The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 20, Part 5

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 20, Part 5.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.


Old master Bao dared not stay in Bao Village a moment longer. He couldn’t face any more of his disciples, afraid that they would find out that he had returned to Zhenba and come to see him. At the same time the scene in front of him caused him sadness. Early on the second morning, when all was silent and before the dawn broke, everything was still quite dark, save for a few stars and thin drifting clouds in the sky. Old master Bao quietly departed from Bao Village by himself. The dim starlight shone upon old master Bao’s face. That snow white beard of his looked gray, and his two weary, old eyes were already hidden full of tears. The dewy morning wind blew by. He heard only the sound of his own footsteps and two or three roosters’ crows from the distance. Old master Bao harbored his painful emotions as he walked from near to far.

From here, old master Bao wandered from place to place aimlessly. He did not have the will to return to Zhenba or to go to Hanzhong, because his sons and disciples were all in Zhenba and Hanzhong. The Xia of Langzhong’s daughter-in-law Qin Xiaoxian was in Northern Sichuan. Old master Bao had no desire to see any of the people he once knew and was afraid of encountering Qin Xiaoxian. The old master Bao knew that if he did run into Qin Xiaoxian, she will not have let go of the hatred she bore over the death of her brother and would certainly fight him, so he roamed in and around Chang’an. From then on, the people of Jianghu knew not of Bao Kunlun’s whereabouts. Those who knew him figured that the old master Bao had been hounded to death by Jiang Xiaohe somewhere in the desolate mountains.

There was one instance when old master Bao felt his funds dwindling and he was afraid he would starve to death far from home, so he came to a small town, found a place where there were more people and put on a martial arts performance for money. Seeing an elderly man with white brow and beard at such an advanced age performing with a saber in hand stirred the curiosity of some bypassers and compelled them to surround him and watch.

Old master Bao used his Kunlun saber to run through a sequence of this blade techniques. The saber in his hand danced, suddenly high and then low, suddenly rising and then falling, so fast was it that people could hardly see it. His silver hair danced along with his saber, and the crowd of spectators on either side couldn’t help but shout, “Old man! What amazing bladework!” Hearing this, old master Bao reflexively recovered the determination of his youth and thought, I, Bao Kunlun, am not yet old and am not to be counted out. As long as I have a Kunlun saber in my hand, there is nothing I am afraid of. In the Jianghu of the present, there is only one Jiang Xiaohe who has surpassed me, Bao Kunlun. All others will fall under my blade.

As old master Bao thought this, he became so excited he forgot himself. It was then that a mule suddenly pushed its way through the crowd. Atop the mule was riding a woman holding a sword. Upon seeing the woman, old master Bao was taken aback, for it was the wife of the Xia of Langzhong’s son, sister of the child that he had killed that night in Yilong, Qin Xiaoxian. She had already gotten off the mule and now stood before the old master Bao. With sword in hand and an angry glare, she barred the way for old master Bao. She sneered at the old master and said, “Old man Bao! I would never have thought that I would meet you here. Now pay for my brother’s life with your own!” So saying, she swung her sword and thrust it at old master Bao. Old master Bao dodged it at once and hurriedly parried it with his Kunlun saber. His face had turned an ashen white.

Old master Bao knew that killing Qin Xiaoxiong had been unwarranted, and he also recognized now that Long Zhiqi had impersonated Jiang Xiaohe, so he felt great sorrow in his heart. Meeting Qin Xiaoxian again today, he knew that she would never let him go, so the old master Bao said nothing and put the Kunlun saber in his hand to full use. The crowd that surrounded them became more lively and shuffled away to watch from afar. The old man and the woman clashed here with a saber going this way and a sword going that, battling through twenty-some exchanges. Because old master Bao had long suffered anxiety and hardship and was advanced in his age, his spirit and vigor was diminishing gradually. Qin Xiaoxian, however, was growing bolder as they fought, because it was imperative that she avenge the long internalized the enmity of her brother’s murder. Thus, after another dozen exchanges or so, when she saw that old master Bao was having difficulty keeping up, Qin Xiaoxian took advantage of an opening in old master Bao’s saberwork and srabbed the old master in his left arm. The old master grit his teeth to endure the pain, and continued sparring with Qin Xiaoxian with his Kunlun saber. Seeing that she had cut the old master, Qin Xiaoxian worked viciously to give him another. In that critical moment, someone in the crowd of spectators surrounding them shouted, “Officers are coming! Officers are coming!” Thus, old master Bao and Qin Xiaoxian both stayed their hands. Old master Bao used this opportunity to dodge into the crowd and flee. Qin Xiaoxian dared not chase the old master down, so she quickly mounted her mule and left.

