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3

'Scholar' Yu and Yuanzhi understood why Xu had sent them out together to look for Huo Qingtong. Yu was greatly moved by Yuanzhi's obvious love for him, and by the fact that she had saved his life several times. But the more infatuated she became, the more he shrank away from her, for what reasons, he didn't himself understand. As they travelled, she laughed and chattered with him, but he remained cool to her advances.

One day towards noon, they spied a small donkey hobbling towards them across the desert, its rider nodding from side to side as he snoozed. As they got closer, they saw it was a Muslim with a large saucepan slung across his back and a donkey's tail in his right hand. The donkey, they noticed, was tail-less and was wearing an Imperial Guard officer's cap. The rider looked about forty years of age and had a luxuriant beard covering his face. When he saw them, he smiled warmly.

Yu knew Huo Qingtong's name was known across the length and breadth of the desert. "Excuse me," he said. "Have you seen Mistress Huo Qingtong?"

The man laughed. "Why are you looking for her?" he asked.

"There are several bad men after her and we want to warn her. If you see her, could you give her the message?"

"All right. What sort of bad men?"

"Two are big Chinese, and the third is a Mongol," Yuanzhi answered.

The man nodded. "Yes, they are bad. They wanted to eat my donkey, but I stole this hat from them." Yu and Yuanzhi glanced at each other.

"There was someone else with them?" Yu asked.

"The man wearing this cap. But who are you?"

"We are friends of Master Muzhuolun," Yu replied. We must stop the men from finding Mistress Huo Qingtong. Take us to where you met them and we will give you some silver."

"I don't need any silver. But I'll have to ask the donkey if he's willing to go first," the Muslim replied. He leant over close to the donkey's ear and mumbled into it for a while, then placed his own ear near the donkey's mouth, and nodded repeatedly. Yu and Yuanzhi grinned at his clowning.

The man listened intently for a moment and then frowned. "This donkey has had a very high opinion of himself ever since he got the official cap," he said. "He's rather contemptuous of your horses and doesn't want to travel with them for fear of losing face."

Yuanzhi looked at the skinny, lame animal, it's body covered in dirt, and burst out laughing.

"You don't believe me?" the Muslim exclaimed. "Well then, my donkey shall compete with your horse."

Yu and Yuanzhi were riding two of Muzhuolun's best horses, as superior to the donkey as clouds are from mud.

"All right," said Yuanzhi. "When we've won, you must lead us to find the three bad men."

"It's four, not three. But what happens if you lose?"

"Whatever you say."

"If you lose, you have to wash the donkey clean so that he can show off."

"All right," Yuanzhi agreed. "What sort of competition will we have?"

"You can decide."

The Muslim seemed absolutely certain of victory and Yuanzhi began to feel suspicious. "What's that in your hand?" she asked.

"It's the donkey's tail," he replied, waving it about. "After he started wearing the official cap, he thought it didn't go well with his dirty tail, so he decided he didn't want it."

"Let me have a look," she said.

He threw the tail across and she caught it, then pointed with it at a small sand dune some distance away. "We'll race from here to that sand dune," she said. "The winner will be the first to get there, your donkey or my horse." The man nodded. "You go over there and be the judge," she added to Yu. He slapped his horse and galloped off across to the dune.

"Go!" Yuanzhi shouted, and with a lash of her whip, her horse leapt forward. After a few hundred feet, she glanced back and saw the donkey, limping along far behind. She laughed and spurred her horse on even faster. Then all of a sudden a black shape shot past her. She almost fell off her saddle in shock when she saw the man had slung the donkey around his shoulders and was running with long strides, already a good distance ahead of her. She recovered and tried to catch him up again, but he ran like the wind and stayed ahead all the way to the finish. Just before she reached the dune, Yuanzhi threw the donkey's tail back the way they had come and shouted: "The horse is first!"

The Muslim and Yu looked at each other in puzzlement.

"Mistress!" the Muslim protested. "We agreed that whichever got here first, the donkey or the horse, was the winner, isn't that right?"

