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Fragrance in the Sea of Blood Chapter 21


Chapter 21 – Madame Gang Leader

Chu Liuxiang could not help asking, “What two words?”

Qiu Lingsu replied, “He only said, ‘Come’, these two words [lai ba]; and then he shut up and did not speak. Seeing how arrogant he was, Ren Ci could not stop his anger from rising up; therefore, he did not feel like talking to him either.”

“Did Ren Bangzhu use any weapon?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Qiu Lingsu replied, “The weapon Ren Ci used was the bamboo staff, the traditional weapon that has been used by Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu from generation to generation, which is commonly referred to as ‘Dog Beating Stick’. The two men fought for not even ten moves, Ren Ci already sent the sword in Tianfeng Shisi Lang’s hand flying, and struck the pit of his stomach with his staff. Tianfeng Shisi Lang immediately spurted blood and fell down.”

Chu Liuxiang was even more surprised; he blurted out, “Tianfeng Shisi Lang came here relying on his skill, how could he be that bad?”

Qiu Lingsu heaved a deep sigh and said, “At that time Ren Ci was surprised as well. Later on he found out that Ren Ci was not the first person that Tianfeng Shisi Lang challenged. In that same day, Tianfeng Shisi Lang already fought a duel with someone else; not only that, he already suffered a very heavy internal injury. If he were willing to speak, naturally Ren Ci would not be willing to take advantage of his precarious position by fighting with him. But he was afraid that if he talked, others would think that he was a coward. Therefore, he only spoke two words, ‘Come’, while all along his lips were sealed and did not say anything about his own injury. Ren Ci thought that his natural temperament was arrogant, hence he disdained talking with other people!”

She sighed and went on, “His internal injury was originally very heavy, and then he received Ren Ci’s staff strike. Internal and external injuries flared up at the same time, even if he were made of iron, he would not be able to endure it; he died that same day. Even at death’s door he still did not say anything that showed his weakness; he did not blame Ren Ci the slightest bit either. He only said that he could die on the battlefield, his life could be considered not in vain.”

To begin with, this tale of an eccentric Wulin character was full of moving and tragic emotion. This moment, Qiu Lingsu retold the story using her uniquely graceful voice, it became even more moving and thrilling.

Listening to her, Chu Liuxiang could not stop his hot blood from boiling. Looking up to the sky, he let out a long sigh and said, “This Tianfeng Shisi Lang was unwilling to show any weakness, he was unwilling to break his promise even more. Fully aware that he would definitely die, he still waited there to take up the challenge. He is indeed worthy to be called the rarely-seen-in-the-world hero and strong real man.”

Qiu Lingsu said, “That is probably the spirit of martial art way [wudao] of the Dongying [East China Sea or Japan] warriors [wushi – samurai].” [Translator’s note: I translated this section as is. If Gu Long had said ‘wu shi dao’ instead of ‘wu dao’, then it would be ‘Bushido’ – the way of the warriors.]

Chu Liuxiang said, “In any case, this kind of man is always worthy of other people’s admiration. No wonder that even twenty years later Ren Lao Bangzhu still thought about him often.”

Qiu Lingsu sighed and said, “Although Ren Ci was not responsible for Tianfeng Shisi Lang’s death, throughout his life Ren Ci always felt guilt-ridden; he often said that if that day he paid a bit more attention, it would not be difficult to see that Tianfeng Shisi Lang had been injured.”

“Who was the other person who injured him before Ren Lao Bangzhu did?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

“Ren Ci never mentioned this matter,” Qiu Lingsu replied.

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Chu Liuxiang said, “This man must be similar Ren Lao Bangzhu in that he did not like false reputation either; hence the reason until today, no other person knew about his duel with Tianfeng Shisi Lang.”

He paused, and then added, “This person was able to injure Tianfeng Shisi Lang using his internal power, his martial art skill must be very high. It is also obvious that after Tianfeng Shisi Lang received injury during the decisive battle, he was still able to hasten on toward the mountain, so presumably that person’s residence was also around the Minnan region. But who is he …? Ah! Could it be …”

Qiu Lingsu suddenly said, “I am telling you this story, it is not without any reason.”

“What’s the reason?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Qiu Lingsu slowly said, “At the death’s door, Tianfeng Shisi Lang entrusted something to Ren Ci. But no matter how I asked him, Ren Ci always refused to tell me.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Why did Ren Lao Bangzhu keep this matter as a secret like that?”

Qiu Lingsu spoke heavily, “Originally I was at a loss as well, but later on I managed to guess a little bit.”

“Oh?” Chu Liuxiang said.

