Book 1 Chapter 3 – Far and away from Yangzhou
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stripped stark naked. First, they washed their clothes clean by the creek, then they spread out the clothes on the thickets next to the bank to let it dry in the afternoon sun. They put ‘The Secret to Long Life’ on a rock. Finally they shouted gleefully as they dive into the stream to wash away the grimes and the stink from crawling inside the dark culvert.
They were still kids, after all. After running for their lives to this forest on a hill, about seven or eight li [1 li is approx. 1/2km or 1/3 of a mile] from Yangzhou city wall, they were so exhausted that they did not feel like moving anymore. Also, thinking that they were already far away from danger, their moods turned a lot better.
While they were playing and singing happily in the water, suddenly they hear tender snort coming from the creek’s bank. At first they were startled and scared, and quickly looked at the direction of the noise. But then they saw a woman wearing snow-white clothes, with a bamboo rain hat on her head, was standing gracefully on the shore. With her pair of cold eyes that was hidden behind a white gauze veil, she looked at them, sizing them up, without any care whatsoever that they were stark naked.
The two boys squealed in terror and quickly ducked inside the water, instinctively their hands went down to cover their lower parts. With a squeaky voice Xu Ziling cried out, “It’s improper to look, Dajie [big sister] please avert your noble eyes; spare us!”
Kou Zhong also cried out, “Looking once you have to pay one wen [1/10 of a tael, approx. 0.5gram (of silver)]. Miss already looked at least a hundred times; even with fifty or perhaps sixty percent rate, you need to pay us about a hundred copper coins and then you may go.”
An ice-cold smile appeared on the corner of the woman-in-white’s mouth. “Little demon is asking for it,” she said lightly.
Stretching out her lily-white hand, which was as slender as a spring scallion, she casually flicked her two fingers. ‘Pop, pop!’ The two boys screamed in pain and fell down to the water.
It was quite a while before they finally emerged from the water, still in a lot of pain.
The woman-in-white spoke matter-of-factly, “When Miss asks you a question, you answer with an honest answer; otherwise, you, these two little demons, will suffer more pain.”
By this time Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling have already withdrawn to the other side of the creek. But since they were still naked, they did not dare to crawl out of the water. Unable to neither advance nor retreat, they were completely at a loss.
Kou Zhong has always been able ‘to see the wind and set his sails’; therefore, he forced a laugh and said, “Lowly ones know that we cannot not speak, and speak cannot not be honest. [I know it sounds awkward in English, but Chinese loves to use double negative.] Miss, please go ahead and ask.”
Seeing he was trying to talk bookish talk, yet his appearance was nondescript, the woman-in-white let out a cold snort and said, “I ask you, what kind of guts you, the little demon, have?”
Xu Ziling was shocked. “All along we, two brothers, have never known how to tell stories. Miss, you may ask us anything.”
The woman-in-white still maintained her wooden expression. With a voice as calm as the water she asked, “Do you live near here?”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other. And then one nodded, the other shook his head. Another flick of her fingers, their knees went weak and they tumbled into the water again. As before, it was quite a while before they were able to struggle up, battered and exhausted.
As if nothing had happened, the woman-in-white calmly said, “If I hear one more lie, don’t even think that you will be able to crawl up again.”
The two boys were very scared of the woman-in-white’s ruthlessness, but they have already developed resilience from receiving Laoda, Yan Kuan’s bullying. With a forced laugh Kou Zhong said, “Dashi [lit. great scholar/bachelor/member of senior ministerial class; I don’t know how to translate this properly], you misunderstood. I nodded because I certainly live in my in-laws village nearby. And he shook his head, because he lives in the city. Today this brother of mine especially went out of the city to have fun with me. So now Dashi can see that we are indeed innocent.”
Hearing the smooth talk and the laughter, Xu Ziling hastily covered his mouth, afraid that he might provoke this evil Luocha [demon in Buddhism, as in Yu Luocha, White Haired Demoness].
But the woman-in-white remained unmoved. “If I hear more flippant answer, I’ll gouge your tongue out of your mouth. Why do you call me Dashi?”
Xu Ziling was afraid Kou Zhong might ramble, he busily said, “Just because you are wearing long white robe like Guanyin Dashi [Goddess of Mercy], he is honoring Big Sister as Dashi. It is just a show of respect, there is no other meaning.”
At this point, this scene was really weird. An enigmatic woman as cold as ice and frost, coldly dealing with two stark naked boys, embarrassed and were in a difficult situation, hiding in the water. If an outsider was to witness this scene, even if he rack his brain until burst, he would not be able to guess the relationship between them.
The woman-in-white’s eyes fell onto ‘The Secret to Long Life’ lying on the rock by the shore. “What is that?” she asked.
