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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Seven Weapons - Longevity Sword: Chapter 1 (2)

TWO
It was night.
There were no stars or moon, only dark clouds and intense winds.
But the courtyard was well lit by many lights and there was even a table of feast.
The middle-aged scholar was crooning an indiscernible song with lengthened tones as he served wine for himself. Out of the blue, he suddenly raised his wine cup toward a large banyan tree outside of the courtyard and smiled.
“I’ve long heard that Chief Miao has a wonderful wine tolerance that can hold an entire river. Since you are already here, why not come down and join me for a drink?”
Owl-like laughter quickly resonated from within the thick shades of the banyan leaves. A shadow shot down and landed on the ground like a shooting arrow, except that the landing was so delicate as if what just landed was no more than a four-ounce cotton ball.
The man had a pug nose, a wide mouth, and a head full or bright red hair. Three large golden rings hung from his left ear. Although he had landed squarely on the ground, the golden rings still jingled. He was indeed the highest chief of the Red-Haired Gang, “God of Fire”, Miao Shaotian[1].
He stared right into the middle-aged scholar’s eyes, so intense as if there were flames burning inside his own eyes.
“You must be Branch Captain Gongsun of the Green Dragon Clan.”
“That is right. I am Gongsun Jing.” The middle-aged scholar stood up and cupped his hand in front of his chest in a solute[2].
“Indeed a worthy figure of the Green Dragon Clan! Very keen eyes!” Miao Shaotian praised, and then followed with his owl-like laughter.
Sounds of hoof beats suddenly rose like stormy raindrops in rapid successions and quickly approached.
“Little Zhang San is here, too. Not slow at all,” said Miao Shaotian as he knitted his pair of flame-like think eyebrows.
The hoof beats suddenly came to an abrupt halt, and a clear voice rose together with loud laughter.
“Who dares to be late for a meeting with an underboss of the Green Dragon Clan?”
Amidst the loud laughter, a man leaped in over the walls. The man had a suit of snow white short robe. The front pieces of the robe were intentionally left open, baring the burly and muscular chest, yet the chest skin was even whiter than the robe.
“What a fine ‘White Horse Little Zhang San’! Haven’t seen you for a few years. How come you look even younger and more handsome now? If Lao Miao[3] had a daughter, I’d for sure let you be my son-in-law.” Miao Shaotian gave a thumb up and burst into loud laughter.
“Even if you really had a daughter, no one would dare to take her,” White Horse Zhang San said calmly.
“Why?” Miao Shaotian stared at him with bulging eyes.
“Look at your own face. I am sure your daughter can’t be any better,” replied White Horse Zhang San.
Miao Shaotian’s eyes bulged even bigger. After a long stare, he finally said, “We are here to do business today. There’s no hurry to start a fight.”
“How about a drink?” asked White Horse Zhang San.
“That, we’d better hurry! Come! Let’s start by toasting three cups to Branch Captain Gongsun!” suggested Miao Shaotian, his face immediately turning into a big smile.
“My wine capacity is no good. How about I toast a cup first for you three?” Gongsun Jing grinned.
“Three?” Miao Shaotian knitted his brows again.
A man’s voice crowed from the ridge of a neighboring house in reply.
“Since both the East-Bank Red Hair and the West-Bank White Horse have showed up, how dare I be late for the party?”
“Mount Taihang[4] Zhao Yidao[5]?” asked Miao Shaotian.
But he didn’t have to wait for an answer, because he had already seen a bright saber, a sharp saber!
The saber did not have a scabbard.
The bright saber was directly fixed to his red waist band.
The man wore a green arrow suit with a green handkerchief on his forehead. His red waist band looked even brighter than Miao Shaotian’s hair, a perfect match to the blood-red silk attached to the saber’s handle.
But Gongsun Jing’s gazes were as sharp as the man’s saber and glanced across the three men’s faces.
“The Green Dragon Clan sent out twelve invitations, but only three came. Are the other nine not coming?” he spoke slowly.
