Taking pity, Cheng Shu stated, “Foolish child, you are an unfortunate soul who was deceived by those people. Tell Uncle Cheng, what do you plan on doing in the future?”
Lady Xue blankly replied, “Uncle Cheng, I don’t know what I can do. Once upon a time, I was a disciple of the Fengyi Sect. In addition, my family background was pretty good. As a result, there were a significant number of men chasing after me. However, in my heart, there was only Pei Yun. It wasn’t because he was my fiancé, but because I loved him as an individual. When he went to train in the Shaolin Temple, I sought to be deserving of him, not wanting him to treat me as an ordinary woman and hoping that he would receive honor and glory from marrying me. Therefore, I entered the Fengyi Sect. At present, I can state that I am a master of both brush and sword. Furthermore, my appearance is stunning. I had believed that he would treat me as a treasure. However, he became increasingly aloof and distant with me. Ultimately, he even took another woman as a concubine.
“Daddy originally advised me to cease my entanglement, but I refused to be resigned. My hard work was all because of him and yet he regarded me as nothing more than a worn out shoe. As a result, my sisters all instigated me to forcibly marry him. However, it was useless. He was always courteous and polite to me, but at night, he would always be with that woman. I was filled with hate, but I was unwilling to show any weakness and could only look on helplessly as they are together. Afterwards, when that child was born, I had never seen him so happy. In addition, my parents-in-law also became solely preoccupied with that mother and child pair. I was able to bear all of this, only hoping that he would glance at me. However, he came to me to discuss the matter of our divorce. I could not bear it anymore, desiring to kill that child that wrecked my happiness. However, I failed. He would absolutely never forgive me.”
Gazing upon the bitterly crying Lady Xue, Cheng Shu understood that without her current collapsed state of mind she would absolutely never have revealed these matters of the heart to an outsider. Pitying her and regretful, he could not help but state, “Child, don’t blame uncle for chiding you, but your greatest mistake was becoming a disciple of the Fengyi Sect. Although the disciples trained by the Fengyi Sect are indeed noble and elegant, qualified to even become the empress or imperial concubines, however, Pei Yun is only an ordinary man. He is like uncle. That year, within three months after I married your aunt, I enlisted in the army. By herself, your aunt took care of my parents for a whole twelve years. It was only after I became a general was I able to bring them to Chang’an. At that time, my son was already halfway to adulthood and yet it was the first time that uncle saw him. Afterwards, I accompanied the Emperor on numerous campaigns and never had the opportunity to look after my parents and children. It was only your aunt who maintained my household. As a result, everyone joked that I, Old Cheng, was henpecked. However, who could know that in reality, I felt full of regret and guilt? My entire life, I have neglected her too much.
“If it were you, instead, if Pei Yun were to leave for a military campaign, it is likely that you would accompany him. Although with your martial arts and intelligence, you won’t become a burden, what Pei Yun really wants is a wife who can stay at home to take care of his parents with filial piety and raise his children. Child, you are too outstanding. That is why Pei Yun was unwilling to marry you.”
Lady Xue stared forward hollowly for a long time before she inquired, “Was it not because of my sect?”
Cheng Shu smiled wryly and responded, “I won’t blame you if you think this way. However, Pei Yun is not that kind of person. Isn’t that also why you love him?”
“It is now too late to say these things,” replied Lady Xue in an agonized voice. “Niece no longer has any face to see anyone. Would uncle please not stop me.”
With a humorless smile, Cheng Shu chided, “Why are you so muddled, child? No matter how grave the matter, there is always a solution. If you are willing to start afresh, based upon your appearance and ability, how can you not find a husband? This world is so enormous, if you are willing to listen to uncle, you can go to someplace where no one recognizes you, changing your name. Isn’t that better than dying?”
Lady Xue gazed stupefied out the window, her expression nebulous. Seeing her current state, Cheng Shu knew that the critical moment had arrived. However, he could not exhort her any further. At this moment, it would be best if someone who knew her heart would come to speak to her. However, this person was extremely difficult to find.
