The Navel Frog 6

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(6)

The navel frog was carried by the Ohime while he was still inside her kimono. He felt vital and cozy as like he was back to his mother belly. Gradually he smelled something familiar. He remembered that soggy and steamy exactly the same of the first day in the palace when he saw the navel of her father.

The Ohime said: “This is the private hot spring of the palace. It is exclusive to the royal families. This place is warm and moist all year around even in the harsh winter. You can stay here until the next spring when the snow melted that you can go back to the rice field.”

The navel frog was grateful for the kind thought of Ohimi but silent. He felt somewhat melancholy. He totally forgot the purpose of coming here. He was reminded unwillingly that the wise heron said: After you get one fell in love with you, remember to get a kiss for proof, then your navel will be disappeared.

He didn’t care about the proof and his navel. But he did want to kiss her. Though, even he was kissed, and his navel disappeared, that meant nothing to him anymore. He knew that he could not survive without the rice field, but he perhaps could not survive without her either. He was struggling.

During his silence, the Ohimi walked into the pool of hot spring. As the navel frog was immersed into the warm glossy water, he instinctively swam. He swam and swam and was out of the kimonos. He had never known that he could swim so well. He enjoyed the lukewarm water very much. It was so soft, so tender and so sensitive that he felt like kissing.

Yes, he was kissing indeed with the Ohime. But, no, she was not the Ohime, not anymore. She transformed to a frog, a rain frog as same as him.

The two rain frogs swam and swam in the spring and hid under a rock. Suddenly a human was screaming from the distance, said: “Oh! No, Ohime sama is disappeared!”

Uba ran to the pool, saw that only her white silky kimonos were left and floating on the water. She was almost fainted. The Ohime’s father heard that her daughter was disappeared, he jumped out of the room and ran to the pool. He was flustered as he saw the kimono she left. He asked the uba severely: “Where did she go?”

The uba said timidly: “Ohime sama became…a… frog.”

The Ohime’s father was astounded but calm, asked again: “Did you see that?”

The uba was frightened, she knelt on the floor, said tremblingly: “No, but… Ohime sama was just still there. When I came over, I saw… two frogs swimming. It was extremely unusual to see frogs in the winter.”

The Ohime’s father stepped into the pool, probing around her loving daughter until he saw a little green thing emerged from a piece of rock. He intuited that was her daughter from the way she looked at him. And next to her was the other frog. They were coyly hiding and fearfully watching.

The father was watching back wistfully. After a while, he walked back and told the uba, said decisively: “From now on, no one is allowed to get into this hot spring, and from now on, no one is allowed to harm any rain frogs under my regime. You tell everyone, this is the King’s order. Do you understand?”

The uba immediately bowed and said: “Yes! I understand.”

Before the cherry blossomed again, the couple of rain frog hopped and hopped back to the rice field. The navel, no, his navel had been disappeared. The gero frog saw the first frog by the rice field was his buddy frog.  When the buddy frog saw him, he was overjoyed. He hopped up and down, shouting and calling the others frogs, at the same time said: “Where have you been? My friend, we had looked for you last year before hibernated. We had counted and counted but still one less. We thought you must not survive through the winter. Now you are here! What a miracle!”

The gero frog hugged the buddy and the other buddies and relatives. He introduced the Ohime frog to them.  He was glad that she was welcomed and accepted. Soon there would be the busy time to breed and nurse the new generation of rain frogs. Every rain frog was happy to have one more couple frog.

Under the bloom of cherry trees. Each couple of rain frog was looking for their places to do so. The gero frog and the ohime frog couldn’t find a seclude place for themselves. The ohime frog was looking so shy and uncomfortable. The gero frog hence brought her to the water passage. He held her hands, kissed her below a rock, but suddenly he was picked up by a long beak. The ohime frog was horrified, she hopped out the rock and said toughly: “Put him down! Please! Don’t you hurt him?”

The heron then looked at the frog in his beak and found that it was the navel frog, he immediately dropped him down, but saw that his navel was gone. He said slyly: “Ha! You have no more navel. I should have eaten you.”

The gero frog said playfully: “Well! Why didn’t you?”

The heron said: “Ah! You are getting much tougher. I knew that, it is more difficult to pick the rain frogs than the clams now. We can’t even get closer to the rice field, the humans will shu…shu….” The heron paddled his wings, as he looked at the ohime frog, said mysteriously: “This elegant rain frog must be the human one you saw the navel.”

When he mentioned about that, the gero frog had something to compliant, said: “Why are you so wise, but didn’t tell me ahead she would become rain frog after kissing me?”

The wise heron shrugged his feather, said rashly: “How could I tell you everything? I know so many things. You didn’t care about that at that time, did you? You just wanted to get rid of your navel. Why should I bother to tell you something you were not interested?”

The gero frog was embarrassed, but he had to admit, nodded and said: “All right, you are always the wise one. Over all, I am happy to have her, but I am sorry for she has to separate with her father.”

Abruptly, there were a hustling in the rice field. They were wondered what happened. The heron immediately flew up to the sky to see. When he came down, he said: “It was the King came to plant the rice seedling. That is why so noisy!”

“My father?” The ohime frog was thrilled. She leaped so high, hugged the gero frog, and the heron as well. Since then, the King came to plant the first row of rice seedling in the spring became the custom of this oriental island. As all the rain frogs were protected and lived happily, the once only navel frog and his princess frog loved each other until forever.

∼The end∼

 

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The Navel Frog 5

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(5)

The navel frog was captured and imprisoned in a bird cage. The big human that he saw the belly was crazy about him. He brought all the precious things in the palace and all the good food he could find in the realm he dominated to please his beloved frog. But the navel frog was not interested at all.

The big human was thwarted. He shook the bird cage and shouted: “What do you want me to do? That you would be happy about me?”

“Nothing.” The navel frog has not been eating for many days. He was weak and tired, said feebly: “I wanted nothing from you. All the things you brought means nothing to me. I cannot eat gold and silver. I only eat flies and mosquitos.  I can not wear silk and brocade. I only need fresh water to cover my skin. I cannot be happy if I was in this bird cage. I will die if you didn’t release me now.”

The big human didn’t believe, said grudgingly: “You won’t die! Why? It is so warm and nice here. You see, it is snowing so hard outside. If you were outside now, you will surely die.”

The navel frog clung on the bars, looked outside at the garden through the window. It was just a piece of white and the grass field he used to catch mosquitos and flies was totally covered with that so-called snow. He had never seen such a scene in his life. He was devastated but enthralled, suddenly he missed someone very much, said unconsciously: “I wonder how the Ohime is now? In this kind of cold day, none of a little sound she can hear, no chirps, no tweets, no geros…”

The big human heard that he mentioned about his daughter, he struggled more, said painfully: “My loving daughter is sick. I cannot lose her. But I cannot keep my mind out of you either. I love you both, but you two love each other.”

“The Ohime is sick?” The navel frog was so worried, said: “Then, what are you still doing here? You should have been with her.”

The big human said with agony: “But, I can’t, I can’t put you down. I just can’t…”

The navel frog realized that he was bewitched. He wished the wise heron was here, that he could ask him how to resolve it. He actually felt pity to this big human. He was not supposed to suffer for this, said: “It was all my fault. I am terribly sorry.  I should have not seen your navel at the beginning. I told you that it was just an accident. I didn’t intend to see it.”

The big human was vexed. He heard the frog said about it many times. But he couldn’t control himself. He was crazily in love with this little thing. He wanted so much that it could love him too. He was pondering how this happened. He tried to reason it: “But… why? I cannot forget about you since you have seen my navel!”

The navel frog saw that he was willing to listen, so he leaped in front of him, looked at his big face, told him everything honestly: “It was a trick! Just a trick. In order to get rid of my unnecessary navel, I need to be in love with a human. In order to have a human loved me. I have to see his navel.”

“It was just a trick?” The big human sounded awakening.

The navel frog said unthinkingly: “Yes, I supposed that it is wrong to trick someone to be loved. I should have not believed in it at the first place. The wise heron is too wise but irresponsible.  Well! He is migrating now. I don’t think he can hear, I don’t think he will know what is happening to me in fact, and I don’t think I can see him next spring…”

While the navel frog was murmuring to himself. Suddenly, he heard a sound of click. He looked back and saw that the door of the bird cage was opened. He was surprised. He cautiously moved himself outside of the cage, looked around the room stuffed with all the valuable things in the human world, but he didn’t see the big human who brought them here. He wondered when and why he left without a word.

He was free now. But he was scared. He didn’t know what he should do and where he should go? Looking at outside, it was totally white that looked so frightful to him. Since he was born, he had never seen so much white. And snow was something absolutely unknown to him. He jumped from the table, hopped and hopped towards to the door. The door was left opened. He was almost frozen instantly by a blast.

He thought of the Ohime. Thought of if she was sick, he wanted to at least sing for her, even though he knew nothing about healing a human. This simple wish gave him the courage to make the first hop out of the room. He hopped and hopped on the snowy path. A hop by a hop, hopping back to the pond of the Ohime’s room.

But he lost on the way for everything was covered with snow. All the identified objects were concealed and the grass field he used to passing by were generally became just a plain. He lost his sense of direction. It was freezing cold and windy. He was hungry and weak. He finally stopped hopping, and felt like this was his last moment. He opened his round big eyes, gazing at this crystal white snow flake, and sang his favorite song: “Gero… gero… gero… gero… gero…”

He didn’t know that he was actually just behind the window of Ohime’s room. The ill Ohime heard the geros. She immediately woke up from bed, ran out of the room, and found the rain frog as like a little raindrop on the snow. When she saw him, he was about to become ice. The Ohime pick it up on her palm, said tearfully: “Don’t die!”

The rain frog didn’t answer. He has already lost conscious. The Ohime was very sad. She didn’t know why she just couldn’t let it go. She was sick and has been laying on bed for many days. She was only wearing a couple layers of Kimono. But her body was still warmer than the rain frog. So, she put it into her collars, that she wished it could be revived.

The navel frog slipped down to her belly where was so warm and soft. After a while, his tiny body was gradually revitalized. When he opened his eyes again, he found himself laying on a belly button and saw a hand protecting him through the white kimono.

He was amazed, said faintly: “You have such a beautiful navel, but do you know? You don’t have to fall in love with me even I have seen it.”

“What do you mean?” the Ohime replied with her delicate voice: “Do you know? I have… perhaps… fallen in love with you long ago, from the first time you sang gero for me.”

The Ohime replied to him?! The navel frog was so joyful and jumped from her belly, said: “You…you can hear me, you can understand what I said!”

The Ohime asked: “Seeing the navel… is it the reason why my father could understand your words?”

“Yes…but, it was different… that…I can really talk to you.” The navel frog said shyly.

The Ohime smiled and said: “Now we can talk with words, but don’t you think, we were also talking when you gero ……” Suddenly she sneezed.

The navel frog said caringly: “You are sick. You must go back to the room.”

The Ohime stood up, said sturdily: “No, I don’t want to go back to the room anymore. I wanted to bring you to a place.”

“A place?” the navel frog wondered.

The Navel Frog 4

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(4)

The navel frog was still gero gero for the Ohime, but got no chance to see her navel until one night she came to the pond with a dish of human food.

She was looking for him in the pond and said intently: “I brought you something to eat tonight? I wondered do you have enough food in the pond…”

With the glow of the full moon tonight, she could easier spot where the little rain frog. It was lying on a brown lotus leaf. The freshly green of his body was so appealing under the moonshine. She took the food from the plate and stick it out to the pond, said: “You see! this is dango, the traditional food for middle autumn. It was made by mochi, and it is round as the full moon.”

“Dango? Mochi?” the navel frog realized that he was getting more difficult to find insects around the pond and the grass field. They were dying out or hiding. He was starved for some days but he had never eaten human food. He was hesitant he wanted to taste it.

The Ohime saw that it had no response, she took back the dango and said: “You don’t like it probably. I am sorry I don’t know what you like…”

“No! I like it.” The navel frog jumped up and down from the lotus leaf as he said. The Ohime saw that he jumped so amusingly, she giggled and said: “I like your jumps, as much as your geros. You really know what I like and do please me a lot. But I don’t know what you like. I don’t even know what do you like to eat.” She was felting guilty.

