The Outlaws of the Marsh Chapter 2 Arms Instructor Wang Goes Secretly to Yanan Prefecture

Chapter 2

Arms Instructor Wang Goes Secretly to Yanan Prefecture

Nine Dragons Shi Jin Wreaks Havoc in Shi Family Village

During the reign of Emperor Zhe Zong, who ruled a long time after Ren Zong, in Bianliang the Eastern Capital, in Kaifeng Prefecture previously called Xuanwu District, there lived a young scamp named Gao. A second son, he was quite useless. He cared only for jousting with spear and staff, and was an excellent football player. People in the capital were fond of making quips. They dubbed him Gao Qiu, or "Gao the Ball." Later, when he prospered, he changed "Qiu" to another character with the same sound but with a less inelegant meaning.

In addition to his skill with weapons, Gao Qiu could play musical instruments and sing and dance. He also learned a bit about poetry and versifying. But when it came to virtue and proper behavior, he didn't know a thing. He spent his time gadding about the city and its environs. Thanks to him, the son of Master Wang, an iron-shop owner, dissipated a considerable sum of money in theaters, gambling dens and brothels.

For this reason the father made a written complaint against Gao to Kaifeng Prefecture. The prefect gave Gao twenty strokes, banished him from the city, and forbade the people of the Eastern Capital from either feeding him or giving him shelter. Gao Qiu's solution was to proffer his services to one Liu Shiquan, known as Liu the Eldest, who ran a gambling house in Linhuai Prefecture, west of the Huaihe River. Liu surrounded himself with idlers and riffraff from all over.

Gao Qiu remained with Liu for three years. Then Emperor Zhe Zong prayed to Heaven south of the city, and this caused the winds and rains to become very propitious. The emperor was moved to benevolence, and he declared a general amnesty. Gao Qiu was able to return to the capital. Liu the Eldest wrote a letter of introduction to Dong Jiangshi, a relative of his who ran a medicinal herb shop near the Bridge of Golden Girders, gave Gao some travelling money, and told him Dong would take care of him.

Gao said goodbye, shouldered his pack and returned to the city, where he delivered the letter to Dong. The druggist took one look at Gao, then read the letter.

"How can I put this man up in my home?" he mused. "It would be different if he were straight and honest. The children could learn from him. But he's just a loafer, an untrustworthy fellow who's been exiled for breaking the law, and not the kind likely to reform. If I keep him here he's liable to teach the children bad ways. Yet if I don't I'll be offending Liu the Eldest."

He had no choice but to receive Gao into his home with pretended delight. Dong feasted him every day for ten days, then he got an idea. He presented Gao with a suit of clothes and handed him a letter of introduction.

"The light of my household is too feeble," he said. "It would only be holding you back to keep you here. I'm turning you over to Su Junior, the Court Scholar. With him you'll be able to make a start. How does that sound?"

Gao thanked him gratefully. Dong had a servant take the letter and escort Gao to the Court Scholar's residence. There, a gateman reported Gao's arrival. The Scholar came out and greeted him. He saw from the letter of introduction that Gao was a scamp.

"I can't take this man in," thought the Scholar. "As a favor to Dong I'll send him to Wang Jinqing, the Young Prince Consort, to serve as a retainer. The Young Prince likes that sort of fellow."

He wrote Dong a reply and let Gao stay the night. The next day he wrote another letter and dispatched it with a steward who took Gao Qiu to the residence of the Young Prince.

Wang had married a younger sister of Emperor Zhe Zong before he took the throne and while Emperor Shen Zong still reigned. The Young Prince was partial to adventurous men, and he staffed his retinue with them. He liked Gao the moment he saw him with the Scholar's letter-bearing servant. He wrote an immediate reply, accepting him as a retainer. From then on Gao remained with the prince, coming and going like one of the family.

As the old saying has it: "Distant friends grow ever distant, friends at hand grow closer still." To celebrate his birthday, the Young Prince ordered that a feast be laid, and invited Prince Duan, his wife's younger brother. Duan had been the eleventh child of Emperor Shen Zong and was a brother of the reigning emperor Zhe Zong. In charge of the imperial equipage, the Ninth Royal Prince, as he was called, was an intelligent, handsome young man, and a skilled dilettante in all forms of amusement. His accomplishments included the lute, chess, calligraphy, painting and football. He was also a good musician, singer and dancer.

