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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 12

 Chapter 12: Forevermore Intoxicated
The small boat weaved its way past a copse of weeping willows. Far in the distant, a reflection of crimson blossoming flowers could be seen in the water, as glorious as rosy clouds in the sky. Duan Yu let out an exclamatory ‘Ah!’ of appreciation.

Ah Zhu asked, “What’s wrong?” Pointing to the blossoming flowers, Duan Yu said, “These are the camellia flowers native to Dali. How is it that this type of ‘Dian tea-leaves’ exist in the middle of Lake Taihu as well?” Camellia flowers of Yunnan province were the most famous of all, and were known as ‘Dian tea-leaves’ [Dian is another name for Yunnan]. Ah Zhu asked, “Really? This place is known as the Highland Manor of the Mantuo Flowers. It’s filled with camellia leaves.” Duan Yu thought to himself, “Camellia flowers are also known as ‘jade leaves’, but a third name for them is ‘mantuo flowers’. Since this place is named after camellia flowers, it should be interesting for me to see what famous techniques they use to cultivate them here.”

Rowing the oars, Ah Zhu sent the boat speeding directly towards the midst of the camellia flowers. As soon as they reached the shore, Duan Yu cast a glance at the land, but all he could see was red and white camellia flowers, with no buildings anywhere in sight. Duan Yu was raised in Dali, where camellia flowers were commonly seen everywhere. He didn’t think the sight was particularly extraordinary at all, and thought to himself, “Although there are a lot of camellia flowers here, none of them appear to be of a high quality. I imagine that the best specimens are probably within the manor itself.

Ah Zhu pulled the boat ashore and smiled. “Young gentleman Duan, we’ll go inside for a bit. We’ll come back out very shortly.” Holding Ah Bi’s hand, she prepared to jump ashore. But suddenly, the scattered sounds of footsteps could be heard, and a servant girl dressed in green appeared.
The girl was holding a bunch of flowers and plants in her hands. Upon seeing Ah Bi and Ah Zhu, she hurriedly rushed towards them, her face filled with happiness. “Ah Zhu, Ah Bi, you two are really too daring! You snuck over here again! The madame said, ‘Use a knife to cut a cross on the faces of those two girls and ruin their flower-like, pure-as-jade complexions.’” Ah Zhu laughed. “Sister Youcao, is the madame at home?” [The exact phrase Ah Zhu uses is not ‘madame’, but ‘maternal uncle’s wife’, which is her relationship to Murong Fu.] The servant girl, Youcao, cast a few glances at Duan Yu, turned her head towards Ah Zhu and Ah Bi, then laughed, “The madame also said, ‘Those two brats also brought a strange man to the Highland Manor of the Camellias. Go and chop off that man’s legs immediately!” Before she finished the sentence, she began to laugh out loud.

Patting her heart, Ah Bi said, “Sister Youcao, don’t scare us! Is that really true?”

Ah Zhu laughed, “Ah Bi, don’t be scared. If the madame was really at home, how would this girl have the courage to be so impish and mischievious? Little sister Youcao, where did the madame go?” Youcao laughed, “Pooh! How old are you? Are you fit to be my big sister? Clever little demon that you are, you actually managed to guess that the madame isn’t at home.” She let out a light sigh. “Sister Ah Zhu and Ah Bi, it’s such a rare occasion that you two can come visit. I really want to keep you two here for a few days, but…” As she spoke, she shook her head. Ah Bi said, “I really want to spend some extra time with you too! Sister Youcao, whenever you are able to come pay a visit to us, I’ll accompany you three days and three nights without even getting sleepy, alright?” As they spoke, Ah Zhu and Ah Bi went ashore. Ah Bi whispered quietly into Youcao’s ears. Youcao let out a sudden laugh, then glanced at Duan Yu. Ah Bi immediately blushed scarlet. Pulling Ah Zhu with one hand and Ah Bi with the other, she laughed, “Let’s go inside.” Ah Bi turned her head and said, “Young gentleman Duan, please wait and rest here for a bit. We’ll be back soon.”

Duan Yu replied, “Okay!” He watched as the three girls happily walked hand-in-hand into the forest of flowers.
He too walked ashore. After first checking to make sure no one was about, he relieved himself by the side of a tall tree. He sat next to the boat for a while, slowly growing bored. He thought to himself, “Why don’t I go check out what types of extraordinary camellia flowers they have here?” He began to stroll around and view the sights. Aside from camellia flowers, there were no other flowers or plants here, not even the most commonly seen plants such as the morning-glory, climbing roses, or red roses. But all of the camellia flowers were very mundane and not the least bit extraordinary. The only thing extraordinary was their quantity. After walking for one or two hundred meters, the diversity of the camellias improved, and occasionally there were some high-quality ones, but even those were not planted properly. He thought to himself, “This manor is named after camellia flowers, but they have absolutely ruined these perfectly fine camellias.”

Then, he thought to himself, “I need to go back. If Ah Zhu and Ah Bi can’t find me upon returning, they’d be really worried.” Turning around, he headed back, but after taking a few steps, he exclaimed to himself, “How terrible!” During his journey through the sea of flowers, he had only paid attention to the scenery, and not to the path he had taken. Two small roads forked away from each other, one headed east, the other headed west. He didn’t know which one was the road he had originally taken. It would be a bit difficult for him to retrace his steps and return to the place where the boat was anchored. He thought to himself, “Let me go to the water’s edge first.”

But the farther he walked, the more he felt he was going in the wrong direction. All of the camellias he saw were new ones that he hadn’t seen previously. Just as he was starting to get worried, he suddenly heard someone speaking from a forested area to his left. It was Ah Zhu’s voice. Duan Yu was overjoyed. He thought to himself, “I’ll wait here for them a while. After they’re done chatting, we’ll leave together.”

He heard Ah Zhu say, “The young master is in good health and has a healthy appetite. These past two months, he has been practicing the ‘Dog Beating Staff’ technique of the Beggar’s Clan. It seems he will soon spar with the members of the Beggar’s Clan.” Duan Yu thought to himself, “Ah Zhu is talking about the affairs of young master Murong. I shouldn’t
eavesdrop on other people’s private affairs, and should walk a bit farther away. But I can’t go too far, or else I won’t know when they are done talking.”

Just at this moment, he heard the sound of a gentle sigh from a female voice.

Instantly, Duan Yu’s entire body involuntarily trembled. His heart began to beat frantically, and he thought to himself, “What an incredibly lovely sigh that was! How can there be such a beautiful sound in the world?” That voice gently asked, “Where is he headed this time?” After having heard her let out a sigh, Duan Yu’s mind was shaken. Now, hearing her say this sentence, he felt as though all the blood in his body was boiling. He felt a sour, bitter feeling in his heart, and an unspeakable degree of envy and jealousy. “She clearly is asking about young master Murong. She’s so concerned about him and cares so much about him. Young master Murong, how is it that you have been blessed with such incredibly good fortune?”

Ah Zhu said, “When the young master left, he said he was headed to Luoyang to meet with some masters of the Beggar’s Clan. Big Brother Deng went with him as well. Miss, set your heart at ease.”

The female slowly said, “The Beggar’s Clan possesses two divine skills: The ‘Dog Beating Staff’ technique, and the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ technique. These two are secret skills which are not taught to others. Even if we compile all of the information in your ‘Water Pavilion of Bestowal and Repayment’ and our ‘Jade Cavern Library’, we would only be able to piece together some fragmentary, incomplete staff techniques and palm techniques. We would have no information at all about how the internal energy is supposed to be generated. How, exactly, does your young master practice the technique?” [Note: The ‘library’ in ‘Jade Cavern Library’ comes from a character ‘huan’ that is typically used to refer to a library of fairies and immortal sages that contains many precious, rare, and often mystical books. The name is a very elegant one, but very difficult to reproduce while being both ‘fluid’ and ‘complete in meaning’, and I have translated it on the basis of the former.]
Ah Zhu said, “The young master said, ‘The internal energy component of the ‘Dog Beating Staff’ was invented by human beings. Why can’t I figure out how it works on my own? Since I possess the staff techniques, it shouldn’t be too hard for me to understand the internal energy component.’” Duan Yu said, “Young master Murong’s words make some sense. He probably is an extremely talented, extremely ambitious person.”

That female let out yet another soft sigh. “Even if he’s able to figure it out, it would take eight or ten years. How can it be accomplished in such a short time? Did you see the young master practicing the technique? Were there any sluggish, awkward-looking parts?” Ah Zhu replied, “The staff technique was executed extremely quickly by the young master. From the beginning to the end, he executed it smoothly and gracefully.” The female let out a cry. “That’s not good! He…he really executed the technique very quickly?” Ah Zhu said, “Yes, why? Is that wrong?” The female said, “Naturally, that’s wrong. Although I don’t know the internal energy component to the Dog Beating Staff, judging from the staff techniques themselves, there are several parts where the slower the techniques are executed, the better. There are some other parts which fluctuate between being slow and being fast; in the fast movements there is hidden slowness, and within the slow movements quickness is hidden. There’s no question about that. He…if he just focuses on executing the technique very quickly in fighting with the experts of the Beggar’s Clan, I fear…I fear…you two… can you think of a way to bring a message to him?”

Ah Zhu let out a groan. “We don’t know what route the young master is taking or where he is passing by. We don’t even know if he’s already met with the elders of the Beggar’s Clan. Before he left, the young master said that the Beggar’s Clan was wrongly accusing him of having murdered their Vice-Clan Leader, a man surnamed Ma. His purpose in going to Luoyang was to defend himself against these chargers, and not necessarily to fight against them. Otherwise, he and brother Deng, despite being heroes, would be unable to overcome the sheer advantage in numbers which the Beggar’s Clan possesses. I’m just worried that he wouldn’t be able to fully explain everything, and that the two sides will become estranged…” Ah Bi said, “Miss, is it really so improper for him to execute the Dog Beating Staff technique very quickly?” The female said, “Naturally, it is definitely
improper. What else is there to say? He…why didn’t he come and visit me before leaving?” As she spoke, she lightly stamped her feet, seemingly very agitated and deeply concerned, but her voice remained tender, soft, and lovely to hear.

Duan Yu was extremely astonished. He thought to himself, “In Dali, everyone spoke of ‘Gusu’s Murong family’ with the utmost reverence and fear. But from the words of this girl, it sounds as though young master Murong needs her advice and her pointers on martial arts. Can it be that such a young girl possesses such an incredibly high level of ability?” Lost in thought, he suddenly bumped his head into a tree branch. He couldn’t help but let out a cry. He hurriedly shut his mouth, but it was too late. The female asked, “Who is it?”

Duan Yu knew that he was unable to hide, and so coughed and said from within the thicket, “I am Duan Yu. I was touring your respected manor’s camellias, and accidentally arrived here. Please forgive me.”

The female said in a low voice, “Ah Zhu, is it the gentleman who arrived with you two?” Ah Zhu hurriedly said, “It is. Miss, don’t mind him. We’ll leave immediately.” The female said, “Wait. I’m going to write him a letter and explain to him that if he really gets into a fight against the Beggar’s Clan, he must not use the Dog Beating Staff technique no matter what. He needs to use his own original skills. Even if he’s unable to ‘Use the opponent’s skills, and exercise them upon the opponent’, there’s no other option. Take the letter and think of a way to get it to him.” Ah Zhu hesitantly said, “This….well…the madame once gave orders…”

The female said, “What? You only obey the madame’s commands and ignore mine?” In her voice was the slightest hint of anger. Ah Zhu hurriedly said, “Miss, as long as you keep the madame from finding out, your humble servant will naturally follow your orders, especially seeing as how this is beneficial to our master.” The female said, “Come with me to the study room to prepare the letter.” Ah Zhu still seemed very hesitant, and only reluctantly said, “Alright.”

After hearing that first sigh, Duan Yu was becoming only more and more enthralled by this girl. Hearing that she was about to leave, he feared that he
would never be able to meet her again. This would be something which he would regret all his life. Even if it were to mean risking being blamed as too forward and bold, he had to see this girl with his own eyes. Summoning up his courage, he said, “Sister Ah Bi, can you stay here with me for a bit?” As he spoke, he walked out from the thicket.

Upon hearing him walk towards them, the female let out a startled cry and hurriedly turned her back to him.

After leaving the thicket, Duan Yu saw a maiden who wore a pale, pinkish gray garment. Her face was turned towards the flowers, her form was slim and slender, with long hair hanging over her back and gently tied together with a silvery hairpin. Gazing at this maiden’s back, Duan Yu couldn’t help but feel as though she was enveloped by light mist and clouds, as though she really weren’t a person of the mortal world at all. He deeply bowed and said, “Duan Yu pays his respects to you, miss.”

The girl stamped on the ground with her left foot. “Ah Zhu, Ah Bi, this is all your fault. You know I do not associate with male strangers.” As she spoke, she walked forwards. After a few twists and turns, her form gradually disappeared within the dense growth of camellia flowers.

