Chapter 29: The Autumn Mountain Mist Painting
Cai Wenchang had been forced to stick to the right-hand wall and launch a surprise attack in order to save his one life, but he had still yelled before he thrust his sword out. The Daoist was more skilled than he, yet he was still too slow on the counter. He had been in too much of a hurry. It was too late to dodge and so with one strike he was sent to the netherworld unavenged.
The mysterious beautiful woman in black had appeared suddenly; her stunning looks and noble bearing put Wenchang, who had never had contact with a woman before, at a loss as to what to do. He couldn’t even look directly at this woman with her limpid eyes that made his heart flutter, and his question to her was awkward.
The woman in black smiled and came closer, her scent carried on the wind. She approached the body of the Daoist and said in her sweet voice, “Young man, you should take the body and hide it so his companions don’t find it. You have to be quick.”
Wenchang jolted back to life and quickly dragged the body to the corner of the cliff wall. The woman in black said, “Young man, you are very brave to kill a Daoist from Cloud Terrace Temple. Are you not afraid of trouble later?”
He couldn’t tell how old she was, but she couldn’t be more than twenty. But a woman of twenty or younger would not be this skilled, with this bold a figure and dress, but from her face she really did look like a young woman. He didn’t know how to address her. “I had no other choice,” he said in an extremely awkward voice. “I was too rushed.”
“Are you one of Mountain Demon’s men?”
“No! I was just passing through when my horse was stolen and my buddy was chased off. Those Daoists forced me into the valley, so I had no choice but to flee with all my might.”
“Oh! Are you a man of the jianghu? You don’t have the unrestrained, heroic spirit of a man of the jianghu, am I right?”
“I just entered the jianghu. I messed up and killed someone and now wander the world as a fugitive.”
“May I ask you honorable name, and your native place?”
“My family name is Cai, given name Wenchang. I’m from Fine Horse Village not far to the south. This is my first day in exile, and I ran into this mess. May I ask, miss…”
“Oh! No need to ask about me.” The woman in black smiled. Her smiled was radiant and enchanting.
Wenchang looked up and his eyes met hers. He felt a sudden shock and lowered his head again, avoiding her gaze. She said, “You can call me Miss Black. When people of the jianghu meet by chance, there’s no need to stand on ceremony. Since you’re a man of the jianghu, you must hope to see and experience a lot of things. Up ahead some of the finest masters of the martial fraternity are having a fight to the death. We mustn’t miss our chance. Come on! I’ll take you to sit on the mountain and watch the tigers fight, let you see a little more of the world.”1
She started out, with lissome steps, rounding the corner of the opposite cliff wall. Wenchang seemed to be hypnotized, following her without realizing it.
There was a slope that was not very steep or rugged. Miss Black leapt up lightly and went to a pine wood loaded with icicles and leaned against a pine tree. She undid her cape and spread it out on the snow and smiled at Wenchang. “Sit! We’ll be too conspicuous if we stand. We must cover our tracks so that we don’t get dragged into their dispute.”
How could he sit next to her? This woman possessed an imperceptible yet compelling bearing that unsettled this inexperienced young man. An imperceptible force made him uncomfortable and awkward. Embarrassed, he said, “Go ahead, miss, I…”
He was going to sit somewhere else when Miss Black suddenly reached out with her delicate translucent white hand and pulled on his coat sleeve and led him and pulled him down onto the cape.
Miss Black sat crosslegged beside him. “You’re too tense, really like a little child. Oh, how old are you? Sixteen? Or eighteen?”
Wenchang was startled by her bold, straightforward manner. He didn’t know what to say. He shifted away, trying to get away from her body which seemed to be on fire. “Eighteen. You?”
Miss Black tittered and lightly touched him with her elbow. “A girl only reveals her age when telling the fortune teller before getting married. Asking that is very rude. That proves you are not at all calculating. I like that.”
