9.07.2007

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 1

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 1.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.

-

CHAPTER ONE

A disciple carries on an affair and breaks the great commandment.
The old valiant regrets the killing and exercises his merciful heart.


In Zhenba county of Southern Shaanxi, there was a small city surrounded by a multitude of mountains. Its scenery and traditions closely resembled that of Northern Sichuan, but the customs were even fiercer here, and the temperament of the people was quite like that of barbarians. It was the middle of the Qing dynasty, when chaos had just begun to subside, and many thieves would hide in the underbrush and constantly rob merchants. Thus, travel was extremely difficult. The people who traveled didn't know any martial arts themselves, so they had to hire security escorts to protect them. Otherwise, moving even an inch would be difficult. Since there was great demand for security firms, the number of those who studied the martial arts grew daily.

Outside Zhenba city there was an old martial arts master, Bao Zhenfei, whom people called "Bao Kunlun," because he was accustomed to using the Kunlun saber. It was not much different from an ordinary saber, except that it was especially heavy, and the style of his use was unlike most. When he was young, he served in the army and went on military exploits; in his middle years, he went into the bodyguard business, opening over ten branches of his security firm all over Southern Shaanxi and Northern Sichuan. Most of the famous escorts at his security offices were of a generation younger than he. When he was sixty, he had earned enough for his family and handed his firm over to his sons and disciples to manage. He returned home to enjoy his fortunes.

At this time, Bao Zhenfei was already sixty-four years old. His beard was already white, and his body had already grown chubbier. Each day he was heavier than the one before. He was afraid of becoming too fat and getting a stroke, and he didn't want to give up his martial skill. Every day in the early morning, he performed a few saber exercises and a few fist exercises; in the evening, he rode his horse around the village a few times. This village was in fact called the Bao Village and faced an emerald-green mountain range. To the east there was a small stream, to the west was mountain wilderness, and to the north was Zhenba city. The views were elegant, similar to those in Jiangnan, but they held a very healthy air about them.

Though Bao Zhenfei was the most famous person in the village, he didn't live in a particularly large house, nor did he keep any servants or workers. His disciples worked for him. Bao Zhenfei's disciples numbered over thirty, and a majority of them lived elsewhere. Six of them attended to him. These six, plus his second son, helped him take care of the housework, like cultivating, harvesting, herding the pigs, feeding the horses and so on. He had no need to hire any additional people.

Those who learned martial arts under him hadn't needed to offer him any introductory gifts, and they came daily to train. After five years, it was guaranteed that they could learn all his martial arts. However, the rules that Bao Zhenfei imposed on his disciples were of the utmost severity. There were six rules in all: first, killing or hurting the innocent was not permitted; second, taking part in debauchery was not permitted; third, stealing was not permitted; fourth, taking advantage of the helpless was not permitted; fifth, disrespecting the master was not permitted; and sixth, violating one's honor was not permitted. Of these, the most important one was the second, concerning lecherous behavior, because old master Bao believed that "of the myriad vices, lust is the worst."

He had traveled upon Jianghu for more than forty years and had killed twenty or thirty people, all of whom were licentious, none innocent. Because he discovered that his first disciple Chang Zhigao had loved the wife of a Jianghu performer, he immediately forced his disciple to cut off one of his own arms. Because he saw his fourth disciple Jiang Zhiyao flirting with a married woman during a festival play, his left eye was immediately plucked out. Because he had found out that his twenty-third disciple Hu Zhikai was having an affair with the wife of his own sworn brother, he had someone send a letter to Hu. The letter contained not even a word, only the mark of his old master. Hu Zhikai then understood that his master was to punish him, and so he hanged himself to death.

Because the old master treated his students so harshly, all of them were respectful and cautious, bowing their heads as they exited and bowing their heads as they entered. When they encountered a married woman on the street, they didn't even dare look at her, just as if they were all Confucian students.

On this spring day in the second month, the willow trees near the village huts were all green, the grass had developed young sprouts, all the wheat had already grown to a little more than half a foot, and the chirping birds were especially loud and clear. The horses seemed to have gone crazy, neighing day and night, as if they wanted to find their mates. Old master Bao woke up at the crack of dawn. The eastern sky was already purple, but the door of his second son Bao Zhilin's house wasn't open yet. This didn't make old master Bao happy. His second son hadn't been married two months, and his wife had already corrupted a virile man. If he hadn't woken up by this time, could it be that he was actually going to throw away three or four years of martial arts training? Old master Bao thought about this angrily and coughed loudly so that his second son might hear him from inside.

He walked to the flat area in front of the gate and saw six of his disciples practicing their fists and kicks, and training with their blades and staffs. Old master Bao strolled over with his hands behind his back, first to the front of his twenty-seventh disciple, Chen Zhijun. At the moment, Chen Zhijun was using the "Full-arm Fist" to its last move, called the "Two-wing Flap." Old master Bao held out his hand and said, "Incorrect!" He then proceeded to form a stance, swaying his two hands and standing firmly with his two feet. He performed the horse-riding steps with his two fists flat against his chest. First, he extended his right hand until it was straight like a wing, and then he retracted it to his chest, and did the same with his left hand. After performing it twice in a row, the old master was already a little out of breath, so he went to one side and told Chen Zhijun to try it again.

Chen Zhijun practiced according to his master's demonstration another four or five times, and old master Bao nodded his head. He turned to go look at his fourteenth disciple, Lu Zhizhong and his twenty-fifth disciple, Qin Zhibao sparring with sabers. Old master Bao was satisfied with Lu Zhizhong's skill, since his bladework was fairly good, but Qin Zhibao's was not. Master Bao had not been watching five minutes from the sidelines when Qin Zhibao exposed six or seven weak points. Moreover, the more his master watched, the more flustered his movements became. Old master Bao got angry and moved in with his foot. A clang rang out as master Bao kicked the metal saber from Qin Zhibao's hand onto the floor. Qin Zhibao's face turned completely red. His right hand was hurt too much to hold anything, so he reached out with his left hand to pick the metal saber off of the floor and handed it to the old master.

Without first looking his way, old master Bao began sparring with Lu Zhizhong. Only the glimmer of the saber was visible. Even though the old master's body wasn't as quick and strong as it used to be, his bladework was flawless. After an exchange of over twenty moves, Lu Zhizhong was afraid that his master's strength would not be able to keep up, so he retracted his saber and jumped to one side. Old master Bao tossed the saber toward Qin Zhibao and said, "If you ran into someone like the leper Sun while traveling upon Jianghu with that bladework you just displayed, you'd definitely lose!" Qin Zhibao lowered his head and was so ashamed, he didn't dare say anything.

Old master Bao left and went to watch his twenty-first disciple, Ma Zhixian train with double hooks. At this time, Bao's second son Bao Zhilin, who called himself "Little Kunlun," came out from the gate. Once old master Bao saw his son's long and skinny yellow face with no energy in it, he got even angrier. He didn't bother acknowledging his son and went to instruct Ma Zhixian on how to use the double hooks. Bao Zhilin gave a perfunctory sequence of fists and went to rest on one side. Old master Bao didn't pay him any attention, and turned to watch Jiang Zhisheng use the sword.

Jiang Zhisheng was the old master's thirtieth disciple. Though he had only been learning the martial arts for less than three years, his technique had already surpassed those of his brother-disciples. After a round with the sword, he went back to the weapon rack and picked up a saber, and did two rounds with it. His body was swift and his knife quick; he didn't make any mistakes. Also, his posture was exceptional. Old master Bao saw him and couldn't help but nod his head subtly, and in his heart, he felt a little envious. He thought to himself, How honorable would it be to have a son like this? At least I'll have someone to whom I can teach my 14-part secret Kunlun saber technique. Bao noticed furthermore that Jiang Zhisheng was wearing green and his sleeves were lined with white satin trim. His jet-black queue was resting on his head in three loops, and above his shirt was a long, clean, white face with thin eyebrows and bright eyes. He almost looked like a young wife with a pretty face.

Old master Bao looked at Jiang's appearance and didn't like it. With his hands behind his back, he walked over to his son. Bao Zhilin performed a couple fist moves and then jumped about a foot high, as if he was training to jump onto the roof. Old master Bao was so angry he wanted to grab Jiang Zhisheng's saber and give his son a few slashes. But just then, an old matter from 30 years ago surged into his heart, and he couldn't help but sigh. He hurriedly turned around and went to watch his twentieth disciple Liu Zhiyuan use the spear, and then returned to the house.

Once the old master was inside, all of his disciples outside relaxed. Liu Zhiyuan dropped his spear, untied the horse from a scholar tree, and sped off into the east to enjoy himself. Jiang Zhisheng put his saber back onto the weapon rack and went to chat with Chen Zhijun, who had just finished practicing his fists. Bao Zhilin smiled and asked Ma Zhixian, who had been training with the hooks, "Hey! I saw your waistband. Did your wife embroider it for you?"

Ma Zhixian laughed and said, "Since when was my wife so skilled at needlework? Her cousin embroidered this for me." Bao Zhilin praised him, "Hey! Not bad. She must have very skillful hands!" Ma Zhixian pointed to Jiang Zhisheng with his lips and whispered to Bao Zhilin, "Her cousin is Jiang Zhisheng's wife."

Bao Zhilin said, "Heh! So you two are brothers-in-law!" Standing beside them still red in the face, Qin Zhibao, said, "Master is coming out again." At this comment, they immediately stopped their bantering. Some sat on the ground to rest, while others practiced with their blades and fists.

Bao Zhilin saw his father coming out once again, carrying in one hand a smoking bag, and holding the hand of his ten year old granddaughter in the other. The old master was pacing in front of the door with a look of content on his face. The little girl hummed a mountain tune, as she walked and ran around joyfully, every now and then looking up at her grandfather with her bright little eyes.

Suddenly, the old master stopped and called out, "Zhizhong!" Lu Zhizhong hurriedly put down his saber and walked to his master, politely asking, "Master, what would you like me to do?" Old master Bao said, "I need you to go to Hanzhong tomorrow to go see your big brother. The last time your sixth brother came, he said his leg was hurting again. I don't know if it's healed yet."

Lu Zhizhong nodded his head in compliance and said, "I'll go tomorrow! I don't think big brother's leg wound is that serious." Old master Bao nodded and said, "Okay, I'll give you travel money later. You can go tomorrow!" After he said this he went back to strolling about the grounds. He pulled the little granddaughter along with him. She bent her head to smile at Jiang Zhisheng, because he usually liked to play with her.

After a little bit, the old master took the little girl back into the house. At this, the group put away their weapons and brought the weapon rack inside. Chen Zhijun and Ma Zhixian swept up the training grounds, and Liu Zhiyuan went to feed the horses. Jiang Zhisheng finished a couple light chores and went back home. Bao Zhilin squatted on the ground for a little bit and then also went back inside. Lu Zhizhong went to go get travel money from his master.

Old master Bao lived in the northern house, which had three spacious rooms. At this time, the old master was eating breakfast at the same table as his granddaughter, as served by his eldest daughter-in-law. The old master's eldest son, Bao Zhiyun, was already 40-some years old. His wife, Fang-shi, was also about 40 years old now. She had only given birth to a daughter, whose childhood name was Aluan. She was this little granddaughter that the old master adored most.

Bao Zhiyun was currently setting up a Kunlun Security Firm in Hanzhong, where trade was flourishing. However, while traveling as an escort on the roads through the Qin Mountains three years ago, he encountered the mountain bandit Hu Li the Silver Dart, who wanted to rob his caravan. At the time, Bao Zhiyun had brought with him two bodyguards. The three of them fought with Hu Li, but in the end, all three were wounded by Hu Li's silver darts, and the caravan was ransacked. Bao Zhiyun had to repay over a thousand taels of silver. Though the wound on his thigh had healed, whenever the weather was dark and rainy, the pain would return. A few days previous, someone from Hanzhong had delivered a letter from him to the old master. He had said that his dart injury was flaring up again, and that he was already unable to get out of bed. That was the reason the old bodyguard Bao had sent Lu Zhizhong to check up on him.

Old bodyguard Bao gave Lu Zhizhong a few taels to cover the travel expenses, and Fang-shi asked Lu Zhizhong to take a bundle to her husband of medicinal powder from Yunnan used especially on cuts. Moreover, the little girl Aluan pulled on Lu Zhizhong's hand and said, "Uncle Lu, give these dolls to my dad to play with!" Lu Zhizhong looked at what she had given him and saw that they were little cloth dolls that she had made herself. She had even used ink to draw eyes and a nose. Lu Zhizhong laughed. At her side, old master Bao told his granddaughter, "Right now your dad's hurt. It probably hurts so much he doesn't care about anything. How do you expect him play with your dolls!" Aluan asked Lu Zhizhong if he could take them for her anyway.

Old master Bao's color deepened, and he revealed a killing spirit. He instructed Lu Zhizhong, "Go tell them to ask around and find out where Hu Li the Silver Dart is right now. At some point, I want to find him and take my revenge! Also, the other day I heard people saying that Yuan Zhiyi's behavior hasn't been quite proper. Tell him to be careful, because I'll be going to Hanzhong before long!" Lu Zhizhong agreed to this and set off, taking the cloth dolls and silver taels with him.

Lu Zhizhong lived rather poorly in the city with his wife and two girls. He could have done a bit of work at the security firm based on his martial skill, but unfortunately, old master Bao thought him reliable when it came to errands, so he was always left at home. It was therefore a waste of his potential. However, he frequently thought about finding some work at the security firm, because he felt that he shouldn't rely on his brothers forever and that he had to look elsewhere to progress. He was figuring this out in his head just as he entered the city. He went to the carriage station and reserved a wagon to Hanzhong. Then, when he went home, he told his wife about going to see his brother in Hanzhong and asked her for a pawn slip so that he could redeem it.

