It all started when the king of Chuh slept with his son's fiancee. Bad move, for any era. The king now feared that his son will turn against him. The fear was fanned into action by the allegations of an ambitious minister who wanted to destroy the crown prince's faction. The resulting purge destroyed many clans and families. One of the family, almost peripheral to the whole thing, was the House of Wu. The youngest son, Wu Tzu-Shi, escaped and vowed bloody vengeance.
After a long and dangerous journey through several kingdoms unwilling to help, he arrived at the newly founded kingdom of Wu (No, the Chinese characters for the Wu in Wu Tzu-Shi is actually different from the character Wu in the Wu kingdom). He helped Prince Ho Lu to assassinate his cousin the king in a convoluted power struggle. Then he built up the kingdom of Wu from a barely civilized kingdom to a modern kingdom with the best trained army in the known world. Sun Tzu, who wrote the immortal Art of War, served in Wu at this time.
When Wu Tzu-Shi was ready, he managed to convince King Ho Lu to invade Chuh. At the time Chuh was a superpower and Wu was an upstart kingdom, but the upstart kingdom managed to destroy Chuh's army utterly. Unfortunately, Wu Tzu-shi's vengeance was hollow. The object of his vengeance had already died several years ago. In his rage, Wu Tzu-Shi exhumed the body of the dead king and flogged it until it fell to pieces.
The kingdom of Wu proved itself incapable of absorbing the far larger kingdom of Chuh, so Wu Tzu-Shi had to take his army back to Wu. Then, Ho Lu began a series of wars to establish hegemony over the rest of China. It's in one of those wars when he ran into the kingdom of Yueh. The Yueh people was then even more primitive then Wu was a few decades ago, but they were great fighters. They were ruled by King Kou Chiang. In a pitch battle, King Ho Lu was struck by a poison arrow and died.
Ho Lu's son Fu Chai became king. He was intent on avenging his father. A personal guard was ordered to remind him of this fact periodically by saying "Fu Chai, did you forget to avenge the death of your father?" Fu Chai then rallied his army and destroyed the army of Yueh. King Kou Chiang became a prisoner of Fu Chai for several years. However, Fu Chai was not a brutal man. Instead of annexing the kingdom of Yueh and turning Kou Chiang into a slave, he released Kou Chiang after extracting an oath of fealty from the king of Yueh. Unfortunately, that gesture of mercy was completely lost on King Kou Chiang. Kou Chiang, like Wu Tzu-Shi and Fu Chai before him, was possessed by the burning desire to avenge the wrongs done him.
Kou Chiang hired two wise men from the kingdom of Chuh. One of them was Feng Li, the other was Wen Chung. The two began to build up the barbaric kingdom of Yueh so one day their king could challenge the power of Wu. Many legends are associated with this period of history. One of the legends was the legend of the Yueh Maiden.
The two swordmen 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 swordmen each retreated one step. The audience gave out a soft cry
. The swordman in blue cut three times. The liveried swordman blocked each cut. The swordman in blue shouted and slashed his sword from the upper left corner straight downward. The slash was powerful and fast. The liveried swordman 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 swordman in blue stood still with a grim smile. He moved his sword lightly and blocked the attack.
The liveried swordman suddenly began running around the swordman in blue. He ran faster and faster. The swordman in blue merely stared at the point of his enemy's sword. He was ready to strike anytime that point moved to attack. The liveried swordman at first ran one way, then the other. The swordman in blue started to feel a bit dizzy and said "Are you fighting, or running for your life?" The liveried swordman continued running. The swordman in blue attempted to cut him down a few times, but his sword always fell short.
The swordman in blue pulled his sword back to the side of his body and bowed his right leg slightly. The liveried swordman thought he saw an opening and lounged at his left shoulder, the swordman in blue was merely luring his enemy. His sword circled into a direct thrust at the liveried swordman's throat. The thrust was too fast to be avoided. The liveried swordman was surprised. He threw his sword toward the heart of his enemy. The liveried swordman hoped to force the swordman to abort the thrust in order to save his own life.
Unexpectedly, the swordman in blue didn't attempt to defend himself. With a move of his arm, the point of his sword entered the liveried swordman's throat. Then the liveried swordman's thrown sword hit his chest with a loud clang and fell to the ground. The swordman 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 swordman'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 swordman 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 swordman 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 "Swordmen of Wu and swordmen of Yueh,second contest!"
From the east end of the hall, another liveried swordman 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 swordman in blue walked out. He was of medium height. His face was crisscrossed by at least twelve or thirteen sword scars. The face seemed no longer human. He must have fought hundreds of battles with countless swordmen. The two knelt to the king, then they saluted each other.
The swordman in blue straightened his body and smiled. His face made the smile seemed ugly and cruel. The tall swordman shivered. Then he sighed deeply and held his sword with both hands.
Suddenly the swordman in blue howled madly like a wolf and thrusted his sword. The tall swordman cried, lifted his great sword and cut down toward his opponent's head. The swordman in blue dodged while his sword made a slash from left to right. The tall swordman 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 swordman in blue couldn't oppose the weight of his opponent's sword. He kept retreating. All the other liveried swordman began to show hope on their faces as they anticipated their side to win at last.
Then the tall swordman made a great cry like the sound of a thunderclap and made a horizontal cut with his great sword. The swordman 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 swordman in blue wielded a far sharper sword. Then the swordman in blue made a vertical cut which opened up the tall swordman from throat to crotch. The tall swordman howled and kept on howling as he felt to the ground. The swordman 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 swordman in blue bowed in thanks. There were only eight swordmen in blue. Compared with fifty liveried swordmen standing at the east side of the hall, they were badly outnumbered.
