Saturday, September 24, 2005


Episode 1 : The young apprentice

As a child, Li Chiang was extremely active. He was the fifth son of a government official and was always getting into fights with the neighbourhood boys, much to the despair of his father. At the age of 12, he was involved in a bruising fight where the son of a junior official was badly wounded. Quietly, the father settled the case and decided that it is best that the boy left the capital. The elder Li arranged for the boy to be apprenticed to an herbal doctor in Hsi Shan Mountains for a period of 3 years. He hoped that by learning the healing arts, his son would pick up a less violent outlook in life.

“Die lah! Die lah!” little Li Chiang kept crying when he heard the news. His father, who was waiting for an appropriate time to send the kid, finally could not take it anymore and instructed his servants to pack the kid and some clothes immediately and sent the boy to the herbal doctor without delay.

Master Sung, more popularly known as Sung Daifu (‘doctor’), was a famed herbal doctor in the Hsi Shan Mountains. He lived with his wife, Madame Sung, and did not have any sons. As a rule, he did not accept apprentices, but he owed Li Chiang’s father a blood debt in the past, and thus he agreed to become Li Chiang’s sifu. The father made clear to Master Sung that his son was not to be taught any martial arts.

Although he was old, and his eyesight slowly failing, Master Sung was a strict teacher. With no distractions of the city, the boy soon learned the qi meridians of the body, the various pressure points, and the herbs required for healing the various types of ailments.

“Your practice has no prospect,” the boy told him, “You are not going to make serious money if you keep on healing sick people.”

“Then who shall I heal?” asked the master.

“Dead people,” was the reply, “If you can do that, I can guarantee you big money!”

“Shut up. Your mind is like a cloud of dust. Useless and unsettled. You need to learn concentration. Meanwhile, go fetch some water,” the master told him.

Master Sung taught the boy breathing control to concentrate the mind. Quickly, the boy realised that by controlling his breath, he was able to exert some control in the flow of the bodily qi, thus increased his Internal Energy. He was a gifted learner, and by the time 3 years were up, he could exert the force of two adult men in short concentrated bursts of energy.

Madame Sung took charge of Li Chiang’s calligraphy lessons. She was stunned to learn that the boy was ambidextrous, but she kept quiet about it. Instead, she taught him to use the brush with both hands, explaining to him that if ever his right hand was injured, he could still use the left hand to write.

On returning to the capital at the end of three years, Li Chiang behaved for a while. But he was bored, and would go around the house trying to practice his healing skills on the healthy servants, causing them to complain to the father. After his father admonished him, he would go around the house shaking his head and muttering, “Yau mou kau chor arh!. Heal you for free and still complain! Fed up!”

A year later, he was in a restaurant when two sons of a lowly magistrate got drunk and abused him. In the fight that ensued, he beat up the two men using raw force alone, without any knowledge of the martial arts. When they reached for their swords, Li Chiang picked up a bench and swung it at them with such force from his Internal Energy that they could not parry the blow. After the two men were injured, Li Chiang’s father was in a state of concern. He was expecting a promotion soon and cannot afford to have a son stirring up trouble. Thus he decided that it was time that the boy went for another 3 more years of training under Master Sung again.

Age had caught up with Master Sung. He was glad to see the sixteen-year-old boy once more. Because of his sifu’s failing eyesight, Li Chiang soon found himself taking on the role of the doctor whenever the sick called upon them. He would weigh the herbs, chopped and sliced them, pack them into dosages for the patients. Whenever he was free, he would practise the control of qi in his breathing technique. Master Sung impressed upon him that it was the constant repetition of the same basic breathing technique that would develop Internal Energy over a long period of time. The boy was a rapid learner. When the aged couple watched the boy practise calligraphy on a sandy plot of land using a leafy branch as a brush, it was like watching a formless flowing energy manoeuvring the brush strokes.

But when the boy was just 17 years old, Master Sung laid on his deathbed.

“Li Chiang,” he whispered, “I am dying. Listen well. A sly rabbit will have three openings to its den.”

“Sifu,” the young man cried, “You can’t die. And why are you talking about rabbits?”

Master Sung said, “Everybody dies. Some die in bed. Others on the battlefield. Death is the will of Heaven. Li Chiang, if you are one day called to do the will of Heaven, do not flinch from the task. The will of Man must bow to the will of Heaven.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked the younger man.

Master Sung smiled peacefully and died without answering.

After the burial, Madame Sung took Li Chiang aside and told him, “I am getting old as well and will not have many years left. You have two more years to go before your father’s servants come for you. I am not knowledgeable enough to teach you the healing arts. Your calligraphy brushwork is already better than mine.”

“You can teach me how to handle a sword,” suggested Li Chiang.

“In keeping with our agreement with your father, I cannot teach you to use a weapon during this three-year period,” replied Madame Sung, “and since I don’t think that you would like to learn sewing, I will therefore teach you the Lightness Kung Fu instead. This will be useful when you are at the hill slopes digging for herbs. Should you slip and fall, the Lightness Kung Fu may help you leap to safety.”

“Will it take long to learn?” asked Li Chiang.

“About ten years. But if you soak your body in a tub of herbs every evening, it will take only one year.”

At the end of the 3-year period, when his father’s servants came for him, Li Chiang had the strength of 4 men and could leap onto the roof in a single leap. Meanwhile, his father had been promoted to become the Imperial Governor of the Fujian province and the son was asked to join him in the Fujianese provincial capital of Fuzhou.

Li Chiang told the servants to return without him, saying, “The Fujian Province? I hear the Fujian girls all talk with one kind of funny slang. Weird but interesting! But my simou Madame Sung is already old and weakly. I fear she has not long to live. I will stay here and care for her in her last days. Leave me a horse and plenty of money. Tell my honourable father that I will join him in Fuzhou when the time comes.”

Governor Li was pleased when he heard of his son’s reason for not returning home. “It is good that my son learns responsibility. Finally, he understands the importance of caring for others, instead of fighting,” he told his wife.

Meanwhile, Madame Sung was grateful to know of Li Chiang’s decision.

“Kneel down, “she commanded Li Chiang.

The young man knelt down without knowing why.

Madame Sung proclaimed, “Li Chiang, you have been like a son to me. During the past years, I have agreed not to teach you the martial arts. Now, that period of agreement with your father is over, I wish to pass the Twin Dragon Blades technique to you. Although I know part of the technique, only an ambidextrous person can comprehend the balance of its strokes to fully bring out its tremendous power. When I first discovered that you were ambidextrous, I knew that you have been sent by Heaven to me.”

“Huh? What twins? What dragons?” exclaimed Li Chiang.

Pointing to a spot on the ground, Madame Sung instructed the young man to dig. He soon unearthed a metal box containing two sabres that were ordinary looking, shorter but heavier than the average sabre. In the box was also an old manual.

Madame Sung said, “I am the secret Guardian of the Twin Dragon Blades forged by the legendary Sword Master of Thunder Valley two hundred years ago. They were passed on to me by my late grandfather and I kept them buried here secretly. In the hands of the right person, wielding those two blades is like wielding two dragons. I am able to interpret the manual, but I am unable to demonstrate the strokes fully. I now appoint you the next Guardian of the Twin Dragon Blades. You will have to master the technique based on my interpretation of the manual. And you will have to practise hard.”

Li Chiang looked at her incredulously and said, “Practise hard? No need lah! I heard that some highly skilled martial artist can passed on their skills to a disciple by just putting their palms on the back of the disciple. Can save time and improve efficiency.”

His simou replied, “Shut up. You will learn it the hard way. I am going to refrain from dying until you learn! The techniques of sabre play are many. You have to feel as if the sabres are the extensions of your hands. To maintain balance, both hands need to coordinate closely with each other. Notice that the blades are short, yet heavy. Used correctly, they can cut through an ordinary sword.”

The many years of training in calligraphy brush techniques with both hands gave Li Chiang a strong foundation for his sabre strokes, and he soon mastered all the techniques in the Twin Dragon Blades manual. By combining his elegant strokeplay with the power from his internal energy, Madame Sung transformed him into a formidable martial artist.

Two years later, Madame Sung laid on her deathbed. With her last few moments, she gasped, “Li Chiang, We do not always know what Heaven has planned for us. You have enough knowledge of the Internal Energy Iron Palm technique to help you get out of trouble. Do not use the Twin Dragon Blades unless it cannot be avoided. Do you still remember what your sifu told you?”

“He said that a sly rabbit would have three openings to the den.”

“Remember that well. Your sifu also told you that if you are ever called to do the will of Heaven, do not flinch from the task. Listen to my words; you are a doctor who save lives, but if you have to kill, then do so without remorse. You are already twenty-one years of age. A grown man should be firm and decisive.”

“Yes, simou,” Li Chiang said, fighting back the tears, “Do you have any last matters you have not fulfilled? If so, I will fulfil them for you.”

“Li Chiang, to know that you will bury me beside my husband’s grave, gives me peace. To know that you will burn a candle for me when I am gone gives me great joy. To know that you, a son of a Provincial Governor, treat me and my departed husband better than many sons would treat their natural parents; that is honour enough for us.”

Li Chiang sat beside Madame Sung through the night. Tears streamed down his face when she breathed her last.

Two weeks later, he packed his belongings, the sabres and all the remaining herbs in the house, and placed them on his horse. Then he knelt down and bowed low before the graves of Master and Madame Sung. Having said his goodbyes, he took a last look at the surroundings, climbed onto the horse and rode away.

Next episode: The Will of Heaven

Episode 2 : The Will of Heaven

Li Chiang was in no hurry to get to his new home in the Fujian Province where his father was currently stationed. However, his finances were limited, which meant that he could not go sightseeing, and would also have to spend sparingly as he made his way to his family in Fuzhou city.

“Money not enough,” he thought, “but no problem. I can save money by sleeping inside a carriage instead of an inn, and I can earn money on the way by being a daifu(herbal doctor). There must be lots of sick people around I can cure!”

So he bought a cheap two-wheeled carriage and hitched it to his horse. And he wrote a sign on the carriage that said:


When he reached a little town, he displayed his sign prominently at the market place. However, because he looked too young to be a doctor, by the end of the day, nobody approached him.

“Fed up! A hundred rotten salted eggs! This town is full of healthy people! Wasted my time only!” he muttered.

As dusk approached, a man came up to him and asked, “Can you prescribed something for a lady? She is 5 months pregnant and is constantly vomiting.”

“Are you her husband?” asked Li.

“No, no, the lady is unmarried,” replied the man. “While travelling with her family, all her brothers, father and mother were all killed by the Seven Ghosts. She was raped by the Ghosts but managed to escape days later. Now she is pregnant.”

“I am sorry, but I do not know how to treat pregnant ladies. And you should stop believing in ghosts,” replied Li Daifu.

“What kind of daifu are you that you cannot do this simple thing? What if your own wife is pregnant?” the man asked.

“In that case, I will have to seek a daifu,” Li Chiang replied.

“One daifu seeking another daifu? This world has gone mad!” the man shouted as he walked off.

Li Chiang was ashamed to find that that his skills were so limited. But never mind, he will try his luck in the next town.

As he was travelling to the next town, he was ambushed by a group of seven armed men with cruel looking faces.

One of the men looked at him evilly and shouted, “Two hours!”

Another one shouted contemptuously, “One!”

“What are you doing?” asked Li Chiang.

“We are taking bets to see how long you will take to die after we cut off your arms and legs. This is your unlucky day. We are the Seven Ghosts!” replied one of them.

“You mean the Seven Ghosts are human bandits? Who kill and rape like unworthy animals? Who are not even fit to be rats?” exclaimed Li.

“Ha! I am sure you will provide us with much merriment as you die like a worthless dog! Fourth Brother, go up the carriage and slice off his arms and legs!” said the leader.

One of the Seven Ghosts took out a long broadsword and leaped up the carriage. Li whipped out his sabres in a flash and parried the attacker’s cutting stroke with the left sabre. Within the same movement, he plunge the right sabre into the attacker’s heart, and then kicked him off the carriage. Then he leaped down from the carriage to prepare for further attacks.

“He has killed Fourth Brother! We cannot let him escape. Make sure he dies slowly!” shouted the leader.

The men surrounded Li Chiang and rained down blows on him with their weapons. He avoided their blows and parried their weapons with his Twin Dragon Blades, as he fought for his life. The bandits were strong and fast, and many times he only managed to avoid getting killed by inches.

When one of the Ghosts slipped and fell, there was a momentary lull in all movement. Li Chiang saw his chance and with his lightness kungfu, leaped over their heads to outside the circle.

“I can’t fight them off if I remained encircled by them,” he thought to himself, “and it would be a matter of time before one of their blades finds me. But if I can separate them, I can kill them off one by one.”

Quickly, he ran up the slope of the hill by the side of the road, and the bandits pursued him. When Li Chiang reached the top of the hill, he turned around and saw that the bandits were not equally fast. Two of the bandits were close by, but the other four were slower and still at the middle portion of the slope. Running down the same slope, and having the advantage of higher ground, Li Chiang lopped off the head of the closest pursuer in one quick move and then plunged his sabre through the heart of the second bandit.

He then charged down at the remaining four bandits. At the last moment, he swerved to the left and slashed downwards with his right sabre. The force was of the blow was so great that it cut through the sword of one of the bandits and sliced away three quarters of the bandit’s throat, thus severing the windpipe. Another bandit found Li Chiang’s sabre plunged into his heart without knowing where the thrust came from.

The two remaining bandits turned to flee. But Li Chiang leaped to in front of them and separated their heads from their bodies in a flashing of blades. With the fight over, the young man suddenly realised that he had just taken away some human lives.

Lei lou mou! Why did you have to force my hand! I am a daifu! Open for business for two days and still not yet healed one man. But already killed seven! Heaven arh, what manner of healer am I?”

Mortified at what he had just done, he travelled to the next village and stayed at a little inn sleeping and getting drunk for two days, too numbed to do anything.

On the third morning, he noticed much excitement at the inn and asked the waiter what the fuss was about.

The waiter told him, “This is a day for rejoicing! The bodies of the Seven Ghosts have been discovered killed miraculously. They were notorious bandits who have kept the people in fear for a long time! But we knew that one day, Heaven would rid us of them. Today, the people are offering prayers of thanks to Heaven!”

