The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 31

Both sabre and sword became missing and the person turned fugitive.

Even after the Persian medication was applied, Yin Li’s high fever did not subside; she kept talking in her sleep incessantly. During these past several days on the sea, she had been exposed to cold weather on top of her sickness. The medication was only for external wound, it was not effective to treat internal injury, or even a common cold. Zhang Wuji was very anxious. Toward the afternoon of the third day, he saw a small island in the distant to their east. He instructed the sailor to take them to that island.

Once they were ashore, their spirits lifted up. The island’s circumference was no more than several ‘li’s; and it was covered with shrubs and short trees. Zhang Wuji asked Zhou Zhiruo to look after Yin Li and Zhao Min, while he went around looking for some medicinal herbs. However, the flora on that island was greatly different from the one in the Central Earth that Zhang Wuji did not recognize most of them. He walked farther and farther away without any result until the sky gradually turned dark, he had no choice but to return to their original position. He mashed whatever herbs he could find and fed them to Yin Li.

Six people gathered around the fire, eating and drinking. The air was heavy with the fragrance of the flowers and the freshness of the grass and the forest. It was quite different surroundings from the cramped cabin.

Yin Li was also in good spirits. “Ah Niu Gege,” she said, “Why don’t we spend the night here, and not return to the ship?” They discussed her proposal and decided that it was a wonderful idea. They saw the water on that small island was warm and clear, also, there were no wild beasts around; everyone went to sleep peacefully.

As Zhang Wuji woke up early the next morning, he got up and took a step, but he staggered and almost fell down. He felt his legs were weak, which was quite unusual. He rubbed his eyes and saw the Persian ship was gone. His heart skipped a beat. Rushing to the shore he looked around without seeing any trace of the ship. This time he was really shocked.

“Yifu,” he called out, “Are you all right?” But Xie Xun did not answer. Hastily Zhang Wuji ran to the place Xie Xun slept and saw he was still asleep peacefully, which took most of his anxiety away.

The previous night, Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo and Yin Li went to sleep behind a large rock some distance away. He rushed to take a look, and saw Zhou Zhiruo and Yin Li were still sleeping side by side; but Zhao Min was nowhere to be seen.

In a glance he noticed that Yin Li’s face was full of blood. Stooping down to look closer, Zhang Wuji saw there were more than a dozen sharp blade cuts on her face, but she stayed unconscious. Hastily he reached out to check her pulse and was relieved when he felt faint pulses. Turning his attention toward Zhou Zhiruo, he saw that a large clump of her beautiful hair was cut, along with a piece of her left ear. Her blood had not congealed yet, but her face was smiling, as if she was having a happy dream. Under the light of the dawn, she looked like a sleeping hypericum in the spring; extremely tender and beautiful. His heart was painful was he called out, “Miss Zhou, Miss Zhou, wake up!”

Zhou Zhiruo stirred, but did not wake up. Zhang Wuji gently shook her shoulder and finally Zhou Zhiruo yawned and turned around, but she was still asleep. Zhang Wuji knew she must be drugged. There were too many strange things that happened the previous night; he fell into a deep sleep and this morning he felt weak and tired. He was certain that they were drugged.

After calling Zhou Zhiruo for a while without any result, he rushed back to Xie Xun and called out, “Yifu, Yifu!”

Xie Xun sat up in daze, “What is it?” he asked.

“It’s terrible!” Zhang Wuji said, “We have fallen into a sinister plot.” Briefly he told him about the missing Persian ship and the cuts suffered by Yin Li and Zhou Zhiruo.

“What about Miss Zhao?” Xie Xun asked in alarm.

“I did not see her,” Zhang Wuji grimly said. Taking a deep breath, he tried to circulate his internal energy, but felt that his limbs were devoid of any strength; he could not transmit his energy at all. “Yifu,” he blurted out, “We are poisoned by the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ [ten fragrance muscle softener powder].”

Xie Xun had heard Zhang Wuji’s narration on how the masters of the Six Major Sects were poisoned by Zhao Min with ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ and how they were held captive in the Wan An Temple. He stood up and felt as if he was floating; as his legs were devoid of any strength. Calming himself down, he asked, “Did she take away the Tulong Saber and the Yitian Sword as well?”

Zhang Wuji looked around and sure enough, he did not see either the Saber or the Sword. He was so enraged that he almost cried. Never would he imagine that Zhao Min was capable of doing this, taking advantage when he was in grave danger and employed such a sinister plot when he was down.

He was lost in thought for a moment. Then he remembered Yin Li and hastily went back to where Yin and Zhou, two women were sleeping. He pushed Zhou Zhiruo aside, but she was still fast asleep. He thought, “My internal energy is the deepest, hence I was the first to wake up. Yifu was next. Miss Zhou’s internal energy is far below ours. It looks like she won’t wake up for a while yet.” Immediately he ripped a piece of his clothes to wipe the blood from Yin Li’s oval face. He saw seven horizontal and eight vertical thin cuts crisscrossing her cheeks. Apparently, she was cut by the Yitian Sword.

Yin Li had lost a lot of blood after being injured by Zi Shan Long Wang Jin Hua Popo. As a result, the poison of the thousand spiders accumulated in her blood was also dispersed along with her blood, causing the swelling on her face to subside considerably. Hence, for these last several days, her face had slightly returned to its former look; the pretty look Yin Li had when she was younger. But right now, with these dozen of cuts, her face looked severely fearsome.

Zhang Wuji was both grieved and angry. Gnashing his teeth he said, “Zhao Min, oh, Zhao Min, if you fall into my hand and I spare you, then Zhang Wuji has lived in vain.” Calming himself down he went to the hillside to gather some medicinal herbs to stop the bleeding. He chewed the herbs and applied it on Yin Li’s face, also on Zhou Zhiruo’s scalp and ear.

Zhou Zhiruo yawned and opened her eyes. Suddenly she saw Zhang Wuji was reaching out and groping her head. Her face turned red from shyness. Reaching up to shove his arm away, she angrily said, “You … what are you …” Before finished speaking, she had felt the pain on her ear. Immediately she touched her ear and cried out, “Ah!” and jumped to stand up. “What …?” she said, but suddenly she felt her knees weaken and she fell into Zhang Wuji’s bosom.

Zhang Wuji reached out to support her. “Miss Zhou,” he comfortingly said, “Don’t be afraid.”

Seeing Yin Li’s terrifying face, Zhou Zhiruo hastily lifted up her hand to touch her own face and asked in fear, “I … Am I also …?”

“No!” Zhang Wuji said, “You only suffer some minor wounds.”

“Did those evil Persians do this? I … How didn’t I feel anything?” Zhou Zhiruo asked.

Zhang Wuji sighed and quietly said, “I am afraid … I am afraid Miss Zhao did this. She poisoned our food and drink last night.”

Zhou Zhiruo stared blankly for half a day. She stroked what remained of her ear and broke into tears. Zhang Wuji tried to console her, “You are lucky that the injury is not heavy. Your ear is damaged, but you can always put your hair down to cover it, others won’t be able to see.”

“Still talking about hair?” Zhou Zhiruo snapped, “My hair is also gone.”

Zhang Wuji said, “You only lost some on top of your head; if you arrange the hair on both sides of your head …”

“Why do I want to arrange the hair on both sides of my head?” Zhou Zhiruo angrily said, “Up this moment you are still trying to protect your Miss Zhao.”

This time Zhang Wuji bumped into a wall; he did not know what to say, so he became defensive, “I am not trying to protect her! She is cruel and merciless, harming Miss Yin this way. I … I am not going to forgive her.” Looking at Yin Li’s face, he could not hold tears from coming down his eyes.

Facing this situation Zhang Wuji was at a loss; he sat down and tried to circulate his internal energy, and he realized that the degree of his poisoning was not shallow. Actually, the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ could only be neutralized by the antidote from Zhao Min’s faction; but this time he tried to disperse the poison relying on his profound internal strength. Slowly he pushed the poison from his four limbs, condensed it into his ‘dan tian’, and then bit by bit he forced the poison out of his system.

After working hard for almost two hours, he felt that his effort had brought the desired effect. He was optimistic. Only, this technique required him to have the Jiu Yang Shen Gong foundation, which ruled out the possibility of him teaching it to Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo. He was hoping that after the poison in his system was flushed completely, he would be able to help Xie and Zhou two people driving the poison out of their systems.

This technique sounded simple, yet actually extremely complicated. Toward the afternoon of the seventh day, he only managed to drive out approximately 30% of the poison. Fortunately, this poison only prevent the victim from exerting their internal energy but harmless to their bodies.

For the first several days Zhou Zhiruo was angry, but afterwards she gradually got used to it. She helped Xie Xun catching fish and shooting birds, boiling water and cooking their meals. At night she slept alone in a cave on the eastern end of the island, far away from where Zhang Wuji and the others lived.

Zhang Wuji was secretly ashamed, thinking that he was partly responsible for this disaster brought by Zhao Min. This Miss Zhao was obviously a Mongolian princess, an archenemy of his Ming Cult. Countless martial art experts of the Wulin world had fallen under her hands; yet surprisingly he did not guard against her at all. He felt he was so stupid.

Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo did not blame him; they did not even mention this problem to him, but he felt very bad in his heart. Sometimes when Zhou Zhiruo was looking at him, he felt as if she was saying, ‘You are blinded by Miss Zhao’s beauty, resulting in this great calamity.’

Yin Li’s condition was getting worse. This little island was located on the Southern Sea [nan hai], most of the flora was not found in Hu Qingniu’s medical manual. His medical knowledge might be profound, he did know perfectly well how to treat Yin Li’s condition; but he did not have any medication in his hand. The trees on the island were short and small, barely enough to be used as firewood; otherwise, he would have had built a raft early on and braving the danger he would sail away to the sea. Alternatively, he would not be this anxious if he did not know any medical skill. This time he felt like tens of thousands sharp daggers gouging and cutting his heart day and night.

It was late in the evening one day; he chewed some medicinal herbs to be fed into Yin Li’s mouth. This time the herbs entered Yin Li’s throat with difficulty. His heart was broken; tears streaming down his face, dropped onto Yin Li’s face.

Suddenly Yin Li opened her eyes, smiled faintly and said, “Ah Niu Gege, don’t feel bad. I am going to the underworld to see that heartless, short-lived little rascal Zhang Wuji. I want to tell him that in this world there is an Ah Niu Gege who treats me this well; who is a thousand times, ten thousand times better than Zhang Wuji.”

Zhang Wuji’s throat choked; in that moment he was contemplating whether he should reveal to her that he was Zhang Wuji.

Yin Li grabbed his hand and said, “Ah Niu Gege, I have never agreed to marry you, do you hate me? I think you are lying to me because you only want to make me happy. I am ugly, my temperament is strange, why would you want to marry me?”

“No!” Zhang Wuji said, “I am not lying you. You are a good and kind-hearted girl. I consider myself lucky if I can take you as my wife. Why don’t we wait until you are well, all things are settled, and then we can get married? What do you say?”

Yin Li reached out and gently caressed his cheek. Shaking her head she said, “Ah Niu Gege, I cannot marry you. I have given my heart early on to that ferocious heartless Zhang Wuji … Ah Niu Gege, I am a little bit scared; will I meet him when I get to the underworld? Will he still be hateful towards me?”

Zhang Wuji realized she was speaking clearly, her cheeks were red; he was inwardly alarmed, “This is the symptom of the last ray of light, could it be that she is going to die today?” He was lost I thought that he did not hear what she said. Yin Li grabbed his hand and asked him again. Zhang Wuji tenderly said, “He will forever treat you well, as if you are his precious darling.”

“Will he treat me half as good as you did?” Yin Li asked.

“Heaven is my witness,” Zhang Wuji said, “Zhang Wuji eagerly and sincerely loves you with all his heart. He has early on regretted that when he was little he treated you cruelly. He … his feelings toward you are exactly the same as mine; there is not the least bit distinction.”

Yin Li sighed; a smile appeared on the corners of her mouth. “Then …” she said, “Then I am happy …” Her grip on his hand gradually loosened, her eyes slowly closed, finally she stopped breathing.

Zhang Wuji hugged her body tight, thinking that until the moment she died, she did not know that he was Zhang Wuji. All these times she had been losing her consciousness that he was unable to reveal the truth to her. Just before her death, when her consciousness was very clear, there was not enough time to talk. Actually, things had come this far, it really did not make any difference whether he revealed the truth or not. His heart was so much in pain that he cried without making any sound. He thought, “If Zhao Min did not cut her cheeks, her injury might not necessarily be incurable. If Zhao Min did not abandon us on this deserted island, we would have reached the Central Plains [zhong yuan] in a few days; surely I would have found a way to save her life.” Bitterly he muttered, “Zhao Min, your heart is like a serpent and scorpion. There will come a day when you will fall into my hand. Zhang Wuji will not spare your life in any way.”

Suddenly he heard a cold voice behind him, “When you see her beautiful, jade-like face, you won’t have a heart to do anything to her.” Turning around, he saw Zhou Zhiruo was standing in the breeze, her face showed contempt.

Zhang Wuji was grieved and ashamed at the same time; he said, “I have made a vow by my cousin’s body, if I do not punish that witch, Zhang Wuji won’t have a face to live on this world.”

“That would be the spirited pledge of a real man,” Zhou Zhiruo said. She rushed a few steps forward and wept bitterly while stroking Yin Li’s body.

Xie Xun also heard the noise of crying and went over. As he learned about Yin Li’s death, he could not help but feel heartbroken.

Zhang Wuji went to a small hill to dig Yin Li’s grave. The soil on that island was so shallow that he only dug for about two feet, and had already met hard rocks underneath. He did not have any shovel, so he had no choice but lay Yin Li’s body in that shallow hole. He was about to heap dirt on her when he saw the blood traces on her swollen face; he thought, “Gravel and dirt piled on her face might scratch her.” Thereupon he took some branches and weaved them above her body, then he carefully piled stones and rocks on top of the branches, as if she was still alive and he was afraid the stones might hurt her.

Finally, he cut a tree trunk, peeled the bark, and then using Yin Li’s dagger he carved these words on it: ‘The Tomb of my Beloved Wife, Zhu’Er Yin Li’ and below it he wrote: ‘Zhang Wuji Sincerely Stated’.

Everything was ready so at last he threw himself down and cried loudly. Zhou Zhiruo consoled him, “Miss Yin’s feelings toward you were so deep and you also have showed her profound kindness. Only, do not forget what you have sworn today: you must kill Zhao Min to avenge her death; then Yin Jia Meizi [lit. (younger) sister of the Yin family] in the underworld will also smile.”

Due to his intense grief, the poison that had been concentrated in Zhang Wuji’s ‘dan tian’ [pubic region] was dispersed once again, wasting his several days’ worth of effort. As a result, he had to work hard for more than ten days to gradually condense the poison and expel it out of his system.