The official said "Swordmen of Wu and swordmen of Yueh, the third contest."
Again, one swordman from each walked to the center of the hall. The sword of the swordman in blue trembled and shone like bright silk. The official said "Good sword!" The swordman in blue thanked his praise. The official then said "We have seen one-to-one contests twice. This time, two against two!"
Two more swordmen 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 swordmen on the same side must reinforce each other. After a few passes, a liveried swordmen's sword was cut into half by his enemy's sword. This liveried swordman 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 swordman in blue watched for a while, then his sword moved. Again, the liveried swordman's sword was cut into half, leaving him wide open. His oponent'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 swordmen from each side began combat. The swordmen 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 swordmen in blue concentrated on one liveried swordman. The other two swordmen in blue defended them against the other three liveried swordmen. These swordmen in blue only defended. Their skill of defense was impenetrable. They also made no attempt to attack, all they did was preventing the three from aiding their comrade. The other two swordman in blue easily killed their lone opponent. Then they repeated their tactic again and killed another liveried swordman.
The other liveried swordmen saw the death of their comrades. They drew their swords and was ready to aid their comrades and chopped the swordmen 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 swor !"
His voice was authoritative. The liveried swordmen quieted down. By now everyone could see that the swordmen in blue used completely different sword skills. The two who defended were specialized in defense. The two who attacked specialized 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 swordmen easily.
The two defenders had cornered a liveried swordman so he was virtually neutralized while the two attackers already killed the third liveried swordman. The two defenders moved left and right and watched for more enemies while the two attackers began on the lone swordman. Even though the liveried swordman had no hope of winning, still he didn't throw down his sword to admit defeat. Suddenly the four swordmen in blue shouted loudly and their four swords impaled the liveried swordman from four directions.
The liveried swordman died immediately, but his eyes were opened like round saucers. His mouth opened widely. The four swordmen 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 synchronized.
The king laughed and clapped his hands together again "Excellent sword skill! The swordmen of the great kingdom were truly invincible. It's only today that we're treated to such a spectacle. Award each swordman ten pounds of gold." The four bowed in thanks. They bowed at the same exact angle. No one knew how long they practiced to achieve such precision.
A swordman in boue 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 favor with one precious sword. This sword is newly forged in our kingdom for the enjoyment of Your Majesty."
The king smiled "Thank you. Minister Feng, bring it over here."
The king was Kou Chiang, King of Yueh. The official was Feng Li, the royal advisor. The liveried swordmen were the Royal Guards of Yueh. The eight swordmen in blue were the messengers sent by Fu Chai, King of Wu. Kou Chiang was defeated by Fu Chai 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 swordmen. He could not expect that the Wu swordmen easily killed eight of his finest swordmen. He was surprised and angry, but he showed none of it. Instead, he praised the sword skills of the Wu swordmen and showed his heartfelt admiration.
Feng Li took the golden long box. The box felt very light, as thought it's empty. He opened up the cover. Before the other people in the hall could see what's in the box, Feng Li's face was illuminated by a faint blue light. Everyone cried in surprise.
Feng Li took the box to Kou Chiang and bowed "Please look, Your Majesty." Kou Chiang 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 swordmen 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 swordman in blue said "This blade might be thin, but it will not break even if it blocks a heavy weapon."
Kou Chiang said "Minister Feng, try it."
Feng said "Yes." He walked in front of a liveried swordman, took out the sword and said "Draw, let's try it." The liveried swordman bowed, drew his sword, but he didn't dare to strike. Feng Li cried "Strike!" The swordman cut downward. Feng met it with his sword. The two swords met. The sword blade of the liveried swordmen was cut into two pieces. Before one of the pieces flew into him, Feng Li dodged wit great agility. The people inside the hall cheered. Were they cheering the sharpness of the blade, or the agility of Feng?
Feng Li put the sword back into the box and put the box next to the feet of the king. Kou Chiang said "Swordmen of the great kingdom, you are invited to the next hall for a feast and be awarded for the contest." The eight swordmen in blue bowed and left the hall. Kou Chiang waved his hand, all the swordmen, servants and ministers left, except for Feng Li.
Kou looked at the sword and the blood on the ground and said "What you do think?"
Feng 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 Sun Tzu. I believe that they currently have no match in the world."
Kou Chiang said "Fu Chai sent these eight just to give me this sword. What does he have in mind?"
Feng Li said "He wants us to know the difficulty of vengeance."
Kou Chiang 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, Kou Chiang will not retreat from his goal! One day, I will capture Fu Chai, king of Wu and cut off his heead with his sword." Another stroke of the sword cut the chair into half.
Feng Li bowed and said "Congratualations, Your Majesty."
Kou said in surprise "After seeing the ability of the Wu swordmen, what's there to congratulate about?"
Feng Li said "As long as You Majesty have the determination, anything can be accomplished. Concerning this difficulty, I must discuss it with Minister Wen."
Kou Chiang said "Good, summon Minister Wen." Feng Li left the palace and ordered the palace servant to summon Minister Wen Chung. In a while, Wen Chung arrived on a speedy horse, then the two walked back into the palace
. Feng Li was originally a native of Wan, in the Kingdom of Chuh. 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 "Feng the Crazy". When Wen Chung came to be the magistrate of Wan, he heard of the Feng Li's reputation. He sent subordinates to summon Feng. The subordinates said "That Feng is the famous crazy man of this land. Nothing he does makes any sense." Wen Chung 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 Feng?" So Wen Chung went to visit Feng himself, but Feng avoided him. Feng expected that Wen would not give up so easily, so he borrowed some proper clothes from his brother. When Wen came back, Feng was ready. The two talked and found that they had much in common.
