The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 13.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
Love and hatred twist together, every instance drawing hot tears.
Twixt high peaks and ridges, they unexpectedly encounter a silver dart.
Upon hearing this, Ge Zhiqiang and Second Deng the Divine Hold were both very astonished. Ji Guangjie then said, "Jiang Xiaohe's flying robber martial arts are exceptionally crafty. It won't be easy to hunt him down. We have to come up with a plan, or wound him with a hidden weapon. I have some darts on me, though it's a pity I had to buy them premade and not made to order. They're not of great use, but they'll do for now. If Jiang Xiaohe comes before me, I can wound him for sure with a flick of my hand. I have never employed lightly the dart skills of our Longmen School, but when I do, a hundred throws will be a hundred hits. The note that Jiang Xiaohe just left in my room—" When he said this, Second Deng the Divine Hold quickly interjected, "Where is the note?" Ji Guangjie said, "I ripped it up in anger. There wasn't much written in it, only that he invited us to the Ba Bridge tomorrow morning to meet with him in battle."
Ge Zhiqiang heard this and couldn't help his face turning dusty from fright, for he recalled the lesson learned the last time they fought with Li Fengjie. They were not able to overcome Li Fengjie, nor could they capture him, but if they fought with Jiang Xiaohe the following day, they could even less afford to lose. There was also a possibility that Ji Guangjie's darts could not be depended on. If they didn't go to the arranged meeting at the Ba Bridge the next day, people would laugh at them, not to mention that they would then have to go find Jiang Xiaohe. What if they did go? It was likely that several more would die. If they stumbled again, the Kunlun School wouldn't need others to kill them, for they would die themselves out of shame. Here, Second Deng the Divine Hold and Ji Guangjie were speaking to each other in low voices, so Ge Zhiqiang rushed over to listen to them discuss how to capture Ji Guangjie the following day. Second Deng's martial arts were not powerful, but his plans of action were very impressive. He sketched out a strategy that provoked high admiration from both Ji Guangjie and Ge Zhiqiang.
Thereafter, Ge Zhiqiang stopped feeling anxious and whispered to Second Deng, "Good. We will rely on Second Sir Deng tomorrow. We must not tell anyone else about the plan. I'm not afraid that it'll make it back to Jiang Xiaohe, just that Jiang Xiaohe might be eavesdropping." Ji Guangjie waved his hand and said, "Uncle Ge, don't worry too much. From what I've seen, Jiang Xiaohe's capabilities are just so. He doesn't have any supernatural ability. Let us invite Second Sir Deng to return first. We'll leave a few people on the night watch here and meet again tomorrow at the Ba Bridge. For certain, we will capture Jiang Xiaohe alive!" Second Deng the Divine Hold said, "There's only one more thing. If we do arrest Jiang Xiaohe, we cannot accuse him of any great crime, so there's no way to request the death penalty for him."
Ji Guangjie said, "We don't need to put him to death. We just have to capture him and throw him into prison on flying robber charges. After four or five years of imprisonment, his martial arts will waste away, and by the time he gets out, we will have nothing to fear from him." Ge Zhiqiang said, "Four or five years in prison will be enough. It will be unbearable for someone who is trained in the martial arts to crouch, immobile, for four or five years. He won't even be able to train again after he's released, because his joints will have become stiff." They spoke a little more before Second Deng the Divine Hold took the officers and left.
Ge Zhiqiang, Ji Guangjie and the others went into the courtyard and noticed that the large stone had already been carried away by some attendants, who had returned it to its original location. Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help feeling a wave of anxiety, thinking, Jiang Xiaohe has such strength and such extraordinary abilities. Even if we did capture him tomorrow, I'm afraid a prison won't be able to hold him. If he escaped from prison, he would certainly want even more vengeance. I'm afraid no one will survive that. Thus, he knit his brow. He called on Zhao Zhilong, Yang Zhijin and the others to keep careful watch for the rest of the night. He returned to the inner courtyard and closed up tightly the room he slept in, even going so far as to locking it and putting a table and benches up against it before he went to sleep. There was no way he could fall into slumber, however, because of the excess of fright felt every time he thought about the fight the following day at the Ba Bridge.
Ji Guangjie was still in the outer courtyard, looking all about the rooftops once more before he returned to his room. He saw the light still gently glowing and Aluan lying in bed, still dressed, holding her saber, appearing to be asleep. Ji Guangjie carried the lamp over to shed light on Aluan's face. Aluan's stunning visage enchanted him, but he could not get close to this beauty, which really made his heart both ache and pine, a feeling he found hard to express. He didn't dare allow the light to linger too long before Aluan's face, scared that Aluan would wake and swing her saber at him, so he set the lamp on the table and stood gazing off into space. He thought, Were I to fawn on her with all my might, I'm afraid she would hate me even more. It would be better to wait until we catch Jiang Xiaohe tomorrow and then express to her my intention to leave. Once I do that, Aluan might try to stop me, and maybe she'll begin to hold me dear. He closed the door in passing and blew out the lamp. He climbed onto the bed as well to sleep, placing his sword beside him, and purposefully laid far away from Aluan, though he hoped very much that Aluan would ask him to come closer.
He did not sleep very long before it was daylight. He opened the door to the room and saw that it was hazy out in the courtyard. There was a heavy overcast and a rain like cow's fur, falling in a thick drizzle. Ji Guangjie quickly told the attendants to prepare his horse, and then ran into the inner courtyard to see the others. Ge Zhiqiang was then washing his face, and Ji Guangjie rushed him, saying, "Is it really necessary to wash your face? Let's get on our way. If we're late, the plan we're putting into action will surely become known. Jiang Xiaohe will run away!" Inside the room, Ge Zhiqiang hurried agreed, saying, "Quickly, Ji Guangjie. Order them to prepare the horses and wait for me a moment in the outer courtyard."
Ji Guangjie went back to the outer courtyard and saw that Zhao Zhilong, Yuan Zhixia, Yang Zhijin, Chen Zhijun, and Jin Zhiyong had all tied up their baggage and finished their preparations. Ji Guangjie went back into his room, changed into a set of blue silk clothes, hid the darts on his person, took up his sword, and came back out. By now, Ge Zhiqiang had already come out of the inner courtyard carrying a Kunlun saber and was looking up at the sky, as if the Heavens were worrying about him. He hardened his heart and said, "Everyone, today we go to the Ba Bridge to face Jiang Xiaohe. This will be different than the last time we fought with Li Fengjie. We fought Li Fengjie but to preserve the reputation of our Lishun Security Office. Now we of the Kunlun School are to resist an enemy, to eliminate this mortal foe for our master. None of the ones who will venture forth together will be outsiders. We are all disciples of old master Bao and his grandson-in-law. When we see Jiang Xiaohe, we must put our lives on the line. Whether we kill him or capture him alive, we must not let him get away!"
Ji Guangjie said from the side, "Uncle Ge, you needn't say any more. Let's hurry and go!" Several of the attendants brought seven or eight horses in front of the gate, as Ge Zhiqiang and the others went outside. Ji Guangjie went back to his room however, and saw Aluan lying on her side on the bed in slumber, her saber still sitting next to her. Ji Guangjie pulled a blanket over her body, and then put on a large straw hat and went back outside. When he exited through the gate, he came upon Ge Zhiqiang and the others already mounted on their horses, now rushing him, saying, "Hurry up! Hurry up!" Ji Guangjie ordered an attendant to close the main gate of the security office. Afterward, he leapt onto his horse and swung his whip repeatedly, pressing his horse until he was at the very front, so that he was leading while Ge Zhiqiang and the others followed. The clop, clop of the horses' hooves rang out, and like seven or eight flying dragons, they hurtled through the densely peopled city streets. They left the city and under the hazy morning drizzle, raced straight to the Ba Bridge.
When they arrived at the Ba Bridge, the riders all stopped, each and every one nervous, and each drawing their weapons. Ji Guangjie felt his darts with his hand, but when he peered as far as he could in every direction, he saw only smoky willow trees and a dense rainy mist hovering above the surface of the river. Other than a couple people walking this way and that holding umbrellas and baskets, he saw no one else upon the Ba Bridge. Ge Zhiqiang said, "We've come too early!" Chen Zhijun said, "Could it be that Jiang Xiaohe's deceived us?" Ji Guangjie sat on his horse and looked around, carefully scrutinizing even amid the leaves of the willows, afraid that Jiang Xiaohe was hiding somewhere. Jin Zhiyong said, "Let's find a place to take a rest. There's a teahouse on the eastern side of the bridge." Thus, the horses crossed the bridge.
At the foot of the bridge were two teahouses, both of which had put up woven canopies. Under them had been laid platforms of brick at varying heights to be used as seats. It was the early morning and raining, but the two teahouses were both doing decent business. There were many melon pickers, market shoppers, and hurrying travelers with baggage, all eating and drinking tea under the canopy. Some were conversing and chatting. However, Ji Guangjie could tell that most of them were constables of the Xi'an government in disguise, especially here to arrest Jiang Xiaohe. Ge Zhiqiang was afraid of giving up their movements, so he said to Yang Zhijin and the others, "Let's go into town. There are too many people here." The men were about to head to the streets of the town to look for a teahouse when another person came from the east, carrying an umbrella in one hand and a laughingthrush cage in the other, as if he were a shopkeeper. It wasn't until he grew closer that Ge Zhiqiang recognized him as Second Deng the Divine Hold.
Second Deng greeted Ge Zhiqiang and the others as if he didn't know them, and then, after he was in front of Ge Zhiqiang's horse, he whispered, "The net has been cast, and we've already determined that Jiang Xiaohe is staying at the Fuyuan Inn on the eastern side. But he didn't return to the inn last night, so I think he'll surely turn up later. Right now, the village of five miles is entirely embedded with our men. Unless he can fly, there's no way for him to escape! You should rest up here. I'll be here as well. If Jiang Xiaohe comes, give me an eye signal and we'll strike!" Ji Guangjie heard everything from nearby and said, "If Jiang Xiaohe comes, everyone needs not to get into a frenzy. Tell a couple people to obstruct him, but not to fight him. Distract him with some nonsense, and then we'll surround him from all sides, so that he'll immediately—"
Just as he was speaking, he suddenly heard the tinkling of a little bell. He saw a black horse galloping their way from a road in the east. Atop the horse sat a tall, young man wearing blue clothes and a straw hat. It was Jiang Xiaohe. Chen Zhijun hadn't seen Jiang Xiaohe in ten years, but he still recognized him and immediately and tugged at Ge Zhiqiang, saying urgently, "Jiang Xiaohe has come! That's him!" Second Deng the Divine Hold hid to one side and many of the men turned to regard the man on the black horse attentively. They saw that Jiang Xiaohe was calm and smiling, and the golden bell and his sword were ringing out, their crisp sound startling the people even more. He swept past Ji Guangjie, Ge Zhiqiang and the other riders on his way west. He went on top of the bridge and then looked back. He pointed at Ji Guangjie and called out, smiling, "Come here!"
Ji Guangjie was touching his darts, but upon seeing Jiang Xiaohe's bearing so relaxed, he didn't dare take out his hidden weapons. He first instructed Ge Zhiqiang and the others, "You must be careful not to act without thinking, nor can we have the officers attack suddenly. Jiang Xiaohe is an expert in the water. If he jumps from his horse into the water, we'll have no way of capturing him!" After his instructions, he peeled his horse away to the foot of the bridge and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Friend, victory or defeat, life or death, we must determine which it is for us this day. But tell me first, how are we to fight today, on horseback or on foot?" Jiang Xiaohe looked a little puzzled as he asked, "Who was it who summoned all of you here to battle with me?" Ji Guangjie spewed angrily, "It was you! Last night, you posted a notice in my room!" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "I didn't ask for you. I came to Guanzhong to avenge an old wrong. Other than those surnamed Bao or Long, I am looking for no one."
Ji Guangjie's hand was pressed on the hilt of his sword as he barked, "Was that note last night written by you or not? You invited us to come here in the early morning to compare our martial arts with yours. Did you write that or did you not?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded unyieldingly and said, "That's right, I wrote that note and those words are mine, but I didn't invite all of you to come." Ji Guangjie glared and asked, "Who did you invite?" Jiang Xiaohe stretched his face out and said, "The one I invited was Bao Zhenfei's granddaughter, Bao Aluan. It's got nothing to do with you group of unworthy scum!" Before he finished speaking, he saw Ji Guangjie pulling his sword out with a shink and thrusting it angrily at Jiang Xiaohe's chest. Jiang Xiaohe pulled his horse away a little to dodge, and Ji Guangjie's second sword attempt came as another pressing thrust. Jiang Xiaohe drew his sword as well and blocked his opponent's sword. By now, with a steel whip in one hand and his Kunlun saber in the other, Ge Zhiqiang rushed toward the foot of the bridge, bringing behind him Zhao Zhilong, Yang Zhijin, Yuan Zhixia and Chen Zhijun, all of them charging at Jiang Xiaohe with weapons brandished.
