This is an old fan translation of the Sword of the Yue Maiden originally published on another site and reposted here. A newer translation of by WuxiaSociety is available here. Both translations use the Third Edition of the novel.
The two swordsmen turned the point of their blades downward. Their right palm holding the sword hilt, their left palm covered their right palm, then they bowed deeply to each other in a warrior’s salute.
Even before the two straightened, a sudden flash of white, then the sound of clanging. The two swordsmen each retreated one step. The audience gave out a soft cry.
The swordsman in blue cut three times. The liveried swordsman blocked each cut. The swordsman in blue shouted and slashed his sword from the upper left corner straight downward. The slash was powerful and fast. The liveried swordsman was too agile to be caught.
A simple jump got him out of the way. His body bounced barely after his left feet touched the ground. He returned two slashes. The swordsman in blue stood still with a grim smile. He moved his sword lightly and blocked the attack.
The liveried swordsman suddenly began running around the swordsman in blue. He ran faster and faster. The swordsman in blue merely stared at the point of his enemy’s sword. He was ready to strike any time that point moved to attack. The liveried swordsman first ran one way, then the other.
The swordsman in blue started to feel a bit dizzy and said, “Are you fighting, or running for your life?”
The liveried swordsman continued running. The swordsman in blue attempted to cut him down a few times, but his sword always fell short.
The swordsman in blue pulled his sword back to the side of his body and bowed his right leg slightly. The liveried swordsman thought he saw an opening and lounged at his left shoulder, the swordsman in blue was merely luring his enemy. His sword circled into a direct thrust at the liveried swordsman’s throat.
The thrust was too fast to be avoided. The liveried swordsman was surprised. He threw his sword toward the heart of his enemy. The liveried swordsman hoped to force the swordsman to pull back the thrust in order to save his own life.
Unexpectedly, the swordsman in blue didn’t attempt to defend himself. With a move of his arm, the point of his sword entered the liveried swordsman’s throat. Then the liveried swordsman’s thrown sword hit his chest with a loud clang and fell to the ground. The swordsman in blue laughed coldly and pulled his sword back. He was wearing a round plate of iron in front of his chest, just under the garment. That’s why the sword did him no harm.
The liveried swordsman’s throat spurted blood and his body convulsed. The servants stepped in to remove the body and began to wipe up the blood on the ground.
The swordsman in blue sheathed his sword. He stepped forward and bowed toward the north of the hall where the king sat. The king wore a purple robe. He is of strange appearance. His neck was excessive long and his mouth was sharp as a bird’s beak. He smiled and said in a croaking voice, “The strong one has wonderful sword skill. Award him ten pounds of gold.” The swordsman in blue knelt down on his right knee and bowed, “Thank you for the award.” The king waved his left hand. An official on his right shouted, “Swordsmen of Wu and swordsmen of Yue,second contest!”
From the east end of the hall, another liveried swordsman walked out from his group. This man was tall of stature and held a great sword. The sword was nearly four feet in length. The blade was extremely thick and was obviously quite heavy. From the west of hall, another swordsman in blue walked out. He was of medium height. His face was criss-crossed by at least twelve or thirteen sword scars. The face seemed no longer human. He must have fought hundreds of battles with countless swordsmen. The two knelt to the king, then they saluted each other.
The swordsman in blue straightened his body and smiled. His face made the smile seemed ugly and cruel. The tall swordsman shivered. Then he sighed deeply and held his sword with both hands.
Suddenly the swordsman in blue howled madly like a wolf and thrust his sword. The tall swordsman cried, lifted his great sword and cut down toward his opponent’s head. The swordsman in blue dodged while his sword made a slash from left to right. The tall swordsman lifted the great sword and whirled, making the sounds of a great wind. The great weight of the sword didn’t slow him down in the slightest.
The two made thirty passes at each other. The swordsman in blue couldn’t oppose the weight of his opponent’s sword. He kept retreating. All the other liveried swordsman began to show hope on their faces as they anticipated their side to win at last.
