The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 20, Part 2.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
Aside from Jiang Xiaohe, none of the others watching the swords could completely perceive everything with their eyes. However, Jiang Xiaohe’s urge to fight had dissipated somewhat. He could tell that the swordwork of the old Daoist Yu Xuanqing was a level above his own. He was even less able to compare to his brother the Mute Xia’s sword skill. Ji Guangjie came over and pressed him on, saying, “Why are you watching them match swords? Go! Help me find my wife! Aluan was saved by you in the Qin Mountains. You cannot abandon her now!” He tugged forcefully on Jiang Xiaohe, but Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, “Do not be hasty! We will be able to find Aluan!” Ji Guangjie held out a fist and said angrily, “If you know where she is, then you best tell me now. I’ll go find her myself. When I do, I’m going to ask her if she is married to you, or if she’s married to me. If she has indeed agreed to marry you, then I, Ji Guangjie, fully offer her to you. As the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, I will pursue her no further!”
Before Jiang Xiaohe could respond, they heard cries of surprise coming from all of those nearby. A victor in the battle between swordsmen had finally been decided. Yu Xuanqing was being held up by several of his disciples. Fresh blood was coming from his left shoulder and had stained red his frost-like beard. The Mute Xia held his sword with a smile, shook his two arms and ran over to his brother-disciple as if flying over the ground.
Ma Xuantao came over and said to Li Fengjie, “As was stated clearly just now, if our old master was defeated, you would be allowed to search the mountain, so you may do so now. We will not stand in your way!” Li Fengjie turned to Jiang Xiaohe and asked him his opinion. Jiang Xiaohe said, “I have already finished Daocheng behind the mountain. She told me that Aluan had already been rescued by my mute brother.” Li Fengjie said, “How do we get that information from him?” Jiang Xiaohe was about to sign to him, but the Mute Xia was already miming blowing trumpets and beating drums, and pretending to be a bashful newlywed woman, and then he pointed west. He pulled at his brother and started off.
But Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said to Ma Xuantao, “We know where my wife is now.” Ji Guangjie looked at him fuming. Jiang Xiaohe then continued, “Please go to the people living behind the mountain to look at Daocheng’s body! And you can ask them about Lü Chongyan. If you continue to harbor men of his ilk here on your mountain, I guarantee there will be others arriving at the mountain to stir things up sooner or later!”
Ma Xuantao said, “Lü Chongyan has brought trouble to this mountain. Our old master will surely punish him!” Jiang Xiaohe laughed grimly, “Good, then I rely on your honor. Until we meet again!” The Mute Xia led him urgently down the mountain, and Ji Guangjie and Li Fengjie followed closely behind. When the Mute Xia pressed on too quickly and none of the three were able to keep up with him, Ji Guangjie cursed angrily at the Mute Xia. After traversing across the mountains for a while, they came to the base of the mountain and unhitched the three horses they had tied up to the tree before. The Mute Xia pushed Jiang Xiaohe onto Ji Guangjie’s horse and then hopped onto his own horse, ready to leave. Ji Guangjie quickly caught up with them and took hold of Jiang Xiaohe, saying, “The one named Jiang! We do not have a problem here. I am all right with letting go of Aluan, but let us make things clear first before you depart!”
Jiang Xiaohe quickly waved his hand at the Mute Xia and dismounted the horse. He took a deep breath and then let out a long sigh. Li Fengjie led his white horse over and said, “I encountered Brother Ji at Zhuxi and the two of us turned from enemies to friends. He told me as well that while he and Bao Aluan did have a wedding, they never consummated the marriage, so I urged him. If she would rather be with Brother Jiang, that it would be best for him to stand aside!” Ji Guangjie said, “It will be nothing for me to stand aside, but I would like to see Aluan and hear it from her!” Jiang Xiaohe said, “Then let us borrow the use of Fengjie’s horse and go with my brother together!”
