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The Thrush Chapter 1

CSI

Eyebrowless Thrush

Now, it was dusk.

This was a very lively city. The streets were crowded to bursting point with all kinds of people: men, women, old and young, those who support the elderly, those who hold babies …

Most people seem to be very happy, because they already passed the hard work of the day, and were now wearing clean clothes, comfortable shoes, and more or less had some money in their purse that they saved from frugal living, therefore, they could already enjoy the delight of leisure time as much as they like.

Some others, since they have never known how hard it is to work, naturally they do not know the delight of leisure, hence they seem somewhat listless.

Someone who does not work hard [orig. plowing and weeding], but wants to seek for harvest, they will never be happy.

On both sides of this street, there were all kinds and sorts of shops, some selling groceries, some selling tea leaves, some selling clothes, some selling pollen, most shops display their goods in the best style to lure the eyes of the passersby.

They were also looking at the passersby on the street, their look was just like the passersby looking at the goods, only the passersby’s interest was in their goods, but their interest was in the passersby’s wallet.

These people looked at each other and smiled at each other. Most of them knew each other. Only two people here were completely strangers, which were Hu Tiehua and Chu Liuxiang.

Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua did not even know the city’s name. They neither inquired nor cared, because their interest was not in this city at all.

Their interest was in these people.

Since returning from the great desert where there was no sign of human habitation for thousands of li [unit of length, approximately ½ km], seeing these friendly, happy, good and honest people again, it really made them happier than anything else.

The most lively place in this lively city was this street, and the most lively shop on this street was this restaurant, so they chose this place, sitting by the window facing the street, looking at the bustling crowd on the street downstairs, looking at the smiling expression on their faces, hearing the people’s breath.

They just sat like this, looking at the people like this – for no one knows how long, tin wine pots were piling up on the table, and the wine pots were empty.

Hu Tiehua’s eyelid, which was tanned by the scorching sun in the desert, was already showing red light. Only when the wine pots started to fall to the ground that he sighed and muttered, “Only now do I know that the most adorable thing in the world are these ordinary people. You spend all day with them, you may not think they are adorable, but once you go to that hellish desert, you will know that there is nothing more lovely in the world than people.”

Chu Liuxiang chuckled, he said with a laugh, “This is exactly what makes you adorable, a person who loves mankind ardently like this will never be a bad egg [scoundrel], a bad egg will never have a view like you.”

Hu Tiehua roared in laughter and said, “Thank you for your compliments, I only hope that Old Ji can also hear your remark.”

Thinking about Ji Bingyan, a shadow suddenly appeared on his cheerful smiling face, he even drank three cups of wine in a row, and slapped the table heavily. He spoke loudly, “I really don’t understand why this dead rooster refused to go with us, why did he want to go home?”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “If you know that someone is waiting for you at home, you I will also be in a hurry to go home.”

Hu Tiehua did not speak for a long time, he drained three cups of wine again, and then heaved a deep sigh and said, “That’s true. In any case, if a man knows that there is someone waiting for him, missing him – at home all the time, that is indeed a pleasant thing.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “But the most important thing is that he must have someone in his heart who is worthy to be cherished, otherwise, even if his home was the most beautiful place in the world, even if you use a whip to chase him, he won’t go back.” Although he was still smiling, his smile seemed a little heavy.

Hu Tiehua blinked, he laughed and said, “I know you are thinking of Rong’er and the others again, aren’t you?” Without waiting for Chu Liuxiang to answer, he continued, “Actually, since they are back, you don’t need to worry about them anymore. Merely based on their, three person’s skills, the seven in the south, the sixty-three provinces in the north, who’d dare to touch a single hair of theirs?”

Chu Liuxiang only smiled wryly, and Hu Tiehua did not speak anymore, because he already saw a young man in dark green clothes was coming over this direction.

This young man was originally sitting on the table next to them. Not only he looked very handsome, but also appeared very cultured, very graceful. Although the clothes he wore were not very gorgeous, the tailoring was extremely well-fitting, the materials were also very grandeur, obviously a very well-educated younger generation of an aristocratic family.

Such a person, no matter where he went, he would definitely attract attention, not to mention there was a very beautiful wife by his side.

Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua had already noticed these husband and wife, two persons. When they were drinking, these husband and wife, two persons were also drinking. Although their drink was shocking, unexpectedly these husband and wife, two persons also drank not a few. When the husband was drinking, surprisingly, the wife could accompany him, making Hu Tiehua already felt very envious.

Now this young man surprising left his wife and came over, Hu Tiehua did not know why, but the young man in the green clothes was already in front of him, cupped his fists, and said with a smile, “Xiaodi originally did not dare to disturb the two gentlemen’s refined and elegant manner in drinking wine, but seeing two gentlemen’s good drinking capacity, I could not help wanting to come over to ask for guidance, hoping that two gentlemen would not blame me.” People who like to gamble, even if they lost everything, including their pants, they still like to be told how exquisite he gambled, how well he gambled; those who love to drink, not a single one does not like others to say that he has good drinking capacity even more. Besides, this young man’s own drinking capacity was not bad, naturally, hearing such words from his mouth, they were even happier.

Hu Tiehua had already stood up, he laughed loudly and said, “In all four seas, we are all brothers, you are willing to come over, it is precisely because you look up on us. If we still want to blame you, then we are practically good-for-nothing persons.”

The young man in green laughed and said, “If Xiaodi had not already seen that two gentlemen are bold and uninhibited heroes, I would absolutely not dare to come over.”

Hu Tiehua’s face suddenly sank, he spoke sternly, “You shouldn’t have come over.”

Stunned, the young man in green was staring blankly, Hu Tiehua already continued, “If you want to drink with us, you could just call us to come over. How could you leave Sao Furen [madam sister-in-law] alone on the table over there? You should be punished at least three cups first.”

Slapping his forehead, the young man in green laughed and said, “If two gentlemen are willing to move your good-selves over, even if you punish Xiaodi thirty cups, it doesn’t matter.”

Three cups of wine went down their belly, Hu Tiehua and the young man called each other Xiong [older brother] and Di [younger brother].

Although unlike Hu Tiehua, Chu Liuxiang was not easy to make friends with other people, he was not a weird and reclusive person, much less these young man, husband and wife, two persons really made people felt they wanted to get close to them.

Not only this young man had good demeanor, good drinking capacity, he was also eloquent. His wife’s eyebrows were light in color and sweeping, without any cosmetics, and she was even more beautiful without the slightest hint of smoke and fire [prostitute] air.

Only on her forehead, there seemed to be three parts of melancholy, and her complexion was abnormally pale, indeed it appeared that she was sick, moreover, the illness was not light, but this kind of morbid beauty was the most charming.

In the restaurant, nine out of ten men were staring at her.

As long as her fluid glance was turning, the eyes of the men sitting on all four directions went straight. If there was anybody who did not look at her, that person must be too intoxicated that he had lost consciousness.

Unexpectedly, the young man in green did not care the slightest bit. Other people were looking at his wife like this, not only he was not angry at all, he seemed to be very happy.

The strangest thing was that although these husband and wife, two persons seemed to be very cultured and graceful, so much so that it could be said that they were too weak to stand up to the wind [idiom: extremely delicate], but their pair of eyes were full of divine light, as bright as limpid autumn water.

Chu Liuxiang knew that only people with very deep inner power would have such expression showing in their eyes. These husband and wife, two persons were undoubtedly figures with extremely brilliant martial art skill.

However, whether in terms of manner of speech and action, they did not carry the slightest bit of Jianghu [rivers and lakes] air. No matter how they look at it, they definitely did not look like people of the Wulin [lit. martial arts forest] circles.

Chu Liuxiang could not help feeling that these two were more and more interesting.

Naturally it was not convenient for him to look too closely at other man’s wife, but at this moment the young man was repeatedly urging Hu Tiehua to drink more, and his wife was also coughing lightly with her head down.

The lantern light shone at an angle, it happened to illuminate her face.

At the same time, Chu Liuxiang’s gaze also fell on her face.

It was an almost picture-perfect face, the contours and lines of the face were as perfect as a meticulous carving.

But on this elegant face, unexpectedly there was something missing.

