Chapter 2: One Move Ahead
棋 高 一筹Qí gāo yīchóu
A hole, a rope, and a branch were all that was needed to hang up a man who had diligently trained his wugong* for thirteen years.
*(wugong-martial arts ability/skill)
Ding Peng was furious with himself. Why had he been so careless, so rash, so useless!
In fact, the orientation, distance, and power of this hole, this rope, and this branch were precise calculations that required not only a superior mind, but also years of experience to calculate with such precision.
The red-robed old man’s head was a lot bigger than the other’s, full of hair so white it was like silver, but his face was as ruddy as a baby’s, and his body was built like that of a fat child.
The other old man, however, was slight and thin, with a sullen face and a black robe. He looked like a shriveled fig.
The two men were completely engrossed, considering each move for a long time.
The sun gradually rose and went west, noon had long since passed. If not for this incident, Ding Peng would have already defeated Liu Ruosong and become famous in jianghu.
Unfortunately, he was still hanging from a tree.
How long were they going to keep playing chess? Were they thinking of a way to deal with him?
The sullen old man in the black robe, also played chest played chess sullenly. With the black chess piece in his hand, he considered his move for a long time, before slowly, gently letting it fall gently onto the board.
The red-robed old man stared at the move, beads of sweat breaking out on his head.
Anyone looking at the expression on this old man’s face knew that he had lost this game.
He’d played a little carelessly in this game. His mind had been divided*, He had deliberately conceded the match.
*[he was distracted]
The loser will always find many reasons to justify his loss. He will never admit defeat.
Of course, he wanted to play another game.
Unfortunately, the black-robed old man had already stood up and walked away without looking back.
The red-robed old man jumped up and shouted, calling after him.
“You can’t leave! We must play another game.” One of the two men was walking away and the other was chasing after him. They didn’t seem to be using qinggong ability*, nor were they walking very fast, but in the blink of an eye, the two men had disappeared without a trace.
(Qinggong-lightness skill-martial arts that allow someone to effortlessly move very fast, jump high, climb, etc. shēnfǎ- motion of one’s body in martial arts. I will translate this as ‘ability’, indicating when it is shenfa)
The little monkey in red had also disappeared from the on the tree across from him.
It was getting dark. It was beginning to seem like they were actually never coming back, as if they hadn’t even known that there was someone still dangling there.
They hadn’t looked at Ding Peng even once.
The deserted mountains were silent, night was gradually approaching, of course, no one else would come here.
A man hanging in such a place, could hang there for seven or eight days with no guarantee that anyone might come and rescue him.
It’s not uncommon, for a person who has been left hanging, to die.
Ding Peng was truly worried.
Not only was he worried, he was also cold and hungry, his head was throbbing and his limbs were numb.
He suddenly realized that he was simply a pig, the stupidest pig in the world, the unluckiest pig in the world.
Even he didn’t know how he had gotten so unlucky.
So far, he didn’t even know the girl’s first and last name, he had given her the only shirt he had ever owned, she had even eaten all his food. Now he had been strung up like a dead fish for her, and he didn’t know how long he was going to be stuck here.
He simply wanted to slap himself seventy or eighty times and cry again.
Unexpectedly, at this moment, the rope actually broke, and he dropped from midair. Though the fall was not light, it unsealed his acupoints.
Was it possible that someone had calculated all of this?
They merely wanted him to suffer for a while, not to be hung to death.
But they had no past grievances, no recent grudges, so why had they treated him like this?
He couldn’t believe it, nor could he figure it out.
Now the first thing he had to do was to pull the muck out of his mouth.
The second thing he had to do was to go back to that place quickly and ask the girl to clear things up. Unfortunately she had already left and taken the only shirt he had.
After parting, it was quite possible he may never see her again, and certainly not the old man in the red robe.
What was this all about?
He would probably never be able to figure it out in his lifetime.
The only thing he could do now was to go to Wansong Villa, shirtless, with an empty stomach, a foul smelling mouth and a belly full of grievances, to make amends.
Although it was already a little late to go now, it was better late than never.
If people asked him why he was late, he would have to make up a story to explain.
Because if he told the truth, people would never believe him.
The grandeur of the Wansong Villa was even more imposing than he had imagined. Even the gatekeeper who opened the door was dressed in a dignified patterned satin robe.
