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Fragrance in the Sea of Blood Chapter 10


Chapter 10 – Where is the spouse?

Sun Xuepu said, “What I know is just that much.”

Chu Liuxiang swept his gaze around; suddenly he said, “Did you say that you made four portraits for her?”

“That’s right,” Sun Xuepu replied, “Four portraits.”

“Do you know why she wanted four portraits?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

“At that time I was wondering the same thing,” Sun Xuepu said, “Ordinarily, people only wanted one portrait; why did she want four? By the time I painted the third portrait for her, finally I could not help but ask.”

“Did she tell you?” Chu Liuxiang asked urgently.

Sun Xuepu sighed and said, “She did … she said she wanted to give these four portraits to four men. All these four men have had … have had some feeling toward her, but at the moment she wanted to break off any relation with them.”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang said, “She looked for you, such a famous artist to do her portrait, the purpose was to preserve her beauty as much as possible on paper, which were then given to the four men. This way, although she left them, they would never forget her. She wanted that each time they saw this beautiful portrait, they would suffer because of her.”

Gnashing her teeth, Shen Shangu said, “What a cruel woman. Her goal was indeed achieved; each time my Shixiong looked at her portrait, he would suffer pain as if being cut by a knife.”

“The question now is,” Chu Liuxiang said, “Why did she want to break off any relation with them?”

Shen Shangu said, “When a woman does not hesitate to break off relation with four men who loved her, usually she has only one reason.”

“What reason?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Shen Shangu replied, “That she is going to marry another man; a man who is a lot better than the four of them.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “That’s right, a woman’s heart, indeed only other women can understand.”

Shen Shangu said, “The man she is marrying, either he has a very big power, or has a very high martial art skill. If he does not have a very high martial art skill, then he must have a very astonishing wealth.”

She looked at Chu Liuxiang, suddenly she laughed and went on, “Naturally it is quite possible that it is because the man is just like you: able to move the woman’s heart.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Is Miss’s heart moved right now?”

Shen Shangu blushed deep red, but her eyes were still fixed at him. Smiling enchantingly, she said, “Fortunately on earth men like you are not many at all. As for wealth, she might not necessarily see it in her eyes; therefore, the man she married must be Wulin master with illustrious reputation! If we can find out who this man is, then we will also be able to find her.”

Surprisingly, she spoke the word ‘we’, two characters [orig. zan men (including both the speaker and the person(s) spoken to)] with conviction, yet she actually did not know who Chu Liuxiang was.

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Although the scope is somewhat narrowed, but the number of famous people, martial art masters in Jianghu is still not a few. In my opinion, it would be better if Miss hand this portrait to me, go home and wait. As soon as I have information, I will definitely let Miss know.”

Shen Shangu’s eyes carried an enchanting smile, she leaned over, stared at him, and said, “Why should I hand this over to you? Why would I want to trust you?”

Rolling his eyes, Chu Liuxiang whispered a few words in her ear.

Shen Shangu’s countenance immediately changed; she retreated two steps back, and spoke with trembling voice, “It’s you … it’s you … you are a demon!” Turning around, she bolted out of the room like crazy.

Chu Liuxiang sighed gently, rolled up the painting, and then, standing in front of the table, he fixed his gaze on Sun Xuepu without blinking.

His eyes seemed to be penetratingly sharp that even Sun Xuepu, who had no eyes, could feel it. He shifted uneasily in his chair, until finally he could not take it anymore, “Why haven’t you left?” he asked.

“I am waiting,” Chu Liuxiang replied.

“Waiting for what?” Sun Xuepu asked.

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Waiting for you to tell me the things that you concealed from her.”

Sun Xuepu stayed expressionless for half a day. Finally he heaved a long sigh and said, “Nothing can be concealed from you?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “I know that even though you hate her, you still don’t want other people to harm her, yet if you are unwilling to divulge everything, I am afraid someone will really hurt her.”

Sure enough, Sun Xuepu was emotionally moved, “Why is that?” he asked.

Chu Liuxiang replied, “Because the four men who received your four portraits are all dead now.”

“Dead?” Sun Xuepu blurted out, “How could they be dead?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Although currently I still don’t know the actual fact of why they died, but I do know that after receiving Qiu Lingsu’s letter, they went out on a journey and that’s when they were killed.”

