Broken marriage of the Purple Dress King.
When he was nearing the Dadou, Zhang Wuji thought that with the uproar at the Wan An Temple the previous night, a lot of the warriors working for the Prince of Ruyang would certainly recognize his face; hence it would be inconvenient for him to enter the city as he was. Thereupon he stopped by a farmer’s house along the way to buy a set of old peasant clothes. He changed his clothes and wore a bamboo hat; he also blackened his face and hands using some soot and mud before he finally entered the city.
He returned toward the inn he was staying at the western side of the city, but did not enter the inn right away. He went around looking everywhere, and after ensuring that he saw nothing unusual he went into his room quick as a flash.
Xiao Zhao was sitting by the window; her hands were busy with needle and thread. She was startled to see someone enter the room; but her face broke into joyous smile just like a blooming flower in the spring after recognizing him. “Gongzi ye [young master], I thought it was a farmer breaking into the wrong room; turned out it was you,” she said with a laugh.
Zhang Wuji also laughed. “What are you doing?” he asked, “Aren’t you lonely?”
Xiao Zhao blushed; immediately she hid the clothes she was sewing behind her back. “I am learning to sew, but it is so bad,” she said bashfully. Stuffing the clothes underneath her pillow, she rose up to pour some tea for Zhang Wuji. Seeing his black face she laughed and said, “Aren’t you going to wash your face?”
“I put this on purpose,” Zhang Wuji smiled, “I can’t take it out yet.” He took the teacup while pondering in his heart, “Miss Zhao wanted me to come with her fetching the Tulong Saber. As a real man I have to live up to my promise; I can’t break it. Besides, I also want to take Yifu [foster father] to return to the ‘zhong tu’ [mainland, lit. middle/central earth]. Yifu was afraid that he made too many enemies in the ‘zhong yuan’ [Central Plains]; now that he is blind, he won’t be able to deal with them. But right now the warriors of the Wulin world are united to fight the invaders; certainly personal grudges can be resolved. As long as he is with me, nobody will be able to harm a single hair of his head. The wind and the waves of the ocean are dangerous; this child Xiao Zhao cannot come with us. Mmm, I got it. I can ask Miss Zhao to settle Xiao Zhao in the Palace; it is certainly a lot safer than any other places.”
Seeing him suddenly smile, Xiao Zhao asked, “Gongzi, what are you thinking?”
“I am going to a far, far away place,” Zhang Wuji said, “It is not safe to take you along. I am thinking of taking you to a place where you can stay temporarily.”
Xiao Zhao’s face changed. “Gongzi ye,” she said, “I am going with you. Xiao Zhao must attend to your need everyday.”
“This is for your own good,” Zhang Wuji tried to persuade her; “The place I am going is too far and too dangerous. I don’t know when I am coming back.”
Xiao Zhao said, “Inside that cave on the Brightness Peak I had made a resolution; wherever you go, I am going with you. Only if you kill me then you can get rid of me. Am I that disgusting that you do not want to be with me?”
“No, no,” Zhang Wuji said, “You know I like you very much, but I don’t want you to brave an unnecessary danger. As soon as I return, I’ll immediately look for you.”
Xiao Zhao shook her head, “As long as I am with you, I don’t mind any danger. Gongzi, take me with you!”
Zhang Wuji grasped Xiao Zhao’s hands and said, “Xiao Zhao, I am not going to lie to you; I have made a promise to Miss Zhao that I am going to accompany her overseas. On the ocean, the waves are so high that they reach the sky. I have to go since I don’t have any choice, but for you, what good is it for you to brave this mighty danger?”
Xiao Zhao’s face turned red, “You are going with Miss Zhao, I have more reasons to go with you.” While saying this, she was so worried that tears welled up in her eyes.
“Why do you have more reasons to go with me?” Zhang Wuji asked.
“That Miss Zhao is so evil,” Xiao Zhao said, “Nobody could guess what she is going to do to you. If I am with you, I can look after you.”
Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred, “Could it be that this young girl have a deep feeling toward me?” he thought in his heart. Hearing the sincerity in her words his heart welled up with gratitude. He smiled and said, “All right, I’ll take you with me. But if you get seasick on the boat, you are not allowed to complain.”
Xiao Zhao was very happy; she gave her promise repeatedly. She said, “If I make you mad and you are not happy with me, you can toss me to the sea to feed the fish!”
Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “How can I bear to part with you?”
Although the two of them had known each other for quite a while, and sometimes had to share the same room due to the inconveniences of traveling, Xiao Zhao had always taken the position of a servant, and Zhang Wuji had never teased her or said anything inappropriate to her. Now that he blurted out, ‘How can I bear to part with you?’ he realized that he had made an indiscreet remark; he could not help blushing and turned his head around to look out the window, yet Xiao Zhao actually sighed and sat by the bed side.
“Why do you sigh?” Zhang Wuji asked.
“Actually, there are many people you cannot bear to part with,” Xiao Zhao replied, “Emei Pai’s Miss Zhou, Ruyang Palace’s Junzhu Niang-niang [princess; ‘niang-niang’ can also mean ‘empress’]; I don’t know how many more. How can you be concerned over a little girl like me?”
Zhang Wuji stood up in front of her and said, “Xiao Zhao, you are always good to me. Do you think I don’t know it? Do you think I am such an ungrateful man that I do not know good from bad?” He said these things with a serious face, showing her his earnestness.
Xiao Zhao was shy and happy at the same time. Lowering her head she said, “I am not asking you to treat me in a special way. As long as you allow me to be with you forever; to be your servant, to take care of you, I will be satisfied. You haven’t slept for the whole night, you must be very tired. Why don’t you lie on the bed and take some rest?” While saying that she lifted the blanket from the bed to let him lie down; and then she returned to her seat by the window, resuming her sewing.
While closing his eyes Zhang Wuji could still hear the occasional clinking noise of the iron chain on her hand; he felt safe and peaceful. Not too long afterwards he fell sound asleep.
Zhang Wuji slept until dusk. He woke up and ate a bowl of noodles. “Xiao Zhao,” he said, “Let me take you to see Miss Zhao, we can borrow her Yitian Sword to cut the iron shackle on your hands and feet.”
Two people went out to the street. They saw Mongolian soldiers on horsebacks everywhere. It seemed like the security level was at its highest after the fire at the Ruyang Palace and the big trouble in the Wan An Temple the previous night. As two people heard the hoof beats, they shrank back and hid behind the corner of a house to avoid being seen by the soldiers. They arrived at the small wine shop without taking too much time.
Zhang Wuji took Xiao Zhao and entered in pushing the door open. He saw Zhao Min was drinking wine, she was sitting on the same table as on the previous night. As she saw them she stood up and smiled, “Zhang Gongzi is truly a trustworthy man,” she said.
Zhang Wuji noticed her expression was as usual, as if last night’s trouble had nothing to do with her at all; he mused, “This girl is truly extraordinary; I sent someone to kill her father’s beloved concubine and released the masters of the Six Major Sects whom she painstakingly captured after a meticulous plan. She should be very angry, yet she looks like nothing happened. I wonder how she is going to vent up her anger.”
He saw the table was already set with two sets of chopsticks and cups just like last night. He bowed slightly and took a seat. Xiao Zhao stood a bit farther away, taking the position of a servant.
Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Miss Zhao, about last night, I offended you a lot. Please forgive me.”
Zhao Min said with a smile, “That Concubine Han of my father was bewitchingly enchanting. I was repugnant. My Mama praised you as a smart and competent man.”
Zhang Wuji was stunned; her reaction was truly beyond his anticipation.
Zhao Min also said, “I am fine with you rescuing those people too. They were not willing to surrender anyway, so what the use of keeping them here? Now that you have rescued them, everybody must be very grateful to you. Currently in the Wulin world of the Central Plains nobody surpasses you in term of power and prestige. Zhang Gongzi, let me offer you a toast!” With a soft laugh she raised her cup.
Right at this moment the door was pushed open and someone came in; it was Fan Yao. He went to Zhang Wuji first to pay his respect; and then he turned toward Zhao Min and bowed respectfully to her. “Junzhu,” he said, “Ku Toutuo is taking his leave from you.”
Zhao Min ignored his greeting; “Ku Dashi,” she said in a cold voice, “You have hidden the truth from me really good. This time Junzhu has stumbled big time.”
Fan Yao stood straight up, he boldly said, “Ku Toutuo’s surname is Fan, first name Yao; the Guangming Youshi [The Right Emissary of the Brightness] of the Ming Cult. Because the royal government is in enmity with the Ming Cult, I entered the Ruyang Palace to spy on the enemy. I have received a lot of Junzhu’s kindness; thereupon I come today to bid you farewell.”
Zhao Min remained to be cold; she said, “If you want to go, just go. What’s the purpose of this propriety?”
“A real man always handles matters in the open,” Fan Yao said, “From this day on, I am Junzhu’s enemy. If I do not let Junzhu know this, I am betraying Junzhu’s kind treatment in the past.”
Zhao Min turned toward Zhang Wuji and asked, “What is it that you have, that each one of your subordinates is willing to die for you?”
To which Zhang Wuji replied, “We are doing it for our country and our people, for chivalry, for loyalty and self-sacrifice. Fan Youshi and I did not know each other, yet we feel like old friends; we are devoted to each other, lifting high this ‘yi4’ [justice/righteousness] character.”
Fan Yao laughed aloud and said, “Jiaozhu’s words truly express what is in subordinate’s heart. Jiaozhu, you have to be really careful; this Junzhu Niang-niang is young, but her heart is cruel and merciless, she is truly an extraordinary woman. You have too kind of a heart; you must never let her swindle you.”
“Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I will not dare to be careless.”
Zhao Min laughed and said, “Ku Dashi, thank you for your compliment.”
Fan Yao turned around to leave the inn. When he walked pass Xiao Zhao, he suddenly stopped dead on his track. His face showed a big shock, as if he suddenly saw a ghost or a demon. “You … you …” he stammered.
“What?” Xiao Zhao asked.
Fan Yao stared blankly at her for half a day before he finally said, “No … it can’t be … I thought you are someone else.” Heaving a deep sigh he pushed the door and left; his face looked so gloomy. “Looks alike, looks alike,” he softly mumbled.
Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji looked at each other in bewilderment; they wondered to whom Xiao Zhao might look alike.
Suddenly they heard the sound of whistle in the distant; three long and two short whistles, sharp and shrill whistles. Zhang Wuji was startled; he remembered it was the signal of Emei Pai disciple whenever they were trying to contact their fellow martial brothers or sisters. In the Western Region he had met Miejue Shitai and the others, and he heard this exact same signal back then. “Why do the Emei Pai’s disciples return to Dadou [lit. grand capital, the present day Beijing]? Could it be that they are dealing with some enemies?” he pondered in his heart.
“That is Emei Pai’s signal,” Zhao Min said, “Looks like they have an urgent matter. Let us go and take a look, shall we?”
Zhang Wuji was surprised, “How do you know?” he asked.
Zhao Min smiled and said, “In the Western Region I followed them for four days and four nights before I finally managed to capture Miejue Shitai. Why wouldn’t I know?”
“All right, let us go and take a look,” Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Zhao, I have a favor I’d like to ask. Can I borrow your Yitian Sword for a moment?”
Zhao Min laughed. “I have not borrowed the Tulong Saber, you want to borrow the Yitian Sword first. You do have an astute business skill,” she said. Loosening the precious sword from her waist she handed it over to him.
Zhang Wuji took the sword. Drawing the sword from its sheath he called, “Xiao Zhao, come over here.”
Xiao Zhao walked over. Zhang Wuji brandished the Sword; with some light ‘swish, swish, swish’ sounds the iron chain on Xiao Zhao’s hands and feet fell clanking down on the ground.
Xiao Zhao bowed down and said, “Many thanks Gongzi, many thanks Junzhu.”
Zhao Min smiled. “What a beautiful young girl,” she said, “Your Jiaozhu must be very fond of you.”
Xiao Zhao blushed profusely; but her eyes sparkled with joy.
Zhang Wuji returned the sword into its sheathe and handed it back to Zhao Min. He heard the Emei Pai’s signal sound was moving toward the northeast. “Let’s go,” he said.
Zhao Min fished out a silver coin from her pocket and threw it on the table; then she dashed out of the inn.
Zhang Wuji was afraid Xiao Zhao could not keep up; he pulled her hand with his right hand, while with his left he pushed her waist, keeping a distance between their bodies. They followed Zhao Min closely. But after only a dozen of ‘zhang’s or so, he felt Xiao Zhao’s body was very light; her footsteps were also very fast. He felt strange, so he took away the strength from his hands; yet Xiao Zhao was still able to run side-by-side with him, she did not show any sign of lagging behind at all. Zhang Wuji did not utilize his ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] to the fullest, but his feet were moving very fast; yet to his surprise Xiao Zhao was able to match his speed.
In an instant Zhao Min had already crossed several desolate alleys and arrived at an empty yard enclosed in a partly collapsed wall. Zhang Wuji heard a faint noise of some women arguing inside the enclosure. Knowing that the Emei Pai’s disciples were on the yard, he pulled Xiao Zhao’s hand and took her crouching behind the wall, silently hiding in the darkness. He noticed long grass everywhere on the yard; it seemed like it was an abandoned garden. Zhao Min followed them hiding in the grass.
There was a broken down pavilion on the north corner of the garden; in this pavilion there were about twenty or so shadows of people sitting or standing. One female voice was heard, “You are our school’s youngest disciple; based on either in knowledge or martial arts, you are still unworthy to be our Sect Leader …”
Zhang Wuji recognized this voice as belonged to Ding Minjun. He crawled among the thick patch of long grass toward within a few ‘zhang’s of the pavilion to get a better view. That night the starlight was dim, all he could see was dark shadows. Focusing his attention, he could see there were male and female shadows in the pavilion; they were all Emei Pai’s disciples. Other than Ding Minjun, it looked like the rest of Miejue Shitai’s senior disciples were all present. To the left stood a slender woman with her dark green long skirt reaching the ground, it was Zhou Zhiruo. Hearing Ding Minjun talked nonstop with an excited voice, ‘You said this, you said that …’ Zhou Zhiruo calmly said, “What Ding Shijie [martial (older) sister] said was right; Xiao Mei [little/young sister] is the youngest disciple of our school. Whether in term of qualifications and records of service, martial arts, talent, or personal character, none is sufficient to qualify me as the Sect Leader. When Shifu assigned this heavy responsibility to me, Xiao Mei has repeatedly declined wholeheartedly; but Xian Shi [late/departed teacher] was severely adamant, telling Xiao Mei to make a heavy oath that I will not fail to follow Shifu’s injunction.”
Jing Xuan, a senior Emei disciple said, “Shifu was very wise; if she appointed Zhou Shimei [martial (younger) sister] to be our next Sect Leader, then she must have had a profound meaning. All of us have received Shifu’s kindness. It is just proper for us to receive and obey her will by supporting Zhou Shimei with one heart, and thus brighten our Sect’s martial arts’ prestige.”
Ding Minjun laughed coldly and said, “Jing Xuan Shijie said that Shifu must have had a profound meaning; this ‘profound meaning’ was well-said. When we were on the Pagoda, as well as when we were on the ground, didn’t we all hear Ku Toutuo and He Biweng shouting loudly? Who are Zhou Shimei’s parents? Why did Shifu regard her with special fondness? Haven’t you understood?”
Ku Toutuo did tell Lu Zhangke that Miejue Shitai was his old sweetheart, and that Zhou Zhiruo was their daughter. It was simply because he came from a heretical background; he meant those things as a joke, but unexpectedly He Biweng shouted it loud that everybody could hear it. They might not necessarily believe what they heard, but it was also difficult to avoid suspicions. This male-female relationship was a private matter, other people could choose to either believe or not believe, but Miejue Shitai did indeed treat Zhou Zhiruo with special attention, which was puzzling to the rest of the disciples. Therefore, this ‘daughter’ stuff was the most logical explanation to them. Listening to Ding Minjun’s argument, the disciples were silent.
With a trembling voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “Ding Shijie, if you cannot accept Xiao Mei as the Sect Leader, just say so. You are talking nonsense, ruining Shifu’s clean lifetime reputation, what did she do to deserve this? Xiao Mei’s late father’s surname was Zhou, he was a boatman along the Han Shui [River Han]; he did not know any martial arts at all. My late mother was from the Xue household, an aristocratic family from Xiangyang. After the City of Xiangyang fell down, they fled to the south to escape calamity, they lost their fortune and she finally married my late father. Over Wudang Pai’s Zhang Zhenren’s [lit. real/true man, a respectable term to address a Taoist priest] recommendation, Xiao Mei became Emei disciple. I have never met Shifu before then. You have received Shifu’s great kindness. Today Xian Shi returned to the western sky [i.e. died], yet you dared to say such thing. This … this …” Speaking to this point her voice cracked and teardrops started to fall down her cheeks like rain, she was not able to continue.
