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The Eleventh Son by Gu Long

Book Description

On one of his missions, Xiao Shiyi Lang (the Eleventh Son, known as the Great Bandit) meets Shen, the fairest woman in the martial world. By the will of fate, he rescues Shen several times, which plants the seed of love in both of them. However, Shen is married to a rich young man who is also an outstanding martial artist. As if things were not complicated enough, Xiao has his own secret admirer, Feng, an attractive swordswoman with a quick temper.

Xiao is drawn into a messy fight for a legendary saber, the Deer Carver, and is accused of stealing it. Xiao finds out that the person who has set him up is a mysterious young man with an angel’s face and a devil’s heart. Before he can pursue any further, Shen’s grandmother is murdered, and Xiao is named the killer. It appears that things are spinning out of control….

The Eleventh Son

Chapter 1: The Hands of a Lover

It was a fine sunny day in early autumn.

The rays of the sun shone through the thin paper window, touching her fine, silky skin.

The water was slightly warmer than the sunlight. Feng languished in the tub, resting her delicate feet on the high edge. The sunlight touched her soles as gently as a lover’s hands.

She was greatly pleased.

After traveling for more than half a month, what could be more relaxing than a hot bath? Her whole body melted into the water. Only her half-opened eyes remained free, to admire her feet.

This pair of feet had climbed mountains, waded through water, walked in the burning desert for three days, and crossed frozen rivers.

This pair of feet had kicked three hungry wolves and a bobcat to death, squashed countless vipers, and kicked Cloudy Sky, the notorious bandit of Mount Qilian, off a cliff.

Yet, this pair of feet was still delicate and exquisite, flawless-without a single scar. Even those young ladies of noble households, who never stepped out of their mansions, might not have such perfect feet.

She was more than satisfied.

Water was still heating on the stove, and she added more to the tub. Although the water in the tub was hot, she wanted it even hotter. She liked the excitement generated by heat.

She liked all kinds of excitement.

She liked to ride the fastest horses, climb the highest mountains, eat the spiciest food, drink the strongest liquors, and use the sharpest knives . . . to kill the most vicious men.

Some have said excitement makes people age faster, but this saying didn’t apply to her. Her breasts were still firm, her waist still slender, her abdomen still flat, her long legs still slim, and her skin still wrinkle free.

Her eyes were still bright and her laugh was still alluring and radiant. Whoever saw her would find it hard to believe that she was already thirty-three years old.

*   *   *

In the past thirty-three years, Feng Siniang had never allowed herself to be mistreated. She knew what to wear for each occasion, what to say to any sort of people, what to eat with a particular liquor, and she knew which kind of kung fu would kill which kind of people. She knew about life and how to enjoy it.

Few people were like her. She was unique. Some envied her; some were jealous of her. She was completely pleased with herself, except for one thing: she was lonely.

No excitement of any kind could dispel her feelings of loneliness.

Now, the last thread of her fatigue had dissolved in the water. She picked up a white silk washcloth and stroked her body with it.

When the soft silk touched her skin, it always brought indescribable joy, yet she wished it were a pair of hands-the hands of a man she liked.

However soft the washcloth was, it could not match a lover’s hands; nothing in the world could take the place of a lover’s hands!

Gazing at her smooth, translucent, and nearly flawless body, she felt a prick of unspeakable sadness.

All at once, several huge holes were torn into the window, the door, and the wooden walls; a head was thrust through each hole, each with a pair of lustful eyes.

Some were giggling uncontrollably; some were gawking with their eyes almost popping out, completely speechless. At the sight of a beautiful naked woman, most men act like dogs. Ravenous dogs. The hole above the window had the best position, being closest and offering an unsurpassed view. The head protruding from this hole had a fat ugly face and a large rounded lump on the top, giving the illusion of one head atop the other. The sight of it was revolting, but the other heads didn’t look any more pleasant.

Even a man in the bath would be terrified by the presence of so many intruders, yet Feng did not seem ruffled at all. She sat comfortably in the tub and cleaned her hand with the silk washcloth.

Without lifting her eyes, she gazed at her elegant fingers and scrubbed them carefully. When she was through, she offered the hint of a smile to the staring men. “Haven’t you seen a woman take a bath before?”

All of the men broke into loud guffaws. A young pimple-faced man, who had stared with the widest eyes and laughed the hardest, bragged, “Not only have I seen women bathing, but I’m an expert in bathing women. If you let me scrub your back, I guarantee you’ll be more than satisfied.”

“Wonderful!” Feng flashed him a bewitching smile. “It happens that my back is itching. Why don’t you come in?”

With narrowed eyes and laughing with excitement, the young man bashed the window open, eager to leap in, but he was pulled away by the big guy with the large lump on his head. Wiping the grin from his face and red with anger, the young man glared at the big guy and snarled, “Brother Xie, you already have several wives! Why fight me over this chick?”

Before the young man could finish speaking, the big guy slugged him, sending him flying.

“My goodness, if you scrub my back as hard as you hit people,” Feng said, “I don’t think I can stand it.”

Xie glared at her, his eyes as hideous and vicious as those of a serpent, his voice more rasping than that of a rattlesnake. “Do you know what kind of place this is?” he hissed.

“If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have come.”

Feng smiled again before continuing. “This place is Mount Jumbled-Rocks, also called Bandit Mountain, because everyone living here is a bandit. Even the keeper of this small inn is a bandit, although he looks like an honest man.”

“If you knew what kind of place this was, why did you come!” Xie demanded.

“What does it matter? I didn’t come to pick a fight. I just came to take a bath.”

Xie grinned with malice. “Why here?”

Her eyes twinkling, she said softly, “Perhaps I like to have bandits watch me bathe. It’s exciting, no?”

Suddenly, Xie whacked the windowsill with the flat of his hand, crushing the big pieces of wood and demonstrating he was rather good at Iron Sand Palm.

Remaining unfazed, Feng simply sighed and murmured, “It’s a good thing I didn’t ask this uncivilized man to scrub my back.”

