Acupuncture and medicines unable to remedy.
Zhang Wuji was so unschooled in the practice of acupuncture that blood started spurting out of Chang Yuchun’s Kai Yuan acupoint. Located in the abdomen, it was one of the vital points of the body. Thus, the sight of the gushing blood threw Zhang Wuji into a panic at once. Suddenly, someone laughed loudly behind him. The boy turned around and saw Hu Qingniu standing with his hands behind his back, watching his desperate attempts to stem the flow of the blood with a smirk on his face.
Holding Zhang Wuji’s wrists, Hu Qingniu suddenly realised that the boy’s pulse thumped in such an unusual manner that he could not help but pay closer attention to the strange and irregular beats. Could this child have been struck by the ‘Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness’ (Xuan2 Ming2 Shen2 Zhang3)? he asked himself. But this technique has been lost for such a long time that there is no one left who knows how to use it. If it is not the Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness, what is it? Yet, there is no technique that can produce a cold and deadly toxin as this. It is also very amazing that the child has not died, despite having been poisoned for a long time. Yes, that old Taoist Zhang Sanfeng must have used his rich internal strength to keep him alive. Now, with the toxins stuck in his internal organs, only the deities can save his life. He picked the boy up and put him back into the chair.
By and by, Zhang Wuji regained consciousness and saw Hu Qingniu seated opposite him, staring at the flames on the stove that he used to boil medicinal brews. On the other hand, Chang Yuchun was stretched out on the grass outside the door. Each occupied with his own thoughts, no one said anything to anyone else.
Having dedicated his entire life to the study of medicine and healing, Hu Qingniu could cure the most terrible of diseases and ailments. As a result, he became known as the ‘Sage of Healing’, giving proof to the amazing extent of his skills and abilities. Yet, he had never seen the toxins that were created by the Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness all his life, and a long-term survivor who had this deadly poison in his internal organs was even more unbelievable. Like the wine-lover who found an exquisite brew and the glutton who smelt the fragrance of meat, how could he pass up such an invaluable opportunity to display his prowess? After thinking for half a day, the eccentric physician, who had initially refused to treat Zhang Wuji, finally came up with a wonderful solution to his personal dilemma: First, I will cure him. Then, I will make him die.
However, it was easier said than done to have the toxins in the boy’s internal organs expelled. After more than two shichen (four hours) of deep thought, Hu Qingniu finally took out twelve bronze slivers, gathered up his internal strength and began inserting the tiny pieces into twelve different acupoints on Zhang Wuji’s body. These included the Zhong Ji (Zhong1 Ji2), Tian Tu (Tian1 Tu1) and Jian Jing (Jian1 Jing3) acupoints on his abdomen, neck and shoulder respectively. The Zhong Ji acupoint was located at the confluence of the three Yin Channels of the Foot (Zu2 San1 Yin1 Jing1) and the Channel of Ren (Ren4 Mai4), while the Tian Tu acupoint was located at the confluence of the Channels of Yinwei (Yin1 Wei1) and Ren. As for the Jian Jing acupoint, it was found at the confluence of the Hand Shaoyang Channel (Shou3 Shao4 Yang2 Jing1), the Foot Shaoyang Channel (Zu2 Shao4 Yang2 Jing1), the Foot Yangming Channel (Zu2 Yang2 Ming2 Jing1) and the Yangwei Channel (Yang2 Wei1 Mai4).
Consequently, the twelve bronze slivers served to block each one of the Twelve Regular Channels (Shi2 Er4 Jing1 Chang2 Mai4, or Zheng4 Jing1 Shi2 Er4 Mai4) and the Eight Extraordinary Channels (Qi2 Jing1 Ba1 Mai4) in the boy’s body. The five primary internal organs (a.k.a. Wu3 Zang4) — the heart, lungs, spleen, liver and kidneys — as well as the pericardium, were considered y in elements in traditional Chinese medical practice, while the six secondary organs (a.k.a. Liu4 Fu3) — the stomach, large intestines, small intestines, gall bladder, urinary bladder and the Three Visceral Cavities (a.k.a. San3 Jiao1) — were considered yang elements. Together, these were known as the Twelve Regular Organs. The pulses of Ren, Du (Du1), Chong (Chong1), Dai (Dai4), Yinwei, Yangwei, Yinjiao (Yin1 Jiao1) and Yangjiao (Yang2 Jiao1) were neither Yin nor Yang in their movements, so they were known as the Eight Extraordinary Pulses(1).
The blocking of these Daily Organs and Extraordinary Pulses had the effect of containing the toxins in Zhang Wuji’s body in their various locations. Then, Hu Qingniu burnt dried moxa leaves on the Yun Men (Yun2 Men2) and Zhongfu (Zhong1 Fu3) acupoints on the boy’s shoulder, as well as the Tian Fu (Tian1 Fu3), Xia Bai (Xia2 Bai2), Chi Ze (Chi3 Ze2), Kong Zui (Kong3 Zui4), Lie Que (Lie4 Que1), Jing Qu (Jing1 Qu2), Da Yuan (Da4 Yuan1), Yu Ji (Yu2 Ji4) and Shao Shang (Shao4 Shang1) acupoints along the entire length of his arm. These eleven acupoints were collectively known as the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung (Shou3 Tai4 Yin1 Fei4 Jing1), so the heat from the burning of the moxa leaves could remove some of the toxins there. For Zhang Wuji, the terrible discomfort caused this heat-based treatment was vastly different from the massive chills he suffered whenever he had a toxin attack. After the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung was done, the Foot Yangming Channel of the Stomach (Zu2 Yang2 Ming2 Wei4 Jing1) and the Hand Jueyin Channel of the Pericardium (Shou3 Jue2 Yin1 Xin1 Bao1 Jing1) were next ….
Hu Qingniu did not care whether the treatment caused Zhang Wuji any pain, and his use of the moxa leaves soon left dark burnt patches of skin all over the boy’s body. On his part, Zhang Wuji refused to show a single sign of weakness: You want to make me yell in pain, but I am not even going to make the slightest fuss. Therefore, he smiled and talked as if nothing was wrong, engaging Hu Qingniu in an animated discussion of the various acupoints and their locations. Although he knew next to nothing about medical practice, his godfather, Xie Xun, had taught him the various methods of blocking and releasing acupoints as well as the techniques of repositioning them. As a result, he knew exactly where each acupoint was. Such knowledge paled in comparison with the immense understanding of the renowned physician, of course, but since it touched a little on the principles of medicine, it served to get Zhang Wuji into Hu Qingniu’s good books. Consequently, both of them chatted endlessly as the physician went about burning more moxa leaves on the boy’s skin.
Zhang Wuji did not understand almost everything that the physician told him, yet he wanted to show the man that “my Wudang School knows all these things as well”. So, every now and then, he would throw in a fallacy and argue his point, while Hu Qingniu took time to explain the error in detail. By and by, the physician realised that “this little fellow is just spouting nonsense in total ignorance”, so all his explanations had been a waste of time and effort. Fortunately, Hu Qingniu did not have any companions in this remote valley, except for the two pages who helped him to cook, clean and make medicinal brews. As a result, he found himself cherishing the rambling discussion on acupoints that his young patient had come up with.
By the time Hu Qingniu was finished with the moxibustion of all the acupoints that were related to the Twelve Regular Organs, it was already dusk. The pages served a dinner of rice and vegetables on the table before taking a tray of food out to Chang Yuchun, who was still sprawled on the grass.
That night, Chang Yuchun slept outside, and Zhang Wuji did not bother make a single request of Hu Qingniu to let his hapless nephew in. Instead, he went out at bedtime and lay down to sleep beside Chang Yuchun in a silent indication of his willingness to share in the man’s troubles. Hu Qingniu pretended not to see the goings-on, yet he could not help but be amazed by the boy’s actions: This little fellow is indeed different from other children.
Early the next morning, Hu Qingniu started the moxibustion treatment on Zhang Wuji’s Eight Extraordinary Channels, taking almost half the day before he was done. These stagnant pulses did not have the benefit of the free-flowing arteries and veins that coursed through Twelve Regular Organs, so it was a lot more difficult to expel the toxins that had found their way there. After that, Hu Qingniu prepared a prescription that used the reverse method of combatting the cold with something even colder. Consequently, Zhang Wuji shook and shivered for half a day after consuming the brew, before emerging with a marked improvement in his health.
Then, Hu Qingniu spent the later part of the day treating Zhang Wuji with acupuncture. The boy tried to provoke the physician into treating Chang Yuchun as well, but Hu Qingniu did not react much to his words, except to say, “My nickname, the ‘Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley’, is not entirely correct, for how can I call myself a ‘Sage’ in vain? I like it better if people refer to me as ‘The One who Ignores the Dying’.”
At that time, he happened to be pushing a needle into the Wu Shu (Wu3 Shu1) acupoint between Zhang Wuji’s waist and thigh. This acupoint was located in the confluence of the Foot Shaoyang Channel and the Dai Channel, about one-and-a-half cun (5 cm) beside the urinary tract.
“The Dai Channel must be one of the strangest things in a person’s body,” said Zhang Wuji. “Mr Hu, do you know that there are people who do not have the Dai?”
“Rubbish!” answered Hu Qingniu. “How can a person not have the Dai?”
The boy was spouting nonsense, of course, but he went on, “There are many people under the sun, so any oddity is possible. Besides, I do not see much purpose in the existence of the Dai.”
“Well, it is true that the Dai is more special than the other channels of the body,” said Hu Qingniu, “but how can you say that it has no purpose? Mediocre physicians who do not understand its functions often prescribe the wrong treatments and medicines for it. I have written a book called ‘A Discussion of the Dai Channel’ (Dai4 Mai4 Lun4). Read it and you will understand why it exists.” He disappeared into an inner room and emerged a moment later with a thin hand-written book with yellowing pages, which he passed to his young patient.
Zhang Wuji opened the first page and read: “The channels of the Twelve Regular Organs and the Eight Extraordinary Pulses run through the entire body, but the Dai Channel circulates only in the abdomen … ” The book went on to comment on the errors that physicians had made since ancient times: In ‘The Functions of the Fourteen Channels’ (Shi2 Si4 Jing1 Fa1 Hui1), the Dai was said to contain four acupoints, but in ‘Successful Acupuncture’ (Zhen1 Jiu3 Da4 Cheng2), the Dai was described as having six acupoints. However, none were correct, for its acupoints numbered ten altogether. Two of these were so well-hidden that they were usually missed out.
Zhang Wuji did not understand many of the things he read in the book, but he realised that its contents and views were extraordinary. Consequently, he took the opportunity to discuss some of the errors that the ancient physicians had made.
Hu Qingniu was so pleased that he responded to all the boy’s questions and remarks until he had finished inserting gold needles into each of the ten acupoints of the Dai Channel. After telling Zhang Wuji to take a rest, he added, “I have another book, ‘The Manual of Acupuncture and Moxibustion for the Meridians(2)’ (Zi3 Wu3 Zhen1 Jiu3 Jing1), which records all the painstaking research that I have done through the years.” He went into the inner room again and came out with a hand-written tome so thick that it had to be separated into twelve smaller books.
All these years of living in isolation in the remote valley had turned Hu Qingniu in a very lonely man. Although he had a constant stream of patients, they were only interested in speaking praise for his unparalleled abilities as the healer of a million ailments. Unfortunately, he had already grown tired of hearing these words more than twenty years ago. As a physician, Hu Qingniu prided himself not in the exquisiteness of his abilities, but in the massive body of research, discoveries and techniques that he had accumulated in his lifetime. He knew that he had an extraordinary accomplishment in his hands, yet there was no one to share it with, except himself, the lonely inhabitant of a desolate valley. Therefore, when Zhang Wuji showed pleasure in reading the books that he had authored, Hu Qingniu felt as if he had found a friend who could understand his heart. Thus, he was more than happy to share his best work with this young patient who had no inkling what medicine and its practices were.
