The Smiling, Proud Wanderer - 第2章 Eavesdropping

Lin Pingzhi wanted more than anything to get up and fight Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao to the death, but with several of his pressure points sealed, he was unable to move his lower body at all. He would become a complete invalid, if they were to cut the nerves and tendons of his limbs and thread him through the collarbone, and he would rather die fighting, than go through all that pain.

Suddenly, screams sounded from the back kitchen. “Ah…Ah…!” It was a long cry filled with pain, and it was the voice of Jia Renda. Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao both jumped up with their swords drawn and dashed into the kitchen immediately. A shadow flashed by the door, and a person glided in silently, then grabbed Lin Pingzhi by the collar and picked him up. Lin Pingzhi cried out in surprise when he took a glimpse at the pox-covered face of his rescuer: the face that belonged to the ugly wine-selling girl, who had caused all the trouble in the beginning.

The ugly girl dragged him all the way out the front door. Arriving at the big tree, where the horses were reined, she grabbed him by the back with her left hand and lifted him up on horseback. With Lin Pingzhi still in a state of shock, the girl pulled out a sword, and swung it swiftly. The blade flashed and the rein was cut free. She prodded the thigh of the horse with her sword; feeling pain, the horse let out an angry neigh, and then pounded madly into the woods.

“Mom! Dad!” Lin Pingzhi shouted. Worrying about his parents and not wanting to run away by himself, he gave a hard push against the back of the horse and fell off. After quite some rolling on the ground, he found himself deep in some tall bushes. The horse did not stop and soon disappeared into the woods.

Holding onto a branch, Lin Pingzhi tried to stand up, only finding that his legs had little strength to support him. After raising himself up about a foot, he fell back into the bushes. His waist and backside were tremendously sore. The pain must have come from bumping into rocks and tree roots after he fell from the horse.

Shouting and pounding footsteps came louder and louder from behind, and moments later, someone rushed by him. Lin Pingzhi lay motionless in the bushes. He could hear the loud clashes of weapons nearby. Several people had started a fierce fight. Quietly, he stuck his head out and watched from the bushes. One group of fighters consisted of Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao of the Qingcheng Sword School. Opposing them were the ugly girl and a man with his face concealed behind a black cloth. Most of his hair was gray, so it was obvious that he was an old man. It didn’t take Lin Pingzhi much time to conclude that he was the ugly girl’s grandfather, old man Sa.

“I thought those two were also from the Qingcheng Sword School,” Lin Pingzhi pondered, “but it turned out that the girl rescued me…. Oh! If I had only known that they both were masters of Kung Fu, I wouldn’t have risked playing the hero and causing all this trouble for no reason.” Then he thought, “Since they are all so busy fighting right now, this is the perfect opportunity for me to rescue my Father and Mother.” But the pressure point at his back was still sealed, and his body just wouldn’t cooperate.

“Who…who are you? How did you learn the sword skills of the Qingcheng Sword School?” Fang Renzhi cried out in disbelief.

The old man didn’t answer. Suddenly, with several blazing flashes, Fang Renzhi’s sword flew into the air. Fang Renzhi immediately jumped backward and Yu Renhao rushed forward to block the attacks. The old man kept pressing with lightning fast moves.

“You…You…!” Yu Renhao shouted, his voice betraying surprise and fear. With a loud ring, his sword also flew into the air.

The ugly girl jumped forth and lunged, but the old man parried her thrust. “Don’t kill him!” he commanded.

“But they’re so cruel and killed so many people,” the ugly girl argued.

“Let’s go!” the old man said. Seeing the hesitation on the ugly girl’s face, the old man gave her a reminder, “Don’t forget our Master’s orders.”

“Guess I’ll let them off this time,” the ugly girl nodded reluctantly, and then left through the small grove of trees. The old man followed her, and before long, both of them disappeared into the woods.

It took Fang and Yu quite a while to calm down. They both picked up their own swords.

“Unbelievable! How did he know our Qingcheng sword techniques?” Yu Renhao still could not believe it.

“He only knew a few, but…but when he used the move, Goose in the Sky, he did really…really…Ah!” Fang Renzhi had to agree.

“They rescued the Lin boy,” You Renhao said.

“Let’s just hope this isn’t a trick to lure us away from the Lin Couple!” Fang Renzhi yelled, suddenly.

“Damn!” Yu Renhao cried. The two turned around and rushed back.

A short while later, the sounds of horses moving at a slow trot broke the silence. Two horses passed through the woods. Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao each led a horse, and Lin Zhennan and Madam Wang were each tied to a horse. Lin Pingzhi almost shouted out, “Mom! Dad!” Fortunately, he was able to swallow the words. He knew that if he made any kind of noise, not only would he get himself killed, but he would also ruin any opportunity to rescue his parents. Trailing about twenty feet behind the two horses, a man limped along. It turned out to be Jia Renda. A white cloth wrapped around his head was soaked with blood and he cursed loudly, limping.

“Hell! You sons of turtles took the rabbit boy, but I’ve still got these two old rabbits. I’ll give each of these two old rabbits a good lashing every day. When we arrive at Mount Qingcheng, we’ll see how many lives they still have left!”

“Junior apprentice Jia!” Fang Renzhi yelled in admonishment. “The Master has reminded us over and over to make sure that we capture the Lin couple alive. If any accidents were to befall them, I’d pay to see how many layers of skin the Master would peel off you.”

Jia Renda snorted, but shut up instantly.

Lin Pingzhi listened as the Qingcheng disciples walked away. He was actually slightly relieved from what he just heard.

“They are going to send my parents all the way to Mount Qingcheng, and they won’t give them too much of a hard time on the way. Fujian is far away from Szechwan. I’ll have to find a way to rescue Father and Mother.”

Then he thought, “When I get to an Escort House branch, I should send a message to Grandpa in Luoyang.” He lay silently in the bushes, oblivious to the bites from mosquitoes and other bugs.

Several hours passed. When the sealed pressure points on his back finally opened up, it was already dark. He managed to stand up and slowly walked back to the small restaurant.

“I’d better disguise myself so those two villains won’t recognize me, even if they see me face to face. How am I going to rescue my parents if I get killed?” he asked himself.

After entering the restaurant owner’s room and lighting the oil-lamp, he searched for clothing, but the mountain people were so poor that they did not even own a spare set of clothes in which to change. Very disappointed, he walked out of the restaurant, when he spotted the bodies of the owner and his wife, lying on the ground. “Well, guess I’ll have to use the clothes of the deceased,” he thought. He took the clothes off of the dead body and held them in his hands. They were was filthy and stank badly.

He considered washing the clothing before putting it on, but then decided against it.  If he should miss an opportunity to save his parents simply because of his concern over clean clothes, surely, he would regret it for the rest of his life. He clenched his teeth and undressed himself, then changed into the clothes of the dead.

Lighting a torch, he looked around, and soon discovered his father’s sword and his mother’s golden saber, lying in a corner. He picked up his father’s sword and wrapped it in a rag, tied it to his back, and then walked outside. The croaking of the frogs in the canyon sounded in the distance through the otherwise silent night. Lin Pingzhi suddenly felt overwhelmed by desolation and almost cried out. He threw the torch as hard as he could; the flame formed a beautiful red arc in the night sky, before extinguishing itself in the pond. Instantly, darkness engulfed him once again.

“Lin Pingzhi, Lin Pingzhi! If you can’t be cautious and alert, and let yourself fall back into the hands of those Qingcheng villains, then you will be snuffed out, just like that torch, falling into that filthy pond,” Lin Pingzhi admonished himself.

Raising his arm, he wiped the corners of his eyes with a sleeve. When the sleeve neared his face, the odor reeked so badly that he almost vomited. But firmly, he said to himself aloud, “If you can’t even withstand the foul odor, you are not a true man!”

He started walking, but before long, his hips started hurting again. He clenched his teeth and increased his pace. However, not knowing which way his parents had been taken, he wandered randomly through different paths in the mountains. He walked till dawn, when rays of sunshine bathed his face, making it difficult to see things clearly.

Suddenly, he was struck with a thought, “Those two villains are going to Mount Qingcheng. Szechwan Province is to the west of Fujian. Why am I going east?” He hurriedly turned around and began to walk with his back to the sun.

“Mother and Father have been gone for more than a half day,” he thought, “and I walked the opposite direction for half a night; I must be far away from them, by now. I’d better buy a horse. I wonder how much money I will need.”

He examined his pocket and then groaned. When they started the trip, all the gold and jewelry were put into a leather saddlebag. Lin Zhennan and Madam Wang both had silver on their persons, but not Lin Pingzhi; he did not have even a single tael. He stamped his foot in frustration. “What should I do? What should I do?” He stared at the sky blankly for a while and then thought, “I must go rescue my parents. I am sure I’ll find some way, somehow, and not starve.”

He began walking toward the foot of the mountain. When it was about noon, his stomach began to growl loudly. Some green fruits on a tree by the side of the road caught his eye. They were not ripe yet, but at least they would assuage his hunger. He went up to the tree to pick some fruits, but then he realized that the fruits must have belonged to someone. Taking them without permission was really no different from stealing. For three generations, the Lin family had protected goods from being robbed or stolen by bandits. How could he do something that only common thieves do? If somebody saw him, and called him a thief in front of his father, it would have brought great shame upon his father! The honor of the Fortune Prestige Escort House would be disgraced forever.

He had learned when he was still a little boy that all infamous criminals started out as small thieves, and that small thieves usually began by stealing only small things, like a squash or fruit. Then, they would start to steal more and more, finally losing all self-control, and never being able to stop. At that thought, he broke out in a cold sweat.

“One day, Father and I will restore the fame of the Fortune Prestige Escort House! I must always do what a true man does. I would rather beg, than steal from others,” he vowed.

He continued on his trip in a hurry, and gave no more thought to the fruit trees by the road. A couple of miles later, he arrived at a small village. He walked to a shack and started begging for food in a halting voice. He was used to being waited upon for everything all his life, and had never before had to beg for anything from other people. After only a couple of words, his face turned red with shame.

The farmer’s wife in the shack had just received a severe beating from her husband and was still in a foul mood. When she saw that Lin Pingzhi was just a mere beggar, she immediately released a torrent of abuse.

“You little thief, what are you doing sneaking around! I just lost a hen. You probably stole it, and now you want more? Even if I had some food, I wouldn’t give it to a thief like you. You stole my hen, and made my wretch of a husband so angry, that he beat me all black and blue!” she yelled, waving a broom.

Every time the woman spat out a curse, Lin Pingzhi stepped back a little. The woman became so excited that she swung her broom at Lin Pingzhi’s face. Lin Pingzhi was furious. He moved to the side to dodge the broom, and then shot a strike at the woman with his palm.