Xie flew into a rage. “Stop beating around the bush. Why did you come here? Spit it out!”

“You’re right,” she smiled. “I wouldn’t have come here merely to take a bath.”

His eyes glinting, Xie said, “Did someone send you to collect information?”

“Of course not. I came to visit an old friend.”

“Your friend isn’t here.”

“How do you know?” She laughed. “Who says I can’t make friends with bandits? Did it occur to you that I might be a bandit, too?”

His face darkened. “Who is your friend?”

“I haven’t seen him for quite a while,” she said unhurriedly. “But I heard he’s been doing quite well in recent years and has become the leader of the bandits in the region of Guanzhong. I wonder if you know him.”

His face fell again. “There are thirteen gangs in this region, and each has its own leader. Which one are you talking about?”

“The chief of the thirteenth gang.”

Xie was stunned for only a moment, before bursting into laughter. Pointing at her, he sneered, “How could you possibly be a friend of our chief?”

“Why couldn’t I?” she asked, in a docile voice. “Do you know who I am?”

Xie stopped laughing and began to size her up. “Who are you?” he asked, his voice cold. “Could you possibly be . . . Feng Siniang, the Enchantress?”

Brushing his question aside, she asked, “Are you Xie Bude, also known as Two-Headed Snake?”

He grinned, feeling smug about being recognized. “That’s right. And whoever sees me-Two-Headed Snake-has to die. No one can get away.”

“If you are Two-Headed Snake, then I have to be Feng Siniang.”

Hearing this, Two-Headed Snake felt as if his head were bursting.

Was the naked woman sitting in the bathtub really Feng Siniang-the notorious and much feared Enchantress?

He almost couldn’t believe his own ears, but he knew he had better believe it.

His feet started to move backwards and the other men retreated even faster.

Suddenly, they heard Feng shout: “Freeze!”

Everyone froze and she smiled again, in her lovely and charming way.

Her voice was warm. “After ogling at a bathing lady, did you think you could get away so easily?”

“What do you want with us?” Two-Headed Snake asked.

Though his voice was quivering, he stared with widened eyes. When they settled on her bare breasts, he became emboldened and grinned maliciously. “Do you want us to take an even closer look?”

Amused by his inference, Feng chuckled. “Well, evidently you think that because I’m still undressed, I wouldn’t dare go after you.”

“That’s right. You can’t kill while you’re sitting in the bathtub . . . unless you carry weapons into the water.”

Feng raised her hands, laughing. “Do these hands look like they can kill?” They appeared as delicate and graceful as orchids.

“No way,” replied Two-Headed Snake.

“I agree, but the funny thing is . . . sometimes they do.”

She waved her hands in the air, and, all of a sudden, a dozen silver rays shot out from among her fingers.

A chorus of painful screams filled the air. A silver needle became imbedded in each eye of every man. No one had seen where they came from and no one had been able to dodge them.

Feng sighed again and murmured, “Have you never heard the saying that whoever peeps at bathing women will get needle-eyes?” Needle-eyes is Chinese slang for styes.

The howling men rolled frantically on the ground with their hands over their eyes.

Their cacophony of yowls did not make Feng cover her ears. She continued to examine her own hands.

After a long while, she closed her eyes and sighed. “Such fine hands should be doing embroidery, not killing. What a pity!”

*    *   *

Suddenly, the squalling stopped, almost simultaneously.

Feng shouted, “Hua Ping, is that you?” She frowned.

All was quiet outside, except for the noise of the tree branches, swayed by the wind.

After several moments, she heard a click-the sound of a saber being inserted into its scabbard.

A smile spread her lips. “I knew it was you. Who else can kill seven people so quickly? Who else can wield a saber so swiftly?”

No response came from outside.

“I know you killed them to end their suffering,” she said. “It’s just that I wonder . . . since when have you developed such a soft heart?”

At length, a voice replied. “Is that Feng Siniang?”

“I’m glad you still recognize my voice,” she said, smiling to herself. “That means you haven’t forgotten me.”

“Other than Feng Siniang, who would hide weapons in the bathtub?”

“So you were peeping at me, too.” Feng giggled softly. “How else would you know I was taking a bath?”

Hua didn’t seem to hear her question.

“If you wanted to look, why didn’t you come in?”

He seemed to draw in a deep sigh. “Since you moved out to the borderlands a few years ago, everyone has been pleased with the ensuing peace. Why did you come back?”

“Because I missed you.”

Hua fell silent again.

“You don’t believe I have missed you? Why else would I come to see you?”

Hua sighed again.

“Why are you sighing?” Feng asked. “You think I have an ulterior motive? You’re so prosperous, you don’t want to see old friends anymore?”

“I’ll see you when you’re dressed.”

“I’m dressed. Come on in!”

At last, Hua emerged through the doorway. His pale face became even paler, when he saw that Feng was still sitting in the tub, naked.

She giggled. “When someone wants to peek at me bathing, I kill him. But if you don’t want to look . . . I insist that you do.”

*   *   *

Although Hua was not tall, no one would think he was short, because he was full of vast, fiery energy.

Dressed in a long black cape, he revealed the red hilt of his saber.

This saber had made him the leader of the bandits in Guanzhong.

“I heard that you killed First Sword of Taiyuan, Gao Fei, a few years ago,” Feng said. “True?”


“I heard that Twin Swords of Taixing, the Ding brothers, were also defeated by you. True?”


Hua was not only unwilling to look at Feng, he was also unwilling to talk.

She laughed. “Both Gao Fei and the Ding brothers were among the finest fighters and you killed them, which shows that your saber is even faster than before.”

Hua did not even mutter this time.

“I returned to Guanzhong to see exactly how fast your saber is,” Feng said.

“You want a demonstration?” he asked, his voice hoarse, and immediately on guard.

“Don’t worry.” She smiled radiantly. “I didn’t come to fight a duel. I don’t want to kill you or be killed by you.”

It took Hua a while to regain his composure. “In that case,” he said coolly, “you don’t have to see my saber.”

“Why not?”

“My saber is used to kill, not to be viewed.”

