home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
А Б В Г Д Е Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | форум | collections | читалки | авторам | add



8

After all the hard riding and fighting they had done that day, they were all hungry and tired. Muzhuolun directed his Muslims to erect tents by the side of the road, set aside several for the use of the Red Flower Society heroes and also sent over cooked beef and mutton for them to eat.

When they had finished, Chen ordered Officer Wu to be brought in, and questioned him closely. Wu cursed Zhang Zhaozhong bitterly. He said that at first, Wen had been seated in the carriage, but that once Zhang realised they were being followed, he, Wu, had been told to sit in the carriage instead as a decoy. Chen also interrogated the other lead escorts, but failed to learn anything new.

Xu waited until the prisoners had been led out of the tent and then said to Chen: "Great Helmsman, Lead Escort Qian has a cunning gleam in his eye. Let's test him out."

"All right," Chen replied.

Night fell, but still Wei and Shi did not return to report, and the others became worried about them.

"They probably discovered which way Fourth Brother is going and are following after him," Xu said. It's not such bad news." The others nodded, and soon went off to sleep in the tents. The lead escorts and the Yamen officers were all bound hand and foot and placed outside with 'Crocodile' Jiang guarding them.

The moon rose, and Xu emerged from his tent and told Jiang to go in and sleep. He walked round in a great circle then went over to where Lead Escort Qian was sleeping. He sat down and wrapped himself in a blanket, treading heavily on Qian's thigh as he did so. Qian woke with a start. Not long after, Xu began snoring lightly, and Qian's heart leapt for joy. The rope had not been knotted tightly, and after a short struggle, he managed to wrench himself free. He held his breath, not daring to move. Xu's snoring grew heavier, so he quietly undid the rope binding his legs, stood up and tip-toed away. He went behind the tents, untied the reins of a horse from a wooden post and walked slowly to the road. He stood listening very carefully, but there was not a sound to be heard. He started walking again, gradually quickening his pace, until he arrived beside the carriage in which Officer Wu had sat.

Zhou Qi woke with a start as she heard a noise outside the tent. She lifted the foot of the canvas and saw a figure walking stealthily towards the road. She picked up her sword and raced out of the tent, and was just about to call out when someone grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth.

Very frightened, she struck backwards with her sword, but her assailant was very agile, grabbed her wrist and forced the sword away, whispering: "Don't make a sound, Mistress Zhou. It's me, Xu."

Zhou Qi no longer tried to make use of the sword, but she struck him solidly on the chest with her fist. Half in pain and half in pretence, Xu grunted and toppled over backwards.

"What did you do that for?" she hissed. "Someone's trying to escape, did you see?"

"Don't make any noise," he whispered back. "Let's watch him."

They crawled slowly forward and watched as Qian lifted up the cushions in the carriage. There were two sharp cracks as if he was prying planks apart, then he emerged with a box which he stuffed into his gown. He was about to mount his horse when Xu slapped Zhou Qi's back and shouted: "Stop him!" Zhou Qi leapt up and charged forward.

Qian already had one foot in the stirrup when he heard the shout but did not have enough time to mount properly. He gave the horse a savage kick on the rump, and the animal, startled by the pain, galloped off. Qian started to laugh triumphantly, but then suddenly tumbled off the horse onto the ground.

Zhou Qi ran up to him, placed a foot on his back and pointed the tip of her sword at his neck.

"See what that box in his gown is," said Xu as he ran up. Zhou Qi pulled out the box, opened it up and saw inside a thick pile of sheep skins bound in the form of a book. She flipped through it under the moonlight, but it was composed completely of strange characters that she did not recognize.

"It's more of your Red Flower Society's scribblings. I wouldn't understand it," she said, and threw it casually at Xu.

Xu caught it and looked at it. "Mistress Zhou," he exclaimed. "This is a great achievement on your part. I think it's the Muslims' Sacred Book. Let's go and find the Great Helmsman quickly."

"Really?" she asked. She saw Chen coming up to meet them. "Brother Chen, you've come out as well. What do you think this thing is?"

Xu passed the wooden box over, and Chen looked inside. "It is almost certainly their Sacred Book," he said. "It's fortunate that you managed to stop that fellow, Mistress Zhou."

Zhou Qi was very pleased to hear them praising her. After a moment, she asked Xu: "Did I hurt you when I hit you just now?"

"You are very strong," he replied with a smile.

"It was your own fault," she said, and turned to Lead Escort Qian. "Get up, we're going back," she added.

