The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 33

Long flute, short lute, and tan clothing.

Zhang Wuji went to fetch the horses, and then together with Zhao Min, they rode across the Great Wall. He thought his Yifu must have fallen into the Beggar Clan, but since the Beggar Clan wanted to use him to coerce the Ming Cult into submission, he supposed they would not do him any harm; although some humiliation would be unavoidable. However, Zhirou was as clear as crystal and as clean as jade; if the devious and cruel Chen Youliang and the shameless Song Qingshu forced her, her only option would be to die. Thinking to this point, he wished he would grow wings and fly to Lulong. Only, Zhao Min was still injured, they could not possibly travel without any sleep or rest.

That night, the two of them spent the night at a small inn. While lying down on the ‘kang’ [a heatable brick bed common in northern China] Zhang Wuji was deep in thought; the more he thought, the more anxious he got. He went outside Zhao Min’s window; he heard her even breathing as she fell into a deep sleep, so he went to the front desk to get pen and ink. Tearing down a piece of paper from the registry book, he hastily wrote a letter, saying that because the matter was urgent, he made up his mind to continue the journey the very same night, and that he would find her after the matter is settled. He advised her to continue her journey home leisurely while she was still recuperating from her injury. He placed the paper on the table and put a piece of rock on it, and then he jumped out from the window and rushed southward.

By daybreak he managed to buy a horse, and kept changing horses along the way. After several days of traveling day and night like that, he finally arrived at Lulong. However, even by pursuing that fast, he did not see Chen, Song and Zhang Bo Longtou along the way. He figured that while he was traveling during the night, they were resting in an inn someplace, hence he missed them.

Lulong was a strategic city in Hebei province, where the Tang Dynasty’s Jie Du Shi [provincial governor; in Tang times having military and civil authority, but only civil authority during Song] took his residence. It was attacked several times during the transition between the Songs and the Jins and suffered major damages. The city had never recovered all through the Yuan Dynasty, yet it had quite a large population.

Zhang Wuji went all over Lulong’s main streets and small alleys, visited teahouses and wine shops, but surprisingly he did not see a single beggar. He felt very strange, “Such a big city, yet not a single beggar on the street; this is very unusual. Chen Youliang said that the Beggar Clan would have an assembly in here, certainly he was not lying. I think all beggars big and small within the city walls have gone to pay their respect to the Clan Leader. I must look for their meeting place, this way I can eavesdrop to find out whether Yifu and Zhiruo are really captured by the Beggar Clan.”

He then visited all the temples, ancestral halls, abandoned gardens, and any open area around the city, but did not find a single clue. He even went to the villages on the outskirts of the city, but still did not see anything unusual. When evening came, he grew impatient, and could not help but thinking about Zhao Min. “I wouldn’t be this clueless if she were here” he thought. Finally he decided on going to an inn.

After taking his dinner, he took a short nap, and then around the second hour [between 1 – 3 am], he flew out of the window and went everywhere to see if there was anything astir. But after looking to all directions, he saw the night was serene, without the least bit of sign that Jianghu characters were having a meeting.

He was disappointed; but suddenly he saw a light on a tall building toward southeast from where he was. He thought, “This building must belong to a high-ranking government official or some rich family; it has nothing to do with the Beggar Clan …” He had not finished his train of thought when he saw a shadow flash; someone was leaping out from the window on the second floor. Only, he was quite some distance away from the building that he could not see clearly. He thought, “Can it be that there are some ‘lu lin’ [lit. green wood, a term usually refers to ‘world of outlaws’] characters who are visiting this rich family house to commit a criminal act? Since I have nothing to do, I’d better check it out.”

Utilizing his ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill], he immediately rushed towards that big building. As he was leaping over the enclosing wall, he heard someone say, “Chen Zhanglao [elder Chen] is really bothersome; it was decided that we are going to assemble on the eighth of the first month in Laohekou [city in Hubei], yet he dispatched an urgent message for us to hurry along and wait over here. He is not Bangzhu, why does he have a say anyway? Ridiculous.”

The voice was loud and clear, the speaker was obviously indignant; it turned out that they were on a Beggar Clan’s business. As Zhang Wuji heard this, he was delighted. The voice came from the main hall, so he quietly crept toward it.

He heard Shi Huolong’s voice reply, “Chen Zhanglao is a genius; that damn Jin Mao Shi Wang [golden-haired lion king] Xie Xun, who knows how many Jianghu people have been looking for him in these past twenty years, yet nobody has even caught the shadow of a lion hair’s fart. But Chen Zhanglao managed to capture him just like that. Nobody in the Wulin world has ever accomplished that, let alone people within our own Clan …”

Zhang Wuji was startled, but also glad that finally he heard something about his Yifu. He believed the Beggar Clan did not have any extraordinary masters and rescuing his Yifu would not be too difficult. He scanned the room pressing his eyes against a crack in the window. He saw that Shi Huolong was sitting inside, with Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa two Elders, Zhang Bang Longtou and three eight-pouch elders sitting on the lower positions. There was another well-dressed middle-aged fat man; judging from his appearance, he looked like a rich government officer, but on his back he carried six pouches. Zhang Wuji quietly nodded his head, “No wonder” he thought, “Turns out that there is a rich Beggar Clan disciple in Lulong. Who would have thought a whole bunch of beggars will be having an assembly in a rich man’s house?”

He heard Shi Huolong continue “Since Chen Zhanglao urgently wants us to wait in Lulong, he must have a valid reason. We are planning this important matter; his granny, this … this … we must be very cautious over this matter.”

“Bangzhu,” Zhang Bang Longtou said, “Please be informed that the reason the warriors in Jianghu are looking for Xie Xun is because they want to snatch the ‘wu lin zhi zun’ [the most revered in the martial art world], the precious Tulong Saber. Presently, this precious saber is not within Xie Xun’s possession. No matter how much we persuade or threaten him, he is not willing to reveal the precious saber’s location. We are wasting our time capturing this blind man; what use do we have of him other than making him to drink our wine and eat our food? In my opinion, we’d better torture him harshly; I want to see if he’d keep his mouth shut.”

“No, that would be inappropriate,” Shi Huolong replied, “We might spoil something by using force. Let’s just wait for Chen Zhanglao and then we can talk about it at length.”

Zhang Bang Longtou’s face showed discontent; he seemed to be upset that Bangzhu always wanted to hear what Chen Youliang had to say in everything.

Shi Huolong took out a letter and handed it over to Zhang Bang Longtou. “Feng Xiongdi [brother Feng],” he said, “I want you to go to Haozhou immediately and deliver this letter to Han Shantong. Tell him that his son is with us, he is safe and sound. We only want Han Shantong to submit under our Clan’s authority, and then we will view his son in a new light.”

“Delivering a letter is a minor matter,” Zhang Bang Longtou said, “Do I need to personally take the trip to do it?”

Shi Huolong’s countenance slightly dropped, he said, “Speaking of military accomplishment, Han Shantong and his comrades have created quite a stir within this last half a year or so. I hear his subordinates, that damn Zhu Yuanzhang, Xu Da, Chang Yuchun and the others, have raised up their arms and very much all of them have some stinking ability. This time I am asking Feng Xiongdi to personally deliver this letter, first, to make sure Han Shantong will submit under our Clan; and while you are hanging around them, make sure you find out what kind of plan he and his generals are cooking. Second, I want you to investigate what kind of strange secret those damn Ming Cult people are hiding. Feng Xiongdi, the task you are bearing on your shoulder is not light; how could you say it is a minor matter?”

Zhang Bang Longtou did not dare to say anything anymore; he simply said, “I respectfully follow Bangzhu’s instructions.” He accepted the letter, saluted Shi Huolong, and then left the main hall.

Zhang Wuji kept on listening, but they were only talking about how in the future, after the Ming Cult, Shaolin, Wudang, Emei, and all other Sects were subdued, the Beggar Clan would flourish with awe-inspiring prestige. This Shi Huolong’s wild ambitions were not as lofty as Chen Youliang’s; if the Beggar Clan had a sole domination over the Jianghu and warriors in the Wulin world, he would be very satisfied. He was not thinking of ruling over the country [orig. jiang1 shan1 – river and mountain] by becoming the emperor. His language was vulgar, with a lot of dirty words.

After listening for a while, Zhang Wuji was fed up; he thought, “It seems like Yifu and Zhiruo are imprisoned here. I need to rescue them first then I’ll give this big mouth, shameless beggar, a lesson.”

His right foot moved slightly, he gently leaped toward a tall tree. Looking to all directions, he saw a dozen or so Beggar Clan disciples on the lower level. They had their weapons in their hands, going back and forth patrolling the area. Zhang Wuji thought that must be the place where they kept Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo prisoners. Slipping down the tree, he sneaked to the tall building nearby and hid behind a fake decorative hill. As soon as the two Beggar Clan disciples turned around and walked the other way, he leaped vertically up toward the second floor, where he saw bright light from lamps and candles. He stooped down underneath a window, trying to hear any sound of activity inside.

To his astonishment, after listening for a while, he did not hear anything inside. “How come there is nobody inside?” he thought, “Could it be that the person in here is a martial art master who is able to stop his breathing?” But after listening a moment longer and still did not hear any breathing noise, he stretched out his neck to peek into the room via a crack in the window.

He saw a pair of large candles on the table, which had been burned more than half of their original length, but there was not a single human shadow to be seen. There were three rooms on the second floor, located side by side. The one on the immediate east of him was unoccupied, so he peeked into the room on the west. This room was also brightly lit. He saw cups and bowls scattered on the table, about enough to be used by seven, eight people. The wine in the cup had not dried up, the vegetable and meat dishes had not been finished, but there was not a single human being inside the room. It looked like the people had not been eating and drinking too long when they had to leave the room in a hurry.