With her eyes twinkling, she said, “What if I insist on seeing it?”

It was quite a while before Hua finally agreed. “All right, I’ll let you.”

His words were spoken slowly, but no matter how slowly, it wouldn’t have taken long to speak so few of them. Yet, by the time he was through, Hua’s saber had appeared and been returned to its scabbard again, and in that flash, a wooden bench near the door had been chopped in half.

Hua’s saber was, indeed, stunningly fast.

Feng chuckled again, shaking her head. “What I want to see is how you use your saber to kill, not to chop firewood. Do you have to keep your saber techniques secret, even from an old friend?”

“Me keep secrets?”

“Although you can use either hand to wield the saber, who in the martial world doesn’t know that you are a lefty? Your left hand is at least twice as fast as your right one.”

Hua blanched again. After a long pause, he asked, “Do you have to see me use the saber with my left hand?”

“Yes, I insist.”

At a loss for what to do, Hua sighed, “All right . . . look!” He flung off his cape.

Feng had been laughing, but now she stared, mute. Noted for his Left-Handed Divine Saber, Hua Ping was renowned as the fastest saber in China. No more. His left arm had been severed at the shoulder. After a long silence, Feng let out her breath. With a quivering voice, she asked, “Was it chopped off?”


“By a sword or an ax?”


“A saber?” she gasped. “Whose saber could be faster than yours?”

Hua closed his eyes. “Only one man,” he said.

Although he looked somewhat depressed, he didn’t seem bitter. He was obviously so awestruck by the man’s swordsmanship that he almost believed his amputation was justified.

Feng could not refrain from probing further. “Who?”

Staring into the distance, Hua spoke the name distinctly, word by word: “Xiao Shiyi Lang.”

Xiao Shiyi Lang!

The sound of the man’s name caused an instant, uncharacteristic change in Feng’s facial expression. Was it anger, joy, or sadness? It was hard to tell.

“Xiao Shiyi Lang . . . Xiao Shiyi Lang . . . . ” Hua murmured. “You should remember him.”

“That’s right,” she said, nodding slowly. “I remember him. Of course, I remember him.”

Turning his eyes back to hers, Hua asked, “Do you want to see him?”

Feng glared at him, snarling, “Who said I want to see him? Why would I want to?”

“You’ll have to turn to him sooner or later.” Hua sighed.

“Bullshit!” Feng shot back angrily.

“You don’t have to lie to me. I know you came back to China for a specific reason.”

“Who said that?” She stared with widened eyes.

“I don’t know exactly what you’re up to, but it must be a heavy task. You’re afraid you can’t take it on alone, so you came to me for help.” He grimaced. “Unfortunately, I’m not much use to you now.”

“Even if your guess is correct, so what?” Feng said defiantly. “I can always find someone else for help. Why is Xiao Shiyi Lang the only candidate? It’s not as if all the top fighters in the Martial Order are dead.”

The Martial Order referred only to the circle of established martial artists, while the martial world included not only martial artists but also gangsters, as well as all kinds of itinerants such as street performers, circus artists, fortune-tellers, magicians, prostitutes, pimps, charlatans, beggars, thieves, bandits, etc.

“Who else can help you?” asked Hua.

Feng rose to her feet, still naked, and cried, “I’ll find someone! You’ll see.”

Hua closed his eyes again. “Who else is on your mind? Flying Doctor?”

“You said it. He’s my next choice.”

Her eyes glistened with animation. “Flying Doctor is not inferior to Xiao Shiyi Lang in any way. His Lightness Kung Fu is second to none; he can run and leap faster than anyone else. Besides, the strength of his fingers can probably overwhelm ten Xiao Shiyi Langs combined.”

*   *    *

Legend has it that Flying Doctor, Gongsun Ling, could use a finger to stop a galloping horse. His Lightness Kung Fu, known as Swallow Thrice Skimming Water was without equal in the Martial Order. Moreover, he was a distinguished medical doctor. Many people respectfully referred to him as Triple-Title Gongsun.

The place where Gongsun lived was unique. It was a tomb built of stone slabs. His bed was a coffin. He thought this was convenient, because, once he died, he wouldn’t have to be moved.

A strange lad answered the door. Feng fired a round of questions at him. “Is Mr. Gongsun at home? Where did he go? Is he coming back today? When do you expect him?”

The lad uttered a short reply, consisting of only three words. “He’s not in.”

Feng was so mad she wanted to slap him in the face.

In fact, she knew the only thing that would keep Flying Doctor away from home was probably a visit to his patients.

Although Flying Doctor had a peculiar temperament, he was not compassionless.

She also knew that Flying Doctor wouldn’t stay anywhere else for the night. He always slept in his coffin, in case he died in his sleep.

She could have stayed there and waited for him to come back, but she was a living person. It gave her the shivers to sit on a coffin in a tomb.

She preferred to sit by the road and wait for him.

It began to grow dark. A chill autumn breeze was blowing.

At the top of a small cliff by the trail, Feng found a nice spot and lay down. She gazed at the dark sky, waiting for the first star to rise.

Few people notice how the first star rises, but this was Feng’s style. She could always find something interesting to do. She never wasted her time.

Alas! How many people appreciate such quiet pleasures?

It was late and the stars were finally out.

In the shadow of evening, Feng heard the sound of heavy footsteps. Two bearers, carrying a palanquin, trotted along the trail. A gaunt old man in a blue gown sat inside.

The haggard old man seemed to be dozing.

The two bearers appeared tired, too, as they puffed and panted like old bulls. When they approached the hill, the one trotting in front turned his head and said, “It’s a long way to the top of the hill. How about taking a break, before we continue?”

“I’ve been getting really tired,” said the other one. “How about trading places on the way up?” On an uphill road, the bearer in the back usually takes all the weight.

“Bastard, you are being lazy,” the one in front jokingly scolded. “Did you see Little Sweet Melon again last night? You will die on her belly, sooner or later.”

As the two men talked and laughed, their pace slacked off. Feng could not tell if the old man were really asleep or simply pretending that he didn’t hear anything. His eyes remained closed.