Jiang Xiaohe was about to engage these men in close combat when he suddenly spotted another horse coming from the west, racing its way to the foot of the bridge. Jiang Xiaohe saw that it was Bao Aluan and held his sword crosswise to protect his body, saying, "Halt your attack! She was the one I invited here, and now she's come. Let's us exchange some words first, and then we'll fight after!" He pulled his horse close to the bridge railing with his sword held out in one hand, gazing towards Aluan with both eyes. He saw that Aluan had grown into pretty young woman. She had not remade herself up as a married woman, but the two little braids she wore in youth had turned into a single long one. She looked even prettier than she had as a child, but she was now less innocent. She hadn't put on any makeup and was wearing light blue silk garments and embroidered shoes the color of apricots. She was riding a red horse with a saber next to its saddle, and the saber was no longer the short, light one struck for her at the Ma Smithy, but a Kunlun saber.
Jiang Xiaohe's two eyes looked Aluan's body over and couldn't help laughing bitterly, saying, "Miss Bao! I haven't seen you in ten years. Do you still recognize me?" Aluan was deathly pale now, glaring with both eyes which were welled up with tears, but none of the tears could fall, nor could she say anything, as her entire body appeared to be shaking. By now the rain seemed to be heavier, soaking her head and soaking her body. Her light blue clothes had been drenched by the rain, and raindrops hung off her hair and rolled onto her face. Her tears appeared to drip from her face along with the rain.
By now, Ge Zhiqiang and the others had already surrounded Jiang Xiaohe, but seeing this situation between Jiang Xiaohe and Bao Aluan seemed to have them all stunned. Ji Guangjie took advantage of Jiang Xiaohe's lack of readiness to thrust ferociously at him, but he was blocked again by Jiang Xiaohe's sword immediately with a clang. Ji Guangjie was about to return with another stab, but Aluan obstructed his sword, at the same time drawing her own saber, saying to Ji Guangjie and the others, "None of you are allowed to attack. I'll be the one to kill him! I have things to ask him!" Jiang Xiaohe said as well, "Right! This is between our two families, Jiang and Bao. It has nothing to do with anyone else!" Ji Guangjie sneered angrily, "You must know that she is already my wife. We've already kneeled in the wedding hall and gotten married. If you insult her, your life is immediately forfeit to my sword!"
Jiang Xiaohe laughed bitterly again, and then looked over at Aluan, saying, "The two of us must find a place to talk. The words of the past ten years are too many, and we need to speak them fully. After we talk, if I can take revenge, I will take revenge. If I can't, then I'll have no regrets in being killed by you all!" Aluan wept and nodded, "I wanted to have a careful discussion with you as well! We must make everything clear. Let's go, to the east side of the bridge!" Jiang Xiaohe nodded too and said, "All right, let's go to the east side." Then he clasped his fist at Ge Zhiqiang and the others, saying, "I ask everyone to wait a short while. I am going to the eastern side with Miss Aluan to discuss a few things." Yang Zhijin said, "Miss Aluan, don't go with him. He holds no good intentions!" Ge Zhiqiang wanted to follow her with the group of men, lest Aluan suffer disadvantage alone. Ji Guangjie stood in the way of the group, however, and said, "Don't go after them. Let them go and talk!" At the same time, he winked at them.
Aluan turned her horse to the east and rode, as Ge Zhiqiang and the others made way for her. Jiang Xiaohe headed east as well behind Bao Aluan. Just as he was about a dozen paces from the bridge, he heard the whoosh of wind behind him. He quickly ducked down on his horse and felt a dart fly above his head. Ji Guangjie was at the foot of the bridge and flicked his hand up, sending a second dart over. Jiang Xiaohe reached out with two of the fingers on his left hand and pinched a hold of the flying dart. Ji Guangjie urged his horse closer a few steps, and the third dart zoomed over again on its mark. Jiang Xiaohe used the just-caught dart in his hand and knocked the flying dart onto the ground with a tink. He waited attentively for another flying dart, as he smiled at Ji Guangjie and asked, "Are there any more?" At that time, he noticed a dozen or so polehooks coming at him. Three were on the horse's legs, while another had hooked onto Jiang Xiaohe's right arm. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly reached out with his left hand and grabbed it away. Whoosh, whoosh, again two darts came flying his way, but he dodged both of them. The horse had now been pulled down, as Ge Zhiqiang and the others charged over, spurring their horses and swinging their sabers.
Jiang Xiaohe was now caught in an extremely desperate situation, but his hands and feet were nimble, so though his horse fell, he did not himself tumble. It was only when he escaped the polehook that two strips of flesh were torn from his right arm. He endured the pain and, swinging his sword boldly, he engaged in battle with Ge Zhiqiang, Ji Guangjie, Zhao Zhilong, Jin Zhiyong, Yuan Zhixia, Yang Zhijin, and the throng of officers led by Second Deng the Divine Hold. In a split second, on the eastern side of the bridge over the Ba River, men and horses roiled and surged into a large flurry of disorder.
Because Aluan's horse had been up ahead, she had already entered the streets of the town. She felt very sad and was considering what she would say to Jiang Xiaohe, so she was unaware that Ji Guangjie and Second Deng the Divine Hold had ambushed Jiang Xiaohe. She suddenly heard a tumult behind her and saw that Jiang Xiaohe's horse had already been forced down and that he had been wounded, as his right arm was bleeding. Aluan couldn't help her alarm and hastily turned her horse back. Jiang Xiaohe was now fighting dauntlessly at close quarters. With Yuan Zhixia and Yang Zhijin already cut down by him, he ran back onto the bridge. Ji Guangjie spurred his horse after him, and with one atop a horse and the other below, the two swords crossed in four or five exchanges. Jiang Xiaohe stabbed with his sword and sent Ji Guangjie off his horse.
Jiang Xiaohe took his horse and fled to the western bank. Aluan chased hurriedly after him and called out bleakly from her horse, "Xiaohe! Xiaohe!" Jiang Xiaohe was now so angry his face was both red and purple. He supposed that Aluan, Ji Guangjie, and the others had all planned together to ambush him. He furiously sliced a willow branch off with his sword, and gazing at Aluan through the misty rain, he laughed coldly, "Fine! How very clever and very cruel of you all! Aluan, you lowly woman, you've forgotten that you'd promised to be my wife before. In the ten years since, I've..." When he got to here, a burst of sorrow surged into his heart, a hurt more painful than the one on his arm. At this point, another large troop of officers on horseback were charging their way from the west, and Ge Zhiqiang, Second Deng the Divine Hold, and the others were running after him from east of the bridge. Jiang Xiaohe threw the willow branch in his hand at Aluan, and then turned his horse and fled south along the riverbank.
Aluan dodged the branch and pressed her horse after him, calling out, "Xiaohe! Xiaohe! Come back!" Without even looking back, Jiang Xiaohe sat high on his horse and rode angrily away. Aluan pursued him for a mile before she saw that Jiang Xiaohe had already ridden Ji Guangjie's horse far away. She could only rein up her horse and pant breathlessly as a pair of tears flowed ceaselessly like the strands of rain that fell ever harder.
Shortly, Ge Zhiqiang and Second Deng the Divine Hold had rushed over with the officers, and the troop of constables on horseback had also come. Second Deng mounted a horse himself and led the officers in pursuit. Aluan was stamping her foot and weeping, as she shouted, "Stop chasing him! Jiang Xiaohe's already hurt!" Ge Zhiqiang said, "They are doing the public business of the government. We cannot stop them. Right now In-law Ji and the others are injured. Let's hurry and carry them back into the city to treat them!" Aluan lazily wiped the rain and tears from her face, and galloped back to the Ba Bridge with Ge Zhiqiang, where they saw that some of the officers there had already rented two wagons, and were lifting the wounded Yang Zhijin, Yuan Zhixia and Ji Guangjie onto them. Among them, Yuan Zhixia's injury was gravest and Ji Guangjie's was lightest. While the two other wounded laid moaning, Ji Guangjie was restless in the wagon and wanted to jump down. He was bleeding from his left thigh, which had stained his clothes red, but he was still in a thunderous rage, demanding a horse and a sword from the people nearby, so that he could chase after Jiang Xiaohe.
When Aluan arrived, Ji Guangjie sneered and said, "Family member, look! I, Ji Guangjie, have incurred a wound for your Kunlun School. This blood is red. It is one color with your dress when we two married." He pounded his chest and said, "Don't see only that your husband is wounded, but that he is a hero! Sooner or later I will likewise give Jiang Xiaohe a cut with my sword and give him a wound even worse than mine!" Ge Zhiqiang sighed and exhorted him, "Forget it. Let it be. In-law Ji, hold your anger for now, and let us first go back into the city to rest. Right now, Second Deng is leading more than ten officers on horseback in pursuit. They will be able to arrest Jiang Xiaohe for certain. The wound Jiang Xiaohe suffered was quite heavy. He won't be able to run far!" Aluan was still shedding tears, and because she saw Ji Guangjie's injury, she felt quite a bit of pity for Ji Guangjie, and she thought herself too unworthy of him. Thereupon she sheathed her saber and led her horse to Ji Guangjie's wagon. She held back her tears and urged him, saying, "You needn't be angry now! Go back to the city first. I feel very bad fro the pain you've suffered over our problems!"
Ji Guangjie in fact felt utterly heartened at Aluan's words, his whole body in comfort so that his wounds seemed not to hurt anymore. He was on the verge of laughter, and indeed he couldn't hold it in. He smiled and said, "This is nothing. Not just the injury, but what I'll do for you in the future, for the old man, and for all my friends in the Kunlun School who have been hurt by Jiang Xiaohe. It is all nothing to me. I will prove myself to be the grandson of the Xia of Longmen!" Aluan wiped her tears once again. Ge Zhiqiang issued a command, "Let's go!" The two wagons, along with Ge Zhiqiang, Bao Aluan, Jin Zhiyong, Chen Zhijun, Zhao Zhilong and the other riders, and seven or eight of the officers, some riding horses, some on foot, made their way together back to the city of Chang'an.
At this time, the rain was still falling hard. The fields, forests and dwellings all around them were permeated with the misty rain, and off in the distance, Chang'an city appeared amid a smoky fog. Though they were also returning this time after a great defeat, Ge Zhiqiang didn't feel as dejected and ashamed as he had the last incidence fighting Li Fengjie, because this time Jiang Xiaohe had also been wounded, and relying on the officers, they might be able to capture Jiang Xiaohe soon. It was only that, if they couldn't capture him, it would be all over! Seeing Jiang Xiaohe's swordwork this day and his dexterity when he caught the dart with one hand, not only was he much more powerful than Li Fengjie, but in his hands, Ji Guangjie was not much of a hero. Due to this, he very greatly respected his master. In the past ten years, he had even sometimes thought the old man was worrying excessively in his constant fear of this matter approaching, but now he saw it truly was something worth concern. The old master Bao was now robust for his years, but when compared, the old man's martial arts were far below Jiang Xiaohe's. But in the case of the young lady Aluan...
Atop his horse, Ge Zhiqiang thought back to the initial moment Aluan saw Jiang Xiaohe, and the scene of Jiang Xiaohe throwing a branch at her, and her shouting through tears not to chase him. Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help the suspicions developing in his mind, thinking to himself, What's going on here? When Jiang Xiaohe was a child, he was brought up for a time in the master's home. Could it be something had happened during that time between him and Aluan? How peculiar! Because he was speculating about this, he was forgetting about everything else.
In a short while, they entered the city and when they returned to the Lishun Security Office, they first carried the three wounded men separately to their own rooms. Afterwards, Zhao Zhilong and the others busily applied cut wound medicine to the injured, and sent attendants to fetch a doctor specialized in treating bruises and cuts. There were also many local fighting masters and security escorts, as well as friends both public and personal whom Ge Zhiqiang was acquainted with, all calling upon them to give consolation and inquiry. Ge Zhiqiang forced himself to be energetic and performed the social niceties. With great difficulty, they finally departed as he'd wished, whereupon Ge Zhiqiang was able to take a breath. He went to check on Yuan Zhixia and Yang Zhijin and saw that neither had reached a point where their lives were in danger. Lastly, he went to visit Ji Guangjie and saw Ji Guangjie lying in bed talking with Aluan. Aluan was still frowning with worry, and her two eyes glistened with tears.
Ge Zhiqiang asked Ji Guangjie about the current condition of his injury. Ji Guangjie sat up immediately and patted his wound with his right hand, laughing, "What is this? If Jiang Xiaohe were to come again, I would put my life on the line as before!" He spoke rowdily, but his face was pale and beads of sweat as big as soybeans rolled down from his forehead. Ge Zhiqiang said, "You must hold your temper. If you ask me, I think those officers have already arrested Jiang Xiaohe by now. Even if he were to get away, with what happened today, he would now be considered a criminal, and he'll be caught sooner or later. Now focus on getting better! We'll talk about what to do after you're healed."
