Smiling Proud Wanderer

 
 

Smiling Proud Wanderer Volume 2 Chapter 13


Chapter Thirteen: Learning Music


The night was quiet now. The only noise came from the heavy breathings of the many Huashan apprentices.

“Hero Linghu, aren’t you going to release my sealed pressure points, or are you waiting for us to beg you?” Yue Buqun suddenly broke the silence in a chilling tone.

Linghu Chong was stunned. “Master, why…why are you kidding me like that? I…I’ll help release your pressure points right away.” His voice trembled.

Getting back onto his feet after some hard struggles, he staggered by Yue Buqun.

“Ma…Master, which pressure points?” he asked.

Yue Buqun was furious. He remembered how Linghu Chong had put on the act of stabbing himself on Mount Huashan, not wanting to kill Tian Boguang. Then, of course, it was just the same kind of act Linghu Chong was playing right now. This way, he could let the fifteen masked men escape by intentionally not releasing his Master’s sealed pressure points for a delay, afraid that his Master would chase after those masked villains. At that thought, he yelled angrily, “Save your breath!”

He continued working on gathering his inner energy using the Divine Art of the Violet Twilight in an effort to break open the sealed points. Ever since the enemy had sealed his pressure points, he had been trying to break them open using his strong inner energy. But the one who had sealed his points did it with a tremendous amount of force, and in addition, among the sealed points were Yu-Zhen, Tan-Zhong, Ju-Zhui, Jian-Zhen, and Zhi-Tang those major pressure points. When he sent his inner energy flowing through his inner channels and passages, the flow was somewhat blocked in those major points, which greatly reduced the power of the Divine Art of Violet Twilight and made it very hard to break them open.

Linghu Chong wanted to help his Master in releasing the sealed pressure points, but he simply didn’t have any strength left in him. Again and again, he struggled to raise his arm, but every time the effort only made him feel sick while seeing golden flickers circling in front of his eyes and hearing loud buzzing sound in his ear. So all he could do was to lie next to Yue Buqun and wait for his Master to release his pressure points with his own efforts.

Madam Yue also lay on the ground facing down. Earlier in the state of fury, she had accidentally misdirected her inner energy. As a result, not only couldn’t she gather her strength at all, she couldn’t even lift her hand up to cover the wounds on her legs.

It was already daybreak by now, and the rain had finally stopped. People’s faces became clearer and clearer in the dim light of dawn. A white and thick mist appeared on Yue Buqun’s head as he worked hard on breaking his sealed pressure points open. His face almost turned completely purple. Suddenly, he uttered a loud roar as his inner energy finally broke through all his sealed pressure points and begun circulation around his body. Leaping back onto his feet, he circled around all of the Huashan apprentices, patting and smacking on some of them while poking or pinching some others. Within moments, he had opened all the sealed pressure points for everyone. Then sitting by Madam Yue, he started sending his inner energy into Madam Yue through her pressure points to help her redirect her own energy flow. Meanwhile, Yue Lingshan rushed forward hurriedly and started tending the wounds on her mother’s legs.

Thinking back about how narrowly everyone had escaped death the night before, all the apprentices shivered in their hearts, feeling as if they were given a new life. And the heartbreaking scene of the beheaded Liang Fa’s corpse only brought down more tears from the many Huashan apprentices. Several female apprentices burst into loud cries. The same thought floated in everyone’s mind, “Fortunately big apprentice brother defeated the bunch of villains, or else it would be dreadful to even contemplate.”

Seeing that Linghu Chong was still lying in a puddle of mud, Gao Gengming strode by him and prodded him up.

“Chong, where are those fifteen masked men from?” Yue Buqun asked dryly.

“I…I don’t know, Master,” Linghu Chong muttered.

“You do know them, right? Are they your friends?” Yue Buqun asked again.

“I’ve never met any one of them before last night,” Linghu Chong gasped in astonishment.

“If so, when I told you to keep them here, so we could interrogate them later, why did you ignore my order?”

“I…I…was too exhausted and couldn’t gather any strength. Even now…now….” His body wobbled. It looked as if just to remain standing up was already a tough task for him.

“What a fine act!” Yue Buqun snorted.

Sweat streamed down from Linghu Chong’s forehead. He bent his knees and knelt down on the ground.

“I was an orphan when I was young, and thanks to the immense kindness of Master and Master-Wife, you took me under your wings and treated me like your own son. I am indeed an unworthy apprentice, but I would never dare disobey my Master’s orders or deceive Master and Master-Wife intentionally.”

“You dare not to deceive me and your Master-Wife? Humph, then where did you learn those sword arts of yours? Don’t tell me that a spirit just fell out of the sky and taught you those in your dreams.” Yue Buqun scoffed.

“I beg for your forgiveness, Master. The senior master who taught me the sword arts specifically asked me to promise that I would keep his name a secret and never tell anyone about the origin of the sword arts, not even my Master and Master-Wife.” Linghu Chong explained hurriedly, bumping his head to the floor again and again toward his Master.

“That’s of course.” Yue Buqun sneered. “With such superb Kung Fu, it’s only natural that you think nothing of your Master and Master-Wife. How would the little bit of Kung Fu from our Huashan Sword School ever stand a chance against a blow from your super sword? Didn’t that old man in mask mention it? You should have been the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School all along.”

Daring not to reply, Linghu Chong kept kowtowing as many thoughts flashed inside his head. “If I don’t tell them how Grand Uncle-Master Feng taught me the sword arts, Master and Master-Wife would certainly not forgive me. But a true man must keep his own words. Even Tian Boguang, an evil rapist, didn’t let out anything about Grand Uncle-Master Feng when the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies performed the much torturing and torments on him. I owe Grand Uncle-Master a great debt of gratitude; I will not let him down. My loyalty towards Master and Master-Wife is true, and Heaven can be my witness. Being wronged like this temporarily is really no big deal.”

“Master, Master-Wife,” Linghu Chong said, “it’s not that I am so bold as to disobey Master’s orders. There are really some unspeakable causes here. Please allow me to beg that senior master and ask for his permission, so I can tell Master and Master-Wife everything in a later date. By then, I would not dare to keep any detail to myself.”

“Fine! You can get up now,” Yue Buqun replied.

Linghu Chong kowtowed to his Master again before standing up. Suddenly, both of his knees gave out on him and he fell back to the kneeling position. Lin Pingzhi happened to be standing next to Linghu Chong. Reaching his arm out, he propped Linghu Chong up.

“Your sword skills are excellent, and your acting skills are even better,” Yue Buqun said with a sneer.

Afraid to say another word, Linghu Chong kept his silence. “I can never say enough about my gratitude to Master,” he thought aloud. “Even though he wronged me this time, one day, the truth will eventually come to light. This whole thing is so very odd. I really can’t blame the respectful Master for feeling suspicious.” Though he had been wronged, he really had no resentments.

Madam Yue’s voice rose in a warm tone, “If it weren’t for Chong’s ingenious sword arts, not only would the entire Huashan Sword School be wiped out, perhaps all the female apprentices would have suffered tremendous humiliation. Regardless of who that senior master is, because he taught Chong the sword arts, we have benefited from his grace a great deal. And regarding the origin of those fifteen villains, I am sure we’ll find that out one day. How could they have been Chong’s friends? Weren’t they going to slice Chong into shreds? Didn’t Chong blind all of them with his stabs?”

His head held high, Yue Buqun seemed to have fallen into a daze and didn’t hear a single word from Madam Yue.

The many apprentices soon found themselves busy with different things. Some started a fire and worked on preparing breakfast; some dug a grave and buried Liang Fa. After breakfast, everyone changed into dry clothes from their packs. All the apprentices stared at Yue Buqun and waited for his command. “Are we still going to Mount Songshan to have it out with Chief Zuo?” they all thought. “Since Feng Buping has lost to big apprentice brother in the sword contest, he would be too embarrassed to fight for the Huashan Sword School Head Master post again.”

“Junior apprentice sister, where do you think we should go?” Yue Buqun asked Madam Yue.

“There’s no need to go to Mount Songshan now. But since we are already far from Mount Huashan, there’s no need to go back in any hurry, either,” Madam Yue remarked. She was so afraid of the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies and dared not to go right back so soon.

“In any case, since we have some time now, I think it’s a good idea to travel around a bit and see the world. It would generate good experience for all the apprentices,” Yue Buqun replied.

Yue Lingshan was overjoyed. “Wonderful, Daddy….” She clapped her hands. But she suddenly remembered that it would be very inappropriate to look so happy when her senior apprentice brother Liang Fa had just been killed. She halted abruptly only after one clap.

“Look how excited you get every time when I mention the word travel. Alright, we‘ll let you have the fun. Lingshan, where would you like to go visit?” Yue Buqun asked with a smile, looking toward Lin Pingzhi as he spoke.

“Daddy, if we are going to have fun, we might as well have some big fun. I say the further we go the better. It would be really disappointing if we head back after only a hundred miles out or so. Why don’t we go visit Little Lin’s hometown? Second apprentice brother and I have been to Fuzhou before, but too bad that I had to disguise myself into an ugly girl and didn’t get to walk around much. I didn’t see jack! The longan fruits in Fujian are so big and yummy. And there’re also oranges, banyan trees, and narcissus flowers….”

Madam Yue shook her head. “Fujian Province is thousands of miles away from here. We don’t have that kind of money to travel! Unless Huashan School turns into the Beggars Clan, and we just all beg our way through.”

“Master, Master-Wife, we are only a couple of days trip away from Henan Province. My grandparents live in Luoyang,” Lin Pingzhi said.

“Oh, that’s right. Your grandfather Wang Yuanba, the Unbeatable Golden Blade, lives in Luoyang,” Madam Yue responded.

“Both of my parents have passed away. I would love to visit my grandpa and grandma so they could get the details on my parents’ death. I am certain that my grandpa and grandma would be honored to have Master, Master-Wife, and apprentice brothers and sisters as their guests, and spend some time there. Then after that, we can take our time on our tour and visit my hometown in Fujian. I was able to seize a good amount of gold and jewels back from the Qingcheng Sword School at the Changsha branch of the Escort House, so please don’t worry…about the traveling expenses,” Lin Pingzhi replied.

Ever since Madam Yue stabbed the Fruit Fairy, she had been in a constant state of worry. It was all still so clear in her memory how four of the Fairies had grabbed her arms and legs and lifted her off ground. Every time she thought of it, she would freeze with terror. And then the horrifying scene of Chen Buyou’s death, with blood and internal organs splashing everywhere as he was tore into four pieces, would follow, driving her crazy with fear. Horrifying nightmares had been haunting her for many nights. She knew clearly that they were really fleeing from a calamity under the name of going to Mount Songshan to reason with the Songshan Sword School. Seeing that Lin Pingzhi had invited everyone to visit Fujian after her husband gave him a glance, she figured that the further they could flee the better. Besides, her husband and herself had never visited the south part of the country before, so it didn’t sound like a bad idea to check it out at all. With these thoughts in her mind, she spoke with a smile.

“Senior apprentice brother, Little Lin is offering free food and lodging. Care to take advantage of him?”

“Pingzhi’s grandfather, Unbeatable Golden Blade, enjoys great fame in the central region. I’ve been looking forward to meeting him someday, but unfortunately never had the chance. Putian in Fujian Province is where the Southern Shaolin Temple resides. It couldn’t have lacked reputable masters. Let’s pay a visit to Luoyang and Fujian Province. It would certainly be a worthwhile trip if we are lucky to make some friends along the trip.” Yue Buqun smiled.

Hearing that the Master had agreed to go on a trip to Fujian for fun, the many apprentices were all jubilant. Gazing at each other, Lin Pingzhi and Yue Lingshan found themselves wild with joy.

Linghu Chong was the only one in low spirit.

“Of all the places, why did Master and Master-Wife pick Luoyang to visit apprentice brother Lin’s grandpa and Fujian, which is thousands of miles away?” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but think. “It is self-evident that they have decided to betroth little apprentice sister to apprentice brother Lin. They are going to Luoyang to visit the seniors of his family for an engagement, and when we get to Fujian, they’d probably hold the wedding ceremony right at Lin Family’s house. I am only an orphan who has no parents, nor relatives, while his family owned Fortune Prestige Escort House, which has so many branches in so many cities. How can I be any match for him? Apprentice brother Lin is going to Luoyang to visit his grandpa and grandma. When I follow him there, what would I have become?”

He felt even more displeased seeing how the apprentice brothers and sisters all bursting with joy with no regard to the tragic death of Liang Fa.

“Maybe I should just leave quietly in the dark tonight after we settle in an inn,” he thought aloud. “How can I just follow everyone else to enjoy apprentice brother Lin’s free meals and spend his money, and then put on an air of cheerfulness to congratulate little apprentice sister and him, wishing them to live happily ever after?”

The group of Huashan School hit the road again as Linghu Chong followed behind. Weak and exhausted, he walked slower and slower, and soon, he fell far behind everyone else. By noon, he decided to sit down on a big rock alongside the road to catch his breath, when he saw Lao Denuo stride back in big steps.

“Big apprentice brother! How do you feel? You must be tired. I’ll wait for you,” Lao Denuo said.

“Oh, thanks!” Linghu Chong replied.

“Master-Wife has hired a wagon for you in the town ahead. It should be coming anytime now,” Lao Denuo mentioned.

Warmth swelled in Linghu Chong’s heart. “Although Master is suspicious of me, Master-Wife is still treating me dearly,” he thought to himself.

Not long after, a mule-pulled wagon showed up. Linghu Chong entered the wagon and Lao Denuo accompanied him by his side. That night, when they settled in an inn, Lao Denuo shared the same room with him. And in the following two days, Lao Denuo never even went out of his sight. Linghu Chong was quite grateful that a fellow apprentice brother was so kind to care for a wounded patient.

“When junior apprentice brother Lao joined our Huashan School, he had already received prior martial arts training. He is much older than I am, and wouldn’t even spare much word with me during normal days. Who would have thought that he would treat me with so much caring after what happened to me. All the other apprentice brothers don’t even dare to talk with me much, after seeing the stern face Master has shown me. The old saying is so true: As distance will test a horse’s endurance, so will time reveal a person’s heart.”

At the third night, as Linghu Chong was resting in bed with his eyes shut, some kind of whisper suddenly caught his attention. It was little apprentice brother Shu Qi whispering at the door.

“Second apprentice brother, Master sent me to check with you if big apprentice brother has done anything unusual today.”

