Jing Lin descended the mountain a few days later. His attire of a white robe and a silver crown was too conspicuous, so he shed his white robe and swapped it to an everyday wear with azure stripes. He hid his sword within his body and cast aside his crown to tie up his hair. Other than his unchanged facial features, he was no different from the common cultivators.
Li Rong and Yun Sheng saw Jing Lin to the foot of the mountain. At the side of the pavilion at the bottom, they gave him a small box. Jing Lin opened it for a look and saw six small porcelain bottles neatly arranged in a row inside.
“These are pills produced from Father’s courtyard. They are made according to your liking; all of them taste like tofu.” Noting that Jing Lin’s expression did not look good, Li Rong quickly said, “I know you have been self-cultivating and is unwilling to use these wonder pills to aid you, but they are a token of Father’s regards. You mustn’t refuse.”
Yun Sheng smiled at the side. “You wanted to eat those when you were young, but now that you have grown, you disdain them. Take them with you. Father is so fond of you; he is probably afraid something unforeseen might happen when you are crossing the borders, so he picked out six bottles to help cultivate your spiritual energy and fortify your constitution. You have to know that even Eldest Brother only dares to eat one bottle.”
“I’m solely cultivating the Way of the Sword,1 which is also the Way of the Heart. Using the aid of external objects would only make it easier to breed inner demons. Although I know Father loves me dearly, I still wouldn’t dare to use more than necessary.” Jing Lin picked out a bottle and pushed the box towards them. He said, “All the brothers in seclusion at home need these more. So, just use them on my behalf.”
After saying this, Jing Lin raised his hands slightly and kept his words succinct. “Then, I’m going.”
Li Rong and Yun Sheng returned the salute in unison and watched as Jing Lin vanished among the morning mist.
Li Rong shook the porcelain bottles and sighed. “There are so many of them. You and I can’t finish them all. Yet they are so valuable and rare that we can’t throw them away. What should we do?”
Yun Sheng patted his arm and said, “As it turns out, I heard Lan Hai saying last night that he hasn’t been feeling well lately. He is always feeling physically and mentally exhausted. Why not give him a bottle? You and I can take one bottle each and give the remaining ones to Qing Yao so that she can have them as candied beans.”2
There was a Lingtong Hall established in Lord Jiutian’s Courtyard, so named for concocting immortality pills. This Ninth Heaven Pill was wonderful for aiding cultivation and purifying evil. The brothers have been consuming them every month from the time they entered the sect. Once their cultivations had reached the Minor Accomplishment Stage and their spiritual sea had solidified, the Supreme Father would restrict the number of pills and tell them to forge ahead on their own. Although this was an excellent tonic, it could not be taken in excess. The only ones who can munch on them as though they were beans were Qing Yao and Dong Jun. Dong Jun was a devil who pledged allegiance to them, which is a story for another time, while Qing Yao had a rare constitution and had to take them daily.
Having arrived at an agreement, both men returned to the mountain.
◈ ◈ ◈
Jing Lin did not take a boat on his way south. Instead, he rode a horse along the river. Ninth Heaven Sect had set up command stations in the south to provide support to disciples. Thus, Jing Lin rested his feet at the various stations along the way.
It was evening when Jing Lin sat down at the noodle stall along the street and ordered two bowls of noodles—one with vegetables and one with tofu. He picked out a pair of chopsticks to dig into the noodles. He was only halfway through when he heard someone walking towards him from behind, making a “thud, thud” sound as the latter rapped on the ground with a wooden stick. The person hit the side of his table, and the first words out of his mouth were, “This young master, you have a charming countenance, and your face is rosy. You are going to get lucky in the romance department these days!”
Jing Lin ate his noodles and did not answer. The man leaned over to him. He sniffed and said, “I’m starving too. Seeing as I have told you your fortune, how about rewarding me with this bowl of noodles?”