Qiu Lingsu said, “Each time Ren Ci looked at NanGong Ling, he always remembered Tianfeng Shisi Lang; he would sigh ruefully all day long. Until later, although he was fully aware that NanGong Ling had harmed him, he would still refuse to cause the slightest bit of harm toward NanGong Ling; he always said that he had let NanGong Ling down. But he raised NanGong Ling from a child to an adult, how did he let NanGong Ling down?”

Her gaze seemed to penetrate the black gauzed veil and was fixed on Chu Liuxiang’s eyes as she spoke word-by-word, “Therefore, my guess is that the matter Tianfeng Shisi Lang entrusted to Ren Ci just before his death was NanGong Ling. Ren Ci was aware that he let Tianfeng Shisi Lang down, therefore, he was exceptionally tolerant toward NanGong Ling.”

Chu Liuxiang excitedly said, “Are you saying that NanGong Ling is Tianfeng Shisi Lang’s orphan?”

“Exactly,” Qiu Lingsu replied.

Chu Liuxiang thought for a moment, and then he clapped his hands and said, “That’s right! Ren Lao Bangzhu never wanted to talk about this, he must be afraid that after NanGong Ling found out about the secret of his past, he would have a radical change of heart.”

Qiu Lingsu mournfully said, “Now you can finally understand Ren Ci’s difficulty. At that time he simply regarded NanGong Ling almost as his own son, naturally he did not want NanGong Ling to know that he was his father’s killer. All his life he had always been open and honest, yet there was this hidden secret, so the pain in his heart could be very well imagined.”

Chu Liuxiang spoke in horror, “But no matter how he concealed it, unexpectedly the person that finally killed him was still NanGong Ling. Twenty years ago, he unintentionally made a mistake, yet after twenty years he paid it with his own life.”

Thinking that the underworld had arranged this bizarre and cruel punishment, even Chu Liuxiang could not help shuddering inwardly, while Qiu Lingsu spoke with quivering voice, “If that was really the price that the Heaven wanted him to pay, then the Heaven is really too unfair.”

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Chu Liuxiang said, “But is NanGong Ling also aware of this matter? That mysterious killer, could it be that he is also related to Tianfeng Shisi Lang? If not, how could he master the secret of Dongying warriors’ ren shu?”

Qiu Lingsu slowly said, “These secrets, you will have to uncover them all yourself. Everything that I know, I have completely passed on to you. You … you may go now.”

Looking straight into her eyes, Chu Liuxiang suddenly said, “Zaixia still wants to ask Madame one thing.”

“What is it?” Qiu Lingsu asked.

Chu Liuxiang said, “I wonder if Madame could open your veil, so that Zaixia could have a glimpse of Madame’s splendor?”

Qiu Lingsu was silent for a long time; she spoke pensively, “You really want to see me?”

Zaixia does have this wish, and it is not just today,” Chu Liuxiang replied.

In his heart he was really full of curiosity; he really wished he could see what the beauty that overturned all living things really looked like, otherwise, he would regret it for the rest of his life.

The more one cannot see something, the more he would want to see it. Although the black gauzed veil covering her face was thin, it actually made this peerless beauty appeared more mysterious and heightened the fantasy surrounding her.

Qiu Lingsu was silent for a long time. At last she sighed softly and said, “In the last twenty years, you will be the second person of ever seeing my true face.”

Stunned, Chu Liuxiang said, “Those who can see Madame’s appearance are only two?”

Qiu Lingsu replied word-by-word, “That’s right; only two. You and Ren Ci …”

“Why?” Chu Liuxiang asked, “Other people …”

Before he finished speaking, he suddenly stopped. Although he had seen not a few of strange things in all his life, not one thing could make him this shocked.

The black gauzed veil was finally lifted.

Chu Liuxiang had hoped to see a fairy’s face, who would have thought that this moment, the face that was revealed by the black gauzed veil actually belonged to the devil?

On this face, unexpectedly there was not even one fen, one cun smooth, intact skin. The entire face was like the solidifying lava after volcanic eruption. There were no five sense organs, no outline. In fact, there was nothing, except some ugly, naked-red piece of meat, with some split cavities.

Qiu Lingsu spoke slowly, “Are you satisfied now?”

Chu Liuxiang replied, “ZaixiaZaixia really don’t know …”

Qiu Lingsu said, “Now you ought to understand why only you and Ren Ci have ever seen this face, because my face has already been destroyed. I think, no woman in the world would want anybody to see her face if it looks like this; don’t you agree?”

Unexpectedly her voice could be this indifferent and calm. But this kind of calm and indifferent words was even more unbearable to Chu Liuxiang.

He was the kind of person who never bow his head down, yet unexpectedly, without realizing it, he hung his head down, and spoke sadly, “Zaixia indeed deserve to die; why did Zaixia adamantly force Madame to …”

Qiu Lingsu cut him off, “You did not force me. I am willingly letting you see my face.”