The weather on that small island was sizzling hot; but it had plenty of wild fruits, which they could pick without any trouble to satisfy their hunger, so their lives were not terribly difficult. Zhou Zhiruo was aware that Zhang Wuji was grieved over Yin Li’s death, angered over Zhao Min’s craftiness, and regretted Xiao Zhao’s departure; so she treated him gently with consideration.

After Zhang Wuji transferred his divine internal energy to help Xie Xun expel the poison in his body, he sould have done the same to help Zhou Zhiruo driving the poison out of her body. But this method of transferring energy required him to put one palm on her lower waist, and the other palm on the navel above her lower abdomen; how could a young man and a young woman touch each other in such intimate places? Yet without transferring his Nine Yang Divine Energy, how could he help her? He contemplated for several days without being able to make any decision.

That particular evening Xie Xun suddenly said, “Wuji, how many more days do you think we are going to stay on this island?”

Zhang Wuji was startled. “That is hard to say,” he said, “I just hope there will be a ship sailing by and rescue us and take us back to the Central Earth.”

“We have been here for more than a month,” Xie Xun said, “Have you seen any shadow of a ship even from a distant?”

“I have not,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Exactly,” Xie Xun said, “Perhaps tomorrow there will be a ship coming by, but then again, perhaps there will never be any ship passing by in a hundred years.”

Zhang Wuji sighed, “This uncultivated island is outside the sailing route of the ocean ships; whether or not we can return to the Central Earth, is extremely uncertain.”

“Hmm,” Xie Xun said, “The antidote is hard to come by. Other than weakening the four limbs, if the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ remains in the body, does it have any other adverse effect?”

“If it is not too long, then there is no adverse effect,” Zhang Wuji said, “But this kind of poison invades the muscle and erodes the bones; if it stays in the body too long, all the internal organs would unavoidably receive some damages.”

“That’s so,” Xie Xun said, “Then why don’t you think of some way to expel the poison from Miss Zhou’s body as soon as possible? You said Miss Zhou and you have known each other since your childhood. At that time ‘xuan ming han du’ [the cold poison of Xuan Ming palm] was still inside your body, and she had shown kindness to you. Where else would you find gentle and virtuous woman like her? Could it be that you don’t like her because she is not beautiful enough?”

“No, no,” Zhang Wuji said, “If Miss Zhou is not beautiful then there is no beautiful women in the world.”

“Let me make the decision for you, then,” Xie Xun said, “Marry her. Then you don’t need to worry about this man-woman propriety anymore.”

Zhou Zhiruo was around when they started talking; suddenly hearing her name being mentioned, she was shy and blushed. She stood up and walked away. Xie Xun leaped and opened up his arms, blocking her way. “Don’t go, don’t go!” he said with a laugh, “Today I am the matchmaker, and I have made my decision.”

“Xie Laoye Zi,” Zhou Zhiruo angrily said, “You do not act your age! We are seeking a way to return to the Central Earth; how can you speak such nonsense in time like this?”

Xie Xun laughed heartily. “The joining of a man and a woman is an important matter of a lifetime; why did you say it is nonsense talk? Wuji, your parents were also on a deserted island when they bowed to the heaven and to the earth to become man and wife. If at that time they did not strictly follow the secular propriety and tradition, how in the world would there be a young fellow: you? Much less today you have your Yifu presiding at the wedding for you. Don’t you like Miss Zhou? Don’t you want to repel the poison in her body?”

Zhou Zhiruo covered her face and was about to walk away. Xie Xun pulled her sleeve while laughing, “Where are you going? Don’t you think we are going to see each other tomorrow or the next day? Ah, I know! You don’t want to call a blind man as your father-in-law.”

“No, no, it’s not that,” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “Xie Laoye Zi is a hero of this age …”

“Do you agree, then?” Xie Xun asked.

Zhou Zhiruo simply replied, “No, no!”

“You think this Yizi [foster child] of mine is not a good husband material?” Xie Xun asked again.

Zhou Zhiruo was taken aback. “Zhang Gongzi’s martial art skill is unquestionably outstanding, his name is revered within the Jianghu,” she said, “To … to have him as a husband, what else can I ask for? Only … only …”

“Only what?” Xie Xun asked.

Zhou Zhiruo cast a quick glance toward Zhang Wuji and said, “He … in his heart he really likes Miss Zhao. I know that.”

Xie Xun clenched his teeth. “That lowly person Zhao Min has treated us this cruelly, how can Wuji still persist in his own wrong doing? Wuji, I want to hear it from your own mouth.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was torn; he remembered Zhao Min’s cheerful talks and her touching actions. He felt if he could take Zhao Min as his wife and be with her forever, then that would be his entire’s life happiness. But as he remembered the seven horizontal and eight vertical sword cuts on Yin Li’s face dripping-with-blood, he hastily said, “Miss Zhao is my archenemy. I want to kill her to avenge Biaomei’s [younger female cousin] blood.”

“That’s more like it,” Xie Xun said, “Miss Zhou, are you still jealous?”

In a low voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “I am not convinced, unless … unless you tell him to make a vow. Otherwise, I’d rather die with poison in me than asking him to help me drive the poison away.”

“Wuji, quickly make a vow!” Xie Xun said.

Zhang Wuji dropped down on his knees and said, “I, Zhang Wuji, if I ever forget Biaomei’s deep hatred, let me not be forgiven by the Heaven and the Earth.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “I want you to state clearly; what are you going to do to that Miss Zhao?”

“Wuji, state it clearly at once,” Xie Xun said, “What ‘forgiven by the Heaven and the Earth’? Too ambiguous.”

In a loud and clear voice Zhang Wuji said, “That witch Zhao Min works for Tartars’ imperial family, makes our people’s live miserable, harms my fellow Wulin warriors, stole my Yifu’s precious Saber, and harmed my Biaomei Yin Li. As long as I live, Zhang Wuji will not dare to forget this deep enmity. If I violate my vow, let the Heaven loathe me, and the Earth curse me.”

Zhou Zhiruo smiled sweetly; she said, “I am afraid when the time comes, you won’t have a heart to make your move.”

“Listen to me,” Xie Xun said, “There is no particular day that is better than any other day. We are Jianghu’s warriors. We don’t fuss over detailed formalities and womenfolk’s mumbo-jumbo. As long as you, two young people, agree, then you can bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married today. The sooner you get rid of this ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’, the better.”

“No! Yifu, Zhiruo, please listen to me,” Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Yin had a very deep feeling toward me; she had always wanted me as her husband since she was young. In my heart I have also regarded her as my wife. Although there was no ceremony, we could be considered husband and wife. Now that her body and her bones are not yet cold, how can I tie another joyous relationship immediately?”

Xie Xun hesitated before saying, “That’s true. What do you suggest, then?”

“In your child’s opinion,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Child will agree on an engagement with Miss Zhou today, and immediately help her repel the poison from her body; this will be much more convenient. Supposing the Heaven granted us returning to the Central Earth someday, Child will put Zhao Min to the blade and recapture the Tulong Saber, and return it to Yifu. At that time the marriage with Miss Zhou can be consummated. That way we satisfy both sides.”

Xie Xun laughed and said, “That sounds very good; but what if within ten years, eight years, we still are not able to return to the Central Earth?”

Zhang Wuji said, “After three years, no matter whether we can leave this island or not, Child will ask Yifu to preside over our marriage.”

Xie Xun nodded and asked Zhou Zhiruo, “Miss Zhou, what do you say?”

Zhou Zhiruo lowered her head without answering. After half a day she finally said, “I am a lone orphan, what idea do I have? I’ll leave everything on Laoye Zi’s hand.”

Xie Xun laughed heartily and said, “Very good! Very good! It’s settled. You two are engaged. No need to worry about custom and tradition. Wuji, drive the poison from my daughter-in-law away.” After saying this he walked to toward the back of the hill in big strides.

“Zhiruo,” Zhang Wuji said, “That difficulty was caused by me, can you forgive me?”

Zhou Zhiruo smiled and said, “Because I am ugly, you tried to refuse in every possible way. If it was Miss Zhao, I am afraid tonight you would have…” Speaking to this point, she turned her head around as she felt uncomfortable to continue.

Zhang Wuji’s heart skipped a beat as he thought, “When we were adrift on that small boat, I was foolishly and presumptuously thinking of marrying four beauties. Actually the one my heart really loves is that won’t-stop-at-any-crime, evil-and-sly little witch. People call me a hero in vain; in my heart I cannot differentiate good from evil, easily infatuated by a pretty face.”

Zhou Zhiruo turned her head back. Seeing he was lost in thought as if in a trance, she stood up to walk away. Zhang Wuji reached out to grab her hand and pulled her down. Unexpectedly Zhou Zhiruo’s internal energy was gone; her feet were weak. She staggered and stumbled back into Zhang Wuji’s bosom. After struggling hopelessly, she angrily said, “Must you bully me for my whole life?”

Seeing her frowning and a bit angry, Zhang Wuji’s heart was touched; he hugged her tender and soft body and said in a low voice, “Zhiruo, when we met on the River Han when we were both little, I have never imagined there will come a day like today. On the Brightness Peak I was alone facing four elders from Kunlun and Huashan, two sects; you gave me directions and saved my life. At that time I appreciated your loving care to me, but I did not dare to have any absurd thoughts.”

Leaning on his bosom, Zhou Zhiruo said, “That day I stabbed you with a sword, don’t you hate me?”

“You did not stab me on the chest,” Zhang Wuji replied, “That’s why I knew that you secretly have a feeling toward me.”

“Pei!” Zhou Zhiruo spat, her cheeks blushed, she said, “If I knew early on that you are going to say that, I’d stab your chest, kill you neat and clean, so I’d avoid being bullied by you later on, listening to your nonsense.”

Zhang Wuji embraced her tighter and said, “Hereafter my love to you will be doubled or tripled, we are husband and wife, two people one body; how can I mistreat you?”

Zhou Zhiruo leaned some more to look at his face; she said, “What if I wrong you or offend you, will you hit me, scold me, kill me?”

Zhang Wuji’s face was only several inches apart from her egg shaped face, he felt her breath was like an orchid; he could not restrain from kissing her left cheek gently while saying, “You are such a gentle and cultured lady, a dignified, worthy, warm and virtuous wife; how can you make a mistake?”

Zhou Zhiruo gently caressed the back of his neck. “Even a saint erred,” she said, “Since I was little I had never had a father and a mother to instruct me. It would be difficult not to mess up sometimes.”

“Whatever your mistake is, I can advise you nicely,” Zhang Wuji said.

“Will you always be faithful to me?” Zhou Zhiruo asked, “Are you sure you won’t ever kill me?”

Zhang Wuji kissed her gently on her forehead; “Don’t have absurd ideas,” he said in a tender voice, “How can there be such thing?”

With a trembling voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “I want you to promise me with your own mouth.”

“All right!” Zhang Wuji laughed, “I will always be faithful to you. I won’t ever kill you.”

Staring at his eyes, Zhou Zhiruo said, “I don’t want you to joke around. I want you to take this seriously.”

Zhang Wuji laughed, “I wonder how many weird thoughts are in this small head of yours?” he said, while thinking in his heart, “Because I have shown feeling towards Zhao Min, Xiao Zhao and Biaomei that it is difficult for her to trust me. But from now on, how can there be this matter?” Thereupon he wiped the smile from his face and solemnly said, “Zhiruo, you are my beloved wife. Formerly I was double-minded [lit. three hearts two intentions]. I hope you won’t blame my past. From now on, I will always be faithful to you. Even if you make any mistake, I won’t blame you or scold you.”

“Wuji Gege [big brother Wuji],” Zhou Zhiruo said, “You are a real man; you must remember your own words to me tonight.” Looking at the rising bright moon she said, “The moon in the sky is our witness.”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “You are totally correct, the moon in the sky is our witness.” Still holding Zhou Zhiruo in his bosom, he looked at the bright moon on the horizon and said, “Zhiruo, all my life I have suffered a lot because of other people’s deceits, I don’t know the amount of pain I have endured since my childhood; I lost track already. It was only on the Binghuo [ice and fire] Island, when I was with Father, Mother and Yifu, that I enjoyed peace without falling into other people’s deceitful schemes. The first time I arrived at the Central Plains [zhong yuan], I met with a beggar with a snake. He deceived me into poking my head into his sack to take a closer look; unexpectedly he covered the sack over my head and kidnapped me. How could I guess that after going through life and death situation together, sharing the same trials and tribulations; on the very first night we arrived on this little island, Zhao Min has put violent poison in our food?”

Forcing a smile Zhou Zhiruo said, “You are a ‘will-not-stop-until-you-reach-the-Yellow-River’ type of person; but by the time you reach the Yellow River, it is too late to regret.” [Translator’s note: I know that I translated this passage rather literally; but I believe the readers will appreciate the imagery of the original sentence.]

Suddenly Zhang Wuji’s heart was overwhelmed with happiness. “Zhiruo,” he said, “You are the only one who has always loved me. You always treated me kindly. Someday when we return to the Central Plains, you will stay by my side and help me guard against lowly people’s craftiness and deceits. With a worthy wife like you to help me, I can be spared of many hardships.”

Zhou Zhiruo shook her head. “I am the most useless woman,” she said, “I am weak and incapable, plus I am dumb. Let’s not talk about the extremely smart Miss Zhao, whose intelligence compared to mine is as far as the heaven from the earth; I don’t have any chance against Xiao Zhao, who possesses such a profound understanding in her heart. Your Miss Zhou is a naïve and dim-witted little girl; don’t you know it by now?”

“You are an honest and considerate, intelligent and virtuous girl,” Zhang Wuji said, “You will not deceive me.”

Zhou Zhiruo turned around and hid her face in his bosom. “Wuji Gege,” she said in tender voice, “To be able to marry you, my delight is unspeakable. I only hope you won’t belittle me because I am stupid and useless, and bully me because I am unworthy. I … I will do my best to take care of you.”

The next day Zhang Wuji used the Jiu Yang Shen Gong to help Zhou Zhiruo expel the poison. At first they made a good progress; perhaps because she did not eat too much, her level of poisoning was not as severe as Xie Xun. However, toward the seventh day, suddenly he felt a resistance, which was ‘yin’ [negative/female] and cold in nature, coming from her body, fighting his Jiu Yang energy. Although Zhou Zhiruo strived to control this resistance, it was difficult for the Jiu Yang energy to enter her body. In his astonishment Zhang Wuji went to consult Xie Xun.

Xie Xun pondered for half a day before saying, “I don’t know for sure, but most likely it was because her Emei Pai’s masters were always women, the internal energy they train is ‘yin rou’ [negative/female, and soft/flexible] in nature.”

Zhang Wuji nodded his agreement. Luckily Zhou Zhiruo’s internal energy level was far below his, so that he was able to suppress the resisting ‘yin’ energy in her body; but by doing this he was required to use up a lot more energy than when he was helping Xie Xun. Zhang Wuji secretly felt that although at this moment her ‘yin’ energy was still weak, but her achievement in the future would not be a small matter.