They both felt the kingdoms were weak. The kingdom of Chuh was large, but chaotic. The only kingdoms which could rise to command the rest were located at southeast. Wen Chung resigned his position and went to the kingdom of Wu with Feng Li. At the time. the king of Wu's favorite was Wu Tzu-Shi. The two lived in the capital for a few month and saw that Wu Tzu-Shi was indeed a wise man. They were not necessarily better than him.
After some discussion, they decided that although Yueh was a smaller kingdom, but they could put their talents to use there. Kou Chiang received them warmly and gave them both high positions.
Then Kou Chiang ignored the advise of Wen Chung and made war with Wu. His army was defeated by the shore of Chiang Tang River. Kou Chiang was surrounded at Kuai Chi Mountain and almost died along with his kingdom, but he listened to the advise of Feng Li and Wen Chung and bribed the Prime Minister of Wu. Fu Chai then listened to the Prime Minister instead of the wiser Wu Tzu-Shi and agreed to a peace treaty. Kou Chiang lived in Wu as a hostage for a few years, but he was released later. Then Kou Chiang 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 Chung's Nine Methods to subvert Wu and strengthen Yueh.
The Nine Methods were. One, pay respect to the gods and spirits. Two, give Fu Chai 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 Fu Chai beautiful women such as Si Shi and Cheng Dang, so Fu Chai would be paying more attention to the beautiful women rather than the affairs of the state. Five, give Fu Chai engineers so he started building expensive palaces which drained the economy of the country. Six, bribe the ministers of Wu. Seven, distance Fu Chai from his wise ministers. The wise Wu Tzu-Shi was eventually forced to committ suicide as punishment of a false charge of treason. Eight, hoard food so the kingdom of Yueh 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 Yueh could produce. Feng Li told Wen Chung the results of the contest. Wen Chung frowned "Brother Feng, the sharpness of their swords is a major problem, also the way their swordmen worked together in groups in accordance to Sun Tzu's Art of War." Feng Li said "Yes, decades ago, when Sun Tzu helped the king of Wu. They destroyed Chuh, 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 swordmen."
When they talk they arrived in front of Kou Chiang. Kou Chiang was staring at the gift sword. After a long while, Kou Chiang lifted up his head and said "Minister Wen. Years ago, Wu had the husband-wife team of swordsmiths, Keng Chiang and Mo Shei. Yueh had O-Yeh Tzu. Now, all three have died. Wu still have great swordsmiths, yet we have no one to succeed O-Yeh Tzu."
Wen Chung said "I have heard that O-Yeh Tzu had two students. One is named Fong Hu-Tzu, The other is called Hsieh Chu. Fong Hu-Tzu is in the kingdom of Chuh. Hsieh is still in Yueh."
Kou became glad and said "Summon him. And order someone to go to Chuh with gold so we can get Fong Hu-Tzu here as well."
The next morning, Wen Chung reported that he already sent someone to Chuh. Meanwhile, Hsieh Chu was already here. Kou Chiang grant Hsieh an audience and asked "Your master O-Yeh Tzu once followed my father's ordder and forged five swords. How do you grade those five swords?"
Hsieh 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 Chuh. Defeater of Evil and Fish Intestine are in Wu. Your Majesty still have Pure Edge and Great Tower."
Years ago, the Prince Ho Lu of Wu heard of the swords and asked Kou Chiang's father for some of the swords. Kou Chiang's father feared the might of Wu and gave Holu Trembling Reed, Defeater of Evil and Fish Intestine. Using Fish Intestine, Ho Lu assassinated his cousin the king and took the throne. Trembling Reed fell into a river and was acquired by the king of Chuh. King of Chin heard of this and asked for it. Even after a few wars, the king of Chuh still refused to give it up.
Hsieh 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."
Kou Chiang said "Are you saying my Pure Edge and Great Tower are not as good as Fu Chai's Defeater of Evil and Fish Intestine?"
Hsieh dare not admit that Kou Chiang's swords was inferior, but Kou Chiang knew the answer anyway.
Feng 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."
Hsieh said "I cannot forge swords anymore."
Feng Li asked "Why?"
Hsieh 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."
Kou Chiang said "Did you enemy cut away your fingers?"
Hsieh said "No, my fellow student did it." "Your fellow student? You mean Fong Hu-Tzu? Why did he doe it? Ah! It must be that you have greater skill than he. He beame jealous and cut away your fingers." Hsieh remained silent.
Ko Chiang said "I was thinking about inviting Fong from Chuh, but now I see he won't come because he fears your vengeance."
Hsieh said "Your Majesty is indeed wise, but Fong is no longer in Chuh. He is in Wu.
Ko Chiang said "He...He's in Wu? What's he doing there?"
Hsieh said "Three years ago, Fong 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 Chuh. 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 Chuh. That was one, the others were Dragon Spring and Ching Ah."
Kou Chiang said "Then the king of Chuh must have given it to Fong."
Hsieh said "Indirectly. Fong said that after the army of Wu broke the capital of Chuh. Wu Tzu-shi took the sword from the grave of the previous king. When he returned to Wu, he heard of the skills of Fong, so he gave the sword to him as a gift. He said the sword was a legacy from our master and that Fong was the rightful owner."
Kou Chiang said "Wu Tzu-Shi let the sword go? He is truly a great hero to let such a treasure go." Then he laughed "Fortunately, Fu Chai has already taken care of him for me." Then he asked "What did Wu Tzu-Shi wanted in return from Fong?"
Hsieh said "Wu Tzu-shi merely said that he admired our master. Fong felt grateful after he received the sword, so he went to Wu and thanked Wu Tzu-Shi in person. Wu Tzu-Shi treated as an honored guest."
