The Legend of the Condor Heroes – Chapter 18

The cripples of Wuhu.

Original translation by Sunnysnow

Guo Jing went toward where the snake noise came from. After dozens of steps under the bright moonlight he saw millions of green snakes crawling together as a flock. There were more than ten men wearing white clothes carrying long poles herding the snakes.

Guo Jing gulped; he was greatly surprised, “What are these people with so many snakes doing here? Could it be that Western Poison has arrived?” Without regard to his own safety he came nearer, sneaked behind trees and followed them heading north. Luckily the men who herd the snakes did not have high level of martial arts, otherwise he would be detected.

A deaf and mute servant of Huang Yaoshi was seen in front of the herd, showing the way. They walked through winding path for several li’s through the forest and crossing a small hill before finally arrived at a big stretch of grass meadow. Toward the north of the meadow was a bamboo forest. As soon as they were all on this meadow, the men in whites blew their whistles and the snakes stopped. They all stayed on the ground with their heads raised high in the air.

Guo Jing knew there must be something in the bamboo groove, he wanted to take a look; but he did not dare to reveal his presence by walking across the meadow. So he stealthily walked to the east and then circled back north, keeping his ears open at all times; but the forest was quiet. Finally he arrived and immediately entered the thick green bamboo groove.

Inside the groove there was a small pavilion built from bamboo. Under the bright moonlight Guo Jing could see across the pavilion opening was written these three characters, ‘ji cui ting’ [old jade-green pavilion]. While on the either sides hung two couplets: ‘tao hua ying li fei shen jian’ [under the shadow of peach blossom divine sword flew] and ‘bi hai chao sheng an yu xiao’ [with the jade-colored ocean tide jade flute arose].

Several bamboo chairs were placed inside the pavilion; the chairs looked rustic and old. Under the bright moonlight the bamboo looked longer green but smooth and shiny yellow. The pavilion was built in between two big pine trees. Their trunks and branches spread out looked like dragons lurking in the dark. The trees were several hundreds years old. The dark green bamboo surrounding, the bamboo pavilion, the trees, all gave a feeling of serenity and beauty.

Guo Jing looked back and saw the snakes were still staying in row after row on the meadow. Only now did he realize that the snakes were not only green snakes, but other types of snakes as well: there were rattlesnakes, golden-scaled snakes, black snakes, all kinds of venomous snakes. The snakes kept moving their heads, which made the meadow rippled like ocean waves. The snakes’ tongues flicked in and out their mouths, looked like tiny flames dancing chaotically.

The snakes’ shepherds divided the flock to open up a pathway right in the middle. Dozens of females dressed in white walking by carrying red lanterns. Several zhang’s [1 zhang is approximately 10 feet/3 meters] behind them two men were walking slowly. The first was wearing a white satin long gown, embroidered by gold threads; with a folding fan in his hand. It was none other than Ouyang Ke.

Arriving at the bamboo groove he said in a loud and clear voice, “Mr. Ouyang from the western region pays a visit to the Peach Blossom Island Master Huang.”

“It really is Western Poison,” Guo Jing thought, “No wonder all these pomp and fanfares.” He turned his eyes to the man beside Ouyang Ke. He was big and tall, also wearing white clothes; but because the light was coming from behind him, Guo Jing could not see his face clearly.

Those two people stood there waiting; out from the bamboo grove came out two people. Guo Jing’s heart leaped to his throat, he almost cried out in alarm; they were none other than Huang Yaoshi holding Huang Rong’s hand to welcome the guests.

Ouyang Feng rushed forward and raised his hands to salute. Huang Yaoshi reciprocated by cupping his fists. Ouyang Ke actually knelt down where he was, kowtowed four times and said, “Son-in-law kowtowed to the Honorable Father-in-law; wishes Honorable Father-in-law’s peace and prosperity.”

“Enough!” Huang Yaoshi said, extending his hand to raise him up. Guo Jing could hear clearly what these two people were saying; his heart was tumultuous, he didn’t know what to do.

Ouyang Ke had anticipated that Huang Yaoshi would certainly test his martial art, so he had been prepared early on; even when kowtowing he was fully alert. But suddenly he felt his own right hand moved toward his left hand and pushed him upward. He stumbled and almost fell down face to the ground, only by exerting his energy was he finally able to stay standing, but his body was still staggering. “Aiyo!” he cried out. Ouyang Feng immediately stretched the staff in his hand and tapped gently on his nephew’s back. Ouyang Ke took advantage of this force and steadied himself.

Ouyang Feng smiled. “Good!” he said, “Yao Xiong [Brother Yao, translator’s note: different character from Huang Rong’s ‘Brother Jing’ – ‘Jing Gege’], was that your way of greeting your son-in-law in your first meeting, by making him do somersault?”

Huang Yaoshi sneered. “Once he helped others bullying my blind disciple; other time he scared her with his snakes. I want to see what ability he possesses.”

Ouyang Feng laughed. “That was children’s small misunderstanding, Yao Xiong, please don’t mind him. This child of mine, is he worthy enough to be your precious daughter’s match?” He turned toward Huang Rong to check her out, clucking his tongue in admiration he continued, “Elder Brother [translator’s note: this time he used ‘lao ge’ – ‘old elder brother’] Huang, by having this beautiful young lady, your life is lacking nothing.”

He groped his pocket and produced a small embroidered box. He opened the box and showed a pigeon-egg-size sphere. The sphere shone brightly in the dark, dazzling to the eyes. He turned to Huang Rong and smiled, “This is the rhinoceros’ dragon pill; western region’s rare animal. I further refined it with some other medicinal substances. When you wear it, you won’t be affected by hundreds types of poison. It is one of its kinds in the whole wide world. Later on you will become my nephew’s wife; you won’t be afraid of your uncle’s venomous snakes and insects. This dragon pill’s usefulness is not small, but it cannot be regarded as the most precious treasure in the world. Your father has traversed the world, what kind of treasure he has not seen? This is only a countryman-from-a-remote-area’s first meeting’s gift. I am afraid he would laugh at it.” Then he presented to box to Huang Rong.

Ouyang Feng was an expert in using poison; by giving this precious poison repellent as a dowry he showed his sincerity and was hoping to win Huang Yaoshi’s heart.

Guo Jing saw everything. “Rong’er has always been good to me; she won’t change her mind. Surely she doesn’t want first meeting gift of yours,” he thought. But unexpectedly he heard Huang Rong said with a smile, “Many thanks to you!” and extended her hand to receive it.

As soon as Ouyang Ke saw Huang Rong’s snow-white skin and face as pretty as a flower his soul had already been sold; now that she was smiling at him his whole body melted, he thought, “Since her father had given her hand in marriage to me, naturally her attitude toward me is not the same as it was before.” He felt smug. But suddenly some metal flashed toward him. “Not good!” he cried, and immediately bent his body backward using ‘tie ban qiao’ [iron bridge] stance.

“What are you doing?” Huang Yaoshi scolded his daughter. His left sleeve flicked and struck down the steel needle shot from Huang Rong’s hand, while with the back of his right hand he pushed her shoulder back.

“Wah!” Huang Rong bawled. “Father, you’d better kill me,” she cried. “I’d rather die than marrying this bad thing.”

Ouyang Feng thrust the dragon pill into Huang Rong’s hand while his other hand gently fended off Huang Yaoshi’s palm. “Your daughter is just testing my nephew’s martial art, why are you so serious?” Because he was striking his own daughter, naturally Huang Yaoshi’s palm did not carry a lot of strength. Ouyang Feng’s hand also did not carry a lot of force.

Ouyang Ke had straightened his body; he felt pain in his left chest, so he knew he was being hit by one or two needles. However, he was proud and did not want anybody else to know, so he kept a straight face. Only he was embarrassed. “She did not want to marry me after all,” he thought.

Ouyang Feng smiled, “Yao Xiong, since our last meeting at the Mount Hua, we haven’t seen each other for more than twenty years. Now that you have accepted my nephew’s proposal whenever you have a business for me to do, your brother will not dare to refuse.”

“Who dares to provoke you, Old Poison?” Huang Yaoshi replied. “You have stayed in the western region for twenty years, what new fierce martial arts have you mastered? Come, let me see.”

As soon as Huang Rong heard her father mentioned ‘new martial arts’ her interest was piqued. She wiped her tears away and leaned to his father. Her eyes looked closely to Ouyang Feng. She saw a curving black staff in his hand; looked like it was made of steel. The head of the staff resembled a man’s face; with its mouth open showing two rows of sharp teeth. The face looked ugly and fearsome. What was more amazing was there were a couple of silver-scaled snakes slithering up and down along the staff.

Ouyang Feng smiled. “I was inferior to you then, and now that I have wasted more than twenty years, I certainly won’t be your match,” he said. “We become in-laws now. I am thinking of staying in the Peach Blossom Island for a few days and asking your advice.”

When Ouyang Feng sent an envoy to propose for his nephew Huang Yaoshi thought that Ouyang Feng was one of only a handful of people whose martial art could be compared to his own. Ouyang Feng was also an educated man, so must be his nephew. He knew his own daughter was stubborn and strong-willed. If she married just anybody, he was afraid she would bully her husband. Besides, he loathed that Guo kid whom his daughter liked. Ouyang Ke was not only highly educated, but was highly skilled in martial arts as well; not too many young men would hold a candle against him. That was the reason he accepted their proposal. But now he listened to Ouyang Feng’s sweet mouth, he could not help but feel suspicious. He knew Ouyang Feng was crafty and sly; Ouyang Feng would not easily admit defeat to others in term of martial arts. His Toad Stance had been neutralized by Wang Chongyang’s Solitary Yang Finger; could it be that he had recovered completely? So Huang Yaoshi took out his jade flute and said, “Honored guests come from afar, Little Brother is going to play a tune to entertain you. Please sit down and leisurely listen to this song.”

Ouyang Feng knew Huang Yaoshi was going to play the [jade-colored tidal wave song] to test his internal strength; so he showed a faint smile and waved his left hand. Immediately the thirty-two white-dressed lantern-carrier maidens step forward and kneeled before them. Ouyang Feng smiled and said, “Your brother has acquired these thirty-two maidens from various regions in the west. Please accept them as my gift to an old friend. They are trained in singing and dancing; yet they came from uncultured places; of course they can’t be compared to Jiangnan’s beautiful maidens.”

“Your Brother does not enjoy this kind of gift very much,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “Since my wife passed away, I regard the world’s beautiful women as dung. I do not dare to accept Brother Feng’s generous gift.”

“What’s the harm in some entertainment to pass the time away?” Ouyang Feng laughed.

Huang Rong noticed that these women’s skin was fair, lighter in color. Their statures were tall, some had blond hair and blue eyes; their noses were high and their eyes deep; totally different from the women from the Central Plains. But they were all beautiful, carrying a seductive look that would attract casual onlookers.

Ouyang Feng clapped his hands three times and eight women took out various musical instruments. They started playing the instruments while the other twenty-four women started dancing to their tune. The musical instruments as well as the tune were different from the ones commonly played in the Central Plains; they sounded weird in Huang Rong’s ears.

She saw the front row women bent down, turning to the left and then back to the right; their bodies were very supple. The next rows did the same, row after row dancing in succession, resembled a large snake. After a while each woman extended both their hands apart; from the tip of their left hand to the tip of their right hand, their body swayed following the tune; reminding her of snakes slithering on the ground.

Huang Rong remembered Ouyang Ke’s [spirit snake fist]; so she cast a glance toward him, only to see that Ouyang Ke was closely staring at her. She hated him to the guts and wished that her father would not intercept her needles. She would find another way of taking his life that even if her father would force her to marry, the person was already dead. It was called the ‘remove-firewood-from-under-the-pot’ tactic. Having this thought she was happy and a smile broke on her face. Ouyang Ke saw her sudden smile, and thought that she was smiling to him. He was elated that he momentarily forgot the pain in his chest.

By now the dance movements of the women were getting more intense. Their bodies moved erotically, their hands caressed their own buttocks, moving upward to their breasts, and unfastening their dress they showed their upper bodies and posed in various postures.

