Chapter 111 : Slander (Part I)
Mt. Jianan was covered with snow year-round. The mountain was high and its valley was deep. It was already summer, but only a patch of ice had started to melt. Water, mixed with broken ice, slowly flowed down the mountain in a stream, scouring brightly colored pebbles on both sides of its bank. The pine forest was covered with sparkling ice crystals. At first glance, the scenery was like that of the North.
Xiao Shao pa.s.sed an array of plum blossoms at the foot of the mountain on his way up towards the Lu Yang Villa that sat at the mountain top.
The array was the formation that Teacher Ba Qi personally laid out. It had a total of eight loops, arranged from the foot of the mountain to its peak. Except for the sect disciples, outsiders could not break the formation. Xiao Shao had been here many times and was familiar with the road. Just as he entered the gate outside the Lu Yang Villa, the large green parrot kept at the doorway started to flap its wings and screech loudly. “Someone is coming! Someone is coming!”
Unlike the scenery on Mt. Jianan, Lu Yang Villa was filled with birds and flowers. All kinds of flowers were blooming, just like in early spring. Xiao Shao walked in. The huge villa was renovated exquisitely, but at the moment n.o.body seemed to be present. After a brief moment, a deep voice came from the courtyard. “Ah Shao?”
That voice, as mellifluous as a bell, was close to his ears. But when he listened more carefully, it was vague and faint as if it came from a faraway place. Xiao Shao walked towards the courtyard. Under a pear tree, a white-bearded old man in a grey shirt sat in front of a chess table, holding a box of chess pieces in his hands.
“Master.” Xiao Shao walked over to him.
The old man in grey was Teacher Ba Qi, now in his seventies, and he had the appearance of a sage with astute and wise eyes. Without raising his head, he studied the chess game in front of him. “Are you back from South Xinjiang?”
“Yes.” Xiao Shao answered. After coming back from South Xinjiang, he had been busy handling all kinds of things and Teacher Ba Qi was also in seclusion. But now that he had found the opportunity to go to Mt. Jianan, by chance, Teacher Ba Qi had also come out of his seclusion.
Teacher Ba Qi put down the chess box and finally raised his head. Teacher Ba Qi accepted a total of eight disciples and Xiao Shao ranked third among them. At that time, when Xiao Shao first went up the mountain, he was just a withdrawn and taciturn teenager. He came together with Guan Liang Han. Guan Liang Han studied battle formations while Xiao Shao learned Qi Huang’s Inner Cla.s.sic. However, within a few years, the old Jinying w.a.n.g and his wife met with a mishap and Xiao Shao became even more desolate. He took the initiative to ask Teacher Ba Qi to stop teaching him medical skills and only studied the art of a.s.sa.s.sination from then on.
 行军布阵 (xíngjūn bù zhèn): military’s battle formation, arranged according to the specific conditions such as the topographical conditions and the strength of the enemy and its troops.
 岐黄之术 (Qí Huáng zhī shù) : the book of the dialogue between Huangdi and his official Qibo.
Xiao Shao was extremely talented. He showed a disposition for practising martial arts and it seemed as though killing people was very easy for him. After he finished learning, in his first year down the mountain, he penetrated South Xinjiang alone and at that time decapitated South Xinjiang’s leader . He was cold and fearless. He killed with a blade in hand without any concern. There was no man in the world better suited to be a killer than Xiao Shao, but Teacher Ba Qi only remarked. “Ah Shao, you are not meant to be the best a.s.sa.s.sin in the world.”
 得心应手 (déxīnyìngshǒu) – lit. what the heart wishes, the hand accomplishes (idiom) skilled at the job / entirely in one’s element / going smoothly and easily.
Xiao Shao asked, “Why?”
Teacher Ba Qi replied, “Because you’re not cold-blooded enough.”
Xiao Shao was the most caring person. Teacher Ba Qi could clearly see that among the eight fellow disciples, although Xiao Shao usually seemed quite cold, he would look after them most of the time. An upright man must not be a killer. Xiao Shao wasn’t cut out to be one.
Teacher Ba Qi looked at Xiao Shao for a while and suddenly asked, “Ah Shao, have you met any special person over the past few years?”
When Xiao Shao left the capital three years ago, Teacher Ba Qi was in seclusion, so he was unable to bid his master farewell. Speaking of which, the master and disciple had actually not seen each other for more than three years.
Xiao Shao thought for a moment. “No.”
“Think about it carefully.” Teacher Ba Qi asked again. Xiao Shao frowned slightly. The word “special” didn’t exist in his life. He had met countless people in the past three years, and naturally, he had no idea who Teacher Ba Qi meant.
“Master, what are you trying to say?” Xiao Shao asked.
Teacher Ba Qi stroked his long white beard. “Three years ago, before going into seclusion, I calculated the hexagrams for you. The person who will change your fate should have already appeared.”
“Who is that person?” Xiao Shao asked.
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“This person is here for revenge and for paying back the debt of grat.i.tude- such is the cycle of life and death. Those who live will die, and those who die will live again. She can clearly see everything that happens in the world. Destiny has changed because of her. I don’t know whether it is a blessing or a curse. “
 刀口舔血 (dāokǒu tiǎn xuè) – licking blood at the edge of the blade, implying dangerous and cruel.
Teacher Ba Qi smiled. “It’s still early. Since you’re here, let’s play a game first.” With a gentle flick of his sleeve, all the chess pieces on the chessboard flew into the chess box neatly. Not a single one fell off.
Teacher Ba Qi took the white piece while Xiao Shao took the black one. They put down the pieces at the same time.
“I’ve cautioned you before. Seize the opportunity.” Teacher Ba Qi’s voice came from afar.
* * *
The song of cicadas in the summer afternoon was so noisy that people couldn’t have a good rest. Several third-rank maidservants climbed on the trees in the courtyard to catch them. After eating chilled sherbet one night, Jiang Ruan heard Lu Zhu come over to speak. “Miss, Old Marquis Xia and Eighth Prince are visiting the fu. Master is asking you to accompany the ladies for a chat.”
Xia Cheng had not visited the Jiang fu since the ancestral hall incident; what happened to Xia Jun was a thorn in the Xia family’s heart. Jiang Ruan had been away from the capital for three years. From what she heard from Lu Zhu, it seemed several women from the Xia family had also come. Xia Jiao Jiao and Xia Jun hated Jiang Ruan as a thorn in their side but since they had gone so far as to step into the Jiang fu again, the relationship between the Jiang and the Xia families seemed to have eased in the past three years.
Lu Zhu spoke anxiously. “What does Master mean by this? If it’s merely to accompany them for a chat, there’s Furen. What can Miss do there? Is it possible to get along well with the Xia family?”
Jiang Ruan shook her head. “There’s no harm in doing so. Tian Zhu, how is that physician doing now?”
“Xia Yan sent people to chase and kill him. This subordinate rescued him and now he is being held in a storehouse inside my people’s courtyard. Miss needs him?”
“Get ready.” Jiang Ruan stood up. “Today she has asked the Xia family to come. It just so happens that I have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time.”
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