The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 9

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 9.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.



With bitter will and a resolute heart, he acquires top skills in ten years.
In gentle wind and light rain, two valiants meet in a desolate village.

It was just now early summer, and the great plain outside the Hangu Pass was dense with fields of grain growing boundless far off into the distance. The Yellow River was like a blue dragon, feverishly spraying clouds of mist high into the air. Mount Song the Central Peak, however, was a cool world. On the mountain, there were dense forests and babbling brooks, holding back the hot winds blowing from the great earth. There was a dwelling below the mountain where someone was staying currently. This person was none other than he who had caused a great disturbance in Chang'an by battling one against the Kunlun School, losing the fight only after encountering Ji Guangjie, and then had gone out of the Hangu Pass having suffered an injury, Li Fengjie. He was originally the child of a peasant family in Nangong county, but because his natural character was uninhibited, he both enjoyed literature and liked the martial arts. However, the only literature he enjoyed was poetry. He despised writing eight-part essays, and because of that, he was unable to obtain an official position in the civil service examination rooms. The martial arts he'd learned were Short Sword and Long Fist, Eave-flying and Wall-walking. If you asked him to go to a martial arena to lift rocks and swing great sabers, he couldn't be bothered. Thus, while he was well-versed in literature and martial arts, he could complete neither the path of literature, nor that of the martial arts, and as a result, he had over twenty years, yet had accomplished nothing. He could not measure up to his brother, younger by a year, Li Fengqing, who could at least till the family's acres of fields and act the expected role of farmer.

When Li Fengjie learned his martial arts, he sought a Daoist priest as his master. The priest was of seventy or eighty years by that time, and he called himself the Longshan Daoist. This Daoist roamed far and wide and stayed at the Lüxian Inn in Handan county for two years. It was during that time that he passed his martial arts on to Li Fengjie. Later on, he headed to Beijing and bid Li Fengjie to go with him, so the master and disciple lived together for another half year, and Li Fengjie learned the general idea of dianxue from his master. Thereafter his master commanded him to temper himself in Jianghu. Just before his departure, the Longshan Daoist explained to his disciple his background. He turned out to be the one whose name shook Jianghu, one of the "Two Pinnacles and Two Dragons," the Dragon of Shu.

Prior to sending his disciple off, the old xia the Dragon of Shu introduced him to two men. One was Zhang Xiong the Iron Crossbow, a renowned security escort from Changzhou prefecture in Jiangnan, and the other was the Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva of Mount Song in Henan. These two were both previously subordinates of the Dragon of Shu, and they were the Dragon of Shu's arms in the years when the Dragon of Shu traveled everywhere and roved about Jianghu, acting as xia in pursuit of righteousness and defeating miscreants and tyrants in the four corners of the world. When Li Fengjie took leave of his master in Beijing, he headed to Mount Song to see the Chan master Taiwu. Then he went to Jiangnan and stayed for a time at the security office of Zhang Xiong the Iron Crossbow. Afterwards, he roamed the landscape, making inscriptions and composing poetry, and aiding the helpless in the name of righteousness, and for that, he made a name for himself in Jiangnan.

From Jiangnan, he headed north to Chang'an and the Wei River to visit historical sites at the ancient capital of the Han and Tang. Little did he know his encounter with Bao Aluan at the Dayan Pagoda would later lead to all kinds of trouble. He had been wounded in his right flank, not too seriously at first, but because he hadn't the face to remain in Guanzhong any longer after his defeat, he endured the pain of his injury and rode his bloodstained white horse through the Tong Pass. He rode through the night day after day, never having time to rest, and by the time he reached Mount Song, he was not able to get up again after he dismounted his horse. Fortunately, he had stopped at the Chan master Taiwu's Baisong Temple, and the Chan master Taiwu had a wonder medicine with a secret formulation called "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder," for treating injuries from swords and sabers. Applied to his wound, it healed completely before half a month was up.

Li Fengjie wanted to reenter the pass immediately and fight Ji Guangjie, but the Chan master Taiwu had hidden his sword and all the silvers he had carried with him and appealed to him, "You mustn't go again. Ji Guangjie is the Xia of Longmen's grandson, and it is a matter of course that he will have secret sword techniques. You've only trained in the martial arts with the Dragon of Shu a little over two years, so your swordwork will naturally be a little weaker than his. Not to mention that there are many people there. If you go, you will not win. It would not be a waste of time to stay here with me for now, and wait until you've studied more sword techniques and made some loyal friends before looking for Ji Guangjie to determine who is stronger than the other." Thus, Li Fengjie listened to the Chan master Taiwu's exhortations and sequestered himself at the Baisong Temple.

There were a great many temples on Mount Song, with the Shaolin Temple being the largest and having the greatest population of monks, and its Central Peak Tianqi Shrine burning most densely of incense. The smallest was Baisong Temple and its incense burned most sparsely. The reason was that Baisong Temple had been built at the highest summit, and no one would go easily to so high a place to offer incense. Even mountain litters couldn't make it up there. The Chan master Taiwu did not descend the mountain lightly either, nor did the monks at his temple leave the mountain to collect alms, yet whatever things they had at the temple were all very lavish. Only Li Fengjie had puzzled out the reason for this. To hear Taiwu himself tell it, all of his coin was earned from selling medicine, but Li Fengjie did not believe him. This was because he regarded "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder" as most precious, and not only was he unwilling to sell it, but he was unable to give it away casually to even those who had developed a very close friendship with him. He had likely become a monk halfway through his life after having amassed great fortune. If it wasn't that he encountered a formidable opponent and suffered a crushing defeat, then it was that he had involved himself in too great a feud, or committed too serious a crime, and thus he concealed himself in the life of a monk and went into hiding atop a mountain. Other than a few old friends who would occasionally come once to visit him, he did not generally receive guests. Li Fengjie did not ask him about these things in great detail. He spent his days atop the mountain, taking in flower scents and birdsongs amid the shadows of the mountain mist and the wave-like rustling of pine trees, reading a few books, and running through a few sword sequences. His mind and body were quite relaxed and free from worry.

On this day, Li Fengjie felt lonely on the mountain all of a sudden, so he descended the mountain and went to a village called Zither Stream. The village was on the eastern side of a mountain stream, and the stream flowed down with spring water year-round. When it hit between the mess of rocks, a tinkling sound rang out like that of a zither playing. Li Fengjie's white horse was currently being kept in this village at the home of a woodsman named Hu Erzheng of the Iron Shoulders.

Li Fengjie led his horse from the Hu house and galloped about on a large road below the mountain. He went back and forth for a while until he grew tired and the sun had risen above the top of the mountain. The time of day had almost reached the seventh or eighth hour and the number of travelers and horse-driven wagons gradually increased. It was the first day of the fifth month and the many local people all went to Tianqi Shrine to offer incense. Today was only the first day, but by Duanyang on the fifth day, it was said the Tianqi Shrine would be even livelier than a market. Li Fengjie was afraid of crashing into people, so he pulled his horse over to the side of the road and stood watching people walk by, men and women, old and young, especially the made-up young wives and young women.

Li Fengjie did not have the mind that the licentious Master Dengtu had, but he couldn't help but think of the many verses on love that people of ancient times composed, so he sat atop his horse and quickly completed a poem. He shook his silk whip and recited, "A purple hairpin, red sleeves and jade green skirt, one gaze and Mount Song gives rise to beautiful clouds. A roaming valiant atop a horse in rapture, the sword point cuts with difficulty the myriad regrets."

Just as he looked longingly into the distance, extremely pleased with himself, the sound of a bell jingling suddenly arrived at his ear. From the east came a black horse, upon which a golden bell had been fastened, and depending on the speed at which the horse traveled, it rang out either quickly or slowly. Mounted on the horse was a youth of over twenty years, handsome with long eyebrows and big eyes. His body was big, as well as sturdy and tall. On his head there rested a big straw hat with two black silk streamers fluttering in the wind. He wore blue coat and pants, and straw sandals on bare feet as if he had come from Jiangnan. The things that most caught Li Fengjie's attention were a simple travel bundle attached to this man's horse, a sword hanging below the saddle, and the sword's iron case brushing up against the horse's copper bridle, its clanking sound answering the sounds of the bell.

Seeing these circumstances, Li Fengjie spoke, "This man surely isn't here to climb the mountain and offer incense. He's probably one who travels upon Jianghu. But who is he going up the mountain to find?" He made these sorts of guesses in his head, but didn't go following after the man. He spurred his horse along the road, and when he entered a crude wooden door, he saw Hu Erzheng eating. Hu Erzheng's age was about twenty-seven or eight years. The flesh on his entire body was almost dark as coal, and his head was like an iron ball. He had bared his upper body and exposed a robust physique, craggy like mountain rocks. He was sweaty all over, and it was both dark and slick, as if he had been given a layer of black lacquer. In his two large hands he held a piece of dark flatbread of which he was in the midst of taking large bites. As he chewed on the bread, he said, "Brother Li! Come eat! My mom's baked some good bread!"

Li Fengjie shook his head and said, "I'm all right. I'll eat when I get back to the temple." Hu Erzheng said, "The food at the temple isn't as good as at my home. Come eat! There's bread inside the house!" He then pointed at a bundle of firewood placed in the yard. This firewood bundle had just been put together and brought down from the high mountain. It was no less than a hundred and fifty or sixty catties. If it wasn't for his Iron Shoulders, no one could bear it down the mountain. Hu Erzheng said, "I can sell this bundle for two strings of coin and cut down a few catties of meat. I'll treat my old mom, and I'll treat you." Li Fengjie smiled, "You needn't buy meat to treat me. I'll eat one of your flatbreads right now." After he finished hitching his horse, he entered the grass hut puffing with smoke.

Hu Erzheng's mother was paralyzed and neither of her legs could move off their kang. She could only sit on the kang and in front of it was placed a small mud stove where she was baking flatbread for her son. The filling was very dry, and the flour for the flatbread was extremely coarse, so Li Fengjie had frowned a bit, but because he was simply too hungry and also too lazy to go out and buy something to eat, he tore off half a piece of bread and picked up a pickle, and then went outside to chat with Hu Erzheng while he ate. Hu Erzheng spoke of the pointlessness of being a woodsman, now that the trees on the mountain all had owners. If they didn't belong to the monks at the temples, then they were claimed by the affluent households below the mountain. If he was seen by others, he would be beaten and scolded. He wanted to go to the city to find work, but he didn't want to leave his old mom.

Li Fengjie added, "Since your old mom can't move, she needs your constant care, so how could go to the city to find work? It'd be better to accept making a living gathering firewood. When you don't have enough money, I can lend some to you." Hu Erzheng waved his hand and said, "Brother Li, don't lend me any money. If you did, I wouldn't be able to pay it back. I would keep thinking about it and not be able to sleep well." Li Fengjie laughed, quite appreciating Hu Erzheng's honesty. When he finished his half piece of bread and sated his hunger, he sat for a while until the sweat on his body was gone. Hu Erzheng had already finished eating and had gone to feed Li Fengjie's horse.