From then on, the injured and hungry old master Bao wandered from place to place as an impoverished vagrant. After suffering this setback, he gradually lost the will to survive. Later on, he came to Lushi and encountered Jiang Zhiyao and Lu Zhiyuan. Old master Bao was disheartened and lacked the desire to continue on, and on that day, he took advantage of a moment when both Liu Zhiyuan and Jiang Zhiyao were occupied with their business and quietly hanged himself off of a rafter.

At this point in his telling, Liu Zhiyuan shook his head with boundless regret and heaved a deep sigh, using his sleeve to wipe the tears forming at his eyes. Jiang Xiaohe listened to this and felt old master Bao’s death too tragic, feeling great remorse in his heart. Liu Zhiyuan said, “We’ve prepared his body for burial and just had him sent to Chang’an the day before yesterday. Yesterday, we had a service for him at the Wolong Temple. After another couple days, Ge Zhiqiang will bring men from Hanzhong to take the old man’s coffin back to his ancestral home, and then I’ll go back to Lushi and continue selling medicine. I lack the heart to continue eating this bowl of Jianghu rice! Even if I am starving, I refuse to eat of it! Brother Xiaohe, which way are you heading? With Aluan passed, I can help you make another match. In Lushi there’s a rich man looking to marry off his daughter. They’re looking for a strong and capable man. I encourage you to hurry and change your line of work!” Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and cupped his fist, saying, “Farewell!” He mounted his horse, shook his whip and left.

With a brow of worry unyielding the entire way, the dust of travel rolled on as he headed to Yishi to see his brother Jiang Xiaolu. Jiang Xiaolu was now grown and looked not dissimilar to Jiang Xiaohe, just a little bit younger. He was experienced in business, and when the two of them saw each other, everyone was extremely happy and Jiang Xiaolu kept asking about things that had passed. Jiang Xiaolu had been very young when Jiang Zhisheng was killed, and he was later sold over to Yishi, so he wanted to know all about what had happened. However, Jiang Xiaohe was unwilling to tell of these affairs to his brother, simply encouraging him to put his heart into his work and to always strive to be a good person. That was the best way to honor their parents in the Nine Springs. Jiang Xiaolu agreed, and thereafter, every time that Jiang Xiaohe went to Yishi, he would always stay a few days. He bid his brother farewell, and then turned south, intending to return to Mount Jiuhua to see his master.

One day, Jiang Xiaohe was in a cheerful mood, as he traveled along a road that was very near to Mount Jiuhua. But when he caught sight of willow trees by the side of the road, worry clouded his thoughts once more. It was as if he saw a pretty girl under the willows, stamping her foot and shouting, “Xiaohe! Xiaohe! My kite’s caught in the tree and I can’t get it down. Climb up and get it for me.” Suddenly, he seemed to hear the sound of baleful weeping. The girl under the tree had grown up, her thick hair unkempt and her body covered in blood. She called out, “Xiaohe! Hold me! Let me die in your arms!” Jiang Xiaohe’s heart became twisted with sorrow and he drove his horse to hurry on. But in a flash, he saw nothing but the soft willows, bending under the wind as if sobbing in the draft.

Jiang Xiaohe couldn’t help his face of misery, letting out a long sigh of bottomless regret as he sat atop his horse. He hated himself for acting excessively, driving Aluan to suffer from her love and hatred until she died of wounds from his own sword. Jiang Xiaohe involuntarily shed tears once again. He was about to fish out the piece of bark he’d cut from the willow tree at Bao Village when all of a sudden, a man dressed as a Daoist priest came charging furiously right at him from a bend just in front of a forest. Just as he was feeling surprise, he watched as the man dressed as a Daoist pulled a glimmering sword from his roll and stood in Jiang Xiaohe’s path.

