “How can your journey be lonely and solitary with so many of your wives and concubines to accompany you?”

Ouyang Ke snapped open his fan and looked over it at Huang Rong. Laughing, he recited, “My distant heart held no one within, but today I have met its princess.”

Huang Rong made a funny face at Ouyang Ke and laughed.

“I don’t need your compliments, just as much as I don’t need you to miss me,” she said.

Ouyang Ke was speechless: He was enthralled by the goddess-like Huang Rong and her pleasant expression.

“Your uncle rules the western region tyrannically, so obviously no one has disciplined you,” Hong Qicong shouted. “So you’ve come into central China with the same idea of doing as you pleased. Well, today, I will give your uncle face and leave you alone. Get out of my sight right now.”

Ouyang Ke stopped himself from spitting out hateful words. Knowing himself to be no match for Hong Qicong, he began to retreat obediently, though his heart was full of distaste.

“Junior wishes senior a new year, free of any awful misfortune,” he said. “If you should have any trouble, please come to the White Camel Moutain.”

Hong Qicong laughed. “Little punk, you dare challenge me to a duel? If I come, it has nothing to do with an agreement. Your uncle isn’t afraid of me, and I’m not afraid of your uncle. Twenty years before yesterday, in the early morning, a group of us fought one another and found ourselves to be evenly matched. We need not fight ever again.”

His face abruptly changed. “You are still here in front of me instead of being far away!” Hong Qicong shouted.

Ouyang Ke was startled again.

“I’ve only learned 30 percent of uncle’s wugong,” he thought. “This man here doesn’t seem to be lying. I’ll accept this loss of face for now and get back at him later.”

Ouyang Ke didn’t respond, and the three men, with their chins still in pain, made no sound. Casting a glance at Huang Rong, Ouyang Ke turned and walked back into the forest.

The three men then made strange noises to order the snakes, but because of the injury to their chins, their voices at their loudest only came out as a weak rasp.

Like a wave, the snakes moved back into the forest, leaving a trail of gleaming slime across the ground.

“Master Hong, do you know where these snakes come from?” Huang Rong said. “Were they raised?”

Hong Qicong gave no response. He took a swig from his gourd, used his sleeve to wipe off the sweat from his brow and let out a sigh of relief.

“How dangerous! How dangerous!” he said.

“How so?” both Guo Jing and Huang Rong asked.

“Those poisonous snakes were only temporarily blocked by my efforts,” Hong Qicong said. “They would have soon been able to come over. With so many snakes, they would have been like a flood. How would we be able to stop them? Luckily, those people were inexperienced and didn’t realize my ruse since I scared them so much.”

“If the old poison had come, you two kids would have been in a terrible position,” he added.

“We wouldn’t stay — we’d run away,” Huang Rong said.

“This senior wouldn’t be scared, but you two kids would run away,” Hong Qicong laughed. “But how would you flee if the old poison sent out one of his palms?”

“Is that man’s uncle really that powerful?” Huang Rong said.

Hong Qicong laughed. “Not powerful? ‘Eastern Heretic,’ ‘Western Poison,’ ‘Northern Beggar,’ ‘Southern Emperor’ and ‘Central Divinity’: Your father is the Eastern Heretic, and Ouyang Feng is the Western Poison. The number one martial artist, Wang Zhenren, passed away. The remaining four of us, who fought against one another in eight pairs, were found to be equal.

“Is your father not fierce?” he added. “Is my own ability negligible?”

Huang Rong had secretly pondered these points before and was not able to put the pieces together. “My father is a good person, so why is he called ‘heretical’ and ‘evil?’ I don’t like his nickname.”

“Privately, your father probably likes his nickname,” Hong Qicong said with a laugh. “That man possesses a strange, spirit. He follows his own unorthodox way — is that not perverse? I am convinced that the proper ancestry of all orthodox wugong is through Quan Zhen’s teachings.”

“You’ve learned Quan Zhen’s neigong haven’t you?” he said to Guo Jing.

“Ma Yu taught me at length for over two years,” Guo Jing said.

“Indeed, indeed — you didn’t learn that in any short span of time,” Hong Qicong said. “Otherwise, how would you be able to learn my ’18 Dragon-Subduing Palms’ if you didn’t possess a good nei gong basis?”

“Who is Southern Emperor?” Huang Rong said.

“Southern Emperor is indeed a king,” Hong Qicong said.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were surprised.

“Do you mean the emperor of the Song?” Huang Rong said.

