Jin Yong

Mandarin Duck Blades
Chapter 2

Translation by Jenxi Seow.

Gai Yiming1盖一鸣 – Gài Yīmíng. said, “Escort chief, I’m the Twin Daggers Renowned in Seven Provinces and I challenge your Iron Whip that Yields All Directions.2八方 – 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. The two of us will give a fierce fight mixing up all techniques!”

Saying that, he charged. Zhou Weixin3周威信 – Zhoū Weīxìn. did not dismount. He raised his iron whip to block and used the move Taking the Spear in Peach Garden to deflect the Emei piercers.4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. With a squeeze of his legs, he dashed out on horseback. Gai Yiming shouted, “Well well! The escort chief is making a break for it!”

Zhou Weixin turned and yelled, “I’m going to check the beyond the forest for ambush!”

With that, he spurred his mount and galloped outwards. Hua Jianying’s5花剑影 – Huā Jiànyǐng. meteor hammer6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. flew towards his back. Zhou Weixin swung his left whip backwards in the move Night Raid on Three Forts, sending the meteor hammer back where it came from with a loud clang.

When he crossed weapons with Hua and Gai, he discovered that their techniques were not particularly exquisite, and their internal energies7内力 – neìlì. Inner power. The exertion or power of one’s inner qi. were also average. Turning, he saw that Xiaoyaozi8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. was still leaning against the tree with dry pipe in hand. He showed no intention of intervening as he watched as the escorts surrounded the other three of the Four Xias of Taiyue.9太岳 – Tàiyuè. Taiyue is the ancient name of modern day Mount Tianzhu in Anqing, Anhui. See Wikipedia.

Zhou Weixin was startled, thinking, “If I dallied for even a moment, I would’ve be unable to escape when that person made a move. As the jianghu10江湖 – jiānghú. The world of martial arts. A sub-society involving all who are related to the martial arts scene. See jianghu. saying goes, ‘Refusing to leave on a sunny day, only to end up getting drenched in the rain.’”

He gave a backhanded flick of the tip of his whip on his horse’s flank, spurring his mount into a frantic gallop. In the flash of a moment, he caught sight of Xiaoyaozi raising his right hand, and shouted, “Watch out for the dart!”

He heard a whistle and a dark projectile shot flew towards him.

Zhou Weixin raised his whip to block. The projectile stuck to the steel whip with a snap instead of being deflected. He grew even more alarmed. He thought, “This Xiaoyaozi is a master indeed. Even his sneak attacks were extraordinary. As the jianghu saying goes, ‘An expert’s single gesture reveals all.’”

Just then the mount galloped out of the forest without stopping. Seeing that there were no pursuers, Zhou Weixin steadied his nerves. He examined the hidden weapon stuck to his steel whip, and it turned out to be a mud-covered worn shoe. It clung to the whip because of the wet, sticky mud on it.

He was even more astonished, thinking, “Wulin11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 can wound with flying flowers and plucked leaves. He must have shown mercy by not taking my life with this flying worn shoe.”

For a moment, he was undecided whether to continue galloping away, or to stay and wait for the situation to unfold. Suddenly, he heard a loud cry from within the forest that sounded like the squealing of a pig being slaughtered, followed by complete silence. The sounds of weapons clashing came to a abrupt halt.

Zhou Weixin was filled with shock and uncertainty. He thought, “Could all the escorts and the four guards fell to the Four Heroes of Taiyue within this brief moment,?”

Suddenly, he heard someone shouting, “Escort chief! Escort chief!”

It was Escort Zhang’s unmistakable accent. Zhou Weixin touched the bundle on his back that carried the Mandarin Duck Blades,12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. but did not respond. He thought, “As the jianghu saying goes, ‘To understand thoroughly, listen carefully, stand from afar, watch clearly.’”

A moment later, someone else called out. “Escort chief! Hurry back! The bandits have fled. We’ve driven them off.”

Zhou Weixin was stunned. He thought, “How could it be so easy?”

