Book 1 Chapter 9 – Another Long Journey
In the following eight days, the two boys practiced separately. Sometimes they did not even go hunting, they simply picked some wild fruits to fill their stomach.
The diagram Kou Zhong trained was the one depicting a walking man, where the channels and acupoints were marked in red dots and dotted lines. It was not much different from the one Xu Ziling practiced, but the pattern the qi traveled was completely opposite. It seemed to originate with a bold black arrow pointing to the Tian Ling [lit. heaven’s spirit] acupoint at the top of the head. And from this the arrow split into red, orange, yellow, green, blackish green, blue and purple, seven colors. Each color seemed to indicate a completely different method. Not only the route was different, the acupoints it pointed to were also substantially different. Practically there were a lot of channels and acupoints that Fu Junchuo had not even mentioned, or perhaps she did mention it, but it was totally unrelated to the method of training she taught.
The diagram Xu Ziling picked was the lying man. The bold black arrow was pointing to the Yong Quan [gushing spring] acupoint on the right foot. The seven-color arrows finally merged into the Yong Quan acupoint on the left foot, unlike Kou Zhong’s diagram in which the lines returned to the Tian Ling acupoint. But the complexity of the two diagrams was more or less similar.
In their hearts the two boys did not expect anything, they had nothing else to do anyway, so they simply followed the theory their Niang taught them. With single-mindedness, their thought involuntarily followed the channels and acupoints that they already memorized well, and thus in the end, whether intentionally or not, they were actually going deep into the Nine Mysteries Great Method training.
Sometimes they practice following the red arrow, sometimes they followed different color. Although there was no immediate effect, the two of them did not mind too much.
Later on, Kou Zhong would suddenly get up from his sleep and, with his eyes still closed, walked around the valley according to the posture shown on the picture. And Xu Ziling would only feel comfortable if he lay down according to the posture shown on his picture. One moving and the other still, each with his own interest.
On the evening of the ninth day, there was a sudden thunderstorm; the two boys were unable to sleep, they were compelled to practice. As usual, Kou Zhong wandered around the valley, Xu Ziling went to soak in the creek, with only his head above the water. Both were training their respective skill.
Not long afterwards, they both entered the peculiar state of ‘no-self’, where they seemed to be asleep, but were not actually asleep, and seemed to be awake, but not quite awake. In their mind suddenly there was the picture that they knew so well from the ‘Secret to Long Life’. Furthermore, they no longer care about following any particular arrow, they simply entered the state of emptiness where their spirit was fixed on certain hard-to-describe phase.
Amazing things happened.
First it was Xu Ziling who suddenly felt his heart was burning, the hot burning feeling like he was on fire. And then the heat reached its peak, linked in countless ways it spilled onto all channels and acupoints, big and small. This kind of feeling was so unbearable that he nearly wanted to kill himself to end the pain. It was fortunate that the ice-cold creek water and the rainwater slightly alleviate his pain.
It was fortunate that Xu Ziling was smart that he knew that it was the moment his spirit and mind aroused, so he no longer paid attention to the pain in his body, he also ignored the arbitrary rushing and random surge of the ‘real qi’ within him. He was deep in meditation, focusing his mind on only one thing.
It was also fortunate that Fu Junchuo did not have time to tell him the condition concerning the unleashing of qi.
If the movement of qi was due to regular Nine Mysteries Great Method training, the heat may start at the lower extremity of the backbone, and then following the arteries and veins, it would flow upward, breaking through Yu Zhen Guan [jade pillow pass], via Ni Jiu [mud/clay nine], and then returned to Ren channels [see Eight Extraordinary Channels, Chapter 7] at the front. This cycle continued ceaselessly for thirty-six days and became the basic method.
For average martial art practitioners, this is the state where they yearn for even in their dreams, because from this state they would embark on the path to become masters in internal strength.
Xu Ziling’s situation was actually unprecedented. Average people would think that they were having fire deviation; if the fire deviation was mild, they would be paralyzed, if it were heavy their pulse and channels would rupture and they would perish. Hence when Shi Long tried to follow the diagram the other day, because he already had a preconceived idea, as soon as he felt something was not right, he stopped immediately and did not dare to continue.
