The Legend of the Condor Heroes – Chapter 7

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88 min read

Fighting contest to find a suitor.

Original translation by Strunf

The Six Freaks of the Jiangnan and Guo Jing took the southeastern direction. The journey promised to be long: many days passed before they even left the steppe.

That day, they were not very far from Kalgan anymore. It was the first time that Guo Jing landed his feet on the Chinese soil, all was new for him, and he was full of enthusiasm. He loosened the bridle of his horse, that ran so quickly that the wind whistled to the ears of the young man and the landscape changed so quickly before his amazed eyes. The little red horse galloped without interruption till the Black River, then Guo Jing stopped in a hostel by the road, in order to wait for his masters.

Seeing that, after this long race, the horse had sweated a lot, Guo Jing had mercy of him and took a handkerchief to wipe it. He was stunned then to see, on the handkerchief traces of blood! Passing the hand on the neck, he withdrew it covered of blood. He almost burst into tears, blaming himself for not stopping his horse and take care of it. He was therefore the responsible of its loss! He embraced the horse, making him one thousand caresses, however the animal seemed to be very healthy, without appearing to suffer from anything.

Impatient to see his Third Shifu, so he may give some care to the horse, he didn’t stop stretching the neck toward the road to see him as soon as possible. Suddenly, he heard a warbling tolling of bells: four camels of a snow white color arrived at full speed on the road, each brought by an individual clothed in white. Guo Jing had grown in the desert, but he had never seen any as beautiful camels and could not stop himself from looking fixedly at them. Aged of about twenty years, the “cameleers” had all one face of fine lines and attractive, of a beauty that one rarely could see in Mongolia. They got down with agility of their settings to enter in the hostel. Guo Jing could not leave them of the eyes.

One of the cameleers, embarrassed by the fixity of this look, blushed and lowered the head. Another, on the other hand, got in anger, “Little stun! What do you have to look like that?”

Guo Jing, taken on the fact, diverted the head with embarrassment. The newcomers whispered in a low voice and one heard them to laugh.

“Congratulations!” seemed to say one among them. “You really hit that little stun!”

Guo Jing understood that one ridiculed him and felt all ashamed. The red to the cheeks, he wondered if he had to remain or leave, when Han Baoju arrived on his stallion “Pursuit of wind”. The young man hastened to tell to his Shifu of his misadventure.

“How is this possible?” wondered Han Baoju.

He approached the horse, caressed it, examined its hand attentively, and exploded to laugh.

“It is not blood,” he says, “it is sweat!”

“Sweat?” stammers Guo Jing, speechless. “Red sweat?”

“My small Jing, it is a horse to the sweat of blood, a rare beast and of an inestimable value!”

Guo Jing was in heaven to learn that his setting was not wounded.

“Third Shifu,” did he asked, “how sweat can it look like blood?”

“I heard about it from my deceased Shifu, that it existed in the kingdom of Ferghana (central AsiaValley, shared today between Uzbekistan, the Kirghizstan and Taczhikistan.), in the Territories of the west, celestial horses, whose sweat was red as blood. Its gallop looked like he was going to fly, and it could browse more one thousand li per day. But it was a legend, no one ever saw one, and I didn’t believe myself in it too much. However, here is that this legendary animal let himself be tamed by you!”

In the meantime, the other Freaks had also arrived. All took place in the hostel and ordered to eat. Zhu Cong, whose learning was incomparable, said while nodding the head:

“It is effectively an anecdote consigned in the Historic Memorials and in the dynastic history of the Hans, that The emperor Han Wudi, having heard to speak of the horse to the sweat of blood, had sent an emissary in kingdom of Ferghana with a full size statue of the animal, all gold, and had asked to have one of it. However, the king of Ferghana refused.”

“How did the emperor react?” asked for Han Xiaoying. “Did he give up on the horse?”

Installed on another table, the cameleers in blank, also stretched the ear to listen the history. At that moment, one heard to ring some bells and four other individuals, also clothed of white, entered and sat down with their mates.

“Of course no,” says Zhu Cong. “He entered in a terrifying anger and invaded Ferghana. To the term of a long and terrifying war, during which the kingdom was annihilated, he finally captured one of the famous horses, but at what price!”

All exclaimed on the madness of the men and continued to eat the meal that they had ordered.

The eight cameleers had listened to history attentively, throwing looks of desire on the attached outside red horse, and didn’t quit to whisper in a low voice. Ke Zhen’e, whose hearing was especially fine, heard them distinctly, although the tables were relatively distant from each other.

“If one wants to go for it,” said one of them, “we need to do it right away. If he rides his horse again, we won’t be able to catch him up!”

“There is too many people here,” retorted another. “And he has some mates…”

“If they dare to interfere,” said a third, “we only have to kill them all!”

“How can these eight individuals appear as cruel?” wondered Ke Zhen’e, but he didn’t let anything of it to appear and continued to swallow his dough’s greedily.

“We are going to offer this precious horse to the young Master,” said one of them. “Mounted on such beast, his arrival in the Yanjing will be a lot more spectacular! No one will be talked as much as him, not even conceited persons like ‘the immortal of the Ginseng’, or the ‘Virtuous Supreme Lingzhi’!”

Ke Zhen’e had heard to speak already of the “Virtuous Supreme Lingzhi”, that was an eminent personality of the esoteric school of Tibet, known in the whole Southwest for his so-called technique “Stamp of a big hand.” On the other hand, he didn’t know anything about the “Immortal of the Ginseng.”

“These last days,” said another, “we met on the road a lot of outlaws, these are all of the men of Peng Lianhu, called ‘Butcher of the one thousand Hands.’ They are probably going to the appointment in Yanjing. If they fall on this precious horse, do you believe that we will get another chance to get it?”

Ke Zhen’e froze: he knew that Peng Lianhu was a dangerous strip chief who raged in the region of the Hubei and Shanxi. He had many henchmen under his orders and acted with cruelty. He had killed so many people that he had received the nickname of “Butcher of the one thousand Hands.” “Why,” did he wonder, “all this sinister outlaws are to meet in the capital? And from where did these eight women came?”

These women, continued to plot to low voice, deciding to lie a ambush on the road, outside of the township, in order to seize the horse of Guo Jing. Then they chattered, talking of cloths and other business, of the kind: “It is you that the young Master prefers”, or “The young Master must be thinking about you now”, etc. Ke Zhen’e raised the eyebrows, angry, but he could not close his ears and he heard all in spite of him.

“If we offer the horse to the sweat of blood to the young Master,” did ask for one among them, “what reward do you believe that he is going to give us?”

“He is surely going to spend more nights with you,” answered another while laughing.

The first protested, sulky. They bickered while laughing.

“Be quiet,” says one among them. “Don’t unveil our intentions, they don’t seem to be that easy…”

“The woman over there,” says another in a low voice, “carries a sword, she practices the martial arts for sure. And she is rather good looking!”

If she had ten years less, the young Master would certainly fall for her!

Ke Zhen’e understood well that they were speaking of Han Xiaoying and felt even angrier: this “young Master” of which they spoke can’t be someone that advisable!

The eight women finished their meal, took their camels and left the hostel.

After their departure, Ke Zhen’e asked Guo Jing, “Jing, what do you think if the gongfu of these eight women?”

“What women?” wondered Guo Jing.

“They are disguised in men,” explained Zhu Cong, “but you didn’t realize it, did you?”

“Who knows the Mount of the White Camel?” asked Ke Zhen’e.

No one had heard to speak of it. Ke informed them about the conversation that he had heard, the other Freaks found that these shameless women didn’t lack of boldness, but their audacity to want to tackle someone stronger than them was something to laugh of.

“Two among them,” said Han Xiaoying, “have a big nose and green eyes: they probably aren’t Chinese…”

“Effectively,” confirmed Han Baoju. “And these entirely white camels only exist in the Territories of the west.”

“That they want to steal the horse,” said Ke Zhen’e, “that is not too serious, but they said that numerous dangerous personalities were going to a meeting in Yanjing: it must probably hide an important plot to harm the Song dynasty. It could even have disastrous consequences for our people! Since we fell on such a business, we cannot wash our hands of it.”

“Certainly not,” said Quan Jinfa, “but the appointment of Jiaxing is near, we can’t waste any time.”

They hesitated, because it appeared impossible to reconcile the two missions.

“That Jing goes there first,” says suddenly Nan Xiren.

“Fourth brother wants to say,” did decipher Han Xiaoying, “that Jing must go alone in Jiaxing, and that we will join it once we will have solved this business in Yanjing?”

Nan Xiren nodded the head.

“It is true,” says Zhu Cong, “it is time that Jing travels a little alone to acquire some experience all by himself…”

The young man appeared very saddened to part away from his Shifus.

“You are now big,” reprimanded Ke Zhen’e. “Don’t behave like a child!”

“You go and wait for us there,” comforted Han Xiaoying. “In less than one month, we will join you.”

“The appointment of Jiaxing,” said Zhu Cong, “we didn’t explain it in detail to you until now. Whatever it arrives, at the twenty-fourth day of the third lunar month, at noon, you must imperatively be to the Pavilion of the Drunk Immortals, even if the sky was to fall on your head!”

Guo Jing acquiesced.

“These eight women want to steal your horse,” continued Ke Zhen’e. “Don’t look for the fight: your horse is fast and they won’t be able to catch you up. You have important things to attend to, avoid to embark in useless histories.”

“If these women dare to cause any trouble,” said Han Baoju, “the Seven Freaks of the Jiangnan will stop them!”

Zhang Asheng had died more than ten years ago, but the six always called themselves “Seven Freaks”, never forgetting to associate their dead brother to all their actions.

Guo Jing therefore bid farewell to his teachers. They had witnessed his battle against the Four Demons of the Yellow River, and were not too greatly worried: the young man had proved that he knew to use the skills that had been taught to him. Therefore they let him leave alone. On one hand, the meeting of the outlaws in Yanjing worried them greatly, so that they could not make themselves lose interest in it; and on the other hand, a youngster always had to travel the jianghu alone, in order to learn lessons that no teacher could pass on.

At the moment of parting, each made his last recommendations. As usual when the Six spoke after one another, Nan Xiren was the last one to express himself:

“If you cannot defeat the enemy,” he said. “Flee!”

Knowing the dogged character of Guo Jing, he knew that he would prefer to die rather than to surrender: if he met a master, he would certainly fight to the bitter end, even at the risk of death. That was the reason Nan Xiren gave him this common-sense warning.