He pulled the reins and turned his horse around, only to see a scout rushing out of the forest shouting joyously, “Escort chief, the enemies have fled. Their efforts are as futile as an abscess bursting, utterly ineffective.”

Overjoyed and surprised, Zhou Weixin asked, “Really?”

The scout replied, “All of us charged at them, bravely confronting the enemy. Escort Zhang slashed that sickly wretch. Blood was spraying all over from his shoulder and all four of them ran away.”

Seeing that the situation was indeed true, Zhou Weixin was thrilled. He spurred his horse back into the forest and said, “There were about ten bandits lying in ambush outside the forest. I gave chase and routed them all!”

He could not help but flush red slightly as he lied. He thought, “As the jianghu saying goes, ‘The one who steals feels guilty and the one who farts blushes.’ I must compose myself to avoid letting anyone see through my ruse.”

Escort Zhang brandished his saber and said smugly, “So much for the Four Xias of Taiyue. They turned out to be hollow boasts!”

The escorts and guards burst into hearty laughter. Zhou Weixin looked at the erect tombstone in puzzlement, unable to fantom its significance. Suddenly, groans sounded from beyond the forest.
Zhou Weixin said, “It’s the wounded wretch!”

Everyone rushed over like a gust of wind. The groaning came from a thicket of brambles. The dozens of men spread out in all directions to surround the thicket. Zhou Weixin bellowed, “Show yourself, scum!”

The groaning within the thicket grew even louder. Zhou Weixin flicked his hand and flung a throwing arrow that landed with a sharp snap. The person inside let out a loud scream of agony, clearly struck by the arrow.

Two scouts cheered in unison, “Strike! Great technique, Escort Chief!”

They rushed in brandishing their sabers and dragged the person out. However, the sight rendered everyone speechless and they exchanged bewildered glances.

The person was none other than the fat salt merchant Wang,13汪 – Wāng. who was escorting the silver. His clothes had been shredded by the thorns. As the jianghu saying went, “Out of ten plump men, nine were wealthy, but beware of the one without a buttock.”

This portly salt merchant had a buttock, but it had a throwing arrow protruding from it!

The Four Xias of Taiyue hid within the thick forest and only emerged after they watched Zhou Weixin and his men from the escort agency go far. Hua Jianying tore off a piece of his clothing to bind the slash on Xiaoyaozi’s shoulder.

Chang Changfeng said, “Big brother, does the wound trouble you?”

Xiaoyaozi said, “It’s nothing. Nothing at all! It’s no big deal that us heroes were outnumbered.”

Hua Jianying said, “I raised the issue of the enemy having the advantage of numbers and would be difficult to deal with. Second Brother insisted on taking action that led to Big Brother being wounded.”

Gai Yiming said, “These muddled folks are utterly foolish. They actually did not retreat despite the reputation of the mighty Four Xias of Taiyue. What could we do about that?”

Xiaoyaozi said, “Don’t blame Second Brother. In order to rob treasures, we must target escort agencies.”

Chang Changfeng said, “What should we do now? We can’t go back empty handed.”

Gai Yiming said, “I say…”

Before he could finish his words, footsteps suddenly sounded outside the words. Someone was running swiftly from the south heading northwards. Gai Yiming peered out and raised his eyebrows as he said, “There are two of them! This time, two of us will deal with each of them. We won’t let these two fat sheep get away!”

Chang Changfeng said, “Aye! We must get at least a few dozens silver taels from them!”

He lifted the tombstone and held it in his hands. His nickname was Twin Palms of Slab-splitting because he used a slab of tombstone as a weapon. Taking advantage of his immense strength, he often routed the enemies when he swung the large stone slab overhead. He was not bothered by whose tombstone it was. He would grab any that was within reach, so it was the deceased’s bad luck and lack of karma to cross his path.

The four gestured and split up to hide behind the towering trees.

The two persons dashed into the woods one after another. A man in the late twenties at the front wielded a single saber. He cursed loudly, “You cursed wench, such viciousness! Do you truly intend to kill?”

