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Go To Index: Demi-Gods & Semi-Devils English Translation
Book 2: Shrouding Screen in Suzhou
XI - Always Foolish
|Duan Yu, Ah Bi, & Ah Zhu|
Chinese title: 天龍八部 - 向来痴Original novel written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha)
Wuxia Novel Fan Translation by Ren woxing @spcnet
Chapter 11: Crazy All Along
After Duan Yu had his acupoints sealed by Jiumozhi, he was unable to move whatsoever. Jiumozhi’s subordinates had tossed him sideways onto the saddle of a horse, facing downwards. All he saw was the ground continuously move and the hoofs of the horse rising up and down. His mouth and nose were filled with the dirt and dust of the road. He heard his captors loudly shouting, but as they were speaking in a barbaric language that he could not understand, he did not know what they were saying. Counting the number of horse-legs that he could see, all in all there were ten horses.
After galloping for ten or so li, they arrived at a fork in the road. He heard Jiumozhi jabber a few indistinct words. Five horses took the road on the left, whereas Jiumozhi, Duan Yu, and the other horses took the right. After galloping for many more li, they arrived at yet another fork. Once again, they split into two separate groups. Duan Yu knew that Jiumozhi was trying to confuse the pursuing forces and render them uncertain as to in which direction they should chase.
After travelling for another period of time, Jiumozhi leapt off his horse. He retrieved a leather belt and tied it to Duan Yu’s waist. Then, supporting Duan Yu’s body with his left hand, he began to make his way through the mountain passes on foot. His two remaining servants rode off westwards with all the horses. Duan Yu was secretly anguished. “Uncle must have sent out the heavy cavalry to pursue us by now, but at most they will capture the nine servants of this barbarian monk. They won’t be able to rescue me.”
Although Jiumozhi was carrying someone in one arm, his steps remained light and easy. He climbed higher and higher. Six hours later, he had passed into a desolate region of untamed mountains and wild ridges. Duan Yu saw that the sun was setting in the west, and its light continuously came from the left. Jiumozhi was taking them to the north.
At nightfall, Jiumozhi tied his body to a branch on a large tree, using the belt which he had wrapped around Duan Yu’s waist earlier. He didn’t say a single word to Duan Yu; for the matter, he didn’t even glance at him. His back facing Duan Yu, he handed him a few dry flour-biscuits that were used as field rations. He unsealed the acupoints on Duan Yu’s upper arm, so as to let him hold the food. Duan Yu secretly extended his left hand, intending to generate his internal energy and use the ‘Shaoze Sword’ technique to attack him. However, his major acupoints all remained sealed, causing all of his internal energy to be blocked and stifled. His finger stabbed and pointed impotently, without a single bit of power behind it.
Many days passed in such a manner, as Jiumozhi carried him northwards. Duan Yu repeatedly tried to provoke Jiumozhi into speaking, asking why he was being kidnapped and why they were headed north. But Jiumozhi never responded. Duan Yu’s belly was full of resentment. He thought to himself that in the past when his little sister Mu Wanqing had captured him, although he suffered quite a bit, he wasn’t as bored senseless and depressed as he was right now. Not to mention, being captured by a beautiful girl who smelled wonderful and had a lovely voice even when she was shouting at him, was totally different from being carried by this barbarian monk who pretended to be deaf and dumb. This wasn’t even in the same league.
After travelling in such a manner for ten or so days, Duan Yu thought that they had probably left the boundaries of Dali by now. It seemed to him that the direction in which they were travelling changed to be northeast, but they continued to avoid travelling on major roads, continuing to travel through desolate mountain passes. By now though, the terrain became smoother and smoother. The mountain ridges grew fewer in number, and more sources of running water appeared. In a single day, they would often have to ford multiple rivers. Finally, Jiumozhi bought a pair of horses, splitting them with Duan Yu. But Duan Yu’s six major acupoints naturally remained sealed.
Once, when Duan Yu was taking a leak, he thought to himself, “If I exercise the steps of the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’, this barbarian monk wouldn’t necessarily be able to follow me, right?” But after taking only two steps, the sealed acupoints prevented his internal energy from flowing through them, and he immediately fell flat on his face. He sighed, then crawled to his feet, knowing that his last hope of escape had just disappeared.
That night, the two made an overnight rest stop at an inn in a small city. Jiumozhi ordered the inn servants to bring him paper, a brush, an inkstick, and an inkstone. He placed it on the table, lit a lamp, then said, “This humble monk has offended you greatly in inviting your illustrious personage to grace me with this visit northwards. I feel deeply apologetic about this.”
Duan Yu said, “Mmhmm. You are too polite.”
Jiumozhi asked, “Do you know why I have acted in such a way?”
Duan Yu was thinking about this very subject during the entire trip. After seeing all those things placed on the desk, he guessed about eighty or ninety percent. He replied, “Can’t be done.”
Jiumozhi asked, “What can’t be done?”
Duan Yu replied, “You envy and covet my family’s ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ and want to force me to write it out for you. This just can’t be done.”
Jiumozhi shook his head. “You misunderstand. In past years, this humble monk made a promise to Mr. Murong that I would borrow your venerable monastery’s manuscript and let him peruse it. My inability to fulfill this promise has always weighed heavily on my heart. Fortunately, you have memorized this technique in your heart. Without any other alternatives, I was forced to take you to Mr. Murong’s grave and burn you in sacrifice. In this way, I would finally be able to fulfill my promise. But you, young prince, are as a dragon amongst men, and I have no enmity with you whatsoever. How could I dare to harm you? There is a way by which both of us can be satisfied. All you need to do is write out the instructions and draw out the diagrams, without omitting anything at all. I won’t take a single peek at it and immediately seal it, then take it to Mr. Murong’s tomb and burn it to ashes. After having fulfilled this important wish, I will respectfully escort you back to Dali.”
Jiumozhi had said these words before, that day when he had arrived at the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. At the time, Benyin and the others all were inclined to agree, and Duan Yu had also felt that this was acceptable. But afterwards, Jiumozhi had first launched a sneak attack on Emperor Baoding, then kidnapped himself, Duan Yu. He used guileful and deceitful methods to avoid pursuing forces, and showed not a single care at all for the safety and well-being of his nine subordinates. He had clearly revealed his ruthlessness and committed many crimes. How could Duan Yu trust him now? He long ago had decided that the Divine Crocodile and the other three members of the ‘‘Four Evils’’, in openly proclaiming to be evil people, were far superior to this ‘holy monk’ from Tibet. Although he had very little real-world experience, Duan Yu had already mulled over this matter for the past twenty days or so and understood the critical points. He said, “Master Jiumozhi, you cannot deceive me with these words of yours.”
Jiumozhi folded his hands together. “Amitabha. Everything I have done is because of the promise I made previously to Mr. Murong. This should show how highly I value my word. How can I break another promise to fulfill this one?”
Duan Yu shook his head. “No one knows whether or not you really made a promise to Mr. Murong in the past. After getting the manuscript for the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’, you will definitely give it a close read. Who knows if you’ll actually take it to Mr. Murong’s grave or not, afterwards? Even if you really plan to burn it in sacrifice, based on your intelligence, great master, after reading it a few times, you’ll have memorized it completely. Maybe, fearing that you might forget or misremember some parts, you’ll even make a duplicate copy before incinerating the original.”
Jiumozhi’s eyes widened greatly, and he fixed Duan Yu with an evil, vicious stare. But in the blink of an eye, the expression on his face turned kind and amiable. He slowly said, “Both of us are disciples of Buddha. How can you say such brash, untrue things? What a sin, what a sin. I’m afraid that I am forced to resort to compelling you a little bit. I do this to save your life. Please don’t blame me.” As he spoke, he extended the palm of his left hand, gently pressing it against Duan Yu’s chest. “When you are unable to withstand the pain and are willing to write it out for me, all you need to do is nod and I will immediately release you.”
Duan Yu laughed bitterly. “If I don’t write the manuscript, you won’t be able to bring yourself to kill me, because then you won’t be able to obtain it. If I actually do write the manuscript out for you, how could you allow me to remain living? Writing it is equivalent to committing suicide. Master Jiumozhi, I understood this point thirteen days ago.”
Jiumozhi let out a sigh. “Buddha, show mercy.” He began to generate energy in his palm. He expected that with this stream of internal energy passing into Duan Yu’s ‘Shanzhong’ acupoint, Duan Yu would feel as though thousands of ants were gnawing on his entire body. Even though this little princeling who had been pampered since childhood was keeping a stiff upper lip for the moment, once he suffered the torture of being in a half-dead, half-living state, he would definitely give in. He didn’t expect that as soon as he generated his internal energy, it flowed away from him and disappeared. In his startlement, he generated even more power, but this time, it only disappeared even more quickly, turbulently pouring out of his body. Jiumozhi was extremely shocked. He hurriedly pushed Duan Yu’s forehead hard with his right hand. Duan Yu let out an ‘Ah!’ cry, then fell over on top of the table, the back of his head colliding heavily with the wall.
Jiumozhi knew all along that Duan Yu had learned the ‘Great Art of Energy Dissipation’ from the Old Freak of Xingxiu, but with one’s critical acupoints sealed, no internal-energy techniques should have been executable, regardless of whether it was orthodox or heterodox. How could he have known that when he forcefully inserted his internal energy into Duan Yu’s ‘Shanzhong’ acupoint, it was like that day when Duan Yu was paralyzed, his mouth wide open, and helpless to do anything when the Venomous Crimson Bullfrog hopped in? It had nothing to do with whether or not Duan Yu’s acupoints were sealed or not. Groaning and spluttering, Duan Yu sat up. “You falsely title yourself as an eminent and enlightened monk. Do eminent monks beat people up in such a manner?”
Jiumozhi said in a severe tone, “Who, exactly, taught you this ‘Great Art of Energy Dissipation’?”
Duan Yu shook his head. “The ‘Great Art of Energy Dissipation’ is a reckless waste of resources. It is akin to throwing away a thousand pieces of gold rather than keeping it for one’s own use. Such a heterodox skill is laughable! Laughable!” Without intending to, he quoted the words written within the jade cave from which he learned the ‘Divine Art of the Northern Darkness.’
Jiumozhi did not understood what had happened, but did not dare to touch Duan Yu’s body. However, when he had earlier sealed Duan Yu’s ‘Shenfeng’, ‘Dazhui’, ‘Xuanshu’, and ‘Jingmen’ acupoints, he hadn’t met with any problems. Jiumozhi thought that this person’s martial arts was strange and inconceivably bizarre. It must have been some byproduct or alteration generated by his practice of the ‘Single Solitary Finger’ and the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’. Only, as he had just started to learn this new technique, he still was not very proficient at it. Following this line of thought, he found himself all the more awed by and covetuous of the martial arts learning of Dali’s Duan family. He suddenly raised his hand and struck out in the air with a stance from his ‘Blazing Saber’, aiming the attack just slightly above Duan Yu’s head. He shouted, “You really don’t intend to write? If I aimed that strike just one foot lower, what would have happened to your head?”
Duan Yu was extremely afraid. He worried that if Jiumozhi really did get angry and poked out one of his eyes or chopped off one of his arms, what could he do about it? Some words which he had been pondering the entire trip instantly rose to the forefront of his mind, and he automatically said, “If I can’t take it anymore, then I’ll be forced to write whatever comes to mind, and it won’t necessarily be accurate. If you damage my limbs, then I will hate you to the bone and what I write will be even more inaccurate. How about this. The manuscript that I write out, you intend to burn in front of Mr. Murong’s tombstone, right? You’ll immediately seal it and won’t peek at it at all, right? So whether it is accurate or not has nothing to do with you. I’ll just write something at random. It will just be me deceiving Mr. Murong’s ghost. In the future, after his ghost in the underworld practices what I wrote and fire-deviates, damaging his ghostly meridians, he won’t blame you, right?” After saying this, he went to the table, picking up the brush and spreading the paper, preparing to write.
Jiumozhi was extremely angry. With these few words, Duan Yu had torn apart his façade of seeking the manuscript of the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ on behalf of Mr. Murong. At the same time, Duan Yu had also made it clear that if he, Jiumozhi, used force to coerce, the ‘manual’ which Duan Yu would write out would definitely be incomplete and inaccurate. The wrong sentences would be more common than the right sentences. Not only would the manual be useless, anyone who tried to practice according to its instructions would suffer great harm. In the course of his two battles against the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ at the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, he naturally learned what the real movements of the sword techniques were. But the main essence of the skill lay not in the movements, but purely in the internal energy formulas. There would be no way for him to discern the true instructions from the false instructions for this aspect. He barely managed to avoid flying into an utter rage out of shame, but his anger was too great, and with a ‘chi’ sound, he struck out with a stroke from the ‘Blazing Saber’ and chopped the pen in Duan Yu’s hand in half.
