** 1 **
Zhang and the Three Devils watched the wolves swarm after Chen and the girls with great relief, although they felt a tinge of regret at the thought of two such beautiful girls being ravished by the animals. The four men sat down to rest for a while, then roasted and ate one of the dead wolves left behind. Gu noticed that the supply of tree branches was almost exhausted, and too lazy to go and get more, he threw piles of wolf's dung onto the fire to stoke up the flames. Before long, a column of thick, black smoke was rising towards the heavens.
Just as they had eaten their fill of wolf meat, they noticed a dust cloud approaching from the east. Assuming it to be another wolf pack, they frantically jumped up and ran for the horses. Only two horses were left, both of which had been brought by the Three Devils. Zhang stretched out his hand to take the reins of one of the mounts, but Hahetai lunged in front of him and grabbed them first, shouting: "What do you think you're doing?"
Zhang was about to attack him when he spied Tang and Gu with weapons in their hands closing in. "Why are you getting so excited?" he protested. "They aren't wolves."
The Three Devils turned to look and Zhang vaulted onto the horse's back. Only then did he notice that his lie was in fact the truth: in the midst of the dust cloud was a large herd of camels and goats. He galloped off towards the herd, shouting: "I'll go and have a look!"
After riding only a short way, he saw a rider coming towards him. The rider, an old man dressed in grey, raced up and stopped his mount instantly with a tug on the reins. Zhang marvelled at his horsemanship.
The rider saw Zhang was wearing the tattered uniform of a Manchu military officer and asked in Chinese: "What happened to the wolves?" Zhang pointed west.
By this time, the herd was upon them and in the midst of the dust and noise and confusion, Zhang noticed a bald-headed, red-faced old man and a white-haired old woman riding herd. He was just about to ask who they were when the Three Devils came over and bowed respectfully before the old man in grey.
"We are honoured to meet you again, sir," Tang said obsequiously. "How are you?"
The old man grunted. "Nothing to complain about," he mumbled. It was the Strange Knight of the Heavenly Pool, Master Yuan.
Zhang knew nothing of the old man, but he noted the respect with which the Three Devils treated him.
Master Yuan examined the four of them for a moment, then said: "We are going to catch the wolves. You will all come with me."
They started in fright and wondered if he was insane. But the Three Devils knew his kung fu was formidable and did not dare to refuse.
Zhang, however, emitted a "humph" of astonishment and said: "I want to live a few more years. Sorry, but I will be unable to accompany you." He turned to leave.
Absolutely furious, Bald Vulture grabbed for Zhang's wrist shouting: "So you refuse to heed Master Yuan's orders! Do you wish to die?"
Zhang deflected his hand deftly with a 'Dividing The Clouds and Moon' stroke, and the two fought closely for a while, neither gaining the upper hand. Then they leapt apart, both surprised that they should come upon such a master of the martial arts in the middle of the desert.
"What is your name, friend?" Zhang shouted.
"What makes you think you're good enough to be my friend? Will you or will you not do what Master Yuan says?"
Zhang knew he was as good a fighter as himself, and yet he still respectfully referred to the other old man as "Master Yuan", indicating Yuan's kung fu was probably even better. Who is this Master Yuan? he wondered. "What is your full name, sir?" he asked Yuan. "If you are my superior, I will naturally respect your orders."
"Ha! So you wish to question me, do you?" Master Yuan exclaimed. "It is I that does the questioning. I ask you: just now, you used a 'Dividing the Clouds and Moon' move. But what would you have done if I had replied with a 'Descending the Mountain to Kill the Tiger' stroke on your left while going for your Spiritual Yuedao point on your right?"
Zhang thought for a second. "I would have kicked out with an 'Arrow Shooting the Hawk' move, and grabbed your wrist."
"Then you are obviously a member of the Wudang School," Yuan replied, to Zhang's evident surprise. "Once when I was in Hubei, I sparred with Master Ma Zhen." Zhang went deathly pale. "Now then, if I used a 'Secret Hand' move to counter your attempt to seize my wrist, and then struck at your face with my left hand, what would you do? Master Ma Zhen was unable to avoid this move. Let's see if you can work it out."
Zhang thought deeply for a while. "If you were fast, I would naturally be unable to avoid the blow," he said finally. "I could aim a 'Yuanyang Kick' at your left ribs to force you to retract your hand to defend yourself."
Yuan laughed. "Not bad. Of all the fighters in the Wudang School, you are probably the best."
"I would then aim to touch your 'Xianji' Yuedao point," Zhang continued.
"Good! A master always attacks if he can. But I would then step into the 'Guimei' position and attack your lower body."
"I would then retreat to the 'Song' position and strike out for your 'Heavenly Spring' Yuedao point."
Gu and Hahetai listened in bewilderment to the strange words. Hahetai gave Tang's gown a tug and whispered: "What's this code they're speaking in?"
"It's not code, they're using the names of the Sixty Four Positions and the Yuedao points on the human body," Tang replied.
"I advance to the 'Ming Ye' positon and attack with a Qimen move," Yuan said.
"I retreat to the 'Zhong Fu' position and counter with a Phoenix Eye move," replied Zhang.
"I advance to the 'Jizhai' position and go for your 'Huan Jiao' Yuedao."
The pressure was begining to show on Zhang's face, and there was a pause before he answered: "I retreat to the 'Zhen' position and then to the Fu position."
"How come he keeps retreating?" whispered Hahetai, but Tang waved him to silence. The verbal sparring continued, Yuan smiling and obviously at ease, Zhang beginning to sweat and sometimes taking a long time to come up with a response. The Three Devils knew that in a real fight, he would have had no time for such thinking, and would have been beaten long ago.
After a few more moves, Zhang said: "I attack with a 'Xiao Shu' move and then strike at your wrist."
"That's not good enough," Yuan replied. "You lose."
"Please explain," said Zhang.
"If you don't believe me, I'll show you. Be careful!" Yuan's right leg kicked up at Zhang's knees.
Zhang jumped away shouting: "If you touch me..." but before he could finish, Yuan's right hand had shot out and touched a Yuedao point on his chest. He felt a surge of pain and immediately began to cough uncontrollably.
Yuan smiled at him. "Well?" he asked.
The others were amazed by this nonchalant display of such profound kung fu skills. Zhang, looking deathly pale, did not dare to continue his intransigence. "I will do as you say, Master Yuan," he replied.
"But your kung fu is first class," Bald Vulture added. "What is your name?"
"My surname is Zhang, my given name Zhaozhong. And may I ask your names?"
"Ah, so it's the Fire Hand Judge," Bald Vulture replied. "Brother Yuan, he's a martial brother of Master Ma Zhen."
Yuan grunted. "His brother is not as good as him. Let's go." He galloped off.
There were several horses mixed in amongst the camels and goats, and Zhang and Hahetai chose a mount each and began helping to herd the animals after Master Yuan.
As they galloped along, Zhang said to Bald Vulture: "Excuse me. These wolves are very numerous. How do you intend to catch them?"
"You just do as Master Yuan says," Bald Vulture replied. "What's so terrifying about a few little wolves?" Madame Guan, riding nearby, smiled to hear her husband bluffing Zhang.
They rode on. Suddenly Yuan wheeled his horse round and shouted: "The wolf droppings are very fresh. The pack passed here not long ago. From the look of it, we'll catch up to them in another ten miles or so. We'll ride another five miles and then all pick fresh horses. When we have caught up to them, I will lead the way. The six of you must divide up, three on each side to make sure the animals don't escape, otherwise the wolf pack will split up." Just as Tang was about to ask a question, Yuan turned and galloped off.
The wolf droppings around them became increasingly moist as they went.
"The pack must be just ahead," said Madame Guan. "With our camels and horses making such a noise, it's surprising they haven't turned back already."
"Yes, it is strange," her husband replied. A couple of miles further on, the topography began to change and they saw a cluster of hills ahead with a tall white mountain in their midst. The Twin Eagles had long lived in the desert, and had heard many stories about this beautiful mountain, sparkling in the bright sunshine.
"The wolves must have gone into the maze!" Yuan shouted. "Everyone whip the animals!" They raised their horses whips and began beating the camels and horses, and a great roar went up as the beasts snorted and neighed in pain and anger. Before long, a large grey wolf appeared, running towards them from the hills.
Yuan whirled his long whip about his head and cracked it sharply in the air. Then with a shout, he whirled his horse round and galloped off south, with the Twin Eagles, Zhang and the Three Devils driving the herd after him. After a couple of miles, the howls of the wolf pack arose from behind. Bald Vulture glanced back and saw the grey tide moving towards them across the desert. He spurred his horse on and caught up with the others. Zhang, Gu and Tang appeared to be having difficulty keeping their terror under control, but Hahetai was shouting and whistling crazily, driving the animals on and intercepting strays. He was a herdsman by birth and he made sure not one was lost.
The wolves were ferocious and persistent, but they lacked stamina. After four or five miles, they had already been left far behind, and another five miles further on, Yuan shouted: "Let's rest for a while!" They all dismounted and ate some rations while Hahetai herded the animals together. When the wolves began to close in, they started off again.
They continued south in this way, stopping occasionally to rest. Later in the day, two Muslim riders appeared, galloping towards them.
"Master Yuan," they shouted. "Did it work?"
"They're coming, they're coming!" he shouted back. "Tell everyone to get ready." The riders turned and galloped off ahead.
A short while later, they spied a huge circular wall rising up out of the desert, at least forty feet in height with only one narrow entrance. Yuan rode through the opening with the herd of animals close behind him. The Twin Eagles and the others drove them through the gate and then veered off to either side just as the first of the wolves arrived. The huge wolf pack charged into the enclosure and threw themselves at the animals. When the last wolf was inside, a horn sounded and several hundred Muslims sprang from trenches on either side of the entrance, each man carrying a bag of sand on his shoulders. They raced for the opening and in a moment, the gap was completely blocked.