It was now past noon, so Li Fengjie said to Hu Erzheng, "Erzheng, I'm going. I'll see you again tomorrow!" Hu Erzheng grunted a response and Li Fengjie departed through the wooden door. He left the village and walked alongside the lake. He heard the running water tinkling just as if a zither was playing. Strange rock formations jutted out before the stream, piled one on top of another boundless to the eye, forming a high mountain ridge. The trees on the mountain ridge grew dense and shady, and when the wind blew, they would swish and rustle. He didn't know which leaves were making the sound, but when it combined with the tinkling of the mountain stream, it couldn't help but rouse Li Fengjie's desire to write poetry again. He stopped and stood next to the stream. He looked up at the clouds floating atop the mountain ridge and then down at the flowing waters of the stream. He suddenly spotted a stone bridge to his right, extending over the stream, which could be crossed to enter a mountain path. The path was precipitous yet wound deep into the mountains, as if some spectacular landscapes were hidden inside.

At this, Li Fengjie didn't want to compose verse anymore, thinking, What a great place. I wonder if it goes all the way up the mountain or not. I've been on the mountain for so many days, and yet I didn't know about this path! Thus, he walked across the stone bridge, and headed into the small trail, seeing on the ground two broken straw sandal straps made of hemp twine. He walked a little more and noticed a few piles of human excrement on the ground, knowing then that people must use this trail often. And so Li Fengjie continued up step by step. Above his head there were pines and cypresses offering him shade from the sunlight, and a mountain wind blew at his face. Various mountain birds flew in front of his eyes and called into his ears.

Li Fengjie suddenly thought, Why must I strive for fame and fortune in this messy human world? Why must I seek revenge from Ji Guangjie or fight bitterly with the Kunlun School without end? Should I just secure myself a portion of property on or below the mountain and become a hermit, enjoying the quiet fortunes of the mountain woods? What could be better than that? He pondered this as he walked and turned past a mountain ridge. The trail became steeper and narrower, and more and more mountain birds appeared.

He abruptly noticed a bout of weeping amid the disorderly twittering and chirping of the birds. It was the sound of a woman crying. Li Fengjie couldn't help but be taken aback, and carefully discerned where the crying was coming from. The crying drew nearer and nearer and became more and more anxious, and was now mixed with the sound of cursing. Li Fengjie immediately found his way toward it and saw running down from the mountain, a woman dressed in rags, her hair disheveled. She cried out, "Help! There's a bad man after me!" Sure enough, chasing behind the woman came a yellow-faced man of forty-odd years, broad of body, wearing silk coat and pants.

The man saw Li Fengjie, but continued chasing the woman as if he had not, yelling, "You little whore! The good sir here's doing you a favor, and you think you're too good for me? Fuck, you'll go with all of them, the pig herders and shit collectors... When I'm happy, I intend to do you favors. There are good things in it for you. I'll get you new clothes and give you some money to spend!" He chased after her, intending to carry her off. The woman ran down as fast as she could and stumbled onto the ground, screaming.

Li Fengjie found it hard to hold his fury as he leapt forward with a whoosh and grabbed hold of the yellow-faced man with one hand, angrily asking, "What do you think you're doing? Mistreating a defenseless woman!" The man said, "This bitch is mine! Who do you thi—" Before he could finish, Li Fengjie punched him in the head, sending the man unconscious onto the ground with a crash. Li Fengjie turned away from the man and went to assist the woman. He lifted the woman up with both hands and saw that she had only about seventeen or eighteen years and was very pretty. Li Fengjie felt himself a bit impetuous, so he let go of her and said, "Don't be afraid! You should get out of here!"

The woman was bleeding from her forehead and her tears were seeping into the blood as she choked with grief. She said not a word and started back up the mountain. Li Fengjie stopped her and asked, "What do you still need up the mountain? Do you live there?" The woman shook her head and sobbed, saying, "I dropped a basket!" Li Fengjie said, "I'll come with you to get it!" When he said this, he saw that the yellow-faced man had regained consciousness. He rolled over and stood up, and then pulled a knife from his side. At a flip of his hand, he threw it at Li Fengjie with a swoosh, just as if it was a dart. The woman shouted in fright, but Li Fengjie caught it in his hand and sneered, "Do you have any more throwing knives?" The man glowered with his vicious eyes and pulled throwing knives from the belt at his waist. Swoosh, swoosh, he flung two more of them in quick succession. Li Fengjie caught both of them with one hand, and the man couldn't help but become unnerved.

Li Fengjie's face darkened and he cursed, "You bastard!" He flicked his hand and sent the throwing knife back. It pierced the man's left cheek so that the man couldn't even yell out. Blood ran from his cheek down along the knife. He pulled it out without hesitation, and then turned to run. Before he took two or three steps upward, a rock flew down from above and struck his face with a crack. He yelped and toppled onto the ground once more unconscious.

Li Fengjie couldn't help his astonishment as he heard the sound of laughter from above and the clop, clop of hooves. A youth walked down the mountain leading a horse, and it turned out to be the same one Li Fengjie had seen in the morning from the side of the road. He saw him clasp his fist as he asked Li Fengjie with a smile, "Friend, does this path go all the way down the mountain? Can I get down there with my horse?" Li Fengjie sized him up and then clasped his fist, saying, "The trail's too narrow, so you won't be able to get through it with your horse. Friend, I saw you go up the mountain on the eastern side. Whey aren't you going down from that same path? It's much wider and more level." The youth in front of him said, "Someone told me that this mountain trail would lead me to Peakfront Village where the Baisong Temple's lower courtyard is. I want to go there to find someone."

Hearing this, Li Fengjie couldn't help being puzzled, thinking, Baisong Temple doesn't have a lower courtyard, and Peakfront village is on the north side, quite far from here. This person has obviously been tricked. Then he said, "Who are you looking for, friend?" The youth said, "I'm looking for the Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva of the Baisong Temple." Li Fengjie said, "That's no problem. The Chan master Taiwu is a friend of mine. I can go with you to see him. Sit tight for now. I'm going to finish taking care of this first." The youth smiled and said, "All right, all right."

Li Fengjie took the woman up and found her broken bamboo basket. The basket was filled with dug up wild vegetables and foraged pine nuts. Li Fengjie understood that this woman's family must be very poor, so he said to her sympathetically, "Try not to go up into the mountains anymore, but if you do, you should walk on the main road. Not many people travel on this one, so if you ran into another bad man, it would be very hard for you to deal with!" The woman assented with tears dropping from her eyes. Nearby, the youth said, "Ask her where she lives, and then take her back there!" Li Fengjie asked the woman where she lived, and the woman pointed down the mountain, replying, "I live at Zither Stream." Li Fengjie said, "I just came from there. I'll take you back there!" Then he said to the youth, "Friend, please wait a moment for me here. I'll be back shortly." The youth nodded and said, "All right, all right. I'll wait for you here." Li Fengjie carried the basket for the woman and walked down the mountain while protecting her.

The woman's feet were very small, and then she'd injured her leg when she fell, so she had much difficulty in walking on the uneven mountain road. At this time, Li Fengjie thought, We can't think about the separation of men and women now! Thus, he supported her arm and they walked down the mountain path much more easily. It wasn't until they crossed the stone bridge and entered the village at Zither Stream that Li Fengjie handed the basket over to the woman, instructing her, "You must not go up into the mountains again!" The woman limped away holding the basket.

Li Fengjie quickly made his way back up the mountain. When he went back to the place he had been, he saw that the injured yellow-faced man had come to again, but the youth had him locked in his arms and was questioning him. Li Fengjie walked over and hit him another couple times with his fist and yelled, "You don't look like you're young anymore, and yet you're mistreating a helpless woman. You're below even a mere beast. Get out of here! Go back up the mountain and find another trail. You're not to use this one to get down!" The man didn't utter a word. He hung his head like an injured dog and headed up the mountain.

Li Fengjie clasped his fist at the youth again and asked, "Would you do me the honor of giving me your great name?" The youth cupped his fist as well and said, "I am named Jiang Xiaohe." Upon hearing Jiang Xiaohe's name, Li Fengjie couldn't help being struck for a moment, as if he'd heard mention of the name before. He said, "Well met! Well met! Brother Jiang, from where are you coming?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I've come from Xuzhou especially to see the Chan master Taiwu. When I went to Baisong Temple a moment ago to call upon him, a monk at the temple told me he's gone to the lower courtyard in Peakfront Village. He gave me directions and told me to descend the mountain to find him. When I was walking here, I ran into you, brother, punishing that maniac. Your skill is quick and clean. I truly admire it. Dare I ask how I might address you, brother?"

Li Fengjie imparted his name, and Jiang Xiaohe came to like him even more, saying, "Oh my! It is Li Fengjie, the brilliant disciple of the Dragon of Shu, who stands before me. In Jiangnan, I heard tell of your many gallant exploits." Li Fengjie smiled and said, "You praise me too much!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Brother Li, since you are acquainted with the Chan master Taiwu, I ask you please to quickly take me to see him. The reason is I have a friend who was wounded in Xuzhou, and though the wound wasn't serious, it's become swollen and festered. I heard that the Chan master Taiwu has some kind of divine medicine here called "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder." I plan to ask him for some and hurry back so I can save my friend." Li Fengjie said kindly, "That can surely be done. Vajrapani's Restoration Powder is indeed a wonder medicine. I suffered a bit of a wound myself last month, and was healed by the medicine. It's only that the Chan master Taiwu considers this kind of medicine very precious and will not easily consent to giving it away. If you offered money for him, he'd be even less likely to sell it to you. I'll speak for you, however, and he will certainly feel ashamed if he didn't give you some." Jiang Xiaohe said, "The friend of mine who is wounded is a man of Jianghu, and the Chan master Taiwu used to travel upon Jianghu himself. Now that he's become a monk, he ought to hold mercy even more in his thoughts, so what could a bit of medicine be for him?" Having said this, with Li Fengjie in front and Jiang Xiaohe following behind, leading his horse, the two headed up the mountain.

They spoke as they walked, and Li Fengjie asked Jiang Xiaohe about his background. Jiang Xiaohe wasn't willing even to say where he had been born, and simply smiled and said, "I am a man alone, wandering about out here, and I don't know much of the martial arts, though it's not been so bad that I've been harassed by others while traveling upon Jianghu. I've just now come from Jiangnan, and I encountered an old friend when I arrived in Xuzhou. He was injured, so I came to ask the Chan master Taiwu for some medicine. When I get the medicine, I'll take it myself to Xuzhou, and then I want to go to Guanzhong to meet with some friends." Hearing this, Li Fengjie was taken aback and said, "Guanzhong...? I wonder what business Brother Jiang's friends in Guanzhong are in." Jiang Xiaohe said, "They are but a few in the security escort field." Li Fengjie asked, "The security firms in Guanzhong are mostly men of the Kunlun School. Could it be Brother Jiang is friends with them?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "I know them some, but the friendship is not deep."