That day, Wang the Young Prince spread a banquet of the finest delicacies of land and sea. He seated Duan the Ninth Royal Prince in the central chair or honor and sat down opposite. After several cups of wine and two courses, Prince Duan went out to relieve himself. He stopped by in the library on his return, where the Young Prince joined him. Duan was attracted by a pair of paper-weight lions carved of mutton-fat jade. They were extremely well made, in exquisite detail.

Prince Duan picked them up and couldn't set them down. "Beautiful," he murmured.

"The same artisan also made a jade rack carved like a dragon for writing brushes," said the Young Prince. "I don't have it handy, but I'll find it tomorrow and sent it to you together with these paper-weights."

"That's awfully kind of you. I'm sure the dragon is carved even more finely than the lions."

"I'll send it to the palace tomorrow. You'll be able to see for yourself."

Prince Duan thanked him and they went back to the banquet table where they dined until dusk. Both were drunk when they parted. Prince Duan bade the prince consort farewell and returned to his palace.

The next day the Young Prince found the writing-brush rack carved like a dragon. He placed it in a small gold box together with the pair of jade paper-weight lions, wrapped the box in golden silk, wrote a covering letter, and told Gao to deliver the gifts. Gao proceeded directly to Prince Duan's palace. The gate-keeper reported his arrival to the steward, who came out.

"From which official residence are you?"

Gao Qiu bowed. "Prince Consort Wang has directed me to deliver these jade objects to the Royal Prince."

"His Highness is in the middle court playing football with some young eunuchs. You may go in."

"Could I trouble you to show me the way?"

The steward led Gao to the gate of the inner court. Four or five young eunuchs were kicking a ball with Prince Duan. He was wearing a soft Tang style silk hat and a purple robe embroidered with an imperial dragon. The robe was tucked up in front under the prince's official waist sash. Flying phoenixes embroidered in gold thread decorated his boots.

Gao dared not interrupt. He stood behind some servants and waited. Fortune favored him. The ball sailed past Prince Duan, who couldn't stop it, and rolled through the crowd to Gao Qiu. In a momentary seizure of boldness, he kicked it back to the prince with a "mandarin duck and drake twist."

Duan was delighted. "Who are you?" he asked.

Gao fell on his knees, "A retainer of Prince Consort Wang. At my master's orders I bring Your Highness two jade gifts. I have a letter that goes with them."

The royal prince smiled. "Brother-in-law is always considerate."

Gao Qiu produced the letter. Prince Duan opened the box and looked at the jade pieces, the turned them over to his major-domo.

"So you know how to kick a ball," he said to Gao. "What's your name?"

Gao crossed his arms before his chest respectfully and dropped again to his knees. "Your servant is called Gao Qiu. I've spent a little time with a ball on the field."

"Good," said the prince. "Come and join the game."

"A man of my rank! I wouldn't dare play with your Highness."

"Why not? This is the Clouds-High League, known as the Ail-Round Circle. It's open to anyone."

Gao Qiu continued to refuse. But when the royal prince insisted, he kowtowed, begged forgiveness for his presumption, and trotted onto the field. He made a few passes with the ball and the prince shouted approval. Gao Qiu was inspired to show everything he had. His movements, his style, were a pleasure to behold. He stayed so close to the ball it seemed glued to his feet.

Prince Duan was enchanted. He wouldn't let Gao leave, and kept him overnight in the palace. The next day he ordered a feast and sent an invitation to the Young Prince.

When Gao failed to return the night before, the Young Prince began to wonder whether he could be trusted. Now, his gate-keeper announced: "A messenger from the Ninth Royal Prince is here with an invitation for Your Excellency to attend a banquet in the place." The Young Prince went out and received the messenger and read the invitation. The he got on his horse and rode to the palace. Dismounting, he proceeded directly to Prince Duan.

The Ninth Royal Prince thanked him for the two jade gifts. Together, they entered the dining-room.

"That Gao Qiu of yours plays a good game of football," said Prince Duan. "I'd like to have him as a retainer. How about it?"

"If he's of any use to Your Highness, let him serve in the palace, by all means."

Prince Duan raised his wine cup and thanked the Young Prince. The two chatted and dined until evening. Then the Young Prince returned to his residence. Of him we'll say no more.

