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Before I followed Master, my name was Hong Jin. Later on I became Sixth.
My father was once a brave and skillful general, grand and impressive beyond measure. But when I was young, he hid his identity and led me from place to place, living a vagabond life. My body had always been weak and I was unsuited for combat. Yet night after night of sneak attacks by endless assassins trained me to develop excellent lightness techniques. What would you call this…something like practice makes perfect?
Speaking of these assassins, they really were strange. Some were sent by the palace by the dozens to live in our tiny thatched cottage. Others were forced to stand guard outside. As to this…I was always embarrassed, and wished we could make our cottage a little bigger.
Oh, but I’m getting off-topic…
Everything they said was official jargon before they took out their giant swords. They always waited for the leader to shout ‘Go’ before rushing us all at once. In eight to nine cases out of them, they’d aim for me first, so I had no choice but to break out of the house and escape, leaving my father leisurely inside. Usually, after I’d gone out long enough to buy some candied hawthorn, roast duck, and a jug of wine back, I’d find father waiting for me outside our dilapidated cottage. Mysteriously enough, all the assassins would be missing, so I’d happily pour wine for father instead.
The people from the imperial palace were always very polite. They give us warning when they appeared and leave very quickly. But there were other assassins, masked ones, that were harder to predict. They used strange movements and techniques. Some preferred long, thin swords while others preferred giant ones. Last year there was even one that used two iron balls fixed on a chain. Their identities ranged from male and female, young and old, with dialects ranging from the north to the south. There were all types of them. Once we met an assassin who spoke the Hmong language. I thought he was a woman, but he was just a delicately pretty man. When he chased me, he used poisonous powders as well–really ruthless!
Although we had assassins of all types, some of whom we couldn’t even understand, eventually we grew familiar with their speech. The most common terms were “rare books” or “treasure map”, etc. If the imperial palace sent out large teams of people, then these rogue assassins could be said to form loose alliances of their own. If only one person showed up, they use a paralysis agent to toss my father and me about before revealing themselves. If two or three showed up, one would block the door, one would attack my father, and the last would end up chasing me…in these situations, I’d use extra time to buy candied hawthorn since it was so hard to shake my stalker off my tail. Although our life was hard, it had its share of joys as well.
Until one day, I used five times as much time to get roast duck and wine before returning home. Father wasn’t in his usual place, so I looked all over before finding him in the forest on the verge of death. He told me to live a good life on my own from then on.
He told me that someone had entrusted me into his arms on the battlefield. At that time, he’d promised that person to raise me up well. Originally, he thought all he had to do was to claim me as his flesh and blood and settle with the people who knew the truth to throw off attention. But who knew that the court would issue his arrest warrant the very next day, claiming that he had illicit relationships with the enemy to hide their own blood heir? In the jianghu, rumors spread that this heir’s body hide various treasure maps and secret martial arts manuals until everyone heard the news. Thus, he had no choice but to live a life on the run with me. I only listened in silence with a dreary heart.
Before he died, my father gripped my hand and told me to protect the secrets etched on my body without telling anyone else. He must have started to go senile, or else how would he have forgotten that I was a mute?
How could a mute talk?
After burying father, I burned down the cottage and set out on my own. I didn’t know where to go by myself, nor when the assassins would attack again. Neither did I have much silver. Nobody would want to hire a mute, anyways. At an inn, I watched streams of people go by while smelling the scent of wine and meat in the air. I was very hungry, but all I could do was sit blankly on the stone steps. Suddenly, someone sat next to me. When I looked over, all I saw was a veil hiding his face and a set of white robes. I was curious. Why would such a spotless and elegant-looking figure sit on the cold stone steps? He didn’t speak, but adjusted the qin in his arms before beginning to play a poignant and beautiful melody. Those fingers were long and nimble like a woman’s, but he wore the clothes of a man.