Wenchang was a bit unhappy. This woman was asking about his details but avoided questions about hers. They had been talking for some time already, yet she still had not said anything about herself. She was really a mysterious woman. Feeling peeved, he gave up asking. They had met by chance so there was no need to ask too much. He changed the subject and pointed below. “Miss, do you know them? They’re about ready to fight.”
He didn’t dare look at her, but he could instinctively feel her staring at him with her charming eyes that made one’s heart race.
He had seen women before. But this was the first time he had ever sat so close to a girl. He didn’t know why, but he felt this strange woman’s gaze harbored something malevolent, making his heart jump and rousing in him an odd feeling. But her perfect, scorching figure and her delicate scent made him uneasy, threatening his eyes and his nostrils. This threatening feeling was not one signaling his life was in danger, but it unsettled him, like his qi and blood were seething and he couldn’t control himself.
His natural urges were budding, but he was unaware of it.
Miss Black was really focusing on him, an odd glint in her lovely eyes. After a while she said faintly, “If you really want to watch, then watch carefully.”
“Why are they fighting to the death in this desolate valley?”
“Calm down and listen carefully and quietly and you can hear everything they’re saying.”
Wenchang calmed himself and concentrated on what was happening below.
From their high vantage point, about three to four hundred feet away, they saw a semi-circle of people holding swords and surrounding two Daoists in the center who had not yet drawn their swords.
The Daoist on the left was about seventy with a ceremonial cap, but he was not wearing a regular Daoist robe but a new style of ‘eight trigram’ robe, black with a white pattern and a loose Daoist overcoat. He looked like an immortal among men. He looked manly and regal, a five-tufted beard hanging to his chest, upward slanting eyebrows and tiger eyes, a straight nose and square mouth. He looked rather dignified, an impressive Quanzhen Daoist priest. An ancient, spotted sword hung at his waist, along with an eight-treasure bag. He was eight spans tall and imposing, standing there looking perfectly calm.
Miss Black said in Wenchang’s ear, “You see the one on the left with the overcoat? He’s the famed Seven Spells White Crane Hermit. An evil-doer among the jianghu. He gets on with just about everyone, and he can make and sell any poisonous medicine, potion, powder, or drops from the five minor sects.”
“Heavens! How could he be someone like that?”
Miss Black chuckled lightly in his ear, her breath like a fragrant orchid. “You’re judging by appearance; where did you learn your physiognomy? Not good, little brother. Mm! Look, that one coming down from the ridge is Mountain Demon Shan Tang. He’s a righteous hero of the martial fraternity. Can you believe it?”
His heart jumped when she called him little brother, so shockingly intimate. He shifted away. “That’s… That’s really hard to believe.”
“The Daoist on the right in red is Priest Celestial Void from Cloud Terrace Temple on Mt. Hua. He’s also called Priest Empty Cloud. When he’s not wearing his Daoist robes he’s known as Lone Wanderer Bai Yunshen. He’s a maverick bandit, and tough enough, though it’s a pity his health has been wrecked by drink, otherwise he would have been one of the world’s top masters. But now he is not listed among the Thirteen Greats.”
The Daoist on the right was about seven and a half spans tall. He looked about sixty, no beard. His nose was hooked like a hawk’s and he had thin lips and big ears. He wore a large red Daoist robe; one look and it was clear he had been venerated by the government. The lower hem of his Daoist robe was tucked into his belt and he had a sword strapped to his back. He clenched his teeth in the snow, flexing his hands into fists, obviously angry. He glared at Mountain Demon Shan Tang who was coming down from the ridge.
Mountain Demon Shan Tang had invited the men below to come up and fight, but the Daoists were unwilling, so the two sides had been deadlocked for some time. Finally, the Daoists begin cursing him, so Mountain Demon was forced to come down.
He was taking his time, heading down inch by inch, cackling as he went. The deep packed snow on the slope was sliding off, but he took it step by step, like an elderly man having trouble getting down, staggering and unsteady on the dangerous slope, yet he didn’t fall. His sword drug through the snow as he made his way inch by inch. “Hello, old friend, Seven Spells Sorcerer. So you’re running errands for a junior now, I’m really embarrassed for you. Maybe you’ve abandoned yourself to vice, probably selling aphrodisiacs to Priest Celestial Void for a good price. He scratch your back, you scratch his? So now you’re doing legwork for him, is that it?”