The men who shepherd the snakes have early on closed their eyes tight; they did not dare to look. Even then their minds were disturbed.

Huang Yaoshi simply smiled and put the flute on his lips he started playing a tune. The women’s bodies suddenly shook; their dance movements were chaotic. A few bars later both their music and their dance were following the flute’s sound.

Ouyang Feng knew something was amiss; he clapped his hands and a maiden stepped forward carrying an iron ‘zheng’ [zither?]. Ouyang Ke started to feel his heart beating faster. The eight women playing the musical instruments have early on lost their control and totally following the flute’s tune. The men in charge of the snakes jumped up and down like crazy among the snakes.

Ouyang Feng played a few notes on his zither; producing metallic sound like an iron horse charging toward the enemy; in contrast with the soft murmuring sound of the flute. Huang Yaoshi smiled and said, “Come, come! Let us play a duet.” As soon as the flute left his lips, everybody was relieved from their hysterical condition.

“Everybody stop your ears! Island Master Huang and I will play some music,” Ouyang Feng shouted. The people who came with him knew the song would not be a small matter; immediately they took anything, including ripping their own clothes, that could be used to cover their ears. Layer after layer they put cotton and pieces of clothes over their ears; yet they were still afraid the sound would penetrate that barrier. Ouyang Ke also took some cotton balls to stop his ears.

“My father plays his flute for your listening enjoyment; that was a big honor to you. Yet all of you cover your ears. That is so rude! You come to the Peach Blossom Island as guests, yet you dare to insult the host!” Huang Rong mocked.

“Don’t talk about rudeness here!” Huang Yaoshi scolded her. “They who do not dare to listen to my flute actually have more sense. They had learned their lessons … ha … ha … Your uncle’s iron zither’s skill is considered best in the world; and you dare to listen to him? Do you want to test yourself?” Then he took a silk handkerchief from his pocket, tore it in halves and told Huang Rong to cover up her ears with them.

Guo Jing was curious about the world’s best iron zither; he wanted to hear Ouyang Feng’s fierce method, so the came even closer a few more steps.

Huang Yaoshi turned to Ouyang Feng, “Your snakes cannot cover up their ears.” Then he turned his head toward his own deaf and mute servant. He made some gesture and the servant nodded his head. The servant then signaled the snakes’ shepherds to go away by waving his hand. These men had been waiting for an opportunity to get out of that place; as soon as Ouyang Feng nodded his head in approval, they hurriedly drove the snakes away; with the deaf and mute servant showing the way.

Ouyang Feng said, “Your Brother’s martial art is not good enough. I must ask Yao Xiong to reduce your strength by thirty percent.” He sat cross-legged on a big rock with the zither on his lap and immediately used his right fingers to pluck some strings.

The original the ‘qin zheng’ [zither from the short-lived Qin dynasty (221-207BC)] produced sad and shrill sound. This western region iron zither produced an even more intensely sorrowful noise. Guo Jing did not understand music, but the zither sound had affected his feeling. The louder the zither sound, the harder his heart beat. The quicker the zither sound, the quicker his breath had become. He felt his heart was thumping really bad, almost jumping out of his throat. It was really an uneasy feeling. After listening some more time he felt his heart beat intensified; and he struggled hard to keep his consciousness. “If this zither is getting harder and harder, how could I not getting killed by its sound?” he thought; and immediately retreated a few steps back and circulated his ‘qi’ according to the Quan Zhen’s method. After a while he managed to calm his heart and the zither sound did not adversely affect him too much.

The zither sound was getting more intense and in Guo Jing’s mind it resembled the metallic armor of a cavalry charging full steam ahead. A thin sound of jade flute appeared riding smoothly in the midst of the clamoring sound of the zither. Guo Jing was trembling; his face was red hot and he was sweating profusely. Quickly he circulated his internal energy trying to calm himself.

Although the zither was loud, it was not able to drown the flute. Two distinct sounds intermingled, creating an eerie melody. The iron zither screamed like an ape of the Wuxia Gorge or a ghost cry in the dead of the night; while the flute sang like a phoenix from the Kunlun mountains or a soft murmur of a woman inside her chamber. One resembled a heartrending cry of a mournful soul; while the other carried a feeling of one leisurely wandered through the wilderness. One high, the other low; one rushing forward, the other leisurely retreating; no one overpowered the other.

Initially Huang Rong watched these two played music with smile on her face; but afterwards she saw their expressions were getting serious. Her father stood up and started to walk around while blowing his flute. His steps were actually following the ‘ba gua’ [Eight Diagram]. She knew this was the footwork her father followed when he was cultivating his internal energy; showing her how fierce the battle was for her father that he was forced to use up all his strength. Turning toward Ouyang Feng she did not see anything better. Thick steam was coming out from the top of his head; his sleeves were fluttering following his hands’ movement plucking the strings; creating gusts of wind blowing everywhere. His face looked seriously focused on his zither playing; obviously he did not dare to act careless.

In the bamboo groove Guo Jing listened to the music attentively. He was pondering in his heart what had these two instruments – the iron zither and the jade flute, had to do with martial arts? They sounded so evil to him; how could the sound affect other people’s heart and mind? At first he was too busy circulating his ‘qi’ and calming his heart and mind, but gradually he was able to control himself and was able to follow the movements of flute and zither sounds. A little while later he started to realize that those two sounds were actually battling each other. When one sound was on the offensive, the other took a defensive position; sometimes one was attacking the other furiously, while the other blocking the attack while waiting for a good opportunity to counterattack; really it was no different than a battle between two martial arts masters. After pondering some more time suddenly it dawned on him, “That’s right! The Island Master Huang is having an internal energy match against Ouyang Feng.” Because he wanted to understand better, he closed his eyes but open wide his ears with full attention.

He began to hear the two sounds were alternately gaining victory or suffering defeat. Being music illiterate the sound of music would not affect his spirit; but he did feel openness in his heart, like he was looking at something bright. His mind wandered back to when Zhou Botong taught him the 72-stance Vacant Fist; which stemmed from the words ‘empty/vacant/open’ and ‘clear/bright’. With his mind open wide and clear he can ‘see’ every detail in the internal energy fight between Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng clearly. True, his internal energy was still inferior compared to those two experts, but he had improved greatly without even realizing it; besides, as a spectator he could see better than those two who were involved in the battle. He often wondered why Zhou Botong could not resist the flute sound, while with an inferior strength he could. He did not know that Zhou Botong carried a heavy guilt inside his heart because of what he did in the past. So it was not purely because of one’s internal energy strength one could withstand the flute sound.

By now Guo Jing heard Ouyang Feng’s zither was crushing Huang Yaoshi’s flute with a force as powerful as a thunderbolt. The flute evaded to the east and dodged to the west, and as soon as there was a gap in the zither sound, the flute would counterattack immediately. After a while the zither gradually slowed down, while the flute was getting more intense. Suddenly Guo Jing remembered the theory behind the Vacant Fist which he memorized. It said, ‘hard must not last long soft must not defend long’. He thought, “Not too long the zither will launch a counterattack.” And sure enough, when the flute was slacking a little bit, abruptly a clank sound was heard, the iron zither again assuming the offensive position.

Guo Jing had memorized the theory well, but his perception was still low. Zhou Botong did not explain the meaning of the words he passed on to Guo Jing. Perhaps his overall comprehension was only about ten percent. Now listening to the battle in music between Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng he started to understand who was doing what; it agreed with the theory he had memorized so well. Secretly he was delighted. The Nine Yin Manual contained some very advance theories of martial arts. If it were left to him to dissect the theory even with somebody’s assistance he would probably spend more than a year just to understand what it said. But now listening to two sounds collided he kept comparing the battle to the theory. However, he saw some discrepancies between the theory and the real battle situation; but he attributed those discrepancies to his own shallow comprehension. For example, there were several occasions where Huang Yaoshi was obviously gaining an upper hand; as long as he kept the flute sound steady Ouyang Feng would not be able to withstand. But Ouyang Feng also missed several opportunities to be exploited to his advantage. Guo Jing initially thought they were being modest and backed off, but as he listened more; it didn’t appear to be the case.

His intelligence might be low, but after those two people repeatedly made the similar mistakes he began to realize that the flute and zither had a lot of holes in their defense. After listening for a little bit more a thought came into his mind, “Compared to the theory of Vacant Fist, their offense and defense have flaws and deficiencies; could it be that the theory passed on by Brother Zhou is better than both Island Master Huang’s and Western Poison’s martial arts?” But then he changed his mind, “Nah! It couldn’t be! If Brother Zhou’s martial art is really better than Island Master Huang’s, how could those two fight countless battles for fifteen years and he is still stranded inside that cave?”

He racked his brain for a long time without any conclusion when he heard the flute sound was climbing higher and higher until if he went higher still, Ouyang Feng’s defeat would be decided. But the flute was not able to climb any higher; it had reached the peak. Guo Jing stifled his laugh, “I was really dumb! There is a limit to what one can do. Among the desires of the heart, nine out of ten cannot be achieved. I know that if my fist could generate a ten thousand catties force, I will be able to crush my opponent to dust; but how can my fist develop those ten thousand catties of force? Seventh Master often said, ‘Looking at others carry a burden on a pole easily does not mean we can do the same without breaking our back.’ If merely carrying a burden follows this principle, how much more does martial art?”

The sound of music was increasingly fiercer; and it sounded like those two were engaged in a hand-to-hand combat, or fighting in a very close distance using naked blades. Victory or defeat would be decided very soon. Guo Jing was worried for Huang Yaoshi when suddenly he heard a long and loud whistle coming from the direction of the sea.

Both Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng were startled; the flute and the zither were slowing down. The whistle came nearer and nearer. It sounded like someone was sailing on a boat coming toward the island. Ouyang Feng moved his hand and stroked two metallic notes, ‘clank, clank.’ The distant whistle went higher to overpower the zither. Not too long afterwards Huang Yaoshi’s flute joined in. Sometimes the flute was fighting the long whistle; sometimes it entangled the zither in a close fight. The distinct sounds were fighting each other.

Guo Jing had played ‘four-people combat’ with Zhou Botong before, so he did not have any problem dividing his mind to distinguish different sounds. He knew a senior with a high level of martial art had arrived.

By then the person uttering the long whistle had arrived at the forest. The whistle turned high and low; sometimes sounded like a dragon’s cry or a lion’s roar; sometimes resembled a wolf’s howl or an owl’s cry; but it also sounded like a strong wind blowing through the forest which suddenly turned into a gentle rain showering the flowers. It was constantly changing.

The flute sound was clear and bright, the zither sound was intensely mournful, yet the combination of the three made a mysteriously wonderful sound; did not sound bad at all. Three different sounds entangled each other in a close fight.

Guo Jing was amazed and could not help exclaiming, “Wonderful!” But once he closed his mouth he realized he had made a mistake. He scurried away, but it was too late! A green shadow flashed by and Huang Yaoshi was standing in front of him. The three sounds were not heard anymore. Huang Yaoshi lowered his head and said, “Good Boy, come with me.”

Guo Jing did not have any choice but stood up and meekly greeted, “Island Master Huang.” With the hair on his back raised up he followed Huang Yaoshi walking toward the bamboo pavilion.

Huang Rong still had her ears covered with silk, so she did not hear Guo Jing’s exclamation. Now suddenly Guo Jing appeared she was pleasantly surprised. “Brother Jing! You have finally come …” she called out. She was joyous, yet sad at the same time; before she could finish tears had already flowed down her cheeks. She rushed forward and threw herself into Guo Jing’s bosom. Guo Jing opened his arms and embraced her tightly.

Since Guo Jing appeared, Ouyang Ke had been annoyed; now he saw how intimate Huang Rong with Guo Jing, his heart was burning hot with hatred. With a gust of wind his fist flew toward Guo Jing’s face. “Stinky kid! You are also here!” he shouted.