“Zhiruo,” he praised, “Zunshi [revered master] Miejue Shitai was truly an expert of her generation. The internal energy cultivation method she passed on to you is extremely profound; I
can feel it even now. If you train diligently, your energy level may run neck to neck with my Jiu Yang Shen Gong; you may even surpass me.”

“Don’t mock me!” Zhou Zhiruo said, “How can Emei Pai’s martial art be compared to Zhang Da Jiaozhu’s [great cult leader Zhang] Jiu Yang Shen Gong and Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi?

“You have talent,” Zhang Wuji said, “Although you don’t know too many martial art forms and stances, your internal energy foundation is excellent. My Tai Shifu [grand master, he was referring to Zhang Sanfeng] once said, in the advance study of martial art, oftentimes the level of achievement each individual is closely related to one’s natural endowments. Furthermore, someone who is intelligent and possesses excellent comprehension may not necessarily capable of achieving the highest level of mastery. It was said that your sect’s founder, Zushi [ancestor master] Guo Nuxia’s [heroine Guo] father, Guo Jing Daxia [great hero] was slow, yet his martial art skill shook the world from the ancient time until today. Even Tai Shifu said that his energy level has not reached the level of Guo Daxia of the past. It seems to me that your Emei Pai’s internal energy cultivation technique is superior to the Wudang Pai’s; I’ll say that your future achievement may surpass Zunshi Miejue Shitai’s.”

Zhou Zhiruo rolled her eyes; faking anger she said, “If you want to flatter me, you don’t need to say my martial art is good. If I can master only 10 or 20% of Shifu’s ability, I would be satisfied. If you can teach me one or two techniques from your Jiu Yang Shen Gong and Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, I would be very grateful.”

Zhang Wuji hesitated without answering. Zhou Zhiruo continued, “Do you think I am not fit to become Zhang Da Jiaozhu’s disciple?”

“No!” Zhang Wuji said, “I only aware that your internal energy technique is entirely different than mine. I’ll say our techniques took opposite approach from the start. If you learn my internal energy technique, you are facing a difficult and dangerous problem.”

“It’s all right if you don’t want to teach me,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “The worst thing that can happen if I learn martial art skill is I fail; how can there be any danger?”

“No, no!” Zhang Wuji was serious, “My Jiu Yang Shen Gong is purely ‘yang gang’ [positive/male and hard/firm] in nature. Right now you are training in the Emei Pai’s internal energy, which takes the purely ‘yin rou’ approach. If you also train my internal energy technique, then the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ would collide in your body. Unless it is a martial art genius like my Tai Shifu; he might be able to combine water and fire, harmonize the firm and the supple. Otherwise, if you miss a single step, you’ll face a terrible, terrible disaster. Mmm, let’s wait until your internal energy is strong enough, I’ll teach you the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi theory and you can start training it.”

Zhou Zhiruo laughed, “I was only joking,” she said, “Later on I will always be together with you; your martial art skill, my martial art skill, what difference does it make? I am too lazy, your Jiu Yang Shen Gong is very difficult to train, even if you force me to practice, I am afraid it will be too difficult for me.” Hearing her saying this, Zhang Wuji felt sweetness in his heart.

With love and happiness in their hearts, time was passing swiftly. Several months had passed in a flash. Zhou Zhiruo’s internal energy had been completely recovered; she did not feel anything unusual, hence she believed the poison had been completely expelled from her system.

One particular day, they saw the peach blossom trees on the eastern side of the island were blooming beautifully. Zhang Wuji picked several branches of the peach blossom and planted them in front of Yin Li’s grave. He saw the piece of wood he carved with the characters ‘The Tomb of my Beloved Wife, Zhu’Er Yin Li’ was laying flat on the ground; perhaps it was knocked down by some wild animals. He picked it up and re-inserted it deeply to the ground. He remembered how his cousin lived a miserable life; perhaps she did not even have a single day of happiness.

While he was still reveling in sadness, suddenly he heard the clamoring noise of seagulls on the sea. Lifting his head up, he saw a ship in the distant sailing toward the island. He was overjoyed at this unexpected scene and loudly shouted, “Yifu, Zhiruo, there’s a ship coming in, there’s a ship coming in!”

Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo heard his shout and they rushed together to the shore. In a trembling voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “How can there be a ship coming to this desolate island?”

“It’s strange indeed,” Zhang Wuji said, “Could it be that they are pirates?”

In less than an hour that ship had dropped its anchor offshore, and sent a small boat to the island. Zhang Wuji, three people, waiting for them on the beach. They saw the sailors on that small boat wear Mongolian naval military uniforms. Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred, “Could it be that Miss Zhao was pricked by her conscience and returned to this island?” Casting a sidelong glance toward Zhou Zhiruo, he saw that her beautiful eyebrows were slightly wrinkled, while her chest was heaving up and down; apparently she was very much concerned.

A short moment later the small boat landed. Five sailors stepped on to the beach. Their leader, a naval officer, bowed respectfully toward Zhang Wuji and said, “Are you Zhang Wuji, Zhang Gongzi [honorable master Zhang]?”

“I am,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Who are you, Officer?”

As that officer heard Zhang Wuji answering in affirmative, he looked delighted and relieved. “Xiao Ren’s [lit. little/lowly person, a subordinate addressing him/herself] humble name is Pastai. I truly am fortunate to be able to find Gongzi today. I have received order to find Zhang Gongzi and Xie Daxia and take you back to the Central Earth.” He did mention Zhang and Xie, two people’s names, but did not mention Zhou Zhiruo.

“Officer has toiled to come from afar, I wonder who has sent you?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Pastai replied, “Xiao Ren is a subordinate of Tawa-chelu, the local naval commander in charge of Fujian defense. We have received order from General Pordu to set sail and meet you. Altogether General Pordu dispatches eight ships to search for Zhang Gongzi and Xie Daxia on the water around Fujian, Zhejiang and Guangdong, three provinces. I can’t believe in the end Xiao Ren is the one who render this great merit.” His meaning was obvious; apparently his superior had promised promotion and great reward to whoever succeeded in finding Zhang Wuji.

Hearing that unfamiliar Mongolian general’s name, Zhang Wuji thought the general must have received Zhao Min’s order to find him at any cost. “How did your honorable superior find out about me?” he asked.

“According to General Pordu’s instructions,” Pastai replied, “Zhang Gongzi is a noblemanof high status, also a great hero of the present age. Xiao Ren was ordered that after we find you, we must serve Gongzi attentively. As for why we must find Gongzi, Xiao Ren’s rank is too low for the Mongolian General to explain the reason.”

“Is this Shaomin Junzhu’s idea?” Zhou Zhiruo interrupted.

Pastai was startled, “Shaomin Junzhu?” he asked, “Xiao Ren has not had any good fortune to see her.”

Zhou Zhiruo coldly said, “What good fortune or bad fortune?”

“Shaomin Junzhu is our Mongolia’s most beautiful woman,” Pastai said, “No, she is the world’s most beautiful woman; well-versed in both pen and sword [wen wu quan cai – skilled in both literature and military], she is the Ruyang Wangye’s [prince of Ruyang] ‘qian jin’ [lit. thousand gold, the most valuable, honorable term for a daughter]. How can Xiao Ren have the good fortune of seeing her ‘jin mian’ [lit. golden face]?”

“Humph,” Zhou Zhiruo snorted, but didn’t say anything further.

“Yifu,” Zhang Wuji said to Xie Xun, “In that case, let us go aboard.”

“Let’s go back to our cave to fetch some things first before we embark the ship,” Xie Xun said, “Officer, please wait here for a moment.”

Pastai said, “Let Xiao Ren and the sailors get your luggage.”

Xie Xun laughed and said, “What luggage do we have? Please don’t bother.” Taking Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo’s hands, he went to the back of the hill and said, “Out of the blue Zhao Min sends a ship to take us back; she must have a sinister plan. How do you think we must deal with it?”

“Yifu,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Do you suppose … do you suppose Zhao Min … she might be on board?”

“If this little witch is onboard, that would be better,” Xie Xun said, “We must watch our food and drink; and not to fall into her trap again.”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “We’d better bring the salted fish and the dried fruit we have collected, also water from this island. We must not eat the food from the ship.”

“I think Zhao Min is not onboard,” Xie Xun said, “She wants to copy those Persians’ plot; she lures us onboard, once we are on the open sea, then she’d send Mongolian navy ships to open fire and sink our ship.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart sank, with a trembling voice he said, “She … is she that evil? She has left us stranded on this desolate island, let us live or die on our own, without any chance to return to the Central Earth, wasn’t that enough? The three of us would not bother her anymore, would we?”

With a cold laugh Xie Xun said, “You have freed the masters of the Six Major Sects she held captive in the Wan An Temple; how could she not hate you to the bone? Besides, the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult is missing, at this moment, everybody in the Ming Cult, from the top to the bottom, is involved in the large scale search and rescue operation. There is no guarantee that they will not find this desolate island. Only by burying us in the bottom of the ocean floor would she be free of trouble forever.”

“Firing their cannons?” Zhang Wuji said, “Wouldn’t that mean Pastai and all these Mongolian sailors will deliver their lives in vain?”

Xie Xun laughed out loud, followed by a sigh, he said, “Wuji, Child, those people wield power over the entire Mongolian armed forces; how can they value human lives? If they were like you, kind hearted and merciful, how can the Mongolians conquer four oceans, sweep hundreds of nations? From the ancient times, which great hero, who earned great honor, did not take the bull by its horns, if they must kill then they killed? Let’s not talk about ordinary officers and soldiers, they would even kill their own father and mother, their sons and daughters.”

Zhang Wuji was silent for half a day then grimly said, “Yifu is right.” He had always known that the Mongolians were brutal and merciless toward their enemies, but surely they would cherish their own subordinates and people? At this moment, listening to Xie Xun, he felt as if his heart was torn in two: he wanted to return to the Central Earth, to hold command over the heroes and warriors in driving the Tartars away; but speaking about governing a country to maintain peace and security, he was convinced it was not in his power to do so.

“Yifu,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “What shall we do?”

“What is in my daughter-in-law’s mind?” Xie Xun asked.

“Can we not board the boat?” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Let’s tell those Mongolian sailors that we enjoy living in this island and do not have any desire to return to the Central Plains.”

Xie Xun smiled and said, “That is a naïve little girl’s naïve idea. We do not want to go on board, do you think the enemy will let us go just like that? Let’s say we kill everybody on this ship, officers and sailors alike, do you think they will not dispatch ten more, eight more ships to find us? Besides, there are a lot of important matters in the Central Plains, waiting for Wuji to attend to. How can we let him grow old and die on this deserted island?”

Zhou Zhiruo’s pretty face blushed profusely. “Please give us instruction; we’ll listen to Yifu’s advice,” she said in a low voice.

Xie Xun thought of a plan for a moment and then said, “Let’s do it this way.” Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo listened to his plan and agreed that it was a marvelous plan.

Zhang Wuji went to Yin Li’s grave to pray and shed some farewell tears before embarking the ship. To fight boredom on the island, Zhou Zhiruo had carved many little wooden horses and wooden figurines. She wrapped everything in one big bundle and carried it on her back.

Zhang Wuji checked the cabin, inside and out, very carefully. Indeed Zhao Min was not onboard; he also made sure that there was nobody onboard who might do them harm. He noticed that the officers and sailors were not martial art practitioners.

After the ship had weighed the anchor, when they only set sail for dozens of ‘zhang’s, suddenly Zhang Wuji reached back and grabbed Pastai’s right wrist, while his other hand snatched the saber hanging on Pastai’s belt, and pressed the saber behind his neck. “Listen to my order,” he shouted, “Tell the helmsman to turn eastward!”

Pastai was shocked, “Zhang Gong … Gongzi,” he trembled, “Xiao … Xiao Ren does not dare to offend you.”

“Listen to my orders,” Zhang Wuji said, “If you disobey, I am going to chop your head.”

“Yes, yes!” Pastai said, and shouted his order, “Helms … helmsman! Quick … turn the ship eastward!” The helmsman turned the rudder to follow his command. The ship circled around the island and sailed to the east.

Zhang Wuji shouted, “You Mongolians are setting a trap to harm us. I have seen through your scheme. Quickly admit it! If you lie to me, I’ll take your life.” Having said that he raised his right palm and slapped the ship’s edge. Wood debris flew everywhere, as a big chunk of wood came off from the ship’s edge. The officers and sailors onboard watched with amazement.

Pastai said, “Gongzi, please understand: Xiao Ren received my superior’s order to take Gongzi home; we don’t have any other intention. Xiao Ren … Xiao Ren only hoped to render a service and receive the rewards, we really do not have any ill-intention.”

Zhang Wuji knew he was telling the truth; thereupon he released Pastai’s wrist, walked to the bow, and lifted the iron anchor with his left hand, while his right hand also reached out and lifted another anchor. “Everybody, watch this!” he shouted, while throwing both anchors to the air. The Mongolians gasped and then cried out in alarm.

As the anchors fell back down, using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi technique, one hand snatched, the other pushed, Zhang Wuji threw the anchors back up to the air. He did this three times, before he finally caught the anchors and gently put them down on the bow. The Mongolians have always admired brave warriors; seeing this astonishing demonstration of prowess, they bowed down in respect and did not dare to disobey.

Following Zhang Wuji’s instructions, the helmsman drove the ship to the east. They sailed on the open sea for three days, until the only thing they could see was mighty waves whose heights reach the sky. Xie Xun anticipated that Zhao Min only dispatched battleships to search on the water around Fujian and Guangdong area; right now their ship had sailed deep into the ocean, so there was no way the battleships would find them.

After five days, they instructed the helmsman to turn northward. They continued heading north for more than twenty days, so that even if Zhao Min was ten times smarter, it would be difficult for her to guess the location of the ship correctly. Thereupon, they instructed the helmsman to turn the ship westward, towards the Central Earth. During their voyage of more than a month, Zhang Wuji and the others did not touch the food from the ship; they either ate the provisions brought from the island, or caught fish from the ocean.

Around the seventh hour one day [between 11am – 1pm], they saw land in the distance. The Mongolian officers and sailors had been on the sea too long; as they saw they were going home, everybody cheered in delight. By the nightfall, the ship had dropped its anchor by the shore.

The landscape of that area was mountainous and the seawater was really deep so the ship was able to moor right next to the stony shore.

“Wuji,” Xie Xun said, “Go ashore and find out what kind of place is this?” Zhang Wuji complied and flew ashore.

He explored for a while and everywhere he went, he saw green thick forest; with the snow that started to melt on the ground, turning the soil into deep mud. After walking for a while, the forest got darker. All around him were gigantic ancient pine trees, the trunks were so big that each one needed several people join hands to encircle it. He flew up a tall tree to get a better view, and no matter which direction he looked he could not see the edge of the forest. Surprisingly, in this sea of trees, he did not see any sign of other human beings either. He thought even if he went further down the forest, he would see the same thing; therefore, he decided to return to the ship.

