The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 20, Part 6.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
At midday one particular day, Lü Chongyan was walking slowly in front of the mountain when he heard the sound of hooves coming from the distance. Before long, he could see a gallant figure riding atop a horse with a dark, valiant, young face. He squinted to look and it was none other than the enemy he was searching for, Jiang Xiaohe. When he saw his nemesis, his eyes went red with fury, as he pulled out his sword and stood in Jiang Xiaohe’s way, thrusting at him viciously with his sword. Jiang Xiaohe saw that his sword technique was powerful and dared not take him lightly, so he drew his sword and went to meet him, yelling angrily, “I see it is the Daoist brigand, Lü Chongyan. I’d thought the old master Yu Xuanqing would have executed you by now, so what are you doing all the way over here? Who could have thought that one such as you who have violated the rules of the Three Pure Ones’ disciples would dare to threaten me? I will assist master Sanfeng in educating a savage Daoist like you!” After Jiang Xiaohe finished, he revealed more and more of his sword moves, while Lü Chongyan’s swordwork became more and more ruthless with every attack. The two swords flipped upwards and downwards, like a pair of dancing dragons.
Jiang Xiaohe saw that Lü Chongyan was going all out in his attacks and knew that his intention was to send Jiang Xiaohe to his death, so he dared not underestimate him, unleashing all the martial arts that he had ever learned. They fought bitterly for twenty-some exchanges, but still no one came out on top. The glint of the swords became tighter and tighter and the moves grew more and more vicious. At this time, Jiang Xiaohe hastily changed his tactics and revealed techniques he’d learned from the Mute Xia when he’d come down the mountain. It slowly became harder for Lü Chongyan to keep up until his swordwork was in disarray and he wanted to retreat into the forest. Lü Chongyan was soon to be cut down by Jiang Xiaohe when suddenly someone sprinted down the road toward them, shouting as he ran, “Benefactor Jiang, I ask for your mercy!”
When this person approached, Jiang Xiaohe looked and saw that he was a man just over fifty years, wearing Daoist robes. It was another of the Seven Great Sword Sages of Mount Wudang, Ma Xuantao. Jiang Xiaohe stayed his hand and stepped to one side. Ma Xuantao came near and bowed to Jiang Xiaohe. At the sight of Ma Xuantao coming, Lü Chongyan’s face drained of color and he immediately took off for the forest. Seeing Lü Chongyan trying to get away, he sprung forward and bounded after Lü Chongyan, hollering, “Lü Chongyan, do not even think of fleeing! Your retribution comes today. If I let you escape, then my name is not Ma!” As he said this, he caught up with him. Ma Xuantao raised his right hand and pressed on the pressure points on Lü Chongyan’s back. Lü Chongyan let out a yelp and fell over onto the ground. Jiang Xiaohe had also run over.
Ma Xuantao said to Jiang Xiaohe, “Benefactor Jiang, we truly apologize. I am here at the command of the old Daoist master to capture Lü Chongyan. Lü Chongyan took advantage of the moment master Yu Xuanqing was locked in combat to escape. When we realized this had happened, he had vanished without a trace. When master Yu Xuanqing discovered this, he was furious, as he believed that the recent troubles that befell Mount Wudang were all brought on by this man. Thus, he sent me and Zhang Xuanhai to descend the mountain and capture Lü Chongyan at any cost and bring him back. This was the only way to redeem Mount Wudang’s honor. It is my hope that benefactor Jiang will accept our entreaty and allow me to take Lü Chongyan back with me.”
After listening to Ma Xuantao, Jiang Xiaohe thought, That’s fine. I have grown weary of Jianghu. I do not wish to kill anymore. At the same time, I need to hurry back to Mount Jiuhua to see my master the elderly gentleman. Since Ma Xuantao has come to take care of this, it will spare me the trouble. Thus, he smiled at Ma Xuantao and said, “Daoist Ma, I never had the intention to kill him, but I did want to punish his wantonness. As Daoist Ma now wants to take Lü Chongyan back to Mount Wudang for the sake of your honor, then I cannot stand in your way. I leave him for you to deal with!”
Ma Xuantao bowed to Jiang Xiaohe once more, saying, “My gratitude! May we meet again!” So saying, he got up immediately and undid his belt. He bound Lü Chongyan with it and released his pressure points. Lü Chongyan remained silent with his head down. Defeated and dispirited, he was at the mercy of Ma Xuantao. Before they left, Lü Chongyan turned back to send a ferocious glare at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe simply smiled as he walked to his horse. He put his sword back in its scabbard, hopped onto his horse and swung his whip, galloping forward. He hurried back to see his elderly master.
