Jin Yong

Sword of the Yue Maiden #3

Translation by Jenxi Seow.

The first of the nine strategies was to respect heaven and earth1天地 – Tiāndì. Literally heaven and earth, it means the universe., serve ghosts and gods, teach the way of the gods, and let the King of Yue have the desire to win.

The second was to gift the King of Wu a large amount of coins to let him become used to extravagance and to remove his wariness towards Yue.

The third was to borrow grain from the State of Wu and return with larger, steamed grain. Seeing the grain is large, the King of Wu would distribute it to the peasants as seeds for crops. The rice would not grow and famine would befall upon the State of Wu.

The fourth was to send the beauties Xi Shi2西施 – Xī Shī. One of the Four Beauties of ancient China. See Wikipedia. and Zheng Dan to make the King of Wu obsessed with them and neglect state affairs.

The fifth was to send craftsmen as gift to entice the King of Wu to build towers for his palace and expend his wealth and labour. The sixth was to bribe treacherous court officials around the King of Wu to ruin state affairs.

The seventh was to drive a wedge between the King of Wu and his loyal court officials, finally forcing Wu Zixu to take his own life. The eighth was to stockpile provisions to strengthen the country’s resources.

The ninth was to forge weapons, train soldiers, and be ready to attack Wu.

According to comments in later generations, the Wu was civilised while the Yue was barbaric. Yue did not abide by the prevailing etiquette of the Central Plains, and used many despicable and abominable means to hurt Wu.

Wen Zhong’s eight strategies were successful, but the ninth strategy encountered a major obstacle. The eight swordsmen sent by the King of Wu displayed sharp blades and skilful swordsmanship that the warriors of Yue could not match.

Fan Li told Wen Zhong about what happened during the duel contest. Wen Zhong frowned and said, “Good brother Fan, it is indeed a disaster that the Wu swordsmen have sharp blades and exquisite swordsmanship. And their making good use of the teachings left behind by Sun Wu Zi when fighting in groups makes it even more difficult to deal with and to stomach.”

Fan Li said, “Indeed. When Sun Wu Zi assisted the King of Wu in state affairs, he commanded the army in their invasion of Chu and breached the capital of Ying.3郢都 – Yǐngdū. See Wikipedia. He was invincible and godlike in his use of his troops. Although Qi and Jin were powerful countries, they also feared Sun Wu Zi’s vanguard.

“His art of war states, ‘We form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into ten. Thus we fight with ten against one and we outnumber them. When we are able to outnumber the enemy, our opponents will be in dire straits.’ The four Wu swordsmen fought against four of our Yue swordsmen. The Wu swordsmen held back three of our men with two while the other two attacked one man. By outnumbering their opponents, there is no battle they can’t win.”

As they spoke, they arrived before the King of Yue. Goujian held the sharp blade that was as thin as paper, still preoccupied.

After some time, Goujian lifted his head and said, “Wen dafu, the State of Wu had the couple Gan Jiang and Mo Ye4干将莫邪 – Gān Jiàng Mò Yé. A famous swordsmith couple from the Spring and Autumn period. See Wikipedia. who were well-versed in forging swords. Yue has the talented sword maker Ou Yezi,5欧冶子 – Ōu Yězǐ. A legendary swordsmith from the Spring and Autumn period. See Wikipedia. whose skill in forging sword is no less than them. Gan Jiang, Mo Ye, and Ou Yezi are no longer alive now. The State of Wu has such skilful swordsmith. Is it possible that there is no successor in Yue after the death of Ou Yezi?”

Wen Zhong said, “I heard that Ou Yezi has two disciples, Feng Huzi and Xue Zhu. Feng Huzi is in Chu, while Xue Zhu remains in Yue.”

Goujian was delighted. He said, “Hurry and summon Xue Zhu, dafu. Then send men into Chu and recruit him to Yue at a high price.”

Wen Zhong complied and took his leave.

The next morning, Wen Zhong reported that he had sent men to Chu and that Xue Zhu had arrived.