The room in the middle was pitch-black like a cave. He lightly pushed the door, but it was bolted from the inside. “Yifu, are you in there?” he called out in low voice. Nobody answered. Zhang Wuji thought, “Apparently, Yifu is not here. But why do the Beggar Clan people set up such a strict security? Could it be that they are running the ‘real is fake, fake is real’ tactic?”

Suddenly he caught a whiff of smell of reeking blood coming out from the middle room. He was alarmed. With his left hand pressed against the door, he exerted his internal energy and ‘crack!’ the bolt broke. Quick as a flash he darted inside to catch the broken bolt so that it would not fall on the floor and create some noise.

He only took one step forward when his foot stumbled on an object on the floor. It felt soft like it was a human body. He stooped down to touch the object and indeed it was a lifeless human body. This person had ceased breathing, but his face was still a bit warm; looked like he died not too long ago. Zhang Wuji traced the corpse’s head and found the head to be small with pointy chin, definitely it wasn’t Xie Xun’s head. He was relieved. Taking another step he bumped into two more bodies. He went to the western wooden partition and poked his finger to let the candlelight from the adjacent room passing through. He saw seven, eight Beggar Clan disciples scattered around the room, all dead. Obviously, they were killed because of heavy internal injury. He lifted a corpse up and tore the clothes off. He saw a deep fist imprint on that corpse’s chest, breaking up his ribs; apparently, the power behind the fist was extraordinarily strong.

Zhang Wuji was delighted, “Turns out Yifu unleashed his mighty power and struck these guards dead.” He looked around the room, and saw on a corner of the wall a picture of blazing fire, engraved with the tip of a sword; it was undoubtedly the symbol of the Ming Cult. He also noticed that the latch of the window was snapped off; the window was open. “That’s right,” Zhang Wuji thought, “The dark shadow I saw fleeing out the upstairs window a moment ago must be Yifu escaping. I wonder how was he captured by the Beggar Clan? It must be because his blindness made it difficult for him to guard against the Beggar Clan’s deceit. If they did not use ‘meng han yao’ [drug, see Chapter 32], then they must have used some kind of trap [orig. ban4 ma3 suo3, dao3 gou1, yu2 wang3 – large rope to trip horses, hook to topple someone, fishnet] to capture him.”

He went out the room in delight. Crouching by the door he looked downstairs and saw that the beggars were going back and forth on their patrol duty; they were completely oblivious of the accident happened on the second floor. Zhang Wuji thought, “Yifu has not left too long, I can still overtake him. And then we, father and son, will come back and make an earth-shattering disturbance here, to teach these beggars the way we Ming Cult deal with our enemies.” Thinking to this point, his spirit rose. Remembering that the dark shadow he saw earlier went out from the west side, he jumped out to the enclosing wall using a tall tree as a stepping-stone, and then rushed to the west.

Following the main road, he ran for several ‘li’s before arriving on a fork on the road. He looked around looking for clue, and saw a blazing fire mark behind a rock, pointing to the road going southwest. Zhang Wuji was very happy thinking that now his Yifu’s whereabouts was clear and he would see him very soon.

Yang Xiao had explained the markings and signs used by the Ming Cult to communicate to each other to him in detail. He noticed that although this blazing fire sign had only several strokes the lines were bold; not many people within the Ming Cult were able to produce this kind of drawing other than people of Xie Xun’s caliber who was well-versed in both sword and pen [orig. wen2 wu3 quan2 cai2].

His doubts were gone. Hurriedly he took the small lane, straight to the relay station of Shahe [city in Hebei]. It was already dawn; he stopped by any restaurant along the way to buy some steamed buns and flatbreads to satisfy his hunger and then hurriedly continued his journey westward until he arrived at the small town of Bangzi. He saw another blazing fire symbol on the lower part of a wall on the corner of the street, pointing toward an abandoned ancestral hall. He was very happy thinking that his Yifu might be hiding in that hall.

As he got near the gate, he heard a clamoring noise of people talking and shouting as rowdy characters and people of obscure background who gathered around the main hall, gambling. It turned out that this place was some kind of a gambling establishment.

The manager saw Zhang Wuji and noticed his fancy and expensive-looking attire, he knew a rich customer had arrived; busily he smiled and mumbling some welcoming words, “Gongziye [young master], come and roll the dice; your luck must be good, beat these three villagers.” Turning his head he called out the crowd of gamblers, “Make room for Gongziye. Everybody, put your bet down, let Gongziye have his hands on the money!”

Zhang Wuji frowned, he knew these gamblers were not Jianghu characters. Raising his voice he called out, “Yifu, Yifu! Are you Senior in here?” He waited for a while, but nobody answered. He called out again several times.

Seeing he did not come to gamble, but shouting and creating disturbance instead, a ruffian called out, “Good child, your Senior is here, hurry up and roll the dice!” The main hall resounded with the sound of the ruffians’ laughter.

Zhang Wuji asked the manager, “Did you see an elderly gentleman, big and tall, yellow hair, and blind eyes?”

As the manager realized this person did not come to gamble, but to look for someone, he was disappointed. He said with a laugh, “What a joke! You are saying that there is a blind man who came here to roll the dice? This blind man must be crazy!”

Zhang Wuji was not in a good mood as he failed to find his Yifu. Listening to the manager and that ruffian being rude and make fun of his Yifu, he took two steps forward, grabbed the manager and the ruffian, and casually flung them to the roof. Although these two men were not injured, they were scared out of their wits and screamed like a pig being slaughtered.

Zhang Wuji pushed the crowd over and took two silver ingots from the gambling table. He said, “Gongziye is having his hands on the money.” He put the silver into his pocket, and left the ancestral hall in big strides. The ruffians froze in fear; who would dare to chase him?

Zhang Wuji continued his journey westward. Not too long afterwards he saw another blazing fire sign. It was already evening, and he had arrived at Fengrun, another big city on the northern part of Hebei. Following the sign, he found a whitewashed wall with a black gate. The copper-ring door knockers were shiny, inside the wall plum blossoms were half-blooming; it was a quiet, elegant and clean house.

He picked the doorknockers and knocked three times. A short moment later he heard footsteps approaching. With a creaking noise the black door opened. A strong fragrance immediately attacked his nostrils. The one who answered the door was a girl wearing a pink leather jacket with a small knot on top of her head. She pursed her lips, laughed, and said, “Gongziye, long time no see. Jiejie [older sister] misses you very much. Come in and drink some tea.” Her words were followed by another laugh, and then she threw a coquettish look at him.

Zhang Wuji was flabbergasted. “How did you know me? Who is your Jiejie?” he asked.

The girl laughed and said, “You still ask? Hurry up, don’t let my Jiejie die of loneliness [orig. qian1 du3 gua4 chang2 – pulling the tripe, hanging the intestines].” Reaching out, she grabbed Zhang Wuji’s right hand and pulled him in.

Zhang Wuji was greatly astonished, “Why does she act like she has known me for a long time?” he wondered. But then he remembered, “Ah, right, Zhiruo must be staying in here; she knew I was following the sign all day looking for them, so she told this girl to wait for me. Ay, we haven’t seen each other for many days now, Zhiruo must be dying of loneliness because she misses me very much.” He felt tenderness in his heart and without hesitation, followed the girl inside.

They walked through a small pathway of cobblestones, passed a courtyard, and entered a side room. He saw a parrot perched beneath the eaves, which said in throaty voice, “Qing Gege [big brother Qing, or lit. ‘passionate brother’. I am not sure whether the character ‘Qing’ here is someone’s name, or it refers to ‘beloved brother’] is here. Jiejie, Qing Gege is here.”

Zhang Wuji blushed profusely, “Even a parrot knew,” he thought.

He saw the chairs in that room were padded with embroidered cushions; the charcoal fire was raging, warming the room so that it felt like spring. There was a small incense burner on the table. The girl turned around and left, but a short moment later returned with a tray of six different fruits and a pot of green tea. She slowly poured the tea and handed it over to Zhang Wuji; and she actually pinched his wrist gently.

Zhang Wuji frowned; “How could the girl be this frivolous?” he thought. If Zhou Zhiruo saw them, wouldn’t she be offended? Thereupon he asked, “Where is Xie Laoye [old master Xie]? Where is Miss Zhou?”

The girl laughed, “Why are you looking for Xie Laoye? Are you jealous? What if my Jiejie came in and saw your expression? Look at you, you don’t have any conscience; you come to our place, yet in your heart you keep thinking about some Miss Zhou and Miss Wang.”

Zhang Wuji was startled, “”What kind of nonsense are you talking about?” he asked. That girl only pursed her lips, smiled and left the room.

A moment later, he heard the tinkling noise of bracelets. The curtain was lifted open, the girl returned, holding the hand of a woman around twenty one or twenty two of age. Her skin was snowy white, her face was quite beautiful with arched eyebrows and a grain of mole on the right corner of her mouth. She glanced at him gracefully, and smiled before she said anything. Her figure was elegant, and she welcomed him in a charming manner. Zhang Wuji felt a rich fragrance assailing his nostrils; he was really uncomfortable.

That woman said, “Xiang Gong [honorable master], what is your precious surname? Today you have come to pay me a visit, Xiao Nuzi [little/lowly girl, referring to herself] feels very honored.” As she was speaking, her left hand landed on Zhang Wuji’s shoulder.

Zhang Wuji blushed profusely and tried to evade. “My humble surname is Zhang,” he said, “Is there a gentleman by the surname of Xie and a lady by the surname of Zhou in here?”

The woman smiled and said, “This is the ‘li xiang yuan’ [fragrance peach courtyard]; if you are looking for Zhou Xianxian, she lives at ‘bi tao ju’ [jade-green peach residence]. Are you so infatuated by that girl that you lost your mind and looking for Zhou Xianxian at the ‘li xiang yuan’? Hee hee …!”