After learning that he was “Ding Peng shaoxia”, the gatekeeper was very polite to him, extremely polite. He never even glanced at his unclothed body, let alone the mud on his face.
*( shàoxiá-young hero)
The gatekeeper of a great man is usually a very polite, very decorous* person.
*[essentially someone well versed in the rigid social customs of the time]
But this decorum, this politeness, was more that a person could stand.
He was led into the reception hall, and the gatekeeper said courteously, “Ding shaoye^ has come too early, it’s still the fifteenth, and it’s not yet the sixteenth. The lord of the house* and those friends he invited should have been here, waiting to greet the young master. Even if we had to wait for three or five days, it’s really no big deal.”
*(he’s actually saying ‘our villa master’ or ‘our owner of the villa)
Ding Peng’s face was a little red, he shivered involuntarily and said, “I had already…” He had already made up a story but this very polite gatekeeper didn’t want to hear it, and very deliberately continued, “It’s just a pity that the lord of the house happens to have some business and must be in the city today.” He was smiling, smiling very politely, “The lord of the house has repeatedly instructed me to ask for young master Ding’s forgiveness, for he had only waited three shichen* before going out.” Ding Peng considered this.
*(Shíchen- time; one of the 12 two-hour periods of the day; 3 shichen is 6 hours)
He couldn’t blame Liu Ruosong. Regardless of who he was waiting for, he had waited for more than three shichen, which was more than any could expect.
But what about him?
He was now down to his last copper, with nothing to wear and he was starving.
Where could he go?
The gatekeeper was very courteous to him, but he had absolutely no intention of inviting him in.
Finally, Ding Peng finally couldn’t help but asking, “Can I wait here for him to return?”
The gatekeeper smiled, “If young master Ding wants to wait here, of course you can!” Ding Peng was relieved, yet the gatekeeper had already continued, "But we dare not let young master Ding stay.”
He was still grinning, “Because this time the lord of the house will be delayed outside for at least twenty to thirty days. How dare we make Ding shaoye wait here for twenty or thirty days?” Ding Peng’s heart sank again. The gatekeeper went on, “But the lord of the house has also given instructions that he will definitely return before the fifteenth day of next month, and he will be free then, even if he waits for three or five days.”
Ding Peng endured this and said, “Fine, I’ll come back next month on the fifteenth, and I’ll definitely come before noon.”
The gatekeeper smiled and said even more politely “I told you, the lord of the house will be free that day. It doesn’t matter if Ding shaoye is delayed.” Ding Peng turned around and rushed out without looking back. He really didn’t want to look at the smiling face of this courteous and well-mannered man. He couldn’t stand it. He vowed that one day, when he had fulfilled his ambition of becoming famous, he would come back and make this gatekeeper look at his smiling face. That would come later, but for now he couldn’t smile, as he didn’t know how he was going to spend the next month. Whatever else, he still had one copper coin. One copper coin could buy a hard cake, and by drinking plenty of cold water, he could fill his belly. But when he thought of taking out the last of his money, he realized that even that was gone. Had it just slipped out of the bag while he was hanging upside down? Nope. He suddenly remembered that he hadn’t put the copper in his moneybag. After buying the beef, he had put the coin in a small pocket on his shirt. Now the girl had gone with his clothes, and of course his last copper had gone with her. He didn’t even know her name. Ding Peng suddenly laughed, so much so that he almost burst into tears.
Night, summer night. Moonlit night.
The moon shone high, the sky was full of stars, the spring under the moonlight was like a ribbon of brocade. The evening breeze was filled with the fragrance of flowers, leaves, and a fragrance coming from the distant mountains. A moonlit night is naturally beautiful, the most beautiful of course being the full moon. A full moon, however, Ding Peng wished this round, full moon was a round, full charcoal grill. He wasn’t completely devoid of refinement, but one forgets the word refinement when one is too hungry. This was where he’d last met the girl, and he’d come back here only because he really had nowhere else to go. With his skills, it would be easy for him to steal and rob. But he mustn’t do such a thing; he mustn’t leave a stain on himself that could never be washed away. He must follow the righteous path to make a name for himself*. Could that copper have fallen out of his shirt? If he dropped it here, he might still be able to find it. He didn’t find the copper, but he did find a peanut. He carefully picked it up, split it in half, and was about to eat it, one piece at a time. Just then a girl suddenly leapt up like a gazelle being chased by a hunter and snatched the last peanut from his hand. This time however, Ding Peng did not feel unlucky, but rather jumped up in joy, “It’s you!” The girl who had caused so much trouble had returned.