“Hush! Outside!” Lao Denuo hushed hurriedly and whispered back.

A cold shiver ran through Linghu Chong’s heart. Just from these few words he had realized what a tremendous suspicion Master actually had toward him. Master only sent Lao Denuo to secretly keep a watch on his every move.

Shu Qi walked away on tiptoes, and Lao Denuo walked by the bed slowly to check if Linghu Chong had really fallen asleep.

Infuriated, Linghu Chong almost wanted to leap onto his feet right away and yell at him, but then he had a second thought.

“Why should I blame him? He really has nothing to do with this. He is only following Master’s order. Would he have dared to defy the Master?” So he forced back his anger and pretended to have fallen asleep.

Lao Denuo walked out of the room gingerly. Linghu Chong knew that he must have gone to the Master for a report. He couldn’t help but sneer inwardly, “Humph, I never did anything guilty. Even if you have ten or one hundred people watching every step of mine, days and nights, I am open and aboveboard. What’s there for me to be afraid of?”

Indignation filled his heart as he breathed wildly, and suddenly, it triggered a slight inner energy flow inside him. Waves of energy streams swirled inside him and made him feel miserable. He held onto the headrest tightly and gasped loudly. Only after a long while, the nausea finally went away. He sat up, threw on some clothing, and started to put on his shoes, thinking, “Since Master is no longer treating me like an apprentice of his, and instead, is on guard against me as if I am a thief, why should I even bother to stay in the Huashan Sword School? Maybe it would be better if I simply leave and not worry about whether Master would ever understand me one day.”

Right at that moment, he heard more whispers from under the window on the outside.

“Stay down and don’t move,” a voice said.

“Sounds like big apprentice brother is getting off his bed,” another voice replied.

The two said those words in whisper, but because it was a silent night, besides that Linghu Chong had excellent hearing abilities, he was actually able to hear every single word clearly and also recognize that the voices belonged to two young apprentice brothers of his. Apparently they were hiding in the courtyard to guard the room in case Linghu Chong would flee.

Linghu Chong clenched his fists hard. Cracks from his knuckles echoed in the silent night. “If I leave now, they would think that my guilty conscience has overcome me, and I am running away. Fine! Fine! I’d rather stay! You can do whatever you want to me! What do I care?” he thought aloud.

“Waiter, waiter! Bring me some wine!” he suddenly broke into a loud yell.

After quite some shouting, the waiter finally answered and brought him some wine. One cup after another, Linghu Chong slammed the wine down his throat. Soon he became dead drunk and passed out. The next morning when Lao Denuo prodded him into the wagon, half drunk and half awake, he just kept yelling, “Bring me more wine, I want more wine!”

Several days later, the Huashan group arrived at the city of Luoyang and settled in a big inn. Lin Pingzhi went to his grandfather’s house by himself, first. Yue Buqun and the bunch of apprentices all changed into clean clothing. Linghu Chong never took off the mud stained long robe he wore in the fierce fight outside of the monastery, so he was still covered with filth and looked very drunk. Yue Lingshan came to him with a long robe in her hands.

“Big apprentice brother, will you change into this robe please?”

“This is Master’s robe. Why do you want me to put it on?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Little Lin is inviting us to his family a bit later. Why don’t you put Dad’s robe on?” Yue Lingshan answered.

“Who said we have to put on nice clothing before visiting his family?” Linghu Chong snubbed as he looked at Yue Lingshan up and down.

Yue Lingshan wore a thin cotton-padded jacket with green silk tops paired with a light green satin skirt. She had put on a thin layer of makeup on her face. Her dark hair was neatly combed and shined beautifully with a flower shaped pearl hairpin by the side. Linghu Chong remembered that she would only dress up nicely during the Chinese New Year. Feeling bitter in his heart, he wanted to spill out some more mocking words, but then he thought that a true man shouldn’t act so narrow-mindedly, and held his tongue.

Yue Lingshan felt somewhat embarrassed from Linghu Chong’s sharp stare. “If you don’t want to, then you don’t have to change,” she said.

“I am not used to wearing new clothes. I’d better not change then,” Linghu Chong replied.

Not wanting to argue with him, Yue Lingshan left with the robe still in her hands.

A resonant voice rose from outside the door, “Head Master Yue has come such a long way here, and I didn’t greet promptly. What a lack of manners!”

Yue Buqun knew that it must have been the Unbeatable Golden Blade – Wang Yuanba – who had come to the inn personally to greet them. Casting a pleased smile toward his wife, he felt quite contented. After the couple greeted out, what they saw was an old man in his seventies. His face shined in a healthy redness while the bush of grey beard drifted in the breeze. He looked certainly hale and hearty. In his left palm were two goose-egg-sized golden balls, which rubbed against each other and echoed as he rolled them in his hand. It was common for martial people to play with iron balls in their hands, but they would have been made out of iron or steel. What Wang Yuanba had in his hands were two balls made from pure gold, which not only were twice the weight of regular iron balls, but also looked much more luxurious. As soon as he spotted Yue Buqun, he burst into joy.

“What an honor this is! Head Master Yue has such a great reputation in the Martial World. I have been longing to meet you for the last twenty years. Now that you have come to Luo Yang, what a wonderful event it is for the martial arts society in the central region.”

He shook Yue Buqun’s right hand again and again happily. The joy on his face was truly sincere.

“My wife and I have decided to bring our apprentices to travel around so they could gain some experience in the world,” Yue Buqun said with a smile. “And you, the Unbeatable Golden Blade Grandmaster Wang, the Great Master of the Central Region, is the first on our list to visit, but the dozens of us are really being crude to just show up so abruptly uninvited.”

“Alright now, nobody is allowed to mention the words ‘Unbeatable Golden Blade’ again in front of Head Master Yue. Anyone mentioning those words would be only putting me done instead of flattering me. Mr. Yue, your saving of my grandson is a favor tantamount to giving him a new lease on life. Starting from now on, the House of Golden Blade and the Sword School of Huashan are both parts of one big family. Come, come! All of you will move to my house. No one will be allowed to leave until you have lived in my house for at least half a year. Head Master Yue, I’ll even help you carry your luggage.”

“That’s very kind of you! I certainly don’t deserve that!” Yue Buqun replied in a hurry.

“Bofen, Zhongqiang, kowtow to Uncle-Master Yue and Uncle-Master-Wife Yue,” Wang Yuanba turned his head and called to his two sons standing behind him.

Wang Bofen and Wang Zhongqiang both acknowledged and knelt down to salute. In a hurry, the Yue Buqun couple also knelt down to salute back.

“Please just call us by our names. ‘Uncle-Master’ would be so inappropriate. Even just for Pingzhi’s sake, we are of the same generation,” Yue Buqun remarked.

Wang Bofen and Wang Zhongqiang are both famous masters around the Henan Province and Hubei Province. Though they had always admired Yue Buqun, neither of them really wanted to kowtow to him. They had knelt down reluctantly only because their father had told them to do so, so both were very pleased to see that the Yue Buqun couple also kowtowed back to them. All four of them stood up after saluting each other.

Yue Buqun took a good look at the two: both brothers were tall, only that Wang Zhongqiang was a lot chubbier in comparison, and both had temples plumped high and strong veins and bones that could be clearly seen on their hands. Evidently, the two brothers had great strength both internally and externally.

“All of you come forward and show your respect to Grandmaster Wang and the two Uncle-Masters,” Yue Buqun called out to the Huashan apprentices. “The House of Golden Blade’s martial arts skills enjoyed a great reputation in the central region of the martial society. Our Grandmaster in the last generation also respected the House of Golden Blade very much. You are very fortunate to have Grandmaster Wang and the two Uncle-Masters give you some pointers. I am sure you will all benefit a great deal from this.”

“Yes, Master!” the many apprentices replied in unison, and seconds later, the lobby of the inn was filled with apprentices kneeling down on the floor, showing their respects.

“You really flatter me!” Wang Yuanba smiled brightly as Wang Bofen and Wang Zhongqiang both cupped their hands and greeted back with a half salute.

Lin Pingzhi stood by the side and introduced each of the Huashan apprentices to his grandpa. The Wang Family was a wealthy family. Wang Yuanba had prepared presents for each of the guests ahead of time. Each gift consisted of forty taels of silver. The two brothers in the Wang Family took on the job of distributing the presents. By the time Lin Pingzhi introduced Yue Lingshan, Wang Yuanba said to Yue Buqun with a big grin.

“Little brother Yue, your daughter is such a beautiful girl; is she engaged to anyone yet?”

“The girl is still too young. Besides, in a martial family like ours, a girl plays with swords and knives all day long just like any boy would. She doesn’t know anything about embroidering or cooking. Who would want such a wild girl to be their daughter-in-law?” Yue Buqun also grinned.

“You are really being modest!” Wang Yuanba replied with a beam. “An extraordinary family would, of course, raise an extraordinary daughter. It is only natural that lads from ordinary families would not have dared to claim kinship with her. But you are right, it would be better if the girl learned some girly things.” At that word, he lowered his voice and seemed to have lost in deep feelings.

Yue Buqun knew that he must have thought of his daughter who had passed away in Hunan Province not long ago, so he put on a solemn face and responded, “Yes.”

Wang Yuanba was a man of frank and open personality. He quickly put himself together from the pain of losing a daughter and spoke again with a bright smile.

“Your daughter is talented and beautiful. It would certainly be a difficult task to find a young hero good enough to pair up with her.”

By then, Lao Denuo had gone back in the inn room and prodded Linghu Chong out. Staggering along, Linghu Chong kowtowed to neither Wang Yuanba nor the Wang brothers, and only bowed down deeply.

“Linghu Chong here shows his respect to Grandmaster Wang and the two Uncle-Masters,” he said.

“Aren’t you going to kowtow?” Yue Buqun frowned.

Wang Yuanba had heard from his grandson earlier that Linghu Chong had severe internal wounds, so he said with a smile, “Nephew Linghu is not feeling well. There’s no need for excessive manners. Little brother Yue, your Huashan School’s inner energy skill is said to be the best in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, then I am sure your wine tolerance must be extraordinary. Come on! Let’s go drink ten bowls of wine each.”

Holding Yue Buqun’s hand in his own, he led Yue Buqun out of the inn. Madam Yue, Wang Bofen, Wang Zhongqiang, and the rest of the Huashan apprentices all followed behind them. Many wagons and horses had been lined up outside of the inn with fine-looking saddles and bridle; wagons for all the females and horses for the males, ready to take the honorable guests. It was a mere two hours between the time Lin Pingzhi headed out to inform the Wang Family and the time Wang Yuanba came to the inn to greet his guests. Only from the fact that all the wagons and horses had been ready in such a short time, one can easily tell the kind of great power the Golden Blade Wang Family enjoyed in the city of Luoyang.

The group soon arrived at the mansion of the Wang Family. The building looked tall and majestic with a gate painted in vermilion. The two huge copper rings attached to the gate must have been cleaned frequently as they dazzled brilliantly in the sunlight. Eight brawny guards stood by the gate silently, their arms behind their back, all ready to take commands from their Master. And inside the gate, a huge black board hung from the girder with the words “Help for a Just Cause” painted in gold. The words at the lower portion of the board showed that a governor of Henan Province had inscribed the calligraphy.

That night, Wang Yuanba put out a large banquet to welcome Yue Buqun and the rest of the Huashan apprentices. Not only did he invite many famous masters in the local martial arts society to welcome the noble visitors, among the guests were also numerous wealthy business owners and local celebrities. Linghu Chong was the Head Apprentice of the Huashan Sword School, so other than his Master Yue Buqun, he had the most seniority among all the male visitors. Noticing the filthy and tattered clothing he was wearing and the listless face of his, all the guests found themselves puzzled inside. But it was common knowledge that the Martial World did not lack people of strange and unique behaviors. Didn’t elite masters from the Beggars Clan all wear ragged clothing? Since he was the Head Apprentice of the Huashan Sword School, he couldn’t have been ordinary; therefore no one had any belittling thought about Linghu Chong.

Linghu Chong was seated at the second table, accompanied by one of the hosts, Wang Bofen. Soon, the wine had gone around three times. Wang Bofen couldn’t help but notice that Linghu Chong had maintained an indifferent face throughout the time, and would only reply once a while to his attempt to make conversations – apparently Linghu Chong didn’t really think much of him at all. Then he remembered that earlier in the inn, Linghu Chong didn’t even kowtow to them, yet had no problem accepting the present of forty taels of silver. Feeling very displeased, he decided to change the topic to something in regards to martial arts techniques. So he casually asked for Linghu Chong’s opinion on several martial arts related questions that were in the advanced level, but Linghu Chong only nodded and agreed, never really answering any of them.

Actually, Linghu Chong didn’t have any ill feeling against Wang Bofen at all. It was just that after seeing the luxurious life of the Wang Family, he realized that the difference between his indigence and the wealth of the Wang Family was so dramatic. It was almost like the difference between Heaven and earth. Lin Pingzhi had changed into a long robe made of silk brocade after he came to his grandfather’s house. He had a handsome face to start with, so after dressing up, he looked extremely elegant and graceful. Linghu Chong simply couldn’t help but feel a sense of inferiority and inadequacy.

“Even if little apprentice sister didn’t become a couple with him and stayed the same to me, what future would she have staying with a pauper like me?” he thought.

All his minds focused around Yue Lingshan, so naturally, regardless of what Wang Bofen said to him, nothing really went into his ears.

Enjoying a great fame in the martial arts society around the central region, Wang Bofen had been used to people fawning on him left and right, yet tonight, he kept getting snags from the young man named Linghu Chong. Normally, he would have let his temper loose right at the beginning, but for the sake of his dead sister and the fact that his father had great respect toward the Huashan Sword School, he worked hard to hold his temper down and just kept toasting to Linghu Chong.

Every time when someone toasted Linghu Chong, he would slam down the wine in his cup without thinking, so before he even knew it, forty cups of wine or so had gone down his throat. He used to have very good tolerance of wine. Even over a hundred cups worth of wine wouldn’t have made a difference for him. But because he had lost all his inner energy, his tolerance was reduced quite a bit. And in addition, with a tremendous amount of anxiety gnawing at his heart, each cup of wine seemed to have had a much greater effect on him. By the time he drank up all those forty cups of wine, he was already feeling dizzy.