The entire journey was wearying and full of worry, but before long he returned to Mount Jiuhua. When his master saw him, he did not say much, only encouraging him not to descend the mountain any longer and to focus on his martial arts study here. Thus, Jiang Xiaohe lived on the mountain. His master had a dozen or so secret manuals on swordwork, fist technique and dianxue, all of which were compiled from his own research and study. He told Jiang Xiaohe to train using them and to illustrate them book by book for the Mute Xia to look at. The yearly income from the hundreds of tea bushes planted on the mountain was enough to support the lives of the three of them, master and disciples. Other than spending all day reading, illustrating, shadow boxing, performing sword drills, climbing the mountain and crossing mountain streams, Jiang Xiaohe also cared for the tea bushes alongside the Mute Xia. Besides picking tea leaves and selling them every spring, he never descended the mountain. After five years had passed, the elderly gentleman passed away from illness on the mountain. Jiang Xiaohe and the Mute Xia buried their master. Jiang Xiaohe left the mountain once to go to Yishi to see his brother and then to the Bao homestead to burn paper money for Aluan under the big willow tree. Futhermore, he went to Langzhong to see the Xia of Langzhong and then followed the Great River east until he returned to Mount Jiuhua. From then on, he left the mountain once every third year to trace this same path every time. He was now no longer called Jiang Xiaohe, having changed his name to the “Southern Crane.”
The renowned heroes of Jianghu at this time: there was Ji Guangjie in the north; across Henan and Anhui, it was Yang Gongjiu the Xia of Ruzhou, who had once been a guard at the Gu household in Zhengyang; there was Lu Zhizhong in Shaanxi, and Xu Yanyun in Northern Sichuan; and across Jiangnan, Li Fengjie’s name rang loudest. Since Li Fengjie had been a disciple of the famed Dragon of Shu, his sword skill was only a mite inferior to that of Ji Guangjie. But because he was an aide to some general in Anqing over the past several years and lived somewhat close to Mount Jiuhua, he often ascended the mountain to ask his sworn brother the Southern Crane to train him in the martial arts and thus he became even more proficient in swordwork. It was inevitable then that he left his aide’s post and brought righteousness to Jiangnan, coming to the assistance of all those in trouble. All the injustice that the Southern Crane witnessed, he asked Li Fengjie to take care of in his stead, and through this he won much exhaltation. No one dared to provoke him. He roamed across Jianghu, never staying anywhere long, just like his master had done before him.
After another decade, the Mute Xia once descended the mountain for a journey, but did not return after a year had passed. The Southern Crane descended the mountain as well and traveled everywhere in search of his brother-disciple. Deep in the mountains and over famous peaks, across long rivers and aside great lakes, he searched for years but did not find the whereabouts of the Mute Xia. By this time, Ji Guangjie had already faded away in the north, and Yang Gongjiu had become an invalid after being injured in a fight and also withdrawn from the world. Lu Zhizhong had passed away and one of the new members of the Kunlun School was Lu Zhizhong’s son Lu Zhenfei. In Northern Sichuan, Xu Jianhao, grandson of the Xia of Langzhong and son of Xu Yanyun, was quite worthy to succeed the fame of his grandfather. Li Fengjie had now settled on the banks of Poyang Lake and took pleasure in tilling the earth and reading books. The only one left winding his way through Jianghu was the Southern Crane’s old friend, once called Yuan Jingyuan from the Yuan farmstead, but later becoming the chan master Jingxuan.
Days became months, and the Southern Crane became ever more adept in the martial arts, though he never used them frivolously. Because of the trauma of his childhood and the grief of his middle age, by the time he was sixty the hair on his temples was white as snow. Those who recognized him in Jianghu were already calling him an “aged xia.” He was old enough now that his tragic love history from thirty years past had long been forgotten by most people, but every third year, he would still go to Zhenba to burn paper money. By this time, the roads through Zhenba city and the surrounding countryside had changed. The big willow tree had already withered up and died and become firewood for people, but the Southern Crane would forever keep his antique piece of bark tucked close to his heart. His brother who did business in Yishi county, Shanxi had passed away and his brother’s children were all grown. He would often go to pay them visits. He would also sometimes go to Li Fengjie’s house by Poyang Lake to speak of matters past, swing their swords about, or drift on the lake with Li Fengjie and his son.
