Demi Gods and Semi Devils Chapter 46: Asking Three Questions After a Drink

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Demi Gods & Semi Devils Book 5

XLVI - Holding the wine to to ask the Emperor three questions

Chinese title: 天龍八部 - 酒罢问君三语
Original novel written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha)
Wuxia Novel Fan Translation by justin13


DGSD Chapter 46: Asking Three Questions After a Drink

Ba Tianshi, Zhu Danchen and the others woke up the next morning and discovered that Duan Yu is missing. Calling at the door of Wang Yuyan yielded no response either. Noting that her door is close but unlocked, the two men knocked on the door for some time before opening it. The room is empty and unoccupied.

The two men were especially upset and groaned in misery. 

Zhu Danchen bemoaned: “Our Prince is exactly like His Lordship (Duan Zhengchun); wherever he goes, he will get involved in a romantic affair. He must have snuck away in the middle of the night with Miss Wang. I wonder where they are headed.”

Ba Tianshi nodded his head and added: “Young Prince is dashing and flamboyant; he would rather surround himself with pretty women than learn more about managing the country. His attraction to Miss Wang is an open secret. Forcing him to be the Prince Consort of Western Xia … Sigh... Our Prince is never known for his obedience; back then, when Emperor and His Lordship wanted him to learn martial arts, he simply refused to learn. When they gave him additional pressure, he ran away from home.” 

Zhu Danchen concluded: “We can only resort to hunting them down in separate directions and doing our best to advise their return. ” 

Ba Tianshi bitterly smiled, shrugging his shoulders and facing his palms skywards in exasperation.

Zhu Danchen supplemented: “Brother Ba, there was one occasion when His Lordship ordered me to pursuit our Prince. Despite finding him after much difficultly, he…” At this point, he lowered his voice into a whisper and continued: “He was smitten with Miss Mu Wangqing. In the middle of the night, the two of them secretly eloped. Fortunately, luck is on my side and I was laying ahead in ambush. Otherwise, I would have failed in my assignment.” 

Slapping his thigh, Ba Tianshi reprimanded: “Ai, my worthy Brother Zhu, in this case, you are at fault. Since you have this prior experience, why didn’t you take the same precaution? The two of us should have taken turns to watch over him throughout the night.” 

Zhu Danchen let out a sigh and explained: “I assumed that because Great Hero Xiao and Mister XuZhu are his sworn brothers and are here with us, he would not employ such a tactic and leave without a word. I did not expect … I did not expect him to…” The next four words he wanted to express were: prioritise women over brotherhood. However, he eventually did not say them because firstly, it is an act of insubordination and secondly, because Duan Yu is on good terms with him and he does not wish to use such a term to describe Duan Yu.

With no better idea in mind, the two men went and updated Xiao Feng and XuZhu. After searching for the missing persons for an entire day and in different directions, there is still no clue to their whereabouts.

At evening time, everybody is gathered in Duan Yu’s empty room for a general discussion. As anxiety dominated the meeting, the Western Xia Empire Ministry of Rites sent an official to the inn, asking for Ba Tianshi. The official briefed: On the 15th Day of August, the Emperor will be hosting a banquet at Xihua Palace, extending a hospitable welcome to the honoured guests from all over the world. The attendance of Prince Duan of DaLi is strictly anticipated. Stuck in a quandary, Ba Tianshi could only mutter in agreement.

Ba Tianshi has bribed this official earlier on and his behavior is pleasant and cordial. When the official is about to depart, Ba Tianshi sent him off at the door. The official whispered into his ears: “Minister Ba, I have a tip for you. At the Emperor’s banquet tomorrow night, all the esteemed guests will be scrutinized for their appearances. After the banquet, there could be some archery or sparring activities, in order for the esteemed guests to showcase themselves. This is an important trial with regards to choosing the Prince Consort and the husband of our Princess. Prince Duan cannot take this matter lightly.” Ba Tianshi bowed to express his appreciation. From his sleeve, he produced another large gold ingot and pressed it into the hands of the official.

Back in the inn, Ba Tianshi updated everybody and sighed: “Lord Zhennan (Duan Zhengchun) has given firm instructions that our Prince must marry the Princess regardless of whatever it takes. The two of us have failed in our mission and we are too ashamed to face His Lordship.”

Bamboo Sword suddenly covered her mouth and chortled: “Minister Ba, may Little Servant (I) say something?” 

Ba Tianshi condescended: “Sister, I am all ears.” 

Bamboo Sword giggled: “Mister Duan’s father wanted him to marry the Princess of Western Xia; behind the scenes, his intention is for this marriage to be a unifying factor between Western Xia and DaLi. In the future, the two countries are considered allies, am I right?” 

Ba Tianshi agreed: “You are right.” 

Chrysanthemum Sword questioned: “Being the parent-in-law His Lordship Duan, I guess he is not concerned whether the Western Xia Princess is as beautiful as Xi Shi (one of China’s four Greatest Beauty) or uglier than Wu Yan (a derogatory term for an ugly woman)?”

Ba Tianshi conjectured: “The Princess is of royal status, even if she is not a top-notched beauty, she would at least be average looking”

Plum Sword explained: “We sisters have an idea; as long as we can use a wedding trick and get the Princess back to DaLi, it is no longer important if we cannot locate Prince Duan in time. 

Orchid Sword chuckled: “Eventually, Mister Duan and Miss Wang will get tired of sightseeing and head home to DaLi after a few years. By then, it is still not too late for them to consummate the marriage.”

Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen were exhilarated. In unison, they asked: “The Prince is absent. How can we employ a wedding ruse to get the Western Xia Princess back to DaLi? Since four ladies have a great plan, please share the details with us.”

Plum Sword explained: “When Miss Mu put on the clothes of a man and disguise herself as a handsome scholar, wouldn’t she be better looking than Mister Duan? If she attends the banquet tomorrow night, among the tons of young heroes, her looks will definitely stand out.” 

Orchid Sword continued: “Miss Mu is the blood sister of Mister Duan. When she represented her brother and won back a sister-in-law, firstly, she has done the country proud and secondly, she will get into the good books of her father. Isn’t that a worthy bargain?” 

Bamboo Sword was next: “When Miss Mu has been chosen as the Prince Consort, the actual wedding will take place at a later date. By then, Mister Duan would have been found.” 

Chrysanthemum Sword concluded: “Even if Mister Duan is still unavailable, Miss Mu can replace him for the wedding ceremony. Who would be the wiser?” Finishing, she used her hand to cover her mouth as the four sisters simultaneously burst out in wild laughter.

Sharing the same train of thinking and manner of speech, the four sisters are perfectly congruent and it felt like interacting with one person instead of four.

Glancing at each other, both Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen felt that this plan is incredibly outrageous. If the Western Xia Empire saw through this ruse, not only will the marriage fall apart, the two countries will become enemies. If the Emperor of Western Xia is annoyed enough to start a war, then they would have bitten off more than they can chew. 

Plum Sword could predict the concerns of the two men and comforted: “Actually, Mister Duan has Hero Xiao as his sworn brother and originally, there is no reason to get into the good books of Western Xia. However, Lord Zhennan has given his orders and we have to comply. In the worst possible scenario, as Southern Khan of Great Liao and with a hundred thousand elite troops at his disposal, Hero Xiao can intercede on the behalf of DaLi. Surely that is sufficient enough to prevent Western Xia from creating trouble.”

Xiao Feng let out a smile and nodded his head.

As the Exterior Minister of DaLi, Ba Tianshi is in charge of the country’s political and foreign affairs. To enlist Xiao Feng’s support for DaLi has always been on his mind but it is inappropriate for him to bring up the subject. Now that Plum Sword has put forth the suggestion and Xiao Feng has nodded his head in agreement, this issue has been cast in stone. In the worst case, the marriage will end up in failure but Dali Country will not suffer any severe repercussions. He thought: This proposal submitted by our four ladies is pretty straightforward like a child’s game. Besides this plan, I cannot think of anything better. I wonder if Miss Mu is willing to undertake this dangerous mission?

Thus, he remarked: “This proposal by the four ladies is brilliant indeed. However, there is a strong element of danger. If we are exposed, Miss Mu runs the risk of being captured. In addition, many heroes and talented people will be gathered there. Although Miss Mu’s integrity is incomparable, in terms of martial arts, she may find it an uphill task to overcome the odds.”

Everybody turned their attention to Mu Wanqing and waited for her response.

Mu Wanqing started: “Minister Ba, you need not try and agitate me. This brother of mine… This brother of mine…” After saying and repeating the words: This brother of mine, Mu Wanqing suddenly burst out in tears. When she discovered that Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan has eloped, she could not help but was reminded about her own experience with Duan Yu, slipping away together in the middle the night. If not for the fact that he turned out to be her brother, they would be living as a blissful couple. Now, Duan Yu is behaving intimately with another woman, having the time of their lives while she is all cold and lonely. To add salt to the wound, these officials of DaLi are now suggesting that she disguised as him to participate in a marriage. Distressed and incensed, she abruptly swept out her hand, toppling the table in front of her. With this toppling, Ping! Ping! Piang! Piang! the teapot and tea cups came crashing down all over the floor. Jumping up from her seat, she exited the room without a single word.

Everybody gaze at one another in confusion, feeling that she is such a wet blanket. With an apologetic tone, Ba Tianshi professed: “This is my fault. If I have begged her in a kind manner, Miss Mu can simply voice her disagreement. However, my approach may have been unsuitable, causing her to be upset.”

Zhu Danchen shook his head and lamented: “Miss Mu’s anger is definitely not related to Brother Ba’s words. There is another reason behind her reaction. Ai, it is complicated!”

The next day, everybody headed out in different directions and continued to look for Duan Yu. The busy streets are filled with young men dressed in elegant clothing and it is pretty obvious that they are here to attend the Palace banquet on Mid Autumn Night (15th August). Occasionally, some public disagreements can be sighted, clear evidence that the warriors from TuBo Country are still doing their best to remove competitors for their Prince. With regards to Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan, nobody is able to track them at all.

By evening time, everybody has returned to the inn. Naturally, some came back earlier and some came back later. Xiao Feng announced: “Since Third Brother is no longer around, there is no point for us to stay on. Regardless of who becomes the Prince Consort, it is none of our business.” Ba Tianshi agreed: “Hero Xiao is right. If we stay on and helplessly witness another person become the Prince Consort, it will not be a pleasant experience.”

Zhong Ling abruptly queried: “Mister Zhu, are you a married man? Since Mister Duan is unwilling to be the Prince Consort, why don’t you take his place? If you married the Princess of Western Xia, wouldn’t that be helping DaLi too?”

Zhu Danchen guffawed: “Miss is pulling my leg. A long time ago, Your Junior (I) has already been blessed with a wife and mistress, male and female offspring.” Zhong Ling stuck out her tongue. Zhu Danchen added: “A pity that Miss’s features are too delicate and you have dimples on your face. You cannot masquerade as a male, otherwise, with you taking up the mantle and representing your brother to marry the Western Xia Princess…”

Zhong Ling was taken aback: “What? Represent my brother?”

Zhu Danchen realized he had a slip of the tongue. Zhong Ling, being the illegitimate child of Lord Zhennan, is still not a public matter and he should maintain the confidentiality. He hurriedly corrected: “I mean you can represent Prince Duan in accomplishing this crucial mission…”

Beyond his expectation, somebody outside the door spoke out: “Minister Ba, Mister Zhu, let’s set off.” Brushing aside the door curtain, a striking young man entered. Full of heroic and manly aura, it was Mu Wanqing cloaked in scholarly robes.

Excited and delighted at the same time, everyone asked: “What? Miss Mu is willing to get involved?”

Mu Wanqing rectified: “My surname is Duan and my first name is Yu, the son of DaLi country Lord Zhennan. May I request everyone here to be mindful of your speech?” Her voice is clear and precise, despite some feminine undertones. Fortunately, young people tend to speak with a sharper voice so it is not something out of the ordinary. Appreciating her wonderful impersonation of Duan Yu, the crowd burst out in joyful laughter.

The day before, after throwing a tantrum, Mu Wanqing had returned to her room and cried her heart out. Straightening her thoughts, she felt bad for creating a scene and offending so many people. Moreover, it sounds pretty fun to disguise as Duan Yu to marry the Western Xia Princess. In her mind, she also thought: You (DY) eloped with Miss Wang and is out there having a good time. I will purposely marry a Princess on your behalf and from then on, you will be handling endless disagreements and never have a day of peace.

Recalling the first time she entered DaLi City, she found Duan Yu’s parents to be easily jealous by nature and their meetings were awkward. If Duan Yu marries a Princess, she would be definitely become his official wife and the head of his harem. Wang Yuyan will have to become his mistress (concubine) instead. Although she (MWQ) herself is unable to marry Duan Yu, she is not willing to let this petite and demure Miss Wang happily become his official wife without some hindrances. The more she thought, the more pleased she was. Therefore, she is willing to take the risk and masquerade as Duan Yu.

Ba Tianshi and the others are highly motivated and swiftly made preparations. Ba Tianshi remembered Assistant Minister Tao who has visited the inn and met Duan Yu before. Thus, he prepared three hundred taels of gold and order Zhu Danchen to deliver them to Assistant Minister Tao. The original gifts have been delivered but this is a bonus. He instructed Zhu Danchen to offer the bribe without passing any message. Later, when Assistant Minister Tao notices anything out of the ordinary, he would naturally keep it to himself. Using three hundred taels of gold to buy silence, it is a classical example of: Making a quiet fortune.

