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Fragrance in the Sea of Blood Chapter 1

CSI

Chapter 1 – White Jade Beauty

White jade beauty belongs to famous noble,
Carved by the hands of the master,
Its lovely form reached perfection,
Yet it cannot surpass the heart that yearns for it.
Tonight, going for a walk in the moonlight to fetch it,
The simple, yet elegant noble reached it,
Certainly not in such a way as to make me going back and forth in futility.

This piece of paper was spread on the brightly lit marble tabletop. The light coming from a candle inside a pink gauze lamp shade made the pale blue paper appear to be some kind of unusual but beautiful pale violet, it also made the outstandingly graceful handwriting appear to be more elegant and free flowing. The letter did not carry any signature on it, but it carried the fragrance of tulips; ethereal yet rich in scent, which was enough to explain who wrote this short note.

The receiver of the note was the young master of a rich and powerful, aristocratic family of Beijing, Jin Banhua. This moment, he was sitting by the table, his fair and clear, as well as delicate, very well-maintained face, was twisting as if he was in extreme pain due to someone had just chopped him. His eyes were glaring at the short note, as if he was staring at Yan Wang’s [Yama, King of Hell] summon.

Inside the exquisite reception pavilion, there were three other men; one was an old man with bold and powerful expression, grizzled hair and beard, wearing embroidered clothes, who was pacing incessantly back and forth in the hall with his hands behind his back. Nobody knew how many times he had walked across the hall; perhaps the distance he covered was as far as the distance between Beijing and Zhangjiakou.

The other was a man wearing black clothes, with high cheek bone, his gaze was like a hawk’s, malicious and heavily ferocious looking. He was sitting by Jin Banhua’s side, his hand lightly stroked the judge pen, made of fine steel, lying on the table. His build was withered, slim, the knuckles on his fingers prominent. Under the candle light, he also looked like a statue made of cast steel.

These two men’s countenance was also very heavy, their sharp gaze kept moving from the window to the door, from the door back to the window, back and forth, back and forth, nonstop.

And then the last one was a short and small, withered and thin, old man wearing plain and simple clothes, and had a bald head. But he was sitting far away in the corner, closing his eyes as if he was asleep. His whole body, from top to bottom, has nothing special to look at, except his pair of ears, which, for some reason, was missing, and on its place was a pair of ash-grey fake ears, but it was also unclear what they were made of.

The old man in brocade gown walked over to the table, picked up the note, and said with a cold laugh, “What do you call this? An invitation? An IOU? Judging from the paper alone, it looks to be the most precious of the four treasures of the Capital that was snatched away from Wang Meiren [the Beauty surnamed Wang] …”

And then he slapped the table heavily and said in stern voice, “Chu Liuxiang, oh, Chu Liuxiang! You look down on the Heroes of the Nine Cities too much!”

Looking anxious, Jin Banhua stammered, “But by using the same type of paper, he had taken away I don’t know how many rare treasures; if he said he is going to take something in the zi hour [between 11pm – 1am], no one can guard it by the chou hour [between 1 – 3am].”

The man in black coldly said, “Oh, is that right?”

Jin Banhua sighed and said, “Last month, the Young Marquis Qiu of Juan Jianzi Lane received his letter, saying that he was going to take Hou Ye’s [grandpa Hou, or simply ‘old gentleman, the Marquis’] Nine-Dragon Cup, a family heirloom that was handed down from generation to generation. The Young Marquis not only locked the cup in secret chamber, he also invited the ‘Shuang Zhang Fan Tian’ [double palms turning over the heaven] Qiao Zihe [his name literally means ‘freckled crane’], and ‘Mei Hua Jian’ [plum blossom sword] Fang Huan, both are martial art masters from famous school, to guard outside the door. It could be said that the security was so tight that not a drop of water can leak out; but when they opened the door after a while … ay! The Nine-Dragon Cup was gone.”