When Zhang Wuji opened the books, he found that each page was filled with characters as tiny as the head of a fly, detailing the acupoints, herbal prescriptions and methods of acupuncture for a mind-boggling array of diseases and ailments. A sudden thought entered his head: If I read on, perhaps I will find a way to heal Brother Chang’s injuries. He picked up the ninth book, which was labelled ‘The Pugilistic Arts’, turned to the section on ‘Treating Injuries Caused by Palm Techniques’, and began his search. There were the Red-Sand Palm Technique (Hong2 Sha1 Zhang3), the Iron-Sand Palm Technique (Tie3 Sha1 Zhang3), the Poison-Sand Palm Technique (Du2 Sha1 Zhang3), the Silken Palm Technique (Mian2 Zhang3), the Mountain-Opening Palm Technique (Kai1 Shan1 Zhang3), the Tablet-Breaking Palm Technique (Po4 Bei1 Zhang3) … all sorts of palm-strike injuries were listed, together with detailed descriptions of their symptoms and treatments. After reading through 180 different varieties, the words ‘Heart-Splitting Palm Technique’ (Jie2 Xin1 Zhang3) popped up.
Overjoyed, Zhang Wuji studied the description under it carefully, only to find that there were more details about the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique itself than the method of treating the injuries that it caused. In fact, this was all there was: “Deal with the four acupoints of Zi Gong (Zi3 Gong1), Zhong Ting (Zhong1 Ting2), Guan Yuan (Guan1 Yuan2) and Tian Chi (Tian1 Chi2), and ignite a change in Yin, Yang and the Five Elements. Prescribe medication for the patient’s joy, anger, worry, thought and fear, according to the five conditions of cold, hot, dry, wet and wind.”
Traditional Chinese medical practice was not bound by a set of rigid rules, for treatments varied according to the condition of the patient. Therefore, the physician had to consider a list of criteria during treatment, including climate (cold or hot), time (day or night), condition and location of the injury or illness (exposed, covered, internal or external), bodily functions (too much or too little), progress (beginning, middle or end), level of activity, gender, age … Therefore, the difference between an able physician and a mediocre one was as great as the clouds and the mud. Zhang Wuji did not know all these, of course, but he read the treatment for the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique a few more times and committed it to memory. The last page of the section on ‘Treating Injuries Caused by Palm Techniques’ described the Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness. Under the subtitle of ‘Treatments’, there was only one word: “None.”
Zhang Wuji closed the book and put it carefully down on the table. “Mr Hu,” he said, “this ‘Manual of Acupuncture and Moxibustion for the Meridians’ is so profound that I cannot understand much of what I have read. May I ask please: What does ‘ignite a change in Yin, Yang and the Five Elements’ mean?”
Hu Qingniu began his explanation, only to turn around in sudden realisation and say, “Are you asking me how Chang Yuchun’s injuries can be healed? Ha-ha, I will talk about anything, except this.”
Left with no alternatives, Zhang Wuji could only turn to the various medical books for answers. Fortunately, Hu Qingniu allowed him to read all the books he wanted. As a result, the boy became so engrossed in his search that he forgot to sleep and eat, reading not only the ten books that the physician had authored, but also other medical works such as ‘The Internal Classic of the Yellow Emperor’ (Huang2 Di4 Nei4 Jing1), ‘Hua Tuo’s Diagrams of the Internal Systems’ (Hua2 Tuo2 Nei4 Zhao1 Tu2), ‘Wang Shuhe’s Manual of Arteries and Veins’ (Wang2 Shu1 He2 Mai4 Jing1), ‘Sun Simiao’s Thousand-Gold Prescriptions’ (Sun1 Si1 Miao3 Qian1 Jin1 Fang1), ‘The Thousand-Gold Book of Medical Assistance’ (Qian1 Jin1 Yi4) and ‘Wang Tao’s Secrets to External Treatments’ (Wang2 Tao1 Wai4 Tai2 Mi4 Yao4). Whenever he came across passages that seemed to relate to the description of Chang Yuchun’s treatment, he took time to study them carefully. Meanwhile, Hu Qingniu continued his treatment, using acupunture and moxibustion twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon, to remove the toxins in his body.
Several days passed by in this manner. Although Zhang Wuji had gone through many books and memorised numerous principles and prescriptions, he was too young and ill-educated to fully understand everything that he had read.
Then, the sixth day of his arrival in Butterfly Valley dawned. Hu Qingniu had told them that Chang Yuchun’s injuries had to be treated within seven days, or he would lose all his martial arts abilities even if his life was saved. The man had been sprawled on the grass for six days and six nights … and it suddenly started to rain. Yet, Hu Qingniu was as cold as ever, turning a blind eye to Chang Yuchun and the muddy puddle that had begun to take shape around him. Zhang Wuji became very angry, thinking: All the medical books that I have read, except those that you have written yourself, state that the physician must have a benevolent heart that seeks to bring benefit to mankind. What is the use of having all these skills when you ignore the dying? What sort of ‘able physician’ are you?
That night, the rain fell even heavier. As lightning flashed and thunder roared, Zhang Wuji gritted his teeth in determination and thought: I will have to give it a shot, even if it ends up making Brother Chang’s injuries worse. He took eight gold needles from Hu Qingniu’s cupboard, walked over to Chang Yuchun and said, “Brother Chang, I spent the past few days reading as many of Mr Hu’s medical books as I could. Although I do not understand everything, your treatment can no longer be delayed. Therefore, I am going to take a dangerous risk and try some acupuncture on you. If an unfortunate mishap occurs, I will not carry on living myself.”
Chang Yuchun laughed and replied, “What are you talking about? Hurry up and poke me with the needles. If I survive, we can seize the opportunity to embarrass my Uncle Hu. If I die because of two or three needles, it would still be much better than suffering in this muddy puddle!”
Zhang Wuji’s hands shook as he touched the Kai Yuan (Kai1 Yuan2) acupoint on Chang Yuchun’s body and proceeded to push a thin gold needle into it. He had never practised acupunture before, so he just copied what he had seen Hu Qingniu do in the past few days. Unfortunately, the physician’s needles were so fine and pliable that they could not be used by anyone without a substantial level of internal strength. Unaware of this, Zhang Wuji exerted external strength on the needle, causing it bend without entering Chang Yuchun’s flesh. The boy had not choice but to pull it out and try again. Acupunture done right would never draw blood, but Zhang Wuji was so unschooled in its practice that blood started spurting out of Chang Yuchun’s Kai Yuan acupoint. Located in the abdomen, it was one of the vital points of the body. Thus, the sight of the gushing blood threw Zhang Wuji into a panic at once.
Suddenly, someone laughed loudly behind him. The boy turned around and saw Hu Qingniu standing with his hands behind his back, watching his desperate attempts to stem the flow of the blood with a smirk on his face. Zhang Wuji said, “Mr Hu, Brother Chang’s Kai Yuan acupoint is bleeding profusely. What should I do?”
“I know exactly what must be done,” answered Hu Qingniu, “but why should I tell you?”
Lost of ideas, the boy replied, “We will make a one-for-one exchange right now. Please rescue Brother Chang quickly, and I will die before you in his place.”
“I have said before that I will not treat him,” said Hu Qingniu coldly, “so, I will not! I am only a man who ignores the dying, not the Ghost of Non-Permanence (Wu2 Chang2 Gui3) that drags people to their doom, so what benefit does your death give me? I will not rescue one Chang Yuchun even if ten Zhang Wuji die in his place.”
Knowing that it was just a waste of precious time to argue with the stubborn physician, Zhang Wuji began looking for a solution. The gold needles were too soft for his use, but there were no other types of needles available. After a moment’s thought, he broke a length of bamboo and used a small knife to whittle it down into several toothpick-like slivers. Then, he inserted the slivers into Chang Yuchun’s Zi Gong, Zhong Ting, Guan Yuan and Tian Chi acupoints. Although these bamboo slivers were a lot stiffer than the gold needles, they were still pliable enough not to draw blood upon entry to the various acupoints. Moments later, Chang Yuchun threw up several large mouthfuls of dark-coloured blood.
Zhang Wuji did not know whether Chang Yuchun’s reaction was caused by a worsening of his injuries, or the success of his bamboo “needles” in expelling the clots that had formed in the man’s blood. Turning around, the boy found that Hu Qingniu still regarded him with disdain, but a hint of approval had also appeared on his scornful face. Finally assured that his treatment had not been wrong, he rushed indoors, looked up some medical books and wrote up a prescription for his patient. Although he had learnt from the books that certain herbs could cure certain ailments, he did not have any idea what the dried rhizome of Rehmannia (sheng1 di4), the root of the Chinese Thorowax (chai2 hu2), Achyranthes root (niu2 xi1) and the gall of bear (xiong2 dan3) were. Yet, he turned to one of the pages and said as confidently as he could, “Please decoct a portion of medicinal soup according to this prescription.”
The page took the prescription, showed it to Hu Qingniu and asked if it was all right to go ahead. The physician sneered and said, “What a joke! What a joke! Go ahead and make the soup. If he does not die drinking it, there will no longer be any dead people on earth.”
Zhang Wuji grabbed the prescription immediately and reduced the amount of each herb used by half. Then, the page began decocting the medicine, until a single bowl of soup was produced. Bringing the thick and pungent brew to Chang Yuchun’s mouth, Zhang Wuji held back his tears and said, “Brother Chang, I really do not know whether this bowl of medicine will do you good or harm … ”
“Wonderful, wonderful!” said Chang Yuchun with a laugh. “This is what I call ‘the sightless physician curing the blind horse’.” Closing his eyes, he threw his head back and gulped down every single drop in the bowl.
That night, Chang Yuchun felt as if a million knives were slicing through his abdomen. He also kept threwing up mouthfuls of blood. Zhang Wuji stayed by his side all night, braving thunder, lightning and rain to look after his friend. When morning finally arrived, the rain stopped. Chang Yuchun’s vomitting became less frequent and the volume of blood that he threw up decreased. The colour of blood also changed gradually from dark to purple to red.
“Little Brother, your medicine did not kill me at all,” said Chang Yuchun in delight. “In fact, I think my injuries are beginning to get better.”
“My prescription worked?” asked Zhang Wuji, hardly daring to believe his eyes and ears.
Chang Yuchun laughed and said, “My late father must have known that something like this would happen, so he named me ‘Chang Yuchun’ – Frequent, Meet, Spring – so that I will frequently meet with great masters like you, who will put a miraculous spring back in my dying steps. But I must say that your prescription was rather heavy-handed. My stomach felt as if it was being pierced by dozens of knives after drinking the brew.”
“Yes, yes,” Zhang Wuji responded. “I guess I overdid it a bit.”
It turned out that the dosage was not just a bit more than usual. In fact, it was several times higher than what was normally required. Furthermore, no adjuvants were used to make the medicine more friendly on the stomach, so the thick brew had set about working its terribly strong cure as soon as it was ingested. Although Zhang Wuji had found the correct herbs for his friend’s injuries from Hu Qingniu’s books, he did not have a single clue about the ‘Master-Servant-Assistant-Messenger’ principle that guided the use of herbs. If Chang Yuchun’s body had not been unusually strong, he would have died from the concoction.
When Hu Qingniu came out of his hut after waking up and washing his face, he was shocked to see Chang Yuchun glowing with renewed health. One of them is intelligent and brave, while the other is unusually strong in body and spirit, he said to himself. Consequently, the injuries caused by the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique have been cured.
After this success, Zhang Wuji immediately prepared a prescription of ginseng (ren2 shen1), pilose antlers (lu4 rong2), the tuber of the multiflower knotweed (shou3 wu1) and poria (fu2 ling2) to strengthen Chang Yuchun’s body and assist in his recovery. After ten days or so of consuming the top-quality herbs that Hu Qingniu kept in his home, Chang Yuchun made so much progress that he eventually said to Zhang Wuji, “Little Brother, my injuries have healed completely, so there is no more reason for you to accompany me day and night. We will part here.”
The life and death experiences of the past month had turned the boy and the man into friends who were ready to die for each other. Therefore, Zhang Wuji was very reluctant to part with Chang Yuchun. However, he knew that the man could not stay by his side all his life, so he tearfully agreed.
