Mighty Dragon Crosses the River (hereafter Mighty Dragon) was published in 1984. It’s a pretty typical novel for Yun Zhongyue, as it is set in the Ming dynasty and features historical figures and/or organizations. Yun Zhongyue is known for his acute attention to historical detail. Thus, his novels are more “realistic” than most. He even pays attention to the travel permits required during the Ming dynasty to move from one place to another. The lack of such a permit often becomes a source of conflit his characters have to overcome. Because Yun Zhongyue’s characters are not supernaturally powerful; they can’t take out swathes of men by themselves. A mass of government troops is still formidable than even the strongest single martial arts expert.
And Yun Zhongyue’s protagonists are often not part of the martial fraternity or the jianghu at all at the beginning, but get drawn into that world for one reason or another. Mighty Dragon is a bit different in this regard because the main characters are already martial arts experts of the martial fraternity. But many of his novels feature regular people struggling to get by and survive the world they’ve been thrust into. And needing a job is something his characters have to deal with. His novels are not like most where characters wonder around without any money or belongings, yet somehow never find it difficult to pay for things or otherwise survive. Mighty Dragon is also the only one of Yun Zhongyue’s eighty novels (yes, you read that right, and he wrote every one himself without the help of a ghostwriter–by hand) to feature a group of main characters: The Retribution Gods of the Four Seas. His other novels feature a single protagonist.
The excerpt below is a small portion of the first chapter, starting from the beginning. I will post more about Yun Zhongyue in future releases. He’s one of my favorite wuxia authors, and unfortunately he is grossly underrated. But if you want good, detailed historical wuxia, no one does it better.
During the Jiaqing reign of the Ming dynasty, scourge of the martial fraternity, the Maitreya Cult, and the White Lotus Society colluded with local authorities in Xiangyu to kill and lord it over the people, and established secret circles. The chivalrous Elite Retribution Gods of the Four Seas put up resistance to drive out the riffraff and protect the people, swearing to eradicate the evildoers. The led to deadly conflict between the Eight Great Elites of the Light Path and the Four Great Dark Path Overlords. The Retribution Gods of the Four Seas fell victim to a cunning trap and barely escaped alive; and the Violent Fiends of the World, sinister and vicious, disappeared like smoke…
What a big snowstorm!
During the twelvth month it really ought to snow; at the end of the year if there is no snow then there won’t be a good harvest the next year. But it had been snowing for half a month now. The snow was already three foot deep and it didn’t look like it would stop snowing soon, which was a big deal for travelers hurrying home for the new year.
Thirty Mile Pavilion came into view. The little pavilion stood forlorn and empty among the wind and snow. Travelers heading west toward Jingxiang had left long ago, and setting off on their journeys at dawn, travelers heading north would not reach this place until dusk.
Carriages at the post relay station had long since ceased operation, so travelers had to rely on their own two legs, trudging through knee-deep snow. Even if someone had a horse he would have to frequently dismount and lead the horse on foot.
The pavilion sat at a three-way fork in the road, and on the sign marker was carved the words: Left to Fengle Town; Right to Jingmen Prefecture.
The main road was empty, wind and snow blanketed the sky, the ground pure white as far as the eye could see, bitterly cold, no sign of any people or animals.
A solitary figure appeared on the southern side of the main road heading north, leaving clear footprints behind him. The traveler had walked a long distance; the large bundle on his back was covered with snow. A black-fox skin hat was pulled over his ears, exposing only two large sparkling eyes. Next to the bundle was tied a bare, unadorned, unremarkable long sword, the scabbard spotted and peeling, a very ancient look.
On the main road on the right-hand side appeared a figure.
From the direction of the town another person came. Judging by the distance and speed of the three sides, the three people ought to meet at the fork at Thirty Mile Pavilion.
Finally, they met as if on schedule at the fork in the road.
“Eh! Is that you?” the traveler coming from Fengle suddenly stopped and called lightly.
In fact, all three were wearing fur hats, and all had them covering their ears and mouth, so it wasn’t easy to tell who each other was.
But from someone’s dress and adornments you can recognize someone you are familiar with.
The traveler coming from the prefectural city also recognized the other person, who wore a magnificent long sword on his waist, the hilt inlaid with four flashing emeralds; it was certainly a precious object.