Suddenly it dawned on Zhang Wuji that this place was a brothel. “Please forgive me,” he said. Quick as a flash he slipped out the door.

The girl pursued him and called out, “Gongzi, in what way my Jiejie is inferior to Zhou Xianxian? Aren’t you going to sit down even for a moment?”

Zhang Wuji repeatedly shook his hand; he fished out the silver ingot he took from the casino and tossed it to the ground, while flying out the gate. His mind was so troubled that he was not able to calm himself for a long time.

By this time, it was already dark. He was afraid he might miss the blazing fire signs along the way; therefore, he decided to find an inn to spend the night, while his heart was filled with disquieting thoughts. “Why did Yifu go to the casino and to the brothel? There must be a profound meaning behind all these actions, but what is it?” Sleeping to the middle of the night, he suddenly awakened, “Yifu is blind, how could he leave so many clear markings along the way? Could it be that Zhiruo was by his side giving him directions? Or could it be that the enemy deliberately faking our Cult signs to play a trick on me? Are they trying to lure me into ambush? Humph, entering the dragon’s pool or the tiger’s lair, I’ll have to get to the bottom of this good or bad.”

Early the next morning, he saw another blazing fire outside Fengrun’s city gate, the sign was still pointing to the west. By following the sign, he arrived at Yutian [still another city in Hebei] around noon. Now the sign pointed toward a large house of a rich family. There were lanterns hung on the gate; seemed like the family was celebrating a joyous occasion. The lanterns were adorned with red characters ‘zhi zi yu gui’ [ 之子于归 – I don’t know how to translate this, the dictionary gives me ‘marry/wedding’]; apparently, their daughter was getting married. The sound of music and the noise of guests filled the air. Zhang Wuji had learned his lesson; he did not rush in to ask Xie Xun’s whereabouts, instead, he mingled with the guests to observe. But since he did not see anything unusual, he went out to look for another sign, and he did indeed find one on the trunk of a big tree nearby.

The blazing fire sign took him from Yutian to Sanhe, and then he was directed to the south until he arrived at Xianghe. By this time he was starting to have a thought, “Most likely the Beggar Clan is already aware that I am on their trails, therefore, they play the ‘luring the tiger from the mountain’ trick to get me as far away as possible, so that they can proceed with their shady evil business.”

Although he was anxious, he did not dare to stop following the blazing fire signs fearing that it was really Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo who left them. “Supposing they were running away from strong enemies, and left these signs along the way with the hope that I will find and save them, but because I think I am smart, I return to Lulong, what if Yifu and Zhiruo finally die? Things have come this far, I have no choice but keep following these signs until everything comes to light.”

From Xianghe to Baocheng, toward Dabaizhuang, Panzhuang, and then turning to southeast, toward Ninghe [a city in Tianjin], from here the blazing fire vanished without any trace; Zhang Wuji could not find any more signs. He explored the city of Ninghe, but did not see anything unusual. “It was definitely the Beggar Clan who led me over here, causing me to lose several days running around in vain.” Thereupon he bought a horse to return to Lulong, and then at the second hand clothing store he found a white long gown. Borrowing a pen and some red ink, he drew a large blazing fire on the white gown; having determined to face the Beggar Clan head-on as the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult.

Wearing the white gown, he went to the rich man’s mansion in big strides. The main gate was a pair of huge red double-doors, which were tightly closed at that time. The shiny copper nails on the doors were the size of the mouth of a cup. Zhang Wuji pushed with both of his palms. ‘Crash!’ the huge double-doors flew up and landed in the middle of the courtyard. A series of resounding ‘Bing! Bing! Bang! Bang!’ sounds were heard as two large goldfish vats were smashed.

On top of his concern over Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo’s safety these past few days, he felt that he was a victim of some practical joke, which made him going in circles around the Hebei province; he needed to vent up his frustration. This time coming back to the Beggar Clan headquarters, he was determined to confront them once and for all. As he split the gate open, he walked in big strides and shouted in a thunderous voice, “Beggar Clan people, hear me: have Shi Huolong come out and see me.”

There were around a dozen four and five-pouch Beggar Clan disciples standing in the courtyard; they were already shocked when the gate suddenly flew in, now they saw a young man wearing white robe breaking in, some seven, eight people immediately shouted almost simultaneously and blocked this unwelcome guest, “Who are you?” “What do you want?”

Zhang Wuji raised both of his arms, a successive ‘slam, slam’ noise was heard as he struck the seven, eight Beggar Clan disciples, sending them flying toward a row of windows. Passing the courtyard, he went straight to the main hall. ‘Bang!’ he smashed the door to the hall, and saw a banquet table in the middle of the room, with Shi Huolong sitting on the head of the table.

As soon as the leaders of the Beggar Clan heard the loud commotion on the entrance, they immediately sent someone to investigate. But Zhang Wuji was so fast that as that seven-pouch disciple was hurrying outside, he met him halfway. With one hack Zhang Wuji grabbed his chest and threw him toward Shi Huolong.

The rich-looking host was sitting a few seats away from the head of the table. As he saw the seven-pouch disciple flying towards the banquet table, he stretched out his arms and caught the flying man. He felt the incoming force was earth shattering so he immediately launched the ‘qian jin zhui’ [a thousand-catty drop] to steady himself. To his surprise, ‘bang, bang, bang’ he was forced to repeatedly take seven, eight steps backward and did not stop until his back was against a large pillar. Loosening up his grip, he let the seven-pouch disciple down on the floor. He panted heavily, his body weakened, and he dropped to the floor right in front of that large pillar.

The crowd of beggars witnessed this scene with amazement. Right at that moment, they heard Zhang Wuji exclaim; he was both astonished and delighted, because he saw sitting on that round table, to the left of the head of the table, was a young woman, who was none other than Zhou Zhiruo. And the man who was sitting next to her was Song Qingshu.

“Wuji Gege!” Zhou Zhiruo cried out in shock. She tried to stand up, but her body swayed and she fell to the floor.

Zhang Wuji was startled, he rushed forward to hold her. But before he straightened his back up, a ‘Slap!’and a ‘Bang!’ were heard as his back were simultaneously struck by Song Qingshu’s palm and a Beggar Clan master’s fist. But Zhang Wuji had already protected his whole body with the Jiu Yang Shen Gong so that the power of the palm and the fist was immediately neutralized.

Holding Zhou Zhiruo in his arms, he jumped out to the courtyard. “How is Yifu?” he asked.

“I … I …,” Zhou Zhiruo’s voice was shaky.

“Is he [orig. lao3 ren2 jia1 – senior] all right?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“My acupoint is sealed by them …” Zhou Zhiruo said.

Zhang Wuji only cared about Xie Xun, “How is Yifu?” he asked again.

“I don’t know,” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “I was captured by them and brought here. I don’t know Yifu’s whereabouts.”

Zhang Wuji laid her down on the ground and massaged several points on the joint of her leg. Who would have thought that Zhou Zhiruo’s acupoint was sealed using a special technique and his massage did not show any result. Her feet were planted on the floor, yet she was unable to stand up; her knees bent and she sat back down.

All the beggars left their seats and stood on the steps in front of the courtyard. Shi Huolong cupped his fists and said, “Are you the Zhang Jiaozhu of the Ming Cult, Sire?”

Zhang Wuji knew he was facing a leader of a clan, so he must not fail to show courtesy; immediately he cupped his fists in return and said, “I don’t dare. I beg Shi Bangzhu’s forgiveness for breaking into your Clan’s headquarters.”

“Zhang Jiaozhu’s name has shaken the Jianghu in the past few years,” Shi Huolong said, “It’s like thunder … ringing in my ear, and today seeing the old chap’s skill, which is really fierce, hey hey, my utmost admiration.”

Zhang Wuji said, “I come recklessly and have become Shi Bangzhu’s laughingstock. Where is my Yifu, Jin Mao Shi Wang [Golden-Haired Lion King]? Please let him, Senior, come out to see me.”

Shi Huolong’s face flushed, and then he laughed and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu is young, but your words are this bold. We invited Xie Shi Wang [Lion King Xie] with a good intention, to come … to drink a cup of wine, but not only Xie Shi Wang left without bidding us farewell, he harmed our eight disciples with heavy hands; damn it [orig. ta nai nai, lit. his granny; a curse phrase], how are we going to settle this business? Why doesn’t Zhang Jiaozhu advise us on this?”

Zhang Wuji was startled, he thought, “Those eight Beggar Clan disciples were indeed the victims of Yifu’s heavy hands. It seems that he, Senior, is really not here. But where did he go?” Thereupon he said, “What about this Miss Zhou? Why did your Clan hold her captive here?”

“This …,” Shi Huolong was startled.

Chen Youliang quickly interjected, “I hear people say that although Zhang Wuji of the Ming Cult possesses a strong martial art, he is a barbarian little devil head who does not have any regard of reason … ha ha …”

“Why?” Zhang Wuji’s face stayed calm and collected.

Chen Youliang said, “I have witnessed it today; hey hey, as sure as the shadow of a tree, as plain as your name.”

“Why did you call me barbarian without any regard of reason?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“This Miss Zhou is the Sect Leader of Emei Pai,” Chen Youliang replied, “She is the leading figure of an upright Sect; what relation does she have with your heretical Cult? This Song Qingshu Xiongdi is an up-and coming young leader of Wudang Pai, Miss Zhou and he are a perfect match [orig. lang2 cai2 nu3 mao4, lit. skilled young man, beautiful woman, and ‘zhu lian2 bi4 he2, lit. pearl matches with jade]; it is truly a harmony in social position and economic status, a pair of two-goodness. The two of them are passing by, and the Beggar Clan invited them to stay as our guests, to share a cup of wine with us. Why did the Ming Cult Jiaozhu unexpectedly come and intervene? That is funny, really funny!” Echoing what he just said, the crowd of beggars burst into loud laughter.

