Translation by Jenxi Seow.
The two black-robed swordsmen were still keeping a brocade-clad swordsman in check. After the other two black-robed swordsman attacked swiftly and finished off the third brocade-clad swordsman, they turned to the the fourth opponent and entered the fray. The two defending black-robed swordsmen split up to the left and right and stood guard on the flanks.
The last brocade-clad swordsman knew that he had been defeated, but refused to drop his sword and surrender, choosing to bravely fight on. The four black-robed swordsmen suddenly shouted in unison. Four swords struck at once, stabbing into the brocade-clad swordsman from all four sides. The brocade-clad swordsman died the instant the four blades plunged into him. His eyes were wide open and his mouth gaped widely as well.
The four black-robed swordsmen withdrew their swords at the same time. They lifted their left feet and slid their swords under their shoes to wipe away the blood in the blades. They then sheathed their swords resoundingly. These movements were smooth. The unison of the movements was extraordinary. They lifted their legs and withdrew their swords as one. They sheathed their swords in perfect harmony, making only a single sound.
The king laughed heartily and clapped as he said, “Exquisite swordplay! Exquisite swordplay! Swordsmen from your esteemed state is famed throughout the lands. What an eye-opener we’re treated to today. Ten pounds of gold for each of the four swordsmen.”
The four black-robed swordsmen bowed in unison and gave their thanks for the reward. As the four men bowed, their heads formed a straight line. Heavens knew how much training it took to achieve such precision. One of the black-robed swordsman turned and picked up a long gold lacquer case. He took a few steps forward and said, “Our King thank Your Majesty for your generous reward and ordered me to present this prized sword in return. This sword is newly forged in our state for Your Majesty’s pleasure.”
The king smiled and said, “Many thanks. Bring it to me, Fan dafu.”1大夫 – dàfū. Dafu was a scholar-official in the Warring States period. See Wikipedia.
The king was Goujian of Yue.21. 勾践 – Gòujiàn. Based on the historical figure. See Wikipedia 2. 越国 – Yùe Guó. The State of Yue that existed during the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States period. The official was Fan Li3范蠡 – Fàn Lǐ. Based on the historical figure. He was held captive in Wu along with Goujian. See Wikipedia. dafu from the State of Yue. The brocade-clad swordsmen were Yue palace guards. The eight black-robed swordsmen were emissaries sent by the King Fuchai of Wu41. 夫差 – Fūchāi. Based on the historical figure. See Wikipedia. 2. 吴国 – Wú Guó. The State of Wu that existed during the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States period. bearing gifts.
The King of Yue suffered defeat at the hands of Fuchai. He endured hardships and tempered himself in order to exact his vengeance. On the surface, he was very respectful and submissive towards the King of Wu. But he secretly trained his soldiers day and night, biding for the chance to attack Wu. In order to test the might of the Wu army, he sent out his finest guards to duel with the Wu swordsmen. He did not expect eight of his best men to be eliminated in the contest.
Goujian was shocked and enraged, yet his expression remained calm. Instead, he appeared delighted and full of praise for the swordsmanship of the Wu swordsmen with heartfelt admiration.
Fan Li took a few steps forward and accepted the long golden lacquer case. The case felt as light a feather, as though there was nothing in it. He opened the case immediately. The people around them could not see what was in the case, but they saw the a faint green light suddenly washing over Fan Li’s face. They gasped, utterly surprised.
It was a reflection of a sword that turned his brows light green. Fan Li held the lacquer in his palms and walk to the King of Yue. He bowed and said, “Behold, Your Majesty!”
Goujian saw a three-foot long sword placed upon the brocade lining within the case. The blade of the sword was extremely thin and light dance along its edge in a constant flux. He could not help but exclaim, “What an exquisite sword!”
He grasped the sword by the hilt and lifted it. The blade quivered continuously, as though a gentle shake would break it. He thought, “Such a thin blade is only good for display, and not practical.”
The leader of the black-robed swordsmen took out a piece of fine gauze from his chest pocket and tossed it as he said, “Your Majesty, please extend the edge of the sword horizontally and wait for the gauze to land on it. You’ll see that it is extraordinary.”
The light gauze drifted down from mid-air. The King of Yue extended the sword and the gauze fell on the edge of the blade. Yet it did not come to a rest, but instead continued falling in two pieces until it slowly landed on the ground. The sword had sliced the gauze into two. The sharpness of the blade was incredible indeed.
Thunderous cheers roared throughout the hall. The black-robed swordsman said, “Although the sword is thin, it will not break even if it strikes a heavy weapon.”
Goujian said, “Fan dafu, give it a try.”
Fan Li said, “Aye!”
He held out the sword case with both palms for Goujian to place the sword within. Then he retreated several steps, turned, and walked to a brocade-clad swordsman. He took the sword out of the case and said, “Draw your sword! Let’s give it a try!”
The brocade-clad swordsman bowed respectfully. He drew his sword and held it up high, yet he did not dare to strike. Fan Li called out, “Strike!”
The brocade-clad swordsman said, “Aye!”
He swung his sword downwards, but the sword cut at the space a foot from Fan Li. Fan Li raised the sword, and with a soft clang, the sword the brocade-clad swordsman held was broken into two. As the broken half of the blade fell, it was about to strike Fan Li, but he avoided it with a light side step. The crowd cheered once more. Heavens know if it was in praise of the sharp sword, or if it was in admiration of Fan dafu‘s agility.
Fan Li placed the sword back in the case and bent to place it beside the feet of the King of Yue. Goujian said, “Swordsmen from the esteemed state, please proceed to other chamber for your rewards and enjoy a banquet.”