Looking from Chu Liuxiang’s direction, he happened to be able to see her pair of eyebrows very clearly, only to his surprise, she did not have eyebrows, unexpectedly her eyebrows were completely drawn.

Even Chu Liuxiang’s breathing stopped.

The ‘thrush’[1]? Could this beautiful young woman be the Huamei Niao?

In this instant, the dead bodies of the girls in the secret valley suddenly reappeared before Chu Liuxiang’s eyes, every single one died so tragically, every single one had the eyebrows on her face shaved off … Could it be because she herself did not have eyebrows, hence every time she killed a woman, she shaved off their eyebrows first?

Chu Liuxiang only took a quick glance and immediately raised his head. The young man in green already raised his cup to him with a smile, Chu Liuxiang also raised his cup and said with a smile, “Xiaodi has disturbed Xiongtai [brother, polite appellation for a friend one’s age] for many cups, but even Xiongtai‘s honorable surname and great given name are still unknown.”

Hu Tiehua laughed heartily, he said, “That’s right, that’s right, I was solely preoccupied with drinking to my heart’s content that I forgot about this matter. I really should be punished with three cups.”

The young man in green waited until he finished drinking the three cups, and then said with a laugh, “Xiaodi Li Yuhan …”

He had not finished speaking, the young [married] woman unexpectedly also raised her cup and said with a laugh, “Why didn’t the two gentlemen ask my name? Is it because I am a woman? Or because after a woman got married she should not have any name?”

Hu Tiehua cast a quick glance at Chu Liuxiang, he laughed and said, “It seems that we should be punished by three more cups.”

Li Yuhan laughed and said, “Jiannei [my humble wife] Liu Wumei. Two gentlemen should not look at her as if she is too weak to stand up to the wind, but the fact is that not only her temper is the same as a man, when it comes to fighting, she will definitely not lose to a man.” [Translator’s note: interestingly, her name Wumei means ‘no eyebrows’.]

Hu Tiehua said, “Oh, I did not expect Da Sao [older brother’s wife] to be a hero [or towering figure] among women.”

Liu Wumei said sweetly, “Actually, I even had the same name as a man, but I suffered a serious illness when I was young. Although I didn’t die, my eyebrows fell off completely … Now, my eyebrows are painted, could it be that two gentlemen cannot see it?”

Chu Liuxiang originally thought she would make supreme effort to conceal this matter, who would have thought that unexpectedly she voluntarily explained it herself, Chu Liuxiang could not help feeling very surprised.

Only to hear Li Yuhan said, “Now it should be Xiaodi‘s turn to ask for the two gentlemen’s great names.”

Hu Tiehua replied, “My surname is Hu, called Hu Tiehua, he …”

While Chu Liuxiang was unsure whether he should let him continue, this moment, unexpectedly a man burst in, pointed at Chu Liuxiang and shouted loudly, “Gentlemen, can’t you see? This is the world-famous Chu Liuxiang, Chu Xiang Shuai [fragrant commander]. Gentlemen are fortunate to be able to see Chu Xiang Shuai’s true face, you really should stand up and drink a cup.”

His voice was like that of a dog-skin night-medicine seller, he blurted out like this, the diners filling the upper level of the restaurant were startled. Although some of them did not even know what kind of person Chu Xiang Shuai was, anyone who has been running around Jianghu, when they heard the name of Chu Liuxiang, they could not stop their countenance from changing.

The most startled person was naturally Chu Liuxiang himself.

He only saw the man wore blue upper garment and gray trousers, with black cloth tied at the bottom of his trousers, but the front piece of his upper garment was wide open, and a piece of money medicinal plaster stuck to his left temple, he seemed to be a run of the mill hoodlum, local ruffian.

As soon as he finished blurting out, he simply turned around to leave. Chu Liuxiang still remained calm, but Hu Tiehua grabbed him by the arm. Grinning, he said, “Friend, what’s your honorable surname? How do you know Chu Liuxiang?”

The man was struggling to free himself, but Hu Tiehua lightly exerted his strength, he was in so much pain that beads of sweat appeared on his forehead; pulling the corners of his mouth back, he laughed and said, “Xiaode [this lowly one] is only a medicinal plaster seller, how could I know Chu Liuxiang, such a highly able person of Jianghu? It’s just that someone gave Xiaode ten taels of silver, telling Xiaoren [person of lower status] to come here to shout.”

