Chapter 11 - A woman whose tongue is sharp as spear

Chapter 11 image

An unshaven, burly man rowed the boat in an urgent manner. A little boy and a little girl sat with him on the boat. The boat behind them is bigger, with four lamas and seven or eight Mongolian officers on it. The officers all helped the sailors peddle the boat, allowing the boat to move much faster. The burly man’s strength is also quite amazing, rowing the small boat at great speed. Nonetheless, due to superior manpower, the bigger boat kept gaining on the smaller boat. When they got close, the lamas and the officers picked up bows and began to shoot at the smaller boat.

Zhang SanFeng and Zhang WuJi walked down the Shao Bao Mountain. Realizing that Zhang WuJi’s condition is terminal, Zhang SanFeng stopped talking about possible cures. He simply tried to help Zhang WuJi pass time by chatting with him. On this day, they reached the Han River. And the two took a boat across. The boat floated on the water, wavering gently back and forth. Like the boat, Zhang SanFeng’s heart also wavered back and forth.

Zhang WuJi suddenly said, “Grand-master, don’t be sad. When I die, I’ll get to see mama and papa again.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Don’t say that. No matter what, your grand-master going to save you.” Zhang WuJi said, “Actually, I really wished I could’ve learnt Shaolin’s ‘Art of Nine-Yang’, so I can teach it to Third Uncle Yu.” Zhang SanFeng asked, “Why?” Zhang WuJi said, “I had hoped that once Third Uncle Yu learnt both Wu Dang and Shaolin’s ‘Art of Nine-Yang’, his injury could heal.”

Zhang SanFeng sighed, and said, “Your Third Uncle’s injuries are external. No amount of inner power can cure him.” He then thought, “This child knows that he’s about to die, yet he is not afraid of death. Instead, he thinks about the welfare of others, a very kind indeed.” Just about to compliment him, Zhang SanFeng suddenly heard a booming voice, “Stop the ship immediately. Hand over the child, and I’ll spare your life. Otherwise, don’t blame me for being ruthless.” This voice came from far down the river, yet one can hear the words clearly. Obviously, this person has strong inner power.

Zhang SanFeng chuckled, thought, “Who would dare ask me to hand over the child?” Raising his head, only to see two boats getting near. Upon closer examination, an unshaven, burly man rowed the boat in an urgent manner. A little boy and a little girl sat with him on the boat. The boat behind them is bigger, with four lamas and seven or eight Mongolian officers on it. The officers all helped the sailors peddle the boat, allowing the boat to move much faster. The burly man’s strength is also quite amazing, rowing the small boat at great speed. Nonetheless, due to superior manpower, the bigger boat kept gaining on the smaller boat. When they got close, the lamas and the officers picked up bows and began to shoot at the smaller boat.

Zhang SanFeng thought, “Oh, so they wanted that burly man to hand over the child.” He despises Mongolians killing Hans very much, and instantly decided to help out this burly man. Only to see this man’s left hand continue to paddle, while his right hand raised the other paddle to knock down the oncoming arrows. Zhang SanFeng thought, “This man’s kung fu is quite formidable. How could I not help such a hero in trouble?” So he then said to his boatman, “Sir, let’s go help him.”

The boatman was scared out of his wits from watching the scene. He tried his best to stay away from the confrontation. So when the boatman heard Zhang SanFeng’s words, he said in shock, “Old… priest. You’re… kidding, right?” Realizing that they have no time to waste, Zhang SanFeng snatched the paddles from the boatman, and began to row towards the other two boats. Suddenly, he heard a loud scream, as an arrow struck the back of the little boy on the small boat. The burly man then immediately lost his poise, as he hurriedly turned to look at the boy’s wounds. At this moment, two arrows hit him on the shoulder and back. With the arrow wounds, the burly man could no longer hold on to the paddles, and they dropped into the water. The boat soon stopped. The bigger boat quickly caught up, as the officers and lamas jumped onto the smaller boat. That burly man did not surrender, however. Instead he fought them with all his energy.

Zhang SanFeng yelled, “Stop, filthy Mongols. I won’t allow you to hurt anyone!” As his boat got close, Zhang SanFeng jumped into the air towards the burly man’s boat.

Two officers shot arrows at him. But with a wave his sleeve, Zhang SanFeng easily whisked the arrows away. As he landed, Zhang SanFeng’s left palm shot out. Two officers immediately fell down into the water. Upon seeing this, the other officers and lamas immediately froze from the shock. The head officer said, “Old priest, what do you want?”

Zhang SanFeng yelled, “Filthy Mongols! Trying to do more evil, hurting more civilians? Get out of here!” That officer said, “Do you know who he is? He is a remaining member of Yuan Province Devil Cult rebels, a wanted outlaw!”

Zhang SanFeng gasped upon hearing the words ‘Yuan Province Devil Cult rebel’. He thought, “So this man is Zhou ZiWang’s subordinate?” He turned and asked the burly man, “Is he speaking the truth?”

That burly man’s whole body filled with blood, as his left hand clutched the little boy, and cried, “They… they killed little master.” This sentence confirmed his identity.

Zhang SanFeng said in shock, “Is this Zhou ZiWang’s son?”

That burly man said, “That’s correct. I could not carry out my order, so what’s the need to keep on living?” He slowly put down the boy’s body, and then attacked an officer. But he’s already injured, plus the arrows are poisonous. So even before he could fully get up, he fell down onto the deck.

At this time, the little girl rushed towards a man’s body in the cabin, crying, “Papa! Papa!” Looking at the clothing on the body, Zhang SanFeng figured this man must be the boatman.

He thought, “If I had known the Devil Cult was involved, I wouldn’t have gotten interfered. But I can’t back out now.” So he said to the officer, “The boy’s already dead. The other man’s already seriously injured, and will die soon. Since you’ve already accomplished your task, you can surely leave!” That officer said, “No, I have to get their heads.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Why be so excessive?” That officer said, “Who are you, old priest? What gives you the right to intervene in this matter?” Zhang SanFeng chuckled, and said, “Who cares who I am? Everyone has the right to intervene in all matters.”

That officer gave his subordinates a gesture, and said, “What is your Taoist title? Which temple do you reside in?” Before Zhang SanFeng could respond, two other officers quickly raised their sabers, and attacked him. These two officers were already quite close to Zhang SanFeng. Plus, due to the small space of the boat, Zhang SanFeng had nowhere to evade.

But he quickly turned to the side, and with a quick twist of the body, dodged the sabers. His two palms quickly shot out, reaching the backs of the two officers, and yelled, “Get back there!” As the palms connect, the two officers flew out, landing in the middle of the large boat they came from. Zhang SanFeng hasn’t fought anyone in ages. But felt a bit unsatisfied simply beating up on these mediocre fighters.

That officer in charge gasped, and stuttered, “You… you… could you be…?” Zhang SanFeng swept his robe, and yelled, “This old priest only kills Mongols!” The lamas and officers immediately felt a strong wind bearing down hard on them, preventing them from breathing. After the wind passed, their faces all turned white. All of them then quickly returned to the large boat.

Zhang SanFeng took out a pill and put it in the burly man’s mouth. Then he rowed the boat to his own. Just as he’s about to help the burly man switch boats, he saw the burly man carry the boy’s body in one hand, the little girl in the other, and stepped to the adjacent boat. Zhang SanFeng thought, “Despite heavy injuries, this man still cares for his little master. His loyalty is very admirable. Although I didn’t mean to save him, this man is certainly worth saving.” He then helped take out the arrows out of the burly man, and applied medicine to the wounds.

That little girl watched her father’s body float away with his boat, and cried incessantly. The burly man said, “Those damn Mongols are really vicious. The first thing they did was to kill the boatman. If you hadn’t gotten here in time, this girl would have likely died too.”

Zhang SanFeng thought, “Right now, with WuJi having trouble moving, and this man being a wanted man. If we use the old river dock and seek lodgings there, I’d have trouble taking care of both people.” He took out three taels of silver and gave them to the boatman, said, “Sir, can you row east to the Tai Ping area? We’ll seek lodgings there.” That boatman was already in awe of Zhang SanFeng after watching him defeat those Mongols. So when Zhang SanFeng gave him so much money, he quickly complied, and began to row east.

That burly man got on his knees and kowtowed to Zhang SanFeng, said, “Thank you so much for saving my life. Chang YuChun [1] pays you his respect.” Zhang SanFeng quickly helped him up, and said, “Hero Chang, you don’t need to be so courteous.” Upon touching Chang YuChun’s hand, Zhang SanFeng found it to be icy cold. He asked in shock, “Is Hero Chang injured internally?” Chang YuChun said, “As I escorted little master down south, I fought against the Mongols four times. A lama managed to land two palm strikes on me, once on the chest and once on the back.