Mu Wanqing requested: “Big Brother Xiao and Second Brother XuZhu, I would prefer the two of you to accompany me for the banquet. With you two at my side, I will feel much safer. Otherwise, if push comes to shove, I may not be able to triumph with my skills. Within the royal palace, it is not very appropriate for my poisonous projectiles to start flying.”

Orchid Sword giggled: “Correct! Once Mister Duan starts shooting out poisonous arrows and piling up corpses in the royal palace of Western Xia, I doubt the Princess herself will agree to marry you.”

Xiao Feng laughed: “Second Brother and myself have pledged our assistance to Uncle Duan (Zhengchun) and we will naturally do our best.”

Everyone starting changing clothes and putting on make up, preparing to attend the royal palace banquet. Xiao Feng and XuZhu are disguised as aides from DaLi Lord Zhennan Residence; Zhong Ling and the four sisters from Lingjiu Palace originally wanted to cross dress as men and participate in the celebrations but Ba Tianshi forbade: “With Miss Mu’s solo disguise, we are already at a risk of being discovered. If we add on another five ladies dressing up as men, we will surely be exposed.” Therefore, Zhong Ling and the girls gave up the idea.

When everyone is leaving via the door of the inn in a single file, Ba Tianshi suddenly cried out: “Aiyah! We are in trouble! That Murong Fu is trying for the Prince Consort as well. He is someone who recognizes Mister Duan. What should we do?”

Xiao Feng let out a smile and explained: “Brother Ba can rest easy. Like Third Brother Duan, Murong Fu has disappeared without a word. Earlier on, I did some investigation. Deng Baichuan and Bao Butong are panicking like ants on a hot pan.”

Everyone was overjoyed and exclaimed: “What a nice coincidence.”

Zhu Danchen chuckled: “Hero Xiao’s consideration is truly thorough; you even did your homework on Murong Fu and his entourage.”

Xiao Feng laughed: “Actually, I am not a thorough person. In my opinion, Mister Murong is handsome and highly skilled in martial arts. He can be considered the top nemesis of Miss Mu. Heh Heh Heh Heh!”

Ba Tianshi snickered: “I see. Hero Xiao had wanted to persuade Murong Fu to skip tonight’s banquet.”

Wide-eyed, Zhong Ling gushed: “From thousands of miles away, Murong Fu rushed here in order to become the Prince Consort, why should he listen to simple persuasion? Hero Xiao, do you and Mister Murong share a deep friendship?”

Ba Tianshi guffawed: “Hero Xiao barely knows him. Nevertheless, Hero Xiao’s fists and legs are very eloquent; Murong Fu cannot resist them.”

Understanding the hint, Zhong Ling giggled: “Using fists and legs to persuade, of course the latter has to obey.”

Currently, the five persons Mu Wangqing, Xiao Feng, XuZhu, Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen have disembarked at the doors of the royal palace. Ba Tianshi submitted Duan Yu’s invitation and Western Xia’s Minister of Rites personally came to escort them into the palace.

Arriving at Zhonghe Hall, they noted a hundred odd young men who have already arrived for the banquet. They were seated all over the hall. Within the hall, there is a certain seat which is covered with yellow satin and decorated with golden dragons. That is obviously the seat of Western Xia’s Emperor. On the east and west, there are another two seats that are covered with purple satin. The seat on the east is occupied by a youth with thick eyebrows and large eyes. With a tall and imposing frame, he is attired in a long, red robe. Sewn on the robe is a tiger baring its teeth and claws in a display of might. Behind him stood eight warriors. With once glance, Ba Tianshi and the rest easily identified him as TuBo Country’s Prince Zhongzan.

The Minister for Rites escorted Mu Wanqing to the purple-satin seat on the west while Xiao Feng and the others stood behind her. From this arrangement, it is evident that among the numerous youths present, the two Princes from DaLi Country and TuBo Country are the most prestigious, thereby enjoying this special privilege by the Emperor of Western Xia. The other established martial arts warriors are seated together with the Young Master’s of wealthy families. More and more people are streaming into the hall and getting assigned to their seats.

When the seats are filled, two commanding generals supervising the hall bellowed: “The esteemed guests are all present. Door to be closed.” As the sound of beating drums filled the air, four sentries are slowly closing the two large and thick doors of the hall. From a corridor, the noise made by armour clanking rang out and out marched a platoon of warriors with long halberds and golden armour. The well-polished halberd tips are shimmering brightly in the candlelight. Following this display, the drums started beating again and two rows of palace aides came out from the inner hall. Each of them is carrying an incense pot made out of white jade in their hands and green smoke is emitting from the pots. Everybody knew that the Emperor is about to make his appearance and with bated breaths, they watched in complete silence.

At the back of the entourage, four escorts emerged, dressed in satin robes and holding nothing in their hands. The four of them split into two groups and were stationed on the left and right of the throne. Observing the protruding temples (two sides of forehead) of these four fellows, Xiao Feng instantly identified them as martial arts experts who are employed as the personal bodyguards of the Emperor. An attendant proclaimed aloud: “Welcome the Emperor!” Everyone kneeled down accordingly.

Footsteps can be heard and a man materialized at the corridor. After he sat down on the throne, the same attendant announced: “You may rise!” The crowd got back on their feet. Scrutinizing the Western Xia Emperor, Xiao Feng noted that he is shorter than the average man and yet he has an aura of bravery around him. This Emperor is probably not a descendent of an aristocrat or military family but someone who has risen up from the commoners, a folk hero. 

Standing beside the throne, the Minister for Rites opened up a scroll and declared in a loud voice: “With accord to the Mandate of Heaven, the Saints and the Deities, Hereby is the Command of Western Xia Emperor: Gentlemen have come from afar, Your Majesty (I) will reward you with this toast. Respected conclusion.

The crowd kneeled down again to express their gratitude. The attendant hollered: “You may rise!” Everyone stood up.

The Emperor lifted his cup and made a drinking gesture around his lips before leaving his seat and reentering the inner hall. With his entourage at his heels, the entire group of newcomers vanished neatly in a short space of time.

Gazing at one another, the entire hall of men was astounded. Without saying a word or drinking a cup of wine, the Emperor is considered to have ‘attended’ the banquet. The same thought is going through everyone’s mind: He did not even take a proper look at our appearances; how is he going to choose his son-in-law?

The Minister for Rites announced: “Gentlemen, please be seated and enjoy the food and wine.” A troop of eunuchs began serving dishes of food. Located in the Northwestern region, Western Xia is a place with bitter-cold climate and the population mainly survives on beef and mutton. Although this is a palace banquet, the dishes are mainly large servings of beef and mutton as well.

Feeling awkward that she is the only one sitting while the others are standing, Mu Wanqing whispered: “Big Brother Xiao, Second Brother XuZhu, please sit down and join me.” Smiling broadly, Xiao Feng and XuZhu both shook their heads. Aware of Xiao Feng’s love for wine, she had an inspiration. Waving her hand, she instructed: “Pour wine!” Hearing her command, Xiao Feng poured a bowl of wine. Mu Wanqing ordered: “This bowl is for you!” Thrilled, Xiao Feng finished the large bowl of wine in two mouthfuls. Mu Wanqing insisted: “Another!” Xiao Feng had another bowl of wine. 

From the seat on the East, the Prince of TuBo drank a few mouthfuls of wine before picking up a large piece of beef from his bowl and began eating. After several bites, a large bone is left and he threw the bone aside. Whether it was intentional or not, the bone is now flying towards Mu Wanqing with a strong gust of force, displaying the strength of its thrower.

Zhu Danchen retrieved his folding fan and deflected the flying bone, sending it on a return path towards Prince Zongzan. A TuBo warrior reached out with his hand caught the bone. Cursing, he picked up a large bowl from the table and threw it at Zhu Danchen. Ba Tianshi executed a palm strike and when the bowl flew halfway, it met with the force of the palm strike and shattered into dozens of shards. As the broken shards flew towards the group of TuBo citizens, another TuBo warrior swiftly removed his outer robes and swirled the robes in mid air, netting the dozens of broken shards in the robes. His actions were precise and well practiced.

When the young men arrived at the royal palace for the banquet, everyone is fully aware of one fact: all those present are here to compete for the Prince Consort. In their interaction with one another, there is no presence of friendly intentions. Although everyone expected a brawl to happen anytime, nondescript fighting started breaking out all over the hall before anyone knew what was happening. Hearing the shattering noises of broken bowls and plates, the crowd turned boisterous.

Out of the blue, a bell starting ringing and from the inner hall, two rows of men emerged. Some were dressed in tight uniforms while others were attired in loose robes. Irrespective of outfits, each of them is armed with a unique, oddly shaped weapon. Among them, an obvious high-ranking Western Xia Official who is dressed in a satin robe proclaimed in a thunderous voice: “Gentlemen, within the royal palace, please mind your manners. Seated among you, there are warriors belonging to our country’s First Class Hall. If gentlemen are interested, we welcome one-on-one sparring. Rowdy combat is strictly forbidden.” 

Xiao Feng and company are fully aware that Western Xia country’s First Class Hall is a society which recruits strong heroes all over the world. Within its stable, capable fighters are aplenty. Ba Tianshi and the others immediately halted their attacks. Regardless of items being flung at them by the TuBo warriors, Ba Tianshi, Zhu Danchen and the others caught the items and placed them down instead of throwing them back at the opponents. Still, the TuBo warriors refused to cooperate. After tossing the entire set of cutlery, they are now hurling pieces of beef and mutton at Mu Wanqing.

The high ranking Official in satin robes notified the Prince of TuBo: “I request Your Highness to instruct your men to stop their actions in order to avoid an unpleasant situation.” Counting at least a hundred warriors from the First Class Hall and that he is within the palace of another authority; Prince Zongzan waved his left hand and stopped his escorts.

The Western Xia Minister of Rites clasped his hands towards the satin-attired high-ranking Official and implored: “East Commandant Helian, does the Princess have any instructions?” 

This satin-attired high-ranking Official is the leader of First Class Hall Helian Tieshu, official title: Great General of the East. Three years ago, he led a group of warriors from the First Class Hall into the Central Plains (China) but was poisoned by Murong Fu’s ‘Beisu Qingfeng’ while he was disguised as Li Yanzong. Helian Tieshu and his men were originally captured by the Beggars Clan but were luckily rescued by Duan Yanqing. They eventually returned home empty-handed. During that adventure, Helian Tieshu has met a fake Xiao Feng, which is AhZhu in disguise and a fake Murong Fu, which is Duan Yu in disguise. Presently, in the hall, he is unable to identify the real Xiao Feng and the fake Duan Yu. Duan Yanqing, the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Sea, as well as the two other Evils are considered members of the First Class Hall. Nevertheless, they often act independently and are not subjugated to Western Xia’s Imperial Court.

In a crisp and loud voice, Helian Tieshu announced: “The Princess has decreed: After the esteemed guests have finished their dinner and wine, she welcomes everybody to the Green Phoenix Court’s external study chamber for tea.”

Hearing his words, everyone reacted with an ‘Oh!’ sound. It is common knowledge that (Western Xia) Princess Yinchuan resides within Green Phoenix Court. Since she is inviting everybody there for tea, she must have wanted to examine the candidates with her own eyes and personally select her own husband. The crowd of young men was overjoyed, every one of them thinking: Even if I am not chosen by Princess, at least I have seen her with my own eyes. The people of Western Xia have always described their Princess as a flawless beauty, her complexion and features second to none. If I can meet the Princess in the flesh, this long and tiresome journey would have been worth it.

Using his sleeve to wipe his mouth, the Prince of TuBo stood up and exclaimed: “We can always eat and drink at our leisure, but now is not the occasion for that. Let’s have a look at the Princess!” 

The eight TuBo warriors in his escort team resounded in one reply: “Yes Prince!” 

Turning to Helian Tieshu, the TuBo Prince ordered: “Please lead the way!” 

Helian Tieshu replied: “Sure, Your Highness, please.” 

Turning to Mu Wanqing, Helian Tieshu clasped his hands and invited: “Your Highness Duan, please.” 

In a rough voice and manner, Mu Wanqing accepted: “General, please.” 

Led by Helian Tieshu, the group cut through a large garden and traversed a few corridors. Passing a row of fake mountains, Mu Wanqing suddenly felt an additional presence beside her. Squinting her eyes for a side-glance, she was astonished and cried out with an ‘Ah!’ sound. Smartly dressed in brocade, it was Duan Yu.

Jumping back to the well episode, Duan Yu's throat is being strangled by Jiumozhi. Feeling short of breath, he is about to faint. High above them, Murong Fu is plastered against the wall and enjoying the chaos. He was smiling to himself and can't wait for Jiumozhi to strangle Duan Yu to death. Wang Yuyan is hitting Jiumozhi with every last ounce of her strength but to no avail. Freaking out, she abruptly opened her mouth and bit Jiumozhi on his right arm.