When Jiang Xiaohe’s horse came within several feet of this man, Jiang Xiaohe stopped. Jiang Xiaohe took a closer look from atop his horse and felt the man familiar, as if he had met this man somewhere before. During this hesitation, the Daoist sneered and said, “Jiang Xiaohe, do you still remember me? We must settle an old debt from Mount Wudang. You killed my good friend, the nun Daocheng, and caused me to be punished by the old master Yu Xuanqing. It is essential that I kill you today, Jiang Xiaohe, so you can pay for what you have done to me!” So saying, he brandished his sword and slashed savagely at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe jumped off his horse and drew the sword from his horse and met him move for move. A fight erupted between the two on this road, neither allowing the other quarter.

This was none other than the one Jiang Xiaohe had met on Mount Wudang, Lü Chongyan of the Seven Great Sword Sages. Lü Chongyan had despised that Jiang Xiaohe had discovered his relationship to the Daoist nun Daocheng, and thus had tried to give him a convincing yet false location for her whereabouts that time on Mount Wudang, hoping to trick Jiang Xiaohe into going far, far away. Who could have known he would arouse Jiang Xiaohe’s suspicion? He had then lured Jiang Xiaohe to Taixuan Temple on Zixiao Peak, hoping to rely on the old master Yu Xuanqing’s martial arts to kill Jiang Xiaohe. Instead, Jiang Xiaohe revealed Lü Chongyan’s secret in the presence of Yu Xuanqing.

Lü Chongyan had wanted to kill Jiang Xiaohe then, but due to Yu Xuanqing’s interference, he could not, and then later the Mute Xia, Ji Guangjie and Li Fengjie had hurried to Mount Wudang and decided to fight Yu Xuanqing, agreeing that if the Mute Xia triumphed over Yu Xuanqing, he would release Jiang Xiaohe and allow the Mute Xia and the others to search the mountain. Who could have thought that Jiang Xiaohe would’ve escaped that night and unintentionally come upon the nun Daocheng, killing her? Yu Xuanqing was then defeated by the Mute Xia and agreed to punish Lü Chongyan. How could they have expected that Lü Chongyan would take advantage of the fight on the mountain between Yu Xuanqing and the Mute Xia, to slip away quietly before anyone would notice and escape? However, he had himself in a cave on the mountain, daring not to flee down the mountain, because Lü Chongyan was afraid of encountering the Daoists of the mountain. If he was detected by one of them, leaving would no longer be an easy task.

Two nights had passed before he fled Mount Wudang. He headed directly south in search of Jiang Xiaohe. Because he was certain that Jiang Xiaohe would return to Mount Jiuhua to see his master the elderly gentleman, if he did not kill him now and waited until he went back to Mount Jiuhua, then it would be much more difficult to do so. Jiang Xiaohe’s martial arts were already this powerful. If he were to study another year, he would be even harder to face. Lü Chongyan had become more and more impatient as he considered this. He thought of Daocheng and intensified his hatred of Jiang Xiaohe. He hated that he couldn’t immediately see Jiang Xiaohe and battle him, and take revenge for Daocheng!

He traveled all day and lodged at night, constantly asking those on the road about Jiang Xiaohe’s whereabouts, but Jiang Xiaohe was nowhere to be found. This caused Lü Chongyan a great deal of anxiety. In fact, at this time Jiang Xiaohe and Ji Guangjie were following this brother the Mute Xia to the home of Intendant Yan in Chengkou to see Aluan. Because of Aluan’s death, Jiang Xiaohe had delayed in returning to Mount Jiuhua. In addition, he had also wanted to return to Zhenba to see his mother and pay his respects to his late father Jiang Zhisheng. It was thus that Lü Chongyan was unable to encounter him.

Lü Chongyan headed directly south, his intention to pursue Jiang Xiaohe on his way to Mount Jiuhua. Later on, he’d discovered that Jiang Xiaohe had gone to see his brother Jiang Xiaolu and it wouldn’t be long before he returned to Mount Jiuhua, so he doubled his pace southward and drew close to Mount Jiuhua before he knew it. Lü Chongyan dared not be too close to Mount Jiuhua, for fear that he would encounter the Mute Xia or the elderly gentleman. He could only lie in wait at the side of a nearby road, hoping to run into Jiang Xiaohe.

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