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Jianghu Demolition Squad

Jianghu By May 22, 2024 2 Comments
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Chapter 3: Thirteen Fortresses

Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses(Part Three)

The following day, four of them, Qing Jiu leading, rode their horses towards Ning City. The sun shone brilliantly, the hour was still early, and a light mist veiled the streets where vendors had already begun their business.

Mo Wen rode on the outermost side, dizzy and leaning forward on her horse.

Tang Linzhi commented, “Drinking so much so early in the morning, one day you’ll drown in a barrel of wine.”

They were still in the town, moving slowly on their horses, when a fragrant aroma wafted over. An elderly couple was making crispy cakes ahead of them.

Mo Wen suddenly sat upright and called out, “Qing Jiu, I’m hungry!”

“We just had breakfast!” Tang Linzhi, her forehead creased in annoyance, said, “If we spend all the money Yan Li gave us, we’ll have to endure her nagging when we get back!”

Qing Jiu took out her purse, tossing it in her hand. It was heavy. “We don’t need to use her money.”

Tang Linzhi asked, “What’s that?”

Qing Jiu smiled, “From those bandits we encountered. It’s like robbing the rich to feed the poor.”

Qing Jiu guided her horse to the stall and said to the old man, “Master, four crispy cakes, please.”

Mo Wen’s horse was on the outer edge, and she yelled, “Six!”

The old man looked at Qing Jiu for confirmation. She smiled and said, “Six, then.”

The old man wrapped the freshly baked pastries in oiled paper. Qing Jiu took them, handing four to Tang Linzhi, three of which were destined for Mo Wen’s stomach.

Yu’er sat on Qing Jiu’s horse. Qing Jiu passed a cake to her, and as Yu’er took it, the warmth spread from her palms to her body.

Yu’er glanced back at Qing Jiu. Qing Jiu said, “Try it.”

Yu’er took a bite of the cake. It was delightfully crispy and rich, topped with a layer of almonds on its flaky crust. Every bite, perfectly baked, brought warmth and comfort to her stomach.

Back when her mother was alive, their life was modest yet comfortable, requiring them to be frugal. Thus, they only made a special dish of lamb jelly on birthdays, as they couldn’t afford such treats otherwise.

It was like a dream, both in the past and now.

Along the way, Qing Jiu bought a bag of sugar-roasted chestnuts. Once they left the city, she let the reins loose, allowing the horse to move on its own. Qing Jiu skillfully cracked the chestnuts, each time perfectly extracting the nut.

Each time the shell cracked, Yu’er’s heart would tremble slightly. Her feelings were complicated. She wanted to get closer to Qing Jiu, enjoyed sitting on her horse, but also feared getting too close and wanted to dismount immediately. Her heart was always in suspense.

Yu’er looked at the lush grass and fragrant flowers along the road, trying to untangle her knotted thoughts. People always yearn for beautiful things. She yearned for Qing Jiu but felt unworthy, like a strong, imposing tree beside an insignificant wild grass, too insignificant to be together, trembling and uneasy in such close proximity.

Additionally, last night she had secretly taken a knife, intending to kill those two men, only to be discovered by Qing Jiu. Qing Jiu hadn’t mentioned it, but she couldn’t help feeling uneasy.

The journey from the town to Ning City was about thirty to forty li, and the roads were muddy from the rain the day before. Qing Jiu and the others traveled slowly, entering the city gates past noon. Passing through the archway and onto the main street, the place suddenly became lively.

Upon arriving at an inn, a servant immediately came to take their horses. Qing Jiu dismounted gracefully and, instead of walking away, turned to Yu’er with open arms: “Come down.”

Yu’er, clinging to the horse’s neck, swung both legs to one side, hanging sideways on the horseback. Tang Linzhi laughed out loud, and hearing Qing Jiu’s soft laughter too, Yu’er’s face flushed. While she was hesitating on the horse, she suddenly felt a force lifting her by the waist, and in an instant, her feet touched solid ground.

As they entered the inn, an innkeeper approached them eagerly, asking, “Are the guests here to stop by or stay?”

“We’re looking for someone.”

