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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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5

That evening, after they had set up camp, Chen told Master Yuan about his meetings with the Emperor Qian Long. Yuan was amazed by the twists and turns in the story, and when it was finished, he pulled a small, yellow cloth bundle from his bag.

"Last spring," he said, handing the bag to Chen, "your foster father, Great Helmsman Yu, sent the Twin Knights to see me and asked me to look after this, saying there were two important items inside. They didn't say what they were and I haven't opened the bag to see, but I imagine they must be the evidence the Emperor wants."

Chen opened the bag and and found a small parcel tightly wrapped in three layers of water-proof oil paper. Inside was a tiny box made of redwood. He opened the lid, revealing two plain envelopes yellowed with age. Inside the first envelope was a sheet of paper on which was written: "Master Chen, send someone over with your newborn son for me to see. Yong Di."

Master Yuan read it, but could not grasp it's significance. "What does it mean?" he asked. "Why would your foster father have considered this note to be so important?"

"It's written by the Emperor Yong Zheng," Chen replied.

"How do you know?"

"There were many examples of the Emperor's calligraphy around our home when I was young, so I recognise it easily. But this note was obviously written before he became Emperor. Yong Di was the name he used before he ascended the throne. Also, after he became Emperor, he would not have referred to my father as 'Master'." Yuan nodded.

Chen counted off the months and years on his fingers. "I was born after Yong Zheng became Emperor, and so was my brother. My sister was born at about that time, but this letter says: 'Your newborn son'. This is excellent evidence!"

He opened the second envelope and took out a letter. As soon as he saw the writing, tears sprang to his eyes.

"What is it?" Yuan asked.

"This is my mother's writing," he replied. He wiped away his tears and began to read the letter:

"Dear Brother Yu, our fate has run its course. What more is there to say of my ill-fated life? All I am concerned about now is the troubles I have brought upon you. You are a brave and upright man, but because of me, you have been rejected even by your own martial school. Of my three sons, one is in the depths of the Imperial Palace, one has gone off into the desert, and the one who is left to keep me company is both stupid and wicked. It makes me very sad. My youngest son is very intelligent and has been put under the care of an excellent teacher. I love and miss him, but I am not worried about him.

"My eldest son is playing the role of Manchu Emperor and knows nothing of his origins. Brother Yu, can you enlighten him for me? To prove it, tell him he has a bright red birthmark on his left buttock, and he will have to believe you.

"My strength is gradually failing. Day and night, all I think and dream of is the times we had together when we were young. If Heaven has pity on us, we will meet after death and spend the rest of eternity together as man and wife. (signed) Sister Chaosheng."

Chen was deeply shocked as he read the letter.

"Teacher," he said, his voice quavering. "Is the… the 'Brother Yu' in the letter my foster father?"

"Who else?" Master Yuan replied sombrely. "He and your mother fell in love when they were young, but things did not go as they wished, and they were separated. As a result, he never married."

"Why did my mother want me to go and live with him and treat him as my real father? Could it be…?"

"I was Master Yu's closest friend, but I only know that he broke the regulations of the Shaolin School and was expelled. He would never raise such a humiliating matter himself and it was difficult for others to ask him about it. But he was a good man, and I'm certain he would not have done anything to be ashamed of." He slapped his thigh. "When he was expelled, I felt sure he had been falsely accused and I got together some fighters with the idea of going to Shaolin monastery and demanding an explanation. It nearly created a serious split in the fighting community. But your foster father disagreed strenuously, insisting that the expulsion was his own fault and all he deserved. In the end, I did nothing. But I still don't believe he would have done anything shameful. I don't know what it could have been." His lingering anger was still apparent. "After he was expelled from the Shaolin school, he went and lived as a hermit for several years. Later he founded the Red Flower Society."

"But why did my foster father and my mother want me to leave home? Do you know?"

"What face did I have left when he stopped me from forcing the Shaolin School to explain?" Yuan replied angrily. "I refused to have anything to do with him after that. He sent you to me, and I taught you the martial arts, so I don't owe him anything."

Chen knew there was no point in questioning him further. But the key to restoring the throne to the Chinese race lay with his elder brother's origins. Even the slightest error, and all their efforts could be rendered useless. So he decided to first go to the Shaolin Monastery. He told Yuan of his plan.

"Good idea," the old man replied. "But the monks there are a strange lot. I'm afraid they won't tell you anything."

"We'll see," said Chen.

Yuan looked at his pupil thoughtfully. "Both of those Muslim girls are very nice. Which one do you want?" he asked.

"The famous Han dynasty general Huo Qubing said: 'How can I think of marriage until the barbarians are defeated?' I feel the same way," Chen replied.

Yuan nodded. "That's very commendable. I will speak to the Twin Eagles so they won't accuse me again of being a bad teacher."

"Have they said something about me?"

"They accused you of fickleness, of shoving aside one sister for the other."

Chen remembered how he and Princess Fragrance had met the Twin Eagles in the desert, and how they had departed without saying farewell, leaving their message in the sand. With a shock, he realised what they had meant.

The next day, Chen informed the heroes of his decision to go to the Shaolin Monastery in Fujian Province and bade farewell to Master Yuan, the Twin Eagles, Huo Qingtong and her sister.

Princess Fragrance wanted to go with him, and Chen felt very bad about leaving her behind. He had no idea of when they would meet again, but with Heaven's help, the great task of driving the Manchus out of China would one day succeed and they would be re-united. If it did not succeed, he and his brothers would probably die and be buried far from the Muslim areas.

"You stay with your sister," Chen said, hardening his heart.

"You must come back!" Princess Fragrance cried, tears coursing down her face. He nodded. "If it takes ten years for you to come back, I'll wait ten years. If it takes a lifetime, I'll wait a lifetime."

Chen wanted to give her something. He felt around in his bag and his hand touched on something warm: the piece of Warm Jade the Emperor had given him in Haining. He took it out and placed it in her hand.

"When you look at this jade, pretend you are looking at me," he said softly.

"But I must see you," she replied tearfully.

"What's all this crying about?" he said. "When the Great Task is completed, I will take you to see the Great Wall outside Beijing. I promise."

Princess Fragrance stared at him for a moment, then the trace of a smile appeared on her face. "You're not allowed to say anything you don't mean," she said.

"When have I lied to you?"

Only then did she agree to stay behind.

They started out. As they rode away, Chen found himself constantly looking back at the two sisters as they faded and gradually disappeared on the horizon of the desert.

The heroes travelled slowly due to Yuanzhi's injuries. With his master's death avenged, Yu was in high spirits and looked after the girl with loving care and attention.

After several days, they arrived back at Afanti's home. Zhou Qi was delighted to hear Zhang was dead. Chen wanted Xu to stay with her in the Muslim areas until the child was born and she had recovered, but Zhou Qi would have none of it. Apart from the boredom, she did not want to miss a chance to travel to the Shaolin Monastery, where her father was staying. The heroes finally agreed, and Xu rented a carriage for his wife and Yuanzhi to ride in.

By the time they re-entered the Jade Gate to central China, the weather was growing warmer and the beginnings of spring were apparent.


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