Chapter 41: Young Master Mei Lin
After some amount of time he was suddenly drawn out of his nightmare. He was on a soft, plush, embroidered bed, covered with a brocade quilt. A huge, scented silk curtain hung around him; it was embroidered all over with beautiful plum blossoms that seemed to pop out in contrast to the nearly transparent silk gauze.
He sat up with a start. Eh? His acupoint was unblocked and he was dressed in new shirt and pants, and draped in a long, gold-knit nightgown made of Sichuan silk which was satiny and smooth.
He looked around the room, still groggy. Aside from the bed and curtain, the room was not lavish: a closet and a low table with two ceramic stools. There was a brazier on the low table, on which sat a cloisonné enamel teapot. Four matching teacups sat on a tray. Good gracious! This was government contraband.
On the left was a heavy, old-fashioned door, and on the right were two large, long windows that opened to the south, covered with carved flower latticework on the outside and a window curtain on the inside that was see-through, offering a view of the outside scenery. It was clear and sunny out, though he could not see the sun. It seemed to be looking out on a dilapidated flower garden; he could make out withered branches covered with ice and snow. One glance and he knew he was on the top floor of a multi-storey building; that’s why he could only see branches.
There was no one else in the room. He leapt up out of bed. His clothes were thin, yet the room was warm as spring. There was not only a precious brazier in the room, but also braziers hanging on each wall, each one glowing red.
He first rushed to the long window, pulled back the curtain, and opened the window and looked out. A blast of frigid air hit him. He took a deep breath of the chilly air to clear his mind, and looked up and down. It was a neglected flower garden, the pavilion and terrace and rock gardens all ruined and torn up. Tiles were chipped and missing from the overhead eaves; the metal windchimes that used to hang from the corners were gone, only the strings remaining.
There were many such ruined old domiciles on the outskirts of Xi’an. The people had moved with history, many wealthy and influential families declined, giving way to a new group of people. It could only be presumed that the descendents of this mansion had long since declined and died out.
“Eh? Where am I?” He had no idea.
He closed the window and hurried to the closet and opened it. He didn’t know where his clothes were. The only things inside were a neat, silver satin robe with a matching broad belt and ‘hero’ headscarf, a fox-fur vest and overcoat of matching material, and a pair of thin-soled running boots exquisitely embroidered on the top in an “as you wish” pattern. His two leather bracers and travel bag were inside as well, his dagger, concealed weapons, and other items all there, not a thing missing.
He stared at them blankly, still puzzled despite much pondering.
Outside the room he heard the shuffling of upturned shoes. Two girls were outside. The sudden, clear knock on the door made him flinch.
“Who is it?” Then his face turned red. He sounded too much like the master of the house!
It’s your humble servants Gudong and Xinzhu. Master Cai, you woke so quickly. maybe we come in and tidy up?” The girl’s voice was crisp and delicate.
Wenchang quickly grabbed the overcoat and went to the center of the room. “Please come in.”
The door opened silently and light flooded in as two pretty girls with their hair done up in braids tied high on their heads gracefully glided into the room. They were petite and dainty, dressed in clothes white as snow and smiling pretty as flowers. They stood side by side and curtseyed low. “It is good to see that Master Cai has recovered.”
“Me?” Wenchang was at a loss.
The girl on the left, Gudong, said, “Master was anxious because of the injury you sustained due to your acupoint being blocked for so long, so he instructed for you to be given his family’s precious wonder drugs. He said you would be cured and would wake up at dusk, but who would have guessed Master Cai would wake seven hours earlier.”
“What time is it now?”
“In response to Master Cai, it is the top of the double-hour of the snake.”
“Everyone calls him Young Master Mei Lin. He is currently sending off Black Sovereign’s henchmen. He should return at the double-hour of the goat.”1
“This place is…”
“This is the abandoned Du family residence twenty miles to the southeast of Xi’an prefectural city, Master’s temporary lodgings.”