Upon hearing this, Li Fengjie's attitude changed immediately as he considered Jiang Xiaohe a henchman of the Kunlun School. He became extremely unhappy and sneered, "Those of the Kunlun School are all inconsequential, not to mention contemptible and treacherous, relying only on their numbers. Recently there was one Ji Guangjie, the Xia of Longmen's grandson, and his swordwork could be called powerful. He arrived in Guanzhong and aided those of the Kunlun School. Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong and the others revered him as a god." Jiang Xiaohe seemed surprised, saying, "The Xia of Longmen's grandson?" Li Fengjie said, "It's said he is the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, and I believe it not to be false. His swordwork indeed has several moments of excellence, and he seems to be of an age with us. Although it is a bit too much of a shame for a young xia to increase the might of that Kunlun School and grow their influence!" Jiang Xiaohe then asked, "Brother Li, have you previously crossed swords with these people?" Li Fengjie hesitated a moment before saying, "There have been a few exchanges, but I would not shy away from another struggle with them!"

They spoke all the way and arrived at the highest peak of Mount Song. At this point, Jiang Xiaohe's horse could continue no further. Li Fengjie said, "Hitch your horse here. No one is likely to steal it." Jiang Xiaohe thus hitched his horse to a pine tree, and carried his travel bundle and his accompanying sword on his back. Then, he followed Li Fengjie in climbing through the trees and scaling the crags, just as if they were two simians, and ascended to the highest pinnacle of the mountain. It was the second time Jiang Xiaohe had come into the misty Baisong Temple. Li Fengjie invited him to rest in his room, and then went to the abbot's chambers of the Chan master Taiwu. Chan master Taiwu was browsing through sutras when Li Fengjie asked, "Are you aware that someone named Jiang Xiaohe came looking for you to ask for medicine? He's come now once again."

The expression on Chan master Taiwu's yellow face dropped and he revealed a look of displeasure, saying, "Why has he come again? He'd just come by earlier. That Vajrapani's Restoration Powder of mine is used for guarding people of my temple from the injuries they get falling down when going up and down the mountain. How could I just give it to a man of Jianghu? If I gave it to them, after being healed, they'll continue looking for fights and committing evil acts!" Li Fengjie said, "I think you should just give him a little bit and send him on his way. He seems to be a man of the Kunlun School, but he's come here from very far away, not an easy matter all said."

Upon hearing of the Kunlun School, Chan master Taiwu further shook his head and said, "I'm even less able to give it to someone from the Kunlun School. At any rate, I simply do not give that Vajrapani's Restoration Powder of mine to men of Jianghu. If you and I hadn't known each other for some time, I wouldn't have taken care of your last sword wound." Li Fengjie said, "I'll tell him to go then." The Chan master Taiwu said, "Tell him that I've gone to wander the world, that you don't know when I might be back and don't know where the medicine is stored." Li Fengjie said, "Why say all that? I'll just tell him you've long given all your medicine away." Chan master Taiwu nodded and said, "That'll do. I don't have much medicine left anyhow." Li Fengjie then went back to respond to Jiang Xiaohe. At this moment, Jiang Xiaohe had been waiting in the room for a while and had grown very anxious and suspicious. When he saw the sword mounted on Li Fengjie's wall and the books placed on his desk, he thought, This man is well-rounded in both literature and martial arts.

Li Fengjie returned to the room and said, "Brother Jiang, your arrival is not fortuitous. The monk Taiwu has already given all his medicine away." Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but be confused, asking, "The medicine's all been given away? But...can you ask the monk Taiwu to lend the prescription to me? I'll descend the mountain and make up a dose or two, and then return it. I, Jiang Xiaohe, swear to the gods that I will not copy down the prescription and pass it around. It's only for saving my wounded friend." Li Fengjie exhorted him, "Brother Jiang, I urge you to leave! There are famous healers everywhere. Hurry and invite them to fix your friend up. Don't waste time while your friend's in that condition. The monk Taiwu's medicine is obtained from another person as well." Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe's face soured and he waved his hand, saying, "I don't believe you! Brother Li, I haven't come to ask you for medicine, and the medicine isn't in your possession. You are not a man of this temple, and neither do you have anything to do with it. I'm going to find the monk and speak reason with him!" As he said this, he pushed Li Fengjie aside with his hand and left the room. Feeling Jiang Xiaohe's push, Li Fengjie thought his strength extremely great, and couldn't help his astonishment.

Jiang Xiaohe ran into the courtyard and called out loudly, "Taiwu! You needn't hide from me. Come out and we'll reason with each other. You used to be a man of Jianghu. My friend is now suffering from an injury. Show your Jianghu face and bring that medicine out with you. Furthermore, you've become a monk, and ascetics act first with benevolence. Hiding that bit of blade wound medicine won't help you attain enlightenment. However, if you give me a little, you'll be able to heal my friend and save him first from suffering!"

Li Fengjie trailed him out of the room and stood in Jiang Xiaohe's way, saying, "Brother Jiang, I was the one who brought you here. If you cause a disturbance, it will reflect badly on me!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "He who is surnamed Li, this isn't your concern! This has nothing to do with you. I came to this temple once before I even met you, and they sent me elsewhere. I'm not here now to pick a fight with the monk Taiwu. I am here to reason with him. The monk Taiwu, come out!" As he stamped his foot and shouted thusly, he saw a tall, broad, yellow-faced monk walking out of the abbot's chambers. Jiang Xiaohe asked, "Are you Taiwu?"

The face of the Chan master Taiwu showed anger as he chided, "What are you raging about in my place? I do have medicine, but I just can't give it to you people of Jianghu!" Jiang Xiaohe said to Li Fengjie, "Oh! He has medicine, and you were aiding him in his lies!" He approached a couple steps and said to Taiwu, "Don't worry. I, Jiang Xiaohe, am not willing to fight with anyone, but you are not correct in reproaching those of Jianghu. Don't tell me that you weren't once a man of Jianghu." The Chan master Taiwu said, "When I traveled Jianghu before, we were walking the path of xia for righteousness. Now you men of Jianghu are nothing but wicked thugs and depraved lechers. If I gave you Vajrapani's Restoration Powder, you would only go on behaving maliciously after you've healed yourselves!" Jiang Xiaohe jumped up and asked, "How can you know that?" Then he swung his arms and charged at the Chan master Taiwu, saying, "If you don't give me the medicine today, I won't leave. I'll cause such trouble you won't have any peace and quiet!"

The Chan master Taiwu turned up his lip slightly and sent a palm out to strike at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe didn't make to dodge it, waiting until his palm almost struck him, and then took advantage of an opening to take Taiwu's wrist in his hand, saying, "Ah! Good! Does the Golden-faced Bodhisattva really mean to fight me?" He grabbed Taiwu's wrist and turned him aside, causing Taiwu's iron tower of a body to run several paces outside of his control. Li Fengjie saw this and couldn't help but be taken aback. He quickly stood in Taiwu's way and said, "Master, don't provoke his anger. It looks to me this person has quite the background. It is far from worth it to suffer defeat at his hand!" The Chan master Taiwu said, "I would rather suffer defeat at his hand than give him any of Vajrapani's Restoration Powder!" When he said this, he flung his robe and leapt forward, swinging a fist at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe charged back at him, clenching his two fists tightly like a pair of iron hammers, as he and the Chan master Taiwu came at each other.

The Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva had originally been one of the Dragon of Shu's loyal aides, and he was now the best of the best of Henan Province's heroes. He was large of body and thick of arm, fierce of might and firm of fist. Any ordinary person would be struck to the ground by him in one or two moves. However, Jiang Xiaohe didn't flinched even a little now. All one could see was his body, quick and agile, spinning and flying, like a turning hawk or pouncing tiger. Taiwu was calm and steady, sending punches and kicks to and fro. There'd been over ten exchanges when Li Fengjie waved his hand and said, "Stop fighting!" Jiang Xiaohe's aim had been to ask for medicine, and had no wish to seek a fight, so he withdrew from a fighting stance and was about to make peace, but he saw Taiwu was once again taking advantage of the opening and sending a punch at him. Jiang Xiaohe really couldn't take it any longer, so he formed a palm with his right hand and a fist with his left, and sent a brutal blow at Taiwu's chest. With a thump, Taiwu's iron tower body fell backwards, but fortunately, Li Fengjie was there to support him, so he did not tumble onto the ground.

Jiang Xiaohe jumped to one side, not breathing heavily at all, and extended his hand, saying, "Do you want to keep fighting? Just give me the medicine!" The Chan master Taiwu found his footing, the color of his face flashing ever more golden yellow, and looked Jiang Xiaohe from head to toe one more time, asking, "Whose martial arts were passed on to you?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "There's no use in asking for particulars. I studied with my master for ten years and even I don't know what his name is."

Li Fengjie saw that Jiang Xiaohe's fighting was of the highest skill, and his bearing seemed very mysterious, so he approached and exhorted, "There's no need to fight. I'm quite certain that Brother Jiang did not learn his martial arts from the Kunlun School. To be specific, they are surely all of the internal school." Jiang Xiaohe said harshly, "The Kunlun School? The men of the Kunlun School are all my enemies! I learned martial arts for ten years just for the purpose of killing every last one of them!" Having said these few sentences, he huffed and then said to Chan master Taiwu, "Monk, there is no injustice nor animosity between us. If you are sensible today and give me a bit of medicine, I have absolutely no fight to pick with you, because I, Jiang Xiaohe, am a reasonable person. Now, if you have nothing else to say, you still have some medicine to give me!"

The Chan master Taiwu tightened his golden face and stared into space for a while. Then he nodded and said angrily, "Fine! I'll give you the medicine!" In two or three steps, he walked into the abbot's chambers. After a short while, he brought out four or five bundles of medicine and tossed them onto the ground. He then furrowed his brow and a furious flame burst forth from his two eyes as he said, "This is all of my medicine. I'm giving it all to you, and you can give it to whomever you like. And this...!" The Chan master Taiwu held a written piece of paper in his left hand, saying, "This is the prescription. Without it even I cannot make it. Let us destroy it from its base now. I'm an ascetic who lives outside of the world, not someone who's here just to make medicine for the people of Jianghu!" As he said this, he tore the prescription into little pieces, and then continued, "Take the medicine and get out. Let's consider this due to your superior abilities!"