Suddenly, a remorseful sigh could be heard from outside the window. Lady Xue’s expression changed, as she threw herself forward and pulled apart the window. Outside stood a black-clothed man with a handsome appearance. His entire body exuded a faint killing intent. However, his face was gloomy and his bladelike eyebrows were furrowed with distress.
Lady Xue let out a gasp, a flood of tears washing down her face. Cheng Shu shook his head lightly, turning and departing from the room. The black-clothed man jumped through the window into the room. In a vicious voice, Lady Xue asked, “Why are you here? Are you here to laugh at me? Now that the entire world knows that I, Xue Qiuxue, am cruel and malicious. Everyone says that you should divorce me. You surely must be pleased?”
The black-clothed man was Pei Yun. In a heavy voice, he replied, “Qiuxue, I have never wished to harm you. However, I did not anticipate that matters would reach this stage. I originally hoped that if you were willing to cancel the engagement, you would definitely find an ideal husband for yourself. I didn’t expect that things would turn out like this.”
Remembering the past, Xue Qiuxue could not help but feel grief well up from her heart. She inquired, “Do you truly wish to only take an ordinary woman as your wife and still be unwilling to marry me?”
“Qiuxue, you are truly remarkable, having accomplishments in both brush and sword,” answered Pei Yun sadly. “I once watched you discuss poetry and literature. I had not even heard of many of the examples that you brought up. In addition, you are also familiar with court politics and military affairs. With you as my wife, I would have a great wife to serve as my support, but Qiuxue, I am completely disinterested in these traits. Serving in the army and dedicating myself to Great Yong is my long-cherished wish, and I am uninterested in becoming involved in schemes and machinations. I am already like this when not at home. I only wish to be able to return home, yearning for peace and quiet. I wish that my wife can provide a home-cooked meal, help me mend my clothes, and be able to discuss the domestic trivialities with me. To me, that is enough. I do not require a wife that is preoccupied with scheming. However, Qiuxue, you are so dazzling. It is I that am not a match for you.”
“You speak the truth,” murmured Xue Qiuxue in agony. “So it was you who was not a match for me, not a match for me …” She repeated that last phrase several times, until her voice fell hoarse. Pei Yun took one step forward but stopped. After all was said and done, he was unwilling to offend her. He truly wished that this woman would have a wonderful future. If that was the case, he needed to ensure that she no longer had any illusions. It was too late to be tender to her at this moment.
It was only a long time before Xue Qiuxue calmed down. She stated, “Thank you for telling me the truth. It isn’t that I am not good enough; it is instead that you do not require a wife like me. Do not worry, I will not implicate you. I also won’t remain in this hurtful Chang’an.”
Pei Yun didn’t say anything, tacitly agreeing with her. After a short while, he said, “I have a junior apprentice brother who is a merchant in the Southern Sea. We are friends that went through life and death together. If you are willing to go there, I will ask that he take good care of you.”
Xue Qiuxue was silent. Just as Pei Yun believed that she would refuse his suggestion, Xue Qiuxue peacefully acknowledged, “Thank you. I have heard that the Southern Sea’s landscape is peculiar and has frequent dealings with non-Han people. I have long wished to take a look.”
The grave matter involving Pei Yun had been reduced to nothing. Although many imperial censors and court officials submitted memorials impeaching him, once Lady Xue’s memorial was submitted, these impeachment memorials no longer had any power. In addition, Lady Xue disappeared from Chang’an. Although the Xue family stated that Lady Xue had become a nun, they did not know which nunnery she went to. Just like that, the pitiful and lamentable woman disappeared from everyone’s sight. No one knew that Lady Xue had been escorted by the Duke of Wei’s retainers out of Chang’an.
