Jin Yong

Mandarin Duck Blades
Chapter 1

Translation by Jenxi Seow.

Four burly men in battle gear stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking the road ahead!

If these were bandits from the outlaws’ mountain stronghold, there would be more than just four of them. Could there be a larger force lying in ambush in this pitch black pine forest? If they were merely small-time robbers who waylaid travellers, they would have avoided such a heavily guarded escort team. Why would they dare to block the road in such a blatant manner? Or are they wulin1武林 – wǔlín. Literally martial forest. It refers to the martial arts community within the jianghu. These are people who practice martial arts. More information. experts who were coming specifically for him?

He studied the four men intently. The leftmost was short and wiry with a sharp chin, wielding a pair of Emei piercers.2峨嵋刺 – Éméi cì. A metal rod with a sharp end for stabbing. It has a ring worn on the middle finger to allow spinning and elaborate movements. See Wikipedia. The second was tall and burly, appearing like an iron tower rooted to the ground. A large stone tablet bearing the words “Grave of late father Lord Chengben of the Huang residence” stood before him. It was evidently a tombstone, but what was the purpose of placing it there?

Huang Chengben?3黄诚本 – Huáng Chēngběn. He had never heard of such a senior expert in the jianghu!

The third was of medium build with fair skin. If not for the teeth that protruded an inch and nose that sunk half an inch, he could be considered rather handsome. He held a pair of meteor hammers.4流星锤 – Líuxīng chuí. A weight attached to the end of a rope or chain that is swung to strike the target or disarm the opponent. See Wikipedia. An ailing middle-aged man in tattered clothes stood on the far right biting on a pipe with his eyes half closed as he slowly exhaled wisps of smoke, as though he was disregarding the escort team of over seventy men.

The three others were manageable, but the ailing man must be a formidable foe with profound neigong.5内功 – neìgōng. Literally internal skill. It is the skill used to increase one’s internal power. See Wikipedia. Many tales in the jianghu6江湖 – jiānghú. The world of martial arts. A sub-society involving all who are related to the martial arts scene. See jianghu. appeared in his mind instantly. A white-haired old lady who killed five escort captains with her bare hands and looted their large convoy. An old beggar who created havoc in the Taiyuan Prefecture7太原府 – Tàiyuán fǔ. Prefecture in central Shanxi Province. See Wikipedia. court and beheaded the prefect before disappearing without a trace. A beautiful young woman who defeated fist master Zhang Da,10张大 – Zhāng Dà. who had enjoyed over twenty years of renown in the Datong Prefecture8大同府 – Dàtóng fǔ. Prefecture in northern Shanxi Province. See Wikipedia. of Northern Jin9晋北 – Jīnběi. Jin refers to the northern part of the Shanxin Province, a reference to the State of Jin located in the region during the Spring and Autumn Period, not to be confused with the Jin Dynasty.

The more unremarkable and nonchalant one was, the more formidable their master arts abilities. As the jianghu saying went, “True masters did not reveal themselves. Those who reveal themselves are no true masters.”

Looking at the sickly man smoking with eyes closed, Zhou Weixin,11周威信 – Zhoū Weīxìn. the escort chief of the Weixin Armed Escort from Xi’an Prefecture13西安府 – Xīān fǔ. Prefecture in central Shaanxi Province. See Wikipedia. in Shaanxi14陕西 – Shǎnxī. Province in Northwest China. See Wikipedia. known as the Iron Whip that Commands All Directions,12八方 – bāfāng. Literally eight directions, encompassing north, south, east, west, northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest. In Chinese culture and philosophy, it symbolises completeness, universality, and balance. It is often used to describe the entirety of space around a point, indicating something that extends or has influence in every direction. involuntarily reached to touch the bag on his back.