Goujian summoned Xue Zhu and said, “Your shifu Ou Yezi forged five swords at the orders of the late King. Tell me the good and bad of these five prized swords.”

Xue Zhu kowtowed and said, “I heard my late shifu talk about how he forged five swords for the late King. Three long swords and two short ones. The first was Zhanlu.6湛卢 – Zhànlú. Black. The second was Chunjun.7纯钧 – Chúnjūn. Purity. The third was Shengxie. 8胜邪 – Shèngxié. Victory over Evil. The fourth was Yuchang.[^Yuchang] The fifth was Juque.9巨阙 – Jùquē. Great Destroyer. Today, Zhanlu is in Chu. Shengxie and Yuchang are in Wu. Chunjun and Juque are both in Your Majesty’s palace.”

[^Yuchang] 鱼肠 – Yúcháng. Fish Intestines.

Goujian said, “Indeed.”

When Goujian’s father King Yunchang of Yue received the five swords, the King of Wu heard about them and came asking for them. Yunchang feared the might of Wu, so he could only gift Zhanlu, Shengxie, and Yuchang to the King of Wu. King Helü10阖庐 – Hélǘ. See Wikipedia. later sent Zhuan Zhu11专诸 – Zhuān Zhū. See Wikipedia. to assassinate King Liao of Wu12僚 – Liáo. See Wikipedia. with Yuchang. Zhuanlu fell into a river and King of Chu later obtained it. When the King of Qin heard about it, he asked for it but was turned down. So he raised his army against Chu, but the King of Chu persisted his refusal.

Xue Zhu said respectfully, “My late shifu said that of the five swords, Shengxie was the best. Chunjune and Zhanlu came in second. Yuchang ranked third, and Juque came in last. When forging Juque, the tin and copper were separated, thus it is only a sharp sword, not a prized sword.”

Goujian said, “This means my Chunjun and Juque are no match for the King of Wu’s Shengxie and Yuchang?”

Xue Zhu said, “I deserve to die. Forgive me for being forthright.”

Goujian looked up wordlessly. From Xue Zhu’s words, he knew that the two swords Yue had were no match for the two swords Wu had.

Fan Li said, “Since you inherited your shifu’s techniques, you can fire up the furnace and forge swords. Forge a few prized swords that might might not be inferior to the ones Wu had.”

Xue Zhu said, “Please, dafu, I can no longer forge swords.”

Fan Li said, “But why?”

Xue Zhu extended his hands. The thumbs and index fingers on both hands were missing. Only six fingers remained.

Xue Zhu became sad as he said, “The force needed to forge swords come from the thumbs and index fingers. I have long become a cripple who barely eke out a miserable life.”

Goujian was curious. He asked, “Did an enemy cut off those four fingers?”

Xue Zhu said, “It wasn’t an enemy. My shixiong cut them off.”

Goujian became even more curious. He said, “Isn’t your shixiong Feng Huzi? Why did he cut off your fingers? Ah, most likely it is because your sword smithing skills surpassed your shixiong, and he cut off your fingers out of jealousy so you can no longer forge swords.”

Goujian made his own speculations. Xue Zhu was in no position to point out that he guess was wrong and could only remain silent.

Goujian said, “I was going to send men to bring Feng Huzi from Chu. He might fear you seek revenge and not come.”

Xue Zhu said, “Your Majesty has good judgement. Feng shixiong is in Wu, not Chu.”

Goujian was slightly surprised. He said, “He… he is in Wu? What is he doing there?”

Xue Zhu said, “Three years ago, Feng shixiong came to my home and showed me a prized sword. When I saw it, I was stunned. The prized sword was forged by my late shifu Ou Yezi for the State of Chu. It is Gongbu,13工布 – Gōngbù. Artisanal Display. The sword had patterns that flowed like water from the hilt to the tip, joined with no breaks. I have heard my late shifu talk about it, so I recognised it as soon as I saw it. When my late shifu forged three swords for the King of Chu, the first was Longyuan,14龙渊 – Lóngyuān. Dragon Gulf. the second Taia,15泰阿 – Tàiā. Great Riverbank. and the third was Gongbu. The King of Chu had an extremely love for treasures, so it is incredible how my shixiong got it.”