The eight black-robed swordsman paid their respects and exited the hall. Goujian waved his hand to dismiss the brocade-clad swordsmen and attendants, leaving only Fan Li. Goujian looked at the sword beside his feet, then he looked at the blood all over the ground. He was lost in thought. After a while, he said, “What do you think?”
Fan Li said, “The swordsmanship of Wu’s warriors might not be as good as these eight people. The weapons used by Wu’s warriors might not be as sharp as this sword. But what we have seen tells us a lot. Their technique when fighting in groups is the most worrying. They are well-drilled in Sun Wu5孙武 – Sūn Wú. Sun Wu is the birth name of the famous Sun Tzu. He served as the general and military strategist to King Helü of Wu, father of King Fuchai of Wu. See Wikipedia. Zi’s6子 – Zǐ. A Chinese honorific used for a wise or learned man. art of war. I believe that they have no match in the world today.”
Goujian muttered, “Fuchai sent these eight persons here to deliver a prized sword. What do you think is his intention?”
Fan Li said, “To let us give up in the face of difficulty, and not have the desire to invade Wu for vengeance.”
Goujian was furious. He bent and snatched the sword. With a backhanded strike, he cut off a whole piece of his seat. He shouted, “Even if it is a thousand or ten thousand times more difficult, Goujian would never give up! There will come a day when I capture Fuchai, and I will decapitate him with this sword!”
Saying that, he swung the sword again and cut the sandalwood chair into two. Fan Li bowed and said, “Congratulations, Your Majesty! Congratulations, Your Majesty!”
Goujian was stunned. He said, “What’s there to congratulate after seeing at how formidable the Wu swordsmen are?”
Fuchai said, “Your Majesty would never give up even if it is a thousand or ten thousand times more difficult. Since Your Majesty have such determination, the goal will be accomplished. As for the difficulty we face, I must confer with Wen dafu.”
Goujian said, “Very well. Summon Wen dafu.”
Fan Li left the hall and ordered the palace supervisor to summon Wen Zhong7文种– Wén Zhōng. Based on the historical figure. He governed Yue when Goujian was held captive in Wu. See Wikipedia. dafu. He then waited for him beside the entrance of the palace After a short while, Wen Zhong rushed over on a fast horse. He and Fan Li entered the palace side by side.
Fan Li was from Chu8楚国 – Chǔ Guó. The State of Chu that existed during the Spring and Autumn period. See Wikipedia. He was a direct person and had no regard for trifle formalities, often doing unexpected things. His countrymen called him the Fan the Mad. When Wen Zhong went to Wan to take up the post of county magistrate, he heard about Fan Li and sent his subordinate to pay him a visit. His subordinate met Fan Li and said when he returned, “This man is a famous local lunatic who does in a chaotic manner.”
Wen Zhong smiled and said, “If one does things in an extraordinary way, the ordinary person will mock him for playing the fool. If one has brilliant and unique views, the mediocre person will chide him for being muddle-headed. How can you understand Gentleman 9先生 – xiānshēng. An honorific suffix for a learned man. Fan?”
Thus, he paid a visit personally. Fan Li avoided him, but he expected Wen would return. So he borrowed a clothes from his elder brother and dressed smartly. Sure enough, Wen Zhong returned after several hours. When the two saw each other, they spoke at length about the ways of ruling by justice and by force. Each had his own views, but they admired each other deeply and regret they did not meet earlier.
Both felt that the countries in the Central Plains were in dismal states. Chu was large and chaotic. Other forces in the southeast was flourishing and showed promise of dominating. Thus, Wen Zhong resigned from his official post and went to Wu with Fan Li. The King of Wu trusted Wu Zixu10伍子胥 – Wǔ Zǐxū. Based on the historical figure. Wu Zixu served as a general and advisor to King Helü of Wu alongside Sun Tzu. See Wikipedia. then, and accepted his advice without questioning. The country flourished as a result. Wen Zhong and Fan Li lived in the Wu capital city of Gusu[^Gusu] for several months. They saw that Wu Zixu’s reform measures were indeed outstanding and dealt with social evils. They held him in high esteem and felt that they might not be able to surpass him.
After some discussion, they decided that since Yue and Wu were next to each other, their customs were similar. Although Wu had a smaller territory, they could display their skills to the fullest there. Thus, they went to Yue. They had an audience with Goujian, who admired their views and abilities, and appointed them dafu.
Against Wen Zhong and Fan Li’s admonishment, Goujian sent his army to battle Wu with Shi Mai as general. They suffered a crushing defeat along the banks of Qiantang River.12钱塘江 – Qiántáng jiāng. A river running through Zhejiang in East China. See Wikipedia. Goujian was beseiged on the Mount Kuaiji,13会稽山 – Kuàijī Shān. Modern day Mount Xianglu near Shaoxing, Zhejiang. See Wikipedia. and almost perished along with his country. While Goujian was in crisis, he heeded Wen Zhong and Fan Li’s strategy to bribe the traitorous Grand Chancellor 14太宰 – Tàizǎi. The highest ranking official. See Wikipedia.] [^伯嚭 – Bó Pǐ. Based on the historical figure. See Wikipedia. to plead for the King of Yue. King Fuchai of Wu paid no heed to Wu Zixu’s protests and agreed to make peace with Yue. He brought Goujian to Wu and eventually allowed him to return home. Thereafter, Goujian endured hardships to temper himself and vowed vengeance. He decided to adopt Wen Zhong’s nine strategies to annihilate Wu.
Sword of the Yue Maiden – Part 3
The first of the nine strategies was to respect heaven and earth, serve ghosts and gods, teach the way of the gods, and let the…