12.22.2011

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 12

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 12.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Resting whips on a courier road, the late night contradicts sweet dreams.
With his sword held ready at the Ba Tomb, he laughs bitterly at the lover.


When they came out of the Dasan Pass, Aluan thought back again to a month ago when she'd left here alone under a starry night and raced straight to Chang'an. Recalling the courage she'd had then lessened the sorrow she felt right now, as her scabbard by her saddle knocked against her copper stirrups, tink, tink. Aluan held back her tears, hardened her heart and pressed herself on, thinking, Hurry! We'll get to Chang'an to meet Jiang Xiaohe! I must kill him, and then soon after die myself. Or else I'll have him kill me. If he is unwilling, I won't take that as an answer and I'll run into his sword. But before I die, I have to make things clear. What's happened in ten years, thousands and thousands of things, I must explain it all to him! Whether he dies or I die, we can't do so until after things are all clarified! So thinking, her tears came again, streaming down onto her horse's back.

Ji Guangjie looked back and couldn't hold in a chuckle, saying, "Aluan, at first I thought you were a present day xia woman with a resolute temperament like that of men. But now I see that you are very delicate, just like other women. Your Kunlun School has just been scaring itself. Jiang Xiaohe isn't actually any sort of extraordinary person. You'll see. In a few days when we reach Chang'an, Jiang Xiaohe will come and you'll watch how I overcome him!" Aluan continued sitting on her horse, wiping her tears, not making any replies.

Ji Guangjie then said, "Yesterday was a day of great happiness for the two of us, but you treated me so heartlessly. If I hadn't shown extreme restraint, we, new husband and wife, would have already become enemies. But you need to understand something. I'm not afraid of you. It's that I adore you. Now that we've set off together and are traveling and lodging together, I hope you won't continue being stubborn. Otherwise, it'll make the people on the road laugh at us. Right now we have no other ambitions, so we should do as we did on the Wei River while battling Li Fengjie and join together to face Jiang Xiaohe. Afterward, I still want to take you back to Longmen to meet my family, and then roam Jianghu. After all that, I want to go to Beijing and test in the martial arena. I want to work for the future so that you can become a wife of the highest class." Aluan glared at him and said, "Stop talking nonsense, you! Ride faster!"

Ji Guangjie couldn't help but laugh a little and feel utterly content inside. Though Aluan's pair of eyes had given him a very fierce glare, he felt they contained tenderness inside, especially when she said the word, "you." He simply felt his shoulders go numb. Thereupon he swung his whip high in the air and released his horse to go faster, purposefully to show off his adept horsemanship. Aluan quickly released her own horse after him.

The two spoke no more on the road as they continued galloping east, and that evening they arrived at the boundary of Xingping county. Aluan wanted to keep riding so they could race to Chang'an that very day. However, Ji Guangjie said, "We can't. When we get to Xianyang, there won't be any ferries on the Wei River and we don't be able to cross it. Even if we did find a ferry, the city gates of Chang'an will be closed, so there's no way for us to see your uncle Ge today." Aluan could only rein up her horse and follow Ji Guangjie into an inn without saying a word.

Ji Guangjie purposefully found a single room with only one earthen kang inside and not even a table to speak of. Aluan entered the room and sat on top of the kang with her shoes on and the Kunlun saber placed next to her. Ji Guangjie smiled and asked the inn attendant for food and wine. The attendant saw that the two were husband and wife and naturally brought two wine cups. Ji Guangjie poured himself a full cup, and then poured another and handed it to Aluan, smiling and saying, "Tonight the two of us should drink another cup of nuptial wine! Relax a little bit!"

Unexpectedly, Aluan pushed the wine cup away with her hand, sending it falling onto the kang, splashing over Ji Guangjie's silk pants. Ji Guangjie couldn't help screwing his face up in anger, asking, "Why did you do that? If you don't want to drink, that's fine. Why then did you knock the wine cup over? Since our wedding yesterday until now, other than to yell at me, you haven't said one word to me! Could it be you hold me, Ji Guangjie, in disdain? Are you unwilling to be the woman of Ji Guangjie!?"

Aluan glowered at him immediately and reached over to touch the hilt of her saber, asking sternly, "Who is your woman?" Ji Guangjie laughed, "You! You are my woman. We kneeled in the wedding hall together yesterday, and now we've set off together. You are now a part of the Ji family. You are my woman. You are my wife. You are my bride!" He said this to express his love, but unexpectedly, shink, he heard the sound of Aluan's Kunlun saber coming out of its sheath. Ji Guangjie quickly ducked down below the kang as the saber cut the air above his head. Ji Guangjie took the opportunity to run into the courtyard, though Aluan did not chase out after him.

This time Ji Guangjie was in a rage, thinking, This is absurd! In whose house can a new wife treat her husband like this? If she doesn't like me, why did she marry me? Thus, in anger he wanted to ready his own horse and race back to the Dasan Pass, so that he might find the Shanyin Valley of Luoyang county to ask the old master Bao to come and ask his granddaughter what in the end she was thinking. However, when he got to the stables, found his saddle blanket, and placed it on his horse's back, he then took it off again and thought, If I do that, it will harm the new marital relationship between the two of us, and husband and wife we'll never be able to reconcile for the rest of our lives. There may be other women in the world who know the martial arts, but where will I find another as pretty as Aluan? Thus, Aluan's delicate features flashed across his mind, and his anger dissipated immediately. He went back outside the room and thought, I should see what Aluan is doing. Thereupon he gently opened the room door a crack and saw Aluan crying with her head down and her saber by her side.

