2.12.2008

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 3

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 3.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.

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CHAPTER THREE

Waving his knife to answer an insult, he rides into Jianghu alone.
Fleeing out of chains and into the hills, he encounters a host of disasters.


Jiang Xiaohe stood up and clasped his fist, saying, "Brother, I come from Zhenba!" But then he regretted it. He thought to himself that though he had crossed the mountains and left the province, he still wasn't far from Zhenba. If this man was acquainted with old master Bao or the Long brothers and sent notice to them on a fast horse, they would catch him for sure, and then all would be over! Thus, he added, "That is, I'm from Xi'an, and after traveling five days, I arrived in Zhenba. I stayed there last night and then came here today."

Hearing that the times in his travelogue didn't sound quite right, the man couldn't help but smirk, and followed it up with a question, "Little brother, what is your honorable name?" Jiang Xiaohe clasped his fist again and said, "I am not so worthy! I am surnamed Jiang, and my given name is Xiaohe. I am called..." He thought, Everyone in Jianghu has a designation, so I have to have one too, a powerful one. Thus, he gave his mind a quick turn and said, "I am called the Three-headed Tiger!" The man laughed loudly and rubbed Jiang Xiaohe's head, saying, "Look, everybody! This little brother here calls himself the Three-headed Tiger! Ha ha ha!" The entire place erupted in laughter.

Jiang Xiaohe glowered and grabbed onto the man with his hand, asking, "Now that you're done asking me, it's my turn! What's your surname? And your given name? What are you called?" The man grinned and said, "Oh, I couldn't possibly say. I can't compare to you; I have only one head!" Jiang Xiaohe knew perfectly well that this man was making fun of him, so he held up his fists to challenge him. The man smirked and said, "What is it, little brother? You really want to see how you measure up against m—" Before he could finish, Jiang Xiaohe popped him in the chest with his fist. The man cried out and fell backward onto another person. All the patrons sitting around were taken aback, some of which cheered on boisterously, while others rolled up their sleeves to come challenge Xiaohe.

Jiang Xiaohe haughtily slashed the air with his knife and lifted one of his feet onto the bench. He smacked the table with his hand and stared defiantly, saying, "How dare you insult me? I, the respectable young Jiang, have traveled upon Jianghu for over ten years. I defeated Bao Kunlun in Zhenba, and this knife has stabbed the Long brothers of Ziyang. Now I've come to Northern Sichuan to meet the Xia of Langzhong. How dare you guys bully me!" He had truly stunned them with his words; the ones who had stood up sat back down. The man who was punched in the chest was so angry his face had become ashen, but he dared not approach again.

Jiang Xiaohe was thrilled and stuck the knife into the table. He poured his wine and drank uninhibitedly, but had only finished a couple small cups when he heard the sound of stomping as two people rushed up the stairs, each with a saber in their hand. Jiang Xiaohe looked over and saw that it was Lu Zhizhong and Chen Zhijun. Lu Zhizhong pointed at Jiang Xiaohe and said, "There you are, child! You're coming with us." When he said this, he signaled to Jiang Xiaohe with his eyes, as Chen Zhijun advanced to try to catch Xiaohe. Holding the knife in his hand, Xiaohe dodge around the table and glared, saying, "Let's see who's brave enough to face me!" After he said this, he caught sight of another person coming up the stairs. It was Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger, with a big, dark face inlayed with two fireballs for eyes, carrying his big saber as he rushed forward.

Jiang Xiaohe was so frightened, he hurried to the window and heaved it open; he was very distressed. Long Zhiqi's saber sliced downward and missed Jiang Xiaohe's body by only a foot. Jiang Xiaohe took a leap, right out of the inn and down into the street. There rose a commotion from the people in the inn, as Jiang Xiaohe severed the rope tied to the horse. He jumped up onto it, and fled off on it, scaring people and causing them to part to the two sides of the street in succession. Jiang Xiaohe slapped urgently at the horse's hip, galloping for his life straight out of the south gate along the main road. It wasn't until he went quite a while that he reined the horse and looked back, seeing a dust cloud rising up far in the distance. Jiang Xiaohe knew that they were after him, so not wanting to be careless, he rode away as quickly as he could. The horse he was on felt like a flying dragon, its four hooves seeming never to touch the ground, and in one breath, he had gone over 60 miles.

By now Jiang Xiaohe had almost exhausted his energy and had nearly fallen off the horse several times, but he wasn't able to stop the horse, as it kept on running like it had gone crazy. The people on the road all opened their hands in surprise, but none of them dared to try to stop the horse. Trying to get out of a dangerous situation, Jiang Xiaohe took both of his feet out of the stirrups and placed one of them on the back of the horse. Then, using the last of his strength, he pushed away from the saddle, and his body fell from the horse at a tilt. Jiang Xiaohe ended facedown on the ground. When he lifted his head, his nose was bleeding profusely and he had no idea where the horse had gotten off to.

Xiaohe sat on the ground and tore a couple tufts of cotton out of his jacket, plugging them into his nose. He gasped for air and stood up, finding that his knife was also gone. Someone nearby came and asked him, "Did you fall?" Another commended him, saying, "A boy like you knows how to ride a horse. It's a good thing you jumped off the horse at an angle and suffered at most a few scrapes on your face. If the horse had thrown you and given you a couple of its hooves, it would've been over!" As the man said this, Xiaohe saw that someone ahead of them had turned the horse around and sent it still flying like a dragon back his way. It was then that Jiang Xiaohe realized it wasn't that white horse of his, but instead a very sturdily-built black horse with a charcoal body, a high head, and a full mane. Jiang Xiaohe was especially pleased with this, and with the help of the people at the side of the road, he was able to stop the horse.

As Jiang Xiaohe led it by its reins, it continued to kick and stomp the ground. Jiang Xiaohe pulled as hard as he could with both hands while throwing his body backwards, and after grabbing hold of the its restraining rope, he tied it tightly to a big tree next to the road. At first the horse continued to kick, digging a couple of deep holes in the dirt below, but then it gradually became more compliant as it exhaled a white breath into the air.