As they clapped and cheered, Zhang wondered what had happened to Yuan inside the stockade. He saw several dozen Muslims standing on top of the wall, and jumped off his horse and ran up a flight of steps, arriving at the top just in time to see Yuan being pulled up by a rope. He glanced down into the pit and jumped in fright: down below were the hundreds of camels and horses, and thousands upon thousands of hungry wolves tearing and biting at them. The noise was terrifying, and blood flowed freely about the floor of the pit. The stockade was built with sand bricks, more than a thousand feet in circumference and its walls coated with mud to make sure there were no footholds available. Yuan stood with the Twin Eagles on the top of the wall laughing heartily, obviously very pleased with himself.
"This wolf pack has been terrorizing the Tianshan mountains for hundreds of years, but you have now destroyed it, Master Yuan," said Bald Vulture. "You have done the people a great service."
"It needed everyone's cooperation. How could I have done it by myself?" he replied. "Just this stockade alone took three thousand men half a year to complete. You have also been a great help today."
"I'm afraid it will take a long time before all these wolves finally die of hunger," said Madame Guan.
"Of course, especially after they've feasted on all those animals down there."
A cheer arose from the crowd of Muslims below and several of their leaders came up to express their thanks to Yuan and the others. The Muslims brought goat meat and horse milk wine for them to eat and drink.
"Mistress Huo Qingtong defeated the Manchus at Black River and we have defeated the wolves here," said one of the leaders. "Now that the wolves have been caught, we can go and look for her..." He stopped as he spotted Zhang, wearing the uniform of a Manchu officer, standing close by.
"Master Yuan, I have something important to discuss with you," Bald Vulture said later. "Please don't be offended."
"Ha! You've learned some manners in your old age," Yuan replied, surprised by his formality.
"Your pupil's moral character is very bad and he needs to be severely disciplined."
Yuan looked startled. "Who? Chen Jialuo?"
"Yes." Bald Vulture told him about how Chen had first won Huo Qingtong's heart, and then shifted his affections to her sister.
"He is very reliable," Yuan said firmly. "He would never do such a thing."
"We saw it with our own eyes," added Madame Guan, and related how they met Chen and Princess Fragrance in the desert. Yuan stared at them for a moment, then his anger exploded.
"I accepted the job of being his foster father," he exclaimed, "raised him from when he was small. And now this happens. How can I face Great Helmsman Yu in the other world? We must go and find him and question him face-to-face." He leapt off the wall and mounted his horse: "Let's go!" he roared, and galloped off, with the Twin Eagles following behind.
Zhang's spirits rose as he saw his enemies departing. The Emperor had sent him to find Chen and Princess Fragrance, and before he returned to the court, he wanted to make sure they had been eaten by the wolves. If they had, there was nothing more to be said. But if they were still alive, he would have to catch them. Chen's kung fu, he knew, was only marginally inferior to his own, and if Huo Qingtong joined Chen against him he would lose, so he decided to invite the Three Devils along as well. He gave Gu's sleeve a tug and the two walked off a few paces together.
"Brother Gu," he whispered. "Do you miss that beauty?"
Gu thought Zhang was sneering at him. "What's it to you?" he replied angrily.
"I have a score to settle with that fellow Chen, and I want to go and make sure he's dead. If you come with me, the girl is yours, if she's still alive."
Gu hesitated. "They've probably already been eaten by the wolves," he said slowly. "And anyway, I don't know if Brother Tang would be willing to go."
"If they've been eaten, then you're out of luck," Zhang replied. "But you never know. As to your Brother Tang, I'll go and talk to him."
He went over to Tang and said: "I'm going to look for that fellow Chen to settle accounts with him. If you would be willing to help me, his dagger is yours."
What student of the martial arts would not covet such a precious weapon? Even if Chen is already inside a wolf's belly, Tang thought, the dagger will not have been eaten. He agreed immediately. "Brother Hahetai, let's go," he shouted.
Hahetai was standing on the stockade wall animatedly discussing the wolf pack with the Muslims. Hearing Tang's call, he turned and shouted: "Where are we going?"
"To look for Chen and the others. If their bodies haven't been completely devoured, we can bury them properly. We owe them that much!"
Hahetai respected Chen, and he immediately agreed. The four obtained some rations and water from the Muslims, then mounted up and started northwards, back the way they had come.
At about midnight, Tang protested that he wanted to stop for the night. But Zhang and Gu insisted that they continue. The moon was high in the sky, making the scene look like a silvery painting. Suddenly, a figure darted from the side of the road and into a stone grave nearby.
"Who's that?" Zhang shouted, reining in his horse.
A moment passed, and then the laughing head of a Muslim appeared from a hole between the flagstones. "I am the corpse of this grave," he said. He wore a flowered hat and, to the great surprise of Zhang and the others, spoke in Chinese.
"What are you doing out here if you're a corpse?" Gu shouted.
"I just wanted to go for a stroll."
"Do corpses go for strolls?" Gu replied angrily.
The head nodded. "Yes, yes, you're right. I am wrong. So sorry." It disappeared back into the hole.
Hahetai burst out laughing, but Gu was furious. He dismounted and stuck his hand into the grave, wanting to pull the Muslim out, but he felt about inside without finding anything.
"Don't take any notice of him," said Zhang. "Let's go."
As the four turned their horses round, they spotted a small, skinny donkey by the side of the grave, chomping grass.
"I'm sick to death of dry rations," said Gu gleefully. "Some roast donkey meat wouldn't be bad at all." He jumped off his horse again and was about to take hold of the donkey's reins when he noticed the animal had no tail.
"Someone seems to have cut off the donkey's tail and eaten it already," he observed with a smile.
There was a whoosh of sound and the Muslim appeared on the donkey's back. He laughed and pulled a donkey's tail from his pocket and waved it about. "The donkey's tail got covered in mud today, which didn't look very nice, so I cut it off," he said.
Zhang looked at the man's full beard and crazy appearance and wondered who he was. He raised his horse whip and rode by the donkey, striking out at the Muslim's shoulder as he passed. The Muslim dodged to one side, and Zhang suddenly found himself holding the donkey's tail, which was indeed covered in mud. He also noticed a coolness on his head, and found his cap had disappeared.
"So you're a Manchu officer," the Muslim said, swinging the cap about on his finger. "You've come to attack us Muslims, I suppose. This cap is very pretty."
Startled and angry, Zhang threw the donkey's tail at the Muslim who caught it easily. Zhang leapt off his horse and faced him. "Who are you?" he shouted. "Come on! I'll fight you."
The Muslim placed Zhang's cap on the donkey's head and clapped his hands in delight. "The dumb donkey wearing an official's hat!" he excalimed. He twitched his thighs and the donkey trotted off. Zhang began to run after him, but stopped as a projectile flew towards him. He caught the cold, glittering object deftly and with a surge of fury, recognised it as the sapphire off the front of his cap. By now, the donkey was already a long way away, but he picked a stone off the ground and hurled it at the Muslim's back. The Muslim made no effort to avoid it, and Zhang was delighted, certain that this time he had him. There was a loud clang as the stone hit something metallic, and the Muslim cried out in despair.
"Oh no! He's killed my saucepan! It's dead for certain!"
The four men looked at each other dumb-founded as the Muslim and his donkey disappeared into the distance.
"Was that a man or a demon?" Zhang asked finally. The Three Devils silently shook their heads. "Come on, let's go. This place is evil beyond belief."
They galloped off, and early the next morning, they arrived outside the Secret City. The paths were many and confusing, but the trail of wolf droppings was a perfect guide which brought them unerringly to the base of the White Jade Peak. Looking up, they saw the cave-mouth that Chen had excavated.
Chen woke towards midnight, his strength revived. Under the light of a moonbeam shining down from the crack in the roof of the cave, he could see Huo Qingtong and Princess Fragrance leaning against one another on one of the jade seats, fast asleep. In the silence, he heard their breathing and smelt the fragrance, even more beautiful than that of fresh flowers or musk, emanating from the younger sister.
He wondered again what the wolves outside the mountain were doing and whether the three of them would ever be able to escape. And if they did, would his brother the Emperor hold to his word and throw out the Manchus?
"Which one do I really love?" Over the past few days, this thought had been gyrating round his brain continuously. "Well, which one really loves me? If I were to die, Princess Fragrance would not be able to go on living, but Huo Qingtong would. But that doesn't mean Princess Fragrance loves me more."
The moon beam slowly shifted onto Huo Qingtong's face.
"Princess Fragrance and I have declared our love for each other, but although Huo Qingtong has never said a word about it, her feelings towards me are clear too," he thought. "And why did I come so far to give her a message if it was not because I loved her? What is more, restoring the throne to the Chinese people will involve immense trials and tribulations. She is a better strategist even than Brother Xu, and her assistance would be invaluable," He stopped himself, ashamed of his own thoughts.
"Ah, Chen Jialuo," he whispered under his breath. "Are you really so narrow-minded?"
Time passed and the moonbeam moved across onto Princess Fragrance.
"With her, all I would have is happiness, happiness, happiness," he thought.
His eyes opened wide and he stared up at the crack of light in the rock high above them for a long, long time. Slowly, the moonlight faded and a sunbeam began to slant in, filling the room with daylight. With a yawn, Princes Fragrance woke. She looked over at him through half-open eyes and smiled, her face looking like a newly-opened flower.
Suddenly she jerked upright. "Listen!" she whispered.
Footsteps sounded distantly from the tunnel, gradually moving closer. In the silence of the old caverns, each step could be heard clearly, and their skin crawled as they listened. Chen shook Huo Qingtong's arm to wake her and the three ran quickly back down the tunnel.