He thought his martial art skill was higher than Guo Jing’s; furthermore, his attack could be considered sneak attack, Guo Jing was unprepared, so he thought he might break Guo Jing’s nose thus lashing out his hatred. But not in his wildest imagination that Guo Jing now was not the same as Guo Jing then, when they fought each other at the Baoying ancestral hall. Guo Jing saw a fist coming by, he leaned to side to evade, then his left hand launched ‘hong jian yu liu’ [wild geese rising from the shore] while his right hand launched the Proud Dragon Repents; both from the 18-Dragon Subduing Palms.

The 18-Dragon Subduing Palms were unparalleled in the world; one move was very difficult to withstand, much less two stances at the same time. How could Ouyang Ke face them? Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng were actually standing close-by; but they did not anticipate Guo Jing’s counterattack. Both were startled yet were unable to do anything.

Ouyang Ke felt his opponent’s left hand was threatening his right side; he knew this 18-Dragon Subduing Palms were very fierce; he could evade but could not parry. Quickly he leaned his body to the left exactly at the same time Guo Jing’s right hand’s Proud Dragon Repents came by. ‘Crack!’ his upper torso was squarely hit; and one of his ribs was broken.

Actually he was aware of the fierceness of the opponent’s attack; when Guo Jing’s hand arrived he had already focused his energy on his chest to protect his heart and lungs against the incoming force. Furthermore, as soon as he was hit he tried to lessen the injury by trying to jump up. But the incredible force from Guo Jing’s hand had added to his own energy and sent him flying toward the bamboo pavilion’s roof. He managed to land standing up albeit staggering badly; then slowly slid down. He was awfully embarrassed and his chest was hurt badly. Slowly he walked back.

Guo Jing’s counterattack had surprised both the Eastern Heretic and the Western Poison; gave Ouyang Ke a lesson he wouldn’t forget easily; and acquired Huang Rong’s accolade. She clapped her hands and bounced up and down with great happiness. Guo Jing himself did not realize that his martial art had improved tremendously. He simply thought that Ouyang Ke was being careless and was caught off guard. He was afraid Ouyang Ke would launch a counterattack; so he withdrew two steps waiting for the opponent with rapt attention.

Ouyang Feng glared angrily toward Guo Jing; loudly he called out, “Old Beggar Hong! Congratulations on your fine disciple!”

Huang Rong had taken out the silk handkerchief from her ears; hearing Ouyang Feng’s loud call she knew Hong Qigong had arrived. Truly a savior sent from heaven. She rushed outside the bamboo groove and loudly called out, “Shifu! Shifu! [Master]”

Huang Yaoshi was astounded, “Why did Rong’er call the Old Beggar Hong ‘shifu’?” Right at that moment Hong Qigong appeared with a scarlet wine gourd on his back, a bamboo staff in his right hand, Huang Rong’s hand in his left, smiling broadly entering the bamboo groove.

Huang Yaoshi and Hong Qigong greeted each other and exchanged some pleasantries. Then Huang Yaoshi turned to his daughter and asked, “Rong’er, what did you call Qigong?”

“Senior Qigong has taken me to be his disciple,” replied Huang Rong.

Huang Yaoshi was delighted, he turned to Hong Qigong, “Qi Xiong had approved my daughter; your brother appreciates that very much. Only my daughter is mischievous, I do hope Qi Xiong would teach her some lessons.” Speaking thus he raised his hands in respect.

Hong Qigong smiled. “Yao Xiong’s own martial arts are both broad and profound; this girl won’t be able to learn them all in her lifetime; why would I need to come meddling? But since you asked, the reason I took her as my disciple was so that I can eat for free. She prepared a lot of good food for me. So you don’t need to thank me,” he said. Huang Yaoshi and Hong Qigong both laughed heartily.

Huang Rong pointed her finger to Ouyang Ke and said, “Father, this bad man bullied me. If not for Senior Qigong looking after me on your behalf, you won’t see Rong’er early on.”

“Nonsense!” Huang Yaoshi reprimanded her, “How could he bully you for no reason?”

“If you don’t believe me, ask him!” Huang Rong replied. Turning her head toward Ouyang Ke she said, “You have to make an oath that if you answer my father’s question with half-a-word of lies there will come a day when the viper on your uncle’s staff will bite you to death.”

Listening to her words Ouyang Feng and Ouyang Ke’s faces changed. Ouyang Feng had spent more than ten years to raise the vipers on his staff. They were breed from various venomous snakes so the poison was really-really lethal. Ouyang Feng used to punish his rebellious disciples or his enemy by a bite of these snakes. Once the poison entered somebody’s system, the victim would suffer a terrible itch all over, followed by a violent death. Ouyang Feng did have the antidote; but after the poison entered one’s body, even if the antidote could save one’s life, one would lose all one’s martial arts and would forever live as a disabled person. Huang Rong of course did not know this; she simply felt that the snakes entwined on Ouyang Feng’s staff were peculiar so she capriciously mentioned them. Who would have thought that she had touched exactly the taboo matter of Western Poison, both the uncle and the nephew.

“Honorable Father-in-law’s question, I do not dare not to answer truthfully,” Ouyang Ke promised.

“You are speaking nonsense again!” Huang Rong spat. “You made me want to slap your ears really good. Let me ask you this: Did you or did you not see me in Beijing at the Zhao Palace?”

Ouyang Ke broke his rib; his chest was hit by her steel needle, his pain was unbearable; but he was too proud to show his own weakness in front of others; so far he gritted his teeth and was able to speak, but this time the pain was getting worse; resulted in cold sweat on his forehead. So even though he wanted to answer Huang Rong, he did not dare to open his mouth. All he could do was nodded in affirmative.

“At that time you, along with Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu, Liang Ziweng, and Monk Lingzhi had surrounded and bullied me, had you not?” Huang Rong asked again.

Ouyang Ke wanted to defend himself by explaining that he was not in cohort with those people to bully her, but all he could say was, “I … I did not collaborate with them …” and his chest was so painful that he could not say another word.

“Very well,” Huang Rong said, “I don’t need your answer; all you need to do is just nod or shake your head in reply to my question. Let me ask you this: Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu, Liang Ziweng, and Monk Lingzhi meant to harm me, did they not?” Ouyang Ke nodded.

“They wanted to capture me, but failed miserably. Then you showed up and went into action, did you not?” Huang Rong asked again. Ouyang Ke had no choice but nodded his head again.

“At that time I was alone inside the Zhao Palace, I had nobody to help me; my situation was precarious. My own father did not know my whereabouts, so even if he wanted to rescue me, he would not be able to do so. Isn’t that right?” Huang Rong continued. Ouyang Ke knew she was trying to win sympathy from her father and inciting her father’s hatred toward him; however, what she said was a fact, so he had no choice but nodded his head again.

Huang Rong reached out to her father’s hand and said, “Father, look! You don’t love Rong’er anymore. If Mother were still alive you wouldn’t treat me like this …” Huang Yaoshi heard her mentioning his beloved wife and he felt a stab of pain in his heart. He stretched his left arm and hugged her.

Ouyang Feng was smart; he felt something was not right, so before Huang Rong could ask another question he interrupted her. “Miss Huang,” he asked, “Those well-known martial art characters wanted to capture you; but you have mastered your family’s peerless skill in wushu; they could not overcome you, could they?” Huang Rong nodded her head and smiled sweetly. Huang Yaoshi listened to Ouyang Feng praising his family’s martial art showed a faint smile.

Turning to Huang Yaoshi, Ouyang Feng said, “Yao Xiong, ever since my nephew saw your daughter his heart was captivated by her beauty and excellent skills. He sent a pigeon to summon me, so that from the White Camel Mountain I came thousands of miles away crossing the Central Plains and the sea to the Peach Blossom Island to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage. You have considered my haste and, although unworthy, have received me well. Other than Yao Xiong, there is no one in this present age that would do such thing.”

“I do not dare to accept such compliment,” Huang Yaoshi smiled. He thought that with his high position, Ouyang Feng was still willing to travel a long way to see him; he felt honored.

Ouyang Feng then turned to Hong Qigong and said, “Qi Xiong, we uncle and nephew admire Peach Blossom Island’s martial art; but you; how could you belittle us by bullying the juniors? If my nephew was unfortunate, he would have died under your unique skill of steel needle rain.”

Actually, it was Hong Qigong who saved Ouyang Ke from the steel needle rain launched by Huang Rong; but now Ouyang Feng had placed the blame on him. He knew Ouyang Ke must have lied to his uncle and his uncle had used that to discredit Hong Qigong. But Qigong was an honest and straightforward man, he did not want to argue; he simply laughed a big laugh, unplugged his wine gourd and took a big gulp.

Guo Jing could not hold his patience any longer, “It was Senior Qigong who saved your nephew’s life; how could you say such thing to blame him?”

“We are still talking, how dare you kid interrupt?” Huang Yaoshi barked.

“Rong’er, tell him … tell your Father what happened to Miss Cheng,” Guo Jing hastily said.

Huang Rong knew her father’s temperament very well; he was not one who followed customs and traditions. He often said, “What do those customs have to do with us?” His way of thinking was different than common people of his time. What other people thought to be right, he would consider that wrong; what other people thought to be wrong, he might think that to be right. That was how he earned his title ‘Eastern Heretic.’ Huang Rong thought, “This Ouyang Ke’s behavior is really disgusting, but Father might think that he did what a normal romantic young men would do.” She noticed that her father was looking at Guo Jing with a fiery eyes; she hastily came up with an idea.

“I am not done with you,” she said turning to Ouyang Ke, “That day when we were having a martial art contest at the Zhao Palace you tied both your hands behind your back and said that you didn’t need any hand to subdue me, did you not?” Ouyang Ke admitted with a nod of his head.

“Later on after I took Senior Qigong as my master we met again in Baoying,” Huang Rong continued. “You said that no matter what kind of martial arts I used, whether it be from my father or the ones taught by Hong Qigong; you would only use your Uncle’s martial art to defeat me, didn’t you?”

Ouyang Ke thought, “It was your own idea, I did not say such thing.”

Seeing his hesitation Huang Rong quickly continued, “You have drawn a circle on the ground with your feet and said that if I can compel you out of the circle using the martial arts I learned from my father you would admit defeat, didn’t you?” Ouyang Ke nodded again.

Turning to her father Huang Rong said, “Father, did you hear that? He did not have any regards toward Hong Qigong; he also did not have any regards toward you. He said that the martial arts of the two of you are inferior to his uncle’s; that even if you two come together still cannot defeat his uncle. I don’t believe it.”

“Little girl has a long tongue,” Huang Yaoshi said. “Who among the people under the heaven did not know that Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor and Northern Beggar’s martial arts are like a pound to sixteen ounces? No one is superior to the others.” Although his mouth said those words, but he resented Ouyang Ke’s arrogance; only he did not want to raise this matter anymore. He turned his head to Hong Qigong and asked, “Qi Xiong, your presence has brought honor to the Peach Blossom Island. I wonder if there is anything I can do for you?”

“I come here to ask you a favor,” Hong Qigong replied.

Although Hong Qigong loved to joke around, but he was an honest and straightforward man, always upholding justice; his martial art skill was very high, so Huang Yaoshi had always respected him. Huang Yaoshi knew that whatever business Hong Qigong was dealing with, it was always taken care of, if not personally, then with the help of his numerous Beggar Clan’s members. This time Hong Qigong was asking him a favor he was extremely delighted, busily said, “We have been friends for dozens of years; Qi Xiong has anything to say, how can your younger brother dare not to comply?”

“Don’t comply too quickly,” Hong Qigong said, “I am afraid this matter is not easy to manage.”

Huang Yaoshi smiled, “If the matter is easy, Qi Xiong won’t think of asking your younger brother.”

Hong Qigong clapped his hands. “That’s right!” he laughed, “That was the sign of a real friendship! You have decided to comply to my request then?”

“Speak up!” Huang Yaoshi said. “Whether going through fire or water, I’ll do it.”

Ouyang Feng swung his snake staff and opened his mouth, “Slow down Yao Xiong, first we must ask Qi Xiong what is it that he wants?”

Hong Qigong laughed. “Old Poison, this matter does not concern you. You are being nosy. You’d better prepare your belly to drink ‘xi jiu’ [lit. happiness wine – the term used for wine served in wedding banquet. I don’t know the correct English translation. Any suggestions?].”