Yuanzhi tidied her hair with her hand. "Yes," she replied. "But only part of the donkey got here first."

The man pulled on his beard. "I don't understand. What do you mean, only part of the donkey?"

Yuanzhi pointed to the tail she had thrown far behind them. "My horse arrived complete, but only a part of your donkey made it. His tail didn't."

The man laughed heartily. "Yes, you're right!" he exclaimed. "You win. I'll take you to find those four bad men." He went over and picked the tail up and brought it back. "You stupid donkey!" he said to the animal. "Don't think that just because you're wearing an official's cap that you don't need your dirty tail." He leapt onto its back.

Yu had been greatly impressed by the Muslim's immense strength that allowed him to run faster than a horse even with the donkey slung over his shoulders. He knew he must be a martial arts master and bowed before him.

"If you just tell us which direction to go, we will go and find them ourselves," he said respectfully. "We don't wish to trouble you, sir."

"But I lost," the Muslim replied, smiling. "How can I back out now?" He turned the donkey round and shouted: "Follow me!"

They travelled on. Yu asked the man for his name, but he simply smiled and answered with more crazy jokes. The lame donkey walked very slowly, and after half a day they had covered only ten miles. They saw riders approaching from behind, and 'Mastermind' Xu and Zhou Qi galloped up. Yu introduced them saying: "This gentleman is taking us to find the Three Devils." Xu dismounted and bowed.

The Muslim simply smiled in response. "Your wife should be resting more," he said to Xu. "What's she doing, racing about like this?"

Xu stared at him, not understanding. Zhou Qi, however, blushed red, and galloped on ahead.

The Muslim was very familiar with the roads and paths of the desert, and towards evening, he led them to a small village. As they approached, they saw that a Manchu military unit had also just descended on the village. The Muslims were fleeing in all directions dragging their children after them.

"Most of the Manchu forces have already been exterminated, and the remnants have been surrounded, so where did these come from?" Xu wondered aloud.

A group of about twenty Muslims dashed towards them with a dozen soldiers on their heels, shouting and brandishing their swords. When the Muslims caught sight of the man on the donkey, they began to call out his name ecstatically: "Afanti! Afanti! Save us!"

"Everyone flee!" Afanti shouted. He raised his whip and galloped off into the desert with the Muslims and Manchu troops following behind.

After a while, several of the Muslim women fell behind and were captured by the soldiers. Zhou Qi could not bear to leave them, and she drew her sword and whirled her horse round. She charged the Manchu troops and with a swish of her blade, cut off half the head of one of them. The other soldiers surrounded her, and Xu and the others galloped up to rescue her. Suddenly, Zhou Qi felt a wave of nausea and as one of the soldiers leapt forward to grab her, she vomited all over his face. He frantically tried to wipe the mess off, and Zhou Qi killed him with her sword. Her legs and arms became rubbery and she swayed unsteadily. Xu rushed over to support her.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

Yu and Yuanzhi had by now killed or chased away the rest of the soldiers. Xu caught one of the fleeing troops and interrogated him about where the column had come from. The soldier threw himself down on the ground and begged for mercy, gabbling incoherently. Finally they extracted from him the fact that he was attached to a relief force coming from the east. Xu chose two strong young men from amongst the group of Muslims and sent them off immediately to inform Muzhuolun, so he would be prepared. He gave the soldier a kick on the behind and shouted "Go to hell!" The soldier scampered away.

Xu turned back to his wife. "Are you all right?" he asked. "What's the matter?"

Zhou Qi blushed and turned her head away.

"The cow is going to calve," Afanti said.

"How do you know?" Xu asked, surprised.

"It's strange. The bull didn't know the cow was going to calve, but the donkey did."

They all laughed, then countinued on their way. As evening approached, they stopped and set up tents for the night.

"How many months gone are you?" Xu quietly asked his wife. "How is it that I didn't know?"

"How would my stupid bull know?" Zhou Qi replied, smiling. After a moment she added: "If we have a boy, then he will be surnamed Zhou. Father and mother will die of happiness! Just so long as he's not as crafty as you."