When they reached the bottom of the hill, the bearers stopped and slowly lowered the palanquin.

Then, without warning, almost simultaneously, the two men each pulled a pair of long swords from within the supporting bars of the palanquin. They aimed two swords at the old man’s chest and the other two at his back.

Chapter 2: Legs of Flying Doctor

The old man was none other than Flying Doctor.

The two bearers were martial arts masters, in disguise. With lightning speed, the four swords lunged toward Flying Doctor from four directions-above, below, in front, and behind-instantly trapping him in the center, with no room for escape. It appeared that no matter how he might try to dodge them, he was about to be stabbed by at least two swords.

Though a martial arts veteran herself, not even Feng had expected such a vicious attack. It was too late for her to come to the rescue. She was afraid Flying Doctor would become a dead doctor, this time.

Surprisingly, in a split second, Flying Doctor leaned to one side, with two swords shaving past his body. The other two pierced his clothes, but both were clamped tightly in two of his fingers. It was as if his fingers were cast in iron. As hard as the two bearers tried, they could not dislodge their swords.

With a heavy clank, the two blades were snapped in two.

Astonished, the bearers somersaulted and landed several meters away.

With his eyes closed, Flying Doctor waved his hands. He sent the two snapped blades flying like blue rays toward the two fleeing bearers, who screamed in terror.

Blood spurted from their bodies, like arrows. Though the bearers were dead, their bodies were launched forward, leaving two streaks of crimson on the ground.

Following the screams came deathly silence.

Then, the crisp sound of clapping hands was heard.

“Who is it?” Flying Doctor snarled.

His eyes snapped open and peered intensely at the cliff where Feng was looking on. He saw her beautiful face and disarming smile.

“It’s you.” He frowned.

Feng smiled pleasantly. “It’s been many years since we last met. I’m surprised to see you’re not only more active, but you’ve also made incredible progress in kung fu.”

His eyes drew together in an even deeper frown. “Why are you being so courteous? What do you want?”

“When I’m courteous, people say I’m up to something,” Feng lamented. “When I’m not courteous, people say I’m rude. Alas! How difficult it is to act properly!”

Flying Doctor listened quietly, showing no emotion.

“The truth is, I just stopped by to see you,” she said. “After all, we’re old friends, aren’t we?”

He remained silent.

Feng flew off the small cliff and stood in front of him. “I haven’t been injured or offended by you. Why would I demand anything?”

“Have you taken a good look at me?”

“Of course I have.”

“Good, then. Goodbye!”

Feng blinked and then giggled like the tinkle of a bell. “You are indeed an old fox. Nothing escapes you!”

Flying Doctor smiled, too. “To match the Enchantress, I have to be an old fox.”

She used her eyes to point at the corpses on the ground. “Do you know who they are and why they wanted to kill you?”

“I’ve been around for quite a few years and killed countless people,” he replied nonchalantly. “It’s natural that someone would want to kill me. I won’t bother to make an inquiry.”

“I know you aren’t afraid of death.” Feng grinned. “But if these young upstarts had killed you, wouldn’t that be a great pity? Aren’t you afraid that your commanding reputation would be ruined?”

Silence ensued. Flying Doctor scrutinized her with intensity. “What do you want from me?” he grumbled.

“If you do a favor for me, I’ll help you find out who was behind the surprise attack,” she said, hands clasped behind her back. “You know, intelligence gathering is my specialty.”

Flying Doctor sighed and smiled grudgingly. “I should have known you wouldn’t seek me out for a good cause.”

“But this time, it is for a good cause,” Feng said, solemnly.

She squatted in front of Flying Doctor’s palanquin. “It is a great cause. When this task is accomplished, both you and I will benefit from it.”

After a period of silence, a weary smile flickered across his face. “I would like very much to help you. Unfortunately, you are too late.”

“Too late?” She grimaced. “Why?”

Flying Doctor flung off the blanket covering his legs, leaving Feng in such shock, it was as if someone had poured ice water over her head.

His legs had been severed at the knees!

*    *   *

Flying Doctor’s Lightness Kung Fu had been unequaled. When he applied his Swallow Thrice Skimming Water, he could capture flying birds barehanded. Now, his legs had been amputated.

The sight was even more shocking than Hua Ping’s missing arm. “What happened?” Feng’s voice trembled.

Flying Doctor’s face was grim. “They were chopped off.”

“By . . . ?”

He spoke the name, one word at a time: “Xiao Shiyi Lang.”

Xiao Shiyi Lang! Xiao Shiyi Lang, again!

Feng held her breath for a long time. Suddenly, she stamped her feet, screaming, “I don’t want to see him. Why is everyone telling me to see him?” She detected a pattern in the treachery.

“You should have turned to him in the first place. With his help, whatever you want to do can be easily achieved.”

“What about you? Don’t you want to get even with him?”

“It’s true that he injured me, but I don’t hate him,” Flying Doctor replied, with a shake of his head.

“Why not?”

Closing his eyes again, Flying Doctor became quiet.

A long silence followed. “I know you don’t want to talk,” Feng said at last, with a sigh. “Very well. In that case, I will take you home now.”

“No, you don’t have to.”

“Why not? How can you get up this hill, in your condition?”

“Men and women mustn’t have physical contact. I don’t want to trouble you. Please go.”

“What’s the big deal about men and women having physical contact?” She stared straight into his face. “I don’t care how you think a woman should behave. I never pay attention to those stupid restrictions.”

Ignoring his protest, she lifted him up and carried him on her back.

Flying Doctor smiled wryly, not knowing what to do with such a woman.

*     *   *

In the shadow of evening, the tomb looked even more mysterious and frightening than usual. A dim light radiated from inside. From a distance, it looked like a will-o’-the-wisp.

“I don’t understand why you have to live in a place like this,” Feng complained. “Aren’t you afraid of ghosts?”

“Sometimes ghosts are easier to live with than the living,” replied the doctor.

“That’s true. At least ghosts won’t chop off your legs.” Her voice was sarcastic.