As he said this, he gave Aluan a look. His meaning was, seeing that Ji Guangjie's wounds couldn't be considered light, you'd best attend to him well and not get him too excited. Aluan's face became even more worried and sad. Ge Zhiqiang could also see that things would be hard from now on, and couldn't help feeling very anxious. He left the room and went back to the main hall to eat lunch with Zhao Zhilong, Chen Zhijun, and the others.
Second Deng the Divine Hold came while they were eating lunch. He was panting heavily, as if he had just gotten off his horse after having come from far away. Ge Zhiqiang asked him at once, "Have you captured Jiang Xiaohe?" Second Deng the Divine Hold waved his hand and said, "It wasn't possible. That man is what I'd truly call fierce! I've handled cases for over twenty years, catching grass gliders and carryings leopards in clouds, but I've never encountered an outlaw as slippery as him. Sir Ji's horse was not itself very fast, but in his hands, it was as if it was flying. We chased after him for more than thirty miles, through a few forests and across a couple rivers. After that, I don't know what happened, but both man and horse disappeared completely! That man comes from outside of this province, yet could it be that he is more familiar with the geography than we are?"
Upon hearing this, Ge Zhiqiang felt even more anxiety, staring into space for a moment. Then, he said, "This escape will cause no end to trouble." Second Deng said, "It would be excellent if he were to come tonight, and if I let him go again, I will resign from my appointment in the government. I'll first go back and rest. Don't worry, Sixth Sir Ge. Tonight I'll bring some men for the night guard." Ge Zhiqiang gave Second Deng some further instruction, and then Second Deng left.
Presently, the men finished eating, and Ge Zhiqiang asked his disciple-brother Chen Zhijun in particular to join him in his room inside. The two spoke in confidence, as Ge Zhiqiang furled his brow and said, "Brother, did you see how Miss Aluan looked today at the Ba Bridge when she saw Jiang Xiaohe? Usually, whenever we mentioned Jiang Xiaohe, the miss would always grow angry, gritting her teeth and tearing up. Logically, their meeting today should have been a meeting of enemies. They should have been exceptionally hostile. However, Jiang Xiaohe simply smiled, and she did nothing but cry at Jiang Xiaohe. She did not immediately draw her saber and engage him, instead going east of the bridge with Jiang Xiaohe to talk with him about things she didn't want us to know about. And I haven't yet mentioned that later on, when Second Deng pursued Jiang Xiaohe with the other officers, the miss wept and tried to stop them, saying something like, 'Jiang Xiaohe's already been injured, so stop chasing him!' I have some real doubts concerning this matter. Could it be that Miss Luan's temperament has changed? Otherwise, did she never truly hate Jiang Xiaohe, and had she had some sort of personal affair with Jiang Xiaohe before? But that doesn't seem to be case!"
Chen Zhijun stared blankly and thought for a while before saying, "I don't dare speak on that, but what I saw between them today was a bit strange. When Jiang Xiaohe and Aluan were younger, they often played together. However, Xiaohe was only fourteen, and Aluan was only twelve." Hearing this, Ge Zhiqiang's suspicions rose further, and he sighed, saying, "One fourteen and the other twelve, but you cannot say they didn't understand anything at that age!" Chen Zhijun shook his head and said, "I don't think anything ever reached that point, for the master was very strict about these things. Not to mention, Jiang Xiaohe did not stay very long in the master's home before he stabbed our elder brother Long and ran away. By the time that Jiang Xiaohe brought the Xia of Langzhong to Zhenba, I saw with my own eyes Aluan gritting her teeth angrily and cursing daily about Jiang Xiaohe's inability. I am certain there was no personal affair between Aluan and Jiang Xiaohe. In fact, it looks to me right now that with Ji Guangjie, there is much love between the young couple!" Ge Zhiqiang listened, but still could not rid himself of his doubts. They then discussed what further precautions they should take this evening, before Chen Zhijun went back outside.
The rain stopped in the afternoon, but the sky did not clear up. Ge Zhiqiang spent the entire day with a worried frown, and the later it got, the tighter his two brows were knit. The day grew dark gradually as if a devil was about to descend. Everyone roused up their spirits, but inside they were harboring dread. Whenever they heard a noise somewhere, a good many of them would take their sabers and investigate. After dinner, Ge Zhiqiang ordered the kitchen to make a few dishes to put inside and prepared some wine for the men on the night watch. He hoped urgently for Second Deng the Divine Hold to come quickly, bringing those officers with him, but he waited until after the second watch before a constable named Zhang came with a dozen or so officers. He said that Second Deng the Divine Hold had caught a bit of a cold today and couldn't come, so he told us to come help protect the Sixth Sir. There were men readied at the government office as well, who could hurry here immediately upon hearing the sound of the gong.
Ge Zhiqiang said, "It'll be all right if only a few come. Nothing may happen tonight, as Jiang Xiaohe's injury was not light. Not to mention that both he and the horse are exhausted, and won't likely be able to come again." The man named Zhang said, "If it was only the one Jiang Xiaohe, it would be no trouble to manage, but if he brought that Li Fengjie from earlier, then that would be problematic." Ge Zhiqiang laughed and said, "Jianghu is large, and there are many who know the martial arts. Li Fengjie and Jiang Xiaohe will not know each other." Chen Zhijun piped in, "Both their martial arts are very good, but they have both suffered injury, so neither of them can be considered to have won outright. Our Kunlun School has not been disgraced." Ge Zhiqiang quickly steered the conversation away, not allowing Chen Zhijun to continue speaking on this.
He invited the officer named Zhang and the dozen or so lawmen inside, and drank and talked, accompanied by Chen Zhijun and Jin Zhiyong. Ge Zhiqiang secretly instructed the kitchen not to serve them any more wine to drink, so that the dozen or so men drank at most two catties. This was because he was afraid they would all get drunk, and when the time came that something happened, they would be unable even to stand up. How could group of drunkards capture Jiang Xiaohe? It was now the time of the third watch, and the western rooms were lit brightly with lamps and candles. There were many people and little wine, and the few dishes were eaten up, but everyone spoke energetically. Moreover, one of the officers pulled from his breast a treasure box, and everyone started betting on odds and evens.
Two large lanterns were set up in the courtyard, held up by tripods. These lanterns could be opened and folded over and were nicknamed "wind-flouters," since no matter how strong the wind, it could not blow the light out. Next to the lanterns were two benches, upon which sat four attendants, holding up a large copper gong. Three of the attendants were nodding off. The attendant holding the gong mallet kept both his eyes eternally peering east and gazing west, and would also constantly look up at the roof behind him, as if he were afraid someone would heave another stela from the roof and shatter his skull.
Ji Guangjie and Aluan were staying in the rooms across from the front hall. Because Ji Guangjie was anticipating Jiang Xiaohe, he couldn't fall asleep, and the sword wound on his right thigh was very painful as well. He was also unwilling to groan out in front of his wife, so he simply grit his teeth and bore the pain, as he tossed back and forth. Aluan sat by the wall, awake but wordless, as she broke into several fits of crying, with sorrow winding its way through her heart. The lamps in her room had all been put out, but the light shining into the room from outside was still quite bright.
She glanced over at Ji Guangjie laying in the bed and felt him very pitiable. It was truly not easy to act for the sake of her grandfather and for the Kunlun School. Then she thought of the distant Jiang Xiaohe, ambushed today before she was allowed to make things clear with him. If it hadn't been for his powerful martial arts, he would have lost his life instantly on the Ba Bridge, or been arrested. The hook wound on his arm didn't appear too serious, yet how does he hate me so? He broke off a willow branch and tossed it at me. Wasn't that an expression of his internal hatred? She then thought of him reining his horse up on the Ba Bridge today and holding his sword in front of him, bitterly laughing and saying these words to her, " The words of the past ten years are too many, and we need to speak them fully." I see that he has not forgotten about me in the past ten years, but he must not have thought that I would've married Ji Guangjie. Does his further inability to forgive me for marrying Ji Guangjie stem from him having no other alternative? He'll can't know that though Ji Guangjie and I are married in name, we are not married in truth...
When she thought to here, she heard someone outside asking urgently, "Is In-law Ji asleep?" Aluan's sorrowful train of thought was broken by these words. She could tell that it was Ge Zhiqiang's voice. She answered, "He's already asleep. Is something the matter, Uncle Ge?" Outside, Ge Zhiqiang said, "It's nothing. I wanted to tell him to stop worrying and rest up. There are more than ten officers on night watch in the front hall, enough for us not to worry. Jiang Xiaohe will not dare to come again." Aluan acknowledged him and heard Ji Guangjie laughing heartily, but only for a moment before the pain of his thigh wound caused him to draw in a breath. Then he said, "I'm not asleep. I'm certain that Jiang Xiaohe will turn up again tonight. I'm waiting to face him and fight him to the death!" Ge Zhiqiang heard this and couldn't help but shudder. He had been exhausted and wanted to go to sleep, but after hearing these words, he didn't dare sleep. He forced out a laugh and said, "Stop worrying! Nothing much will happen tonight."
So saying, he took a few steps back and looked up at the roof again. Then, he went into the inner courtyard, where there was another "wind-flouter" lantern with Zhao Zhilong and an attendant keeping guard here. Lamps still lit his wife's quarters and those of his son and daughter-in-law. He could tell they were both very frightened right now, neither being able to sleep. Ge Zhiqiang looked at the roofs all around him, and then raised his head to peer at the sky. He felt a little of the Water Star hanging from its surface and thought, It'll rain again. The more rain the better, actually. Then Jiang Xiaohe won't be able to come. He then yawned a couple times and said to Zhao Zhilong, "I'm really tired. I'm going to sleep for a bit. I'll wake up in a short while and take the next shift."
Ge Zhiqiang opened the door to his eastern quarters and entered, seeing that while there were no lamps or candles lit inside, it was still bright from the light shining outside. He closed the door on his way in. He yawned again and sat at the edge of the bed to take off his shoes. When he'd only taken off one of them, he suddenly spotted a hand reaching out from under the bed, holding a glimmering sword within. Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help yelping in fright, wanting to run out the door, but Jiang Xiaohe had already glided from under the bed and had him constrained on top of it. With Ge Zhiqiang's cry coming from inside, along with the shuffling of the bed, in the courtyard, Zhao Zhilong rushed outside the room with saber in hand, and asked urgently inside, "What's the matter?"
Ge Zhiqiang had always been sturdy of body, stronger than others, but right now he was just like a rat, pinned to the bed by the tomcat-like Jiang Xiaohe. With the blade of a sword pressed against his neck, he was too scared to make a sound. Jiang Xiaohe spoke a warning quietly into his ear, "I'm not going to kill you. I just want you to tell me where Bao Zhenfei and the Long Brothers are hiding, and then I'll leave!" Ge Zhiqiang said, in a panicked whisper, "Let go of me and I'll tell you!" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, "I'll let you go." Thus, he released his hold and pulled his sword. Ge Zhiqiang crawled up to a sitting position on the bed. He sighed and said, "Brother Jiang, there is not grievance or enmity between us, so why have you come me?" Jiang Xiaohe scoffed, "How can you say we have no grievance or enmity? Ten years ago on the Qin mountain road, if my master hadn't rescued me, I would have already been killed by you. But I'm not here now to quibble about those small grudges. I'm only looking for the old man Bao and the Long Brothers. Quickly, tell me!" He slapped Ge Zhiqiang on the head with his sword.
Ge Zhiqiang said, "Long Zhiteng is still in Ziyang. Long Zhiqi departed from my place here some days ago, to where I know not. My master went into hiding at the home of an old friend of his. He has a lot of old friends, and I don't know who he is, or where. According to Aluan, her granddad left by himself, and even she doesn't know where he went." Jiang Xiaohe scoffed again. Ge Zhiqiang then said, "However, she brought a letter for you from our master. It's in the front hall right now. If you want to see it, I'll go get it for you!" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "I want to see what he has to say in his letter. I'll come get it with you." He opened the door and had Ge Zhiqiang in front of him, while he followed behind carrying his sword.
By this point, the courtyard and the roof were filled with men. Some of them held polehooks, while others had flying darts and crossbows at the ready. Ge Zhiqiang was so scared he wasn't able even to take a step. Jiang Xiaohe clutched him from behind and said, smiling, "Don't worry. You need not fear. They wouldn't dare hurt me, and likewise I can't hurt you." Ge Zhiqiang hurriedly spoke to the group of men in high and urgent tones, "None of you make any rash moves! Jiang Xiaohe has come this time without any ill intentions. We just need to talk about some things." He pulled a string of keys from his breast, and tossed them to Zhao Zhilong, saying, "Brother, open the big chest in the front hall and bring back the letter the master wrote for Jiang Xiaohe. He wants to see it. Quickly!" Zhao Zhilong acknowledged him and hurried into the front courtyard to retrieve the letter.