The man in black laughed coldly and said, “Wan Lao Biaotou [lit. old head of escort company] is not Qiao Zihe, and I, ‘Sheng Si Pan’ [Judge of Life and Death] am not Fang Huan; besides …”

He cast a glance at the bald old man in the corner, and continued slowly, “we have here Ying Lao Qianbei [lit. old senior/venerable old gentleman], who, when the robbers under the heavens heard his name would be scared out of their wits. If the three of us cannot stop Chu Liuxiang, I am afraid there is no one else in the world.”

The bald old man squinted and said with a laugh, “Ximen Xiong [brother Ximen] must not toot your horn on laoxiu’s [lit. old rotten] behalf; after the Battle of Yuntai [lit. cloud terrace], laoxiu is already unfit for anything; the ears with which I rely on to make a living have been cut, aren’t I like a little beggar who lost his snake with which he played with?”

If someone else suffered such a crushing defeat, so much so that his ears were cut off, not only his lips would be sealed and he would not say anything about this matter, if someone mentioned it, he would definitely pull his blade and fight desperately. But he was smiling with assurance and composure, as if he was extremely proud of it.

The old man in brocade gown was the Zongbiaotou [head of escort company] of the Wan Sheng Biao Ju [ten thousand victories escort company] of the Capital, the ‘Tie Zhang Jin Biao’ [Iron Palm Golden Escort; note: the word ‘biao’ can mean either ‘escort’ or ‘dart’], Wan Yuandi. This moment his hand was stroking his long beard as he laughed loudly and said, “Who in Jianghu does not know that the Tu Ying’s [Bald Eagle] hearing ability is matchless under the heavens? Although the Battle of Yuntai was a minor defeat and the old man lost his horse, but it turned out for the best[1]. After installing this pair of Bai Yi Shen Er [lit. divine ears of the white clothes], your hearing ability is even more superior than the past.”

The Bald Eagle shook his head and said with a laugh, “I am old, and useless. This time, were it not for wanting to increase my knowledge by seeing this Yuan Shuai [marshal] among the robbers, the prince [orig. Gongzi, young master, son of respectable family] among the wanderers, I would not re-enter the Jianghu [lit. river and lake].”

Jin Banhua suddenly laughed and said, “Jianghu people say that Ying Lao Qianbei needs only to hear the sound of someone’s breathing, he can immediately tell whether that person was a man or a woman, how old, and what his status is. It does not matter who that person was, as long as Ying Lao Qianbei heard the sound of his breathing, he could forget about escaping for the rest of his life. No matter where he fled, Ying Lao Qianbei would hunt and arrest him.”

The Bald Eagle closed his eyes until only a slit remained; he laughed and said, “Jianghu rumors are always exaggerated.”

They heard the faint sound of night watchman’s clapper amidst the night breeze. The Judge of Life and Death stood up suddenly and said, “It’s zi hour.”

Jin Banhua dashed into the corner, and lifted up a roll of gongbi painting of a court lady[2]; inside was a secret door. He opened the secret door, and saw that the red sandalwood carved wooden case was still lying nicely inside. He could not help heaving a sigh of relief, turned his head around, and said, “Unexpectedly the three gentlemen’s prowess indeed scared that Chu Liuxiang that he did not dare to come.”

The Life and Death Judge threw his head back and laughed, “Chu Liuxiang, oh, Chu Liuxiang, turns out you are also a …”

“Shh!” suddenly he heard the Bald Eagle shushing him. The Life and Death Judge’s laughter stopped abruptly. From outside the window came a deep and low, yet extremely attractive, voice, laughing and saying, “The White Jade Beauty has been respectfully received; Chu Liuxiang came with a specific purpose in mind to express my gratitude.”

Wan Yuandi rushed in big strides to the window, with one palm he shook the window open, and saw in the distant, in the darkness, stood a shadow of a tall man, holding an object about three chi long in his hands. Under the moonlight, it looked sparkling and translucent, as well as smooth and shiny. The shadow spoke, “Stealing the treasure in Xu hour [between 7-9pm], coming to say thanks in Zi hour. My etiquette is lacking, please forgive me.”

Jin Huaban’s face has already turned deathly pale; his voice trembling, he said, “After him! Quickly after him!”

Under the candlelight, red shadow flashed, gust of wind arose, Shengsi Pan and Wan Yuandi already rushed out the window.