Her fluid glance was still gentle and bright. And this moment, in this pair of bright eyes, not only there was not the slightest bit fear and excitement, there was a hint of indifferent smile instead.

She calmly went on, “It’s a pity you came twenty years too late. Unexpectedly I am not able to let Chu Liuxiang see my appearance twenty years ago. While admittedly it is a regret for you, how could I not feel regret as well?”

Forcing a laughter, Chu Liuxiang said, “It doesn’t matter what Madame’s appearance has turned into, Madame’s graceful bearing is still incomparable in the world. Zaixia is able to see Madame’s elegance, it is indeed a blessing of three lifetimes.”

With a smile on her face, Qiu Lingsu said, “You don’t have to comfort me, because I don’t feel uncomfortable at all. My face has been destroyed for twenty years, yet these twenty years have been the happiest days of my life.”

She watched the mountain breeze blowing away the rosy clouds, and unhurriedly went on, “I even feel grateful to the person who ruined my appearance. Were it not for her, how could I enjoy twenty years of tranquil and happy days?”

Chu Liuxiang could not help asking, “But I wonder who that person was?”

The light in Qiu Lingsu’s eyes returned; fixing her gaze on Chu Liuxiang, she said, “Have you ever heard the name ‘Shi Guanyin’ [Stone Goddess of Mercy (Avalokitesvara)]?”

“Stone Guanyin?” Chu Liuxiang blurted out.

Qiu Lingsu sighed and said, “Of course you knew that name. She is originally the woman with the highest martial art skill and with the coldest heart in the world. And now, perhaps she also the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “She … what enmity did she have against Madame?”

Qiu Lingsu replied, “There was no enmity, she even met me only once.”

Chu Liuxiang asked, “Then why did she …”

Qiu Lingsu interrupted him with a gentle sigh, she said, “According to Jianghu legend, it is said that she had a magical mirror, and she asked the mirror every day … ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?’” [Okay, since Gu Long seemed to borrow this concept from Brothers Grimm (later on, Disney), I also borrowed the line from the same story, The literal translation of the Chinese text is, ‘who is the most beautiful woman in the world?’ Note that ‘tian xia’ (land under heaven) is commonly used to refer to China.]

“And each time the mirror said she was the most beautiful woman on earth?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

“That’s right,” Qiu Lingsu replied, “Until one day, this magic mirror suddenly changed; unexpectedly it said that I … that Qiu Lingsu was the most beautiful woman on earth. And thus my disaster began at that very moment.”

Naturally it sounded like a fairy tale.

Although the fairy tale was not beautiful, it was brimming with some kind of fleeting, secluded and deceitful mystery. Listening to the story, Chu Liuxiang unconsciously stared blankly for half a day. Finally he sighed and said, “So, she came to look for Madame?”

Qiu Lingsu replied, “When she found me, she stayed silent and motionless, fixing her gaze on me for two sichen. In these two sichen, practically her eyes never blinked. And then she suddenly asked me, ‘Do you want me to kill you, or do you want to destroy your own appearance?’ …”

Smiling ruefully, Chu Liuxiang said, “That question is really ridiculous.”

Qiu Lingsu sighed and said, “But at that time I did not feel it was ridiculous at all. I only felt my hands and feet turned icy-cold, and I was unable to utter a single word. She then looked at me for half a day, and then suddenly turned around, she said, ‘Three months later, I am coming back, and if by that time you are still like this, I am going to kill you.’ She left a bottle on the table, and said, ‘I’ll let you keep your beauty for three months; I am sure you’ll know how to cherish it.’”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Since she already left, why didn’t Madame …”

Qiu Lingsu said, “If the Shi Guanyin wanted to kill someone, nobody would be able to escape. I have seen her martial art skill with my own eyes, and at that time, I did not want to die.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “How could there be anybody on earth who really want to die?”

Qiu Lingsu slowly closed her eyes and said, “At that time, I was still young, my life was really full of love; I thought, I might no longer be beautiful, but to keep on living was always better than being dead.”

She opened her eyes as if she was smiling, and then she went on, “I also thought that at least I would still have three months of being a beauty, naturally I must cherish it well, in which case, what should I do in those three months?”

Chu Liuxiang could not help commenting, “Thereupon Madame wanted to keep this beauty forever preserved in the hearts of the people, as a result, you went to see the most famous painter in the world, specializing in portraits, Sun Xuepu.”

Qiu Lingsu was stunned. “You … you already knew?” she asked.

Zaixia has met Mr. Sun,” Chu Liuxiang replied.

Qiu Lingsu went silent for half a day. Finally she spoke sadly, “At that time my action was indeed too unruly … Just the night before the portraits were finished, the three-month deadline has arrived, and Shi Guanyin has always been most punctual.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Therefore, that night Madame destroyed your own appearance.”