Before reaching the shore, he had already heard miserable shouts; and these extremely sad and shrill sounds were coming from the ship. He was shocked, rushed to the shore, and immediately flew to the bow.

He saw the deck was full of bodies scattered around; they were the Mongolian officers’ and soldiers’ corpses, from Pastai down to the last sailor. Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo were standing on the deck, but he did not see any trace of the enemy.

In shock he asked, “Yifu, Zhiruo, are you all right? Where is the enemy?”

“What enemy?” Xie Xun asked, “Did you see any trace of them?”

“No! But these Mongolians …” Zhang Wuji said.

“Zhiruo and I killed them,” Xie Xun said.

Zhang Wuji was even more stunned, “I did not expect these Mongolians would dare to harm us as soon as we return to the Central Earth,” he said.

“They did not dare to harm us,” Xie Xun explained, “I killed them to close their mouths. As they are dead, Zhao Min will not know that we have returned to the Central Earth. From now on, she is in the bright place while we stay in the dark. It will be easier for us to exact our revenge.”

Zhang Wuji sucked a mouthful of cold air, and was speechless for half a day.

“What?” Xie Xun dryly said, “Are you blaming me for my cruelty? Tartars’ officers and soldiers are our enemies; are we supposed to treat them with the kindness of Bodhisattva?”

Zhang Wuji was silent; he remembered how these people had been taking care of them attentively, without the slightest degree of carelessness. Although they were enemies, he would not have the heart to kill them in cold blood like this.

“As the saying goes,” Xie Xun continued, “Those with small hearts are not people of noble characters, those who are not cruel are not real men. We don’t want to harm others, others want to harm us. That Zhao Min has treated us like this so we simply follow her way and do to her what she did to us.”

“Yifu is right,” Zhang Wuji said. But looking at Pastai and the others’ corpses, he could not hold tears from flowing down his cheeks.

“Make fire, burn the boat down,” Xie Xun said, “Zhiruo, search the bodies, take all gold and silver you can find. Also, get three swords or sabers for our self-defense.” Two people set the ship on fire then leaped to the shore.

The ship’s hull was really big hence it burned continuously until midnight before the fire gradually died down. The remnant of the ship, along with the bodies, slowly went down to the bottom of the ocean. It was a clean job, without the least bit of trace. Zhang Wuji had to admit that although his Yifu was merciless, he was a veteran of Jianghu, with experience far exceeding him.

Three people spent the night by the shore. They continued their journey southward early the next morning. It was not until the afternoon of the second day did they finally met seven, eight ginseng pickers. As they asked the men, they found out that that place was Liaodong [East Liaoning], outside the great wall, not too far from Changbai Mountain.

When they left those men, Zhou Zhiruo asked, “Yifu, shall we kill those men to shut their mouths?”

“Zhiruo!” Zhang Wuji snapped, “What are you talking about? These ginseng pickers do not even know who we are. Must we kill everybody we meet along the way?”

Zhou Zhiruo was so ashamed that her face turned completely red. In all her life, Zhang Wuji had never spoken to her like that.

“If it were me,” Xie Xun said, “I’d kill those ginseng pickers. But since Jiaozhu is unwilling to shed too many blood, we must quickly find a way to change our clothes, to remove any trace of our identities.”

They immediately quickened their pace. After walking briskly for two days, they finally left the forest. But it was not after walking another day did they finally see a peasant family’s home. Zhang Wuji took out some silver coins to buy clothes from the peasant, but the family was so poor that they did not have any extra clothes to sell. After going to seven, eight different homes, finally they were able to collect three sets of totally filthy clothes. Zhou Zhiruo was used to cleanness; smelling the stench accumulated over several years, she almost threw up. But Xie Xun was delighted; he instructed his two companions to smear their faces with mud. When Zhang Wuji looked at his reflection in the water, he saw a Liaodong’s beggar. Zhao Min might not necessarily recognize him even if she was standing right in front of him.

As they continued walking southward, they entered the Great Wall. One day they arrived at the suburb of a big town. Three people went straight to a big restaurant.

Zhang Wuji took three ‘liang’s worth of silver from his pocket and gave it to the innkeeper; he said, “You can settle the bill after we are done eating.” He was afraid that the innkeeper would not give them any food because of the way they dressed in ragged clothes.

Who would have thought that the innkeeper stood up respectfully and returned the silver with both hands, saying, “We thank Masters for patronizing our humble establishment; what is some insipid wine and crude rice? Please accept it compliment of our small inn.”

Zhang Wuji was very surprised. As they were seated, he said in low voice to Zhou Zhiruo, “Has our masquerade been exposed? Why did the innkeeper refuse our money?”

Zhou Zhiruo examined their clothes and appearance carefully, they did look like three beggars; which movement or expression of theirs had given them away?

“From the way that innkeeper speaks, I can tell that he is afraid of something,” Xie Xun said, “We must be careful.”

They heard some footsteps on the stairway as seven men walked in. As chance had it, these men also dressed as beggars. These seven men went to sit on the table by the window; their manners were haughty. The waiter appeared and respectfully greeted them, calling them ‘Master this’ and ‘Master that’, as if they were people of nobility or some high-ranking officials.

Zhang Wuji noticed that some of these beggars carried five pouches on their backs, while some others carried six pouches. Apparently, they were some high-ranking disciples of the Beggar Clan.

The waiter took their order and went downstairs. Before he even returned with their wine and dishes, there were six, seven more Beggar Clan’s disciples going up the stairs. In a short period of time, the restaurant upstairs were full with more than thirty Beggar Clan disciples; among whom there were three seven-pouch disciples.

Suddenly it dawned on Zhang Wuji that the Beggar Clan was having their assembly today, and the innkeeper misunderstood them as members of the Beggar Clan. With a low voice he said to better get out of here to avoid trouble. The Beggar Clan people in here are not a few.”

But right at that moment the waiter came back to serve them a large dish of beef and another dish of roasted whole chicken, plus five catties [1 catty is approximately equal to 1 lb or 0.5kg] of white wine. Xie Xun was very hungry; he had gone through the last few months without any decent meals. Smelling the roasted chicken, his index finger twitched and he said, “We are just quietly eating and drinking; we are not on their way, are we?” While saying that he took the bowl and with ‘glug, glug’ noise he drank half bowl of the white wine, while saying in his heart, “Heaven have mercy on me. Xie Xun has wandered overseas for more than twenty years, and today is the first time I can taste wine again.”

The white wine was actually rather strong, the way people in this area brew; but to him it was like the most refined wine. He took a deep sigh as if he was very content. After drinking one full bowl, he suddenly said in low voice, “Watch out, two people of high skill have just walked in!”

Zhang Wuji also heard footsteps on the stairs, and sure enough, two men with high level of martial art skill went up the stairs. As soon as they appeared on the entrance, a clamoring noise was heard as the beggars stood up simultaneously. Xie Xun made a hand signal, the three of them also stood up. These three actually sat inconspicuously by the wall near the corner, but if they stayed seated when everybody else was standing, they were afraid they would draw some unwanted attention.

Zhang Wuji saw the first man was of medium build and his face looked handsome with a triangular-shaped beard. Dressed in beggar’s garments, he looked more like a failed scholar. The man behind him was muscular, with dragon-like whiskers; his face looked ferocious. If he did not have a three-pointed beard, he would look just like Zhou Cang, the warrior holding a broadsword who stood by Guan Gong. These two men were about fifty years of age, their beards had turned grey. On their back there were nine small pouches, which were too small to carry anything, so those pouches were only used to show their rank within the Beggar Clan.

Zhang Wuji mused, “The Beggar Clan is known as the biggest clan in Jianghu. Tai Shifu used to say that in the former days, the Beggar Clan Bangzhu [Clan Leader] Hong Qigong was a righteous hero, with a very profound martial art skill; there wasn’t anyone in both orthodox and unorthodox paths who did not admire him. After him were Huang Bangzhu and Yelu Bangzhu, both were people of outstanding characters. But for the last several decades, the people who held leaderships over the Beggar Clan failed to bring the Clan’s prestige to its former glory. The current Bangzhu, Shi Huolong, is very seldom making an appearance in Jianghu. I wonder what kind of person he is? These two men bear nine pouches on their backs, so other than the Bangzhu, they hold the most revered position within the Clan. That day on the Lingshe Island, the Beggar Clan people came to take the Tulong Saber away from Yifu. I wonder if these two have any connection to them?”

The Tulong Saber and the Yitian Sword had been stolen by Zhao Min, but the six tablets of Sheng Huo Ling were still in Zhang Wuji’s pocket. Apparently Zhao Min was afraid that his martial art skill was too strong that even after being poisoned by the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ he would still possess an extraordinary ability, hence she did not dare to grope around his pocket. Seeing they were among these powerful Beggar Clan people, Zhang Wuji did not dare to be careless; he reached into his pocket, tracing the six tablets of Sheng Huo Ling with his hand.

The two nine-pouch elders walked in and sat on the big table in the middle. The crowd of beggars returned to their seats one after another and continued eating and drinking, reaching out to get dishes or raising their bowl to drink the soup. They were as boisterous and uncouth as a pack of wolves.

Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun strained their ears, trying to hear the conversation between those two nine-pouch elders. Surprisingly, those two elders were only busy eating and drinking; other than saying something like ‘Please take another bowl’, or ‘This beef smells so good’, they did not talk about anything in particular.

After those two leader-elders [orig. text long2 tou2 zhang3 lao3 – lit. dragon head elders] finished eating and drinking and went down the stairs, and the crowd of beggars also had their fill of wine and food, they dispersed in random. Xie Xun waited until the last of the beggars had left before he said in low voice, “Wuji, what do you think?”

“With so many of their high ranking members gathered together in this place, I don’t think they simply want to have a party,” Zhang Wuji said. “My guess is, they are going to have another meeting tonight at a secluded place to discuss proper business matters.”

“Must be so,” Xie Xun nodded, “The Beggar Clan has always been the enemy of our Cult. They took part in the burning down of our Brightness Peak, they also sent people to seize my Tulong Saber. We have to investigate clearly to see whether they are planning some sinister plot against our Cult or not.”

Three people went down the stairs towards the counter to pay their bill. The innkeeper was flabbergasted, saying that he would not take their money, no matter what. Zhang Wuji thought, “The Beggar Clan is really showing off their power here, that the inn and restaurant around here are afraid of them; they must be used to eating and drinking without paying, and run amuck without any regard of the law.”

Three people went out to find a small inn where they could spend the night. Although the town was teeming with Beggar Clan people, they usually did not stay at any inn, hence there was a slim chance of them meeting any Beggar Clan people in the inn.

“Wuji,” Xie Xun said, “My eyes cannot see a thing, it is very inconvenient for me to go out spying around. Zhiruo’s martial art skill is not high. If she goes out with you, I am afraid she will be a burden to you, so I am asking you to go alone.”

“Certainly,” Zhang Wuji said. He took a rest for a while in the inn, then left.

He walked along the main street from south to north, but surprisingly did not see a single beggar on the street. Zhang Wuji mused, “It was less than an hour ago they left the restaurant and suddenly not a single beggar is in sight. They couldn’t have gone too far.”

Immediately he went to a dry goods store nearby. With menacing glance, he reached out over the counter, threatened to strike the shopkeeper while barking, “Hey, shopkeeper! Where did my brethrens go?”

Several shop attendants saw his ferocious and mean appearance; they thought he must be one of those loathsome beggars, they were all scared to death. One of them was braver than the other, he pointed north, and said with a smile, “Your noble clan friends are all heading north. Would you like to drink some tea, Master?”

“I don’t drink!” Zhang Wuji barked, “What damn, stinking tea is that?” Turning around he walked to the north in big strides, while laughing hard inside.

He had not walked far from the town when he saw a moving shadow among the tall grass by the road on his left, a Beggar Clan disciple stood up; it looked like he was about to shout some questions. Zhang Wuji quickened his step and was gone is a flash. That beggar rubbed his own eyes, he was so sure he saw somebody, but that person disappeared in a blink of an eye.

Zhang Wuji thought the Beggar Clan set up checkpoints along the way, their meeting must be heavily guarded; therefore, utilizing his ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] he sped up to the north. He saw the Beggar Clan checkpoints behind trees, among the grass, in between hills and by the rock side; but instead of being obstacles, they became his guide.

Rushing about four, five ‘li’s, Zhang Wuji saw there were roadblocks at every three steps and checkpoints at every five steps, the security got heavier and heavier. These people’s martial art skills were not high, but it was actually not easy to evade their sight under the bright sunny day. In the end Zhang Wuji was forced to leave the main road and continue on the narrow winding back road. Right away he saw a large temple at the end of a mountain passage on the waist of the mountain. He figured that the Beggar Clan people must be having their meeting in that temple. Thereupon he rushed toward the northeast corner, and then bypassing another beggar checkpoint to the west, he went straight to the temple side.

He noticed a plaque at the front of the temple with ‘Mi Lei Fo Miao’ [Buddha Maitreya Temple] written in large characters. The temple looked majestic and grand. Zhang Wuji mused, “This time the Beggar Clan’s important leaders are here in large numbers, it would be difficult to avoid being detected if I mingle among them.”

Looking around, he saw a large ancient pine tree on the left of the courtyard in front of the main hall, while to the right there was an old cypress tree. Both trees stood upright and tall, their thick branches and leaves towered over the main hall, both were perfect for a hiding place. Going around the back of the temple, Zhang Wuji leaped up to the roof, and then crawled to the corner of the eaves and lightly jumped to the top of the pine tree. Positioning himself behind a large branch, he peeked outside and silently acclaimed, “Lucky!” because from among the thick leaves, he could see the entire mail hall clearly.

He saw that the main hall floor was packed with beggars; he estimated their number to be more than three hundred. These beggars sat facing the inside of the hall, and nobody seemed to notice him jumping to the pine tree. There were five empty round meditation mats in the hall; apparently they were still waiting for some people to arrive. What was strange, though, that there were three, four hundred people, but not a single sound was heard; it was a totally different situation from the chaotic, boisterous fight over food and wine in the restaurant earlier. Zhang Wuji thought, “The Beggar Clan has enjoyed several hundred years of reputation. Although their prestige is fading lately, the manner of the olden days is not gone. That scene at the restaurant was an ordinary day situation, hence the elders did not rein them the law enforcement is very strict otherwise.”

There was a Buddla Maitreya idol sitting in the main hall, its bare chest exposed its big belly, its mouth frozen in an eternal smile, looking so kind and benevolent. Zhang Wuji was still assessing the situation when suddenly someone in the hall was shouting, “’Zhang Bo Long Tou’ [the leader in charge of the alms bowl (small earthenware bowl used by Buddhist monks to ask for alms)] has arrived!”

The beggars stood up at once. A nine-pouched elder who looked like a scholar with a broken bowl in his hands, slowly walked in and stood on the right side.

Another shout was heard, “’Zhang Bang Long Tou’ [the leader in charge of the (beggar) stick] has arrived!”