Zhang Wuji said, “If Miss Zhou is your guest, why did you seal her acupoints?”

“Miss Zhou was nicely sitting and drinking in here, talking and laughing. Who said her acupoints were sealed?” Chen Youliang said, “The relation between the Beggar Clan and Emei Pai is very deep; it goes for generations. The founder of Emei Pai, Shizu [martial ancestor] Guo Nuxia [heroine Guo] was our Clan’s previous leader, Huang Bangzhu’s beloved daughter. Our previous generation Yelu Bangzhu was Guo Nuxia’s brother-in-law. Unless you belong to the ignorant, wet-behind-the-ear generation, all Wulin people are aware about these historical facts. How can we, the Beggar Clan, offense the current Emai Pai’s Sect Leader? Zhang Jiaozhu’s accusation is unfounded, how can you prevent the heroes under the Heaven from sneering at you?”

Zhang Wuji laughed coldly and said, “So you are saying Miss Zhou sealed her own acupoints?”

“That’s not necessarily true,” Chen Youliang said, “We have everybody here as our witness, Zhang Jiaozhu rushed in, snatched her by force without any propriety, and then took Miss Zhou out. Miss Zhou struggled to free herself, and then Sire sealed her acupoints. Zhang Jiaozhu, although it is difficult for heroes to resist beautiful face, and even though you are lecherous and want to have possession over her, this is a public place with numerous people; everybody’s eyes are on you. Zhang Jiaozhu, aren’t you degrading your own position by committing this reckless act?”

Zhang Wuji’s eloquence was far inferior to Chen Youliang, as he was receiving such a false countercharge, he was furious and it was even more difficult for him to refute. Hid countenance turned ashen and he shouted, “So you said you have decided not to tell me where my Yifu is?”

Chen Youliang also raised his voice, “Zhang Jiaozhu, your Cult’s Guang Ming Shi Zhe [emissary of the brightness] Yang Xiao has caused the death of Emei Pai’s Ji Xiaofu Nuxia. Everybody in the Wulin world knows about it, no need to point my finger. Now you are relying on your superior martial art to come over here and commit this kind of despicable, filthy shady business; I am afraid it will be difficult for you to escape justice.”

Zhang Wuji turned his head toward Zhou Zhiruo and said, “Zhiruo, tell me, how did they capture and take you here?”

“I … I … I …” Zhou Zhiruo said the word ‘I’ three times, then suddenly her body went limp and she passed out.

The crowd of beggars broke into a commotion; they called out, “Ming Cult’s devil head killed her!” “Zhang Wuji could not deny the charge and killed Emei Pai’s Sect Leader!” “Kill the pervert thief Zhang Wuji, rid the world of trouble!”

Zhang Wuji was livid, he stepped forward in big strides toward Shi Huolong, thinking, “To subdue the criminals must capture the leader first; as long as I can catch Shi Huolong, good or bad is in his hands. I can force them to reveal my Yifu’s whereabouts.”

Zhang Bang Longtou and Zhi Fa Zhanglao blocked together. Zhang Bang Longtou brandished his iron stick, while Zhi Fa Zhanglao had a steel hook in his right hand and iron crutch in his left hand. Two men with three different weapons simultaneously attacked Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji let out a light whistling noise and launched Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi. ‘Clink! Clank!’ Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s right hand steel hook parried Zhang Bang Longtou’s iron stick, his left hand’s crutch threatened to smash his lower body.

On the side, Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s sword was also thrust in; he called out, “This fellow’s martial art is very weird, everybody must be careful.” ‘Swish, swish, swish!’ three times, his sword curved like a rainbow, aiming Zhang Wuji’s chest and lower abdomen.

“Good swordmanship!” Zhang Wuji praised his swift and fierce move. Evading sideways, his left forefinger pointed toward Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s thigh.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao turned his sword over and the tip of the sword aimed toward Zhang Wuji’s fingertip. This change happened so fast that the tips of the sword and the finger were only less than a hair-width apart. This sword move was a rarely seen masterpiece in the Wulin world. Zhang Wuji silently praised, “The Beggar Clan’s name is revered in the Jianghu, for a hundred of years did not decline. There are truly crouching tigers and hidden dragons within the Clan, such as this outstandingly capable man.”

That day in the Mi Le Temple he saw the battle between the Xuan Ming Elders and the Beggar Clan’s masters, but he was hidden on the tree and did not dare to expose himself to look closely. This time he experienced it first hand and found out that Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa two elders were truly top ranking martial art experts of the present age. Zhang Bang Longtou was the weakest among them, but still, he was only a notch inferior to the other two.

In a flash, the Beggar Clan’s three elders and Zhang Wuji had exchanged more than twenty stances. Suddenly Chen Youliang loudly called out, “Arrange the Killing Dog Formation!”

The crowd of beggars shouted and yelled; their blades flickered with a snowy white ray of light. There were 21 Beggar Clan martial art masters, each with a curved saber in their hands; they quickly spread out, surrounding Zhang Wuji in the middle. These twenty-one beggars were singing the ‘lian hua luo’ [falling lotus (flower)]. Some of them were moaning and groaning as if they were in pain, while some others beat their own chests with their fists, and some called out in loud voices, “Laoye, Taitai [master, mistress (or madam)], have compassion! Share us your cold rice!”

At first Zhang Wuji was stunned, but then he understood; these weird shouts and actions were to disturb the enemy’s mind. He saw these beggars moved in a random pattern; they were advancing and retreating in haste, but upon a closer inspection, he found that actually they were following some strict pattern.

“Stop!” Chuan Gong Zhanglao shouted; he took two steps backward and lifted his sword horizontally across his chest. Zhi Fa Zhanglao and Zhang Bang Longtou also leaped backward, but the ‘killing dog formation’ was still jumping around here and there, their movements did not cease in the least bit.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Chuan Gong Zhanglao called out, “We are relying on large number to gain victory; it is improper. But within the Beggar Clan there is not a single person who is worthy to be Sire’s match. Other than using this cowardly act, we can never fight you following the way of chivalry.”

Zhang Wuji smiled slightly and said, “Well said, well said.”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao continued, “All of us are wielding some weapons, while Zhang Jiaozhu is bare-handed; the Beggar Clan should not take too much advantage over you. Whatever weapon Zhang Jiaozhu desires to use, we will respectfully offer that weapon to you.”

Zhang Wuji said in his heart, “This Chuan Gong Zhanglao not only possesses a high level of martial art, he is also chivalrous; he is totally different from that sly Chen Youliang.” He said, “Since I am playing around with you, why should I whirl a saber or sweep a staff? If I want to use weapon, can’t I fetch it myself?” As he was speaking, his shadow flashed to leave the ‘killing dog formation’. His hands moved and pressed both Chen Youliang’s and Song Qingshu’s shoulders. In a twinkling of an eye, he had already snatched their swords. His shadow flashed again and he returned to his original position.

The way he moved out and re-entered the formation was so fast that none of the moving twenty-one blades even touched the hem of his clothes. The crowd of beggars was frozen in amazement as they heard his loud and clear voice say, “Your precious Clan’s ‘killing dog formation’ has earned a very good reputation. Only, killing a dog is easy, but if you want to subdue a dragon or overcome a tiger, this formation is not of much use.” While saying that, he raised the swords and transmitted his strength into the swords’ blade. ‘Crack, crack!’ both the swords snapped into pieces.

“Everybody, move!” Zhang Bang Longtou shouted, his iron stick pointed toward Zhang Wuji’s chest. Zhi Fa Zhanglao also brandished his hook and crutch into two circular snow flowers, sweeping toward Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji dashed to the left, but his body was slanted to the right, according to the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi technique. A series of white rays flashed by, followed by a series of ‘pop, pop, pop’ noise, as all the curved sabers in the hands of the beggars of the ‘killing dog formation’ were snatched by Zhang Wuji and thrown to the beam of the main hall. The twenty-one curved sabers were stuck neatly in one row, each saber entered the beam about one foot deep.

Suddenly Chen Youliang’s voice was heard, “Zhang Wuji, aren’t you going to stop?”

Zhang Wuji turned his head only to see Chen Youliang had a sword in his hand, with the tip pressed toward Zhou Zhiruo’s back. With a cold laugh Zhang Wuji said, “For a hundred years the people of Jianghu say, ‘the Ming Cult, the Beggar Clan, and the Shaolin Pai,’ among the Jiao-Pai [cults and sects], the Ming Cult ranks first; among the Bang-Hui [clans and associations/societies] the Beggar Clan holds the highest honor. With your action, aren’t you afraid of bringing disgrace on the prestige of Hong Qigong Laoxia [old hero]?”

“Chen Zhanglao,” Chuan Gong Zhanglao angrily said, “Release Miss Zhou. We are fighting a life and death battle with Zhang Jiaozhu. The Beggar Clan is pouring out the entire Clan’s power to face Ming Cult Jiaozhu one man. If we do this despicable act, will any of us still have face to live an honorable life?”

Chen Youliang laughed. “Real men fight with wits and not with strength. Zhang Wuji, haven’t you surrendered yet?”

“All right!” Zhang Wuji loudly laughed, “Today Zhang Wuji experienced the Beggar Clan’s impressive power.”

Abruptly he took two steps backward and flipped backward into the air; and when he fell back down, his legs landed on Shi Huolong’s shoulders. His right palm laid flat on top of Shi Huolong’s head, while his left palm grabbed the main artery on the back of Shi Huolong’s neck. It was a stance from the martial art of Sheng Huo Ling, which was executed rather easily so that it surprised even Zhang Wuji himself.