Jiang Xiaohe sat down on the ground and caught his breath. The cotton that he'd stuck up his nose had fallen out, and fresh blood gushed from his nose. Jiang Xiaohe took off his jacket with irritation and cursed, "Damn it!" He plucked out a couple more tufts of cotton and stuffed them up his nostrils. Sweat continued to run down his bared back, and it itched as if bugs were crawling on it. He looked back at that black horse and saw that it was sweating as well, as if it had just been rinsed down. By this time, all the travelers at the side of the road had dispersed, leaving Jiang Xiaohe here by himself. He thought about the dangerous situation he'd just been in, about how he'd been throwing his weight around at the inn, about how Lu Zhizhong and Chen Zhijun showed up at first, which, if it had just been those two, he could have handled it, but then that Long Zhiqi came up the stairs. Could I have killed the wrong person last night? Someone who wasn't surnamed Long? Then he thought about how he'd jumped from the top floor of the inn, taken a horse in haste, and rode off on it. He couldn't help feeling both happy and a bit angry. He was even more afraid of Long Zhiqi and the others riding this way in pursuit.

Subsequently, Jiang Xiaohe dared not rest here any longer and stood up slowly. After walking a couple steps, he felt a pain in his right leg, but he didn't know if it was from leaping out of the inn or from jumping off of the horse. He cussed to himself as he picked up his jacket and put it on. He tilted his head to look at the horse; besides reins and a saddle, there was nothing else on it. He'd left all of his five taels at the inn and had no weapon with him. How was he supposed to roam Jianghu like this? Thus, he stood staring into space for a while and considered selling the horse and getting some money to buy a blade, obtain some clothes, and use for travel expenses. However, after giving it a second look, he seemed to recognize this horse as the one that Long Zhiqi rode to Bao Village, and thought that it would be a pity to sell what must be a great horse. He walked over to it and patted the horse on the head. Then he flipped onto it and rode off with a sliver of a smile on his face.

After going about two miles, he suddenly heard the sound of suona, being played beautifully. The sound drew nearer and nearer and in a moment's time a small musical procession approached from the front with a floral palanquin behind it carrying a new bride. Jiang Xiaohe forgot about the alarm he had felt before and stopped his horse. He looked on happily as the few groomsmen and the floral palanquin passed beside him.

Jiang Xiaohe didn't see the bride inside of the palanquin, but the musicians and the porters all stared over at him. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help getting mad and thinking, What are you looking at? Is it because you think I'm poor? Because I don't look like I have a wife? Hmf, I am also engaged! My bride is Aluan, and after I finish learning martial arts, gain a fortune roaming Jianghu, and get my revenge, I'll go back home and have a great wedding... When his thoughts reached this point, something sad suddenly flashed before his eyes. It was the evening not long ago when a palanquin came to the gate of the Ma smithy, but there had been no musicians. His mother was wearing red satin garments, and before stepping into the palanquin, she had peered his way with tears in her eyes. She had gotten married to Eldest Dong from the wool shop.

Thinking of this, Jiang Xiaohe felt a wave of sorrow, and tears sprung forth, mingling with the blood from his nose before dripping down onto his chest. He wiped his eyes with his sleeves, clenched his jaw, and urged the horse forward, riding straight until dusk arrived. He passed by a dozen villages and towns, but since he didn't have any money, he wasn't able to get anything to eat or visit any shops. He could only ride forward in the last of the golden red sunlight under the darkening night sky with the horse's hooves clop-clopping.

As the night wind began to blow, the tree branches rustled and his stomach growled. There was a hazy darkness in front of him, and he couldn't tell if there were mountains, rivers, trees or farmhouses anywhere around. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but sigh, cursing to himself, "What can I do? If I go for a few days without eating like this, won't I just starve to death? Everything will amount to nothing if I die!" Then he thought, I hear though that people who travel upon Jianghu don't carry any money around with them. Everywhere is home to them, and they can eat anywhere. As for thievery, I, Jiang Xiaohe, will not participate in it, but there's no shame in performing martial arts on the street. As a result, he decided that starting tomorrow, he would find a bit of space in a city or town and throw a few punches for show. He would rely on the few bits of the hand technique that Ma Zhixian had taught him to not only catch acclaim from the uninitiated, but also to receive approving nods from knowing experts. Consequently, he cheered up again. After a short distance, he saw a ruined temple, its walls toppled and its halls collapsed. There wasn't a sliver of light inside. When he came near to it, he gave the inside a careful inspection under the curtain of dusk and heard no other people there. He looked up at the sky and seeing that the heavenly bodies were many, he thought, It probably won't rain tonight, so who cares if there are leaks in the temple roof? I just need a place to hide from the elements. Otherwise, if I ride the horse like this for the entire night, when I encounter people, they'll think I'm a robber for sure!

Therefore, he led the horse into the temple grounds, feeling that the floor was quite patchy. Under one of his feet was something soft, and under the other something hard. The soft thing was probably human excrement, while the hard thing was probably a brick. Jiang Xiaohe tied the horse up as it raised its neck, let out a long neigh, and knocked its hooves on the floor. Jiang Xiaohe said, "You're hungry, but there's nothing I can do about it. I haven't eaten either! When it gets bright again, I'll go perform and earn some money. Then, I'll buy you some hay." Murmuring to himself, he fumbled his way into the broken hall of the temple, and then looked up at the sky full of blinking stars. He felt around for the brickwork altar and lifted himself onto it, and then groped at the idol. That central earthen idol had already lost its head. He thought to himself, Poor, poor thing! He sighed as he laid down on the altar and rubbed his eyes. However, even though his jacket was cushioning him, his two legs were still very cold. He was about to get back up, but his body felt extremely exhausted, as he yawned a few times successively, so he pulled himself into a ball. Lying huddled atop the hard, icy altar with the stars and the moon stroking his face and the night wind chilling the blood at his nose, he drifted into a deep sleep.

He didn't know how long he'd slept, but he was abruptly awakened by the neighing of a horse. Jiang Xiaohe shivered as he rubbed his eyes, and then he heard the thud of hooves going further and further away. Jiang Xiaohe cursed, "Must be some thief if he thinks he's going to take my horse!" He jumped down from the altar with a whoosh and dashed outside in pursuit. A moment of inattention sent him stumbling with a crash over a brick and onto the ground, but he quickly got back up and ran out of the temple. Hearing the hooves clopping their way south, Jiang Xiaohe gave chase as quickly as he could after it.

The starlight from the horizon was gradually obscured by the white that was already coming out of the east. By the time Jiang Xiaohe had run down the main road for four or five miles, he no longer heard the sound of horse's hooves. As the dawn's light rose in the east, Xiaohe suddenly spotted a man lying facedown at the bottom of a wall next to the road. Xiaohe quickly jumped back in alarm and after giving the man on the ground a fixed stare, he saw that the man wasn't moving at all. Xiaohe thought, What, is this guy dead? Was he killed by robbers? He approached and gave the man a small kick, yet the man still didn't move. After stooping down to look, he saw the man's head stained in blood. This man was dead after all. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and pants that were covered in dirt. It looked as if this person had rolled along the ground for quite a distance before dying. Turning his head for another look, Xiaohe spotted something laying about a dozen paces behind the dead man's feet. He walked over to it and saw that it was a saddle.

