The three men were so shocked that they were speechless for a long time. One of them, surnamed Song, was more knowledgeable than the rest. He undid both men’s clothes to take a look. One of them had a large, round black patch on his arm. In the middle of the black patch was a very tiny hole made by a needle. The other had a black patch on his chest. He suddenly understood: “The girl used a needle to prick them, and there was strong poison applied on the needle.” The man surnamed Quan said, “Then there’s nothing to be afraid of! We’ll aim projectiles at her from far away, and not let that little broad come near us.” The last bandit, surnamed Yun, said, “Since we know about her deceitful scheme, we have no fear of falling into her trap!” Although they spoke bravely like this, they were in no hurry to go after her. They discussed their plan of action as they rode into the valley both anxiously and warily.
Li Wenxiu had been pleasantly surprised by both her successful pricks. But she also realised that the remaining three men would soon find out. Once they were on their guard, it would not be easy for her to use her poisoned needle again. As she was riding, she suddenly heard someone from the left call out, “Come over here!” It was that old man’s voice.
Li Wenxiu dismounted hurriedly. She heard his voice coming from inside a cave, and immediately darted into it. The old man was standing at the mouth of the cave. He asked, “How was it?” Li Wenxiu said, “I… I pricked two of… two of the bandits, and quickly escaped.” The old man replied, “Excellent, let’s go inside.” After entering the cave, she realised that it was very deep. She followed the old man inside. The deeper they went, the narrower the cave became.
After walking a distance of about ten zhang, they saw that the cave widened into a cavern which could hold one to two hundred people. The old man said, “We’ll stand guard at the narrow mouth of this cavern, and those three bandits won’t dare to enter. This is known as ‘when one man guards the entrance, a thousand men are unable to breach it’.” Worried, Li Wenxiu said, “But we won’t be able to leave either. Are there other passageways in this cave leading outside?” the old man replied, “There are other passageways, but they do not lead outside.”
Li Wenxiu recalled what had happened earlier, and there was a lingering fear in her heart. She queried, “Uncle, those two bandits became immobile after being pricked by me. Were they really dead?” The old man answered proudly, “How can anyone survive after being pricked by my poisoned needles?” Li Wenxiu put out her hand and returned the poisoned needle to him. The old man was about to take it with his outstretched when he suddenly withdrew it, instructing, “Put it on the ground.” Li Wenxiu obeyed his orders. Then he said, “Move back three steps.” Li Wenxiu felt rather strange, but moved back by three steps. Only then did the old man bend down and pick the poisoned needle up, and placed it in a tube holding needles. Li Wenxiu realised that he was full of suspicion, and wanted to prevent her from attacking him suddenlywith the poisoned needle.
The old man said, “We’re strangers to each other, so why did you give up your horse to me and tell me to escape alone?” Li Wenxiu answered, “I don’t know either. I saw that you are ill and was afraid that the bandits would harm you.” His body quivered, and he said fiercely, “How did you know that I am… I am…” At this point, his facial muscles convulsed, and his expression was one of pain. Beads of perspiration as large as soya beans were formed on his forehead. Suddenly, he gave a loud cry, and rolled about on the ground, moaning loudly. Li Wenxiu was too shocked to react. Seeing his body twist into the shape of a bow, and his limbs in spasms, she said gently, “Is your back aching very badly?” Using her hands, she beat his back lightly, then massaged and rubbed his arm and leg joints. The pain which he felt was significantly lessened, and expressed his thanks by nodding his head. After a while, all the pain he felt had vanished. He stood up, and inquired, “Do you know who I am?” Li Wenxiu answered, “I don’t know.” The old man said, “I am a Han; my surname is Hua and given name, Hui. I am from Jiangnan, and people from the pugilistic world call me ‘One Finger Shakes Jiangnan’.” Li Wenxiu replied, “Oh, you are Old Uncle Hua.” Hua Hui asked, “You’ve never heard of my name?” He was slightly disappointed. In his heyday, he, ‘One Finger Shakes Jiangnan’, caused much sensation on both the northern and southern banks of the great river. There was not one pugilist who did not know his name. When he looked at Li Wenxiu, he saw that she did not have an expression of great surprise on her face.
Li Wenxiu declared, “My father and mother must’ve known your name. I was only eight years old when I came to the Muslim Region, and was ignorant about everything.” Hua Hui’s expression turned cheerful, and said, “That’s for sure. You…” He hadn’t finished his sentence when they heard someone in the cave passageway say, “She must be hiding here! Be careful of her poisoned needles!” Then footsteps rang out. The three bandits walked inwards, halting after taking each step.
Hurriedly, Hua Hui took out a poisoned needle, and stuck its end into the head of his staff. He handed it to her. Pointing to the entrance, he said in a low voice, “When one of them enters, prick his back. You must not be impatient and prick his chest.” Li Wenxiu mused, “This entrance is so narrow. Wouldn’t it be easier to prick his chest while he is entering?” When Hua Hui saw her hesitant expression, he said, “This is a matter of life and death, there cannot be any delay. Do you dare to disobey my instructions?” Although he spoke in a soft voice, his tone was harsh. At that moment, a gleaming blade was extended into the cave via the entrance. It was brandished swiftly, protecting the owner’s face and chest, preventing the enemies from launching a sneak attack. Then a black figure crawled in slowly. It was the bandit surnamed Yun.
Li Wenxiu remembered what Hua Hui had instructed. Hidden in a corner, she did not dare to move one inch. Coldly, Hua Hui said, “Look at what I have in my hand!” Then he swept his arm as a false move. The bandit surnamed Yun darted to one side, his blade protecting the front of his body. He gazed intently at him, to guard against him from hurling projectiles. Hua Hui yelled, “Prick him!” Li Wenxiu lifted her hand up and brought the staff down. Its head made contact with his back, and the poisoned needle entered his skin. The bandit felt a slight pain in his back, as if he had just been stung by a bee. He gave a shout, then died. The bandit surnamed Quan, who was following swiftly behind him, saw that he had been killed by the poisoned needles. He thought that Hua Hui was firing needles, and frightened out of his wits. Without even turning around, he retreated by crawling out on all four limbs.
Hua Hui sighed, “If I hadn’t lost my martial arts skills, these five trifling bandits would be nothing to me!” Li Wenxiu recalled that his nickname was ‘One Finger Shakes Jiangnan’, and his martial arts skills were obviously superior. But why did he seem so helpless when facing five insignificant bandits? She asked, “Uncle Hua, are you unable to use your martial arts skills because of your illness?” Hua Hui replied, “No, no. I… I once vowed that I would not use my martial arts skills easily unless it was a matter of life and death.” Li Wenxiu felt that he spoke insincerely. He just said that he had ‘lost his martial arts skills’, but was now making evasive statements. Since he did not wish to talk about it, she did not pursue the matter.