Duan Yu began to laugh loudly. Jiumozhi angrily said, “Little bastard, the Buddha is trying to save your life, but you obstinately persist on the wrong path. Looks like the only option is to take you to Mr. Murong’s tomb and‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ burn you to death there. The sword techniques which you memorized in your heart cannot be false, am I right?”
Duan Yu laughed, “I suppose that on my deathbed, I’ll just have to intentionally misremember a few of the strokes. Right, this is a great idea! From now on, I’ll try my best to misremember the technique. The more I misremember it, the better. At the very end, even I will be confused about how it was supposed to go.”
Jiumozhi glared furiously at him. It was as though there was a ‘Blazing Saber’ in his eyes that was about to burst out. He deeply wanted to simply wave his hand, then strike out with the invisible qi of his ‘Blazing Saber’ and chop this little bastard’s head off.
After this, they headed eastwards for another twenty days or so. Duan Yu listened to the accents of the other roadside travelers, and felt their speech was soft, elegant, and refined. There were no longer any spices in the food either.
This day, they finally arrived outside the great gates of the city of Suzhou. Duan Yu thought to himself, “We’re about to go to Murong Bo’s tombstone now. Since this barbarian monk hasn’t gotten the manuscript, he won’t actually kill me just yet. But to be placed upon Murong Bo’s tomb and be burnt a little, then baked a little, would put me in a half-dead state. That’s something to avoid as well.” Turning his mind from the subject, he began to check out the scenery. It was March now. Apricot flowers bloomed on both sides of the road, green willows hung over the lake, and a warm spring wind blew against his body. It was an intoxicating, almost giddy feeling. Duan Yu couldn’t help but feel his heart calm down and be at peace. Opening his mouth, he recited, “The waves are vast, and the willows are listening. A lonely village rests on a distant plain of fragrant grass, and the rays of the setting sun glow as apricot flowers fly across the sky.”
Jiumozhi sneered, “You’re at death’s door right now, and you still have such aimless, sentimental thoughts in your mind, to the point where you are reciting poems and ballads?”
Duan Yu laughed, “Thus spoketh the Buddha: ‘Neither the world nor your life is eternal, and that which is not ephemeral is bitter. ’ Nobody lives forever. At most, one might live a few years longer than others. What’s so great about that?”
Jiumozhi ignored him. He asked a passerby for the location of the ‘Canhe Manor’. But although he asked seven or eight people, none of them knew; moreover, the language barrier made it even more difficult for them to communicate. The last person he met was an old man who said, “Inside or outside of Suzhou, there isn’t a single manor called the ‘Canhe Manor’. Master monk, you must have misheard.”
Jiumozhi said, “The lord of the manor is surnamed ‘Murong’. Might I ask, where does he live?”
That old man said, “Within the walls of Gusu, there are those surnamed Gu, Lu, Shen, Zhang, Zhou, Wen…those are all famous manor lords. There’s nobody surnamed Murong. Never heard of’m.”
Just as Jiumozhi was uncertain as to how to proceed, he overheard a voice from a small eastern alleyway say, “I’ve heard that the Murong family lives thirty li west of the city, in a place called the Basin of Swallows. Let’s go check it out.”
Another person said, “Right, when we arrive at the edges, we need to be careful.”
Their accent marked them as being from Henan’s central prefecture. The two spoke in a very low voice, but Jiumozhi’s cultivation of internal strength was very profound, and he heard their words clearly. He thought to himself, “Can it be that these two are intentionally letting me hear their words? If not, how can there be such a coincidence?” Glancing sideways, he saw that one speaker, dressed in mourning clothes, had a grand, imposing air, whereas the other was small, gaunt, and short, with the appearance of a chronically ill old pickpocket.
Jiumozhi could immediately tell that these two men possessed martial arts. Before he had decided whether or not to go meet with them, Duan Yu already shouted out, “Mr. Huo, Mr. Huo, you came here as well?” That small, sickly looking person was the ‘Golden Abacus’, Cui Baiquan. The other man was his martial nephew, the ‘Soul Pursuing Whip’, Guo Yanzhi.
After leaving Dali, the two of them wholeheartedly wished to avenge Ke Baisui. They knew that the Murong family had an extremely high level of martial arts, and that there was less than a ten percent chance of success, but they nonetheless courageously came to Suzhou. After learning that the Murong family lived at the Basin of Swallows, and that Murong Bo had died many years ago, they realized that the person who killed Ke Baisui must be another member of the Murong family. They felt that their chances of gaining revenge had improved somewhat and rushed to the lakeside just as Jiumozhi and Duan Yu passed by.
Cui Baiquan, suddenly hearing Duan Yu call out to him, was stunned. He quickly made his way to him, seeing that Duan Yu was with a mounted monk whose left hand was gripping the reins of Duan Yu’s horse. Duan Yu’s arms hung limply at his sides. Clearly, his acupoints had been sealed. He asked curiously, “Young prince, it’s you! Hey, master monk, why are you giving this young gentleman a hard time? Don’t you know who he is?”
Jiumozhi didn’t think very highly of these two men, but he thought to himself that this was the first time he entered the Central Plains, and Mr. Murong’s home was not easy to find. With these two leading the way, things would be much easier. He said, “I need to go to the Murong family’s home, and would like to trouble you two to guide me.”
Cui Baiquan replied, “Master monk, how should I properly address you? Why is it that you dare to offend the young prince of the Duan family? What is your noble purpose for paying a visit to the Murong family’s home?”
Jiumozhi replied, “You shall know when we arrive.”
Cui Baiquan replied, “Master monk, are you a friend of the Murong family?”
Jiumozhi replied, “Correct. If you, Mr. Huo, know the location of Mr. Murong’s Canhe Manor, I’ll like to ask you to lead me there.”
Jiumozhi heard Duan Yu address this man as ‘Mr. Huo’, and actually thought his surname was ‘Huo’. Cui Baiquan scratched his head. He said to Duan Yu, “Prince, let me unseal the acupoints on your arm first.” As he spoke, he took a few steps forward and stretched out his hand, planning to unseal Duan Yu’s acupoints.
Duan Yu thought to himself that Jiumozhi’s proficiency in martial arts was extremely high, and that there was perhaps no one superior to him in all the world. Cui and Guo definitely would not be able to defeat him. If they made a rash attempt at rescuing him, the only result would be two more deaths. It would be best to tell the two of them to escape as quickly as possible. He said, “Wait! This master monk defeated my uncle and five other elite fighters of Dali by himself, then took me captive. He is an extremely close bosom friend of Mr. Murong, and intends to burn me as a sacrifice to Mr. Murong on the altar of his tomb. The two of you don’t have anything to do with Gusu’s Murong family. It’d be best if you hurried away and left.”
Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi, hearing that this monk had defeated the likes of experts such as Emperor Baoding, felt great shock in their hearts. After hearing that he was a bosom friend of the Murong family, they only felt even more trepidation. But Cui Baiquan also thought to himself that he had hid himself at the Southern Garrison Palace for more than ten years. Today, when the young prince was in peril, how could he just look on with folded arms? They had already arrived at Suzhou. He had long since regarded his own life as expendable, since going on this voyage of revenge. There was no difference between dying to enemy abacus beads and dying at the hands of this man. He immediately placed his hand in his bosom, withdrawing a magnificent Golden Abacus. Raising it high in the air, he shook it, creating many clanking sounds. “Master monk, Mr. Murong is a good friend of yours, but this young prince is a good friend of mine. I urge you to let him go.” With the flick of his hand, Guo Yanzhi also drew the soft whip from his waist. The two of them simultaneously rushed towards Jiumozhi’s horse.
Duan Yu loudly shouted, “You two, hurry and leave! You can’t defeat him!”
Jiumozhi laughed dully. “You really want to fight?”
Cui Baiquan replied, “This is what is known as a mosquito attacking a tiger on its head. I know that I cannot beat you, but I still need to try. Life and death-ow, ow!”
Before he finished the sentence, Jiumozhi had already reached out and seized Guo Yanzhi’s soft whip. Then, with a clapping sound, he reversed the whip and wrapped it around Cui Baiquan’s Golden Abacus. With a powerful tug of the whip, he ripped both weapons out of their owner’s hands and sent them flying towards the right, into the lake. Jiumozhi had calculated his use of energy perfectly. Just as it seemed as though the two weapons were about to sink into the depths of the lake, the tip of the whip floated up and wrapped around a willow that was overhanging the lake. The willow branch was soft and supple. It continuously rose and fell in a wave-like motion. The golden abacus slowly slapped against the surface of the water, creating one gentle ripple after another.
Jiumozhi folded his hands together. “Gentlemen, I’ll have to trouble you to lead the way, please.” The two of them stared at each other, not knowing what to do. Jiumozhi added, “If the two of you are unwilling to guide us, then I’d like for you to instruct me as to how to get to the Basin of the Swallows, and allow me to search for it on my own.” Seeing how awe-inspiring his martial arts was, but how mild his countenance was, the two of them felt that it wouldn’t be appropriate to become hostile against him, but it wouldn’t be appropriate not to either.
Just at this moment, a rowing sound was heard, and a small boat appeared on the lake. A young maiden in green was holding a pair of oars and slowly paddling towards them. She was singing a little ditty as she rowed. “The fragrance of lotus blossoms fills the lake, and a playful young girl tarries picking the flowers. At night, she brings her boat to the beach to play in the water. Laughing, she removes her red skirt and drapes it over the ducks.” The sound of the song was incomparably tender and sweet, joyous and pleasing to one’s senses.
In Dali, Duan Yu often chanted the poems and essays of the ancients, and long since understood the people and the songs of Jiangnan [South of the (Yangtze) River]. Now, listening to this song, he couldn’t help but feel intoxicated by it. He saw that the girl had a pair of delicate hands, with skin as white and luminous as jade. Her reflection could be seen in the green waves, which seemed almost transparent. Even Guo Yanzhi and Cui Baiquan, who were on the verge of confronting a powerful enemy, couldn’t help but turn their heads and take a glance at her.
Only Jiumozhi ignored her. He said, “Since you two are unwilling to inform me where Canhe Manor is located then I must bid you farewell.”
At this time, the girl in the boat had already reached shore. Hearing Jiumozhi’s words, she replied, “Master monk, you are going to Canhe Manor? Might I ask what business you have there?” Her voice was extremely sweet and very clear, causing listeners to feel unspeakably comfortable. This girl was around sixteen or seventeen years of age, with a gentle, soft face and a delicate body.
Duan Yu thought to himself, “I never would have imagined that the girls of Jiangnan were this beautiful.” Actually, this girl wasn’t really all that beautiful. She couldn’t compare to Mu Wanqing. But even though on a ten-point scale, she might only rank an eight in appearance, she ranked twelve in terms of gentleness and softness. Thus, she was not one whit inferior to perfect beauties.
Jiumozhi said, “This humble monk desires to visit the Canhe Manor. Can you point me in its direction, miss?”
The maiden smiled slightly. “The name, ‘Canhe Manor’, is not known to outsiders. Master monk, where did you hear it from?”
Jiumozhi replied, “I am an old bosom friend of Mr. Murong in a distant land. I have come for the sole purpose of paying my respects before his tomb, and carry out an agreement of the past. I hope to inquire as to the location of Young Master Murong, his son, as well.”
The maiden mumbled to herself, “Such an unfortunate coincidence, hey! Young Master Murong went on a journey the day before yesterday. If you came just three days earlier, you would have met him, hey.”
Jiumozhi said, “For me not to be able to meet the Young Master is a source of great sorrow. But I have come travelled tens of thousands of li from Tibet to come to the Central Plains. I would like to pay my respects before Mr. Murong’s tomb, and also fulfill my previous agreement with him.”
The maiden said, “Master, as you are a friend of old master Murong, please take a cup of green tea first. Meanwhile, I will go deliver the news. Whatcha think?”
Jiumozhi replied, “Miss, what is your position within the Young Master’s residence? How should I address you?”