Li Fengjie handed his horse over to Ji Guangjie and said to Jiang Xiaohe, “Sworn brother Jiang, after we parted ways under Mount Song in the spring, I married. Now my humble wife and Hu Erzheng’s esteemed mother are both living in the city of Dengfeng. This time, I brought Hu Erzheng to Chang’an, across the Qin Mountains and through Hanzhong, firstly to track my sworn brother down, and secondly to do some sightseeing in these many places. The three of you should go and see the young lady Bao now. I’m going to go back to Zhuxi to meet Hu Erzheng and return with him back to Dengfeng. Brother Jiang, I hope that on this journey you will face all matters with generosity, and not let emotions cloud your judgment, nor should you allow sorrow to overpower you. And Brother Ji must regard the righteousness of Jianghu as paramount!”
Jiang Xiaohe sighed and cupped his fist, saying, “Rest assured, brother! I, Jiang Xiaohe, am an open and straightforward man, incapable of shameless acts. Aluan was good to me, but she was unambiguous about this. She and Brother Ji were wed, so up until now she will still be Brother Ji’s wife until he declares otherwise!” When he said this, though his words were impassioned, they actually pained him inside. The Mute Xia waved his arms around again and urged them on, “Ah! Ah!” Li Fengjie cupped his fist as well and said, “Please, my two honorable brothers! I invite you visit my place in Dengfeng in future where we can gather again and talk awhile!” Jiang Xiaohe and Ji Guangjie both mounted their horses and held their fists toward Li Fengjie. The Mute Xia had already spurred his horse into a gallop, so Jiang Xiaohe and Ji Guangjie had no choice but to hurry behind. It was thus the three horses kicked up dust past Mount Wudang and headed to the west.
The Mute Xia led them on horseback without stopping for so much as a breath. The Mute Xia had clear intentions to knock Ji Guangjie back and leave him behind. His meaning was, “Why are you coming with us? Do you want to see my brother’s wife as well?” Ji Guangjie fumed with anger and he often wanted to draw his sword, but Jiang Xiaohe would come between them and say to him, “Brother Ji! Please restrain yourself for now. We will sort this out when we see Aluan. I promise that I, Jiang Xiaohe, will be worthy Aluan!”
Ji Guangjie knit his brow tightly in distress. He said, “It is not an issue for me whether I am married to Aluan or not. I just want to ask Bao Kunlun that if he knew that his granddaughter had mixed around with you when you were younger, why didn’t he say anything about this to me earlier? Why did he use a honey trap to trick me into traveling all this distance for him, braving all these dangers, suffering all these wounds, and offending all these friends? I, Ji Guangjie, have been made foolish at his whims. Haven’t I become nothing but a madman?” He continued, “The one named Jiang, I can give you my wife, that’s fine. But I must ask her one thing. When we were trapped in Hu Li’s mountain lair, she told me that we would be husband and wife in the land of shades. I need to ask her, since neither of us are dead, are we still husband and wife? If she is a false and unsentimental woman, then I, Ji Guangjie, will wipe my hands of her and leave, because it was I who was blind, who was the fool. It was I who has disappointed my forebear the Xia of Longmen!”
Jiang Xiaohe knit his brow as well, but could say nothing. He felt that the situation at this point was truly hard to resolve. He was unable to sever the love bond between man and woman, but how could he then also violate the code of Jianghu? He wracked his brains for a solution the entire journey, feeling great anxiety in his heart. Ahead of them, the Mute Xia was impatient. He turned around and “Ahhh!” pressed Jiang Xiaohe to go faster while shaking his whip at Ji Guangjie to shoo him away. He glared a bit unreasonably, as if he was saying, “Go away! Why are you following us? What’s my brother’s wife got to do with you?” There were several times that it almost came to arms between Ji Guangjie and the Mute Xia, but fortunately Jiang Xiaohe was there to break it up before anything really started.