Hu Tiehua knew that what he said was true, because based on his tiny bit of ablity, it would be impossible for him to recognize Chu Liuxiang. Chu Liuxiang already knitted his brows and asked, “Who gave you ten taels of silver and told you to come?”

The big man said with a bitter face, “That person said he was a friend of Chu Xiang Shuai, Xiaoren did not even see his appearance.”

Glowering at him, Hu Tiehua said, “Are you blind?”

The big man said, “He pulled Xiaoren to a dark, dim corner, and his back was toward the light, Xiaoren only saw a bird cage in his hand, and there seemed to be a thrush bird in the cage.”

“Thrush bird?” Hu Tiehua blurted out.

He immediately turned to look at Chu Liuxiang, but Chu Liuxiang was completely without any word or movement; he only laughed and said, “That’s right, that person is our friend, he is joking with us, you may go!”

As soon as Hu Tiehua let go, the big man flew down the stairs like a wisp of smoke.

Li Yuhan seemed to be stunned as well, only this moment he exhaled slowly, held his plams together, and said, “Mei’er, Mei’er, did you hear that? The Chu Xiang Shuai, whom you admire the most – is sitting in front of you now. Why haven’t you respect him with a cup?”

Liu Wumei laughed and said, “Of course I want to respect him with a cup, but I’m afraid Chu Xiang Shuai won’t be able to drink anymore.”

“Can’t drink? Why?” Li Yuhan asked.

Liu Wumei said, “If there are that many pairs of eyes staring at you, can you still drink?” And then she smiled sweetly at Chu Liuxiang and said, “Therefore, Xiang Shuai, you don’t need to accompany us anymore, if you want to leave, we definitely will not blame you.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed, he smiled wryly and said, “Zaixia [I, humble] originally did not want to leave, but now … now I don’t have any choice but to take my leave.”

As soon as they reached downstairs, Hu Tiehua slapped Chu Liuxiang on the shoulder hard and said, “Old stinky bug, haven’t you seen a lot of women already? But a woman like Liu Wumei, I’m afraid you have not seen any, right? She’s pretty, that goes without saying, furthermore … furthermore, she is outspoken and straightforward, also charming, and considerate. She is so considerate toward you, knowing that you cannot sit still, she immediately let you go, not to mention toward her husband.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “That’s right, this fact is indeed very rare.”

“Rare?” Hu Tiehua said, “A woman like that, I dare say that you won’t find the second one in the world.”

“Oh?” Chu Liuxiang said.

Hu Tiehua said, “Some women also have a lot of strong points, but women are women, every woman more or less has some shortcomings, some love to grumble and nag, some are pretentious, some are as cold as ice and frost, some are too fickle, some won’t allow their husbands to drink alcohol, while she herself is desperately jealous.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Since every woman has some shortcomings, could it be that she is not a woman?”

Hu Tiehua slapped his fist, he said, “That’s the beauty; she has all the strong points of women, yet she doesn’t have any of the shortcomings of women. She also has all the strong points of men, yet she is, as plain as day, a woman. If there is any second woman like this, I will stake my life to take her to be my wife.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “You just saw her once, and you already know her so clearly?”

Straightening up his chest, Hu Tiehua spoke loudly, “Don’t think that you are the only one who understands women, I, the one surnamed Hu, may not necessarily be much lacking compared to you.”

Chu Liuxiang spoke indifferently, “Could it be that you have never thought that she might be the Huamei Niao?”

Hu Tiehua nearly jumped; opening his eyes wide, he said, “She is the thrush? Are you insane? If she is the thrush, who is the person carrying the bird cage …? If she is the thrush, I will cut off my head and give it to you to be used as a chamber pot.”

Chu Liuxiang chuckled, but said no more, because he himself also started to doubt his own way of thinking. It was after half a day later that he muttered, “Today we ate someone else’s meal, tomorrow we should think about a way to pay back the other people’s meal.”

Hu Tiehua clapped his hands and said, “You have been talking for half a day, only this last sentence resembles human’s talk.”