Many people surrounded us to look, a few throwing copper coins at him. I swallowed back my saliva… Looking at the coins, I thought of mantou, but hearing his music reminded me of my dead father. For a moment, I couldn’t help but feel like crying. His hand suddenly moved past the qin to grip mine. I heard him say, “Do you want to come home with me?”
I only sat there stupidly, unable to withdraw my hand in time. Beneath the frivolous veil was a slight smile. He seemed to be staring intently at me, his voice soft like a woman’s. He didn’t seem to be an assassin, because any assassin who managed to grab me would try to take off my robes first, not hold my hand like this…
Thus, I was brought back to his house along with another man with eyebrows as sharp as swords. He seemed to be someone exceptionally skilled in martial arts. He always tagged after the veiled man, who always ignored him with a smile. When the three of us arrived at his home, there were already people there. They were all pretty and charming prince types, and one of them came forward to take off his veil to reveal a figure of matchless beauty.
As it turned out, this he was a she.
She told me her name was Shao’er, but the people outside called her the Carefree Idler. She said I could treat this place as my home and relax. I could also call her whatever I wished. But I never called her anything because I couldn’t speak. There were a total of six princes in that house and I was named Sixth, while the man that came with me became First. Actually, I should have protested back then…but there was no way for me to make a sound, so I only glared at him before dropping the matter.
In the jianghu, rumors said that the Carefree Idler was extremely bright, graceful, and lofty. He was a master of the six scholarly arts of rites, music, archery, charioteering, reading and writing, and arithmetic and possessed extraordinary martial arts skills. He was also exceptionally handsome.
Actually, this was all wrong.
First, she was female. Secondly, she wasn’t very bright, even though her brow held a heroic and lofty air. Her face was attractive and held one’s attention. When she furrowed her brows, it gave people the impression that she was thinking of something, thus making her look intelligent. Actually, she was…never mind. One shouldn’t talk about embarrassing things outside one’s family to strangers.
“Sixth, rub my shoulders for me.”
“Sixth, you smell nice. If I hug you while I sleep, I’ll definitely be nice and warm.”
“Aiya, why do you keep pulling me along?”
That’s not true. I’m not pulling, but pushing. Pushing, don’t you know…
“So you’re that eager to go to bed? Good! Come, come, warm up my bed for me.”
Who said she was graceful and lofty, a figure of unsurpassed elegance above all others? I. In the outside world she could wear her veil and pose silently to be considered an immortal, but she was a clingy Master at home. This Master of mine also loved to drink; more than that, she always imbibed the Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows with her wine. Every time she drank, she’d fall silent with an expression of grief on her face. Once, she actually spoke a sentence to me.
“Sixth,” she said, “From the first time I laid eyes on you, I knew that you were like me–someone without a home. You can take this place as your own and live boldly without worries. No one in the jianghu dares to try anything against you.”
Later on I learned that a group of high ranked martial arts circles had tried to charge their way in, but she caught them all, destroyed their cultivation bases, and tossed them out the door after sealing their acupoints.
In truth, Master was actually a very pitiful figure…
She took so many Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows pills that she began to forget things left and right. Despite this, she still wouldn’t quit. In this world, there was no one who treated me better than Master besides my father. So I secretly closed the door to my room one day, brought out a mirror, and copied down the cultivation diagrams of the《Carefree Recollection》from the reflection of my back with brush and ink. Yet these incantations gave me some trouble…
…not only was the handwriting tiny, it was impossible to read them from the mirror. As a result, I draped my robes over my body and went to knock on my Master’s door.
“What is it?” Master looked like she just woke up when she opened the doors. I shut the doors and began to take off my clothes. Astonished, she held out her hands to stop me. “That…I was just teasing you before, there’s really no need for you to come warm my bed.”
I ignored her and continued.
A giant quilt descended to wrap around me, nearly suffocating me in the heat. I blocked the door as my hands thrashed around, wondering where she found such a thing when it was so hot. After I worked myself free, I raised my head to see her preparing to slip out the window. Livid, I dragged her back down. She looked at me with a miserable expression until I had no choice but to write out my thoughts on paper: I have secret martial arts manuals on my back, so learn them for me.
