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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


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1

Chen held the dagger in his hands and stood watching dumbly as Huo Qingtong caught up with the Muslim column and gradually faded towards the horizon. He was about to go and ask Lu Feiqing about his pupil when he noticed a horse galloping towards him fast. As it came closer, he was disappointed to find it was only Xin Yan returning on the white horse.

"Master!" he shouted excitedly. "Master Zhang Jin has a prisoner."

"Who is it?" Chen asked.

"I went to the old temple and found Master Zhang Jin arguing with a man who wanted to pass. The man saw the horse I was ridingand began cursing me as a horse thief and struck out at me with his sword. Master Zhang Jin and I fought with him. His kung fu was really good. He fought the two of us single-handed until finally I picked up some stones and started throwing them at him, and Master Zhang Jin clubbed him on the thigh. It was only then that we managed to capture him."

Chen smiled. "What is his name? What was he doing?"

"We asked him but he wouldn't say. But Master Zhang Jin says he must be a member of the Han School of Luoyang because he was using Iron Pipa Hand Kung Fu."

Zhang Jin galloped up, dismounted and bowed before Chen, then pulled a man off the horse's saddle. He was tied hand and foot, but he stood haughtily, exuding an air of insolence.

"I understand you are a member of the Han School of Luoyang," Chen said. "What is your honourable name?"

The man said nothing.

"Xin Yan, undo this gentleman's bonds," Chen said.

Xin Yan drew his knife and cut the rope that bound the man's hands and legs then stood behind him, his knife at the ready.

"My friends have wronged you, but please do not be offended," Chen said. "Come into my tent and take a seat."

Chen and the man sat on the ground while the other heroes came in and stood behind Chen's back.

When he saw Luo Bing enter, the man's anger flared and he jumped up. "You stole my horse," he shouted, pointing at her.

"So it's Master Han," Luo Bing replied with a smile. "We exchanged horses and I compensated you with a gold ingot. You did very well out of the deal. What are you angry about?"

Chen asked what had happened, and Luo Bing recounted how she had taken the white horse. The others laughed as they listened.

"In that case, we will return the horse to you, Master Han," Chen said. "There is also no need to return the gold ingot. Consider it a token of our respect and as payment for the rental of your horse."

Han was about to reply when Luo Bing said: "Great Helmsman, this won't do. Do you know who he is? He's a Zhen Yuan Bodyguard Agency man." She pulled out Wang Weiyang's letter and handed it to him.

Chen's eyes flashed down the lines. "The great name of Wang Weiyang has been known to me for a long time, but regrettably I ave never met him," he said. "You are a member of the Han School of Luoyang. What relation are you to Fifth Madame Han?"

"And what is your honourable surname and esteemed name, sir?" Han replied.

Chen smiled. "My surname is Chen, my given name, Jialuo."

Han stood up. "You…you are the son of Chief Minister Chen?" he asked in a quavering voice.

"This is the Great Helmsman of our Red Flower Society," one of the Twin Knights said.

Han slowly sat down again and began weighing up this young Great Helmsman.

"Someone in the underworld started the rumour that our society was connected with the death of one of your school's members," Chen said. "In fact, we know nothing of it. I dispatched one of our brothers to Luoyang to explain the matter, but something came up and he was forced to postpone the trip. So your arrival could not have been better timed, Master Han. I don't know how this rumour started. Can you tell me?"

"You…you're really the son of Chief Minister Chen of Haining?" Han asked.

"Since you know my identity, there is no point in trying to deceive you," Chen replied.

"Your family announced a large reward for finding you after you left home," Han said. "It was said that you had joined the Red Flower Society and had gone to the Muslim border regions. My late comrade Jiao Wenqi was engaged by your family to look for you, but he mysteriously disappeared on the way. That was five years ago. Recently, someone found the Iron Plate and Pipa darts that Brother Jiao used in Shanxi province, and we now know for certain that he was murdered. No-one knows the exact circumstances of his death, but consider, sir: if it wasn't the Red Flower Society, then who did it?"

"I killed Jiao Wenqi," Lu Feiqing interrupted. "I am not amember of the Red Flower Society, so this matter has nothing to do with them."