Qiu Lingsu said, “That little bottle that Shi Guanyin left behind was a bottle of potion, which was hotter than fire, which would burn flesh the most.” Speaking to this point, her usually tranquil voice was finally quivering with emotion.

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “Madame did not wish Mr. Sun, when he woke up, to see that Madame’s appearance has been destroyed, so …”

Qiu Lingsu spoke in trembling voice, “After pouring that bottle of potion onto my face, my mind nearly went crazy, so … I did what I did. I … I …”

She suddenly covered her face with her hands, and was unable to continue.

Chu Liuxiang heaved a deep sigh and said, “Only now Zaixia finally understand why Madame treated Mr. Sun like that, why Madame wanted to have those four portraits. Our previous guess of Madame’s intention was completely wrong.”

Qiu Lingsu said, “It doesn’t matter what my intention was, but I did what I did, you can’t never forgive me, can you?”

Chu Liuxiang stayed silent in sadness for half a day; he spoke gently, “Zaixia only know that the Madame Ren of today is the gentlest, the most benevolent woman on the earth. As for Qiu Lingsu of the past, Zaixia knows nothing about her, and neither do I care.”

Qiu Lingsu also went silent for a long time. She then spoke unhurriedly, “These past twenty years, I did change a lot. I am sure you can readily guess who made me change.”

“Ren Lao Bangzhu,” Chu Liuxiang said.

Instead of answering him, Qiu Lingsu said, “After I went crazy and dug Sun Xuepu’s eyeballs, I fainted. When I woke up, my whole head had been bandaged up. Henceforth I lived in the dark for several months. At that time I really did not know how grateful I was to Su Xin Dashi. If she did not take care of me, how could I keep on living?”

Her voice gradually returned to its tranquil state, and then she went on, “But when I was able to see the light again, I found out that the one staying by my side all these time, taking care of me, unexpectedly was not Su Xin, but Ren Ci.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Therefore, Madame then redirected your grateful heart to Ren Lao Bangzhu?”

Qiu Lingsu shook her head and said with a sigh, “At that time, not only I did not appreciate him, I hated him instead!”

Stunned, Chu Liuxiang asked, “You hated him?”

Qiu Lingsu said, “By the time I could see Ren Ci, I could also see my face. And when I saw this face, I knew that there was no way I was going to keep on living. I lost my face, that was the same as I was losing my life …”

She sighed before continuing, “At that time my heart was filled with grieve, as well as anger. I hated it that Ren Ci saw me like that. Like mad, I drove him away from my presence.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “Madame’s frame of mind at that time, Zaixia can understand a bit.”

Qiu Lingsu seemed to smile again, and said, “In that case, you also ought to know that a man like Ren Ci can’t be driven away so easily. Early in the morning the second day, he came back, and I drove him away again …”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “But early in the morning the third day, he came back again.”

Qiu Lingsu said, “He came every day, I drove him out every day. I exhausted all the malicious words in the world to curse him, I even beat him up, but the next morning he still came back …”

She gently stroked the urn containing Ren Ci’s ashes in her hand; although it was just a porcelain jar, it seemed to bring her infinite warmth.

She continued in tender voice, “You know, at that time he was already the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu, he did not need to be so patient toward a grotesque and cruel woman like me. When you see my face now, you should know that other than Ren Ci, there is no way on earth that a man would endure me as much as Ren Ci did. Unless I was really dead, how could I not be moved by him?”

Chu Liuxiang spoke slowly, “That was because what Ren Lao Bangzhu loved was not the lost beauty, but Madame’s … spirit. He only knew that although everybody’s appearance might change, but the spirit within will never change.”

Qiu Lingsu gloomily said, “Too bad when Ren Ci was still alive, he did not know you. Otherwise, I am sure you would be his good friend … But, your understanding of him is still not enough. You have guessed incorrectly.”

“Oh?” Chu Liuxiang said.

Qiu Lingsu said, “Before then, Ren Ci and I only met twice; how could he be so infatuated with me? Besides, at that time I was beautiful only on the outside, my spirit inside was repulsive.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Sometimes people can fall in love at first sight, the feeling penetrated deeply into the bones.”

Qiu Lingsu appeared to be smiling again, she said, “In any case, that was not the main reason. The main reason was that he knew the pain of a woman having her appearance destroyed. He also knew that only love could alleviate this kind of pain. Therefore, he decided to sacrifice his own life to accompany me, to comfort me for the rest of my life.”

She raised her head to the heavens and spoke unhurriedly, “I already said it, he was the most benevolent man in the world.” [Translator’s note, Ren Ci’s name 任慈 sounds like ‘benevolent’ 仁慈 (ren ci).]

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