She was shocked for a bit, before grabbing the brush and writing her reply: Only if you beg me to.
No one had ever refused me. It was as if someone had splashed cold water over my heart, shaming me into anger. I wrote out a few strokes: I’m begging you to learn them…
Mad with anger, I kicked the table with my foot until it hurt. After hopping around for a bit, my mind cleared up considerably and I grabbed the brush again: If you cultivate, you won’t have to eat those lousy pills. Are you learning or not? And why are you stealing my brush from me?
She gave me a benevolent look before saying faintly, “Since you’re writing, shouldn’t I keep you company by writing as well?”
The next second she had me in her embrace, patting my head like one would a dog. “Sixth, I’ll protect you like my own family. You don’t have to feel indebted to me or use these methods to pledge your loyalty.”
When she was finished, she pushed me outside and closed the door. I stood stunned outdoors for a long while before recovering my senses. This person hadn’t taken my words seriously at all! I really did have coveted secret martial arts manuals etched on my back. I opened my mouth, but no sounds came out…
Who made me into a mute?
I really took offense at not being able to speak. But not long afterwards, Master spoke a few words to me. I dimly remembered that she was drunk that night. The candlelight shone on her face and made it especially beautiful in its desolation. With drunken eyes, her soft voice dropped to a volume that I could barely hear.
She said, “Sixth, even though you can’t speak, you’re the happiest person in the world. Because you can keep secrets forever, while I have to rely on the Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows to forget the secrets in my heart…I’m always afraid that one day I won’t be able to bear it anymore, and tell everything. And then I’ll tell him that I love him.”
Him? Who was ‘him’…?
Master must really like this ‘him’ to the point that she had to use the Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows. I was sure I’d never eat something like that my entire life. It was so bitter, not even as 1/10,000th as tasty as candied fruits. That’s right, speaking of candied fruit, Master had promised to buy some with me today.
Second was helping her with her veil inside the house. I gave her a glance before running to open the doors, letting in a refreshing breeze. Suddenly, I noticed someone standing beneath the willow tree outside, dressed in white robes that looked even more refined than Master’s. He was looking at us from a distance, as if trying to decide whether to approach us.
“Sixth, you greedy fellow. As soon as you hear there’s food you’re faster than anyone else.” A pair of hands pinched my face as she raised the veil to smile at me. My eyes grew wide as my mouth opened, unable to speak. I really wanted to tell her that the man beneath the willow tree was really handsome. The teardrop-shaped mole by the corner of his eye was even more elegant that Fourth’s.
“What are you trying to say?” she shook her head. “You want a veil? You want the sesame seed cake baked by pockmark Wang Er next door?”
Even more excited, I gestured with my hands as I pulled her towards the willow tree. She was confused, and yet I accidentally tripped and fell forward…not on the ground, because Master caught me. She then proceeded to mess up my hair with a grin.
“Look at you…always so careless,” she said with a muffled laugh.
I did my best to turn around and look for that other person, but he’d already vanished like a ghost, his white robes disappearing beneath the willow. His figure more or less resembled First.
“That’s right, I’ll buy you two big bags of candied fruit to make up for your fall,” she said as she stroked me.
“What were you gesticulating about just then?”
I looked towards the place where the man had vanished, shaking my head in disappointment. When I saw that man again, many years had passed. It turned out that he was the man Master could never forget, and had reached the end of his days. That person had a very pleasant-sounding name called Fang Hua…
My name is Mo’er. After Master rescued me, it was changed to Second. I was a disciple of the Pill King. All the people spread rumors that he’d soaked me in medicinal baths since I was young so that my body was immune to hundreds of poisons and my blood was as precious as gold for medical ingredients.
Actually, that was all hearsay.