“The martial arts have no limits,” added Zhu Cong. “As the proverb says: ‘For every peak there is one yet higher’, so for every man there is one stronger. Whatever your power, you will always one day meet a foe stronger than you. A true man knows to retreat when necessary: when facing grave danger, it is necessary to contain one’s impatience and anger. This what is meant by the adage: ‘If one preserves the earth and its forests, one does not fear to lack firewood.’ It is not therefore not cowardly to take good advice! When the enemy is too numerous and that you cannot face them there, it is especially necessary to avoid being too reckless. Keep in mind Fourth Shifu’s advice!”

Guo Jing agreed and kowtowed to his teachers, before mounting his horse to head for the South. He felt great sadness at parting from his masters, with whom had lived every day for the ten last years, so that the tears flowed down his face. He thought also of his mother, whom he had left alone in the desert. Of course, she did not lack for anything, since Genghis Khan and Tolui had promised to look after her, but his loneliness weighed upon him nonetheless, and he grieved for her.

After travelling about ten li, he arrived in a mountainous region: the road wound in the bottom of a valley dominated by craggy slopes sprinkled by strange boulders. As it was the first time that he had confronted the outside world, he could not help but feel a little apprehensive at the sight of this threatening landscape. One hand on the hilt of his sword, he paused then while smiling, “If Third Shifu saw me thus, trembling and terrified, he would certainly make fun of me!”

The path climbed the mountain flank, becoming more and more narrow and serpentine. After a turn, he suddenly became aware of a mass of white shapes in front of him: four women clothed in white, mounted on white camels, blocked the road.

Guo Jing halted and pulled up the reins of his horse. From a distance, he shouted, “Excuse me! Please, may I pass!”

The four women laughed.

“Little guy,” replied one of them. “What do you fear? Why don’t you come over! We won’t eat you!”

Red-faced, Guo Jing did not know what to do: could he amicably negotiate passage, or was it necessary to rush and force the pass by arms?

“Your horse seems not a bad animal,” said another woman. “Come, let me have a look at him!”

She spoke to him as to a little child. Guo Jing felt anger rise within him. But the layout of the terrain worried him. To his right rose a craggy cliff, to the left there was a mist-drowned precipice, whose bottom could not be seen.

“Eldest Shifu,” he said to himself, “has given me good advice not to seek trouble. If I ride swiftly at them, those girls will be well obliged to let me pass!”

He lashed his reins, pressed with his thighs, and the red horse sped forward like an arrow. Sword in hand, Guo Jing cried, “Listen, you people! Let me pass! If someone is jostled and falls in the precipice, it won’t be my fault!”

In an eye blink, he arrived in front of the four women. They had leapt down from their camels and attempted to seize the bridle of the horse. But, with a whinny, the horse leapt over the camels! Guo Jing had the impression that he was flying in the clouds as he landed behind his opponents, who were just as surprised as him!

Hearing them scream out their anger, he turned and saw the flash of two projectiles flying towards him. This being his first travels in the jianghu, he had taken heed of the prudent recommendations of his masters: worried that the missiles were poisoned, he did not wish to seize them with his bare hand. He waved his leather cap, and gathered them, intercepting their flight.

“Well done!” cried two of the women. “Pretty gongfu!”

Guo Jing dipped his head and saw, inside his cap, two silver darts tipped with extremely sharp fishbones, deadly weapons! He felt disturbed and upset, “There is no ill-will between us,” he said to himself. “You covet only my horse and here you are ready to injure me mortally!”

He placed the missiles in his pouch, and fearing to meet the four other women, he loosened his horse’s reins. It galloped like the wind and in less than an hour, had covered 80 li. The assailants had to be ambushed more far on the road, but it was passed so quickly than they did not have to have the time to stop it. After a brief rest, he continued on. Before night fell again, he had arrived to Kalgan, sure that he had left behind those following.

Kalgan, the crossroads of commerce between the South and the North, was a small but very lively city, where the trade of the region was centered, especially the fur trade.

Holding his red horse by the reins, Guo Jing glanced right and left with great curiosity. Never had he seen a town of such importance, so that everything appeared strange and novel to him.

Arriving in front of a large restaurant, he felt the pangs of hunger. He tied up his horse in front of the door and went in. Once seated at a table, he ordered a dish of beef, with two pancakes, and being of good appetite, he ate in the Mongol manner, winding the meat in the pancake and taking bites out of it.

While he treated himself, he suddenly heard a tumult at the door of the inn. Fearing for his mount, he rushed to the doorway. The little red horse was quietly eating his fodder, but two inn boys were scolding a young, slender boy, clothed in rags.

Aged about fifteen or sixteen years, on his head he wore an old leather hat with many holes, his face and hands were all dirty, so much so that one could not distinguish his features clearly. He held a big bun in his hand and laughed stupidly, revealing two rows of beautiful white teeth, that seemed out-of-place in comparison with his general appearance. His black, very lively eyes, shone with intensity.

“Hey!” screamed one of the boys. “Get lost!”

“Sure,” said the young man, “since you want me to go, I’ll go..”

He turned on his heel, but the other inn boy interrupted, “Leave the bun!”

He did so, passed back the bun, but it was spattered with the tracks of dirty fingers and could no longer be sold. The inn boy, furious, launched a blow with his fist, that the other ducked.

Guo Jing felt pity for him, thinking that he had to be hungry, and interposed himself:

“There’s no need for violence,” he said. “Put that on my account!”

He obtained the bun and gave it to the young man, who took it, but said, “This bun is no good! Poor thing, wait; here, for you!”

He threw the bun to a small skinny dog that started to devour it.

“What a waste!” swore the inn boy, “giving a dog such a good bun!”

Guo Jing was taken aback, for he had believed that the boy had suffered from hunger… He returned to his table to continue his meal. Now, the young man followed him inside the establishment and stayed there, looking at him fixedly. Guo Jing felt a little bothered, then he asked, “Do you want to eat here, too?”

“Gladly so,” replied the young man with a laugh. “Exactly, I was bored all alone and I’ve been looking for a buddy…”

He had a Jiangnan accent, and its familiarity delighted Guo Jing. In fact, his mother was from Lin’an, in Zhejiang province , and the Odd Six all came from Jiaxing: he had therefore, since childhood, been immersed in the accent of the Jiangnan. The young boy seated himself at the table. Guo Jing ordered a cover of more to the waiter. He saw the rags and dirtiness of the new guest, his appearance was not very nice. It was necessary to to call him several times before he brought over a bowl and plate, dragging his feet.

“You take me for a pauper,” said the young boy, “unworthy to eat here?”

“Peuh! Even if you serve your finest dishes, who knows whether they might be to my taste!”

“Ah yes?” said the waiter coldly. “We will assuredly follow your orders, sir. The problem is that we don’t know if anyone will pay!”

“Whatever the dishes that I order,” the boy demanded of Guo Jing, “will you treat me?”

“Of course, of course!” réplied Guo Jing, who then ordered the waiter, “quickly, will you cut up a plate of roast beef and a half plate of mutton liver!”

For him, roast beef and mutton liver constituted the ultimate in delicacies…

“Do you drink wine?” he asked the boy.

“Wait,” the other replied. “Don’t rush into the meat. Let us begin first with fruit. Eh, waiter! Bring us first four dry fruit, four fresh fruit, two salted sweetened ones, four preserved fruit in honey.”

The waiter was shocked, not expecting such orders:

“Which fruit and sweets would you wish, sir?” he enquired.

“In this little establishment, in this pathetic little town,” says the boy, “I imagine it’s impossible for you to do anything great. Then, one will content oneself with little: the four dry fruit are lichis, longans, jujubes to the steamed and gingkos. For the expenses, you will choose seasonal fruits. For the salted sweetened, perfumed cherries and plums to the filaments of ginger, but I don’t know if one can find some here. As for the preserved fruit in honey, you will bring perfumed orangettes to the rose, preserved grapes, fishing lamelles to sugar freezes, and pear slices.”

This knowledge of culinary matters impressed the waiter, who no longer dared to act superior.

“There is no fresh fish or fresh shrimp here, to accompany the wine,” continued the boy, “so I will be content with eight average… dishes.”

“What would you desire, sir?” asked the waiter.

“Of course,” said the boy with a sigh. “If one does not explain all the tiniest details, you would be incapable of doing anything! Here are the eight dishes: steamed pheasant, fried ducks feet, a soup of chicken tongues, deer stomach to rice wine, beef ribs with chives, rabbit in filament to the chrysanthemum, thigh of wild boar stir-fried, pork feet in ginger vinegar… I’m choosing simple dishes only, it’s not worth speaking of more sophisticated dishes.”

The waiter’s mouth gaped.

“These eight dishes,” he said, “are rather expensive! For the duck feet and the chicken tongue soup, we will require a lot of poultry!”

“This gentleman is paying,” responded the boy while pointing at Guo Jing, “do you believe that he does not have the means?”

The waiter saw that Guo Jing carried a sable coat of great value. “Even if you have no means of payment,” he said to himself, “this coat will suffice to cover the expenditures!”

Then he demanded, “Are those all?”

“You will also bring,” the boy said, “twelve more dishes to accompany the rice and eight different desserts. And it will go on like that…”

The waiter didn’t dare to ask details concerning the dishes, fearing the boy would order dishes he could not provide, he went to the kitchen telling to prepare the best.

“Which wine does the gentlemen wish to drink?” he returned to ask. “We have white wine ten years of age. What would you say of two horns to start?”

“Why not?” said the boy. “One continued with…”

A little later the waiter brought fruits and cookies, Guo Jing tasted each plate and marvelled at all those delicious things he had never know. The boy spoke much, telling about the local customs and habits, describing famous characters and famous anecdotes about the country of the South. Guo Jing was fascinated by his refined eloquence and his immense knowledge. Guo Jing’s Second Shifu was a well-read man and a great scholar, but Guo Jing, who had devoted all his time and energy to martial arts, had only learned from Zhu Cong, during their rare free time, some basic characters.

It seemed to him now that this young boy was as cultivated as Second Shifu and he was filled with wonder, “I believe, he thought, what seems just a poor beggar was in reality a well-read man of immense culture. The men in China are definitely quite different from those in Mongolia.”

Half an hour later, the dishes were ready: it was necessary to join two large tables together to be able to serve them all. The young boy drank very little and ate in the same way, being satisfied with pickings of the less spiced dishes. Suddenly, he called the waiter and thundered, “This rice wine is five years old! How do you dare to serve it with the food?”