Let us talk rather of Gao Qiu. After he went into the service of Prince Duan he lived and dined in the palace and accompanied the prince every day, never taking so much as a step from his side. Before two months had elapsed, Emperor Zhe Zong died without leaving an heir. All the high civil and military officials conferred and made Prince Duan the emperor. He was known as Emperor Hui Zong and bore the title of High Priest of Jade Purity and Taoist Sovereign of Provident Truth.

Hui Zong assumed the throne and all went well. One day he said to Gao Qiu: "I'd like to raise you in rank, but you'll have to perform some meritorious deed on the border first. I'll have the Council of Military Affairs put you down as available for imperial appointment." Less than half a year later, he was able to make Gao Qiu a marshal commanding the Imperial Guards.

Gao Qiu selected an auspicious day and hour to assume office. All the officers of the Mighty Imperial Guards, both infantry and cavalry, who would be serving under him came to pay their respects. Each showed his identification document and registered. Gao Qiu examined the roster name by name. Only Wang Jin, an arms instructor in the Mighty Imperial Guards, had failed to appear. Half a month previous he had reported ill. Because he had not yet recovered, he hadn't returned to duty.

Marshal Gao was furious, "Nonsense," he shouted. "Sheer insubordination! He sent in his identification document, didn't he? The oaf is just pretending to be sick. Bring him here at once!" Gao dispatched an officer to Wang Jin's house to arrest him.

Now this Wang Jin had no wife or children, only an aged mother in her sixties. The officer said to him: "Marshal Gao has taken office today. When he checked the roster, you weren't there. The chief of staff explained that you were sick at home, and that your excuse was properly registered. But Marshal Gao is very impatient. He wouldn't believe it. He insists that you're faking and wants you arrested. Please come along with me, Arms Instructor. Otherwise. I'll be in trouble."

Wang Jin had no choice but to go to headquarters, sick as he was, and report to the marshal. He kowtowed four times, hailing Gao respectfully, then rose and stood to one side.

"Are you the churl whose father was Wang Sheng, an arms instructor in the district garrison?" Kao demanded.

"I am that humble person," replied Wang Jin.

"Rogue," cried Gao. "Your father was only a medicine pedlar who twirled a staff to attract to crowd. What do you know about military arts? The previous commander must have been blind to appoint you arms instructor. How dare you snub me and fail to report for roll call? Whose backing have you got that you can feign illness and loll around at home?"

"Your humble servant would never dare! I really haven't fully recovered."

"Criminal! If you're sick, how could you come?"

"When the marshal summons me, I must obey."

Gao was enraged. "Guards," he roared, "seize this fellow and give him a good beating."

Many of the junior officers were friends of Wang Jin. Together with the chief of staff they pleaded: "Today is the lucky day the marshal is assuming office. Please let the arms instructor off."

"As a favor to these officers I'll excuse you today, criminal," shouted Gao. "I'll settle with you tomorrow."

Wang Jin thanked him. Only then did he raise his head and get a good look at Gao Qiu. As he left the gate of the headquarters' compound, Wang Jin sighed.

"My life is in danger. So that's our fine Marshal Gao. Loafer and football player, Gao the Second! When he was learning to joust with staves, my father gave him such a drubbing he couldn't get out of bed for three months. He's hated us ever since. Now that he's come up in the world and been appointed commander of the Imperial Guards he's sure to want revenge. Who would have thought that I'd be under him? As the old saying goes: 'Fear not officials—except those who officiate over you!' How can I stand up against him? What am I going to do?"

He returned home very depressed and told his mother about it. The two held their heads and wept.

"My son," said the mother, '"Of all the thirty-six ways to get out of trouble, the best way is—leave.' Only I'm afraid you have no place to go."

"You're right, mother," said Wang Jin. "I've thought it over, and that's how I feel too. The border garrison of Yanan Prefecture is governed by Old General Zhong. Many of his officers who've visited the capital have admired my skill with arms. Why shouldn't I cast my lot in with them? Yanan's a place where men are needed. I'd be safe there."

After talking it over, mother and son agreed.

"We must go secretly, my son," said the mother. "But what about those two corporals at the door—the orderlies who were sent by headquarters? If they find out, we won't be able to get away."

"Don't worry, mother," said Wang Jin. "I know how to get rid of them."

At dusk, he called Corporal Zhang in and said: "First have your dinner. Then I want you to go out and do something for me."