When they reached the main chamber, Chen picked up three jade swords and gave one each to the two sisters. "Jade wards off evil," he whispered.
By now, the footsteps were just outside the chamber, and the three hid in a corner near the entrance, not daring to move. They saw the flickering light of torches and four men walked in. The two in front, they instantly recognised as Zhang and Gu.
There was a series of clanging sounds as the weapons of the four flew out of their hands to the ground. Chen knew this was an opportunity not to be missed, and as they stood staring at the floor in dumb surprise, he gave a shout and leapt out, and with knocked the torches to the ground, plunging the chamber into complete darkness. Zhang and the Three Devils turned and raced back down the tunnel. They heard a dull thud followed by a sharp curse as one of them bumped into the wall.
The footsteps gradually receded again.
Suddenly, Huo Qingtong gave a scream of panic. "Oh no! Chase them!"
Chen immediately realised what she meant and raced out of the chamber into the tunnel. But before he reached its end, he heard a steady creaking sound followed by a heavy bang, and he knew the stone door was closed.
Huo Qingtong and Princess Fragrance ran up behind him. He felt around for a piece of wood, found one and lit it, then looked again at the scarred surface of the stone door, the relic of the death struggle of the skeletons around them.
"We're finished!" Huo Qingtong said, despairingly.
Princess Fragrance grabbed her hand. "Sister, don't be afraid!"
Chen forced a smile. "It would be strange if we three died here."
For some reason, he felt a sense of relief wash over him as if a great weight had been taken from his shoulders. He picked a skull off the ground and said to it: "Well brother, you have three new companions." Princess Fragrance gasped, and then laughed out loud.
Huo Qingtong looked at them both. "Let's go back to the Jade Room," she said after a while. "Once we've settled down we can start thinking things through."
They walked back the way they had come. Huo Qingtong pulled out the map once more and pored over it, desperately searching for a way out. Chen knew that if they were to escape it was more likely to be because of outside help or because Zhang returned to look for them. But how could rescuers find them? And Zhang, after the fright he had just received, was unlikely to dare to come in again.
"I want to sing a song," Princess Fragrance announced.
"Please do," replied Chen.
She sang for a while then stopped, concerned about Huo Qingtong who was still staring hard at the map, her head resting on her hands.
"Sister, you should rest for while," Princess Fragrance said. She stood up and went over to the jade bed and said to the skeleton lying on it: "Excuse me, I wonder if you could move over a bit? My sister needs to lie down and rest." She carefully pushed the bones into a pile in the corner of the bed. "Oh!" she said, picking something up. "What's this?"
Chen and Huo Qingtong walked over and saw she was holding a goatskin scroll of great antiquity. The scroll had turned black, but under the sunlight, it was possible to see it was covered in writing, all in an ancient Muslim hand. Huo Qingtong glanced through it, and pointed at the skeleton on the bed.
"It was written by this girl with her own blood just before she died. Her name was Mami," she said.
"Mami?" asked Chen.
"It means 'beautiful'. I'm sure she was very beautiful when she was alive." She put down the book and went back to examining the map.
"Does the map indicate some other exit?" Chen asked.
"There appears to be a secret tunnel somewhere, but I can't work out where."
Chen sighed. "Would you read out this Miss Mami's last words to me?" he asked Princess Fragrance. She nodded, and began to quietly recite:
"Everyone in the city, thousands upon thousands of people are all dead. The guards of the Mountain and the warriors of Islam are all dead. My Ali has gone to meet Allah, and his Mami will be going soon too. I will write our story out here, so that the children of Allah will know that, victorious or defeated, our warriors of Islam fight to the end, and never surrender!"
"So this lady was not only beautiful, but courageous too," commented Chen.
Princess Fragrance continued to read:
"Baojunlonga oppressed us for forty years. In those forty years, he forced thousands of commoners to construct this secret city and carve out the chambers and halls within the Sacred Mountain. He killed them all. After he died, his son Sanglaba proved to be even more cruel. Of every ten goats raised by the Muslim people every year, four had to be given to him; of every five camels, he claimed two. We became poorer and poorer each year. Any beautiful daughters among the Muslim families were taken into the city, and once there, none ever came out alive.
"We are the brave children of Islam. Could we stand such oppression from these pagans? Of course not! Over a period of twenty years, our warriors attacked the city five times. But each time, they lost because they could not find their way through the maze. On two occasions, they made it into the Sacred Mountain but Sanglaba used some devilry to steal their weapons, and they were all killed by his guards."
"That's the magnet," said Chen. Princess Fragrance nodded and continued:
"In the year that I turned eighteen, my mother and father were killed by Sanglaba's men and my elder brother became the chief of our tribe. That spring, I met Ali. He was a hero of the tribe. He had killed three tigers, and wolf packs scattered when they saw him. He could beat ten ordinary men, no, a hundred. His eyes were as soft as those of a deer and his body was as beautiful as a fresh flower, but he had the strength of a desert hurricane..."
"The lady is exaggerating, I think," Chen said with a smile.
"Why do you say that?" Princess Fragrance asked solemly. "Are there not such people in the world?"
"One day, Ali came to our tent to talk to my brother about another attack on the City. He had obtained a copy of a book about Chinese kung fu and had studied it for a year. He said he now understood the basics of the martial arts, and was convinced that even without weapons, they could kill Sanglaba's man. He took five hundred fighters and taught them what he knew, and they practised for another year. By then, I was already Ali's. I was his from the moment I first saw him. He told me that when he saw me, he knew that we would win this time. But although they had mastered kung fu, they still did not know the way through the maze of the City, much less the secrets of the Sacred Mountain. Ali and my brother talked for ten days and nights, but could find solution.
"Finally, I said: 'Brother,let me go.' They understood my meaning. Ali was a brave warrior but he began to cry. I took a hundred goats and went to graze them outside the city. On the fourth day, Sanglaba's men seized me and took me to him. I cried for three days and three nights before giving in to him. He liked me very much and gave me everything I wanted.
"At first Sanglaba would not let me take so much as one step outside, but he liked me more and more. I thought about our people every day and of singing while tending goats on the grasslands: that is real happiness. What I thought of most was Ali. Sanglaba saw me becoming more thin and haggard each day and asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted to go out and wander round everywhere. He flew into a great rage and slapped me, so for seven days and nights I didn't smile or say a word to him. On the eighth day, he took me out, and after that on every third day. At first, we only travelled about the city, but later we even went to the very entrance of the maze. I memorized clearly every single street and path until I could have found my way through the maze even if I was blind.
"This took almost a year. I knew my brother and Ali would be getting impatient, but I still did not know the secrets of the Sacred Mountain. Soon after, I became pregnant with Sanglaba's bastard child. He was delighted, but I cried every day in loathing. He asked me what I wanted, and I said: 'You have made me pregnant but you don't love me at all.'
"'I don't love you?' he replied. 'Do you think there is anything I would not give you? Do you want red coral from the bottom of the sea, or sapphires from the south? They are yours."
"'I have heard that you have a jade pool which makes beautiful people who wash in it even more beautiful and ugly people even uglier,'" I said.
"His face drained of all colour and in a shaky voice, he asked me where I had heard this. I told him a fairy had whispered it to me in a dream, but in fact I had heard about the pool from the servant girls who said that Sanglaba had never let anyone see it.
"'You can go and wash there, but whoever sees the pool must have their tongue cut out afterwards to prevent the secret being revealed. It is a rule decided by the ancestors,'" he said. He begged me not to go, but I insisted. I said: 'You must think I am very ugly and do not wish me to become even uglier.' Finally, he took me there.
"I took a small knife with me, planning to stab him to death by the pool, which was the only place in the palace where there were no guards, but the knife was snatched away by some magic under the floor of the great hall. After I had bathed in the Jade Pool, I don't know if I really became more beautiful or not, but he loved me even more. However, he still cut out my tongue, because he feared that I would reveal the secret. I knew everything, but had no way of telling my brother and Ali.
"Every day and every night, I prayed to Allah, and Allah finally heard the cries of his poor daughter. He gave me wisdom. Sanglaba had a small dagger which he kept on his person at all times. The dagger had two scabbards, and the inner scabbard was exactly like the blade of a knife. I asked him for it, then I drew a map of the city including all the paths and tunnels in it, sealed it inside a ball of wax and placed it inside the inner scabbard. In the third month after the birth of the child, he took me out hunting. When no-one was looking, I threw the dagger into the Tengbo lake. When we returned to the palace, I released many eagles with 'Tengbo Lake' written on pieces of paper tied to their legs."
Huo Qingtong put down the map and concentrated on listening to her sister's translation of the ancient scroll.
"Several of the eagles were shot down by Sanglaba's men, but I knew that at least one or two would be caught by people of our tribe and that my brother and Ali would go to Tengbo Lake and make a thorough search. They would then find the knife and know the way through the city.
"Ah! How could I guess that although they found the dagger, they did not discover its secret, and did not work out that there was a scabbard within the scabbard? My brother, and Ali decided that the dagger must be a call for them to attack. So they attacked. Most of the warriors lost their way in the maze. My brother, stronger than two camels, was lost in this way. Ali and some of the others caught one of Sanglaba's men and forced him to lead them in their attack on the Sacred Mountain. In the Great Hall, Sanglaba's men fell on them with their jade weapons. But Ali and his warriors had learned their lessons well and even empty-handed they held their own and most died along with their opponents. Seeing his guards being slaughtered and Ali pressing in closer all the time, Sanglaba ran into the Jade Room and wanted me to escape with him via the Jade Pool..."
Huo Qingtong jumped to her feet. "Aha!" she exclaimed. "He wanted to escape via the Jade Pool!"