The maiden smiled sweetly. “Aww, I’m just a minor servant girl who takes care of the Young Master, playing the zither and the flute for him. I’m called AhBi. Don’t be so polite and call me ‘miss’ this and ‘lady’ that. Just go ahead and call me AhBi, hey?” Her voice was filled with a heavy Suzhou accent. Originally, it was difficult to understand her words, but as she was a servant of an aristocratic wulin family, she had heard a great deal of Mandarin, and so she added a lot of Mandarin phrases and words into her speech. With a bit of effort, Duan Yu, Jiumozhi, and the others could manage to somewhat understand her.
Jiumozhi immediately said, in a respectful tone, “I wouldn’t dare.” (Author’s note: The Wu dialect which AhBi spoke cannot be reproduced in a book; only some of its charm can be conveyed. If her dialogue was actually written in the Wu dialect, readers wouldn’t be able to understand her at all. It wasn’t easy for Duan Yu and Jiumozhi to understand her.)
AhBi said, “From here to the Pavilion of Zither Melodies of the Basin of Swallows is all water. If all of you want to go there, I can row you over. Is that alright?” Her words, ‘Is that alright’, were eagerly solicitous, soft in its inquiring, making it difficult for others to refuse her.
Jiumozhi replied, “If that’s the case, then thank you for your labors.”
Dragging Duan Yu by the hand, he easily leapt into the boat. The small boat barely dipped downwards, and did not shake or sway in the slightest. AhBi smiled a little towards Duan Yu and Jiumozhi, as if to say, “Nice abilities!”
Guo Yanzhi said in a low voice, “Martial-uncle, what?...” The two of them came to seek revenge on the Murong family, but now were in a very difficult and awkward position.
AhBi laughed a little. “Gentle sirs, why dontcha come? Since you’ve already come to Suzhou, hey, if you don’t have any pressing business, why dontcha come over to our place to drink some tea and eat something? Don’t be worried about the boat being small; even if more people came, it still wouldn’t sink.” She gently paddled the boat, approaching the willow tree. Extending her delicate hand, she retrieved the golden abacus and the soft whip. She casually played with the abacus a bit, striking it and causing a series of clanging sounds.
After listening for just a brief moment, Duan Yu delightedly said, “Miss, you are playing the song, ‘Gathering Mulberries’, right?” As it was, when she started to play with the abacus, her fingers danced across it both quickly and slowly, with force and gently. She used a rhythm that was unexpectedly two strains from the gentle, easy song, ‘Gathering Mulberries’.
AhBi smiled beautifully. “Young Master, you have a thorough understanding of music. Why don’t you come play a melody as well?”
Duan Yu saw that she was innocent, friendly, and unpretentious. Smiling, he said, “I don’t know how to play the abacus.” Turning his head, he said to Cui Baiquan, “Mr. Huo, this young miss is beating out such a lovely melody on your abacus.”
Cui Baiquan forced out a smile. “That’s so, that’s so. This young lady really is a proper person. Even such a vulgar object as this possession of mine becomes a musical instrument in her hands.”
AhBi said, “Aww, I’m very sorry, yeah? Does this belong to Mr. Huo? This abacus is made exquisitely. You must have a lot of money at home. Even your abacus is made out of gold! Uncle Huo, lemme give it back to ya.” Holding the abacus in her left hand, she stretched her arm out towards him, but Cui Baiquan was on the shore and unable to receive it. He really could not bear to part with this old friend of his, which had never left his side for an instant in many years. With a leap, he too jumped into the boat, stretching out his arm and receiving the abacus. Leaning his head slightly, he shot a glance at Jiumozhi. A gentle, amiable smile was on Jiumozhi’s face the entire time, without the slightest hint of anger.
With her left hand, AhBi held the tip of the whip, using the five fingers of her right hand to strap the other end around her hand. She scratched the whip with her fingernail, instantly creating a series of crystal clear ‘ding’, ‘ling’, ‘dong’, ‘long’ sounds. It was as though she were testing out a new pipa instrument. A weapon which had done battle all across the land, competing against both heroes and villains, once more became a musical instrument in her tender, pure white hands.
Duan Yu cried out, “Brilliant, brilliant! Miss, why don’t you play a song for him?”
AhBi said to Guo Yanzhi, “Does this soft whip belong to you, sir? I very rudely toyed around with a bit. I’m so very sorry. Why don’t you come on the boat as well? In a bit, I’ll peel some fresh crimson water chestnuts for you to eat.”
Guo Yanzhi held a deep and abiding hatred for the entire Murong family for the death of his master. But seeing this innocent, unaffected maiden speak and smile so sweetly, he couldn’t release upon her the anger and hatred he felt. He thought to himself, “Since she’s invited me onto the boat, I might as well go. At the very least, I’ll kill some of their people and so avenge my benevolent master’s death.” He immediately nodded and also jumped onto the boat.
AhBi carefully coiled up the soft whip, then handed it to Guo Yanzhi. Pulling at the oars, the boat began to move westwards.
Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi exchanged a few glances. They thought to themselves, “Today, we are entering a tiger’s den. Who knows if we will live or die? The Murong family’s techniques are very sinister and deadly. This girl appears to be gentle, kind, and sweet; she doesn’t seem to be putting on an act. But who knows if this is a trick by which the Murong family uses to deceive their enemies? After we lower our guard, perhaps they will make their move.”
The boat glided across the waters. After making several turns, they arrived at a particularly large lake. As far as the eye could see, mist covered the surface of the water, which stretched out unendingly in every direction. Guo Yanzhi was secretly apprehensive. “This large lake is probably Lake Taihu, the Grand Lake. Neither I nor martial-uncle Cui know how to swim. All this little girl needs to do is overturn the boat, and the two of us will become food for the turtles and the fish. How could we possibly gain vengeance?”
Cui Baiquan had thought of the same thing. He decided that if he could get his hands on the oars, it wouldn’t be an easy task for the girl to overturn the boat even if she wanted to. He said, “Miss, let me help you row the boat. Just tell me what direction we should go.”
AhBi smiled. “Aww, I vould not dare! If the Young Master found out, he’d berate me for slighting our guests.”
Seeing that she was unwilling, Cui Baiquan became all the more suspicious. He laughed, “To tell you the truth, we want to hear you, young miss, display your consummate skills in playing songs on the soft whip. We are unrefined people, but Young Master Duan here is a thorough expert in music, chess, calligraphy, and painting.”
AhBi glanced at Duan Yu. She laughed, “My playing is so poor, how can it be considered a consummate skill? This young gentleman appears to be very refined. He’ll laugh’n’laugh’n’laugh some more. I aint gonna!”
Cui Baiquan took the soft whip from Guo Yanzhi and put it in her hands. “Play, play!” At the same time, he took the wooden oar from her hands.
AhBi laughed. “Alrighty! Could you lend me your Golden Abacus again as well?”
Cui Baiquan felt extremely apprehensive. “Can it be that she has some underhanded plot in taking both of our weapons?” But at this point in time, he could not credibly refuse, and could only hand the abacus over to her. AhBi put the golden abacus on a wooden plank in front of her. She held the handle of the soft whip in her left hand, then gently stepped on the tip of the whip with her left foot, pulling it taut. The five fingers of her right hand plucked rapidly in succession, immediately generating a tinkling sound from the soft whip. Although the sound wasn’t as clear and strong as that of a pipa instrument, it was still very bright and crisp nonetheless.
While she was playing the soft whip with the five fingers of her right hand, she managed to simultaneously stretch her fingers out and play with the Golden Abacus. The clanging sound of the abacus beads, when combined with the tinkling sounds from the soft whip, became even more clear in their harmonizing. Just at this moment, a pair of swallows flitted past them overhead, heading westwards. Duan Yu thought to himself, “The Murong family lives at the ‘Basin of Swallows’. I would imagine there must be many swallows here.”
AhBi began to sing. “Two divinities appear at an auspicious hour, and a thousand families once more see the graceful dancing of a pair of swallows. The nest of the phoenix is certainly near, for why else does the river mist follow us even now? As messy as a rich lady’s boudoir, flying low over the green shores, drawing a picture with gentle strokes, singing a song of the turning of this world. For whom do I come, and for whom do I depart? My master’s benevolence is as priceless as a string of pearls.”
Hearing how graceful and supple her voice was, Duan Yu couldn’t help but be moved. He thought to himself, “If I stayed in the southern lands of Dali all of my life, how could I have heard such a celestial melody? ‘For whom do I come, and for whom do I depart? My master’s benevolence is as priceless as a string of pearls.’ Young Lord Murong must be an extraordinary person to have a servant girl such as her.”
After finishing her song, she returned the soft whip and abacus to Cui and Guo. She laughed, “Please don’t mock me for my poor singing. Master Huo, just paddle towards the small harbor towards our right!”
Cui Baiquan felt relieved after she returned their weapons to them. He immediately complied and paddled the boat towards the harbor. The surface of the water was covered with water lotuses. If it hadn’t been for her guidance, he never would have discovered that there was a way in. After paddling for a while longer, AhBi said, “Paddle in that direction, please.” Here, the surface of the water was covered with water chestnut leaves. The crimson water chestnuts surged up and down with the waves, forming a stupendously colorful sight. AhBi casually plucked a few of the water chestnuts out from the water and offered some to each person.
Although Duan Yu could move his arms, after having his major acupoints sealed, he couldn’t exert the slightest bit of strength. He couldn’t even peel the chestnut. AhBi laughed. “Young gentlemen, you aren’t from Jiangnan and you don’t know how to peel chestnuts. Lemme help ya!” She peeled many chestnuts in a row and placed them in his palm. Duan Yu saw that the skin of the chestnuts looked bright and clean, and put them in his mouth. They tasted savory, crisp, and outstandingly sweet and clear. He laughed, “The tastes of these chestnuts are clear and not dirty at all, just like the song you sang, miss.”
AhBi’s blushed slightly. She laughed, “This is the first time I’ve heard anyone compare my singing to these water chestnuts. Many thanks!”
Before they finished paddling past the pool of water chestnuts, AhBi directed them to make another course change, having the small boat pass through a pond of reeds and wild rice. By now, even Jiumozhi was beginning to feel suspicious. He secretly began memorizing the twists and turns they made, so as to not get lost on his way out. But as he stared at the lake, all the water chestnuts, lotus leaves, and reeds looked identical. Moreover, once the wind blew, the shape and configuration of the chestnuts and leaves would suddenly change. Even if he really did memorize how everything looked, in a blink of an eye it all would look differently. Jiumozhi, Guo Yanzhi, and Cui Baiquan continuously cast side-glances at AhBi, trying to discern from her eyes how she was managing to discern where they should go. But all she did was cheerfully and carelessly pick chestnuts and play with the water before casually pointing out where they should go next. It was as though these countless complex interlocking channels, which were almost like a chessboard, were as familiar to her as the lines on the palm of her hand, something which she knew since birth and had no need to memorize.
And so, twisting and curving, they paddled for almost four hours. Off in the distance, green willows could be seen growing thickly, revealing a corner of upturned eaves. AhBi said, “Go there! Master Huo! You must be tired, after helping me row for half a day!”
Cui Baiquan smiled wryly. “As long as there are red water chestnuts to eat and beautiful songs to hear, even if I rowed for another eight or ten years, I wouldn’t be tired.”
AhBi clapped her hands and laughed. “You just wanna listen to songs and eat chestnuts? Easy breezy! Just don’t leave this lake for the rest of your life, yeah!”
Hearing her say the words, ‘Don’t leave this lake for the rest of your life, yeah’, Cui Baiquan couldn’t help but feel startled. He cast her a side glance, but saw her smiling cheerfully, without any malicious undercurrent at all. Still, he couldn’t help but continue to feel uneasy. AhBi took over the wooden paddle, and begin to row them towards the copse of willows. A large pine tree branch, carved into the shape of a ladder, touched the water’s surface. AhBi fastened the boat to the branch. The melodious call of little birds could be heard above them. Imitating the sound of the birds, AhBi also let out a few calls, before turning and laughing, “Please come ashore.”
As they left the boat, four or five rooms could be seen, scattered alongside the river and constructed upon an area that seemed like an island or a peninsula. The rooms were small and exquisitely constructed, appearing very refined and proper. Above the house was a plaque with two words written on it: “Zither Melody”. The calligraphy of the plaque was extremely natural and unrestrained. Jiumozhi said, “Would this place be the Canhe Manor of the Basin of Swallows?”