A small smile on her lips, Ah Bi said, “Young gentleman Duan, this young lady has a really bad temper. Let’s leave quickly.” Ah Zhu also softly laughed, “Thank you very much for rescuing us from this predicament. If you hadn’t, Ms. Wang would have forced us to deliver a message on her behalf. Our petty little lives would have been put at risk.”

Duan Yu had summoned all of his courage to rush out like that, but then was scolded by the girl. He felt deeply snubbed, and was worried that Ah Zhu and Ah Bi would blame him as well. He didn’t expect that the two of them would actually be grateful towards him instead. Only, although that maiden was by now far away, her pretty shadow still seemed to be before his eyes, filling his heart with melancholy. He dully watched as her back disappeared into the clusters of flowers.

Ah Bi gently tugged on his sleeves, but Duan Yu still remained in a daze. Ah Zhu laughed, “Young gentleman Duan, let’s go!” Duan Yu’s entire body
jumped. Only after calming himself did he say, “Right, right. Are we really leaving?” Ah Zhu and Ah Bi walked in the front, leaving him with no option but to follow them. With each step he took, he looked back, filled with a reluctance to leave.

The three of them returned to their small boat. Ah Zhu and Ah Bi picked up their oars and rowed out. Duan Yu gazed at the camellias on the shore, thinking to himself, “If I, Duan Yu, am an unlucky man, how could I have had the great fortune to hear that girl’s sighs and her words, much less see her goddess-like form? But if I am a lucky man, why is it that I didn’t even have the chance to see her face?” As the camellias grew more and more distant, his heart became more and more downcast as well.

Suddenly, Ah Zhu let out a startled cry. “The madame…the madame has returned.” Turning his head, Duan Yu saw a fast ship flying towards them. In the blink of an eye, it drew near. On the front of the ship’s bow was painted an innumerable amount of multicolored flowers. When the boat drew nearer, it became evident that these, too, were camellia flowers. Ah Zhu and Ah Bi stood up, bowing their heads and staring at their feet, appearing to be extremely respectful. Ah Bi repeatedly gestured towards Duan Yu, telling him to stand up as well. Smiling, Duan Yu shook his head. “After the master comes out and speaks, I will naturally rise to my feet. A real man cannot be too humble and modest.”

A female voice shouted out from the fast ship, “What male has the audacity to charge into the Highland Manor of the Camellias? Can it be that he doesn’t know that any male who comes uninvited will have both his legs cut off?” The voice was very stately and majestic, but was also very clear, melodious, and pleasing to the ear. Duan Yu replied in a loud and clear voice, “I am Duan Yu. I temporarily took refuge in your honored abode, and had no intention of charging in. I sincerely thank you.” The woman said, “Your last name is Duan?”

In her voice was a hint of astonishment. Duan Yu replied, “Precisely so!”

The woman said, “Hmph! Ah Zhu, Ah Bi, so it’s you two brats. That boy, Murong Fu, refuses to learn how to act properly. Sneaking and sly, he specializes in doing bad things!” Ah Zhu replied, “Reporting to madame,
this servant was pursued by enemies and passed by the Highland Manor of the Camellias. Our young master has left, and this matter truly has nothing to do with him at all.” The woman laughed coldly. “Hmph. Nothing more than sweet words and blandishments. Don’t be so hasty to leave. Come with me.” Ah Zhu and Ah Bi replied simultaneously, “Yes, madame.” They paddled their small boat towards the fast ship. Actually, they had not travelled too far from the manor, and in a short time both ships successively docked at the shore.

The sound of jewelry clinking against each other could be heard, and many females in green clothes exited the fast ship. All of them were dressed as servants, and each of them wielded a longsword in their hands. In the twinkling of an eye, their bared swords covered the ground like frost, light of their blades reflecting onto the flowers. Nine pairs of servants came out in total. The eighteen of them formed two lines, holding their swords at waist-level, pointed upwards. After they finished lining up, a woman left the ship.

Upon seeing this woman’s appearance, Duan Yu couldn’t help but let out an involuntarily cry of startlement. He was temporarily tongue-tied, feeling as though he had entered the dream world. This woman was dressed in light yellow. In her clothes and in her decorations, she seemed exceedingly similar to the jade statue within the cavern with Mt. Wuliang of Dali. Only, this female was a beautiful married woman who appeared to be not quite forty years of age, whereas the jade statue portrayed a girl of eighteen or nineteen. After his initial surprise, Duan Yu took another look at this beautiful woman. Compared to the jade statue, her eyebrows, lips, and nose were not as peerlessly gorgeous, and obviously there was an age difference as well. In addition, her face showed the marks of hardship suffered during her journey through life. Nonetheless, there was still a fifty or sixty percent resemblance. Seeing him stare at Madame Wang without blinking, Ah Zhu and Ah Bi felt that he was really being too impolite, and in their hearts both of them were groaning. They repeatedly gestured towards him, telling him not to stare, but Duan Yu’s eyes remained fixed on Madame Wang’s face.

The woman glanced at him, then coldly said, “This person is totally without courtesy. Later, chop off both his legs, gouge out his eyes, and rip out his
tongue.” A servant bowed and said, “Yes!”

Duan Yu’s heart sunk. “If she really wants to kill me, fine. But to chop off my legs, gouge out my eyes, and tear out my tongue, putting me in a half- dead, half-living state, would be a really, really bad thing.” Only now did fear truly enter his heart. Turning around, he glanced at Ah Zhu and Ah Bi. Both of their faces had turned a deathly pale color and were transfixed with fear.

After Madame Wang left the cabin, two more servant girls followed her out, each holding a set of metal chains in their hands. They dragged two chained males from within the cabin. Both of the males were bound by their hands and appeared to be very dejected. One man had a delicate and pretty face, seeming like a scion of a wealthy family. The other person, Duan Yu recognized. He was a disciple of Mt. Wuliang’s Sword Sect named Tang Guangxiong. Duan Yu was amazed. “This person resides in Dali. How is it that he was captured by Madame Wang and brought to Jiangnan?”

Madame Wang said to Tang Guangxiong, “You are obviously from Dali. Why do you deny it?” Tang Guangxiong said, “I’m from Yunnan. My hometown is within the borders of the Great Song and is not part of Dali.” Madame Wang asked, “How far is your hometown from Dali?” Tang Guangxiong said, “Four hundred li or so.” Madame Wang said, “If you aren’t over five hundred li away, you might as well be considered a person of Dali. Bury him alive beneath our camellias as fertilizer.” Tang Guangxiong loudly shouted, “What on earth have I done? Tell me clearly, otherwise I will not be able to close my eyes even in death.” Madame Wang coldly laughed, “Anyone I meet who is from Dali or who has the surname Duan will be buried alive. Why did you come to Suzhou? After you did come to Suzhou, how dare you speak with a Dali accent and make a loud commotion at the upstairs of the tavern? Even though you aren’t from Dali yourself, you are a neighbor of Dali. I’ll treat you the same way I would treat them.”

Duan Yu said to himself, “Ah hah, you obviously are directing that to me. There’s no need for you to ask, I’ll just admit it point-blank.” He loudly shouted, “I am from Dali, and my surname is Duan. If you want to bury me, go ahead and be quick about it!” Madame Wang coldly said, “You already
reported your name, saying that you are called Duan Yu. Hmph. No person from Dali who is of the Duan family will be allowed to die so easily.”

She waved her hand, and a slave girl pulled Tang Guangming away. Tang Guangming must have had his acupoints sealed or sustained severe injuries; he wasn’t able to resist in the slightest. He only shouted, “There’s no such rule in the world! There are millions of people within Dali, can you kill them all?” But as he was dragged deeper and deeper into the sea of flowers, his voice gradually grew faint, then disappeared.

Madame Wang inclined her head slightly and said to the delicate looking man, “What do you have to say yourself?” That man suddenly fell to both his knees, kneeling in front of her. “My father is an official in Beijing, and I am his only son. Madame, I beg you to spare my life. If you have any instructions, my father will definitely carry them out.” Madame Wang coldly said, “Your father is a powerful official within the imperial court. Do you think I don’t know that? There’s an easy way for you to be spared. This very day, go back to your home and immediately kill your official wife. Then, tomorrow, immediately marry your secret lover, Ms. Miao, and take her as your wife. The wedding ceremony needs to be complete and done properly; the six ceremonial rites must be conducted, and the three documents must be completed. Will you accept?” The man said, “This…I can’t really bear to kill my wife, and my father and mother would definitely not allow me to formally marry Ms. Miao. Isn’t this my…” Madame Wang said, “Take him away and bury him alive!” The servant holding his chain said, “Yes!” Tugging at the chain, she started to drag him away. The man was so frightened, his entire body quivered. “I…I agree, alright?” Madame Wang said, “Xiaocui, escort him to Suzhou. I want you to personally witness him killing his wife and marrying Ms. Miao returning.” Xiaocui replied, “Yes!” She dragged the man towards another small boat on the shore.

The man begged, “Madame, be merciful. My wife has no enmity with you, and you don’t know Ms. Miao. Why must you help her like this and force me to kill my wife? I…I’ve never been acquainted with you, much less… much less have dared to offend you.” Madame Wang said, “Since you already have a wife, you shouldn’t have entangled yourself with another
maiden. Since you deceived the girl with your flower words and lies, then you definitely must take her as your wife. If I don’t hear about these types of things happening, then no matter. But if I do find out, then of course I will handle the situation. You aren’t the first one I’ve done this to. What do you have to grumble about? Xiaocui, how many times have we done this?” Xiaocui said, “I have done this seven times at places such as Changshou, Danyang, Wuxi, and Jiaxing. Xiaolan and Xiaoshi have also overseen a few of these events.”

Hearing that this was how she always handled this sort of affairs, that man could only moan and groan. Rowing the oars, Xiaocui propelled her boat off into the distance.

Seeing how this Madame Wang handled matters in totally irrational ways, Duan Yu was boggled, totally struck dumb. The only thing which filled his mind was four words. “This is absolutely preposterous.” Unconsciously, he blurted those words out. “This is absolutely preposterous. This is absolutely preposterous!” Madame Wang let out a humph. “There are even more absolutely preposterous things in the world. Many more!”

Duan Yu was both disappointed and miserable. That day, when he found the statue of his dear goddess within the jade cavern of Mt. Wuliang, his heart was filled with admiration. The person in front of him appeared similar to the jade statue, but in speech and demeanor acted as though she were a demoness or an evil spirit.

Lowering his head, he was lost in thought. Four servant girls left the cabin of the fast ship, each holding a vase of flowers. Duan Yu, upon seeing them, was startled. All four vases were filled with rare, famous, and extremely difficult to obtain breeds of camellia flowers. Dali possessed more and better camellia flowers than any other place in the world, and within the South-Subduing Palace alone were innumerable camellias. Duan Yu was long since used to seeing them. When bored, he would listen to the ten famous gardeners who served at the palace comment on and appraise the camellias. Naturally, he fully understood the differences between superb breeds of camellias and poor breeds. His understanding in this field was as deep as that of a farmer’s understanding of the differences between beans and wheat, or a fisherman’s understanding of the difference between fish
and shrimp. After strolling about the Highland Manor of the Camellias for some time, he was unable to find a single truly outstanding breed of camellias, and had long since decided that the manor did not live up to its name. But at this moment, seeing those four vases, he inwardly said, “Now that is more like it.”

Madame Wang said, “Xiaocha, it was very difficult for us to obtain these four ‘Full Moon’ [Manyue] camellias. They need to be taken good care of.” The servant named Xiaocha said, “Yes!” Duan Yu felt that these words were too amateurish and let out a sneer. Madame Wang said, “Because the wind on the lake was too strong, we’ve kept these four flowers within the cabin for many days now. It’s been a while since they’ve gotten some sunlight. Quick, take them to a place where they can drink in some sunlight. Add some extra fertilizer as well.” Xiaocha repeated, “Yes!” Duan Yu could no longer hold in his mirth, and began to roar with laughter.

Madame Wang felt that his laughter was weird and asked, “What are you laughing at?” Duan Yu replied, “I laugh at the fact that you know nothing about camellias, but insist on planting them. For such an exquisite specimen to fall into your hands is truly a waste, like burning a zither for firewood or cooking a crane for meat. This really disheartens me! What a pity, what a waste. I feel so sorry for it.” Madame Wang angrily said, “I don’t know anything about camellias? So you do?” But suddenly, her heart stirred. “Wait,” she said to herself, “He’s from Dali and his surname is Duan. Maybe he really does understand camellias.” But her words were still stubborn. “The name of this manor is the ‘Highland Manor of the Camellias’. Camellias populate this place, inside and out. See how exuberant and brilliant they are! Why do you say that I don’t understand camellias?” Duan Yu smiled, “Commonplace flowers of low quality will naturally flourish. But the four vases of camellias you have there are are exquisite specimens. If amateurs like you are able to properly plant and take care of them, then my surname isn’t Duan!”

