Chapter One: 1
The seventh lunar month, bright sun shining high in the sky. The beginning of autumn had come, the mountain areas seemingly cooler than the flatlands, the vegetation not yet taking on autumn's colors. This year autumn came early.
The sound of hoofbeats like thunder breaks the silence.
In the distant mountains the startling howl like that of a wolf.
Two strong horses galloping from the old path to the east, heading west, yellow dust curling up behind them as they pass.
Soon the sound dissipates and not long after, the horses slow. The two horses are chestnut, robust and strong, they follow the path around the river bend.
Suddenly, a long and loud cry reverberated through the clouds to the high heavens, like the nine heavenly dragons chanting.
The sound fell gently, and a loud and clear singing spread:
Iron fist like thunder, sword gleaming cold,
Across the Sword Sea, rushing Sabre Mountain.
Shouting among winds and clouds, a hero's spirit is brief;
When feelings are true and love is sincere, a couple's passion is long.
When the sound had faded another voice continued:
Who cares, the sun is setting , the flowers look like brocade;
Don't cling to love, in Jiangnan the scene is beautiful.
Fame and fortune are like the mordning dew,
A bride's dowry and your salary are like passing clouds.
The sea of people is boundless, and I drift along;
The rivers and lakes are vast, I alone revere it.
Then the two singers sang together, the lofty sentiments of before now given way to sorrowful lamentations:
To the far corners of the eath, my spirit drifts aimlessly like a dream.
I have had my fill of the hardships and grind of daily life.
My travels through the world are long and arduous.
Exiled from the sea of people, ah!, cold and grieved;
This hero is gone, ah! When can he return?
The singing dissipated and hoofbeats stopped. The horses shook their heads and flicked their tails, their forehoofs kicking up the dust.
On the horses were two middle-aged imposing men, wearing black turbans and black-cloth jackets, a sword hanging from their waists, on their arms a Hundred Treasure bag and saddle packs behind the saddle. One look and you'd know these were men of the rivers and lakes. They reined in their horses and stared ahead at a fifty or sixty zhang high cliff extending into the middle of the river, their faces solemn. The sound of the water from the edge of the precipice and falling over like faint thunder.
The man on the right flicked his reins, took a deep breath and said, “There ahead is Tiger Mountain. That cliff sticking out of the river was originally called Tiger Head Peak, also called Tiger Head Cliff. That's where Wulin-exiled Cai Wenchang and the Junshan White-clad Dragon Girl died. Look, see there on the top of the tiger's head, isn't that a big stone tablet pavilion? That's where their clothes are entombed and there is a spirit memorial tablet, set up by friends of the jianghu.”
The man on the left shook his head and smiled bitterly. He was a rare breed among the rivers and lakes, ai! They accomplished much in their travels through the jianghu, left a lot of achievements. Now later people cherish their memory. Ai! Life is very tentuous! Da Ge, that time you were there, do you really mean to say that of all the master pugilists from heaven and earth, good and bad, no one was able to recover their bodies?
Da Ge shook his head. “Dear brother, you can hear the sound of the water and know, there are rapids on the upper reaches of the river, and at the lower end is Black Dragon Pond. A fengshui master called those dangerous waters Tiger Pressed the Dragon's Veins. The natives call it Black Tiger Suppresses the Black Dragon. Black Dragon Pond's water flows toward the inner bend, it's suction is powerful, the water pounds against the cliff walls. Except for fish, anything that enters that water disappears without a trace, who would dare go into the dragon pond to retrieve the bodies?”
“The bodies never washed up somewhere?”
“Squeezed between the rocks, how could they emerge anywhere? Come on! We'll go pay our respects.”
The two horse took off ahead and soon reached the foot of the mountain. The mountain peak looked like a crouching tiger, about ten li in circumference, the tiger's head stretching from the northeast to the riverside. The tiger's tail wasn't too steep, horses could climb it. An old path extended to the foot of the mountain, bending toward the right, winding northeast crossing the tiger's tail before changing to the northwest.