The convoy was worth a hundred thousand taels of silver entrusted by the prominent salt merchant Wang Derong15汪德荣 – Wāng Déróng. from Xi’an Prefecture. Ten thousand taels of silver was no small sum, but Weixin Armed Escort had transported two hundred taels of silver, and even escorted four hundred taels of silver. Thus, in terms of the monetary amount, this was no big deal.

Since leaving Xi’an, the only thing that weighed on his mind was the pair of daos hidden in the bag, and the words he heard the other night in the Sichuan-Shaanxi Viceroy’s residence.

The person who spoke to him was none other than the Sichuan-Shaanxi Viceroy, Lord Liu Yuyi.17刘于义 – Liú Yúyì. Although Zhou Weixin was well-known in the jianghu, the highest-ranking official he had met before was a prefect.18府台 – fǔtái. Prefect was an imperial official that administered a prefecture. To actually be personally received by the lord Viceroy himself this time was naturally shocking and nerve-wracking, making him frantic from worry.

Lord Liu’s words replayed in his mind hundreds of times, “Escort chief Zhou, this pair of daos19刀 – dāo. A single-edge sword used for slashing and chopping. See Wikipedia. are called the Mandarin Duck Blades.20鸳鸯刀 – Yuānyāng dāo. Literally mandarin duck daos. Yuan and yang stand for the male and female mandarin ducks respectively, and are considered to be lifelong couples in traditional Chinese culture. The name means that the daos come in a pair. They are truly extraordinary. You must take good care of them. When His Majesty was still a prince, he sent trusted agents to search for them everywhere.

“After ascending to the throne, His Majesty issued a secret edict ordering all governors and commanders in the eighteen provinces to investigate carefully. We finally apprehended the owner of the Mandarin Duck Blades, but this pair of precious daos were hidden away by two scoundrels.

“Despite all our efforts, they remained as elusive as a rock in the ocean. By the grace of my ancestors’ accumulated virtue,21积德 – jīdé. A prevalent Chinese culture belief that good deeds and moral behaviour of one’s ancestors can bring blessings, fortune, or positive karma to their descendants. and owing to His Majesty’s immense blessings, they finally came into my possession. Hehe, your Weixin Armed Escort is quite reliable, so I’m sending you to escort these Mandarin Duck Blades to the capital. Do not let any information about them leak on the way. Deliver them safely to Beijing and you’ll receive a handsome reward.”

He had heard of the Mandarin Duck Blades long ago from his shifu.22师父 – Shīfu. Master or teacher from whom one is learning martial arts. Shi means teacher. Fu means a male of a senior generation. “The Mandarin Duck Blades, one short and one long. These daos contain the greatest secret of the wulin, and the one who obtains them would be unmatched in the whole realm. The five words “unmatched in the whole realm” was the ultimate dream of every martial artist.

When Zhou Weixin heard those words, he thought it was merely a hyperbole. How could there be a pair of Mandarin Duck Blades that held the secret to becoming unmatched in the whole realm?

Little did he expect that the Sichuan-Shaanxi Viceroy Lord Liu would obtain the Mandarin Duck Blades and task him with escorting them to the Beijing to present them to the Emperor. The pair of daos were tightly wrapped in yellow cloth bearing the Lord Viceroy’s waxed seal.

He was of course extremely tempted to take a look at the precious daos. If he had the fortune to learn the secret within the daos, it would naturally be amazing if the “Iron Whip that Commands All Directions” became “Iron Whip that Commands the Whole Realm.” However, who would dare break the Lord Viceroy’s seal? No matter how escort chief Zhou counted, the most he had was only one head to lose.

The Viceroy dispatched four trusted guards to pose as escorts to accompany the convoy, both to support him and also to monitor him. The day before the escort team set off on their journey the Viceroy’s residence sent several attendants23戈什哈 – Gēshíhā. A type of attendant in the Qing Dynasty used by Manchu bannermen and sometimes involved in military or security duties. to invite all twelve members of his family to the military barracks on the pretext that there would be no one to take care of them when escort chief Zhou travelled to the capital. Hence, they brought his family to stay in a proper place lest he worried about them. Zhou Weixin had been in the jianghu for a long time, how could he not be aware of the implied meaning?