Though there was a light in the chamber, no one was in. The peculiar-looking lad was nowhere to be found. What’s more, the coffin had disappeared!

What burglars would be interested in such a place?

Feng couldn’t help but laugh. “What a funny thief! He stole nothing but your coffin. Even if someone in his family had died, he didn’t have to come all the way here-”

She broke off when she noticed the Flying Doctor trembling and sweat dripping from his brow.

“Did you hide something in the coffin?” she asked, sensing something was wrong.

Flying Doctor nodded.

“You wouldn’t have hidden money in the coffin, because you’re not a miser,” she mused aloud. “In that case . . . .”

Her eyes flashed. “Aha!” she blurted. “You thought no one would steal your coffin, so you inscribed all the secrets of your medical skills and martial arts inside. You wanted those secrets to be buried with you when you die.”

Nodding his head again, Flying Doctor seemed paralyzed.

“I don’t understand why people like you are so selfish,” Feng sighed. “Why aren’t you willing to teach others what you have learned?”

At that moment, they heard the sound of panting from outside. The strange-looking lad appeared at the doorway.

His whole body was soaked with blood and his right arm was . . . missing. Staring at Flying Doctor, he managed to utter a few words: “Xiao . . . Shiyi . . . Lang!”

With that, he collapsed and died. His left hand clutched a boot.

Xiao Shiyi Lang! Xiao Shiyi Lang, again!

Stamping her feet and muttering angrily, Feng said, “I didn’t know he had become such a monster. I never imagined that he would do something so . . . appalling.”

“I don’t believe this is his doing,” observed Flying Doctor. “This is not like him.”

Feng’s eyes fell on the boot.

The boot was made of curried leather. The craftsmanship was elaborate. What struck her was that the surface was decorated with colorful beads. Decent ordinary people wouldn’t wear such shoes. Most martial artists wouldn’t wear them, either.

“It’s true that he never wore such shoes,” Feng said thoughtfully, “but, who knows what he has become.”

“His character would not change.”

Feng regarded Flying Doctor with a mixture of bemusement and curiosity. “This is odd. He chopped off your legs, and you’re leaping to his defense.”

“He came to me in good faith. We had a duel, and he beat me fair and square. I know he’s an honorable man who wouldn’t do anything underhanded.”

“It sounds like you know him better than I do,” Feng said, with a soft sigh. “But why did this boy speak his name before he died?”

Flying Doctor shifted his eyes. “The boy didn’t know Xiao Shiyi Lang, but you do. If you track down the murderer, you’ll find out who did this.”

“I see.” She laughed. “You want me to catch the thief for you.”

Flying Doctor hung his head, looking at his legs ruefully.

“All right, I’ll go after the thief,” Feng said, compassion for him in her eyes. “But I can’t guarantee I’ll catch up with him. You know I’m not very good at Lightness Kung Fu.”

“With a coffin on his back, the thief can’t run very quickly,” the doctor said. “Otherwise, the boy wouldn’t have been killed. He must have caught up with that crook and held on to his leg.”

“Why did he assume Xiao Shiyi Lang’s name? Why did he kill this boy?” Feng murmured, thinking of a motive. “Otherwise, even if he had stolen eight hundred coffins, I couldn’t have cared less.”

*   *   *

The bright moon was cold, the mountain desolate, and the wind strong.

Feng had always disliked using her Lightness Kung Fu against the wind, afraid that the wind blowing in her face would produce wrinkles.

Nevertheless, she dashed and leaped while facing the wind. Not because she wanted to catch the murderer, but because she wanted the cold wind to efface the image from her mind.

The first time she saw Xiao Shiyi Lang, he was only a teenager. Bare-chested, he was braving the rushing torrents in an attempt to scramble up Longqiu Falls.

He tried again and again. Once, he almost made it, only to be pummeled by the rushing water. His body landed on the rocks with a thud. His head gashed open, his body bruised, he rose to his feet, covered in blood.

Without stopping to dress his wounds, he clenched his jaws and lunged forward again. This time, he made it all the way to the top of the falls. He stood there clapping and laughing.

His victory was seared into her memory.

No matter how fierce the wind, it could not dispel her image of him.

Feng bit her lip hard, and it hurt. She had tried not to think about him, but the saddest thing about being human is that you often can’t help thinking about the last thing you want to remember.

A shadow swayed in the wind.

Absorbed in her thoughts, Feng didn’t notice. She raced on, with her head hanging low, until she came upon a face. The face was upside down, its bulging eyes bloodshot and staring in a fixed position. The sight was terrifying.

No matter how bold, anyone would be caught off guard by the sight of such a face. Feng backed away a few steps, lifting her head. The man hung upside down from a tree branch. She could not tell if he was still alive.

Just as she was about to check the man’s breath, his eyes started to roll and his throat to gurgle, as if he wanted to talk.

“Were you ambushed?” she asked.

Unable to nod, he blinked and croaked, “It was a bandit . . . a bandit . . . .”

He blinked again.

He was not old, but his chin was covered with unshaved blue stubble. Though dressed gaudily, he had a mean-looking face.

“In my opinion,” Feng scoffed, “you look like a bandit, too. If I save you, I might become your next victim.”

Though his eyes made him look malicious, he managed a nervous grin. “If you help me, I’ll pay you generously.”

“But, you have been robbed. What can you pay me with?”

The man couldn’t answer. His face produced cold sweat.

Feng smirked. “I don’t think you look like a decent man, but . . . I can’t leave you to die.”

“Thanks . . . thanks a lot.” He was relieved.

She smirked again. “I don’t need your thanks. I just hope that after I save you, you won’t take an indecent interest in me.”

The man repeated his thanks, but his eyes fell on her chest. The curves of her firm breasts were vaguely visible under her clothes. Knowing most men were like that, Feng wasn’t offended.

She leaped onto the branch of the tree. Just as she was about to unravel the tangled rope, she noticed that his tied foot was wearing a sock . . . but no shoe. The sock was stained with blood.

Turning to the other foot, she found it wearing a boot . . . a boot made of curried leather and decorated with elaborate beads!