Feeling a sharp pain on his right arm 'Quchi' point, Jiumozhi experienced the outflow of all his uncontrollable internal energies in a short span of time. As the energies were channeled from his palm to Duan Yu's throat, all his pain from internal swelling as well as the feeling of body explosion evaporated. With these destructive energies gone, he was relieved from his discomfort and his fingers gripping on Duan Yu's throat gradually relaxed.

In his practice of martial arts, Jiumozhi's foundation is rock solid and his mastery is thorough; no one can doubt his unshakeable power. Although he is in physical contact with Duan Yu, he avoided contact with Duan Yu's thumb and wrist acupoints. Therefore, Duan Yu cannot activate his ‘Divine Skill of the Northern Darkness’ [BeiMing Divine Skill] and absorb his internal energy. Presently, due to Wang Yuyan biting on his 'Quchi' point, Jiumozhi was alarmed and opened up the meridian pathways, allowing the internal energies to be leaked out seamlessly into Duan Yu's throat 'Nianquan' point. 'Nianquan' point is a point along the Ren Meridian. Passing through 'Tiantu', 'Xuanji', 'Huagai', 'Zhigong' and 'Zhongting' points, the energies will accumulate at the energy reservoir 'Danzhong' point.

With his internal energies initially going haywire, Jiumozhi has lost his senses. Now, he regained his clarity of mind and was horrified. He thought: Aiya! At the speed that he is absorbing my internal energy, it won't be too long before I lose all my martial arts. What should I do?

At once, he activated some internal energy to resist the leak but it is too late. In the beginning, his internal energy is already not as abundant as Duan Yu's. Now that the flow has begun, his loss is Duan Yu's gain. Unable to move both his hands despite exerting all his strength, there was no holding back as the energies left his body in huge surges. 

In the dark, Wang Yuyan was greatly comforted that Jiumozhi has loosen his hold on Duan Yu's throats after her bite. Nonetheless, Jiumozhi's hands are still wrapped around Duan Yu's throat and regardless of her efforts, his hands simply cannot be pried open. Although she is well versed with all the martial arts of various sects and schools, she cannot fathom this move of Jiumozhi. Still, in the long run, it is not beneficial for Duan Yu to be in this position. Thus, she persisted in pulling apart Jiumozhi's hands. In the same breath, Jiumozhi was hoping for her to succeed as well. Unexpectedly, Wang Yuyan had a cold spasm attack and she could feel her internal energy leaving her body too. It turns out that Duan Yu's ‘Divine Skill of the Northern Darkness’ [BeiMing Divine Skill] does not differentiate between bodies and absorbed Wang Yuyan's shallow energies as well. In a few minutes, the three persons Duan Yu, Wang Yuyan and Jiumozhi fainted simultaneously. 

After a prolonged wait, Murong Fu is unable to detect any noise from the three of them. After calling out to them and not getting any replies, he thought: Looks like the three of them have perished together.

First, he was thrilled, but reminiscing about his relationship with Wang Yuyan, he felt some elements of sorrow. He then thought: Aiya! Large rocks have sealed the exit of the well, trapping us inside. If the three of them are still alive, with our four combined strength, perhaps we can make our way out of this predicament. Now that I am all alone, it is almost impossible. Ai, since the three of you are going to fight to death anyway, why don't you wait until we are out of the well before fighting?

Using his arm, he tried to heave the rocks upwards. Neatly stacked, the ten odd rocks weigh more than a thousand catties altogether; it will take more than Murong Fu alone for them to budge an inch.

Depressed, Murong Fu was about to jump back to the bottom of the well but upon closer observation, he heard voices outside the well. From the noisy banter, it must be some villagers of Western Xia. It turned out that the four of them had spent a lot of time tussling with one another. The sun is already up and the rural farmers living outside the city are now transporting their produce into Lingzhou City for hawking. Their usual route will take them near the well.

Murong Fu pondered: If I cry for help, these villagers may not be able to cart away these enormous and heavy boulders. Even if they started to move the rocks, there is nothing to stop them from giving up halfway. I must use greed as a motivation.

As a result, he yelled: "These treasures of gold and silver are mine. The two of you must know your place. Having said that, I don't mind giving three thousand taels of silver to each of you." Following that, he exclaimed with a sharp voice: "This place is full of countless treasure. Finders Keepers. Everybody deserves an equal share of everything here." Using a hoarse voice, he proclaimed: "Don't let anyone else hear you. Finders Keepers it is. Although the valuables here are plentiful, any additional person will dilute our share." This fake conversation is being blasted out loud using his internal energy, making it audible to everyone in the area.

All the villagers could pick up this exchange, and were excited with delight. Like a swarm of bees, everyone began tearing down the rocks sealing the well. Although the rocks were heavy, under everybody's cooperation, good progress is being made. Murong Fu did not wait for all the rocks to be completely removed. Once he saw a gap that is big enough for him to slip through, he used the wall as a launch pad and shot out of the well in a rapid dash.

The farmers were shocked as Murong Fu appeared and disappeared as quickly in an unknown direction. Although there is some fear of the supernatural, but lured by the temptation of quick wealth, they continued to push the rocks aside. Once the rocks are completed dismantled, ropes that were used to bundle the firewood and vegetables were co-joined into one long rope. With that rope, the bravest volunteer was lowered into the well. 

When this man arrived at the bottom of the well, he began feeling around and touched Jiumozhi in his first movement. Stirring a motionless body and assuming it was a corpse, the man was scared out of his wits and desperately clutch at the rope. Finally, he was being lifted out of the well. Some of the villagers are still unconvinced; after a round of discussion, a few pine wood branches are lighted up as torches before another visit to the bottom of the well is made. All they found were the three 'corpses' lying in the muddy debris and they assumed these three have died for some time already. There was no treasure at all! Since lives were lost and if the authorities were notified, these villagers could be framed for murder. In a state of anxiety, everyone swiftly disperse. Back at home, some villagers complained of headaches while others were down with fever. Before long, due to ignorant folks gossiping and obscuring the details, the standard myth is that whenever there is a full moon night, there will be four muddy spirits creating trouble around the well. Anyone who sees them will experience headaches and fever, and the only cure is by offering prayers. From that day onwards, besides the abandoned well, there would be frequent burning of incense regardless of the occasion.

It was in the afternoon when the three persons at the bottom of the well starting regaining consciousness one after another. The first wake up is Wang Yuyan. Her internal energy cultivation is shallow and even though she lost it all, it barely made a difference to her. The minute she recovered her wits, her first natural reaction is to locate Duan Yu. Although the sky is bright and lit, deep within the well, it is still impossible for her to see anything. Using her hands to feel around, she came into contact with Duan Yu and exclaimed: "Duan Mate, Duan Mate, You... You... How are you?" Without getting any response from Duan Yu, she presumed that Jiumozhi has strangled him to death. Unable to control herself, she hugged his corpse tightly in front of her chest and cried her heart out: "Duan Mate, Duan Mate, you loved me from the bottom of your heart and yet not once did I display a kind word or gesture to you. My only wish is to serve you as your partner for the rest of your life, repaying your love, however... however... Our lives are full of misfortunes. Today, you lose your life to an evil monk..."

Jiumozhi suddenly interrupted: "Miss is only half correct. Old Monk (I) may an evil monk but Mister Duan did not perish by my hands."

Wang Yuyan was thunderstruck: "Could it be... Could it be my Cousin who killed him? He... Why is he so vicious?"

At this instant, Duan Yu's new internal energies have integrated with his body and he regained consciousness too. Hearing Wang Yuyan's coquettish voice besides his ear, he was jubilant. Enjoying the sensation of being hugged by her, he remained still. He did not want her to find out that he has awaken because she would then release him from her bosom. 

Jiumozhi declared: "Not only did your Duan Mate fail to die by Evil Monk's (my) hand, it was the exact opposite. Evil Monk (I) nearly lost my life at the hands of Duan Mate."

Wang Yuyan sobbed: "At this point in time, you are still in the mood for jokes. You have no idea the amount of grief that is going through my heart. Why don't you strangle me to death too, so that I can accompany Duan Mate in the Afterlife." Hearing the strong conviction in her words, Duan Yu is extremely flattered and intoxicated with joy.

Although Jiumozhi has lost all his internal energy, his mind is still as sharp and alert as before. Noticing Duan Yu's light breathing sounds and his obvious suppression of his breathing, he could easily guess what Duan Yu is up to. Letting out a soft sigh, he described: "Mister Duan, I made a mistake in learning the 72 Legendary Skills of Shaolin, causing my internal energy to go haywire and deviate. I was on the brink of death and if not for you absorbing all my internal strength, Old Monk (I) would have perished from madness. Presently, although Old Monk has lost all my martial arts skills, I am able to preserve my life. For that, I need to pay my respects to you in order to thank you for saving my life."

Duan Yu is an upright and humble gentleman. Hearing that Jiumozhi is going to pay respects to himself, he cannot tolerate it and replied: "Great Master need not be so formal. Junior (I) is inept and amateurish, I dare not claim to have saved Great Master's (your) life."

Hearing Duan Yu speak out, Wang Yuyan was ecstatic and stunned at the same time. In a flash, she promptly understood that Duan Yu intentionally remained still so that she will continue hugging him. Great embarrassed, she forcefully pushed him aside and whined: "Rogue!"

His trick exposed by Wang Yuyan, Duan Yi was red-faced with embarrassment. He hastily stood up and leaned against the wall of the well. 

Jiumozhi sighed: "Old Monk (I) may be a Buddhist but my desire for success is stronger than the common man. The source of my present situation started thirty years ago. Ai, the three poisons Greed, Hatred, Delusion; I am guilty of them all. Yet I proclaimed I am a Senior Monk. Full of arrogance and lack of regrets, Ai, after I die, I will probably be condemned to Eternal Hell with no chance of reincarnation."

Duan Yu is currently distressed, wondering if Wang Yuyan is still angry with him. Listening to Jiumozhi's depressing comments, his compassionate side came out and he inquired: "Great Master (You) is too harsh on yourself. Regarding Great Master's earlier discomfort, has the agony been fully relieved?"

Jiumozhi kept his silence for a long time. Secretly activating his internal energy, he is instantaneously aware that his years of hard cultivation have resulted in naught. He was originally a wise and kind monk, and his study of Buddhism is all encompassing and advanced. When he started learning martial arts, his desire to win fights increase day by day and in the same note, his kindness and Buddhist wisdom decrease accordingly. Finally, everything cumulated into him sitting in a pile of muddy debris. He cannot help but evoke: Gotama Budddha taught the Dhamma, instructing his disciples to lose Greed, lose Attachment, lose Desire and lose Clinging in order to be enlightened. I did not manage to lose a single one of them. Fame and riches are tightly bonded to me. Today, I lost all my martial arts, it must be a Dhamma lesson to me, presenting me with a chance to get rid of my evil ways and return to the Light side with a fresh beginning.

Remembering the deeds he committed over the decades, he was filled with massive amounts of guilt and sorrow. Soon, his forehead started dripping with perspiration.

Since Jiumozhi kept quiet, Duan Yu probed Wang Yuyan: "Where is Mister Murong?" 

Wang Yuyan cried 'Ah!' and uttered: "Where is Cousin? Aiyo, I have completely forgotten all about him."

Hearing her mentioned the words: I have completely forgotten all about him, Duan Yu is exhilarated. Nothing could make him happier. In the past, Wang Yuyan is fully devoted to Murong Fu's welfare. Right now, so much time has went by without her expressing concern about him. It is evident that her sincerity towards himself (DY) is genuine. Within her heart, he (DY) has replaced Murong Fu's position.

Jiumozhi interrupted: "Old Monk (I) has offended you several times in the past. Please forgive me." As he spoke, he put his palms together and made a bow. Although Duan Yu cannot see him in the dark, he hurriedly returned the courtesy. He reminded: "If not for Great Master (you) kidnapping Junior (I) and bringing me to the Central Plains (China), Junior (I) would not have crossed paths with Miss Wang. Junior (I) is full of gratitude towards Great Master (you)."

Jiumozhi remarked: "That is due to the good karma that Mister has accumulated. Old Monk's (I) evil act unexpectedly linked the two of you. Mister is benevolent and generous; your good fortune is limitless. Old Monk (I) is bidding farewell today. In the future, we will be separated by thousands of miles and a reunion is difficult. This Sutra, if it is not too much trouble for Mister, please help Old Monk to return it to Shaolin Monastery. May the two of you be wedded in a blissful marriage and grow old together." As he spoke, he handed the muddy copy of Yijing Sutra to Duan Yu.

Duan Yu asked: "Is Great Master going back to TuBo country?"

Jiumozhi replied: "I want to go back to where I come from. That may not necessary be TuBo country."

Duan Yu continued: "Your esteemed Prince is proposing marriage to the Princess of Western Xia, Great Master is not going to wait for the outcome?"

Jiumozhi smiled: "As an unworldly monk, I am no longer be bothered by these affairs. From today onwards, Old Monk (I) will lead a wandering life. Wherever I go, I am at peace. When I am at peace, the mind will be joyful. When the mind is joyful, I will be at equanimity." As he spoke, he pulled at the rope left behind by the farmers. Testing it, he correctly guessed it is secured to one of the large rocks above. As such, he slowly climbed out of the well.