Zhang SanFeng checked his pulse, only to find it quite weak. He then opened Chang YuChun’s clothing, saw a heavy mark left by a palm strike, meaning the injury is quite serious. Any other man would’ve not have been able to hold up for such a long time. But this man managed to travel all the way here, battling along the way. Only a true hero can do something like this. Zhang SanFeng quickly ordered Chang YuChun to stop speaking, and to rest in the cabin.

That little girl is around ten. Her feet are bare, and her clothing’s tattered. Despite being a boatman’s daughter, she was an incredible young beauty, as she sat there in tears. Zhang SanFeng asked her, “Little girl, what’s your name?” That girl said, “My surname is Zhou. My name is Zhou ZhiRuo.” Zhang SanFeng thought, “For a boatman’s daughter, she does certainly have an elegant name.” He asked, “Where is your home? Is there anyone else in your family? I’ll have this boatman take you back home.” Zhou ZhiRuo said in tears, “I live with my dad on the boat. I… I have no other relatives.” Zhang SanFeng sighed, and thought, “Looks like she’s an orphan. What should I do about her?”

Chang YuChun said, “Old priest’s kung fu is incredible. May I ask for your title?” Zhang SanFeng said, “I’m called Zhang SanFeng.” Chang YuChun gasped loudly, sat up, and yelled, “So you are Wu Dang’s venerable Priest Zhang. No wonder your martial arts is so incredible. I’m really lucky to have to have met such a divine priest today.”

Zhang SanFeng said with a smile, “You’re too flattering. I simply happened to have lived a few extra years. Certainly not worthy of being ‘divine’. Hero Chang, please lie back down.” Seeing Chang YuChun’s straightforward and sincere demeanor, Zhang SanFeng found himself liking this man quite a lot. But due to Chang YuChun’s Devil Cult roots, Zhang SanFeng did not wish to talk too much with him, and said, “Your injury’s very serious. Don’t talk if you don’t have to.”

Because of his experience, Zhang SanFeng tends to be quite unbiased towards both the righteous and the devilish sects. He even once told Zhang CuiShan “You must never look down on others just because you reside in the position of the so-called righteous sect. The two words of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ were originally hard to differentiate. A member of the orthodox sect when harboring thoughts of impurity and immorality will be considered as a wicked villain, and similarly if a member from the evil sect harbors a heart that is completely directed towards goodness, then that person is a gentleman.” But after Zhang CuiShan’s suicide, Zhang SanFeng has grieved much for the loss of his disciple, and felt great enmity towards the Heavenly Eagle Sect. Remembering his third disciple’s crippled condition, his fifth disciple’s death, both due to the Heavenly Eagle Sect, Zhang SanFeng couldn’t help but feel extra painful in regards to the word ‘devil’.

That Zhou ZiWang is Elder Mi Le’s disciple of Devil Cult, or “Ming Cult” [2] . Many years ago, he started a revolution in the Jiang Xi province, proclaiming himself Emperor, calling his dynasty ‘Zhou’. It was soon destroyed by the Yuan troops, and Zhou ZiWang was executed. Although Elder Mi Le and the Heavenly Eagle Sect are different groups of people, they both originated from the Ming Cult. When Zhou ZiWang rebelled, Yin TianZheng also stirred up much trouble in the Zhe Jiang province. Zhang SanFeng rescued Chang YuChun today was only a spur of the moment decision, before asking about Chang YuChun’s identity.

It was already dark when they arrived at the town. Zhang SanFeng bought four dishes from a restaurant, chicken, pork, fish, and vegetables, and they ate on the boat. Zhang SanFeng told Zhou ZhiRuo and Chang YuChun to go ahead and eat, while he would feed Zhang WuJi. Chang YuChun asked him why. Zhang SanFeng responded by saying that he had sealed Zhang WuJi’s pressure points around the vital organs, to prevent the poison from getting in. In his depressed state, Zhang WuJi didn’t want to eat. And when Zhang SanFeng tried to feed him, he would simply shake his head.

Zhou ZhiRuo took the bowl from Zhang SanFeng’s hand, and said, “How about let me take care of this little friend, while you go ahead and eat?” Zhang WuJi said, “I don’t need to eat. I’m already full.” Zhou ZhiRuo said, “Little friend, if you don’t eat, the old priest would be too unhappy to eat. If he won’t eat, then wouldn’t he be hungry?”

Zhang WuJi realized that she’s right, and ate the food Zhou ZhiRuo put by his mouth. Zhou ZhiRuo carefully removed all the bones from the fish and chicken, and sweetened the meat with the sauces. So they tasted very good. Zhang WuJi quickly finished a whole bowl of food.

Zhang SanFeng thought, “Considering his crippling illness, and that both his parents are dead, WuJi really should have a attentive girl to serve him.”

Chang YuChun did not touch the meat dishes. Instead, he quickly finished the vegetable dish. Even with the injury, he ate four big bowls of rice. Zhang SanFeng urged him to eat some meat. Chang YuChun responded, “Venerable Zhang, I’m a devout Buddhist. I don’t eat meat.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Oh, that’s right. I forgot.” He immediately remembered, the Devil Cult has very strict rules, forbidding its members to eat meat. This has been true since the Tang Dynasty. Near the end of the Northern Sung Dynasty, the leader of the Ming Cult rebelled in the Zhe Dong province. At the time, the people called them ‘Vegetarian Devil Honoring Cult’.

Because the two big rules of the Ming Cult are to never eat meat, and to always honor the Devil. Under attacks from the government and the martial world, the disciples of the Ming Cult began to hide their identities. So they always say they are devout Buddhists to cover their vegetarian ways.

Chang YuChun said, “Venerable Zhang, you saved my life, and already knows my background. So there’s no need for me to hide it. I am indeed a member of the Ming Cult. The government thinks of us as rebels. The righteous sects look down upon us, thinking we’re just a bunch of bandits, or that we’re minions of the devil. But for you to save me, even knowing who I am, I really don’t know how to repay for your kindness.”

Zhang SanFeng knows about the origins of the Devil Cult. The God they worship is called ‘Muo Ni’. But the worshipers call him ‘Honorable Brightness’. When the cult spread into the central plains in the Tang Dynasty, it was called ‘Muo Ni Cult’, and also ‘Cult of the Illuminating Light’. Its worshippers called it the ‘Ming Cult’, but others call it the Devil Cult. Zhang SanFeng sighed, and said, “Hero Chang…”

Chang YuChun quickly cut in, “Venerable priest, you really don’t need to call me a ‘hero’. Just call me YuChun.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Alright. YuChun, how old are you?” Chang YuChun said, “Twenty.”

Zhang SanFeng said, “You’re just becoming an adult. So although you’ve entered the Devil Cult, you haven’t sunk in too deeply. You can still get out before it’s too late. I have a few words that you may not like. Do you want to hear them?” Chang YuChun said, “Of course. I’d love to hear any advice from Venerable Zhang.”

Zhang SanFeng said, “Good! I want you to leave the Devil Cult. If you like Wu Dang, I’ll have my eldest student Song YuanQiao take you in as his disciple. This way, you can later walk the martial world with your head up, as no one will ever look down upon you again.”

As the head of the Seven Heroes of Wu Dang, everyone knows the famous Song YuanQiao. Normally it’s almost impossible for people to even see him. The seven Wu Dang heroes recently began to take in students. But they have very strict standards. Only the most upright youngsters with great potential are admitted. As a member of the Devil Cult, a cult most people frown upon, this really is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Chang YuChun.

Yet his response was, “I deeply thank you for your offer. But since I am already a member of the Ming Cult, I cannot ever leave.” Zhang SanFeng tried to persuade him some more, but Chang YuChun would not waver.
Zhang SanFeng finally gave up, shook his head, and sighed. Then he said, “This girl…” Chang YuChun said, “Don’t worry. This girl’s father died because of me. I’m definitely going to take care of her.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Alright. But you cannot let her enter your cult.” Chang YuChun said, “I really don’t know what we do that make us so despicable in your mind. But if you insist, I’ll obey your wish.”

Zhang SanFeng held Zhang WuJi in his arms, and said, “Then let us part now.” He really doesn’t want any more to do with the Devil Cult, and therefore left out the words ‘See you later’.

Zhou ZhiRuo said to Zhang WuJi, “Little friend. You need to eat everyday, so the old priest won’t worry about you.” Zhang WuJi’s tears came out, and said, “Thank you for your words. It’s just that… I’ll only be able to eat for just a while longer.” Zhang SanFeng cleaned out Zhang WuJi’s tears with his sleeve. Zhou ZhiRuo asked in shock, “What? You… You…” Zhang SanFeng said, “Little girl, you have a kind heart. I hope you’ll later go on the route of righteousness, and not of evil.”

Zhou ZhiRuo said, “Ok. But this little friend, why does he say that he can only eat for just a while longer?” Zhang SanFeng could not respond.