"Suddenly Ali ran in, and I flung myself into his arms. We embraced, and he called me many beautiful things. I had no tongue and could not answer him, but he understood the cry of my heart. Then that despicable Sanglaba, ten thousands times more evil than a thousand devils, struck him with an axe from behind...."
Princess Fragrance screamed and threw the scroll back onto the bed, an expression of horror on his face. Huo Qingtong gently patted her shoulder, then picked up the scroll herself and continued to read it out loud:
"....with an axe from behind and split my Ali's head in two. His blood spurted out all over my body. Sanglaba picked the child up off the bed, placed it in my hands and shouted: 'We must leave quickly!' I raised that bastard baby high about my head and threw it to the ground with all my strength, and he died in Ali's blood. Sanglaba was deeply shocked at the sight of me killing his son. He raised his golden axe, and I bowed my head, offering my neck to him, but he sighed and rushed back out into the Great Hall.
"Ali has gone to Allah's side and I will soon follow him. Our warriors are many, and with all his soldiers dead, Sanglaba will certainly not survive. He will never again be able to oppress us followers of Islam. I myself killed his only son, so we will be free of oppression from his descendants, because he has none. In the future, our people will be able to live peacefully in the desert and on the grasslands, young girls will be able to lie in their lovers' arms and sing. My brother, Ali, myself, we are all dead, but we conquered the tyrants. Even if their fortress had been stronger than it is, we would still have broken through eventually. May Allah, the True God, protect our people."
Huo Qingtong slowly rolled up the ancient scroll. The three of them sat for a long time without saying a word, deeply moved by Mami's courage and virtue. Finally Princess Fragrance, her eyes full of tears, sighed.
"To relieve the oppression of her people, she was willing to leave her loved ones, to have her tongue cut out and even to kill her own child," she said.
Chen started in fright, thinking of his own conduct compared to this lady of old. Faced with the task of recovering China for the Chinese people, he selfishly thought only of his own romantic problems.
Princess Fragrance noticed the sudden change in his expression. She pulled out her handkerchief and went over to wipe the beads of sweat from his brow, but Chen pushed her away impatiently. She stepped back, startled at his aggressiveness, and Chen's heart softened. Taking the handkerchief from her, he made up his mind that while the great endeavour of the Restoration remained unfinished he would pay no further attention to his romantic affairs, and would treat both sisters purely as friends, as his own sisters.
Huo Qingtong, meanwhile, was once more poring over the map and pondering phrases in the ancient scroll.
"It says here that Sanglaba came to this Jade Room and wanted her to escape with him to the Jade Pool," she murmured. "But this room is a dead end ... Afterwards, he returned the way he had come. He must have been extraordinarily strong. The Islam warriors failed to stop him and he forced his way through to the stone door and locked them all inside, condemning them to death. But the map clearly indicates another tunnel to the pool...."
"Then it must be in this room," Chen replied. He lit another torch and began to examine the walls closely for cracks, while Huo Qingtong looked at the jade bed. Chen remembered how Wen Tailai had been captured at Iron Gall Manor and said: "Could the tunnel be under the table?" He placed his hands beneath the round table top and tried to lift it, but it did not budge.
"There's something strange about this table," he said, pleased. Huo Qingtong brought the torch over to give him more light.
"Oh, look!" Princess Fragrance exclaimed. "There's a design carved onto the surface." They looked closer and saw that it was a herd of winged camels. They had not noticed it before because the carving was extremely shallow. But strangely, the heads and bodies of the camels were not joined, and were more than a foot away from each other. On an impulse, Princess Fragrance grasped the table edge and pulled it from left to right in an attempt to line up the heads and bodies, and it did indeed move an inch or so. Chen and Huo Qingtong joined her and slowly moved the rim round until the camels were whole again. Just as the carving was complete, a grinding sound began and a panel beside the bed slid back to reveal a row of steps leading downwards. The three shouted in triumph.
Chen led the way into the hole, torch in hand. The passage twisted and turned for a while and then ran straight for more than a hundred feet. Then, around a corner, they burst out into daylight. Looking around they saw they were in a small basin surrounded by high mountains. In the centre was a circular pool, the water in which was as green as jade. They were immediately enraptured by the beauty of the scene before them.
"The scroll said that if beautiful people washed in the pool they would become even more beautiful," Huo Qingtong said to her sister with a smile. "You should go and wash."
Princess Fragrance blushed. "You are older than I, you go first," she replied.
"Ai-ya! But I will become more ugly," Huo Qingtong protested. "Are you going to wash or not?" Princess Fragrance shook her head.
Huo Qingtong walked to the edge of the pool and put her hands in the water: it was intensely cold. She cupped her hands and scooped up some water and saw it was very clear: the water appeared green only because of the jade all about. She took a sip and found it extraordinarily cool and tasty. They all drank their fill. The white peak towering above them reflected off the surface of the pool in a picture of loveliness, and Princess Fragrance lazily moved her hand about in the water, unwilling to leave such an enchanting place.
"The thing to do now is to think of a way to avoid those four devils outside," said Huo Qingtong.
"First, let's bring Mami's remains out and bury them beside the pool," Chen suggested.
Princess Fragrance clapped her hands in delight. "It would be best if we buried her and Ali together," she said.
"Yes. I expect the skeleton in the corner is Ali's."
They returned to the Jade Room. As they were collecting Ali's bones, they found amongst them some bamboo slivers used in China in ancient times for writing. Chen picked them up, and saw they were thickly covered with Chinese characters written in red ink on a black background. Glancing through them, he recognized the writings of the Chinese philospher Zhuangzi. He had thought it might be some special book and was rather disappointed to find it was instead something he had read and memorized as a child.
"What is it?" Princess Fragrance asked.
"It's an old Chinese book, but it's not much use except to archaeologists." He threw the slivers back on the ground, and as they scattered, he noticed one which looked slightly different from the rest. Beside every character, were circles and dots and Muslim writing. Chen picked the sliver up and saw it was a section entitled 'The Butcher Dissects the Cow' from the philosopher Zhuangzi's lecture, 'The Secret of Caring for Life.' He pointed to the Muslim characters written alongside.
"What does this say?" he asked Princess Fragrance.
"'The key to smashing the enemy is here'," she replied.
"What can that mean?" he wondered out loud, greatly surprised.
"Mami's last testament said Ali got hold of a Chinese book and had learned kung fu from it. This could be it," Huo Qingtong suggested.
"Zhuangzi taught that one should be oblivious of emotion in adversity and obedient to one's superiors," said Chen. "It has nothing to do with kung fu." He threw the sliver back down again, then picked up the pile of bones and walked out. They buried the remains of Mami and Ali beside the Jade Pool and bowed respectfully before the graves.
"Let's go now," said Chen. "I wonder if the white horse managed to escape the wolves?"
"What is the section of that book about?" Huo Qingtong asked.
"It's about a butcher who is very good at his job. The movements of his hands and legs, the sound of his knife chopping, are all perfectly coordinated. The sound has the rhythm of music, the movements are like dancing."
"It would be useful to have such skill when facing an enemy," Huo Qingtong commented.
Chen stared at her in surprise. Every word of Zhuangzi was familiar to him, but suddenly he felt as if he had never read it before. The words of 'The Butcher Dissects The Cow' ran through his mind: 'When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years, I no longer saw the whole ox. And now -- now, I go at it by spirit and don't look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants.'
"If it really is like that," he thought, "I could kill that traitor Zhang with my eyes closed with just a slight movement of the knife..." The two sisters stared at him, wondering what he was thinking about.
"Wait a moment," he said, and ran back inside. A long time passed and still he did not re-emerge. Feeling worried, the two sisters went in as well and found him prancing about among the skeletons in the Great Hall, his face wreathed in smiles. He danced around a pair of skeletons for a moment and then stood stock-still staring at another pair. Princess Fragrance glanced to her sister in fright, afraid that he had lost his mind.
Huo Qingtong took her sister's hand. "Don't be afraid, he's all right," she said. "Let's go and wait for him outside."
The two returned to the Jade Pool. "What's he doing in there?" Princess Fragrance asked.
"I think he's worked out some new kung fu moves after having read those bamboo slivers and he's now practising them by copying the positions of the skeletons. It would be best if we didn't disturb him."
Princess Fragrance nodded. After a while, she sighed. "Now I understand." she said.
"All those people in the Great Hall must have been very good fighters. Even after their weapons had been snatched from them, they still fought on with Sanglaba's guards."
"Yes, but they weren't necessarily very good at kung fu," Huo Qingtong replied. "I would guess they just learned a few really formidable moves which allowed them to take their enemies with them."
"Ah, they were so brave ... But what is he learning them for? Does he want to die with his enemies too?"
"No, a martial arts master would not be killed along with his opponent. He is just studying the finer points of the moves."
Princess Fragrance smiled. "Well I won't worry any more, then." She looked out over the surface of the pool. "Sister," she said. "Let's bathe in the water."
"Don't be ridiculous. What if he should come out?"
"I really want to go and bathe," Princess Fragrance replied. She stared out at the cool water once again. "Wouldn't it be nice if the three of us could live here together forever!" she said softly.
Huo Qingtong's heart jumped. She blushed, and quickly turned her head away towards the White Jade Peak.
A long time passed and still Chen did not emerge. Princess Fragrance took off her leather boots and put her feet in the water. Resting her head on her sister's lap, she gazed up at the white clouds in the sky and slowly fell asleep.
One day towards noon, they spied a small donkey hobbling towards them across the desert, its rider nodding from side to side as he snoozed. As they got closer, they saw it was a Muslim with a large saucepan slung across his back and a donkey's tail in his right hand. The donkey, they noticed, was tail-less and was wearing an Imperial Guard officer's cap. The rider looked about forty years of age and had a luxuriant beard covering his face. When he saw them, he smiled warmly.
