Jin Yong

Mandarin Duck Blades
Chapter 4

Mandarin Duck Blades Chapter 4 by Jin Yong

Translation by Jenxi Seow.

Gai Yiming said, “The tenth day of the third month this year marks the fiftieth birthday of the great xiao Xiao Banhe2萧半和 – Xiāo Bànhé. from Jinyang…”3晋阳 – Jīnyáng. Present day Taiyuan in Shanxi Province. Jinyang was the capital or secondary capital of many dynasties. See Wikipedia.

Upon hearing the name Xiao Banhe, the young woman paused slightly and asked, “You know old hero Xiao?”

Gai Yiming said, “We don’t know old hero Xiao personally, but we’ve long admired his renown, so we’ve known him in spirit for a long time and plan to visit him on his fiftieth birthday to offer pay our respects.4拜寿 – bàishòu. A traditional Chinese practice of celebrating an elder’s birthday, often involving family gatherings and the presentation of gifts to show respect and well-wishes for longevity. This custom emphasizes filial piety and the respect for elders, central values in Chinese culture. It shames me to say that we four brothers are lacking a gift, so it is improper for us to show up. Hence… well… so… this…”

The young woman laughed and said, “You wanted to rob my mount as a gift. Hmm, this is easy.”

As she said that, she pulled a golden hairpin from her head and continued, “Take this golden hairpin. The pearl on it is very valuable. Old hero Xiao will definitely be pleased that you present it as a gift.”

With that, she tugged at the reins and her horse darted off, galloping into the distance.

Gai Yiming held the hairpin and looked at the lustrous sheen of the large, round pearl. Although the four xias5侠 -Xiá. A person adept in martial arts and conducts in a chivalrous manner. were not knowledgeable enough to determine its value, they could tell that it was a rare treasure. The four xias gazed at the pearl in awe, filled with immense joy. Xiaoyaozi6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. said, “This lass is generous and forthright. She’s truly a kindred spirit indeed.”

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

The maiden sat in a small guest room at the Fen’an Inn7汾安 – Fén’ān. Fen refers to the Fen River in Shanxi Province, while An means peace or stability. in the town of Ganting.8甘亭镇 – Gāntíng zhèn. There was a petite flask of wine on the table, filled with the fenjiu9汾酒 – Fénjiǔ. A type of light-aroma baijiu (Chinese white liquor) that originates from Shanxi Province. It is made from made from fermented sorghum, famous for its clear colour and mellow flavour. See Wikipedia. famed across the lands. Ganting, sat between the counties of Linfen and Hongdong, and was where fenjiu was made. However, one sip alone made her mouth numb and painful from the spiciness.

The wine was an unpleasant drink. Why did Father love it so much? Father often said, “Girls are not allowed to drink wine.”

While she obeyed her father at home, she had to enjoy a flask of fenjiu now that she had sneaked out on her own. However, it was no easy feat to down the whole flask. She took another large gulp. Feeling her face grow warm, she felt her cheek and was surprised to find it hot to the touch.

The escort guards in the room next door were downing one cup after another as they toasted each other. Were they not bothered by the spiciness? A deep voice called out, “Waiter, bring another three pounds!”

Hearing that, the young woman shook her head. Another voice said, “Brother Zhang, it’s better to be cautious during this trip. Go easy on the drinks! As the jianghu saying goes, ‘By being cautious with both hands and mouth, one can hide everywhere.’ After we reach Beijing, we can drink to our hearts’ content.”

The former laughed and said, “Chief Escort, I think you’re being too cautious. Those four bandits merely boasted about being the Four Xias of Taiyue10太岳 – Tàiyuè. Taiyue is the ancient name of modern day Mount Tianzhu in Anqing, Anhui. See Wikipedia. and you got quite a scare… hehe… waiter, hurry and bring the wine.”

The young woman could not help but chuckle upon hearing the title. It seemed like this group of escorts had also fought with the Four Xias of Taiyue. The Chief Escort said, “What do I have to fear? You have no idea the heavy burden I bear. I don’t even worry about the hundred-tael worth of salt transported. Hmph, it’s not appropriate to discuss the details right now. You’ll know once we arrive in Beijing.”

Escort Zhang laughed and said, “Right, right! I have no idea. I have no idea. Hehe, the Mandarin Duck Blades,11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. eh, Mandarin Duck Blades!”

The words Mandarin Duck Blades made the maiden’s heart skipped a beat. She pressed her ear against the wall to listen more closely, yet the adjacent room had fallen into complete silence. The young woman’s heart stirred. She slipped out from the door and crept under the window where the escorts were.

The Chief Escort said, “How do you know? Who leaked the word? Brother Zhang, this is no laughing matter.”

He lowered his voice, but his tone was extremely solemn. Escort Zhang said in a nonchalant manner, “Who among the brothers here don’t know? Who isn’t aware? Only you alone think that it’s some incredible secret.”

Chief Escort Zhou’s voice trembled as he asked hastily, “By whose lips was this secret spoken?”

Escort Zhang said, “Haha, who else could it be? It was you.”