With this newfound inspiration, Jiumozhi became an Ariya, a Noble Monk. He spent the rest of his life translating Buddhist Sutras from Pali to Tibetian language, spreading the Dhamma and giving Buddhist refuge to countless individuals. In the later years, when the Pali teachings are slowly disappearing in many places, Tibet manages to retain the full set of original Sutras. This credit is due to Jiumozhi.

Facing each other in such close proximity that they can sense each other's breath, Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan are filled with happiness despite being soaked in mud. Neither of them thought of leaving the well. At the same moment, the two of them slowly reached out their hands. As the four hands grasped together, it signifies their congruent thinking. 

After a long time, Wang Yuyan remarked: "Duan Mate, I am still worried about his (JMZ) strangulation of your throat. Shall we climb up and check for signs of injury?"

Duan Yu assured: "I do not feel the least bit of pain and am not in a hurry to climb out."

In a gentle voice, Wang Yuyan cooed: "If you do not wish to go up, I shall accompany you right where you are." She was fully submissive without a tinge of objection.

Feeling bad, Duan Yu chuckled: "If you continue soaking in this muddy debris, wouldn't it be bad for you?" Embracing her slender waist with his left arm, he pulled at the rope with his right arm. He was amazed at his newfound strength; with a small tug, the two of them have floated up by several feet. Duan Yu was elated. He wondered if this new strength came from Jiumozhi's lifetime's cultivation of internal energy or because he is in good spirits and well rested from sleeping in the well.

Exiting the well, the two of them scrutinize each other under the sunlight. Both of them are covered in mud and dirty beyond measure. To a certain extent, their appearances have never been more similar and both of them burst out laughing at this observation. Their next course of action is to locate a nearby river and jump inside for a long shower. Finally, all the mud has been cleaned from their hair, mouths, noses, clothes, shoes, socks, etc. As the two of them emerge dripping wet from the river, they are reminded about the occasion two nights ago when Duan Yu fell into the pond. Although the scenario is similar to now, their emotions have taken a paradigm shift. It felt like they were in an alternate universe.

Wang Yuyan highlighted: "We look dreadful. If we run into anyone, I would be so embarrassed."

Duan Yu suggested: "Why don't we dry ourselves here and only proceed back when the sky is dark?" Wang Yuyan nodded her head in agreement and leaned against a large mountain boulder.

Duan Yu ran his eyes over her in detail. His lover resembled a piece of rare jade. With water still dripping from her hair, he was thrilled at the alluring sight. His behavior caused Wang Yuyan to be greatly disconcerted and she turned her exquisite face away from him. The two of them bantered with each other on some uninteresting subjects. Times flies when one is having fun. In a blink of an eye, the sun has already set and all their clothes, shoes and socks have been dried. 

Accompanied by Wang Yuyan, Duan Yu is filled with joy. Out of the blue, he thought about Murong Fu and wondered out loud: “Sister Yan (Yan Mate, not that kind of sister), presently, all my dreams have been fulfilled and even being a deity cannot match my satisfaction. Nonetheless, I am curious about your Cousin’s quest to marry the Princess of Western Xia. Did he fulfill his dream too or not?”

In the past, this issue will cause Wang Yuyan to breakdown with sorrow. With her newfound happiness, she secretly felt bad about Murong Fu’s situation. Right now, she instead yearned for him to successfully marry the Princess of Western Xia. Wang Yuyan exclaimed: “I am curious too. Let’s check it out.”

The two of them quickly made their way back to the inn. Almost reaching the entrance, a voice spoke out from the side of a nearby wall: “You two are here as well?”

The voice belonged to Murong Fu. Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan cheerfully answered: “Yes, we are. We did not expect to see you here.”

Murong Fu let out a ‘humph’ and articulated: “I just concluded a skirmish with several TuBo warriors and killed more than ten of them. They have wasted much of my time. Fellow surnamed Duan (DY), why didn’t you attend the royal palace banquet on your own but arranged for a lady to masquerade as you? I… I will not tolerate your schemes and I will expose you for sure.”

After dashing out from the well, Murong showered, changed his clothes and had a good rest. Upon waking up, he ran into the TuBo warriors and they began fighting. Although he eventually won, he did expend a considerable amount of energy. Arriving back at the inn, he was just in time to witness Mu Wanqing, Xiao Feng, Ba Tianshi and the others coming out. Hiding behind a wall to assess his surroundings, he was about to look for Deng Baichuan and the others for a discussion when he saw Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan walking over in an intimate fashion.

Duan Yu was baffled: “A lady is masquerading as me? I know nothing about it.”

Wang Yuyan explained: “Cousin, we just came out from the well…” She stopped speaking because that statement is not true, for she had spent half a day flirting with Duan Yu at the side of a hill instead of literally coming out of the well. Her face turned red unconsciously.

Fortunately, the sky has darkened significantly and Murong Fu did not notice the reddening of her face. In his hurry to make it for the palace banquet, he did not discern that Wang Yuyan has been completely devoid of muddy debris and definitely did not climb out of the well minutes ago. All he heard was Wang Yuyan continuing: “Cousin, he… he… Mister Duan… and I, we beg your pardon and sincerely look forward to your successful marriage to the Princess of Western Xia.”

His spirits lifted, Murong Fu gleefully asked: “Is that true? Brother Duan is not going to compete with me for the Prince Consort?” In his mind, he analyzed: Looks like this bookworm is having another bout of stupidity and is not planning to become the Prince Consort of Western Xia. Instead, he is fully committed to marrying my Cousin. It is hilarious to know that such a muddle-headed fool actually exists in this world. With Xiao Feng and XuZhu assisting him, I would have gotten rid of my most powerful nemesis should he chose to opt out.

Duan Yu swore: “I promise not to compete with you for the Princess of Western Xia, however, you must assure me that you will not come after my Sister Yan (WYY) too. A man’s word is his bond, there will be no exceptions.” Encountering Murong Fu, he (DY) cannot help but feel slightly unsettled.

Murong Fu was jubilant: “We still need to hurry to the royal palace. You must instruct that lady to stop masquerading as you.” He then quickly explained his witnessing of Mu Wanqing disguised as a man. Duan Yu deduced that due to his own disappearance, in order to fulfill their obligations to Lord Zhennan, Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen must have goaded Mu Wanqing into disguising herself and seeking marriage on behalf of him (DY). The three of them rushed over to Murong Fu’s residence.

Deng Baichuan and the others were worried sick. Upon discovering the return of Murong Fu, everyone was overjoyed. With the clock against them, everyone scrambled into their banquet outfits. Regardless of persuasion, Duan Yu refused to be separated from Wang Yuyan. He would rather skip the palace visit. Having no choice, Murong Fu prepared a set of male clothing for Wang Yuyan. Together, they set off for the palace.

When Deng Baichuan, Gongzhi Qian, Bao Butong, Feng BoE and the three of them arrived at the royal palace, the doors were already shut. Murong Fu will not simply give up because of this minor obstacle. He snuck to an area of the palace wall where it is relatively quiet and slithered inside. Feng BoE leapt onto the wall and reached out his hand for Duan Yu. Using his left arm to hug Wang Yuyan, Duan Yu exerted his energy for a jump, his right hand reaching out for Feng BoE’s. Unexpectedly, with this jump, the two of them gently floated over Feng BoE’s head and even exceeded his height by a full metre. Following that, they softly descended in one fluid, noiseless movement. Murong Fu from within the palace; Feng BoE on the wall; Deng Baichuan and Gongzhi Qian outside the palace quietly marveled in unison: “Excellent Qing-gong! (Speed travel / Jump Skill)” Only Bao Butong digressed: “A standard feat.”

The seven of them found themselves in the royal garden and are trying to locate the banquet hall, planning to slip inside and participate in the event. Unknown to them, right at this moment, the banquet has ended and Yinchuan Princess has invited the wedding candidates to Green Phoenix Court for tea. The three persons Duan Yu, Murong Fu and Wang Yuyan ran into Mu Wanqing at the royal garden.

Xiao Feng, Ba Tianshi and the others saw Duan Yu appearing out of nowhere like a ghost and were filled with surprise and exhilaration. Everyone engaged in a secret discussion. They conclude: There are countless proposers and the officials of Western Xia are likely not meticulous enough to notice the additional presence of newcomers. As long as everyone mixes around in the crowd, they should be able to reach Green Phoenix Court without any problems. Furthermore, since Duan Yu is personally present, there is no fear of exposure.

As the row of humans travelled through the royal garden, from afar, a corner of a loft can be sighted while the rest of the building is well concealed by trees and bushes. At the entrance of the premises, two beaming palace lanterns stood out. Gathering the crowd in front of the Court, Helian Tieshu loudly announced: “The esteemed gentlemen from four corners of the world are here to seek an audience with the Princess.”

The doors of the Court swung open and out came four palace maids, each carrying a thin mesh lantern. Behind them, a female official dressed in purple clothing appeared and proclaimed: “Gentlemen must have endured many hardships in your travels. The Princess hereby invites you (all) into Green Phoenix Court for a tea session.”

Prince Zongzan laughed: “Excellent, excellent, I was just feeling thirsty. To meet the Princess, these travelling are trivial matters. There is no hardship at all. Hahahaha!” As he spoke, he proudly moved forward and bypassed the female Official, taking huge steps into the Court. The remaining people started shoving one another, trying their best to rush into the Court. Everyone wanted to grab a good seat and be as close to the Princess as possible. 

Instead, inside the Court, they were greeted by a large gallery. A thick layer of wool carpet was laid on the floor, and the carpet itself is designed with a bright array of colours and flowers, an enchanting sight to behold. A series of tea tables have been neatly arranged and on each table, there is a green tea cup with a green lid. Besides, each cup, there is a green plate and on each plate, there are cheese, biscuits and four types of dim sum (pastry). At the end of the gallery, about a metre off the floor, there is a raised platform which is covered with a light yellow carpet. On the platform was a round seat covered in satin. The participants naturally assumed that is where the Princess will be seated. Pushing and shoving one another, they proceed to sit as close to the platform as possible. Only Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan were holding hands and seated at tea table at a corner of the gallery. Whispering among themselves and giggling frequently, they could not be bothered with their surroundings.

When everyone has finally chosen their seats, the female Official raised a copper hammer and knocked three times on a piece white jade gong. Ting! Ting! Ting! The gallery became completely silent and even Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan stopped their conversation too, anticipating the arrival of the Princess.

After a brief wait, the sound of jingling accessories can be heard. From the inner room, eight palace maids in green dresses walked out and formed two rows. Moments later, dressed in a light green gown, a young lady gracefully emerged.

Everyone’s eyes lit up, noting her slender figure and classy exuberance. Her features are truly breathtaking. Everyone was secretly cheered: Rumour has it that Princess Yinchuan’s beauty is incomparable; the rumours are true after all.

Murong Fu thought: Initially, I was concerned that Princess Yinchuan’s appearance would be lacking. Although she is slightly less attractive than Cousin, based on her looks, she is already one in a million. My previous worries have been unwarranted. In the future when I become the Emperor of Great Yan, she and her queenly character shall be exemplary to all the citizens of Yan. Our descendants shall rule the Yan Empire forever. 

The young lady gradually walked up the platform and bowed slightly, paying her respects to the crowd. When she first appeared, the crowd is already on their feet. Noting her bowing gesture, everyone returned the courtesy. Admiring her humble demeanor and absence of arrogance, those present are full of praise. The young lady merely gazed at her own chest and body; there was no eye contact with the audience, exhibiting a nervous appearance. Nobody dare to make a sound lest it would cause alarm to her. In their minds, they thought: The Princess is of royal status and for most of the time, she probably kept to herself. Out of a sudden, she is surrounded by scores of men. Her mannerism is logical and befitting of her prestigious standing.

After some time, the face of the young girl reddened. In a soft and gentle voice, she announced: “The Princess has decreed: Esteemed guests have come from afar. Green Phoenix Court is guilty of offering inferior tea and snacks to gentlemen, (humble talk) and our lack of hospitality. Everyone, please enjoy the refreshments.”

The crowd was utterly shocked and glanced at one another. They secretly kicked themselves: Idi0t. She is not the Princess but is probably a palace maid that is assigned to the Princess. A mere palace maid is already bestowed with such beauty; the Princess herself must be even more outstanding. In their self-tirade, there are elements of cheerful anticipation as well.

Prince Zongzan demanded: “So you are not the Princess. In this case, please invite the Princess to come out. I forgoed delicious meat and wine to be here. These tea and snacks hardly tempt my appetite.”

The palace maid replied: “When everyone has finished their tea and snacks, the Princess will release additional instructions.”

Zongzan chuckled: “Very well, very well. Since Princess has given her orders, we should respect her wishes.” Lifting the lid and cup, he removed the lid and placed it aside. Next, he poured the entire cup of tea and all the tealeaves into his mouth. With a gulp, he swallowed all the tea and is now chewing on the tealeaves. When the people of TuBo have tea, they usually add salt and cheese to it. In one concoction, they would swallow the mixture of tealeaves, salt and cheese. Before he finished swallowing the tealeaves, Prince Zongzan has picked up the pastries and began stuffing himself. Still chewing, he stammered: “All right. As ordered, I have finished my food. You can invite the Princess now!” 