A sudden thought popped up into his head, “How shameful, beating up a dumb farmer’s wife, just because she doesn’t want to give me food?” He tried to catch himself, but since he had used too much strength in the strike, he lost balance and stumbled. Then, his left foot happened to land in a pile of cow dung. He slipped and fell on his back.

The farmer’s wife burst into a loud laugh. “You little thief! You’ve got just what you deserve!” She smacked him on his head with her broom and spat on him, then turned around and went into the shack.

Lin Pingzhi felt angry at his humiliation. He got up and found his hands and face covered with cow dung. Surprisingly, the farmer’s wife came back with four boiled corncobs and stuck them into his hands.

“Go on, kid, take these! God gave you such a pretty face, even prettier than a girl’s, but you don’t want to apply yourself. You are just a lazy bum! What good are you?” She said with a laugh.

Still angry, Lin Pingzhi made to hurl the corncobs away, but the farmer’s wife said with a grin, “Very well! Throw them away! Go ahead! Hey, you’ve got guts and you are not afraid to starve! Great! Throw them away, and I will watch you starve!”

Lin Pingzhi reconsidered, “In order to rescue Father and Mother, and to seek revenge and restore the fame of the Fortune Prestige Escort House, I will have to bear all kinds of humiliation. Starting from today, no matter how hard or humiliating it is, I will just clench my teeth and take it without complaint. To be humiliated by a farmer’s wife is really nothing.” So he said, “Many thanks!” and then took a big bite of a corncob.

“I knew you wouldn’t throw them away,” the farmer’s wife smiled. She turned and walked away, still mumbling, “This kid is so hungry; it probably wasn’t him, who stole my hen. Ah, the damn husband, if he only had half of this kid’s good temper, my life would be much better.”

Along the way, Lin Pingzhi sometimes begged for food, and sometimes, just ate wild fruits from the bushes. Luckily, this was a good harvest year in Fujian Province, and most families had extra food left over. Although his face was covered with mud, he spoke with good manners, so people liked him, and it wasn’t too hard for him to beg for food. He tried to ask about information regarding his parents’ whereabouts along the road, but was not able to learn anything. Eight days later, he entered Jiangxi province. He asked for directions to Nancang and went there, straightaway. He thought that the Escort House branch in Nancang should have some information. If not, at least he could get some money and a fast horse.

After entering the town of Nancang, he asked someone on the street about the Fortune Prestige Escort House.

“Fortune Prestige Escort House? Why are you asking? It has been burned to the ground. Even the neighbors’ houses were burnt down. There’s nothing left,” the man answered.

Lin Pingzhi groaned inwardly. He came to the street of the Escort House and saw with his own eyes that the whole street was littered by debris. He stood there silently for a long time.

“It must be those gangsters from the Qingcheng Sword School, again. If I cannot have my revenge, I would rather die!” he resolved.

Without delaying in Nancang, he immediately went on with his trip west. Several days later, he arrived at Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. He had thought that the Qingcheng Sword School might have also burned down this Escort House branch, but when he asked people about news of the Fortune Prestige Escort House, no one had heard anything. Lin Pingzhi felt great relief and started heading toward the Escort House in big strides. And soon, he arrived at the gate.

Although the Hunan branch of the Escort House was not as big as the Fuzhou Headquarters Escort House, it, too, had a huge vermilion gate with two big majestic stone lions sitting by the gate. Lin Pingzhi peeked inside, but did not see anyone.

“I am almost in rags, and look so awkward; the escorts in this branch might scoff at me.” He hesitated at the doorway.

He raised his head and then noticed that the sign “Fortune Prestige Escort House Hunan Branch” was upside down. “How could the escorts in this branch be so absentminded as to hang the sign upside down?” he was quite surprised.

He turned his head to look at the flags on the flagpoles, and then his heart sank. A pair of dirty saddles hung on top of the left flagpole. On the right flagpole was a pair of flower-patterned woman’s pants. The pants were torn to shreds, but still fluttered in the wind. While he looked on in shock, a man walked out from the Escort House.

“Hey, you son of a turtle. What are you doing sneaking around here? You trying to steal something?” the man yelled.

Recognizing that the man had the same kind of accent, as Fang Renzhi and Jia Renda, Lin Pingzhi knew that he must have come from Szechwan, as well, so he did not even look at him and immediately started walking away. Suddenly, he felt a pain in his backside. The man had given him a hard kick. Infuriated, Lin Pingzhi wanted to turn around and fight the man, but he quashed the urge in an instant. With the Escort House obviously occupied by the Qingcheng Sword School, it was a perfect opportunity for him to try and get information about his parents. All he needed to do was to stay calm.

Pretending to be just an ordinary person with no skill in Kung Fu whatsoever, he pretended to take a spill onto the ground, and feigned an inability to get up. The man burst into loud laughter and called him a few more “son of turtles” before walking back inside.

Lin Pingzhi stood up slowly and ambled into a small alley. He begged for a bowl of cold rice and ate it.

“The enemy is so close by, I’d better not get careless!” He kept reminding himself.

Finding some coal ashes on the ground, he smeared them onto his face until it was completely black, then huddled up in a corner against the alley wall and fell asleep.

Lin Pingzhi waited till about ten at night, then took out his long sword and hung it at his waist. He circled to the back door of the Escort House and listened carefully. After making sure there was no sound from within the walls, he jumped on top of the wall. Inside was an orchard. He jumped down, quietly, and started creeping slowly along the wall. Darkness engulfed the orchard. There was neither light nor sound; he could feel the beating of his heart. He had his hand out feeling the wall as he walked, and was dreading the moment he would step on a rock or dry hay and make a noise that would give him away. After walking through two courtyards, he saw light coming from the East Hall window, so he crept a couple of steps closer, when he heard somebody talking. Slowly moving closer and resting under the window, he held his breath and lowered himself, inch by inch, until he was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall. Just after he sat down, he heard someone’s voice.

“Let’s just burn the whole son of a turtle Escort House tomorrow morning, so we don’t have to stay here and make fools of ourselves.”

“No! We can’t!” another voice said. “Senior apprentice brother Pi and others just burnt down the entire Escort House Nancang branch, and I heard that dozens of neighbors’ houses were burnt down as well. Something like that won’t be good for the reputation of our chivalrous Qingcheng Sword School. That incident will most likely get them punished by the Master.”

Lin Pingzhi was filled with outrage. Now, there was no doubt that the Qingcheng Sword School was behind these despicable acts. He cursed their hypocrisy for having the gall to still call themselves chivalrous.

“Well then, we really shouldn’t burn the house down. But are we going to just leave the house intact?” the previous voice asked.

The other one laughed. “Junior brother Ji, think about it. We’ve already hung the sign of the Escort House upside down and also raised a pair of women’s pants on top of their flagpole. The name of Fortune Prestige Escort House has already been totally trashed. We should leave the pants hanging there for as long as possible. Why bother burning down the house?”

“You’re right, senior brother Shen!” Ji laughed. “Ha-ha, the pair of pants is going to bring the Escort House so much bad luck, they won’t be able to regain their reputation for at least another three hundred years.”

The two laughed for some time, then Ji said, “We’re going to the town of Hengshan tomorrow for Liu Zhengfeng’s ceremony; what present shall we bring? The news of the ceremony came so unexpected. If the present isn’t good enough, it won’t look very good for the reputation of the Qingcheng Sword School.”

“I’ve got the present ready,” Shen said in good humor, “and relax. I guarantee you that we won’t lose face for the Qingcheng Sword School. The present might even get us a lot of attention at the banquet for the Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony.”

“What is the present? Why don’t I know about it?” Ji asked delightedly.

Shen was quite content and let out a chuckle. “We are just liberating it, so we can make a gift of it. No need to take anything out of our own pockets. Look, is this good enough?”

The sound of someone opening a package came through the window.

“Amazing!” Ji burst out in a cry of surprise. “Senior brother Shen, do you have magic powers? Where the hell did you get such expensive items?” Ji asked in awe.

Lin Pingzhi was really tempted to look inside through the crack of the window to see what kind of present it was, but he maintained his discipline, realizing that if he had stuck his head up, a shadow could fall on the window; it would be all over if he let the enemy find him. So, he suppressed his curiosity. Then he heard Shen’s voice, again.

“Did you think that we occupied the Fortune Prestige Escort House for nothing? I was going to present this pair of jade horses to the Master, but right now, it is probably better to let old Liu Zhengfeng be the lucky recipient.”

A tide of anger washed over Lin Pingzhi. “So they robbed the treasure from our Escort House and used it for their own advantage. What a bunch of burglars! What treasure would the Hunan Escort House Branch have? It was probably a client’s goods, waiting to be escorted. The pair of jade horses must be extremely valuable. If we can’t get them back, Father would have to be the one to compensate.”

Shen laughed again. “There are four bags here, one for all of the Master’s wives,[1] one for all the apprentices, one for you, and one for me! Go ahead, pick one.”

“What are these?” Ji asked. After a short while, he burst out with another exclamation of surprise, “Wow, these are all gold and jewels! We are damn rich now!!! What a son of a turtle the Escort House is! The hell with them! They really have extorted a lot of money! Senior brother, how did you find these? I searched all over the Escort House over a dozen times, and I was just about to dig up the grounds. All I found was about a hundred taels of silver. How did you find all this treasure, without breaking a sweat?”

Shen sounded very pleased with himself. “Do you think they just put their gold and treasure anywhere? For the last couple of days, I watched you open drawers, smash boxes, take down walls, and have a good time searching. I knew that you’d be busy over nothing. But you would not have believed me, even if I had told you. Anyway, all that searching wouldn’t hurt you, big boy.”

“Excellent, excellent! Senior brother Shen, where did you find these?”

“Think about it, there is one thing in this Escort House that was out of place. What was it?”

“Out of place? Lots of things are out of place in this son of a turtle Escort House. For one, their Kung Fu skills were so damn poor, but they hung a picture of a vicious-looking lion on their flagpole,” Ji scoffed.

“We replaced the big lion with a pair of woman’s pants. Now it is appropriate.” Shen laughed. “Think again! Are there any other strange things in this Escort House?”

“These Hunan asses have too many odd habits. For example, Escort Zhang is the chief of the entire branch Escort House, but he put a coffin in the room, next to his own bedroom. What bad luck! Ha-ha!” Ji slapped his leg.

“Use your head!” Shen chuckled. “Why would he put a coffin in the next room? Could it be the body of his wife or son that he hates to part with? I think not! I figured he hid something important in the coffin. The coffin was just used to….”

“Aha!!” Ji jumped up in realization. “That’s it! That’s it! These treasures were hidden in the coffin! Cool! Damn! These sons of turtles Escorts are just too sneaky. Senior brother Shen, these two bags are of the same size. How can I take the same amount as you? You should take a greater share.” Then there came the sounds of gold and jade, tumbling against each other; apparently, Ji took some jewels out from one bag and put them into another.

There was no sound from Shen declining the offer.