Xu Ziling, on the other hand, had no idea what was going on, and thought that it ought to happen this way; under no apprehensions, the dead horse has become a living horse, and he obtained the real essence of the diagram instead.
Kou Zhong was under different situation. A burst of incomparably strange cold qi penetrated the top of his head and flowed into all channels and acupoints, big and small. The cold was so intense that he nearly froze to death; automatically he started to run to keep the qi and blood flowing freely.
And thus the two of them overcame their respective adversity this way for two sichen [i.e. 4 hours] until daybreak. Kou Zhong eventually could not endure anymore and collapsed on the ground. In this terrible moment, the channels in his entire body seemed to burst open at once and he lost consciousness.
Xu Ziling felt that the tidal wave of heat that nearly burned him to death was rapidly subsiding; momentarily he felt like he was falling into nothingness and lost his consciousness as well.
By midday, the rain stopped and the sky was clear, the sun broke through the clouds and was shining brightly. Kou Zhong was the first to wake up; he felt his entire body was immerse in coolness and did not feel bothered by the burning sun at all. It was extremely comfortable.
Kou Zhong was still unsure of what was going on. Recalling last night’s experience, he still had a lingering fear, and sat up in daze.
One look around and he was amazed.
The whole heaven and earth seemed to be a lot clearer. Not only the colors were a lot richer, a lot of minute details that he usually overlooked have also become clear. Even the subtle change in the way the wind blows that he usually missed failed to escape his acute hearing.
The strangest thing was that both the heaven and the earth, the stone, a single blade of grass, seemed to be connected to him as if they were alive, while he himself has become part of them; the two no longer became separate entities.
Kou Zhong was greatly surprised; he quietly pondered that after the qi was aroused, the world unexpectedly looked completely new. Right this moment, a surge of great delight rushed forth in his heart, making him sprang up immediately.
First of all, Kou Zhong remembered Xu Ziling. Shouting gleefully, he called out, “Xiao Ling, I finished the first level. Look! My body is a lot lighter, I can do somersault.” After somersaulting twice, he ran up to find his good brother.
The fact is that even if we asked martial art master of this age, great martial art scholar with extensive knowledge and experience, they may not know what kind of skill these two boys have trained. Even the author of the ‘Secret to Long Life’ may only return a blank stare looking at the two boys’ present condition.
But the change in the two boys’ physique was real. Only, speaking about real fight, unless their opponent was an ordinary disciple of ordinary school, it would not be hard to make them kneel and beg for mercy. However, if this trend continued, nobody could predict what kind of level these two boys would be able to reach.
Hearing his shout, Xu Ziling slowly woke up. Still floating on the water, he felt his body was comfortably warm, without the slightest bit of cold. Hurriedly he crawled up the bank, and was so shaken that he dropped on his knees in disbelief. Because he saw the world was twice as beautiful than before.
From that day onward, the two of them believed that they had reached the first level of the Nine Mysteries Great Method. But remembering the deep pain they experience that night, temporarily they did not dare to continue their training.
But then they could not stand having too much energy. As soon as they woke up in the morning, they went out to hunt, and did not go back to the valley until the sun set over the western hills. However, no matter how tired they were, they only need to sleep and when they woke up, the fatigue immediately went away.
When they woke up that day, Kou Zhong pulled Xu Ziling toward Fu Junchuo’s grave. “If we continue like this,” he said, “Niang would not be happy. Much less she still wanted us to get married and have children, to do great things and not simply become ordinary men.”
Xu Ziling was silent for half a day. Finally he nodded and said, “I am also thinking of going out there. It’s just that although we have trained a bit of our school’s skill, compared with real martial art master, the difference is still more than a li away. If we only become foot soldier, my conscience will not allow it. Niang was so formidable, no matter what we must not make her lose face.”
Kou Zhong giggled and said, “Absolutely. Just like Niang said, Yuwen Huaji is determined to have the ‘Secret to Long Life’, he will never let us off. Perhaps he already has people make pictures of us and spread it around the country offering a reward for our capture. Hence we still need to lie low until the fuss dies down. It is actually best to stay here, but if we continue like this, we will definitely turn into savages.”
“So what’s your plan?” Xu Ziling asked.