At that moment, Li Chiang remembered the dying words of Madame Sung, “Li Chiang, if you are one day called to do the will of Heaven, do not flinch from the task. If you have to kill, then do so without remorse. A man should be firm and decisive.”

Finally, he understood what his simou had meant. “How can I, a daifu, be asked to do the will of Heaven? Yau mou kau chor arh,” he cried, “Heaven should have been much more organised than this!”

Nevertheless, he felt much better, and so he made his way to the marketplace. Again he waited beside his carriage hoping to earn money by healing people. This time, he opened up his bag of herbs and displayed them on the ground to attract attention.

Then he shouted, “Don’t buy also come and see mah! Everybody I can cure! Everybody except pregnant ladies!”

A rich man passed by with his servants and looked at his herbs. Then he said, “I will offer you 2 taels of silver for the tiger penis.”

Li Chiang looked down at the dried tiger penis in the pile of herbs and replied, “That penis came from a very fierce white tiger. It took my sifu many months to trap it. It is worth at least 80 taels. If you eat it, you will also be like a fierce tiger in your bed. You will feel the power! Mou tak teng. Your nights will be filled with vigour and your wives will be quivering in eager anticipation each time you venture near them!”

“Sure or not?” the rich man asked, but Li Chiang could tell that he was interested.

After much haggling, Li Chiang sold the tiger penis for 30 taels of silver. At the end of the day, it was the only business he had transacted.

“Fed up! I trained to be a daifu for so many years but I have no business. But when I simply throw some old stuff on the ground, suddenly I have business. I think it is the will of Heaven that I become a trader.”

And thus, Li Chiang became a trader. Being familiar with medicinal herbs, he stocked up mostly on medicinal goods, and would buy ginseng roots, deer antlers and sometimes tiger penises in small villages to sell at high prices in the larger towns. With his Twin Dragon Blades, he could go through risky areas that other traders dared not go. With great risks came great opportunity. That way he earned a highly profitable income as he travelled from town to town.

Li Chiang still referred to himself as Li Daifu. Occasionally, he would heal sick people he met along the way, but he would not charge a fee. Instead, the sick paid for his services with an angpow according to their means.

Soon, he neared the borders of the Fujian Province.

Next episode: The Nine Dark Princes of the Bow

Episode 3: The Nine Dark Princes of the Bow

Travelling through the forest into the Fujian Province, Li Chiang was overcome with loneliness. At the last two towns he passed through, he had abstained from the company of women. The problem with spending the night with a courtesan was that the pleasure lasted only a short time, and he still woke up with an empty feeling in his heart. And also with a lighter feeling in his pocket.

He lamented, “I have heard that when a boy loses his virginity to a courtesan, he receives an angpow in return. All these past weeks, I have never received a single angpow. So, officially I am still a virgin. Diu!”

Although he had about 200 silver taels worth of goods, and thus was considered a worthy trader, Li Chiang still sighed when he thought about his situation. “Yau mou kau chor arh. Spent so many years as a herbal doctor’s apprentice and now, look at me. Every inch a trader. It is merciful that sifu and simou are not alive to see this!”

Suddenly, an arrow winged from the right towards his head. Li Chiang’s ears picked up the lightest unusual whooosh of air, and immediately leapt up into the tree branches overhead. The arrow missed him and landed into a tree. The carriage kept on moving.

“What horse is this?” Li Chiang thought, “the owner is not on the carriage and the horse does not know how to stop. Lei lou mou keh lou mou. Horse so stupid!”

Peering through the leaves, he tried to locate the bowman. In his rush, he had left his Twin Dragon Blades in the carriage. Spotting some movement in the branches, he quickly shifted his position as two arrows whizzed past him.

He shouted, “Stay your arrows! I am only a simple daifu requesting passage!”

It was a mistake. His voice gave his position away and three arrows sped to his position from three directions. He had just enough time to leap to the trunk of another tree.

A hoarse voice answered him, “We are the Nine Dark Princes of the Bow. We are confiscating your horse and carriage.”

Li Chiang shouted back, “Oh, horse and carriage only, is it? You don’t have to shoot at me!”

He leapt to safety again as seven arrows flew and embedded themselves into the trunk of the tree where he was just moments before.

“You are providing us with valuable archery training! The ancient sages said that constant training would lead to life improvement. The one who gets you first gets an extra portion of the spoils! Hahaha!” laughed the hidden bowman. Other bowmen joined in the wicked laughter.

Deciding that it was too dangerous to hang around, Li Chiang leapt high over the branches as arrows flew about him, and raced over the treetops with his lightness kungfu. He caught up with his carriage and crouch on it as the horse continued moving on nonchalantly without a pause.

“Smart horse,” Li Chiang said, “the owner is not on the carriage and the horse is not stupid enough to stop. Chan hai mou tak teng. Horse so clever!”

Then he heard shouts of, “He’s getting away! Quick!”

A group of nine bowmen bandits appeared and started running after the carriage. Li Chiang whipped the horse and it galloped faster but the bowmen kept up the chase, unwilling to let their quarry escape so easily. After a while, it was clear that the pursuers were getting exhausted and about to give up the chase. Li Chiang slowed down for them, then stopped the horse and leapt down flashing his Twin Dragon Blades. The first two bowmen never quite knew how they died. The third and fourth bowmen saw the sabres swinging their direction but were too exhausted from the chase to avoid the unbelievably quick death dealing strokes.

One of the bowmen raised his bow and tiredly fired an arrow at Li Chiang, who deflected it away easily with his sabre. Before the bowman could fit another arrow to his bow, Li Chiang had reached him and sliced his stomach open wide. His intestines fell out onto the ground with a loud “PLOP!”

The four remaining bowmen threw away their bows and knelt down to beg for mercy, too tired from the running to put up a fight.

Li Chiang cut the strings on the bows, but felt uncomfortable in slaying four defenceless bandits, and so he wondered what to do with them. “I know. They can help me in my medical training. I will practise hitting the various yuedao points on them. It has been a long time since I had any practice.”

And so, Li Chiang started hitting the various yuedao points on the four bowmen so as to refresh himself on the knowledge his sifu had passed to him. He hit the yuedao points that caused the four bowmen to freeze in their movement. Then he practised hitting the ‘dumbness yuedao’ and found that the bowman could not speak. When he was tired of practicing the ‘dumbness yuedao’, he hit the ‘deafness yuedao’, then one by one he hit any yuedao that caught his imagination. At times he hit the wrong yuedao and obtained the wrong results. He was like a cat playing with four freshly caught mice. By and by, he even discovered a few yuedao points that his sifu had not taught him.

The four bowmen begged to be let off but Li Chiang told them, “A while ago, you wanted me to be part of your archery training. Now, you can be part of my medical training instead. If I keep training like this, in one year’s time I should be a very good physician. Nobody I know will allow me to practise on their qi pressure points like this. I am so glad that you came along!”

One of the bowmen begged to know for how long they would have to help the young herbal doctor in his medical training.

Li Chiang replied, “Let’s see. I also need training in bone setting. After this I will crack your bones one by one. Then I will practise setting them back. Consider yourselves honoured that you are allowed to help in my training!”

The four bowmen were getting very panic stricken. Then Li Chiang said, “Maybe I will open a private medical school. Then you four can help me in the yuedao and bone-setting courses. I am sure my students will love to practise on you. Mo tak teng! This is the best idea I’ve had all day!”

One of the bandits spoke, “Sir, if you will let us go, we will give you a hundred taels of silver.”

Li Chiang replied, “No. If I open a medical school, I can easily earn a thousand taels.”

Another bandit spoke up, “300 taels! All we have is 300 taels, and it took us years to accumulate that!”

“Are you trying to bribe me?” demanded Li Chiang, “Save your breath because I cannot be bribed! But I can be persuaded.”

“Please take all we have and discontinue all your medical training on us,” the bandit begged.

Finally, Li Chiang relented,” All right. I will let one of you go to fetch whatever you have. If I think it is close to the value of a thousand taels, I will let all of you go. Send someone whom you can all trust. If he does not come back, I will be practising heart transplants on the rest of you.”

The men chose their “Fifth Brother” to go and fetch their hoard of spoils they had accumulated over the years. Then they waited. Li Chiang wrapped a blue cape around him, put on his wide hat and sat on the ground to wait. A quarter of an hour later, Fifth Brother quietly returned with a bow and arrow. Aiming stealthily from behind the trees, he sent an arrow through the back of the figure in blue cape sitting on the ground, and the figure keeled over dead. Fifth Brother laughed wickedly as he walked over to the dead man.

“I think you have just killed your Seventh Brother” he heard Li Chiang said, “I made him wear my cape and hat, and sit in my position. Do not make the mistake of thinking that I am stupid! A sly rabbit has three openings to his den!”

The frightened bowman had not brought the money. Li Chiang warned him not to try any more tricks, and then made him go and fetch the money again.

A quarter of an hour later, he was back with another bow and arrow. Stealthily peeping from behind the trees he saw the figure in blue cape sitting on the ground. The other two bowmen were in a standing position. All of them had hats covering their faces, but which one was Li Chiang? Then he saw the wind moved the coat of one of the standing men and revealed the presence of the twin sabres. Without hesitation, he shot the man with the twin sabres through the heart with an arrow.

Walking cautiously to the fallen man, he heard a voice say, “Why are you always killing your brothers? Didn’t you hear me say that the sly rabbit will have 3 openings to the den?” He turned around to stare at Li Chiang, who now was the man in the blue cape sitting on the ground.

There were now only two bandits left; Fifth Brother and an old man with no teeth.

The man with no teeth was weeping, and he cried, “You cannot let him go again! If you do, I will be the next to die! He is more stupid than a pig!”

“How far is your hoard from here?” asked Li Chiang.

“About a quarter of an hour” was the reply.

“Good! This is what we will do,” said Li Chiang, “Both of you will race to uncover your hoard. The first person to show it to me will be allowed to keep one fifth of it. The second person to reach the hoard will die from my blades. Now run!”

The two men ran at once trying to get to their hoard first. The man with no teeth had been in a standing position the whole day and so his legs were numb and slow. Within a quarter of an hour, they had come to a hut behind some trees. Fifth Brother was faster, and he got hold of a hoe to dig at the ground where the hoard was buried.

The man with no teeth went and got another hoe. He then swung the hoe and brought it down hard on the neck of Fifth Brother. The blow caused Fifth Brother to go very still, with the head lolling loosely at an odd angle.

“I am going to be the first man to show you the hoard, and so I need not die. Also, by your words, I get to keep one fifth of the money,” he said.

“You must have killed or paralysed him. Need you hit so hard?” Li Chiang asked.

“I had to. The second man he shot was my son! I must have my revenge,” the man said.

Li Chiang nodded. There was no true brotherhood among thieves. The man pulled Fifth Brother to the bushes and left him there. Digging up the hoard, the man took his share, and then handed Li Chiang the rest; about 400 taels of silver.

Li Chiang said, “In keeping with my word, I will let you go free. However, the will of Heaven must be obeyed. To prevent you returning to a life of banditry, I will have to break both your arms before you go.”

The man replied. “I have already lost my son. I beg you, take only one arm and not both. I promise to leave the life of banditry.”

“Very well then, stretch forth one arm,” ordered Li Chiang.

The man stretched out his left arm and Li Chiang hit it with his Iron Palm technique, smashing the bone in three places.

“It will heal in time. But you will never be strong enough to pull a bow firmly,” Li Chiang told him.

As he left the forest, Li Chiang chuckled, “400 taels for doing some medical training. Not bad! The ancient sages were right. Constant training does lead to life improvement.”

Fifth Brother lay among the bushes, unable to move. His neck was broken and he was paralysed. He called out weakly for help, but none came. The next day, a pack of wild dogs discovered him. Fifth Brother once heard someone made the statement that wild dogs have patience, and would wait for a human to die first before feeding on the body. The wild dogs gathered quietly around him, and then in terror, he found that the statement was not true.

Next episode : The Secret flight of Jade Flower

Episode 4: The Secret flight of Jade Flower

“Here’s to our success!”

The three men drinking in the little eating house were clearly drunk, and talking more loudly than they normally would.

“Once we have the girl, we will be able to afford better wine than this!”

“That depends on how much the buyer is willing to pay.”

“Has the price been fixed?”

“Yes. But our Big Brother Lo intends to sell her to the highest bidder. He thinks the other family may be able to give us a higher price”

“Hahahahaha! Won’t young Master Zhao Piao be mad? He engaged us to carry out the job in the first place.”

“Not as mad as the Wu family when they discover their precious daughter gone.”

“Quiet! Do you wish the whole world to hear us?”

The men looked around. There was only a waiter nearby cleaning the next table, with his back towards them. The waiter moved off, and the men carried on with their drinking. Soon, they were talking loudly again.

+ + + + + +

Merchant Wu strode into the study, his face clouded with worry. Madame Wu, seated by the table, looked up and asked, “What is wrong?”

"Wife," the merchant said, "you know that the Wu, Zhao and Liu families control the businesses of this town. And that the Zhao and Liu families hate each other and seek each other’s destruction. Their enmity has broken out into the open. Not a day goes by without their men fighting each other. Both sides are now urgently seeking an alliance with me. They know they cannot hope to defeat each other without my help.”

“We can refuse to take sides, as always,” said Madame Wu.

“Not this time. They are going to compel me to choose a side.”

“No one can force us to take sides if we do not wish to,“ said Madame Wu. “Why are you worried then?”

“I have been tipped off that the Zhao family’s eldest son, Zhao Piau, has engaged a gang to do a bridal kidnapping!” exclaimed the merchant.

“Nothing is wrong with that. The law allows it as long as the bride’s family is eventually compensated. If not for bridal kidnapping, many young men of poor families will not have wives. However, I am surprised that Zhao Piau needed to take such a step. His family is rich enough to afford ten brides for him,” said Madame Wu.

“He intends to kidnap our only daughter Jade Flower! And if he is successful, I will have to recognise him as my son-in-law!”

“What? That is a dastardly deed! Jade Flower will take her own life rather than have you recognised that rogue as your son-in-law.”

“I cannot allow my only daughter to take her own life. Much as I hate it, I will have to agree to the union if events reach that stage. Once the marriage takes place, like it or not, we will be allied to the Zhao against the Liu family.”