Li Fengjie’s wife Chen-shi was the wild vegetable-foraging woman that Li Fengjie had saved once upon a time on Mount Song. She had been married to Li Fengjie for thirty years and given birth to three children, none of whom survived to adulthood because life had been hard when their father spent all his time roaming Jianghu. It wasn’t until her later years that she bore another child, a son called Mubai. When Li Fengjie named his child, he had intended for him to become a scholar, never to engage in martial skill, so after his birth, Li Fengjie withdrew completely from Jianghu.
One year an expected plague struck Jiangnan and Li Fengjie and his wife both caught a severe illness. The Southern Crane had come by happenstance and invited a doctor in to treat them, but it had no effect. Li Fengjie entrusted his son to his sworn brother. Li Mubai had but eight years. Li Fengjie told him, “Brother, it looks as though my wife and I have a sickness we may not recover from. It is my intention to give my child over for you to foster. Or else, I ask that you take him to my brother Li Fengqing’s place. My brother works the land in our hometown of Nangong. One could say that he is moderately rich.” Sure enough, Li Fengjie and his wife were not able to escape this calamity. After the Southern Crane buried the husband and wife by the lake, he thought to himself, I spend all my time roaming about. I cannot properly look after this child, so I’ll bring Li Mubai to be raised by his uncle. At that time, the Southern Crane had no intention for Li Mubai to eventually learn martial arts.
After another several years had passed, the chan master Jingxuan was now living in seclusion at Jiangxin Temple in Dangtu. Robbers and bandits had arisen en masse in Jianghu, who knew a few fists and kicks and relied on them to mistreat people. The Southern Crane used his renown to suppress the petty crowds everywhere, but in the end, he thought that he was getting too old. If he didn’t find a successor, he would be letting these robbers run wild, and who knows how many people would suffer because of it. One day, he found himself in the Qin Mountains once more, when a white horse galloped his way. The man on the horse looked to be around the same age as he, but he was clean-shaven and short yet lively, as if he was still in the prime of his years. It turned out to be Ji Guangjie.
Ji Guangjie’s sword clacked against his metal stirrups as his horse galloped over across rocks and stones. He said, “Jiang Xiaohe, it’s been many years since we’ve met! Are you still alive? Do you want to give it a go? It’s a pity that Aluan isn’t here to fight over!” The Southern Crane fluttered his white whiskers and sighed ruefully, “Why do you still bring up the matters of our youth now? What has happened to you these last few decades?” Ji Guangjie said, “I’m doing better than you! I’m not still a bachelor to this day. I got married and my sons are now older than you were when you stormed Mount Wudang. I gave them all farms to tend and then left them alone. I’ve been roaming the world these past several years. I went to Mongolia, Tibet, Guangdong, and now I’m on my way back from Yunnan.”
The Southern Crane said, “Where are you headed now? Are you returning home?” Ji Guangjie narrowed his eyes and said, “Return home for what? Do you think men like us can be old geezers at home? I’m out here because all of my sons or grandsons are inept. None of them can continue the Longmen School of my ancestors, so I want to find a young disciple in Jianghu. I want to instruct him in martial arts so he’ll become even more powerful than you.” The Southern Crane said, “It just so happens that I have the son of a late friend who’s currently in Nangong. You can find him and take him as your disciple.” Ji Guangjie said, “Whose son? I refuse to teach the son of the Mute Xia. I still hate that mute bastard.” The Southern Crane said, “It’s been long since my mute brother disappeared without a trace. He was older than me, so he may not be of this world anymore. The young man I speak of is from the Li family, named Mubai. He is Li Fengjie’s son. Right now he’s in the care of his uncle Li Fengqing.”
Ji Guangjie stared into the distance for a good moment and suddenly recalled that time so many decades ago in Chang’an when the two xia challenged each other for supremacy. He couldn’t help but sigh wistfully before smiling and nodding, “Alright! As long as I accept disciples, I will not disappoint him. Until we meet again!” Thus the two of them cupped their fists at each other, and Ji Guangjie raised his whip and rode off. The Southern Crane continued to roam Jianghu.
After a few more years, it was said that Ji Guangjie died from illness in Nangong, though Li Mubai had studied the martial arts and his reputation rang throughout the capital. Thereupon the Southern Crane traveled to Beijing several times. It was also known that at that time, Yang Gongjiu was living outside of the capital’s Yongding Gate, working as a flower vendor, and in his household, he was raising a grandson and two granddaughters.
The saga continues in Treasured Sword, Golden Hairpin.