“This lad doesn’t know the ways of the world at all,” Wang Bofen thought aloud. “My nephew is your apprentice brother, so you should have called me an Uncle-Master, or simply uncle. It is all right that you didn’t call me an uncle, but how dare you ignore me completely like this? Very well! I am going to get you drunk and let you make a fool out of yourself in front of all these guests.”

Seeing that Linghu Chong could barely keep his eyes open and was tipsy already, he said with a smile, “Little brother Linghu is the Head Apprentice of the Huashan Sword School, and sure enough, he is an outstanding young hero. Not only is his Kung Fu skill extraordinary, his wine tolerance is also extraordinary. Servants! Get rid of the tiny cup. Get Mister Linghu a big bowl and keep it filled!”

The servants cheered and filled Linghu Chong’s bowl with wine. Throughout Linghu Chong’s life, he had never stopped anyone from pouring wine for him, so as soon as his bowl was filled, he would empty it down his throat. Not long after, he had drunk up another five or six bowls worth of wine. Suddenly, with a wave of his arm, he swept all the plates and cups in front of him off the table.

“Young hero Linghu has had a drop too much! Better drink a cup of hot tea to sober up,” guests from the same table all suggested.

“There’s no way the Head Apprentice of the Huashan Sword School would get drunk so easily! Little brother Linghu, drink up!” Wang Bofen beamed as he filled Linghu Chong’s bowl once again.

“Who…who said I am drunk? Bottoms up!” Linghu Chong replied.

He picked up the wine and started pouring it down with big swallows. Half of the wine actually ended up dripping down his robe. All of a sudden, his body jerked as he opened his mouth wide and started vomiting, and seconds later, the entire tabletop was covered with “wine” and “dishes” that had been inside his stomach just moments ago. People around the table dodged backward in shock while a smirk ran across Wang Bofen’s lips.

Hundreds of pairs of eyes were immediately fixed onto Linghu Chong. Yue Buqun and Madam Yue both frowned, thinking, “This lad really doesn’t know how to behave in formal occasions. He has just made a fool of himself in front of so many noble guests.”

Lao Denuo and Lin Pingzhi both rushed forward and held Linghu Chong in support.

“Big apprentice brother, why don’t I walk you back to rest?” Lin Pingzhi suggested.

“I…I am not drunk. I can drink more. Give me more wine!” Linghu Chong rebuffed.

“Sure! Sure! Someone brings some more wine out,” Lin Pingzhi replied.

“You…you…Little Lin, why aren’t you spending time with little apprentice sister? What are you dragging me for?” Linghu Chong cast a sidelong and bleary-eyed glance at Lin Pingzhi.

“Big apprentice brother,” Lao Denuo said, “let’s go take a break. There’s a bit crowd here, we’ve got to watch our mouth.”

“Watch my mouth? Humph! Master sent you to keep watch on me. Have you found any proof yet?” Linghu Chong snapped.

Afraid that Linghu Chong could speak anything without thinking in his drunkenness, Lao Denuo held Linghu Chong’s arms and pushed him all the way into the guest room at the back with the help from Lin Pingzhi.

Yue Buqun also heard Linghu Chong’s words. Even though Yue Buqun was well self-cultivated, he couldn’t help but show an annoyed face.

“Little brother Yue,” Wang Yuanba soothed, “that was only nonsense from the mouth of a drunken young lad. Why bother? Come on, let’s enjoy our wine!”

“The lad is from the countryside and hasn’t had much chance with formal settings. Will you please pardon him, Grandmaster Wang?” Yue Buqun replied with a forced smile.

After the banquet was over, Yue Buqun told Lao Denuo to stop following Linghu Chong around and only watch him in secret.

It was not until the next afternoon before Linghu Chong finally woke up. Remembering none of what he had said the previous day, he found himself with a terrible headache – almost felt as if his head had been cracked open. Taking a look around, he found himself the only occupant of a neat and clean room. He stepped out of the guest room but didn’t see any of his apprentice brothers. After inquiring the servants, he learned that they all went to the Training Hall at the backside to swap pointers in martial arts training with the sons and apprentices of the Wang Family.

“Why bother tangle up with them? I’d be better off just take a hike myself,” Linghu Chong thought to himself as he stalked out of the gate and off to the street.

Luo Yang had been the capital for many different dynasties. There were many good-sized buildings everywhere, yet the streets weren’t very busy. Linghu Chong was not very literate and only had a very limited knowledge about history. Staring at the many historical sites in the city of Luoyang, he had no idea as to what they were and what they were for. Bored stiff, he strolled aimlessly into a small alley. Then something caught his attention. Seven or eight local punks were playing a game of gambling inside a small tavern. Pushing his way through the crowd to the front, he took out the package of the present he had received from Wang Yuanba the previous day. Retrieving the silver out, he joined the game with keen interests. Not until dusk did he finally returned, tipsy from drinking more wine. For the next several days, he kept going back to gamble and drink with the bunch of local punks. In the first couple of days, he had some good luck and won several taels of silver, but by the fourth day, he kept losing, and soon his forty taels of silver were completely cleaned out. Naturally, the group of punks kicked him out of the game. Feeling quite infuriated, Linghu Chong kept asking for more wine, but after only a couple of kettles of wine were served, the bartender asked.

“Young man, you’ve lost all your money in the gambling game. How are you going to pay for the wine?”

“Write it under my tab. I’ll pay you tomorrow,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Our business is very small. We don’t give credits to anyone, not even relatives or close friends.” The bartender shook his head.

Infuriated, Linghu Chong snarled, “How dare you think I don’t have any money!”

“Sorry,” the bartender replied with a smirk, “show your money and you’ll get your wine! No money, no wine, no credit!”

Linghu Chong glanced over himself. His ragged and tattered clothing certainly didn’t help convince the bartender that he might be a wealthy man. Other than the long sword by his waist, he really didn’t have anything else that might be worth any money, so he untied the long sword from his waistband and threw it onto the table.

“Take this to the pawnshop!” he said.

Wanting to win more money out from him, one of the punks replied in a rush, “Sure! I’ll pawn it for you!” He took the long sword and left.

With that assurance, the bartender took out another two kettles of wine for Linghu Chong. By the time Linghu Chong finished one, the punk had returned with some small pieces of silver.

“It’s pawned for three taels and four ounces,” the punk said as he gave the silver and the pawn ticket to Linghu Chong.

Linghu Chong weighted the silver in his hand. It didn’t even weigh a full three taels, but he didn’t complain and went straight back into the gambling game. The game lasted till around dusk when the three taels of silver exchanged hands again – from both losing in the gambling and paying for the wine he drank.

“Hey, loan me three taels of silver. I’ll pay you back double the amount if I win,” Linghu Chong said to a punk named Twitch-Lip Chen.

“What if you lose?” Twitch-Lip Chen asked with a snicker.

“If I lose, I’ll pay you back tomorrow,” Linghu Chong answered.

“How do I know if you have money at home or not? If you lose, how are you going to pay me back? Are you gonna sell your bitch or your sister then?” Twitch-Lip Chen mocked.

Linghu Chong’s anger exploded. He raised his arm and slapped Chen across the face with a backhand. By then, he had consumed a good amount of wine and was already half drunk. Reaching out, he snatched the small pile of silver in front of Twitch-Lip Chen.

“What the hell! This son of a bitch is a mugger,” Twitch-Lip Chen yelled out loud.

The group of punks all came from the same clan, and immediately, they swarmed forward and started throwing punches toward Linghu Chong. Having no sword in his hand and having no strength to defend himself, Linghu Chong was pushed down on the ground. The punks punched and kicked, and within moments, gave Linghu Chong bruises all over his face and his body.

Sounds of hoof beats rose. Several horses came by in short trots.

“Move out of the way! Get lost!” someone on the horseback yelled and whipped his horsewhip to drive away the punks.

Linghu Chong just lay still on the ground face down and couldn’t even get up.

A girl’s voice suddenly cried out, “Isn’t that big apprentice brother?” It was the voice of Yue Lingshan.

“Let me take a look,” another voice answered. It was Lin Pingzhi this time.

Lin Pingzhi dismounted from his horse and then turned Linghu Chong’s body around. “Big apprentice brother? Are you ok?” he cried out in shock as soon as he recognized Linghu Chong’s face.

“I got drunk! And I lost my bets!” Linghu Chong squeezed out a wry smile and shook his head.

In a hurry, Lin Pingzhi propped him up and helped him onto the horseback. Besides Lin Pingzhi and Yue Lingshan, there were four other riders in the pack – they were the two daughters of Wang Bofen and the two sons of Wang Zhongqiang, cousins of Lin Pingzhi. The six of them had set out in the morning to tour around the various temples and historical sites in the city of Luoyang, and were on their way back home after the fun. They certainly didn’t expect to find a Linghu Chong all beat up in the middle of the small alley. All four of them were astounded.

“The Huashan Sword School is a member of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance,” they thought. “When Grandpa mentioned about them, he would always praise dearly. And when we exchanged pointers with them in martial arts a couple of days ago, they did each show outstanding Kung Fu skills. Isn’t this Linghu Chong the Head Apprentice of the Huashan Sword School? How come he couldn’t even overcome several local punks? But if Linghu Chong’s nose was really bleeding so badly, how could this not be true? How odd!”

Returning back to Wang Yuanba’s mansion, Linghu Chong slowly recovered after several days of good rest. Yue Buqun and Madam Yue were both aggravated at the news that Linghu Chong went gambling with some local rascals and went in a fistfight after losing his money, and neither of them paid a visit to him. By the fifth day, Wang Jiaju, the younger son of Wang Zhongqiang, walked in Linghu Chong’s room excitedly.

“Big brother Linghu, I’ve vented the spleen for you today! I gathered up the seven punks who beat you up that day and gave them each some good lashes.”

Linghu Chong didn’t really mind this incident much, so he replied casually, “That’s really not necessary. I got drunk that day, and it was really my fault to start with.”

“Nah, they can’t do that to you. You are a guest of the Golden Blade Wang Family. How can the Golden Blade Wang Family let its guest get beat up in the city of Luoyang and not get even? If we don’t straighten this out, would others still show the same kind of respect to the Golden Blade Wang Family?” Wang Jiaju disagreed.

Deep inside Linghu Chong’s heart, he had already disliked the “Golden Blade Wang Family.” Now when he heard Wang Jiaju mention the “Golden Blade Wang Family” left and right, as if the “Golden Blade Wang Family” was the most powerful and influential family in the entire Martial World, he couldn’t help but mock, “It sure takes the Golden Blade Wang Family to deal with a bunch of punks and rascals.”

As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he regretted saying them. Just when he was about to apologize, Wang Jiaju had responded with a stern face.

“Brother Linghu, what are you talking about? If it weren’t for my brother and I who drove those seven punks away, would you still be alive today?”

“I do owe the two of you a debt of gratitude for saving my life,” Linghu Chong replied with a casual smile.

Wang Jiaju could tell from how Linghu Chong said the words that it was sarcastic and that he didn’t mean it at all. Feeling more irritated, he snapped.

“You are the Head Apprentice of the Huashan Sword School, yet you couldn’t even handle a couple of local punks and rascals in Luoyang. Humph, aren’t people going to say that you don’t deserve your reputation?”

At this time, Linghu Chong really didn’t care about anything. So he replied, “I don’t even have a reputation to start with, what’s there to deserve or what not?”

“Brother, what are you discussing about with brother Linghu?” a voice rose from outside the door. Then the curtain was lifted and a man walked in. It was Wang Jiajun, the elder son of Wang Zhongqiang.

“Brother, I thought I’d be doing him a favor and help vent his anger, when I gathered up those seven punks, and gave each of them some good lashing. Who would have thought that this Hero Linghu would blame me for interfering?” Wang Jiaju exclaimed angrily.

“Ah, there’s something you don’t know,” Wang Jiajun responded. “I just heard from apprentice sister Yue a moment ago that this brother Linghu is very good at concealing his real abilities. That day outside the monastery of the Buddha of Herb, he blinded fifteen first-class fighters’ eyes with only one swing of his long sword. What brilliant sword art that must have been! Got to be very rare indeed! Ha-ha!” His grin had a sense of mockery. Obviously he didn’t believe a single word from Yue Lingshan.

Wang Jiaju also let out a big grin. “I suppose the martial arts skills of those fifteen first-class fighters must be far from the martial arts skills of the local punks in Luoyang then! Ha-ha! Ha-ha!”

Those words didn’t bother Linghu Chong a bit. He chuckled and then simply sat down on his chair, swaying back and forth gently with his arms around his right knee.

Wang Jiajun was actually sent here by his father and his uncle to interrogate Linghu Chong. Originally, the brothers Wang Bofen and Wang Zhongqiang had told him to try to coax secret using kind words without offending the guest, but seeing the arrogant look on Linghu Chong’s face and how he had treated the two brothers like dirt, he lost his temper.

“Brother Linghu, would you be kind enough to answer a question of mine?” He raised his voice high.

“Certainly,” Linghu Chong answered.

“I heard from cousin Pingzhi that when my uncle and aunt passed away, brother Linghu was the only one there to attend upon,” Wang Jiajun said.

“That’s right.” Linghu Chong nodded.

“Then it was you, brother Linghu, who passed the last words from my uncle and aunt to my cousin Pingzhi?” Wang Jiajun continued.

“Correct,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Then how about my uncle’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’?” Wang Jiajun pressed on.

At these words, Linghu Chong stood up abruptly. “What did you say?” he yelled loudly.

Worried that Linghu Chong might launch a sudden attack against him, Wang Jiajun took a step back.

“My uncle owned the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ and asked you to give it to my cousin Pingzhi. Why haven’t you given it to him?” he charged.

Hearing such irresponsible calumniation from him, Linghu Chong trembled in rage. “Who…who said that there’s an ‘Evil-Resisting Sword…Sword Manuscript’ for…for me to give to apprentice brother Lin?” he asked with a trembling voice.

“If there isn’t one, why do you look so scared and can’t even talk right? Aren’t you showing a guilty conscience?” Wang Jiajun challenged with a smirk.

“Brothers, I am a guest here in your house. Do these words of yours represent what your father and grandpa think of me, or simply what the two of you think of me?” Linghu Chong asked, working hard to control his temper.

“I am just asking you a casual question. What’s the big deal? It has nothing to do with my grandpa or my dad. But it is well known in the Martial World that the Evil-Resisting Sword Art of the Lin Family in Fuzhou is a very powerful sword art. Since Uncle Lin passed away so abruptly, and the precious ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ that he always carried with him disappeared all of a sudden, as his close relatives, we certainly want to hear about it,” Wang Jiajun replied.