“What? Shouldn’t it be me?” The traveler coming from the prefectural city raised the Guanyin bamboo staff, famous in this area, that he held in his hand. “You’re one of the Four Great Dark Path Overlords. The famous Superb God Ge Dafeng. It’s incredible to see you out here in Anle prefecture all by yourself on this deserted road in a snowstorm.”
“Sir, don’t be sarcastic.” Superb God glanced at the traveler from the south who was standing to the side watching curiously. “You’re Coldblade Thunderpearl Ouyang Hong, one of the Eight Great Elites of the Light Path, who roam about like a gang of scoundrels, with many lackeys at your side, very imposing. To see you by yourself today, could it be your gang of scoundrels was eaten up by some fiendish demon?”
These two had given tit for tat, yet the traveler from the south hadn’t left. He stood to the side watching them, sizing up these two renowned master-hands of the Dark and Light Path who shook the jianghu. He seemed quite interested.
“Out of all the fiendish demons in the world, there are few with the guts to challenge me, Ouyang Hong,” Coldblade Thunderpearl said proudly. “Do you mean to say that you have the guts?”
“The time has not yet arrived for that, sir,” Superb God said coldly. “But someday it will. Oh! You’re coming from the prefectural city?”
“Yes, heading to Jingzhou. The Xianling imperial mausoleum in the prefectural city has been completed, so all the attendants are gathering. I got a late start on my journey.”
“You people delight in playing up to the powerful, cuddling up with government officials, love to boast and suck up to them. The tomb is completed, what does that have to do with you all? Hmph! I have something to attend to in the prefectural city; you won’t follow me?”
“I don’t need to follow you to get a handle on you. I have friends in the ciry who will keep an eye on you. You’d best not stir up trouble in the city. This is my friend Drifting Cloud Lightning Zeng’s territory; you can’t intimidate him.”
From the direction of the prefectural city, from a li distant appeared five people tearing along through the snow, one in front, four behind. One look and you’d know this was a pursuit, four pursuing one.
The snow was up to their knees and the pursuers and the one fleeing all struggled against it. They were only making slightly faster progress than a normal person would.
The three all saw the chase and turned to the north to watch.
Five li out was the Han River, over which was built West River Bridge. To the east of the bridge was the west gate of the prefectural city, and the tower on the gate of the inner city was called White Cloud Tower. It could be spotted from five li away, and was a magnificent sight.
“What’s going on?” Coldblade Thunderpearl said.
“You hit, I kill, that’s what’s going on.” Superb God said sarcastically, “It’s you chivarlous heroes; you see some injustice and come out to settle the dispute, while us Dark Path evildoers look on coldly to see the results!”
“They’re not your people?”
“I came from the mountains.” Superb God pointed to the way he had come. “Two old friends hiding out in the mountains lying low in comfort, would they be my people?”
The five people gradually drew near, the distance between the pursuers and the runaway was also gradually closing. The pursuers all had swords and sabres, but the runaway was empty-handed.
Coldblade Thunderpearl took off his bundle and tossed it in the pavilion, then removed his gloves, adjusted his sword, and prepared for action.
Chivalrous heroes of course had to intervene to help those in need, and he was one of the Eight Great Elites of the Light Path; helping those suffering from injustice when he came across it was only natural. He didn’t need Superb God to goad him, he would lend his hand in helping with this matter.
“Their lightness skill is good. None of them are ordinary-hands.” Superb God also cast off his bundle in the pavilion while he said this.
The travevler from the south stood in his original place, not moving or speaking. Two exceptional jianghu men of the Light and Dark Paths were present; a sensible person would have put some distance between them.
The runaway saw there were people in front of the pavilion and slowed his pace.
“Don’t make any moves. We can talk this over,” Coldblade Thunderpearl yelled.
His yell was not loud enough, urging the runaway to his doom. The man was startled, the snowstorm too intense. How could he hear clearly? He still thought the people in front of the pavilion were there to intercept him, so he was shocked, and instead turned and headed along the side of the road toward the frozen woods. This split second delay was a big mistake.
