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


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


After two days and nights of being starved, frightened and angered, Qian Long's resistance was virtually worn away. On the morning of the third day, a boy appeared and said: "Master Dongfang, our master invites you to come and talk with him."

Qian Long recognized the boy as Chen's attendant, and he followed him down to the floor below.

As he entered, Chen, smiling broadly, advanced to greet him, and bowed. Qian Long returned the bow, and the two sat down. Xin Yan served some tea.

"Bring some titbits to eat," Chen ordered. A moment later, Xin Yan carried in a tray on which was placed plates of spring rolls, prawns, chicken and ham. He set out two sets of bowls and chopsticks and poured wine for them both.

"Please forgive me for not being able to see you sooner. I had to go to visit a friend who was wounded," said Chen.

"It is nothing."

"There is something I wish to talk to you about, but please eat first," Chen added. He chose a morsel from each plate, then put down his chopsticks and watched Qian Long wolf down the food.

When he had finished, Qian Long sat back, unspeakably contented, and raised his tea cup. He looked closely at the tiny Dragon's Well tea leaves and took a leisurely sip, savouring the feeling of the liquid seeping into his stomach.

Chen walked over to the door and pushed it open. "All the others are downstairs standing guard. There could not be a more convenient place for us to talk. No one will hear us," he said.

Qian Long's expression hardened. "Why did you have me brought here?" he asked. "What is it you want?"

Chen stepped forward and stared into his face.

"Do you still not recognize me, brother?" Chen asked after a moment's silence. The words were soft, the tone intimate, but they hit Qian Long's ears with the force of a clap of thunder, and he jumped. An expression of deep sincerity on his face, Chen slowly extended his hand and took Qian Long's.

"We are blood brothers," he said. "There is no need to continue the deception, my brother, I know everything."

Chen pulled on a chord beside a painting hanging on the wall and the painting rolled up to reveal a mirror. "Take a look at yourself," he said.

Qian Long stood up and gazed at himself in the mirror, wearing Chinese clothes: his face contained not the slightest likeness to a Manchu. He looked at Chen standing beside him, and had to admit that despite their difference in age, their faces were similar. He sighed and sat down.

"Brother, we were not aware of the situation before," said Chen. "We even took up arms against each other. The spirits of father and mother up in heaven must have been heartbroken. Luckily neither of us was hurt and nothing happened which cannot be rectified."

Qian Long felt a rasping dryness in his throat and his heart beating rapidly. A moment passed. "I asked you to go to Beijing with me to work, but you refused," he said finally. Chen turned and gazed out at the great river without answering.

"With your scholastic abilities," Qian Long continued, "what reason would there be for not promoting you? Such a situation would be of great benefit to our family and to the nation, to both you and I. Why be so disloyal and unfilial as to continue with this criminal course of action?"

Chen spun round. "I have never accused you of being disloyal or unfilial, or of acting criminally, and yet you accuse me of these things."

"Hah!" replied Qian Long. "It is true that ministers must be completely loyal to their emperor. But since I am already emperor, how could I be disloyal?"

"You are obviously a Chinese and yet you submit to the Manchus. Is that loyalty? When our father and mother were alive, you never attended to them properly. Is that filial behaviour?"

Beads of sweat dripped off Qian Long's forehead. "At the time, I did not know," he said quietly. "I first heard about it when the former leader of your Red Flower Society, Master Yu, visited me last spring. Even now, I'm not sure whether I believe it."

"Look at yourself," Chen said. "What resemblance is there to a Manchu? How can you have any further doubt?"

Qian Long brooded in silence.

"You are Chinese. The homeland of the Chinese people has fallen into the hands of the Manchus, and you yourself lead them in the oppression of our people. Is that not disloyal, unfilial and criminal behaviour?"

For a moment, Qian Long was at a loss for a reply. "And now I have fallen into your hands," he finally said, haughtily. "If you are going to kill me, then kill me. There is no point wasting words."