"Where do you want your humble servant to go, Arms Instructor?"

"Because I was ill a few days ago, I vowed I would burn incense in the Temple of the Sacred Mountain outside Sour Date Gate if I got better. I want to do that first thing tomorrow morning. Tonight you tell the priest in charge of sacrifices to open the temple gate a little earlier tomorrow. I'll be the first worshipper. I want you to buy me three kinds of sacrificial meat. You can spend the night in the temple and wait for me there."

Corporal Zhang promised to do as he was bid. He had his dinner, got things ready, and left for the temple.

That night mother and son packed their bedding and clothing, their silks and silver, and placed them in containers to be carried on a shoulder-pole. They also filled two saddle-bags with fodder for the horse.

At the fifth watch before dawn Wang Jin summoned Corporal Li and said: "Take these silver coins to the temple. You and Corporal Zhang buy and cook the three kinds of sacrificial meat, and wait for me. I'll join you just as soon as I've bought some sacrificial paper ingots and candles."

Corporal Li took the silver and departed for the temple. Wang Jin got the horse ready, loaded on the saddle-bags, tied them firmly in place, led the animal outside the rear gate and helped his mother mount. All the heavier household belongings they left behind. Wang Jin locked the front and rear gates, raised the carrying-pole to his shoulder and walked behind the horse.

It was the fifth watch. Taking advantage of the darkness before dawn, they left the city by the West Gate and set out along the road towards the prefecture of Yanan.

To get back to the two orderlies. They bought the sacrificial meats, had them cooked, and waited in the temple until late morning. But Wang Jin failed to appear. Corporal Li became worried. He returned to the house and found the gates locked. He couldn't get in, either front or back. Li inquired among the neighbors for several hours but no one had seen the arms instructor. It was getting late. Corporal Zhang in the temple grew suspicious and also hurried to Wang Jin's home. The two soldiers searched until dusk. But even after dark neither Wang Jin nor his mother returned.

The following day the two corporals inquired about Wang Jin in the homes of his relatives but could not discover any trace of him. Afraid of being implicated, they reported to the Imperial Guards headquarters: "Arms Instructor Wang Jin and his mother have fled. Their destination is unknown."

Gao Qiu cried angrily: "So the criminal has escaped. We'll see how far he can get!" He notified every prefecture and district to arrest Wang Jin on sight as a deserter. Since the two corporals had reported the matter voluntarily, they were not charged. Of them we shall say no more.

Let us speak rather of Arms Instructor Wang Jin and his mother. They ate and drank only when hunger and thirst compelled them, stopping at night and travelling on again at dawn. One day towards evening, after more than a month on the road, Wang Jin, who was carrying a laden shoulder-pole behind the horse his mother was riding, said: "Heaven has been merciful. We've escaped the danger that was spread like a net over earth and sky. We're not far from Yanan Prefecture, Even if Marshal Gao sent men to arrest me, they couldn't catch us now."

Mother and son, rejoicing, passed an inn without noticing it. There was no village in sight now. Although it was late, they didn't know where they could spend the night. Just then, they observed a lamp gleaming in a distant grove.

"There's the answer," said Wang Jin. "We'll go there. We can apologize for disturbing them, ask for a place to spend the night, and go on again in the morning."

Entering the grove, they found a large manor enclosed by an earthen wall. Around the outside of the wall were two or three hundred big willows. Wang Jin knocked on the gate a long time. Finally, a vassal came out. The arms instructor set down his load and greeted him.

"What do you want?" the man asked.

"To tell you the truth," said Wang Jin, "my mother and I tried to cover too much ground and we passed an inn. There doesn't seem to be any inns or villages around here. We hope you can put us up for the night. We'll leave tomorrow morning. We'd be glad to pay whatever is customary for lodgings. Please let us impose on your kindness."

"Wait a bit," said the vassal. "I'll ask the squire. If he agrees, you can come in."

"Sorry to trouble you, brother."

Before long the man returned and said: "My master bids you both to enter."

Wang Jin helped his mother dismount. Carrying his shoulder-pole and leading the horse, he followed the vassal to a threshing-ground. There he set down his burden and tied the horse to a willow tree. Mother and son went to a hall roofed with thatch. The squire was waiting for them.