Madame Wang exceedingly loved camellia flowers. She didn’t care about the cost; wherever she went, she would purchase beautiful specimens to take home. But when the new camellias arrived, not a single one of the famous and rare specimens would thrive or flourish. Usually, within a year
or so, they would wither and die or be at death’s gate. She was always vexed by this problem. Now, hearing Duan Yu’s words, her anger turned to joy. She took two steps forward and asked, “What is so special about these four vases of camellias? What must I do to make them flourish?” Duan Yu replied, “If you want to consult me, then you need to follow the proper etiquette for asking advice. If you want to threaten and compel me into answering, go ahead and chop off my legs first. You can always ask me afterwards.”

Madame Wang angrily said, “What’s so difficult about chopping your legs off? Xiaoshi, chop his left foot off first!” The servant girl named Xiaoshi replied in the affirmative, then advanced towards Duan Yu, sword in hand. Ah Bi hurriedly said, “Madame, don’t ya be doin’ that, yeah. If ya hurt this fella, he’s real stubborn-like and would rather die and speak.” Madame Wang only wanted to scare Duan Yu in the first place. With a wave of her hand, she beckoned Xiaoshi back.

Duan Yu laughed, “Go ahead and chop off my legs, then place them next to those four vases of white camellias. They really will serve as a superb fertilizer. These white flowers will grow bigger and bigger. Maybe they’ll flourish into a sea of camellias! Haha, beautiful, wonderful, brilliant!”

Madame Wang originally really was thinking of doing just that, but Duan Yu’s every word was filled with irony and sarcasm, rendering her speechless. After being stunned for a moment, she said, “What are you babbling about? What, exactly, is so special about these four vases of mine? Tell me. If you are correct, I’ll pay the proper respects to you then.”

Duan Yu replied, “For starters, Madame Wang, you made the mistake of calling these flowers ‘Full Moon’ camellias. If you don’t even recognize what the exact breed of flowers you have are, how can you be said to understand flowers? One of the flowers is named ‘Red Makeup, White Wrappings’. Another is called ‘Clawing a Beautiful Woman’s Face’.” Intrigued, Madame Wang asked, “’Clawing A Beautiful Woman’s Face?’ Is there really such a weird flower name? Which one is it?”

Duan Yu said, “If you want to ask for my advice, you need to follow proper etiquette.”
Duan Yu had mocked her mercilessly, without her being able to defend herself, but upon hearing that one of her four vases of flowers had such a unique name, Madame Wang was filled with delight. Smiling, she said, “Fine! Xiaoshi, order the cooks to prepare a banquet at the ‘Pavilion of Glorious Clouds’ in order to entertain young gentleman Duan.” After acknowledging the order, Xiaoshi left.

Ah Zhu and Ah Bi gazed at each other. Seeing that Duan Yu had not only escaped death, but was also now being treated as a guest by Madame Wang, both of them were overjoyed at the surprise.

The servant who had taken Tang Guangxiong returned and reported, “That person surnamed Tang from Dali has already been buried beneath a red camellia in front of the ‘Pavilion of Rosy Clouds’.” Duan Yu’s heart went cold. Madame Wang didn’t seem to care at all. She simply nodded, then said, “Young gentleman Duan, please come this way!” Duan Yu said, “I dared to disturb you; I am very blessed indeed that you, my host, are so forgiving.” Madame Wang said, “An able and worthy person has come, bringing great honor and glory to the flowers and ramparts of the Highland Manor of Camellias.” The two of them spoke courteously to each other as they walked, not revealing a shred of the life-and-death danger Duan Yu had been in just moments ago.

With Madame Wang accompanying Duan Yu, the two passed by a forest of flowers, a stone bridge, and a small alleyway before arriving in front of a small pavilion. Below the eaves of the pavilion, Duan Yu saw an inscribed wooden board with the words, “Pavilion of Glorious Clouds”, written in blackish-green ink in the seal-script style. Camellia flowers blossomed all around the pavilion. But in Dali, these camellia flowers were considered to be third or fourth class rubbish. Their appearance totally clashed with the refined-looking and elegantly constructed pavilion.

Madame Wang actually seemed to be very pleased with herself. “Young gentleman Duan, in your Dali there are many camellia flowers, but I’m afraid that compared to my place, there still aren’t quite as many.” Duan Yu nodded. “It’s true that we don’t plant this sort of camellia flowers in Dali.” Madame Wang chortled, “Really?” Duan Yu replied, “In Dali, even country bumpkins know that these camellias are not of very high quality, and too
mundane to plant.” The color of Madame Wang’s face changed, and she angrily said, “What did you just say? You say that these flowers of mine are of poor quality? Aren’t these words of yours too…too infuriating and insulting?”

Duan Yu said, “Madame, if you don’t believe me, that’s your choice.” Pointing to a gorgeous, five-colored camellia in front of the pavilion, he said, “This flower, you no doubt treat as a precious treasure, right? Hm. Actually, the jade railing next to the camellia is made from actual Hotan jade. It’s very beautiful, very beautiful.” He was gushing with praise for the jade railing next to the camellia while not saying much about the flower itself; this was akin to a person, while viewing someone else’s calligraphy, praise how dark the ink was and how famous and rare the paper was.

This camellia was both red and white, both violet and yellow. The variety of colors it possessed were magnificent and resplendent. Madame Wang had always treated it as a treasure. Now, seeing Duan Yu showing such disdain for it, she immediately furrowed her eyebrows, emitting a murderous look from her eyes. Duan Yu said, “Madame, if I may ask, what is this flower known as here in Jiangnan?” Madame Wang vehemently said, “We don’t have any particularly special name for it. We just call it the ‘Five-Colored Cammelia’.” Duan Yu smiled. “But we in Dali have a name for it. We call it the ‘Failed Scholar’.”

Madame Wang spat. “Bah! Such an ugly name! You must have made that up. This flower is gorgeous to behold. Why would it be called a ‘Failed Scholar’?” Duan Yu said, “Madame, please take a look and count for yourself. How many colors do the blossoms of this camellia flower have?” Madame Wang said, “I counted them long ago. There’s at least fifteen or sixteen.” Duan Yu said, “There are exactly seventeen colors. In Dali, there is famous camellia flower called the ‘Eighteen Scholars’. It is one of one of the highest grade camellias in the world. Each plant has precisely eighteen flowers, and each flower is of a different color. The red flower is totally red; the violent flowers are totally purple. There’s not a single hint of intermingled color. In addition, the shape of each of the eighteen blossoms is different as well, with each possessing their own unique beauty. When they bloom, they bloom at the same time; when they wither, all eighteen
flowers wither at the same time. Madame, have you seen it before?” Madame Wang had been listening, stunned. She shook her head. “Camellias like this actually exist? I’ve never even heard of it!”

Duan Yu said, “Compared to the ‘Eighteen Scholars’, there are some other famous flowers that are similar to it in quality. The ‘Thirteen Grand Protectors’ are camellia plants that have thirteen blossoms, each with a totally different color. The ‘Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea’ refers to camellia plants with eight different colored blossoms. The ‘Seven Celestial Maidens’ refers to camellia plants with seven different colored blossoms. The ‘Three Heroes of Hardship’ have three blossoms, and the ‘Two Qiao Sisters’ have two blossoms; one red, one white. For all of these camellia flowers, the color of each blossom must be pure. If there’s a hint of white within a red flower, or a blush of red in a white flower, it is considered a low-grade version.” Madame Wang couldn’t help but be carried away and raptured by his explanations. Lifting her head up, she quietly whispered to herself, “Why didn’t he ever tell me this?”

[Translator’s note: All of the above refer to famous historical or mythical personages in ancient China, each with many legends attached to them. The ‘Thirteen Grand Protectors’ refers to a group of thirteen legendary warriors during the Five Dynasties period who protected Li Cunxu, who proclaimed himself Emperor Zhuangzhong of the Later Tang dynasty. The ‘Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea’ is a very famous story in its own right. The ‘Seven Celestial Maidens’ are all daughters of the emperor of Heaven. The ‘Three Heroes of Hardship’ refers to Li Jing (who later became deified) and his two sworn brothers. The ‘Two Qiao Sisters’ refers to two lengendarily beautiful sisters of the Qiao family during the Three Kingdoms period. The younger sister married Zhou Yu; the older sister was married to Sun Ce, Sun Quan’s older brother.]

Duan Yu continued, “Within the ‘Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea’, there must be a deep violet flower and a light red flower. These two represent Iron-Crutched Li and Female Celestial He. If this isn’t the case, even if all eight flowers have different colors, they cannot be called the ‘Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea’. They would simply be called the ‘Eight Precious Adornments’. They are also considered to be famous flowers, but
are a level inferior to the ‘Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea’.” Madame Wang said, “So that’s how it is.”

Duan Yu continued, “Now, let’s talk about the ‘Three Heroes of Hardship’. There’s differences between high quality and low quality versions of these flowers as well. In authentic versions, the violet flower must be the largest in size, symbolizing Qiu Ranke. The white flower is second, symbolizing Li Jing. The red flower is the most delicate and the smallest, as it represents lady Hong Fu. If the red flower is larger than the violet flower or the white flower, then the flower is considered to be of a low quality, and has a much lower status ranking.” Duan Yu spoke of these flowers as though he were enumerating his own family’s valuables, because these flowers were indeed treasures of the Duan family. Naturally, he was very familiar with them. Madame Wang listened to him talk with keen pleasure. She sighed, “I haven’t even seen low quality flowers, much less high quality ones.”

Duan Yu pointed towards the five-colored camellia. “This flower not only has one less color than the ‘Eighteen Scholars’, but the flowers are not pure in color. They bloom at different times, and are all of different sizes. In every aspect, it attempts to imitate the ‘Eighteen Scholars’, but is never able to match up. Isn’t that a sad, miserable thing? Thus, we call this flower a ‘Failed Scholar’.” Madame Wang couldn’t help but let out a breath, then laughed, “This flower’s name is really too acrimonious and unkind. Most likely, you scholars came up with it.”

By this point in time, Madame Wang had full faith of Duan Yu’s knowledge of camellia flowers. She immediately escorted him into the ‘Pavilion of Glorious Clouds’. Duan Yu saw that the furnishings upstairs were rich and beautiful, with a large painting of a peacock spreading its feathers in the middle of the room and two matching poetic lines carved in wood at each side of the painting. The lines read, “A dense cloud of leaves coats the land, even the snow is jealous of the camellia’s beauty.” Very shortly, the banquet began. Madame Wang invited Duan Yu to take the seat of honor, while she herself took a right-hand seat to keep him company.

The dishes prepared at the banquet were very different from the ones which Ah Zhu and Ah Bi had earlier prepared. The dishes Ah Zhu and Ah Bi prepared were very light and refined, showing great craftsmanship in simple
dishes. But the banquet dishes at the ‘Pavilion of Glorious Clouds’ emphasized luxuriousness, with such rarities as bear paws and shark fins. Every dish was made from rare and precious ingredients. Duan Yu, being a scion of the royal family, had become accustomed to eating rare and precious dishes since birth. In his mind, the banquet here was actually inferior to the food the two girls prepared at the ‘Pavilion of Zither Melodies.’

After three rounds of drinks, Madame Wang asked, “The Duan family of Dali is a famous, aristocratic family of the martial world. Why is it that you do not study martial arts?” Duan Yu replied, “There are a large number of people in Dali who have the surname Duan. Only the royal descendants of the imperial family study martial arts. Commoners like me do not study martial arts.” Whether he would live or die was wholly under the control of this woman. Being in such a humiliating position, he had decided that no matter what he could not reveal his real identity, for fear of degrading the fame and prestige of his uncle and his father. Madame Wang said, “You are a commoner?” Duan Yu replied, “I am.” Madame Wang said, “Do you know any members of the royal Duan family?” Duan Yu replied, “None whatsoever.”

Madame Wang was lost in thought for some time, then changed the topic. “Earlier, you were speaking about the various merits and qualities of camellia flowers, causing me to suddenly see the light. The flower artisans of Suzhou from whom I acquired these four vases of flowers called these flowers ‘Full Moon’ flowers, but you said that one is named ‘Red Makeup, White Wrappings’, and that another is named ‘Clawing a Beautiful Woman’s Face’. I don’t know how they can be told apart, and would like to ask for your advice.”

Duan Yu replied, “The plant with the large white flowers with faint black spots is the one known as the ‘Full Moon’ flower. Those faint black spots are the cassia twigs which grow on the moon. That other plant with white flowers which has two olive-pit sized black spots on the petals is known as the ‘Beautiful Eyes’ flower.” Madame Wang happily said, “This is a very good name.”
Duan Yu continued, “The plant with white flowers that are sprinkled with red dots is known as ‘Red Makeup, White Wrappings’. Lastly, the plant with white flowers covered by a faint green sheen and thin, hair-like strips of red is known as ‘Clawing a Beautiful Woman’s Face’. However, if too many of those red lines appear, the flower is no longer known as ‘Clawing a Beautiful Woman’s Face’, but rather it is called ‘Resting On a Lovely Railing’. Madame, please consider this. A beautiful woman must be gentle, refined, and warm. If by chance a scratch occasionally appears on her face, it can’t be because she damaged herself while putting on makeup, nor can it be that she got into a fight with someone else. The only possible explanation is that while she was playing with her pet parrot, it scratched her. This is very normal and understandable. Thus, this flower must have a green sheen, which represents the green feathers of a parrot. But if her entire face is scratched and clawed, the only explanation is that this woman always gets into fights with others, in which case, how can she be considered to be beautiful?”

