The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 18, Part 6.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
Aluan moaned and gasped, asking, “Who are you? Did Jiang Xiaohe tell you to come rescue me?” The man did not say anything. His arm was very strong, though his grip on Aluan was very gentle. The horse flew like an arrow, the sound of its hooves beating like a drum, and in an instant they had galloped thirty or forty miles. The man continued holding onto Aluan with the same arm, never changing it.
By now it was full daylight. The man dismounted his horse and placed Aluan gently onto the ground. He drew a small knife from his side and severed the rope that had bound Aluan. He waved his hand at Aluan, but said not a word. Aluan was still clearheaded presently and she saw that the man was of forty years or so, his stature not tall and his face was not quite fresh and relaxed. His queue was coiled atop his head and he was wearing a short, gray lined robe, which was both worn out and dirty. Below he wore short pants which had originally been black, but was now so mud-stained, its color resembled that of his lined robe. A pair of straw sandals was strapped onto his muddy bare feet. He looked simply like a poor man from a small village or a servant who tended the fire at an inn out in the countryside.
The man remained silent as he laid Aluan down on the ground to rest a while. But since they caught the sound of wagons in the distance, he picked Aluan back up and rested her on the horse. Aluan laid across the horse as she were a dead body. She hadn’t the energy to speak, so she surrendered herself to this man’s care, as they set off in a measured way. They galloped another several miles when she heard the sound of dogs barking. They had rode into the courtyard of a farmstead, where many from the farmstead seemed to come to meet them, all surprised. They said, “May we ask what the good sir is doing here? Where did you find this girl?” The man simply smiled at the villagers, and without speaking, he brought Aluan off the horse and carried her into a mud hut where the night watchman seemed to have stayed.
There was an earthen kang inside the room, on top of which there rested some bedding. The man rested Aluan onto the bedding and then stared directly at her. Many of the villagers outside had all come into the room, filling up the doorway. Aluan groaned a couple times and asked, “I know you are a good man, but where have you taken me?” The man did not reply except to point to his own nose. He then extended his thumb, flapped both his arms, and then extended one little finger. Aluan couldn’t help her confusion, but the people nearby all laughed loudly. One of the older villagers told Aluan, “He’s deaf and mute. He can’t speak or hear anything. The gestures he’s making can only be understood by our landowner.”
Aluan was taken aback. She thought, Why has a deaf man come to save me? The deaf man saw that Aluan could not understand his hand signs and became frustrated. He flapped his arms again, as if he was imitating a bird’s flight, causing the villagers to laugh so hard they could not stop. By now someone had already informed the landlord of the situation and he arrived. The villagers all became quiet immediately, not daring to laugh, and retreated from the room.
The landlord entered. He was an old, bearded man who appeared very kind, leaning on a cane and wearing blue satin clothes. Upon seeing the landlord, the deaf man looked directly at him and used his hand signs again, imitating a flying bird, and then he pointed at Aluan on the kang and made the gestures of beating a drum and blowing a trumpet. The old landlord looked up and thought for a moment before he seemed to understand. He laughed and nodded and said to Aluan as he pointed to the deaf man, “He may be a mute, but he is also a xia whose martial arts are quite powerful. Twenty years ago, I was working as a government official out in the world. My name is Yan Bo, and I was once the governor of Wuhu in Anhui province. This mute xia saved my life twice before. He is truly a righteous xia. Recently, he came here looking for me. Guessing from his hand gestures, he likely has a brother of some sort, perhaps a disciple-brother, whose name contains the word he for crane or ou for gull. He’s come to Southern Shaanxi in order to find this person and I’ve offered him a place to stay here. He goes out frequently, and also comes back frequently. I saw him just now make the gestures of beating a drum and blowing a trumpet. I think he’s trying to tell me that you’re his brother’s wife, so he’s brought you here. Whether I’ve guessed it correctly or not, please, young miss, do not be angry with me!” Then he asked, “I see that you have wounds on your body, young miss. Was it someone who attacked you? Where is the young miss’s home?”
Aluan was slowly piecing it together. She knew now that this mute man was Jiang Xiaohe’s disciple-brother. She couldn’t help but feel a little heartache and began to weep and moan. A while had passed before she was able to give a brief explanation. Because she hadn’t the energy to say much and because there were many things that weren’t appropriate to tell the old landlord, she simply admitted that she was Jiang Xiaohe’s wife, that she had been wounded and kidnapped by a bandit woman, and that midway through she had been rescued by the mute. She no longer had a home to return to and all she wanted was to see Jiang Xiaohe once more.
The old landlord Yan felt sorry for her and sighed. He then asked Aluan whether or not she knew where Jiang Xiaohe was. Aluan groaned, “He’s likely at the Jiuxian Abbey on Cloudperch Ridge.” Old landlord Yan didn’t seem to be familiar with this location, nor could he think of the gestures to let the Mute Xia understand. He mimed flying and then extended his hand and grabbed at the air. The Mute Xia understood this, that he was being told to go bring Jiang Xiaohe here. He immediately nodded and cheerfully ran outside. The old landlord Yan ordered men into the courtyard and called some servant women to attend to the room. Old Madame Yan brought her granddaughter and daughter-in-law to see the Mute Xia’s brother’s wife and told Aluan that she could recuperate safely here.
Aluan was extremely grateful, but now felt that her wounds had gotten worse. Her apprehension for what laid before her caused her to weep continuously. The Mute Xia ate his breakfast in the outer courtyard. The villagers all extended their thumbs to him and he pounded his chest to signify happiness. He then led his horse outside and departed from the farmstead along the main road, galloping his way west.