“Your palate is really very refined!” the manager came to beg for pardon. “Please excuse us. In fact, our humble establishment did not have it, it was necessary to borrow some from the nearest larger restaurant, The House of Eternal Celebration. In general, one does not find fresh wine in Kalgan.”

The young boy made a gesture to return it and resumed his conversation with Guo Jing again, asking him thousand questions about the desert and Mongolia. As his Shifus had reminded him to be discreet, in order not to reveal his identity, he was content to tell anecdotes on hunting for hares and wolves, the shootings of eagles, horse races etc. The boy listened with fascination, applauding the sharpest accounts and often bursting into fresh and childish laughter.

Guo Jing had lived all his life in the desert. He had certainly tied a sincere friendship with Tolui and Huazheng. But Temujin, who loved his youngest son very much, often kept his son near him, so that Tolui didn’t have much time to play around. As for Huazheng, she had a strong character and often quarrelled with Guo Jing, who felt reluctant to do everything she wanted. Although they always ended reconciled, the relation wasn’t easy. However, everything was different with this young boy: they were conversing during eating and Guo Jing, without knowing why, felt a joy he never experienced before.

Usually he spoke little and expressed himself with difficulty. One really needed to pose him with questions forcing him to answer painfully. Han Xiaoying nicely made fun of him by saying that he was the preferred disciple of Fourth Shifu, because he had adopted Nan Xiren’s motto: “silence is golden.”

This time, he surprisingly could speak nonstop, not hiding anything of his life, except his martial arts training and what was related to Temujin, telling even all silly things and his stupidities. He spoke glibly and at a certain moment, he forgot himself and seized the left hand of his interlocutor. He was surprised because this hand was soft and smooth, it was flexible and seemed boneless. The boy smiled slightly and bowed his head. Guo Jing realized whereas the boy’s face was dark with filth, the skin of his nape had the whiteness of jade. Guo Jing found this a bit strange, but he did not pay further attention.

“Well we’ve chat for a long time,” the boy said, “withdrawing his hand, all are cold now, the dishes and also the rice…”

“Yes,” Guo Jing said, “but it is not spoilt, it is still good nevertheless…”

The boy shook his head.

“Then we’ll let it warmed up…”

“No,” the boy said, “what is warmed up isn’t good anymore…”

He called the waiter, ordered him to throw all away and prepare new dishes with fresh ingredients. The manager, cooks and waiters found this attitude quite strange, but they did it readily. The Mongols had a habit of showing extreme hospitability to their guests, and besides, it’s the first time of his life Guo Jing handled money, he didn’t knew its value at all. But even if he did know, he got along so well with the boy, he felt such a pleasure in the boy’s company, he would have spent ten times as much without batting an eye.

The new dishes were served, the boy ate some mouthful and had enough. “You are really an idiot”, the waiter inwardly said to Guo Jing, “This little urchin has taken advantage of you.”

He brought the check, which amounted to nineteen taels, seventy-four conderins. Guo Jing took a gold ingot, ordered the waiter to change against taels at the money changer, and paid.

When they left the restaurant, the northwind blew violently. The young boy seemed to feel cold. He shivered and said, “I’ve disturbed you … Now, goodbye.”

Seeing the boy dressed not warm enough, Guo Jing felt his heart tightening. He removed his black sable coat and covered the shoulders of the boy:

“Brother,” he said, “I got the impression we’ve known each other forever. Please accept this coat.”

He had four gold ingots left, he took two ingots, slipped them into the coat’s pocket. Without even thanking, the boy, wearing the sable coat, stepped along heavily.

After walking about ten steps, he turned and saw Guo Jing, holding his horse by its bridle, fixedly looking at him. He understood Guo Jing did not want to separate like that, then he made a gesture with his hand. Guo Jing approached him eagerly and required, “Does worthy brother still need something?”

“I haven’t yet asked for the name of my big brother,” said the boy smiling.

“Indeed,” Guo Jing said laughing, “we forgot about that. My name is Guo and Jing is my first name. And you, brother?”

“My name is Huang and my first name is Rong.”

“Where are you bound for?” asked Guo Jing. “If you want to go towards the South, we could travel together, what do you think?”

“I do not go towards the South,” Huang Rong said, shaking his head. Then he said suddenly, “Big brother, I’m still hungry…”

“Very well,” Guo Jing ardently said. “Let us eat something together.”

This time, Huang Rong brought him to the House of Eternal Celebration, the principal restaurant of Kalgan, which decoration accurately imitated the great establishments of the ancient capital of Song, Bianliang. He did not order a feast anymore, but asked only four plates of fine pastry, a pot of longjin tea (famous green tea of the province Zhejiang), and both continued their rambling conversation.

Having learned that Guo Jing had tamed two white eagles, Huang Rong expressed a certain desire.

“Very well,” he said, “I did not know exactly where to go. Indeed, tomorrow I’ll leave for Mongolia, to catch two white eagles for my amusement.”

“They are not easy to find,” Guo Jing remarked.

“Then how did you find them?” Guo Jing didn’t answer and only smiled. “The climate is severe in Mongolia,” he said, “the north wind blew icy and hard, how would this young boy with such a weak constitution could withstand it?”

“Where do you live?” he asked. “Why don’t you return home?”

Huang Rong had tears in his eyes, “Dad doesn’t want me anymore!”

“And why?”

“He locked up somebody,” answered Huang Rong, “and did not want to set that person free. I took pity on the prisoner; as he is displeased all alone, I brought good things for him to eat, and I try to converse with him. Dad got angry and cursed at me, I ran away in the middle of the night.”

“Your dad surely thinks of you at this moment,” Guo Jing said. “And your mom?”

“Died for a long time! I didn’t have a mom since very little…”

“If you have had your fun, it would be better to return home.”

“Dad does not want me anymore,” Huang Rong said crying.

“That’s impossible.”

“Then why doesn’t he look for me?”

“Perhaps he is still seeking, but haven’t found you…”

“You are probably right,” Huang Rong said, “who changed from crying to laughing. Then when I have my fun, I’ll return. But first of all, it is necessary to tame two white eagles.”

They chatted again about what they have seen or experienced. Guo Jing told the incident of the eight women in white disguised as men who wanted to take possession of his horse. Huang Rong raised questions about the small red horse, its capabilities, its character, and was full of envy. He drank a mouthful of tea and said smilingly, “Big brother, I want to ask for something of great value to you. Would you approve of that?”

“Of course, why wouldn’t I?”

“What I would like, is precisely your horse with the sweat of blood!”

“Allright,” Guo Jing said without hesitating, “I’ll give it gladly to you.” In fact, Huang Rong was joking: he saw very well that Guo Jing adored his invaluable horse, and they have met just recently and by chance. He just wanted to see how this good chap was going to refuse his improper request. However, Guo Jing answered with such an amount of generosity and simplicity that he was taken by surprise. Moved beyond words, he could not prevent himself breaking into sobs and hide his face with his arms.

Guo Jing was even more surprised:

“Well, brother,” he asked with concern. “What has occurred? Don’t you feel well?”

Huang Rong raised his head. He had cried, but now a big smile lit his face. The running tears had wiped away the filth, revealing a white skin like pure jade.

“Big brother,” he said, “let us go!”

Guo Jing paid and they left the restaurant. Guo Jing took his horse by its bridle, caressed it gently and gave it the following advice:

“I’ve given you to my great friend here. You will show yourself obeying and especially not show your foul temper!” Then he addressed Huang Rong, “Brother, mount the horse!”

Usually, the small red horse did not allow anyone else to mount it, but, during the last few days, it had quietened a lot. And, since its master had ordered it to do so, it didn’t make a fuss. Huang Rong leapt on the horse, Guo Jing let go the bridle, and clapped him lightly on the rump. Rider and horse disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Guo Jing waited till he could see them no more before he returned. It was very late when he obtained a room in a hostelry. The moment he was going to extinguish his candle and to go to bed, he heard a scratch at the door. He thought that it was Huang Rong who had returned, and felt great joy:

“Is that you, brother?” he demanded. “That’s great!”

“It’s your old man!” replied a hoarse voice. “What’s so wonderful?”

Surprised, the young man opens the door and saw, by the glimmer of the candle, five men. While looking at them more closely, he felt a shiver go down his spine: four of them, armed with sabre, lance, whip and twin axes, were none other than the Yellow River’s Four Demons, whom he had fought earlier at the hill. The fifth one was a lean man of about forty years, with a dark and long face, with three big bumps on the forehead, that gave him an extremely ugly appearance.

The lean man sneered and swept grandly into the room. He seated himself arrogantly on the bed of bricks (in northern China, sleeping arrangements generally were installed on top of a kind of brick “oven”, that allowed for heating underneath), then turned his head to regard Guo Jing.

The senior brother of the Yellow River’s Four Demons, Shen Qinggang, nicknamed “Sabre Breaks the Soul”, declared coldly:

“Here is our martial uncle, the renowned Hou Tonghai, known as ‘Three-Headed Dragon’! Kowtow before Lord Hou right now!”

Guo Jing realized that he was cornered. He already could not defeat the Four Demons of the Yellow River by themselves, to say nothing of their martial uncle, who had to be fearsome.

“What do you want?” he demanded, while joining his fists in greeting.

“Where are your teachers?” questioned Hou Tonghai.

“My six Shifu are not here.”

“Huh,” sneered Hou Tonghai. “Then I will leave you a respite of a half-day. If I killed you now, one could say that the Three-Headed Dragon was taking advantage of an opponent weaker than him. Tomorrow noon, I will await your six Shifus in the Black Pine Wood, ten li to the west of here.”

He left without even waiting for Guo Jing’s reply. Wu Qinglie, nicknamed “Whip Pulls out Life”, closed the door and locked it from the outside.

Guo Jing put out the candle, lay down on the bed, and saw, on the paper of the window, a shadow came and went with no small swiftness: the enemy, clearly, were mounting a watch over him. Shortly after, he heard a noise on the roof, someone hitting the tiles with a weapon, while saying, “Little chap, don’t even think about running away, your old man is watching you.” Understanding that escape was impossible, Guo Jing lay still, glancing at the ceiling, wondering how he was going to leave tomorrow, but he fell sleep before he found the beginnings to a solution.

The next day morning, the inn boy brought hot water for his bath and noodles for breakfast, closely followed by Qian Qingjian, armed with his two short axes.