Ding Minjun laughed coldly and said, “You are only thinking of becoming our school’s Sect Leader, you have not received our school’s recognition, your position is not clear yet, but you have already flaunted your authority by accusing me. What ‘ruining Shifu’s lifetime clean reputation’? What ‘accusing her of doing something to deserve anything’? You want to control me, don’t you? Let me ask you this: if you have received Shifu’s order to become the next Sect Leader, then you should go back to Emei soon. Shifu passed away, our school’s affair is not only numerous, but complicated as well; every thing is in need of the Sect Leader’s attention. But you, without consulting anybody else, suddenly returned to Dadou alone; may I ask why?”
Zhou Zhiruo said, “Xiao Mei has received an extremely urgent assignment from Shifu; which left me no choice but to return to Dadou.”
“What assignment is that?” Ding Minjun asked, “Here we are all of the same school, there is no outsiders present. You may tell us clearly.”
“It is our Sect’s greatest secret,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Nobody else is privileged enough to hear it other than the Sect Leader.”
“Humph, humph!” Ding Minjun sneered, “You keep pushing this ‘Sect Leader’ business but you can’t deceive me. Let me ask you: our Sect’s enmity with the Devil Cult is as deep as the ocean; many of our Sect’s disciples died under the hands of the Devil Cult disciples, while the Devil Cult’s disciples who died under Shifu’s Yitian Sword is even more numerous. Shifu died because she was not willing to receive any kindness from that Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu. That being the case, Shifu’s body has not turned cold yet, why did you stealthily seek that pervert little thief surnamed Zhang of the Devil Cult, that Jiaozhu, the leader of the devils?”
Hearing the last few sentences Zhang Wuji’ body shook; but then he felt a soft hand reaching out to his left cheek, gently traced his face down with two fingers. It was Zhao Min who was by his side, tracing her fingers on him to shame him. Zhang Wuji’s face turned completely red; he thought, “Was Miss Zhou really looking for me?”
He heard Zhou Zhiruo stammer, “You … you are talking nonsense …”
“You still want to deny it?” Ding Minjun shouted, “You told everybody to return to Emei first. We asked you why you must return to Dadou, and you gave us an indistinct answer; you were not willing to tell us. We felt something was not right, so we followed you behind. You asked your father Ku Toutuo of this pervert little thief’s whereabouts. Do you think we don’t know it? And then you went to that inn looking for that pervert little thief. Do you think we don’t know it?”
Almost in every other sentence in her speech she mentioned ‘pervert little thief’ and although Zhang Wuji was not temperamental, he was very angry nonetheless. Before he could do anything, again Zhou Min blew a breath to his neck to tease him.
Ding Minjun continued, “It certainly is not other people’s business to whom you like to speak, with whom you want to be intimate, but this pervert little thief surnamed Zhang is the archenemy of our Sect. Last night when we escaped from Dadou, why did you keep looking at him along the way? Wherever he went, your eyes had never left him. I did not make up this story; all our fellow martial brothers and sisters witnessed it with their own eyes. That day on the Brightness Peak, Xian Shi told you to stab him with your sword. Unexpectedly he neither dodged nor evaded, but he cast his alluring glance at you instead; you made eyes with him in response and gently pricked him just for show. With the Yitian Sword in your hand, why did he not die? Who would believe there isn’t something fishy going on here?”
Zhou Zhiruo broke up in tears. “Who made eyes with him?” she sobbed, “Your vicious words are falsely accusing others.”
Ding Minjun laughed coldly and said, “My words are vicious; but what about you? Aren’t you afraid others may say ugly words of your unsightly conduct? Are your words pleasant to the ears? Humph, how did you ask that innkeeper a while ago? ‘Mister Innkeeper, is there any guest by the surname Zhang in here? Mmm, he is about twenty, rather tall. Perhaps he did not use the surname Zhang, but some other family name?’”
She talked slowly with a sharp throaty voice, imitating Zhou Zhiruo’s slow intonation; with an exaggerated action imitating a demonic seductress, absolutely horrifying those who heard her. Zhang Wuji was very mad; he thought this Ding Minjun was Emei Pai’s most sly and nasty disciple. The gentle and soft-spoken Zhou Zhiruo was definitely not her match. But he could not come out to stand for her; because first of all it was Emei Pai’s internal affair, it was inappropriate for outsiders to butt in, second, he would only make Zhou Zhiruo’s situation more disadvantageous. In the end, he could only see Zhou Zhiruo was cornered without him able to render any help.
The majority of the Emei Pai disciples were originally submitting to their Shifu’s wish; they were ready to support Zhou Zhiruo as the new Sect Leader. But listening to Ding Minjun’s fiery argument, which was actually logical and reasonable, they thought, “Shifu’s hatred to the Devil Cult was so deep. Zhou Shimei and that Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu have nothing in common. Supposed she is selling our Sect to the Devil Cult, how can that be good?”
Ding Minjun continued, “Zhou Shimei, you entered Shifu’s school by Wudang’s Zhang Zhenren’s recommendation. That Devil Cult’s pervert little thief is Wudang’s Zhang Wuxia’s [Fifth Hero Zhang] son. Nobody knows the details to what kind of intricate plot you are scheming.” Raising her sharp voice again she said, “Martial brothers and sisters, even though Shifu left us her will that Zhou Shimei is to take over the Sect Leader position, surely she could not know that while her skeleton is not yet cold, this new Sect Leader would look for the Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu to nurture their personal relationship. This is a grave matter concerning the life or death, the prosperity or decline of our Sect. If Xian Shi were here tonight, she would definitely appoint another Sect Leader. Shifu’s desire was certainly the bright future of our Sect, not its destruction under the Devil Cult’s hands. In Xiao Mei’s opinion, we must lift high Xian Shi’s lifelong desire; we will respectfully ask Zhou Shimei to hand over the Iron Ring, the Sect Leadership’s token of authority. And then we will nominate someone else with both ability and integrity, a senior martial sister whose martial art can be an example to our fellow disciples, to take the position of our school’s Sect Leader.”
As she finished her oration, some six, seven disciples voiced their agreement.
Zhou Zhiruo said, “I have received Xian Shi’s order to take over this school’s Sect Leader position; in no way I can hand over this Iron Ring. In all honesty, I did not want to become the Sect Leader; but I have made a heavy oath in front of her. I simply cannot … simply cannot betray her trust.” Her voice was so weak that some disciples could not hear clearly what she was saying. They could not restrain from inwardly shaking their heads.
In a stern voice Ding Minjun said, “This Iron Ring, you must hand it over, whether you want it or not! One of our school’s strictest rules is prohibition against deceiving masters and ancestors; the other is strict abstention against immorality and shameless act. You have violated these two most important rules; how can you even be the disciple of our school?”
Zhao Min put her lips close to Zhang Wuji’s ears and in a very low voice said, “Your Miss Zhou is done with! You call me ‘good elder sister’, I will come out to her rescue.”
Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred; he knew this girl was shrewd, certainly she could think of some way to get Zhou Zhiruo out of trouble. But she was a few years younger than he, so if he called her ‘good elder sister’, he thought it was just too corny. He hesitated and did not open his mouth.
“You want to call or not, it’s up to you,” Zhao Min said, “I’m leaving.”
Zhang Wuji had no choice; he whispered on her ear, “Good elder sister!”
Zhao Min stifled her laughter. She was about to stand up and come out when the people in the pavilion had already cried out in alarm.
“Who’s there?” Ding Minjun shouted, “Hiding in the dark eavesdropping to other people in here?”
From outside the wall came several coughing noises, a clear and crisp female voice was heard, “What are you, Emei Pai people, doing in the middle of the night, stealthily gathered in here?” The sound of flapping clothes swept by and there were two more people standing outside the pavilion.
These two people were facing the moon. Zhang Wuji was able to see clearly. One was a frail hunchback old lady, with a walking stick in her hand; it was none other than Jin Hua Popo [Golden Flower Granny]. The other was a young lady with a graceful figure, but her face was strangely ugly; it was Yin Yewang’s daughter, Zhang Wuji’s own cousin Zhu’Er [Spider Kid] Yin Li.
Zhu’Er was captured by Wei Yixiao the other day; but before he reached the Brightness Peak the cold poison in his body flared-up. He did not want to suck her blood, so finally he collapsed to the ground. Afterwards he was rescued by Zhou Dian, but by the time he tried to find Zhu’Er, she was nowhere to be found. Ever since Zhang Wuji argued with her, he had never forgotten her. He was pleasantly surprised to unexpectedly see her here that he almost opened up his mouth to call her.
“Jin Hua Popo, what are you doing here?” Ding Minjun coldly asked.
“Where is your Shifu?” Jin Hua Popo asked her back.
“Xian Shi passed away yesterday,” Ding Minjun said, “You have eavesdropped outside the wall for a while, why are you still pretending?”
“Ah, Miejue Shitai has passed away!” Jin Hua Popo exclaimed in a weak voice, “How did she die? Why didn’t she wait for me? Ay, ay, what a pity, what a pity …” Before finished speaking, she had already bent down and was coughing incessantly.
Zhu’Er gently patted her back. She sneered toward Ding Minjun and said, “Who eavesdrops on your conversations? Popo and I are simply passing by; we heard someone was mumbling nonstop. I recognized your voice, so we stopped by to take a look. Popo asked you, have you not heard? How did your Shifu die?”
Ding Minjun indignantly said, “What business is it of yours? Why do you expect me to answer you?”
Jin Hua Popo slowly exhaled, she calmly said, “In all my life dealing with other people, I only suffered defeat one time under your Shifu’s hands. It was not because her martial art was better than mine, but because the sharpness of the Yitian Sword. These past several years I have been wandering everywhere, trying to find a comparably sharp weapon so that I can challenge your Shifu once again. Finally my wandering to the end of the world has not been in vain; an old acquaintance has agreed to let me use a precious saber of his. I heard Emei Pai people were imprisoned at the Wan An Temple by the royal government. I had a thought of rescuing your Shifu, so that we can decide whose skill is better. Who would have thought that as I arrived today, the Wan An Temple has been reduced to rubble. Ay! This is fate; for the rest of her life Jin Hua Popo will not be able to wash away the shame of this defeat. Miejue Shitai, oh, Miejue Shitai, can’t you wait just one and a half day later to die?”
Ding Minjun said, “If Shifu were still alive, you will certainly suffer another defeat. So you’d better not have any dream …” Suddenly ‘slap, slap, slap, slap’ four times, loud and clear; Ding Minjun’s head spun and she faltered, since Jin Hua Popo had slapped her on the face four times, left and right.
This old granny looked frail, as if she could not support her own weight; she was also coughing repeatedly, but who would have thought that her hand could move in an unbelievable speed with a very weird palm technique. These four palm strikes were so fast that Ding Minjun did not have the slightest idea they were coming, let alone try to evade them. She was separated about two ‘zhang’s [about 20 feet, close to 7m] away from Ding Minjun, yet she was able to slap her and go back to her original position like a ghost.
Ding Minjun was angry; she drew her sword and pointing it toward Jin Hua Popo she said, “Old beggar granny, are you always this impatient?”
Jin Hua Popo ignored her insult, she also did not seem to see the sword in her hand, but slowly said, “How did your Shifu die?” Her voice was full of sorrow, as if she was completely discouraged.
The tip of Ding Minjun’s sword was actually less than three feet away from Jin Hua Popo’s chest, but in the end she did not have the courage to thrust it in. “Old beggar granny,” she cursed, “Why do you expect me to answer you?”
Jin Hua Popo heaved a deep sigh and lamented, “Miejue Shitai, you were a hero; you can be considered as the Wulin world’s outstanding character. It’s a pity that you died. Don’t you have any decent disciple to take over the Sect Leader position?”
Jing Xuan Shitai stepped forward; joining her palms in greeting she said, “Pin ni [lit. impoverished nun] Jing Xuan, paying my respect to Popo. Before her death Xian Shi had appointed Zhou Zhiruo, Zhou Shimei to take over the Sect Leadership position. Only in our Sect there are certain numbers of fellow disciples who have not submitted to that decision yet. Xian Shi has died; it would be difficult to fulfill Popo’s wish. Since that is the case, what else can we say? Our school’s Sect Leader has not been decided; we cannot make any appointment with Popo. But Emei is a great Sect of the Wulin world; in no way would we degrade Xian Shi’s prestige. We will listen to whatever instruction Popo have; in the future our Sect Leader, according to the rule of the Wulin world, will deal with you. But if Popo, relying on your seniority, want to take an unfair advantage of us, although Emei Pai has just suffered a great calamity, we will fight with you until our blood is poured over this abandoned garden, until the very last of us die.”
She was speaking boldly, yet without any trace of arrogance or submissiveness; making Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min applauding silently.
Jin Hua Popo’s eyes flickered. “Turns out before she died, Zun Shi [lit. revered master] had appointed her successor, the new Sect Leader. That’s wonderful! Which one? May I see her?” she said. Her manner of speaking was a lot more polite than when she talked with Ding Minjun.
Zhou Zhiruo stepped forward and saluted. “Popo, may you be blessed! Emei Pai’s fourth generation Sect Leader Zhou Zhiruo wishes Popo well.”
“Shameless!” Ding Minjun bellowed, “Proclaiming yourself as the Emei Pai’s fourth generation Sect Leader.”
Zhu’Er sneered. “This Zhou Jiejie [elder sister Zhou] is a good person; I have received her loving care in the western region. If she is not fit to become the Sect Leader, do you think you are? You dare to blubber your big mouth in front of Popo; you make me want to slap your ugly face!”
Ding Minjun was angry. ‘Swish!’ her sword stabbed toward Zhu’Er. Zhu’Er leaned sideways to evade, her palm struck toward Ding Minjun’s face. Her movement was exactly the same as Jin Hua Popo’s, but her speed was far inferior than Popo’s. Ding Minjun ducked to avoid the strike, but her sword also missed its target.
Jin Hua Popo said with a smile, “Girl, I have taught you many, many times, but you have not mastered such an easy move. Watch carefully!” Her right palm moved, conveniently slapped Ding Minjun’s left cheek. She flipped her palm and slapped her right cheek. Then her palm returned and slapped her left cheek, flipped over and slapped her right cheek again. These four palm strikes were very distinct; everybody could see them clearly. But Ding Minjun felt as if her body was enveloped with a great power that her limbs were completely unmovable, so her cheeks were slapped four times without her having any strength to block or evade. Fortunately, Jin Hua Popo held up her strength that Ding Minjun did not suffer any serious injury.
Zhu’Er smiled and said, “Popo, I have mastered your palm technique, but I don’t have the kind of power you do. Let me try again!”
Ding Minjun was still bound by Jin Hua Popo’s internal strength; she saw Zhu’Er’s palm was about to strike her face. In her fury she almost passed out. Suddenly Zhou Zhiruo moved sideways; stretching her left hand she blocked Zhu’Er’s palm and said, “Jiejie [elder sister], hold on!” Turning her head toward Jin Hua Popo she said, “Popo, my Shijie Jing Xuan has said it clearly; although our martial art skills are not as exquisite as Popo’s, we will not let ourselves to be bullied by others.”
Jin Hua Popo smiled and said, “This surnamed Ding woman’s mouth is too sharp; she kept on saying she won’t submit to your leadership, yet you still stand up for her?”
Zhou Zhiruo replied, “The internal affair of our school is not any outsider’s business. Xiao Nuzi [lit. young woman] has received Xian Shi’s order. Although my skill is too shallow, I will not let any outsider to humiliate my fellow disciple.”
Jin Hua Popo smiled. “Good, good, good!” she said ‘good’ three times, then broke up in coughing again. Zhu’Er immediately handed a pill to her. Jin Hua Popo took it, while gasping heavily. With a sudden movement both of her palms reached out; one palm pressing Zhou Zhiruo’s chest, the other pressing her back, so that all Zhou Zhiruo’s fatal acupoints were covered by her palms. As soon as she pressed her palms, Zhou Zhiruo’s life would be gone.
It was a very strange move. Although Zhou Zhiruo had not learned martial art for a long time, she had mastered about 30% of Miejue Shitai’s skill, yet she was baffled and was rendered speechless by this strange move that held her in between the opponent’s palms, she was shocked and scared, and it showed on her face.
“Miss Zhou,” in a gloomy voice Jin Hua Popo said, “As the Sect Leader, your skill is really shoddy. I wonder if Zun Shi did really assign this heavy responsibility to a pampered pretty young girl like you. I’ll say you are merely boasting.”
Zhou Zhiruo made up her mind; she thought it in her heart, “If she exerted her strength right now, my arteries would be shaken and immediately broken, then I will die on the spot. But how can I degrade Shifu’s power and prestige?” As soon as she remembered her Shifu, her courage escalated a hundred folds; lifting her right hand high she said, “This is Emei Pai’s Iron Ring of the Sect Leader; Xian Shi has personally put it on my finger. How can it be a fake?”