Jiang Xiaohe became immediately mad, saying, "Heh! So it was you who took my horse, but it threw you off and kicked you to death. How could you think to steal a horse with your limited abilities?" Thus, he picked up the saddle and ran to the south in pursuit of the horse. After running twenty-some paces, something suddenly came to him and he hurried back to the corpse. He bent down and felt about, pulling a pouch of silver pieces from the body's breast area. He weighed it in his hand and figured it must be at least ten taels. This delighted him as he thought, What a thief! Your greed really knows no bounds. You had so much silver on you, but you still wanted to steal my horse. You deserved to die, you really did! Then, seeing faintly two mule-drawn carts approaching from the north, Jiang Xiaohe jumped up in fright and hurriedly ran south, holding the silvers in his hand and clutching the saddle under his arm. After another three or four miles, the sky was already bright with daylight and the road filled with quite a few carts and travelers.

Jiang Xiaohe went another ten miles or so south and spotted a thriving town ahead, not terribly unlike his own Zhenba City. Jiang Xiaohe was tired from walking and thought to himself, The horse has probably gone far away by now, and there's no way to find it anymore, but I got some silver out of it. It's not much more than ten taels though, and to have sold that good horse for so little, what an injustice! He fumed inside as he entered the town clasping the saddle and thought, I'll go get something to eat first! He found a pub and went in, buying himself a meal and drinking two jugs of wine. After eating and drinking his fill, he asked the waiter for a bowl of water and washed the dirt and blood off of his face. After resting for a moment, he settled his bill and left. He thought, I'll never find the horse now, so what am I doing carrying this saddle around with me? I might as well sell it and get maybe ten or twenty taels out of it. I'll buy myself some clean clothes and get myself a blade. Then I'll actually look like someone who travels upon Jianghu.

Therefore, he went out into the street carrying the saddle and shouted, "Who wants to buy my saddle? It's a bargain!" After shouting his way down the street, he received only laughs from the people watching him, but no offers to buy. Jiang Xiaohe thought, I should yell out the price. When they hear how inexpensive it is, there'll be plenty of people wanting it. Thus, he shouted, "Who wants to buy it? I'm selling it for cheap! This great felt saddle is going for only fifteen taels! If anyone can cover my traveling expenses, I'll sell it to them..." This is as far as he got before he was suddenly grabbed from behind. Jiang Xiaohe was surprised and hurriedly looked back, only to see a government officer wearing the garb of his occupation. He became angry and waved his arm around, yelling, "What are you grabbing me for?" Two more officers approached from the side, one of which snatched the saddle away and the other pulled out a chain and wrapped them around Xiaohe's neck with a clank.

Xiaohe tugged at the chains and kicked at the officers with his feet, yelling, "I haven't broken any laws! What are you locking me up for!?" One of the taller officers slapped Xiaohe across the mouth. The part of his face that was hit stung, but he still struggled and shouted. One of the other officers snapped a restraint around his neck and scoffed, "Kid, stop making a fuss. Come with us to the government office obediently and I guarantee you won't suffer much." Xiaohe jumped and yelled, "What am I going to the government office for? I didn't break any laws. Why are you arresting a good person?" The three officers didn't bother listening to his explanations as they made their way noisily toward the west, one carrying the saddle, one pulling him along with the chain, and the other pushing him from behind. A big crowd of people followed from behind and someone said, "They've arrested a young thief." Another laughed and said, "What a ferocious little rascal!" Xiaohe was angry and frustrated, and curses continued to spew from his mouth as he kicked at the three officers.

They went west out of the town and a big river appeared in front of them, a countless number of boats moored at the docks. There was a city across the expansive river. When Jiang Xiaohe was led here by the officers, a commotion rose up at the docks. He was like a captured tiger cub, baring his teeth, swinging his claws and growling nonstop. But no matter how he struggled, he was unable to stop the three officers from pulling and pushing him into a small boat. Once its rope was undone, the small boat sped its way to the opposite shore, rocking back and forth. Jiang Xiaohe sat on a board with two of the officers holding him down. One of them smiled and said, "Little brother, don't cause us any trouble. Taking you to Xuanhan County on the opposite shore is official business. If you have something to say, do so when you see the county magistrate. Our magistrate is surnamed Bao, and he's very fair, especially since you're a child. He won't come down hard on you!" [Note: A different surname Bao (包) than that of Bao Zhenfei (鮑).]

Jiang Xiaohe breathed loudly through his nose and asked, "I'm not afraid of meeting the county official! But you guys have to tell me what I've done wrong!" The officer smiled and said, "That's enough! Little brother, you don't have to play dumb with us. We're not going to interrogate you. Save it for the magistrate's questions when you get to the court of law." Jiang Xiaohe shouted angrily still that he'd done nothing wrong.

In a little bit, after they crossed the river, they got off of the boat. There were quite a few people on this shore who also came to see the commotion. By now, Xiaohe had yelled until his throat was shot, but he knew that resisting was useless, so he struggled no more. He entered Xuanhan City with the three officers and after walking a short distance, they arrived at the government office. The three officers brought him to a small, dark room to frisk him. When Jiang Xiaohe saw the pouch of silvers tucked at his breast in the hands of one of the officers, he wanted to step forward and take them back. He glared at them and said, "Hey! What do you mean by taking my silver!?" The officer replied, "We're not taking yours, just keeping it for you. When the county magistrate releases you, I'll give it all back." After this was said, the three officers left the room and locked it up with a clang.

Jiang Xiaohe cursed softly, "What bad luck! My horse is gone and I've been wrongly taken to court!" After standing and waiting for a while, he looked through the crack in the door and saw officers continuously walking back and forth outside, but not one of them paid any attention to him. Jiang Xiaohe pounded on the door with his fist, and yelled out, "Hey! Open the door! Open the door! If you're going to question me, then hurry up and do it! I've got to go, after I've been to court, so stop wasting my time with this!" None of the people passing by outside bothered even to look at him. Jiang Xiaohe knocked and kicked at the door and cursed loudly until his voice was gone and his strength was exhausted, but the people outside ignored him still. Defeated, Jiang Xiaohe sat on the ground and fumed, but there was nothing else he could do.