Wenchang wasn’t surprised. He had already guessed it was Outcast Androgyne Young Master Mei Lin who had rescued him. He was infamous within the jianghu. No one knew if this devil was man or woman, nor what his surname or given name was, and his family background and age were also a mystery. He was notorious throughout the jianghu for stopping at no evil in abducting handsome young men and beautiful young women. But Wenchang felt indebted to Outcast Androgyne for saving his life so he wasn’t afraid of him. Rather, he was sincerely grateful.
But he was a bit uneasy. He couldn’t stay with Outcast Androgyne, not only because of the fear of gossip, but also because he had his own future to think about.
Gudong and Xinzhu came forward and served tea. “Master Cai, please rest and relax,” Xinzhu said. “Master has instructed your humble servants to…”
Wenchang shook his head, a wry smile on his face. “I have important things to do. I can’t stay long. I have to…”
A helpless look spread on Gudong’s face. “Master Cai is not familiar with the way Master treats his guests,” she said faintly. “Master’s nickname is actually…”
“I didn’t mean that,” Wenchang broke in.
Gudong shook her head and smiled wryly. “Rumors can obscure the truth. The difference between fact and fiction can be extremely subtle. Master does not seek anyone’s understanding with regard to his actions, and has no need to defend himself. Ah! Master told this humble servant that Master Cai is a rare hero and should not associate with people of ill repute. Therefore he instructed your humble servant to pass along his best regards, and that if Master Cai wishes to leave at once, he is free to do so.” She went to the wardrobe and opened it. “Master Cai’s clothes are already ruined. Master has replaced them and has also provided some traveling money as a token of his goodwill. He hopes you won’t laugh at his meager offering.”
Wenchang heaved a sigh. “I must personally thank your master for his great kindness in saving my life. Allow me to wait here for him.”
The servants laughed. Their laughs were bright and charming. Gudong said, “Then, your humble servant will prepare food and drink. Please wait a moment.”
They left, smiling, without a trace of frivolity. This set his mind at ease. Seemed Outcast Androgyne was not at all like what people said. After all, Wenchang was young and inexperienced, ingratiated by a few words from those two girls.
Actually, Outcast Androgyne had not gone anywhere. He was arranging everything in another room. He observed Wenchang’s every word and action.
There was some scheme afoot in this devil of the martial fraternity winning over Wenchang. He was an evildoer within the jianghu, stopping at nothing and incurring great censure from men of the jianghu, and had formed deep enmity with those men.
Originally he had been headstrong within the jianghu, not harboring any great ambition, not had he sought to become an overlord of the martial fraternity. He really did not seek anyone’s reverence or adoration. His wish had been simple: he wished to be unrestrained, undisturbed and not interfered with. To put it in more colloquial terms: he wanted to live a free life. But he had neglected one thing. His own freedom was harmful to others and impeded their freedom.
Consequently, his evil deeds resulted in many wronged souls driven to death and led to unresolved acrimony with many famed persons within the martial fraternity. So he was forced to spread his secret hideouts everywhere, coming and going like a shadow to avoid pursuit from his mortal enemies who were looking to kill him. He developed a notorious reputation with enemies everywhere.
Because of this he had to think of ways to protect himself, thinking up every way imaginable to recruit young men and woman newly involved in the martial fraternity to be his eyes and ears, sending them to all the major sects within the jianghu as his faithful henchmen. So even though he had enemies all over, there were not many able to find him to settle the score. On the contrary, his enemies found it difficult to escape his control. His brutal retaliation made them tremble with fear.
Of those among the twelve eccentrics of the martial fraternity who were his enemies, chief among them were the two sovereigns: Black Flag Sovereign and the master of Endless Valley, top masters of the dark and light paths, respectively. There was nothing he could do about these two mortal enemies. They were both highly skilled and possessed many henchmen, and their hidden power and influence was great. There was no way to meet them head-on.
He knew he was as incompatible as fire and water with these two; open and clandestine disputes with these two multiplied, this innate grudge impossible to resolve. One day they would have their irremediable fight to the death. To this end he schemed and recruited young men and created many opportunities to let these young men believe that these two were colluding in secret in order damage their reputations within the jianghu.