In a small voice, the palace maid answered: “Yes”. However, she did not move from her spot. Zongzan knew she is waiting for everybody to finish the refreshments before notifying the Princess. His heart filled with impatience, he starting urging non-stop: “Hey everyone, eat quickly. Faster! It is only tealeaves; it is no big deal.” With some difficulty, most of the people present have consumed their tea and snacks. Prince Zongzan questioned: “We are done, right?”

The face of the palace maid turned slightly reddish. With a shy expression, she states: “Your Highness Princess hereby welcomes everyone to move into the Inner Study and admire her collection of books and paintings.”

Zongzan grumbled: “Hey, what is interesting about books and paintings? Even if it is a painting of a beauty, I would rather look at the actual person. In a painting, you cannot touch her; you cannot smell her. It is all fake.” Nevertheless, he stood up.

Standing up too, Murong Fu was secretly pleased. He assessed: This is wonderful. Since the Princess wants us to proceed to her study and admire her books and paintings, she should be testing us on our literacy skills. Prince Zongzan is a boorish and uneducated lout. He has no knowledge or appreciation for poetry, songs, calligraphy and paintings. The minute he displays his ignorance, he would probably be driven out by the Princess. In terms of martial arts, nobody here is my match. Now that Princess is testing our academic ability, the situation is even more advantageous for me.

The Palace maid announced: “The Princess has decreed: Those females who are disguised as males and those men who are above forty years old, please remain in Ningxiang Gallery for a rest and more tea. The other esteemed guests, please proceed to the Inner Study.”

Mu Wangqing and Wan Yuyan were secretly alarmed. They thought: They (Western Xia) must have seen through our disguise a long time ago.

Someone abruptly shouted: “Not right, not right!” (no way, not so, not true)

The face of the palace maid became even redder. She entered the palace as a child and since she became of age, at most she would only come in contact with the half-male half female eunuchs. She has never seen a full-grown man before, including the Emperor and the Crown Prince. Out of a sudden, she is facing dozens of men and is naturally disconcerted and shy. After a pause, she probed: “I wonder what brilliant idea does this gentleman wish to advise?”

Bao Butong retorted: “Brilliant idea; I don’t have. Lowly advice; I happened to have one.” For the palace maid, it is the first time she is meeting someone like Bao Butong who likes to twist words into meaningless applications for his own benefit. She is at a complete loss. Bao Butong continued: “I guessed you would be asking me for my lowly advice. Looking at your nervous mannerisms, let me save you the trouble of asking and give the advice right now.”

The palace maid smiled: “Many thanks Mister.”

Bao Butong articulated: “We travelled thousands of miles in order to meet the Princess. Along the way, we encountered numerous hardships. There are those who died of thirst while crossing the desert; there were those who were consumed by wild beasts; there were those who were killed by the warriors of TuBo Prince. To arrive safely at Lingzhou, I would estimate eight or nine persons have died out of every ten who made the journey to come here. Everybody’s desire is to admire the Princess’s beauty. However, because my father and mother gave birth to me early by a few years, I am now above forty years old. All my hardships have been for naught. If I knew earlier, I would have asked to be born later instead.”

Covering her mouth to stifle a laugh, the palace lady giggled: “Mister Bao must be joking. How can one decide one’s time of birth?”

Listening to Bao Butong’s nonsensical droning, Zongzan stared at him with displeasure. He scolded: “Since the Princess has given her orders, let’s just obey them. What are you babbling about?”

Bao Butong frostily countered: “Your Highness (ZZ), these words are to your advantage as well. This year, you are forty-one years old. Although you are not considered old, your age has exceeded forty and you will be banned from meeting the Princess too. Two days ago, I calculated your Eight Characters: Bingyin Year, Gengzi Month, Yichou Day and Dingmao Hour. Yes, you are forty-one this year.”

In actual fact, Prince Zongzan is only twenty-eight years old. However, with a face full of beard, it is rather tough to estimate his age. For the palace maid, it is the first time she is seeing an adult male. Naturally, she did not know how to judge a man’s age by his appearance. Additionally, she cannot tell if Bao Butong is telling the truth or lying. All she could perceive is Prince Zongzan’s infuriated expression as he is about to walk over and give Bao Butong a bashing. Frightened out of her wits, she stammered: “I think… I think everyone should be fully aware of his own age. Those above forty, please stay here. Those below forty, please proceed to the Inner Study.”

Zongzan exclaimed: “Excellent, I am not even thirty of age; of course I am going to the study.” As he spoke, he strode into the inner hall. Mimicking him, Bao Butong exclaimed: “Excellent, I am not even eighty of age; of course I am going to the study. After all, age is just a number and I am young at heart. In fact, I am young and special at heart.” With a turn of his body, he stepped inside. Even if the palace maid wanted to restrain him, she was too embarrassed to do so.

The rest of the crowd started rushing into the inner chamber. Even those who are in their forties, fifties and sixties entered as well. At the end of the day, only several older folks with serious bearings and self-respect stayed behind in the gallery.

Mu Wanqing and Wang Yuyan decided to stay too. Duan Yu initially wanted to stay behind and accompany Wang Yuyan; however, Wang Yuyan insisted that he must continue and do his best to assist Murong Fu. Only then did Duan Yu unwillingly enter the inner chamber. With every step he took, he glanced back at her reluctantly. He behaved as if he is going away on a long sea voyage and they will be separated for several years.

As the row of candidates make their way through a long and deep tunnel, the same puzzled thoughts are going through their mind: “From outside, Green Phoenix Court is hardly awe-inspiring but inside, it is like entering another dimension. To think that such an enormous place actually exists. After losing count of the number of steps they took, the gentlemen came before two gigantic stone doors.”

Producing a small piece of metal, the palace maid knocked on the stone doors with a Zeng! Zeng! Zeng! sound. Zha….. The stone doors swung open. Observing the compact stone doors which are about one foot thick, everyone muttered to himself: The minute we enter and the stone doors are closed behind us, wouldn’t we be trapped? Could it be a scheme by Western Xia Country? Using the Princess’s wedding as a bait to lure heroes all over the world into meeting their doom?

Under the present circumstances, everyone also acknowledges the fact: No venture, no gain. Therefore, no one is willing to showcase his fear and beat a retreat.

As the crowd passes through the door, the stone doors were promptly closed again. Another long tunnel presents itself and oil lamps lighted both sides of the tunnel. After this tunnel, they came to a second set of stone doors and after these doors; there was a third tunnel and a third set of stone doors. By now, even the most nonchalant candidates are starting to show signs of anxiety. Turning round a few bends in the tunnel, the sound of gushing water Zong… Zong… entered the ears of everyone. Finally, they ended up at the bank of a deep river.

It is truly incomprehensible to find a deep stream within the forbidden palace grounds. As the gentlemen starting glancing at one another, some of the short-tempered ones look as if they are about to throw a tantrum.

The palace maid explained: “To reach the Inner Study, we must cross this Youlan River. Gentlemen, please.” As she spoke, her petite figure moved ahead and she stepped right into the deep river. The riverbank is well illuminated by four flickering fire torches and everyone can see her actions clearly. By stepping beyond the bank, she will surely fall into the river. Some of the youths present cried out in alarm.

Amazingly, the hourglass figure of the palace maid simply sashayed across the river as if she is walking on air. Astounded, everyone immediately deduced the presence of some iron tightrope for her to step on, as there are no martial arts for levitation. Inspecting the path taken by the palace maid, true enough; there is a steel wire that runs horizontally above the river that leads from one bank to the other. This wire is extremely thin and is painted in black. Unless it is directly reflected by the torch flames, the wires are almost invisible. The river itself is deep but even if someone loses his footing and falls into it, there is no danger to his life. At most, he will be haggard and embarrassed.

The people making up the crowd are either asking for marriage in person or are bodyguards escorting their masters. Every person has a good foundation in martial arts and by using <Qing-gong> on the steel wire, it is easy to reach the opposite bank. Duan Yu is not well versed in martial arts but his <Surfing Nimble Steps*> is well practiced. With Ba Tianshi holding his hand, they crossed the river in the blink of an eye.

*(“Graceful Steps Upon The Waves’, the Qing-gong Skill of Carefree Sect. Each Sect has its own style. Example: Wudang Sect Qing-gong is Ladder-Cloud Technique. Used mainly for fast travel or jumping. shows DY mastering “Graceful Steps Upon The Waves’, ‘Divine Skill of the Northern Darkness’ [BeiMing Divine Skill] to absorb Internal energy and again “Graceful Steps Upon The Waves’ to run away.) 

Once everybody has crossed the river, the palace maid activated a hidden switch on the stone wall. With a Shok! sound, the steel wire reeled into some hidden compartment. The gentlemen are even more unsettled than before, thinking to themselves: This river is deep and wide, impossible to fly across. Could it be that Western Xia Country is having some hidden motives? Otherwise, why would there be this secret mechanism operating over a secret river in a secret area of the Princess’s residence? 

In his mind, everyone is quietly reminding himself to not let his guard down and to keep a low profile. Some even lamented: I am a fool; I should have brought some weapons for personal protection. 

The palace maid remarked: “Gentlemen, please come over here.” Following her, they travelled through a vast bamboo forest before arriving at the doors of a mountain cave. After she knocked on the doors, the cave doors swung open. The palace girl welcomed: “Please!” as she took the lead in entering. 

Zhu Danchen covertly checked with Ba Tianshi: “What do you think?” Ba Tianshi cannot make up his mind about getting Duan Yu to stay behind or continue the trip and exposing Duan Yu to more risks. However, they both knew that without entering the mountain cave, Duan Yu would naturally drop out from the selection of Prince Consort. While the two men are still hesitating, shoulder-to-shoulder, Duan Yu and Xiao Feng have stepped inside. Exchanging a firm handshake, the two of them followed from behind.

Upon entering the mountain cave and going through another passage, their eyes were greeted by a flood of lights. The end of the passage leads to a massive hall. This hall is at least three times bigger than Ningxiang Gallery where they had tea earlier. It appears to be a natural cave formed within the mountain and with craftsmen working on it; the walls of the cave are now smooth and polished. Almost every wall is being covered by paintings and calligraphies. In a typical mountain cave, the air would be humid and the walls would be moist. However, in this particular cave, it is quite dry and even the paintings and calligraphies on the walls are not turning moldy due to moisture. On one side of the hall, there is a colossal study table made out of purple sandalwood. On the table are the standard stationery items and inscriptive tablets. There are also a few bookshelves and several pieces of stone tables and stools. The palace maid invited: “This is the Princess’s Inner Study. Gentlemen, please take your time in admiring the paintings and calligraphies.”

Everyone shared the same observations: The layout and décor of the Inner Study is one of a kind. The furniture is sparse and there is hardly anything to indicate that its owner is a female. Everyone is baffled that this place actually belongs to the Princess of Western Xia. Nine out of the ten persons present come from a martial arts background; they could barely read and definitely cannot appreciate the paintings and calligraphies. The most they could do is walk around and look at the paintings and calligraphies with an amateur understanding.

Although their martial arts are superb, Xiao Feng and XuZhu knew nothing about the arts. Sitting down on the floor next to each other, they paid precise attention to everything that is happening in the hall. Xiao Feng is a hundred times more experienced and streetwise than XuZhu. With no interest in the calligraphies and paintings hanging on the wall, his expressionless face is actually fixated on the movements of the palace maid in green gown. He knew that this palace maid is the key to the mystery and if there is any ambush or secret scheme by Western Xia Country, this petite and shy palace maid will be the one to activate it. Right now, Xiao Feng is like a leopard predator waiting in the dark and surveying his prey. Although he is completely motionless, his eyes, ears and mind are fully alert and focused. Every muscle is tense and ready. At the first sign of trouble, he would instantly pounce on the palace maid and hold her hostage. He will not give her any opportunity to create mischief.

Duan Yu, Zhu Danchen, Murong Fu, Gongzhi Qian and the others are wandering about and admiring the paintings and calligraphies. Deng Baichuan is going around checking each easel stand and making sure there are no secret pipes where poisonous gas can be released. The martial artistes of Central Plains recognize the toxicity of Western Xia’s ‘Beisu Qingfeng’ and precautions must be taken. Pretending to admire the paintings and calligraphies, Ba Tianshi is actually examining the walls and corners, keeping an eye out for potential traps or escape routes.

Only Bao Butong is talking rubbish, freely criticizing the paintings and calligraphies. He would either complain about the scenery in the painting or the weak brush strokes in the calligraphy. Although Western Xia is a rural country at the extreme regions and the empire is considered young, the royal palace collection of rare paintings and calligraphies cannot compete with long established kingdoms of Great Song and Great Liao. Nonetheless, being the royal palace collection, there are still several noteworthy artifacts. Within the Princess’s Inner Study, there is some calligraphy written in Bei Wei style by the people of Jing as well as five generations of paintings from the Tang Dynasty. Under Bao Butong’s unique assessment, all these relics are deemed worthless. At that era, the most talented artists are Su Dong Po and Huang Shan Gu* but Bao Butong insisted that their works are mediocre. Even great calligraphers like Zhong Wangzhang are being ridiculed by him.

*( )

Listening to his outspoken and outrageous disparagement of the artistic works, the palace maid was completely mystified. Walking over to him, she implored: “Mister Bao, are these calligraphy really as bad as you mentioned? The Princess has always sang praises about these works!”