Seven Spells laughed regally. “Benefactor Shan, this humble priest acknowledges his flaws. Quarreling is not my strong suit.”
“You want to compete with magic? Swords? Hehehe…”
“This humble priest is here as a mediator only. I hope you won’t be too hard on us.”
“Haha! If I went easy this would be some show.”
“Benefactor, just hand over the Autumn Mountain Mist painting to Priest Celestial Void, and I will be willing…”
Mountain Demon Shan Tang fished around in his robe and pulled out a scroll that was one foot, two inches long and raised it up. “You mean this? Junior General Li didn’t paint this well, too finely detailed.”
Junior General Li was the son of Li Sixun, a general during the Tang dynasty. Li Sixun was a clansman of the Tang emperor. During the Kaiyuan reign period he was conferred the title Duke of Peng and was once General of the Militant Guard. Li Sixun’s paintings were particularly esteemed among the northern and southern schools of painting. He was adept at painting ‘gold-and-green’ landscapes and was considered the founder of the northern school. His son, Li Zhaodao, was also an excellent landscape painter, inheriting the style of his father, only he added a lot more detail. He became known as Junior General Li.
Priest Celestial Void halted in his tracks. “That shameless devil! I’ve spent three years roaming all over the jianghu looking for that painting. That bastard learned its whereabouts first and went and got it. Last night he broke into Cloud Terrace Temple and stole the painting and spread word that he would be waiting here for ten days. Are you not contemptible? You’ve really taken things too far!”
Mountain Demon Shan Tang rolled his eyes and hmphed. “Bastard, you can pilfer and rob all you want, but I can’t? Bullshit!”
Seven Spells made haste to mediate. “Benefactor Shan, Junior General Li’s landscapes are nothing special. Is it really worth making a mortal enemy?”
“Bah! Sorcerer, do you know the story about this painting?”
“This humble priest has heard a little, but it’s not really true.”
“Haha! You believe it, you’re just acting like you don’t. Don’t think you can trick me, you old devil! Who doesn’t know the Autumn Mountain Mist painting is a relic of Revenant Swordsman of yesteryear? The painting contains the Revenant Swordplay’s three quintessential, ultimate moves. It’s said the secrets are hidden within the strokes of the painting. Whoever can decipher it will be able to rule the world. That so-called divine thief stole it back then from Mt. Wugong’s Plum Valley, then it changed hands many times before finally ending up in Great Xia Heavenly Terrace of Heavenly Terrace Mountain.
“This Bai bastard colluded with his junior brother, Night Specter Zong Zhengping and killed thirty-six members of Great Xia Heavenly Terrace’s family, not leaving a single survivor. But Night Specter ran off with the painting and disappeared without a trace, but this son of a bitch Bai would not give it up. He searched for him for three years and killed his junior brother and got the painting back. I wasn’t willing to chase after him, so I waited for him here. Son of a bitch, do you know the relationship between me and Great Xia Heavenly Terrace? He was my adopted disciple, killed by that bastard Bai. Am I gonna take that? Cloud Terrace Temple is a popular place so I didn’t want to kill anyone there, so I called them out here to meet their deaths. Cloud Terrace Temple doesn’t have too many good people; anyone who showed up deserves death.”
Mountain Demon finished his speech and tucked the painting back into his robe.
Suddenly, he staggered, cried out, lost his footing and slipped and fell in the snow.
Snow danced up as Mountain Demon rolled with the packed snow, bearing down menacingly.
The Daoists were stunned. What? Was Mountain Demon Shan Tang, one of the Thirteen Greats, really this worthless?
- This phrase, “sit on the mountain and watch the tigers fight” means to watch in safety while others fight, then reap the rewards once both sides are exhausted. ↩