"You must be careful from now on," said Xu. "No more sword-fighting." She nodded.

The next morning, Afanti said to Xu: "Your wife can stay at my home while we go and look for those men. It's another ten miles further on. I have a very beautiful wife there"

"Really?" Yuanzhi interrupted. "I must meet her. Why would she like a bearded fellow like you?"

"Aha, that's a secret," Afanti laughed.

They arrived in a village and Afanti led them to his house. Raising his saucepan, he began to bang it loudly, and a woman in her thirties came out to greet him. Her features were indeed beautiful and her skin white and delicate. They could tell she was overjoyed to see Afanti, but from her mouth issued a stream of curses: "Where the hell have you been, Whiskers? Do you still remember who I am after all this time?"

"Enough of your noise," Afanti replied with a smile. "Haven't I come back? Bring something out for me to eat. Your Whiskers is starving to death."

"Aren't you satisfied just looking at my lovely face?" The wife countered, also smiling.

"That's very true, your beautiful face is a great delicacy, but if I had some bread or something to go with it, it would be even better."

She reached over and gave his ear a sharp twist. "I won't allow you to go out again," she said. She went back inside, and re-appeared soon after with piles of bread, water-melon, honey and lamb. Yuanzhi didn't understand a word Afanti and his wife said to each other, but she could see from their teasing that they loved each other dearly, and felt desolate.

While they ate lunch, two people walked into the house, one a young boy and the other a labourer.

"Master Hu says that you should return the saucepan that you borrowed from him," the boy said.

Afanti glanced at Zhou Qi and smiled. "You tell Master Hu that the saucepan is pregnant and will soon give birth to a baby saucepan, and cannot be moved at the moment."

The boy looked puzzled, but he turned and left.

"What are you here for?" Afanti asked the labourer.

"Last year, I went to an inn in the village and ate a chicken. Before I left I asked the innkeeper for the bill, but he said: 'We'll settle it next time, there's no rush.' I thought at the time that he was being nice so I thanked him and left. Two months later, I went back to pay, and he started counting his fingers and mumbling away as if he was trying to calculate a very complicated account. I said: 'How much was that chicken? All you have to do is tell me!' The innkeeper waved his hand and told me to be quiet."

"A chicken, even if it was the biggest fat chicken, would not be more than a hundred copper pieces," said Afanti's wife.

"That's what I thought too," said the labourer. "But after he had been figuring for a long time, he said twelve taels of silver!"

"Ai-ya!" exclaimed Afanti's wife. "How could a chicken be so expensive? You could buy several hundred chickens with twelve taels of silver."

"Yes, that's what I said. But the innkeeper said: 'There's no mistake. If you had not eaten my chicken, how many eggs would that chicken have laid? And how many of those eggs would have become little chicks? And when those little chicks grew, how many eggs would they have laid?" The longer he calculated, the higher the price became and finally he said: "Twelve taels of silver is actually very cheap!" Naturally, I refused to give him the money so he dragged me over to see Master Hu for him to settle the dispute. Master Hu listened to the innkeeper and told me to pay up. He said that if I didn't settle the account quickly, the eggs would become even more chickens and I wouldn't have a hope. Afanti, tell me who is right."

Just then, the boy returned.

"Master Hu says how could a saucepan be pregnant? He doesn't believe you and says you must return the saucepan to him immediately."

Afanti went into the kitchen and brought out a small saucepan which he gave to the boy. "This is clearly the son of a saucepan," he said. "You give it to Master Hu."

Uncertain whether to believe him or not, the boy took the small saucepan and left.

Afanti turned to the labourer and said: "You tell Master Hu you want to hold a meeting to settle the matter."

"But if I lose, I'll have to give him twenty-four taels of silver, won't I?"

"Don't worry," said Afanti, "You can't lose."

After an hour or so, the labourer returned and said: "Uncle Afanti, Master Hu had already called the meeting, and the deliberation has begun. Please come."

