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HomeJin YongFox Volant of the Snowy Mountain

Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain

Introduction

Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain, also known as Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain, is a wuxia novel by Jin Yong.

The novel has a prequel, The Young Flying Fox, which was released in 1960. Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain is one of Jin Yong’s shortest novels, with only 10 chapters. The chapters are labeled in numerical order, instead of Jin Yong’s typical style of using a short phrase or duilian as a chapter’s heading. Of all the wuxia works by the author, this novel has the latest historical setting chronologically, in the late 18th-century Qing Dynasty.

Chapter One: Casket

An arrow came whistling from the col to the east; it cut through the sky and sunk deep into the neck of a wild goose in mid-flight. The great bird, with the arrow still in its neck, spun a few times in the air before falling to the snow-covered ground.

A few hundred yards to the west, four horses could be seen galloping through the glistening snow. Hearing the sound of the arrow, the riders reined in their steeds which were fine, sturdily-built beasts. The four riders were thrilled at seeing the wild goose shot down. They wished to discover who it was who had fired the arrow.

They waited.

There was no sign of a human soul on the col, only the sound of horses’ hooves. The archer had simply vanished. One of the riders, a tall, thin, old man of agile and brave bearing, frowned, then spurred his horse on towards the col. The other three followed closely behind. They sped towards the other side of the mountain. About half a mile further on, five horses were galloping headlong, their hooves churning up the snow and their grey manes waving in the wind. There was no chance of catching up with them. The old man signaled to the others to halt. “Brother Fortune,” he said. “Something sinister is in the air. We must be on the alert.”

Brother Fortune was an old man too, but more heavily built, and with a mustache that tapered at both ends. He was dressed in the pelt of a marten and had the distinguished bearing of a wealthy merchant. He nodded at the thin man’s words and wheeled his horse around to where the wild goose lay. He brandished his whip and cracked it across the snowy ground. The big bird was lifted from the ground by the tip of the thong. He held the arrow in his left hand and examined it.

He gave a cry.

Hearing it, the other three set spurs to their horses and came to him. Brother Fortune thrust the wild goose, with the arrow still in its body, towards the old man.

“See, Brother Valour!” he shouted.

The thin old man held out his left hand and took the bird. He cried out the moment he saw the arrow, “He is here! We must be quick.”

Wheeling his horse round, he set off down the mountain in pursuit.

The mountainside was a blanket of snow stretching into the distance, with not a soul in sight; it was easy to follow a trail. The other two riders were men in their prime. One was tall and broad-shouldered, gallant and dignified, riding a fine horse. The other was of medium build and had a pale complexion; his nose was red with cold. The horses panted as they galloped, their breath clouding around their nostrils.

It was the fifteenth day of the third month, of the forty-fifth year of the reign of the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong. In the south, the flowers were already in full bloom. But here, in the foothills of the Changbai Range in Manchuria, the heavy snow was only just beginning to melt. Spring was still far away. When the sun rose behind the mountains in the east and cast its dim rays on the world, there was no warmth in it.

The riders were galloping hard and soon beads of sweat appeared on their foreheads. The tall one took off his cloak and placed it on the pommel. He was clad in a blue, silk robe lined with fur, and from his belt hung a long sword. He looked grave and threatening and there was rage in his eyes; they seemed to dart fire. He urged his horse wildly on.

This was Curio Cao. He had recently become Grand Master of the Northern Branch of the Dragon Lodge in Liaodong Peninsula. He was also known as Leaping Dragon Sword and was already well advanced in the double skill of pugilism and swordplay, a martial ability unique to the Dragon Lodge. The fellow with the pale complexion was his Junior Brother, Radiant Zhou, known as Winding Dragon Sword. The taller of the two old men was their Senior, Valour Ruan, also known as Seven Stars Hand; he was considered a champion of the Northern Branch of the Dragon Lodge. The old man with the bearing of a wealthy merchant was the Grand Master of the Southern Branch of the Dragon Lodge, Fortune Yin, known as Might of the Southern Sky. Their meeting here today was of paramount importance to both the Northern and the Southern Branches. Fortune had travelled hundreds of miles to the northeastern border to be with them.

The Dragon Lodge had been founded in the early Qing dynasty, in the mid-seventeenth century. It had started as one single house but at the turn of the eighteenth century, during the Reign of Emperor Kangxi, two elder protégés of the Founder Grand Master had fallen out with each other. Consequently, the Lodge had divided into the Northern Branch and the Southern Branch on the demise of the Grand Master. The Southern Branch was known for its agility and bravery, the Northern Branch for its intensity and ruthlessness. The origin and structural form of the martial arts practised by the two branches were similar in every respect, but they differed drastically in their application.

The animals which they rode were thoroughbred horses of the border region and they made good speed. Soon the five horses in front were within sight.

Curio cried out, “Halt, if you are with us!”

The five riders took no notice of his command, but spurred their horses on.

Curio shouted at the top of his voice, “Halt or we will attack.”

One of the five wheeled his stallion while the others galloped on. Curio rode ahead. The stranger fitted an arrow to his bow and aimed it at Curio’s chest. Curio was a man of courage and skill, and was not a bit shaken. Cracking his whip, he cried, “Is that Peace, our family friend?”

The man had fine features and slanting eyebrows. He was in his early twenties and was very beautifully dressed. At Curio’s cry, he laughed out aloud, “Watch out for the arrows.” Instantly three arrows sped through the air, one above the other, aimed in quick succession at his head, trunk and lower limbs respectively.

Curio was surprised by the great speed at which the three arrows travelled; his heart trembled. Lashing his whip, he managed to ward off the arrows aimed at his head and trunk. He simultaneously pulled in his reins hard, and his horse reared. The third arrow sped between the beast’s four limbs, narrowly missing the belly. The young man laughed aloud, pulled round his horse and galloped off into the distance.

Curio was purple with rage and wanted to spur his horse on in pursuit of the archer. Valour cried out, “Easy, now. He will never get away.” Dismounting, he picked up the three arrows from the snowy ground. They were the same as the arrow that had killed the wild goose. Fortune’s face darkened and he muttered, “So it is that brat!”

“Let us wait for our Sister,” said Curio. “We shall see what she has to say.”

The four waited a while but no sound of horses’ hooves reached their ears. Curio became impatient. “I’ll go and find her,” he cried. He put his spurs to his horse and charged back in the direction from which he had come. Valour watched him disappear into the distance and sighed, “It’s hard for him.”

“I beg your pardon, Brother Valour?” asked Fortune. Valour shook his head and made no reply.

Curio rode a few miles and found an unattended grey horse. A lady in white was kneeling, searching for something in the snow. Curio cried, “Sister, is everything well?”

The lady did not reply but drew herself up to her full height suddenly. In her hand was a thin, golden object that glittered in the sunlight. Curio moved closer, and took it from her. It was a tiny bodkin made of gold, about three inches long, tapering to a sharp point, and of very fine craftsmanship. On the side of the bodkin was engraved a tiny character, “An,” meaning “Peace.” The bodkin looked like a plaything, and at the same time like a secret weapon. Curio frowned.

“Where did you get it?” he asked.