The navel frog blurted out: “I like to see your navel.” But of course, she could only hear gero gero gero.

The Omine put the dango on the floor and said: “This dango is much bigger than you. You cannot eat perhaps, but you can play with it.”

The navel frog leaped again, and landed on the top of the dango. The ohime was gratified and laughed, said: “You are really so small. You are just about as big as my thumb.” As she said, she placed her thumb by the side of the rain frog to measure.

The navel frog was so closed to her that he could see her collars was opened. It was the great chance to jump inside and see her navel. However, he didn’t want to do that. He just couldn’t do such a nasty thing to her any more.

So, he leaped on her thumb instead. The Ohime was surprised it did so. She thought that these kind of little animals, birds or insects, would usually run away from the humans. But this rain frog didn’t. She felt instantly a special attachment with it. She lifted it in front of her eyes, gazed at it thoroughly, and said: “You are so beautiful.”

The navel frog was very moved, and said to her: “You are so beautiful too.”

While the two were gazing each other, suddenly someone shouted in the room: “My little princess, what are you doing out there?”

As that human said, he has already presented in front of them. The navel frog immediately recognized him, was the big human he saw his navel the first day he was in the palace. He was so scared to see him again. He jumped from the thumb of the Ohime back to the pond, and hid under a withered lotus leaf.

The Ohime said: “Chichiue! I am… just looking at the moon.” She was trying to covered up for the rain frog.

The Chichiue was her father, said: “Moon? What fun of looking at it? Come, I brought you many new toys, let come to see!”

The Ohime said submissively: “Yes, Chichiue.” Then she was walking away with him. The navel frog leaped out from the leaf and yelled: “No, don’t go! Please! I knew that you don’t want to play the toys, you wanted to be with me.”

As he yelled, the Chichiue stopped and looked back, said suspiciously to his daughter: “Did you say something?”

The Ohime answered gently: “No, Chichiue.”

The Chichiue shook his head, smiled and said: “Well, let’s go!”

“You are such a bulky ugly thing! How could you have such a delicate beautiful daughter!” The navel frog grumbled behind by himself. Unexpectedly, the Chichiue stopped and looked back at the pond again. This time he was annoyed, for he was pretty sure he heard something, said angrily: “Who is talking?”

The navel frog was shocked, it seemed that this bulky human was able to hear and understand his words. He then tested again, said loudly intentionally: “I think your daughter was in love with someone. And she liked to play with me more than with you.”

The Chichiue instantly stood his eyebrows and asked her daughter anxiously: “Are you in love with someone?”

The Ohime was so embarrassed asked by his father of this kind of question, she just blushed but didn’t answer.

The Chichiue laughed and said: “It is all right to be in love with someone, my daughter, you are already 12 years old. But the point is whom? Who are you in love with?”

The Ohime was totally baffled. She never thought of this kind of thing. She didn’t know why Chichiue suddenly came up with such a question.

As she was silent, the navel frog answered for her: “Your daughter is in love with me.”

“What did it say? And who are you?” The Chichiue marched ahead to the edge of pond, searching the sound where it came from. As he saw a frog leaping onto the lotus head, he momently smiled and bewildered, said: “Oh! It is you! My dear loved one. Don’t you know that I missed you so much!”

The navel frog didn’t know where he got the courage. He wasn’t afraid of this big human anymore, said frankly from his heart: “Yes, it is me. I saw your navel, but it was an accident. I didn’t mean it. I am very sorry. I don’t love you. I loved your daughter!”

Now, the Omihe also saw the rain frog. She was so stunned that her father was able to talk to him, she asked ardently: “Chichiue, you understand what it said? What does it just say?”

“This toad said it loves you!” The Chichiue was infuriated, as he said that, he seized the frog with his big palm, grasped it, and said madly: “Nonsense! It is crazy!” He shouted to the Ohime for the first time: “You can in love with anyone else, but not this toad!” After saying that, he grabbed the frog and left. Before he ran out of the house, he told the uba: “You kept eyes of her, don’t let her leave the room until I told her.”

The Ohime was so confused and frightened. The Chichiue had never been acting like that to her. And also, he was able to talk to the rain frog! He said it loves me?  What does it mean? What is happening? Am I in love with someone?

The Ohime was extremely perplexed and depressed.

The Navel Frog 3

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(3)

In the night, when everybody was gone, it was very quiet in the garden. There were no more chirping of birds and insects. Not a single cicada or cricket was left after the last day of summer. But a frog call was raised secretly.

“Gero …gero …gero …gero …gero…” The call was slow and hesitant, it sounded cautious and uncertain. The navel frog doubted it was the right time to call again. Perhaps it was rude to call so late in the night. When he saw the light in the room was eclipsed, he was disappointed. So, he stopped gero.

After he stopped, the rustle of gusty wind and the falling leaves were replaced. Unexpectedly, someone walked to the pond and muttered: “Are you still there?”

The navel frog was surprised and happy, but he didn’t respond right away. He listened to the silence for a while, then carefully gero once. The Ohimi was pleased as she confirmed that the rain frog was still there. She smiled and said quietly: “Why are you here? I have never seen a rain frog in the palace. I heard that they only were found in the rice field.”

The navel frog didn’t know how to answer. It was inappropriate to tell the truth, he believed.

The Ohimi said again: “You must be lost. Don’t worry, tomorrow I will ask someone bring you back to the rice field.”

“No! I don’t’ want to go back to the rice field…” The navel frog shouted. The Ohimi continued, as if she didn’t hear, said: “Even I like your gero and glad to have your companion, but I think you should go back to the rice field where you have your kind of friends.”

The navel frog leaped from the lotus leaf and said: “I am happy to be your companion too. I wanted to stay here, do you understand? You didn’t, did you?”

The Ohimi giggled and said: “Very nice sound. Even I don’t know why frogs gero a lot.”

She seemed didn’t understand a single word but only heard gero gero gero when he talked. As she turned around and walked away, the navel frog hurriedly gero twice to test.

The Ohime stopped, came back to the pond, ardently searching around to see where was the rain frog, and said pleasantly: “Gero, gero, I like your voice. Does it mean anything?” She didn’t wait for the answer since she realized that she was talking to herself: “If you were going back to the rice field tomorrow, could you please gero more tonight for me?”

Once she said, the navel frog gero three times readily before he took a deep breathe to gero continuously: “Gero, gero, gero, gero, gero, gero, gero ……” until the Ohime laughed.

She said: “That…. that is so nice! Thank you! You seemed understand what I said, but I am sorry, I can not understand what you said. If I did, that would be very nice.” After she said that, she slowly turned around and walked back to her room.

The navel frog leaped on the top of a lotus head, looking over her tiny shadow disappeared behind the paper door.  He now realized that it didn’t matter he talked or gero, she heard the same thing. Thus, he just kept gero gero gero dolefully for the rest of night.

The next day, the Ohime really asked some gardeners came to pick up the rain frog. She requested them to do the job gently and brought it back to the rice field tenderly. However, the gardeners have been looking for it all morning but couldn’t find anything even similar.

The Ohime supposed it probably left by itself. She was hoping it could reach the rice field safely. She heard that even the nearest rice field was mile away from the palace. However, when the night came, and the garden was quiet. She heard gero gero gero again. She was delighted to hear its voice again. She ran to the pond, knelt on the floor, looking for it, but it was too small to see in the dark. Nevertheless, the frog calling was promising each night to accompany her sweet dreams.

Many nights had passed by like that. The navel frog just gero for her but didn’t do anything about his navel. Yet, he worried about his navel less and less. He was joyfully singing each night and listening to what the Ohime said to him. The only thing he was dissatisfied that was he could not talk back to her.

One day, when the Ohime was not there in the room. The navel frog was sluggish. He lounged on the withering lotus leaf, having an autumn sunbath, and leisurely watching the drifting clouds. Suddenly, something dripped from the sky. He hopped to avoid, saw that was a smear of bird shit. He looked up to the sky, as a white shadow descended on the edge of pond, said rudely: “What are you still doing here? Idiot! Haven’t you seen her navel yet?”

It was the wise heron. The navel frog was alarmed and bothered, said: “No… I just haven’t gotten a chance.”

The heron paddled his wings, said agitated: “Don’t you know that you do not have much time. Have you noticed that it is getting colder and colder each day? You see! this lotus pond, when all the leaves and lotus heads were turned brown, there will be frost and snow…”

“So…” the navel frog didn’t get the point and the urgency. The heron signed and explained patiently: “I see, you are the first-year rain frog, you don’t know that there is no winter for the rain frogs, do you?”

“Winter? What does it look like?” the navel frog asked naively.

The heron proclaimed exaggeratedly: “The winter– is the time of resting, withering, declining and dying. There was no life and no motion. Only cold and cold. Everywhere is snow covered, no food, no fun and no ….”

“Really?” The navel frog was suspicious.

“And you! A rain frog…” The heron pointed at his nose, said sternly: “… has to be slept through the winter. If you were not, you surely have no second spring for your life.”

The navel frog started to believe and picnic, asked anxiously: “Then, what should I do? I don’t want to die. I wanted to see the next spring and the next summer.”

The heron flapped his wings in the air, said strictly: “See her navel or just forget about yours.”

“Yes, I will, I will see her navel. I felt that she is fond of me, but what the use of being eloquent as a frog? She actually couldn’t understand what I said. For all my words became gero gero to her ears.” The navel frog was frustrated.

The heron then calmed down to explain: “I don’t blame you for I didn’t tell you that.” He extended his long wings before said: “In this universe, you know, we have many many kinds of thing, but only humans are different from us. They cannot understand our talks. They cannot even understand each other talks. That was doomed, but there are still love in between them. So, you see, it all depends!”

“If it was like that, without communication, how can we fall in love?” The navel frog was disheartening.

The heron looked up to the sky and saw a group of goose passing by. He looked hustling, answered hastily: “Fall in love with heart not mouth, isn’t it?” After saying that, he flew to the sky as dropped his last word: “I have to migrate, see you next spring!”

The navel frog was helplessly seeing him off. He felt abruptly so lonely and scared.

 

The Navel Frog 2

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(2)

The navel frog then hopped and hopped on the dirt road. He accidentally leaped on an ox-cart that was just happened riding into the palace, where it was so far away for him to reach. He never thought he would be there of entire life. The ox-cart went through many buildings and finally stopped by the barn. A fishy odor came over as a group of humans unloading the baskets from the cart. The navel frog hastily hopped into the grass, avoiding to be trampled by their big feet.

The day was sunny and dry. The rain frog could not live without water for too long. He had to find something wet to dampen his body. He hopped and hopped, suddenly smelled soggy and felt steamy. He followed his sense, hopped through the grass field and found a place very special. It was so warm and moist even in the autumn. He felt rejuvenated as if he was still a tadpole.

When he was absorbed in the time of before he had a navel. Abruptly, a group of humans stumbled in with their huge shadows. He was shocked because the first time he saw so many naked human bodies in his life. They were not wearing clothes like the others in the rice field, but exposed their navels in the public. The navel frog remembered what the wise heron said: “The trick to make human falling in love with you is to see their navels.”

He didn’t expect he could see their navels easily and it was not only one but so many at the same time. However, he was not glad about that, for he didn’t want to be loved by all these bulky objects.

He immediately closed his eyes, but he had already seen one on a big round belly. This belly holder seemed had instantly enchanted by him. He found the little one by the grass at a glance. This big human jumped over near and said devouringly: “What a beautiful rain frog you are!”

The navel frog was so frightened when he saw this big human raised his hand trying to grab him. He hopped and fled into the grass straightaway. He was hopping and hopping with all his strength until he heard no more sound from him.

He stopped and panted, found that he was by a pond. The pond has grown lotus and their leaves were big enough to hold him. He jumped on one of it, moistened his body with the clear pond water, wetted his dry eyes and cracked mouth. Instantly he felt relaxed and released as he heard some wonderful sound flicking by his ears. He didn’t know what it was. He just had never heard something so wonderful before. He peered from the pond, looked around the place was quiet and neat, and then saw a small human object sitting inside a house. This human appeared to be much more approachable. The navel frog looked at her for a long time as she was flicking something that made those wonderful sound.