Chief Escort Zhou grew even more anxious and said, “When did I say it? Brother Zhang, things between us brothers can’t be considered settled till you clear things up today. I have always treated you well…”

Another person interjected, “Chief Escort, don’t get worked up. Brother Zhang speaks the truth. You said it yourself.”

Chief Escort Zhou said, “Me? Me? Why would I?”

The person said, “Once the convoy left Xi’an,12西安府 – Xī’ān. Prefecture in central Shaanxi Province. See Wikipedia. you started talking in your sleep every night. You’d toss and turn while repeating, ‘Mandarin Duck Blades! Mandarin Duck Blades! Nothing must go wrong during this trip to Beijing. Once I get the Mandarin Duck Blades, I’ll be unmatched in the whole realm…’”

Zhou Weixin so shocked and ashamed that he was unable to utter a word. He closely guarded this crucial secret and his mind was fixated on the Mandarin Duck Blades all day. Thoughts that linger in the day, dreams whisper in the night. Little did he expect he would leak the secret in his sleep due to his preoccupation with it.

He bowed deeply at each escort present and whispered, “Please don’t mention the words ‘Mandarin Duck Blades’ again. From tonight onwards, I will sleep with my mouth wrapped in cloth.”

Hearing these words, the young woman outside the window was overjoyed. She thought, “One can wear out iron shoes searching for something in vain, only to acquire it by accident with no effort. This escort is actually in possession of the Mandarin Duck Blades. I wonder what Father would say if I’ll stole them.”

The young woman was Xiao Zhonghui,13萧中慧 – Xiāo Zhōnghuì. and her father was the renowned xia, Xiao Banhe of Jinyang.

Xiao Banhe’s name was famed through the lands. He was reputable and influential in the jianghu and had a wide network of contacts. He received news last month that the pair of Mandarin Duck Blades lost in the wulin14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. for years had resurfaced in the jianghu, and fell into the hands of the Sichuan-Shaanxi Viceroy15总督 – Zǒngdū. During the Qing Dynasty, a viceroy was an imperial official that supervised of provincial governors, administering several provinces. See Wikipedia. Liu Yuyi.16刘于义 – Liú Yúyì.

The blades bore great significance for Xiao Banhe, and he must obtain it. After careful consideration, he anticipated Liu Yuyi to transport the precious daos17刀 – dāo. A single-edge sword used for slashing and chopping. See Wikipedia. to the capital as tribute to the Emperor. Rather than seizing them from the heavily guarded Viceroy Residence in Xi’an, it was more feasible to intercept it en route.

Unbeknownst to them, Liu Yuyi was exceptionally cunning. As soon as the precious daos came into his possession, he cleverly orchestrated a complex web of deceptions, deploying impostor officials and fake tribute convoys. He dispatched these decoys repeatedly, ensnaring ambitious heroes in the jianghu who coveted the swords, leading them into consecutive traps and whittled their ranks in the process.

Xiao Banhe remembered that his fiftieth birthday was approaching, thus he sent hero‘s invitations18英雄帖 – yīngxióngtiě. A traditional Chinese proclamation or challenge, often posted in public places or sent to specific individuals, to invite heroes to undertake a quest, contest, or assembly. This practice is rooted in ancient Chinese martial arts culture, where such challenges were a means to resolve disputes, demonstrate martial prowess, or gather allies for a cause. It is emblematic of a call to arms or gathering within the wuxia genre. to the brave from the provinces of Qin, Jin, Ji, and Lu to join him in a toast of birthday wine. However, within some of these invitations was a private note urging the recipients to do their utmost to seize the treasured daos.

Of course, if the invitees were not his friends he trusted for their loyalty and courage, the invitations did not include the secret message. Otherwise, if word got out, it would alert the enemy. They would end up not only unable to seize the swords, but also endangering the lives of his friends.

As soon as Xiao Zhonghui heard her father mention the pair of precious daos, she was eager to take up the challenge. When Xiao Banhe dispatched his disciples to distribute the hero‘s invitation far and wide, she wanted to go along. When Xiao Banhe sent men to prepare an ambush along the Shaanxi road, her desire intensified. However, Xiao Banhe shook his head each time and said, “Out of the question!”

She pleaded desperately and Xiao Banhe finally said. “Go ask your First Mother. Go ask your mother.”

Xiao Banhe had two wives. His first wife was Madam Yuan, and the second wife Madam Yang. Madam Yang was Zhonghui’s biological mother, but Madam Yuan doted on her and treated her like she was Yuan’s own blood. If Madam Yang forbade her from going, Zhonghui could still feign petulence and insist all day on going. However, once Madam Yuan refused, Zhonghui dared not argue. Madam Yuan was very kind to her, but there was an authority in her demeanour. Since young, she dared not oppose her First Mother’s word even in the slightest.

Yet, the quest to seize the treasured daos was fraught with danger and marvel, making it an intriguing affair. The moment Xiao Zhonghui thought of it, she could not contain herself. Finally, she left a note for her Father, First Mother, and Mother in the middle of the night, stealthily took a horse, and departed Jinyang.