Then the tall swordsman made a great cry like the sound of a thunderclap and made a horizontal cut with his great sword. The swordsman in blue couldn’t avoid it. He could only block it with his own sword with all his strength. Clang! The two swords met. The great sword broke and half of the blade flew away. The swordsman in blue wielded a far sharper sword. Then the swordsman in blue made a vertical cut which opened up the tall swordsman from throat to crotch. The tall swordsman howled and kept on howling as he felt to the ground. The swordsman in blue looked at his fallen opponent for a while before returning his sword to the sheath. Then he knelt toward the king. His face couldn’t disguise his joy of victory.
The official said, “The strong one’s sword skill is impressive. The award is ten pounds of gold.” The swordsman in blue bowed in thanks. There were only eight swordsmen in blue. Compared with fifty liveried swordsmen standing at the east side of the hall, they were badly outnumbered. The official said, “Swordsmen of Wu and swordsmen of Yue, the third contest.” Again, one swordsman from each walked to the centre of the hall. The sword of the swordsman in blue trembled and shone like bright silk. The official said, “Good sword!” The swordsman in blue thanked his praise. The official then said, “We have seen one-to-one contests twice. This time, two against two!”
Two more swordsmen entered the arena. The four again saluted the king first before saluting each other. Then the swords flashed as the combat began. This time, each of the two swordsmen on the same side must reinforce each other. After a few passes, a liveried swordsmen’s sword was cut into half by his enemy’s sword. This liveried swordsman was very courageous. He carried his broken and jumped toward his enemy. His opponent’s sword flashed and cut away his right arm together with his right shoulder. Then the sword impaled his heart. The other pair was still fighting. The victorious swordsman in blue watched for a while, then his sword moved. Again, the liveried swordsman’s sword was cut into half, leaving him wide open. His opponent’s sword entered his chest and exited from his back.
The king laughed and clapped, “Excellent swords! Excellent sword skills. Award them wine and gold. Let us see one contest of four against four!” Four swordsmen from each side began combat. The swordsmen from the east side had already lost three contests. These four fought desperately with all their skills. Even if they lost their lives, they meant to win at least one contest. Two swordsmen in blue concentrated on one liveried swordsman. The other two swordsmen in blue defended them against the other three liveried swordsmen. These swordsmen in blue only defended. Their skill of defence was impenetrable. They also made no attempt to attack, all they did was preventing the three from aiding their comrade. The other two swordsman in blue easily killed their lone opponent. Then they repeated their tactic again and killed another liveried swordsman.
The other liveried swordsmen saw the death of their comrades. They drew their swords and was ready to aid their comrades and chopped the swordsmen in blue to bits.
The official cried out in a clear voice, “Those who learned the way of the sword, must obey the laws of the sword!”
His voice was authoritative. The liveried swordsmen quieted down. By now everyone could see that the swordsmen in blue used completely different sword skills. The two who defended were specialised in defence. The two who attacked specialised in attack. The attackers always outnumber their victim because the defenders watched their back. They could win even if their opponents numbered six or even eight. The swords of the two defenders formed a sword net which could handle five or even six swordsmen easily.
The two defenders had cornered a liveried swordsman so he was virtually neutralised while the two attackers already killed the third liveried swordsman. The two defenders moved left and right and watched for more enemies while the two attackers began on the lone swordsman. Even though the liveried swordsman had no hope of winning, still he didn’t throw down his sword to admit defeat. Suddenly the four swordsmen in blue shouted loudly and their four swords impaled the liveried swordsman from four directions.
The liveried swordsman died immediately, but his eyes were opened like round saucers. His mouth opened widely. The four swordsmen in blue pulled out their swords at the same time. The four wiped their swords at the sole of their shoes, then they returned their swords back into the sheath. The movements were completely synchronised.
The king laughed and clapped his hands together again, “Excellent sword skill! The swordsmen of the great kingdom were truly invincible. It’s only today that we’re treated to such a spectacle. Award each swordsman ten pounds of gold.” The four bowed in thanks. They bowed at the same exact angle. No one knew how long they practised to achieve such precision.
A swordsman in blue turned, picked a long box covered in gold paint and said, “Our king thank the generous gifts of Your Majesty. His Majesty ordered us to return the favour with one precious sword. This sword is newly forged in our kingdom for the enjoyment of Your Majesty.”
The king smiled, “Thank you. Minister Fan Li, bring it over here.”