The officers and security office attendants surrounded Jiang Xiaohe so tightly wind or rain could not get through. It was only because Ge Zhiqiang was being held by Jiang Xiaohe, making them afraid to hit the rat for fear of breaking vases, that they didn't dare draw nearer, but they all watched Jiang Xiaohe intently. Jiang Xiaohe held onto his sword with one hand, while the other clutched Ge Zhiqiang, as he stood straight and calm, without a hint of fear.
At this time, Aluan came into the courtyard, holding her saber, but she didn't come close. She stood by a screen door and thought simply, The letter my granddad wrote for Jiang Xiaohe is of the utmost sadness. He's basically begging Jiang Xiaohe for pity. No matter how great the elderly man's faults had originally been, Jiang Xiaohe ought to be moved some now by so pitiful a request, let go of his former enmity, and become reconciled anew. When that happens, I must hold the group the back and not let them hurt him. I'll take him elsewhere and tell him how I felt about him when I thought of him for the last ten years. Thus, she concealed herself, not letting Jiang Xiaohe to see her, as she stared intently at Jiang Xiaohe under the light of the lanterns.
Shortly, Zhao Zhilong brought out the letter and was about to hand it over to Jiang Xiaohe, when Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "I don't need to read it myself. Why don't you read it to me?" And so he continued holding onto his sword, as he observed his surroundings to prevent any others from taking an opportunity for a secret attack. Zhao Zhilong unfolded the letter and read it aloud in the lamp light. The people nearby all listened with bated breath, especially Aluan, who paid attention to every word and phrase. She heard her grandfather's letter say, "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!" Aluan couldn't help a pair of tears falling, and then she opened her two glistening eyes and looked over at the lamp-lit Jiang Xiaohe, ten paces away.
She saw only a mournful expression appear on Jiang Xiaohe's face at first, but by the time he finished listening to the letter, he became angry and sneered, saying, "Good Bao Zhenfei, how truly crafty you are. Now he's using this letter begging for pity to deceive me, hoping that I'll show compassion and have mercy on him. Afterward, he'll direct you all to plot against me. You tell him, no matter how pitiable he is, I will not spare him! Back then, my father Jiang Zhisheng was forced into the mountains by him to suffer days of chill and hunger, and then he snuck back home for a few mouthfuls of cold rice before he took some taels of silver and fled in a hurry for his life. Let's say he was a bad man. By that time he was most pitiful and had not committed any mortal crimes, yet Bao Zhenfei could still not pardon him, going so far as to chasing my father into the mountains and killing him. He had not spared my father then, so how can he beg me to spare him now?"
When he said this, a fiery rage burst forth from his two eyes, even brighter, it seemed, than the lanterns. He then brandished his sword again and said, "But let's not speak of all that. After he murdered my father Jiang Zhisheng, he didn't even send us a message. How sad it was for the widowed and orphaned of the Jiang family! He, that vicious old man, once tricked me into a wheat field, intending to kill me with a knife. Though he hadn't killed me then for fear that someone would see him, if it wasn't for my uncle Ma Zhixian urging us to move into the city, he would already have killed me. In those two or three years, how pitiful it was, my family splintering, how great the hardship I bore. Later on, he told me to live at his house, purposefully showing me a smiling face, when actuality he had me herding the pigs and feeding the horses every day, conniving to have his second son kick me, step on me, hit me, yell at me. Can I really forget these things? Now, this has nothing to do with some men. I only want to kill the Long Brothers and Bao Zhenfei. No one can convince me otherwise, not even if Bao Zhenfei himself knelt down and kowtowed to me would it be enough!"
When he got to here, someone brandished their saber and bounded at him, sending a chop at him. Jiang Xiaohe hurried blocked his opponent's saber with his own sword. He looked and saw that it was Aluan. He said, "Today, in the light of day, you helped Ji Guangjie ambush me at the Ba Bridge. You weren't successful, and now you have the nerve to meet me? I truly hadn't thought that in ten years, you would have become this sort of person. I have no more desire to pay you any more attention!"
Aluan felt both sadness and anger, but she wasn't able to say a thing. Shedding tears and gritting her teeth, she brandished her saber at Jiang Xiaohe for a chop. Jiang Xiaohe pushed Ge Zhiqiang away with his hand, and entered into battle with Aluan. In two or three exchanges, he kicked the Kunlun saber out of Aluan's hand. At this time, the men advanced together from all directions with their sabers and staffs, and Aluan charged forward empty-handed, wanting Jiang Xiaohe to kill her. Jiang Xiaohe shook his wounded right arm about to deflect the crowd of men, while at the same time he reached out and clasped Aluan with his left arm. Aluan struggled in his hold and shouted out tearfully, but Jiang Xiaohe's arm was like an iron hoop, binding Aluan's body so tightly, she could stop thinking about trying to break free. He swung his sword, sending several men back with wounds and then flew up onto the eastern hall, upon which Chen Zhijun was waiting, leading two attendants. Chen Zhijun swung his saber at him and asked angrily, "Jiang Xiaohe, what are you doing with Miss Luan?" Jiang Xiaohe swayed his sword to meet Chen Zhijun, and in one or two exchanges, kicked Chen Zhijun off the roof. The two attendants panicked, both tripping and tumbling from the roof as well.
Jiang Xiaohe stood on the roof, clasping onto Aluan with one hand and holding his sword crosswise with the other, as he shouted down, "Anyone who dares come up on the roof can forget about their lives!" He then lowered his head and said to Aluan, "Don't be afraid, Aluan. I'm going to take you away somewhere. There are many things I want to say to you." Aluan cried out and struggled, and bit Jiang Xiaohe's arm, saying, "I can't go with you. I have nothing left to say to you! Let me go! Otherwise, just choke me to death!" The bite she gave Jiang Xiaohe's left arm was very painful, but Jiang Xiaohe didn't find it hard to bear. In fact, he smiled faintly. It was only inside that he truly felt extraordinary hurt. He wanted to flee, but he couldn't seem to move his feet.
By now, Ji Guangjie had rushed into the courtyard with sword in hand. He saw that Jiang Xiaohe had taken his wife onto the roof, so he brandished his blade and cursed loudly, intending to leap onto the roof. It was just that the wound on his left thigh was too deep, so after leaping a few times, he was not able to make it up. Ge Zhiqiang and Zhao Zhilong stopped him and exhorted him together, "Don't be rash. We have Jiang Xiaohe surrounded now. There's no way he'll be able to escape." Ji Guangjie roared, "Are you really going to let him take my wife?" At this time, because Jiang Xiaohe was in despair on the roof, the strength left his arms gradually, and Aluan shook free of him. She was about to snatch his sword away, but Jiang Xiaohe pushed her lightly away, and then turned around to run. Just as she turned around, shoom, shoom, the crossbows on the opposing roof let fly at Jiang Xiaohe in succession. Jiang Xiaohe swiftly bent down to dodge and fled crouched to the rear manse. Several officers put ladders against the rear manse and climbed up, carrying polehooks and trying to hook onto Jiang Xiaohe again. Jiang Xiaohe wasn't willing to hurt the officers, so he evaded them and fled as if flying, stepping across the roof tiles.
At this point, the various roofs, and even the tops of walls, were filled with attendants of the security office and government officers. These men had weapons in their hands, all shouting, "Catch the criminal! He's heading for the eastern hall! After him!" They shouted very loudly, but as soon as Jiang Xiaohe charged their way, flashing his sword, they became like a pile of wet mud, so afraid that none of them dared to advance. Once they panicked and lost their footing, they didn't need Jiang Xiaohe to come and lift his leg to kick them, for they would fall off the roof on their own. In this way, Jiang Xiaohe ran without the least bit of obstruction upon the roof as if he was treading on the level earth. They pursued him to the courtyard and then outside the main gate, but they had by then long lost any trace of Jiang Xiaohe.
Second Deng the Divine Hold rushed over with a dozen or so officers, and searched all over the place once more. Ge Zhiqiang had lost heart, however, and couldn't help but sigh, saying, "Never mind! Forget it! There's no way for use to capture him!" However, he wasn't able to stop these men who were feigning power. Ji Guangjie was held up by Zhao Zhilong and others. Because he had just watched Jiang Xiaohe dishonor his wife, he was furious. He didn't care what condition his thigh wound was in, dauntless in wanting to give chase and engage Jiang Xiaohe with all he had. But Zhao Zhilong and others, fearing that something bad might happen to him, took his sword from his hand. It was like they were fighting, as they twisted about in the courtyard and argued clamorously.
Aluan leapt back onto the roof alone with her sword in hand to chase after Jiang Xiaohe. She passed over seven or eight courtyards, her feet treading upon buildings of other people's shops. She looked all around, but saw only the night muddled and the dark clouds thick, as the rain slowly began to fall once more. Thunder rumbled in the horizon, and the crackle of lightning stabbed at her eyes. Tears were still streaming from her eyes, and in her urgent hatred, she cursed to herself, "So it turns out that Jiang Xiaohe is this sort of bad person. My granddad begged him for mercy in his letter, but he wasn't willing to let go even a little, insisting instead that he had to kill my granddad. He treated me so heartlessly, dishonoring me in the presence of everyone!"
Thus, she acted as if crazy. Though she didn't know where Jiang Xiaohe had fled to, she did not give up, wanting to continue her pursuit and deciding that she would not be finished until she could catch him and kill him herself. In this way, she stepped across several shops, their courtyards all dark below. No one became aware there was someone on the roof, though a few places had dogs, who seemed to see her and barked wildly without end. Once one dog barked, many other dogs all answered by starting up. Aluan jumped down from the roof.
It was a small lane here, pitch black without any bit of lamp light or people, probably quite far from the Lishun Security Office. Aluan stood here panting and crying. After a moment, just as she was about to take a step out of the lane, someone behind caught her by surprise and grabbed onto both her hands. Aluan cried out in alarm, "Who is it?" She twisted her head back as a bolt of lightning just happened to flash, allowing her to see the person behind her clearly. It was Jiang Xiaohe.
She did not immediately struggle, instead breathing urgently. She said, "Let go! Let me go!" But Jiang Xiaohe continued to hold her hands tightly from behind, saying with bitter sorrow, "I can't let you go. I want to make things clear between us. Let me tell you, the hardships I suffered in the last ten years, running about and learning martial arts, I did it in order to take vengeance, but I also did them for you. I hadn't thought that you would've lost all kindness!" Aluan said impetuously, "You aren't willing to spare my granddad, so how could I have any kindness?" She wept as she spoke. Jiang Xiaohe heard her, and couldn't help the pain striking his heart. He gave a long sigh and released his hold on Aluan's hands. He turned around, and with a whoosh, he leapt onto the roof of a house and left.
Aluan did not chase after Jiang Xiaohe. Weeping, she walked out of the small lane with her saber in hand. She discovered that it was the main south street outside of the lane, as the rain began to fall more heavily, the thunder cracked more urgently, and the lightning flashed more fiercely. By the time she returned to the Lishun Security Office, she was completely soaked from head to toe as tears continued to spill from her eyes.
The security office had gradually calmed down by this point, but none of the officers had left, and Ge Zhiqiang and Zhao Zhilong were sitting worried. It wasn't until they saw Aluan return unharmed that they could now be at ease. They asked in succession, "What's happened? You didn't catch up with Jiang Xiaohe, did you, Miss? Do you know which way he ran?" Aluan wiped her tears and shook her head. Ge Zhiqiang sighed and said, "We needn't set ourselves against him any longer. We were so strictly vigilant today, and there were also so many of us, yet we still let him come and go as he pleased. His skill is too great, and that leaves us with nothing we can do. Luckily, things with him were settled today. He won't be coming back here to make trouble, nor will he be able to hurt any of us anymore. It's just that, our master and our two brothers Long must be especially careful. If he finds them, he won't be as reasonable as he was here."
Chen Zhijun said, "I think we should send people to Ziyang tomorrow, and quickly tell Brother Long Zhiteng to find a place to hide. We needn't worry about Long Zhiqi, as he's likely outside of the province. Afterward, we ought to follow Miss Aluan to hurry to see the master and listen to what he says. If the elderly man is willing to fight it out, we will all put our lives on the line with him. If a man of the Kunlun School dies, then we all die. It is ludicrous that he wants only to kill the master and the Long Brothers. If the master doesn't want to fight, then we'll ask him to escape to Beijing with all of us protecting him on the way. The city of Beijing is the place before the feet of the Son of Heaven. How would Jiang Xiaohe dare to cause trouble there?"
Ge Zhiqiang thought deeply for a moment, and then waved his hand, saying, "We cannot do it that way. If we go visit our master, Jiang Xiaohe may follow us in secret and we'll have lead the way for him. We must consider this deliberately. The good thing is the place where the master is currently staying is very secluded. Even if we told Jiang Xiaohe the location, he would not be able to find it." He sighed, and then encouraged Aluan to go back to her room and rest.
