The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 18.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
At the ancient temple late at night, a nun seizes a woman in love.
Galloping a long distance, the mute valiant meets a multitude of heroes.
Aluan shed many a tear and thought, There is no way for me to live here, nor am I able to die, so I must go somewhere else. If I am not cautious and tumble down the mountain to my death, I would have no regrets. Otherwise, there must be a temple hidden up in these Qin Mountains. If I were to find a nunnery, I could cut my hair off and dedicate myself to religious practice. I would never meet another person for eternity!
She wept while she endured her pain and the cold wind. Propping herself up on one side against the mountain rock, she waded through the stream, alternately walking a little and then resting a little, and brought herself slowly to another place. She had left the stream, but the water here was still up to her knees. She tested the ground with her feet and continued downward. Before she knew it, daybreak had arrived as she came to a mountain road. She looked at herself. She was soaked from head to toe, had lost one of her embroidered shoes, and besides the dart wound on her shoulder, she now had several bruises from her fall.
The sun rose gradually as birds chirped and rabbits rushed about on the mountain road, though there weren’t any travelers yet. However, Aluan was afraid that Jiang Xiaohe and Ji Guangjie would find her, or that the mountain bandits would come upon her, so she dragged her wounded self down into a secluded gully. Here, where it was thick with trees and overgrown with grass, Aluan curled up inside the grass and sobbed. After a while, her thoughts became narrower and narrower, It’ll be best to end myself now! How can I continue to live in this cruel world?
Around her shirt was tied a piece of green silk cloth. She undid it and looked at it. The cloth was soaked through and covered in mud and grass. Aluan looked up and found a living date tree. She stood up, walked toward it, and flung the cloth over it, pricking her hand on the tree in the process. It hurt, but she clenched her teeth and endured it. She then tied the silk cloth tightly so that it would not come apart. She stood facing the silk cloth and wept, mournful that she would die at so young an age. She was also disheartened that she had wasted all her martial arts training to be dying in such a tragic way. The pain in her heart softened her determination and she collapsed onto the ground, unable to stop herself from weeping as she sat.
She cried for a while and still felt there was no path for her to continue living, so she steeled herself and stood up, craning her neck with resolve. She was about to slip the cloth loop over her neck when she heard someone shouting loudly, “Oh no! Don’t kill yourself!” This took Aluan aback and she looked up high. There was man with around forty years on the mountain, carrying copious branches and dried grass on his back and an axe in his hand. Having been discovered, Aluan naturally could not go on to hang herself, so she quickly untied the cloth, turned and walked away.
The woodsman made his way slowly down the mountain and called after Aluan, “Young miss! Where do you live? Why would someone as young as you be looking for death?” Aluan said, “Leave me alone!” She increased her pace in an effort to get away from this man and look for another secluded area in which to kill herself. However, the woodsman caught up to Aluan after a few strides and grabbed hold of her arm. Aluan jerked her arm away and turned back to say, “You need not pay me any attention! Go away and collect your firewood! It’s obvious that I’m seeking death because I am in a very difficult situation. Nothing you do can save me!”
The woodsman said urgently, “Miss, please don’t talk like that. I have already seen you. Do you think I can watch as you hang yourself? Saving one life mends three lifetimes, and the mountain god has eyes. If I were to ignore someone in danger, sooner or later I would fall off the mountain to my death while gathering wood. Whatever difficulties you have, you can tell me. I’ll help you think of a way out of them. So what is it? Did your parents beat you? Or...did you have a fight with your husband?”
Aluan felt that this woodsman was a good man, so she stopped walking and wiped her tears with the silk cloth in her hand, saying, “It’s nothing you need to know about. Even if I told you, there’s nothing you can do about it. Ah! I have not been forced here by poverty or suffered a beating from anyone. It’s that...I just don’t want to go on living!” So saying, she felt another wave of sorrow. She lowered her head and sobbed, the silk cloth never leaving her eyes.
Hearing Aluan’s words, the woodsman couldn’t help his bewilderment, saying, “Where’s your home? Let me take you back there. If you hang yourself there, I won’t care. Here, though, I must help the mountain god preserve the mountain.” Aluan wiped her tears as thoughts of death slowly faded from her mind. She asked, “My home is far from here. You would not be able to take me back there. Not to mention that there isn’t anyone there right now. Do you know of any nunneries in these mountains? You can take me there. I will never forget your kindness!”
Hearing all this, the woodsman figured that Aluan as an unmarried girl whose parents had probably arranged a marriage for her to a man who wasn’t poor, but petty and mean, or else, her parents had forced her to become a concubine. Thus, she had run away to kill herself or become a nun, refusing to return home. He thought for a moment and then said, “Yes, we have nunneries here. The Dashi Nunnery is ten-some miles from here! You have to cross over three or four mountain ridges though. Actually I’ve never been there, so I wouldn’t be able to find it. My woman goes there often though, to burn incense and pray for a son. How about this! Miss, come to my home first and I’ll have my wife take you. What do you say? My wife knows all the nuns at the temple very well.”
Aluan nodded and seemed to gain some comfort in her heart. She asked the woodsman for his name. The woodsman said, “I’m called Honest Zhang, and I’ve lived in these mountains for a very long time. I’ve been gathering firewood since I was little, and every year I save a few people’s lives. If it isn’t from hanging themselves, it’s from wounds caused by bandits. Because I do good, the mountain god has always provided me with food to eat. Others have either fallen and broken their arms, or encountered wild beasts, but I haven’t met with any of these things. Miss, let’s go to my home! My wife has probably finished preparing rice. We’ll eat and then have her take you away.” Aluan agreed. Gratitude filled her heart as she followed the woodsman Honest Zhang northward.
Before traveling too long, they had wound their way around a couple mountain loops and arrived at Honest Zhang’s home. The Zhang family resided in a yaodong set up under the mountain. There was also a small shrine up the mountain. Honest Zhang pointed at it and told Aluan, “That’s the mountain god’s shrine. He’s very sharp. He doesn’t come out during the day, but once evening arrives, Lingguan rides a divine tiger to patrol the mountains.”
Entering the yaodong, there was a woman of thirty-odd years patching the sole of a shoe. When she saw her husband leading in a wet and dirty young woman who was wearing only one shoe, she was dumbfounded. Honest Zhang put the firewood down inside and placed his axe on the floor against the wall, saying, “This young woman just tried to take her own life and I talked her down after a while. She’s still unwilling to return home though and wants to become a nun. I think that’s pretty great, so make some food quickly, and after we’re done, take this young lady to the Dashi Nunnery!”
The wife put down the shoe sole and needle and thread and remained sitting at the end of the kang and said, “How can I take her there? My foot’s not better yet, so how can I cross four mountain ridges? Do you have the money to hire me a small litter?” Honest Zhang was taken aback. He had forgotten that his wife had an inflammation in her leg and could not walk. So he said, “That’s no problem. If you can’t go today, you can do it after a couple days.” He then said to Aluan, “Miss, please sit. My wife has an inflammation in her foot. She’ll take you when she gets better. Otherwise, I can go up to the temple where Frivolous Second Yang lives. He’s a bachelor, but he’s a very good man. We can ask him to take you too.” The wife said, “Frivolous Second Yang didn’t come back last night. Darkie Sun returned by Horseneck Ridge and said that Frivolous Second Yang went north out the mountains to take care of something! He won’t be back for another two or three days! Anyway, if you want to do a good deed, why are you putting it on other people? Just take her there yourself, why don’t you?”