Hong Qicong erupted in laughter. “That kid emperor is only strong enough to eat from a golden rice bowl. If there are two, he wouldn’t be able to pick it up! Southern Emperor is not the Song emperor. No, this Southern Emperor possesses very powerful kung fu. Between the three of us, your father and I were slightly inferior. But the southern fire overcoming the western gold? Indeed, the old poison, Ouyang Feng, was able to overcome his star.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong wanted Hong Qicong to finish his story, but the beggar was lost in thought and fell into silence. They didn’t press him.

Hong Qicong looked skyward. His eyebrows creased as if were pondering some sort of difficult problem. He walked back into the inn alone.

Suddenly, Huang Rong and Guo Jing heard the sound of tearing. As Hong Qicong passed through the gate into the inn, a rivet got caught on his sleeve and tore a large hole into it. Huang Rong gasped in surprise.

But Hong Qicong didn’t notice. He kept walking as if he were in a daze.

“I’ll mend it for you,” Huang Rong said.

Huang Rong went to the proprietress of the inn and borrowed a needle and thread. Then she fixed the hole in Hong Qicong’s sleeve.

Hong Qicong shook himself from his reverie when he saw Huang Rong with the needle in her hand. He abruptly snatched the needle and ran outside the gate. Curious, Guo Jing and Huang Rong followed, only to see Hong Qicong throw the gleaming needle out. Huang Rong watched the needle arc and pierced a grasshopper. She shouted in delight.

“This will do,” Hong Qicong said, looking satisfied. “This style will do nicely.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong waited for Hong Qicong to continue.

“Ouyang Feng, the old poison, loves to raise poisonous snakes and poisonous insects,” Hong Qicong said. “Coming up with a way to deal with all those blue snakes is not an easy thing.” He paused before continuing. “When I saw that younger Ouyang and found him to be no good, and knowing his uncle who opposes everyone, I realized that you two needed some way to disperse the snakes since I might not always be around to save you.”

Huang Rong clapped her hands. “You would use the needles for the snakes to the ground.”

Hong Qicong smiled at Huang Rong. “This girl is so clever,” he said. “You say one sentence, and she already knows the next one.”

“You don’t want to use the yellow herb anymore?” Huang Rong said. “You just spit it out with the wine and the poisonous snakes will refuse to cross it.”

“That will only work for so long,” Hong Qicong said. “I have to practice this stance ‘Blossoms Rain from the Sky,’ which would use this needle. The snakes will approach in the future, and I will throw out these needles, hitting each snake, one by one. After I get enough needles, I will go kill all those snakes in about a fortnight.”

Both Guo Jing and Huang Rong laughed.

“I’ll go get you your needles,” Huang Rong said, before immediately heading off in the direction of the town market.

Hong Qicong sighed in admiration. “Jing-er, why don’t you have her split her intelligence and cleverness apart and give one half to you?”

“Split apart her intelligence and cleverness?” Guo Jing said. “You can’t split those apart.”

Huang Rong returned from the market around the next meal time. She removed from a food basket two packages of sewing needles, and, while smiling, said, “I searched all over the town to buy these needles, but all the men seem to let the women talk amongst each other till they die.”

“How did you get them?” Guo Jing said.

“I yelled at them!” Huang Rong said. “I told them they were all useless. It’s impossible to not be able to buy needles in a town.”

Hong Qicong burst into laughter. “You are indeed very clever! Luckily, I have not married and it will spare me from having the torment of daughters,” he said. “Come, come, come, we need to practice kung fu! You two kids won’t get another opportunity to learn from this old man.”

Laughing, Huang Rong followed him out.

“I don’t want to learn Master Hong,” Guo Jing said.

“Why?” Hong Qicong said.

“Senior has already taught me so much kung fu that I haven’t practiced enough,” Guo Jing said.

Hong Qicong understood: Guo Jing refused to be greedy. The beggar had said he would no longer teach anymore wugong to Guo Jing, but the recent emergency situation made teaching more techniques imperative. Nevertheless, if Guo Jing allowed Hong Qicong to teach him again, it would appear to be opportunistic.

Nodding, Hong Qicong pulled Huang Rong by the hand and said, “We practice.”

Once alone, Guo Jing went out and practiced the first 15 palms of the “18-Dragon Subduing Palms,” thereby increasing his understanding.

Huang Rong studied “Blossoms Rain from the Sky” for 10 days. She learned how to throw 10 needles to simultaneously hit a person’s vital areas, but could not master hitting the vital points of multiple targets at once.