It wasn't until after a while that he heard the lock turn. When the door opened, the light of the setting sun came in from outside and four officers entered. Jiang Xiaohe looked up as he was sitting on the ground, asking, "What's going on?" The four officers said nothing as they pulled Jiang Xiaohe up and dragged him to the great hall. Two officers holding flogging planks stood at either side of the room, and in the middle sat the short and skinny county magistrate. The officers at both sides used their planks to knock on the ground, saying, "Kneel down! Kneel down!" Jiang Xiaohe sneered at the officers, saying, "Sure I'll kneel down, but I haven't done anything wrong." He then kneeled down.

The county official spoke with a southern accent, asking, "What's your surname? What are you called?" Xiaohe said as if announcing himself, "I am Jiang Xiaohe." The county official asked, "Where do you live? Where are you from?" Xiaohe shifted his eyes and said, "I am a man of Xi'an. I come from Zhenba County." The county official then asked, "For what purpose have you come to Northern Sichuan?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "To roam Jianghu!" The county official pounded his judge's block once and said, "Nonsense! How can a child like you roam Jianghu? I think that even though you're young, you've done quite a few bad things. I ask you, how did you go about killing someone east of the river, stealing a horse and other goods? Tell the truth, or else you'll receive a beating from those planks!" Jiang Xiaohe was so mad he began to get up, but as soon as he moved, he was pressed back down to his knees by two officers.

Jiang Xiaohe resisted as he shouted, "I've been wronged! I didn't kill anyone, and I didn't steal any horses. I spent last night in a broken down temple to the north. In the middle of the night, a thief stole my horse away..." When he got to here, the county official pounded his judge's block several times and furiously rebuked, "Are you trying to tell me someone like you had a horse? I suppose you won't talk without being beaten. Come, hold him down and give him twenty planks!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and shouted, "What for!? I've done nothing wrong!" However, the officers didn't wait for an explanation. They pressed him down, and gave him twenty cracks with their planks. The twenty blows weren't heavy, but the pain Jiang Xiaohe felt in his buttocks was still hard to bear. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but cry, thinking, This is no good. If they break my bottom, I won't be able to walk anymore. So, he yelled out, "Stop hitting me! I'll tell the truth!" The officers pulled him up and pushed him to kneel in front of the big table in the middle of the room.

The county official pounded his judge's block again and chided angrily, "Tell the truth. If you don't, you'll get more beatings!"

Jiang Xiaohe took a deep breath and said, "I'm telling the truth; I really didn't kill anyone! I'm the son of Jiang Zhisheng from Zhenba County. My father was murdered two years ago, and my mother's remarried. I found out the names of my enemies, so I left the province to find a master and learn martial arts in order to take my revenge. When I left Zhenba, I took a horse from the house of Bao Kunlun and went to Wanyuan County. Who knew that just as I was drinking some wine at an inn, Bao Kunlun had sent people after me. I would have died immediately if they caught me, so I jumped out of the inn, took a horse and ran. Who would have imagined that I took the wrong horse? It was a black horse that belonged to one of my enemies, and its temperament was terrible. On the road, I almost fell to my death when the horse threw me. That night, since I didn't have any money for lodging, I stayed in a broken down temple. I didn't think that while I was sleeping, a thief would come and steal my horse. I was awakened and hurriedly chased after them. I was unable to catch up to the horse, but flung at the side of the road, I spotted my saddle and a dead body. I think that body must have been the person that tried to steal my horse. He couldn't control that horse and was thrown to his death. I took a bundle of silver pieces from the body, picked up that saddle, and made my way into town. I'd have never thought that officers would come and arrest me!"

When the county official heard this much, he ordered the officers to lock Jiang Xiaohe back up.

Two officers pushed Jiang Xiaohe along towards a jail cell. One of them advised him, "Child, be good and I guarantee you won't have to suffer any hardships. Just look at how lightly those twenty planks were given to you. It was because you're young and they felt sorry for you!" Jiang Xiaohe sighed and said, "What horrible luck! I lost my horse and I was taken to court!" When they brought him to a jail cell, they undid the chains around his neck, but snapped shackles around his legs. There were twenty to thirty prisoners in this cell. They were all dressed in rags, with disheveled hair and grimy faces; they were more hideous than ghouls. In the middle of the room was a bucket of urine giving off an offensive smell.

After being shoved into the cell, Jiang Xiaohe stood up next to the cold stone wall. Many of the prisoners crowded toward him and bared their teeth like hungry ghosts, asking him what he'd been arrested for and what crimes he'd committed. Jiang Xiaohe was annoyed and said, "Don't ask! I've been falsely brought to court. I didn't commit any crimes, and they brought me here and gave me twenty planks before I could give an explanation. The county official is no more than a damned fool. Just wait until I, the honorable young Jiang, learn martial arts! We'll settle things then!" When he finished, he pushed through the group of people and found himself a portion of straw mat upon which he sat and fretted. When it was late, the prison guards brought over jail food not fit to feed dogs, but he didn't eat any of it. He sighed to himself that Jianghu was a tough world in which to travel. The people of the world did all sorts of things that made no sense. He thought, Why is everyone picking on me? It must be because I'm young and I haven't completed my study of martial arts. Damn it! I have to get out of here, so I can find a master and learn martial arts!

His head was lowered as he felt the shackles at his feet. Suddenly, he was taken aback. It turned out that these shackles were made for an adult. With his skinny ankles, all he had to do was take off his shoes and stretch his feet out and he was immediately able to slip the shackles off. He was elated! He thought to himself, No more worries; I can get away now. Thus, he slid the shackles back on and laid down on the straw mat. He obediently slept through the night.

Early the next day, the cell door opened and a prison guard entered, giving instructions for the urine bucket to be emptied. According to precedent, this chore was supposed to be done by the newer prisoners, so it fell to Jiang Xiaohe and a boy around the age of seventeen or eighteen. The two lifted the bucket of piss, and under the watch of the prison guard, they exited through the gate to empty the urine onto a garbage pile outside of the southern wall. Jiang Xiaohe's shackles were loose and walking was very inconvenient. Upon leaving the jail, he tripped and sent the bucket of urine splashing onto the ground. The prison guard's feet were soaked with piss and he growled, "You little bastard!" He kicked Jiang Xiaohe into the urine, and Jiang Xiaohe used this opportunity to take off his shackles. He got up and swung his shackles at the prison guard. Hearing the guard cry out after being hit, Jiang Xiaohe took off running. He didn't dare go along the main roads, instead cutting through smaller alleys. After running through two alleys, he spotted officers chasing behind him and broke into a sprint. He wound his way onto a main road and ran directly towards the south gate. The people on the road didn't know if he was a lunatic or a thief, and because they saw that he was a child, they all moved out of his way. No one stepped up to stop him.