Qing Jiu and her companions immediately spotted the person they were looking for. At the center of the inn, right opposite the counter, next to the staircase on the table, sat the person they sought. Hua Lian and Yan Li, with their distinctive attire, stood out among the crowd of diners.

The two noticed them too. “Timing is everything. You three arrived just at the right time.”

Yu’er looked at the speaker, a man of handsome appearance in flowing white robes, with three rows of silver hair ornaments on his right temple holding his hair in place, and a folding fan that snapped open with the words ‘Peerless and Unparalleled’ written on it. This man was too beautiful. At first glance, Yu’er mistook him for a woman, but a closer look revealed his broad palms and an Adam’s apple. He was a man whose beauty could overshadow even that of women.

The woman sitting beside him, with a long sword on her back and a white whisk in hand, wore a Daoist robe of ivory white satin. She exuded an ethereal aura, her eyes calm and serene. Despite her young age, she had many white hairs among the black ones hanging by her ears, perhaps a sign of heartache endured in her worldly experiences. The white ribbons dangling from her hairpin, blending with her black hair, resembled a Taiji pattern. She asked Qing Jiu calmly, “How did your journey go?”

“Quite fruitful,” Qing Jiu replied, then asked, “How’s your leg?”

“It’s much better now.”

The four of them approached the table, where steam rose invitingly from the dishes. The two at the table had yet to start eating.

The man moved swiftly, crossing the bench and suddenly appearing before Yu’er with graceful agility. He playfully lifted her chin with his fan, smiling, “Where did this charming young lady come from?”

Tang Linzhi swatted his hand away and introduced to Yu’er, “Yu’er, this is Lian Meiren.”

Hua Lian wasn’t offended, maintaining his elegant smile. “Tiger Lady, you should properly address me by my name.”

Hua Lian opened his fan again, seemingly unaffected by the March chill, continuously fanning himself. “Qing Jiu, did you pick up this little beauty too?”

Yu’er, feeling awkward, lowered her face even more. Qing Jiu smiled and said, “You guessed right.”

Mo Wen and Tang Linzhi had already taken their seats at the table, with Mo Wen eagerly grabbing her chopsticks. Yan Li suggested, “Let’s eat first, we can talk about other matters later.”

The four had traveled leisurely for most of the day, covering more than thirty li without any dry food, and their stomachs were rumbling.

Yu’er hesitated to sit down, but Hua Lian, with his warm enthusiasm, pulled her to sit next to him. He seemed quite interested in her, serving her food and watching her with a smile, which only made Yu’er more self-conscious.

After noon, there weren’t many people eating in the guest hall. Apart from their table, there was only one other in the corner with three men drinking.

An argument erupted among them, one burly man rising abruptly, slamming his hand on the table: “I refuse to believe that the reach of that damned fort extends this far!”

A person at the neighboring table reached out to calm him down, “Brother, keep your voice down.”

“Don’t be so complacent,” retorted a man clad in black hair with a cold laugh, “I’ve heard that the Thirteen Forts have eyes and ears even in Ning City. The influence of the Thirteen Forts is not insignificant these days. There are a thousand people in the fort, and the leaders are all skilled. And let’s not forget the left and right protectors, Yuan Wenliu and Meiren Gu. Who dares to cross them? Even the authorities turn a blind eye!”

“So what if they’re powerful?!” the first man countered angrily. “They kidnap women and children, torture them, sell them into slavery, steal from the common folk, and oppress the innocent! Countless people have suffered at their hands! Anyone with a wife or daughter of slight beauty lives in fear, terrified the bandits will come knocking. Such great criminals should be exterminated! How can we be afraid of them just because they are strong? The authorities are useless, spineless cowards! If a respectable sect or clan had a foothold in this region, those bandits wouldn’t dare act with such impunity!”

The man in black hair huffed, “Easy for you to say! The Thirteen Forts are strategically located in Yan Ling Mountain, which is a naturally fortified area, making it easy to defend but difficult to attack. Mortals can’t just overcome the power of nature, and even most skilled wulin heroes would struggle to conquer that fortress! Haven’t you heard how many wandering heroes have perished there? That’s why even the righteous sects hesitate to act!”

