Hua Qing gave his account of the event, too, since being an eyewitness and victim would make his testimony more moving and complete.
“This one has been framed for rape, molestation, kidnapping and every other heinous crime under the sun. Everyone he is acquainted with turned on him; even his closest friends tried to lure him out. For you to believe this one’s words is… is… really is…”
Zhuo Fengru held out a hand, gesturing to Hua Qing that he could feel the latter’s sentiments. “Men should not shed tears. This old one does not want to see a man’s tears. To be candid, your story is unbelievable. Howbeit, all the details line up, and there is nothing that doesn’t conform with your story. In addition, based on your martial skills, the stories of Lord Wu would be exaggerated.”
Hua Qing wasn’t even cognisant of the fact that Zhuo Fengru had analysed his combat skills.
“This old one was always monitoring you. A man can lie, but his emotions, expressions, personality and experiences can be measured. If you were lying, you would not sound so convinced in your own words. You helped Yanran when you, yourself, were in danger, and she vouches for you; this one can trust you.”
Hua Qing meekly conveyed, “To tell the truth, this one is no hero. He did not enter Xu Manor with good will that night.”
“You know how this old one met Brother Xu? He caught this old one trying to pickpocket him when this old one was desperate due to starving for three days. Instead of reporting or reprimanding this old man, he invited this old one to his place to eat. This old one can still remember the taste of the food that day.”
Everyone burst into laughter.
Zhuo Fengru peppered some irrelevant chatter into the conversation prior to resuming the main topic. “Based on Brother Xu’s final words, the Shaolin monk must be one of the keys to the mystery. Unfortunately, we do not know his dharma name. Else, we could start our investigations from him.”
Starting from the Shaolin monk never occurred to Hua Qing. Therefore, Zhuo Fengru’s recommendation convinced him he made the right decision. The conversation quickly developed into a group discussion on how to locate the monk.
“Young Hero Ming, why are you not saying anything? Are the dishes not to your liking?”
Hua Qing whispered, “Yeah, where’s your ravenous appetite? What’s up?”
“Shut up.” Ming Feizhen glared daggers at Hua Qing.
“The hell is your deal, man?”
Xu Yanran also whispered, “Brother Mieba, what’s the matter? Do you have a stomach ache or something.”
“It’s none of your business.” Ming Feizhen glared daggers at Xu Yanran, as well.
Su Li: “Ming Feizhen, say something.”
“You’re ugly.” Ming Feizhen dished out yet another glare.
“Young Hero Ming, is this old one’s reception not up to your standard?”
Hua Fei: “Ahaha, no way. Brother Feizhen is really proud of his skills, so he is still bitter about his loss to you today.”
Ming Feizhen muttered under his breath, “God damn it,” and stomped on Hua Qing’s foot, but Hua Qing pulled his foot away. Thus, Ming Feizhen banged Hua Qing’s head on the table again.
“Don’t throw a tantrum just because you can’t deal with your defeat!”
Ignoring Hua Qing, Ming Feizhen turned to Zhuo Fengru. “Hero Zhuo, I have a question for you.”
Zhuo Fengru was ready for questions from Ming Feizhen ever since they returned to his place because of Ming Feizhen’s open hostility. Deploying a tactical smile, he asked, “Please feel free to ask.”
Ming Feizhen swept his gaze over all the paintings and expensive items. “I’d like to ask where your wealth comes from.”
Zhuo Yupin grumbled, “What are you trying to insinuate, Young hero Ming? Don’t you feel you are being rude?”
“Nothing. It’s just that Hero Zhuo is different to others. Even his son’s name is special. Word on the street is that Hero Zhuo views material wealth as dung, so I’m curious. It’s okay to not answer. Just pretend I never asked.”
“Is that why you have been looking around at the paintings and antiques ever since you came in?”
“Are you going to answer or not?”
“Hahaha, why not? This old one has always had a business in Jingzhou. This old one’s wife owns five silk stores, three antique stores, twelve eateries and fifty-six hectares of land for farming. He has three sons, all of whom own a number of businesses each. If you wish, this old one can tell you all about them.”
“I’ll pass. It’s not like I can tell determine if you’re telling the truth or not.”
“Ming Feizhen!” grouched Hua Qing. “What’s your problem? Hero Zhuo is kindly treating us; where are you manners?”
Ming Feizhen cast his gaze to the ceiling. “Manners? What’s that? Is it edible?”