Acting as if he had already planned ahead Kou Zhong said, “First we must find a good place to bury the ‘Secret to Long Life’, and then we head south, try to find a city, countryside, county or town to stay and see if we can make a living there. After we know the situation better, we can proceed with our original big plan of joining a militia.”
For some reason Xu Ziling also wanted to go out very much. Thereupon they immediately paid their respect in front of Fu Junchuo’s grave, buried the ‘Secret to Long Life’, retrieved their clothes and put them on, bundled their silver well, and left this beautiful little secluded valley, which had made their hearts ached and their souls broken, which they would never forget forever.
By this time it was already autumn, the air was fresh and cool. The two boys were still young, they slowly recovered from the blow of Fu Junchuo’s tragic death; they were starting to talk and laugh more often. Furthermore, due to the early glimpse of martial art prowess they managed to acquire, their self-confidence enjoyed considerable boost.
After walking to the south for seven days, they came across a small village. There were only a dozen or so houses in this village, with only two or three had lantern lights, indicating that this village had suffered under the chaos of war, and that life was difficult, hence they had to save as much resources as possible. There was a tinge of regret in the two boys’ hearts for returning to civilization.
As they were walking toward the village, suddenly they heard a dog barking in the distance. Immediately several dogs responded, several large dogs were jostling with each other while slowly moving toward their direction. The two boys were inwardly scared so they were on guard. Fortunately a villager came out and shouted to disperse the dogs. He greeted them warmly and offered them lodging for the night.
The next morning they left some coins for the lodging. And after asking for clear direction to the nearest largest county-level town, they continued on their journey.
After walking another ten or so days, they reached a big town called Cui Shan [lit. bluish-green/green-jade mountain] at the western extremity of Zhejiang River, south of Xin’an County. It was a town of approximately two thousands households, located east of Poyang Lake [Jiangxi]. The residents looked rather prosperous, there were stone bridges and row upon row of houses with tiled roof; it was a typical thriving Jiangnan town. Although in term of size it was only about a quarter of Danyang, and it did not have high city walls, when the two boys saw the town, they both had a feeling that they wanted to live here.
They were most interested in how exquisite was the clothes the women in this town were wearing. Both the tailoring and the embroidery showed off these out-of-the-water countryside girls’ skill and the way they paid particular attention to details.
What made the boys even happier was that these girls were wearing embroidered scarf draped over their upper arms, embroidered shoes on their feet, and thickly pleated skirt around their waists, making them appeared more graceful and vibrant, as they paraded ostentatiously around town in groups. Looking at the girls, the two boys’ heart began to itch. Especially now that they had a few pennies in their pocket, unlike before, where they were just poor drifters; their mood was completely different, they walked with puffed chest.
The two boys found a small hotel that did not look too expensive, booked a small room, and then with much trepidation went to the town hall to scout around; if they saw their portraits in a wanted poster, they would immediately escape without a trace.
Most shops in town had their businesses at the front, and an alley at the back, with residences upstairs. Workshops and warehouses were built next to the water, to make full use of river transportation.
When they reached the town hall, they saw conscription announcement plastered on the wall, but there wasn’t any wanted poster. The two boys were ecstatic; shouting for joy they strolled along the street like a pair of big bosses.
A group of young girls were walking straight toward them, laughing and giggling. When they saw the two boys’ amazing appearance, imposing physique and lofty expression, their eyebrows rose and their eyes showed admiration. The two boys halted their steps while their heart was bursting with joy.
Ever since they were born, this was the first time the two boys received admiring look from the opposite sex; hence their confidence was highly boosted.
Actually, during their stay in the valley for the whole summer, due to constant movement and first-class martial art training they underwent, plus it was the time when their bodies underwent growth spurt, not only they now looked tall and sturdy, the most noticeable change was their countenance; they both now exuded some kind of hard-to-explain youthful charm.
Very quickly the two boys were drawn into the familiarity of water-front town people; they thought that if they had to stay here, get married and have children, probably it was not a bad thing.
When they were in Yangzhou, the reason they developed fantasy and lofty aspiration all day long was because they were dissatisfied with their current situation, and because they were bullied and humiliated often. Now that they had found this Garden-of-the-Peaches-of-Immortality like place, where the people seemed simple and honest, they felt something new and fresh; thereupon they changed their mind and no longer had the intention to join the militia.