Ji Guangjie couldn't help but sigh. He entered the room, but didn't dare draw near to her. He stood far away and waved his hand, saying, "Don't be sad. I know you may not like me, but must a formidable man like me, Ji Guangjie, win over the love of his wife? Not to mention, my helping your family against the two men, Li Fengjie and Jiang Xiaohe, was not simply to pursue your beauty. I am fighting to right an injustice. I cannot let a lowlife Jianghu newcomer to mistreat your family's aged fighting master. I tell you the truth, when I fought with Jiang Xiaohe on Wudang, his sword skill was not as good as mine, but his dianxue was very powerful. When we meet in Chang'an this time, I don't know yet who will triumph and who will be defeated, who will live and who will die. If I die, then consider it a sacrifice for my friends of the Kunlun School! I will die without complaint to give my life for the old master! If I kill Jiang Xiaohe, I will go away and never come back to Guanzhong again. Whether you remarry or remain at home a grass widow, I care not. I will never find another wife. I'll simply roam Jianghu to the ends of the world, championing justice and righteousness. When I am old, I will either become a monk or return home and live in seclusion!"

Ji Guangjie said these things passionately and vehemently, and when he was finished, he sat down on the kang and started eating without looking over at Aluan again. He heard Aluan say through her tears, "Who told you to kill Jiang Xiaohe? You can't kill him! He's an enemy of our family. We don't need you to kill him. If you kill him, I'll kill you!"

Ji Guangjie couldn't hold in a laugh. He then sighed heavily and said to Aluan, "Let's stop talking. Aren't you not speaking to me? I'm going to stop speaking to you too. The two of us will be husband and wife in name, but we'll actually be as strangers. You can't see anything in me, Ji Guangjie, but in the future you'll find out on your own!" He sat in anger, and when he finished eating and drinking, he called for an attendant to take the cups and plates away. He then closed the door, drew his sword and crouched down next to the wall at a place far from Aluan. With his sword in hand, he fell into a deep sleep.

In the middle of the night, he opened his eyes to find that the lamp had not yet been extinguished, though it was almost out of oil. Aluan was also sleeping against the wall fully clothed with her saber propped up on her legs. Under the light of the half-lit lamp, he looked over at Aluan's pretty eyes, gently closed in an elegant slumber, and her freshly combed hair bun. Two stray locks of her beautiful hair hung over her forehead as she made the faintest of snoring sounds. It was especially her red jacket and pants and embroidered flower shoes that aroused a yearning in Ji Guangjie, exciting his heart into a continuous thumping. He slowly stretched out his hand to try to take Aluan's saber away and then subdue her with his sword, but before his hand reached her, Aluan opened her eyes widely. Ji Guangjie dropped in the position he'd been in, lying on the kang with a hand extended, and snored, pretending to be asleep. His head was near Aluan's embroidered flower shoes, and his hand was next to her saber. Aluan scooted farther away, moved her saber aside, and blew out the lamp. Ji Guangjie pretended to talk in his sleep, viciously pounding on the kang and yelling, "Jiang Xiaohe!" After a while, he fell back into a real sleep.

When he woke at daybreak the next day, he glanced briefly at Aluan, but didn't say anything to her. Aluan was by the window where she'd propped up a small mirror she'd brought, putting herself together. Ji Guangjie hastily braided his queue, and then sat on the kang and ate breakfast, often raising his eyes to look at Aluan from behind.

Shortly, Aluan ate some breakfast, as Ji Guangjie instructed the attendants to ready the horses. After he paid the bill for the inn, he went outside with Aluan, where they both mounted their horses and headed east together. Before long, they came again to the banks of the Wei River in Xianyang and rode a ferry across the river. By midday they arrived in Chang'an. On the way, Ji Guangjie didn't say one word to his bride, but his two eyes often peered over at Aluan, as he pondered by what method he'd be able to win over his bride and make her love him.

The two riders entered the city of Chang'an and arrived at the gates of the Lishun Security Office. Upon seeing Ji Guangjie approach, accompanying Aluan by himself, the few security escorts in front of the gate were extremely astonished. Then when they saw Aluan with her hair combed into a cloud bun, wearing the clothes and adornment of a new bride, they stared even more. Ji Guangjie dismounted his horse, handing it over to another person, and then cupped his fist to the group of people before he entered the security office with Aluan. Ge Zhiqiang, Yuan Zhixia, Chen Zhijun, Yang Zhijin, Zhao Zhilong, and Jin Zhiyong were all conversing in the front hall. They seemed to be in the midst of discussing something important, but upon seeing Ji Guangjie and Aluan coming, they came out of the door to greet them.

Ge Zhiqiang said, "What's this? In-law Ji and the young miss Aluan, have you performed the wedding ceremony already?" Aluan blushed a little and walked into the room with the group of men. Zhao Zhilong then asked Ji Guangjie, "Why haven't Jiang Zhiyao and Liu Zhiyuan come back?" Ji Guangjie breathed heavily, but didn't say anything. He sat for a moment before he related to them old master Bao's decision for him and Aluan to get married. Then he spoke of how he went to Mount Wudang in Hubei to meet and fight Jiang Xiaohe. According to his empty talk from before, he said that he'd defeated Jiang Xiaohe. Then he got to Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao, saying that the two of them took a separate route than he did, and that they likely knew that Jiang Xiaohe was to come to Chang'an. They might not have dared return, or they had purposefully hidden far away to serve as lookouts. He then complained about Liu Zhiyuan once more. Afterward, he pulled from his waist the letter that the old master entrusted to him for Ge Zhiqiang, but didn't take out the one for Jiang Xiaohe.