"But we made a pact on the embankment at Haining that we would never do anything to hurt one other," Chen replied softly. "How can I go back on my word? And anyway, now that we know we are blood brothers, we have even less reason to do each other harm." A tear trickled unbidden down his cheek.

"Well, what do you want me to do? Do you want to force me to abdicate?"

"No," said Chen, wiping his eyes. "You can continue to be emperor. But as the wise, enlightened founder of a new dynasty."

"Founder of a new dynasty?" Qian Long echoed in surprise.

"Yes. You will be a Chinese emperor, not an emperor of the Manchus."

Qian Long suddenly understood. "So you want me to drive out the Manchus?" he said.

"Yes, you will be emperor just the same, but instead of being regarded as a criminal and cursed by future generations, why not establish an outstanding and rejuvenating dynasty that will last?"

Chen saw from Qian Long's expression that his words were having the desired effect.

"Being the emperor you are at present, you are simply basking in the glory of the former Manchu rulers," he continued. "What is so special about that? Look at that man."

Qian Long went over to the window and looked down in the direction Chen was pointing, and saw a peasant in the distance hoeing the ground.

"If that man had been born in the Imperial Palace and you had been born in his farm house, he would be emperor, and you would have no choice but to hoe the field."

Qian Long started at the novelty of the idea.

"A man is born into the world and his life is gone in a flash," said Chen. "If you achieve nothing worthwhile, you decay and rot like grass and trees without leaving a trace behind. The emperors of the past who established their own noble dynasties were truly great men. Even a Tartar such as Genghis Khan could also be considered to be outstanding."

Every word stabbed deep into Qian Long's heart. If, he thought, if I really do as he says and throw the Manchus out and restore the Chinese homelands, I would truly be the founder of a dynasty and a man of greater achievements than any emperor before me.

Just as he was considering an answer, he heard the sound of dogs barking in the distance. Seeing Chen frown slightly, he looked out and spied four massive hounds galloping towards the pagoda with two figures following.

In the wink of an eye, they reached the base of the pagoda and there was a sharp challenge from below. Qian Long and Chen, in the second-highest storey of the thirteen-storey pavilion could not hear distinctly what was said, but they saw the two new-comers and their dogs charge into the pavilion. A moment later, there was a loud whistle indicating danger.

Seeing help had arrived, Qian Long was overjoyed. Chen looked around carefully, but could see no other signs of movement: the two intruders were alone.

He heard the shouts of youngsters mingling with the barks and growls of the dogs, indicating Zhou Qi and Xin Yan on the second floor were doing battle with the animals. All of a sudden, there were two screams, and two swords were hurled out of the window. Just then, 'Crocodile' Jiang wielding his mighty iron oar chased the four dogs out of the pagoda and began beating them mercilessly. Someone on the sixth floor and gave an ear-splitting whistle. The four dogs turned and raced away.

Noting the intruders had reached the sixth floor, Chen realised it meant Twelfth Brother, Ninth Brother and Eighth Brother had been unable to stop them. He groaned inwardly.

Suddenly, he saw 'Mastermind' Xu leap out of the seventh floor window onto the narrow roof pursued by a tiny old woman with a head of white hair and a sword slung over her back.

"Watch the dart!" Xu yelled with a wave of his hand, and his opponent hastily withdrew. But it had been merely a feint, and Xu took advantage of the trick to escape round the corner.

The old woman chased after him.

"Watch out!" Xu yelled.

"You bastard monkey," the old woman cursed. "You can't fool your grandma again."

She made a grab for him, but this time, it was no feint: a piece of tile Xu had picked up from the roof hurtled towards her. Unable to avoid it, the old woman blocked the tile with her hand and it shattered. The Twin Knights, standing guard on the eighth floor, appeared to be fully occupied dealing with the old woman's partner, for they gave Xu no help. Xu's kung fu was no match for the old woman's, and after a few moves, he was forced to dodge out of the way again.

