“Why don’t you just give in?!” Yeung Hong screamed as he whirled and slashed low to target Wong Yung’s legs. Missed again. “I’m getting tired of fighting you!”
“Same here!” Wong Yung retorted. “It’s so boring to always defeat you!”
Yeung Hong’s dragon eyes flashed. He disliked being patronised, much less by Wong Yung. “Well, today you’ll know defeat!” He whirred and executed a series of close-range attacks before suddenly delivered a roundhouse kick. Wong Yung ducked, but a naughty protruding root from one of the many trees in the bamboo forest they fought in caught her. She tripped and fell on her back, just in time to avoid Yeung Hong’s roundhouse kick.
“Hah! I got you!” Yeung Hong lifted his sword high to execute a fatal, if not lethal, strike.
“You say!” Wong Yung reached for her fallen sword to parry again.
Yet a sudden roar froze both enemies to their own positions.
“Tien!” It was a while before Wong Yung whispered.
“You heard that too?” Yeung Hong tilted his head elsewhere without lowering his guard.
“A...” Wong Yung hesitated. “...a tiger?”
He nodded. “And we’re without protection.” True, neither Yeung Hong’s cronies or Kwok Ching were there; the two bitter enemies were separated from the others while Kwok Ching and Hung Tsat Kung busily fended off the Young Prince’s cronies.
“Have you fought a tiger before?” Wong Yung asked. She briskly got up; Yeung Hong didn’t even try to stop her. He shook his head as a reply.
“I’ve seen two tigers during our adventures to the Mongolian region, but my guards were always the one who fought them.”
“And got killed protecting you while you did nothing, I bet,” Wong Yung sneered. Yeung Hong glared at her, but said nothing. It was true that the guards gave their lives to protect the Young Prince, but contrary to what Wong Yung suspected, he actually wanted to join the fight but was always prevented by his “dearly beloved father”.
Another roar was heard, closer this time. Wong Yung lifted her sword and took a few steps away from where she thought the tiger was heard from. Yeung Hong followed suit, his eyes darted like a manic here and there, trying to find any signs of the tiger. The bamboo forest was quite dense, the day was quite windy, thus it was rather difficult to ascertain whether the tiger was just passing by or – worse – going towards their location.
Apparently though, it was the last bit. They heard another roar, awfully too close this time, then some rustles of the leaves and branches cracking… and suddenly, in front of their eyes, just a few meters away, stood a very large tiger.
Wong Yung gasped. She never saw a tiger, hence she had no idea whether this tiger was big compared to its counterparts; but it was certainly big to her eyes. However –
“I’ve never seen a tiger this big…” Yeung Hong’s whisper blanched blood from her already pale face.
“Tell me you’re kidding.” Unexpectedly, she stepped closer to Yeung Hong without realising that the Prince was doing the same as well.
“I’m not kidding. The two tigers I’ve seen before were big, but not this big. This one must be very old.” Slowly, Yeung Hong positioned his spear in front of his body. He didn’t shove it towards the growling animal, but he had to be ready. He also stepped closer to Wong Yung without realising that he actually had positioned himself in front of his enemy.
“He looks so angry…” Wong Yung’s voice now faltered slightly, but not before she swallowed and raised her sword.
“Don't,” Unexpectedly, Yeung Hong blocked her move with his left hand. He then pushed her backwards slightly in a gesture very eerily similar to a protective gesture. Wong Yung suddenly realised that her enemy had indeed turned into a protector, very likely without him meaning to.
“Don’t. Raise. Your sword.” Yeung Hong said very slowly, his eyes still locked on the tiger. “Just put it in front of you, but don’t raise it.”
“He… he might attack.”
“Then we have to be very quick if it happens. But for now, don’t make any sudden move. Don’t move even a muscle.”
Realising that this brat might have a point, Wong Yung relaxed her hands. Then she tensed again when the tiger growled again, followed by a very scary roar.
“Oh Tien, he’s not giving in!”
Yeung Hong, very pale-faced now, didn’t say anything. He tried to remember anything about the two fights against the tigers, but he could only recall how valiant his guards were in protecting his life.
Perhaps now was the time to repay them.