Ge Zhiqiang received it and found that inside the envelope, other than a letter, there was another unsealed envelope with the words, "To Jiang Xiaohe" written on it. Ge Zhiqiang handed the letter over to Zhao Zhilong to read aloud. Zhao Zhilong thus recited it loudly and added commentary. The general idea was that he gave Ge Zhiqiang the letter to tell him that he had seen Ji Guangjie and his granddaughter Aluan married at the Dasan Pass. It was done in a hurry so that after they became husband and wife, they would be able to travel together more expediently. He himself was going into hiding elsewhere, not out of fear, but truly because he was listening to the advice of Lu Zhizhong and his granddaughter.

Zhao Zhilong pulled out the included letter for Jiang Xiaohe as well and read it. The words in the letter were very plaintive. It said, "What happened ten years ago, after I did it, I felt immediate regret. However, Jiang Zhisheng had an affair with another's wife, thereby in truth choosing the path to his own death. You have come now, Jiang Xiaohe, but if you are able to understand these circumstances, then abandon the prior enmity, and we two can still become friends, never bringing up the events of the past. If you cling still to your resolution and must take vengeance, then that will also be easy to manage. I ask that you declare openly that you will not harm a hair on my disciples. When that happens, I will immediately come out and deliver this old life to you!" When the group of disciples heard this, some were taken aback, some were so mournful they wanted to cry, and some still said angrily, "There is no way we can give this letter to Jiang Xiaohe. When we see Jiang Xiaohe, we must attack and have it out with him." Aluan pulled out her handkerchief again to wipe away her tears, and Ji Guangjie place his hand on his sword and smiled, not saying a word.

Ge Zhiqiang folded the letters up and said to the group, "It looks to me this matter is still easy to deal with. If Jiang Xiaohe comes, we cannot rashly enter into combat with him." Nearby, Yang Zhijin said, "Then could you possibly mean to have our old master come out and hand his life over to him?" Ge Zhiqiang shook his head and said, "Of course not. Even if we're all dead, we can't have the master come out!" Yang Zhijin said, "Then what do you suppose we do? Hand the letter over to him?" Ge Zhiqiang nodded and said, "The letter must be given to him. Because that was the master's instruction, it is necessary we do as he says. When Jiang Xiaohe comes, we will invite him to come to the security office, and show him the master's letter. Then we will ask brother Chen to tell him about the foul deeds his father Jiang Zhisheng did then, and also the rules of our Kunlun School and the particulars of how our master led the Long Brothers into the mountains in pursuit of his father, killing him. I imagine Jiang Xiaohe has roamed Jianghu for at least some time and is unlikely to be too unreasonable."

Chen Zhijun hardened his stare, saying, "That kid knows how to talk reason? If he did, he should have already thought about it. Though we killed his dad, the master treated him quite well in the days he lived in the master's home!" Aluan insisted, "When Jiang Xiaohe arrives, don't any of you go to meet him. Have just me go out first. Not only do I want to reason with him, I have many things to ask him and I want to see how he answers me!" So saying, she started crying bitterly again. Ji Guangjie pulled his wife back, and Aluan glared impetuously at Ji Guangjie once more, but because they were in the presence of so many of her disciple-uncles, she could not get angry.

Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand repeatedly at the group, saying, "Let's stop worrying about this for now. It's not something hard to manage. I heard it said that Jiang Xiaohe has entered the Tong Pass already. I've made preparations here. I've notified friends from all over. The office of the inspector-general, the office of the general, the two commissioners treasury and judicial, the Xi'an prefecture and the Chang'an county government, I have developed good relationships with all of them. If Jiang Xiaohe doesn't come, then that's that, but if he does, he will be walking right into a trap!" Aluan said urgently, "Must we rely on government power to arrest him!?" Ge Zhiqiang said, "We're not having him arrested. We're still going to meet with him first to talk reason, but if he really is unreasonable, then I cannot guarantee anything. I, Ge Zhiqiang, have always been a man. Never in my life have I been willing to use government power to overcome others, but we have now come upon Jiang Xiaohe, who is pushing us around from above. I cannot be gracious with him. I plan to use the smallest means to land him in prison. I don't care if they behead him at once, but at the very least I want them to sentence him to lifetime imprisonment!"

When he spoke he puffed out his imposing chest and opened his two eyes widely, as if he would not feel thorny and scared this time with Jiang Xiaohe as he had been the last time with Li Fengjie. He then said loudly, "Let us stop talking about this and first offer our congratulations today to the young couple, in-law Ji and the young miss Luan! We haven't had an event as happy as this in twenty years, so who cares about some bird like Jiang Xiaohe?" Thus, everyone put smiles on their faces, called out rowdily, and surrounded Ji Guangjie and his wife with congratulations. Her disciple-uncles teased Aluan until her two cheeks, still wet with tears, blushed red. She quickly ran into the inner courtyard to find Ge Zhiqiang's wife Xu-shi and their daughter-in-law.

Ji Guangjie was full of joy, but he seemed to be hung up on something. He talked with the men of the Kunlun School for a while, and then he went to check in on the wounds of Ge Zhiqiang's son Shaogang. Afterward, he said he wanted to go see his uncle Zhao Baofu at his money dispensary, though he didn't actually go there. He left the Lishun Security Office and walked back and forth for a while through the main east and west streets before finding a smithy. This smithy sold blades and weapons exclusively, particularly for the fighters of Chang'an's security profession. Inside the shop hung many bright and shiny broadswords. On the walls were suspended sabers and swords, and also things like tiger's head hooks and heavenly halberds. There was even stacked several whiteash poles.