The lady replied, “You were all gone and I just followed. When I got here, a horse suddenly caught up with me from behind. It was making great speed and overtook me in no time. The rider waved and threw me this little bodkin. I was …. I was ….” She suddenly blushed and could say no more.

Curio gazed at her. She lowered her eye-lashes. She was extremely beautiful, and Curio’s heart contracted within him. Then he grew suspicious and asked, “Don’t you know whom we are after?”

“Whom?” returned the lady.

To this he replied coldly, “Are you sure you really don’t know?”

She raised her head and answered, “How could I know?”

“It is your true love,” said he.

“Peace Tao?” burst forth the lady. No sooner was this out of her mouth than her face crimsoned completely.

Curio’s brows darkened. “I only said that it was your true love and now you have given yourself away.”

Hearing his words, the lady flushed even more. Tears glistened in her clear, dark eyes.She stamped her foot in protest. “He ….”

“What about him?” asked Curio.

To this the lady replied, “He is my husband-to-be. Of course he is my true love.”

Curio was wild with rage and whipped out his long sword. But the lady advanced one step and cried, “Kill me if you have the stomach for it.” Curio gnashed his teeth, gazed at her slightly uptilted face and was at once full of tender affection for the girl.

“Let the matter end now,” he answered. He reversed his sword and aimed it furiously at his own chest.

The lady responded with alacrity, whipped out her sword with her hand reversed and in no time swung her arm around ready to charge. Then they came together lashing and smiting with their swords until sparks flew.

Curio said bitterly, “As you no longer care for me, what is the point in letting me live and be miserable?”

The lady returned the sword to its scabbard slowly and lowered her voice, “As you already know, it is my father who betrothed me to him. Could I have decided things?”

Curio’s eyes shone. “I shall wander about the world with you,” he said. “We will live together on uninhabited islands or way out in the high mountains, away from this world, till the end of our lives. Why do you turn away from me?”

“Brother,” sighed the lady, “You love me to distraction, that I know; I am not a fool. How could I fail to appreciate your kindness? You are Grand Master of the Northern Branch of our Dragon Lodge; it would be a shattering blow to the name of the Dragon Lodge if anything were to happen between us. How are you going to preserve your honour among the outlawry?”

“For you, I would dash myself to pieces, protested Curio. I care not if the sky falls down upon me, Grand Master or not.”

A slight smile crossed the lady’s face as they joined hands. “Brother, what I dislike is this quick and violent temper of yours.”

Hearing her words, Curio could go on no further but checked himself and sighed, “Why did you handle his plaything like a pet?” asked Curio.

“Did he give it to me?” returned the lady. “When has he been near me?”

“This is an expensive toy,” said Curio. “Would people use it as a secret weapon? His name is clearly engraved on the bodkin. Who else could have given it to you, if not he?”

The lady became angry and said, “If you choose to become suspicious, you had better stop talking to me now!” She sprang astride the grey horse. She then laid her hands on the bridle and instantly the beast was away at full gallop.

Curio immediately mounted his horse, kicked it fiercely with his heels, and galloped away in pursuit. He overtook the lady in no time. Moving forward, he held the bridle of the grey horse with his right hand and addressed her. “Sister, now listen.”

The lady lashed her whip across his hand and shouted, “Let me go. Don’t be ridiculous.” Curio would not listen. The next minute, her whip came slashing at the back of his hand, leaving a red weal.

The lady regretted her blow. “Pray tell me, why do you come after me like this?” asked the lady.

“I am at fault in this,” pleaded Curio. “Strike me again.”

The lady smiled a light, contented smile and answered, “My hand hurts. I cannot go on any more.”

Curio laughed out aloud, “I will make it feel better.” He reached out for her arm.

The lady lashed at his skull. Curio dodged and warded off the blow just in time. He said cheekily, “How is it that your hand did not hurt just then?” The lady frowned and retorted, “Will you not leave me in peace?”

“All right, all right,” Curio chuckled. “Just tell me how you came by this golden bodkin.”

“My true love gave it to me,” said the lady teasingly. “If he did not give it to me, who else could have? Could it have been you?”

Curio was seized with jealousy and felt hot blood rushing to his head. He was bursting with rage but held himself back at the sight of her blooming face, her quivering red lips and teeth that shone like pearls.

The lady looked him in the eyes and heaved a sigh. “Brother,” spoke the lady in a soft voice, “I have been well looked after by you since I was very young. You even treat me better than my own brother. I am not wholly ungrateful and I do appreciate what you have done. I will surely repay your kindness. After all, we…. Don’t be hard on me over this matter. You have always cared for me and seen that no harm came my way. My father died in great misfortune, and the Dragon Lodge is now entangled in a matter of life or death. Yet you fail to see my problems and make no allowances for me.” Curio was taken aback by her words and remained silent. Then he waved his left hand and said, “You are always in the right, I am always wrong. Go now.”

The lady smiled a sweet smile and said, “One moment, please.” She drew out a handkerchief and mopped his forehead, now beaded with sweat. “In snowy country like this, if you leave your perspiration, you will catch a cold,” she said. Curio found her feminine touch soothing and all his pent-up anger presently subsided. He tapped lightly on the rump of the lady’s grey horse with his whip and the two trotted off side by side.

The lady went by the name of Sign Tian. Though she was young, she had already made a name in the Martial Brotherhood of the border region. As her beauty was matched by sharp intelligence and quick wit, the elder members of the Liaodong Martial Brotherhood had given her the title of Glistening Sable. The sable can make great speed on snowy ground, and is sharp and intelligent; “Glistening” described her beauty. Her father, Pastoral Tian, had only recently passed away which was why she was clad in white silk, in deep mourning.

The two made good speed and in no time caught up with Fortune, Valour, and Radiant.

Valour cast Curio a glance and said, “You have been gone so long! Have you found anything of interest?” Curio flushed and muttered, “Nothing special.” Kicking his horse fiercely, he galloped off into the distance.

A few miles on, the mountainsides were precipitous and blanketed with thick snow. The horses lost their balance and stumbled occasionally. The four riders dared not press their animals on, but slackened their reins. They passed two cols; the mountain paths were dangerously steep. The neighing of horses came suddenly from the left: Curio leapt out of his saddle and landed behind a large pine; he stole behind the trunk and gazed intently into the distance. Five horses were tethered near the trees on the edge of the slope. A neat line of footprints ran up the snowy ground, going straight uphill.

Curio cried out aloud, “Fortune and Valour, the thieves have made their way uphill. We must hurry after them!”

Fortune was cautious. “Our enemies have led us all the way out here; they may well have laid a trap for us,” Fortune warned the others.

“Come Heaven or Hell, we shall have to make an attempt, snapped Curio. Fortune expressed disapproval of Curio’s recklessness and turned to Valour, What think you of this?”

Sign spoke before Valour could utter a word. “Uncle Fortune, the Might of the Southern Sky is here with us; we should not be put off so easily. We can surely withstand perilous attacks of any nature.”

Fortune beamed. “Look at the way they conduct themselves. They have been going at such high speed that they don’t seem to have laid a trap for us. Let me see,” he continued, pointing his finger to the right. “We shall make a detour up the mountain and take them by surprise on our way back.”