“Little Lin sent you to ask me the question, didn’t he? Why doesn’t he come and ask himself?” Linghu Chong mocked.

“Cousin Pingzhi is your junior apprentice brother. How would he ever dare to ask you?” Wang Jiaju let out some laughs.

“Now with your Luoyang Golden Blade Wang Family backing him up, humph, you sure can force me to talk now. Why don’t you go get Lin Pingzhi now?” Linghu Chong sneered.

“You are the guest of the house. We dare not force you to talk. The two brothers of us are simply curious about it; that’s why we asked the question. If brother Linghu is willing to answer, that would be great. If you do not want to answer, then there’s really nothing we can do about it,” Wang Jiajun said.

Linghu Chong nodded. “I don’t want to answer. There’s nothing you can do about it. Please leave me alone now!”

The Wang brothers gazed at each other in speechless despair. Neither had expected Linghu Chong to be so straightforward and closed the topic so quickly. Wang Jiajun cleared his throat and then tried to start the conversation again.

“Brother Linghu, you blinded fifteen first-class fighters’ eyes with only one thrust of your sword. This move is brilliant. Perhaps you learned it from the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ didn’t you?”

Linghu Chong was dumbfounded. Cold sweats broke out all over his body and his hands trembled. It had all become so clear to him now: “I have been wondering about this for many days. Why didn’t Master, Master-Wife, and the bunch of apprentice brothers and sisters feel grateful that I saved their lives, yet they all became suspicious of me? Now I know! That’s it! So they are all convinced that I embezzled Lin Zhennan’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ Since they’ve never seen the Dugu Nine Swords before, and I refuse to let out the secret that Grand Uncle-Master Feng trained me in sword art, when they saw that my sword skills progressed so tremendously, all of a sudden, after spending several months on top of the ‘Cliff of Contemplation,’ they all concluded that I had learned brilliant sword techniques from the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ If that wasn’t the case, where else would I be able to learn such terrific sword arts? It was such a coincident that Grand Uncle-Master Feng showed up and taught me sword arts. No one would ever have expected that. But when the Lin Zhennan couple passed away, I was the only one by their side, so naturally everyone would assume that the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’, the ultimate sword art book that many elite masters would cast greedy eyes on, had fallen into my hands. It is understandable that others would have guessed like that. But Master and Master-Wife have brought me up, and little apprentice sister is as close to me as a real sister. They all know me well yet didn’t trust me on this one. Humph, you have really belittled me!” At that thought, his face naturally showed the expression of indignation.

“I guessed it right, didn’t I?” Wang Jiajun said with a triumphant grin on his lips. “Where is the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ then? We are not interested in reading it at all. All we want is to return the manuscript to its rightful owner. Just give the sword art manuscript back to cousin Lin, will you?”

“I’ve never seen any ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’.” Linghu Chong shook his head. “Chief Master Lin and his wife were taken prisoners, first by the Qingcheng Sword School, then by ‘Hunchback of the North’ Mu Gaofeng. If he had any sword art manuscript on him, they would have found it first.”

“Precisely!” Wang Jiajun immediately followed. “The ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ is so precious. Why would my uncle and aunt carry it everywhere with them? Of course they had hid it in a very secret place, and only before they passed away, they asked you to pass the message on to cousin Pingzhi. Who would have thought…who would have thought that…? Humph!”

“Who would have thought that you would go find it behind everyone’s back and embezzled it to be your own!” Wang Jiaju finished the sentence for his brother.

The more Linghu Chong heard, the angrier he became. He really didn’t want to argue any more, but since this was a very important matter, he would not want to take the blame for it. So he responded.

“If Chief Master Lin really had such a brilliant sword arts manuscript, he should have become invincible himself. Why couldn’t he even defeat a couple of apprentices from the Qingcheng Sword School and was taken prisoner by them?”

“That…that….” Wang Jiaju could not find any answer to that question and became tongue-tied.

Wang Jiajun, on the other hand, had a glib tongue. He argued, “That wasn’t unique. Brother Linghu, you learned the Evil-Resisting Sword Art and achieved outstanding sword skills, yet you couldn’t even defeat several punks and rascals and was taken prisoner by them. How are you going to explain that then? Ha-ha, it’s called pretending. It’s too bad that you have gone a bit too far this time. The Head Apprentice of the Huashan Sword School couldn’t even defend himself against several punks on the Luoyang streets. No one will ever be convinced by this act of yours. And since this is completely impossible, then it must be a trick. Brother Linghu, why don’t you listen to my advice and just admit it?”

Under normal circumstances, Linghu Chong would have answered back sarcastically. But what had happened was such a coincidence, which set him right under the spotlight with the most suspicion. He cared nothing about the “Golden Blade Wang Family” or the young Wang brothers, but he couldn’t let Master, Master-Wife, and little apprentice sister be suspicious of him.

“I, Linghu Chong, have never seen anything called ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ What Chief Master Lin from Fuzhou told me before he passed away I have already passed on to apprentice brother Lin without omitting a single word. If I had lied about any part of it, may Heaven cast me down to Hell for eternal suffering and never bring me back,” Linghu Chong spoke with a solemn face. He positioned his hands behind his back after those words, his face looking awe-inspiring with ultimate righteousness.

“Did you think you can get yourself off the hook so easily just by swearing a casual oath? We are talking about a serious matter concerning a secret martial arts manuscript here. Did you think everyone is plain stupid?” Wang Jiajun grinned.

“So what’s your idea then?” Linghu Chong asked while forcing himself to stay calm.

“Please pardon our boldness, but we’d like to make a body search on you, brother Linghu,” Wang Jiaju suggested. He paused for a second and then added with a smirk, “That day when brother Linghu was seized by those seven punks and couldn’t move a muscle, they could have searched all over you, couldn’t they?”

“You want to make a body search on me? Humph! Are you saying that I am a thief?” Linghu Chong mocked with a sneer.

“We dare not!” Wang Jiajun replied. “Since you stated that you never took the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art,’ why be afraid to let us search you? Once we do a body search on you and there isn’t any sword manuscript on you, you would be cleared from suspicion. Wouldn’t you want that?”

“Fine! Why don’t you go get apprentice brother Lin and apprentice sister Yue, so the two of them can be witnesses?” Linghu Chong nodded his agreement.

But Wang Jiajun didn’t like the idea at all, fearing that as soon as he walked away and left his brother alone with Linghu Chong, Linghu Chong would be able to overpower his brother with ease. But if both of them went together, then of course Linghu Chong would hide the “Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript” and they would have no chance of finding it ever again. So he rejected.

“The search would still be the same. If you aren’t afraid of the search, why use so many excuses?”

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “I agree to let you search my body only because I want to prove my innocence in front of the Master, Master-Wife, and little apprentice sister, the three of them. Whether you believe me or not, what do I care? There’s no way I am going to let your filthy claws touch my body if little apprentice sister weren’t here.” So he shook his head slowly.

“Just the two of you? I am afraid you are not worthy of searching me!”

The more Linghu Chong objected to the search, the more the two Wang brothers were convinced that the “Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript” was hidden on Linghu Chong’s body. If they were able to find the “Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,” then firstly, they would look really good in front of their father and uncle, and secondly, they’ve heard that the “Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript” contained superior sword art techniques, and since they were the ones who found it, Cousin Lin would have no choice but to let them borrow the manuscript and take a look at it. Wang Jiajun had seen with his own eyes the other day that Linghu Chong couldn’t even defend himself when the several rascals subdued him and gave him a good beating. He concluded that Linghu Chong must be only good with sword techniques, but not hand combat techniques. It would be a perfect opportunity right now when Linghu Chong had no sword in his hands. So he threw a meaningful glance at his brother before speaking to Linghu Chong again.

“Brother Linghu, better not refuse a toast only to drink a forfeit. It’s not going to be a pleasant scene if we get on the wrong side of each other.”

With those words, the two brothers closed in on Linghu Chong.

Suddenly, Wang Jiaju squared his shoulders and charged forward. Linghu Chong raised his arm to block. “Hey, you hit me!” Wang Jiaju yelled out loud as he locked Linghu Chong’s wrist and then pushed down with his elbow. Knowing that Linghu Chong is the Head Apprentice of the Huashan Sword School, not someone to be overlooked, he applied the joint manipulation techniques of the Wang Family with all his strength.

Linghu Chong was an experienced fighter. As soon as he saw Wang Jiaju charging in like that, he knew the opponent was all hostile. He had many different counter attacks in mind with this block. When the opponent locked his wrist, he could have turned his arm over and thrust it down in an angle to launch his counter-attack, but because he had lost all his inner strength and even though he executed the technique the right way, there was no strength behind it. He felt a tingle from the joint on his right arm and then heard a crack. Wang Jiaju had broken his right elbow. Excruciating pain immediately consumed him.

Wang Jiaju was quite ruthless. As soon as he broke Linghu Chong’s right arm with a push, he threw a claw hand and dislocated Linghu Chong’s shoulder immediately after.

“Brother, quick! Search him!” he shouted.

Kneeling down on Linghu Chong’s legs with his left leg to prevent Linghu Chong from throwing any kicks, Wang Jiajun reached into Linghu Chong’s chest pocket and began to empty it. Suddenly, his hand came to contact with a thin booklet. He took it out quickly.

“Here it is! Here it is! Here’s Uncle Lin’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’!”

The two brothers flipped the booklet open in a rash. There were three words written on the first page in ancient scripts – Smiling Proud Wanderer. The Wang brothers were only roughly literate. If those words had been written in normal script, they would have recognized them. But since they were all in ancient scripts, they had no clue. Flipping to the next page, they saw even stranger symbols and characters all over the page. They didn’t know that those were actually symbols and characters for music scores, and since they had assumed that this was none other than the “Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,” by now, all their suspicious had been cleared away.

“Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript! Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript!” the two brothers shouted in unison.

“Let’s show it to Father,” Wang Jiajun suggested. He took the booklet and ran out.

“You shameless thief!” Wang Jiaju cursed as he kicked Linghu Chong in the waist heavily. After spitting on Linghu Chong’s face, he also ran out of the room.

At first, Linghu Chong felt as if his chest was going to explode from the unbearable fury. But then he thought, “Those two brats are simply idiots. Their grandfather and father can’t be so stupid. When they find out that this is only a music score, for sure they would come to apologize.” Waves of pain came from his dislocated shoulder and elbow. He couldn’t help but groan. “I’ve lost all my inner strength, and can’t even defend myself against punks and rascals off the street. I am a good-for-nothing now. What’s the point of staying alive in this world, then?”

He lay on the bed, sweating in pain. Tears streamed down as he grieved over himself. But remembering that the Wang brothers must be returning soon, he wiped off his tears so that he wouldn’t show a sign of weakness.

After a long while, sound of footsteps rose. The Wang brothers rushed back in a hurry.

“Go see my grandpa,” Wang Jiajun said with a sneer.

“No way!” Linghu Chong rebuffed angrily. “Your grandpa should have come here to apologize to me. Why should I go see him?”

The Wang brothers burst into loud laughter.

“My grandpa apologizes to you? Dream on! Let’s go!” Wang Jiaju scoffed.

The two brothers grabbed onto Linghu Chong’s robe, picked him off the bed, and carried him out.

“Your Golden Blade Wang Family still calls yourself chivalrous? You are arrogant and conceited, despicable and shameless,” Linghu Chong cursed.

Wang Jiajun slapped Linghu Chong with a backhand, which bruised Linghu Chong’s face and blood started dripping down his lips. But Linghu Chong kept on cursing while the Wang brothers carried him all the way into the Back Hall.

Wang Yuanba and the Yue Buqun couple had been waiting in the Back Hall. Wang Bofen and Wang Zhongqiang also sat by Wang Yuanba. But that didn’t keep Linghu Chong from spilling profanities non-stop.

“Golden Blade Wang Family, what a shameless and contemptible family. I’ve never seen a family so low and dirty in the entire Martial World!”

“Chong, shut up!” Yue Buqun yelled with a stern face.

Hearing his Master’s rebuke, Linghu Chong finally stopped cursing, but he still glared at Wang Yuanba with angry eyes.

Holding the music score booklet in his hand, Wang Yuanba asked casually, “Nephew Linghu, where did you get this ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’?”

Raising his head high, Linghu Chong laughed out loud.

“Chong, when a senior asks you a question, you answer to the best knowledge of yours. How dare you to be so rude? Where are you manners?” Yue Buqun admonished.

“Master,” Linghu Chong answered, “because of my internal wounds, I have no strength left in me. And look how those two brats have treated me? Humph, is this how a guest should be treated?”

“Our Wang Family would never dare offend a good friend or a noble guest,” Wang Zhongqiang replied. “But you have failed the trust from a dying man and pocketed the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ to be your own. That’s the act of a thief. The Golden Blade Wang Family in Luoyang is an honest family. How can we still treat you like a friend?”

“All three generations of your Wang Family keep on saying that this is the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ Have you ever seen the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ before? How are you so sure that this is the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’?” Linghu Chong challenged.

Wang Zhongqiang dazed for a second before replying, “This booklet was found on you, and apprentice brother Yue also confirmed that this is not a martial arts manuscript of the Huashan Sword School, then how can it not be the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’?”

Fuming with anger, Linghu Chong couldn’t help but laugh. “If you claim that this is the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ then ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ it is! I wish your Golden Blade Wang Family will have a wonderful time learning the techniques and master the invincible sword arts. From now on, your Wang Family in Luoyang can be called the Ultimate Blade and Sword! Ha-ha! Ha-ha!”

“Nephew Linghu,” Wang Yuanba said, “please don’t take offense on what my grandchildren did to you. Everyone makes mistakes. As long as one will admit his mistake and correct himself, he will still be treated with respect. Since you have already given out the sword arts manuscript, just for the sake of your Master, I will not investigate any further. Starting from today, no one will ever mention this incident again. Why don’t I put your dislocated shoulder and elbow back, first.” At that word, he stood up and walked toward Linghu Chong and reached for Linghu Chong’s left hand.

“Hold it! I don’t need you to play up to me,” Linghu Chong snapped, taking two abrupt steps back.

“What playing up to you?” Wang Yuanba was stunned.