The sounds were so good to hear, that made him want to sing. Hence, he started singing his favorite song of the rain frog traditional hymn. In the rainy season of the rain frog village, everyone must had sung this song. The name of this song was Rain Call. It literally meant calling the rain. The navel frog still remembered each word of it. He sang: “Gero, gero, gero, gero, gero, gero….”

After he sang for a while, the wonderful sound stopped, and that small human was approaching to him. She walked near to the pond, seemed looking for where was the singing came from. The navel frog immediately hid shyly under the stalk of lotus, but stick out his two big round eyes to peek at her closely.

She had a round face with small noise. Her face was very white, with long straight shiny black hair covered both side of it. She also had a small mouth with red lips, but still ten times bigger than his. Her eyes were thin and long that almost the eyeballs were unseen. She looked so different from him but he was instantly fond of her. He thought: How about this one? She seemed adorable and unharmed.  If I have to be in love with a human, perhaps, I couldn’t find anyone better than her. But, if she was so nice, would she be falling in love with me?

Then he remembered the trick again. However, she was wearing clothes. How could I saw her navel? While he was wondering, he heard a human sound shouting from the house: “Ohime sama! Be careful! Don’t drop into the pond!”

Another human object was running nearby. She carried a piece of thick clothe, covered it on the shoulder of that Ohime, and said: “Please! Ohime sama, it is cold outside. Let’s get into the room.”

The navel frog was frustrated to see her wearing more clothe, thought: How can I see her navel, if she was wearing so many clothes? With a little help of wizard, he got a naughty idea and believed that it would actually work. He promptly hopped from the lotus leaf, bounced himself high up to the air in front of the Ohime, then dropped into her collars right before she was pushing back to the room.

The Ohime shouted: “Oh! Uba! A frog got into my clothes.”

Uba heard it, immediately helped to take off her first layer of clothes. When she just found the rain frog clinging on the Ohime’s collars, it had hopped into her second layer of clothes. Then the Uba helped to take off her second layer of clothes. When she just found the vicious rain frog, it sneaked into her third layer of clothes. And then again and again, up to the sixth layers of clothes until the navel frog was exhausted.

As he was taking rest by her collars, gasping and wondering how many more layers her clothes would be, the enraged uba fiercely swept him away with her palm. She was really irritated by this little mischievous frog. She saw it dropped on the floor in front of her feet. She intended to lift her foot to smash on it. But the Ohime stopped her, said gently: “No, uba, just let it go!”

The uba reluctantly yielded. She picked up all the layers of clothes that scattered on the floor, and said grumpily: “How should there still be a rain frog in the autumn? It is very weird!” When she stood up and saw the Ohime was wearing only one layer of under clothe, she panickily screamed: “Oh! No, Ohime sama, please wear the kimonos! Are you cold? Are you all right? You shouldn’t dress only one layer of kimono…”

While the uba anxiously laid the kimonos on the tiny body of this Ohime, she was watching at the lotus pond curiously. The navel frog had already hidden under the lotus blossom and he was also watching her at the same time. He wondered: “Is she looking for me?” as he was thinking that, he felt throbbed, for the first time of his whole life.

 

Short story – The Navel Frog

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(1)

Once upon a time, there was a rain frog village under a rice field of an oriental island. They co-lived with the rice field from generation to generation. They were happy who they were, where they were and what they were doing. One spring, the new tadpoles were breed and swam between the rice seedlings. They were expected to grow up very soon after the cherry blossoms. Promisingly, in the early summer, the young rain frogs sang loudly as they were leaping around. Suddenly, one frog screamed: “Look! He has a button on his belly!”

All the young frogs were curious and came together to see what the button he was saying. But no one knew what it was. The rain frog who had a button on the belly was so surprised. He never noticed that there was something unusual about himself. He touched the button and found that it was concave and felt connected. The other young frogs also touched his button, but they felt nothing about it. They were trying to rub, poke and tickle that made him laughed.

This button seemed like an amazing thing that was able to bring joy. But what was it, and why only he had and the other didn’t? As many doubts raised, an old rain frog came along and asked: “Hey! Kids, what are you doing here?”

All the young rain frogs answered as the same time: “He has a button on his belly!”

The old rain frog came to looked at it closely and said gravely: “It is a navel!”

“A navel?” All the young frogs, including the one who had the navel questioned.

The old rain frog pondered seriously before she answered pleasantly: “Well, don’t worried. It is nothing disaster but just a little unusual. You know, not every piece of cloud is the same.” She was trying to comfort them. But all the young frogs were silent. It seemed that they couldn’t get rid of an ominous feeling.

By the time, the young frog who had a navel was getting lonelier and lonelier and one day he was only himself. He didn’t sing and leap anymore. He didn’t like his navel at all, but he couldn’t make it disappeared. In the early autumn, when all the other rain frogs were blissfully hopping around the ripened rice ears. The navel frog strolled alone to the water passage where a heron drinking by it. The navel frog leaped into the passage, struggled in the fast running water, and was almost thrust by the rapid. He was picked up by a heron at last. When the heron was about to swallowed him. The navel frog said: “Well! Lucky you! I think you have never eaten a navel frog!”

Once it was said, the heron spit him out immediately, coughed hardly and said nastily: “What? You have a navel? Oh, my dear! I almost swallowed you. I don’t eat things have a navel. Don’t you just stay away from me!”

The navel frog was so sad, and mumbled to himself: “It is ok! I don’t think I am tasted good either.” Then he crawled away as the heron requested, but the heron called him: “Come back, kid!”

The navel frog stopped but didn’t come back. The heron strode ahead, looked at him warily before said: “You are not supposed to have a navel as a frog, do you know that?”

The navel frog said miserably: “I know, but I already have one.”

Seriously, the heron said: “You should get rid of it.”

The navel frog just glimpsed at him but said nothing. The heron then giggled: “What an attitude! You can never get help!”

The navel frog glimpsed at him again, said: “Well! You are the wise heron? Then can you explain why this happened to me.”

The heron waved to him, said: “Come over here kid! It will be a long story.”

The navel frog glimpsed at him once again but this time, his eyes were sparkling with hope. He hopped in front of him and said: “Tell me please! Everything!”

The heron smiled and said: “There are all kinds of things in the world and they all have their own way to be. Like I am a bird, I have feather and beak, and we lay eggs as the mice bear baby mice…

The navel frog interrupted: “Hey! I am frog, rain frog, why you talked about mice?”

The heron glared at him, said grumpily: “I have never seen such an impatient frog. You are really different!”

The navel frog didn’t like being different, so he was quiet intentionally. The heron then continued: “When the things have babies, they have navels…”

“Yes, yes, yes! I have a navel!” The navel frog was excited, and asked: “But, my mother lay eggs. How come I would have a navel?”

The heron shrugged his feather, and said: “You know, there are always something wrong. But you can see it in another side. For example, because you have a navel, you are not only a frog, you can be mice, cow, horse and human…”

“Human?” The navel frog was interested, and asked: “They also have navels?”

“Of course! Because they usually wear clothes that is why you don’t see.” The heron clarified.

The navel frog looked up at the humans who were busily harvesting in the rice field. The sweat they sprinkling was stinky and sometimes too much that could drown him. He never like them.

The heron asked attentively: “Do you want to be human?”

“No.” the navel frog relied quickly and certainly: “I wanted just to be a frog, a rain frog.”

The heron nodded with his long neck, said: “But, do you know that, if you wanted to get rid of your navel, you have to find a human to fall in love with you.”

“What? “The navel frog screamed: “By what mean? Fall in love with me?”

The heron clapped his beak, and said mysteriously: “If you didn’t like human, you can find a cow, a mouse or a pig…”

“No, I don’t want any of those!” The navel frog was almost crying.

The heron asserted seriously: “But you have to. I told you to find human, because they like to fall in love much more than cows and pigs. It is just easier for you.”

The navel frog looked up around the working humans in the rice field again, and said: “They are so busy working, will they have time to fall in love?”

“Well, not every human was busy like them. There are many idled humans in the palace. You might able to get one there.” The heron suggested.

The navel frog hesitated, said: “But, I know nothing about human. How could they fall in love with me?”

The heron appeared to know about everything, said: “That is easy! About the human world, there are only three things you should know about it.”

“Three only?” The navel frog was doubtful.

The heron wide-opened his eyes, and said sternly: “Yes, I have seen them all. In the world of human, if you wanted to be loved by them, first, you have to be strong.”

“I am not.” The navel frog said immediately.

“Second, you have to be beautiful.”

“You think I will be looked beautiful to their eyes?” The navel frog was uncertain.

“Third, you have to be eloquent.”

“Eloquent? That seemed more possible, I can even sing.” The navel frog was proud of his voice always.

“Then, you may go! Humans ears are very soft, you definitely will find one falling in love with you.” The heron assured.

The navel frog was encouraged as he leaped up and down animatedly.

The heron reminded him one more thing: “There is a trick to make them falling in love with you. It is to see their navels. After you get one fell in love with you, remember to get a kiss for proof, then your navel will be disappeared.”

“A kiss?” the navel frog was hesitant, mumbled: “With such a big mouth!?” When he looked back and tried to ask more, but found that the heron had already flew away to the sky soundlessly.

一簑煙雨 最終章

Thank you so much for your read. If you read from the beginning, I am really appreciated for your patience and trust.  Leave your thought, if you have one. please!

謝謝你的關注, 故事已經結束。 如果你有感想,請留下。

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第十章:

(一)畫像(二)變臉(三)峨嵋(四)金頂(五)祭祖(六)隱居(七)昆侖

 

(一)畫像

皇城,夜,大雨滂沱,宣德門城門緊閉,城樓上剛好兩隊御林軍正在交更,守衛們踏着石階,整齊而沉重的腳步聲,共急速的雨漸漸移近,城樓下張貼皇榜的牌坊前,忽地站了一人,全身白衣包裹,頭頂竹笠,背負長劍,只露出一雙眼眸,見她盯着皇榜上一張被朝廷通緝的欽犯圖貌,半晌才冷笑道:「此人那一點像我!」

說罷,伸手就把皇榜撕下,才一轉身,城樓上便有守衛叫道:「誰人敢撕下皇榜,來人啊!把她抓起來!」

說着,一隊御林軍便從城樓衝下,那白衣人還慢搖搖地在雨中行走,不慌不忙,直等那隊御林軍衝出城門,走到眼前,舉起長矛對着她,才停下來歎了口氣,喃喃道:「這場雨若再不停,我看城外河堤就要崩了!」

言畢,城樓上的人便大喝道:「你們還等甚麼?快把她拿下。」

守衛們看此人一副高手模樣,未敢前進,聽了命令才不得已動手,拚命揮矛向他刺去,白衣人旋身一躍就站在眾矛之上,脚跟一動便踏着他們頭頂跑了。

眾守衛見她瞬間消失在煙雨蒼茫中,不知去向,惶然四顧,無從去追,只得作罷。

 

大內禁宮,森殿巍峨,飛簷峻桷,粉雕玉琢,依然歌舞昇平,無視於民間疾苦。寅夜更深,紫宸樓照樣燈火通明,鳳簫吹不斷,霓裳羽翩翩,繞梁終日,三月不散。

皇帝還興致勃勃的拈起筆來揮毫弄墨,身旁的宮女太監不敢怠慢,磨墨添燈,恣意奉承,站在皇帝身旁一個身材瘦削的太監,大約二十來歲,眉長眼低,諂笑迎人,道:「皇上,這幅美人圖真是千嬌百媚,意態風騷啊!」

皇上認真道:「正所謂意態猶來畫不成,而風騷兩字,更是可意會不可言傳啊!」

說罷,忽焉有東西從天上掉下,正好掉在那幅美人圖上,皇上撿來一看,竟是一幅欽犯貌圖,才大吃一驚,耳畔便響起陣陣銀鈴般笑聲,眾人舉頭驚望,紫宸樓高聳的畫梁上竟有女子斜坐,乍見她一身白袍,披紗覆面,半露香腮,吃吃地在笑,皇上見了此女,低歎道:「這才真的是千嬌百媚啊!」便立即問道:「你是誰?」