Up till now, Madame Wang was repeatedly nodding as he spoke, very pleased. Suddenly, her face sunk with anger as she shouted, “How dare you! Are you mocking me?”

Duan Yu was startled, then hurriedly said, “I wouldn’t dare! I don’t know how I offended you, madame.” Madame Wang angrily said, “Whose stories did you listen to, for you to come here and concoct these wild lies to insult me? Who says that a woman can no longer be considered beautiful after learning martial arts? What’s so good about being gentle, refined, prim and proper?” Duan Yu was startled. “My words were based upon the standard, accepted explanation for the naming of this flower. There are many women who know martial arts that are both beautiful and stately.” He didn’t expect that Madame Wang found these words grating to the ear as well, as she yelled, “So are you saying that I’m not stately?”

Duan Yu replied, “Whether or not you are stately, you yourself know best, madame. How would I dare comment wildly? But for you to demand that a man murder his wife and wed another woman is definitely not proper at all.” By now, he himself was getting angry as well, and no longer cared about what he was saying.
Madame Wang gestured with her hand, and the four girls who were serving them stepped forward in unison. Bowing, they said, “Yes, madame?” Madame Wang said, “Take this man into your custody and away from my sight. I command that he be given the task of watering my camellias!” The four servants said in unison, “Yes, madame!”

Madame Wang said, “Duan Yu, you are a person from Dali, and your family name is Duan. I should have killed you long ago. For the moment, I’ll postpone your execution, but I’ll punish you by giving you the task of taking care of all of the camellias in this manor. You need to take especial care with the four which we have brought home today. Let me be clear. If a single one of these four vases of camellia flowers dies, I will chop off one of your hands. If two die, I will chop off both. If all four die, I will turn you into a limbless cripple.” Duan Yu asked, “And if all four live?” Madame Wang said, “After all four flowers begin to flourish, your job will be to cultivate other famous camellias for me. ‘Eighteen Scholars’, ‘Thirteen Grand Protectors’, ‘Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea’, ‘Seven Celestial Maidens’, ‘Three Heroes of Hardship’, and the ‘Two Qiao Sisters’. I want several of each! If you can’t accomplish it, I’ll tear your eyeballs out.”

Duan Yu loudly objected, “These famous flowers are rarely seen, even in Dali. It will be almost impossible to find them in Jiangnan. If you can get several of each just like that, how can they be considered to be rare and precious breeds? Just go ahead and kill me now! I refuse to accept the torture of having you cut off my hands today and gouge out my eyes tomorrow.” Madame Wang loudly rebuked him, “You must be tired of living, to act so rudely in front of me. Take him away!”

The four servant girls walked towards him. Two of them grabbed him by his arms, one by his chest, with the last grabbing him by the back. All five of them descended from the top floor of the pavilion. All four of the servant girls knew martial arts, and Duan Yu found himself totally unable to resist. All he could do was secretly lament, “Damnit, damnit!”

Pushing and tugging, the four servants pulled him to a flower nursery. One servant stuck a gardening hoe in his hand, while another grabbed a watering pail. She said, “If you listen to the madame’s orders and obediently water the flowers, you can keep your life. But the way you keep offending her,
you are tremendously lucky that she didn’t immediately order for you to be buried alive.” Another servant said, “Aside from doing your duties to preserve the flowers, you aren’t allowed to run about wildly within the manor. If you break into one of the restricted areas, no one will be able to save you. It’s the equivalent of asking to die.” The four servants lectured him in extremely solemn tones for some time before leaving. Duan Yu could only blankly stand there, not sure whether he should laugh or cry.

At Dali, he was only inferior in rank to his uncle and to his father. In the future, after his father ascended to the throne, he would become the crown prince. How could it have happened that he was kidnapped and brought to Jiangnan, almost be burned to death, then risk having his arms and legs chopped off or his eyes gouged out. As if that wasn’t enough, now he was forced into being someone else’s gardener. Even though he had an amiable temperament, and, in his palace, often chatted with the gardeners while watching them prune the flowers, work the earth, and spread the fertilizer, he was still a prince. In his heart, he felt that gardener’s were very lowly people.

Fortunately, he was a happy person and a lively spirit by nature. Upon meeting any problems or setbacks, at most he would only be dispirited for a short while before becoming happy again. He said to himself, “At the jade cavern of Mt. Wuliang, I already kowtowed and accepted the dear goddess as my master. Aside from the age issue, this Madame Wang looks very similar to her. Why don’t I just think of her as my martial-uncle? It’s natural for a pupil to labor hard and obey the commands of his master. Not to mention, cultivating flowers is an artistic sort of work done by literati. It’s definitely much more elegant and sophisticated than waving around sabres or poking around with spears. And it’s definitely ten thousand times better than being burned alive by Jiumozhi in front of Mr. Murong’s tomb. The only problem is, these flowers are really too inferior in quality. Having the prince of Dali take care of them is a waste of talent, like killing a scrawny chicken using a giant blade meant for butchering cattle. Haha, actually, can I be really be considered a cattle-butchering blade? What sort of flower- planting talent do I have, anyhow?”
Then, he thought to himself, “If I stay at the Highland Manor of the Camellias for a bit longer, there’s always the chance that I might have the good fortune of seeing that girl who wore the pale pinkish grey dress. This can be called, ‘Duan Yu, how do you know that planting flowers won’t be a lucky thing for you?’”

Considering the question of whether he was lucky or unlucky, Duan Yu grabbed a handful of grass. “Let’s see how long it will be before I have the chance to see that girl.” He began to pass the grass from his left hand to his right, then from his right hand to his left, trying to tell his fortune. After divining for some time, he ended up with a ‘Gen’ divinatory symbol, with an upper ‘Gen’ and a lower ‘Gen’. He thought to himself, “‘You shall see her back, but you will not win her body; you shall go to her courtyard, but you will not see her person. No fault.’ This divination is really appropriate. Even though I won’t see her, in the end, it won’t be my fault.”

He started over. This time, he ended up with a ‘Kun’ divinatry symbol, along with an upper ‘Dui’ and a lower ‘Kan’ symbol. He inwardly groaned, “‘Hard-pressed down amongst plants, as though you had entered a secluded valley. You will not present yourself within three years.’ I won’t even see her within three years. I really am very hard-pressed.” Then he thought, “If I can’t see her within three years, that means I’ll see her in the fourth year. There’s plenty of time in the future. Why think of myself as being hard- pressed?”

Since his divinations were very unfavorable, he dared divine no more. Humming a little melody, he picked up the hoe and began to stroll about aimlessly. He thought to himself, “Madame Wang told me to make those four vases of white flowers flourish. These four plants truly are famous breeds. I need to find a very graceful place to plant them, so as to show them off in the proper setting.” While strolling about, he reviewed the local scenery. Suddenly, he burst out in loud laughter. “Madame Wang doesn’t know a damn thing about camellias, but insists on planting them, and even calls this place the Highland Manor of the Camellias. She doesn’t even know that camellias prefer the moon, not the sun, and planted them in places where there is a lot of sun. Even if the flowers manage to somehow survive, there is no way they can flourish. Then she smothers them with
fertilizer, by which point, any and all famous breeds of camellias will have been killed by her. What a waste, what a waste! But so funny, so very funny!”

He avoided the sunlight, only going to shadowy areas underneath trees and other large plants. After passing a small hill, he heard the gurgling of water. To his left-hand side was a row of green bamboo plants. The entire place was very quiet and secluded. The area was hidden in the shadow of the hill, where the sun could not reach. Madame Wang, knowing that this place was not suitable for planting flowers, did not plant a single camellia here. Duan Yu was overjoyed. “There’s no better place than this.”

Returning to his starting place, he carried the flower vases one by one to where the bamboo plants were. He shattered each porcelain vase then planted each camellia along with the mud in the vases. Although he had never done this before, he had seen this done many times. Surprisingly, although he was just making it up as he went along, he did it perfectly. Within an hour’s time, he finished transplanting the four white camellias next to the bamboo. He planted the ‘Clawing a Beautiful Woman’s Face’ to the left, the ‘Red Makeup, White Wrappings’ and the ‘Full Moon’ to the right, and the ‘Beautiful Eyes’ flower right behind a large boulder. He said to himself, “This is like the saying, ‘Only after you call and entreat her to come out many times does she appear, carrying a pipa and covering half her face.’ when these plants are placed in an appropriate setting do their true beauty and charm shine.” In Chinese history, flowers have always been compared to beautiful women. The art of cultivating flowers is equivalent to the art of a beautiful woman using makeup. Duan Yu came from a royal family and read many books; naturally, his understanding of these things was a level above most people.

Stretching his hands into the small stream, he washed away the dirt and mud. Taking a seat on top of the boulder, then stared at that ‘Beautiful Eyes’ camellia plant, turning his head this way and that to view it from every angle. Just as he was feeling proud of himself, he heard the sound of footsteps coming from a distance. Two females were walking his way. One of them said, “This place is the most quiet and secluded place here. No one ever comes…”
The sound of her voice was very pleasing to the ear. Duan Yu’s heart thumped loudly. The voice obviously belonged to the girl who wore the pale pinkish grey dress which he had seen earlier in the day. Duan Yu held his breath, not daring to make the slightest sound. He thought to himself, “She said she refuses to meet with any male strangers, and I, Duan Yu, am obviously a male stranger. For me to be able to listen to her say a few words and hear her goddess-like voice is already my infinite good fortune. No matter what, I can’t let her know I am here.” His head was originally leaning towards one side; now, he didn’t even dare straighten his neck, and so he just left his head in that inclined position rather than risk his neck straightening and making even the slightest bit of noise, scaring that girl.

That maiden continued, “Xiaoming, what have you…have you heard, regarding news of him?” Duan Yu couldn’t help but feel a sour feeling in his heart. The ‘him’ the maiden was referring to obviously couldn’t be himself, Duan Yu; rather, it was young master Murong. From Madame Wang’s earlier words, young master Murong seemed to have the given name of ‘Fu’, ‘recover’. The maiden’s question seemed to be filled with concern and tender affection for him. Duan Yu could not control the feelings of jealousy from springing forth from his core as they once more hurt his heart. Xiaoming mumbled haltingly for a long time, appearing to be very uncomfortable.

The maiden said, “Tell me! I definitely will take good care of you afterwards.” Xiaoming said, “I’m afraid…I’m afraid the madame will blame me.” The maiden said, “Silly girl, after you tell me, do you really think I will go tell the madame?” Xiaoming asked, “What if the madame asks you?” The maiden said, “Naturally, I still won’t tell her.” Xiaoming hesitated for another period of time before saying, “Your cousin, the young- master went to Shaolin.” The maiden said, “Shaolin? Why is it that Ah Zhu and Ah Bi said he was going to Luoyang to meet with the Beggar’s Clan?” Duan Yu thought to himself, “Her cousin, the young master? Oh, young master Murong is her maternal cousin. The two of them must share the innocent affection of cousins, which they have had since childhood. Then… then…”
Xiaoming said, “This time, when the madame was out travelling, she came across second master Gongye. He said that the all the leaders of the Beggar’s Clan have come to Jiangnan, intending to put on a huge show of force and question the young master about something which had to do with one of their masters. Second master Gongye said that he received a letter from the young master. The young master wrote that he had arrived in Luoyang but was unable to find any of the leaders of the beggars, and so went to Mt. Song to visit Shaolin.” The maiden said, “Why did he go to Shaolin?” Xiaoming said, “Second master Gongye said that in the letter, the young master wrote that an old Shaolin monk died in Dali, and that Shaolin was falsely accusing Gusu’s Murong family of having done the deed. The young master was very angry. Fortunately, Shaolin isn’t very far away from Luoyang, so he decided to go there and clear up the matter.

The maiden said, “If he’s unable to clear things up, then won’t things end up in violence? Since the madame found out about this news, why did she come back home instead of rushing to Shaolin to help the young master out?” Xiaoming said, “This…well, I don’t know. I imagine that it is probably because the madame doesn’t like the young master.” The maiden angrily said, “Hmph. Even if she doesn’t like him, he’s one of us. If Gusu’s Murong family loses face to outsiders, will our Wang family gain anything from it?” Xiaoming did not dare to reply.

The maiden walked back and forth near the copse of bamboo plants. Suddenly, she saw the three white camellia plants which Duan Yu had planted, as well as the shattered remains of the porcelain vases. She let out a startled sound, then asked, “Who is planting camellias here?”