“I am not a puppet. So you just break my arm when you feel like it and put it back when you change your mind?” Linghu Chong growled. He walked a few steps to the left until he was in front of Madam Yue and then called out, “Master-Wife!”

Madam Yue heaved a sigh and then put his dislocated joints back to place.

“Master-Wife, this clearly is a music score booklet for zither and flute. These people of the Wang Family are totally illiterate and insist on saying that it is the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ What a big joke!” Linghu Chong explained.

“Grandmaster Wang, is it alright if I take a look at this booklet?” Madam Yue said to Wang Yuanba.

“Ah, here you go, Madam Yue.” Wang Yuanba handed the booklet over.

After flipping through several pages and browsing through, Madam Yue herself had no clue as to what this booklet was about.

“I can’t read music scores myself, though I have seen sword art manuscripts before. This booklet really doesn’t look like a sword art manuscript. Grandmaster Wang, is there anyone in your house that knows how to play zither or flute? We might as well ask him to take a look, then we would know for sure,” Madam Yue suggested.

 Wang Yuanba hesitated, afraid that if this really were just a music score booklet, how embarrassing it would be. So he didn’t answer right away. Wang Jiaju, on the other hand, was a total blockhead, and shouted in a loud voice.

“Grandpa, our accountant, Mr. Yi can play the flute. We can ask him to take a look at this. This clearly is the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ How can it be a music score booklet?”

“There are many types of martial arts manuscripts. Some people would intentionally write martial arts formulas or techniques in the form of a music score in order to keep it a secret so others wouldn’t be able to pry about. That’s not at all surprising,” Wang Yuanba immediately added.

“If this mister in your house knows how to play the flute, then he would be able to tell if this really is a sword arts manuscript or a music score for flute,” Madam Yue insisted.

Having no other choice, Wang Yuanba asked Wang Jiaju to get Mr. Yi, the accountant of the house. Soon he came back together with Mr. Yi.

Mr. Yi was a thin and short man in his fifties. He had a sparse goatee on his chin, but his clothing looked neat and clean.

“Mr. Yi, will you please take a look at this booklet and tell us if it’s an ordinary zither score or flute score?” Wang Yuanba asked.

Mr. Yi opened the zither portion of the booklet and glanced over a couple of pages. “Sorry, I don’t know much about this part.” He shook his head.

He quickly skimmed to the flute portion of the booklet, and suddenly his eyes brightened as he started humming along the music score in a low voice and drumming two of his fingers on the table simultaneously. After a while, he shook his head again.

“This can’t be right!”

He continued humming alone, but suddenly the pitch of his voice went very high, and only seconds later, it dropped very low.

“This is impossible! Well…well…I really don’t understand this,” he muttered with a frown.

“Is there anything suspicious about this booklet? Is it very different from an ordinary music score?” Wang Yuba asked with a happy face.

“Oh Master, please look here.” Mr. Yi pointed at the flute score. “This is the Gong major here, but it suddenly turned into the Wei minor. That’s totally against musical theories, and it would be impossible for a flute to play. Then from here it suddenly turned into the Jiao major. That’s something I’ve never seen before. It’s simply impossible to play such music using a flute.”

“Humph, you don’t know how to play it doesn’t mean others don’t know how to play it!” Linghu Chong sneered.

“You’re absolutely right!” Mr. Yi nodded. “But if someone is able to play music like this, I would sincerely admire him from the very bottom of my heart! Certainly the very bottom of my heart! Unless…unless it is he in the East Town….”

“You said that this is no ordinary flute score, and some of the tones are impossible to play using a flute, right?” Wang Yuanba cut him off.

“Ah, yes! Definitely not ordinary! Definitely not ordinary! I will never be able to play something like that. Unless it is he in the East Town….” Mr. Yi nodded.

“Which great musician in the East Town can play this music?” Madam Yue asked.

“Well…I can’t guarantee it, but…but there’s this Elder Bamboo-Green from the East Town who can play both the zither and the flute,” Mr. Yi answered. “Maybe he can play it. His skills in playing the flute are way better than mine. Way better indeed! We are not even talking about the same league here! Certainly not the same league!”

“If this is no ordinary music score for flute, then there must be more behind it,” Wang Yuanba said.

Wang Bofen had been listening quietly by the side. He suddenly cut in, “Father, isn’t the Four Ways Six Harmonies Knife Form of the Eight Diagrams Knife Dojo in Zhengzhou also recorded in a music score?”

Wang Yuanba immediately understood. He knew that his son was just making things up. The family of the Eight Diagrams Knife Dojo Head Master, Mo Xing, had been in-laws with the Wang Family for generations. Their Dojo didn’t have anything named the Four Ways Six Harmonies Knife Form. But he figured that since the Huashan Sword School only focused in sword arts, whether another school had this knife form or not, Yue Buqun most probably wouldn’t have known, even though Yue Buqun had good knowledge of the Martial World. So he nodded.

“That’s right! That’s right! In-law Mo certainly mentioned about it several years back. Recording knife arts or sword arts in music scores is nothing unusual at all.”

“Since it’s nothing unusual at all, then would you, Grandmaster Wang, enlighten me and tell me what exactly are recorded in these two music scores?” Linghu Chong asked with a smirk.

“That…Alas, my son-in-law had passed away, therefore, other than you, I am afraid there’s not another one who would be able to understand the secret in the music score.” Wang Yuanba heaved a long sigh.

 If Linghu Chong had wanted to plead innocent, he could have simply told the origin of the “Smiling Proud Wanderer” music score, but then inevitably, he would have to mention about how the Hengshan Sword School’s Great Mr. Mo had killed Great Songyang Palm Fei Bin, and that would certainly bring severe consequences; also, once Master found out that the music score was really related to the Demon Cult Elder Qu Yang, for sure Master would have it destroyed right away, then he would not be able to fulfill his promise to the dead. With these in his mind, he held his anger and responded calmly.

“Since this Mr. Yi mentioned that there’s an Elder Bamboo-Green who is an expert in music, why don’t we take the music score over to let him examine it?”

“That Elder Bamboo-Green is a weirdo who acts like a mad man. How can we believe any word out of his mouth?” Wang Yuanba shook his head.

“But we must get to the bottom of this matter,” Madam Yue replied. “Chong is our apprentice and Pingzhi is also our apprentice. We can’t grant favor to either side. To find out who’s right and who’s wrong, we might as well ask that Elder Bamboo-Green to give a judgment.” She didn’t want to say that this was a dispute between Linghu Chong and the Golden Blade Wang Family, so she conveniently replaced the Wang Family with Lin Pingzhi.

“Mr. Yi, would you please send a wagon for this Elder Bamboo-Green?” Madam Yue requested.

“Well, this old gentleman is a very eccentric folk. When people ask him for favors, if it’s something that he doesn’t care, he won’t pay any attention to it even if you kowtow to him at his door. But if he decides to intervene, you can’t even push him away,” Mr. Yi replied.

“That sounds just like us martial people,” Madam Yue nodded. “I suppose this Elder Bamboo-Green must be a senior master in the martial arts society. Senior apprentice brother, we have certainly been really ignorant.”

“That Elder Bamboo-Green is merely a craftsman skilled in making baskets and floor mats with bamboo strips. He is no martial master,” Wang Yuanba replied with a smirk. “He plays the zither and the flute well and also paints pictures of bamboos. Many people buy his paintings. He is just an old craftsman posing as a lover of art, and does attract a certain local crowd.”

“It would be a pity if we don’t pay a visit to such a figure while we are in Luoyang. Grandmaster Wang, would you please be kind enough to accompany us and pay a visit to such an elegant craftsman?” Madam Yue asked.

Seeing that Madam Yue was quite determined to go, Wang Yuanba had to agree. So led by Mr. Yi, Wang Yuanba, his sons and grandsons set out for the East Town with the Yue Buqun couple, Linghu Chong, Lin Pingzhi, Yue Lingshan, and other Huashan apprentices.

The group went through several small streets and came upon a very narrow alley. A large bush of bamboos occupied the end of the ally. Swaying gently in the breeze, they set an elegant tone to the surroundings. As soon as the group stepped into the alley, dim sound of zither play echoed in their ears pleasantly – someone was playing a song. The alley appeared to be so refreshing and peaceful that it almost seemed as if this was an entirely different world totally isolated from the crowded city outside.

“This Elder Bamboo-Green certainly knows how to enjoy life!” Madam Yue whispered.

Suddenly, a clank echoed as one of the zither strings snapped, and the zither play halted abruptly.

“Respectful guests have arrived at my humble shack. Is there something you want to see me about?” an old voice rose from inside.

“Elder, we have this odd zither and flute music score. Would you be kind enough to examine it for us?” Mr. Yi announced.

“You have a zither and flute music score and want me to examine it? Ha-ha, you really flatter an old craftsman,” Elder Bamboo-Green answered.

Before Mr. Yi even had a chance to respond, Wang Jiaju had already shouted out, “Grandmaster Wang from the Gold Blade Wang Family is here to visit.”

He had thought that because his grandfather was a very important figure in the city of Luoyang, as soon as he mentioned his grandfather’s name, the old craftsman would for sure rush out to greet them, but all he got in return were Elder Bamboo-Green’s sneers.

“Golden Blade or Silver Blade, it’s no better than the old craftsman’s rusty iron blade. An old craftsman doesn’t need to visit Master Wang, and there’s no need for Master Wang to visit an old craftsman, either.”

Wang Jiaju was infuriated. “Grandpa, this old craftsman is a moron with no manners. We don’t need to see him. Let’s go home,” he said loudly.

“Since we are already here, we might as well ask Elder Bamboo-Green to take a look at the music score,” Madam Yue insisted.

“Hmm!” Wang Yuanba snorted as he handed the music score booklet to Mr. Yi, who, in turn, took the booklet and walked behind the bush of bamboos.

“You can put it down here,” Elder Bamboo-Green’s voice rose from inside.

“Elder, is this a real music score or some kind of secret martial arts manuscript with formulas and techniques written in disguise in the form of a music score?” Mr. Yi asked.

“Secret martial arts manuscripts? Are you out of your mind? Of course this is a music score!” Elder Bamboo-Green reproached, and moments later, sound of zither rose again, graceful and pleasant.

Linghu Chong listened to the music and soon remembered the melody – the same melody Liu Zhengfeng had played that day. The music was the same, but the previous player had long perished. Linghu Chong couldn’t help but feel mournful.

Not far into the music, the pitch of the zither sound suddenly went higher and higher until it almost sounded like a shrill whistle. Clank, one of the zither strings snapped. And as the sound went even higher, another clank echoed when another string snapped. Elder Bamboo-Green uttered a cry of surprise.

“This zither score is really odd. I don’t understand.”

Wang Yuanba and his two sons and two grandsons exchanged looks among themselves, all looking content and triumphant.

“Let me try the flute score,” Elder Bamboo-Green muttered, and soon the sound of a flute rose from behind the bamboo bush.

At the beginning, the flute sounded melodious and pleasant, depicting a romantic scene. But then the pitches of the flute sound turned lower and lower till it was almost impossible to recognize. And after several more notes, the sound became hoarse, and turned into very unpleasant noises.

Elder Bamboo-Green heaved a sigh. “Little brother Yi, you play the flute yourself. Don’t you know it’s impossible to play anything with such a low pitch? The zither score and the flute score aren’t necessarily fakes, but the composer is certainly being deliberately mystifying, and perhaps is playing jokes on us. Why don’t you go home first and let me ponder over this a bit more?”

“Sure!” Mr. Yi answered and then walked out from behind the bamboo bush.

“Where’s the sword arts manuscript?” Wang Zhongqiang asked.

“Sword arts manuscript? Oh, Elder Bamboo-Green wants to keep it for a while so he can ponder over it some more,” Mr. Yi answered.

“Go get it back, quick! This is an invaluable sword arts manuscript. Do you have any idea how many people in the Martial World want to get their hands onto this? How can we leave it in the hands of someone totally irrelevant?” Wang Zhongqiang admonished hurriedly.

“Ah, alright!” Mr. Yi replied and turned around to head back toward the back of the bamboo bush, again, when Elder Bamboo-Green’s voice suddenly rose again.

“Auntie, why have you come out?”

“How old is the Elder Bamboo-Green?” Wang Yuanba asked in a whisper.

“In his seventies. Close to eighty years old I guess,” Mr. Yi answered.

“If an eighty-year old man still called her his auntie, then this old granny had to be at least a hundred years old,” everybody thought of the same thing.

A woman’s voice acknowledged with a muffled “hmm.”

“Auntie, please take a look at this. This music score is very strange,” Elder Bamboo-Green explained.

The woman acknowledged again with a muffled “hmm.” Then sound of strings being plucked rose. Apparently someone was tuning the zither. Then it fell quiet for a moment as the snapped strings were probably being replaced with new ones. After some more tuning sounds, the granny started playing. At the beginning, it sounded the same as how Elder Bamboo-Green had played. Then the pitch of the zither sound went higher and higher, but this time it somehow transformed into a higher scale smoothly and pleasantly as if it were never difficult to start with.

Linghu Chong was half surprised and half joyous. He could vaguely remember that this was exactly the same melody he had heard Qu Yang play that night. The melody sometimes sounded impassionate and moving yet sometimes turned elegant and gentle. Although Linghu Chong didn’t know anything about music, he could still tell that the artistic conception this granny had interpreted was quite different from what Qu Yang had interpreted, even though they were playing the exact same melody. The granny’s play sounded placid and gentle, making the listeners truly appreciate the exquisiteness of good music, but it lacked the exciting surges Qu Yang’s play was able to bring out. After a long while, the music gradually slowed down as if the music was drifting further and further away, and the zither player had slowly walked away, hundreds of feet, and then miles away. The notes became so subtle that it simply faded into the gentle breeze.

Just when the sound of the zither was about to fade away, a couple of very low and delicate flute sounds rose next to the sound of the zither. The sweet sound of the flute circled in the air and turned louder and louder, as if the flute player had walked closer and closer, while playing the flute continuously. The sound was clear and melodious, sometimes high and sometimes low, sometimes gentle and sometimes loud. When everyone thought that the sound was already at its lowest, after some twirls, it would turn even lower. Although subtle and mild to the extreme, every syllable was still clearly recognizable.