Just as he was leaving, he saw someone coming in. It was none other than his brother, Jiang Zhisheng. He hurriedly said, "Brother, have you come to see me off? I'm not going 'til tomorrow!" Jiang Zhisheng's white face was bearing a smile, as he said, "I know you're not going until tomorrow. I'm here to ask you if you can get some things for me." Lu Zhizhong let Zhisheng into his house, and Jiang Zhisheng bowed deeply to his sister-in-law.

Lu Zhizhong said, "Sit down, brother. What do you want me to get for you?" Jiang Zhisheng laughed and said, "Oh, it's not that pressing." He then took out a few silver taels and a sheet of paper, on which was written: "Please buy ten feet of red satin, four cases of facial powder, twenty squares of rouge, and some wool of various colors." He gave everything to Lu Zhizhong and said, "Brother, I'll leave it up to you. If there's money left over, then buy more, and if there isn't enough, then buy less. Except, don't buy less of the rouge. The stuff that's made here isn't very good, but in Hanzhong, the Jade Scent is famous for it."

After Lu Zhizhong took the list and looked it over, he knitted his brow and said, "Brother, you should know better. The master's old, and he hates this sort of thing the most!" Jiang Zhisheng waved his hand, saying, "Brother, you don't need to worry. There's nothing silly going on here. These are all things that your sister-in-law wants to buy." Lu Zhizhong scoffed, "I know my sister-in-law too. She already has two kids. Why would she still need to be so done up with rouge?"

Jiang Zhisheng replied with a straight face, "Brother, if you don't believe me, you can come to my place and ask her yourself!" Lu Zhizhong put the taels and list away and waved his hand, saying, "Never mind, I'll get it for you! But I'm warning you, you need to be more responsible, because for someone young and handsome like you, it's easy to play around with women. A lot of our brothers are spiteful. Any little thing and they'll go tell master about it. And if our master hears about just one of his disciples doing something improper, then that disciple is as good as an enemy to him. He's not a very compassionate person!"

Jiang Zhisheng nodded and said, "I know. Don't worry, brother. I live in the same village as our master. Don't you think I would know about his old-fashioned temper? Not to mention I have a wife and children, and I'm almost 30 years old. Why would I still be out there doing stupid things?" He laughed as he left and said goodbye.

Afterwards, he felt uneasy and thought, The rouge really is for my wife, but Lu Zhizhong was suspicious that I was having an affair with some other woman! Even if I was having an affair, what could anyone do about it? Even if the master was my father, he wouldn't be able to do anything about it! I'm just learning martial arts from him, not how to be a monk or a eunuch. He proceeded angrily and arrived at an intersection. Suddenly, he heard someone called to him loudly, "Sir Jiang! Sir Jiang!" Jiang Zhisheng looked over and saw that it was Third Chu, the donkey driver.

Third Chu also lived in the village and kept a powdery-lipped and powdery-eyed little donkey with a white belly. He made a living by driving this donkey around, so people called him "Donkey Chu." As he pulled the donkey along, he asked, "Sir Jiang, what brings you to the city? Did you not go to old man Bao's place to learn some moves?"

Jiang Zhisheng said, "I already went. How could I not? Who told me to find such an unfortunate master!" Donkey Chu grinned and said, "You sought out hardship by acknowledging such a master. You might as well have gone to work for some rich family! You're an educated man. How could you fit in with those people!" Hearing this, Jiang Zhisheng became even more annoyed and asked, "So what are you doing here? Are you waiting for customers?"

Third Chu laughed, "Oh, no. I'm going to the east side to pick someone up. The second widow Lu found her son a wife last year, the daughter of cripple Gong from Gong Farmstead. Hey, she's only 18 years old this year, and she's exceptionally pretty. But not even ten days had passed before her husband went to Xing'an to learn business, leaving his young wife at home as if she were a widow. Plus, she and her mother-in-law don't get along. How imposing that second widow Lu can be! But the young wife isn't all without fault, since she goes back to her mother's house very often. On the 17th, I picked her up from there. Now, it's not even the 20th, and she wants me to take her back again. She'll probably spend half the month at her mother's house."

Jiang Zhisheng laughed, "Asking you to take her back and forth like this, you might just kidnap her." Third Chu grinned, "With this head of mine? Even if I wanted to kidnap someone, they wouldn't want to come with me! I'd have to switch your face with mine to get it to work!" Jiang Zhisheng laughed and said, "You'd better get going! Don't make the young wife wait." After he said this, he turned to leave. Third Chu led his donkey towards Jiang and shouted, "Sir Jiang!" Jiang Zhisheng stopped and turned to ask, "What is it?"

Third Chu the Donkey entreated him, "After a couple days, could you lend me some money!?" Jiang Zhisheng stared at him and said, "With your business doing this well, why do you need to borrow from me?" Third Chu laughed apologetically and said, "Heh! Don't you know about what's going on in my house? My dad's over 80 years old and my old mom's over 70. They're both relying on my donkey here to live. I only earn about ten coppers a day, which is enough to eat with. It's getting warm now, and I still can't take off this ratty old coat. Sir Jiang, lend me some cash in a couple days, so I can get new clothes!" Jiang Zhisheng replied, "Well, we'll talk about it again in a couple days!" After he finished talking, he turned around and walked off.

After passing by a few small lanes, he reached an old classmate's house. This friend and classmate's name was Fan Dianqing, and some time ago, they had once studied together diligently. Jiang Zhisheng wasn't even able to earn the xiucai degree, though last autumn, his friend had earned the juren degree. He had originally come here to pay a visit to Lady Fan, Dianqing's mother, but he unexpectedly saw only an old servant, who said that his young master had been assigned to be a prefect in Henan and had sent for her to enjoy the fortunes.

Jiang Zhisheng felt even more dissatisfied, secretly thinking that perhaps he had taken the wrong path. In these two years or so, had I not learned martial arts from old Bao, I might have already earned the Juren degree by now and become an official. Now that's over for me. At most, I'll be able to find work at a security firm in which to muddle about, squandering my whole life in Jianghu. Thus, he started thinking about severing the master-disciple relationship with Bao Zhenfei, throwing down his sword, and studying hard. After three to five years, wouldn't it be honorable if he could obtain an official title? After departing from the gate of the Fan home, he thought about this as he walked and didn't even notice when he exited through the gates of the city. He planned to go home as he followed the road heading south.

Having walked not even half a mile, he suddenly heard Third Chu's voice calling him from behind, "Sir Jiang!" Jiang Zhisheng looked back hurriedly and saw Third Chu rushing his donkey along, with the young wife of Lu on its back. Lu's wife was indeed very pretty, wearing a red satin coat, green satin trousers and red satin shoes embroidered with silk flowers. On her head was wrapped a thin blue handkerchief. Though he couldn't see her hair bun, he knew that her hair was very nice. Her face was very round and plump and was made up with a lovely rouge. It was especially pretty on her lips, which were the color of freshly ripe cherries. If speaking of the extraordinary, she wasn't that sort of exceptional beauty, but Jiang Zhisheng was immediately entranced with her.

Ordinarily, whenever he encountered a married woman on the street, he would purposefully avert his eyes, but today was otherwise. He turned his head back, and it was as if he wasn't able to turn it away. He looked straight at her with his two eyes. She was not bashful at all and looked Jiang Zhisheng up and down a few times with her soulful eyes. At this time, Third Chu swung his whip and drove the donkey towards him. He laughingly said, "Sir Jiang, you haven't eaten breakfast yet, have you?"

Jiang Zhisheng replied, "I ate before I went into the city." Third Chu said, "Mrs. Jiang must have quick hands to be able to look after the kids and take such good care of her husband all by herself. The food must be cooked right when it touches her hands." Jiang Zhisheng laughed a little but didn't say anything, and glanced over at the young wife again.

Third Chu spoke more, "However, a good wife goes with a good husband. Sir Jiang, you're well-versed in both words and weapons, good-looking, of a good temperament, and able to support your family. A guy like you, you're one-in-a-hundred. No wonder Mrs. Jiang is so happy all day." Jiang Zhisheng heard this and felt very satisfied with himself. He looked toward Lu's wife and said, "She may be happy, but I'm not entirely happy!" After he said this, he turned to walk alongside with Third Chu and continued to chat.

After not even a few steps, the young wife riding on the donkey turned to Jiang Zhisheng with a charming smile and said, "Is this Sir Jiang from East Village?" Jiang Zhisheng was taken aback, and at the same time felt even more attracted to her. Before he could reply, Third Chu did it for him, "This isn't Sir Jiang from East Village. He's Sir Jiang from Bao Village." The young wife laughed and nodded her head.

Jiang Zhisheng got closer and said, "Mrs. Lu, I don't know your husband's family, but I do know about yours. There's someone with a problem with his leg..." The young wife didn't wait for him to finish. She smiled charmingly and said, "That's my father." Jiang Zhisheng said, "Way back when he opened a smoke shop in the city, I often went to sit at his counter."

The young wife held her red handkerchief over her mouth and said, "That's not right! That's our village's cripple Li. My dad's not as lame as him!" She lowered her head and couldn't hold in her laughter, while constantly sneaking glances at Jiang Zhisheng. Jiang Zhisheng blushed because of his incorrect guess.

Third Chu said, "Anyways, the surrounding area of Zhenba is 30 miles or so. Not everyone knows everyone else." Lu's wife laughed and said, "That's not true! If I go back to my mother's house and mention Sir Jiang, I guarantee you that my dad will know him. Sir Jiang, when you have the time, you should come and visit. My house is right at the base of the Southern Mountains. We have peach trees, and when they blossom, it's completely red."

Jiang Zhisheng hurriedly laughed, and said, "All right, all right. In the next couple days, I'll definitely go see your old father." He talked as he walked, and Bao Village came into view. Jiang Zhisheng stopped, and after the young wife gave him another suggestive smile, she rode the donkey away on the other branch of the path. From behind the donkey, Third Chu turned and made a face.

Jiang Zhisheng stood there in a daze as he watched the young wife in her red coat as she rode away on the donkey, disappearing into the boundless fragrant grasses. Jiang Zhisheng suddenly recalled a line from a poem that could describe this scene in front of him. It was, "A bit of red in a vast thicket of green." He stood there in awe for a while, before he slowly made his way to the village. It was like he had lost something when he went to the city this time. He was so absent-minded, it was almost as if he didn't recognize his own door.

Afterwards, he didn't even realize when he had entered his own home. After only a couple steps, he saw a flash of white light. He turned to look and saw that it was his son, Jiang Xiaohe, who was only twelve years old this year. However, he was brandishing his father's metal saber as he flew around the yard. Jiang Zhisheng stopped him and said, "Hey, hey, don't do that, don't do that! You can hurt yourself with this saber if you're not careful. If you like playing with swords, I'll fashion one for you out of bamboo." Still holding the saber with his two little hands, Jiang Xiaohe said, "I don't want a bamboo one! I want to use a real one! I want great skill! I want to beat your master! No one will be able to defeat me!" Jiang Zhisheng laughed.

Just then, his wife Huang-shi ran outside, carrying the month-old Xiaolu, and anxiously said, "When you're not here to watch him, he'll take advantage of the time when I'm nursing Xiaolu, and climb on top of a bench to get at your saber. If he fell on his head, he could die!" Jiang Zhisheng hurried over to his son to take away the saber. After a lot of noise and effort, in the end he used a stick from inside the house to exchange for the saber in his son's hand.

Xiaohe played with the stick in the yard, running around and shouting. Jiang Zhisheng followed his wife into the house. Huang-shi asked, "Did you get to see Brother Lu when you went into the city? Did you ask him to get those things for you?" All Jiang Zhisheng could do was nod, as if he did not have the energy to talk to his wife. Ordinarily, his wife was quite the beauty in his eyes, but today it wasn't so. There was another pretty woman occupying his mind. He felt like his spirit had gone far away with that pretty woman in the red coat.

He was thusly occupied until Third Chu came to pay him another visit in the evening. He lent Third Chu a tael, and it wasn't until after they secretly joked with each other for a while that Third Chu left. Jiang Zhisheng would often look away and think fondly about the woman. Because Huang-shi was continuously busy with cooking meals, nursing the baby, and mending clothes, she didn't notice anything suspicious in her husband's appearance.

On the second day, Jiang Zhisheng got out of bed very late, and listlessly went to old master Bao's house. This time, Chen Zhijun, Ma Zhixian, Qin Zhibao, Liu Zhiyuan, as well as Bao Zhilin were there practicing saber and sword exercises. Again old master Bao was patrolling back and forth with his hands behind his back. When he saw Jiang Zhisheng, he sternly asked him, "Why are you late today?" Jiang Zhisheng replied, "I'm sick! My head aches and my legs are weak." Old master Bao said, "Then don't train today. Feed those three horses and go home!"

Jiang Zhisheng grunted an assent and walked lazily over to feed the horses. Though he didn't dare disobey the instructions of his master, he still felt extremely impatient. At the same time his brothers kept sneaking glances over at him. Liu Zhiyuan smiled at him and Jiang Zhisheng felt a little scared. He thought, If they'd seen what happened yesterday, who knows what kind of nonsense they could be thinking up. It would be no joke if they told master about it! When he thought this, he felt a little chill. However, as he mixed the hay in the bamboo basket for the horses' feed, he was thinking about the young wife wearing red that he had met the day before. She was so elegant, so gentle; it was really hard for him to stop thinking about her.

After he finished feeding the horses, he stood at the margin and watched his brothers practice their martial arts. They had all been studying for longer than he had, but in his eyes, each and every one of them was useless, including even old master Bao! Though his skills were very powerful, he was old and his strength was failing, not to mention the fact that he had gotten rather fat. At this time, Jiang Zhisheng looked down on them, thinking, Who could handle me? Not even my master could do it! I'll do whatever I want to do. The most old man Bao could do is expel me as a disciple. That'd be perfect! I'll start studying once more and take the exams again; I'll earn a Juren degree and become an official, and I could make the Lu wife my own.