Jiang Xiaohe ran straight through the south gate and was stopped by an officer, who asked, "Boy, what are you running for?" Jiang Xiaohe said nothing at all as he rushed forward and sent the officer down with two fists and a kick. He then continued running south. Because he was dashing too hastily, he was not paying attention and ran right into a mule wagon, knocking heads with a mule and falling to the ground. The mule nearly gave him a kick as he got right back up and flew off to the south. He heard the sounds of people shouting behind him, "Stop him! Stop him!"

Jiang Xiaohe was like a rabbit being chased by hunting dogs, ignoring everything around him and concerning himself only with keeping his head down and running. The road became bumpy and he tumbled over two or three times, but every time he did, he got up right away and continued running. He was barefoot at the time and his feet had been pierced by the sand and rocks below, but he didn't feel any pain as he only thought about running for his life. He didn't know how far he'd gone when he began running out of breath and his legs were about to give out. He was also starting to feel lightheaded. At this time, hearing the galloping of a horse chasing behind him, Jiang Xiaohe opened his arms and cried out, immediately falling to the ground. He experienced dizziness and darkness covered his eyes. His chest felt as if something was rushing up into it, but he still had a bit of his senses. He felt someone lifting him up and then fell out of consciousness.

After some time, he could only hear the sound of a horse's hooves at his ear. He opened his eyes. His body was being held by someone and the person holding on to him had two big hands and two black sleeves. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly looked back and saw that it wasn't an officer, but a dark-faced man with two big eyes smiling at him. The horse continued to trot as the man laughed and said, "Young fellow, you've got quite some ability! You've studied martial arts before, haven't you? Whom did you learn it from?" Jiang Xiaohe straightened up his waist and replied, "I learned it from my uncle Ma Zhixian." Upon hearing this, the dark man unexpectedly became angry and threw Xiaohe off the horse. Falling to the ground, Xiaohe hit his head. He picked up a stone and hurled it at the horse, and then got up and yelled, "Little one, if you seek to hurt me, do you dare come back here and compare our martial skill?"

The man rode a short distance forward and then suddenly turned the horse around and laughed, saying, "A young fellow like you, I really admire you. But whenever I hear that someone has the character 'zhi' in their name, I get angry!" He approached and got off the horse, asking, "Your master is a disciple of Bao Kunlun, isn't he?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "Yes, but my uncle Ma Zhixian hates Bao Kunlun as well, but he also fears him, not daring to provoke him, that's all. My father Jiang Zhisheng used to learn martial arts from Bao Kunlun too, but he was killed by Bao Kunlun and so they're my enemies. I've previously confronted Bao Kunlun with a blade, and also injured Long Zhiteng and Long Zhiqi!" Hearing this, the big man couldn't help but look surprised, saying, "Heh! So a young fellow like you actually has that great an ability?" He grabbed hold of Jiang Xiaohe's arm and asked, "What's your name?"

Xiaohe pounded his chest and said, "I am Jiang Xiaohe. What about you?" The dark man laughed and said, "My name is Wu Jinbiao. People call me the Black Panther, and I am a man of Yingshan County. A couple days ago, I came to Xuanhan County to take care of some business, and I've not yet finished with that. Because I saw you just then outside of the south gate with more than a little ability, I took a liking to you and chased after you on my horse. I saw you facedown on the ground, unable to catch your breath, so I rescued you!" Jiang Xiaohe heard this and nodded, saying, "All right, I was lucky to have you save me. Why don't we become friends? Do you have any money? Let me borrow some, no matter how little it is. I'll go get something to eat, and you can go and finish your business. I'm sure we'll see each other again!"

Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther laughed and said, "It's not important if I finish my business or not. Little brother, let me first ask you where you're headed." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm not going anywhere in particular. I'm just looking for the Xia of Langzhong. I hear his martial arts are powerful. I want to ask him to be my master." Wu Jinbiao laughed and said, "You certainly have ambition, young fellow! But if you want to find the Xia of Langzhong, how did you end up here? If you keep going south, you won't get to Langzhong even if you walk forever."

Jiang Xiaohe hurried asked, "Where is Langzhong? Which way should I be going?" Wu Jinbiao pointed west and said, "Langzhong is across the Ba River. Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong is second to no one there. But, if you're thinking about meeting him directly, not only will he not acknowledge you, but he won't see you at all. You have to find someone to introduce you." Jiang Xiaohe asked, "Do you know him?" Wu Jinbiao nodded and said, "Of course I do. Not only do I know him, but we are quite familiar." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Then I must trouble you to take me to him and present me as his disciple!" Wu Jinbiao chuckled and shook his head, saying, "But that isn't possible! I can't lie to you. I might be familiar with the Xia of Langzhong, but whenever I meet him, I dare not even raise my head." Jiang Xiaohe asked, "Are you afraid of him?" Wu Jinbiao said, "Not only me. Who doesn't fear him? He's the greatest hero in Northern Sichuan, and I am but only running about Jianghu. When it comes to money, influence or martial arts, I am very far below him!" Jiang Xiaohe thought deeply for a moment and then asked, "How much farther from here is Langzhong?" Wu Jinbiao said, "About 270 miles or so. Even riding my horse, it would take at least three days." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Fine, if you don't mind, I'm going to go find him!" Saying this, he started walking.

Wu Jinbiao stopped him and said, "Little brother, what are you playing at? You're not even wearing any shoes, and you'll die of exhaustion before you reach there. Not to mention, if you have no one to introduce you, he won't pay you any attention. Now, since we've become friends, little brother, I'll help you out. Let's go west and find a place to have a meal and drink a few cups of wine. After that, I'll give you some money to get some clothes, and then I'll find a friend to lend you a horse. Following that, we'll set off. Let me first take you to see a few of my friends. Knowing the bunch of them before going to see the Xia of Langzhong, he'll accept you for sure." Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe was pleased and he nodded, saying, "All right!" Thus, Wu Jinbiao led his horse along and chatted with Jiang Xiaohe as they walked south. After walking a short distance, they saw a large road heading west. Wu Jinbiao then took Jiang Xiaohe west. On either side of this road were paddies and the scenery was magnificent, but Jiang Xiaohe hadn't the mind to take any of it in. He only sought to get to a town inn quickly to eat food and drink wine. Whether or not he got a set a clothes wasn't important. He just had to find himself a pair of shoes.