The Bald Eagle spoke in heavy voice, “Is that the real Jade Beauty?”

Jin Banhua stomped his feet and said, “I can see it clearly, it can’t be wrong.”

While stomping his feet, he also leaped out; turned out the martial art skill of this young master of an aristocratic family was not weak either.

But the Bald Eagle only shook his head slightly and said with a cold laugh, “Others may fall into your trap, but I … humph!”

His eyes fixed on the red sandalwood box, step by step he walked toward it.

Suddenly a heard a loud ‘Bang!’ behind him. His entire body jumped.

What happened was that his Bai Yi Shen Er was actually made of silver, a metal with high resonance property. As soon as the sound rang, his eardrums were shaken. He had always been very proud of this pair of divine ears, but not even in his dream he ever thought about the terrible harm it could bring. Greatly shocked, he made a somersault in the air, while his palms struck in succession, but there was not a shadow behind him.

And then he heard another ‘Bang!’ outside the window. With both feet pushed the ground, the Bald Eagle flew out the window. His ears were still buzzing incessantly, but he came face to face with a gong.

The Bald Eagle’s countenance changed greatly, “Bad!’ he blurted out.

Frantically he turned back and leaped into the window, and saw the red sandalwood case was still there, safe and sound, but the curtain on the other window was still fluttering continuously.

The Bald Eagle stood still like he was made of stone, the expression on his face was extremely peculiar; it was not clear whether he was crying or laughing. His mouth did not stop mumbling, “Chu Liuxiang, oh, Chu Liuxiang, you are indeed formidable. But don’t be too proud of yourself, because your breathing sound has already fallen into my ears. One day I will find you.”

The sound of rustling clothes was heard behind him; one after another Wan Yuandi, Shengsi Pan, and Jin Banhua rushed back. In his hand, Wan Yuandi held a three-chi long carved jade beauty; he laughed and said, “Turns out it was a trick; this jade beauty is fake.”

Shengsi Pan said, “Even if fake, good or bad, it still worth a few taels of silver. This is called ‘trying to steal a chicken only to end up losing the rice used to lure it’ [idiom, fig. trying to gain an advantage only to end up worse off]. Tonight, the grand Daoshuai [Bandit Chief] can be considered falling head first into the bucket.”

The Bald Eagle’s eyes absent-mindedly stare at the red sandalwood box, while his mouth mumbled, “If that thing is fake, where is the real one?”

Jin Banhua’s expression changed again; his voice trembling as he said, “The real one … the real one is naturally in … in the box.”

His mouth said so, but his body already bolted over. He opened the box, but where was the real Jade Beauty? Jin Banhua cried out in alarm, and passed out right there.

Wan Yuandi came over to look; surprisingly there was another note on a piece of pale blue paper, emitting the same ethereal and romantic scent, displaying the same graceful handwriting. It said,

Young master companion of flower [‘Banhua’] loses the beauty,

The Bandit Chief goes for a walk in the moonlight, leaving his fragrance behind [‘Liuxiang’].

Now he was lying face down comfortably on the deck, letting the warm sunshine of the fifth month bask on his broad, bare, bronze-colored back. The sea breeze was warm and humid, it blew passed the boat’s railing straight toward his pitch-black hair. His sacred, treasured arms were stretching in front of him, the slender yet powerful fingers were holding a sparkling and translucent, as well as smooth and shiny, White Jade Beauty.

But he seemed to have fallen asleep, cradled by the ocean.

The boat was an elaborate three-mast ship, with spotlessly white sails, long and narrow hull, made of solid and sleek wood, giving a stable, rapid, and gorgeous feeling.

It was early summer, the sun was bright, the seawater was azure, the seagulls lithely glided from the mast. Life was colorful, brimming with youthful gaiety.

The sky above the ocean was vast, the distant horizon remained only a slice of hazy grey shadow. This was his world. A place where he would never receive loathsome visitors.

The door of the cabin was wide open, and from time to time there was dainty laughter coming out of the cabin.

