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The Thrush Chapter 19


Paradise and Hell

Chu Liuxiang suddenly sighed, he said, “Even if she won’t say it, I can guess who that person is now.”

“Who?” Hu Tiehua asked.

Chu Liuxiang said, “Shui Mu [Water Matriarch] Yin Ji.”

‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji as soon as these four characters were uttered, it was as if Hu Tiehua’s face was covered with a layer of dead gray paint, even his eyes lost their light.

The others were even more stunned and went pale, as if the name itself had some kind of mysterious magic power, so that when people heard this name, they would encounter some ominous things.

Only Hei Zhenzhu, who has lived in the desert for a long time, did not seem to be familiar with this name. She could not help asking, “This name ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji, I seem to have heard it, but I can’t remember who it is.”

Hu Tiehua said, “Shui Mu Yin Ji is the Shen Shui Niangniang [lit. Divine Water Queen/Empress], which is the master of Shen Shui Gong [Divine Water Palace].”

Now, even Hei Zhenzhu‘s countenance also changed.

Chu Liuxiang looked at Liu Wumei and said, “I did not guess wrong, did I?”

Liu Wumei was silent for a long time before nodding her head, she sighed and said, “Not wrong.”

Hei Zhenzhu said, “Although I rarely enter the Pass, I also heard that this ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji is the number one strange person in Wulin. It is said that her temper is somewhat similar to that of Shi Guanyin. In all her life, she hates men the most. No matter who, any man who looked at her, she definitely will not let him live.”

Rubbing his nose, Hu Tiehua smiled wryly and said, “You heard wrong, her temper is not at all similar to Shi Guanyin, Shi Guanyin not only did not hate men, she liked men very much, especially pretty men. The problem was that she liked men too much, so that she I always wanted to exchange the man with someone new.”

Liu Wumei sighed and said, “But ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji really hates men. As far as I know, no man in the world has ever gotten close with her. Inside the Shen Shui Gong, there’s not even a single man.”

Hei Zhenzhu said, “But I also know that although this person is temperamental, although she hates men, she is not a bad person at all, and she is not like Shi Guanyin who wanted to harm others.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “That’s right, as long as others don’t provoke her, she would definitely not provoke others.”

Hei Zhenzhu asked, “In that case, why did she want to kill you? Could it be that you provoked her?”

Chu Liuxiang heaved a long, long sigh, smiling wryly, he said, “I did provoke her.”

Liu Wumei sighed and said, “What kind of enmity is there between you? I don’t know either, because I did not dare to ask her.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “Three or four months ago, there was a sudden theft in Shen Shui Gong, a bottle of ‘Tianyi Shenshui’ [Heavenly One Divine Water, see Book 1] was lost. Unexpectedly the Shen Shui Gong people suspected that it was me who stole it.”

Liu Wumei asked, “Was it really you?”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang replied, “Naturally it was not me.”

Hu Tiehua said, “I also believe it definitely was not him. If it was the ‘Tianyi Shenjiu’ [Heavenly One Divine Wine], he might still steal it to drink. Stealing ‘Tianyi Shenshui’, what for?”

‘Puchi’, Song Tianer giggled, she said, “If it was ‘Tianyi Shencu’ [Heavenly One Divine Vinegar], I know who stole it.” [Translator’s note: even after more than 15 years translating Wuxia, I never know what ‘Puchi’ laughter is …]

Li Hongxiu glowered at her, biting her lip, she spoke quietly, “Xiao Biao [little cousin, see my previous note], you are the one who’s a vinegar jar [fig. a person of a jealous nature]!”

They have lived with Chu Liuxiang for so many years, and they lived at sea, so they were very open-minded and never forgot to have a good laugh at each other.

But right now Chu Liuxiang really could not laugh.

Knitting his brows, he said, “Although I haven’t even seen Heavenly One Divine Water, the Shen Shui Gong people were unwilling to let me off, unexpectedly they forced me to find the person who stole the water within a month. Otherwise, they will come for me to settle the account.”

Liu Wumei said, “Have you found out who that person is?”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang said, “I did, but unfortunately so many things happened during that time. I unexpectedly forgot the deadline given to me by the Shen Shui Gong, and I did not go and explain it to them.”

Hu Tiehua shook his head and said, “A man of culture and education, how could he forget an appointment with a woman? No wonder others are coming to give you trouble you, I don’t blame them [feminine] at all.”

Li Hongxiu pouted, “He shouldn’t have made an appointment with them at all. At that time, he practically had no certainty, plus this matter practically had nothing to do with him, but as soon as he saw that girl, whose fluid glances were more gentle and soft than the seawater, his head was swooned, and he muddleheadedly agreed to her. And now Shen Shui Gong …”

Song Tian’er suddenly burst into another ‘Puchi’ laughter and said, “There’s nothing special about Shen Shui Gong anyway, if they come, we will have the Shencu Gong’s [Divine Vinegar Palace] Zhangmenren [headmaster] to deal with her.”