Winding around the mountain to the northeast was a small path branched off, leading to the summit. This was the path leading to the stone memorial tablet. Since the tablet had been erected, the path looked like it had never fallen into disrepair.
The horses galloped up the mountain. The mountain ridge was an ancient forest extending to the tiger's head.
As the horses ambled through the woods, there suddenly came a violent sound from behind. A dozen horses flying towards them.
“Eh! Who dares be so impertinent to rush madly about near the stone memorial tablet?” Da Ge turned his head to look.
His younger brother smiled. “It's just some people from the jianghu come out of respect for Cai Wenchang, what's the big deal? And Cai Wenchang made a lot of enemies among the rivers and lakes, so it's nor surprising to see people not restraining themselves.”
The dozen horses had already reached them as they neared the edge of the forest. The two brothers turned. Their faces changed and they reined in their horses and pulled them off to the side of the road and watched bumbfounded as the twelve horses flew past them.
Among the dozen horses, the lead rider had arching eyebrows and tiger eyes, three tufts of black beard brushing his chest, a wide nose and forehead, and a complexion like old bronze. Even when not angry he still looked fierce. About fifty years old, well-built and strong. His clothes were black-green. Clearly a man of talent.
Behind his horse rode two women, the one on the right was a middle-aged faded beauty, a melon face, pretty as a painting, she carried with her an aura of beautiful nobility and elegance befitting a fair maiden, pretty to make you unable to think of anything else. If it were not for the dim smile at the corners of her eyes you would not be able to tell she was middle-aged.
The one on the left was beautiful, a young woman, about seventeen or eighteen by her looks, pretty to take your breath away and make your heart jump. her face was eighty percent like the other woman, her facial features looked like the gods put a lot of effort into arranging them so that any change to any part could not make her look better. Too bad though, her face was white to make people pity her. Her eyes, more white than black, lacked energy. She was clealy a pretty young girl just recently recovering from some illness. The young woman looked dignified, yet still carried with her an aura of grievance. Her whole body was white, white to dazzle you. Her torso under her cloak protruded where it should protrude, thin where it should be thin. If you added a little you'd think her fat, if you subtracted something she'd be thin, in a word, she was just right.
The other nine riders all wore black heavy muscular builds, tall with big fists, thick arms. From their saddles hung instruments of death.
The two brothers waited until they had gone a bit ahead, then Da-ge said with a sinking mood, “No! No! It's really too hard to believe, too hard to believe.”
Da-ge, who are those people? What's hard to believe?”
“Heavens! That's Dongting Junshan Four Seas Divine Dragon Xia Chengguang, and the girl in white is the White-clad Dragon Girl Xia Yuanjun. How...how is this possible?” He was tongue-tied and dumbfounded, just staring at the departing riders.
“Da-ge, Is it really the White-clad Dragon Girl? It can't be, it's probably her younger sister.”
“Four Seas Divine Dragon only has one daughter and only one son, everyone in the jianghu knows this, how can it be her sister? Let's go! 'When the water recedes the rocks show themselves.'”
On the cliff overlooking the river, a stone tablet pavilion, three zhang high, three zhang wide on all sides with stone pillars thick enough to wrap your arms around, a vast construction. In the center of the pavilion was a huge tablet two zhang high, sitting on a three-layered base, the whole thing intricately carved granite. On either side of the pavilion a hall with stone benches, stone tables, and stone balustrades. In front of the pavilion was a sacrificial platform holding a pair of stone cauldrons big enough for three people to wrap their arms around. Smoke drifted up from the cauldrons.
This place was a cliff with a bunch of rocks of grotesque shape, the wind off the river screamed, the sound of the water was like thunder. The summit was about a li wide, and within sprouted many small pine trees from the cracks and crevices of rock. The rest was scattered rock and weeds with wines and creepers growing haphazardly.
The cliff extended into the middle of the river, the pavilion was erected about a zhang from the edge, facing north, its back to the south. Below the southern face was a sudden fifty or sixty zhang drop into the rolling river.
Tiger Head Peak's northwest face was a slight-sloping hillside. Many sheep and cattle were put to pasture here, though originally this place was a no-man's land.