Gradually, some high-pitched notes would occasionally break out from the low-pitched melody, like pearls falling into a jade plate and bounced back and forth, short and brisk, as one fell down, another one would bounce back. Then more and more sounds joined and echoed each other. First, it was like a spring streaming down the mountain path, echoing as the little waves splashed over the narrow banks. Then it turned into a garden full of colorful flowers, each blossoming so vividly in a competition to earn a glance from the dancing butterfly. There was also the choir from the many kinds of birds, echoing each other here and there, praising the efforts of the various blossoms, and singing joyously about the beauty of the season. Then gradually, the many birds flew away one after another as the spring season quietly stepped away and the petals from the withered blossoms swirled in the air, performing their sad dance falling toward the ground. Then the rain came, which painted everything in a color of gloom and made the leaves rustle. It was now cold and dreary and lifeless. All there left was the drizzle now, so tiny that no one could tell when it went from on to off and then from off to on again. And finally, everything fell into an ultimate silence.

Only a long while after the flute had stopped playing did everyone realize the silence. All felt as if they had just come out of a dream. Although Wang Yuanba, Yue Buqun and the many others didn’t know much about music, they all found themselves deeply intoxicated by the magic of the music. And Mr. Yi simply froze there in a trance, as if his soul had faded together with the music and was no longer inside his body.

Madam Yue heaved a sigh in great admiration. “Admirable! Very admirable! Chong, what’s the name of the music?”

“It’s called the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song,” Linghu Chong answered. “This granny has such incredible skills, and it is even rarer that someone could have such supreme skills in both zither and flute.”

“The composer certainly did a fantastic job writing the music, but it sure takes someone like this granny with such superb skills to be able to bring the best out of it. It must be the first time for you to listen to such wonderful melody,” Madam Yue remarked.

“Actually, no! Last time when I heard it, it sounded even more spectacular,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Really? How can there be anyone with even better zither and flute skills than that granny?” Madam Yue asked in surprise.

“Not necessarily better than this granny. But when I heard such wonderful music the last time, there were two players. One played the zither and the other one played the flute, and they were also playing this ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song….”

Before he even finished his sentence, three plucking sounds came from behind the bamboo bush as the granny whispered something in a very low voice. Vaguely, it sounded like that she had said, “Zither and flute playing together? Where can I ever find the other one?”

Elder Bamboo-Green’s voice rose again, loud and clear. “Mr. Yi, this is indeed a music score. My auntie has just played it. You can take it back now.”

“Yes.” Mr. Yi replied. He stepped behind the bamboo bush and soon returned, holding the music score booklet with both hands.

“Such fine work of art as this one recorded in the booklet is very rare and very hard to come by. Such wonder should never fall into the hands of vulgar people. And you should never have the wishful thinking of studying this music piece recklessly. It would only cause you more harm than gain,” Elder Bamboo-Green added.

“Yes, yes! I would never even dare!” Mr. Yi replied sincerely, and then handed the music score booklet back to Wang Yuanba.

Wang Yuanba had heard the spectacular performance himself and knew that it couldn’t have been a fake. Returning the booklet back to Linghu Chong, he said in an awkward tone,

“Nephew Linghu, we are truly very sorry!”

Linghu Chong answered with a sneer and was just about to add some satirical words when he saw Madam Yue shaking her head at him, so he swallowed them back down.

Feeling so embarrassed, Wang Yuanba, his two sons, and the two grandsons left before everyone else. Yue Buqun and the many apprentices also followed. But Linghu Chong remained. Holding the music score booklet in his hands, he stood there like a statue.

“Chong, aren’t you going back now?” Madam Yue asked.

“I just want to stay here a bit longer,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Don’t be too late. Go back and take a good rest. Oh, be careful with your arms. They were dislocated pretty badly. Don’t try anything heavy.” Madam Yue exhorted.

“I got it!” Linghu Chong replied.

After the group left, the small alley was quiet, once again. The only occasional sound breaking the silence were the rustling of the bamboo leaves in the gentle breeze. Staring at the music score in his hands, Linghu Chong remembered how Liu Zhengfeng and Qu Yang had performed the music together in that late night.

“The two of them were so lucky to have found their intimate friendship in each other and composed such a wonderful piece together,” he thought to himself. “Even though the granny behind the bamboo bush has incredible skills in playing both the zither and the flute, she could only play the two parts separately. The Elder Bamboo-Green couldn’t play the music together with her. Maybe this “Smiling Proud Wanderer” song written for a zither and a flute to play together would perish forever and I would never have the opportunity to hear it ever again.”

His mind fell blank for a little while before he thought again, “Uncle-Master Liu and Elder Qu, one was a senior master of the Chivalrous Side while the other was an Elder of the Demon Cult. One represented righteousness while the other one represented evil. They should have been completely irreconcilable. But when they talked music to each other, they could feel each other’s heart and ended up becoming bosom friends. They were also able to compose such a magnificent and spectacular piece of ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song together. When the two of them left this world together, hand in hand, there were really no regrets in their hearts. That was so much better than what I have to endure right now, living a lonely life in this world, suspected by my Master, forsaken by my little apprentice sister, while the only apprentice brother who respected me and loved me died in my own hands.” His heart was swelled by grief and sorrow. Tears ran across his cheeks and dripped onto the music score booklet. Linghu Chong couldn’t help but choke with sobs.

Elder Bamboo-Green’s voice came from behind the bamboo bush again, “Friend, may I ask why you are crying?”

“Oh, I just grieved about my own life experiences besides remembering how the two senior masters, who composed this music piece, passed away. I must have forgotten myself. I am so sorry. It’s my fault that I have disturbed your peace,” Linghu Chong answered. After these words, he turned around to leave.

“Little friend, would you please step in here and have a word with an old man? I’d like to consult you on a few questions,” Elder Bamboo-Green invited.

That caught Linghu Chong in a bit of surprise. He had seen the arrogant attitude the Elder Bamboo-Green put on display toward Wang Yuanba, and didn’t expect such courtesy toward him, a nobody, at all.

“You flatter me. Anything Elder wishes to ask about, I will answer to the best of my knowledge,” he answered, and then walked through the bush of bamboo.

What came to his eyes were five small cabins, two on the left, and three on the right, all made out of thick bamboo poles. An old man strolled out from a cabin on the left with a bright smile on his face.

“Little friend, please come in and join me for some tea.”

Linghu Chong took a good look at the Elder Bamboo-Green. The old man’s back was a little bit hunchbacked. His head was almost bald. All there left were patches of sparse hair. He had big hands and big feet, yet looking hale and hearty.

“Linghu Chong here pays his respect to an elder.” Linghu Chong bowed to salute.

“I’ve only wasted more years of my life. That’s all. Come in! Come in! Make yourself at home.” Elder Bamboo-Green smiled.

Linghu Chong followed him into the small cabin. The furniture inside was all made out of bamboos. A painting of a bamboo bush hung by the wall. The strokes in the painting flowed freely. Together with the many dripping ink spots in shape of bamboo leaves, the bamboo bush looked thick and dense. A zither and a flute lay on the table.

Elder Bamboo-Green poured out some dark green tea from a pottery teapot and filled a bowl. “Please have some tea,” he invited.

Linghu Chong took the tea bowl with both hands and bowed slightly.

“Little friend, would you be kind enough to tell me how you ended up with this music score booklet?” Elder Bamboo-Green asked.

At those words, Linghu Chong’s heart skipped a beat. The story of the music score contained many secrets. That was why he didn’t even tell his Master and Master-Wife. But that day when Liu Zhengfeng and Qu Yang gave him the music score, they had intended to leave this music piece behind so it would not perish with them. The Elder Bamboo-Green and his aunt both had excellent understanding of music, and furthermore, his aunt had shown superior skills and understanding in the music piece. The two of them were quite old, but other than these two, where in the world would he be able to find a third one who would be worthy of receiving this music score? Even though there might be someone else in the world that would be an expert in music, since Linghu Chong wouldn’t be living for long, the chances of find that person would be very slim. With these thoughts, Linghu Chong pondered over it for a short while and then answered,

“The two senior masters who composed this music piece, one had superior skills in playing the zither, and the other one had excellent skills in playing the flute. The two of them became bosom friends and wrote this music piece together. But it was so unfortunate that disaster came upon them and they left the world at the same time. Right before they passed away, the two senior masters gave the music score to me and asked me to find the right person to pass it onto, so the music piece would not perish together with them.” He paused for a second and then continued. “Earlier, when I heard Elder’s aunt demonstrating her superior skills in both zither and flute, I was so relieved that I’ve finally met the destined owner of this music score booklet. Elder, please take the music score booklet and give it to the granny, so I can fulfill my promise to the two composers and comfort their souls in the underworld.” At that word, he held the music score up with both of his hands respectfully.

But Elder Bamboo-Green didn’t take it. “Please allow me to ask my auntie first,” he said. “I don’t know if she is willing to accept it.”

The granny’s voice rose from the little cabin on the left, “Mister Linghu is too kind to have presented us with such a wonderful gift, showing his vast generosity. It would be disrespectful to decline yet embarrassing to accept. Would you be kind enough to enlighten us with the names of those two senior masters who composed this excellent piece?” Strangely, her voice didn’t sound old in any way.

“Certainly,” Linghu Chong answered. “The two senior masters who wrote this, one was Uncle-Master Liu Zhengfeng, and the other one was Elder Qu Yang.”

The granny uttered a cry of surprise. “So it was them,” she murmured.

“Do you know them?” Linghu Chong asked.

The granny didn’t answer his question and kept her silence instead. Only after a good while, she spoke again.

“Liu Zhengfeng was an elite master in the Hengshan Sword School, but Qu Yang was an Elder of the Demon Cult. The two sides have been bitter enemies for generations. What had made them compose this piece together? I am really lost now.”

Even though Linghu Chong hadn’t even met the granny face to face, from her performance of the zither and flute, he was already convinced that she was an old, kind, and wise lady aloof from any of the worldly affairs, someone who would never lie to him or sell him out. If she was able to tell who Liu and Qu were, then obviously she was a fellow martial arts master. So he told her everything from the beginning to the end truthfully: how Liu Zhengfeng planned to quit at the Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony, how Chief Zuo of the Songshan Sword School sent his Command Flag to stop the event, how Liu and Qu were hit by Songshan School elite fighter’s palm strike, how they performed the music together in the remote valley, and how the two asked him to find the right person to pass on the music piece before they passed away. The only thing he omitted was the part when Great Mr. Mo slain Fei Bin.

The granny listened quietly. After Linghu Chong finished telling the story, she asked, “This is clearly a music score. Why did Golden Blade Wang Yuanba claim that it was a martial arts manuscript?”

Linghu Chong then told the part about how the Lin Zhennan couple was fatally wounded by the Qingcheng Sword School and Yu Canghai, how they had asked him to take their last words to Lin Pingzhi, and how the Wang brothers suspected him and etc.

“I see,” the granny responded. “You could have told your Master and Master-Wife everything, the reasons and causes. Wouldn’t that have saved you a lot of trouble and kept all these meaningless suspicions off your back? I am only a stranger. Why have you told me everything without reservation?” she inquired again after a short pause.

  “I don’t quite understand it myself. I guess it’s because I was deeply moved by your high demeanor after listening to your graceful performance and didn’t feel suspicious about you,” Linghu Chong answered sincerely.

“Then are you saying that you actually felt suspicious about your Master and Master-Wife?” the granny asked.

Linghu Chong felt a shock in his heart. “I dare not. It’s only that…in my Master’s heart, he suspects me a great deal. Alas, I can’t really blame that on my respectful Master.”

“From the sound of your voice, I can tell that you lack a solid foundation of inner strength. That shouldn’t have happened to a young man in your age. Why’s that? Have you recently fallen seriously ill or gotten wounded badly?”

“I did get wounded badly.”

“Nephew Bamboo-Green, will you please bring this young man to my window so I can check his pulses?”

“Sure!” Elder Bamboo-Green answered. He led Linghu Chong to the window by the little cabin on the left side, and then asked him to put his left hand into the window through the window screen made out of thin bamboo sections. Inside the bamboo screen there was another layer of thin gauze. Linghu Chong could only vaguely see the shape of a person, but none of the face. Then he felt three ice-cold fingers touching his wrist. The granny started checking his pulse. But only a short moment later, she cried out in surprise.

“This is very odd!” A few moments passed before she spoke again, “Your right hand please.”

After the checking was completed, she fell into dead silence.

“Senior master, there’s no need to worry about me. I know my life won’t last for too long. I really don’t give much thought about it,” Linghu Chong said with a slight smile.

“Why are you saying that your life won’t last long?” the granny asked.

“I accidentally killed my junior apprentice brother and also lost my Master’s ‘Divine Art of the Violet Twilight Manuscript.’ I only hope that I will be able to find the manuscript soon to return it to my Master. After that, I will commit suicide in exchange for my apprentice brother’s forgiveness.”

“Divine Art of the Violet Twilight Manuscript? That’s nothing extraordinary. How did you accidentally kill your apprentice brother?”

  Linghu Chong then told the story about how the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies tried to heal his wounds, how the six energy streams clashed and smashed against each other inside him, how his little apprentice sister stole Master’s invaluable manuscript for him to heal himself, how he refused to read it and apprentice brother Lu Dayou decided to read for him against his will, how he sealed Lu Dayou’s pressure points, and how he must have used too much strength in sealing those points and got Lu Dayou killed.

“Your apprentice brother didn’t die off your hands,” the granny concluded after listening to the entire story.

“He didn’t die off my hands?” Linghu Chong was stunned.

“Your inner strength was not pure. Just by sealing those two points, you wouldn’t be able to kill him. Somebody else killed your apprentice brother,” the granny said firmly.

“Who killed apprentice brother Lu, then?” Linghu Chong murmured.

“It’s not necessary that the one who stole the manuscript is the murderer, himself, but at least the two must have some kind of connection,” the granny said.

Linghu Chong heaved out a deep breath, feeling so relieved as if a huge rock had just been removed from his chest. He had asked himself the same question before. How could he have killed Lu Dayou by jabbing his two pressure points so lightly? But deep in his heart he had always thought that even if Lu Dayou wasn’t killed from his jabs, Lu still died for his sake. How can a true man shirk responsibility, shift the blame onto others, and find excuses for himself? During the past many days, he had seen again and again the intimate relationship between Yue Lingshan and Lin Pingzhi. Out of disappointment and despair, he had really lost his will to live. There was only one thing on his mind, and that was to die and leave this world once and for all. But now when the granny reminded him, anger swelled in his heart.

