Today, we have an excerpt from A Hero Born, the first novel in Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes. The second novel in the series, A Bond Undone is also out now in the UK, published by MacLehose Press. Here’s the synopsis for A Hero Born:
China: 1200 A.D.
The Song Empire has been invaded by its warlike Jurchen neighbours from the north. Half its territory and its historic capital lie in enemy hands; the peasants toil under the burden of the annual tribute demanded by the victors. Meanwhile, on the Mongolian steppe, a disparate nation of great warriors is about to be united by a warlord whose name will endure for eternity: Genghis Khan.
Guo Jing, son of a murdered Song patriot, grew up with Genghis Khan’s army. He is humble, loyal, perhaps not altogether wise, and is fated from birth to one day confront an opponent who is the opposite of him in every way: privileged, cunning and flawlessly trained in the martial arts.
Guided by his faithful shifus, The Seven Heroes of the South, Guo Jing must return to China — to the Garden of the Drunken Immortals in Jiaxing — to fulfil his destiny. But in a divided land riven by war and betrayal, his courage and his loyalties will be tested at every turn.
This extract opens near the beginning of the volume with the Song patriots, Ironheart Yang and Skyfury Guo, and their wives exchanging the latest troubles of the Imperial Court by the fire. The dynamics of their simple gathering change, however, when Yang and Guo spot a mysterious passerby and invite him in for a drink.
Yang sighed. “Only bad Emperors keep bad chancellors. Old Huang, who lives outside Lin’an’s Golden Gate, told me a story. One day, when he was out collecting firewood on the mountain, he caught sight of a group of soldiers guarding some officials. It turns out the Chancellor had come on a sightseeing trip with his men. Old Huang was minding his own business, cutting wood, when he heard the Chancellor say, ‘What a delightful country scene, such charming bamboo fences and thatched cottages. Shame there are no chickens crowing or dogs barking.’ Then, at that moment, they heard barking from behind one of the bushes.
Charity smiled. “That little dog certainly knew how to please the Chancellor.”
“I’ll say! After a couple of barks it jumped out of the bushes. And what kind of dog do you think it was? Turns out it was our honourable friend, the Magistrate of Lin’an, His Excellency Mr Zhao!”
Charity burst into laughter.
“And that’s how he’ll earn his promotion,” Guo concluded.
They continued drinking as the snow fell outside, the wine warming their bellies. After a while, Guo and Yang decided to step outside to cool down. Suddenly the stillness was broken by the sound of feet swishing across the snow. There, up ahead, was a Taoist monk wearing a bamboo hat tied under his chin with a ribbon, and a cape speckled with large flakes of snow. He carried a sword on his back, the yellow tassel swinging from side to side as it dangled from the handle. He was the only person braving the weather, a lonely silhouette making rapid progress across the grey-white fields.
“Look at how he skims across the snow,” breathed Guo in admiration. “A master of kung fu.”
“Indeed,” Yang replied in equal amazement. “Let’s invite him in for a drink.”
They hurried to the edge of the field in front of Yang’s house. In the short time it had taken them to run the hundred-odd metres, the monk had already passed by, and was some distance down the raised path that ran between the fields.
“Your Reverence, please stop!” Yang called out.
The Taoist monk turned and gave them a cursory nod.
“Such terrible weather,” Yang continued shouting through the snow. “Why don’t you come inside and drink a couple of bowls of wine to warm up?”
Within seconds the Taoist was standing before them. “Why do you want me to stop?” His reply was as cold as the winter air. “Speak!”
Yang was shocked and angered by the Taoist’s tone, so he looked down at his feet and gave no reply. Guo clasped his fist as a sign of respect and said, “We were drinking by the fire when we saw you pass by alone in the snow. So we thought you might like to join us. Please forgive us if we have offended you.”
The Taoist rolled his eyes. “Alright. If you want to drink, let’s drink,” he said, walking past them and in through Yang’s door.
This made Yang even angrier. Without thinking, he grabbed the Taoist’s left wrist and tugged. “We don’t know how to address you, Your Reverence.” But the Taoist’s hand slipped through Yang’s fingers like a fish. Yang knew he was in trouble and stepped back, but before he could pull away he felt a sharp, hot pain as the Taoist tightened his grip around his wrist. No matter how hard he struggled he could not free himself, and he felt all his strength draining away as his arm went limp.