Not missing a single beat, Kou Zhong reverently and respectfully replied, “That is the book of the sages that Bai Lao Fuzi’s [see Chapter 1] wanted us to study. Would Dashi like to read it?”
Evidently the woman-in-white did not know that it was a very important book, because the fact was that from the outside, this book was not much different from any other book. Therefore, she only took a couple of glances, and then her eyes were back to the two boys. “Do you know this man Shi Long?” she asked in a heavy voice.
Seeing she no longer care about their ‘secret manual’, the two boys inwardly wiped the sweats from their foreheads, while scrambling to answer at the same time, “Of course we do!”
“Tell me then,” the woman-in-white said, “Why are his house and institution teeming with soldiers and officers? And Yangzhou city gates are all closed?”
Kou Zhong pretended to be surprised, “Is there such thing?” he said, “We have been here since early in the morning catching fish. Ah! Xiao Ling, how are you going to go back to the city?”
Although Xu Ziling knew he was lying, looking at his serious manner, he almost believed it was true. Assuming a pained expression on his face, he exclaimed in shock, “Mother is going to kill me.”
Suddenly he felt Kou Zhong nudged him; realizing his intention, he said, “That won’t do! I must return to the city immediately. Hey! Dashi, would you turn your back momentarily, so that we can go up and put our clothes on?”
The woman-in-white did not have any intention of turning her back to them. With a cold snort, without seeing how she moved, she was already deep inside the forest.
The two boys slumped down into the water, and then they floated back up. Kou Zhong sighed and said, “This stinking b1tch is really formidable. Someday after we master unrivalled martial art skill, I must strip her naked and look at her mother’s body until I am satisfied.”
Xu Ziling was really afraid she might come back, giving Kou Zhong a little push, they crawled up to the shore. “She might be very ugly,” he said with a wry smile, “Anyway, you have seen her enough.”
After they were fully dressed, Kou Zhong hid the treasured book well, and then with a deep frown said, “What crime did Shi Long commit anyway? Not only his martial art arena is closed, even his house is being raided.”
Xu Ziling said with a sigh, “It seems like training martial art is useless. Let’s roll! Every time I remember that bunch beating Yan Laoda, ‘my heart alarmed, my body leaps in fright’.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “How can martial art skill be useless? Just look at my ‘stepping on dry land’ technique. Ow!” He only took two steps when he tripped on a stone and fumbled down that he had to crawl on all four.
Xu Ziling doubled up in laughter, and momentarily was not able to stand up.
The two boys crouched inside a thicket on a knoll overlooking the lower reaches of Yangtze River. They were dumbstruck to see three big warships and hundreds of speedboats close to the city, inspecting all departing boats.
Kou Zhong sucked in a breath of cold air, “My grandpa!” he gasped, “That book of ours must be a Heavenly Book [see Chapter 2].”
Xu Ziling whispered in Kou Zhong’s ear, “Would Zhong Shaoye lower your voice a bit so we won’t alarm them? Perhaps there are militia army mingle among them, otherwise, their number would not be that big.”
Kou Zhong rubbed his empty tummy. Suddenly he was hit by realization, “If the river route is like that, I am afraid the land route is being closed as well; we’d better find a place to hide. Oh, my God! Isn’t that the sound of dog barking?”
The two of them listened carefully, and their countenance changed drastically. It was obvious that the dog bark came from the direction of the creek. Now they could also hear the sound of hoof beats. They thought that if the dogs’ sensitive nose had already picked up their scent from their old hole in the ground, would that mean they were in a very big trouble?
They both shuddered. And then with a scream they ran for their lives into the depth of the forest in the mountain.
They ran over a small hill, but as they were rushing downhill, Xu Ziling tripped. He groaned and rolled downhill. Kou Zhong ran over and pulled him up, “Hurry up!”
Xu Ziling said sadly, “I can’t walk anymore. Take the secret manual and go quickly! In the future when you have mastered matchless divine skill, come back and avenge me. No matter how fast we run, we can’t outrun dogs’ legs and horses’ legs anyway. Right now I can try to divert the enemy; it’s your only hope to escape with your life.”
Kou Zhong did not even want to think about it. He lugged Xu Ziling toward the sparse wooded area ahead as he cried out, “If we die, we die together; otherwise, how can we be considered brothers?”
Suddenly he had a brainwave. Changing direction, he ran toward the Big River [i.e. Yangtze]. By this time they could clearly hear the sound of barking dogs and the hoof beats.
Xu Ziling cried out in horror, “Are we going to throw ourselves into the river?”
Gasping for breath, Kou Zhong replied, “This is the only way. As soon as we are in the water, you have to hold on tight to me no matter what. Otherwise, if the river rushes you back to Yangzhou, it would be like sending the lamb to the tiger’s mouth.”
