2020-02-09: This chapter has been edited by larkspur after release.
Chapter 31: The Eldest Shixiong of White Goat Cave
Waiting by the doorway to the wine shop was the grey-robed swordsman from yesterday.
Seeing Ding Ning walk out of the door, the grey-robed swordsman did not speak. He inclined his head slightly in a greeting and then silently started to drive the carriage after Ding Ning got on.
Once in the carriage, Ding Ning smiled ever so slightly. Of course, it was not an accident that Wang Taixu could stand fast Changling for so long. For example, the selection of the carriage drive suited Ding Ning’s preferences.
The carriage followed the flat and straight street to the White Goat Gorge outside the city where White Goat Cave was located.
In the first year of Yuanwu, most of the places for cultivation were not far from Changling. These cultivation sects and prestigious family lands that scattered around Changling formed natural fortresses in addition to the Qin Dynasty’s military fortresses.
As Changling grew in size, more than half of the sects were now inside Changling. While these sects still had special powers, the Qin Dynasty’s power over these sects grew stronger. For many of the cultivation sects who had longer histories than the Qin Dynasty, the only benefit was that they could receive some cultivation resources, and add some opportunities to learn from other sects.
When the carriage passed Willow Wood River, Ding Ning could hear several shouts and sobs from within the carriage.
He did not draw the window curtain because he knew that those sounds were courtesy of the corpses that were floating in the river.
Yesterday was no different to the majority of residents in Changling. Had it not been for his hands-on experience, Ding Ning would have certainly not known that that the power structure of the jianghu of Changling had changed majority.
The water from the Willow Wood River was usually used to water some crops, and so it was frequently used to dispose of corpses by the jianghu.
Last night, only Tang Que and Tang Mengchen of Jinlintang died at Red Charm Tower. But Ding Ning knew that more people from Jinlintang would be dying in the long black night. Their corpses should be floating in this river right now.
The topography of Changling was divided in stages from the southeast towards the northwest. The Jing River at the south of the city was a tributary of the Wei River. The rest was the flat plains with some short hills.
The land at the centre of Changling was at a higher terrain with many areas on the depressions left by ancient rivers after they dried up.
The north of Changling was the plateaus and the hills. There were thirteen mountain ranges of various sizes, the tallest Stone Gate Mountain and Spirit Void Mountain, the shortest, North Soldier Mountain, and Horse Bar Mountain.
The White Goat Gorge where White Goat Cave was located was in the North Soldier Mountain.
Following the gradually ascending mountain path, after rocking and shaking for a long time, Ding Ning’s carriage finally entered the White Goat Gorge.
Because the entire mountain ridge was not very tall, this gorge was not deep. However, for some unknown reason, this gorge could keep in moisture. White clouds shrouded most of the gorge revealing large halls as they floated past. The entire place seemed to be brimming with an ethereal presence.
This cultivation place finally found some hints of admiration in the eyes of the grey-robed swordsman.
While White Goat Cave only barely counted as a second-class cultivation sect to the Qin Dynasty, and was about to meet the grimmest of ends as they joined the Green Vine Sword School, but even so, this kind of cultivation place was not one that someone like him could enter.
He started to worry.
Worry for this Falling Parasol youth in the cabin behind him.
He did not worry if the other could enter the sect, but his situation after entering the sect.
White Goat Gorge did not have any tower or gates at the entrance, only a white stone tablet.
Three simple words were etched on the stone tablet: “Imperial Forbidden Grounds.”
The first word denoted the reward the Qin Dynasty bestowed the sect for their service, while the remaining words represented the special power of the sect.
It was noon, a time at which that ordinary people ate. Logically, White Goat Cave would not put many personnel near the tablet that marked the entrance but when the carriage stopped near the tablet, the grey-robed swordsman’s pupils suddenly contracted.
Behind the tablet, on the mountain path curving up the mountain, stood several dozen young students silently.
These students wearing hemp robes with the insignia of a white goat on their sleeves looked silently at the slowing carriage amidst a strange atmosphere.
“Perhaps, they’re not here to especially welcome me to White Goat Cave.”
A low voice sounded from behind the grey-robed swordsman.
The grey-robed swordsman stilled slightly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ding Ning calmly get off the carriage and walk towards the tablet.
His calm advance was like a pebble thrown into the pond. He immediately caused ripples.
A student with a slightly conflicted mein, who seemed to be at least five years younger than Ding Ning, came over to meet him.
When he stopped, he stood at a very clever position, standing in line with the stone tablet.
Like this, Ding Ning could not step over the mountain gates.
With a slight bow, he said, “This one is Ye Ming, and comes with the order of the cave master to welcome you into the mountain.”
Ding Ning smiled slightly and returned the greeting. “If so, thank you.”
Right at this moment, a furious cry emerged from among the dozens of students with a peculiar mood.
“Since when did we let anyone enter our White Goat Cave as they wished?”
Ye Ming slightly raised his eyebrow, but his expression did not change.
He knew that this kind of incident would occur. If not for the fact that he could not defy, he would not have been standing here; he would have been one of the students behind.
Ding Ning looked up and saw the one who had shouted angrily was a youth similar to his age. His hair was cut extremely short, though thin he stood tall with a two-feet long sword hanging from his waist. The hilt of the sword was made from a wavy grain, deep yellow wood and had fine scripts carved on to it.
However, his gaze on this youth lingered but a fleeting moment.
He, then, calmly and wordlessly looked at Ye Ming.