Kou Chiang said "That's how he make people become loyal to him, even onto death."
Hsieh said "Your Majesty is wise, but Fong didn't understand Wu Tzu-shi's true intentions, so he asked again and again how he could repay the great favor done to him. Wu Tzu -Shi merely said he would not ask anything of an honored guest."
Kou Chiang said "The old fox!"
Hsieh said "Fong finally said to Wu Tzu-shi that he had little skill except forging swords. In return for Wu Tzu-Shi's favors, he will forge a few precious swords for him."
Kou slapped his thigh and said "Got him!"
Hsieh said "But Wu Tzu-shi said the kingdome of Wu already had many precious swords and needed no more. Besides, the forging of a precious sword is a tremendous labor. Years ago, when Keng Chiang and Mo Yeh were forging their sword, the sword refused to come into being until Mo Yeh flung herself into the fire. Wu Tzu-shi had no intention of repeating that kind of tragedy."
Kou Chiang said "He didn't want Fong to forge swords for him? Strange."
Hsieh said "Fong was baffled too. Then Wu Tzu-shi visited him again. They said that the army of Wu was fully capable of fighting with superpowers like the kingdoms of Chi and Jin. Wu's warriors were courageous, but their skills in chariot warfare were inferior. Moreover, their swords and spears were not sharp enough. Fong began to talk to Wu Tzu-Shi about the way of forging swords. What Wu Tzu-Shi wanted wasn't a few precious swords with mysterius powers, what he wanted was thousands and thousands of sharp swords."
Kou Chiang understood and looked at Feng Li and Wen Chung. Worry filled Wen Chung's face. He asked "Minister Feng, what do you think?"
Feng Li said "Even though Wu Tzu-shi is crafty, he is not wise enough to escape Your Majesty's schemes."
Kou Chiang laughed "I am afraid that I have never been Wu Tzu-shi's match."
Feng Li said "Wu Tzu-shi is already dead. What more can he do to threaten Yueh?"
Kou Chiang laughed "True. Hsieh Chu. Did Fong finally started forging swords?"
Hsieh said "Yes. He went to Mt. Mo Keng. He saw one thousand swordsmiths working there. He corrected and improved their techniques. After this, every sword in Wu is sharper than anything made in other kingdoms."
Kou Chiang nodded "So that's why."
Hsieh said "After one year, Fong became too fatigued to continue, so he told Wu Tzu-shi my name. Wu Tzu-shi readied lavish gifts and asked Fong to invite me to work for him as well. I remembered the hatred between Wu and Yueh. If Wu's sharp swords could kill the people of Chi and Jin, they could also kill the people of my home, so I counseled Fong not to return to Wu."
Kou nodded in approval "You have foresight."
Hsieh said "Thank for your praise, Your Majesty, but he didn't listen to me. That night he slept in my home. In the middle of the night, suddenly he put his sword at my neck, then he chopped off four of my fingers so I'll never forge another sword."
Kou Chiang became angry "If he fell into my hands, I would chop him into meat paste!"
Wen Chung said "Master Hsieh, even though you cannot forge swords by yourself, but you can teach our swordsmiths. We, too, can make as many sharp swords as the Wu swordsmiths."
Hsieh said "Minister Wen, both Yueh and Wu produce the necessary iron needed for sword blades, but Yueh produces copper and Wu produces zinc."
Feng Li said "Wu Tzu-Shi is guarding the zinc mines and forbids any private mining, is that right?"
Hsieh showed surprise on his face "So you knew already."
Feng Li smiled "No, I am merely speculating. Now that he's dead, his order may not be followed anymore. We now can purchase zinc, if we're willing to pay for it.."
Kou Chiang said "But a source of water far away cannot extinguish a nearby conflagration. By the time we gather all the materials, train the swordsmiths and start production, at least two or three years would have passed. That's not counting any setbacks along the way. If Fu Chai died before we're ready, wouldn't that be the greatest regret in our lives?"
Feng Li and Wen Chung bowed deeply "Yes, we will find another way."
Feng Li walked out of the palace, thinking "His Majesty couldn't wait two or three more years? Why, I can't even wait one more day...." A dull pain came to his chest as he remembered the image of that unmatched beauty which could stun the world.
Her name was Si Shi. She lived next to Huan Sha River He found that woman who gathered all the beauty of the land of Yueh into her person and he had to send her away into the palace of Wu.
The road from the capital of Yueh to the capital of Wu was not long, only a few days by river, but that was long enough for love to grow beyond control. The white face of Si Shi was full of pearl-like tears and her voice was soft as a whispering stream "Shao Bo, promise me that you will come and get me as soon as possible. I will wait for you, day and night. Say that you will never forget me, forever and ever."
Vengeance against Wu could wait, as far as Feng Li was concerned, but Yi Kwan,that's his name for Si Shi, was in the embrace of King Fu Chai. Love and jealousy gnawed at his heart. He must find to way to make as many sharp swords as possible, even sharper than those wielded by the invincible Wu swordmen....
He walked aimlessly on the street. Eighteen armed guards followed him faithfully.
Suddenly someone was singing a Wu song "My sword is sharp! My enemy has no courage! My sword is sharp! My enemy has no head!"
Eight men in blue, arm in arm, swaggered down the street, showing no concern for the pedestrians who were hurrying out of their way. They were the eight Wu swordmen. They were obviously very drunk.
Feng Li frowned. He could feel his anger rising.
The eight swordmen stopped in front of Feng Li. One of them looked sideways with his drunken eyes and said "You...you are Minister Feng?" Then he broke into uncontrollable giggles. Two guards leaped in front of Feng Li and said "Don't be so rude. Make way!"