Honest Zhang said, “How would I know the way? The last time you went to the Dashi Nunnery, you hadn’t come back after a couple days. I got worried and went to look for you. I searched from noon until it was dark and I couldn’t find any Dashi Nunnery.” His wife frowned and said, “That’s because you’re blind! It’s huge nunnery with a tall flagpole, how could you have missed it?” She took a closer look at Aluan’s appearance and asked, “Where do you live and why are you trying to kill yourself? If someone as young and pretty as you doesn’t want to live on, then someone like me damn well should have cut my own throat long ago!”
Aluan came up with a lie, “My family lives in Ziyang, a few hundred miles from here. I was passing through here yesterday when I encountered…mountain bandits. My whole family was murdered by these bandits, leaving me all alone. How could I live on?” The wife was shocked, while Honest Zhang shook his head, “Those mountain gangs are going much too far! We’ve had more and more incidents lately. At first they were only after money, but now people are losing their lives daily. Karma will catch up to them, for the mountain god is always watching.”
The wife hurriedly asked Aluan, “What’s your surname? Were you married? Who’s left in your family?” Aluan said, “My family name is...Jiang, and I am unmarried. My father was a merchant!” The wife said, “Oh! You poor thing. Why don’t you stay with us a few days! You need not worry about food and drink with us, and after two or three days, when my foot’s better, I’ll take you to Dashi Nunnery. The old master there is very compassionate, the nunnery is quite large and the incense burns bright. If you go, they will take you in for sure. Being a nun is much better than getting married!”
Aluan nodded. She had no option but to stay here for the time being and wait a couple days before being taken to the nunnery. It won’t be until she shaves her head and becomes a nun that she could consider all her troubles to be resolved. A wave of sadness hit her, causing tears to spring from her eyes again. The wife consoled her warmly, “Don’t cry! Don’t cry! Perhaps you were destined to become an immortal, and the mistress bodhisattva visited calamity on you so that you were best prepared to enter into the service of Buddha!”
Honest Zhang now went outside to bundle up firewood but directed his voice inside, “Why don’t you hurry up and make rice! This young miss is probably hungry too!” The wife assented and went outside to get firewood. She started a fire in a low clay stove in the center of the room. Aluan came nearer and shook out her shirt to dry in the heat. The wife poured water and two scoops of brown rice into the pot, and then fed more wood into the fire while fanning it with a worn leaf fan. She looked down at Aluan’s feet and laughed, “Miss, your feet are a little large, otherwise you could wear my shoes. What happened, where did you lose your other shoe?”
Aluan said, “The bandits were chasing me, so I hide in the mountain stream. I got all wet and lost one of my shoes.” She continued, “I have two wounds on my body as well, both from the bandits’ spears. They’re not too serious, so I’m able to endure the pain!” The wife cursed, “Those damned bandits! May they all die horrible deaths!”
After a moment, the wife finished cooking the rice. Honest Zhang had also finished tying up the firewood outside, so he came inside and crouched on the floor and ate. The rice was crude and there were no dishes to go with it, only a bit of pickled radish, but Aluan ate it with relish. After everyone was finished eating, Honest Zhang left with firewood to exchange for rice. The wife picked the shoe sole back up to patch and chatted with Aluan. Aluan felt this woman very kindhearted as well, though the language she used was sometimes a little coarse. That was no surprise. She was a woodsman’s wife who likely never left the mountain ever in her life. How would she know conversational etiquette?
Aluan stayed here and thought it quiet and comfortable. She understood now that her previously fierce nature, having met with suffering time and again, had now changed. She used to look contemptuously on Jianghu and the wider world, but she was no longer so arrogant. She just wished that the wife could walk again in a day or two, so she could ask her to take her to become a nun. Presently, a solitary life dedicated to the Buddha seemed much preferable to Jianghu, with constant struggles for dominance and grudges to be avenged.
The wife conversed with Aluan a little as she continued mending the shoe sole, but she seemed to have something else on her mind. Her feet hurt so her foot cloth was loosened and she was wearing a pair of worn shoes, but she still often hopped off the kang to go outside. She kept leaving to stand just outside the yaodong and look one way and then the other, as if she was urgently waiting for someone to arrive. She also raised her head and hollered loudly, as if she was calling out to the mountain god’s temple, saying, “Little Fiver! Scabhead! Are you there?”
No matter what she shouted, it didn’t seem as if anyone came from up the mountain. No one walked along the narrow path outside of the yaodong. She didn’t even see a dog. The wife came back inside disappointed and complained, “Those deadbeats! When you’re happy, you come and I can’t get you to leave! When you’re unhappy, you forget all about me. I haven’t even seen a ghost these past eight or ten days!”
Aluan looked at her manner and listened to her words and finally understood that this woman was restless with her husband, so there must be many bad men out there who often come calling. Thus she asked, “Auntie, does anybody else live around here?” The wife became annoyed, “Who else would there be? Maybe in the temples up the mountain there are a few robbers…” When she got to here, she changed what she was saying, “One of my brothers is also a woodsman. He and Frivolous Second Yang live at the temple, both of them bachelors. They don’t rob people, but they’re wicked to the bone. Any money that comes into their hands, they’ll take it Guanwang Abbey to gamble and drink! They don’t come back until they’ve lost the clothes off their asses!”
Aluan then asked, “Is Guanwang Abbey far from here? Is that a nunnery as well?” The wife shook her head and looked crossly into space for a moment before saying, “No, it’s a Daoist monastery. It’s very far away, almost all the way to the exit out of the mountains. Today’s the fourth, so there’ll be a gathering there. That good-for-nothing husband of mine gathered firewood to take to the market over there.” After she finished, she went back outside the yaodong to wait. Aluan stayed inside and gave shoe sole a careful look to pass the time. By evening time, the person the wife had been waiting for still had not arrived. She came back inside and cursed, no longer showing Aluan a good face.
A short time later, Honest Zhang returned with a bare shoulder pole and a face that glowed red, as if he had drunk a bit of wine. He held in his hands half a bundle of rice and a short string of cash. He said to his wife as soon as he entered, “I was afraid no one would want the firewood I picked up this morning. Who would have thought that I’d exchange it for half a liter of rice as soon as I got there, and I got about two hundred coins in change too. I used it to buy myself dinner. I also ran into Little Third Huang! He won some money betting, so he gave me back the money he took from me last time. Here, have it!”
He handed the cash over to this wife and pulled a couple pieces of flatbread from his clothes, one of which he handed to his wife, and the other he gave to Aluan. He then sat on the floor to rest. As the wife ate the flatbread, she asked her husband, “Did you see Scabby Little Fiver at the abbey?” Honest Zhang waved his hand and looked up at his wife, “Don’t mention it! I’m taking a break tomorrow. I’m not going gathering the next couple days! Young miss, please stay here with us and we’ll figure it out after a few days!”
The wife scowled at him and said, “What’s the matter! Are you that afraid?” Honest Zhang spoke quietly, “Everyone at Guanwang Abbey knew about what happened at Harrierfall Peak. A man of the Kunlun School, Jiang Xiaohe struck Captain Hu dead!” Upon hearing this, the wife was so stunned she stared at him and said, “Oh my! How are the men of the Kunlun School so powerful! Wasn’t it them that killed both Hu Baoshan and Yu Dabiao? Didn’t Captain Hu know how to use silver darts? How could he…”
Aluan listened closely and heard Honest Zhang say, “They deserved it! Even Scabby Little Fiver, Frivolous Second Yang, the Red-faced Monkey and the White Tiger, none of them will come to a good end. The mountain god has eyes!” He waved his hand again and said, “I don’t know the details, but I heard someone talking about it at Guanwang Abbey, so I got the heck out of there! I was afraid to run into any of the mountain people. When Frivolous Second Yang comes back, maybe he knows the details. I can go and ask him! I’ve only heard that Jiang Xiaohe is the strongest of the Kunlun School. Harrierfall Peak is very tall, but he can come off the mountain with a single leap. They say he knows magic and how to use magic weapons. How could Hu Li’s darts match up against that? Hu Li fell after not much of a fight!”