Ding Peng had never expected to see her again. Under the moonlight, she seemed even more beautiful than she had that morning.
Although it was only the second time they had met, Ding Peng looked at her as if he were seeing a very close friend.
The girl also appeared very happy, and held Ding Peng’s hand firmly, as if afraid that he would suddenly slip away.
“I thought I’d never see you again.”
This was exactly what both of them had in their minds to say, and both of them said it at the same time.
Both of them laughed.
Ding Peng also held her hand tightly; as if he was also afraid that she would suddenly slip away.
But she looked at him and said, “Just now I was reminding myself that if I see you this time, I must remember one thing.”
“What is it?”, Ding Peng asked
She said sweetly, “Remember to ask your name.”
Ding Peng smiled again. He had just reminded himself that he must ask her name this time.
Her name was Kěxiào
(Kě-extremely; xiào-laugh, smile. Kěxiào-Ridiculous. Can also be laughable, very funny. There is a lot of word play around this name).
“You mean it’s ridiculous?”
“En*!” *(En-an interjection indicating agreement)
“Very possible, but a joke?”
Ding Peng smiled and said, “This name is really strange.”
Kexiao said, "It’s not only strange, but it’s ridiculous. Adding my last name makes it even more ridiculous.”
“What is your surname?”, asked Ding Peng
“My surname is Li.”
She sighed, “A person’s name is actually Li Kexiao (Plum Ridiculous), do you think it’s funny?” Ding Peng actually managed to refrain from laughing.
Kexiao said, “I really can’t understand how my father went and picked such a name for me?”
“Actually, there’s nothing wrong with this name."
She said, "But ever since I was a child, people have been asking me, ‘Li Kexiao, what’s so funny about you?’ As soon as I heard someone ask me that, I blew my top! How can you laugh?” Ding Peng could no longer help but to laugh.
But he was laughing at himself as well.
All the misfortunes of the day were completely forgotten in this one laugh.
Unfortunately, there were some other things that could not be forgotten, and even if they were forgotten for a moment, they would soon be remembered.
For example, hunger!
Laughing was not going to fill their bellies or solve their problems.
But Li Kexiao still had another problem.
She was still wearing Ding Peng’s shirt, the one that didn’t cover her figure completely.
The moonlight shone on the parts of her body that her clothes couldn’t cover, making her look even more attractive.
Ding Peng had more problems of his own.
But it was not about the road ahead; right now his main concern wasn’t himself, but her.
Li Kexiao said, “I know you must want to ask me why I asked you to go to that old man in red clothes. Why didn’t I wait here? Where have I been this half a day?” Ding Peng acknowledged she was right.
“But it’s best you don’t ask," she said
“Because even if you ask me, I will not tell you.” She took his hand again "“There are some things you are better off not knowing; the more a person knows, the more worries he’ll have. I don’t want to add to your worries.” Her hand was soft and smooth, her eyes gentle and sincere.
Even though Ding Peng had never been so close to a woman before, it was clear to him that she was being sincere. For Ding Peng, that was enough.
He also held her hand and said, “I’ll do as you say, if you don’t tell me, I won’t ask.”
Kexiao smiled sweetly, “But there is still something I want you to do for me.”
“What is it?”
“Down along this stream, there is a small house with green tiles on the roof.”
He asked, “You want me to go there?”
“I want you to go there now.”
“And then what?”
Kexiao said, "When you get there, someone will take you to the owner of the place. You must listen to what he says. What’s more, you must even do what he wants you to do.” She gazed at him, “You must trust me, I will never harm you.”
Ding Peng said, “I trust you.”
Li Kexiao smiled, “Are you going or not?” No, of course not, never. The last time he did something for her, the last time he’d gone to do a job for her, he’d suffered enough, he had enough regret. This time it was even more ridiculous, how could he go! Yet here he goes again. Last time it was ‘up the stream’, this time it was ‘down’; last time it was ‘an old man in a red shirt’, this time it was ‘a little house with green tiles’.