Yu knew Huo Qingtong's name was known across the length and breadth of the desert. "Excuse me," he said. "Have you seen Mistress Huo Qingtong?"
The man laughed. "Why are you looking for her?" he asked.
"There are several bad men after her and we want to warn her. If you see her, could you give her the message?"
"All right. What sort of bad men?"
"Two are big Chinese, and the third is a Mongol," Yuanzhi answered.
The man nodded. "Yes, they are bad. They wanted to eat my donkey, but I stole this hat from them." Yu and Yuanzhi glanced at each other.
"There was someone else with them?" Yu asked.
"The man wearing this cap. But who are you?"
"We are friends of Master Muzhuolun," Yu replied. We must stop the men from finding Mistress Huo Qingtong. Take us to where you met them and we will give you some silver."
"I don't need any silver. But I'll have to ask the donkey if he's willing to go first," the Muslim replied. He leant over close to the donkey's ear and mumbled into it for a while, then placed his own ear near the donkey's mouth, and nodded repeatedly. Yu and Yuanzhi grinned at his clowning.
The man listened intently for a moment and then frowned. "This donkey has had a very high opinion of himself ever since he got the official cap," he said. "He's rather contemptuous of your horses and doesn't want to travel with them for fear of losing face."
Yuanzhi looked at the skinny, lame animal, it's body covered in dirt, and burst out laughing.
"You don't believe me?" the Muslim exclaimed. "Well then, my donkey shall compete with your horse."
Yu and Yuanzhi were riding two of Muzhuolun's best horses, as superior to the donkey as clouds are from mud.
"All right," said Yuanzhi. "When we've won, you must lead us to find the three bad men."
"It's four, not three. But what happens if you lose?"
"Whatever you say."
"If you lose, you have to wash the donkey clean so that he can show off."
"All right," Yuanzhi agreed. "What sort of competition will we have?"
"You can decide."
The Muslim seemed absolutely certain of victory and Yuanzhi began to feel suspicious. "What's that in your hand?" she asked.
"It's the donkey's tail," he replied, waving it about. "After he started wearing the official cap, he thought it didn't go well with his dirty tail, so he decided he didn't want it."
"Let me have a look," she said.
He threw the tail across and she caught it, then pointed with it at a small sand dune some distance away. "We'll race from here to that sand dune," she said. "The winner will be the first to get there, your donkey or my horse." The man nodded. "You go over there and be the judge," she added to Yu. He slapped his horse and galloped off across to the dune.
"Go!" Yuanzhi shouted, and with a lash of her whip, her horse leapt forward. After a few hundred feet, she glanced back and saw the donkey, limping along far behind. She laughed and spurred her horse on even faster. Then all of a sudden a black shape shot past her. She almost fell off her saddle in shock when she saw the man had slung the donkey around his shoulders and was running with long strides, already a good distance ahead of her. She recovered and tried to catch him up again, but he ran like the wind and stayed ahead all the way to the finish. Just before she reached the dune, Yuanzhi threw the donkey's tail back the way they had come and shouted: "The horse is first!"
The Muslim and Yu looked at each other in puzzlement.
"Mistress!" the Muslim protested. "We agreed that whichever got here first, the donkey or the horse, was the winner, isn't that right?"
Yuanzhi tidied her hair with her hand. "Yes," she replied. "But only part of the donkey got here first."
The man pulled on his beard. "I don't understand. What do you mean, only part of the donkey?"
Yuanzhi pointed to the tail she had thrown far behind them. "My horse arrived complete, but only a part of your donkey made it. His tail didn't."
The man laughed heartily. "Yes, you're right!" he exclaimed. "You win. I'll take you to find those four bad men." He went over and picked the tail up and brought it back. "You stupid donkey!" he said to the animal. "Don't think that just because you're wearing an official's cap that you don't need your dirty tail." He leapt onto its back.
Yu had been greatly impressed by the Muslim's immense strength that allowed him to run faster than a horse even with the donkey slung over his shoulders. He knew he must be a martial arts master and bowed before him.
"If you just tell us which direction to go, we will go and find them ourselves," he said respectfully. "We don't wish to trouble you, sir."
"But I lost," the Muslim replied, smiling. "How can I back out now?" He turned the donkey round and shouted: "Follow me!"
They travelled on. Yu asked the man for his name, but he simply smiled and answered with more crazy jokes. The lame donkey walked very slowly, and after half a day they had covered only ten miles. They saw riders approaching from behind, and 'Mastermind' Xu and Zhou Qi galloped up. Yu introduced them saying: "This gentleman is taking us to find the Three Devils." Xu dismounted and bowed.
The Muslim simply smiled in response. "Your wife should be resting more," he said to Xu. "What's she doing, racing about like this?"
Xu stared at him, not understanding. Zhou Qi, however, blushed red, and galloped on ahead.
The Muslim was very familiar with the roads and paths of the desert, and towards evening, he led them to a small village. As they approached, they saw that a Manchu military unit had also just descended on the village. The Muslims were fleeing in all directions dragging their children after them.
"Most of the Manchu forces have already been exterminated, and the remnants have been surrounded, so where did these come from?" Xu wondered aloud.
A group of about twenty Muslims dashed towards them with a dozen soldiers on their heels, shouting and brandishing their swords. When the Muslims caught sight of the man on the donkey, they began to call out his name ecstatically: "Afanti! Afanti! Save us!"
"Everyone flee!" Afanti shouted. He raised his whip and galloped off into the desert with the Muslims and Manchu troops following behind.
After a while, several of the Muslim women fell behind and were captured by the soldiers. Zhou Qi could not bear to leave them, and she drew her sword and whirled her horse round. She charged the Manchu troops and with a swish of her blade, cut off half the head of one of them. The other soldiers surrounded her, and Xu and the others galloped up to rescue her. Suddenly, Zhou Qi felt a wave of nausea and as one of the soldiers leapt forward to grab her, she vomited all over his face. He frantically tried to wipe the mess off, and Zhou Qi killed him with her sword. Her legs and arms became rubbery and she swayed unsteadily. Xu rushed over to support her.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
Yu and Yuanzhi had by now killed or chased away the rest of the soldiers. Xu caught one of the fleeing troops and interrogated him about where the column had come from. The soldier threw himself down on the ground and begged for mercy, gabbling incoherently. Finally they extracted from him the fact that he was attached to a relief force coming from the east. Xu chose two strong young men from amongst the group of Muslims and sent them off immediately to inform Muzhuolun, so he would be prepared. He gave the soldier a kick on the behind and shouted "Go to hell!" The soldier scampered away.
Xu turned back to his wife. "Are you all right?" he asked. "What's the matter?"
Zhou Qi blushed and turned her head away.
"The cow is going to calve," Afanti said.
"How do you know?" Xu asked, surprised.
"It's strange. The bull didn't know the cow was going to calve, but the donkey did."
They all laughed, then countinued on their way. As evening approached, they stopped and set up tents for the night.
"How many months gone are you?" Xu quietly asked his wife. "How is it that I didn't know?"
"How would my stupid bull know?" Zhou Qi replied, smiling. After a moment she added: "If we have a boy, then he will be surnamed Zhou. Father and mother will die of happiness! Just so long as he's not as crafty as you."
"You must be careful from now on," said Xu. "No more sword-fighting." She nodded.
The next morning, Afanti said to Xu: "Your wife can stay at my home while we go and look for those men. It's another ten miles further on. I have a very beautiful wife there ..."
"Really?" Yuanzhi interrupted. "I must meet her. Why would she like a bearded fellow like you?"
"Aha, that's a secret," Afanti laughed.
They arrived in a village and Afanti led them to his house. Raising his saucepan, he began to bang it loudly, and a woman in her thirties came out to greet him. Her features were indeed beautiful and her skin white and delicate. They could tell she was overjoyed to see Afanti, but from her mouth issued a stream of curses: "Where the hell have you been, Whiskers? Do you still remember who I am after all this time?"
"Enough of your noise," Afanti replied with a smile. "Haven't I come back? Bring something out for me to eat. Your Whiskers is starving to death."
"Aren't you satisfied just looking at my lovely face?" The wife countered, also smiling.
"That's very true, your beautiful face is a great delicacy, but if I had some bread or something to go with it, it would be even better."
She reached over and gave his ear a sharp twist. "I won't allow you to go out again," she said. She went back inside, and re-appeared soon after with piles of bread, water-melon, honey and lamb. Yuanzhi didn't understand a word Afanti and his wife said to each other, but she could see from their teasing that they loved each other dearly, and felt desolate.
While they ate lunch, two people walked into the house, one a young boy and the other a labourer.
"Master Hu says that you should return the saucepan that you borrowed from him," the boy said.
Afanti glanced at Zhou Qi and smiled. "You tell Master Hu that the saucepan is pregnant and will soon give birth to a baby saucepan, and cannot be moved at the moment."
The boy looked puzzled, but he turned and left.
"What are you here for?" Afanti asked the labourer.
"Last year, I went to an inn in the village and ate a chicken. Before I left I asked the innkeeper for the bill, but he said: 'We'll settle it next time, there's no rush.' I thought at the time that he was being nice so I thanked him and left. Two months later, I went back to pay, and he started counting his fingers and mumbling away as if he was trying to calculate a very complicated account. I said: 'How much was that chicken? All you have to do is tell me!' The innkeeper waved his hand and told me to be quiet."
"A chicken, even if it was the biggest fat chicken, would not be more than a hundred copper pieces," said Afanti's wife.
"That's what I thought too," said the labourer. "But after he had been figuring for a long time, he said twelve taels of silver!"
"Ai-ya!" exclaimed Afanti's wife. "How could a chicken be so expensive? You could buy several hundred chickens with twelve taels of silver."