They dismounted from their horses, tethered the animals under the pines, tucked up the lower front of their robes and strapped them in with their girdles. Then they began to levitate up the mountainside, bounding along the right-hand track on the slope. This part of the mountain was thickly wooded and strewn with jagged boulders of grotesque shapes; clambering up the slope was quite a task. The terrain, however, afforded them good cover, and protected them well from their enemies. The five started out in single file, one following close behind the other, but after some time, the disparity between them gradually became evident: Fortune and Valour were ahead, walking side by side; Curio, lagged behind them by several yards, while Sign and Radiant were yet another ten or so yards further back.

Curio thought to himself, “Uncle Fortune is Grand Master of the Southern Branch, known as the Might of the Southern Sky. I am interested in finding out which of us fares better in martial ability, he of the Southern Branch or myself of the Northern Branch.” Activating all his inner energy, Curio quickened his pace and was ahead of both Fortune and Valour in no time.

“Brother Curio,” said Fortune in a tone of admiration, “I could not do better. It is a true saying that heroes spring forth from the unruly young.” Curio, afraid to be overtaken, dared not turn around, but answered, “Thank you.” Having spoken, he continued to quicken his pace. In a while, he heard steps close behind and turning round, he was startled to find Fortune and Valour right behind him. He doubled his effort, and quickened his pace yet again and made a sustained headlong dash.

Fortune found this amusing and followed him at his usual pace. High up on the mountain, the snow was thicker and the mountain paths rough and rugged. Walking was strenuous and after a while Curio slackened his pace. He felt heat at the back of his head as if someone was panting. Just as he was about to turn around, he was tapped on the right shoulder. “Hurry up, young man,” said Fortune smilingly. Curio was stunned and he activated his inner energy and made another wild burst. Presently, he found himself about thirty yards ahead of Fortune and Valour. By now his heart was thumping hard and he was panting heavily; beads of sweat glistened on his forehead. Mopping his forehead with his sleeves now reminded him of Sign a while ago. He was filled with contentment and could not help beaming to himself. Soon, a muffled sound on the snow alerted him that Fortune and Valour were catching up with him.

Curio’s inconsistent pace convinced Fortune that he was not his match in levitational arts. However Valour, the Seven Stars Hand, was able to keep pace with him; he was silent all the way. When he ran fast, so did Valour; and when he slowed down, Valour followed suit. Valour seemed to be managing capably and could still go quite a way; he had not yet tried his utmost. Fortune thought to himself, “You two are testing the strength of an old fellow like me.” Then he took a deep breath and made the best use of his levitational arts, acquired through ten years of vigorous training and laborious practice. He glided up the snowy, white slope with his feet barely touching the ground.

Levitational arts had always been a specialty of the Southern Branch, and although Fortune was heavy, when he came to practising the principal martial skill of his Branch, he was as nimble as a monkey. Soon, he found himself over a thousand yards ahead of Curio. But Valour still kept up with him, walking by his side. Fortune tried several times to quicken his pace to shake himself free of Valour, but succeeded only in throwing him off by ten yards or so.

The pinnacle was only some ten miles away. “Brother Valour, how about testing the strength of our legs?” suggested Fortune in good humour. “Let us find out who will be the first to reach the summit.”

To this Valour replied, “I doubt that I can beat you.”

“Come on, accept a fair challenge,” wheedled Fortune.

No sooner had the words been uttered than Fortune made full speed uphill, like an arrow whistling from the bow. In a second, the pinnacle was barely ten yards away. Fortune turned around and found Valour falling behind by some five yards only. Then he activated all his inner energy, and was just about to dash up the mountain when suddenly up bounded Valour, landing right by his side.

“Watch out! Somebody is there,” whispered Valour, pointing to the copse on the left of the slope.

“He certainly beats me,” shuddered Fortune. “He is much better at levitational arts than I am.”

Now Valour bent double, lowered his head and advanced quietly towards the copse while Fortune followed behind.

They reached the copse, hid behind a huge boulder which jutted out and looked below them. In the valley, swords glistened in the sunlight. Five men were gathered at the end of the valley; three were armed and had posted themselves on three thoroughfares to guard against trespassers. One of the remaining two was digging feverishly under a big tree with a steel hoe, while the other used an iron spade. The two apparently knew their fierce enemies were hot on their trail; they were pressed for time and were digging and shovelling with all their might.

“Just as we expected: Tao Senior and Junior of Horse Spring.” Fortune lowered his voice. “I wonder who the other three are?”

“They are all three Chieftains of Horse Spring. They fight fiercely and vigorously,” whispered Valour.

“Our five against their five. Just about right,” added Fortune.

“The three of us, Curio, you and I, will have no problem handling them,” said Valour. “But I am worried about Sign and Radiant. Perhaps we should attack one or two of them from behind? The rest can then be easily taken care of.”

Fortune frowned at this suggestion, “If word reaches people moving in our circle that we of the Dragon Lodge make surprise attacks on our adversaries, would we not be mocked by the heroes of the world?”

“To avenge our Brother Pastoral,” answered Valour coldly, “we have to wipe out every single enemy and no one shall escape alive. If we keep this to ourselves, nobody will find out.”

Fortune asked, “Do Tao Senior and Junior really fight that fiercely?”

Valour nodded. After a while, he said, “If I were to have a proper match of prowess with my opponent, I would not stand a chance.” Fortune knew well that Valour was considered the champion of the Northern Branch after the demise of their Grand Master, Pastoral Tian. When Pastoral lived, even he had shown deference to Valour. In the test of strength on the way uphill a while before, Valour had apparently slowed down on purpose or they would never have come out as equals. Had Valour taxed himself to his utmost, Fortune surely would have been beaten. Considering this, Fortune nodded his consent, “You are the Master. You take overall charge of the matter.”

Valour reflected, “So, you want to be known as the hero and me as the devil.” No more words were exchanged. By now, Curio had joined them, and in a little while they were joined by Radiant and Sign. Valour lowered his voice. “Fortune, Curio and I will dispatch poisoned darts to finish off the three on lookout. We shall then form a circle round Tao Senior and Junior. Sign and Radiant are to support us once we get started. After getting their instructions, the four bent double and stole their way in silence, along the track behind the boulder.

Sign followed behind Valour and whispered to him, “Uncle Valour.”

He halted and asked, “What now?”

“We are to capture Tao Senior and Junior alive,” answered Sign.

Valour rolled his eyes. “You still want to side with that knave Peace?” he hissed.

“I still believe that it is not he,” replied Sign.

Valour turned livid with rage. He pulled out the arrow tucked in his girdle, passed it to her and said, “Look at this and then say that. It is the same arrow that the knave shot the goose with a while ago.”

Sign took the arrow; one glance at it was enough to set her hands shaking. Curio was paying more attention to her than to their enemies. Seeing her now in such a troubled state, mixed emotions of vexation and elation assailed him. His spirits rose at the thought that Peace’s life would be in danger; yet he was vexed by her being so totally inclined towards the rogue. Curio had a hot temper and just the thought of it drove him crazy. Just as he was about to vent his rage on her, Valour tapped him on the shoulder and directed his attention to the back of the sentinel in the east.