It was not out of the concern that escort chief Zhou worried about his family, but that Lord Liu was worried about the pair of precious daos. That was why they held his elderly mother, wife and concubines, and children as hostages.

If anything were to happen to this pair of Mandarin Duck Daos, not only would he lose his head, his whole family would also lose their lives. He had weathered many challenges throughout his life, enjoying fame, suffering hardships, played the hero and the coward, beheaded others, but he had yet to lose his own head.

Despite being a seasoned veteran in the jianghu, he had never felt such a restless mix of fear and delight like he did on this escort duty. If he were to deliver the precious daos to the capital safely, Lord Liu promised him a handsome reward and would definitely be a man of his words, like a swift horse needed no spurring. For all he knew, the Emperor might be pleased and bestow him an official post of some kind. he would bring glory to his ancestors and enjoy a meteoric rise. Escort chief Zhou would become Lord Zhou.

The distance between Xi’an to Beijing was considered neither far nor near. The journey involved traversing thirty to forty mountains and stockades. The Iron Whip that Commands All Directions never bothered with ordinary characters from the criminal world.

Even if he were unable to command all directions, he could at least handle commanding one damned direction. However, how many wulin experts would be tempted by the phrase “obtain the Mandarin Duck daos and become unmatched in the whole realm?” Hence, he escorted the salt convoy openly and hid the precious daos. Even if the silver convoy met with any mishaps, there would be no major issues as long as the precious daos arrive in the capital.

Once he became a government official, Lord Zhou only had to attend to government affairs and the riches would flow in. Would he still worry about having to repay hundred thousand taels of silver? Besides, the lords only asked for silver, why would they repay silver?

Zhou Weixin gripped the iron whip at his waist with his left hand as he glared at the four men before him. Then, he coughed and raised his hands with his left palm over his right fist24A formal salute to show respect between martial artists. as he said, “Passing through your territory without going to pay my respects to you, my friends, was rather impolite of me. I’d like to beg your forgiveness.”

He made up his mind. He thought, “It’s best if I can avoid violence, otherwise that sickly wretch might be a tough fight! As the jianghu saying goes, ‘Caution can bring one anywhere in the world, while recklessness can make every step difficult.’”

The ailing man placed his left palm on his chest and started coughing. The short, skinny man waved his Emei piercers and said softly, “Dispense with kowtowing and paying respects.
What treasures are you escorting? Leave them with us!”

Zhou Weixin was shocked. He thought, “When the escort cart set off, even my most trusted escorts only knew of the silver. How did this person know that I was escorting treasures? As the jianghu saying goes, ‘The virtuous do not come, and those who come are not virtuous.’ I must tread with care.”

He raised his hands with his left palm over his right fist, and said, “Forgive my unfamiliarity, I’ll have to ask for your esteemed names.”

The thin man said, “You go first.”

Zhou Weixin said, “My name is Zhou Weixin, and friends in the jianghu bestowed me the nickname Iron Whip that Commands All Directions.”

The ailing man sneered and said, “Heh, this nickname is acceptable, but the word ‘Commands’ should be replaced with ‘Yields’ instead.”

The thin man was stunned. He said, “Replace with ‘Yields’?” Yeah, Zhou, my big brother has given you a bandit name called Iron Whip that Yields All Directions! My big brother is very insightful and always speaks sensibly.”

The four men burst into laughter in unison. Zhou Weixin thought, “As the jianghu saying goes, ‘Enduring a moment of frustration can prevent a hundred days of disaster.’”

He forced himself to suppress his anger, and said, “You jest! May I inquire about your affiliation? Which stronghold is it based in? And who’s the leader?”

