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Monday, April 20, 2009

Seven Weapons - Longevity Sword: Chapter 2 (1)

Chapter 2: Palace of White Jade in Heaven


Bai Yujing[1] was not in heaven, but on a horse.
His saddle was almost completely worn out; same goes with his boots and the scabbard of his sword. However, his clothes were brand new.
The scabbard dangled loosely against the saddle as the spring breeze gently stroked his face.
He was very cheerful and very comfortable.
The aged saddle was very comfortable for sitting; the well-worn boots felt very comfortable on his feet; the old scabbard would never cause damage to the sharp edge of his sword; new clothes always put him in high spirits and feel vigorous and energetic.
What he was most cheerful about, however, were not these things, but that pair of eyes.
In the horse-drawn carriage in front of him, a pair of charming eyes had been peeking at him all the time. This was not the first time he saw those eyes. He could still remember the first time when he saw those eyes. It was inside a small inn in a small town.
He had just entered the inn when she walked by and bumped into him.
Her lovely smile was filled with shyness and embarrassment, and her face was as red as the rain-soaked sunset.
He secretly hoped that she would bump into him again, because she was really a very attractive lady while he was really not a hypocritical gentleman.
The second time when he saw her, it was inside a small restaurant. He had just begun his third drink when she walked in. As soon as she recognized him, she hung her head with the sweetest smile.
The sweet smile was still filled with shyness and embarrassment.
At that time he smiled too, because he knew she would not have smiled again and again had she bumped into another person. He also knew that he was not an unattractive man, which he had always been very confident with.
Therefore even though he left first, he did not hurry with his journey.
As expected, her carriage had caught up with him by now, but did this happen by chance or by purpose? He was a rover who enjoyed wandering the world. Along his journeys, he had met all kinds of people.
Among them were red-bearded barbarians who roamed the grasslands outside of the Great Wall and heavily-armored cavalries who galloped the great deserts. There were also ill-tempered outlaws that would slaughter at the slightest argument, as well as young and daring champions of Martial World chivalry.
The endless wandering gradually worn his saddle and scabbard, and his beard grew thick and stiff.
But his life was always fresh and colorful.
He could never foresee in the next part of his journal what things might happen or what kind of people he would meet.
The spring breeze gradually grew chilly, and a misty spring shower suddenly spilled off the spring clouds, moisturizing his new spring outfits.
The carriage ahead of him halted. As he rode closer, he found that the curtains had already been rolled up and that pair of charming eyes gazed at him intently.
The charming eyes, a shy smile, a lovely face untouched by makeup, and a dress as vivid as the violet twilight made up a breathtaking scene.
She pointed at her delicate feet, then at his newly wetted clothes, her slender fingers as pretty as the scallions of the spring season.
He pointed at himself, then at the carriage.
She nodded, and then with a charming smile, opened the door.
The interior of the carriage was cozy and dry. The silky seat covers were as smooth as her skin.
He dismounted his horse and stepped up into the carriage.
The spring shower was tender and intimate – it rained just at the right time.
In spring time, the Heavenly Lord seemed to be very fond of arranging intriguing occasions to bring together fine people in fortuitous encounters.
There was neither the slightest bit of awkwardness, nor unnecessary words, as though it was his destiny to meet her and his destiny to sit in this carriage.
Along a lonesome journey and between a pair of lonesome travelers, no one could object to their cross of paths.
Just when he thought of wiping the rain drops off his face with his sleeve, she handed him a handkerchief of soft, red silk.
He gazed at her, but she hung her head to play with a corner of her dress.
“You’re welcome.”
“My name is Bai, Bai Yujing.”
She let out a charming smile and then chanted gently.
“A palace of white jade in heaven,
Has pavilions five and castles a dozen,
Where the deity stroked my pate and coiled up my hair,
And blessed me longevity as my welfare.”
“You like Li Bai[2] too?” He smiled as well.
She entangled the corner of her dress to her slender fingers and began to recite in a low, lengthened voice.
“On the mountain of Lao by the east sea,
I once savored the violet twilight carefree,
Where I met the legendary immortal Elder An Qi[3],
Who shared with me melon-sized fruits of jujube.
Only as a middle-aged man I called on his Majesty,
Failing my aspiration I return home despondently.
My once youthful face had withered in the spring sun,
And the graying of hair in life had inevitably begun.
I crave the golden elixir of eternity,
And to ride the carriage of clouds in serenity.
Up the heavenly terrace I follow the elder in pleasure,
To sweep fallen petals with the celestial at leisure.[4]
Her voice had a slight pause at the mentioning of the mountain of Lao.
“Miss Lao?” Bai Yujing guessed.
Her head bowed even lower, and a soft voice replied, “Yuan Zixia[5].”
Suddenly the sound of galloping hooves echoed as three horses raced past the carriage, and three pair of sharp eyes glanced over the inside of the carriage.
As the horses sprinted forward, the last rider suddenly leapt off his saddle in a back flip and landed on Bai Yujing’s saddle twenty feet away. With a tap of his tiptoe, he hooked the scabbard that hung from the saddle and caught it with his hand.
The three horses suddenly turned around, and with another swift flip, the man returned to his own saddle at ease.
Only moments later, the three riders had disappeared into the hazy mist of shower, no longer to be seen.
“They stole your sword!” Yuan Zixia exclaimed, her beautiful eyes widening.
Bai Yujing only replied with a grin.
“You just watch them taking away your belongings and not do anything about it?” asked Yuan Zixia.
Bai Yujing grinned again.
“I heard that in the Martial World some people hold their sword as dearly as their own lives,” Yuan Zixia bit her lips and said.
“I am not that kind of person,” replied Bai Yujing.
Yuan Zixia sighed softly as if she was slightly disappointed.
Are there young girls who didn’t adore heroes? If you fight others to death for the sake of a sword, they might think of you as a fool, or they might even shed tears for you.
But if you simply watch it happen when others take away your sword, they would undoubtedly be very disappointed.
“Do you know much about the Martial World?” Bai Yujing looked at her and grinned once again.
“Not much. But I like hearing stories and watching with my own eyes.”
“Is that why you left home all by yourself?”
Yuan Zixia nodded and began toying with the corner of her dress once again.
“Fortunately you have not seen much; otherwise you’d for sure be disappointed.”
“Why is that?”
“Things you see are never as beautiful as the stories you hear.”
Yuan Zixia wanted to ask more, but then refrained from the urge.
Right then, sound of galloping hooves suddenly filled the air again. The three riders that had zoomed by them returned.
The leading rider suddenly leaned backward toward the side and extended his arm. In the next instant, he had gently returned the scabbard back to its former place alongside the saddle.
The other two riders bowed slightly with cupped hands[6], and moments later, all three disappeared into the hazy mist yet again.
Yuan Zixia’s eyes widened from the shock and excitement.
“They brought your sword back!”
Bai Yujing grinned.
“You knew they were going to bring it back?” Yuan Zixia blinked.
Bai Yujing grinned again.
“They seemed to be afraid of you!” Yuan Zixia gazed at him, her eyes glowed with enthusiasm.
“Afraid of me?”
“Your…your sword must have killed many people!” Yuan Zixia exclaimed, her voice trembled from excitement.
“Do I look like someone who has killed before?” Bai Yujing asked.
“Not really,” Yuan Zixia had to admit.
“I didn’t think so either.”
“But why are they afraid of you?”
“Maybe they are afraid of you, not me!”
“Me? Why would they be afraid of me?” Yuan Zixia giggled.
“One smile can crumple a city, and a second smile can crumple a kingdom[7]! Even the sharpest sword is no match for a beauty’s smile,” Bai Yujing exclaimed.
Yuan Zixia’s smile became even sweeter. Eyes winking, she asked, “Are you…are you afraid of me?”
Her eyes seemed to be suddenly radiating with irresistible power, as though she had just posed a challenge for him.
“I guess you wouldn’t take no for an answer!” Bai Yujing heaved a sigh.
“If you are afraid of me, shouldn’t you do as I say?” Yuan Zixia bit her lips again.
“Naturally!” replied Bai Yujing.
“Good! Then I want you to have a drink with me,” Yuan Zixia commanded with a pretty smile blooming on her face.
“You can drink?” Bai Yujing was caught by surprise.
“Do I look like someone who can drink?”
“You do!” Bai Yujing answered with another sigh.
He had no choice but to admit, because he knew very well whether it was drinking or killing, one could never tell who’s good at it just from his or her looks.