Aluan saw that the wife was in a daze, as if she couldn’t move her mouth anymore. She herself couldn’t help but feel a rush of delight that stirred up her admiration for Jiang Xiaohe. She also thought, We are not far from Harrierfall Peak. That Frivolous Second Yang and Scabby Little Fiver that the wife knows are likely bandits of that mountain. If they were to know I was here, they would lead the whole lot of them to me. I’m injured and weaponless. How could I beat them back in this state? I was unsuccessful in ending my life. If I were to then fall into their vile hands, it would be a true disgrace! Thus, she wanted to get out of there immediately.
She then heard Honest Zhang say, “Without a leader, those brigands will probably become even more wild! It will be hard for me to even gather firewood. But I did hear someone at the gathering say, there’s now someone even stronger than Jiang Xiaohe, a monk. Some people saw this monk yesterday in the town of Chongfu by the northern mountain entrance. They say he’s big and tall and carries an iron pole on his shoulders. That thing must be at least three to five hundred catties. Old Fei the Ox, who performs at Guanwang Abbey with his big saber, said that even ten big men like him couldn’t raise that iron pole. The monk is in that town asking for alms right now, but maybe he’ll come up into the mountains soon. Then this place will really flare up, like all of the Eighteen Rebel Kings are here!”
Aluan heard this and was startled, thinking, I’ve heard grandfather mention a strange xia called the Iron Staff Monk whose strength is matchless. Grandfather has never met him before or compared skills with him, but he often instructed his disciples to be particularly cautious if they ever encountered him. The strange monk that Honest Zhang is talking about must be him. I wonder what he’s doing here. Not for alms, that’s for sure. Perhaps he’s come to set himself against my grandfather or Jiang Xiaohe. Thus, she started to worry again.
After Honest Zhang was finished speaking, he sat on the floor and yawned. After a moment, he laid some tattered bedding down and fell asleep, snoring. A lamp had been lit inside the yaodong, the door and windows were all shut tightly, and a large rock had been propped against the door. The wife hadn’t finished her flatbread. She just sat with a blank stare, completely unlike how lively she had been during the day, and she was not very fond of talking to Aluan anymore. Aluan remained calm and drew closer to the oil lamp to mend the shoe sole for the wife. Other than the sound of Honest Zhang snoring on the yaodong floor, there was only the sound of string being pulled in Aluan’s hands. The wound on her arm was caused by a dart and not very serious, but whenever she extended her arm to pull the string through, it would pulse with pain. Thus, after a few loops, she would rest a moment, and in this way she idled away her time.
After a while, the wife had laid down on her side and fallen asleep. Aluan was also of a mind to blow out the lamp and go to sleep herself. Unexpectedly, she heard the sound of footsteps outside, very faintly. Aluan then heard a grunt on the other side of the window and quickly turned inside, whereupon she heard a whistle. This repeated a few times and caused the wife’s body to stir. Aluan hurriedly laid down and pretended to be asleep as the wife got up. The person outside blew against the window paper. The wife made a spitting sound at the window and a hoarse laugh came from outside. The wife blew out the lamp and carefully moved the rock to open the door.
Aluan slipped off the kang and went over to the window to eavesdrop. She heard a smack, probably the sound of the wife slapping the man. He chuckled quietly. The two of them said a few things to each other that she couldn’t make out, and then she heard the man say, “Is she pretty?” She then heard the wife say, “So what if she’s pretty? Don’t get any ideas!” The wife said a few more things, but Aluan could only discern a couple sentences, “She’s got wounds on her body and blood on her clothes. It was all done by you lot.”
The man seemed to be stunned in his moment of silence, and then she heard him say, “Woman! Is the one in your home none other than Bao Kunlun’s granddaughter?” Aluan was taken aback and thought, The thug outside knows it’s me. He’ll come in for sure! When he does, I’ll take the opportunity to knock him out. Even better if he has a weapon with him. I’ll use my might to kill him and take his weapon. She stood by the door at the ready, but a while passed without man coming inside.
Now, their conversation outside grew quieter to the point that Aluan could no longer make out what they were saying. In the end, all she heard was the wife say, “Quickly, and tell them to hurry!” She then heard the sound of footsteps, as if the man rushed off. Aluan was certain now that the man the wife knew was a bandit of the mountain, one of Hu Li the Silver Dart’s men. He must have gone to bring back other bandits to bring harm to her, and so fury poured into her chest.
The wife stood outside for a while before opening the door and sneaking back inside. Aluan suddenly punched the wife in the back. The wife yelped and toppled down onto Honest Zhang who had been sleeping on the floor. Honest Zhang had been sleeping very soundly, so when someone suddenly fell on top of him, he yelled out in fright. Aluan held the wife down, grasping onto her throat while threatening Honest Zhang, “Don’t scream! If you do, I’ll end both of you!” She loosened her grip on the wife’s throat and interrogated her, “Who were you talking to outside?”
The wife trembled as she said, “That was Scabby Little Fiver. He’s one of Captain Hu’s men!” Aluan followed up by asking, “What did you talk about? Tell the truth!” The wife wept and said, “He said you were Bao Aluan or something. He went to go get the Red-faced Monkey—“ Aluan gave her another fist in anger and knocked her into a daze. Aluan stood up and asked Honest Zhang irately, “Do you have weapons here?” Honest Zhang quaveringly said, “No swords or spears, just the one axe.” Then said, “Miss! I don’t know anything about what they’ve done. If my wife deserves to die, I am but an honest man!”
Aluan said, “I know that!” She originally wanted to ask Honest Zhang for his axe, but then she thought, Would an axe for firewood even be a match for a bandit’s blade? Not to mention that I’m injured and I only have one shoe. The Red-faced Monkey is also a bandit captain, so he won’t be coming alone. I should just take the opportunity to run! Thus, she hurried out of the yaodong and looked around. The moonlight was hazy amid the misty clouds.
Aluan followed the mountain road urgently without any regard to the direction. After traveling a while, she came to a mountain rock that she could climb. She bore her pain as she carefully grabbed hold of trees and climbed upwards. The mountain rock was rugged so Aluan used both her hands and her feet, but whenever she put pressure on her arm, a pain flared up in her chest. However, she grit her teeth to endure the pain and continued upward. She expended quite a bit of energy to climb over one peak. She looked down and saw several torches lighting the way for twenty or thirty men traveling on the mountain road. She thought, That must be the Red-faced Monkey, Scabby Little Fiver and the rest of them coming to get me! Another several shouts and whistles pierced through the air and into Aluan’s ears. Aluan didn’t think this place suitable, so she strove to climb further up the mountain, again clenching her teeth to endure the pain of her injuries.
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 beyond the Tong Pass. 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!”
Upon hearing this, she became worried for Jiang Xiaohe and also lamented the endless grudges those on Jianghu had between each other. It would never stop and that frightened and chilled her. She thought, The Jiuxian Abbey on Cloudperch Ridge must be in a very secluded location, and being protected by a woman Daoist with high martial skill, it is likely to escape the harassment of wicked men. To go to the mountain and dedicate myself to religious practice is just what I need to do to remove myself from all these troubles. Thus, she said to Jingxuan, “I would very much like to go to the nunnery and dedicate myself to religious practice. Point me in the right direction and I’ll go there myself.”