“Senior brother Shen, I’ll go get some water. Let’s wash our feet and then get some rest,” Ji suggested. He yawned, and then pushed the door open and walked out.

Lin Pingzhi shrank his body under the window, not daring to move an inch. He peeked from the side of his eyes and saw a short and fat man. It was the one who had kicked him earlier in the day.

A little while later, Ji returned with a basin of hot water.

“Senior brother Shen, this time, the Master sent dozens of apprentices out. I’d say that the two of us have achieved the most. Thanks to you, even I will look good this time. Senior brother Jiang and other apprentices went to attack the Guangzhou branch, and senior brother Ma and some other apprentices went to attack the Hangzhou branch; they are so careless, even if they see a coffin, they wouldn’t figure out that there could be treasure inside.”

“Senior brother Fang, junior brother Yu, and Jia Renda got the Fuzhou Headquarters. They must have found more than we did. But since the Master’s precious son got killed in Fuzhou, they’re going to end up with more blame than credit,” Shen said cheerfully.

“The Master, himself, organized the attacks against the Fortune Prestige Escort House headquarters; senior brother Fang and junior brother Yu were just scouts,” Ji said, “Master won’t blame senior brother Fang and junior brother Yu for the death of junior brother Yu. This time we are striking out in full strength. All the apprentices started the attacks against the headquarters and the branches of the Escort House, at the same time. But no one expected that the skills of the Lin family were nowhere near their reputation; just three scouts alone were enough to capture Lin Zhennan and his wife. Even the Master didn’t see that coming. Ha-ha!”

Lin Pingzhi felt cold sweat dripping down his forehead. It was clear that the Qingcheng Sword School had been plotting the attacks for a long time, and attacked all the Escort Houses, simultaneously. The trouble didn’t start because he had killed that man named Yu; even if he hadn’t killed that rascal Yu, they would have attacked the Escort Houses, all the same. Even Yu Canghai, himself, came to Fuzhou; it was no wonder then, that there was an attacker with the skill necessary to perform the Heart Crushing Palm. But how did the Escort House offend the Qingcheng Sword School? Why did they attack so viciously? By now, he realized he no longer needed to blame himself for causing all the trouble and his rage was ready to explode. If it weren’t for the fact that his Kung Fu skills were no match for his enemies, he’d have broken through the window and chopped the two animals inside into little bits! Then he heard splashing from inside. The two had begun washing their feet.

“Master didn’t have the wrong impression,” Shen continued. “Years ago, when the Fortune Prestige Escort House shocked the southeast region of the Martial World, they seemed to have some real skills. The Evil-Resisting Sword Art earned a great reputation; they couldn’t have done it by trickery. I’d say the descendants probably weren’t smart enough to learn the real skills from their ancestors.”

Lin Pingzhi’s face turned red with shame.

“Before we came down Mount Qingcheng,” Shen went on, “Master taught us the Evil-Resisting Sword Art. Although we couldn’t learn the whole technique very well in only a couple of months, I think this set of sword moves has a lot of potential; it’s just hard to release the power. Junior brother Ji, how much did you figure out?”

“I heard from the Master that even Lin Zhennan, himself, could not grasp much of the true idea behind the set of sword moves,” Ji replied, “so I didn’t really study it that hard. Senior brother Shen, the Master gave the order for all apprentices to meet at Hengshan; this means that senior brother Fang and the others will bring the Lin couple to Hengshan, right? I wonder how tough the descendent of the Evil-Resisting Sword Art will be.”

Hearing the shocking news that his parents were still alive, and would be brought to Hengshan, Lin Pingzhi felt both happy and sad at the same time.

“In just a few short days, you will meet him,” Shen said, “then you can practice the Evil-Resisting Sword Art with him, ha-ha.”

Suddenly the window opened. Lin Pingzhi was astonished and thought that they had discovered him. Just when he was about to run away, he was doused with hot water from the basin being poured out of the window. He almost cried out in surprise because of the soaking. The light in the room was soon put out, and darkness fell over the courtyard.

Lin Pingzhi was still in shock. He could feel water dripping down from his face, and it had a foul odor, he then realized that fellow Ji must have poured the filthy water, in which they just washed their feet, on him. Although Ji didn’t do this intentionally, it was still quite a humiliation. But at least, he had learned some information regarding his parents; so no matter what, even if he had to be soaked in urine, it would have been worth it.

The night was now silent. Afraid that the two might hear him if he left right away, he decided to wait till they fell asleep. He leaned against the wall and stayed still under the window. After quite a while, the sound of snores arose from inside, and he stood up slowly.

Lin Pingzhi glanced back and suddenly saw a long quivering shadow cast on the window. Startled, he squatted down instinctively. Then he discovered that it was the window shutter wobbling slightly in the night wind, and realized that Ji didn’t bolt the window after dumping out the water.

“Now is the perfect time for revenge!” he told himself.

He pulled out his long sword with his right hand, then gently lifted the shutter with his left hand, climbed into the room, and then slowly closed the window. Moonlight shone through the paper on the window; he could see the two men asleep, one on each bed, by one side of the room. The one with a bald head was facing the wall. The other with a wild bush of a beard was lying on his back. Five bags and two swords sat on the table in front of the beds.

Lin Pingzhi raised his sword. “One slash each, just as easy as that!” he thought to himself. But when he was about to swing his sword at the fellow who had his face up, another thought came to him. “If I kill these two in such an underhanded way, I would simply be a murderer and it wouldn’t be heroic. If, later, I can learn the family Kung Fu skills well, and then challenge these Qingcheng villains, face to face, that would be a hero’s way of doing it!”

He moved the five bags to the table by the window, pushed the window open, gently, and then stepped out. He slid his sword back into its sheath by his waist and took all the bags out through the window. After tying three of the bags to his back and grabbing the other two with his hands, he walked slowly toward the back courtyard, afraid to make any noise that might wake up the two. He opened the back door and quietly walked out of the Escort House. After figuring out the direction, he headed directly toward the south town gate. The gate was still closed, because it was night, so he hid by a small hummock and tried to get some rest. His heart beat very rapidly, since he still feared that the two Qingcheng apprentices might find out what had happened and come after him.

At dawn the next morning, when the gate opened, he went out right away, and spared no strength running down the road. After running for four or five miles, he finally felt he was out of danger and calmed down. Ever since leaving Fuzhou, this was the first time he truly felt relaxed. Seeing a small noodle restaurant by the road, he went in and ordered a bowl of noodles. He did not dare to stay long, so after finishing up the bowl, he immediately reached into the bag for money and took a small lump of silver out to pay for the meal. The restaurant owner gathered all the copper coins in the small restaurant and still could not find enough change. Lin Pingzhi simply waved his hand and said loudly, “Keep the change! Don’t worry about it!”

After so many days of ill treatment, humiliation, and being looked down upon during his travels, Lin Pingzhi finally reclaimed his rich Young Master attitude.

After another ten miles, Lin Pingzhi arrived at a large town. He booked a first-class inn room and then opened the five bags, after bolting the door and the windows shut. The first four bags contained all manner of gold, silver, jade, and jewelry. The fifth bag, a bit smaller, contained a beautiful brocade box, and inside the box, there was a pair of five-inch tall jade horses.

“With just one branch of the Escort House, we’ve already accumulated so much treasure, no wonder even the Qingcheng Sword School has cast greedy eyes on the Escort Houses,” he thought.

He took out some small lumps of silver and put them in his pocket, and then combined all the rest into a big package he could carry on his back. He then went to the market and bought two fast horses. For the next couple of days, he rode the two horses in turns and only slept four or five hours each night. Thus, by spending as much time as possible traveling, he soon arrived at the town of Hengshan.

As soon as he entered town, he noticed many denizens of the Martial World, going about the streets. Concerned about the possibility of bumping into Fang Renzhi or other Qingcheng Sword School members, he ducked his head and straightaway went to look for an inn. But after checking several inns, he found that none of them had a vacancy.

“It’s going to be Master Liu’s Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony three days from now; that’s why our inn is already full of guests. Try your luck at another inn,” a porter suggested.

With no other choice, Lin Pingzhi tried his luck in some remote streets, and after asking at three different inns, he finally found a small room. He figured, “Although I had covered my face with ashes, Fang Renzhi is pretty sharp, and he might still be able to see through my disguise.” So he bought three pieces of sticking plaster at the local pharmacy and stuck the plaster to his face. He stretched his eyebrow downward and pulled the left corner of his mouth up until it was turned over and revealed half of his teeth. When he looked at himself in the mirror, Lin Pingzhi saw an ugly man of miserable appearance; even he himself could not stand it. He then strapped the big bag containing all the treasure against his back and then dressed over it. Bowing down a little, he was transformed into a hunchback with a big hump.

“I look so dreadful, even Mom and Dad wouldn’t recognize me, now. No more worries,” he thought.

After eating a big bowl of noodles with pork chops, he decided to just wander around, hoping to accidentally bump into his parents, or simply hear something about the Qingcheng Sword School. Any information would be useful. He wandered for about half a day, until small raindrops suddenly began to fall from the sky. He bought a big bamboo fiber hat on the street and hurriedly put it on. Dark, heavy clouds were gathering close to the horizon, and it seemed that the rain wouldn’t stop soon at all. He turned onto a street and saw a teashop full of people, so he went in and sat down. The waiter brought out a teapot, a small plate of pumpkin seeds, and a small plate of broad beans.

Lin Pingzhi drank a cup of tea and started chewing the seeds to kill time, when he heard somebody say, “Hey hunchback! Mind if we share your table?” The man did not wait for Lin Pingzhi to answer and just sat down. Two others sat down, as well.

At first Lin Pingzhi didn’t realize that the man was talking to him. After a slight hesitation he finally remembered that he was the “hunchback” they had referred to, so he replied with a smile, “Sure, sure, be my guest!” All three were dressed in black and all had weapons by their waists.

The three men were intent upon their drinking and conversation, and didn’t even give Lin Pingzhi another glance.

“Master Liu’s Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony is really going to be a big party. It’s still three days until the ceremony, and guests have already filled the whole town,” a young one said.

“Of course!” a one-eyed man concurred. “The Hengshan Sword School has already got a great reputation by itself, not to mention that it is a member of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, which is even more famous. Who wouldn’t want to be on their good side? Besides, Liu Zhengfeng, Master Liu, is excellent in Kung Fu. His expertise is in the thirty-six moves of Wind-twirling Geese-falling Sword, and he is considered the second best in the Hengshan Sword School, only slightly lower in skill than the Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School – Great Mr. Mo. Lots of people have wanted to make his acquaintance, but he never had birthday parties, or weddings for his children, or any kind of events, so there were no good excuses to meet him. No wonder all kinds of people from the Martial World are gathering here once they heard about the happy Gold Basin Hand Washing event. I’d say tomorrow and the day after, it’s going to be even more crowed in the town of Hengshan.”

