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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


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2

They gathered later in the Great Hall to discuss the situation.

Chen said to Wei: "Ninth Brother, send the vase to Commander Li. We cannot betray our word." Wei bowed and left.

Master Ma's son entered the hall and walked over to Chen. "Great Helmsman, Zhang Zhaozhong has sent a letter to you," He said.

"Zhang? That is strange. I wonder what he has to say?"

He opened the letter and found it angrily accused him of deception and plotting, of behaviour unbefitting an honourable man, and challenged him to a duel at a time and place of his choice. "He wants to get revenge for last night," Chen told the others. "Huh, a duel! Does he think I'm scared?"

"We have to rescue Fourth Brother in the next two days," said Xu. "Why don't you ask Zhang to postpone the meeting for a few days? We should not allow this matter to interfere with our real purpose."

"That is true," said Chen. "Today is the twentieth, so I will set the meeting for noon on the twenty-third."

He immediately wrote a letter inviting Zhang to meet him alone on that day and ordered an attendant to take it to the Commander-in-Chief's Yamen.

An attendant entered and said to Master Ma: "Master, the old man Wang Weiyang still refuses to eat and does nothing but curse."

"Who does he curse?" Ma asked.

"The Imperial Bodyguard for their lack of sense. He says he doesn't understand why they have imprisoned him."

"The North China Earth-Shaker," Priest Wu Chen chuckled. "As soon as he comes down to the south, he has to put up with some hardship."

Xu's face suddenly brightened. "I have a plan that should make it easier for you to deal with Zhang, Great Helmsman," he said. He told them the plan and they all clapped and laughed in delight.

"Excellent, very cunning," said Priest Wu Chen. Zhou Qi smiled and shook her head.

"Mistress Zhou once again thinks that Seventh Brother is not being straightforward enough," Chen said with a smile. "But when dealing with dishonourable men, one does not have to be completely honourable. Brother Meng, go and have a talk with the North China Earth-Shaker."

In forty years, Wang Weiyang had never suffered a setback. Now, on his first trip to the south, he was in dire straights. He yelled and shouted, insisting that he should be allowed to see the Imperial Guard Commander to settle the matter. As he ranted, the door to his cell opened and Meng walked in wearing the uniform of an Imperial Guard officer.

"So you are the North China Earth-Shaker?" he said unceremoniously.

Wang raged inwardly. "Yes," he said. "It is a nickname given to me by my friends. If Commander Fu finds it unpleasing, I will change it immediately."

"Commander Fu is a confidante of the Emperor," said Meng coldly. "He has no interest in such things."

"I am escorting a quantity of precious articles to Hangzhou for the court. Why are you detaining me here?"

"Do you really want to know?"

"Of course!"

"I am just afraid that at you age, you may not be able to stand the shock."

Wang hated references to his age more than anything. In a rage, he struck the corner of the table with his fist and splinters flew.

"I may be old, but my heart is still strong," he shouted. "What shock have I to be afraid of?"

Meng laughed. "Your're truly remarkable, Master Wang. There is a saying in the fighting community. 'Meeting the Devil is preferable to meeting old Wang, bumping into a spear is preferable to bumping into Zhang Zhaozhong', isn't that right?"

"That's the reputation I have amongst bandits."

"Why does 'old Wang' come before 'Zhang'? Could it be that old Wang's kung fu is better than Zhang's?"

Wang stood up. "Aha!" he exclaimed. "So the Fire Hand Judge wants to test me. I'm getting too slow in my old age. I never thought of that."

"Master Zhang is my superior, did you know that?"

"I knew that Master Zhang was in the Imperial Guard."

"Would you recognize him?" asked Meng.

"We both live in Beijing, But he is an official and I am an ordinary citizen. I have heard much about him, but have never had the good fortune to meet him."

"Master Zhang has also heard much about you," said Meng. "He says there are three matters he wants to raise with you. If you agree to them, you will be allowed to leave immediately."

"Well?"

"Firstly, he wants you to abandon the nickname 'North China Earth-Shaker."

"Huh! What's the second thing?"

"Please close down the Zhen Yuan Bodyguard Agency."

"My Bodyguard Agency has been operating for more than thirty years," Wang protested angrily. "Never have I suffered a loss at the hands of our friends in the fighting community, yet Master Zhang wants me to retire! And the third thing?"

"The third thing is to ask you to issue a proclamation asking members of the fighting community to reverse the order of the saying about you and Master Zhang. Master Zhang also says that as you are now getting on in age, your Eight Diagrams sword is probably no longer of much use to you, and suggests that you donate it to the Imperial Guard."

Wang's anger surged. "Zhang Zhaozhong and I have nothing against one another. He's carrying this too far!" he shouted.

"You have enjoyed a great name for forty years. Perhaps you ought to retire. As the saying goes, one mountain cannot contain two tigers. Surely you understand the sense of that?"

"So he wishes to humiliate me to promote his own name. Huh! And what if I don't agree. Will he continue to hold me here?"

"Master Zhang is an honourable man. He would not do such a thing," said Meng. "He invites you to duel with him at noon today on Lion Peak. If you win, the three conditions will not be mentioned again. If you lose, then he asks you to agree to all three. He says it would be rather inconvenient if the Emperor found out about this, and asks you to go alone. That is, if you dare."