Qian Long watched with pleasure as the two new-comers fought their way up, but Chen also seemed strangely unconcerned. He pulled a chair to the window so that he could sit and observe the battle. There were only two of them, he thought. In the end, they could not overcome all the Red Flower Society's fighters.

Then he heard the sound of more dogs barking in the distance intermingled with shouting and galloping horses.

Footsteps sounded on the stairs and Xin Yan raced in.

"The guards outside report that more than two thousand Manchu troops are approaching, heading straight for us," he told Chen, using the Red Flower Society's secret language.

Chen nodded and Xin Yan raced back downstairs. Qian Long did not understand what Xin Yan had said, but seeing Chen's anxious expression, he knew it was unwelcome news. He looked into the distance and spotted amongst the maple trees a white flag on which was written one large word: "Li". Overjoyed, he realized Commander Li had come to save him.

Chen leaned out of the window and shouted: "Brother Ma, retreat into the pagoda and prepare the bows and arrows!"

Suddenly the old woman rushed into the room with the heroes close behind. Lord Zhou attacked her with his great sword while Chen pulled Qian Long into a corner.

Xu motioned some of the others to guard the windows, and Chen shouted: "Throw down your sword and we'll spare you!"

The old woman could see she was surrounded, but she continued to fight, completely unafraid.

"I've seen her sword style somewhere before, I'm sure," Zhou Qi said to Xu.

"Yes, I thought it was familiar too," he replied.

The old woman forced Lord Zhou back a pace, then shouted at Qian Long: "Are you the emperor?"

"Yes, I'm the emperor," he replied hastily. "Are all the rescue forces here?" The woman leapt onto the table, then with her sword pointing straight out, flew at him like a great bird, thrusting the blade at his heart. The heroes had assumed she was one of Qian Long's underlings come to rescue him, and were caught completely unaware by this fast move. But Chen, who was standing by Qian Long's side, thrust his fingers at a Yuedao point on the old woman's arm. Her blade slowed, giving Chen time to draw his dagger and place it in the way of the sword. The two blades clashed, then both retreated two paces. Chen pulled Qian Long back and placed himself in front of him, then saluted.

"What is your honourable name, Madame," he asked.

"Where did that dagger of yours come from?" she replied.

Chen was surprised by the question. "A friend gave it to me," he said.

"What friend?" the woman demanded. "You are a servant of the Emperor. Why would she give it to you? What is your relationship with Master Yuan, the Strange Knight of the Heavenly Pool?"

"He is my teacher," said Chen, answering the last question first.

"So that's it," the woman said. "Your teacher may be peculiar, but he's an upright gentleman. How could you have dishonoured him by becoming a running dog of the Manchus?"

"This is our Great Helmsman, Master Chen," 'Iron Pagoda' Yang shouted. "Don't talk such nonsense."

The old woman's face took on a puzzled expression. "Are you the Red Flower Society?" she asked.

"Correct," said Yang.

She turned on Chen. "Have you surrendered to the Manchus?" she screeched in rage.

"The Red Flower Society is just and upright. How could we bend our knees before the Manchu court?" he replied. "Please sit down, madame. Let us discuss this calmly."

Her expression softened slightly. "Where did your dagger come from?" she asked again.

Having seen her kung fu style, and hearing her questions, Chen had already almost solved the puzzle.

"It was given to me by a Muslim friend," he said. The exchange of presents between boys and girls was not an ordinary thing, and Chen was unhappy about discussing the matter in front of everyone.

"Do you know Huo Qingtong?" the old woman demanded. Chen nodded.

"It was Sister Huo Qingtong who gave it to him," Zhou Qi interjected. "Do you know her? If you do, we're all on the same side!"

"She is my pupil," the old woman said. "Since you say we are all on the same side, what are you doing helping the Emperor, and stopping me from killing him?"

"We caught the Emperor," said one of the Twin Knights. "If he is to be killed, it will not be you who does it."

"Huh!" the woman exclaimed. "You mean you caught the emperor and brought him here?"