“Not everyone came here just to make friends with Liu Zhengfeng,” another man with a graybeard said sardonically. “The three of us are not coming for that, are we? Liu Zhengfeng is doing his Gold Basin Hand Washing; that means after the ceremony, he will never use his Kung Fu again, and will no longer care who’s right and who’s wrong in the Martial World. There won’t be a Master Liu in the Martial World, anymore. Since he will vow to never use his sword again, what’s the use of the thirty-six moves of the Wind-twirling Geese-falling Sword? After the Hand Washing, a Kung Fu master would be just like any average person, and all his skills will be wasted. What’s the point of making friends with him, then?”

“Well,” the young one argued, “although Master Liu won’t be using his Kung Fu skills anymore, he is still the second most powerful person in the Hengshan Sword School. By making friends with Master Liu, one can also make friends with the Hengshan Sword School, which in turn, means you can make friends with the Five Mountains Sword Alliance!”

“To make friends with the Five Mountains Sword Alliance? Are you worthy of that?” The graybeard sneered.

“Brother Peng, don’t talk like that,” the one-eyed man said. “We live in the Martial World, the more friends the better, the less enemies the luckier. The Five Mountains Sword Alliance does have great skills, yet they still show respect to all the friends in the Martial World. If they had acted arrogantly, and looked down upon everyone else, then why are there so many guests in Hengshan Town?”

The graybeard snorted and fell silent. After a long while, he spoke again, “Probably because people curry favor with the powerful. Just looking at them makes me angry.”

Lin Pingzhi wished the three would keep talking, so perhaps they might say something about the Qingcheng Sword School. But since they did not agree with each other, each just drank his tea and said nothing. Then, he heard someone behind him speak with a low voice.

“Uncle Wang, I heard that Master Liu is only about fifty years old, just about the peak age for his Kung Fu skills. Why did he suddenly decide to quit the Martial World? Isn’t that a waste?”

An old voice answered, “People in the Martial World have all kinds of reasons to wash their hands. For example, someone can be a big gangster of the heterodox persuasion, who had committed many crimes, but after washing his hands, he won’t be killing people or burning houses, any longer. First, by this means, he can leave a better reputation for his descendants; and second, if serious crimes were committed in his neighborhood, he would not be a suspect. But Master Liu is very wealthy and his family has been rich for many generations, so of course what I just said would not apply to him.”

“Of course! It has nothing to do with him,” another man agreed.

Uncle Wang continued, “One that studies martial arts deals with combat all his life. It is very possible that at some point, he will hurt or kill somebody and make enemies. As he gets old, knowing that all these enemies are still out there in the Martial World could really weigh him down with worry. Now when Master Liu invited so many guests and informed the whole world that he won’t be using Kung Fu anymore, what he is really saying is that his enemies won’t have to worry about his revenge, and that he, himself, hopes that his enemies won’t come and give him trouble, either.”

“Uncle Wang, don’t you think he is really putting himself at a disadvantage?” the young man asked.

“Why a disadvantage?” Uncle Wang didn’t understand the question.

“Master Liu won’t be going around giving trouble to other people,” the young man explained, “but other people can come and give trouble to him at anytime. If someone wants to kill him, and Master Liu can’t use his Kung Fu skills, the,n is he just going to let them kill him without even defending himself?”

“You young lads really don’t know much!” Uncle Wang grinned. “If somebody wants to kill you, of course you are going to defend yourself. With the kind of fame the Hengshan Sword School has and the great skills Master Liu possesses, one should pray to Buddha that Master Liu doesn’t give him any trouble. Who would be so stupid as to give trouble to him? Do they have the heart of a lion or the guts of a panther? Even if Master Liu decides to not fight them himself, he has many apprentices; which of them would be easy to overcome? You are really worrying for nothing!”

“There is always someone stronger than the strong. Who dares to claim that he can defeat all comers?” the graybeard that sat opposite to Lin Pingzhi murmured to himself. But he spoke with a very low voice and neither of the two behind him heard his words.

“Like those escorts,” Uncle Wang went on, “if they had made a fortune, and then decided to retire at the height of their career, close their business early, wash their hands and stop earning risky money, that would have been a smart thing to do.”

These words struck Lin Pingzhi like a thunder. “If Father had retired a couple of years ago and washed his hands, what would life be like today?” he couldn’t help asking himself.

“Clay jars always break by the well; generals always die in battles. Onlookers always see better than the players; to really quit at the height of one’s career is far easier said than done,” the graybeard murmured again.

“Absolutely!” the one-eyed man couldn’t agree more. “For the last couple of days, I’ve heard many people say: ‘Master Liu’s fame is like the sun at high noon, and he resolutely retired at the height of his career. How admirable!’”

A middle-aged man, dressed in silk robes, sitting by the table on the left, broke into their conversation. “I was in the town of Wuhan a couple of days ago. I heard from some friends in the Martial World that Master Liu had to wash his hands and renounce the Martial World because of troubles that would be better left unmentioned.”

“What did they say? Why don’t you tell us about it?” the one-eyed man turned around and asked.

“The story would be fine in Wuhan. But here in Hengshan, I’d better not speak so freely,” the man smiled.

“Many people have already heard the rumor, so why do you bother pretending it’s such a secret?” a short fat man said in a deep grumpy voice. “Everybody is saying that Master Liu has to wash his hands, because he is too skilled in Kung Fu and that he is too popular among friends.”

He spoke with a loud voice, and instantly, all interested eyes turned to him.

“Why does someone have to quit the Martial World because of his skills and popularity? Why is that?” several people asked at the same time.

“People who don’t know the inside story will be confused, of course, but once you learn the secrets, you won’t think it strange at all,” the short fat man said contentedly.

“What inside story?” somebody asked.

The short fat man just smiled, but did not answer.

“Why bother asking him? He doesn’t know the story, either. He’s just blowing a lot of hot air,” a thin man several tables away retorted haughtily.

“Of course I know it,” the short fat man declared loudly, unable to ignore the barb. “Master Liu is washing his hands, because he takes the situation as a whole into consideration – so there won’t be internal conflict within the Hengshan Sword School.”

Once again, several people clamored for an explanation, all at once.

“How is he taking the situation as a whole?”

“What internal conflicts?”

“Do they have problems between fellow apprentices?”

The short fat man began his explanation. “Outsiders all consider Master Liu the second best fighter in the Hengshan Sword School, but everybody in the Hengshan Sword School knows that Master Liu’s skill in the thirty-six moves of the Wind-twirling Geese-falling Sword is far greater than the Head Master of Hengshan Sword School – Great Mr. Mo. Great Mr. Mo can pierce three wild geese with one thrust, but Master Liu can get five. All of the apprentices under Master Liu are better than those apprentices under Great Mr. Mo. The situation has become more and more tense. In a couple of years, Great Mr. Mo’s fame most likely will be eclipsed by that of Master Liu. I heard that the two factions have already fought a couple of times in secret. Master Liu has a large, wealthy family. He doesn’t want to compete with his senior apprentice brother for fame. That’s why he wants to wash his hands so he can just retire, quietly, to a life of peace and luxury.”

“Most admirable!” many people declared, nodding. “Master Liu knows what’s important and what’s not. People like that are rare.”

“Then Great Mr. Mo is really making a great mistake. Isn’t he weakening the power of his own Hengshan Sword School, by forcing Master Liu to renounce the Martial World?” someone else asked.

“How can one man figure everything out? All I want is to be the Head Master of the Sword School without challenge. Who the hell cares if the power is more or less?” the middle-aged man in silk sneered in imitation of Great Mr. Mo.

The short fat man took a couple of sips of tea and began banging the lid of the teapot loudly. “More tea, more tea!” he shouted. Then he said, “See, this is really a big event for the Hengshan Sword School. There are guests from every kind of schools and clans, but the Hengshan Sword School itself….”

Before he could finish his sentence, someone near the door struck some chords on a huqin,[2] and someone began to sing, “The poor Yang Family, showed great loyalty, protected…the Song Government….” The words were drawn out and sounded quite melancholy. Everybody turned around to look, and saw an old, tall, thin man sitting next to a table. His face looked haggard, and he was dressed in a long blue robe. The robe had been washed so many times that some parts looked more white than blue, making him look quite decrepit. He was obviously some kind of a begging performer.

“Shut your devilish voice,” the short fat man yelled at him. “Don’t you know that you just cut me off?”

The old man stopped playing his huqin so loudly, but continued humming, “At the Golden Sand Beach…double dragons met…lost the battle….”

“Hey, buddy, you were just talking about all the schools and clans having sent people, so what about the Hengshan Sword School, itself?” someone asked.

“The apprentices of Master Liu are greeting guests all over Hengshan town, but other than Master Liu’s apprentices, have you seen any other apprentices from Hengshan Sword School?” the short fat man continued.

The people in the crowd just looked at each other and their speculation turned into an indistinct buzz.

“That’s right! How come we didn’t see any? But isn’t that a bit disrespectful to Master Liu?”

The short fat man grinned at the man in the silk robe. “That’s why I think you are just playing chicken; afraid to talk about the internal conflict in the Hengshan Sword School. What are you worried about? No one from the Hengshan Sword School is going to be here, so how are they going to hear about this?”

The sound of the huqin once again got louder and the tune changed. The old man began to sing again, “The young lad caused great trouble….”

“Stop annoying people,” a young man yelled at him. “Here’s some money!” He flicked his hand, and a bundle of copper coins flew over and landed in front of the old man. The aim was very accurate. The old man thanked him and put the coins in his pocket.

“Hey, brother, you are a projectile expert! That throw was most excellent!” the short fat man exclaimed in praise.

“It was nothing.” The young man smiled. “So brother, according to what you are saying, Great Mr. Mo is not showing up!”

“How could he show up? The relationship between Great Mr. Mo and Master Liu is like that of water and fire. They’d start a fight the minute they saw each other. Master Liu has already given ground. Great Mr. Mo should be satisfied,” The short fat man said.

The old huqin player stood up, suddenly, and walked slowly in front of the short fat man. He looked him up and down.

“What do you want, old man?” the short fat man demanded in annoyance.

“You are talking nonsense!” The old man shook his head then turned around and walked away.

Infuriated, the short fat man stuck his hand out to grab the old man by his scruff. Without warning, a light flashed in front of his eyes and the blade of a long thin sword flew toward the table. The sharp ring of the blade echoed. The short fat man was so astonished that he jumped back instinctively, afraid to be hurt by the sword. Then he saw the old man slowly insert the sword into the bottom of the huqin, till the whole sword disappeared into the instrument. No one would have expected a sword to be hidden in an old huqin.

“You are talking nonsense!” the old man shook his head again, then slowly walked out of the teashop. Everyone watched him disappear into the rain, and all there was left was the sad music from the huqin, vaguely drifting from the distance.