His original intention was to take Shi Huolong by surprise with one of his weird moves. He had prepared three stances of the most difficult to be dealt with, combined with his lightning fast movement, to capture Shi Huolong. His only concern was that Chen Youliang would be truly cruel and merciless; perhaps he would really stab Zhou Zhiruo as soon as Zhang Wuji made his move. Who would have thought that he did not even need a single stance form the three fiercest stances he had already prepared, since Shi Huolong did not even attempt to resist and let himself be captured.

Zhang Wuji rode on Shi Huolong’s shoulder just like a child riding on an adult. It was not the most elegant scene to behold, but since he had already gained control over the vital acupoints on the enemy’s head, he was not willing to jump down and thus give the enemy a chance to take back control.

As they saw their Clan Leader was captured, the crowd of beggars cried out in alarm. Zhang Wuji’s right palm laid flat on the ‘bai hui xue’ [hundred-meeting acupoint]; which was the intersection of the ‘tai yang jing’ [sun passage] and the ‘du mai’ [supervise artery]. It was the most important point on the human body. Zhang Wuji only need to tap it lightly, Shi Huolong’s passages and arteries would be shaken and he would die violently; no medicine would be able to revive him.

Nobody within the Beggar Clan dared to move. From the clamoring noise of shouting and yelling, the main hall suddenly turned very quiet. All eyes were looking at Zhang Wuji and Shi Huolong; nobody knew what to do.

Right this moment, suddenly they heard the soft but clear sound of ‘qin’ [zither] and ‘xiao’ [flute, but not the modern traverse orchestral flute]. It sounded like there were several zithers and several flutes were being played together. The cheerful sound of music floated in the air, sometimes loud, sometimes soft, sometimes distinct, sometimes vague, but everybody was able to hear it clearly. Sometimes the music came from the east, another time it came from the west; nobody knew for certain from which part of the roof the sound of music came from.

Zhang Wuji was greatly surprised; he could not figure out the meaning of this zither-flute music.

In loud and clear voice Chen Youliang said, “Which Master has bestowed the Beggar Clan the honor of your arrival? If you are the devils from the Ming Cult, you might as well show yourselves; why would you play tricks on us?”

Suddenly the zither played three notes successively, ‘zheng, zheng, zheng’, and four young women wearing white appeared on the east and west eaves, floating gently into the courtyard below; each woman had a zither in her hands. The zithers were half as long and half as wide as the ordinary seven-string zither of those days, yet they also have seven strings just like ordinary zithers. As the four women landed on the ground, they stood on the four corners of the courtyard.

Following them, from outside the door entered four young women in black, each with a black long flute in her hands. The flutes were twice as long as the commonly seen flutes of those days. These four women also took their positions on the four corners. Four women in white and four women in black, stood across from each other. Eight women forming a square, the four zithers played a happy tune, joined by the four flutes; together they made a beautiful instrumental ensemble. The music was very gentle and elegant. Zhang Wuji did not understand music, but it was as if the melody were dancing in the air, bringing a pleasant feeling to his ears. Although he was in a dangerous situation, he was willing to stop for a moment and listen to the music.

Amidst the sound of music, a woman entered the courtyard, wearing a soft yellow light robe; her left hand was taking along a twelve, thirteen years old girl. The woman appeared to be around twenty-seven, twenty-eight of age; her movements were graceful and her face was very beautiful, albeit looked a little pale, as if devoid of any blood.

On the contrary, the little girl was ugly; her nose curved upward, her mouth was wide, revealing two big front teeth, and she was carrying a mean and no-nonsense attitude. One of her hand was holding that beautiful lady’s hand, while the other hand was holding a dark green bamboo stick. Ever since the crowd of beggars saw these two women walked in, their eyes had never stopped staring at that dark green bamboo stick.

Seeing these many women suddenly appear, Zhang Wuji was aware that he was still riding on Shi Huolong’s shoulder and it looked like they were playing some kind of children’s game; but Chen Youliang’s sword had not left Zhou Zhiruo’s back, certainly he could not easily release the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu. However, he also noticed that the eyes of everybody there were fixed on the bamboo stick on that little girl’s hand, as if that bamboo stick was the most important object in the world. They did not even look at the women in white, the women in black, the beautiful lady in light yellow, or even looked at the ugly girl. Zhang Wuji was astonished. He silently examined the bamboo stick with his eyes, and saw the bamboo was very dark green, smooth and shiny; who knows how many hands this stick had passed on rubbed and stroked it. Other than that, he did not see anything unusual about it.

The beautiful lady in yellow scanned the hall; her eyes were as cold as lightning, gazing at everybody present. Finally, her eyes rested on Zhang Wuji’s face. With an icy cold voice she said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, you are not a child anymore. Instead of acting properly, you are making a scene in here.” She sounded like she was chiding Zhang Wuji, but her tone was friendly; it was as if an older sister was reprimanding her younger brother.

Zhang Wuji blushed. “The Beggar Clan’s Chen Zhanglao used a dirty trick,” he said in way of defense, “He holds my … my companion hostage. In return, I captured their Bangzhu.”

That beautiful lady showed a faint smile and said in gentle voice, “Don’t you think riding on others’ Bangzhu is a bit too much? I came from Chang’an [ancient name of Xi’an, the capital of China during the Tang Dynasty], and have heard along the way that the Ming Cult Jiaozhu is a young devil-head. Today I see it with my own eyes. Ay, ay!” While saying that, she shook her pretty head, with a disapproving look on her face.

Suddenly Shi Huolong shouted, “Zhang Wuji, you pervert little thief, get down quickly!” He reached up to pull Zhang Wuji’s legs, but since the main artery on the back of his neck, through which the vital energy flowed, was seized, he did not have the least bit of strength left.

Because he was cursed as ‘pervert little thief’ in front of these women, Zhang Wuji was furious and ashamed; he transmitted a whiff of internal energy through his left hand to the back of Shi Huolong’s neck. Shi Huolong felt tingling sensation on his entire body, along with unbearable pain. “Aiyo! Aiyo! Aiyo!” he screamed.

The crowd of beggars were angry at seeing Zhang Wuji’s rudeness, but also ashamed and upset at their Bangzhu’s display of weakness. They felt that as Shi Huolong moaned and groaned under the enemy’s hand, he was degrading his position as a hero and a warrior. Even an ordinary Beggar Clan disciple would not bow his head and show such weakness in front of the enemy, much less the leader of the number one clan in Jianghu.

“Zhang Wuji,” Chen Youliang said, “Why don’t you release our Shi Bangzhu while I pull my sword away?” Without waiting for a reply, he immediately put his sword back into its sheath. He knew Zhang Wuji would comply his request, and sure enough, Zhang Wuji replied, “Very well.”

A shadow flashed, and Zhang Wuji was standing by Zhou Zhiruo again. He saw her eyes were deep and her expression weary; he could not help but feeling compassion and pity. Holding her hands, he helped her to sit down on a round rock stool in the courtyard.

Chen Youliang turned toward that beautiful lady in yellow; he cupped his fists and said, “Your presence has honored our Clan. I wonder what instructions do you have for us? May we have the honor of learning your precious surname and your great given name?” To the ugly young girl he asked, “Young Miss, where did you get this bamboo stick?”

In a cold voice the beautiful lady in yellow said, “Where is Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou [Lightning Hand of the Originating Formation] Cheng Kun? Tell him to come out and see me.”

Zhang Wuji felt strange as he heard the seven characters ‘Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou Cheng Kun’; he saw Chen Youliang’s expression suddenly changed, but he recovered quickly, and then with an indifferent voice he said, “Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou Cheng Kun? Isn’t that Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun’s shifu? You’d better ask Zhang Jiaozhu of Ming Cult.”

“Who are you, Sire?” the beautiful lady in yellow asked.

“My surname is Chen, given name Youliang,” Chen Youliang replied, “I am a Beggar Clan eight-pouch elder.”

The beautiful lady in yellow cast a sidelong glance toward Shi Huolong, and asked, “And who is this fellow? He looks like a warrior with a valiant spirit, why is he so useless? [orig. nong2 bao1 – cloth used to wrap a boil wound with pus on it] He was only punished lightly by others, and already screaming and crying. Truly unfit of his image.”

The crowd of beggars felt their faces were lost; they were inwardly ashamed. Some of them cast their glances toward Shi Huolong with 30% disdain and 20% anger.

“This is our Clan’s Shi Bangzhu,” Chen Youliang said, “The Senior has just recently recovered from a serious illness. His body is still not well. You are the guest; we are yielding 30% to you. Don’t blame us for offending you if you speak anymore nonsense.” The last two sentences were spoken in stern voice and expression.

The beautiful lady in yellow was unfazed; she turned toward one of the women in black and said, “Xiao Cui, return the letter to him.”

“Yes!” the girl in black replied. Taking a letter from her bosom, she held it on her hand.

Zhang Wuji took a glance and saw these characters on the envelope, ‘To Master Han Shan Tong of the Ming Cult. Confidential.” And a smaller row of four characters, ‘Shi of the Beggar Clan.’

As Zhang Bang Longtou saw the letter, immediately his face turned purple. “Little [female] slave,” he cursed, “Turned out the joker who stole the letter from the Old Man along the way is you, the dead slave girl.” In his anger he raised his iron staff high, ready to stake his all and pounce on the girl.

The girl in black chuckled and said, “I am a slave girl indeed [Translator’s note: the word ‘丫头’ ya1tou2 literally means ‘slave’ or ‘servant girl’, but can also be translated as ‘little girl’]; but I am not dead yet. Such a big man like you, but failed in a simple task of delivering a letter. What a shame.” Finished speaking, she waved her delicate hand and the letter flew smoothly toward Zhang Bang Longtou. Immediately Zhang Bang Longtou lifted his hand to catch the letter.