At this point, the old master had already gone back inside. Jiang Zhisheng gave his clothes a shake and left. Liu Zhiyuan and Bao Zhilin caught up to him and asked, "Hey! Why are you leaving when you just got here? Are you sure you're done with what our master told you to do?" Liu Zhiyuan added, "Who's that young woman you were laughing and walking with yesterday?"

Jiang Zhisheng said, "She's my little sister. She was going back to our mother's house. Don't kid about that. I'm sick right now, and I've already asked the master for a day off. I've already fed the horses, so I'm going home to rest." After he finished saying this, he turned and continued walking. Bao Zhilin caught up to him again, grabbed onto him and shouted, "Boy, you need to watch yourself! My dad despises adulterers the most. If my dad found out that you were flirting with that woman, he'd ask for your life immediately!" Hearing this infuriated Jiang Zhisheng and he said angrily, "Nonsense! You say I was flirting, but what proof have you got?"

As he said this, he flung his arm, nearly causing Bao Zhilin to fall down. He couldn't help but take three steps back. He angrily straightened out his sleeves and approached Jiang Zhisheng to grab onto him again. Ma Zhixian threw down his double hooks and ran over. He pulled Bao Zhilin away and urged him for a long time to stop. But Bao Zhilin stamped his feet and uttered a great deal of curses before he finally let Jiang Zhisheng go.

Jiang Zhisheng was incensed and decided to break off his master-disciple relationship with old master Bao; starting tomorrow, he would never come back here to study martial arts. No matter what he did, it was no longer their business. He thought this angrily as he walked. When he reached his door, he suddenly noticed a small donkey tied to the tree in front of it. Third Chu was squatting at the corner of the wall facing the sun. As soon as he saw Jiang Zhisheng returning, he smiled directly at him, "Mister Jiang, you've come back. I've been waiting here for you for a long time!" Jiang Zhisheng hurried forward and quietly asked, "Well?"

Third Chu looked up at Jiang Zhisheng and grinned as he untied the donkey, saying, "Mister Jiang, you'd better go early. Don't let people wait for you!" Jiang Zhisheng smiled and nodded. After he went inside, he urged his wife to hurry with the cooking, while he opened a chest and selected some brand-new clothes. He said to his wife Huang-shi, "After I eat, I have to go out again. There's a new brother coming in from Xi'an, so we're all pooling our money together for a banquet in the city."

Huang-shi said, "Since you're going into the city with your brothers for a banquet, why are you tell me to rush my cooking?" Jiang Zhisheng's face turned red and he hastily changed what he had been saying, "The banquet is for dinner, but we have to go to the city right now. A new performing troupe's arrived in the city that I've heard is very good, so we're going to watch them." After Huang-shi heard her husband say this, she didn't ask for any further details and proceeded to busy herself with cooking. Jiang Zhisheng changed into a green-trimmed outfit with a purple-trimmed robe, on top of which there was a green shoulder ribbon. He also changed into a pair of green-soled boots. After he finished dressing, he ate hurriedly.

His son Jiang Xiaohe looked at his dad's new clothes and thought them special, so he asked, "Daddy, where are you going? Are you going to help someone get their new bride?" Jiang Zhisheng waved his hand and said, "It's not your business!" He finished his meal very quickly and put on a green cap as he said to his wife, "I may be back before evening." He then left happily.

Huang-shi stayed at home and did what she always did. She didn't think anything suspicious of her husband changing his clothes to go out. Xiaohe played in the yard with his stick. At around two or three in the afternoon, there was a sudden knocking at the door. Xiaohe swung the stick towards the door and asked the person outside boldly, "Who are you looking for?" The person outside replied, "Open the door! I'm looking for your dad." Xiaohe opened the door and saw that it was his uncle Ma Zhixian, so he said, "My dad left. He changed into new clothes and went to escort a bride to her wedding."

Ma Zhixian was stunned when he heard this and quickly called out "Zhisheng" as he walked towards the house. Ma Zhixian's wife was Huang-shi's cousin, and he and Jiang Zhisheng were also brother-disciples, so the two families had a very close relationship. At that moment, Ma Zhixian entered the house and asked Huang-shi, "Zhisheng went out? Where did he go?"

Huang-shi answered, "Cousin-in-law, don't you know? He said there was a brother coming in from Xi'an and that you were all going to treat him to dinner. But first you were going into the city to watch a show before a banquet later this evening."

Ma Zhixian was astonished, saying, "What are you talking about...?" He regretted saying this immediately after he did so, and thought, Zhisheng and I are family. If I exposed his business, causing him marital discord, that wouldn't be very good either. Thereupon, he swallowed half of his words and changed what he had been saying. "I don't know about anyone coming from Xi'an, but perhaps they didn't invite me. When did Zhisheng leave? When did he say he would get back?"

Huang-shi said, "After he got back from your master's house, he rushed me to cook for him, and after he finished eating, he changed his clothes and left. At first he said he wouldn't be back until after dinner, but just before he left, he said that he may just stay a little bit and come back!"

Ma Zhixian stood stunned for a while and then said, "I'll be back in a bit, because I have some urgent things I need to talk over with him." Ma Zhixian left after he said this. Ma Zhixian lived in the city and had established a smithy to make a living, so he hurried home to work metal. He didn't come back for three or four hours after he left.

It wasn't until it was almost night time that Jiang Zhisheng returned. He was cheerful as he entered his house, and when he saw his wife, he rolled his eyes around. Huang-shi asked her husband if he had eaten yet. Jiang Zhisheng shook his head and said, "Not yet!" After he said this, he sat down on a stool and was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he didn't even take off his green hat. Huang-shi said, "You should change out of those clothes. If you get them dirty, what else could you wear?" Jiang Zhisheng laughed and said, "What are clothes worth anyway? If I wear them out, we'll just make new ones."

Huang-shi saw her husband's appearance change so suddenly, and though she wasn't sure why, it made her very unhappy as she brought food to him. She saw that as he was eating, he would stop and think about something. She had just decided she would ask him about why he was not acting like himself after he was finished eating, when someone outside knocked on the door. Huang-shi said, "That must be Zhixian. Today, he came for a visit right after you left, and he said he had something urgent he needed to talk to you about. I'd forgotten to tell you!" Having said this, Huang-shi went outside.

At this time, Xiaohe who had been playing in the yard with his stick, had already opened the door and let Ma Zhixian in. As soon as Ma Zhixian entered and saw Zhisheng, he said, "You're back." Zhisheng asked him to sit and told his wife to light a lamp. Then, he took off his green hat and addressed his relative, asking, "Brother-in-law, what did you need me for?"

Because Huang-shi was there, Ma Zhixian found a lot of things too inappropriate to say, so he just smiled and said, "Nothing much. It's just that today... Ahem! Well, you already know that our master doesn't have a very good temper. If you anger him, he will not be very forgiving. I've come to tell you this, since we're relatives and also disciple-brothers. You have no idea how I've been worrying about you the entire day!"

Jiang Zhisheng held in his hand a bowl of rice and pretended that nothing was wrong. He laughed coldly and said, "That's really strange! What did I do to offend our master?" Ma Zhixian quickly waved it away and said, "Real or not, I don't know, but earlier today, Liu Zhiyuan and all of them were saying that yesterday, you..." Jiang Zhisheng was afraid that Ma Zhixian would bring that matter up and antagonize his wife, so he slammed his chopsticks down and angrily said, "What are they making up about me? I'll go ask them about it tomorrow!"

Ma Zhixian waved his hand and said, "You don't need to ask them about anything. But, you should be on your best behavior. The master's getting old, and his temper is getting more and more peculiar. In addition to that, his eldest son hasn't yet recovered from an injury he got on the job, and his second son isn't amounting to much, so it's very easy to aggravate him. If these things reached his ear somehow, then it won't be fun for anyone!" From the side, Huang-shi butted in with a question of her own, "What are you talking about? Tell me, Brother-in-law Ma!" Ma Zhixian waved it away and said, "Cousin, you don't need to inquire! It's nothing pressing."

Jiang Zhisheng said to his wife angrily, "What does this have to do with you? I don't get along with those guys, so they bad-mouth me in front of the master. They're jealous of me because I've trained for less time and yet I'm more skilled. Those bastards, including Lu Zhizhong, I don't acknowledge any of them! I'm not even afraid of old man Bao! That's even better if he doesn't want me. I no longer want to train with him anyhow! Did they really think that I would eventually eat out of their bowl of Jianghu rice!?" After he finished, he pushed his bowl away and stood up.

To the side, his son Jiang Xiaohe was swinging his stick about and said, "Daddy, who's bullying you? Is it your master? I'll go fight him!" Saying this, he raised the stick in his hand and confidently headed toward the door. His mother smacked him and jerked him backwards. Ma Zhixian stood his ground and sighed, "Zhisheng, you really are arrogant! Not only is he our master, he's an elder and you shouldn't disrespect him. Suppose he wasn't our master, you still shouldn't infuriate him. Think about his disposition, his martial skill, and his dozens of disciples. Who could get away with provoking him? Really, if he wanted to end one or two lives, don't you think it would be easy for him!"

Huang-shi heard Ma Zhixian mention human lives and understood even less of what was going on! Startled, she anxiously urged her husband, "Under no circumstances should you aggravate your master. He can really kill people!" Jiang Zhisheng laughed and said, "I don't have any deep-running bad blood with him. How could he kill me over something insignificant? Don't worry for me blindly." After he was done, he made a happy face. Because Ma Zhixian was afraid the city gates would close and keep him outside of the city, he quickly departed.

After seeing Ma Zhixian off, Jiang Zhisheng went inside and began to worry. He felt that his master Bao Zhenfei's Kunlun saber was truly something to be feared, but today, by way of the donkey driver Third Chu's matchmaking, he had met up with the young wife of Lu. He was truly enraptured by her and was loathe to give her up. He worried about it for a long time and went to sleep early.

The next day, he arrived at old master Bao's house very early in the morning and put extra effort into his training and his chores. Although Liu Zhiyuan often looked over at him and grinned, and Bao Zhilin often glared at him enviously, he paid them no mind, as if he didn't have any dark schemes in his heart. However, whenever old master Bao walked nearby, he couldn't help a quickened pulse. Seeing his master's chubby, husky body and his deeply purple face, he became extremely scared. He felt like this old master could really kill him. He thought, I can't do those things anymore, because if the old man found out, he really would take my life. After he finished his training and helped with some chores, he didn't stick around to chat with his brothers like in days past and hurried to leave. However, once he left the Bao house, he thought lovingly again about that beautiful woman and felt like he couldn't keep away from her.

Right as he reached the door to his house, he saw Third Chu again with his donkey waiting for him. Jiang Zhisheng immediately came to resemble a demon as he couldn't seem to control himself. He joked around with Third Chu and without even entering the door, eating any food, or changing his clothes, he rode Third Chu's donkey to Nanshan. He didn't return to his wife until that evening, and without saying a word to her, he ate and went to sleep. He carried on like this for four or five days, and the rumors eventually made their way to old master Bao's ears.

At daybreak, Jiang Zhisheng was feigning illness and had not yet arrived. After Ma Zhixian and the others finished their exercises and chores, the old master addressed them, saying sternly, "I hear Jiang Zhisheng is having an affair with a married woman in Nanshan. Is this true? Don't you dare deceive me!" When this was asked, everyone looked warily at each other, especially Ma Zhixian who was sweating in place of his wife's cousin-in-law. He saw Bao Zhilin push Liu Zhiyuan a little and say, "Tell him! Don't you know everything?"

Liu Zhiyuan was so frightened his face had gone pale. He didn't dare hide anything, so he said, "I'd heard from someone else that Jiang Zhisheng has something going with Lu's young wife in the city. The young wife went back to her mother's house several days ago, but before very long she went from there to Granny Guo's house in Nanshan. Now her family is telling her to go back to her husband's family, but she won't, and her husband's family can't find her. I heard that Granny Guo is the donkey driver Third Chu's aunt, and every day Third Chu goes to pick up Jiang Zhisheng with his donkey and takes him to Granny Guo's house to meet up with Lu's young wife."

Upon hearing this, old master Bao became so furious his face swelled with even more purple, saying angrily, "What is this!? The thing that my disciples should most avoid is lechery. He knows very well that this is wrong, but he's got the audacity to do it anyway, violating the wife of a good family. This is a stain on the reputation of my Kunlun School! Go get Jiang Zhisheng and bring him to me!" The old master assigned them a task with these words, and though all of them still had their own misgivings, not one of them dared to be remiss, and none of them dared to intercede. With Bao Zhilin as the head, he took up a single saber, saying, "You must all bring a weapon!" Thus, the ones who used blades took blades and the ones who used staffs took staffs, and they headed north together. There were five people in all: Bao Zhilin leading the way, followed by Liu Zhiyuan, Chen Zhijun, Qin Zhibao and Ma Zhixian.

The few in the front were all roaring with fervor, as if after they received their master's commands, they no longer remembered their brotherly friendships. Ma Zhixian was feeling extremely unpleasant and exceedingly anxious. He rushed over to Bao Zhilin and implored him, "Brother, though our master is angry, you only have to capture him and take him to see the master. Don't hurt him!" Liu Zhiyuan spoke as well. "This was all exposed by me. If you guys hurt him, then he'll hate me. He's very narrow-minded, and in time he'll come to me looking for vengeance!"