Jingxuan said, “The place is very remote. There is no way you’ll be able to find it. Abbess Daocheng also someone with an odd temperament. She would not take you in if you went by yourself. Come with me to the western mountain entrance now and I’ll get you a wagon. You can ride it while I follow you covertly. I guarantee that nothing will happen while you travel while it takes you to Cloudperch Ridge.” Seeing that this short and slight monk had so thoroughly considered her situation inevitably caused Aluan some hesitation. She stared into space silently.
Jingxuan seemed to parse out her feelings and declared, “Please don’t be suspicious. We ascetics do not harbor reckless ideas. We simply want to save this life of yours. Because you are a woman and wounded, it would be dangerous to leave you here. I know you are weary now all for the sake of your grandfather. He should not have sent you, a lone woman, to face Jiang Xiaohe alone.” Aluan wiped her tears and agreed to everything he’d suggested. She followed the monk Jingxuan out of the mountains and they arrived at a town.
After the monk Jingxuan and Aluan left the mountains, he procured a mule wagon for her and gave her twenty-some taels of silver to use for traveling expenses. Afterward, he gave the wagon driver instructions and then departed. Aluan was very grateful for the Iron Staff Monk and his disciple. But then she thought, This master and disciple, the master utilizes a heavy iron staff and the disciple knows dianxue skill. If the two of them were to engage Jiang Xiaohe in battle, even with Jiang Xiaohe’s superior martial arts, I’m afraid he would still not be a match for them both. Because of this, she couldn’t help but feel sorrow.
The wagon traveled all day and at night she lodged at an inn. She took out her silvers and paid the innkeeper’s wife to help her buy semi-new clothes, shoes and socks. When she put them on, they did not quite fit her, but she thought, When I get to Cloudperch Ridge, I’ll don the attire of a Daoist, so how long would I actually be wearing this? And so she didn’t much care. The following day, she continued on the winding route. She was not very familiar with the way, so she could only rely on the wagon driver. She traveled for two and a half days when she saw the Iron Staff Monk and Jingxuan coming towards her on the road. They led the wagon through the mountains and when they were on a mountain ridge thick with pines, they stopped the wagon.
Since the mountain road was so arduous, the wounds on Aluan’s body suffered several days of the way’s bumps and appeared to get worse. When she came off the wagon, she could hardly walk. The Iron Staff Monk ordered Jingxuan to carry her on his back once more, and they proceeded up the mountain, arriving finally at Jiuxian Abbey which seemed so remote as to be up in the sky. The abbess Daocheng was not there presently, so the Iron Staff Monk delivered her into the care of a nun of the abbey, who found her a room to recover in. The Iron Staff Monk and Jingxuan went into town to stay at an inn.
Two days later, Abbess Daocheng returned to Jiuxian Abbey. To Aluan, the old abbess appeared quite fierce, her lips sharp and her eyes round like a vulture. She was very kind to Aluan, however, and told her to recuperate calmly here. When her wounds were healed, she would accept Aluan as her disciple. She said, “Your family’s sworn enemy, Jiang Xiaohe, has killed Long Zhiqi in Ziyang. He escaped, probably into Northern Sichuan. But don’t you worry! Sooner or later, we will help your Kunlun School take revenge!” Hearing this, Aluan could only nod in assent while inside she couldn’t help being anxious for Jiang Xiaohe. The Iron Staff Monk stopped by the nunnery several more times, though Jingxuan did not. Every time the Iron Staff Monk came, he needed to speak with Abbess Daocheng about Jiang Xiaohe. The place of discussion was always next to the shrine to Progenitor Lü in the outer rooms, while Aluan recovered in the inner quarters.
After a long time, she was able to clearly understand the Iron Staff Monk’s difficult accent. Because of this, she knew now that the monk Jingxuan had been dispatched by his master to Northern Sichuan to inquire about Jiang Xiaohe’s situation. He’d returned one or two times and then departed again. The information he’d gathered was that Jiang Xiaohe had robbed an official’s family on Riversnail Ridge and killed an officer. Daocheng and the Iron Staff Monk took this nonsense as fact and became indignant. Both of them wanted nothing more than to immediately capture Jiang Xiaohe and put him to death. It was as if this gave them even more reason not to permit the more famous Jiang Xiaohe to walk Jianghu. In the eastern hall, Aluan knew Jiang Xiaohe’s character much too well to believe what she’d heard. He was never a cruel or brutal man. The dark, fat man with a big head and a saber in his hand sounded much more like her uncle Long Zhiqi. These matters wound their way around her mind all day, so although the environs of the nunnery were tranquil, she was unable to calm her mental state.
There suddenly came a few days in which she saw neither Daocheng nor the Iron Staff Monk. Because she had recuperated in bed every day, Aluan’s injuries had gradually healed. She’d now spent nearly a month here. Abruptly one evening, the Iron Staff Monk came again with his disciple Jingxuan, and they brought with them an elderly man with hair and beard as snow. It was Aluan’s grandfather, Bao Zhenfei. Aluan burst into tears when they met face-to-face. She declared to him that because of her weariness and anguish, and since she had lost all faith in the world, she would rather become a Daoist nun. She never wanted to return home, nor did she ever want to see Ji Guangjie again. She said, “Grandfather! You should hide yourself in the mountains for a few days, and then find another place where you can worship Buddha and burn incense! I will be alright here, don’t worry. When Master Daocheng comes back in a few days, I will change into the garb of a Daoist. From then on, please don’t come and find me, and don’t tell anyone where I am!”
As she said these things through her tears, her grandfather was dumbstruck, not saying a word. Her grandfather’s clothes were severely torn up, his beard was tangled up like a clump of white wool felt, and there were patches of bloodstains on his body. His once dark, purple face had now turned pallid and there were fresh cuts all over it. Aluan brokenheartedly pulled on her grandfather’s hand and cried, “Grandfather! What’s happened to you? What did you encounter out there? Where have you come from now?” Old master Bao sighed weakly and shook his head, but said nothing.
The Iron Staff Monk left the room first, and Jingxuan pulled the old master outside as well. Aluan saw them go to the courtyard and put her ear out to listen. She heard the Iron Staff Monk’s coarse voice ask, “Why did Jiang Xiaohe capture ya, but no kill ya?” The old master sighed, “I suppose he wanted to bring me back to Zhenba, to the place where I killed his father, and do me in there. Perhaps that is the only way he can let go of his hatred!” Then she heard the Iron Staff Monk ask, “Who was responsible for the incident on Riversnail Ridge?” The old master replied, “I haven’t a clue! But I swear on my life, I am certain it was not Long Zhiqi!” She then heard Jingxuan ask, “Was it really you who killed the boy, Qin Xiaoxiong?”
The old master let out a long sigh, but did not reply. The Iron Staff Monk held his anger and asked, “I heard me disciple say, ya killed a teenaged boy in Northern Sichuan, so I’m thinking ya’re no so good a man. Today, had I no seen ya so pitiful as Jiang Xiaohe’s captive, I would no have bothered to rescue ya. Tell me, how do Jiang Xiaohe’s martial arts compare to me, the Iron Staff Monk?” Old master Bao sighed gravely, “Jiang Xiaohe’s martial arts are undoubtedly powerful. I, Bao Zhenfei, am strong and sturdy, and yet I had no choice but to admit defeat to him. Master, I have long admired your reputation these past thirty years. But if you were to face him, I’m certain that—“
The Iron Staff Monk stamped his foot fiercely, causing the windows and doors to clatter noisily. The Iron Staff Monk gave orders loudly, “Jingxuan! Ya go to Zhenba and bring his disciples here so they can take him away.” Then he said to the old master, “I saved yar granddaughter’s life, so we will see how ya repay us in the future. Now I am gonna go find Jiang Xiaohe and tomorrow I’ll bring ya down the mountain so I can show ya Jiang Xiaohe’s dead body!” So saying, he stomped off. It seemed as if everyone had departed.