One day, Hong Qicong and Huang Rong were out practicing with the needles. The beggar threw them all at once. The needles fell to the ground in two groups — each ten feet across. Satisfied, he looked skyward and fell into contemplation. But his thinking was dull, so he said aloud, “Old poison, why did you train all these snakes?”

“With his wugong already at such a powerful state, he can handle almost anyone near him,” Huang Rong said. “So what would the snakes do?”

Hong Qicong slapped his head. “Of course!” he said. “It’s to deal with the Eastern Heretic and the Southern Emperor. Both the beggars and Quan Zhen are numerous in manpower, and the Southern Emperor is an actual king with many bodyguards and soldiers protecting him. Your father is a cultivated intellect possessing many strange and powerful skills, which can help him face multiple enemies alone. When the old poison fights alone, no one in his generation can completely face him. But if his enemy brings a companion and so on, then the old poison facing them alone is in a terrible position.”

“Therefore, the old poison has raised the snakes to help him,” Huang Rong said.

Hong Qicong sighed. “Us beggars often catch snakes and raise them for the purpose of food,” he said. “We’ve been able to do this for about 17 to 18 snakes. We sometimes even release them into fields at night to catch frogs. But the whole process isn’t easy at all. Now, the old poison has actually had the time to catch innumerable amounts of snakes. Huang-er, the old poison has spent a great deal of time on this, which means he must be planning something.”

“He is certainly planning something,” Huang Rong said. “But luckily for us, his nephew revealed the snakes.”

Hong Qicong slapped his head. “Of course, this Ouyang kid revealed with the secret with his frivolousness,” he said. “But what does the old poison know about what others have? These thousands of snakes could not have come from the western region. They must have been collected from the mountains in the East. And though that Ouyang Kid betrayed a part of the plan, he might not have completely revealed the whole scheme in which he plays a part.”

“That’s not a good thing,” Huang Rong said. “Luckily, this style prepares us in advance to take care of those snakes when we observed them, as opposed to having to deal with them while fighting with the old poison himself.”

Hong Qicong hesitated. “But suppose he wraps me up and prevents me from throwing the needles,” he said. “How would I deal with those thousands of snakes?”

Huang Rong thought for a while, “Just run away,” she said.

“Bah!” Hong Qicong said with a smile. “What kind of method is turning around and running away?”

Suddenly, Huang Rong exclaimed, “I got it! I just thought of a good plan.”

Joyful, Hong Qicong said, “What kind of plan is this?”

“Just keep the two of us by your side,” she said. “Should we meet the old poison, you will fight him and brother Jing will deal with his nephew. I will simply use the sewing needles to kill all the snakes. The problem is brother Jing doesn’t know three of the strikes in the ‘18-Dragon Subduing Palms’ and might not be able to deal with those grinning bastards.”

Hong Qicong stared.

“You are the grinning bastard,” he said. “You just want to cheat me into teaching your brother Jing the last three palms. Regarding Guo Jing’s moral conduct, I would teach him all 18 palms without any hesitation. But when did this boy become my disciple? He is so dull that if I took him as a disciple, I would be giving people the right to laugh at me!”

Huang Rong laughed.

“I’m going to buy some groceries,” she said, knowing that would make it harder for Hong Qicong to leave.

She went to the market and purchased many different kinds of vegetables and meats while making sure she bought ingredients with sufficiently unique tastes. With the groceries held in her left hand and her right practicing the “Blossoms Rain from the Sky” technique, she leisurely strolled back to the inn. Suddenly, she heard the sound of a bell loudly approaching. In the distance, she saw a lone, female rider dressed in white approaching the inn very quickly. Huang Rong saw it was Yang Tiexin’s daughter, Mu Nianci, whom Guo Jing’s relatives wanted him to marry. Huang Rong’s heart turned sour, and as Mu Nianci got closer, she refused to make a sound.

“What’s so good about this girl?” she thought. “Brother Jing’s six masters and that ox-nosed priest of the Quanzhen sect all want him to marry her.”

After more thinking, Huang Rong grew angry.

“Let me go fight her and relieve some of my frustration,” she thought.

But when Huang Rong went to place the groceries in the inn, she found Mu Nianci already sitting at a table.

An anxious-looking innkeeper asked Mu Nianci what she wanted to eat and drink.

“Bring me a bowl of noodles and some beef,” Mu Nianci said. The innkeeper quickly left to fill the order.

“How is simple beef any good to eat?” Huang Rong said.