Bao Zhilin scoffed at Liu Zhiyuan. "What are you scared of? My father has rules for his disciples, and one cannot live after breaking the rule against adultery. How did Hu Zhikai die? Why is Chang Chenggao short an arm? For what was Jiang Zhiyao's eye carved out?" Ma Zhixian pleaded with Bao Zhilin, saying, "Brother, all I can do now is ask for your mercy. You can ask the master to beat him, but please don't harm him. You should also remember that he's young and doesn't know any better!" Bao Zhilin laughed coldly, saying, "Don't protect him just because he's family. This can't be avoided. Even if my father did absolve him, some of our brothers would never do that. Otherwise, things wouldn't be fair. Why did Hu Zhikai have to die, but he's forgiven?"

As they were speaking, they reached the gate to Jiang's house. Ma Zhixian fretted as Bao Zhilin pounded on the door. After a while, Jiang Zhisheng's wife, Huang-shi opened the door. Once she saw that everyone was carrying a weapon, she started trembling from fear, asking quickly, "What's the matter? What do my brothers need?" Chen Zhijun and Qin Zhibao said together, "We're looking for Zhisheng. The master has a few words he'd like to say to him!"

Huang-shi very cautiously said, "Zhisheng left very early this morning to train at the master's house. He hasn't been back at all." Qin Zhibao said, "He didn't come today." Bao Zhilin said, "What is this nonsense! Let's go inside and look. He must be hiding somewhere, afraid to see us." Bao Zhilin lead them toward the house to search inside. Ma Zhixian secretly stamped his foot toward Huang-shi, who was so scared she had lost all color in her face. Having brought them into the house to rummage around, Bao Zhilin even looked under the bed, but indeed there was no trace of Jiang Zhisheng. He addressed Liu Zhiyuan, "He must be in Nanshan meeting the young wife. Let's go get him, and catch him in the act!"

Having said this, he brought them all outside again. At the threshold, he suddenly saw Jiang Zhisheng's son coming from outside of the village, carrying a stick. Jiang Xiaohe didn't know why these people had come to his home; he simply saw that they were carrying blades and staffs and thought it very exciting. He ran over waving his stick about and yelling, "Who dares to challenge me!?" No one paid him any attention, and as before under Bao Zhilin's leadership, they left the village and headed south.

The Southern Mountains were seven or eight miles from the Bao Village and on the way they passed by many fields of wheat. Occasionally they would pass some running water under a wooden bridge where people had redirected the mountain streams into paddies of rice. The five of them pressed on very quickly, getting closer and closer to the base of the mountains. In a short while they reached the foot of the mountains at which there were thirty or forty houses on the western side. This was called Nanshan Village. Now it was Liu Zhiyuan who led the way into the village to find old Zhang, a relative of his. Old Zhang sold straw sandals and it was from him that Liu Zhiyuan heard about Jiang Zhisheng and the young wife of Lu. Old Zhang subtly pointed toward the door of Granny Guo's place, and Bao Zhilin pushed Liu Zhiyuan, saying, "Go tell them we're here!" Liu Zhiyuan was a little apprehensive, but with the pressure of so many people on him, he went forward and knocked a few times on the aging door.

After a moment, an Granny opened the door and came out. Bao Zhilin stood behind Liu Zhiyuan, and asked angrily, "Is Jiang Zhisheng here?" The old woman saw that all of them were holding weapons and was so scared she couldn't speak, so she simply waved her hand. Bao Zhilin pushed the old woman aside and Liu Zhiyuan and the others made their way in. Inside the courtyard stood only two straw houses: one in which Granny Guo lived with her son and one that was currently being used by the young wife of Lu.

While this was happening, Jiang Zhisheng was inside one of the houses. When he heard the commotion of so many footsteps in the courtyard, he was startled and quickly took a look outside. The young wife of Lu also poked out with half her delicate frame. Bao Zhilin swung his saber and sneered, "Ha ha! Do you still think you can hide? The master's told us to come get you. Come! Come with us to see the master!" Jiang Zhisheng's face was white, and though he was scared, he was unwilling to show helplessness in the presence of his mistress. He pretended not to understand and said, "What's this? The master told you guys to come find me?"

Bao Zhilin irately said, "Are you clueless to what you've done? You've broken one of our rules. You're having an affair with a married woman! Do you know the consequences of this crime? Beheading! Eye-gouging!" Hearing this, the young wife who had been hiding behind Jiang Zhisheng screamed in fright and started to weep. She grabbed onto Jiang Zhisheng's arm, refusing to let them take him.

Jiang Zhisheng urged his mistress away, waved his hand and scoffed, "This is nothing to fear. Don't worry!" He then spoke to Bao Zhilin, "That's right, she's my new wife, but I didn't gain her in secret. Her family and her husband's family know all about it. I've already arranged it with her in-laws. In a couple days, I'm going to pay them a dowry of 30 taels of silver, and they're going to break off the engagement. Then, I'm going to bring my new wife home. This is no one else's business. Not even the county magistrate can interfere in this! Don't even speak of the master as if I've stolen away a woman from your Bao family!"

Upon hearing this, Bao Zhilin became so angry he stamped his foot and yelled, "All right! You dare insult my father and myself!? Fuck you! If you can back that up, then come with us!" Jiang Zhisheng laughed coldly and said, "Why should I go with you?" Bao Zhilin immediately brandished his saber, ready to slice at Jiang Zhisheng. Upon hearing him insult their master, Chen Zhijun, Liu Zhiyuan and Qin Zhibao were likewise angry and moved to capture him.

Ma Zhixian used the saber in his hand to hold them off while urging, "No matter what, we're all brothers, and he's trained under the master for almost three years. He's insulted our master now, so let's just take him to see the master. We don't need to fight!" He pleaded again to Jiang Zhisheng, "Zhisheng, you can't do this. Come with us to see the master and we'll stand down. Please ask for mercy!" Jiang Zhisheng put on a fierce, white face and said nothing. Unexpectedly he thrust forward, snatched the steel saber away from Ma Zhixian, and brandished it with a whoosh.

He said to Ma Zhixian, "Get out of the way, brother!" Then he struck his chest and said to Bao Zhilin and the others, "My name is Jiang and I have no need for mercy. The master has no control over these matters. I have broken no laws, so if anyone wants to hurt me or kill me, then I will face them!" Qin Zhibao rushed forward angrily and waved his saber, saying, "Fine! Do your words mean that you no longer acknowledge our master?" He chopped at Jiang Zhisheng, and Jiang Zhisheng dodged to the side. Bao Zhilin moved forward with his saber, shouting, "You've insulted my father. I'm going to kill you!" Jiang Zhisheng had already threw himself headlong into it, no longer caring about anyone else. He demonstrated his blade skills and kept two people at bay.

The young wife cried out from inside the house, "Madam Guo! Madam Guo! Go get the village head! These thugs are out to hurt Sir Jiang!" Bao Zhilin left Jiang Zhisheng behind and ran into the house with his saber, saying viciously, "I'll kill this bitch of yours first!" Jiang Zhisheng turned his body and swung his saber right at Bao Zhilin. Bao Zhilin cried out as the blade cut into his left shoulder and blood sprang forth. Bao Zhilin immediately fell onto the ground. Afraid Jiang Zhisheng would follow with another chop, Ma Zhixian rushed over empty-handed. Jiang Zhisheng had spun around with his saber and went to fight with Liu Zhiyuan, Chen Zhijun and Qin Zhibao, making his way outside as he contended with them.

Once he was outside of the gate, Jiang Zhisheng displayed even more of his blade skills. Liu Zhiyuan and the others were all his senior disciple-brothers and had been studying martial arts for longer, but their abilities didn't surpass his. This was especially the case for Qin Zhibao, whose hands and feet were a mess as he swung his saber. Jiang Zhisheng roused his spirit, his blade like lightning in a flurry of movements. He was constantly using ruthless methods to slash and thrust viciously at his opponents. After a few rounds, there was another cry. Qin Zhibao's wrist had met with the saber, shedding some blood as he ran off to the side. Jiang Zhisheng closed in on Liu Zhiyuan once again and whoosh, whoosh, slashed at him a few times! Liu Zhiyuan was on the verge of not being able to keep up.

Ma Zhixian then took up Bao Zhilin's saber and leapt forward. He caught Jiang Zhisheng's saber with his own and gestured at Liu Zhiyuan and Chen Zhijun, saying, "Stop it! We are disciples of Bao Kunlun and we've never had a fight amongst ourselves before!" Then he said to Jiang Zhisheng, "Zhisheng, you're out of control! This was originally easy to work out, but now you've made it so much worse!"

At this moment Jiang Zhisheng was thinking to himself how powerful his martial skills were and wasn't willing to listen to Ma Zhixian's accusations. He laughed coldly, pounded his chest and said, "How could it be hard to work out? If Bao Zhenfei doesn't yield to me, then tell him to come find me. Starting today, I'm severing our master-disciple relationship, so he can't concern himself with my business any longer!" Liu Zhiyuan and Chen Zhijun both put away their weapons and said, "That's fine. Since you've said this, we no longer have a grudge with you. We'll go back and tell the master what you've told us." Saying this, the two first entered the gate and helped the injured Bao Zhilin out, and then brought Qin Zhibao away.

Jiang Zhisheng watched angrily as those four left, still holding on to the saber and sneering. Ma Zhixian hastily stamped his foot and said, "Zhisheng, I had no idea you were like this! Now that you've done this, I no longer have the means to protect you. I'm urging you to get out of here! It's best if you leave Hanzhong and live in Guanzhong for a few years. Otherwise, you're sure to die if you stay!"

Not only did Jiang Zhisheng not listen, but he expressed disgust as well. He swung his saber and said angrily, "I don't need your concern. I stand behind everything I do! It's not as if the government has sent people after me, so why should I run? If Bao Zhenfei comes for me, he can't rely on the master-disciple bond anymore, so I need never treat him well again!" Ma Zhixian saw that Jiang Zhisheng's talk became more and more reckless, and couldn't help getting angry himself. He stamped his foot and said, "Well, I've already devoted all my energy to your cause! We're family, so I can't stand to see you meet with disaster, but I've got nothing left. You're on your own now!" After he finished, he sighed and left.

Jiang Zhisheng entered the gate and urged Granny Guo not to fear. Then, he went into the house and boasted to his mistress, "Don't worry! I beat them all away. I doubt they'd dare come back." The young wife feigned irritation and pouted, telling Jiang Zhisheng to hurry with the 30 taels of silver for the Lu family and to ask them to find another wife so that she could better become Jiang Zhisheng's wife. Jiang Zhisheng agreed to it all, saying, "Relax, a couple days and it'll all be done." But in his heart, he couldn't help but fret.

When his anger gradually subsided, his courage seemed also to go far away with it. He felt extremely anxious and thought, I've learned three years of martial arts, and though I can beat Chen Zhijun, Qin Zhibao and the others, I'm afraid I'll be in trouble if I have to face old man Bao! Never mind him, it'll be over for me if Lu Zhizhong comes too! And then the 30 taels I agreed to give the second widow Lu, plus what I've got to give Third Chu and Granny Guo here, I need a total of forty taels. We're a poor family living off the few silvers we get for renting out our dozen or so acres of land. My wife and I are careful about what we buy, as we're already spending at a loss. Where am I supposed to get 40 taels now? Am I really going to sell our land? Also, there are still so many days ahead of us. The wife at home isn't exactly easy to deal with. Once she finds out about all this, how could she not get upset? Thus, Jiang Zhisheng was tremendously nervous but his mistress was at his side doting on him, so he wasn't able even to crease his brow, nor was he able to think of a way to get out of this romantic tangle and escape disaster.

He'd wanted to see what was going on at home, but he was afraid of old master Bao intercepting him on the road back. He was fretting to himself for a while, when he heard a hoary, severe voice in the courtyard, calling out, "Come out, Zhisheng!" Inside, Jiang Zhisheng was taken aback as he took up his saber. His mistress quickly held onto his arm and alarmed, asked, "Who is it now?"

Jiang Zhisheng pushed his mistress aside and said, "None of your concern!" The hand holding the saber was trembling a little and his face had been scared pale. He stepped outside and saw the stout figure of old master Bao standing in the courtyard like an iron tower, his flower-white beard fluttering and his purple face murderous. Behind him stood Ma Zhixian, Liu Zhiyuan and Chen Zhijun. The old master brandished his Kunlun saber and shouted angrily at Jiang Zhisheng, "Do you still acknowledge me?"

The voice was like thunder pounding on his head. Jiang Zhisheng started shaking, but he thought of a way he might survive this. He held his saber downward and respectfully said, "How can I not acknowledge my master!" Old master Bao nodded and said, "Since you acknowledge me, then things remain well. Come with me!" Jiang Zhisheng had no choice but to nod in assent. Thereafter, old master Bao walked out of the gate and Jiang Zhisheng followed behind in the custody of Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan.

After they left the village, old master Bao stopped in the middle of an empty field at the foot of the mountain. He shook the Kunlun saber in his hand and said to Jiang Zhisheng, "You injured Qin Zhibao, renounced your master-disciple relationship with me and then dared me to challenge you. Is this true?" Jiang Zhisheng shook his head, saying, "I never said that. Master, how could I dare? As for brother Bao and brother Qin, they were trying to kill me and I was panicked, so I fought with them and accidentally hurt them." To the side, Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan restlessly stamped their feet and said, "Master, don't listen to his dithering!"

Old master Bao waved them off and said, "You guys keep quiet!" He then smiled coldly at Jiang Zhisheng and said, "Don't be afraid. It's not important that you hurt your brothers, as we can see from it how strong your martial arts are. I have always admired those with great skill. I'm also impressed to hear that you challenged me to a fight. In thirty years, there hasn't been one person in Jianghu who's dared to challenge me. I even feel a tingle in my hands. Now, one of my own disciples wants a contest with me; this is surely a great occasion. Come! I'm letting you come at me! I don't need anyone's help either. Let's contend for ten exchanges. You don't even need to win, as long as you can hold your own. If you can survive ten exchanges, I'll throw away my blade, break my own arm and never take any disciples ever again."