Master forbid me from speaking obscenities, so I won’t. The Pill King had many young disciples, so much that even he probably couldn’t keep track of them all. I was the only surviving one. Rumors had it that hundreds of years ago, one of my forefathers had a lover’s fate with a Fang Hua Beast, but nothing like that remained in our bodies by the time my grandfather’s generation rolled around.
Ever since I was young, my health was excellent. The Pill King discovered that my blood could even treat poisons, so the old geezer would toss me in a tub every three to five days to soak in medicine before taking my blood to drink himself. The Pill King didn’t die suddenly. I was the one who killed him. I thought to myself that being chased around the jianghu by people who wanted my life was better than being locked away and ill-treated by that geezer. The day I met Master, I’d been surrounded by my pursuers in a sea of flame. She was the one who saved me…
She wasn’t like other people who wanted to drink my blood. Instead, she gave me new clothes, a new house, and a new name. She never asked about my past, but taught me how to make medicine and pills…even though the Pill King had taught me these things in the past, I still pretended I knew nothing and studied diligently, because I liked to hear her talk. Every time she drew closer to talk about the uses of this or that ingredient, her voice was exceptionally soft and there would be a smile in her eyes. This made me feel at peace and very comfortable. Master said, I moved with a similar grace to a certain person. She’d sigh with emotion when she spoke, and her face would turn lonely. I think that person was probably very important to her.
Later on, I met the person Master could never forget. He was Lord Hua, also known as the true Fang Hua Beast. The happy days didn’t last for long before Master told me to look after Lord Hua and left for the palace to look for his “ungrateful love” instead.
What was left in the house was one human, one bird, and one Beast.
Lord Hua was severely ill and wouldn’t last much longer. His temper was very strange. Whenever Master asked after his health, he’d never reply, but talk about Han Zichuan over and over again. When Master left, he changed completely. All day long he’d sit at the window in a trance. I used to think he was waiting for Han Zichuan, but…I discovered that wasn’t the case. He’d have the sudden impulse to stroke Master’s robes and hold them for a long time. When he was feeling a little better, he’d let me talk about Master–such as what time she usually got out of bed, what did she like to do, etc. He never got tired of hearing about her no matter how many times I talked. Every time, he’d listen until he fell asleep with a tired, but warm, smile on his face.
From that moment, I began to suspect that his “ungrateful love” wasn’t the reigning emperor, but my Master.
The day Fang Hua died in a sea of fire, there was a large rainstorm. Still, he was smiling as he walked step by step to the yellow grave mound. He said he saw Shao’er coming back, so he was going to meet her. By the time I hurried over…there was only a piece of wood stuck in the dirt all by itself, and a pile of burning clothes beside it. He’d told a monstrous lie.
Using his own life as the sacrifice, he’d concealed everything from Master, including his love.
I might’ve told the truth. I was probably the only person who could tell people the whole story, but I decided to keep quiet. Through my veins also flowed a fraction of a Fang Hua Beast’s blood, so no one else could understand him better than I. This Beast had been heavily injured by sentiment until his whole body was black. Don’t mention his soul. Even if he wanted to revive again in human form, it’d probably take all the blood and vitality from the person he loved. He couldn’t bear to hurt his Shao’er and neither could I harm my Master.
If I were to stay…I probably wouldn’t be able to keep this secret.
I’d already taught the parrot everything I wanted him to say. He would tell Master that Fang Hua was at the yellow earth hill. I thought she should see him one last time because this was what he wanted. It was also all I could do. If Master ever found out the truth one day, she might hate me for it. It’s fine if she hated me as long as she kept living…that was both Lord Hua’s wish and mine.
Once a person fell in love, they’d turn into a fool. Lord Hua was like this, and so was Master. News of Master kept coming down from the mountain at a steady pace. Han Zichuan’s blood was useless so he went back to the palace. Master was now using her own blood to save the dead Lord Hua.
Day after day.
I don’t know how many days passed before I met the Lord Nongyu who was preparing to climb the mountain. I gave him many pills and asked him to leave them with Master. He smiled as he agreed, and I finally felt at peace.