女子遽然道:「就是你手中的畫裏人。」

皇上看看那欽犯圖貌,斜眼歪鼻,而這女子秋波明媚,畫得一點都不像,便笑道:「怎麼可能?」

女子哼一聲:「不是麼?」眼眸輕眨才接道:「聽說你很會畫畫…」

話未說完,皇上身旁的太監便怒道:「大膽刁民,竟敢對聖上無禮!」

皇上卻微笑道:「童貫,你暫且退下。」那童貫馬上收聲躬身後退。那女子又道:「現在你看過我容貌了吧!請你再畫一張像我的,才貼到皇榜上去,不然叫他們怎認得我呢?」

說罷,哈哈大笑,翻身就躍上青簷,不見蹤影,這時皇上身邊的太監宮女才大聲呼叫道:「來人啊!有刺客啊!」

紫宸樓即時衝進一隊御林軍,慌慌張張追問刺客所在,皇上只是笑道:「有意思!有意思!」也不理會,就回到案前,拈起筆來,想着剛才那女子容貌,一筆一筆畫了起來,不多久就畫成一幅美人圖,童貫站在邊旁,見此畫盡是留白,只畫了一雙眼睛,兩條眉毛,幾縷青絲,面目模糊,一時不知該如何讚美,呆了半晌,乍見御花園裏正開得燦爛的牡丹花,靈機一觸,便連忙驚歎道:「皇上這幅美人圖,真是勺藥芙蓉,猶遜三分啊!」見皇上臉有喜色,呵呵一笑,又假意認真的問道:「聖上,是否真的要貼到皇榜上去?」

皇上聽罷,大笑一聲,往案頭揮袖擲筆,但覺醉眼惺忪,便擁着妃子們,伴着清輝夜月,宮娥貫列,一路香徑散花,懶慵慵的擺駕回寢宮去了。

皇榜當然沒有貼回去,但任振衣殺了三十萬御林軍總教頭韓珊和寅夜飛入禁宮叫皇上畫像的事卻成了逸聞傳遍大街小巷,所謂好事不出門,醜事傳千里,像這種荒唐韻事,很快就傳到各城各縣去了,風流天子,輕佻淺薄,不知自重,還覺得是件妙事,竟不予追究。

 

一個皎月盈空的仲夏夜,山西不老莊,華燈初掛,姜笛才進了家門,便急步穿廊來到大廳,還未見到人已嚷道:「夫人!夫人!」

一名家丁聽少莊主呼喊夫人,便應道:「少莊主,少夫人在大小姐房間裏。」

姜笛聽了,便又走出大廳,繞過後院池塘,到女兒房間去,才一推門,便見夫人惜輝又氣又笑道:「你這丫頭,整天在外面惹事生非還不夠麼?不准去!」

小女兒搖着娘親的袖子,不停哀求道:「娘啊!讓我去吧!又不是單我一個,還有大哥和南風表哥跟我一起去的嘛!還怕什麼?」

看爹爹姜笛一進來,便馬上牽着他的衣袖撒嬌道:「爹!你來評評理,大哥和南風表哥都可以去,為甚麼我不可以。」

姜笛笑道:「去那兒?」

惜輝皺眉道:「她要跟南風一起去下月初八在峨嵋山舉行的論劍大會。」

姜笛神秘一笑道:「也許我們今年也要去一趟。」

乍聽爹爹此說,小女兒便跳起來笑道:「好啊!爹和娘都去!」

惜輝卻側頭問道:「為甚麼?你不說過今後少理江湖上的事麼?」

姜笛又一笑道:「這事我可不理,你可不理不成。」

惜輝知道姜笛如此說法,定有玄機,眼眸輕眨,姜笛已接道:「我剛從萬象樓回來,你猜我聽到誰人的消息?」

惜輝立刻就想起一個人,小女兒卻聽得不耐煩,連聲追問道:「爹!你還賣甚麼關子呢!快說啊!」

姜笛才正色道:「京城裏傳來可靠的消息,任振衣殺了三十萬御林軍總教頭韓珊,還闖入禁宮叫皇上替她畫像。」

惜輝聽了,興奮得站了起來,小女兒已拍掌道:「哇!九阿姨好厲害啊!」

惜輝又驚又喜,道:「自從青城山之後,九妹音訊全無,十年前有人說她藏身在襄州城青天寨裏,可是,當我去到青天寨時,只見一片焦土,後來還有人說她早在亂軍中被殺,害我們姐妹難過了許久,原來她還活着,那真是太好了。」說罷,又問道:「此事確實無誤?」

姜笛肯定道:「你放心,我剛才在萬象樓還遇到峨嵋派清虛師太,她正廣發武林貼邀請武林同道參加下月舉行的金頂論劍大會,她說九妹若是重出江湖,松狐島是天下劍術宗師,又豈能不在邀請之列呢?」

惜輝點頭道:「不錯,那件事情已經過了那麼久了,更何況九妹武功確是爹親授的,如果峨嵋派肯率先承認九妹松狐島島主的地位,我們姐妹們也理應義不容遲,迎九妹回松狐島。」

姜笛微笑道:「九妹做了那兩件驚天動地的事,殺了朝廷走狗韓珊,和愚弄了那個昏君,為百姓出了口氣,這時正是為九妹回復名聲,重振松狐島威望的最佳時機。」

兩人說到這裏,奇怪怎麼平時最愛插嘴的小女兒忽然那麼靜呢?轉身一看,才發現她又不知甚麼時候溜了出去了。

惜輝歎道:「這女兒真把我氣死了。」

姜笛笑道:「都怪你為她改了這個名字。」

「九千!」惜輝婉聲低歎道:「那時候我以為九妹死了,才把女兒名字改作九千,原意是要紀念九妹千千吧了,怎料到她越大越頑皮刁轉,脾氣像極了九妹小時候。」

姜笛坐下來,握着惜輝的手,知道為了這小姨,她一直很內疚,惜輝嘴角含笑,眉頭還是深鎖,道:「九妹還活着,但她這些年,日子定是很難過,雖然我們不同父親,也是同一個母親,爹都接受了她,我們反倒…」

說到這裏,竟一陣咽哽,姜笛便安慰她道:「夫人!所謂玉不琢不成器,九妹今天定能幹一番事業,不負岳父期望的,你不要再難過了。」

 

襄州城裏那棵大榕樹下,自從開了一口甘甜的水井後,漸漸成了百姓聚集的地方,李二哥和李二嫂在家門前就開了個賣井水豆腐的店舖,今天是墟期,每逢初一十五,這裏就十分熱鬧,各地的農民挑着土產來這裏擺賣,也有江湖賣藝的混在其中,希望賺點零錢上路,無家可歸的流民也趁機來這裏討兩個饅頭。

豬頭正在店裏磨黃豆,忽聽豬妹在外面叫道:「啊!變臉人來了!哥!你出來幫忙看一下店!」說着,連忙脫下圍裙,便走到大榕樹下看熱鬧去了。豬頭傻呼呼的走出來,嘴裏還在嘮叨:「這豬妹真是,一天到晚只會玩耍!」驟見眼前站着一人,全身白衣,容顏嬌爽,冷豔絕倫,不禁呆住半晌,那人已道:「給我一碗豆花。」

豬頭才醒過來,拿了豆花給她,那人付了錢,微微一笑問道:「這裏甚麼時候變得那麼熱鬧?」

豬頭搔搔首道:「自從來了個變臉人,大家都來看他,連我妹子也去了。」

白衣人輕聲回應,便往大榕樹那邊瞧了瞧,見大群人,有老有少,有男有女,正圍着一個男子,那男子站在榕樹下石墩上,身穿黑布衣,頭戴黑圓帽,雙手拿開,臉上一張乾乾淨淨的白臉往後輕甩,便扯了下來,彈指間就換了幾張不同顏色的臉,又綠,又紅,又黑,又紫,霎時掌聲雷鳴,俄而又悄然無聲,變臉人雙手攤開一拍,半身蹲下,嘿一聲,眾人便目不轉睛地盯着他的臉,嗖!臉一甩,又扯下七八張不同表情的臉,喜怒哀樂悲惡欲,正邪善惡,粉墨玲瓏,各有不同,張飛的張飛,孔明的孔明,曹孟德的白臉,關雲長的紅臉,清清楚楚,絕不含糊,忠奸界線,是非分明,百姓看得高興,又一陣掌聲,變臉人扯下了最後一張臉,回復本來面目,便取出瓦缽,欲向觀看的人乞幾個銅錢,看的人雖多,但賞錢的人少,忽地,黑烏烏的缽子裏不知誰人放了一錠白花花的銀子,變臉人嚇了一跳,抬頭乍看,竟是個身穿白衣的豔女,變臉人忙忙打揖道:「多謝姑娘!多謝姑娘!」

白衣女子嘴角微牽,腳跟一動便不知去向,那變臉人才伸手去取那錠銀子,竟一聲慘叫,就卜死地上,缽子摔破,銀子滾了出來,旁邊的人看了,立即驚慌亂叫:「走啊!官差殺人啊!」

這一喊叫,在墟裏做買賣的人群頓時倉皇四散,一時雞飛狗遁,豬妹和豬頭也匆匆上了排門,把店舖關了起來。

仲夏裏,無端刮起一陣蕭殺的風沙,一名官差撿起地上那錠銀子,另一名官差則拔出插在變臉人背上的鋼刀,往鞋底裏把血跡擦掉。

刹那間,四野一片蕭索,變臉人的臉皮,撒滿一地,被風卷起,吹到那白衣人的腳下,白衣人撿起一張臉皮翻開來看,是一張白皮笑臉,白衣人把它放在臉上,透過眼孔,看着那兩個殺人的官差,拿着那錠銀子,哈哈大笑地揚長而去。

 

兩名官差殺人後,便拿着銀両到酒樓買醉,兩人醉醺醺的從酒家裏走出,便一腳踏進門前水溝,水溝裏清晰的月光頓成泡影,墨汁似的水花濺到兩人身上,即駡道:「他媽的!誰挖個坑子在這裏給老子踩?」說着便猛力拍門,酒家已經打烊,門剛上了鎖,店主見官差瘋瘋顛顛的喊叫,乾脆連燈也吹滅,可兩官差乘着酒意,還在大叫大嚷,寂靜的長街就只有他倆的叫聲,忽的背後有人說道:「你們當官差的怎麼比強盜更不如?」

兩人這才停了叫駡,回頭一看,醉眼中見有白衣女子,臉上帶着笑面畫皮,輕悠悠的佇立燈前,其中一人唾了口水才道:「怎麼又來一個變臉人?你究竟是誰啊!竟敢管老子閑事?」

白衣女子淡淡道:「你別管我是誰,我只問你們一句話,你們答了就成。」

另一名官差斜倚在同伴肩上,早已爛醉如泥,道:「你…問我們…就要答你的麼?」

白衣女子臉皮一皺,道:「我只想問你們的名字。」

「名字?」兩人聽了就狂笑道:「哈哈!我們是你老祖宗。」

笑聲半空中突地凝結,長街瞬即回復死寂,驟然一聲更鼓,兩人便卜倒水溝裏,月影倉皇散去,只餘燈影。

 

 

 