He knew that someone would resolve this matter and there would be no meaning if he spoke.
Ye Ming had not expected Ding Ning to be so calm. His brow furrowed. He felt he had been thrown a hot potato and was ill at ease about his next move.
There were white clouds in the White Goat Gorge.
Below one of the clouds was a lonely temple.
From the terrace of the temple, one could clearly see all that was transpired at the gates.
A pair stood on the terrace.
One of them was white-haired and old, the very one who had changed the fate of Jinlingtang and the Two Level Tower with just a strike of the sword- Du Qingjiao.
His name had once been uttered by the Empress. He was the shixiong of White Goat Cave’s Cave Master.
“Shixiong, yesterday’s incident, as well as today’s, you were too impulsive.”
At the same time, there was an old Taoist with a white face, wearing white brocade robes with gold edges. A white jade sword, a token exclusive to the Cave Master of White Goat Cave, hung from his waist. He was no one else but the Cave Master of White Goat Cave, Xue Wangxu.
“Even when you knew that this has happened because the Empress is discontent with us, you took action last night. Several people have died. I worry she will find another excuse to use against you.”
As he looked at his silent shixiong, Xue Wangxu could not help but sigh worriedly.
“Because it was the Empress, I acted last night.” When thewhite-haired Du Qingjiao heard the sigh, he turned, and spoke with a smile.
Xue Wangxu was even more worried. “Shixiong, do not be so angry.”
“I am not angry.” Du Qingjiao shook his head. “Shidi, your cultivation and knowledge are both superior to mine, and your ability to not think highly of fame too. However, your understanding of the Empress is lesser than mine.”
Xue Wangxu stilled.
“While the empress is decisive and vicious in her conduct, her actions are more measured and cautious than even the two Prime Ministers. Since the Holy One has already issued a decree, she will not allow any mishaps in my retirement. She and the Holy One must be closer than anything else, even for an insignificant matter. This way, she and the Holy One will be at their most powerful, and the Qin Dynasty will be at its most powerful. Also, while I am an old sack of bones, I still have some friends after all these years in Changling. The submission of White Goat Cave is not important, but if even my retirement has accidents, everyone will start to have ideas.” Du Qingjiao coolly sketched the details.
“I would not have acted on their behalf just because of the Two Level Tower’s slight benefits and old favors. I did so deliberately because I know that Jinlingtang has some connection to the Empress’ family. She makes me unhappy, so before I leave Changling, I will not have her be happy.”
Xue Wangxu found himself speechless.
This was called ‘not being angry’?
“If each side takes a step back, everything can be resolved. Since I have not said anything and retired, she will take a step back.” Du Qingjiao added coolly.
Xue Wangxu took a deep breath and then let out a long sigh.
On this highest temple in White Goat Cave, the two oldest people of White Goat Cave talked harmoniously and were just worried for each other’s well-being. Yet the situation at the gates was at a stalemate.
Ye Ming’s expression grew stiffer. He finally took a half step back and said unwillingly. “This is the order of the Cave Master …”
“I do not believe this is what the cave master means.”
Yet the outspoken youth interrupted his words. His young features were frosty. “Letting him join the sect without going through the tests does not abide by the rules at all. This is not only unjust to us; it is unjust to all the people who have been eliminated at these gates for centuries. I do not believe our wise Cave Master would make such a decision.”
Ye Ming grimaced in silence. It seemed that they could only waste time here.
Did he have to go back to the Cave Master and ask for evidence?
“Eldest Shixiong…. Eldest Shixiong is here!”
At this time, the crowd shifted, and a clamour sounded along the mountain path.
Ye Ming sighed in relief and turned around. From the thin mountain mist, a tall youth appeared.
This was a handsome youth with an extraordinary presence. His handsome features had the spirit the young usually have, but at this moment, his countenance was full of worry.
Looking at all the gathered students gathered, he was displeased. “Do not make a fuss, return.”
The mountain path suddenly quieted.
“Return for what!”
That outspoken youth had a flushed face and a loud voice. “Eldest Shixiong, do you feel this is fair!”
The junior disciples’ usually beloved eldest shixiong, Zhang Yi, shook his head and spoke gently. “There is no absolute justice in the world. If there is real justice, our White Goat Cave would not have been forced to join the Green Vine Sword School.”
These surrounding young students had not expected Zhang Yi to say such a thing. Immediately, many people wailed in misery, a few even had teary eyes.
That outspoken youth’s eyes were red, his words harsh. “Eldest Shixiong, if others cannot give us justice, can we not fight? If we do not care, White Goat Cave will truly be finished.”
“Shen Bai Shidi, I understand what you are saying,” Zhang Yi said gently, “but we cannot doubt the Cave Master’s decision. You know that the Cave Master always has his reasons for what he does. I have heard of the saying ‘to break rather than bend’, but I have also heard ‘that those who recognize the situation are heroes’.”
Zhang Yi’s voice was very gentle, like a spring wind that could warm people up.
Ding Ning originally had just been gazing at the white clouds calmly, as though he was just a spectator, unrelated to everything happening around. But Zhang Yi’s presence and words surprised him.
He started to re-examine this White Goat Cave’s Eldest Shixiong with curiosity.
Translator’s Ramblings: Two points on politics in this chapter. First, the Qin Dynasty managed to devour multiple cultivation places into their capital and reduce the power and independence of those places. Second, the Empress and the Emperor are not all powerful. They still have to be wary of how they appear in their actions, especially the Empress who cannot be seen to be at odds with the Emperor.