“Revenge! Revenge! I must seek revenge for apprentice brother Lu!” he thought aloud.

“You said that there were six energy streams clashing inside you, but based on what I read from your pulse, there seemed to have eight energy streams. May I ask why?” the granny asked.

In loud laughter, Linghu Chong told her how Monk No Commandment had worked on mending his wounds as well.

“You have a sanguine disposition. Even though your pulses are in disorder, they showed no sign of prostration. Would you care to listen to another zither music?” the granny suggested.

“You are too kind. I truly appreciate it,” Linghu Chong replied.

Soon, music rose again, but this time the melody was ultimately mild and tender, like the sound of a slight sigh, the tender petals of blossoms moistened by the silent morning dews, or the morning breeze, stroking the many hanging twigs of the willow tree. Not long into it, Linghu Chong felt as if his eyelids had grown heavier and heavier. He kept reminding himself, “I can’t doze off. I am listening to a senior master playing the zither. If I doze off, that would be so disrespectful.” But as hard as he tried to stay focused, the drowsiness simply was irresistible. Before long, his eyes were closed. He lay on the ground and fell asleep. Even in his sleep, the soft and gentle music echoed vaguely in his dreams. It almost felt as if a gentle hand was caressing his hair with love and caring, and he had gone back to his childhood, resting in Master-Wife’s arms, and enjoying her tender affection. A good while passed before the sound of the zither finally quieted down. Waking up abruptly, Linghu Chong stood up hurriedly, looking very embarrassed.

“Oh, no! I am so sorry that I was so impolite to have fallen asleep while listening to your wonderful play! This is so embarrassing,” he muttered.

“Don’t blame yourself. I intentionally played that music to lull you into sleep, hoping the music would be able to put the energy streams inside you in order. Why don’t you try to channel your inner strength and see if the feeling of nausea has lessened?” the granny suggested.

“Many thanks!” Linghu Chong replied.

Feeling very delighted, he sat down on the ground with his legs crossed and started to channel his inner energy. He could feel that those eight energy streams still charged about inside him, clashing against each other, but that strong feeling of nausea at his chest did lessen quite a bit. He worked some more, trying to gather some inner strength, but only felt dizzier and dizzier. Suddenly, his body collapsed to the side. Elder Bamboo-Green hurried forth to prop him up and then walked him back inside the cabin.

“The Peach Valley’s Six Fairies and Great Master No Commandment all had resourceful inner energy. The energy streams they planted are too strong to be messed with from my shallow music play. I am very sorry to have put you through more pain and suffering,” the granny apologized.

“You are being too modest. I have already benefited tremendously from listening to this song,” Linghu Chong replied in a hurry.

Elder Bamboo-Green picked up a writing brush. Dipping it in the black ink, he wrote on a piece of paper, “Ask about learning this song and benefit all your life.”

Linghu Chong immediately came to realization. “May I be bold enough to ask the senior master to teach me this song, so I can slowly improve my injury by myself?” he asked.

Elder Bamboo-Green nodded, looking very pleased.

The granny did not answer right away. After a moment of pause, she finally asked, “How are your zither skills? Will you please play a song?”

Linghu Chong blushed. “I have never learned how to play the zither before. I really know nothing about it. It was such a bold request for me to have even thought about learning the superior skills from you, senior master! Please excuse my presumptuous head.”

“I’d better get going now,” he bowed deeply toward Elder Bamboo-Green.

“Please wait. It is embarrassing that we couldn’t repay the great generosity you have shown by giving us the wonderful music. It also troubles me deeply that your wounds are too severe to be cured. Nephew Bamboo-Green, you can start teaching Mister Linghu how to play the zither tomorrow. If he has enough patience and can stay in Luoyang for a period of time, then…then I might as well teach him this ‘Song of Peace and Serenity’.” In the last several words, her voice almost turned into a whisper, hard to pick up.

In the early morning the next day Linghu Chong came to the small cabin in the small alley for his first zither lesson. Elder Bamboo-Green took out a brown-ended zither made from the trunk of a phoenix tree and started to teach Linghu Chong basic music theories.

“There are a total of twelve majors. They are Huang-Zhong, Da-Lv, Tai-Cu, Jia-Zhong, Gu-Xi, Zhong-Lv, Rui-Bin, Lin-Zhong, Yi-Ze, Nan-Lv, Wu-Yi, and Ying-Zhong. These all came from the ancient times. Legend has it that many years ago, Huang Di commanded Lin Lun to create scales, and Lin Lun was inspired by phoenix’s singing, thus creating the twelve majors. A zither has seven strings and can play Gong, Shang, Jia, Wei, and Yu the five scales. The first string plays the Huang-Zhong major, and the third string plays the Gong scale. The five tones are Man-Jiao, Qing-Shang, Gong-Diao, Man-Gong, and Rui-Bin.” He went ahead and started explaining every single one of them in details.

Although Linghu Chong had no prior knowledge of any kind about music theories, because of his natural gift, he picked everything up in a very fast pace. Very satisfied with his progress, Elder Bamboo-Green started to teach him the fingering techniques, and also taught him a short song named “Vivid Sky Melody.” Linghu Chong followed the song several times and then played it on his own. Even though he missed several notes and his fingering looked jerky, the music depicted a good picture of the vast blue sky, cloudless and spacious. The granny listened in the cabin next to it. When he had finished playing, she let out a gentle sigh.

“Young Mister Linghu, you have shown great talent in learning the zither. Perhaps it wouldn’t be long before you can start learning the ‘Song of Peace and Serenity’.”

“Auntie,” Elder Bamboo-Green said, “today is only little brother Linghu’s first lesson in music, yet when he played the ‘Vivid Sky Melody,’ he was already able to portray a much better imagery than I could. Sound of the zither came directly from one’s heart. I guess the reason is because he is very broad-minded indeed.”

“Granny, you really flatter me,” Linghu Chong replied. “I wonder when the day will come when I will be able to play the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song the way you did.”

“You…you want to play the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song?” the granny uttered.

“After hearing senior master’s graceful performance yesterday, I felt great admiration. But of course it’s just my wishful thinking. Even master Bamboo-Green couldn’t play it, and I am far from that.” Linghu Chong blushed in embarrassment.

The granny fell quiet. After a long while, she finally murmured in a very low voice, “If you can play the zither part, of course that would be great….” Her voice fell lower and lower, and then a tender sigh followed.

For the following twenty some days, Linghu Chong would always come to the bamboo cabin in the small alley to take his zither lessons and stay till dusk before leaving. He ate all his lunches at Elder Bamboo-Green’s place. Though it consisted only simple vegetables and tofu, he enjoyed it a lot more than the expensive dishes that were served in the Wang Family, especially when there were also great wines to go with the lunches everyday. Elder Bamboo-Green didn’t have a great wine tolerance, but all the wine he stored were cream of the crop. He had a great knowledge about wines. Not only did he know the origins of every kind of wines, he was also able to tell the place the wine was made and the year it was made with a single sip. Linghu Chong had never heard of the many things about wine before. So he not only learned how to play the zither, but also a great deal about wines from Elder Bamboo-Green. He sometimes even felt that the theories related to wines were as deep as theories of sword arts or zither play.

Several times when Elder Bamboo-Green went out to sell handicraft arts made out of bamboos, the granny would then give him lessons behind the bamboo made screen. As days went by, many of Linghu Chong’s questions regarding the zither play were so advanced that even Elder Bamboo-Green didn’t know the answer and the granny had to answer them, herself.

But Linghu Chong never had a chance to see the granny’s face. Her voice sounded gentle and tender, as if it was the voice of a young girl from a rich family, nothing like the voice of an elderly granny living a poor life in a shabby alley. He figured that it was probably because she had been continuously nurtured by classical music since her young age, and that was why her voice remained pleasant, just like the pleasing music she played, even in her old age.

One day, the granny taught Linghu Chong a new song named “Affectionate Thoughts.” This was an ancient song from the Han Dynasty with a very sweet and melodious tone. Linghu Chong first listened to the granny playing it several times, and then tried it himself. As the music went on, unconsciously, many memories flashed by his mind. He remembered when Yue Lingshan was still a child many years ago, how the two of them, as a pair of innocent playmates, shared so much joy and fun together. He also remembered the warm affection little apprentice sister had shown when she practiced sword arts in the waterfall with him and when she brought dinners up the “Cliff of Contemplation” for him. Then, out of nowhere, Lin Pingzhi came, and how the little apprentice sister became colder and colder toward him. Grief swelled in his heart as he played on. Suddenly, the tone changed into something else, and out came the melody of a Fujian folk song – it was none other than the folk song Yue Lingshan had sung that day when she walked down the cliff. In shock, he immediately stopped playing.

“You were doing a good job playing this ‘Affectionate Thoughts’ with much affection and good understanding of the meaning behind it. I guess you must have remembered some past events while you played. But may I ask why the tone suddenly turned into the kind of melody from the Fujian region and sounded almost like a folk song?” the granny asked in a mild tone.

Linghu Chong had always been a man of a sanguine disposition, and this was something that had smoldered in his heart for months. Feeling very grateful about how the granny had treated him so warmly and kindly for the last twenty some days, he simply couldn’t hide it to himself any longer and spilled out all about his bitter love toward Yue Lingshan. Once he started telling the story, he could no longer restrain himself, and ended up telling everything from the beginning to the end without any reservation, as if the granny had become his grandmother, or mother, or a sister. By the time he finally finished telling his story, he felt greatly embarrassed.

“Granny,” he apologized, “sorry that I just babbled on and on with these meaningless things. That is so…so….”

“Fate cannot be imposed upon. Like the old saying says, ‘Everyone has his own fate, so don’t envy others.’ Young mister Linghu, although you’ve lost your present love, it is not to say that you won’t find your soul mate another day,” the granny replied in a gentle voice.

“I don’t even know how many days I still have left in this world. I guess having a family of my own will never be my concern,” Linghu Chong said loudly.

The granny did not speak another word. Sounds of zither rose again; she started playing the “Song of Peace and Serenity.” Only minutes into it, Linghu Chong almost fell asleep again.

The granny stopped playing. “From now on, I will start teaching you this song. It probably will take ten days to learn the entire song. Then you can play the song every day. Even though your inner strength won’t be fully recovered, more or less, it will be somewhat beneficial for you.”

“Yes,” Linghu Chong answered.

From that day, the granny began teaching Linghu Chong the music score and the fingering techniques. Linghu Chong put in good efforts in memorizing everything, and four days soon went by.

By the morning of the fifth day, when Linghu Chong was just about to head out to take zither lessons in the small alley, Lao Denuo walked to him in a hurry.

“Big apprentice brother, Master has given his order. We will be leaving here tomorrow.”

“We are leaving tomorrow? I…I….” Linghu Chong was taken by surprise. He had wanted to say that he hadn’t finished learning the zither song, but he swallowed the words back.

“Master-Wife asked you to start packing. We will be setting out in the early morning,” Lao Denuo added.

Nodding his acknowledgement, Linghu Chong came to the bamboo cabin in a trot.

“I will be leaving Luoyang tomorrow,” he said to the granny.

The granny was taken by surprise. After a good while of silence, she finally said gently, “Why are you in such a hurry? You…you haven’t finished learning the song yet.”

“I was thinking about the same thing. But this is the Master’s order. Besides, we are only guests in a foreign town. We can’t really live long in someone else’s house,” Linghu Chong answered.

“That’s true,” the granny answered.

That day, the granny taught Linghu Chong some more music score and fingering techniques no different from any other day.

In the many days spent together with the granny, even though Linghu Chong never saw her face, from the sound of her zither play and the dialogues between the two, he could tell that she had great care for him as if he was a member of her family. Only that she was not the kind who liked to show her enthusiasm, so occasionally when her words showed some affection, she would immediately mix it up with other things, apparently not wanting him to catch it. In this world, it used to be the Yue Buqun couple, Yue Lingshan, and Lu Dayou those four who cared the most for him, but by now Lu Dayou had passed away, Yue Lingshan cared for Lin Pingzhi whole-heartedly, instead, and Master and Master-Wife both were suspicious of him, so he naturally felt that the Elder Bamboo-Green and the granny were the closest to him. During the day, for several times he had wanted to tell Elder Bamboo-Green that he would like to stay in the small alley, studying zither and flute and also the craftsmanship instead of going back to the Huashan Sword School. But as soon as he remembered the lovely face of Yue Lingshan, he would drop the thought, not able to bare the idea of parting with his dear little apprentice sister.

“Even if the little apprentice sister stopped talking to me, all I want is to see her once everyday. I would be happy even with just a view from her back or the sound of her few words, let alone the fact that she never stopped talking to me.”

Dusk came, and it was time for farewell. Reluctant to leave Elder Bamboo-Green and the granny, Linghu Chong walked next to the window of the granny’s cabin and knelt down to salute. Vaguely he could see that behind the bamboo screen, the granny also knelt down to salute back.

“I have taught you zither skills to repay the great favor you have granted us by giving us the music score. Young Mister Linghu, why are you saluting me in such a serious manner?” the granny’s voice rose from inside the cabin.

“After our parting today, who knows when I would have the pleasure to listen to senior master’s elegant and magnificent performance? As long as I am still alive, I promise that I would come back to Luoyang once again and pay a visit to Elder and Granny,” Linghu Chong replied.

Suddenly a thought came to his mind, “The two of them are already in their final days. Who knows how many years more would they be able to last? By the time I come back to Luoyang again, they’d probably be gone from this world. Alas, life is almost like a dream, hard to tell what’s real and what’s illusory. It is also like a morning dewdrop, so insignificant, so pretty, yet so brief.” At those thoughts, he choked with sobs.

“Young Mister Linghu, at the moment of parting, I have an advice for you,” the granny said.

“Yes, please bestow your wisdom upon me. I will keep it to my heart,” Linghu Chong answered.

But for a long while, the granny kept her silence. After another long while, she finally spoke again in her gentle voice, “Ominous, the martial world is. Do take good care!”

“I got it!” Linghu Chong replied as a feeling of sadness swelled in his heart.

He bowed his farewell to Elder Bamboo-Green as sound of zither rose again from the small cabin on the left, and the music played was none other than that ancient tone – “Affectionate Thoughts.”

The next day, Yue Buqun and the rest of the group bid their farewell to Wang Yuanba and his two sons. The plan was to go north by boat following the Luo River. Wang Yuanba, his two sons, and his two grandsons came all the way to the wharf to see their guest off. Servants brought onto the boat trays of silver ingots piled high – presents from the Wang Family as travel expenses. A sumptuous feast was also catered along the pier for the farewell party.