After walking more than ten miles west, they came upon a small town as expected, and though it wasn't very bustling, there were still ten or so shops, including a sundry shop, a tavern, an inn and others. South of the road there was an inn which had a few crooked characters written on its wall. Jiang Xiaohe could not read them. Wu Jinbiao said, "Let's go inside to rest a while." He took the horse and entered. Jiang Xiaohe followed behind. Inside, two or three attendants came over to greet them with smiles on their faces and to get the horse. All of them seemed to know Wu Jinbiao well. Wu Jinbiao said to one of the attendants, "Find a room for me and this young fellow." At that, one attendant let Xiaohe into a room to the east. Wu Jinbiao went to the front counter to look for the innkeeper and have a chat with him.

Xiaohe entered the room and the attendant brought him some water. Xiaohe used the basin of water to clean his hair, face, arms, legs and both of his feet. He then laid upon the bed and thought about all the things that had happened to him the past two days. It infuriated him. Then he thought, It's fortunate that I came across Wu Jinbiao. He has turned out to be a good friend. It was a while before Wu Jinbiao came into the room carrying a fresh set of clothes and a pair of shoes. He smiled and said, "Little brother, change into these clothes and try on the shoes to see if you can wear them or not." Jiang Xiaohe stripped down and put the clothes on. Though the sleeves and pants were a little long, he could roll them up. The shoes, however, were too big and that made walking difficult. Xiaohe tore up his own ragged pair of pants into four strips, two of which he used to tie the shoes up, and the other two he used to wrap around his legs.

Wu Jinbiao watched from the side and couldn't help but laugh and say, "Good brother, now you look just like a young hero. All you need is a saber and who in Lülin would dare look down on you?" Jiang Xiaohe ignored these remarks and said only, "Why isn't the food here yet?" Wu Jinbiao said, "Let me go tell them to hurry it up." Wu Jinbiao then left the room, and after a while the attendants brought over some food with tea and wine. Wu Jinbiao sang a Northern Sichuan mountain tune as he entered the room again, "Send the man to Ten Mile Pavilion. The grass by Ten Mile Pavilion is green!" Hearing the mountain tune, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but think of Bao Aluan, whom he often heard singing mountain tunes. He anxiously thought, I've got to quickly finish my study of martial arts and make my fortune, so that I can go back home and make Bao Aluan my wife, but before I marry her, I have to get my revenge first. He sat across from Wu Jinbiao on the bed and drank some wine. Then they ate and conversed. Because Jiang Xiaohe considered Wu Jinbiao a very good friend, he told him about everything that had happened to him.

Wu Jinbiao told him, "It's a good thing you ran into me today. Had it been anyone else, they might have killed you as soon as they discovered you knew Bao Kunlun! Bao Kunlun and those disciples of his can preside as tyrants over Southern Shaanxi, but they wouldn't be able to walk one pace if they were to come into Northern Sichuan. Those of us in Northern Sichuan, be we of Jianghu or Lülin, need only hear the zhi character in the names of Bao Kunlun's disciples to know that they are our enemies and to raise our arms up in a fight with them!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Even though I know them, they killed my father, so I also have hatred for them!" Wu Jinbiao nodded and said, "Right! If you didn't also hate them, we wouldn't be friends now. Of Bao Kunlun's disciples, except for the Long brothers and that Ge Zhiqiang or whatever, none dare to come into Northern Sichuan. But last month, since the Long brothers were in the Jianmen Mountains, they killed some of Chao Li the Water-siphoning Dragon's good men. Then they encountered and fought fiercely with the Xia of Langzhong in Guangyuan County, and in the end suffered a great loss at the hands of the Xia of Langzhong. But they were petty and their hearts were venomous and vicious; they killed two of the Xia of Langzhong's men. Though they got away, they can forget ever coming back to Northern Sichuan!"

Jiang Xiaohe said, "I heard that they haven't given up yet. They're gathering their brothers right now and are still planning on doing escort work through Northern Sichuan." Wu Jinbiao nodded and said, "Tell them to come! Once the Xia of Langzhong finds out, none of them will return a whole man!" Jiang Xiaohe then asked, "How do the Xia of Langzhong's martial arts compare with those of Bao Kunlun?" Wu Jinbiao said, "It's greater by far! I've never met that old man Bao Kunlun, but I think his martial arts must be ordinary. But he relies on the fact that he has a lot of disciples, and that's why in recent years, the Xia of Langzhong hasn't been willing to make an opponent out of him. Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong is still young; he's only about forty this year. His martial arts are passed on within his family, and they're of the real internal Wudang School. His sword goes this way and that unpredictably. Even if he were surrounded by several hundred big men and they came at him all at once with their sabers and swords, I am certain they wouldn't be able to harm even a single hair on him!"

Hearing Wu Jinbiao talking the Xia of Langzhong up to be so courageous, the admiration in Jiang Xiaohe's heart grew. Finally, Wu Jinbiao said, "Don't worry, little brother! I'll take you to the temple and introduce you to a few friends of mine. Stay there with us for a few days, and then we can take you to Langzhong to meet the Xia of Langzhong and ask him to accept you as his disciple!"

Jiang Xiaohe heard this and liked it very much, saying, "But, I can't stay with you very long. I didn't come out here to have fun. I want to quickly find a master and study martial arts, and when I've completed my study, I have to hurry back to get my revenge on the Long brothers. Plus, I have other matters to take care of!" Wu Jinbiao asked, "What other matters?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm engaged to a girl back home!" Wu Jinbiao smiled and said, "You're still so young. Why are you in such a rush to get married? Northern Sichuan is full of pretty girls, and you're afraid you won't have a wife?" Jiang Xiaohe then asked, "Have you gotten married?" Wu Jinbiao laughed, "I have too many wives, so many I've lost count. I don't even know most of them anymore." The two conversed cheerfully and rested here for a day.

The next day, Wu Jinbiao procured a brown horse from who knows where and told Jiang Xiaohe to guide it. Just as they were about to leave the inn, the innkeeper came out to see them off. The innkeeper was a portly man, his body big and tall, with a full beard covering his cheeks. Wu Jinbiao introduced him to Xiaohe, saying, "This is the innkeeper, Eldest Yu. And this is the young fellow I've become new friends with." As a person, Eldest Yu the innkeeper was amiable, but his appearance was too fierce, so Jiang Xiaohe didn't like him much. When the two rode their horses out of the town, Wu Jinbiao looked back from his position in front and said, "Did you see that innkeeper back there? He's famous within Jianghu as well. His martial arts are great." Jiang Xiaohe heard this, but did not pay it special attention. Right now, he only wanted to meet the Xia of Langzhong and prepare himself for a couple years of intense hardship so that he could learn martial arts through all parts of his body.

