The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 18, Part 3.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
After climbing for a long time, the sky slowly began to brighten. Aluan was completely exhausted by now as she sat on a large rock to catch her breath. Only after resting a while did she feel like she was breathing normally again. However, the dew had soaked through her clothes into her wound, causing her pain that was hard to bear. She had worn a hole into her one shoe, and on the other foot, she had ripped through not only her sock, but her foot cloth as well. Her heel was now bleeding. Aluan was no longer able to move an inch. She couldn’t help but sob bitterly. Her problems, old and new, came flooding back into her mind. She wanted to find another tree by which to kill herself. But now, she didn’t even have that green silk cloth with her. She thought, If I died on the mountain, those bandits would inevitably find my body. If that were to happen, it would be more evidence that the granddaughter of the Bao family was utterly useless! She sat on this mountain peak staring blankly into space, and then laid down because she was tired.
After a while longer, the sun had come up and was shining warmly on her body. This place was so high up, there weren’t many birds flying around. She laid down a long time but was afraid to sleep. When her clothes had been dried by the sun and her body had recovered from its weariness, she stood up. She adjusted her clothes, socks and shoe, and thought, Yesterday, Honest Zhang said there was a nunnery to the west. It may still be best for me to head there. So, she slowly located a route that took her down the mountain. She came to a flatter area after going over a mountain ridge. One could call it flat, but it was a rugged and bumpy mountain road. Aluan looked at her shadow, figured the direction out roughly, and headed west.
She walked a long time and passed through two mountain loops. She suddenly heard a screech. Aluan couldn’t help her surprise. She had first thought it was an eagle flying in the sky, but when she looked up, she saw a dozen or so men on the mountain ridge, wearing short garments with sabers and clubs in their hands and rushing down toward her. Aluan turned around and ran, but her feet made it hard for her. After running back through only one mountain loop, there was shouting from behind that was quite near. She heard them clearly, “Aluan! You little bitch! Do you think you can still run…?” And other rude talk as such.
Aluan was so angry she stopped and thought, I don’t have a weapon on me, but am I really afraid of having it out with them? Thus, she bent down and picked up several rocks. The bandits had already caught up with her by now. Aluan flung one of the rocks and struck one of them in the head. It was Second Qiu the Red-faced Monkey. The blood streaking down his face made him live up to the name of the Red-faced Monkey. He snarled furiously and directed the men behind him, “Get her! Kill her! We don’t need her alive!” The ten-some bandits advanced with their weapons. Aluan was reinvigorated, as if she had forgotten about her injuries. She threw the rocks in her hand first and then snatched someone’s saber and slashed one of the bandits with it. Then she stole someone’s club and with both weapons in her hand, she fought them off as she backed away.
The Red-faced Monkey and the others dared not close in on her. They imitated Aluan and picked up rocks to fling at her. It was a matter of course that Aluan was struck by a few of them, but paid no attention to the pain. She threw down the club but kept the saber as she turned around and ran. When she did, the brigands behind her chased after her again, shouting. Aluan ran through another mountain loop, but tripped over a rock and fell. She bore down her pain and got up, but it felt like she had broken her left leg. It had stopped hurting because it had gone numb, and she was no longer able to continue walking.
With peril imminent, she could not help but cry. She turned around and held out her saber. She saw that the oncoming bandits were only twenty or thirty paces away. Aluan shouted through tears, “I shall see which one of you dares to approach me!” Second Qiu ordered his men to stop. He wiped the blood from his head with his sleeve, though it might have been better had he not. He had smeered so much blood all over his face, one could scarcely tell the difference between his eyes and his nose. He pointed his saber at Aluan and cackled, “It’s best if you take the chance now to drop your weapon, woman, and come up the mountain with us quietly. If you make proper amends for our old boss, we'll be sure to take it easy on you! Otherwise, we’ll just end your little life here and avenge our captain and vice-captain Yu!” Someone else said, “Hurry up and listen to our Second Sir Qiu’s words, young one. Or could it be that you don’t want to live a happily married life?”