This longterm scheme had been in effect for a long time, with pleasing results. Friends of the jianghu were not only beginning to become suspicious, it had also intensified the conflict between the two sovereigns, and had created more opportunities for the two to take out the other’s henchmen. And he not only increased his own power and influence, he was also able to get the best of both of them.
He was very calculating and shrewd. He didn’t bother trying to recruit veterans of the jianghu who might have a bit of a reputation. Veterans were experienced in the jianghu and knew how to differentiate right and wrong and think carefully in making decisions; these types were not easy to make progress with, as they might as well lead to ruin as success. He started with young men, those who lacked the ability to reason, were impulsive, naïve, malleable, swayed by emotion, and lacked jianghu experience. These were the easiest to exploit. These young men had no name or status within the jianghu. It was rare those who really could go through hardship and countless difficult situations and come out on top, yet there were many chances for them to be killed in a fight, and therefore they seemed to not have much value in utilizing, so famed personages of the martial fraternity didn’t take them seriously. They did not place much hope on the younger generation.
But Outcast Androgyne saw it differently. He believed young men had a lot of drive, were courageous in the face of danger. They were swayed by emotion and their temperaments were malleable. They were like a blank sheet of paper, able to be dyed any color, and afterward they would harden and would not easily change again. They were worth utilizing intelligently.
He had a clear understanding that the river waves come one after another, that the new people would replace the old, that the elders would ascend to heaven or fall to hell while the juniors usurped their positions. An early plan was the best plan.
Therefore, he would never let off young men of natural talent and conduct who he met as he roamed the jianghu. By hook or by crook he would find a way to nab them first, then win them over later. He had his own ability to rope them in; he rarely failed. If he did fail, all he had to do was raise a hand and get rid of them forever, no worries.
His method seemed worthless; there was nothing special or unusual about it. It was very simple: he exploited these young men’s weaknesses. His methods were as follows: closeness through kindness, action through benefit, feeling through lust, reward through skill. When he employed these methods he must leave no trace lest he get the opposite results. In short, by taking diligent care to “cater to one’s likes”, he would always be successful.
He had an impressive number of henchmen, but they were always shady characters of the jianghu who rarely showed themselves, coming and going unpredictably, some traveling here and there without a fixed itinerary, some lying low, people from all walks of life; commoners serving as officials made up many of them. They would meet and scatter in extremely secretive fashion. Like the dilapidated temple ruins; that was one of his hideouts. He had been at Laozi Valley watching as Seven Spells, Mountain Demon Shan Tang, and Black Succubus Gu Zhen fought over a silly painting of dubious authenticity. He had not revealed himself, but he had seen Cai Wenchang, who had become caught up in countless difficult situations.
He had no interest in the Autumn Mountain Mist painting. He considered it a cheap hoax. Even if the Revenant Swordplay was really hidden inside, only an idiot would carry it around with him and wave it around brazenly. The Revenant Swordplay should have surfaced in the jianghu long ago. And the powerful Sima family descendants of Plum Valley at Wugong Mountain had not appeared in the jianghu, and even the servants of Plum Valley dismissed it with a laugh and showed no interest in it. If it had really been stolen, how could the Sima descendants remain in Plum Valley enjoying life? To take it a step further, Wugong Mountain was a forbidden area within the jianghu; no hero of the martial fraternity dared venture close to Wugong Mountain, as it was guarded by hidden traps at Heaven’s Will Pavilion, traps set by the eccentrics of the martial fraternity, Devil Axe and Divine Skill, so how could anyone go in there and steal it? Who would dare brag that he had stolen the Autumn Mountain Mist painting from Plum Valley. It was nothing more than a fairy tale.
What he didn’t know was the Autumn Mountain Mist painting really had been stolen, but it hadn’t been stolen from Plum Valley. The master of Plum Valley had presented it to Abbot Nine Dragons to add to his treasured collection of scrolls, and the Revenant Swordplay had been rumored to be inside it. Who dared spread that rumor? No one knew.
- 1-3pm ↩