Translation by Jenxi Seow.
The Wu swordsman circled his sword above her head and laughed, “I was going to cut off your little head. It’s only because of your beauty that I couldn’t bear to.”
The seven other Wu swordsmen laughed out loud in unison.
The girl had an oval face with big eyes and long lashes. Her skin was pale and she had a slim figure. She was beautiful and frail-looking. Fan Li could not bear to see her hurt, so he called out again, “Young lady, come here quickly!”
The young girl turned and answered, “Aye!”
The Wu swordsman probed with his sword to cut her belt. He laughed and said, “Even then…”
Before he could finish his sentence, the girl flicked her bamboo staff and struck his wrist. The swordsman felt severe pain in his wrist and his sword dropped to the ground with a clang. The girl raised her bamboo staff and its shadow flashed as it drove into his left eye. The swordsman cried out. He clasped his eye with both hands and howled.
The young girl execute these two moves with ease, striking the wrist and blinding the eye as though it was nothing. For some reason, the Wu swordsman was unable to dodge the attacks. The remaining seven Wu swordsmen were shocked. A burly, tall Wu swordsman raised his sword and stabbed at the young girl’s left eye. The sword whistled, evidently struck with a lot of power.
The young girl did not evade. Instead, she struck with her bamboo staff. Despite moving later, she struck his right shoulder first. All strength suddenly went out of the Wu swordsman’s blade. The young girl’s bamboo staff retracted and stabbed into his right eye. The swordsman squealed like a pig being slaughtered. He swung his fists wildly as fresh blood flowed from his eye. He looked utterly terrified.
This young girl blinded two Wu swordsmen with four moves. Everyone only saw her waving her staff casually to injure her opponents, and were all visibly shocked. The six other Wu swordsmen were shocked and enraged. They raised their swords and surrounded the young girl.
Fan Li had some knowledge of swordplay. The girl was only sixteen or seventeen years old and blinded two Wu elites with a bamboo staff. Although he could not see the moves clearly, he knew it was superior swordsmanship. He could not help but be surprised and delighted. When he saw the six armed swordsmen surrounding her, he knew that it was difficult for a young girl to defeat six skilled swordsmen no matter how good her swordsmanship was. He raised his voice and said, “Swordsmen of Wu, for six of you to gang up on one, aren’t you afraid of tarnishing Wu’s reputation? If you win by numbers, heh!”
He clapped and the sixteen Yue guards spread out with swords raised to surround the Wu swordsmen.
The girl sneered, “Even if it’s six against one, they might not win!”
She raised her right hands slightly and the bamboo staff in her right hand had already struck at a Wu swordsman’s eye. He raised his sword to block, but the girl had already spun the bamboo staff to strike at another Wu swordsman’s chest. At that moment, three Wu swordsmen stabbed towards the young girl with their blades at the same time. The girl was extremely dexterous. She turned and sidestepped to evade the blades. She struck the wrist of Wu swordsman on the left soundly. His hand loosened involuntarily and his sword fell to the ground.
The sixteen Yue guards were going to close in, but the Wu swordsmen waved their swords to form a web of swords that flashed darkly. There was no way for the Yue guards to approach.
Yet, the young girl danced amongst the web of swords, her light green clothes and belt fluttered in the air to make it a beautiful sight. Cries and clang rang out constantly as the Wu swordsmen’s swords fell to the ground one after another. The Wu swordsmen backed off one by one, some clasping their eyes while others crouched down. All of them were blinded in one eye, some on the left eye while others on the right.
The young girl stood with her staff by her side and said sweetly, “You killed my goat. Will you compensate me for it?”
The eight Wu swordsmen were horrified and furious. Some roared out loud while other trembled. These eight men were extremely brave warriors . They would show no fear or weakness even if their lost their arms or legs. For them to suddenly be disarmed and blinded by a young shepherdess, it was both painful and terrifying. They were at a loss and shocked by what had happened.
The young girl said, “If you don’t compensate me for my goat, I’ll blind your other eye too.”
Hearing that, the eight swordsmen stepped backwards at the same time.
Fan Li called out, “Young lady, I’ll pay you a hundred goats. Let these eight men off!”
The girl smiled at him and said, “You are a kind man. I don’t want a hundred goat. Just one is enough.”
Fan Li said to his guards, “Escort these honoured emissaries back to their inn for a rest. Send for the physician to treat their eyes.”