Sign and Radiant had bent down and stopped moving. Valour, Fortune, and Curio were stealing close, each aiming at an enemy and gripping three poisoned darts in their hands. The use of poisoned darts had, for generations, been one of the esoteric killer skills on which the Dragon Lodge prided itself. They flew true and fast and the poison was extremely potent. It could kill its victim within three watches. The outlawry called it the Lethal Dart.

“Uncle Valour wants me to attack the fellow in the east,” Curio pondered. “I shall first take the life of that knave Peace with the poisoned darts. That way I shall not only revenge a serious wrong for my Branch, but will also rid myself of a rival. If he is captured alive, many things may happen during his captivity. I do not know what strange ideas she may eventually come up with.” Having set his mind on this, Curio moved closer until he was no more than fifty paces from his enemy. Presently he bent down and fixed his gaze on the back of Peace who was now creeping stealthily with a wave-like motion. Curio would speed forth his three poisoned darts the minute Valour signalled with his hand.

Suddenly there came the clatter of metal upon metal. Peace knocked his steel hoe into an iron object buried underground. Valour was just about to signal by lowering his left hand but stopped himself on hearing whizzing sounds in quick succession. Seven or eight secret weapons sprang from the snowy ground to the side, aimed straight at Peace and his other comrades.

These secret weapons, flying forth so unexpectedly from under the ground, caught everybody by surprise. The whole incident was most mysterious and left everybody in a state of perplexity. The secret weapons had been dispatched from close range, and they came at an incredible speed. Both Tao Senior and Junior were well advanced in martial arts and reacted quickly to the attack. However, they still had to resort to whirling their hoe and spade to ward off the weapons. One of the three sentinels turned on his back and rolled down a gulley. He narrowly missed the two sprung barbs, one glancing off his skull and the other grazing his neck. The other two sentinels dropped dead before they could utter a word. They had both been attacked from behind; one had a steel dart through his heart and the other a dirk through his chest. They lay flat and motionless in the snow.

The unexpected attack on the sentinels caught everybody by surprise. Valour and his company were no less surprised than the others.

“You dastardly coward! How dare you lie in ambush?” snarled Century Tao, Peace’s father, known as Commander of the Eastern Border. His words came like a thunderbolt out of the blue; mighty and awe-inspiring. Presently, flashing blades were visible against the snowy ground to the side, and out leapt four enemies from below the ground.

The four had dug a pit in the snow in anticipation of Century’s and Peace’s arrival, and had been lying there in waiting for several days. The mouth of the pit was covered with branches and twigs, which in turn were hidden under a blanket of snow, with only a few perforations for ventilation. It was a foolproof scheme.

Tao Senior and Junior dropped their hoe and spade and snatched up the weapons from their sides. Century was wielding a twenty-pound notched steel rod, while Peace flashed his single blade. The one who had rolled down the gulley was Chieftain Ma of Horse Spring. He made a few more turns down the gulley before springing up fearing that the enemies might be after him next. He had in his hands a pair of chained maces.

One of the enemies was thin and of swarthy complexion. He could be distinguished as Prime Xiong, Chief Escort of the Peking Overland Convoy. He was proficient in the Ground Blade, the art of fencing with a broadsword. Bandits from Horse Spring had once robbed his establishment of merchandise of great worth. He had tried every possible means to recover the lost merchandise, but had never once succeeded. The incident sowed the seeds of animosity between the two parties. Another assailant was a female, in her early thirties. She was known to Chieftain Ma as Third Zheng, alias Brandisher of the Twin Knives. Her husband had been an escort with the Peking Overland Convoy, but had died in a robbery staged by the Chieftains of the Horse Spring Banditry. Of the remaining two, one was a monk, of heavy build, wielding a Buddhist monk’s knife. The last was a man whose face was covered with dark hair, plying a pair of iron staves. They were in league with the Peking Overland Convoy, also adepts in martial ability. They had been invited by the Overland to lay an ambush here to wreak vengeance upon their adversaries.

“So,” cried out Century, “It is you, the worthless rogue who once got beaten by an old fellow like me. Prime is the only coward in the Martial Brotherhood capable of undertaking a low trick like this.” Though the words were directed at Prime, when they touched the ears of Fortune, they caused him to flush. Fortune stole a glance at Valour, who, at that particular moment, was found gazing intently at their enemies in the valley. He was not in the least disturbed by the words.

“Chieftain Tao,” said Prime in a soft voice, “Please allow me to introduce to you Wisdom the Great Master, of the Confluence Monastery of Shandong Province.”

“This is Hawk Liu,” continued Prime, “Guardsman of the first rank at the Imperial Court in the capital. He is my Brother, we acknowledge the same Master. Please befriend each other and get well acquainted.”

Century Tao was a man of strong build and imposing bearing; his voice rang like thunder. Prime was his diametrical opposite. One was tough and harsh; the other gentle and courteous; the two seemed born to fight each other.

“Let us set to, you vermin,” growled Century. “We can surely get acquainted through swordplay.”

Immediately he displayed the extraordinary strength in his back by turning the steel rod in the air causing it to hum loudly.

Prime stayed calm and said humbly, “I must admit that I was beaten by Chieftain Century. I dare not raise a finger against you. I beg only to offer you this gift.”

“What?” Century thundered.

Prime pointed his finger at the pit hollowed by them and answered, “The object is in there.”

Century stroked the grey thick beard on his cheeks. Without uttering so much as a word, he lashed the rod in Prime’s face. He dodged and missed it narrowly.

“Please halt!” cried Prime.

“What have you got now?” demanded Century.

“I have, for the past three full days, been here to await the arrival of Chieftain Century,” answered Prime. “Were it not for the reverence I bear for you and your son, I would already have taken possession of this article. The object lying here has never belonged to Horse Spring; it has always been in the safe keeping of the Dragon Lodge. I see nothing wrong in its changing hands now.”

To this Peace replied, “Nicely put indeed. These snowy mountains are frozen over for miles and miles. Would you not have already made away with it if only you had known where it was hidden?”

Third had set her mind on avenging the death of her husband. “Stop all this nonsense and let us set to,” she shouted. No sooner had her voice faded than she flung three dirks, all aimed in quick succession at Chieftain Ma. Swinging his two chained maces, he was able to knock two of the weapons off course; but the third one, charged with more power, flew speedily at his chest. The iron chain linking the two maces came down barring the front of his chest, and warding off the third dirk in the nick of time. Chieftain Ma pulled the left mace with a sudden neat jerk and flung the right mace in the face of Third. Being agile and nimble-footed, she ducked the blow. Practising the Whirlwind while flourishing the twin knives in both hands, she charged straight at him. He swung the left mace out to shield himself against the blows.

While these two were thus engaged, Wisdom whirled his Buddhist monk’s knife and rushed at Century. The Commander of the Eastern Border met him head on. Rod and blade clashed; the sparks flew. The monk felt a sudden ache in the arms, and saw that a chip had already been struck out of his blade. Nearby, Peace rushed at Prime, flourishing his sword. The six were now engaged in feverish battle, each fighting one other and grappling with his opponent on the snowy ground. Hawk looked on, clutching both staves in his hands, ready to help his party. When he saw that the monk was no match for Century, he cried out, “Move back and let me meet the Commander of the Eastern Border!” But the monk still fought on. Hawk strode forward and thrust his upper right arm onto the monk’s shoulder. The monk rocked unsteadily on his feet, and staggered three paces before regaining his balance. Suddenly a keen blade came humming down wind, aimed right at his crown: the monk speedily ducked away from the blow but it set him shivering and sweating. It was Peace who had dealt him the stroke. Now, spurred on by rage, the monk flashed his knife and joined Prime in battling against Peace.