The Four Xias of Taiyue were stunned by his words, yet the person following behind was a young woman. She carried an infant on her back, pelting the muscular man soundly with a flurry of powerful shots from a slingshot. The man swung his blade to block and parry, but he dared not turn and strike back.

Seeing the man and woman engaged in combat, Xiaoyaozi called out, “Who goes there? Why resort to violence?”

Gai Yiming whistled and all four of them rushed out shouting, “Stop at once!”

The man charged ahead, turning his head to curse, “You cursed wench! If you’re so ruthless, I’ll show no mercy!”

The young woman swore, “Scoundrel! If I don‘t kill you today, I, Ren Feiyan,15任飞燕 – Rén Fēiyàn. swear that am not human.”16In Chinese society, personal honour and integrity is highly regarded. The phrase literally translates as ‘I, Ren Feiyan, swear that I won’t be considered human.’ The expression is used in a vow where the speaker declares a commitment to achieve a certain goal, failing which they consider themselves has having lost their moral standing or honour.

The Four Xias of Taiyue blocked the strapping man’s path. Ren Feiyan called out, “Lin Yülong,17林玉龙 – Lín Yǜlóng. are you still not planning stop?”

Lin Yülong yelled at Chang Changfeng, who stood in his way, “Step aside!”

He ducked as another pellet shot from behind. It struck Chang Changfeng right on the nose, making him cry out in pain. Chang Changfeng was furious and cursed, “Stinking bitch! You hit me!”

Ren Feiyan retorted, “So what if I hit you?”

Two shots rang out in rapid succession with him the target. Chang Changfeng raised the tombstone but failed to block the shots. A pellet struck his chest, and the other his arm. His arm suddenly went numb and the tombstone crashed loudly on the ground. He cried out in pain and hopped. The tombstone had its revenge by smashing on his toe.18Literally the tombstone had manifested its spirit. It is a reference to how Chang Changfeng disrespected the owner of the tomb by stealing the tombstone, and that the spirit manifested to exactly vengeance. Note that this is purely a figure of speech. His arm went numb due to the pellet strike, not because of supernatural reasons.

Seeing their second brother at a disadvantage, both Gai Yiming and Hua Jianying charged towards Ren Feiyan. She tensed her slingshot and fired a series of pellets. One struck Gai Yiming’s forehead, while another knocked out Hua Jianying’s front tooth.

Gai Yiming yelled, “The wind is rising! The wind is rising!”19风紧 – fēngjǐn. Literally the wind is rising. A phrase is often used metaphorically to indicate that a situation is becoming tense or dangerous.

While the four impeded Ren Feiyan, she watched as Lin Yülong dashed out of the forest without even looking back. Enraged, she rushed forward, turning sharply to unleash a sound shot that struck Xiaoyaozi’s pipe from his hand. The powerful and remarkably accurate shot was the famed slingshot technique Turning Horseback Shot.

Ren Feiyan smiled faintly before turning to curse, “Lin Yülong, you stinking wretch! Stop right there!”

Lin Yülong shouted from the distance, “If you’ve got the guts, face me in battle for three hundred rounds! What glory is there in driving people away with the slingshot?”

The two continued quarrelling as their voices faded into the distance northwards. Hua Jianying said, “Big brother, what do you think of Lin Yülong and Ren Feiyan?”

Xiaoyaozi pondered for a moment and said, “Lin Yülong is skilled in saber, and that lady Ren Feiyan must be a master of the slingshot.”

Gai Yiming said, “Big brother, your insights are profound and your words sensible.”

Hua Jianying said, “This young woman has the looks. Perhaps that Lin fellow had taken a liking to her, and had ill-intentions.”

Xiaoyaozi said, “Exactly. Given our reputation as the Four Xias of Taiyue who uphold justice and our penchant to fight for what’s right, we must teach the lecherous Lin Yülong a lesson the next time we run into him.”