Hua Hui had also realised that there had been inconsistencies in his speech. Changing the topic, he said, “Do you understand why I asked you to prick his back? When he enters the cave, he would be preoccupied with guarding against enemies in front of him. Since you don’t know any martial arts skills, you will not be able to attack him successfully from the front. I then attract his attention, so he is wary of me. Then you prick his back, and we have a successful attack.” Li Wenxiu nodded and said, “Uncle, your plan is excellent.” Hua Hui had had a rich experience of the pugilistic world, and manipulating such a little crook was as easy as flipping his palm. Hua Hui took out a large piece of dried honey melon and handed it to Li Wenxiu, saying, “Eat some first. Those two crooks won’t dare to enter anymore, but we won’t be able to escape either. Let me think of a plan first, so we can kill two birds with one stone. If we only kill one of them, the surviving one is sure to escape and report to his masters. It would be extremely troublesome to have a whole contingent of men and horses after us.” Li Wenxiu saw that he, with his resourcefulness, was contemplating the situation carefully. She thought that since she would not possibly be able to think of a plan more brilliant than his, she decided not to rack her brain for ideas. Instead, she ate her fill of dried melon, then leant on the stone wall and rested.
Around one hour later, she suddenly sensed an acrid smell, and began to cough. Hua Hui cried, “Oh no! The crooks are trying to smoke us out! Quick, seal the entrance!” Li Wenxiu swiftly gathered up sand and rocks from the ground to seal the entrance. Luckily, the entrance was extremely small. Upon its sealing, the amount of smoke entering the cave was significantly lessened. And since the cave was large, smoke blown into it would diffuse out from the hole in the back.
This stalemate went on for quite a good while. The sunlight shining through the hole in the back became brighter and brighter, as if it was already high noon. Suddenly, Hua Hui gave a loud cry, then crashed to the ground, and his entire body went into spasms. But this time he seemed to be in more pain than previously. He was actually unable to control his limbs which were flailing madly. Li Wenxiu was alarmed, and went over to massage him. The pain he suffered was reduced slightly, and he panted, “Mi… Miss, I’m afraid it isn’t good this time.”
Li Wenxiu comforted him: “Don’t think that way. You’ve met several formidable opponents today, and it was unavoidable that your energy was sapped. You’ll be fine after a short rest.” Hua Hui shook his head, and said, “No, no! Since I am going to die anyway, I’ll tell you the truth. A acupoint of my back was hit… hit by a poisoned needle.” Li Wenxiu said, “Ah, you were hit by a poisoned needle? When were you hit? Today?” Hua Hui answered, “No, I’ve been hit for twelve years!” Li Wenxiu was stunned: “Is it such a formidable poisoned needle?” Hua Hui answered, “It is not much different from the rest. But I slowed down its spread by channeling my energy to resist it. Later I ingested the antidote, and managed to survive for twelve years. But today, I don’t think I can live any longer. Ai, for these twelve years that the needle has been lodged in my body, I have had to suffer two or three bouts of great pain daily. If only I had not ingested the antidote that day. It has not done me any good; I have suffered for these twelve years.” Her heart gave a shudder, for his words evoked her memories. If she had died with her parents ten years ago, perhaps she would have had suffered less misery.
But had she always suffered misery for all these ten years? No, there had been happy times. Although this young girl, aged about seventeen or eighteen, was sad and lonely, she had enjoyed much laughter and sweetness in her current youth.
When she saw Hua Hui gritting his teeth, trying to bear with the pain, she said, “Uncle, try removing the needle, you might fell better then.” Hua Hui retorted, “Rubbish! Isn’t that obvious? I’ve been alone in these desolate hills, who would help me remove the needle? None of those who enter the hills had kind intentions, hmm, hmm…” Li Wenxiu was puzzled, “Why didn’t he go elsewhere to look for someone who could cure him? For what reason did he live in these desolate hills for twelve years?” It was apparent that he still harboured deep suspicions against her. But she observed that he was truly in pain, deserving to be pitied, so she said, “Uncle, let me try. Don’t worry, I won’t try to harm you.”
Hua Hui stared at her, his brows tightly furrowed. He pondered over her proposal countless times, and was unable to come to a decision. She pulled the poisoned needle off the head of his staff, and handed it to him, saying, “Let me see the scar on your back. If you see that I have evil intentions, then you can use the poisoned needle to prick me!” Hua Hui replied, “Good!” He undressed and revealed his back. When she looked at it, she could not help be give a low gasp. On his back were spots and blotches. Who knew how many hundreds or thousands of scars were there? Hua Hui said, “I’ve tried countless means and ways to dig the poisoned needle out, but to no avail.” Some of these scars seemed to be have been made by hitting against sharp rocks. Others seemed to be made by sharp fingernails. As Li Wenxiu looked at these scars, she realised the amount of pain he must have suffered these twelve years. Her heart was filled with sorrow, and she asked, “Where is the poisoned needle located?” Hua Hui said, “There are three in total. One is at the Po Hu Acupoint, one is at the Zhi Shi Acupoint, and one is at the Zhi Yang Acupoint.” As he spoke, he twisted his hand backwards to point out the location of each poisoned needle. Since a long time had passed, coupled with the numerous scars on his back, it was impossible to see the holes made by the needles.
Li Wenxiu gasped, “There are three needles in all? Didn’t you say you were hit by only one?” Angrily, he said, “Previously, you did not say that you were going to remove the needles for me, so why would I tell you the truth?” Li Wenxiu knew that his heart was heavy with suspicion. The truth was that he had lost all his martial arts skills after being hit by the three poisoned needles. Afraid that she would try to harm him, he lied that he had vowed that he would not use his martial arts skills easily. As for the number of poisoned needles which had hit him, he had declared two less than the true number. He could thus protect himself if she had the intention to harm him. She did not like his lies and suspicions, but since she had decided to help him, she would help him to the end. This old man was certainly pitiful. Thus, she put down all her misgivings, and pondered on how she was going to remove the poisoned needles which had sunk deep into his flesh.
Hua Hui queried, “Can you see clearly?” Li Wenxiu replied, “I cannot see the ends of the needles, so how do you think I should go about removing them?” Hua Hui said, “You must use a sharp object to cut open the flesh, and only then can you see them. They have sunk deep inside, and are hard to find.” As he spoke, his voice began to tremble. Li Wenxiu answered, “It’s a pity that I did not bring my small knife.” Hua Hui said, “I don’t have a knife either.” Suddenly, he pointed to the long sabre which had fallen to the ground, saying, “Use this sabre!” That long sabre gleamed with a green light, and was very sharp. It lay next to the body of the bandit surnamed Yun. At this point, the owner was dead, but the sabre remained. It struck terror in those who saw it.