Wang spluttered with rage. "Even if I was to die there, I would still go alone."

"Then please write out a letter and I will take it back to Master Zhang," said Meng. He pulled out some paper and a writing brush.

Wang, his hand shaking in anger, wrote out a short note:

"To His Excellency Master Zhang Zhaozhong. Your words and behaviour have gone too far. I will meet you today at noon on Lion Peak. If I lose, I will be at your disposal. Wang Weiyang."

Meng smiled, picked up the letter and walked out, closing the door of the cell behind him.

That morning, Master Han, the original owner of the white horse, was moved from one cell to another. Having fallen into the hands of Red Flower Society once again, he was afraid he would not be able to escape so easily again. As he morosely considered his dilemma, he heard someone shouting in the cell next to his, and recognized the voice of Wang Weiyang. He could hear he was cursing Zhang Zhaozhong. Greatly curious, he was just about to call out to Wang when the door opened and two men walked in.

"Please come with us to the Great Hall for a chat, Master Han," one of them said.

As they entered the hall, Han saw three men sitting on the left. In the middle was the Red Flower Society's Great Helmsman Chen, while on either side of him sat a dwarf and a man with a flowing white beard. Han bowed silently and sat down.

"Brother Han, I never thought that we would meet again here," said Chen. "Our fates seem to be tied."

Han hesitated for a moment. "I know I agreed to give up my sword and return home," he said finally. "But Master Wang insisted that I do this job. Out of feelings of friendship and because I knew the valuables belonged to your family, I…"

"Brother Han," Xu interrupted harshly. "We of the fighting community are very particular about two things: trust and honour. By your own word, you have proved to be untrustworthy. How do you think you should be dealt with?"

Han steeled himself. "What is there to say? If you're going to kill me then kill me."

"There's no need to talk like that," Chen said. "Master Wang has been grossly insulted by Zhang Zhaozhong, and says that no matter what, he must fight it out with him. We of the fighting community are very annoyed over this affair. What is your relationship with Zhang Zhaozhong?"

"I've met him a few times in Beijing, but we are from two different worlds. You couldn't say we had any relationship."

"As I thought. Have a look at this letter," said Chen, and handed him the note Wang had written.

Han knew that Wang always showed the greatest respect for officialdom. But if Zhang really had been that insulting, he would have been unable to swallow it. Having himself heard Wang cursing and now seeing the letter, there was no room for doubt.

"I would like to see Master Wang and discuss the situation with him," he said.

"There is not enough time," Chen replied. "I would like you to take this letter to Zhang now and you can see Master Wang when you return. Twelfth Brother, please come here," he called. 'Melancholy Ghost' Shi emerged from an inner chamber and Chen introduced him to Han. "Brother Shi will accompany you to see Zhang Zhaozhong. You are unaware of how Zhang has caused Master Wang to lose face, but there is no time to give you the details now. When you see Zhang, you can say that Brother Shi here is a lead escort with the bodyguard agency. Do exactly as he says."

Han's suspicions rose again and he hesitated once more.

"Do you have any doubts, Brother Han?"

"No, no," he answered hastily.

Xu knew that Han suspected. "Please wait a moment," he said. He left the hall for a moment, returning with a flask of wine and a wine cup into which he poured some wine.

"I was too abrupt in what I said just now," he said, offering the cup to Han. "Please accept this as a token of my apology. Let there be no hard feelings."

"Well said!" Han replied. He drained the cup, picked up the letter and walked towards the door.

"Oh no!" Xu suddenly exclaimed. "Brother Han, I've made a mistake. That cup of wine had poison in it!"

Han went pale, and he turned back towards them.

"I am truly sorry," said Xu. "That flask was poisoned for use whenever needed and one of the servants gave it to me by mistake. I didn't realize it until I smelt it. You've already drunk a cupful. Brother Han, oh dear, oh dear. Get the antidote quickly," he added to an attendant.

"The antidote is in the east city residence," the attendant replied.

"You fool. Ride over there and get it!" Xu shouted at him. The attendant bowed and left.

"I have been neglectful," Xu said apologetically to Han. "Please deliver the letter first. If you do exactly as Brother Shi says, you can take the antidote when you get back, and everything will be fine."

Han knew he either did as the Red Flower Society ordered or he was a dead man. He gave Xu a look of hatred, then turned and walked out without a word. Shi followed him.

Lord Zhou frowned as the two left. "Han doesn't appear to me to be all that evil," he said. "Poisoning him like that was not a very honourable thing to do."

"But there was no poison in the wine," Xu replied.

"No poison?"

"None." Xu poured himself a cup and drank it down.

"I was afraid he might mess up our plan in front of Zhang, so I scared him a little. When he comes back, he can drink another cup and it will all be over."

The others laughed.

Zhang was sitting beside Wen Tailai keeping watch when the cell door opened and a guard came in with a visiting card inscribed with the words: ' North China Earth-Shaker Wang Weiyang.'

"Go and tell him that I cannot see visitors," he said.