“Do not feel bad, Little Brother,” said Chang Yuchun. “I will come back and visit you in three months. If the poison in your body is gone by then, I will take you to Mount Wudang, so that you can see your grandteacher again.”
Then, he went into the hut, bowed before Hu Qingniu and said, “My injuries have been healed. Although it was Brother Zhang who treated me, he was nevertheless guided by your medical books, Uncle Hu. I have also consumed quite a bit of the expensive herbs and medicines that you possess.”
Nodding in acknowledgement, Hu Qingniu replied, “That is nothing. You may have recovered from your injuries, but you have also lost forty years of life.”
“What?” asked Chang Yuchun, for he did not understand the physician’s remarks.
“Well,” answered Hu Qingniu, “according to the condition of your body and mind, you should live beyond eighty years old. However, that little fellow used some erroneous medical prescriptions and faulty acupunture techniques on you. As a result, you will ache all over whenever it rains. At about forty years of age, you will finally go and see the King of Hades.”
Chang Yuchun laughed heartily. “A man lives to serve his country,” he declared. “If I can establish a work of such merit, thirty years of life will suffice. Why then do I need forty? One can live to a hundred years old, but if he does not accomplish anything, his life is but a waste of food.”
Hu Qingniu nodded again, but he did not say anything more. According to The Legend of Chang Yuchun in the Historical Annals of the Ming Dynasty, the man did eventually die of a sudden illness at the age of forty.
Zhang Wuji walked Chang Yuchun all the way out to the entrance of Butterfly Valley before both of them parted in tears. Then, the boy made a silent decision in his heart: My bumbling cures and treatments caused Brother Chang to lose forty years of life. Although he had suffered harm in my hands, could he also not enjoy benefits from them? I must find a way to restore him to his previous state of health.
Since then, Hu Qingniu treated Zhang Wuji with acupuncture and herbal concoctions on a daily basis, seeking to reduce and expel the deadly toxins in his body. Meanwhile, the boy continued to study the physician’s books and memorise the principles behind the use of medicines and herbs. Whenever he came across something that he could not understand, he would ask the physician for help. His desire to learn pleased Hu Qingniu so much that he would explain everything in great detail. Sometimes, the boy’s questions were so strange that they caused the man to look at things in ways that he had never thought of before. Hu Qingniu had originally planned to have Zhang Wuji killed after his injuries were healed, but he soon felt the young man’s death would take away the only person whom he could really talk to in the valley. Therefore, he found himself wishing that his companion would not recover as quickly as he had initially wanted him to.
Several months passed. One day, Hu Qingniu suddenly discovered that nothing happened when the Guan Chong (Guan1 Chong1) acupoint on Zhang Wuji’s ring-finger was pricked by a needle. The Qing Leng Yuan (Qing1 Leng3 Yuan1) acupoint two cun (6.66 centimetres) above his elbow and the Si Zhu Kong (Si1 Zhu2 Kong1) acupoint in the cavity of his brow did not respond to the needles either. These three points were part of the Hand Shaoyang Channel of the Three Visceral Cavities. Named Upper, Middle and Lower respectively, these cavities were described as an amazing part of the body’s internal organs in medical books. Despite painstaking thought and a variety of marvellous techniques, Hu Qingniu could not expel any of the toxins that had found its way into the boy’s Visceral Cavities. As a result, he became so stressed out by the entire episode that he had ten grey hairs in as many days.
Deeply grateful for his efforts, Zhang Wuji said, “Mr Hu, you have already done your best. Everyone on earth must die someday, so this is just an indication that my time has come. You really do not have to ruin your own health for the sake of mine.”
Hu Qingniu snorted in disdain and said, “You despise our Ming and Eagle Sects, so when have I made any efforts to save your life? But my failure to cure your illness will inevitably damage my reputation as the ‘Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley’. Thus, I must ensure that you are healed first. Then, I will have you killed.”
A involuntary chill ran down the boy’s spine, for he was aware that the physician would never overturn his own decision. “Since the toxins in my body are not dissipating, I will eventually die,” he said. “So you need not lift a finger against me. Sigh, all the people under the sun seem to have only one wish — that everyone else must die before they can be truly happy. Thus, they study the pugilistic arts just so that they could have everyone else killed.”
To his surprise, Hu Qingniu kept silent. After gazing at the sky outside his door for a long time, he said in a quiet voice, “When I was young, I put all my heart into the study of medicine and aspired to bring hope and benefit to mankind, but I soon found out how wrong I had been when a man whom I had rescued turned around and hurt me badly. He was a young fellow who was poisoned by the venom of the golden silkworm in Guizhou’s Miao Settlement. This particular venom was so potent that its victims were bound to suffer terribly painful deaths. After three sleepless days and nights of painstaking effort, I finally succeeded in curing him. Subsequently, we became sworn brothers, and I gave him the hand of my younger sister in marriage. But he eventually caused my sister’s death. Do you know who he is? He is now the reputable leader of a renowned and upright clan!”
The pain and grief on Hu Qingniu’s face began filling Zhang Wuji’s heart with an unexpected compassion for him: So it was this tragic experience that turned him into a cold-hearted man who ignores the dying. “Who is this unfaithful ingrate with the heart of a wolf and the lungs of a dog?” he asked.
The physician gnashed his teeth in anger and answered, “He … he is none other than the leader of the School of Mount Hua, Xianyu Tong.”
“Why do you not take him to task over this matter?” asked Zhang Wuji again.
“I have looked him up thrice altogether,” Hu Qingniu replied with a sigh, “but I came away defeated each time. In fact, I was almost killed in our last duel, for this man is very highly skilled in martial arts. He is also very intelligent and resourceful, so much so that he is known as ‘The Shrewd Strategist’ (Shen2 Ji1 Zi3). I am really not his match. Furthermore, as the leader of the School of Mount Hua, he has many subordinates at his beck and call. Our Ming Sect, on the other hand, has been torn apart by internal strife in recent years. All the top pugilists in our Sect have been battling one another, so there was no one who could help me then. Besides, I am too ashamed to beg others for assistance. I am afraid that this grievance will never be redressed. Sigh, my poor ill-fated sister … our parents passed away when we were young, so both of us depended on each other … ” At this point, tears began welling up in his eyes.
He is actually not a cold, sour and heartless man, thought Zhang Wuji.
Suddenly, Hu Qingniu raised his voice and said, “You must never ever bring this matter up again. If so much as a single word leaks out, I will make you suffer between life and death for the rest of your days!”
The boy opened his mouth to retort, but before he could say anything, his heart softened. After all, the physician’s tragic experiences were not beneath his own. “I will not say a thing,” he agreed at last.
Hu Qingniu stroked the boy’s hair, sighed and added, “Poor thing, poor thing!” Then, he turned and headed for the inner room.
After the unexpected failure to remove the toxins in the boy’s Three Visceral Cavities and the long conversation about his past, Hu Qingniu’s attitude towards Zhang Wuji changed. Although he made no further mention about his background and personal problems, the physician found himself developing a liking for his thoughtful young patient. He was indeed a good companion for the lonely inhabitant of the valley. Consequently, Hu Qingniu instructed Zhang Wuji daily on the Yin, the Yang and the Five Elements of medical practice as well as the methods and techniques of acupuncture, lessons which the boy devoured with all his heart. Armed with an amazing talent for medicine, Zhang Wuji made such laudable progress in the study of various books, including ‘The Xiama Manual of the Yellow Emperor’ (Huang2 Di4 Xia1 Ma Jing1), ‘Xifangzi’s Book of Acupuncture’ (Xi1 Fang1 Zi3 Ming2 Tang2 Jiu3 Jing1), ‘Beneficial Prescriptions for Great Safety’ (Tai4 Ping2 Sheng4 Hui4 Fang1), ‘The Book of Acupuncture: Volumes 1 and 2’ (Jiu4 Jia3 Yi4 Jing1) and ‘Sun Simiao’s Thousand-Gold Prescriptions’, that Hu Qingniu could not help but sigh and say, “With your intelligence and natural flair, and my knowledge and abilities as a teacher, you should be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great physicians Hua Tuo and Bian Que before the age of twenty, but … sigh, what a pity, what a pity.”
He meant to say that the boy would be dead by the time he finished his studies in medicine, so what use was there in such a display of diligence and hard work? However, Zhang Wuji had a totally different purpose in his heart. He wanted to learn the best and the most effective medical techniques, so that he could help Chang Yuchun regain the health that he had lost. In addition, he hoped that he would enable Yu Daiyan to walk without aid. These were the two greatest desires of his heart, so if he could accomplish them before his death, he would depart with no regrets.
Life in the valley was peaceful and quiet, and the days and weeks passed with ease. When Zhang Wuji marked the second anniversary of his stay in Butterfly Valley, he was already fourteen years old. During these two years, Chang Yuchun visited him several times, with news about Zhang Sanfeng and the world outside. Apparently, the elderly Taoist was so happy to hear of the boy’s progress that he instructed the boy to stay on in the valley until his recovery was complete. In addition, Zhang Sanfeng and his six disciples sent gifts of clothes and other necessities, but they could not visit the boy whom they missed dearly because of the difference in clan affiliations. Zhang Wuji missed his grandteacher and uncles too, and he almost rushed back to Mount Wudang to see them. As for the world outside the valley, the Mongolians’ oppression of the Han-Chinese worsened by the day. The common people did not have enough to eat, and rising banditry gripped the land. At the same time, the feud between the upright clans and the Evil Sect worsened. Many people were injured and killed on both sides, deepening the vendettas between them.
Chang Yuchun stayed only for a few days during each visit, for he seemed to be very busy with the affairs of the Sect.
One night, after reading Wang Haogu’s medical book entitled ‘Matters that are Difficult to Ascertain’ (Ci3 Shi4 Nan2 Zhi1), Zhang Wuji felt so tired that he went to bed without further thought. When he woke up the next day, his head hurt so badly that he thought he was coming down with a cold. As he walked into the hall in search of some anti-cold medication, he noticed that the sun was shining from the west. Shocked that it was already past noon, he thought: I must be ill to sleep for such a long time. He quickly took his own pulse, but he found nothing irregular about it. Have I finally reached the end of my days? he asked himself.
Zhang Wuji went over to Hu Qingniu’s room and found the door tightly shut. Coughing lightly to get the physician’s attention, he heard the man say: “Wuji, I am not feeling well today. My throat hurts badly, so just continue reading on your own.”
“Yes,” the boy answered, before adding out of concern: “Sir, would you allow me to take a look at your throat, please?”
“That is not necessary,” Hu Qingniu replied hoarsely. “I have looked at it with a mirror. It is nothing serious, so I have taken some powdered bezoar and rhinoceros horn (niu2 huang2 xi1 jiao3 san3).”
That evening, when one of the pages served Hu Qingniu dinner in his room, Zhang Wuji walked in and saw that the physician was lying in bed with a haggard-looking face.
“Get out quickly, all of you!” said Hu Qingniu with a wave of his hand. “Do you know what I have come down with? It is smallpox!”
Sure enough, there were little red dots all over his face and hands. Zhang Wuji knew that smallpox was a dangerous disease. A light attack would leave marks all over the face, but a serious one could very well cause death. Although Hu Qingniu was a very knowledgeable physician who could treat his own illnesses better than anyone else, Zhang Wuji found himself still feeling concerned about him.
“You must not enter my room again,” Hu Qingniu went on. “All the bowls, chopsticks, cups and plates that I have used must be sterilised in boiling water. You and the pages must not mix these utensils with your own.” After a moment’s thought, he added, “Wuji, you had better leave Butterfly Valley and stay outside for half a month or so. I do not want to pass the smallpox on to you.”
“No, that is not necessary,” answered Zhang Wuji at once. “You are ill. If I go away now, who will take care of you? After all, I am a bit more knowledgeable about medicine than these two pages.”
“I think that it is better for you to go away,” said Hu Qingniu, but Zhang Wuji refused to be persuaded. Although the man had his idiosyncracries, a comfortable relationship had developed between the two of them in the past two years. Furthermore, it was unlike the boy’s character to run away in the face of trouble. Therefore, Hu Qingniu finally relented and said, “All right. But you must not step into my room.”