“We can report the matter to the Governor.”

“If our daughter gets impregnated by force, even the Emperor cannot help her! My informant tells me that the gang has also secretly approached the Liu family and they too are prepared to pay well for her when the time comes.”

“What? This is a truly dishonourable. To think that both the Zhao and the Liu families are the richest families in this town. Such is not the action of noble families!”

“The matter may not be that simple! Maybe I am overly suspicious, but I fear that once they have our daughter, they will find a way to kill off Wu Chuan, our only son. Then they will inherit our property through Jade Flower.”

“That…..that is a most horrifying thought!”

“Evil people become rich through the misfortunes of others. And if there are no misfortunes, then they create some. For the future of the Wu family, we have to send our daughter away from Pingchen to somewhere safe.”

“I have a brother in Anchen. We can send her there to take shelter,” said Madame Wu.

“Good. We will get the Yung An Escort Protection Agency to take her there in secret. Tell no one about our plans. There could be a spy in our household. Also, I think our house is being watched.”

Jade Flower was told of the plans to take her to safety. Her father instructed her, “We need to be secretive about this, so we will have to disguise you as a man. Please be cautious. Remember that you are to act like a man and talk like one.”

Jade Flower assured him, “Talk like a man? No problem father. If anybody tries to kidnap me I will whack the asshole till his own mother won’t recognise him.”

“What?” exclaimed the mother.

Jade Flower explained, “Sorry! I mean, if any boh tua boh suay bugger tries to ji seow me, limpeh will hoot the fucker kao kao.”

Her father glared at her and then said, “That’s better!”

+ + + + + +

Ouyang, the lead escort of Yung An Escort Protection Agency, was surprised to hear the request. Two large wooden chests were taken to the hall, one filled with cloth, and the other empty. Jade Flower, dressed as a young lad in the Agency’s uniform, lay down inside the empty wooden chest.

Merchant Wu said, “Lead Escort Ouyang. I feel uneasy that your Agency could only spare ten men for this trip. But I understand that it is short notice. Should you be attacked on the way to Anchen, leave the goods and see that my daughter gets to safety.”

The lead escort nodded. He and Merchant Wu were old friends and Wu trusted him completely.

Merchant Wu then handed him a cage with three carrier pigeons to carry to Anchen. If there was a need to send messages back to Merchant Wu, a letter could be tied to the leg of the pigeon. Once the pigeon is freed, it would be able to use its homing instincts to find its back way to the Wu residence with the message.

There were ten Agency men altogether, and they left the house pushing the two chests on two handcarts. To whoever was watching the house, it appeared that ten Agency men came to the house to escort two chests of goods to their destination.

Once the outskirts of the town were reached, and nobody else was around, Ouyang opened one chest and Jade Flower climbed out and walked. She carried her sword, which she had learned how to handle at a young age. She was already 17 years old, and could defend herself ordinarily, but would not be a match for a group of determined men.

It was one day later that the servants of the house realised that Jade Flower was gone. Zhao Piao was not without resources. By being willing to pay for information from a greedy stableman in the Wu household, he found out that Jade Flower disappeared on the same day that the Yung An Escort Protection Agency men visited the house. By then the Agency men already had a lead of one and a half days. Zhou Piao then passed the information to Big Brother Tiger Lo of the gang.

“Tiger Lo. Your spies have been sleeping! The dogs, you should have them castrated!” he screamed at the big sized man in front of him.

“I will deal with my men in my own way. Do you know which route the Agency men took?” Tiger Lo asked.

“Witnesses have seen them on the road towards Anchen,” was the reply.

“In that case, it is not a big problem. I have a group of 20 fighters camped in the hills somewhere between here and Anchen. Do not beset yourself with worry. We’ll get the girl.”

That afternoon, Tiger Lo released a carrier pigeon bearing a letter, and it winged across the skies, headed for the bandit camp in the hills.

Next episode: The battle in the hills

Episode 5: The battle in the hills

Li Chiang came to a fork in the road. Which way should he go? Right or left? It did not matter. He was already in the Fujian Province and wished to see a bit of the province before going to visit his parents. On a whim, he chose the right turn and move at a leisurely pace. The province was hilly and the horse could not travel very fast. After travelling for a short while, he saw a group of men travelling ahead. They appeared to be some kind of Protection Escort Agency. Li Chiang travelled behind at a discreet distance. He would overtake them when they stop to rest.

Lead escort Ouyang noticed the man on a horse carriage following them. Sometimes traders follow escort agencies hoping that by being close to a group of armed men, they can escape falling prey to bandits. Protection by association; that was what they called it.

As they were about to approach a bend in the road, Ouyang noticed some movement among the bushes on both sides of the road and called the group to a halt. His tingling senses told him that there was trouble ahead. Li Chiang thought that they were about to take a rest, and so he brought his carriage up close behind the Agency men, expecting to overtake them.

Ouyang shouted, “Lead Escort Ouyang of the Yung An Escort Protection Agency wishes to use this road today. We humbly ask your indulgence. Please divulge yourselves, whoever you are!”

There was silence. Then suddenly a group of 20 armed men appeared ahead out from the bushes. They had black cloth masks covering their faces. The leader was a big man with a bald head. He spoke, “Leave the girl behind and we will let you go free. Do not think of resisting because we outnumber you. And our fighters are good!”

“What girl?” asked Lead Escort Ouyang.

“Stop your pretence,” said Bald Head, “we have received word that you are escorting a girl along this road.”

“You can see that there are no girls among us!” replied Ouyang.

Jade Flower hoped that her disguise as an Agency man was good enough to fool them. Bald Head looked, and saw that there were indeed no girls in the group. One of the masked men whispered to Bald Head, “I cannot see any girl, but I think she is definitely hidden in the carriage behind.” The bandit had thought that Li Chiang’s carriage was part of the Agency group.

“I give you one last chance! Will you give up the girl?” shouted Bald Head.

“I do not know what you are talking about!” replied Ouyang nonchalantly.

“Fine! I offered you toasted wine, but you prefer to drink penalty wine!” spat Bald Head.

Believing that the girl was in Li Chiang’s carriage behind the Agency men, he quietly ordered 6 men to attack the carriage to grab the girl while he attacked the Agency men with the rest of the bandits. Since numerical superiority was on his side, Bald Head had no reason to believe that the task ahead would be in any way difficult.

Li Chiang saw the masked bandits attacking the Agency men and then suddenly a group of 6 masked men broke away and charged towards him. “Lei lou mou,” he swore, as he pulled out his Twin Dragon Blades, leapt down from the carriage and prepared for the battle. The masked men raised their weapons to cut down the trader as they charged. In four quick moves, Li Chiang had killed 5 of them, much to the surprise of the sixth masked man. While the sixth man was still debating whether to fight or to flee, Li Chiang removed his head swiftly with a flash of the left sabre.

The eyes on the head stared at Li Chiang in shock as the head toppled to the ground.

Then the trader turned to look at the battle in front of him and saw a young Agency man running in his direction. The youth was small in stature, and was being keenly pursued by two masked men.

It was Jade Flower’s bad luck that two cowardly masked men had chosen to attack the one with the smallest size, leaving the more formidable opponents to their other fellow bandits. She was no match for two grown fighters and tried to defend herself as she fled in the direction of the carriage. As she neared Li Chiang, she saw the six dead masked men on the ground and instinctively ran behind the trader. Li Chiang stepped aside to let Jade Flower run past him, and then he flashed his Twin Dragon Blades. Jade Flower looked back, and was just in time to see both her pursuers fall to the ground, writhing in their dying throes.

“Stay here,” Li Chiang instructed her. Then he waded into the battle, neatly and efficiently slicing through the masked men one by one. A short while later, the masked men realised that they were outnumbered by their quarry. They did not know how it happened that there were only six or seven of them left. Two of them tried to flee and were slashed in the back as they ran. Another one fled in the direction of the carriage, right into Jade Flower. She thrust her sword forward the way she had been taught to do so in her swordplay training at home. The sword ran through the chest of the bandit and she let go of the sword. He fell onto the grass, gasping. Trembling from head to toe, she watched him die.

“Do not let go of your sword in a fight,” she heard the trader’s voice said.

She nodded, and forced herself to grip the handle of the sword to pull the weapon out of the dying man.

“Do not close your eyes when pulling out your weapon,” she heard the trader said.

Reluctantly she opened her eyes, and pulled out the weapon in one swift jerk. Blood spewed out of the man’s chest and she felt like vomiting.

As she was about to sheath her sword, she heard the trader again, “Do not sheath your weapon without cleaning it first. Otherwise the blood on it will stink in the scabbard for days.”

The thought of that made her feel even more nauseous.

“Your first kill?” Li Chiang asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“The first kill makes you feel like a rotten salted egg. After that, you’ll get used to it,” he said.

“I will never get used to being a rotten salted egg,” she countered, striving to keep from vomiting.

“And yet you work as a Protection escort?” Li Chiang asked. He looked at her, and saw a very young, good-looking youth with nice features, clear skin but slightly delicate in appearance.

“Little brother,” he continued, “it was either you or him. Heaven chose you to live. Try not to think too much about it.”

“Thank you for saving me just now,” said Jade Flower, “I have not asked the high surname and big given name of my benefactor.”

“I am Li Daifu, a fulltime trader and part-time herbal doctor,” said Li Chiang, “And how shall I address you, little brother?”

“I am Jade Fl…..Dragon……. Jade Dragon” said Jade Flower, refusing to divulge her true name, “part-time Agency protection escort.”

The Agency men had killed the remaining masked men leaving only one bandit still alive. He was shivering on his knees, and begging for his life. Li Chiang could hear Lead Escort Ouyang interrogate him, “Who sent you? And what do you know about the girl?”

“We are Tiger Lo’s men. We received a letter by carrier pigeon that the Yung An Protection Agency was escorting a girl on this road,” was the quivering reply.

“Tiger Lo? Never heard of him. How many men does Tiger Lo still have?” Ouyang asked.

“Not many now. Those that were here are now dead. He has another three men in Pingchen,” the masked man said.

Ouyang came to a quick decision. He could not allow Tiger Lo to know what had befallen his bandit gang. When the enemy is kept in the dark, he could not make fresh plans to replace failed ones. “Kill him,” he told his men. The masked man on his knees screamed as the Agency men slashed him till he was dead. Then Ouyang gave orders that the area to be cleaned up of all traces of fighting and the dead bandits were to be dumped into a ravine. A few of the Agency men were injured, but none had died.

Ouyang approached Li Chiang and introduced himself, “I am Lead Escort Ouyang of the Yung An Protection agency. Today, we owe you a great debt. I have not asked your high surname and big given name.”

“I am Li Daifu, a travelling trader of medicinal herbs. Honoured to meet you.” said Li Chiang.

“As long as we are travelling on the same road, let me buy dinner tonight,” said Ouyang.

That night, they reached a village and put up at the local inn. Li Chiang was surprised that Jade Dragon had a room to himself while the other Agency men shared two large rooms. It was not his business, so he put the thought outside his head. Coming out of his room, he was again surprised to see that Jade dragon sat at a table all by himself, eating alone, while the other Agency men shared two other tables. Ouyang was nowhere to be seen.

“May I join you, little brother,” Li Chiang asked Jade Flower.

“Certainly,” replied Jade Flower, “I should buy you wine tonight to thank my benefactor. If not for you, I am sure I would have died.”

“Think nothing of it. Your pursuers were conveniently in the way of my sabres. How careless of them.”

“You are the only daifu I know who can handle two sabres at once.”

“Don’t remind me. I am the only part-time daifu I know who kill more people than he heals. What a sorry failure I am!”

“I like your advertisement on your carriage. ‘Got pain, heal pain. Got sickness, heal sickness.’ It’s nice to hear and good to read.”

“I’m not getting much daifu business. People around me tend to be very healthy. But I make a good living from selling herbs.”

“What kind of herbs?”

“Herbs for strengthening the functional activities of the loins and knees. Mou tak teng, I assure you. Leng chai, I give you special price. You want some?”

Humsap herbs, you mean. No thanks. Where are you heading?”

“I don’t know. Where does this road lead to?”

“It leads to Anchen. You are also the only full-time trader I know who does not know where he is heading.”

“Hahaha! He who does not know where he is going, is bound to reach there.”

“And the superior man knows that life is a journey, not a destination.”

“How very true! Let us drink, little brother!”

“To your health, Li Daifu!”

“And to yours!”

Jade Flower felt at ease with the part-time daifu and they chatted away comfortably like sworn brothers. Much later, Ouyang who had been slightly injured, came out of his room and saw them. He joined them both for dinner and the conversation turned formal.

The following day, Li Daifu travelled with the Agency and by the evening, they reached Anchen, where Jade Flower was safely delivered to her uncle’s manor.

Jade Flower approached Li Daifu’s carriage and said, “Li Daifu, thank you for what you have done for me. I know that I will never be able to repay the favour. If ever we should meet again, please let little brother Jade Dragon buy you three cups of wine.”

“Think nothing of it, little brother. If indeed it is fated that we meet again, then it should be my turn to buy you the three cups of wine,” replied Li Chiang.

They smiled warmly at each other, and then they parted.

Episode 6: Li Chiang discovers Jade Flower’s secret

Jade Flower waited for her uncle to finish reading the letter. Uncle Weng had aged a lot since the last time she saw him 4 years ago. He was having trouble reading the letter that her father had written and given to her to bring to her uncle.

“Jade Flower,” he finally said, “Your father has instructed me to get you a husband as fast as possible. He thinks that there will be great trouble if you remained unmarried. You are to remain in your male disguise while you are here. He wants me to select a suitable young man for you.”

“What?” Jade Flower was nonplussed, “I have no wish to be married. I’m only seventeen! But if that is the wish of my father, then I will do my duty.”

“He wishes his son-in-law to be a martial artist, someone strong enough to look after you, and also someone he can depend on in times of trouble. Do not worry, I know of just the man for you. He is one of my nephews, a powerful fighter,” continued the old man with some difficulty.

“Uncle Weng, are you alright?” asked the girl in concern.