Guo Jing reflected that his Shifu were faraway and probably could not arrive on time to save him. Since he could not flee, it was necessary to fight and die as a man! His Fourth Shifu had for him well says, “If you can’t beat the enemy, flee!”, But to flee without even being beaten, this would not be following the advice… In fact, it would not have been difficult for him to escape from Qian Qingjian alone, but his spirit was not very lively or very resourceful. If only Nan Xiren had said to him, “Flee from danger!”, he probably would have taken to his heels, and Qian Qingjian certainly would not have been in a position to catch him. The Three-Headed Dragon, Hou Tonghai, believed that the Jiangnan Odd Six were located in this area, and that, given their fame, they never would have failed to keep an appointment, so would never have imagined that Guo Jing would flee on his own.

Seated on the bed, he praticed the meditations and controlled his breath according to the pointers given by Ma Yu. Next to him, Qian Qingjian whirled his axes while shouting and while criticizing his methods. Guo Jing gave him not the least attention. Towards noon, he rose.

“Let’s go,” he said to his jailer.

He paid his expenditures to the innkeeper and both headed for the west. Ten li further on, they indeed came across a wood of thickly foliaged pines. Qian Qingjian left Guo Jing and entered the wood.

The young man pulled out the supple whip that he always carried by his side and cautiously entered the undergrowth. Progressing slowly, all the direction to the aguets, he followed the small path for a little more than one li, without seeing anyone. All was silent, with an occasional bird cry now and then. As he advanced, his apprehension grew.

“No one is watching me,” he said suddenly to himself, “the wood is so thick, why not hide myself? To hide myself, that’s not to flee!”

He prepared himself to slip into a bush when he heard swearing above his head:

“Little bastard! Idiot! Moron!”

Guo Jing jumped back, his whip held on guard. He looked up and burst out laughing: all at the top of four big trees, the Yellow River Demons, hands tied behind their backs, were hanging at the end of a rope and wriggled in the air. They struggled hopelessly but could not escape. Seeing Guo Jing, they redoubled their cursing.

“You playing at swings?” asked Guo Jing while laughing. “This is very funny, isn’t it? Then good-bye, I’ll take my leave-”

He took a few steps back, then returned.

“How did you end up like that?”

“Damn you!” growled Qian Qingjian. “We were trapped by surprise, this is not worthy of a real man!”

“Little guy,” cried Shen Qinggang, “if you’re brave enough, let us down, we will fight one on one to decide between us. For if we attacked you en masse, we would be cowards!”

Guo Jing wasn’t very intelligent, but neither was he completely stupid. He burst out laughing again and said, “I’ll accept that you’re brave, without needing to match blows!” Afraid that Hou Tonghai, the Three-Headed Dragon, might arrive, he had no desire to linger; he hastily departed and returned to the city. He bought a horse and resumed without delay his journey south.

“Who was it that helped me secretly?” he asked himself. “These Four Demons of the Yellow River have excellent gongfu, who succeeded in tying them up, and suspend them in the trees? And this Three-Headed Dragon that had seemed so frightening, why was it that I didn’t see him anymore? My Shifu always said: when an appointment is taken, it is necessary to keep it, even if the sky falls on your head. I’ve kept his appointment, if he didn’t arrive himself, that’s not my fault.”

The journey went on without incident. That day, he finally arrived at Yanjing. It was the capital of the Jin Empire, the most prosperous city in the country. Even the former capital of the Song, Bianliang, or the new, Lin-An, could not compete with it. Guo Jing, who had grown up in the desert, never had seen similar organization. Red buildings of cunning architecture, decorated panels, majestic doors, splendid attachments in front of the sumptuous residences, fiery standards disputing the passage in the streets. Merchandises of all sorts were exposed in of immense stores, a colorful crowd to the luxurious clothes pressed themselves in the tea parlors and the debits of drinks. Brilliant signs, multicolored standards, in the air resounded a thousand musics, a hundred perfumes filled with fragrance. Guo Jing did not know anymore where to turn his head. There were so many things before his eyes that he did not recognize one object out of ten!

Not daring to enter a restaurant that was too richly furnished, he chose a small stall where he ate quickly, then continued to walk about at random. Suddenly, he heard a continuous cheering, and saw a crowd in the distance, massed around something.

Pressed on by his curiosity, he approached and slipped among the onlookers. They pressed themselves around a wide open area, in the middle of which was planted an ornamented standard with the phrase “Challenge to find a spouse” embroidered upon it. Beneath the standard, two persons faced each other in unrelenting combat: one was a girl dressed in red, the other a big fat fellow. Guo Jing saw right away that the girl, whose every movement was measured and checked, had good gongfu, while the fat fellow was clearly not up to the mark. After some exchanges, the girl feigned to lower her guard, the fat fellow advanced to attack with a blow “Twin Dragons Leaving their Lairs”, projecting both fists towards the chest of the opponent. But the girl stepped back lightly, her left arm pivoted and struck the back of the fat fellow, who tumbled to the ground. He got up, covered in dust, an embarrassed look on his face, and disappeared into the crowd. The spectators applauded and acclaimed the girl.

She rearranged a strand of hair and returned to the standard. Guo Jing regarded her more attentively: aged about eighteen years, she was very graceful and her face extremely pretty, lightly marked by life. Gusts of cold wind fluttered the standard, to either side of which had been planted an iron lance and two short halberds.

The girl exchanged some words in a low voice with a middle-aged man. He nodded, and stepped forward, clasped his hands and saluted the onlookers:

“Your servant is named Mu Yi. I am from Shandong. In visiting your honourable city, I seek neither fame or fortune. It is just that, my girl is of the age to put a comb in her hair (HAS to leave fifteen years, the girls, considered as adults, can groom and squeeze their hair with a comb) and she has no fiance. She has formerly made a vow: she does not desire a prosperous husband or a noble one, but a valiant expert in martial arts. This is the reason we have the audacity to propose a contest for her to find a husband: all young men, aged less than thirty years and who are unmarried, can match themselves against my girl. If he can vanquish her in a single move, I will give her to him in marriage. We traversed the country of the South to the North, but all the renowned experts already are married, and the young brave ones doubtless did not deign to try…this is the reason we have not been able to find a good husband… Yanjing is a place where ‘tigers and dragons hide in the shadows’. Here there certainly are many heroes and valiant men. If my actions seem presumptous, I beg your kind pardon!”

This Mu Yi looked sturdy and strong to Guo Jing, but his back was slightly hunched, he was white-haired and his entire face wrinkled. His air was melancholic and sad; he was clad in coarse fabric, patched in several places, while the girl was clothed in lively colours.

After making his speech, Mu Yi listened for some time. He heard louts making vulgar comments, but they did not dare to descend in the arena.

He raised his eyes to the sky, saw leaden clouds accumulating and the wind grew stronger.

“One would say that a blizzard threatens,” he said in a low voice. “Ah, it was so dark, that day…”

He turned back, took down the banner from the standard and prepared to stow away the banner when two simultaneous cries were heard from the east and west, “One moment!”, and two men leaped in the open space.

Upon seeing them, the crowd burst out laughing. The one who had come from the east was obese and elderly. He had a big beard and had to be at least fifty years old. The one come from the west was even more comical: he was a shaven-headed monk.

“What are you laughing at?” the fat one shouted to the crowd. “Isn’t this a contest to find a spouse! I am not married, why can’t I try my luck?”

“Venerable ancestor,” said the monk while giggling, “even if you win, you wouldn’t want this girl, as beautiful as a flower, to become a widow right away!”

“And you,” said the fat one angrily, “What are you here for?”

“If I can have such a pretty girl,” replied the monk, “I’ll return to the secular world!”

The crowd was roaring again.

The girl frowned her eyebrows, apparently annoyed. She removed the cape which she used to cover herself and wanted to continue the fight. Mu Yi held her arm, saying not to be irritated, and replanted the banner in the ground. The monk and the obese person continued their bickering, each wanted to fight the girl first.

“Why don’t you start fighting against each other first?” the hilarious spectators suggested. “The winner will have the honor to fight the girl!”

“Allright,” the monk said. “Old chap, let’s have a little fun! He threw a blow with his fist, the obese one avoided it by lowering his head, before returning the blow.”

Guo Jing recognized the style of the monk, the Arhat style from the ShaoLinTemple. The obese one practised the style of the Five Movements. Both were thus practitioners of external gongfu. The monk showed himself of great agility, whereas the obese one, in spite of his age, privileged heaviness and power. Suddenly, the monk stealthily struck three blows at the stomach of his adversary, who fought stoically, in order to be able to batter down his right fist on the head of the monk. Who fell to the ground, dazzled, then found his spirits again, took a knife out of his robe and run to attack. The crowd shed a cry of surprise. The obese one leapt back before wielding an iron whip which was rolled up around his waist: thus, both had become armed! The fight began again, still desperate, but more dangerous. The spectators applauded while moving back, fearing to be injured by straying blows.

Mu Yi approached the two men and said with a loud voice, “Stop! We are here in the imperial capital, it is forbidden to exhibit weapons!” The two adversaries, carried away by their fight did not give any attention to him. Mu Yi leapt suddenly, jumping he kicked the knife of the monk while seizing the end of the whip. He drew with force, the obese one could not resist and released the whip. Mu Yi threw the whip onto the ground. The two adversaries, not daring to fight anymore, collected their weapons shamefully and disappeared under the gibes from the crowd.

Then tinkling of small bells which were attached to the harnesses of horses was heard and one saw a flamboyant company appearing: several tens of vigorous servants accompanying a young nobleman. He looked at the brocade banner and examined the girl from head to toes. Then he smiled, got down from his horse and came forward.

“Is this the girl who seeks a husband through a contest?” he asked. The girl blushed and turned her head without answering. Mu Yi advanced, joining his fists and greeted, “My name is Mu. What does the young Lord wish?”

“What are the rules of this contest?”

Mu Yi explained it to him.

“Then I want to try my chance as well…” He was a young and handsome nobleman about eighteen or nineteen years old, dressed in a lavish brocade coat.

“At last a boy,” thought Guo Jing, “who would make a beautiful couple with this girl! Unfortunately the monk and the old obese one a while ago were not up to par, if not… if not…”

“Your Lordship is joking,” said Mu Yi mortified.

“What do you mean?”

“We are only wanderers without abode, how would we dare to measure ourselves against you? And it is not an ordinary contest, it decides the marriage of my daughter … Please forgive us.”

“Since when have you held this contest?”

“It has been more than six months that we traverse the roads.”

“And still nobody could overcome your daughter?” the young nobleman said unbelievingly.

“It is undoubtedly,” Mu Yi answered smiling, “because the experts in martial arts are all already married, or they condescend to be measured with her.”