However, this matter was not resolved entirely according to my wishes. Pei Yun was still implicated. Although he was not demoted or fined, the emperor dispatched Xiahou Yuanfeng to serve as the Vice Commander of the Northern Barracks of the Imperial Guard. With this, a nail was still inserted into the originally ironclad Northern Barracks. Xiahou Yuanfeng was elegant and poised. Assisted by his money and power, and as the emperor’s favored subject, he was quickly able to stand on his two feet. Fortunately, Pei Yun had the loyalty of his guardsmen and was not powerless. On the whole, Xiahou Yuanfeng did not dare to press forward urgently. The situation sank into a deadlock.
Sitting in the pavilion, enjoying the abundant evening breeze, the faint scent of plants assailed my nostrils. In my mouth was a just plucked bamboo leaf, as I focused on playing a simple tune. There wasn’t any technique, but the soft and pleasant to hear music flowed throughout the Cold Courtyard in the wake of the evening breeze. When the tune ended, Xiaoshunzi’s figure appeared in the distance. I did not know why, but every single time that I became gloomy and incredibly anxious, I would discard everything and sit here, playing the bamboo leaf. This would always allow my mood to become tranquil again. I had never forgotten Sir Sang’s diagnosis. Since I could not distance myself from the hustle and bustle, then I could only use this method to cleanse my spirit. In fact, all of the imperial bodyguards assigned to me understood that they could absolutely not disturb me when I was playing the bamboo leaf. Even Xiaoshunzi would not come to disturb me. Once, an imperial bodyguard that I had been granted important responsibilities had violated this custom and had been expelled from the Cold Courtyard. From then on, no one dared to rub me the wrong way.
Accepting the fragrant cup of tea that Xiaoshunzi handed me, I smiled and stated, “General Pei has suffered some setbacks, but ultimately it will not affect his future prospects. In reality, we cannot be considered to have failed. In any case, what we regard as important is the person, Pei Yun, and not the Imperial Guard. Tomorrow, issue an invitation to General Pei to come be a guest here in the Cold Courtyard. Also invite His Imperial Majesty as company.”
“His Imperial Highness has already invited over General Pei for tomorrow,” replied Xiaoshunzi indifferently, “Since young master also wishes to meet him, I will go inform His Imperial Highness to hold the feast within the Cold Courtyard.”
Shaking my head, I replied, “Since His Imperial Highness wishes to invite him, then there is no need for me to go join in. There are some things that are best handled by His Imperial Highness personally. Oh, that’s right, has there been anything from the Shaolin Temple?”
“The great and prestigious sects can truly stay calm,” replied Xiaoshunzi, knitting his brows. “They have yet to make any moves.”
With a faint smile, I said, “If it weren’t for their ability to bear patiently, why do you think the Shaolin Temple would have survived for so long without failing? Over a hundred years, how many sects have come and gone? Shaolin has survived for so long because of this comportment. Sometimes, matters of the world are just like this. Looking down and making reality is far better than looking up to beg. Were it not for the impediments of everyday affairs, why spend my time in this material world? Xiaoshunzi, your martial arts are originally fabulous. It is simply that your moves are far too ruthless and malicious, lacking a bit of forbearance. I have always felt that this was inappropriate. It is said that the firm cannot last, the soft cannot defend, the ingenious cannot defeat the proper. In war, one cannot constantly use innovative tactics and strategies to attain victory. I believe that this is the same in martial arts. Think this over.”
Xiaoshunzi began to mull over my words. Just at this moment, a gentle voice came to me. “Benefactor1 Jiang is indeed spiritually intelligent as if made that way by the Heavens. This old cassock2 did not understand this until after I turned forty.”
I was startled. This voice was gentle, pure, and profound as if the speaker was next to my ear. However, because of my heightened six senses, I could tell that there was no one else within a hundred zhang.3 I glanced towards Xiaoshunzi, but saw that he was deep in thought. It was clear that he had forgotten about my protection. After thinking it over, I suddenly laughed and declared, “Elder True Compassion has personally come to the Cold Courtyard. Your presence truly brings light to my humble dwelling. Please forgive Zhe for being unable to welcome you. Would the great master please come meet in the courtyard?”