They were already planning to stay in here only one night, therefore, they already looked for a clean inn and reserved two clean rooms.

The moonlight shone on the Chinese parasol tree [wutong, Firmiana simplex] in front of the window, the autumn was at its peak, from somewhere out there burst after burst of the sweet scent of osmanthus tree were floating in the air, as if urging people to enter the dreamland.

But Hu Tiehua was still sitting in Chu Liuxiang’s room and has not left, Chu Liuxiang did not urge him to sleep either, because Chu Liuxiang knew that what he feared the most was loneliness.

Besides, in such a starry and moonlit night, one should not be without a good friend by his side. Chu Liuxiang looked at the bright moon outside the window, he spoke leisurely, “Osmanthus flowers are so fragrant, I am afraid the Mid-Autumn Festival have already passed before we know it.”

Hu Tiehua nonchalantly sighed, he said, “I don’t know how many things have passed without us knowing it, not just the Mid-Autumn Festival …” Right this moment, suddenly they heard commotion of loud voices.

Listening carefully, they heard one person called out loudly, “Is Chu Xiang Shuai staying here? Yao Changhua is especially coming here to pay a visit.”

Knitting his brows, Chu Liuxiang said, “Not good, turns out the Thrush ordered that man in the restaurant to make a ruckus, it was to give us trouble.” He had just finished speaking, and a large number of people had already charged into the courtyard.

Some of these people were holding lanterns in their hands, some were, surprisingly, holding wine, some were already drunk, and some appeared to be sleepy, as if they had just been pulled up from their bed.

The man walking at the front had long hands and long feet, dark-skinned and thin, in just two, three steps he already rushed over to the front of the window, his eyes rolling, he cupped his fist and said with a laugh, “Which gentleman is Chu Xiang Shuai? Zaixia Yao Changhua, a lay disciple under Shaolin School, currently operating a small escort company in here – has long admired Chu Xiang Shuai’s great name. Since Chu Xiang Shuai honors us with your presence here, if you do not let Zaixia to act as the host, you look down on Zaixia too much.”

This person spoke hastily and quickly, like a barrage of cannon fire, when he said the words ‘Shaolin School’, his black face was full of pride.

Dealing with such a pretentious person, actually Hu Tiehua totally had no idea what to do.  He was thinking of sneaking away quietly, who would have thought Chu Liuxiang unexpectedly patted him on the shoulder and said with a laugh, “Looks like your face is indeed not small, unexpectedly you toiled these many friends to come and see you.”

Hu Tiehua’s eyes went blank, but by this time a large number of people outside the window were cupping their fists to salute him, it was too late for him to deny.

Only to hear everybody was talking at once, all said something like … “I’ve long admired Chu Xiang Shuai’s great name! Today being able to meet Chu Xiang Shuai, I’m really very happy!”

Seeing Chu Liuxiang already hiding to the side, he hated it so much that his teeth were itchy. Rolling his eyes, he suddenly burst into laughter and said, “That’s right! Zaixia is Chu Liuxiang, but Chu Liuxiang is no more than just a robber and a little thief, how could I dare to trouble gentlemen’s good-selves to come here to see me.” While speaking, he cast a glance at Chu Liuxiang, who would have thought that Chu Liuxiang was still standing there, grinning, with his hands behind his back, unexpectedly he was not angry at all.

Hearing that Yao Changhua was taken aback. It was only half a day later that he knitted his brows and said, “Chu Xiang Shuai is really too modest, who in Jianghu does not know that Chu Xiang Shuai robs the rich to help the poor, has big benevolence, big righteousness. These four characters, robber and small thief, who would dare to use it on Xiang Shuai?”

Hu Tiehua laughed aloud and said, “In front of me, you do not dare, but behind me, I am afraid that you are scolding Chu Xiang Shuai not only as a robber, but also as a muddled-egg [bastard]!”