Sun Xuepu said, “You … are you saying that Qiu Lingsu killed them?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Since Qiu Lingsu wanted them to pine for her for a lifetime, she could not possibly want to kill them. She wrote to them, perhaps because she had some difficulties, and wanted them to rush over to help her.”

Sun Xuepu sighed and said, “That’s right. When a woman has difficulties, naturally the first thing that came to her mind will be those people who treated her best, and only these people would vow loyalty and devotion to her to the death.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “And now these four men are dead. The people who killed them also killed several other people in succession, and they don’t want me to know the connection between them and her, they don’t want me to meddle into this secret. From this, it can be seen that her difficulty will never be resolved. Perhaps at this moment she is in danger.”

Emotionally moved, Sun Xuepu said, “Since this matter is so dangerous, why do you insist on getting involved? Could it be that you want to save her?”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “If I don’t know where she is, how could I save her?”

Sun Xuepu was silent for half a day. Finally he spoke slowly, “Just now the two of you forgot to ask me one thing.”

“What is it?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

“You forgot to ask me,” Sun Xuepu replied, “Where did I do her portraits?”

“That’s right,” Chu Liuxiang blurted out, “This point must be very relevant.”

Sun Xuepu said, “About five li outside the city, there is one Wuyi An [lit. black dress convent/nunnery]. It was there that I did her portraits. The Zhuchi [administrator of a monastery, Buddhist or Daoist] of the Convent, Su Xin Dashi, was her best friend; in all likelihood, she would know where she is.”

“Anything else?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Sun Xuepu no longer spoke.

Chu Liuxiang collected the portrait, turned around and walked out. Suddenly he looked back and said, “Although the eyes are blind, the heart is not blind. Use the heart in place of the eyes, could it be that you can no longer paint …? Sun Xiong, think about it carefully, and cherish it.”

Sun Xuepu stared blankly. His face moved with emotions, he called out loudly, “Much oblige for the advice; may I ask your honorable surname?”

This moment, Chu Liuxiang has already gone far.

But outside the window, a dark shadow spoke coldly, “His surname is Chu, given name Liuxiang.”

Chu Liuxiang hurried down the hill. He saw a big carriage with black canopy parked in front of the hillside. This kind of black-canopied carriage was the most common transport in Jinan city. During the daytime, it was not convenient to use qinggong, hence Chu Liuxiang walked over and asked, “Are you waiting for someone?”

The coachman had a round face, full of politeness he laughed and said, “Waiting for you to come!”

Chu Liuxiang asked, “Do you know if there is any Wuyi Convent outside the city?”

The coachman laughed and said, “You found An [I (northern dialects)], you found the right person. The day before yesterday An brought An’s wife to light the incense. Get into the carriage, guaranteed it can’t be wrong.”

The carriage started to move. Inside, Chu Liuxiang thought hard back and forth, running over this matter over and over again in his mind. Although he has had the main threads figured out, the key was still whether he would be able to find Qiu Lingsu or not. This moment he only knew that Ximen Qian, Zuo Youzheng, Lingjiu Zi, and Zha Muge, four men, went out on a journey for Qiu Lingsu.

But why did Qiu Lingsu look for them? Did she really want them to help her? A woman like her, what could possibly her problem that she needed other people’s help?

The carriage was not slow at all, but that Wuyi Convent was really not near. Fortunately Chu Liuxiang’s brains kept moving, so he did not feel the anxiety to be too intolerable.

Finally the coachman stopped the carriage, “Wuyi Convent is ahead in the woods, you may get off the carriage!”

Ahead was a peach grove, and there was a tiny temple by the brook. This moment it was nearly dusk. From the convent came the faint sound of chanting of sutras; it appears that the nuns in the Temple were having evening session.

The tiny temple by the peach grove, the extremely serene scenery, this Su Xin Dashi must be an elegant Buddhist nun; otherwise, how could she form friendship with such a beauty like Qiu Lingsu?

The convent gate was open, Chu Liuxiang entered in. The lanterns inside the convent had not been lighted yet, the sound of chanting was droning on and on. A nun, wearing black Buddhist robe and white socks, was standing quietly in the shadow of a Chinese parasol tree, as if mourning the sorrow of the world of mortals. In this kind of place, Chu Liuxiang’s footsteps unconsciously become lighter.

