From the corner of his eye he glimpsed drops of his sweat falling into the thick grass and immediately evaporating. He pulled up some grass as he walked along, stuffed it into his mouth and chewed vigorously, with such exaggerated movements of his jaw that he looked as if he were imitating an old horse chomping its hay. Even the grass tasted different these days and had lost its old fragrance. It cheered him up to think of that. The knife-scar on the left side of his face was still a vivid purple, a colour he liked.
He knew that this was likely to have a depressing effect, not just on the grass, but on people too, so he summoned all his energy and with a great bellow made a dash for the top of the hill. When he got there, his breath was coming in loud gasps, and he distinctly felt the dark cloud brush his shoulders as it slipped menacingly away in the direction of the valley. As the cloud passed overhead, the water of the winding Halhala River changed colour.
How dull and murky the river looked now, like the blade of a rusty knife! Yes, they were tents, not yurts, he thought to himself, because they belonged to Zhang Shu.
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The used condoms they left behind when they went home were the only rubber articles to be found in the area. People said Zhang Shu used to chuckle happily whenever he heard these noises. As he stood on top of the hill, looking down at the holiday village and its brightly-coloured tents dotted all over the valley, his feelings were very mixed.
He was fifty now, and here he was again, returning alone to the banks of the Halhala, the river which had witnessed his youth, and earning his living by working metal in a forge. The Halhala meandered back and forth, impressing a memory of the hills on the river, and of the river on the hills.
The hills and the river will never forget each other, he thought—the creature with the worst memory is man, who remembers nothing but money and women. As he was thinking this, he noticed that the dark cloud had moved away, not after all as threatening as it had appeared. The scene in the valley below was sparkling in the sunshine again, as if nothing had happened.
The good old rock-solid Halhala valley! He followed the narrow path downhill. That was how Li Liru had died, when she stumbled and fell. He could smell the scent of the wild roses, coming up to greet him, a scent so strong it took him by surprise. The tourists were always bowled over by it. The wild roses of the Halhala valley have a murderous fragrance, they are flowers 3 which kill without compunction. He was acutely aware that this holiday village belonged to the company owned by the prosperous Zhang Shu, and that he was merely a blacksmith who made Halhala knives.
The scent of the wild roses in the valley came to greet him, mixed with the smell of the French perfumes worn by the tourists. He smiled bitterly as he walked towards the setting sun, feeling there was nothing he could do to change the situation. For them, the days were far too long. Though sometimes, he thought to himself, liquor was indeed a knife, and sometimes men were its whetstones.
They all appeared very relaxed—the alcohol tasted mellow and had integrity. Yes, you could say that some kinds of alcohol, like some men, have moral integrity. He greeted the men, all of whom he knew to be small businessmen. He knew, of course, that that was what people round here called him. Though he produced all sorts of metal objects, including horseshoes, in his forge on the bank of the Halhala River, the most well-known were the various kinds of knives he made.
The fact that he always quenched them at night conferred a certain air of mystery on him. It was dark now, but his mood was much better, and he reached out his hands for a big bowl of the liquor and gulped down a mouthful of it. Yes, that was good stuff, it went straight to the bottom of your heart, without stopping on the way.
He listened with his eyes closed, already feeling the effects of the alcohol. One of them shook his head. The thought made him conscious once more of his own inferiority. If there was no use for knives in Paradise, would a blacksmith like him be able to get in? He bowed his head and drank, saying nothing more. The men brightened up at once, their faces shining with delight, and almost fell over themselves to make them welcome. They made space for them and asked them to sit down. She had a thin face and pretty, slanting eyes—she looked as if she never had enough to eat.
He grabbed hold of her fragile little arm and looked hard at the bracelet. The girl, growing alarmed, removed her arm from his grasp, but he kept asking her where she got the bracelet. She jumped up and ran out of the yurt. His face darkened, and he tried to explain that the bracelet was a truly fine piece of craftsmanship, but the men were still laughing at him, all of them talking at once and encouraging him to run after her.
Furious, he slammed his large bowl down on the small table. The atmosphere in the yurt had suddenly become very hostile. One of the men, looking nervous, instinctively reached down and felt for the knife concealed in his boot. They were all looking at the purple scar on his left cheek. It was very nearly the same colour as the wild roses in the Halhala valley.
The blacksmith said nothing. Behind his corpulent figure appeared two burly fellows who were obviously his bodyguards. Zhang greeted the blacksmith, walked straight over to where he was sitting and tapped him on the shoulder. The other fellows stood up and, one by one, slipped outside. He asked Zhang what had made them leave so fast, and Zhang chuckled.