Hawk was better trained in martial arts than his Brothers; he was able to stave off all the lashing and smiting of Century’s rod, stroke for stroke. As he planted his staves upright, there was a clash of iron rod upon iron staff, but Hawk stayed calm. He plunged his right staff forward, in order to hold back the rod of his opponent. He then smote Century’s head with his left staff. After several tricks, Century was convinced that he had at long last met his match. Thereupon, he braced himself for battle and wielded his rod relentlessly in every direction, practising the rod techniques known as the Six Harmonies.

The battle did not rage long before Century began to show signs of defeat. He was beginning to grow weary defending himself against Hawk’s attacks. Peace was fighting against two opponents and was gradually being cornered. His only hope lay in Chieftain Ma’s speedily disposing of Third and taking over Prime. He would then slay the monk when the time presented itself. Third also could see how the battle would fare. So long as she could withstand her assailant, both Century and Peace would end up dead. Realizing this, she stood only on the defense, shielding herself with her twin knives. Chieftain Ma was now whirling his two maces, raining mighty blows on her, but none of them could touch her. At the end of less than a hundred tricks she began to show signs of weariness and kept staggering backward. Third, being a woman, could not withstand the battle any longer. Chieftain Ma seized this good opportunity to advance, and charged at her. She swung her left knife all of a sudden, rendering a sizeable part of herself vulnerable to attack. Encouraged by this, he moved forward one step and showered blows on her. Suddenly, the ground beneath his right foot gave way and he found himself right on top of the hollow which Prime and the others had been using as a hiding place not long before. Over half of the pit was still covered by snow, so he had not noticed it while the battle raged. Third had laid a trap for him. Unable to plant his foot on solid ground, he flung himself forward flat on the ground. It was not his day, admitted Chieftain Ma to himself. Just as he sprang up again, Third struck him a cruel stroke that bit deep and dislocated his left shoulder.

Chieftain Ma yelled in agony, then lay insensible on the ground. Third smote him again with her right knife and hurled him into the pit. Hearing his cries, Peace sensed that something had gone wrong, but he was so engaged in his battle with Prime and Wisdom that he could not free himself to assist the others. Third panted heavily several times, trying to regain her breath. She tidied her hair, then drew out a white handkerchief and wrapped it round her head. Flourishing her twin knives, she advanced and joined forces with her comrade against Century.

Had Century been twenty years younger, Hawk would never have been his match. He had always excelled in strength; but now that he was advanced in age, he had lost much of his former vigour and vitality. Fighting man to man against Hawk had already proved that he was not Hawk’s match. He could not hope to prevail when Third also attacked him.

The fight raged fast and furious. Prime whirled both his staves, raining blows by practising the Dragon Prancing and Phoenix Gambolling. Century guarded against the blows by lashing his rod. Third also moved up, her twin knives describing circles. She charged at him with two blades. Unable to parry blows from four weapons with his single rod, Century let out a loud cry and lashed his left leg out at Third, causing her to make a turn in the air. Her flashing blade slashed across him, cutting a deep gash in the upper left part of his trunk. Blood ran down from the wound, dyeing the snowy ground a dark, rusty red. Yet the old fellow was exceptionally brave and ferocious, and he raged on fearlessly, smiting blows relentlessly with his rod.

The situation was becoming dangerous; Peace felt certain of defeat. He dealt his opponent three cruel strokes. While Wisdom was moving back two paces, Peace also leapt backward and cried out, “Halt! Father and I admit defeat. Now, make your choice: do you want the treasure or do you want our lives?”

Brandishing her knives, Third charged at Century. “Both the treasure and your lives!”

Prime was scheming. The merchandise lost the year before was of considerable worth. He would rather exact a ransom from Horse Spring than kill both father and son. Musing thus, Prime cried out, “Let us cease. I have something to say.”

Hawk had always conducted himself with caution and Third had always been obedient to the Chief Escort. Hearing Prime, they leapt to the side. Wisdom was a boorish monk and would not dream of halting in the midst of a furious battle. Whirling his knife like a windwill, he charged at Peace. Prime immediately cried out, “Wisdom the Great Master, Wisdom the Great Master! But the words fell on deaf ears.”

Peace threw his sword to the ground, straightened himself and declared, “I challenge you to take my life.”

Wisdom was just raising his blade to smite Peace, but was taken aback by his unusual behaviour. He halted, his knife in mid air. “Bald knave!’ roared Peace and planted his fist in the monk’s face, smashing the bridge of his nose. Caught off guard, the monk swayed and tumbled on his rump. He felt his nose and found his hand soaked in blood; he was furious beyond control and howled. Struggling to his feet again, he rushed at Peace but was pulled back by Prime.

“Halt!” commanded Prime.

Instantly Peace jumped into the pit and dug a few times with the steel hoe before flinging it away. Up he jumped, holding a rectangular iron box about two feet in length. Hawk and the others smiled and moved closer towards Peace.

“Brother Fortune,” whispered Valour, “you and Curio dispatch the darts at our enemies. I will go and grab that box.”

“Which of the two parties should we attack?” asked Fortune in a whisper.

Valour stuck out the thumb and the little finger of his left hand and held back the three fingers in the middle; this was the sign for the numeral six, meaning they should take all six.

“Cruel,” Fortune mused, but he nodded his consent and gripped the poisoned darts in his hands. When he looked at Curio out of the corners of his eyes, he found him gazing fixedly at Peace. It occurred to him that Curio had never once taken his eyes off that man.

Peace, carrying the box in his hands, cried out aloud, “Father and I have been snared. We will certainly present you with the house treasure of our Martial Brotherhood with due respect. I am still puzzled by one thing and hope somebody will throw light on this matter.”

Prime narrowed his eyes and said, “May I be of service to the young Master?”

At this Peace continued, “How did you know that the box was buried here? How did you also know that we would be here at this time to get the box?”

“As the young Master would like to have his question answered,” replied Prime, “I see no harm in obliging. A banquet was hosted on the day that Grand Master Pastoral of the Dragon Lodge retired. All kin and comrades were invited to the sword-sealing ceremony. The young Master as his son-in-law-to-be was sure to show up.” Peace nodded.

Pointing to Hawk, Prime continued, “This Brother of mine also happened to be one of the honoured guests that day. The young Master had other things on his mind and did not pay much heed to Brother Hawk.”

“So,” sneered Peace, “my father-in-law invited a traitor to his banquet, whom he had taken to be a friend.”

Prime remained calm and went on slowly, “I am afraid that you are somewhat too nasty with your words. Hawk had heard much talk about your good self and could not help wanting to see the young Master. He could also have been attracted by the famed outlawry of Horse Spring. Hawk recorded every single move of the young Master on that particular day.”

“Well done,” applauded Peace. “This box should therefore be duly presented to His Eminence Hawk.” Thereupon, he proffered the box with both hands.