Ji Guangjie walked in and asked, "Shopkeeper, do you have any darts?" The shopkeeper said, "Darts are only available by order." Ji Guangjie said, "Then never mind. I need them now." The shopkeeper asked, "Which security office are you from?" Ji Guangjie said, "I'm from the Lishun Security Office on the main south street." The shopkeeper gave him a good look, as if he didn't quite believe him, since he had never seen that the Lishun Security Office had this particular escort. It wasn't until Ji Guangjie stated his name that he said in surprise, "Oh! So it's Sir Ji, is it? Didn't the good sir go through the Tong Pass to capture some Jiang Xiaohe or other?" Ji Guangjie said, "I've come back. Now stop talking nonsense. If you don't have darts here, I'll go somewhere else to buy them." The shopkeeper said repeatedly, "We do, we do." He went into the back for a moment and came out holding a small wooden box, inside of which were placed several spearhead-like darts.

Ji Guangjie looked them over and found them very unwieldy. The shopkeeper saw that they were not much to Ji Guangjie's liking, so he said, "These were actually struck a few years ago. Later, Little Kunlun, the great escort Bao of Hanzhong and Sun Bao the Living Devil of this place were both wounded by Hu Li the Silver Dart of the Qin Mountains, and there were some who suspected the darts that Hu Li the Silver Dart used were bought in Xi'an prefecture, so local public officials and private citizens informed the smithies that they were not permitted to make darts and sell them. If we were discovered to be doing this, we'd be punished, so if you were not Sir Ji here today, we wouldn't dare bring them out, no matter what." Ji Guangjie said, "If I wasn't in a rush to use them, I also would not be here to buy them. My grandfather was the Xia of Longmen. You may have heard of him. The old sir was unmatched with the sword and never missed with the dart. But the darts our Ji family used were not as heavy and unwieldy as yours. It's a pity when I left home, I didn't think I'd be using them, so I did bring any with me." The shopkeeper said, "No need to worry, Sir Ji. If you can draw what it looked like, we can strike you some for certain. I guarantee that the ones we strike will be exactly like the yours." Ji Guangjie nodded and said, "That sounds good." [Note: It is actually Bao Kunlun's second son, Bao Zhilin, who calls himself "Little Kunlun," not his eldest son, Bao Zhiyun of Hanzhong.]

The shopkeeper went to fetch paper and a brush for him at once, and Ji Guangjie illustrated the shape of the dart and noted the dimensions as well. It was certainly lighter and sharper than most darts. He ordered twenty to be struck, and when they agreed on a price, he paid the order fee. Ji Guangjie then asked for the shopkeeper's name, and the shopkeeper replied, "My surname is Fei. If you go back and ask Sixth Sir Ge about Eldest Fei of the Defu Smithy on the main west street, he'll know me. He is one of our old customers. The Kunlun sabers employed by those at the Lishun Security Office were all forged here." Ji Guangjie nodded and selected five of the completed darts to use since he had a pressing need. When he left the smithy, he found an upholsterer and ordered a dart sheath made. Afterward, he made his way back.

He was in the vicinity of the Lishun Security Office when he spotted a stela erected at the corner of a wall, on which were carved the words, "Mount Tai Shigandang." The bottom portion of the character dang had sunk into the earth, making it read, "Mount Tai Shiganshang." Ji Guangjie abruptly stooped down, picked up two small rocks from the ground, and stepped back a dozen or so paces, thinking, I'm going to hit the little hook at the bottom of the tai character. So saying, one of the rocks flew out as he widened his eyes and watched it straight on. It struck exactly at that spot, and he couldn't help smiling. With the second rock, he thought to himself, I'm going to hit the peak of the shan character. A flick of his hand, and the other rock went flying. He ran over to look and sure enough, he saw a white mark, struck atop the shang character. Many people were standing nearby and watching, all hoping he would do it again, but satisfied, Ji Guangjie walked back to the Lishun Security Office. [Note: In Chinese, the words carved onto the stela read: 泰山石敢當 (Taishan Shigandang). The top portion of the character dang (當) is similar to the character shang (尚).]

In a short while, the group at the security office ate lunch together with he and Aluan sitting at the places of honor. Ge Zhiqiang and the others all raised their cups to toast them as husband and wife and offer their congratulations. Ji Guangjie snuck glances at Aluan and saw that Aluan still did not drink any wine or eat any food, as if she was being shy, though it seemed more as if she was sullen. This truly made Ji Guangjie feel unhappy. Someone there started talking about Jiang Xiaohe, so Ji Guangjie began to talk about him as well. Now that he'd readied a few darts on hand, he was no longer afraid of Jiang Xiaohe's quick and unpredictable martial arts.

As a result, with his head held high, he began talking animatedly, and when he spoke of things that made him angriest, or that made him proudest, he would pound on the table with his fist. At this moment, Aluan got out of her seat and left the room. This hall was across from the eastern hall, which Ge Zhiqiang had ordered tidied up for the husband and wife to stay in. Aluan went inside, sat on the bed dejected, and couldn't help the tears that dropped from her eyes. The door to the room opened suddenly, and Ji Guangjie came inside. Ji Guangjie didn't say anything to Aluan, but he smiled once more, a smile meant to convey the love between a husband and a wife. Without even looking up, Aluan stood up at once and left the room to go to the inner courtyard.