Aluan held out her saber and yelled, “”Whoever dares to come forward will be courting death!” The bandits all looked to Second Qiu. Second Qiu was truly loath to kill Aluan. Especially now with Aluan’s clothes ripped up, her shoe missing, her body wounded, and tears at the corners of her eyes, she looked so pitiful. He hesitated for a moment and said to his underlings, “We need her alive!” Thus, the dozen or so bandits who were holding cudgels came forward and those holding sabers held back before the lot of them rushed toward Aluan. Aluan couldn’t move her leg, but she shook her saber anyway. The mob’s cudgels had reached Aluan and she suffered a couple strikes before she knew she would not be able to endure any more.
She saw something large flying off the mountain like a black serpent. It made a thunderous clatter on the ground and shattered the mountain rocks beneath it. The bandit mob ran back in fright and Aluan herself was shaken so that her legs gave out and she sat onto the ground. Right then, a big and tall monk with an overgrown beard leapt down from the mountain. The Red-faced Monkey called his underlings back to protect him. He held his saber and barked, “Monk! What do you think you’re doing?” The monk said nothing as he picked up a thick and heavy iron staff from the ground and sprung at the bandits, attacking them left and right.
Aluan heard only the sound of the staff and cries from the bandits, and saw the monk before her as a lion, strong, tall and particularly nimble of foot. Before long, not even one of the bandits had escaped. They were all laying this way and that on the ground, beaten to death by the iron staff. Aluan was terrified. She knew perhaps that this was the mysterious xia known as the Iron Staff Monk, but she had also witnessed this man’s incredible cruelty. She was not sure in what regard he held her. As she sat afraid, someone else had arrived behind her, another monk, but this one was short and slender, and was not much older than twenty years. When he came beside Aluan, he tried to take her saber away. Aluan didn’t know this monk’s intentions, so she swung the saber. She tried to get up, but to her surprise, the slender monk poked her in the back with his finger. She felt her body stiffen and she understood. Her eyes remained open, but there was no way she would be able to move her body.
The large monk rested the iron staff onto his shoulder, walked over and said a few things to his disciple. His voice was gruff and he spoke a different dialect, so Aluan was not able to understand him. The slender monk carried Aluan onto his back, stepped over the strewn about bodies of the Red-faced Monkey and his men, and headed west. The large monk followed behind for a stretch before heading back up the mountain with the iron staff over his shoulder.
The slender monk carried Aluan around a few mountain loops, and thinking that his master was now far away, he set Aluan on the ground. He used his skill and returned Aluan to a state in which she could move her arms and legs again. Aluan knew that he had used his dianxue skill on her and had guessed that he wasn’t much of a good man, so when her body recovered, she stood up immediately and asked sternly, “Who are you? Where are you taking me?”
The slender monk waved his hand and said, “Please don’t distrust me! We know that you are Bao Kunlun’s granddaughter and we came with the sole intention to rescue you. My master is the Iron Staff Monk, well-known in Jianghu, and I am Yuan Jingyuan of the Yuan farmstead in Nanjiang. I have since become a monk and my devotional name is Jingxuan. Jiang Xiaohe and I are friends, and we crossed paths in Dengfeng this year. I know his martial arts are exceptional. No one of the Kunlun School can measure up to him. However, the fault still lies with you! If you had not married Ji Guangjie and married Jiang Xiaohe instead, he would not have caused such troubles for the Kunlun School!”
Aluan heard these words and couldn’t help but feel pain in her heart. Her face became flushed and she said, “Do you know where Jiang Xiaohe is now?” Xuanjing shook his head and said, “I do not. I haven’t seen him since we parted ways in front of Li Fengjie’s house in Dengfeng.” Hearing mention of Li Fengjie, Aluan was taken aback.