Master, please take these pills.
These were made with Second’s own life and blood. I too, carried a bit of the Fang Hua Beast’s blood within me, so it should be useful to some extent. You wanted to save him and I wanted to save you. If you insist on recovering Lord Hua, then I’d use my life to save yours. It’s only that I’m not skilled enough to keep you healthy, but I can definitely allow Master to survive until Fang Hua revives again.
Master, please live well.
My surname is Xiao and my given name is He. Some called me Young Hero Xiao, Noble Hero Xiao, or Leader Xiao, but there was one person who called me First. Ever since then, more and more people started calling me Manager Xiao instead…and my identity underwent a great change from thereon. The one who changed me was, of all people, a woman.
I met her during a very cold year. At that time, I wasn’t leader of all the martial arts circles yet, but a youth who had been sent off his mountain by his master. I wandered wildly through the jianghu until someone set me up and left ten daggers in my body, poisoning me heavily. The doctor said only an immortal could save me now, and yet that’s exactly who I met while I was in my wounded stupor.
She cared for me for half a month, rarely speaking as she helped me take my medicine. Afterwards, she sit on the bed while hugging her legs and staring at me. It made me rather uncomfortable. This woman seemed to be seventeen or eighteen years old and looked very ordinary. But her medical skills were exceptional and she had a pair of exquisite-looking eyes. Besides making medicine, she didn’t seem to do anything else. A whole day would be spent staring at the fire or the clothes hanging up to dry, before she turned to stare at me. Every time she came back from outside, it was either to bring me fragrant mantou with big slices of beef, or quietly handing over a single red lotus.
For awhile, I thought she liked me…otherwise, why would she save a stranger unless she had the heart of a Bodhisattva? And why else would she sleep in the same bed as me? It was true, there was only one bed in this house so perhaps she had no choice, but why would she spend entire nights just staring at me? I was a man who valued morals, and she was my lifesaver. So I decided that I’d promise to marry…no, that I’d take her as my wife.
When I got better, I began to help her with various tasks: collecting firewood, starting the fire, and cooking. She ended up at a loss for what to do, staring at me foolishly while I worked. The warm sunshine shone inside the house. I suddenly realized that while the jianghu was a good place, it wasn’t bad to spend my days with another person, either. One day I went out to buy a jug of wine and some stewed meat before cooking a few dishes. I was preparing to officially ask for her hand in marriage, but felt too shy to broach the subject. When I finally met her eye, she’d already finished off the alcohol by herself and sprawled drunkenly across the table. Her mouth was mumbling something.
I leaned over to listen, catching a strange detail by her temples. I’d been in the jianghu for quite awhile so of course I knew about face-changing techniques. Reaching out a hand, I felt about her face before easily pulling off her mask. It was hard to describe my feelings upon seeing her true face. I’d lived for so long without seeing a woman more beautiful than my mother, but she easily eclipsed my mother’s looks by about 10,000 times.
That night, my body shook with fear as I decided to sleep beneath the bed. When I woke up the second day, she was nowhere to be seen. From then on, many years passed before I saw her again. By then I’d become leader of all the martial arts circles while she was the jianghu’s famous Carefree Idler. When we met again, she was taking liberties with a pretty and charming young man who was mute. I don’t know when her personality changed so quickly. As a result, I turned up without being invited at her estate and settled in with her five other princes. She always asked me why I gave up my life of renown and fame as the leader of the martial arts circles. Actually, I didn’t understand it either. It was just that every time I saw those people laughing or cursing merrily in the room, she’d smile quietly too, and it was a beautiful sight. Such a free and unfettered household was like a refuge or sanctuary. The princes within it all had their own unspeakable pasts. She never asked them anything, but did her best to protect them from harm. As for me, I made sure no angry people in the jianghu ever hurt her. Outsiders only said that the Carefree Idler liked to collect pretty men, but I thought differently. She was just collecting all sorts of different wounds and pains.