Chang YuChun said, “Venerable Zhang, considering your martial arts abilities, surely you can cure this little friend’s poison, right?” Zhang SanFeng said, “Of course I can.” But he then shook his left hand behind Zhang WuJi, pointing out that Zhang WuJi is beyond help, but doesn’t want him to know it.

Upon seeing Zhang SanFeng shaking his hand, Chang YuChun gasped. He said, “Due to the severity of my injuries, I was just about to go see a very distinguished doctor. How about I take this little friend with me?” Zhang SanFeng shook his head, said, “His cold poison has already entered the vital organs. It’s not something normal medicine can cure. We only… only hope to slowly disperse the poison.” Chang YuChun said, “But the doctor I’m talking about has the ability to bring back the dead.”

Zhang SanFeng suddenly remembered a person, and asked, “Are you talking about the ‘Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley’?”

Chang YuChun said, “That’s right. So you know about Elder Hu too?”

Zhang SanFeng thought, “From my knowledge, this ‘Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley’, Hu QingNuo, does indeed have unparalleled medical skills. But he is member of the Devil Cult. Besides, he has a very strange temper. He’ll do his best to cure any Devil Cult followers, and not ask for a single penny. Yet he will not treat anyone else, no matter how much money is offered. Therefore, he has another nickname, ‘Rather See Death Than Help’. If so, it’s really better for WuJi to die than to enter the Devil Cult.”

Seeing the grave expression on Zhang SanFeng’s face, Chang YuChun understood what he’s thinking, and said, “Venerable Zhang, I know Elder Hu never treats outsiders. But since you saved my life, I’ll do anything I can to make Elder Hu break the rule this one time.” Zhang SanFeng said, “I know just how amazing this Doctor Hu’s skills are. But unfortunately, this cold poison on WuJi’s body is very unique…” Chang YuChun said, “But you can’t cure him. The worst that can happen is that Elder Hu can’t cure him either. If he’s going to die regardless, what’s the big deal?” Chang YuChun is a straightforward person, and therefore said what he thought.

Zhang SanFeng pondered a bit, “He’s right. Look like WuJi only has about another month to live. What is there to be afraid of?” Zhang SanFeng has always been a very sincere person, and normally never thinks about possible hidden motives. But Zhang WuJi is his disciple’s only child. How could he give WuJi to a member of the Devil Cult? At this moment, he really doesn’t know what to do.

Chang YuChun said, “I know Venerable Zhang doesn’t want to go see Elder Hu. After all, how could a head of a righteous sect seek help from us evil cults? Besides, with Elder Hu’s strange temper, he’d probably offend you. I guess the only is way is for me to take Brother Zhang to Elder Hu. Then I’ll come to Wu Dang Mountain to be your hostage. Should anything happen to Brother Zhang, you can go ahead and kill me.”

Zhang SanFeng chuckled, thought, “Should anything really happen to WuJi, how would killing you help? Besides, how can I be sure you’ll definitely come to Wu Dang?” But considering WuJi’s condition, there really isn’t any other possible cure. So Zhang SanFeng said, “If so, then please take care of WuJi. But I must make two things clear. Mr. Hu cannot force WuJi into your cult. And Wu Dang is not going to accept your gratitude on this matter.” He knew that the Devil Cult is very devious and strange in its ways. Being associated with them could only lead to big problems. After all, isn’t Zhang CuiShan’s death a perfect example?
Chang YuChun said, “Venerable Zhang is really belittling my cult. But if you say so, I’ll obey.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Take good care of WuJi. Should he ever recover, take him back to Wu Dang. But there’s no need to come to Wu Dang as a hostage.” Chang YuChun said, “I’ll do all I can to follow your wishes.”

Zhang SanFeng said, “As for this little girl, I’ll take her back to Wu Dang Mountain.”

Chang YuChun then went to a large tree by the shore, and dug a hole with his saber. Then he took off all of Little Master Zhou’s clothes, before burying him in the ground, and paid his respects. Burying members naked is one of Ming Cult’s rules. Everyone enters the world naked, and should therefore leave the world the same way. Since Zhang SanFeng does not know this rule, he found the burial procedure quite repulsive and mysterious.

The next morning, Zhang SanFeng took Zhou ZhiRuo in his hands, and parted with Chang YuChun and Zhang WuJi. After the death of his parents, Zhang SanFeng was like a grandfather to Zhang WuJi. So Zhang WuJi couldn’t help but burst into tears as they parted. Zhang SanFeng said, “WuJi, when you’re healthy again, your Big Brother Chang will take you back to Wu Dang Mountain. Be a good boy. We’ll only be apart for a few months. Don’t be so sad.” Despite his words, Zhang WuJi’s tears did not stop.

Zhou ZhiRuo returned to the boat, took out a handkerchief from her sleeve, and began to wipe away his tears. She then smiled at him, put the handkerchief into his pocket, before returning to shore.

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Translated by Huang Yushi from the 2nd edition of the original Chinese text:

Zhang Wuji followed his grand-teacher with his eyes as the old man walked westwards with Zhou Zhiruo. As the same time, the little girl kept turning back and waving until both of them disappeared behind a row of poplar and willow trees. Suddenly, Zhang Wuji felt so lonely that he started to cry again.

"Brother Zhang, how old are you this year?" asked Chang Yuchun with frown. When the boy answered that he was already twelve, the man said, "I see. A twelve-year-old is no longer a child, so are you not ashamed to sob and cry like a baby? When I was twelve, I had already been beaten several hundred times, but never did I shed a single tear. A man sheds only blood, you know, not tears. If you continue to cry like a girl, I will have to hit you."

"I cried because I could not bear to part with Grand-teacher," said Zhang Wuji. "If someone hit me, I would not cry at all! Go ahead and hit me if you dare. I will return each of your punches with ten punches of my own someday."

Chang Yuchun was stunned. "Good for you!" he said with a hearty laugh. "Now that is what I call a man with integrity. Since you are so formidable, I will not to hit you."

"Why not?" asked Zhang Wuji. "After all, I cannot even move a single finger."

Chang Yuchun laughed again and replied, "If I hit you today, what am I going to do when you eventually learn martial arts from your grand-teacher? How would I be able to endure ten punches from the exquisite fist techniques of the Wudang School?"

A smile appeared on Zhang Wuji's face: This Brother Chang may look very ferocious, but he is not a bad man.

Hiring a riverboat, the two travelled all the way to Hankou before switching to a larger vessel and sailing east down the Great River. The Butterfly Valley where the Healing Sage Hu Qingniu lived was located on the banks of Nüshan Lake in northern Anhui.

The Great River flowed in a south-easterly direction from Hankou to Jiujiang, before turning northwards into the province of Anhui. Two years earlier, Zhang Wuji had sailed up this very river on his way to Mount Wudang. He had his parents and Yu Lianzhou as companions then, so the journey had been filled fun and laughter. Now, his parents were both dead, and he was on a joyless trip to seek treatment with Chang Yuchun. The difference between the two were as stark as the sky above and the land below. But he did not dare to let his tears fall, fearing that Chang Yuchun would be angered again. By then, all the acupoints that Zhang Sanfeng had blocked earlier had returned to normality, so he could actually feel each excruciating attack of the toxins in his body. Yet, there was nothing that he could do, except to grit his teeth in endurance until his upper and lower lips were all cut and bruised. To make things worse, the bouts became more frequent and painful with each passing day.

When they reached the Gua Pier after Jiqing, Chang Yuchun and Zhang Wuji went ashore and travelled north in a hired carriage. Several days later, they arrived in the town of Mingguang, east of Fengyang. Chang Yuchun knew that his Uncle Hu did not like his secluded place of abode to be widely-known, so he sent the carriage away about twenty li (10 km) from Nüshan Lake. Then, carrying Zhang Wuji on his back, he tackled the final leg of the journey on foot.

He thought that these last twenty li would be covered in the blink of an eye, but he had travelled only one li (500 metres) when his nerves and bones started to ache terribly. His breathing became laboured and he found it very difficult to even walk. The internal injuries that he had sustained after being struck twice by the foreign monks were worse than he had realised.

Feeling very apologetic, Zhang Wuji said, "Brother Chang, let me walk on my own. You had better not tire yourself out."

"I can cover a hundred li (50 km) in a single breath without feeling tired at all," Chang Yuchun snapped, "so how could those stupid monks stop me with two strikes of the palm?" Gathering up all his strength, he forced himself to march forward. Unfortunately, he was already too wounded to push himself in this manner, and the frustration that he felt just made things worse. After several zhang or so (1 zhang = 3.33 metres), he began to feel as if his limbs and bones were falling apart. Yet, he was not ready to admit defeat. He was also unwilling to put Zhang Wuji down or to sit and rest. So, he laboured on, a step at the time.