Ge Zhiqiang's wife Xu-shi was in the inner courtyard, currently ill, and though there were two servant women, she still needed her daughter-in-law to wait upon her. Her daughter-in-law Cheng Yu'e had not one moment of leisure time these past couple months, nor one instant of an unburdened mind. Since her husband nearly died after being wounded by Li Fengjie at the Dayan Pagoda that time, his wound was only now barely a lesser injury. But then her mother-in-law fell ill, so much so that her face was drawn and pale, and her mind was full of suffering. Now, seeing Aluan already married, with her hair combed beautifully into a bun, wearing golden jewelry and pretty clothes, especially that pair of embroidered flower shoes, she felt the utmost envy. She pulled Aluan by the hand to the outer room and whispered, "Sister, please sit. Isn't being a new bride nicer than that last time you came?" Aluan flushed red and forced a smile as she sat down.

Cheng Yu'e moved closer and asked quietly, "How is the groom treating you? You two must be in so much love. But you have to think of a way to control his spirit, to break him first. Otherwise, that husband will be hard to keep in line. He's skilled, famous, and of good character. In the future, he'll be sure to do atrocious things behind your back. Then how angry would you be?" Aluan turned scarlet at her words, but grew a bit annoyed as well, so she said firmly, "Sister-in-law, stop joking with me. My granddad arranged this for us. I had no say in it..." When she said this, she became very sad. She forced back her tears and continued, "It was so we could come here together to face Jiang Xiaohe, so that it would be much more convenient!" Cheng Yu'e laughed, seeming both from jealousy and to ridicule her, and patted Aluan's shoulder, saying, "It may be a little convenient now, but it'll slowly become inconvenient. There will always be a time for us women when our bodies become inconvenient, not like those men, who can roam across Jianghu forever."

Aluan didn't quite understand what she meant by this, simply feeling very irritated. She first thought to leave this room and return to the front courtyard, but then she remembered that Ji Guangjie was there and he was even more loathsome. Suddenly a bout of sadness struck her heart and she couldn't hold her tears back from rolling out in drops. Cheng Yu'e was very alarmed, changing her countenance and asking in a panic, "Sister, what's the matter? I've angered you. Oh! I was just teasing you before!" At the same time as Aluan wiped her tears, she waved her hand. Just then a servant woman barged in and said, "Good miss Bao! In-law Ji is heading to the salt shop street to see his good uncle, and he's wondering if you'd come with him. The wagon is all ready to go." Before Aluan could answer, Cheng Yu'e said, "Of course she'll go! Is there any reason a new niece-in-law wouldn't go meet her uncle?" Aluan thus wiped her tears and nodded, and then went to the outer courtyard with the servant woman.

At this time, Ji Guangjie had tied his queue both black and bright, and shaved his face very neatly. He wore a dark blue creased robe and white-soled quick boots, and carried in his hand a fine silk fan, appearing just like a distinguished young gentleman. Aluan went into their room as well and reapplied her rouge. As Ji Guangjie watched his wife making herself up, he took the opportunity to pat her supple shoulder and say quietly while smiling, "I told you before that if you ignore me, I'll ignore you too. But I have to tell you now, this is the only kin I have in Chang'an, and he's my maternal uncle by blood. Since you've become a daughter-in-law of the Ji family, no matter if you think I'm good enough for you or not, you must come with me to pay formal respects to my uncle. We two may be as strangers inwardly, but on the surface we must pretend to be in marital love. Otherwise, people will be liable to doubt, and if word of it gets back to the old master, the old sir will definitely be saddened!"

Hearing these words, Aluan couldn't help a wave of sorrow, though she didn't say anything as she finished her adornment. She followed Ji Guangjie out the door and onto the wagon, and they headed toward salt shop street. While on the wagon, Ji Guangjie sat across the wagon shaft and couldn't help but look all around, as if he looking for something in the crowd. He had even placed his sword in the wagon. They arrived at the Guangyifu Money Dispensary on the salt shop street shortly. The married couple paid their respects to their uncle, and then headed back. When they came back to their room at the security office, Aluan still sat down glumly, with her brows still knit tightly, never ever looking at her husband straight on. Ji Guangjie couldn't help being very distressed. He couldn't stay in the room, so he went outside to inquire about Jiang Xiaohe.

The walked around all day and visited every single tavern and teashop without finding any trace of Jiang Xiaohe. When he returned, he came upon a large horse-drawn wagon stopped in front of the security office. When he entered the front hall, he saw two men in official uniform, talking with Ge Zhiqiang about this and that while addressing each other as brother. Through Ge Zhiqiang's introduction, Ji Guangjie came to know that these two were from the prefectural government office. One was Second Sir Liu, an official from the punishment bureau, and the other was Second Sir Deng the Divine Hold, the head of the department. When the two men heard that Ji Guangjie was the grandson of the Xia of Longmen and Bao Kunlun's grandson-in-law, they told him it was an honor to meet him and began speaking very warmly with him. In a short while, Ge Zhiqiang ordered a banquet set up and invited the two officials to eat, accompanied by Ji Guangjie and the others. As they dined, of course talk turned toward Jiang Xiaohe.

Ge Zhiqiang declared Jiang Xiaohe a criminal, committing serious offenses in Zhenba and Northern Sichuan, and if he ever came here, he asked the government to arrest him. The two officials both agreed wholeheartedly and said they had already sent out bailiffs to various places in order to find and capture him. Ji Guangjie sat by silently. He was not much approve of Ge Zhiqiang setting officials to arrest Jiang Xiaohe. He had experienced Jiang Xiaohe's abilities, and it was of no use to speak of the few inconsequential sheriffs and bailiffs of Xi'an prefecture. Even if there were more of them, they could still forget about capturing even a trace of Jiang Xiaohe. His sole hope now was the darts he had on him, and if Jiang Xiaohe could arrive a few days later, until after the darts he'd ordered were struck, it would be even better! He believed that his darts would not miss their mark and that Jiang Xiaohe could not defend against them.