The expenses of the Carefree Household were all paid through profits from her medicine. This distressed me, so I gave up martial arts to go into business. I opened one inn, then two, then three…expanding my properties until I couldn’t keep track of them all. She became more idle and fell into the habit of looking for oddities. Once she hired someone to get a piece of fine jade and break it into two pieces for her and me both. Using who knows what, she managed to carve a single word in the corner that could be stamped onto paper with cinnabar ink. Mine was Xiao (?) for my surname, while hers was Xiao (?) for ‘carefree.’ She said we could use these things to withdraw as much money as we wanted from the money exchange centers, before looking at me earnestly as if afraid I’d disagree.
Of course she could take as much as she wanted. Whatever was mine belonged to her as well, while whatever was hers was still hers.
Xiao (?) and Xiao (?) were pronounced the same way. It made me think we were brother and sister. I knew she already had someone in her thoughts, someone very similar to myself…no, similar to all the other princes.
Later on, I finally met that person.
He was a sick and exhausted man, but still more beautiful than any mortal. The two of them looked like a heaven-made match when they stood side-by-side. That immortal-like being looked at me with a pure and clear gaze, yet it was one filled with unspeakable sorrow. It made me almost too ashamed to show my face. His illness was unclear, but it aged him day by day until his hair began to turn silver. She cared for him attentively, enough for me to realize there was no room for anyone else between them. Even if I was unwilling to admit it, I couldn’t help but accept it. In the past, I could pretend I didn’t notice, but now I could only leave them in low spirits.
I left behind Second, who understood medical arts, and brought the rest of the people down the mountain. Occasionally I’d send someone up to deliver some basic necessities. Not too long later, I received a letter stamped with Xiao (?) from one of the money exchange centers. This was the only thing she ever wrote me in all these years. She only told me to prepare a good carriage on the day of the emperor’s wedding, along with some rations and a dependable person to wait for her in the capital. I don’t know what she was planning, but I had a premonition…that this would be my only chance to see her. It might even be my last chance.
I had Second help me change my appearance and prepared everything behind the scenes.
When I saw her again, she didn’t recognize me. Of course…maybe because I was disguised as an old man. Seeing her carrying out the unconscious emperor, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. This woman really dared to do anything. As the dawn slowly broke, I saw her figure grow farther and farther away until it disappeared. I only wore a quiet smile, filled with ten thousand regrets as I told her, “Safe travels.”
You probably all want to know if I ever saw her again. When the emperor left the bamboo house where she lived with that man, I began to busy myself. Busy myself with what? I feared that the emperor would break his promise and send armed forces to retrieve her or the Fang Hua wood, so I was very preoccupied. Actually, I just wanted to see her one more time, but Second suddenly contracted a serious illness that nearly left him dead. In addition, the paths up the mountain had all been sealed off for some time, so none of my scouts couldn’t find her location until many years passed…
Nobody knew where she was, or whether she was living well with that immortal-like man. Some people said she disappeared. Others said that a new couple had emerged in the jianghu that were heads and shoulders above anyone else in the medical arts. They really were a celestial pair, beautiful beyond compare. The man had a teardrop-shaped mole at the corner of one eye, with a bearing as noble as jade. He was in the prime of his youth. The female had a frail body and always seemed tired, but was an exceptional beauty. She looked almost exactly like the Carefree Idler of bygone years.
This couple was deeply in love with each other. The husband was often seen flying through the snowy mountains, collecting fresh snow from the plum blossoms to brew tea. He truly adored his wife.
All of this, however, were passing rumors…
 veiling hiding his face (面纱) – mian sha, or “face veil”. Considering this is the jianghu, it’s very likely that Shao’er’s wearing a hat with a veil that goes all around her head, like the one in this link.
As a final gift for readers before the epilogue, I’d like to present a bonus translation of a song that I thought fit our couple rather well. ^-^ Please click the arrow to show the lyrics below:
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