Jing Lin noted him to be illiterate. His eyes were cloudy and dull; it was likely he was visually impaired. He was also unshaven, with a dirty garment hanging off his shoulders and a pair of azure fabric shoes on his feet that exposed his toes. There was even a piece of wood that had been gnawed rotten by insects in his hand. Just a light sniff, and Jing Lin could smell the stench of pickled vegetables mixed with trough water. The worst was all those lice leaping on him in between his movements.
All the diners lost their appetites and fell over themselves to leave their seats. The stall-owner would not let him get away with this, so he ran over to spat at this fortune-teller who looked as if he was here to beg for food.
“Get the hell out of here quickly!” The stall-owner lashed out at him with the towel. “What havoc are you creating here? Who the hell is so careless down there to pee out such an eyesore like you?!”
The fortune-teller deftly moved his feet, causing the stall-owner to hit the empty air each time. He folded his arms up his sleeves and withdrew them with a gold pearl grasped between his fingers. He blew at the pearl and waved it before the stall-owner’s eyes to show off.
“See this?” He said, “If I’m a contemptible one,3 then what are you, sonny? Don’t stand there and block my way. Scram aside and wait. I want to have fun with this young master.”
With that, the fortune-teller stepped on one of his feet and sat opposite Jing Lin. He scratched at the lice and said, “You wouldn’t even give me a mouthful of noodles. Cheapskate!”
Jing Lin pushed the untouched bowl to him. The fortune-teller used the chopsticks to rap noisily against the side of the bowl and shouted, “No! Who gives a damn about a bowl of noodles? I want the bowl you are having!”
Jing Lin asked, “Do fortune-tellers even hanker after leftovers now?”
“That depends on whose leftovers they are.” The fortune-teller opened his blind eyes and reached out a hand to grab Jing Lin’s hand. “You’re so good-looking. So I only want yours.”
Jing Lin took the opportunity to step back and lifted his foot to tap the bench under the fortune-teller’s butt, moving it back suddenly. Then he flipped his hand and rotated the square table to shift the bowl left with only a soup base before the fortune-teller. When the fortune-teller looked at Jing Lin again, the latter had already finished the untouched bowl of noodles in just a few mouthfuls.
Jing Lin slapped the copper pearls down and stood up to leave. The sound of wind rose behind him as that fortune-teller inexplicably batted his arm towards Jing Lin. Jing Lin swung aside, and in that instant, their shadows superimposed over each other before parting like a pair of ghosts. Jing Lin dusted off the hem of his clothes and stepped forward. He did not expect the fortune-teller to be so shameless that he would hug him from behind under his arms and lifted him.
“You can’t run now!”
Before the fortune-teller could finish his words, the man in his embrace suddenly turned into a little stone figure with a “poof”. It did a carp kip-up4 on the ground and made a funny face at him. The fortune-teller took a look at Jing Lin again, but there was not even a trace left of him!
The fortune-teller let out a sneer and kicked the little stone figure’s butt. He said, “He sure runs fast!”
Then he took a few steps into the crowd and swiftly vanished from sight.
◈ ◈ ◈
Jing Lin’s eyes were closed as if he was sleeping. There was a sudden knock on the window at night. He pushed open the window and saw a pretty woman who looked like a willow branch trembling in the wind leaning against the window. Her tears came flowing even before she said a word to him.
“Sweetheart, where have you been fleeing?” The pretty woman wiped her tears with her scented handkerchief and spoke softly in a sobbing voice. “You abandoned me under the bridge. I was so afraid. You wouldn’t even go when I called you. What a fickle man. At the very least, you and I were husband and wife for one night. Yet you wouldn’t even do me this favor!”
Jing Lin thought that he was dreaming. At the same time, he suspected that an evil spirit had come to mess with his mind, so he wanted to close the window. The pretty woman reached an arm in and poked him gently in the chest. Weeping under the moon, she asked delicately, “Why such a glum face? You don’t want to see me? I know you are close with that aristocratic missy. Don’t tell me you are going to abandon me? Jiu-lang…” she sobbed,” How heartless.”