And then, a beautiful maiden walked out to the deck. She was wearing wide and comfortable scarlet clothes, her beautiful hair was pulled up loosely, revealing a pair of sparkling and translucent, slender jade legs, and bare, delicate and elegant, perfect without any blemish, pair of feet, which gracefully walked across the deck toward his side, and then with her toes she lightly scratched the arch of his foot. On her face appeared a sweet and charming smile, as if a hundred flowers bloomed at the same time in that instant.

He pulled his leg and sighed lightly, “Tian’er [lit. sweetie], can’t you ever be quiet for a moment?”

His voice was deep and low, brimming with inciting attractiveness.

A silver-bell-like tender laughter accompanied her voice, “Finally you guessed wrong,” she said.

He turned around lazily, the sun shone on his face.

His pair of eyebrows was thick and long, brimming with rugged masculine charm, but those clear eyes had some kind of graceful, leisurely feeling. His nose was straight, signaling his strong and resolute, heart of stone. His thin lips, upturned mouth, appeared to be somewhat callous, but as soon as he smiled, the staunchness turned gentle, the callousness also became sympathetic, just like the warm spring breeze blowing through the earth.

Raising his hand to block the glare of the sun, he blinked his eyes and laughed; his eyes were flickering with mischievous, amused radiance, but were also brimming with wits.

Winking, he said with a laugh, “Miss Li Hongxiu [lit. red sleeve], for Laotian’s [lit. old sky, God, Heavens] sake, could you not become that naughty? We already have Song Tian’er; don’t you think I am not suffering enough?”

Li Hongxiu laughed and bent her waist, but then she refrained from laughing as she said, “Chu Liuxiang Shaoye [young master, as in master/servant relationship], except for Song Tian’er, other people cannot be naughty?”

Chu Liuxiang patted the deck by his side and said, “Sit nicely here, accompany me basking in the sun, tell me a story, but it has to be a happy story, something with a happy ending. There are enough miserable things in the world.”

Biting her lip, Li Hongxiu said, “I don’t want to sit, I don’t want to tell story, and I don’t want to bask in the sun … this d@mned sun, basking in it makes people dizzy. I really don’t understand why you like the sun so much.”

When her mouth said, ‘I don’t want to sit’, she was sitting down; when she said, ‘I don’t want to bask in the sun’, she was already stretching both legs under the sunlight.

Chu Liuxiang said with a laugh, “What’s not good about basking in the sun? If one can bask in the sun more, he can’t possibly commit despicable, shameless things. No matter who, under such a lovely sunshine, one can’t possibly think of bad ideas.”

Li Hongxiu rolled her limpid eyes and said, “But right now I am thinking of a bad idea.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Right now you must be thinking of how to make me crawl up and do something for you; am I right?”

Li Hongxiu giggled tenderly and said, “You really are a ghost; nothing can be concealed from you.”

Her laughter gradually stopped; she went on, “But you really ought to get up and do something. Since returning from the Capital, you did not even want to move. If this laziness continued, you would become a hoodlum.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed dramatically and said, “You are really like my teacher when I was little, only you lack a pair of moustache.”

Li Hongxiu glared fiercely at him. Chu Liuxiang broke into a laughter and continued, “In my trip to the Capital this time, I really increased my knowledge by seeing not a few of those so-called famous heroes’ faces. Apart from the Bald Eagle, that old man, there were two others. One was the rice bucket [fig. good-for-nothing] the Life and Death Judge; it was said that his martial art skill is not weak, the pair of judge pens in his hands reportedly can seal 218 acupoints in a person’s body at once, but I swept pass him, and he only stood still like he was in a dream.”

Li Hongxiu cast him a sidelong glance, pursed her lips, and said, “Chu Da Shaoye’s qinggong [lightness skill] is unparalleled under the heavens, who in Jianghu did not know it? But Chu Da Shaoye, are you done tooting your horn?”

“I am done,” Chu Liuxiang said, “Miss Li, what instruction do you have for me?”