What could Jiang Zhisheng dare to do after hearing this from the old master? He was so scared his teeth began to chatter as he said, "I don't dare go up against the master's martial arts. I never said those words!" Old master Bao couldn't hold back an icy smile. "Coward!" he yelled angrily as he pointed at Jiang Zhisheng. He then said, "Since you're not admitting to any of that, then what about abducting the wife of a good family and breaking the Kunlun School's most important rule!? Did this happen!?"

Jiang Zhisheng clenched his jaw and nodded. Upon seeing his nod of admission, the old master couldn't help but feel the flames of fury seething in his chest. His face became a deeper purple and his eyes widened as if emitting a frightening, cold light, sharp as the end of a blade. He nodded and said, "Fine, since you've committed adultery, your punishment is death. Kneel down! I'll have your brothers kill you!" He pointed to Chen Zhijun, his meaning being that Chen Zhijun was to represent him in carrying out the sentence. Chen Zhijun's hand was a bit shaky at this time and Jiang Zhisheng's face became intense. In a moment of nervous anger, he swung his saber and took off to the south.

Old master Bao said furiously, "Where do you think you're going!?" He brought one of this disciples with him as he gave chase to the south. When old master Bao saw that he was about to catch up, his distance only two paces from Jiang Zhisheng, he stepped heavily with his right foot, straightened his body and bounded forward. He swung his Kunlun saber viciously down towards Jiang Zhisheng's back. In a desperate move, Jiang Zhisheng turned around suddenly to receive the attack with his own saber. With a loud clang, the weight of old master Bao's saber sent a shock of pain through Jiang Zhisheng's wrist and he immediately dropped his saber to the ground. However, he used this opportunity to turn back around and run up the mountain. An angry old master Bao chased closely behind him still.

But when all was said and done, old master Bao was old and not in the best of shape. Because of this in addition to his tense energy, after a few strides up the mountain, he had to stop and catch his breath. Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan hurried to their master and held him up. The old master gasped for breath and the ruddy purple of his face gradually turned pale. The beads of sweat on his forehead were as big as soybeans. He remained stubborn, stamping his feet and saying, "Forget about me! Go up the mountain and bring down Jiang Zhisheng!" Ma Zhixian could only tell Liu Zhiyuan to prop up the master, while he and Chen Zhijun gave chase up the mountain. As they did so, they saw Jiang Zhisheng already making his way toward another mountain ridge.

Ma Zhixian and Chen Zhijun were not entirely willing to run up onto the mountain ridge, so they looked at each other. After they stood in a daze for a while, Ma Zhixian said, "I don't think we'll be able to catch up to him, and what would we do even if we did capture him? Would we really hand him over for the master to kill him with a saber? Isn't that even more troublesome?" Chen Zhijun said, "I think the master has gotten too worked up. The old man's body can't take much more. We should urge the master to go back and rest!" Thus, the two came down off the mountain and said that Jiang Zhisheng had already disappeared behind a mountain ridge. After a while, they convinced old master Bao to go back, and Ma Zhixian was given his Kunlun saber to carry, while Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan held onto the old master as they made their way back to Bao Village.

Old master Bao was so angry, he couldn't stop gasping for breath while on the road. It wasn't until he got back to his home and laid on the kang to rest for a time that the color of his face improved. It was then that Bao Zhilin, whose left shoulder had been injured, came to see how his father was doing. Old master Bao stamped his foot furiously and called his second son useless, saying, "You never take your martial arts training seriously, and now you'd been hurt by one of your junior disciple-brothers who hasn't yet finished his fourth year of study. Look how angry you've made me. If word of this gets out, how could we avoid ridicule!? It's all but over for my forty-plus-year reputation!"

Bao Zhilin sneered, "Jiang Zhisheng can't go far. He's got a family here. He'll be back after a couple days. Otherwise, I can go over there first and give his son a good beating." Old master Bao yelled, "You idiot! Those are the words of a thug. He broke one of our rules. What does that have to do with his wife and children? Get out of my sight!" As he said this, he kicked at his second son. Bao Zhilin hurried out of the house.

Ma Zhixian, Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan tried again to calm old master Bao down, but old master Bao remained livid and said to Ma Zhixian, "Ride to Ziyang right away and tell those three brothers of yours to come immediately!" Hearing this, Ma Zhixian consented, though he couldn't help but sweat for Jiang Zhisheng in his mind. He hastened out to prepare a horse, and then first made a stop at his house in the city to see his wife. He told her what was going on with Jiang Zhisheng and urged her to find her cousin Huang-shi in order to tell her to go see old master Bao and beg for mercy. He said anxiously, "You don't know, but the martial arts of our second brother Long Zhiteng, third brother Long Zhiqi and seventh brother Jia Zhiming in Ziyang County are very strong, and their methods are brutal. If they come here, then Jiang Zhisheng is sure to lose his life. So go quickly and tell your cousin that she has to go to the old master with her children in her arms and beg for forgiveness!" At that, Ma Zhixian's wife Li-shi hurriedly mounted a donkey and made her way to the Jiang house. Not daring to disobey his master's command, Ma Zhixian went to Ziyang County to find his three brothers.

By now, a neighbor had already told Huang-shi about what was going on with her husband. When Huang-shi thought about her husband cheating with a married woman, she felt it extremely hateful, but when she thought about how her husband had offended old master Bao and might be killed soon or worse, she couldn't help but feel sad and anxious. Her older son Xiaohe was playing around with his stick just outside of the village, and her younger son was already sound asleep. Her cousin Li-shi arrived as she was worrying helplessly. Li-shi told her cousin everything her husband Ma Zhixian had said to her. Huang-shi became even more fearful but said awkwardly, "I've never been to the Bao household before, tell me how I can go over there now and beg!" Li-shi said, "What else can you do? Who told your husband to get into trouble!? I'll look after your kids. You should go meet with old master Bao and bow down when you see him. No matter what, beg for his leniency and ask him to spare your husband's life!"

Li-shi's urging spurred Huang-shi on. After brushing her hair and changing into some clean clothes, she went on her way. As she left, she thought, When I see old master Bao, I can plead with him, but if they're saying I should bow down and cry to him, that would be too hard! I couldn't do it.

After a short time, she arrived at the gate to the Bao house and seeing a short, 30-some-year-old man coming out, Huang-shi wished him well and asked, "Might I ask if this is the home of old master Bao? I am Jiang Zhisheng's wife, and I've come to the see the old master to beg for mercy on my husband's behalf!" The man was Liu Zhiyuan and upon hearing that this was Jiang Zhisheng's wife, he said, "So it's sister Jiang! I urge you not to go to the master and hit that nail. He is furious right now, and he's not listening to anyone. He's been carrying that big saber of his around, and even I don't dare say anything in front of him. Sister Jiang..."

When he got to here, he lowered his voice and said, "Don't provoke them any further! If brother Jiang returns home, you have to insist that he gets far away from here as quickly as he can. Otherwise, if they catch him, he'll end up dead. We have no way to save him now!" Hearing this, Huang-shi could only wipe her tears and go back home. For the rest of the day, Li-shi stayed there to keep her company though nothing happened. Jiang Zhisheng had not returned. Early the next day, training at the Bao house had been suspended, and later that evening, Ma Zhixian brought Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming galloping in from Ziyang County.

Tea was grown in Ziyang County, so there were tea merchants gathered there and continual transports toward Guanzhong, Northern Sichuan and the Ji River. Since there were a lot of merchants, the security business was likewise developed. In the relatively small county, there were more than ten security firms, but the biggest name among them was the "Ziyang Jingyuan Security Firm," and the most famous among the firm's escorts were Long Zhiteng the Cloud-piercing Swallow, Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger, and Jia Zhiming the Wave-shattering Sea Serpent. Not only were they called the "Magnificent Ziyang Three," but they were also the most famous heroes among the men of Shaanxi, Henan and Sichuan.

They were all disciples of old master Bao Zhenfei, and on the day they arrived by his instruction, the old master said to them, "Jiang Zhisheng has broken the rules of our school. Not only has he committed adultery with a married woman, but he's also injured his brothers and disrespected his master. I assume Zhixian has already given you all the details." Long Zhiteng and the others replied deferentially, "We've heard it all from brother Ma." Old master Bao nodded, "Good. I'll give you ten days to capture Jiang Zhisheng. If you aren't able to get him alive, then bring me back his head!" There was nothing else to say. Long Zhiteng and the others assented and went each with their own weapon toward the Southern Mountains to look for Jiang Zhisheng. They came back that night and stayed at their master's house.

After three or four days had passed, they could find no trace of Jiang Zhisheng up in the mountains. Below those mountains, the young wife of Lu who'd been staying at Granny Guo's had already returned to Gong Farmstead to live with her family. It was said that her in-laws and her family brought the matter to court, and an official had paid Jiang Zhisheng's home a couple visits, but weren't able to find and arrest him. Some said that he had leapt into a mountain stream and died, while others said that he must have crossed the mountain and gone into Northern Sichuan, and unless old master Bao got sick and died, he wouldn't be able to come back. Talk of this filled the village until everyone knew about it. Some of them relayed it to Huang-shi and she cried day and night until the child in her arms became sick. Only her elder child Jiang Xiaohe seemed unaffected by this, as daily he played around everywhere with his stick. When he saw a tree, he hit it, and when he saw a wall, he'd hit that too. It became such that when dogs from the village caught sight of him, they would run away with their tail between their legs. There were forty to fifty other children in the village, many of which were older than he, but not one of them didn't yield to him or fear him.

On this day, he went out after eating lunch and didn't come back until after dark. He'd grown to look a bit like his father, but his wide face was handsomer, and it was now covered in sweat, mud and blood. His clothes were torn as well. However, he wasn't crying at all as he walked confidently back home. He threw his stick down and looked up at the steel saber hanging on the wall. He then took off his ripped clothes, dipped it in water and wiped the sweat and blood off of his face. With his sturdy little shoulders bare, he asked his mother, "Mom, is there still anything to eat?"

Huang-shi was so mad she started shaking and asked, "You... Who've you gotten into a fight with this time?" Jiang Xiaohe puffed up his chest brusquely and said, "Two of the Xue family's oxen and seven or eight people. Those big guys hit me a couple times, but they couldn't beat my incredible martial arts and were defeated by me. The blood on my head is because they hit me with a dart!" Huang-shi was taken aback and said, "What! A dart? Aren't those made of metal? They're sharp!"

Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, "It wasn't metal, it was stone. Don't worry, hidden weapons are nothing to great heroes. Mom, I want to go learn martial arts!" Huang-shi was at once angry and worried, saying, "Do you still want to learn martial arts? Don't know you know what's happened with your father? Though he did bad things, if he hadn't trained with old man Bao, it wouldn't have gotten this far. Now he's got the whole Bao household after him, and I don't know if he's dead or if he's run away. And you still want to learn martial arts?"

As she was speaking, she couldn't help but cry. Xiaohe said angrily, "My dad is a coward. He should come back, and we'll see what they dare to do! If they want to fight, I'll go and fight them with my dad!" Huang-shi anxiously stamped her feet and said, "Enough! Enough! Don't you go looking for trouble! Didn't you know that old man Bao called in three tigers from elsewhere?" Jiang Xiaohe said crossly, "Even if they're tigers, I'll beat them to death!" Seeing her son's stubbornness, Huang-shi's anxiety increased ten-fold. She brought food over to him. Xiaohe gobbled it up, and then ran inside and went to bed.

Huang-shi put away the bowl and chopsticks, and her younger son began to bawl again. She comforted him for a while until he finally went to sleep, and she laid the baby next to Xiaohe. At this point, Xiaohe was already sound asleep and snoring. One of his arms was outstretched with his hand in a fist, as if he was fighting someone in his dreams. Huang-shi tucked his small arm underneath the covers, and then left the room. She took out a needle and thread and mended her son's ripped clothes beside the dim oil lamp.

After a period of time, she suddenly felt a cold breeze blow in from outside. She looked up to see the door open and a person walk in. Startled, Huang-shi was about to scream, but after a careful look, she saw that it was her husband Jiang Zhisheng and said, "Oh! How come you're back?"

Jiang Zhisheng's silk shirt was now both dirty and torn, his hair was disheveled and his beard had grown out; in these few days, he had become sallow and skinny. Once he entered the house, he whispered frightfully, "Aren't there still a few taels of silver in the house? Give them to me. I have to run for my life!" Huang-shi shed tears as she asked, "Where are you going to go?" Jiang Zhisheng waved his hand and said, "Don't ask! Just go and get the silvers!" Weeping, Huang-shi went into a room to take the silvers out of a chest. Jiang Zhisheng grabbed the steel saber from off the wall, and then found a bowl of cold rice and stuffed it into his mouth with his hands.

Huang-shi came out of the room with the silvers in her hands. Seeing her husband eating the cold rice with his hands, she said, "Let me warm that up for you. There's some dishes left over too!" But Jiang Zhisheng gestured at her and said as he chewed the rice, "No need, I'm leaving now!" He then took the silvers from his wife and weighed them in his hand, guessing there were five or six taels there, before stuffing them into his shirt. He swallowed the rice and began to tear up as he reached out and took his wife's hands in his, saying, "I'm so sorry! I'm young and I've done wrong, but I didn't think that over in the Bao household, they were so cruel! If I don't get far away quickly, I'm a dead man if they catch me. I'm going to another province to look for an official friend of mine, and perhaps in the future I'll be able to bring you all out there with me!" The sobbing Huang-shi choked up and was unable to say anything.