Auntie Weng spoke up, “Your uncle has been poisoned by eating wild mushrooms. One month ago he accompanied some friends on a trip and they sat down for a meal in a roadside eating place. They consumed wild mushrooms and now all of them are sick. The doctors could not find an antidote. Si beh chia lat. We have tried herbs, acupuncture, massage, spiritual healing, all without effect. The poison refuses to disperse.”

“There was a young herbal doctor who came with us to Anchen,” said Jade Flower, “He deals in strange herbs and tiger spare parts. Maybe he can help.”

“I’m desperate and will try anything,” said her uncle, “Bring him to me tomorrow.”

The next morning, Jade Flower, in her male disguise, went to the market and found Li Chiang trying to sell his stock of deer antlers and tiger penises. The trader was glad to see the girl.

“Little brother Jade Dragon,” he cried, “Why aren’t you in your Yung An Escort Agency uniform?”

“I am no more working with them. I told you I was a part-timer only. I came on behalf of my uncle who is in need of your special services,” she replied courteously.

“Special services? Aha! I know,” said Li Chiang, “He wants to buy my tiger penis! I have just the thing! Just a slice of this in the soup and I will guarantee that his nights will be full of vigour, and your auntie will not get a chance to sleep!”

Jade Flower blushed and said, “How much? Sorry, I mean, ho sim leh….not everybody’s mind is focused on sex. I hope that one day when you are married; your wife will get the chance to sleep.”

Li Chiang guffawed and exclaimed, “When I am married, I will ride my wife like no tomorrow! Day and night! Night and day! In the bed, in the fields, in the tub, in the ….”

“Alright, alright!” Jade Flower interrupted him, trying hard not to be embarrassed. “Now about my uncle. His body has been poisoned from eating wild mushrooms.”

“Oh…….and you seek me because I am the best doctor you know, is that it? I am flattered!” cried Li Daifu.

“Actually, no,” said Jade Flower, “but we are desperate. Whatever you do, please don’t kill him!”

“Oh, do not be concerned,” said Li Daifu, “I do not have a habit of killing people!”

“Yeah…….right!” said Jade Flower smiling, “but please pack up your stuff and follow me.”

Good naturedly, Li Chiang followed Jade Flower to the Weng residence. Carefully, he examined Old Master Weng’s body and said, “Hmmmm. Everything has turned black. Even your fingernails! The poison must have spread throughout your whole body. Sure die one! You will not have more than a month to live. But luckily got me! I will have to force the poison out through Internal Energy bit by bit every few hours. You will have to sit in a tub of herb solution while I do so. The herb solution will draw out the poison through the pores of your skin. The whole process will take seven days.”

As Li Chiang had to attend to old Master Weng the whole day, it became too inconvenient for him to stay at an inn. So Master Weng arranged for the doctor to stay in one of the guest rooms. The daifu had a concoction of herbs boiled in water and poured into a large tub. Master Weng soaked himself in the solution until his skin softened. Then Li Chiang applied Internal Energy through his back. The poison oozed out bit by bit through the pores into the herb solution. Slowly, he began to expel the poison from Master Weng’s body at regular intervals everyday.

At the end of the first evening, Li Daifu had expended a lot of energy and so he sat quietly in the garden. Jade Flower approached him and asked him if he was tired.

“Yes,” he replied, “I expended a lot of Internal Energy today. I need to recover my energy tonight in order to work on your uncle again tomorrow.”

“I brought some red wine for you, Li Daifu” said Jade Flower, as she poured him some wine.

“Please don’t be formal,” said Li Chiang, “just call me Brother Li. After all, I have been calling you Little Brother Jade Dragon.”

“In that case, drink up, Brother Li,” said Jade Flower.

“Drink with me,” said Li Chiang. As they drank, Li Chiang asked, “There is something I don’t quite understand. Why were the bandits looking for a girl traveling with the Yung An Escort Protection Agency?”

“I don’t know,” replied Jade Flower, “maybe they were in need of a girl to wash their clothes and do the cooking.”

“Nah…….don’t think so. They were probably horny and could not find a goat,” said Li Chiang, “but come, let us drink.”

Every night, for seven nights, Li Chiang and Jade Flower met in the garden quietly to drink and chat.

Old Master Weng had a friend, Master Fu who lived on the other side of town, and they had both consumed the same poisonous mushrooms. When Master Fu heard that Master Weng was recovering, he requested that he be treated by Li Daifu as well. Thus on the seventh night, after he had finished his chatting session with Jade Flower, Li Chiang had to pack his things as he was leaving the next morning for Master Fu’s residence.

For some reason, he felt restless. It was like a part of him did not want to leave. To clear his mind, he left his bedroom and then leapt to the roof top and stood there, looking out into the darkness. “After treating Master Weng’s friend, I will have to go home to my family,” he thought.

There was still a light from Jade Dragon’s room. Looking down from the rooftop, he could see slightly into the room, through a gap in the window. He saw what looked like a young girl combing her long silky tresses in front of the mirror.

“I must be drunk,” he thought, “How can there be a girl in Jade Dragon’s room?”

Curiosity got the better of him and using lightness kungfu, he flew down silently to the window and peeked in. It was a girl indeed, and she was wearing a lady’s undergarment. Her features were fine and delicate, and Li Chiang saw more than he was supposed to see. He became aware that he was peeping, and he felt ashamed. Quietly, he left and went for a quiet walk in the garden. “Jade Dragon is a girl!” he realized, “and she must be the girl that Tiger Lo’s men were looking for! Damn! I have been telling her about tiger penises all this while! Damn! Damn! Damn!”

Jade Flower could not sleep. Brother Li Chiang was leaving the next day. Should she tell him her secret? After all, he was her benefactor. She had the sudden urge to go to the toilet. “Nobody will be about at this time of night,” she thought. So, without tying her hair up like a boy, she took a lantern, left her room and walked towards the outside toilet.

Along the way, she suddenly came across Li Chiang in her path. They stared at each other in surprise across the light of the lantern. Then, wordlessly, she walked past him. “I wonder if he recognized me!” she thought.

The next morning, at breakfast, Jade Flower noticed that Li Chiang was not there and asked her uncle where he was.

“Li Daifu has gone to the residence of Master Fu. I hope he is in time because I have been told that Master Fu is very sick,” replied her uncle.

Brother Li had left without saying goodbye. That meant only one thing; he had recognized her and had left early to avoid embarrassment.

“I did not get the chance to say goodbye,” said Jade Flower sadly.

“It does not matter,” said her uncle, “I am sure the daifu understands. Anyway, it is not proper for a girl to mix with members of the opposite sex. Oh, I have made all the arrangements for a bridegroom for you. By next week, you will be married. If Li Daifu is still around, I shall invite him to your wedding.”

Disclaimer: This episode is for adults only. Underaged readers are requested not to proceed further.

Episode 7 : The Competition for Jade Flower

Old Master Weng was well connected in Anchen. The local magistrate was his cousin and he had no powerful enemies. The town Constabulary was well run and headed by old Chief Constable Hsu. Anchen was one of the most peaceful towns in the Province. Probably the best martial artist in the town was Weng’s nephew, Constable Yang, nicknamed “Eagle Yang” by the town folks, because he used the Eagle Claw kungfu and also because of his ability to swoop down fast on the criminals.

“Eagle Yang would be the best candidate for Jade Flower”, he thought, “and if I get him a wife as pretty and talented as Jade Flower, he will be indebted to me. One day, when he becomes the Chief Constable, it will also be easier for me to do certain things.”

However, he knew that the Wu family’s troubles were extremely complicated, and much too messy to his liking.

“I am sure I can arrange a match between Jade Flower and Eagle Yang,” he told his wife a few days after Jade Flower arrived, “but I know your brother too well. He thinks that no man is good enough for Jade Flower. Even if he agrees, and then if things go complicated with the Wu family after the marriage, he will say that I had made a bad choice for him. I do not wish to bear the responsibility.”

“Hold a martial arts competition,” advised his wife, “and then let the winner marry Jade Flower. Leave it to Heaven to decide. You know that Eagle Yang will win easily. If things go wrong later, then we can say that it is not our fault, but the will of Heaven that it is so.”

“You are right! We will arrange the competition under the auspices of my cousin, the magistrate. Even if your brother Merchant Wu does not like Eagle Yang later, the marriage will still have to take place as the competition has been lawfully convened,” said old Master Weng.

Although the competition would be open to all comers, Master Weng intended to keep it a secret and announce it only one day before the competition. That way, only a few people would know about it and therefore there would not be many people there to challenge Eagle Yang.

During the period he was undergoing treatment from Li Daifu, Master Weng had given instructions to his servants to construct a raised stage on an empty plot of land that he owned in town. The servants were also instructed to construct a lower but larger raised platform in front of the stage such that the stage overlooked the platform.

The first thing that Master Weng did at the end of his 7-day healing treatment was to check on the progress of the construction. He was satisfied by what he saw. The competition should be able to start within 7 days or even earlier, he thought. The next morning, using one of the homing pigeons brought by Jade Flower, he sent a message to inform Merchant Wu. The pigeon took just two hours to reach Pingchen.

In the town of Pingchen, both the rival Zhao and Liu families were aware that Jade Flower had disappeared. They just did not know where she had disappeared to. The scion of the Liu family, Liu Tor, wanted to marry Jade Flower just as much as Zhao Piao did. The possibility of getting a share of the Wu family fortune was too big a temptation for both of them to pass up the opportunity. They would dispose of Merchant Wu’s only son and male heir later.

Zhao Piao had once matched swords with Liu Tor in a heated argument in a restaurant. Liu Tor was the weaker swordsman and the timely arrival of his men to break up the fight prevented him from being humiliated by Zhao Piao in public. Since that incident, Zhao Piao had never respected Liu Tor’s ability to fight.

In the Wu household, a stableman called Ma Chow Kow was in charge of the stables and pigeon loft. He had been supplying information to Zhao Piao for a tidy profit for the past few months. When he saw the homing pigeon arrived at the loft with the letter tied to its leg, he knew that it was related to Jade Flower. Carefully, he removed the letter from the pigeon.

As he was about to take the letter to Merchant Wu, he paused. “I am sure Zhao Piao will be willing to pay handsomely to know what’s in this letter,” he thought. The man was greedy and wanted to get as much money out of selling the information as possible. However, being illiterate, he did not know what the letter said. Making an excuse to go out on an errand, Ma Chow Kow headed towards a nearby temple where his cousin Ma Zai sold joss sticks for a living.

Ma Zai read the letter and said, “There’s going to be a martial arts competition in Anchen. The winner will marry Jade Flower. The Anchen magistrate will ensure fairness and their Chief Constable Hsu will be the martial judge. Jade Flower’s uncle wants Heaven to decide who should be Merchant Wu’s son-in-law. The contest will be held on the fifteenth day of this month. That’s only six days from today.”

Ma Chow Kow thought, “This news is important. Zhao will be willing to pay a lot for this.” He then set off to look for Zhao Piao. After much negotiation, he sold the letter for 20 taels of silver. Zhao Piao read the letter and immediately packed his belongings and made arrangements with a group of his henchmen to travel to Anchen on horseback. He was determined to win the martial arts competition by fair means or foul. One of Tiger Lo’s spies saw them leave.

Ma Zai, the joss stick seller, lived in a simple house. He was unmarried because he could not afford the dowry for a wife. He sensed that the letter was important, and he could make some profit from its message if he played his cards right. He knew that his cousin Ma Chow Kow has gone to visit Zhao Piao to sell the information. “If that’s the case, I am sure that Zhao Piao’s rival, Liu Tor, will also be interested,” he thought.

Ma Zai found Liu Tor in one of the town’s drinking establishments.

“Young Master Liu Tor,” he said, “I have some news that may be of interest to you.”

“What is it?” asked Liu Tor.

“I know the whereabouts of Jade Flower, and the information is for sale,” replied Ma Zai.

“I will give you one tael of silver if you tell me!” said Liu Tor.

“It will cost you more than that.”

“How much?”

“30 taels of silver.”

Liu Tor thought for a while. 30 taels was a lot more than he was prepared to pay. But the information was important.

“15 taels of silver. That is all I have,” he countered.

“I will accept 15 taels if only if I can bed your maidservant, Ting Ting, for one night,” said Ma Zai.

Liu Tor knew who he was referring to. Ting Ting was the prettiest maids in the Liu household. She was given to the Liu family to settle a debt owed by her father. Liu Tor had taken her virginity by force a few months ago. He did not fully enjoy being with her, as she laid there unmoving like a dead pig, her eyes burning with undisguised hate, whenever he had sex with her. Sometimes, when he felt the urge, he would just go to the servants’ room, order the other servant girls out, and then pulled up Ting Ting’s long skirts, not even bothering to undress her fully. He would take his pleasure quickly and then get out. Although Liu Tor’s father had forbidden him to touch the servant girls, none of the other servants dare to report the matter to the father.

“I cannot take out Ting Ting for the night, but you may have her for one afternoon,” said Liu Tor. Letting this lowly joss stick seller use Ting Ting for one afternoon would not cost him a thing.

That afternoon, Liu Tor brought Ting Ting to Ma Zai’s house. He paid Ma Zai the 15 taels and Ma Zai told him about the letter from Anchen. Liu Tor thought for a while, and then said, “I will come back for Ting Ting later this afternoon. If she gives you any trouble, just beat her.”

Ting Ting stood by the bed and glared at Ma Zai. It was bad enough that Liu Tor had in the past forced himself on her, now he wanted her to service another man as well. She was angry. Each time after Liu Tor had violated her, she would swear, “As Heaven is my witness, one day, I will subjugate the House of Liu to my will!”

It was not a secret that Liu Tor had forced himself on a number of servant girls in the past. Nobody knew what happened to the servant girls who got pregnant. Liu Tor’s father would get some men to take them away and they were never heard of ever again.

“Take off your clothes,” Ma Zai commanded. When she did not respond, he said, “If you do not undress, I will tear your clothes off. Then you will go home in torn clothing and the whole household will know what had happened to you.”

Angrily, she took off her clothes and lay very still on the bed. Ma Zai undressed quickly and joined her. He had seen her before in town accompanying Liu Tor’s mother, and her looks excited him. He had often lain in bed fantasizing about her. Now that she was in his bed, he would take his time to savor the moment slowly.