“Look, look at the table!” someone uttered in a cry of surprise. Everyone looked in the direction his finger was pointing. There were seven teacups on the table where the short fat man had sat; a ring, about half an inch wide, had been neatly sliced from each cup. The seven china rings had fallen by the cups, yet none of the cups had ever moved an inch.

People in the teashop gathered around and everyone started talking about the cups.

“Who is he? What incredible sword skills!” one person exclaimed.

“One slice gets all seven cups and none of the cups moved at all, it’s almost like magic!” another one praised.

“Luckily the old gentleman showed mercy upon you,” someone said to the short fat man, “otherwise your head and neck would have been just like these cups.”

“Nah! That old gentleman must be a famous master; he would never have lowered himself to behave so commonly!” another one commented.

The short fat man just stared at the seven half-cups blankly. His face was completely white and he did not hear a word said by the crowd.

“See, I told you not to talk so much,” the middle-aged man in the silk robe said. “Trouble comes from unnecessary words; worry comes from acting without thinking. Right now there are all kinds of hidden dragons and crouching tigers in Hengshan, and many of them are elite fighters! That old gentleman must be a good friend of Great Mr. Mo. He heard your disrespectful words about Great Mr. Mo, so of course, he decided to teach you a lesson.”

“He wasn’t a good friend of Great Mr. Mo,” The graybeard said coldly. “That was the Head Master of Hengshan Sword School, ‘Night Rain of Xiaoxiang,’ Great Mr. Mo, himself.”

“What? He…he was Great Mr. Mo? How do you know?” Everyone was shocked and asked the question simultaneously.

“It’s quite elementary,” the graybeard said. “Great Mr. Mo loves to play the huqin, and especially the song ‘Night Rain of Xiaoxiang.’ It could move the listeners to tears. The words ‘sword hidden in the huqin, sword plays the music’ are an apt description of his Kung Fu skills. Since all of you are in Hengshan town, how can you have never heard that? That brother said earlier that Master Liu could pierce five wild geese with one thrust, but that Great Mr. Mo could only get three, so he sliced seven cups in demonstration. If even cups can be sliced into pieces, how hard do you think it would be to get wild geese? No wonder he said that you were talking nonsense.”

The short fat man was still in shock. He lowered his head, speechless. The man in the silk robe paid the bill and dragged him out of the teashop.

The people in the teashop had watched the magic thrust from “Night Rain of Xiaoxiang” Great Mr. Mo, and suddenly they all felt a chill settle in their hearts. Since none had dissented when the short fat man was defaming Great Mr. Mo, they worried that perhaps they had planted the seeds of trouble, so they all paid their bills and left hurriedly. In a short while, the once crowded teashop became almost empty. Other than Lin Pingzhi, there were only two other guests, bent over a table, dozing off.

Lin Pingzhi gazed at the seven half-cups and the seven china rings on the table and sank deep into thought. The old man had been so wretched looking, that it seemed someone could push him over with a single finger, yet with a mere wave of his sword, all seven cups had been sliced in half. If he hadn’t left Fuzhou, he would have never known, that there could be people with such outstanding skills in the world. He was like a frog, watching the sky from inside a well back at the Fortune Prestige Escort House. At that time, he thought that the highest level of Kung Fu people could achieve would be, at most, on par with that of his father. If he were to become a student of this old man and work hard on his Kung Fu training, he might actually have a chance to avenge the Escort House; otherwise, there was really no realistic hope.

Lin Pingzhi mulled over the idea a bit longer. Why couldn’t he go and find this Great Mr. Mo and implore him to rescue his parents and take him as an apprentice? He stood up in excitement, but a seed of doubt sprouted in his thoughts. After all, Mo was the Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School, and the Five Mountain Sword Alliance had a good relationship with the Qingcheng Sword School; why would he offend his allies for a total stranger? Having such a discouraging thought, he sat back down in depression.

Just then, a melodious and tender voice rose, “Second apprentice brother, it looks like the rain just won’t stop. I’m almost soaked through. Why don’t we stop here for some hot tea?”

Lin Pingzhi was stunned. He recognized the voice the instant he heard it. It was none other than the voice of the ugly wine-selling girl who had saved his life. He lowered his head in a hurry.

“Alright, let’s drink some hot tea to warm up a little,” a much older sounding voice answered.

The two walked into the teashop and sat at a table, diagonally across from Lin Pingzhi. Lin Pingzhi glanced out of the corner of his eyes and saw the wine-selling girl in a green dress seated with her back to him. The person sitting besides her was the old man who claimed to be her grandfather.

“So you two are really fellow apprentices disguised as grandfather and granddaughter to carry out some scheme in Fuzhou,” he thought. But why did they save him? Maybe they would know of his parents’ whereabouts.

The waiter cleaned the table and brought out hot tea. The old man saw the seven half-cups on the table beside them and could not help but utter a cry of surprise.

“Little apprentice sister, look!”

“Amazing! Who could have cut these seven cups?” the young girl was also quite surprised.

“Little apprentice sister, let me pose a riddle: One thrust seven directions, powerful enough to cut gold and jade. Who do you think cut these seven cups?” the old man asked the girl in a low voice.

“I wasn’t here when it happened, how should I know who…?” the girl started to protest, when suddenly, she started clapping her hands in glee. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it! It’s one of the thirty-six moves of Wind-twirling Geese-falling Sword, the seventeenth move One Thrust Drops Nine Geese. This must be the work of Liu Zhengfeng, Master Liu,” she proclaimed triumphantly.

“I am afraid that Master Liu’s skills have not progressed to that level yet; you’ve only got it half right,” the old man shook his head with a smile.

“Stop! Don’t say it!” The girl pointed at him with a big grin. “I know who it was. It…it…it was ‘Night Rain of Xiaoxiang’ Great Mr. Mo!”

All of a sudden, the sounds of applause and laughter came from seven or eight different directions. “Good job, little apprentice sister!” Several people shouted.

Lin Pingzhi was startled. “Where did all these people come from?” He glanced out from the corner of his eyes again and saw that the two dozing men had stood up, and there were five others who just walked out from the teashop’s back room. One was dressed like a porter; one held an abacus in his hands, and looked like a merchant; another had a small monkey perched on his shoulder and looked like a street performer.

“Ha, so you dirty tricksters were all hiding. You almost gave me a heart attack! Where’s big apprentice brother?” the young girl grinned.

“We’ve just met, and you’re already calling us dirty tricksters?” the man with the monkey said with mock seriousness.

“Well, you hid yourselves and tried to scare me, didn’t you? So of course you’re dirty tricksters,” the girl retorted with a grin. “Why isn’t big apprentice brother with you?”

“How come you don’t ask about anything else but your big apprentice brother?” The man with the monkey laughed, teasingly. “We’ve barely spoken two sentences and you’ve already asked about your big apprentice brother, twice. Why don’t you ask about your sixth senior apprentice brother?”

The girl stamped her foot on the floor. “Bah! You’re standing here in perfect shape, safe and sound Monkey-boy. Why should I bother asking about you?”

“Well, big apprentice brother is also safe and sound. Why are you asking about him then?” the man with the monkey shot back with a grin.

“I am not talking to you, any more,” the girl exclaimed. “Fourth apprentice brother, you’re the only gentleman of the bunch! Where’s big apprentice brother?”

Before the man dressed as porter could answer, several others began to protest. “Ho! Only your fourth apprentice brother is a gentleman, and we are all villains? Hey, Number Four, don’t answer her.”

“Don’t answer then!” the girl exploded huffily. “If you don’t want to tell me, fine! But don’t expect me to tell you one word about the strange and interesting things that happened on our way here when I was with second apprentice brother.”

The man dressed as porter did not participate in any of the joking and banters. He seemed to be a simple and straightforward person.

“We departed with big apprentice brother yesterday at Hengyang,” he said. “He told us to come first. By now he is probably already sober, and will be here soon.”

“He got drunk again?” the girl frowned slightly.

“Yep,” the man dressed as a porter answered.

“This time he really drank his fill,” the man with the abacus cut in. “He drank from morning till noon, and then from noon till dusk. He probably drank at least twenty to thirty liters of good wine!”

“That’s not good for his health! Why didn’t you talk to him?” the girl admonished.

The man with the abacus stuck his tongue out and made a face. “If big apprentice brother would listen to other people’s advice, then the sun would have risen from the west. But I guess if the little apprentice sister tried to stop him, then he might drink one liter less.” Everyone laughed at these words.

“Why did he start drinking like that? Was he celebrating something?” the girl asked.

“You’ll have to ask him about that,” the man with the abacus replied. “I think he figured he would see his little apprentice sister when he came to Hengshan town and felt really happy about it, so he decided to celebrate.”

“Nonsense!” the girl sniffed, yet she sounded quite pleased.

Lin Pingzhi listened to the joking among these fellow apprentices. “It seems this girl really likes her big apprentice brother, very much,” he thought. “But if that second apprentice brother is already so old, the big apprentice brother must be even older. The girl is just only sixteen or seventeen, how could she fall in love with someone so old?” He thought a bit longer and then found an answer. “Ah, yes. The girl has pox-marks all over her face. She is way too ugly. No one else would take her, so she has to love an old drunkard.”

Then he heard the girl asking again, “So big apprentice brother started drinking since yesterday morning?”

“I guess if we don’t tell you the whole story, you just won’t leave us alone,” the man with the monkey conceded. “Yesterday morning the eight of us were just about to start the trip when big apprentice brother suddenly detected the scent of some great wine from the street. We checked it out, and found a beggar drinking out of a wine calabash. That really piqued big apprentice brother’s sense of wine, so he went over to talk to the beggar, praising his wine, and asking what kind it was. The beggar replied that it was monkey wine, and big apprentice brother asked what monkey wine was. The beggar then answered that monkeys in western Hunan Province knew how to use fruits to make wine. The fruits those monkeys used were the freshest and sweetest, so the wine made from them was the best, as well. The beggar had walked into the monkeys’ domain by accident, and the monkeys happened to be away, so he stole three calabashes of wine and also caught a small monkey. See, this is him.” He pointed to the monkey on his shoulder. One of the monkey’s legs was tied to his wrist by a line. The monkey kept rubbing its head, scratching its cheeks, and making faces; it looked very comical.

The girl looked at the monkey and burst into laughter. “Sixth apprentice brother, no wonder your nickname is Monkey-Six. You and your little friend here look just like twins.”

“We are not twins,” Monkey-Six said with a straight face. “We are fellow apprentices. This little fellow is my big apprentice brother, and I am his junior.” Everyone burst into loud laughter.

The girl laughed as well. “Aha, you are making fun of big apprentice brother. Wait till I tell him about this. He’ll be sure to kick your behind.”

“How did your brother end up in your hands?” after some giggles, she asked again.

“My brother?” Monkey-Six was lost for a moment. “Are you talking about this little critter? Well, that’s a long story. It’s going to give me a headache!”