"This is a misunderstanding, Madame," said Chen. "We invited the Emperor to come here. We assumed you were palace bodyguards coming to rescue him, that is why we tried to obstruct you."

The old woman went over to the window and stuck her head out. "Come down, husband!" she shouted at the top of her voice. An arrow shot in through the window from below and the old woman grabbed it by its tail, then turned in one movement and threw the arrow so that it implanted itself in the table top.

"You untrustworthy rascal," she screeched at Chen as the arrow quivered. "What is the meaning of this?"

"Please don't be angry Madame," replied Chen hastily. "Our brothers at the base of the pagoda are not yet aware of the situation." He walked to the window planning to tell the heroes to stop firing and saw that the pagoda was already surrounded by Manchu troops.

"Third Brother," he said to 'Buddha' Zhao. "Tell the others to guard the doorway, but not to go outside." Zhao nodded and went downstairs.

"You must be Madame Guan," said Lord Zhou to the old woman. "I have long respected you."

Madame Guan nodded slightly.

"This is Lord Zhou Zhongying," said Chen to her.

"Ah, I have heard about you too," she said, then suddenly screeched out: "Husband, come down! What are you doing?"

The others all jumped at this unexpected outburst.

"Your husband is fighting with Priest Wu Chen," said Lord Zhou. "Let's go and explain the situation to them quickly."

Chen motioned to the Twin Knights to guard Qian Long, and the rest raced up the stairs to the thirteenth floor.

"Husband!" Madame Guan shouted. "They're the Red Flower Society!"

Her husband Bald Vulture, locked in fierce combat with the Taoist priest, started in surprise, and hesitated in his attack. "Really?" he said.

There was a laugh from above their heads and Master Lu Feiqing dropped to the floor.

"Excellent swordsmanship, excellent," he chuckled, nodding appreciatively at both Bald Vulture and at Priest Wu Chen.

"Do you recognize me?" he asked Bald Vulture.

Bald Vulture looked at him closely for a moment, then gave a shout.

"Ah! You're 'Hidden Needle' Lu," he exclaimed.

"That's right," Lu smiled.

"What are you doing here?" Bald Vulture asked.

Lu turned without answering and bowed before the old woman. "Madame, it has been many years since I last saw you, but your kung fu is better than ever!"

"Ah," exclaimed Bald Vulture again, staring at Lu's blade. "That's a very precious sword you have there!"

Lu smiled. "It belongs to someone else," he said. "I'm just using it temporarily." But let me introduce you. He introduced all the heroes, to 'Bald Vulture' Lin and his wife Madame Guan, the Tianshan Twin Eagles.

"I thought you two were living happily in the Tianshan mountains," Lu said. "And here you are, trying to kill the Emperor."

"You have all met my young pupil, Huo Qingtong," replied Madame Guan. "This affair started with her. The Emperor sent an army to attack the Muslims, but they couldn't match the Manchu troops' strength and lost some battles. Later, the Manchu grain supplies were ransacked…"

"That was the Red Flower Society," interrupted Lu. "They did it to help Muzhuolun."

"Mm, I heard about that," said Madame Guan. She glanced at Chen. "No wonder she gave you that dagger."

"That was before. We met when they came to recover their sacred Koran."

"You also helped to get that back. The way the Muslims talk of you, you're all great heroes!" Her tone suggested she disagreed. "After the Manchu troops lost their grain, they also lost a battle and Muzhuolun suggested peace talks. But just as the truce talks were getting started, the Manchu general got hold of some rations and attacked again."

"Manchu officers have no sense of honour," said Lu, shaking his head sagely.

"The ordinary people of the Muslim areas have been brutally treated by the Manchu troops," Madame Guan continued. "Master Muzhuolun asked us to help. We originally didn't want to have anything to do with it…"

"It was you!" Bald Vulture butted in accusingly. "Now you're trying to feign innocence."