A group of street urchins were gathered inside the pavilion, and leaning on a right-side stone pillar wearing shabby clothes was an old man of about seventy. They were making merry when they heard the hoofbeats and then they turned to look.
The twelve horses reined up in front of the altar and they all dismounted. Four Seas Divine Dragon held back the White-clad Dragon Girl who was too impatient to get into the pavilion.
The old man half-closed his eyed and turned to the children. “Kids, out! Out! You'll have to wait 'til next time to listen to this old man. Mind your livestock don't fall off the cliff. Go on! Go on!”
The children dispersed except for a few who sat around the old man, curiously watching the group that had just arrived.
On the front of the huge stone memorial tablet was carved two lines in Yan-style calligraphy: “Cai Wenchang. Xia Yuanjun.” Running parallel to these were four words: “Hat and Clothes Tomb”.
In the middle were three words: “Recall Spirit Tablet.”
Inscribed: “Great Ming Jiajing 35th year, Bingchen Summer 4th Month Bingwu, Jiangnan Mutually Reverently Erected.”
On the back side was carved in densely-packed script several sections. The first section was the lyrics to the song mentioned earlier.
The second section was written: “Cai Jun (taboo) Wenchang, Shangzhou prefecture, Fine Horse Hut Cai Family Village native, born Great Ming Jiajing 15th year Autumn 9th month Gengwu day, died Jiajing 35th year 2nd month Jihai, aged years 20 and 1. Cai Jun lost both parents at an early age...”
The next section concered the White-clad Dragon Girl Xia Yuanjun's information, very simple. Then it mentions the burial information on Tiger Head Peak, but is not detailed.
The last section, in the corner, was carved in large characters: “Upright, and evil, a hero, and robber. Exiled to the back of beyond, freely strolled through the world of men. Right or wrong? Opinions differ. Enemies or friends? Survive in the heart.”
Judging by the tone of the inscriptions, the people who erected this memorial were men of the rivers and lakes, friends from the far corners of the earth, some perhaps enemies. At any rate, when the person has died, friendship and enmity all should be crossed out with a single stroke! The positions of these men of the rivers and lakes were not too high.
Four Seas Divine Dragon saw his beloved daughter's name on the tablet plain as day, how could be not be enraged? No wonder he stamped in fury. Custodian, let me check, I want to see what bastard put up this memorial.”
But his wife said: “Chengguang, don't get excited, suppress your anger first and calm down.”
“Nonsense! Is this not brazenly cursing our child?” Four Seas Divine Dragon roared in anger, his long beard shaking. He took two steps toward the tablet and shot his palm out from his sleeve, and with a mightly roar chopped at the tablet.
“Hold it! Dad,” the White-clad Dragon Girl cried out.
Four Seas Divine Dragon pulled his punch and let his huge palm slant down to the side, brushing past the memorial tablet, reined his palm in with a shout and turned and said, “Child, what is it?”
“I think you can leave the tablet as it is.”
“Cai Wenchang might still roam the world of men, leave it so he can destroy it.”
“What? You think he was sword-stabbed, fell into Black Dragon Pond and didn't die?”
“I was stabbed too, fell in Black Dragon Pond, but I didn't die.”
“That's not the same, you fell into Black Dragon Pond...”
“While I was dizzy, yet I still recall distinctly being violently pulled out from the midst of the whirlpool, when I woke up I fell asleep in a rock crevice, and when I woke up I was dead tired. Everyone was on the cliff watching the fight, no one was at the bottom, so who saved me and put me in the crevice? Except for him, there was no one else.” As she was talking energetically, her pallid face stained a red blush, and her lifeless eyes lit up with spirit.
“Child, you're talking in fairy tales.”