Duan Yu moved quickly, emerging from behind the boulder. Bowing deeply, he said, “In accordance with the madame’s orders, your humble servant came here to cultivate camellia flowers. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.” Although he bowed very deeply, he stared straight ahead at her. He was afraid that the maiden would just repeat the words, “I don’t associate with male strangers,” then leave again, with him once more missing a wonderful opportunity.

As soon as he saw the young lady, he felt a buzzing sound in his ears. He felt as though his vision was becoming blurry, and his legs went weak. He
couldn’t help but sink to his knees. If he didn’t exert all of his energy to keep himself straight, he would have kowtowed to her. Finally, he managed to cry out, “Dear goddess! I…I have been so miserable, dreaming about you! Master, your disciple, Duan Yu, pays respects to you!

The girl in front of him looked totally identical to the jade statue of the jade cavern. There were no differences whatsoever. Although Madame Wang looked very similar to the jade statue, she was obviously older, and was not as beautiful. But the girl in front of him, aside from her choice of clothes, looked exactly the same as the statue. Face, eyes, nose, lips, ears, skin color, body figure, hands, feet; there was not a single difference. It was as though the jade statue had come to life. In his dreams, he had longed for the jade statue a thousand or ten thousand times. Now, seeing her before his own very eyes, he really did not know where he was. Was he on earth, or was he in heaven?

The young maiden thought he was a lunatic. Letting out a soft cry, she retreated two steps. Shocked, she said, “You…you…”

Duan Yu rose to his feet. His eyes remained locked on the young maiden, and now he saw her even more clearly than before. Only now did he realize that there were still some differences between the girl in front of him and the jade statue. The jade statue was gorgeous, seductive, and arousing; it had the power to entrance one’s senses and steal one’s soul. The maiden in front of him, on the other hand, was dignified and sedate, with a hint of childishness. In terms of appearances, the jade statue actually appeared to be more animate and alive than the girl in front of him. He said, “Ever since that day in the jade cavern, when I kowtowed to your celestial statue, dear goddess, I felt that I was the luckiest of men. I never would have imagined that today, I would be able to see your appearance with mine own eyes. Goddesses really do exist on earth. The world isn’t an empty place at all!”

The maiden said to Xiaoming, “What is he talking about? He…who is he?” Xiaoming said, “He’s that bookworm which Ah Zhu and Ah Bi brought. He claimed to know how to plant camellias. The madame actually believed his rubbish.” The maiden said to Duan Yu, “Bookworm, did you overhear the conversation I had with her just then?”
Duan Yu laughed, “Your humble servant has the surname of Duan, with the given name of Yu. I am a citizen of Dali, not a bookworm. Dear goddess, I accidentally overheard the conversation between you and sister Xiaoming. But neither of you need to worry; your humble servant won’t leak a single word of your conversation. I guarantee that I will not cause sister Xiaoming to be blamed by Madame Wang.”

The maiden’s face sank. “Who are you calling your ‘dear goddess’? You refuse to admit you are a bookworm? When did you ever meet me?” Duan Yu replied, “If I’m not to call you ‘dear goddess’, how should I address you?” The maiden said, “My family name is Wang. You can just call me Miss Wang.”

Duan Yu shook his head. “No way. There’s hundreds of millions of Miss Wang’s in the world. Miss, how could I address a celestial personage such as yourself simply as ‘Miss Wang’? But how am I to address you then? This is a really tough problem. How about Celestial Maiden Wang? That seems too vulgar. Princess of the Camellias? But the Great Song, Dali, Liao, Tibet, and the Western Xia all have many princesses. Which one can compare to you?”

The maiden felt as though his words were filled with poetic diction. She all the more felt he was a total bookworm. Nonetheless, seeing him so enraptured by her and hearing him pour forth so many praises of her beauty, she couldn’t help but be a little delighted. Smiling she said, “Your luck is not bad at all. My mom didn’t chop your legs off.”

Duan Yu said, “The madame’s looks are comparable to yours, dear goddess. Only, her temperament is a bit too weird, and she randomly wants to kill people. It’s really a bit at odds with her goddess-like appearance.”

The maiden knitted her eyebrows slightly. “Hurry up and go plant camellias. Don’t just stand here and jibber jabber. The two of us have important things to talk about.” Her attitude indicated that she thought of him simply as a common gardener.

Duan Yu didn’t think about disobeying. He just wanted to exchange a few more words with her and cast a few more glances towards her. He thought
to himself, “The only way I can lure her into being whole-heartedly willing to chat with me is by discussing young master Murong. Aside from this, she won’t care about anything else.” He said, “Shaolin is the Mt. Taishan and the Big Dipper of the martial community [meaning, holds an utmost position of height and power]. Within the monastery itself, if there aren’t a thousand eminent monks and expert fighters, there are at least eight hundred. Many of them have practiced the 72 Ultimate Techniques. Recently, Master Xuanbei was violently murdered in Dali’s Luliang prefecture, within the Shenjie Monastery. The many monks there were firm in their assertion that it was Gusu’s Murong family which did the deed. For young master Murong to enter such an extremely risky situation by himself is very unwise.

That maiden’s body actually trembled. Duan Yu didn’t dare look directly at her face. He thought to himself, “She cares so much about that little brat, Murong Fu. If I see her expression, I might be so pissed that I would start crying.” He watched the lower hem of her pale, pinkish grey dress gently tremble. He heard her insurpassably gentle voice say, “Why do the monks of Shaolin falsely accuse Gusu’s Murong family? Do you know? You… hurry and tell me.”

Hearing her beg him in such a trembling voice, Duan Yu’s heart softened, and he wanted to immediately tell her everything. But then, he reconsidered. “Actually, my knowledge in this matter is limited. All I really know is that master Xuanbei was killed by a blow from the ‘Great Veda Sceptre’ technique, and that everyone agreed that only the Murong family ‘uses the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent.’ I would finish explaining all of that in a few sentences. After I’m done explaining, she’ll shoo me off to go plant camellias again, by which point it will be very difficult to come up with any other topics of conversation. I need to make a mountain out of a molehill and spend a long time talking about a simple matter. I’ll just tell her a little bit each day, but also talk about all sorts of random matters and ramble on and off. I’ll stretch the conversation out as long as I can, so as to get her to come talk to me every day. If she can’t find me, her heart will itch and she’ll be discomfited.”
Duan Yu coughed and said, “I myself do not know martial arts. I don’t even know the most basic of techniques, such as ‘Golden Pheasant Stands Alone’, or ‘Black Tiger Stealing the Heart’. But I know a family friend by the surname of Zhu, whose full name is Zhu Danchen. His nickname is ‘Student of Calligraphy’. He might look like a weak and scholarly bookworm like me, but he really is very good at martial arts. One day, I saw him fold his fan, invert it, then with a puffing sound, point the fan towards the shoulder of this big muscular fellow. That fellow immediately curled up into a ball, as though he had turned into a puddle of mud, totally unable to move.”

The maiden said, “Right, this is the ‘Cool and Refreshing Fan’ technique’s acupoint sealing skill. It is the thirty eighth technique, the ‘Bone-Piercing Fan’ technique. Invert the fan, then diagonally attack the shoulder acupoint. This Mr. Zhu belongs to a branch of the Mt. Kunlun school of martial arts, and is a disciple of the Three Reasons Temple. Practitioners of this school of martial arts are even more formidable when using judge pens as opposed to fans. Let’s get back to the main topic. There’s no need to discuss martial arts with me.”

If Zhu Danchen himself had been here and heard these words, he would have admired this girl from the depths of his heart. Not only had the maiden properly identified the technique he had used, she even managed to discern the origins of his martial arts and clearly explain where he had studied it. If another famous martial arts expert, such as Duan Yu’s uncle, Duan Zhengming, or his father, Duan Zhengchun, they would have been astonished as well and wondered, “How is it that such a young girl has such a broad, deep, and incisive understanding of martial arts?” But Duan Yu did not know martial arts at all, so when the girl casually made those comments, he just casually listened, without even knowing if her words were correct or not. He stared at her thin eyebrows as they rose and her red lips as they moved. Whether or not her words were correct, he did not care one bit.

The maiden asked, “So what about Mr. Zhu?” Duan Yu pointed at a bluestone bench near the bamboo plants and said, “This story will take some time in the telling. Miss, why don’t you move over there and take a
seat? Then, I’ll slowly report the events to you.” The maiden said, “You ramble on and on. Why can’t you just speak casually and quickly? I don’t have the energy to listen to you.” Duan Yu replied, “Miss, if you don’t have the time today, you can come find me tomorrow. If you don’t have free time tomorrow, it’ll be fine if we wait a few more days. As long as the madame does not chop off my tongue, all you need to do is ask and I will tell you what you want to know.”

The maiden lightly stomped her foot on the ground, then turned around and ignored him. She asked Xiaoming, “What else did the madame say?” Xiaoming replied, “The madame said, ‘Hmph, the problems are becoming bigger and bigger. He’s become foes with the Beggar’s Clan and enemies with Shaolin. I’m afraid that Gusu’s Murong family will die…die without even a place to be buried.” The maiden hurriedly said, “Mother clearly knows that my cousin is in a dangerous, critical situation. Why doesn’t she care?” Xiaoming said, “Right. Miss, I’m afraid that the madame will go looking for me. I need to leave! No matter what, please don’t tell the madame what I told you. I want to be alive to serve you for a few more years.” The maiden said, “Put your heart at ease. Why would I harm you?” Xiaoming paid her respects and left. Seeing a look of dread and fear on her face, Duan Yu thought to himself, “To Madame Wang, killing people is as big a deal as cutting the grass. She really does make others swoon with fear.”

The maiden slowly walked to the bluestone bench, then lightly and elegantly sat down, but did not ask Duan Yu to sit as well. Duan Yu naturally did not dare to rashly sit next to her. One of the white camellias was situated very close to her, only two branch-lengths away. A beautiful woman and a famous flower; the two brought out the best of each other’s beauty. Duan Yu sighed, “‘The beautiful flower collapses the country, but both are beautiful.’ Inferior, far inferior. In the past, the poet Li Bai used peony flowers as a metaphor for the beauty of Precious Consort Yang [Yang Guifei]. If he had the fortune to see you, miss, he would realize that although the flower is very beautiful, it is not tender when angry, does not have a soft voice, has no joyful laughter, and is without worries and cares. The flowers are far inferior!”
The maiden quietly said, “You keep on telling me that I am beautiful, but I don’t know if it’s true or not.” Duan Yu was totally astonished. “Only those who have no eyes cannot see beauty when beauty is placed before them. If this is the case for men, how much more must it be for you? I imagine that you have been called beautiful too many times in your life, and are bored of hearing it.”

The maiden slowly shook her head, revealing a look of loneliness. She said, “No one has ever told me whether or not I am beautiful. Within the Highland Manor of the Camellias, aside from my mother and myself, everyone here is a servant. They only know me as the young missus. Why would they care if I am beautiful or ugly?” Duan Yu said, “What about outsiders?” The maiden said, “What outsiders?” Duan Yu said, “When you go outside and others see your goddess-like beauty, surely they are startled and gasp in admiration, then prostrate themselves in reverence?” The maiden said, “I never go outside. Why would I go outside? Mother doesn’t allow me to, anyhow. When I go to my aunt’s house to read at the ‘Water Pavilion of Bestowal and Repayment’, I don’t meet any outsiders there either. Although, some of his friends, like big brother Deng, second brother Gongye, third brother Bao, or fourth brother Feng, they…they aren’t dull- witted fellows like you.” As she spoke, a small smile appeared.

Duan Yu said, “Can it be that young master Murong…that he too has never told you how beautiful you are?”

The maiden slowly lowered her head. An indescribably soft, almost inaudible sound could be heard, followed by a few more. A few teardrops fell onto the grass, crystal clear and sparkling, appearing as though they were the early morning dew. Duan Yu no longer dared to ask any more questions, nor did he dare to say any comforting words.

After a long time, the maiden let out a quiet sigh. “He…he’s a very busy person. Every day of every year, from dawn til dusk, he is always busy, without a single moment of free time. When we are together, either we are discussing martial arts or important affairs of state. I…I hate martial arts.”

Duan Yu slapped his thigh and declared, “Not bad, not bad! I hate martial arts as well. My uncle and my father both told me to learn martial arts, but I
refused to learn no matter what, and chose to sneak away from home instead.”

The maiden let out a long sigh. “In order to be able to often meet with him, despite hating martial arts, I forced myself to not only read boxing treatises and sabre manuals, but also to memorize them, so that if there was something he did not understand, I could explain it to him. But I myself do not learn them. It isn’t very refined for girls to brandish sabres and wave cudgels about…” Duan Yu agreed from the bottom of his heart. “Right, right! How could a girl like you, a peerless beauty, get into physical battles with others? That’d really be totally inappropriate. Ack!…” He suddenly realized that these words he said were offensive to his own mother. The maiden didn’t really pay much attention to what he said and continued, “All of the political leaders of every dynasty have always been engaged in power struggles. Today, I try to kill you; tomorrow, you try to kill me. I really don’t want to know about those things. But he loves talking about those matters, so I have no choice but to read those types of books to be able to tell him about these things.”