Aluan returned to her room, holding her saber, and saw that Ji Guangjie's wound seemed to have gotten worse. He laid on the bed and groaned endlessly. The sound of his suffering burrowed into Aluan's ear, and it was as if her heart had been pricked by a knife. At first, she had not cared much about Ji Guangjie, but now, she couldn't help feeling that Ji Guangjie's wounds were her own, or that his pain was hers.
She set her saber down with frustration and lit a lamp. She was not crying anymore. There was only hatred in her as she gnashed her teeth with loathing for Jiang Xiaohe. She hated Jiang Xiaohe for shaming her this day, and she hated the words he'd spoken. He said that I lacked kindness, how truly hateful he is! The most hateful had been when he'd once taken advantage of me, using the situation of fetching my kite as coercion and tricking me into becoming his "wife"! That childhood incident has occupied my heart. In these ten years, I often felt a secret sorrow, a secret worry. What was it all for? Wasn't it all for his sake! It was all for the sake of that cruel, pigheaded man. After lighting the lamp, she sat down and fumed for a while and swallowed again a multitude of tears.
At this point, the sound of the thunderstorm outside grew more insistent, and Ji Guangjie's groans became more miserable. Aluan walked quickly to the side of the bed and comforted Ji Guangjie, saying, "How are you feeling? Does the wound hurt a lot?"
Ji Guangjie held back his moans, smiled, and looked up at Aluan. He shook his head and said, "It's nothing. It won't kill me. This life of mine needs to stay around so I can battle Jiang Xiaohe. Aluan, because of what happened today, I understand now. I saw that there are feelings between you and Jiang Xiaohe. Otherwise, you wouldn't have started crying at the Ba Bridge right as you laid eyes upon him, nor would he have taken you onto the roof just now. As for when you developed feelings for each other, or what both of you plan to do in the future, I don't care. I, Ji Guangjie, am a good man with a family background better than that Jiang Xiaohe, but I won't cherish you as my wife. When my wound heals, I'll go see the old sir myself, explain everything to him, and then I'll leave. I'll fight Jiang Xiaohe by myself. It will have nothing to do with your family. Then, even if you help Jiang Xiaohe fight against me, or if your Kunlun School views me as an enemy, I won't be afraid. I have a sword in my hand, and my darts will be finished in half a day. I'll fear no one!" After saying this, he sighed and spoke no more.
Aluan felt ashamed again after the talking-to she received from Ji Guangjie, lowering her head and shedding a few tears. She had originally thought to explain the tiny sprout of love that she and Jiang Xiaohe had cultivated together in her childhood to express her present remorse, but then she felt those were things she could not say aloud, regardless of whom. She wasn't afraid of being laughed at, but scared that if those matters ever made their way to the ears of her grandfather, he would surely be deathly furious. This was on account of the fact that he hated illicit relationships between men and women, to say nothing that she had participated in one when she was little, and that the one she'd liked was in fact the son of an enemy. Thus she quickly picked an argument with Ji Guangjie, saying, "You're speaking utter nonsense! What feelings are there between me and Jiang Xiaohe? He's my family's enemy. He's forced my granddad and my uncles into such a situation, so how could I have any feelings for him? I cried today at the Ba Bridge because I was angry. When he humiliated me just now, what could've been done about that? Whose fault is it that none of our abilities match up to his?"
Ji Guangjie scoffed, "Don't match up to his? Until now, I have yet to speak soft words. My sword and my nightwalking, it's true they are not as good as his, but believe that my flying darts can still drive him to his doom. It's just too bad I haven't used darts in many years, so my hand is a bit unpracticed. After I recover from my wounds, I'll train for a few days and then try again with Jiang Xiaohe. If he manages to catch my darts again, then I'll swear never to travel Jianghu again!" Aluan wept and said, "No matter what, you can't say that there are feelings between me and Jiang Xiaohe. If you say it to anyone, I cannot abide by it." Ji Guangjie groaned a few times before resisting his pain again to say, "I can't tell other people about it either, but I have to ask you. Why are we on such bad terms, even though we're married? If I hadn't been wounded today, you would still not be talking to me!"
Aluan became choked up when she was asked this. She wept, grit her teeth, and breathed heavily, and then fumed, "It's not just you I'm not good with. I'm not good with anyone. My mother's dead, and my father spends the year out there doing security work. We are not very close. The only one who's good to me is my granddad, and when my granddad tells me to do something, I do it. I cannot disobey him and cause him hurt. Now I'm married to you, also because I followed his instruction. I didn't actually want to. I wanted to spend my entire live with my granddad!" Ji Guangjie moaned a couple times and scoffed again, "It's just a pity that your granddad's fate isn't good, encountering a foe such as Jiang Xiaohe. Once he finds your granddad, that old man will lose his life. If you go looking for others to help your Kunlun School, I'm afraid you'll find no one who will put as much effort into it as me!" After he finished, he shifted his body a bit, groaning a little, and then he fell asleep.
Hearing Ji Guangjie's ridicule, Aluan couldn't help taking offense. She no longer felt sadness in her heart, only hatred, as she thought, It was never going to do, relying only on others. If we live, we live, and if we die, we die. We should put ourselves out there. Since my granddad killed a man before and sowed enmity, we couldn't complain if now Jiang Xiaohe kills him. We just need to be tough, and we will be heroes! Being pushed on one side and ridiculed on another like this, what kind of people are we? We'd be better off dead! Aluan resolved then to set off by herself the following day to the Shanyin Valley in Luoyang to see her grandfather and ask him to come out of hiding. If the two, grandfather and granddaughter, were to live, they'd both live, and likewise, if they were to die, they'd die together. Once she had decided this, she closed the door to the room, put out the light, and laid down, falling asleep with her Kunlun saber placed still by her side.
Through the night, the patter of the rain outside and the moaning of Ji Guangjie next to her disturbed her sleep. By the next day, the rain had not yet stopped, but was falling a bit more lightly, much like it had been the previous day by the Ba Bridge. Aluan had originally wanted to take the opportunity while all the people in the security office had yet to awaken, to prepare her horse herself and leave Chang'an city, braving the rain. But then she saw that Ji Guangjie was finally sound asleep, his brow knit tightly, as if even in dreams he was suffering from a great deal of pain. Aluan was a little perturbed and a little hesitant, as she thought, We are not good together, but we did become husband and wife after all. He also became injured over my family's affairs. If I leave now without discussing it with him, not only would it be too heartless, but when I see my granddad, my granddad would certainly be angry and perhaps command me to return at once. She felt troubled for a while, and then she thought she'd best not depart immediately.
At this time, the attendants of the security office, Ge Zhiqiang, and others had gotten up. Ji Guangjie had woken up as well, groaning, and he said to Aluan, "Get me something to drink!" Aluan called for an attendant, and then steeped some tea, poured it into a bowl, and brought the tea bowl to Ji Guangjie's mouth herself.
Ji Guangjie drank it down and felt more comfortable. He said, "Miss Luan, it was wrong, what I said last night, but you can't blame me for it. Jiang Xiaohe is your family's enemy. Ten years ago, when the Xia of Langzhong caused trouble in Ziyang and Zhenba, if it wasn't for the old sir fighting him off, that would have been the end of the Kunlun School's reputation. I think the old sir's martial arts are powerful, and they may not be inferior to Jiang Xiaohe's. He doesn't dare face Jiang Xiaohe because he is weak in spirit, and because of Jiang Xiaohe's master, who once terrified the old sir, believing that Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts must be the same as his master's. In actuality, from what I've seen, the old sir is overly worrisome. If the old man really plucked up the courage to fight against Jiang Xiaohe with the help of the two of us, I don't think we yet know who will be the winner!" He continued, "Yesterday, when I said there were feelings between you and Jiang Xiaohe, I wasn't thinking right. I'm sure there's nothing of that sort. Jiang Xiaohe brought the Xia of Langzhong to your family's door ten years ago, and wounded many of your Kunlun School, so no matter what, there can't be any good between you and him. I spoke wrongly because I'm injured and muddled. Please forget what I said!"
Aluan heard this and couldn't help her face flushing, her heart feeling both sorrow and shame. She thought back ten years ago, when Jiang Xiaohe had arrived, bringing the Xia of Langzhong and several men on horseback to her village to cause trouble. The Xia of Langzhong was a renowned xia in Northern Sichuan, who was also relatively young. If her grandfather's martial arts hadn't been good, she herself may even have been killed that day. At the time, she had hated Jiang Xiaohe furiously, but for some reason, she could never manage to forget him. She'd thought him despicable, but had also felt adoration and compassion for him! Rectifying her mood with all her might, Aluan treated Ji Guangjie with special kindness and gave up her plans to set off that day.
After a while, many of the city's security escorts, fighting masters and friends that Ge Zhiqiang had developed close ties to everyday, all came to offer consolation after hearing about what had happened there the night before. At once, the Lishun Security Office became lively again. Among the men was Qin Deyu, one who had helped Ge Zhiqiang the last time against Li Fengjie. Qin Deyu was son-in-law to Li Zhenxia, the old xia of Huazhou. He now operated his own security office, and was also quite famous in Jianghu. He came now, and when he saw the three, Ji Guangjie, Yang Zhijin, and Yuan Zhixia, all wounded, he quickly sent a man to ride through the rain on a fast horse to Huazhou to retrieve medicine for cuts he'd made with a secret formula. Afterwards, he conversed with Ge Zhiqiang in private. According to him, Li Fengjie was currently in Xin'an county in Henan, and was likely to make his way west again to Guanzhong.
Upon hearing this, fright turned Ge Zhiqiang's color, and he knit his brows tightly once more, thinking, Jiang Xiaohe is not as important, as he is only looking for my master and the Long Brothers, and is unlikely to harm my life. Li Fengjie is not the same, however. He has his sights set on me, and he's also suffered losses in Guanzhong. If he comes this time, will we be able to stop him? Ji Guangjie is now wounded and yet to heal, and Lu Zhizhong isn't here. Who will be able to face him? Because of this, he was so anxious he couldn't sit still. He nodded his head, and purposefully skimmed over the issue with Qin Deyu, saying, "Not to worry." After Qin Deyu left, Ge Zhiqiang was so nervous he began pacing through the entire room, thinking this way and that, and felt he had to abandon the security office and flee. Nothing else would do. If Li Fengjie came a second time, not only would he be stronger than the last time, but he would certainly be more ferocious than Jiang Xiaohe. He worried the entire day, but didn't tell anyone else about it.
When evening arrived, Qin Deyu had the laceration medicine sent over. It didn't compare to "Vajrapani's Restoration Powder," famous throughout Jianghu, from the Chan master Taiwu, but it was also remarkably effective, unlike any that could be purchased from a medicine shop in the market. Ge Zhiqiang ordered it applied to all three of the injured. He especially put it on Ji Guangjie's thigh wound himself, using two full packs of it. He wanted nothing more than for Ji Guangjie's wound to get better immediately. Ji Guangjie's thigh wound had never been too serious, as neither tendon nor bone were nicked. From this, he could tell that when Jiang Xiaohe gave him the wound, he was not being cruel, but just paying Ji Guangjie back for his hidden attack.
Ten days passed with Ge Zhiqiang anxious day and night and Aluan constantly irritable. Ji Guangjie's wound, however, gradually became better. Without waiting for it to heal completely, he went out to the Defu Smithy on the main west road to retrieve the twenty darts he'd ordered struck and the dart sheath as well. He brought them back to the security office and practiced with them the entire day. It wasn't until evening arrived that Ge Zhiqiang had a discussion with the married couple Ji Guangjie and Aluan. He didn't mention that he'd heard Li Fengjie was on his way back to Guanzhong. He said only, "After the bouts of trouble caused by Li Fengjie and Jiang Xiaohe at my Lishun Security Office, I no longer have the face to keep it open. In these two months, I've lost the will to do any more business, nor has any patronage come to our doors. It is clear that others in the business know all the details of what's going on, and they all know our name is not as it used to be. Even the old master has gone into hiding at an undisclosed location. How could anyone feel at ease with entrusting us to protect their goods?"
Aluan said, "I feel it's not right for my grandpa to hide like this. We don't know anything about the old man's situation. If he were to become sick, we wouldn't even be able to go attend to him. Furthermore, Jiang Xiaohe will certainly be able to find him sooner or later. Wouldn't it be better for me to go urge my grandpa to come out of hiding?" Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand vigorously and said, "The old master cannot come out of hiding. At his advanced age, if he were really harmed at the hands of Jiang Xiaohe, how could any of us of the younger generations face the world? The place where the old man is staying is extremely secluded. Jiang Xiaohe will not be able to find it. The old master's body is also robust, so he will not become ill." Ji Guangjie said, "But I think it might be better to tell the old sir to come out. With all of us helping him, the old man should just have a life-or-death showdown with Jiang Xiaohe. Otherwise, the matter will never be resolved. Not to worry, Uncle Ge, you are a man of means. Even if you don't continue the security work, you'll be able to eat. However, if all of the Kunlun School's security offices are shuttered, there will be many who will starve to death." Aluan added, "The security offices mustn't close. Thirty, forty years, my grandfather's enterprise was not easily built, and it's not as if we did not truly have business right now. The patronage here at the Lishun Security Office may be lost, but those of other places are all quite good. Once this one closes, the business would dry up elsewhere as well. The Kunlun School security offices in Chang'an, Hanzhong, and Ziyang count as the largest in these three locations."