From the White-clad Dragon Girl's eyes suddenly hung two lines of tears. She beckoned the pavilion custodian to come up the steps, took a few joss sticks, and knelt at the alter, mumbling. Then as the incense fragrance mingled she said faintly, “When he fell off the cliff, and really stated his heartfelt wish, why didn't he say something earlier? I waited for his innermost feelings for too long, why didn't he say something earlier? He's gone, only his suffering he left for me to bear. I regret, but it's too late now. For the rest of this life I will struggle with this pain, until the day I step into the grave.” She looked up at her father and smiled bitterly: “Dad, your daughter doesn't have the nerve to think back to the aftermath of that day, I just hope it wasn't a real nightmare....”
“Child, the facts are all there.”
“I just have to use an illusio to comfort myself, deceive myself as well as others, fantasize that he still lives in this world, lives in my blessings. In reality, I fell and was saved, and the reason is too obscure. I wish that my fantasy and my inferences were true. Dad, your dauther's hope is not shattered...”
Just then the two brothers who were waiting quietly, Da-ge reached out to rouse the old man in shabby clothes and the kids.
Four Seas Divine Dragon raised his hand and shook his head: “Hero, no need to disturb them, lest people say us jianghu heroes bully and tyrannize the people.”
Da-ge drew back his hand and bowed in respect. “Your junior respects your command.”
Four Seas Divine Dragon took a step down the steps and nodded. “Would you two mind telling me your honorable names?”
“Your juniors are Nanjing Zhao wen and Zhao Wu,” Da-ge courteously replied.
“Oh! So you are the Zhao Family Gulley Zhao Family twin xia brothers. Pleased to meet you, pleased to meet you. You two are...”
“We're came from Xi'an on a direct route to come here to pay our respects.”
As they exchanged courtesies, the White-clad Dragon Girl went toward the river of the pavilion by the cliff edge. Strange rocks in a disordered mess, weeds knee-high, the wind on the river howling, the water below gurgling. She stood at the edge and looked down, really hair-raising, timid people couldn't even speak of looking down there, or even approach the edge.
After a while, the dozen riders mounted up and descended the mountain. The Zhao Family Twin Xias also burned incense and paper money, and once this was finished, they too mounted up and left.
The old man in shabby clothes by the pillar was snoring like he didn't have a care in the world.
But at the sound of hoofbeats, his eyes opened a few times, flashing a strange radiance.
The hoofbeats now distant, the old man sunk back into sleep. The children gathered again and sat around the old man. A boy of about twelve went up and grabbed the old man's jacket and shook him. “Hey, grandpa, wake up, wake up...”
The old man opened his eyes. “Settle down, settle down, you little monkeys, go on! Go on! I want to sleep.”
“No, you have to tell us the story of Wenchang.”
The old man waved his hand and said languidly, “Wen-ge lived here, died here, don't tell me you didn't listen to your uncles tell you about it. Ask me, what a joke.”
The kid curled his lips and said, “My dad said Wen-ge was the cause of our village's ruin, he's a degenerate, hooligan, a scoundrel, don't mention him, don't ask about him. Whoever asks about him will get smacked in the mouth!” When he said “smacked in the mouth”, he waves his hand imitating the gesture.
The old man laughed until he was crying, then said: “Since he brought ruin, was a degenerate, a hooligan, a scoundrel, why are you asking me about him?”
“But some people want to erect a silver tablet for Wenchang to make Fine Horse Village even more illustrious. Look, every day people comed from miles around to burn incense, I just don't believe Wenchang was a bad egg.”
The old man sat up with great effort and patted the boy's head. “That's right, Wenchang was a bad egg.”
“I say he wasn't.”
The old man reached for his wine gourd and took a few pulls and laughed. “You all want to hear Wenchang's story?”
“I want to hear.”
“Tell it, grandpa.”
The old man sat bobbing his head in a satisfied manner. “All right, listen up, every day after the sun has peaked you all come here. Grandpa will speak for a couple hours, in a few days I should be able to tell it all. Remember, you mustn't go home and tell your parents or your uncles, all right?”
“All right,” the little devils all shouted.
The old man's eyes suddenly flashed like lightning, looking around in all directions. He inhaled so that the muscles in his face couldn't help but tremble, the light in his eyes frequently changing.
“A long, long time ago...” The old man casually began to tell his story.