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BOW

2016-01-10

汉语世界(The World of Chinese) 2016年3期
关键词:玄武今古传奇武侠

A wuxia tale of violence and vengence

一個遥远的时代,一张神秘的弓,一段复仇的传奇

Tagexing踏歌行

Tagexing is a brand manager for a Fortune 500 company by day and novelist/screenwriter by night. A signed writer with the Xuanwuji Writing Team (玄武纪写作小组), a group of aspiring young authors mentored by seasoned wuxia writers, she has published various stories in installments in Modern and Ancient Legend, Wuxia Edition

(《今古传奇·武侠版》), one of the most popular wuxia magazines in China. Shes currently working on a screenplay adapted from the novel series Jianke (《键客》). Follow her on SinaWeibo

@踏歌行-玄武纪.

Branches, horns, tendons, glue, thread, and paint—all these things must be harvested in the proper season,” he said, carving a strip of mulberry[1] wood he was working. “Once the six materials are prepared, the craftsman must work delicately to fashion a bow. The branch should be retrieved in the winter, the horn during the spring, and tendon during the summer. The other materials should be obtained in the fall. The bow must be fashioned in winter and then checked again at the next cold to see if the varnish has cracked[2] . All in all, the process takes three or four years…”

I lay off to the side on a wooden cart he had made, covered with wooden strips and bandages all over my body, unable to move. The sky was a bit dark, and as the wind blew, it brought with it a chill of imminent snow.

He was my master, a wizened, thin old craftsman crippled in one leg. Ten days prior, I had been beaten and severely injured, my feet and hands broken. There was nowhere on my body that was intact. He happened to be in my home to deliver some farming tools hed fixed when he saw the ruined state I was in. He asked to take me on as his apprentice for some reason, but my parents were opposed. I managed to whisper out my acceptance, however, and so off I went with him.

I couldnt stand that house any longer.

“Stay still, but keep your mind moving!” He saw me drifting off, but continued coolly. “This bow is going to be of your making!”

“Heh.” I laughed. I wanted to mock him but couldnt come up with a response, so I let it drop.

This wasnt real. I didnt want to be a bow maker. But, with this old mans help, I could heal properly. I could kill Shi Meng and avenge my sister.

It was the second year of the reign of King Jian of Qi, and I was 14 years old. Our home was in a small mountain village near Jimo[3]  in the state of Qi. Although we were poor, our living conditions were relatively acceptable. If my sister hadnt been accosted by Shi Meng on the way back from delivering some tools for repair, we could have continued on living peacefully.

I remembered how warm the sunlight was that day. After I finished helping my parents with tasks on the farm, I went to meet my sister on her way back and happened to see Shi Meng and a dozen or so others forcing her into an alleyway.

Im not very tall, and could only see white skin and red blood between the gathered people. I went forward to save her but was blocked by four or five people, like a caged chicken. I cried loudly, and was beaten severely by them, filthy rags stuffed into my mouth.

When I returned home, my parents alternated between scolding and soothing. My sister didnt receive that kind of treatment. She spent three days locked in her room crying, unable to come out.

I wanted to go in to keep her company, but my parents wouldnt let me, telling me I didnt understand the gravity of the situation and that I  could have gotten myself killed. To my parents, what was a daughter? After being sullied, she was basically unfit for marriage, but if an old widower were to come by looking for a wife, they would give her to him without a second thought.

As for me, Shao Yun, I was the precious only son.

Ten days previous, on the night of the first heavy snow, my sister used a hemp rope and quietly hanged herself in her room.

As my parents gathered up her corpse, I took an axe and went looking for Shi Meng at his house. For this I was beaten almost to death by Shi Mengs thugs, my limbs broken. Its odd when I think how, after these incidents, our neighbors avoided us, afraid of any kind of conflict with Shi Meng. And yet this craftsman who subsisted on making farming tools took me in as his own, cared for me with all his heart, and thought he could make me his apprentice.

“Its cold, go inside.” He looked at me with no real reaction, a bit cross. “Someone will be here soon, go in and dont make any noise.”

When he finished speaking, he remembered I could not move. He sighed, and gathered up the materials around him, preparing to push me inside.

I heard the sound of footsteps outside the courtyard.

It wasnt one person; it was a group. They clamored and brought with them a noxious air.

I knew who it was.

I was a boy of 14 with the audacity to show up at Shi Mengs door with an axe—a serious affront to his mighty thug reputation—how could he not respond in force?