He walked over on tiptoe, and tried to probe, “I wonder if Su Xin Dashi is in the Convent?”

The nun in black cast him a glance, then put her palms together and said, “Pinni [impoverished nun] is Su Xin. I wonder where did Shizhu [benefactor (term used by Buddhist monk/nun to address a layperson)] come from? What is the purpose of your visit?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Dashi has avoided the red dust [the world of mortals (Buddhism)] for a long time, I wonder if you remember in the year past you had a close friend from the outside, Qiu Lingsu?”

Su Xin Dashi replied, “Remembering is the same as not remembering; not remembering is remembering. Shizhu, why should you ask? Why should Pinni tell you?”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Telling me is the same as not telling me, not telling me is actually telling me. If Dashi insists on not telling me, wouldn’t you be succeeding in appraising me?”

He was able to discuss Zen with Wuhua, naturally he was able to deflect a quick-witted exchange.

A thin smile appeared on the corner of Su Xin Dashi’s mouth; she said, “Shizhu also understand Buddhism subtleties.”

“I have a slight knowledge of it,” Chu Liuxiang replied.

Su Xin Dashi sighed and said, “Since Shizhu is an understanding man, there is no need for Pinni not to understand. Shizhu came here, presumably you heard Sun Xuepu mentioning Qiu Lingsu asked him to paint her in order to give it as a present on parting.”

“And then what happened?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Su Xin Dashi said, “Early on Lingsu already had intelligent root, after severing the thread of passion, with her heart and soul she cut short the world of mortals, twenty years ago she left home and took the tonsure under Pinni’s guidance.”

“She left home?” Chu Liuxiang blurted, “Now …”

Su Xin Dashi smiled and said, “With that kind of intelligent root and effective comprehension, naturally she could not suffer hardship in the world or mortals for long.”

Chu Liuxiang was aghast, “She … are you saying she is dead?”

Su Xin Dashi put her palms together and said, “Unrestrained coming and going, carefree … Amitabha Buddha, shanzai, shanzai [basically it means ‘good/excellent’]!”

This outcome was really contrary to Chu Liuxiang’s expectation in a big way. He really never expected that Qiu Lingsu was not a family woman, but has left home; even more, he had never imagined that she had died.

His entire body was frozen in place, unexpectedly he seemed to be unable to move a single step.

With a smile on her face, Su Xin Dashi said, “Wherever Shizhu come from, why don’t you return to that place?”

Chu Liuxiang blankly turned around, and walked out the door, while mumbling to himself, “Qiu Lingsu is dead, who wrote those letters then? Is it possible that someone else was impersonating her name and surname? Could it be that Zuo Youzheng went out on a journey had nothing to do with her?”

Until now, there was no hard evidence that the letters Zuo Youzheng and the others received were written by Qiu Lingsu.

What he could confirm now was just Zuo Youzheng, Ximen Qian, Lingjiu Zi, and Zha Muge, four men, have been captivated by Qiu Lingsu, nothing more.

Chu Liuxiang muttered with a wry smile, “But it does not mean that they all died because of her. And now, since Qiu Lingsu is already dead, I have to start from scratch.”

By this time he was already out of the peach grove. After walking several steps more, he suddenly stopped and blurted out, “Wrong! There is something wrong here.”

He gave every detail of this matter another careful consideration; clapping his hands, he said, “Su Xin Dashi had not stepped out of her residence, how could she know that I was talking to Sun Xuepu? How could she know what he was telling me that Lingsu invited him to make her portraits to be used as parting gifts?”

Turning around, he returned to the convent, but there was no human shadow under the Chinese parasol tree.

The chanting of the sutra still continued, Chu Liuxiang rushed in. Inside the hall, the nuns attending the evening session, who were chanting the sutras, were startled and stopped. Chu Liuxiang swept his gaze around, looking at their faces, but he could not find the nun with the black robe and white socks. “Where is Su Xin Dashi?” he called out in loud voice.

Frightened, an old nun responded, “In our small convent, there is nobody called Su Xin.”

“But Su Xin Dashi is clearly the Zhuchi of Wuyi Convent,” Chu Liuxiang said.

The old nun replied, “This little convent is called Taohua [peach blossom] Convent; from here, Wuyi Convent is on the other side of the city, several li to the west.”

This was not Wuyi Convent?