Before my eyes, almost like a flower, a middle-aged monk in a gray cassock appeared at the entrance to the courtyard. Unhurriedly, he walked towards me. Straining my eyes, I gazed at him. This middle-aged monk had delicate features, his face like the full moon. Between his eyebrows was a rouge red dot. No matter how I looked, he seemed to be no more than an ordinary Buddhist monk. However, I could sense from this great master’s deliberate and measured footsteps that each and every one of his movements resembled nature itself, almost as if he was one with the Heavens and the Earth.
At this moment, Xiaoshunzi snapped out of his reverie, raising his head to look over, a light flickering across his eyes. Although he knew the identity of this man, in his eyes, everyone in the world was dispensable. As a result, killing intent roiled up from within. If this man were to try and injure the young master, Xiaoshunzi knew that he would have to use the entirety of his strength to stop him.
As his killing intent was released, Xiaoshunzi felt that he was surrounded by formidable pressure on sides. Greatly alarmed, he looked towards me, seeing that there was no change in my expression. He immediately understood that this pressure was solely directed at him and thus used all of his strength to resist. But the more he tried to resist, the stronger the pressure became. He could feel that there was someone reciting Buddhist scripture in his ear, telling him to accept his defeat and yield. However, Xiaoshunzi’s will was extremely firm and he instead continued to rigidly brace himself, and refused to back down. That kind of pressure only increased and Xiaoshunzi could not move a single part of his body. Suddenly, his heart leapt and drew back some of his resistance. Sure enough, the pressure weakened a little. Xiaoshunzi laughed callously and suddenly increased his killing intent. That killing intent was a bone-piercing cold that rapidly spread throughout the Cold Courtyard. A bizarre scene appeared. It was plainly dusk in the middle of summer and yet the Cold Courtyard was filled with two competing forces—one a desolate, autumn breeze, the other the harmonious beginning of spring. Although the desolation weakened little by little, the spirit betting one’s life became increasingly strong. Even the harmonious force was gradually adulterated by the desolation.
Although I was in the pavilion, I did not personally sense the completely incomparable atmosphere. But seeing the falling tree leaves, even though there was no wind within a radius of a hundred zhang, before violently rotating and fluttering, I knew that something bizarre was happening. Afterwards, I saw that Xiaoshunzi’s complexion grow increasingly ugly. Without having to think, I knew that he was at the disadvantage. After some consideration, I randomly picked up a teacup and hurled it forcefully down onto the ground. It was as I expected. This small surprise was enough to cause both Xiaoshunzi and Elder True Compassion to form a tacit understanding and begin to pull back their internal energy. It wasn’t long before everything returned to normal.
The monk did not seem to take a large stride and yet he was able to cross those one hundred zhang with one step and arrive at the pavilion. With a slight smile, he said, “Benefactor Li’s martial arts have taken a different approach, going down the path of ruthlessness. This old cassock originally wished to use sacred words to enlighten you and did not expect that Benefactor Li’s heart is already as firm and unyielding as metal and stone, unmoved by external influences. If Benefactor Li is focused upon his cultivation, reaching the Emotionally Detached Realm, you will inevitably become a generational grandmaster.”
Xiaoshunzi advanced and greeted the monk. He replied, “Great master is praising me too much. This lowly one has no ambitions to become a grandmaster and only wishes to be able to ensure the safety of my young master for the entirety of his life.”
Pensively, True Compassion glanced at Xiaoshunzi, seeing the austere majesty in his eyes. The firm and unwavering determination caused True Compassion to sigh with regret at Heaven’s ingenious arrangement. If this eunuch completely lacked restrictions, it was likely that he would do as he pleased, moving unhindered throughout the world, inevitably causing a monstrous slaughter. The deep harm that he could cause would surpass the Sovereign of the Devil Sect by a hundredfold. However, the Heavens were concerned by the welfare of all living things and had arranged an individual capable of restricting and correcting him. True Compassion gazed at Jiang Zhe, who had just warned Xiaoshunzi and helped terminate their confrontation. Although this youth’s gaze was bleak and gloomy, his pair of eyes seemed to have the ability to see through worldly affairs. True Compassion bowed lightly towards Jiang Zhe and introduced himself, “This old cassock is True Compassion. I greet Sir Jiang.”
