The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 6.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
A steel saber defeats an iron sword as the famed valiant crushes resolve.
High ridges succeed lofty peaks as a curious man reveals his skill.
The following day, Jiang Xiaohe woke very early and rode his horse again to the Xu Farmstead at the Junction Hamlet. When he arrived, he saw only Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong dancing with a sword in the yard. He noticed Jiang Xiaohe, but didn't say anything to him. Jiang Xiaohe tied his horse to a post and went to try again with the iron bar. He made three attempts in succession, all of which failed. On the last attempt, Jiang Xiaohe had used every last bit of the energy in his body and lifted the bar with both his hands. When he brought it more than two feet, past his elbows, he exerted more strength and it seemed as if he was going to raise it up. But then, he felt a pain in his chest as his vision went dark, and he threw up blood. When this happened, the Xia of Langzhong was still practicing his swordwork and was not watching him. Jiang Xiaohe felt all the strength leave his body and cast his eyes down, discouraged. When he saw his blood on the bar, he couldn't help but cry! Thus he walked away slowly, untied his horse and led it out of the gate. He wiped his tears away as he spurred his horse on at an unhurried pace, all the way back to the east gate. He thought, I can't live here any longer. Without being able to lift that iron bar, I don't have the face to ask the Xia of Langzhong to be my master! I'll rest a day and then leave! It doesn't matter where I go! He went first to the front gate of the Fuli Security Firm. His body was exhausted and he hadn't the energy to even get off his horse, so he called inside a couple times.
When Yang Xiantai came out of the office, Jiang Xiaohe asked, "Has Captain Jiao gone yet?" Yang Xiantai said, "He just left. He's probably twenty or thirty miles gone by now. Did you need him for something, brother?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and replied languidly, "No, not really." Yang Xiantai smiled, "Brother, how about you get off your horse and come inside for some fun? Afterwards, we can go to Beauties Lane again. There's a girl who's about your age; you should check her out. In the evening, Sir Seventh Chen will want to throw some dice with you!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, saying, "No, I'm not feeling too well right now. I'm going to back and rest a while. I'll come find you later tonight!" He peeled his horse away and headed to the inn.
Just as he arrived at the front gate of the inn and before he'd dismounted his horse, he spotted several men running from across the street, all carrying wooden clubs. Jiang Xiaohe was startled as several men behind pushed him off his horse. Jiang Xiaohe knew that these men had been sent by Eighth Cheng to scheme against him, so he yelled curses at them anxiously as he crawled up. He made for his saber next to the saddle for the confrontation, but the men pressed him back down. The flurry of clubs came all at once, whack after whack, beating Xiaohe's all over his body. At first, Xiaohe struggled, cursed and yelled wildly, but then because the blows from the clubs numbered too many, and especially because of those that struck his head, he grew stiff and his head started spinning. It was as if his body was suffering countless bites from poisonous snakes as he was gradually beaten into unconsciousness.
There was no longer traffic on this street though numerous people were watching from far away. However, because these attackers were sent here by Eighth Cheng and the victim was a child from out of town, no one dared to raise a hand to stop it. Though Jiang Xiaohe was laying on the ground unconscious, the crowd kept clubbing him without mercy. Whack, whack, the blows fell upon Jiang Xiaohe's dead-seeming body.
Just then, a black horse came suddenly from the east. Everyone on the street knew the rider, for it was Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong. The Xia of Langzhong waved his leather whip and cried out, "Stop this! Stop this!" When he arrived, most of the attackers stopped their clubbing, though a few didn't know what was good them and continued striking. The Xia of Langzhong furiously pulled a sword from below his saddle and its glimmer frightened the men into scattering away. The Xia of Langzhong dismounted his horse and went to take a look at Jiang Xiaohe. He saw only this determined, tireless young hero, single-minded in wanting him to become his master, with his head covered in blood and his body in bruises, as if he were dead.
The Xia of Langzhong couldn't help but feel compassion, so he called some people on the street over to take Jiang Xiaohe to his house at Junction Hamlet. Jiang Xiaohe's entire boy ached and his head was a complete haze. They arrived at the Xu house, and under the care of Xu's household servant, he received medicine for his most pressing injuries. He gradually regained consciousness, moaning with his eyes open a sliver. The Xia of Langzhong came and comforted him, "Don't be rash and angry about what happened today. Nurse yourself back to health here at my place in peace. Wounds from clubs and sticks are easily healed. When you are well, I'll go with you to settle this!" A faint, weak smile floated to Jiang Xiaohe's lips. He wanted to speak, but he lacked the strength. He groaned a couple times and closed his eyes again.
Jiang Xiaohe nursed his injuries here. He didn't know how many days had passed, but felt that the Xia of Langzhong checked up on him frequently and the servant of the Xu house served him attentively. Eventually, Xiaohe was able to stand, though his legs were still weak and he required the use of a wooden crutch to move, albeit slowly. By this point, the Xia of Langzhong did not come see him daily, though the servant didn't lessen his attention one bit.
On the day that Jiang Xiaohe was able to toss aside his crutch, he strolled slowly in the yard and felt only a bit of soreness in his legs where his injuries had been. This yard was the same that had been used for martial training and Jiang Xiaohe was currently staying in the eastern house. As he walked, he saw again the three iron bars again at the base of the southern wall. He knew quite well that he couldn't lift them up, but he was still a little bit eager to give it another shot. He made his way over and looked down at them, thinking to himself impatiently, I need to heal up quickly. I have to raise up this iron bar and get the Xia of Langzhong to accept me as disciple! The sound of horses hooves resounded as the Xia of Langzhong returned on his black horse, followed by three of his men, also mounted.
He dismounted as soon as he entered the yard, and when he saw Jiang Xiaohe, the Xia of Langzhong walked over and asked, "Are your wounds healed yet?" Jiang Xiaohe respectfully replied, "Almost!" The Xia of Langzhong asked Xiaohe to undo his shirt and pull up his pant legs. He examined the speckle of nearly-healed bruises on his body and nodded, "There's no need to worry. Another ten days of rest and you'll be able to run." Just as he said this, another horse abruptly rode in from outside. The person on the horse was seven- or eighteen years old with the bearing of a hero. He wore silk clothing and carried a sword at his side.
The youth came down from his horse. The Xia of Langzhong nodded from him to come over and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "This is my son, Xu Yanyun. He's been learning martial arts from me for ten years now and he's almost done. When next you see Bao Kunlun or Long Zhiteng or any of the others, you can tell them that the Xia of Langzhong is not easily bullied. Even this son of mine could take on the disciples of the Kunlun School. Sooner or later, we father and son will call on them to settle the score!" When he said this, the Xia of Langzhong smirked at Jiang Xiaohe with no trace of happiness in his face. Jiang Xiaohe thought this extremely unusual and was about to voice a question, but the Xia of Langzhong had already marched through the small door with his son Xu Yanyun and returned to the inner residence. Jiang Xiaohe stared into space for a while and thought, The Xia of Langzhong's been pretty good to me. Why has his attitude changed suddenly today, like he's become indifferent towards me? I should ask him.
From then on, Jiang Xiaohe no longer saw the Xia of Langzhong. Sometimes, Xiaohe asked the servant who attended to him to invite the Xia of Langzhong over, but the Xia of Langzhong never came. After a few days, Jiang Xiaohe's wounds had healed completely and he could walk as he did before. However, he hadn't been able to see the Xia of Langzhong and couldn't think of how he might have offended him, so he was both bewildered and anxious. This day, he told the servant seeing to him, "Tell Sir Xu that my wounds have all healed without any permanent damage. I can walk and run now. Please tell him to come see me. I have a few things I'd like to say to him." The servant appeared to be a little troubled, but since Jiang Xiaohe was hurrying him, he could only say, "All right, I'll go inside and look for our good sir. He may not be at home." Jiang Xiaohe exhorted him further, "If he is home, tell him to come see me no matter what. I only have a few things to say to him." The servant consented and left, heading toward the inner yard.
Jiang Xiaohe waited a while, but the Xia of Langzhong didn't show up, so he paced nervously in his room. He thought, How strange! What kind of person is this Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong? I did nothing to offend him. He saved my life that day and then had me heal up here. It seemed like he was treating me quite well, so why has he suddenly become so distant? Could it be that Eighth Cheng and those bad guys spoke poorly about me to him? But I, Jiang Xiaohe, am truly an open and honest man. Even if he has a problem with me, he should at least tell me why! After some more time had passed, the door opened and two people stepped in. One was the servant from before, holding onto Xiaohe's possessions, saber included. Following behind was the Xia of Langzhong's son, Xu Yanyun, wearing a long blue silk shirt. He was very polite as he clasped his fist upon entering, saying to Jiang Xiaohe, "Brother Jiang, you're all well. It's heartening. Truly heartening! These are your things, brother Jiang, and your silver taels are inside as well. My father brought them here for you from the inn. Now, brother Jiang, if you'd like to stay here another couple days, there's no harm in that. Otherwise, please go on your way! We shall see each other another day!"
Jiang Xiaohe listened dumbstruck, but then clasped his fist as well, saying, "Is Sir Xu at home right now?" Xu Yanyun nodded, "He is." His manner was very cold. Jiang Xiaohe said, "Since he's at home, please ask him to come see me. I, Jiang Xiaohe, came from very far away to ask him to be my master. I can't help that I'm unable to raise the iron bar, so I'll go elsewhere to train. Whenever I am able to raise that iron bar is whenever I'll come back. But he saved this life of mine, and I have been able to nurse my wounds well because I've troubled him here for so many days. I should see him and bow to him to thank him for the kindness of saving my life. Then, I have some other things I'd like to say to him before I leave!"
Xu Yanyun waved his hand and said, "There's no need! We men of Jianghu help each other out. It was nothing, so you need not concern yourself, brother Jiang. You should hurry back to your Zhenba County! If you truly consider us father and son to be good friends, then in the future when we fight the Kunlun School, you keep yourself out of it." He then sneered and said, "When you go back, you can tell Bao Zhenfei, Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi, Jia Zhiming, Ge Zhiqiang and the others that we father and son of the Xu house will go find them this autumn. Tell them to ready themselves!" When he finished, he turned around and left. Jiang Xiaohe anxiously hurried to him and held him back. He stamped his foot and said, "Brother Xu, I don't understand these words of yours. I'm the son of a disciple of the Kunlun School, but they are my enemy!" Xu Yanyun pushed Jiang Xiaohe away and scoffed, "Bullshit!" Jiang Xiaohe was almost pushed over, but hurriedly followed Xu Yanyun outside and grabbed hold of him. He beat his chest and swore, "If I, Jiang Xiaohe, speak one falsehood, then let heaven and earth strike me down! When my daddy was murdered by the Long brothers, I herded pigs for old man Bao and suffered the humiliation of Bao Zhilin to no end. It was when I wounded the Long brothers that I had to flee. I wanted your dad to be my master so that I could learn martial arts and then go back and take revenge!"