This, of course, made their progress terribly slow. By nightfall, they had not covered even half of the targeted distance. The rugged terrain only served to make the walk more difficult, but they trudged on until they reached some woods. Then, Chang Yuchun finally put Zhang Wuji down and collapsed spread-eagle on the ground. After a simple meal of sugared fruit and biscuits, Chang Yuchun rested for half a shichen (one hour) before voicing his desire to resume the journey. Zhang Wuji tried his best to persuade the man otherwise, suggesting that they could spend a peaceful night in the woods and set out the next morning instead. By and by, Chang Yuchun realised that it would probably be midnight by the time they reached Butterfly Valley. Hu Qingniu would certainly be very irritated by their visit at such an hour, so he gave in to his companion's suggestion to stay in the woods. They soon fell asleep leaning against a large tree.

At midnight, Zhang Wuji was jolted awake by another attack of the toxins in his body. He started to shiver and shake badly, but he endured the pain in silence for fear of waking Chang Yuchun up. Just then, the sounds of clashing weapons drifted into the woods, followed by several voices that shouted, "Where are you going?" "Block the eastern route and force him into the woods!" "We cannot let this crooked baldy get away this time!" Footsteps sounded as several people ran towards the trees.

Waking up with a start, Chang Yuchun grabbed his sabre with his right hand and Zhang Wuji with his left. Then, he waited to see if he should fight or flee.

"I do not think that they have come for us," the boy whispered.

Nodding in agreement, Chang Yuchun peered through the trees and saw seven or eight people attacking an unarmed man from all sides. Although the man managed to fend his enemies off with a pair of swift palms, the group began closing in on him after a while.

By and by, a crescent moon appeared from behind the clouds and cast a silvery light on the scene. The man in the centre of the circle was a tall and thin monk in his forties who was dressed in a white robe. His attackers consisted of two grey-robed monks, two Taoists, two men in secular attire and two slim-built women. The grey-robed monks had a pole and a sabre between them, which they used with such power that leaves flew everywhere in the woods. One of the Taoists had a sword which glinted under the moonlight as he waved it about, while one of the men in secular attire -- a short and small-sized fellow with a pair of swords -- rolled back and forth on the ground, attacking the legs of the white-robed monk with Ditang swordplay, a technique that focused on the lower extremeties of the body.

The two women had a sword each, through which they executed a series of very swift but fluid strokes. As the battle wore on, one of the women turned in such a way that part of her face was lit up by the moonlight. The sight almost had Zhang Wuji blurting out: "Auntie Ji!" Indeed, she was none other that Yin Liting's fiancée, Ji Xiaofu.

Initially, Zhang Wuji thought that it was very unfair for so many people to attack the monk at once, and hoped that the hapless victim would be able to free himself. However, after recognising one of the attackers as Ji Xiaofu, he decided that the white-robed monk was a bad man. After all, he was an enemy of the Auntie Ji who had comforted him on the day of his parents' suicide. Although Zhang Wuji did not accept the necklace that she had given him, he was nevertheless very grateful for her kind thoughts.

As the white-robed monk's strokes alternated by fast and slow, and real and false, Zhang Wuji quickly realised that he was actually a highly skilled pugilist. There were also too many variations to his techniques to be identified, especially when the movements were speeded up. As a result, Ji Xiaofu and her group could not gain the upperhand despite being larger in number and battling for a long time.

Suddenly, one of the men shouted, "Use the projectiles!"

The other man and one of the Taoists responded at once, leaping to the left and the right respectively before sending a flurry of pellets and flying daggers towards the white-robed monk. As the monk scrambled to deal with the weapons that fell like rain around him, the other Taoist -- a fellow with a long beard -- shouted, "Monk Peng, we do not want your life, so why are you fighting us with all your might? Just hand Bai Guishou over and we will part with a smile. Would that not be better for everyone?"

Chang Yuchun was shocked. "So this is Monk Peng?" he wondered in a whisper.

Zhang Wuji was surprised too, for he had heard his parents tell his Second Uncle Yu about the incident on Wangpan Island and the resulting inter-clan vendettas upon returning to China two years earlier. Therefore, he knew that Bai Guishou, the Leader of the Eagle Sect's Xuanwu Circle, was the only one who had left Wangpan Island with his mental faculties intact. In recent years, many clans and organisations had taken the Eagle Sect to task because they wanted Bai Guishou to reveal where Xie Xun was. Consequently, Zhang Wuji thought: Could this Monk Peng be a member of my mother's sect as well?

Just then, Monk Peng said in a loud voice, "Circle-Leader Bai has been grievously wounded by all of you and I have a friendship with him that goes back a long way. To tell you the truth, even if I did not know him at all, I would still not ignore a dying man."

"What dying man?" roared the Taoist with the long beard. "We do not want his life, for we just want to find out where a certain person is."

"Since you want to know where Xie Xun is, why do you not go and ask the abbot of the Shaolin Temple?" said Monk Peng.

One of the grey-robed monks stepped up and shouted, "That is but an evil ploy to shift blame to my Shaolin Temple by that witch from the Eagle Sect, Yin Susu. Who believes her?" Apparently, this monk was from the Shaolin School.

The mention of his mother's name filled Zhang Wuji with both pride and sorrow: Although my mother has passed away for two years, she can still make all of you dizzy with trouble!

Suddenly, one of the Taoists shouted, "Everybody, get down!" As his companions fell on their faces, five flying daggers cut through the air towards Monk Peng's chest. These weapons could be avoided if the monk bent forward, fell on his face or leaned backwards at once, but his attackers had pre-empted his moves by positioning their weapons around him at ground-level. So how could he escape then?

As Zhang Wuji watched with bated breath, Monk Peng leapt into the air and the five flying daggers went by under his feet. The two grey-robed Shaolin monks and the Taoist with the long beard responded to this turn swiftly, slashing Monk Peng's legs with their pole, sabre and sword. Forced to strike back, the white-robed monk sent a palm into the head of one of the Shaolin monks before snatching his sabre and using it as a lever against the other monk's pole to push himself two zhang (6.66 metres) away from the fray.

The Shaolin monk who was struck on the head died at once. His angered companions set off in pursuit of Monk Peng, only to see his legs crumple beneath him in his haste to get away. As the group surrounded the white-robed monk once more, the remaining Shaolin monk shouted, "You killed my brother, so I am going to make you pay for it!"

"Wait!" said the Taoist with the long beard. "His legs have been struck my Scorpion-Tail Hook (Xie1 Wei3 Gou1), and he will soon die of poisoning."

Sure enough, Monk Peng's legs wobbled as he strove unsuccessfully to stand up.

Chang Yuchun thought: He is an important member of my Ming Sect, so I must rescue him! Although he was seriously wounded himself, he was so bent on helping Monk Peng that he took a deep breath and stepped forward. Unfortunately, the breath and the step that he took affected his internal injuries so much that he almost fainted from excruciating pain. By then, Monk Peng had collapsed on the ground after managing to move another zhang (3.33 metres) away from his attackers. He looked as if he had died of poisoning. Opening his eyes despite the massive pain in his chest, Chang Yuchun saw that none of the seven dared to approach the body of the monk.

The Taoist with the long beard said, "Brother Xu, test him with two of your flying daggers."

The other Taoist responded by throwing a dagger each into Monk Peng's right shoulder and left leg. The white-robed monk did not move, indicating that he was indeed dead.

"What a pity! What a pity!" said the Taoist with the long beard. "He has died, but we do not know where he has hidden Bai Guishou!"

The group stepped forward for a closer look.

Suddenly, five swift smacks were heard, followed by the sight of five people falling away from the circle. Monk Peng was on his feet in a flash, but the daggers were still embedded in his shoulder and leg. It turned out that he had pretended to die in a bid to draw his enemies closer, so that he could catch them unaware with the lightning-fast 'Flying Clouds in the Great Wind' Palm Technique (Da4 Feng1 Yun2 Fei1 Zhang3). He had gathered up all his strength in silence as he lay on the ground, so the five strikes were so strong that they left a palm-print each on the chests of the five male victims.

Ji Xiaofu and her older sister-at-arms, Ding Minjun, were terribly shocked at this unexpected turn of events, but they managed to leapt away on time. When they looked at their five wounded companions, they found them throwing up mouthfuls of blood. The two men in secular attire even screamed in pain, for their bodies were not as strong as the other three.

The Taoist with the long beard said, "Ding- guniang, Ji- guniang, stab him quickly with your swords!"

Among the nine of them, one Shaolin monk was already dead, and Monk Peng and five others were seriously wounded. Thus, Ji Xiaofu and Ding Minjun were the only two left unharmed. Ding Minjun thought: Hmmph! Am I so poor in the sword that you must tell me how to use it? Then, she raised her weapon and slashed at Monk Peng's shin with a move called 'Splitting Metal with a Nominal Stroke' (Xu1 Shi4 Fen1 Jin1).