The eight swordmen merely laughed and mimicked their words "Don't be so rude. Make way!"
Two guards pulled out their swords and cried "By royal decree, those who dare to interfere with Minister Feng's welfare is to be executed!"
One of the Wu swordman's body swayed as he said "Execute you, or me?"
Feng's mind was working. "They were the subjects of Wu. Even though they are rude. We cannot affford to fight them." Before he could tell his guards to pull back, a bright sword flashed. The guards screamed. Then their swords dropped to the ground. One of the Wu swordman returned his sword into the sheath, his face was full of gloating pride. The rest of Feng Li's guards pulled out their swords and surrounded the eight Wu swordmen.
The leader raised his head and laughed "We never planned to return to Wu alive anyway. Let's see how big an army you need in order to kill us!" With a shout, eight swords leaped out of their sheaths. Eight swordmen stood back to back, forming a circle.
Feng Li thought "If one could not endure small slights, then one would never achieve great things." He shouted "These eight are ambassadors from the Great Kingdom. Don't treat them with ill manners. Back!" Then he retreated to the side of the street. His guards were angry enough to spit fire from their eyes, but they dare not disobey him. Reluctantly they retreated to the side of the street as well.
The they heard the cries of a herd of goats. A young maiden dressed in pale green robe herded tens of goats down the street. The goats started to go around the eight Wu swordmen. One swordman was feeling cheated of a good fight, so his sword moved and a goat was neatly bisected. The cut was so neat that even the nose of the goat was severed into two precisely equal parts. His seven friends cheered. Even Feng Li could not fault his sword skill.
The young maiden's bamboo stick moved and herded the rest of goats behind her. Then she said "Why did you kill my goat?" The voice was feminine and clear, but it also contained anger.
The goat killer cut his sword into air a few times and laughed "Little girl, I will cut you into half just like this goat!"
Feng Li cried "Lady, please come over here. They are drunk."
The maiden said "Even if you are drunk, that's no excuse to behave rudely."
The swordman's sword circled above her head. "I was thinking of cutting off your head, but now I see you're quite pretty, so I changed my mind." His seven friends laughed again.
Feng Li looked at her. She had an oval face, long eyelashes and clear, white skin. Her face was pretty and her body was slende, even seemingly frail. He cried again "Lady, over here." The maiden said "Of course."
The Wu swordman's sword reached out toward toward her belt. "Why..." Before he could finished, the maiden's bamboo stick flickered and stabbed into his wrist. The swordman only felt a sudden pain on his wirst and dropped his sword. The bamboo stick raised upward, followed by another stab into the swordman's right eye. The swordman screamed as he covered his blinded eye.
The maiden's movement might be simple, but for some reason, the Wu swordman could not block or even avoid her bamboo stick. The other seven swordmen was much surprised. One of them pulled back his sword and thrusted it toward the maiden's right eye. As the sword sped forward, everyone could hear a loud whoosh, signaling the strength behind the thrust.
The maiden didn't even move her feet. Her bamboo stick moved again. This time she stabbed at the swordman's shoulder. The stab was so fast that although it started after the thrust, it arrived well before the thrust could reach her. The swordman cried out in pain as all the strength went out of his thrust. Then the maiden's wrist flicked and the bamboo stick went into his right eye. The swordman screamed like a butchered pig as his two fists waved aimlessly.
Now, the maiden made four moves and two Wu swordmen were disabled. The spectator only saw her making some movements with her bamboo stick. Even though she moved too fast to be seen clearly, but the technique she used was clearly derived from some sort of high sword skill. Feng was both surprised and gladdened, but now he saw that the maiden had to face six Wu swordmen. He hurriedly said "Swordmen of Wu. It would be bad for the honor of Wu if the six of you gang up on a defenseless girl. Even you win with you superior numbers......" He clapped his hands together. His guards leaped into the street and surrounded the Wu swordmen.
The maiden smiled "Even the odds of six against one is not enough for you." Her left hand lifted slightly. The bamboo stick on her right hand thrusted toward yet another swordman's eye. She moved her stick and stabbed toward another swordman's chest. Three swords sped toward her. She moved agilely and avoided all three sword, then she counterattacked. One swordman was stabbed on the wrist and lost hold on his sword.
Feng Li's guard was ready to leap into battle, but they could not penetrate into the sword net formed by the Wu swordmen.
The maiden moved between the six swordmen. Her long sleeves and long belt waved in the wind beautifully. Then the cries of pain came from one after another Wu swordmen as their swords dropped to the ground. The fight was over. Each of the Wu swordmen lost an eye. Some lost the right eye. Some lost the left eye.
The maiden pulled back her bamboo stick and said "You killed my goat. Now compensate me."
The Wu swordmen were angry and scared. Some were roaring in fury. Some were shivering in fear. These eight were battle-hardened veterans. Ordinarily they would not lose control of their demeanor even if someone cut of both of their hands, but what happened to them was so beyond their comprehension that they had not idea how they should act.
The maiden said "If you don't compensate me for my goat, I will take your other eye." The Wu swordmen jumped back involuntarily.
Feng Li said "Lady, I will give you one hundred goats, but let these eight men leave."
The maiden smiled "You're a nice man. I don't want one hundred goats. I only want one."
Feng Li said to the guard "Accompany the ambassadors from the Great Kingdom back to the palace. Summon the physicians to treat their wounds." The eight Wu swordmen left crestfallen, like cocks who had lost a fight.
Feng Li walked toward the maiden and said "Lady, what is your respected surname?" The maiden said "What did you say?" He rephrased the question "What is your name?" The maiden said "Oh, my name is Ah Ching. What is yours?"