(二)變臉

已是更深時分,襄州衙府裏仍然笙歌宴樂,青燈高掛,觥籌交錯之際,陡然屋頂上隆隆怪聲,甚麼東西嘭嘭兩響便扔到地上,眾人頓時回首一望,樂聲也即停止。

驟見一白衣人,面戴畫皮,站在廊下,賓客裏其中一名年約三十來歲的官爺便從人群中站出,道:「這是甚麼意思?」

白衣人斜眼瞟瞟地上那兩名官差,漠然問道:「這兩個是你們衙府裏的官差麼?」

那官爺瞧了兩人一眼,身旁一個布衣老者便上前挑燈細看,確認了這兩人的身份,才道:「回大人,這兩人正是衙府裏的官差。」

「他們有沒有名字?」白衣人問道。

那老者微微一笑,便答道:「當然有,一個叫藍丹,一個叫黃塘。」

白衣人聽了,轉身便走。那官爺連忙截道:「這兩人是你殺的。」

白衣人沒有回頭,只冷冷答道:「不錯。」

那官爺厲聲道:「你殺了官差,還送回來衙門,你膽子都挺大的。」

白衣人這才扭過頭來,不屑道:「你又是誰啊!既知我膽大,還敢阻攔我!」

那官爺哼一聲道:「本官乃京西南路安撫使,襄州百姓的父母官,你殺了官差,竟就拂袖而去,你心中還有皇法麼?」

白衣人聽此一語,平靜已久的心海忽地擊起兩圈漣漪,半晌才道:「此兩人身為官差,知法犯法,濫殺無辜,還談甚麼皇法?」

那安撫使挺起官威,遽色道:「他倆犯了法,你大可擊鼓鳴冤,也不能濫用私刑。」

白衣人冷笑道:「大人夜夜笙歌,還那有時間審案?」

那大人怒道:「混賬,本官今夜不過設宴款待新任知州,幾曾有夜夜笙歌?」

這時滿堂嘉賓都站了起來,個個清醒,並無醉態,不如想像中的荒唐胡鬧,再看大人句句鏘然,說得理直氣壯,心中暗喜,卻道:「此兩人殺害無辜,是我親眼目睹,要怪只怪你管教下屬不嚴,讓他們做出這種強盜般的行為。」

大人聽罷,立即厲聲叱道:「大膽刁民!到底你是官府還是我是官府?還不快把臉子拿下,束手就擒?」

白衣人仰天一笑道:「哈哈!要我拿下臉子,怕會嚇壞你,今天就看在你還是個像樣的父母官,就饒你一命,你若是真的愛民如子倒也罷了,若是讓我知道你一樣是個貪贓枉法,草菅人命的狗官,我定回來殺你。」

說罷縱身一躍,便躍上了屋頂,大人見她說了這番話,又身懷絕世武藝,不禁驚道:「你到底是誰?」

白衣人轉過頭來,忽爾換了一張醜臉,冷然沉聲道:「醜婆婆!」說畢,即呼嘯而去,無影無蹤,滿堂賓客大驚,那布衣老者走到大人身旁,顛着聲道:「大人,我看這白衣鬼臉人就是在京中殺了三十萬御林軍總教頭韓珊,和夜闖大內禁宮,如入無人之境的那個任振衣。」

大人登時心頭一震,道:「此醜婆婆就是任振衣?」

滿座嘉賓,盡是抹一額冷汗,再看看死在地上的兩名官差,身上並無傷痕,不過眉心一點朱紅,才相信殺人不見血,出手如有神的傳聞。

 

醜婆婆也好,任振衣也好,一時聲名大噪,武功如此厲害,又敢於與官府作對,連皇帝也莫他奈何,各地貪官污吏,即時聞風喪膽,不敢像以往一樣公然凌辱百姓,此事在江湖上,也為人津津樂道,峨嵋派已聲稱邀請了松狐島島主任振衣參加八月初八峨嵋金頂的論劍大會,武林人士個個拭目以待;這時,川湘一帶,無論茶樓酒館,街頭巷里,人人都在談論這件傳聞,無論他的武功、容貌,甚至衣着,都成為大眾茶餘飯後的話題,這陣子,大家對穿白衣服的人都尤為尊敬,有些不曉得任振衣到底是男,是女,是老,是幼的人,想他既是島主,年紀當也不輕,又聽聞任振衣即是醜婆婆,一時眾人對街上長得醜陋的年邁女子,皆畢恭畢敬,不敢輕看,未敢怠慢。

八月初五,成都府錦里一間靠江邊的茶館生意特別好,可說客似雲來,人潮川流不息,店小二忙得喘不過氣,才送走了幾位大爺,馬上又迎來兩位大俠,兩人都身穿白衣,手執長劍,英氣勃然,店小二連忙上前笑盈盈的招呼,兩位年輕大俠進了茶館,放眼一看,見茶館裏坐滿了人,竟一半以上都是身穿白衣,散落在黑溜溜的塗漆桌椅中,甚為奪目。兩位劍士尷尬地相看一笑,便坐了下來,即被邊旁兩人的對話吸引着。

其中一個大鬍子先道:「黃捕頭,我聽說那醜婆婆也拿下了徐州知州大人的人頭,是麼?」

那黃捕頭眉粗眼細,方面大口,說話卻慢騰騰的,道:「不是拿下人頭,醜婆婆殺人不見血,知州大人眉心的傷口才一根針頭那麼細。」

大鬍子奇道:「那麼細?到底是用甚麼武器?」

黃捕頭道:「大概是針灸用的銀針,或是繡花用的繡花針吧!」

大鬍子笑道:「婆婆用繡花針該比較在行吧!」

黃捕頭斷然道:「不!聽說這婆婆身背長劍,劍不離身。」

聽到劍不離身,那兩名年輕劍客忍不住轉過頭來向那捕頭打聽,道:「果然!那她劍法如何?」

黃捕頭答道:「從來沒有人見她拔出劍來過,但是她殺了知州後,在牆壁上刻上了知州的名字和他十三項罪狀,那刻痕極其清晰,筆跡流暢,一氣呵成,如果是以劍刻的,劍法之圓渾醇厚則可想而知。」

兩人聽了,連連點頭,這時另一邊桌子,也坐着三個劍客模樣的客人,也一直留意着他們的對話,其中一個書生便好奇問道:「聽說這醜婆婆每殺人前,都會先問對方名字,是麼?」

黃捕頭頷首淺笑道:「不錯,聽說她不殺沒有名字的人。」

其中一名劍客便打趣道:「那還不簡單,不把名字告訴她便行了。」

說罷,眾人同聲一笑,忽地看看前後左右,連自己都穿上了白衣,說不定現在那醜婆婆就坐在隔鄰,想到這裏,便即時收起笑容,不敢對婆婆不敬,各自喝自己的茶去了。

這邊才靜下來,那邊又響起聲音。

兩個小夥子,一胖一瘦,十七八歲,和一個看來才十來歲的小丫頭一邊吃着大包,一邊喝茶,也聽到剛才那幾桌人的對話,小丫頭眼珠溜溜,嘴裏一邊咬着包子,一邊道:「我看呢!這醜婆婆就算在這裏,也不是穿白衣服的那些人。」

旁邊那胖子,不經意問道:「你又知道?」

小丫頭抿嘴一笑道:「衣服嘛!又不是皮,可以換的!如果我是醜婆婆,看見那麼多人穿白衣,今天一定不穿白衣。」

「那穿甚麼?」坐在另一旁的瘦子,長得眉清目俊,與那胖子同聲問道。

小丫頭隨口道:「不是白,就是黑啦!」

三人舉目一看,眼前不遠,果然就有一個黑衣人,一身烏卒卒的黑衣,頭戴黑紗帽,背負長劍,端好的坐在角落靠窗的黑桌旁,獨自低頭喝茶,黑紗帽子遮蓋整張臉,面目朦朧難辨,如果不是小丫頭說起黑衣,誰也不會留意到她的存在。三人同時盯着她,見她靜靜的不言不語,卻自有一種威嚴,刹那間見她稍稍抬眼,透過黑紗瞧過來,一雙眸子十分深沉,三人連忙把目光收回,小丫頭就低聲道:「我看就是她。」

胖子撇嘴道:「你又沒見過她,你說是就是了麼?」

小丫頭眼珠子一滾,動着腦筋道:「你們看!這裏人那麼多,大都三兩成群,就只她獨自一人,而且這裏沒有太陽,沒有雨,還蓋着遮陽帽子幹啥呢?」

瘦子笑道:「說不定人家長得醜,所以不想讓別人看見臉呢?」

小丫頭馬上道:「那還不是醜婆婆麼?」

瘦子只是微笑道:「但這人腰挺得那麼直,不像是個婆婆那麼老!」

小丫頭撇嘴道:「誰說婆婆老呢?如果醜婆婆就是我們九阿姨,還比我娘年輕呢?」

瘦子和胖子同時低聲叫道:「九阿姨?」又偷瞟了黑衣人一眼。

乍見一對夫婦模樣的男女站在掌櫃前結賬,胖子匆匆把剩下的包子塞到嘴裏,站起來就道:「爹和娘來了,快走吧!」便與瘦子離去,小丫頭卻忽地摸着肚皮叫道:「哎!我要上茅廁!」

瘦子連忙緊張地問道:「千表妹,你怎麼了?要不要我跟你一起去?」

千表妹即時搖頭擺手道:「不用!我自己去就成了,你跟娘說我隨後就來。」

胖子走到一半,見他倆仍不動身,便叫道:「還不走?」

瘦子對千表妹再三叮嚀道:「那你小心,我們在馬廄等你!」才跟胖子去了。

 

 

千表妹瞧他們走了,回頭一看,見那黑衣人也站了起來,正欲離去,便偷偷地跟在她後面,忽然肚子不疼了,茅廁也不用去了。

跟着那黑衣人沿着江濱一直往前走,過了橋,上了小山坡,穿過竹林,來到峽谷斷崖前一片空地,千表妹躲在竹林裏見那黑衣人佇立斷崖上,眺望江心,一葉扁舟,輕揚而過,仿似無人楫渡,自來自去。

千表妹暗想:這裏如斯空曠,我一現身,定被發現,不若…

想到這裏,偷偷一笑,便解下包袱,手忙腳亂一會,竟就化身成一個滿臉皺紋,彎腰駝背的老婆婆,嘻嘻笑地挽着包袱走出了竹林,走到懸崖邊,瞧瞧那黑衣人,還是站在那裏,動也不動,便假扮婆子嗓門道:「請問閣下,這裏鬼影也沒個,四野就只有風聲、浪聲和我婆子的笑聲…」說着,又裂嘴嘻嘻大笑幾聲,才問道:「你到底在看甚麼呢?」

黑衣人這才轉身瞟了婆子一眼,還是不說話,婆子又道:「我看你獨來獨往,定是身懷絕技,可是,你終日黑紗覆面,沉吟不語,唉!難道真的無敵是最寂寞麼?我看這世上的人,總愛爭甚麼天下第一,到頭來還不如我婆子逍遙自在…」

這小丫頭古靈精怪,口齒靈俐,整天愛學大人講話,這番話就是她爹爹曾經說過的,現在她扮了個婆子,說起來還似模似樣呢!可黑衣人早就知道她不過是個丫頭,冷笑一聲道:「這番話讓你多活幾十年才說吧!」言畢,瞬間伸手便扯下小丫頭的臉皮,小丫頭一張稚嫩的小臉即時露了底,嚇得她全身打顛,烏溜溜的眼珠差點沒掉出來,大叫一聲,轉身便跑,黑衣人伸手再抓,把她假髻扯下之餘,還一手揪着她長長的辮子,小丫頭兩腿拔地乾跑,卻一步也跑不動,黑衣人笑道:「哈!你還跑,辮子快扯斷了!」

聽到辮子快扯斷,小丫頭即時停了脚,僵直地站住,不敢稍稍移動,哀聲道:「我不跑了,我知錯了,不要扯斷我的辮子!」

黑衣人見她認錯認得那麼快,也不知是否出自真心,還是揪着辮子不放,厲聲道:「不老莊的易容術,可堪天下第一,但你那幾度工夫,還差遠呢?」

小丫頭聽她竟然一眼就把自己身份識穿,暗叫不妙,辮子又給她揪住,她武功那麼強,爹娘又不在,正不知如可脫身,黑衣人又問道:「你叫甚麼名字?」

才聽她問起名字,小丫頭即時嚇得魂飛魄散,記起在茶館裏那些人說醜婆婆殺人前定必先問名字,以為她要動手殺人,兩手捂住嘴巴,發誓說甚麼也不會把名字告訴她。

黑衣人施施然走到她面前,瞧她那副古怪表情,暗自發笑,再問道:「不老莊少莊主姜笛是你誰人?」話未問完,揪着辮子的手輕輕一放,那丫頭馬上往後翻身,身法乾淨俐落,一看就是松狐島的輕功,可這回小猴孫遇到猴祖宗!黑衣人身影略移,左手一伸,又把她長辮揪着,半空就扯了下來,小丫頭即時哇一聲,放聲大哭,叫道:「你怎麼老愛抓人家辮子?」