Li Wenxiu was extremely hesitant to use such a long sabre to cut open his back. Hua Hui guessed what she was feeling. His tone becoming gentle, he said, “Miss Li, if you help me remove the poisoned needles, I will give you lots of gold and jewels. I’m not lying to you; I will really give you lots of gold and jewels.” Li Wenxiu answered, “I don’t need those treasures, neither do I want your thanks. As long as you don’t suffer from any more pain, that is good enough for me.” Hua Hui said, “All right, please do it quickly then.” Li Wenxiu went over and picked up the long sabre. She then cut off about ten strips of cloth from the bandit’s clothes to be used for stopping the bleeding and bandaging the wound. She said, “Uncle, I will do all that I can. Please bear with the pain.” She gritted her teeth, and aimed the tip of the sabre near the Po Hu Acupoint which he had previously pointed out to her. Then she cut his flesh gently.
The sabre entered his flesh, and blood spurted out. Astonishingly, Hua Hui did not even make a sound. He asked, “Can you see it?” Since he had managed to bear with the pain for twelve years, being cut by a sharp blade did not really affect him. Li Wenxiu pulled a hairpin off her hair, and used it to probe the wound. She found a thin needle nailed tightly to the bone.
She stretched two fingers into the wound, and grasped the end of the needle. She gave a strong pull, but her fingers slipped, and she was unable to pull the poisoned needle out. She managed the pull the needle out only in her fourth try. Hua Hui gave a loud shriek. The pain he felt was so immense that he fainted. Li Wenxiu thought, “At least he will not feel the pain, seeing that he has lost consciousness.” She cut open his flesh to remove the other needles. After she had removed the remaining two needles, she used the strips of cloth to bandage the wounds.
After quite a while, Hua Hui slowly regained consciousness. He opened his eyes and saw the three pitch-black poisoned needles placed in front of him. Hatefully, he said, “Damnable needles, wicked needles! You’ve stayed in my flesh for twelve years, and today, you have finally come out.” To Li Wenxiu, he said, “Miss Li, you saved my life but I have nothing to give you in return. I’ll give you these three poisoned needles as a gift. Although they were lodged in my flesh for twelve years, their toxicity still remains.” Li Wenxiu shook her head, saying, “I don’t want them.” Hua Hui was amazed: “You have witnessed the formability of these poisoned needles with your own eyes. With these needles, everyone will fear you.” In a low voice, she said, “I don’t want other people to fear me.” In her heart she thought, “I only want other people to like me. These poisoned needles would be useless then.”
After the poisoned needles had been removed, Hua Hui was extremely weak due to an excessive loss of blood. But he was in high spirits and full of vitality. He shut his eyes and slept for more than two hours. In his dreams, he heard someone cursing loudly. Startled, he woke up. He heard the bandit surnamed Song, standing outside the cave, cursing with filthy expletives. Every word he said was extremely vicious. He obviously did not dare to enter, but wanted to taunt his enemies into coming out. As he listened, he became more furious. He stood up and said, “Since the poisoned needles in my body are gone, how can ‘One Finger Shakes Jiangnan’ be afraid of two insignificant crooks?” He tried to channel his energy up, but was unable to do so. He sighed, “The poisoned needles were lodged in my body for too long a time, it seems that I will not be able to regain my martial arts skills until after three or four months.” Hearing the bandit scold “A thousand crooks, ten thousand crooks” viciously, he said angrily, “Must I wait many months before killing you, while you curse me in the meantime?” Then he thought, “If they don’t enter the cave, and this deadlock continues, they’ll probably go back and return with a large contingent of men. That would be dreadful. So what shall we do?”
Realisation hit him, and he said, “Miss Li, let me teach you a martial arts sequence, and you can settle those two crooks outside.” Li Wenxiu asked, “How long will I take to master it? It won’t be that soon, will it?” Hua Hui said, “If I teach you how to seal acupoints, swordfighting and fistfighting, you’ll need at least half a year to master them. You have to master something quickly, an unorthodox weapon which you can see immediate results after some practicing, and can use to defeat your opponent in one or two moves. But where can we find an unorthodox weapon in this cave?” He lifted his head, and joyfully cried, “Got it! Pick two of the bottle gourds over there. They must be linked by vines. We’ll practice the meteor hammer.” In the area where sunlight shone into the cave, Li Wenxiu saw about ten bottle gourds hanging there. They had withered a long time ago, and she could not tell when they had first grown there. Using the sabre, she cut down two gourds with the vines still attached. Hua Hui said, “Excellent! Use your sabre to dig a small cavity on the gourds, and pour sand into them. Then stuff the cavities with the vines. Li Wenxiu obeyed his instructions. Both gourds were completely filled with sand, and each weighed about seven to eight jin. It looked exactly like a meteorite hammer. Hua Hui received it, and said, “I’ll teach you the stroke ‘Stars and Moon Vying for Splendour.’” He lifted the meteor hammer up, and demonstrated the movement. In this stroke, the left hammer would hit the enemy’s Shang Qu Acupoint located between the chest and the belly. Meanwhile, the right hammer would swing out, then back again, curving around to hit the enemy’s Ling Tai Acupoint located on his back. Although it was only one stroke, it included various skills like arm strength, good judgment, being able to use the hammer to hit the correct acupoints. At the same time, the user had to be on guard against the enemy’s dodging, and borrowing power to strike back. Thus, Li Wenxiu practiced for more than two hours, before she could wield the hammer with accuracy.
She wiped the perspiration off her forehead, and said apologetically, “I’m really stupid, taking such a long time to master it!” Hua Hui answered, “You’re not stupid at all, and can be considered extremely intelligent. Don’t look down on this stroke, for it can change beyond imagination and extremely powerful. Ordinary people take eight to ten days to master it, and then they might not achieve as much as you have. To deal with top pugilists, one stroke will be of no use. But to defeat two crooks, it is more than enough! Rest a while before you go out to kill them.” Li Wenxiu was stunned: “Is a mere one stroke enough?”
How could Li Wenxiu know how good were the skills of the Two Greats of Min Bei? When she saw that he was angered, she had no option but to brace herself up. She moved away the rocks which had sealed the entrance. In her right hand she held the meteor hammer, and she used her left to pick a poisoned needle from the ground. She yelled, “Damnable crooks, the poisoned needles are here!” When the two bandits, who had been guarding the entrance of the cave, heard “the poisoned needles are here”, they were frightened out of their wits, and swiftly retreated. The one surnamed Song realised that if she had wanted to fire poisoned needles at them, she would obviously not give them a prior warning. Since she had yelled in such a manner, it probably meant that she would not fire poisoned needles at them. But he had witnessed three of his companions perish in succession after being hit by the needles, and so did not dare to take too large a risk. Li Wenxiu chased after them unhurriedly. The fear she felt was no less than that felt by both bandits. All three of them were extremely frightened. They finally passed through the narrow passageway which was about ten zhang long.