The guard left, but returned a moment later to say: "The visitors won't leave. They have a letter for you."

Zhang read the letter, and was both angered and perplexed by it. He had never had any disputes with Wang and wondered why the old man should challenge him to a kung fu duel.

"Tell Commander Li that I have to see a visitor and ask him to send someone to stand watch in my place," he said to the guard.

Four bodyguards arrived to replace him, and Zhang went to the reception hall. He recognized Lead Escort Han and saluted him with his fists.

"Isn't Master Wang here?" he asked.

"This is Lead Escort Shi of our bodyguard agency," Han replied, pointing to his companion. "There are a number of things Master Wang wants him to say to you."

Zhang threw Wang's letter onto the table. "I have respected Wang from afar for a long time, but I have never had any dealings with him whatsoever," he said. "How can he say that my words and behaviour have gone too far? There appears to be some misunderstanding here."

"Master Wang is a leading member of the fighting community," said Shi coldly. "When the community produces scum, he considers it to be his business regardless of whether there is a direct connection."

Zhang stood up, absolutely furious. "So Wang Weiyang says I am scum, does he?"

Shi said nothing in silent confirmation.

"Please enlighten me as to just how I have dishonoured the fighting community," demanded Zhang.

"Members of the fighting community abhor disrespect for superiors above all else," Shi replied. "You, Master Zhang, are a senior member of the Wudang School. It is said that you have not only turned hostile towards your own martial brothers, but have also attempted to arrest one of them for the Manchu court. Is this true?"

"The affairs of my martial brothers and I are of no concern to anyone else," Zhang said angrily.

"Secondly, there is no personal emnity between yourself and the Red Flower Society and yet purely for the purpose of your own career and enrichment, you seized Master Wen Tailai, and caused the death of the young son of Lord Zhou of Iron Gall Manor. Is your mind at ease over such things?"

"I am employed by the Emperor and I am loyal to him. What has that got to do with the Zhen Yuan Bodyguard Agency?"

"Did you not work to implicate the Zhen Yuan Bodyguard Agency in your schemes, as a result of which many of our men were killed and wounded?" said Shi.

"You really did do wrong there, Master Zhang," Han added. "You can't blame Master Wang for being angry."

"We will ignore other examples for the moment," Shi continued coldly. "How do you think these three questions should be handled?" He rolled up his eyes and struck an expression of dignified authority.

Zhang was incensed at being treated like a criminal in the dock. "All right, you," he shouted, striding forward. "You're obviously looking for trouble!"

Shi retreated a pace. "What's this?" he asked. "You want to take me on because you don't dare to accept the North China Earth-Shaker's challenge, is that it?"

"Who says I don't dare?" Zhang roared. "I will be there on Lion Peak at noon today."

"If you decide not to go, then never again consider yourself to be a member of the fighting community," Shi said. "Master Wang says that if you have any guts at all, you will go alone. There will be no one else from the Bodyguard Agency there."

"Why should I need help? Do you think I am afraid of this egotistical, stupid old man?"

"Master Wang is not a great orator," Shi continued, ignoring Zhang's comment. "When you meet him, the issue will be decided by kung fu alone. If you want to curse and swear, please feel free to do so now."

Zhang was speechless with rage.

Shi laughed coldly, then turned on his heel and left with Han following.

While the two had argued, Han's mind had been on the poison he had taken, and wished that Shi would hurry up and finish so that he could get back and take the antidote.

"We agreed to meet at noon," Shi reported on their return to the mansion at Solitary Peak.

Han collapsed on a chair with what appeared to be stomach cramps. Xu poured out a cup of wine and handed it to him.

"This is the antidote. Drink it up, Brother Han."

Han quickly stretched out his hand to take it, but Lord Zhou snatched the cup away first and drank it down at one draught. Han stared at him an amazement.

"We have joked with you enough, Master Han," Zhou said with a smile. "You didn't take any poison at all. He was just playing with you. Master Xu, come and apologise."

Xu walked over, grinning and bowed. "Please forgive me, Brother Han," he said.

Meng went in once more to see Wang Weiyang. "Master Zhang has agreed," he said. "You can go now. And by the way, he does not like naggers, so if you have anything to say, say it now. When you get to Lion Peak, the matter will be decided with fists and blades. If you try talking to him even to beg for mercy, I doubt if he will listen to you. If you are afraid, there is still time to pull out."

"I am prepared to die today if need be," Wang shouted, huffily stroking his beard. He stood up and strode out. Meng motioned with his hands to an attendant who handed Wang his sword and a bag of projectiles.

Han was standing by the door. "Please be careful Master Wang," he said.

"You know about this too?"

Han nodded. "I have seen Zhang."

"What did he call me?"

"It was demeaning. You would not wish to hear it."

"Speak," ordered Wang.

"He called you… an egotistical, stupid old man."

Wang grunted. "We shall see whether or not I am egotistical. Brother Han, if anything should happen to me, please look after the agency and the affairs of my family for me." He hesitated. "And tell my two sons not to rush into taking revenge. Their kung fu is still not good enough, and they would lose their lives to no good purpose."

He then started out for Lion Peak and the duel.


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