Jingxuan continued, “I have been with my master these past couple months, and we’d stayed on Mount Hua for a time. My master had long grown weary of Jianghu and wanted to search for a place to study the Way and instruct me in the martial arts. But who would have known that that was the time Jiang Xiaohe caused an uproar in Chang’an, a single man overwhelming the Kunlun School and defeating Ji Guangjie. People debated whether or not Jiang Xiaohe was now the greatest hero in Jianghu! My master refused to accept this and brought me and his iron staff down Mount Hua in search of Jiang Xiaohe for a contest. However, when we arrived in Chang’an, we were told that Jiang Xiaohe had already departed and that Ge Zhiqiang had left for Hanzhong with you and Ji Guangjie, so we headed south as well. A couple days ago, we arrived at the town of Chongfu just outside the northern entrance to the mountains. My master scouted the area out in the guise of begging for alms and commanded me to investigate up in the mountains to find out Jiang Xiaohe’s location. However, I am not familiar with these mountains and spent the entire day wandering around, but not one person had seen Jiang Xiaohe come by. The evening before yesterday, it came to us that you had felled the son of Hu Li the Silver Dart and been taken up the mountain. Someone else had seen with their own eyes Ge Zhiqiang being carried out of the mountains, wounded. This angered my master. He hated that Hu Li the Silver Dart had captured a woman, and so he entered the mountains with his iron staff to rescue you. However, it had become too dark by then and after searching for half the night, he still hadn’t been able to locate Hu Li’s mountain lair. Yesterday, we were able to find the mountain road and came out of the mountains again, whereupon we heard that Jiang Xiaohe had killed Hu Li the Silver Dart the night before and rescued you. This infuriated my master further, as he thought Jiang Xiaohe too was a depraved lecher, who’d taken you from the bandits with bad intentions on his mind.”
Aluan listened to this, and then wiped her tears while shaking her head, “Jiang Xiaohe holds a grudge against our Bao family, but his intentions were all good when he came up the mountain to rescue me last night. It’s just that I—“ Jingxuan said, “I know. Jiang Xiaohe is a good man. But my master must meet him to decide who is more powerful. I accompanied my master yesterday and spent the day searching the mountain for Jiang Xiaohe still to no avail. Today, he brought me into the mountains again and we unexpectedly spotted the bandits closing in on you.”
Aluan spoke through her tears, “My gratitude to you for saving my life. I know that you both, master and disciple, are renowned xia. Since the bandits are now all dead, there’s no one left to harm me. Go and find your honorable master! I care not what further struggles you have with Jiang Xiaohe. I just beg of you, no matter whom you encounter, please do not tell them where I went!” So saying, she turned around and headed elsewhere while bearing her wounds. The monk Jingxuan walked after her and asked, “Where are you going now?” Aluan wept and said, “Don’t worry about where I’m going. I have my own place in mind.”
Jingxuan stopped her and said, “No! My master instructed me to take you to a place. Do not judge my master just because he is coarse. Who knows how many people have fallen to his iron staff, but he is a compassionate man who walks the path of a righteous xia, and when he rescues someone he will always go all the way to make sure they are safe.” Aluan was a bit perplexed and asked, “Where do you want to take me?” Jingxuan said, “It’s a good place, the Jiuxian Abbey on Cloudperch Ridge in the Micang Mountains, a nunnery. The old abbess there, Daocheng, is a disciple-sister to my master. Her sword skill is powerful, in no way inferior to Jiang Xiaohe’s. My master instructed me to take you there for a stay and while I am there, to invite Daocheng to come to the Qin Mountains to help him look for Jiang Xiaohe and subdue him. Then, when no enemies remain for Bao family, he will send you back home.”
Aluan shook her head, “I’m not going home!” Then hurriedly asked, “Why are you setting yourselves against Jiang Xiaohe in this way? I don’t believe for a second that you truly want to help the Kunlun School! My grandfather Bao Zhenfei has no relationship with the Iron Staff Monk!” Jingxuan replied, “My master has an unusual temperament. He cannot stand it when there is someone of greater skill in Jianghu. The Xia of Langzhong, Li Fengjie, Ji Guangjie, and people like them, he does not consider them rivals. It was when he heard that Jiang Xiaohe had inherited his martial arts from an old scholar. That old scholar used to have a mute disciple as well. Those two are sworn enemies of my master. Thirty years ago, my master suffered defeat against them a countless number of times. Even with his tremendous skill, the Iron Staff Monk was only able to knock about Jianghu in Northern Sichuan and Southern Shaanxi. He dared not go to Southern Sichuan or past Tongguan. Now, the old gentleman has taught Jiang Xiaohe who has come here to cause trouble. My master cannot tolerate it. He plans first to kill Jiang Xiaohe, and then to go find the old scholar and the mute to take his revenge!”