“Drink ‘xi jiu’?” Ouyang Feng wondered.

“That’s correct!” Hong Qigong replied. “Exactly, ‘xi jiu’.” Pointing to Guo Jing and Huang Rong he continued, “These two are my disciples; I have agreed to ask Yao Xiong on their behalf to let them marry each other; and Yao Xiong has agreed to it.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were both scared and happy at the same time. They exchanged glances at each other. Ouyang Feng uncle and nephew, along with Huang Yaoshi were startled.

“Qi Xiong!” Ouyang Feng said, “You are wrong! Yao Xiong’s ‘qian jin’ [thousand gold – meaning ‘precious’] has early on betrothed to my nephew. We come to the Peach Blossom Island today to deliver the dowry and arrange for the ceremony.”

“Yao Xiong,” Hong Qigong asked, “Is that so?”

“I am afraid so,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “Qi Xiong, please don’t play a joke on your younger brother.”

Hong Qigong put a sour face. “Who plays joke on you?” he said. “You have betrothed your daughter to two families; your family’s reputation is at stake here.” Turning his head to Ouyang Feng he asked, “I am the Guo family’s primary matchmaker, where is yours?”

Ouyang Feng was dumbfounded; he did not expect Hong Qigong would ask him that question. Stammering he tried to answer, “Yao Xiong has consented to this marriage, I have also consented; why would we need a matchmaker?”

“Are you aware that there is somebody who has not consented to this arrangement?” Hong Qigong cut him off.

“Who?” Ouyang Feng asked.

“Ha … ha … it’s yours truly, the Old Beggar Hong!” Hong Qigong laughed.

As soon as Ouyang Feng heard this – knowing Hong Qigong’s character to be strong-willed; his conduct to be firm and resolute, he knew a fight was unavoidable; but his face did not show even a slight change; only he hesitated to say anything.

Hong Qigong smiled, “Your nephew’s behavior was improper, how can he be compared to Yao Xiong’s beautiful-as-a-flower daughter? If you force them to get married, they will fight over all kinds of disagreement everyday; they might end up killing each other. What good does it do?”

Huang Yaoshi listened attentively, his heart was stirred. He looked at her, who was gazing lovingly toward Guo Jing. Then he looked at Guo Jing. He hated this dumb kid to the guts: Guo Jing’s intelligence was questionable; he knew neither literature nor martial art; music, chess, calligraphy nor painting. He would not be a talented scholar or a gallant knight. Both he and his wife were intelligent people and he knew their only daughter’s brainpower was not anywhere below their own. If he let this scattered brain married his daughter, it would be like throwing a fresh flower to the cow dung.

Right now he saw Guo Jing stood alongside Ouyang Ke, he could not help but comparing those two. Ouyang Ke’s intelligence and smart appearance was a hundred times better than Guo Jing’s. His mind was set to take this young man as his son-in-law; but Hong Qigong’s face showed he would not easily give up; so he cooked up a scheme and said, “Feng Xiong, your nephew is injured. You’d better take care of that first; we will discuss this matter further later.”

Ouyang Feng had worried about his nephew’s condition for a while, and was hoping Huang Yaoshi would give them a chance to take care of the wound. So immediately he beckoned his nephew and two people walked back into the bamboo groove. Huang Yaoshi then engaged Hong Qigong in some pleasantries.

About the time needed to cook some rice later uncle and nephew returned to the pavilion. Ouyang Feng had extracted the steel needles in his nephew’s body and mended the broken rib as well.

“My daughter’s posture is as weak as a willow tree; she is stubborn and disobedient; hardly worthy to be a gentleman’s wife. But unexpectedly Qi Xiong and Feng Xiong both have given me the highest honor by asking her hand in marriage. My daughter has already betrothed to Mr. Ouyang, but Qi Xiong’s request is also difficult not to accept. I have an idea, I wonder if you two brothers would tell me if this idea will work or not?” Huang Yaoshi said.

“Quickly say it! Quickly say it!” Hong Qigong interrupted. “The Old Beggar never likes to hear your winding and flowery words.”

Huang Yaoshi smiled faintly. “Brothers, even though this daughter of mine is unworthy, I still hope she will find a good husband,” he continued. “Mr. Ouyang is Feng Xiong’s honorable nephew, while Mr. Guo is Qi Xiong’s outstanding disciple. Both are very fine gentlemen, it is very difficult to choose one of them. I have no alternative but to come up with a three-subject test; I will betroth my daughter to whoever passes this test. I will not favor either one of them. Would both old friends tell me if this idea is good?”

Ouyang Feng clapped his hands. “Clever! Wonderful!” he called out. “Only thing is, my nephew is injured, if the test involves martial arts then we have to wait until he is fully recovered.” He had seen the fierceness of Guo Jing’s attack that injured his nephew; he knew that if they contended in martial arts his nephew would no doubt lose. So he used his nephew’s injury to their best advantage.

“Certainly,” Huang Yaoshi said. “A martial art contest will harm the good relationship between two families anyway.”

Hong Qigong said in his heart, “This is so typical Old Heretic Huang. All of us are Wulin people; if the test involves literary and not martial art skill, do you expect a ‘zhuang yuan’ [a title of a scholar, Meh’s ‘Sentimental Swordman, Ruthless Sword’ has an explanation of different titles] to be your son-in-law? If you come up with music or poetry, even if he reincarnated my stupid disciple will not be able to take it. Your mouth says no favor, but obviously you totally favor the other side. My stupid disciple will lose for sure. It is confounding! I will fight Old Poison first, talk later.” He looked upward and laughed hard, staring toward Ouyang Feng he said, “We are all martial arts practitioners, instead of contesting in martial arts, do you want to have an eating contest or defecating race, then? Your nephew is injured, but you are not. Come, come, come! We will fight in their stead.”

Without waiting for an answer he sent his palm toward Ouyang Feng’s shoulder. Ouyang Feng stepped back several feet. Hong Qigong put his bamboo staff down on a small bamboo table. “Watch for this!” he shouted. His words were still hanging in the air when both his palms had already moved seven times in rapid succession.

Ouyang Feng dodged to the left and evaded to the right and all seven attacks flew by. His right hand pushed the snake staff into the bricks in front of the pavilion, and in a flash his left hand had also sent seven counterattacks.

Huang Yaoshi cheered, but did not prevent them from fighting. He wanted to see these two martial art world-class masters, who were his peers; what kind of improvements they have achieved twenty years after their last meeting.

Both Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were the experts of their respective martial art schools. They have reached the pinnacle of their martial arts twenty years ago. After the Sword Meet of Mount Hua both have trained hard and improved their skills tremendously. This time they met again on the Peach Blossom Island, their skills were incomparable with when they had their meet at Mount Hua. Each launched swift attacks and counterattacks, but they were actually still trying to probe the opponent’s skill. Both combatants exchanged fast and forceful palms and fists, that the gust of winds created swayed the bamboo leaves around them. Although they were only testing each other, but their moves carried profound martial art techniques.

On the sideline Guo Jing was watching with full attention; whether it was an attack or a defense, every single one was a wonderful move, beyond his wildest imagination. The Nine Yin Manual contained the deepest martial arts theory in the world: whether it be internal or external energy cultivation, bare hands or swordplay, all kinds of the most profound martial arts imaginable. After Guo Jing memorized the content by heart – although he did not understand every single one of them, those theories were actually ingrained in his brain. Now he watched those two combatants exchanging exquisite moves, those theories came flooding back into his mind, forming a fuzzy shadow in his brain.

Early on he listened to Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng’s flute versus zither battle. That was an invisible internal energy battle; extremely difficult to clearly see their relation with the theory in the manual. This time the battle was using fists and kicks, much easier to perceive. In his delight, his heart was itching to try what he had seen.

Very quickly Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng have exchanged more than three hundred stances. Both were surprised at the opponent’s skill and could not help but praising each other in their hearts. On the side Huang Yaoshi looked on with a sigh, he thought, “I have painstakingly trained myself on the Peach Blossom Island; I thought after Wang Chongyang passed away, my martial art would be number one in the world. Who would have thought that these Old Beggar and Old Poison both have taken their own paths and reached these frightfully respectable levels of martial arts?”

Both Ouyang Ke and Huang Rong were deep in their own thoughts; each hoped that their side would gain a quick victory, but actually they could not comprehend the exquisiteness of the martial arts being displayed in front of their eyes. With the corner of her eye Huang Rong saw a black shadow was dancing erratically, flailing his hands and feet incessantly. She turned her head and found the shadow to be Guo Jing. But Guo Jing’s expression was weird; looked like he was in ecstasy without any reason. Her heart skipped a beat. “Brother Jing!” she called with a low voice.

Guo Jing did not hear her; he was still busy moving his hands and feet. Huang Rong felt strange, so she watched attentively and found out that Guo Jing was actually imitating Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng’s movements.

By now those two had changed the way they fight; every fist and every kick was sent slowly out. Sometimes they would stand still for a moment, and then sent out a fist. After they exchanged one stance, they would sit down on the ground to take a rest; then stood up and exchanged another move. In short, the way they fight was slower than two disciples practicing martial arts. But looking at their face, one could see the seriousness on their faces, almost to the point of very tense.

Huang Rong glanced toward her father and saw him looking intensely at those two; his face was also unusually tense. Ouyang Ke was the only person around who could maintain his calmness. He looked at her flirtatiously, while lightly waving his folding fan.

Guo Jing saw an unconventional move, he could not restrain from cheering loudly. Ouyang Ke was irritated, “Your muddy kid does not understand anything, what is he shouting about?”

“Just because you don’t understand, how would you know whether other people understand or not?” Huang Rong shot back.

Ouyang Ke laughed, “He’s just flailing his hands and feet foolishly. Given his young age, how would he know the wonder of my uncle’s divine martial arts?”

“You are not him; how would you know what he knows?” Huang Rong replied.

Two people were bickering on the side; Huang Yaoshi and Guo Jing turned a deaf ear to them, they were watching the fight with rapt attention.

By that time both Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were squatting on the ground; one with his left middle finger pointed to his brain, the other used both hands to cover his ears. Both were thinking really hard with their eyes closed. Suddenly they shouted and simultaneously leapt toward each other; one sending his fist, the other used his leg; then they were separated again.

Those two people had reached the level where each and every single one of the martial arts belonging to their own family or school had no flaw whatsoever. However, they both know that no matter how fierce the stance was, the opponent would easily break it; therefore, they had to create a new and unknown move in order to gain an upper hand.

After their sword meet twenty years ago, both men – one resided in the Central Plains, the other came all the way from the Western Region, had never met or even heard about the other’s condition; so they did not know how far had the other man improved his martial art. Now that they were fighting each other, the situation was not much different. Each had his own strengths, each had his own weaknesses; nobody could tell who would overcome whom. In the meantime the moonlight had faded, and one could see a streak of sunlight glowing in the east. Both had racked their brains and had created innumerable new and wonderful moves; fist techniques or palm strengths, along with tens of thousands variations thereof, but still nobody could tell which one was better.

Guo Jing witnessed the fight between two top experts of their present age martial art world; wonderful moves and exquisite techniques came one after another. Sometimes he understood, more often he did not. Sometimes he saw something that was related to the theory taught by Zhou Botong; which made him excited and wanted to try. But before he could finish half of a stance, Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng had already launched new moves; and Guo Jing had already forgotten the previous move he was trying to master.

When Huang Rong saw Guo Jing like that, she was secretly alarmed. “I did not see him for dozens of days, could it be that he got some profound martial arts lessons from a divine being?” she thought, “I looked at the fight and I got confused, how could he exclaim in admiration?” But then another thought came to her mind, “Could it be that this silly brother of mine missed me so much that he went insane?”

She had not seen Guo Jing for quite some time, and now that they have seen each other the situation was not conducive for them to be intimate. She moved forward, wanted to hold Guo Jing’s hand. Right at that moment Guo Jing was imitating Ouyang Feng’s palm technique; he was turning his body around and launched a palm attack. It looked ordinary, but in actuality it carried enormous hidden energy. Her hand barely touched Guo Jing’s palm when suddenly she felt a surge of incredible energy pushing her. She was sent flying upward.