Another voice joined softly, “I heard that even the young mistress of Juxiao Manor was captured by them recently!”

“Someone from the Jun family? Huh! These bandits are seeking death! How are they provoke Juxiao Manor!”

“I’ve also heard that a group of wulin heroes is planning to raid the bandits’ fortress in a few days.”

“May those heroes be blessed with good fortune.”

After a moment of silence, the neighbor asked in a hushed tone, “Brother, who were you speaking of earlier? Yuan Wenliu and some Meiren… what was it?”

“Meiren Gu.”

“Right! What’s their story?”

Sipping his tea, the man in black hair tapped the table, “You don’t even know that? Those two are notorious demons, hated throughout the wulin! Yuan Wenliu is a master of lightness skills, while Meiren Gu’s sword skills are second to none. They’re even said to rival a martial sage. However, while their martial arts are impressive, their characters are notoriously cruel and ruthless.”

“How so?”

“This Yuan Wenliu is extremely lecherous and evil, preying on young girls of eleven or twelve, then torturing them to death. And this Meiren Gu, he’s even worse, obsessed with collecting the bones of his victims. Regardless of gender, if he takes a liking to someone, he kills them, skins them, and keeps their bones, either making them into knives, ornaments, or keeping the entire skeleton as a collection. That’s why he’s known as ‘Meiren Gu’ in the jianghu.”

The neighbor shuddered, “Such cruel people actually exist…”

Yu’er felt that the topic of conversation among the three men was too heavy, casting a notably solemn mood over their table.

Only Mo Wen seemed unbothered, eating heartily. Yan Li ate slowly and methodically, still holding her whisk, while the others barely touched their food, just drinking.

Yu’er stole a glance at Qing Jiu, her lips moistened and plump from the wine, radiant and glossy. She held a wine cup in her left hand, her right resting on the table, dark red prayer beads coiling around her arm.

After dinner, everyone returned to their room, where Qing Jiu briefed them on the events that had unfolded in the small town.

Mo Wen was checking Yu’er’s pulse. Yu’er’s injuries were far from healed; her sleeve was rolled up, revealing her thin arm, bruised and frail.

Hua Lian glanced at her, his eyes blazing with anger, and declared indignantly, “Women should be cherished and pampered! These barbaric bandits, with their bodies made of mud and hearts of filth, how dare they treat a delicate young girl like this! They truly deserve to die!”

Qing Jiu and Yan Li stood talking by the wall. Yan Li rearranged the two white ribbons of her hairpin from the front to her back, asking, “What’s your plan?”

“Those two bandits mentioned that even if Meiren Gu and Yuan Wenliu are not in the fort, they will surely return on the day the fort’s leader gets married. In that case, it seems we inevitably have to pay a visit to this ‘infamous’ Thirteen Forts.”

“It seems you already have a plan in mind.”

Yu’er, from the corner of her eye, kept stealing glances at Qing Jiu until Yan Li opened the door, preparing to speak with Qing Jiu outside.

As the door closed, Yu’er faintly heard, “What do you plan to do about that little girl…”

The next day, the sky was cloudy, and a cool breeze blew. Qing Jiu and the others left the inn and found a secluded house in the city to stay, belonging to a middle-aged couple with a daughter about eleven or twelve.

After negotiating with the family and giving them some silver, Qing Jiu prepared to leave.

Yu’er followed them to the door and watched as they left. A mix of emotions and a touch of fear welled up inside her. She clutched her clothes, standing uncertainly at the doorway, her gaze fixed intently on the departing group.

As Qing Jiu passed by her, she gently brushed the top of Yu’er’s head. Looking up at her, Qing Jiu smiled softly, “Be good and wait here for us. Don’t wander off.”

Yu’er’s anxious heart settled firmly, and she nodded vigorously, “Mm!”

Qing Jiu walked away, eventually disappearing from Yu’er’s view.

Yu’er murmured softly, “Come back soon…”

After Qing Jiu left, Yu’er didn’t idle away her time; she helped the host family with laundry and cleaning.

In the late afternoon, the host’s daughter called out to her, “Little cripple, my mother is calling you to go buy groceries with her.”

“Okay.”