Jin Hua Popo laughed; she said, “Just now your Shijie said that Emei is a major sect in the Wulin world. She was right, but relying on your meager skill, can you be the Wulin world great Sect’s Sect Leader? I think you’d better be an obedient child and listen to what I have to say.”
“Jin Hua Popo,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Although Xian Shi has already died, Emei Pai did not die with her. I have fallen under your hands, so if you want to kill me you can just kill me; but if you want to force me to submit to your desire, I suggest you give up that idea. Our Sect was fallen into the royal government’s sinister plot and we were imprisoned in the Pagoda; but did you see any of us surrender? Zhou Zhiruo is merely a young and feeble woman, yet I have accepted the heavy responsibility assigned to me. I know it is very difficult, so early on I have already disregarded my own life and death.”
Zhang Wuji saw the vital acupoints on her back were threatened by Jin Hua Popo; her life was hanging on a thread of hair, yet she was stubbornly standing up. He was afraid that in her anger Jin Hua Popo would take her life. He realized the situation was desperate; he wanted to jump out to rescue her. Zhao Min had already guessed his intention; she grabbed his right arm while lightly shaking her head, meaning that he should not act recklessly.
They heard Jin Hua Popo laugh aloud and say, “Miejue Shitai did not make a wrong decision. This young Sect Leader’s martial art skill is weak, but her character is actually very strong. Hmm, that’s right, that’s right, insufficient martial art can be learned, river and mountain can be changed, but character is difficult to be altered.”
Actually, right at that moment Zhou Zhiruo was scared to death, only she remembered about how her Shifu just before her death had placed her great trust on her, so she summoned all her courage and stood unyieldingly upright.
The other Emei disciples were originally looking down upon Zhou Zhiruo, but at this moment they saw her disregarding personal dislike bravely stepping forward to protect Ding Minjun, and then she did not demean their school prestige at all even under a powerful enemy’s threat, feelings of respect and admiration started to grow in their hearts.
Jing Xuan brandished her sword and let out some signal whistles; the Emei disciples moved at once, with weapons in their hands they dispersed surrounding the pavilion.
“What is it?” Jin Hua Popo smiled and asked.
Jing Xuan said, “Popo captures Emei’s Pai Leader, what do you want?”
Jin Hua Popo coughed several times and said, “You want to achieve victory by sheer numbers? Hey, hey, will ten times your number make any difference in Jin Hua Popo’s eyes?”
Abruptly she let Zhou Zhiruo go, and then her body swayed and dashed straight toward Jing Xuan. Her two fingers moved toward Jing Xuan’s eyes as if she wanted to dig her eyes out. Jing Xuan hastily waved her sword trying to chop her arm. Suddenly she heard a ‘hey’ noise, followed by a grunt; one of her Shimei standing close to her had fallen down. Turned out that when Jin Hua Popo faked an attack to Jing Xuan, her left foot actually kicked the acupoint on the waist of an Emei female disciple.
Her shadow dashed around the pavilion, her sleeves fluttered in the air, occasional coughs were heard, Emei disciples thrust their swords, but nobody was able to stab her; on the contrary, seven male and female disciples fell down because their acupoints were sealed. Her acupoint sealing technique was very strange; those who were hit were screaming from pain. In a short moment the garden was full of sad and shrill screams, rending the hearts of those who heard them.
Jin Hua Popo clapped her hands and returned to the pavilion. “Miss Zhou,” she said, “How is Jin Hua Popo’s martial art compared to your Emei Pai’s?”
“Our Sect’s martial art is certainly better than Popo’s,” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “You were defeated by my Xian Shi’s sword the other day; have you forgotten?”
Jin Hua Popo was furious, “The Old Nun Miejue was using a precious sword; that doesn’t count!” she said.
“Popo, let’s be honest,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “If Xian Shi and you fight barehanded, who do you think will win?”
Jin Hua Popo was silent for half a day before answering, “I don’t know. I came to Dadou today to find out between your Zun Shi and me, who’s weak and who’s strong. Ay! Miejue Shitai has died, Wulin world lost one of its martial art masters. Someone like her had never been seen in the past, and will never be seen in the future. Henceforth Emei Pai will become weak.”
Those seven disciples were still screaming and wailing, as if they were underlining Jin Hua Popo’s words. Jing Xuan and several other senior disciples tried hard to unseal their acupoints, but their efforts did not show any effect. It looked like they would have to be released by Jin Hua Popo herself.
Zhang Wuji had treated not just a few of Wulin world’s characters who were injured by Jin Hua Popo in the past. He knew this granny was very vicious, a person of her caliber was rare in the Jianghu. He was thinking of coming out and help, but after careful consideration he decided against it. He thought, “If I help Miss Zhou, I will offend Zhu’Er. This cousin of mine has been so good to me; moreover, she is my close relative. How can I favor one and discriminate against the other?”
In the meantime, Jin Hua Popo said, “Miss Zhou, do you admit defeat?”
Zhou Zhiruo gathered up her courage and said, “Our Sect’s martial art is as deep as the ocean, it can’t be learned in a short time. We are still young. Right now we are inferior to Popo, but our progress in the future will be immeasurable.”
Jin Hua Popo laughed. “Wonderful, wonderful!” she said, “Since that’s the case, Jin Hua Popo is taking my leave now. Just wait until your progress is immeasurable then you can come back and unseal their acupoints.” While saying that she took Zhu’Er’s hand, and turned around to leave.
Zhou Zhiruo realized her fellow disciples were too much in pain; they might not be able to endure another hour and might die from their pain. “Popo, wait a minute!” she hastily said, “Please help my Shijie’s and Shixiong’s [martial (older) sisters and brothers].”
“You want me to help them? That’s easy,” Jin Hua Popo said, “From this day forward, wherever Jin Hua Popo or her disciples go, Emei disciples have to make yourselves scarce.”
Zhou Zhiruo thought, “I have just accepted the Sect Leader responsibility, already I have to face this strong enemy. If I agree to her condition, how can Emei Pai set our feet in the Wulin world? How can I let the demise of Emei Pai to be in my hand?”
Jin Hua Popo saw her hesitation; she laughed and said, “You don’t want Emei Pai’s prestige to fall; that’s fine. Just let me borrow the Yitian Sword then I will help your fellow disciples.”
Zhou Zhiruo said, “Our Sect’s master and disciples all fell into the royal government’s evil plot and were held captives on that Pagoda. How can the Yitian Sword still be in our hands?”
Jin Hua Popo had already expected this answer, she knew her chance of borrowing the Sword was only one in ten thousands, yet hearing Zhou Zhiruo say so, her countenance showed disappointment nonetheless. Suddenly in a stern voice she said, “If you want to save Emei Pai’s reputation, you cannot save your own life …” Taking a pill from her bosom she said, “This is the ‘duan chang lie xin’ [breaking intestines, cracking the heart] poison. You take this, then I’ll save your people.”
Zhou Zhiruo remembered that her heart was already broken when she received her Shifu’s injuction; she said in her heart, “Shifu told me to deceive Zhang Gongzi [young master Zhang]; I can’t do this. Rather than keep on living with this constant torture, death is a hundred times better; nothing matters anymore.” With a trembling hand she took the poison.
“Zhou Shimei, don’t eat that!” Jing Xuan shouted.
Zhang Wuji saw the situation was critical; he was ready to jump out and snatch the poison away. Zhao Min hissed into his ear, “Idiot! It’s a fake; that is not a poison.”
Zhang Wuji was stunned, but Zhou Zhiruo had already swallowed the pill. Jing Xuan and the others shouted and rushed toward Jin Hua Popo, ready to strike.
“Excellent, you have guts!” Jin Hua Popo said, “The poison won’t kill you in an hour or two. Miss Zhou, come with me and nicely listen to me. If Lao Po [the old granny] is happy, she might give the antidote to you.” Finished speaking she walked around and slapped and kicked those Emei disciples. Immediately their pain stopped; so their screams stopped as well. Only their limbs were still weak that they would not be able to move for a while.
These people saw with their own eyes that Zhou Zhiruo took the poison to save their lives; they were overwhelmed with gratitude. “Thank you, Sect Leader!” one of them shouted.
Jin Hua Popo pulled Zhou Zhiruo’s hand, “Good child,” she tenderly said, “Come with me, Popo won’t make things difficult for you.”
Before she could reply, Zhou Zhiruo felt an enormous power pulling her body and she jumped forward against her own will.
“Zhou Shimei …” Jing Xuan shouted and rushed forward, trying to block, but suddenly she felt a strong wind from her side, a finger almost touched her. It was Zhu’Er attacking her from the side. Jing Xuan used her left palm to block, but to her surprise Zhu’Er’s move was a fake one. ‘Slap!’ Ding Minjun’s face ate her palm. This ‘zhi dong da xi’ [aim to the east strike to the west] was indeed Jin Hua Popo’s technique.
Zhu’Er chuckled and jumped over the wall.
“After them!” Zhang Wuji said. With one hand pulling Zhao Min along and the other carrying Xiao Zhao, he also jumped over the wall.
Jing Xuan and the others were startled to suddenly see three people coming out from the grass. They tried to pursue after them, but how could their ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] be compared to Jian Hua Popo and Zhang Wuji? By the time they jumped over the wall, six people had already disappeared into the darkness.
Zhang Wuji and the others pursued for a dozen of ‘zhang’s or so. Without slowing down the least bit Jin Hua Popo shouted, “I am surprised Emei Pai disciples have the courage to pursue Jin Hua Popo. Hey, hey, it’s amazing!”
“Let our Sect Leader go!” Zhao Min shouted. Her body swayed and she flew several ‘zhang’s forward. The tip of her Yitian Sword threatening Jin Hua Popo’s back. She was using the ‘jin ding fu guang’ [golden peak like a ray of light], one of Emei’s sword techniques; which she learned from an Emei female disciple in the Wan An Temple. It could not be compared to Miejue Shitai, but it was exquisite nonetheless.
As Jin Hua Popo heard the gust of wind behind her back, she let Zhou Zhiruo go and quickly turned around. Zhao Min flicked her wrist and launched another stance, ‘qian feng jing xiu’ [a thousand peaks compete to show their elegance].
Jin Hua Popo knew the sword in Zhao Min’s hand was the Yitian Sword; she was alarmed yet happy. Stretching out her hand, she tried to snatch the sword away.
Several stances later Jin Hua Popo pressed in front of Zhao Min, her finger was just about to reach Zhao Min’s wrist, which was holding the sword; unexpectedly Zhao Min turned her sword around with one of Kunlun Pai’s sword techniques, the ‘shen tuo jun zu’ [divine camel with stallion’s feet].
Jin Hua Popo saw Zhao Min was a young girl; she was holding the Yitian Sword, she was also using Emei’s sword technique, therefore, she must be an Emei Pai disciple. In order to challenge Miejue Shitai, Jin Hua Popo had extensively studied Emei’s sword techniques for several years. After seeing Zhao Min’s several stances, she knew her internal strength was only mediocre; hence for the next several stances she thought she would understand and able to anticipate her attack. For that reason she pressed on with the intention of snatching the Yitian Sword away. Who would have thought that this young girl was able to launch a Kunlun Pai’s sword technique? If she were not too engrossed with her preconception, Kunlun Pai’s sword technique would never give her any trouble; it was just that she was taken completely by surprise. Although her martial art skill was high, she was unable to block and was forced to hastily roll back to evade the attack; only she was not fast enough that the end of her left sleeve was cut by the sword.
In her anger Jin Hua Popo pounced back. Zhao Min realized that her martial art skill was too far below her opponent; she did not dare to take the attack head on. Relying on the Yitian Sword she stabbed to the left and cut to the right, brandishing the sword to the east and striking to the west, at the same time keep changing her sword style; one time it was Kongtong, another time Huashan. She launched Kunlun’s ‘da mo fei sha’ [great desert flying sand], followed by Shaolin Pai’s ‘jin zhen du jie’ [crossing golden-lily’s pond]. Each stance was the best feature of each Sect; each stance carried an enormous power; enhanced by the very sharp Yitian Sword, confounding Jin Hua Popo and rendering her helpless to press closer.
Zhu’Er was anxious; she loosened the sword from her waist and tossed it towards Jin Hua Popo. Meanwhile Zhao Min ferociously attacked for seven, eight stances. Toward the ninth stance Jin Hua Popo could not help but block using the sword. ‘Crack!’ her sword was cut into two.
Jin Hua Popo’s countenance changed greatly, she rolled away and shouted, “Who are you?”
Zhao Min smiled and said, “Why didn’t you pull out the Tulong Saber?”
Jin Hua Popo was angry, “If I had Tulong Saber in my hand, do you think you can stand eight, ten stances against me? Do you dare to try it?”
Zhao Min laughed and said, “Then go and get the Tulong Saber. I am fine with it. I’ll be waiting for you at Dadou; we’ll fight again when you have the Saber.”
“Turn your head around,” Jin Hua Popo said, “Let me take a look at your face.”
Zhao Min turned her body sideways, stuck out her tongue, closed her left eye and opened her right one, twisted her face muscle; making a ghost face. Jin Hua Popo was very angry; she spat on the ground, tossed her broken sword away, and pulling Zhu’Er and Zhou Zhiruo along she left in big strides.
“Let us go after them,” Zhang Wuji said.
“No need to worry,” Zhao Min said, “You come with me. I guarantee your Miss Zhou’s safety.”
“What Tulong Saber were you talking about?” Zhang Wuji asked.
“In that deserted garden I heard that old granny say that she went all over the world, till the end of it, before she finally found an old acquaintance who’d let her borrow a precious weapon, with which she was going to fight Miejue Shitai’s Yitian Sword,” Zhao Min replied. She recited, “’Yi tian bu chu, shei yu zheng feng’? [Meh’s translation: ‘Power of heaven not appear, who can possibly compete?’ Literal translation: ‘relying on heaven (the ‘Yitian’ of the ‘Yitian Sword’) does not appear, who can fight its (blade) edge?’] There is no weapon which can match the Yitian Sword but the Tulong Saber. Could it be that she acquired the Tulong Saber from your ‘Yifu’ [foster father] Xie Lao Qianbei [Old Senior Xie]? I used the Yitian Sword to attack her, with the intention of forcing her to pull the Saber out. Turns out she did not have the treasured Saber in her hand, and challenged me to fight her in the future. Apparently she knows the Tulong Saber’s whereabouts; only she was unable to get it yet.”
Zhang Wuji thought for a while. “This is strange,” he said.
“My guess is she will go to the seaside,” Zhao Min said, “She will go to the ocean to fetch the Saber. We must precede them; don’t let the old malicious granny swindle blind but kindhearted Xie Lao Qianbei.”
Hearing her last sentence, Zhang Wuji’s blood bubbled up from his chest, “Yes, yes!” he hastily said. At first he agreed to go with Zhao Min to borrow the Tulong Saber just because as a real man his words must worth a thousand gold; he could not eat his own words. But this time, thinking of Jin Hua Popo was about to make things difficult for his ‘yifu’, he wished he had wings so that he could fly in a hurry and save his ‘yifu’.
Immediately Zhao Min took two people to the Palace. She talked with the guard at the Palace gate without going inside. The guard repeatedly answered in affirmative, then turned around to enter the palace. In a relatively short moment he came back out, leading nine steeds along. He also carried a large bag of gold and silver. Zhao Min, with Zhang Wuji and Xiao Zhao, rode on three steeds, while leading the other six steeds behind. By alternating their mounts, they sped up eastwards.
By early morning the next day, the nine steeds were so exhausted that they were unable even to stand. Zhao Min presented the golden medal of the Ruyang Prince, as the highest commander of the entire army, to the local government; they traded the nine steeds and continued their journey. By late evening that day they had arrived at the seaside.
Zhao Min rode the horse straight to the local government mansion. She ordered the magistrate to quickly prepare a strong ocean ship; complete with the helmsmen, the sailors, food and water, weapons and winter clothes. In addition, all ocean ships were to be moved immediately to the south; no other ships were to be moored within fifty ‘li’s [about 25 km] from that place. With Ruyang Prince’s gold medal, how could a lower ranking county magistrate dare not to obey? Zhao Min, Zhang Wuji and Xiao Zhao waited leisurely inside the mansion, eating and drinking wine. Less than a day later the magistrate came back to report that everything was ready.
When three people went to the seaside to inspect, Zhao Min could not help but stomping her feet repeatedly, “Wasted effort!” she bellowed. Turned out by the beach anchored a really big ship with two decks; the decks of the bow, the port and the starboard were loaded with heavy canons. It was a Mongolian navy’s battleship.
In those years the Mongolians were trying to send military expedition to Japan; hence they recruited a large number of boat makers. Unexpectedly a major hurricane had scattered the Mongolian navy, resulted in the expedition to the east was postponed indefinitely, but since then the extent of boat making had been declining.