After touching Huang Rong’s hand, Guo Jing came back to reality. “Aiyo!” he cried and jumped to grab Huang Rong’s waist. While falling down back to the ground, Guo Jing’s left hand grabbed the bamboo pavilion’s eave. Swinging their bodies they landed on the roof. Two people sat shoulder to shoulder on top of the bamboo pavilion watching the fight on the ground.

By that time the battle situation on the ground had changed again; Ouyang Feng was squatting on the ground with both arms bent on the shoulder, resembled a big frog was about to strike its enemy. His mouth created some deep rumbling noise, like a cow mooing; sometimes it was audible, and sometimes it wasn’t.

Huang Rong was amused; she smiled and with a low voice asked, “Brother Jing, what is he doing?”

“I don’t know,” Guo Jing replied, but suddenly he remembered Zhou Botong’s story on Wang Chongyang’s Solitary Yang Finger breaking Ouyang Feng’s Toad Stance. “That must be it!” he exclaimed, “This is his fiercest martial art; it is called the Toad Stance.”

Huang Rong clapped her hands and laughed, “He does look like a toad!”

Ouyang Ke had observed those two people sitting close and leaning toward each other, talking and laughing; his heart was burnt with jealousy. He wanted to leap up and fight Guo Jing, but his chest was still in pain; he could not exert any strength. Besides, he did not have any confidence his martial art was superior to Guo Jing’s. But now hearing Huang Rong said ‘he looked like a toad’ he thought they were ridiculing him, saying that he looked like a dirty toad desiring to eat a swan’s meat; he was furious. With his right hand holding three secret projectiles he quietly walked around toward the back of the bamboo pavilion. Gritted his teeth he moved his hand and three silvery streaks came flying toward Guo Jing’s chest.

In the meantime Hong Qigong was launching his palms to the front and to the back, busily fighting Ouyang Feng’s Toad Stance with his 18-Dragon Subduing Palms. These two martial arts were the highest skill of each combatant, so the fight was no longer slow and sluggish like it was before. It was fierce as two people were using their dozens of years of martial art training trying to gain victory; life and death could be decided in a twinkling of an eye. Guo Jing had learned the 18-Dragon Subduing Palms, but he had not seen his master using this technique before. It sent shivers along his spine to see how wonderful the palm techniques were, with infinite variations in them. It was truly incomparable to the ones he had already mastered. He was completely captivated with what happened on the ground; how would he expect somebody to sneak in from behind and attacked him stealthily?

Huang Rong was not aware that the two fighting on the ground were using their highest martial art skills; she was still laughing and joking around when she suddenly realized one person was missing from the bamboo pavilion. Her mind immediately went to Ouyang Ke, she was afraid of his craftiness; so her eyes scanned around but it was her ears that heard the wind generated by the secret projectiles coming toward Guo Jing’s back. With the corner of her eyes she could see three silvery streaks coming fast. She did not have any time to think, immediately she threw herself behind Guo Jing’s back. “Puff! Puff! Puff!” three secret projectiles landed squarely on her back. She was wearing the ‘ruan wei jia’ [soft hedgehog armor] so she was not injured, but she felt some pain nonetheless.

Her hand reached and grabbed the secret projectiles. She turned around and smiled sweetly, “You are scratching the itch on my back, aren’t you? Thank you, but I need to give these back to you.”

Ouyang Ke saw how she intercepted the projectiles with her own body to protect Guo Jing, he was more jealous than ever. Hearing her saying thus he thought she was going to throw the projectiles back his way, so he readied himself. But after a moment he saw Huang Rong was holding the projectiles in her hand with the palm up, like she was expecting him to take them back from her hand.

Ouyang Ke kicked his left foot and leaped to the bamboo pavilion’s roof. He intended to show off his lightness kungfu, lightly perched on the edge of the roof; looked like a white shadow swaying gently in the wind. It was indeed an excellent skill, as elegant as a deity.

“Your lightness kungfu is truly wonderful!” Huang Rong exclaimed. She stood up and walked toward him, arm extended with the projectiles in her hand.

Ouyang Ke saw her white complexion, he was mesmerized. Absentmindedly he stretched his hand to pick the projectiles, with an ill intention to rub her hand, when suddenly some metallic streaks coming his way. He had had fallen twice under Huang Rong’s hands and did not want to repeat it, so he somersaulted and came down the roof; waving his sleeve and parried an abundance of Huang Rong’s steel needles.

Huang Rong giggled and threw the three silver projectiles to the ground, right in front of squatting Ouyang Feng.

“NO! Don’t!” Guo Jing cried in alarm. He grabbed Huang Rong’s waist and jumped down the roof. Before his feet even touched the ground he had heard Huang Yaoshi’s anxious shout, “Feng Xiong, have mercy!”

Guo Jing felt an earth-shattering force coming his way. Quickly he pushed Huang Rong aside and exerted all his strength to his hands with one of the 18-Dragon Subduing Palms, the ‘jian long zai tian’ [seeing dragon in the field].

“Bang!” a loud noise was heard when his force collided with Ouyang Feng’s Toad Stance, and as a result he staggered back seven, eight steps. Guo Jing felt blood rising from his chest to his throat. He was alarmed, but was afraid Ouyang Feng would send another attack, so he forced himself and stood in front of Huang Rong, ready to take another blow. But then he saw Hong Qigong and Huang Yaoshi had already stepped in between them.

“So sorry! I am so ashamed!” Ouyang Feng stood up. “I was not able to retract my force. I hope I did not hurt the young lady, did I?” he called out.

Actually Huang Rong was scared, her beautiful face was pale, but hearing him said such thing, she put a bold face and laughed, “With my Father around, how could you hurt me?”

Huang Yaoshi was really anxious; he pulled her hands and quietly asked, “Do you feel anything different on your body? Quickly breathe in and out a few times.” Huang Rong listened to her father and quietly circulate her ‘qi’ but did not feel anything unusual, so she laughed and shook her head.

Huang Yaoshi was relieved. “Your two uncles are practicing their martial arts just now, what did a little girl like you doing carelessly intervening?” he reprimanded. “Uncle Ouyang’s Toad Stance is not a small matter; if he did not show you any mercy, do you think your little life would be spared?”

In order to launch the powerful Toad Stance, Ouyang Feng had to concentrate his strength in his whole body. As soon as the opponent attack, he would be able to counterattack by launching the full power already stored. That was exactly what happened when he was waiting for Hong Qigong to attack; his strength was concentrated, ready to be launched like an arrow on a completely pulled bow. Unexpectedly Huang Rong tossed something to him that he instinctively counterattacked toward her.

When he realized it was Huang Rong he was extremely shocked, his force had already being released, there was no way he could pull it back. He sighed inwardly, thinking he had created a terrible disaster that this beautiful-as-a-flower girl would die a violent death in his hand; moreover he heard Huang Yaoshi called out, ‘Feng Xiong, have mercy!’ Frantically he tried to divert his force, but there simply was not enough time; when suddenly he felt another force collided with his. He took this opportunity to retract his force. When he looked clearly, he found out that the person who rescued Huang Rong was Guo Jing! Secretly he admired Hong Qigong, “This Old Beggar is really good; he succeeded in training this young disciple to reach such high level of martial art!”

Huang Yaoshi had seen Guo Jing’s martial art at the Cloud Manor; he thought, “This youngster did not know the height of the sky or the depth of the earth; he dared to parry Ouyang Feng’s fierce Toad Stance. If Ouyang Feng did not see my face and showed him mercy, his bones would have been shattered to pieces.” He did not know that the Guo Jing he met at the Cloud Manor was not the same as Guo Jing now. However, he acknowledged that Guo Jing had carelessly saved Huang Rong’s life without any regard to his own safety; his hatred toward him was, for the most part, gone. He thought, “This kid really has a good heart; he really loves Rong’er. I can’t give Rong’er to him, but certainly I can reward him by teaching him something.” The rascal in front of him looked rather stupid and the word ‘foolish’ had stirred up anger in him.

“Old Poison! You are really good!” Hong Qigong called out, “But victory or defeat has not been decided yet, let us fight again!”

“Very well!” Ouyang Feng replied, “I will risk my life to accompany a gentleman play!”

“I am not a gentleman,” Hong Qigong laughed. “You are risking your life to play with a beggar!” With a jump he was standing at the courtyard again.

Ouyang Feng was about to join him when suddenly Huang Yaoshi lifted his left hand, “Hold it!” he called out, “Qi Xiong, Feng Xiong, you have fought for more than one thousand moves yet you two are equally strong. Today the two of you are the Peach Blossom Island’s honored guests; you are entitled to drink several cups of your brother’s own brewed wine. The sword meet of Mount Hua is at hand. At that time not only you two will see who will gain victory; but your brother, along with the Southern Emperor will be there to practice our martial arts. So why don’t we end today’s contest right here?”

“Fine with me!” Ouyang Feng laughed, “If this fight continues, I will be forced to admit defeat very soon anyway.”

Hong Qigong turned back and laughed, “The Old Western Poison is crafty, when he said he would admit defeat, that means he is actually going to win. I don’t believe what he said a bit.”

“Well, then,” Ouyang Feng replied, “Let me ask Qi Xiong’s expert opinion again.”

Hong Qigong flicked his sleeve and said, “Nothing better!”

“I see,” Huang Yaoshi interrupted, “Your arrival today at the Peach Blossom Island is actually to show off your martial arts,” he said with a smile.

Hong Qigong roared in laughter. “Yao Xiong is right! We come here to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage, not to fight each other.”

“I said earlier that I am going to give three subjects to test both gentlemen,” Huang Yaoshi continued, “The one passes the test will be my son-in-law, but the one fails won’t be going home empty handed either.”

“What? Do you have another daughter?” Hong Qigong asked.

Huang Yaoshi smiled, “No, I don’t. Even if I find another wife, I don’t think we want to wait that long. Your brother has many other skills: medical, astrology and a lot of other stuff. The gentleman who fails the test, as long as he does not belittle my shallow knowledge and is willing to learn one particular subject, I am going to devote my time and will teach him with all my heart so that he won’t leave the Peach Blossom Island empty handed.”

Hong Qigong was fully aware of Huang Yaoshi’s ability; he thought that if Guo Jing could not be his son-in-law but managed to learn just one skill from him, he would gain a lifelong benefit nonetheless. He thought whatever subject the test would be, Guo Jing would undoubtedly suffer a loss; and he felt bad for him.

Ouyang Feng saw Hong Qigong’s reluctance, he snatched away that opportunity to say, “Good! Let it be that way! Yao Xiong had actually accepted my nephew’s proposal, but he honored Qi Xiong’s face. So let these two kids be tested. This way it won’t damage our friendship.” Turning toward Ouyang Ke he said, “Later if you lose, you will only have your own incapability to blame, you cannot blame anybody else. We will happily drink Brother Guo’s ‘xi jiu’. If later on you have a mind to create other problem, not only these two seniors won’t let you go easily, I myself will not spare you.”

Hong Qigong looked up and burst in laughter, “Old Poison, you are 90% sure that you are going to win. Your speech was actually directed to me and my disciple; what you are saying was ‘be a dear and just admit defeat’.”

Ouyang Feng smiled and said, “Who win and who lose, how would you know in advance? Even for people of our level, do you think it is easy to claim victory shamelessly? Yao Xiong, please present the subjects of your test.”

Huang Yaoshi had determined to give his daughter to Ouyang Ke, therefore, he had to come out with three subjects that would guarantee victory for Ouyang Ke. However, first of all, a man of his stature could not be blatantly one-sided; secondly, he did not want to offend Hong Qigong. But while he was still carefully considering what he was about to say, Hong Qigong had opened his mouth, “We all live by our fists and kicks, the test Yao Xiong will administer must be related to martial arts. If your subjects are poetry or music; reciting scriptures or painting, then we – master and disciple, will simply admit defeat and take our butts out of here; no need to lose our faces.”

