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2

Chen woke towards midnight, his strength revived. Under the light of a moonbeam shining down from the crack in the roof of the cave, he could see Huo Qingtong and Princess Fragrance leaning against one another on one of the jade seats, fast asleep. In the silence, he heard their breathing and smelt the fragrance, even more beautiful than that of fresh flowers or musk, emanating from the younger sister.

He wondered again what the wolves outside the mountain were doing and whether the three of them would ever be able to escape. And if they did, would his brother the Emperor hold to his word and throw out the Manchus?

"Which one do I really love?" Over the past few days, this thought had been gyrating round his brain continuously. "Well, which one really loves me? If I were to die, Princess Fragrance would not be able to go on living, but Huo Qingtong would. But that doesn't mean Princess Fragrance loves me more."

The moon beam slowly shifted onto Huo Qingtong's face.

"Princess Fragrance and I have declared our love for each other, but although Huo Qingtong has never said a word about it, her feelings towards me are clear too," he thought. "And why did I come so far to give her a message if it was not because I loved her? What is more, restoring the throne to the Chinese people will involve immense trials and tribulations. She is a better strategist even than Brother Xu, and her assistance would be invaluable," He stopped himself, ashamed of his own thoughts.

"Ah, Chen Jialuo," he whispered under his breath. "Are you really so narrow-minded?"

Time passed and the moonbeam moved across onto Princess Fragrance.

"With her, all I would have is happiness, happiness, happiness," he thought.

His eyes opened wide and he stared up at the crack of light in the rock high above them for a long, long time. Slowly, the moonlight faded and a sunbeam began to slant in, filling the room with daylight. With a yawn, Princes Fragrance woke. She looked over at him through half-open eyes and smiled, her face looking like a newly-opened flower.

Suddenly she jerked upright. "Listen!" she whispered.

Footsteps sounded distantly from the tunnel, gradually moving closer. In the silence of the old caverns, each step could be heard clearly, and their skin crawled as they listened. Chen shook Huo Qingtong's arm to wake her and the three ran quickly back down the tunnel.

When they reached the main chamber, Chen picked up three jade swords and gave one each to the two sisters. "Jade wards off evil," he whispered.

By now, the footsteps were just outside the chamber, and the three hid in a corner near the entrance, not daring to move. They saw the flickering light of torches and four men walked in. The two in front, they instantly recognised as Zhang and Gu.

There was a series of clanging sounds as the weapons of the four flew out of their hands to the ground. Chen knew this was an opportunity not to be missed, and as they stood staring at the floor in dumb surprise, he gave a shout and leapt out, and with knocked the torches to the ground, plunging the chamber into complete darkness. Zhang and the Three Devils turned and raced back down the tunnel. They heard a dull thud followed by a sharp curse as one of them bumped into the wall.

The footsteps gradually receded again.

Suddenly, Huo Qingtong gave a scream of panic. "Oh no! Chase them!"

Chen immediately realised what she meant and raced out of the chamber into the tunnel. But before he reached its end, he heard a steady creaking sound followed by a heavy bang, and he knew the stone door was closed.

Huo Qingtong and Princess Fragrance ran up behind him. He felt around for a piece of wood, found one and lit it, then looked again at the scarred surface of the stone door, the relic of the death struggle of the skeletons around them.

"We're finished!" Huo Qingtong said, despairingly.

Princess Fragrance grabbed her hand. "Sister, don't be afraid!"

Chen forced a smile. "It would be strange if we three died here."

For some reason, he felt a sense of relief wash over him as if a great weight had been taken from his shoulders. He picked a skull off the ground and said to it: "Well brother, you have three new companions." Princess Fragrance gasped, and then laughed out loud.

Huo Qingtong looked at them both. "Let's go back to the Jade Room," she said after a while. "Once we've settled down we can start thinking things through."

They walked back the way they had come. Huo Qingtong pulled out the map once more and pored over it, desperately searching for a way out. Chen knew that if they were to escape it was more likely to be because of outside help or because Zhang returned to look for them. But how could rescuers find them? And Zhang, after the fright he had just received, was unlikely to dare to come in again.

"I want to sing a song," Princess Fragrance announced.

"Please do," replied Chen.

She sang for a while then stopped, concerned about Huo Qingtong who was still staring hard at the map, her head resting on her hands.