Gently, he moulded her milky white breasts with his hands, caressing them, taking his time. Then he kissed her throat. He moved his lips slowly downwards, again taking his time. Despite herself, Ting Ting could feel her nerves tingling. Liu Tor would have finished his pleasure in twenty breaths, but this joss stick seller had not even begun to penetrate her yet. He caressed her body, enjoying every sensual curve. She trembled when he kissed the insides of her smooth young thighs. He kissed higher. She gasped and moaned. Then she felt him enter her. He slid the rest of the way inside, feeling her tightness, and then resting completely within. She panted as he began the dance of love, moving slowly at first, without hurry, and then pausing occasionally. Involuntarily, her fingers gripped his back. He continued stroking and she moaned. Although he tried to prolong the moment, the inevitable would eventually happen. After some time, he came, spurting strongly. She was disappointed when he pulled out, but she kept quiet.

He rested awhile. Then he fondled and kneaded her buttocks gently. The fondling appeared to be having an effect and she found herself shifting her position to accommodate his caresses. He had recovered his potency and soon he re-entered her. Her slim body arched slightly when he drove inside her. Without realizing what she was doing, she wrapped her legs around his hips. This time he lasted longer, much longer. He rode her till she came noisily, squirming and thrashing as he slammed her repeatedly. He shuddered as he filled her with his seed again. Then she lay motionless, awed by the first orgasm she had ever experienced. She slept cuddled in his arms.

The knocking on the door woke them. Liu Tor had arrived to take back Ting Ting. Quickly they dressed.

“Did you enjoy yourself?” she asked calmly.

“Yes. More than anything that I have ever enjoyed before,” Ma Zai said with a grin.

Looking him in the face, she said, “You may not be so lucky again. If you consider yourself a real man, you would buy me from the Liu household.”

She waited for his reply, but he had none to give. They both knew that he could not afford to buy her. At that moment, for the first time in his life, Ma Zai felt ashamed.

Ting Ting opened the door and walked out without a backward glance. When she left with Liu Tor, Ma Zai could only stare at her retreating back.

Then he wept. He had never felt poorer in his entire life.

That evening, Liu Tor gathered a few of his henchmen and made preparations to journey by horseback to Anchen for the martial arts competition.

Next episode : Liu Tor plans to cheat

Episode 8 : Liu Tor plans to cheat

Eleven-year-old Wu Chuan, the only son of Merchant Wu, counted the pigeons again. There was one more than it should be. That meant that one of the pigeons had returned to the loft. Carefully he scrutinized the birds feeding, and then he grabbed one. He ran to the main hall and shouted for his father.

“Chuan, why are you shouting so loud?” asked his father.

“This pigeon came from my sister! I know its markings. It is one of the birds taken by Jade Flower! But there is no message!” replied the boy.

Merchant Wu immediately summoned his servants. Two of them reported seeing the stableman Ma Chow Kow catching one of the pigeons. But they did not know where he went. He had gone out in the morning but not yet returned. Merchant Wu knew that someone from his household had been feeding information to Zhao Piao in the past. He believed he now knew who the culprit was.

When Ma Chow Kow returned, he was asked if the bird caught by Wu Chuan was the same bird as that taken away by Jade Flower.

“No, no, no!” he lied, “This is a different bird. It was here all the while!”

Merchant Wu caught the lie. Wu Chuan was one of the most observant boys around, and Merchant Wu trusted his abilities. He ordered his servants to tie up Ma Chow Kow. Then they searched his belongings and found the 20 taels of silver given to him by Zhao Piao. Merchant Wu ordered his men to beat Ma Chow Kow. He squealed like a pig in the slaughterhouse and cried painfully. Then he talked.

Merchant Wu listened as Ma Chow Kow blabbered about the contents of the letter, and how Zhao Piao eventually bought it from him. At once, the merchant knew what Zhao Piao intended to do. “He is going to Anchen for the martial arts competition. There could be trouble. I had better go there as well.”

Looking down at the face of the bleeding stableman, he spat, “Because of what you had done for 20 taels of silver, my whole family is now in danger. You can keep your twenty taels of silver, but you will not take one more step in this town again.”

The merchant’s servants then beat the stableman savagely until some of his ribs were broken. Then they loaded his unconscious body on a horse-drawn cart. The cart driver took him to the outskirts of a village far away where he dumped him, still unconscious, in a rubbish heap, not caring if he lived or died.

The next morning, Merchant Wu and his young son, set out for Anchen in a carriage drawn by two horses. They were accompanied by some Yung An Escort Protection Agency riders on horseback. The journey by carriage would take 3 days.

+ + + + + +

Li Chiang was preparing to apply Internal Energy to Master Fu. He regretted the fact that he had not said goodbye to Jade Flower. They had been buddies for the past week and she had acknowledged him as “Brother Li”. Therefore, he should have been gracious enough to say goodbye first, rather than leave suddenly. “But what’s past is past,” he thought to himself, “and I will think about that another day. Right now, I have a sick man to save.” With that, he put all thoughts out of his mind and concentrated on the patient.

+ + + + + +

Tiger Lo was puzzled. The afternoon before, Zhao Piao had left with a group of men on horseback. Early in the morning, Liu Tor had also left town with another group of horsemen. Then an hour later, Merchant Wu had left with his son in a carriage, escorted by four Yung An Protection Escort Agency riders. This was a fresh group of men. The previous Agency men who escorted Jade Flower had not yet returned. That was not surprising as agency escorts sometimes accept new assignments from other clients when they reached their destination, so it may be months before they return. What was puzzling was, all three parties, Zhao, Liu and Wu, had taken the same road out of Pingchen towards Anchen. Something was happening and he did not know what it was.

Days ago, he had expected his men to deliver Jade Flower to him, but there was no word from them. Something was clearly wrong. He got onto his horse and headed for his bandit camp in the hills.

The next morning, he reached the camp and found it empty. The camp utensils and bedding were still there, but the place looked like it had not been used for many days. “The men took their weapons with them, so they must have gone to set up the ambush. They did not return after that,” he thought. Fearing for the worst, he rode down to the road to Anchen and looked for the most likely locations along the road that his men would set up an ambush. It would not be very far from the camp, he surmised.

Riding up and down the road, he found no signs of struggle. At one stretch of the road, the wind changed direction and he smelt an overpowering stench.

“The smell of rotting dead bodies!” he thought.

Climbing down from the side of the road to the ravine below, he spotted the bodies of his men among the bushes, many of them partially eaten by wild animals. The stench was more than he could bear, so he climbed back up to the road.

“I have underestimated the Yung An Escort Protection Agency. There is little point in going back to Pingchen,” he thought, “instead, I will travel forward and see if I can find the girl myself.” Then he turned his horse towards Anchen.

+ + + + + +

Liu Tor did not go straight to Anchen. Instead, on the way, he detoured to a village by a large river to look for Swordsman Poon, his distant cousin. Swordsman Poon was the best swordsman he knew, and many sycophantic villagers called the man the “Super Fantastic No-comparison Sword Saint of the Cold Hearted Sword”.

“Cousin Poon,” Liu Tor said, “I have a favour to ask of you!”

He then told Swordsman Poon about the martial arts competition. “Cousin,” he said, ”I may not be able to defeat the top fighters in Anchen. This is what I want you to do. You will enter the competition and defeat all my rivals for me. Can you do it?”

“Of course!” replied Poon, “To me, this is as easy as drinking water! I am the Super Fantastic No-comparison Sword Saint of the Cold Hearted Sword!”

“At the very last minute, when everybody has been defeated, I will join in the competition. Then you must allow me to defeat you. Do you understand?” asked Liu Tor.

“Of course I understand,” said Poon, “you wish me to fix the fight. You can depend on me to do a good professional job.”

“How much?” asked Liu Tor, knowing his cousin only too well.

“Two hundred taels!” replied Poon.

“What? So much?” exclaimed Liu Tor.

“Hey! I am the best!” said Poon, “Need I remind you that I am the Super Fantastic No-comparison Sword Saint of the Cold Hearted Sword?”

“Alright. But you better not fall sick on that day.”

“Don’t worry! I also have a Poison Ring trick.”

“Poison Ring trick? What is it? Does it work?”

“The Poison Ring trick always works. I will explain it to you only if it is necessary to use it. You need not ask so many questions. What’s the matter? You don’t believe me? Kanineh. Don’t you know who I am?”

“Yes, yes, I know. You are the Super Fantastic No-comparison Sword Saint of the Cold Hearted Sword.”

+ + + + + +

Zhao Piao saw Liu Tor and his men ride into Anchen. Quietly, he moved his men to another inn on the other side of town so that Liu Tor would not know that he was there. He kept a low profile and waited for the day of the competition.

Merchant Wu reached Anchen and stayed in Master Weng’s house. Jade Flower was glad to see her father and brother.

“Elder sister,” said Wu Chuan, “you will be married soon. I do not know if I should be happy or sad.”

“Happy of course,” said Jade Flower, “since you will be getting my bedroom. Its window faces the morning sun.”

“No,” said her brother, “I will ask father to keep the room for you. In case you come back to visit.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Jade Flower, “once a girl marries, she leaves forever. It is the way. It has always been that way.”

At that, they both kept quiet.

Then Jade Flower turned away. She did not want her eleven-year-old brother to see her tears.

Next episode : The defeat of Eagle Yang

Episode 9 – The Defeat of Eagle Yang

The day of the martial arts competition came. Jade Flower was dressed in her best clothes and seated on a high stage so that people could see who they were to marry if they won the competition. Merchant Wu, Master Weng and Chief Constable Hsu were also seated on the high stage. Here they could look down on the raised wooden platform in front of them. Wu Chuan sat behind his father. Despite the fact that there was little publicity about the competition, there was quite a crowd. Most of them had come to see Eagle Yang fight.

Chief Constable Hsu announced the rules, “You can use any weapon you like. If we think that there is a big disparity in weapons used, we will not allow it. A man is considered defeated if he yields to his opponent, or if he is forced off the platform onto the ground below. Should you be wounded or killed in this competition, then it is the will of Heaven. You know the risks, so no compensation will be paid! The competition will end at late afternoon today. The one who proves that he is the best fighter will marry Jade Flower, the only daughter of Merchant Wu of Pingchen.”

Then he sat down and waited for contestants.

In the Fu residence, Li Chiang was still treating Master Fu.

“I am much better today. Indeed you have saved my life,” said old Master Fu.

“Your treatment will be finished by this evening. You were lucky. If I had been a few days late, it would have been too late to expel out the poison,” said Li Chiang, “I did not see your sons this morning.”

“They have gone to see the martial arts competition held to select a groom for Jade Flower, Master Weng’s niece from Pingchen. I was told that she is quite a beauty. Have you seen her?”

“I believe I have, although I did not know who she was at that time. I heard your sons mentioning the martial arts competition yesterday. I have never witness one before. It must be interesting.”

“You are not thinking of taking part, are you?”

“I cannot even if I want to. I come from a highly traditional family. You don’t know my father. The last time I did something to displease him, I was sent away from home for three years! Actually, that has happened twice already! When the time comes, my parents will choose a bride for me. As they have so chosen for my brothers. I have no say in the matter. If I were to bring a wife home on my own, my father may not recognize her as a daughter-in-law. I should not bring such an unpleasant fate to any girl.”

“That is true,” said Master Fu. “Marriage is the sole prerogative of the parents! And we choose wives for our sons based on the family they come from, their matching horoscopes and the amount of dowry involved. All other things are not so important! A man who brings a strange girl to his parents’ house is asking for a disaster.”

Li Daifu sighed, and tried to concentrate on his work. But it was useless. The feminine face of Jade Flower that he had seen in the light of the lantern occupied his thoughts all day.

+ + + + + +

Chief Constable Hsu, the martial arts judge, was getting frustrated. There were no competitors the whole morning. Everybody was waiting to see who would be the first to go up the platform. By the mid afternoon, there were still no competitors. So he announced, “I will end the competition early. Any decent fighter I see now will be judged the winner!”

At once, two men leapt onto the platform.

Ni na beh! Competition want to end already only got people want to fight!” swore Hsu.

The two contestants fought with swords until one yielded. Then another one came to take his place. There were not many contestants, but one by one they came to the platform to prove their supremacy.

A man using a nine-ring broadsword had just beaten his last two opponents. Hsu nodded to Constable Eagle Yang standing near the platform. It was a private signal that the competition would end soon and therefore he should make his move now. Eagle Yang leapt with his sword on the platform to challenge the man with the nine-ring broadsword. The fight was a short affair. The man lasted just two moves with Eagle Yang. The crowd roared in approval at the fast pace of action.

The next contestant challenged Eagle Yang in unarmed combat. Eagle Yang grabbed the opponent’s right hand in a powerful grip and just swung him off the platform. The crowd parted for him and he landed on the ground with a “thud”. After that, Yang defeated the next two contenders easily.

At the back of the crowd, Zhao Piao thought, “Eagle Yang is very good. Not only can he fight unarmed, he can use all manner of weapons as well. I am not his match at all. But I bet Liu Tor is plotting something. I will wait for him make his move first.”

At the front of the crowd, next to the platform, Swordsman Poon came to the same conclusion. “I cannot beat Eagle Yang. His moves are too fast and too accurate!” he whispered to Liu Tor, “I will have to use the Poison Ring!”

“Use poison on a constable? Are you crazy?” whispered back Liu Tor.

“Don’t worry. I’m using a potent drug with temporary effects. Just a bit is enough. But we need to be careful that it is not detected,” replied Poon.

Liu Tor then sent one of his henchmen to the platform to challenge Eagle Yang using unarmed combat. A simple punch by Eagle Yang sent the man sprawling on the platform. The crowd laughed. The henchman stealthily removed the cover of the palm side of a special ring he was wearing, thus exposing some fine metal tips that had been dipped in drug.

“Help me up,” he pleaded.

Eagle Yang sportingly went over to the man and extended his hand. The man grabbed the forearm of Eagle Yang and the metal tips of the ring bit into the skin. Yang pulled away his hand in pain. The man got up on his own and quickly leapt down from the platform and disappeared into the crowd.

Before Eagle Yang could do a check on his forearm, Swordsman Poon leapt onto the platform to challenge him.

“I am Swordsman Poon. I challenge Eagle Yang to a fight with swords,” he shouted.