Monk Peng heaved a long sigh, closed his eyes and waited for death. Suddenly, a loud clang was heard, as if two weapons had come into contact with each other. Opening his eyes, Monk Peng saw that Ji Xiaofu had used her sword to deflect her sister's blade.

"Why?" asked Ding Minjun in surprise. "Elder Sister," answered Ji Xiaofu, "Monk Peng held his hands back in mercy, so we should not push him over the edge."

"What hands of mercy?" Ding Minjun retorted. "His hands had run out of strength!" Then, she turned to the monk and said, "Monk Peng, my sister is very kind to spare your life, so you should tell us where Bai Guishou is."

Monk Peng threw head back and roared with laughter. "Ding- guniang, you have really underestimated Peng Yingyu," he said. "Zhang Cuishan, the Fifth Warrior of the Wudang School, would rather die of suicide than reveal his sworn brother's whereabouts. Although I am not as talented, I admire loyalty and courage of Zhang the Fifth enough to follow his example." Then, he threw up a mouthful of blood and sank to the ground.

Ding Minjun walked up and kicked him three times in the waist, so that he could not launch another stealth attack at them.

Peng Yingyu's words brought a surge of warmth and gratitude into Zhang Wuji's heart, and the boy suddenly felt as if he had found a close relative. After his father, Zhang Cuishan, committed suicide, members of renowned and upright organisations often spoke of the man in this manner: "He was an outstanding young warrior who took one wrong step and became involved with a heretical witch. As a result, he died in personal ruin and shame, and brought humiliation to the Wudang School." Zhang Wuji had never heard these exact words, of course, but he could gather as much from the conversations and attitudes of his grand-teacher and uncles. Besides being deeply grieved, they had blamed his mother for the terrible things that had happened. They had felt that everything about his father was good, except for the mistake he made in marrying his mother. No one had ever expressed admiration and respect for his father like Peng Yingyu just did.

Ding Minjun sneered and said, "Zhang Cuishan was blind to marry that heretical witch. This is what I call 'willing self-degradation', so what good is there to learn from it? His Wudang School ... " At this point, Ji Xiaofu tried to interrupt her sister, only to hear Ding Minjun say, "Do not worry. I will not include Yin the Sixth in this." Then, pointing her sword at Peng Yingyu's right eye, she added, "If you do not speak up, I will poke your right eye out before doing the same to your left. Then, I will poke through your right ear and the left one. After that, I will slice your nose off, for I will not allow you to simply drop dead." The tip of her sword glinted barely half a cun (1.67 centimetres) away from Peng Yingyu's eye.

The stubborn monk opened his eyes wide in defiance and said in a calm voice, "I have heard that the Abbess Mie Jue of the E-mei School is cruel and ruthless in her ways, so her students should be no different. Since I have fallen into your hands, go ahead and show me E-mei's best techniques!"

Ding Minjun raised her eyebrows and screeched, "Crooked baldy, how dare you ridicule my school!" She pushed her sword forward and gouged out Peng Yingyu's right eye. Then, she placed the tip of the blade on his left eye-lid.

Peng Yingyu laughed as blood poured out of his blinded right eye. Then, he opened his good left eye as widely as he could and glared at Ding Minjun until goosebumps appeared all over her. "You are not from the Eagle Sect," the woman said, "so why are you giving your life up for Bai Guishou?"

"This is one of the principles of being a man," answered Peng Yingyu. "You would not understand it even if I told you."

Ding Minjun could see that Peng Yingyu had no strength left to fight back, but somehow, he still regarded her with much disdain. As a result, she pushed her sword into his left eye in a fit of anger, only to have Ji Xiaofu knock the blade away with a nimble stroke.

"Elder Sister," said the younger woman, "this monk is so stubborn that he will never say anything, regardless of what we do to him. Killing him will not serve our purposes either."

"He said that our teacher is cruel and ruthless in her ways," Ding Minjun replied, "so I am just showing him what 'cruel and ruthless' really means. Heretics like him can only bring harm to others, so having him killed is a good thing."

"He is also a tough man," Ji Xiaofu added. "Elder Sister, I think we should just let him go."

Ding Minjun burst into a fit. "One of these two brothers from Shaolin is dead, while the other is wounded," she said in a loud voice. "The two Taoists from Kunlun are badly injured, while the two brothers from the Haisha Clan are in an even worse condition. Is he not brutal enough? I will gouge out his left eye before continuing with the interrogation." As soon as the word 'interrogation' left her mouth, her sword moved towards Peng Yingyu's left eye.

Ji Xiaofu raised her sword and pushed her sister's blade away with another light and nimble move. "Elder Sister," she said, "this man has no strength left to resist. If word of how we treat him gets out into the realm of the rivers and lakes, the reputation of our E-mei School will be adversely affected."

"Stand aside, and do not intervene!" said Ding Minjun in a stern voice. When Ji Xiaofu persisted, the older woman said, "Since you acknowledge me as your Elder Sister, you must listen to what I say. Stop nagging me!"

"Yes!" Ji Xiaofu responded, prompting Ding Minjun to send her sword into Peng Yingyu's left eye again. This time, she increased the power of her move by three-tenths.

Somehow, Ji Xiaofu found herself being unable to accept her sister's action, so she raised her sword and deflected the other blade once more. The power in Ding Minjun's move caused the younger woman to use a heavier hand as well, so the two swords impacted in a flurry of sparks. As their arms went numb, both women took two steps back.

"What exactly are you up to, protecting this evil monk time and again?" shouted Ding Minjun angrily.

"Elder Sister," answered Ji Xiaofu, "I would like to suggest that you stop torturing him in this manner. We should just take our time and ask him slowly where Bai Guishou is."

Ding Minjun laughed coldly and said, "Do you think that I do not know what is in your heart? Ask yourself honestly: Why do you keep on declining the requests of Wudang's Yin the Sixth to complete the rites of marriage? And why did you run away from home after your father asked you to do the same?"

"What has my personal affairs to do with this matter?" asked Xi Jiaofu. "How could you link them together?"

"We know the truth in our hearts," answered Ding Minjun, "so I need not pull the scabs from your sores in front of all these outsiders. You may be in E-mei physically, but your heart is in the Evil Sect."

Ji Xiaofu turned white at once. "I respect you as my Elder Sister-at-Arms," she said with a trembling voice. "I have never offended you, so why are you humiliating me like this?"

"All right," Ding Minjun said, "if your heart is not in the Evil Sect, go ahead and poke out this monk's left eye."

Ji Xiaofu did not do as she was told. Instead, she said, "Ever since the E-mei School was founded by the Little Eastern Heretic, our Great-Grandteacher Guo, many of our school-mates have either chosen to be nuns or to remain unmarried all their lives. My reluctance to marry is nothing extraordinary, so why must you push me into a corner?"

"Well, I am not taken in by your plea of innocence," Ding Minjun replied coldly. "If you do not stab him in the eye, I am going to spill the beans on your affairs."

"Elder Sister," said Xi Jiaofu in a gentle voice, "I hope that you will consider the bond of sisterhood that we share, and stop pushing me."

Ding Minjun laughed. "I am not asking you to do anything embarrassing," she said. "Our teacher instructed us to find out where the Golden-Maned Lion King is, and this monk here is the only lead that we have. But he was unwilling to reveal the truth and even harmed our companions. So it is only fair that I poke out his right eye, while you take out his left. Why are you still not doing it?"

Ji Xiaofu lowered her head and answered in quietly: "He showed us mercy earlier, so we should not turn around and drive him to his death. I am too soft-hearted to do this." She turned and put her sword back into its scabbard.

"You? Soft-hearted?" asked Ding Minjun with a sarcastic laugh. "Our teacher has often praised your ruthless swordplay techniques and tough character. In fact, she says that you take after her so much that she wants to pass her legacy on to you, so how can you be soft-hearted?"

It was then that the people around them finally understood the reason behind the two women's quarrel. Apparently, the leader of the E-mei School, Mie Jue, loved Ji Xiaofu so much that she had thoughts of making the young woman her heir. Jealous, Ding Minjun had eventually managed to obtain something that she could blackmail Ji Xiaofu with.

Zhang Wuji had been very grateful for the kindness that Ji Xiaofu had shown him, so he wished there and then that he could run out and give her spiteful sister a few tight slaps.

Then, Ding Minjun said, "Younger Sister Ji, let me ask you: When our teacher called all of us to the Golden Peak of Mount E-mei and taught us the 'Sword of Extermination' (Mie4 Jian4) and the 'Sword of Non-Compromise' (Jue2 Jian4) that she had developed, why did you not show up? Why did you cause our teacher to erupt with a massive fit of anger?"

"I was suddenly taken very ill in Ganzhou and could not move," answered Ji Xiaofu. "I have already reported this to our teacher, so why are you bringing it up now?"

Ding Minjun laughed coldly and replied, "You can keep the matter from our teacher, but you cannot keep it from me. I have something else to ask you, but if you poke this monk's eye out, I will keep my peace."