Zhao Min was at her wit’s end; she did not expect in order to curry her favor the county magistrate would prepare a battleship for her. By now the food, the water and the supplies had been prepared on board; the other boats had also obeyed the Ruyang Prince’s gold medal, they had sailed dozens of ‘li’s southwards. With a bitter smile Zhao Min ordered the sailors to cover the canons with fishnets, she also had the boat loaded with several hundred catties of fresh fish, to give the impression that it was an old battleship, which was converted to a fishing boat.
Zhao Min, Zhang Wuji and Xiao Zhao three people changed into sailor attire. Using greasepaint they made their faces darker, and then glued some fake moustache and beards; they were not taking any chances. Afterwards they sat quietly in the boat, waiting for Jin Hua Popo’s arrival.
This Zhao Min Junzhu’s prediction was very accurate; sure enough, that very same evening a large carriage arrived by the seaside. Jin Hua Popo, along with Zhu’Er and Zhou Zhiruo, came looking for a boat. The sailors had received Zhao Min’s instruction; they pretended to refuse by saying that the boat was a fishing boat converted from an old battleship, they only caught fish and not interested in taking passengers. It was not until Jin Hua Popo produced two ingots of gold did the captain reluctantly agree to take them aboard. Jin Hua Popo took Zhu’Er and Zhou Zhiruo on board and they set sail immediately, heading east.
On that vast boundless open sea the lone boat sailed to the southeast. During the two days of sailing, Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min looked out their cabin window in the bottom deck. They noticed that during the day, the sun, and in the night, the moon, were both rising from the port side. Obviously the boat was sailing to the south. It was the beginning of winter, the boat had the full advantage of the north wind blowing strong on its sail that they were traveling very fast.
Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min often had some discussions. “My ‘Yifu’ is on the ‘bing huo dao’ [ice and fire island] of the extreme north; if we want to find him, then we must sail to the north. Why are we going to the south instead?”
Each time Zhao Min always replied, “This Jin Hua Popo is certainly a strange woman. More over, right now the south wind has not arrived yet, there is no way we can sail to the north even if we want to.”
Toward noon on the third day, the captain came down to their cabin to give his report, he said Jin Hua Popo was very familiar of the sea condition around this place; she knew exactly where the sand bar, the reef, and the shallow waters were. She was even more knowledgeable than the captain was.
Zhang Wuji suddenly remembered, “Ah, right!” he exclaimed, “Could it be that she is returning to the ‘ling she dao’ [spirit snake island]?”
“What Ling She Island?” Zhao Min asked.
“The Ling She Island is Jin Hua Popo’s home,” Zhang Wuji said, “Her late husband was called the ‘yin ye xiansheng’ [Mister Silver Leaf]. Ling She, Jin Hua, Yin Ye [Spirit Snake, Golden Flower and Silver Leaf]; haven’t you heard?”
Zhao Min laughed mockingly and said, “You are only a few years older than I am, but seems like you are an expert in the Jianghu’s matters.”
Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “The heretical devilish Ming Cult certainly knows a lot more of Jianghu matters than Junzhu Niang-niang.”
These two people were originally archenemies; the groups of warriors under their commands had been engaged in several tough battles. But after several days of living together in a ship’s cabin in the middle of the sea, they were unable to restrain from chatting with each other amiably. Also, with Jin Hua Popo as their common enemy, one more day they were together, one more day the estrangement between them was shed away.
In order not to raise Jin Hua Popo’s suspicions, the captain immediately went back to the upper deck right after giving out his report. Zhao Min laughed and said, “Da Jiaozhu [great cult leader], I wonder if it is bothersome for you to tell this friendless and unlearned young girl about the power and prestige of the Spirit Snake’s Golden Flower and Silver Leaf that shook the Jianghu.”
Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “To my shame, I don’t have the slightest idea Yin Ye Xiansheng is what kind of person; but Jin Hua Popo, I actually have had some encounters with her.” Thereupon he told her how he went to the Butterfly Valley and studied medicine under the ‘die gu yi xian’ [the Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley] Hu Qingniu, how some people from different sects were wounded by Jin Hua Popo until they were in between life and death, how they came to the Butterfly Valley for medical help, and how under Hu Qingniu’s direction he cured them all. How Jin Hua Popo contended with Miejue Shitai in martial arts and was defeated, how in the end Hu Qingniu and Wang Nan’gu husband and wife died under Jin Hua Popo’s hands. He told her all kinds of emotions surrounding the circumstances. He felt that although Hu Qingniu’s character was rather peculiar, his treatment toward Zhang Wuji was not bad. Thinking about how those husband and wife’s bodies hung high on the tree, he was unable to restrain his eyes from turning red. The only thing he did not tell was how Zhu’Er grabbed his hand because she wanted to take him as her playmate on the Ling She Island; and how he bit her arm really bad. Why he omitted this part of the story, Zhang Wuji could not explain; perhaps he felt what he did was rather unsophisticated.
Throughout Zhao Min listened attentively without saying anything. Finally with a serious look on her face she said, “At first I only thought this old granny as a powerful martial art master, turned out she is involved in many gratitude and grudges. Listening to your story, it seems that this old granny is truly a formidable opponent, we must not be careless at all.”
Zhang Wuji said with a smile, “Junzhu Niang-niang is well-versed in both pen and sword, under her command there are numerous warriors with marvelous and diverse ability. Dealing with a trivial Jin Hua Popo, she should be able to accomplish the task with ease.”
Zhao Min also smiled and said, “Too bad in this boundless ocean I have no way to summon numerous warriors and foreign monks under my command.”
Zhang Wuji said, “That chef who prepared our meals, the sailors who pull the sail, although they can’t be considered Jianghu’s top rank fighters, can’t they be counted as the second rank warriors?”
Zhao Min was startled, then broke into chuckle while saying, “My admiration! Da Jiaozhu truly has a good pair of eyes; nothing can be concealed from you.”
Turned out when she returned to the Palace to get the gold, silver and the horses, she also left a secret message via the guard, dispatching a group of warriors under her command to rush to the seaside. They also rode on fast horses, only they arrived half a day later than Zhang Wuji. She had carefully picked the warriors who had not participated in the battle at the Wan An Temple; those who had not met Zhang Wuji before, to come over and guised themselves as kitchen helpers, sailors, et cetera. However, for people who practiced martial art, naturally their facial expression and bodily movement differed from average people; therefore, although they tried to conceal it carefully, Zhang Wuji only needed to take a single look and he had already found out their true identities.
Hearing him say that, Zhao Min mused on the fact that since he could see through their disguise, then Jin Hua Popo must have had seen it also; since she had a lot more experience, plus she was a wily old fox. Luckily they had more people on their side; Zhang Wuji’s martial art was far superior. It would be fine whether Jin Hua Popo saw through the disguise or not. Either way, if they were to battle each other, Zhao Min did not have anything to fear from Jin Hua Popo plus Zhu’Er. And since Jin Hua Popo had most likely seen through their disguise then they did not have any reason to continue concealing their true identities.
These past several days, Zhang Wuji was most concerned over whether the poison pill Zhou Zhiruo took had broken out or not. Zhao Min understood his concern; as soon as she saw he wrinkled his brows, she sent someone to the upper cabin with the pretense of serving tea, while spying around on their enemies. Each time he returned, he would report that Miss Zhou looked just fine, without any poisoning symptoms. This happened several times; finally Zhang Wuji felt embarrassed. He sat quietly on the corner of the cabin; thinking about the snowy area of the western region, where Zhu’Er kept him company for several days. How He Taichong, Wu Lie, Ding Minjun, and the others came and surrounded them, how in the presence of He Taichong and the others he was saying loudly, ‘Miss, with all my heart I sincerely desire to marry you. I only hope you will not regard me unworthy.’ How wholeheartedly he promised, ‘From now on, I will cherish you with all my might, I will look after you. No matter how many people come to make things difficult for you, no matter how many fierce people come to bully you, I don’t care if I’ll have to lose my life, I will protect you. I want you to be happy, I want you to forget your past sufferings.’ Thinking about these things he could not help but blush.
“Pei!” Zhao Min suddenly spat, “You are daydreaming about your Miss Zhou!”
“No, I am not!” Zhang Wuji denied.
“Humph,” Zhao Min snorted, “Daydreaming is daydreaming. You are a real man, why would you lie?”
“Did I lie?” Zhang Wuji countered, “I am telling you: I was not thinking about Miss Zhou.”
“If you were thinking about Ku Toutuo or Wei Yixiao, you won’t have that kind of expression,” Zhao Min said, “They are ugly and weird fellows; if you are thinking of them, would you have that kind of gentle and bashful expression on your face?”
Zhang Wuji smiled bashfully, “You are really good,” he said, “You can tell whether other people were thinking about some pretty people or some ugly ones. But I am being honest with you, the person I was thinking about is not the least bit pretty.”
Zhao Min could see the sincerity in his words; she showed a faint smile and did not pay him anymore attention. Although she was intelligent, she would never guess that the person he was thinking about was that ugly girl Zhu’Er who was inside the upper deck cabin of their boat.
Zhang Wuji recalled how in order to train the poisonous martial art, ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ [thousand spiders ten-thousand poisonous hands], Zhu’Er’s face had become contorted and bumpy. That night at the deserted garden he thought that she looked even worse than in the past. Thinking to this point he could not restrain from heaving a deep sigh; remembering that the deeper she practiced this poisonous skill, the more her whole body and mind would be harmed. He also remembered when Yin Liting told her that Zhang Wuji had died falling down from the cliff; Zhu’Er had shown her true feeling by crying bitterly. Zhang Wuji was very grateful over that matter.
Ever since he arrived at the Brightness Peak, day in and day out he was either busy training martial arts or busy tending the Ming Cult affairs; when did he ever have time to sit down peacefully and think about his own concerns? Once in a while he would remember Zhu’Er, then he would ask Wei Yixiao to look for her, or ask Yang Xiao to dispatch some search and rescue team to look around the Peak; but all those times nobody found out her whereabouts. Now he rebuked himself deeply, “Zhu’Er has always been good to me, but why have I been so ignorant about her? Why haven’t I given any thought to her these past several days?” Actually, since he took the Cult Leader position of the Ming Cult, all his personal affairs were totally out of his mind.
“What are you regretting?” Zhao Min suddenly asked.
Before Zhang Wuji could reply, they heard shouts from the upper deck; followed by a sailor coming down to give his report, “We see land ahead. The Granny ordered us to pick up speed and come ashore.”
Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji looked out from their window and saw that there was a big island several ‘li’s ahead with trees and lush green vegetation on it. There was a strange looking peak on the island; it was tall and towering straight above a forest of pine trees. The boat was sailing fast because of the favorable wind; they had arrived on shore in just a time needed to eat a bowl of rice.
On the eastern end of the island there was a rocky hill protruding into the sea, with no sandy beach on it. Although the battle ship was deep into the water due to its weight, it would be able to anchor right next to the shore. But before the anchor was down, they heard a ferocious shout coming from the hill; the shout was full of rage, with an overwhelming power in it.
Zhang Wuji was pleasantly surprised, since he recognized the voice; the shout belonged to his Yifu, the ‘jin mao shi wang’ [golden-mane lion king] Xie Xun. It had been more than ten years, but his Yifu’s heroic air was still as he remembered it; how could he not feel extremely joyful? Without thinking how Xie Xun from the far north Bing Huo Island could be on that island, also without any regard if Jin Hua Popo would see through his disguise, he hurriedly stepped down the wooden plank and ran toward the hill from which the shout originated to take a look.
He saw four men with unsheathed weapons in their hands surrounding a tall and big man. That man was facing the enemies with an empty hand. He was none other than Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun.
Zhang Wuji took a quick glance and saw that although his Yifu was blind, although he was surrounded by four men, although he faced four weapons barehanded, he did not by any chance lose his imposing air. Zhang Wuji had never seen his Yifu fight an enemy before; now that he had the opportunity to witness several stances, he was very happy. “Jin Mao Shi Wang’s prestige shook the world in the past; it certainly was not an empty reputation,” he said to himself, “Yifu’s martial art skill is above ‘Qing Yi Fu Wang’ [Green-Winged Bat King]; I’ll say he is on par with (maternal) grandfather.”
The four people’s martial arts were certainly not bad either. From where he was, near the boat, looking to the hill, Zhang Wuji was not able to see their faces clearly; but he could see that they were wearing raggedy clothes with cloth sacks on their backs. Obviously, they were from the Beggar Clan. Three other men stood on the side, ready to join the battle.
Zhang Wuji heard someone was saying, “Hand over the Tulong Saber … we’ll spare your life … precious saber in place of your life …” The strong wind from the hill transmitted the voice intermittently, making him difficult to understand clearly what they were saying; but Zhang Wuji knew that these people were here to snatch the precious Tulong Saber.
He heard Xie Xun laugh a big laugh and say, “The Tulong Saber is in my possession. The Beggar Clan’s stinky thieves; if you have the ability then get it from me.” His hands and feet did not slow down the least bit when his mouth was speaking.
In a flash Jin Hua Popo had run ashore; amidst the coughing she said, “Beggar Clan’s Heroes, welcome to the Ling She Island. You did not come and talk to Lao Po, but disturb the Ling She Island’s honorable guest. What do you want?”
“This is indeed the Ling She Island,” Zhang Wuji thought, “Listening to Jin Hua Popo, apparently Yifu is her invited guest. Yifu has said that in any event he won’t be willing to leave Bing Huo Island and return to the Central Plains; how come on Jin Hua Popo’s invitation he was willing to come? How could Jin Hua Popo find out Yifu’s whereabouts?” Questions after questions grew in his heart.
Hearing the host had arrived, the four people on the hill wanted to subdue Xie Xun as quick as possible; they attacked more urgently. But in doing so, they had actually violated a major principle in the study of martial art. Xie Xun was blind, thus he depended on the wind generated by the weapons to distinguish the enemies’ positions. The faster these four people moved their hands, the stronger the wind generated by their weapons.
Xie Xun let out a long laugh. ‘Bang!’ he hit one enemy squarely on his chest. That man let out a long miserable scream and fell straight down from the hill into the rocks below. His skull broke and his brain splattered everywhere.
One of the three people standing on the side shouted, “Back off!” With a light movement he stepped forward, his fist floating in the air with strength that was sometimes there and sometimes not there, making it hard for Xie Xun to distinguish the sound. Sure enough, it was not until the fist was only a few inches from him that he finally realized it. He hastily tried to block the attack; his movement was awkward, he was truly in a very difficult situation.
The three men who fought previously moved back quickly; while an old man who was standing on the side took over their place. This old man incorporated the same technique as the first man; his palm was also light. Several stances later Xie Xun was forced to block to the east and evade to the west; he was in a really dangerous situation.
“Ji Zhanglao [Elder Ji], Zheng Zhanglao [Elder Zheng]!” Jin Hua Popo shouted, “Jin Mao Shi Wang is inconvenienced by his eyes; you are fighting him with this despicable method. You are enjoying a reputation as Jianghu’s heroes for nothing.” She was talking and walking to the hill at the same time, with the help of her walking stick.
She was walking in faltering steps, as if a mountain breeze would blow her off the hill; but actually she was moving very fast. Supported by the stick, it looked like she was riding the wind, floating forward; with several strikes of her stick she quickly reached the waist of the hill. Zhu’Er followed closely behind her, but just in a short moment she fell behind.
Zhang Wuji was concerned over his Yifu’s safety, he quickly ran up the hill. Zhao Min followed behind him. In a low voice she said, “With this Old Granny here, Shi Wang [Lion King] will not be in grave danger. Don’t do anything yet, you’d better hide your identity first.”
Zhang Wuji nodded and followed behind Zhu’Er. By now all he could see was Zhu’Er’s graceful and slender body. If he did not know Zhu’Er’s face, wouldn’t he think she was an extremely beautiful woman, not inferior to Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo, and Xiao Zhao, three girls? Once he had this thought, immediately he scolded himself, “Zhang Wuji, oh, Zhang Wuji, your Yifu is facing a grave danger, yet you are looking at a girl and seizing her up, whether she is a beautiful woman or not.”
In a short moment, the four of them had reached the peak of the hill. They saw that Xie Xun was keeping his hands close to his body, in a defensive position without even trying to attack. Only when the enemy’s fist or kick came near did he use a little bit of ‘qin na’ [grappling technique] to parry the attack. This way he was able to hold out against the enemy momentarily, but it would be difficult for him to score a victory.
Zhang Wuji stood underneath a cluster of pine trees. He saw his Yifu’s face was full of wrinkles, and there were more white hair on his head; he looked a lot older than the last time they parted. Zhang Wuji guessed that for the past dozen of years he was living alone on that desolate island, he must have passed the days with difficulty. Zhang Wuji was grieved, he felt blood rushing up in his chest and could not help but feel a strong urge to fight the enemy for him. He stepped forward to get a closer look at the enemies. Zhao Min understood his intention; she lightly pinched his hand and shook her head.