The nine-pouched elder who looked like Zhou Cang, lifting an iron stick high in his hands, walked in big strides, and stood on the left side.

That man shouted again, “Zhi Fa Zhanglao’ [law enforcement elder] has arrived!”

A thin and small old beggar walked in, his hand holding a worn-out bamboo mat. His steps were light and he walked without raising a single speck of dust. Zhang Wuji thought, “This man’s ‘qing gong’ is excellent; perhaps he is only a notch below Wei Fuwang [bat king Wei].”

Another shout was heard, “’Chuan Gong Zhanglao’ [instructor/teacher/coach (someone who passes on skills) elder] has arrived!”

This time an old beggar with white hair and white beard appeared. He was empty handed, and his level of martial art skill could not be evaluated from either his stature or his footwork.

The four elders occupied the four meditation mats, but the mat in the middle was still empty. They all bowed down and shouted in one voice, “Inviting Bangzhu [clan leader] to preside!”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred, “I heard the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu is called the ‘Jin Yin Zhang’ [Gold and Silver Palm], Shi Huolong [his given name means ‘fiery dragon’],” he mused, “But in the Wulin world, very few people have ever seen his real face. I wonder what kind of character is he?”

In the main hall, all the beggars bowed down together. A moment later, the sound of footsteps was heard from behind the screen, and a large man walked in big strides. He was more than six feet tall, looked healthy and strong, with a red face like a high-ranking government officer. He stopped at the middle of the main hall and stood with his hands on his waist.

The crowd of beggars chorused, “The disciples in attendance pay their respect to Bangzhu.”

The Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu Shi Huolong waved his right hand and said, “That’s enough! You boys are well?”

“We wish Bangzhu well,” the crowd chorused. They waited until Shi Huolong took his seat on the middle meditation mat before they all sat down.

Shi Huolong turned toward Zhang Bo Longtou and said, “Weng Xiongdi [brother Weng], please tell everybody here about Jin Mao Shi Wang and the Tulong Saber.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart beat faster when he heard the name Jin Mao Shi Wang and the Tulong Saber being mentioned, he focused his attention to listen attentively.

Zhang Bo Longtou stood up, bowed to the Clan Leader, and then turned around and said, “Brethrens, the Devil Cult has been in enmity with our Clan for sixty years, the grievance between us is very deep. In the resent years, the Ming Cult has set up a new Cult Leader, by the name of Zhang Wuji. From our members who were involved in the besieging of the Brightness Peak, we learned that this man is an ignorant youngster. A child who is still wet behind the ears, whose yellow feathers have not been shed; which important achievement can he accomplish? How can he resist our Clan’s Shi Bangzhu’s heroism, ability and great accomplishments?”

The crowd of beggars broke into thunderous cheers and applause, while Shi Huolong’s face looked pleased and proud.

Zhang Bo Longtou continued, “Only, they were originally split up and disunited, and killing each other; the internal strife immediately ceased after the Devil Cult’s new Cult Leader was appointed. This has become a big misfortune to our Clan. Within the last year or so, the Devil Cult leaders are staging numerous rebellions everywhere. In the Huai Si River region, there are Han Shantong and Zhu Yuanzhang; in the Liang Hu [lit. two lakes – Hunan and Hubei provinces], there is Xu Shouhui and his company. They have repeatedly defeated the Yuan soldiers and occupied not a few of places. It can be said that they quite make the grade. If they succeed in this great undertaking by driving out the Tartars, then we are done. Our Clan’s tens of thousands brethrens might die without any burial ground at that time.”

The crowd of beggars angrily shouted, “Must not let them succeed!” “The Beggar Clan swears to fight to the death with the Devil Cult.” “If the Devil Cult rules the world, can our Clan’s brethrens live?” “Tartars must go, but there is no way we would let the Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu ascend to the throne.”

Zhang Wuji contemplated, “Who would have thought that while I was overseas for several months, the brethrens have done really great. The Beggar Clan is this apprehensive; apparently, it was not without any reason. The Beggar Clan people are numerous; there are many heroes and warriors among them; if we can join hands with them to fight the Yuan, then this important matter has a greater chance of success. Question is, how do I eradicate their suspicion, converting an enemy into a friend?”

Zhang Bo Longtou waited until the commotion somewhat subsided before continuing, “Shi Bangzhu has always lived peacefully in the ‘Lian Hua Shan Zhuang’ [Lotus Villa (a manor on the mountain)], and did not involve in the Jianghu for a long time; but with this kind of urgent matter, he does not have any choice but to preside over it personally. Also, with the Heaven’s blessing, our Clan’s eight-pouch Zhanglao [elder] Chen Youliang has made an acquaintance with a Wudang disciple and has obtained extremely important information.” Raising his voice he called out, “Chen Zhanglao!”

“Here!” a voice from behind the wall responded.

Two men appeared, walking hand-in-hand. One of them was about thirty years of age, with a swift and fierce expression; he was none other than Chen Youliang whose life was spared by Xie Xun on the Lingshe Island. The other was a 27, 28 year-old handsome man; he was none other than Song Yuanqiao’s son, Song Qingshu.

When he heard ‘Chen Youliang has made an acquaintance with a Wudang disciple’, Zhang Wuji assumed it was some ordinary disciple under his martial uncles; who would have thought that it was a Wudang’s disciple who could be regarded as the first among the third generation disciples? “How can Song Shige [martial (older) brother] get mixed up with the Beggar Clan?” he thought. Following which, he thought, “Wudang Pai and the Beggar Clan are both chivalrous organizations, they have a good relationship with each other, so I should not wonder.”

Chen Youliang and Song Qingshu saluted Shi Huolong first, and then they greeted the Chuan Gong Zhanglao and Zhi Fa Zhanglao, Zhang Bang Longtou and Zhang Bo Longtou, before finally turning to face the crowd of beggars and cupped their fists.

“Chen Zhanglao,” Zhang Bo Longtou said, “Please tell the details of this matter to the brethrens here.”

Taking Song Qingshu’s hand, Chen Youliang said, “Brothers, this is Song Qingshu, Song Shaoxia [young hero Song], he is Wudang Pai’s Song Yuanqiao, Song Daxia’s [great hero Song] son. In the future, Wudang Pai’s Zhangmen [Sect Leader] position will no doubt fall into his hand. That Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu, Zhang Wuji, can be considered Song Shaoxia’s Shidi [martial (younger) brother], therefore, I can say with confidence that Song Shaoxia understands the internal matters inside the Devil Cult like the back of his hands. Several months ago, Shong Shaoxia informed me that the Devil Cult’s big leader [da mo tou, lit. big devil-head] Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun has arrived on the Lingshe Island of the East China Sea …”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao interrupted, “The Wulin world has exhausted all efforts in trying to find the Jin Mao Shi Wang, but for dozens of years nobody knows his whereabouts. How did Song Shaoxia suddenly found out? The Old Man here wants to know.”

Zhang Wuji had always had this question lingered on his mind, “Zi Shan Long Wang has forced information from Wu Lie, father and daughter, on my Yifu’s location before taking him south to the Lingshe Island. This is a top-secret information. How did the Beggar Clan find out and hence send some people to the island to seize the Saber?” Xie Xun and he had discussed this matter over several times, but all along they could not find a plausible answer. Now listening to Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s question, he focused his attention even more.

He heard Chen Youliang say, “Due to Bangzhu’s good fortune, we struck a coincidence. On the Eastern Sea there is someone by the name of Jin Hua Popo. I don’t know how, but she knew Xie Xun’s whereabouts. This old granny is highly skilled in maritime and navigational skill. Unexpectedly, she managed to find the desolate island of the far north where Xie Xun lived, and took him to the Lingshe Island. On that Lingshe Island, there were two people, father and daughter, being held captives. Their names were Wu Lie and Wu Qingying; they are the descendants of Dali’s Southern Emperor’s school of martial arts. Taking advantage of Jin Hua Popo leaving the island to visit the Central Plains [zhong yuan], they killed the guard and escaped from the island. They met some danger in Shandong area; luckily Song Shaoxia saved them. After talking for some times, Song Shaoxia learned about Jin Mao Shi Wang’s whereabouts.”

“Hmm, so that’s how it is,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao nodded.

In his heart Zhang Wuji also said, “Hmm, so that’s how it is.” He further considered, “Wu Lie, father and daughter, are not upright people; in the past, along with Zhu Zhangling, they did a painstaking effort to cheat Yifu’s whereabouts from my mouth. But as luck has it, the information was passed on to Zi Shan Long Wang. Speaking about water skill and navigation technique, I am afraid not many people in the world who can surpass Zi Shan Long Wang. If not her, who in the world could have found the Binghuo Island on the boundless North Sea? Even if my father and mother were resurrected from the dead, they might not necessarily be able to do that. It was divine intervention indeed.”

Chen Youliang continued, “Xiongdi [brother, referring to himself] and Song Shaoxia have forged a life-and-death friendship. As soon as I learned this information, I coordinated with Ji and Zheng, two eighth-pouch zhanglao, accompanied by five seven-pouch disciples, we went to the Lingshe Island to capture Xie Xun and seize the Tulong Saber to be presented to Bangzhu. Unexpectedly, the Devil Cult also sent a large army of warriors to the Lingshe Island. Although we did our best to fight, in the end we were defeated; Ji Zhanglao and four of the seven-pouch disciples have fallen. On the detail of the battle on the Lingshe Island, I invite Zheng Zhanglao to report to Bangzhu.”

The maimed Zheng Zhanglao stood up from among the crowd and narrated the battle between the Beggar Clan and the Ming Cult on the Lingshe Island. He did not say that the Beggar Clan people surrounded the lone Xie Xun, but he mentioned how numerous the Ming Cult people were, and how brave their own people fight the enemy, and finally he told about how Chen Youliang had placed his own life at stake to save him and to uphold justice. He was speaking fervently that his spittle flew everywhere. He said Xie Xun was very impressed with Chen Youliang’s uprightness that he did not dare to fight him. As the crowd of beggars in the main hall listened to his story, they were excited, their countenances flushed and they cheered repeatedly.

“Chen Xiongdi is both brave and resourceful, as well as loyal [orig. ‘yi4 qi4’ – spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice/code of brotherhood]. A man like him is truly hard to come by,” Chuan Gong Zhanglao commented.

Chen Youliang bowed and said, “For the sake of following Bangzhu and Zhanglao’s instructions, for the sake of lifting our Clan’s principle of righteousness high, I am willing to go through fire or water. It was a trivial matter. I feel unworthy to receive Zheng Zhanglao’s compliments.”

Seeing his modesty and unwillingness to receive credit, the crowd of beggars praised him even more. On top of the tree, the more Zhang Wuji heard, the angrier he was; thinking that this man was despicable and shameless, he unexpectedly dared to go this far. It was obvious that he betrayed a friend to save his own life, but he became the hero who saved his friend instead. Only, his scheme was flawless that even Zheng Zhanglao was deceived. He was indeed a great villain.

Thinking of this, his heart turned sour, “This traitor’s deceit, even Yifu was deceived, even I was deceived,” he mused, “Only Zi Shan Long Wang and Miss Zhao were not deceived. Ay … Miss Zhao is very intelligent; it’s a pity her character is …”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao stood up and coldly said, “Our Clan has this many brothers harmed by the Devil Cult, this blood debt is as deep as the ocean. Are we going to let it go?”

The crowd of beggars responded in such a clamor, “We must avenge Ji Zhanglao!” “Let’s go to the Brightness Peak! Wipe out the Devil Cult!” “Slay Zhang Wuji, slay Xie Xun!” “Our Clan cannot coexist with the Devil Cult; we see one of them, we kill one of them, we see a pair of them, we kill a pair of them!” “Bangzhu, quickly issue an order to the Beggar Clan disciples under the heaven to raise our arms and fight the Devil Cult!”

“Bangzhu,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said to Shi Huolong, “Seeking revenge is an urgent matter, please give us direction on how to proceed.”

Shi Huolong frowned and said, “This … mmm, this is indeed our Clan’s important matter. Hmm, hmm … it needs further consideration. Tell the seven-pouch disciples and under to withdraw momentarily, let us discuss this matter carefully.”

“Yes!” Zhi Fa Zhanglao complied. Turning around he shouted, “Hear Bangzhu’s order: seven-pouch disciples and under to leave the main hall and wait outside the temple.”

The crowd shouted their obedience; they bowed down to Shi Huolong, and went out the temple gate. Only eight-pouch elders and the leaders remained in the main hall.

Chen Youliang moved one step forward, bowed down and said, “Reporting to Bangzhu: this Song Qingshu, Song Xiongdi has rendered a great service to our Clan. I am asking Bangzhu’s benevolence to allow him be a part of our Clan, and to confer to him a position commensurate to his skill and status, so that he would be able to contribute even greater service to our Clan in the future.”

“This, apparently, has not …” Song Qingzhu said. He only said the word ‘not’ when Chen Youliang cast him a sharp glance. Song Qingshu noticed his expression and immediately lowered his head and did not continue.

“Very well,” Shi Huolong said, “Song Qingshu is admitted into our Clan. For the time being, I give him the rank of six-pouch disciple, under the eight-pouch elder Chen Youliang’s command. He must abide by our Clan’s laws and regulations, doing his utmost for our Clan’s benefit. His merit will be rewarded and his crime will be punished.”

Song Qingshu’s eyes showed resentment, but he strived to restrain himself. Moving forward he knelt down in front of Shi Huolong and said, “Disciple Song Qingshu pays his respect to Bangzhu. Many thanks for Bangzhu’s kindness in bestowing the six-pouch disciple position to me.” After that, he also paid his respect to the various elders.

“Song Xiongdi,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “Since you are part of our Clan, you are subjected to our Clan’s rules and regulations. Someday, even though you become the Wudang Pai Zhang Men [Sect Leader of Wudang Sect], you will still have to follow our Clan’s order. Do you understand this?” His manner of speaking was very serious.

“Yes,” Song Qingshu replied.

Zhi Fa Zhanglao continued, “Although our Clan and Wudang Pai both follow the same chivalrous way, our approaches are not the same. Since someday the Wudang Sect Leader position will certainly fall into your hands, why did you want to become part of our Clan? You must answer this question truthfully.”

Song Qingshu cast a sidelong glance toward Chen Youliang before answering, “Chen Zhanglao has shown an utmost benevolence toward me, I admire his conduct very much; therefore, I will be satisfied to follow his leadership.”

Cheng Youliang laughed and said, “There are no outsiders here, I don’t see any problem for you to say it. After the Sect Leader of Emei Pai, Miejue Shitai passed away, the newly-appointed Sect Leader is a young and good-looking lady by the name of Zhou Zhiruo. This lady and Song Xiongdi are childhood friends; apparently they are betrothed to each other. Who would have thought that the Devil Cult’s big devil-head Zhang Wuji appeared and stole her heart away, and took her overseas? Obviously, Song Xiongdi was furious and came to me for advice. I vow to help my brother taking that Zhou girl back.”