Ji Xiaofu lowered her head in silence as she mulled over her dilemma. Finally, she said, "Elder Sister, are you really not going to consider the bond that we share, growing up and learning martial arts in the same school?"

"Are you going to poke his eye out or not?" asked Ding Minjun in return.

"Do not worry, Elder Sister," said Ji Xiaofu. "Even if our teacher wants to pass her legacy to me, I will never dare to accept it."

"Right!" Ding Minjun retorted angrily. "So you are saying that I am jealous of you. How am I inferior to you, that you should make way for me? So ... are you going to poke his eye out or not?"

"Go ahead and punish me if I have done wrong," said Ji Xiaofu, "for I would never dare to resist. There are friends from other clans and organisations here, yet you are pushing me like this ... " Tears began to stream down her face.

Ding Minjun sneered and said, "Go ahead and act pitiful if you want to, because I know that you are cursing me in your heart. When you were in Ganzhou three or four years ago ... I cannot remember it too clearly, but you should be fully aware of the time it happened. Did you really have an illness? Well, I think you did 'have' something, but it was no illness. You had a baby!"

Ji Xiaofu turned and ran off at once, but Ding Minjun had already expected her to do so.

The older woman flew ahead, blocked her way with the sword and said, "I think that you had better poke Monk Peng's left eye out, or I will ask you who the baby's father is. I will also ask why a disciple of a renowned and upright clan like you would go and protect a crooked monk from the Evil Sect."

"Let ... let me go!" pleaded Ji Xiaofu in defeat.

But Ding Minjun did not relent. Placing the tip of her sword against the younger woman's chest, she asked loudly, "Where are you keeping the child? You are the fiancée of Wudang's Yin Liting, Yin the Sixth, so why did you have a child with someone else?"

These earth-shaking questions took everyone by surprise. Zhang Wuji was perplexed: This Auntie Ji is a good person, so how could she have done Uncle Yin wrong? He did not fully understand the affairs between men and women, of course, but even Chang Yuchun, Peng Yingyu, the long-bearded Taoist from Kunlun and the others were astonished by the revelation.

Ji Xiaofu turned white and made a desperate dash for cover, but Ding Minjun stopped her with a deep and vicious slash on the right arm. Gritting her teeth against the pain, Ji Xiaofu pulled out her sword with her left hand and said, "Elder Sister, if you continue pushing me, I will have to let you down."

By then, Ding Minjun knew that the situation had reached the point of no return. She had exposed her sister's shameful secret, so the younger woman would definitely want to silence her. However, she was not as highly skilled in martial arts as Ji Xiaofu, so she had seized the first opportunity to injure her. Now that the woman herself had mentioned the use of force, Ding Minjun turned her sword in a move called 'The Moon Descends Upon the Western Mount' (Yue4 Luo4 Xi1 Shan1) and sent it into her sister's abdomen. Ji Xiaofu had no alternative but to respond the blade in her left hand.

The two sisters were well-versed in each other's swordplay techniques, so their closely-fought duel was marked with intense attacks and defences. Their wounded companions could neither stop them nor risk helping one at the expense of the other, so they found themselves staring in admiration at the women's skills: The E-mei School is indeed worthy of its position as one of the four largest learning centres of martial arts today, for its swordplay techniques are really as exquisite as they are reputed to be.

Ji Xiaofu's right arm bled more profusely as the duel wore on, so she became increasingly vicious in her strokes, hoping to drive Ding Minjun away and open up a route of escape for herself. However, she did not seem too successful in her efforts, for she was rather uncomfortable using the sword with her left hand. Furthermore, the massive loss of blood had reduced her abilities by more than seven-tenths. On her part, Ding Minjun did not dare to go too close to Ji Xiaofu, preferring instead to keep her going and allow the eventual lack of blood to take its toll. Sure enough, the younger woman soon became so weak that her steps and strokes began to falter. Ding Minjun quickly seized the opportunity and stabbed Xi Jiaofu twice in the right shoulder, splattering her clothes with blood.

Suddenly, Peng Yingyu spoke up in a loud voice: "Ji- guniang, come over and gouge my left eye out. I am already very grateful for all that you have done." He knew that it was tremendously difficult for Ji Xiaofu to risk death in protecting an enemy. Furthermore, Ding Minjun had threatened her with the very thing that a woman treasured more than her own life -- the chastity of her name.

But it was already too late. Even if Ji Xiaofu really poked Peng Yingyu's eye out at that moment, Ding Minjun would still not allow her to leave. If she did not seize this opportunity to eliminate her younger sister-at-arms, she would have to face an endless stream of troublesome consequences in the future. As her strokes became more vicious, Peng Yingyu shouted, "Ding Minjun, you are absolutely shameless! It is no surprise that you are known as the Evil Wuyan Ding Minjun in the realm of the rivers and lakes, for your heart is indeed like the scorpion and the snake, and your looks are worse than Wuyan's."

Before the woman could take him to task for comparing her to the legendary Zhong Wuyan, who was known for the hideous disfiguration of her face, Peng Yingyu went on: "If every woman in the world is as ugly and as vomit-inducing as you are, all the men under the sun will want to become monks. With you, the Evil Wuyan, standing right in front of me all night, being a monk is not enough. I will have to be totally blind as well!"

Although Ding Minjun was not a beauty, she was attractive in her own way. After all, she had a rather charming face that was very well taken care of. However, as a man who was very well-versed in the ways of the world, Peng Yingyu knew that every woman under the sun hated being told how ugly she was, regardless of whether it was the truth or not. Consequently, he had come up with the 'Evil Wuyan' nickname in a bid to draw Ding Minjun's attention to himself and allow Ji Xiaofu the opportunity to escape -- or at the very least, find a way to bandage her wounds.

Unfortunately, Ding Minjun had other thoughts: Once I kill Ji Xiaofu, the stinking monk will not be able to get away either. So, she ignored all his taunts.

"The Lady Warrior Ji is chaste as ice and pure as jade," Peng Yingyu added loudly. "Who does not know this fact? But that Evil Wuyan Ding Minjun insisted on proferring a love that was not reciprocated, dreaming of a relationship with Yin Liting of the Wudang School. When Yin Liting did not respond to your advances, you naturally thought of harming Lady Warrior Ji. Ha ha, your cheekbones are so high, your mouth is as big as a basin, your complexion is so yellow and your body is as thin as a length of bamboo. How can the handsome and easy-going Yin the Sixth be attracted to you? You did not even appraise yourself in the mirror, yet you went ahead and tried to catch his attention with all sorts of provocative glances ... "

Infuriated, Ding Minjun dashed over to Peng Yingyu and sent her sword towards his mouth.

To be honest, Ding Minjun's cheekbones were a little higher than usual and her mouth did not quite fit into the cherry-sized standard of that era. Her complexion was not as fair as she wanted it to be and her body was naturally slim. She was often unhappy with these tiny blemishes, but they could only be spotted by others under close scrutiny. Yet, Peng Yingyu had been particularly observant to notice these flaws. So how could she remain composed after he announced her imperfections with added flavour and spice? Furthermore, she had never seen Yin Liting before, so when did she ever try to 'catch his attention with all sorts of provocative glances'?

Just as her sword was about to reach the monk, a man suddenly dashed out of the woods and got in front of Peng Yingyu. He was so fast that Ding Minjun could not pull her sword back on time. As the blade sank into the man's forehead, he swept a palm out and struck the woman on the chest. The force of the blow pushed Ding Minjun several steps back and caused her to throw up a mouthful of blood. By then, her sword had been stuck so firmly in the man's forehead that he was unlikely to live.

"Bai Guishou! Bai Guishou!" shouted the long-bearded Taoist from the Kunlun School. He scrambled excitedly to his feet and took a few wobbly steps before sinking back to the ground.

The man who had been killed was indeed the Leader of the Eagle Sect's Xuanwu Circle, Bai Guishou. After he had been seriously injured, he found out that Peng Yingyu had come under the combined attack of Shaolin, Kunlun, E-mei and Haisha in a bid to shield him. Consequently, he rushed to the scene and took the stab on behalf of his faithful and courageous friend. Known for his powerful palms, he had managed to strike Ding Minjun and break several of her ribs just before he died.

As Ji Xiaofu regained her composure, she tore a piece off from her clothing and bandaged the wound on her arm. Then, she released the acupoints that had been blocked on Peng Yingyu's waist, before walking away in silence.

"Wait!" said the white-robed monk. "Ji- guniang, please accept a bow from Monk Peng." He bent over in gratitude, but Ji Xiaofu stepped aside, unwilling to receive his thanks.

Picking up the sword that the long-bearded Taoist had dropped on the ground, Peng Yingyu said, "This Ding Minjun uttered slanderous nonsense against your name, so she must not be allowed to live." As he sent the sword into the woman's throat, Ji Xiaofu deflected the blade with her sword.