That night Zhang Wuji witnessed how Shi Huolong ordered Zhang Bang Longtou to deliver a letter for Han Shantong, while holding Han Lin’er hostage to coerce Han Shantong to surrender to the Beggar Clan. Listening to the above exchange, he presumed it was these girls in white and in black who played joke on Zhang Bang Longtou along the way by stealing the letter, and thus forcing Zhang Bang Longtou to return to Lulong. But Zhang Bang Longtou had a strong martial art; listening to his words, it seemed like until this moment he did not know who had played the joke on him. Therefore, either these eight women possessed an outstanding resourcefulness, or they possessed a very high martial art skill. Or it could be that the beautiful lady in yellow was behind all this, deliberately throwing the masters from the Beggar Clan into confusion. Thinking to this point, he felt grateful toward that lady in yellow.

The beautiful lady in yellow said, “Han Shantong is fighting around the rivers Huai and Si to drive the Tartars away. Along the way, I heard that he is kindhearted and chivalrous; he has never disturbed common people. A hero of his caliber, how can he betray the Ming Cult and surrender to the Beggar Clan for the sake of his son? If this letter ever reach the hand of Han Da Ye [master Han], the joke will be on you. I saw this Longtou Dage [big brother Longtou] is muddle-headed and funny; furthermore, there is an important matter within the Beggar Clan that requires his presence, hence I intercepted the letter.”

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Many thanks Dajie [big sister] for your assistance. Zhang Wuji pays his respect.”

The lady in yellow returned the respect. “Don’t be overly courteous,” she said. And then she addressed the Beggar Clan again, “Do you really believe that by capturing Han Lin’er you can compel Han Shantong to surrender? Zhang Bang Longtou Dage, along the way your trip was hindered several times. Do you think by detouring to smaller pathways you can evade the obstructions? Hey hey, even if you did evade the obstructions and deliver this letter to Han Shantong; your Beggar Clan will not enjoy any advantage at all.”

Chen Youliang’s heart sank; he took the letter and saw that the envelope was still intact. Ripping the envelope open, he took the letter and as he browsed it, his countenance changed greatly. Originally it was a letter compelling Han Shantong to surrender, now it became a letter from the Beggar Clan begging the Ming Cult to accept its surrender. The language was very humble, in which the Beggar Clan was bowing and bending its knees, assuming the lowest position by cursing its own past conducts and deeds, admitting that they were ten thousands of unpardonable evil. Furthermore, it declared that from that day onward, the Beggar Clan decided to rectify its wrongdoings and asking the Ming Cult’s benevolence by not holding them responsible of their former misdeeds. It also promised to submit under the Ming Cult’s authority and be willing to be the vanguard in the great undertaking of expelling the Yuan.

“That’s right,” the lady in yellow coldly said, “I have seen the letter, but it wasn’t me who changed it. As I saw this letter, I realized Zhang Bang Longtou had already been tricked by others. My parents had a close relationship with the previous generation of the Beggar Clan. I do not wish the awe-inspiring prestige of the biggest clan in the world, which has been built since the days passed, to be disgraced like this today; hence I decided to interfere. Just think, if Zhang Bang Longtou delivered this letter to the Ming Cult, do you think the Beggar Clan would still have a face to stand in the Jianghu?”

One by one Chuan Gong Zhanglao, Zhi Fa Zhanglao, Zhang Bo Longtou, Zhang Bang Longtou and the others read the letter, and every single one of them was shocked and angered; in their hearts, they all cried out, “We’ve been shamed!” They realized the truth in what that lady in yellow was saying, if this letter did indeed fall into the Ming Cult’s hands, the Beggar Clan would be so disgraced that it would be difficult for the Beggar Clan disciples to stand straight in front of other people. Speaking of which, by intercepting the letter, the lady in yellow was actually doing a big favor toward the Beggar Clan. The question was: who stole the letter in the first place?

Xiao Cui, the maiden in black, laughed and said, “You want to know who changed the letter, don’t you?” No one in the Beggar Clan responded, but their faces revealed their anxious desire to know.

“Zhang Bang Longtou,” Xiao Cui said, “Take your outer robe off; you’ll find the answer.”

Early on Zhang Bang Longtou’s face had turned red, with his veins bulging on his neck. As soon as he heard Xiao Cui, he ripped his outer robe with both hands. A series of ‘Snap, snap’ noise was heard as his buttons were pulled. He tossed the robe backward and barked, “Then what?”

“Ah!” he heard the crowd of beggars behind him cry together in alarm; obviously they had seen something strange.

“What?” Zhang Bang Longtou asked, while turning his body around, only to see six, seven people pointing their fingers toward his back.

Zhang Bang Longtou had never been known for his patience. Again his hands grabbed the lapels of his inner robe and ripped it open, revealing his muscular body. Spreading the inner robe open, he saw a picture of large bat in dark green ink, its wings spread wide; its face bore a ferocious and terrifying expression, with some red dots representing drips of blood on the corner of its mouth.

“Qing Yi Fu Wang [green-winged bat king] Wei Yixiao!” Chuan Gong Zhanglao, Zhi Fa Zhanglao and the others exclaimed in unison.

Previously, Wei Yixiao very seldom visited the Central Plains [zhong yuan], only a few people knew his name; but over the past few years, he had made several mysterious appearances in the Jianghu, displaying his full capabilities. As a result, his fame soared and in a short period of time it was in par with the Bai Mei Ying Wang [white-browed eagle king].

Zhang Wuji rejoiced secretly, “Other than Wei Xiong [brother Wei] with his superb ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu], which enables him to come and go without leaving any trace, it would be difficult to play a joke on Zhang Bang Longtou and leave him senseless.”

Zhang Bang Longtou was startled, he raised his inner robe and threw it on Zhang Wuji’s face, while cursing, “Fine! Turns out it was one from your group of evil bastards who played a joke on the Old Man.”

Zhang Wuji flicked his sleeve up and that inner robe floated slowly upward and landed on a forked branch of a ginkgo tree on that courtyard. As the robe fluttered in the wind, the picture of blood-sucking bat appeared to be alive.

“Zhang Bang Longtou,” Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “My humble cult’s Wei Fu Wang [bat king Wei] has shown you mercy; don’t you understand? What if he decided to take your life?” As Zhang Bang Longtou thought about it, he could not help but shiver.

Chen Youliang realized that the longer he let this matter go on, the more disadvantageous it would be for them; the best plan would be to turn their attention someplace else. Thereupon he asked the lady in yellow, “May I ask Miss’ honored surname? I wonder what relationship do you have with us?”

The lady in yellow laughed coldly and said, “What relationship do I have with you? I only have a relationship with this Dog Beating Stick.” She pointed her finger to the dark green bamboo stick in the ugly girl’s hand.

The crowd of beggars had early on recognized the stick to be the Dog Beating Stick [da gou bang], the symbol of authority of their own Clan’s Clan Leader; however, they were not clear on how this stick could fall into someone else’s hand. Everybody turned their attention toward Shi Huolong. They saw his face was deathly pale and looked desperate.

“Bangzhu,” Chuan Gong Zhanglao asked, “Is the Dog Beating Stick in this girl’s hand fake?”

“I … I …” Shi Huolong stammered, “I think it is a fake.”

“Fine,” the lady in yellow said, “Take the real Dog Beating Stick out so that we can compare the two sticks.”

“The Dog Beating Stick is the Beggar Clan’s most precious article, how can we casually show it to anybody?” Shi Huolong replied, “I don’t have it with me, because if I lose it, won’t it be terrible?”

As the crowd of beggars listened to him, they felt he did not make any sense; as the Clan Leader of the Beggar Clan, how could he be afraid to lose the Dog Beating Stick?

The little girl lifted high the bamboo stick and with a loud voice said, “Everybody, come and see. This Dog Beating Stick is our Clan’s … our Clan’s heritage, which was passed on from the first generation to the next. How can it be a fake?”

As the crowd of beggars heard her saying ‘Our Clan’, they were astonished; so they came near to examine the stick. They saw the stick was as crystal-clear and smooth as jade, and as hard as iron; without any doubt this was the real Clan Leader’s symbol of authority. They looked at each other in confusion.

The lady in yellow said, “It is widely known that the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms and the Dog Beating Stick technique are two of the Bangzhu of the Beggar Clan’s most famous divine skills. Xiao Hong, go and ask Shi Bangzhu for some advice in the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms first, and then Xiao Ling, after Xiao Hong Jiejie [elder sister] has won, ask Shi Bangzhu for some advice in the Dog Beating Stick technique.” Two flute-player young girls responded and jumped out; they stood side by side in the courtyard.

Chen Youliang indignantly said, “By not willing to reveal your name, Miss has already despised the Beggar Clan; and now you ordered two little maids to fight our Bangzhu. How can there be such logic in the Jianghu? Shi Bangzhu, let disciple deal with these two maids first, and then we can ask this Miss to show her expertise. In the end we will see what kind of master has showed such contempt toward the Beggar Clan.”

“Damn it! [orig. ta1 nai3 nai5 – his granny]” Shi Huolong said, “Very well, Chen Zhanglao, please take care of this matter for me.”

‘Swish!’ Chen Youliang unsheathed his sword, and slowly walked to the courtyard.

Xiao Hong said, “Miss told me to ask some advice in the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms. Do you know this palm technique? Does the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms technique use a sword?”

“What kind of position do you think Shi Bangzhu holds?” Chen Youliang shouted in response, “How can he fight a lowly servant like you? The Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms is a divine skill, how can a lowly servant like you see it that easily?” While saying that, he took another step forward.

The lady in yellow turned toward Zhang Wuji and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, please do me a favor.”

“Just say it,” Zhang Wuji replied.

The lady in yellow said, “Could you get rid of this fellow surnamed Chen for me? And then, unmask that big fraud who pretends to be Shi Bangzhu.”