Chang Changfeng said, “Perhaps Lin and Ren have a feud over a slain father. We can’t be sure who is wrong or right. Damn it, the strike on my foot is so darned painful.”

As he spoke, he reached down to rub his foot. Xiaoyaozi’s expression became serious as he said, “That Lin fellow has a rugged face. I can tell from one glance that he’s not a good person. That Ren lass might be reckless, but I can tell from her martial arts that she’s undoubtedly from a reputable lineage.”

Gai Yiming said, “Big brother, your insights are profound and your words sensible.”

Chang Changfeng was about to retort when he suddenly heard a person singing outside the woods in a melancholic voice.

Gold slips away and pleasure fades in an instant.
Bankrupt only yesterday and impoverished today.
Why should a man boast with empty pride?
Better to burn the turbans on our heads…
20《醉后赠从甥高镇》– After getting drunk, I presenting a gift to nephew Gao Zhen. Famous poem by Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai. See Baidu (Chinese).

As he sang, a young scholar shook the folding fan in his hand gently as he strolled into the woods. A page boy trailed behind him carrying a load of luggage on a shoulder pole.

Hua Jianying held a broken tooth with his fingers, and was filled with annoyance. He watched the scholar engrossed in enjoyment as he sauntered and hummed, singing about gold, silver.

He shot a look at Gai Yiming and leapt forth, shouting, “Oi, scholar! What gibberish are you mumbling about? You’re giving us a headache. You better compensate us for that.”

Seeing the four, the scholar was stunned. He asked, “Pray tell, kind brothers, what compensation do you require?”

Gai Yiming said, “Pay the four of us for our headaches, of course. A hundred taels of silver each. That makes four hundred taels in total!”

The scholar stuck out his tongue and said, “That expensive? Even if His Majesty the Emperor had a headache, it wouldn’t cost this much silver to cure it.”

Gai Yiming said, “What’s so special about the ol‘ Emperor? You dare compare us to the Emperor? This won’t do. Double up the four hundred. A total of eight hundred taels.”

The scholar said, “Kind brothers, it’s truly admirable that you’re even more distinguished than His Majesty the Emperor. Pray tell, kind brothers, what are your esteemed names, and where do you hail from?”

Gai Yiming said, “Hehe, my name is Gai Yiming. Known as Eight Steps Chasing Toad, Rivalling Zhuan Zhu, Treading Snow Without a Trace, Skimming Water with One Leg, and the Twin Daggers Renowned in Seven Provinces. Ranked fourth amongst the Four Xias of Taiyue.”

The scholar cupped one hand in the other and said, “I’ve long admired you.”21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.

Turning to Hua Jianying, he asked, “How about this kind brother?”

Hua Jianying frowned and said, “Who has the time to claim brotherhood with a prick like you?”

Pushing the page boy aside, he lifted the basket the boy had been carrying and gave it a heft. The heavy weight gave him a surge of joy. He opened the basket and gasped loudly in disbelief to see it filled with old books. Chang Changfeng exclaimed, “Bah! It‘s all junk.”

The scholar said hurriedly, “Kind brother, you‘re mistaken! How could you deem books by sages and wise men worthless? As the saying goes, there are houses of gold within books.”22A Chinese proverb that means if one studied diligently, success and glory would follow.  I translated it literally so the next sentence makes sense, and it’s not that hard to infer the meaning from the literal translation. See Wiktionary. The proverb comes from the poem《劝学诗》(Literally Poem Exhorting Studying) by Emperor Zhenzhong of Song. See translator notes.

Chang Changfeng said, “Gold in books? Even if these tattered books are sold at a copper coin a pound, no one would want them.”

Gai Yiming had already opened the luggage on the other end of the carrying pole. Aside from some bedding and clothing, there was not a single valuable item.

The Four Xias of Taiyue felt profound disappointment.

The scholar said, “I’m a traveling scholar in search of my mother. What a great fortune to have the honour of meeting the four kind brothers…”