"Sister, you should rest for while," Princess Fragrance said. She stood up and went over to the jade bed and said to the skeleton lying on it: "Excuse me, I wonder if you could move over a bit? My sister needs to lie down and rest." She carefully pushed the bones into a pile in the corner of the bed. "Oh!" she said, picking something up. "What's this?"

Chen and Huo Qingtong walked over and saw she was holding a goatskin scroll of great antiquity. The scroll had turned black, but under the sunlight, it was possible to see it was covered in writing, all in an ancient Muslim hand. Huo Qingtong glanced through it, and pointed at the skeleton on the bed.

"It was written by this girl with her own blood just before she died. Her name was Mami," she said.

"Mami?" asked Chen.

"It means 'beautiful'. I'm sure she was very beautiful when she was alive." She put down the book and went back to examining the map.

"Does the map indicate some other exit?" Chen asked.

"There appears to be a secret tunnel somewhere, but I can't work out where."

Chen sighed. "Would you read out this Miss Mami's last words to me?" he asked Princess Fragrance. She nodded, and began to quietly recite:

"Everyone in the city, thousands upon thousands of people are all dead. The guards of the Mountain and the warriors of Islam are all dead. My Ali has gone to meet Allah, and his Mami will be going soon too. I will write our story out here, so that the children of Allah will know that, victorious or defeated, our warriors of Islam fight to the end, and never surrender!"

"So this lady was not only beautiful, but courageous too," commented Chen.

Princess Fragrance continued to read:

"Baojunlonga oppressed us for forty years. In those forty years, he forced thousands of commoners to construct this secret city and carve out the chambers and halls within the Sacred Mountain. He killed them all. After he died, his son Sanglaba proved to be even more cruel. Of every ten goats raised by the Muslim people every year, four had to be given to him; of every five camels, he claimed two. We became poorer and poorer each year. Any beautiful daughters among the Muslim families were taken into the city, and once there, none ever came out alive.

"We are the brave children of Islam. Could we stand such oppression from these pagans? Of course not! Over a period of twenty years, our warriors attacked the city five times. But each time, they lost because they could not find their way through the maze. On two occasions, they made it into the Sacred Mountain but Sanglaba used some devilry to steal their weapons, and they were all killed by his guards."

"That's the magnet," said Chen. Princess Fragrance nodded and continued:

"In the year that I turned eighteen, my mother and father were killed by Sanglaba's men and my elder brother became the chief of our tribe. That spring, I met Ali. He was a hero of the tribe. He had killed three tigers, and wolf packs scattered when they saw him. He could beat ten ordinary men, no, a hundred. His eyes were as soft as those of a deer and his body was as beautiful as a fresh flower, but he had the strength of a desert hurricane"

"The lady is exaggerating, I think," Chen said with a smile.

"Why do you say that?" Princess Fragrance asked solemly. "Are there not such people in the world?"

"One day, Ali came to our tent to talk to my brother about another attack on the City. He had obtained a copy of a book about Chinese kung fu and had studied it for a year. He said he now understood the basics of the martial arts, and was convinced that even without weapons, they could kill Sanglaba's man. He took five hundred fighters and taught them what he knew, and they practised for another year. By then, I was already Ali's. I was his from the moment I first saw him. He told me that when he saw me, he knew that we would win this time. But although they had mastered kung fu, they still did not know the way through the maze of the City, much less the secrets of the Sacred Mountain. Ali and my brother talked for ten days and nights, but could find solution.

"Finally, I said: 'Brother,let me go.' They understood my meaning. Ali was a brave warrior but he began to cry. I took a hundred goats and went to graze them outside the city. On the fourth day, Sanglaba's men seized me and took me to him. I cried for three days and three nights before giving in to him. He liked me very much and gave me everything I wanted.

"At first Sanglaba would not let me take so much as one step outside, but he liked me more and more. I thought about our people every day and of singing while tending goats on the grasslands: that is real happiness. What I thought of most was Ali. Sanglaba saw me becoming more thin and haggard each day and asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted to go out and wander round everywhere. He flew into a great rage and slapped me, so for seven days and nights I didn't smile or say a word to him. On the eighth day, he took me out, and after that on every third day. At first, we only travelled about the city, but later we even went to the very entrance of the maze. I memorized clearly every single street and path until I could have found my way through the maze even if I was blind.