He was a man over sixty. His hair and beard were white. He wore a hood and a straight-cut loose-fitting gown, tied at the waist by a black silk sash. His feet were shod in tanned leather boots.

Wang Jin kowtowed respectfully.

"That's not necessary," the old man said hastily. "You're travellers who've been exposed to the elements. Please be seated."

Mother and son completed their ceremonial greetings and sat down.

"Where are you from?" asked the squire. "Why have you come here so late in the day?"

"Your humble servant is called Zhang," said Wang Jin. "We live in the capital. Because we've used up our money and cannot carry on our business, we're going to Yanan Prefecture to join some relatives. On the road today we were too eager to press on, and passed an inn without noticing it. If you'll permit us to spend the night here we'll leave in the morning and pay whatever is customary for accommodations."

"Certainly. Who carries his lodgings with him when he travels? I don't suppose you and your mother have eaten?" The squire told his vassal to bring food.

Soon a table was set up in the hall and the vassal came in with a tray bearing four vegetable dishes and one of beef. He set these on the table and heated some wine which he served first.

"Our fare is crude here in the country," said the squire. "I hope you'll forgive us."

Wang Jin rose and thanked him. "We're putting you to too much trouble. We don't know how to repay you."

"No need to talk like that," said the squire. "Let us drink."

In response to his urging Wang Jin and his mother downed six or seven cups of wine. Then the food was served and they ate. After the bowls and dishes had been cleared away the squire rose and led them to a guest-room.

"Could I trouble you to see to it that the horse my mother rode is stabled and fed?" said Wang Jin. "Of course we'll pay."

"That's easy," the squire replied. "We have horses and mules here. I'll tell a vassal to put your horse in our stable and feed it with the other animals."

Wang Jin thanked him, raised his shoulder-pole and carried his belongings into the guest-room. A vassal lit a lamp and brought in hot water so that the travellers could wash their feet. The squire returned to his own quarters. Wang Jin and his mother thanked the servant, closed the door and retired.

They slept all night. By dawn the following day they still hadn't emerged from their room, and the squire approached their door. He heard Wang Jin's mother groaning.

"It's already dawn, guest," called the old man. "You'd better rise."

Wang Jin hurried outside and greeted his host. "I've been up for some time," he said. "We put you to a lot of trouble last night. It really wasn't right."

"Who was groaning just now?"

"To tell you the truth, my mother is exhausted from riding. Last night her heart began paining her again."

"In that case why not stay on here a few more days? Don't worry. I know a good prescription for pains of the heart. I'll send a servant to the county town and get some medicine for your mother. Tell her to set her mind at ease and just rest."

Wang Jin thanked him.

But enough of petty details. Wang Jin and his mother remained at the manor, and the old lady took the medicine. After six or seven days she felt that her illness was cured. Wang Jin packed their belongings and prepared to continue their journey. On his way to the stable to look at his horse he observed in a clearing a young man stripped to the waist with blue dragons tattooed all over his body. His face was as round as a silver platter. About nineteen, he was practising with a staff.

Wang Jin watched for a while, then said without thinking: "Not a bad style, but it has weaknesses. It wouldn't stop anyone who was really good."

The young man overheard him. "Who are you to laugh at my skill?" he demanded angrily. "I've had eight of the best teachers. Don't think I can't knock you down! Do you dare have a go with me?"

As he was speaking, the squire came along. "None of your insolence," shouted the old man.

"What right has this fellow to laugh at my technique?" the boy asked.

"Do you know how to wield a staff, guest?" queried the squire.

"A little," replied Wang Jin. "May I presume to ask, sir, what this young man's relationship is to you?"

"He is my son."

"Since he is the young master, if he wishes to learn, your humble servant can give him a few pointers. Is that agreeable?"

"Excellent," said the squire. And he directed the young man: "Kowtow to your teacher."

But the boy would have none of it. "Don't be taken in by this varlet's talk, pa," he said hotly. "I'll kowtow to him as my teacher only if he can beat me at staves!"

"If the young master won't take it seriously," said Wang Jin, "we can have a bout, just for fun."

Standing in the center of the clearing the boy whirled his staff over his head like a windmill. "Come on, then," he exclaimed. "Come at me, if you have the nerve!"

Wang Jin smiled, but he made no move.

"Since you're willing to teach the boy, guest," said the squire, "why not joust with him?"

