Translation by Jenxi Seow.
Fan Li was both surprised and pleased. “Where does Grandpa Bai live? Can you bring me to him?”
Aqing said, “He lives in the mountain and can’t be found. He’s the one who looks for me. I’ve never gone looking for him before.”
Fan Li said, “I wish to meet him. Is there any way?”
Fan Li said in a low voice, “Yes, follow me to herd the goat. We’ll wait for him at the mountainside. It’s just that I have no idea when he would come.”
She sighed and said, “I haven’t seen him for a long time!”
Fan Li thought to himself, “For the sake of Yue and Yiguang, so what if I herd the goat with her?”
He then said, “Very well, I will herd the goat with you and wait for Grandpa Bai.”
He thought, “Miss Aqing’s swordsmanship is naturally imparted by that elderly Grandpa Bai in the mountains. Grandpa Bai most likely thought she was she was young and naive, so he pretended to tease her with a bamboo stick. Since he was able to teach a country girl such astounding swordsmanship, asking him to train the Yue warriors would mean the fall of Wu!”
After inviting Aqing to dine at his residence, he accompanied her to the mountains in the outskirts to herd goat. His subordinates did not understand his reasoning, and were shocked. For days, Fan Li wielded a bamboo stick and sang to the goat with Aqing in the rustic mountains as they waited for Grandpa Bai to appear.
On the fifth day, Wenzhong paid a visit to Fan Residence and noticed that the chamberlain of Fan Residence appeared troubled. He asked, “I have not see Fan dafu for days. The King is worried about him and ordered me to come visit. Is Fan dafu unwell?”
The chamberlain said, “Reporting to Wen dafu, Fan dafu is in good health, but… but…”
Wen Zhong said, “But what?”
The chamberlain said, “Wen dafu is a good friend of Fan dafu. What us lowly officials dare not say, perhaps Wen dafu might be able to advise him.”
Wen Zhong was even more perplexed. He asked, “What’s the matter with Fan dafu?”
The chamberlain said, “Fan dafu is fascinated with that… that beautiful country maiden who knows how to wield a bamboo stick. He accompanies her to herd goat daily. He refused to allow guards to escort him and returns only when it is dark. Even if I had official matters requiring his instructions, I dare not disturb him.”
Wen Zhong laughed out loud. He thought, “When younger brother Fan was in Chu, the people of Chu called him Fan the Lunatic. He had an unusual way of doing things that only unorthodox people would understand.”
At the same moment, Fan Li sat in the grass on the mountainside as he told the story of Consort Xiang of Chu and the mountain ghost. Aqing sat beside him listening intently. Her pair of bright eyes stared at him. She asked suddenly, “Is Consort Xiang really that beautiful?”
Fan Li said softly, “Her eyes are brighter than this stream, and clearer…”
Aqing said, “Are there fish swimming in her eyes?”
Fan Li said, “Her skin is paler than the clouds and softer, gentler…”
Aqing said, Are there birds flying in the clouds?”
Fan Li said, “Her lips are more delicate than the petals of this blood sage1See Wikipedia., and more vibrant. Her lips are moist and shinier than the dew on this petal. Consort Xiang stood by the water as her reflection was visible on the clear surface of Xiang River.2湘江 – Xiāngjiāng. See Wikipedia. The flowers on the river bank were so ashamed by her beauty that they withered. The fish dared not swim in the river, for fear of disturbing her winsome reflection. Her arms that were as white as snow reached into the Xiang River. It was so gentle that it seemed to dissolve in the water…”
Aqing asked, “Fan Li, you have seen her before, right? How are you able to speak in such detail?”
Fan Li sighed softly and said, “I have seen her. I observed very, very carefully.”
He was referring to Xishi, not Consort Xiang.
He lifted his head to look northwards. His gaze swept across the turbulent river. This beautiful lady was in the Wu royal palace in Gusu City. What was she doing at that moment? Was she keeping the King of Wu company? Was she thinking of him?
Aqing said, “Fan Li! Your beard is very peculiar. May I tough it?”
Fan Li thought, “Is she crying? Or is she laughing?”
Aqing said, “Fan Li, there are two strands of white in your beard. That’s so amusing. It looks like the wool of my goat.”
Aqing said, “Fan Li, I want to pluck a strand of white hair from your beard. May I? I’ll pluck gently so it won’t hurt.”
Fan Li thought, “She said she loved sitting on the boat and drift slowly in the river and lake. When I get her back, I’ll give up being a dafu and sit with her on the boat all day. We’ll drift in the river and lake for the rest of our lives.”
Suddenly, he felt a slight pain on his chin. Aqing had plucked a strand of his beard. He heard her charming giggling that was suddenly cut off. He then heard her shout, “You’re here again!”
A green blur flashed. Aqing had dashed forth. A whirl of green and white entwined together rapidly.
Fan Li was delighted. “Grandpa Bai is here!”
After the two fought for a while, they started to slow down. He could not help but let out a cry.
Aqing was actually not fighting a human, but a white ape.
This white ape wielded a bamboo stick as well that danced in a duel with the bamboo stick Aqing held. The white ape’s moves were exquisite and strong. The bamboo stick whistled as it stabbed, yet each time it struck, Aqing parried and counter attacked with a brilliant move.
When Aqing fought with the Wu swordsmen on the street several days ago, she blinded a Wu swordsman with a single strike. She used the same move each time. It was only now that Fan Li actually witness the essence of Aqing’s swordsmanship. He did not know much about swordsmanship, but he often watched Yue swordsmen practice swordplay and was able to gauge good and bad swordsmanship with a glance.
When she fought the Wu swordsmen, he was already astonished. Watching Aqing duel with the white ape, although they wielded bamboo sticks, their moves were so outstanding that the Wu swordsmen looked like child’s play in comparison.
The white ape’s bamboo stick became increasingly, yet Aqing remained immobile. She stabbed with her stick occasionally as fast as lightning to force the white ape to retreat.
Aqing forced the white ape to back off three steps, then retracted her stick and stood still. The white ape held its stick with both hands and leapt up. With a gust of wind, it lunged at Fan Li. Seeing such a dangerous situation, Fan Li hurried to avoid. A green blur flashed and Aqing was already standing before him. Seeing it would stab Aqing, the white ape hastily retracted its stick. Aqing used the opening to strike. Two soft thuds sounded and the white ape’s bamboo stick fell to the ground.
The white ape let out a long howl and leapt onto the treetop. With a few leaps, it was already several dozen yards away. Yet the sad and shrill howl could still be heard as it slowly faded.
Aqing turned and sighed. She said, “Grandpa Bai’s arms are broken. He won’t play with me ever again.”
Fan Li asked, “You broke both its arms?”
Aqing nodded and said, “Grandpa Bai was very ferocious today. Thrice he tried to pounce over and stab you to death.”
Fan Li exclaimed, “It… it tried to kill me? Why?”
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.”
Sword of the Yue Maiden – Part 7
The next morning, Aqing held a bamboo stick in the fencing room of the King of Yue and faced twenty of the top Yue swordsmen…