"What do you mean, me? Look at the way the Manchus are burning and pillaging across the Muslim lands, oppressing the people. Don't you care?"

Bald Vulture grunted in indignation and was about to argue further when Lu raised his hand.

"You two are just the same as ever," he said with a smile. "As soon as you open your mouths, you're arguing. Don't take any notice, Madame, please continue."

She eyed her husband distastefully, then said: "We first thought of assassinating the Manchu general, Zhao Wei, but there wasn't much point in killing one general, because the Emperor would just send another and it would go on for ever. So we decided to kill the Emperor instead. We went to Beijing, but heard on the road that he had come down south. We followed him out of Hangzhou with our dogs using the tunnel you used to bring him here. At the time, we were very puzzled as to why the Emperor would suddenly want to travel around in tunnels."

"What? So you captured the Emperor?" said Bald Vulture. Chen nodded. "You did pretty well," Bald Vulture commented.

Suddenly, there was a roar from the Manchu troops around the base of the pagoda.

"I'll go and tell the Emperor to shut them up," said Xu, and ran downstairs. A moment later they saw Qian Long stick his head out of the window on the seventh floor and shout: "I'm here!"

"There's His Highness!" called Bai Zhen down below and the troops all prostrated themselves on the ground.

"I am all right up here!" Qian Long added. "There is no need for such noise." There was a pause, then he added: "All of you retire thirty paces!" They complied immediately.

"Seventh Brother directs the Emperor and the Emperor directs the troops," said Chen with a smile. "That's much better than charging out and killing and slaughtering. The Emperor is the most precious object under heaven. It is better to use him than to kill him." The others laughed.

'Leopard' Wei, who was watching the Manchu soldiers withdraw, saw several men in their midst with hunting dogs on leashes.

"Ah, I was wondering how they found their way here," he said. He took a bow from one of the attendants, and shot off two arrows, and there were two long screams and two of the dogs fell to the ground, dead. A roar went up from the Manchu troops, who speeded up their retreat.

"Master Lu, Lord Zhou," said Chen. "Please entertain the Twin Eagles while I go downstairs and have another talk with the Emperor."

As Chen reached the seventh floor, the Twin Knights and Xu bowed to him and retired. Qian Long was sitting despondently in a chair.

"Have you made a decision yet?" asked Chen.

"Since you have caught me, you might as well kill me if you are going to. What is the point of talking?"

Chen sighed. "It is such a pity," he said.

"What's a pity?"

"I have always thought of you as an extremely talented man and have pride in the fact my parents gave birth to such a good son, my brother. But…"

"But what?"

Chen was silent for a moment. "But although outwardly you appear to be a man of courage, you are virtually hollow inside. Not being afraid of death is the easiest thing in the world. But the formation of a grand designs, the making of great decisions, that is something that can only be done by a man with true courage. That is precisely what you are incapable of doing."

Qian Long was silent, but he appeared to be moved by Chen's words.

"All you have to do is to decide to restore the Chinese nation and we unruly fighters will immediately follow your every instruction," Chen added. "I can strike my chest and guarantee that they will not dare to do anything disrespectful towards you."

Qian Long nodded several times, but there was still an area of doubt in his mind which made it impossible for him to speak out. Chen guessed his thoughts.

"All I want is to see you throw the barbarian Manchus out of China," he said. "Then I will be content," he said. "Then I will ask you to allow me to retire to the seclusion of the Western Lake and live out the rest of my life in peace."

"What sort of talk is that?" said Qian Long. "If this Grand Design was achieved, your assistance would be required in planning affairs of state."

"We are getting ahead of ourselves," replied Chen. "But once the Grand Design has been completed, you must allow me to retire."

Qian Long slapped his hand down on the table. "All right," he said. "We'll do as you say."

Chen was overjoyed. "You have no further doubts?" he asked.

"None. But there is one thing I would like you to do for me. Your former Great Helmsman, Yu Wanting, had several items stored in the Muslim areas and said they were proof of my birth. Go and get them so that I can see them. Only then will my last doubts disappear. Then we will discuss detailed plans."