Well, if you want to get rich, go and see Mr Mu at once! Zhang chuckled and congratulated him on being so sensible. He followed Zhang out of the shabby yurt and saw in the distance the flames of the bonfires leaping skywards. The fires seemed somehow to have affected the scent of the roses in the night air, and their perfume now had a kind of rankness to it. One of the bodyguards went inside to announce their arrival, the other stood sentinel outside the opening and ordered the blacksmith to hand over the bowl he had tucked inside his shirt.
He frowned, and a rush of blood to the scar on his left cheek flushed it an even deeper purple. Zhang Shu shot him a look, clearly a warning: when a small animal has an audience with a large one, it has to be timid and on its best behaviour, otherwise it will be gobbled up. The blacksmith betrayed no signs of anxiety—after all, why would a blacksmith need to panic? He calmly pulled aside the curtain over the entrance and went into the tent. So this creature was Mr Mu, was it?
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Well, well! So this was what a rich man looked like! What a strange animal—just skin and bones! His silvery hair and piercing eyes reminded the blacksmith so much of his father that he almost cried out. Before his father had died of stomach cancer at the age of seventy-three, he had had a head of silvery hair just like this, and the same piercing gaze, the same emaciated body.
The only difference was that his father had been poor, and Mr Mu was rich.
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Wealth and poverty, what a world of difference there was between the two. He asked the blacksmith to make him a sword, six feet long and with a blade four inches wide. He jumped to his feet, with loud expressions of gratitude. No, he knew nothing. With a smile, Mr Mu dismissed him.
Outside, Zhang Shu hurried over to greet him.
He set off into the darkness of the night, heading for his forge beside the river. He behaved very strangely, like an owl—he was never seen in the day, and only ever appeared at night. Although he was dumb, he always seemed to be trying to say something, opening his mouth but never managing to make any sounds. The blacksmith had worked out that the lad wanted him to teach him how to work a forge and make things out of metal, and after all why not? He took it from him, opened it with his teeth and swallowed a mouthful. He was feeling content, and knew that his good humour was a direct result of being offered all that money—8, yuan 8 mao and 8 fen.
He gulped down some more of the liquor. Dumb Boy lifted his head and looked intently into the night sky, as if he knew what the blacksmith was thinking. When the lad understood what he meant, he gesticulated back, signalling that a request like that made him feel uneasy. The fire was dying down. He put his hand up to feel the scar on his face, and with a smile told the boy that he had a fine piece of steel hidden away in a good spot, and now that it was dark and there was nobody around it would be a good time to go and dig it up.
The boy immediately ran off and came back with a spade, which he handed to him. He shouldered the shovel and walked down to the foot of Nameless Hill, where there was a wood of black pines, with Dumb Boy hard on his heels. They walked a long way in among the black pines. His block of fine steel was buried at the foot of a big pine. He hurried over to the tree with the shovel, and started to dig. How it brought back the past, which had faded in his mind! All those years ago, when they were planting the trees, he and Li Liru had secretly fallen in love, and that same tree had witnessed their first kiss.
At last there was a clang, as the spade struck something hard. He squatted down to feel around in the hole—yes!
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His fine piece of self-hardening manganese steel was still there, and even after being buried for six months it showed no signs of rust. The sky was growing lighter by this time, and he ran like the wind, the steel on his shoulder, emerging from the pine-wood well ahead of the blacksmith, who was feeling old and tired. He had walked tall and straight back then, and never got breathless.
All of a sudden, and to his great surprise, the blacksmith noticed what he took to be a rock on the side of the hill, a rock he had never seen before. Is that right? She was in a shock brigade of educated youths who were going up the hill to fell some trees for timber, and she slipped and fell halfway up.
Time had raced by, and now the orphaned daughter of that young woman had grown up herself, and was working as a hostess in the Halhala valley. His stumbling figure looked like a kite with a broken string. Up above, the tiny silhouette of Xiao Qing looked to him like a sapling vibrating in the last echoes of the lingering sound. Shop By Product Type. Back Swords.
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Sold Out! Circa The remains of this sword are housed in the Museum of London, and as the name suggests, was dredged from the River Thames where it flows through London. This replica features steel parts, a wood and leather grip and a tempered high carbon steel blade. The scabbard, with decorative parts, is included. Write a Review. Be the first to review this item. Contact Us.