The more Wuji heard it, the angrier he was; thinking in his heart, “This man spoke nonsense; when did such thing ever happen?” He wanted to jump down into the main hall to confront him, but in the end decided to restrain his rage and keep on listening.

Shi Huolong laughed aloud and said, “It’s always hard for a hero to resist a beauty. I am not surprised. One is the Wudang Sect Leader, the other is Emei Sect Leader; not only a match in social position and economic status, but also the man highly skilled, the woman beautiful. This is a perfect match indeed.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao asked again, “Since Song Xiongdi has this grievance, why don’t you ask Zhang Sanfeng Zhenren [lit. true/real man – a respectable term to address a Taoist priest] and Song Daxia [great hero Song] to mediate?”

Chen Youliang replied, “Song Xiongdi told me: that little thief Zhang Wuji is Wudang Pai’s Zhang Cuishan’s son. Zhang Sanfeng has always been very fond of Zhang Cuishan. For that reason, Wudang Pai is in a good term with the Devil Cult lately. Zhang Sanfeng and Song Daxia are not willing to offend the Devil Cult. Presently, in the Wulin world of the Central Plains, our Clan is the only one who stands against the Devil Cult; furthermore, we are the only one who has enough power to resist those devils.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao nodded. “That’s true,” he said, “Only by destroying the Devil Cult and slaughtering that fellow Zhang Wuji Song Xiongdi’s desire will be satisfied and his grievance compensated only by destroying the Devil Cult and slaughtering that person Zhang Wuji.”

From his hiding place on the tree, Zhang Wuji recalled how in the Western Region’s desert and on the Brightness Peak, Song Qingshu’s treatment toward Zhou Zhiruo had always been rather strange. Only now did Zhang Wuji realize that Song Qingshu had a deep feeling toward her. Yet he was still astonished over what had happened, “A Wudang disciple wants to join the Beggar Clan; this is not right, especially without reporting to Tai Shifu and Song Shibo [martial (older) uncle] first. He is betraying his own school, betraying his own father, for a woman’s sake; wouldn’t he make a very big mistake? Besides, Zhiruo loves me very much, although Song Qingshu received the Beggar Clan’s help, how can he force her to follow him? Song Dage [big brother Song] has made a name for himself in the Jianghu, he holds the reputation as the up-and coming leader of Wudang Pai. How can he make such a blunder?”

He heard Chen Youliang say, “Reporting to Bangzhu: in Dadou [grand capital, modern day Beijing] disciple has captured an important figure from the Devil Cult. This man might be crucial to our Clan’s great endeavor; asking Bangzhu to give your verdict.”

Shi Huolong was delighted, “Bring him in,” he said.

Chen Youliang clapped three times, “Bring that devil head in,” he said.

From the back of the hall came four beggars with unsheathed weapons in their hands, dragging a man whose hands were tied behind his back. Zhang Wuji saw that he was a young man in his early twenties; his face looked very familiar. He remembered he had seen this man during the Ming Cult great assembly on the Butterfly Valley, but he did not remember that man’s name. That man looked furious; when he walked passed Chen Youliang, he suddenly spat on his face. Chen Youliang quickly dodged while striking that man’s cheek with the back of his palm, causing that man’s cheek to immediately swell.

The beggar behind him pushed him down and shouted, “Kneel down and kowtow in Bangzhu’s presence!”

That man coughed and spat thick spittle toward Shi Huolong’s face.

The distance between that man and Shi Huolong was very close, to begin with, plus, he spat with all his might. Although Shi Huolong hastily ducked, he was not able to evade. ‘Splat!’ the spittle landed on his forehead.

Chen Youliang’s leg swept away and kicked that man down, while he blocked in front of Shi Huolong. Pointing his finger to him, Chen Youliang barked, “Daring crazy disciple! Are you bored of your life?”

That man shot back, “Since I have fallen into your hand, your master does not hope to go home alive!”

As Chen Youliang blocked, Shi Huolong had the opportunity to wipe the spittle from his forehead. Chen Youliang moved two steps backward and said, “Reporting to Bangzhu: this fellow is a top ranking expert within the Devil Cult; his martial art skill level appears to be above the four Protector Kings. We must not look down on him.”

Listening to him, Zhang Wuji was astonished, but he immediately understood; Chen Youliang was deliberately exaggerating that man’s martial art to give face to his Clan Leader. Shi Huolong was the Clan Leader of the Beggar Clan, but surprisingly he was not able to evade this spittle attack, which was highly unlikely. Furthermore, after receiving such insult, his face did not show any indignation, but he appeared to be somewhat frightened and was at a loss.

“Chen Xiongsi,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao asked, “Who is this man?”

“His name is Han Lin’er,” Chen Youliang replied, “The son of Han Shantong.”

Zhang Wuji nodded his head silently, “That’s right. During the general assembly in the Butterfly Valley, he was always following his father around and did not speak to me at all, no wonder I did not remember his name.”

“Ah,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao was delighted, “He is Han Shantong’s son. Chen Xiongdi, your contribution is even greater. Reporting to Bangzhu: for the past several years, Han Shantong has repeatedly defeated the Yuan army, establishing for himself a great fame for his military prowess. The generals under his command, Zhu Yuanzhang, Xu Da, Chang Yuchun, and the others, are all important leaders within the Devil Cult. By capturing this fellow, we can use him as hostage, so that we won’t have to worry about Han Shantong not listening to our Clan.”

Han Lin’er opened his mouth in swearing and cursing, “In your mother’s dream! What kind of hero is my Father? How could he submit to your shameless coercing? My Father only listen to Zhang Jiaozhu’s order. Your Beggar Clan wants to contend for supremacy against my Ming Cult? You are overestimating your own capabilities too much! Your stinky Beggar Clan Bangzhu is not even fit to carry our Zhang Jiaozhu.”

Chen Youliang chuckled, “Han Xiongdi,” he said, “You say your Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu is such a hero, all of us admire him very much and want to see his face. Why don’t you take us to see him?”

“Zhang Jiaozhu is dealing with important matters,” Han Lin’er said, “Even our own brethrens cannot easily see him. How can he have time to see you?” [Translator’s note: in this exchange, both Chen Youliang and Han Lin’er referred to Zhang Wuji as ‘lao ren jia’ – Senior, a polite term for someone of higher status or simply older.]

Chen Youliang laughed, “Everybody in Jianghu said that Zhang Wuji has been captured by the Yuan army and has been beheaded at Dadou a while ago that his leadership in all levels has been taken over in various regions, yet you are still blowing your horn?”

“Pei!” Han Lin’er spat angrily, “Bullshit! Can Tartars capture our Zhang Jiaozhu? Even if he is surrounded by a thousand soldiers and ten thousands horses, our Jiaozhu can come and go as he wishes. It is true that Zhang Jiaozhu has gone to Dadou, but he went there to rescue the Wulin characters of the Six Major Sects. What beheading? You are but sprouting nonsense!”

Chen Youliang was not angered, still chuckling he said, “That was what I heard from the Jianghu, it’s hard for me not to believe. Why else would in the past half a year or so we only heard about Han Shantong, Xu Shouhui, and some Zhu Yuanzhang, Peng Yingyu Heshang [Buddhist monk], but we have never heard about Zhang Wuji? Surely it is because he is dead. I have no doubt about it.”

Han Lin’er’s face turned completely red, the blue vein on his forehead bulged out. “My Father, Xu Shouhui and the others are executing Zhang Jiaozhu’s command; how can they be compared with Zhang Jiaozhu?”

Chen Youliang incredulously said, “This man Zhang Wuji’s martial art skill cannot be considered bad, but he was destined not to live a long life and will die young. Somebody who has done some divination on him says that he won’t live past the beginning of this year …”

Right at this moment, suddenly a branch of the old cypress tree in the courtyard was shaking lightly, but nobody in the main hall knew about it. Zhang Wuji, however, was able to hear a faint excited breathing noise from behind the branch, but that person immediately controlled his breath that the noise stopped.

“Turn out there is someone hiding on that old cypress tree,” Zhang Wuji thought, “This person must be here before I did. How come I am not aware of his presence for this long? His martial art skill must be not bad.” Focusing his eyes, he saw a shadow among the branches and the leaves. He saw the corner of that person’s green clothes; he knew that person was well prepared, his outfit blended very well with the color of the cypress tree. If not for Zhang Wuji’s astute vision, he would have had a difficult time seeing that person.

He heard Han Lin’er angrily said, “Zhang Jiaozhu has a big heart with a generous nature, the Heaven will most certainly bless him. He is still very young and I will not be surprised if he will live another hundred years.

Chen Youliang gasped and said, “But a man’s fate is hard to predict! I heard that he was framed by a traitor and thus was captured and executed by the imperial government. I don’t find that as a strange occurrence. People who have seen Zhang Wuji all said that he would not live past three times eight, twenty-four years of age …”

Suddenly from the old cypress tree a green shadow flashed, someone jumped down and shouted, “Zhang Wuji is here! Who cursed me as a short-lived man?” The voice still lingered in the air, the person had already entered the main hall.

Zhang Bang Zhanglao, who was standing at the door, stretched out his hand to grab the back of that person’s neck, trying to capture him. With a swift and nimble movement, that person evaded to the side. Now everyone could see that he was wearing a green robe with a rectangular headband, his manner was elegant, his face was like a jade, and his eyes were as clear as water. He was none other than Zhao Min wearing a man’s clothes.

As he saw Zhao Min made an appearance, Zhang Wuji’s heart was shaken; he was startled and angered at the same time, but also felt sweetness and delight in his heart, so that he could not refrain from softly exclaiming. By this time, all the beggars in the main hall had already surrounded Zhao Min, hence nobody paid any attention to his exclamation.

The Beggar Clan people had never seen Zhang Wuji, they only knew that the Ming Cult’s Cult Leader was a young man around twenty years of age with a superb martial art skill. Seeing Zhao Min’s swiftness and agility in evading Zhang Bang Zhanglao’s grab, they knew this person was a top quality martial art expert, hence they all believe the Ming Cult’s Cult Leader had arrived, everybody shivered in fear.

Only Chen Youliang noticed that his face was too pretty, he looked too young, and there was a rather flirtatious tone in his voice. All in all, there was a difference with this man’s appearance and the description of Zhang Wuji in the Jianghu. He shouted, “Zhang Wuji has been dead long ago, where did this impostor come from?”

Zhao Min indignantly said, “Zhang Wuji is alive and well, why did you keep cursing him as dead? Zhang Wuji is flooded with good fortune as vast as the sky, he will live a long life of over-a-hundred-years; he will live another eighty years even after everybody in here is dead.”

Zhang Wuji could hear the sadness in these few sentences; it was as if after abandoning them on that desolate island, she was pricked by her own conscience. But then he thought, “How can this kind of cruel and mean person have any conscience? Zhang Wuji, oh Zhang Wuji, you simply are not willing to part with her. You are simply deceiving yourself with this kind of wishful thinking.”

“Who are you, actually?” Chen Youliang asked.

Zhao Min replied, “I am the Ming Cult Jiaozhu, Zhang Wuji. Why do you hold my subordinate brother captive? Release him quickly. Whatever problem you have, I am here to deal with you personally.”

“Huh, huh!” suddenly someone from the side sneered, “Miss Zhao, others may not recognize you; do you think I, Song Qingshu, don’t know you? Reporting to Bangzhu: this woman is the Ruyang Prince’s daughter, she has many martial art experts under her command, we must guard against them.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao pursed his lips and whistled loudly, “Zhang Bang Zhanglao, take our brothers go out the temple to seek the enemy. Watch for enemies coming in to attack,” he ordered.

Zhang Bang Zhanglao responded and went out the hall. In an instant from every direction came shouts and whistles from the Beggar Clan disciples. Seeing this situation, Zhao Min’s countenance changed slightly, she clapped her hands once, and from the top of the wall two men jumped down; they were the Xuanming Er Lao [Xuanming ‘two’ Elders], Lu Zhangke and He Biweng.

“Get them!” Zhi Fa Zhanglao barked his order. Immediately four seven-pouch disciples pounced on Lu and He, two elders.

Xuanming Elders’ martial arts were exceptionally strong, in just three stances all four seven-pouch disciples were injured. The white-haired, white-bearded Chuan Gong Zhanglao stood up. With a loud shout his palm struck straight to He Biweng, creating a loud gust of wind, a sign of overwhelming power behind that strike.

He Biweng used his ‘Xuan Ming Shen Zhang’ [mysterious and dark divine palm] to parry the attack. With a loud ‘Bang!’ two palms collided. Three palms exchanges later, it was evident that Chuan Gong Zhanglao was not He Biweng’s match.

On the other front, Lu Zhangke, with the deer antler staff in his hand, fought Zhi Fa Zhanglao and Zhang Bo Longtou, two people. For the time being, it was hard to decide which side had the upper hand.

Seeing Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s face was flushed as red as blood, while retreating step-by-step, Zhang Bang Longtou could not help from feeling alarmed. He knew Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s profound power, which could be considered as their Clan’s number one martial art expert; how could he not able to match this old man? By the fifth palm exchange, he saw Chuan Gong Zhanglao was gasping for breath, his white beard fluttered in the air; it was clear that he was in distress. Although he knew Chuan Gong Zhanglao had never liked to be helped in fight, seeing his dire condition, in the end Zhang Bang Longtou could not let him lose his life under the enemy’s hand; Zhang Bang Longtou swept He Biweng’s feet using his iron staff.

As the Xuanming Elders appeared, Zhao Min was about to retreat, but Chen Youliang blocked her way with a sword. In the Wan An Temple, Zhao Min had learned the essence of the Six Major Sects’ martial art skill. With ‘shua, shua, shua’sounds her sword moved. The first stance was Huashan’s sword technique, the second was Kunlun’s, and the last one was Kongtong’s. For the fourth stance, she used the Emei Pai’s ‘jin ding jiu shi’ [golden peak nine styles].

Chen Youliang was taken by surprise and was not able to fend off. Zhao Min’s sword made a circle and stabbed straight toward his chest. ‘Clang!’ a sword was thrust horizontally from the left, diverting Zhao Min’s sword; it was Song Qingshu.

While the battle was raging all over the main hall, Zhang Wuji watched from the top of the pine tree. He saw Song Qingshu was able to fully utilize the Wudang sword technique. His movements were steady and fierce; apparently he had mastered the lessons imparted by is father, Song Yuanqiao. Chen Youliang also attacked from the side. Although Zhao Min possessed a vast knowledge of sword techniques, in the end diversity could not overcome purity. With one against two, already she was forced to defend herself more and attack less.