“Right on! Straight to the point!” said Zhao Yidao.
“I am sure the three of you didn’t come such a long way just to listen to nonsense,” said Gongsun Jing.
“Not at all,” said Zhao Yidao.
“As for the rest of the nine guests, at least three of them are not coming,” said Miao Shaotian with a nasty grin.
“Six,” corrected Zhao Yidao.
“I took care of those from the Green Bamboo Gang, the Iron Ring Clan, and the Li Family of Taiyuan[6],” declared Miao Shaotian.
“Our three friends from the Twelve-Wharf Coalition, the Yangtze River Gang, and the Guan Family Style Fists from Chenzhou[7] suddenly caught some odd deceases on their way here and all had terrible headaches, so…,” added Zhao Yidao.
“So…what?” asked Miao Shaotian.
“They don’t have headaches no more!” said Zhao Yidao.
“Who cured them?” asked Miao Shaotian.
“I did,” said Zhao Yidao.
“How?” asked Miao Shaotian.
“I chopped their heads off,” answered Zhao Yidao. He then added casually, “Nobody will still have a headache if his head is chopped off.”
“Great idea! Simple and effective!” Miao Shaotian guffawed.
“I am afraid the two senior masters of the Ten-Thousand Bamboo Villa and the Flying Fish Pond won’t be coming either,” White Horse Zhan San suddenly added.
“Oh?” exclaimed Miao Shaotian.
“They all fell asleep, very deep sleep,” said White Horse Zhan San.
“Where are they sleeping at?” asked Miao Shaotian.
“Bottom of the Dongting Lake[8],” replied White Horse Zhan San.
“Wonderful!” Miao Shaotian chuckled. “That’s a cool place to sleep at, and they’ll never be disturbed either.”
“I always take good care of seniors in the Martial World,” White Horse Zhang San said indifferently.
“All those that should be here are here already, but where’s the merchandise promised by the Green Dragon Clan?” Zhao Yidao asked.
“Excellent, straight to the point,” Gongsun Jing said with a smile.
“I am sure the Branch Captain didn’t invite us here just to listen to nonsense,” said Zhao Yidao.
“Of course not,” Gongsun Jing nodded slowly.
“Branch Captain, are you waiting to hear our prices first?” Zhao Yidao asked.
“Not yet,” replied Gongsun Jing.
“What are you waiting for then?” asked Zhao Yidao.
“This merchandise was not easy to come by. Of course we’d prefer more bidders for a higher price,” said Gongsun Jing.
“Is the Branch Captain still waiting for someone?” Miao Shaotian glared at him.
“Don’t forget that there were going to be nine more guests, but you only finished off eight,” said Gongsun Jing.
“Who’s the last one?” asked Miao Shaotian.
“A person who neither has a headache nor fall asleep,” Gongsun Jing beamed.
“Frankly speaking, the Red-Haired Gang WILL get the merchandise one way or another. Whether there’s someone else or not, it makes no difference,” Miao Shaotian sneered.
“The Green Dragon Clan is always fair when it comes to business. If your Red-Haired Gang offers the highest price, this merchandise of course will go to the Red-Haired Gang,” White Horse Zhang San also sneered.
“Are you saying you are bidding more?” Miao Shaotian roared sternly.
“Why else am I here?” retorted White Horse Zhang San.
Miao Shaotian jumped onto his feet and stared at him with squinted eyes, the golden rings hanging from his ear jingled again from his sudden movement.
Sounds of rattling wagon parts and horse neighing suddenly echoed as a six-horse drawn extravagantly magnificent carriage arrived at the gate. Four burly, corky, and husky fellows leapt off the carriage shaft and then bent over to open the carriage door.
After a good while, a pale-faced, beardless, and obese man finally stepped out of the carriage panting. Only after three steps, he was already gasping for air as hard as an ox.