Last time he was hung up like a dead fish and ate a mouthful of mud. What would happen to him this time?
Would he have worse luck than last time?
He’d already spotted the little hut.
Under the moonlight, the small house seemed quiet and peaceful, who could tell what kind of trap there might be there. There were no traps in the small building, only soft lighting, ornate furnishings, and fine furniture.
If you had to say there was a trap in this place, it must be a tender trap.
A person could die in a tender trap, but at least it was better than dying from being hung from a tree.
The person who opened the door was a little girl with a big auburn braid and a lovely smile that revealed two large dimples.
Ding Peng thought she would’ve been scared and surprised that a large, half-naked stranger suddenly knocked on the door in the middle of the night.
Who would have thought that she wouldn’t look the least bit frightened? She just chuckled, as if she had known such a large, half-naked man was coming, “Who are you looking for?”
“I’m looking for the owner of this place.”
“I’ll take you there.” Not only did she readily agree, she took Ding Peng’s hand and left, as if she and Ding Peng were already old friends.
The owner was upstairs.
The upstairs room was more ornate, with a beaded curtain draped in the brocade boudoir. The owner was behind it.
It wasn’t that she was trying to be mysterious, but in the middle of the night a woman’s house is always a little wary of a strange adult man. Perhaps she had already changed her clothes and was ready for bed, and certainly didn’t want to be seen by a strange man.
Although Ding Peng was not very knowledgeable about the world, he understood this point quite well.
He already knew she was a woman, of course, for she spoke in a voice that, though a little husky, was coquettish and pleasant to the ear, “Who asked you to come to me?”
“It was a Li Zhanniang*.”
*(zhànniáng-some type of honorific for a woman)
“Who is she to you?”
“She’s my friend.”
“What did she say to you?”
“She says I have to do what you want me to do.”
“You will do what she says?”
“I’m sure she would never hurt me.”
“No matter what I want you to do, you will do it?”
“You’re her friend, so I trust you too.”
“Do you have any idea what I’m going to ask you to do?”
“I don’t know.”
The owner’s voice suddenly changed and became fierce, “I want to plunge you into a tub of very hot water, use a big brush to scrub all the mud off your body, put a new set clothes on you, cover your feet with a new pair of shoes, push you into a chair, and fill your belly with a pot of beef loin that has been cooking for hours, to the point where you won’t be able to walk.” Ding Peng laughed.
He had heard her voice.
Someone chuckled and walked out from behind the beaded curtain. It was Kexiao.
Ding Peng sighed deliberately and said, “I am good to you, why do you want to harm me like this?”
Kexiao put on a stern face and said, “Who told you to be so obedient? If I don’t hurt you, who will?”
“Actually, I’m not afraid of any of these things.”
“What are you afraid of?”, she asked.
He said, “I’m afraid of drinking, and if you fill me with a few catties of good aged Shao alcohol, you’ll really be hurting me.”
Aged good alcohol, braised beef.
If someone really were to use these things to harm someone, there would be many people who would be willing to be harmed.
Now Ding Peng had taken a hot bath and was fully clothed, head to toe, inside and out, in new clothes.
Only a belt had not been changed.
It was a belt sewn out of blue cloth, one inch wide and four feet long.
For a man already faint with hunger, the alcohol was a little too aged and the beef a little too fatty.
He really couldn’t walk anymore.
Kexiao sweetly said, “Now you know that you really shouldn’t be too good to me, because the better someone is to me, the more I want to harm him.”
Ding Peng sighed, “Actually I can’t be considered to have been very good to you, I merely gave you a shirt and treated you to a bit of cold beef and a cold mantou (steamed bun).”
Kexiao smiled, “What you gave me wasn’t a piece of clothing, but all your clothes. What you treated me to wasn’t a bit of beef, but all your food.” She gazed at him, her eyes filled with tenderness and gratitude, and said, “If a man gave you all he had, how would you treat him?” Ding Peng didn’t say anything.
He suddenly felt that life was still lovely and the world was still full of warmth.
Kexiao said, “If a man gave me everything he had, I would have only one way to deal with him.”
“What method?”, he asked.
She lowered her head and said softly, “I’ll give him everything I have, too.” She really did give him everything she had.
When Ding Peng woke up, she was still beside him, laying on his chest like a dove.