"This took almost a year. I knew my brother and Ali would be getting impatient, but I still did not know the secrets of the Sacred Mountain. Soon after, I became pregnant with Sanglaba's bastard child. He was delighted, but I cried every day in loathing. He asked me what I wanted, and I said: 'You have made me pregnant but you don't love me at all.'

"'I don't love you?' he replied. 'Do you think there is anything I would not give you? Do you want red coral from the bottom of the sea, or sapphires from the south? They are yours."

"'I have heard that you have a jade pool which makes beautiful people who wash in it even more beautiful and ugly people even uglier,'" I said.

"His face drained of all colour and in a shaky voice, he asked me where I had heard this. I told him a fairy had whispered it to me in a dream, but in fact I had heard about the pool from the servant girls who said that Sanglaba had never let anyone see it.

"'You can go and wash there, but whoever sees the pool must have their tongue cut out afterwards to prevent the secret being revealed. It is a rule decided by the ancestors,'" he said. He begged me not to go, but I insisted. I said: 'You must think I am very ugly and do not wish me to become even uglier.' Finally, he took me there.

"I took a small knife with me, planning to stab him to death by the pool, which was the only place in the palace where there were no guards, but the knife was snatched away by some magic under the floor of the great hall. After I had bathed in the Jade Pool, I don't know if I really became more beautiful or not, but he loved me even more. However, he still cut out my tongue, because he feared that I would reveal the secret. I knew everything, but had no way of telling my brother and Ali.

"Every day and every night, I prayed to Allah, and Allah finally heard the cries of his poor daughter. He gave me wisdom. Sanglaba had a small dagger which he kept on his person at all times. The dagger had two scabbards, and the inner scabbard was exactly like the blade of a knife. I asked him for it, then I drew a map of the city including all the paths and tunnels in it, sealed it inside a ball of wax and placed it inside the inner scabbard. In the third month after the birth of the child, he took me out hunting. When no-one was looking, I threw the dagger into the Tengbo lake. When we returned to the palace, I released many eagles with ' Tengbo Lake ' written on pieces of paper tied to their legs."

Huo Qingtong put down the map and concentrated on listening to her sister's translation of the ancient scroll.

"Several of the eagles were shot down by Sanglaba's men, but I knew that at least one or two would be caught by people of our tribe and that my brother and Ali would go to Tengbo Lake and make a thorough search. They would then find the knife and know the way through the city.

"Ah! How could I guess that although they found the dagger, they did not discover its secret, and did not work out that there was a scabbard within the scabbard? My brother, and Ali decided that the dagger must be a call for them to attack. So they attacked. Most of the warriors lost their way in the maze. My brother, stronger than two camels, was lost in this way. Ali and some of the others caught one of Sanglaba's men and forced him to lead them in their attack on the Sacred Mountain. In the Great Hall, Sanglaba's men fell on them with their jade weapons. But Ali and his warriors had learned their lessons well and even empty-handed they held their own and most died along with their opponents. Seeing his guards being slaughtered and Ali pressing in closer all the time, Sanglaba ran into the Jade Room and wanted me to escape with him via the Jade Pool"

Huo Qingtong jumped to her feet. "Aha!" she exclaimed. "He wanted to escape via the Jade Pool!"

"Suddenly Ali ran in, and I flung myself into his arms. We embraced, and he called me many beautiful things. I had no tongue and could not answer him, but he understood the cry of my heart. Then that despicable Sanglaba, ten thousands times more evil than a thousand devils, struck him with an axe from behind"

Princess Fragrance screamed and threw the scroll back onto the bed, an expression of horror on his face. Huo Qingtong gently patted her shoulder, then picked up the scroll herself and continued to read it out loud:

"with an axe from behind and split my Ali's head in two. His blood spurted out all over my body. Sanglaba picked the child up off the bed, placed it in my hands and shouted: 'We must leave quickly!' I raised that bastard baby high about my head and threw it to the ground with all my strength, and he died in Ali's blood. Sanglaba was deeply shocked at the sight of me killing his son. He raised his golden axe, and I bowed my head, offering my neck to him, but he sighed and rushed back out into the Great Hall.