"Yes, that's what I said. But the innkeeper said: 'There's no mistake. If you had not eaten my chicken, how many eggs would that chicken have laid? And how many of those eggs would have become little chicks? And when those little chicks grew, how many eggs would they have laid...?" The longer he calculated, the higher the price became and finally he said: "Twelve taels of silver is actually very cheap!" Naturally, I refused to give him the money so he dragged me over to see Master Hu for him to settle the dispute. Master Hu listened to the innkeeper and told me to pay up. He said that if I didn't settle the account quickly, the eggs would become even more chickens and I wouldn't have a hope. Afanti, tell me who is right."
Just then, the boy returned.
"Master Hu says how could a saucepan be pregnant? He doesn't believe you and says you must return the saucepan to him immediately."
Afanti went into the kitchen and brought out a small saucepan which he gave to the boy. "This is clearly the son of a saucepan," he said. "You give it to Master Hu."
Uncertain whether to believe him or not, the boy took the small saucepan and left.
Afanti turned to the labourer and said: "You tell Master Hu you want to hold a meeting to settle the matter."
"But if I lose, I'll have to give him twenty-four taels of silver, won't I?"
"Don't worry," said Afanti, "You can't lose."
After an hour or so, the labourer returned and said: "Uncle Afanti, Master Hu had already called the meeting, and the deliberation has begun. Please come."
"I'm busy at the moment," Afanti replied. "Come back in a little while." He sat laughing and chatting with his wife and the others. The labourer was extremely anxious and pleaded with him and finally Afanti got up and accompanied him to the meeting.
Xu and the others went along too to see the fun, and they found seven or eight hundred people gathered in the centre of the village. A fat man wearing an embroidered fur-lined gown sat in the middle, and they decided he must be Master Hu. The crowd had become very restless waiting for Afanti.
"Afanti," called Master Hu. "This labourer says you're going to speak for him. Why are you so late?"
Afanti bowed before him. "I'm sorry, but I had some important business to attend to," he said.
"How could it be more important than settling this dispute?" Master Hu replied.
"It was much more important," said Afanti. "Tomorrow, I am going to plant some wheat, but I had not yet fried the seeds or eaten them. I fried them three times and it took me a long time to finish them up."
"Nonsense!" roared Master Hu. "How can you plant seeds that you have eaten?"
The crowd laughed heartily, but Afanti just stroked his large beard and smiled. After a while, the hubbub died down, and he said: "You say that wheat seeds that have been eaten cannot be planted. Well, how can the chicken that the labourer ate lay any eggs?"
The crowd thought for a second, and then cried out: "Yes, that's right, how can a chicken that's been eaten lay eggs?" Everyone began shouting and laughing and lifted Afanti up onto their shoulders.
Seeing the crowd's reaction, Master Hu had no alternative but to announce: "The labourer should pay one hundred copper pieces to the innkeeper in return for the chicken he ate."
The labourer happily handed over the string of copper coins to the innkeeper. "I wouldn't dare to eat on of your chickens again," he said.
The innkeeper took the money and walked silently away. The crowd of Muslims laughed at him and some small children threw stones at his back.
Master Hu walked up to Afanti. "The saucepan I lent to you gave birth to a son. That's very good. When will it be giving birth again?"
An expression of deep sadness appeared on Afanti's face. "Master Hu," he said. "Your saucepan is dead."
"How can a saucepan die?" Master Hu replied angrily.
"If a saucepan can give birth to a son, of course it can die."
"You charlatan," cried Master Hu. "You just don't want to return my saucepan."
"All right," Afanti shouted back. "We'll let everyone decide."
But Master Hu remembered how he had accepted the small saucepan, and decided he had lost enough face. He waved his hand to indicate he had had enough and walked off through the crowd.
Afanti was extremely pleased with himself for having managed to cheat Master Hu, himself a master at cheating the poor, and he threw back his head and roared with laughter. Suddenly, a voice behind him said: "Well Whiskers, what ridiculousness are you up to now?"
Afanti turned and saw it was the Strange Knight of the Heavenly Pool, Master Yuan. He jumped up happily and grabbed Yuan's arm.
"Aha! So you're here. Come and see my wife," he said.
"What's so special about your wife that you keep showing her off like a monkey would a jewel ..." Before Yuan could finish, Xu and Yu came forward and kowtowed before him.
"Enough, enough, there's no need to kowtow. I'm not your teacher," Yuan protested. "Where is your Master Chen?"
"The Great Helmsman came on ahead of us..." Xu began. Suddenly, he noticed the Twin Eagles of Tianshan, Bald Vulture and Madame Guan, behind Yuan and bowed to them. He was surprised to see Madame Guan was riding Chen's white horse.
"Where did you find that horse?" he asked.
"We found him running free in the desert. It took the three of us quite a while to catch him," she said.
Xu was shocked. "Could the Great Helmsman be in danger? We had better go and find him," he said.
They finished lunch quickly and bade farewell to Zhou Qi. Afanti's wife, was furious that he was leaving again after only a few hours at home, and grabbed his beard, wailing and screaming as she did so. Afanti laughed and tried to comfort her.
"I`ve found a young lady to keep you company," he said. "In fact, there's a baby inside her, which means two people to keep you company, much better than me by myself." But his wife wailed even louder.
Yuanzhi rode the white horse and let it lead the way to back to Chen. Afanti again rode his donkey, but the animal was much too slow. By nightfall, they had gone only ten miles, and everyone was getting anxious.
"We will go on ahead," Xu finally said to Afanti. "We are afraid that our Great Helmsman may be in trouble."
"All right, all rightm" Afanti replied. "When we get to the next village, I'll buy a better donkey. This stupid donkey thinks he's something special, but really he's useless." He urged the animal on and caught up with Yuanzhi.
"Mistress, why are you so unhappy all the time?" he asked.
Despite his apparent silliness, Yuanzhi knew that this strange Muslim was very wise, and she decided to ask his advice.
"Uncle Afanti," she replied. "How would you deal with someone who was unreasonable?"
"I would cover his head with my saucepan and skewer him with a sword."
Yuanzhi shook her head. "That won't do. For instance, what if he was someone very ... dear to you. The nicer you are towards him, the more stubborn he becomes, like your donkey."
Afanti pulled at his beard, fully understanding her meaning. "I ride this donkey every day and I've learned a few tricks about how to deal with his bad temper," he replied with a smile.
They entered a village. As they approached the square at its centre, the white horse suddenly gave a long neigh and galloped forward. Yuanzhi pulled desperatelyon the reins, but could not control him and the villagers scattered in front of the apparently crazed animal as it raced up to a group of people and stopped. Yuanzhi dismounted in front of Luo Bing, Wen, 'Leopard' Wei, Zhang Jin, Xin Yan and white-bearded Lu Feiqing.
Yu ran over to Lu and knelt down before him. "Uncle," he cried, and began to sob.
Lu helped him up, tears also glistening in his eyes. "I started out as soon as I heard the shocking news about your teacher, Master Ma Zhen," he said. "I met Master Wen and the others on the road. They are also after that traitor, Zhang. Don't worry. We will avenge the death of your teacher."
The heroes found somewhere to rest briefly while Afanti went off to buy a donkey, Yuanzhi quietly following him. He found and purchased a strong animal, twice as tall as his tail-less donkey which he sold to the donkey merchant for a small sum.
"The official's cap was the undoing of this stupid donkey," he said, and laughed. He threw the cap on the ground, and trampled it into the dust. Yuanzhi led the new donkey for him as they walked back.
"I once raised a donkey that was appallingly stubborn," Afanti said. "If I wanted him to move, he would stand still. If I wanted him to stand still, he would walk round in circles. One day, I wanted him to pull a cart to a mill a few hundred feet away, but no matter what I said, he wouldn't budge. The more I pushed him, the more determined he was to stay put. I shouted, I hit him, it made no difference. So you can guess what I did?"
"I'm sure you thought of something."
"The mill was to the east, so I pulled the donkey round to face west and then urged him to moved forward. He retreated one step after another all the way to the mill!"
"You wanted to go east, so it insisted on going west," Yuanzhi said thoughtfully. "So you pushed him westwards."
Afanti stuck up his thumb. "That's right. That's the way." Yuanzhi smiled. "Thank you for your advice," she said.
She decided he was right. The more she was nice to Yu, the more he avoided her, so she decided that she would ignore him instead. Luo Bing and Xu were surprised by her sudden change in attitude, but Afanti just stroked his beard and smiled.
With Afanti riding his new donkey, they made much faster progress. The white horse led them to the White Jade Peak, but it was still fearful of the wolves and stopped outside the maze of paths leading to the Secret City, refusing to go any further.
"The wolf pack went in here," said Master Yuan. "We should be able to find our way easily by following the trail of wolf droppings." Their anxiety about Chen's safety increased.
The path twisted back and forth for a long time. Suddenly, they heard footsteps ahead and four men appeared round a corner, the first of whom was Zhang. His face turned pale at the sight of the heroes, and particularly his martial brother Lu Feiqing. Yu gripped hold of his golden flute and was about to charge forward when Master Yuan lightly touched his shoulder, stopping him dead in his tracks.
Master Yuan pointed at Zhang accusingly. "When we met several days ago, I called you a master of the Wudang School. I did not know then that you were capable of even killing your own martial brother. Why not end it cleanly and quickly yourself?"
Zhang calculated that at least five of his opponents were his equal at kung fu or better and that he would gain nothing from a head-on confrontation.
With one swift, smooth movement, he drew his sword, and flung a large handful of Golden Needles at the heroes. As they ducked, he grabbed Hahetai and squeezed a key Yuedao point on his right wrist. "Run!" he shouted.