[1] “Bai Yujing” means palace of white jade, the same words used in the first line of the poem at the beginning of chapter 1.
[2] Li Bai (701-762), a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty, the author of the poem recited here.
[3] An Qi (nicknamed Thousand-Year-Old Elder) was a Taoism philosopher during the Qin (221-207 BC) and Han (202 BC-220 AD) eras. He was said to have become a celestial after taking some potion he had made himself. He was a very important figure in history because he set the example of becoming a celestial from taking magical pills.
[4] Another poem by Li Bai and my pathetic attempt at translating it.
[5] “Zixia” means violet twilight in Chinese. In the original poem in Chinese, the phrase “mountain of Lao” was right next to the phrase “violet twilight”, hence, the wrong guess on Bai Yujing’s part.
[6] A traditional way of greeting in Chinese culture.
[7] Excerpts of a poem describing the beauty of Madam Li, sister of the poet Li Yannian, who later became the imperial concubine of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). The story about the power of a beauty’s smile came from a real historical event. During the ruling of Emperor You of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100-771BC), the imperial concubine Bao Si never smiled. In order to make his lover smile, Emperor You followed the advice from his minister and lit the war signal fire used to summon warlords to protect the empire from the northern barbarians. The chaos created by the many armies hurrying in did make the imperial concubine smile, but also angered the many warlords, so when the northern barbarians really invaded the capital a few years later, no warlord showed up to protect the capital despite the war signal fire. The emperor and his minister were both killed, which marked the end of the Western Zhou Dynasty.

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