“Yes, he’s not giving in.” He shoved Wong Yung backwards again with the back of his left hand. “When I say ‘duck’, you duck, okay?”
“Oka – what??”
“DUCK!!!” Yeung Hong yelled as his left hand pushed Wong Yung to the ground and his right hand shoved his spear forward. At the same time, the tiger roared and jumped towards the two humans huddling together. The tiger’s claws tore something; the Prince screamed as the tiger roared in pain.
The next thing Wong Yung saw as she got up was the tiger fell on the ground at the same time Yeung Hong rolled away from the tiger, blood on his chest. He desperately tried to stop the blood flowing from his chest by immobilising his chest area, but it didn’t completely stop the haemorrhage.
“Heavens! You’re hurt!”
“Stay back! The tiger isn’t dead yet!”
True, Yeung Hong’s spear just hit the tiger’s fore legs, but it didn’t incapacitate the animal. The wild beast roared again with more anger and swayed to get up.
“You’re hurt! I’ll lure him away!”
“Stay back!” Bleeding, Yeung Hong tried to get up. “Your sword isn’t long enough to fight this beast. My spear – ” he gasped, “ – is –” he didn’t finish his words, for he fell on his knees, blood gushing from his open wound.
“Damn it, Yeung Hong, you stay back!” Impatient, Wong Yung jumped between the prince and the tiger. “It’s my turn now.”
Realising that he couldn’t even protect himself now, the Prince became motionless. “Then…” Yeung Hong weakly nudged his spear to his enemy, “ – take this. It’s…” he gasped in pain, “ – longer…”
As Yeung Hong fell on the ground, wheezing in pain from the gushing wound, Wong Yung accepted the spear with a nod. She then positioned herself right in front of the angry tiger and executed several Dog-beating Stick stances Hung Tsat Kung taught her. She couldn't tell whether it was the stances, her light moves or the spear, but the tiger got confused and becoming less effective in his attacks. Then, after several minutes gauging her new enemy’s weakness, she slashed right where she should, i.e. where Yeung Hong left the mark on the tiger’s forelimbs. The tiger roared in pain, tumbled down several times, and remained very silent. Yet, just as Wong Yung tentatively moved forward, the tiger rose again and slowly retreated.
The girl couldn't believe her luck. Their luck.
“He’s leaving. Tien! He’s leaving!”
Excited, she turned to face Yeung Hong, who despite his pale face and bleeding torso and hands, was looking at her, a faint smile on his lips.
Then it hit them both. For the last few minutes, the two of them actually fought side by side as friends, not as enemies. This realisation dislodged their balance, such that Wong Yung suddenly studied the forest ground fastidiously while Yeung Hong found an interesting bird flying over his head.
Then, they were saved by the bells. Footsteps were heard, and the ugly faces of Yeung Hong’s cronies emerged from the bushes, chased by Kwok Ching and Hung Tsat Kung.
“Yung-yi, here you are! We’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
“Your Highness, we’ve been trying –” One of them gasped. “Young Prince! You’re injured!”
“It was a…” Yeung Hong inhaled, “… a tiger. Wong Yung…she saved me.”
“You saved me too,” Surprised that Yeung Hong actually acknowledged her, Wong Yung solemnly acknowledged the Prince back. When the flabbergasted Kwok Ching asked her to repeat it, she said a matter-of-factly that the Prince had shoved her to the ground so that she wasn’t slashed in two by a tiger.
“Young Prince…” Yeung Hong’s cronies weren’t sure of their footing. “What should we do with these intruders?”
Wheezing, Yeung Hong shook his head. “Just let them go…” he whispered. “There’s always another round with them.”
“That’s true,” Wong Yung returned the spear by throwing it to one of Yeung Hong’s cronies who caught it swiftly. “When you’re healed, we’ll see you again in another fight.”
No one but the girl saw the faint smile on the Prince’s lips.
“You can bet on it.”
She smirked, but not in an unfriendly way, before she left the Jurchen party, Kwok Ching and Teacher Hung tagging behind her, asking her questions after questions. As she answered those queries faithfully, she wondered how different things would have been, had Yeung Hong always been the hero he was just now.