When the bandit surnamed Quan looked back, Li Wenxiu raised her left hand. Flustered, he stumbled and fell. The one surnamed Song thought that he had been hit by a poisoned needle. Quickening his pace, he fled out of the cave. Then the one surnamed Quan also dashed out. Both men protected their bodies with their sabres. One of them said, “Let’s deal with that girl out here!” The other said, “That’s right, we’ll able to see clearly when she fires poisoned needles at us.” At this time, the sun was setting in the hills. The bright golden light shone on their faces. They tilted their heads slightly, so that the sunlight would not shine directly into their eyes. Suddenly, they heard a feminine voice cry out from inside the cave: “The poisoned needles are here!” They hurriedly dodged to the side, only to see two bottle gourds fly out of the cave. Then Li Wenxiu leapt out. At first, they were taken aback. But when they saw that she was holding two withered bottle gourds, they laughed in spite of themselves. But in their laughter was also wariness. Li Wenxiu’s heart beat furiously. She had only learnt a bit of martial arts, and did not know whether this stroke was really usable. When she was young, she had learnt some martial arts from her parents. But after her parents died, she did not practice martial arts anymore, and forgot completely about them. As she faced these two fierce-looking bandits, she was well and truly terrified. The best thing she could do without dueling would be scaring them off, by making an empty show of strength. Loudly, she cried, “If you still do not flee, my master ‘One Finger Shakes Jiangnan’ will come out! His killing of people using poisoned needles is as easy as taking something out of a bag. You are really audacious to dare to set yourself against him!” These two bandits were common characters, and had vaguely heard of ‘One Finger Shakes Jiangnan’ many years ago. But since they had no connections with him, they did not put his name to heart. They glanced meaningfully at each other, and thought, “If we catch this girl as soon as possible so that she can be taken to First Master Huo and Second Master Chen, we will have done a huge service to them. Who cares if he shakes Jiangnan or Jiangbei?” Calling out in chorus, they leapt towards her from both the left and right sides.
Li Wenxiu was stunned: “How shall I use this ‘Stars and Moon Vying for Splendour’ stroke, since they are both attacking me simultaneously?” Hua Hui had wholeheartedly taught her how to deliver strokes to hit the enemy’s acupoints, but had forgotten to teach her how to deal with them if both of them attacked her together. After all, when exchanging strokes with opponents, there would be a myriad changes in delivering the strokes. How much could one teach another in two to four hours? Li Wenxiu was in a frantic tangle, and leapt three chi (about 1.5 metres) to the right. The bandit surnamed Quan was standing on her right, and was the first to dash towards her. Without a single care, she swung both bottle gourds outwards. In her anxious state, she delivered the stroke ‘Stars and Moon Vying for Splendour’ only half-correctly. The left hammer did hit his Shang Qu Acupoint located on his chest, but the right hammer hit the blade of his long sabre. With a swish, the gourd was sliced open by the blade. Yellow sand flew everywhere.
The one surnamed Song ran up, and had almost reached her. He did not expect that a large amount of yellow sand would fly out of the gourd. Some ten grians of sand went into his eyes, and raising his hands, he quickly rubbed his eyes. Li Wenxiu swung her hammer outwards again, but since the the right hammer had split, its power was lessened. It did hit his back, but not his Ling Tai Acupoint. But when this flying hammer weighing seven or eight jin made contact with his back, he stumbled. Without opening his eyes, he threw himself forwards and grabbed hold of Li Wenxiu’s shoulders. Li Wenxiu cried, “Aiyo!” Using her left hand, she hurriedly pushed him away. But in her flurry, she had forgotten that she still a poisoned needle in her hand. The push made the poisoned needle prick his belly. His arms stiffened, and he died.
Although he had died, his arms still grasped her very tightly. Li Wenxiu struggled vigorously but was unable to shake him off. Hua Hui (I don’t know how come he suddenly appears here, maybe the text I got off the internet is inaccurate) sighed, “Stupid girl, when you were learning, you were excellent, but when you put it into practical use, you make a mess!” Lifting his leg, Hua Hui kicked him in the tailbone. The corpse loosened its grip, and fell backwards.
Li Wenxiu had not recovered from her fright. She turned to look at the bandit surnamed Quan, and saw that he was lying straight on the ground. His eyes were open wide, and he was motionless. He had been killed after her sand-filled bottle gourd had hit one of his vital acupoints. Li Wenxiu had killed five people in succession in a single day. Although she had avenged her parents’ deaths and resisted evil, she still felt uneasy. Gazing at the two corpses sadly, she could not help but burst into tears. Hua Hui smiled, “Why are you crying? Isn’t the stroke ‘Stars and Moon Vying for Splendour’, which I taught you, excellent?” Li Wenxiu sobbed, “I… I killed people again.” Hua Hui said, “What is killing a few little crooks worth? When I regain my martial arts skills, I will impart all of them to you. When you have mastered all of them, we’ll return to the Central Plains. Then, both master and disciple will control the pugilistic world, unrivalled by no one. Come, come to my house to take a rest and have a cup of hot tea or two.” As he spoke, he led her towards the back of the forest on the left side. After walking for about a li, they passed a row of white birches and arrived in front of a thatched cottage.
Li Wenxiu followed him into the cottage. She saw that although it was sparsely furnished, it was clean and elegant. In the centre of the hall hung a pair of wooden couplets, and on each plank was carved seven characters. The first couplet read, “Bai shou xiang zhi you an jian.” The second couplet read, “Zhu men zao da xiao tan guan.” Ever since she came to the Muslim Region, she had never seen any couplets. Neither did anyone teach her how to read. But these fourteen characters were not difficult to recognise, and her mother had taught her these characters before.
However, she did not understand their literary meaning, and muttered, “Bai shou xiang zhi you an jian…” Hua Hui asked, “Have you ever read this poem before?” Li Wenxiu answered, “I’ve never read it before. What are these fourteen characters describing?” Hua Hui was well versed in both the artistic and martial arts, and said, “These are two lines of a poem by Wang Wei. The first couplet says, if you have a bosom friend, and you’ve befriended him for you whole life and even when your hair has turned white, you must still never trust him, for he may try to harm you secretly. When he walks in front of you, you had better hold on to the hilt of your sword. The line before these two is “Ren qing fan fu shi bo lan” (the ups and downs of human relationships are like great waves). As for the line “Zhu men zao da xiao tan guan”, it means that your friend is proud of his successes and rising swiftly to fame. However, if you hope that he will promote or help you, you will only provoke him to ridicule you.”