“Let me tell you some things first,” Li Hongxiu said. From her spacious sleeve she took out a tiny notebook. While flipping over it, she murmured, “Last time you fetched a batch of goods from Jinan [sub provincial city and capital of Shandong], and sold it for three hundred thousand taels. In addition to the ten thousand taels as emergency relief for the ‘Long Hu Biao Ju’ [dragon and tiger (fig. outstanding people) escort agency] Wang Biaotou’s widow, and opened up your hands for the Zhang and Zhao, two families’ wife and children for five thousand taels each, you also paid one thousand taels funeral expenses on behalf of Huang Xiucai [scholar, a person who has passed the county level imperial exam], and fifteen hundred taels to pay for wedding feast and betrothal gift on behalf of Zhao Guoming, and on behalf of Zheng …”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “Do you think I don’t know that?”

Glowering at him, Li Hongxiu said, “In short, three hundred thousand taels have been distributed out, you owe the Tian Farm fifty thousand taels, and I already loaned you forty thousand.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled ruefully and said, “Miss, are you saying that you cannot be lenient to me some more?”

“Haven’t you enjoyed life pleasure enough?” Li Hongxiu said, “There are already a lot of gossips circulating in Jianghu, people were talking whether the money you spent was your own, or you used your official authority for private interests …”

Frowning, Chu Liuxiang said, “Whatever people say, what does it have to do with us? We live in this world, why can’t we enjoy it? Why do we have to suffer hardship when we are old? Since when did you become so wordy?”

Smiling sweetly, Li Hongxiu said, “I don’t want you to suffer hardship, I just …”

Suddenly there was a call from the cabin, “Are you two still worrying about overturning the plains and the waves? Don’t you want to eat?”

It was a southern girl dialect; listening to her brought up another kind of flirtatious expression, another kind of feeling. But Li Hongxiu held her arms high, and said with a laugh, “Laotian, can’t she say something that others can understand?”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “You must not blame her. She worked hard to prepare the food, but nobody eats it, no wonder she is angry. And if one is angry, her hometown dialect came out.”

He did not seem to have moved, but he already pulled Li Hongxiu up.

Li Hongxiu protested coquettishly, “You always sided with Tian’er, that’s why she is so …”

She had not finished talking, her countenance changed abruptly, and she blurted out, “Look there, what is that?”

Under the bright sunshine, there was someone floating on the surface of the sea.

A dead body.

In one turn Chu Liuxiang already reached the side of the ship; grabbing a rope, he tied a noose and tossed it lightly. The long rope flew perfectly straight like an arrow.

The rope seemed to have eyes of its own; it accurately wrapped itself around the corpse.

The corpse was wearing expensive brocade clothes, a jadeite snuff bottle was hanging on his waist, his swarthy face already swollen by the seawater.

Chu Liuxiang lay him down on the deck, shook his head and said, “Can’t be saved anymore.”

But Li Hongxiu was looking at the corpse’ hands. The middle and ring fingers of his left hand were wearing three strange-looking black steel and golden rings.

Although his right hand had no ring, there was a trace of ring on the fingers.

Knitting her brows, Li Hongxiu said, “Seven-Star Flying Ring! Could it be that this is ‘Tian Xing Bang’ [Celestial Star Gang] disciple?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Not only ‘Tian Xing Bang’ disciple, this is the ‘Tian Xing BangZongpiao Bazi [it’s hard to translate, but basically it means the ‘big boss’], the ‘Seven-Star Soul Snatching’ Zuo Youzheng. But ‘Tian Xing Bang’ has always been in southern Anhui; how could he have died in here?”

Li Hongxiu said, “There is no scar on his body; did he die of drowning?”

Chu Liuxiang shook his head, and untied the corpse’s clothes. They saw under the fifth rib of his left chest, between the ‘ru gen’ [breast root] and ‘qi men’ [stage door] acupoints, surprisingly there was a purplish red palm mark.

Li Hongxiu sighed and said, “Shi Sha Men [Corpse Sand School].”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Although in recent years the talent of Shi Sha Men is at its peak, and its disciples are known to be more than a hundred and seventy, but those who can put ‘Seven-Star Soul Snatching’ to his death are, at most, only three.”

Li Hongxiu said, “Um, Feng, Yang, Ximen … those three men’s martial art skill is perhaps a bit stronger than Zuo Youzheng.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “What gratitude and grudges could Shi Sha Men and Tian Xing Bang have against each other?”