After her encounter with the Four Xias of Taiyue who were on their way to offer birthday wishes to Father, she concluded that the martial art abilities of the heroes in the world were not as impressive as she thought. Thus, after she overheard the escorts, she concluded that seizing the Mandarin Duck Blades would also not pose much of a challenge.

She turned to return to her room to plan her move against the escort team. She had only taken two steps when she suddenly heard a sound from the room across the courtyard. It was the clash of weapons, a sound she had grown accustomed to since childhood. Startled, she thought, “Oh no! Not good! They spotted me!”

However, she heard a person curse, “Do you really want to fight?”

A woman’s voice said, “Do you expect me be polite with you?”

However, the clanging continued and the fight sounded intense, accompanied by the loud wail of a baby. Two figures appeared in the window frame of the opposite room, each wielding a dao as they hacked and slashed desperately.

The fight threw the inn into chaos. Zhou Weixin19周威信 – Zhoū Weīxìn. bellowed, “Everyone, don’t go out! Stay vigilant and guard our carriages. Beware of the enemy’s attempt to lure us away.”

Hearing that Xiao Zhonghui thought, “They are battling with their lives at stake. How could it be a feigned fight to lure you away? It’s a pity he doesn’t come out to have a look, or it would be a great opportunity to seize the blades.”

When she turned back to the two figures, it was clear that the woman was tiring. She kept retreating while the man advanced relentlessly without any sign of easing up.

Her sense of chivalry swelled up and she thought, “Such audacity and disrespect from this scoundrel, to barge into a lady’s room in the dead of the night and display such violence. How can I not stand up against such injustice?”

She was about to rush forward to the woman’s aid, but changed her mind, thinking, “Alas! If I intervene, I’ll inevitably reveal myself. If those escorts saw me, things would become tricky when I try to seize the blades.”

She forced herself to suppress her anger. The sound of weapons clashing gradually subsided as the man and woman started trading curses instead. They spoke in the Southern Lu20鲁南 – Lǔnán. Southern region of Shandong Province. Lu is the traditional abbreviation for Shandong, derived from the state of Lu during the Spring and Autumn period. dialect and Xiao Zhonghui could only understand half of what they said.

After listening for a while, she grew restless and was about to return to her room when she heard a voice cry out as the wooden door of the eastern room swung open and a young scholar walked out. He raised his voice and said, “What are you two arguing about? Why reach for your weapons when reasoning with words can resolve your differences?”

As he spoke, he walked underneath the window where the man and woman were, seemingly to mediate. Xiao Huizhong thought, “Why would such a ferocious villain reason with you?”

The clash of blades rang out once again and the child’s wailing grew louder. Suddenly, a pellet flew from the window and knocked the scholar’s hat to the ground with a snap. The scholar exclaimed, “Oh no! Alas!”

Then, he muttered to himself, “A blaze at the city gate spells disaster for the fish in the moat. A gentleman stands not beneath a precarious wall. Prudent self-preservation is paramount.”

Saying that, he slowly withdrew into his room.

Xiao Huizhong found it amusing, yet she was also concerned for the woman. The brazen scoundrel was bound to take advantage of her. Just then, the fighting in the room had ceased, and a hush descended upon the inn immediately. Xiao Huizhong pondered, “Father often said that one must prioritise and weigh the importance of matters. Right now, securing the daos takes precedence. I have no choice but to tolerate the villain’s recklessness.”

Returning to her room, she closed the door and laid on the heated bed21炕 – Kàng. A traditional Chinese bed or platform made of bricks or earth, commonly used in northern China. The kang is heated from within by a flue system connected to a stove, providing warmth during cold weather. See Wikipedia. to muse over the way to seize the precious daos, “The escort convoy’s numbers are significant. How would I be able to deal with them alone? I should have rush back to Jinyang tonight to inform Father and have him muster his forces. But wouldn’t it be more splendid if I procured the blades through my own cunning and presented them to Father?”

The thought of that delighted her and her dimple deepened on her left cheek. But what plan should she use? Her father trained her since young, so her martial arts abilities were quite formidable. Yet when it came to devising strategies, this Lady Xiao was not as adept. The number of tricks up her sleeves were so few that they were practically nonexistent.

She laid on the heated bed and racked her brain until her head hurt. Although she came up with half a dozen ideas, none were feasible upon closer examination. Her eyelids grew heavy and her vision blurred. In the quiet of the night, she suddenly heard a tapping that was drawing nearer. Someone was striking the stone slabs of the street with an iron staff, the unmistakable sound of a blind person approaching.

The tapping stopped abruptly when it reached the front of the inn, and the iron staff began to thump on the inn’s door. Then came the sound of the inn attendant opening the door, followed by him admonishing the visitor, whose aged voice pleaded for a room. The attendant demanded payment upfront, and the old blind man obliged but was short of two coins.

Words of refusal, pleading, and the attendant cursing reached Xiao Zhonghui’s ears.

The more she listened, the more she pitied the blind man. She got up with a flip of her body and took a small silver ingot from her bundle…