For the next three days, Zhang Wuji checked on Hu Qingniu once in the morning and once again in the evening. Although the physician sounded rather hoarse, he seemed to be quite alert. He also had a bigger appetite than usual, so his condition did not appear to be serious. In addition, Hu Qingniu made daily announcements of the herbs that he wanted to take, as well as their respective dosages. Then, the pages would set about decocting the various brews.
In the afternoon of the fourth day, Zhang Wuji sat down and began reading a chapter in ‘The Internal Classic of the Yellow Emperor’, which was entitled ‘A Great Discussion on the Management of the Four Forces’ (Si4 Qi4 Tiao2 Shen2 Da4 Lun4). By and by, he came to a passage that said: “Since ancient times, the sages have focused on the prevention rather than the healing of illnesses. They prefer to deal with troubles that have not erupted rather than problems that are already deep-set. Curing great illnesses that have done their damage and rectifying upheavals that have taken place are just like digging wells at the point of thirst and forging weapons at the point of battle — already too late.” Nodding in agreement, Zhang Wuji thought:These words are very true indeed, for it is really too late to dig a well when I am thirsty and forge a weapon just before I get into a fight. A chaotic country that experiences subsequent peace may have returned to its former stability, but its original power and strength would have suffered a massive depletion. Illnesses should also be treated before they break out, but Mr Hu’s smallpox is an external ailment that cannot be treated before it occurs.
Then, he recalled a passage from a chapter in the same book that was known as ‘A Great Discussion of the Responses of the Yin and the Yang’ (Yin1 Yang2 Ying4 Xiang4 Da4 Lun4): “The physician begins by treating the skin, then the flesh, then the nerves, then the Six Secondary Organs and finally the Five Primary Organs. He who treats the Five Primary Organs is left with only half a chance for success.” An able physician must begin treating an illness the moment its symptoms appear, said Zhang Wuji to himself. If he waits until the disease has eaten into the Five Primary Organs before taking action, his chances of success would have already fallen by half. As for people like me, whose internal systems are overrun by toxins, we are doomed nine times out of ten.
As he praised the wisdom of the ancient physicians and reminisced about life since his injuries, Zhang Wuji suddenly heard the sound of horses’ hooves heading into the valley. A short while later, the riders came to a stop outside the huts. A voice among them called out: “Friends from the martial arts circle seek an audience with the Sage of Healing, Mr Hu, requesting that he provides treatment for our ailments.”
Stepping out for a look, Zhang Wuji saw a swarthy man standing in front of his hut. The man had the reins of three horses in one hand, two of which carried a blood-soaked man each. The swarthy man wore a huge bloody bandage on his head, while his right arm hung from his neck in a sling. All three of them appeared to be seriously wounded.
“You have come at a most unfortunate time,” said Zhang Wuji. “Mr Hu is ill and bed-ridden, so he is unable to offer you his services. Please see another physician!”
“But we have ridden hundreds of li (1 li = 500 metres) with our lives hanging by a thread,” said the swarthy man. “We can be saved only by the Sage of Healing.”
“Mr Hu has been struck by a very serious case of smallpox,” Zhang Wuji explained. “This is the truth, for I do not dare to deceive you.”
“The three of us are gravely wounded,” said the swarthy man again. “Unless we are treated by the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley himself, we are sure to die. Little Brother, please report to Mr Hu on our behalf and find out what his instructions are.”
“In that case, may I enquire what your esteemed surnames and names are?” asked Zhang Wuji.
“Our worthless names deserve no mention,” answered the swarthy man. “Please say that we are disciples School-Leader Xianyu from Mount Hua.” His body shook and he threw up a large mouthful of blood.
Zhang Wuji was taken aback. He knew that Xianyu Tong from the School of Mount Hua was a great enemy of Hu Qingniu, so he went over to the physician’s door and called, “Sir, there are three seriously-injured men outside who seek your services. They say that they are disciples of School-Leader Xianyu from Mount Hua.”
Hu Qingniu gasped in surprise before replying angrily: “I will not treat them! Chase them away at once!”
“Yes,” answered the boy. Then, he returned to the wounded men and said, “Mr Hu is too ill to see anyone. Please forgive us.”
The swarthy man frowned and opened his mouth to plead for help, but before he could say anything, a thin and small-sized fellow, who had been slumped on one of the horses, lifted his head and threw something into the hut. A golden light flashed past Zhang Wuji before coming to a stop on the table. “Take this golden flower and show it to ‘The One who Ignores the Dying’,” said the thin man. “Tell him that we have been hurt by the owner of the golden flower. Now, this person is about to come and cause him trouble as well. If ‘The One who Ignores the Dying’ can cure our ailments, the three of us will stay behind and help him to fight the enemy. Our pugilistic skills are not great, but three additional helpers are better than none.”
Zhang Wuji found the thin man rather rude, unlike the swarthy fellow who was more polite. Walking over to the table, he saw that the golden flower was actually a type of projectile. Made entirely from yellow gold, it was exactly the same size and shape as a real plum blossom. The handiwork was so exquisite that the bloom even had pistils that were fashioned from platinum. Zhang Wuji reached to pick it up, only to discover that the thin man had thrown it with so much force that it had become embedded in the table. As he prised it out with a pair of tweezers, he thought: This skinny fellow seems rather skilled in martial arts, but he ended up being hurt so badly by the owner of the golden flower. I had better tell Mr Hu that this formidable person is coming to cause trouble. Holding the little flower in his hand, he stood outside the physician’s room and repeated what the thin man had told him.
“Show me the weapon,” said Hu Qingniu.
Pushing the door open and gently sweeping the door-curtain aside, Zhang Wuji found the physician’s room as dark as night. He knew that smallpox sufferers were afraid of wind and light, so it was only expected that the windows were all sealed up. Hu Qingniu had a piece of black cloth wrapped around his face, revealing only a pair of eyes. Zhang Wuji was shocked: I wonder how the blisters are under that cloth. Would they leave scars on his face?
“Put the golden flower on the table and leave quickly,” Hu Qingniu said.
Zhang Wuji did as he was told and stepped out of the room. But before he could close the door, Hu Qingniu spoke again: “The lives and deaths of the three have absolutely nothing to do with me. They also need not worry whether I am dead or alive.” The golden flower flew across the room, sliced through the door-curtain and landed on the floor with a thud. In the past two years, Zhang Wuji had never seen the physician practise any martial arts. Yet, this cultured man had turned out to be a highly skilled pugilist as well. Although he was ill, he had lost none of his pugilistic abilities.
The boy picked up the golden flower, returned it to the thin man, shook his head and said, “Mr Hu is really very ill … ”
Suddenly, the sounds of hooves and wheels were heard. A horse-drawn carriage rolled into the valley.
As the carriage came to a stop outside the row of huts, Zhang Wuji saw that it was driven by a sallow-looking young man. The man lifted a bald elderly fellow out of the carriage and asked, “Is the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley, Mr Hu, at home? The Sacred Hands of the Buddhist Temple (Sheng4 Shou3 Qie2 Lan2) Jian Jie of the Kongdong School has come from afar to seek treatment … ” Before he could say more, he collapsed, dragging the bald elderly man to the ground with him. By a stroke of coincidence, the two horses that had drawn the carriage fell as well, foaming in their mouths.
The condition of these two newcomers and their horses was sufficient proof that they had travelled a long way without rest, just so that they could seek treatment from Hu Qingniu. The mention of the ‘Kongdong School’ rekindled Zhang Wuji’s memories of his parents’ suicides on Mount Wudang two years earlier. The elders of Kongdong were among those who had forced the couple to their deaths, and although this particular bald man had not been present that day, he was probably not a good fellow. Yet, before Zhang Wuji could refuse his request and send him away, four or five more people entered the valley. Some of them had crutches, while others leaned on one another for support. They all looked as if they were also wounded.
Knitting his brows into a frown, the boy did not wait for the latest group to approach him. Instead, he announced in a loud voice: “Mr Hu has contracted smallpox. He cannot even help himself at this moment, so he is unable to treat your ailments. Please seek another physician as soon as possible, so that your treatments are not delayed.”
When the latest group finally reached the row of huts, Zhang Wuji saw that it consisted of five men. Looking as pale as paper, without any visible wounds on their bodies or patches of blood on their clothes, the men had probably suffered internal injuries. Their leader, a tall and fat fellow, nodded at the bald Jian Jie and the thin man who threw the golden flower. Then, the three of them exchanged a bitter laugh.
They know one another! thought Zhang Wuji in surprise. His curiosity aroused, he asked: “Did all of you fall victim to the owner of the golden flower as well?”
“That is correct,” answered the fat man.
Then, the swarthy man, who had been the first to arrive, added, “What is your name, Little Brother? How are you related to Mr Hu?”
“I am Mr Hu’s patient,” Zhang Wuji replied. “When Mr Hu says that he will not treat you, he really means it. Thus, there is no purpose for you to continue hanging around here.”
As they spoke, four more people arrived. Some came in carriages, while others rode horses, but all of them requested an audience with Hu Qingniu.
Zhang Wuji became even more puzzled: The Butterfly Valley is so remote that besides the members of the Evil Sect, very few people in the realm of the rivers and lakes know about its location. These fellows come from Kongdong and Mount Hua, so they are definitely not related to the Sect. How did all of them end up being injured at the same time? And how did all of them find their way here with such coincidence? Then, another thought entered his mind: Since the owner of the golden flower is such a formidable pugilist, it would not have been difficult for him to take these people’s lives. But why did he just wound them grievously?
Some of the wounded visitors continued to plead for help, while others remained totally quiet, but all fourteen of them flatly refused to leave. As evening fell around them, they crowded into one of the huts for shelter. When one of the pages served Zhang Wuji his dinner, the boy went ahead and ate it without bothering about the visitors. Then, he lit an oil lamp and resumed his reading. Turning a blind eye to the fourteen, he said to himself:Since I am learning Mr Hu’s methods and techniques of treatment, I may as well copy him and ignore the dying too.
Quiet settled on Butterfly Valley. Except for the occasional sound of Zhang Wuji turning a page of his book and the heavy breathing of the wounded visitors, no other noises were heard. Suddenly, light footfalls sounded along the path outside as two people walked slowly towards the row of huts.
A moment later, the clear, crisp voice of a girl cut through the stillness of the night: “Mother, there is a light in the house ahead. We have arrived.” Her high pitch indicated that she was very young in age.
By and by, an older voice asked, “Child, are you tired?”
“No, I am not,” the little girl replied. “Mother, you will not hurt after the physician cures your illness.”
“Yes,” answered the woman. “But I do not know if the physician is willing to treat me.”
Zhang Wuji was taken aback: The woman’s voice is very familiar! She sounds like Auntie Ji Xiaofu!
At that moment, the little girl spoke again: “The physician will definitely treat you. Mother, do not be afraid. Are you feeling better yet?”
“Just a little better,” said the woman. “Sigh, my poor long-suffering child … ”
By then, Zhang Wuji had no more doubts. He rushed to the door of the hut and called out: “Auntie Ji, is that you? Are you wounded too?”
A woman dressed in blue came into view, holding a little girl by the hand. She was indeed the Lady Warrior Ji Xiaofu of the E-mei School. When she last saw Zhang Wuji on Mount Wudang, he was not even ten years old. Almost five years had passed since then, and the little boy had grown into a teenager. Thus, she could hardly recognise him.
“Auntie Ji, do you still remember me?” asked the boy again. “I am Zhang Wuji. We met once on Mount Wudang, when my parents passed away.”
Ji Xiaofu gasped in shocked, for she had never expected to run into him in this isolated valley. Suddenly very conscious about her status as an unwed mother, she turned very red with shame. After all, Zhang Wuji was the nephew of her fiancé, Yin Liting. Although he was young, it was still very difficult for her to explain herself. Unfortunately, the emotional turmoil caused by this unexpected meeting was too much for her weakened body, so she collapsed.
Her daughter grabbed her arm at once, but what could a eight- or nine-year-old child do to stop the fall of an adult? As a result, both mother and child crumpled to the ground in a heap.