Chen felt this was reasonable. "All right," he replied. "I will start out tomorrow and get them myself."

"When you get back, I will assign you to the Imperial Bodyguard, then promote you to be commander of the Beijing garrison," said Qian Long. "I will gradually transfer the military power in every province into the hands of Chinese we can trust. I'll make you Secretary of the Armed Forces with orders to disperse the key Manchu Banner units, and then we can act."

Chen knelt down and performed the ritual act of obeiscence of a vassal before his Lord, but Qian Long hurriedly helped him up.

"An oath must be sworn in front of the others over this," Chen said. "There must be no reneging."

Qian Long nodded.

Chen clapped his hands once and ordered Xin Yan to help Qian Long change back into his original clothes.

"Please ask everyone to come to pay their respects to the Emperor," he said.

The heroes crowded in. Chen told them Qian Long had agreed to chase out the Manchus and restore the Chinese throne, then swore in a clear voice: "In future, we will assist Your Highness, and together plan the Grand Design. If anyone should reveal this secret, he will be damned by heaven and earth."

He drank a draught of a specially prepared brew of Covenant Wine to seal the pact, and Qian Long did likewise.

"Bald Vulture, Madame Guan," said Lu. "Come and drink a cup of the Covenant Wine as well."

"I have never believed the word of any official, so why should I trust their leader?" said Bald Vulture.

His right hand suddenly struck the wall, smashing a section of it to rubble and pulled out a brick. "Whoever breaks the covenant, betrays his friends, and destroys the Grand Design will be crushed like this!" he shouted harshly, and with one movement of his hand, the brick broke into a thousand pieces which tumbled to the floor. Qian Long looked at the hole in the wall and down at the smashed brick in fright.

"Even though you decline to join the vow, we are all friends," said Chen. "But I trust Your Highness will not vacillate and forget the covenant established today."

"Please rest easy over that," replied Qian Long.

"All right. Let us escort His Highness out," said Chen. Wei raced out of the pagoda and shouted: "Come and meet His Highness!"

Half-suspicious, Commander Li and Bai Zhen ordered the troops to move slowly forward, afraid that this was yet another Red Flower Society trick. Suddenly, they saw Qian Long emerge from the pagoda and prostrated themselves on the ground. Bai Zhen led a horse over and Qian Long mounted.

"I have been drinking and composing poetry with them here," he said to Bai Zhen. "I wanted a few days' peace and quiet and you had to make a mountain out a molehill and rob me of my pleasure."

The heroes returned to the pagoda.

"We are extemely happy to have met you all today," said Bald Vulture. "Especially Lord Zhou, whom we have respected for so long, and Master Lu, whom we have not seen for many years. But now my wife and I have some other minor affairs to deal with, and will take our leave."

Madame Guan pulled Chen over to one side. "Are you married?" she asked.

Chen blushed deep red. "No," he replied.

"Are you engaged?"

"Not engaged either," he said. Madame Guan smiled to herself. Then she suddenly screeched: "If you are ever so ungrateful as to turn your back on the one who gave you that dagger, I will never forgive you." Chen was so shocked by the outburst he was completely lost for a reply.

"You scorpion!" her husband shouted from the other side of the side of the room. "What are you lecturing that young man about? Let's be going!"

Madame Guan turned round, emitted an ear-splitting whistle and four dogs raced out of the trees. The couple bowed before the heroes and took their leave.

"Let us go back upstairs to talk," Chen said. They followed him back up to the top floor of the pagoda.

"I promised the Emperor that I would go to see my teacher and collect two important items from him," said Chen. "But let us first go to Heaven's Eye Mountain to see how Brother Wen and Brother Yu are doing and then make further arrangements."

They left the pagoda and Master Ma and his son returned to Hangzhou by themselves while the rest of the heroes galloped off westwards.

предыдущая глава | The Book and The Sword | cледующая глава