Hawk took the gift. Suddenly, Peace lifted the upper rim of the box, and out whistled three barbs, aimed straight at Hawk’s chest. Hawk was less than three feet away and could not move away from the impending danger. But Hawk pulled Wisdom before him in the nick of time and shielded himself from attacks. A cry of agony pierced the air as two barbs transfixed the throat of the monk, killing him instantly. The third barb shot sideways and bit deep into the left shoulder of Prime, sorely wounding him.

This sudden turn of events was still more dramatic than the ambush staged earlier by Prime and his party. Sign could not hold back a gasp. Hearing this behind him, Hawk sprang onto a boulder, sparing both Century and Peace. He made sure that his back was well guarded before turning round to examine the situation further.

“Go!” cried Valour, leaping forward.

Curio lashed out his arm and three poisoned darts whizzed towards Peace in no time. Anticipating this move of his, Sign speedily straightened herself and knocked into Curio’s left shoulder just as the darts were dispatched. Curio faltered and snarled, “What the devil!” All the darts missed their mark and fell point downward in the snow.

Fortune had also intended the poisoned darts for Hawk but Sign’s cry had alerted him of the danger. He was nimble-witted and there was no way in which Fortune could get him. “Property to the rightful owner!” shouted Valour, as he plunged the five hook-like fingers of his left hand into Peace’s eyes, while the five fingers of his right hand took a tight grip on the iron box.

Hawk planted his staves upright and began to battle with Fortune who fenced with a long sword. They had already met at the banquet hosted by Pastoral Tian and had discovered they were each adept in the martial arts. After practising a few tricks, each commanded the other’s respect.

Radiant now rushed at Prime, raising his sword. Sign had engaged Third in another battle, thus there was the clashing and clanging of Sign’s single blade upon Third’s twin knives. Curio whirled his flashing long sword. But instead of attacking Century who remained unengaged nearby, he aimed a terrible stroke at Peace’s chest. He was lashing fast and furious, following his sword very closely and practising the Rainbow Piercing the Fireball.

Being unarmed, Peace had to let go of the metal box. He leapt backward and dodged. He crouched to reach for the single sword, then spun around and whipped out his weapon. Valour was holding the box tightly in his left hand; his face darkened as he bellowed with rage, “Sirrah! You murdered your father-in-law simply because you had set eyes on the heirloom of our Dragon Lodge.”

“That is a lie!” boomed Peace. “Who says I killed my father- in-law?” He charged on fiercely, slashing ferociously as he wanted to get the box back quickly.

Once the iron box fell into the hands of Valour, the Seven Stars Hand, there was little chance that anybody could grab it from him; Peace did not stand a chance. Valour’s brawny palms were enough to scare anybody off, even if Curio were not there fencing with his sword ready to aid him.

“Listen, Valour,” cried Century. “The box was handed personally to my son by Pastoral Tian, his father-in-law. It is a fact that you have to accept.” He roared and thundered as he whirled his rod and lashed mighty blows on Valour’s skull. Valour bounded a few yards at a leap and landed beside Sign. He raised the box and flourished it at Third. She ducked away from it fearing that barbs might again fly from it. But this time Valour was just trying to frighten her. He passed the box to Sign the moment she had thrown off her opponents.

“Guard the box! Let me take care of the enemies,” ordered Valour.

Now that the box had left his hands, Valour spun around and engaged Century. Valour was considered champion of the Northern Branch of the Dragon Lodge. Century struck mighty and furious strokes with his rod, but was forced to retreat by his weaponless opponent. Prime, who had already been caught in the shoulder by an arrow, was cornered by Radiant fencing with his long sword; Prime could not free himself to extract the arrow. The weapon stayed in the wound and inflicted excruciating pain over half of his body the minute he exerted himself. As for Hawk and Fortune, the battle raged on between them with neither gaining any advantage.

Carrying the box in her hands, Sign practised levitational arts and made all speed in a northeasterly direction. Peace raised his blade to rain blows on Curio, but the latter shielded himself with an uplifted sword. Suddenly Peace lowered his blade, spun around and rushed after Sign.

Curio was furious and speedily joined in the pursuit. A few paces on, Third sprang from the brambles on the side, flourishing her twin knives and Curio was waylaid by her. He became careless and only managed to escape a series of deadly moves by a hair’s breadth. Though Third was no adept in martial arts, she was thoroughly trained in one whole series of moves for fencing with knives—the Iron Bolt. Practising any of the thirty-six moves in this series, she was able to shield herself against any advancing opponent. Even if her assailant were proficient in martial arts, he still would have difficulty striking her. In his attack, Curio resorted to switching quickly to three different styles of attack with the sword, but failed in all attempts.

Sign had covered one third of a mile in her flight. She was pleased to find Peace pursuing her so closely and after skirting a mountainside, she stood still and addressed Peace, neither angrily nor smilingly. “Why do you chase me?”

“Sister, let us join league against those filthy outlaws.” pleaded Peace. “What comes between us can be easily settled.”

“Who is your sister?” demanded Sign. “Why did you plot against my father?”

Suddenly Peace fell to his knees on the snowy ground, and pointing towards the open sky, he vowed, “I swear to the God high above: if I, Peace Tao, ever plotted against Pastoral Tian, old Grand Master of the Dragon Lodge, may I be transfixed by millions of arrows and my corpse be cut into slivers.”

Hearing him, Sign let out a smile, held him by the arm and said softly, “I long to believe it was not you. I knew it could not have been you. But they … they …”

Peace sprang up, held her left hand tight, and said,

“Sister ….” He got no further than this when the colour suddenly drained from her face, alerting him that someone was behind him. Quickly, he turned around.

“You two!” bellowed a voice. “What deceitful tricks are you up to?”

“What do you mean deceitful tricks? Take care what you say,” retorted Sign.

Curio was approaching.

“Brother Curio,” cried Peace, “Please do not misunderstand.”

Curio rolled his eyes wide and bawled out, “Misunderstand? To the devil with you!” Thereupon, he whirled his blade and struck fiercely in every direction, forcing Peace to parry the blows with his sword.

The two fought several bouts on the snow when Third was heard approaching in full speed.

“Ill-gotten wench!” roared Curio. “All this badgering and pestering!”

He then dealt a backhand blow which she warded off with her left knife while returning a stroke with her right.

“Third,” called out Peace, “Let us join league against the boorish fellow, and kill him.”

Practising the move known as Moving the Beam and Swapping the Pole, Peace now pretended to raise his left hand, and with his right, he stole the blade to the side and dealt Curio a backhand stroke. Curio was fighting alone against two but showed no sign of fear; he wanted to show off his swordsmanship in front of the woman he loved. He attacked from the side and succeeded in forcing his opponent to go on the defensive.

“Marvellous swordplay!” applauded Peace.

Immediately he ducked and practising Advancing to Pull the Trigger, he struck at Curio’s loin. Third calculated that Curio would definitely ward off the blow holding up his sword, thereby rendering his upper trunk vulnerable. Seizing this good opportunity, she lashed her twin knives on his shoulders. But she had miscalculated Peace’s move. Flourishing his blade, Peace halted halfway and switched suddenly to practising Retreating to Smite the Horse. He twisted his wrist and dealt her a blow on the thigh.