Xu Yanyun's demeanor loosened a little. He had turned around and was about to ask Jiang Xiaohe for more details when suddenly the Xia of Langzhong came out of the small door, holding two letters in his hand. Fury spread across his face, he said, "Don't listen to his tricks. He's one of Bao Kunlun's men, sent here to scout out our condition, to find out how we're going to deal with the Kunlun School!" When he drew near, he held the letters out at Jiang Xiaohe and said, "Had I not opened these two letters, I would have fallen for your lies. Go back now and tell your Kunlun School that I'm not afraid of them. When autumn briskness arrives, I'll go to them in Ziyang and Zhenba to decide victory or defeat. If you have any conscience, when the time comes don't help them, or else my sword will know no mercy!" Jiang Xiaohe looked confused, just as if he had been caught in the midst of fog. The anxiety blazed within him as he stamped his feet wildly, saying, "What are you talking about!? I can't read. Who gave you these letters?" The Xia of Langzhong laughed and said, "You gave them to me! I found them in your belongings. Bao Zhilin of the Kunlun Security Firm in Hanzhong sent his disciple-brothers Zhang Zhiqi and Miao Zhiying to take these to Li Dacheng the Tiger of Emei to set him against me, so I would be pinned down here and unable to go and fight all of you!"
Jiang Xiaohe turned this over in his head before he figured it out. Gasping, he said, "Sir Xu, you've got me all wrong! Let me tell you where this letter really came from. After I'd fled from Zhenba, I jumped from an inn and stole a horse in Wanyuan County. That horse is the one you ride now. In Xuanhan County, I lost that horse in the middle of the night, while I was staying in a broken down temple. This horse was by nature fierce and killed the horse thief by throwing him off on the side of the road. I looked everywhere for it to no avail, and instead was taken to court unjustly. Later, when I escaped my chains, I encountered Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther, who brought me to Trunk Mountain. However, I didn't want to become a bandit so when they descended the mountain to raid an escort caravan—I heard that the caravan was being protected by Bao Kunlun, but they left me on the mountain to look after the hideout—I seized the opportunity to take a few taels of silver and run away. When I was walking on the road late in the day, I met with two men chasing me on horses. I wounded one of them and took one of their horses. The travel bundle I have now was taken with that horse. There were some taels of silver in there and two letters. I can't read, so I left them in there without looking at them. Sir Xu, it wasn't until you said these things today that I realized the man I wounded that day was a disciple of the Kunlun School. Those two were escorts."
The Xia of Langzhong listened to Jiang Xiaohe's words and sunk deep into thought for a moment. Then, he said, "Are your words the truth?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "If I speak a lie, then let me die a horrible death! Bao Kunlun and the Long brothers murdered my father, so my mother remarried and took my little brother with her. I was left all alone, so I came to find a renowned master and learn martial arts, to prepare myself one day to return and take vengeance. Sir Xu, if you're willing to pass your martial arts onto me, I'll study for two years and leave. Of the Kunlun School, only Ma Zhixian and Lu Zhizhong are all right. The rest of them, I'll kill them all!"
The Xia of Langzhong heard this, smiled coldly and took a couple steps back, asking bluntly, "Are you really in a hurry to find Bao Kunlun and the Long brothers to gain vengeance for your father?" Jiang Xiaohe shed mournful tears and said, "Of course. If I could learn martial arts today, I'd go tomorrow. I'll do nothing else until I kill the Long brothers. I don't even care that Eighth Cheng send people to beat me. That's not important. What I can't bear is the hatred I feel for those who killed my father!"
The Xia of Langzhong said, "Fine! Let's go today, first to Ziyang, and then to Zhenba. You'll get your revenge, and with them I'll resolve once and for all who is victor and who is loser. Then, we'll come back to Langzhong and I'll pass my martial arts onto you!" Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe went from crying to smiling. He was so happy he started jumping, saying, "Okay! Okay! Sir Xu, let's go today, but how many people are you bringing with you?" The Xia of Langzhong shook his head and said, "We won't bring anyone. We'll go, just us two. When the time comes, you needn't even raise your hand. Relying simply on my single sword, I guarantee you that Bao Kunlun will kneel to me. And as for his thirty-some disciples, if they're not dead, they'll be wounded!" Hearing the Xia of Langzhong saying this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but be a bit puzzled. Xu Yanyun's fright drained the color from him. He stood in the way of his father, saying, "Father, why don't you talk this over with brother Jiang more? Or perhaps I should come with you." The Xia of Langzhong waved his hand and said, "You're not going. I need you to stay here and look after the household." Xu Yanyun sputtered, "But I've heard tell that Bao Kunlun's disciples are legion, and that many of them have powerful martial arts. Father, How can you defeat them all by yourself?" Hearing this, the Xia of Langzhong immediately grew angry and rebuked him, "It's not your concern! Since I've declared it, how can I then go back on my word?" Thus, he commanded his servants to prepare horses and went inside to put together travel items.
Jiang Xiaohe had brought his own things out from inside and though he was happy, he was also a bit apprehensive, thinking, Even if the Xia of Langzhong has powerful martial arts, how will he be able to beat all the men of the Kunlun School? Then he thought, The Xia of Langzhong's willing to go all the way. How could it be that I can't? Thus, he took courage and went into the stable. The villagers at the Xu house all looked worried, but none dared speak up. The servants prepared two horses: one was the black horse, and the other was tall of head with a large mane and entirely white as snow. It seemed stronger than the black horse.
After a short while, a servant came from the inner residence, carrying the Xia of Langzhong's simple travel bag and sword, more than three feet long and in an iron scabbard. He put both on the white horse, so Jiang Xiaohe put his bundle and saber on the black one. A short time passed before the Xia of Langzhong came from the inner residence in high spirits, wearing a blue creased long robe and a pair of fish scale patterned shoes. A large straw hat hung on his back as he walked over cheerfully. Seeing the horses prepared, he said, "Let's go!" A servant led the two horses as Xu Yanyun walked the two of them out with a crowd of villagers and servants. They took horsewhips and grabbed the saddles, mounting the horses. The people behind them said, "Safe travels, good sir!" The Xia of Langzhong just smiled and gave them a brief "Go back inside!" He waved the whip and pressed the horse forward.
Jiang Xiaohe followed closely and then turned around to clasp his fist toward Xu Yanyun and the others. The Xia of Langzhong didn't even look back. When they left the village, he shook his whip lightly when he saw a path east, and they rode on with the white horse in front. After going a little more than ten miles, the city of Langzhong was no longer in sight. The Xia of Langzhong wore his large straw hat and continued east after finding a big road. Jiang Xiaohe's black horse followed the white horse ahead closely, while he observed the Xia of Langzhong on his horse. He noticed that when they were still at home, he had the look of a rich man, but now he seemed dashing and uninhibited, like a man who had long traveled Jianghu. His finely-woven straw hat fit well with his striking creased robe, as well as his slightly red face and wide, lively eyes, and his sword clinked against his copper stirrups. This vigor truly was the envy of Jiang Xiaohe as he thought, In the end, a man with powerful martial arts traveling Jianghu has a boldness all his own. When we get to Ziyang and Zhenba County, the men of the Kunlun School wouldn't dare look down on him after one look at him.
It was now drawing close to noon, and after the two rode over forty miles of road, they found a small town in which to stop for lunch. In a very small food stall, they ate very course rice and very unpalatable dishes, but Jiang Xiaohe watched as the Xia of Langzhong ate it all the same while not drinking a drop of wine. Jiang Xiaohe was originally going to drink some wine, but seeing the Xia of Langzhong thus, he was so ashamed that he didn't dare even mention the word "wine." After the Xia of Langzhong finished eating, he turned to Jiang Xiaohe with a smile, saying, "Let's go!" After he paid for the meal, they both mounted their horses and continued east and north. On the road, they encountered escort wagons twice. When the escort wagons saw him, they stopped completely and all the escorts came down off the wagons, clasping their fists toward him, deferentially asking, "Sir Xu, where are you headed?" The Xia of Langzhong clasped his fist from atop his horse and smiled, saying, "I'm going east to take care of some small business." The escort wagons waited until his horse had passed them before they dared carry on.
The weather was very hot, and not only did sweat cover Jiang Xiaohe's head, but it had drenched his back as well. His black horse was also excessively headstrong. No matter how hard he pulled the reins, nothing could slow this horse, and though Jiang Xiaohe's horse would often fly forward, it would never surpass the white horse in front of it. While Jiang Xiaohe huffed and puffed, the Xia of Langzhong was at ease, frequently looking back and smiling, hastening Xiaohe, saying, "Hurry up!" Jiang Xiaohe bridled his horse with great effort and rode forward. After another fifty or sixty miles, he saw a verdant mountain range ahead in the distance. The Xia of Langzhong spurred his horse on to lead the way toward the mountains. At this point, the travelers on the road grew sparser as the mountains ahead grew clearer and clearer. In a short while, they reached the foot of the mountains, and when they could see the entrance into them, the Xia of Langzhong suddenly stopped in his horse. Jiang Xiaohe was startled and hurried to rein in his horse as well, but it continued forward, almost throwing Jiang Xiaohe off its back.
He saw the Xia of Langzhong pull a very small folded hand cloth from his side and open it, revealing very small objects inside. The Xia of Langzhong turned around and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Catch!" He hoisted his hand and Jiang Xiaohe quickly reached out to catch. When he did, he looked inside and saw a little bell made of crude gold with a string wrapped around the top. When he undid the string, he saw the crude gold glimmering in the sunlight. The Xia of Langzhong smiled in front of him, saying, "Tie it to your horse!" Jiang Xiaohe thought it novel and tied it to the front of his horse. By this time, the Xia of Langzhong had already finished tying his and it tinkled as he pressed his horse on into the mountain entrance. Jiang Xiaohe hurried after him. With the two horses wearing two golden bells and the horses' hooves knocking on stone, in addition to the iron scabbard clanging against the copper stirrups, the sound rang out like a rhythm using the echoes in the valley and was pleasant to listen to. Jiang Xiaohe smiled as he rode his horse and become happier. He thought, The Xia of Langzhong is truly a great xia, plus he's distinguished and unrestrained. If I didn't ask him to be my master, it would really have wasted a life.
They followed the mountain road, winding their way twenty or thirty miles without encountering anyone. When they were about to exit the mountain, they saw seven or eight men ahead waiting for them. Jiang Xiaohe was secretly surprised, thinking, Oh no! Bandits! By the time they drew near, he noticed that none of them were carrying sabers. Instead, one of them was holding a pot of wine and cups. Upon the Xia of Langzhong's approach, they all clasped their fists in respect. The large man who led them specifically wore a big coat that didn't suit his frame. He heaped on the smiles and said, "Sir Xu! Where are you headed? It's so very hot today, so please have a cup of wine! Or perhaps you'd like to come up the mountain and rest a while!" The Xia of Langzhong smiled and clasped his fist. He then waved his hand, conveying his thanks and that he mustn't. Without uttering even one word, he gently urged his horse forward. Jiang Xiaohe followed along a half mile's distance and looked back. The men were still standing by the entrance of the mountains watching them. The Xia of Langzhong turned and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Take off that bell. Hang it again when we reach another mountain."