Looking at her black hair and snow-white neck, he felt only a happiness and satisfaction that he had never felt before. For this beautiful woman was now completely his. He was not only satisfied, but also proud, because now he was a real man. He didn’t know when she had woken up, looking at him with big, soft eyes.
He gently stroked her soft hair and murmured, “Do you have any idea what I’m thinking about?”
Kexiao asked “What are you thinking about?”
“I was thinking that if I were rich and famous, I would take you on a tour of the world and make everyone in the world envy us and be jealous of us. Then you would definitely feel proud of me as well.” He sighed and said, "Too bad I’m just a poor boy with nothing.”
Kexiao smiled beautifully, “I like the fact that you’re a poor boy.”
Ding Peng was silent and suddenly said aloud, “I forgot, I have something else I can give you.” He suddenly jumped up. From the pile of messy clothes under the bed, he found his trouser belt, "I want to give you this belt.”
Kexiao said softly, “As long as you give it to me, I will definitely treasure it.”
Ding Peng said, “I don’t want you to treasure it, I want you to cut it open.” Li Kexiao was also obedient. She cut open this belt, only to find a tattered and old piece of paper sewn inside. The paper was yellowing, and the top half of the page had simple diagrams drawn on it. The lower half of the page was densely packed with words. She only read two lines: "This move is the secret of Yu Ping’s life, breaking swords as easily as breaking bamboo. Qingping, Huashan, Songshan, Kongtong, Wudang, Huangshan, Diancang and other schools of swordsmanship, they will all be defeated by this move.”
After reading these two lines, she didn’t look any further, and asked with a smile: “Is this move really that powerful?”
Ding Peng said, “I wasn’t sure about this, and I didn’t dare to ask a real expert to try it, but now I already know. When Qingping, Huashan and Songyang’s swordsmanship meets this move, it’s like tofu meeting a fast sword, there’s no resistance at all.” He was impassioned and excited, "Once I defeat Liu Ruosong, I will go find someone even more famous than him.”
“One day, I’ll want all the famous swordsmen in the jianghu to be defeated by my sword, then I will become as famous as the Third Young Master of the Xie Family of the Divine Sword Villa."
After looking at it a couple more times, Kexiao returned the piece of paper and said, “This is your most precious possession, I can’t accept it.”
Ding Peng said, “I simply want to give you my most precious possession, why don’t you want it?”
She replied softly, “I’m a woman, I have no desire to fight with those famous swordsmen in jianghu. As long as you have the heart for it, I’m already happy.” She hugged him tightly and cooed softly, “I only care about you as a man.”
The full moon had already passed; soon the waning moon will be full again. As the days went by, Ding Peng had almost forgotten about his appointment with Liu Ruosong. But Kexiao hadn’t forgotten. “I remember you still have an appointment on the fifteenth of the seventh month.”
Ding Peng said, “When that day comes, I will go.”
Kexiao smiled, “It’s already the eighth day, you should go practice your sword these next few days. It would be best to go to another place to practice alone. I know that as soon as you see me, you’ll…you’ll think of other things.”
He laughed, “I’m thinking right now.” Li Kexiao didn’t laugh or say anything else. But when Ding Peng woke up the next day, she had left the little house, along with her smiling maid with the two deep dimples… leaving behind only a letter.
She asked Ding Peng to practice hard and conserve his strength in the next few days. They would meet again once his appointment on the fifteenth had passed.
This made Ding Peng even more grateful.
Although his heart was inevitably a little sad at their parting, when he thought that they would be together very soon, his spirit was lifted and he practiced his sword, trained his strength and exercised.
For her sake, this was a fight he could not afford to lose.
He found his strength had greatly improved. After a man has a woman, he can be regarded as a real man, just as the earth becomes richer and fuller after being nourished by rain.
By the fifteenth day of the seventh month, his spirit and physical strength had reached its peak.
For this battle, he already had the confidence and the certainty of victory.
It was the fifteenth of the seventh month.
The weather was clear and sunny, and Ding Peng’s mood was the same. He was so full of energy and vitality that even if the sky were to fall, he would still be able to survive.
The courteous and well-mannered gatekeeper of Wansong Villa was also taken aback upon seeing him.