“OK, OK!” the young dandy exclaimed. “I will test …”

“This is a young man with a refined and distinguished bearing,” Mu Yi thought. “If he came from an ordinary family, he would have made a husband of choice for my child. But obviously, he belongs to the nobility. We are here in the capital of Jin, his family is perhaps well-known at the Court, or in any case, he is certainly rich and powerful. If my daughter wins, that could be worth our troubles; if she loses, would it be bad for us to be united to such a family?”

“We are just wanderers in the realm of Rivers and Lakes,” he said, “we cannot measure ourselves with you. Please forgive us! We will leave!”

“This is an honorable contest,” the young nobleman said laughing. “I assure you, I will not harm your daughter.” He then turned to the girl and said amiably, “It will be enough that the young lady touches me to win, allright?”

“In a contest, it is necessary to comply strictly to the rules,” the girl protested.

“Hurry up with the fight,” a cry was heard from the crowd. “The speedier you will fight, the more quickly you will be married, and the more quickly you will have babies!” The spectators burst out into laughter. The girl wrinkled her eyebrows and removed her cape sulkily. She greeted the young nobleman, who bowed in return, “Please, young lady.”

“This young dandy grew in affluence,” Mu Yi thought, “does he know martial arts? It is better to defeat him quickly and to leave the city as soon as possible, in order to avoid trouble.”

“Allright,” then he said, “perhaps Your Lord wants to get rid of his coat.”

“That is not necessary,” the young dandy said smiling.

The spectators, who knew the ability of the girl, thought that to show oneself that careless, one was going to suffer!

“But,” some of them thought, “they must have experience in the realm of Rivers and Lakes. They will certainly not injure a son of a noble family. They probably will arrange that he does not lose face.”

“Do you believe,” whispered the others, “that they really perform a ‘contest to find a spouse’? Probably, old Mu only wants to benefit from the beauty and gongfu of his daughter to cheat money from fools! This young dandy should watch his wallet!”

“Please!” the girl also said. The young nobleman swivelled towards the right, whereas his left sleeve flew with flashing speed towards the shoulder of the girl. She, surprised by the speed and skill of the attack, leaned and plunged, thus escaping the blow. But the action of her adversary was stunning, the right sleeve already arrived near the head of the girl, clamping both sides. She had to leap back with the quickness of an arrow.

“Good!” the young nobleman shouted, he advanced without letting her the time to fall down on her feet. The girl, still in the air, swivelled and attacked to defend herself, kicking with her left foot in the direction of the nose of the young man. He had to move back hastily, and both fell down simultaneously on their feet. The young man had attacked with three stances, the girl had defended herself with agility, they both began to feel respect and watched each other. The girl blushed, and took the initiative to attack. The battle started anew, more desperate: it was performed so quickly that the young man looked like a shadow of shining brocade, whereas the girl resembled a red cloud.

At the side, Guo Jing was increasingly stunned, “These two young people are of my age,” he said to himself, “and they possess such a high level of martial arts, it is really extraordinary! They would make a perfect pair: if they marry, they could then, during their leisure hours, replay some ‘contest to find a spouse’, it would be funny!”

With his mouth agape, he followed the spectacle with participation, when suddenly, the girl clutched the sleeve of her adversary and tore it off with force. She jumped back immediately, holding her trophy up.

“Young Lord,” shouted Mu Yi, “We are sorry!” Then he turned to his daughter, “Well, let us go now.”

“Not so quickly,” the young man shouted with a grim look on his face. “Nothing is really decided yet!”

He caught the two sides of his coat and pulled, causing the jade buttons to pop out. One of his servants helped him to remove his coat, while another collected the buttons. Underneath, the young man wore a water green satin tunic, tightly held to his waist by a delicate green scarf, which gave him an even more captivating air. He raised his left palm and sent a blow, showing his true gongfu this time. An extremely violent gust of air passed very close to the girl.

Guo Jing, Mu Yi and his daughter were dumbfounded:

“How could,” they wondered, “a person of such distinction has such a cruel and brutal gongfu?”

The young nobleman did not look for fun anymore, his blows were so powerful that his adversary could not approach him anymore.

“We have a formidable expert here,” Guo Jing thought, “the girl is no match for him: apparently, marriage is in sight. And I am quite content for them … My six Shifus always said that exceptional men are legion in the Central Plains. Indeed, this young nobleman has an original palm style with sophisticated variations. Should we fight, I would probably not win against him!”

For his part, Mu Yi could also foretell the outcome of the duel:

“My daughter,” he shouted, “it is useless to continue. The young Lord is much stronger than you!”

“This young man has excellent gongfu,” he said to himself, “thus he is not one of these idle, gambling and whoring sons of certain families. Presently, I will request information about his family. If he is not related to the Jin government authorities, I will approve of a marriage. Then my daughter’s future will be secured …”

He shouted to both to stop their fight. But the battle was full blown and couldn’t cease.

“If I wanted to injure you now,” the young man thought, “nothing would be easier, but I do not have the heart to do it.” Suddenly, his left palm changed into a claw, and he clutched the wrist of the girl. She, surprised, sought to break loose. The young man pushed slightly forward and the girl lost balance. At the time she was going to fall, the right arm of her adversary pulled her gently, and she fell into his arms. The spectators applauded and hollered with enthusiasm causing a great tumult.

Shamefully blushing, the girl begged with a low voice, “Release me, quickly!”

“Say ‘my dear’ to me,” he answered laughing, “and I’ll release you!”

Outraged by such an impudence, she struggled, but he held her firmly and she could not break loose. Mu Yi advanced and said, “You’ve won, please release my daughter!”

The young nobleman burst into laughter but did not do anything.

Losing her patience, the girl gave a kick in the direction of the plexus of her adversary, in order to make him release her. He indeed freed his right arm, parried the blow and caught the foot immediately: his qin-na technique was perfectly timed and he could seize anything he wanted. The girl panicked, sought to release her foot by pulling with force. At last she succeeded, but by doing so she lost her small shoe which was embroidered with red flowers.

She sat down on the ground, head lowered and red with shame, holding her foot covered by a sock of white fabric. The young aristocrat smiled unsteadily, wore the laced boot to his nose and sniffed it. In the situation, the hooligans were obviously not going to let pass this occasion:

“That smells good!” they shouted in chorus.

“What is your name?” asked Mu Yi.

“It’s not worth speaking of,” answered the young aristocrat while laughing.

He took again his brocaded coat, cast a glance in direction of the girl, and placed the small embroidered laced boot in his pocket. At that moment, the wind redoubled in strength and large snowflakes started to fall.

“We live at the Inn of Prosperity,” said Mu Yi, “in the western part of the city. Let us go there thus together, in order to make plans.”

“To plan what?” the young aristocrat retorted. “It’s snowing now, it is necessary that I hurry home.”

Mu Yi turned pale.

“You won this challenge, I made a promise, that I give you my daughter in marriage. It is a serious business, one cannot treat it with lightly!”

The young aristocrat burst out laughing:

“We had a little fun with martial arts,” he said, “it was rather interesting… But, as for the marriage, ha, I am obliged to decline this honour!”

Anger choked Mu Yi and prevented him from speaking, “You… You…”

“What do you take our Young Prince for?” shouted a servant while laughing. “Do you believe that he would wed with vulgar travelling performers from the jianghu? In your dreams, old man!”

Mu Yi was so angered that, with a blow, he struck him senseless. The young aristocrat did not seek any explanation: he got his servant to be carried and was on the point of mounting his horse.

“You really make fun of us!” Mu Yi shouted, clutching him by the left arm. “Well, in any event, my daughter cannot marry such an insolent person as you. But return to us the laced boot!”

“It’s she who gave it to me!” said the young aristocrat while laughing, “why do you interfere yourself? I won the tournament, I’ve declined your marriage, but I’ll keep the consolation prize!”

He pivoted his arm, exerted some inner force and pulled clear.

“It won’t happen like that!” Mu Yi exclaimed, trembling with anger.

He leaps and struck with both fists, in a blow called “Bell and drum sounds together”, towards the temples of his adversary. He turned and returned to the arena.

“And if I beat you, old man,” he said while laughing, “you won’t force me more to become your son-in-law?”

The crowd, indignant at the impudent and arrogant attitude of the young man, remained quiet. Only some hooligans and good-for-nothings burst out laughing roughly.

Without saying a word, Mu Yi tightened his belt, and leapt with a “Sea Swallow Skimming the Flood” on the young aristocrat. He knew that he was extremely angry and did not take the attack lightly. He dodged, replied with a blow to the belly, “The poisonous snake seeks its den”. Mu Yi dodged, struck with his left palm at the shoulder, the young man turned, advanced his right palm under the left arm. It was an extremely vicious blow, called “Benefit from the cloud to change the sun”, executed without the knowledge of the adversary. However, Mu Yi parried effectively and closed again his two hands on the cheeks of the young aristocrat.

At that moment, whatever move he made, he could not avoid the blow! He wrinkled his eyebrows, bit his lips, and decided to employ another technique: his two hands flew like flashes and his ten fingers were planted in the back of the hands of Mu Yi. When he withdrew them, the ends of his fingers were smeared with red!

All the spectators shouted in surprise. The girl, thrown into a panic, supported her father: she tore a strip of her tunic to wrap his hands, which bled profusely.

Mu Yi pushed back his daughter:

“Move aside,” he said. “Today, it’s either him or me!”

The girl, pale, looked at the young aristocrat fixedly, drew a dagger suddenly and wanted to plunge it full into her heart. Surprised, Mu Yi sought to stop her hand, and the girl did not have time to draw aside the blade, which was planted in the hand of her father.

The spectators sighed and deplored to see a beautiful scene finishing in such a bloody way! Even the hooligans seemed indigant at such a outcome. The comments started to focus on the improper attitude of this young aristocrat.

Facing such unrighteousness, Guo Jing could not remain standing by. He gently drew aside the people in front of him and advanced into the open space:

“Ha!” he shouted, “to act like that, that’s not good!”

The young aristocrat, disconcerted for a moment, retorted while laughing;

“Ah yes? How is it necessary to act well?”

His servants, seeing that Guo Jing was clad like a peasant and that he spoke with a marked southern accent, made fun of him. Guo Jing did not understand the mockery, and said seriously, “You should marry this young lady!”

“And if I don’t marry her?”

“If you don’t want to marry her, why did you come down to fight? It was well marked, on the banner, ‘Challenge to find a husband’!”