After Li Wenxiu met him, she saw that he was extremely suspicious and cautious of her. He had believed that she no intention of harming him only after she had removed the poisoned needles from his body. As she looked at this pair of couplets again, she thought that he must have been greatly harmed by someone sometime in his life, and this person was probably a bosom friend of his. That was why he reacted so furiously and suspiciously to everyone. But at this moment, it was inappropriate for her to prod further, so she went off to boil water for brewing tea.
After drinking two cups of hot tea each, their spirits rose. Li Wenxiu said, “Master, I must return.” Hua Hi felt surprised, and an extremely disappointed expression appeared on his face. He said, “You’re leaving? You’re not going to learn martial arts from me?” Li Wenxiu answered, “No! I didn’t return home for the entire of last night, and Grandfather Ji must miss me terribly. After I tell him what happened, I’ll come back and learn martial arts from you.” Hua Hui flew into a sudden fury. His face swelled and turned red, and loudly he said, “If you do tell him, then don’t ever come back to see me.” Li Wenxiu was taken aback, and in a low voice she said, “Can’t I tell Grandfather Ji what happened? He… he dotes extremely on me.” Hua Hui said, “You cannot tell anyone. Quick, take an oath, vowing that you will not tell anyone what happened today. Or else, I will not let you leave this hill…” Due to his burst of fury, the wounds on his back ached terribly. With a cry, he fainted.
Li Wenxiu hurriedly helped him up, and sprinkled some clean water on his forehead. After a while, he gradually awoke. Amazed, he asked, “You haven’t left?” But Li Wenxiu asked, “Is your back very painful?” Hua Hui answered, “I feel better now. You said you wanted to return home, how come you haven’t left?” Li Wenxiu thought, “At most, Grandfather Ji will miss me in his heart. But Master has suffered serious injuries, and if I don’t take care of him carefully, he might die.” So she said, “Master is unwell, let me stay on for a few days to attend to you.” Hua Hui was overjoyed.
That night, both of them slept in the thatched cottage. Li Wenxiu found some dried grass, and made a bed in the hall. As she slept, she woke up several times from her dreams with a start. Not only did she dream that she had been caught by bandits, she also dreamed that evil spirits, dripping with blood, demanded her to return their lives.
When she got up the next morning, she saw that Hua Hui was in excellent spirits after resting a night. After breakfast, Hua Hui taught her martial arts, starting from the basic internal skills. He said, “You are already quite old, and it is a little late for you to start learning superior martial arts now. But the disciple is naturally intelligent, and the master is no ordinary person. A famous teacher accepting a brilliant pupil, what is there to be afraid of? In five years’ time, you’ll be invincible in the pugilistic world.” After practicing for seven or eight days, her skills improved quickly. The wounds on Hua Hui’s back also gradually healed. Only then did she bid farewell to her master, and rode the white horse home. But Hua Hui did not force her to take an oath this time. After she returned home, she did not tell Grandfather Ji what had happened. Instead, she said that she had lost her way in the great desert, and the more she walked, the farther she went. Fortunately, she met a group of camel riders, and thus did not die of thirst in the desert.
From then onwards, after ten days or half a month, Li Wenxiu would go and stay with Hua Hui. She was extremely afraid that she would meet bandits again, so whenever she left home, she wore the clothes of a Kazak man. During these stays, Hua Hui devoted all his attention to teaching her martial arts. Li Wenxiu had nowhere to place her hopes in, so she invested all her heart and soul into learning martial arts. Indeed, it was a case of a famous teacher accepting a brilliant pupil, and she made extremely rapid progress.
Two years passed. Hua Hui often praised, “With your present capability, you can now be considered one of the top pugilists in the pugilistic world. If you return to the Central Plains and display your skills, you’ll become famous instantly.” But Li Wenxiu did not want to return to the Central Plains at all; neither did she want to become a famous pugilist. But she wanted to avenge her parents’ deaths, and to prevent herself from being harmed by bandits when she met them again, she had to perfect her martial arts skills. Deep down in her heart, another thought urged her on: “If I master the skills, I can win Su Pu back.” But she did not dare to think too much of this thought. Every time she thought of it, she would blush. Even though she did not dare to think too much of it, this thought was still hidden deep in her heart. Thus, she spent less time in old man Ji’s house, and more time at her master’s. Old man Ji did ask her a couple of times about it, but she refused to tell him. He knew that she was stubborn since she was young, and would never turn back once she had made a decision, so he did not press her. One day, Li Wenxiu rode her white horse towards home, from her teacher’s house. Halfway into the journey, she realised that the sky was suddenly overcast with red clouds. The weather in the desert was unpredictable, and the northerly wind blew increasingly strongly. It seemed as if a huge blizzard was about to occur. She urged the horse to gallop more swiftly, and saw the shepherds herding their flocks home hurriedly, and there was not a single bird in the skies.
As she was about to reach home, she suddenly heard hoof beats, and a horse galloped towards her. Li Wenxiu felt slightly puzzled: “How come some people are leaving their homes, when there’s a blizzard coming?” As the horse galloped closer, she saw that the rider had a large red woolen cloak draped over her shoulders. It was a Kazak woman.
At this time, Li Wenxiu’s eyesight had improved greatly from two years ago. From far away, she could see that this woman had a graceful figure and beautiful face. It was A’man. Li Wenxiu did not wish to meet her face-to-face, so she turned her horse around, she moved to the south of a little hill, and reined in her horse behind some trees. But she saw that A’man also rode towards the little hill. When she neared the hillside, she gave a whistle. Then an answering whistle came from the trees on the top of the little hill. A’man leapt off the horse, and a man ran towards her. They embraced each other, laughing heartily. The man said, “There’s a blizzard coming in the twinkling of an eye, why are you still out here?”
A’man laughed, “Little fool, since you knew a blizzard was coming, why did you wait bravely for me here?” Su Pu laughed, “Our meeting here every day is more important than eating. Even if I have to battle enemies, I will still come here to wait for you.” They sat on the hill, shoulder to shoulder, whispering sweet nothings to each other. Several trees away, Li Wenxiu could not help but become lost in reverie. Sometimes their conversations were loud, and could be heard very clearly; other times they became soft, and not a word could be heard. Suddenly, their conversation came to some funny happening, and they chuckled loudly together.
But even if they spoke very loudly, Li Wenxiu heard but paid no attention for she was not eavesdropping on their lovers’ prattle. It was as if she saw a little boy and a little girl before her eyes, sitting shoulder to shoulder on the grass like they were doing now. The little boy was Su Pu, but the little girl was herself. They were telling stories, but as to what stories they were, she had long forgotten, but the scene from ten years ago still appeared clearly before her eyes…
Snowflakes as large as chicken feathers floated down, one by one, falling on all three horses, falling on all three people. Su Pu and A’man were deeply engrossed in their conversation, and did not take notice, while Li Wenxiu did not feel a thing. The snowflakes piled up on their heads, turning their hair white.