Jiang Zhisheng said, "I dare not stay here any longer, so I have to go. No matter who you run into, don't tell them that I came back tonight!" He headed to the door after he said this, but then suddenly stopped and asked, "Where's Xiaohe?" Huang-shi wiped her tears and said, "Xiaohe's sleeping!" Jiang Zhisheng's meaning was that he still wanted to see his son, but after a moment's thought, he sighed and opened the door. Huang-shi was going to see her husband off outside, but Jiang Zhisheng blocked the door and used a alarming tone to say, "Don't come out here with me!" Carrying his saber, Jiang Zhisheng then slipped outside and went north along the wall. Like a thief, he fled the village and started running northward.

It was already after the second watch. The numerous stars dotted the sky and the moon was a hook. The cold spring wind blew at Jiang Zhisheng and caused him to shiver. Though he didn't encounter any travelers on the road, it seemed as if all the dogs in the villages along the way had discovered him as they barked wildly from near and far. Jiang Zhisheng dashed northward, but because the ground was uneven, he fell over a couple times and once nearly tripped and fell into the water. He became ever more panicked and flustered, as if someone was chasing behind him. Sometimes he became disheartened and wanted to plunge his head into the paddies and call on the water to drown him; other times he steeled his heart, not wanting to run anymore and thinking that he might as well fight it out with Bao Zhenfei and the others.

But ultimately he wanted to live and forced himself to endure the hardship. He kept going forward in the vast darkness of the night until his feet hurt and his legs became wobbly, and gradually the east became lighter. He saw a tall mountain in front of him and knew that he had already left the limits of Zhenba County. He stood still and took a few deep breaths, and then like a cripple he stumbled his way north. The color of dawn rose slowly from the east and revealed itself. Jiang Zhisheng suddenly felt that if someone were to come upon him looking as coarse as he did with a saber in his hand, they would surely think him a bandit. Thus, he hurriedly cast his saber into a paddy and then endured the pain in his legs as he proceeded. The sky was bright by the time he had reached a mountain pass.

This mountain was a part of the Great Ba Mountains. It wasn't high, but the mountain path was rough and twisting. After walking into the mountains a hundred paces or so, Jiang Zhisheng met with only the sounds of small birds chirping beside his ear and goshawks flying circles above his head, but encountered no people. He loosened up just slightly and found a pale green rock to sit upon. He took off his shoes, which he had already worn through, and emptied it of sand and pebbles. He took his socks off and saw that several large blisters had formed on his feet. He unflinchingly pinched them open with his fingernails, and a clear fluid leaked out of them.

He didn't dare linger here long, so he put his socks and shoes back on. He walked a few steps, but the more he walked, the more his feet hurt until he simply couldn't step on them anymore, nor could he lift his heels. He sat on the ground and ripped a portion of his shirt away into two strips. As he bent forward to tie his shoes up, he thought, Have I committed such a great crime that I've been forced into this state? I hid in the Southern Mountains for a few days and nights, and now I've run to the Northern Mountains. I don't know if I'll live or die after I cross this mountain. At this thought, he felt both sorrow and anguish in his heart, fatigue in his body, and hunger in his stomach. He stood up and followed the mountain path northward step by step as if he was being tortured. After a few dozen steps, he heard the jumbled clop-clopping of horse's hooves echoing throughout the mountain valley and his heart shuddered.

Jiang Zhisheng looked back fearfully and saw four hearty horses galloping his way. On the three horses in front sat big, tough men, and on the horse in the back with his fluttering white beard and deep purple face sat old master Bao. Upon seeing them, Jiang Zhisheng was so terrified his soul just about left him. He grabbed onto the crags at the side of the path, wanting to climb up the mountain. He heard only a thundering voice behind him say, "Jiang Zhisheng, are you still trying run?"

It was old master Bao who said this. Jiang Zhisheng was so scared his legs went soft and he came crashing down. He rolled over, getting ready to run again, but the four horses were already close by. The one on the first horse was none other than Long Zhiteng the Cloud-piercing Swallow, whose dark face was covered by a full beard and appeared extremely fierce. When the horses reached Jiang Zhisheng, Long Zhiteng pulled on the reins of his horse with one hand and waved a leather whip in the other. He sat up and cracked Jiang Zhisheng on the head with his whip. Jiang Zhisheng's head pounded and his vision became hazy, but he still struggled to get up. An urgent fury burned in his heart and he hollered at them, "You're a bunch of brigands..." Before he could say anymore, he felt faint with an odd pain in his chest. He exerted his strength to yell further, but he didn't know if anything had come out before he collapsed to the ground and died.

The mounted old master was about to wave them off, but it was already too late. Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger was already pulling his steel saber out from Jiang Zhisheng's chest. He took this opportunity to dismount his horse and wiped the fresh blood off of his saber on Jiang Zhisheng. He then said to old master Bao, "Master! We've finished our task. Let's go back!" Old master Bao sat in his saddle in a daze for a while as he looked down at Jiang Zhisheng's body. Though his face was still frighteningly purple, a little bit of pity could be seen in his two eyes.

Next to him, Jia Zhiming the Wave-shattering Sea Serpent got off of his horse as well and grumbled at Long Zhiqi, "Third brother! You've acted too hastily! It would have been better even to ask him a few things." Long Zhiqi's thick, dark face became angrier as he said, "What's there to ask such a person? If we'd let him take even one more breath, those in our Kunlun School would have completely lost face." Long Zhiteng sat on his horse and scolded his brother, "The master didn't say anything, so how could you just kill him?"

Long Zhiqi was irate and was about to talk back to his brother, when they heard old master Bao shout, "Stop bickering! Throw his body into a mountain stream!" Thereafter, the three dared not make a sound. Jia Zhiming and Long Zhiqi went over and lifted up the body. Jia Zhiming unexpectedly felt the few taels of silver on Jiang Zhisheng and handed them to his master. Old master Bao received them and looked them over. They were light, amounting to not much more than five or six taels, and in his heart he knew that the reason Jiang Zhisheng had returned home last night was to retrieve these silvers. At this time, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming had lifted up Jiang Zhisheng's body and thrown it into a creek. Not paying close attention to it, old master Bao beckoned with his hand and said, "Let's head back!" The four horses turned around, left the mountain pass and flew back to Bao Village.

When the old master Bao Zhenfei returned home, not only had his anger dissipated, but his energy had also obviously deflated. Long Zhiteng and the others went into the house to eat and drink. Leaning on a crutch, Bao Zhilin twisted his waist and poked his head into the room to see his brothers, whispering, "Well? Did you catch Jiang Zhisheng or what?" Long Zhiteng and the others cared only about the wine they were drinking and didn't reply to him. Bao Zhilin asked again, "Did you finish him or not? Don't worry about me, I won't tell anyone!"

Long Zhiteng struck the table with his wine cup and said, "Brother, we're not a part of Lülin, so how could we go around finishing people as we pleased? We went out with the master with the intent to chase him down and perhaps give him a good thrashing, but we weren't able to catch up to him. Or maybe you saw wrong and the person leaving his house last night wasn't him."

Hearing this, Bao Zhilin appeared to be very disappointed, and said viciously, "That bastard'll get it sooner or later. Just wait and see!" Saying this, he poured himself two cups of wine and drank them, and then enduring the wound on his back, he left the room on his crutches in search of his father to find out more. However, when he opened the door to his father's room, he saw his father holding his niece Aluan and playing with her. And though he was playing with her, there was an extremely ugly color to his old face. Bao Zhilin knew that his father was troubled, and slipped back into his own room.

That afternoon, Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming said farewell to their master and spurred their horses back to Ziyang County. Once they left, Ma Zhixian and the others were in a stupor, since the truth was obvious that they must have finished their business here. In addition, Ma Zhixian had been related to Jiang Zhisheng and thus dared not go to the Jiang house. Though the others aside from Ma Zhixian, like Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan, hadn't normally gotten along very well with Jiang Zhisheng, they now felt a bit of sorrow because he had been one of them, and realized that learning martial arts from old master Bao was no easy task.

Old master Bao was weary for the entire day and skipped lunch. He napped until it was evening. He felt around beside him and found that the few taels of silver they had taken from Jiang Zhisheng's corpse were still there. He sighed quietly and after eating dinner glumly, he went out. It was already dusk as the watch gong sounded out from the village, and the various houses shuttered themselves. Old master Bao walked to the gate of Jiang Zhisheng's residence and looked around at a distance from the door. He saw only a dim lamplight coming from inside but heard no sounds. Old master Bao took out the few taels of silver and tossed them over the wall, thinking, Jiang Zhisheng was going to use these as he escaped for his life, but he can't use them now. I'm returning it to you, so that you can use it! He turned around to go and after taking a step, he heard the sound of a baby crying from inside. Old master Bao knew then that Jiang Zhisheng had left behind a baby still in swaddling clothes, and he felt even worse. He sighed to himself and returned home.

The next day, when old master Bao woke up early in the morning, he was as subdued as before and taught martial arts per usual. He had always been a tough man who never sighed, but these few days he would often wrinkle his brow abruptly and contemplate. Sometimes he wouldn't be doing anything and then give a long sigh. Thus, his disciples all felt as if there was a change in their old master's temperament. Chen Zhijun, Liu Zhiyuan and the others were all sweating, not knowing what was causing old master Bao anxiety. Everyone came on time to learn martial arts daily, and as they ran through their exercises, they all did so diligently, not daring to be even a little negligent. After they were done practicing their fighting techniques, they separated and did their chores; the ones who were supposed to feed the horses fed the horses, and the ones who were supposed to till the land tilled the land. Not one of them dared to shirk their duties, nor did any of them dare to joke around, because they were all trying to prevent the old master from getting mad.

After seven or eight days came the day that old master Bao's proud disciple Lu Zhizhong returned. He had actually come back the night before and rested a night in his own home before reporting back to his master early the next day. When he came back and saw that there were only three people, Ma Zhixian, Liu Zhiyuan and Chen Zhijun, on the grounds in front of the gate, he was a little surprised. Before he entered the gate, he saw his disciple-brother Bao Zhilin coming out of it. With Bao Zhilin's shoulder crooked and his face yellow and slim, Lu Zhizhong thought he had come down with some sort of illness.

Upon seeing Lu Zhizhong, Bao Zhilin said, "Brother, what happened to you? You done playing around in Hanzhong!?" Lu Zhizhong asked, "Brother, what happened to you?" Bao Zhilin became annoyed and said, "Don't worry yourself over it!" Lu Zhizhong looked back again towards Ma Zhixian and the others. All of them were focusing on their training, not daring to say a word.

Seeing that things were not quite right, Lu Zhizhong entered the gate quickly to see the master. Bao Zhilin followed him in and asked, "How's my brother's wound?" Lu Zhizhong shook his head and said, "It's not serious. He can already put a little weight on his leg." He went inside and saw that his master had just gotten up and was drinking tea. After Lu Zhizhong bowed, old master Bao told him to sit down next to him and asked, "How is Zhiyun's injury?" Lu Zhizhong said, "When I got to Hanzhong, brother's leg was already doing much better. I stayed there for a few days and by the time I left, he could stand on it without anyone's help. He told me to tell master not to worry. He'll be able to come back home for a visit next month."

Old master Bao nodded and then asked him about the business of the Hanzhong Security Service and the recent goings-on of his disciples in Hanzhong, and then he told Lu Zhizhong to go home and rest. Seeing that his master wasn't in the greatest of moods, Lu Zhizhong dared not say anymore. When he exited the house, he waited around until Ma Zhixian and the others were done training and hurried over to talk with them. He asked, "Why isn't Qin Zhibao here?" Ma Zhixian quickly gave him a meaningful glance, and Chen Zhijun said, "Don't ask! We'll tell you when we've the time to!" Just then, old master Bao came out of the gate and Ma Zhixian and the others started practicing with their fists and feet and blades and staffs. Lu Zhizhong respectfully said a few more things to the old master about Hanzhong and then left.

On the road, Lu Zhizhong couldn't help but be wary. He figured that something must have happened between his brothers after he left and that it was probably something really serious. After he entered the city and went home, he told his wife that things around his master's home were very suspicious. His wife said, "After you left, none of your brothers came by, so I don't know what's going on either." As Lu Zhizhong thought it over, he looked over at the things that Jiang Zhisheng had wanted him to bring back from Hanzhong: the red satin, the facial powder, the rouge and the wool. He thought, I'll head back and take these things to Zhisheng, and while I'm there, I can ask him what's been going on at the master's house. He didn't go to train today either. Could it be he's got some sort of problem as well? He pondered this dubiously for a moment, though soon it was time for lunch.

As he was eating, Ma Zhixian swung by. Lu Zhizhong quickly said to him, "Brother, please sit! I was just thinking about going to find you! Why didn't I see Qin Zhibao and Jiang Zhisheng today?" He then pointed to the facial powder and the other things on the table and said, "These are all the things Jiang Zhisheng asked me to get for him. I was about to go send it over to him, but you've come at just the right time. I can just give it to you to give to him. It'll save me a trip!"

Ma Zhixian looked at the facial powder, red satin and the other things and a look of heartbreak appeared immediately on his face. He waved his hand and said, "We'll have to leave these things at your place for now! We can't find Jiang Zhisheng. You were only gone a dozen or so days, but something horrible happened over here. Qin Zhibao and Bao Zhilin were hurt, and the old master became furious. I even made a trip to Ziyang County to get the brothers Long and brother Jia. They'd only left a few days ago. Jiang Zhisheng..." When he got to here, he covered his face and detailed the events that had occurred in the past dozen or so days to Lu Zhizhong.