Mu Nianci looked at Huang Rong. At first she couldn’t recognize her, but then she remembered it was the girl who so suddenly left with Guo Jing. She exhaled.

“Little sister is here too?” she said. “Please sit with me.”

“Did that smelly scholar, the fat dwarf, or the other ones come too?” Huang Rong said.

“No,” Mu Nianci said. “I came alone. They are all off together.”

Huang Rong at first feared running into Qiu Chuji, but she felt joy after learning Mu Nianci was there by herself. At first blinded by the possibility of the taoist’s presence, Huang Rong now examined Mu Nianci closely and noticed her small boots, dress and her hair entwined with a white flower, signifying that she was in mourning. And though she had lost weight and wore a sad expression, Mu Nianci remained elegantly beautiful as opposed to pitiable. Huang Rong then noticed a dagger worn at Mu Nianci’s waist.

“This is the dagger exchanged by brother Jing’s parents with her parents to mark their marriage,” Huang Rong thought.

Unable to bear the thought, Huang Rong shouted, “Little sister, may I take a look at that dagger?”

The dagger was indeed the one Bao Xiruo gave away just before dying. It was recovered after she and Yang Tiexin killed themselves and served as a keepsake of the two adoptive parents.

Mu Nianci looked at Huang Rong and noticed her strange expression, but before she could do anything, Huang Rong had already reached out, taken hold of the dagger and casually removed it.

She looked at the weapon and noticed the two characters “Guo Jing” carved into its hilt.

“This belongs to brother Jing,” she thought bitterly. “Why does she get to have it?”

She removed the weapon from its scabbard. A cold air immediately emanated from the weapon.

“Good dagger!” Huang Rong said.

She put the dagger back into the scabbard and placed it within her shirt.

“I’m going to go give this to brother Jing,” she said.

Stricken, Mu Nianci said, “What?”

“The two characters engraved on the hilt proves the rightful owner of this dagger,” Huang Rong said. “I’m going to give it to him.”

Mu Nianci cried out angrily, “This is the only possession I have from my adoptive parents. How can you take it? Quickly give it back to me.” She stood up and walked towards Huang Rong.

“If you have a problem, come and get it!” Huang Rong shouted as she ran out of the inn.

Huang Rong knew Hong Qicong was asleep in the forest, and Guo Jing was up in the mountains practicing his palms. She ran to the left.

Mu Nianci pursued anxiously, fearing Huang Rong would ride the red horse. She continued to chase until she heard a loud noise, which she followed.

Huang Rong had taken a bend to a clearing surrounded by tall, locust trees. She stopped there and laughed.

“You’ve won,” she said. “You’re the better horse. Now let us match against one another to see who gets the bride’s dagger.”

Mu Nianci’s cheeks reddened.

“Don’t joke little sister,” she said. “When I see this dagger, I see my adoptive father. Why did you take it away?”

Huang Rong’s brow dropped.

“Who is your sister?” she shouted.

She immediately jumped at Mu Nianci with her palm extended.

Mu Nianci tried to dodge, but Huang Rong used the “Falling Blossom Sword Palm.” Employing the many and mysterious variations in the style, Huang Rong hit Mu Nianci twice in the ribs, causing a lot of pain.

Angry, Mu Nianci turned to the left before also returning her own palm stroke, which was a violent strike.

“This is the ‘Wandering Strides’ fist!” Huang Rong shouted. “How is this possible?”

Mu Nianci was surprised upon hearing Huang Rong’s shout.

“This was the style Hong Qicong passed on to me alone,” she thought. “How could she know about it?”

Mu Nianci watched as Huang Rong retracted her left palm and attacked with her right as a fist. After three moves, Mu Nianci recognized the style to be none other than the “Wandering Strides.” Surprised, she jumped back.

“Stop!” she shouted. “Who taught you this style?”

“I just figured it out myself,” Huang Rong said with a smile. “What’s so special about this rough and crude kung fu?”

So saying, she attacked again with the “Wandering Strides,” employing its two central moves, “Alms Bowl at the Door” and “Seeing a Benefactor,” in a continuous attack.

Mu Nianci became even more bewildered after avoiding another rmove, “Traveling the Seas Without Worry.”

“You know Senior Hong Qicong?” she said.

“He and I are old friends,” Huang Rong said with a smile. “You can use this style. I’ll use the kung fu I know, and then we’ll see who’ll win.”

With a menacing chortle, Huang Rong immediately attacked. She did not use the “Wandering Strides” style. Instead, she employed the martial arts taught to her by her father to get the better of Mu Nianci, whose skills were taught to her by Hong Qicong. How could Mu Nianci block?