Inside the room, Aluan covered her face and sobbed for a while. She then heard another long sigh from outside, the sound of her grandfather. She couldn’t help but lament, “Grandfather! How could you be so cruel! What did you do in Northern Sichuan? The incident at Riversnail Ridge was surely the work of Long Zhiqi, so why are you protecting him? Jiang Xiaohe didn’t kill you because he couldn’t bear to, and now you’ve provoked the Iron Staff Monk to go and kill him. You’re terrible! My—“ She’d wanted to say, My whole life, haven’t you destroyed that as well? Why did you force me to marry Ji Guangjie? But these words never came out. Outside, her grandfather angrily stamped his foot and went to the outer yard. Inside, Aluan stopped crying as bewilderment hit her, thinking, Why has my grandfather’s character changed? I don’t know what he’d been like when he was younger, but for a time later on, he was good and kind. Now, he’s suffered a few misfortunes during this spell on Jianghu and he’s become violent and cruel. Could it be senility…?
After the old master left, Aluan began to worry once more, scared that he might momentarily get it in his head to seek death. She was also afraid that in his gloom, he would descend the mountain to go help the Iron Staff Monk battle against Jiang Xiaohe. Thus, she came out of her room and walked through the various courtyards and halls once over and even the deer garden, but saw no signs of her grandfather. By now the heavy darkness of night combined with the thick growth of trees on the mountain so that even starlight was not visible, and the pines rustled against each other. Her tears sprung forth again, as she returned to her room and laid awake all night.
That night, Bao Zhenfei took a walk through the mountains. He knew that the Iron Staff Monk had already fought against Jiang Xiaohe, but he wasn’t sure if he was a match for him. Adding to that the remorse for accidentally killing that boy in Northern Sichuan and his granddaughter’s condemnations through the window, he felt all kinds of sorrow. He thought, If the Iron Staff Monk’s disciple were to bring Zhang Zhicai and Ma Zhixian here tomorrow, how could I possibly face them? Even if they brought me down the mountain and back home, as long as Jiang Xiaohe remained alive, he would not let matters rest as they are! He wandered the mountain all night long and eventually fell asleep under a pine tree. It was no longer early when he awoke, so he gathered some pine nuts and shelled and ate them. Three deer came over to sniff at him as if they were very familiar with him.
The old master had nothing else to do, so he picked some grass and fed it to the deer, and then rubbed their antlers. He spent time with the deer for a while, and didn’t see the Iron Staff Monk return, nor did Jingxuan bring his disciples here, so he began to feel uncertainty. He thought, Could it be that the battle between Iron Staff Monk and Jiang Xiaohe has not concluded? Or has the Iron Staff Monk already lost under Jiang Xiaohe’s hand and is too humiliated to show his face here again? Do those disciples nearer to here, Lu Zhizhong, Ma Zhixian and Zhang Zhicai, no longer recognize me as their master? So they are unwilling to come and get me! He was filled with doubts and lamentations and they mixed with anger and fear. At the same time, he was hungry, but he was unwilling to go back to the nunnery and beg his granddaughter for food.
It was then that Jiang Xiaohe arrived. Upon seeing the figure of Jiang Xiaohe, his spirit fled him in fright, and he hurried back to Jiuxian Abbey. He saw Aluan in the hall of Progenitor Lü and said to her, “Jiang Xiaohe is here! Please save me!” The old master grabbed his granddaughter’s arm, trembling. Aluan felt both sorrow and anger, and thought, Jiang Xiaohe, you are too single-minded. My grandfather has retreated into these mountains and already submitted to the world and divested himself from conflicts with others. Why must it only end with his death?
Jiang Xiaohe knocked on the gate and Aluan came out angrily. When she saw Jiang Xiaohe, affection and resentment intertwined within her and her suffering and desire to die surged up together, so she quickly wrested Jiang Xiaohe’s sword from him in order to kill herself. Unexpectedly, Jiang Xiaohe rushed to stop her just before the sword slit her throat, but she had already sliced across her delicate chest. Her grandfather came out and Aluan, wounded and bleeding, admitted that she had loved Jiang Xiaohe since they were young. She had hoped her grandfather would have a change of heart, but to her surprise he stormed off instead in a fit of anger.
She was brought into the abbey by Jiang Xiaohe. As he focused on taking care of her, she moaned and told him all the things that had been on her heart. Everything that Jiang Xiaohe said to her touched her. That was when Abbess Daocheng returned to the abbey to face Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe broke Daocheng’s saber, ruined her iron slingshot, and then let her go. In the evening, Jiang Xiaohe came before Aluan’s couch and told her he wanted to make Aluan his wife and revisit the feelings they’d had when they were younger. He also said that he would descend the mountain to Plaguetown and find a wagon and return the next day to take Aluan to Northern Sichuan where she could recover and then they could become husband and wife.
Aluan was moved by Jiang Xiaohe’s straightforward tone, sincere emotions and honest words. It was as if they tore into her soul and eased her suffering, so she agreed to everything. Jiang Xiaohe departed in better spirits. Aluan bore the wounds to her body on the couch, as both sorrow and comfort crossed in her mind. She thought of things past and guessed at what might come in the future. Her heart was like a long-dead tree that had suddenly come back to life, stoking the flames of love and uncovering glimmering hope. She thought remorsefully, From the beginning it had been no one’s fault but my own. In my heart, I loved Jiang Xiaohe, and I should have simply said so. I should not have obeyed my grandfather’s wishes and married Ji Guangjie. If I had not gotten mixed up in the affairs of the Kunlun School and had some resolve to find Jiang Xiaohe on my own, and if I’d just married him when I found him, he likely would not have continued to pursue my grandfather. Oh! Why didn’t I do that when this all began…?
By now, Jiang Xiaohe had been gone for a while. There were no watches sounded at the temple, but the nuns had already completed their chants and gone to bed. There remained only the wave-like sound of the pines, the fluttering of the owls flying and their hooting calls. The nun who had been taking care of Aluan had probably gone to sleep as well. Aluan’s wound was causing her constant pain, though her heart continued to beat.
Abbess Daocheng unexpectedly returned then. She was the Iron Staff Monk’s disciple-sister and they were of a kind. Their bodies held amazing skill and their whereabouts were never fixed. On Jianghu, they never engaged in wanton behavior, but it was still hard for them not to steal or kill people. They’ve done bad things before, but they also performed good deeds on occasion. It was just the one thing that they would never permit anyone on Jianghu to exist who surpassed them in the martial arts. Once upon a time the Dragon of Shu was the xia of wonder all the way from Bazhong to the Min River, and in his prime years, neither the Iron Staff Monk nor Daocheng had been born. However, when the Dragon of Shu reached old age, the two of them descended on him and forced the Dragon of Shu to leave the province and go into hiding.
But there was one person, the elderly man whose location always remained indistinct and whose martial arts were peerless, under whose hand, the disciple-brother and sister suffered a grave defeat, forcing them to touch their heads to the ground in utter submission. The elderly man, however, did not have the intention to kill them, only warning them, “Though you are causing trouble across Jianghu, killing not a few people, I know you have done good at times too. Thus, your achievements and crimes have balanced out and I will spare your lives this time. However, you both ought to retire into the mountains and dedicate your life to religious practice, never to walk Jianghu again!”
