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Excerpt of A HERO BORN (射鵰英雄傳) by Jin Yong

This excerpt is adapted from "Chapter Five: Draw the Bow, Shoot the Condor" of A HERO BORN (射鵰英雄傳).

"Guo Jing, come here!" It was Khojin.

He turned and saw her approach on the back of a horse, her face a mixture of anxiety and excitement.

"What is it?" he replied.

"Come quick and see for yourself," said Khojin. "Condors fighting. Lots of them."

"I'm in the middle of training."

"I just saw your shifu leave."

Guo Jing looked up at her.

"The condors are really going for each other, come and take a look."

Guo Jing's heart beat faster. He did want to see it, but he still felt his Seventh Shifu's disappointment. "I can't," he said.

"I came all this way to tell you instead of going to see it myself," Khojin responded hotly. "Don't expect me to go with you later."

"Go now. You can tell me all about it once I'm home. It's all the same to me."

Khojin jumped down from her horse. "If you're not going, I'm not going either," she said, pouting. "I wonder who's going to win - the black condors or the white."

"The pair of white condors that live on the cliff?"

"Yes. The place is surrounded by black ones, but the white ones are much stronger. They've pecked three black ones to death already."

Guo Jing could stand it no longer. He grabbed Khojin's hand, jumped up onto her horse, and together they rode to the bottom of the cliff. Almost twenty huge black birds had surrounded one pair of white condors. They screeched and pecked, feathers flew.

The white condors had made their nest at the top of the cliff. This pair were unusually large specimens of what was an extremely rare breed. The Mongolian elders called them divine and some foolish local women even came to pray to them.

One of the white condors stalked forward and pecked one of the black condors, and it fell, dead, just before Khojin's horse. The remaining black condors scattered but regrouped quickly and surrounded the pair again. Another fight ensued, drawing an ever bigger crowd of locals until there were move and attack. Temujin himself arrived, bringing with him Ogedai and Tolui. Everyone was enthralled by the spectacle.

Being regulars at the cliff, Guo Jing, Tolui and Khojin saw the white condors nearly every day, flying to and from their nest. Sometimes they would throw the chunks of mutton. The children considered the birds their friends.

"Go and get them! On the left! Turn! That's it, kill him!"

Two more black birds fell and the white condors' feathers looked as if they hand been dipped in red ink.

At that moment, one of the largest black birds squawked and then or so more beat their wings and took off, disappearing into the clouds above. Four black condors remained. The fight looked to be coming to and end and the crowd whooped and called out in excitement. Soon three more eagles took flight, followed by one of the white condors, leaving just one black and one white in a stand-off. The last black condor started flapping its wings, about to take flight, when the white condor attacked.

Then, a scream from above.

Ten condors swooped together out from the clouds.

"Excellent tactics!" Temujin laughed.

The white condor dropped to the foot of the cliff and the black condors followed, scratching and clawing at its corpse. The children were shocked and Khojin burst into tears. "Papa, kill them!"

But Temujin turned to his sons. "We must learn from those clever birds, my sons. A most useful military lesson."

The young men nodded.

The black condors flew up and into a cave near the top of the cliff, where two small white heads had been poking out only moments earlier.

"Papa! Why won't you do something?" Khojin then turned. "Guo Jing, look, the white condors have babies. How come we didn't know? Oh, Papa, kill them, please!"

With a smile, Temujin raise his bow and with a twang! his arrow took down one of the birds. The crowd clapped. Temujin then gave the bow to Ogedai.

"Here, your turn."

Ogedai shot and killed one too. By the time a third fell to Tolui's arrow, the black condors were scattering all directions.

Temujin's other men also began firing until they had flown up high and out of reach.

"A reward for whoever can bring one down!" Temujin cried.

Jebe wanted his student to show off his skills, so he gave his bow to Guo Jing and whispered: "Kneel down and aim for the neck."

Guo Jing obeyed. He held the weighty bow in his left hand and drew back the arrow. Two black condors were flying wing to wing. He took aim and shot. 

The bow bent like the moon, the arrow flashed like a meteor.

It pierced through the first condor's neck and lodged itself into the abdomen of the second. Together, the birds fell to the ground. A roar came from the crowd and, frightened, the remaining birds dispersed.

"Present them to my father," Khojin whispered in his ear.

He fetched the birds and ran over to the Khan's horse, where he kneeled in the dirt, lifting them up before him.

The boy's trick delighted Temujin. The birds had a wingspan of more than three metres and their feathers were hard like shards of metal. They were capable of seizing and making off with large sheep and even ponies. Tigers were known to keep their distance. To kill two with one arrow was a mighty feat indeed.

Temujin ordered one of his men to take the birds. "Good boy, you are most accomplished with the bow."

"My shifu Jebe taught me."

"A master known as God of the Bow, and a student to match." Temujin smiled.

"Father," Tolui said, "you promised a reward to whoever could shoot down a condor. My anda shot two! What will you give him?"

"He may have whatever his heart desires. What would you like Guo Jing?"

"Anything?" Tolui asked in excitement. "Anything he wants?"

 

A Hero Born
Author/ Jin Yong
Translator/ Anna Holmwood
Publisher/ Maclehose Press

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