“Ji Zhanglao,” Jin Hua Popo said, “Your ‘yin shan zhang da jiu shi’ [lit. nine great style of ‘yin’ (negative, female, of ‘yin and yang’) mountain palm] is famous throughout the Jianghu; why are you stealthily changing it to ‘mian zhang zhao shi’ [lit. cotton palm style]? Zheng Zhanglao is even more unspeakable; you conceal the ‘hui feng fu liu quan’ [lit. returning wind brushing away the willow fist (technique)] inside the ‘ba gua quan’ [eight-diagram fist (technique)]. Of course Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Daxia [great hero Xie] does not know that … (cough, cough) …”
Since Xie Xun could not see the enemies’ style, he was at a great disadvantage over them. Moreover, Ji and Zheng two elders were extremely cunning; by deliberately concealing their style, Xie Xun was having trouble predicting their moves. As Jin Hua Popo exposed their trick, Xie Xun’s confidence grew. He waited until Zheng Zhanglao was about to change his fist technique, suddenly he struck straight ahead; his fist collided with Zheng Zhanglao’s fist. Zheng Zhanglao staggered back two steps until he bumped into a tree stump. Ji Zhanglao thrust his palm from the side to protect his companion, forcing Xie Xun to stop from pursuing him.
Zhang Wuji turned his attention to the two Beggar Clan’s Elders; Ji Zhanglao was short and plump, with a red face, reminding him of a village butcher. Zheng Zhanglao was tall and skinny, with an ashen look, a perfect picture of a beggar. Both men carried eight cloth sacks on their back. The other man standing afar looked about thirty years of age; he also wore a beggar clothes, but his clothes was neat and clean. Surprisingly he also carried eight cloth sacks on his back. For someone his age to achieve an eight-bag elder position of the Beggar Clan was extremely rare. Suddenly that man opened his mouth, “Jin Hua Popo, you said you were not going to help Xie Xun, but in the end you are helping him. Aren’t you ashamed?”
Jin Hua Popo coldly said, “Are you also a Beggar Clan’s Elder, Sire? Please forgive this Old Granny’s faulty vision for not recognizing you.”
“I joined the Beggar Clan not too long ago, no wonder Popo did not know,” that man replied, “My surname is Chen, given name Youliang.”
“Chen Youliang? Chen Youliang?” Jin Hua Popo muttered, “I have never heard that name.”
Suddenly a cry was heard as Zheng Zhanglao’s left arm was hit by Xie Xun. The three Beggar Clan disciples who were standing on the side immediately charged forward with their unsheathed weapons. These three’s martial art skills were inferior to Ji and Zheng, two Elders; normally they would only be in the Elders’ way, but since Xie Xun became blind, he had never fought with anybody, so his battle experience was lacking. Today was the first time he fought powerful enemies. Amidst the sound of fists and kicks were the sounds of the weapons; these mixtures of noises made him difficult to distinguish the enemies’ positions. In a moment his shoulder was hit by a fist.
Seeing the critical situation, Zhang Wuji was about to make his move, but Zhao Min said in a low voice, “Certainly Jin Hua Popo would help?” Zhang Wuji halted his steps; he looked at Jin Hua Popo, and saw that she was leaning on her stick with cold smile on her face, without giving any sign that she was going to help.
By that time Xie Xun’s left leg was kicked heavily by Zheng Zhanglao. Xie Xun staggered, he nearly fell down. Zhang Wuji had already prepared seven small pebbles in his hand; by now he could not wait any longer, his right hand moved, the seven pebbles flew toward the five people surrounding Xie Xun. But before the pebbles hit their targets, a black light flashed; ‘swish!’ three weapons were cut down. Among the five people, four were cut off right on their chests, becoming eight pieces, which scattered to all directions, falling off the hill. Only Zheng Zhanglao survived with his right arm cut off, but his back was hit by the two pebbles Zhang Wuji shot; he fell on the ground. The four of the slain people’s back were also hit by the pebbles, only the Saber cut them off first before the pebbles arrived. This time Zhang Wuji’s action was actually unnecessary.
This incident happened so fast that everybody was startled. They saw Xie Xun’s hand was holding a deep black saber, precisely what was known as ‘wu lin zhi zun’ [the most revered in the Wulin (martial art) world], the Tulong Saber [Dragon-slaying Saber]. He held the Saber horizontally across his chest, standing on the peak of the hill, his power and prestige made people shiver, he looked just like a deity.
Zhang Wuji had seen this Saber since he was little, yet he had never expected its sharpness to have such an overwhelming power as demonstrated just now. Jin Hua Popo muttered, “’Wu lin zhi zun, bao dao tu long’! [the most revered in the Wulin world, precious saber slaying the dragon] ’Wu lin zhi zun, bao dao tu long’!”
Losing his arm, Zheng Zhanglao screamed in pain just like a pig getting slaughtered. Chen Youliang pale faced, he said in a loud voice, “Xie Daxia’s [great hero Xie’s] martial art is unparalleled, my utmost admiration! I ask you to let this Zheng Zhanglao go down the hill. Let me trade my life with his. Xie Daxia, please make your move!”
His speech made everybody’s countenance change; they had not expected this person’s ‘yi qi’ [spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice/code of brotherhood] to be this deep. Zhang Wuji could not help but feel quite respectful towards him.
“Chen Youliang,” Xie Xun said, “Hmm, you are a real man. Take this surnamed Zheng away, I will not make things difficult for you!”
“Let me thank Xie Daxia first for your graciousness in not killing us,” Chen Youliang said, “Only the Beggar Clan has five lives died under Xie Daxia’s hands. I am going to train for ten more years. If I achieve success, I am going to come again to settle this debt.”
Xie Xun thought that he only have to move one step forward and brandish his precious saber, then this man would not escape alive; yet under this extremely dangerous situation he still had the nerve to say that he would come back to seek revenge in the future; he was a very brave man. Thereupon Xie Xun said, “If the Old Man is still alive ten years from now, I am going to wait for your instructions.”
Chen Youliang cupped his fists toward Jin Hua Popo in salute and said, “Without permission the Beggar Clan has trespassed your island; herewith we apologize!” Carrying Zheng Zhanglao, he went down the hill in big strides.
Jin Hua Popo turned toward Zhang Wuji and coldly said, “You, this young fella, you are good at the acupoint striking technique. Why are you shooting seven pebbles? One was meant for Chen Youliang, the other was meant for me, wasn’t it?”
Seeing she was able to see that he has prepared the seven pebbles, but was not able to see through his disguise, Zhang Wuji did not know how to reply; he only showed a faint smile.
“Young fella,” Jin Hua Popo said sternly, “What is your honored name? Disguising yourself as a sailor, following Lao Po Zi [the Old Granny] around, what is your purpose? You dare to act craftily in front of Jin Hua Popo; are you bored of your life?”
Zhang Wuji was not used to tell lies; he was startled and could not answer. Zhao Min made her voice hoarse and answered, “We are from the ‘ju jing bang’ [gigantic whale clan], we make our living on the sea, doing business without any capital. Lao Popo [Old Granny] offered us a lot of gold, so what’s wrong with giving you a ride? This brother saw the Beggar Clan was cheating and he wanted to lend a hand. His intention was good, but we did not expect Xie Daxia’a martial art was this high; in the end we were only being meddlesome.”
Although she imitated a male’s voice, her voice was still unavoidably sharp; piercing the ears of those who heard her. Luckily her makeup was perfect; her face was yellowish and looked like an old man, Jin Hua Popo was not able to see the flaw.
“Many thanks!” Xie Xun waved his left hand and said, “Ay, Jin Mao Shi Wang is like a tiger fallen on the plains that he has to receive help from Ju Jing Bang. Leaving the Jianghu for twenty years, capable people have come forth in the Wulin world in large numbers; why should I come back?”
When speaking the last sentence, his voice was full of sorrow, as he sighed with depressing emotion. Just now when Zhang Wuji shot those seven pebbles, Xie Xun could hear clearly the strength behind the shot; strength like that was truly rare in the world. He was shocked that there was such an expert in the Wulin world. Also, in the battle today, the reason he escaped injury from besiege after fighting all night was entirely due to the Tulong Saber. Suddenly the memory of the Wangpan Island some twenty years ago where he faced a group of warrior was like a different lifetime to him.
“Xie San Ge [third (older) brother Xie],” Jin Hua Popo said, “I know you don’t like other people meddling in your fight; that’s why I did not lend you a hand. You are not offended, are you?”
Hearing her unexpectedly calling his Yifu ‘San Ge’, Zhang Wuji was astonished. He did not know his Yifu ranked third in seniority; because looking at Jin Hua Popo, he was certain that she was older than his Yifu.
“Why am I not surprised?” he heard Xie Xun replied, “You were returning to the Central Plains this time, did you hear anything about that child of mine Wuji?”
Zhang Wuji was shocked; but he felt a soft palm was holding his hand tightly. He knew Zhao Min did not want him to step forward and expose himself. Just now he did not listen to her advice and rashly shot the pebbles to help; in the end he let their existence to be known. Only his concerns toward Xie Xun went to the extreme; he could not let Xie Xun being bullied by anybody. This time he felt it was all right to momentarily restrain himself.
“Nothing,” Jin Hua Popo said.
Xie Xun heaved a deep sigh and was silent for a long time before he finally said, “Mrs. Han, we are brother and sister [Translator’s note: the characters used here are ‘xiong mei’ – (older) brother, (younger) sister], you cannot deceive me, a blind man. Tell me, that child of mine, Wuji, is he still alive in this world?”
Jin Hua Popo hesitated without answering. Zhu’Er suddenly said, “Xie Daxia …” Jin Hua Popo reached out with her left hand to grab her wrist and stared hard at her; Zhu’Er did not dare to continue.
“Miss Yin,” Xie Xun said, “Tell me, tell me! Your Popo is deceiving me, is she not?”
Two streams of tears flowed down on Zhu’Er’s cheeks. Jin Hua Popo lifted up her right hand and placed it on top of her head, so that as soon as Zhu’Er said something she did not wish she would exert her internal energy and take her life.
“Xie Daxia,” Zhu’Er said, “My Popo did not deceive you. We went to the Central Plains this time, we did not hear any news about Zhang Wuji.”
Hearing what she said, Jin Hua Popo took her right palm from Zhu’Er’s forehead, but she still grabbed her wrist tight.
“So what news did you hear?” Xie Xun asked, “What happened to the Ming Cult? What happened to our old acquaintances?”
“I don’t know,” Jin Hua Popo replied, “I did not inquire anything on the Jianghu matters. I was only looking for the Toutuo [Buddhist monk with hair] who killed my husband to settle the debt; and for Emei Pai’s Miejue Laoni [Old Nun Miejue], to avenge that sword duel defeat. As for other matters, Lao Po Zi does not care.”
Xie Xun indignantly said, “All right, Mrs. Han, that day on the Bing Huo Island, what did you say to me? You said my Zhang Wudi [fifth brother Zhang], husband and wife, were not willing to reveal my hiding place; they were forced to cut their own throats on the Wudang Mountain. That child of mine, Wuji, became an orphan with nobody to care for him; that he was wandering in the Jianghu, that everywhere he went he was bullied by others, that he was destitute and miserable beyond words. Did you not say that?”
“That’s right!” Jin Hua Popo said.
“You said that he was struck by the Xuanming Shen Zhang [mysterious and dark divine palm]; he endured the suffering day and night,” Xie Xun continued, “You said you met him at the Butterfly Valley, and that you wanted him to come with you to the Ling She Island , but he was not willing. Is that right?”
“That’s right!” Jin Hua Popo said, “If I lied to you, may the Heaven punish me and the Earth extinguish me, may Jin Hua Popo becomes the lowest of low in the Jianghu, may my departed husband does not have peace in his grave.”
Xie Xun nodded. “Miss Yin,” he said, “What was it that you wanted to say?”
Zhu’Er replied, “I was going to say that at that time I urged him to come with us to the Ling She Island; he did not want to listen, and bit me instead. His teeth mark is still on the back of my hand; I am telling you the truth. I … I am very concerned about him.”
Suddenly Zhao Min tightened her hand, which was grabbing Zhang Wuji’s palm; her eyes were staring at him with contempt, but also with a teasing look, as if she was saying, ‘You lied to me! Turned out you knew this girl; not only that, there were many entanglements between the two of you.’
Zhang Wuji blushed; remembering how Zhu’Er had a strange fondness toward him, his heart was bittersweet. All of a sudden Zhao Min lifted up Zhang Wuji’s hand toward her mouth and she bit the back of his hand really hard. As his hand was bleeding, the Jiu Yang Shen Gong [Nine Yang Divine Energy/Power] in Zhang Wuji’s body automatically reacted. Zhao Min felt a shock on her mouth that the corner of her mouth was also bleeding. This short episode between the two of them happened noiselessly.
Zhang Wuji looked at Zhao Min with questioning eyes, wondering why in the world she suddenly bit him. But he saw her eyes were full of smiles, her face was blushing, beautiful as the springtime. Although she was wearing fake moustache above her lips, the moustache failed to cover her sweetness and beauty. Confusion filled his heart.
“Very well!” Xie Xun said, “Mrs. Han, it was because of my concern over my child Wuji that I took the tens of thousands of ‘li’s journey back from the Bing Huo Island to the Central Plains. You promised to find Wuji for me; why didn’t you keep your promise?”
Tears streaming down Zhang Wuji’s cheeks; it was only then did he found out that although his Yifu knew he had enemies everywhere, disregarding grave dangers he returned to the Central Plains, it was all because of him.
Jin Hua Popo said, “That day we reached an agreement; I will look for your Zhang Wuji, you will lend me the Tulong Saber. Xie San Ge, let me borrow your Saber, Lao Po Zi’s words are like mountain; I will find this youngster for you.”
Xie Xun shook his head. “Bring Wuji over here; naturally I’ll lend you the Saber.”
“You don’t trust me?” Jin Hua Popo coldly asked.
“The matters of the world are not easy to say,” Xie Xun replied, “Even close relatives like father and son or brother and sister sometimes are not trustworthy.”
Zhang Wuji knew he was referring to Cheng Kun in the past; he felt sorry for his Yifu.
“Then you are sure you won’t let me borrow the Saber in advance?” Jin Hua Popo asked.
“I let the Beggar Clan’s Chen Youliang go down the mountain,” Xie Xun said, “From now on there will be no more peaceful days on the Ling She Island. I don’t know how many enemies of mine of the Wulin world would come over to make things difficult for me. Jin Mao Shi Wang is not like what he used to be; other than this Tulong Saber, I don’t even have a staff to lean on. Hey … hey …” Suddenly he let out a cold laugh and said, “Mrs. Han, just now five people were surrounding me. Even that hero from the Ju Jing Bang was preparing seven pebbles in his hand. Are you sure you don’t have any intention to harm me? You are hoping that I would die under the hands of the Beggar Clan, and then you can leisurely pick up the spoil. Xie Xun’s eyes maybe blind, but his hear is not. Mrs. Han, let me ask you again, Xie Xun came to your Ling She Island in secret; how did the Beggar Clan find out my whereabouts?”
“I was just going to find out,” Jin Hua Popo said.
Xie Xun flicked a finger on the blade of the Tulong Saber then he put it inside his robe. “You are not willing to find my Wuji for me, that’s fine,” he said, “Xie Xun only needs to re-enter the Jianghu and makes some earth-shattering disturbance.” Tilting up his head he let out a loud whistle; and then leaped up and ran from the west side of the hill. His steps were quick; he headed straight toward a mountain peak on the northern end of the island. There was a lone thatched hut on the mountain peak; apparently it was where he lived.
Jin Hua Popo waited until Xie Xun had gone far. She turned around and stared at Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min. “Get lost!” she barked.
Pulling Zhang Wuji’s hand, Zhao Min immediately went down the mountain, returning to their boat.
“I want to see Yifu,” Zhang Wuji said.
“When your Yifu left, Jin Hua Popo stared at him viciously, didn’t you see that?” Zhao Min asked.
“I am not afraid of her,” Zhang Wuji replied.
“There are so many surreptitious matters on this island,” Zhao Min said, “How could the Beggar Clan people come into this island? How did Jin Hua Popo know your Yifu’s whereabouts? How could she find the Bing Huo Island? There are so many unanswered mysteries here. It’s not difficult for you to kill Jin Hua Popo, but then we will never find out the answers to these questions.”
“It’s not that I want to kill Jin Hua Popo,” Zhang Wuji said, “It’s just that Yifu misses me so much; I must go and see him.”
Zhao Min shook her head, “You haven’t seen each other for more than a dozen years,” she reasoned, “Why can’t you wait one or two more days? Zhang Gongzi [young master Zhang], let me tell you
something: no doubt we must guard against Jin Hua Popo; but more importantly, we must guard against Chen Youliang.”
“That Chen Youliang?” Zhang Wuji asked, “This man’s ‘yi qi’ is very deep; he is a true gentleman.”
“Do you really believe it in your heart? Or are you merely making fun of me?” Zhao Min asked.