Zhang Wuji quickly propped Ji Xiaofu up by the shoulders and said, “Auntie Ji, please take a rest inside.” Helping her indoors, he soon saw that her left shoulder and arm had been slashed several times. Blood was still seeping through the bandages that she had put over the wounds, and a light but persistent cough accompanied her throughout. By then, Zhang Wuji’s abilities in treating illnesses had surpassed those of the so-called ‘renowned physicians’, so he could tell immediately from her coughs that her lungs had been hurt. “Auntie Ji, you hurt the Taiyin Channel of the Lung when you used your right palm against your opponent’s hand,” he said.
Then, he took seven gold needles out and inserted them through her clothes into the Yun Men acupoint on her shoulder, the Hua Gai (Hua2 Gai4) acupoint on her chest, the Chi Ze acupoint on her elbow and four other points along the Taiyin Channel of the Lung. His skills had improvedly vastly since the day he treated Chang Yuchun, for he had spent the past two years in diligent study under the tutelage of Hu Qingniu. While his ability to diagnose ailments and prescribe medication was still limited by experience, his skill in acupunture had reached seven- or eight-tenths of the prowess of the Healing Sage.
Ji Xiaofu was somewhat apprehensive when she saw the gold needles, but Zhang Wuji was so fast with his hands that the needles entered her acupoints in the blink of an eye, granting immediate relief for the congestion in her chest. Startled but delighted, Ji Xiaofu said, “Dear child, I never expected to see you here, much less with this marvellous set of skills.”
Years ago on Mount Wudang, Ji Xiaofu had witnessed the double-suicide of Zhang Cuishan and Yin Susu. Overcome with compassion for the little orphan that the couple left behind, she had comforted the child and offered him her necklace of gold. However, Zhang Wuji had been so angry and upset that he had blamed all the visitors for his parents’ deaths. Therefore, he had rejected Ji Xiaofu’s gift and left her standing in embarrassment. As he grew older, he found out that his father and uncles had originally planned to join hands with the warriors of E-mei against their opponents. Thus, he finally learnt that the E-mei School was a friend, not a foe. As for Ji Xiaofu, he had often recalled her kindness towards him with a grateful heart.
More recently, Zhang Wuji and Chang Yuchun had seen how Ji Xiaofu had taken a great risk in rescuing Monk Peng (i.e. Peng Yingyu). Therefore, in his mind, this Auntie Ji was a very good person. He was too young to understand the details behind her being an unwed mother or judge whether she had done his Uncle Yin wrong, so he had not retained the information that he had heard in the woods that night. Unfortunately, Ji Xiaofu had been carrying a guilty conscience all this time, so she found this sudden meeting with someone who knew Yin Liting terribly embarrassing. She did not know that Zhang Wuji had heard everything about her from Ding Minjun two years earlier. Since he saw Ding Minjun as a wicked woman, the things that she had said were probably not as bad as she had made them out to be.
Zhang Wuji turned his attention to the little girl beside Ji Xiaofu. Pretty as a picture, the girl stared curiously at him with a pair of big and dark eyes before whispering, “Mother, is this boy the physician?”
The word ‘Mother’ caused Ji Xiaofu to redden at once. But there was really nothing more that she could do to keep the matter under wraps. So, she replied awkwardly, “This is an older brother from the Zhang family. His father was a friend of mine.” Then, she turned to Zhang Wuji and said, “She … she is called ‘Buhui’.” After a pause, she added, “Her surname is Yang … Yang Buhui!”
Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “That is great. Little Sister, your name is very similar to mine. I am called Zhang Wuji – ‘No Resentments’ – while you are Yang Buhui – ‘No Regrets’.”
Seeing that Zhang Wuji did not react to her introduction of her daughter with shock or accusation, Ji Xiaofu heaved a silent sigh of relief. Then, she said to her daughter, “Elder Brother Wuji is very skilful. I do not hurt very much anymore.”
Yang Buhui’s lively eyes regarded Zhang Wuji for a moment. Then, she went forward, gave the boy a big hug and kissed him on the cheek. Besides her mother, she had never seen anyone else all her life. Therefore, she was very grateful that Zhang Wuji had reduced the pain and discomfort that her mother felt. Since she had always expressed joy and gratitude towards her mother by hugging and kissing her, she had done the same to the boy.
Ji Xiaofu smiled and said, “Bu- er, do not do that. Brother Wuji does not like it.”
Yang Buhui opened her eyes wide in surprise, turned to Zhang Wuji and asked, “You do not like it? Why do you not want me to be nice to you?”
Laughing in amusement, the boy replied, “I like it. I want to be nice to you too.” He leaned forward and gave her a gentle peck on the cheek.
Yang Buhui clapped her hands. “Little Physician,” she said, “quickly make my mother completely well again and I will give you another kiss.”
Zhang Wuji found the innocent and lively little girl very adorable. All his life, he had known only people who were old enough to be his uncles. Although he treated Chang Yuchun as a brother and vice-versa, the man was still eight years older than he. Other than Zhou Zhiruo whom he had met for barely a day, he had never had any friends of his age. Therefore, he could not help but say to himself: If I had such a cute little sister, I would take her out to play everyday. After all, at fourteen years old, he was still very much a child, but the rough circumstances of his childhood had not given him many opportunities for fun and play.
Then, Ji Xiaofu noticed that Jian Jie and the other wounded visitors had not received any treatment yet. Unwilling to jump the queue, she said, “They arrived earlier than I, so you had better attend to them first. I am already feeling much better.”
“They came to seek treatment from Mr Hu but he is too ill to see them,” answered Zhang Wuji. “Yet, they have refused to leave. Auntie Ji, I have lived here long enough to pick up some basic medical skills, so if you can trust me, I will take a look at your injuries. After all, you did not mention that you are seeking help from Mr Hu.”
In fact, Ji Xiaofu had wanted to ask the Hu Qingniu for assistance, for she had been in the same boat as Jian Jie and the others. After they were wounded, someone had told them to come to Butterfly Valley for treatment. Now that Zhang Wuji had made the offer to treat her, she quickly realised that the ‘One who Ignores the Dying’ was living up to his name. Since the initial course of acupuncture had proven to be rather effective, she knew that Zhang Wuji’s skills were far better than ‘basic’. Thus, she said, “Thank you very much. Since the Great Master refuses to provide treatment, the Little Master can do it just the same.”
Ushering the woman into a room, Zhang Wuji cut her sleeve away with a pair of scissors and found three sabre slashes on her arm. The bones in the arm were broken, with a spot in the upper arm where the pieces of bone had been smashed to smithereens. This terribly fragmented section was particularly difficult to fix, yet it was just a simple matter in the eyes of the disciple of the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley. Thus, Zhang Wuji began setting the bones in Ji Xiaofu’s arm before applying a concoction that would aid in the healing of the open wounds on it. Then, he wrote up a prescription and instructed one of the pages to have the soup prepared. This being his maiden attempt at setting broken bones, his hands were rather clumsy. So, he struggled for a shichen (two hours) or so before everything was finally in place and bandaged. “Auntie Ji,” he said, “please take a nap. When the anaesthetic wears off, the wounds are going to hurt quite badly.”
“Thank you very much!” said Ji Xiaofu in gratitude.
After that, Zhang Wuji went off to get some dates and almonds for Yang Buhui, but by the time he returned, the tired little girl had already fallen asleep by her mother’s side. He placed the snacks in her pocket and went out of the room.
The swarthy man from the School of Mount Hua stood up as soon as Zhang Wuji appeared. Bowing low before the boy, he said, “Young sir, since Mr Hu is ill, we have no alternative but to seek your assistance for our injuries. For this, we offer our utmost gratitude in advance.”
Since he began his studies in medicine, Zhang Wuji had never provided treatment for anyone, except Chang Yuchun and Ji Xiaofu. Consequently, he was very tempted to try his skills out on these fourteen men who bore a variety of internal injuries, broken limbs and other strange ailments. Then, remembering Hu Qingniu’s words, he said, “This is Mr Hu’s home and I am only a patient of his. How would I dare to make such a decision?”
Seeing that he did not make an outright refusal to provide treatment, the swarthy man decided to motivate the boy with a little praise. “The renowned physicians of the past were all old men in their fifties and sixties,” he said, “so we did not realise that a young man like you could have such profound skills. This occurrence is so rare that we hope to experience your prowess.”
The fat man, whose surname was Liang, added, “The fourteen of us have minor reputations in the realm of the rivers and lakes. If you cure our ailments, young sir, we will go out and publicise your abilities as a miraculous physician. Within a day, your name will be renowned across the land.”
Young and inexperienced, Zhang Wuji did not really understand the ways of the world. Therefore, he could not help but feel pleased with the men’s praises. “What benefit is there in being renowned across the land?” he said. “Since Mr Hu is unwilling to treat you, there is nothing I can do. But your injuries are really quite serious … let me put it this way: I will help to reduce some of your pain and discomfort.” With some multi-purpose ointment in hand, he began helping the wounded men.
But he was totally unprepared for what he found. Not only were the men’s injuries different from one another, the injuries themselves were so strange and shocking that they were not even mentioned in the comprehensive books that Hu Qingniu had written. One of the men had been forced to swallow several dozen poisoned steel needles. Another man had his liver wounded by internal strength, but the Xing Jian (Xing2 Jian1), Zhong Feng (Zhong1 Feng1), Yin Bao (Yin1 Bao1) and Wu Li (Wu3 Li3) acupoints that were needed to treat the liver had been slashed to bits with a sharp knife. Apparently, the perpetrator of these injuries had a profound knowledge of medicine as well, so he could ensure that his victims were not easily cured. Then, there was the man whose lungs were punctured with a long iron nail each. He coughed and threw up blood continuously. Another man had all the ribs on both sides of his body totally broken, but none of these broken bones punctured his heart or lungs. Yet another fellow had both his hands chopped off, but the perpetrator had taken time to connect the left hand on the right wrist, and vice-versa. Now, the switched limbs had begun to set. And there was the man who was blue, black and swollen all over. Apparently, he had been stung by twenty different poisonous insects and pests, including the centipede, the scorpion and the wasp.
Zhang Wuji had seen only six or seven of the fourteen men, but they were enough to bring a frown to his brow: Their injuries are so strange that I cannot even cure a single one of them. Why did the perpetrator rack his brains and come up with such terrible forms of torture? Suddenly, a thought hit him: The wounds on Auntie Ji’s shoulder and arm are too common, so she must have suffered some strange internal injuries as well, for how could her case be different? He ran into the room and took Ji Xiaofu’s pulse. Erratic and irregular, her pulse indicated that something had gone horribly wrong with her internal organs. Yet, he had no idea as to why and how it happened.
Zhang Wuji was not particularly concerned about the conditions of the fourteen men. After all, they included the people from the Kongdong School who had a hand in forcing his parents to their deaths, so they deserved every bit of their strange sentences. But Ji Xiaofu’s injuries had to be treated at all costs, so he walked over to Hu Qingniu’s room and said, “Sir, are you asleep?”
“What is it?” asked the physician. “I do not care who it is outside, for I will not treat a single one of them.”
“Yes,” said Zhang Wuji. “But their injuries are very very strange.” Then, he proceeded to describe everything that he had seen.
Hu Qingniu listened attentively from bed, sending the boy outside every now and then to clarify certain conditions that sounded vague. The process took almost an hour before the injuries of all fifteen people were completely described in gory detail. The physician punctuated the reports with numerous “Mmm, Mmm”, as if he was thinking hard about them. Finally, he said, “Hmmph! These strange injuries are nothing to me … ”
Suddenly, a voice behind Zhang Wuji said, “Mr Hu, the owner of the golden flower wants us to tell you this: ‘You have called yourself the Sage of Healing in vain, for I do not think that you will be able to cure even one of these fifteen ailments.’ Ha ha, sure enough, you are now holed up in your room, pretending to be ill.”