Hahetai was no longer master of his own movements. He ran with Zhang back along the path towards the Secret City, with Tang and Gu following along behind. By the time the heroes had picked themselves up, the four had disappeared around the bend. Master Yuan and Afanti were furious, and shot after them at high speed. Master Yuan was particularly fast, and in a moment he had caught up with Tang. He grasped him by the neck and lifted his fat body up off the ground. Unable to see his attacker, Tang kicked out backwards with his foot, but a huge force propelled him through the air, smashing his head into the rock face, killing him instantly.
Master Yuan ran on and, rounding the next corner, found himself confronted by three paths leading off the main track.
Xu looked carefully at the ground. "Someone trod in this pile of wolf droppings," he said, pointing. "They must have followed the trail of droppings back."
"Very good. Let's go," Master Yuan replied. They followed the droppings all the way to the base of the White Jade Peak without seeing any sign of Zhang and the other two. But they noticed the cave mouth above them, and Master Yuan and some of the others jumped up the cliff while the rest were hauled one by one by Lu and Wen.
Master Yuan pushed open the massive stone door, and ran on ahead of the others down the tunnel. When they entered the Great Hall, their weapons were snatched away by the magnetic force, giving them all a bad shock. But they had urgent business, and picked up their swords and others weapons without bothering to work out what had happened and ran on to the Jade Room, where they saw the tunnel mouth beside the bed. The further they went into the bowels of the mountain, the more astounded they became. Suddenly, they emerged once more into bright daylight, and saw six people standing around the Jade Pool, three on one side and three on the other. On the far side were Chen, Huo Qingtong and Princess Fragrance, while on the near side were Zhang, Gu and Hahetai.
"Master, master!" Xin Yan called excitedly. "We're here!"
"Child! Are you all right?" Madame Guan shouted to Huo Qingtong.
"Fine!" she called back. She pointed at Gu and added: "Please kill that villain quickly." Bald Vulture drew his sword and sprung at him, while Madame Guan began to fight with Hahetai. The other heroes quietly surrounded Zhang.
Gu and Hehetai fought for their lives, but could not hope to win against the "Three-Part" sword style of the Twin Eagles. In the midst of the clash of swords, Bald Vulture gave a roar and blood appeared on Gu's chest. He followed with a swift kick, and Gu fell backwards into the pool, sending fountains of water spraying out in all directions. A trail of blood rose to the surface.
A moment later, there was another splash as Gu surfaced, and began swimming slowly towards the bank. Hahetai threw down his sword and helped him out of the water. Gu was badly wounded and had taken in a large quantity of water, and after laying him down on the bank, Hahetai massaged his chest.
Zhang watched helplessly as Gu and Hahetai were overcome. Then 'Scholar' Yu lunged at him. Zhang swept his left hand across, and as Yu dodged to avoid the blow, Zhang grabbed him with his right hand and threw him at a nearby stone wall with a roar. Horrified, Yuanzhi jumped forward to grab Yu, but Zhang's strength was too great and the two slammed into the wall. A sharp 'crack' sounded as Yuanzhi's left arm snapped.
The heroes's anger flared once more. Master Yuan went over to Yuanzhi and placed a medicine pill in her mouth to ease her intense pain while the others surrounded Zhang.
"The 'Fire Hand Judge' will die as a hero!" he shouted defiantly. "Well, are you coming altogether or one at a time?"
"I'll fight you first!" Bald Vulture shouted back.
"This traitor has wronged me too deeply," Wen interrupted him. "Let me go first."
"He killed my teacher," Yu shouted. "I may not be as good a fighter as him, but I want to be first. Brother Wen, you can take over when I can't take any more."
"Let us draw lots," Chen suggested.
"Master Chen," Zhang broke in on them. "We agreed in Hangzhou to meet at a later date for a duel. Does that still hold?"
"Yes," Chen replied. "As I remember, we postponed the meeting because your hand was injured. Now is an excellent time to settle the affair."
"Then you and I will compete first and the others will wait their turns, agreed?" Zhang had fought with Chen on several occasions and knew he could beat him. He reckoned that if he could capture him, he might be able to find some way to escape. And if he could not capture him, he would at least have the satisfaction of killing the Red Flower Society's leader.
"If you think you are going to escape with your life today, you are deluding yourself," said Chen. "We spared your life in that dungeon in Hangzhou, and on Lion Peak. Only a few days ago, I saved you once again from the wolves. But the Red Flower Society has run out of benevolence towards you."
"Well, come on then," Zhang replied impatiently. Chen leapt at him, his two fists aimed straight at Zhang's face. Zhang ducked and then jumped up out of the way, and Chen followed with a sweeping kick, timing it to strike Zhang as he fell back to earth. Surprised, Zhang had to thrust his sword at Chen's chest to extricate himself. Chen moved back and as fast as lightning, Zhang struck out again.
Lu Feiqing was shocked by Zhang's speed, even faster than their teacher in his prime. He drew his sword and watched the battle carefully, ready to help Chen if necessary.
To one side, Yu and Luo Bing were looking after Yuanzhi who had fainted from the shock and pain of her broken arm. Yuanzhi opened her eyes and pointed to the east with a gasp of surprise. Yu looked round but could see nothing but the afternoon sun shimmering on the hills about them.
"What's that?" Yuanzhi asked. "Are we back in Hangzhou?"
"It's just the sun," Yu said softly. "Close your eyes and rest."
"No, that's the Thunder Peak Pagoda in Hangzhou," she replied. "I've been there with my father. Where is my father? I want to see him."
Yu lightly patted the back of her hand. "We'll go there together after this, and I'll see your father with you."
A smile appeared on her face. "Who are you?" she asked. Yu saw her staring at him, her face completely devoid of colour and fear struck him.
"I'm your martial brother Yu. I promise I will look after you from now on."
"But in your heart, you don't like me, I know," she cried, tears beginning to course down her cheeks. "Take me back to see my father. I want to die."
On a sudden impulse, Yu embraced her. "I truly love you," he whispered. "You won't die." She sighed. "Tell me you won't die," he repeated. Another wave of pain from her arm struck her and she fainted away.
Meanwhile, Zhang and Chen continued to fight round and round. At first, Chen was able to contain his enemy with the 'Hundred Flowers' kung fu style. But as Zhang gradually came to grips with it, he became more daring and forced Chen onto the defensive. He swept his sword across at Chen forcing Chen to jump away, and with a quick double movement of his sword, struck out at 'Leopard' Wei and Zhang Jin, wounding them both. Wen roared with anger and was about to leap forward when Chen slipped past him and struck out at Zhang's face with his open hands. There appeared to be no force behind the blow, but they struck Zhang's ears with two sharp claps. Surprised and angry, Zhang retreated.
The heroes were perplexed by the effortless way in which Chen had managed to box Zhang's ears.
"Fourteenth Brother," Chen said to Yu. "Play me a tune on your flute."
"What do you want me to play?" he asked, putting the flute to his lips.
Chen hesitated for a moment. "The tune 'Ambush From All Sides'," he replied.
Yu did not understand what he was getting at, but having received an order from the Great Helmsman, he complied immediately and began to play with all the skill he could muster. The tune was a martial piece written originally for the bamboo flute. Played on the golden flute, it sounded even more stentorian, raising the image of armoured troops on the march.
Chen set himself in a pose facing Zhang. "Come on," he invited, then turned and kicked out into the thin air as if dancing. Seeing his back undefended, Zhang thrust his sword at him, and the heroes gasped in fright. But Chen suddenly turned again, grabbed Zhang's queue with his left hand and pulled it over the edge of the sword, slicing it in two. With his right hand, he gave Zhang's shoulder a sharp blow.
Zhang had now been struck three times, and although he had not yet been badly hurt, he was obviously baffled by Chen's kung fu style and had had to suffer the shame of having his queue cut off. But he was a master of self-control and he carefully retreated several steps, staring fixedly at his enemy.
Chen moved forward slowly, his feet following the rhythm of the tune Yu was playing.
"Look!" Huo Qingtong said to her sister excitedly. "It's the kung fu style he learned in the cave."
The two whirled round each other. Zhang kept his sword strictly on the defensive, striking out only when Chen got too close.
"Master Yuan, I have never had so much respect for you as I do today," Bald Vulture said. "Your pupil is doing you proud."
Master Yuan was greatly perplexed: he was probably the best martial arts fighter in the land and yet he had never seen anything remotely like the kung fu style Chen was using. "I didn't teach him this," he replied. "I wouldn't know how to."
Yu played his flute even more furiously. At first, Chen had felt unfamiliar with the new kung fu style, but by now he was using it smoothly, advancing and retreating with great precision until Zhang's clothes were covered in the sweat of fear. The melody hit a high note, then fell like a shooting star exploding, and Zhang gave a cry as Chen touched the Yuedao point on his right wrist, forcing him to drop the sword. Chen followed quickly with two blows to Zhang's back, then jumped away, laughing. Zhang stumbled forward a few steps, as if drunk, and collapsed on the ground. Jubilant, the heroes rushed forward to tied him up. Zhang, his face deathly white, made no attempt to resist.
"Master Yuan, Master Lu," Chen said. "What should we do with this traitor?"
"Feed him to the wolves," Yu interjected. "First he killed my teacher and now he, now he ..." He looked down at Yuanzhi's broken arm.
"Good idea! We'll take him to feed the wolves," said Yuan. "We have to go and see how the pack is doing anyway."
Lu carefully set Yuanzhi's broken arm and bound it tightly with cloth. Master Yuan slipped a Snow Ginseng pill into her mouth and felt her pulse.
"Don't worry," he said to Yu. "She won't die."
"Put your arms round her, and she'll get better much quicker," Luo Bing whispered to him with a smile.
Huo Qingtong, meanwhile, was examining her map again, looking for a path from the Jade Pool out to the Secret City, when she heard shouts and turned to see Gu running crazily towards her screaming: "Kill me! Kill me!" Shocked and angry, she raised her sword and ran it through his chest. As she pulled the blade out again, a stream of blood spattered her yellow robe and Gu collapsed on the ground. Hahetai knelt over him and tried to stop the blood flow, but it was impossible. Gu gasped in pain.