Li Hongxiu thought a moment, and then said, “Thirty-six years ago Tian Xing Bang’s Fragrant Master of the Torture Chamber married the second daughter of the Shi Sha Men’s Zhangmen [Chief] Feng Feng [two different characters]. Two years later this Miss Feng suddenly died. Feng Feng personally led punitive forces to southern Anhui; afterwards, although upon investigation he found out that his daughter really died of serious illness, from then on the two families did not have any dealings with each other anymore.”

“And then what happened?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Li Hongxiu said, “Twenty-six … maybe twenty-five years ago Tian Xing Bang’s disciple robbed the goods shipped under protection of Shi Sha Men’s disciples. At that time Feng Feng happened to have just died of illness, Shi Sha was in the process to elect the new Zhangmen, hence this matter was dragging on for one year. Afterwards, although the Tian Xing Bang’s disciple robbing the shipment was also defeated by Shi Sha Men’s disciples, the silver has never been returned.”

She was telling the story that happened more than twenty years ago in the Wulin [lit. martial art forest] world as though she was talking about trivial daily life of the people around her.

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Your memory is indeed never disappointing. But these matters are all in the past, the situation has changed; not only that, it cannot be considered deep hatred or big enmity. It may be assumed that for this kind of thing, Shi Sha Men can’t possibly follow Zuo Youzheng all the way to here before making their ruthless move. There must be some other reason behind this.”

Suddenly a young girl came up from the cabin, and protested coquettishly, “The two of you are really worrying about overturning the plains and the waves?”

She was also wearing wide and comfortable clothes, only the color was goose yellow; she also revealed a pair of hazel, well-proportioned and beautiful, smooth-lined jade legs.

Her pitch-black hair was combed into two long braids. The long braids were swinging around, following the constant movement of her exquisite body. Her oval face was pale brown; it matched very well with her pair of big eyes, where the black and the white of her eyeballs were distinct. She appeared charming yet playful. Originally she feigned disappointment on her face, but as soon as she saw the corpse, she cried out in alarm, turned around and ran away. She ran away a lot faster than when she came.

Li Hongxiu laughed and said, “No matter how gutsy Tian’er is in doing everything else, but as soon as she saw a dead person, she would be terribly scared. Therefore, I often said that no living person can control her, only dead people can do that.”

Chu Liuxiang had his eyes fixed on the abyss of the ocean and the sky; he spoke slowly, “You wait and see. Today, this one will not be the only dead people floating from over yonder.”

Li Hongxiu rolled her limpid eyes, but before she could speak, from the cabin appeared a pair of delicate and graceful hands, holding a large tray.

On the tray were two roasted yellow-breasted pigeons, with two pieces of lemon, several slabs of juicy beef, half white chicken breast, a strip of steamed fish, and large bowl of thick zhuqian soup [don’t know what it is], a large bowl of dried meat-flavored rice, and a full cup of purplish red grape wine, with condensation of water droplets outside the cup, as if it has been chilled for a long time.

Song Tian’er’s sweet laughter came from inside the cabin, as she called out, “Hey! Come in, quick!”

Li Hongxiu laughed and said, “I don’t understand, why don’t you deliver it yourself?”

Song Tian’er pouted and said, “Little demon [term of endearment for a child], if you don’t understand, how did you know that I was calling you?”

She was speaking in pure dialect of the Capital, but she was mumbling with soft, tender voice, yet it sounded so delightful.

Li Hongxiu clapped her hands and laughed tenderly, “Hear, hear! Our Miss Tian finally speaks Mandarin [orig. guanhua, ‘officialese’, the language of the bureaucrats].”

[1] Sai Weng Shi Ma, Yan Zhi Fei Fu. Sai – Saibei (north of Great Wall), Weng – old man, Shi – lose/fail/miss, Ma – horse, Yan – how, Zhi – know, Fei – not, Fu – luck. The story behind this idiom: http://studymorechinese.com/profiles/blogs/chinese-idiom-loss-no-bad-thing-story

[2] Gongbi, traditional Chinese painting method characterized by meticulous brush technique and detailed description. Court lady can also refer to traditional painting of beautiful women.

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