After some time, lamps and candles were lit in the room as it grew dark outside. Ge Zhiqiang had stopped talking about Jiang Xiaohe, and whenever someone else brought him up, his mood would sour and he would glare at them continuously. When the banquet was finished, the two officials took their leave. Ge Zhiqiang instructed everyone to be on the alert this night, to be more cautious than they had been previously, to have their Kunlun sabers ready at hand, and not to sleep too soundly. If they came upon anything unexpected occurring, they should call out and rap the gong. Once the gong sounds out and those on patrol in the street hear it, they'll go call for the officers. This is the manner that they had decided on in his discussions with the two officials.

Ji Guangjie stood by and scoffed. He hadn't thought Ge Zhiqiang so foolish a man. When we entered his room, he saw two wax candles lit on the table, and Aluan loosening her hair and redoing it in a mirror. Ji Guangjie was puzzled by this, but didn't dare ask her about it. Instead, he stood by to watch what she was up to. Seeing Aluan's full, raven hair, shining in the candlelight, Ji Guangjie couldn't help becoming enchanted once more, thinking, A bride as good as her has come now into my possession, but she can't seem to make thing easy. She won't even talk to me. How painful this makes a man feel! Then he thought, It's all because of this matter with Jiang Xiaohe, stirring agitation in her. Or else, she and I would reconcile for certain. Thus, he silently grit his teeth and seethed about Jiang Xiaohe. He wanted him to come immediately, so he could fling a dart and pierce his belly. Aluan had now finished tidying up her hair, turning her new bride's bun back into the braid of a maiden, as if she had never been married.

Ji Guangjie really couldn't hold in his anger, and immediately hardened his glare, asking, "What do you mean by this? Why did you change your hair? Could it be you're unwilling to be a new wife?" Aluan acted as if she hadn't heard him as she got up and turned around, fuming. She was currently wearing a short green muslin jacket over a red undershirt, so red was hidden within the green, and again under the two reddish lights, her face was simply a delight for Ji Guangjie to look upon. Ji Guangjie turned his annoyance into a smile, saying, "Actually, the braid is much prettier than combing it into a bun. You can wear a braid at night, but tomorrow morning you should change it back. Otherwise people will laugh at us."

He then noticed Aluan's open collar, revealing her silky white chestcloth fastened with a niello chain. Ji Guangjie couldn't keep himself from reaching out to touch it, asking with a smile, "Is that pure gold? Where was it made? There can't be such good craftsmanship in Zhenba city, can there?" Aluan batted him away again, and Ji Guangjie quickly countered by grabbing onto her wrist, laughing, "What is it that you and I aren't on good terms?" Aluan bit her lip tightly, took her hand back without saying a word, and took her saber off the wall. Ji Guangjie was afraid she was going to slash at him again, so he hurriedly turned around to get his sword. Except he saw Aluan taking her Kunlun saber from the wall and sitting down on the kang. She unsheathed the saber and wiped it down with a light, red silk handkerchief.

Ji Guangjie couldn't help but laugh as he set his sword down. He had originally thought to walk closer and say some more kind words, but then he realized it would be just be spurned in vain. Thus, after staring into space for a moment, he proudly said, "Jiang Xiaohe may not come tonight, but if he does, it would be truly great! I am ready to face him right now. I will take his life without letting him see me! And then..." Ji Guangjie wanted to mention once again that he would drift away after he helped the Kunlun School eliminate their direct enemy, never again to cherish Aluan being good to him. However, Aluan glared briefly at him before picking up her saber and leaving the room. Ji Guangjie quickly followed her out and saw Aluan fly onto the room. Ji Guangjie smiled and, whoosh, leapt onto the room himself.

Just then, upon seeing people on top of the roof, an attendant hiding behind a wall shouted out loudly in fright, "Intruder!" He rang the gong. Ji Guangjie jumped down and kicked the attendant, sending him and the gong onto the ground. Ji Guangjie cursed at him, "Idiot! Could it be that you didn't see the lights still burning in my room, and that I'd just come out of there?" There was now a flurry of voices, as Ge Zhiqiang, Zhao Zhilong, Chen Zhijun, Yang Zhijin, and Yuan Zhixia all ran over with their weapons. The attendants had lit lanterns, and someone was rapping noisily on a copper basin. Ji Guangjie brandished his sword and yelled quickly, "It's nothing! It's nothing! It's just me and my wife. We went onto the roof to look around. This idiot didn't give us a careful look before ringing the gong!" He kicked the attendant who'd just gotten back up down again, and walked over and gave the sleepy-eyed attendant rapping on the basin two slaps across the face.

Hearing that it was a false alarm, Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help feeling angry and embarrassed, so he waved his hand and said, "Stop making a racket! If the people outside find out about this, they'll laugh. What escorting will we do then? ...Ayh!" Carrying a Kunlun saber and heaving a sigh, he kept the group in check, but then an urgent knocking came from outside the door. When the gong was just ringing out, it was heard by the men on watch duty in the streets, who then reported it to the officials, and so Second Deng the Divine Hold brought a good many officers over to them. The officers came in, all carrying hooked poles or pronged daggers. Second Deng himself had a waist saber held up high, as he asked loudly, "Where's the intruder?" Ge Zhiqiang's entire face turned red, saying only, "He's gone. Just now someone heard a noise on the roof, but we got here and looked, the intruder had left without a trace." Second Deng the Divine Hold said, "It must be a flying robber. It's likely he hasn't run far, but we can't be sure where he's hiding." Thus, he ordered men to move ladder over, so he could go onto the roof himself to investigate. However, it was just as Ge Zhiqiang had said. There was no sign of any intruders on the roof or anywhere else.