Bao Butong explained: "Your Highness Princess mainly resides in rural Western Xia and has never encountered the famous scholars and talents of Central Plains. In the future, she should visit the Central Plains and improve her knowledge. Little Sister, you should accompany your Princess and come to the Central Plains for a tour. That way, you will not become a frog in the well."

Nodding her head in agreement, the palace maid smiled: "It is not easy to make a trip to the Central Plains."

Bao Butong rebutted: "Not right, not right! If Princess marries a hero from the Central Plains, wouldn't she be moving to the Central Plains?"

Going through several paintings on the walls, Duan Yu suddenly came across a drawing of an ancient female displaying a sword stance and was immediately taken aback. "Yi!" he cried out. The beauty in the picture looks exactly like Wang Yuyan; only her attire is different. To a certain extent, she resembles the Fairy Sister in Limitless (Wuliang) Stone Cave. In the painting, the beauty is holding a sword in her right arm and a sword manual in her left arm. Practicing her swordplay beside a lake and a mountain, her posture is graceful and her features are distinguished. It was a peerless artwork. Duan Yu was instantly mesmerized and felt as if he is back beside Wang Yuyan in this moment and in the next moment, he is back at the stone cave of Limitless (Wuliang) Mountain. After a prolonged state of fantasy, he yelled: "Second Brother, come and have a look." 

Acknowledging his call, XuZhu strode over for a look and also had a great shock. He thought: Another drawing of Miss Wang has appeared here. Compared to the drawing given to me by Master (Wu Yazi), the person in the painting looks exactly the same. Only her posture is different.

The more Duan Yu looked at the painting, the more confused he became. Unconsciously, he reached out with his hand to touch it and he could feel some unevenness on the wall behind the painting. Gently lifting the painting and looking underneath, he came across some carvings on the wall that resembles the Ying-Yang Meridians. Upon closer inspection, he discovered that the wall is engraved with countless human silhouettes. Some were in meditation position while some were in a prancing position. The poses are peculiar and unique. The silhouettes are mostly carved within a circle and besides the circle, there are some ancient characters as well as numbers. 

With one look, XuZhu identified them. These engravings are almost similar to those carved in Lingjiu Palace Stone Chamber. After scanning the silhouettes, he thought: Is this the martial arts of Li Qiushui?

Out of the blue, he had an epiphany: Master (Female) Li is the Empress Dowager of Western Xia, it is not strange to find these in the palace.

Reminiscing about these stone carvings left behind by the deceased Li Qiushui, XuZhu was saddened. He understands that these carvings are actually the top-tier skills of the Carefree Sect and it is meant for martial artistes with deep internal energy. For those with inadequate energy, if they happen to study it, they would be dragged into a trance. The lucky ones will just faint from the experience; the unlucky ones could fire-deviate with serious consequences. Back then, the four sisters Plum Orchid Chrysanthemum and Bamboo were injured when they try to study the drawings of the Stone Chamber. Afraid that Duan Yu would get hurt, he quickly warned: "Third Brother, you should ignore these engravings." Duan Yu asked: "Why?" XuZhu whispered: "These are highly advanced martial arts. If you practice them wrongly, there will be huge losses and zero gains."

Duan Yu originally had no interest in martial arts. Even if he does, right now, he would rather admire the painting of the lady that resembles Wang Yuyan than the martial arts carvings. At once, he replaces the picture and scrutinized this <Lakeside Swordplay> painting. He is exceptionally familiar with the figure and facial features of Wang Yuyan; even the fine details cannot escape his eyes and are fully memorized in his mind. Gazing at the painting again, he manage to spot the difference between the lady in the painting and Wang Yuyan. The lady in the painting is slightly plumper and her eyebrows are shaped with a heroic air, unlike Wang Yuyan's completely feminine eyebrows. In terms of age, the lady in the painting appears to be older than Wang Yuyan by a few years. But if compared to Fairy Sister in Limitless (Wuliang) Mountain’s stone cave, the resemblance is almost exact.

Still blabbering nonsense, Bao Butong happened to chance upon Duan Yu and XuZhu’s activities. Overhearing XuZhu’s comments that the wall is engraved with highly advanced martial arts, he scolded in a snobbish voice: “What kind of highly advanced martial arts are you talking about? Little Monk is trying to deceive us again.” Lifting the painting sideways, he examined the carvings. Tipping his toes, Duan Yu leaned to one side and tilted his head sideways in order to continue admiring the beauty in the painting.

The palace maid interrupted: “Mister Bao, these engravings are not meant for viewing. Your Highness Princess has indicated that huge losses and zero gains will come to those who study them but their internal energy level is inadequate.”

Bao Butong argued: “What if there is adequate internal energy? It will be huge gains and zero losses, right? My internal energy level is sufficiently adequate.” He (BBT) is merely an unscrupulous debater who likes to distort facts and win arguments. He does not have any intention to steal the martial arts of others. However, the second he laid his eyes on the encircled silhouettes in different poses, he instantly felt his own body undergoing an uncontrollable transformation. Unconsciously, his hand reached out to grab his ankle and he began mirroring the stances engraved on the wall. 

Within a minute, everybody standing close to him has already noticed his odd behavior. Checking him out, they, too, discovered the engravings on the walls. On the other side of the hall, someone suddenly shouted: “Yi! There are some carvings here as well.” Another man exclaimed: “There are some here as well.” Everyone started lifting up the paintings and calligraphies in order to study the human silhouettes engraved on the walls. The moment they started looking at the carvings, they began to dance around. 

XuZhu was secretly horrified and quickly rushed to Xiao Feng, explaining: “Big Brother, these wall engravings are not meant to be viewed by ordinary people. If they continue studying the martial arts, I am afraid everyone will become seriously injured and some of them may even turn mad. By then, it will be chaos.”

In his heart, Xiao Feng was shaken. He roared: “Everyone! Stop looking at the wall carvings. We are in a dangerous situation. Quickly gather around me for a discussion.”

After his loud command, some people turned back and gathered at his side. However, the engravings on the wall are too irresistible. As long as anyone has seen any of the silhouettes, he would be instantly drawn to it, feeling as if the awkward pose of the silhouette is able to provide an answer to all the challenges he face when practicing martial arts. Though the solution is not precise and the stance is unorthodox, he cannot help but focus all his attentions onto it. By now, Xiao Feng has realised many of the people present are now moving in odd sequences beyond their will, as if they are being possessed. He himself was flabbergasted at this development.

Out of a sudden, with an ‘Ah!’ cry, someone has fallen flat on his face after spinning around. Another man is making a hoarse sound with his throat while clawing and scratching at the stone wall, as if he is trying to dig the silhouettes out from the wall. With a quick racking of his brains, Xiao Feng came up with a plan. Using his hand, he grabbed the backrest of a chair and with a ‘Kok!’ noise, he broke a part off the chair. Using both palms, he rubbed the broken fragment of the chair into dozens of small shards and flung these pieces out with his hands. The air is filled with sounds of ‘Chu! Chu! Chu!’ Within the hall, for every sound that rang out, a lamp or a candle would be extinguished. When the sounds finally stop, all the illumination has been smothered and the Inner Study is now completely pitch black.

In the dark, heavy panting can be heard all over the place. Some would whisper: “What a close shave, what a close shave!” Some actually loudly demanded: “Light some candles, I haven’t taken a look yet!”

Xiao Feng’s voice rang out: “Gentlemen, wherever you are, please sit down and halt all your movements. We do not want to activate any hidden traps by accident. The engravings on the wall are bewitching. Please do not even touch them and end up injuring yourselves.” Before he said these words, there are some people who are about to reach out with their hands and feel the wall carvings. Hearing his command, they recomposed themselves by force.

Xiao Feng whispered: “Forgive my intrusion! Please quickly open the stone doors and let everybody out.” It turns out that before he started extinguishing the lights, like an arrow being released from a bow, he swiftly shot forward and has restrained the palace maid by her right wrist. Traumatized by this unexpected intrusion, the palace maid used her left free hand to launch a backwards palm attack. Xiao Feng took this opportunity to secure her left hand as well. Petrified and embarrassed, the palace maid remained motionless.

Now that Xiao Feng has spoken, she begged: “… Please release my hands.” Xiao Feng released her wrists. Although it is dark, but by listening to her movements and reacting accordingly, Xiao Feng is not afraid of her pulling any tricks.

The palace girl reminded: “I told Mister Bao before; these engravings should be ignored. For those who are not strong enough in their internal energy cultivation, looking at the engravings will cause huge losses and zero gains. Yet, he insisted on exploring them!”

Seated on the floor, Bao Butong can feel his head throbbing in great pain and his body extremely tense for no reason. Moreover, his chest area is very uncomfortable and he felt like vomiting. Forcefully steadying his nerves, he scoffed: “If you invite me to take a look, I will ignore them. If you ask me to ignore them, I will look at them no matter what you say.”

Xiao Feng pondered: This palace maid did advise everyone to ignore the wall carvings. In this aspect, she meant no harm. Still, what is the agenda of the Princess of Western Xia when she wanted us to gather in her study?

Abruptly, a nice and light fragrance was detected by his senses. Stunned, Xiao Feng hastily used his hand to cover up his nose as he was reminded of the time when Western Xia’s First Class Hall used ‘Beisu Qingfeng’ and poisoned a large number of beggars from Beggars Clan. He tried activating his internal energy and was delighted to know that there is no issue with it.

What he proceeded to hear was a new palace maid announcing in a sweet and crisp voice: “Welcome your Highness Princess.” Hearing that the Princess has arrived, everyone was excited and ecstatic. Unfortunately, due to the darkness, they cannot admire her features.

The young girl (new palace maid) proclaimed in a coquettish voice: “The Princess has decreed: The walls of the study have been engraved with martial arts drawings. Outsiders are forbidden from viewing them. Paintings and other works have been hung on the walls in order to conceal them. Nevertheless, someone eventually discovered them. The Princess strictly prohibits anyone from lighting a torch or making a fire. Otherwise, he will bear the severe consequences. She hopes this information is made clear to everyone. No doubt there will be some inconveniences due to the darkness and we seek everyone’s understanding.”

Zha! Zha! The stone doors have been opened. The young girl added: “If there is anyone who is unwilling to remain here, he may take his leave first and return back to Ningxiang Gallery for a rest and more tea. Along the way, there will be someone guiding your path and no one will get lost.”

Knowing that the Princess is here, no one in his right mind will want to take his leave. In addition, hearing the calm voice of the palace maid and unable to detect any malicious intentions in her words, coupled with the fact that the doors are open and anyone can freely leave, the anxiety level of everyone decreased significantly. Naturally, there were no departures.

A brief moment later, the young girl announced: “Your Highness Princess expresses her gratitude to esteemed guests who have travelled from far places in order to be here today. If there is any hospitality lacking, your understanding is appreciated. In a gesture of goodwill, Princess will hereby give away her beloved collection of calligraphy and paintings. The works in her collection are genuine pieces and she looks forward to gentlemen’s gracious acceptance. Before leaving the Court, kindly retrieve any piece that your heart desires.”

Hearing that the Princess is giving away these pieces of artwork as gifts, the various martial artistes and uneducated folks cannot help but feel perplexed. For some savvy individuals, they recognize the value of these paintings and knew that they would fetch a considerable price back in Central Plains. These people are secretly delighted with their windfall. The happiest of them all is Duan Yu. He has decided to choose the painting <Lakeside Swordplay> and admire the painting together with Wang Yuyan.

No matter what he heard, it is always the palace maid speaking on behalf of the Princess. Exasperated, Prince Zongzan bellowed: “Your Highness Princess, since this location is not ideal to light a fire, shall we adjourn elsewhere to continue our meeting? It is completely dark here. You cannot see me and I cannot see you.” 

The palace maid replied: “It is not difficult at all if gentlemen wishes to see the Princess.”

In the darkness, more than a hundred voices began crying out in unison: “We want to see the Princess! We want to see the Princess!” Several people interrupted with their own shoutings: “Please put on some lights, we promise not to look at the wall carvings.” “Just light some lamps around the Princess. That is good enough. We wish to see the Princess and not the engravings.” “Yes! Yes! Princess, please show yourself!” The rowdiness carried on for some time before eventually dying out.

The palace maid slowly state: “By inviting gentlemen to Western Xia, Your Highness Princess naturally wishes to meet with esteemed guests. Presently, Princess has three questions and respectfully asks each of you to take turns in answering. If the answer pleases Princess, he will be invited for a meeting.”

The crowd immediately went wild. Some exclaimed: “Oh, it is a verbal test.” Some cried: “I am only good with spears and sabers; if you ask me some academic question, I will surely fail! Can I answer questions related to martial arts?”

The palace maid invited: “The Princess has informed maid (me) what questions to ask. Which Mister is willing to start by giving me your answer?”

Everyone rushed forward and began shoving one another. They demanded: “Let me go first! I am first! I am ready to answer!” With a chortle, the palace maid giggled: “Gentlemen, there is no need to fight among yourselves. The first to answer may be at a disadvantage.” Everyone thought: That makes sense. The later I answer, the more I can learn from other people’s answers. I can find out what are the dos and don’ts of interacting with Princess. Along the way, I can improve my answers.