Feng was stunned.

A long pause transpired. “Ma’am! You said you’d help me. What are you waiting for?” said the man.

She narrowed her eyes. “I still think it’s . . . inappropriate.”


“As a woman traveling alone, I have to be cautious. It’s midnight, and there’s no one else around. After I save you, what if you want to . . . hurt me? What would I do?”

The man strained to smile. “Ma’am, please don’t worry. I’m not an evil man. Besides, judging from the way you leaped onto the branch, you don’t seem to be easily harmed.”

“But I should still be careful. I’ve got to ask you some questions first.”

“What about?” he grumbled, obviously impatient.

“What is your surname? And where are you from?”

He replied hesitantly, “My surname is . . . Xiao, and I’m from . . . the north.”

“What did the robber look like?”

“Truthfully,” he sighed, “I was hung up before I could see his face.”

She frowned. “How about the coffin? Was it snatched away, too?”

Pale, the man looked uncomfortable. “What coffin? Ma’am, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Feng bounded off the branch and gave him seven or eight quick slaps, leaving his face swollen and loosening some of his teeth. With a trickle of blood around the corners of his mouth, the man snarled in rage, “Who are you? Why did you hit me?”

“That’s exactly what I’m asking you,” Feng sneered. “Who are you? Why did you steal Flying Doctor’s coffin? Who sent you here? Why did you assume Xiao Shiyi Lang’s name?”

The man’s head jerked with each question. His face twisted and his eyes spewed maliciousness. He glared at her, his teeth chattering noisily.

“You don’t want to talk, do you?” she asked, her voice cold. “All right, let me. I’m Feng Siniang. Whoever is at my mercy confesses everything.”

A look of horror flickered across his face. “Feng Siniang? So . . . you are Feng Siniang!”

“Since you know my name, you should know I speak the truth.”

The man drew a long breath and muttered, “I never thought I’d meet Feng Siniang, the Enchantress. Well, well, well, well . . . .”

At the fourth “well,” he suddenly bit down.

Feng immediately rushed to unclamp his lower jaw, but it was too late. His eyes had turned up and his face had turned black; his lips had curled into a cryptic sneer and his eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. He stared at Feng and hissed, “Can you make me talk . . . now?”

The man would rather swallow poison than tell the truth about himself. Obviously, he was afraid that if he survived, the punishment waiting for him would be worse than death.

“It’s a good thing you killed yourself,” Feng sneered. “Whether you talked or not has nothing to do with me anyway.”

Questions remained though.

Who had hung this murderer upside down? And . . . what had happened to the coffin?

*   *   *

To her amazement, the coffin had returned to Flying Doctor’s tomb.

Could it have walked home by itself?

Unable to believe her eyes, Feng darted across the floor. “How did this coffin get here?” she demanded.

Flying Doctor’s face beamed. “Someone sent it back.”


With a mysterious smile and speaking slowly, Flying Doctor said, “Xiao Shiyi Lang!”

“Xiao Shiyi Lang? It’s him again!” Feng cried in exasperation. “So it was he who hung the man upside down. Why didn’t he grill the man about his motives?”

“He knows there is no use in interrogating certain types of people.”

“Then why did he leave the man dangling? Did he intend to leave the man to me?” Feng was irritated.

Flying Doctor grinned but did not answer.

Her eyes swept around the room. “Where is he?”

“He left.”

She glared at Flying Doctor. “He knew I was here. Why didn’t he wait for me?”

“I said you didn’t want to see him, so he left.”

Her lips curled into a sneer. “That’s right. Every time I see this man, I get upset. Where did he go?”

“You don’t want to see him anyway.” Flying Doctor smirked. “What’s the point in asking?”

Left speechless, Feng jumped up and kicked the table over, screaming, “You old fox! I wish he would come back and chop off your hands!”

She stormed out of the chamber.

Flying Doctor sighed deeply and murmured to himself, “Why is a woman in her thirties still acting like a child? This is odd . . . .”

Chapter 3 The Sound of Singing in the Night

Filled with bamboo-leaf-green wine, the green porcelain cup looked like a huge piece of translucent jade.

The bright moon hanging in the sky was like a plate of ice. It was full and complete. Were people?

Feng’s face was flushed and she was slightly inebriated. The moonlight shone through the window. As she gazed up at the moon, she remembered something that sobered her almost immediately.

Is today the fifteenth day of the month?

July fifteen, in the lunar calendar, was her birthday. After this day, she would be one year older.

Thirty-four! What a terrible number! she thought.

When she was fifteen or sixteen, she used to think that once a woman was over thirty, life became meaningless. A woman in her thirties was like an old chrysanthemum in November, simply waiting to wither.

Yet she was thirty-four now. She didn’t want to believe it, but she had to. Why was time so relentless?

There was a bronze mirror in the corner of the room. She gazed at the face reflected in it.

The face was youthful. It had no wrinkles around the eyes, even when she smiled. Few would believe it was the face of a thirty-four-year-old woman.

Although she could fool everyone else, she couldn’t fool herself.

She turned and poured herself a large cup of wine. The moon cast her long shadow onto the floor. Two lines of a well-known poem came to her mind:

Raising my cup I invite the Moon,

Then turn to my shadow, which makes the three of us.

She had never understood the loneliness and sadness it described . . . until now.

From far off, she heard the sound of a baby crying.

She had once loathed the sound of crying babies, but, now, how she wanted a baby! How she wanted to hear the crying of her own baby!

Her face reflected the moonlight, and a few glistening tears slipped down her cheek.

Several times, in the past few years, she had thought about finding a man and getting married . . . but, she couldn’t. Most men made her sick.

Her youth was fading. In a few years, perhaps even those she considered disgusting wouldn’t want her. Alas! A woman of thirty-four . . . .

She heard the loud laughter of a man passing by her door.

The laughter was raucous and seemed slightly intoxicated.

What would this man be like?

He was certainly vulgar and ugly, and he probably reeked of alcohol.

Nevertheless, if this man barged in now and begged her to marry him, she might say yes.