“You don’t have to tell me, I can guess,” the girl said archly. “Big apprentice brother must have asked for the monkey, and asked you to take care of it, hoping the little thing would make a calabash of wine for him!”

“Hey, that’s right!” Monkey-Six said.

“Big apprentice brother always likes to come up with these hare-brained schemes,” the girl said. “The monkeys only make wine when they’re in the mountains. Now that he’s caught, why would he collect fruits to make wine? If you let him go loose to find fruits, wouldn’t he just run away?” After a short pause she continued, “Otherwise, how come our Monkey-Six hasn’t made any wine?”

“Little apprentice sister, you’re being impudent to your senior apprentice brother,” Monkey-Six said with mock sternness.

“Aha, now you’re flaunting your seniority.” The girl grinned. “Hey, sixth apprentice brother, you still haven’t touched on the real topic. Why did big apprentice brother start drinking all the way from morning to evening?”

“Right,” Monkey-Six said. “Big apprentice brother didn’t pay any mind to how dirty the beggar was and pleaded for some wine from him. The beggar was so dirty that he must have had a crust of filth on him at least three inches thick; lice were crawling in and out of his filthy clothes; tears and mucus covered his face. Maybe there was some drool in the calabash as well….”

“Stop! Disgusting!” the girl covered her mouth and frowned.

“You think it was disgusting, but not big apprentice brother!” Monkey-Six exclaimed. “The beggar said that only a half calabash of wine was left out of the three. He was not going to give it away to anyone. Big apprentice brother took out a tael of silver and offered one tael of silver in exchange for one mouthful of wine.”

The girl was annoyed and amused at the same time. “What a lush!” she spat.

“The beggar finally agreed,” Monkey-Six went on. “He took the money and said, ‘One mouthful! No more!’ Big apprentice brother said, ‘I said one mouthful, so of course only one mouthful!’ He lifted the calabash and started drinking. Who’d expect his mouthful to last so long that he would finish the entire half-calabash of wine with just one breath. It turned out that he used the Qi-Gong[3] Master had taught him to drink the entire calabash of wine like a black dragon sipping water from the sea, without ever changing a breath.”

When everyone heard this, they all burst into laughter.

Monkey-Six continued, “Little apprentice sister, if you were in Hengyang and witnessed big apprentice brother’s drinking Kung Fu, you’d have nothing but admiration for him!! ‘Spirit concentrates in the Diaphragm, breaths flow around the Forbidden Region, soul floats in the air and rises above the mountains, energy shoots up to the stars.’ His Qi-Gong technique almost reached the pinnacle of perfection and was extremely subtle.”

The girl laughed so hard that she almost fell down. “You big magpie,” she scolded, “describing big apprentice brother in such a mean way. Huh! And you’d better be careful, making fun of our Qi-Gong formulas and scripts!”

“I am not making things up.” Monkey-Six laughed. “Every one of these six fellow apprentices saw it. Didn’t big apprentice brother drink using Qi-Gong?”

“Little apprentice sister, it was true!” Other apprentices by the side chimed in, nodding.

“This Qi-Gong technique was so difficult that he was the only one who was allowed to learn it. And all he could use it for was to cheat wine from a beggar,” the girl sighed in despair. Yet beneath the condemnation, there was an undercurrent of praise.

Monkey-Six continued with his story. “Big apprentice brother drank until the bottom of the calabash pointed to the sky; the beggar of course didn’t like it. He seized big apprentice brother’s robe and kept yelling that he had agreed to only one mouthful, and how come big apprentice brother had drunk all his wine? Big apprentice brother smiled and replied, ‘I truly only drank one mouthful. Did you see me change breath? Without changing breaths, it only counts as one mouthful. We did not specify if it should be a big mouthful or a small mouthful. Actually, I only drank a half mouthful, not the full mouthful. One tael of silver for one mouthful, half a mouthful should only be worth half a tael of silver. You owe me half a tael of silver!’”

“He drank someone’s wine and still wanted to skip out on the bill?” the girl couldn’t help laughing.

“The beggar almost cried,” Monkey-Six said. “Big apprentice brother then said, ‘Hey, brother, don’t be so upset, I bet you must be quite a wine connoisseur! Come on, let’s drink our fill, my treat!’ Then he dragged the beggar into a wine house by the side of the street. Then a bowl for you, a bowl for me, and the two just drank on and on. We waited till noon, and the two were still drinking. Big apprentice brother then asked for the monkey and gave it to me to take care of. By the afternoon, the beggar was already lying on the floor, drunk, and unable to get up. Big apprentice brother was still drinking by himself but not able to straighten his tongue. He told us to come to Hengshan first, and he would be right behind us.”

“That’s why he was drinking,” The girl was satisfied. She paused for a while and then asked, “Was the beggar a member of the Beggars Clan?”

“Nope. He didn’t know any Kung Fu and he wasn’t carrying any bags either,”[4] the man dressed as a porter said, shaking his head.

The girl gazed at the rain outside for a while. Seeing that there was no sign of it stopping, she murmured, “If you had come together with the others, then you wouldn’t have to make your trip in the rain today.”

“Little apprentice sister, you said that you and second apprentice brother saw lots of strange things on your way here; aren’t you going to tell us about them?” Monkey-Six asked.

“What’s the hurry?” the girl asked. “Let’s wait till we see big apprentice brother and then I’ll tell the story, so I don’t need to tell it twice. Where did you agree to meet?”

“We didn’t arrange anything,” Monkey-Six replied. “The town of Hengshan isn’t that big; we’ll bump into each other, eventually. Come on, you tricked me into telling the story about big apprentice brother drinking the monkey wine, and now you don’t want to tell us your story?”

The girl’s attention seemed to have drifted away. “Second apprentice brother, will you please tell the story to the other apprentice brothers?” She glanced over at Lin Pingzhi’s back and said, “There are all kinds of people here. Let’s find an inn first and then tell the story at our leisure.”

“All the inns in Hengshan town, big and small, are already full,” a tall fellow, who didn’t say much before, said. “Since we don’t want to disturb the Liu House, when we meet big apprentice brother later, let’s go to the temple monastery outside town to rest. Second apprentice brother, what do you think?”

Since their senior apprentice brother had not yet arrived, it was natural that the old man was looked to as the leader among the apprentices. “Agreed. Until then, we’ll wait here for big apprentice brother,” he nodded.

Monkey-Six however, was eager to hear their story. “That hunchback is probably a retard. He has been sitting there for so long without moving a bit. Why should you worry about him? Second apprentice brother, when you went to Fuzhou with little apprentice sister, what information were you able to gather? The Fortune Prestige Escort House was wiped out by the Qingcheng Sword School, so does the Lin family have any true skills?” he prompted them in a low voice.

Hearing the name of the Escort House mentioned, Lin Pingzhi listened even more intently.

“Little apprentice sister and I met the Master in Changsha,” the old man answered. “Master told us to come to the town of Hengshan to meet big apprentice brother and the rest of you. Let’s not rush to the story about Fuzhou yet. Why did Great Mr. Mo use the move One Thrust Nine Geese here? You all saw what happened, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” Monkey-Six immediately rushed to tell how people were talking about the Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony of Liu Zhengfeng and how Great Mr. Mo showed up, unexpectedly, and scared everybody off.

The old man nodded. After a long pause, he said, “A lot of people in the Martial World are saying that Great Mr. Mo is not getting along with Master Liu. Now that Master Liu is about to have the Hand Washing ceremony, I really don’t understand why Great Mr. Mo is acting in such an odd manner and not showing himself in public.”

“Second apprentice brother, I heard that the Head Master of the Taishan Sword School, Priest Tianmen, himself, came, and has already arrived at the Liu House,” the man with the abacus said.

“Priest Tianmen came in person?” the old man said in surprise. “Master Liu is really going to look good now. Since Priest Tianmen is staying at the Liu House, if a fight really breaks out between Liu and Mo, the two apprentice brothers of Hengshan Sword School, Great Mr. Mo won’t have such an easy job of it with such an elite fighter as backup for Master Liu.”

“Second apprentice brother, whom will Master Yu from the Qingcheng Sword School help then?” the girl asked.

Hearing the words “Master Yu from Qingcheng Sword School,” Lin Pingzhi felt as if somebody had just punched him in the stomach.

Monkey-Six and the others all started talking at once.

“Master Yu is here too?”

“It is not easy to get him off Mount Qingcheng.”

“There’s going to be a big crowd in Hengshan now. So many master level elite fighters! I am afraid that there might be some big fights.”

“Little apprentice sister, who told you that Master Yu came too?”

“Why do I have to be told? I saw him with my own eyes,” the girl stated.

“You saw Master Yu? In Hengshan?” Monkey-Six asked.

“Not only in Hengshan town, but also in Fujian province and Jiangxi province,” the girl said.

“Why did Master Yu go to Fujian, little apprentice sister? But I guess you probably wouldn’t know, would you?” the man with the abacus said.

“Fifth apprentice brother,” the girl replied, “you don’t have to prod me. I was going to tell you, but since you want to provoke me, I won’t say a thing!”

“This story is only about the Qingcheng Sword School. There’s no harm if others overhear it. Second apprentice brother, what was Master Yu doing in Fujian? How did you see him?” Monkey-Six couldn’t stay his curiosity.

“Since big apprentice brother hasn’t come yet,” the old man said, “and the rain won’t be stopping soon, there’s not much to do, anyway. Let me tell you the story from the beginning. Once you understand the cause and effect, when you meet someone from the Qingcheng Sword School later, at least you will be ready. Last December, when big apprentice brother beat up Hou Renying and Hong Renxiong….”

“Ha-ha!” Monkey-Six suddenly burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” the girl glared at him.

Still laughing hard, Monkey-Six answered, “I am laughing at those two arrogant fellows, naming themselves Renying and Renxiong.[5] They’re even known by the nickname ‘Ying Xiong Hao Jie, The Four Aces of Qingcheng’ in the Martial World. See, my name is just plain ‘Lu Dayou,’ and with such a plain name, trouble will never come looking for me.”

“That’s not true!” the girl exclaimed. “If your last name wasn’t ‘Lu,’[6] and you weren’t the sixth among the apprentices, why would you have a nickname like Monkey-Six?”

“Sure, sure.” Lu Dayou smiled. “Starting from this day forth, I will change my name to….”

“Don’t interrupt second apprentice brother from telling the story,” another apprentice cut him off.

“Alright, alright, I won’t!” Lu Dayou said, but still could not help laughing.

“What are you laughing at now? You’re just a nuisance!” the girl frowned.

Lu Dayou grinned. “I was just remembering how Hou Renying and Hong Renxiong rolled across the floor after being kicked by big apprentice brother, and still couldn’t figure out who had kicked them or why they were kicked. It turned out that big apprentice brother just didn’t like their names. He was shouting ‘Dumb Bear Wild Pig, the Four Asses of Qingcheng’ loudly while drinking his wine. Hou and Hong of course got mad and came over to fight, but only got kicked down the stairs of the wine house for their trouble! Ha-ha-ha!”