Feng Li smiled and thought "So she is just a simple country girl unversed in courtly manners. Yet she learned this godlike sword skill. I only have to learn who her master is, then I can invite her teacher to train Yueh warriors. Wu will not be able to stand against us." His heart warmed as he realized that he's closer to bring Si Shi back. Then he said "I am called Feng Li. Lady, why don't you have a meal in my home?" Ah Ching said "No, I have to herd the goats to pasture." Feng Li said "I have a large lawn in my home. Your goats can feed there, then I will compensate you with ten fat goats."
Ah Ching clapped her hands together and laughed "You have a big lawn? Good, but I don't want any goat from you. You didn't kill this goat." She knelt to the ground and petted the dead goat. Then she said sadly "Old White, bad man killed you. I can't save you this time."
Feng Li ordered his guard "Sew the body back together and bury it next to this lady's house."
Ah Ching stood up. Her face was stained by tears, but her eyes was happy. "Feng Li, you won't let them eat Old White?"
Feng Li said "Of course not. That's your Old White. No one is permitted to eat him."
Ah Ching sighed "You are nice. I always hate to let other people kill my goats so they can eat the meat, but mother said that unless we sell our goat, we will not have money for rice."
Feng Li said "From today on, I will ask people to send your mother rice and good clothes. You don't have to sell your goats anymore."
Ah Ching became happy and embraced Feng Li "You are a good man."
Feng Li held her hand, afraid that she might disappear like some immortal from legend. The goats followed them back to his mansion.
As Ah Ching herded her goats into the mansion she said "Your house is so large! How can you live here alone?"
Feng Li smiled "Yes, I think this house is too big for me. Why don't you come live here with your mother? Who else do you have in your family?"
Ah Ching said "Just me and my mom. I don't know if my mom wants to come. She always says that I shouldn't talk to strange man, but you are a good man. You won't harm us."
Feng Li told Ah Ching to leave the goats in the garden and ordered his servants to pick out the best snacks for Ah Ching. The servants watched in shock as the goats devoured the expensive flowers in the garden. They were even more shocked when they observed their master watching the destruction with a happy smile.
Ah Ching ate the pastries and drank the tea. Feng Li talked with and discovered that she's innocent of the intrigues of the world. Finally he asked "Ah Ching, who taught you sword skills?"
Ah Ching's large, clear eyes opened wider and said "Sword skill? No one ever taught me anything."
Feng Li said "The way you used that bamboo stick. That's sword skill. Who taught that?"
Ah Ching shook her head "No one. I always knew how to play with the bamboo stick."
Feng Li saw that she was too innocent to lie and thought "Did heaven finally send down a miracle?" He asked again "Do you know how to play with this bamboo since you're a child?"
Ah Ching said "No. When I was thirteen, Grandpa White came to ride my goats. I wouldn't let him and beat him off with my bamboo stick. He returned with a bamboo stick. I then fought with him. At first, he always score hits on me and I can't score hits on him. I play this everyday. Now, I score hits on him most of the time and he can't score hits on me. He isn't coming back as often now."
Feng thought he finally hit something and said "Where does this Grandpa White live? Can you take me to him?"
Ah Ching said "He lives in the mountains. You can't find him. He usually comes and find me. I never tried to find him."
Feng Li said "I want to meet him. Is there a way?"
Ah Ching said "Hmm. You can follow me to pasture. We will wait for him on the mountain side. I don't know when he'll show though." She sighed "I haven't seen him for a while now."
Feng Li said to himself "This is for Yi Kwan and the kingdom of Yueh. A little goat herding won't hurt." so he said "Good, I'll accompany you and wait for Grandpa White." He thought "Grandpa White must be the sword sage who taught this girl. He must have loved her youth and innocence, so he used play to teach her. He could make a young girl into the such a great master, then he could make our warriors destroy Wu.
After the meal, Feng Li followed her to mountain pastures to her goats. His subordinates didn't understand the reason. They were all baffled. Day after day, Feng Li went with Ah Ching to herd goat and sang songs, waiting for Grandpa White.
On the fifth day, Wen Chung came to Feng Li's mansion and saw a very worried chamberlain. He asked "I haven't seen Minister Feng for a few days now. The King is worried and ordered to me to visit. Did Minister Feng come down sick?"
The chamberlain said "Minister Feng is healthy, but...but.."
"Minister Wen is the best friend of Miister Feng. You can say things to him that are not appropriate for us to say. Why don't you try to talk some sense into him?"
Wen Chung was baffled "Sense? What's wrong with Minister Feng?"
"Minister Feng fell love with that little shepherdess. Every morning he leaves with her and don't return until after sundown. He won't permit any guards following him. He will not be bothered even when I have urgent affairs."
Wen Chung laughed and thought "When Brother Feng was living in the kingdom of Chuh, everyone called him Feng the Crazy. He never does things like other people."
At that time, Feng Li was sitting on a mountain side grassland and telling Ah Ching the story of the goddess Hsiang Fei. Ah Ching was sitting close by his side and listened to him intent, her large bright eyese never left his face. Suddenly she said "Hsiang Fei is really that beautiful?"
Feng Li said "Her eyes are clearer and brighter than the water in this mountain stream..."
Ah Ching said "Does she have fish in her eyes?"
Feng Li continued "Her skin is like the clouds, but fairer."
Ah Ching said "Are there birds flying in those clouds?"
Feng Li continued obliviously "Her lips are softer than the petal of this flower and redder. Her lips are moist, even more than the dews on this petal. When Hsiang Fei stands next to the river, the beauty of her reflection made all the riverside flowers wilt in shame. Even fish dare not swim in water for fear of rumpling her reflection. When her white hand is dipped into the river, it was so soft that it could almost melt into the water..."