After Lu Zhizhong heard it all, he was so alarmed he'd lost the color of his face and sat in a daze for a while. He then whispered to Ma Zhixian, "So you're telling me that Jiang Zhisheng must be dead?" Ma Zhixian said, "If he's not dead, then why would the master send Long Zhiteng and the others back? Actually, he brought all this trouble upon himself, so his death isn't much of a pity, but his poor family... His wife isn't even thirty yet, and he had two sons, one of them twelve and the other not even a year old. The family has a bit of property, but once Jiang Zhisheng left, a lot of his clansmen have popped up, wanting to divide the Jiang family property up. You know that Jiang Zhisheng's wife is my cousin, and our two families have always been close, but these days, I've been afraid to go to the Jiang house, because I know that if I go, his wife will sure to be crying!"

Lu Zhizhong creased his brow and sighed, saying, "How did things get to this!? When I was about to leave and Jiang Zhisheng approached me about getting these things for him, I was a little suspicious. I even warned him. I never thought..." He sighed and then said, "But today I noticed the master wasn't in a very good mood. The old man didn't breathe one word of this to me. I think he killed Jiang Zhisheng in a rage, and is now perhaps a little bit regretful."

Ma Zhixian gestured and said, "Our master's temperament is tough if nothing else! When has he ever regretted anything he's ever done!? But since Jiang Zhisheng betrayed our master, even though he killed him, the master's still feeling unhappy. Otherwise, I'm just afraid of Jiang Zhisheng's clansmen finding out about this and taking it up with the government." The two disciple-brothers sat gloomily for a while before Ma Zhixian departed. The next day, Lu Zhizhong went to old master Bao's house again and he too trained and did his chores carefully, never mentioning any of this.

After another several days had passed, Qin Zhibao and Bao Zhilin's wounds had healed, and the master and his disciples practiced their martial techniques as they had before. Old master Bao's mood had also gradually recovered and he stopped sighing. It was as if none of that had ever happened at all. However, in the midst of their blades and spears there was missing Jiang Zhisheng, and not far from where they were, there was the addition of a widow and two orphans.

Jiang Zhisheng's son, Jiang Xiaohe was boorish. He spent his days throwing fists and playing around with his stick. After eating, he'd go to sleep, and after sleeping, he'd play again. He was a twelve-year-old after all. Lately, since he had abruptly stopped seeing his father and his mother cried daily, Jiang Xiaohe became a little depressed and thus didn't have the heart to go play outside.

On this day, he asked his mother again, "Mom! Why isn't dad back yet?" His mother Huang-shi replied, "Didn't I already tell you? Your dad left the province to find a friend. He might not be back for a year or two." Jiang Xiaohe scrunched up his brow and said, "That's no good! I'm going to go look for my dad!" He didn't know why, but tears began to fall from his eyes like rain. He saw that his mother was breastfeeding his little brother, but she too was weeping to herself. Jiang Xiaohe thought, My mother must be keeping something from me. I have to go ask other people!

Early in the morning, he took up his stick and left the house. He went to the gate of the Bao house and spotted old man Bao teaching his disciples a stance. His uncle Ma Zhixian was there too throwing punches. He remembered that his father had trained with these people before, and furthermore that his father had been better at it than them. Jiang Xiaohe ran over there carrying his stick and grabbed onto Ma Zhixian's leg, saying, "Uncle, I have a question for you, and you have to answer it. Where did my dad go?"

Ma Zhixian became anxious, but before he could answer, Bao Zhilin rushed over and shooed Jiang Xiaohe away like he was getting rid of a dog, "Go! Go! Where did this kid come from? Be careful or you might get hurt by these weapons. Go! Go!" Jiang Xiaohe waved his stick and struck Bao Zhilin in the stomach. With a "whack," Bao Zhilin covered his stomach with his hands and said, "Ah! You little brat! How dare you!" If his uncle hadn't been there, Bao Zhilin might have actually killed the boy. Jiang Xiaohe jumped up and was about to hit him again when Ma Zhixian hurriedly held him back. To the side, Lu Zhizhong, Chen Zhijun and the others stopped their exercises.

Old master Bao walked over and looked down with his purple face, asking the child angrily, "Boy, how can you just go around hitting people?" Jiang Xiaohe flipped his eyes toward the old master's scary visage, but didn't back down at all. His stick remained out as he stamped his foot and said, "I came to find my uncle and ask him where my dad is. Where does that guy get off shooing me away? I'll hit him again!" As he said this, he waved his stick and aimed for Bao Zhilin. Ma Zhixian grabbed hold of the stick, but the child had quite some strength, so it would have taken some effort to actually take the stick away. Bao Zhilin didn't back down either, saying, "That blow hurt quite a bit! Where did you come from, you little monster?"

Old master Bao gave his son a push, sending him several steps back. Then, the old master asked of Ma Zhixian, "To whom does this child belong? Why is he here looking for his father?" Ma Zhixian was taken aback, but said, "This...this is Jiang Zhisheng's older son!" Upon hearing this, the color of the old master's face changed immediately. He gave Jiang Xiaohe a careful once over and felt that his face was very much like his father's, though he was handsomer than Jiang Zhisheng.

Jiang Xiaohe took the opportunity of Ma Zhixian speaking to wave his stick around. Though he didn't hit anyone, he was very imposing, just like a little hero. He beat his sturdy little chest and said, "Which one of you dares to compare our skills in a contest!?" Old master Bao smiled and walked over to Jiang Xiaohe, saying, "Little boy, didn't you want to find your father? Your dad Jiang Zhisheng was one of my disciples. He hasn't been coming here lately and I'm even starting to miss him. Go home and ask your mother. Perhaps she knows what's happened to your father!"

Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No! It was because my mom won't tell me anything that I came to find my uncle. I'm not leaving until you tell me what happened to my dad. You can just quit your training now!" Old master Bao laughed and took out some money to give to Jiang Xiaohe. He smiled and said, "Stop fussing. I see you're a good kid, so you should listen well. Let me give you some money. Go buy yourself some candy!" Jiang Xiaohe took the money and flung it right back at the old master. He then brandished his stick and said, "I don't want money, I want my dad! Go find my dad. Otherwise, tell me where he is, and I'll go find him myself!"

Old master Bao couldn't help getting mad and glaring fiercely at the boy. Seeing that the situation wasn't good, Ma Zhixian hurried over and nudged Jiang Xiaohe away while urging, "Good nephew, stop causing trouble here! I'll come home with you. I can tell you where your dad is." Jiang Xiaohe was pulled away by Ma Zhixian, but it didn't stop him from waving his stick and his little fists at old master Bao.

Bao Zhilin asked his father, "The kid is even more hateful than his father. Why don't we give him a good beating?" Old master Bao replied with a backhand, resulting in a mark across Bao Zhilin's face, and then gave him a kick that left Bao Zhilin rolling on the ground. Liu Zhiyuan, Lu Zhizhong and the others came quickly to urge calm. Old master Bao was at once angry and also sad, scolding his son, "You say that Jiang Zhisheng's son is just like his dad, but it's a shame that you can't be like me. You don't even need to be like me. You just need a little bit of the ardor that boy showed and we wouldn't be here like this!" Covering his face, Bao Zhilin ran to the side with his butt sticking out, looking forlorn like a dog that'd just been hit. Old master Bao's anger had yet to subside, and he continued yelling at his son.

At this time, his small granddaughter Aluan came running out of the gate with both her hands wide open, shouting out, "Grandpa! Grandpa! Don't be mad!" When she came close, she latched onto her grandfather. Old master Bao's anger had put his white beard in disarray. He used his hand to stroke his granddaughter's little braids, and felt desolation in his heart as he thought, Both of my sons are completely useless. When I die, not only will my Bao family's martial arts end here, but there will be no one to deal with our enemies. Though I have a lot of disciples, when it comes down to it, I can't rely on them. I'll take advantage of the years I have remaining to pass my martial arts on to Aluan! Thus, old master Bao resolved to teach his martial arts to his granddaughter. After a little bit, Ma Zhixian returned and Old master Bao asked him about the situation at the Jiang house. He then instructed him to fashion a smaller, lighter saber at his smithy for Aluan to use.

From this day on, old master Bao started sighing all the time once again. Jiang Xiaohe had gathered upwards of ten good-for-nothing kids from in and outside the village, all holding bamboo poles and wooden knives, and they would often cause trouble just outside the gate of the Bao house. With Jiang Xiaohe as lead, they called on Bao Zhilin by name to come out and duel with them. Though Bao Zhilin wasn't afraid of them, he was afraid of his father, so he hid inside, not daring to come out. On the third day, when Qin Zhibao came to train, his head was bleeding, saying that just outside the village Jiang Zhisheng's son had thrown a rock at him. When Liu Zhiyuan came, he was covered in dirt, saying that Jiang Xiaohe and a group of kids had surrounded him. They were all carrying clumps of dirt, which they then threw at him. Hearing these things, old master Bao sneered coldly and said, "That kid!" Standing to the side, Ma Zhixian was extremely alarmed with the expression on the old master's face.

Nothing much had happened this day, and when evening arrived, old master Bao went out, carrying a sharp knife with him. It was already late in the day and the clouds in the sky were crimson like the color of blood. The old master glanced into the Jiang house as he walked by, and then left the village. Looking back, he saw cooking smoke coming off the roofs of various houses and the sheep-herders returning as the color of the sky approached darkness. The old master looked like a hungry tiger searching for a meal, his two eyes darting back and forth and his white beard moving about in the springtime evening breeze.

After waiting a while, the color of dusk slowly broadened. He spotted a child waving a stick around, running upon a small path in the midst of the wheat fields to the west. The old master swiftly intercepted him, and before Jiang Xiaohe had left the wheat field, the old master was standing in his way. Jiang Xiaohe glared at him and brandished his stick, saying, "You old man, you here to show me what you've got?"

Without saying anything, the old master pulled from within his shirt the knife, which shined brilliantly in the rosy twilight sky. Venomous flames burst from the old master's eyes as he raised the knife and thought, I'm ending you here to avoid a problem later! However, not realizing that the old master was going to kill him, Jiang Xiaohe jumped up and down in glee, saying, "Ah! What a nice knife you have!" This innocent and energetic act suddenly softened the old master's heart. He lowered the knife slowly and smiled at Jiang Xiaohe, saying, "Do you like it? I was waiting here especially for you so that I could give it to you!"

Jiang Xiaohe ecstatically received the knife and delighted over it again and again. A thought abruptly popped into the old master's mind: I could take it back and just kill him. However, just as he was thinking this, another thought pushed it away, as he considered passively, Why should I? It's enough that I had his father killed. Need I really nip this in the bud? There's a common saying, "It is better to resolve feuds than to create them," not to mention that the Heavens are watching! I, Bao Zhenfei, am already nearing seven decades. I can't keep carrying out malice. He thereupon stroked Jiang Xiaohe's head compassionately and said, "Go home! Stop thinking about your father. He's left the province and is certainly not enduring any hardship anymore now that he's gone. I urge your mother not to worry either. Also, I'm asking you to stop making enemies of my disciples and causing trouble in front of my house!"

Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "I won't! Since you've given me this knife, I'll never cause you trouble again." Then, holding the knife in one hand and a stick in the other, he jumped up and ran back home happily. Old master Bao watched as the small boy left and then stood in the wheat field for a while, but in his heart he was content. He went home and stopped worrying and sighing.

The next day, his disciples came to train as they had before, and no one was harassed by Jiang Xiaohe. The old master was especially energetic today as he practiced his fighting techniques, and had told his merely-ten-year-old granddaughter Aluan to come out with him to swing her fists and twist her legs. After training, when his disciples split up to do chores, the old master called Ma Zhixian inside alone.

When he entered the house, old master Bao took out a few pieces of silver and said, "This is about ten taels. Take it to Jiang's family. He's learned martial arts from me for three years and it was because he violated one of our rules that we forced him away. I don't think he'll be able to come back even after ten or twenty years, and I feel bad for his wife and children. Give these silvers to them now, and later on I'll regularly help them out."

Ma Zhixian listened and nodded. He received the ten taels of silver and exited, but couldn't avoid being doubtful, thinking to himself, Where's the old man's peace of mind coming from? He killed a husband and a father, but now he's helping to support the widow and the orphaned. Could it be that he's actually feeling regret? These few days when that child Xiaohe was causing him trouble, he didn't seem to get very angry. This is really suspicious. Why is the old man so relieved?

When he arrived at the Jiang house, he opened the gate and saw Jiang Xiaohe in the yard carrying a shiny, seven-inch-long knife. Upon seeing Ma Zhixian, he ran over and said, "Uncle! Uncle! Look at this wonderful knife I have! It's a great one!" Ma Zhixian said, "What are you doing playing with that knife? You're going to end up hurting yourself. Where did you get it?"

Jiang Xiaohe said, "It was given to me by your master, the old man Bao. Yesterday just before dark, he was waiting for me in the wheat fields. He pulled this knife out and then gave it to me." Ma Zhixian heard this and was so scared his face went pale. He snatched the knife from Jiang Xiaohe's hands and said, "You have to give it back!" He hastily walked into the house and said to Huang-shi, "Cousin! Quickly, take your kids and move into the city. Otherwise, you guys will all be killed. Old man Bao is fiercer than a tiger and more vicious than a wolf!" He got to here and started tearing up in anger.

Huang-shi didn't know what was going on as Jiang Xiaohe entered and asked for the knife back. Ma Zhixian handed it to Jiang Xiaohe and said in bleak anguish, "I'll give the knife to you so that in the future you can give it to your father. Gah! Your father did some bad things, but they weren't so serious that he deserved to..." Seeing Ma Zhixian shedding tears and speaking so haltingly, Huang-shi was so frightened she couldn't help but shake as tears poured from her eyes, saying, "Cousin-in-law! What's going on? Tell me! Your words..."