Behind him was a tall and thin man in a black robe that followed him like his shadow. This man had a sallow face, on which the two eyes sank in deeply like a sick man, yet his footsteps were nimble and swift. Along his waist hung a pair of shinny things, and a closer inspection showed that they were a pair of arc-shaped swords.
Such rare type of weaponry was not only difficult to learn, but also tricky to craft. Very few people in the Martial World would wield this kind of weapon, but for those who do, nine out of ten were outstanding Kung Fu masters.
Miao Shaotian, Zhao Yidao, and White Horse Zhang San immediately fixed their sharp stares onto the pair of arc-shaped swords.
“Who is he?” White Horse Zhang San asked first with a frown.
“Young Master Zhu from the Ten-Thousand Gold House of Suzhou,” Gongsun Jing replied.
“How about his bodyguard?” White Horse Zhang San asked again.
“Might just be a bodyguard,” Gongsun Jing said with a smile.
White Horse Zhang San pondered for a second and then suddenly turned to Zhao Yidao.
“Didn’t he come from your way?”
“That sounds about right,” replied Zhao Yidao.
“How come he didn’t have a headache?”
“Even if he did, I can’t cure it.”
“Why not?”
“His head is too big,” said Zhao Yidao in a light tone.
By then, Young Master Zhu had already sat down, although he kept wiping his sweats, panting incessantly.
He had only walked about thirty steps at most, but appeared as though he had just climbed seven or eight mountains.
The man in black stood behind him like his shadow, never more than a step from his side. The man’s pair of eagle-claw-like bony hands also kept a close distance from the pair of arc-shaped swords by his waist.
His deep sunken black eyes seemed to carry a strange ridicule, as if mocking those in front of his eyes for wasting their time on the trip.
The lanterns of the Wind-Cloud Inn swayed in the wind; the golden rings hanging off Miao Shaotian’s ear also tinkled.
White Horse Zhang San seemed to feel a chill and quietly pulled the covering of his coat closer.
Meanwhile, Zhao Yidao fixed his glance at the wine cup atop the table as if pondering upon a difficult dilemma.
No one said anything further as hostility brewed among the people present.
Gongsun Jing apparently quite enjoyed the air of animosity. He let out a long sigh and then spoke again with a smile on his face.
“The four of you do not know each other, but surely you have all heard of each other’s names. I’ll just spare the introduction.”
“There’s no need,” said Miao Shaotian.
“We didn’t come here to make friends,” said White Horse Zhang San.
“Even if we were friends, we no longer will be for the sake of the merchandise.” Miao Shaotian rolled his eyes and cast a side glance at him.
“Chief Miao has always been a sensible man,” White Horse Zhang San sneered.
“Now that everyone is here. Where’s the merchandise?”
“The merchandise is alright, but…,” Gongsun Jing said.
“But what?” asked Miao Shaotian.
“The Green Dragon Clan always follows well-established rules when we do business. We only do fair trade, and cash only,” Gongsun Jing said.
“Fine!” agreed Miao Shaotian.
He clapped his hands, and the nine red-haired weirdoes in hessian tunics suddenly emerged from the darkness, each carrying a hessian sack of quite some weight.
Sound of heavy footsteps also came from the doorway, and soon the curly bearded brawny man strode in holding a large iron chest in each hand. His iron-like black muscles were pumped up, and a deep footprint appeared in the ground with each step he took.
“Golden ring wedged in the wall, and white horse neighing in the wind. As soon as I saw those, I knew that the Red-Haired Nine Champions and the Giant Warrior had all arrived,” Gongsun Jing said, beaming.
“Don’t forget the eight sabers fluttering in wind,” White Horse Zhang San added.
Zhao Yidao finally lifted his head with a forced smile.
“East-Bank Red Hair and the West-Bank White Horse are both of abundant wealth and great power. Our Fast Sabers of Taihang certainly is not in the same league to compete. I guess our Taihang brothers are giving up the bid on the merchandise.”