The king was Goujian, King of Yue. The official was Fan Li, the royal advisor. The liveried swordsmen were the Royal Guards of Yue. The eight swordsmen in blue were the messengers sent by Fuchai, King of Wu. Goujian was defeated by Fuchai and he waited for a chance for vengeance. While he was submissive to the Kingdom of Wu on the surface, he secretly trained soldiers in preparation for an attack on Wu. In order to test the skill of Wu warriors, he sent out the best of his swordsmen. He could not expect that the Wu swordsmen easily killed eight of his finest swordsmen. He was surprised and angry, but he showed none of it. Instead, he praised the sword skills of the Wu swordsmen and showed his heartfelt admiration.
Fan Li took the golden long box. The box felt very light, as thought it was empty. He opened up the cover. Before the other people in the hall could see what’s in the box, Fan Li’s face was illuminated by a faint blue light. Everyone cried in surprise.
Fan Li took the box to Goujian and bowed, “Please look, Your Majesty.” Goujian saw that the box was lined with red silk. The sword inside it had a very thin blade. The light it reflected flowed on its surface like water. He said, “Excellent sword!” He took the hilt and lifted up the sword. The blade trembled slightly, almost as though he could break the blade with a flick of his wrist. He thought, “The sword blade is too thin. It might look good, but it has no practical use.”
The leader of the swordsmen in blue took out a piece of gauze from his pocket and threw it into the air. “Please, Your Majesty, point the edge of the sword upward so it will meet this falling gauze. You will see that this sword is different.” The thin gauze fell upon the edge of the sword, but the gauze didn’t stop falling. It kept falling, as two separate gauzes. The people on the hall cheered.
The swordsman in blue said, “This blade might be thin, but it will not break even if it blocks a heavy weapon.”
Goujian said, “Minister Fan Li, try it.”
Fan Li said, “Yes.” He walked in front of a liveried swordsman, took out the sword and said, “Draw, let’s try it.” The liveried swordsman bowed, drew his sword, but he didn’t dare to strike. Fan Li cried, “Strike!” The swordsman cut downward. Fan Li met it with his sword. The two swords met. The sword blade of the liveried swordsmen was cut into two pieces. Before one of the pieces flew into him, Fan Li dodged wit great agility. The people inside the hall cheered. Were they cheering the sharpness of the blade, or the agility of Fan Li?
Fan Li put the sword back into the box and put the box next to the feet of the king. Goujian said, “Swordsmen of the great kingdom, you are invited to the next hall for a feast and be awarded for the contest.” The eight swordsmen in blue bowed and left the hall. Goujian waved his hand, all the swordsmen, servants and ministers left, except for Fan Li.
Goujian looked at the sword and the blood on the ground and said, “What you do think?”
Fan Li said, “Not all the Wu soldiers are as good as these eight. Not all swords wielded by them are as sharp as this one. But from this small example, we can see the rest. The most terrifying aspect is their technique of group fighting, they used the methods of Sunzi. I believe that they currently have no match in the world.”
Goujian said, “Fuchai sent these eight just to give me this sword. What does he have in mind?”
Fan Li said, “He wants us to know the difficulty of vengeance.”
Goujian became angry. He took up the sword and made a backhand stroke. The stroke cut up the half of the back of his chair. He shouted, “Even if the difficulty is one thousand, ten thousand times greater, Goujian will not retreat from his goal! One day, I will capture Fuchai, king of Wu and cut off his heed with his sword.” Another stroke of the sword cut the chair into half.
Fan Li bowed and said, “Congratulations, Your Majesty.”
Goujian said in surprise, “After seeing the ability of the Wu swordsmen, what’s there to congratulate about?”
Fan Li said, “As long as You Majesty have the determination, anything can be accomplished. Concerning this difficulty, I must discuss it with Minister Wen.”
Goujian said, “Good, summon Minister Wen.” Fan Li left the palace and ordered the palace servant to summon Minister Wen Zhong. In a while, Wen Zhong arrived on a speedy horse, then the two walked back into the palace.