Zhang Wuji was secretly anxious, but also puzzled, “Why does she use an ordinary sword? If it was Yitian Sword, she would be able to cut her opponents’ swords and break through their siege.” He noticed that she was wearing tight clothes, showing off her slim figure; it was obvious that she was not concealing the Yitian Sword on her waist. After feeling anxious for a while, Zhang Wuji rebuked himself, “Zhang Wuji, this little witch killed your cousin; why are you anxious over her safety instead? You not only offend Biaomei [younger female cousin], but offend Yifu and Zhiruo as well.”

After fighting for a while, several more martial art masters from the Beggar Clan joined the battle, while on Zhao Min’s side no other people came in to help. Realizing the unfavorable situation, Lu Zhangke called out, “Jun Zhu Niang-niang [princess], Shi Di [martial (younger) brother], let’s retreat to the courtyard and find an opportunity to leave.”

“Very well,” Miss Zhao said, “This man surnamed Chen slanders Zhang Gongzi [young master Zhang], saying he is short-lived and will die young. I am mad at him; you two deal with him well.”

“Will do,” Xuanming Elders replied, “Junzhu, please leave first. Leave this kid to us.”

Zhao Min also said, “That Han Lin’er is very loyal to Zhang Gongzi, you must try to save him.”

“Junzhu, please withdraw first,” Lu Zhangke said, “Leave the rescuing business to us, two brothers.” These three people were talking about rescuing people while under the siege of powerful enemies, as if they did not have any regard toward their opponents.

While the battle in the main hall was raging wild, the Beggar Clan’s Clan Leader Shi Huolong was standing quietly on the corner of the main hall. As Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa two Elders listened to Zhao Min’s exchange with the Xuanming Elders, they ordered their people to intercept. Suddenly both Lu Zhangke and He Biweng left their opponents and charged toward Shi Huolong. Their movement was so fast that it was impossible for Shi Huolong to resist. Who would have thought that as Chen Youliang listened to Zhao Min and the Xuanming Elders planning their escape, he had already anticipated this tactic? He preceded everybody else by going around and was ready by Shi Huolong’s side.

Before the Xuanming Elders’ palm strikes arrived, Chen Youliang had already pushed Shi Huolong’s shoulder down, and shoved him behind the Mi Le Fo image. ‘Crack!’ as the Xuanming Elders palms struck down, part of the idol broke with its debris flew everywhere, while the idol itself was swaying, ready to fall down. He Biweng moved another step forward and struck two more times with his palms. The large idol flew to the air and crashed down.

The crowd of beggars cried out in alarm and leaped away to evade. Zhao Min took advantage of this highly chaotic situation to leap out to the courtyard. Song Qingshu and Zhang Bang Longtou, one with a sword the other a staff, pursued together. As she was leaping over the temple gate, three staves suddenly appeared lightning fast to sweep the lower part of Zhao Min’s body. Zhao Min was already busy blocking Song Qingshu’s sword and Zhang Bang Longtou’s iron staff, now she had to evade these three incoming attacks. She managed to avoid two, but failed to evade the third. She felt pain on her left shin as a staff struck her, her feet faltered and she fell down forward. Song Qingshu flipped his sword to strike the back of Zhao Min’s head with the handle, with the intention of knocking her down and capture her alive.

As the sword hilt was only less than half a foot away from her head, suddenly the iron staff in Zhang Bang Longtou’s hand flicked the sword hilt up, diverting Song Qingshu’s sword to the side. Right at that moment a shadow flew up and leaped over the wall.

Song Qingshu turned around and asked Zhang Bang Longtou, “Why did you let her go?”

Zhang Bang Longtuo was angry, “Why did you pull my iron staff up?”

“It was you who used your staff to divert my sword,” Song Qingshu said, “And still …”

“It’s no use arguing,” Zhang Bang Longtou shouted, “Let’s pursue her!”

Immediately two people leaped over the wall, only to see nearby the corner a seven-pouch disciple was lying down; his leg was broken from the fall that he was unable to crawl back up.

“Where did that witch run away to?” Zhang Bang Longtou asked.

Several seven-pouch disciples who were on guard outside the wall replied, “Nobody was here; we did not see anybody.”

Zhang Bang Longtou was angry, “Just a moment ago clearly somebody was leaping over the wall over here. Are you all blind?”

A six-pouch disciple stooped down to help the seven-pouch disciple whose leg was broken, he said, “Just now it was this brother who leaped over the wall, there was no other people.”

Zhang Bang Longtou scratched his head and asked that seven-pouch disciple, “Why did you leap over the wall?”

“I … ,” the seven-pouch disciple mumbled indistinctly, “I was grabbed and thrown away. That witch used a weird technique.”

Zhang Bang Longtou turned toward Song Qingshu and angrily shouted, “Just now you used your sword handle to pull up my iron staff, why did you do that? You have just joined our Clan, and already you pulled a stunt?”

Song Qingshu was shocked and angered, he said, “Disciple was just going to use the sword hilt to strike down that witch, it was Longtou Dage [big brother Longtou] who used the iron staff to divert my sword hilt, letting that witch escape.”

“Ridiculous!” Zhang Bang Longtou roared, “Why would I divert your sword hilt? I have been in out Clan for several decades, and have achieved this high-ranking Zhang Bang Longtou position. Why would I help an outsider? Let me ask you this: why didn’t you use the sword blade to stab her but use the sword hilt, pretending to strike her down instead? Hmm, hmm … my old eyes are not blind yet; you cannot deceive me.”

Although within the Wudang Pai Song Qingshu was only the third generation young disciple, everybody in Wudang was aware that he was the future Sect Leader, so even Yu Lianzhou, Zhang Songxi, and the other martial uncles treated him with respect, and had never uttered even half a sentence of harsh words. He was used to being arrogant. Although he knew Zhang Bang Longtou’s position with the Beggar Clan was much higher than his, who had just joined the Clan, he felt he was being wrongly accused in this matter. Not willing to swallow an insult, he immediately retorted, “’Pulling up a stunt’, these words were obviously carelessly said. If Longtou Dage wants to accuse me, you must have some people as witnesses. As Xiao Di [little brother, referring to himself] struck my sword hilt down, it was obvious that you used the staff to block. There are many people in here, I doubt it if nobody saw what had happened.”

Hearing his words, Zhang Bang Longtou understood the table was turned; now he was accused of being pulling up a stunt, by letting Zhao Min escape. His anger blazed like a raging fire. “You, a mere kid, are being rude to your elder, are you flaunting Wudang’s prestige in your background?” He said that while striking down his staff to smash Song Qingshu’s head. Under his violent rage, the staff carried a tremendous amount of force.

Song Qingshu did not yield for even one breath; he lifted up his sword to block. The sword and the staff collided, ‘Clang!’ sparks flew everywhere. Song Qingshu felt searing pain on his palm.

“Surnamed Song,” Zhang Bang Longtou roared, “You dare to defy your superior, did the enemy send you to spy on our Clan?” While saying this, his staff struck for the second time.

Suddenly somebody rushed out of the temple gate, stretched out a sword to take the staff, followed it down and pushed it away, while saying, “Longtou Dage, please don’t be angry.” This man was none other than the eight-pouch elder Chen Youliang. “Where is that little witch, Zhao Min?” he asked.

Zhang Bang Longtou, still seething with anger, pointed his finger toward Song Qingshu and said, “He let her go.”

“No,” Song Qingshu hastily said, “It was Longtou Dage who let her go.”

While the two of them were bickering, the Xuan Ming Elders had already whisked out of the temple. They looked everywhere and did not see Zhao Min, so they figured she had already escaped. Letting out a long laugh, their four palms struck together, immediately several Beggar Clan disciples fell down to the ground. By the time Chuan Gong Zhanglao, Zhi Fa Zhanglao and the others came out, the Xuan Ming Elders, the sound of their long laughs had already dozens of ‘zhang’s away, so even if they wanted to pursue, they would not be able to overtake them.

What really happened was Zhang Wuji saw Song Qingshu flipping his sword to strike Zhao Min’s head. He realized the strike could be light or could be heavy; if it was light, it would knock her unconscious, if it was heavy, it would take her life away. Almost without thinking he jumped down from the ancient pine tree and using the divine skill of Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, from behind Zhang Bang Longtou he pushed the iron staff in his hand to divert Song Qingshu’s sword. His mastery of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi had already reached unprecedented level, during the past several months on the desolated island, since he had nothing to do, he researched and studied the secret Xiao Zhao translated from the Sheng Huo Ling tablets. By integrating these two techniques, his skill was ten times more ingenious than the Persian Three Emissaries’ strange martial art. This time he darted out from his hiding place, although Zhang Bang Longtou and Song Qingshu were such martial art masters, they were incapable to detect his movement. Zhang Bang Longtou only knew Song Qingshu strike his iron staff, while Song Qingshu clearly see Zhang Bang Longtou stretch out his staff to divert his sword.

Taking advantage while those two people were startled, his left hand reached behind him to grab a seven-pouch disciple and toss him over the wall. Zhang Bang Longtou and Song Qingshu saw someone was leaping over the wall, they assumed it was Zhao Min escaping, so both of them pursued out. Zhang Wuji grabbed Zhao Min and took her to the top of the hall. It was the middle of the day under the sunny sky, so actually, nothing could disappear without anybody else noticing; but as Zhang Bang Longtou and Song Qingshu went out the temple gate, the crowd of beggars also noisily swarmed out the gate. Although there were many eyes, apparently nobody paid any attention to whatever was flying above their heads. Besides, as the Mi Le image collapsed in the main hall, dust and debris rose up, filling the air; everybody went out in confusion from the main hall via both front and rear doors. The martial art experts among them were busy besieging the Xuanming Elders, while those with weaker martial art skill were busy protecting themselves. Thus, it was not surprising that nobody knew what was going on.

As she was rescued in a critical condition, Zhao Min felt she was being carried by a pair of strong, powerful arms. She also felt as if they were soaring amidst the cloud or rising above the fog to the top of the main hall. Turning her head around, under the dazzling sunlight she saw thick eyebrows and handsome eyes, it was Zhang Wuji. Not believing her own eyes, she gasped, “It’s you!”

Zhang Wuji reached out to cover her mouth. His eyes scanned on all directions, and saw the front, the back, left and right of the Mi Le Temple were filled with the Beggar Clan disciples. It was not difficult for him if he wanted to escape even with Zhao Min in his arms; but since he knew the Beggar Clan was secretly conspiring to harm his Cult, and Song Shige [martial (older) brother] of Wudang Pai had now joined the Beggar Clan, it would be a pity if he did not investigate clearly and simply withdrew in light of these matters.

He saw Song Qingshu and Zhang Bang Longtou were still quarrelling. Zhang Bang Longtou’s eyes revealed an ominous look, moreover, there were some malicious people within the Beggar Clan, Song Qingshu may fall into their treacherous hands. Besides, Han Lin’er was very loyal and devoted, he simply must be rescued.

Seeing the dust and debris were still hanging in the air in the main hall, he thought he might as well enter the hall and find someplace to hide. He darted forward toward the eaves, and then with both feet hooked to the eaves, he slowly pulled his legs and slid down toward the back of the idol from the left side. He saw in the room there were only several Beggar Clan disciples left, they were lying on the floor, groaning because of the injury they suffered when the idol fell down, but Han Lin’er was nowhere to be seen, and he wondered where they took him.

Zhang Wuji scanned around the room, but was not able to find a good hiding place. Zhao Min pointed toward a large leather drum, supported on a large and tall wooden structure, about a ‘zhang’ away from the ground, with a large bell on its right flank. Zhang Wuji immediately realized it was a perfect hiding place. Creeping around the wall, he went behind the leather drum. He leaped up and his right-hand forefinger slit horizontally on the leather drum. With a light ripping sound there was a large split on the leather. Bracing his left foot on the beam of the wooden structure, his forefinger slit vertically, making a cross-shaped split on the drum. With Zhao Min in his arms he stepped into the large drum. Although the drum was big, there was not enough room to move with two people inside. Zhao Min leaned on Zhang Wuji, breathing tenderly.

The drum was very old, and inside was filled with dust. Amidst the bad smell of dust and dirt, Zhang Wuji could smell delicate fragrance coming out from Zhao Min’s body. His heart was filled with love and hate, his mind was filled with countless words he would like to ask her, but with great difficulty he restrained himself from opening his mouth. He was conscious of Zhao Min’s tender body leaning on his bosom, her soft and silky skin lightly rubbed against his face. Suddenly he was startled, “I should not even save her, how can I be this intimate with her in here?” Lifting up his hand, he pushed Zhao Min’s head away, not letting her to lean against his shoulder.

In her anger Zhao Min elbowed his chest. Zhang Wuji used his internal energy to rebound the incoming force; Zhao Min felt the pain that she could not help but crying out. Zhang Wuji had already anticipated this, so he reached out to cover her mouth.

In the meantime, he heard Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s voice rose up from below, “Reporting to Bangzhu: the enemy has escaped without leaving any trace, subordinate is incompetent and failed to capture them, waiting for Bangzhu’s punishment.”

“It’s all right,” Shi Huolong replied, “The enemy’s martial art skill is very high, everybody has done his best. Damn it! It’s just our bad luck, it has nothing to do with Zhanglao.”

“Many thanks, Bangzhu,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said.

After that, Zhang bang Longtou brought the accusation that Song Qingshu has let the enemy escape. Song Qingshu refuted by explaining his own reasoning. Both sides were insistent on their own version, the main hall was filled with anger.

“Chen Xiongdi,” Shi Huolong said, “What is your take on this?”

“Reporting to Bangzhu,” Chen Youliang said, “Zhang Bang Longtou is a senior leader of our Clan, so what he said cannot be wrong. But Song Xiongdi joined our Clan in sincerity, that little witch surnamed Zhao is his adversary, so it would not be in his interest to let her escape. In my humble opinion, this witch surnamed Zhao possesses a strange martial art, she is able to borrow strength to fight strength, hence she pushed Longtou Dage’s iron staff to divert Song Xiongdi’s sword. In confusion, both sides did not realize it and thus this misunderstanding arose.”

Zhang Wuji silently praised him, “This Chen Youliang is very good; he did not see what happened, but his guess is 80, 90% correct.”

He heard Shi Huolong said, “It makes perfect sense. Both brothers, everybody is doing his best for our Clan’s sake, please do not damage the friendship over this minor incident.”

Zhang Bang Longtou furiously said, “Even if he …”

Without waiting for him to finish, Chen Youliang interrupted, “Song Xiongdi, Longtou Dage is a person of good moral standing and reputation, even if he wrongly accused you, you will still benefit from his advice. Quickly apologize to Longtou Dage.”

Song Qingshu had no choice but step forward and cup his fists. “Longtou Dage,” he said, “Xiao Di [little brother, referring to himself] has offended you just now, please accept my apology.”

That Zhang Bang Longtou was still furious, but he knew he could not lash it out, so he snorted and said, “It’s all right!”