“Why would I make fun of you?” Zhang Wuji wondered, “This man was willing to die in place of that Zheng Zhanglao; a man of his quality is truly rare.”
Zhao Min stared at him for a moment and sighed. “Zhang Gongzi, oh, Zhang Gongzi,” she said, “You are the Ming Cult’s Cult Leader; you are commanding of I don’t know how many fierce and wild warriors and heroes, executing I don’t know how many important matters, yet you are this gullible? How can that be?”
“I am gullible?” Zhang Wuji asked.
“This Chen Youliang was obviously swindling Xie Daxia,” Zhao Min said, “You were witnessing it with your own eyes; how can you not see it?”
“He was swindling my Yifu?” Zhang Wuji jumped.
“Xie Daxia was wielding the Tulong Saber,” Zhao Min said, “Four of the Beggar Clan’s masters were killed. Even if Chen Youliang’s martial art skill were higher, he might not necessarily be able to escape from the Tulong Saber’s cut. In this situation, he could charge forward staking everything he got and die, or he could kneel down for mercy. But just think about it, Xie Daxia does not want anybody to know his whereabouts; even if Chen Youliang knocked his head three hundred times, he might not necessarily be able to gain pity from Xie Daxia’s tender heart. Other than pretending to be someone with thick ‘yi qi’, do you think he would have a better way?”
While she was speaking, she took Zhang Wuji’s hand and applied ointment on the bite-wound, and wrapped her own handkerchief over it.
Listening to her analysis of Chen Youliang’s plight, Zhang Wuji thought she was right; but thinking back about Chen Youliang’s heroic and vehement attitude, also his manner of speaking, Zhang Wuji could not detect any falseness; hence, he was still unconvinced.
“All right,” Zhao Min said, “Let me ask you this: when that Chen Youliang was speaking to Xie Daxia, what were the positions of his hands and his feet?”
When he was listening to Chen Youliang, Zhang Wuji only occasionally looked at his face, while the other times looked at his Yifu; he had not paid any attention to Chen Youliang’s hands and feet, but actually Chen Youliang’s posture was projected in his mind. If nobody mentioned this, he would not remember; this time hearing Zhao Min’s question, the scene came back in his brain. He said, “Mmm, Chen Youliang’s right hand was slightly raised, his left hand across the body; that was the ‘shi zi bo tu’ [the lion catches the rabbit]. What about his feet? Mmm, right! That was the ‘jiang mo ti dou shi’ [devil-subduing kicking style]. Both were part of Shaolin Pai’s fist techniques; nothing special about them. Could it be that he was asking a favor from Yifu, but actually he was going to launch a sneak attack? That can’t be right; these two styles are not very effective.”
Zhao Min coldly laughed, “Zhang Gongzi,” she said, “You really do not have any understanding about people’s hearts, do you? Even if that Chen Youliang wanted to stealthily attack Xie Daxia, do you think he has the ability? This person is so cunning, he is a first class smart person; he understands people very well. Supposed his feigned ‘yi qi’ did not work; Xie Daxia could see through his scheme and was not willing to let him go, then with his posture, whom would he kick with the ‘devil-subduing kick’? Whom would he catch with the ‘lion catches the rabbit’?”
Because Zhang Wuji had always thought people everywhere were kindhearted, he had never thought deeply about Chen Youliang’s scheme. Now that Zhao Min brought it up, his mind was churning. Cold sweats started to trickle down his back; with a trembling voice he said, “He … he was going to kick Zheng Zhanglao who was lying on the ground; and he was going to grab Miss Yin.”
Zhao Min smiled sweetly. “That’s right!” she said, “He was going to kick Zheng Zhanglao toward Xie Daxia. He would also grab that childhood sweetheart of yours, that Miss Yin whose hand you bit, and shove her toward Xie Daxia, with the hope that they would slow him down a little bit. Then he would use the opportunity to escape with his life. Even though Xie Daxia’s ability is matchless and he was holding a precious saber in his hand, Chen Youliang still had a slim chance of escaping; other than that, he did not have any other choice. If it were me, I’d do the same. Up until now, I still have not found a better way. This man was able to think such a clever method in a short moment; he is truly amazing.” She could not stop praising him.
The more Zhang Wuji thought, the more upset he became; he had never thought that people in this world could be that ruthless. Ever since he was little, he had experienced countless hardships, yet he had never seen anything of Chen Youliang’s caliber. After half a day he said, “Miss Zhao, you were able to see through his intentions; I am afraid you are not inferior to him.”
Zhao Min’s countenance turned dark. “Are you ridiculing me?” she asked, “Let me tell you something: if you are afraid of my wicked scheming, then stay far away from me.”
“That is not necessary,” Zhang Wuji said with a smile, “You have already used a lot of deceit against me, I can guard against all of them.”
Zhao Min showed a faint smile and said, “You can guard against my deceit? How come you don’t know I applied some poison to the back of your hand?”
Zhang Wuji was startled; he did feel a bit of itch and numb, a rather unusual feeling. Hastily he tore the handkerchief down and brought his hand to his nose. “Aiyo!” he could not help exclaiming. He knew it was the ‘qu fu xiao ji gao’ [flesh/muscle decomposer ointment], an external medication, which could erode rotting flesh from a wound. Although it was not a poison, applied to the bite-marks it would deepen the wound. This ointment actually carried a pungent smell, but Zhao Min had mixed some rouge in it; she also used her own handkerchief to wrap the wound, so the smell was somewhat obscured that Zhang Wuji was not able to detect it.
Zhang Wuji hurriedly ran to the stern to wash his wound with some fresh water. Zhao Min followed behind him; helping him washing the wound while laughing and giggling.
Zhang Wuji pushed her shoulder away and said angrily, “Stay away from me! What kind of joke is this? Do you think it didn’t hurt?”
Still giggling Zhao Min replied, “It is truly ‘the dog that bites Lu Dongbin’; you are unable to recognize other’s kindness. I was afraid you are in so much pain that I used this method.”
[Translator’s note: ‘the dog that bites Lu Dongbin’ is a Chinese proverb, which means an inability to recognize goodness and repay kindness with vice. Lu Dongbin was one of the Eight Immortals (ba xian) in Taoist legends.]
Zhang Wuji ignored her remark; he furiously went back to his cabin and closed his eyes.
Zhao Min followed in and called, “Zhang Gongzi!” Zhang Wuji pretended to be asleep. Zhao Min called him two more times, but Zhang Wuji simply snored even louder. Zhao Min sighed, “If I knew you would be like this, I would have spread a real poison to take your dog’s life then I wouldn’t have to deal with you anymore.”
Zhang Wuji opened his eyes and said, “How can I be the dog that bites Lu Dongbin; unable to recognize other’s kindness? You tell me.”
Zhao Min smiled and said, “If I tell you, then what are you going to do?”
“You are always able to present a strong argument on everything; naturally I can’t argue with you,” Zhang Wuji said.
“You haven’t heard what I am going to say and you admit defeat already?” Zhao Min said with a smile, “You knew all along that my intention was good.”
“Pei!” Zhang Wuji spat, “Good intention indeed! You bit my hand, but did not apologize. Fine! But why did you have to spread poison on my wound? I’d rather not receive your kindness.”
“Hmm,” Zhao Min said, “Let me ask you this: which one was deeper, my bite on you, or your bite on Miss Yin?”
Zhang Wuji blushed. “That … that was a long time ago,” he stammered, “Why do you have to bring it up?”
“I want to bring it up,” Zhao Min insisted, “Just answer my question; don’t talk in circles.”
“Granted that my bite on Miss Yin was deeper,” Zhang Wuji admitted, “But at that time she was grabbing me, while my martial art was inferior to her; no matter what I did, I could not shake her loose. As a child, my heart was anxious, and I just bit her. You are not a child; I did not grab you and want you to come to the Ling She Island, did I?”
“That’s strange,” Zhao Min laughed, “So she grabbed you and wanted you to come to the Ling She Island, but you’d rather die than come with her. Presently nobody invited you to come, yet you willingly came without any fuss? After all, when people grow, their hearts also grow, everything changes.”
Zhang Wuji’s entire face turned red. “You are the one who wanted me to come!” he said with a smile.
Hearing this, Zhao Min’s face also turned red, but she felt an indescribable sweetness in her heart. It was as if Zhang Wuji was saying, ‘She wanted me to come, I’d rather die than come. You wanted me to come, I immediately came.”
Two people looked at each other for half a day without saying anything then suddenly they averted their gaze from each other. Zhao Min lowered her head and said, “Very well, I’ll tell you: it was a very long time ago that you bit Miss Yin, yet she has never forgotten you. I heard the way she talked; I am afraid she won’t ever forget you for the rest of her life. The reason I bit you is so that you also won’t forget me for the rest of your life.”
Only upon hearing this last sentence did Zhang Wuji finally understand her profound meaning; his heart was moved and he was speechless.
“I saw the tooth marks on the back of her hand,” Zhao Min continued, “Your bite was very deep; I thought that you bit her really deep, her memory of you is also deep. I wanted to bite you really deep, but I did not have the heart to do so; but if I bit you lightly, I am afraid you will forget me in the future. I thought about it left and right, then decided to bite you first, then spread the ‘qu fu xiao ji gao’; so that those tooth marks will be deepened.”
At first Zhang Wuji thought it was funny then he thought that although with this act she was indulging in fantasy, in the end it was a demonstration of her deep affection to him. He sighed and softly said, “I don’t blame you. I was truly the dog that bites Lu Dongbin; I was unable to recognize your kindness. You are treating me this way, as such; there is no way I’m going to forget you.”
Initially Zhao Min felt vulnerable after revealing her tender feelings, but after hearing his words her eyes flashed mischievously; she smiled and said, “You said, ‘you were treating me this way’; are you saying that I treated you badly, or I treated you well? Zhang Gongzi, my bad treatments to you is actually numerous, but my good treatment is none.”
Zhang Wuji said, “Later on your treatment to me will be somewhat better.” Grabbing her hand, he brought it to his mouth. “I want to also bite you really bad, so you won’t forget me for the rest of your life,” he said with a laugh.
Zhao Min suddenly felt very bashful; she shook his hand and rushed out of the cabin. As she opened the cabin door, she almost bumped into Xiao Zhao. Zhao Min was startled. “Damn it!” she silently cursed, “If my conversation with him was heard by this girl, I would die of embarrassment.” She could not help but blushing profusely while she ran to the upper deck.
Xiao Zhao came to Zhang Wuji and said, “Gongzi, I saw Jin Hua Popo and that ugly girl went that way; they were carrying a big sack together. I don’t know what kind of crafty trick they are planning to do.”
“Hmm,” Zhang Wuji mumbled. He realized his conversation with Zhao Min had turned intimate; to have Xiao Zhao suddenly appear, he was unavoidably ashamed. He stared blankly for a moment before finally asking, “Are they going toward that small mountain hut on the northern side of the island?”
“They are going north alright, but they are not going to the mountain,” Xiao Zhao replied, “It seemed like they were in a deep argument with each other. That Jin Hua Popo looked very angry.”
Zhang Wuji went to the stern. He saw Zhao Min was standing at the bow with her eyes gazing toward the ocean. She did not turn her body around. He heard the mighty waves of the sea pounding the hull of the boat. He felt that his heart was as tumultuous as those fluctuating waves; he tried with great difficulty to calm it down.
The sun gradually set toward the western horizon in what he felt like a very long time; the trees on the island turned darker and became a blur in his eyes. Finally Zhang Wuji returned to his cabin.
During supper that night he told Zhao Min and Xiao Zhao, “I am going to visit Yifu. It would be better for the two of you to stay and guard the boat, so that we won’t scare Jin Hua Popo away.”
“Then I think you’d better wait for another night watch,” Zhao Min said, “Wait till the sky turns really dark before you leave.”
“Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied. His heart was boiling with anxiety over his Yifu’s safety; this one night watch was indeed unbearable to him.
With great difficulty he waited until he could not see anything anywhere he looked. Finally he stood up, smiled faintly at Zhao Min and Xiao Zhao then he walked toward to the cabin door.
“Zhang Gongzi,” Zhao Min called while loosening the Yitian Sword on her waist, “Take this sword for self defense.”
Zhang Wuji was startled; “You’d better keep it with you,” he said.
“No!” Zhao Min refused, “This time I am worried about you.”
Zhang Wuji smiled, “Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Zhao Min replied, “Jin Hua Popo’s surreptitious craftiness is unpredictable; Chen Youliang is a bag full of tricks. Also I don’t know whether your Yifu will be convinced that you are his ‘child Wuji’ … Ay, this island is known as the ‘Spirit Snake’, perhaps there are highly venomous vipers everywhere; besides …” Speaking to this point, she suddenly stopped.
“Besides what?” Zhang Wuji asked.
Zhao Min raised her hand toward her mouth and made a biting motion. She giggled and her cheeks blushed. Zhang Wuji knew she meant to say his cousin, Miss Yin. He waved his hand and went out the cabin door.
“Catch!” Zhao Min called out, tossing the Yitian Sword to him.
Zhang Wuji caught the Sword; his heart was touched. “She trusts me this much to the point of letting me borrow the Yitian Sword,” he thought. He tied the Sword on his back and walked toward the mountain peak on the northern end of the island. Keeping in mind what Zhao Min said he always stepped on bald rocks fearing there were venomous snakes among the grass.
In about the time needed to drink a cup of tea, he reached the base of the mountain. He looked up and saw that the hut where his Yifu lived was completely dark, without any light. “Has Yifu gone to bed?” he thought. But then he remembered, “His eyes are blind; why would he need any light?” Right at that moment he faintly heard voices from the left-hand side of the mountain. Quickly he crouched down, turning his attention towards the direction of the sound, but by that time the voices were gone.
It was the beginning of the month and the north wind was blowing over the trees and bushes. Zhang Wuji moved quickly along the rustling noise of the blowing wind toward the source of the voices. Soon he heard Jin Hua Popo’s low and throaty voice about four, five ‘zhang’s ahead, she said “Still don’t want to do it? What are you waiting for?”
“Popo,” Yin Li replied, “Why are you doing this, as if … as if you don’t care about the old friendship? Xie Daxia and you have known each other from dozens of years; he trusted you and thus agreed to leave the Bing Huo Island to return to the Central Plains.”
“He trusted me?” Jin Hua Popo laughed coldly, “What a joke. If he did, why didn’t he let me borrow the Saber? He returned to the Central Plains because of his ‘yi zi’ [adopted/foster child]; what does it have to do with me?”
In the darkness Zhang Wuji vaguely saw Jin Hua Popo’s hunched back. Suddenly he heard a ‘clink’ noise as she pounded a metal nail with a mountain rock in front of her. A moment later the same noise was heard again. Zhang Wuji felt very strange; but he was afraid he might be detected by these two women, so he did not dare to move forward to take a closer look.
He heard Yin Li say, “Popo, if you want to take his treasured weapon away then fight him with a saber or a spear; that won’t be considered a hero’s misdeed. If the present matter is known, how can you not be the laughingstock of the heroes and warriors of the world? Besides, that Miejue Shitai has already died; what use is the Tulong Saber to you?”
Jin Hua Popo was angry; she straightened up her back and said in a stern voice, “Little girl, who rescued your insignificant life from the hands of your father? Now that you are a grown up, you don’t want to listen to Popo anymore! This Xie Xun is neither your friend nor your relative, why are you so adamant in protecting him? Give Popo a good reason.” Although her tone was grim, but her voice was actually low; apparently she was afraid Xie Xun on the mountain peak might hear her. Actually, the distance between that place and the peak was very far, it was a slim chance Xie Xun might hear her as long as she did not shout using her internal energy.
‘Clank, clank!’ Yin Li threw the bag she was carrying on the ground, and then she moved three steps backwards.
“Well?” Jin Hua Popo sternly said, “Your wings have grown, and now you want to fly, don’t you?”
Although watching from the darkness, Zhang Wuji could see her eyes shine with an intimidating power, like a cold piercing thunder.
“Popo,” Yin Li said, “It’s not that I dare to forget your great kindness in saving my life and teaching me martial arts. But Xie Daxia is his … is his Yifu.”
Jin Hua Popo let out a hollow laugh. “Surprisingly there is such an idiot like this in the world,” she said, “That boy surnamed Zhang has fallen into a ten-thousand ‘zhang’s ravine in the Western Region. You have heard it with your own ears from Wu Lie and Wu Qingying. If you don’t believe me, just capture those people and torture their confessions out. They have told us clearly; don’t tell me you think they were lying? That boy surnamed Zhang’s skeleton has turned into ashes by this time, and you still cannot forget him?”
“Popo,” Yin Li said, “I cannot cast him aside from my heart. Perhaps, this is what you said about some … some debt from the previous life.”