"I'm afraid I'll hurt the young master," Wang Jin laughed. "It wouldn't look nice."

"That's all right. If you break his hand or foot he'll have brought it on himself."

"Forgive me, then." Wang Jin selected a staff from a weapons rack, walked into the clearing and struck a stance.

The young man looked him over, then raised his staff and charged. Wang Jin quickly withdrew, trailing his weapon. The boy flourished his staff and gave chase. Suddenly Wang Jin turned and lifted his weapon as if to hack down. His opponent raised his own staff to parry. But Wang Jin swiftly retracted his weapon, then thrust it against his adversary's chest. The boy fell flat on his back, his staff flying off to the side.

Wang Jin cast his weapon away and hurried to help the young man. "I'm terribly sorry," he said.

The boy crawled to his feet. He brought over a stool, seated Wang Jin upon it and kowtowed respectfully. "I've studied with many instructors," he said, "but they've taught me practically nothing. Teacher, all I can do is beg for your guidance."

"My mother and I have imposed on your household for several days with no way to show our gratitude. It's only right that I should do my best."

The squire was very pleased. He told his son to dress, and all went to a rear hall and sat down. The old man ordered a vassal to slaughter a sheep and prepare wine and food and fruit. Then he invited Wang Jin and his mother to join him in a feast.

When the four were seated at the table the old man poured out the wine. Rising, he toasted Wang Jin. "With your remarkable skill, you must be an arms instructor," he said. "My son 'has eyes but didn't recognize Mount Taishan.'"

Wang Jin laughed. '"To a true man, one tells the truth.' Your servant's name isn't Zhang, it's Wang Jin. I'm an arms instructor in the Eastern Capital's Mighty Imperial Guards. I play with spears and staves every day. Gao Qiu, who has just been appointed commander of the Imperial Guards, was once beaten by my father. He's been longing for revenge and wants to take it out on me. Being under his command, I can't stand up against him. So I've run off with my mother. We're heading for Yanan Prefecture to join the border garrison commanded by Old General Zhong. We never expected that we would come here and be so well treated by you, sir, and your son. You've cured my mother's illness and entertained us for days. We've really imposed too much. If your son wants to learn, your servant will gladly teach him with all his heart. What he's learned so far are a lot of flashy manoeuvres. They look good, but they're of no use in combat. I'll teach him from the beginning."

"My son," said the squire, "admit your defeat. Kowtow to your teacher once again." The young man did so.

"Let me tell you, honored teacher," the old man continued. "My clan has always lived here in Huayin County. There before us is Mount Shaohua. The village is called Shi Family Village. All of the three or four hundred families in it are named Shi. My son, since childhood, has had no interest in farming. He cares only for play with weapons. His mother tried in vain to talk him out of it. She finally died of worry. I had to let him have his way. I don't know how much money I've spent on weapons teachers. I also paid a skilled tattooist to decorate his arms and chest with dragons—nine in all. For that reason he's known throughout the county as Nine Dragons Shi Jin. It's good that you've come, Instructor, and can complete his training. I'll reward you handsomely."

Wang Jin was delighted. "Rest assured, old squire," he said. "If that is your wish, your servant will teach him well."

They drank and feasted. From that day on, Wang Jin and his mother remained in the manor. Wang Jin instructed the young man every day, teaching him the use of the eighteen weapons: lance, mallet, long bow, crossbow, jingal, jointed bludgeon, truncheon, sword, chain, hooks, hatchet, axe, trident, halberd, shield, staff, spear and rake. Squire Shi went to the county town of Huayin to serve as a ward chief. Of that we'll say no more.

The days slipped by. Soon half a year had passed. Shi Jin became adapt at the eighteen weapons. Wang Jin put his heart into teaching, explaining the fine points of each. When the young man had mastered the weapons. Wang Jin thought to himself: "Although it's very pleasant here, I'm not getting anywhere." He wanted to continue on to Yanan, but Shi Jin wouldn't hear of him leaving.

"Stay, teacher," the young man pleaded. "I'll support you and your mother the rest of your lives. Won't that do?"

"Thank you for your good intentions, young brother," said Wang Jin. "It's fine here. But I'm afraid Marshal Gao will send men after me, and you'll become implicated. That wouldn't be right. We'd both be in trouble. I'm determined to go on to Yanan and join the garrison under Old General Zhong. It's a border post and they need men. I can make a fresh start there."