The others were startled. Lu stood up and told the story of how Jiao had found him one night, how he fought one against three, and had been injured, but had still managed to kill them on the deserted hillside. The heroes listened and then cursed Jiao, saying he was shameless and deserved to die. Han's face darkened but he said nothing.

"If Master Han wishes to avenge his martial brother's death, there is no reason why he should not do so now," Lu said. Heturned to Luo Bing. "Mistress Wen, return Master Han's weapon to him please."

Luo Bing pulled out the Iron Pipa and handed it to Lu.

"Since Jiao was commissioned by the Chen family to find their son, he should have stuck to his mission," Lu said. As he spoke, he absent-mindedly excercised his Inner Strength kung fu on the body of the hollow Iron Pipa, slowly flattening it. "What was he doing using their money to come and give me trouble? Even if we of the fighting community are not able to sacrifice ourselves to save our country from the Manchu barbarians, we should still fight for justice and against those who oppress the people."

His Inner Strength kung fu was extraordinary. His hands rolled the flattened iron plate round so that it was transformed into a tube, and then with a few sqeezes, into an iron club.

"What I detest most are the Manchu court's Eagles' Claws and the bodyguard agency running dogs who use a small knowledge of the martial arts to assist the wicked with their evil deeds."

His voice suddenly hardened and he twisted the iron club into an iron ring.

As Lu talked, Han watched him twist and squeeze his school's famous weapon as if he were making noodles, and was both startled and afraid. He knew that Jiao's kung fu had been about the same standard as his own, and realised that fighting with this old manmeant certain death.

Han's courage had already evaporated and he did not dare to challenge Lu. But although shocked and humbled, he did not wish to appear too cowardly.

"This affair of Jiao Wenqi in fact arose because of me," Chen said. "I will write a letter to my elder brother telling him that Master Jiao found me, but that I was not willing to return home; also, that on his way back, Master Jiao met with an accident and passed away. I will then ask my brother to pay the reward and compensation money to Master Jiao's family."

Han continued to hesitate, and Chen's eyebrows rose. "But if your heart is set upon revenge, then I will fight you myself."

Han shuddered. "I will do exactly as you say, sir," he replied.

"That's a good fellow," Chen said. "One has to be flexible."

He told Xin Yan to hand him his writing brush, instone, ink and writing paper, and using a vigorous calligraphic style, wrote out a letter which Han accepted.

"Master Wang asked me to help escort a cargo back to Beijing and then to escort some treasures the Emperor has presented to your honourable family down to the south. But faced with the extraordinary talents of you all, I would only make a fool of myself if I made further use of my own minor abilities in the martial arts. I will take my leave of you, sir."

"Did you say items belonging to my family, Master Han?"

"The bodyguard agency caller who brought me the letter said the Emperor is extremely generous towards your family. Every few months, he bestows an amount of precious stones and treasures, and there is now a large accumulation of these that must be sent south to your home. Your family asked us to escort them, but I would not dare to continue earning my daily rice in such a business. After I have made suitable arrangements for Brother Jiao's dependants, I will return home."

"It is good that you are willing to follow Master Lu's invaluable words of advice," Chen said. "In that case, I might as well make friends with you. Xin Yan, please bring in the other gentlemen from the Zhen Yuan Bodyguard Agency."

Xin Yan went out and led in Lead Escort Qian and the others. Han and the escorts stared dumbly at each other.

"Master Han, please take these friends with you," said Chen. "But if we ever catch them again doing anything but good deeds, do not blame us if our hands are not stayed by mercy."

Chen did not again mention the return of the white horse, and Han did not dare to bring it up.

"We will leave first," Chen said. "I will ask all of you to rest here for a day before making a start."

The Red Flower Society heroes mounted their horses an started off, leaving the Agency men and the Yamen officers standing silently behind.

"Master Chen," Lu Feiqing said after they had travelled for a while. "My pupil will meet up with those bodyguard agency fellows before long. They have been humiliated and have no way to get their revenge, so they may cause trouble. I would like to stay behind and watch them for a while before following after you."

"Please do as you wish, Master Lu," Chen replied.

Lu saluted, then galloped off the way they had come. Chen realised as Lu disappeared that he had not asked him about his pupil.


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