Mu Nianci tried to flee but she couldn’t. She watched a palm rise like a sword slashing across with a roaring wind. Feeling the spear-like force, Mu Nianci twisted her body to the side to dodge, but then felt pain in her neck as Huang Rong successfully hit her with “Brushing the Orchid Blossoms from the Road.”

The palm had struck the neck vertebrae precisely where the blood vessels regulate the body, hands and feet. After being hit, Mu Nianci’s hands and feet immediately turned numb and weak.

Huang Rong then stepped forward and pressed an acupoint on Mu Nianci’s waist. Mu Nianci immediately fell over.

Huang Rong took out the dagger and laughed, before slashing at Mu Nianci’s cheeks with 10 different strikes. None of them hit — they were only one inch away from striking flesh.

Mu Nianci closed her eyes, expecting death, but to her surprise, she felt a cool air near her cheeks that didn’t hurt. When she opened her eyes, she only saw the dagger coming towards her eyes, only to see it stop next to her face.

“If you’re going to kill me, kill me,” she yelled in anger. “Why all the play and theatrics?”

“You are not my enemy, nor do I hate you,” Huang Rong said. “Why would I kill you? You just have to swear one oath, and I’ll release you.”

Although they were indeed not enemies, Mu Nianci refused to consider even giving an oath. “Lady, you threaten to kill me because you want me to swear an oath,” she shouted. “You must be dreaming.”

Huang Rong sighed with admiration. “It would be a real pity to kill this beautiful lady of marriageable age,” she said.

Mu Nianci closed her eyes and waited for death, but she heard not a sound.

After a moment, Huang Rong gently said, “Brother Jing and I have already shared our hearts. If you proceed to marry him, there is no way he would give you the same.”

Mu Nianci opened her eyes.

“What did you say?” she asked.

“I know you won’t promise not to marry him,” Huang Rong said.

“Who is it that you like?” Mu Nianci said in confusion. “Who is it you think I want to marry?”

“Brother Jing, Guo Jing,” Huang Rong said.

“Oh him,” Mu Nianci said. “What do you want me to swear?”

“I want you to swear a heavy oath that you will not marry him,” Huang Rong said.

Mu Nianci giggled. “You put a dagger to my throat when I already cannot marry him,” she said.

“Is it true?” Huang Rong asked joyfully. “How can this be?”

“Although my adoptive father betrothed me to brother Guo Jing, honestly —” she said before lowering her voice. “— Honestly, adoptive father, despite all his wisdom, neglected to prevent me from giving my heat to someone else.”

“I’ve made such a bad mistake about you,” Huang Rong said ecstatically before immediately releasing Mu Nianci’s acupoints and massaging her numb hands and feet. “Elder sister, who have you matched yourself with?”

Mu Nianci blushed before cooing, “You’ve seen this person before.”

Huang Rong tilted her head and thought for a moment. “I’ve seen him before?” she said. “What kind of person around this town is worthy of ascending to elder sister’s level?”

Mu Nianci laughed. “In this world, this man is unrivaled by everyone except for you brother Jing,” she said.

“Elder sister, is he crazy since he hasn’t married you?” Huang Rong said with a smile.

“Is brother Jing crazy?” Mu Nianci said. “His character is honest, and his heart is chivalrous. I admire him very much. He treated my father and me very well that day when he helped us at the risk of his own life, which I am very grateful for. This grade of man is very small in the world.”

Worried, Huang Rong pressed, “Did you say that you couldn’t marry him just so I wouldn’t put this dagger against your throat?”

Mu Nianci noticed how Huang Rong pressed the issue and concluded the imprudence she exhibited before wasn’t far off. She grasped Huang Rong’s hands and slowly spoke, “Little sister, your heart is already set on brother Jing. Finding another man his equal will be difficult even with all the thousands of men in the world, right?”

“Yes, I do believe it’s very unlikely to find another his equal,” Huang Rong said.

“If brother Jing heard your praises of him, his heart would be filled with joy,” Mu Nianci said. “During the contest my father set up in Beijing, a man defeated me.”

Huang Rong understood. “I know now,” she said. “The person in your heart is the little prince, Wanyan Kang.”

“Yes, it is the young prince,” Mu Nianci said. “He is the one my heart wants. He’s a good person underneath. I can make him stop being rotten. ”

Though she spoke softly, Mu Nianci’s expression was very firm. Huang Rong nodded her head when she suddenly realized she felt the same way about Guo Jing as what Mu Nianci said in such simple words. They grasped each other’s hands and sat side-by-side below the locust trees with the sensation of shared feelings.