“What are you interfering for, kid?” retorted the young aristocrat, in a threatening voice.

“This young lady is not only very beautiful, but she has excellent gongfu. Why don’t you want her? Didn’t you see that she felt so offended that she wanted to commit suicide?”

“You’re such a moron that it isn’t worthwhile to explain it to you…”

The young aristocrat turned on his heel. Guo Jing restained him:

“Huh! How can you leave like that?”

“What do you want?”

“Didn’t I tell you to marry this young lady?”

The aristocrat laughed and was about to leave.

Mu Yi, seeing the intervention of Guo Jing, understood that he was generous, but naive and little acquainted with the way of the world. He approached and says to him, “Little brother, don’t worry about him. So long as I have a breath of life, I will find to be avenged for this insult.”

Then he shouted towards the young aristocrat, “At least leave your name!”

“I told you I couldn’t call you ‘father-in-law’,” he retorted insolently, “why do you want to still know my name?”

Very annoyed by this, Guo Jing leaped forward while shouting, “Then return that embroidered laced boot to the young lady!”

“Is that any of your damn business!” the nobleman said furiously. “You’ve taken a fancy to this young miss yourself, have you?”

Guo Jing shook his head and said, “No! Look, are you going to return it, or not?”

The young aristocrat tightened the hand suddenly and slapped Guo Jing heavily. He moved sharply, and employed a qinna technique, seizing, by crossing the hands, the wrists of his adversary. He sought to escape, in vain.

“Do you want to die?” he shouted then, surprised and annoyed, giving a kick towards Guo Jing’s lower belly.

He flexed his muscles and pushed back the young aristocrat towards the open space. Obviously, this person had a good lightness technique (Qinggong), for, instead of falling on his back, he corrected himself and landed on his feet. He nimbly removed his brocaded coat and exclaimed, “You don’t want to continue living, little idiot? If you’ve got guts, come and test yourself against me!”

“Why would I fight with you?” said Guo Jing shaking the head. “Since you do not want to marry with the young lady, return her laced boot!”

The spectators, seeing the intervention of Guo Jing, wanted to see what he was capable of and didn’t think that he would retreat. Some hooligans even hooted, “Talk without action, it’s unworthy of a hero!”

For his part, the young aristocrat, having been caught by Guo Jing, had realized that his gongfu wasn’t insignificant, and especially that he had powerful internal energy. So he was happy not to fight. But, of course, he couldn’t return the laced boot without losing face! He therefore gathered his coat and turned on his heel while laughing. Guo Jing caught him by the side of the coat and repeated, “How can you leave like that?”

The young aristocrat had a sudden idea: he cast his coat over the head of his opponent and struck two fists into his chest. Wrapped up in the coat, Guo Jing could not avoid the impacts. Fortunately, he had practised two years of orthodox neigong with Ma Yu, so that these blows, although extremely painful, could not truly wound him. Pressed by danger, he launched successively, by changing alternate stances, nine fast kicks: it was a skilled technique developed by Han Baoju, which had already enabled him to beat many enemies. Even if the disciple did not have yet the skill of the master, and even if these kicks were made while he was blinded, they disturbed the young aristocrat, who could avoid the first seven, but was caught by the two last fully in his chest.

The two young men simultaneously leapt back. Guo Jing, still amazed, got rid of the coat that hampered him. He could not believe such treachery on behalf of his adversary: “He knew well,” he thought, “that he entered a ‘Challenge to find a husband’, he had won, and yet refused to marry the young lady! Moreover, when I tried to reason with him, not only was it he who struck first, but he used a shameful trick! If I hadn’t practiced neigong well, he would have broken my ribs and crushed my internal organs!” Being of a simple and frank nature, he had always lived with decent people, so that he did not know anything about the perfidy of the human nature. Even though, during the last years, his Masters had not failed to warn him against tricks and treacheries which one might meet in the jianghu, he listened to them like one listens to stories, which could not remain engraved in one’s consciousness as long as they had not been lived oneself. At that moment, he was at the same time furious and perplexed, unable to believe in the existence of such frauds.

The young aristocrat, angered by the two kicks he had received, advanced, his fist raised, on Guo Jing. He parried, but could not face the rain of blows which fell on him, and fell down. The servants were filled with laughter. Their Master puffed out his chest and said while laughing, “Then, you think you can play a deliverer of justice with your three-legged cat technique? Go back home and tell your Shimu to give you lessons for twenty more years!”

Guo Jing got up, breathed in deeply, and circulated his breath in his whole body, so that the pain diminished.

“My Shifu doesn’t have a wife,” he retorted.

“Then tell him to marry one quickly!”

Guo Jing was going to answer: “I have six Shifu, whose wife…” but did not have time. He saw that the other was going to leave, then advanced on him, his fist raised, while shouting, “On guard!”

The young aristocrat dodged, Guo Jing struck a left hook right at his face, the other blocked. They stood, their arms supported upon their adversary’s, each one trying to use internal energy to overcome the other. Guo Jing was a little stronger, his opponent had a better technique, it was difficult to immediately decide between them.

Guo Jing inspired deeply to concentrate its internal energy, while the other loosened its pressure making Guo Jing fall forward. He tried to re-establish his balance when he felt a stroke coming from his back. He hastened to avoid it but, not having a strong basis, he stumbled. While falling, he took support on his elbow and rebounded, while spinning in the air he threw a stroke of his left foot.

Watching this fast and spectacular recovery, the crowd applauds.

The young aristocrat moved away and attacked with two palms, one was a feint to disturb the adversary, while the other was the real stroke. Guo Jing used then the technique “To dissociate the tendons and to dislocate the bones”: his hands fluttered in all senses, aiming the tendons and the joints on the whole body. Seeing the virulence of this attack, the aristocrat changed suddenly of tactic: he also started to use the same technique!

Only, the one learned by Guo Jing had been invented by Zhu Cong, the “Literate to the quick hands”, and diverged from the orthodox technique transmitted by the masters of the central Plains considerably. The two looked alike in their principles, but had some differences in the execution. One threatened with the index and the thumb the point “Food of the old man” behind the wrist, the other tried to pick the joints of the fingers. But the two felt mutual apprehensions and didn’t dare to go all the way, hardly sketching a movement before passing to another. Thus, after forty or so exchanges, they still couldn’t see who had the upper hand.

Snow continued to fall, and a fine white layer covered the head and the shoulders of the spectators that surrounded them.

Suddenly, the young aristocrat seemed to have an opening on his chest.

Guo Jing saw it immediately and tried to benefit from it by pointing his index on the point “Tail of turtledove” of his adversary. But he had some scruples when passing to the action:

“There is no hate between us,” he said to himself, “I can’t use such a deadly stroke on him!” He then deviated his finger and touched another point, what had no effect on his adversary. This one had the whole leisure to catch his wrist and pull him, while making a hook-foot. Guo Jing lost the balance and fell once again.

Mu Yi, whose hands had just been bandaged by his daughter, also watched the two. He saw Guo Jing fall for the third time and understood that he was not of size to face the insolent youngster and he hastened to raise him from the ground:

“Little brother,” he said, “let it go. There’s no point to stay any longer among scoundrels of this kind!”

Guo Jing, that had seen the stars and was hurt already, felt the rage mount on his head.

He moved away from Mu Yi and rushed on his adversary, while increasing in strokes.

The young aristocrat, surprised to see him to insist on it of the sort, in spite of the beating that he had just received, moved back three steps, “Don’t you recognize your defeat?”

Guo Jing didn’t answer and continued to attack.

“If you don’t stop,” threatened the young aristocrat, “I am going to be obliged to kill you!”

“If you don’t return the handkerchief,” retorted Guo Jing, “I will never finish with you!”

“But this girl is not even your sister, why do you persist to want to be my brother-in-law?”

“To be the brother-in-law of someone” constituted an injury on the capital, the scoundrels exploded to laugh while hearing it, but Guo Jing didn’t understand a drop of it.

“I don’t even know her,” he said, “she isn’t my sister!”

The young aristocrat didn’t know anymore if he had to laugh or to be angry:

“Then in guard,” he end up saying. “Stupid!”

The two young people restarted to fight. This time, Guo Jing appeared more prudent, and didn’t fall anymore in the repeated traps that the adversary prepared him. In fact, from a strictly technical viewpoint, the gongfu of the young aristocrat was superior, but Guo Jing never gave up and fought like a barbarian: he had good receive some strokes, he always restarted to the attack with persistence, without renouncing. He had already fought like this when he was small, during the fights with the kids of the Dushi’s gang. Now, he had acquired more agility while learning the martial arts, but his way of fighting didn’t fundamentally change since it was in his nature to fight with savagery, not taking note of the recommendation of his Fourth Shifu: “Unbeatable enemy, flee!” In his mind, the more important formula had always been “Unbeatable enemy, insist!”, except that he didn’t realize it!

The spectacle attracted more and more world, the place was completely cluttered. Wind and snow increased in intensity, but no one left.

Mu Yi, because of his big experience of the Streams and Lakes, knew well that, if the fight continued, the crowds were going to attract the attention of the authorities and maybe provoke their intervention. He knew that it was better to not eternalize themselves there! Only, this young man had come generously to help them, he could not leave him alone here. But he felt very anxious. He raised the eyes and vaguely browsed the assembly, when he noticed, in the crowd, several individuals who seemed to belong to the world of the martial arts. He had been so concentrated on the fight that he had not even realized their arrival.

He moved then slowly, approaching of the servants of the young aristocrat who were held in a corner. Watching them of the corner of his eye, he saw, among them, three characters to the martial look: the first wore a big scarlet bonze dress and a golden cap, it was a very tall Tibetan llama. The second, medium-sized, had silvery white hair but a rubicund and beaming face, to the smooth skin as the one of a baby, without only one wrinkle. He was clothed of a long dress, one didn’t know if it was a Taoist or a bonze. The third was very small, but his blood injected eyes had a piercing look, and he carried a proud small mustache.

The presence of these original faces astonished Mu Yi. He then heard one of the servants to say, “Supreme Virtuous, have the goodness to rid us of this stupid, please! If that continues and that it arrives whatever to the Young Prince’s, us other servants would be good for the gallows!”

Mu Yi shaked hearing it: “Thus,” he thought, “this scoundrel is a young prince! Effectively, if the fight continues, it could happen a misfortune to him. Apparently, all these people are experts belonging to the royal house, that the servants summoned here to lend assistance to the prince.”