Fan Li was originally a native of Wan, in the Kingdom of Chu. He was not a man concerned with the details of etiquette. Often, he did things beyond the expectations of other people. People of his homeland called him, “Fan Li the Crazy”. When Wen Zhong came to be the magistrate of Wan, he heard of the Fan Li’s reputation. He sent subordinates to summon Fan Li. The subordinates said, “That Fan Li is the famous crazy man of this land. Nothing he does makes any sense.” Wen Zhong smiled, “When a man try to do something different, other people always say that he is mad. When he has a superior opinion, the common of wit will call him stupid. How can you understand Master Fan Li?” So Wen Zhong went to visit Fan Li himself, but Fan Li avoided him. Fan Li expected that Wen would not give up so easily, so he borrowed some proper clothes from his brother. When Wen came back, Fan Li was ready. The two talked and found that they had much in common.
They both felt the kingdoms were weak. The kingdom of Chu was large, but chaotic. The only kingdoms which could rise to command the rest were located at south-east. Wen Zhong resigned his position and went to the kingdom of Wu with Fan Li. At the time, the king of Wu’s favourite was Wu Zixu. The two lived in the capital for a few month and saw that Wu Zixu was indeed a wise man. They were not necessarily better than him.
After some discussion, they decided that although Yue was a smaller kingdom, but they could put their talents to use there. Goujian received them warmly and gave them both high positions.
Then Goujian ignored the advise of Wen Zhong and made war with Wu. His army was defeated by the shore of Chiang Tang River. Goujian was surrounded at Kuaiji Mountain and almost died along with his kingdom, but he listened to the advise of Fan Li and Wen Zhong and bribed the Prime Minister of Wu. Fuchai then listened to the Prime Minister instead of the wiser Wu Zixu and agreed to a peace treaty. Goujian lived in Wu as a hostage for a few years, but he was released later. Then Goujian slept only on beds made of thorny branches and tasted the bitter juice of beef gall bladders to remind himself of the humiliations he suffered. He used Wen Zhong’s Nine Methods to subvert Wu and strengthen Yue.
The Nine Methods were. One, pay respect to the gods and spirits. Two, give Fuchai vast amount of money so he will feel secure as well as becoming soft in luxury. Three, borrow food from Wu and return seeds which will not grow, causing famine in Wu. Four, give Fuchai beautiful women such as Xi Shi and Cheng Dang, so Fuchai would be paying more attention to the beautiful women rather than the affairs of the state. Five, give Fuchai engineers so he started building expensive palaces which drained the economy of the country. Six, bribe the ministers of Wu. Seven, distance Fuchai from his wise ministers. The wise Wu Zixu was eventually forced to commit suicide as punishment of a false charge of treason. Eight, hoard food so the kingdom of Yue will have great reserve available. Nine, make weapons, train soldier and wait for the chance.
Eight methods have succeeded, but the ninth had run into great difficulty. Everyone could tell that the eight warriors of Wu were better than anyone Yue could produce. Fan Li told Wen Zhong the results of the contest. Wen Zhong frowned, “Brother Fan Li, the sharpness of their swords is a major problem, also the way their swordsmen worked together in groups in accordance to Sunzi’s Art of War.” Fan Li said, “Yes, decades ago, when Sunzi helped the King of Wu. They destroyed Chu, the most powerful kingdom in the world at the time. In his book, it’s said, “If I concentrate my forces and the enemy’s forces is fragmented into ten parts then I can use my unified one to attack his ten fragments. Then I will outnumber my enemy and the battle will be over.” Wu used this principle to achieve local superiority against our swordsmen.”
When they talk they arrived in front of Goujian. Goujian was staring at the gift sword. After a long while, Goujian lifted up his head and said, “Minister Wen. Years ago, Wu had the husband-wife team of sword smiths, Gan Jiang and Mo Ye. Yue had Ouyezi. Now, all three have died. Wu still have great sword smiths, yet we have no one to succeed Ouyezi.”
Wen Zhong said, “I have heard that Ouyezi had two students. One is named Feng Huzi, the other is called Xue Zhu. Feng Huzi is in the kingdom of Chu. Xue Zhu is still in Yue.”
Goujian became glad and said, “Summon him. And order someone to go to Chu with gold so we can get Feng Huzi here as well.”