Adepts far more proficient in martial arts than Third would have found it difficult to ward off such a blow. The wound on her thigh caused her excruciating pain and she staggered and fell back on the ground. Peace strode one pace and raised his blade to strike, aiming at her neck. Suddenly, Curio’s long sword came whizzing, parrying the blow from Peace’s single blade.

“Shame on you!” shouted Curio.

“All is fair in war. I meant to help you,” replied Peace.

Curio was on the point of responding when Hawk, Fortune, Century, Valour, and the others arrived on the scene. They all wanted the iron box, so when they saw Sign making off with the box, they soon lost interest in dragging on a battle which would prove unrewarding. One by one, they all sneaked away in pursuit the moment their opponents slackened the fight.

“Father,” cried out Peace, “the Dragon Lodge are friends of ours. Do not take up arms against Uncle Valour.”

Before Century could reply, Curio cried out aloud to Peace, “You plotted against my kind Master. How can we be friends?”

Thereupon, he aimed three whizzing strokes at Peace, two of which were warded off, but he could not manage to parry the third. He dodged quickly to the left, and the keen blade glanced off his right cheek, missing his crown by a mere two inches. All the colour drained from his face.

“Watch out!” cried out Sign suddenly.

A secret weapon darted from the side, whistled past him, humming down wind and wounding Peace in the rump.

What happened was that when Third had fallen to the ground wounded, bitterness and remorse gnawed at her heart. “He of Horse Spring committed the mortal crime of murdering my husband and is known for his cunning tricks. How could I trust his words and not take any precautions?” Therefore when Peace stepped back to parry the blow, she seized the opportunity to launch a surprise attack. Immediately she sprang up and struck a blow on his crown. But Sign reacted quickly, dispatching darts before Third attempted her move, and catching her on the right shoulder. Consequently, Third dealt a low blow, catching him only in his rump.

Caught by the poisoned dart, Third fell back on the ground.

“You fiend!” bellowed Peace.

Lashing his sword, Peace aimed at her chest and lunged hard. The plunge came hard and fast and it was at close range. But just as the blade was about to nail Third to the ground, a whizzing sound came across the open sky. A secret weapon came flying from afar and hit the blade, knocking it and sending it plunging into the snowy ground next to Third.

Hawk, Valour, and the others were all gazing at the iron box, wanting either to grab it or to guard it. They were all frightened by the secret weapon cutting through the sky. It had come flying from afar, aimed true and furious, and had knocked the single sword off to the side. Still terrified, they all looked in the direction from which the secret weapon had come. Presently, an old Buddhist monk with a grizzled beard approached, carrying a chaplet in his right hand.

“Be merciful, be merciful,” chanted the monk. He approached in quick strides, picked up something from the ground and strung it onto his rosary. The secret weapon, dispatched by him a while ago, was simply a bead.

The rosary looked heavy, was shiny black in colour and cast from iron. The monk had shot from some twenty or thirty yards. A bead as tiny as this was able to divert a steel sword of about twelve to fifteen pounds; this was proof enough that the monk could work great strength with his fingers. Struck with awe, they all looked at the monk dumb-founded.

The monk had bloodshot eyes that sloped outwards, a snub nose, a twisted mouth, grey slanting brows curving downward and a cunning look. No one could have imagined that he was so mighty and strong in martial ability.

The monk helped Third up and pulled the poisoned dart out of her shoulder. Immediately black blood spurted out and Third groaned in agony. The monk drew out a red pellet from his bosom and put it into her mouth. Then he eyed them one by one, muttering to himself, “This pellet kills the pain only temporarily. The poisoned dart is a secret weapon used only by the Dragon Lodge. There is not much I can do to save her.” Then he fixed his gaze on Valour and said, “I presume this benefactor is an adept from the Dragon Lodge. Please do a good deed, if not out of respect for the monk, at least out of reverence for the Buddha.” He greeted them putting his palms together in the Buddhist salute.

Valour and Third did not know each other and had no grudge against each other. As the monk was very proficient in martial arts, Valour knew well that should he refuse to offer her the antidote, things would not be too pleasant for him. Being an experienced hand among the outlawry, he knew precisely when to press hard and when to give way. When the monk greeted them with the Buddhist salute, Valour immediately returned his greeting.

“I will certainly follow the instructions of the Great Master,” he said. Immediately, he reached into the neck of his garment, drew out two small phials, poured ten tiny black pellets from one phial which were taken by Third. Then he handed the other phial to Sign and said, “Apply this to her wound.” Sign took the ointment, handed him the iron box and set to applying the ointment to Third’s wound.

“Oh merciful benefactor,” said the monk. Then he bowed once respectfully and continued, “You people were here battling, may I know the reason why? There is no grudge under the sky that cannot be undone. Permit this monk to be so bold as to play the role of arbitrator.”

The Company eyed one other; some stayed quiet, while some muttered. Curio pointed at Peace and said angrily, “This knave plotted against my Master and stole the house treasure of the Dragon Lodge. Do you not think that he should pay for it with his life?” Thereupon, he whirled his long sword, smiting and feinting blows.

“Who is your Master, may I know?” enquired the monk.

“My late Master was the Grand Master of the Northern Branch of our Lodge, of the family name Tian,” answered Curio.

“Oh!” exclaimed the monk. “So Pastoral had passed away. What a loss!” The manner and tone in which he talked gave the impression that he knew Pastoral Tian, and the way he addressed the Grand Master as Pastoral made one feel that he considered himself Pastoral’s elder.

Sign had just finished applying the ointment to Third, and when she heard him, she prostrated herself before the monk, her eyes brimming with tears. “I implore the Great Master to avenge the death of my late father and find out who the true culprit was,” she said in tears.

Before the monk had a chance to reply, Curio cried out, “What do you mean by true culprit? We have here both the weapon and the witness. Is this not proof enough that this knave was the true culprit?”

Peace laughed but did not answer. Century could not hold himself back and shouted out, “Pastoral and I have been friends for some thirty years and we are also closely related by marriage. How could we have plotted against him?”

“Because you wanted to take the treasure,” snapped Curio.

Century was spurred to anger; he bounded forward and with his rod dealt him a stroke. Just as Curio was about to fight back, the old monk lashed out his left hand, holding Century’s right wrist and causing his rod to rebound suddenly in the wrong direction. The middle of his palm started trembling and the Tiger’s Mouth, the web between his thumb and first finger, hurt terribly. He could not even hold the weapon in his hand. He immediately let go of his weapon, and leapt to the side. His steel rod fell on the snowy ground with a thud, half of it buried in the snow.

The others were closing round the monk. When the steel rod shot up suddenly and fell again, they all bounded backward, leaving an empty space around the monk. They all stared at the monk in surprise and pondered, “The Commander of the Eastern Border used to beat all others in the Martial Brotherhood with his might and strength in the limbs. I fail to understand why he flung his weapon as a result of a slight tug like that.”

Century’s face reddened as he cried, “What a marvellous monk! So you have been invited here by the Dragon Lodge to plot against us.”

The monk smiled. “Benefactor, old as you are, you still have such a temper. You are right in that this monk has certainly travelled here to the Changbai Range on invitation, but not that of the Dragon Lodge.”