Ge Zhiqiang changed his comportment and smiled bitterly, "It's not that I want to close the security office, nor have I become discouraged. I simply wish to free myself to focus my strength on dealing with Jiang Xiaohe and Li Fengjie!" Ji Guangjie quickly asked, "What's this? Uncle Ge, have you heard something about Li Fengjie? Has he not he died? Is he coming for us? I fear him not!" Ge Zhiqiang waved his hard hurriedly and said, "No, no! Li Fengjie has not reappeared. Whether he's died or not, I do not know, but he cannot come to Guanzhong again. It's Jiang Xiaohe. Don't just see that he's been silent these last few days. We haven't a clue where he's gone. Allow me some unfortunate words. For all we know, the Brothers Long may have already lost their lives. I plan to set off in half a day to Hanzhong." Aluan asked, "Uncle Ge, what will you do in Hanzhong?" Ge Zhiqiang said, "I'm going to Hanzhong to find your father. We will gather the disciples of the Kunlun School there and call in heroes from every province to combine our strength and beat back Jiang Xiaohe and Li Fengjie!"
Ge Zhiqiang's original intention was to flee by himself, and the one he was frightened of was only Li Fengjie. His words now were all spoken to save face, conceived on the spot. Little did he know that when Ji Guangjie heard him, he would immediately push himself up and strike the table, saying, "Yes, I will go see my father-in-law as well. He's the eldest son of the old sir. Since the old sir will not come out, perhaps he will step up. I will go help him and battle Jiang Xiaohe anew to decide who lives and who dies!" Aluan added, "All right! Uncle Ge, settle all the matters here quickly. We will set off tomorrow." Ge Zhiqiang thought it over carefully, and then nodded decisively in agreement. That night, he ordered the baggage readied and entrusted the Lishun Security Office to Zhao Zhilong and Chen Zhijun, instructing them that while the sign for the security office needn't be taken down, they were not to take any business for the time being. "No matter who comes looking for trouble, you must all show restraint. Leave everything for when I return." Afterward, he returned to the inner courtyard to settle matters of the household. By now his son Ge Zhaogang's wounds had largely healed, leaving only a disfigurement on his left shoulder, his appearance gaunt, and his spirit low. Nothing of his earlier bravado remained. After Ge Zhiqiang finished the assignment of the household duties, he went to rest.
The next day arrived, clear and very hot. Early in the morning, a cart sat outside with its cover on and five horses stood prepared. Because Ji Guangjie's thigh wound was not completely healed, he would not be able to ride a horse, but he was impatient as soon as he climbed into the cart, telling the driver, "You'd best proceed with speed when we're out of the city! You need to be able to keep up with the horses. Don't hold them back with the cart!" The driver could do nothing but nod. The five riders were Ge Zhiqiang, Bao Aluan and three men from the security office. Aluan still kept her hair in a long braid, wore blue silk shirt and pants, and sat atop her rouge-colored red horse, looking dignified and beautiful. Yet, some of those who lived nearby and had seen the young lady a month or two ago felt that her face was thinner, and that she used to be just as energetic as a spry, young man. Now, a sullen expression shrouded her face.
Ge Zhiqiang gave a few of the neighbors some more matters to take care of, and then he mounted his horse. With the three attendants in the fore, the five riders and the cart departed Chang'an through the south gate and headed west, then north, proceeding along the courier road. Because of the mule cart, the five horses were not able to go quickly. No one else thought much of it, but Ji Guangjie became most irritable, angrily thinking, Who could have thought there would come a time when I, Ji Guangjie, wouldn't be able to ride a horse? This is too shameful for my forebear, the Xia of Longmen. He picked up the scabbard beside him and gave the driver sitting on the cart shaft a poke, saying, "Stop the cart! I can't ride in this derelict mule cart. That it's slow is secondary. It's so bumpy I can't take it!" So saying, he climbed off the cart and addressed one of the attendants ahead, a seventh of the surname Sun, "Seventh Sun! Come sit in the cart! Let me ride that horse!" Ge Zhiqiang reined in his horse and said to Ji Guangjie, "Son-in-law Ji, your thigh wound has not yet healed fully, so how will you ride a horse? You'd best get back on that cart!" Ji Guangjie shook his head, saying, "That won't do! I cannot sit in the cart. I must ride a horse!" He ran over and pulled Seventh Sun off his horse so that he could get on it.
Seventh Sun could do nothing but get off the horse, and help Ji Guangjie onto it. He then retrieved the sword from the cart and hung it off the saddle for him. Ji Guangjie was pleased. He smiled at Aluan, whereupon he shook his whip and went forward. Ge Zhiqiang gave Aluan a look and whispered, "This isn't good! He's only just gotten better. How will he be able to endure rubbing up against the saddle? We have no choice but to ride slowly." Thus, the horses and cart in the back proceeded at a deliberate pace. When Ji Guangjie rode his horse about a mile, he looked back. The horses and cart were too far behind, so he could only rein up his horse and press them on, "Quickly, now! Let's go! Otherwise, we should send the cart back. What's the use of keeping this cart around? It's nothing but a nuisance!" Ge Zhiqiang and Aluan ignored him. They left him to his anxiety, as the four of them rode with the cart. The weather was hot, and by the time they arrived at the Wei River and crossed it, it was already noon. After they ate a midday meal in Xianyang City, they rested for a while before continuing west.
This occasion of Ge Zhiqiang's departure from Chang'an had no other purpose than to escape from Li Fengjie. He understood well that even if they were to arrive in Hanzhong, it didn't mean they would be able to think of some brilliant way or invite some powerful people to resist Jiang Xiaohe. So now that he had left Chang'an, he was relieved, not feeling an ounce of concern on the road. Though Aluan very much wanted to hurry to see her father, Bao Zhiyun, she knew for certain neither his martial arts nor the people they were acquainted with would be able to fight off Jiang Xiaohe. For the entire journey, she did nothing but think and worry, her mood lingering. She thought, Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts are too strong! What person can overcome him? He's persistent and hasn't forgotten his enmity. He won't be satisfied until he kills my grandpa. What is there to be done? He's too despicable! Our poor Bao family! Thus Aluan constantly broke into mournful tears, though she also clenched her teeth in hatred and carried with her a trace of the infatuation she could neither cut away nor forget. She too was anxious, yet she could not ride quickly.
Ji Guangjie was the one most impatient. Though they hadn't yet traveled fifty miles, the chafing had caused the wound on his thigh to bleed, and it hurt as if it had been sliced by a blade. However, he grit his teeth to bear the pain and spurred his horse on quickly, often placing his hand on the hilt of his sword and feeling his dart sheath, thinking himself extraordinary. Seeing that the cart and horses behind him weren't willing to speed up, he became truly restless and truly angry! Had Aluan not been among them, he would have cursed at them loudly, and perhaps even left them behind to ride by himself.
It was as if a raging fire burned in his chest, pressing him to fight it out with Jiang Xiaohe. He knew he could not beat him, but he had to face him! No matter what hidden weapons or secret tricks he had to employ, it was imperative for him to send Jiang Xiaohe to his death, so that Aluan would look upon him as a great hero, and it would be then that Aluan would fall whole-heartedly in love with him. Yet, though he was bold and full of vigor, he couldn't help the limits on his physical strength. By the time it was dark, they had just reached Wugong County. At this time, there was moonlight across the horizon now, and he had originally intended to take advantage of it to continue on, but by now his thigh wound was in very acute pain. He couldn't help letting out a moan, as he couldn't even dismount his horse. Ge Zhiqiang quickly ordered the attendants to help him down. They found an inn nearby, walked Ji Guangjie inside, and once again applied the laceration medicine onto him. Ji Guangjie was in so much pain he couldn't even sit up, but he was dissatisfied with lying down, so he leaned against the wall and with struggling spirit he pretended as if he was fine. He called for the innkeeper to prepare food for him and warm wine, and he laughed quietly as he conversed with Aluan.
Aluan now thought Ji Guangjie quite tough, quite brave, and quite worthy of the title hero. Thus, even though she harbored many painful matters in her heart, she replied genially to Ji Guangjie whenever he asked something of her. At this time, Ge Zhiqiang was lodging in another room, while the three attendants stayed in the main hall. There were many guests staying at this inn, with people talking in every room, and even some singing an opera in a regional dialect. Children selling steamed buns were walking into the inn to hawk their goods, and there were official inspectors with whips in their hand, arguing with the innkeeper in the courtyard. It was a large jumble of noises. However, after the second watch of the day, all of the commotion stopped. The noisy people all seemed as if to drop dead, all of them snoring. The snores mingled together, zzz, zzz, to sound like the tide and to sound like a great wind blowing. The lamps in every room had been extinguished, but everyone dreaded the heat, so all the room doors were open widely. The exception was Ge Zhiqiang's door, which was shut tightly, in addition to the room where Ji Guangjie and Aluan were staying. Their door was shut in vain, as the lamp light shining through their windows was very bright.
At this moment, a feathered fan was swaying about in Ji Guangjie's hand, as he fanned himself a couple times. He was recounting to his wife some of his own proud accomplishments while in Henan, as well as telling her about the amazing things his grandfather, the Xia of Longmen, had done. Aluan had originally been annoyed as she listened, but since she couldn't fall asleep, she had nothing better to do than to let Ji Guangjie speak as she thought to herself about other matters.
Though they were still outwardly together yet separated at heart, all in all it was not the same as when they had first gotten married, where they hadn't said a word to each other and would brandish their blades in close combat at every turn. Aluan was now slowly starting to feel affection for Ji Guangjie, which made her heart ache even more. She thought, Is this how it will be? Will I be married to Ji Guangjie for the rest of my life? After we finish my grandfather's business and Ji Guangjie's injuries heal completely, Ji Guangjie and I will be husband and wife in both name and truth, just like other married couples. What of that incident in my youth? What can I do to forget him? If only someone would kill Jiang Xiaohe! As she thought this, she couldn't help the tears roiling up behind her eyelids, ready to flow out. Ji Guangjie smiled and said, "You can lay down and go to sleep first if you'd like. Get a good rest, for when we wake up first thing tomorrow, we'll need to hurry on our journey!" Aluan shook her head and said with a delicate weariness, "I'm not tired!" Ji Guangjie could help but feel tenderness toward her and pushed his body up to sit straighter, but Aluan shifted away from him.
Just then from outside the window, Aluan heard a faint sigh as if right next to her ear. Aluan was startled, so she got up quickly, opened the door, and looked out. Ji Guangjie, struggling with his injury, picked up his sword and went outside for a look, seeing only the bright moon and a scattering of stars across the horizon. Five or six people were lying every which way in the courtyard, all sound asleep. They looked all over the tops of the rooms and saw nothing but what looked like a firm frost on the roofs. The night wind blew intermittently, seeming to come from the direction of the Wei River.
Ji Guangjie was standing behind Aluan when he whispered, "Did you hear something, or did you see someone?" Aluan shook her head silently, and then turned and walked back into the room, her face a baleful white. Ji Guangjie held onto the door frame and laughed coldly toward the outside, saying in a purposefully loud voice, "The moon is bright, and there are people asleep in the courtyard. Jiang Xiaohe isn't a ghost, so how would it be possible for him to come over here?"
Just as he said this, he saw a dark shape on the roof across the way. He quickly pulled a dart from the sheath and flung it with a whoosh. He heard an odd cry from atop the roof as the dark shape was hit by the dart and rolled off the roof. Ji Guangjie limped his way over, and picked a wounded black cat off the ground. By now a couple of the men sleeping in the courtyard had awoken and sat up, asking, "What's happened?" Ji Guangjie said, "It's nothing, just a stray cat." He brought the wounded cat into the room and showed it to Aluan. He laughed, "What alarmed you just then was probably this." Aluan saw that it was a very large, black cat with a dart sticking out of its belly. It was still alive, and struggling to stay that way. Ji Guangjie pulled the dart out and let the wounded cat go. He then washed his hands and closed the door. He put out the lamp to go to sleep, and kept his sword next to his body. Aluan thought anxiously to herself for a while before going to sleep as well.
On the following day, after they broke their fast at the inn, they continued west. Ge Zhiqiang and the three attendants all encouraged Ji Guangjie to ride the cart, but Ji Guangjie remained stubborn, insisting he had to ride a horse. Now though, he didn't dare ride the horse very quickly and traveled bridle-to-bridle with Aluan. He was very happy, but Aluan kept her worried frown. They journeyed until late in the day, arriving at the Dasan Pass, where they went to the Kunlun Security Office to unload the cart and rest the horses.