Lin Pingzhi felt quite happy when he heard of their humiliation. Instantly, he felt closer to this big apprentice brother. Although he had never met Hou Renying or Hong Renxiong, these two were fellow apprentices of Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao. When they got kicked down the stairs of the wine house, he could imagine how embarrassed they must have felt. Big apprentice brother had really helped him to vent his spleen.

“When big apprentice brother took Hou and Hong down a peg,” the old man continued, “they didn’t know who big apprentice brother was at the time, but later they found out. So Master Yu wrote a letter to our Master. The words were very polite, saying that he did not discipline his apprentices well and offended your brilliant disciple, so he specifically wrote this letter to apologize, so on and so forth.”

“This fellow Yu is really cunning,” Lu Dayou explained. “He wrote a letter of apology, but was actually complaining to the Master. So because of the letter, big apprentice brother had to kneel outside for a whole day and a whole night. Master finally let him off only after all the apprentices pleaded on his behalf.”

“What do you mean ‘let him off’?” The girl retorted. “He was beaten thirty strokes anyhow.”

“Hey, I got ten strokes along with big apprentice brother,” Lu Dayou said. “Ha-ha, but I saw Hou Renying and Hong Renxiong rolling down the stairs with such battered looks that the ten strokes was well worth it. Ha-ha, ha-ha!”

“Look at yourself, you don’t have any remorse at all. The ten strokes were wasted!” the tall apprentice commented.

“How should I mend my ways?” Lu Dayou argued. “When big apprentice brother wanted to kick them down the stairs, how was I supposed to stop him?”

“At least you could have tried to talk him out of it,” the tall apprentice said. “The Master had you pegged, ‘Lu Dayou, well, he would never try to talk somebody out of mischief. Worse, he would add fuel to the flames. Ten strokes!’ Ha-ha, Ha-ha!” All the other apprentices laughed as well.

“This time the Master really wronged an innocent person.” Lu Dayou protested. “Think about it. How fast can big apprentice brother kick? The two ‘heroes’ rushed in each from one side. Big apprentice brother just lifted his bowl and kept drinking his wine in big gulps. I shouted, ‘Big apprentice brother, look out!’ And then I heard two loud impacts, and then the thumping sounds of the two ‘big heroes’ as they rolled all the way down the stairs. I really would have liked to get a better view, so I could get some pointers on the use of big apprentice brother’s ‘Panther Tail Kick,’ but I didn’t even have time to look, much less time to learn. How could I have added fuel to the flames?”

“Monkey-Six,” the tall apprentice said, “let me ask you, when big apprentice brother was shouting ‘Dumb Bear Wild Pig, The Four Asses of Qingcheng,’ did you happen to shout along with him? Speak honestly!”

“Big apprentice brother had already started shouting, how could we, as junior apprentice brothers, not chime in to help? Are you telling me that I should have helped the Qingcheng Sword School to swear at big apprentice brother?” Lu Dayou grinned.

“See, the Master didn’t judge you wrongly at all,” The tall apprentice concluded with a laugh.

Lin Pingzhi thought, “This Monkey-Six seems to be a good guy. I wonder which school or clan they belong to?”

“We must all truly remember the words Master used to rebuke big apprentice brother,” the old man said. “Master said, ‘In the Martial World, people have all kinds of nicknames: ‘Prestige of the South’, ‘Wind-Chasing Hero’, ‘Grass Top Flying Man’ and what have you. None of them should be taken so literally. How could anyone verify the accuracy of so many names? If someone wants to be called ‘Ying Xiong Hao Jie,’ fine, let him be called that. If they are truly chivalrous, then we should be eager to admire them and try to make friends with them, how could we have any thoughts of hatred? But if they were not chivalrous, then their infamy would be known in the Martial World. Everyone would look down upon them, so why should we bother with them?’”

Hearing second apprentice brother’s words all nodded and agreed.

“Still, my name ‘Monkey-Six’ is much better. No one will ever get mad at it,” Lu Dayou murmured.

“Since big apprentice brother kicked Hou and Hong down the stairs,” the old man continued with a smile, “this incident was seen as a huge humiliation and embarrassment for the Qingcheng Sword School, so of course none of their people will ever talk about it; even among fellow apprentices, few even know about it. Master had exhorted us not to let the information out, thus avoiding conflicts. So starting from now on, let’s not talk about this anymore, in case somebody overhears and spreads the story about.”

“To be frank, I really think Qingcheng Kung Fu has an undeserved reputation. Even if we did offend them, it wouldn’t really matter….” Lu Dayou was tempted to express his opinion.

Before he could even finish, the old man yelled at him, “Sixth apprentice brother, if you keep talking nonsense, I will have to tell the Master. Maybe you’ll get another ten strokes. Do you know that big apprentice brother was able to kick those two down the stairs with a ‘Panther Tail Kick’ only because: first, he launched the attack unexpectedly; second, he is an outstanding apprentice in our school, and other apprentices are no matches for him. Do you think you have the skills to kick those two down the stairs?”

“Don’t compare me to big apprentice brother,” Lu Dayou said, sticking his tongue out and waving his hands.

“The Master of the Qingcheng Sword School, Master Yu, is really a martial genius,” the old man said with dead seriousness, “whoever underestimates him will surely be in trouble, sooner or later. Little apprentice sister, you have seen Master Yu before. What do you think of him?”

“Master Yu? He was so terrible, he…he frightens me; I don’t…don’t want to see him again,” the girl exclaimed. Her voice was trembling slightly, and seemed to still have fear in it.

“Master Yu was frightening? Did you see him kill people?” Lu Dayou asked.

The girl shrank and did not answer the question.

“On the day our Master received the letter from Master Yu, he was so angry that he inflicted those harsh punishments on big apprentice brother and sixth apprentice brother. The next day he wrote a letter and told me to send it to Mount Qingcheng…,” the old man said.

“So that was what you were doing that day when you left in such a hurry. You were actually heading to Mount Qingcheng,” several apprentices cried out.

“Yep,” the old man nodded, “at that time Master told me to not mention it to any fellow apprentices to avoid additional incidents.”

“What additional incidents? The respectful Master was just being careful. Things the Master asks us to do of course are things with good reasoning behind them. Who would agree otherwise?” Lu Dayou stated.

“What do you know?” The tall apprentice cut in. “If second apprentice brother had told you about it, you would surely have passed the message on to big apprentice brother. Although big apprentice brother wouldn’t disobey Master’s orders, it is very possible he would find some unusual ways to make trouble for the Qingcheng Sword School.”

“Third apprentice brother is right,” the old man agreed. “Big apprentice brother has many friends in the Martial World. If he really wants something done, he doesn’t necessarily have to do it himself. Master told me that the letter contained all kinds of apologetic words to Master Yu, saying that his wayward apprentice was too ill-mannered; how he found the acts reprehensible; how he should have expelled the apprentice from the school, but if he did so, everyone in the Martial World would think that conflict existed between your respectful school and our school, which wouldn’t be a good thing; now he had those two wayward apprentices….” He gave Lu Dayou a glance at these words.

“So I am a wayward apprentice, as well!” Lu Dayou was displeased.

“Is placing you at the same level as big apprentice brother a disgrace for you?” the girl asked.

Lu Dayou immediately became very happy. “You’re right! Get me some wine, get me some wine!” he yelled.

The teashop only had tea for sale, not wine. The waiter rushed to the table and said, “Ha you all, our teashop only has Dragon Well, Dongting Spring, Puer, Iron Buddha. Ha you all, we don’t sell wine, you all.” The people of the Hengyang and Hengshan region had their own special accent, and this waiter was no exception.

“Ha you all! So ha your alls shop doesn’t sell wine? Then I won’t drink ha your alls wine. Ha you all!” Lu Dayou mimicked.

“Sure, sure, ha you all!” the waiter answered. He then filled all the teapots with boiled water.

The old man continued, “Master said in the letter that he had already had the two wayward apprentices harshly punished; he would have made the two go to Mount Qingcheng themselves to offer a humble apology, but the two wayward apprentices were hurt so badly from their punishment, they could not even walk; that’s why he sent his second apprentice Lao Denuo to take the rebuke in their stead; this incident was solely caused by the wayward apprentices, he hopes Master Yu does not take too much offense for the sake of the good relationship between the Qingcheng Sword School and the Huashan Sword School; when they meet in the future, he would apologize to Master Yu personally.”

“So your name is Lao Denuo and you are from the Huashan Sword School, part of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance,” Lin Pingzhi thought. When he considered the words “for the sake of the good relationship between the two” in the letter, he could feel his heart beating faster. “This Lao Denuo and the ugly girl have seen me twice. I sure hope they don’t recognize me today.”

Lao Denuo’s voice rose again, “After I arrived at Mount Qingcheng, Hou Renying did not seem to hold a grudge, but Hong Renxiong was still mad about it, and ridiculed me several times to try and pick a fight….”

“Damn! Those Qingcheng fellows are aggressive! Second apprentice brother, if he wants a fight, give him a fight! What are we afraid of? I know that fellow Hong is no match for you,” Lu Dayou said.

“Master sent me there to apologize, not to make trouble,” Lao Denuo exclaimed. “So I swallowed my anger and stayed on Mount Qingcheng for six days. I was not received by Master Yu until the seventh day.”

“Humph! Harsh attitude, huh! Second apprentice brother, I bet those six days and nights on Mount Qingcheng probably weren’t too enjoyable!” Lu Dayou interrupted again.

“There certainly was a lot of baiting,” Lao Denuo said, “but I knew that Master sent me on this not because I was any better in Kung Fu skills or the like, but because I am older, so I’d do a better job staying calm. The longer I could hold my anger, the better I could accomplish the mission. Those Qingcheng people didn’t realize that keeping me waiting for six days in the Pine-Wind Temple of Mount Qingcheng wasn’t actually doing them any good.

“During my stay in the Pine-Wind Temple, I got really bored, since they wouldn’t let me see Master Yu. On the third day, I got up early to take a walk and secretly worked on some breathing exercises to prevent my skills from getting rusty. I was wandering around and happened to pass by the exercise field at the rear of the Pine-Wind Temple. With a glance, I saw dozens of Qingcheng apprentices, practicing their Kung Fu. Of course in the Martial World it is considered a taboo to watch others practicing their Kung Fu, so I turned around to go back to my room. But even with such a quick glance, I felt something suspicious was going on. Each of the apprentices used a sword, and was obviously practicing the same set of sword moves. Each one seemed to have only just learned the set, because as they practiced, their moves looked quite stiff. But what sword technique was it? I couldn’t tell with my one glance, very easily.