The thin man pointed at the sickly man, and said, “Very well. There’s no harm in telling you, but don’t get too terrified. Our big brother is the Xiaoyaozi25逍遥子 – Xiāoyáozǐ. Literally the carefree wise man. Zi is a Chinese honorific used for a wise or learned man. Not to be confused with the Xiaoyaozi from Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. the Dragon Amidst the Clouds. Second brother is Chang Changfeng26常长风 – Chẳng Chángfēng. the Twin Palms of Slab-splitting. Third brother is Hua Jianying27花剑影 – Huā Jiànyǐng. the Meteor Chasing the Moon. And the least among us is me, Gai Yiming28盖一鸣 – Gài Yīmíng. Eight Steps Chasing Toads, Rivalling Zhuan Zhu,29专诸 – Zhuānzhū. An assassin the Spring and Autumn Period renowned for his assassination skills. See Wikipedia. Treading Snow Without a Trace, Skimming Water with One Leg, and the Twin Daggers Renowed in Seven Provinces.”

Zhou Weixin’s astonishment grew as he listened on. He thought, “This person’s nickname is such a mouthful!”

The thin man continued, “The four of us are sworn brothers who uphold justice. We defeat the strong and help the weak. We rob from the rich and give to the poor. People in the jianghu call us The Four Xias30侠 -Xiá. A person adept in martial arts and conducts in a chivalrous manner. of Taiyue.31太岳 – Tàiyuè. Taiyue is the ancient name of modern day Mount Tianzhu in Anqing, Anhui. See Wikipedia. There you have it!”

Zhou Weixin thought, “Judging from their nicknames, the thin one excels in qinggong, the burly man has powerful palms, and the pale one has a unique meteor hammer technique. The Dragon Amidst the Clouds sounds like a wulin senior – a highly-skilled expert living in seclusion. I’ve never heard of The Four Xias of Taiyue, but they must be extraordinary individuals to be worthy of being referred to as xias. As the jianghu saying goes, “Better to be illiterate than to lack discernment of people.’”

Hence, he raised his hands with his left palm over his right fist, and said, “I’ve long admired you!32久仰 jiǔyǎng. This is a courtesy phrase used when meeting someone for the first time. The literal translation is “long admired” and it means having heard of someone and have been looking forward to meet for a long time. Our escort agency has never had any disputes with the four xias. Please allow us to pass. We’ll definitely come pay our respects another day.”

Gai Yiming struck his twin daggers together and they rang out soundly. He said, “Letting you pass is not difficult. We don’t want the silver escort. We only need to borrow a couple of treasures. That’ll suffice.”

Zhou Wexin said, “What treaasure?”

Gai Yiming said, “Heh, it’s strange that you’re asking me. If you don’t know, how would I know?”

Hearing this, Zhou Weixin knew that things would not end peacefully. The Four Xias of Taiyue were clearly after the Mandarin Duck Blades. He thought, “As the jianghu saying goes, ‘Show mercy if you can avoid fighting, but show no mercy if you fight.’ These four men would definitely use lethal moves.”

He slowly drew his twin whips and said, “Since it has come to this, I’ll have a taste of your esteemed skills of the Four Xias of Taiyue myself. Who’s going to be the first?”

He turned and gestured. Five escorts and the four guards from the Viceroy’s residence approached together. Zhou Weixin said softly, “There’s no need to abide by jianghu rules when dealing with such forest bandits. Let’s rush them together. As the jianghu saying goes, ‘With enough help, even a pavilion can be carried across the river.’”

However, he had another plan in mind. “Let them engage the four xias. I’ll make a swift escape. Escorting the Mandarin Duck Blades to the capital is the best strategy. As the jianghu saying goes, ‘Strike like a gust of wind, then scatter in different directions for our own affairs.’”

Gai Yiming said, ”Escort chief, I’m the Twin Daggers Renowed in Seven Provinces and I challenge your Iron Whip that Yields All Directions..