It was then that Jiang Xiaohe understood. A golden bell was the Xia of Langzhong's signifier. When the mountain bandits heard the bells ringing, they knew that the Xia of Langzhong was coming. Not only didn't they dare to come down to raid, but in fact would offer wine and respect. Jiang Xiaohe now truly took the Xia of Langzhong to be divine. He thought, For a man to travel on Jianghu alone and reach a status such as this, how great must his skills be? If man like this went to Ziyang and Zhenba, how could I have been worried that he wouldn't defeat the Long brothers and the old man Bao? However, I, Jiang Xiaohe can't avenge the great wrong that was my father's murder by myself, and instead am relying on another to do it for me. What kind of person does that make me? Even if I gained great skill, no one will ever be able to call me a hero! This made him miserable and justly indignant. He thought of arriving in Ziyang and seeing the Long brothers. Though the Xia of Langzhong was sure to hold him back and tell him not to attack, that just wouldn't do! He hadn't learned enough martial arts, and he was short and weak, but he wanted to face them first. He had to take vengeance for his father's murder with his own hands! Thus, he grew impatient riding upon the road, pressing his horse to go faster.
The Xia of Langzhong seemed unwilling to let the black horse behind him to ride ahead of his white, so the faster the black horse went, the white one went even faster. They rode until dusk, having covered over 200 miles, and arrived at the edge of Nanjiang County. The Xia of Langzhong brought Jiang Xiaohe not to an inn, but to a village. In the village there were about a dozen large dogs following the two horses and barking wildly. After a short while, two villagers approached them and asked sternly, "Who goes there? Why have you entered the village without dismounting your horses?" The Xia of Langzhong proudly replied, "It is I, the one surnamed Xu!" When they heard his voice, their severe tone turned immediately to one of deference, saying, "So it's Sir Xu! We didn't imagine it would be you, good sir." The Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe both dismounted as one of the villagers hurried over to take their horses and shoo the dogs away, while the other respectfully welcomed the Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe into a large courtyard where two village leaders received them and treated the Xia of Langzhong with absolute reverence.
The Xia of Langzhong was very gracious with them as well, as he referred to Jiang Xiaohe and introduced him to them, "This is my disciple." Jiang Xiaohe heard this and felt honored by his words, acting quite generously himself. They were shown into the receiving room by the village leaders. It wasn't until they entered that Jiang Xiaohe was able to see that both men were in their forties. One was round of face and stout of body with a thick black beard that covered his cheeks. The other was short with a brown face and the look of a frail intellectual. The Xia of Langzhong said to Jiang Xiaohe, "These two village leaders are uncle and nephew. That one is Yuan Yong the Purple-faced Lion, and this one is Yuan Zishao the Slender Hegemon. They are both men of renown in Northern Sichuan." Jiang Xiaohe dared not belittle the two of them, so he treated them with great respect. The Yuan kinsmen paid close attention to Jiang Xiaohe, and asked the Xia of Langzhong when he'd accepted this disciple, since they'd not heard of him the last time they met. The Xia of Langzhong smiled, "He has asked me to become his master, but I have yet to teach him any martial arts. Tell them to prepare some food and I'll slowly explain all the details to you."
Thus, Yuan Zishao instructed a servant to prepare wine. Though the Yuan kinsmen poured some for the Xia of Langzhong, he refused to drink any. Jiang Xiaohe hadn't drank any wine for days and seeing it now made him salivate, but since his master didn't drink, how could the disciple dare to? So when Yuan Zishao sent a cup over to him with a smile, saying, "Brother, please drink. Your master won't have anything to say about it." Jiang Xiaohe stood up and respectfully declined, saying, "I don't really drink." When the wine cup made its way back to Yuan Zishao, he felt a tinge of regret. By now, the Xia of Langzhong had already related most of Jiang Xiaohe's background to the Yuan kinsmen, and mentioned why he had come north this time, his plan to face the Kunlun School, first in Ziyang and then in Zhenba.
When the Yuan kinsmen heard this, their mood changed a little bit. The Xia of Langzhong spoke seriously, "We left home this morning and have hurried our way over two-hundred miles in less than a day's time. We'll rest a night here, and tomorrow we'll leave the Bagu Pass, through the Micang Mountains, and head to Ziyang County. I know, it is no easy thing that I've come north in a fury to pick a fight alone against the thirty or forty men of the Kunlun School. I don't underestimate them, but they've really crossed the line! In these past ten years, I've never gotten along with the men of the Kunlun School, but there weren't any serious bouts. Now I have to decide victory and defeat. If none of them can beat me, I'll tell those of the Kunlun School never to set foot in Northern Sichuan again. If they injure or defeat me, then I'll never cross the Ba Mountains ever again." The Xia of Langzhong said this spiritedly, but it left the Yuan kinsmen at a bit of a loss.
Yuan Zishao crinkled his brow and said, "Uncle Xu, with just the two of you going, master and disciple, isn't the force perhaps a bit meager?" Yuan Yong quickly glared at his nephew. The Xia of Langzhong smiled, saying, "If I had invited a few dozen more to come and help me, then why bother going at all!?" Yuan Yong said, "Sir Xu, victory will surely be yours this time. Bao Kunlun is old, and only a few of his disciples have true skill." The Xia of Langzhong said, "I don't mean to take advantage of Bao Zhenfei's advanced age. As for his men, I've heard that Ge Zhiqiang and Lu Zhizhong are quite proficient." Yuan Yong changed the subject, taking a drink of wine and smiling at the Xia of Langzhong, saying, "In all these decades, this is the first time I've seen the Xia of Langzhong with a disciple. This young brother here looks exceptional as well. I think he's sure to win you many honors in the future. My own child turns ten this year. You didn't get to meet him last time..." He turned to Yuan Zishao. "Go and get your cousin." Zishao responded with a sound and left the room. Jiang Xiaohe was himself curious about the little village leader, wanting to see what kind of person he was and how he measured up. After waiting a moment, Yuan Zishao brought out his cousin.
Xiaohe saw that he was a ten-year-old, skinny and short little child, dressed entirely in silk. Yuan Yong said, "Come meet Uncle Xu. Don't you keep saying that you want to learn superhuman martial arts? Then you've got to ask Uncle Xu to become your master!" The boy bowed toward the Xia of Langzhong, and then his father introduced him to Jiang Xiaohe. Xiaohe clasped his fist toward him but he paid no regard, simply glancing over at Xiaohe. Yuan Yong was afraid Jiang Xiaohe might get angry, so he said, "This brother of yours is too disobedient. The reason is because he has not spent much time out in the world. Please don't blame him." Xiaohe laughed but did not say anything. The Xia of Langzhong asked, "What's his name? Haven't you taught him any martial arts?" Yuan Yong said, "His school name is Jingyuan. I've been training him since he was seven, so it's been three years. But his body is too weak, so I don't think he'll be able to practice heavy skills. I want him to learn some lighter diversions."
The Xia of Langzhong smiled and said, "What are lighter martial arts? Other than dianxue, but dianxue is not something that all can learn." Yuan Yong sat deep in thought for a moment, and said, "In any case, I need to go out and find him a master. If he only learns from me, he'll never learn any good martial arts." The Xia of Langzhong laughed, "You are too modest!" Yong Yuan guffawed loudly and told his son Yuan Jingyuan to take a seat at the end. When they finished eating and drinking that night, Yuan Zishao prepared places for the Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe to sleep. The two spent the night peacefully at the Yuan Farmstead, and rose together at daybreak the next day. Then the Yuan household, father, son and nephew, saw the two of them out of the village, saying their farewells with fists clasped.
The Xia of Langzhong spurred his horse forward and Jiang Xiaohe pressed his likewise. After riding about thirty or forty miles, they came out of the Bagu Pass and not far later they came upon the Micang Mountains. This place was the border between Northern Sichuan and Southern Shaanxi. The Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe tied those two golden bells onto their horses again and rode into the mountains with the bells tinkling noisily. The Xia of Langzhong's bearing was bold, looking all about as they went. They rode the entire length of the mountain road without one sight of mountain bandits. When they left the mountain entrance, they were in an area under the jurisdiction of Hanzhong Prefecture. Ziyang County was due east, and Zhenba County was east and south.
When they arrived here, Jiang Xiaohe didn't quite know the route, but he followed behind the Xia of Langzhong and thought to himself, I'm almost back home, and I'll soon see Aluan. If the Xia of Langzhong and old man Bao fight, I'll naturally side with the Xia of Langzhong, but is there any way Aluan won't be angry? This thought bothered him very much. In the end, he thought, Old man Bao is sixty or seventy, so I feel bad for him. Plus, he's treated me well enough, and it wasn't him that killed my father. I should urge the Xia of Langzhong to show a bit of mercy, not to hurt him. We should also find another place for the fight. We mustn't fight in his home, or it might scare Aluan to death! Thus he was of a mind to relate these requests to the Xia of Langzhong. However, he saw that the Xia of Langzhong cared only about pressing his horse forward, speaking not one word to him, in addition to the severe expression on his red face. He hadn't untied the golden bell from his horse either. It tinkled on as if he purposefully wanted to draw the attention of the people on the road, warning them, "The Xia of Langzhong has arrived in Southern Shaanxi!"
When he saw this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but be frightened and dared not speak idle words to the Xia of Langzhong. They spurred their horses east another dozen miles of road when they spotted a large escort caravan making its way north to south. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but blurt out, "Master, look quickly! These are probably security wagons of the Kunlun School." The Xia of Langzhong looked back at Xiaohe and laughed, "Fear not!" He swung his whip continuously and rushed straight over on his horse. Jiang Xiaohe was afraid of lagging behind, so he spurred his horse to follow closely behind, thinking to himself nervously, A fight is unavoidable!
In an instant, the Xia of Langzhong's white horse had already charged its way to the caravan and cut it into two parts. Xiaohe rushed his way through as well, the two horse bells jingling wildly. The escort wagons and the horses accompanying them had all stopped, and the dozen or so escorts watched them with surprise and hatred in their eyes. The Xia of Langzhong looked back astride his horse with an arrogant smile as the men spoke a few words to each other before holding their ire inside and hurrying their security wagons southward, still looking back over this way. The Xia of Langzhong was extremely pleased, turning back to Jiang Xiaohe and saying, "They all know me yet none of them dares step up and exchange blows with me. Do you know? Charging one's horse through someone else's escort caravan is a most offensive thing in Jianghu. If it'd been someone else, they wouldn't have let it go so quickly!" Jiang Xiaohe heard the Xia of Langzhong's words and cast his look backward, watching and at a bit of a loss. Suddenly, the Xia of Langzhong pointed west and said, "Look! More come from the west!"
Jiang Xiaohe looked west and saw a roiling dust cloud. About ten horses came their way, causing Jiang Xiaohe to say in surprise, "Who's this now? Are they of the Kunlun School too?" The Xia of Langzhong turned his horse around and reined it in, raising his head to look. He waved his hand and said sternly, "Let us see! Who are these men that come this way?" The group of horses rode from the west drawing closer and closer, raising the dust cloud behind them higher and higher. In a short while, when they had almost arrived in front of them, the two men in front raised their hands at them high in the air.
The Xia of Langzhong suddenly looked displeased. Jiang Xiaohe finally saw that the men who came were the Yuan kinsmen, bringing several villagers with them, totaling nine horses in all, and all carrying weapons with them. Jiang Xiaohe reveled in his heart, thinking, It's truly good that these helpers have come. Now we needn't fear that the Kunlun School's superior numbers. The Xia of Langzhong was extremely unhappy and pressed his horse to them, asking loudly, "Why have you come as well?"