“Naturally,” Huang Yaoshi assured him, “The first subject is martial arts competition.”

“That won’t do,” Ouyang Feng said, “My nephew is presently wounded.”

Huang Yaoshi smiled. “I know that,” he said, “I cannot let two brothers have martial arts contest on the Peach Blossom Island and damage their friendship.”

“They are not going to fight?” Ouyang Feng was baffled.

“That’s correct,” Huang Yaoshi answered.

“That’s so!” Ouyang Feng smiled, “Then the test giver will try each person’s martial art?”

Huang Yaoshi shook his head, “No, if I do that, nobody can guarantee that I will be fair since I can make my moves heavy or light at will. Feng Xiong, you and Qi Xiong here have reached the pinnacle of your respective martial arts skill. The fight just now was the proof, you have fought for more than a thousand moves, yet nobody knows who gained victory or suffered defeat. Feng Xiong, you test Brother Guo, and Qi Xiong, you try Brother Ouyang.”

Hong Qigong thought, “This is very fair indeed. Old Heretic Huang is really smart to think of this method. Old Beggar will never come out with something like this.” He laughed and said, “This method is not bad! Come, come, come! Let us play!” He beckoned Ouyang Ke.

“Wait!” Huang Yaoshi said, “There are some rules of the game we need to address. Rule number one: Brother Ouyang is injured, he cannot exert any energy, and therefore, both of them will be tested in term of martial arts, not in term of strength. Rule number two: The four of you will fight on top of these pine trees,” he pointed to two big pine trees outside the bamboo pavilion, “The junior who falls to the ground first will lose. Rule number three: Feng Xiong and Qi Xiong, whoever puts too heavy pressure on the junior and accidentally injures him will lose.”

“Injuring a junior is considered losing?” Hong Qigong mused.

“Certainly,” Huang Yaoshi explained, “The two of you have such a high skill; if I don’t have this rule, once you put forth a heavy hand, do you think the junior will live? Qi Xiong, if you even scratch Brother Ouyang’s skin, you lost. The same goes to Feng Xiong. Between these two juniors, one will be my son-in-law; how can they be injured under your hands?”

Hong Qigong scratched his head and laughed, “Old Heretic Huang is really weird, really live up to his reputation. Injuring opponent will be considered lose; this strange rule has never been heard of in thousands of years. Fine! As long as it is fair, the Old Beggar will comply.”

Huang Yaoshi gave a hand signal and the four of them jumped up the pine trees, forming two parties: Hong Qigong and Ouyang Ke on the right, Ouyang Feng and Guo Jing on the left. Hong Qigong still had an amused look on his face, while the other three looked serious, almost tense.

Huang Rong knew Ouyang Ke’s martial art was actually higher than Guo Jing’s; luckily he was injured. However, the competition on top of pine trees rely heavily on the lightness kungfu, which, obviously, Ouyang Ke had some advantage over Guo Jing. She was unable to not feeling anxious. In the meantime she heard her father’s loud and clear voice, “I will count to three, then you can all start. Brother Ouyang, Brother Guo, whoever falls down to the ground first will lose!”

Huang Rong secretly thought of somehow helping Guo Jing, but Ouyang Feng’s martial art was very high, how could she fight him with her present ability?

Huang Yaoshi had started to count, “One, two, three!” Four shadows danced on top of the pine trees, they have begun.

Huang Rong’s gaze had never left Guo Jing, only to see he had fought for more than ten stances against Ouyang Feng in a blink of an eye. Both Huang Rong and Huang Yaoshi were secretly surprised, “How did his martial art suddenly improved by leaps and bounds? He managed to fight these many moves without showing any sign of defeat.”

Ouyang Feng was anxious; gradually he increased his strength bit by bit. He was afraid to injure Guo Jing. Suddenly an idea came into his mind: both his legs rotated like a wheel, trying to sweep Guo Jing’s away from the pine tree. Guo Jing used the ‘fei long zai tian’ [Dragon flies in the sky] of his 18-Dragon Subduing Palms; repeatedly leaping high, both palms hacking down like knives trying to hit his opponent’s legs.

Huang Rong’s heart was thumping madly. She turned her gaze toward Hong Qigong only to see the fight took a different path. Ouyang Ke was using his lightness kungfu; leaping to the east and dodging to the west, he did not want to engage even half of Hong Qigong’s moves. Hong Qigong was compelled to chase him, but Ouyang Ke was always running around. Hong Qigong thought, “This stinky creature is cunning, he is trying to buy time. Guo Jing is a dumb kid, he actually fights against the Old Poison. This way he will certainly fall to the ground first. Humph! This little rapist! Do you think the Old Beggar cannot fold you under my arm?” Suddenly he leaped high into the air, ten fingers like two steel claws striking toward Ouyang Ke’s head.

Ouyang Ke saw this incoming force was swift and fierce; certainly not a contest type attack, but was intended to take his life. He was shocked and hastily tried to flee to the right. Unbeknownst to him, Hong Qigong’s attack was a false one. Hong Qigong had anticipated this movement, so as soon as Ouyang Ke turned right, Hong Qigong bent his waist mid-air and flew to the right. His hands came fast toward Ouyang Ke and clearly shouted, “I don’t care if I lose; today I am going to kill you stinky kid first.”

Ouyang Ke was startled that Hong Qigong was able to turn his body mid-air; he was scared and froze for a moment, especially listening to Hong Qigong’s shout. He did not dare to parry this attack, so frantically he stepped back to an empty air. He fell down from the tree with this thought in his mind, “I lost this first test!” But then suddenly he heard rustling noise beside him, turned out Guo Jing was also falling down from the tree next to him.

After fighting Guo Jing for quite a while, Ouyang Feng lost his patience, “If I let this kid fight me for another fifty moves; where would I keep the Western Poison’s pride?” he thought. Suddenly a wicked thought came into his mind. His left hand moved lightning fast toward Guo Jing’s neck while shouting loudly, “You go down!”

Guo Jing ducked this attack and lifted his left hand and tried to parry with the back of his hand. But Ouyang Feng suddenly put more force to his hand. “You … you …” Guo Jing stammered. He was going to say, “You didn’t follow Huang Yaoshi’s rule?” but was not able to say it because he was forced to use all his energy to withstand this attack. Ouyang Feng smiled and coldly said, “I what?” and put more force to his hand.

Guo Jing was trying to get a strong foothold for fear that he might be internally injured by this Toad Stance force. Who would have imagined that the tremendous force pushing him down suddenly disappeared without a trace. Fortunately for him that his skill was improved; if not, he wouldn’t be able to withstand Ouyang Feng’s force which was suddenly getting stronger and suddenly disappeared. Luckily it was similar to the 72 moves of Vacant Fist he learned from Zhou Botong, in which a hard force contained a softness in it. Otherwise, he would be injured just like when he fought Huang Yaoshi at the Cloud Manor, where his hand was caught and broken. Nevertheless, because of this, he lost his balance and was thrown down from the tree head first.

Ouyang Ke fell down right side up, while Guo Jing fell upside down, both men saw the ground was approaching fast. Seeing Guo Jing falling beside him Ouyang Ke had an idea; he stretched his hands toward Guo Jing’s legs. He wanted to use Guo Jing as a stepping stone, so he would be able to jump back up while Guo Jing would certainly fall faster to the ground. Or so he thought.

Huang Rong saw Guo Jing’s precarious situation and called out, “Aiyo!” But then strangely it was Guo Jing whom she saw jumped back up to the tree, while with a loud crashing sound Ouyang Ke was hitting the ground. Guo Jing landed on a tree branch and was out of breath, panting profusely.

Huang Rong was extremely delighted. She did not see clearly how it happened; how in a critical moment Guo Jing was able to turn defeat into victory, but she was delighted nonetheless and was unable to restrain herself from crying out, “Aiyo!” But these two ‘aiyo’s carried entirely different emotions.

By that time Ouyang Feng and Hong Qigong have already come down. Hong Qigong was laughing hard, repeatedly uttering, “Wonderful! Wonderful!” Ouyang Feng’s face was green from anger. “Qi Xiong,” he gloomily said, “Your smart disciple’s martial art is so diverse to include even the Mongolian wrestling skill.”

Hong Qigong laughed, he said, “I don’t know how to wrestle, so it wasn’t me who taught him. You can’t blame me.”

What really happened was: Guo Jing was pushed down by Ouyang Ke, he fell faster down. He saw Ouyang Ke’s legs flying up right in front of him. He did not have time to think. In that critical moment he instinctively stretched both arms to grab Ouyang Ke’s calves; pulling himself up by twisting his body from the upside-down position to the upright on. It was precisely the wrestling technique the Mongolians practiced.

The Mongolians have trained and perfected their wrestling techniques for generations; they were considered one of the bests. Guo Jing grew up in the Mongolian desert. Before he even learned martial arts from the Six Freaks of Jiangnan he had played and wrestled everyday with Tuolei and his friends. So Mongolian wrestling to him was as natural as eating rice. Otherwise; by nature his was slow, he was falling down, fast; even if he knew Mongolian wrestling technique he would not have enough time to think. It was not like: when falling down and seeing a pair of legs in front of him, he thought, “Oh, a pair of legs, nice! Hey, why don’t I use these legs to jump back up there.” It happened so fast, that even after he managed to land his feet on the tree branch he still did not know what happened and that he had won against all odds.

Huang Yaoshi slightly shook his head, he thought, “This Guo Jing is a slow-witted kid. This victory is obviously because of sheer luck.” He gave his decision, “The first test was won by Guo Xianzhi [Worthy Nephew]. But Feng Xiong please not to worry, you have taught your honorable nephew well. Who knows he will score victories for the second and third tests.”

“Then please Yao Xiong present the second test,” Ouyang Feng replied.

“The second test will be …” Huang Yaoshi started, but before he could finish Huang Rong had cut him off, “Father, obviously you are one-sided. Just a moment ago you said you would only test their martial arts skill, how come you want to test other subjects? Brother Jing, you might as well admit defeat and leave.”

“What do you know?” Huang Yaoshi said, “After reaching certain level of martial art skill, do you still want to fight everyday? Yes, we are martial arts people; but unlike ordinary military people, we don’t live on martial arts day by day. We don’t amuse ourselves by jousting to find a spouse …” Listening to this part Huang Rong stole a glance toward Guo Jing. Guo Jing was also looking at her. They were thinking of the same thing: Mu Nianci and Yang Kang, who met each other at the capital by ‘joust to find a spouse’. In the meantime Huang Yaoshi had continued his speech, “… My second test subject therefore is asking these two Xianzhis to listen to this old man playing a tune on my flute.”

Ouyang Ke was ecstatic; he thought, “What did this stupid kid know about wind or string instrument? The victory is mine for sure.”

Ouyang Feng on the other hand, was not so sure. He suspected Huang Yaoshi was going to test these two persons’ internal energy strength by the flute sound. He knew Guo Jing’s level of internal energy to be quite strong; his nephew not necessarily could exceed him. Also, he was afraid his nephew would be internally injured by Huang Yaoshi’s flute sound. He said, “Juniors’ internal energy cultivation is shallow, I am afraid they won’t be able to listen to Yao Xiong’s elegant melody. I wonder if Yao Xiong would consider …”

Huang Yaoshi did not give him a chance to finish, “My song is an ordinary one, without any high level of internal energy. Feng Xiong, set your heart in peace.” Toward Ouyang Ke and Guo Jing he said, “Xianzhis please take a bamboo stick each; follow my music by tapping it to the rhythm. The one who can follow better will win the second test.”

Guo Jing stepped forward and cupped his hands, “Island Master Huang, disciple is very slow and stupid. I know nothing about music; let me admit defeat for the second test.”

“Don’t be hasty; don’t be hasty,” Hong Qigong intervened, “In the worst case you will lose, why don’t you try? Are you afraid that others will laugh at your face?”

Guo Jing thought his master made some sense; seeing Ouyang Ke took a bamboo stick he did the same.