AhBi shook her head. “No. This is the place which the Young Master has given us to live in. It’s a very small place and totally unsuitable for receiving guests. But you, master monk, said that you wanted to visit the mausoleum of old master Murong. This is something which I don’t have the authority to allow. Please wait here for a bit while I go and consult with my elder sister, AhZhu.
Listening to her words, Jiumozhi felt unhappy and his face sunk. He was the National Protector and Dharma King of Tibet, an extremely venerated and respected personage. Not only was he greatly respected and honored in Tibet, if he were to pay a visit to the imperial courts of the Great Song, Dali, or the Western Xia, the monarchs of each kingdom would personally receive him with great courtesy and proprietry. Moreover, he was a bosom friend of Mr. Murong and personally came to pay his respects to him. Since Young Master Murong was unaware of this, he could not be blamed for leaving. But for this underling to not invite him to the main hall and receive him with proper ceremony and instead take him to the living quarters of the servants was simply too infuriating. But, seeing the smiles and laughter on AhBi’s face, it didn’t seem as though she had the slightest intention of disrespecting him. He thought to himself, “This little girl doesn’t know anything. Why should I lower myself to be bothered by her?” After this thought, he became calm and good-tempered again.
Cui Baiquan asked, “Who is this elder sister AhZhu of yours?”
AhBi smiled, “AhZhu is simply AhZhu. She’s a month older than me, so puts on the air of being my elder sister. I don’t have the option to not call her elder sister, since she’s a month older than me after all. But you don’t need to call her elder sister AhZhu, because if you do, she’ll become all the more giddy and happy.” As she chirped and tittered in her gentle, clear voice, she led the four of them into the house.
Arriving within the main hall, AhBi bade them sit. A male servant served them green tea and pastries. Duan Yu, holding the teacup in his hand, smelled a fragrant, aromatic scent. He removed the lid on his teacup and saw extremely fine grains of jade-green tea leaves floating on top of the tea. They appeared almost like little pearls rolled into slender hairs. Duan Yu had never seen anything like them before. Taking a sip, he felt as though his mouth was filled with a delicate fragrance which soaked into his tongue and his saliva. Jiumozhi, Cui, and Guo, seeing how strange the tea looked, did not dare to drink. These pearl-shaped tea leaves were a special local product grown in mountain peaks nearby Lake Taihu. Later generations gave it the name, “Bi Luo Chun” tea, meaning “Jade-Green Spirals of Spring”. During the Northern Song dynasty, it didn’t have such a refined, elegant name yet. The local people called it “Xia Sha Ren Xiang”, or “Extremely Scary Fragrance.” This was supposed to mean that the tea was so fragrant and rapturuous, it would scare people who tasted it. Jiumozhi had always resided in the western regions and in Tibet, and was used to drinking bitter-tasting black brick tea. Now, seeing this jade-green tea that had hair-like things in it, he couldn’t help but suspect it was poisoned.
Four different types of light refreshments were served. Rose pine nut candies, soft fuling (a type of edible fungus) cakes, jade green sweetcakes, and dumplings filled with ham and powdered lotus. Each pastry appeared elegant and was properly made, appearing so lovely that they appeared as though they weren’t meant to be eaten, but toys to look at and play with instead.
Duan Yu praised, “These delicacies are so delightfully made that they must taste wonderful as well. But how can anyone bear to eat them?”
AhBi smiled a little. “Young gentleman, please feel free to eat. We have more.”
Duan Yu began to eat, and each time he ate one, he would praise it. Jiumozhi, Cui, and Guo still did not dare to eat. Duan Yu felt some suspicion in his heart. “This Jiumozhi fellow claims to be an old friend of Murong Bo. Why is he afraid to eat? Moreover, it doesn’t appear as though they are very hospitable in welcoming him either.”
Jiumozhi’s patience was truly impressive. He waited until after Duan Yu had eaten all the dishes, tasted all the tea, and praised everything profusely before saying, “Miss, can you please go and inform your elder sister, AhZhu?”
AhBi smiled. “AhZhu’s hamlet is four-nines away by water. We won’t be able to make it there tonight. The four of you, please take a rest here tonight, and tomorrow morning we will go to the ‘Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds’.”
Cui Baiquan asked, “What do you mean by ‘four nines away’?”
AhBi replied, “A ‘nine-waterway’ is nine li in length, two are eighteen li, and four would be thirty six li. Just use your abacus and you’ll be able to calculate it.” As it turned out, in the Jiangnan region, when people discussed the distance of a journey or a road, they counted them by ‘one-nine’ and ‘two-nines’.
Jiumozhi said, “Miss, if this is the case, why didn’t you take us directly to the ‘Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds’? Wouldn’t that have been quicker?”
AhBi laughed. “No one ever comes here to chat and gossip with me. I’m so bored, y’know? Finally, some guests came over, isn’t that great? No matter what, I gotta get y’all to stay here a night, yeah?”
All this time, Guo Yanzhi was controlling his temper and not speaking. Now, he suddenly rose to his feet and shouted, “Where do the family members of the Murong family live? I, Guo Yanzhi, did not come to the Canhe Manor to drink tea or eat delicacies, much less to serve as a diversion for you to relieve your boredom. I came here on a mission of killing and vengeance, to bleed and to die. Since I, the one surnamed Guo, came here, I had no intentions of leaving. Miss, please go convey the word that I am the disciple of Ke Baisui, of the ‘Hidden Ox’ Sect, and have come to avenge my master!” After he spoke, he flashed his whip. With a cracking sound, a red sandalwood tea table and a mottled bamboo chair were shattered into many pieces.
AhBi seemed neither startled nor angry. She said, “There’s plenty of heroes and valiant men who have come to visit the Young Master, at least several every month. Lots of those respected sirs came with such tyrannical, angry, and ferocious attitudes, but this little girl hasn’t heard of…”
Before she finished her words, an old person with silver hair and a grey beard walked out holding a walking stick. This person said, “AhBi, who is kicking up such a ruckus out here?” This person was speaking in perfect, pure, unaccented Mandarin.
Cui Baiquan rose up from the chair, and both he and Guo Yanzhi stood straight and erect. He shouted, “In whose hands, exactly, did my martial-brother Ke Baisui perish?”
Duan Yu saw that this old person was hunched over, with a face full of wrinkles. If he wasn’t ninety, he had to be at least eighty. He said in hoarse voice, “Ke Baisui, Ke Baisui, right. A man a hundred years of age should’ve died long ago!” [Baisui, his name, literally means ‘a hundred years old’; this is a play on words.]
Ever since Guo Yanzhi arrived at Suzhou, his every waking moment was consumed with the thought of going to the Murong family and getting into a big battle, with lots of killing and chopping to avenge his master. But, after Jiumozhi took his weapon away from him, his drive was snapped. Then, after meeting such an innocent, lovely lass as AhBi, he was unable to vent his anger out on her. Now, hearing that old man speak so rudely, he lashed out with his soft whip to strike the old man on the back of his heart. He saw that Jiumozhi was seated at the west seat of honor. In order to prevent him from helping out, Guo Yanzhi launched this attack of his from the east.
He didn’t imagine that Jiumozhi would stretch out his arm and pull the whip towards him from far away, as though by magnetic force. He said, “Hero Guo, we have come from afar and are guests. If there’s anything you have to say, just say it. There’s no need to use force.” He rolled the soft whip into a coil, then returned the weapon to him.
Guo Yanzhi’s face was suffused with red. It wouldn’t be good for him to refuse, but it would also be embarassing for him to accept. After a moment, he thought to himself, “Today, the most important thing is avenging my master. I can suffer some momentary humiliation in order to keep my weapon in my hands.” He reached out and accepted it.
Jiumozhi said to the old man, “Elder benefactor, might I inquire as to what is your respected name? Are you a relative of Mr. Murong, or a friend?”
The old man cracked a smile. “This old fellow is an old servant of the master. What ‘respected name’ might I have? I heard that you, great master, are a dear friend of our passed away master. Might I ask what instructions you have for me?”
Jiumozhi replied, “My business can only be divulged to the Young Master himself.”
The old man said, “That’s unfortunate. The Young Master left just two days ago. No one knows when he will be back.”
Jiumozhi asked, “Where did the Young Master go?”
The old man inclined his head, then stretched out with a hand and knocked on his forehead. “As to this, I’m old and muddle-headed. I think he said he was going to the Western Xia. He also said something about the kingdom of Liao, and maybe Tibet as well. Or it could be Dali.”
After hearing this, Jiumozhi felt displeasure in his heart. During this era, the world was divided into five nations. Aside from the nation of the Great Song where they currently were, this old man had named all four of the other countries as possible locations. He knew that this old man was only pretending to be muddle-headed. He said, “Since this is so, I won’t wait for the Young Master to return. Old steward, I’d like to ask that I be taken directly to Mr. Murong’s mausoleum to pay my respects, and give thanks for our old friendship.”
That old man’s hands waved violently. “I can’t make this decision on my own, and I’m not the steward.”
Jiumozhi asked, “Then who is the steward of your venerable manor? Please invite him out for us to meet.”
That old man nodded repeatedly. “Great, great! Let me go invite the steward.” Turning around, he shuffled his way out while mumbling to himself, “In this day and age, there’s all sorts of bad people in the world. They dress up as monks and Taoists and beg for alms. What haven’t I seen? I won’t be tricked!”
Duan Yu burst out in laughter. AhBi hurriedly said to Jiumozhi, “Great master, please don’t be angry, old Uncle Huang is an old muddle-head. He thinks he’s very clever, but whenever he speaks he can’t help but offend people.”
Cui Baiquan tugged on Guo Yanzhi’s shirt-sleeves. Walking to one side, he said in a low voice, “This evil baldy claims to be an old friend of Mr. Murong, but these people here clearly are not treating him like a respected guest. Let’s not act too rashly and figure out exactly what is going on first.”
Guo Yanzhi replied, “Yes!”
They returned to their original seats. But Guo Yanzhi’s original seat had already been shattered by him into many pieces, leaving him no place to sit. AhBi carried her own seat over towards him. She said with a smile, “Great Hero Guo, please sit!”
Guo Yanzhi nodded. He thought to himself, “Even if I am able to totally eradicate the entirety of the Murong family, I must spare this little girl.”
Ever since that old man entered, Duan Yu felt that something felt off and was unnatural. But as to what exactly was wrong, he could not say. He carefully examined the pavilion’s furnishings, furniture, scenery, calligraphy and paintings hanging on the walls, then looked at AhBi, Jiumozhi, Cui Baiquan, and Guo Yanzhi. He couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary, but more and more he felt as though something was off.
After a long time passed, the sound of footsteps could be heard, and a thin old man of fifty years or so entered. His skin was sallow in color, and a straggly mountain-goat like beard could be seen on his chin. He looked extremely shrewd and capable. The clothes he wore were very tasteful. On one hand, he wore a marble ring. Evidently, this was the steward for the Murong family. The skinny fellow bowed towards Jiumozhi and said, “This humble servant, Sun San, pays his respects to everyone. We feel extremely honored, venerable sir, that you wish to pay your respects before the mausoleum of our late master. But with our Young Master having left, there is no one to welcome you properly, much to our shame. I will simply convey your kind intentions to our Young Master, once he returns.”
At this point, Duan Yu suddenly smelled a light fragrant scent. His heart swayed. “Strange, strange.”
Earlier, when that old male servant had come to the room, Duan Yu smelled a fragrant scent. The fragrance seemed vaguely familiar to the scent which Mu Wanqing’s body also had. Although it was very different, both were feminine smells. Originally, Duan Yu thought that this fragrance was coming from AhBi, and so did not think too much of it. But as soon as that old servant left the room, the fragrance disappeared. But as soon as the self-claimed ‘Sun San’ entered the room, Duan Yu once again smelled this scent. Duan Yu suddenly understood that the reason he felt awkward earlier was because he smelled the fragrant scent of a seventeen, eighteen year old girl on the body of an eighty, ninety year old man. He thought to himself, “Can it be that in the inner pavilion is grown some sort of strange flowers or remarkable grass, and so anyone who comes here from that pavilion is covered by that scent? The other possibility is that both that old servant and this skinny fellow are actually women in disguise.”