Jing Lin said, “I have never abandoned you, nor have I been close with you.”
“How could you say this!” The pretty woman stamped her foot. “Even your flesh and blood in my belly will not let you get away with it, let alone me!”
Jing Lin said, “There’s no pregnancy aura on you. You are not with child.”
Left with no other course of action, the pretty woman tried to climb in through the window. She lifted her skirt and moved her slender legs up the window. Looking out at the bright moon hanging high in the sky and the bright-as-day courtyard, Jing Lin suddenly said, “I understand now.”
It threw the pretty woman off balance for a moment. “Huh?”
Jing Lin paused and said, “I’m afraid you’ve found the wrong window and gotten the wrong person.”
He had set up a spiritual thread at the window. If this were an evil spirit, she would not have been able to straddle over it. And she was not a demon either, since Jing Lin had not been able to see her original form and spiritual energy. This woman was emitting the aura of a mortal all over. Her legs had even gone red from pressing against the frame as she climbed over the window!
On hearing this, the pretty woman smiled and said, “You and I have been intimate for a night. How would I forget your face?! Let me touch it, and I’ll know if I have made a mistake or not.”
Jing Lin could be decisive when it came to slaying demons and eliminating evil, but he would not kill a mortal without reason. He could not help but feel overwhelmed and took several steps back on seeing this bold woman about to climb her way in. Her skirt had been lifted above her knees, and those snow-white legs swung in the darkness of the night. Jing Lin would see no evil, so he averted his eyes and pulled the quilt over to thrust it at her and shove her out of the window.
This fall would not hurt at all given the low height of the window and the soft grass cushioning her fall below. But her fall was unsightly, so she hugged the clothes that had been ripped from the fall and began to weep and yell.
With this shout, the entire station lit up. All the people here were cultivators. With their acute senses of hearing, they had already heard the conversation clearly in the darkness. Now they all poked their heads out in unison and whispered to each other as they muttered and pointed fingers at him.
The woman drew the quilt around her and wept as she continued to pester him. “This fickle man turned his back on me. Yesterday, he was still calling me darling and baby under the sheets, and today he wants to be on intimate terms with another! He wouldn’t even let me in!”
Jing Lin had never come into contact with women before. So where would he have seen such a situation before? His frosty eyebrows were now all scrunched up. He almost believed that this was a new scam for money in the south.
Sure enough, he heard that woman say as she wiped her tears, “You said you wanted sixty gold pearls for business. Oh heavens! That was all my blood and sweat I’ve worked my heart and eyes off to earn from sewing embroidery, stitch by stitch, thread by thread. Now that I’ve handed them to you, you treat me this way! If you insist on leaving, then do as you wish. But you must return the money to me!”
Leaving aside the question of whether she could sew out sixty gold beads worth of embroidery, she could shake Jing Lin upside down all she wanted, and he would still only have ten.
Jing Lin grasped his money pouch and said, “It’s one thing to ask for money, but you mustn’t spout nonsense. You and I have never been acquainted. I never had a dalliance with you, nor have I borrowed a single pearl from you.”
Suddenly revealing her shrewishness, the woman stood akimbo and said, “How nice! You are not only fickle, you are also callous! You even want to make a clean break with me. Pay me back what you owe, sixty pearls and not one less! Otherwise, I’ll go to that whatever Ninth Heaven Sect and tell others to look at what a scum you guys have raised!”
Those at the command station watching the show immediately raised their voices and said, “Lady, there’s no hurry. He’s a disciple of Ninth Heaven Sect, so he’s super, super rich! Go ahead and ask him for the money. Tonight, all of us here will watch him for you. He wouldn’t dare to hit out at you!”
“Just because you’re from Ninth Heaven Sect, you can throw your weight around and bully others? Return the lady her money!”
“Heartless rat, fickle man!”
