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  Excursus
   GU LONG > Xiao Shiyi Lang || Chapter 1: Hands of a Lover

It was a bright, sunny day in early fall.

The sunlight illuminated through the paper window, shining against her smooth, satin skin.

With the sunlight making the water warmer, she languidly laid down in the tub, lifting a pair of elegant feet on the edge and letting them enjoy the sunlight, caressing them gently like a lover's hands.

She was pleased.

After traveling for more than half a month, what could compare to the relaxing feeling of a hot bath? Her entire body submerged, leaving only her half-open eyes which were admiring her pair of feet.

This pair of feet had climbed over mountains, crossed rivers, endured the scalding hot desert for three days and three nights, and also crossed a great distance of nothing but ice-bound rivers and streams in cold winter.

This pair of feet had not only kicked to death three lustful people, a mountain cat, squashed countless poisonous vipers, but also kicked the bandit, Man Tian Yun, from off Mount Chilien, letting him fall ten thousand feet below.

This pair of feet should not look so delicate but they were delicate. Not a single scar in sight. Even the young lady of a rich household who had never left home could not have such a perfect pair of feet.

She was extremely pleased.

On the stove, the water was still boiling. She poured more hot water into the tub. Although the water was still hot, she wanted to it to be hotter. She liked the excitement brought by this kind of heat.

She liked all kinds of excitement.

She liked riding the quickest horses, climbing the highest mountains, eating the spiciest food, drinking the strongest wine, and using the finest sword to kill the most ruthless person.

People often said that, "Excitement makes one age faster." But these words certainly did not apply to her. Her chest was still young, her waist still slender, her stomach still smooth, and her slender thighs still firm. The skin on her whole body did not have the slightest wrinkle.

Her eyes were very bright and her smile could melt people's hearts. If one saw her, no one would ever believe that she was already thirty-three years old.

For thirty-three years, Feng Sinian had never maltreated her body. She knew what type of clothes to wear to any type of occasion, knew what words to say to any type of person, knew what type of food to eat with any type of wine, and also knew what style to use to kill a person. She understood life and knew how to enjoy it.

There were not many people like her in the world. Some people were envious of her. Others were jealous. She was almost completely satisfied with herself. There was only one exception: She was lonely.

No amount of excitement could dispel such loneliness.

Now that the last of her weariness vanished in the water, she at last stood up and used a snowy white silk washcloth to dry her body.

When the smooth silk washcloth rubbed against her skin, she felt wonderful but she was secretly wishing that this was a man's hands.

The hands of a man she liked.

No matter how soft the silk washcloth was, it could never compare to a pair of lover's hands. Nothing in this world could replace those of a lover's hands!

She looked down at her body, the smooth, translucent, almost flawless skin, but in her heart, there was only a deep feeling of melancholy...

Suddenly, several holes were dashed simultaneously on the window, the door, and the wooden wall. A head extended from each hole, the face bearing lustful eyes.

A group of strange men were leering at the young lady. Some were staring with bulging eyes, while others could not even smile. When they saw a beautiful, naked woman, most men turned into dogs - rabid dogs.

That hole in the window was best because it was away from the rest, allowing one to see clearly. The head of the man bore a huge lump. It looked like there two heads on the same place. His appearance was so disgusting it could make one sick. Compared to him, the other people even looked attractive. If a man took a bath and suddenly these bandits rushed in, he would be frightened half to death.

However, Feng remained unfazed as she continued to lounge inside the tub, gently wiping her hands with that silk washcloth.

With half-opened eyes, she stared fixedly at her slender fingers. When both of her hands were wiped clean, it was only then that she smiled pleasantly, saying: "You haven't seen a woman take a bath before?"

The men simultaneously laughed. One young fellow with a pock-marked face and big, bulging eyes leered at her, laughingly saying: "I have not only seen a woman take a bath before. Bathing women is my specialty. You want me to scrub your back, your satisfaction is guaranteed."

Feng smiled and said: "It so happens that my back is itching. Since you offered, then come in!"

The young fellow's big eyes narrowed as he laughed, then with a "peng" sound, he opened the window, intending to jump in. But before he could do that, he was grabbed by the guy with the lump. The young fellow's smiling face stiffened immediately, growing pale. He said: "Second Brother Jie, you already have several wives. Why must you take this one from me?"

Second Brother Jie did not wait for him to finish before he gave him a backhanded slap, sending his whole body flying.

Feng said musingly: "If you scrub my back with the same force as you hit that person, I cannot bear it."

Second Brother Jie looked at her and suddenly his eyes turned cloudy and poisonous like a snake's, his voice also sounding coarser than the sidewinder's. He said: "You know what place this is?"

Feng said: "If not, why would I come."