"I'm busy at the moment," Afanti replied. "Come back in a little while." He sat laughing and chatting with his wife and the others. The labourer was extremely anxious and pleaded with him and finally Afanti got up and accompanied him to the meeting.

Xu and the others went along too to see the fun, and they found seven or eight hundred people gathered in the centre of the village. A fat man wearing an embroidered fur-lined gown sat in the middle, and they decided he must be Master Hu. The crowd had become very restless waiting for Afanti.

"Afanti," called Master Hu. "This labourer says you're going to speak for him. Why are you so late?"

Afanti bowed before him. "I'm sorry, but I had some important business to attend to," he said.

"How could it be more important than settling this dispute?" Master Hu replied.

"It was much more important," said Afanti. "Tomorrow, I am going to plant some wheat, but I had not yet fried the seeds or eaten them. I fried them three times and it took me a long time to finish them up."

"Nonsense!" roared Master Hu. "How can you plant seeds that you have eaten?"

The crowd laughed heartily, but Afanti just stroked his large beard and smiled. After a while, the hubbub died down, and he said: "You say that wheat seeds that have been eaten cannot be planted. Well, how can the chicken that the labourer ate lay any eggs?"

The crowd thought for a second, and then cried out: "Yes, that's right, how can a chicken that's been eaten lay eggs?" Everyone began shouting and laughing and lifted Afanti up onto their shoulders.

Seeing the crowd's reaction, Master Hu had no alternative but to announce: "The labourer should pay one hundred copper pieces to the innkeeper in return for the chicken he ate."

The labourer happily handed over the string of copper coins to the innkeeper. "I wouldn't dare to eat on of your chickens again," he said.

The innkeeper took the money and walked silently away. The crowd of Muslims laughed at him and some small children threw stones at his back.

Master Hu walked up to Afanti. "The saucepan I lent to you gave birth to a son. That's very good. When will it be giving birth again?"

An expression of deep sadness appeared on Afanti's face. "Master Hu," he said. "Your saucepan is dead."

"How can a saucepan die?" Master Hu replied angrily.

"If a saucepan can give birth to a son, of course it can die."

"You charlatan," cried Master Hu. "You just don't want to return my saucepan."

"All right," Afanti shouted back. "We'll let everyone decide."

But Master Hu remembered how he had accepted the small saucepan, and decided he had lost enough face. He waved his hand to indicate he had had enough and walked off through the crowd.

Afanti was extremely pleased with himself for having managed to cheat Master Hu, himself a master at cheating the poor, and he threw back his head and roared with laughter. Suddenly, a voice behind him said: "Well Whiskers, what ridiculousness are you up to now?"

Afanti turned and saw it was the Strange Knight of the Heavenly Pool, Master Yuan. He jumped up happily and grabbed Yuan's arm.

"Aha! So you're here. Come and see my wife," he said.

"What's so special about your wife that you keep showing her off like a monkey would a jewel" Before Yuan could finish, Xu and Yu came forward and kowtowed before him.

"Enough, enough, there's no need to kowtow. I'm not your teacher," Yuan protested. "Where is your Master Chen?"

"The Great Helmsman came on ahead of us" Xu began. Suddenly, he noticed the Twin Eagles of Tianshan, Bald Vulture and Madame Guan, behind Yuan and bowed to them. He was surprised to see Madame Guan was riding Chen's white horse.

"Where did you find that horse?" he asked.

"We found him running free in the desert. It took the three of us quite a while to catch him," she said.

Xu was shocked. "Could the Great Helmsman be in danger? We had better go and find him," he said.

They finished lunch quickly and bade farewell to Zhou Qi. Afanti's wife, was furious that he was leaving again after only a few hours at home, and grabbed his beard, wailing and screaming as she did so. Afanti laughed and tried to comfort her.

"I`ve found a young lady to keep you company," he said. "In fact, there's a baby inside her, which means two people to keep you company, much better than me by myself." But his wife wailed even louder.