"Ali has gone to Allah's side and I will soon follow him. Our warriors are many, and with all his soldiers dead, Sanglaba will certainly not survive. He will never again be able to oppress us followers of Islam. I myself killed his only son, so we will be free of oppression from his descendants, because he has none. In the future, our people will be able to live peacefully in the desert and on the grasslands, young girls will be able to lie in their lovers' arms and sing. My brother, Ali, myself, we are all dead, but we conquered the tyrants. Even if their fortress had been stronger than it is, we would still have broken through eventually. May Allah, the True God, protect our people."

Huo Qingtong slowly rolled up the ancient scroll. The three of them sat for a long time without saying a word, deeply moved by Mami's courage and virtue. Finally Princess Fragrance, her eyes full of tears, sighed.

"To relieve the oppression of her people, she was willing to leave her loved ones, to have her tongue cut out and even to kill her own child," she said.

Chen started in fright, thinking of his own conduct compared to this lady of old. Faced with the task of recovering China for the Chinese people, he selfishly thought only of his own romantic problems.

Princess Fragrance noticed the sudden change in his expression. She pulled out her handkerchief and went over to wipe the beads of sweat from his brow, but Chen pushed her away impatiently. She stepped back, startled at his aggressiveness, and Chen's heart softened. Taking the handkerchief from her, he made up his mind that while the great endeavour of the Restoration remained unfinished he would pay no further attention to his romantic affairs, and would treat both sisters purely as friends, as his own sisters.

Huo Qingtong, meanwhile, was once more poring over the map and pondering phrases in the ancient scroll.

"It says here that Sanglaba came to this Jade Room and wanted her to escape with him to the Jade Pool," she murmured. "But this room is a dead end Afterwards, he returned the way he had come. He must have been extraordinarily strong. The Islam warriors failed to stop him and he forced his way through to the stone door and locked them all inside, condemning them to death. But the map clearly indicates another tunnel to the pool"

"Then it must be in this room," Chen replied. He lit another torch and began to examine the walls closely for cracks, while Huo Qingtong looked at the jade bed. Chen remembered how Wen Tailai had been captured at Iron Gall Manor and said: "Could the tunnel be under the table?" He placed his hands beneath the round table top and tried to lift it, but it did not budge.

"There's something strange about this table," he said, pleased. Huo Qingtong brought the torch over to give him more light.

"Oh, look!" Princess Fragrance exclaimed. "There's a design carved onto the surface." They looked closer and saw that it was a herd of winged camels. They had not noticed it before because the carving was extremely shallow. But strangely, the heads and bodies of the camels were not joined, and were more than a foot away from each other. On an impulse, Princess Fragrance grasped the table edge and pulled it from left to right in an attempt to line up the heads and bodies, and it did indeed move an inch or so. Chen and Huo Qingtong joined her and slowly moved the rim round until the camels were whole again. Just as the carving was complete, a grinding sound began and a panel beside the bed slid back to reveal a row of steps leading downwards. The three shouted in triumph.

Chen led the way into the hole, torch in hand. The passage twisted and turned for a while and then ran straight for more than a hundred feet. Then, around a corner, they burst out into daylight. Looking around they saw they were in a small basin surrounded by high mountains. In the centre was a circular pool, the water in which was as green as jade. They were immediately enraptured by the beauty of the scene before them.

"The scroll said that if beautiful people washed in the pool they would become even more beautiful," Huo Qingtong said to her sister with a smile. "You should go and wash."

Princess Fragrance blushed. "You are older than I, you go first," she replied.

"Ai-ya! But I will become more ugly," Huo Qingtong protested. "Are you going to wash or not?" Princess Fragrance shook her head.

Huo Qingtong walked to the edge of the pool and put her hands in the water: it was intensely cold. She cupped her hands and scooped up some water and saw it was very clear: the water appeared green only because of the jade all about. She took a sip and found it extraordinarily cool and tasty. They all drank their fill. The white peak towering above them reflected off the surface of the pool in a picture of loveliness, and Princess Fragrance lazily moved her hand about in the water, unwilling to leave such an enchanting place.

"The thing to do now is to think of a way to avoid those four devils outside," said Huo Qingtong.

"First, let's bring Mami's remains out and bury them beside the pool," Chen suggested.

Princess Fragrance clapped her hands in delight. "It would be best if we buried her and Ali together," she said.