Actually, Li Hongxiu and Song Tian’er also knew that this was not the time to crack jokes, they just felt that there were too many tears in this place, so they had to create some laughter. Because they believe that when people encountered difficulties and misfortune, tears wouldn’t be able solve any problems.

Only laughter is the best weapon against hardship and misfortune.

But they have gradually discovered that their laughter not only did not dilute the other people’s sorrow, on the contrary, it was kind of provoking the other people.

Seeing them laughing so happily, Liu Wumei’s expression became even more bleak, because she felt that everyone was happy, only her life was full of misfortune.

Li Hongxiu and Song Tian’er gradually stopped laughing.

Only this moment Liu Wumei remembered that they were still imprisoned behind the iron bars, so she lightly touched the stone wall with her hand, and the iron bars slowly slid away and disappeared into the stone wall.

And then she turned around, bowed gracefully to Chu Liuxiang, and spoke in sadness, “We, husband and wife received Xiang Shuai‘s kindness for not killing us, we already can’t thank you enough, we really can’t, and we don’t dare to – ask Xiang Shuai to help. Hereafter, we hope …”

Chu Liuxiang cut her off, saying, “You need not think that I am going to take risks to save you, in any case, I simply have to go to Shen Shui Gong.”

Liu Wumei let out a long sigh, she said, “That kind of place, if you, Xiang Shuai don’t go, it won’t matter.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “How can I not go? If I don’t go, I’m afraid the trouble will be even greater in the future, since that ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji could ask you to come and kill me, she could also ask others to come and kill me. Could it be that I must be on guard against her for the rest of my life?”

Hu Tiehua immediately said, “That’s right, since he has missed the appointment, he should go and explain it to other people, I believe that ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji is not a completely unreasonable person.”

Liu Wumei sighed and said, “You think she is a very reasonable person?”

Hu Tiehua said angrily, “If she is really unreasonable, then we’ll deal with her in an unreasonable way. Even if Shen Shui Gong is mountains of daggers and seas of flames [idiom: extreme danger], dragon’s pool and tiger’s den [idiom: dangerous place, I, Ol’ Hu, must charge in there.”

Su Rongrong suddenly said, “Shen Shui Gong is not mountains of daggers and seas of flames, and neither it is dragon’s pool and tiger’s den, but a place with very beautiful scenery, like a paradise.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Oh, that’s right … you are the only one who have been to Shen Shui Gong. You don’t think that place is really terrifying?”

Su Rongrong said, “For me, that place is not terrifying at all.”

Chu Liuxiang Road, “Oh?”

Su Rongrong said, “Have you ever heard of the legendary Peach Blossom Spring [hidden land of peace and prosperity, utopia]? Shen Shui Gong is just like the Peach Blossom Spring, it simply could be called a paradise on earth. After I got there, I still could not believe that it was the Shen Shui Gong, whose name shook the world, because not only was there no murderous aura, there was not even a hint of smoke and fire smell.”

Her fluid glance seemed to be gentler and softer, she continued slowly, “It was early summer, I was sitting in a small boat up the river. After a long time, I started to realize that there were petals of peach blossom flowing down the stream.”

Chu Liuxiang could not help asking, “Was there sesame rice as well?”

Smiling sweetly, Su Rongrong said, “There was indeed a very aromatic sesame rice on the petals. In the breeze, the fragrance of flowers was even more intoxicating. When I sit on the boat, not only did it seem that I have entered a painting, but it is almost like I have entered a fairy tale.”

She spoke of such beauty, listening to her, even Hu Tiehua appeared to be lost in reverie.

Su Rongrong already continued, “I was so fascinated [orig. as if drunk and stupefied (idiom)]. I didn’t know how long the boat had been traveling, gradually it entered a mountain crevice. There were very thick aquatic plants growing on both sides, so dark that I could not see the fingers in front of my eyes. I used the oar to push the water plants aside, after a long time, a wide panorama suddenly opened up before my eyes, I saw hundreds of flowers like embroidered work, it was a beautiful valley. On the right, there was a waterfall flying down from the top of the mountain, like the sound of pearls splashing onto jade, seeping into the heart, entering the lungs. A pavilion cottage could faintly be seen among the clusters of flowers. There were also tens of thousands of birds that I don’t know their names – flying about. Seeing human, they were not afraid, unexpectedly some even flew to my shoulders, as if they wanted to talk to me.”

This picturesque, beautiful scenery was told in such a gentle and tender voice, it made people’s thought wandering far away even more. Li Hongxiu sighed softly, she said, “If I had known that Shen Shui Gong was such a paradise, I would have accompanied you going there too.”