Though the Mute Xia was unable to speak or read, he had started following his master through Jianghu twenty years ago, so he was very familiar with the lay of many provinces. How many temples were in which mountains, or how many steles had been erected in which places, he remembered all of it very clearly. From the day that Jiang Xiaohe had taken leave of his master and descended the mountain, the elderly gentleman had been fearful that Jiang Xiaohe’s martial arts were not yet fully proficient or that he would do wicked things upon Jianghu with no one able to stop him. So on the second day, the elderly gentleman used a twig to draw several distinct routes on the ground, and he directed the Mute Xia to descend the mountain as well and secretly trail Jiang Xiaohe. The Mute Xia and Jiang Xiaohe had been disciple-brothers for ten years, but he had never learned Jiang Xiaohe’s name. Though there was one time on the mountain when they saw several red-crowned cranes. Jiang Xiaohe had informed the Mute Xia by pointing to himself. That was how the Mute Xia knew that he was named Red-crowned Crane.
When the Mute Xia was off the mountain, he was unaware that Jiang Xiaohe had crossed the river and purchased a horse, so he followed the routes by running them by foot. His legs were fast, but there was no way he could beat a horse, so it took him half a month before he reached Governor Yan’s home in Chengkou. He had always admired Governor Yan a great deal, because Governor Yan had been an honest and upright official and he was the one most able to understand the Mute Xia’s hand gestures. He stayed there two days and then headed to Zhenba. Zhenba had been a location that his master had specifically marked out, so when he got there, he stopped running. He had searched everywhere for Jiang Xiaohe. He had gone through Bao Village, the Micang Mountains, Cloudperch Ridge and various other locales thoroughly. He hadn’t found Jiang Xiaohe, but he did see the Iron Staff Monk and Daocheng.
He had recognized the two instantly as violent figures on Jianghu. The two of them would often go back and forth, up and down the mountains and sometimes they would go outside the province to beg for alms. At other times, they would go even further away and often be gone for two or three days without returning. He was certain they were up to something, and so he concealed himself at a small inn in a small town during the day and at night he went up onto Cloudperch Ridge to investigate. He was able to discover that they were hiding a laywoman at Jiuxian Abbey and became ever more suspicious. He stayed on Cloudperch Ridge in order to determine the Iron Staff Monk’s misdeeds, so that he could be in a position to eliminate their wickedness.
He had not expected that on this day, Jiang Xiaohe would bring Bao Zhenfei here under escort. When Jiang Xiaohe went back to look for something, the Iron Staff Monk killed Wu Jinbiao and the hunter and his wife, rescued Bao Kunlun. The Mute Xia had come to know all of this. When Jiang Xiaohe was fighting with the Iron Staff Monk, he had been hiding nearby. He respected Jiang Xiaohe greatly for his powerful martial arts. When Jiang Xiaohe had sent the Iron Staff Monk tumbling down the mountain, the Mute Xia took the opportunity to end the Iron Staff Monk’s life, and then took the horse and galloped away. Before he had traveled far, he took Long Zhiqi’s head from beside the horse, and tossed it into a mountain stream. He then hid the horse deep in the mountains. He stayed in the shadows and watched Jiang Xiaohe’s every move.
Jiang Xiaohe on the mountain road holding an embroidered shoe, and him in Aluan’s room worrying over her injured body, the Mute Xia watched it all surreptitiously. He had conjectured that Aluan must have been Jiang Xiaohe’s new wife couldn’t stop laughing from his hidden place. However, one thing did make him very angry. It was when Jiang Xiaohe used his dianxue skill on Daocheng. This was against their master’s instruction, and he was about to reveal himself and give Jiang Xiaohe a thrashing. However, when he saw that after Jiang Xiaohe released Daocheng, she didn’t run away and hid in a tree not far from the abbey, he thought that there must be more to this situation. He wanted to see if Jiang Xiaohe could defeat Daocheng, so he remained concealed, wanting to “sit in the mountains and watch the tigers fight.” To his surprise, Jiang Xiaohe was careless in the end and went down the mountain in the evening. Daocheng waited until Jiang Xiaohe left before returning to the abbey and kidnapping Aluan.
The abbess Daocheng ran faster than the Mute Xia and she was more familiar with the surrounding paths, so the Mute Xia had not been able to catch up to her. He hurried back into the mountains to get his horse and rode it in pursuit, and he finally employed a trick to snatch Aluan over. He had originally thought to kill Daocheng, but because Daocheng was a woman, he thought it undignified for him to do so and let Daocheng go. Now that he had settled Aluan safely at Governor Yan’s home, he went back to look for Jiang Xiaohe. He thought, When I find him, I’ll slap him first a few times and then drag him to see the master. The master will ask him why he didn’t obey his instruction when he abused his dianxue skill. He must finish his punishment before coming back here to see his wife!
The Mute Xia’s riding skill was exceptional and in one breath, he made it back to Cloudperch Ridge. When he arrived at the mountain, he came upon wagons and horses and people! It was bustling with activity. The Mute Xia was taken aback. He dismounted his horse and handed it over to someone. The man opened his mouth and asked him a question, but he couldn’t hear what the man was saying, so he pat his horse and then rubbed the man’s head, before running up the mountain. He ran to Jiuxian Abbey and saw several men inside speaking heatedly with the nuns. The Mute Xia interrupted them, flapped his arms and hopped a little, which meant he was asking, “Where is the Red-crowned Crane?” These men were in fact Ma Zhixian, Lu Zhizhong and Ji Guangjie.