Several decades later, when the hair of all three of them really turned white, would Su Pu and A’man be talking and laughing happily together, and Li Wenxiu still be lonely as ever? While she continued to remember someone, did that someone have no trace of her in his heart? Suddenly, the branches resounded with loud noise. Su Pu and A’man jumped up together, crying out, “Hailstones are falling! Let’s go home quickly!”
When Li Wenxiu heard their crying, she was roused from her reverie. Hailstones as big as fingers hit her head, face and hands, causing her to feel much pain. She hurriedly pulled out a woolen rug from beneath the saddle, and placed it on her head before riding home.
As she neared the front door of her house, she saw that two horses were tied to the pillars of the verandah. One of them was the horse A’man had ridden. Li Wenxiu was stunned: “What did they come to my house for?” At this time, the falling hailstones became bigger and bigger, so she led the white horse away, and entered the house from the back door. She heard Su Pu’s bright, clear voice say, “Old Uncle, the hailstorm is really heavy, so we’ll have to stay a little longer.” The old man Ji answered, “Normally, I wouldn’t be able to get you as guests. I’ll go and brew a pot of tea.” Ever since the bandits from Jinwei Protection Agency plundered these pastures, the Kazaks hated Hans extremely. Even though old man Ji had lived there for a long time, and the Kazaks were naturally hospitable, they did not resort to driving him out, but instead distanced themselves from him. If there wasn’t a joyous occasion, they would not buy wine from him; if their sick livestock could not be cured, they would not ask him to treat them. Su Pu and A’man’s tents had by then relocated far away. If not for finding a place to shelter from the hailstorm, ten years could pass without them even coming to his house.
The old man Ji walked to the stove, and saw that Li Wenxiu’s face was very red, and was sitting there, spellbound. He said, “Ah, you’re ba…” She got up and covered his mouth with her hand, and whispered into his ear, “Don’t let them know that I’m here.” The old man Ji was perplexed, but nodded his head.
After a while, the old man Ji took out sheep’s milk wine, junket and black tea to serve to his guests. Li Wenxiu sat by the fire, and could hear the vague sounds of Su Pu and A’man’s conversations coming from the hall. She was unable to control one thought at the bottom of her heart: “I want to see him, and say something to him.” But then she recalled Su Lu’ke’s scoldings and whippings. For ten years, the sound of the whippings had continuously rung in her mind.
Old man Ji returned to the stove, and handed her a bowl of hot tea mixed with cream. His eyes shone with affection for her. Both of them had lived together for ten years, and their relationship like a grandfather and his real granddaughter. They showed care and concern to each other, but neither really knew what the other what thinking at the bottom of his heart.
After all, they were not biologically related, and thus did not have that natural connection between related flesh and blood.
Li Wenxiu suddenly said in a low voice, “I’m not going to change my clothes, and will pretend to be a Kazak man who is seeking shelter from the hailstorm at your house. You mustn’t give away my disguise.” Without waiting for him to answer, she left by the back door. She led her horse through the heavy blizzard, and walked away, quietly. She walked on for about a li, before she mounted the horse. Turning around, she galloped towards the front door. In the midst of strong gales, she felt as if the dark clouds were going to compress her head. She had lived in the Muslim Region for twelve years but had never seen the sky such a strange colour, and felt afraid.
She rode up to the door, and knocked on it. In the Kazak language, she said, “Excuse me, excuse me!” Old man Ji opened the door and came out, and also using the Kazak language, asked, “Brother, what is it?” Li Wenxiu answered, “This heavy blizzard is really terrible. Sir, may I seek shelter in your honourable abode?” Old man Ji replied, “Of course, of course! People away from home do not carry their houses on their persons. There are already two friends here seeking shelter from the hailstorm. Brother, please enter!” As she spoke, he let Li Wenxiu to enter, and asked, “Where is Brother planning to go later?” Li Wenxiu said, “I want to go to the Black Stone Wall, how far is it from here?” But she thought, “Grandfather Ji’s pretense is faultless.” Grandfather Ji pretended to be surprised, and said, “Aiyo, you want to go to the Black Stone Wall? The weather is so bad, you won’t be able to reach it today. Why don’t you stay here for one night, and leave only tomorrow. If you lose your way, that wouldn’t be a trifling matter.” Li Wenxiu said, “I’m sorry to impose on you.” She went into the hall, and shook the snow off her body. She saw Su Pu and A’man sitting together shoulder to shoulder, around a fire. Su Pu smiles, “Brother, we’re also here to shelter from the hailstorm too. Please come over here to warm yourself.” Li Wenxiu said, “Good, many thanks!” She went over and sat next to him. A’man greeted her with a smile. Su Pu had not seen her for eight to nine years. She had grown from a little girl to a young woman, and was also pretending to be a man, so how could Su Pu recognize her? Old man Ji presented her with food and drink. As she ate, she asked the three people their names. She introduced herself as Asituo, and said that she was a Kazak shepherd from more than two hundred li away.
Su Pu looked out of the window to look at the colour of the sky. Actually, just by listening to the sounds of the earth-shaking winds, and without looking at the sky, one could know that it was unwise to leave. A’man said worriedly, “Do you think the house will be blown away by the wind?” Su Pu answered, “I’m more worried that the snowfall will be so heavy that the roof will be unable to stand it. I’ll climb up to the roof and sweep off the snow later.” A’man said, “Don’t let the wind blow you off.” Su Pu laughed, “The layer of snow covering the ground is so thick, even if I fall down, I won’t die.” Li Wenxiu’s hand trembled slightly as she held the bowl of tea. Her thoughts were muddles, and she did not know what to think. Her childhood friend sat next to her. Did he really not recognise her, or had he recognised her, but was pretending not to? Had he forgotten her completely, or did he still remember her but was not willing to let A’man know? Dusk gradually fell, and Li Wenxiu sat further away. Su Pu and A’man held hands, and whispered sweet nothings to each other. Others would find them meaningless, but lovers found them pleasing to the ears. The firelight flickered, lighting both their faces.
Li Wenxiu sat beyond the edge of the firelight.
Suddenly, she heard the sound of hooves treading on snow. A horse was coming towards this house. The layer of snow on the pastures was extremely thick, and the horse used a lot of strength to move its legs, and was unable to run swiftly.