With this thought, nobody is fighting to be the first candidate anymore.

Out of a sudden, a man declared: “When everyone is rushing to be the first, I aim to be the last; now that everyone is afraid of being the first to be sacrificed, I am willing to be the first guinea pig. Gentleman (I) is named Bao Butong, married with a kid. All I desired is a glance at Princess’s fair face. No other intentions.”

The palace maid acknowledged: “Mister Bao is straightforward and easy going. Your Highness Princess has three questions and seeks your advice. The first question: In Mister Bao’s life, where did you have your best and happiest experience?”

After a short consideration, Bao Butong responded: “It is in a pottery shop. In my youth, I was an apprentice there. The owner is a bully and I was subjected to daily admonishments and ill treatment. One day, I went berserk and smashed everything in the shop. Regardless of bowls or plates, teapots, vases or figurines, Ping! Ping! Piang! Piang! they all ended up as smithereens. That was the happiest moment of my life. Palace Lady, is my answer appropriate?”

The palace maid replied: “Your Highness Princess will decide whether your answer is appropriate or not. Maid (I) has no idea. The second question: The person whom Mister Bao loves the most, what is his or her name?” Without any hesitation, Bao Butong answered: “Bao Bujing.”

The palace maid continued: “The third question: This person that Mister Bao mentioned, what is her appearance?”

Bao Butong articulated: “This person is six years old, with one eye bigger than the other. Her nostrils are protruding upwards and her ears face the front. Regardless of my instructions, she will certainly disobey. Asking her to cry, she will laugh; asking her to laugh, she will cry. And when she cries, it is a four-hour crying session. That is my precious daughter Bao Bujing.”

The palace maid burst out in giggles while the entire crowd burst out laughing. The palace maid concluded: “Mister Bao, please take a break. May I have the next gentleman please?”

Eager to get out and reunite with Wang Yuyan, Duan Yu cannot be bothered if he gets to meet the Princess of not. Stepping forward in the dark, he nevertheless bowed deeply and proclaimed: “Gentleman is Duan Yu of DaLi. I hope Your Highness Princess is doing well. I reside in the rural southern regions. Today, I am able to visit your venerated country and enjoy the wonderful sights. Many thanks for your excellent hospitality. I am deeply appreciative of your kind gestures.”

The palace maid noted: “So it is the son of DaLi Country Lord Zhennan. Prince (DY) has given us too much credit. After a long journey (from DaLi), all we can offer is basic furnishings and limited spaces, which is insufficient to host our valued visitors. We seek your forgiveness and understanding.” (humble talk)

Duan Yu politely rejoined: “Sister, you are too modest. If Princess is not available today, I can always seek an audience at another time. It is a small matter.”

The palace maid questioned: “Since Prince is already here, please answer the three questions too. The first question: In Prince’s life, where did you have your best and happiest experience?”

Without thinking, Duan Yu responded: “In an abandoned well among the muddy debris.” The crowd could not help but laughed uncontrollably. Except for Murong Fu, nobody understood why Duan Yu spent the best moments of his life in an abandoned well among the muddy debris. Someone even ridicule in a low voice: “Someone who loves being in muddy debris; is he a tortoise?”

The palace maid covered her mouth to stifle a chuckle. She continued her questioning: “The person whom Prince loves the most, what is his or her name?”

Duan Yu was about to reply but he suddenly felt two persons tugging at his left and right sleeves respectively. From his left ear, Ba Tianshi whispered: “Say it is Lord Zhennan.” From his right ear, Zhu Danchen whispered: “Say it is Zhennan Princess Consort.” Upon hearing Duan Yu's first answer, they felt it is highly inappropriate and are concerned that his second answer will become another bad joke. Right now, he is proposing marriage to a Princess. If he says his greatest love is Wang Yuyan or Mu Wanqing or anybody else for that matter, wouldn't it mean the Princess is his secondary love and is going to marry down and become a concubine? Ba Tianshi reminded: "Of course your Father is your greatest love. <Loyalty to the Crown and Filial Piety to the Father> This is the directive by the Imperial Court." Zhu Danchen reminded: "In terms of love, there is no stronger love between a mother and her child. That is the mindset of a learned man."

When the palace maid is asking Duan Yu about the name of the person he loves the most, he wanted to answer Wang Yuyan’s name. The answer is at the tip of his tongue but after being reminded by Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen, Duan Yu thought: He is after all, the son of DaLi Country Lord Zhennan. Now that he is in Western Xia, his words and actions will reflect back on his country. It is fine if he wants to embarrass himself but he cannot forsake the prestige of his own country.

Thus, he replied: “The people I love the most are naturally my father and my mother.” When he mentions ‘Father’ and ‘Mother’, his chest naturally swells up with a feeling of love and respect for his parents. He knows the love for his parents and the love for Wang Yuyan are innately different. Still, he cannot decide which love is greater than the other. He is definitely telling the truth when he says his parents are the people he loves the most. 

The palace maid questioned again: “Your esteemed father and mother, how would you describe their appearances? Do they resemble Prince?”

Duan Yu responded: “My father has a squarish face, thick eyebrows and large eyes. He has an awe-inspiring demeanor but actually, his character is extremely friendly……” At this juncture, Duan Yu was secretly alarmed. He analyzed: My appearance only resembles my mother and not my father. This is something I have never thought about before.

Hearing Duan Yu stopping mid sentence and not continuing, the palace maid assumed that Duan Yu does not wish to share details of his mother’s appearance with a group of strangers. After all, his mother is a Princess Consort*. Therefore, she concluded: “Many thanks Prince. Prince, please take a break.”

(Princess Consort here means she, as a commoner, is married to the royal brother of the King/Emperor of DaLi. She is not the child of the Emperor nor is she the assigned wife to the son of the Emperor)

Noting the extremely friendly exchange between the palace maid and Duan Yu, as if they are intimate buddies, Zongzan’s heart is filled with jealousy. He secretly thought: You are a Prince; I am a Prince too. TuBo country is much stronger than your DaLi. Are you planning to win the competition due to your good looks?

Unwilling to wait any longer, he stepped forward and hollered: “TuBo Country Prince Zongzan hereby requests an audience with Princess.”

The palace maid acknowledged: “Prince’s glorious arrival is a privilege bestowed on our country. Our Princess has three questions for your attention.”

With an easy-going air, Zongzan laughed: “I have paid attention to the three questions of Princess. You need not ask the questions one at a time. Let me answer them in one shot. In my life, my best and happiest experience is becoming the Prince Consort, marrying the Princess and spending the night with Princess as husband and wife. In my life, the person I love the most is Princess Yinchuan. Her surname is Li and I am unaware of her first name. In the future, when we become husband and wife, she would naturally tell me. Regarding the appearance of Princess, she is surely like a Fairy with rare and incomparable beauty. Ha ha, are my answers correct or not?”

Among the crowd, the majority of them shared the same train of thought as Prince Zongzan and are planning to answer the three questions in this particular manner. Hearing his speech, they are secretly expressing regrets: I should have grabbed the first opportunity to make such an excellent reply. Now, if I kept to the same template, I may be accused of copying his answer.

Xiao Feng waited and listened as the palace maid quizzed the gentlemen one by one. Some of them are trying too hard to please the Princess while others are exaggerating their abilities and making false statements. The more he heard, the more uninterested he felt. If not for his curiosity for the ‘correct’ answers, he would have left a long time ago.

In the midst of his restlessness, he suddenly heard Murong Fu’s voice ringing out: “Gentleman is Gusu <Swallow Fort> Murong Fu. I have long admired Princess’s fame. Today, I came specially to pay my respects.”

The palace maid acknowledged: “So it is <Using Opponent’s Attack Against Himself> Mister Gusu Murong. Although maid (I) is confined to the palace, I have heard of Mister’s (your) famous name.”

His heart filled with joy, Murong Fu thought: Since this palace maid knows my name, the Princess should naturally know about me too. Perhaps the two of them even held a discussion about me.

He quickly replied: “It is nothing. My name is probably a waste of your hearing.” (humble talk)

The palace maid added: “Although we, Western Xia, are at the rural borderlands, we are too, aware of the heroic title: North Qiao Feng; South Murong. It is rumoured that North Qiao Feng, Great Hero Qiao has changed his surname to Xiao, and is currently a high-ranking official in Great Liao. I wonder if this rumour is true?”

Murong Fu replied: “It is true!” He already noticed Xiao Feng when he is on his way to Green Phoenix Court, but did not choose to expose him.

The palace maid enquired: “Mister and Great Hero Xiao share the same namesake status; the two of you must be acquainted. I wonder how is his (XF) character like? In terms of martial arts, compared with Mister, who has the upper hand?”

The minute he heard the questions, Murong Fu’s complexion turned completely red, even up to his ears. At Shaolin Monastery, in his duel with Xiao Feng, he was restrained by him and was even eventually thrashed heavily onto the floor. In front of numerous onlookers, it clearly exhibited his inferior skills. Presently, in front of another large crowd, he would be further ridiculed if he chose not to reveal this fact. Nevertheless, he is extremely unwilling to admit his defeat at the hands of Xiao Feng. Unable to provide a proper account, he flared up: “These questions that Miss (you) is asking; are they the three questions from the Princess?”

The palace maid hurried redeemed: “No. I beg Mister’s pardon. For the past few years, Maid (I) has heard of many heroic stories about Great Hero Xiao and as a result, I am an admirer (fan) of him. I could not help but wanted to ask more questions relating to him.”

Murong Fu disclosed: “At this moment, Khan Xiao is standing right beside Miss. If Miss is interested, you can ask him directly.” The second these words leave his mouth, the peace of the entire hall was interrupted by loud commotions. The prestige of Xiao Feng is known all over the world; within the martial arts community, there is no one who is not shaken by his name.

The palace maid is apparently as emotional as everyone else and her voice is starting to quiver. She welcomed: “To think that Great Hero Xiao has lowered his status and paid a visit to our country. We were in the dark and our hospitality must be severely lacking. Great Hero Xiao must accommodate us and overlook this lapse.”

Xiao Feng let out a ‘Humph’ but did not give a reply.

From the tone of the palace maid, Murong Fu can easily tell that her respect for Xiao Feng is much more than her respect for himself. He was secretly alarmed and thought: Xiao Feng that fellow is a bachelor as well and he holds the official post of Great Liao Southern Khan. He even has an army at his disposal; as a commoner, how can I hold a candle to that? His martial arts are incredible too; there is no way I can surpass his credentials. What… What… What should I do?

The palace maid apologized: “Maid (I) will pose the questions to Mister Murong first. Great Hero Xiao, please be patient. Apologies. Apologies.” After making more polite and apologetic statements, she asked Murong Fu: “ Question for Mister! In Mister’s life, where did you have your best and happiest experience?”

Although Murong Fu has heard this question being repeated on fifty odd people before him, now that he is in the hot seat, he suddenly became tongue-tied and could not come up with an answer. All his life, he has been slogging away, incessantly trying to revive the Yan Empire. In fact, he never encountered a joyous occasion before. From the perspective of an outsider, Murong Fu is young and handsome, highly-skilled in martial arts and his fame has spread all over the world. He still commands respect in the martial arts world and logically, he should be satisfied and proud of his achievements. Nonetheless, in his heart, he has never experienced true happiness. After a short daze, he answered: “My true happiness lies in the future and not the past.”

The palace maid assumed Murong Fu is using the same template as Prince Zongzan and the others, saying their true happiness will occur after becoming the Prince Consort and getting married to the Princess. Unknown to her, Murong Fu’s definition of happiness is becoming the Emperor of Yan and the owner of the prosperous Yan Empire. Giggling once, she questioned again: “The person whom Mister loves the most, what is his or her name?”

Momentarily stunned and after a brief contemplation, Murong Fu let out a sigh and replied: “There is nobody that I love the most.”

The palace maid concluded: “Since this is the case, we can skip the third question.”

Murong Fu added: “I hope to meet the Princess and thereby, give a reply to Sister’s second and third question.”

The palace maid remarked: “Mister Murong, please take a break. Great Hero Xiao, since you have made your way here to our country, we have to follow the same procedure. Maid (I) will be asking you the three questions as well. If there is any offense, we ask for your forgiveness and understanding. Maid hereby gives her thanks in advance.” She proceeded to ask and repeat the first question but there was no response at all.

XuZhu interrupted: “My Big Brother has already left. Miss, please excuse him.” The palace maid was taken back: “Great Hero Xiao has left?” XuZhu acknowledged: “Yes, he had.”

When Xiao Feng witness the Princess of Western Xia instructing her palace maid to quiz the gentlemen one at a time, he deduced some special meaning behind the three questions. Nevertheless, the questions are harmless. He then went on to ask himself the same three questions and the answers he would provide. Reminiscing about AhZhu, he felt some pain at his chest and was tremendously grieved. Extremely unwilling to divulge his personal emotions to a group of strangers, he turned around and left the stone hall. Since the stone doors are opened and his footsteps are exceptionally light, only a few individuals sensed his departure. 

The palace maid inquired: “Where did Great Hero Xiao retreat to? Is he upset with our questioning?”

XuZhu explained: “My Big Brother is not a petty person and would certainly not take any offence. Hmm, he must be craving for some wine and has left in order to quench his cravings.”