Yuanzhi rode the white horse and let it lead the way to back to Chen. Afanti again rode his donkey, but the animal was much too slow. By nightfall, they had gone only ten miles, and everyone was getting anxious.

"We will go on ahead," Xu finally said to Afanti. "We are afraid that our Great Helmsman may be in trouble."

"All right, all rightm" Afanti replied. "When we get to the next village, I'll buy a better donkey. This stupid donkey thinks he's something special, but really he's useless." He urged the animal on and caught up with Yuanzhi.

"Mistress, why are you so unhappy all the time?" he asked.

Despite his apparent silliness, Yuanzhi knew that this strange Muslim was very wise, and she decided to ask his advice.

"Uncle Afanti," she replied. "How would you deal with someone who was unreasonable?"

"I would cover his head with my saucepan and skewer him with a sword."

Yuanzhi shook her head. "That won't do. For instance, what if he was someone very dear to you. The nicer you are towards him, the more stubborn he becomes, like your donkey."

Afanti pulled at his beard, fully understanding her meaning. "I ride this donkey every day and I've learned a few tricks about how to deal with his bad temper," he replied with a smile.

They entered a village. As they approached the square at its centre, the white horse suddenly gave a long neigh and galloped forward. Yuanzhi pulled desperatelyon the reins, but could not control him and the villagers scattered in front of the apparently crazed animal as it raced up to a group of people and stopped. Yuanzhi dismounted in front of Luo Bing, Wen, 'Leopard' Wei, Zhang Jin, Xin Yan and white-bearded Lu Feiqing.

Yu ran over to Lu and knelt down before him. "Uncle," he cried, and began to sob.

Lu helped him up, tears also glistening in his eyes. "I started out as soon as I heard the shocking news about your teacher, Master Ma Zhen," he said. "I met Master Wen and the others on the road. They are also after that traitor, Zhang. Don't worry. We will avenge the death of your teacher."

The heroes found somewhere to rest briefly while Afanti went off to buy a donkey, Yuanzhi quietly following him. He found and purchased a strong animal, twice as tall as his tail-less donkey which he sold to the donkey merchant for a small sum.

"The official's cap was the undoing of this stupid donkey," he said, and laughed. He threw the cap on the ground, and trampled it into the dust. Yuanzhi led the new donkey for him as they walked back.

"I once raised a donkey that was appallingly stubborn," Afanti said. "If I wanted him to move, he would stand still. If I wanted him to stand still, he would walk round in circles. One day, I wanted him to pull a cart to a mill a few hundred feet away, but no matter what I said, he wouldn't budge. The more I pushed him, the more determined he was to stay put. I shouted, I hit him, it made no difference. So you can guess what I did?"

"I'm sure you thought of something."

"The mill was to the east, so I pulled the donkey round to face west and then urged him to moved forward. He retreated one step after another all the way to the mill!"

"You wanted to go east, so it insisted on going west," Yuanzhi said thoughtfully. "So you pushed him westwards."

Afanti stuck up his thumb. "That's right. That's the way." Yuanzhi smiled. "Thank you for your advice," she said.

She decided he was right. The more she was nice to Yu, the more he avoided her, so she decided that she would ignore him instead. Luo Bing and Xu were surprised by her sudden change in attitude, but Afanti just stroked his beard and smiled.

With Afanti riding his new donkey, they made much faster progress. The white horse led them to the White Jade Peak, but it was still fearful of the wolves and stopped outside the maze of paths leading to the Secret City, refusing to go any further.

"The wolf pack went in here," said Master Yuan. "We should be able to find our way easily by following the trail of wolf droppings." Their anxiety about Chen's safety increased.

The path twisted back and forth for a long time. Suddenly, they heard footsteps ahead and four men appeared round a corner, the first of whom was Zhang. His face turned pale at the sight of the heroes, and particularly his martial brother Lu Feiqing. Yu gripped hold of his golden flute and was about to charge forward when Master Yuan lightly touched his shoulder, stopping him dead in his tracks.