The Tibetan llama smiles without saying a word. The old man shouted while laughing, “The Supreme Virtuous Lingzhi is an eminent member of the esoteric school of Tibet, he cannot fall as low as to come to the hands with a rookie of this kind, it would be to disrespectful … And then, if it was to arrive something, the Prince would at most break your legs, he wouldn’t go as far as wiping you out, wouldn’t he?”

“Anyway,” did intervene the small man of the eyes injected of blood, “the Young Prince is stronger than this kid, what do you have to fear?”

He was small, but had a piercing voice. The spectators around them jumped while hearing it and turned around to look at him but, nervous by his menacing look, all lowered the eyes immediately.

“Our Young Prince had such a hard work to learn all this gongfu,” said the silvery old man, “if he can’t even make the a demonstration publicly of it, he would be really frustrated if all these years of efforts were just wasted! If someone takes the liberty to go help him, he will be surely very vexed…”

“Venerable Liang,” says the small man, “according to you to what school the technique of palm of the Young Prince does belong?”

“Brother Peng,” did answer the old man, while laughing, “do you want to put me to the test? The Young Prince has a technique of palm allying agility and complexity, that are indeed difficult to acquire. If I am not mistaken, he should have learned his gongfu with the Taoist of the Absolute Perfection Sect!”

Mu Yi jumped again, “Would this inconsiderate youngster be a disciple of the Absolute Perfection Sect? “

“The Venerable Liang has a remarkable eye,” says the small man. “You spend your life to the foot of the Mountain of the eternal Whiteness and you dedicate yourselves to the meditation and to the alchemical practices. One says that you rarely come in the central Plains, and yet you seem to know by heart the styles of the Chinese schools. I’m very admired of you.”

“Brother Peng is too laudatory,” says the old man while sketching a smile.

“Only,” pursued the small man, “the Taoists of the Absolute Perfection Sect are all of the bizarre and unforeseeable characters. How could they accepted to take the Young Prince for disciple? It is rather astonishing.”

“When the Prince wants to insure the collaboration of someone,” did retort the old man, “do you believe that he doesn’t have the arguments to what he wishes? As yourself, for example, Brother Peng, who dominates the Shandong and the Shanxi, don’t you now make part of the Prince’s house?”

The small man agreed. Their attention was again concentrated on the fight: they noticed that Guo Jing had changed style again, his technique of palm adopted a slower rhythm, but permitted an extremely tight defense. The Young Prince had, repeatedly, searched to attack but had been repulsed by very heavy strokes.

“In your opinion,” asked the old man to the small man, “from where comes the gongfu of this small boy?”

“His gongfu is very mixed,” he answered after one moment of hesitation. “One would say that he had several Shifus…”

“Chief Peng is right,” intervened someone nearby. “This kid is the disciple of the Seven Fanciful of the Jiangnan.”

Mu Yi examined the person who had just taken the word: it was a skinny man with a dark face, with three bumps on the forehead. “He called him of Chief Peng, would this small man therefore be the bandit Peng Lianhu, the Butcher to the one thousand hands, who slaughters without frowning? As for the Seven Fanciful of the Jiangnan, it has been since a long time that I didn’t hear their name anymore, would they still be part of this world?”

During this time, the skinny man with the dark face roars suddenly, “Little brat, I finally found you.”

He drew a steel trident with short-sleeved and bounded in the arena. Hearing the noise behind him, Guo Jing turned around and fell nose to nose with the three bumps on the forehead: it was the Dragon with three heads, Boo Tonghai, the uncle in arms of the Four Demons of the yellow Stream. Surprised and worried, he hesitated, not knowing what to do. The Young Prince took benefit out of this hesitation to hit him on the shoulder, thus making Guo Jing come back to the fight.

Seeing Boo Tonghai to bound in the arena arms to the hand, the spectators believed that he was going to help one of the fighters and, finding this unworthy attitude, began to hoot it.

Mu Yi, that had understood that he was part of the royal house, moved forward, ready to fight him if he intended something against Guo Jing, while being conscious that the enemy was superior in number.

However, Boo Tonghai was not angry at the young man. He sped along directly into the crowd, to the other side, where a young boy, puny, in rags, jumped while seeing him and turned the heels. The Dragon with three heads rushed after him, himself follow-up by four men.

Of the corner of eye, Guo Jing had well seen that it was Huang Rong, the new friend that he had gotten used to since Kalgan, and that Boo Tonghai pursued the weapons to the hand, with the help of the Four Demons of the yellow Stream. Very worried, he throwed a kick and jumped backward:

“A moment!” he exclaimed. “I need to stop for one moment, we will continue our fight later.”

The Young Prince, tired of this fight, had lost all desire to continue and had not asked better to stop:

“If you recognize your defeat,” he sneered, “you can go…”

Preoccupied by his friend’s security, Guo Jing got ready to be going to lend him assistance when he heard noises of step: it was Huang Rong that came back while dragging a worn-out old shoe while laughing, pursued by Boo Tonghai, that called him names and tried to hit him with its trident on the back. But Huang Rong was of an extraordinary agility, and the trident always missed its target of little. The young boy adroitly slipped through the crowd and had already come out again on the other side.

When Hou Tonghai came nearer, one could notice black marks of two palms on his cheeks: obviously, the fragile boy had managed to slap him twice. Hou Tonghai hustled everyone, managing to find a path through the crowd, but Huang Rong was already far. Hou Tonghai stopped and maliciously made gestures to show Huang Rong what he had in mind.

“If I don’t succeed in catching and slicing you up,” howled Hou Tonghai insane with rage, “I don’t want to be called a man anymore!”

Huang Rong waited until Hou Tonghai came nearer before fleeing again. Everyone bursted out laughing, in the meantime three breathless men arrived, they were the three Demons of the Yellow River, the only one missing was Qian Qingjian, known as Killing-axe.

Seeing such a spectacle, Guo Jing was surprised and pleased at the same time: “Thus,” he thought, “this friend of mine must have excellent gongfu. The other day, in the Black Pine Woods, it must be him who had lured Hou Tonghai away and hung the Four Demons of the Yellow River on the trees!”

The surprise was not less in the opposite camp.

Supreme Virtue Lingzhi asked, “Ginseng Immortal, that little beggar has a remarkable agility, to which school does he belong? Apparently, Brother Hou has lost the skirmish…”

The white-haired Master of the EternalWhitePeak, was called Liang Ziwong. Since his youth, he had consumed natural ginseng and other remedies, which had protected him from attacks of old age. He didn’t recognize the gongfu of the little beggar and shook his head. Then, after a moment, he said:

“When I am way beyond the Pass (Yan Men Guan?), I often heard claims that the Dragon King of the demonic group was a frightening expert, who would have thought that his apprentice brother was such a pitiful figure, at the point of not being able to handle a mere child?”

The small man was Peng Lianhu. He frowned without really answering. He was a great friend of the Dragon King of the demonic group, with whom he often collaborated, assisting on robbing raids. He knew the gongfu of Hou Tonghai, which was not bad, but he couldn’t explain how Hou Tonghai could be ridiculed that easily.

The diversion with Huang Rong and Hou Tonghai thus stopped the duel between Guo Jing and the young Prince. The latter had clearly an edge on Guo Jing, since he succeeded several times to make his adversary fall, but he himself had to receive a multitude of blows and felt tired out. He wiped up the sweat which ran abundantly on his face with a scarf wound as a belt.

Mu Yi, who had rearranged the brocade banner, held the hand of Guo Jing, thanking him warmly and urging him to leave the place. Suddenly, a pitter-patter was heard: Huang Rong and Hou Tonghai returned running, one chasing the other. The former held two pieces of fabric, two pieces which were missing precisely on the tunic of the latter, the torn tunic exposed a hairy chest. A little later, Wu Qinglie and My Qingxiong appeared, weapons in their hands, following arduously and breathless. Missing was the one called Shen Qinggang, whom Huang Rong apparently managed to dispose of in some mysterious way. The commotion provoked laughter and jibes among the audience.

Suddenly, one heard shouts from the West: several tens of soldiers, wicker rods in their hands, shouted and struck the onlookers to open the way for a large red and golden palanquin carried by six musclemen.

“It is the Princess,” exclaimed the servants of the young Prince.

“Which idiot has the insolence to inform my mother?” the latter thundered frowningly. The servants, who did not dare to answer, hastened to approach the palanquin which halted at an emptied spot.

“You’ve fought again?” a soft female-intonated voice was heard from the inside.

“It has been snowing and you don’t have your coat on, you will certainly catch a cold…”

Upon hearing that voice from a distance, Mu Yi seemed to be struck by lightning: “How is this possible?” he thought dumbfoundedly. “That voice resembles hers so much! But it’s impossible, she is a Jin princess … I believe I’ve thought too much of my wife and I’ve become crazy …” Despite everything, he could not stop himself from nearing the palanquin.

He saw a dainty hand with a handkerchief appearing from inside the palanquin and tenderly wiped up the sweat on the face of the young nobleman, who listened to the words pronounced in a low voice, undoubtedly of reproach and admonition …

“But mom,” the Young Prince said, “I have fun, all is well …”

“Put your coat on quickly,” the Princess said, “and let us go home …”

“How could two voices be that similar?”, Mu Yi was still astonished. He saw the white hand disappearing behind a silk curtain on which peonies were embroidered in gold wire. He tried to peer in but his glance failed to penetrate the bright curtain.

One of the servants collected the brocade coat of his Master and bawled at Guo Jing:

“Animal! Look, what a state you’ve put this coat in!” One of the soldiers who came with the Princess raised his wicker rod and violently bashed down on Guo Jing’s head. Guo Jing dodged, seized the wrist of his attacker, took the rod away, tripped him up: the man fell on the ground. Guo Jing then whipped him with the rod:

“You dare to strike wrongly and rampantly?” he shouted. The crowd, some of whom had received blows from the rod, applauded with appreciation. The other soldiers shoutingly hastened to the rescue of their companion, but Guo Jing took them by pairs and threw them away.

“You are still bragging?” the young Prince shouted. He leapt to Guo Jing and both exchanged blows again. The Princess shouted to stop, but the son did not seem to fear his mother, on the contrary:

“Look at me, mom,” he exclaimed. “This bloody peasant is doing wicked things in the capital! If he is not taught a good lesson, he wouldn’t respect his old man!”

He wanted to exhibit his best performance, he redoubled his efforts: Guo Jing, not being able to parry his nimble and fast palm, was struck by several blows and stumbled twice.

Mu Yi, for his part, was magnetized by the palanquin. A corner of the curtain had been drawn, he saw two gracious eyes appearing, some hair strands, a part of the face of a mother, full of tender worry regarding her son. Mu Yi remained petrified.