The palace maid giggled: “It must be so. Great Hero Xiao is famed for his drinking habits and his ability to hold liquor is second to none. The Inner Study does not store any wine and we are unable to host this honoured guest appropriately. We are truly incompetent hosts. Mister (XZ), the next time you see Great Hero Xiao, please convey the deepest apologies from our country’s Princess.” This singular palace maid is particularly eloquent, polite and sensitive in her speech. Compared to the shy palace maid from the Gallery, she is a hundred times more articulate. 

XuZhu affirmed: “When I see Big Brother, I will pass the message.”

The palace maid probed: “How do I address Mister?”

XuZhu stammered: “My… My… My Buddhist name is XuZhu Zi. I… came… came… that… not here for the marriage, I am merely accompanying my Third Brother.”

The palace maid questioned: “In Mister’s life, where did you have your best and happiest experience?”

XuZhu let out a soft sigh and replied: “In a dark ice chamber.”

He abruptly heard a female voice exclaiming ‘Ah!’ in a soft voice. Following that was another noise ‘Qiang Lang!’ It appears that somewhere in the darkness, a porcelain cup has been dropped onto the floor and was shattered into pieces. 

The palace maid continued her questioning: “The person whom Mister loves the most, what is he or her name?”

XuZhu lamented: “Ai! I… I do not know the name of that lady.”

The crowd burst out into laughter, thinking that this man is a fool. Without knowing the name of that particular lady, how could she be the person he loves the most?

The palace maid defended: “It is not strange to love someone without knowing the identity. Back then, the filial son Dong Yong happened to meet a Heavenly Fairy on Earth. Without knowing her name or background, he fell in love with her. Mister XuZhu, this lady must have been a beauty without equal, am I right?”

XuZhu answered: “I have never laid my eyes on her before.”

In a split second, the stone hall is blanketed with thunderous laughter. Everyone was laughing their guts out and felt that this story is truly unheard of. Some even thought that XuZhu is intentionally telling a joke.

Amidst all the laughter, XuZhu suddenly heard a female whispering to him: “You… Are you Meng-Lang? (Dream mate/groom/hubby)” 

XuZhu was shocked out of his wits. In a trembling voice, he asked: “You… You… Are you Meng-Gu? (Dream lady/aunt/bride) I missed you so much.” 

Unconsciously, he took a few steps forward, inhaling a breath of fragrance. A pair of warm, gentle and smooth hands is now holding onto his hands. A familiar voice is now tenderly whispering besides his ear: “Meng-Lang, I was trying to find you but I failed. Finally, I managed to get Imperial Father to issue a decree and hopefully, you will get invited.” 

XuZhu was even more astonished than before. He stammered: “You… So you are…”

The young lady suggested: “Let’s talk inside. Meng-Lang, every day and every night, all I pray for is this exact moment…” Speaking in a hushed voice and holding his hand, she quietly led him past a curtain. Stepping onto a layer of thick carpet, the two of them entered the inner chamber. 

Within the stone hall, the crowd is still laughing non-stop.

As usual, the palace maid repeated the three questions to everybody. When the list has been exhausted, she announced: “Gentlemen, please adjourn to the previous Ningxiang Gallery for a rest and more tea. The wall-mounted artworks will be prepared as gifts for everyone. If Your Highness Princess wishes to meet up with any one of you, our attendant will summon you accordingly.”

Right now, there are many frustrated men who started rioting: “We want to see the Princess!” “We want to see her now!” “Shoving us from one place to another, are you making fools out of us?”

The palace maid reasoned: “It is better for everyone to take a break outside, why bother risking the wrath of the Princess?”

The last sentence worked like magic. Everybody came to Lingzhou for the sake of becoming the Prince Consort. By disobeying the Princess, she would not grant an audience. Without seeing her, the chances of becoming the Prince Consort is zero. The crowd instantly turned silent and one by one, they left the stone hall. Outside, the return path is well lighted by bright torches. By retracing their steps, the crowd ended up back in Ningxiang Gallery where they had tea a few hours ago.

Reunited with Wang Yuyan, Duan Yu updated her about the Princess’s three questions. When Wang Yuyan heard him saying that his best and happiest experience is in an abandoned well among the muddy debris, she cannot help but break out into uncontrollable giggles. Both her cheeks turning red, she cooed: “I feel the same too.”

Having tea and engaging in idle chatter, the gentlemen eventually started discussing and comparing their answers to the three questions. They wondered who has the answer that best satisfies the Princess. A short while later, palace eunuchs appeared, holding bundles of paintings and calligraphies in their arms, inviting those present to pick one. These men are deep in thought, wondering if the Princess would grant them an audience or not. Obviously, they cannot be bothered with the artwork. As no one is competing with him, Duan Yu easily retrieved the painting <Lakeside Swordplay>.

Admiring the painting with Wang Yuyan at his side, Wang Yuyan sighed: “The person in the painting resembles my mother more than myself.” Recalling the prolonged separation between she and her mother, she could feel some longing in her heart.

Remembering that XuZhu has a similar painting as well, Duan Yu wanted to borrow his copy for a comparison. However, despite all his efforts in searching, XuZhu seems to have disappeared from the Gallery. He even called out: “Second Brother! Second Brother!” But there was no response. Duan Yu thought: Both Big Brother and Second Brother are gone! Is there some hidden danger?

Just as he started worrying, unexpectedly, a palace maid accosted him and informed: “Mister XuZhu has a letter for Prince Duan.” As she spoke, with two hands, she presented a folded letter made out of gold foil.

Accepting the letter, Duan Yu could smell a light fragrance coming from it. He opened it and on the letter are the following words: I am all good. I have never been better. I am happy beyond words. I am so sorry you made a wasted trip and I have failed Uncle Duan too. But I have no choice. Addressed to Third Brother.

At the bottom, it was signed with two words: Second Brother 

Duan Yu is aware that his Monk Second Brother received little education and is terrible at expressing himself through written letters. Still, this letter is totally incomprehensible. Not knowing what to do next, a dazed Duan Yu held the letter in his hand as he racked his brains.

From afar, Prince Zongzan saw the palace maid handing a letter to Duan Yu and immediately assumed the Princess is granting him an audience. Filled with jealousy, he cursed to himself: Great, true enough, you gained an advantage because of your good looks. However, I am not willing to give up that easily.

He hollered: "I will not tolerate you!" With a swift pounce, he leapt towards Duan Yu. Using his left hand, he snatched at the letter and using his right fist, he threw a punch at Duan Yu's chest.

A preoccupied Duan Yu is still trying to decipher the meaning behind XuZhu's letter and when Prince Zongzan attacked him, he did not think about avoiding the attack. Furthermore, based on Zongzan's martial arts, his punch is as fast as lightning and Duan Yu could not avoid it even if he wanted to. 'PONG!' The blow landed squarely on his chest. Inside Duan Yu's body, his abundant internal energy instantaneously reflected the blow and with another 'PONG!' sound, followed by 'Pi Pai! Qiang Lang! Ai Yo!' Prince Zongzan flew several steps away and crashed onto a tea table. The teapot and tea cup on the table were smashed to bits.

In pain, Zongzan cannot help but cry out 'Ai Yo!' Before he got on his feet, he examined the letter and read it out loud: "I am all good. I have never been better. I am happy beyond words."

It is evident to everyone that Zongzan was rebounded by Duan Yu's internal energy and just suffered a heavy fall. Yet, he exclaimed: I am all good. I have never been better. I am happy beyond words.

While everyone is scratching their heads in bewilderment, Wang Yuyan hurried to Duan Yu's side and asked: "Did he injure you?" Duan Yu guffawed: "Nothing worth mentioning. Second Brother has written a note to me. That Prince must have gotten the wrong impression, thinking that the Princess is granting me an audience." 

Witnessing their own master being knocked over, some of the TuBo warriors ran over to assist him while the others approached Duan Yu in a fierce and intimidating manner, as if they are challenging him to a fight.

Duan Yu signaled: "This place is ill-suited for us and I don't see why we should stay any longer. Let's take our leave." Ba Tianshi hastily dissuaded: "Since Prince is here, there is no urgency to leave." Zhu Danchen added: "This is the Inner Palace of Western Xia 's Royal Palace, I doubt the TuBo fellows have the guts to use violence. In addition, the Princess may summon you soon. If we leave now, wouldn't that be discourteous?" The two men continued to take turns to persuade Duan Yu from leaving.

True enough, some warriors from the First Class Hall appeared and demanded the TuBo warriors to behave themselves. Prince Zongzan has gotten back on his feet. Recognising that the letter is not the Princess granting an audience to Duan Yu, the anger in his heart subsided.

In the middle of the commotion, Mu Wanqing can be seen beckoning at Duan Yu. In her left hand, she is waving a piece of paper. Duan Yu nodded his head and approached her, taking the paper from her hands.

Seeing another letter in Duan Yu's hands and noticing the expression of uncertainty on his face as he read the letter, Zongzan thought: This letter must be from the Princess, summoning him for a meeting

He roared in a loud voice: "The first time, you managed deceive me, the second time, you won’t be so lucky!" His both legs propelling his body, he pounced on Duan Yu again, grabbing the letter with one hand.

Learning from his mistake, he dared not punch Duan Yu at the chest anymore. After obtaining the letter, he lifted his right foot and kicked Duan Yu’s hip. At the pelvis area is the ‘Danzhong’ point, the seed and reservoir for all internal energy. When Zongzan kicked that same area, Duan Yu’s internal energy instantly reacted without any need for activation. The repel was swift and impactful. With a ‘Hu!’ sound, followed by another 'Pi Pai! Qiang Lang! Ai Yo!', Prince Zongzan again soared through the air and flew over the heads of a few dozen men. Crashing into several tea tables, he finally landed on his back.

The Prince is stocky and his flesh is thick. Moreover, Duan Yu did not intentionally activate his internal energy to harm him. Although Zongzan was embarrassed and haggard looking, he did not suffer any internal injuries. Still on the floor, he lifted the freshly snatched letter and read it out loud: “A formidable foe is planning to murder my father, who also happens to be your father. Save him quickly.”

With these words, the crowd became even more confused. Why did Prince Zongzan say: my father, who also happens to be your father?

Only Duan Yu, Ba Tianshi, Zhu Danchen and the others knew what the message meant. Since the letter is written by Mu Wanqing, the two fathers she mentioned is obviously Duan Zhengchun. Gathering at her side, they interrogated her about the details.

Mu Wanqing explained: “Shortly after you (all) left, the two sisters Plum Sword and Orchid Sword entered the palace, saying they have an urgent report for Mister XuZhu. Since XuZhu Zi has not shown himself, they passed the message to me. Their network of allies has received word that several formidable foes have laid an ambush in order to entrap Father. The traps have been laid at Shunan area, where Father must go through in order to return to DaLi. Their Lingjiu Palace has already dispatched two factions, Xuantian and Zhutian, to chase after Father and warn him. At the same time, they sent word to us.”

Duan Yu anxiously asked: “Plum Sword and Orchid Sword, where are the two sisters? Why didn’t I see them?” Mu Wanqing remarked: “You only have eyes for Miss Wang; we are all invisible to you. The two sisters Plum Sword and Orchid Sword actually wanted to speak to you directly but no matter how hard they waved at you, there was no response. I don’t know if you really didn’t see them or are you intentionally ignoring them.”

His face turning red, Duan Yu insisted: “I… I really didn’t see them.”

Mu Wanqing coldly state: “They are in a hurry to find Second Brother XuZhu and cannot afford to wait for you. I tried to signal you too but you ignored me. I have no choice but to write that letter and pass it to you.”

Feeling apologetic, Duan Yu recognized the truth in her words. Recently, all his undivided attention has been centered on Wang Yuyan. All he saw was her smiles and her frowns; all he heard was her words and her laughter. Even if the sky fell down, it does not matter. It is natural for him to miss Mu Wanqing’s summons. If not for Prince Zongzan’s pouncing on him and delivering a fierce punch, he would not have raised his head and notice Mu Wanqing’s beckoning. To Ba Tianshi and Zhu Danchen, he instructed at once: “Let’s travel through the night and chase after Father.” The two men acknowledged: “Yes, Prince!”

The same thoughts went through their minds: Since Lord Zhennan is in danger, everything else has to take second priority. Whether Duan Yu is able to become the Prince Consort of Western Xia or not is no longer important. They departed without wasting another minute.

Except for Ba Tianshi, Duan Yu and the others head back to the inn and reunite with Zhong Ling. Packing their luggage, they set off without any delay. Ba Tianshi paid a visit to Western Xia’s Ministry of Rites and bid farewell to the Minister personally. He spun a story, saying Lord Zhennan has fallen ill while travelling. Therefore, his son has to hurry to him and assist in nursing him. He is unable to spare the time to officially bid farewell to the Emperor and expresses his regrets. Since the father is sick, it is the duty of the son to take care of him; no one can disapprove of this noble gesture. 

The Minister of Rites is full of praise and polite talk, saying Duan Yu’s filial piety is as high as Heaven and His Lordship Duan will make a speedy recovery. Completing his farewell notice, Ba Tianshi swiftly exited Lingzhou City’s southern gate. Activating his qinggong, he went in pursuit of Duan Yu and company. By the time he caught up to them, they are already ten miles away from Lingzhou. 


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