說着,黑衣人忽然鬆手,眼前一柄長劍即破空而來,鋒芒璀燦,似曾相識,心念一動,身法即起,黑袖亂舞,如雲駕霧,把那人長劍鋒芒盡掩,可那人劍法也不錯,而且臨危不亂,雖被逼得不斷退身,但劍法仍一點不差,看來已掌握得十分純熟,只是黑衣人的身法實在太快,驟見她一掌從袖中伸出,把那人手腕輕捏,長劍便脫手飛出,落在黑衣人手裏,反過來指着他。

小丫頭大叫一聲:「南風表哥!」便擋在他前面,對着黑衣人,瞪着眼道:「你不要殺死他!」

黑衣人聽此一語,仰天長嘯一聲,才道:「別把我看成是個殺人不眨眼的狂魔,我殺的盡是該死的人,你們乳臭未乾,算了吧!」說着,低頭瞧瞧那柄寶劍,輕撫劍脊,劍光把她手指照亮,纖纖細嫩,怎樣也看不出是一雙殺人的老手。

南風和九千傻傻地看着,不敢說話。黑衣人把劍反手一提,遞還南風,輕聲道:「天下名劍雖多,若論到氣勢之剛拔,非經大漠風沙赤練而成的九天玄女劍莫屬。」

南風眼睛一亮,見她看劍時目光炯炯,論劍時語調平淡,卻甚有權威,又瞧她背負長劍,想起傳聞中她殺人不見血,卻從未露過劍鋒,對她所負之劍更是好奇,便謹慎地問道:「那…不知比起前輩所負之寶劍又如何呢?」

黑衣人見此小夥子看來不過十八九歲,言談間已頗見抱負,不禁莞爾一笑,沒有回答,卻問道:「九天玄女劍只傳嫡親,你與九天門掌門赤心霓有何關係?」

南風道:「是我奶奶。」

黑衣人哦一聲,又問道:「那赤龍沙呢?」

「是我爹。」

「那任惜陽呢?」

「是我娘。」南風以為她還要問下去,便乾脆自報姓名,揚聲道:「我在家排行第七,我叫赤南風,無字。」

黑衣人聽了,微笑點頭道:「名門之後,難怪那樣優秀,但你雖知道,天下劍法各有所長,誰也不能取代誰,又何必定要比來比去,爭天下第一呢?」

見此黑衣人好好地說起話來,並不如傳聞中那樣拒人於千里之外,語氣還蠻親切的,九千便搭嘴道:「是啊!我爹也是常常這樣說,他說我們不老山莊的不死劍法從來不曾爭過甚麼天下第一,天下第二的,但也不見得比別人遜色。」

黑衣人再細心打量這小丫頭,見她衣飾青草,鬢垂黃毛,說話卻自有一番見解,暗喜松狐島人才輩出,我又何須重出江湖呢?嘴含淺笑,才問道:「那你現在可以告訴我你的名字了吧?」

小丫頭覺得這黑衣人不再可怕,露齒一笑,便朗聲道:「我叫姜九千,我是在夏天一個月夜出生的,本名夏月,後來在我四歲時,為了紀念我死去的九阿姨,我娘把我改名九千,因為我九阿姨,排行第九,小名千千。」

聽她倒背如流地說出這些話,黑衣人心中一抖,惻然不语。九千歪頸斜視,隔着黑紗偷瞧她臉上表情,見她垂下眼簾,忽又揚眉問道:「誰說你九阿姨死了?」

九千乍然抬頭,爽朗地答道:「有人是這樣說過,但現在我看她又不死了。」

黑衣人冷然一笑,才道:「你牙尖嘴利,比你九阿姨小時候過之而無不及。」

九千立刻問道:「你怎麼知道,你認得我們九阿姨麼?」

黑衣人臉色一沉,九千又問道:「我們的名字你都知道了,那你又叫甚麼名字呢?」

黑衣人淡然道:「我沒有名字。」

九千聽了,驟然滿臉愁容,低聲輕歎道:「沒有名字的人太可憐了。」

黑衣人抬眼一看,不知這丫頭是真心還是假意,但句句蕩人心弦,說到心坎裏去,皺皺眉又道:「人雖沒有名字,劍卻有名字…」說着,轉向赤南風含笑問道:「你不是想看看我背負之劍麼?」

赤南風暗裏一驚,連忙道:「我真的可以看麼?」

黑衣人立即拔出佩劍,翻身退出十尺,就舞起劍來。

赤南風即時目不轉睛地看,見她身段玲瓏,意態含蓄,身法並不迅急,以為她這樣耍定要耍很久,不料她一會就停了。

赤南風傻住,暗問她到底完了沒有,想問但又怕自己看錯,便道:「前輩,這劍法煞是好看,但怎麽就只有一招呢!」

黑衣人聼他這樣問,才把劍收囘,慢步走來道:「你是真的有眼力,還是不過有自信。」

赤南風有點靦腆,未有答話。

黑衣人便道:「不管是那一樣,以你的年紀,都不可少看。」

受了這樣的贊美,赤南風臉紅了,連忙問道:「前輩!那這一招有名堂麽?」

黑衣人朗然答道:「這一招叫無招。」

赤南風還未答話,那邊的九千已笑道:「前輩!你算錯了,明明是一招,怎麽會變了無招?」

聼她這麽說來,黑衣人傻楞了,她創此劍招,一招便了,再無第二招,所以便叫無招,從沒想過它原本是有一招的。

赤南風不理會一招還是無招,認真地繼續問道:「那這劍呢?這劍鋒冷若寒霜,有一種攝人氣魄,是我不曾見過的。」

黑衣人馬上把劍遞過去,沉聲道:「此劍雖冷,卻是一把情劍,清清白白,不曾殺過人。」

赤南風傻傻地應了一聲,低頭見那劍鋒利如薄冰,冷瑩瑩不可方物,心中一凜,不敢接劍。那邊九千卻自個兒發呆,喃喃道:「情劍?劍鋒冷,心中熱,外冷内熱,這樣做人,那太凄清了。」

黑衣人把劍收回,往後一晃,劍就回鞘,問道:「你懂得甚麼叫做淒清麼?」

九千抿嘴一笑道:「不一定要親自嘗過才會懂的,看戲就看多了?我才不要像那些戲裏的人呢?」九千不經意又說了句動人心弦的話,黑衣人聽了,心頭一凜,半晌不語,才對赤南風道正色道:「此劍名叫湘子。」

赤南風雖未聽過,卻不敢怠慢,立即道:「好名字。」

 

驟然一片山影蓋着黑衣人淡淡的微笑,太陽又西去了,暗想:今天與這兩個少年人的一番對話,頗為快意,可惜日暮鴉歸,天色已晚,終要離去,便道:「我要走了,你們也該回去吧!」

說罷轉身就走,身影才動,九千即追前叫道:「等一下。」

黑衣人停住步,回頭看着她,九千猶豫半晌,才問道:「我可不可以看清楚你的臉?」

黑衣人隔着黑紗,似笑非笑,頃刻就解下黑紗帽子,露出一張素臉,赤南風一看暗驚:這張臉怎地比那湘子劍更冷啊!

九千上前盯着那黑衣人的臉,眸光輕閃,神秘一笑,道:「我覺得你…最好不要常常戴着黑紗帽子,你要多曬太陽啊!」

黑衣人聼了,撇嘴笑道:「胡說八道!」

忽地竹林裏傳來叫喊聲:「千兒!南風!」

九千和赤南風轉身一看,再回頭時,黑衣人已不知所蹤了,惜輝和大兒子寶山便從竹林裏走出,見九千和赤南風果然在此,才安心下來。九千看到娘親,便嚷着道:「娘,我見到九阿姨了。」

惜輝驚道:「在那兒?如今人呢?」

九千指着冥冥暮色,迷離遠方,答道:「她走了。」

惜輝問道:「是她親口跟你說的麼?」

九千搖搖頭,又點頭道:「不是,但我知道她是。」

聽她說得似是疑非,惜輝只覺一陣心酸,舉頭再看,荒郊清野,殘陽背雁,不禁悵然。

 

 

 

(三)峨嵋

踏着峨嵋山徑,石板階梯,拾級而上,遙望金頂,青峰翠擁,奇岩拔秀。

姜笛帶着一家人攀山上路,南風和九千走在前頭,九千回頭叫道:「爹!娘!快點!」

姜笛邊走邊看風景,悠然道:「惜輝,我們很久沒有一起出遊了,對嗎?反正九妹不會那麼快就現身的,不若我們先去天池峰看看,好不好?」

惜輝仰望峨嵋諸峰,不禁想起松狐島,略帶傷感道:「娘親出身峨嵋派,外祖父家本在峨嵋山腳,但我們卻從來不曾來過峨嵋山,今天若不是為了九妹也不會來。」

姜笛便道:「對不?今天既然來了,我們好該先遊覽一番,再上金頂。」

惜輝笑道:「我知你早已看透名利,根本無心參加甚麼論劍大會。」

夫婦倆心靈相通,隱居不老山莊,早把紅塵拋卻,惟惜輝對松狐島不能忘懷,心中有愧,難為了夫婿長年為她擔憂,今天他既有此興致,就暫且把心事放下吧!便轉頭對兒子寶山道:「你去告訴南風和千兒,說你們先行一步,我們隨後就來。」寶山聽了娘親的話,也沒有問為甚麼,便應聲去了。

三步連兩步,追上前去,見南風和九千站在一尊彌勒佛像下,扇風擦汗,九千嚷道:「已經八月天了,怎麼還那麼熱呢?」聽得爹娘遊山去了,不禁哈哈大笑道:「爹和娘原來比我們更貪玩呢?」說着便乾脆坐了下來,休息一會,三人並肩坐着,清風徐來,略帶寒意,可見殘暑將盡,說不定今夜一場秋雨,明日又滿地黃葉堆積。

三人一時各有所思,忽的眼前一對年輕劍客走來,一個白臉,一個黑臉,兩人的對話引起了三人的注意。

那白臉子問道:「賢兄,你看那醜婆婆是否就是松狐島島主任振衣?」

黑臉子笑道:「以愚弟之見,不甚可能?」

白臉子問道:「何以見得呢?」

黑臉子道:「聽說那任振衣的容貌冷豔絕倫,連皇上都畫不出來。」

白臉子奇道:「哦!是麼?如果是真的,那就一定不是,世間那有美貌的女子甘願叫自己做醜婆婆的呢?」

黑臉子贊同道:「賢兄高見。」

兩人說着,便匆匆上山去了。三人還是坐在樹下憩息,聽了剛才那兩人對話,大感惑甚,南風站起來,側着腦袋道:「世人盡是以貌取人,金頂論劍,又有幾人真的懂得劍?大都是醉翁之意不在劍。」

說着,又見一人走上前來,此人一身麻布長袍,斗笠蓋到鼻子來,滿面虯髯,根本瞧不見臉,見他手執竹杖,低首徐行,身上並無掛劍,便好奇問道:「這位大叔,也是去金頂論劍麼?」

那大叔笑而不語,只合十還禮。

三人想他合十,該是個出家人吧!便也站起向他還禮。這時剛好又有個上山的劍客經過,看見那身披麻布衣的人,眼神有點瞧不起,道:「如果你是來化緣的,那你走錯路了,這路是通往峨嵋金頂,今天有個論劍大會,天下劍術名家齊集,比武論劍,或一睹當今劍術翹楚松狐島島主任振衣的風采…」見說了那麼多,此人竟毫無反應,便哼一聲接道:「你是個啞巴還是個聾子,跟你說這些看來都是多餘的。」便指着前面一條小徑,大聲道:「你要化緣,就從這曲徑往峨嵋庵去吧!」