Zhuo Yupin exclaimed, “My father is respecting you as a guest from afar. It’s not a warrant for you to walk all over us. Do you think my sword is just decoration?”
Ming Feizhen looked down to the sword. “How’d you obtain it? Dirty money? Wow.”
Had his father and Xu Yanran not been present, Zhuo Yupin would’ve drawn his sword.
“Stop.” Zhuo Fengru brushed aside Ming Feizhen’s whistling to say, “It’s okay. Young Master, bring our ledger.”
“Father, why must you bend to his whims?!”
Zhuo Yupin crankily yielded, following his father’s instructions but not without cursing under his breath.
The verbal altercation bred an uncomfortably awkward silence in the building; and all of Su Li and Xu Yanran’s gestures to Ming Feizhen went ignored. The only person who seemed unbothered was Zhuo Fengru.
Zhuo Yupin courteously passed the ledger to his father with both hands.
Zhuo Fengru took the ledger. “This ledger is a record of the last three years. Young Hero Ming, please feel free to check. Should you have any questions, this old one shall answer them. If you find anything dubious, he will cuff himself and turn himself in to the government under your watch.”
Ming Feizhen scratched the side of his head. “Hero Zhuo, you really do have it wrong. I would not suspect you. This is like a knave measuring something of an upright man. Or was it the something about a flood dashing against the temple of the Dragon King…”
Zhuo Yupin: “You going to inspect it or not?”
“Which one is this year’s?” Ming Feizhen snatched the ledgers over lightning fast, then flipped through the pages, studying every inch of text.
Zhuo Fengru didn’t get in Ming Feizhen’s way or express disdain for his rudeness. He answered all of Ming Feizhen’s questions that went straight for his figurative jugular or were complicated to explain, never complaining or stuttering once.
Ming Feizhen couldn’t pry out anything incredulous in any of the three books or Zhuo Fengru’s questions.
Hua Qing, in a stifled voice, ribbed, “Let’s see what you have to say now.”
“I do have something to say.” Ming Feizhen shut the last book and forced a stiff smile. “You are incredibly meticulous, Hero Zhuo. I… look up… to you!”
Hua Qing: “What was the point of your questions, then?!”
“Hahaha, it’s fine. He’s straightforward and naïve; it’s adorable. This old one’s principle is to not leave room for question. While he can’t claim to be pure, he has nothing to feel guilty for. The claim that he views money as dung isn’t an exaggeration. This old one grew up in poverty, dressed in plain clothing and was never picky about what he ate. Even when he began his journey in the pugilistic world, he never really valued material wealth. How much can one man possibly eat?
“His wife, however, is the daughter of an affluent family in Jiangnan. When he married her, he vowed to never let her taste the misery of poverty. That’s why he started a business. Thanks to the flattering respect he is given in the pugilistic world, he is acquainted with people on both sides of the law. As such, business has gone smoothly.
“It’s understandable for Young Hero Ming to be vigilant when there are so many two-faced people in the pugilistic world. That being said, in this old one’s opinion, how this old one is viewed is something for future generations to evaluate.”
Ming Feizhen paid no heed to his companions glaring holes in him.
“While we are on the topic, this old one has a question for you, Young Hero Ming. Of course, if you don’t want to answer, that is perfectly fine.”
Ming Feizhen turned to Zhuo Fengru. “Feel free.”
“In our match today, this old one couldn’t figure out which school you are a disciple of. Having had time to reflect, despite the variations in your internal style, there is one discipline that ticks all the boxes.”
“And that is?”
Zhuo Fengru looked Ming Feizhen dead in the eye as though the answer was within. “This old one heard there are two new prodigies on Mount Wudang. One of them is hailed as the greatest swordsman since their progenitor. Months ago, a group of seventeen robbers attempted to infiltrate Wudang while their seniors were out. The prodigy made a name for himself when he put down ten of them in a single swing.
“The other prodigy is a young disciple who hangs around with that senior disciple. He reportedly used Tai Chi to defeat the thugs on the same day. Disciples of Wudang don’t know his background; all that is known is that his name is Huan Xinglai.”
“… Your point being?”
“If this old one were to hazard a guess, could Huan Xinglai be the young man before him?”
Ming Feizhen stared back at Zhuo Fengru the same way the others stared at himself. “You want to hear me tell the truth?”
“By all means.”
“All right.” Ming Feizhen raised his head. “The truth is, I’m full and sleepy. I need my sleep.”
The two held their gazes for a while longer.
“Please make yourself at home.”