"Yes. I expect the skeleton in the corner is Ali's."

They returned to the Jade Room. As they were collecting Ali's bones, they found amongst them some bamboo slivers used in China in ancient times for writing. Chen picked them up, and saw they were thickly covered with Chinese characters written in red ink on a black background. Glancing through them, he recognized the writings of the Chinese philospher Zhuangzi. He had thought it might be some special book and was rather disappointed to find it was instead something he had read and memorized as a child.

"What is it?" Princess Fragrance asked.

"It's an old Chinese book, but it's not much use except to archaeologists." He threw the slivers back on the ground, and as they scattered, he noticed one which looked slightly different from the rest. Beside every character, were circles and dots and Muslim writing. Chen picked the sliver up and saw it was a section entitled 'The Butcher Dissects the Cow' from the philosopher Zhuangzi's lecture, 'The Secret of Caring for Life.' He pointed to the Muslim characters written alongside.

"What does this say?" he asked Princess Fragrance.

"'The key to smashing the enemy is here'," she replied.

"What can that mean?" he wondered out loud, greatly surprised.

"Mami's last testament said Ali got hold of a Chinese book and had learned kung fu from it. This could be it," Huo Qingtong suggested.

"Zhuangzi taught that one should be oblivious of emotion in adversity and obedient to one's superiors," said Chen. "It has nothing to do with kung fu." He threw the sliver back down again, then picked up the pile of bones and walked out. They buried the remains of Mami and Ali beside the Jade Pool and bowed respectfully before the graves.

"Let's go now," said Chen. "I wonder if the white horse managed to escape the wolves?"

"What is the section of that book about?" Huo Qingtong asked.

"It's about a butcher who is very good at his job. The movements of his hands and legs, the sound of his knife chopping, are all perfectly coordinated. The sound has the rhythm of music, the movements are like dancing."

"It would be useful to have such skill when facing an enemy," Huo Qingtong commented.

Chen stared at her in surprise. Every word of Zhuangzi was familiar to him, but suddenly he felt as if he had never read it before. The words of 'The Butcher Dissects The Cow' ran through his mind: 'When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years, I no longer saw the whole ox. And now now, I go at it by spirit and don't look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants.'

"If it really is like that," he thought, "I could kill that traitor Zhang with my eyes closed with just a slight movement of the knife" The two sisters stared at him, wondering what he was thinking about.

"Wait a moment," he said, and ran back inside. A long time passed and still he did not re-emerge. Feeling worried, the two sisters went in as well and found him prancing about among the skeletons in the Great Hall, his face wreathed in smiles. He danced around a pair of skeletons for a moment and then stood stock-still staring at another pair. Princess Fragrance glanced to her sister in fright, afraid that he had lost his mind.

Huo Qingtong took her sister's hand. "Don't be afraid, he's all right," she said. "Let's go and wait for him outside."

The two returned to the Jade Pool. "What's he doing in there?" Princess Fragrance asked.

"I think he's worked out some new kung fu moves after having read those bamboo slivers and he's now practising them by copying the positions of the skeletons. It would be best if we didn't disturb him."

Princess Fragrance nodded. After a while, she sighed. "Now I understand." she said.

"What?"

"All those people in the Great Hall must have been very good fighters. Even after their weapons had been snatched from them, they still fought on with Sanglaba's guards."

"Yes, but they weren't necessarily very good at kung fu," Huo Qingtong replied. "I would guess they just learned a few really formidable moves which allowed them to take their enemies with them."

"Ah, they were so brave But what is he learning them for? Does he want to die with his enemies too?"

"No, a martial arts master would not be killed along with his opponent. He is just studying the finer points of the moves."

Princess Fragrance smiled. "Well I won't worry any more, then." She looked out over the surface of the pool. "Sister," she said. "Let's bathe in the water."

"Don't be ridiculous. What if he should come out?"

"I really want to go and bathe," Princess Fragrance replied. She stared out at the cool water once again. "Wouldn't it be nice if the three of us could live here together forever!" she said softly.

Huo Qingtong's heart jumped. She blushed, and quickly turned her head away towards the White Jade Peak.

A long time passed and still Chen did not emerge. Princess Fragrance took off her leather boots and put her feet in the water. Resting her head on her sister's lap, she gazed up at the white clouds in the sky and slowly fell asleep.


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