The guards acknowledged and eight of them raised their swords to escort the Wu swordsmen. The eight Wu warriors were unarmed, so they pressed their hands against their eyes and left dejectedly like defeated fighting roosters.
Fan Li took a few steps forward and asked, “How should I address you, young lady?”
The young girl said, “What did you say?”
Fan Li said, “What is your surname, young lady?”
The young girl said, “I’m Aqing. What’s your name?”
Fan Li smiled and thought to himself, “A country girl who doesn’t know proper etiquette. I wonder how she mastered such superior swordsmanship. I just need to ask who her shifu is and get her to invite her shifu to train Yue warriors. Why worry that we won’t be able to defeat Wu?”
The thought of his reunion with Xishi being finally within reach made a warmth well up in his chest uncontrollably. He said, “I am Fan Li. Young lady, I would like to invite you for dinner at my home.”
Aqing said, “I’m not going. I need to bring the goats to graze.”
Fan Li said, “There’s an excellent lawn in my home. Bring your goats there to graze and I will compensate you with another ten fat goats.”
Aqing clapped and laughed, “You have a meadow in your home? Very well. But I don’t want you to compensate me for the goat. You didn’t kill my goat.”
She knelt and stroked the body of her goat that was cut into halves. She asid sadly, “Good Old White, my boy, they killed you, yet I… I couldn’t save you.”
Fan Li instructed his guards, “Sew the two halves of Old White and bury him next to the maiden’s house.”
As Aqing stood up, two drops of tears were visible on her cheeks, yet joy radiated from her eyes. She said, “Fan Li, you… you won’t allow them to eat Old White?”
Fan Li said, “Of course I won’t allow it. He’s your Good Old White. Your good boy. No one will be allowed to eat him.”
Aqing sighed and said, “You are too kind. What I hate most is people slaughter my goat for food. But Mother says we would have no money to buy rice if we don’t sell the goat.”
Fan Li said, “From henceforth, I will have men deliver rice and cloth to your mother so you won’t have to sell a single goat you rear.”
Aqing was overjoyed. She hugged Fan Li and said, “Fan Li, you are indeed a kind man.”
Seeing her unbridled naivety, her audacity to directly address Fan Li by name, and her hugging him in public along the street, the guards were amused. Yet they dared not laugh out loud, instead they turned and looked away.
Fan Li held her hand, as though he feared she was a fairy descended from the heavens and would disappear in the blink of the eye. Surrounded by the bleating of a dozen over goats, he strode leisurely back to his house with her by his side.
Aqing herded the goat into Fan Li’s dafu official residence. She exclaimed, “Your house is huge. How can you live here alone?”
Fan Li smiled and said, “I was just troubling over the house being too big. How about having you and your mother move in to live with me? Who else are there in your family?”
Aqing replied, “Just my mother and I. I don’t know if my mother would be willing to come. My mother told me not to talk too much to men. But you’re a good person. You won’t harm us.”
Fan Li asked Aqing to drive her flock into the garden. Then, he ordered his servants to serve pastry snacks and entertained her in the garden’s gazebo. The goats chewed eagerly on the peony, herbaceous peony, irises, orchids, roses, and all sorts of rare and exotic flowers. Yet Fan Li watched on with a smile and did not mind. Seeing this, the servants were all appalled.
Aqing drank tea and ate the cakes. She was delighted. Fan Li chatted with her for a long time. He realised she was naive when she spoke and did not understand the world affairs at all. Finally, he asked, “Miss Aqing, which master taught you your swordsmanship?”
Aqing stared with a pair of bright eyes. She asked, “What swordsmanship? I don’t have a teacher.”
Fan Li said, “You blinded eight evil persons with a bamboo stick. That’s swordsmanship. Who taught you that?”
Aqing shook her head and said, “No one taught me. I learnt it myself.”
Fan Li saw her honest nature with no intention to lie. He thought to himself, “Is she truly sent from heaven?”
He said, “Did you know how to wield the bamboo stick this way since young?”
Aqing said, “I didn’t know how to. When I was thirteen, Grandpa Bai came to ride the goats. I forbade him from riding them and used a bamboo stick to drive him away. He used a bamboo stick to hit me, so I fought him. He kept striking me at first, and I couldn’t hit him. We played like this daily. Recently, I’m always hitting him. I give him painful jabs but he can’t strike me. So he stopped coming to play with me.”
Aqing shook her head and said, “I don’t know.”
Fan Yi was silently terrified, “If Aqing did not block it, it would indeed be effortless for the white ape to kill me.”