Guo Jing had changed for the better, but was confronted with an adversary with renewed vigour. The young Prince sought to execute mortal blows, hoping to injure his adversary seriously, in order to definitively put an end to the combat.

But Guo Jing had a thick skin, and a good basis of neigong, so that he was able to endure many blows. Moreover, the technique of the prince did certainly miss sophistication, his power was limited because of his youth and lack of experience. He tried on several occasions to grab Guo Jing with ten fingers forming claws, using the technique which had enabled him to injure Mu Yi, but the disciple of the Six Freaks defended himself using the technique “to detach tendons and disjoint bones”.

As the brawl climaxed, one still could see Huang Rong and Hou Tonghai run one behind the other. This time, the latter carried a long straw in his hair. Usually, it was a sign indicating the setting on sale of something. A bit of straw on a head thus meant that the head was to be sold. Obviously a joke of Huang Rong, of which Hou Tonghai was not aware of, occupied he was in chasing! The remaining two Demons of the Yellow River had also disappeared, obviously dispersed in some way …

Liang Ziwong and his companions lost themselves in racking their brains about the identity of Huang Rong. They saw Hou Tonghai run really swift, but he never managed to catch up with the boy in rags.

“This kid, would he be a member of the Beggar Clan?” Peng Lianhu asked suddenly.

The Beggar Clan was at that time the most powerful secret society in the realm of JiangHu (Rivers and Lakes). Liang Ziwong twitched, but didn’t answer.

The two young people attacked each other swiftlier, with increasing strength. Sometimes Guo Jing received a palm blow on his shoulder, sometimes the prince got a kick on his thigh. They fought really body against body, raging and panting. Even a beginner could see that the fight became increasingly dangerous, the least distraction could cause a fatal injury. Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziwong prepared their invisible projectiles covertly, in order to intervene when necessary: Guo Jing was a very obstinate person, his gongfu was not yet up to par, and the two experts persuaded themselves to be able to control the situation in time.

In fact, Guo Jing’s development was difficult to reproduce: having grown in the desert, he had undergone all rigours, had experienced and was hardened through numerous battles. The Prince on the other hand, had always lived in luxury, no wonder, in this utterly brutal and merciless carried endurance battle, he began stumbling into lapses of fatigue. Suddenly, Guo Jing uttered a great cry, seized his adversary by the collar, raised him high and violently threw him to the ground. It was neither the technique “to detach tendons and disjoint bones” nor the qin-na, but a unique Mongolian technique that Jebe, his teacher, had taught him.

The Prince reacted promptly, jumping up as soon as he touched the ground, seizing the legs of Guo Jing and they both fell. He got up quickly, tore from the hands of a soldier a long lance and thrusted towards Guo Jing’s stomach. Guo Jing rolled to the side, whereas the other continued handling the long lance with dexterity. Guo Jing wanted to grab the lance with the stance “to seize a blade with naked hands”, but in vain!

“My son,” exclaimed the Princess, “do not injure him! Be satisfied with winning!”

However, the Prince, who seemed really eager to nail Guo Jing down, turned a deaf ear.

Guo Jing, seeing the gleaming tip of the lance a few inches from his nose, parried with his arm, something collapsed behind him, he seized the brocade banner of Mu Yi. With the stance “To draw aside the clouds to peer at the sun”, he used the pole like a long stick to counter the circling lance.

Both fighters armed from now on, Guo Jing employed the techniques of the “Exorcizing cane” taught by his First Shifu. In spite of the length of the pole, which obstructed him a little, he could deploy all subtleties of this art, methodically developed by Ke Zhen’E in order to counter Mei Chaofeng. Each movement comprised of variants, often unexpected, always effective. Surprised by the ability of that weapon, the Prince was forced into defence. But his dexterity with the lance was also impressive.

As Mu Yi saw the Prince handling that weapon, he grew astonished: indeed, all its stances corresponded with the lance style of the Yang family. This technique, which was only handed down from father to son, could rarely be seen even in the South, he was really astonished seeing it now in the capital of Jin. But, in spite of its nimble movements, this version of the lance style did not seem completely orthodox, it appeared devoid of its essence, as if it had been copied without the knowledge of its rightful owner. Thus, one saw crossing and swaying of the lance and the banner pole, fluttering the snowflakes in all directions.

The Princess, seeing her son sweating blood and water, could not keep her anxiety anymore:

“Stop!” she exclaimed. “Stop fighting both of you!”

Hearing these words, Peng Lianhu advanced with big steps in the arena, he struck the banner pole brutally. Guo Jing felt a sharp pain in his hands and released the pole, which flew away, the brocade spreading in the wind and one could read, through the falling snowflakes, the golden letters: “Contest to find a spouse”.

Very surprised, Guo Jing did not even have time to distinguish the face or the silhouette of his adversary as he felt the coming blow. He leapt back, but rather slow: the palm of Peng Lianhu had already touched him on his arm, he lost balance and fell to the ground.

“Young Prince,” Peng Lianhu said laughing, “I will get rid of this thoughtless young man, so that he can not intrude anymore …”

He raised his palm, inhaled deeply, and sent a brutal blow on the head of Guo Jing. Guo Jing, who was on the ground, knew that he did not have any chance, but regardless, he raised his arms to parry the blow. Supreme Virtue Lingzhi and the Ginseng Immortal exchanged glances: the arms of the young man would be lost, the blow of the Butcher-of-a-thousand was violent and was obviously going to break them.

At this critical moment, a shout from the crowd was heard:

“Hold on!”

A gray silhouette holding a strange weapon leapt, and wrapped up the right wrist of Peng Lianhu. Peng Lianhu drew with force, cracking and breaking the weapon, attacking with his left palm immediately. The man avoided the blow by lowering his head, while seizing Guo Jing by the waist and carrying him away. Then one could see him clearly: he was a middle-aged taoist, dressed in gray, holding a mop in his hand, of which only the handle remained, the torn-off strands were around the wrist of Peng Lianhu. Both looked at each other: they had exchanged only one stance, but had been able to fathom each others gongfu.

“You are undoubtedly the famed Master Peng?” the taoist said. “It is a great honor to meet you here today.”

“You are overcourteous. May I ask the name of Master Taoist?” The Taoist, on which all glances were fixed, did not answer, being satisfied to advance his left foot and then to withdraw it. Then one could see on the ground, covered with a very fine layer of snow, a deep hole of ten inches! A simple pressure of the foot had dug such a deep hole, that revealed an extraordinary gongfu.

Peng Lianhu was startled and said:

“Are you the Immortal-with-iron-foot, Jade-Sun Wang?”

“Master Peng is overpraising,” the Taoist answered. “I am indeed Wang Chuyi, but I am not worthy of the title Immortal.”

Peng Lianhu, Liang Ziwong and Supreme Virtue Lingzhi knew very well that Wang Chuyi was an eminent member of the Quan Zhen (Total Perfection) Sect, his fame was only a bit less than Perpetual Spring, Qiu Chuji. They only had heard, but had never seen him, and they examined him attentively: he was a man with fine features, with a little goatee on his chin. He wore immaculate white socks, gray shoes, and seemed to heed much care to his clothes. If he had not made a demonstration of his gongfu, nobody there would believe that he was indeed the Immortal-with-iron-foot, who, in keeping one foot at the cliff’s edge and swaying like a “lotus leaf in the wind”, had definitively impressed the brave men of Hebei and Shandong.

Wang Chuyi smiled and said, pointing at Guo Jing, “I don’t know this young friend at all, but seeing him intervening with such an amount of bravery and courage, I was full of admiration. That is why I allow myself to beg Master Peng to let him alive.”

“The request was courteously uttered,” said Peng Lianhu, “and if a Quan Zhen eminence personally interfered, who wouldn’t grant him a wish?”

“Very well,” Wang Chuyi answered by cupping his hands, “thank you …..”

After thanking, Wang Chuyi turned. His expression changed, his face darkened, he asked the young Prince severely:

“What is your name? Who is your Shifu?” The young Prince, after having heard the name of Wang Chuyi, felt ill and would have liked to disappear unnoticed. However, the taoist had kept an eye on him:

“My name is Wanyan Kang,” he answered, “I cannot reveal the name of my Shifu.”

“Your Shifu has a red mole on his left cheek, hasn’t he?”

Wanyan Kang wanted to dodge the question with a witty remark, but the terrible glance of the taoist frightened him, he suppressed what he intended to say, and nodded.

“I suspect it,” Wang Chuyi said, you are the disciple of Brother Qiu. “What had your Shifu said before teaching you martial arts?” Wanyan Kang understood the situation had turned very unsound for him. “If Shifu,” he thought, “get to know what has happened today, it would be a catastrophe!”

“If Master Taoist knows my Shifu,” he said servilely, “you has the right to my whole respect. Why don’t you come to my modest residence, so that I can benefit from your advices?”

Before Wang Chuyi could answer, the prince had turned to Guo Jing and said bowing:

“After exchanging blows, a friendship could grow,” he said smiling. “I admire the gongfu of Brother Guo very much. I invite you both to come to my house in order to know each other better.”

“And what will happen with the marriage?” Guo Jing asked, pointing at Mu Yi and his daughter.

Wanyan Kang seemed embarrassed, “This matter deserves further pondering …”

“My friend,” Mu Yi said, drawing Guo Jing by his sleeve, “let us go, we don’t need to occupy him anymore.”

Wanyan Kang bowed again in front of Wang Chuyi, “Master Taoist, I thus await you at home, you only have to ask for the residence of Prince Zhao. The weather is very cold, all things are freezing. It is an ideal time to sit together by a fire and admire the snow. We shall drink to celebrate this meeting.”

He climbed on the horse whose bridle his servant held and galloped, without being concerned of trampling somebody, full into the crowd, who immediately dispersed.

This contemptuous behaviour triggered the anger of Wang Chuyi:

“My little friend,” he said to Guo Jing, “come with me.”

“I must wait for a very dear friend,” Guo Jing said. As he said these words, he saw Huang Rong making a jump in the middle of the crowd and shouting to him:

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll find you in no time at all!” Huang Rong stood back on his feet and his diminutive figure soon disappeared in the crowd. One saw Hou Tonghai, the three-headed Dragon, giving chase. Guo Jing turned and kowtowed on the snow, to thank Wang Chuyi for saving his life. The taoist raised him, took his arm. Both found a path among the crowd and ran in the direction of the outskirts.

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