This happened twelve or thirteen years ago. At the time, she and the Iron Staff Monk filled their mouths with promises, but the two had not been subdued in their hearts, wanting one day to attempt vengeance. The elderly man would often appear amid the Qin Mountains or on Mount Emei, so the two of them couldn’t help but give up for now. They had intended to accept disciples so they would have help. Ten years later, the Iron Staff Monk had since accepted under his tutelage Jingxuan and Black Tiger Zhang, which meant he had two to help him. Daocheng had not accepted even one disciple, because if she were to take on disciples, they had to be women, and not only women, but ones who had trained in martial arts. In all of Sichuan and Southern Shaanxi, of the women who knew martial arts, one was Aluan, another was Qin Xiaoxian, and there was no third. One of them was the granddaughter of the old master of the Kunlun School and one was the daughter-in-law of the Xia of Langzhong. Even if either of them had learned martial arts from her, they would not remain with her forever to do her bidding.
Now the power of the Kunlun School had been brought down, and Bao Aluan, alone and wounded, had been brought to the abbey by the Iron Staff Monk. She thought it the perfect time to accept Aluan as her disciple, to be her right hand or at least a servant. She had not expected Jiang Xiaohe to come. That Jiang Xiaohe was the disciple of the elderly man was the first thing to stoke her hatred. That Jiang Xiaohe killed the Iron Staff Monk the night before was the second thing to deepen her grudge. Today, Jiang Xiaohe destroyed her slingshot and snapped her saber, and left her paralyzed for a while with dianxue. This third thing humiliated her. Thus, she harbored loathing in her heart and did not run far, hiding up inside a pine tree. When she saw Jiang Xiaohe go down the mountain, she returned to the abbey.
Upon entering Aluan’s room, Aluan heard her footsteps and groaned, “Why have you returned once more? You don’t need to hire a wagon. My injury is too heavy, and my old wounds haven’t healed completely yet. I can’t leave with you. However, you mustn’t worry! I’ve thought it over! I don’t want to live in regret any longer. I will be your…wife!” Daocheng cackled and said, “The day before yesterday, you were saying how you wanted to become a nun. Now you want to get married. Not only that, but you want to abandon your husband and marry anew. You shameless hussy!”
Aluan was startled. Daocheng was holding a pine resin fire piston in her hand which she shook to produce a flame. Aluan saw that vulture-like face of hers in the firelight and began to weep, “Abbess! You know nothing of what’s transpired between me and Jiang Xiaohe these last ten years!” Daocheng cackled as she found two cords of rope and extinguished the piston. She came over and tied Aluan up. Her hands heavy, she used the rope on Aluan’s wounded body, tying her up with all her strength. Aluan was helpless to struggle, only crying out in pain before fainting. Daocheng spoke viciously as she fastened tight knots, “I’m taking you away and I’m going to marry you off. For every marriage you have, I’ll take a life, and you can have new husbands forever!” She lifted Aluan onto her back, left the abbey and started down the mountain. Aluan was unconscious and did not feel a thing. She eventually came to gradually, but she was still bound tightly as Daocheng carried her on her back. For every step Daocheng took, pain would course through Aluan’s body, but Daocheng had no intention of stopping. In fact, she ran faster and faster and as her speed picked up, she ran more erratically.
Aluan suddenly heard the sound of horse hooves in the distance. As a result, Daocheng escaped off the road. She heard a splash and realized that Daocheng had dodged into water. It wasn’t deep, but both her legs were soaked. With Aluan on her back, Daocheng hid under a bridge and spat out a directive, “Don’t you dare make a sound!” She heard the sound of horseshoes galloping across the stone bridge above them. When the sound grew distant again, Daocheng carried Aluan out of the water onto the bridge, and continued running.
Aluan thought to herself, That must have been Xiaohe hurrying back. Daocheng is afraid of him. Because her physical pain combined with her heartache, she couldn’t help moaning miserably. This angered Daocheng, who immediately released her grip, slamming Aluan onto the ground, and giving her a couple kicks. Aluan cried out in pain a couple times and then fainted once more. She was unconscious for a while and by the time she awoke again, she was back on Daocheng’s back, and Daocheng was hurrying her way forward.
It was now starting to get light, though there were not yet other travelers on the road. Daocheng stopped abruptly where a horse was sitting at the side of the road, untethered to anything. Daocheng put Aluan down and stood dumbstruck for a while with a surprised look on her face. She then looked in all directions, stepped forward and grabbed the reins, tugging the horse up. Just as she was about lift Aluan onto the horse and ride off, a man ran out from the autumn wheat grass at the side of the road. Daocheng threw Aluan back onto the ground and approached the man to engage him in combat, asking, “Who the hell are you?” The man said nothing as they exchanged two or three blows before the man knocked Daocheng down. Daocheng was about the get back up, but the man give her a kick, sending Daocheng rolling. The man took this opportunity to snatch up Aluan, mount the horse and gallop away.
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.
Ji Guangjie’s wounds had healed and he’d just arrived in Zhenba a few days ago with Lu Zhizhong. The monk Jingxuan had delivered word to Bao Village to have them send men to Cloudperch Ridge to retrieve the old master Bao. But ever since Zhang Zhicai had been injured at Bao Village, Bao Zhilin had moved into his wife’s family’s house to hide out. The main gate was locked tightly and no one remained inside. He asked the neighboring people where the men of the Kunlun School were living. They all shook their heads. Thus, Jingxuan went in search of old master Bao’s disciples. He wandered Zhenba the entire day and in the evening he went to a tavern for food, where he encountered a man with a sword drinking wine. He inquired with him and discovered that this man was Ji Guangjie.
When he heard Jingxuan’s reasons for coming, Ji Guangjie didn’t care much whether or not old master Bao was on Cloudperch Ridge, but at the mention of Aluan’s whereabouts, he became happy and excited and quickly took Jingxuan to call upon Ma Zhixian and Lu Zhizhong. Because the gates of the city were already closed, Ji Guangjie had to endure his eagerness for a night, and when they arrived today, they saw that the “birds had flown the nest”! There was no trace of either old master Bao or Aluan. Ji Guangjie looked for the nuns to inquire, but the nuns could not say where they had gone. He could do nothing but share his amazement with them. Ji Guangjie went with Jingxuan to investigate in other parts of the mountain. They only discovered the corpses of Wu Jinbiao and the hunter and his wife, and also the Iron Staff Monk’s weapon next to his two legs and hunk of flesh.
Jingxuan wept tragically amid the mountains for his master, while Ji Guangjie returned to Jiuxian Abbey. Gripping his sword, he impatiently herded all the nuns of the abbey together and interrogated them each individually. This was when the Mute Xia arrived. Ji Guangjie was shouting angrily, but no matter how he threatened them, no one could tell him Aluan’s location. All he heard was that yesterday Jiang Xiaohe had come to stir up a commotion all day and beaten their abbess Daocheng. Then early this morning, Jiang Xiaohe returned again to cause trouble when he learned that the injured woman had disappeared. By the time Ji Guangjie and the others arrived, Jiang Xiaohe had already caused a fuss and left.