Ming Feizhen, sitting on a rooftop, reflected on the events when the sun was still out whilst staring intently at his hands.
Before Ming Feizhen departed from Wudang, the old daoist told him, “You’ve engraved Tai Chi into your blood over your last two years to counteract the aggression of the beast inside you. Your Yijin Jing’s internal energy rivals its might now. Nobody in history has ever mastered up to Seven Mountains and Seven Oceans at your age. At your current level, you can suppress its power now. That being said, you will fall to the dark side when your emotions cloud your judgement.
“You may leave dao, but dao will never leave you. Dao is natural, movement, stillness, inhalation, exhalation and nature on Earth, under or above. Taiji is ever moving just as the Earth, moon and stars. Bear in mind that all phenomena and all things possess yin and yang. Where life exists, so does death. To move is nature. To stop is also nature. To destroy one’s way is natural. To construct one’s way is also natural.”
Annoyed with the plethora of thoughts that had been communicated to him over time, Ming Feizhen questioned what “dao” was. The daoist, smiling, answered, “If dao can be explained, it is not true dao.”
Ming Feizhen felt he was on to something, but he couldn’t articulate exactly what it was. “Why do you always have to speak about this stuff? Don’t you have anything else?”
“When will your shifu return the original copy of Tai Chi that our founder passed down?”
Stop, stop, there’s no point thinking back on this stuff.
Ming Feizhen was peeved that he forgot to keep a pulse on something he needed to be vigilant of at all times and still lost to Zhuo Fengru.
“Surveying my surroundings with my sword drawn, I realise how ignorant I really am… Wait, what happened to my sword?”
Ming Feizhen didn’t bring a sword… He couldn’t even wield one. It just became a habit that reminded him of Wuyun on Mount Wudang. During his stay there, the two of them were always in each other’s company, from studying dao, to training, to picking fruits and so forth. The next time they would have an opportunity to meet would be years into the future.
“Man, if only you were around, Weaksauce Yun. I wouldn’t have lost today if you were with me. There’s nobody we can’t beat if we team up.”
“The heck are you mumbling about?” Hua Qing asked whilst scaling up to the roof.
“You sure took your sweet time.”
“I had to avoid the patrols. What’s with all the secrecy? Why did you have to smash my head four times? Couldn’t you have chosen another approach? If it wasn’t for my genius, I wouldn’t have understood what you were trying to communicate.
Ming Feizhen moved his eyes left and right alternatively, treating the question as an idiot’s question. “… Didn’t I leave a letter in your room?”
“What letter? I came here based on the secret code.”
Ming Feizhen finally found the “true” reason Hua Qing managed to remain so elusive: some minds were just incomprehensible. Some wavelengths couldn’t be find a match.
The sword decoration section was modified significantly to adapt to English. In the original, Zhuo Yupin mentions his skills aren’t “vegetarian” (meaning weak). Ming Feizhen then cups his ear as though he could hear the sword and mocks, “What does it eat, then? Dirty money? Wow.” How did it go from sword skills to a sword’s diet, you ask? Because the word “sword” can refer to one technique, swordplay, a swordsman/swordswoman or a sword. Ever seen those titles that are something along the lines of “One Sword to Rule the Nine Heavens”? 99% of the time, it’s actually supposed to be a verb or reference to a swordsman/swordswoman, not a sword.
This is like a knave measuring something of an upright man – Correct version: Like a knave who uses his own yardstick to measure the motive of an upright man.
A flood dashing against the temple of the Dragon King – Correct version: Conflicts arising between people on your own side.
Zhuo Fengru’s speech style – While he supposedly grew up in poverty, he speaks in a way that shows he’s educated (education wasn’t cheap). The terms he uses and his grammar is closer to what was used in the old days that will have people not familiar with reaching for a dictionary quite often. There’s no proof that it has implications on the plot yet, but it’s something that sticks out to me, so I want to bring your attention to it, in case it does have a role beyond just his personality.
If dao can be explained, it is not true dao – While it is true that “dao” can be translated as “way” or “truth”, I left it as “dao” because the question is “what is ‘dao’?” If you’re insistent on keeping the direct translation, you’re missing the point of the phrase. Without going into a deep dive (which I can’t do without another paragraph to show you how it originates), he’s simply telling Ming Feizhen not to be hung up on semantics, thereby colouring his lenses.
Surveying my surroundings with my sword drawn, I realise how ignorant I really am – Comes from Li Bai’s poem “An Arduous Journey”.