Jiang Xiaohe's expression shifted, but he did his best to hold down his temper, smiling coldly and saying, "I don't need this much of your medicine. One bundle will do. The rest you can scatter to the mountain winds!" He said this and picked up a bundle of medicine. He went to Li Fengjie's room to retrieve his travel pack, and then left the temple and descended the mountain. Here, the Chan master Taiwu became extremely despondent and went back to the abbot's chambers to sigh long and wordlessly.

Li Fengjie scooped up all of the few remaining medicine bundles, went to his room to get his sword, and rushed out of the temple and down the mountain. When he reached the midway point of the mountain, he spotted Jiang Xiaohe riding his black horse as it galloped down the mountain. Li Fengjie wanted to call out to him and follow him, but it was already too late, so he hurriedly stepped down crags and jumped across streams, taking a shortcut first to the Zither Stream to retrieve his horse. When he arrived at Hu Erzheng's house, he saw that Hu Erzheng had gone into the city to sell firewood and hadn't yet returned, so Li Fengjie unhitched his own horse and left. After exiting from the gate, he mounted his horse and set off east. Before he left the village, he noticed a ragged fence behind a large mulberry tree and a woman hurrying out for a look when she heard the sound of the horse's hooves. Li Fengjie saw that it was the woman he had saved in the mountains earlier. The woman had already cleaned her face of any trace of blood or tears, revealing delicate and pretty features, though she still wore those tattered clothes. She leaned on the broken fence and watched Li Fengjie, expressing grateful emotions on her face.

Li Fengjie hadn't the time to pay her extra attention, so he spurred his horse out of the village and onto the main road, flying eastward. After passing through Dengfeng city, he raced east another twenty-some miles before he caught up with the black horse. Li Fengjie waved from his horse and shouted loudly ahead, "Brother Jiang Xiaohe! Stop a moment!" Jiang Xiaohe immediately reined up his horse and looked back. Li Fengjie galloped toward him and when he was a few dozen feet away, he clasped his fist and said, "Brother Jiang, I've followed you here especially so I could beg your forgiveness! Just then at the temple on the mountain, I wasn't helping Taiwu trick you. The reason was I didn't have any of the medicine, and he said he wouldn't give out any of it, so there was nothing I could do. At the time, I'd also suspected you were a man of the Kunlun School, so I treated you quite scornfully. Now I see from your martial arts that you cannot be of the Kunlun School. You must have received a real tradition from a famous master!"

When his horse drew near, Jiang Xiaohe turned at the waist and cupped his hand, laughing, "Brother Li, you are too kind. I have long known of your reputation of gallantry in Jiangnan. When I happened upon you in the mountains and observed your amazing martial arts, I should have talked with you more, but as I still have that wounded friend in Xuzhou, I must bring him the medicine. I still need to head to Guanzhong afterwards, likely within ten days, and I'll have to return here. Let us deepen our friendship then. Brother Li, you will find in the days to come that I, Jiang Xiaohe, am a man who likes making friends most."

Hearing this, Li Fengjie was delighted, saying, "Brother Jiang, when you come again, you needn't ascend the mountain, lest you stoke the anger of the Chan master Taiwu. You may come to Zither Stream on the south side. It's a village, and in the village there lives Hu Erzheng, a woodsman. Just ask him where to find me." Jiang Xiaohe cupped his hand and said, "Very good. Farewell! Farewell!" When he finished, he heeled his jet black colt and galloped across the vast earth under the searing heat towards Xuzhou.

Atop his horse, Jiang Xiaohe regarded Li Fengjie's refinement, conduct and martial arts all with rather much esteem. However, when he thought of Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva, whose name shook the world north to south, and how useless his martial arts were, he couldn't help thinking it ridiculous. Ten years ago, from the time Jiang Xiaohe encountered that elderly man at the tavern in Ziwu town, the old man had followed along with him and purposefully displayed his uncanny skills ahead of him, because the old man had found him young and earnest and had also heard about his tragic experiences. Later on, in the valley of the Qin Mountains, when Jiang Xiaohe was surrounded by Ge Zhiqiang, Bao Zhilin and the others, the old man in a fit of righteous indignation served Ge Zhiqiang and the others a crushing defeat and rescued Jiang Xiaohe away.

Jiang Xiaohe's aim had been to find a renowned master, so when he saw the elderly man's superhuman martial arts, how could he let the opportunity pass him by? Thus he implored the old man with utmost effort to accept him as disciple. The old man seemed to feel quite strongly that he and Jiang Xiaohe had been brought together by fate, so he smiled and nodded, saying, "Well, why don't ya come with me then!" Thereafter, Jiang Xiaohe followed the old man out of the Qin Mountains, through Chang'an, and across Hangu, and traversed the great expanses of Henan and Anhui. Finally, the old man took him over the Great River to Mount Jiuhua in Chizhou.

The old man had built a straw hut in the deepest part of the highest peak and kept a few acres of mountain fields where he had planted tea trees, employing a deaf-mute servant to take care of them for him. The old man was alone in the world, and this was how he made a living. Because the mute couldn't speak, and the old man wasn't willing to say his name, Jiang Xiaohe never knew what to call his master. However, he was certain that the old man had been a great xia of extraordinary talent in his day. Not only did his abilities far surpass those of the Dragon of Shu and the Xia of Longmen, they might simply have exceeded even those of the immortals. Compared to Bao Zhenfei, this elderly man was like the majestic Qin Mountains or the peculiar Mount Jiuhua, and Bao Zhenfei was nothing but a broken chard of stone.

The old man treated Jiang Xiaohe extremely well, but he didn't pass his martial arts onto him in earnest. In the first year, all he had Jiang Xiaohe do was collect firewood and plant tea, and when he was free, he had him moving rocks. After a year of moving, rocks great and small were piled just like a small hill. The old man did not like how great a space they occupied, so he gave Jiang Xiaohe ten days to carry them away. Carrying away rocks accumulated in the space of over a year in ten days was no easy task. However, Jiang Xiaohe had by now trained until his arms were thick and his strength great, so it was not much for Jiang Xiaohe to hold a hundred-catty rock in one hand. In addition, without anything else to do, he moved rocks day and night, and before six or seven days were up, he had sent all the rocks he'd piled up with great effort over a year's time back onto the high peaks and tossed them into mountain streams. When the old man saw this, he became elated, and thus taught him to leap mountains and jump ridges, and in his spare time, he also taught him how to recognize characters.

After another year, the elderly man showed him a few fist skills. In the third year, the old man departed from the mountain. In that year, Jiang Xiaohe exclusively practiced the fistwork the old man had passed on to him. There weren't many moves for the fist skills, but they were most extraordinary and hardest to practice. After Jiang Xiaohe trained for two months, he discovered that these few fist skills turned out to have endless variations. He then used his current fistwork to disassemble the fist skills he'd learned earlier with Ma Zhixian of the Kunlun School, and found it exceptionally easy. Indeed, from this he figured out countless brilliant fist techniques.

After another year or so, the old man returned and brought him an extremely heavy sword, and also gave him several books. These books wrote of secret sword techniques, and the old man charged Jiang Xiaohe with reading them in the light of day and learning the sword under the moon and stars at night. Before a month was done, Jiang Xiaohe had committed all of the books to memory and the old man took them back and departed once more. Jiang Xiaohe relied on the secret sword techniques etched in his memory and practiced his sword assiduously day and night. The old man would come and go abruptly. When he came, he would direct Jiang Xiaohe in a few kinds of swordwork by mouth and correct the mistakes he was making. Jiang Xiaohe concentrated on his training year after year, and in his spare time he would go to mountain streams and practice swimming. By the beginning of the seventh year, he had already mastered the sword techniques and was confident his martial arts had surpassed those of the Xia of Langzhong, Bao Kunlun and the others by a hundredfold. In the eighth and the ninth years, the old man didn't journey away, instead staying on the mountain to personally teach Jiang Xiaohe qigong, dianxue, and other mysterious skills lost to Jianghu. He also taught Jiang Xiaohe how to read.

It wasn't until the spring of the tenth year when the old man asked Jiang Xiaohe a question, "How do ya think yer martial arts training is going?" Because Jiang Xiaohe was impatient to descend the mountain and take vengeance, he said, "I have learned everything the master has taught me!" The old man said, "Y'ave only learned half of my martial arts, not yet as much as the mute. He's learned a sixth of my martial arts." Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help being startled into a cold sweat, thinking, In these past ten years, when the mute isn't cooking for me, he's planting tea. He doesn't look like he could lift even a rock, but it turns out his martial arts are greater than mine!

The old man said, "'He's yer older disciple-brother. Ya should learn from him and see how much hidden skill he has. Internal martial arts are never easily laid bare. However, y'are not the same. When ya were young ya suffered the greatest of hardships. If ya want to avenge yer father, I can't stand in yer way. But ya must remember a few things. First, other than the enemies that killed yer father, ya are permitted to do harm to anyone, no matter who. Second, ya can compare your martial arts with others, but you may not fight to the death. Third, you are to help the weak and hold up the fallen, and take pity on the widowed and orphaned. Martial arts are for helping others, and cannot be used for selfish gain nor can ya rely on yer strength to do ill. I don't need to go on in length with ya about the rest, so go and leave the mountain!"

Jiang Xiaohe knelt once again and said, "I don't want to leave the mountain just yet. I would like to learn more of the master's martial arts!" The old man laughed and said, "If ya learn more martial arts, no one will be able to subdue ya. But even the martial arts that ya know now are more than enough to crush the Dragon of Shu and the Xia of Longmen. In yer hands, Bao Zhenfei will be as a child, and the rest will be less than crickets and ants. And yet you're still not content? Quick, go and leave the mountain!"

Thus, Jiang Xiaohe kowtowed a farewell to his master, took up a travel bundle and his sword, and happily made his way down the mountain. Before he was half a mile away from the mountain, he heard someone calling out unevenly behind him. Jiang Xiaohe looked back and saw that it was his disciple-brother the mute. He stopped immediately, turned around and clasped his fist. The mute touched his bare lips, then tapped the air with his forefinger, and then waved his hand. Jiang Xiaohe understood that the old man had sent him down to relay a message, instructing Jiang Xiaohe never to use dianxue, so he nodded. The mute pulled the sword from Jiang Xiaohe's travel goods and swung the sword about, truly with the power of a flying dragon or bounding tiger. These few forms were none that Jiang Xiaohe had learned from the elderly man, so he received the sword and practiced it once. When the mute saw that he had learned it, he smiled, and the two parted ways. Jiang Xiaohe walked onto the main road.