Yong Yuan the Purple-faced Lion laughed loudly, saying, "The Xia of Langzhong fighting the Kunlun School alone is an event not to be seen in a hundred years. I will have wasted my life if I pass up the opportunity to watch it happen! We're just here to watch, not to help you." Yuan Zishao the Slender Hegemon added, "Truly, we're just here to watch, not to give Uncle Xu our encouragement. Indeed, Uncle Xu doesn't need our encouragement!" The Xia of Langzhong smiled coldly, saying, "Then we needn't ride the road together." Yuan Yong the Purple-faced Lion said, "Yes, yes, we'll go separately. You'll be in front and we'll be behind. We'll not disturb each other."
Yuan Zishao gave Jiang Xiaohe a look from his horse, and Jiang Xiaohe understood. The uncle and nephew were good friends to the Xia of Langzhong and were concerned with his rash challenge to the Kunlun School, so they didn't say anything yesterday, but instead followed in secret today, bringing some villagers with them. In the event that the Xia of Langzhong was overwhelmed by the number, they would step up to help. The Xia of Langzhong shook his whip at Jiang Xiaohe and rode away with Xiaohe without further speaking to the Yuan kinsmen. The Yuan kinsmen purposefully held their horses back so that they wouldn't catch up with them.
The Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe rode another few dozen miles due east and it was noon when they arrived upon a town. The Xia of Langzhong found a food stall and the two hurriedly finished their lunch before setting off again to the east. Jiang Xiaohe noticed that the Xia of Langzhong didn't ask the way of people on the route, as if he has very familiar with these roads. He was even more surprised, so he hurried forward to ask, "Master, do you come to Southern Shaanxi often?" The Xia of Langzhong smiled and said, "I don't come often, but I did pass through here once six or seven years ago, and once more three years ago though Bao Kunlun and his didn't know about it." They continued along as the Xia of Langzhong said, "The enmity between Bao Kunlun and myself did not grow overnight. Early on many of the Kunlun School took escort jobs through Northern Sichuan, but they ran lawlessly about and thought nothing of anyone, so I beat them all back. I think Bao Kunlun must hate me to his bones. He's old now, but if this was twenty years ago, were I not coming to look for him, he would come to Langzhong to find me."
After he said this, he stopped talking, hurrying his way east with Xiaohe. When dusk came, they found a town and the Xia of Langzhong reined in his horse, turned back to Jiang Xiaohe and said, "This place is twenty miles from Ziyang County. Let's spend a night here, and first thing tomorrow, we'll go cross swords with the Long brothers. However, when you sleep tonight, you must stay alert in case something happens, because they know that we've come!" When Jiang Xiaohe heard this, he became ever more nervous. After the Xia of Langzhong found an inn, the two ate and went to bed.
Jiang Xiaohe didn't sleep well this night, seeming often to hear noises on the roof or in the courtyard. He was afraid the men of the Kunlun School had come, but also seemed to look forward a bit to their arrival. The Xia of Langzhong spent the night with his sword at his side, though he appeared to sleep peacefully. The next day, the Xia of Langzhong awoke calm and composed. Though he hadn't fallen completely asleep all night, Jiang Xiaohe was full of nervous energy. At about the eighth hour in the morning, the two ate little for breakfast before the Xia of Langzhong told Jiang Xiaohe to prepare the horses. When Xiaohe was finished, the Xia of Langzhong came out of the gate, having paid for their room already, and mounted his horse.
It seemed the Xia of Langzhong could tell that Xiaohe was restless. He smiled and said, "Don't be afraid! In my hands, the Long brothers are no better than dogs. When it comes to Bao Kunlun, he may be old, but I wouldn't dare underestimate him." He said this as he spurred his horse east, and after about twenty miles, they saw a city ahead of them and the road became crowded with people, wagons and horses going this way and that. Jiang Xiaohe's blood bubbled through his entire body as he rode, asking, "Master, is that city ahead of us Ziyang?" The Xia of Langzhong nodded, "That's right. Fear not. Just follow me." Jiang Xiaohe said haughtily, "I'm not scared one bit!" His hands and feet were hard to control as he often felt like pulling out his saber or leaping off the horse to fight in close quarters with another. Ahead of him, the Xia of Langzhong remained unruffled, and in fact urged his horse to slow. In a short time, they entered through the west gate, the golden bells on their two horses still jingling noisily amid the crowd, causing many people to take notice of them.
Shortly, they came in front of a rail gate. Upon the gate and the wall, written large with a brush were the words, "Jingyuan Security Firm." When they arrived, Langzhong turned back to Xiaohe and said, "We're here!" He peeled his horse off and led it straight in through the rail gate. Inside the security office, a chair was placed in the courtyard and in the chair sat an injured man with a blue face and a big beard; it was Long Zhiteng the Cloud-piercing Swallow. The abdominal wound he'd received from Jiang Xiaohe's blade that day he was staying with his master in Zhenba was not yet healed. When he suddenly sighted the Xia of Langzhong riding his horse into the security office, he cried out in alarm and then saw Jiang Xiaohe riding in as well. The Xia of Langzhong pulled his sword from under his saddle and Jiang Xiaohe also flashed his saber. Long Zhiteng wasn't able to stand, but bellowed loudly, "Fine! You've come for revenge! If you seek to kill, then kill me!" Jiang Xiaohe glared with eyes both red and wide. He leapt from his horse and approached Long Zhiteng with brandished blade to kill him, but the Xia of Langzhong shouted, "It's not allowed!" Then he sneered and said, "What kind of hero would kill a sick man like him?"
At this time, three escorts had already come from the front hall, two of them carrying steel sabers and one taking up a spear from the weapon rack after coming outside. Jiang Xiaohe saw that this one was Chen Zhijun. Chen Zhijun saw Xiaohe as well and glared, saying, "Good! You little bastard!" He was about to raise his spear and take a stab at Xiaohe when his two brothers next to him held him back. These two were Jia Zhiming the Wave-shattering Sea Serpent and Hou Zhiqiang the Divine Fist. Jia Zhiming turned his saber down and clasped his fist, asking, "Friend, your honorable name, and your worthy intentions here?" Before the Xia of Langzhong said a word, the seated Long Zhiteng blurted out, "He's Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong!" Upon hearing this name, Jia Zhiming's expression changed immediately!
The Xia of Langzhong tilted his body and dismounted, giving his horse over to Xiaohe. He took a few steps forward and shook his sword, glowering angrily at the three men and asking, "Are you all disciples of Bao Kunlun? There was nothing you didn't do when you ran escorts jobs to Northern Sichuan. Long Zhiteng and his brother especially took advantage of when I wasn't home and killed two of my villagers. If he were not sick and unable to move today, I would kill him immediately with one stroke of my sword. I come here now with no other purpose than to cross swords with you men of the Kunlun School. Unless you all lower your heads and concede, come and face me so that we can decide who lives and dies. Then, I'll go look for Bao Kunlun that old coot!" When Jia Zhiming and Hou Zhiquan heard him insult Bao Kunlun, the two sabers immediately charged at him, clanging with the Xia of Langzhong's sword as they began to fight.
Chen Zhijun stepped forward first to pull Long Zhiteng's chair aside with his spear, and was about to thrust it angrily at Jiang Xiaohe for a stab. However, the Xia of Langzhong had already cut Hou Zhiquan down with a slash, so Chen Zhijun hurriedly lunged with his spear to help Jia Zhiming out. In just three or five exchanges, his spear had been knocked away by the Xia of Langzhong's sword and with another cut, Chen Zhijun's left shoulder began to bleed. All that remained was Jia Zhiming displaying his saber skill against the Xia of Langzhong. The sword in the Xia of Langzhong's hand was just like lightning, suddenly up and suddenly down. It was truly hard to parry, but Jia Zhiming was a distinguished person of the Kunlun School, one of the Magnificent Three of Ziyang. With his bladework exhibited, he didn't allow the Xia of Langzhong to win immediately. The Xia of Langzhong's sword was aimed closely for his head, and after meeting it a few times with his saber askew, he felt the great impact of the Xia of Langzhong's strength causing his wrist to ache a bit. Jia Zhiming didn't dare meet his opponent head-on any further, evading every stroke his opponent sent his way. He took advantage of an opening and swept his saber toward the Xia of Langzhong's lower body. However, not only did the Xia of Langzhong come in for a stabbing attack, at the same time he also blocked his body very tightly, not allowing Jia Zhiming to connect.
After fifteen or sixteen exchanges, with Jia Zhiming stepping back as he fought, he'd been driven almost back out of the rail gate. Jiang Xiaohe waved his arms and yelled, "Master! Don't let him run away!" At this time, a burly man with steel saber in hand came charging in suddenly from outside. It was Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger. His dark face was already twisted inhumanly as he bellowed, "The good Xia of Langzhong!" He advanced and fought the Xia of Langzhong alongside Jia Zhiming. Jia Zhiming had recovered by now and the two sabers flew viciously left and right with cuts and slices. However, the Xia of Langzhong refused to be pushed back even one step as his sword blocked left and parried right while constantly advancing upon the two men. After another fourteen or fifteen exchanges, a wretched cry rang out and Jia Zhiming crashed down with a wound. Long Zhiqi turned around and ran outside.
The Xia of Langzhong leapt over Jia Zhiming and went out in pursuit. Jiang Xiaohe charged outside as well, hanging on to the two horses and waving his saber. Many of the people outside the gate and on the street had run away in panic as Long Zhiqi ran for his life toward the west. The Xia of Langzhong chased close behind and before long, he saw a dozen or so men coming out of another security office at the side of the road. They all carried sabers and spears as they let Long Zhiqi through and stood in the Xia of Langzhong's way. The Xia of Langzhong knew these were all Kunlun men and mercilessly waved his sword to break through them. He cut several of them while rushing past them, continuing his pursuit. Jiang Xiaohe mounted one of the horses and led the other. He waved his saber, yelled out atop his horse and charged past those men. He caught up with the Xia of Langzhong as he chased Long Zhiqi, and he yelled, "Don't let him get away! He's the most hateful of all the Kunlun men!"
Long Zhiqi could do nothing but take to his heels and run west. After running but a mile, there appeared a large group of horses and men in front of them. Upon seeing Long Zhiqi, the riders all unsheathed their sabers to block the way. Long Zhiqi recognized them as well for they were the Yuan kinsmen of Nanjiang County in Northern Sichuan. He became furious and brandished his saber to give fight to the Yuan kinsmen and their group of villagers. The Xia of Langzhong and Jiang Xiaohe had near caught up by now. Long Zhiqi saw danger imminent, so he yelled wildly as he battled with his saber, making himself an opening to flee. Just then, a black horse galloped up from behind Jiang Xiaohe fast as an arrow, the rider of which was a man recently called here to help, Lu Zhizhong. Lu Zhizhong spurred his horse ahead of Xiaohe and caught up with the Xia of Langzhong. He swung his blade for a cut as the Xia of Langzhong hurriedly turned around to meet it with his sword.