Duan Yu asked curiously, “Why is it that you have to read books and then explain them to him? Can’t he read them himself?” The maiden glanced at him. “What, you think he’s an idiot? That he doesn’t know how to read?” Duan Yu hastily said, “No, no! He’s the best person in the whole wide world, alright?” Although Duan Yu said these words, in his heart he felt sour.

The maiden smiled beautifully. “He’s my maternal cousin. Aside from my aunt, my uncle, and him, very few people come to visit this place. But after my uncle passed away, my mother got into a spat with my aunt. Now, my mother doesn’t even allow my cousin to come visit. I honestly don’t know if he’s the best person in the whole world. I am not able to get to know the good people or the bad people of the world.” Duan Yu said, “Why not ask your daddy?”

The maiden said, “My father died a long time ago. He passed away even before I was born. I…I’ve never seen his face.” As she spoke, her eyes reddened as though tears once more wanted to emerge.
Duan Yu said, “Right, so your aunt would be your father’s older sister, and your uncle is your aunt’s husband, so he…he…he is your aunt’s son.” The maiden laughed out loud. “You are so muddle-headed. I’m my mother’s daughter, and he is my cousin.”

Seeing that he was able to coax a laugh from her, Duan Yu was very happy. He said, “Oh, I know! It must be that your cousin is too busy to read books, so you have to read them for him.” The maiden said, “You could put it like that, but there’s another reason as well. Let me ask you, why is it that the monks of Shaolin are falsely accusing my cousin of having killed one of their people?”

Duan Yu saw that a single tear still quivered at the end of her long eyelashes. He thought to himself, “The ancients wrote, ‘Pear flowers blossom when the spring brings rain.’ This is a metaphor for a beautiful woman crying. But although pear flowers are all very beautiful, pear trees themselves are too fat and heavy. In addition, after a rainstorm, every pear flower would have ‘tears’ on them. That’s an excessive amount of sadness. Miss Wang is like a camellia flower covered with faint dew; only this can be considered truly beautiful beauty.”

The maiden waited for a while, but Duan Yu still did not reply. She stretched her hand out and gently tapped the back of his hand. “What’s wrong with you?” Duan Yu’s entire body trembled, and he shot to his feet, calling out, “Aiyo!” The maiden was frightened for a moment, and asked, “What’s wrong?” His entire face burning red, Duan Yu replied, “When you tapped your fingers on the back of my hand, it felt as though my acupoints were being sealed.”

The maiden opened her eyes wide, not knowing that he was joking. She said, “There’s no acupoints on this side of the hand. The ‘Ye Men’ [Liquid Gate], ‘Zhong Zhu’ [Central Islet], and the ‘Yang Chi’ [Yang Moat] acupoints are all on the palm of the hand. The ‘Qian Huo’ [First Opening] and the ‘Yang Lao’ [Providing For the Elderly] acupoints are on the wrist. All of them are very far away.” As she spoke, she used the back of her own hand to demonstrate.
As Duan Yu watched as she pointed towards the tender, delicate, snowy- white back of her hand, he felt his throat become dry. His head felt dizzy and he asked, “Mi…miss, what is your name?”

The maiden smiled. “You are a really weird fellow, you know that? Fine, I guess there’s no harm in telling you. Even if I don’t tell you, those two little rascals, Ah Zhu and Ah Bi, will tell you.” Stretching a finger out, she drew three characters on the back of her own hand: “Wang Yuyan.” [Yuyan means ‘Beautiful Speech’ or ‘Beautiful Language’]

Duan Yu called out, “Wonderful, wonderful! Beautiful smiles and speech, and a kind, amiable personality.” He thought to himself, “Let’s make things clear from the start. If she’s like her mother, being perfectly fine one moment then suddenly angry the next and having me go plant flowers, then the name is insuitable for her.”

Wang Yuyan smiled. “People always have nice names. All of those vile, wicked, evil people in history had beautiful names as well. Cao Cao did not necessarily display any upright conduct [De Cao means Upright Conduct], and Zhu Quanzhong was totally disloyal [Quanzhong means Totally Loyal]. Your name is Duan Yu. Is your name, Yu, such a good name? I’m afraid you’re a little ‘buying fame…’[Gu Ming]” Duan Yu interjected, “…and fishing for praise’ [Diao Yu]!” The two of them laughed loudly together. [The phrase, ‘Gu Ming Diao Yu’, means fishing for compliments and praise.]

Wang Yuyan’s beautiful face had always seemed to carry a hint of anxiety, but now, caught in the midst of joyful laughter, she became all the more charming and beautiful. Duan Yu thought to himself, “If I can spend the rest of my life making her laugh and wreathing her face in smiles, there would be nothing more I would ask for from life.”

Unexpectedly, she was only happy for a brief period of time before once again that faint look of sorrow and worry settled across her face. She quietly said, “He…he’s always so serious. He never talks about such silly things with me. Alas! The nation of Yan, the nation of Yan…is it really that important?”
‘The nation of Yan, the nation of Yan’; these words, upon entering Duan Yu’s ears, suddenly interlinked with many previously separate terms and phrases. The ‘Murong lineage’, the ‘Basin of Swallows,’ the ‘Canhe Manor’, the ‘nation of Yan’…Duan Yu suddenly blurted out, “Is this young master Murong the descendant of Murong clan of the Xianbei people, who carved out the ‘Yan’ empire during the time when the five Hu minority nationalities spread chaos in China? He is of the Hu minority, and is not a Chinese person?”

Wang Yuyan nodded. “Right. He is the descendant of the former princes of the Murong family which ruled the nation of Yan. But that was centuries ago. There’s no need to constantly bear in mind ancient history and the affairs of your ancestors. He wants to be a Hu person, not a Chinese person. He doesn’t want to learn Chinese characters or read Chinese books. But I don’t see what’s so bad about Chinese books. Once, I said to him, ‘Cousin, if you say that Chinese books are bad, what books do the Xianbei people have? I want to take a look.’ But he immediately flew into a rage because there’s no such thing as Xianbei-language books to begin with.”

She slightly raised her head, staring at the lazy, distant clouds in the sky. In her soft voice, she said, “He…he is ten years older than me. He’s always just thought of me as a younger sister. He thinks that I don’t know anything aside from reading books and memorizing martial arts techniques. He has never realized that I read books for his sake, memorize martial arts for his sake. If it weren’t for him, I’d rather raise a few chicks to play with, or play the zither, or practice calligraphy.”

In a quivering voice, Duan Yu said, “He truly doesn’t know that you…that you are this good to him?”

Wang Yuyan replied, “Of course he knows that I am good to him. He’s always treated me very well as well. But…but it’s as though we are actual brothers and sisters. Aside from serious matters, he never discusses anything with me. He never tells me what he is thinking, nor does he ever ask me if I have anything on my mind.” Her jade-like cheeks blushed a faint red, and a bashful look appeared in her eyes and on her face.
At first, Duan Yu wanted to tease her and ask her, “What sort of things do you have on your mind?” But seeing the tender, bashful look on her beautiful face, he didn’t dare run the risk of offending this beautiful lady. He said, “You don’t need to always discuss history and martial arts with him. Aren’t there a lot of evening songs and love poems in the books you read?” As soon as he said this, he felt regretful. “Just let her continue to stare at him with soft eyes and tender glances, but be unable to communicate with him. Isn’t that a good thing? Why should I teach her techniques to communicate with him? I really am a total idiot.”

Wang Yuyan became all the more bashful. She hurriedly said, “How…how could I do that? I am a prim and proper maiden. How could I bring up these…these poems and songs, and have my cousin look down upon me?”

Duan Yu let out a long breath, then said, “Absolutely, you are absolutely right.” In his heart, he cursed at himself, “Duan Yu, you bastard, you really aren’t an upright and honest gentleman.”

Wang Yuyan had never revealed these thoughts of hers to anyone else. She kept them in her heart, examining and re-examining them many times over by herself. Today, by chance, she ran into a fellow like Duan Yu, who was naturally easygoing and unrestrained in temperament. For some reason, she felt that he was very trustworthy and divulged to him all of the tender and soft feelings she had towards Murong Fu. Actually, the likes of Ah Zhu, Ah Bi, and even Xiaocha, Xiaoming, and Youcao all naturally knew that she was secretly in love with her cousin. It was just that none of them spoke aloud regarding it. After talking for so long, the gloomy feeling in her heart dissipated slightly. She said, “I digressed a lot in our conversation, and we didn’t get to the main topic. Why, exactly, is Shaolin making things difficult for my cousin?”

Knowing that he was unable to dodge the question any longer, Duan Yu said, “The abbot of Shaolin is known as master Xuanci. He has a junior martial-brother named Xuanbei. Master Xuanbei is most proficient at using the ‘Veda Sceptre’ style.” Wang Yuyan nodded. “That is the forty-eighth fighting style amongst Shaolin’s 72 Ultimate Techniques. Within the style, there are only a total of nineteen individual stances, but all of them are very fearsome and overpowering when executed.”
Duan Yu continued, “When master Xuanbei came to Dali, he was somehow killed by someone within the Shenjie monastery in Dali’s Luliang prefecture. Moreover, the technique which the killer used against him was the technique which master Xuanbei himself was famous for; the ‘Veda Sceptre’ technique. They said that only Gusu’s Murong family harms others in such a manner, which they called ‘using the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent.’” Wang Yuyan nodded. “That’s not unreasonable.”

Duan Yu said, “Aside from Shaolin, there are others who also are seeking revenge upon the Murong lineage.” Wang Yuyan said, “Who else?” Duan Yu said, “Within the Hidden Ox sect, there was a man named Ke Baisui who specialized in a technique known as the ‘Thousand Ruptures on the Soul of Heaven’.” Wang Yuyan said, “Oh! That is the fourth variation of the ninth stance of the Hidden Ox sect’s ‘Ever-Victorious Soft Whip’ technique. Although the technique is extremely strange, it can’t really considered a top-tier martial arts technique; all that can be said in its favor is that the force it unleashes is extremely hard and fierce.” Duan Yu said, “This person was killed by the ‘Thousand Ruptures on the Soul of Heaven’ technique. His martial-brother and his apprentice are naturally seeking revenge upon the Murong family.”

Wang Yuyan mumbled to herself, “It’s possible that my cousin killed Ke Baisui, but he definitely did not kill Xuanbei. My cousin doesn’t know the ‘Veda Sceptre’ technique. It is extremely difficult to learn. But if you ever meet my cousin, don’t tell him that he doesn’t know this technique, and definitely don’t tell him that I told you so. Otherwise, he’ll fly into a rage.”

Just as they spoke to this point, the sound of two pairs of feet rushing towards them could be heard. It was Xiaoming and Youcao.

There was look of dread on Youcao’s face. Totally flustered, she said, “Miss, bad…bad news! The madame ordered that Ah Zhu and Ah Bi…” Her voice choked, and for the moment she couldn’t say anything. Xiaoming stepped in, “That their right hands be chopped off, to punish them for their offense of arrogantly barging into the Highland Manor of the Camellias. She also said that if she ever sees them again, she’ll immediately have their heads chopped off. What…what are we to do?”
Duan Yu hurriedly said, “Miss Wang, quick, you’ve got to think of a way to rescue them!”

Wang Yuyan was very anxious as well. Knitting her eyebrows, she said, “Ah Zhu and Ah Bi are my cousin’s trusted servants. If I allow them to be crippled, how can I face my cousin? Youcao, where are they?” Youcao, Ah Zhu, and Ah Bi were extremely good friends. Hearing that Wang Yuyan seemed inclined towards helping them, she felt a ray of hope. She hurriedly said, “The madame ordered that the two of them be taken to the ‘Flower Fertilizer Shed’. I begged granny Yan to delay the execution of the sentence by an hour. If you go beg the madame immediately, there’s still a chance.” Wang Yuyan thought to herself, “Most likely, begging my mother to show mercy is useless. But except for this, there are no other options.” She immediately nodded, then left with Youcao and Xiaoming.

Watching her slim and graceful back disappear, Duan Yu wanted to run after her and say a few more words to her. But after taking a single step, he felt as though he had no words to say. As he stood there, stupefied, he began to reminisce about the conversation he just had with her. He couldn’t help but go crazy over it.

Wang Yuyan walked swiftly to the main rooms. Seeing her mother reclining on a bed, lost in a trance while staring at a camellia painting that was hanging on the wall, she called out, “Mother!”

Madame Wang slowly turned her head. A grim expression was on her face. “What do you want to talk to me about? If it has to do with the Murong family, I don’t want to hear it.” Wang Yuyan said, “Mother, Ah Zhu and Ah Bi didn’t come here on purpose this time. Can’t you let them off the hook, just this once?” Madame Wang said, “How do you know they didn’t come here on purpose? Are you afraid that if I chop their hands off, your cousin will never speak to you ever again?” Tears began to gather in Wang Yuyan’s eyes. “My cousin is your nephew. Why…why must you hate him so much? Even if my aunt offended you, you don’t need to resent my cousin.” She had summoned up all her courage to say these words, but as soon as she did, her heart began thumping wildly in her chest. Even she herself was shocked at how daring she had been in directly contradicting her mother.
Frozen lightning was in Madame Wang’s eyes. She swept her gaze across her daughter’s face a few times, but did not immediately respond. Following this, she closed her eyes. Wang Yuyan didn’t dare to so much as take a loud breath, unsure as to just what exactly her mother was planning.