They traveled west for an entire day. Jiang Xiaohe had no idea where Wu Jinbiao had taken him, but he noticed that the path became gradually narrower, the number of farmhouses grew sparse, and there were no other travelers on the road. In front of them was an endless, winding range of mountains covered in many years' growth of emerald trees. Toward the north there were several black sails on an azure backdrop; there was most likely a big river over there. Seeing that things were not quite right, Jiang Xiaohe stopped his horse and pitched a question forward, "Hey! Friend, where is this? Where are we headed?" Ahead of him, Wu Jinbiao reined in his horse as well and looked back with a smile. He pointed up the mountain and said, "Look, there's my home. Twenty-some of my friends are there!" Jiang Xiaohe couldn't avoid feeling suspicious, but since they'd already gone this far, not to mention the fact that Wu Jinbiao had been such a good friend, he could only go along with him. Thus, the two horses continued west to the base of the mountain, and finding a steep mountain path, they rode up into it.

On the mountain, after they circuitously crossed one range, they saw a lush evergreen forest ahead. They heard only a piercing sound coming out of it, like the call of a hawk. Wu Jinbiao turned around and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Let's get off these horses. Our friends are coming." He then placed two fingers to his mouth and whistled as well. Jiang Xiaohe was amazed as he watched on, and after a moment, four people emerged from the wood, all of them carrying sabers. It wasn't until now that Jiang Xiaohe understood that Wu Jinbiao had led him to a bandit hideout. He refused to dismount and asked, "Hey, friend, where have you taken me? If you want me to be a bandit, that's something I can't do!" Wu Jinbiao quickly stopped him, saying, "Little brother, how can you say that? You don't value your life! Come off that horse first and let me introduce you to a few friends. If you have something to say, we'll discuss it later. Don't worry. We've become friends after all. How else can I put your heart at ease?"

Jiang Xiaohe furrowed his brow. The four people came over and fetched the horses. Wu Jinbiao had a few words with them, though Jiang Xiaohe didn't know what language they were speaking as he couldn't understand a single word. He saw only that they all laughed. Wu Jinbiao then brought Xiaohe into the evergreen forest. Past the forest, there was a valley, in the midst of which there was a temple with eight or nine worship halls. Their red walls had all faded and the flagpole was also broken. The two horses were tied down outside of the temple, where two people were also standing, both wearing short coats and carrying sabers in their hands. Jiang Xiaohe was even more surprised at seeing this, saying, "Hey, friend, what sort of place is this anyway?" Wu Jinbiao smiled and said, "Spend a couple days here and you'll know. We are loyal friends after all. There's no way I will wrong you!"

Jiang Xiaohe said angrily, "Good friend, you've brought me to a bandit hideout, but I'm telling you I can't get involved in this!" Wu Jinbiao stopped walking immediately and turned around. His dark face appeared unhappy as he said, "Little brother, you're off base here! I told you right off the bat that we were men of Lülin. The day before yesterday, when I went to Xuanhan County to take care of some business, it was because I saw that even though you were young, your skills and courage were pretty good, that I became friends with you and invited you here to join us and be member of our gang. Also, you've no home to go back to, and you plan on seeking out the Xia of Langzhong who has never taken on disciples, not to mention that you're from another province."

Upon hearing Wu Jinbiao laying it out plainly, Jiang Xiaohe knew that they were bandits! He stood there blankly and looked upon the two people and two horses in front of the gate. He thought things over in his head and then nodded, saying, "All right! But you guys can't treat me like a servant and order me around!" Wu Jinbiao was pleased and patted Jiang Xiaohe's shoulder, saying, "What kind of talk is that? You're our little brother! A young captain." He pulled Jiang Xiaohe into the temple. The two underlings who were standing guard outside the temple gates together called Wu Jinbiao second captain.

Wu Jinbiao pointed at Jiang Xiaohe and said, "This is our newly arrived young captain Jiang. You'll need to listen to him from now on. Don't be fooled by his size. His martial arts are but powerful."

Entering the temple, Jiang Xiaohe took one look and saw that it was nothing like a temple. Quite a number of chests were piled in the middle of the courtyard, and there were also several already-opened travel cases. They were most likely all fruits of their plunder. On the stone steps stood a dozen or so men who, though dressed unkemptly, were feasting on meat and wine and laughing together. Wu Jinbiao introduced Xiaohe to them as he had done before, and Xiaohe found out that they were all bandit underlings. Then, Wu Jinbiao took Xiaohe toward the main hall. There were a few weapon racks placed in front of the main hall, filled with all manner of weapons, each one glimmering in the light. Inside the hall was a mess. The religious statues had not been moved, but around them laid earthen pots, rice bowls and other such items, and on the walls hung blades. The offering table had been shoved to the side, and busted benches had been placed around it, on which sat men who looked like outlaws. One of them was even a dark, stocky, long-bearded Daoist priest. Wu Jinbiao presented Jiang Xiaohe to him, first telling of how he arrived here, and then introduced his name to him. It was then that Jiang Xiaohe knew that he was the leader of these mountain bandits: the chieftain Ma Yinxiu, his designation the Iron Founder. Another was the third captain Liu Qi the Long-armed Ape. The other two were both friends from elsewhere who were staying here; one was named Lu Derui, and the other was named Pan Dading.

These outlaws were actually quite generous, all of them referring to Jiang Xiaohe as their little brother. Ma Yinxiu the Iron Founder said, "We're currently lacking a little brother, so there are many things we're not able to do. It's a great thing that you've come. Help us out, and whatever you want, you'll have. You've only to remember that the most important thing among us in Lülin is our honor. When we encounter merchant or escort caravans, if we don't know each other, then we must take their things. But if they call out the watchword and we hear that they are familiar, we must immediately cup our fists and allow them to pass. Also, when we encounter women, as long as they are not whores, then we won't hassle them. Even if they have some precious treasures in their cars, we're not to take them. Otherwise, if word gets out, our friends will all laugh at our shame!" Upon hearing that what these bandits said made quite a bit of sense, Jiang Xiaohe thought as if they were better than Bao Kunlun and his people. He was a bit delighted at this, and proceeded to drink and laugh with these few outlaws.