Jing Lin remained unmoved. His attention was on his palm. He only had this much left; he did not have more to give her. So he poured out the gold pearls, wanting to hand them over.
A strong, slender hand with distinct joints suddenly stopped him midway.
“Gold pearls aren’t a problem.” This man faced Jing Lin from the side. He had broad shoulders and back. “But it wouldn’t do to push your luck.”
“That was really unjustified of you to say so.” The woman raised her voice and said, “I’m already this pitiful, how would I still dare to ‘push my luck’? This is clearly a ‘tearful plea’.”
“The way I see it, little lady, you are so eloquent that you have rendered my brother speechless.” Cang Ji threw her a bag of gold pearls and said, “Now that you have gotten the money, I’d advise you to do some decent business. It is rare to find silly ones like him. You’ve reaped such a good bounty tonight, so why aren’t you leaving?”
The woman saw that he did not look too pleased. Although his appearance was ordinary, he was kind of imposing. Thus she quitted while she was still ahead. After pulling the bag open to check that they were all real gold pearls, she immediately stood up and smoothed the hair on her temples before leaving with glee.
Cang Ji turned his head back and said to Jing Lin, “It has been a few days since we met. Have you forgotten me?”
A picture flashed through Jing Lin’s mind. He could vaguely remember this face. It was just that he had been too groggy from the heat back then and could not remember much. So he said, “Thanks.”
Cang Ji stood for a moment and suddenly asked the waiter standing behind. “Do you still have rooms in the station?”
It was then Jing Lin saw him still holding on to the horse, looking all travel-weary.
The waiter hastily replied, “I’m so sorry. We are out of rooms today!”
Cang Ji raised his hands to Jing Lin regretfully and said, “It wasn’t easy for us to meet each other again, but now we must bid each other farewell. Since the station is already full, I’ll go elsewhere.”
The waiter bowed and said guiltily, “I’m sorry you have made a trip in vain! But they are all closed for business at the moment. Most of them are already full.”
So Cang Ji said, “Well, then…”
Since he had stood up for Jing Lin earlier, it was now time for Jing Lin to repay him. Thus, Jing Lin said to Cang Ji, who was starting to walk away. “I have to thank you for your help both times. If you don’t mind, we can stay together.”
Cang Ji turned his head back, looking to be in a dilemma. “Wouldn’t that be imposing on you?”
Jing Lin looked at him. “It’s fine.”
Cang Ji threw the reins to the waiter. Naturally, there would be people preparing hot water and food inside. As he lifted his robe to step through the door, he smiled at Jing Lin and said, “You are really a good guy.”
◈ ◈ ◈
On the other side, the woman who left earlier entered a door carrying the bag of gold and repeatedly squealed to her man. “We are rich!”
Her man stood by the oil lamp and bit down on the gold pearl. The woman said, “What an odd man! I thought he was going to fix that fair-faced lad. Who knew that he was going to give us money instead!”
“Since he told you to go, and even gave you money, then all you have to do is to read the lines he gave you.” Her man said mockingly.
The woman hugged that bag of money, still puzzled. “Say, is that man mental or what…”
Thank you Peach for proofreading!
- 道 Dao, or the Way, is an important concept in Daoism where one archives spiritual enlightenment by cultivating the Way, or ‘walking the (right) path’. It’s a bit hard to explain all the nuances in Daoism succinctly but for this novel, you can understand it as cultivating one’s moral principles to defend what one believes in (one’s Way or Path to enlightenment). There are typically several paths that one can choose to cultivate. A common one that appears in wuxia and xianxia novels, especially among sword users, is the Heartless or Merciless Way (无情道). Jing Lin’s Way here is the Evil-Subduing Way of the Sword (降魔剑道).
- 下三滥, refers to the three contemptible trades in the ancient days, i.e., courtesans (prostitutes), scholars, and beggars.
鲤鱼打挺 carp kip-up, a martial arts move where one leaps from a supine position into a standing position.