Then, she smiled before saying: "This place is called Mount Luandan, also called Mount Qiangdao (Bandit Mountain) because everyone who lives in this mountain is a bandit. Even that small innkeeper who looks very honest is a bandit."

Second Brother Jie said: "Since you knew what place this is, why do you dare?"

Feng replied: "If I didn't come to fight but only to take a bath, what does it matter?"

Second Brother Jie grinned fiercely: "Your place does not have good baths. That's why you came here?"

Feng lowered her eyes, saying softly: "Perhaps I like bandits watching me while I bath. How could it not be exciting?"

Second Brother Jie suddenly sent a palm towards the window, breaking the wood into several pieces with the force of the blow. It was obious that his Iron Sand Palm was not weak.

Feng simply looked. Then, sighing gently, she muttered: "Fortunately, I did not invite this person to scrub my back. Thick hand, thick foot."

Second Brother Jie angrily shouted: "Stop rubbing our eyes with sand and tell us, why are you here? Be honest!"

Feng smiled and said: "You didn't guess wrong. I didn't come this far just to take a bath."

Second Brother Jie's eyes flashed and he said: "Did people send you to spy on us?"

Feng replied: "Of course not. I came here to look for a friend."

Second Brother Jie said: "But your friend certainly isn't here." Feng was quiet for a moment before she laughingly said: "How do you know he's not here? Can't I be friends with a bandit? Perhaps, I'm also a bandit!"

Second Brother Jie scowled and asked: "Who is your friend?"

Feng said without any hurry: "I have not seen him for a very long time. I heard that these past years have been very good to him. He works as the leader of a group of bandits in Guanzhong. Do you know him?"

Second Brother Jie's face darkened as he asked: "There are thirteen groups of bandits in the Guanzhong region. Every group has its own leader. Which one do you mean?" Feng said slowly: "He's the leader of the thirteenth group."

Second Brother Jie was stunned for a moment. Then, suddenly he laughed, pointing at her as he said: "How can a woman be a friend of our chief?"

Feng said: "Why can't I be friends with him? Do you know who I am?"

Second Brother Jie's laughter subsided. He eyed her from head to toe before asking coldly: "Who are you? Could you be Feng Siniang, that enchantress whom even monsters can't resist?"

Feng did not answer his question but said instead: "Are you not Two-Headed Snake (Liang Toushe) Jie Bude?"

A self-satisfied smirk appeared on Second Brother Jie's face. He sneered and said: "That's right. Whoever sees the Two-Headed Snake must die. I spare no one."

Feng said: "Since you are the Two-Headed Snake, then I have to be Feng Siniang."

The Two-Headed Snake's head looked as though it was going to crack, making it look like he had four, five heads.

This naked woman sitting in the bathtub, was she really the notorious Feng Siniang? The one whom everybody called the Enchantress?

He could not believe the simple truth of it, yet how could he dare not to?

He started to take several steps back and the others naturally drew back quickly.

Suddenly, they heard Feng Siniang lightly call out to them: "Stop!"

They all halted but all they saw on her face was a smile, a gentle and enchanting smile.

In a soft tone, she said: "You watched a woman taking a bath and then expect to casually walk away like this?"

The Two-Headed Snake said: "What...what do you want?"

Although his voice trembled a little, at the sight of Feng Siniang's bared chest, his eyes bulged. His confidence returned and he sneered at her: "Do you want us to take a closer look?"

Feng laughed: "Oh...you thought that because I am not wearing any clothes, you can bully me and I wouldn't dare pursue you?"

The Two-Headed Snake smiled: "That's right. If you're taking a bath and a fellow comes in, you can't kill that person if you're sitting in the bathtub."

Feng raised her hand and said: "Does this look like the hand of a murderer?" Both her hands showed ten slender fingers, soft and supple like an orchid. The Two-Headed Snake replied: "It doesn't."

Feng said: "I agree but the strange thing is, sometimes it can kill people!"

As soon as she said this, both her hands gently stroked the air, sending out ten silver flashes.

Afterwards, a succession of miserable shouts could be heard as each person's eye were hit by a needle. No one saw where these needles came from and nobody was spared.

Feng sighed, muttering: "Who peeps at a woman taking a bath gets 'needle eye.' Haven't you heard of this saying?" (NOTE: Needle eye is Chinese slang for stye.)

The group of bandits were scratching their eyes, the intense pain causing them to sway back and forth.

The miserable sounds they made was jarring but Feng did not even have to cover her ears. She was completely absorbed with studying both of her hands closely.

After looking at it for a long while, she then closed her eyes, sighing as she said: "It's a pity that the same hands used to embroider a flower are also used to kill people..."

Suddenly, the shouting stopped. The quiet was instantaneous.

Feng knitted her brows and called out: "Hua Ping?"