Although the scent made Duan Yu feel suspicious, it was very light and nearly unnoticeable. Jiumozhi and the other two didn’t smell the fragrance at all. The only reason Duan Yu himself was able to notice it was because he and Mu Wanqing underwent a rare life-and-death situation together at the mountain cliff. Nobody else would pay any attention to this faint, virginal smell, but to him this scent made a deep impression within his heart and his very bones. It was a much stronger scent to him than that of musk, white sandalwood, or flowery perfume. Although Jiumozhi possessed an extremely deep reservoir of internal energy, he had strictly followed Buddhist prohibitions against sexual encounters all his life. Rosy cheeks and verdant temples were nothing more to him than skeletal bones and colorless skulls. Fragrant powders and rouge were even less to him. He had no idea that men and women had different scents.
Although Duan Yu suspected that Sun San was actually a woman in disguise, he couldn’t spot a single flaw or giveaway. Not only did this person have the bearing and demeanor of a man, his shape and his voice weren’t womanly at all. Suddenly, he thought to himself, “If a woman is imitating a man, she can’t fake his Adam’s apple.” He secretly glanced at Sun San’s throat, but saw that his goat-like beard perfectly covered his larynx. Duan Yu rose to his feet. He pretended to examine the calligraphy and painting on the walls, and casually strolled past Sun San’s side. He snuck a side-glance, and saw that Sun San’s throat didn’t have the slightest bulge at all, and that his chest seemed full and plump. Although Duan Yu still couldn’t be absolutely certain that Sun San was a woman, such a skinny man definitely should not have so much flesh and muscle on his chest. Duan Yu, having discovered a secret, felt very amused. “There’s a lot more to be played out in this drama. Let’s see what she has planned next.”
Jiumozhi sighed, “I met with your deceased master by the boundaries of Sichuan. We discussed martial arts and very much admired each other’s abilities, and became friends. I wouldn’t have imagined that the heavens themselves would be envious of his talents and leave such a useless, mediocre fellow as myself alive, while taking the life of your deceased master and sending him to meet Buddha in the Western Paradise. The only reason I have left Tibet and come to the Central Plains is to pay my respects before his mausoleum, due to our ancient friendship. It does not matter whether or not someone is here to welcome me properly. Steward, I would simply like to trouble you to lead the way.”
Sun San wrinkled his forehead, as though he felt extremely awkward. “This…this…”
Jiumozhi said, “I don’t know if there is some difficulty in my request, and humbly request your instruction.”
Sun San said, “Great master, since you are a bosom friend of my deceased master, you surely must know his temperament. My deceased master hated when people came to pay visits to him. He said that of those visitors who came to the manor, if they didn’t come on a mission of vengeance, then they came to try and convince him to take them on as a student. A level below this would be those who came to beg for money, or try to cause trouble and pilfer something from us. He said that monks and nuns were even less trustworthy…ack, sorry!” As he said this, he suddenly seemed to realize that with these words, he must have offended Jiumozhi. He hurriedly pressed his hands over his mouth.
The manner in which she acted was totally in accordance with that of a young maiden. Her round eyes widened, and the black pupils of her eyes spun. Although she quickly drooped her eyelids down, Duan Yu, who was paying close attention, couldn’t help but feel a sense of glee. “Not only is Sun San female, she’s a young girl.” Casting a side-glance at AhBi, he noticed a trace of a sly smile tugging at the corner of her lips. He no longer had any more doubt in his heart. “Sun San and old Huang clearly are the same person, perhaps that sister AhZhu she was speaking about.”
Jiumozhi heaved a sigh. “In this world, there are more deceitful people than there are honest people. It is not unreasonable for Mr. Murong to refuse to meet with most folk.”
Sun San said, “Right. Our deceased master’s last words were, ‘If anyone wishes to conduct memorial ceremonies at my tomb or sweep my grave, politely \turn them away. Hmph, those evil baldies probably just want to dig into my tomb.’ Ack, great master, please don’t think too much. The ‘thieving baldies’ our deceased master spoke of probably was not you.”
Duan Yu was secretly amused. “The phrase, ‘Cursing about ‘evil baldies’ in front of a monk’ applies to this situation perfectly.” Then he thought, “This evil baldy has totally maintained his composure and not batted an eyelid. The more evil and loathsome a person is, the better his temper is. This evil baldy really is a remarkable person.”
Jiumozhi said, “These last words of your deceased master are understandable. His might shook the world, and he left behind many enemies. It’s reasonable for him to guard against enemies who did not dare attempt revenge on him when he was living, but who would try to disturb his bones after his death.”
Sun San said, “If someone wishes to disturb the bones of our deceased master, haha, that would really be like ‘an elderly cat smelling salted fish.’”
Jiumozhi was startled. “What do you mean, ‘an elderly cat smelling salted fish’?”
Sun San replied, “This is called, ‘smelling dried fish, smelling dried fish’. Meaning, ‘don’t even think about it, don’t even think about it.’” (Obviously, this is a linguistic wordplay; the phrases ‘smelling dried fish’ and ‘don’t even think about it’ sound exactly the same in Mandarin Chinese.)
Jiumozhi replied, “Ah, so that’s how it is. I was very good bosom friends with Mr. Murong. My only desire is to pay my respects before his tomb. Steward, no need to be too skeptical.”
Sun San said, “The honest truth is, I don’t have the authority to grant you your wish. If I were to go against my deceased master’s last command, when the Young Master returns and finds out, he’ll break my old legs. How about this, I’ll go invite the old mistress and ask her to come up with a plan. What do you think?”
Jiumozhi replied, “The old mistress? Who are you referring to?”
Sun San said, “Old Mistress Murong. She was our deceased master’s aunt. Every time an old friend of the old master came, they would kowtow to her and pay their respects. With the Young Master not at home, everything needs to go through the old mistress.”
Jiumozhi replied, “That’s very good to know. Please inform the old mistress that Jiumozhi of Tibet has come to pay his respects to her.”
Sun San said, “Great master, you are too polite. You flatter us too much.” As he spoke, he entered the main pavilion.
Duan Yu thought to himself, “This girl is both intelligent and strange. I wonder why she is playing all these pranks on this evil baldy?” After a long period of time, a clattering of rings and ornaments could be heard as an old lady tottered out of the inner pavilion. Before she herself arrived, that light fragrance arrived first. Duan Yu couldn’t help but smile. He thought to himself, “This time, she’s dressed up as an old lady.” The old lady wore an ancient, copper-colored satin skirt and coat, wearing jade bracelets around her wrists, and pearls and jade ornaments in her hair. Her appearance was graceful and luxurious, but had many wrinkles on her face. Her eyes seemed confused and misty, as though they could no longer see. Duan Yu secretly cheered, “This young lass is incredible. Whatever she dresses up as, she looks like. What’s even more amazing is that she was able to change in such a short period of time. Her movements are so swift. It really must be acclaimed as the height of perfection in the art.”
The old lady supported herself on her walking stick, entering the pavilion with faltering steps. She said, “AhBi, have friends of your old master arrived? Why haven’t they kowtowed to me?” Her head turned left and right, as though she had very poor eyesight and couldn’t tell who was present.
AhBi gestured towards Jiumozhi and said in a low voice, “Quick, kowtow. As soon as you kowtow, the old mistress will be happy and will agree to anything.”
The old lady turned her head around, cupping her hands around her ears so as to hear more clearly. She loudly said, “Girl, what did you just say? Did they kowtow yet?”
Jiumozhi said, “Old mistress, how are you? This humble monk has come to pay his respects to you.” He bowed deeply, his hands folded together. His twin hands exerted power, and a deep booming sound came from the bricks on the floor, as though someone had kowtowed.”
Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi looked at each other. Both of them were equally struck dumb with amazement. “This monk’s internal energy is so profound! I fear that we won’t be able to take even a single stance from him.”
The old madame nodded. “Excellent, excellent. In this world, there are more deceitful people than there are honest people. Even for something like kowtowing, some evil scoundrels want to be deceitful. Even when they clearly have not kowtowed, they make booming sounds on the floor as though they have, so as to deceive this old lady’s bad eyes. But you, kid, you are great, you are very obedient. You kowtowed very loudly.”
Duan Yu couldn’t resist a snort of amusement. The old lady slowly turned around and said, “AhBi, did someone just fart?”
She reached out her hand and pinched her nose. AhBi, holding in laughter, said, “Old mistress, that isn’t the case. Young Master Duan let out a laugh.”
The old lady said, “Broken? What’s broken? [Duan Yu’s surname, ‘Duan’, sounds the same as the Chinese character for ‘broken’ or ‘snapped’]”
AhBi replied, “Nothing’s broken. His surname is ‘Duan’. He’s the Young Master of the Duan family.”
The old lady nodded. “Right, Young Master this and Young Master that. Day in and day out, you are always thinking about your Young Master.”
AhBi’s face reddened. “The old mistress’s ears aren’t good. She needs to be more careful when gossiping.”
The old lady turned towards Duan Yu. “Kid, why haven’t you kowtowed yet?”
Duan Yu said, “Old mistress, there’s something I want to tell you.”
The old lady said, “What is it?”
Duan Yu replied, “I have a niece who is very intelligent and clever, but who is also extremely mischievious. She loves dressing up as a little monkey to mess around. One day she’ll dress up as a male monkey, the next day a female monkey. She knows how to do acrobatics too. Old mistress, you’d love to meet her. It’s too bad that I didn’t bring her along to have her kowtow to you.”
The old lady really was the other servant girl of the Murong family, AhZhu, dressed up in disguise. Her abilities in the arts of disguise and makeup were godlike. Not only could she make herself look different, her words and her mannerisms were impeccable as well, not revealing a single flaw. Thus, even extremely intelligent people such as Jiumozhi or experienced jianghu veterans such as Cui Baiquan didn’t suspect her in the slightest. Unexpectedly, Duan Yu was able to ferret out the truth, using the faint aroma which her body gave off and which she had no way of hiding.
Hearing him speak thusly, AhZhu was startled, but didn’t change her demeanor in the slightest, continuing to appear like a senile, doddering old lady with bad vision and half-deaf ears. She said, “Good kid, good kid, you are really smart. I’ve never met such a smart child as you before. Good kid, don’t talk too much. This old lady will definitely take care of you.”
Duan Yu thought to himself, “What she means is that she wants me to not reveal her secret. She’s trying to fend off this evil baldy, Jiumozhi. That makes her a friend, not an enemy.” He said, “Old mistress, please put your heart at ease. Now that I am at your manor, naturally I am at your disposal and will obey your commands.”
AhZhu replied, “You are an obedient kid to listen to my words. Great, first kowtow three times to this old lady. I definitely will give you great benefits if you do so.”
Duan Yu was startled. “I am the regal son of the Imperial Crown Brother of Dali. How can I kowtow to a little girl like you?”
AhZhu, seeing the awkward look on his face, sneered. “Good kid, let me tell you right now, the best choice for you is to obediently kowtow a few times to your granny.”
Duan Yu turned his head, and saw AhBi, lips pursed in a smile, casting side-glances at him. Her skin was as white as freshly peeled water chestnuts, and a small, fine black mole was at the corner of her lips, making her look all the more charming and lovely. His heart was suddenly stirred. “Sister AhBi, I heard that there is a sister AhZhu in your respect manor. Is she…is she was beautiful as you are?”
AhBi smiled. “Aha! How could an ugly freak like me be worthy of such praise? If sister AhZhu heardja askin’ questions like that, she’d definitely be real unhappy-like, yeah? How can I compare to her? Sister AhZhu is ten times more beautiful than I am.”
Duan Yu asked, “Truly?”
AhBi grinned, “Why would I lie to ya?”
Duan Yu said, “For a person to be ten times more beautiful than you is totally impossible, unless…unless it’s the Goddess of the Jade Cavern. For a person to even be on your level would make them a rare beauty.”
AhBi’s cheeks flushed red. She bashfully said, “The old mistress asked you to kowtow. Who asked you to praise me so highly?”
Duan Yu said, “The old mistress must have originally been a nationally famous, heaven-like beauty as well. To tell you the truth, I don’t really care if I get any benefits, but am more than willing to kowtow a few times to a world class beauty.” As he spoke, he fell to his knees. He thought to himself, “Since I am going to kowtow, I might as well do so loudly. I already kowtowed a few thousand times to the jade statue. What’s the big deal if I kowtow to a beautiful lady of jianghu a few times?” He immediately kowtowed loudly three times.
AhZhu was extremely delighted. She though to herself, “This Young Master clearly knows that I’m just a little servant girl, but is actually willing to kowtow to me. This is really rare.” She said, “Good kid, very good, very good. It’s too bad that I didn’t bring you a meeting-present.”