Ah Ching said "You saw her, didn't you. How else can you describe her so clearly?"
Feng Li said "I saw her. I saw her very, very clearly."
Of course, he was referring to Si Shi, not the goddess Hsiang Fei.
He looked at the north. His eyes looked beyond a wide, roaring river. Is the beauty in the royal palace of Wu. Is she with King Fu Chai? Is she thinking about me?
Ah Ching said "Feng Li! Your beard is strange, can I touch it?"
Feng Li thought "Is she weeping, or laughing?"
Ah Ching said "Feng Li, you have two strands of white beard, just like my goats."
Feng Li thought "When we're separated, she wept on my shoulder. Her tear soaked half of my robe. I never washed that robe. My tears were mingled with hers on that robe."
Ah Ching said "Feng Li. Can I pull out one of your beard? I will pull gently. You won't feel a thing."
Feng Li thought "She said she loved riding in a boat and float with the currents. After I take her back, I will not be a court minister anymore. I will ride a boat with her, floating in rivers and lakes, for the rest of my life."
Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain on his chin. Ah Ching pulled out a strand of his beard. She laughed prettily. Suddenly the laugh was cut off and she said "You're here again!"
A green shadow flashed as Ah Ching shot forward. A green blur and a white blur was moving quickly around each other.
Feng Li cried gladly "Grandpa White's here!" It's a while before the two combatants slowed down enough for him to get a good look. Then he got a great surprise.
The one fighting Ah Ching wasn't human. It was a white ape.
The white ape, too, was holding a bamboo stick. The white ape performed intricate sword forms. The whooshing sound of the stick signaled the great strength it put into each form. But everytime he attack, Ah Ching was always able to block or redirect each blow and counterattack using even more intricate sword forms.
When Ah Ching fought the Wu swordmen, the forms she used were minimal. Only now Feng Li witnessed the vast skill Ah Ching wielded. He was no expert in swords, but he had looked at the Yueh swordmen train for many years. Now, he realized that the best swordmen of Yueh were but children playing with toys when compared to Ah Ching and Grandpa.
The white ape's attacks sped up faster and faster. Ah Ching slowed down instead. She stood still, but each time she thrusted with her bamboo stick, the white ape was forced to jump back.
Ah Ching forced the white ape three steps, then she pulled back her stick and stood still. The white ape held his stick in two hands and jumped to attack. Feng Li saw the strength of the attack and cried out "Watch out!" Ah Ching's stick moved too fast to be seen. There were two muffled sounds of impact, then the white ape's bamboo stick dropped to the ground. The white ape howed and jumped up to a tree. Then it leaped away. The howl was intense, but became muter as the it went farther away. The howl reverberated long after the white ape was gone.
Ah Ching turned back and sighed "Grandpa broke both of his arms. Now he won't come play with me anymore."
Feng Li said "You broke his arms?"
Ah Ching nodded " Grandpa is very angry today. Three times, he tried to leap over and kill you."
Feng Li said in surprise "Kill me? Why?"
Ah Ching shook her head "I don't know."
Feng Li became scared in secret "If Ah Ching didn't stop it, that white ape can kill me, easy as blowing away a pile of ash!"
The next morning, Ah Ching faced twenty of the best swordmen of Yueh alone. Feng Li knew that Ah Ching could not teach other people how to use the sword the way she did, so the only way was for the Yueh swordmen to imitate her.
The problem was no Yueh swordmen could last three passes from her.Whenever Ah Ching's bamboo stick moved, her opponent either lost his sword, or got stabbed in some delicate area.
The next day, she defeated thirty swordmen. The third day, thirty more lost.
The fourth day, Feng Li went to ask her for another lesson, but he could not find her. He went to her home, but the house was empty. Feng Li sent hundreds of his servants and guards into the mountains to look for her, but no one could find any trace of her.
The eighty Yueh swordmen didn't learn the true sword skill from Ah Ching, but they saw the smallest portion of the ultimate sword skill. All the swordmen now knew the true height sword skill could go. The eighty swordmen tried to teach the small portion they could understand to their comrades. Even this pale shadow of a pale shadow of the ultimate skill was enough, Yueh swordmen became invincible.
King Kou Chiang ordered Hsieh Chu to forge thousands of sharp swords.
Three years later, Kou Chiang attacked Wu. The armies of Yueh and Wu met next to a lake. Five thousand Yueh swordmen marched forward. Wu swordmen met them. Yueh swords flashed and the Wu army was shattered.
King Fu Chai retreated to Yu Hong Mountain. The army of Yueh followed. The second battle ensued. The Wu army was again defeated. Fu Chai committed suicide in order to avoid the cruel fate Kou Chiang had in store for him. Yueh took the capital of Wu.
Feng Li led one thousand swordmen and rushed to King Fu Chai's resort palace. That was where Si Shi lived. He ran into the palace, shouting "Yi Kwan! Yi Kwan!"
He ran past a long corridor, his footstep echoed clearly. The corridor was hollow underneath. Si Shi walked lightly, the rhythm of her steps was more enchanting than any music. Fu Chai built this palace, this corridor in order to listen to the melody of her footsteps.
At the other end of the corridor, music came, like the sound of a happy mandolin, like the clear sound of a zither. A soft voice said "Shao Bo, is that really you?"
Feng Li felt blood rushing upward from his chest and shouted "It's I. It's I. I have come for you." His own voice seemed like the voice of a stranger, speaking from far away. He ran forward with uneven steps.
The music came down the corridor, a soft body entered his embrace.