Master Yuan pointed at Zhang accusingly. "When we met several days ago, I called you a master of the Wudang School. I did not know then that you were capable of even killing your own martial brother. Why not end it cleanly and quickly yourself?"

Zhang calculated that at least five of his opponents were his equal at kung fu or better and that he would gain nothing from a head-on confrontation.

With one swift, smooth movement, he drew his sword, and flung a large handful of Golden Needles at the heroes. As they ducked, he grabbed Hahetai and squeezed a key Yuedao point on his right wrist. "Run!" he shouted.

Hahetai was no longer master of his own movements. He ran with Zhang back along the path towards the Secret City, with Tang and Gu following along behind. By the time the heroes had picked themselves up, the four had disappeared around the bend. Master Yuan and Afanti were furious, and shot after them at high speed. Master Yuan was particularly fast, and in a moment he had caught up with Tang. He grasped him by the neck and lifted his fat body up off the ground. Unable to see his attacker, Tang kicked out backwards with his foot, but a huge force propelled him through the air, smashing his head into the rock face, killing him instantly.

Master Yuan ran on and, rounding the next corner, found himself confronted by three paths leading off the main track.

Xu looked carefully at the ground. "Someone trod in this pile of wolf droppings," he said, pointing. "They must have followed the trail of droppings back."

"Very good. Let's go," Master Yuan replied. They followed the droppings all the way to the base of the White Jade Peak without seeing any sign of Zhang and the other two. But they noticed the cave mouth above them, and Master Yuan and some of the others jumped up the cliff while the rest were hauled one by one by Lu and Wen.

Master Yuan pushed open the massive stone door, and ran on ahead of the others down the tunnel. When they entered the Great Hall, their weapons were snatched away by the magnetic force, giving them all a bad shock. But they had urgent business, and picked up their swords and others weapons without bothering to work out what had happened and ran on to the Jade Room, where they saw the tunnel mouth beside the bed. The further they went into the bowels of the mountain, the more astounded they became. Suddenly, they emerged once more into bright daylight, and saw six people standing around the Jade Pool, three on one side and three on the other. On the far side were Chen, Huo Qingtong and Princess Fragrance, while on the near side were Zhang, Gu and Hahetai.

"Master, master!" Xin Yan called excitedly. "We're here!"

"Child! Are you all right?" Madame Guan shouted to Huo Qingtong.

"Fine!" she called back. She pointed at Gu and added: "Please kill that villain quickly." Bald Vulture drew his sword and sprung at him, while Madame Guan began to fight with Hahetai. The other heroes quietly surrounded Zhang.

Gu and Hehetai fought for their lives, but could not hope to win against the "Three-Part" sword style of the Twin Eagles. In the midst of the clash of swords, Bald Vulture gave a roar and blood appeared on Gu's chest. He followed with a swift kick, and Gu fell backwards into the pool, sending fountains of water spraying out in all directions. A trail of blood rose to the surface.

A moment later, there was another splash as Gu surfaced, and began swimming slowly towards the bank. Hahetai threw down his sword and helped him out of the water. Gu was badly wounded and had taken in a large quantity of water, and after laying him down on the bank, Hahetai massaged his chest.

Zhang watched helplessly as Gu and Hahetai were overcome. Then 'Scholar' Yu lunged at him. Zhang swept his left hand across, and as Yu dodged to avoid the blow, Zhang grabbed him with his right hand and threw him at a nearby stone wall with a roar. Horrified, Yuanzhi jumped forward to grab Yu, but Zhang's strength was too great and the two slammed into the wall. A sharp 'crack' sounded as Yuanzhi's left arm snapped.

The heroes's anger flared once more. Master Yuan went over to Yuanzhi and placed a medicine pill in her mouth to ease her intense pain while the others surrounded Zhang.

"The 'Fire Hand Judge' will die as a hero!" he shouted defiantly. "Well, are you coming altogether or one at a time?"

"I'll fight you first!" Bald Vulture shouted back.

"This traitor has wronged me too deeply," Wen interrupted him. "Let me go first."