The cart was a bit heavy, and my master pushed me all the way inside when the wooden door was forcefully shoved open. Shi Meng sauntered in, a blade of grass in his mouth, eyes full of malice.

“Little cripple, here you are!” He took a step forward, arms crossed, as the dozen or so thugs behind him flooded in to fill the courtyard.

My master stopped and turned toward Shi Meng and the others, bowing with his hands folded in front of him in a show of respect. “Shao Yun is my new disciple. His parents entrusted his care to me, so please do not affront my honor.”

As soon as he finished speaking, the assembled thugs broke into peals of laughter.

“I wouldnt have thought an old cripple would be so plucky!” Shi Meng wiped his nose as he walked forward. “Now I see how you lost the use of your leg.”As he moved, the other thugs followed, making a move to flank us.

I clenched my fists as my heart beat like a drumroll.

I didnt know my master well at all. How could I let such an innocent get involved? But what could I do?

“Dont worry.” My master remained calm and smiled at Shi Meng. “I prepared a little something; maybe I can give it to Mr. Shi for his trouble.”

“Oh?” Shi Meng raised his eyebrows.

Master stepped sideways into the workshop and re-emerged with a pitch-black object.

Upon seeing the object, Shi Meng exclaimed: “An iron sword! You can make weapons!” He hurriedly pulled the sword from its scabbard, his face full of surprise.

Such iron implements were extremely rare in civilian hands. The normal tools my master produced were of average quality—who would have thought that he could make something like this?

Shi Meng beheld the cold, beautiful blade, almost unable to take it in.

“I studied Moism[4] .” My master spoke first, patting his lame leg. He smiled, face full of wrinkles. “I did something I shouldnt have when I was young. If Mr. Shi can keep it quiet, Id be more than willing to fashion you some fine weapons.”

As I heard that, my blood froze. How could he do that?

“All right!” Shi Mengs eyes sparkled as he sheathed his weapon. “With things as they are, I think we have an agreement.” He walked slowly over and sneered as he looked at me. “My quarrel with your disciple is quashed. It wasnt a big deal.”

As I looked at his eyes, I could feel my own teeth grinding audibly.

“Also, recently Ive been studying under the sword master Changchui from the school of the Eastern Dragon. You know, even if he had a problem, its nothing to me.” He saw the hatred in my eyes, and spoke purposefully.

“Shi Meng! You…” I growled angrily, but my master put his hand over my mouth. The smell of wax on his hand was nauseating.

“Ha!” Shi Meng said cheerfully. “Then Ill entrust the provision of weapons for my brothers to you.” He paused briefly. “Also, I hear that business in weapons is quite good. Would you, master, have any interest in taking up your old trade?”

Shao Yun! Dont move!”

I was carrying a load on my back as I walked out with the aid of crutches—but I had been discovered. He carried a bowl of medicinal soup as he limped after me, making it to the gate where he breathed heavily, glaring at me. “You already accepted me as your master, you must stay and learn!”

“Learn what? Bow-making?” I chuckled. “For my enemies who killed my sister?”

Close up, I took a good look at my master for the first time.

His clothes were filthy, face covered in deep wrinkles, a bitter scent all over. His thin, unkempt hair was bound at the back of his head like a bundle of straw.

He looked different now, his eyes burning with a hot light, as if they were trying to tell me something. More importantly, I noticed that, as hed come running out, the bowl of soup in his hand, full to the brim, was completely still, devoid of even any ripples. Not a drop had spilled.

“You…” I was too shocked to say anything.

He gave me the bowl of soup. “Ill teach you how to make bows and how to use them.”

I really had never had any indication that my master understood martial arts. He was just a crippled old man living in a town in the middle of nowhere, unable to even lift a blade. But, there was a great deal he could teach me, but, at the time, I wasnt ready to learn.

Shi Meng had begun studying under a great sword master and had acquired a fine new sword—a fierce fighter with training. How could I hope to ever face him?

I didnt accept that bowl of soup. I threw down my bundle and my crutches, bearing the pain of my not-yet-healed bones, kneeled in snow before my master, and touched my head to the ground three times.

“Please, master, get rid of Shi Meng and for the rest of my life I will obey all your orders and carry on the traditions of the house of Mo!”

He became suddenly furious and poured the bowl of scalding soup all over my head.