Xu Ziling recalled the evil bunch who beat up Yan Laoda, he thought that drowning in the river sure beats being beaten to death. Without saying anything, he summoned every ounce of his strength, which was not much, and ran after Kou Zhong toward the cliff by the riverbank.
Kou Zhong roared wildly. With both hands he grasped Xu Ziling’s hands and shouted, “Don’t look; just stake everything you have and jump. Let’s get it over with.”
 Serious manner, orig. seven emotional states: joy, anger, anxiety, thought, grief, fear, fright.
Chapter 3, Part 2
Szfong, Strawberry, Janger, Anh, Weed, you are welcome. Chik, thank you very much! Now I have a reputation to keep. My fear is that I fail to live up to your expectation. CFT, thanks.
The rumbling river down below sounded very loud from up above the cliff, making them utterly terrified.
“Aaahhhh …!” With a roar the two of them jumped from the cliff down to Yangtze River, more than ten zhang [1 zhang is approx. 10ft or 3m] below.
The wind whooshed in their ears.
‘Splash! Splash!’ One after another they both fell successfully into the raging river and immediately sank into the water.
In the strong current, they had to struggle hard to float to the surface. Xu Ziling started to see stars, while desperately trying to hold on to Kou Zhong’s shoulders. Kou Zhong himself was not any better, sinking and rising, he drank a lot of river water, as the current brought them more than ten zhang downstream. Let’s not talk about crossing the river, trying to keep their heads above the water proved to be almost impossible.
While they were thinking that this time their little lives would be gone, a fishing boat crossed the current toward them. A long rope flew out of the boat, accurately coiled itself around Kou Zhong’s neck.
Actually, with Xi Ziling’s arms holding tight to him, Kou Zhong had already found it difficult to breathe; plus the river water unceasingly pouring into his nose and mouth. Now with the rope wrapped around his neck, he thought that the soldiers had finally got him.
While he was crying inwardly, saying goodbye to the world, his ears heard the pleasant voice of the woman-in-white, “Idiot! Why haven’t you held on to the rope?”
Kou Zhong was ecstatic. Freeing one hand, he desperately hung on to the rope. He felt a strong force transmitted via the rope. Miraculously the two of them were being pulled out of the water, and flew sideways toward the small boat.
The two boys rolled along the deck like a pair of gourds, with only half of their lives remained.
With one pull the woman-in-white raised the sail, and then she sat on the bow, staring at the two boys without looking happy at all.
Kou Zhong rolled up first, and then, seeing Xu Ziling also survived, he groaned, and then begged the woman, “My Guanyin Dashi, lady Bodhisattva, please be merciful to us, quickly set sail, evil people are after us.”
The woman-in-white already heard the sound of hoof beats and barking dogs. She said with a cold laugh, “What qualifications you have that you dare to offend Sui people’s dog soldiers? They are actually after your Miss.”
Kou Zhong remembered something. “Heavens!” he screamed, “Our secret manual!” He reached out to grope around his back.
The woman-in-white only knew that he was anxious that the holy book was damaged by the water; she did not pay any attention to these two words, ‘secret manual’. Grapping the sail, she steered the boat upstream.
After throwing up two mouthfuls of water, Xu Ziling crawled up. “The book?” he asked in horror.
He saw Kou Zhong groping around his back several times, with a very strange expression on his face. He made all kinds of signals to Xu Ziling as he sat up. With his back toward the woman-in-white, he winked and said, “Completely soaked. This time Bai Lao Fuzi will definitely slap my hands black and blue.”
The woman-in-white said with a snort, “You still want to lie to me? Let’s see if I don’t throw you, these two little demons, back into the river.”
Kou Zhong was shocked; he thought she already saw through the secret of the book. Turning around, he said, “I did not lie to you. Honest. The book is finished.”
With displeased expression the woman-in-white said, “I am not talking about your book, I am talking about what kind of game are you, two little demons, playing? Didn’t you say you must return to the city? Why do you want to go farther away now?”
While the two boys were at a loss of what to say, there were shouts coming from the riverbank. They raised their heads and saw a dozen or so riders galloping along the river. “Stop the boat!” they shouted.
The woman-in-white did not move; she turned a deaf ear. She did not even look at them, as if it was beneath her to do so.
Suddenly there was a long whistle from a distant, but coming closer at an astonishing speed.
The woman-in-white was amazed, “I did not expect there is such a martial art expert in the Central Plains.”
The two boys were stupefied. Could it be that this woman-in-white was of different tribe from foreign country?
The woman-in-white suddenly stood up, her hand grabbed the hilt of her sword, she said in heavy voice, “Two little demons, operate the sail for me.”
The two boys were taken aback. “We don’t …”
The woman-in-white impatiently said, “Even if you don’t know you have to do it. Come!”