“Qi Xiong, Feng Xiong,” Huang Yaoshi smiled, “Younger brother will show off his inability.” Lifted the jade flute to his lips he started to blow. This part of his song did not carry any internal energy and it wasn’t any different than any ordinary person would play.

Ouyang Ke listened attentively, trying to follow the rhythm, and then he started tapping his bamboo stick correctly. Guo Jing did not have a clue; he held his bamboo stick high in the air but did not dare to tap it. Only after Huang Yaoshi had played about the time it needed to drink a cup of tea, he started to move his stick.

The Ouyangs, uncle and nephew were very smug. They thought that this time victory was guaranteed. Since the third subject would be another literary related, they were ninety percent sure they would win.

Huang Rong was anxious; she lightly tapped her right hand finger to her left knuckles; with the hope Guo Jing would follow. Who would have known that Guo Jing was staring blankly at the sky, lost in thought; obviously he did not see her signal.

Huang Yaoshi kept blowing the flute; Guo Jing raised his hand and struck the bamboo stick right in between two beats of the music. Ouyang Ke stifled his laugh, thinking that this stupid kid always strike on the wrong beat. Guo Jing struck again, still in between the two music beats. He had struck his bamboo stick four times, all were on the wrong places.

Huang Rong shook her head in dismay, “My stupid brother does not understand anything about music,” she thought, “Father shouldn’t have tested him.” Having had this thought, she racked her brain, trying to find a way to disrupt the test. But when she turned her gaze toward her father she was surprised; her father showed astonishment in his face. She heard Guo Jing tapped several more times; the flute sound suddenly became a little bit sluggish, but it went back to its original tempo immediately.

Guo Jing kept tapping his bamboo stick, always off-tempo: sometimes faster, sometimes slower; sometimes he drove the tempo faster, sometimes he dragged the tempo slower. On several occasion the music from the flute almost could not hold its steady rhythm and was almost dragged to follow the bamboo stick’s erratic tempo. Huang Yaoshi was not the only one who was astounded, Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng also felt something strange was going on.

Actually Guo Jing remembered listening to the battle among three people earlier: the flute, the zither and the whistle. He noticed that the sounds were fighting each other systematically, like battle strategy in a war. He did not have the slightest degree of comprehension toward music theory, but listening to Huang Yaoshi’s flute he wanted to try to battle that sound; thus he struck the bamboo erratically to disrupt the melody.

He tapped the bamboo stick against an old bamboo tree, creating a loud ‘bonk, bonk’ sound. The sound made Huang Yaoshi felt like he was inside a hot furnace and the fire was glowing white, forcing the flute to surrender and follow the erratic tempo of the bamboo.

Huang Yaoshi’s spirit was roused; he thought that this kid unexpectedly possessed this kind of ability. The flute sound changed again, this time it turned faster and slower seemingly having infinite variations. Ouyang Ke only stopped to listen for a moment, but he could not resist lifting his bamboo stick and brandishing it erratically in the air. Ouyang Feng heaved a sigh and quickly pulled his nephew hand, pressing the main artery on his wrist. Then he took out a silk handkerchief, torn it into two parts and stopped Ouyang Ke’s ears. After a while Ouyang Ke started to calm down and Ouyang Feng let his hand go.

Since her childhood Huang Rong had used to listen to her father’s ‘jade-colored tidal wave song’; once Huang Yaoshi even explained in detail every variation there was. Their minds, father and daughter’s were like one; so this song did not affect her at all, but she was fully aware that her father’s flute carried an enormous supernatural power; therefore, she worried that Guo Jing would not able to defend himself.

This song simulated the vastness of the ocean with its thousands of miles waves, coming slowly from afar, then come crashing down the shores. The wave was foamy white, high as a mountain; but in the tide the fish leaped and the whale floated; while above the water seagulls flew. A moment later the water turned wild, like a flock of devils were stirring it up; the weather turned cold, with icebergs came floating by. Another moment it turned hot, extremely hot that the sea was rippling and bubbling like boiling water. The next moment, just as quick, the sea became calm and the surface was smooth as a mirror. The water flowed strongly, yet quietly, but beneath the surface there laid a very strong current threatening those who unwittingly brave enough to enter and challenge its power. Such was the complexities of the song.

Guo Jing sat cross-legged on the ground, he was exerting the Quan Zhen Sect’s internal energy to suppress his turmoil heart and refresh his spirit while resisting the temptation of the flute sound; at the same time he kept tapping the bamboo stick disrupting the flute sound.

When Huang Yaoshi, Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were battling each other with sound earlier, they were on offensive and defensive alternately. They had to guard their own heart and mind while looking for an opportunity to launch a counterattack, trying to subdue the other’s hearts and minds. Guo Jing’s internal energy was far inferior to those three; he was only able to put on a strong defensive line, without being able to launch a counterattack; but Huang Yaoshi was also not able to penetrate his defense either.

After half a day, the volume of the flute gradually decreased, make it difficult to be heard. Guo Jing stopped the bamboo tapping to listen. Unexpectedly to him, this was the moment Huang Yaoshi was waiting for; the softer the sound, the stronger the energy it carried. Because Guo Jing was listening attentively, his heart began to follow the beat of the flute. If it happened to other people, they would fell into the trap and would not be able to escape; but Guo Jing was different. He had learned the left/right mutual hands combat; he was capable of dividing his mind. So he used his left hand to take the shoe from his left foot to knock on the bamboo. “Knock! Knock! Knock!” again, disrupting the flute sound.

Huang Yaoshi was startled, “This kid possesses some extraordinary skills, truly cannot be underestimated.” He started to walk around according to the Eight Diagram while his mouth continued blowing.

Both of Guo Jing’s hands were striking the bamboo pole in an erratic tempo incongruous with the flute rhythm. These two hands of his were like two people joined forces to defend against Huang Yaoshi’s attack. “Bonk, bonk, bonk! Knock, knock, knock!” His defensive power was doubled.

Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were quietly focusing their own attention and energy to guard against the internal energy battle between these two people. Even though one party was only on the defensive, but they did not dare to carelessly ignore the offensive energy from the flute.

The flute sound was suddenly turning high and low; ever changing, strange yet wonderful. Suddenly Guo Jing felt a burst of cold air flying in, carried by the flute sound. He felt like his body was wrapped by a thick layer of ice, which sent him shivering profusely.

The flute sound gently climbed up the hill, getting more and more intense. Guo Jing felt cold to his bone. He struggled hard to divert his mind into thinking about a burning sun in the sky, or touching an iron exposed to the heat of the day, or holding a burning coal in his hand, or that he was entering a very hot stove; in short, all kinds of heat inducing thought. He succeeded. Huang Yaoshi saw Guo Jing’s left side was blue, shivering from the cold, while his right side was red, sweltering from the heat.

Huang Yaoshi was secretly amazed. Once again he changed the flute sound, now the winter had passed, and the summer came around. Guo Jing struggled hard to resist, but his clapping tempo started to follow the flute rhythm. Huang Yaoshi said in his heart, “If this kid keep on resisting like this – even though he is still young, he won’t be able to withstand hot and cold successively; he will suffer a severe illness in the future.” The flute sound turned graceful, dispersed into the forest, and stopped.

Guo Jing exhaled a long breath, stood up and staggered; nearly fell again to the ground. Only after taking several deep breaths did he manage to steady himself. He knew Huang Yaoshi was showing mercy; so he stepped forward, bowed and thanked him. “Thank you very much for showing mercy, Island Master Huang,” he said, “Disciple is very grateful.”

Huang Rong noticed Guo Jing’s left hand was still holding his shoe; could not stifled her laugh, “Brother Jing, put your shoe back,” she said.

“Yes,” Guo Jing replied, finally put the shoe back on his left foot.

A thought suddenly came into Huang Yaoshi’s mind, “This kid is so young, yet his martial art is actually quite profound. Could it be that he was just pretending to be a fool, but in reality is a very intelligent person? If that’s the case, what would hinder me if I want to give my daughter to her?” A faint smile appeared on his face and he said, “You are very good, why do you still call me Island Master Huang?” Obviously he was saying that since Guo Jing had won two out of three tests, then Guo Jing should call him ‘Father-in-law’.

Who would have thought that Guo Jing was really did not have any clue what he was talking about, so he only stammered, “I … I …” his eyes looked at Huang Rong; asking for help. Huang Rong was in the seventh heaven; she bent her right thumb, signaling Guo Jing he should kowtow. Guo Jing understood this signal, so he bent his knees and kowtowed four times to Huang Yaoshi, but he still did not open his mouth to speak.

Huang Yaoshi smiled and asked, “What do you kowtow to me for?”

“Rong’er told me to,” Guo Jing honestly answered.

Huang Yaoshi silently sighed, “A dumb kid is a dumb kid,” he thought. Extending his hand he took the silk handkerchiefs from Ouyang Ke’s ears, and gave his decision. “Regarding internal energy, Guo Xianzhi is stronger; but my test subject was music knowledge, in which Ouyang Xianzhi is much better … Let’s just say that the second test was a draw. I am going to present the third subject, let two Xianzhis decide victory or defeat.”

Ouyang Feng knew his nephew had lost, but he did not expect Huang Yaoshi would give him favor, so he quickly replied, “True, true! Let them compete one more time.”

Hong Qigong was upset but didn’t say anything, he thought, “The girl is your own daughter, and others can’t meddle in if you want to give her to that rotten playboy. I always want to fight you, but right now it is difficult for my two fists to fight your four hands. Wait till I ask Emperor Duan to help me. We’ll see …”

Huang Yaoshi produced a thin book with red silk cover from his bosom and said, “My wife and I only have this one daughter. Unfortunately she had died prematurely. Today Feng Xiong and Qi Xiong are both here to ask her hand in marriage. If my wife were here, I am sure she would be very delighted …” Listening to her father speak, Huang Rong’s eyes turned red. Huang Yaoshi continued, “This book was written by my wife, the same year she passed away. It was the fruit of her hard work. I am going to let both Xianzhis to read it, then recite it back from memory. Whoever manage to recite the most will be betrothed to my daughter.” He caught a sight of Hong Qigong had a slight cold smile on his face, but he continued on, “Actually, Guo Xianzhi had won by one subject, but this book has impacted my life tremendously; my wife died because of it. Now I silently wish her soul in heaven would personally choose our son-in-law; that she would bless the Xianzhi to win.”

Hong Qigong could not hold his patience much longer, he shouted loud and clear, “Old Heretic Huang! Who want to listen to your crummy ghost story? You knew perfectly well my disciple is a dummy; does not know book or poetry, yet you insist on testing him on that very subject, then frightening him with your died young wife. You are shameless!” He brushed his long sleeve and turned his body to walk away.

Huang Yaoshi sneered, “Qi Xiong, if you come to the Peach Blossom Island to flaunt your power, you still need to practice for several more years,” he coldly said.

Hong Qigong stopped dead on his track, “What?” he raised his eyebrows, “You want to fight me?” he asked.

“You don’t understand ‘wu xing qi men’ [lit. five ways strange/wonderful gates, don’t know the correct translation] techniques,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “If not by my permission, don’t even think of leaving this island alive.”

Hong Qigong was angry, “I am going to burn down your stinky trees and flower bushes!”

“If you have the ability, go ahead and try!” Huang Yaoshi coldly challenged.

Guo Jing saw those two were about to fight, he also knew that the Peach Blossom Island was really not to be trifled with; he was afraid his master would fall into an enemy trap on the island. Quickly he stepped forward and said, “Island Master Huang, Shifu, let disciple and big brother Ouyang compete in this book memorization contest. Disciple is really stupid, if I lose, I lose.” But in his heart he was thinking, “I’ll wait till Shifu is save, then Rong’er and I will jump into the sea, we will swim as far as our strength would take us; then we will die together in the sea.”

“Great!” Hong Qigong said mockingly, “You just can’t wait to lose face, can you? Be my guest, then! Be my guest.” His thought was, ‘if you are going to lose anyway, why compete?’ so he intended to take his disciples along, three people just walked away to the seashore, snatched a boat and sailed away from the island. Who would have thought that the stupid disciple of his could not act according to the circumstance? He had no alternatives but conceded.