Afterward, Second Deng climbed off the roof and said to Ge Zhiqiang, "Don't worry, Sixth Sir Ge. Why don't we leave a few people here tonight as protection?" Ge Zhiqiang said, "That isn't necessary. We have our own night watch, and it's quite a few men. When we have the intruder surrounded, we'll ring the gong and have you, Second Brother, bring your group to give us a hand then." Second Deng the Divine Hold thought this over and said, "Then we'll do it that way. We're heading back! After hearing the gong, I think the flying robber will likely dare to come back." So saying, he took the many officers and left.

It was now quiet again after the bit of commotion. Ji Guangjie had long since angrily returned to the room, and in a short while, Aluan came in as well. Ji Guangjie said to her angrily, "Look how incompetent those people are. I really don't know how they've managed to lead security escorts for so many years. How do those useless men do business and travel Jianghu? Long ago, I'd heard that Sixth Sir Ge was a good man of renown, but I see now that the Iron Hegemon of the Golden Saber and Silver Whip is no more than this. If it weren't for the involvement of these men, I'd long have captured Jiang Xiaohe!" Aluan let him have it out without giving any reply. Her rage turned her face a deathly white, as she slammed her saber on the table and sat down in the chair next to it. She put one of her arms onto the table and leaned her head against it.

Resentment grew in Ji Guangjie's mind as he thought, How could this be? What was I thinking when I came to the aid of the people of the Kunlun School? The old man Bao's granddaughter has been given to me in marriage, but it's just as if we'd never married. She looks down on me, the one named Ji. I, the one named Ji, have put my future on hold, offended many friends of Jianghu, and even suffered mistreatment here. Can I still be considered a man or a husband? Thus, he flung his sword forcefully onto the bed and thought, I don't care anymore! I'm leaving Guangzhong tomorrow. Jiang Xiaohe can come as he likes and cause whatever trouble he wants. I don't care! But then he thought, That won't do! If that happened, it would be clear to all that I was forced away by Jiang Xiaohe without being able to take my wife with me. That would be humiliating! He snuck a glance at Aluan's silhouette in profile next to the light. With her hair comb into a braid, she looked even more beautiful. Even though she dealt with him without the least bit of heart, he didn't know why, but he just couldn't let her go, and it was because of this that he felt a great difficulty. He then thought, In the end, it's old man Bao who's formidable, ensnaring me with a beautiful woman! For now on, not only need I defend myself against Jiang Xiaohe, but I need also defend myself against the people of their Kunlun School, never revealing to them my true feelings.

From there, he suddenly remembered something. He thought, Before we left the Dasan Pass yesterday, the old man Bao gave me two letters. Inside the one for Ge Zhiqiang, there was already a letter addressed to Jiang Xiaohe, so why was there then another one? Could it be they're different? He thus pulled out the letter, went near the light, and opened it up. Inside were written a few paltry lines by hand. They read:


To the Honorable Jiang Xiaohe:

If you must want to kill me for revenge, then I can only surrender this old life to you. I invite you to come to the Shanyin Valley in Luoyang county, and I will offer this white-haired head to you immediately, without regret.

Zhenfei

After Ji Guangjie finished reading it, he handed it over to Aluan to look at, but then, afraid that Aluan might not know her characters, he read it aloud especially for her. Afterward, Ji Guangjie sneered and tore the letter into bits, saying, "You see now. The old sir told me to give this letter to Jiang Xiaohe when we had no other options. But no matter how dire the situation, even if Jiang Xiaohe's sword had pierced my chest, I could not divulge to him the old sir's hiding place. I was fully aware that helping the Kunlun School would bring me no benefit, and it was even more clear to me that you lacked the slightest bit of heart for me, not to mention that I'm telling you the truth when I say that Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts are much greater than my own. But since I am helping, I will help until the very end, never stopping unless I am killed by Jiang Xiaohe. This is isn't that I'm being foolish, but because I'm preserving my honor!" When he finished, afraid that any vestige of the torn up letter remained, he put it straight into the candlelight, burning it into ash. Afterward, he spoke no further to Aluan, turned around and got into bed, sleeping sullenly with his hands around his sword.

Ji Guangjie's passionate behavior in fact surprised Aluan. Not only was she not angry, but she also turned to look at Ji Guangjie. She saw him, a short yet strong man whom she'd married and was nominally her husband. Even though he was curled up on the bed with his hands wrapped tightly around his sword, still in his clothes and shoes, if Jiang Xiaohe arrived now suddenly, he would surely jump up and fight him with his sword, perhaps to his death. But if he really did die, wouldn't that be pitiful? During the first bout with Li Fengjie, if he hadn't been there to obstruct him, I'm don't know how many of our Kunlun School may have been lost. And in the second bout, this time with Jiang Xiaohe, I still don't know how it went, but he gave it his all. I haven't treated him very well, yet he continues to exert his strength to keep my poor old grandfather from death. In name, I have married him, but what is it actually? I have taken him for an enemy. When she thought this, she couldn't help feeling a boundless, dismal sorrow, so she stood up quietly and walked to him. She nudged Ji Guangjie, intending to explain to him her true feelings. But then she felt an odd ache in her heart and started crying. She sat back down and sobbed into her hands. Ji Guangjie did not get up to console her, though had Ji Guangjie consoled her this time, she may really have cried into Ji Guangjie's chest. It turned out that Ji Guangjie was already sleeping soundly, so Aluan wiped away her tears and stood up again with the intention of pulling a blanket over Ji Guangjie. But then something else in her mind blocked her from it, so she stopped what she was doing and stared off into space.