Turning around, Zhang Wuji saw that the voice belonged to the bald old man from the Kongdong School, Jian Jie. Initially, the boy had thought that the old fellow was naturally bald, but he later discovered that his hair had fallen out after a corrosive poison was applied on his head. Furthermore, the poison had begun seeping through the scalp and the skull towards the brain. It would be just a matter of days before the man went completely mad. Meanwhile, his companions had secured his hands with iron chains, so that he could not scratch his terribly itchy scalp down to the bone.
Hu Qingniu was unfazed. “It does not matter to me whether I can cure you or not,” he said calmly. “The point is that I will never treat your ailments. You have seven or eight days of life left, so if you hurry home now, you will still be able to see your family members, sons and daughters for the last time. After all, what benefit is there in nagging me?
Tortured by the persistent itch on his scalp, Jian Jie knocked his head against the wall and rattled the chains on his hands. “Mr Hu,” he growled in a breathless voice, “the owner of the golden flower will come for you sooner or later, and you will probably suffer a terrible death. If we join hands and fight together against this enemy, would it not be better than hiding in this room and waiting for your doom?”
“If you can defeat him, you would have had him killed a long time ago!” answered Hu Qingniu. “What is the use of having fifteen useless helpers?”
Jian Jie pleaded for a while, but Hu Qingniu did not pay him further attention. Finally, the frustrated man shouted: “All right, since either way leads to death, I will burn this dog’s den down! We will enter with white sabres, and exit with red ones. After we dispatch this crooked physician, we will meet our ends!”
Just then, another man appeared. He was the swarthy fellow who had been throwing up blood. Pulling out a steel Moth-Antennae Spike (e2 mei2 gang1 ci4) and pressing it against Jian Jie’s chest, he said coldly, “If you offend Elder Hu, I will be the first to take you to task. You want to enter with white sabres and exit with red ones? All right, I will let you experience it first.”
Jian Jie was the better-skilled pugilist between the two, but he could not fight back because of the chains around his hands. So he just opened his eyes wide and glared at his opponent.
Raising his voice, the swarthy man announced: “Elder Hu, I am Xue Gongyuan, a disciple of School-Leader Xianyu from Mount Hua. I would like to pay you my respects!” He knelt and kowtowed several times.
A glimmer of hope appeared in Jian Jie’s heart: Since Hu Qingniu refuses to respond to force, this fellow’s kowtows and gentle pleadings may just do the trick.
Then, Xue Gongyuan said, “It is our misfortune that you are ill, Elder Hu. But there is a little brother here whose knowledge of medicine is brilliant. Thus, we would like to request your permission for him to treat us. After all, there is no one else in the world who can cure our strange ailments, except for the disciple of the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley.”
“This child is called Zhang Wuji,” Hu Qingniu answered coldly. “He is a disciple of the Wudang School, the son of the Silver Hook and Iron Stroke Zhang Cuishan the Fifth, and the grand-disciple of Zhang Sanfeng. Hu Qingniu is a member of the Ming Sect, the scum of society that is despised by your renowned and upright clans. So what have I do to with a disciple of a great teacher like him? He came to me for help because he has been poisoned, but I have sworn that I will treat no one, except the members of the Ming Sect. This little fellow is unwilling to join my organisation, so how can I save his life?”
Half of Xue Gongyuan’s hopes vanished into thin air. He had initially thought that Zhang Wuji was Hu Qingniu’s disciple. Therefore, the physician would definitely provide the boy with pointers if he ran into difficulties during the process of treatment. He had never expected that Zhang Wuji would turn out to be yet another hapless patient whose request for assistance had been flatly refused.
“So you want to hang around, eh?” Hu Qingniu went on. “Hmmph, hmmph, do you think that I will become kind-hearted all of sudden? Ask this little fellow how long he has been hanging around my place.”
When Xue Gongyuan and Jian Jie turned to Zhang Wuji, they saw him hold up two fingers and gesture twice with them.
“Twenty days?” asked Xue Gongyuan.
“Two years and two months to the day,” answered Zhang Wuji.
Jian and Xue exchanged a glance and sighed.
“He can go ahead and stay here for another ten years,” said Hu Qingniu, “but I still cannot save his life. In twelve months, the deadly toxins that have accummulated in his internal organs will begin their final work, and he will not live to see this day next year. I swore an oath before the Ming Lord years ago, hence I cannot provide treatment for anyone who is not a member of the Ming Sect, even if they are my own father, son and daughter.”
As Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan began walking out in deep disappointment, Hu Qingniu suddenly said, “This teenager from the Wudang School knows a little about medicine. Although the knowledge of Wudang is far beneath our Ming Sect, it is not poor enough to kill anyone. Therefore, the Wudang School can go ahead and provide treatment, or turn away and ignore the dying. Its decision, however, has absolutely nothing to do with the Ming Sect and Hu Qingniu.”
Xue Gongyuan was taken aback, for the physician sounded as if he wanted Zhang Wuji to treat their ailments. “Elder Hu,” said the man quickly, “if this Young Hero Zhang is willing to save us, we will have hope once more.”
“What has that got to do with me?” snapped Hu Qingniu. “Listen up, Wuji. You cannot practise medicine as you wish in the house of Hu Qingniu. But once you step out of my door, I can no longer control what you do.”
Xue Gongyuan and Jian Jie glanced dumbly at each other, unsure of what the physician meant by his words.
Fortunately, Zhang Wuji was a lot smarter than they. Knowing what Hu Qingniu had in mind, he said to Xue and Jian, “Mr Hu is ill, so you should not disturb him more than necessary. Please come with me.” When the three of them reached the hall, Zhang Wuji said, “Gentlemen, I am young and my knowledge is shallow. Your injuries are so strange that I do not have full confidence in curing them. If you can trust me, please allow me to do my best. As for the results, we will leave them in the hands of the Heavens.”
By then, the men were so tortured by their injuries that they were willing to drink arsenic and poison for momentary relief. Therefore, they were absolutely delighted to hear Zhang Wuji’s words.
“Mr Hu does not allow me to do anything in his house,” the boy went on, “so that his reputation as the ‘Sage of Healing’ will not be damaged if anyone dies. Please step outside.”
The men hesitated, for they knew that this fourteen- or fifteen-year-old lad was limited in knowledge and experience. If they remained in the house of the ‘Sage of Healing’, they could still look to the renowned physician himself for assurance. But if they stepped outside, they might just end up suffering additional yet totally unnecessary pain in the bumbling hands of this young man.
Suddenly, Jian Jie exclaimed: “The itch on my scalp is killing me! Little Brother, please attend to me first.” Dragging his chains noisily behind him, he walked out of the door.
After a moment’s thought, Zhang Wuji went to the room where a variety medicinal ingredients were kept, and brought out ten different herbs and minerals, including Nanxing (nan2 xing1), Divaricate Saposhnikovia Root (fang2 feng1), Dahurian Angelica Root (bai2 zhi3), Gastrodia Tuber (tian1 ma2), Notopterygium (qiang1 huo2), Typhonium Tuber (bai2 fu4 zi3) and ophicalcite (hua1 rui4 shi2). Then, he instructed one of the pages to crush the herbs and minerals in the mortar with some hot wine, before applying resulting paste on Jian Jie’s bald pate.
The old man jumped up and yelled in pain when the paste touched his scalp, shouting, “Ouch! It hurts terribly! But this pain is a lot more comfortable than that horrible itch!” Walking around the grass with chattering teeth, he added, “Pain is wonderful! Damn, this pipsqueak is better than I thought. No … Young Hero Zhang, I should really be thanking you for your help instead.”
The fast and positive effect of Zhang Wuji’s treatment on Jian Jie’s itch caused the other men to rush forward with their respective needs. At that moment, one of them started rolling on the ground, holding on to his stomach and crying out in pain. It turned out that he had been forced to swallow more than thirty live leeches. Having survived the ingestion, the leeches had eventually attached themselves to the walls of their victim’s stomach and intestines, sucking his blood for all their worth. Zhang Wuji recalled a passage that he had read: Leeches disintegrate upon contact with honey. There was plenty of honey in Butterfly Valley, so he obtained a large bowl of it from one of the pages and instructed the man to consume the entire serving at once.
Then, he proceeded to the other men, attending diligently to each successive patient until daybreak. When Ji Xiaofu and her daughter woke up and went outside, they found that Zhang Wuji had been working so hard that he was drenched in perspiration. Ji Xiaofu offered her help immediately, bandaging open wounds and fetching medicines as required. On the other hand, little Yang Buhui ran around the valley, snacking on almonds and dates and chasing butterflies without a single care.
By the time Zhang Wuji had finished with the initial course of treatment for all fourteen men, it was already past noon. But their ailments were so strange and complex that it was insufficient to deal just only with the external symptoms and signs. Zhang Wuji went to his room to get some sleep, only to be jolted awake several hours later by loud cries of pain. He jumped up and went to check on his patients at once. A few of them seemed better, but many more had taken a turn for the worse. Lost for ideas, he went to tell Hu Qingniu what had happened so far.
“These fellows are not members of the Ming Sect,” said the physician coldly. “Who cares if they are dead or alive?”
Then, Zhang Wuji had a flash of inspiration. “If there was a member of the Ming Sect who did not have any external injuries,” he said, “but his face was swollen red and his abdomen was filled with blood clots, how would you deal with him?”
“If he was a member of the Ming Sect,” answered Hu Qingniu, “I would give him a decoction of water, wine, pangolin scales (shan1 jia3), the end-roots of the Chinese Angelica (gui1 wei3), safflower (hong2 hua1), the dried rhizome of Rehmannia, Lingxian (ling2 xian1), Dragon’s Blood (xue4 jie2, the resin of the Calamus Gum), Taoxian (tao2 xian1), rhubarb (da4 huang2), frankincense (ru3 xiang1) and myrrh (mo4 yao4), with some urine from boys under twelve (tong2 bian4). He will pass the blood clots out after that.
Zhang Wuji asked again: “What if someone filled the left and right ears of a Ming Sect member with lead and mercury respectively, before pouring raw lacquer into his eyes?”
“Who dares to do such a horrible thing to a member of the Ming Sect?” roared Hu Qingniu in anger.
“Yes, that person is terribly vicious,” answered Zhang Wuji. “But I think that we should cure the ears and eyes of this Ming Sect member first, before asking him who his enemy is and where he can be found.”
Hu Qingniu thought for a moment and said, “If the victim was a member of the Ming Sect, I would pour mercury into his left ear. The pieces of lead would dissolve in the mercury and flow out of the ear. Then, I would put a gold needle into the right ear and draw the mercury out bit by bit. As for the raw lacquer, a juice made from crabs might work.”
Zhang Wuji went on in this manner, turning the ailments of his patients into injuries suffered by fictitious Ming Sect members, until Hu Qingniu had given him the answers to all fifteen problems. The physician knew what the boy was up to, of course, but he taught him all the same. Unfortunately, some of these injuries were so strange and complex that the suggested treatments did not work. Therefore, Hu Qingniu had to put in additional effort and thought before the appropriate cures were found.
After five or six days, the patients began showing signs of improvement. As for Ji Xiaofu, her internal injury had been caused by poison. After Zhang Wuji had ascertained its roots, he had combatted it with a decoction of raw fossil fragments (sheng1 long2 gu3), perilla (su1 mu4), mole cricket (tu2 gou3), Trogopterus dung (wu3 ling2 zhi1), Caper Euphorbia seed (qian1 jin1 zi3) and powdered toad (ge2 fen3). Thus, when he checked on her pulse, he found that it had become rather steady, though it was still a little weak. Her injury had indeed begun to heal.
By then, the patients had built themselves a large canopy outside Hu Qingniu’s row of huts, using it as a simple shelter from sun and rain as they recuperated on piles of straw and grass. Ji Xiaofu and her daughter had a tiny shed of their own several zhang (1 zhang = 3.33 metres) away, the result of a request by Zhang Wuji that the fourteen wounded men did not dare to decline. After all, the lives of these rough-and-tumble men who roamed the length and the breadth of the realm of the rivers and lakes were in the boy’s hands.
Life had suddenly become rather busy for Zhang Wuji, but he had also learnt quite a few new techniques and prescriptions from Hu Qingniu. The experience had proven to be beneficial so far.