Ever since that day when the Wang Jiajun and Wang Jiaju brothers broke Linghu Chong’s arms, Linghu Chong never spoke to any one in the Wang Family ever again. At the moment of parting, he simply turned the whites of his eyes up and stared blankly toward the five members of the Wang Family as if the “Wang Family” didn’t even exist.

Yue Buqun almost got a headache because of this Head Apprentice of his. He knew that Linghu Chong was a stubborn young man. If he had forced Linghu Chong to salute Wang Yuanba for the farewell, at the current moment, he probably would bend to Master’s order and give in, but afterwards, he would most probably cause a great deal of trouble for the Wang Family and create many disturbances. That was why he thanked Wang Yuanba again and again, himself, and pretended that he didn’t see the rude expression on Linghu Chong’s face.

Linghu Chong glanced over the crowd by the side with cold shoulder. Boxes and packages of presents were brought onboard, and a good number of them were specifically for Yue Lingshan. One after another maids walked aboard the boat and presented the presents to Yue Lingshan.

“Here are some cookies and candies for Miss Yue from Granny Wang. These are some dresses for Miss Yue to wear on the road from Madam Wang and some jewelry for Miss Yue to wear from the other Madam Wang….” It almost seemed as if Yue Lingshan was a family member of the Wang Family.

Yue Lingshan thanked again and again happily with a big smile across her face. “Wow! I don’t think I can eat that much. That’s too many dresses for me!”

An old man in shabby clothing suddenly walked aboard amid the exciting crowd. “Young Mister Linghu,” he called out.

Seeing that the old man was none other than the Elder Bamboo-Green, Linghu Chong was taken by surprise. He immediately stepped forth to greet him.

“My auntie asked me to give this small present to young Mister Linghu.” Elder Bamboo-Green raised his arms and presented a long package wrapped in a piece of blue coarse cloth in white flower patterns. Linghu Chong bowed and then took the package.

“Many thanks to the senior master! I am truly grateful!” He bowed again.

The Wang Jiajun and Wang Jiaju brothers caught the entire scene in their eyes. Seeing how Linghu Chong didn’t even bother to cast a glimpse to the famous Unbeatable Golden Blade Grandmaster Wang, yet showed such deep respect to an old folk in shabby clothing, they couldn’t help but feel enraged. If it hadn’t for the sake of the Yue Buqun couple and the many apprentice brothers and sisters of the Huashan Sword School, they would have dragged Linghu Chong out and give him a good beating to vent their spleen. When they saw Elder Bamboo-Green step onto the gangboard from the bow to get back ashore after giving Linghu Chong the package, they gave each other a meaningful glance and then jostled toward the old man with their shoulders abruptly from both sides, thinking that just a slight bump would have sent the old folk falling down into the Luo River. Although the water was quite shallow near the shore and wouldn’t drown the old man, at least it would make Linghu Chong lose a great deal of face.

“Watch out!” seeing what was going on, Linghu Chong called out in a hurry.

He was just about to reach out and grab the two brothers when he suddenly remembered that he didn’t have any inner strength left in him to go with the grab. He wouldn’t be able to grab onto them anyway. Even if he did get his hands onto the Wang brothers, it would be useless just the same. Within seconds, the Wang brother had bumped into Elder Bamboo-Green.

“Don’t!” Wang Yuanba shouted out.

Wang Yuanba knew clearly that he was very different from ordinary martial people, for he had a big family and lots of properties in the city of Luoyang. His two grandsons were both young and vigorous. If this old and feeble folk had died because of the jostle, there would be endless trouble when the law enforcement began their investigation. But since he was sitting inside the cabin talking to Yue Buqun at the time, it was already too late for him to stop them.

A loud thud rose as the two shoulders from the two brothers bumped squarely onto Elder Bamboo-Green. All of a sudden, two figures flew in the air. Immediately followed were two loud splashes – the Wang brothers had fallen into the Luo River one from each side of the gangboard. It almost seemed as if the old man was a big leather bag filled with air, and when the two Wang brothers bumped into it, they simply bounced right back. The old man kept his slow pace and went tottering off the gangboard onto the bank as if nothing had happened.

As soon as the Wang brothers fell into the river, the crowd aboard the boat broke into chaos. Several sailors jumped into the river in a hurry and dragged the two out of the water. It was still early in the spring. Even though all the ice in the river had melted, the river was still icy cold. Neither of the Wang brothers knew how to swim, so they both drank a good mouthful of water. Their teeth shuddering non-stop, both of the brothers found themselves in a very embarrassing situation.

In shock, Wang Yuanba checked his two grandsons, but what he saw astounded him even more. The four arms of the two brothers were all dislocated at the shoulder joints and elbow joints, which looked exactly the same as how they had broke Linghu Chong’s arms the other day. Their arms hanging by their sides, the two brothers still spilled out streams of abuses wildly.

Seeing what had happened to his two sons, Wang Zhongqiang leapt off the boat onto the bank and blocked Elder Bamboo-Green’s way. But Elder Bamboo-Green still kept his slow pace, his back arched, his head bending low.

“Who are you? Are you here to make trouble for the Wang Family in Luoyang?” Wang Zhongqiang yelled.

Elder Bamboo-Green kept walking as if he had not heard anything. Slowly, he came closer and closer toward Wang Zhongqiang.

Everyone aboard the boat had their eyes fixed on the two as Elder Bamboo-Green stepped closer and closer to Wang Zhongqiang, who extended his arms slightly out and blocked in the middle of the road. Gradually, the distance between the two shortened, from ten feet to five feet, and then from five feet to three feet.

As Elder Bamboo-Green took another step forward, Wang Zhongqiang yelled, “Enough!” He reached out with his two hands and smacked them down at Elder Bamboo-Green’s back in claw hands. Just when his fingers were about to touch Elder Bamboo-Green’s back, all of a sudden, his giant body flew in the air for tens of feet. Amid the gasps and screams of the crowd, he did a back flip in the air and then landed on the ground steadily.

When two persons ran toward each other in high speed, it would not be surprising if one of them flew in the air like this from the colliding force. But what seemed very strange was the fact that Wang Zhongqiang stood still while Elder Bamboo-Green closed in on him very slowly yet was still able to send him flying in the air from the colliding force. Even elite fighters like Yue Buqun or Wang Yuanba had no clue as what techniques the old man used to bump people into flying in the air like that.

Since Wang Zhongqiang landed so steadily without any sign of sore straits, people in the crowd who didn’t know any martial arts skills actually thought that he had leapt up all by himself to show off his Qing-Gong. The many servants and chairmen put their hands together and cheered happily. Many couldn’t wait to start praising the superb martial arts skills Master Wang had just put on display.

Wang Yuanba had been greatly surprised when he had found out that the Elder Bamboo-Green dislocated his two grandsons’ arms so easily in a bump without even batting an eyelid. He figured that he could achieve the same effect himself, but it would have been very forceful and overwhelming, never as subtle as the way the old man did it, and never as swift either. By the time he saw his son sent into the air from the bump, it was no longer surprise in his heart but rather terror. He knew very well that this second son of his had mastered all of his skills and techniques. Not only could he wield a saber in an unruffled yet fierce manner, his skills in fighting barehanded and his accomplishment in inner energy were also very adequate, no less than what he himself had achieved in his prime of life. But before the two even exchanged one move, his son had already been knocked flying in the air. That was something he had never seen in his life. Noticing that his son wanted to run back for a fight after the setback, he called out immediately.

“Zhongqiang, come here!”

Wang Zhongqiang turned around and leapt back onboard. Spitting on the floor angrily, he cussed resentfully, “What a stinking, old rascal! He probably knows some kind of witchcraft!”

“How do you feel? Any injuries?” Wang Yuanba asked in a whisper.

Wang Zhongqiang shook his head.

Wang Yuanba pondered upon the situation, but only concluded that it was likely that he still lacked enough skills to take on this old man. And if he asked Yue Buqun to fight the old man together with him, it would be no glory winning the fight. So the best way out probably would be pretending that nothing had happened and just get on with it. The old man did show some mercy by not wounding his son or throwing his son off balance. That had already saved him from losing face. He watched the Elder Bamboo-Green slowly walking away, his heart filled with some kind of indescribable discomfort.

“This old man, of course, is a friend of Linghu Chong,” he thought to himself, “and because my grandsons broke Linghu Chong’s two arms, he came to get even by breaking their arms. I have ruled the martial arts society in the Luoyang region for all my life. Could it be possible that I am destined to fall hard in my old age?”

By then Wang Bofen had put his two nephews’ dislocated parts back in place. Two sedan chairs carried the two dripping wet young men back to their home.

“Mr. Yue, do you know who he is? I am so dim-sighted from my old age. I couldn’t tell who that elite was at all,” Wang Yuanba glanced at Yue Buqun and asked.

“Chong, who is he?” Yue Buqun asked.

“He is Elder Bamboo-Green,” Linghu Chong answered.

Wang Yuanba and Yue Buqun both uttered a cry of surprise. Even though they both went to that small alley the other day, neither of them had a chance to meet Elder Bamboo-Green face to face. And it just happened that the only one who would be able to recognize Elder Bamboo-Green, Mr. Yi, decided to see the guests off at the gate of the Wang house instead of coming to the wharf. That was why no one had a clue as who this old man was.

“What did he give you?” Pointing at the package wrapped in blue cloth, Yue Buqun asked.

“I haven’t opened it yet,” Linghu Chong answered.

He opened the package and found a short zither inside. The zither’s body looked ancient and obsolete. Obviously, the zither was an invaluable antique. Two characters “Yan Yu” in ancient script were calved on the tail of the zither. Inside the package was also a booklet with the words “Song of Peace and Serenity” written on the cover. Feelings of gratitude swelled Linghu Chong’s heart. He couldn’t help but let out a cry of joy.

“What?” Yue Buqun stared at him and asked.

“This senior master not only gave me a zither, but also copied down the entire music score for me,” Linghu Chong explained.

He turned the booklet open and flipped through it. Every page was filled with beautiful calligraphy in small fonts. Not only were there words and symbols recording the music tone, there were also a great deal of notes and comments explaining in detail about the fingering techniques and various keynotes about zither play in general. The papers and the ink prints all looked new, apparently, the granny had just hand printed the entire booklet. Deeply moved by the granny’s affectionate love and care, Linghu Chong found tears rolling in his eyes.

Wang Yuanba and Yue Buqun saw with their own eyes that the booklet only contained techniques relating to zither play, and some of the strange characters and symbols were indeed similar to the ones inside the “Smiling Proud Wanderer” music score booklet. Although there were still many suspicions in their hearts, they had nothing else to add.

“A true master never reveals his abilities unless necessary. Who would have thought that this Elder Bamboo-Green is actually an elite in the marital world? Chong, do you know which school or clan he is from?” Yue Buqun asked. He had figured that even if Linghu Chong did know the answer, he would still not tell the truth, but he asked anyway, for it disturbed him very much to not know any details about such an elite fighter with such superb Kung Fu skills.

Not to his surprise, Linghu Chong answered, “I only studied zither from this senior master. I didn’t even know he had martial arts skills.”

After Yue Buqun and Madam Yue bid their farewell to Wang Yuanba and the Wang Bofen, Wang Zhongqiang brothers, the boat set sail toward the north, and soon were hundreds of feet away from ashore. The many apprentices soon engaged each other into a hearted discussion. Some were convinced that Elder Bamboo-Green had unusually superb Kung Fu skills while some others believed that nothing could prove that the old man had great skills, the young Wang brothers only fell into the river because of their recklessness, and Wang Zhongqiang only leapt away because he didn’t want to take the old man up on it.

Linghu Chong sat at the back of the boat to read the music score by himself, having no interest listening to the discussion among his junior apprentice brothers and sisters. Following the directions from the booklet, he lay his finger on the strings and felt the keys. Afraid to disturb his Master and Master-Wife, he only practiced the positioning and didn’t really make any sound.

The boat was heading in the same direction as the wind and the wave, thus gained some good speed. Madam Yue walked to the bow and tried to enjoy the scenery, but that didn’t help her get rid of the image of the odd looking Elder Bamboo-Green in her head at all. Many disquieting thoughts surged in her mind when suddenly, her husband’s voice rose next to her ear.

“What do you think of that Elder Bamboo-Green?”

This question was the exact same one she had wanted to ask her husband, so even though he had asked it first, she still asked, “What do you think of him?”

“That old man’s technique was so unusual and strange. Without even moving his arms or legs, he was still able to knock the three members of the Wang Family flying far in the air. I’d have to say that his techniques aren’t from any orthodox school,” Yue Buqun answered.

“But he seems to be very nice to Chong, and it didn’t look like he was intentionally making trouble for the Golden Blade Wang Family,” Madam Yue remarked.

“I hope this is the end of it. Or else, the great reputation Grandmaster Wang had built up throughout his life might be at the very brink of ruin.” Yue Buqun heaved a sigh. He paused for a good while before speaking again, “Even though we are continuing our journey by water now, it is still wise to be cautious.”

“Are you saying that someone might come aboard to make trouble?” Madam Yue inquired.

Yue Buqun shook his head. “We are still kept in the dark. We still have no idea who those fifteen masked assassins are and where they came from. We are in the light while our enemy is still in the dark. Our journey might not be as peaceful as we’d like it to be.”

Ever since Yue Buqun became the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School, he had never experienced any serious setbacks until recently. But in the last couple of months, he had realized there was a good chance that many difficulties were awaiting them in the road ahead. But who was the enemy, and what did the enemy want? He couldn’t find an answer. Just because of this clueless feeling he was laden with more and more anxiety.

That day, the Yue couple urged their apprentices again and again to be on good guard days and nights, but as time went by, their boat entered the main river from near the Zigong County and then headed east following the flow of the river; not even one accident happened. The further away they were from Luoyang, the more relaxed each one became. And before long, their vigilance gradually slacked away.

 

 A style of Chinese calligraphy, often used on seals.

 These names of majors and minors are used in ancient Chinese musical theories.

 Pulse checking was a standard procedure performed by doctors in ancient China. By checking the patient’s pulse, the doctor would be able to find out what might have gone wrong with the patient.

 Huang Di was a legendary character in the very ancient times (before any of the dynasties). He was considered the very ancestor of all Chinese people.