Does a woman become less picky when she is thirty-four than when she was twenty? she mused, her lips curling into a wistful smile.

It was getting late. The outside sounds had died down.

The tones of the night gong echoed in the distance. The sounds were dull, yet they marked the passage of time . . . and life.

It’s time to go to bed, Feng told herself.

Just as she rose to close the window, the sound of distant singing came drifting in with the night wind. The haunting voice, desolate and poignant, sounded familiar.

Xiao Shiyi Lang!

Nearly very time she had seen Xiao, he had been humming this tune. It made him seem aloof and distant.

Aroused by an inner excitement, and without hesitation, she placed a hand on the window frame for support and leaped out, darting toward the source of the voice.

*   *   *

The long street was quiet.

In front of every household door, the road was scattered with drifts of ash where paper money had been burned. When a gust of raw wind arose, the ash dispersed, swirling into the air. In the dark, no one knew exactly how many ghosts might be waiting to snatch the burned money.

July the fifteenth was also the Ghost Festival, supposedly when the gates of hell are opened wide and the spirits are let out. Was it true that the world was filled with every kind of spirit at this very moment?

Between clenched teeth, Feng murmured, “Xiao Shiyi Lang, you are exactly like a ghost. Why don’t you ever show yourself?”

She didn’t see any sign of ghosts around her. Even the sound of singing was gone.

“That man really is a ghost,” she grunted, feeling bitter. “If he didn’t want to see me, why did he let me hear his singing?”

She suddenly felt incredibly weary and morose. All she wanted to do was go back to her room, have a few more drinks, and sleep until tomorrow. Maybe everything would be different tomorrow.

Maybe the most important reason which keeps people going is that there is always a tomorrow.

When Feng saw candlelight radiating from her room, she felt a hint of warmth in her heart, as if she were returning . . . home.

When one comes home and closes the door, it seems as if all worries are left outside. This is what a home is for . . . .

But is this my home? Of course not, she thought. It’s little more than . . . a room in an inn.

Feng drew a sigh. She didn’t know where her home was or when she would have one.

When she reached the doorway, she heard someone in her room reciting a verse:

When I have left the border one thousand miles behind me,

Mr. Xiao will be just like another stranger.

Then the voice said, “Feng Siniang . . . my Feng Siniang. I’m afraid you’ve forgotten me, haven’t you?”

Feng came alive instantly. She dashed into the room, yelling, “You damned . . . ! You finally showed up!”

The wine in the goblet on the table was gone.

A man was lying languidly on the bed, with his face covered by a pillow.

He was dressed in faded blue. A blue cloth band was tied casually around his waist and a saber was tucked casually into the band.

This saber was far shorter than regular ones. Its scabbard was made of shabby black leather, but at least it looked newer than his boots.

He lay with one knee up, his other foot perched upon it. There were two big holes on the sole of the shoe.

Feng leaped up and kicked his shoe, shouting, “Lazy bastard! Lazy and dirty! Who said you could sleep on my bed?”

The man in the bed sighed and grumbled, “I just took a bath last month, and here you are saying that I’m . . . dirty.”

She couldn’t help but giggle a little, but she sobered up again, immediately. Grabbing the pillow covering his face, she tossed it into the air. “Sit up and let me see exactly how ugly you’ve become in the last few years.”

Although the pillow was gone, the man’s face was still covered with his hands.

“Have you become too ugly to look at?” she said.

The man in the bed separated his fingers, revealing eyes that were sparkling and joyful. “Whoa! What a ferocious woman!” he said. “No wonder you’re not married yet. It seems that other than me, no one would dare marry you-”

Before he could finish, Feng had slammed one of her hands down.

The man in the bed suddenly pulled back. His whole body stretched flat against the wall, like a paper doll sticking to a flat surface. He stayed there, refusing to come down.

His bright eyes were still laughing. His eyebrows were bushy, his nose straight, his short beard so thick it looked like it could puncture skin.

This man was not really handsome, but the glistening eyes and the bright smile gave him an aura of animal energy . . . untamed, but charismatic.

“Xiao Shiyi Lang, you haven’t changed at all, not even one little bit,” said Feng, sighing softly and shaking her head. “You are still a one-hundred percent asshole in every sense of the word and in every way.”

“I thought you wanted to marry me-an asshole!” Xiao grinned. “It appears that I was mistaken.”

“Me marry you?” she shrieked, her face burning with anger. “You think I’d want to marry you? Even if every other man in the world were dead, I would never marry you.”

Xiao expelled a long sigh. “Whew, am I ever relieved.”

He slid from the wall, landing on the bed with a thump. “Honestly speaking,” he said with a laugh, “when I heard you were looking for me, I was a little scared. I’m only twenty-seven. If I wanted to marry, I’d find a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, instead of an old hag . . . like you.”

Feng was furious. “You call me an old hag? How old do you think I am?”

With a flourish, she withdrew a sword from her sleeve.

In a matter of seconds, her sword had lunged toward him seven or eight times.

Xiao was even faster. He scrambled back to the wall and climbed to the ceiling, staying there like a giant gecko. He waved his hand at her. “Please, don’t move. I was only joking. Actually, you’re not old at all. You don’t look a day over . . . forty-something, at most.”

Feng tried to keep a straight face, but she couldn’t hold back her laughter. She wagged her head at him. “It’s lucky for me I don’t see you often. Otherwise, I would have died getting mad at you a long time ago.”

Xiao flashed her a broad smile. “Too many people flatter you. Isn’t it fun to have someone tease you for a change?”

After he came down, his eyes rested on the sword Feng was holding.

The sword was a little over a foot in length. Its blade was very thin and had a greenish-blue shine. This kind of sword was most suitable for a woman. Madame Gongsun, the most famous swordswoman in the Tang Dynasty, used a similar one. She taught sword dances in the Imperial Music Institute. Even the renowned poet Tu Fu had written a poem to extol her prowess:

A fair lady there was

the Madame Gongsun;

The dance of her sword

marveled the world.