The Dragon Lodge party and Century and Peace were all taken aback by his words. They thought to themselves, “No wonder he helped to save the life of Third. If he is someone from the Peking Overland Convoy, we will not stand a chance of keeping the iron box.” Valour stepped back one pace while Fortune and Curio advanced towards the monk, flourishing their swords; they guarded him on both sides.

The monk paid no heed to what was happening but went on, “We have no firewood here and no food either. We cannot survive the cold. The manor of the Master is not far from here. Everybody can be counted as a friend of this monk. Perhaps we should stop there for a rest? The Master will be very happy to see the whole lot of us, heroes and good fighters, march into his place. Damn it! Let us go and enjoy ourselves.” Then he laughed heartily and seemed to have forgotten all the recent bloodshed and fierce battle not too long ago.

Though he looked ugly, he was friendly and approachable. It was indeed odd to hear someone called to Buddhism utter the phrase “damn it”. However, when the words fell on the ears of the men of bold and uninhibited character, they caused them to drop much of their defense.

“May I know who is the man whom the Great Master referred to as the Master?” enquired Fortune.

To this the monk replied, “The Master would not allow this monk to disclose his name. The monk is hospitable by nature. As he has already extended his invitation to you all, this monk will feel insulted if you do not honour him with your presence.”

Hawk considered the monk rather strange. He made an obeisance by cupping one hand in the other over his chest and said, “I cannot join the company. Would the Great Master please accept my apology?” Having finished, he turned and made away at full speed.

The monk said heartily, “Here out on the mountain, in the middle of nowhere, I am so very lucky to have met a stickler. God damn his good luck.” He took his time to finish his words and after Hawk had run for some distance, the monk suddenly swung himself round and ran after him in pursuit. He bounded, hopped and rushed headlong in the snow, his form extremely ugly, as it was heavy and awkward.

Though he looked like a fat goose or a toad, he overtook Hawk in no time. “Now pardon this monk for being impolite to the stickler.”

Before Hawk could find words, the monk, describing a circle with his left hand, twisted it round suddenly and grabbed Hawk’s right wrist.

Half of Hawk’s side was numbed and aching. The next thing, which happened before Hawk could collect himself, was that the monk pinched his wrist, at the Pulse Gate, the point where blood vessels were located and the pulses felt. At this critical moment Hawk flung his left hand at the monk. The latter, who had already gripped Hawk’s right wrist with the thumb and index finger of his left hand, now in the face of Hawk’s impending left hand attack, immediately raised his own left hand, lifting Hawk’s right arm at the same time. The monk then extended the middle, ring and little fingers of his left hand and hooked Hawk’s left wrist with these three strong fingers of his. In this way, the monk was able to grab both of Hawk’s hands with only his left hand, while carrying the rosary in his right. Thus, he sped to rejoin the group, leaping and bouncing all the way.

When the others found the state Hawk was in, both hands locked as if by a pair of manacles and being dragged along by the old monk, they were alarmed and pleased at the same time. They were surprised to find the old monk such a rare adept in martial arts; but they were glad to learn also that the monk was not in league with those from the Peking Overland Convoy. The monk pulled Hawk in front of the others and said, “Master Hawk has agreed to honour me with his presence. Would the others please follow this way?”

Hawk had set an example for the others. Though they did not feel like accepting the invitation, they dared not openly decline it, mindful of the unpleasantness that would follow. The monk now held Hawk by his wrist and went on his way slowly.

After a few paces, he turned around and asked, “What is that noise?” The others halted and listened carefully. They could just discern the faint sound of panting and yelling coming from afar. It seemed like people wrestling with each other. Valour woke up suddenly, crying, “Curio, go and help Radiant quick!”

“Oh, I had forgotten!” returned Curio loudly. Thereupon, he sped in the other direction brandishing his sword.

The old monk still would not let go of Hawk. He made full speed joining the others in the pursuit, dragging Hawk along. After running forty or so yards, Hawk’s legs began to give way. Though he had activated his inner energy for a headlong dash, he still was not the old monk’s equal in speed and agility. Hawk, with both hands held fast and tight, and hard as he might try, still could not free himself of the old monk who showed no sign of loosening the grip of his five long and bony fingers. In another few paces, the monk outstripped him by half a foot. Hawk could no longer stand erect; he stumbled, falling face down flat on the ground, his still uplifted arms crossed over his head, almost touching the ears on both sides. Hawk was now hauled along on the snowy ground by the old monk. He was angry and upset at the same time, waiting for an opportunity to kick the old monk. But the monk dragged him along faster and faster.

Presently, everybody was back near the pit where Radiant and Prime were found struggling madly, rolling back and forth in the snow. Both were now without weapons, fighting hand to hand. They were caught in an extremely distressing and embarrassing situation, both badly battered, resembling not at all expert fighters of the Martial Brotherhood meeting each other in fair fight. They were more like spiteful and sharp-tongued women of the marketplace mauling each other. Curio then moved up brandishing his blade, awaiting an opportunity to lunge at Prime. The two were so embroiled in their fight that they kept rolling, turning and stumbling. Curio dared not thrust his sword at Prime for fear of hurting his Junior Brother in the confusion.

The old monk advanced a few paces, grabbed Radiant’s back with his right hand and lifted him up in the air. As Radiant and Prime now had their limbs hooked together and wrapped round one another, they had become virtually locked. In lifting Radiant, the monk lifted Prime as well. The two were still so embroiled in their battle that they continued fighting against each other after they had been lifted off the ground. The old monk laughed out aloud and gave a sharp jerk with his right hand, numbing the limbs of both men. Prime was thrown some five feet and fell to the ground with a thud. The monk then put Radiant down on the ground, letting go of Hawk’s wrist at the same time. Hawk, having been dragged for quite some time, found it difficult to bend his arms upon his release. He therefore continued to hold his hands up over his head for some time before dropping them slowly to his sides. He was overwhelmed with shock on seeing how deep the monk had sunk his nails into his wrist, leaving their marks.

“A pox on you all!” bawled the old monk. “Let us proceed quickly. We can still arrive in time for breakfast at the lord’s.”

They eyed each other and followed the monk. Third was hurt sorely in the thigh and Hawk carried her on his back, disregarding the social taboo which deemed this improper. Century and his son, Peace, were wounded, so were Radiant and others. The snowy ground was dyed a dark, rusty red, all the way to the north.

For a mile or so the group walked; the wounded moaned and groaned, finding it difficult to keep up. Sign pulled a clean, cotton gown from her backpack and tore it into strips. With these, she first bandaged Radiant, then Century and his son, Peace. Curio was about to protest against this when Sign cast him a glance from the side of her eyes. Though he could not quite make out what she meant, he managed to check himself.

About half a mile further on, the ground on the other side of the mountain was covered with thicker, knee-high snow. Treading on snowy ground like this was strenuous work even though they were all skilled in martial arts, and they found it difficult to pull their legs from the thick snow. “I wonder how far away the Master’s place is?” thought each to himself. The old monk seemed to have read their minds, and pointing to a towering summit on their left, he said, “It is not too far. It is up there.”

Written by Jin Yong
Translated by Olivia Mok
Edited and proofread by audiowuxia.

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