One morning, Zhang Wuji discovered a slight darkening of the skin on Ji Xiaofu’s brow, as if her internal injuries had recurred. He quickly took her pulse and asked her to provide some saliva for a test, eventually confirming that the poison in her body had returned. Zhang Wuji could not figure out what had happened, so he went to ask Hu Qingniu for help. The physician sighed and told him what to do. Sure enough, the treatment worked immediately. Then, Jian Jie’s scalp began to rot and give out a terribly foul smell. The fifteen patients had regained eight- or nine-tenths of their health in the past few days, yet in a single night, everyone had taken a turn for the worse.
Zhang Wuji did not understand how this happened, so he turned to Hu Qingniu for an opinion.
“All of them have suffered extraordinary injuries,” said the physician. “If they could be easily healed, why would they need to come to Butterfly Valley and beg me for help?”
That night, the boy lay in bed and thought: It is common for injuries to recur, but it is way too strange for such a thing to happen to all fifteen people at the same time. Furthermore, their conditions seem to change again and again. The matter kept him awake until the third watch of the night (11.00 p.m. to 1.00 a.m.) had passed.
Suddenly, he heard the soft crushing of fallen leaves as someone walked quietly past his window. His curiosity aroused, Zhang Wuji made a hole in the paper covering of his window and peered outside. He saw a figure flash by, before disappearing behind a Chinese scholartree (huai2 shu4). It looked like Hu Qingniu.
Why is Mr Hu not in bed? the boy asked himself. Has he recovered from smallpox?
But the physician’s movements seemed to indicate an unwillingness to be seen by others. After a while, he crept towards the tiny shed that Ji Xiaofu and her daughter slept in.
Zhang Wuji’s heart began to thump loudly as he thought: Has he gone to hurt Auntie Ji? I am not his match, but I cannot let this matter pass unheeded. Climbing out of the window, he followed Hu Qingniu as quietly as he could. Then, he saw the man sneak into Ji Xiaofu’s shed. The shed had been put up haphazardly as a simple shelter against wind and rain, so it had no doors or walls to keep intruders out.
Zhang Wuji panicked and made his way quickly to the back of the shed. Crouching close to the ground, he saw Ji Xiaofu and her daughter sleeping soundly on a pile of straw. Meanwhile, Hu Qingniu took a medicinal pellet out of his shirt and put it into Ji Xiaofu’s bowl of medicine before leaving as quietly as he had come. Zhang Wuji saw that the physician’s face was still covered by the piece of black cloth. As he wondered whether the man had recovered from smallpox, a sudden and somewhat frightening realisation hit him: Mr Hu has been tampering secretly with the patients’ medications during the night! That is why their injuries have not been healing.
Then, he saw Hu Qingniu entering the canopy where Jian Jie, Xue Gongyuan and the others slept, apparently to poison them as well. The physician did not re-appear for a long time, probably because each of the fourteen men required a different prescription. Zhang Wuji stepped quietly into Ji Xiaofu’s shed and took a whiff of her bowl of medicine. It had originally contained a dose of Eight Immortals Soup (ba1 xian1 tang1), which she was supposed to drink first thing in the morning. Now, the decoction emitted a pungent smell. Just then, light footsteps sounded outside, indicating that the physician was returning to his room.
Putting the bowl down, Zhang Wuji called out softly: “Auntie Ji, Auntie Ji!”
As an accomplished pugilist, Ji Xiaofu’s hearing and sight were very keen, so she would wake up at the slightest noise even when she was in a deep sleep. However, she was not aroused despite several calls from Zhang Wuji. The boy had to shake her on the shoulder seven or eight times before she finally opened her eyes and asked, “Who is it?”
“Auntie Ji, it is I, Wuji,” he answered. “Your bowl of medicine has been poisoned, so you cannot drink it anymore. Pour it quietly into the river, and pretend that nothing is wrong. I will discuss the details with you tomorrow.”
Ji Xiaofu nodded in agreement.
Then, fearing that Hu Qingniu might chance upon them, Zhang Wuji returned to his window and climbed back into his room.
After breakfast the next morning, Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui went butterfly-chasing, running further and further away from Hu Qingniu’s huts and the wounded men’s canopy. Ji Xiaofu knew what the boy was up to, so she quickly followed them. Having seen Zhang Wuji take Yang Buhui out to play for the past few days, no one bothered about the three of them going off on their own. When they reached a hill about a li (500 metres) away, Zhang Wuji sat down.
Ji Xiaofu turned to her daughter and said, “Bu- er, let us not chase butterflies anymore. Go and look for some wildflowers and make three crowns, one for each of us.”
Beaming with delight, the little girl went off as she was told.
Zhang Wuji opened the discussion with a question: “Auntie Ji, what conflict does that Hu Qingniu have with you? Why does he want to poison you?”
“I have never met Mr Hu,” answered Ji Xiaofu, somewhat taken aback by the boy’s train of thought. “I have never even seen his face to this day, so what conflict is there between us?” After a moment’s pause, she added, “When Father and Teacher talk about Mr Hu, they mention only his unsurpassed abilities in medicine and refer to him as the best physician in the land. It is really a pity that he has chosen to walk in heretical ways as a member of the Ming Sect. My father and my teacher do not know him either. Why … why does he want to poison me?”
Zhang Wuji proceeded to tell her how he had seen Hu Qingniu sneak into her shed to poison her the night before. Then, he said, “Your bowl of Eight Immortals Soup emitted the pungent smells of the venus-hair fern (tie3 xian4 cao3) and the Bone-Piercing Fungus (tou4 gu3 jun1). These two plants have certain medicinal properties but they are too poisonous to be used in heavy doses. They are also counteractive to the healing properties of the eight herbs in the Eight Immortals Soup. Although the dosages that had been used were insufficient to kill, they would have nevertheless prevented the complete recovery of your injuries.”
“It is even more puzzling that the other fourteen men are also affected,” Ji Xiaofu remarked. “Even if my father or the E-mei School had offended Mr Hu by accident, all these fellows could not have been involved as well. It is just too coincidental to be true.”
Undaunted, the boy pressed on with his queries. “Auntie Ji, Butterfly Valley is very remote,” he said. “How did you manage to find this place? Who is that ‘owner of the golden flower’ who hurt you?” After a slight pause, he added, “Perhaps, I should not be asking you about these matters because they do not really concern me. But the entire episode has been so strange. Please do not be offended.”
Ji Xiaofu turned red, for she understood the meaning behind Zhang Wuji’s words — he was concerned that his questions might be related to her being an unwed mother, hence answering them would put her in a very awkward position. Yet, she went ahead and gave him a reply: “You saved my life, so what else is there that I should keep from you? Furthermore, you treat Bu- er and me very well. You may be young, but you are also the only one in this entire world whom I can share the deepest difficulties of my heart with.”
Wiping the tears in her eyes away with a handkerchief, she went on: “Since a misunderstanding with one of my elder sisters-at-arms two years ago, I have not dared to see my teacher or go home … ”
“Hmmph! That ‘Evil Wuyan Ding Minjun’ is horrible!” Zhang Wuji said at once. “Auntie, you do not have to be afraid of her.”
Ji Xiaofu gasped in surprise. “Eh, how did you know about this?” she asked.
After the boy told her how he and Chang Yuchun had seen her rescuing Monk Peng in the woods, she sighed quietly and said, “I should never have done anything that I do not want others to know about! How could my actions have escaped the ears and the eyes of men?”
“Sixth Uncle Yin is a very good man,” said Zhang Wuji. “But if you do not like him, what is wrong with not marrying him? When I see Uncle Yin, I will ask him not to insist on it any longer.”
Ji Xiaofu could not help but smile miserably at the boy’s naive and simple view. “Child, I did not intentionally set out to do your Sixth Uncle Yin wrong,” she said gently. “I had no alternatives then, but … but now, I have no regrets about it either … ” Then, she thought: This child’s heart is like a blank piece of paper, so I had better not tell him about the intimate affairs between men and women. Besides, they do not seem to be related to the issue on hand.
Thus, she continued: “After falling out with Sister Ding, I did not return to E-mei again. Instead, I took Bu-er and went to Mount Shungeng, about three hundred li (150 km) west of Butterfly Valley, where we led carefree and peaceful lives among woodcutters and farmers for more than two years. Half a month ago, Bu- er and I went to town to buy cloth for some new clothes. There, I came upon a fresh chalk drawing of a small sword surrounded by rays of light in the corner of a wall. It was a coded call for disciples of the E-mei School. I became very frightened after seeing it, but I soon realised that it was not my fault for falling out with Sister Ding. I have also not done anything to deceive my teacher or betray my school. Therefore, I decided to answer the call, just in case it was left by a schoolmate in trouble. So, with Bu- er in hand, I followed the trail of drawings to Fengyang.
“Within Fengyang City itself, another drawing led us to the Linhuai Pavilion-Restaurant. There were already seven or eight members of the martial arts circle there, including Kongdong’s Jian Jie as well as Mount Hua’s Xue Gongyuan and his two brothers, but there were no E-mei disciples.
“I had met Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan before, so I quickly found out from them that they too had followed the coded drawings of their respective clans all the way to Fengyang. But no one knew what the call was really about.
“After waiting for a day, no other E-mei disciples arrived. Instead, a few more pugilists from other organisations appeared, including those from the Clan of the Exquisite Fists (Shen2 Quan2 Men2) and the Beggars’ Gang (Gai4 Bang1). They too said that they had come to the Linhuai Pavilion- Restaurant after seeing the coded drawings of their respective organisations. Several more people turned up on the second day for the same reason, but the sender of these calls did not appear. Doubts crept into our hearts: Have we all been tricked by the enemy?
“By then, fifteen people from nine different clans had responded to this strange gathering in the Linhuai Pavilion-Restaurant. The coded drawings differed fron one organisation to another, of course, and each guarded its own closely. No one, except for the members of the clans themselves, knew what these marks meant. If this gathering was really a work of treachery, how could the enemy have known the secret symbols of nine different clans? Unwilling to put Bu- er at risk or see any of my schoolmates, I decided to go home. After all, it was clear that this was not a call for help.
“Just as I was about to leave the restaurant, loud tapping sounds were heard on the stairs, as if someone was coming up with the help of a pole or crutch. A series of coughs followed, and a silver-haired old woman with a hunched back came into view. She coughed painfully as she walked, supported by a young girl about twelve or thirteen years old. I moved aside at once, allowing the ill and elderly woman to come up the stairs first. Her young helper had a refined air and a pretty face. On the other hand, the old woman, with her bleached walking stick and plain clothes, looked like a poor peasant. Yet, she had a shiny rosary in her left hand. When I took a closer look, I realised that the beads of her rosary were actually plum blossoms made from yellow gold … ”
“So this old woman is the ‘owner of the golden flower’?” asked Zhang Wuji in surprise.
“That is right!” answered Ji Xiaofu with a nod. “But who would have thought of such a thing at that moment?” Reaching into her pocket, she brought out a small plum blossom made of gold. It looked exactly like the one that Zhang Wuji had shown Hu Qingniu barely a week earlier.
The boy was amazed, for he had expected the ‘owner of the golden flower’ to be a horribly vicious and terribly formidable man. Yet, according to Ji Xiaofu’s description, the enemy had turned out to be a sickly old woman.
Ji Xiaofu went on: “After the old woman reached the top of the stairs, she began to cough. The young girl said, ‘Grandmother, perhaps you should take some medicine.’ As the old woman nodded in agreement, the girl opened a small porcelain bottle and poured a medicinal pellet out. The old woman swallowed the pellet with much difficulty before saying a series of ‘Amitabha!’. Then, with her eyes half-closed, she mumbled, ‘Only fifteen … mmm, ask them: Has anyone from the schools of Wudang and Kunlun arrived?’