Huang Rong thought for a moment. Then she gave the dagger back to Mu Nianci.

“Elder sister, let me return this to you,” Huang Rong said.

Mu Nianci did not take it.

“Keep it — this is your brother Jing’s possession,” she said. “His name is carved there on the hilt. With it everyday, I …” She paused. “If I should carry it everyday, it wouldn’t be very good.”

Huang Rong lovingly took the dagger and stowed it near her bosom.

“Elder sister, you are truly good,” she said.

After receiving the valuable dagger, Huang Rong was momentarily distracted from her thoughts.

“Elder sister, what business has drawn you to the South alone?” Huang Rong asked. “Maybe little sister can help you?”

Mu Nianci blushed and lowered her head.

“I don’t have any pressing matters at hand,” she said.

“In that case, I will take you to see Master Hong,” Huang Rong said.

Mu Nianci felt joy.

“Master Hong is here?” she said.

Huang Rong nodded before grasping Mu Nianci’s hand and pulling her up. Suddenly, she heard a sound among the branches above. A piece of bark fell to the ground. In the distance, they could see one person’s shadow jumping happily from locust tree to locust tree. After a while, they could tell it was Hong Qicong.

Huang Rong picked up the bark and saw characters carved onto its surface with a needle.

“Two dolls like this are very good,” she read. “But if Rong-er deliberately causes trouble again, then Qicong will hit your eldest child on the ear.” The bark was not signed at the bottom. Instead, a gourd was carved in its place.

Huang Rong knew Qicong carved the bark and couldn’t help blushing. She knew Qicong had observed the whole fight and knew all about the particulars of the oath she wanted Mu Nianci to swear. Both people had entered the locust grove and did not even notice Hong Qicong. The pair walked hand-in-hand back to the inn.

Guo Jing, who was sitting inside after he finished practicing, was shocked to see Mu Nianci. He quickly said, “Sister Mu, did you see my masters?”

“Your respective masters and I left the capital together and went south to Shandong,” she said. “We split up there, and I have not seen them since.”

“Are my masters well?” Guo Jing said.

“Be at ease, brother Guo,” Mu Nianci said with a smile. “They are not angry with you.”

Guo Jing was indeed very worried, fearing his masters were very angry at him. He rose and fiddled with some tea and food as his simple mind was lost in thought.

Mu Nianci turned to Huang Rong and asked how they met Hong Qicong.

Huang Rong told the tale alone.

“Little sister, you are so blessed,” Mu Nianci said with a sigh. “You spent so much time with Master Hong that you lived like a little family. But I only wanted to see him, and he is not here.”

“He was looking after you,” Huang Rong said comfortingly. “He would have revealed his true ability if I tried to injure you. If I had hurt you, how could he have not acted?”

Mu Nianci nodded in acceptance.

Guo Jing thought this was strange. “Rong-er, why would you want to injure sister Mu?” he asked.

“I cannot say,” Huang Rong said quickly.

Mu Nianci smiled. “She feared … feared I would,” she said without finishing. Although she spoke of the matter, she felt shy about the subject.

Huang Rong reached out and tickled Mu Nianci’s armpit. “You dare to speak of it?” Huang Rong said with a smile.

Mu Nianci stuck her tongue out and then shook her head. “How would I dare?” she said. “Don’t you want me to swear an oath?”

Huang Rong spluttered as she recalled trying to force Mu Nianci into swearing to not marry Guo Jing. Both her cheeks turned a bright red.

Upon seeing their shared emotions, Guo Jing felt great happiness.

After eating, the three went into the middle of the forest and strolled as they idled away their day. Huang Rong asked Mu Nianci how she received instruction from Hong Qicong.

“It happened when I was very young,” Mu Nianci said. “I followed father to a river in the Henan province. We stopped at an inn, and while I played at the entrance, I saw two beggars lying on the ground, bleeding profusely. No one was willing to help them because the sight of the beggars’ internal organs disgusted them.”

Huang Rong made the connection. “Oh, so you showed compassion!” she said. “You tended their injuries.”

“I too could not do much for their injury,” Mu Nianci said. “But I pitied them and took them father’s room where I cleaned their wounds and bandaged them. When my father returned, he said I did the right thing, and then sighed and said how his former wife was kind hearted as well. Then my father gave the two beggars some money to help them with their injuries. They thanked him and left. After several months, we went to Xinyang, where we ran into those two beggars again, who had already recovered from their wounds. They took me to a temple, where I first met Hong Qicong. After praising me, he taught me the ‘Wandering Strides’ form, which took three days. On the fourth day, when I returned to the temple, the master had already gone.”