When Zhang Wuji was successful in capturing Shi Huolong with only one move, he had thought that his martial art skill was only mediocre. He also recalled when Han Lin’er spat some phlegm to him, surprisingly Shi Huolong was not able to evade. Doubt started to rise in Zhang Wuji’s heart; especially after witnessing that in everything he had always listened to Chen Youliang without any ideas of his own. Based on his martial art skill, knowledge and experience, he was unfit to become the leader of the Beggar Clan. This time he heard the lady in yellow say that he was a ‘big fraud who pretends to be Shi Bangzhu’, his suspicion was confirmed and thus he understood 60, 70%. He nodded and immediately went toward Shi Huolong.

Shi Huolong launched the ‘chong tian pao’ [shattering the sky cannon]. ‘Bang!’ his fist hit Zhang Wuji’s chest.

Zhang Wuji laughed out loud and said, “Is the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms this useless?” [again, the original word is ‘nong bao’, see above] Reaching out, he grabbed Shi Huolong’s collar and lifted him up.

Chen Youliang realized he was not Zhang Wuji’s match; he quietly withdrew into the crowd without waiting for Zhang Wuji to make his move.

The ugly girl suddenly wailed and pounced toward Shi Huolong, hitting and pulling his clothes like crazy, while crying out, “You killed my Father, killed my Father, wicked thief!”

The acupoints on Shi Huolong’s back were grabbed by Zhang Wuji so he was not able to move. He was a burly man and the girl’s little fists only reached his belly. Zhang Wuji bent his arm to push his head down. The girl grabbed and pulled his hair. Suddenly the entire hair on Shi Huolong’s head fell off, revealing his shiny bald head. Turned out he was bald and was using a wig. The girl continued randomly grab, scratch and pull; and she pulled away his nose, but no blood gushing out. Everybody was astonished. They looked closely and saw that the fallen piece of nose was a fake; his high nose was also a fake.

The crowd of beggars broke into a commotion; they asked together, “Who are you?” “Why did you pretend to be Shi Bangzhu?”

Zhang Wuji raised him up and then with a jerk he tossed him to the ground. Shi Huolong was knocked out and was speechless for half a day. Zhang Wuji smiled faintly and withdrew; thinking that this man was masquerading Shi Huolong, and now that the fact was known, the crowd of beggars would certainly deal with him.

Zhang Bang Longtou was hot-tempered; he stepped forward and slapped that man left and right, ‘Slap, slap, slap, slap’ seven, eight times.

The fake Shi Huolong’s cheeks were red and swollen. “It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me,” he cried out loudly, “It was Chen … Chen Zhanglao who told me to do it.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s heart was stirred, he shouted, “Where is Chen Youliang?” But Chen Youliang’s shadow was nowhere to be seen. Apparently as Chen Youliang realized his plot was uncovered, he quickly escaped and was already gone for a long time.

“Quickly chase him!” Zhi Fa Zhanglao barked his order. Several seven-pouch disciples responded and ran out of the gate to pursue.

“Mother of a thief! [this is a literal translation]” Zhang Bang Zhanglao cursed, “Who do you think you are, telling the Old Man to kowtow to you and call you ‘Bangzhu’?” Raising his palm, he was about to slap again.

Zhi Fa Zhanglao quickly reached out to grab his hand. “Feng Xiongdi [brother Feng],” he said, “Don’t be reckless. If you kill him, we won’t find out anything from him.” Turning toward the lady in yellow, he cupped his fists and respectfully said, “If Miss did not expose this man’s deceitful scheme, we would still be kept in the dark. By your illustrious name, Miss was able to see through this deception. My humble Clan, from the biggest to the smallest, all are indebted to you.”

The lady in yellow only gave a slight smile and said, “Xiao Nuzi [lit. little/lowly girl – referring to herself] lives in the deep of the mountain, and has never had any contact with outsiders; so knowing my name would be quite useless. As for this little sister, could it be that nobody in your clan recognize her?”

The crowd of beggars looked at the little girl, but nobody recognized her. Something suddenly stirred in Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s heart; he took a step forward and said, “She … she … she looks a bit like Mrs. Shi … could it be … could it be …”

“That’s right,” the lady in yellow said, “Her surname is Shi, given name Hongshi [lit. red rock; different character from her surname ‘Shi’]; she is the only daughter of Shi Huolong, Shi Bangzhu. When Shi Bangzhu was dying, he sent Mrs. Shi and this girl, with the Dog Beating Stick in their hands, to look for me, asking me to avenge his grievance.”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao was shocked, “Miss!” he said, “Did you say Shi Bangzhu has already returned to Heaven? He … how did the Senior die?”

After Yelu Qi, none of the previous generations Clan Leaders had been successful in mastering the entire Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms; the most any Clan Leader had ever learned was fourteen stances. Shi Huolong had mastered twelve stances. About twenty years ago, even though his internal energy was not strong enough, he forced himself in training of this heritage palm technique of his Clan. As a result, the upper half of his body was paralyzed; he could not move his arms. Thereupon he took his wife and went wandering on remote mountains in search of efficacious treatment of his illness, and left the Beggar Clan affairs to Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa two elders, and Zhang Bang and Zhang Bo two ‘longtou’ [leaders; lit. dragon head]. However, there was no clear coordination between the two elders and two leaders; everybody was taking care of his own business only. As a result, once again the Dirty Clothes and the Clean Clothes Factions were on bad terms with each other, and such a big clan gradually declined in power.

Before the sudden appearance of this fake Clan Leader, the younger Beggar Clan disciples had never seen their Bangzhu, plus Chuan Gong Zhanglao and the others had not seen Shi Huolong for more than twenty years, and so looking at this fake Bangzhu’s appearance, which held a very close resemblance with the real Bangzhu, who would have thought that this one was only an impersonator?

The lady in yellow sighed and said, “Shi Bangzhu died under the hands of Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou Cheng Kun.”

“Ah!” Zhang Wuji exclaimed; thinking that he had personally seen Cheng Kun’s body lying on the ground at the Brightness Peak, how could he kill Shi Huolong? Or perhaps it must be before he was killed at the Brightness Peak.

“Can I ask you a question, Miss?” he asked, “How long has Shi Bangzhu passed away?”

“Last year, on the sixth of the tenth month,” the lady in yellow replied, “So it’s been more than two months now.”

“That’s strange,” Zhang Wuji said, “I wonder how does Miss know that Shi Bangzhu died under Cheng Kun that old thief’s treacherous hands?”

The lady in yellow replied, “Mrs. Shi told me that Shi Bangzhu fought this old man for twelve stances before than old man vomited blood and ran away. But Shi Bangzhu was also injured by that old man’s palm strength. Shi Bangzhu knew his injury was very serious, and he expected that the old man would recover within three days and would return to pick a fight with him again. Immediately he talked to Mrs. Shi, telling her that the enemy was Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou Cheng Kun. By that time Shi Bangzhu’s paralyzed arms were actually about 90% recovered. With his mastery of the twelve stances of the Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms, his martial art skill could be considered one of the top ranking masters in the Jianghu, yet after exhausting his entire skill and strength, after the twelve stances were launched, he still could not escape the enemy’s treacherous hands.”

Listening to this point, the little girl Shi Hongshi broke into a loud cry. Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s face also showed grief and indignation; he wiped the tears from Shi Hongshi’s face with his dirty sleeve while saying, “Little Sister, Bangzhu’s grievance is our Clan tens of thousands disciples’ grievance. We will certainly capture that Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou Cheng Kun and tear his body into ten thousand pieces to avenge Bangzhu’s great hatred. I wonder where is your Mama?”

Shi Hongshi pointed at the lady in yellow. “My Mama is recuperating in Yang Jiejie’s [elder sister Yang] home,” she said. And that was when everybody knew the lady in yellow’s surname was Yang, but as for what kind of person she was, nobody had the least bit of clue.

The lady in yellow sighed softly and said, “Mrs. Shi also suffered from Cheng Kun’s palm. Her condition was not light. After making a long and wearisome journey, she arrived at my humble home totally exhausted. Whether she would recover, it’s … it’s hard to say.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao hatefully said, “I wonder what kind of enmity this Cheng Kun has against our Lao Bangzhu [old/previous Clan Leader], that he dealt with him with such a treacherous hand?”

The lady in yellow said, “According to Mrs. Shi, who rephrased Shi Bangzhu’s last words, Cheng Kun and he did not know each other personally, so there was no ground for enmity or revenge. Therefore, until the moment he died, Shi Bangzhu was unclear of the reason behind it. Mrs. Shi speculated that someone from the Beggar Clan somehow offended Cheng Kun that he exacted his revenge on Shi Bangzhu.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao was silent for a moment before saying, “To avoid Xie Xun, this Cheng Kun went into hiding from the Jianghu people dozens of years ago. How could a Beggar Clan disciple offend him? It seems like there is a misunderstanding involved here.”

Zhang Bo Longtou had been listening quietly on the side without saying anything, but suddenly to grabbed a curved saber and placed it on Shi Huolong’s impersonator’s neck while shouting, “What’s your name? Why did you impersonate Shi Bangzhu? Speak up! And if you lie, even half a word… humph, humph!” While saying that, his curved-saber hacked diagonally and split a nearby chair into two pieces, and then he immediately returned the saber on the bald-man’s neck.