Goujian said, “The King of Chu must have gifted it to your shixiong.”

Xue Zhu said, “Although it is not wrong to say it was gifted by the King of Chu, it actually changed hands twice. Feng shixiong said that when the army of Wu invaded Chu, Wu Zixu opened the sarcophagus of King Ping of Chu16平 – Píng. See Wikipedia. to whip the corpse. He found the prized sword in the tomb. When he returned to Wu, he heard about Feng shixiong and sent men to bring the sword as a gift to him in the State of Chu, saying that it was my late shifu’s keepsake and Feng shixiong should have it.”

Goujian was surprised once more. He muttered, “Wu Zixu was actually willing to part with this sword. He is a real hero. What a real hero!”

He suddenly laughed out loud and said, “Luckily Fuchai fell for my trap and forced him to commit suicide. Haha! Haha!”

Goujian laughed for a while. No one dared to make a sound. After he laughed for some time, he asked, “What did Wu Zixu want in return for gifting the prized sword Gongbu to your shixiong?”

Xue Zhu said, “Feng shixiong said that Wu Zixu only said that he admired my late shifu and made no other requests. Feng shixiong was grateful upon receiving the sword. He thought, ‘A high-ranking official of the State of Wu like General Wu gifted him such a rare treasure, how can I not thank him in person?’ And so he went to Wu to express his gratitude to General Wu. General Wu treated him as an honoured guest. He prepared accommodation for Feng shixiong and hosted him with utmost hospitality.”

Goujian said, “When Wu Zixu wants someone to serve him, he would always use this method. It was the same when asking Zhuan Zhu to assassinate King Liao of Wu.”

Xue Zhu said, “Your Majesty has great foresight. However, Feng shixiong did not know about Wu Zixu’s motives. He felt unworthy of such generous reception, so he kept asking how he could be of service. Wu Zixu only said, ‘I am honoured by your visit to Wu. You are an esteemed guest of Wu. How could I dare to trouble you?’”

Goujian cursed, “Wily old fox! He retreats to advance!”

Xue Zhu said, “Your Majesty has such wise foresight. Feng shixiong finally told Wu Zixu that he only knew how to forge swords and had no other abilities. After receiving such generous reception, he should forge a few rare prized swords as gifts.”

Goujian slapped his thigh and said, “He got played!”

Xue Zhu said, “However, Wu Zixu said that the Wu had enough prized swords, so there was no need to forge more. Moreover, forging swords took a heavy toll on spirits as well. When Gan Jiang and Mo Ye could not finish their sword, Mo Ye threw herself into the furnace in order to complete the prized sword. Such tragedy must no longer happen.”

Goujian was surprised. He said, “Did he really not want Feng Huzi to forge swords? That is strange.”

Xue Zhu said, “Feng shixiong felt it was strange then too. Then, Wu Zixu visited Feng shixiong for a chat at the inn. He spoke of the struggle for hegemony between Wu and Ji and Jin in the north. The Wu soldiers were more courageous, but they were no match when it came to chariot warfare. Even if they fought on foot, their weapons were not sharp enough. Feng shixiong begun discussing about the way of forging weapons with him. It turns out Wu Zixu wanted to forge not one or two prized swords, but tens of thousands sharp swords.”

Realisation struck Goujian and he could not help but let out an alarmed cry. He turned to look at Wen Zhong and Fan Li. While worry filled Wen Zhong’s face, Fan Li was lost in thought. He asked, “Fan dafu, what do you think?”

Fan Li said, “Although Wu Zixu is crafty, he cannot escape Your Majesty’s clutches even if he were alive, not to mention now that he is dead.”

Goujian laughed and said, “Haha, I fear I am no match for Wu Zixu…” Fan Li said, “Wu Zixu has been removed by Your Majesty’s clever scheme…