AhBi interjected, “Old mistress, just don’t forget about it an’ jes’ give it to’m next time.”
AhZhu glanced at AhBi. She said towards Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi, “Why haven’t these two guests kowtowed to me?”
Guo Yanzhi let out a ‘hmph’ sound. In a rough voice and with a rough attitude, he said, “Do you know martial arts or not?”
AhZhu said, “What did you say?”
Guo Yanzhi replied, “I asked if you know martial arts or not. If you possess a high level of martial arts, then I, Guo Yanzhi, am willing to die underneath your hand, Mistress Murong! But if you aren’t a member of wulin, then there’s no need for me to bother wasting my breath with you.”
AhZhu shook her head. “What’s this about a hundred-legged centipede? Naturally, we have centipedes here. When they bite people, it’s very painful!” (Centipede sounds similar to martial arts). Turning towards Jiumozhi, she said, “Great monk, I hear you want to go check out my nephew’s tomb. What type of treasure do you intend to pilfer from the tomb?”
Although Jiumozhi still did not realize that she was actually a girl, he had long sinced figured out that she was just pretending to be deaf and dumb, and that she wasn’t as near-sighted or as muddle-headed as she pretended to be. He became more guarded, and thought to himself, “Mr. Murong was such an extraordinary figure. His family members must be exceptional as well.” He pretended to not have heard the words, “pilfer from the tomb”, and said, “This humble monk was a close bosom friend of Mr. Murong. After hearing the horrible news of his passing, I have rushed here from Tibet to pay my respects before his tomb. In the past, I made a promise to Mr. Murong to bring him the manuscript for the Duan family of Dali’s ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ and let him check it out. For me to still have not carried out my promise fills my heart with shame.”
AhZhu and AhBi exchanged glances. They both thought to themselves, “Finally, this monk has brought up the relevant issues.”
AhZhu asked, “And what happens if you are able to bring the manuscript for the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’? What happens if you are not?”
Jiumozhi replied, “In the past, Mr. Murong and I made an agreement; as long as I was able to retrieve the manual of the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ for him to read for a few days, he would allow me to read for a few days in the ‘Water Pavilion of Bestowal and Repayment’.
AhZhu suddenly felt afraid. “For this monk to actually know the name, ‘Water Pavilion of Bestowal and Repayment’… maybe he is telling the truth after all.” She immediately pretended to be confused and said, “What’s this about porridge and boiled dumplings? Do you want some porridge and chicken broth dumplings? That’s easily done. You are a monk. Can you eat meat or fish?”
Jiumozhi turned his head towards AhBi. “I don’t know if this old mistress is truly confused or just faking it. For her to be so unwelcoming cannot help but to give a feeling of coldness in one’s heart.”
AhZhu said, “Oh, so your heart is feeling cold? AhBi, quick, go and make a bowl of hot chicken and duck blood soup so as to warm this great master’s heart and lungs.”
AhBi held in her laughter. “The master doesn’t eat meat.”
AhZhu nodded. “Then don’t use real chickens and real ducks. Use vegetarian chicken and vegetarian duck meat (usually made from tofu and veggies).”
AhBi said, “Old mistress, vegetarian chicken doesn’t have any blood.”
AhZhu said, “Then what are we to do?”
The two of them exchanged one phrase after another, and all their words were full of nonsense. Most people of Suzhou had quick teeth and clever mouths. In later generations, the story-telling abilities of Suzhou people became famous throughout the world because of this. These two girls were used to messing around and teasing each other, and they now rendered Jiumozhi unable to do anything.
Originally, he came to Gusu with the intention of discussing an important matter with Young Master Murong. Unexpectedly, the Young Master was not present, and everyone he met intertwined falsehoods with obfuscations, sometimes seeming to do so inadvertently, other times seeming to act in such a way on purpose, intermixing lies with truth. This rendered him unable to decide how to handle the situation. After a brief moment of pondering, he concluded that Madame Murong, Sun San, old servant Huang, and AhBi were all trying to ward him off. Since they would not let him visit the mausoleum, they definitely would not be willing to allow him to enter the ‘Water Pavilion of Bestowal and Repayment’ and read secret martial arts manuals. At this moment, he decided, what he should do would be to clearly explain the situation and ignore their play-acting and deception. That way, in the future, regardless of whether they treated him with respect or came to blows with him, he would have already claimed the moral high ground. He immediately said in a calm, even-tempered voice, “I have brought the manuscript for the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’. Thus, I make the daring request that we act in accordance with the agreement and I be allowed to go read in the ‘Water Pavilion of Bestowal and Repayment’.”
AhBi said, “Old master Murong has already passed away. First, there’s no evidence of this agreement. Secondly, even if you brought the manual, there is nobody present who is capable of reading it. Any agreements made in the past are naturally no longer valid now.”
AhZhu said, “What sword manual? Where is it? Let me check it out first.”
Pointing to Duan Yu, Jiumozhi said, “Within this young gentleman’s mind lies the fully memorized manuscript for the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’. I have brought him here; this is the same as bringing an actual manuscript.”
AhBi smiled. “I thought there really was a manual. So you were playing a joke on us, great master.”
Jiumozhi said, “I wouldn’t dare. The original manual for the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ has been burnt to ash by Elder Kurong at the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. Fortunately, this gentleman has fully memorized it all.”
AhBi replied, “If Young Master Duan memorized it, then it’s his business. Even if we were to invite someone to the ‘Water Pavilion of Bestowal and Repayment’ to read, it would be him. What does it have to do with you, great master?”
Jiumozhi replied, “In order to fulfill my promise of latter days, I intend to immolate him in front of Mr. Murong’s mausoleum.”
Upon hearing these words, everyone was astonished. But seeing the calm, placid, serious expression on the face, he definitely did not appear to be making a joke. This astonished them all the more. AhBi said, “Great master, you must be jesting! How can he allow you to just casually cremate him like that?”
Jiumozhi said dully, “If I want to immolate him, I don’t think he would be able to resist.”
AhBi smiled. “Great master, you say that young gentleman Duan has memorized the manual for the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’, but that clearly cannot be true. If young gentleman Duan really memorized such a fearful martial arts as the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’, how could he be so easily controlled by you?”
Jiumozhi nodded. “Miss, you know only half the story. I have sealed all of his major acupoints, and he is unable to exert any energy at all.”
AhZhu shook her head continuously. “I believe you even less now. Unseal his acupoints and let him show off the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ first. I think that ninety nine percent of your words are lies.”
Jiumozhi nodded. “Good idea. We can demonstrate.”
Duan Yu praised AhBi as being beautiful, and was absolutely charmed by her vocal and instrumental musical skills. AhBi naturally liked him. In addition, not only did he not reveal AhZhu’s disguise, he also kowtowed to her three times; this made AhZhu happy with him as well. Thus, upon hearing that his acupoints had
been sealed, both of the girls wanted to trick Jiumozhi into unsealing his acupoints. They didn’t expect that Jiumozhi would immediately agree. He stretched out his palm towards Duan Yu’s body and tapped his hand a few times towards Duan Yu’s back, chest, and legs. Duan Yu instantly felt as though his acupoints became unsealed, and the flow of his blood became unimpeded. As soon as he generated his internal energy, he could feel his qi beginning to circulate throughout his body. He experimentally generated his energy in accordance with the directions for the ‘Zhongchong Sword’ technique, inciting his internal energy to pass to the middle finger of his right hand. He felt a roasting hot sensation at the tip of his middle finger, and knew that all he needed to do would be to extend his finger and sword qi would immediately shoot out.
Jiumozhi said, “Young Master Duan, mistress Murong does not believe that you have practiced the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’. Please show off your ability. Do as I do, and chop off a branch from this osmanthus tree.” As he spoke, he sent out a slanting palm strike with his left palm. His palm released its stored up internal energy; it was a stroke from his ‘Blazing Saber’ technique. With a light cracking sound, a single branch of the osmanthus tree broke in half and fell to the ground, as though someone had chopped it with a saber or a sword.
Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi couldn’t help but let out an ‘Ah!’ cry of alarm. Although they knew that this barbarian monk possessed some extremely unusual skills, they thought that his skills were simply heterodox and evil. Only now, when they watched him chop off a tree branch, did they realize how profound his internal energy was. His internal energy was at a level that was rarely heard of and rarely seen.
Duan Yu shook his head. “I don’t know any martial arts at all, much less any ‘Divine Sword of the Seven Meridians’ or ‘Heavenly Saber of the Eight Channels’. Why did you have to go and ruin a perfectly fine osmanthus tree?”
Jiumozhi replied, “Young Master Duan, why so modest? Your level of martial arts is highest amongst the elite martial artists of Dali’s Duan family. In this day and age, aside from Young Master Murong and my humble self, I’m afraid no one is superior to you. Gusu’s Murong mansion is a repository of the world’s martial arts learning. Why don’t you show a few stances and have the old mistress give you some advice? That would be a very good thing for you.”
Duan Yu replied, “Big monk, this entire trip you have taken such wonderful care of me, tugging me here and pulling me there, dragging me all the way to Jiangnan. At first, I didn’t want to say another word to you at all. But now that I’m at Gusu and have met such beautiful, heavenly girls here, the anger in my heart has dissipated. From now on, let’s make a clean break. Neither of us needs to bother with the other.”
AhZhu and AhBi, hearing him speak in a pedantic, bookworm like manner, couldn’t help but secretly laugh. They couldn’t help but feel secretly happy as well upon hearing him praise them.
Jiumozhi said, “Young Master, if you refuse to display your ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’, won’t you be making me to look like a liar?”
Duan Yu said, “Well, you were full of nonsense to begin with. If you had an agreement with Mr. Murong, why didn’t you come to Dali earlier? Why would you wait until Mr. Murong passed away and became unable to refute your words before coming to the Murong manor and cause an endless ruckus? You know what I think? I think you covet the high-level martial arts skills of the Murong family of Gusu, and came up with a false story to trick the old mistress into allowing you into their library and secretly studying their private martial arts, and figuring out the secrets behind their ‘Using the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent’. How can you possibly not realize that these people, being of a long-standing, famous, aristocratic wulin family, would see right through this trick of yours? If you could really steal away their martial arts techniques based solely upon your lies and rubbish, wouldn’t anybody be able to? Who isn’t able to make up this sort of nonsense?”
AhZhu and AhBi agreed in one voice.
Jiumozhi shook his head. “Young Master Duan, your conjectures are incorrect. Although it is true that I made my agreement with Mr. Murong a long time ago, for nine years I sequestered myself in solitary meditation while I mastered the ‘Blazing Saber’ technique, and thus could not go to Dali. If I had not mastered the ‘Blazing Saber’ technique, I would not have been able to leave the Heavenly Dragon Monastery alive.
Duan Yu said, “Great master, you possess great fame, great power, and such an incredible level of martial arts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you just stayed peacefully in Tibet as its Dharma King and national protector? Why come to Jiangnan to deceive people? I recommend you return as soon as possible.”
Jiumozhi said, “Young Master, if you refuse to display the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’, please do not blame me for being discourteous.”
Duan Yu said, “You’ve been acting impolite all along. Can it be that you’ve found a way to be even more impolite still? At worst, you can kill me with a single chop of your saber. What’s the big deal?”
Jiumozhi replied, “Very good! Beware my saber!” He raised his left palm and a powerful wind rushed towards Duan Yu’s face.
Duan Yu had long since hatched a plan. As his martial arts were far inferior to that of Jiumozhi, whether or not he fought back made no difference at all. If Jiumozhi wanted him to show that he knew the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’, he would refuse to do so no matter what. Thus, upon seeing Jiumozhi convert his internal energy into a saber blade and chop towards him, Duan Yu toughened his spine and neither blocked nor parried. Jiumozhi was startled. Duan Yu was his only source of the manual of the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’; no matter what, he couldn’t kill him before he acquired it for himself. He hurriedly lifted his hands higher, and with a ‘shua’ sound, a cool wind passed over Duan Yu’s head, taking with it a large chunk of his hair.
Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi were simultaneously shocked. AhZhu and AhBi’s faces couldn’t help but turn pale as well. Jiumozhi said in an awe-inspiring voice, “Young Master Duan, would you really rather die than fight back?”
Duan Yu had long since thrown his fear of death into the wind. He laughed loudly and said, “Greed, wrath, lust, desire, foolishness. Master monk, you possess all of these flaws, and yet you falsely claim to be an eminent Buddhist monk. You really are not deserving of the title!”