Chapter 9, Part 2
SzFong, Jaya, Anh, Zlack, Janger, you are welcome. Bocah, thanks for your support, much appreciated. And thank you for educating me. I thought since GT stands for 'google', perhaps MT stands for 'microsoft' ... I have not read the story you mentioned. I did notice that there are new genre out there, called xianxia, but I have not read it myself. I am still an old school wuxia lover. Perhaps when I retire from translating I will enjoy it. (Is Duoluo xianxia or wuxia?) Weed, OK, I won't hold it against you. Here's end of Chapter 9.
Kou Zhong caught a glimpse of a large signboard, ‘Liu Chun Courtyard’ [lit. preserving spring]; he pulled Xu Ziling’s broad shoulder and winked, “Xiao Ling,” he said, “You are more or less sixteen, and soon I will be seventeen. Other men get married when they are fourteen years old, but until today we are still virgin …”
Xu Ziling impatiently cut him off, “I understand what you mean. We have money, and you, this fellow, itch all over your body; isn’t that it? I am not opposed taking some money and waste it on some eye-opening activity at all, but at least we should wait until we find a job, find a place to stay, and then we can explore this life of pleasure seeking. Besides, isn’t the money left by Niang as our capital? It is enough for us to build a rather decent, simple house, plus to run a small shop; it must not be spent rashly on some extravagant thing.”
Seeing he did not really oppose the idea, Kou Zhong happily said, “Naturally, let us have a big feast first, and then we’ll go around to see what kind of work needs manpower.”
By this time they happened to stand in front of a restaurant. They were just about to enter when a big man, as sturdy as an ox, suddenly stormed out like a tornado, carrying a bundle in his hand. He turned to the left and gone. A short, skinny old man ran after him, shouting that man’s name. But the man did not even look back, he simply left without saying anything. The short, skinny man sat down dejectedly, leaning against the door to the restaurant, while cursing ferociously.
The two boys were baffled. They were just about to step in, the old man shrieked, “We are closed today, we will be closed tomorrow and thereafter.”
They began to realize that this man was the owner of this restaurant; looking at him covered all over with grease, they also realized that he was the chef as well. Kou Zhong was most curious; he asked, “Why won’t you open hereafter?”
The old man looked at the two boys from top to bottom once, and then with a bored grunt he said, “That prodigal son has left, my woman also passed away last month, how can I run this big shop alone?” Hanging his head down, he sighed and said, “Speaking about culinary skill, if I, Ol’ Zhang, am considered number two, who would dare to say that he is number one? Any dumpling oil rice, cool-breeze rice, jade-well rice [I have no idea what these are: 团油饭、清风饭、玉井饭], which one I, the Ol’ Zhang, am not an expert at? But that prodigal son did not understand and did not want to inherit my consummate skill, all day long he is nagging about joining the army and setting up merit. Just you see, when the day comes that he become a beggar and return home, I won’t support him! Humph, I might as well return to my village so that even if he wanted to find me he couldn’t.”
The two boys exchanged a glance and both squatted down. Kou Zhong said, “That’s too bad, such a big restaurant is closing its door. You’d better hire us as your helpers, and at the same time, your apprentice, so that your, Master Zhang, consummate skill will not extinct. At most we only want you to pay us two hundred five zhu coins [see Chapter 50] each month.”
The Ol’ Zhang was stunned; he looked at them again, from top to bottom, and then after a while he curiously asked, “Who are you?”
After Kou Zhong told him some made-up story, the Ol’ Zhang said, “So it’s twenty strings of coins altogether?”
Each string is ten coins, twenty strings are precisely two hundred coins. Even for one person, it could be considered an unusually meager pay; now that two persons only received two hundred coins, it was excessively too harsh. No wonder even Ol’ Zhang’s son wanted to leave.
Kou Zhong wanted to learn his rice cooking skill, so that in the future he could make a living. But he was also proficient in scheming; therefore, without giving it a second thought he said, “In that case you must also guarantee our food and lodging.”
Narrowing his eyes, Ol’ Zhang spoke in a strange voice, “Guaranteeing your food and lodging is not a problem, but all cleaning and menial jobs will also be your responsibility.”
Kou Zhong laughed, “It’s a deal!” he said, “Right now we are extremely hungry, naturally this meal will be on Boss Zhang’s account.”