Horrified, the two boys looked up, only to see a figure coming down on them. At first the figure looked small, but it grew big quickly, like a big bird coming down on the fishing boat. The power was extremely astonishing.
The two boys instinctively threw themselves at the rudder. The man was flying about a zhang away from the small boat, a very strong and violent qi was pressing down on them.
The surrounding air suddenly turned cold, as if it was condensing to be ice. Cold air permeated everywhere. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s teeth were chattering, as they swayed from side to side.
Heavy gauze covered the woman-in-white’s face, so that nobody could see her expression. But just like when she was dealing with Jiao Xie and his men, she maintained her carefree attitude, the clothes on her body fluttered everywhere, but she still did not look at Yuwen Huaji, who came down to them like descending devil or immortal.
The out-of-control sail, the attack of the river water, plus the stronger vortex due to Yuwen Huaji’s fantastic Mysterious Ice Energy, made the boat tilt and spin, ready to capsize anytime.
‘Ring!’ the woman-in-white’s sword left its sheathe, as she leaped upward.
The sword turned into millions strong tips, meeting Yuwen Huaji’s attack head on. Right away the cold air was cut more than half. By the time Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling recovered from their earlier stupor, the battle between the two martial art experts had already begun.
Yuwen Huaji knew that if with one strike he could not hit his target, the boat would sail farther away; therefore, he put everything he had in this one strike to generate maximum impact.
He was the most accomplished expert under Yuwen Shang, the Yuwen Clan Leader of one of the four most powerful clans. Even Shi Long, whose fame shook Yangzhou, lost his life under his hands. Therefore, his best shot was not a small matter at all.
‘Boom!’ Palm and sword’s energy collided.
Like flash of lightning or sparks of fire the woman-in-white’s sword stabbed twelve times. He also countered with twelve palm strikes.
The two combatants were sometimes engaged in close battle, another time they suddenly separated. Yuwen Huaji let out a fierce hiss. Borrowing the momentum he flitted across and flew toward a mud pier on the riverbank. The woman-in-white fell back onto the boat, she held her sword with the tip pointing at Yuwen Huaji.
When these two people fought, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling felt that the small fishing boat was sinking down, only when they stopped that the boat floated again. From this one could see clearly how powerful Yuwen Huaji’s palm was.
By this time one after another the other soldiers have arrived at the shore. It was only then did Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling realized that their small fishing boat has been brought by the current to the shore downstream. Crying out in panic, they scrambled toward the rudder and desperately tried to control the boat.
The woman-in-white acted as if she was completely oblivious of everything else, her attention was focused solely on Yuwen Huaji, who, by this time, had landed on a large rock on the riverbank.
The fishing boat suddenly regained its balance. Coupled with favorable strong wind, the boat traversed diagonally toward the shore of the opposite bank. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling cheered in their shrill voice.
While they were feeling very proud of themselves, Yuwen Huaji’s voice came across the water, “Such swordsmanship is rarely seen indeed. Miss, what relationship do you have with Gaoli’s Yi Jian Dashi [great master of peaceful sword] Fu Cailin?
With Kou Zhong on the helm and the full wind behind, the boat sailed upstream like an arrow.
The woman-in-white did not utter a single word in response to Yuwen Huaji’s question, giving the impression that she was unfathomable.
Yuwen Huaji’s voice was heard again, “Miss is protecting these two kids, it is really unwise. Yuwen Huaji will definitely ask to have the benefit of your expertise again.”
The fishing boat was moving faster and faster away that over time they have left the enemy far behind. The woman-in-white was still standing on the bow, her clothes were fluttering in the wind. She did indeed look like a goddess from the world of the immortals.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had already regarded her as an immortal; they felt like they wanted to prostrate themselves in front of her and worship her.
Right this moment, the woman-in-white’s bamboo rain hat suddenly shattered, the pieces rained down on the deck, revealing the woman-in-white’s matchless elegance, but also the unrivalled paleness of her jade countenance. She let out a tender moan, threw up a mouthful of blood, and sat down dejectedly on the deck.
Shocked, the two boys rushed toward her. Kou Zhong barked, “You steer the boat! Let me help her!”
‘Bang!’ The woman-in-white suddenly sat up cross-legged; with one palm she pushed Kou Zhong back to the rudder.
“Don’t you dare touching me!” she hissed hoarsely. And then she closed her eyes.
The two boys stared blankly at the woman-in-white; they realized that although she managed to force Yuwen Huaji back, she had suffered a heavy injury.
Momentarily they were at a loss of what to do. The fishing boat sailed farther and farther away from Yangzhou city walls.
 Specifically, Gaoli refers to Korean Goryeo dynasty [918-1392], but generally, it refers to Korea, especially in context of art and culture.