The next morning, Wen Zhong reported that he already sent someone to Chu. Meanwhile, Xue Zhu was already here. Goujian granted Xue Zhu an audience and asked, “Your master Ouyezi once followed my father’s order and forged five swords. How do you grade those five swords?”
Xue Zhu said, “I have heard my master said that he forged five swords for the king. Three large swords and two small swords. They are Trembling Reed, Pure Edge, Defeater of Evil, Fish Intestine and the Great Tower. Now, the Trembling Reed is in Chu. Defeater of Evil and Fish Intestine are in Wu. Your Majesty still have Pure Edge and Great Tower.”
Years ago, the Prince Helu of Wu heard of the swords and asked Goujian’s father for some of the swords. Goujian’s father feared the might of Wu and gave Helu Trembling Reed, Defeater of Evil and Fish Intestine. Using Fish Intestine, Helu assassinated his cousin the king and took the throne. Trembling Reed fell into a river and was acquired by the King of Chu. King of Qin heard of this and asked for it. Even after a few wars, the King of Chu still refused to give it up.
Xue Zhu said, “My master said, of the five swords, Defeater of Evil is of the highest grade. Pure Edge and Trembling Reed are next. Fish Intestine is lower and Great Tower ranks last. When Great Tower was forged, the alloy was not pure, so it was only a sharp sword and not a truly precious sword.”
Goujian said, “Are you saying my Pure Edge and Great Tower are not as good as Fuchai’s Defeater of Evil and Fish Intestine?”
Xue Zhu dare not admit that Goujian’s swords was inferior, but Goujian knew the answer anyway.
Fan Li said, “You have the skill of your master. You can forge a few swords of your own. They might not be inferior to those owned by Wu.”
Xue Zhu said, “I cannot forge swords anymore.”
Fan Li asked, “Why?”
Xue Zhu held up his hands. On both his hands, the thumb and the index fingers were gone. He said sadly, “Thumbs and index fingers are required for forging swords. I am a cripple.”
Goujian said, “Did you enemy cut away your fingers?”
Xue Zhu said, “No, my fellow student did it.” “Your fellow student? You mean Feng Huzi? Why did he doe it? Ah! It must be that you have greater skill than he. He became jealous and cut away your fingers.” Xue Zhu remained silent.
Goujian said, “I was thinking about inviting Feng Huzi from Chu, but now I see he won’t come because he fears your vengeance.”
Xue Zhu said, “Your Majesty is indeed wise, but Feng Huzi is no longer in Chu. He is in Wu.
Goujian said, “He…He’s in Wu? What’s he doing there?”
Xue Zhu said, “Three years ago, Feng Huzi came to my home and took out a precious sword for me to inspect. I was astounded. That sword was forged by my master for Chu. It is named the Flowing Fabric. The blade was full of runes that flowed like water. I heard from my master that he forged three swords for Chu. That was one, the others were Dragon Spring and Ching Ah.”
Goujian said, “Then the King of Chu must have given it to Feng Huzi.”
Xue Zhu said, “Indirectly. Feng Huzi said that after the army of Wu broke the capital of Chu. Wu Zixu took the sword from the grave of the previous king. When he returned to Wu, he heard of the skills of Feng Huzi, so he gave the sword to him as a gift. He said the sword was a legacy from our master and that Feng Huzi was the rightful owner.”
Goujian said, “Wu Zixu let the sword go? He is truly a great hero to let such a treasure go.” Then he laughed, “Fortunately, Fuchai has already taken care of him for me.” Then he asked, “What did Wu Zixu wanted in return from Feng Huzi?”
Xue Zhu said, “Wu Zixu merely said that he admired our master. Feng Huzi felt grateful after he received the sword, so he went to Wu and thanked Wu Zixu in person. Wu Zixu treated as an honoured guest.”
Goujian said, “That’s how he make people become loyal to him, even onto death.”
Xue Zhu said, “Your Majesty is wise, but Feng Huzi didn’t understand Wu Zixu’s true intentions, so he asked again and again how he could repay the great favour done to him. Wu Zixu merely said he would not ask anything of an honoured guest.”
Goujian said, “The old fox!”
Xue Zhu said, “Feng Huzi finally said to Wu Zixu that he had little skill except forging swords. In return for Wu Zixu’s favours…