"She is my older sister-at-arms," she said. "Although she has no affections for me, I cannot be unfaithful to her."

"The situation has reached the point of no return," said Peng Yingyu. "If she is not killed, she will cause you a lot of trouble in the days to come."

With tears streaming down her face, Ji Xiaofu replied, "I am the most unlucky and unfortunate woman under the sun, so I will have to accept my fate! Great Master Peng, do not harm my Elder Sister-at-Arms."

"Would I dare to dishonour the instruction of the Lady Warrior Ji?" the monk responded politely.

Then, Ji Xiaofu turned to Ding Minjun and said quietly, "Elder Sister, take care." Returning her sword to its scabbard, she walked out of the woods.

Peng Yingyu turned to the five injured men and said, "I have no grievances against any of you in the first place, so I really do not have to kill you. Unfortunately, you have heard the slander that this Ding woman spoke against the Lady Warrior Ji. If word of this gets out into the realm of the rivers and lakes, how will the Lady Warrior Ji be able to face the public? Therefore, do not blame me for not allowing you to live, for the situation has left me with no alternatives." With that, he sent the sword forward five times, killing the two Taoists from the Kunlun School, the remaining monk from Shaolin and the two men from Haisha.

After that, he gave Ding Minjun a slash on the shoulder, scaring the woman out of her wits. Unable to fight back because of her injuries, she shouted, "Crooked baldy, do not torture me. Just stab me once and be done with it!"

Peng Yingyu laughed and said, "I do not dare to kill an ugly, yellow-skinned and wide-mouthed woman like you. If I did, you will go to Hell and give the evil ghosts there such a terrible fright that they will all escape into the world of men. You will also scare the King and Judge of Hades so badly that he will erupt in vomit and diarrhoea. Would that not be horrible?" He laughed three times and threw the sword on the ground. Then, he hugged Bai Guishou's body and wailed loudly before walking away.

Ding Minjun sat and breathed deeply for a long time. Then, she put her sword back into its scabbard and hobbled slowly out of the woods.

+ + +

Chang Yuchun and Zhang Wuji huddled in silence, seeing and hearing every single thing that transpired during the battle that had taken place so unexpectedly in the night. When Ding Minjun left, they finally heaved a sigh of relief.

Zhang Wuji spoke first: "Brother Chang, Auntie Ji is my Sixth Uncle Yin's fiancée. That Ding woman said that she ... she had a baby with someone else. What do you think? Is it true or false?"

"She is spouting nonsense," answered Chang Yuchun. "Do not believe her."

"Right," said the boy in agreement. "When I see Sixth Uncle Yin, I will tell him about it and ask him to teach this Ding Minjun a good lesson. This will also help Auntie Ji to vent her anger."

"No, no!" said his companion at once. "Never ever mention this matter to your Sixth Uncle Yin. Do you understand? Once you mention it, things will become worse."

"Why?" asked the boy, totally puzzled by this unexpected word of caution.

"These statements are very unpleasant," answered the man, "so you do not need to repeat them to anyone else."

Zhang Wuji mumbled an "Mm!" in acknowledgement. After a while, he said, "Brother Chang, are you concerned that the matter is true?"

Chang Yuchun sighed and replied, "I really do not know."

At first light the next day, Chang Yuchun stood up, placed Zhang Wuji on his back and strode off once more. His strength had returned after the night's rest, so his movements were more nimble than the day before. After several li (1 li = 500 metres), they rounded a bend and came upon a main road.

Chang Yuchun was surprised: Uncle Hu lives in isolation in Butterfly Valley. The place is very remote, so why is there a main road here? Did I take a wrong turn?

Just as he was about to look for a villager and ask for directions, hoofbeats sounded. Four Mongolian soldiers appeared on horseback, waving their sabres and shouting: "Walk quickly, walk quickly!" They rode right up to Chang Yuchun, waved their sabres menacingly and rode off again.

I have finally fallen into the mouth of the tiger again, the man thought, only to drag Brother Zhang along as well.

His injuries had left him without any ability to fight. He could not even defeat an ordinary Yuan soldier, so he had no alternative except to trudge forward. Soon, he noticed that many other people had appeared along the road, driven by the soldiers as if they were beasts. A glimmer of hope appeared in Chang Yuchun's heart: These barbarians seem to be oppressing the common people, so they may not necessarily be looking for me.

He walked along with the crowd until they arrived at a fork in the road, where a Mongolian army officer waited on horseback. There were sixty to seventy soldiers with him, each brandishing a huge sabre in his hand. The common people bowed at the officer as they passed by, while a Han-Chinese man demanded their surnames. A number of the people were let off with a kick or a slap each after they reported their surnames. When one man said that his surname was Zhang, a Yuan soldier seized him at once. Another man had a newly-bought vegetable knife in his basket, so he was stopped too.

Realising that something fishy was going on, Zhang Wuji whispered into his companion's ear: "Brother Chang, you had better fake a fall, roll into the long grass and leave your sabre there."

Chang Yuchun understood his purpose immediately, so he bent his knees, stumbled into the grass and discarded his sabre. Then, moaning and groaning in pain, he hobbled towards the army officer.

"Ruffian! Do you not know the rules?" the Han-Chinese man scolded. "Bow before the officer quickly!"

Recalling the horrible deaths that his former master, Zhou Ziwang, and his entire family had suffered under the sabres of the barbaric Mongolians, Chang Yuchun refused to do as he was told. His stubbornness caught the eye of the soldiers and one of them kicked him in the knee. The rebel lost his balance and sank to the ground.

"What is your surname?" asked the Han-Chinese man loudly.

Before Chang Yuchun could answer, Zhang Wuji said, "Our surname is Xie. He is my older brother."

The Yuan soldier gave the man a kick in the buttocks and said, "Get lost!"

As Chang Yuchun scrambled to his feet in anger, he swore a silent oath: If I do not chase these barbarians back to the northern deserts in my lifetime, I, Chang Yuchun, am not a man! Placing Zhang Wuji on his back once more, he headed north. But he had only gone a few steps when blood-curdling cries filled the air. Turning around, the two of them saw that the people whom the Yuan soldiers had seized earlier were dead, their heads separated from their bodies.

It turned out that the ruling government had been so brutal in its administration of the land that many rebels had risen among the common people. Consequently, the Mongolian ministers came up with the idea of having all the Han-Chinese killed. It was an impossible dream, of course, so the Chief Advisor, Ba Yan, eventually issued a cruel order to have all the Han-Chinese with the surnames of Zhang, Wang, Liu, Li and Zhao killed. The Zhangs, Wangs, Lius and Lis were the most numerous among the Han-Chinese, while the Zhaos were seen as the descendants of the imperial family of the Song Dynasty. If people with these five surnames were wiped out, the power of the Han-Chinese would be greatly reduced. As time went by, the number of people with these five surnames who declared their loyalty to the Yuan Dynasty and became its officers increased. Eventually, someone among the Mongolian ministers advised the emperor to withdraw the order of slaughter. By then, the victims of this horrible decree were already beyond count.

+ + +

Chang Yuchun increased the pace of his walk and headed into the wilderness. He knew that Hu Qingniu's home was nearby, so he began looking out for it. By and by, the man and boy came upon vast stretches of red and purple flowers that filled the hills with a wonderful fragrance. Unfortunately, the earlier incident with the Mongolian soldiers was still so fresh in their minds that the beautiful scenery was entirely lost to them. After several turns and bends, they found themselves at the foot of a sheer cliff. They had reached a dead end.

Stumped, they soon noticed several butterflies flitting through a gap in the flowering shrubs. An idea popped into Zhang Wuji's head. "Since the place is called Butterfly Valley," he said, "perhaps we should just follow those butterflies and see where they lead us."

Chang Yuchun agreed.

Squeezing through the bushes, they found a tiny path. As they proceeded down the path, more butterflies appeared. These butterflies came in a variety of patterns and colours, including white, black and purple, but none of them seemed afraid of human beings. Dancing through the air, they even landed on Chang Yuchun and Zhang Wuji's heads, shoulders and hands. The two companions were comforted that they had entered Butterfly Valley at last.

"Please let me walk on my own!" said Zhang Wuji.

Chang Yuchun agreed and lowered him to the ground.

A little past noon, they came upon seven or eight huts on the bank of a clear stream. Flowers and plants grew in profusion around these huts. "We have arrived," Chang Yuchun declared. "These are the gardens where Uncle Hu grows his herbs and medicinal shrubs."

Walking over to the huts, he said in a loud but respectful voice: "Disciple Chang Yuchun greets Elder Uncle Hu."

A page emerged from one of the huts and said, "Please come in."

Chang Yuchun took Zhang Wuji's hand and followed the page indoors. A dignified-looking middle-aged man stood on one side of the hall, watching over another page who was fanning the flames under a boiling pot. The entire place smelt of medicine.