Yao Changhua was stunned again, giving a hollow laugh, he said, “Xiang Shuai is really very funny, very funny.” He seemed to be afraid that this Chu Xiang Shuai would say something astonishing, he quickly continued, “Let Zaixia introduce some friends to Chu Xiang Shuai … This Mao Jianbian, known as ‘Shen Quan Wu Di Da Biao Ke’ [Divine Fist Unequalled Great Armed Escort], this is Zhao Dahai …” He said a dozen or so names in one breath, with either ‘Shen Quan’ [Divine Fist] or ‘Shen Dao’ [Divine Saber], either ‘Wu Di’ [Unequalled] or ‘Wei Zhen’ [Subduing/Suppressing Might].

Hu Tiehua looked at these people’s venerable countenance, and when he heard these resounding titles, practically even his teeth wanted to laugh aloud. Restraining himself, he said, “Gentlemen are coming here, what advice do you have?”

Zhao Dahai hurriedly said, “Zaixia [plural] have long heard that not only Chu Xiang Shuai’s qinggong [lightness skill] is unequalled under the heavens, his wine capacity is also unparalleled in the world. This time, when we have the opportunity, everyone wants to honor Chu Xiang Shuai for a few cups.”

Hu Tiehua laughed aloud and said, “You are wrong, you are wrong, you are all wrong. Although my, Chu Liuxiang’s qinggong is tolerable, my wine capacity is not much bigger than that of the old stinky bug. The person whose wine capacity is truly unparalleled in the world is there!”

He pointed his hand over, everybody’s eyes followed. Even if Chu Liuxiang wanted to leave, he was simply unable to leave. Hu Tiehua roared in laughter and said, “Here, Hu Tiehua, Hu Daxia [great hero] is the real great towering figure [haojie], great hero [yingxiong] of the wine world. If gentlemen don’t toast him a few times, you will really regret it.”

He has not finished speaking, this bunch of men already crowded into the room, five out of the ten already squeezed towards Chu Liuxiang.

Only this moment Hu Tiehua got his revenge, without waiting for others to toast him, he grabbed the wine cup first, ‘Glug! Glug!’ three cups went down his belly, he roared in laughter again and said, “Actually, I, Chu Liuxiang, not only my wine capacity is not as good as this Hu Daxia, my martial art skill is not as good as him either, one day I had a martial art competition with him, within fifty moves, I was thrown into a big somersault by him, my head fell and smashed into pieces … Look, there is still a big scar here, if he did not start off leniently, I’m afraid this scar will be three times bigger.”

Hearing that, everyone’s eyes grew big, they looked at Chu Liuxiang, one after another they said, “Really? Hu Daxia, you …”

Chu Liuxiang’s head was dizzy, he could not hear these people talking noisily, he could only stroke his nose and smiling bitterly, inwardly, he could not wait to stuff Hu Tiehua’s big mouth with grass.

Right this moment, suddenly there was a ‘whoosh!’, something dark suddenly flew in through the window, carrying a strong gust of wind that the window was shaken and produced creaking and rattling noise.

Everyone was frightened and ran away. ‘Bang!’ that thing had already landed on the table, so that everything on the table was shaken and flew away. Unexpectedly it was the large goldfish tank that was in the courtyard.

This goldfish tank weighed at least three, five hundred jin [catty, about ½ kg]. This moment unexpectedly it was thrown in from the window and landed exactly on the table, while the water in the tank unexpectedly did not splash out at all. This kind of hand power, wrist strength, was indeed too shocking. The crowd could not help looking out of the window at the same time.

The sky was full of stars, the moonlight was like water, the wutong tree in the courtyard was verdant, plump and tender as if it was washed by spilled water, but there were two additional shadows under the wutong tree.

When did these two come? Where did they come from? Both were dressed in black robes, but each wore a mask on his face.

The mask worn by the short one was grinning with a wide mouth, while the mask worn by the taller person was crying. The two masks, one crying the other laughing, one dark green the other white, in the daytime, it might be very comical, but in this quiet dark night, it appeared unspeakably weird.

[1] See Chu Liuxiang Book 2, The Great Desert, translated by yours truly, Chapter 55b – The Chinese hwamei or melodious laughingthrush (Garrulax canorus) is a passerine bird of eastern Asia in the family Leiothrichidae. The name ‘hwamei’ comes from the Chinese 画眉 (huà-méi) and means ‘painted eyebrow’ referring to the distinctive marking around the bird’s eyes. The species is a popular cagebird because of its attractive song. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_hwamei)

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