Yu’er wiped her hands and followed the woman out. The main purpose of the shopping trip was to find out if Yu’er knew what Qing Jiu and the others liked to eat. Yu’er had no idea, so they ended up buying a bit of everything.

While the woman cooked, Yu’er busied herself helping. Once the preparations were nearly complete, she went outside, sitting on the stone steps, gazing into the distance.

A misty rain drifted across the sky. The street, far from the bustling market, was narrow and long. Across the street, the courtyard wall was adorned with lush greenery. Inside the courtyard stood a peach tree, its branches laden with freshly bloomed flowers and tender leaves, heavy with raindrops.

Lost in the sight, Yu’er couldn’t help but recall how Qing Jiu had carried her out of that house, much like the delicate peach blossoms braving the rain.

A soft, misty rain caressed Yu’er’s face, feeling cool and refreshing. As several figures appeared through the fog, Yu’er quickly rose to her feet.

As the figures approached, Hua Lian tapped her forehead with his fan, “Little Yu’er, it’s raining. What are you doing standing out here?”

“Dinner is ready.”

“Oh, what a coincidence.”

Qing Jiu and the others had all returned together, gathering around the table.

“The timing is perfect; the food is just ready,” the lady of the house said cheerfully, placing bowls and chopsticks on the table. “Most of these dishes were prepared by Yu’er. She’s obedient, sensible, and skillful, much more so than my own daughter.”

Hua Lian took a bite of a bamboo shoot and teased, “Tiger Lady, look, a girl barely in her teens is better than you in cooking.”

Tang Linzhi, without looking up, retorted sharply, “Get lost!”

Qing Jiu tasted a spoonful of egg custard and gently commented, “Not bad.”

Yu’er, having sneakily observed Qing Jiu, quietly withdrew her gaze and continued eating with a slight smile.

For several days, the weather remained gloomy and foggy. Each morning, the group would leave early, returning only in the late afternoon. Yu’er stood at the door each day, watching them leave, and sat waiting for their return, her heart fluttering with excitement at the sight of any figure in the distance, only to feel a tinge of disappointment when it wasn’t them.

One day, while Yu’er was helping the lady of the house shell beans, her keen ears caught the sound of footsteps outside. Her eyes brightened with joy.

Rushing out, she found the homeowner holding a small package filled with silver bars. Yu’er forced a smile, her feelings a mix of disappointment and awkwardness, “Uncle Liu.”

“Ah, Yu’er.”

It was already late, but they hadn’t returned yet.

Yu’er leaned against the door, gazing out longingly.

Uncle Liu approached, “I ran into Miss Qing Jiu at the market. She said you should stay here from now on.”

Yu’er’s heart skipped a beat as she stared at him, bewildered.

Uncle Liu smiled warmly, “Don’t worry, you can live here peacefully. My wife and I will treat you as our own daughter. Miss Qing Jiu left us quite a sum of money. I didn’t dare accept it, but she insisted. I thought of keeping it for you, to use as your dowry when you’re older, to find you a good match.”

“Where… where did she go?”

“She rode out of the north city gate on horseback. I didn’t see the others.”

Yu’er rushed back to her room. Her only possession was a set of clothes, given to her by Qing Jiu and the others. She quickly packed them and dashed out, with Uncle Liu trying to stop her, “Yu’er, where are you going?”

With a trembling voice, she said, “I… I’m going to find her.”

“I saw her early in the morning; she’s long gone by now. You can’t catch up! Yu’er! Yu’er!”

Her staggering figure disappeared into the misty rain .

Translation notes:

Having white hair while young – This is often symbolic of various deep and significant experiences. It can represent heartbreak or emotional turmoil, suggesting that the person has undergone severe stress or grief.

Lian Meiren(美人) – Lian the Beautiful.

Meiren Gu(美人骨) – Beauty Bone

The Whisk Yan Li uses is a Taoist Whisk – https://www.jinli.com.au/blog/the-fuchen-horsetail-whisk-a-taiji-study-in-the-yin-and-yang

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anazu
anazu
1 month ago

Noo dont leave Yu’er alone

Khriss
Khriss
23 days ago

Thank you for the translation!!! I wonder how she will catch up?