Lu Zhizhong leapt off his horse and locked short weapons with the Xia of Langzhong, battling on the spot. The Xia of Langzhong wasn't keen on fighting long, so he used treacherous moves, thinking to cut down Lu Zhizhong in two or three sword attacks, but Lu Zhizhong was unexpectedly able to resist. Thus, the Xia of Langzhong was a bit taken aback and displayed even more of his sword skill, closing in on Lu Zhizhong with cold swooshes. Lu Zhizhong's steel saber was likewise blocking up and down as if flying. Seeing a savior come to his aid, Long Zhiqi's energy revived and he cut down one of the Yuan kinsmen's villagers. He took his horse and jumped onto the saddle, taking flight to the west as if soaring.
The Yuans and their men didn't chase after Long Zhiqi, instead turning back to surround Lu Zhizhong. Jiang Xiaohe urgently shouted from atop his horse, "Don't hurt him! He's a good man!" Lu Zhizhong blocked the Xia of Langzhong's sword and said, "Xia of Langzhong, stand down! Tell me first, for what reason have you come here to fight us?" The Xia of Langzhong lowered his sword and sneered, "What reason? You don't know? In recent years, you disciples of the Kunlun School have come to Northern Sichuan and caused no end to trouble! I've come here now to defeat you all." He gestured toward the Yuans and their men, saying, "This has nothing to do with them. It wasn't I that called them here for assistance. If you don't yield, bring that saber over here and we'll have it out!"
Lu Zhizhong clasped his fist and said, "Xia of Langzhong, I've long heard you were a good man, renowned in Sichuan. If there is some enmity between your people and ours, we should be able to talk it out face-to-face. Need we go so far as to clash saber and sword? If people in other provinces hear of this, how could they not joke about us?" The Xia of Langzhong held his sword and scoffed, "Do you come and talk to me of righteousness because you've forgotten that the Long brothers came and killed two of my household? I haven't the time now to carelessly waste words with you. You are but one man so I'm even less willing to fight you!" Following this, he took the white horse from Jiang Xiaohe's hand. He sheathed his sword and mounted the horse, saying, "Let's go! To Zhenba county to find Bao Kunlun!" Lu Zhizhong's entire body trembled with anger as he said, "You need be careful not to let up even one moment of your strength!" Jiang Xiaohe felt a little bad, but he uttered not a word as he sped his horse to the west with the Xia of Langzhong. The Yuan kinsmen led their villagers to follow. The sounds of hooves rumbled and dust roiled upwards as they went south by west, rushing straight towards Zhenba.
Yuan Zishao the Slender Hegemon slapped his horse and caught up with Jiang Xiaohe. He said, "Young brother, your father was named Jiang Zhisheng, was he not?" Jiang Xiaohe looked back from atop his horse and said dejectedly, "That's right! The Long brothers are the enemies who killed my father!" Yuan Zishao said, "You shouldn't complain only of the Long brothers. I've asked around and it's said your father Jiang Zhisheng was killed by the old man Bao's own hand. All of his disciples know this, but none of them would admit it to anyone else!" Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe's heart dropped and he felt so lightheaded he almost fell off his horse! He quickly tightened his grip on the reins and his legs clenched onto the horse's saddle. Tears rolled down as he said, "I knew long ago that Bao Kunlun had not only killed my father, but was also planning on offing me. But then..." Sitting on the horse, he began to sob loudly, saying, "Because he killed my father, my mother was forced to remarry, and now I have a brother who can longer be a Jiang. The old man Bao had wanted to kill me, but later on for reasons I don't know, he took me into his home to herd his pigs and feed his horses. That son of his Bao Zhilin tormented me all day!"
The Xia of Langzhong turned back to say, "You needn't weep, for today I'll take your revenge for you!" But Jiang Xiaohe still cried, saying, "Master, I don't need you to take revenge for me. I'll fight Bao Kunlun myself." The Xia of Langzhong smiled and said, "How could it be that easy?" He spoke sternly to the group of people, "In a moment, we'll arrive in Zhenba. When I'm fighting with Bao Kunlun, I'll not allow any of you to help, or else we'll speak no more of friendship!" Yuan Yong the Purple-faced Lion laughed loudly, "We'll certainly not help! We're just here to watch a good show!" The band of horses led by the Xia of Langzhong galloped southwest as if flying, traveling at utmost speed. After passing through a mountain they entered the boundaries of Zhenba County and it was now three or four in the afternoon. The men hadn't eaten lunch, but they didn't stop, instead going all the faster.
After a short time, Jiang Xiaohe saw Zhenba City and the Bao Village ahead. He grew more nervous as he thought of his enemies, the Bao father and sons, and then thought of the adorable Bao Aluan and further of his mother and brother in the city. The horses rode to the edge of the Bao Village and they spotted five or six men already waiting for them, carrying sabers. Jiang Xiaohe saw that they were the old master Bao Zhenfei, Long Zhiqi, Ma Zhixian, Liu Zhiyuan, Qin Zhibao and another he didn't recognize, though Bao Zhilin wasn't there. The girl Aluan stood beside a small tree carrying that short saber of hers. She pointed it at Jiang Xiaohe as she glared and clenched her jaw to show her loathing! She was wearing a red silk shirt. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help his shame reddening his face, but upon seeing the old master Bao, the fire reignited in his eyes.
The old master Bao Zhenfei held his Kunlun blade as he approached alone, holding his disciples back with his hand. That purple face of his showed a pale color and his ashen beard twitched erratically. His tall and fat body looked as if it had trouble walking from the ire he felt. He beckoned and said loudly, "Whoever is the Xia of Langzhong, please come off your horse." The Xia of Langzhong held the Yuan kinsmen and their men back as he dismounted his horse. He drew out his sword and approached, presenting a calm expression. He said, "I am Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong." Old master Bao stared with eyes wide up to down, sizing up the Xia of Langzhong, and then clasped his fist, saying, "An honor, an honor! I'd heard of your renown ten some years now, and today I get to meet you." The Xia of Langzhong clasped his fist as well with sword in hand.
The old master Bao took a deep breath and then asked, "Brother Xu, have you come here now to avenge Jiang Xiaohe's father? I was the one who killed Jiang Zhisheng, so I invite you, brother Xu, to kill me with your sword. I warn you not to hurt my disciples!" The Xia of Langzhong shook his head and said, "No! Jiang Zhisheng is a man of your Kunlun School, and the animosity you have between master and disciple is none of my concern. Jiang Xiaohe has come with me this time, but I'm not here to help him, and he's not here to help me. I've come to find you for the sake of my own matters!" Old master Bao said, "I have never provoked you." The Xia of Langzhong said, "You may not have, but you've allowed several of your disciples to run wild in my Northern Sichuan!" Old master Bao said, "That'll be easy to take care of! Identify which of my disciples have provoked you, and I'll call him out here to apologize for his wrongs."
The Xia of Langzhong said, "I have little enmity with your other disciples. It is only that the Long brothers caught me unprepared and came to my home, killing two of my household. I must have them to pay with their lives. At the moment, Long Zhiteng is suffering from serious illness so I'm not willing to hurt him, but as for this Long Zhiqi who's here at your side, you need to give him into our custody!" Upon hearing this, the old master Bao shook his head back and forth, saying, "Xia of Langzhong! Don't go too far! These disciples of mine have been with me many years. They're like sons to me. If they've broken the rule against lechery, I would certainly kill them without mercy, but even then I must be the one who kills them. If another thinks they are to hurt even one hair on one of my disciples within my sight, ha ha! Don't say it's because you're the Xia of Langzhong, or any of those who've come after me in Jianghu. Even the Dragon of Shu and the Xia of Longmen had better think twice!"
Hearing this, the Xia of Langzhong immediately pressed forward with sword raised. Under the tree, Aluan hurriedly yelled, "Grandpa, watch out! He wants to hurt you!" The old master Bao turned and looked over at his granddaughter, waving his hand with a bitter smile on his face, "Don't worry, the Xia of Langzhong isn't that sort of person!" Then he turned back toward the Xia of Langzhong and said, "I know your martial arts are more powerful than those of all my disciples, but I, Bao Zhenfei, have confidence that I can match up to you. Twenty years ago, I would definitely not have let you come to Ziyang or Zhenba to cause trouble and injure so many of my disciples!"
When he finished, the old master Bao's two big eyes flashed with ferocity. The Xia of Langzhong glared back, saying, "We needn't talk further. Let's just have a contest!" Old master Bao slanted his saber with one hand and stroked his beard with the other, saying, "Not so fast! I have a few more things to say." He shook his beard and said, "I'm old now and I have too many disciples. Sons I have two, and their martial arts are ordinary. I'm not willing to make enemies for them. Otherwise once I die, they'll be bullied by others. Thus, I don't even want to sow animosity with Jiang Xiaohe."
The Xia of Langzhong said, "In that case, just give the one man Long Zhiqi over to us. It's got nothing to do with you or your disciples!" Old master Bao waved his hand and said, "That I can't do! No matter what, I must protect my disciples. That is how things stand now!" When he said this, the old master shook his blade. The Xia of Langzhong quickly used his sword to block the saber, though he felt the old master's great power. Old master Bao suddenly glared again, saying, "Let's have a contest of a few exchanges. If you win, I'll slit my own throat and you can kill whichever one of my disciples you'd like. However, Xia of Langzhong, what if I win?" The Xia of Langzhong fumed, "I'll never come to Southern Shaanxi ever again, and you may all travel the Jianghu of Northern Sichuan as you wish!" The old master Bao boomed, "All right!" The clanging of saber against sword rang out as the two connected with each other.
The Xia of Langzhong held his head straight and his energy was relaxed. His eyes saw everything as he swung his sword. Swoosh, swoosh, he cut three times in succession as he leapt straight forward, not taking intermediate steps as he did so. The old master evaded the previous three sword moves by stepping back, and on the fourth, he raised his Kunlun blade and with a deafening clang, knocked the sword immediately back. The Xia of Langzhong hurriedly performed a Curling Flower with his right hand and cut downward again at the old master's left arm. The old master swiftly tilted his body to the right, tucking his left leg back behind his right, and swung his saber, sending the sword back again while at the same time aiming his saber at his opponent's lower body for an attack.
The Xia of Langzhong's sword quickly met it with a back chop also intended to knock it away. However, old master Bao's force was extremely heavy and his saber had not been knocked away. Instead, it pressed against the sword as he pushed with his saber. The Xia of Langzhong stepped back hastily a couple steps and changed his sword form. He sprang up and displayed his sword like the golden Peng spreading its wings. The sword stretched toward old master Bao's abdomen, but was pushed aside by old master Bao's saber. The Xia of Langzhong shifted to another sword technique and old master Bao's saber technique changed with it. They went back and forth for five or six exchanges, and though the nearby men watched them directly, none could see a winner or loser. But then the Xia of Langzhong suddenly jumped to one side and pulled out of his sword stance, while the old master held back his saber as well and panted. The Xia of Langzhong's face was pale as death as he ran to his horse, mounted it and departed.