"Do you have any affairs that need settling, Brother?" Hahetai asked him.
"I just want to touch her hand, then I can die happy," Gu whispered, looking up at Huo Qingtong.
"Mistress!" Hahetai pleaded. "He's about to die. Take pity...." Huo Qingtong turned without a word, and walked away, her face deathly pale. Gu gave a long sigh, and his head fell to one side, dead.
Holding back his tears, Hahetai jumped up and pointed his finger accusingly at Huo Qingtong.
"You're merciless!" he shouted. "I don't blame you for killing him, but you could at least have given him your hand to touch, so that he could die peacefully. What difference would it have made to you?"
"Nonsense! Shut your mouth!" Zhang Jin said angrily.
Hahetai made no reply. He picked up Gu's body and strode away. Yu led over a horse for him.
"Brother Hahetai," he said. "I respect you for being an upright man. Please take this horse."
Hahetai nodded and slung Gu's body over the horse's back. Yu filled a bowl with water and drank half of it, then presented it to the Mongol.
"This water can take the place of wine," he said. Hahetai threw back his head and drained the bowl at one draught, then rode away without looking back.
The heroes started out for the wolf stockade in high spirits, singing and laughing as they went. Master Yuan questioned Chen about the origin of the strange kung fu style he had used, and Chen gave him a detailed account of his discovery.
"What an extraordinary coincidence," Yuan said in delight. "One could never make such a find by purposely looking for it."
After several days travel, they arrived at the stockade and climbed up on to the parapet to look inside. The wolf pack had long since eaten the herd of animals and were now fighting over the carcases of their dead comrades, barking and snapping at each other. The scene was cruelly tragic and even the hardened heroes were shocked. Princess Fragrance could not bear the sight, and went back down to talk with the Muslim guards.
Yu pulled Zhang to the edge of the wall, and began to mumble a prayer: "Oh, spirit of my benevolent teacher, we have today avenged your death." He reached over and took the knife Xu was holding, cut the rope binding Zhang's hands and feet and kicked him off the edge.
Zhang had been seriously injured by Chen's last two blows, but his Inner Strength Kung Fu was profound, and he had basically recovered by the time they reached the stockade. As he fell towards the floor of the stockade, he knew he had no chance of survival, but he still had to fight one last time. The wolves threw themselves at him just before he hit the ground. He grabbed two of the beasts by their necks and whirled them round and round, forcing the others to back off and slowly made his way to the stockade wall.
They knew he would die. Despite their hatred for him, Chen, Luo Bing and the others with weaker stomachs could not bear to watch to the end and walked back down from the parapet.
** 5 **
That evening, after they had set up camp, Chen told Master Yuan about his meetings with the Emperor Qian Long. Yuan was amazed by the twists and turns in the story, and when it was finished, he pulled a small, yellow cloth bundle from his bag.
"Last spring," he said, handing the bag to Chen, "your foster father, Great Helmsman Yu, sent the Twin Knights to see me and asked me to look after this, saying there were two important items inside. They didn't say what they were and I haven't opened the bag to see, but I imagine they must be the evidence the Emperor wants."
Chen opened the bag and and found a small parcel tightly wrapped in three layers of water-proof oil paper. Inside was a tiny box made of redwood. He opened the lid, revealing two plain envelopes yellowed with age. Inside the first envelope was a sheet of paper on which was written: "Master Chen, send someone over with your newborn son for me to see. Yong Di."
Master Yuan read it, but could not grasp it's significance. "What does it mean?" he asked. "Why would your foster father have considered this note to be so important?"
"It's written by the Emperor Yong Zheng," Chen replied.
"How do you know?"
"There were many examples of the Emperor's calligraphy around our home when I was young, so I recognise it easily. But this note was obviously written before he became Emperor. Yong Di was the name he used before he ascended the throne. Also, after he became Emperor, he would not have referred to my father as 'Master'." Yuan nodded.
Chen counted off the months and years on his fingers. "I was born after Yong Zheng became Emperor, and so was my brother. My sister was born at about that time, but this letter says: 'Your newborn son'. This is excellent evidence!"
He opened the second envelope and took out a letter. As soon as he saw the writing, tears sprang to his eyes.
"What is it?" Yuan asked.
"This is my mother's writing," he replied. He wiped away his tears and began to read the letter:
"Dear Brother Yu, our fate has run its course. What more is there to say of my ill-fated life? All I am concerned about now is the troubles I have brought upon you. You are a brave and upright man, but because of me, you have been rejected even by your own martial school. Of my three sons, one is in the depths of the Imperial Palace, one has gone off into the desert, and the one who is left to keep me company is both stupid and wicked. It makes me very sad. My youngest son is very intelligent and has been put under the care of an excellent teacher. I love and miss him, but I am not worried about him.
"My eldest son is playing the role of Manchu Emperor and knows nothing of his origins. Brother Yu, can you enlighten him for me? To prove it, tell him he has a bright red birthmark on his left buttock, and he will have to believe you.
"My strength is gradually failing. Day and night, all I think and dream of is the times we had together when we were young. If Heaven has pity on us, we will meet after death and spend the rest of eternity together as man and wife. (signed) Sister Chaosheng."
Chen was deeply shocked as he read the letter.
"Teacher," he said, his voice quavering. "Is the ... the 'Brother Yu' in the letter my foster father?"
"Who else?" Master Yuan replied sombrely. "He and your mother fell in love when they were young, but things did not go as they wished, and they were separated. As a result, he never married."
"Why did my mother want me to go and live with him and treat him as my real father? Could it be....?"
"I was Master Yu's closest friend, but I only know that he broke the regulations of the Shaolin School and was expelled. He would never raise such a humiliating matter himself and it was difficult for others to ask him about it. But he was a good man, and I'm certain he would not have done anything to be ashamed of." He slapped his thigh. "When he was expelled, I felt sure he had been falsely accused and I got together some fighters with the idea of going to Shaolin monastery and demanding an explanation. It nearly created a serious split in the fighting community. But your foster father disagreed strenuously, insisting that the expulsion was his own fault and all he deserved. In the end, I did nothing. But I still don't believe he would have done anything shameful. I don't know what it could have been." His lingering anger was still apparent. "After he was expelled from the Shaolin school, he went and lived as a hermit for several years. Later he founded the Red Flower Society."
"But why did my foster father and my mother want me to leave home? Do you know?"
"What face did I have left when he stopped me from forcing the Shaolin School to explain?" Yuan replied angrily. "I refused to have anything to do with him after that. He sent you to me, and I taught you the martial arts, so I don't owe him anything."
Chen knew there was no point in questioning him further. But the key to restoring the throne to the Chinese race lay with his elder brother's origins. Even the slightest error, and all their efforts could be rendered useless. So he decided to first go to the Shaolin Monastery. He told Yuan of his plan.
"Good idea," the old man replied. "But the monks there are a strange lot. I'm afraid they won't tell you anything."
"We'll see," said Chen.
Yuan looked at his pupil thoughtfully. "Both of those Muslim girls are very nice. Which one do you want?" he asked.
"The famous Han dynasty general Huo Qubing said: 'How can I think of marriage until the barbarians are defeated?' I feel the same way," Chen replied.
Yuan nodded. "That's very commendable. I will speak to the Twin Eagles so they won't accuse me again of being a bad teacher."
"Have they said something about me?"
"They accused you of fickleness, of shoving aside one sister for the other."
Chen remembered how he and Princess Fragrance had met the Twin Eagles in the desert, and how they had departed without saying farewell, leaving their message in the sand. With a shock, he realised what they had meant.
The next day, Chen informed the heroes of his decision to go to the Shaolin Monastery in Fujian Province and bade farewell to Master Yuan, the Twin Eagles, Huo Qingtong and her sister.
Princess Fragrance wanted to go with him, and Chen felt very bad about leaving her behind. He had no idea of when they would meet again, but with Heaven's help, the great task of driving the Manchus out of China would one day succeed and they would be re-united. If it did not succeed, he and his brothers would probably die and be buried far from the Muslim areas.
"You stay with your sister," Chen said, hardening his heart.
"You must come back!" Princess Fragrance cried, tears coursing down her face. He nodded. "If it takes ten years for you to come back, I'll wait ten years. If it takes a lifetime, I'll wait a lifetime."
Chen wanted to give her something. He felt around in his bag and his hand touched on something warm: the piece of Warm Jade the Emperor had given him in Haining. He took it out and placed it in her hand.
"When you look at this jade, pretend you are looking at me," he said softly.
"But I must see you," she replied tearfully.
"What's all this crying about?" he said. "When the Great Task is completed, I will take you to see the Great Wall outside Beijing. I promise."
Princess Fragrance stared at him for a moment, then the trace of a smile appeared on her face. "You're not allowed to say anything you don't mean," she said.
"When have I lied to you?"
Only then did she agree to stay behind.
They started out. As they rode away, Chen found himself constantly looking back at the two sisters as they faded and gradually disappeared on the horizon of the desert.
The heroes travelled slowly due to Yuanzhi's injuries. With his master's death avenged, Yu was in high spirits and looked after the girl with loving care and attention.
After several days, they arrived back at Afanti's home. Zhou Qi was delighted to hear Zhang was dead. Chen wanted Xu to stay with her in the Muslim areas until the child was born and she had recovered, but Zhou Qi would have none of it. Apart from the boredom, she did not want to miss a chance to travel to the Shaolin Monastery, where her father was staying. The heroes finally agreed, and Xu rented a carriage for his wife and Yuanzhi to ride in.
By the time they re-entered the Jade Gate to central China, the weather was growing warmer and the beginnings of spring were apparent.