Chu Liuxiang could not help being startled; he stammered, “Just now, standing under the tree, the Shifu wearing black robe and white socks, she is not from your honorable Convent?”

The old nun looked at him as if she was looking at a lunatic; she spoke slowly, “Everybody in our little convent is here for the evening session, how could there be someone under the Chinese parasol tree just now?”

Chu Liuxiang rushed urgently to the west, while sighing inwardly, “How could I be so muddleheaded? Carriage from the city, how could it wait for a customer outside the slum area? How could anybody from the slum area afford to ride on the carriage? Clearly he was there waiting for me, waiting for me to fall into the trap. The way they did it, naturally they wanted me to believe that Qiu Lingsu is dead, so that I would branch out to the wrong road.”

This moment it was already dark; this place was at the outskirt of the city. Unleashing his qinggong, not too long later, he saw a complex of monastery built at the foot of the hill.

It was a desolate temple complex. A solitary lantern flickering its light like a will-o’-the-wisp, the wind blowing the dead leaves in the courtyard, producing rustling noise, as if a specter was walking alone atop the leaves.

Evening breeze came, Chu Liuxiang felt the cool wind caressing his back, as if a ghost was blowing air onto the back of his neck. He did not stop at all; instead, he went straight toward the light.

By the solitary lamp sat a solitary nun wearing black robe, she was staring blankly at the light, as if she was in a trance. The Buddhist robe she was wearing was riddled with holes. Her complexion was wax-yellow, her expression empty as if she was demented. Unexpectedly she looked like someone who had been bewitched by a ghost.

Chu Liuxiang sighed inwardly, “Could it be that this Wuyi Convent has unexpectedly declined this far? If that ‘coachman’ really brought me here, I am afraid I might not believe him instead.”

Letting out a dry cough, he asked, “Is this Wuyi Convent?”

The nun cast him a blank stare; she said, “Wuyi Convent, of course this is Wuyi Convent. Who’d dare to say that this is not Wuyi Convent?”

Chu Liuxiang could see clearly that she was lying; he asked further, “I wonder if Su Xin Dashi is here?”

The nun thought for a moment; suddenly she giggled and said, “She’s here. Of course she is here. Who’d dare to say that she is not here?”

The surreptitious, desolate convent, strange and secretive, imbecile nun, weird laughter, unexpectedly it was able to make Chu Liuxiang shivered. “I wonder if Shifu can take Zaixia to pay my respect to Su Xin Dashi?” he asked.

The nun suddenly stood up and said, “Come follow me.”

She was holding the oil lamp, the will-o’-the-wisp-like lamp, illuminating the fading curtain of the idol of the temple, the Buddha image, which copper paint had peeled off. It also illuminated the dead leaves, the weeds, the accumulated dust, and the cobweb.

She walked by lifting one leg high, the other leg low, passing through the desolate courtyard. Unexpectedly there was no other human shadow in this entire Wuyi Convent. If there was, probably it was a demon hiding in the dark, peeking at people.

There was no light at the rear courtyard. In the deep twilight, under the rustling Chinese parasol tree, there was a tiny meditation room. The wild wind blowing through the dilapidated window created burst after burst of frightening noise.

The nun suddenly looked back, laughed, and said, “You wait here.”

Noticing the thick cobweb on the door, Chu Liuxiang could not help asking, “Could Su Xin Dashi be sitting in isolation here?”

The nun giggled foolishly and said, “Sitting in isolation, of course she is sitting in isolation. Who’d dare to say that she is not sitting in isolation?”

Still giggling foolishly, she brushed off the cobweb and went in.

Chu Liuxiang had no choice but to wait outside the door. The courtyard was getting darker, there seemed to be an owl or a night bird hooting, which sounded like a weeping ghost. He was standing under the tree, but inwardly he could not help feeling creepy.

After half a day, he heard the nun speaking inside the meditation room, “Shifu, someone is coming to see you; do you want to see him?”

Another half a day passed, the nun, holding up the lantern, came out. “My Shifu nodded, you can come in!” she said with a laugh.

Chu Liuxiang blew out a sigh of relief, “Thank you very much,” he said.

At any rate, he was finally going to see Su Xin Dashi.

He walked in large strides. The flickering light from the outside shone through the door.

Chu Liuxiang called out, “Su Xin DashiDashi.”

Inside the gloomy, murky room, no one responded.

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