Ma Zhixian waved his hand and said, "I can't give you the details now, cousin. You and your children should move into the city today. Live at my place, and never come back here. Otherwise, misfortune will befall you!" Huang-shi quaked in fear and said, "Yes, yes, we'll move into the city as soon as we can!" Jiang Xiaohe held onto his uncle and asked, "What misfortune? Quickly tell me!" Ma Zhixian sighed and gestured with his hand, saying, "Don't ask! You have to go into the city today with your mother and stay at my place. I can teach you martial arts and how to strike metal. Once you know how to work metal, you can make however many blades as you like and you can rely on this skill to support yourself in the future."

Jiang Xiaohe heard this and jumped up in pleasure, saying, "Good! Good!" That day, with the help of Ma Zhixian, they called upon a Jiang clansman to look after the house, as they hired a cart and loaded it up. The three of them, the mother Huang-shi and her two children, entered the city and lived in the rear courtyard of the Ma smithy.

Ma Zhixian had always known his master Bao Zhenfei to be an extremely cruel man. It didn't need to be said that Jiang Zhisheng had been killed by him, and he was afraid that he would eventually be unable to protect the lives of these two children. Thus, Ma Zhixian was extremely concerned, yet he spoke of this to no one, not even his wife, Li-shi. When he saw old master Bao every day, he was deferential many times over, and he dared not offend any of his brothers, especially that Bao Zhilin, fearing that any provocation of his master would extend the misfortune to himself. Nonetheless, Huang-shi was living peacefully at his house. Huang-shi was still young however, and things had been good between her and her husband. When he'd disappeared, she was sorrowful, but gradually became numb to the feeling. She started strolling around the city after doing herself up as she had before. When this was discovered by her clansmen, they started several rumors and used this pretext in an effort to snatch away her dozen or so acres of land.

Time flew and before they knew it, another year had passed. By this time, though it wasn't clear from whose mouth it had come, it was said that Jiang Zhisheng had already died, killed by bandits he had encountered in the Qin Mountains. There were even some who said that they'd seen his corpse. At first, Huang-shi was skeptical and Ma Zhixian buried the matter deep in his heart, never admitting that Jiang Zhisheng was dead. However, later on when Ma Zhixian witnessed Huang-shi's youthful restlessness, he couldn't help but think to himself, What retribution! Jiang Zhisheng fooled around with a married woman before he died, and now only a year after his death, his wife wants to get married again. Rather than letting her do something shameful here, I might as well give her the news of her husband's death so that she can remarry! Thus, on this day he spoke truthfully with Huang-shi.

He said with anguish, "Cousin, I'm telling you now that Jiang Zhisheng must be dead! As you're still so young, cousin, no one can stop you from remarrying, but you can't take Jiang Xiaohe with you. Xiaohe is Jiang Zhisheng's eldest son, and not only were Zhisheng and I family, but we were disciple-brothers for three years, so I must put down at least this foundation for him!" Hearing the truth from Ma Zhixian, Huang-shi cried for three days straight and dressed in mourning clothes for several months afterwards. However, she eventually found the life of a widow too hard to endure and got remarried to Eldest Dong, the owner of a wool shop, taking with her the two-year-old Xiaolu, but leaving Xiaohe with Ma Zhixian.

Jiang Xiaohe was already 14 years old now and had learned martial arts with Ma Zhixian for two years, laying down a base for his martial skill. Furthermore, since he had been helping Ma Zhixian work metal daily, his upper arm had developed quite a bit of strength and his body had become quite robust. At the same time, because of the misfortunes of his father disappearing, his mother remarrying, and he and his brother separating, his temperament had grown ever more irritable and obstinate. Every day, he drank wine at the tavern and caused trouble on the streets, not taking his metalworking seriously. Moreover, he did not get along at all with Ma Zhixian's wife Li-shi. Though Ma Zhixian often mediated between them, Li-shi still made a fuss on a daily basis, and Jiang Xiaohe frequently wanted to leave, causing Ma Zhixian no end to difficulty.

This day was a very cold winter's day, and dense snow sprinkled down from the sky. The streets and roofs that were usually very shabby were currently adorned with silver. In the afternoon, Ma Zhixian trudged through the half-foot of snow as he returned from practicing martial arts in Bao Village. Once he arrived home, he was covered in snow and his feet were caked with mud. He looked harried. His wife Li-shi asked him resentfully, "You won't do proper business, but day after day you'll leave the city to train. You've been at it for more than six years now; what have you learned? Have you even made any money off of it?"

Ma Zhixian sighed and said, "What do you know!? I'm in a difficult position right now, and I can't stop going even if I wanted to! When I first found a master from which to learn martial arts, I was young and eager, thinking how great it would be if I knew a few punches and kicks and was able to use a sword. After six years, I can't say I've completed my study, but I've learned enough to travel upon Jianghu and be a bodyguard. The master wanted to recommend me for a job outside of here at a security service. But I thought, why go to a security service elsewhere and earn seven or eight taels of silver each trip when I could stay at home and open a smithy? So it's been more than once that I've let the opportunity pass by. But it's no use thinking about this now. It's not just that I can't find work; I dare not stop going to the master's house. If I don't go, the old man will certainly be angry, and when he's angry, you won't be telling me to stop thinking about supporting us with my martial skill; even my life may not be safe!"

Li-shi said, "Are you so afraid of your master? He's just a man; what can he do? Don't you think he has to pay with his life if he's killed someone?" Ma Zhixian leaned forward and looked straight at her, saying, "What are you talking about? Pay with his life? Do you really think a man of Jianghu has to pay with his life when he harms another? Jiang Zhisheng..." When he got to here, he swallowed his words, and then shook his head and sighed, saying, "You have no idea. Even if I told you, you wouldn't understand!" Li-shi said, "There you go mentioning Jiang Zhisheng again! He was a close relation of ours! When he died, we couldn't even see his remains. Though my cousin marrying Sir Dong was a happy occasion, that child Xiaohe is showing even less promise, and he goads my anger every day. At the time, you insisted on keeping him here, keeping that misfortune around. What will we be able to do about him?"

Ma Zhixian said, "The child Xiaohe will be easy to handle. In another couple years he'll be an adult. If he's no good, we can ask him to leave. It's not as if he'll starve to death out there." Li-shi was infuriated, saying, "Aren't you so thoughtful! It's a good thing Xiaohe isn't your birth son." This wasn't the first time Li-shi said this. Ma Zhixian knew early on that his wife was jealous, but he didn't want to get pulled into pointless anger, so he went to the front of his shop. Business had never been great at his smithy, not to mention the fact that it was snowing today, so even less people came to call upon him. There used to be two attendants working at the front, but they parted ways with him a few months ago, leaving only Jiang Xiaohe and one other young apprentice to watch the shop. Right now there was just the one young apprentice by the small furnace banging on a metal pan. Ma Zhixian didn't know where Xiaohe had gone off to, and thought to himself, That child's not living up to his potential. I might as well tell him to go! He sat angrily beside the young apprentice and helped him strike at the metal pan.

Before they were finished with the pan, they suddenly saw Kid, a child from the neighboring Zhang smithy, running in, covered in snow, saying, "Shopkeeper Ma, hurry and go see! Your Xiaohe's fighting with someone at Third Liu's tavern!" Ma Zhixian asked urgently, "Who is he fighting with?" Kid said, "With Donkey Chu. He's broken Donkey Chu's head open!" Upon hearing that Jiang Xiaohe was brawling with Donkey Chu, Ma Zhixian's heart shuddered. He shook his head and said, "I don't care. Let them fight! Whoever has the skill can go ahead and kill the other!"

Not long after Kid left, Jiang Xiaohe came back. Other than some snow, there were no wounds or anything else on his body, nor was there the slightest hint of anger on his face. He didn't look at all as if he'd been in a fight. He was tall, and though handsome, he was also very dark. He simply didn't look like a 14-year-old child. When he saw Ma Zhixian, he appeared to be a bit ashamed, hanging his head as he approached and said, "Uncle, take a break! Let me have at it!" Ma Zhixian said nothing as he stood up and sat to the side to rest. He watched Jiang Xiaohe swinging the mallet with his well-built arm to strike the metal. His brow was creased and he didn't make a sound; he was taking the work more seriously than he usually did. After a short while, he finished the pan. The young apprentice went into the inner courtyard to help Li-shi with lunch. Ma Zhixian was about to ask Xiaohe why he got into another fight at the tavern when he saw Jiang Xiaohe abruptly put down the mallet and stand up with tears streaming out of his eyes.

He took Ma Zhixian's arm and asked sorrowfully, "Uncle! Please tell me the truth. How did my father die two years ago? Who was he killed by?" Hearing this, Ma Zhixian was taken aback and at the same time forlorn. He sat dumbfounded for a moment and then said, "I heard from others that your father Jiang Zhisheng did some bad things and broke some of the rules old master Bao had set for his disciples. He wouldn't listen to old master Bao and ended up hurting his brothers Bao Zhilin and Qin Zhibao. Afterwards, fearing that master Bao's disciples would make an enemy of him, he left his home. Once he did, no one heard from him again. It wasn't until later that I heard people say that he encountered bandits in the Qin Mountains and was killed by them!"

Jiang Xiaohe wept and shook his head, saying, "That's not right! Uncle, you're hiding things from me. I'd just gotten into a fight over something small with the donkey-driver Third Chu at the tavern. He wasn't a match for me, so he started yelling at me. He said..." Jiang Xiaohe choked up from distress. Ma Zhixian patted his shoulder to try to calm him down. Jiang Xiaohe continued, "He said that my father was killed by Bao Zhenfei, Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi, and Jia Zhiming, and that it was you, uncle, who called the Long brothers here from Ziyang County. I don't think there's any way you don't know what happened!"

Hearing these words, Ma Zhixian couldn't hold back his own tears, saying, "I've kept these things to myself for over two years, though I've told a little bit of it to your mother before. I'd never thought that the people out there already knew everything!" Thus he related the bygone events in detail, and then said, "You can't put all the blame on old master Bao and the Long brothers, because your father had also made many mistakes. Old master Bao is stubborn and treats his disciples harshly; this, everyone knows. It's rumored that in his youth, his wife died by his hand for being unfaithful, and he was put in prison and sentenced to death. However, because of the chaos caused by the White Lotus insurgents, the city was overtaken and the turmoil allowed him to escape. He changed his name and enlisted in the military, and it wasn't until after that that he joined a security service. The present Bao Zhiyun and Bao Zhilin are the sons that his murdered wife had given birth to. So, those he hated most in life were the lecherous and lustful. When he accepted disciples, the first thing he brought up was this condition. If it was violated, he would put you in a grave. While your father was still alive, he very well knew this, but broke the rule anyway. He also called the master old and picked a fight with him, so that's why in anger, the master sent me to call upon the Long brothers and Jia Zhiming. At the time, I knew that were the Long brothers to come, your father would have to worry for his life, but I dared not disobey the command!"

When he got to here, Jiang Xiaohe stopped him and said through tears, "You don't need to go on, uncle. You've taken me in and cared for me for two years already, and you've also taught me martial arts. I'm not a kid anymore, so how could I not know of uncle's kindness? Right now, there's no one I hate more than Bao Zhenfei! My father was wrong, but he didn't deserve to die. How could he just kill my father like that? And another thing..."

When he said this, he took out a glistening knife, and said in anguish, "This was given to me two years ago by old man Bao. I still remember the scene: it was in a wheat field late in the day with no one else around. At first, the look on old man Bao's face was extremely vicious, but then for some reason he wasn't able to follow through. I was so stupid these last couple years. It wasn't until today when I heard what Third Chu had to say that I realized that old man Bao had originally intended to kill me that day!" Stopping here, Jiang Xiaohe steeled his eyes and tightened his grip on the knife, as if he was going to set off immediately to find old man Bao and risk his life for revenge.

Ma Zhixian waved his hand and said, "Lower your voice! Let me tell you, when I got a glimpse of your knife that day and you told me the circumstances under which old master Bao had given the knife to you, I knew he had ill intentions, so I quickly moved your mother and you guys into the city. The martial arts that I taught you weren't so that you could get revenge, but that you could protect yourself. However, in these two years since, old master Bao's temper has been much better than it used to be. He also knew that you and your mother were living in my house and often asked about you guys with real concern. I don't see it as a false sentiment masking any wicked intent. I think feuds should be resolved and not created, not to mention the fact that none of us could beat him in a fight! If you go to him to take your revenge and you fail, you'll pay with your life, and probably mine as well, because he knows you're staying with me!"

Jiang Xiaohe sat in a daze for a while and wiped his tears. He then knelt down and kowtowed to Ma Zhixian. Ma Zhixian was stunned as he pulled him up and asked him, "Now, now, what's this for?" Jiang Xiaohe hung his head and wept, not saying a word.

After a while, Ma Zhixian's wife called from the courtyard, "Come and eat!" and he patted Jiang Xiaohe on the shoulder, saying, "Let's go eat now. Don't keep the things you said in your heart. All you have to do is be good and you'll have done your father right!" The two went into the inner courtyard to eat their meal of millet rice. When Jiang Xiaohe was scooping it into his bowl, Li-shi sat by and frowned at him. Because his mind was occupied, he forgot to cover the pot after he was done. Li-shi immediately reproached him, saying, "If you don't cover the rice, it'll get cold. Are you the only one eating?"

In the past, though he wouldn't have dared to argue with her, Jiang Xiaohe would have had an irritated expression on his face. But it wasn't so today. He lowered his head and kept silent. His face didn't change as he obediently put the cover back on the pot. Sitting nearby, Ma Zhixian felt sorry for him and waved his hand, saying, "Never mind! Never mind! It's a small matter. Xiaohe, go ahead and eat!" Jiang Xiaohe sat on a small stool and ate. Usually he consumed a lot, but today he ate only half a bowl before setting his bowl and chopsticks down and saying he was full. Ma Zhixian assumed it was because he was troubled that he lacked an appetite, and didn't think too much about it.


<< Previous | Next >>