Ignoring his forearm, Eagle Yang got ready to fight. Poon used delaying tactics so as to allow more time for the drug to take effect. He adjusted his shoes, his clothes and even polished his sword on the platform. He sheathed his sword and then harangued the crowd.

Tai kay ho! Today, I, Swordsman Poon, is here to show the swordplay of the Cold Hearted Sword. Lim peh ka li kong. I am also known as the Super Fantastic No-comparison Sword Saint! But acherly hor, my full title is ‘Super Fantastic No-comparison Sword Saint of the Cold Hearted Sword’ Not say I say one, but other people say one. Paiseh paiseh! But if other people want to give me face, what can I do? Accept only lor. Afterwards, allow me to demonstrate a bit. So open your eyes big big! Don’t even blink!”

The crowd loved him, and so he gave another speech. Eagle Yang was getting impatient and interrupted his speech. “Are you going to fight or are you going to talk all day?”

Swordsman Poon judged that the drug had sufficient time to take effect, and so he pulled out his weapon. They squared off, each wielding their own sword. Then they moved around, testing each other’s skills with a combination of strokes. Eagle Yang was starting to stumble. He felt weaker than he normally was. In fact he felt cold and clammy and he had misjudged the placement of many of his strokes.

Zhao Piao, who was watching from the back of the crowd, muttered, “Something is strangely wrong with Eagle Yang!”

Swordsman Poon was content to allow Eagle Yang to do the attacking. Weak as he was now, Yang was still dangerous, and Poon narrowly avoided getting sliced up on a few occasions. Poon moved close to the edge of the platform. Eagle Yang stumbled as he made an attacking move, leaving his body more exposed than usual. Poon saw his chance, parried the attacking stroke and delivered a Side Thrust Kick on Eagle Yang’s stomach, knocking him over the platform where Liu Tor’s men were waiting. He fell to the ground and Liu’s men crowded around him. One of them hit Eagle Yang’s head with a short length of metal and he passed out.

“When he wakes up, the effects of the drug will be gone and nobody would know that he had been drugged,” sneered Liu Tor.

The crowd gasped as Eagle Yang fell. It was an unexpected result, and Master Weng was in shock. The martial judge, Chief constable Hsu, reluctantly declared Poon to be the winner.

Zhao Piao had seen Eagle Yang stumbled uncharacteristically, and he knew that trickery was involved. He thought to himself, “A top pugilist like Eagle Yang does not make those types of errors! I don’t know how Liew Tor did it, but he must have something to do with it. Since he is not a great fighter, he must be here to help Swordsman Poon win the competition. It’s time I make my move while Poon is still tired from his fight.”

Then Zhao Piao moved to the front of the crowd and leapt onto the platform, much to the surprise of Liew Tor. Merchant Wu was just as surprised, and then he spotted Liu Tor in the crowd as well. He exclaimed, “Oh Heavens! Both Zhao and Liu are here! The very people I have been trying to avoid! Chia lat!”

Zhao announced, “I am Zhao Piao of Pingchen, here to challenge for the hand of the daughter of Merchant Wu!”

Poon looked at Zhao and said, “So, you are the no good, lousy, chow kah samseng who has been giving Liu Tor a difficult time in Pingchen. Afterwards, I will give you terror terror. Do you know who I am? I am the Super Fantastic No-comparison Sword Saint of the Cold Hearted Sword!”

“You are a village swordsman who indulges in underhand tricks to win your battles. What super fantastic? Lanchiao lar, super fantastic.” said Zhao Piao coldly.

“You will die for that remark,” spat Poon, “I will take this opportunity to cut you up! Liu Tor will reward me handsomely for your ugly head.”

“Not if I take your miserable life first,” replied Zhao Piao.

The two men fought, cautiously at first, and then more savagely. The crowd below was oblivious to the fact that they were out to kill each other. They were both evenly matched on skills. But Poon had been fighting with Eagle Yang and therefore he was tired. As they fought on, he became more and more exhausted and he started making errors. He swung his sword with the right hand at Zhao Piao far higher than he should. Zhao duck under the swing and then ran his sword through Poon’s chest. Before he could pull out his sword, Poon clawed at his eyes with his left hand. Eyes hurting, Zhao pulled out his sword and a red bloody patch started forming at Poon’s chest.

Liu Tor was shocked to see the Super Fantastic No-comparison Sword Saint of the Cold Hearted Sword fall down writhing in death throes. He leapt up the platform and shouted, “You have killed my cousin! I will kill you!”

The martial judge shouted, “Restrain yourself in my presence! Nobody fights until I give the signal!”

Zhao Piao shouted back, “My eyes are injured and I cannot open them. I will have to request a postponement of three days!”

“What postponement? Everybody fights on! Nobody has ever asked for a postponement today,” declared Liu Tor. He knew that he would win if Zhao Piao was not able to see properly.

“I am like a blind man now! What honour is there in defeating a blind man?” shouted Zhao. His eyes were painful, and thus he would rather fight only when conditions were better.

“You are only pretending to be blind!” shouted Liu Tor.

“I am not!” shouted back Zhao Piao.

Thus the argument went back and forth. Jade Flower was horrified at the idea of either Zhao or Liu winning the competition. There did not appear to be any more contenders waiting to get up the platform. “This is a disaster! Think, girl, think!” she told herself.

An idea formed quickly in her head and she spoke up, “Chief Constable Hsu! The purpose of the competition is to find the best fighter to marry me. We will only know which one is the better fighter when Zhao Piao is able to see properly. Their argument serves no purpose and there may be other contenders still waiting to fight. It is better that we continue the competition tomorrow.”

“Very well then,” said Hsu, “The competition will continue tomorrow morning whether Zhao Piao fully recovers his eyesight or not! But the extension is only for a limited period. By the time it takes for one long joss stick to finish burning, I will declare the end of the competition as well as the winner!”

With that announcement, the crowd dispersed. One of Liu Tor’s men followed Zhao’s men to their inn and thus found out where they were staying.

The moment Jade Flower got back to the Weng residence, she rapidly changed into male attire and climbed onto a horse. Quickly, she raced the horse towards Master Fu’s residence. Fervently, she prayed that Brother Li would still be there.

Next episode: The Five Fairies Iron Palm of Tiger Lo

Episode 10: The Five Fairies Iron Palm of Tiger Lo

A servant in the Fu residence approach Li Chiang and said, “Li Daifu. There is a young lad at the gate who wishes to see you. He does not wish to come in.”

Li Chiang went out and then he saw Jade Flower, “Little brother Jade...whatever! Why are you here? Shouldn’t you the competition?”

“I guess you know that I am Jade Flower by now,” replied the girl. “I am sorry to have kept the truth from you! Please accept the humble apologies of Jade Flower. But the circumstances of my family required such action on my part.”

“Blame not yourself. You must have your reasons.”

“Brother Li, I have a favour to ask of you.”

“Let’s not be formal,” he said. “If it is within my powers to help, I would do so.”

“The competition for the right to marry me has been extended to tomorrow morning. Two nasty Pingchen scions, Zhao Piao and Liu Tor will be competing. A win by either of them will bring great disaster to my family. There do not appear to be any other contenders. As the competition has been held under the auspices of the magistrate, it cannot be called off. I request that you take part in it.”


“I have seen you fight. Both Zhao and Liu will not last five moves with you. I have no one else to turn to!”

“Jade Flower, much as I think that whoever marries you is a very lucky man, I cannot take part in this competition without parental consent! My marriage is the prerogative of my parents. I am sorry!”

“I am not asking you to marry me! I am asking you to help save my family from disaster.”

“You are asking for something that is not within my power to give.”

Solemnly, Jade Flower knelt down on the ground in front of Li Chiang and said, “Brother Li. If I had been born a son instead of a daughter, my family would not have attracted the attention of the Zhao and the Liu families. That day in the hills, when the two bandits chased me, you should have left me there to be killed. Then I would not have to carry this pain of knowing that I am a danger to my family.”

“It was the will of Heaven that our paths met and I intervened in your fate on that day.”

“If that was indeed the will of Heaven, then I ask that you intervene in my fate once again! I will be your grateful servant girl. And I will work as a cow and a horse for the rest of my life to repay my gratitude! I would not have asked you this favour if I had thought that I am placing you in the path of danger on my account. But this should be an easy task for you! Not many people can withstand your twin sabers! Brother Li, you are my only hope!”

Li Chiang paused, and then he said, “You are right! If you can call me your Brother Li, then surely I should be able to carry out this task for you. I will worry about the consequences with my parents later. Please get up, Jade Flower!”

Jade Flower got up gratefully and then she filled him in with the details of the competition happenings of the day. She said, “The competition tomorrow will be on for a limited period only. Please do not come up the platform too early. That will give others an opportunity to plan an unpleasant surprise. I will carry a handkerchief on my lap tomorrow. When you see me drop the handkerchief, it will mean that the time is almost up, and you should challenge whoever is on the platform.”

“Is that all?”

“No. You will have to prepare your horse and carriage at some convenient place nearby. We will need to flee the scene immediately after the fight. The trouble with the Zhao and Liu families will not end, even after the competition is over. Their men will plot other moves. I will have to flee. Once you have been declared the winner, you will have to take me away immediately. The law will not chase after you, since rightfully I will belong to you the moment you have won the competition.”

“What? We have to flee also?”

“Of course. If we stay, my father will insist that you marry me, regardless whether your parents give permission or not.”

Li Chiang thought for a while and then said, “You are right….we have to flee.”

The young daifu was still very weak as he had expended a lot of his Internal Energy to treat Master Fu. That night, he ate very little, and spent most of his time meditating on his breath. He had to recover back his Internal Energy as much as he could.

In a little inn on the outskirts of town, Zhao Piao, his eyes still hurting, turned in early to sleep. Halfway through the night, Liu Tor’s men crept onto the roof of his room. Carefully, they removed some of the roof tiles and looked through the open gap into the room. They saw the sleeping figure of Zhao Piao on the bed. The men then shot three arrows into the figure. Two of the arrows missed, but one arrow pierced the sleeping figure in the throat. The figure attempted to get up. The men shot again. This time, two of the arrows penetrated through the chest, and the figure stopped moving.

Quietly, the men went back and informed Liu Tor, “Zhao Piao is dead!”

In the morning, Li Chiang felt refreshed, but he knew that his Internal Energy had still not fully recovered. He made his way to the competition grounds and arranged to have his horse and cart looked after in a nearby house, ready for a quick getaway.

Li Chiang looked at the stage. Jade Flower was dressed in the fine clothes of a lady. He had never seen anybody more beautiful or more elegant. Surely this cannot be the dirty looking little brother Jade Dragon he first met? He stared at her in quiet admiration. Jade Flower spotted him and smiled. Then, feeling abashed by his staring, she looked down on the floor.

The crowd had already built up. Liu Tor arrived with his men, talking loudly. When the martial judge announced the start of the session, Liu Tor jumped up onto the platform and shouted, “Where is Zhao Piao? Where is that ugly monkey backside Zhao Piao?”

There was no answer.

Again Liu Tor shouted, “Where is Zhao Piao? He must be afraid to meet me. Kanineh. Talk so big yesterday. But disappeared today! Maybe he is in the toilet. Kia ka lao sai. Or maybe he is dead!”

Then a voice rang out, “Who says I am dead? Seven early eight early cry father cry mother!”

Liu Tor was shocked to see Zhao Piao leap onto the platform. “You!” he gasped.

Zhao Piao calmly said, “Last night, I exchanged rooms with one of my men. This morning, I found him dead with arrows sticking out from him. You wouldn’t know anything about this, would you?”

The martial judge instructed them to fight and both men drew their swords. Zhao Piao was the better fighter, and he toyed with Liu Tor for a while. Then he forced Liu Tor to the edge of the platform and in a combination of quick moves, sent his sword into Liu Tor’s heart and withdrew it immediately.

“I could have killed you anywhere on this platform, but I chose to kill you right here so that your blood will not dirty this platform,” Zhao sneered as Liu Tor fell over the edge.

As soon as Liu Tor fell down dead, Liu’s henchmen pulled out their swords to attack Zhao. Zhao’s men who were hovering nearby, also drew their weapons. Chief Constable Hsu interrupted the fight and told Liu Tor’s men to take the body away.

Ni na beh, ” he muttered, “Two people dead in two days. There will be much trouble after this!”

Zhao Piao stood on the platform proudly. He had already killed two men. He was confident that no one else would think of challenging him.

Suddenly, a figure leapt up onto the platform and addressed the martial judge, “I am Tiger Lo. I am here to challenge for the hand of girl.” Tiger Lo had followed the Yung An Agency’s trail to Anchen and found out about the competition. Knowing that Merchant Wu was rich, he decided to go into business for himself and entered the contest.

Jade Flower tried to recall if she had heard that name before. But she couldn’t. Li Chiang remembered that one of the bandits that attacked Lead Escort Ouyang’s men had said that they were Tiger Lo’s men. “So this is the bandit chief,” he muttered.

Zhao Piao was clearly shocked. “You! What are you doing here?” he whispered loudly, “You are a bandit! You have no right to enter this competition!”

“Nobody knows that I am a bandit!” whispered back Tiger Lo, “and if you make trouble for me, I will tell everybody that it was you who hired me to kidnap Jade Flower!”

Zhao Piao was trapped and he knew it. He thought, “It looks like I will have to kill him to keep his mouth shut.”

Tiger Lo said loudly to the martial judge, “There had been two deaths already in this competition! It is better that we use unarmed combat. I propose that that we fight without weapons!”

“But those deaths were accidental!” protested Zhao Piao.

“Accidental or not, they were still deaths!” said Chief Constable Hsu, “From now on, I rule that every contender will have to fight without weapons!”

Zhao Piao was forced to surrender his weapons to a constable. Then the two contenders faced off each other.

Zhao attacked Tiger Lo’s eyes with the Poison Snake Strike move. Tiger Lo retreated his left leg backwards and responded with the Crane Wallop Stupid Snake move. The two men circled each other. Then Tiger Lo took up a strange fighting stance. Zhao lunged at him. Tiger Lo met the lunge, and struck Zhao with his open palm in a thunderous clap. The powerful blow sent Zhao Piao flying in the air far over the heads of the crowd. Even before the body had landed, Zhao Piao was already dead.