The black horse on which Jiang Xiaohe had originally ridden from Sichuan had already died four years ago on the mountain. However, Jiang Xiaohe hadn't touched any of the silvers he'd won gambling in Langzhong ten years ago, so he figured that he had to buy a good horse after he crossed the river. He walked the road by foot, and as it was just springtime, the paddy fields of Jiangnan were populated with young women planting rice. Upon seeing these women, he couldn't help but stir in his heart. He thought again of the childhood sweetheart who came up in the household of his enemies, Bao Aluan. She was probably past twenty now, and in all likelihood had already married and perhaps forgotten all about the promise of marriage they'd made in earlier days. He also didn't know how aged his mother had become, or how tall his brother had grown, and for this, he stamped his foot and gave a long sigh. Though it was such, he had learned a body of exceptional, superhuman martial arts, and was likewise thoroughly proficient in letters. He was no longer Jiang Xiaohe the Three-headed Tiger of ten years ago. As a result, his bearing was dignified and his spirit free and open.

After he crossed the river, he purchased a black horse, found that golden bell from ten years ago and hung it off his horse. He then galloped north, hiding his true abilities as he tried his skills through Hubei and Henan. First he fought Second Pang the Flower Spear in Xiangyang, and then he went to Xinyang subprefecture to fight Liu Kuang the Peer to Huangzhong. While he was in Xinyang, he wrote a letter and found a medicine peddler from Ziyang to deliver it to the Long brothers. Afterwards, he went to Shangcai to fight Lu Boxiong, and Shangshui to fight Liu Qingkong. However, these were all competitive in nature. At the same time that he fought those valiant heroes, he joined in friendship with them, and it was due to this that he heard others mentioning the names of Li Fengjie and Ji Guangjie.

He was about to set off west to take revenge on the Kunlun School when a man employed in the security trade unexpectedly came to Liu Qingkong's place in Shangshui to call upon him. Yang Xiantai the Short Blade, the friend he'd made in Langzhong ten years ago was originally from Henan. Five years ago, he took leave of Sichuan Province and returned to his hometown to open a security office. Little did he know that he would suffer grave injury in a battle with another in the same trade. When he heard tell of Jiang Xiaohe's name, he sent someone to bid him come so they could see each other. Jiang Xiaohe was immediately reminded of his good friend who walked through Beauties Lane with him ten years ago, and thus he rushed to the inn in Xuzhou city where Yang Xiantai was staying. Lying in his sickbed, Yang Xiantai endured the pain of his wound and talked a while with Jiang Xiaohe about things that had happened since they parted ten years past. After that, they came to talk about the condition of his injury and spoke of how only the monk Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva of Baisong Temple on Mount Song's secret formula of "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder" could heal it, but no one dared go to request any.

Jiang Xiaohe couldn't bear the pained groans of his injured old friend, so he volunteered to go, racing his horse to Mount Song. He didn't know that because of this, he would defeat the monk Taiwu and make the acquaintance of Li Fengjie. He presently braved the summer heat and with the golden bell on his horse ringing the whole way, he returned once again to the city of Xuzhou. When he saw Yang Xiantai, he applied the medicine for Yang Xiantai himself as he spoke delightedly of meeting Li Fengjie and fighting the monk Taiwu. Yang Xiantai thus said, "Brother, you've caused trouble for me again! I don't know much of this Li Fengjie, but why did you have to fight the monk Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva? He's the greatest and most famous hero in Henan!"

Jiang Xiaohe said, "Don't worry! When I requested the medicine, I didn't mention your name, so there's no way he will come looking for you. Now that the medicine is here, you needn't worry about your wound, though I cannot stay until you are better. I must hurry to Guanzhong, to Zhenba and Ziyang to take care of my business. We will meet again!" Yang Xiantai insisted he remain, so Jiang Xiaohe stayed there for two days. On the third day, he saw for certain that the swelling of Yang Xiantai's wound was gone, and thus knew that "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder" was truly effective. Thereupon, he left without bidding farewell and proceeded to Mount Song.

When he arrived at Mount Song for the second time, a light drizzle was falling. Jiang Xiaohe was wearing a large straw hat and was cloaked in a short oilcloth jacket, though his horse was drenched. The horse's jet mane when soaked with rainwater shone like black ink. The mountain in front of him and the wheat fields on either side were shrouded in mist, and not one person could be seen in the haze. Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself, Who could I ask about Zither Stream? Thus, he took out the golden bell again, hung it on his horse, and loosed the horse to the west.

As he rode, he suddenly saw through the misty rain a white shape bounding his way. Someone in front of him was shouting loudly, "Brother Jiang! Jiang Xiaohe!" The white horse had burst from the misty rain and drawn near before Jiang Xiaohe saw that this person was wearing a large straw hat on his head as well. It was Li Fengjie. Li Fengjie said, "Since the second day after we parted, I've been waiting for you every day at the side of the road. I thought a few more days would pass before you could come, but little did I know you'd show up on this rainy day!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Since it was fitting that we meet again to talk, I hurried my way here." Li Fengjie asked, "Is the condition of your friend's injury good?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "His wounds will heal completely before ten days are up. The monk Taiwu's medicine is truly effective. I would like to ascend the mountain and offer him my gratitude, to forget about the fight and become friends with him."

Li Fengjie said, "Brother Jiang, you are really very straightforward. Very well, in a day or two you'll come with me to Baisong Temple to see him. With a mention of what happened that day, and we can be done with it. Brother Jiang, let me tell you something. I have a woodsman friend in Zither Stream by the name of Hu Erzheng. That day after you left, I moved into his place, and in his village there's a family Chen with only a wife and daughter. They're extremely poor. Guess who the daughter is." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm unfamiliar with the people or places here, so I cannot guess." Li Fengjie said, "It's the woman I rescued that day on the mountain. Her mother is adamant that I marry her. I was thinking that I've wandered about for a few years now, and I'm already twenty-some years. Getting a wife and a household is something I ought to be doing." Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "Good, then I offer you my congratulations. I'll go into the city to find an inn to stay at first, and when the rain stops, I'll come back to see you and the sister-in-law. Let us consider today a timely meeting." Having said this, he cupped his fist and turned his horse to leave.

Li Fengjie stopped him and said, "Brother Jiang, you misunderstand. We are betrothed, but we need to wait until after the festival to marry. The eighth is an auspicious day and it's less than four days from now. No matter what, you must drink at my wedding banquet before you leave. I've presently built two straw cottages at Hu Erzheng's place and invited over someone to help me out who can cook. I've also prepared some good wine for you. Let's take advantage of this rainy day. It's drizzling and dusk is at our door, and not to mention that you are also a xia. Come, let's go to my place and drink and talk, and in the evening, you'll stay at my place. What do you think?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I came here only because I wanted to talk with you for half a day. I must go tomorrow since I still have urgent matters to take care of!" Li Fengjie said, "Regardless of when you leave, right now you must come to my place and talk."

Seeing that Li Fengjie's clothes had soaked through by now, Jiang Xiaohe laughed and rode along with Li Fengjie. The two horses entered the home of Hu Erzheng in the small village, hazy with the misty rain, and they dismounted together. Li Fengjie pushed open the wooden door and led his horse inside first, with Jiang Xiaohe following after him. The man Li Fengjie employed hitched both horses to a small elm tree in the yard, and brought the travel bundle from the black horse inside. Jiang Xiaohe followed Li Fengjie into the newly built thatched cottages. He took off his oilcloth jacket and set it on the couch.

Inside there were two worn tables and a wooden stool. Li Fengjie moved one of the tables near the couch, and the two of them both sat on the couch. The hired man brought wine to them. There weren't wine cups, only one large rice bowl filled to the brim with wine that the two took turns drinking from. All they had for drinking snacks were some cucumbers wedged in between with coarse salt. Li Fengjie said, "I didn't know for sure you'd come today, so I didn't prepare any dishes at all. In a bit, I'll have someone go into town and get some wine and food, and we'll eat in the evening." Jiang Xiaohe said, "This is already very good. Over ten years I've been roaming about out there, and I've drank a few cups of wine from time to time, but none were as happy as this today!" Li Fengjie asked, "Where is your home?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Zhenba in Southern Shaanxi."

Upon hearing this, Li Fengjie couldn't help growing displeased, but he kept putting on an esteemed face, laughing and saying, "So you and Bao Kunlun are from the same place!" Jiang Xiaohe pounded his fist on the table, nearly collapsing it and splashing much of the wine in the bowl with its shaking. He said resentfully, "Do not bring him up!" Li Fengjie couldn't help being taken aback. Jiang Xiaohe took a big mouthful of wine and sighed at length, saying, "Brother Li, you don't know me. I studied the martial arts in Jiangnan for ten years, and I've only been off the mountain now not even two months. I have fought those such as Second Pang, Liu Kuang, Lu Boxiong, and Liu Qingkong, and made a bit of a name for myself in Henan, but most people do not recognize me. However, if you go to Zhenba, Ziyang or Langzhong in Northern Sichuan and ask around there, I am well-known from ten years ago. At the time, I was only fourteen when I stabbed and wounded the Long brothers with a sharp saber!" Li Fengjie took the opportunity to ask, "What's this? Is there no friendship between you and the Kunlun School?"

Jiang Xiaohe sighed and drank. The wine entered his worries, bringing out his old, ten-some year hatred, and he told Li Fengjie everything. Afterwards, he said, "Why can't I stay here longer? It's that I yearn to go immediately to Zhenba to take revenge. I originally should have went straight to Southern Shaanxi from Xinyang, but I didn't take that route. I purposefully went a more circuitous path. I wanted to make a name for myself first, and let Bao Zhenfei know that I would be looking for him, to give him time to gather his disciples and think of a way to resist me. Then I would go and battle the disciples of the Kunlun School and their disciples. Otherwise, it would look like I was bullying the single, old man that is Bao Zhenfei!"

When Li Fengjie understood Jiang Xiaohe's background, he came to even more wonder and admiration. He undid a button and revealed his chest. He pointed to a scar on his right flank and said, "Look, Brother Jiang. This wound just healed. Last month, I fought alone against the Kunlun School in Xi'an and took out six or seven of their men. I did not meet with Bao Kunlun, but I encountered those such as Ge Zhiqiang and Lu Zhizhong. Their martial arts were exceptionally pedestrian. The so-called Kunlun saber skill was also extraordinarily clumsy, though there was one person we ought be mindful of, and he was the Dragon of Shu's grandson, Ji Guangjie. In Weinan county, he and a woman of the Kunlun School fought me, two against one, but I suffered a loss. This wound was caused by a chop from Ji Guangjie's sword!"

Jiang Xiaohe was amazed at hearing this. He didn't inquire further about Ji Guangjie, but asked instead, "A woman of the Kunlun School? What was this woman's surname?" Li Fengjie shook his head and said, "I don't know. I think she must be the daughter of a disciple of the Kunlun School. Her bladework proficiency was better than that of Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong and the others." Jiang Xiaohe leaned forward and said, "What did she look like? How old was she?" Li Fengjie said, "About twenty, give or take. She was very pretty. I feel it pointless to fight with a woman, so I was constantly avoiding facing her and didn't give her a good look." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Without a doubt, that must have been Aluan!" As a result, he couldn't help feeling a pang of sadness. He sighed and took a few sips of wine.