And so the two boys moved in to the room upstairs that was vacant due to Ol’ Zhang’s son’s leaving. Every day before dawn they woke up and started to work. Every afternoon when the Ol’ Zhang closed the shop to take a nap, the two boys were responsible to purchase supplies and receive deliveries. After they closed for the night, Ol’ Zhang took a bath and went to bed, they washed the dishes and cleaned up.
With such an extremely busy life, not only they did not have time to visit pleasure house for some eye-opening activity, they did not even have enough time to sleep.
But Ol’ Zhang did indeed have true culinary skill; not only he was famous locally, even traveling merchants who passed by the town took pleasure in visiting the restaurant.
The menu only consisted of three types of rice, the ones that Ol’ Zhang mentioned earlier, i.e. dumpling oil rice, cool-breeze rice, and jade-well rice. But Ol’ Zhang’s skill was not limited to only these. After having Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling to help him, from time to time he also received some catering order, people who showed up at their door to have a gathering.
Since the two boys intentionally wanted to steal his skill, plus the Ol’ Zhang was old and weak and thus in day-to-day operation he relied heavily on them, bit by bit he passed on his culinary skill to them.
Three months later, they were brimming with confidence; they believed that they could spread their wings on their own. While on the other hand they grew tired of this business.
The reason they hesitated over what move to make, and did not make up their mind to leave, was because they did not want to abandon Ol’ Zhang, for fear that he could not stand it.
That night, after the shop closed, while Ol’ Zhang already went upstairs, the two boys had serious discussion.
“Have we made decision not to join the militia, or perhaps to become Wulin masters?” Kou Zhong asked.
Xu Ziling sprawled himself on the chair; he sighed and said, “Being busy like this every day until the sky turned dark and the earth black, so that we don’t have time to enjoy life, does not seem to be quite interesting.”
Kou Zhong said, “How about we endure it some more? Let’s stay here three more months, after the end of the year and the spring equinox [4th of the solar terms, March 21 – April 4], when the weather is warm, we’ll get out of here.”
Xu Ziling was distressed, “But I am a bit reluctant to leave,” he said.
With a wry smile Kou Zhong said, “Me too. But I have an idea, it is called ‘a real man aspires to travel far and make his mark in the world’. Why don’t we take refuge in the Song Family of Hunan? That Song Lu did not treat us too shabbily, if we could do obeisance and take him as our master, perhaps we can really accomplish our dreams.”
And then, gnashing his teeth he said, “If I can master martial art skill, the first thing I do is to kill that traitor Yuwen Huaji.”
Upset, Xu Ziling said, “Last night I dreamt about Niang again, she blamed me for not having a backbone, for not having guts to avenge her.”
Kou Zhong blew a long breath, “We are indeed too timid,” he resolutely said, “We can’t be considered real men. The worst that can happen is we die. Yet these days we are afraid the hard work of training martial art, we are also afraid of fire-deviation, hence we do not dare to continue. How is it not letting Niang down? I decided that starting tomorrow, I am turning over a new leaf, I will start training again, and in the future, I will not give up before I kill Yuwen Huaji.”
Xu Ziling’s eyes suddenly flashed with unprecedented sharpness as he stretched out his hand to grab Kou Zhong’s and said, “It’s good that you have made up your mind, I support it with my entire being. Back in Yangzhou our ambition was higher than the heavens; how did we become people who refuse to face reality [orig. shrink the head like a turtle]? We’d better leave tomorrow.”
Kou Zhong was amazed, “How did your eyes suddenly lit up just now? Just like Niang’s eyes just before she died.”
Xu Ziling was dumbstruck for half a day; he mused, “Truth be told, although I did not intentionally practice, every night when I lie down, that diagram showing how to circulate the qi appeared clearly in my mind, and thus I followed it automatically.”
Kou Zhong regretfully said, “If I had known earlier, I would have followed your example, diligently and relentlessly trained well. After this I definitely cannot stay idle. Alright! We will be on our way tomorrow.”
Xu Ziling muttered to himself, “Who will tell Ol’ Zhang?”
With a wry smile Kou Zhong replied, “Let’s do it together. This miserly crafty old man ought to receive a bit of lesson as well.”