“No one had paid her much attention when she first came up the stairs, so everyone was taken aback by her sudden remarks. A few of the men turned around at once, but they quickly dismissed what they had heard at the sight of this old and senile-looking peasant woman. The young girl raised her voice and said, ‘Hey, my grandmother asks you: Has anyone from the schools of Wudang and Kunlun arrived?’ Shocked, no one answered her. After a while, Kongdong’s Jian Jie said, ‘Young lady, what did you just say?’ The girl answered with a question of her own: ‘My grandmother asks: Why are the disciples of Wudang and Kunlun not here?’ ‘Who are you?’ asked Jian Jie again. Just then, the old woman bent over and began another series of coughs.
“Suddenly, a strong gust of wind came towards my chest. I did not know where it had come from, but it was incomparably fast. I quickly raised my palm to deflect it, only to have my chest block up with nausea. I sank to the floor and threw up several mouthfuls of blood. As I struggled to get a grip on things, I saw the old woman floating across the room, sending a palm to the right and a fist to the left amidst a series of coughs. Within moments, the other fourteen men were all struck down. These sudden, swift and strong movements left us with no opportunity to fight back, for we either had our acupoints blocked or our internal organs injured. Then, the old woman’s left hand swept out and sent a gold blossom each into our arms. After that, she reached for the young girl, said ‘Amitabha!’ and hobbled down the stairs. It took quite a while before the tapping sounds of her walking stick and her coughs faded away.”
At that moment, Yang Buhui returned with a floral crown that she had made. “Mother, this is for you,” she said with a bright smile as she placed her handiwork on her mother’s head.
Ji Xiaofu smiled appreciatively before continuing with her tale: “By then, all fifteen of us lay weak and limp on the floor of the restaurant. A few could still mumble and curse in anger, but some could hardly breathe … ”
“Mother, are you talking about that horrible old woman?” asked Yang Buhui suddenly. “Do not talk about her, please. She frightens me.”
Comforting her daughter, Ji Xiaofu said, “Dear child, be good and go make another floral crown for Brother Wuji.”
Yang Buhui turned to Zhang Wuji and asked, “What colour would you like?”
“Red,” answered the boy. “And some white too. Make it as big as you can.”
Stretching her arms out, the little girl asked again, “Like this?”
“Yes, like that,” replied Zhang Wuji.
As she clapped her hands and skipped off, Yang Buhui said, “You had better wear it after I have finished.”
Then, Ji Xiaofu resumed her story: “As I sat in a daze, the manager, winekeepers, cooks and other workers of the restaurant appeared, and dragged all of us off into the kitchen. Poor Bu-er wailed in fright and followed me as I was taken away. By and by, the manager looked up a written list, pointed to Jian Jie and said, ‘Smear this ointment on his head.’ A winekeeper carried the instruction out, using a pre-determined concoction. The manager referred to his list again, pointed to another fellow and said, “Chop his right hand off, and connect it to his left arm.’ Two cooks brought out a sharp cleaver and executed the order. I was fortunate to be spared of physical torture, but I was forced to consume a bowl of sweet liquid. I knew that the drink was poisonous, yet I did not have the ability to resist.
“After the fifteen of us had been handed our strange punishments, the manager said, ‘You have been wounded seriously enough not to survive beyond half a month. But the owner of the golden flower says that she does not have any personal grudges against you. Thus, she has kindly provided you with a solution. You had better hurry to Butterfly Valley on the shores of Nüshan Lake and seek the help of the Healing Sage Hu Qingniu. If he is willing to treat you, your lives will be spared, for there is no one else in this world who knows how to cure your injuries. But this Hu Qingniu is also known as ‘The One who Ignores the Dying’, for he will not help anyone who is not in dire straits. Tell Hu Qingniu that the owner of the golden flower will go and look for him soon, and ask him to make early preparations for his own funeral!’ He concluded by giving us detailed directions to this place.”
“Auntie Ji, does this mean that the manager, cooks and winekeepers of the Linhuai Pavilion-Restaurant are accomplices of the horrible old woman?” asked Zhang Wuji.
“I think they are her subordinates,” answered Ji Xiaofu. “After all, the manager tortured us according to a list that was probably prepared by the wicked old woman herself. What I really do not understand is the reason behind her actions. If she had had any personal grievances against us, she could have had us killed with a mere finger. But if she wanted us to suffer intentionally by coming up with these terrible forms of torture, why then did she point us to Mr Hu for help? She has even declared that she will seek Mr Hu for revenge, so has she tormented us simply to test Mr Hu’s medical skills?”
Zhang Wuji thought for a moment and said, “Since this Old Woman of the Golden Flower is on her way here to make trouble for Mr Hu, it would only be right for him to cure your injuries. Then, everyone could stand together against this formidable foe. If that was not the case, he would not have taught me how to treat your injuries after making such a strong refusal to provide these treatments himself. The methods that he imparted to me have proven to be very effective, so it is clear that he wants to rescue all of you in the first place. What I really find puzzling is his act of poisoning all of you sneakily in the middle of the night. Why would he want you straddling between life and death?”
They discussed this question for a long time, but no one could come up with a likely answer. By and by, Yang Buhui appeared with a huge floral crown and set it on Zhang Wuji’s head.
Finally, the boy said, “Auntie Ji, you must not take any more medicine, except for those that are served personally by me. You must also keep a weapon by your side at night, just in case someone wants to harm you. But you cannot leave Butterfly Valley yet. You have to take a few more decoctions and wait until your internal injuries are completely healed before fleeing with Little Sister Buhui.”
Ji Xiaofu nodded in agreement. “Child, Mr Hu’s ways have proven to be quite unfathomable,” she added. “Thus, it is not a good idea for you to stay on with him. Perhaps, we should leave together.”
“I understand your concern,” said Zhang Wuji, “but he has actually been rather nice to me. He had initially planned to have me killed after removing the toxins in my body, but his treatments have failed. Therefore, he does not need to have me dispatched. I know that it is best that we leave immediately, but there are a few more aspects about the treatment of your injuries that I do not understand. I must ask Mr Hu about them.”
“He has already tried to poison me in secret,” said Ji Xiaofu, “so he will probably teach you the wrong methods on purpose.”
“That is not necessarily so,” answered Zhang Wuji. “The methods that Mr Hu has taught me so far have proven to be very effective. Besides, I can tell the difference between right and wrong. That is why this entire situation is so strange. I was initially unwilling to leave Mr Hu at the mercy of the Owner of the Golden Flower, but now, I see that he is just pretending to be ill.”
That night, Zhang Wuji did not go to sleep. At the third watch (between 11.00 p.m. and 1.00 a.m.), Hu Qingniu came out of his room just as the boy had expected, and sneaked into Ji Xiaofu’s shed to poison her. This went on for three days, but Ji Xiaofu did not take any of the poison that had been added to her medicine. Therefore, she progressed quickly towards full recovery. On the other hand, Jian Jie, Xue Gongyuan and the others alternated between recovery and deterioration. A few of the more bad-tempered men started to resent Zhang Wuji, saying that his medical skills were too poor. The boy paid them no attention, knowing that there was only one more night to go before he, Ji Xiaofu and her daughter would leave the place. Since the toxins in his own body could not be removed, he would not to return to Mount Wudang and bring grief to his grandteacher and uncles. Instead, he would find a remote place and pass quietly away.
Just before going to bed, Zhang Wuji began to feel sad about leaving Butterfly Valley early the next morning: Although Hu Qingniu is an eccentric man, he has been rather nice to me. If he had not provided treatment for my injuries, how could I have survived to this day? He has also taught me much about medicine and its practices in the past two years.
Therefore, the boy found himself making his way to the physician’s room to ask after him. Furthermore, he could not help but feel concerned that the Old Woman of the Golden Flower was on her way here to make trouble for the man. So, he asked, “Mr Hu, are you not bored of staying in Butterfly Valley? Why do you not go out and enjoy yourself for a bit?”
“I am ill, so how can I travel?” asked Hu Qingniu in return, somewhat surprised at the boy’s questions.
“We can use a mule-drawn carriage,” answered Zhang Wuji. “Just cover up the windows of the carriage with cloth, so that the wind does not enter. If you are willing to travel, I will accompany you.”
Hu Qingniu sighed and said, “Child, you are very kind. Although the world is big, it is a pity that every place is the same as the next. How has your chest been in the past few days? Has a chill been rolling about in your lower abdomen?”
“The chill worsens from day to day,” Zhang Wuji replied. “Since there is no cure for it, I have decided to let it run its course.”
Hu Qingniu was quiet for a moment, before saying, “Let me give you a medical prescription that will save your life. Decoct the Chinese Angelica, the root of the thin-leaved milkwort, the dried rhizome of Rehmannia, the Double Teeth Pubescent Angelica and the Divaricate Saposhnikovia Root with pangolin scales during the second watch of the night (9.00 p.m. to 11.00 p.m.). The brew must then be drunk immediately.”
Zhang Wuji was shocked, for the five herbs that the physician had prescribed had absolutely nothing to do with his condition. These herbs even counteracted one another. It was even more unbelievable to use pangolin scales as a supplement to increase the efficacy of the resulting decoction. Therefore, he asked, “Sir, what are the dosages that should be used?”
“The stronger the better,” snapped Hu Qingniu angrily. “I have already told you everything, so why are you still hanging around?”
The physician had always seen the boy as a student and friend whenever they talked about medical practices and herbs, so he had never shouted so rudely before. As a result, Zhang Wuji could not help but stomp angrily back to his room. I advised you in good faith to go on a trip so that you could avoid harm, he thought, but you scolded me instead. You even gave me a prescription that does not make sense! Do you think that I would fall for it?
As he lay in bed and went over what Hu Qingniu had said, a thought suddenly hit him: The Chinese Angelica, the root of the thin-leaved milkwort … how can these herbs be used in the strongest dosages possible? Unless … unless the Chinese Angelica — ‘Dang Gui’ — is actually meant to convey ‘gaidang guiqu’ — that ‘I should return home’?
Similar interpretations followed: The root of the thin-leaved milkwort is ‘Yuan Zhi’; it should mean ‘zhi zai yuanfang, gaofei yuanzou’ or ‘go as far away as possible’. The meanings of the dried rhizome of Rehmannia and the Double Teeth Pubescent Angelica cannot be any clearer, because ‘Sheng Di’ and ‘Du Huo’ mean ‘the place where one will be alive’ and ‘live on alone’ respectively. He is telling me that fleeing in this manner is the only way to survive the impending doom. What about the Divaricate Saposhnikovia Root or ‘Fang Feng’? Yes, it means ‘xu fang zoulou fengsheng’ or ‘take the necessary precautions to prevent this secret from leaking out’. As for using pangolin scales or ‘Chuan Shan Jia’ as a supplement during the second watch of the night and consuming the brew immediately after decoction, he is telling me ‘chuanshan taozou’ or ‘escape through the moutains’ during the second watch. I should not use the road that runs through the valley.
Hu Qingniu’s erroneous prescription began to make a lot of sense. As Zhang Wuji leapt out of bed, he thought: Mr Hu must have known that something terrible is about to happen, so he has kindly told me to leave at once. But the enemy has not arrived. Why then is he using this riddle, instead of speaking plainly? What if I fail to crack the code? The second watch has passed, so I had better hurry up and go. He figured that the physician probably had his own reasons for staying behind, with marvellous plans for dealing with the enemy. Although Hu Qingniu had asked him to ‘Fang Feng’ and ‘Du Huo’, Zhang Wuji could not leave without taking his Auntie Ji and her daughter along.
Thus, he crept quietly out of his room and headed into Ji Xiaofu’s shed. To his surprise, he found someone bent over the woman as she lay on a pile of straw. Dressed in a blue robe and square hat, with a piece of black cloth around his face, the intruder was none other than Hu Qingniu himself. Ten thousand questions entered the boy’s mind at once.
The physician pressed Ji Xiaofu’s cheeks with his left hand, forcing her mouth open, as he prepared to drop a medicinal pellet into it with his right. Zhang Wuji leapt out and said, “Mr Hu, you must not harm others … ”
The man released his grip and turned around in shock. Just then, Ji Xiaofu struck him hard on the back, sending him to the ground in a crumpled heap.
The piece of black cloth fell away, revealing a pair of trimmed eyebrows and a powdered face. The intruder was actually not Hu Qingniu, but a middle-aged woman instead.