The fastest pursuer leapt out at a slant, draw his sabre in midair, brought it down……
“Stop!” Coldblade Thunderpearl roared. He flew over, using his exceptional Tread Snow Without a Trace lightness skill, rushing to save the fleeing man.
Too late, the sharp blade made contact.
In the chaotic snowstorm the fleeing man’s shoulder was hit by the sabre, splitting the sheepskin outer jacket, splitting the muscle and shooting out blood. He fell down heavily in the snow.
Coldblade Thunderpearl arrived and his Guanyin bamboo staff shot out like lightning.
“Clang!” The sharp sabre was knocked to the side, just averting the second sabre strike.
The man holding the sabre was rocked back eight feet. His feet sank into the snow and he nearly fell down. The renowned Coldblade Thunderpearl really deserved his reputation. His staff possessed power and his skill had reached the highest level.
The second person arrived. As soon as he stopped his sword was out of its scabbard.
“Who dares meddle in others’ business?” The man wielding the sword bellowed, “Are you all the God of Longevity trying to hang yourself because you don’t want to live a long life? Bastards!”
Not only did he have a haughty attitude, his cursing was vicious.
“You all! What are you three worth?”
The third and fourth man jumped in, one wielding a sword, the other a sabre, their four strange eyes hidden behind fur hats, staring ruthlessly at Superb God and the traveler. Obviously they planned to stop the two from teaming up with Coldblade Thunderpearl.
“Ha ha ha ha……” Superb God’s rage turned to laughter, his hand gripped his sword hilt. “Ouyang Hong, today I fear is the first time since we’ve made names for ourselves that you and I, Ge Dafeng, have been called bastards to our face. Your Thunderpearl and my Superb nicknames I fear will no longer inspire fear in others! We might as well die. You take two, I take two, what do you say?”
“I want to talk things out with them.” Coldblade Thunderpearl’s cultivation was much better; he didn’t lose his temper.
The two had revealed their titles.
A man has a reputation as sure as a tree has a shadow; not revealing their titles and being cursed, serves them right! The four men’s expressions changed and the weapons they had held aloft now instinctively lowered a few inches.
“Sir, you are Coldblade Thunderpearl Ouyang Hong?” The man who had cursed still talked wildly, “This matter, please don’t intervene.”
“I was just about to intervene.” Coldblade Thunderpearl’s eyes flashed a murderous aura. “The affairs of the world are the business of men of the world; I certainly will get involved.”
That person reached into his clothes and pulled out a four-inch square silver plate. It was inlaid with a gold image of the potbellied Maitreya Buddha, and above its shoulders was the word: Compassion.
“Are you sure you want to get involved in our affairs?” the man asked coldly as he raised the Buddhist image in his hand.
Coldblade Thunderpearl was shocked.
Bringing disaster to Shanxi and Shaanxi, killing tens of thousands, the Maitreya Cult, the White Lotus Society calamities, their latent power spread throughout the land. They were the biggest secret society. Three years ago, the second leader Li Fuda nearly framed the entire civil and military high officials in the imperial court.
No one dared to pluck the tiger’s whiskers; no one dared meddled in the cult’s affairs, including the government: Because the reigning emperor now wanted to use this cult, to make use of one to get rid of another, and kill all the disobedient high officials.
Of course, they wouldn’t act in public, much less foolishly admit to belonging to the White Lotus Society, as the society was still an illegal organization; so they were the Maitreya Cult, a semi-overt evil-doing cult.
Anlu prefecture was the emperor’s native place. Important members of the Maitreya Cult semi-openly worshipped here, as if it were a matter of course.
Superb God, who was thirty feet away, also saw the gold-figured silver medallion.
One was a famed Light Path person, one a famed Dark path overlord. They had seen these symbols before and knew what status the medallion symbolized.
“Ge Dafeng, do you also want to get involved?” The medallion-holding man handed the medallion to Superb God so he could see. “You won’t get involved. Sir.”
Superb God was also stunned. His hand left his sword hilt.
“You haven’t left yet?” The man holding the medallion arrograntly asked Coldblade Thunderpearl.
Coldblade Thunderpearl took a deep breath, looked around.
The man who was attacked was not yet dead. He was struggling in the snow, groaning, getting up, then falling back down.