At this time, the rain continued to fall outside, and furthermore, the pattering of the rain grew louder than before. Li Fengjie called on his servant to brave the rain to go to the town in the east and procure some meat and vegetables. He poured wine into the bowl once more and the two talked and drank. Jiang Xiaohe said despondently, "Even if it keeps raining this hard tomorrow, I still must go!" Li Fengjie said, "Brother Jiang, you're in a hurry to go and avenge the great wrong of your father's murder, and even I know I cannot keep you here. But I wish to find Ji Guangjie again and repay the disgrace of his sword. I plan on going with you tomorrow." Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "You are about to have a wedding. How can you leave with me? Not to mention I myself am proud in nature, and I am resolute against anyone else helping me. Even if you are thinking to call on Ji Guangjie, you should wait until I finish settling my matters. Otherwise, when the time comes, the two of us will certainly help one another, and when you triumph over Ji Guangjie, it will be hard to avoid being laughed at by those of Jianghu." Li Fengjie thought deeply for a moment and then nodded, saying, "Wait until the rain stops tomorrow before you leave, Brother Jiang. If it continues to rain, it would be best if you remained another day so we could talk further." Jiang Xiaohe nodded his head slightly.

The rain was still falling noisily outside, and the time was not yet past three or four hours after noon. The two men spoke more of Jianghu matters and internal martial arts, and unconsciously finished another bowl of wine. Li Fengjie wanted to refill the wine, but Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Let's drink no more! We'll leave it for dinnertime and drink again then!" Li Fengjie went back outside. He went to Hu Erzheng's house, but saw only the old woman inside, curled up on top of the kang, sleeping. Hu Erzheng wasn't at home. Li Fengjie saw his shoulder pole leaned up on the corner of the wall and thought, What is Hu Erzheng up to, in this rainy weather? He went back to his house and saw Jiang Xiaohe reclining on the couch flipping through a book of his manuscript poetry.

Li Fengjie asked, "Brother Jiang, it is likely you can compose verse as well?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, saying, "No, I can't! I used to not be able to read at all, but then after I obtained a master, he was a man fond of literature. He would from time to time teach me to study and recognize characters, and it wasn't until then that I gradually became able to read books. Compared to Brother Li's literary skill, of course I come up short, but with the few characters I recognize, it's enough to use while traversing Jianghu." When he said this, he couldn't help but be reminded of an old incident that had happened that one year in Langzhong, and he sighed reluctantly, "Those who cannot read are at a true disadvantage. During the time I was in Langzhong, it was because of two letters that caused the Xia of Langzhong to suspect me a spy for the Kunlun School." From here, he spoke further of the Xia of Langzhong.

Li Fengjie had long heard the Xia of Langzhong's great renown. He'd heard tell that the Xia of Langzhong suffered a grave defeat at the hand of Bao Zhenfei, so he figured that the martial arts of Bao Zhenfei were more powerful than those of his disciples by a hundredfold, and though he was now old, he could not be taken lightly. Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts were very strong, and he was young and robust, but whether or not he could actually overcome Bao Zhenfei was an open question.

The two men reclined on the couch at opposite corners, and the more they talked the happier they became, when the door opened suddenly, blowing in a gust of wet, misty rain. Li Fengjie sat up and looked. It was his hired man returning. The man he employed was holding a tattered umbrella in his hand, but he was still as wet as a moorhen. He placed the pork, vegetables and a single live carp he'd purchased in town on the table. He seemed not to be able to catch his breath, and not only was there a layer of rainwater on his face, but also an expression of panic. It was a while before he could say, "Hu Erzheng is in deep trouble! He's killed a man in town!" Li Fengjie couldn't help his astonishment, hastily asking, "For what reason?"

Jiang Xiaohe sat up as well! He watched as the hired man panted more and said, "It's raining today. Hu Erzheng couldn't go up the mountain, so he went into town to collect debts owed. After he was done, he ran into Baldy You the Dogskin from the Hao Farmstead, who hauled him to Xu's shop to gamble. Hu Erzheng lost all his money and panicked. He held down Baldy You and told him to get his losses back. Because of this, they got into a fight, and Hu Erzheng punched Baldy You, but how could one like Baldy You take hits from him? All of a sudden, he was beaten to death. Many of the gamblers were villagers at the Hao Farmstead, so then they all attacked Hu Erzheng together, where Hu Erzheng injured seven or eight of them. Later, all of the men from the Hao Farmstead arrived, even Second Sir Hao came with his tiger's head hooks. Everyone in a flurry of action caught Hu Erzheng, tied him up, and carried him back to the Hao Farmstead. Everyone's saying what a real dope Hu Erzheng is, he's in big trouble now, he's sure to be beaten half to death by the Hao Farmstead."

Upon hearing this, Li Fengjie couldn't help the fury welling in his chest. He said, "I must go have a look. I can't have the men of the Hao Farmstead bullying Hu Erzheng." As he said this, he put on his straw hat and took up the umbrella. Jiang Xiaohe came off the couch as well and tied on his straw sandals, asking, "What is the Hao Farmstead about? Are they the local thugs?" Li Fengjie shook his head and said, "I wouldn't count them as thugs yet, but no one within ten miles of Dengfeng county dares provoke them. The Hao family has two brothers. Eldest Hao is a general elsewhere. His official position is not low. Second Hao stayed at home and became a rich man. He's the wealthiest in the few counties near Mount Song. He knows martial arts and is a devout Buddhist. I've seen him at Baisong Temple before." Jiang Xiaohe said, "You're just going to meet with him, and you'll probably not get into a fight, so it isn't necessary for me to come with you." Li Fengjie said, "Brother Jiang, you needn't come with me. I'll be gone a short while and then I'll be back." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Put my oilcloth jacket on!" Li Fengjie waved his hand and said, "There's no need." He then went outside, opened the umbrella and left.

Jiang Xiaohe leaned back down on the couch and rested a moment. He felt extremely bored, and the wine he'd just had was going straight to his head, making it very hot, so he wanted to go outside to cool off. He draped his oilcloth jacket over himself and left. Outside of the wooden door, he saw the village amid the misty rain. He couldn't see a single person nor even a dog. This view couldn't help but make recall his childhood. He was about ten when once it rained and he stayed inside and listened to his mother tell jokes. In the midst of a joke, his father Jiang Zhisheng came back from martial training wearing a large straw hat. He took the large straw hat for himself and wore it on his head, braving the rain to play outside. The scene of a happy family remained a vivid memory. But then, Bao Zhenfei murdered his father, causing him to be separated from his mother and brother, and then he suffered abuse in the Bao household. All these things were as if they'd happened yesterday.

The rage in his chest blazed up. The rain was falling on his head, but he was still emanating heat. Soon after, Li Fengjie's servant brought him a large straw hat and pointed east, to a big mulberry tree swaying in the misty rain. He said, "Look, Sir Jiang. The makeshift hut under the mulberry tree is Miss Chen's home. Her old dad used to be a huntsman, but on account of chasing a fox on the mountain, he fell off the mountain to his death. I feel very bad for the mother and daughter two. It'll be all good after a couple days when Miss Chen marries Sir Li."

Jiang Xiaohe suddenly remembered, Li Fengjie's wedding day is in sight, and I'll be leaving tomorrow. He's received me so diligently, and I've got no gift to give him. It's inevitable I will come off as if I don't know how to make friends. I'll take this opportunity while he's not at home, and since I'm getting restless inside, wouldn't it be better to brave the rain and go into the city to get some gifts for him? Seeing that it was still early, Jiang Xiaohe hurried inside the gate to prepare his horse. When the hired man saw him, he asked, "Sir Jiang, what are you off to?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm going into the city to buy some things. I'll be back in a bit."

He went inside to get his silvers, and then he went out, mounted his horse, and galloped out of the village. He found the main road, as the horse's hooves tromped through the loose, wet mud on the ground, and raced east, straight to Dengfeng city. Jiang Xiaohe had come by here four times back and forth, but never entered the city. Now, when he did arrive at the city, he saw wide streets and an overflow of shops, and though it was raining, there were still more than a few pedestrians with umbrellas on the streets.

Jiang Xiaohe dismounted his horse and looked to the shops on either side, coming now to some difficulty. He thought, What gifts should I get Li Fengjie? It would be too feminine to get makeup and silk, and I don't know his wife-to-be at all. It'd be better to buy some things that Li Fengjie can use, but all he uses are books and a sword. If I were to buy books on this rainy day, they're sure to get wet, and he already has a sword, not to mention that there are surely no good blacksmiths who make good swords in this small city. He stood in the rain at the side of the road and pondered for a while, when he suddenly thought it best to buy a few chickens for him. After all, when the day came for him to take his wife, he would certainly need to slaughter some chickens and entertain guests. Even if he didn't entertain any guests, it would be good to have some chickens, because he would eventually start a household and live his life, and a family ought to raise a few chickens. He asked someone at roadside for shops where they sell chickens, and the person told him he still had to turn down two streets. That area was called the Poultry Market.

Jiang Xiaohe led his horse and looked for it relying on the directions, eventually finding it. There were four or five poultry shops here. The ducks were quacking wildly and geese curled up in cages as if sleeping. Jiang Xiaohe thought, It might be nice to buy a goose. They're big and meaty, quite a bit like a heroic xia. Thus, from one of the shops, he purchased a goose, two large hens, and a rooster. The three chickens' wings and legs were bound with rope, and he hung them next to the saddle. Only there was nothing to be done about the large, white goose. Its short legs were hard to tie, and its wings were big. One flap sent all the goose, chicken and duck feathers at the shop into the air, like snowflakes flying up. Jiang Xiaohe had no choice but to hold the goose in his arms. When he got onto his horse, he had to free one of his hands to carry the reins. Having the chickens with him and holding on to the goose, he turned his horse and left.

After turning up two streets, he planned on going through the west gate, except the goose kept raising its head and honking, while the chickens hanging below the saddle kept struggling from rubbing up against Jiang Xiaohe's leg and the iron stirrups. At the same time, the horse found this quite uncomfortable. It would constantly jump and twist backward, and not pay heed to its master's prompts.