After a long time, Madame Wang opened her eyes. She said, “How do you know that your aunt offended me? How did she offend me?” Hearing how icy her mother’s tone was, Wang Yuyan was so frightened that she couldn’t even speak. Madame Wang said, “Go ahead and tell me. You are growing older, and no longer need to obey me anyhow.” Both angry and anxious, Wang Yuyan began to cry. “Mother, for you…for you to hate her family so much, she must have offended you somehow. But you never told me how she offended you. Now that she’s passed away, you…you don’t need to cling to your hatred of her.” Madame Wang snapped at her, “Have you heard anyone talk about this?” Wang Yuyan shook her head. “You never allow me to leave, nor do you allow outsiders to come. Who would talk to me about this?”

Madame Wang let out a quiet sigh. Her tense, taut face immediately loosened, and the tone of her voice became gentle as well. She said, “I do this for your own good. There are too many bad people in the outside world, each of whom kills more than the next. It’s best for a young lady like you to not meet with bad people.” As she said this, she suddenly thought of something and added, “The new gardener who is surnamed Duan is very glib and very sly. He’s not a good person. If he says so much as a single sentence to you, immediately order the servant girls to kill him. Don’t allow him to say a second sentence. Understood?” Wang Yuyan thought to herself, “What’s this about one sentence or two sentences? We’ve probably talked for more than one hundred or two hundred sentences!”

Madame Wang said, “What is it? Look at how soft-hearted and gentle you are; the gods only know how much suffering you will have to endure in your life because of it.” She clapped twice and Xiaoming entered. Madame Wang said, “Pass the word down. If anyone talks to the gardener surnamed Duan, both of their tongues will be cut out.” Xiaoming looked stupefied. Madame Wang’s attitude seemed to be that of one who was ordering a chicken or a dog to be slaughtered. She replied, “Yes!” She hurriedly
retreated. Madame Wang waved a hand towards her daughter. “You leave as well!”

Wang Yuyan replied, “Yes.” As she passed through the doorway, she turned her head and said, “Mother, please show mercy to Ah Zhu and Ah Bi, and just order them to never come here again, under any circumstances.” Madame Wang said coldly, “How often do I go back on my word? No matter what you say, I won’t change my mind.”

Madame Wang clenched her teeth. In a low voice, she said, “I know why you hate auntie and why you dislike my cousin.” With a few quiet steps, she hurriedly exited.

Madame Wang said, “Get back!” These words were particularly loud or clear, but were filled with an awe-inspiring dignity. Wang Yuyan returned to the room, head lowered and silent. Madame Wang stared at the quivering lines of blue smoke rising from the incense-burners in the room. In a low voice, she said, “Yan’er, what do you know? No need to lie to me. It’s best if you just say everything.” Wang Yuyan bit her lower lip. “Auntie blamed you for killing people indiscriminately, to the point where you offended the local government authorities as well as created many vendettas with people of the martial world.”

Madame Wang said, “Correct. These are the affairs of the Wang family. What did they have to do with her Murong family? She was nothing more than your father’s elder sister. What authority did she have to try and govern me? Hmph, over the past few hundred years, the only thing the Murong family has done is dream about ‘restoring the Yan dynasty’. All they can think about is uniting the heroes of the world under their banner. They fawn on people and try to make alliances. Heh heh, and now, they’ve even offended both the Beggar’s Clan and Shaolin.”

Wang Yuyan said, “Mother, my cousin definitely did not kill master Xuanbei of Shaolin. He doesn’t know how to use…” But just as she was about to say ‘the Veda Sceptre technique’, she hurriedly paused. As soon as her mother found out where she had heard those words from, it would be almost impossible for Duan Yu to escape death. Instead, she said, “…I’m afraid his martial arts level isn’t good enough.”
Madame Wang said, “True. Right now, he went to pay a visit to Shaolin. Those blabbermouth servant girls naturally have already told you this. ‘Nothern Qiao Feng, Southern Murong.’ This saying is really famous and resounding. But can one Murong Fu, plus a Deng Baichun, really get any good results from this trip to Shaolin by themselves? He really doesn’t know his own limits!” Wang Yuyan took a few steps forward. In a supplicating voice, she said, “Mother, can you please think of a way to rescue him? Can you send some people to go give him a helping hand? He…he’s the last descendant of the Murong lineage. If something bad happens to him, the Murong family line will come to an end and their lineage be extinct.” Madame Wang sneered, “Gusu’s Murong family. Hmph. What does the Murong family has to do with me? Your auntie claimed that her Murong family’s ‘Water Pavilion of Bestowal and Repayment’ is superior to our ‘Jade Cavern Library’. Fine. Then let her precious son, Murong Fu, go to Shaolin and display his power and might.” With a wave of her hand, she said, “Leave, leave!” Madame Wang said, “Mother, my cousin…” Madame Wang snapped, “You grow more and more impudent!”

Tears glistened in Wang Yuyan’s eyes. Lowering her head, she left. Her mind was running wild and she had no idea what to do. As she walked to a porch in the west wing of the house, she heard someone say in a low voice, “Miss, what’s wrong?” Wang Yuyan raised her head. It was Duan Yu. She hurriedly said, “You…don’t talk to me!”

After Wang Yuyan had left earlier, Duan Yu had stood there in a daze for a while before slowly following her footstep in a befuddled way. He waited for her from a distance. After seeing her come out from Madame Wang’s room, he couldn’t prevent himself from following her. Seeing a grieved expression on Wang Yuyan’s face, he knew that Madame Wang did not agree to her request. He said, “Even if the madame did not agree, we still need to think of something.” Wang Yuyan replied, “If mother doesn’t agree, what’s the point of coming up with any ideas? She…she…she…my cousin is in a very dangerous situation, but she intends to fold her hands in her sleeves and ignore him.” The more she spoke, the more miserable she felt, until she couldn’t help but once more begin to shed tears.
Duan Yu replied, “Right, young master Murong really is in a lot of trouble…” He suddenly thought of something and asked, “You know so much about martial arts. Why don’t you go yourself and help him out?” Wang Yuyan opened her dark, liquid eyes, and stared at him as though this was the most bizarre idea in the entire world. After a long time, she said, “I…I understand martial arts, but don’t practice them. Besides, how could I go? Mother definitely wouldn’t allow it.” Duan Yu smiled. “Your mother naturally won’t let you go, but aren’t you able to sneak out by yourself? I once left home by myself once. Afterwards, when I came back home, my mother and father didn’t scold me too harshly.”

After hearing these words, Wang Yuyan suddenly saw the light. Her eyes brightened, and she thought to herself, “Right! If I sneak out to go help my cousin, even if mother severely punishes me when I return, it’s no big deal. Even if she wants to kill me, I’ll have already helped my cousin.” When she thought about having the chance to undergo trials and tribulations on behalf of her cousin, her heart was filled with both misery and sweetness. Then she thought, “This person said he secretly ran away before. Hm, right, why didn’t I ever think of anything like this?” Duan Yu, sneaking glances at her, saw that she seemed to be half-convinced. He immediately exerted all his effort to convince her. He said, “You always stay here, within the Highland Manor of the Camellias. Don’t you want to check out the dazzling outside world and see its myriad temptations?”

Wang Yuyan shook her head. “What does it have worth checking? I’m just worried about my cousin. But I’ve never practiced martial arts. If he really meets up with any problems, I won’t be able to help.” Duan Yu replied, “Why wouldn’t you be of help? You’d be of tremendous help! When your cousin is fighting others, you can give watch and give him a few words of advice from the sidelines. This is known as ‘the bystander sees most clearly’. When someone else was playing a game of chess and about to lose, I gave him some advice from the sidelines and he immediately managed a complete comeback. This just happened very recently.” Wang Yuyan felt he made a lot of sense, but wasn’t able to summon up enough courage. She hesitantly said, “I’ve never been away from home. I don’t even know if Shaolin is to the east or to the west.”
Duan Yu immediately jumped at the opportunity. “I’ll accompany you. If any problems arise on the road, just let me deal with them.” He naturally didn’t bring up the point that his own experience in the martial world was brilliantly shallow.

Wang Yuyan furrowed her eyebrows. Inclining her head to one side, she mumbled to herself indecisively. Duan Yu asked, “What’s happening with Ah Zhu and Ah Bi?” Wang Yuyan said, “Mother won’t let them off.” Duan Yu said, “In for a penny, in for a pound! [Lit. ‘Either don’t act at all, or don’t stop once you do!’] If Ah Zhu and Ah Bi have their right hands chopped off, your cousin will definitely blame you. Why don’t we go rescue them, then the two of us will immediately set off.” Wang Yuyan stuck out her tongue. “How can my mother possibly forgive such an enormous outrage? You really have way too much courage!”

Duan Yu knew very well that right now that nothing could move her mind aside from her cousin. He immediately used the tactic of retreating to seize an advantage. He said, “If that’s the case, then let’s go immediately and just let your mother chop off Ah Zhu and Ah Bi’s hands. In the future, when your cousin asks you about it, you can just deny knowing about it. I definitely won’t divulge the secret.”

Wang Yuyan hurriedly said, “How can I do that? Isn’t that lying to him?” She felt very hesitant. “Alas! Ah Zhu and Ah Bi are his two trusted servants. If anything bad were to happen to them, the grudge between the Murong family and my Wang family will only grow all the more deep.” Stamping her left foot, she said, “You, come with me.”

Hearing the four words ‘You, come with me’, Duan Yu was so happy he could have died at that moment with no complaints. In his entire life, he’d never heard four more beautiful words. Seeing that she was walking towards the northwest, he followed her from behind.

In a short amount of time, they arrived outside of a large stone room. Wang Yuyan said, “Granny Yan, please come out. I want to talk to you.”

A strange laughter emanated from the stone room. A shriveled, dry voice said, “My dear young miss, have you come to see how granny makes flower

Earlier, Duan Yu had heard Youcao and Xiaoming say that Ah Zhu and Ah Bi had been taken to the ‘Flower Fertilizer Shed’. Then, he hadn’t really paid it too much mind. Now, upon hearing this extremely sinister voice say the words, ‘flower fertilizer’, his heart froze. “What is the ‘Flower Fertilizer Shed’? Is it where fertilizer for the flowers is kept? Damn, right, Madame Wang is incomparably ruthless. She buries people alive and uses them as fertilizer for her flowers. If we came too late, Ah Zhu and Ah Bi’s right hands will have already been chopped off and turned into fertilizer. What will we do then?” His heart thumped frantically, and all the blood disappeared from his face.

Wang Yuyan said, “Granny Yan, my mother has something to discuss with you. Please come out.” The woman in the stone room said, “I’m busy. What pressing business does the madame have, that she sends you to personally come tell me?” Wang Yuyan said, “My mother said…hey, are they here yet?”

As she spoke, she entered the stone room. She saw that Ah Zhu and Ah Bi were bound against two iron pillars. Something was jammed into their mouths, preventing them from saying anything despite their eyes being filled with tears. Duan Yu glanced inside as well. Seeing that Ah Zhu and Ah Bi were not yet harmed, he felt half-relieved. After glancing around the rest of the shed, his heart, which had just barely began to calm down, began to beat wildly again. An old lady with a crooked back who was holding a long, bright, and gleaming sabre in her hands stood next to them. By their side was a boiling cauldron of water that was emitting steady streams of water vapour.

Wang Yuyan said, “Granny Yan, mother orders that they be released for now. There’s something important she wants to question them about first.”

Granny Yan turned around. Duan Yu saw that she had an extremely ugly face, filled with malice. She nodded. “Fine. After she’s done asking questions, escort them back and have their hands chopped off then.” She muttered to herself, “The thing which I, Granny Yan, hate seeing the most is pretty girls. These two girls must have a hand chopped off. Only then will
they really be good looking. I’ll go talk to the madame; we should chop off both their hands. We’ve been running a bit low on fertilizer.” Duan Yu was furious. He thought to himself that this old woman was filled with evil and maliciousness. Who knows how many people she had already killed? If it weren’t for the fact that he didn’t have the strength to truss up a chicken, he would have given her a few strong blows to her mouth and knock two or three of her teeth out before freeing Ah Zhu and Ah Bi.

Although Granny Yan was getting on in years, her ears remained sharp. She immediately heard the sound of Duan Yu’s harsh breathing and asked, “Who is outside?” Sticking her head outside, she saw Duan Yu. She fiercely asked, “Who are you?” Duan Yu laughed, “I’m the person who the madame ordered to be her gardener. Granny Yan, might I ask if you have any fresh fertilizer for me?” Granny Yan replied, “Wait a short while. We’ll have some soon.” Turning her head, she said, “Miss, your cousin likes these two girls very much, doesn’t he?”