Jiang Xiaohe and the others had no clue as to what had happened. Stunned, they hurriedly urged their horses after him. The Xia of Langzhong found the main road and turned south as Jiang Xiaohe, the Yuan kinsmen and the others followed closely, though also afraid to ask him any questions. In an instant they'd crossed the Southern Mountains and returned once again to the ground of Northern Sichuan. It was then that the Xia of Langzhong reined in his horse. Jiang Xiaohe hurried forward and asked, "Master! You weren't losing! Why did you stop fighting and leave?" The Xia of Langzhong sat on his horse and smiled bitterly, waving his hand saying, "You must call me master no longer!" He raised his right arm and with a look, Xiaohe saw a hole slashed through the Xia of Langzhong's blue silk sleeve, the inside drenched with fresh blood. The Xia of Langzhong said, "This is Bao Kunlun not wanting to sow animosity for his disciples, so he cut me here very lightly. Otherwise, my arm here would have been crippled. He's stronger than me. He's in his old age, so his body isn't as able and his energy is lacking, but if he were still young, I would be even less of a match for him!" The words he spoke frightened Jiang Xiaohe and the Yuan kinsmen such that they changed color.
The Xia of Langzhong continued, "From today on, I'll never go to Southern Shaanxi again!" Then he addressed Jiang Xiaohe, "If you learn martial arts from me, you'll never be able to beat Bao Kunlun. You ought to find another master of renown!" Jiang Xiaohe got off his horse and wept, "There are no other masters!" The Xia of Langzhong shook his head and said, "No, Gao Qinggui the Divine Hawk in Kaifeng is adept in dianxue. His martial arts are greater than mine. Seven years ago when we were playing chess in a garden in Kaifeng, he once played a trick on me with dianxue. Mention this to him and he will surely accept you as disciple. If you don't learn the martial arts outside of sword and saber, it would be difficult indeed if you intend to defeat Bao Kunlun!" When he finished, he nodded at Xiaohe and said, "We shall meet again!" He then departed with the Yuan kinsmen and the others in tow.
Jiang Xiaohe watched as the silhouette of horses and their dust cloud grew distant. He stared into space and thought, The Xia of Langzhong don't lie. Unless I learn dianxue, I won't be able to avenge my father. Luckily, I have enough in travel money, so I'll go to Kaifeng! He got on his horse and felt his stomach grumble. Thus he thought, It's better if I find a place to eat a meal first. He spurred his horse to the east and after traveling not far, he arrived in a small town. He thought, This place is secluded, so it's probably unlikely that the Kunlun School will pursue me here. I should rest up thoroughly here. Thus he found a small tavern, entered after dismounting his horse, and asked for rice, dishes and wine.
After downing a few pots of wine, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but stir up his anxiety once more. He thought, The Xia of Langzhong is truly a hero, but if even a hero like that can't defeat Bao Kunlun, then the old master Bao's martial arts are much too great! I didn't know early on, nor had I figured out that the enemy who killed my father was actually old master Bao! When he thought of his father's murder, he felt a miserable pain in his heart. He thought, I've come to my hometown for nothing. I didn't even see my mother. Even though my mother's now married to Elder Dong who runs a wool shop, in the end she's the one who gave birth to me. Plus, my brother Xiaolu is my flesh and blood. No matter what, I should go see them since I don't know when I'll next be able to meet with them! He wiped away a few tears and was of a mind to turn back and secretly go to Zhenba to visit his mother and brother. He had to be cautious wherever he went, or else he'd lose his life if those of the Kunlun School captured him. I was the one who brought the Xia of Langzhong here this time, so they probably hate me in some way. Just then, I even saw Aluan clench her teeth at me. Ah! Aluan likely hates me. Could it be she still doesn't know the resentment I suffered in her home? She is good to me, but she can't get in the way of my revenge!
The more he drank, the worse he felt, so he slammed down his wine cup and ate a bit of food. He departed after paying for it, going outside and mounting his horse. Continuing north, he found an isolated road and furtively crossed through the Ba Mountains. He then turned another direction and purposefully took a long way around to avoid Bao Village before galloping north. It was now late in the day and the sky was embroidered with sunset clouds. After traveling for a short while, he looked back and saw Zhenba City behind him. Jiang Xiaohe turned his horse swiftly around and flew through the city's eastern gate with determination. When he entered the city, he saw the streets of his hometown and couldn't help but feel a burst of sorrow. At the same time, he paid careful attention to whether or not there were familiar people in the streets.
Shortly he arrived in front of Elder Dong's wool shop. It was very small and dark inside, and all that was there was Elder Dong face down taking a nap on the counter. Jiang Xiaohe dismounted and tied his horse to the flagpole in front of the door. As he went inside, his face flushed red. When Elder Dong was making to stand up to greet a customer, Jiang Xiaohe clasped his fist and calling him Uncle Dong said, "You may not recognize me, but I'm Jiang Xiaohe. I was passing by today and thought I might see my mother and my brother!" Hearing this, Elder Dong stuck his head out and carefully examined Jiang Xiaohe up and down from behind the counter. He grew angry and said, "Ho! So it's you, child! Did you forget the big trouble you caused last time you were at the Bao home? What a brave kid you are! Hurry and go away! Who do you think you are? When your mom married me, she became mine. I won't let you see her, so you won't see her. Now, go, go away! I'm about to call for other people. I'll tell them you hurt someone at Bao Village!" Jiang Xiaohe was so angry he jumped across the counter to beat Elder Dong to death, but a person suddenly entered and grabbed him from behind. Jiang Xiaohe was startled and hurriedly looked back to see that it was his Uncle Ma Zhixian.
Ma Zhixian was so unnerved he almost couldn't speak. He said, "Hurry and run! Long Zhiqi is in the city. Ah! You've sown quite the hatred here this day." At this, Jiang Xiaohe hurried out of the shop, untied his horse and mounted it. He turned back and clasped his fist at Ma Zhixian, saying, "Good-bye, Uncle!" He spurred his horse out of the west gate, found a large road and headed directly north. After he passed through some mountains, he urged his horse to go at a slower pace as tears poured unbidden out of his two eyes. He thought, If old master Bao hadn't killed my father, would it have been that I wouldn't be able to know my own mother? That I wouldn't dare even to stop in my own hometown? Thus, a fury burned in his chest as he loosened the reins and sped north. After a while, the day grew dark and there was no moonlight. He found a secluded town and stopped at an inn to rest.
Early the next day, he left the inn and set off, crossing through Xixiang County. He veered east as he went and by noon, he'd arrived in Ziwu Town. Ziwu was a bustling place as well. To the north across the Ziwu River, after another forty or fifty miles were the Zhongnan Mountains, and after the Zhongnan Mountains, it was the Guanzhong Plains. Jiang Xiaohe planned on galloping straight toward Kaifeng after exiting the Hangu Pass. When he finished inquiring about the route there from those at roadside, he found a tavern because the day was hot and his throat dry, and it was also time to eat. He got his horse at the gate and went inside.
As he stepped in with one foot, someone entered closely behind his other foot. Jiang Xiaohe felt uneasy and turned around quickly, but saw that it was an old man. He was probably about sixty years of age and wore glasses. His beard was a bit white and he wore a small hat on his head. He was dressed in a blue cloth robe and a green muslin waistcoat, and on his back he carried a small bundle. Jiang Xiaohe found a table and sat down, and the old man sat down across from him. Jiang Xiaohe asked for wine, and the old man did as well. Then he pulled a book out of his bundle and read it as he drank, looking particularly entranced with it. Jiang Xiaohe felt envious, thinking to himself, It's still better to be able to read. With a book, I could get rid of anxiety and relax, but I don't know even one character. He smiled and asked, "Old mister, what book are you reading?"
The old man looked up from his book and turned his head to glance at Xiaohe. He said, "I'm reading Tang poetry." He had a southern accent. Jiang Xiaohe could still understand him though, thinking, This old mister is probably a xiucai. He must be very learned. After a couple cups of wine, he saw that the old man was still reading with great interest. Jiang Xiaohe didn't understand what was so engrossing about the book, so he respectfully asked, "Old mister, are you a xiucai?" The old man shook his head, but didn't say anything. He continued reading that book of his. Jiang Xiaohe had just about finished his wine when he called for some dishes and rice, and then asked, "Old mister, do you want to have some?" The old man waved his hand and said, "Nay, I don't."
Jiang Xiaohe swallowed large mouthfuls of food. After a while, the old man put down his book, poured himself half a cup of wine and drank, gazing over at Xiaohe. Xiaohe smiled and asked, "Old mister, where do you come from?" The old man said, "I'm from Jiangnan." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Are you an official, old mister?" The old man shook his head again and said, "I've never been an official. I've come here to travel for pleasure." Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "Old mister, you have quite the spirit!" He thought that scholars were friendly people after all. Comparing the old mister and Bao Kunlun, this old man is like a bodhisattva, while Bao Kunlun is basically Yama the King of Hell! The old man then began to ask Xiaohe some questions. He smiled, "Child, where do ya come from, and where are ya going?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I come from Zhenba, and I'm going to Kaifeng." The old man looked surprised as he said, "Oh ho! That's quite far. Will ya be able to make it there?" Jiang Xiaohe pointed outside and said, "I have a horse." The old man asked further, "What are ya going to do in Kaifeng? Are yer parents all right with ya going so far away?" These words really stirred up Xiaohe's sorrow, and Xiaohe let out a long sigh. He shook his head, "I don't have parents. Old mister, I'm a child of hardship. You can say I'm only fourteen this year, but I've suffered every hardship! Old mister, there really are very few people who are friendly like you!"
The old man was even more taken aback, asking, "Why is that? What do ya do? Yer father's dead, so what are ya living on? Whom are ya looking for in Kaifeng?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm going to Kaifeng to find Gao Qinggui the Divine Hawk. Northern Sichuan's Xia of Langzhong told me to ask him to be my master. Ah! You're a scholar, old mister, so I'm telling you. Ah! I'm a man studying martial arts, so even if I tell you, you wouldn't understand. I suppose I'll tell you anyway. My father was murdered, causing my family to splinter apart. I can no longer see my mother and brother. I'm going to Kaifeng to learn dianxue from Gao Qinggui, so I can better avenge my father."
When he said this, he couldn't help but wipe his tears away. There were no other patrons beside them at the tavern, and when Jiang Xiaohe finished speaking, his mind seemed to feel a bit more at ease. When the old man heard this, he nodded continuously and said, "Y'ave quite the resolve, child!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Old mister, do you have any business in Kaifeng? I can take care of it for you while I'm there." The old man shook his head and said, "I don't." Jiang Xiaohe then settled his bill and was about to pay for the old man as well. The old man waved his hand and said, "Ya needn't be so courteous. I'm going to eat still, so I don't know how much money the total will be." Jiang Xiaohe clasped his fist and said, "Old master, farewell." The old man just nodded and didn't bother getting up.
Jiang Xiaohe exited the tavern and untied his horse. He led it north, found a fodder shop and fed it. He then mounted his horse and shook his whip, crossing the Ziwu River and continuing north. After riding twenty or thirty miles, he sighted the Zhongnan Mountains. It was still early in the day, but there weren't many passers-by on the road and there were no wagons at all. Jiang Xiaohe felt things difficult here, thinking, These Zhongnan Mountains are much higher than the ones we have back home. Plus, I don't know how deep or far these mountain roads are. It's early now, but what if it grows dark before I get thirty miles into the mountains? Where am I to find lodging if there aren't any inns? It would be the end of things if I encountered a tiger or leopard. Thus, he found a farmer walking on the side of the road and reined his horse in, asking, "Pardon me, brother. I want to cross the Zhongnan Mountains to get to Guanzhong, but I was wondering how far into the mountains I'll have to go before getting to an inn?"