There was no sound outside. Only the sound of the wind blowing and the rustle of the leaves could be heard.

After a while, a sound was heard, the sound of a saber being sheathed.

The corners of Feng's mouth slowly lifted into a smile and she said: "I knew you'd come! You managed to kill those people outside in a flash! Who else can wield such a quick saber?"

Outside, no one replied.

Feng said: "I know you killed them swiftly to inflict as little pain as possible. But since when did your heart turn soft?"

After a while, the person outside said slowly: "Is that Feng Siniang?"

Feng laughed: "You don't often hear my voice but it seems you have not forgotten me."

Hua Ping said: "Who else but Feng Siniang would take a bath to lead them on while secretly planning evil?"

Feng bit her lip and chuckled: "So you were also peeping. Otherwise, how could you know I'm taking a bath?"

Hua Ping ignored her.

Feng said: "If you want to watch, then why don't you come in?"

Huang Ping sighed and said: "You went beyond the great wall and everyone thought you disappeared to live a peaceful life. Why have you come back?"

Feng smiled, saying: "Because I missed you."

Hua Ping kept his mouth closed.

Feng asked: "You don't believe I miss you? If I didn't, why would I come looking for you?"

Hua Ping was sighing.

Feng asked: "Why are you sighing? You think my being here is no good? Persons change but does that mean old friends do?"


Hua Ping said: "Put some clothes on. I'll wait."

Feng replied: "I already have my clothes on. You can come in!"

Hua Ping's figure finally appeared at the doorway. His face was usually pale but when he saw Feng Siniang sitting in the bathtub, naked, it turned even paler.

Feng laughed and said: "When people take a peep at me while I bathe, I kill them. But when you don't want to look, I must insist that you do."

Hua Ping was actually short, but nobody would ever think he was a dwarf because his body was tough and strong like that of a large person.

He had on a very long black cloak, which revealed the hilt of a red saber.

Hua Ping became chief of the Guanzhong bandits because of this saber.

Feng said: "I heard you killed 'Taiyuan Yi Jian' (First Sword of the High Order) Gao Fei, is that right?"

Hua Ping only said: "Mmm."

Feng added: "I heard too that 'Tai Hang Shuangdao' (Twin Sabers of Taihang), the Ding brothers, were also defeated by you, is that true?"

Hua Ping said: "Mmm." He was not only willing to look at Feng Siniang, he was also unwilling to say anything. Feng said with a smile: "Gao Fei and the Ding brothers are all first class martial artists but you were able to kill them. Obviously, your saber skills are quicker than before."

Hua Ping did not say a word.

Feng said: "I came here today so I could have a look at your saber."

Hua Ping asked in a suspicious tone: "You want a demonstration?"

Feng replied: "Don't be anxious. I am not asking for a duel. I am not willing to die under your saber and I am not willing to kill you either."

Hua Ping took a very long time to recover his composure. Afterwards, he said, "Then, you need not look."

Feng asked: "Why?"

Hua Ping replied: "Because my saber is only used for killing people. It's not for display!"

Feng's eyes twinkled and she smiled, saying: "And if I insist?"

Hua Ping was quiet for quite a while before he suddenly said: "Alright. Then, have a look." He spoke very slowly but even though his words were slow, there were only five syllables there. No matter how slowly he spoke, it could not have taken very long. But before he even finished speaking, his saber had left its sheath and returned. In that flash of his saber, the wooden stool near the entrance had been cut in half.

The swiftness of Hua's saber was truly astonishing.

Feng Siniang chuckled, shaking her head as she said: "I meant your saber skill for killing people, not your saber skill for chopping firewood. In front of an old friend, why bother keeping it secret?"

Hua Ping asked: "Secret?"

Feng replied: "Although you can use your saber with either hand, who in Jiang Hu doesn't know that you always use your left hand? Your left hand is at least twice faster than your right."

Hua Ping's pallor changed. He was silent for a long time before he finally said: "You really want to see me use my left hand?"

Feng said: "I've decided."

Hua Ping sighed and said: "Alright, you look!"

He suddenly whipped off his cloak.

Feng had been smiling but suddenly, she stiffened and her smile died. Noted all over Jiang Hu for his "Zuoshou Shendao" (Left Handed Divine Saber), Hua Ping's saber was renowned all over the Central Plains. But his left arm had been cut off at the shoulder. After a long silence, Feng exclaimed in surprise: "This...was this cut off by someone?"

Hua Ping said: "Mmm."

Feng said: "Did he use a sword? Or an axe?"

Hua Ping replied: "A saber!"

Feng paled. "Saber? Is there someone whose saber is faster than yours?"

Hua Ping closed his eyes and said: "Only one person!"

Although he looked miserable, there was no grief or indignation visible. He had obviously been convinced by the person's saber skill that he actually thought to himself his injury was justified.