“Your vengeance is your own business!” He threw the bowl to the ground, shattering it, and took off in a huff. “I just want to make a legendary bow! If youre not interested, then leave!”

Of course, I didnt leave. From then on, I couldnt be kept away from the studio.

How else could I get revenge on those who killed my sister and live to see it?

The first year, I hadnt fully healed. I spent my time learning the basics of martial arts and how to make bows.

“Branches, horns, tendons, glue, thread, and paint—all these things must be harvested in the proper season.” My master started to teach me from the beginning. “Once the six materials are prepared, the craftsman must work delicately to fashion a bow.”

The second year, Id fully recovered, and my master began to teach me how to work on my arm strength. The injuries to the bone meant that my arm shook violently, and it was hard for me to even hold chopsticks. My master made painstaking efforts to correct my posture in this regard.

Shi Meng found a channel to sell the weapons, so we moved out of the small workshop and into a large new house.

The third year, I started formally training in martial arts. I was 17. My body grew quickly, and I started to grow facial hair.

This is when the bow in my hand started to take shape, a greyish, yellow bow that began to shine as it was polished. When covered with black varnish, it took on a dignified, austere look. The bowstring was firm and hard, imparting a slight curve to the bow stem. It was a strong long- distance bow, one that could easily pierce leather armor. If used up close, it could run through the human body.

I knew my time for vengeance was coming.

In the middle of the fourth year, Shi Meng made a large business deal. The state of Zhao suffered a crushing defeat and saw its supplies scattered, meaning they were urgently in need of replacements. My master happily accepted the order without hesitation. With that order completed, my master would be set for life.

My archery had improved, and the poplars in the courtyard were full of holes from my arrows, like so many tiny eyes. However, my master never praised me and refused to give me a precise appraisal of my skills.

According to him, until you had taken a life, you didnt truly understand the meaning of war.

I didnt think so. Why would I have to kill someone to test my mettle? How would I be any different from Shi Meng?

To my surprise, my master took his ox out of its pen—the first thing hed bought when he arrived here. Even though he didnt need to plough the fields, he looked upon the animal as his companion and cared for it fondly.

My master tied the ox to a poplar and told me to kill it with one shot. He then turned and left.

Looking at that old animal, I saw it gaze upon my masters retreating figure—it seemed to know something was amiss. I could see the pain in its eyes. This was new.

I slowly drew back the bowstring. It had never felt this hard before, like it was cutting into my fingers.

The tip of the arrow quivered as it pointed at the oxs head.

I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and loosed the arrow.

A dull thud sounded out, and my body trembled as I accidently bit my tongue. It hurt.

“Done.” My master walked up with his hands clasped behind his back.

The arrow had passed straight through the oxs head, heart, and tail.

The setting sun was crimson like the oxs blood. I looked over at my master as he bent down to hold the oxs body, a flash of light in his eye.

I was ready. In four years time, Shi Mengs swordsmanship had also improved considerably, far past the level he was at when he was a thug, now commanding an army of brigands almost a hundred strong, serving as mercenaries for other states. They had the appearance of merchants, and with weapons in their hands went about causing chaos, killing, robbing, and plundering.

I was scared and somewhat blamed my master. If he hadnt taken up this weapon business, Shi Meng wouldnt have become the powerful menace that he was.

One day, I was delivering a diagram to Shi Mengs compound and saw him kill someone.

It was a young knight—tall, handsome, and dignified. His blade was two and a half feet long, black inlaid with gold, shining like a slippery snake that refused to be confined.

The knight had come to Shi Meng to seek justice for a widowed mother and her baby. Shi Meng was looking for a private channel to move his cargo and had flattened a farmer who was blocking his way.

The young knight brought only one blade without a scabbard. I hid in a corner of the courtyard and watch wide-eyed as Shi Meng had his underlings surround the young man and take turns going at him until his blood covered the floor of the courtyard.

Then, Shi Meng came down, drew his sword, first cut off his right arm, then his left arm, then his right leg, then his left leg, and finally his head.

After leaving Shi Mengs mansion, I didnt go back to the workshop. I went home.

I hadnt been home for four years. When my parents went to the workshop to see me, I never received them. I hated them for what they did to my sister. My bones would ache, and Id have trouble sleeping at night.

I had to see them after Id delivered the diagram, and Id managed to sneak off with the knights head without Shi Meng noticing.