"He killed my teacher," Yu shouted. "I may not be as good a fighter as him, but I want to be first. Brother Wen, you can take over when I can't take any more."

"Let us draw lots," Chen suggested.

"Master Chen," Zhang broke in on them. "We agreed in Hangzhou to meet at a later date for a duel. Does that still hold?"

"Yes," Chen replied. "As I remember, we postponed the meeting because your hand was injured. Now is an excellent time to settle the affair."

"Then you and I will compete first and the others will wait their turns, agreed?" Zhang had fought with Chen on several occasions and knew he could beat him. He reckoned that if he could capture him, he might be able to find some way to escape. And if he could not capture him, he would at least have the satisfaction of killing the Red Flower Society's leader.

"If you think you are going to escape with your life today, you are deluding yourself," said Chen. "We spared your life in that dungeon in Hangzhou, and on Lion Peak. Only a few days ago, I saved you once again from the wolves. But the Red Flower Society has run out of benevolence towards you."

"Well, come on then," Zhang replied impatiently. Chen leapt at him, his two fists aimed straight at Zhang's face. Zhang ducked and then jumped up out of the way, and Chen followed with a sweeping kick, timing it to strike Zhang as he fell back to earth. Surprised, Zhang had to thrust his sword at Chen's chest to extricate himself. Chen moved back and as fast as lightning, Zhang struck out again.

Lu Feiqing was shocked by Zhang's speed, even faster than their teacher in his prime. He drew his sword and watched the battle carefully, ready to help Chen if necessary.

To one side, Yu and Luo Bing were looking after Yuanzhi who had fainted from the shock and pain of her broken arm. Yuanzhi opened her eyes and pointed to the east with a gasp of surprise. Yu looked round but could see nothing but the afternoon sun shimmering on the hills about them.

"What's that?" Yuanzhi asked. "Are we back in Hangzhou?"

"It's just the sun," Yu said softly. "Close your eyes and rest."

"No, that's the Thunder Peak Pagoda in Hangzhou," she replied. "I've been there with my father. Where is my father? I want to see him."

Yu lightly patted the back of her hand. "We'll go there together after this, and I'll see your father with you."

A smile appeared on her face. "Who are you?" she asked. Yu saw her staring at him, her face completely devoid of colour and fear struck him.

"I'm your martial brother Yu. I promise I will look after you from now on."

"But in your heart, you don't like me, I know," she cried, tears beginning to course down her cheeks. "Take me back to see my father. I want to die."

On a sudden impulse, Yu embraced her. "I truly love you," he whispered. "You won't die." She sighed. "Tell me you won't die," he repeated. Another wave of pain from her arm struck her and she fainted away.

Meanwhile, Zhang and Chen continued to fight round and round. At first, Chen was able to contain his enemy with the 'Hundred Flowers' kung fu style. But as Zhang gradually came to grips with it, he became more daring and forced Chen onto the defensive. He swept his sword across at Chen forcing Chen to jump away, and with a quick double movement of his sword, struck out at 'Leopard' Wei and Zhang Jin, wounding them both. Wen roared with anger and was about to leap forward when Chen slipped past him and struck out at Zhang's face with his open hands. There appeared to be no force behind the blow, but they struck Zhang's ears with two sharp claps. Surprised and angry, Zhang retreated.

The heroes were perplexed by the effortless way in which Chen had managed to box Zhang's ears.

"Fourteenth Brother," Chen said to Yu. "Play me a tune on your flute."

"What do you want me to play?" he asked, putting the flute to his lips.

Chen hesitated for a moment. "The tune 'Ambush From All Sides'," he replied.

Yu did not understand what he was getting at, but having received an order from the Great Helmsman, he complied immediately and began to play with all the skill he could muster. The tune was a martial piece written originally for the bamboo flute. Played on the golden flute, it sounded even more stentorian, raising the image of armoured troops on the march.