Liu Wumei suddenly asked, “But Guniang, how did you know that the creek was the way to enter the mountain?”

Su Rongrong said, “I have a Gugu [paternal aunt] who is a disciple of Shen Shui Gong. She once told me what to do if I want to look for her, naturally she forbids me from telling this secret to others.”

Song Tian’er blinked and said, “Does your Gugu also live in those houses among the cluster of flowers?”

Su Rongrong replied, “It was only later that I know that those pavilions and cottages among the flowers and trees are the residences where the Shen Shui Gong’s disciples live. Because everyone’s preferences are different, so the styles of the houses they live in are also different.”

Li Hongxiu said, “So what does the place where your Gugu lives look like?”

Su Rongrong said, “She lives in a very exquisite two-room cottage, with a bamboo fence outside, and chrysanthemums planted in the garden. At that time, although the chrysanthemums hadn’t bloomed yet, once I got there, I can’t help but think of two lines of Tao Yuanming’s [c. 365-427, Jin dynasty writer and poet] poems.”

Li Hongxiu recited leisurely, “Picking chrysanthemums under the eastern fence, looking at the Nanshan [southern mountain] …”

Hu Tiehua heaved a sigh, he muttered, “It seems like the way this ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji treats her disciples is really much better than Shi Guanyin.”

Su Rongrong said, “It’s a pity that after I got there, I could not go around, I could only stay in my Gugu’s house, because she warned me that if I wandered around, there would be a great disaster immediately.”

Chu Liuxiang asked, “What disaster?”

Su Rongrong replied, “She did not say what kind of disaster, she just locked me in the house and did not let me see anyone, so I did not even see that Gong Nanyan Guniang.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “In that case, you haven’t seen ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji yet?”

Su Rongrong replied, “Not yet.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “And you don’t know where she lives either?”

Su Rongrong replied, “I don’t know.”

She heaved a sighed, and then went on, “I really wanted to meet this legendary figure in Wulin, but my Gugu warned me again and again not to let me see her, but I know she did live in that valley, maybe it’s in the peach blossom forest opposite my Gugu’s hut, or maybe it’s in the small nunnery in front of the hillside.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “The nunnery? Could it be there are also Buddhist nuns in Shen Shui Gong?”

Su Rongrong said, “I hear that ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji is a very devout layman, hence the reason she let the ‘Wonder Monk’ Wuhua to enter the valley to explain the Buddhist scriptures [see Book 1 for details].”

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Chu Liuxiang said, “In that case, it is very likely that she does live in the nunnery.”

Su Rongrong said, “But as far as I know, Wuhua has never seen her either. After Wuhua entered the valley, he would sit on the big rock in front of the waterfall and teach Buddhist scriptures for two sichen every day. He also knew ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji would listen to him every day, but all along he never saw where she was.”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang said, “This is really a very mysterious figure, much more mysterious than I imagined.”

Hu Tiehua said with a laugh, “But this Shen Shui Gong is not as mysterious as I imagined. I originally thought that this place must be very eerie and dreadful, who would have thought that it is much lovelier than most places in the world.”

Liu Wumei suddenly said, “But everybody must not forget that I have also been to Shen Shui Gong.”

Hu Tiehua said, “Naturally you have been there.”

Liu Wumei said, “To the best of my knowledge, Shen Shui Gong is not the kind of place that Su Guniang talked about.”

Astonished, Hu Tiehua said, “Oh? Could it be that the Shen Shui Gong you saw is different?”

Liu Wumei said, “There is a big difference.” She continued word by word, “The Shen Shui Gong that Su Guniang saw was a paradise on earth, but the Shen Shui Gong I saw was a hell on earth.”

As soon as she said those words, everybody was stunned.

Liu Wumei said, “I don’t have any Gugu to give me directions on how to enter the mountain, so it took me a lot of effort to find out that people who want to go to Shen Shui Gong must go through Puti An [Bodhi/enlightenment Nunnery] first.”

Knitting his brows, Hu Tiehua said, “Since this Puti An has a very close relationship with Shen Shui Gong, it must be a very famous place, how come I have never heard of this name?”

Liu Wumei said, “This Puti An is just a very shabby little temple. In the nunnery, there is only one nun, this nun seems to be at least seventy or eighty years old, moreover, she seems to be deaf and mute, but whoever wants to go to Shen Shui Gong must tell this old nun the reason why he is going first.”

Hu Tiehua said, “Since this nun is deaf and dumb, how can she hear others?”

Liu Wumei said, “If she is unwilling to let you go to the Shen Shui Gong, she will be deaf and dumb; no matter how you ask her, she would not be able to hear, but if she is willing to let you go, every word you say, she can hear it clearly.”