The spring night was meltingly warm. Flower fragrance floated through the curtains, entering the chambers of the resort palace. Feng Li and Si Shi talked about their longing for each other.
Suddenly the sound goat penetrated into their awareness.
Feng LI said "You can't forget you homeland? You have goats here?"
Si Shi shook her head. She wondered about the goats, but she couldn't think of anything else in the presence of the man she loved. She held Feng Li's hand, and fiery blood flowed faster through their arteries.
Suddenly, the voice of a woman sounded "Feng Li! Bring out you Si Shi. I'll kill her!"
Feng Li stood up. Si Shi felt his palm suddenly turning cold. Feng Li recognized Ah Ching's voice. Her voice came from outside of the resort palace.
Feng Li was fearful and puzzled. "Why does she want to kill Yi Kwan? Yi Kwan had never wronged her." Then he understood "She's not really a simple village girl. She always liked me." The understanding only made him more fearful.
He had gone through many, many difficult decisions as well as dangerous situations. The fear he felt when he was trapped with Kou Chiang in a Wu siege was far less than what he felt now. Si Shi felt his palm trembbling and covered with cold sweat.
Feng Li was not afraid of his own death. He feared for Si Shi.
Feng Li pulled himself under control and said "I will go see this person." He released Si Shi's hand and walked out of the palace.
Eighteen swordmen followed him. They all heard Ah Ching's cry. They were baffled and curious. Feng Li oly saw the clear moonlight outside, but no one was visible. He cried out loudly "Lady Ah Ching, please come here. We have things to talk about." But he heard no reply. He waited, but Ah Ching did not come. He ordered one thousand armored soldiers and one thousand elite swordmen to be moved to the resort palace.
He returned to Si Shi and held her hands again. He didn't say anything. He was planning as he never planned before "Should I let one of the servant maids pretending to be Si Shi and let Ah Ching kill her? Should I commit suicide before Ah Ching so she will spare Si Shi? Should I order two thousand archers surrounding this place and shoot Ah Ching full of arrows if she tries to force her way in?" Every plan he had was flawed. He also didn't want to kill Ah Ching, who had made the destruction of Wu possible. He stared at Shi Si. Suddenly he felt warmth in his heart "It's good that we'll die this way. At least we spend sometime together before we die together."
Hours passed. Si Shi felt that Feng's hand became warmer. He lost his fear and began to smile.
The rising sun cast its rays through the window.
Suddenly the the sound of a fight came from outside the palace door. Then the incessant sound of weapons dropping to the ground. The sound drew closer and closer, like a giant serpent worming its way into the palace. Then the sound of dropping weapons came from the walkways just outside the room they were in. Two thousand warriors were not enough to stop Ah Ching.
Ah Ching's voice said "Feng Li, where are you?"
Feng Li said calmly "Ah Ching, I'm here."
Before he even finished the word "here", the curtain parted and a green shadow came flying in. Ah Ching, dressed in her usual green stood before them. She pointed her bamboo stick at Si Shi. She stared at the face of Shi Si, the killing rage on face gradually disappeared, replaced with disappointment and self-pity, then it changed to surprise, admiration and finally worship. She whispered "There...there really is such beauty under heaven! Feng Li, she is even more....more beautiful than you described." Her slender waist turned. With a cry, she flew up through the window. The cry went farther and farther until its reverberation was left.
The surviving guards ran inside the room. One of them bowed "Minister, are you all right?" Feng Li merely dismissed them with a wave of his hand. Then he held Si Shi's hand and said "Let's change into the clothes of commners. We'll go rowing a boat upon Lake Tai and never return to this place."
Happiness shone from Si Shi's eyes. Suddenly she frowned and she reached toward her heart. Ah Ching's bamboo stick didn't touch her, but the pure chi from the stick had reached into her body and did her some slight harm.
In the next two thousand years, all people know that the most beautiful image in the world was Si Shi holding her hands in front of her bosom.
Feng Li disappeared from history. Some said that he became a hermit. Some said that he became a merchant prince who owned the wealth of kingdoms. Si Shi became the Chinese version of Helen, the beauty who destroyed a great kingdom. Some said that Si Shi went with Feng Li and they lived happily ever after. Some said that Si Shi died when Kou Chiang's wife, fearing losing her husband, tied a rock to the woman's back and sank her in a lake, gloating "Now, you never have to grow old." You can pick the ending you prefer.
Kou Chiang became as Feng Li predicted, cruel and merciless. Wen Chung was forced to commit suicide when he was wrongfully charged with treason. The end he inflicted upon Wu Tzu-shi became his own end. Kou Chiang became full of pride. He made war with the great powers of northern China. The wars brought no decisive victory. Then he died. After his death his kingdom fell apart. Eventually, Chuh absorbed the territories of Wu and Yueh. The Yueh people fled south. Over the centuries, they were pushed farther south by the expanding Chinese empire until they entered present day Vietnam. They are there still.
Recently, an archaeological excavation in Hunan uncovered two bronze swords. One of them was thought to be the sword of Fu Chai. The other was attributed to be the sword owned by Kou Chiang. The legends of the precious swords have some basis in fact. If anyone know more about the archaeological findings, please e-mail me. The swords Fish Intestine and Defeater of Evil were buried with King Ho Lu, Fu Chai's father. The locals swore that they periodically saw a white tiger standing upon the tomb of Ho Lu. The white tiger was the symbol of metal, so the locals believe that the tiger was the personification of the magic swords under there. Believe it or not.
As for the Yueh Maiden, she never existed in real history. She always
existed in the land of legends and there, presumably, she roams still.
Doubtlessly she has performed many great deeds there, deeds which will
remain unknown until some scribe comes and tell the tales as they deserve
to be told.