Jin Hua Popo heaved a sigh and said, “Let’s not talk about that boy was not willing to come with us to the Ling She Island; even if he agreed to marry you, he’s dead now. What are you going to do? Luckily he died early; if he did not die and see your appearance, how could he love you? You would helplessly see him fall in love with some other woman; how would you feel then?”
The tone of these last few sentences was greatly moderated. Yin Li was silent; obviously she could not give her any answer. Jin Hua Popo continued, “Let’s not talk about other women, even our captive, that Emei Pai’s Miss Zhou, is very pretty. If that boy surnamed Zhang saw her, his heart would have been stirred. Would you then kill Miss Zhou, or would you kill that boy? Hm, hm, if you didn’t practice this ‘hand of thousand spiders ten thousand poison’ [‘qian zhu wan du shou’], you were actually a beautiful woman; but now? There is nothing we can do.”
“He has already died, my face has already been destroyed; what else can I say?” Yin Li said, “But Xie Daxia is his Yifu. Popo, we cannot hurt a single strand of his hair. Popo, I beseech you on this matter only; otherwise, I will listen to you.” While saying that, she bent her knees to kneel down.
Zhang Wuji was secretly astonished, “I became the new Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu and have already caused quite a stir in the Wulin; how come these two actually know nothing about it?” he thought, “Hmm, that’s right; it must be that they went to the far away Bing Huo Island to get my Yifu. The round trip journey took a really long time. This time they came back to Dadou without having any communication with anybody; no wonder they have not heard about me.”
Jin Hua Popo hesitated a moment before answering, “Very well, you stand up!”
“Many thanks, Popo!” Yin Li happily said.
“I promise you not to harm his life, but I must take the Tulong Saber from him …” Jin Hua Popo said.
“But …” Yin Li said.
“Don’t fuss and make Popo angry,” Jin Hua Popo cut her off. Her hand moved and a ‘clink’ noise was heard again.
Zhang Wuji saw Jin Hua Popo’s hands were moving swiftly; successive ‘clink, clink’ noises were heard nonstop, farther and farther away. Yin Li sat on a rock with her head in her hands, sobbing softly. Zhang Wuji was very appreciative seeing, unexpectedly, that she has such a deep feeling toward him.
A moment later Jin Hua Popo shouted from about ten ‘zhang’s away, “Bring them here!” Yin Li had no choice but to take the two sacks and bring them to Jin Hua Popo.
Zhang Wuji crept forward several feet and looked; he was greatly shocked for he saw steel spikes seven, eight inches long were planted on the ground, among the rocks, about two, three feet apart. The sharp points of the spikes were facing upward; they looked very sharp, flickering with dim rays. The more Zhang Wuji thought about it, the more he was shocked. Apparently Jin Hua Popo was going to fight the Golden Mane Lion King, but she was afraid she might not be his match. If she launched secret projectiles, Xie Xun would be able to hear and evade; but steel spikes scattered on the ground were without noise and without movement. All she needed to do was lure him into the trap; how would a blind man like him be able to withstand the spikes?
Zhang Wuji’s anger flared up; he was about to reach out and pull the steel spikes and unmask her plot, but he changed his mind. “This wicked Popo calls my Yifu ‘Xie San Ge’; in the past they must have had unusual friendship,” he thought, “I’ll wait till she fights Yifu face to face, then I’ll expose her trick. Today the Heaven has led me, Zhang Wuji, to this place, so that Yifu may not suffer any harm.” Thereupon he sat on a rock, hugging his knees, waiting quietly for what would happen.
Suddenly he heard a rustling noise amidst the blowing wind, like a falling leaf on a rock. He knew a martial art master with high ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] was quietly coming near. Turning his head around he saw a shadow moving stealthily; it was no other than the Beggar Clan’s Elder, Chen Youliang. He had a curved saber in his hand, with its blade wrapped in cloth to avoid it from reflecting any light. Zhang Wuji mused how accurate Zhao Min’s prediction was; this man was indeed not a good person.
“Xie San Ge!” Jin Hua Popo shouted, “There is a dog thief who is not afraid of death coming here looking for you!”
Zhang Wuji was startled, he thought Jin Hua Popo was very good; could it be that his presence had already been detected? Reasonably said, it would not be the case. He saw Chen Youliang was crouching among the tall grass, without daring to make any movement. Zhang Wuji crept carefully several more ‘zhang’s forward; he wanted to get as close as possible to his Yifu, to guard him against Jin Hua Popo’s deceit and to offer his assistance as quickly as possible.
Not too long afterwards, a shadow of a big and tall man appeared from the hut on the mountain peak. Xie Xun walked slowly down the hill, and stopped several ‘zhang’s away from Jin Hua Popo. All along he did not utter a single word.
“Hey, hey,” Jin Hua Popo said, “Xie San Ge, you are utterly suspicious toward an old acquaintance, yet you readily believed a total stranger. This fellow Chen Youliang, whom you let go today, has come looking for you.”
Xie Xun coldly replied, “An open spear is easy to avoid, a hidden sword is hard to guard against. All my life Xie Xun has often suffered under those people close to me. That Chen Youliang is looking for me; what does he want?”
“This kind of treacherous lowly man, why would we want to care about him?” Jin Hua Popo said, “This afternoon you spared his life; do you know what position did his hands and feet take? His hands were in the ‘shi zi bo tu’ [the lion catches the rabbit] position, while his feet were in the ‘jiang mo ti dou shi’ [devil-subduing kicking style]. Ha ha ha ha …!” Her speaking voice was clear and crisp, pleasant to the ears; but her laughter was sad and shrill like those of a crying owl in the deep of the night.
Xie Xun was startled for he knew Jin Hua Popo was not lying. Because of his blindness, he had fallen into Chen Youliang’s scheme. He wryly said, “It was not the first time I was taken advantage of by others. Lowly people like that are a dime a dozen in the Jianghu; I kill one more or one less, what difference does it make? Mrs. Han, you can be considered my good friend; you saw it, but chose to ignore it, and only now did you come and tell me. Are you trying to incite my anger?” Having finished speaking, he suddenly jumped toward Chen You Liang with an unbelievable speed.
Chen You Liang was shocked; he brandished his saber to hack. Xie Xun bent his left hand and snatched the saber away. ‘Slap, slap, slap!’ He successively slapped Chen Youliang’s ears three times; then his right hand grabbed the back of his neck and lifted him up. “If I want to kill you now, it would be as easy as killing a chicken,” he said, “But Xie Xun has given his words, letting you go and come back in ten years. If I see you again before that time on this island, I am going to take your dog’s life away.” Waving his hand, he threw Chen Youliang away.
Right away Chen Youliang’s body flew toward the spikes on the ground. If he fell down to the ground, the spikes would certainly pierce his body; and then Jin Hua Popo’s all-night effort would be wasted. Immediately Jin Hua Popo flew forward and hit Chen Youliang’s waist with her walking stick, sending him off several more ‘zhang’s to the side.
“If you dare to tread your feet even for one step on my Ling She Island, I am going to kill a hundred of your Beggar Clan disciples,” she shouted, “Jin Hua Popo has always been true to her words. Today I’ll let you enjoy one of my golden flowers [‘jin hua’] first.” With a wave of her left hand a golden light streaked by. ‘Puff!’ a golden flower pierced the ‘jia che xue’ [jawbone acupoint] on Chen Youliang’s left cheek, rendering him unable to speak momentarily, so that her secret plan would not be revealed.
Pressing his left cheek with his hand, Chen Youliang scurried downhill. By this time Xie Xun was only several ‘zhang’s away from the spikes. Zhang Wuji was crouching behind him. Only Zhang Wuji’s internal energy was much higher than Chen Youliang’s; he was able to regulate his breathing in such a way that Xie Xun and Jin Hua Popo were not aware of his presence.
Jin Hua Popo turned around and praised, “Xie San Ge, your ears are as sharp as your eyes were. Hereafter you can arouse your heroic manner and wander unhindered in the Jianghu for twenty more years.”
“I was not able to see the ‘shi zi bo tu’ and the ‘jiang mo ti dou shi’,” Xie Xun replied, “As long as I know what really happened to my child Wuji, I will die with my eyes closed. The blood debts Xie Xun bears on his body are as high as the mountain. I deserve to die a miserable death, why would I want to wander unhindered in the Jianghu?”
Jin Hua Popo laughed and said, “For a Ming Jiao Hu Jiao Fa Wang [The Protector King of the Ming Cult], killing several people is nothing. Xie San Ge, let me borrow your Tulong Saber.” Xie Xun shook his head without saying anything.
Jin Hua Popo said again, “This place is no longer a secret; you can’t stay here any longer. Let me find another safe place for you to stay for a few months. Lend me the Tulong Saber so I can defeat my archenemy from the Emei Pai; and then I will seek Zhang Gongzi [young master Zhang] with all my might. Based on my skill, finding Zhang Gongzi and bringing him to your presence should not be a difficult matter.” Again Xie Xun shook his head.
Jin Hua Popo continued, “Xie San Ge, do you still remember the ‘si da fa wang, zi bai jin qing’ [four great protector kings, purple white golden and (dark) green], these eight characters? Remember how the four of us were under Yang Jiaozhu’s [Cult Leader Yang] command, the ‘Ying Wang Yin Er Ge’ [Eagle King, Second (older) Brother Yin], ‘Fu Wang Wei Si Ge’ [Bat King, Fourth (older) Brother Wei], and the two of us, ran amuck in the world, nobody could stop us? Today our great aspirations have grown old; can you let your ‘zi shan lao mei zi’ [purple robe old (younger) sister] being bullied without you lending a hand?”
Zhang Wuji was greatly surprised, “Listening to her, is it possible that she is unexpectedly the chief of our Cult’s Four Protector Kings, the ‘zi shan long wang’ [Purple Robe Dragon King]? Could there be such a coincidence in the world? How can she call Wei Fu Wang [Bat King Wei] ‘si ge’ [fourth (older) brother]?”
He heard Xie Xun sigh and say, “Those are all past events; why do you raise them up? Old, we are all old!”
“Xie San Ge,” Jin Hua Popo said, “My old eyes are not blind yet; do you think I cannot see that in these last twenty years your martial art skill has advanced greatly? Why be so modest? In our whole lives we haven’t had too many good days. I’ll say before the Ming Jiao Si Da Fa Wang die, we have to join hands and attempt to achieve a great undertaking in the Jianghu.”
Xie Xun sighed said, “Yin Er Ge [second (older) brother Yin] and Wei Si Di [fourth (younger) brother Wei] might not necessarily still alive today. Especially Wei Si Di; the cold poison in his body was difficult to eliminate. I am afraid he is no longer alive.”
Jin Hua Popo laughed and said, “This time you might be wrong. Let me tell you honestly, at this time Bai Mei Ying Wang [White-browed Eagle King] and Qing Yi Fu Wang [Green-winged Bat King] are both on the Brightness Peak.”
“They went back to the Brightness Peak?” Xie Xun wondered, “What are they doing?”
“This Ah Li has seen it with her own eyes,” Jin Hua Popo said, “Ah Li is Yin Er Ge’s granddaughter. She offended her father and he wanted to kill her. The first time it was I who saved her; the second time it was Wei Si Ge. Wei Si Ge was taking her to the Brightness Peak, but along the way I stole her away. Ah Li, tell Xie Gong-gong [grandfather, a respectful term to address a senior] how the six major sects besieged the Brightness Peak.”
Thereupon Yin Li narrated briefly what happened in the western region. Only she was taken away by Jin Hua Popo before reaching the Brightness Peak, so that she did not have any recollection of the later incidents.
The more Xie Xun listened to her, the more anxious he became, “What happened next? What happened next?” he asked repeatedly. In the end he got angry, “Mrs. Han,” he said, “Although you did not get along with our brethrens very well because of your marital issue, our Cult is in difficulty, how could you stand as a spectator? Yang Jiaozhu was your Yifu. Have you forgotten how he treated you? Look at Yin Er Ge and Wei Si Di, Wu San Ren [the five wanderers] and the Five-Element Flag; didn’t they all come to the Brightness Peak to fight?”
Jin Hua Popo coldly said, “Without the Tulong Saber, I was defeated by Emei Pai’s Old Nun Miejue. Even if I went to the Brightness Peak, I still didn’t have a face to fight her; then why should I have gone?”
The two of them were silently standing facing each other. After a while Xie Xun asked, “How did you find out where I was? You have always been unwilling to speak plainly. Was it the Wudang Pai people?”
“How would the Wudang Pai people know?” Jin Hua Popo said, “When pressed by people of various sects, Zhang Cuishan, husband and wife, would rather kill themselves than revealing your hiding place, naturally Wudang disciples did not know. All right, I am not going to conceal anything from you today: in the western region I met by accident someone by the name of Wu Lie. He is a descendant of Wu Santong, a disciple of Duan Family from Dali. Quite by chance I overheard him talking to his daughter; from which I deduced the subject of their conversation. Thereupon I tortured him to tell me everything.”
Xie Xun was silent for half a day before saying, “This man surnamed Wu has met my child Wuji, hasn’t he? I believe he deceived that child to reveal my secret.”
Listening to this point, Zhang Wuji was really ashamed, remembering how he was cheated at the ‘Zhu Jia Zhuang [Zhu Family Village], how Zhu Zhang Ling and Zhu Jiu Zhen, father and daughter, had used deceit to obtain the secret from him. If his Yifu had suffered any harm because of him, he would never atone for that guilt even if he had to die ten thousand times. Although his Yifu was blind, his ability to see things through was like those of seeing people.
Xie Xun continued, “The Six Major Sects besieging the Ming Cult is not a small matter; what happened to our Cult next?”
Jin Hua Popo replied, “The rise or fall, prosperity or decline, of the Ming Cult has nothing to do with Lao Po Zi. In the past, everybody on the Brightness Peak made things difficult for me. You might not remember that, but Lao Po Zi will never forget it. At that time only Yang Jiaozhu and you, Xie San Ge, who were good to me; that also I will not forget.”
“Ay, personal grudge is a small matter, protecting our Cult is important,” Xie Xun said, “Mrs. Han, you are rather narrow-minded.”
Jin Hua Popo was angry, “You are a real man, I am only a narrow minded, unethical woman. When I left the Cult, I swore that I would have nothing to do with the Ming Cult. How could that Hu Qingniu treat me as an outsider if this was not so? Why did he compel me to return to the Ming Cult before he would be willing to treat the poison from Yin Ye Xiansheng [Mr. Silver Leaf]? I was the one who killed Hu Qingniu. Zi Shan Long Wang has violated the Ming Cult’s major law. How can I have any relation with the Ming Cult?”
Xie Xun shook his head. “Mrs. Han,” he said, “I understand what’s in your heart. You want to borrow my Tulong Saber; you said you wanted to deal with the Emei Pai, but actually you want to deal with Yang Xiao and Fan Yao. You have never forgotten your desire to enter the Brightness Peak via the secret passage. That gives me even more reason not to lend the Saber to you.”
Jin Hua Popo coughed several times. “Xie San Ge,” she said, “How was your martial arts compared to mine in the past?”
“Four Great Protector Kings, each one has their own strengths and weaknesses,” Xie Xun replied.
“But now you have lost your eyes; how would you fare compared to Lao Po Zi?” Jin Hua Popo asked.
Xie Xun fearlessly said, “You want to take the Saber by force, don’t you? With the Tulong Saber in his hand, Xie Xun will overcome the loss of his eyes.” Exhaling a long breath he moved one step forward; the pupils of his blind eyes were aimed at Jin Hua Popo imposingly.
Yin Li was intimidated; she withdrew several steps backward. Jin Hua Popo, with her hunchback, was standing up supported by her walking stick; occasionally she would let out one or two coughs, as if as soon as Xie Xun stretched out his hand, the Saber would be able to chop her into two pieces. But she stood motionless, as if she completely ignored Xie Xun.
Zhang Wuji had seen her in action several times; her speed was truly unbelievable. Probably she was slightly inferior to Wei Yixiao, but her movement was very strange, like a demon or a ghost; totally unpredictable. This moment Xie Xun and she were facing each other; one was like a drawn sword or bent bow, ready to spring into action; the other was like an enlightened sage, totally calm and at ease in the face of danger.
Zhang Wuji thought that since her position was above his (maternal) grandfather, his Yifu and Wei Fu Wang, her martial art skill must be very high; he could not help but secretly feel anxious for Xie Xun.
The wind was howling, the sound of the waves of the sea were faintly heard; adding some chill in the air to this already suspenseful situation. Two people stood less than a ‘zhang’ away facing each other, but neither one was willing to make the first move.
After a long time, Xie Xun suddenly said, “Mrs. Han, today you are forcing me to fight you, breaching the oath we made as the Four Protector Kings of the olden days, Xie Xun is really in pain.”
“Xie San Ge,” Jin Hua Popo said, “You are always soft-hearted; I can’t believe those countless famous Wulin’s heroes and warriors were killed single-handedly by you.”