也不知道那人是否真的是個和尚,是個聾子還是啞巴,但聽了那劍客一番頤指氣使的話,也沒生氣,還是俯首合十,乖乖地往他所指的小徑去了。

九千看着他幽幽的背影,喃喃道:「他明明是要上金頂的,聽了這個人的指使,就甘心服從,這個和尚好謙虛無爭啊!」

寳山笑道:「和尚不是本就該謙虛無爭的麽?」

九千撇嘴道:「才不呢!我就看過好多和尚趾高氣揚,心高氣傲的。」

南風道:「這和尚面貌,似西域番僧,可能與你看過的不一樣吧!」

說罷,三人又再上路,卻不再焦急,九千暗想:上金頂的人若盡都是如剛才那些人一樣,我看九阿姨一定不會現身。

小徑清幽,兩旁翠竹參天,那人竹杖芒鞋,步履輕盈,仍是低首徐行,不久就走到小徑的盡頭,果然有間庵堂,那人站在庵堂前,聽禪院裏傳來彷彿彷彿魚磬念誦之聲,就站住不動,忽然禪堂裏走出兩個尼姑,年邁尼姑看來也有九十歲了,對那稍為年輕的尼姑道:「自從峨嵋百年大典之後,峨嵋派竟就沉寂了五十年之久,今次金頂論劍,你要謹慎處理,要不卑不亢,既柔且剛,盡了做主人家的本分就夠了。」

那稍年輕的尼姑聽了,應聲道:「是的,師父。」便獨自踏上小徑去了。

老尼姑回頭見那身穿粗麻布衣的大鬍子呆站庵前,即命人取來齋菜,親自拿給他,微笑道:「你一定走了很遠路才來到這裏,先吃飽了再上路吧!」

那人低頭看看腳上一雙草履,已穿得破破爛爛,鞋底早就破了幾個大洞,卻沒料到這年逾九十的老尼一看就看到,連忙跪下,雙手接過齋菜,待老尼走後,才伸手撚起飯菜放到嘴裏吃。

山中雖仍炎熱,但枝頭早有秋色。

 

來到金頂,涼風習習,旗幟飄揚,各大門派早已到場,等待峨嵋住持靜如師太開壇論劍。

南風等三人終於攀上了金頂,一看人頭湧湧,沒想到來的人那麼多,而且來得那麼早,九千暗想:若只是為了看看九阿姨而來,恐怕都要失望而回,我有預感九阿姨來了,也不會現身。想着,靜如師太便淨手焚香,站在壇前,揚聲道:「金頂論劍,志在切磋,點到即止,不分勝負。」

靜如師太聲音溫柔細軟,卻響徹全場,可見其內力之雄厚,峨嵋派雖沉寂了五十年,武學根基卻比冥心師太時期更為精深博大,靜如師太接道:「本門得道比丘雲谷師太長年在松狐島前任島主任萬里所贈的金風玉露松前練劍,吸風飲露,內力大增,年逾九十,還自創了一套玉露劍法,今日適逢其會,好讓各名家批評指點。」

說着,清虛師太已拿着長劍站到場中,拱手作揖,即有一名白袍劍客翻身而出,抱拳道:「在下點蒼派孟儒,請指教!」說畢,兩劍交刃,劍光撩人。論到劍術,點蒼派自從敗在任停雲之後,百餘年已無新招,劍法平平無奇,此人卻一馬當先,實在勇氣可嘉,可雲谷師太這玉露劍法畢竟超凡脫俗,由年逾九十的老人所創,自有其深厚之處,劍招流轉間,沉鬱頓挫,劍氣凝厚,雄揚莊重,點蒼派孟儒已盡全力,也不是敵手,便退身拱手道:「玉露劍法令人大開眼界,在下甘拜下風。」語畢,就收劍離場,立即又一人躍入場中,亮出寶劍,道:「海潮派蔣浪,得罪了。」說着已揮劍進招,毫不留手,這蔣浪乃當年一招就敗在任振衣手下那蔣濤的兒子,他年輕氣盛,一心想為海潮派雪恥,可是他腳步輕浮,招式急躁,十來招已露出多處破綻,清虛師太都算客氣,沒有一招就把他打敗,留他一級下臺階。九千靜靜地看,乍聽身旁一對夫婦對話,那丈夫笑道:「此人怎麽如此沉不住氣,。」

妻子應了一聲,道:「他一定不愛釣魚了!」說着,蔣浪長劍已給清虛師太劍風震脫,半空中插到地上,蔣浪垂頭喪氣把劍撿回,轉身便走。那丈夫看了,歎氣道:「當年青城山任振衣和八大散人的那場比武,就好看多。若是如此,我看她今天不會來了。」

妻子聽了,叫道:「不會吧!」轉頭又喊:「你看,青城派出場了。」

丈夫一聼是青城派便精神抖擻道:「十五年前,青城派有個青年劍客,可惜當場給廢了右手,青城派自從那老掌門死了,就再沒聽過有甚麼人物,又看看這個如何?」

說着,那青城派劍客已露出長劍,眾人即時眼睛一亮,丈夫便叫道:「好!清揚斬妖劍?就看他能否起死回生!」妻子便笑道:「起死回生!不如放生!」

九千聽到這裏,忍不住瞧瞧那對夫婦,見妻子肚子脹起,像已懷孕九月,也來看比武,定是陪丈夫來的吧!

果然那清揚劍一出,即時劍氣飛揚,立刻把玉露劍法壓下去,清揚斬妖劍共八式,都是伏虎、降魔、除孽、消災的豪邁招式,往往一招致命,斬草除根,不留後患,這種霸道的劍招即時把清虛師太逼得節節敗退。峨嵋派今次邀請群雄論劍,並無揚威立萬之意,志在團結各大門派,提高劍術境界,只可惜總有人懷着爭名逐利之心而來,青城派自從十五年前被揭發赤霞子落毒一事後,一直伺機捲土重來,再奪天下第一劍美名,此人乃新任掌門的入室大弟子,盡得青城派劍法所長,一出手就已取得優勢,兩劍交鋒數十回合,果然有點看頭,觀看的人立時聚精匯神,稍不留意,噹一聲,清虛師太長劍落地,已分了勝負。

清虛師太含笑拾劍,拱手道:「青城派果然英雄輩出,不愧為劍術宗師,貧尼佩服!」

此青年一落場就出招,還未自報姓名,如今勝了,連忙揚聲道:「青城派甄楚華,拜會了峨嵋師太。」

清虛師太頷首一笑,便退了出來。甄楚華站在場中,躊躇滿志,過了好一會兒,才有人敢出來應戰,可是,北岳派、衡山派、崆峒派、金陵司空世家,甚至華山派的門人都敗在他清揚斬妖劍之下。九千暗想:此甄楚華那麼厲害,不知可否引得我們九阿姨現身呢?

想罷,身旁那丈夫又說:「青城派不愧為青城派,可是!」

妻子便問道:「可是甚麼?」

丈夫道:「此人氣焰凌人,令我想起青城那個老道士,說什麽都要大。」

妻子聽了,定睛看着丈夫,似對他充滿欽羡,道:「是的,要兩尺長的青鯉,那麽大的青鯉就只有你才抓得到。」

九千偷看暗笑,想道:這對夫婦頗有趣,我以為除了我和南風表哥,就沒有夫婦情侶不吵架的,就連我爸媽也吵架?

想着,身旁有人影躍起,九千便失聲叫道:「南風表哥?」

赤南風已翻身躍到場中,拱手道:「晚輩九天門赤南風,想領教青城派的劍法。」

甄楚華一連贏了那麼多人,更是氣盛,瞧瞧赤南風才不到二十歲,九天門在關外雖頗負盛名,但從來無心問鼎中原武林,其劍法如何,其實也不是很多人見過,但九天玄女劍曾一度在青城山亮過相,甄楚華當時還剛入門,任振衣當年以九天玄女劍揮耍那套靈狐九劍,印象仍然深刻。

甄楚華微微一笑道:「就憑你手中的九天玄女劍,至少也可接我十招吧!」

見他如此氣傲,赤南風更是沉着,反心平氣和道:「請指教!」

便即拔出佩劍,飛身落下,九天玄女劍創自九天門祖師爺赤心冰,本是一個女子的劍法,卻有沉潛剛克,高明柔克,精華內蘊,不怒而威那種一鳴驚人的氣魄,赤南風雖是年輕,卻有驥驁之氣,鴻鵠之志,平日言語不多,虛懷若谷,連九千也沒想到他竟有此膽色,挑戰連敗五大門派的甄楚華,見他劍勢豪邁,英氣逼人,雖一時佔了上風,還是看得心驚肉跳,果然,甄楚華又豈是等閒之輩?今日金頂論劍,早就預了要獨領風騷,為青城派爭回一口氣,豈可輕易讓別人平分秋色?刹那翻身,就換了龍騰虎躍劍,這劍法也是剛勁無比,與九天玄女劍硬碰起來,擦起星星火花,兩劍交鋒,倏如流電,畢竟兩人都還年輕,赤南風當是初生之犢,甄楚華也該不出三十,都是血氣方剛,不肯輕易言敗之人,一時兩人打得燦爛異常,難分難解,九千在旁看得咬牙磨齒,寶山也膛目結舌,沒想到平時對妹妹千依百順的表哥,竟可如此勇猛,真是深藏不露啊!

這時,那個丈夫又道:「真的一山還有一山高,似乎好戲還在後頭…」

說到這裏,妻子忽地大叫一聲,丈夫就看見甄楚華長劍一抖,正刺向赤南風咽喉,本說明切磋較技,點到即止,沒料這甄楚華竟出此狠招,眼看就要置赤南風於死地,眾人啊一聲驚呼,九千卻傻傻愣住,一聲都喊不出來,就在這生死一線間,赤南風以不變應萬變,肩膊輕晃,分毫之差,甄楚華劍鋒便刺了個空,眨眼的工夫,赤南風往後翻腰,標準的松狐島輕功一亮,就躍到甄楚華身後,橫劍一撇,正好架在甄楚華脖子上,淡然道:「我們到此為止吧!」

甄楚華沒想到他雷霆一擊的龍騰虎躍劍會被他破解,還瞬間讓他反敗為勝,想到自己一劍欲置人於死地,卻轉眼敗在他手上,頓感無地自容,一時看不開,竟想當場自刎,眾人又啊一聲驚呼。甄楚華抬劍左邊脖子上,正要割下,赤南風大驚,但他劍在右手,眼看來不及阻止,忽焉,甄楚華輕呼一聲,手中清揚劍便掉在地上,手背上插有三根松針,痛得他呱呱大叫。

驟見他手上松針,眾人即時譁然,四處張望,有人便叫道:「松狐島的天散松針!」可是舉目四顧,金頂上松樹參天,隨風輕搖,卻不見人影。這時便有人站了出來,叫道:「松狐島島主若是在場,請不妨現身,讓我們再一睹風采?」

 

(四)金頂

但見松濤颯颯,未有回應,剛巧惜輝和姜笛遊山回來,看見那招天散松針,也驚詫道:「果然是松狐島的天散松針,九妹她…」

眾人靜默,等待任振衣現身之際,猛然一聲呼嘯,一團黑影從天而降,不曉得他到底從那裏翻倒出來,驟然已立身眼前,眾人又是一驚,此人一身黑衣,戴了個金面具,身材魁梧,分明是個大漢子,絕不可能是任振衣。

惜輝暗驚:「此人是誰?剛才那手天散松針是他露的麼?他怎會懂得松狐島的功夫?」

金面人大笑一聲,對甄楚華道:「你怎麼這樣容易就想死,枉你還是個學武之人!」

甄楚華早已無地自容,一次死不了,又不好意思再當面尋死,撿起劍來便衝出人群走了。

金面人回頭看着赤南風,語氣驕慢道:「現在只有你才可跟我比試,沒想到中原早已人才凋零,就只剩下一兩個黃毛小子吧了!」

赤南風見此人神秘莫測,如此說話,武功定必高強,站住不敢回話,惜輝便上前問道:「閣下怎會懂得松狐島的獨門暗器,你與松狐島島主有何關係?」

金面人爽快答道:「並無關係。但松狐島島主既不現身,恐怕她也不想再做這個島主了,既是如此,誰懂得松狐島的武功,誰就當這個島主,這又有何不可?」

惜輝聽此金面人口出狂言,藐視松狐島,不禁氣憤,雖十年不曾與人交過手,此刻也難作罷,拳頭一抓,便上前使出松海浪奔天這招殺手鐧,卻怎料此人竟以南山石上松回應,也是聽松十三式其中一招,惜輝大驚退身,暗道:此人果真懂得松狐島的功夫,松狐島的絕學落在這種人手上,一定為害不淺。