Ji Guangjie was dizzingly furious. He was certain all the nuns knew where she was but didn’t tell him, and so he wanted to use his horsewhip to extract the information from them, but Lu Zhizhong and Ma Zhixian stood in his way. Just as he was stomping mad, he suddenly saw a man inserting himself in the situation while looking directly at him. Ji Guangjie sent an angry kick at the Mute Xia, which the Mute Xia dodged. Ji Guangjie yelled, “Where did you come from, little one? How dare you intrude on us!” With a shink, he revealed his sword and sent a chop at the Mute Xia. Lu Zhizhong and Ma Zhixian both shouted, “Son-in-law Ji, do not be reckless!” But all that rang out were two sounds, a clang and a crash. The Mute Xia remained uninjured, but Ji Guangjie’s sword had been taken from him and flung far away, while he laid on the floor after being kicked in the stomach.
Lu Zhizhong and Ma Zhixian both paled in fright. Ji Guangjie got back up, his intensity reduced, took a couple steps back and asked, wide-eyed, “Little one! What are you doing? Who do you think you are that dares to strike good sir Ji?” The Mute Xia did not hear him. He extended his thumb and pointed at himself, and then extended his little finger and flapped around again. Ji Guangjie burned with rage and yelled, “Little one, do you think you can pretend to be some butterfly and I’ll let things be?” He rushed at the Mute Xia with fists out, but the Mute Xia ducked to the side again, all the while waving his hands, meaning, “Stop fighting!” He then pointed to himself, mimed flying again, and then imitated the bashful movements of a woman. Ji Guangjie laughed crossly, asking, “Are you a madman?”
Lu Zhizhong hurried over and pulled Ji Guangjie aside, saying, “Do not be reckless! I can tell he’s mute. He must be here for a reason. Let me try to guess his meaning.” Thereupon, Ma Zhixian came forward as well and watched the Mute Xia’s gestures. The Mute Xia pointed at the nuns nearby, swiveled his hips and then mimed carrying something on his back. Lu Zhizhong was starting to understand somewhat, saying, “This mute man is here with good intentions. He is telling us that Aluan was carried away by a nun on her back. That nun must be the abbess Daocheng of this abbey.”
It wasn’t until this that Ji Guangjie’s anger subsided a little. He furrowed his brow and said to Lu Zhizhong, “Find a way to ask him where Daocheng took Aluan. Tell him to take us there.” Thus, Lu Zhizhong made gestures of his own, patting the Mute Xia on the shoulder and then pointing to the door. He then mimed walking, but the Mute Xia shook his hand and waved his hand. Ji Guangjie’s anger ignited once more as he said, “It looks to me like he’s playing us for fools. He must be pretending to be mute. Otherwise, why does he keep his mouth shut? He should be making some ah, ah sounds.” Ma Zhixian exhorted him quietly, “Do not be impatient! I am certain he is a mute xia. His martial arts are powerful and we are complete strangers to him. He is not intentionally toying with us.”
Just then, the monk Jingxuan barged into the abbey. Jingxuan had just come from cremating his master, the Iron Staff Monk’s remains amid the mountains, and the tears at the corners of his eyes were not yet completely dry. The Mute Xia recognized Jingxuan immediately, went over and grabbed hold of him. Jingxuan’s color drained in surprise. Ma Zhixian and Lu Zhizhong came over to urge his release, but the Mute Xia smiled at Jingxuan and performed more gestures.
Ma Zhixian said, “Master Jingxuan, please do not be angry. This man is a mute. He arrived just now and revealed a few of his martial arts moves. We believe he has inherited a genuine tradition. He made some gestures for us and we guessed at his meaning. We think he’s here to tell us that the young miss, Bao Aluan, has been taken away by Abbess Daocheng. It is likely Jiang Xiaohe came here early in the morning and saw that Aluan was gone, so he must be in pursuit as well. Master Jingxuan, do you know where Abbess Daocheng has gone?” Jingxuan’s face was still pale. He stood in thought for a moment before first pointing to the Mute Xia and saying, “I know this man. He is Jiang Xiaohe’s disciple-brother. Before my master died, he told me that Jiang Xiaohe had a mute disciple-brother whose martial arts were nearly equal to those of his master.”
Lu Zhizhong and the other two were altogether astonished at hearing this and all of them turned their gaze toward the Mute Xia. Right then, the Mute Xia ran to the base of the wall and carved out a piece of the lime mortar. He drew on the brick an image more or less of a red-crowned crane, and then he sketched out several routes that looked like worms. Jingxuan seemed to understand his meaning and said to Lu Zhizhong, “The Mute Xia is asking us where Jiang Xiaohe is. I know that Abbess Daocheng was headed to Mount Wudang. The Seven Great Sword Sages of Mount Wudang are all good friends of hers. She must have taken the young lady Bao in that direction. Jiang Xiaohe will surely pursue them there.”
Upon hearing of Mount Wudang, Ji Guangjie couldn’t help but exert his vigor again, saying, “I know my way around Mount Wudang. Alright! He will go to look for his disciple-brother, and I will go to look for my wife. Let us go to Mount Wudang together then!” He patted his chest over his heart and then he indicated the Mute Xia’s heart. He then extended a thumb to express mutual admiration and that they were now friends. He then pointed at the red-crowned crane drawn on the floor and nodded, saying, “I know where Jiang Xiaohe is heading. I’ll take you to him.” Ji Guangjie walked over and picked up his sword, and then said to Lu Zhizhong and Ma Zhixian, “Go quickly down the mountain and look for the old man! He left here the day before yesterday, but he didn’t go home. He likely feels himself ashamed, but he can’t have gone far.” He then cupped his fist at Jingxuan and said, “Master Jingxuan, may we meet again!”
Jingxuan asked of him, “When you see Abbess Daocheng, you must not antagonize her. Do not approach her with hostility. Her temperament can be brutal, but as long as you do not press her, she will not kill Aluan. However, if you anger her, then the young lady Bao’s life cannot be guaranteed. I also ask that if you see Jiang Xiaohe, please tell him that though my master, the Iron Staff Monk, died at his hand, I will not seek revenge from him. Firstly, because he and I are old friends, and secondly, because I am now focused on retreating into the mountains to dedicate my life to religious practice. I no longer wish to involve myself with the frivolity of Jianghu.” Ji Guangjie agreed, and with no more left to say, he pulled the Mute Xia outside by the arm and departed. The two men descended the mountain together and mounted their horses. With Ji Guangjie’s horse in front and the Mute Xia’s horse behind, the two rode as if flying through the winding and circuitous route, traveling seventy or eighty miles to the east.
The sun was now in the west. The Mute Xia had not eaten a midday meal, so he shouted hungrily from atop his horse. Ji Guangjie raised his whip and pointed to the east, and then turned around to beckon, “Come on!” He did not stop his horse. The Mute Xia became annoyed and spurred his horse to catch up. He grabbed onto Ji Guangjie with one hand and yanked him off his horse. Panting, Ji Guangjie yelled, “You damned mute! If I, the great sir Ji, did not recognize your skill, do you think I would have brought you with me to Mount Wudang?” The Mute Xia pointed to his mouth and then rubbed his stomach. Once Ji Guangjie saw him gesturing, he started to feel hunger in his own stomach, so he nodded and puffed as he got back on his horse and continued on more slowly.
Before going too far, they arrived at a town. Ji Guangjie came off of his horse in front of a tavern and the Mute Xia smiled with pleasure. Ji Guangjie fastened his horse to a post by the door and walked in with the the Mute Xia close behind. Ji Guangjie was impatient and troubled, so he ordered some wine for himself and food for the Mute Xia. In a short while, the server brought both. The Mute Xia swallowed his rice in mouthfuls, and Ji Guangjie drank his wine gloomily. Right now, he couldn’t stomach even one grain of rice. He thought, If I’d known earlier that there had been something between Jiang Xiaohe and Aluan, I would never have so much as laid a finger to help the Kunlun School. And now just look at the state I’m in, neither man nor ghost. My body was wounded and has just now healed up. I’m heading to Mount Wudang and I might not even find Aluan there, or perhaps I do find her, but only after a great, big fight. Even after that fight, my wife might go back to Jiang Xiaohe. It’s just not worth it. But it’s as if I have people pressing me on, and I can’t just stand by and do nothing. He truly loathed himself, as a long sigh escaped him and he pounded the table.