Feng could not refrain from asking: "Who is this person?"

Hua Ping's gaze was distant as he spoke slowly, pronouncing every word distinctly: "Xiao Shiyi Lang!"

Xiao Shiyi Lang!

As soon as the name was spoken, an odd change occured in Feng's countenance. But who could say if it was anger? Was it joy? Or was it sadness?

Hua Ping muttered: "Xiao Shiyi Lang, Xiao Shiyi Lang... You should know him."

Feng nodded slowly and said: "Yes, I know him.... Of course, I know him!"

Hua Ping stopped staring into the distance and turned to look her fixedly in the eye. He said: "Do you want to see him?"

He added: "Sooner or later, you'll want to see him."

Feng glared at him. "What shit."

Hua Ping replied: "You can't fool me. I know you came back here for something."

Feng stared at him. "Who said that?"

Hua Ping said: "I don't know what your reason is but I know that it must be important. You're afraid that you can't do it alone so you wanted to ask me for help."

Then he smiled miserably and said: "It's too bad you came to look for me. I'm the wrong person to look for help."

Feng Siniang sneered, saying: "Let's say you guessed right but I can still find other people to help me. Why should I ask for Xiao Shiyi Lang's help? Are all the masters of the Martial Order dead?"

Hua Ping said: "Who else can help you but him?"

Feng rose from the tub, still naked, saying defiantly: "Who said there are no others? I'll find someone, you'll see."

Hua Ping immediately closed his eyes. He said slowly: "Who do you want to look for? Fei Daifu (Flying Doctor)?"

Her eyes shone. She said: "Who else can compare to Xiao Shiyi Lang but Fei Daifu? His qinggong (lightness kung fu) is high. He can run faster than anyone. Not even ten Xiao Shiyi Langs can compare to him."

According to the rumors in Jiang Hu, "Fei Daifu" Gongsun Ling only needed to use one finger to stop a speeding horse; His "Yanzi San Chao Shui (Swallow Thrice Floating on Water)" lightness kung fu was unequalled in the Martial World; In addition, his medical skills and ethics bordered on the miraculous. Many people in the Martial World reverred him as "Gongsun San Jue (Three-Titled Gongsun)."

Gongsun lived in a very odd place. He lived inside a tomb built with stones and he rested on a bed that was actually a coffin.

He thought that this was convenient. Because once he died, no one had to do hardwork and move him someplace.

He had no family save for a young lad who answered the door. This lad was not only thin, he was also quite ugly. Feng Siniang asked him: "Is Mr. Gongsun in?" Then added: "Where is Mr. Gongsun?" Again, she asked" "Will Mr. Gongsun come back today? When is he coming back?"

Feng had already fired several questions but this boy had yet to utter a single word.

When he finally answered, he spoke only two words: "Not in."

Feng was so mad she wanted to slap him with both her palms.

But then she thought about what would keep Fei Daifu from home: The doctor must be visiting his patients.

Although Fei Daifu's temperament was strange, his compassion was not misplaced.

She also knew that Fei Daifu would not rest anywhere else tonight. He always slept in his coffin, thinking that if he died in his sleep, he didn't have to be moved.

Feng wanted at first to wait for him until he came back but a living person never wanted to sit in a grave. There was something better than sitting on a coffin.

So, she sat near the street instead.

Twilight soon grew heavy and the autumn wind brought a chill in the air.

Feng found a comfortable place on a roadside cliff where she could lie down. She looked up at the darkening sky, waiting for the first star to rise.

Only very few people noticed how the first star rises.

Feng is one such people. Regardless of the situation, she always found something interesting to do. She never wasted her time.

Oh! How many people in the world understand this kind of quiet pleasures?

The night grew deep and the stars were finally out.

In the twilight, the sound of heavy footsteps could be heard. Two people carrying a palanquin were trotting up the mountain trail. Above sat a gaunt old man dressed in a blue gown.

The old man's facial expression was haggard and sagged. His eyes were closed in sleep.

The two people were tired and haggard as well, gasping for breath as they climbed up the hill. The one in front turned and said: "It's still a long way to the top. Let's rest for a bit." The person behind him said: "I'm getting really tired. When climbing up, it's much more strenuous for the person in the back."

The person in the front ridiculed: "Little bastard, you're being lazy again! Is it possible you saw Xiao Tiangua again last night? Sooner or later, you're going to die on her belly."

As the two people continued to exchange banters, their footsteps slowed down. No one could tell if that old person was really sleeping or just pretending not to hear. He never opened his eyes.

When they reached the top of the hill, the two men stopped and slowly lowered down the palanquin. Suddenly, the two of them simultaneously drew two pairs of long swords. They sent these towards the palanquin, two swords aiming for the old man's chest and the other pair aiming for his back!

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