Chen set himself in a pose facing Zhang. "Come on," he invited, then turned and kicked out into the thin air as if dancing. Seeing his back undefended, Zhang thrust his sword at him, and the heroes gasped in fright. But Chen suddenly turned again, grabbed Zhang's queue with his left hand and pulled it over the edge of the sword, slicing it in two. With his right hand, he gave Zhang's shoulder a sharp blow.

Zhang had now been struck three times, and although he had not yet been badly hurt, he was obviously baffled by Chen's kung fu style and had had to suffer the shame of having his queue cut off. But he was a master of self-control and he carefully retreated several steps, staring fixedly at his enemy.

Chen moved forward slowly, his feet following the rhythm of the tune Yu was playing.

"Look!" Huo Qingtong said to her sister excitedly. "It's the kung fu style he learned in the cave."

The two whirled round each other. Zhang kept his sword strictly on the defensive, striking out only when Chen got too close.

"Master Yuan, I have never had so much respect for you as I do today," Bald Vulture said. "Your pupil is doing you proud."

Master Yuan was greatly perplexed: he was probably the best martial arts fighter in the land and yet he had never seen anything remotely like the kung fu style Chen was using. "I didn't teach him this," he replied. "I wouldn't know how to."

Yu played his flute even more furiously. At first, Chen had felt unfamiliar with the new kung fu style, but by now he was using it smoothly, advancing and retreating with great precision until Zhang's clothes were covered in the sweat of fear. The melody hit a high note, then fell like a shooting star exploding, and Zhang gave a cry as Chen touched the Yuedao point on his right wrist, forcing him to drop the sword. Chen followed quickly with two blows to Zhang's back, then jumped away, laughing. Zhang stumbled forward a few steps, as if drunk, and collapsed on the ground. Jubilant, the heroes rushed forward to tied him up. Zhang, his face deathly white, made no attempt to resist.

"Master Yuan, Master Lu," Chen said. "What should we do with this traitor?"

"Feed him to the wolves," Yu interjected. "First he killed my teacher and now he, now he" He looked down at Yuanzhi's broken arm.

"Good idea! We'll take him to feed the wolves," said Yuan. "We have to go and see how the pack is doing anyway."

Lu carefully set Yuanzhi's broken arm and bound it tightly with cloth. Master Yuan slipped a Snow Ginseng pill into her mouth and felt her pulse.

"Don't worry," he said to Yu. "She won't die."

"Put your arms round her, and she'll get better much quicker," Luo Bing whispered to him with a smile.

Huo Qingtong, meanwhile, was examining her map again, looking for a path from the Jade Pool out to the Secret City, when she heard shouts and turned to see Gu running crazily towards her screaming: "Kill me! Kill me!" Shocked and angry, she raised her sword and ran it through his chest. As she pulled the blade out again, a stream of blood spattered her yellow robe and Gu collapsed on the ground. Hahetai knelt over him and tried to stop the blood flow, but it was impossible. Gu gasped in pain.

"Do you have any affairs that need settling, Brother?" Hahetai asked him.

"I just want to touch her hand, then I can die happy," Gu whispered, looking up at Huo Qingtong.

"Mistress!" Hahetai pleaded. "He's about to die. Take pity" Huo Qingtong turned without a word, and walked away, her face deathly pale. Gu gave a long sigh, and his head fell to one side, dead.

Holding back his tears, Hahetai jumped up and pointed his finger accusingly at Huo Qingtong.

"You're merciless!" he shouted. "I don't blame you for killing him, but you could at least have given him your hand to touch, so that he could die peacefully. What difference would it have made to you?"

"Nonsense! Shut your mouth!" Zhang Jin said angrily.

Hahetai made no reply. He picked up Gu's body and strode away. Yu led over a horse for him.

"Brother Hahetai," he said. "I respect you for being an upright man. Please take this horse."

Hahetai nodded and slung Gu's body over the horse's back. Yu filled a bowl with water and drank half of it, then presented it to the Mongol.

"This water can take the place of wine," he said. Hahetai threw back his head and drained the bowl at one draught, then rode away without looking back.


| The Book and The Sword | c