She took her foot off Qian's back, but he did not move. "What are you playing dead for? I didn't hurt you," she scolded him. She kicked him lightly once, but Qian still didn't budge.

Chen pinched him beneath his armpit and shouted: "Stand up!", and Qian slowly clambered upright. Zhou Qi stood thinking for a second, and then realised what had happened. She searched around on the ground and found a white chess piece.

"Your Encirclement Chess piece!" she said, handing it back to Chen. "You cheated me. Huh! I knew you weren't good men."

"How did we cheat you?" asked Chen with a smile. "It was you that heard this fellow and chased after him."

Zhou Qi saw the perfect logic of this and was delighted. "Well, all three of us share the merit." she said.

The three, escorting Qian and carrying the Sacred Book, walked over to Muzhuolun's tent. As soon as the four night-guards passed on their message, Muzhuolun came out, hastily throwing on his gown, and invited them inside.

Chen told him what had happened and handed over the Sacred Book, Muzhuolun was overjoyed, and in a moment, all the Muslims crowded into the tent and bowed respectfully before Xu, Chen and Zhou Qi.

"Master Chen," Muzhuolun said. "You have recovered my tribe's Sacred Book. To express our thanks is not enough. If there is ever anything you want us to do, simply let us know, and even if it means crossing a thousand mountains and ten thousand rivers, will still hurry to your assistance. There is no task we would refuse.

"Tomorrow I will go home with the Sacred Book and will leave my son and daughter here under your direction, Master Chen. Please allow them to return after Master Wen has been rescued."

Chen hesitated for a second before replying. "It would be best if your son and daughter went home with you. We are very moved by your goodwill, your Lordship, but we really have no right to bother them in such a way."

Muzhuolun was surprised by Chen's refusal, and tried several times to convince him to change his mind, but Chen was adament.

"Father!" Huo Qingting called, and shook her head slightly.

The rest of the Red Flower Society heroes entered the tent and congratulated Muzhuolun. The tent was now full to bursting, and the mass of the Muslims retired outside.

Xu saw Lord Zhou enter. "In the recovery of the Muslims' Sacred Book, it was your daughter who earned the greatest merit," he said.

Zhou looked at his daughter approvingly. Suddenly Xu pressed his hand to his chest and cried out in pain. Everyone turned to look at him.

"What's the matter?" Lord Zhou asked, and Zhou Qi looked on, panic-striken. Xu hesitated, then smiled and said: "It's nothing."

"Right," Zhou Qi thought. "I'll find a way to get back at you sooner or later."

Early next morning, the Muslims and the heroes bade farewell to each other. Zhou Qi took Huo Qingtong's hand. "This young lady is both a nice person and a powerful kung fu fighter," she said to Chen. "Why won't you let her help us save Master Wen?" Chen was speechless for a second.

"Master Chen doesn't want us to risk our lives, and we appreciate his good intentions," Huo Qingtong said. "I have been away from home a long time and miss my mother and sister very much. I would like to get back soon. Goodbye Sister Zhou, we will see each other again."

She waved, pulled round her horse's head and galloped off.

"Look at her," Zhou Qi said to Chen. "She's even crying because you won't let her come with us. You're despicable."

Chen silently watched Huo Qingting as she galloped away. Suddenly, she reined in her horse and turned round. She saw Chen still standing there and bit her lip, then beckoned to him. Chen felt a moment of confusion but immediately went over to her. She jumped off her horse and they stood facing each other for a second, unable to speak.

Huo Qingtong steadied herself. "You saved my life, and we are indebted to you for recovering our tribe's Sacred Book. No matter how you treat me, I will never blame you," she said.

She undid the dagger tied to her waist. "This dagger was given to me by my father. It is said that a great secret is hidden in it, but it has been passed down from hand to hand over the centuries, and no-one has ever been able to discover what it is. I would like you to keep it. Perhaps you will be able to unravel the mystery."

She presented the dagger with both hands, and Chen stretched out both hands to receive it.

"I would not normally dare to accept such a precious object." he said. "But since it is a present from you, it would be disrespectful of me to refuse."

Huo Qingtong saw the desolate look on his face, and found it unbearable. "I understand in my heart why you do not want me to go with you to rescue Master Wen. You saw yesterday how that youngster acted towards me and despise me as a result. The youngster is Master Lu Feiqing's pupil. Go and ask Master Lu, then you can judge whether or not I am a girl with any self-respect."

She leapt onto her horse and galloped away in a cloud of dust.


предыдущая глава | The Book and The Sword | cледующая глава