Huang Rong said, “Master Qigong doesn’t allow us to teach his skills to others. But if you, my sister, would like to learn my father’s skills, I could spend the next few days teaching you some of them.” When she found out that Mu Nianci did not want to marry Guo Jing, a burden was lifted from her heart and then she felt that she was a really nice person, so she wanted to make her a gift. Mu Nianci said, “Many thanks, but at present I have some urgent matter to attend to; in future I would ask you even without you suggesting it.” Huang Rong wanted to ask her what was it but one look at her face and Huang Rong knew she did not want to talk about it and thought, “From her shyness, it seems like she’s made up her mind. If she doesn’t want to mention it, it’s alright.”

Mu Nianci left the inn around noon in a hurry and only returned after dusk. Huang Rong noticed the joyful expression on her face but pretended that she paid no attention. After their meal, the 2 ladies retired and Huang Rong saw her cheek resting on her palm and her heart seemed full of emotions, so she pretended to sleep. After a while, she saw her reach into her bundle and took something out, kissed it lightly and looked at it fondly. Huang Rong looked over her back and saw that it was a piece of finely-embroidered handkerchief.

Suddenly Mu Nianci jerked around and the handkerchief fluttered. Huang Rong was shocked and immediately shut her eyes while her heart pounded. She only heard the slight breeze in the room and carefully lifted her eyelid. She saw Mu Nianci pacing around the room executing moves randomly. She said to herself, “Hey, that’s the handkerchief she snatched from that young prince during their sparring match the other day.” She saw Mu Nianci smiling to herself, and felt that she was reminiscing of that day’s events as she was imitating Wanyan Kang’s movements and actions. She did that for some time before walking near her bedside.

Huang Rong closed her eyes tightly as she knew Mu Nianci must have been looking in her direction. After a brief moment, she sighed, “You’re really beautiful!” She suddenly turned around and opened the door and walked out. Huang Rong became curious and gave pursuit, and then utilized her Qinggong to follow her. Her Qinggong was better than Mu Nianci’s, but she kept her distance behind to evade detection. She saw her jump onto a roof and glance around. Mu Nianci then jumped to a larger building on the south. Huang Rong had been visiting the place daily to buy groceries, and knew that this was a rich man’s house, so she thought, “Most likely she’d run out of money, so she came here to ‘get’ some.”

Huang Rong saw that the door was brightly painted and there were 2 large lanterns suspended at the door inscribed with the words, “The Great Jin Kingdom’s Envoy” and there were 4 Jin soldiers guarding the door. She had passed this door numerous times but had never seen this before, so she thought, “She wants to rob the Great Jin’s bounty; that’s great, after she’s done I can also help myself.” She then followed Mu Nianci to the back courtyard and saw her hid around at every other corner, so she followed suit.

They saw the candlelight coming from the kitchen and there was a man’s shadow there pacing about the room. Mu Nianci cautiously walked over and gazed at this shadow. After some time, the shadow was still pacing around while Mu Nianci was starring at him motionlessly. Huang Rong became impatient and thought, “Sister Mu is hesitating; why doesn’t she just barge in and immobilize him?” She went around the other side and thought, “I’ll help her by immobilizing him and hiding in one corner to surprise him.” Just as she was about to enter through a window, she suddenly heard the door open and a man went in, saying, “Reporting, sir, the Southern Imperial Court will send a special envoy here the day after tomorrow.” The man nodded and the messenger left.

Huang Rong thought, “So the guy inside is a Jin nobleman, Sister Mu must have some good reason for coming here and not for burglary; I shouldn’t interfere.” She dipped her finger in her mouth and poked a hole in the window panel and peeped in. She was surprised; it was none other than the young prince Wanyan Kang. In his hand was some black object, and when illuminated by the candlelight, Huang Rong saw that it was a head of a rusty spear.

Huang Rong did not know that this spear was his father Yang Tiexin’s property and only felt that it had something to do with Mu Nianci, so she laughed to herself, “The 2 of you are really acting in concert, don’t tell me you’re really inseparable.” She uncontrollably let out a laugh. Wanyan Kang was startled and quickly extinguished the candle, exclaiming, “Who’s that?” Huang Rong took this chance to sneak behind Mu Nianci and swiftly sealed her accupoints, rendering her immobilized. Huang Rong laughed, “Don’t be afraid, I’m just letting you meet your sweetheart.”