Chen Youliang’s speech seemingly placed the blame on Song Qingshu, but actually by saying that Zhao Min ‘pushed Longtou Dage’s iron staff to divert Song Xiongdi’s sword’, and ‘Longtou Dage is a person of good moral standing and reputation, even if he wrongly accused you, you will still benefit from his advice’, he placed the blame on Zhang Bang Longtou; all elders of the Beggar Clan understood it clearly. However, Chen Youliang had recently become the Clan Leader’s favorite, Shi Huolong always listened to his advice; what else can they say?

“Chen Xiongdi,” Shi Huolong said, “The little witch that has caused disturbance just now, is the Ruyang Prince’s beloved daughter. The Devil Cult is the imperial household’s enemy, then why did that damned witch stand up for that little devil head Zhang Wuji?”

While Chen Youliang hesitated and did not answer, Zhang Bo Longtou said, “I noticed that that Tartar Junzhu was crying with an extremely angry look on her face. When Chen Xiongdi cursed the Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu, that Tartar Junzhu looked like someone was cursing her father or brother. It is indeed confusing.”

Song Qingshu said, “Reporting to Bangzhu: Subordinate has some knowledge about this matter.”

“Song Xiongdi, you may speak,” Shi Huolong said.

“Although the Devil Cult is opposing the imperial government, this little witch Junzhu is captivated by Zhang Wuji,” Song Qingshu said, “It seems to me that she wants to marry him very much. Consequently, she is always trying to protect him.”

“Ah!” as the crowd of beggars listen to this, they all exclaimed in surprise.

Inside the gigantic drum, Zhang Wuji also heard it clearly; his heart was thumping madly, but in his mind he had a question, “Is it true? Is it true?”

Zhao Min turned her head around and stared at him. Although the inside of the drum was dim, Zhang Wuji’s acute eyes were able to see that her eyes showed a boundless love. He could not restrain a warm feeling from overflowing his breast. His hands, which were holding her arms, tightened. He felt a strong urge to kiss her cherry lips, but suddenly Yin Li’s tragic death came into his mind; immediately the warm, tender feeling in his heart changed into deep hatred. His right hand grabbed her arm and crushed it. Although he did not use strength, but it was unbearable to Zhao Min nonetheless, so much so that her vision blackened and she almost passed out from the pain, making her want to echo Yin Li’s curse on him, ‘This heartless and short-lived little rascal.’ In the end Zhao Min did her best to control herself not to utter any sound, but big streams of tears flowed down her cheeks and dropped onto the back of Zhang Wuji’s hand, overflowing to the front of his clothes. Zhang Wuji simply hardened his heart and ignored her completely.

He heard Chen Youliang said, “How did you know? Did such a strange thing really happen?”

With hatred in his voice Song Qingshu replied, “This fellow Zhang Wuji’s appearance is only so-so, he is not the least bit handsome nor possesses an outstanding ability, but he practices the Devil Cult’s sorcery. He is good at captivating women’s attractions that many young women are infatuated by him.”

“That’s right,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao nodded, “The Devil Cult’s lecherous and demonic disciples really did practice this kind of ‘flower-picking’ [cai3 hua1] method [Translator’s note: again, I know I translated this phrase rather literally, but I am sure the readers can appreciate the Jin Yong’s imagery], where males and females gather together. Emei Pai’s disciple, Ji Xiaofu, also fell under the Devil Cult Yang Xiao’s sorcery, in the end she lost her reputation and fell from grace. Zhang Wuji’s father, Zhang Cuisan, also fell under the demonic charm of White-browed Eagle King’s daughter. That Tartar Junzhu must have fallen under the little devil head’s ‘flower-picking’ incantation and thus lost her chastity to him. The wood has become the boat, the (grain) rice has become (cooked) rice [Translator’s note: for those of you who are not familiar with rice, in Chinese, the uncooked, grain rice is called ‘mi3’, while the cooked rice we eat is called ‘fan4’]; she is depraved and cannot extricate herself from disgrace.” The crowd of beggars nodded their heads in agreement.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao was filled with righteous indignation, he said, “This kind of Jianghu’s scum, everybody has the right to punish him; otherwise, countless innocent and respectable young women will be harmed by this pervert little thief.”

Shi Huolong stuck out his tongue and licked his lips. “Damn it!” he said with a laugh, “This pervert little thief Zhang Wuji’s luck is not bad!”

Zhang Wuji was so angry that his body, from head to toe, shook. So far he was still a virgin, yet from Emei Pai’s Miejue Shitai down to these people, for countless times he was cursed as a ‘pervert little thief’. He truly suffered injustice and had nowhere to appeal. As for ‘Zhao Min lost her chastity to him, the wood has become the boat’ and so on, he wondered where did those things come from? Thinking to this point he was suddenly startled, “Miss Zhao and I are in each other arms here, they absolutely must not find out; otherwise they will have a confirmation of their slandering.”

He heard Chuan Gong Zhanglao continue, “Emei Pai’s Miss Zhou Zhiruo has fallen into this pervert thief’s hand, whether or not she can protect her chastity, is difficult to say. Song Xiongdi, please don’t worry, we will certainly help you recapture your beloved wife; we cannot let the matter of Ji Xiaofu be repeated today.”

“What Dage [big brother] said was very true,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “Wudang Pai failed to take Yin Liting under their wings in the past, they are not able to shelter Song Qingshu today. Song Xiongdi invests his life in our Clan; if we fail to protect his interest by helping him accomplish his cherished desire, as the Wudang Pai’s future Sect Leader, won’t his agreement to become a six-pouch disciple of our Clan be in vain?” The crowd of beggars loudly responded, they all said an oath to kill the pervert thief Zhang Wuji and take Song Qingshu’s wife back.

Zhao Min put his mouth next to Zhang Wuji’s ears and whispered, “You are a pervert little thief who deserves to die!” She sounded as if she was angered by them, but also mad at him; as if she was complaining and admiring him at the same time, yet her voice also carried a flirtatious tone. Listening to her, Zhang Wuji’s heart was swayed; all of a sudden he was having mixed feelings. He thought in agony, “If only she wasn’t this cruel and treacherous, and did not kill my cousin, I would be happy to be with her for the rest of my life; I wouldn’t have anything to worry.”

He heard Song Qingshu vaguely express his gratitude to the crowd of beggars. Zhi Fa Zhanglao asked again, “How did that pervert little thief charm the Tartar Junzhu? Do you know?”

“As an outsider I don’t know the details,” Song Qingshu replied, “I know that that little witch led the imperial warriors to the Wudang Mountain to capture my Tai Shifu [grand master], but when she saw that pervert thief’s face, she quickly withdrew without a fuss, and the great calamity facing Wudang Pai was thwarted. About twenty years ago my San Shishu [third martial (younger) uncle] Yu Daiyan’s limbs were broken by some people, and that little witch presented some medicine to that pervert thief, thus the broken bones were healed.”

“That is so,” Zhi Fa Zhanglo said, “The Wudang Pai was actually a thorn in the imperial government’s eyes, if that Tartar Junzhu was not captivated by the deceitful lust and has forgotten her natural disposition, she would not have presented the medicine as a gift to help the enemy. That being said, although this pervert little thief’s conduct was despicable, he still have some good feelings toward Tai Shifu and your various martial uncles.”

“Mmm,” Song Qingshu said, “I prefer to think that he has not forgotten his roots.”

Chen Youliang said, “Reporting to Bangzhu: After listening to Song Xiongdi’s explanation, I have an idea which will make that pervert little thief, along with the Devil Cult, from top to bottom, to meekly obey our Clan’s order.”

Shi Huolong happily said, “Chen Xiongdi unexpectedly thought an ingenious plan, please explain it quickly.”

“There are too many eyes and ears in here,” Chen Youliang said, “Even though we are all brothers, I am still afraid someone might leak the secret.”

The murmurs in the main hall immediately stopped; some footsteps were heard, about a dozen or so people went out the hall, leaving only several highest-level leaders of the Beggar Clan.

“This matter is to be treated with the highest confidence,” Chen Youliang said, “Song Xiongdi, both Longtou Dage, let us search around this place to make sure nobody is eavesdropping.”

A couple of rustling noise was heard as Zhang Bang Longtou and Zhang Bo Longtou were jumping onto the roof, while Chen Youliang and Song Qingshu went inspecting around the hall. They looked behind the idol, behind the curtain, behind the inscribed overhead board, everywhere. Zhang Wuji secretly praised Zhao Min’s resourcefulness, as other than this big drum, there was no other hiding place in the main hall. Four people finished their inspection and returned to the hall.

In a low voice Chen Youliang said, “This matter is highly dependent on Song Xiongdi.”

“Me?” Song Qingshu asked in amazement.

“That’s right,” Chen Youliang said, “Zhang Bo Longtou Dage, please give some ‘wu du shi xin san’ [five-poison losing conscience powder] and have Song Xiongdi take it to Mount Wudang, let him secretly put it into Zhang Zhenren [a respectful term to address a Taoist priest] and various Wudang heroes’ food and drink. We are going to wait at the foot of the mountain. If everything goes well, we are going to capture Zhang Zhenren and various Wudang heroes. Won’t we then be able to coerce and disturb that pervert little thief Zhang Wuji so that he obeys our Clan?”

Shi Huolong was first to applaud and called out, “Marvelous, marvelous!”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao also said, “This plan is not bad. Our Clan’s ‘wu du shi xin san’ is very fierce, but if we want to put the poison on Zhang Wuji’s food and drink, I am afraid the Devil Cult guard on him is too tight, so it is very unlikely for us to succeed. Song Xiongdi is a Wudang disciple, so if we want to capture Wudang people, it will be like guarding against the thief who is already in the house, truly inconspicuous, a very cunning strategy, it will be very easy.”

“This … this …” Song Qingshu haltingly said, “It means I will have to poison my own father, absolutely impossible.”

Chen Youliang said, “Our Clan’s ‘wu du shi xin san’ is very effective to lose someone’s consciousness, but it is totally harmless to the body. Your honorable father, Song Daxia [great hero Song] is a righteous hero, we respect him very much, we certainly will not harm a single strand of his hair.”

Song Qingshu was still unwilling to comply, he said, “I join our Clan without asking Tai Shifu and my father’s permission first. When they find out in the future, they will certainly hold me accountable; I don’t know what the best way to explain this to them would be. However, our Clan has always taken the path of chivalry, no different than Wudang Pai’s objective, thus this is not considered a capital crime. But if I am asked to do this unfilial thing, defying my elders, I do not dare to accept.”

“Xiongdi,” Chen Youliang said, “You have not given this a careful thought. In order to accomplish a great undertaking, we should not be bothered by trivial matters. The people of old sacrificed their loved ones for the sake of great justice, it happened many times in history; let alone our objective is to deal with the Devil Cult. Capturing the various Wudang heroes is nothing more than a way to gain control over that pervert little thief Zhang Wuji. When the Six Major Sects besieged the Devil Cult, didn’t Wudang Pai also come in full force?”

“If I do this,” Song Qingshu said, “First, my conscience is uneasy. Second, tens of thousands Jianghu people will spit in contempt over me; how can I still have a face to stand on the earth?”

“Do you know why I asked the eight-pouch elders to withdraw from the hall just now?” Chen Youliang asked, “Why did we carefully search from top to bottom, from front to rear? It is exactly because I am afraid somebody might leak the secret. Song Xiongdi, after administering the drug, you also fake losing your consciousness. We will also tie you up along with your Tai Shifu, your honorable father, and your various martial uncles, nobody will suspect you. Other than the seven of us here, who else in this world knows? We will admire you as a hero and a real man who is capable of undertaking an important matter, who would laugh at you?”

Song Qingshu was silent for half a day before haltingly said, “Bangzhu and Chen Dage’s [big brother Chen] order, Xiaodi [little brother] really does not dare to disobey. Furthermore, Xiaodi is a new member of our Clan, supposedly must seize every opportunity to obtain a merit; even go through fire or water, I should do it with all my might. Only, a man’s life in this world must be based on being filial and righteous; so asking Xiaodi to scheme against my own father, I can’t follow this order no matter what.”

[Note: previously, Song Qingshu referred to himself as ‘Xiongdi’ – brother in general term, in this last sentence, he used the term ‘Xiaodi’ – little/younger brother; denoting a definite change of attitude.]

For the Beggar Clan people the word ‘filial’ was extremely revered; as the group of beggars heard his last words, they felt it was inappropriate to force him further. But suddenly Chen Youliang laughed coldly and said, “A junior to defy his senior is the big taboo of the Wulin world, I know it, Song Xiongdi does not need to remind me. But I wonder how does Song Xiongdi address Mo Qixia [Seventh Hero Mo]? Is he your senior, or are you his senior?”

Song Qingshu did not answer, after a long while he finally said, “Very well, since Bangzhu and gentlemen give me the order, Xiaodi will comply. But all of you must promise not to endanger my father not even half a part of him, also not to disgrace him in any way. Otherwise, Xiaodi would rather lose my reputation and fall into disgrace than committing this non filial shady business.”

Shi Huolong, Chen Youliang and the others were exulted. Chen Youliang said, “That’s a great answer. Song Xiongdi can work with us brothers very well. Song Daxia is everybody’s respected senior. Even if Song Xiongdi did not mention it, as his nephews we are going to show him our utmost respect.”

Zhang Wuji felt strange, “Song Shige was always unwilling to comply, but as soon as Chen Youliang mentioned Mo Qishu [seventh (younger) uncle Mo], Song Shige suddenly did not dare to refuse? There must be something fishy here. It seems like, to find out the details, I will have to ask Mo Qishu personally.”

He heard Zhi Fa Zhanglao and Chen Youliang discuss in a whisper about how the Beggar Clan group of warriors was going to go up the mountain after Zhang Sanfeng, Song Yuanqiao and the others were drugged. Each time Chen Youliang proposed something, Shi Huolong would always say, “Very good, wonderful!”

Zhang Bo Longtou said, “Today is still the middle of the winter, the five-poison bugs are still dormant under the surface of the earth, Xiaodi [little brother, referring to himself] must go to the foot of Changbai Mountain [a volcanic mountain in Jilin province] to do some digging. At most in a month, at least twenty days, I will be able to concoct the ‘wu du shi xin san’. The toxicity of the five-poison bugs dug from underneath the ice and snow is not too conspicuous; when it is mixed in the food, it won’t be easily detected. It is the best drug to be used against first-class martial art masters.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “In that case, Chen Xiongdi and Song Xiongdi better accompany Zhang Bo Longtou to Mount Changbai to get the drug, while the rest of us proceed southward. Within one month, we are going to reconvene in Laohekou [city in Hubei]. Today is the eighth of the twelveth month, let’s set our meeting date to be the eighth of the first month next year.” He also said, “Having Han Lin’er in our hands is really useful. I am asking Zhang Bang Longtou to guard him well, don’t let the Devil Cult take him back. We’d better leave separately to avoid the enemy’s detection.”

Thereupon, one after another, everybody bid their farewell to the Clan Leader. Zhang Bo Longtou, was the first to leave, heading north along with Chen Youliang and Song Qingshu. A moment later the rest of the beggars left the Mi Le Temple, going their separate ways.

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