They were on the road for more than two days before finally arriving at Intendent Yan’s farmstead in Chengkou. The Mute Xia was ecstatic. He tugged Jiang Xiaohe down from his horse and rubbed his head. Ji Guangjie dismounted as well, and the Mute Xia walked over to give him a kick. Ji Guangjie swept the ground and drew out his sword, glaring furiously, saying, “Little mute! You’ve mistreated me too much!” He drew a cross on the ground and spit, stamping his feet vigorously. He did this to insult the way the Mute Xia communicated. The Mute Xia was incensed. His eyes widened as he reached to draw his own sword to take on Ji Guangjie.
Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly grabbed hold of the Mute Xia’s shoulder and waved his hand urgently, saying at the same time, “Stand down! What is there to fight about?” The Mute Xia glowered and shouted loudly. A few people came out of the farmstead and someone called out, “Ah, the mute fellow, you’re back! Hurry and go see. You’ll understand when you see. Our old landlord is expecting you!” Someone spoke to him in signs, twisting this way and that and rolling their eyes about.
The Mute Xia saw this and was immediately stunned. “Ah!” he cried out in alarm and ran into the farmstead. Jiang Xiaohe followed him in, while Ji Guangjie walked angrily into the farmstead as well with sword in hand. The old landlord Yan held a cane in his hand and a look of concern on his face. He asked of Jiang Xiaohe and Ji Guangjie, “Which one of you is the brother of this mute xia?” Jiang Xiaohe held his fist and said, “I am his brother, Jiang Xiaohe.” Old landlord Yan then asked, “Is the young lady Bao your lingzheng?” Jiang Xiaohe did not know what lingzheng meant, so he said, “The young lady Bao and I are from the same village. Is she nursing her wounds here right now?” The old landlord sighed, “Her wounds were too severe. On the second evening after the mute xia left from here, the young lady died of her injuries!” Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe stamped his feet vehemently and his tears fell like rain. [Note: Lingzheng is a polite, deferential way to refer to another’s wife.]
Standing next to him, Ji Guangjie had an expression of utter misery. He grit his teeth and asked, “Old landlord, has she been buried yet? The old landlord said, “Not yet, but we have prepared her for the coffin. The three of you can go and see.” Ji Guangjie heaved a long sigh and nodded, “Alright, let’s have a look!” With the old landlord and a few of his servants leading Jiang Xiaohe and Ji Guangjie, they walked slowly with heads down and brows knit under a heavy silence. The Mute Xia was nearby in a daze. He couldn’t hear them, but he knew what they were talking about from their expressions.
When the Mute Xia had left Aluan to look for Jiang Xiaohe on Mount Wudang, old landlord Yan had come himself to Aluan’s room and found her with a deathly pale face, her brows in a knot, and moaning continuously. Old landlord Yan kindheartedly walked to Aluan’s couch and said, “Young woman! What’s happened to you?” Aluan opened her eyes just slightly and saw the kindly old man with frost-like hair and beard and a cane in his hand, much like the old grandfather of hers that had been forced from his home. She couldn’t help the ache in her heart. It was a moment before she groaned softly and said, “Thank you!” Old landlord Yan said, “It looks to me like your injury anything but light. How did this happen to you?” Aluan didn’t tell him much, but said, “I was wounded by a bandit woman before fortune had me encounter the mute xia, who brought me back to life!” Old landlord Yan couldn’t help sighing, “This bandit was too heartless. How about this? Wait and I shall invite a doctor here to heal your wounds. Please believe that everything will be fine!” So saying, the old landlord Yan instructed a servant to find a doctor who specialized in healing lacerations to diagnose and treat Aluan.
But because Aluan’s injuries were very deep, and at Jiuxian Abbey on Cloudperch Ridge, the nun Daocheng had tied her up very roughly, combined with the fact that she had been jostled and jolted while traveling for days on the road, her wounds had already gotten much worse than before and she had lost a great amount of blood. Adding to that her recent anxious thinking, both her body and her spirit were beyond completely exhausted. Thus, though she had been treated with medicine for blade wounds, it was not able to reduce her pain and she became worse with every passing day.