The bald man was so scared that he felt his soul was leaving his body. “I … I …” he stammered, “Xiao Ren [little/lowly person] is called ‘lai tou yuan’ [Scabies Turtle Head] Liu Ao. I was the chief of a mountain stronghold on the Jixian county of Shanxi province. That day I went down the mountain to do our business without any capital, when we met Chen Youliang, Chen Zhanglao, and Chen Zhanglao’s Shifu. With one kick Chen Zhanglao made Xiao Ren flip on the ground. He raised his sword ready to kill. Xiao Ren promptly kowtowed asking for mercy. Chen Zhanglao looked at Xiao Ren carefully. He suddenly said, ‘Shifu, this little thief looks very much like the man we met the day before yesterday.’ His shifu shook his head and said, ‘Hey, hey, the age is not right, nose is too low, plus he is bald.’ Chen Zhanglao laughed and said, ‘Disciple has a way to fix that.’ Thereupon he told Xiao Ren to follow them to Jiexian, and we went into an inn. Chen Zhanglao applied some plaster to make Xiao Ren’s nose higher, and then he put a wig on Xiao Ren’s head so that I assumed the appearance … of that old gentleman. Even if Xiao Ren had a nerve as high as the sky, I would never have dared to play any trick on you. Only Chen Zhanglao said so, what could Xiao Ren do? Xiao Ren’s dog life is in his hand, there … there is no other way. Xiao Ren still has an eighty-year old Mother at home, please spare my life.” While saying that, he bent his knees and kowtowed, knocking his head on the ground repeatedly.

Zhi Fa Zhanglao pondered for a while before saying, “Chen Youliang’s school background is Shaolin Pai; his shifu must be a senior monk in the Shaolin Temple. He … does he have any other shifu?”

His words reminded Zhang Wuji of something. “That’s right,” he interjected, “His shifu is Cheng Kun.” Thereupon he told them briefly how Cheng Kun assumed the name Yuan Zhen and mingled among the Shaolin monks by becoming Kong Jian Shenseng’s [divine monk] disciple. He also told Yuan Zhen’s sneak attack of the Brightness Peak, and how in the end he was killed by Yin Yewang, but his body was suddenly missing.

Zhang Bo Longtou and Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “No doubt about it. Cheng Kun faked his death on the Brightness Peak, and quietly slipped out amidst the confusion.”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao angrily said, “Turns out the mastermind behind this treachery is that traitor Chen Youliang. Those two, master and disciple, have a wild ambition; in their futile attempt to dominate the world, they have killed Shi Bangzhu and sent this impersonator to be their puppet. Not only they wanted to force the Ming Cult into submission, they also want to subdue Shaolin, Wudang and Emei, three major sects. This scheme is not only treacherous we very seldom hear something like this either. Where is Song Qingshu? Where did Song Qingshu go?”

Up to this time, everybody had been focusing their attention toward the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu, the lady in yellow, Shi Hongshi, and the others; nobody knew when Song Qingshu unexpectedly slipped away right on Chen Youliang’s heel. His departure confirmed their confidence that Chen Youliang’s sinister plot had finally been thwarted.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao bowed deeply toward the lady in yellow and said, “Miss has truly shown a great kindness towards our humble Clan. The Beggar Clan does not know how to pay you back.”

The lady in yellow smiled slightly and said, “My ancestors had a deep relationship with your honorable Clan’s previous generation, this tiny deed does not worth mentioning. Please take a good care of this Shi little sister.” Bowing in respect, her yellow shadow flashed and she had already flown to the roof.

“Miss,” Chuan Gong Zhanglao called out, “Please stay for a while.”

The four girls in black and the four girls in white also jumped to the roof, accompanied by the tinkling sound of the zither and the mellow sound of the flute. In a short moment, the zither-flute ensemble drifted away, until finally their music vanished. As sudden as their arrival, their departure was also swift. Everybody felt as if something was lost from their lives.

Holding Shi Hongshi’s hand, Chuan Gong Zhanglao said to Zhang Wuji, “Zhang Jiaozhu, would you please come into the inner hall to talk.”

The crowd of beggars respectfully stood on the side, opening up a way for Zhang Wuji to walk in. Zhang Wuji went into the hall and was seated as Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s honorable guest. Zhou Zhiruo sat next to him.

After asking the names of Chuan Gong Zhanglao, Zhi Fa Zhanglao and the others, Zhang Wuji said, “Cao Zhanglao, if my Yifu Jin Mao Shi Wang is with your honorable Clan, would you please have him come out to see me; if he is not, would you please tell me his whereabouts?”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao heaved a deep sigh and said, “That traitor Chen Youliang has played a trick on us, making the Beggar Clan ashamed to face the heroes of this world. As Zhang Jiaozhu has mentioned, it was indeed we who invited Xie Daxia [great hero Xie] and this Miss Zhou outside the Great Wall. Xie Daxia was sick and lost his consciousness on the bed. Without any fight we brought them both to this place. Five days ago in the evening, Xie Daxia suddenly struck dead our humble Clan disciples who happened to guard him, and then he escaped. The coffins of Beggar Clan disciples who died violently are still on the rear courtyard. If Zhang Jiaozhu does not believe me, you can go to the rear courtyard and see for yourself.”

Zhang Wuji could hear the sincerity in his words; besides, he had seen with his own eyes the corpses of the Beggar Clan disciples scattered around that second floor room the other night. Thereupon he said, “Cao Zhanglao has stated the fact, how can I dare not to believe?” And then he asked, “From Lulong going westward, there are signs used by my humble Cult people to communicate with each other, I thought they were left by our Cult brethrens; I wonder if your Clan has anything to do with it?”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “I am not sure if it was that fellow Chen Youliang’s doing, but to my shame, Xiongdi [brother] does not have any knowledge of it.”

Zhang Wuji nodded. He pondered a while and then he understood. “At the Brightness Peak that Cheng Kun was able to come and go as he pleased; obviously he knew our Cult’s signs. Since this man is not dead, the one who left the signs to deceive others must be him. But if my Yifu really fell into Cheng Kun’s hands …” Thinking to this point, sweats broke on his forehead. Calming himself down, he asked Shi Hongshi, “Little Sister, where does this Yang Jiejie live? Did you know her previously?”

Shi Hongshi shook her head, “I did not know her. After Father died, Mama took me, taking Father’s bamboo stick along, riding on a cart for many days. And then we did not ride the cart anymore, but climbing the mountain instead. Mama could not walk anymore, she took a rest. And then she crawled on the ground. And then we got to the outside of a forest. Mama called out several times. And then Xiao Jiejie [‘little’ elder sister] wearing black came out. After that Yang Jiejie came out. She asked Mama many questions. And then she took the bamboo stick and left for half a day. Afterwards Mama passed out. And then Yang Jiejie took me, she also took eight Xiao Jiejie wearing black and wearing white. We rode on a cart and came here.”

She was too young and did not understand much; when asked about the place, the day and the time, she could not give any answer, there was not the least bit of useful information came out of her mouth.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “Your precious Cult’s Master Han Shantong’s young master is still with us.” Turning around he gave some orders to a Beggar Clan disciple, who then left in a hurry.

Not too long afterwards, they heard Han Lin’er’s loud voice from the rear hall, cursing and scolding, “You are a bunch of stinky no-good beggars, you still want to deceive your father? Our Zhang Jiaozhu holds a highly respected position; how can he come to your stinky beggars’ lair? Hurry up, send your father to the western sky. Your sneaky evil plan won’t work against me.”

As the elders heard him, they all had ashamed look on their faces. Zhang Wuji respected Han Lin’er’s guts and his unyielding character; he stood up and rushed several steps forward. In big strides Han Lin’er angrily walked in from behind the wall. Zhang Wuji met him and said, “Han Dage [big brother Han], I am here. I am sorry that you have suffered these past few days.”

Han Lin’er was startled; in his extreme delight he knelt down immediately and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, you [orig. lao3ren2jia1 – Senior] are really here. Xiao Ren [little/lowly person – reference to self] is relieved. Please issue an order to wipe these stinky beggars out.”

With a smile on his face Zhang Wuji helped him up and said, “Han Dage, the Beggar Clan Elders have also fallen under other people’s sinister plot; there has been some misunderstanding. But everything is clear now, everybody becomes good friends. Looking at my face, I hope Han Xiongdi [brother Han] do not take any offense.”

Han Lin’er stood up, while giving Chuan Gong Zhanglao and the others a glowering look. He wanted to shout some abusive words to vent his anger, but since the Cult Leader had already told him so, he had no choice but trying hard to repress his anger.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “With your bright presence today, you have given our humble Clan the greatest honor. Quickly reset the banquet table! Everyone, first, we welcome Zhang Jiaozhu; second, we apologize to the Emei Pai’s Zhou Zhangmen [Sect Leader Zhou]; third, we apologize to Han Dage.” Before he even finished talking, several disciples had already carried out his order.

Zhang Wuji still had his Yifu’s safety hanging in his mind, plus he had many questions he would like to ask Zhou Zhiruo, therefore, he was not in the mood to eat and drink. Cupping his fists he said, “Your good intentions are highly appreciated, but I am anxious to find out about my Yifu. I will have to come back in the future to disturb you. Please excuse me.”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao and the others kept asking him to stay. Seeing their sincere invitation, Zhang Wuji thought that if he walked away, he would unavoidably offend the Beggar Clan. Therefore, he was obliged to stay and join the feast.

During the feast, the leaders of the Beggar Clan seriously reiterated their apology; they further promised to send the Beggar Clan disciples everywhere to inquire Xie Xun’s whereabouts, and to let the Ming Cult know as soon as they get any information. Zhang Wuji thanked them and from that day forward, he became friends with the ‘Zhanglao’s and ‘Longtou’s of the Beggar Clan. They drank to their hearts contents.

The Beggar Clan leaders noticed that Zhang Wuji was a young man highly skilled in martial arts, yet he was not arrogant, but generous and open-minded. Plus, he ardently made an effort to engage the Beggar Clan in the effort of driving the Tartars away. Everybody’s hearts were won over with respect and admiration. When Zhang Wuji left, they sent him off ten ‘li’s outside the city of Lulong, before bidding him goodbye.