Lu Zhizhong was here at the moment and had already been told long before about Jiang Xiaohe's great disturbance at the Ba Bridge where Ji Guangjie was wounded. When Aluan saw Lu Zhizhong now, she hurriedly asked, "How is my grandpa doing?" Lu Zhizhong said only, "He's fine." He didn't want to go into detail, but as he received Ji Guangjie, Aluan and Ge Zhiqiang and they finished the evening meal, Aluan's constant questions made it impossible for him not to say anymore, so he said, "Let me tell you all, you've nothing to worry about. The old master's gone to stay in the home of He Tiesong in the Shanyin Valley, and it's very secluded. However, He Tiesong is very advanced in age. He's older than the master by five or six years, and he's already surpassed eighty this year. He spends the entire day praying to Buddha, hardly ever opening his eyes. He has two sons, both of whom know the martial arts and were security escorts previously. They've now returned to the mountains to farm, but many of their friends in the security business often visit them. He has several grandsons, all of them in their twenties and learning the martial arts. They have even more of their friends coming and going. Thus, our master felt that though the place was secluded, there were too many people coming and going, so it wouldn't have been good to stay there too long. Five days ago, the old man departed from there, alone on his horse and a saber in his hand, and refused to allow me to follow him."
Upon hearing this, Aluan became so anxious she started tearing up, quickly asking, "Where did my grandpa go by himself?" Lu Zhizhong said in a hushed voice, "The old man headed south, likely to Sichuan. He said he had some old friends in Sichuan." Aluan said, "I have never heard before that my grandpa had friends in Sichuan, only some of his enemies, like the Xia of Langzhong... He's only enemies there!" Ji Guangjie said, "It looks to me like the old sir must have had a surge of resolve, coming out of hiding to find Jiang Xiaohe!" Lu Zhizhong said, "That's not possible. The old man went south from Luoyang. I accompanied him all the way to the Jinniu Gorge. The old man became angry and forbid me from following him. That's when I headed back here. If you'd have come yesterday afternoon, I wouldn't have been back by then."
For a moment, none of the four of them said a thing, with Lu Zhizhong and Ge Zhiqiang knitting their brows. Aluan had her head down, one hand supporting her head and the other wiping away her tears. Ji Guangjie held onto his arms and stared intensely into space for a while, clenching his jaw. He then laughed grimly and said, "Jiang Xiaohe has quite the skill. He's forced Bao Kunlun into such a pitiful state that he's wandering Jianghu with no home to return to!" Ge Zhiqiang hurried waved his hand and said, "Lower your voice!" Aluan suddenly slapped the table and stood up. Stamping her foot, she wept, "I can't take it anymore! I need to find my grandpa and the two of us will have a showdown with Jiang Xiaohe! Jiang Xiaohe..." And as if Jiang Xiaohe was standing outside, she stomped to the window and cried bitterly, yelling, "Jiang Xiaohe, you heartless man! Why don't you come! If you want my grandpa's life, why not come and take mine first!"
Lu Zhizhong and Ge Zhiqiang hastily went forward to talk her down, saying, "Young miss, don't worry. The old master's body is robust, and I guarantee nothing will happen to him. The old master is well familiar with Jianghu. Even Jiang Xiaohe were to go after him, he would not be able to catch him!" Aluan wept, "My grandpa hasn't gone into Sichuan in over thirty years, and he doesn't know his way around there. Jiang Xiaohe knows many people there. The Xia of Langzhong is one of his associates. As soon as the Xia of Langzhong spots my grandpa, he'll capture him and then send someone to bring the news to Jiang Xiaohe. Then Jiang Xiaohe will go kill my grandpa!" Ge Zhiqiang shook his head and said, "That can't be. The Xia of Langzhong can do no such thing. Ten years ago, the old master defeated the Xia of Langzhong, and because he didn't want to sow enmity, the old man was quite merciful. So the Xia of Langzhong returned to Sichuan and traveled Jianghu no more, offering his heartfelt respect for Bao Kunlun at his every mention!"
Ji Guangjie said, "Even if the Xia of Langzhong had come out to face the old sir, it would not be cause for concern. I still want to meet this Xia of Langzhong and let him have a taste of my sword and darts." It took everyone quite a while before their appeals stopped Aluan's heaving sobs. She didn't sit down, however, instead leaning against the window. The window was covered over with green muslin, but outside the bright glow of the moon could still be seen. Aluan stared blankly out into the moonlight. Ge Zhiqiang observed the young lady closely, fearing that she would do as she did last time and set off by herself under the light of the moon.
After the second watch, everyone retired to their rooms to sleep. Aluan and Ji Guangjie stayed in the bridal chamber that had been prepared for them before. This time Ji Guangjie was very happy, and he brought up to her the incident on their wedding night when Aluan kept him out of the room, laughing, but no matter how he joked, Aluan simply ignored him. With her brows knit tightly, she laid down on the bed and fell asleep without undoing the buttons on her clothes. Ji Guangjie laid on his back in the bed, facing the still brightly colored double happiness character, and thought wishfully. It was a shame the wound in his thigh was still rather painful and Aluan had been especially troubled this day. He grew slowly disappointed, and then fell asleep.
When the next day came, in the early hours of the fifth watch, Aluan took her saber and some basic travel items and silently snuck out of the room, heading to the stables to ready a horse. Everyone as asleep in their rooms at this time. In order to prevent Aluan from going off on her own like she had the last time, Lu Zhizhong had kept his eyes open all night, but had just fallen asleep now. After stealthily preparing her horse, attaching her saber, and tying down her baggage, Aluan quietly removed the stone barricading the main gate and led her horse through it. As soon as she came through the gate, she mounted her horse, she swung her whip, and left the Dasan Pass, still in its slumber. She pressed the horse along the mountain road south. At the moment, a mist pervaded the mountains and the towering peaks were engulfed in clouds. The nearby trees were but faint, swaying shadows before her eyes, and the huts were even harder to see. Even the mountain birds were still perched in the trees sleeping, none of them calling out nor flying. Aluan and her horse were the only ones in the mountains, and except for the crisp, rhythmic clopping of the horse's hooves, there were no other sounds.
But before she had ridden two miles into the mountains, she heard someone behind her calling out, "Miss Luan! Aluan!" The shout bounced amid the mountains, loud and clear, echoing so it sounded like two people calling her without waiting for an answer. Aluan spurred her horse on faster, but the sound behind her continued calling out, getting closer and closer.
Aluan bolted another three or four miles, twisting her way through five or six mountain loops before she met with a rider blocking her way. Aluan was about to draw her saber from beside her saddle, but the man in front of her puffed and gasped, "Miss Luan, please go back now! Let us talk it over some more. There must be another way. You cannot go on by yourself. Not only are you unfamiliar with the roads in Sichuan, but you won't be able to cross these Qin Mountains. There are too many forks in the road. Another five or six miles further and you would be lost, turning this way and that way. You may proceed an entire month and still not make your way out of these mountains. Not to mention that Hu Li the Silver Dart and his sons are in these mountains, and they are all wicked men! It would be a little better were you a man, but how can you travel alone as a young wife? You cannot compare this to that previous time you went to Chang'an." The one who had spoken was Lu Zhizhong.
Of all her many disciple-uncles, Lu Zhizhong was the one Aluan revered. Right then she began to weep once more, saying, "There is no way I can return! I heard you speak last night of my grandfather traveling on his own, and I have been uneasy since. I must find my grandfather, and no one can stop me. No one can tell me to return to the Dasan Pass!" Lu Zhizhong sighed and said, "Even I am not comfortable with the old master traveling on his own. I also wished to continue on with the old man, but the old man has too fierce a temper and would not have allowed me to accompany him. If in the end the young miss were to catch up with the old man, I know the old man would not become angry with you, but first, you must come back with me and wait a few days until Ji Guangjie's thigh wound is completely healed and he is able to ride a horse quickly. Then, you two should set off as husband and wife, and perhaps I will come with you." Aluan sneered, "How long will that be, to wait until his wounds are healed? He's actually riding even now, but he cannot drive the horse day and night. Uncle Lu, if you are not content to see me proceeding on my own, then come with me right now! How about it?"
Lu Zhizhong thought for a moment and then said, "If you look, you'll see I haven't one coin on me, nor did I bring my weapon. Wait for me here. I'll return to retrieve money and a saber." Aluan said, "Uncle Lu, if you were to go back, Ji Guangjie would certainly want to come with you. If he does, we will have no way to hurry our way forward and it will be difficult to catch up to my grandfather. I still have twenty-some taels on hand right now, enough to use to reach Hanzhong. Once we arrive in Hanzhong, there will be nothing to worry about. As for your saber, it's not much of a problem. The only bandit in these mountains is Hu Li the Silver Dart, but I have heard that Hu Li has been rather good to us in recent years, and hasn't robbed any of the Kunlun School's wagons." Lu Zhizhong thought it over some more and nodded, saying, "All right! I'll take you to Hanzhong. We'll speak more about it when we get there!" Thus, Aluan was pleased and hurried Lu Zhizhong, saying, "Lead the way quickly then, Uncle Lu. We'll be able to reach Hanzhong in two days and two nights. We'll take a rest in Hanzhong and then head into Sichuan."
Lu Zhizhong turned his horse around and proceeded ahead, all the while talking things over with Aluan, saying, "Miss Luan, don't be too impatient, since it is certain we will be able to see the old master in Sichuan and nothing will have happened to him. I believe your father must know what friends the old man still has in Sichuan. The old man is a cautious person, so he wouldn't go into Sichuan without having a refuge there." He continued, "I would like to meet with Jiang Xiaohe. To tell you the truth, when Jiang Xiaohe wounded Long Zhiteng that time in your home and fled on a stolen horse, the old master had been extremely furious and had ordered me to run him down and kill him. However, when I chased him down in the Southern Mountains, his martial arts were not yet great, and I could have captured him, but I remembered that his father and I had been disciple-brothers. Not to mention, he was but a child, so I could not bear to harm him. I even pointed out a mountain road to Northern Sichuan and sent him on his way. Later on, when Long Zhiqi and the others caught up with me, I followed them in pursuit to Wanyuan County in Northern Sichuan. At the time, Jiang Xiaohe was staying at an inn there. Because Long Zhiqi recognized the horse tied out front, he went inside carrying his saber to kill Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe was in a moment of danger, but luckily I climbed the stairs first and signaled him with my eyes. That's when Jiang Xiaohe shoved open a window, jumped out and fled. That is to say, I saved his life twice over. I believe that if he were to see me, he would be able to speak reason with me. As a result, I would like to meet with him."
Riding along with Lu Zhizhong and listening to his words, Bao Aluan couldn't help the emotion welling up in her heart. When she thought back to it, Jiang Xiaohe had just been a child with his father dead and his mother remarried. It was truly tragic, and her own grandfather and the Long brothers had been a bit too cruel to him! Because of this, the hatred in her heart for Jiang Xiaohe began to fade gradually.
The two riders trod along the mountain road, and though they weren't going their fastest, Lu Zhizhong knew the lay of the land well, so the path he took was the shortest and most level. At this time the clouds slowly receded and the sun shining upon the mountain peaks made them seem golden. The mountain birds chirped and fluttered about. The densely growing trees on the mountainside pushed their way out of the mist, appearing ever greener. The slightly cool morning breeze on their faces was very pleasant and brought with it the fragrance of mountain flowers and wild grass. After traveling for a little longer, they saw that they were about to cross over the Qin Mountains, though they had not encountered a single person amid the mountains.
By this time, the sun had already risen and Aluan had ridden until she was covered head-to-toe in sweat and the clothes on her back were soaked. Lu Zhizhong however proved himself to be an "old hand," riding in the front, calm and unflustered. Aluan was already a bit out of breath, so she said, "Uncle Lu, I'm feeling a tad thirsty! Is there anywhere we could find some water to drink?" Lu Zhizhong turned his head back and whispered, "After this mountain loop, there will be a few resident households, and I know one by the surname of Cheng. We can take a break over at their place. I need to have them take a letter back to the Dasan Pass for me. Otherwise, with the two of us suddenly vanished, they'll worry for certain!" He then instructed her seriously, "Be a bit careful! Not far from here is a mountain stronghold. The people there are under the direction of Hu Li the Silver Dart. There are many of them, they are all quite vicious, and they do not recognize the code of Jianghu."
Hearing this, Aluan remained unconvinced, not fearing the bandits, but since she was burdened by urgent business, she didn't want to provoke any unnecessary trouble. She kept silent, gently stroking her whip, and proceeded forward alongside Lu Zhizhong.