“The Five Fairies Iron Palm!” exclaimed the martial judge Hsu, “How did Tiger Lo know this kungfu?”

“What Five Fairies Iron Palm?” asked Jade Flower.

“In this type of kungfu, each finger has the power of a Fairy,” replied Hsu, “and no other kungfu can match its power except for the Buddha Palm! But the person who practices the Five Fairies Iron Palm will experience certain bodily changes, and will one day ‘run fire and enter demon’. This Five Fairies Energy is difficult to control. Then he will run amok and viciously kill everybody in sight! Even his very own children!”

Jade Flower suddenly remembered when she had heard Tiger Lo’s name being mentioned; it was during the bandit attack in the hills. Her body turned cold as she thought, “Brother Li will not be able to match the power of the Five Fairies Iron Palm in unarmed combat! Also, he has already expended his Internal Energy to treat Master Fu. He will die at the hands of Tiger Lo within only a few moves!”

Zhao’s men collected the dead body of their master and brought it beside the platform and shouted, “You have killed our young master! A life must be paid with a life!”

Tiger Lo merely sneered and said, “If you are not happy, you can come up and challenge me! Lim peh will entertain you kao kao!”

But none of Zhao’s men dared to go up the platform. They stayed around Zhao Piao’s dead body and pondered among themselves their next step of action.

Li Chiang waited for Jade Flower to drop her handkerchief to signal that it was time for him to go up the platform. He noticed that Hsu kept looking at a spot behind the chairs on the stage. Looking between the legs of the chairs, he spotted a joss stick burning away. “So that is how the martial judge tells the time!” he said to himself. He waited. Moments later, the joss stick burned dangerously close to the end.

“Why doesn’t Jade Flower drop the handkerchief?” he asked himself.

He looked up at Jade Flower on the stage. She saw him and then she looked away immediately. Suddenly, understanding dawned upon him; Jade Flower had changed her mind and had no intention of dropping the handkerchief!

Next episode: The second flight of Jade Flower

Episode 11: The Second Flight of Jade Flower

The joss stick was almost completely burnt. There was not much time left.

Li Chiang thought quickly, “Tiger Lo is very strong. Jade Flower must think that he will kill me! That is why she will not drop the handkerchief! But, I will not stand aside to watch her marry that damn ugly thing!”

Taking a deep breath, he leapt up onto the platform and shouted, “Li Daifu wishes to mount his challenge for Jade Flower! And also, if I win this competition, Jade Flower will have to leave with me immediately!”

As the martial judge had already ruled that it would be an unarmed combat, Li Chiang had to hand over his Twin Dragon Blades to a constable for safekeeping.

Jade Flower was alarmed to see Li Chiang mount the challenge. “No!” she whispered when she realized what was happening. But the two fighters had already squared off.

Tiger Lo took up his Five Fairies Iron Palm stance. Li Chiang knew better than to match palms directly with him. However, he was not experienced enough in unarmed combat and his moves were crude. He attempted an Iron Palm strike on Tiger Lo’s chest. Tiger Lo stepped aside and struck out with his own Five Fairies Iron Palm. The two Iron Palms met, not directly, but at an oblique angle.

But even at an angle, the force of Tiger Lo’s Iron Palm kungfu sent Li Chiang flying over the platform. As he flew over the edge of the platform, he managed to grab the wooden edge with one hand and swung himself back onto the platform again.

“That was close!” he muttered. Angrily, he addressed Tiger Lo, “Lei lou mou! There was no necessity to strike that hard! The force you used was strong enough to kill an elephant!”

“What! You not yet die? And what is an elephant?” asked Tiger Lo.

Li Chiang replied, “Sei pok kai! You don’t know what an elephant is? You know ducks and goats only, is it? They are going to miss you.”

This upset Tiger Lo who said, “Kanineh…you talk too much! When I feel like killing, I do not need to pick a good day to do it. You won’t survive my Five Fairies Iron Palm!”

Li Chiang cried in surprise, “Five Fairies Iron Palm? My simou once told me that any man who practices the Five Fairies Iron Palm uses the Dark Energy and his body will undergo sexual transformation! And later on, he will become ‘not man and not woman’. Just like you. No wonder your voice sounds so high pitched! You’re not a girl, not yet a woman!”

“What?” shouted Tiger Lo, visibly upset.

“I said…you’re not a girl, not yet a woman! Want me to sing that for you?” asked Li Chiang.

Ni nao hiah! If I don’t kill you, then my surname is not Lo!” shouted an enraged Tiger Lo.

Tiger Lo attacked Li Chiang furiously, trying to land a blow. Although Li Chiang did not have the power to match the Five Fairies Iron Palm, he was faster and had better lightness kungfu. Tiger Lo did most of the attacking with Li Chiang trying to defend and avoid the Five Fairies Iron Palm strikes. Soon, Tiger Lo got impatient, and changed his tactics. He threw a right front leg kick at Li Chiang, who ducked low sideways and brushed the leg with his hand. In that brushing movement, Li Chiang hit two little known yuedao points in Lo’s right leg. They were the points that he had discovered while having his ‘medical training’ with the Nine Dark Princes of the Bow.

Tiger Lo could not feel his right ankle at all, even though he could still flex it. When he landed the leg on the ground, he stumbled. Li Chiang knew exactly the direction and manner he would stumble, and he got ready. As Tiger Lo lurched expectedly to the right, Li Chiang kicked powerfully at Tiger Lo’s right knee and heard the “kraaaaacck” sound of bone breaking. Tiger Lo sank to his knees and Li Chiang leapt over him to hit the yuedao point at the back to immobilize him. Tiger Lo tried to turn around to ward of the attack, but was too late. Li Chiang had already hit the yuedao point and it caused him to freeze in an awkward half-turned position.

Li Chiang then looked at the martial judge for a judgment.

But the martial judge merely said, “You have not won unless your opponent yields or is forced off the platform!”

Li Chiang expected Tiger Lo to shout out his surrender. But Tiger Lo did not do so.

So Li Chiang grabbed Tiger Lo’s nearest leg, which was the broken right leg, and used it to swing Tiger Lo’s body around. Ignoring the bandit’s howl of pain, he swung the body off the platform.

Tiger Lo landed like a sack of rice near to Zhao Piao’s men. Quickly, they crowded around him, and one of them took out a dagger and slit Tiger Lo’s throat. Another one cut off a finger with a ring on it and wrapped it in a piece of cloth, saying, “We will take this ring and finger to Zhao Piao’s father and say that we have done our duty to his son and avenged his death!” As the crowd surged to look at the fallen Tiger Lo, Zhao Piao’s men melted away in the crowd and left quickly, taking Zhao Piao’s body with them.

Jade Flower took a look at the joss stick and exclaimed, “Chief Constable Hsu! The joss stick has burnt out!”

The martial judge then proclaimed, “The winner of the competition is Li Daifu! He has won the right to marry Jade Flower!”

The crowd cheered noisily. It did not matter to them who won as long as they got to see a good fight. In years to come, the town of Anchen would remember this competition.

Li Chiang recovered his Twin Dragon Blades and leapt onto the stage. Addressing Jade Flower, he asked, “Jade Flower, are you ready?”

Jade Flower left her seat immediately and knelt down in front of her father. Then she gave her father three kowtows and said, “Father, please accept these three kowtows from your daughter. I thank you for taking care of me all these years. Your daughter has to leave now with Li Daifu.”

Then Jade Flower got up and followed Li Daifu. Li Chiang leapt down from the stage and raced towards where he had kept his horse and carriage, with Jade Flower running closely behind. They were gone before Merchant Wu realized what was happening.

“Stop them,” he shouted, but nobody heeded him. Little Wu Chuan then ran after his sister, but lost sight of her. Running around some houses, he heard the sound of a horse-drawn carriage. He ran towards the sound and on turning around a corner, he intercepted Li Chiang’s carriage.

“Go back, Wu Chuan,” cried Jade Flower.

“No, you can’t leave! Not like this!” shouted the boy.

Li Chiang took out a cloth bundle containing one hundred taels and handed it to Wu Chuan. “Please give this to your father as compensation,” he said. “From this day on, I will take care of your sister for the rest of her life!”

Jade Flower looked at him in an inquiring manner and said, “You need not carry a favour that far, Brother Li!”

“It is not a favour,” replied Li Chiang. “You did not drop the handkerchief. It was my own decision to join the competition! You are not regretting that it was I who won, are you? Hey, I’m much better looking than Tiger Lo!”

Jade Flower smiled shyly, and said, “I was worried for you, Brother Li. However, you appear to have more than one way to avoid defeat!”

Li Chiang laughed and said, “My sifu once told me that a sly rabbit will have three openings to its den. He meant that I should have more than one way to deal with my opponents.”

Jade Flower then turned to her brother, “Listen, Chuan, I have to leave. I do not know if I will ever see you again! After I am gone, it will be your responsibility to look after our parents. Now, go back! Remember, you are all they have now!”

Li Chiang urged his horse forward and the carriage moved quickly along the road, leaving Wu Chuan standing there, staring at the carriage disappearing into the distance.

Struggling to keep his tears away, the boy chokingly whispered, “Come back!”

But they were gone.

Next episode: Turmoil breaks out in Pingchen

Episode 12: The turmoil in Pingchen

After the disappearance of Jade Flower, Merchant Wu stayed in Anchen and engaged riders to search for the whereabouts of his daughter.

Zhao’s men brought Zhao Piao’s body in a coffin back to Pingchen for burial. Liu’s henchmen sent Swordsman Poon’s body back to his village and then brought Liu Tor’s body back to Pingchen.

Liu Tor’s father, called “Miser Liu” by the town people, was beside himself with rage. Since it was Zhao Piao who had killed Liu Tor, Miser Liu swore revenge at the Zhao family, “I will decimate the House of Zhao. I will not spare anyone, not even a housefly!”

Both Liu Tor and Zhao Piao had died on the same day, so they were to be buried also on the same day. On the day of the burial, the Lius bore Liu Tor’s coffin to the town graveyard. Then later, the Zhaos also bore Zhao Piao’s coffin to the same graveyard. Miser Liu had prepared weapons for his men. The moment after Liu Tor’s coffin was lowered into the ground, the Lius attacked the Zhaos, slaughtering even the women and children. The Zhaos had gone to the graveyard without weapons and could not fight back effectively. But some of Zhao Piao’s brothers managed to flee. Zhao Piao’s father died in the attack.

Not content with the attack at the graveyard, the Lius went to the Zhao manor and burned it to the ground.

Zhao Piao’s brothers, who managed to escape the attack, waited for night. Then, under cover of darkness, they set fire to many of Miser Liu’s shops and businesses in the town. The night watchmen raised the alarm. When Miser Liu’s sons and other male members of the family hurried to the scene to try and save the shops, they were shot down by arrows in the darkness. Miser Liu rushed into a burning shop and tried to save his goods. He never made it out. The fire burned out of control and many other shops belonging to other town people were also destroyed.

Many townsmen, who were related by kin to either the Lius or the Zhaos, took sides in the fighting. The next several days saw turmoil erupting in Pingchen, with pitched battles fought in the day as well as at night.

One of Merchant’s Wu’s shops was burned down by the Zhaos by mistake. Wisely, Madame Wu did not allow any of her people to get involved in the fighting. She would wait until Merchant Wu got back from Anchen.

Governor Li, in Fuzhou, received urgent word about the turmoil, and rushed with his troops by horseback to Pingchen. Quickly he imposed law and order.

Soon, peace descended back on the town. By then, all the male heirs in the Liu family had died. Of the Zhaos, only two of Zhao Piao’s brothers were still alive. Since it was the Zhao brothers who had gone around burning the shops, Governor Li seized all the Zhao’s properties to pay for claims of compensation by the town folks. However, the value of the properties were not sufficient to pay for the damage caused. The two Zhao brothers were ordered to borrow money from their relatives to pay. However, their relatives refused to lend them the money, knowing that if they did, they would never see the money again. Thus, the two Zhao brothers packed whatever they could carry and secretly left the town in the middle of the night. They were never heard of again in Pingchen.

The Liu family still had their family home and a fruit orchard that had escaped the turmoil. But without a male heir in the family, the House of Liu would soon come to an end.

+ + + + + +

When Merchant Wu could not locate the whereabouts of Jade Flower, he returned to Pingchen. By then, the turmoil was over. He was brought to Governor Li for questioning.

“I have nothing to do with the turmoil in Pingchen,” Wu said. “I was still in Anchen looking for my daughter that Li Daifu had taken away. The enmity between the Zhao and Liu family is well known! It was just a matter of time before this thing happened!”

“Consider yourself lucky that you were not here!” said Governor Li, “or you would have been dragged into the fighting, like a lot of the town people!”

Merchant Wu then told the Governor everything he knew. Even Wu Chuan had to submit himself for questioning. Lead Escort Ouyang had returned and so Governor Li had him brought before him for questioning as well.

“Governor Li,” said Merchant Wu, “Can you capture this Li Daifu for me? He has taken away my only daughter!”

“Merchant Wu,” replied the Governor, “Li Daifu fairly won the right to your daughter in a competition you organized. And he did announce that he would take Jade Flower away immediately after he had won. Nobody heard you protest at that time. I understand that he passed 100 taels to you through your son. That amount is more than the standard dowry in Anchen. You have no right to ask the law to capture him!”

“As a father, I need to know if my daughter is all right,” replied the merchant glumly.

“I will see what I can do. Who is this Li DaiFu? What do you know of him?” asked Governor Li.

“Li Daifu uses twin sabers, and he can slice through a group of four men within two breaths,” said Lead Escort Ouyang. “A wise man will not make him an enemy.”

“A dangerous man indeed. What else do you know of him?” asked the Governor.

“He is in his early twenties and he told me that he came from the Hsi Shan mountains where he was trained in herbal medicine,” replied Ouyang.

Governor Li had a jolt. There cannot be many people training in herbal medicine from the Hsi Shan mountains.

“He is ambidextrous,” said Merchant Wu. “My sister-in-law in Anchen said that he could write out the herbal prescription with both left and right hand.”

Governor Li paused and then his shoulders slumped tiredly. He knew who Li Daifu was.