Being able to be the gatekeeper of a prominent family is no easy task. It is one that requires not only a pair of eyes that can tell at a glance whether someone is poor or rich, but also a face that is naturally like a coffin board.
But now, not only was there an expression on his face, it was a very telling expression.
He couldn’t have imagined that this well-dressed, radiant young man was the unlucky-looking poor kid from last month.
Seeing his expression, Ding Peng was even more delighted.
After he defeated Liu Ruosong, the expression on this good fellow’s* face would definitely be even more pleasing.
*(honorific-akin to ‘my good man or ‘there’s a good fellow’)
The only thing troubling Ding Peng’s heart was that he and Liu Ruosong had no grievances and no grudges and he (Ding Peng) never wanted to ruin Liu Ruosong’s long-standing reputation.
Not only had he had heard that Liu Ruosong was a famous hero in jianghu, but that he was also well-liked, and considered a true gentleman.
Liu Ruosong was tall, slender, well-groomed, exquisitely dressed, refined and courteous. He was a very cultured, very elegant middle-aged man.
For most girls, this kind of man is far more attractive than young lads.
He made no mention of last month’s events, and also made a point of not mentioning that Ding Peng had come too early today.
Ding Peng had to admit that he was a gentleman.
His steps were steady, his movements agile, his fingers were long and powerful, and his reflexes quick.
This, in turn, made it impossible for Ding Peng to deny that he was a formidable opponent, and that his reputation in jianghu was not undeserved.
The martial arts training ground, paved with a layer fine sand, had been prepared earlier that morning. The weapon racks on both sides were filled with all sorts of gleaming blades, while six or seven rosewood chairs were placed in the shade of the trees.
[This scene should be familiar to anyone who has seen kungfu films. It is generally an open-air courtyard, lined with weapons racks, training equipment and a dais with chairs for the master & his guests to observe.]
Liu Ruosong explained, “There are a few friends who have long admired Ding Shaoxia’s* sword skill, and they all wanted to come and observe it. I took it upon myself to invite them, only hoping that Ding Shaoxia wouldn’t be offended.” Of course Ding Peng wouldn’t be offended.
*(young master Ding’s)
When a person becomes famous and shows his face, he always wants people to come and see him. The more people that come, the happier he is.
He just wanted to know, “Who are these people that are coming?”
Liu Ruosong said, “One is a senior in wulin*, Mr.** Zhong from Cangshan.”
*(Wulin-the martial world, martial arts social circles)
**(Xiān sheng-honorific for Mister, could also be teacher, doctor. Throughout this section, when you see Mr., this is what is being used.)
“Wind and Cloud Swordsman Zhong Zhan!”
Liu Ruosong smiled. “Unexpectedly, Ding shaoxia knows this old gentleman.” Of course Ding Peng knew that Zhong Zhan’s integrity and his sword skills were equally respected.
It was really Ding Peng’s luck to have someone of his caliber as a witness to this battle.
Liu Ruosong said, “Mei Hua laoren* and Mo Zhuo will also be here. In jianghu we are known as the Three Friends of Suihan (Age and Cold). Actually, I don’t dare (be so presumptuous as to accept this honor).” He smiled again, showing a smugness that even a gentleman would find hard to avoid, “There is also Mr. Xie^, who is not well known in jianghu, as he rarely ventures about.” He smiled again, "The people of Divine Sword Villa rarely roam about in jianghu.”
*(Mei Hua-Plum Blossom; laoren-Old man-formal address for an older man)
^(Xiān sheng again)
Ding Peng was impressed, “The Divine Sword Villa? This Mr. Xie is someone from the Divine Sword Villa?”
Liu Ruosong replied indifferently, "Yes.” Ding Peng’s heart began to pound. For a young man learning swordsmanship, the words ‘Divine Sword Villa’ themselves had a shocking effect on the heart.
Divine Sword Villa, Cuiyun (Jade Cloud) Peak, Lushui (Green Water) Lake, Xie Clan. The third young master of the Xie family, Xie Xiaofeng. The divine sword among swords, the sword god among men. Was this Mr. Xie, who was coming today, him?
The first one to arrive was Cangshan’s Zhong Zhan. The Wind & Cloud Swordsman had long been famous. Even Liu Ruosong called him old mister. But he didn’t seem that old; his back was still ramrod straight, his hair was still black, and his eyes were still bright.