Jiumozhi suddenly hacked a palm towards AhBi while shouting, “Unspeakable! I’ll first kill this servant girl of the Murong manor to display my power.”
This stroke came very quickly. AhBi was shocked, and hurriedly slanted her body to avoid it. Crack! A chair behind her was split into two by this gush of internal energy. Jiumozhi followed that strike with another from his right palm. AhBi fell down on the floor and hurriedly rolled away. Although her movements were quick, she was already in a very precarious situation. Jiumozhi let out a fierce roar, and shot out his third saber attack.
AhBi was so terrified that her face turned pale. She had no idea what to do against this invisible internal energy attack. AhZhu didn’t have any time to think. She shot out her palms and attacked Jiumozhi’s back. When she was earlier moving about and speaking, she had the mannerisms of a seventy or eighty year old lady. But now, when she attacked, she displayed strong, vigorous, and quick movements.
In a single glance, Jiumozhi understood everything. With a laugh, he said, “So there are sixteen or seventeen year old grannies in the world? How long, exactly, did you intend to deceive this monk?” He struck a palm backwards and with a cracking sound, shattered the wooden staff in her hands into three pieces. Following this, he once more chopped towards AhBi. In her terror, AhBi grabbed a table and used it as a shield. With two clattering sounds, the red sandalwood table instantly disintegrated, leaving only a pair of table legs in her hands.
Seeing AhBi forced to the wall, without any place to flee and Jiumozhi striking with yet another palm, Duan Yu no longer cared about whether or not he could defeat Jiumozhi; his only intention was to save her life. He struck out with his middle finger, and his internal energy surged forth from his ‘Zhongchong’ acupoint with a ‘chi-chi’ sneering sound. It was the ‘Zhongchong Sword’ technique. Jiumozhi didn’t really want to kill AhBi; he just wanted to force Duan Yu’s hand. Otherwise, how could AhBi manage to dodge the wondrous, brilliant stances of the ‘Blazing Saber’ technique for so long? Seeing Duan Yu strike out at him, he immediately sent out a hacking palm towards AhZhu. A powerful gust of wind roared towards her, sending her staggering back. The shoulder of her dress was mangled by his internal energy. She let out an ‘Ah!’, crying in startlement. Duan Yu followed his first attack with a ‘Shaoze Sword’ attack from his left hand, blocking Jiumozhi’s attack on AhZhu with the ‘Blazing Saber’ technique.
In the blink of an eye, AhBi and AhZhu both escaped a very dangerous situation, as Duan Yu used his ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ to totally block both of Jiumozhi’s saber strikes. Jiumozhi, wanting both to show off his own ability as well as to prove that Duan Yu really knew the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’, intentionally let Duan Yu’s internal energy block his own. Having drained the internal energy of so many elite martial artists, at this point in time, Duan Yu’s internal energy was actually more powerful than that of Jiumozhi. Unfortunately, he didn’t know any martial arts at all, and wasn’t able to execute any of the sword techniques which he had memorized at the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. Jiumozhi tricked his powerful internal energy into being dispersed east and west, to the point where the doors and the windows were filled with holes. All the while, Jiumozhi was saying, “The ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ really is very formidable! No wonder Mr. Murong admired it so much in the past.”
Cui Baiquan was extremely startled. “I always believed that prince Duan has no skill in martial arts. Who would have imagined that he possesses such a refined, exquisite technique? The Duan family of Dali really lives up to its fame. Fortunately, I did not do a single bad thing during my time at the Southern Garrison Palace. Otherwise, how could this old life of mine remained for so long?” The more he thought, the more nervous he grew, until his forehead and his clothes were soaked with sweat.
Jiumozhi fought with Duan Yu for a while. With each stroke, he was capable of taking Duan Yu’s life. However, he wanted to play around with Duan Yu for a bit. But towards the end, he felt less and less contempt towards Duan Yu. He felt that Duan Yu’s internal energy was exceedingly strong and vigorous, and definitely not below his own at all. But for some reason, once the energy was actually used by Duan Yu, the end result was not that impressive at all. It was akin to a three year old kid from an exceedingly rich family who owned tens of thousands of strings of cash, but was unable to use it properly. After throwing out a few more strokes, Jiumozhi’s heart was suddenly shaken. “What if in the future, he grows intelligent, suddenly learning how to properly use his abilities as well as the fundamentals of martial arts? With his level of internal energy and this sword technique, what an extremely fearful opponent he would be!”
Duan Yu had long known that his continued existence lay solely under the control of Jiumozhi. He shouted, “Sister AhZhu and AhBi, hurry up and run away! If you take any longer, you won’t have a chance to escape!”
AhZhu asked, “Young Master Duan, why are you rescuing us?”
Duan Yu replied, “This monk relies on his high level of martial arts to bully and oppress others. Unfortunately, I don’t know any martial arts at all. It is difficult for me to fight him off. Hurry up and run away!”
Jiumozhi laughed. “Far too late for that.”
Taking a step forwards, he struck out with the fingers of both hands, pointing towards Duan Yu’s acupoints. Duan Yu let out a cry. “Aiyo!” He tried to avoid the attack, but how could he? Once more, three of his vital acupoints were sealed, and his limbs immediately felt numb and heavy. Falling on the floor, he shouted loudly, “AhZhu, AhBi, hurry up and leave!”
Jiumozhi laughed, “You are at the brink of death and unable to protect yourself. You still have the desire to enjoy perfume and cherish jade?” He returned to his original seat and said to AhZhu, “Young miss, there’s no need for you to continue play-acting and fooling around. Who, exactly, is in charge of the manor’s affairs? Young Master Duan fully memorized the entirety of the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’, but does not know martial arts and thus finds it difficult to actually use it. Tomorrow, I will take him to Mr. Murong’s mausoleum and burn him in sacrifice. In the underworld, Mr. Murong will understand that his old friend did not renege upon their earlier agreement.”
AhZhu knew that no one currently at the Pavilion of Zither Melodies was a match for this monk. Wrinkling her forehead, she laughed. “Fine! Master monk, we’ll believe your words. The old master’s mausoleum is a day’s journey away by water. Tonight, it is too late to leave. Tomorrow morning, the two of us will personally escort you and Young Master Duan to pay your respects at the tomb. The four of you, please wait just a short moment. Dinner will be served soon.” After she spoke, she grabbed AhBi by the wrist and retreated into the inner pavilion.
After an hour passed, a male servant came out and said, “Miss AhZhu would like to invite the four of you to the ‘Dwelling for Listening to the Rain’ for supper.”
Jiumozhi said, “Many thanks!” Stretching out his hand, he seized Duan Yu’s arm and followed the man in. They wound their way through hundreds of feet of paved cobblestone alleys and a few stone parks before arriving by the waterside. Beneath the willow trees lay a small boat.
The male servant pointed to a cabin with windows on all four sides that was situated in the middle of the water. “It is right there.” Jiumozhi, Duan Yu, Cui Baiquan, and Guo Yanzhi stepped onto the boat, and the male servant rowed them there. They arrived after a brief period of time.
Duan Yu walked up the wooden oak stairs and entered the ‘Dwelling for Listening to the Rain’. He saw AhBi waiting to attend to the guests, wearing light green clothing. By her side stood a young maiden who wore a light red yarncloth garment. She was also around sixteen or seventeen years of age, and she aimed an expression that seemed like a smile yet wasn’t quite towards Duan Yu. Her face was full of mischieviousness and cleverness. AhBi had a ‘melon seed’ face and was elegant and beautiful. This maiden had a ‘goose egg’ face. Her eyes were lively and intelligent, and she displayed a different type of stirring aura.
As soon as he entered the room, Duan Yu once again smelled that faint fragrance. Laughing, he said, “Sister AhZhu, you are such a beautiful woman. It must have been tough for to so convincingly portray an old lady.”
That maiden was indeed AhZhu. She batted him a glance, then laughed, “You kowtowed to me three times and aren’t content in your heart. Am I right?”
Duan Yu shook his head repeatedly. “There was a lot of reason for me to kowtow three times to you. Only, my guesses were a bit off.”
AhZhu asked, “What did you guess wrong?”
Duan Yu replied, “I guessed from the beginning that you were just like AhBi, that both of you were beauties the likes of which are rarely seen in the world. But in my heart, I imagined that you must have been about on par with AhBi. I didn’t imagine that upon actually seeing you… well… well…”
AhZhu interjected, “You found that I was far inferior to AhBi?”
AhBi said at the same time, “You were greatly startled, because she is ten times more beautiful than me, right?”
Duan Yu shook his head. “Neither. I just felt that the heavens are really capable and are truly worthy of mankind’s admiration. After wracking their brains and creating such a beautiful girl as sister AhBi, they should have totally exhausted all of their ability to portray the spirit and beauty of Jiangnan. Who would have imagined that they would be able to create a sister AhZhu as well? The two of you look totally different, yet each of you possess you own unique beauty. It makes me want to say a few things in praise, but I couldn’t manage to say a single word at all.”
AhZhu laughed. “Bah! You glibly just said a lot of things in praising us, and still want to claim that you couldn’t manage to say a single word?”
AhBi smiled slightly, then turned her head and spoke to Jiumozhi and the rest. “I’m afraid that we don’t have the resources to properly welcome you four esteemed personages. I’ll have to ask that you just make do with our watery wine and do your best to enjoy some of our local Jiangnan dishes.” She immediately invited the four of them to be seated, with her and AhBi taking seats to the right.
Duan Yu saw that the ‘Dwelling for Listening to the Rain’ was surrounded by water on all four sides. Glancing out the window, he saw mist covering the waters of the lake. Turning back to the table, he saw that all of the dishes on the table were made of exquisite porcelain. In his heart, he couldn’t help but exclaim in praise.
Shortly afterwards, the male servants brought some dishes made from fruits and vegetables. Four vegetarian dishes were especially prepared for Jiumozhi. Next came a number of cooked dishes; white water chestnuts with shrimp meat, lotus leaf and winter bamboo shoot soup, cherry ham, dragon well vegetable leaves with chicken, and the like. Every dish was extremely unique. In the middle of the fish, shrimp, and meat were intermixed flower petals and fresh fruit. The dishes were extremely beautiful, and gave off a natural, pure fragrance. Duan Yu tried a few chopsticks of every single dish. All of them were wonderful and tasty. He praised, “Only such a wonderful landscape as this place can produce such talented people. In turn, only such talented people can be so intelligent and wise as to produce such elegant dishes.”
AhZhu said, “Guess if I cooked the dishes, or if AhBi cooked the dishes?”
Duan Yu replied, “The cherry ham and the plum blossom duck are fragrant, tender, and rosy. I think you made them. The lotus leaf and winter bamboo shoot soup and the round jade fish slices are verdant and cleanly chopped. Naturally, they were made by sister AhBi.”
AhZhu clapped her hands and laughed. “Your guessing abilities are really good! AhBi, what should we reward him with?”
AhBi smiled. “If Young Master Duan has any instructions for us to carry out, we would naturally do so to the best of our abilities. What’s all this talk about giving him ‘rewards’ and ‘awards’? We’re just servant girls. We aren’t worthy of such.”
AhZhu replied, “Hah, as soon as you open your mouth you flatter others. No wonder every says you’re good and I’m bad.”
Duan Yu laughed, “Gentle and refined, lively and clever. The two are equally good. Sister AhBi, earlier, when I heard you playing songs on the soft whip, I felt relaxed and carefree. I’d like to ask you to play some melodies on actual instruments. If you do so, even if I am turned into ash tomorrow by this great monk, my time on this earth won’t have been spent in vain.
AhBi slowly rose to her feet. “As long as you don’t find it unpleasant to hear, I am willing to embarrass myself to give some joy to our guests.” As she spoke, she went behind a screen, then came out with a precious jade zither. AhBi sat up straight on a brocade seat and placed the jade zither in front of her. She waved towards Duan Yu and laughed, “Young Master Duan, why don’t you come over and see if you can identify what type of zither this is.”