With the goose clutched in one hand, Jiang Xiaohe pulled out a whip with the other and flogged the horse hard, shouting to the people on the street, "Pardon me! Out of the way!" He had originally thought to gallop out of the west gate in one breath, loose the horse and return to the Zither Stream in an instant. However, he didn't know that this horse was as good as crazy. It leapt one way and dashed another, and the umbrellas of the people on the street confused its vision. Someone wearing a straw raincoat came abruptly out of a small alley, looking just like a large hedgehog. The horse couldn't help being startled, and leapt up suddenly, sending Jiang Xiaohe tumbling off the horse. The horse fled to the west, taking the three chickens with it, and the goose spread its big wings and flapped itself into flight. Luckily, because Jiang Xiaohe's body was agile, he didn't fall onto the ground.

At this point, someone was laughing loudly. Jiang Xiaohe twisted his head to look and saw that it was the man wearing the straw raincoat. Anger immediately redoubled in his chest as he made fists and leapt forward, yelling, "Are you laughing at me? Wasn't it your ratty raincoat that scared my horse into running away?" He swung his fist at the man. The man unexpectedly dodged to the side with a whoosh, his body extremely nimble. He pushed away Jiang Xiaohe's right arm and made to tap Jiang Xiaohe in the ribs with his right forefinger. Jiang Xiaohe was taken aback and hurriedly took a step back, saying, "Oh ho! You want to display your dianxue skill with me?" He quickly leapt forward once more. The man had taken off his raincoat and was now carrying out fist skills, constantly wanting to win by using dianxue. However, Jiang Xiaohe was himself proficient in this, so how could he possibly allow him to succeed? They went back and forth for four or five exchanges before there was a dunn as the man fell down into the mud.

Jiang Xiaohe laughed loudly and gave him a kick, saying, "Get up!" He gave this man's face a closer look and couldn't help feeling a little stunned, because he felt it very familiar, as if he'd seen him before somewhere. He then asked, "Hey! I think I may know you. What is your surname?" The man was very thin and very short, and he was about twenty or so. When he got up, his clothes were covered in mud. He picked up his straw raincoat and said angrily to Jiang Xiaohe, "You know me? Well, I know you! You're the bastard the Xia of Langzhong wouldn't accept for a disciple, and now you've come here calling yourself a hero?" When he was done yelling, he turned around holding the raincoat and left.

Thought Jiang Xiaohe was yelled at by him, he wasn't mad. He kept thinking, Who was that? By now, a few poor children had stopped and brought back his fled horse, and had captured the flying goose. Jiang Xiaohe thanked them and gave each of them a few hundred coins. Afterward, he had one of the children buy a hempen rope from a nearby sundry shop, and viciously tied the goose atop the horse's rump. He mounted his horse, waved his whip and headed toward the west gate.

While on the road, he tore through his mind exhaustively, but still could not recall who it was he'd just struck down or where he'd seen him before, and this caused him quite some consternation. The rain had become gentler, and he could now see faintly through the mist the towering Mount Song ahead of him. Jiang Xiaohe thought, Could it be the man I just beat is one of monk Taiwu's at Baisong Temple? But then how could he know that ten years ago the Xia of Langzhong refused me as his disciple? Not being able to think of it made him very irritable. When he arrived back at Zither Stream, he saw that Li Fengjie had already returned and rescued Hu Erzheng.

Hu Erzheng had fought this day with several villagers from the Hao Farmstead while in town, though he was tied up by those from the farmstead and given a beating. If it wasn't Li Fengjie that went to ask for mercy, Second Sir Hao would not have let him go. His upper torso was bared, and his iron shoulders and spine were covered with purple lash welts. His scalp was also split and bleeding. He sat under the elm tree in the yard with his big lips pursed and his belly sticking out, as angry as ten toads, and when Jiang Xiaohe led his horse in, he paid him no mind. Li Fengjie walked over and said, "Brother Jiang, what did you do in the city?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Since I'm leaving tomorrow, I went into the city to get you a goose and three chickens, so I could offer you a gift of congratulations." As he said this, he untied the chickens and the goose from the horse. The three chickens had a scattering of feathers remaining and drooping heads, and when he dropped them onto the ground, they laid there, unable to get up, already half dead. Li Fengjie couldn't help but burst into laughter. Jiang Xiaohe said, "You'd best kill them quickly and leave them for when you have guests over! If you want to raise them, I'm afraid they won't live. It was quite the effort getting these three chickens and this goose. I even got into a fight with someone!"

Li Fengjie spoke with alarm, "What's this? You got into another fight? You shouldn't offend people here on Mount Song. I'm not talking about the monk Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva. The monks who know martial arts at Shaolin Temple number more than five hundred. However, the rules in their temple are very strict, and they are never allowed to descend the mountain and get into fisticuffs." Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "No, no, the man I fought was from outside of the province. I recognized him, and he knew me." Having said this, he hitched his horse and took the big straw hat and the oilcloth jacket inside. Li Fengjie followed him in and asked, "So why did you get into another fight, brother?" Jiang Xiaohe told him what had happened and then said, "He was extremely thin, and his face extremely familiar. It seems as if I'd met him ten years ago when I was traversing Jianghu, but I can't think of who he is. His fistwork was fairly good, and other than me, no one today could take him on. I also saw that he knew dianxue skill."

Li Fengjie said with bewilderment, "Dianxue skill...?" He flipped his eyes around in consideration for a while and said, "According to what I know, there are only three in this world who can perform dianxue. One is my humble master the Dragon of Shu, and one is Ji Guangjie's grandfather the Xia of Longmen, but neither of these two old xia would pass it on lightly. I only learned the general idea behind it, but I don't know how to perform it. Ji Guangjie and I have fought against one another two or three times, and I've yet to see him use dianxue skill. The other one is Gao Qinggui of Kaifeng, and his was transmitted within the family. He knows but four or fives moves. Other than them, there is likely no one else." Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but laugh to himself, since his own master and the mute his brother-disciple were both proficient in this skill, though Li Fengjie did not yet know this, so Jiang Xiaohe simply shook his head a little. Li Fengjie said some other things to him, but he didn't really listen, as he searched his mind for the familiar-looking thin man.

In a short while, the servant employed by Li Fengjie entered and said, "How do you want the fish prepared?" Li Fengjie said, "I haven't bought any bean paste or oil, so we'd better just pan fry it. Do we have vinegar?" The servant said, "That we do have, and I've picked up some ginger too." Li Fengjie nodded and said, "Good." He looked out the door and saw that Second Hu the Dope was still sitting in the yard under the tree. Li Fengjie called out, "Erzheng!" Hu Erzheng replied with a sound, but didn't stand up. Li Fengjie called out to him, saying, "Erzheng, come here. Let me introduce you to a friend." Hu Erzheng then slowly got up and walked barefoot to the door.

Li Fengjie indicated Jiang Xiaohe who was inside and made introductions, saying, "This is my friend Jiang Xiaohe. His martial arts are more powerful than mine." Hu Erzheng didn't come inside. He peered into the room and, seeing Jiang Xiaohe's tall and sturdy frame, as well as his heroic features, he dared not underestimate him. He cupped his fist, and then turned around and went back to letting the rain fall on him under the elm tree. Jiang Xiaohe saw the lash welts twisting about his dark iron-colored back, and in several places where his flesh had cracked open, blood leaked out. Jiang Xiaohe fumed, "That Hao Household must be cruel bullies!" Li Fengjie said, "But he gave the Hao villagers not a light beating. Hu Erzheng often gets into fights with other people." Jiang Xiaohe kept silent.

Though the sound of the rain grew quieter outside, it had not yet stopped, and the day turned gradually darker. Hu Erzheng was in the yard feeding the two horses, as the servant brought the fried fish, heated wine, stewed soup and cooked rice into the room. The room was lit with two rapeseed oil lamps while Li Fengjie and Jiang Xiaohe commenced their talking and drinking once again. They dragged Hu Erzheng inside as well and treated him to some wine.

Jiang Xiaohe was to set off the next day, so Li Fengjie raised the large bowl even more, inviting him to drink. He said, "Brother Jiang, don't look just at my background as a scholar. I've actually always admired your sort of generous person. As I see it, no matter how strong one's martial arts are, if their temperament isn't generous, you can't count them to be true xia. When we look at the Grand Scribe's Biography on Roaming Xia and men like the Curly-whiskered Guest that people of the Tang Dynasty spoke of, none are not passionate and generous, brave and straightforward. Thus I hate the people of the Kunlun School most. Because they lack an iota of the courageous xia spirit. Once at the western gate of Chang'an, and once by the Ba Bridge, both times they fought against me, they always came at me, twenty or thirty men strong, not to mention they threw a woman into the mix. I really think them disgraceful, and I regret having wasted my time provoking them!"

Upon hearing this, trouble welled up again in Jiang Xiaohe's heart. He took a sip of wine, and sighed to himself. He asked again for more details about the appearance of the woman who had helped the Kunlun School against Li Fengjie. However, Li Fengjie still said that he did not pay very close attention to her and would be hard-pressed to saw anything about what she looked like, though he could say her features weren't crude and that's it.

Jiang Xiaohe heard this and even more sighs spilled from his heart. He thought to himself, The likelihood is that it's Aluan. I just wonder if she's gotten married or not. Does she hate me? If she's married, then I won't go as far as to feel great sorrow, and I'll slowly disabuse myself of the notion. If she's not yet engaged, then it would really be hard for me to manage. If I want to avenge my father, then I cannot marry her. If I want to marry her, then not only can't I avenge my father, but I have to confess my crimes to the Kunlun School and beg them for forgiveness, plead with them, beseech them. Can I, Jiang Xiaohe, do such a thing? He thought till here and sighed a long sigh. He took a few large gulps of wine in succession and then set down his chopsticks and pushed away the bowl of wine, saying to Li Fengjie, "I'm drunk. Even if it rains tomorrow, I'll still have to set off and hasten away to Chang'an, Ziyang and Zhenba, to battle the Kunlun School. When I take my vengeance, I may just die there!"

Li Fengjie asked in surprise, "Brother Jiang, who do you say such words? If you really think the Kunlun School and Ji Guangjie are tough to fight, then I can offer you the strength of one arm. This business with my marriage is not important." Jiang Xiaohe laughed bitterly, saying, "Eight of the Kunlun School or sixteen of Ji Guangjie, they are all nothing to me. What bothers me does not concern revenge or combat. I have something else on my mind, something from ten years ago that I have never forgotten. I traveled Jianghu and met with hardship and trained deep in the mountains, not simply to avenge my father. There is another matter for which I've done this, and it will be harder to accomplish than revenge!"

Li Fengjie said, "You're not being forthright. What is it you're not telling me and why? We may not have known each other long, but we already know of loyalty. It's only because you're leaving tomorrow. Otherwise, I would surely ask you remain and stay a few more days. If you are not opposed, I'd even be willing to swear a friendship of life and death!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "All right, as you've said these words, I consider the two of us sworn brothers. But my troubles can really not be explained in a few words and phrases. Also, if I did tell you, you wouldn't be able to think up any good ideas concerning it, and it would make me feel even worse. It's best if we wait until I've taken care of it before I tell you about it." When he finished speaking, he rested his head and fell asleep.