The farmer said, "There are no inns in the mountain, only people's homes, but you can stay in any of them. However child, you can't enter the mountains on your own. In the mountains..." When he said this, he walked closer to the horse. He pointed to the high mountains to the north, saying, "If you went into the mountains by yourself, you'd be giving up your life for nothing. There are a dozen or so bandit hideouts in the mountains, and the bandit leaders are all men of renown. Hu Li the Silver Dart has the utmost skill and he is very bold. He'll often ride out of the mountains on horseback for amusement. If you want to cross the mountains, it's best if you go to Ziwu and wait. In a day or two, there'll be an escort wagons. You'd certainly do well to follow behind the escort wagons across the mountain. Otherwise, something will surely happen to you before you ride two miles into the mountains!"
Jiang Xiaohe listened and thought, The escort wagons on this road will all belong to the Kunlun School. If I followed behind them and they discover who I am, would they be able to spare me? Not to mention that I wouldn't dare delay even one moment. If I tried my hardest to cross the mountains, perhaps I won't encounter any bandits, and even if I did, it's no big deal. I'll tie the golden bell to my horse and throw some Jianghu talk at them. Once they find out I'm the Xia of Langzhong's man, they wouldn't dare hurt me. He clasped his fist at the farmer and said, "Many thanks!" He then immediately waved his whip and made his way toward the mountains. In a short while, he spotted the mountain entrance, whereupon he spurred his horse on through it. It wasn't until he rode a dozen or so miles on the winding mountain road that Jiang Xiaohe saw that the Qin Mountains were unlike any of the mountains in Northern Sichuan. Not only were the peaks high and the ridges steep, but the myriad mountains were also stacked close together, creating various upward or downward formations. Every peak was several hundred yards high, extending up into the distance without end. There were also a great many trees, making numerous areas lush and verdant with forests that seemed never to have been felled by people before. He traveled a long while without encountering anyone, though sometimes he spotted a few caves in the recesses of the mountain spitting out dense cook fires. There were probably people living there.
He continued on the twisting mountain road for another twenty-odd miles and felt it becoming narrower and steeper. Jiang Xiaohe was nearly at point he couldn't ride his horse anymore, but he carefully kept a close rein on the horse and continued step-by-step upwards, going higher and higher. Soon the boy and horse had almost reached the top of a ridge when looking up he suddenly espied a man up ahead carrying a bundle on his back. The man walked up effortlessly and was soon about to crest the ridge. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but be envious, saying, "Don't think too much of that man walking. He's having an easier time climbing this mountain on foot than me riding my horse." Then he thought, Hearing that farmer tell it, these mountains have more bandits than rocks. A group of eight or ten wouldn't dare go through it, so how could this one? He's carrying a pack as well, so he definitely doesn't seem to live in the mountains... He thought this as he rode and after a few more steps, he gave the man walking ahead a careful look and was suddenly taken aback, crying out with surprise, "Strange!" The man ahead of him was wearing a small hat on his head and clothed in a blue cloth robe and green muslin waistcoat. He would occasionally tilt one way and his light, white beard would blow in the mountain winds.
Jiang Xiaohe could see very clearly from behind, thinking, This is too strange. Isn't that the old man I met at the tavern in Ziwu? When I'd left the tavern, he was still leisurely waiting to eat. My horse rode ceaselessly fifty or sixty miles north and then traveled a long while after entering the mountains, so how could this old man be ahead of me while walking with a bundle on his back. I don't believe it. Hence he uncovered his voice and shouted ahead, "Old mister!" The traveler who was about to crest the ridge turned his head and looked down, whereupon Jiang Xiaohe almost toppled from his horse in disbelief. He urged his horse up the mountain as quick as possible and shouted, "Old mister, how did you walk so quickly? Oh my! You're already walking ahead of me! Wow, old mister, you must have divine legs!"
The old man looked down and laughed loudly, nodding. The man's beard fluttered pleasantly in the wind. Jiang Xiaohe thought, He must be an old immortal! He huffed as he whipped his horse, making it over the mountain ride with great difficultly. He was so tired it was hard to catch his breath and sweat ran from his head to his neck like rain. However, the old man was already long waiting for him at the summit, appearing very much at peace. He wasn't breathing heavily at all, looking simply like an idle cloud or wild crane that had floated across a hundred miles and landed upon the top of the mountain.
Jiang Xiaohe reined in his horse and panted, saying, "Old mister, how do you travel so quickly? Ah! If I had two legs like yours, I wouldn't need a horse to travel upon Jianghu." The old man smiled plainly and said, "I took a shortcut 'ere." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I thought so! Old mister, do you think I'm going in the right direction?" The old man nodded and said, "Very right. After going down this mountain ridge, cross another two and the road will widen. There will be people's 'omes there and ya'll be able to get a drink of water." Jiang Xiaohe clasped his fist and said, "All right. Thank you, old mister. Farewell, farewell." Thus, he let loose his horse and ran down, clop, clop, clop, along the slope of the mountain. He reached the bottom of the ridge in a split second and reined in his horse as he looked back upwards. He saw that the old man had not yet started his descent.
Jiang Xiaohe urged his horse along the mountain path and rode north another five or six miles. He came upon an even higher and steeper mountain ridge that seemed to run straight up and straight down and considered to himself whether or not he could ride the horse up. When he lifted his head up, ah! He suddenly spotted once more the old man carrying a bundle on his back, walking boldly upon the precipice. He saw him ascend the mountain ridge in an instant and disappear over it in the blink of an eye. Jiang Xiaohe held his gaze upward, baffled. Though he was sweating, he started trembling, saying, "This is no good! He's either an immortal or a ghost. He's certainly not a person!" He peeled his horse away and entered a secluded mountain road. He was still shaking and it seemed as if the curious old man was crouching among every crag and pine tree. Twisting and winding, he rode a very long length of the mountain path and arduously passed over two more mountain ridges, not seeing any more of the curious old man.
All of a sudden piercing cries like those of a hawk reached his ears, though they sounded to him like the signal whistles of the brigands he'd heard on Trunk Mountain. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but shudder. He hastily pulled his saber from under the saddle and looked all around, raising his eyes and turning his head. All he saw were the trees moving in the mountain wind and the white clouds fleeting by over the edges of mountain ridge. He didn't even hear the sound of a single bird. However, Jiang Xiaohe kept his mind alert and his saber out of its scabbard. He constantly looked back as he rode and cross another couple hills, noticing that the path became gradually wider. However, after riding a short distance, another disturbing situation arose in front of his eyes! Seven or eight bodies laid flat across the mountain road. Jiang Xiaohe was in shock, saying, "How bizarre!" He reined his horse in and proceeded slowly. He saw that though seven or eight people were laying this way and that upon the ground, there was not one spot of blood, only sabers and staffs strewn about. He spurred the horse to walk closer for a look and heard only groaning from the men on the ground. One of them even said, "Brother! Quick, go and report to the captain! None of us can move!"
Jiang Xiaohe was dumbstruck. He approached to see that there were eight men, all wearing short shirts and pants, just like those bandits he'd encountered in Northern Sichuan. None of them were wounded and all had their eyes open, but they couldn't move. Some were on their stomachs and some on their backs. Some could even speak, but others just moaned, as if they felt great pain somewhere on their bodies. Jiang Xiaohe's eyes widened in surprise as he asked, "What's happened to you all? Who beat you guys up? What did they use to do it?" The immobile bandits had seen by now that Jiang Xiaohe was just a passerby and not one of their own, when one of them said, "Friend, do a good deed. Take a message to the eastern side of the ridge for us. We're all men of Captain Hu Li the Silver Dart. We just ran into an old man with a white beard who unleashed dianxue skill on all of us! Tell them to come and carry us back!"
When Jiang Xiaohe heard the words dianxue, he seemed to have been reminded of something and immediately urged his horse on without uttering a word. He put his steel saber away as he rode, thinking, I get it. The old mister I encountered must've been a great and famous xia. He knows how to hit the vital points, so could it be he's Gao Qinggui? Ah! How stupid I was. I should have kneeled on the mountain ridge and asked him to be my master, but I just let him go! Thus, he spurred his horse forward and looked from side to side, but he was unfortunately hard-pressed to find a trace of the old man. He grew ever more anxious as the path seemed ever more to oppose him. He climbed over two or three more mountains until both he and the horse were so exhausted they could go no further.
By this time the sun was already tilting west and the dark clouds of the valleys had gathered. Even the paths became gradually obscured, though it was fortunate that the road he was currently on was both level and wide. Jiang Xiaohe rode another dozen or so miles of the road when he suddenly heard someone shouting ahead of him, "Where are you coming from? Hey! I'm asking you!" Jiang Xiaohe drew nearer before he saw a flat valley in front of him populated by several dwellings and a large crowd of people. There were also wagons, horses and mules. The one asking him questions looked to be an escort.
Jiang Xiaohe approached and stopped his horse, saying, "I've come from the town of Ziwu. What about you, friend? What honorable place do you come from?" The man said, "We are from the Lishun Security Office in Xi'an. We are on our way to Hanzhong with Captain Ge." Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but become more alarmed, thinking, This isn't good! I've run into Ge Zhiqiang. In the Kunlun School, his name rings even greater than those of the Long brothers! What do I do now? He sunk into a bit of a panic. The escort across from him asked further, "Are there others behind you?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "No one. It's just me!" The other man was a bit astonished, asking, "Just you? You risked crossing the mountains on your own? Don't mess with us, little one. Those who travel upon Jianghu can't just make jokes whenever they want!"
Jiang Xiaohe didn't dare to get off his horse and anxiety crept onto his face. He nodded, saying, "It's true! It's just me. I had no choice, because I had urgent business. Even if there were hills of blades and pots of hot oil on the Qin mountain road, I would still have had to travel it. But even now I can't rest here. I have to hurry on!" As he said this, he spurred his horse forward to get through them, intending to escape from these men of the Kunlun School. Unexpectedly, the escort he was talking to grabbed hold of his horse's head and said, "Don't you value your life, you little fool? Your damn courage ain't so trifling! You crashed your way through thirty-odd miles of road. It wasn't that Hu Li the Silver Dart didn't see you; it was that he didn't think you were worth robbing. Open your eyes and have a look! How many escort wagons are stopped here? Our great Captain Ge is here too. Why haven't we dared to proceed? Could it be we don't want to make the mistake of incurring Hu Li's one-hundred-hits-in-one-hundred-shots silver darts? If you're thinking to head north, you need be careful of their northern hideout. If you go that way and they see you, we'll not speak of darts. Even if they sent a rock at you, it might blow your brains out, little one!"
Jiang Xiaohe's temper flared at this man's reaming of him, but he truly didn't dare provoke a situation here, so he suppressed his anger and smiled coldly, "Friend, it's none of your concern. Even if I die, I have to take care of my urgent business!" Thus he waved his whip and urged his horse on, planning to break through them with haste, but someone behind the wagons abruptly smacked Xiaohe in the hip with the heel of their hand. Caught off guard, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't keep from yelling out as he tumbled from the horse. The person behind it was none other than Bao Kunlun's second son, Bao Zhilin. This time he had been entrusted by the Long brothers with the task of going to Xi'an and inviting back Ge Zhiqiang. Ge Zhiqiang was escorting a Lishun caravan south and had come to this point in the mountains. Since it was late in the day and they'd had apprehensions concerning Hu Li's darts, they could proceed no further and had stopped here, not thinking that they would encounter Jiang Xiaohe.