“Excellent! Chief Zhao is very clever indeed!” Miao Shaotian guffawed wildly.
But his laughter suddenly came to a halt as he glared at Young Master Zhu with his burning glances.
“What about the young master of the Ten-Thousand Gold House? What are your thoughts?”
Young Master Zhu’s heavy breathing had finally ceased and was appreciating his hands like how a young man would appreciate his first love’s hands. But he still responded.
“Are you asking me what my thoughts are?”
“Humph!” snorted Miao Shaotian.
“I don’t have any thoughts. I am too lazy to think,” said Young Master Zhu.
“No thoughts? Got any gold?” Miao Shaotian asked with an angry face.
“Sure!”
“How much did you bring?”
“You want to see?”
“The rule here is cash only.”
“But you’ve seen it.”
“Where?”
“My words are as good as cash.”
“So whatever you say counts?” Miao Shaotian’s face turned solemn.
“Correct!”
“So if I offer ten-thousand, you’ll just say ten-thousand and one hundred?”
“You are very clever indeed,” Young Master Zhu replied.
Miao Shaotian suddenly turned his gaze toward the pair of arc-shaped swords. The nine red-haired weirdoes in hessian tunics had quietly surrounded Young Master Zhu. But Young Master Zhu kept staring at his own hands as if there was nothing else in the entire world worthy of his look except his own pair of hands.
Miao Shaotian’s hands suddenly shot toward the arc-shaped swords, fast and accurate, accompanied by a clear clanking sound from the golden rings on his earlobe clashing with each other.
But he would never have imaged that another pair of hands could be even faster than his, a pair of round and well-maintained hands.
Before his hands even reached the arc-shaped swords, this pair of hands had already pulled the golden rings off his earlobe.
Another clanking sound echoed when the golden rings clashed.
Miao Shaotian flipped his body backward and landed twenty feet away.
The man in black still stood behind Young Master Zhu like a shadow, not moving an inch.
Young Master Zhu still stared at his own hands in same position, except that a pair of golden rings astonishingly appeared in his hands.
White Horse Zhang San’s faced also changed color.
Zhao Yidao glanced at the wine cup in front of him and suddenly heaved a sigh.
“Now do you know what I mean?”
“What?” asked White Horse Zhang San.
“Even if he did have a headache, I can’t cure it.”
“Right, his head is indeed too big.” White Horse Zhang San couldn’t help but sigh too.
“Since everyone has brought their money, we might as well go see the merchandise,” Gongsun Jing let out another smile.
Miao Shaotian gazed at Young Master Zhu, his eyes bloodshot.
Young Master Zhu agreed leisurely, “Right! It’s a good idea to see the merchandise first. Who knows? I might not even want to make an offer.”
Putting the golden rings down on the table, he took out a snow white handkerchief, and after carefully wiping his hands, he finally stood up slowly.
“Please, please lead the way.”
“Please, please follow me,” said Gongsun Jing.
He walked toward the inn, leading the way. Young Master Zhu followed behind him slowly as if he was going to pant again. The man in black still followed him closely, but now White Horse Zhan San finally understood why there was that strange ridicule in his eyes.
He was not mocking anyone else. He was mocking himself.
Because only he understood that the man he was protecting did not need his protection after all.

[1] “Shaotian” means burning the sky in Chinese.
[2] A common form of greeting in ancient China by men with one clenched fist in the other hand moving about at the chest.
[3] “Lao” means old. Here “Lao Miao” is a way for Miao Shaotian to refer to himself.
[4] Mount Taihang is a famous mountain going through Hebei, Henan, and Shanxi Provinces.
[5] “Yidao” means one saber chop.
[6] Taiyuan is the capital city of Shanxi Province.
[7] Chenzhou is a city located in Hunan Province.
[8] Dongting Lake is a big lake located in the northern part of Hunan Province.
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Video of the Day:

A beautiful dance performance named "Embrace the Sky (飞天)" depicting dancing styles of the Tang Dynasty.