Wanyan Kang opened the door and was about to run out when he heard a girl giggling, “Your sweetheart is here, catch!” Wanyan Kang exclaimed, “What?” A […] body landed in his arms, and the girl who spoke was swiftly over the wall laughing, “Sister, how can you thank me?” As the laughing faded, the girl in his arms struggled to get down.

Wanyan Kang was shocked beyond words and immediately stepped backed, asking, “Who’s this?” Mu Nianci said softly, “Do you still remember me?” He felt her voice was familiar and stammered, “You… you’re Miss Mu?” She replied, “Yes.” He asked, “Who came with you?” She said, “It was a mischevious friend, I didn’t know she followed me.”

He stepped in and relit the candle, saying, “Come in.” Mu Nianci bowed her head and entered, sitting on a chair silently but with a deafening heartbeat. Wanyan Kang saw that she was blushing profusely, he said soothingly, “Why are you here to find me at this time?” She did not reply. He thought of his parents’ deaths and said softly, “Since your father is dead, you can stay with me and I will regard you as my sister.”

Mu Nianci replied, “He’s my foster father…” Wanyan Kang was surprised and thought, “She’s telling me we’re not related by blood.” He took her hand in his and smiled. Mu Nianci’s face reddened drastically and her head bowed lower. Wanyan Kang’s heart was on fire and he hugged her, whispering into her ear, “This is the 3rd time I’m hugging you. The first was during our sparring match, the second was just outside and now there’s no one else around.”

Mu Nianci said “Mmm” and felt extremely sweet inside, which happened for the 1st time in her life. Wanyan Kang smelt her fragrance and felt her slender body and decided that it was all surreal. After a while he asked, “How did you find me?” Mu Nianci said, “I’d been following you; every night I stare at your shadow but I didn’t dare…” Wanyan Kang realised that her feelings were deep and was very touched, so he kissed her forehead. In the heat of passion he hugged her tightly and kissed her for a long time.

Mu Nianci whispered, “I’m an orphan… Don’t abandon me.” Wanyan Kang embraced her and stroke her hair, saying, “Don’t worry! You’ll always be mine and I’ll always be yours, OK?” Mu Nianci felt great joy in her heart and looked into Wanyan Kang’s eyes, and nodded. Wanyan Kang saw that she was blushing profusely and did not care anymore; he blew out the candle flame and carried her to the bed and tried to undress her.

Mu Nianci was somewhat intoxicated, but when he touched her, she hastily pushed him away and said, “No, we can’t do this.” Wanyan Kang hugged her and said, “I will definitely marry you. If my heart changes I shall die a horrible death.” She placed her hand over his mouth and said, “OK, I believe you.” He then said, “Then allow me.” Mu She pleaded, “No… no…” Wanyan Kang was really aroused and tried to undo her clothes. She struck out with half her maximum force. Wanyan Kang did not expected her to use her martial arts at this moment and he was shoved away. Mu Nianci jumped down and snatched the spear-head and pointed it towards herself, saying, “If you force me I shall die in front of you.”

Wanyan Kang’s passion immediately turned to ice and said, “Alright, let’s talk about this, don’t do that.” Mu Nianci said, “Though I’m a poor girl who wanders through Jianghu, I have my dignity and self-respect. If you truly love me, please respect me. I have no other wish in life but to be with you. In future… in future if I marry you I’d of course… obey you. But today if you try to violate me, I’d rather die.” Though she said this softly, she never hesitated. He silently admired and respected her, saying, “Don’t be angry, it’s my fault.”

He got off the bed and relit the candle. Mu Nianci heard that he knew his mistake and said, “I’ll wait for you at my foster father’s home in the Ox Family Village. You can send… the matchmaker anytime.” She paused and said, “If you never show up, I’ll just wait for my whole life.” Wanyan Kang was really touched and quickly said, “Don’t worry, when my official business is complete, I’ll come immediately. In this life I shall never change my mind.”

Mu Nianci smiled shyly and left. Wanyan Kang shouted, “Don’t leave, let’s chat for a while more.” Mu Nianci waved and left. Wanyan Kang stood there and stared at her departing shadow and felt like it was but a dream. She did leave a few strains of hair behind during their struggle, which he placed in his pouch. When he first sparred with her, he did not think much about it, but he did not expect her to follow him here and stare at his shadow every night and yet she severely cherished her chastity, deeply earning his respect. He smiled and sighed.