“Be a good girl and sit quietly; and don’t you have any weird ideas,” Huang Yaoshi told his daughter.

Huang Rong did not say anything, but she expected Guo Jing would fail this next test. Her father said that he would let her deceased mother to pick their son-in-law; then the previous two tests Guo Jing had won did not count at all. Among the three tests, Guo Jing had obviously won the second one, so the decision that it was a draw was hard to accept. In short, she believed that the reason her father insisted on administering the third test was so that Ouyang Ke would win. So she started to cook an escape plan; how would she take Guo Jing out of the island.

Huang Yaoshi told Ouyang Ke and Guo Jing to sit side by side on a big rock; then he presented the book in front of them. Ouyang Ke saw on the cover was written in the seal characters [the ones found on official documents] these six characters, ‘jiu yin zhen jing’ [Nine Yin Manual]; he was ecstatic. “This Nine Yin Manual is the world’s most profound martial arts manual; Father-in-law must be very fond of me to let me read this wonderful book.” Guo Jing, on the other hand, also saw the six characters but had no idea what they were; he thought, “He intentionally wants to make things difficult for me. How do I know this kind of curving-tadpole characters? In any case I am going to admit defeat.”

Huang Yaoshi opened the cover and the book was actually written in normal/modern characters. The handwriting was graceful; obviously written by a female hand. Guo Jing started to read and his heart skipped a beat. The first line read, “The way of the Heaven: A simple fix is not enough to repair damage; it truly is an empty victory, insufficient for a real one.” [?not sure?] It was exactly the sentence Zhou Botong told him to memorize. He looked further down, and to his surprise, the sentences were the ones he had already known by heart.

Huang Yaoshi waited a moment, and when he thought the two had finished, he flipped the page. On the second page the words and phrases were slightly out of order; and further down the book, the sentences were becoming more confusing while the characters looked soft and weak.

Guo Jing’s heart was shaken again, he recalled Zhou Botong’s story on how Madame Huang had re-written the Nine Yin Manual from memory, and how it drained her emotionally and physically that she died while giving birth to her child. This book was obviously the one she wrote before she died. “Could it be that what Big Brother Zhou taught me was the Nine Yin Manual?” he wondered in his heart. “No. It can’t be. The second volume of Nine Yin Manual is lost in Mei Chaofeng’s hands; where did he get it from?”

Huang Yaoshi saw him staring blankly; lost in thought, even looked dazed; he did not pay any attention and slowly turned the page one by one. At first Ouyang Ke was able to memorize what was written, but later on when it got to the training method the sentences were garbled; there was no clear relation between the previous to the next ones. Further down the book, even the characters were unclear. His heart sank; he could not help sighing inwardly, “Turned out he is still unwilling to show me the real full-text Manual.” But then he had another thought, “Even though I can’t see the full Manual, but compared to this dumb kid I am sure I have memorized more text. In this test my victory has been decided.” Having this thought he felt smug and could not help to cast a glance toward Huang Rong.

Huang Rong caught his glance and she stuck her tongue out, making an ugly face. “Brother Ouyang,” she said, “You have captured Sister Mu and put her inside the coffin at that ancestral temple. You have suffocated her to death. She came into my dream last night; her hair disheveled, her face full of blood; and she told me she is looking for you, she wanted to take your life.”

Ouyang Ke had long ago forgotten about her; out of the blue Huang Rong mentioned her name, he was startled, “Aiyo! I forgot to get her out of there!” He thought in his heart, “It’s a pity a young girl like her died of suffocation.” But then he saw Huang Rong was smiling, apparently she was joking. “How did you know she was in the coffin? Did you rescue her?” he asked.

Ouyang Feng knew Huang Rong was trying to divide his nephew’s mind, so that he would not be able to remember the text. “Ke’er,” he said, “Don’t bother with other matters, just concentrate on the book.” Ouyang Ke shivered. “Yes,” he said; and quickly turned his eyes back to the book.

Guo Jing noticed that the sentences on the book were exactly the same as the ones Zhou Botong taught him. The ones in his memory even had better integrity than the ones on the book, since the book contained so many holes – incomplete sentences and missing words, in it. He raised his head and looked up at the tree branches, trying to make any sense out of it all.

A little while later Huang Yaoshi turned the last page. “Who will recite first?” he asked.

Ouyang Ke thought, “This book is confusing, very difficult to memorize. I’d better recite it while it is still fresh in my memory.” Snatching the opportunity he said, “I will.”

Huang Yaoshi nodded his head, then to Guo Jing he said, “Please go to that bamboo groove over there. You cannot listen to him reciting.”

Guo Jing obeyed him and walked dozens of steps toward the bamboo groove. Huang Rong saw this as a good opportunity to escape together, so quietly she walked toward him. But suddenly Huang Yaoshi called out, “Rong’er, come here! You have to listen to them recite, otherwise you’d say I am one-sided.”

“You are one-sided,” Huang Rong replied, “You don’t need other people to say that.”

“That’s nonsense!” Huang Yaoshi laughed, “Come here!”

With her mouth Huang Rong said, “I don’t want to come,” but she knew her father’s temperament very well; once he decided to keep her under his watchful eyes, it would be more difficult for her to escape. So slowly she walked toward them, giving Ouyang Ke her sweetest smile and said, “Brother Ouyang, what good do I have that you like me very much?”

Ouyang Ke’s heart melted, his vision blurred, grinning wide he replied, “Little sister, you … you …” he could not say more than that.

“Don’t go back to the west too soon,” Huang Rong added, “Stay in the Peach Blossom Island for several days. The west is very cold, isn’t it?”

“The west is much bigger than you think, there are some cold regions, no doubt, but other parts are warm and sunny, much like the south (Jiangnan),” Ouyang Ke replied.

“I don’t believe you,” Huang Rong smiled, “You love to deceive people.”

Ouyang Ke was about to debate her, but Ouyang Feng coldly said, “Child, you can chat again later; right now you need to recite the book.”

Ouyang Ke was startled; he realized that Huang Rong’s disturbance was intended to confuse him, and indeed he had forgotten many characters of the confusing parts. Therefore, he refocused his attention and slowly recited the book. “The way of the Heaven: A simple fix is not enough to repair damage; it truly is an empty victory, insufficient for a real one …”

His memory was really good; he managed to remember most of the theory in the front, but toward the back of the book – where the training method was explained, he missed a lot. It was not surprising actually, since Madame Huang did not know martial arts and it was some times later that she re-wrote the book from memory, so the words were jumbled. Ouyang Ke only managed to recall about 10% of this later part. Plus, on the side Huang Rong kept trying to divert his attention by saying, “Not right! You remembered wrong!” He could not even remember 10% toward the back of the book.

Huang Yaoshi smiled and said, “You can remember that much and that was very good!” Raising his voice he called out, “Guo Xianzhi, it’s your turn to recite.”

Guo Jing walked back, seeing the smug expression on Ouyang Ke’s face he thought, “This man is really smart, he only read once, yet he can recite these mumbo-jumbo texts. I don’t have that capability, so I’d better recite the ones Big Brother Zhou taught me. If that is incorrect, oh well … I don’t have any choice.”

Hong Qigong said, “Stupid kid, they intentionally want to make a scene out of us; they have planned it all.”

Suddenly Huang Rong kicked the ground and leaped to the top of the bamboo pavilion. With a flick of her hand she pointed a dagger to her own chest and said, “Father, if you insist on me going to the west with that stinky boy, I will die right here right now in your presence.”

Huang Yaoshi knew his precious daughter would do what she said; he called out, “Put that dagger down! We can talk it over.”

Ouyang Feng stomped his staff to the ground and with a humming sound something flew from the staff straight toward Huang Rong. The secret projectile was very fast; before Huang Rong could see what it was, she had already heard a clanking sound and the dagger flew from her hand, fell down to the ground. At the same time Huang Yaoshi had leaped to the top; stretched his hand and grab his daughter’s shoulder and softly said, “It’s all right if you don’t want to get married. You can stay on the Peach Blossom Island and accompany your father for the rest of your life.”

Huang Rong flayed her arms and legs, crying, “Father, you don’t love Rong’er! You don’t love Rong’er!”

Hong Qigong was amused seeing this Huang Yaoshi who roamed the lake and the sea fearlessly, who killed people without batting an eye, was actually having trouble controlling his own daughter. He could not help laughing so hard.

Ouyang Feng thought, “I will wait for the final decision, then I’ll take care of this Old Beggar and that boy surnamed Guo. We’ll sort other things later. This girl acts like a spoiled brat, what do I care?” Thus he said, “Guo Xianzhi’s martial art skill is excellent, he is a real young hero. His intelligence must be excellent as well. Yao Xiong, you’d better ask him to recite.”

“Exactly right!” Huang Yaoshi said, “Rong’er, if you keep babbling you will disturb Guo Xianzhi’s concentration.” Huang Rong closed her mouth immediately.

Ouyang Feng wanted to humiliate Guo Jing very much. “Guo Xianzhi, please start reciting. We are going to listen respectfully right here,” he urged.

Guo Jing’s face reddened, he thought, “I can’t do it; I’d better recite what Big Brother Zhou taught me.” Thereupon he started reciting, “The way of the Heaven: A simple fix is not enough to repair damage; it truly is an empty victory, insufficient for a real one …” He had recited the Nine Yin Manual from top to bottom hundreds of time before; by now it was already ingrained in his brain. He recited slowly but steadily, no hesitation at all.

About half a page later everybody was stunned; they thought, “This kid seemed slow and dim-witted, who would have known that he is actually very smart.”

Very soon Guo Jing had already reached the fourth page. Hong Qigong and Huang Rong knew very well that Guo Jing did not have that kind of intelligence; they did not know what had possessed him, but they were pleasantly and extremely surprised.

Huang Yaoshi listened attentively and compared every word with the ones in the book. He found out that Guo Jing’s sentences were ten times more logical; firmly resembled the original text that he remembered. His heart turned cold and unconsciously he broke in cold sweats. “Could it be that my deceased wife’s spirit in the underworld is so smart that she managed to recall the full text and passed it on to this boy?” The words kept coming out of Guo Jing’s mouth like trickling water. Huang Yaoshi was started to be convinced that his wife’s spirit did help this youngster; he looked up to the sky and softly muttered, “A Heng, A Heng, you loved me very much that you have used this boy’s mouth to impart the manual to me. But why didn’t you let me see a glimpse of you? I played my flute every night for you; did you hear that?”

‘A Heng’ was Madame Huang’s nickname; nobody else but him knew this; so naturally everybody else did not know what he was talking about. They saw his face looked different; his eyes glazed in tears, his mouth quivered but nothing came out of it; they were puzzled.

After being in that dazed condition for a while Huang Yaoshi suddenly had another thought. He waved his hand to stop Guo Jing. His face was as cold as if there was a layer of frost on it; fiercely he asked, “The Nine Yin Manual that Mei Chaofeng lost; where did you find it?”

Guo Jing saw his eyes had a murderous look; he was really scared. “Disciple really does not know Mei … Senior Mei’s Manual’s whereabouts. If I do, I will gladly help to retrieve it and return it to the Island Master.”

Huang Yaoshi looked at him with his penetrating gaze, yet did not see even the slightest bit of deceitfulness on Guo Jing’s face. He was compelled to believe it was his late wife from the underworld who taught Guo Jing; he was feeling joyful and grieved at the same time. With a loud and clear voice he gave his verdict, “Very well. Qi Xiong, Feng Xiong, it was my deceased wife who chose our son-in-law; your brother did not have anything else to say. Child, I betroth Rong’er to you. Treat her well. I have spoiled Rong’er badly, so you need to yied 30% of the time.”

Huang Rong was ecstatic, she was grinning from ear to ear, “I am a completely well-behaved girl, who said I am badly spoiled?”

Guo Jing might be stupid, he might be slow, but this time he did not need Huang Rong to prompt him; he immediately kneeled down and kowtowed, “Father-in-law!”

He had not stood back up yet when Ouyang Ke suddenly called out, “Hold on!”