This chapter has been brought to you by me, and larkspur.
Chapter 34: The Last Daughter of the Shang Family
That woman was unusually calm. While she wore a red dress, she did not attract attention as she stood in the alley…
But in the perception of Zhangsun Qianxue who was in the wine shop, and also in Ding Ning’s eyes, there seemed to be a black bamboo stalk swaying around her.
The black bamboo seemed calm and aloof. Its presence was an ethereal one… but how could it avoid the world?
This woman dressed in red seemed detached from the people around her. Yet, in the moment he saw her, Ding Ning knew his judgement was correct- she was the master of the underground empire of Fish Market.
Zhang Yi had been pondering over Xue Wangxu’s serious words, a direct result of incensing him. As the talented cultivator that he was, he finally detected the abnormality and looked over.
But by the time he lifted his head, the red dressed woman was long gone. So, he saw nothing. He only looked at the spot the woman had stood with puzzlement.
“What is it?” Xue Wangxu looked at him.
“Nothing.” Zhang Yi shook his head but softly suggested with uncertainty. “Another match?”
Xue Wangxu was clearly disinterested. But looking at Zhang Yi who wanted to make it up to him, he suddenly felt this was another kind of teaching.
So he nodded and tapped the board. “Come.”
Zhangsun Qianxue’s cool voice sounded from the wine shop courtyard.
The red dressed woman walked into the narrow alley outside of Falling Parasol. The hunchbacked old man with the bamboo staff who was waiting there started to follow her.
“That youth is not bad.”
She headed in the direction of Fish Market as she slowly spoke to the black robed old man. Her voice carried serenity that could infect others. “He visits the lonely old woman every few days in Fish Market, cares for and talks to her without expecting any reward. This is rare. Today, I see that he has a kind of calm that is undisturbed by glory or disgrace. I like talent, but I cannot even protect myself. If he follows us, he will neither be a person nor a ghost. I can only observe him from a distance.”
“That woman is filled with yin energy. She cultivates with the yin and ghostly items of the Qi Dynasty. She has reached realm seven. Who is she, why has she come to see you?” Zhangsun Qianxue sternly asked Ding Ning in the courtyard of the wine shop as she looked in the direction the red dressed woman had left.
“The master of the underground Fish Market.” Ding Ning looked at her cold features and struggled to discern. “The only descendant of the Shang Family … she must have come to take a look because I visit Fish Market frequently and the news of my record-breaking breakthrough has reached Fish Market.”
Zhangsun Qianxue was silent for many moments. She said, “She’s an old support of your teacher, and probably the only support left. She has such cultivation and power. Why do you not want to borrow her power?”
Ding Ning was silent and did not respond.
Zhangsun Qianxue spoke in a cool voice. “Others may not know, but I know better than anyone. Violent tactics were used to destroy the Zhangsun Family, and then the Shang Family was used as scapegoats to quell the rage in some of the nobility and prestigious families. The Shang Family, who pushed for reformation, was executed. But the reformation led by the Shang Family has slowly continued … this tactic combining absolute force and gentleness after the fact most likely comes from the emperor and the present empress. Because I know that your teacher was not in Changling at the time. He was the one who protected this only daughter of the Shang Family. He used many extreme retaliatory measures towards this. After that, there were irreconcilable differences between him and the emperor … so if you have any demands, I think she will oblige.”
Ding Ning did not respond. He looked at her and shook his head. “You said it yourself that these are matters of the past. There are too many people who owe the Shang Family, but the Shang family doesn’t owe anyone. A rebellious matter like us wanting to kill the realm eight emperor sounds unbelievable to others, so we will not drag her in.”
Zhangsun Qianxue glanced at him. She did not speak and turned to walk into the room.
This attitude expressed that while she did not agree, nevertheless she did not oppose Ding Ning.
The old year passed with the sound of fireworks. The new year arrived. The stable Qin Dynasty formally entered Yuanwu Year Twelve. Emperor Yuanwu had held the throne for twelve years.
The new year had a new year atmosphere. Wang Taixu had ordered people to decorate Xue Wangxu’s small courtyard in a festive manner. Couplets were glued to the gates, and appliques on the windows. Some cloth had even been hung on the naked old pear tree in the courtyard and also covered the ceiling.
Under the warm sunlight, Ding Ning, Xue Wangxu, Zhang Yi and Wang Taixu sat at a small square table under the pear tree to bathe in the sunlight and drink tea.
Smelling the scent of meat in the alley, Xue Wangxu said earnestly, “Just by the accomplishment of having all families and households eat meat, the Holy One can be proud.”
Wang Taixu was very touched and said emotionally, “Regardless of the attitudes the powerful in Changling hold towards us, in my view, letting the people of Changling eat well, and dress warm is more meaningful than conquering another city.”
Zhang Yi said with admiration, “The Holy One is a virtuous one rarely seen in history. The empress and the two ministers are naturally great helpmeets to the Holy One. It is a great accomplishment to have tens of thousands of people live in buildings, farmers with fields. Even more so when people are well-fed, well-clothed, and living in prosperity.”
Ding Ning took a sip of hot tea. He did not express any opinion but he laughed disdainfully inside.
Right now, almost everyone in Changling greatly loved Emperor Yuanwu who had been on the throne for a dozen years. But could the greatest of achievements erase the crimes of a person?
If all people said it could, he would not agree.
At least, Zhangsun Qianxue would stand on his side.
A youth dressed in new robes appeared at the courtyard gates.