Before they had ridden half a mile, and before they had turned through this mountain loop, they heard the urgent sound of horses' hooves behind him. Lu Zhizhong and Aluan both turned around to look, seeing five riders rushing up from the rear. The five riding the horses were all strapping young men wearing short clothes with sabers hanging off their horses. Aluan knew that they were bandits, so she reached down to pull her saber from her saddle. When her blade was halfway out, she was stopped by Lu Zhizhong, who said, "Don't be rash! The one in silk clothing is the son of Hu Li." He then turned his horse around, rode toward the men and waved to them. He smiled and said, "Old Second Hu, please lend us the opportunity to travel this road. Offer us a little bit of face and please ask after the old captain's well-being!"
That man was Hu Li the Silver Dart's son Hu Baoshan, called the Young Yang Jian, and he'd brought with him four henchmen. His eyes did not pay much attention to Lu Zhizhong, instead regarding only Bao Aluan. After Lu Zhizhong hailed him, he laughed, "Not to worry. There is friendship between us. Need we talk about lending passage?" He motioned at Aluan and asked, smiling, "Hey! Who's this young lady?" Lu Zhizhong said, "She is no outsider, but the granddaughter of my master. She is now married to Ji Guangjie." Hu Baoshan said, "Oh ho! So this is Bao Aluan? Well!" His two eyes moved all around the view of her back, simply lost in his leering. Lu Zhizhong said, "We have urgent matters to attend to, so we must go quickly. Second Brother, we shall see you another day!" Hu Baoshan the Young Yang Jian gave his cronies a look, and the four of them loosed their horses. They rushed forward and turned their horses to obstruct the mountain road, not allowing Lu Zhizhong and Aluan to pass.
Aluan was so angry her face turned purple, and her hand was pressed against the hilt of her saber. Lu Zhizhong changed his expression as well, though he held back his ire, asking Hu Baoshan, "Second Brother, what is the meaning of this? We are all friends here!" Hu Baoshan smirked and said, "There's no meaning but that this is my first time meeting Aluan. I want to talk to her and get to know her better. I'm inviting you and her to come up to my mountain to drink a few cups of wine together!" Lu Zhizhong said, "Second Brother, we offer our utmost gratitude for your good intentions, but we truly do have urgent matters and we cannot tarry any longer. We will definitely come up the mountain another day to visit you, and trouble you for your hospitality then!" Upon hearing this, Hu Baoshan the Young Yang Jian's face turned and he scoffed, "Old Lu, don't be someone who doesn't appreciate generosity. You are a man of the Kunlun School. It's reasonable to say that not only is there no friendship between us, but that there is actually bad blood. It's because you usually conduct yourself rather well that my father instructed me to treat you in particular with respect and not block any of your wagons. Now I've seen a wench that I've taken a liking to, and I'm inviting her to come up the mountain for a couple cups of wine. It's not as if I'm asking her to accompany me in—"
By the time he got here in his head-shaking rant, Aluan had already drawn out her saber, turned her horse around, and was charging at him, yelling, "Shut your mouth! You bastard!" Hu Baoshan saw the blade coming and hurriedly shrank his head away while at the same time turning his horse to back away, but Aluan rushed forward another step and sent the saber down for a chop. Hu Baoshan the Young Yang Jian screamed out in pain, his entire right arm severed, whereupon he fell from his horse and died. His four henchmen charged forward together with their sabers brandished. Aluan unleashed the Kunlun saber skill from atop her horse, and in three or five exchanges, wounded another couple of them. The remaining two spurred their horses and flew to the north. Aluan was about to go after them. Because Lu Zhizhong had not a weapon on hand, he had dodged to the side, but he now came over and said in a panic, "Let's get out of here! Go!" Jumping off his horse, he took up a saber and hopped back on it, and then bringing Aluan, the two rode as if flying, twisting past the mountain loop, and galloped their way south.
However, just as they came upon another towering mountain ridge, ten-some riders caught up with them. Lu Zhizhong looked back with alarm and saw behind him Hu Li the Silver Dart's eldest son, Hu Baojiang, and the cruelest, most violent bandit of their stronghold—Yu Dabiao, a man known as the vice-captain of the stronghold. They were leading fifteen or sixteen of their henchmen. Before Hu Baojiang and his horse were even close yet, he sent two darts over, whoosh, whoosh, with a flick of his hand, but Lu Zhizhong and Aluan dodged them. Lu Zhizhong was both angry and nervous, saying to Aluan, "We'll fight! We'll fight as we go!" Thus the two awaited them with sabers held in front of them, careful to guard against the hidden weapons. Hu Baojiang led the group of brigands flying forward, yelling loudly, "Lu Zhizhong, Bao Aluan, neither of you will leave here alive today, to repay the life you took from my brother!" Yu Dabiao glared ferociously at them and held his long spear up, saying, "There is nothing left to say now. Get off your horses and accept your death!" Together, Lu Zhizhong and Aluan dauntlessly spurred their horses to meet them while brandishing their sabers, and very soon the short blades clashed against each other. At first they were all on horseback, but then they all leapt down and the dozen or so horses all scattered from distress in all four directions. Here, under this mountain ridge and on an uneven mountain road, the ten and more people entered into a chaotic battle.
Nothing could be heard except the erratic sounds of sabers and spears. Before even a quarter hour of fighting, though the brigands had numbers on their side, they could not endure the masterful bladework of Lu Zhizhong and Aluan. This was especially true of Aluan. Several days of sorrow and hatred had accumulated in her heart, and she was giving vent to all of it now. It was as if she had gone mad, swinging her Kunlun saber to would and kill, cutting down five or six of the bandits one after the other. Yu Dabiao had followed Hu Li the Silver Dart in these Qin Mountains for over ten years. He had taken the lives of countless people and his spear skill was of the highest caliber, yet after but a dozen or so exchanges with Aluan, he was cut to death by one of Aluan's strokes. At this time, Lu Zhizhong's saber had sliced off two of Hu Baojiang's fingers. Hu Baojiang bore down his pain and ran, bringing the surviving henchmen away with him. Aluan wanted to give chase, but she hadn't the strength. She panted heavily with her face deathly pale. Lu Zhizhong quickly pulled her to hurry away.
By the time they climbed the ridge and were about to look for their horses so they could flee out of the Qin Mountains, they spotted Hu Li the Silver Dart hurrying over, leading six or seven brigands. Lu Zhizhong said in a panic, "This is Hu Li the Silver Dart. His flying darts never miss. Quickly, let's go!" Aluan suddenly recalled that Hu Li the Silver Dart was an enemy of hers, for ten years previous he had wounded her father Bao Zhiyun by dart. Thus, she widened her eyes, took several deep breaths, and ignored Lu Zhizhong's urging. She turned her hand, holding her saber out, and ran down the mountain as if flying, meeting them with a call, "Which one is Hu Li the Silver Dart? If you have the skill, come and fight me one-on-one...!"
Before she could finish, she saw Hu Li the Silver Dart with his sideburns raise his right arm upward while atop his horse and whirl it back. He then pat his right elbow with his left hand, and immediately flying darts came at her. Aluan dodged to the right, but felt a pain in her left ribs as one of the darts grazed her. Aluan grimaced as a second of Hu Li's darts flew at her. Aluan was not able to get out of its way, and the dart pierced her right shoulder. It hurt so much she let go of her saber and pulled the dart out with her hand. Hu Li and his gang of bandits surged up the mountain slope on their jumble of horses, and Lu Zhizhong rushed down to fight in close, mortal combat with the brigands. Hu Li the Silver Dart first ordered his henchmen to tie up Aluan, and then with a dart in his hand, he sized up Lu Zhizhong. He displayed a ferocious expression as each whisker on his dark face stood up on end. He laughed derisively at Lu Zhizhong, saying, "Good! I've tried my utmost to stay on good terms with your Kunlun School for ten years, yet now a granddaughter of the Kunlun School has killed my son. I leave you to hurry off. Go and tell the father and son of the Bao household to come up the mountains to see me within three days, and they may yet see this granddaughter of theirs alive. After three days pass, I will cut this wicked woman's head off and send it to Hanzhong!"
Lu Zhizhong quickly cupped his fist and said, "Captain Hu, I truly could not have thought that something like this would have happened today! The young lady has a forceful temperament and has done you wrong, but regardless, I beg that you let her go, since she is the wife of Ji Guangjie." Hu Li the Silver Dart gave another mocking laugh and said, "Stop trying to use Ji Guangjie to scare me. I'm not afraid of the grandson of the Xia of Longmen. I haven't killed this vile woman as a small courtesy to him. But it's good now that you've brought him up. Tell him to come as well. Ji Guangjie, Bao Kunlun, and Bao Zhiyun, all three will come kowtow to me and admit their guilt. They will hand over a thousand taels of silver before I can spare the life of this wicked woman. I'll loosen the requirements and give you all five days' time, but if you do not come after five days, then don't bother coming at all!" Lu Zhizhong was going to plead further, when Hu Li the Silver Dart aimed a dart at him and spat a vicious threat his way, "What are you still doing here? I've let you off lightly by sparing your life. Are you still looking to die!?"
Lu Zhizhong knew the power of Hu Li's flying darts, so he didn't dare to go against him. Aluan had been tied with rope by the brigands and was still cursing and struggling, but she was overwhelmed by the number of brigands. In addition, Lu Zhizhong lacked the strength to help her, so all he could do was watch as Aluan was tied on top of a horse by the bandits and led away. Lu Zhizhong couldn't help stamping his feet and weeping heavily. As Hu Li rode away, he turned his head and raised his hand to compel Lu Zhizhong to leave. Lu Zhizhong could do nothing but walk back up. However, when he crossed this mountain ridge, he threw down his saber and sat on the ground, crying bitterly and thinking, What face have I left to see my master and my brother? The master has entered into Sichuan. How could I find him and bring him back within five days? If I went to find Bao Zhiyun, there is animosity between him and Hu Li the Silver Dart, and were he willing to come, it would be of no use. He sat for a while and then felt the urgency of the situation. He had no time to waste, so he stood up on a crag and looked in all directions. He spotted in a mountain crook on the western side a black horse eating grass. It was his own horse, not yet led away by the brigands.
Lu Zhizhong took up the saber and descended the mountain ridge. He walked over and grabbed the reins of the horse, thinking, I have only to go back and see Ge Zhiqiang, and ask him to come and rescue Miss Luan. Since Ge Zhiqiang has passed through the Qin Mountains on escort jobs for the past twenty years and never clashed with Hu Li the Silver Dart, I will ask him to come up the mountain to reason with him. Thus, Lu Zhizhong put his saber away, mounted his horse, and followed the route they had taken on the way in, heading north.
Before he rode very far, he encountered a large party of travelers accompanied by two security escorts, both of whom worked under Li Zhenxia of Huazhou. There was some bit of friendship between them and Lu Zhizhong, so they met and engaged in some idle talk. Lu Zhizhong did not mention that Aluan had been kidnapped by Hu Li the Silver Dart. He only asked if these escorts were acquainted with Hu Li the Silver Dart or not. The two security escorts both answered, "Is there anyone acquainted with him? It's nothing beyond giving his men five taels whenever we encounter them, as a buying of passage. It's an example set from back when the old escort Li Zhenxia ran security jobs through the Qin Mountains himself. It's not that we fear Hu Li, as his martial arts are not strong, just that his flying darts never miss, and it's not worth it for us to provoke him."
Hearing this, Lu Zhizhong lost hope and quickly bid the two security escorts farewell. He continued hurrying his way north, and before he left the mountains, six horses came towards him from the front, upon which were riding Ge Zhiqiang, Ji Guangjie, and two men each from the Lishun Security Office and his own security office. While there was still quite some distance between them, Ji Guangjie asked him anxiously and loudly, "Uncle Lu, have you seen Miss Luan?" Lu Zhizhong was extremely ashamed. He spurred his horse over and said with knit brow, "It is unimaginable! Miss Bao slew one of Hu Li's sons, and then she slew Yu Dabiao. She's been...she was wounded by Hu Li's darts and was taken up the mountain!"
Ji Guangjie did not let Lu Zhizhong finish before he drew his sword in anger from the side of his saddle, bellowing, "Come! Let's go find Hu Li the Silver Dart!" So saying, he spurred his horse on. Ge Zhiqiang followed quickly behind him, trying to dissuade Ji Guangjie, "You must not be rash right now! Hu Li's darts truly never miss!" Ji Guangjie looked back and scoffed, "Why would I fear his darts? I have some of my own. We'll have a little competition and see whose darts hit their mark!" Because his wife was abducted by mountain bandits and he found this sort of humiliation extremely difficult to endure, he ignored all counsel, and despite the pain of his injury, he urgently shook his whip and spurred his horse, riding as if flying to the south. As he rode, he shouted, "Hu Li! You cur of a bandit, get yourself off the mountain and come fight with the great sir Ji! Otherwise I, the great sir Ji, will crush your brigands' nest under my feet!"
Ge Zhiqiang and Lu Zhizhong went after him, together with the four attendants, and exhorted him together, "We need to be a little patient still! One of our people is up on his mountain. If you agitate him with your cursing, we may not be able to safeguard the life of Miss Aluan!"