That night, Aluan’s pain gradually intensified. She felt a fever overtake her body and her consciousness had already become a bit muddled. She didn’t want to eat the rice porridge that the servant woman brought to her. She wished only to lay down quietly on her own. And so she couldn’t help the random thoughts in her head. She thought of living in Zhenba ten years ago and the innocent feelings she and Jiang Xiaohe had together. And then she thought of the sincere moment when Jiang Xiaohe, in front of her sickbed at Jiuxian Abbey on Cloudperch Ridge, wanted to hurry to Plaguetown under the starry night to hire a wagon to take her away. She forgot the pain in her chest and wanted more than anything for the Mute Xia to be able to find Jiang Xiaohe and bring him back, to tell him about the bitterness of ten years of yearning and that after she was better, she wanted to go together with Jiang Xiaohe somewhere far away from here and marry.
But then she thought that this might not be altogether possible. She did not hold any feelings for Ji Guangjie, but they had had a wedding ceremony together. Not only was Ji Guangjie nominally my husband, but he had been truly honorable when it came to our Kunlun School. Could I really so easily turn my back on Ji Guangjie to go and marry Jiang Xiaohe? She knew that if she married Jiang Xiaohe, not only would her old grandfather and father never forgive her, but she would also bring shame to their Kunlun School on Jianghu and ridicule to Jiang Xiaohe! She started feeling miserable again. The worse she felt, the harder it became to think up any good outcomes. She didn’t know what path she ought to walk and could do nothing but weep inconsolably. Every time she jerked, her wound would hurt like she had been stabbed anew. Aluan grit her teeth to bear the pain. She made an attempt to drive away her worries, so she could rest peacefully, but there was nothing she tried that worked. It was in this way that Aluan spent the night in the torment of groaning, suffering and misery.
On the next day, when the old landlord Yan came to Aluan’s room, she had fallen into a stupor. Nearly comatose, even her moans had become faint. Seeing Aluan’s pained and pitiful face, old landlord Yan couldn’t keep from shedding old tears. He came to Aluan’s bed and shouted, “Young lady! Young lady! What’s happening to you?” But the Bao Aluan of the present seemed not to have even the energy to open her eyes. He could hear only soft moaning and a quiet calling out, “Xiaohe! …Xiaohe!” She did this for a while until even this bit of whisper became no more.
Old landlord Yan knew then that Aluan had left the mortal world, her soul returned to the heavens. He couldn’t help stamping his feet and giving a long sigh. He stood standing blankly before Aluan’s body for a while but couldn’t think of what to do. Then he thought, Since we have now fallen to this outcome, there is nothing more to do. We can only prepare Aluan’s body for burial and wait for the mute xia and her husband to arrive before making any further plans! Thus, he instructed his servants to prepare a coffin and change Aluan into proper funereal garb. She and her coffin were placed inside an earthen hut as they dared not bury her.
Now with the Mute Xia and Jiang Xiaohe both returned, the old landlord brought them to the eastern side of the courtyard wall, where there were two earthen huts. Inside was set up a sacrificial table upon which there was a censer and candle holders, as well as a couple plates of cold food, and set flat behind the table was a coffin. The old landlord directed his servants to uncover the coffin, and they saw Aluan’s body laying inside. She had been changed into a new, embroidered dress of red satin. She was even wearing new shoes and her hair had been combed neatly. Her eyes were open a sliver though her eyes were frozen in place. Her eyebrows were faintly knitted, carrying the feeling of worry. Her lips were almost closed, her teeth were closed tightly. Her appearance maintained the beautiful profile of her youth. Jiang Xiaohe’s heart twisted itself in distress. His two legs went soft and he could stand no longer. He fell onto his knees before the coffin and convulsed with cries of bitterness.