Just then, a rumble was suddenly heard from the courtyard, a huge sound as if a mountain had collapsed. Aluan quickly took up her saber, Ji Guangjie jumped up holding his sword, and they pushed open the door and bounded out. At this point, the attendant on night watch in the courtyard was too frightened to ring the gong again, instead dropping the gong mallet and running inside. Seeing a massive stone lying in the courtyard, Ji Guangjie hurriedly called for people to light lanterns. Ge Zhiqiang, Zhao Zhilong, Chen Zhijun, Yang Zhijin and the others had all woken with a start and come running. Some of the attendants lit lanterns, and others went to ring gongs, while in the middle of the courtyard sat a large rock. It was the "Mount Tai Shigandang" stela from nearby the security office, that had been uprooted by someone and tossed here. Very soon, the entire group of people were standing pale in astonishment. Ji Guangjie then said, "This must mean that Jiang Xiaohe has come." He followed Yang Zhijin and others, leaping onto the roof to investigate, but there was no trace of Jiang Xiaohe anywhere. Second Deng the Divine Hold came once again with his officers, moving a ladder in place and climbing onto the roof, making the situation even more disordered.

Having seen Jiang Xiaohe do this sort of astounding thing before, Bao Aluan was not surprised this time, only feeling much grief in her heart. She didn't even bother raising up her saber and wanted to go inside. Suddenly, her eye caught sight of the window to the room and she was taken aback! It was because she remembered that when she and Ji Guangjie heard the noise from outside just now, they ran outside without blowing out the light in the room. Now, however, it was pitch black inside. The people around her were currently in a frenzy to capture the intruder, discussing plans of action one after the other, none noticing this fact, but Aluan thought it extremely peculiar. With saber in hand, she entered the room slowly, yet when she was inside, she sensed nothing out of the ordinary. She struck a match and lit a lamp, closing the door behind her as she did, but there was no one else in the room. She even looked under the bed and found nothing.

At this point, Ji Guangjie had come in as well, asking, "What are you looking for?" Aluan straightened up, feeling anxious and blushing a little, but she didn't say anything. She looked up unexpectedly and saw high up on the wall was posted a strip of paper, with what appeared to be writing on it. Aluan was about to jump up, reach out and grab it, but Ji Guangjie was quick of eye and long of arm, and had already taken it down into his possession. Aluan rushed over to snatch it from him, threatening him with her saber, saying, "Show it to me!" Ji Guangjie was unwilling to give it to her, and as the two struggled for it, they ripped the strip of paper to pieces.

Holding half of it, Ji Guangjie jumped out of the room, leaving in Aluan's hand the other half. Breathing heavily and her hand shaking, she went closer to the light and looked, seeing it written on this half of the paper, "Worthy sister Aluan, we are ten years parted, yet I always... Things have already gotten to... but we two must first... Tomor... Jiang..." The rest of the words had been snatched away by Ji Guangjie, leaving only these twenty-some broken words that couldn't be put together to form sentences. Yet, from them, Bao Aluan still had some idea of Jiang Xiaohe's meaning, and she couldn't help from crying, as she burned the remaining shreds of paper in the lamp.

At this time, Ji Guangjie had gone to another room and found a lamp as well. He assembled the scraps of paper to look at them together, but he couldn't make any complete sentences. They said roughly, "...talk. ...row morning, let us meet at the Ba Bridge... Xiaohe," and there were also the words, "think of," and "this point." Ji Guangjie then thought, "Think of this point" must be referring to the stela he threw down, a declaration of his strength and ability. Thus, he smirked coldly, put out the lamp, and went back into the courtyard. He shouted to Ge Zhiqiang and the others, "Jiang Xiaohe must not have gone far! Quickly, capture him!" He went back into Aluan's room and saw that Aluan was already laying down on the bed. He asked of her, "Jiang Xiaohe took advantage of the disorder in the courtyard and the absence of people inside to sneak into the room and leave a note. Show me the other half!"

Aluan just laid there, not saying a word and with her hand holding onto her saber. Ji Guangjie didn't dare approach her, so he urgently stamped his foot and said, "This is very important! This has to do with the fate of your Kunlun School, the life or death of your granddad. Show it to me now! This is very important!" Aluan angrily said, "I burned it already!" Hearing this, Ji Guangjie fell into a daze and then laughed, "You don't have to be so deliberately stubborn with me. It's got nothing to do with me if you hold things up. In the end, I can leave this and stop caring about any of it." Aluan lifted her head and glared, saying, "But you won't just stop caring about it, will you? You won't just leave it and go about your own business, will you?" Ji Guangjie sneered, "Exactly. First, because of what I'd just said about my honor, and second, because you and I are already husband and wife." Aluan laughed derisively, but then subsequently felt a pang of sadness as she laid back down.

Ji Guangjie sighed and said, "You don't have to be like this. I may not know how you're really feeling, but your loathing of me is extremely hard to bear. That note was torn in half, but I understand Jiang Xiaohe's meaning. He's invited us to go to the Ba Bridge tomorrow to fight. When the time comes, you needn't go. Just wait here. I guarantee that I will have him wounded before noon tomorrow, and I guarantee I will have him captured. All right, there nothing else that needs to be said!" So saying, Ji Guangjie turned around and left the room.

Aluan was very surprised upon hearing Ji Guangjie's words and they deepened her sorrow. Ji Guangjie now went into the courtyard and invited inside Ge Zhiqiang, Zhao Zhilong, and the others, and even Second Sir Deng the Divine Hold. These men talked in secret tones. Ji Guangjie said straightforwardly, "Just now, I am certain Jiang Xiaohe used the chaos to sneak into my room, whereupon he left a note before he fled."


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