Hu Tiehua said, “That is not a bad method.”

Liu Wumei said, “After I told her the reason why I wanted to go to Shen Shui Gong, she was silent for a long time, and suddenly poured a cup of tea and told me to drink it.”

Hu Tiehua asked, “Did you drink it?”

Liu Wumei sighed and said, “How could I not drink it?” Smiling wryly, she went on, “Naturally I knew that this cup of tea was not good to drink. After drinking it, I immediately lost consciousness. When I woke up, I found out that unexpectedly I had been confined inside a rattan box. The box was dripping wet, as if it had been soaked in water, my entire body was completely drenched as well.”

Li Yuhan had been standing there in a daze, this moment he let out a long, long sigh and looked at his wife, his eyes were full of regret.

Liu Wumei said, “Fortunately, the box was made of rattan, plus the outside was not locked, thereupon I crawled out from inside the box, only to find that it was a very dark and damp tunnel, without the slightest bit of light, there was only the continuous noise of flowing water, but I could not tell from which direction the noise was coming from.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “There must be a source of water inside Shen Shui Gong, at least there is no doubt about this.”

Hu Tiehua’s eyes grew big, he said, “If there is no water in Shen Shui Gong, could it be there is wine [remember, ‘Shen Shui’ means Divine Water]?”

Liu Wumei said, “I couldn’t see anything, I could only grope my way forward. I did not know how long this tunnel was, or where it was leading to?”

Hu Tiehua said, “But you can at least be sure that no one will plot against you in this tunnel, because at least ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji is not someone who would plot against others.”

His remark was actually made out of good intention, who would have thought that it pierced Liu Wumei’s sore spot? Her pale face could not help turning red. Hanging her head down, she said, “Although at that time my eyes and ears were useless, my nose was still useful, because in the tunnel there were unexpectedly all kinds and sorts of different smells.”

Song Tian’er asked, “What … what smell?”

Liu Wumei replied, “At first there were bursts of damp smell, and then there were bursts of burning smell, like something was burnt, later on there were also smell of blood, rust, dirt, wood …”

Unexpectedly her face revealed a look of fear, she spoke hoarsely, “In that tunnel, although no one was coming to plot against me, and there were no traps, but merely so many different smells were driving me crazy.”

Hu Tiehua could not help asking, “These smells can’t hurt people, what’s so terrifying?”

Liu Wumei sighed and said, “I originally thought that smell would not be so scary, it was only then that I realized that nothing in the world is more terrifying than these smells.”

Even her voice was a bit hoarse, she spoke in a trembling voice, “When I smelled the fire, at first I did not feel anything in particular, only later on I felt as if I was being burned inside a very big furnace.”

Song Tian’er shrank her shoulders and leaned closer to Li Hongxiu.

Liu Wumei said, “When I smelled the blood and rust, I only felt that there were dead bodies all around, as if there were thousands and tens of thousands of corpses hiding in the dark. I didn’t even dare to walk, because I felt that if I took another step, I might step on a dead body, and maybe it was my friend’s dead body.”

Li Hongxiu also felt the chill creeping up on her body, she also leaned closer to Su Rongrong.

Liu Wumei said, “When I smelled the smell of earth and wood, it felt like I, myself had become a dead body and was placed in a coffin and buried underground.”

She let out a long sigh and continued, “I originally thought that a person would only be afraid of something that the eyes can see, or the sounds that can be heard by the ears. Only at that time did I realize that the odor that the nose can smell is the most frightening.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “This is probably because what the eyes can see and what the ears can hear are more real, but what the nose can smell is imaginary and cannot be fathomed, you can only guess with your mind, and the more you think about it, the more terrifying it becomes. — I have already said that what people fear is not the object itself, but the imagination that his mind conjures about that object.”

Liu Wumei said, “Therefore, in that tunnel, even though I didn’t see or hear anything, I was tormented to the point that I did not have any strength left, not even to continue walking.”

Song Tian’er buried her entire body inside Li Hongxiu’s bosom, yet she still wanted to ask, “After … afterward, what happened?” Most girls have some kind of problem; the more they are afraid, the more they want to listen.

Liu Wumei said, “It was that moment that a voice was suddenly heard in the tunnel. Although the voice sounded very gentle and beautiful, at that time I only felt that she was cold and dismal, unexpectedly it did not sound like a human voice.”

Song Tian’er asked, “She … she … what did she say?”

Liu Wumei said, “She said, she has seen my condition and knew what poison has hit me, but if I want her to save me, I must … I must …”

Chu Liuxiang chuckled, he said, “You must take my head and give it to her, right?”

Hanging down her head, Liu Wumei said, “Although I begged her again and again and asked her if there was any other way to go, she no longer paid me any attention. I spoke until my voice was hoarse, but she did not seem to hear even a single word.”

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