Xie Xun sighed, “I bore the enmity of my father, mother, wife and child; hence I disregarded everything,” he said, “The one thing I regretted most was with thirteen strokes of ‘qi shang quan’ [seven injuries fist (technique)] I killed Shaolin Pai’s Kong Jian Shen Seng [Divine Monk Kong Jian].”
Jin Hua Popo was awestruck. “Kong Jian Shen Seng really died under your hands?” she asked, “When did you learn that kind of fierce martial art skill?” At first she was confident her hands and feet would be able to deal with Xie Xun, but now she started to feel fear.
“Don’t be afraid,” Xie Xun said, “Kong Jian Shen Seng took the beating without retaliating. He wanted to use the vast and boundless Dharma to help me cross over from my evil way.”
“Hmm,” Jin Hua Popo said, “That sounds better. Lao Po Zi can’t be compared to Kong Jian Shen Seng. If you used thirteen punches to kill him, you would only need nine, ten punches to handle Lao Po Zi.”
Xie Xun took a step backwards, his tone suddenly turned gentle, he said, “Mrs. Han, at the Brightness Peak you treated me well. As your big brother I was sick, while my wife was weak from giving birth and could not get up. You took care of me with full attention for more than a month. I will always appreciate that.” Patting the grey cotton robe he was wearing he said, “I was overseas wearing beast’s leather as clothes, you sewed me this outfit, which fits me well inside and outside, showing me that your brotherly love at the Brightness Peak has not changed. Please leave! From now on we are not going to see each other anymore. I only ask you to find information on that child Wuji’s whereabouts and then bring him here to me; I will always be indebted to you.”
Jin Hua Popo laughed bitterly and said, “You still remember this friendship from the past. Let me be frank to you; ever since Yin Ye Da Ge [big brother Silver Leaf] died, my heart had died with him. It’s just that I still have some unresolved gratitude and grudges, so I cannot die just like that, and join Yin Ye Da Ge underground. Xie San Ge, although the people of the Brightness Peak are martial art experts and brilliant strategist, in your ‘mei zi’s [younger sister – term of endearment] eyes they are nothing. Only you, Xie San Ge, are special in my eyes. Do you know the reason?”
Xie Xun raised up his head and was silent for half a day before he finally shook his head and said, “Xie Xun has always been ordinary and mediocre, he certainly is not worthy of ‘xian mei’s [worthy (younger) sister] regard.”
Jin Hua Popo walked over several steps toward a piece of boulder, and then she slowly sat down. “At the Brightness Peak in those days,” she said, “Only Yang Jiaozhu and you, Xie San Ge, are special in my eyes. When I married Yin Ye Xiansheng, only the two of you did not resent my decision.”
Xie Xun also sat down and said, “Although Han Da Ge [big brother Han] was not a member of our Cult, he was a hero. Our brothers dissented to your marriage, they were rather a bit narrow-minded. Ay, they are under siege of the Six Major Sects, I wonder how they are doing?”
“Xie San Ge,” Jin Hua Popo said, “You are overseas, but your heart is still in Zhong Tu [central earth]; you have never forgotten your brethren of old. A man’s life is only a few decades, which will pass in a flash, why should you always think of others?”
By this time the two of them were only a few feet apart; hence they were able to hear each other’s breathing. Xie Xun noticed that Jin Hua Popo would cough every other sentences; he asked, “You suffered lung injury from the frostbite at the ‘bi shui han tan’ [jade-green water, frozen pool]; from that day until now, you are not completely healed?”
“Each time the weather turns cold, my coughing always gets worse,” Jin Hua Popo said, “Hmm, after coughing for dozens of years, I already became accustomed to it. Xie San Ge, I hear your breathing is uneven, is it the injury you suffered from training the ‘qi shang quan’? You must take a good care of yourself.”
“Many thanks for your attention, Xian Mei,” Xie Xun said. Suddenly he raised his head up and called Yin Li, “Ah Li, come over here.”
Yin Li came over and greeted him, “Xie Gong-gong.”
Xie Xun said, “Use your entire strength and pierce me with your finger.”
Yin Li was startled; “I do not dare,” she said.
Xie Xun laughed, “Your ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ won’t be able to hurt me, although you are using your entire strength. I simply want to test your skill,” he said.
Yin Li still said, “Hai’er [lit. child] do not dare.” And then she added, “Xie Gong-gong, since Popo and you are old friends, whatever problem we have right now, why can’t we talk it over? We don’t have to fight over it.”
Xie Xun laughed bitterly, “Just pierce me with your finger,” he said.
Yin Li did not have any choice; she wrapped a handkerchief around her right index finger then stabbed Xie Xun’s shoulder with it. “Aiyo!” suddenly she called out and stumbled backwards; her body flew for more than a ‘zhang’ away. ‘Bang!’ she landed heavily on the ground. She felt as if the bones in her body were broken into pieces.
Jin Hua Popo maintained her composure; “Xie San Ge,” she slowly said, “Your heart is so wicked. You are afraid I might have a helper, hence you get rid of her first.”
Xie Xun was silent for half a day before saying, “This child is kind hearted. She pricked me with only 20, 30% of her strength, and she wrapped her finger with a handkerchief, so that the ‘thousand spiders poison’ did not harm me. Very good, very good. Otherwise, the ‘thousand spiders poison’ would come back and attack her heart; her life would be gone by now.”
Listening to these words, Zhang Wuji’s back broke into cold sweats; he thought his Yifu plainly stated that he was going to test Yin Li’s strength, if she did indeed attack him with all her strength, wouldn’t she die a violent death? The Ming Cult people were indeed cruel; even his kind Yifu was no exception. He did not know Xie Xun and Jin Hua Popo had been friends for a long time; obviously they cared of each other. He thought after talking to each other amiably, they would certainly not hold ill feeling toward each other. But with an extra help for Jin Hua Popo, Xie Xun was greatly disadvantaged; hence he wanted to get rid of her preemptively.
“Ah Li,” Xie Xun asked, “Why are you so kind to me?”
“You … you are his Yifu,” Yin Li said, “Besides … besides, you came here for his sake. In this world you and I are the only people who remember him.”
“Ah,” Xie Xun said, “I did not expect you to be this kind to my child Wuji; I nearly took your life. You come over here.”
Yin Li struggled up and slowly walked to him. Xie Xun put his lips on her ear and said, “I am going to pass on to you an internal energy cultivation method, which I developed on the Bing Huo Island. It is the essence of my life-long martial art accomplishment.” Without waiting for Yin Li to reply, he recited the theory from top to bottom one time.
Yin Li could not comprehend it completely; she tried desperately to memorize it. Xie Xun was afraid she could not remember, so he recited it two more times. “Have you memorized it?” he asked.
“I have,” Yin Li replied.
“After you train it in five years, you will reap some benefit,” Xie Xun said. “Do you know why I pass this skill on to you?”
Yin Li suddenly cried and said, “I … I know. But … but I can’t.”
“What do you know? Why can’t you?” Xie Xun asked sternly. His left palm was on her hair, ready to strike if Yin Li’s answer did not satisfy him.
Covering her face with both hands, Yin Li said, “I know you want me to find Wuji and pass this skill on to him. I know that after I master this skill, you want me to protect Wuji, so that he won’t suffer under evil people’s cruel hands, but … but …” After saying two ‘buts’ she broke into a loud cry.
Xie Xun stood up and shouted, “But what? Has my child Wuji encountered any mishap?”
Yin Li threw herself on his bosom and wept. “He … he has died six years ago in the … in the western region, he fell down a valley and died.”
Xie Xun was trembling. “Are you … are you … serious?” he asked.
“I am,” Yin Li was still crying. “Those Wu Lie, father and daughter, saw it with their own eyes. Seven times did I prick both of them with the ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ and seven times I saved their lives again, until they were suffering in between life and death. They … they could not tell me a lie.”
When Yin Li recounted Zhang Wuji’s death, Jin Hua Popo was going to stop her; but then she changed her mind, thinking that as Xie Xun heard his Yizi died, his mind would be troubled. True, in the coming fight he would be fiercer by 30%, but also he would be less cautious by 30%; thus increasing the chance he might fall into her steel spikes trap. Therefore, she only laughed coldly and did not say anything.
Xie Xun lifted up his head and let out a loud whistle, while tears stream down his cheeks. Seeing his Yifu and his cousin loved him this much, Zhang Wuji could not contain himself much longer. He was about to come out and make himself known, but suddenly Jin Hua Popo said, “Xie San Ge, since your Yizi, that Zhang Gongzi has already died, why would you hold on to that Tulong Saber? Please lend it to me.”
Xie Xun hoarsely said, “You hid the truth from me really well. If you want to take the precious saber, you must take my life first.” He gently pushed Yin Li to the side. With a hiss he used the lapel of his robe to wipe his tears, and then tore it and tossed it toward Jin Hua Popo. It was called ‘ge pao duan yi’ [lit. cutting off the robe, breaking friendship].
Zhang Wuji thought, “I’d better come out and tell them the truth, so that these two will not senselessly injure their ‘yi qi’ [friendship, code of brotherhood]” He had just finished thinking when suddenly he heard some light breathing noise from the tall grass toward his far left. The noise came from quite a distant away, plus it was very light; if not due to his extremely keen ears, Zhang Wuji would not be able to hear it. His heart was moved, “Could it be that Jin Hua Popo secretly prepared some helpers? I’d better not rashly come forward.” In the meantime, he heard the gusts of wind from the Saber, as Xie Xun and Jin Hua Popo had started fighting each other.
Xie Xun brandished his precious saber around his body like a black dragon circling around him; sometimes fast, other times slow, with a divine variation. Jin Hua Popo was afraid of the Saber’s sharpness; she kept moving in circles some distant away from him. Sometimes Xie Xun would deliberately open up a hole in his defense, trying to entice Jin Hua Popo to enter, but Jin Hua Popo did not buy his trick; she would wait for him to attack, then with extreme ingenuity she would evade and launch a counterattack.
These two people knew their opponent’s martial art very well; victory or defeat would not be easily determined within one or two hundreds moves. Xie Xun relied on the precious saber, while Jin Hua Popo took advantage of his blindness. Each of them was trying to exploit this slight advantage to gain victory. In a way they were having a contest of wits and not of internal energy.
‘Swish, swish!’ suddenly two yellow rays flashed by; Jin Hua Popo launched two of her ‘jin hua’ [golden flower]. Xie Xun turned the Tulong Saber around; both ‘golden flowers’ stuck to the Saber. Turned out the golden flowers were made of pure steel plated with gold; while the Tulong Saber was cast from some ‘xuan tie’ [black/mysterious iron] with some magnetic property, which attract any ferrous metal.
These golden flowers were the secret projectiles that brought fame to Jin Hua Popo’s name, when released, the variation was endless; even if Xie Xun’s eyes were not blind he would be hard pressed to evade them. Unexpectedly, this Tulong Saber was the bane of these secret projectiles. Jin Hua Popo moved swiftly to the left and to the right, successively launching eight more golden flowers; all of them stuck to the Tulong Saber.
It was a dark night, with neither the moon nor the stars in the sky; the golden flowers on the Saber looked like several hundreds of fireflies dancing around in the air. Suddenly Jin Hua Popo let out a cough and shot sixteen, seventeen golden flowers at once, so that if Xie Xun intercepted the ones on his east, he would not be able to evade the ones on his west. Xie Xun waved his sleeve and rolled in about seven, eight golden flowers; while intercepted the other eight or so golden flowers with his Tulong Saber.
“Mrs. Han,” he shouted, “Your title is ‘zi shan long wang’, which is a big taboo against this saber. If you have a prolonged contact with it, I am afraid it won’t be to your advantage.”
Jin Hua Popo shivered. For martial art practitioners who live their lives on the blades of the weapons; mostly they paid particular attention to taboos like this. She was known as the ‘long wang’ [dragon king], while the saber was named ‘tu long’ [slaughtering the dragon]; so it was a very unlucky combination. She forced a laughter and said, “Perhaps my ‘sha shi zhang’ [killing-the-lion staff] will kill the blind lion first.” Abruptly her staff shot out.
Xie Xun shrunk his shoulder to evade, but suddenly his foot stumbled. “Ah!” he cried, as the staff hit his left shoulder. Although the force had been dissipated for the most part, the hit was not light by any means.
Zhang Wuji was delighted, he cheered in his heart. He knew Xie Xun pretended he was not fast enough to dodge and thus took the hit; Zhang Wuji thought, “Yifu only needs to shoot the golden flowers in his sleeve, and then use the Tulong Saber in ‘qian shan wan shui’ [thousand mountains ten thousands rivers] to chop randomly. Jin Hua Popo will not dare to block the blade; she will be forced to move to the left. After two steps she won’t be able to move farther; at that time Yifu will use his internal energy to force the golden flowers on the Tulong Saber to shoot forward. Jin Hua Popo will be powerless to evade; most probably she will be seriously hurt.”
He had just finished thinking when yellow rays streaked out, Xie Xun did indeed broadcast the golden flowers rolled inside his sleeve; forcing Jin Hua Popo to withdraw to the left. Zhang Wuji was watching the fight when suddenly he remembered something. “Aiyo, not good!” he thought, “Jin Hua Popo also has already calculated her steps.”
By this time Zhang Wuji had acquired a universal knowledge of the martial art. When these two martial art masters attacked and blocked, not a single one of their movements was outside his anticipation. He saw Xie Xun’s ‘qian shan wan shui’ was successful in forcing Jin Hua Popo to withdraw to the left. With a loud shout Xie Xun shot the dozen or so golden flowers on his precious saber; “Aiyo!” Jin Hua Popo cried out and staggered several steps backwards. Xie Xun was a man of his words; after ‘ge pao duan yi’ [breaking the friendship], he showed no mercy whatsoever. He leaped forward to pursue, brandishing his saber to strike Jin Hua Popo.
“Watch out!” suddenly he heard Yin Li shouted loudly, “There are sharp spikes underneath your feet!”
Xie Xun heard the shout, and was shocked; but it was too late for him to stop. Suddenly he heard a series of ‘swish, swish’ noise; more than a dozen golden flowers came his way. Jin Hua Popo was taking advantage as his body was midair and incapable to evade; she wanted to force him to land and thus tread on the sharp spikes.
Xie Xun had no alternative but brandish his saber to block the golden flowers. Suddenly a series of clinking noises were heard; his feet reached the ground, uninjured. He stooped down and groped around. He found out that there were seven, eight inches long of steel spikes planted among the rocks on the ground. He could feel the spikes were very sharp; but someone had already shot the four spikes that his feet were supposed to land on, with gravels, sending the spikes fly away from him. From the wind generated by the gravels, Xie Xun could tell that the shooter was the youngster from the Gigantic Whale Clan who shot the seven pebbles to help him that afternoon. This man had been hiding nearby, but Xie Xun had not had the slightest idea; if not because of that man’s help, he would have been seriously injured by now, and then Jin Hua Popo only needed to butcher what was left of him. Thinking about this possibility, he was unable to restrain cold sweat from trickling down his back.
These two people had both laid a trap to harm their opponent; Xie Xun’s shoulder was hit by the staff, Jin Hua Popo was hit by two golden flowers from Xie Xun’s saber. Although the injuries were not life-threatening, considering the strength of their opponents, both of them were nonetheless suffering considerable disadvantages.
Jin Hua Popo was coughing badly several times before turning toward the place Zhang Wuji was hiding, “Ju Jing Bang kid,” she said, “You have repeatedly interfered with Lao Pozi’s business. Quickly give me your name.”
Zhang Wuji had not replied when suddenly he saw a yellow ray flashed by and Yin Li grunted as three golden flowers hit her on the vital points on her chest. Turned out Jin Hua Popo had realized that Zhang Wuji’s martial art was superior, and if she wanted to punish Yin Li, he would try to thwart it; therefore, she faced and spoke to him, and when he was the least expecting it, she backhandedly shot out some golden flowers.
Zhang Wuji was shocked; he flew up and caught two golden flowers midair; and as soon as he landed, he embraced Yin Li in his bosom. Yin Li had not lost her consciousness; seeing a bearded man embracing her, she pushed out and struggled trying to get free, but when she exerted some strength, she threw up some blood. Zhang Wuji realized immediately what was going on; he quickly pulled the fake beard and moustache, and wiped the makeup from his face, revealing his real face.
Yin Li was dazed; “Ah Niu Gege [big brother Ah Niu],” she called out, “Is it you?”
“It’s me!” Zhang Wuji smiled. Yin Li felt relieved and immediately passed out. Seeing her injury was serious, Zhang Wuji did not dare to pull away the golden flowers; he quickly sealed her ‘shen feng’ [divine grace], ‘ling xu’ [spirit grave], ‘bu lang’ [stepping porch], and other vital acupoints connected to the injury, to protect her main artery.
He heard Xie Xun say with a loud voice, “Sire has lent your hands twice to save me; Xie Xun is greatly indebted.”
With a choking voice Zhang Wuji said, “Yi … Yi … You don’t have to …”