+ + + + + +

In the Liu household, control of the Liu property went to Miser Liu’s widow, Madame Liu. Since much of the Liu property had been destroyed, Madame Liu had to sell off some of her servants and family heirlooms in order to meet household expenses. The only viable property they still had was an orchard and the maids and menservants were sent to work it, leaving the daily work in the house to Miser Liu’s concubines.

The concubines were unhappy and complained that there were no maids to serve them as before. One of the maids told Madame Liu that Ting Ting had missed her menstrual period and was constantly nauseous. Madame Liu was suspicious and engaged a daifu to look at her condition. After the daifu had conferred with Madame Liu and left, Ting Ting was summoned to Madame Liu’s presence.

“Ting Ting,” said Madame Liu, “The daifu has told me that you are pregnant.”

“No! That cannot be!“ cried the girl, “I am unmarried and yet I am pregnant! Great is my shame! I will have to end my life!”

“No!” cried Madame Liu in alarm, ”The servants informed me that Liu Tor had been visiting your room and forcing himself on you for the past half year. I am sorry about my son’s conduct.”

“I did not say that Liu Tor is the father! He is dead. I have no wish to talk of the dead,” sobbed the girl.

Madame Liu said, “Nevertheless, if Liu Tor is the father of your unborn child, then this child is my flesh and blood. The daifu said that this child is most likely a male. His predictions are known to be highly accurate in this town. That means that you are carrying the only male heir of the House of Liu! You are my one and only hope of the continuation of the Liu family.”

“That has nothing to do with me,” cried the girl, “Ever since I have been sold by my father to this household, I have known only pain and suffering! I owe the Liu family nothing! I will tell everyone that the child in me is not a Liu. Nobody should think that I ended the Liu lineage. And then, I will take my own life!”

“No,” pleaded Madam Liu, “In whatever way we have wronged you, please forgive us!”

“I am telling you that my unborn child is not Liu Tor’s child,” said Ting Ting.

“I shall not believe you,” said Madame Liu, “I know my son too well. You are too pretty for him to pass up. Ting Ting, the House of Liu is in your hands. I have always treated you well. I cannot go peacefully to my death knowing that I have failed to preserve the House of Liu. Please give birth to your son so that the Liu family will have an heir! I will kneel down in front of you until you agree.”

“Madame, you can’t kneel in front of me!” cried Ting Ting in shock. “Alright, I agree. If you want the child to be your heir, then so be it!”

“Thank you,” whispered Madame Liu, “From this day onwards, you are not to do any more heavy work. You will rest until the baby is delivered.”

Madame Liu compelled the concubines to take up Ting Ting’s share of the housework. When one concubine grumbled too loudly, Madame Liu had her whipped. Madame Liu had never liked the concubines taken by her late husband over her objections. She took every opportunity to flog them if they did not do their share of work. Seeing that they have been reduced to maids, one by one, the concubines found ways to leave the Liu family.

Ting Ting enjoyed her newfound status quietly. Deep inside her heart, she kept a dark secret; that the baby inside her womb did not belong to Liu Tor, but to Mah Zai, the joss stick seller.

Next episode: Conclusion

Episode 13: Conclusion

Governor Li returned to Fuzhou and informed his wife about what Li Chiang had been doing in the province.

“I don’t understand that boy. Why doesn’t he come home directly,” he complained.

“He is no more a boy,” replied Madame Li, “so he has to strike out on his own.”

“I was told that he sells tiger penises and hamsap herbs. If this news gets out, it will be embarrassing,” said the Governor.

“Let’s be more broadminded,” admonished his wife, “and anyway, as long as he does not do it in Fuzhou, it should be all right. Maybe we should try to get him to settle down in Fuzhou.”

“Heavens,” replied Governor Li. “Have you forgotten how he used to get into fights? I have been informed that he carries twin sabers now. And he can slice through 4 men in two breaths! There are always lots of imperial officials visiting Fuzhou. It would be terrible if he were to kill someone important here!”

“You are right, husband. We need to get him settled someplace else. But we are his parents! We can’t just tell a son to go away! He will think that we value him less than our other sons!” said Madame Li.

“I have a plan,” said the Governor.

“Whatever your plan is, what makes you think he will listen to you?” ask his wife.

“Don’t worry. I am an old ginger! They say that the older the ginger gets, the hotter it becomes! I will persuade him.”

+ + + + + +

In a little inn, not far from Fuzhou, Jade Flower and Li Chiang were drinking tea.

“How is Pingchen like?” asked Li Chiang.

“It’s like Anchen. Except that it is more beautiful and has more hills and streams. In spring the flowers colour up the meadows and wild honey is plentiful. In summer, the fishing is good. Someone like you will like it there,” replied Jade Flower.

“It does sound like the Hsi Shan mountains that I miss. With luck, one day I will live in Pingchen,” said Li Chiang.

Jade Flower watched Li Chiang staring out of the window, deep in thought, so she asked, “Brother Li, what are you thinking about?”

“We are almost in Fuzhou. I am thinking how to argue with my father to allow me to marry you. My mother is easy to handle. But my father is a pain in the ass.”

“How do you intend to argue with him?” asked the girl.

“I will use the Sun Tzu Art of Debating.”

“Hahahah! There is no such thing!”

“Or maybe I can butter him up first by giving him a tiger penis.”

“I am sure your father is not as hamsap as you.”

“Me hamsap? How can you say that? Even though you rightfully belong to me, I have not touched you at all during the past weeks we were together!”

“Except the time when we got lost and could not find an inn and so had to sleep in the carriage. You lay your head on my chest while I was sleeping,” replied the girl.

“Oh that….that was an accident, I was sleepy and couldn’t find a pillow.”

“Or the time you saw me changing but did not close your eyes.”

“Oh that….that was another accident, my eyelids cramped and I could not close them. I, too, did not see you close your eyes either that day when you saw me bathing in the river.”

“That truly was an accident!” protested Jade Flower.

“Hahahah! Yeah….right!” said Li Chiang. “Let’s drink our tea before it gets cold. I need to think a bit more about the Sun Tzu Art of Debating!”

+ + + + + +

Li Chiang and Jade Flower stood in the presence of Governor Li and his wife. They were tired from their traveling and had just reached the provincial capital of Fuzhou.

After the perfunctory greetings were over, Governor Li admonished his son.

“It is not proper for the son of a governor to go running around the province with somebody else’s daughter, especially the only daughter of a prominent family. What will people think?” said the Governor.

“Err….,” said Li Chiang, not knowing what to say.

“Don’t try to explain. Explanations are useless. The deed has already been done. The proper thing to do now is to marry her,” said the Governor.

“What?” exclaimed Li Chiang.

“You heard me. It is time that you settle down!” said his father.

“It is?” asked Li Chiang.

“Of course!” said the father. “How can you look after your family if you are all over the province selling your tiger penises? It is good thing that you are a daifu. You can start a medical practice. But there are already a lot of daifu in Fuzhou. Not much prospect here! It is a better idea for you to settle in a smaller town to set up your daifu business.”

“Governor Li”, said Jade Flower with great presence of mind, “I wish to go back to Pingchen to see my family. However, if your son is to become a daifu in Pingchen, then I will agree to marry him.”

“Jade Flower. My son has already won the right to marry you, so you have no right to object. However, I will buy my son a house in Pingchen for both of you to live. Will that satisfy you?”

“Will we have servants?” asked the girl.

“Oh, all right. I will give you servants as well. You will have to see that my son does not go around flashing his sabers or selling tiger parts again. Are you comfortable with that?”

“I am comfortable with that arrangement,” beamed the girl. The, kneeling down, she said, “Jade Flower greets her future father-in-law and future mother-in-law!”

“Good! Good! Come, lunch is ready. Let us sit down and eat!” said Madame Li.

Later on, Li Chiang’s mother took Governor Li aside and said, “You were brilliant! You managed to get your son to agree to settle down, and in another town too!”

“Of course!” replied the Governor proudly, “I did not give him an opportunity to object! Like I said before, the older the ginger gets, the hotter it becomes!”

Jade Flower took Li Chiang privately aside and said, “You were brilliant! You managed to argue your father into allowing us to marry. Some more, we get to live in Pingchen with a house and servants provided. Was that your famous Sun Tzu Art of Debating?”

“Huh? I did not remember saying anything at much, but whatever it was, it worked, didn’t it?” said Li Chiang, grinning widely. “The lunch was lousy. Too much salt! Come, let’s go out and look from some decent Hokkien mee!”

“Good idea. I also want to do some shopping in the Fuzhou shops afterwards.”

“What? Shopping? Do you have any money?”

“No, but I’m certain that my future husband has,” replied Jade Flower laughing.

The Wu family was summoned to Fuzhou to Governor Li’s residence to reunite with Jade Flower. Merchant Wu was delighted that his son-in-law was the Governor’s son. He told his wife, “With the Governor as my in-law, nobody in the town of Pingchen will dare to shit on my head from now on!”

The wedding was held in Fuzhou.

On the wedding night, Jade Flower removed her clothes and waited expectantly. She was a very neat girl and her clothes were neatly folded in a corner of the huge bed. Li Chiang’s clothes were strewn all over the place.

He got on top of her and his tongue began exploring ever part of her mouth and then her throat. His hands roamed all over her body, and when they reached her twin peaks, she let out a low moan. He caressed lower, and then he moved his mouth to her breasts. As he kissed her in places never before kissed, she trembled with pleasure. Slowly, he parted her legs and leaned into her, and she felt him entering her. She braced herself for the pain that she had been told would come, but it was not as bad as she feared. As he moved, she put out her hands and touched his sides. He slowed down for a while and kissed her deeply. Then he rocked on.
She felt that her her husband was touching something deep within her, physically and emotionally. The tension inside her was waiting for a release. And then it came. As his hot seed raced into her, Jade Flower felt her body began to spasm as well. She squirmed involuntarily, moaning with the intense pleasure she was feeling. Her introduction to womanhood had been ecstatic. No one had ever told her that it would be like this. She was still gasping for air when his hips stopped moving.

He rolled over on his back.

“Husband?” she called out in the darkness.

“Yes, wife?” he answered her.

“Nothing. I just wanted to call you,” she replied happily, as she laid her head on his chest. Li Chiang kissed her hair. His hand curled around her and held her close. In that position, they slept.

Li Chiang and Jade Flower settled in Pingchen. A year later a daughter was born to them.

Merchant Wu became the most powerful businessman in Pingchen and the elders of the town conferred with him on every major decision.

In the Liu household, Ting Ting had given birth to a son and there was much rejoicing in the house. As the mother of the sole heir to the Liu family, Ting Ting's status became respectable. The servants and tradesmen addressed her as Lady Ting Ting from then on. Soon, as Madame Liu became unwell, Ting Ting made all the decisions regarding the Liu property. Each time she went to the temple to offer prayers, she would stop near Ma Zai, the joss stick seller, and instruct her manservants to buy joss sticks from him. Ma Zai knew when she was near but was ashamed to lift up his eyes to look at her. They never spoke to each other at those times.

After the intimate event with Ting Ting, Ma Zai had changed. For some reason, the shame that Ting Ting made him feel, refused to go away. Each night, he examined his own life, and each night, he relived his shame. When he heard about how his cousin, Ma Chow Kow, was banished from the Wu household for heinous betrayal, he became even more despondent. He stopped visiting the cheap drinking dens and became reclusive. Soon, his friends could not bear the change in his attitude and stopped visiting him.

Two years after the birth of Ting Ting’s son, Madame Liu lay on her deathbed.

“Ting Ting,” she said, “I cannot prevent you from remarrying after I am gone. Swear to me that you will never let the property of Liu fall out of the hands of the Liu family, or I will not be able to rest in peace.”

Ting Ting gave her word, saying, “Whatever I do, the property of Liu will remain with the House of Liu.” Madam Liu passed away peacefully and Ting Ting mourned for her.

One year after the death of Madam Liu, Ting Ting went to Ma Zai’s home.

Standing in front of Ma Zai, she looked at him without speaking.

“Lady Ting Ting,” said Ma Zai, “please forgive me for what I did to you four years ago.”

“The past is past. I have a young son who requires a father. Tell me truthfully, Ma Zai. Do you wish to marry me?”

“Yes. But my life is not worth anything.”

“Will you change your surname to Liu to marry me?”

“I will do whatever it takes to make things right with you,” replied Ma Zai.

“It is settled then,” said Ting Ting.

Ma Zai changed his name to Liu Zai, married Ting Ting and moved in with her. As all their future children would be of the Liu surname, Ting Ting thus, in her own way, kept her word to Madame Liu to keep the property of Liu from falling out of the Liu family even if she remarried.

On the wedding night, Liu Zai took his own pleasure slowly as before, and as she started to moan, Ting Ting knew that she would be enjoying her nights from then on.

In the morning, Lady Ting Ting walked past the servants’ quarters and looked at the place where she used to sleep as a maid. And faintly, she remembered the number of times she was sexually violated by Liu Tor and how she used to utter the defiant words, “As Heaven is my witness, one day, I will subjugate the House of Liu to my will!”

That was a long time ago. Then she smiled gently and walked on.

The two Zhao brothers, who had fled Pingchen, settled in another town and vowed to rebuild the House of Zhao. When their money was finished, they soon got into debt. However, as their debts piled up, they tried to escape from their creditors. One cold winter day, their creditors caught up with them and they were given a thorough beating. Then they were left out there in the freezing winter night. They did not survive the night. With that, the lineage of the House of Zhao in Pingchen came to an end.

Li Chiang and Jade Flower’s second child was also a daughter. Many of the town’s wealthy families saw the advantage of having ties with Li Chiang, the son of a Governor, and so they asked for the Li daughters to be betrothed to their own sons. Jade Flower refused all offers, saying that the decision would only be made when the girls grew up.

His third child turned out to be a baby boy. On the boy’s full moon ceremony, Wu Chuan, the proud uncle, came to the house to pay his respects. He was already sixteen, and had grown up into a good-looking and cultured young man.

Looking at Li Chiang’s family, the events of the past years came back to him. The town used to be run by the Zhao, Liu and Wu families. The Zhao family was no more. The Liu family was still respected, but was only a shadow of its former self. The Wu family had become very much stronger. And the Li family was just starting out. Another era had come to Pingchen.

Holding up a cup of wine, Wu Chuan toasted, “Behold, the House of Li!”


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