As the horse approached, even old man Ji heard it, and muttered, “Another one who wants to shelter from the hailstorm.” Su Pu and A’man did not seem to have heard, or perhaps they heard but ignored it. Holding each other’s hands, they leant on each other and whispered things. After quite a while, the horse reached the front door. Then there was a rapping on the door. The rapping was extremely rude, and did not have the courtesy of someone seeking shelter. Old man Ji furrowed his brow, then went to open the door, only to see a tall, well-built man standing there. The man, who was bearded, wore a woollen coat, and a long sword hung at his waist. Loudly he said, “The hailstorm outside is really heavy, and my horse cannot move!” He spoke in broken Kazak. His bright eyes scrutinized everyone on the house. Old man Ji said, “Please come in. First, have a bowl of wine!” As he spoke, he handed a bowl of wine to him. That man finished the wine in one gulp. He sat next to the fire, and when he removed his outer coat, one could see a pair of shiny daggers stuck at his waist. One of the daggers had a golden hilt; the other, a silver one.
When Li Wenxiu saw this pair of daggers, her heart lurched, and she felt as if there was an obstruction in her throat. Giddy, she thought, “Those are Mama’s daggers.” Although Li Wenxiu was very young when ‘Gold and Silver Little Swords Sanniangzi’ had died, but there was no mistake; she recognised this pair of daggers very clearly. She shot a sideways glance at the man, and recognised him. He was one of the three leaders who had led the men on a pursuit of her parents. After twelve years, her facial features and posture had completely changed, but when a thirty-something man to age twelve years, there would be hardly any physical changes. She was very afraid that he would recognise her, so she did not dare to look too frequently at him, and thought, “If not for this heavy snowstorm, I would not be able to see Su Pu or this bandit.” Old man Ji asked, “Where does Sir come from? You are going to a faraway place, aren’t you?” The man answered, “Yes, yes.” Then he poured another bowl of wine and drank it.
At this time, there were five people sitting around the fire, so Su Pu could not continue whispering sweet nothings to A’man. He gazed at old man Ji for a moment, and suddenly said, “Old Uncle, I would to ask you about someone.” Old man Ji asked, “Who is it?” Su Pu answered, “It was a little Han girl with whom I used to play with frequently when I was young…” As he spoke, Li Wenxiu’s heart gave a sudden leap. She turned away, not daring to look at him. She heard Su Pu continue, “She was called A’xiu. Later, eight or nine years passed and I never saw her again. She lived with an old grandfather of Han descent. So that must’ve been you?” Old man Ji coughed several times, attempting to receive a signal from Li Wenxiu’s expressions. But Li Wenxiu had turned her head away. He did not know how to answer, and muttered “Um, um” non-committally.
Su Pu continued, “She could sing extremely well, and some said she sang better than the Tianling birds. But for the past few years, I have not heard her singing. Does she still live with you?” Old man Ji was very embarrassed, and said, “No, no! She isn’t… she isn’t here anymore…” Li Wenxiu interrupted, “I also knew the Han girl that you speak of. She has been dead for quite a few years now!” Su Pu was stunned, “Ah, she’s dead, how did she die?” Old man Ji glanced at Li Wenxiu, and said, “It was an illness… an illness…” Tears glistened in his eyes, and he said, “I used to herd sheep with her when I was young. She sang many songs for me, and told me many stories. I hadn’t seen her for quite a few years, and I did not expect that she… she had died.” Old man Ji sighed, “Ai, poor child.”
Su Pu gazed into the flames, lost in thought for a moment, then said, “She said that her parents had been killed by evil people, and she came to this place, orphaned and helpless…” A’man asked, “This girl must’ve been very beautiful?” Su Pu answered, “I was very young at that time, and cannot remember now. I only remember that she sang songs very well, and told stories very well too…” The man with the daggers stuck at his waist suddenly said, “Are you talking about a little Han girl? Her parents were harmed, and she came here alone?” Su Pu replied, “Yes, did you know her too?” The man did not answer, but asked, “She rode a white horse, didn’t she?” Su Pu said, “Yes, so you’ve met her before.” The man stood up suddenly. To old man Ji, he demanded fiercely, “She died in this house of yours?” Old man Ji made an ambiguous response. The man asked, “Where are the things she left behind? Have you kept them carefully?” Old man Ji gave him a sideways glance, and asked, amazed, “What has this got to do with you?” The man answered, “That little girl stole an important object from me. I searched for her everywhere but to no avail, but I never expected that she had died…” Su Pu leapt up, and said loudly, “Don’t talk nonsense, why would A’xiu steal your things?” The man said, “What do you know?” Su Pu replied, “A’xiu has been with me since young, and she is a very very good girl, who would never steal someone else’s things.” The man tilted his mouth, making a scornful expression, and said, “But it so happened that she stole something from me.” Su Pu grabbed hold of the hilt of the sabre hanging at his waist, and shouted, “What is your name? I believe you’re not a Kazak, perhaps you are one of those Han bandits!”
That man walked to the door, opened it and peered outside. Once the door was open, a blast of strong wind blew countless snowflakes inside. He saw that the snowstorm filled the entire area, and neither man nor horse would be able to move. He thought, “No one else will be coming here. I can easily defeat the woman, the old man, and the skinny youth in this house. But I will have to spend slightly more effort to defeat this strong youth.” But he was not too concerned about this, and said, “So what if I’m a Han? My surname is Chen, and my name is Dahai, and in the pugilistic world I am nicknamed Green Python Sword. Have you heard?”
Su Pu did not understand these pugilistic customs of the Hans. Shaking his head, he said, “No, I’ve never heard. Are you a Han bandit?” Chen Dahai replied, “I’m a protection agent, and depend on defeating bandits for a living. So how could I be a bandit?” When Su Pu heard that he was not a bandit, the expression on his face immediately relaxed, and said, “You’re not a Han bandit, so everything is fine! I always said that there were good people among the Hans, but my father refused to believe me. You mustn’t say that A’xiu took your things ever again.”
Li Wenxiu heard Su Pu defend her, and her heart stirred, “He did not forget me, did not forget me! He still treats me very well.” But she heard Chen Dahai continuously asking about the belongings that she had left behind, and felt puzzled, “I’ve never taken anything from him, whatever is he looking for?” Then she heard old man Ji ask, “What has Sir lost? That little girl was always honest, and I trusted her completely. She would never take another’s belongings.” Chen Dahai made a slight noise, and said, “It was a painting. Ordinary people would have no use for it, but because it was… it was painted by my late father, so I must get that painting back. Since that little girl lived here before, did you ever see this painting?” Old man Ji inquired, “What kind of painting was it, depicting scenery or humans?” Chen Dahai said, “I believe it was… was depicting scenery?” Su Pu smiled coldly and said, “You don’t even know what kind of painting it was, and still dare to accuse her of stealing it.” Chen Dahai flew into a great fury. With a swish, he pulled out the sword hanging from his waist, and yelled, “Little crook, are you tired of living? I can kill a whole lot of people and still not put it to heart.” Su Pu also pulled his sabre from his waist, and coldly said, “I’m afraid it isn’t that easy to kill a Kazak.” A’man cautioned, “Su Pu, don’t be ignorant like him.” After Su Pu heard what A’man said, he slowly placed his sabre back into its scabbard. Chen Dahai was extremely determined to get the map of the Gao Chang Labyrinth. They had lingered in the desert for a decade, searching miles of desert and pastures, just to find Li Wenxiu. After much trouble, he had finally managed to receive a little information about her. Although he was impatient and violent by nature, he did understand that he had to tolerate little things so as to not mess up the big picture. So he glared at Su Pu, before turning to old man Ji and asked, “Well, about that painting, it could be considered a map, depicting the topography of some land features in the desert.” Old man Ji trembled slightly, saying, “How did… did you know that the map was in the hands of the little girl?” Chen Dahai answered, “This thing is absolutely true. If you can find the map and return it to me, I will reward you handsomely.” As he spoke he took out two silver ingots from his bosom and placed them on the table. Illuminated by the firelight, the ingots sparkled brightly.