Since they couldn't persuade Wang Jin to stay, Shi Jin and his father gave him a farewell banquet. They presented him with two bolts of satin and a hundred ounces of silver, brought in on a platter.

The next day Wang Jin tied his luggage to his shoulder-pole and got the horse ready. He and his mother took their leave of the old squire, then Wang Jin helped his mother into the saddle and they set out for Yanan. Shi Jin had a vassal carry the shoulder-pole. He himself, hating to part, escorted his guests for ten li. Finally Shi Jin bowed to his teacher and said good-bye with tears in his eyes. He returned with the vassal to the manor. Wang Jin shouldered the carrying-pole and followed behind the horse. Mother and son proceeded westward along the road.

We'll talk not of Wang Jin, who went to join the garrison, but rather of Shi Jin. Every day, he steeled himself vigorously. Young, unmarried, he often got up in the middle of the night to drill with weapons. During the day he practised archery and rode horseback behind the manor.

Before half a year had gone by, his father fell ill and could not leave his bed. Shi Jin brought doctors from near and far, but none of them could save him. To the sorrow of all, the old man died. Shi Jin prepared a coffin and outer casket, in which his father was laid, richly dressed, and he hired Buddhist monks to conduct seven services, one every seven days, to pray for the departed squire. He also paid Taoist priests to chant prayers ensuring the passage of his father's soul straight to heaven. There were more than ten of these services. He then selected an auspicious day for the funeral. All of the three or four hundred families in the village attended, dressed in mourning. Squire Shi was buried in the ancestral cemetery on a hillside west of the village.

Now there was no one to look after Shi Jin's household affairs. The young man cared nothing for farming. His only interest was in finding people with whom he could match skill at arms.

Three or four months passed. It was the middle of the sixth lunar month, and very hot. Shi Jin sat on a folding-chair beneath a willow on the edge of the threshing-ground outside the manor, seeking a breath of cool air. He had nothing to do. A breeze wafted in from the pine grove opposite. "How refreshing," thought Shi Jin.

Suddenly he saw a man poke his head out of the grove and peer around. "Who's that over there," Shi Jin shouted, "looking at our manor?" He leaped to his feet and ran to the trees. There, behind a pine, he discovered Li Ji, the rabbit hunter.

"Why are you watching the manor?" Shi Jin demanded. "Are you spying on me?"

Li Ji came forward and greeted him respectfully. "Your humble servant was looking for Shorty Qiu. I wanted him to have a bowl of wine with me. When I saw the Young Master sitting there, enjoying the breeze, I didn't dare intrude."

"Let me ask you. You used to come often and sell us game. I never underpaid you. Why have you stopped? Do you think I have no money?"

"Would I dare think that? There just hasn't been any game lately. That's why I haven't come."

"Piffle! A mountain as big and wide as Shaohua? Do you expect me to believe there are no deer, no rabbits?"

"So you haven't heard, Young Master? Bandits have built a fort on the mountain. They've six or seven hundred men and over a hundred good horses. Their leader is called Miraculous Strategist Zhu Wu. The second in command is called Gorge-Leaping Tiger Chen Da. The third is called White-Spotted Snake Yang Chun. These three raid and pillage at will. The Huayin County authorities can do nothing about them. They've offered a reward of three thousand strings of cash for their capture. But who dares to try? Your servant is afraid to go hunting on the mountain. That's why I can't offer you any game."

"I've heard there were bandits up there," said Shi Jin. "I didn't know the scoundrels were so active. They're bound to make trouble for me. But I still would like some game if you can catch any."

Li Ji bowed and departed.

Shi Jin returned to the manor. "Those rogues are going at it in a big way," he thought. "They'll probably attack our village. In that case "

He ordered his vassals to slaughter two fat water buffaloes and bring out some good home-made wine. First he burned paper replicas of gold and silver ingots as an offering to Heaven and prayed for good luck. Then he invited the three or four hundred local peasants to the hall in the manor. After all were seated according to age, he had the vassals pour them wine.

"I hear that three robber chieftains have formed a gang of six or seven hundred bandits on Mount Shaohua who raid and pillage," he said. "Since they're operating in a big way, sooner or later they're going to attack our village. I've invited you here for a conference. When those rascals come, every family must be ready. If our manor sounds the alarm, all of you come running with your weapons. We'll do the same if any of you are attacked. We'll help each other and defend our village. If the chieftains come, I'll deal with them personally."