Seeing that though Jiang Xiaohe was young, he talked and acted like one who had traveled Jianghu for a long time, the chieftain Ma Yinxiu and the others were very happy. Every time they said anything, they called each other brother, and they asked Jiang Xiaohe questions about Bao Kunlun and the Long brothers. Jiang Xiaohe very openheartedly talked as he drank wine.

In the midst of their revelry, three people suddenly came in from outside, one of whom was the fourth captain Geng Zhuang the Flying Dart, the other two underlings. Geng Zhuang said that a group of travelers was coming from the north, transporting raw lacquer in a total of six wagons. Two escort captains were protecting them, flying the flag of the Chang'an Kunlun Security Firm. Hearing this, Ma Yinxiu slapped the table and stood up, saying, "How dare those men of the Kunlun Security Firm come here. We must rob them!" And then he asked, "Did you happen to see what kind of men the escorts are? Are they disciples of Bao Kunlun?"

Geng Zhuang the Flying Dart said, "They have quite an air about them, but I don't know their names." From the side, Wu Jinbiao said, "There are no escorts from Kunlun Security who are weak. We should send over a few more men." Ma Yinxiu said happily, "We'll all go. Brother Jiang, come with us. If we finish those two guys from the Kunlun School, you can count it as revenge for your father!"

Jiang Xiaohe was a bit hesitant, thinking to himself, Even though most of old man Bao's disciples are bad, Ma Zhixian and Lu Zhizhong were good to me. What can I do if one of them is among the two escorts? Not to mention that I came out here to travel Jianghu and learn martial arts. How disgraceful for me if I now help bandits rob a caravan? At this time, the group of outlaws rose up in a bustle, each grabbing a weapon. Ma Yinxiu had taken off his priest's robes and put on a short coat. He picked up a glaive of his and walked out the door.

Wu Jinbiao just as suddenly went outside with him, and probably after exchanging a few words with him, came back inside. He said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Little brother, we're going to go down the mountain to conduct some business right now, and this is your first time at it. Let us speak of conscience and honor. The enemies are men of Kunlun, and perhaps you'll know them. You'd better not be working with them while you pretend to fight with us." Jiang Xiaohe became angry, saying, "What kind of talk is this!? If you guys are worried about me, then leave me here to look after the place." Wu Jinbiao thought it over and nodded, saying, "All right, then you can hold down the fort. This sort of thing is perhaps hard to handle. You're young, and when the fighting's going on, I'm afraid we won't be able to take care of you!" After saying this, he left. It was hectic outside, and with the sound of horses' hooves, the group of bandits made their way down the mountain together to gather some loot.

A moment later the sounds of commotion passed, and the surroundings became very quiet. Jiang Xiaohe left the main hall and saw only four or five brigands in the courtyard gambling with dice. Exiting the temple gates, he saw no one else, only mountain birds singing their songs into his ear. Jiang Xiaohe thought, What a good opportunity. They've all gone down the mountain, and probably won't be back for a while. I can take this chance to leave. Who wants to join them and be a bandit? It's just a pity that all the horses have been ridden away by them. He thought, I might as well just climb down the mountain. He first went back into the temple, and entered the main hall, seeing the bandits' plunder scattered all over the place.

Jiang Xiaohe found a bag of silver. He didn't know how many taels it was, just that it felt pretty heavy. He tied the bag to his person, and then got a steel saber with a scabbard. Clasping the scabbard, he walked outside. A brigand who was playing dice noticed him and stood up, asking him, "Young captain, where are you going?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm going down the mountain to help them out." Saying this, he hurriedly left. The brigands behind him all laughed, as if they hadn't known just how powerful this new member was.

Jiang Xiaohe departed from this bandit lair, and thought, They must be in front of the mountain, fighting with those two escort captains. If I go that way, I might run into them. Thus, he went towards the other side of the mountain. There was a path on this side, but it was extremely twisty and steep. Jiang Xiaohe stepped carefully over the mountain crags, which were sometimes high and sometimes low. After walking a long while, not only had he not left the mountain, but he had lost the direction of the path. He couldn't help but be anxious. He strapped the saber to his back, and climbed upwards, his hands grabbing at trees and his feet stepping on rocks. He climbed higher and higher, and before he knew it, he had reached a peak. He saw mountains upon mountains before him. In the distance to the right, there was a big river, and to the left was the blood-like setting sun, but he couldn't find any mountain paths. He looked down and saw only a mountain stream, from which he could hear the babbling of flowing water.

Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself nervously, What am I going to do? Then, he climbed back down the mountain rocks. He saw a group of men and horses on one of the ridges below galloping over. It was Ma Yinxiu the Iron Founder, Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther and the others, on their way back having finished their raid. Jiang Xiaohe quickly hid himself behind a big green rock and kept low to the ground for a while before poking his head out. He looked down again and saw that the men and horses had already passed. Jiang Xiaohe then made his way down. The mountain was extremely steep, there were too many jagged edges on the rocks, and the pine branches and date trees kept pricking his hands. Both of Jiang Xiaohe's hands were bleeding, and he had lost one of his shoes. In addition, there were many times when he had almost lost his grip and fallen down into the stream.

He viciously clenched his teeth as he climbed down the mountain. He saw the color of dusk before his feet landed themselves on a narrow mountain path. He took a couple deep breaths and sprinted downward. With one foot in a shoe and the other bare, he ran straight out of the mountain ignoring any caltrops or rocks on the ground. He saw a flat road and began to run even faster. He kept going as quickly as he could with no regard to direction. He didn't know how far he'd run before he heard the sounds of horses' hooves behind him, growing gradually closer. He turned to look and saw two horses coming after him.

Jiang Xiaohe knew that he couldn't outrun them, so he lay directly onto the ground and pulled out his saber. Because it was already dusk, those two men didn't notice and kept galloping along the road. Jiang Xiaohe rolled to the side of the road, and lay flat, holding the saber in his hand. He waited for the first horse to pass, and then when the second horse came, he suddenly jumped up and swung his sword at the horse's leg. The horse immediately fell forward, and the person on the horse was thrown onto the ground with a yelp. Jiang Xiaohe chopped at that man's body a couple times, and then chopped at the horse's leg another couple times, leaving the horse unable to stand up. At this time, the person in front had heard something and hurriedly turned his horse around, asking, "Brother, what happened? Did you fall off your horse?"

Xiaohe heard that this man didn't have the cadence of one of those mountain bandits and stooped down next to the horse. He could hear the injured man on the ground still groaning as the man on the horse drew near. The man drew his saber first, and then dismounted his horse. He walked over and asked uneasily, "Brother, what's happened to you!?"


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