Li Fengjie sat and watched him for a while with a blank expression on his face, though in his mind he already had some idea. Jiang Xiaohe questioned him three times over about the appearance of that woman from the Kunlun School. It was likely she had been his sweetheart from ten years ago, but ten years ago, the both of them were so young! Could it be a boy and a girl of thirteen or fourteen had some kind of love affair? Thinking about this, he couldn't quite believe it. The soft pattering of rain came from outside, and the oil from the two lamps had almost burned up. The plates and bowls were scattered across the table, along with piles of lots of fish bones. Li Fengjie moved the table aside, preparing to ask the servant to clean it up the next morning. He poured the oil from the two lamps into the bowl of one of them and blew out the other. He pressed down the wick on the remaining lamp, and then closed up the door. He was about to lie down on the couch to sleep when suddenly Jiang Xiaohe turned over and opened his eyes, whispering, "Put out that light!"

Li Fengjie jumped with a start, not thinking that Jiang Xiaohe still hadn't fallen asleep, so he laughed, "Isn't it better to leave a little bit of lamp light? What are you afraid of? Do you think someone will come and steal our things?" Jiang Xiaohe said, again whispering, "Blow out the light, quickly! I hear something outside!" Li Fengjie was even more stunned. He turned around and blew out the light, taking his sword from the wall as he did so and unsheathed it gently. He walked to the door and peered outside through a crack in the door. He saw that the sky wasn't black, but only a muddled gray, and he couldn't tell if it had stopped raining or not. However, when the wind shook the elm tree in the yard, water droplets scattered across the ground with a patter.

Li Fengjie was about to open the door and go outside for a look when Jiang Xiaohe, who had himself already gotten off the couch, stopped him from behind and whispered, "Don't go outside. Don't worry about it. It's probably the man I fought with during the day come to find me to discuss friendship." Li Fengjie smiled and said, "I don't think there's any sound at all. You've probably misheard!" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "I heard clearly someone pushing in our wooden gate. It's definitely not a mishearing. For ten years I studied martial arts on Mount Jiuhua. If you dropped an embroidering needle ten paces away, I would be able to hear its sound." Li Fengjie laughed, for he didn't yet believe him, thinking that even if it was the wooden gate sounding, it was perhaps bumped by a village dog, surely not any sort of thief.

Jiang Xiaohe didn't appear the slightest bit nervous, just very amused. He motioned for the sword in Li Fengjie's hand and said, "Go to sleep. I'm sure it's nothing. I might capture a plaything later for you to look at." Li Fengjie laughed, "All right. I'll be watching." In his mind, he was thinking that he wanted to see whether Jiang Xiaohe's guess was real or false, and to go one step further and observe his martial arts. Jiang Xiaohe stood next to the crack in the door and peered outwards. He then returned to the couch to sleep with the sword placed beside him. Li Fengjie remained lying on the side facing out. Neither of the two of them spoke.

After half an hour passed, Jiang Xiaohe appeared to have fallen asleep again as the sound of footsteps came from the yard. Li Fengjie was about to turn and sit up when Jiang Xiaohe pressed him back down, saying, "That's the sound of Hu Erzheng." Li Fengjie pricked his ears up to listen, and sure enough heard the footsteps coming from outside to be very heavy. After a moment, someone in the yard yawned loudly. It really was Hu Erzheng. He was probably unable to sleep inside due to the fact that he was upset and the lash wounds on his body hurt, so he went outside to refresh himself. Li Fengjie couldn't help but feel admiration, thinking Jiang Xiaohe to be much more skillful and capable than himself. Hu Erzheng took big steps in the yard, grunting as he panted and yawning continuously. Li Fengjie laughed again and turned to Jiang Xiaohe to say, "Hu Erzheng's up. We should have him make a patrol for us." Jiang Xiaohe did not reply.

After some more time, Li Fengjie was drifting off into sleep when suddenly Hu Erzheng was heard in the yard raising an alarm, "Thief!" Just like a leopard cat, Jiang Xiaohe immediately hopped over Li Fengjie's body with sword in hand. When he went outside, Li Fengjie hurried for a sword. From outside he heard the clanging of steel on steel ringing out a few times, and then he heard Jiang Xiaohe saying, "Don't run away, old friend!" By the time Li Fengjie sprung outside holding Jiang Xiaohe's sword, he saw that Jiang Xiaohe had already charged out of the wooden gate after the other person. A large man was lying stiff on the ground; it was Hu Erzheng, felled by dianxue. Li Fengjie proceeded first to bring Hu Erzheng to safety. Then, he gave chase outside holding the sword, but he didn't find Jiang Xiaohe there. The rain continued to fall as Li Fengjie ran out of the village. It was there by the side of the main road he saw Jiang Xiaohe fighting with someone. That man was using an iron staff, his two hands dancing. Other than swinging it across and blocking, he would often send dianxue moves at Jiang Xiaohe's chest. Jiang Xiaohe's sword was just like lightning in the sky on such a rainy night, white flashes fluttering about, following his nimble body, now above and now below, now to the left and now to the right, forcing the man constantly backward.

Li Fengjie saw them fight for no more than a dozen exchanges before the man could withstand it no longer, pulling his iron staff up and taking to his heels. Jiang Xiaohe flew after him as if a hawk, grabbing hold of him from behind and first taking his iron staff from him and tossing it aside. The man turned around hastily and came at Jiang Xiaohe with dianxue, but Jiang Xiaohe knocked his hand away. Li Fengjie rushed forward with his sword. Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Don't hurt him!" Then he turned to the man and smirked, saying, "Old friend, I warn you not to try your dianxue against me. These abilities are only for picking on those of Jianghu, though I don't use them at all!"

When the man realized he could not defeat Jiang Xiaohe, he stopped resisting, saying between deep breaths, "I'll let you punish me! However, I must tell you, I didn't come tonight to hurt you. I wanted to have a martial arts contest with you. Because ten years ago, when we met in Nanjiang county, our martial arts were not far from each other. Now that we've both completed some martial arts training, I wanted to see how mine compared to yours."

It wasn't until Jiang Xiaohe heard this that he suddenly remembered. Ten years ago when he went with the Xia of Langzhong to Shaanxi to battle the Kunlun School, they passed through Nanjiang county. They'd spent the night at the Yuan Farmstead, and Yuan Yong the Purple-faced Lion had brought his son Jingyuan out to meet him. Jiang Xiaohe asked in astonishment, "Aren't you the Yuan chieftain's son Yuan Jingyuan? How is it you've come to here?" Yuan Jingyuan sighed and said, "Ever since the Xia of Langzhong was defeated by Bao Kunlun, he returned to Langzhong and never again traversed Jianghu. My father and my cousin Yuan Zishao had offended many people throughout their lives, and later without the Xia of Langzhong's help, their enemies in Jianghu came to their door looking for them. My father and cousin were both killed by others one after the other, and all our property was taken away. Fortunately, there was an Iron Staff Monk who, because my father had previously given him a lot of money when he was in dire straits, remembered fondly the old friendship and saved me. He took revenge for me and brought me to his temple to train in the martial arts. He especially passed his dianxue skill to me, so I suppose I was his disciple. He changed my name to Jingxuan, and would later call me the Haired Adherent."

Jiang Xiaohe said, "All right, I'll call you Yuan Jingxuan from now on, but if you recognized me, why didn't you make things clear when we met in the city, instead displaying your dianxue skill against me?" Jingxuan said, "I really had no ill intent. It's just I'd heard the people of Jianghu say in the past several years you'd taken a great master to learn martial arts. Now that Ji Guangjie has come to Henan to capture you, when I ran into you today I wanted to feel out your martial arts. Actually, I came here to worship at Shaolin Temple and to meet the monk Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva."

When Jiang Xiaohe heard that Ji Guangjie was now in Henan looking to capture him, fury filled his chest. He asked, "Who did you hear say that Ji Guangjie wanted to capture me?" Jingxuan said, "So you don't know yet? Ji Guangjie has already reached Luoyang. He's traveling with two others, one called Jiang Zhiyao the One-eyed Vanguard, and another called Liu Zhiyuan the Star God Blade, both of them powerful disciples of the Kunlun School. Ji Guangjie is posting notices along the side of the road that he wants to capture Jiang Xiaohe!" Nearby, Li Fengjie laughed, "Still at his old tricks. In Xi'an he'd posted papers about capturing me." Jingxuan said, "It's only to provoke you into popping your head up."

Jiang Xiaohe spoke angrily, "He need not post notices everywhere. I'll set off now to find him. Brother Jingxuan, we will meet again another day. I have committed many offenses against you today, but you are a ten-year acquaintance of mine, so I think you mustn't blame me!" After he finished, he clasped his fist and turned around, running back to the village of Zither Stream. Li Fengjie invited Jingxuan back to his place to talk, but Jingxuan said, "I mustn't. I'll come see you after a few days. But you must tell Jiang Xiaohe, Ji Guangjie's martial arts are not to be taken lightly." After he said this, Jingxuan picked up his iron staff, turned around and left.

Li Fengjie hurried back into the village and saw that Jiang Xiaohe was already leading his horse out of the wooden gate. Li Fengjie stopped him and said, "Brother Jiang, need you so impatient? If you want to leave, you ought to wait until tomorrow." Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "I cannot put up with this. I haven't gone to look for the Kunlun School, but the Kunlun School has already sent Ji Guangjie to find me, and not just that, but to capture me. If I don't hurry to meet him in battle, it will show me, Jiang Xiaohe, to be as cowardly as a rat, wasting the martial arts I learned for ten years on Mount Jiuhua!" Li Fengjie knew he couldn't stand in his way, so he said, "Brother Jiang, you're to leave and I cannot stop you, but I do know the martial arts of Ji Guangjie. The swordwork transmitted to him through the Longmen School are extraordinary. When you meet him, you must not underestimate him, and I say this not to dampen your drive."

Jiang Xiaohe scoffed, "I wish his martial arts to be extraordinary. And when I face him, I'll use only twenty or thirty percent of my martial arts in dealing with him. I don't mean to use my true martial skill. I'm going now to defeat him, and then I'll go and find the Kunlun School to take my vengeance. I'll be able to return in a month or so." Li Fengjie nodded and said, "All right, good! I'll be here waiting for you." The two then exchanged swords. Jiang Xiaohe mounted his horse, clasped his fist at Li Fengjie and headed out of the village.

A dense mist covered the earth, so much so that even the way was not clear. Jiang Xiaohe was cloaked in his oilcloth jacket and wearing his large straw hat which clattered with the sound of falling rain. The rainwater at the side of the road babbled as it flowed into the mountain streams and creeks. The black horse he sat atop splashed through the water as he headed north.

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