Beholders, many as mountains,

were filled with awe;

Even the heaven and the earth

breathed to her rhythm.

She flashed, like the Nine Suns

whirling down to the Archer;

She flew, like graceful gods saddled

on gliding dragons.

She moved, like rolling thunders

as the storm rages;

She ceased, like cold light shimmering

off placid rivers.

This poem was a testament to the superiority of Madame Gongsun’s sword skills. She was a petite woman. If she had not used this kind of sword, she would not have been able to dance so deftly.

*   *   *

While Xiao was staring at her sword, Feng was studying his eyes. Without warning, she moved her hand, slashing the wine cup on the table with the weapon.

With a clang, the green porcelain cup was cut in half.

“Excellent sword!” exclaimed Xiao, in admiration.

“Although this sword can’t cut iron as if it were clay, it comes close,” said Feng, with the shadow of a smile. “Count Carefree cherished it so much he was reluctant to let anyone else view it.”

The edges of Xiao’s mouth curled upward. “Yet . . . he gave it to you?”

Feng raised her head high. “Exactly.”

“Does that mean he is . . . interested in you?”

“So what?” Feng smiled humorlessly. “Is there some reason he shouldn’t be interested in me? Am I that . . . old?”

After studying her for a moment, Xiao spoke in a serious voice. “It’s not easy to draw the attention of a man like Count Carefree. I was just wondering . . . how many concubines do you think he’s had before you?”

Her anger surged. “You’re full of shit!”

She raised her sword and Xiao braced himself again.

But then Feng lowered her sword slowly, slanting her eyes at him. “If you’re so smart, then you should know the story behind this sword.”

“It appears to be Blue Jade, used by Shen Ruolan, Madame Gongsun’s first disciple.”

Feng nodded. “You do know something.”

“But, it is one of a pair. Since you have Blue Jade, you should have Crimson Glow as well. Unless . . . .” He broke off.

“Unless what?”

Xiao smirked. “…unless Count Carefree was reluctant to give you both.”

She glared at him defiantly. “If I wanted his head, he would put it on a platter and offer it to me, not to mention two measly swords.”

“Really?” Xiao laughed. “In that case, where is Crimson Glow now?”

“I have it with me. I don’t mind if you want to take a look at it.”

“Actually, I don’t want to, but if I refuse, you’ll probably throw another tantrum.”

Xiao grinned and added, “Remember what happened that October, a few years ago? It was still very hot, but you came to see me in a mink coat. You were sweating and kept insisting that you simply had to wear more clothing, because you had caught a cold.”

“Bullshit!” Feng snorted. “You think I was trying to show off?”

Xiao grinned. “Lucky for you, you had something to show off. I have nothing to show off but myself.”

“You’re such a clown!” Feng scolded, playfully.

She took out the other sword. Its sheath was inlaid with pink gems. Taking the hilt into his hand, Xiao shook his head and remarked, “To no one’s surprise, things used by women always smell of rouge and powder.”

As he spoke, he started to draw the blade.

*   *   *

To his bewilderment, Crimson Glow was broken!

Feng didn’t seem disturbed. She eyed him calmly. “Surprised?” she said.

“How was such a fine weapon ruined?” Xiao asked.

“By a saber.”

Xiao raised his eyebrows. “What saber? How could it be so sharp?”

“I know that every time you hear about a fine saber, you itch for it,” Feng said, casually. “But this time, I won’t tell you about it, in case you say I’m a showoff.”

Xiao rolled his eyes and stood up. “I just remembered I haven’t eaten. Let’s go. I’ll treat you to a midnight snack.”

*   *   *

There was a small noodle shop at the end of the street.

This particular noodle shop had been in business for more than ten years. Rain or shine, it opened every day, even on holidays and festivals.

As a result, the town’s night owls were especially fond of it. When their wives threw them out, they could always come for steaming beef noodles.

Old Zhang, the boss, was very old and had graying hair. At this moment, he was sitting in his shop eating noodle soup. The paper lantern hanging at the door was blackened by greasy smoke. It was yellowish black, like Old Zhang’s face.

Customers who frequented his shop knew that he never showed even a flicker of expression. Other than asking for payment, he usually remained mute.

“How about eating here?” Xiao inquired cheerfully.

Feng frowned. “All right,” she agreed, hesitantly.

“Don’t scowl. I guarantee you have never had beef noodles as delicious as these.”

Seating himself at a shaky old table near the door, Xiao called out to the boss. “Old Zhang! I have a guest today. Serve us something nice.”

Without lifting his head, Old Zhang gave Xiao a sidelong stare, as if to say, “What’s the hurry? Wait until I have finished my soup.”

Xiao whispered, “This old man is a strange bird. Better not offend him.”

The legendary Xiao Shiyi Lang was afraid to offend an old man who ran a noodle shop? Who would believe this! Feng was greatly amused.

After quite some time, Old Zhang brought over two dishes and a jug of wine. He set them forcefully onto the table and then turned away.

Feng could not help laughing. “Do you owe him money?”

Xiao held his head high. “I did owe him a chunk of change, but I paid him back yesterday.”

Gazing at him thoughtfully, Feng said, “Everyone in the martial world affirms that Xiao Shiyi Lang is the finest and the most professional thief of the last five hundred years. None of them knows that, in reality, Xiao Shiyi Lang is so poor he can only afford to treat his guests to cheap noodles, sometimes on credit.”

Xiao laughed aloud. “I know it and you know it. Isn’t that enough? Come, let me make a toast . . . to you.”

Xiao was an enigma. Some cursed him, some hated him, some loved him . . . but few understood him.

He didn’t expect to be understood and he didn’t worry about his well-being.

If you were Feng Siniang, would you love him?
Feng had remarkable drinking skills. When most people drink too much alcohol, they tend to get confused and bleary-eyed.
But she was different. The more she drank, the brighter her eyes became. No one could tell if she were intoxicated or not. That’s why few people dared to match her drinking, even though her tolerance for spirits was really not so high.

Written by Gu Long
Translated by Becky Tai
Edited and proofread by audiowuxia.

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