My parents hair had turned white with time, and the house had changed considerably. My sisters room had been leveled and turned into a small vegetable patch.

I found a shovel, dug up an area, and buried the head inside.

I didnt know his name, so I couldnt set up a tombstone. My parents almost fainted with fear, but I didnt want to explain the situation.

Afterward, I took everything of value in the home, wrapped it up into a few bundles and pushed my parents out onto the street. I told them to go anywhere, as long as they didnt come back—ever.

This was the start of my war with Shi Meng.

On my way back to the workshop, I changed clothes and continued to polish my bow.

I didnt tell my master about what happened because, as the weapons business grew, I was less and less able to gauge his perspective. He was, after all, my master. If he sided with Shi Meng, I wouldnt be able to take revenge.

Life was stable and peaceful now, and Shi Meng had been decent to me. What would an insignificant old score be to my master?

However, the bow…

The bow was complete. There was nothing stopping me.

Finally, on the day of the first heavy snow, Shi Meng came.

He was coming to collect product and I went to open the gate, pretending all was normal, and as I did, two bloody heads rolled out. Rage gripped me, my eyes nearly ruptured with fury.

My parents!

Shi Meng stood cross-armed with his sword outside the gate with a fake smile. Around him, 40 or 50 thugs with weapons raised came charging.

“Brat, I didnt think that your master was so talented. He taught you how to hide well!”

I picked up my parents heads, and took a few steps back.

Id underestimated him!

I expected that he might have noticed the head missing—maybe torturing or kidnapping my family as recompense—but I never thought the he would have seen me hiding.

My parents blood was already cold, but against my chest, it felt like fire.

But my bow was not at my side.

Id hidden it in the highest rafters, planning to snipe Shi Meng as he exited the warehouse after checking the product with my master.

There was no hope of that.

The 50 or so brigands flooded in, surrounding me. I clutched the two heads, with nowhere to go.

“Oh Master Cui, Master Cui Nan!” Shi Meng yelled towards the workshop. “Your disciple is about to die here today! Why dont you come out and tell him why?”

A crack of thunder exploded over my head.

My master had sold me out.

I looked at Shi Meng. Through a slight gap in his collar, I could see an ugly Adams apple.

“I wouldnt have thought this old cripple would turn out to be ‘Master Cui, the mighty Dark Sword Cui Nan!” He spoke deliberately, with hatred, eyes fixed upon the courtyard gate, waiting for the form of my master to come hobbling out.

I suddenly felt something was amiss—Shi Mengs hatred of my master greatly exceeded his hatred of me.

“Cui Nan? Please,” I said with disdain. “Hes just a greedy old man, afraid to die.”

Shi Meng turned around suddenly, face full of hatred as he came at me. “You still want to pretend! You guys make a good pair! The last batch of product I delivered fell apart as soon as I handed it over to the client! You ruined in one night the business I spent four years building!” The veins on his forehead bulged as he drew his sword.

A forceful voice sounded out: “Dont forget, I forged that sword!”

I quickly lifted my head.

A black form came whirling down from the eaves covered in snow.

“Shao Yun, get your bow!”

I crouched in the snow, covered in wounds, having almost bled out.

There were dead people all around me—my master was one of them. He was right next to me, sword extended. Hot air rose from the wounds on his shoulder.

I had one arrow left. Across from me, Shi Meng rolled up his sleeves, preparing to come at me.

I laughed coldly as I slowly drew my bowstring. The bow made a slight creaking sound, right next to my ear. It sounded like spring thunder.

I suddenly understood why my master didnt take revenge for all me those years ago.

He said he just wanted to make a bow—a legendary bow.

The bow was me.

Snow fell heavily all around, in clumps. I drew the bow until it sung in the breeze.

Heh. Shi Meng.

- TRANSLATED BY MOY HAU  ( 梅皓)

[1]More accurately, Chinese mulberry or “mandarin melon berry”, Macluratricuspidata (Carr) Bur. The wood of this plant was famous for use in toolsand weapons in classical times in China.

[2]From Rites of Zhou (《周禮》), a record of politics, economy, culture, customs, rituals and laws of the states from the pre-Qin period (before 221 BCE).

[3]In present-day southern Shandong.

[4]4 A school of thought that evolved at the same time of Confucianism and was its major rival. Its best known belief is “impartial care”. Moists also emphasize the study of physical science and mathematics and were regarded as great engineers, often hired by states in warfare.

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