Old man Ji thought deeply for a second, then shook his head slowly, saying, “I’ve never seen it before.” Chen Dahai replied, “I want to take a look at the things that that little girl left behind.” Old man Ji stammered, “This… this…” Chen Dahai raised his left hand and grabbed his silver-hilted dagger, and stuck it into the wooden table, saying, “What’s so this and that? I’ll go inside and take a look myself.” As he spoke he lighted a candle made from mutton fat, pushed the door open and entered the room. He entered old man Ji’s bedroom first. Seeing that the furnishings looked unfamiliar, he causally rummaged through several boxes and baskets before moving to Li Wenxiu’s room.
He saw the clothes which Li Wenxiu had removed in a hurry, and said, “Ha, she died after reaching maturity.” This time he conducted his search very carefully, and even rummaged through the clothes Li Wenxiu wore as a child. Although she could not fit into these clothes because she had grown up, she still kept them intact for they were sewn by her mother. As soon as Chen Dahai set his eyes on those colourful clothes, he vaguely recalled the scene from a decade ago, where he had pursued her in the great desert. Joyfully he cried out, “Yes, yes, it is her!” But he had already ransacked the room, even cutting open the linings of all the clothes, yet he was still unable to find the map. When Su Pu saw him ruining her belongings like that, he pulled his sabre out several times, wanting to strike, but each time he was restrained by A’man.
Old man Ji looked out of the corner of his eye at Li Wenxiu occasionally, only to see her gazing into the fire, seemingly oblivious to Chen Dahai’s savaging. Old man Ji felt sadness in his heart, “But what can she do when faced with the sword of this violent visitor?” Li Wenxiu looked at the expression of Su Pu’s face, and felt miserable yet heartened, “He has always remembered me; he actually dares to pull out his sword and duel with that man just to protect my belongings.” But she was also perplexed, “This evil bandit said that I stole his map, what exactly is that map?” That day, before Li Wenxiu’s mother died, she had stuffed a map into Li Wenxiu’s clothes. But the circumstances were pressing, and she did not have time to explain before mother and daughter parted ways forever. The men from Jinwei Protection Agency spent the last decade searching for her everywhere, but Li Wenxiu herself was completely unaware of all this.
Chen Dahai spent a long time rummaging through the room, but his efforts were fruitless, making him extremely discouraged. Suddenly he asked sternly, “Where is she buried?” Old man Ji was froze for a moment, then said, “Somewhere far, far away.” Chen Dahai removed a iron spade from the wall, ordering, “You take me there!” Su Pu stood up, and yelled, “What are you going there for?” Chen Dahai answered, “Why should you care? I’m going to dig open her grave to take a look, who knows, she might have brought the map with her into her grave,” Su Pu positioned his sabre horizontally, barring the doorway, crying out, “I won’t let you touch her grave!” Chen Dahai raised the iron spade, and struck Su Pu’s head, shouting, “Get lost!” Su Pu dodged to the left, and sent his sabre outwards. Chen Dahai threw the iron spade aside, and pulled out the long sword hanging from his waist. There was a clang as sword and sabre clashed. Each man leapt backwards one step, then immediately launched their attacks, fighting each other.
The hall of this cottage was small, and as the sword and sabre swung everywhere, old man Ji and A’man retreated to the sides, their backs against the walls. Only Li Wenxiu remained standing at the windows. A’man dashed over, and pulled out the daggers which Chen Dahai had stuck into the table, intending to aid Su Pu. But as they were in the thick of the battle, she did not have the chance to interfere. By this time, Su Pu had inherited all of his father’s skills, the steps of his swordplay permutated continuously, and his strokes were fierce and powerful. At the beginning, Chen Dahai was on the losing end, and was secretly shocked, “Who would have thought that the martial arts skills of this Kazak lad are on par with the excellent pugilists from the Central Plains?” At that moment, he felt a gust of wind breeze past his back. A’man had tried to launch a sneak attack on him by throwing a small dagger at him. Chen Dahai dodged it by moving to the right. Chi! Su Pu’s sabre had cut an opening in his left arm. Chen Dahai was extremely furious. Swish! Swish! Swish! With three successive strokes, he displayed his famous skill, the Green Python Swordplay.
Su Pu saw the tip of the sword sparkle as it moved exactly like a spitting python. He did not know which part of his body the tip of the sword was going to pierce. He was unable to block off a blow, and his enemy sent his long sword right into his face. He hurriedly cocked his head to one side, but the side of his neck was still stabbed. Blood flowed profusely. Chen Dahai did not retreat once he had gained the upper hand. Another thrust of his sword, and he had stabbed Su Pu’s wrist. His sabre fell to the ground with a crash.
He was about to thrust his sword out a third time. Su Pu was utterly defenceless and was certainly going to be killed. Li Wenxiu stepped forward, and waited until he thrust his sword out the third time, then she would use ‘Great Adept Seize’ to grab his arm. But A’man leapt forward, and shielded Su Pu, crying out, “Don’t harm him!” When Chen Dahai saw that A’man’s beautiful face was full of anxiety, his heart skipped a beat. He did not send his sword out a third time, but pointed his tip at her chest, and laughed, “You’re so concerned about him; is this lad your lover?” A’man blushed slightly and nodded her head. Chen Dahai said, “Fine, I’ll spare his life if you want me to. But once the hailstorm dies down tomorrow, you’ll have to leave with me!”
He had hated Hans his entire life, but now this belief was wavering. He was furious at himself for being so drunk last night and was thus unable to battle with that Han bandit. Instead, he needed another Han to come and rescue him. In his entire life, when something critical happened, he was always so unfortunate, always so unlucky. But when that bandit’s long sword had struck his head just now, that young man had arrived in the nick of time to rescue him. Could this be considered misfortune? Could this be considered bad luck?