Wang Yuyan said, “Yes. It’s best for you not to hurt them.” Granny Yan nodded. “Miss, isn’t it true that the madame ordered that these two girls each have their right hands be chopped off and be expelled from the manor, and also told them that if she ever sees them again, she’ll chop their heads off?” Wang Yuyan said, “Yes.” As soon as she said this, she immediately knew something was wrong and hurriedly covered her mouth with her hands. Duan Yu secretly groaned bitterly. “Man. This young lady doesn’t even know how to tell a lie.”

Fortunately, it seemed as though Granny Yan was old and muddle-headed, not noticing this huge flaw in the story. She said, “Miss, this rope was tied very tightly. Come and help me untie it.”

Wang Yuyan said, “Alright!” Walking to Ah Zhu side, she reached out to untie the rope fastening her wrists. Suddenly, with a clanking sound, an arcing steel hoop shot out of the metal pillar, trapping her slender waist….

Wang Yuyan let out a startled cry. Although there was a few inches of free space between her waist and the hoop, there was no way she would be able to escape.
Shocked, Duan Yu rushed into the room. He shouted, “What are you doing? Free the young lady!”

Granny Yan let out a series of strange, grumbling laughs. “Since the madame already said that if she ever saw these girls again, she would chop off their heads, why would she summon them to ask them questions? The madame has so many servants; why does she need to send you to come personally? There are a lot of irregularities here. Miss, wait here a while. Let me personally go ask the madame, and then we’ll see.”

Wang Yuyan angrily said, “What on earth do you think you’re doing? Let me go immediately!” Granny Yan said, “Miss, I am totally devoted and loyal to the madame. I don’t dare to do anything wrong. Old Mrs. Murong truly was far too impolite to the madame. She made a lot of malicious remarks and slandered the madame’s stainless reputation. It isn’t only the madame who was angry; even us servants hate her to the bone. That day, all the madame had to do was nod and we would have dug a tomb for her, then dragged her corpse to the ‘Flower Fertilizer Shed’ and turned her into ordinary fertilizer. Miss, let me tell you this. There isn’t a single good person in the Murong family. There’s no way the madame would have consented to spare these two girls. But since you gave me these orders, I am going to go to the madame and figure everything out. If things really are the way you say they are, I’ll come back and immediately kneel before you and apologize. You can just go ahead and use wooden rods to beat me in accordance with our household rules.” Want Yuyan was very worried. She said, “Hey, hey, don’t go ask the madame! My mother will be angry!”

Granny Yan harbored no more doubt in her heart, knowing that the young lady was certainly making mischief behind her mother’s back. In order to protect her cousin’s servants, she had transmitted false orders. She decided to seize the opportunity to win some merit. She said, “Excellent, excellent! Miss, wait here a bit. This old granny will be right back.” Wang Yuyan cried out, “Don’t leave! Free me first!” Granny Yan ignored her, quickly leaving the stone room.

Seeing the situation had reached a critical point, Duan Yu stretched out both his hands, blocking her way. Laughing, he said, “Wouldn’t it be better if
you released her, then went to speak with the madame? You are a servant, after all. In the long run, it does you no good to offend the young miss.”

Narrowing her eyes, Granny Yan inclined her head to one side before saying, “You are behaving very inappropriately, you little punk.” With a flip of her hand, she seized Duan Yu by the wrist, then dragged him next to the metal pillar as well. She activated the pillar, and with a clanking sound, it shot out another metal hoop which settled around Duan Yu’s waist as well. Panic-stricken, Duan Yu stretched his hand out and grabbed her by the wrists, refusing to let go no matter what.

As soon as she was seized by him, Granny Yan felt as though her internal energy was continuously flowing out of her in a steady stream. She felt unspeakably uncomfortable, and angrily shouted, “Let go!” But as exerted her energy to shout loudly, her internal energy began to flow out of her more quickly. She struggled ferociously, but was unable to free herself from Duan Yu’s grip. Shocked, she said, “Little bastard…what are you doing? Let go of me now!”

Duan Yu was directly facing her hideous face, with only a few inches separating them. With his back forced against the metal pillar, there was no way for him to lean his head backwards. Seeing that her filthy yellow teeth looked as though they were about to bite his throat out, he was both terrified and nauseated. But he knew that at this critical moment, if he released her, not only would Wang Yuyan receive a heavy punishment, but he himself along with Ah Zhu and Ah Bi would be unable to keep their lives. All he could do was shut his eyes and not look at her.

Granny Yan said, “You…are you going to let go or not?” Her voice was already weak. Originally, Duan Yu fully absorbed the internal energy of the seven disciples of Mt. Wuliang’s Sword sect, then drained a portion of the internal energy of many high-calibre martial artists. With his internal energy having grown more powerful, the suctioning power of the Divine Art of the Northern Darkness grew greater as well. At this point, draining Granny Yan’s internal energy took but a short amount of time. Although Granny Yan appeared to be very ferocious, her actual internal energy reserves was limited. In less than the time it would take to drink a cup of tea, she was
totally worn out and looked exhausted. All she could do was gasp out, “Let…go of me, let…let…let go.”

Duan Yu replied, “First, activate the mechanism to release me.” Granny Yan said, “Yes, yes!” Squatting down, she stretched out her right hand to activate a mechanism that was hidden underneath the nearby table. With a cracking sound, the metal hoop which had encircled Duan Yu’s waist retracted. Pointing at Wang Yuyan, Ah Zhu, and Ah Bi, Duan Yu ordered that they be immediately released as well.

Granny Yan tugged at the mechanism which controlled Wang Yuyan’s metal hoop, but even after some time passed, it refused to move. Duan Yu angrily said, “Why aren’t you releasing the young miss immediately?” Granny Yan frowned, “I…I don’t have any energy left in me at all.”

Stretching his own hand out, Duan Yu felt for the mechanism underneath the table. Finding it, he tugged on it, and with a clanking sound, the metal hoop surrounding Wang Yuyan slowly retracted into the pillar. Duan Yu was elated, but still did not yet dare to release Granny Yan from his hold. Picking up the long sabre which had fallen to the floor, he sawed through the ropes which bound Ah Bi.

After being released, Ah Bi took the sabre away from him and cut away the ropes binding Ah Zhu. They were both startled and elated, and removed the rough walnuts from their mouths. For the moment, they remained speechless.

Wang Yuyan glanced at Duan Yu a few times, a look of surprise on her face, mixed with some disdain. “How is it that you know the Great Art of Energy Dissipation? Why would you learn such a filthy technique?”

Duan Yu shook his head. “This isn’t the Great Art of Energy Dissipation.” He decided that not only was there no time to explain everything clearly, even if he did she might not believe him. It would be best just to make something up. He said, “This is a technique of Dali’s Duan family, which is known as the ‘Six Suns Melting the Snow’ technique. It’s derived from a combination of the ‘Solitary Solar Finger’ and the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. It is orthodox where the Great Art of Energy Dissipation is
heretical, and benevolent where the latter is vile. The two can’t be mentioned in the same sentence.”

Wang Yuyan immediately believed him. Smiling sweetly, she said, “Please forgive me for my ignorance. I’ve long heard of Dali’s ‘Solitary Solar Finger’ and the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, but this is the first time I have heard of your ‘Six Suns Melting the Snow’ technique. In the future, I’ll have to ask you to explain it to me.”

Duan Yu, hearing that this beautiful woman was willing to hear him explain the technique to her, was absolutely delighted. He hurriedly said, “Miss, all you have to do is ask, and I naturally will explain everything to you, without daring to hide anything.”

Ah Zhu and Ah Bi, in their wildest imaginings, wouldn’t have dreamed that Duan Yu would be able to rush here to save them at this most critical of moments. Now, seeing him chat so amiably with the young miss, they were even more astonished. Ah Zhu said, “Young gentleman Duan, miss, thank you both of rescuing us. We need to take this Granny Yan away with us, or else she might reveal what happened here.”

Granny Yan was terrified. She thought to herself that if she were to be taken away by these girls, she would have less than a ten percent chance of survival at best. She cried out, “Miss, miss! The old mistress of the Murong family accused the madame of having a secret lover, and said that you…” Ah Zhu pinched her cheeks with her left hand, then shoved the walnuts which she had just spat out into Granny Yan’s own mouth.

Duan Yu laughed. “Brilliant! This is the signature trait of the Murong family, well-known as ‘using the opponent’s technique, exercising it upon the opponent.’” Wang Yuyan said, “I’m coming with you. I’m going to see how he…” As she spoke, her entire face reddened, and she said in a low voice, “See how he…how he is doing.” She had been irresolute previously, but the unexpected events which had just occurred helped her make her up mind. Ah Zhu happily said, “Miss, if you are willing to help out, that would be wonderful. In that case, there’s no need to take Granny Yan with us.” The two girls dragged Granny Yan next to the metal pillar, activated the
mechanism, and trapped her with the steel hoop. The four of them quietly left the stone room, quickly moving towards the lakeside.

Fortunately, they didn’t encounter any servants on their way. The four of them got onto the boat which Ah Zhu and Ah Bi had rowed over here and immediately began to row towards the middle of the lake. Ah Zhu, Ah Bi, and Duan Yu all rowed simultaneously. It wasn’t until they could no longer see so much as the slightest shadow of the Highland Manor of the Camellias that they slightly relaxed. But, afraid that Madame Wang might pursue them in her fast ship, they did not stop rowing.

After they rowed for a long time, the sun began to set and the misty water vapour began to thicken and settle across the face of the lake. Ah Zhu said, “Miss, we’re relatively close to the place where we servants live. Tonight, we’ll have to ask that you settle for the inconvenience of temporarily staying here for a night. Then, we’ll discuss what’s the best way for finding the young master. Is that alright?” Wang Yuyan said, “Alright, we’ll do things your way.” The farther they were from the Highland Manor of the Camellias, the more taciturn she grew.

Duan Yu watched her dress be gently fluttered by the clean lake wind. It was dusk, and there was a slight chill in the air. Suddenly, a dreary, desolate feeling entered his heart. The earlier joyfulness of their escape gradually faded away.

After they rowed for another long period of time, it was so dark that he could not see anybody’s eyes or nose clearly. Towards the eastern horizon, bright lights and lit lamps could be seen. Ah Bi said, “That place over there with the bright lights is sister Ah Zhu’s ‘Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds’.” They began to row the boat in that direction. Duan Yu suddenly thought to himself, “In this lifetime, I’m afraid that I will never experience the emotions of tonight a second time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this small boat would never be able to reach those lights?” Suddenly, a bright light appeared in the sky. A bright comet with a long tail streaked across the heavens.

Wang Yuyan whispered a few soft words which Duan Yu couldn’t quite make out. In the middle of the darkness, he could only hear the sound of her
sigh. Ah Bi said in a soft voice, “Miss, don’t worry. All his life, the young master has turned bad luck into good fortune. He’s never met with any real calamity.” Wang Yuyan said, “Shaolin has been famous for hundreds of years. This isn’t a trivial matter at all. I can only hope that the eminent monks within the monastery will listen to reason and are willing to allow my cousin to explain. I’m just afraid…afraid that my cousin has a bad temper, and begins to get into a verbal battle with the monks of Shaolin, alas…” She paused for a moment, then quietly said, “Every time a meteor flashes across the sky, I’m never able to complete my wish.”

There is a traditional belief in the Jiangnan that whenever a shooting star streaks across the sky, if a person manages to make a wish before the shooting star disappears, anything they ask for, no matter how difficult it is to accomplish, will come to pass in a satisfactory manner. But shooting stars always disappear very quickly. Oftentimes before the wish-maker has finished saying but a few words, the shooting star will have already disappeared. Over the course of centuries, it is unknown as to how many young men and women have placed their hopes and dreams on shooting stars, and how many have been disappointed. Although Wang Yuyan had a very deep understanding of martial arts, she still possessed the sentiments and feelings of a young person. In this, there was very little difference between her and the young daughters of farmers and peasants who lived on the lake.

Upon hearing her words, Duan Yu felt a fresh stab of pain in his heart. He clearly knew that the wish she wanted to make had to do with young master Murong, and that she was certainly wishing for him to be safe and unharmed, and that he would accomplish all his goals. Staring at his feet, he thought to himself, “In the whole wide world, what girl would be like Wang Yuyan and secretly make wishes on my behalf? Sister Wan once deeply loved me, but now that she knows I am her elder brother, she surely views me in a different light. I wonder where she is now? Has she met up with a husband-and-lord who pleases her? And what of Zhong Ling? Does she know that I am her elder brother by blood? Even if she doesn’t know, when she thinks of me, at most her heart will be moved at that moment. Shortly afterwards, she’ll have thrust the thought from her mind. She definitely wouldn’t be like how Wang Yuyan is right now, thinking of her beloved
with an aching longing that penetrates her mind and which has settled into her very bones.”

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