Walking to her, Duan Yu saw that her zither was a foot shorter than ordinary seven-stringed zithers. In addition, it had nine strings, each of which had a different color. He muttered to himself, “This is the first time I’ve seen this nine-stringed zither.” AhZhu walked towards them and plucked a single string on the zither. The sound was very loud and clear. The string was made out of metal. Duan Yu said, “Sister, this zither is…”
Just as he spoke these four words, the floor suddenly disappeared underneath him. His body fell straight down. He couldn’t help but let out a loud cry of alarm. Next, he felt as though he landed on a soft location. At the same time, he seemed to hear someone else say ‘Aiyo!’ and ‘Not good!’, followed by two splashing sounds. His body suddenly swayed, as the thing he was resting on began to move. This strange event happened very quickly and was totally unexpected. Startled and frightened, he hurriedly sat up. He saw that he was sitting in the middle of a small boat, with AhBi and AhZhu each sitting on one end of the boat. Each of them had an oar and were hurriedly paddling. Turning around, he saw that Jiumozhi, Cui Baiquan, and Guo Yanzhi’s heads had just popped above the surface of the water. After but a short period of rowing by AhBi and AhZhu, the small boat was far away from the ‘Dwelling for Listening to the Rain’.
Suddenly, a drenched person shot up from the surface of the lake. It was Jiumozhi. He landed on the side of the ‘Dwelling for Listening to the Rain’. He easily snapped off part of a wooden pillar, aimed it at AhBi, then urgently cast it towards her. The makeshift missile made a whirring sound as it tore through the air with great force. AhBi cried out, “Young Master Duan, duck!” Duan Yu and the two girls ducked at the same time, as half of a wooden pillar flew right over their heads. The powerful wind made by its passing actually hurt their neck.
Flexing her body, AhZhu turned the boat slightly sideways. Suddenly, a series of loud splashing sounds could be heard, and the small boat suddenly lifted up in the air before immediately falling down again. A large amount of lake water entered the boat and all three of them became wet. Turning his head, Duan Yu saw that Jiumozhi had already wrecked the wooden portion of the ‘Dwelling for Listening to the Rain’, and was repeatedly tossing stone vessels, incense burners, and other objects towards them. Watching the trajectories of the missiles, AhBi turned the boat to avoid them. Meanwhile, AhZhu kept on paddling forward with all her might. With each stroke of the oar, the boat travelled several feet further away from the ‘Dwelling for Listening to the Rain’. Jiumozhi continued to lob missiles at them, but the distance between the boat and where they landed grew greater and greater. Even if his strength was greater, he couldn’t compete with the ceaseless tugging of the oars by the two maidens. Turning his head again, Duan Yu saw that Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi had managed to scramble onto the steps of the ‘Dwelling for Listening to the Rain’. He felt delighted, but upon seeing Jiumozhi leap into a small boat, let out a cry of alarm.
AhZhu cried out, “That evil monk is following us!” She exerted all her might to paddle as fast she could, but after turning her head to take another glance, burst into loud laughter. Duan Yu also turned his head and saw that Jiumozhi’s boat was just spinning in place. Evidently, although Jiumozhi possessed a very high level of martial arts, he didn’t know how to row a boat.
The three of them immediately felt relieved. But after a short period of time, they saw that Jiumozhi had managed to stabilize the boat and was now hurriedly paddling after them. AhBi sighed, “This great master is really intelligent. Anything he doesn’t know, he learns in a flash.”
AhZhu replied, “Let’s play hide and seek with him.” Tugging on her oar, she brought the boat into the middle of a dense forest of water chestnuts. The great lake had hundreds of harbors and thousands of waterways. After making several turns, their boat entered a small river. They thought to themselves that it was very unlikely that Jiumozhi would be able to locate them.
Duan Yu said, “Unfortunately, my acupoints are sealed, and I can’t help you two row.”
AhBi comforted him, “Young Master Duan, don’t be worried. The monk won’t be able to chase after us, yeah.”
Duan Yu said, “The secret mechanism in the ‘Dwelling for Listening to the Rain’ is really interesting. This boat was precisely placed underneath the location where you play the zither, right?”
AhBi smiled. “Right. That’s why I invited you to come check out the zither. Sister AhZhu’s plucking of the zither was the sign for the male servants outside to remove the planks underneath us and have everyone go plop, plop, plop!” The three of them laughed loudly in unison. AhBi hurriedly covered her mouth and said with a smile, “Don’t let that monk hear us.”
From far away, a voice could be heard. “Miss AhZhu, Miss AhBi, please row the boat back. Please hurry back, I am a friend of your master and definitely will not give you a hard time.” It was Jiumozhi’s voice. His voice was gentle and amiable, capable of causing people to naturally obey his instructions.
AhZhu was startled. “The great master asked for us to come back and says he definitely won’t hurt us.”
As she spoke, she stopped paddling, as though she was seriously considering it. AhBi chimed in, “If that’s the case, let’s go back!”
Duan Yu’s internal energy was very strong, and so wasn’t bewildered in the slightest by Jiumozhi’s voice. He hurriedly said, “He’s lying. How can you trust his words?”
Jiumozhi’s pleasant, amiable words entered their ears. “Young misses, your master has returned. He says he wants to see both of you, and that you are to return immediately. Yes, return immediately.”
AhZhu was compelled to agree. “Yes!” Lifting up the oar, she turned the boat around.
Duan Yu thought to himself, “If Young Master Murong had really returned, he himself would call out to AhZhu and AhBi. Why would he rely on Jiumozhi? This is no doubt an evil technique meant to delude the minds of others.” Having come to this conclusion, he reached down and grabbed a few water chestnut leaves, rolled them together, then stuck them into AhBi and AhZhu’s ears.
Her wits returned to her, AhZhu involuntarily cried out, “Ack! Close one!”
AhBi was also frightened. “This monk knows some sort of soul-affecting technique. We almost fell for his trick.”
Turning the boat around, AhZhu hurriedly began paddling again. She cried out, “AhBi, paddle as fast as you can!”
The two of them paddled the boat directly into the middle of the water chestnut fields. After a long time, Jiumozhi’s voice grew faint and indistinct, until finally he could no longer be heard. Duan Yu gestured to the two of them, signaling that they could now remove the leaves from their ears.
Patting her chest, AhBi let out a long sigh. “Whew, that was real scary-like, yeah! Sister AhZhu, whaddya think we should do?”
AhZhu said, “Let’s just paddle around in circles and waste the monk’s time. If we get hungry, we can pluck water chestnuts and lotus roots to eat. Even if we face off against him for ten days or half a month, we wouldn’t be in the slightest danger.”
AhBi smiled. “What an interesting idea. Young Master Duan, would you be too bored though?”
Duan Yu clapped his hands and laughed. “There’s no shortage of sights to see on this lake. With the two of you accompanying me in touring this place for ten days, I would be happier than a celestial being.”
AhBi’s smooth lips gently smiled. “We’re heading towards the southeast right now. There’s a lot of tributaries to this river. Aside from local fisherman, nobody can easily remember the routes. After we enter Lake Baiqu [Baiqu means ‘Hundred Melodies’], the monk will definitely become unable to catch up to us.”
Duan Yu lay down on the boat, gazing upon the many glittering stars in the sky. Aside from the rustle of the oars and the boat brushing against the water caltrops, there was no sound at all. There was a gentle breeze on the lake, which carried with it a faint aroma. He thought to himself, “Even if I lived the rest of my life like this, I wouldn’t mind.” Then he thought to himself, “With AhZhu and AhBi being such nice people, Young Master Murong can’t be some sort of horrible villain either. I wonder if he really was the one to kill master Xuanbei of Shaolin and Mr. Huo’s martial brother. Alas, although my family has a lot of servant girls, none of them can match sister AhZhu or sister AhBi.”
After a long time, just as he was about to close his eyes and fall asleep, he suddenly heard AhBi let out a quiet laugh and say in a low voice, “Sister AhZhu, come over here.”
AhZhu also spoke in a low voice, “Whaddya want?”
AhBi said, “Come over here, I have somethin’ to say.”
AhZhu lowered the oar and walked to the stern of the boat. AhBi pulled her over by the shoulder and quietly laughed into her ear, “Help me think of something so I aint gonna be shamin’ mahself.”
AhZhu laughed, “Whassa matter?”
AhBi said, “Quiet, quiet. Is young master Duan a’sleepin’ yet?”
AhZhu replied, “Dunno, jus’ go’n’ask’m.”
AhBi said, “Can’t, can’t. AhZhu, AhZhu, I… I… I need to relieve myself.”
Their voices were as soft as the buzzing of mosquitoes, but Duan Yu’s internal energy was extremely profound. Naturally, he heard every word clearly. Upon hearing AhBi say these words, he didn’t dare move in the slightest. He pretended to let out light snores and be asleep, so as to prevent AhBi from being embarrassed.
AhZhu laughed quietly. “Young Master Duan is a’sleepin’. Just go ahead and relieve yourself.”
AhBi bashfully said, “Aint gonna try. What if I’m half-way through and Young Master Duan suddenly wakes up? It’d be unthinkable!”
AhZhu couldn’t help but let out a peal of laughter. She hurriedly covered her mouth, then said in a low voice, “Whaddya mean, it’d be unthinkable? Everyone needs to relieve themselves from time to time. Nuthin’ weird about it.”
AhBi shook her body, then said in a pleading voice, “Please, sister AhZhu, help me think of an idea.”
AhZhu replied, “I’ll stand in front of you. You go ahead and relieve yourself. Even if Young Master Duan wakes up, he won’t be able to see nuthin’, yeah?”
AhBi replied, “But there would be noise! I can’t have him hear either. I… I…”
AhZhu laughed. “Yer sis is outta ideas. I guess you can just relieve yourself on yourself. He won’t smell anything.”
AhBi said, “I can’t! When someone’s in front of me, I can’t go.”
AhZhu said, “There’s no place to go. Just go ahead and do it.”
AhBi was so anxious she began to cry. “I can’t, I just can’t!”
AhZhu suddenly let out another peal of laughter. “It’s all your fault. If you hadn’t said anything, I would’ve been fine. But now I need to go too! From here to Madame Wang’s residence lies only a half-nine away. Let’s paddle there and relieve ourselves.”
AhBi said, “Madame Wang forbid us from entering. If she catches us, she’ll slap us upside the head a few times.”
AhZhu said, “Aint no need to worry. Madame Wang and our old mistress cursed at and insulted each other, but our old mistress has already passed away, yeah. We’re just a pair of servant girls. How could we have offended her, and why would she slap us upside the head, yeah? Let’s just quietly sneak on land and relieve ourselves, then immediately leave. How would she ever know we were there?”
AhBi replied, “That be so.” After mumbling to herself a moment, she said, “Then we need ta have Young Master Duan go ashore and relieve himself first. Otherwise… otherwise, if we just rush ashore, it’d be real awkward-like, yeah?”
AhZhu let out a soft laugh. “You really know how to take care of people. Careful, if the Young Master finds out, he’ll be jealous.”
AhBi sighed. “How could the Young Master take this sorta small matter to heart, yeah? We’re just a pair of little servant girls. The Young Master has never taken us to heart.”
AhZhu said, “And I don’t want you takin’m to heart, yeah? Sister AhBi, stop daydreaming about him day and night. Aint no use.” AhBi let out a quiet sigh and did not reply. AhZhu clapped her on the shoulder, then said in a low voice, “You are thinking of relieving yourself, but also thinking about the Young Master. The two thoughts are getting mixed together, yeah? Aint that a laugh!”
AhBi let out a soft laugh. “Sis, you’re gossiping. Don’t you have something to do?”
AhZhu returned to the front of the boat and began paddling again. After they paddled for some time, the sky began to brighten.
Duan Yu’s internal energy was very vigorous, and his internal energy could not remain sealed forever. Previously, Jiumozhi would reseal his acupoints after every few hours had passed. Now, after so much time had passed, he gradually felt his internal energy circulation begin to smooth out as the sealed acupoints began to unlock. Letting out a lazy yawn, he sat up and said, “I took a long nap, while you two were working so hard. There’s something I need to say which is a bit inappropriate. Please don’t be offended. I, uh, I need to relieve myself.” He thought that it would be best for he himself to broach the topic first, so as to allow the girls to not feel awkward.
AhZhu and AhBi simultaneously let out a burst of laughter. AhZhu said, “Not too far away is the abode of a relative of ours, the Wang family. Just go ashore there to relieve yourself.”
Duan Yu said, “If that’s the case, wonderful.”
AhZhu immediately adopted a stern expression. “But Madame Wang has a very strange temperament. She doesn’t allow strange men to visit. As soon as you take care of business, immediately return to the boat. We don’t want to cause any unnecessary trouble.”
Duan Yu replied, “Alright, understood.”
- END OF CHAPTER 11 -