Zhang Yi looked up and saw this youth in new robes. His expression turned conflicted as he said, “Shen Yi, while my junior sect brother Ding Ning has reached realm three, you do not have to be in so much of a hurry. It is not good to fight on the new year.”
The visiting youth was Shen Yi from Guanzhong who had a promise with Ding Ning to fight after he had his breakthrough. His expression had originally been somewhat hesitant and uncertain. When he heard Zhang Yi speak, he turned around hurriedly so Zhang Yi and Ding Ningsaw his back. At the same time, he explained quickly in embarrassment, “I do not carry a sword, I have not come to fight.”
Zhang Yi’s brow immediately eased and he said warmly, “This is good, you can first sit down and drink tea.”
Zhang Yi was born with the ability to make people relax and feel close. Shen Yi immediately sighed in relief and his nervousness disappeared.
“Thank you for your two stalks of Three Yang grass.” Ding Ning smiled at this straightforward youth from Guanzhong who was stepping into the courtyard.
Shen Yi saw Ding Ning’s smile and grew more relaxed. He first bowed deeply to Wang Taixu and Xue Wangxu before he looked at Ding Ning and said, “I heard the news you had a breakthrough two days go. Your rate surpasses An Baoshi’s and Jing Liuli’s. I wanted to come find you, but when I think of your advancement speed, I cannot rival it, and have become dispirited. I have hesitated for many days before coming today.”
Ding Ning said calmly, “Quick progress in the first three realms does not mean anything.”
“Because of the breakthrough promise, I cannot just keep hiding from you.” Shen Yi looked at him and explained. “But I feel conscious, and like your Senior Sect Brother Zhang Yi says, it is not good to fight in the new year. So, I came here to visit you for the new year.”
Xue Wangxu smiled slightly and praised. “As expected of a youth who came from the eight hundred miles of mountains in Guanzhong. You are open and direct.”
Shen Yi flushed slightly. He gathered his courage and said, “Cave Master Xue, if I may be so bold to ask a favor?”
Xue Wangxu stilled slightly. His dim eyes suddenly lit up and said, “What?”
Shen Yi said, “I have never entered a sword school before this … will Cave Master Xue be able to recommend me to the exam for White Goat Cave?”
“White Goat Cave has merged with Green Vine Sword School. You mean you want to become a student of Green Vine Sword School and become sect brothers with Zhang Yi and Ding Ning?” Xue Wangxu immediately stroked his beard and laughed. “This is great.”
Ding Ning was slightly speechless.
In the past, Xue Wangxu had implied he had intentions about Shen Yi. He had not expected Shen Yi to take the initiative to request this.
Shen Yi’s face filled with joy. He looked at Xue Wangxu who was laughing and said excitedly, “So Cave Master agrees?”
Xue Wangxu looked at this excited Guanzhong youth and said, “As long as you do not worry it will hamper your future. I made an exception to accept Ding Ning, so it is no matter for me to make another exception. I think that Di Qingmei will be happy for me to take the burden and accept such an exceptional student for Green Vine Sword School.”
Hearing Xue Wangxu agree immediately, Shen Yi’s mouth dried in his joy. He opened his mouth but couldn’t speak.
Ding Ning shook his head and did not state an opinion. He asked Shen Yi calmly, “Why have you suddenly had such a thought?”
Shen Yi said, “I heard you are going to attend the Min Mountain Sword Trials. I thought that even if I fight freely with you now and win, there is nothing to be proud of. You started cultivating last year. Also, when I think back to your sword moves that defeated me, I feel that I may still lose if we fight freely now. Since I cannot surpass you now, I think the best is to follow in your footsteps and watch as you progress.”
Xue Wangxu smiled slightly upon hearing this and said, “Good, know your enemy to win.”
Ding Ning frowned slightly but before he spoke, Shen Yi interrupted. “Ding Ning, do not misunderstand. I am not doing this completely for Xie Rou.”
Zhang Yi’s gaze grew warmer. He knew that Shen Yi had decided on this first because Ding Ning’s performance had caused Shen Yi to realize some of his shortcomings, but the more important reason was he respected Ding Ning and Xue Wangxu.
“Since Cave Master has agreed, you are already a student of my school and have to abide by some courtesies.” So he looked warmly at Shen Yi and said, “How come you are still calling him Ding Ning?”
Shen Yi stilled and immediately reacted. He bowed excitedly and respectfully to Ding Ning and Zhang Yi, saying, “Greetings to Senior Sect Brother Ding Ning, Eldest Sect Brother Zhang Yi.”
“This is good.” Xue Wangxu glanced over Zhang Yi and Ding Ning. Then he smiled at Wang Taixu. He said, “He’s one who is between these two. Honest and direct, but not nagging like Zhang Yi, daring and brave but not as cool-headed as Ding Ning who lacks the rashness of youth.”
Wang Taixu smiled upon hearing this and said, “It is not good to be cool-headed and serious?”
Xue Wangxu said seriously, “Of course it is not very good. When one is too intellectual and considering, they will be restrained sometimes.”
Ding Ning only said, “I am going to Fish Market in awhile.”
Shen Yi immediately said, “May I come along?”
Looking at Ding Ning who had turned around, he added, embarrassed, “Senior Brother Ding Ning, I do not want to follow you constantly, but I have just come to Changling and have never been to an interesting place like Fish Market.”
Translator Ramblings: Sheng Yi is such a honorable and straightforward person.