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.