The Mute Xia saw the worry in his manner and pointed at the plates of food, smiling. His meaning was that he was inviting him to eat, but Ji Guangjie shook his head. The Mute Xia looked puzzled, seeming not to understand what was bothering Ji Guangjie. After a few bowls of wine, the Mute Xia had also finished up his meal. Ji Guangjie was about to pull out some money, but the Mute Xia took the bill. He pulled a small, very dirty cloth bundle out, inside of which were several pieces of silver and a few coppers. The Mute Xia stacked a bunch of it on the table, probably more than enough to cover the wine and the food. He then smiled at Ji Guangjie and pointed outside, his meaning being, “Let’s go!” Ji Guangjie felt that the Mute Xia really understood the way of friendship.
Thus, the two left the tavern, mounted their horses and continued east. After another thirtysome miles, they checked into an inn and rested. They awoke first thing the next day and traveled until noon, when they found another place to eat. The Mute Xia could not speak, but could do nothing but listen to him on everything. The Mute Xia was unworried and not in a hurry, but a flame often roared in Ji Guangjie’s heart. Though because he was depending on the Mute Xia’s help for when they arrived at Mount Wudang to face the Seven Great Sword Sages, he didn’t dare abandon the Mute Xia mid-journey.
After riding for three days, they arrived at Zhuxi, a county a little more than a hundred miles from Mount Wudang. With Ji Guangjie’s horse in front and the Mute Xia’s in the back, at the moment they entered the city, he suddenly heard someone behind them calling out loudly, “Ji Guangjie!” Ji Guangjie was startled and quickly turned around to look. He saw two horses approaching, one black and one white. On the black horse rode a large man in his twenties, and on the white sat a young pale-faced scholar. Ji Guangjie looked more closely and snorted, “Well, look at that! Li Fengjie, when we fought in Weinan, you escaped wounded, but it looks like you didn’t die, eh? How are you now? Want to give it another go?”
Li Fengjie’s horse drew nearer and he laughed, “When a man of Jianghu suffers a little injury, it doesn’t mean certain death, not to mention I only had a light sword wound in my ribs. If I’d died from that, then you, Ji Guangjie, wouldn’t have stood a chance with your injuries and dart wounds and long been dead by now!” Hearing this insult from Li Fengjie, Ji Guangjie immediately unsheathed his sword with a shink and glowered at Li Fengjie. Li Fengjie didn’t even flinch. He simply smiled and said, “There’s no need for that. Even if you stabbed me again with that sword, your reputation will never surpass that of Jiang Xiaohe.” Ji Guangjie continued to hold his sword and laughed grimly. Before he was done, the Mute Xia suddenly called out. Ji Guangjie quickly leapt off his horse and saw it simply stumble a couple paces and fall onto the ground.
It turned out that while Ji Guangjie was laughing with his sword out, the man riding the black horse next to Li Fengjie had already peeled off and made his way next to Ji Guangjie. A hammer was hanging below his saddle, with a handle two feet long and a round metal head about the size of a muskmelon. He quietly detached it and swung it at Ji Guangjie’s lower back. It was fortunate the Mute Xia cried out. Ji Guangjie was just able to dodge away, but the hammer struck the back of his horse. The Mute Xia laughed loudly with his two hands spread open, while Ji Guangjie twisted his sword and took a stab at Li Fengjie. Li Fengjie pulled his horse away, drew his own sword and dismounted his horse. The large man got off of his horse as well and swung his hammer brashly at Ji Guangjie, when Li Fengjie yelled sternly, “Stop!” to halt the large man. Ji Guangjie was too angry to speak. He lunged forward, brandishing his sword and hacked at Li Fengjie.
Li Fengjie parried Ji Guangjie’s sword with his own, as he waved his hand back and forth, saying, “Ji Guangjie, listen to me! It was not my intention to ambush you. It’s simply that man with me is a bit boorish. I am not afraid of you, but I do not want to fight you again. Those of us with skill should make our way to Mount Wudang. At this moment, Jiang Xiaohe is battling the Seven Great Sword Sages by himself. We ought to go and help him!” It wasn’t until Ji Guangjie heard this that he pulled his sword in and stepped back a couple paces.
There were by now not a small number of passersby who had stopped to watch the two men face each other. The Mute Xia sat on his horse laughing and gesturing, as if to say, “Go ahead and fight! Let me see which one of you has the greater skill!” Li Fengjie slipped his sword back in its scabbard and pushed to the side the large man who had come with him. He came over and patted Ji Guangjie on the shoulder, smiling while saying, “You know, it’s your fault. If you hadn’t drawn your sword first, this friend of mine wouldn’t have used his hammer on you. His name is Hu Erzheng. He’s here to protect me!” Ji Guangjie sneered, “Who could have thought that you hired a bodyguard?”
Li Fengjie sneered back at him, but didn’t reply. He only pointed at the Mute Xia, still atop his horse, and asked, “Who is that?” Ji Guangjie said, “That man is a mute. He’s Jiang Xiaohe’s disciple-brother. I’m taking him now to Mount Wudang to look for Jiang Xiaohe.” Li Fengjie laughed and patted Ji Guangjie’s shoulder again, saying, “So it looks like you need a bodyguard too, eh?” Ji Guangjie couldn’t help his face flushing red.
Li Fengjie walked over and cupped his fist at the mute. The Mute Xia did the same, dismounted his horse, and then mimed flying. Li Fengjie stared blankly, so Ji Guangjie came over and said, “He’s asking if you know Jiang Xiaohe or not.” Li Fengjie chuckled and nodded at the Mute Xia. The Mute Xia smiled. Li Fengjie then turned again to Ji Guangjie and said, “Why don’t you and I go into the city and find a place to drink some wine and talk. How about that?”
Ji Guangjie shook his head and said, “I am anxious to get to Mount Wudang with the Mute Xia and haven’t the time for a chat. If you really wish to be friends, then I ask you first to replace my horse!” Li Fengjie nodded and said, “With ease!” He turned around, went over and scolded Hu Erzheng sternly. Then he demanded Hu Erzheng’s horse from him and delivered it to Ji Guangjie. He even untied Ji Guangjie’s scabbard and brought it over himself. Ji Guangjie felt a bit self-conscious at this, so he asked Li Fengjie, “Let’s be off. How should we take care of the wounded horse? I’m thinking we should just sell it.”
Li Fengjie shook his head and said, “There’s no need. The horse will be able to recover. We can have Hu Erzheng wait for me here. When we’ve finished our business, we’ll be back to find him.” Thus, Li Fengjie went over and told Hu Erzheng, “Find an inn to stay at here! And take that horse to a veterinarian to get it healed up. Wait for me here in Zhuxi. Don’t leave no matter what! Once I’ve finished my business on Mount Wudang, I’ll return here and find you. You must not stir up any trouble in this place!”
Hu Erzheng audibly agreed to each directive. Li Fengjie left him some silvers, and then waved over at Ji Guangjie, saying, “Let’s go!” Ji Guangjie gestured to the Mute Xia, and the three of them all mounted their steeds. The three horses kicked up clouds of dust as they flew eastward. The onlookers formed a circle and laughed as they watched Hu Erzheng expended a great deal of strength to lift up the fallen, injured horse.