Chang Yuchun knelt before the man, bowed and said, "How do you do, Uncle Hu."

He must be the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley, Hu Qingniu, thought Zhang Wuji, so he clasped his fists in salute and said, "Mr Hu."

Nodding at Chang Yuchun, Hu Qingniu replied, "I have heard about Zhou Ziwang. That is destiny, because the time of the barbarians is not over yet, and the day of our Sect's rise has not arrived." He reached for Chang Yuchun's wrist and felt his pulse. Then, he opened the man's shirt, took one look and said, "You have been struck by the foreign monks' Heart-Splitting Palm Technique. It is not really a big deal, but you used too much strength after being hit, so your heart is now seriously affected by a cold and deadly toxin. It will take quite a while to heal you of this." After that, he pointed to Zhang Wuji and asked, "Who is this child?"

"Uncle, his name is Zhang Wuji," answered Chang Yuchun. "He is the son of Wudang's Zhang the Fifth."

Hu Qingniu was taken aback. "He is from Wudang?" he asked angrily. "Why did you bring him here?"

Chang Yuchun quickly explained how he had been tasked to escort Zhou Ziwang's son to safety, and how Zhang Sanfeng had rescued him after he had been caught by Mongolian soldiers. "My life was saved by his grandteacher," the man went on, "so please make an exception and help this boy."

"Well, you were very generous to make such an offer," said Hu Qingniu sarcastically. "Hmmph! Zhang Sanfeng rescued you, not me. When have you ever seen me making an exception?"

Chang Yuchun fell on his knees and bowed several times. "Uncle, this brother's father would rather commit suicide than to betray a friend," he said. "He was a good man."

"A good man?" said Hu Qingniu with a cold laugh. "How many good men are there under the sun? Can I heal them all? It would have been fine if he is not a member of the Wudang School. Why should someone from a renowned and upright organisation seek assistance from a heretic outsider like me?"

Nevertheless, Chang Yuchun persisted: "Brother Zhang's mother is the daughter of the White-Browed Eagle King, Sect-Leader Yin, so half of him can be considered a member of our Sect."

Feeling somewhat moved, Hu Qingniu nodded and said, "All right, get up. Being the maternal grandson of the Eagle Sect's White-Browed Yin does make things different." Walking over to Zhang Wuji, the physician explained in a warm and pleasant voice: "Child, I have always had the rule of not providing treatment to any member of the renowned and upright clans. Your mother is a member of our Sect, so I will not be breaking this rule if I treat you. Your maternal grandfather, the White-Browed Eagle King, was originally one of the Four Protector Kings of the Ming Sect. Due to some disagreements with the other brothers, he founded the Eagle Sect. However, he is not a traitor, for the Eagle Sect is considered a branch of the Ming Sect. You must promise me that you will join your maternal grandfather's organisation when you have recovered from your injuries, for you must no longer be a Wudang disciple."

Before Zhang Wuji could say anything, Chang Yuchun remarked, "No, Uncle. Mr Zhang Sanfeng has said that you cannot force the boy into our Sect. Furthermore, if he is indeed cured, his Wudang School will also not appreciate our kindness."

"Hmmph! What is so great about Zhang Sanfeng?" Hu Qingniu roared in anger. "He despises us, so why must I work for him? Child, what decision have you made?"

Zhang Wuji knew that the toxins in his body had entered all his internal organs and there was nothing his grandteacher could do about it despite the richness of his internal strength. His life now depended entirely on the willingness of this eccentric physician to treat him, but his grandteacher had warned him against joining the Evil Sect and placing himself in an inextricable web for the rest of his life. Although he did not understand how bad the Evil Sect was and why his grandteacher and uncles hated it to the core, he believed with all his heart that the grandteacher whom he respected greatly could not be wrong.

Therefore, he thought: I would rather die from his unwillingness to treat me, than to violate Grandteacher's instructions. So, he raised his voice and said, "Mr Hu, my mother was a Hall-Master in the Eagle Sect, so I think that there must be something good about the organisation. But I have promised my grandteacher not to enter the Evil Sect, so how can I go back on my word? I cannot help it if you refuse to treat me. If I were to cling on to life for fear of death and agree to your condition, the world would gain nothing but another untrustworthy and unfaithful man. What good would there be in that?"

So the little monster wants to talk and act like a great hero! Hu Qingniu sneered in his heart. I will just go ahead and refuse him, and watch him beg on his knees. Turning to Chang Yuchun, he said, "Since he is unwilling to enter our Sect, Yuchun, ask him to leave. How can there be people who die of illness within the doors of Hu Qingniu's abode?"

Chang Yuchun knew that this older uncle-at-arms of his was particularly stubborn, so there was no purpose in begging him for something that he had clearly refused. So, he turned to Zhang Wuji and said, "Little Brother, although the members of the Ming Sect and the upright clans do not see eye-to-eye on many matters, our Sect has produced many heroes and outstanding men since the Tang Dynasty. Futhermore, your maternal grandfather and mother are the Leader and Hall-Master of the Eagle Sect respectively. Do agree to Uncle Hu's condition, and I will bear full responsibility for it before Mr Zhang."

Zhang Wuji stood up and replied, "Brother Chang, you have done your best, so my grandteacher will not blame you for anything." Then, he headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" asked Chang Yuchun in surprise.

"If I die in Butterfly Valley, would the reputation of the 'Healing Sage' not be damaged?" the boy said in return.

Hu Qingniu laughed coldly and said, " The One who Ignores the Dying is renowned all over the world. Those who fall dead outside the 'cow-sheds' of Butterfly Valley are not limited to this child alone."

Turning a deaf ear to his uncle's words, Chang Yuchun dashed out, grabbed Zhang Wuji and brought him indoors again.

"Uncle Hu, are you absolutely unwilling to rescue him?" asked Chang Yuchun as he gasped for breath.

"You know that I am also called 'The One who Ignores the Dying'," said Hu Qingniu, "so why do you ask?"

"But you are willing to treat my injuries?" asked the man again. "That is right," answered his uncle.

"All right then!" said Chang Yuchun. "I have promised Mr Zhang to have this brother treated, so I cannot allow the upright clans to say that the members of the Ming Sect are untrustworthy. I do not want you to cure my injuries any longer. Please treat this brother instead. If we make this one-for-one exchange, you will lose nothing."

Hu Qingniu looked him in the eye and said in a serious voice: "You have been grievously wounded by the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique. If I start your treatment at this very moment, you will recover completely. A delay of seven days will save your life, but not your martial arts abilities, while a delay of fourteen days will render your injuries totally incurable."

"This is the work of my uncle, the one who ignores the dying," said Chang Yuchun. "I will depart with no resentments."

Suddenly, Zhang Wuji shouted, "I do not want you to save me! I do not want you to save me!" Then, he turned to Chang Yuchun and added, "Brother Chang, do you think that Zhang Wuji is an unscrupulous scoundrel? You offer your life in exchange for mine, but a life gained in this manner is terribly meaningless to me."

Chang Yuchun did not argue further with him. Undoing his belt, he grabbed Zhang Wuji and tied him tightly to a chair. "If you do not release me, I will start cursing people!" the boy shouted. When Chang Yuchun ignored him, he hardened his heart and yelled: "The One who Ignores the Dying, Hu Qingniu, is really as stupid as a cow! He cannot be compared even to a beast!"

Surprisingly, the physician, whose name Qingniu meant Black Cow, was not angered. He just stared coldly at the upset boy.

"Uncle Hu, Brother Zhang, I take my leave," said Chang Yuchun. "I am going to look for another physician!"

"There are no able physicians in this province of Anhui," said Hu Qingniu coldly. "But you are unlikely to cross the borders Anhui within seven days anyway."

Laughing loudly, Chang Yuchun replied, "I have an uncle who ignores the dying, so it is only fair that you have a nephew who should suffer death!" Then, he strode out of the door.

"When did I agree to your one-for-one exchange?" asked Hu Qingniu in a loud voice. "I am not treating both of you!" He picked up a broken piece of pilose antler (lu4 rong2) from the table and threw it at an acupoint on Chang Yuchun's knee, causing him to crumple into a heap on the ground.

Then, Hu Qingniu untied Zhang Wuji, gripped both his wrists tightly and proceeded to throw him out of the door, so that the two hapless patients could live and perish together in due course.

"What are you doing?" Zhang Wuji shouted in fright. Just then, the toxins in his body rushed to his brain and knocked him out.

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[1] Chang YuChun is an actual person in Chinese history. He is one of the top generals that helped brought Zhu YuanZhang(first emperor of the Ming dynasty) to power. Rumor has it that Zhu YuanZhang whacked him soon after becoming emperor. But ‘officially’, Chang YuChun died of natural causes.

[2] The character ‘Ming’ means bright, or illuminate.