“After I went back to my room, I mulled over what I saw, and the more I thought about it, the more suspicious I became. Qingcheng Sword School has been well known for ages. Many apprentices had been part of the school for ten or twenty years, and each apprentice would have joined at a different time, so why was everyone learning the same sword technique at the same time? Particularly, since among the dozens of apprentices were the so-called ‘Four Aces of Qingcheng’: Hou Renying, Hong Renxiong, Yu Renhao, and Luo Renjie. Fellow apprentice brothers, if it were you that saw this scene, what would you think?”

“Maybe the Qingcheng Sword School just acquired a secret sword art manual, or maybe Master Yu just invented a new set of sword techniques, and was teaching it to his apprentices,” the apprentice with the abacus suggested.

“I was thinking the same thing in the beginning,” Lao Denuo replied, “but after I thought on it more carefully, I realized that something was not quite right. With Master Yu’s understanding of the sword arts, if these were newly created moves, then they must have been really outstanding moves. On the other hand, if they did acquire an ancient secret sword art manual, the moves it contained must have been excellent; otherwise he wouldn’t have even bothered looking at it or asked his apprentices to practice them. New sword techniques could undo the training they had already undergone. If the moves were excellent moves, then the average apprentice wouldn’t be able to understand them easily; he would have most likely chosen three or four of his top apprentices to try them out, not having over forty apprentices learn at the same time. That’s more like having someone open a Kung Fu school for mere profit, not something a Master of a noble Martial Arts School would do.

“The next morning, I went to the rear of the temple again and strolled past the exercise field. Once again, they were practicing the same sword technique. I did not dare to stop and watch. With a quick glance, I managed to memorize two of the moves. I figured I could ask the Master’s opinion regarding them later when I got back. By that time, Master Yu still hadn’t allowed me to see him, so naturally I suspected the Qingcheng Sword School might harbor a lot of hatred toward our Huashan Sword School. Perhaps they were practicing these new moves so they could use them against us. I kept telling myself I’d better be more careful.”

“Second apprentice brother, could they have been practicing a new sword formation?” the tall apprentice asked.

“That was possible,” Lao Denuo said, “but they were mostly practicing in pairs; and the attacking side was using all the same type of moves as the defending side. It didn’t look like a sword formation to me. The morning after that, I walked by the exercise field again, but this time the whole field was completely empty. I knew that they were trying to hide something from me, so my suspicions were aroused even more. I was just wandering by and happened to glance in their direction from far away. What secret could I have seen? It seemed that they were really practicing a powerful set of sword techniques to counter us, otherwise why would they worry so much about what I had seen?

“That night, I lay on my bed and couldn’t sleep, thinking over the whole matter. Then I heard the dim clash of weapons coming from a distance. I was startled. Did some powerful enemy just invade the Pine-Wind Temple? My first thought was that perhaps big apprentice brother had gotten angry because of the punishment he received from our Master, and decided to attack the Pine-Wind Temple. He was just one person, and would not be able to fight the whole temple; I had to go help him. I did not bring any weapons with me when I went to Mount Qingcheng, and in my hurry, I could not stop to find a sword either, so I had to rush out with just my bare hands….”

“Amazing!” Lu Dayou praised. “Second apprentice brother, you have great courage! I would never dare to go fight Master Yu, the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School, with only my bare hands.”

“Monkey-Six, what are you babbling about?” Lao Denuo yelled angrily. “I didn’t say that I went to fight Master Yu with bare hands. I was just worried about big apprentice brother’s safety, so although I knew it was dangerous, I just had to go. Would you have me hide under my covers like a coward?” All the apprentices laughed when they heard this.

“Here I am showering you with praise and admiration, and you get angry at me?” Lu Dayou made a face.

“Thanks, but your kind of complements don’t sit well with me,” Lao Denuo replied.

“Second apprentice brother, go on with the story. Don’t pay any attention to Monkey-Six,” several other apprentices urged.

Lao Denuo continued, “So I got up quietly and followed the direction of the sounds. Hearing the clash of weapons getting louder and louder, my heart beat faster and faster. I thought, ‘The two of us are deep in the enemy’s lair now. Big apprentice brother has excellent Kung Fu skills. He might be able to escape without injury. But for me, it’s a different story. I am in big trouble now.’ I heard the sound of weapons float out from the Back Hall. All kinds of lights and candles lit the Back Hall, making it seem like broad daylight. I crouched down to sneak in closer and looked inside through the cracks of the window, and then I gasped and almost burst into laughter. It turned out I was just imagining things. Because Master Yu hadn’t met with me for so many days, my imagination had carried me away, and I imagined the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t big apprentice brother coming to make trouble after all! There were two pairs inside practicing their sword moves. One pair was of Hou Renying and Hong Renxiong, the other pair was of Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao.”

“Ha, the apprentices of the Qingcheng Sword School really work hard, not even resting at night,” Lu Dayou mocked. “I guess this is what they called ‘sharpening one’s spear only before going into a battle,’ or ‘no joss sticks in fair weather, but clutching the feet of the Buddha in crisis.’”

Lao Denuo gave Lu Dayou a glare and continued, “In the middle of the Back Hall, a short Taoist priest in a blue Taoist robe sat there. He was about fifty years old and had a thin face. By the look of him, one could tell that he weighed no more than eighty pounds. It was said in the Martial World that the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School was a short Taoist priest, but if I had not seen him with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have expected him to be so short, and wouldn’t have believed that he was the famous Master Yu. There were many apprentices standing around him, attentively watching the four practicing. After watching a couple of moves, I knew instantly that they were using the new moves they had been practicing over the last couple of days.

“I knew it was very dangerous for me to be there at that time. If the people from Qingcheng Sword School had found me, not only would I be harshly punished, but the reputation of Huashan Sword School would also have been hurt badly if the news got out. Although Master punished big apprentice brother harshly for kicking the top two of ‘The Four Aces of Qingcheng’ down the stairs, saying that he had violated the school rules and caused all kinds of trouble, and offended friends; in the Master’s heart, I believe he was actually glad. At least big apprentice brother had gained good publicity for our school. ‘How can they be the Four Aces of Qingcheng? They couldn’t even fend off a single kick from the senior apprentice of the Huashan Sword School.’ But if I got caught sneaking around, digging up other people’s secrets, it would look worse than stealing money. And when I got back to Huashan, Master would most likely have expelled me from the Huashan Sword School.

“But seeing those people practicing so hard, I really thought it might have had something to do with our school. How could I just turn around and leave? I just kept telling myself, ‘I’ll just watch a couple of more moves before leaving.’ But after watching a couple, I watched another couple, and so on and so on. The sword moves they used were so unusual. I had never seen anything like them before in my life. But if someone claimed that these moves had some kind of great power, I couldn’t have agreed. I wondered, ‘This set of sword techniques is nothing special, why would the Qingcheng Sword School want to practice it so hard, day and night? Could this set of sword techniques be the counter to our Huashan sword arts?’ It didn’t look like it!

“After watching several more moves, I dared not continue watching, so I sneaked away and went back to my room while the four were still fighting intensely. If I had waited till the four stopped fighting and the noises ended, there would have been no way for me to get away. With his superior skills, Master Yu would have found me out after my first step outside the hall.

“In the following two nights, the sound of swords ringing against each other kept coming from the distance, but I dared not go watch any more. To be honest, if I had known that they were practicing sword fighting in front of Master Yu, I would never have dared to go there at all. The first time was just an accident. Just now sixth apprentice brother praised my courage; I did not deserve such praise. If you had seen my face that night, you would have known how terrified I was, and you’d have called me the number one coward.”

“No way! No way!” Lu Dayou objected. “Second apprentice brother, you’d be at most number two. If it were I, I wouldn’t have to worry about being found out by Master Yu. I would have been so scared that my whole body would have become stiff; I would stop breathing and not able to move an inch; pretty much no different from a zombie. No matter how outstanding Master Yu’s Kung Fu skills are, he would have never known that there was a hero named Lu Dayou hiding outside his window.” The apprentices broke into uproarious laughter.

“Later Master Yu finally met with me,” Lao Denuo continued. “He spoke in a very polite manner, saying that Master really didn’t have to punish big apprentice brother so harshly. The Qingcheng Sword School and The Huashan Sword School have always maintained a good relationship. The apprentices were only roughhousing with each other, just like children playing practical jokes with each other. The parents should never take such matters too seriously. That night he invited me for dinner. The following morning when I was leaving, Master Yu saw me off all the way to the gate of the Pine-Wind Temple. Since I was the apprentice, I, of course, knelt down and kowtowed. Right after I knelt down on my left knee, Master Yu lifted his right hand slightly and lifted me right up. His power was amazing! It felt like I had suddenly lost all of my strength and my body was floating in the air. If he had wanted to toss me thirty feet or simply flip me over seven or eight times, I would not have had any strength to defend myself.

“Master Yu smiled slightly and asked, ‘How many more years than you has your senior apprentice brother been an apprentice of your Master? You had some martial arts skills before you became an apprentice to your Master, hadn’t you?’

“I was still trying to catch my breath after experiencing his grip, so I had to wait a while before answering, ‘Yes, I learned martial arts skills before joining the Huashan Sword School. At the time I became an apprentice of the Huashan Sword School, big apprentice brother had been an apprentice for three years.’

“Master Yu smiled again and said, ‘Three years more, hmm, three years more.’”

“What did he mean by saying ‘three years more’?” the girl asked.

“He had an odd expression. I guess he must have been thinking that my Kung Fu skills were mediocre, so that even if big apprentice brother had studied three more years than I did, he couldn’t be too much better,” Lao Denuo shrugged.

The girl gave a hum and fell silent.

“After I went back to Mount Huashan, I gave the Master the reply letter from Master Yu,” Lao Denuo went on. “The letter was written in a very polite and modest manner, so the Master was very pleased after reading it. Then, he asked about different things happening in the Pine-Wind Temple, so I told him about that night the Qingcheng apprentices practiced. Master asked me to show him a couple of the moves. I only remembered seven or eight of them, so I imitated the moves. Master said immediately when he saw them, ‘Those are moves of the Evil-Resisting Sword Art of the Fortune Prestige Escort House Lin family!’”

When Lin Pingzhi heard this, his body trembled!

[1]  In ancient China, polygamy was legal and common among rich people.

[2]  A general term for certain two-stringed bowed instruments, popular in ancient China.

[3]  An ancient breathing exercise that helps improve health and acquire extra power and strength (sometimes an almost magical power that cannot be explained by science).

[4]  Beggars Clan was a group made up by beggars. Members of the Beggars Clan used the number of bags to identify his status in the clan. When a new member joined the clan, he would be carrying only one bag. The higher his status was, the more bags he would be carrying.

[5]  Like it was mentioned in chapter one, Ying Xiong Hao Jie stand for “hero” in Chinese.

[6]  In Chinese, “Lu” has the same pronunciation as number six.