"You make the decisions, Young Master," said the peasants. "We depend on you. When the alarm sounds none of us will stay away." At evening they drank a final cup in thanks and returned to their homes to prepare their weapons.

Shi Jin strengthened the gates and walls of the manor and put everything in order. He issued suits of armor, and had swords and horses kept in readiness. Of this we'll say no more.

We'll speak instead of the three bandit chieftains on Mount Shaohua. They sat down, one day, and conferred. Zhu Wu the Miraculous Strategist, their leader, was from Dingyuan. His weapons were two swords. Although not an especially good fighter, he was skilled in battle tactics and was a clever strategist. The second in command, Chen Da was from the city of Yecheng. He wielded a steel-tipped spear. Yang Chun, number three, was from Xieliang County in Puzhou. He used a halberd.

"I hear that Huayin County is offering a reward of three thousand strings of cash and is mustering men to arrest us," said Zhu Wu. "We'll give them a bloody battle when they come. The trouble is we're short of money and grain. We'd better go out and rob some. We'll need a grain reserve to see us through if troops besiege us."

"That's right," said Chen Da the Gorge-Leaping Tiger. "Let's demand grain from Huayin County, and see what they do about it."

"Don't go to Huayin," Yang Chun the White-Spotted Snake advised. "Pucheng would be better. It's a sure thing."

"There aren't many people in Pucheng," said Chen Da, "and they don't have much money or grain. I'm for raiding Huayin. The people are prosperous there. They've money and grain aplenty."

"You don't understand, brother," said Yang Chun. "To get to Huayin, we have to pass Shi Family Village. That Nine Dragons Shi Jin is very tough. It's not wise to stir him up. He'd never let us by."

"Weak talk, brother," said Chen Da. "If we can't get past a mere village, how are we going to stand up against government troops?"

"You shouldn't underestimate Shi Jin, brother," Yang Chun replied. "He's really fierce."

"I too have heard that he's very brave," said Zhu Wu. "They say his skill with weapons is first rate. Let's not go, brothers."

"Shut your craven mouths," Chen Da cried. "Praising other people's courage pulls down your own. After all he's only human. Does he have three heads and six arms? I don't believe it!" And he shouted to his cohorts: "Get my horse. I'm going to attack Shi Family Village, then I'm going to take Huayin."

Zhu Wu and Yang Chun tried to dissuade him, but he wouldn't listen. He donned armor and mounted his horse, picked a hundred and fifty men and, drums beating and gongs crashing, started down the mountain towards Shi Family Village.

Shi Jin, who was in front of the manor checking his men's arms and equipment, was informed of this by one of his vassals. He promptly had the alarm beat out on a bamboo segment. From all sides men of the four hundred village families came running to the manor, carrying their weapons. They found Shi Jin wearing a ridged turban, a vermilion coat of mail, iron breastplate and backpiece, an embroidered black robe, green boots and a leather belt. He had a bow and a quiver of arrows, and he grasped a three-pointed double-edged sword with four holes and eight rings.

A vassal led forward his fiery red horse. Shi Jin mounted. He raised his sword. Preceded by forty strong vassals and followed by ninety villagers and peasants, Shi Jin set forth. Shouting and cheering, the rest of the villagers brought up the rear and followed them to the road north of the village.

Chen Da led his men swiftly down the mountain and told them to spread out. Shi Jin saw that he was wearing a red concave hat, a golden suit of mail, a red robe and thick-soled boots. Around his waist was a long plaited girdle. He rode a high white horse and carried level a steel-tipped lance eighteen feet long. The men on both sides set up a fierce cry.

From their mounts, the two leaders looked at each other. Chen Da bowed in his saddle.

"You murder and burn, rob and plunder, your terrible crimes are all punishable by death," Shi Jin shouted. "Haven't you heard of me? Where do you get the gall to come and tweak the tiger's whiskers?"

"We're short of grain in our mountain fortress," Chen Da replied. "We hope to borrow some in Huayin. The road brings us by your honorable manor, but of course we wouldn't dare touch a blade of grass here. Let us pass. We'll thank you properly on our return."...


Start the discussion...

To Leave a Comment or reply to posts please log in