Though Bao Zhilin was unaware of Jiang Xiaohe bringing the Xia of Langzhong to cause trouble in Ziyang and Zhenba two days past, he'd pushed Jiang Xiaohe off his horse and hurried over to give him a kick, yelling, "You little piece of shit! How the fuck are you still alive? The wound you gave Sir Long still keeps him from walking, you bastard!" Jiang Xiaohe rolled over and crawled up. He ran over to his horse and pulled out his saber, swoosh, sending a chop at Bao Zhilin, yelling, "You mongrel mutt! When you strike young Sir Jiang, young Sir Jiang will come and find you!"
Bao Zhilin spread his arms and ran, shouting out, "This is Jiang Zhisheng's son! He's the one who wounded our eldest brother Long!" Three or four of the Lishun Security escorts approached swinging their sabers and staffs and started fighting with Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe knew well that he was all alone, but as things were, he could only put his all into it. He shook his blade, whoosh, whoosh, slashing and cutting every which way. His opponents weren't weak, but none were able to draw close to his person.
After battling for ten-odd exchanges, he saw Bao Zhilin bringing a person forward. In the midst of the evening's valley, he couldn't see this man clearly, but he could tell roughly that his body was imposing and his manner daunting. In his hand he held a Kunlun blade just like the one used by the old master Bao. When he drew near, he pointed with his saber and yelled, "Stop this! Which one is Jiang Xiaohe?" The ones who were fighting Xiaohe withdrew their sabers and staffs and jumped to one side. Jiang Xiaohe panted and held his saber in front of him, answering, "I am Jiang Xiaohe. Who are you?" From beside the man, Bao Zhilin said, "The little one doesn't even recognize my sixth disciple-brother. Other than my father, this is the Kunlun School's most famous hero, Sixth Sir Ge the Iron Hegemon of the 'Golden Saber and Silver Whip'!"
Jiang Xiaohe knew that this was Ge Zhiqiang. Even the Xia of Langzhong had said before that he was the most skilled disciple of Kunlun. Thus, he anxiously said, "I didn't provoke you guys. You've all kept me here and bullied me, taking advantage of me because I'm young!" Ge Zhiqiang sniggered coldly and advanced a few steps with Kunlun blade in hand. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly stepped back. Ge Zhiqiang yelled, "Throw down the saber in your hand and let us tie you up. We'll send you back to Zhenba and listen to how our master wishes to handle you. If you dare resist in the slightest, I will immediately hack you to death with one cut! You little criminal, your dad Jiang Zhisheng tarnished the reputation of the Kunlun School, and you yourself ran away after wounding our second disciple-brother. Let's see where you'll run now." After he said this, his saber came down viciously.
Jiang Xiaohe quickly brought his saber up to meet it, but with a clang, Jiang Xiaohe's wrist pulsed with pain and his saber was thrown onto the ground. He was just about to turn and run, but Ge Zhiqiang kicked him from behind—a kick real with the power to topple mountains and stamp out seas—sending Jiang Xiaohe rolling over several times like an egg. A few of the escorts ran over and pinned Jiang Xiaohe down. Jiang Xiaohe struggled and shouted, but his neck was pinched down and both his arms were twisted and held down. He was just like a little captured chicken. Bao Zhilin shouted, "Get rope! Get rope and tie him up! Tie him up!" He was immensely pleased and shouting when he abruptly felt a numbness in his spine. He said, "Ah!" before fell onto the ground with a thud. There had suddenly appeared behind him an old man carrying a bundle on his back. All those around were very stunned.
Ge Zhiqiang grew furious, brandishing his saber as he approached threateningly, "Who are you?" The old man silently stood his ground and waited until Ge Zhiqiang's saber was coming down on him. The old man just raised his left hand slightly and pinched the Kunlun blade with two of his fingers. Ge Zhiqiang tried with all his Iron Hegemon's might, but he couldn't press the saber down any further, nor could he pull it away. He used both his hands to grip the blade's handle and exerted his strength in an effort to wrest the saber away, but the old man's two fingers seemed to have the force of several tons, not budging even the tiniest bit. The old man then applied a little bit of strength and took the Kunlun blade away with the saber's edge clasped between his fingers. He placed it on the ground and stamped on it. With a clatter the heavy pure steel Kunlun blade promptly broke into two pieces just as if it were a thin slat of wood. Ge Zhiqiang the Iron Hegemon shouted out in fright. His color drained as he asked, "Who are you?" The old man's right hand remained clasped about his pack as it had the entire time. He spoke calmly in his southern dialect, "I am this boy's master, and I cannot stand by and watch ya harassing him!"
By this time, the people in the area were all stupefied and the men holding Jiang Xiaohe down had all loosened their grips. Ge Zhiqiang was trembling from head to toe when he told everyone to let Jiang Xiaohe go. He then knelt and bowed with his hands held in front of his head, saying, "Respected elder, please grant us your name!" The old man shook his head and said, "I don't need to say my name. Just go visit yer master Bao Zhenfei and ask him whom he encountered in the Tongbai Mountains thirty years ago. He'll know my name." Ge Zhiqiang stuttered, "Y-yes, yes," and dared not inquire further.
Jiang Xiaohe came over crying and kowtowed to the old man. The old man spoke kindly, "Don't be afraid! Mount yer horse and ride on. I'll protect ya!" Jiang Xiaohe crawled up, but didn't bother to pick up his saber. He led his horse with his head hung and walked north with the old man under the day's twilight.
In the valley after they departed, Ge Zhiqiang the Iron Hegemon and the other escorts talked with each other in low tones and quietly went about their business. They dared not raise their voices, as if that old xia's supernatural actions had frozen their souls with fright! There was only the brushing sound the trees made as the mountain winds blew. They picked up two pieces of the stamped apart Kunlun blade and lifted up the crippled Bao Zhilin. They spent the night in the dwellings of the people in the valley, and the next day they somberly brought the escort wagons through the Qin Mountains with Bao Zhilin in tow. Whenever Ge Zhiqiang came to Southern Shaanxi, he did so with power and bravado, because not only was he a prominent disciple of the Kunlun School, he was also the wealthiest man in Guanzhong and influential in security circles. However, this time he came gloomily without sound or gusto. He ordered his subordinates to take the escort wagons to Hanzhong while he brought only two men, three horses and a wagon with him. In the wagon laid an immobile Bao Zhilin who could only speak. They hurried to Zhenba County before the night was out.
Because he had calmly subdued the Xia of Langzhong and scared away Jiang Xiaohe, the old master Bao believed he could sit back in Bao Village and relax, but to his surprise, Ge Zhiqiang arrived that morning. Old master Bao had brought his granddaughter out in front of the gate along with Lu Zhizhong, Long Zhiqi, Ma Zhixian, Liu Zhiyuan, Qin Zhibao and the others. When they sighted Bao Zhilin being lifted off the wagon like a dead man, they were all dumbstruck. Ge Zhiqiang was spiritless and looked ill at ease. After he paid his respects to his old master, he asked his master aside and quietly related to him what had occurred on the way through the Qin Mountains.
At first, when old master Bao heard of Jiang Xiaohe traveling the Qin Mountains alone, he clenched his fists angrily and his face turned purple. Later, he heard that a curious old man had dropped Bao Zhilin by hitting his vital points and split a Kunlun blade with a stamp of his foot. His face turned pale and he looked gradually more startled by the time he heard Ge Zhiqiang say, "This man said he didn't need to say his name. He just told me to return and ask you, master, about thirty years ago in the Tongbai Mountains..." Before he could say anymore, the old master Bao stamped his foot anxiously and cried out "Ah...!" before he collapsed onto the ground, having lost consciousness. All his disciples were panicked! They hurriedly came forward to help carry him inside. The young girl Aluan began to weep loudly. The old master laid on his bed surrounded by his disciples, two of his daughters-in-law and his young granddaughter, all of them seeing to him. They fed him ginger soup a while before the old master slowly came to.
Young Aluan was sobbing over her grandpa's body as he breathed deeply for a time before he shed some tears and sighed, "It's over! All over! I, Bao Zhenfei, behaved too viciously in the past and have caused all of you to suffer cruel retribution with me. I know that man. Thirty years ago when I was young and spirited, I encountered this man in the Tongbai Mountains of Henan and he'd taught me a lesson. If a man such as me with my martial arts fell into his hands, I'd be as good as worthless. I've never told anyone about the loss I suffered in the Tongbai Mountains. I believed him long dead. I didn't think he was still in this world, and even less that he would take in Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe is bold and fierce, hardworking and eager to excel. If in three years' time he returns accomplished in martial arts, not one person of the entire Bao clan, including the thirty-some disciples of my Kunlun School, will be able to survive! Ah! This is all because I, Bao Zhenfei have handled matters excessively throughout my life and then wavered that I've tied this knot of an enemy that I can't undo!" When the old master finished speaking, all his disciples were grimly brushing their tears away.
Ma Zhixian wiped his tears and consoled the old master, "Master, don't worry! If Jiang Xiaohe learns martial arts and returns to take his revenge, I'll meet with him. There are things I could say to him!" The old master shook his head and said with a trace of anger, "You're his uncle. He grew up in your house, so of course he wouldn't hurt you. We of the Kunlun School won't be a match for him in the future, but we'll die before we admit defeat and concede!" Young Aluan jumped to her feet and cursed Jiang Xiaohe, "Grandpa, don't be afraid! If Jiang Xiaohe comes, I'll beat him up!" Long Zhiqi and the others fumed as well, "Can't we intensify our martial arts training and invite the world's heroes to wait for him and deal with him? If he brings his master here, can't we all fight against him as one?"
The old master Bao stared into space a while as he was laying down. The dark purple color gradually returned to his pale and bloodless face. He abruptly got up from the bed and struck his breast assertively, saying, "Not to fear!" He clenched his fists and puffed out his chest, booming, "None of you have finished your martial arts training, because when I instructed my disciples, I have always excluded four sets of fists and eight sequences of the saber. I kept them secret and didn't teach them. From this day on, I'll teach them all to you so that you may all learn as much martial arts as me. Don't tell me that thirty Bao Zhenfeis cannot defeat one Jiang Xiaohe! What are we afraid of?"
The grief of all his disciples turned instead into exhilaration, as their spirits were all raised as one. From that day forward, the old master Bao gathered together Long Zhiqi, Jia Zhiming, Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong, Ma Zhixian, Chen Zhijun, Qin Zhibao, Jiang Zhiyao, Miao Zhiying, Yuan Zhiyi, Yuan Zhixia, Han Zhixin, and Zhang Zhicai, along with his eldest son Bao Zhiyun, a total of fourteen disciples at the Bao Village in Zhenba County, where daily they trained in the secret martial arts of the old master. The old master roused his spirit as well. His body grew even stronger and his movements more agile by the day, restoring him to the bravery and haughtiness of his youth. Above all, in the evening of every day the old master always instructed his granddaughter Aluan in a few secret moves within the secret moves. Several years passed in just this way and the reputation of the Kunlun School grew ever more extensive, yet none in Jianghu heard even tiniest nugget of information concerning Jiang Xiaohe.