Somewhat panicked at the monk’s courtesy, I promptly returned his bow and replied, “Great master is a grandmaster. How does Zhe dare to accept such a great courtesy? Please do not be like this. Great master, please sit.”
True Compassion smiled slightly and mentioned, “Someday, in the future, Benefactor will understand that you are deserving of this old cassock’s courtesy.”
“Great master’s arrival has caused Zhe to become overwhelmed,” I spoke respectfully before inquiring, “Is there something that I can help with?”
“Originally, this old cassock came to meet with His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong,” responded True Compassion softly. “But having long heard of Benefactor’s astonishing intelligence and wisdom, I therefore came here first to pay my respects. After seeing you today, this old cassock has noticed that the Little Benefactor’s arteries have internal injuries. I’m afraid that remaining to frequently handle worldly affairs will harm your longevity. Since Little Benefactor is proficient at medicine, why do you not consider your own well-being?”
With a slight smile, I replied, “Zhe is only an ordinary individual. Zhe owes His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, a deep debt of gratitude for his kindness. His Imperial Highness’s magnanimity causes Zhe to admire him from my heart. If Zhe were to discard the mundane world at this moment, guilt would consume my conscience. Therefore, I have not dared to do so. Great master, please do not inform His Imperial Highness of this, so as to avoid him from becoming worried.”
“Let Man and the Heavens examine Benefactor Jiang’s heart,” observed True Compassion with a soft sigh, “This old cassock will naturally hold my tongue. Benefactor treats my Shaolin with deep respect. Although this old cassock will not split hairs and remember gratitude and grudges like the common people, I have the heart to return the favor. This old cassock has a few internal energy cultivation methods that serve no other purpose than to help strengthen your body and nurse your arteries. Although Benefactor has not trained in martial arts, these methods are only breathing techniques. It presumably will not expend a great deal of effort. I hope that it will be of help to Benefactor Jiang.”
Overjoyed, I acknowledged, “Many thanks to the great master for your profound gift. Sir Sang once stated that of the world’s martial arts, it is the cultivation of the Shaolin Temple that allows one to discard all desires and worries from the mind, and to conserve one’s mental and physical states. If Zhe is able to live longer, then it will be because of great master’s kind gift.”
“Benefactor Jiang assists a wise prince,” replied True Compassion with a slight smile. “Your contributions will help the empire and the common people. These few cultivation techniques are nothing in comparison.” So speaking, he recited the words of and explained in detail the cultivation techniques.
Observing from the side, Xiaoshunzi was beaming, delighted. He had originally been worried about my health. Seeing that there was the possibility of a turn for the better, he was naturally overjoyed. His gaze towards True Compassion became gentler.
After a while, the sound of footsteps could be heard approaching from the distance. Hurriedly arriving in the courtyard was the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, bringing along Guan Xiu, Gou Lian, Zhangsun Ji, Jing Chi, Sima Xiong, and others. They stopped before the pavilion and respectfully performed the ritual bows. Although True Compassion was a grandmaster, he did not manifest a shred of arrogance, smiling as he returned their bows.
Excited, Li Zhi stepped forward and stated, “It has already been several years since the last time I had the opportunity to pay my respects to the great master. Great master’s mien remains as before, while Li Zhi, burdened by governance and conflict, has aged much.”
“Your Imperial Highness, this old cassock has come this time to express the intention of the entirety of my temple,” declared True Compassion calmly. “If Your Imperial Highness has any commands, the entirety of my temple will obey.”
Li Zhi stared back at him bewildered, a look of hesitation appearing on his face. He had originally only hoped that the Shaolin Temple would not exceed its limits. He did not expect that he would suddenly acquire the full support of the Shaolin Temple. What was going on?