這時,在場眾人無不驚詫異常,沒想到一心等待目睹松狐島島主風采,卻忽然來了個假冒貨,而這個假冒貨卻又懂得真的松狐島武功,如此奇聞奇事,莫不叫人震驚。

數招過後,惜輝已無招可用,她懂得的松狐島武功竟還不如這假冒貨多,刹那見他一掌劃風而來,使出聽松十三式最後一擊幽松生紫煙,這招式任萬里只傳給九妹,其餘八姐妹連見也不曾見過。

姜笛、九千等人在旁看得冷汗淋淋,姜笛見妻子快招架不住,即飛身上前,拔出佩劍,連連向金面人刺去,金面人回身一閃,往後伸手一抓,拔出所負佩劍,噹!一響,便與姜笛的不死劍交拚數合。

他劍法快如閃電,手執寶劍驟看黯淡無光,劍尖圓鈍,揮灑起來,煞是靈活,所使劍法果然就是如假包換的靈狐九劍,才亮了劍,已連環猛刺三招,出洞、擺尾、撲兔,把姜笛逼得無身可退,無路可逃。眾人無不大驚,此人所負之劍,難道就是狐尾劍!狐尾劍自任停雲就已經絕跡,任振衣雖在青城山耍過一遍靈狐九劍,卻還是沒有人見過真正的狐尾劍,誰也沒想到這柄神祕古劍會在此金面人手中重現。

寶山看得膽顫心驚,九千看得急如星火,不停跺腳,暗叫道:「九阿姨!你在哪?為甚麼還不現身。」忽見對面人群裏站着一人,不是九阿姨,卻是剛才半路遇上那個麻布衣和尚,九千愣住,暗道:「此人果然真的要來金頂,那他來金頂到底又有何目的?難道他與這金面人是一夥的?」

眼看爹爹快招架不住,卻無人敢出手相助。赤南風此刻也按捺不住,別人不管,是因為事不關己,但他身為任萬里的外孫,又豈何坐視不理,縱身一躍便擋在姜笛面前,道:「姨丈,讓我來接他幾招吧!」

說着便騰空翻身,一劍猛刺過去,可是松狐島的靈狐九劍,就算是假冒,總有七八分功力吧!頃刻一招靈狐望月,插空而來,勢如破竹,本是仁者之劍,在不仁者手中,就變了殺人利器,仁與不仁,就在用劍者之心腸與胸懷,殺與不殺,也盡在他一念之間,金面人冷眸一閃,頓起殺念,暗想:就讓他們自己嘗嘗狐尾劍的厲害吧!此念一起,靈狐望月一劍已到,赤南風傻傻盯着劍鋒刺來,已然不知如何閃避,九千乍見麻布衣人身影一動,自己也撲將出去,喊道:「不要殺他!」

各人身影才動,驀然眼前一縷白煙,半空平白翻出,就擋在赤南風前面,倏的劍鋒一亮,便與狐尾劍交拚起來,兩劍在空中相互刺殺,但見白衣人長劍光芒萬丈,把狐尾劍緊緊纏着,狐尾劍只是閃退,一時甚麼望月、抱雪、首丘全使不出來,到底假冒貨還是假冒貨,一試便知龍與鳳,眾人一聲嘩叫,目不轉睛看着這白衣人的劍法,卻說不出個頭緒來,因為此劍法並非如他們最初所猜的是正貨靈狐九劍,而是從未見過,卻又遠遠勝過靈狐九劍。

在場人士,只有九千和赤南風見過此劍法,卻還是一樣震驚,赤南風讚歎道:「沒想到她那耍起來慢吞吞的一招了,刹那用於對陣之中,竟如此神速不羈,如初生野馬,奔騰於無邊無際的大草原上,那樣自由自在,無拘無束。」

九千便高聲喊道:「哇!九阿姨的一招了原來那麽厲害!」

白衣人身披白紗衣,正如傳聞中所描述,但又面罩醜臉皮,此人到底是任振衣還是醜婆婆呢?她使的武功又無人見過,若不是松狐島的武功,她難道不是任振衣?若是醜婆婆,那她與任振衣又有何關係?為何又要插手松狐島的事呢?

一時,人人腦際都盤旋着很多沒有答案的問題,不用片刻,白衣人已把那假冒貨制服,金面人被逼至無路可退,中了白衣人兩道快劍,胸前嗖嗖兩聲,劃了兩道深深的血痕,踉蹌一個翻滾便跌在地上,白衣人長劍一揮,先把狐尾劍削落,反手再削,金面人純金面具刹那被削成兩截,噹!就斷裂剖開,跌落地上,金面人驟然露出了廬山真面目,眾人連忙哄前,亂嗆嗆的說過不停,想一睹他的容貌,可是看見的人都皺起眉頭,暗道:「此人是誰啊!不曾見過,怎學得一身松狐島的功夫呢?」

這裏認得他的人只有兩個,第一個就是白衣人,冷森森地盯着他,微驚道:「二師兄?」

此金面人竟然就是妙音的徒弟,月橋的二師兄虎橋,虎橋見身份被悉破,又敗在這個神秘白衣人手中,本就無話可說,但聽他喊自己做二師兄,眼皮一收,就馬上猜到這白衣人的身份,冷然笑道:「原來松狐島的甚麼絕世武功也不過是如此不堪一擊吧了!」

聽他這樣一說,白衣人眸光瞬閃,舉劍指着他,輕輕搖頭道:「你親眼目睹妙音的下場,為何還要步他後塵?」

虎橋素來陰沉,連月橋也不知道他心裏想些甚麼。他其實早就對妙音恨之入骨,他苦練武功,輕功劍術早在妙音之上,卻害怕他的妙音心波功,一直不敢公然與他對抗。妙音死了,他絕不難過,卻不知不覺走上了他的舊路,想稱霸中原武林,在松狐島眼看一套絕世劍法就刻在牆上,松狐島的武功秘笈唾手可得,如此大的誘惑,實在難以抗拒。

如今夢想成空,也不後悔,坦然接受結果,漠然道:「你要殺就殺,不用教訓我。」

白衣人見他偷學了一身松狐島的武功,若不殺他,終必為害人間,也侮辱了松狐島的絕學,故萬不能留此人在世上,瞳光一收,頓時變得深沉,無奈厲聲道:「好!那我就送你去見你師父吧!」

說畢,長劍一伸,就要往他心臟刺去,不過毫釐之差,忽爾一襲朦朧灰影,眼前把虎橋全身罩住,白衣人長劍回手,便往那團灰影刺去,那灰影袍袖輕翻,就把長劍彈開,驟然執起金面人飛上半空,倏忽便躥進松林裏去,眾人觀此一變,無不大驚,除了松狐島之外,世間竟還有此快速迷離,不可名狀的輕功身法,此人到底是誰?九千已驚呼道:「那…麻布衣和尚?」

赤南風也失聲叫道:「…竟是如此深藏不露的高人啊!」

白衣人見此灰布人就在她眼前把虎橋救走,當是不肯罷休,暗驚道:「此人身法竟在我之上!世間還會有誰?…」他以長袖遮臉,虯髯如霧,快影如煙,就此驚鴻一瞥,即隨風而逝,心頭驟覺洶洶湧湧,誓要把他追回,便飛身躍起,遁入松林裏去。

驟見三人瞬眼去如黄鶴,只餘一縷青煙,眾人頓感愕然。

惜輝和姜笛不假思索,同步追進了松樹林,九千、赤南風和寶山當正想跟隨,卻被群眾包圍,詢問他們一切有關這個白衣人的不解疑團。

 

過了松樹林,來到雲樹倚掛斷崖處,前無去路,就被白衣人追上,白衣人翻身上前,伸手一抓,就要抓那人蓋頭,可一指之差,灰袍人頭也不回,不過輕輕運功,身上灰布長袍忽地隆起,一陣陰風從長袍滲出,把白衣人震退半步,灰袍人便攬着虎橋飛身躍下懸崖,白衣人大驚,上前俯身一看,見灰袍人飛身在陡峭崖壁上,還扛着個百餘斤的大漢子,竟也飄逸如飛雁,如此輕功,才堪稱絕世啊!白衣人除了驚訝,還隱隱若有所思,總覺此人…有似曾相識之感!

茫然立於斷崖上,直到那人完全消失在雲海天際間,才轉過身來,就看見惜輝和姜笛。

白衣人只看了他倆一眼,便欲轉身離去,卻被惜輝叫住,道:「你慢走!」

白衣人停了腳步,沉聲問道:「夫人叫我麼?」

惜輝上前細心打量着她,看她身材高度與九妹無異,便豁然道:「九妹,這裏沒有其他人了,你就算有甚麼苦衷,拿下面具再說啊!」

白衣人心情十分複雜,輕歎道:「你認錯人了。」

惜輝不放棄,微怒道:「你就算不是她,也應該認識她吧!」

白衣人苦笑道:「也許吧!」

惜輝見她不肯認也不勉強,只微笑道:「如果你認識她,就請你轉告她,今年冬至那天,我們姐妹約定返回松狐島拜祭爹娘,請她也回家一聚!」

白衣人點頭道:「夫人請放心,我一定會轉告她的。」

說畢,旋身就飛走了。

惜輝看她走了以後,回頭瞧瞧姜笛,甚是無奈道:「她難道還不肯原諒我們麼?」

姜笛釋然一笑道:「今天事情那麼多,也夠累人了,改天再說吧!」

這時,九千他們才追上,只見爹娘兩人相對惆悵,九千舉目四處張望,不過風湧雲現,渺渺煙波。

 

白衣人一身蕭索,立影灘岸,見一葉輕舟,放流而至,舟上有素衣女子,獨坐船頭,悠然有笛聲飄蕩,笛聲嘎然而止,素女仗劍飛躍,落入江渚,白衣人鬢絮青絲,迎風一揚,拔出佩劍,兩刃半空交接,身影迴旋起落,如江上清風,風過無痕。無論輕功、劍法,兩人都已臻至爐火純青、揮灑自如、無拘無跡的化境了。

在江渚飛騰亂舞,馳騁於江心平波,竟無半點水花濺起,淺灘蒼鷺不忙不驚,依樣低頭覓食,是兩忘於江湖?抑是同為物化?

素女翻身躍回船頭,長劍斜斜往桌面一掃,劍尖上盛着一小酒杯,送到白衣人面前,白衣人依樣用劍抄起酒杯囘敬。兩人相視一笑,拿下劍上酒杯,一飲而盡,收劍坐下。

素女提壺斟酒,含笑道:「你終於連最後九式也都參透了。」

白衣人捏着杯子,側首斜望,見素女點了青燈,掛於船頭,才輕聲道:「參透了劍法,卻參不透人生。」說完,又自乾一杯。

素女坐回案前,提壺添酒,施施然道:「只怕你參透了人生,又參不透情感。」

白衣人聽罷,黯然低首,片晌才道:「若是沒有情感的人生,參透了又如何?月有陰晴圓缺,此事古難全啊!」

素女含笑舉杯,直指山頭初升之月道:「你看這月真是圓呢?但當你低頭不看它時,又怎知道它是圓的呢?這樣,你有你悲歡離合,它有它陰晴圓缺,誰也管不了誰!」

白衣人聽罷,驀然驚愕,放聲大笑,立即舉杯與之碰飲,相對浮一大白。

酒後,放下杯子,才注視着燈下素女,低聲道:「江水滔滔,此刻的水已非那刻的水,全不滯留,瀟灑來去,就如娘娘一樣,早已參透世情,無生無死,無愛無恨,無圓無缺了。」

娘娘還是淺笑,須臾才道:「你以後不要再叫我做甚麼娘娘了,我現在不過是個普通樵婦,我本姓朱,單名一個菡字。」

白衣人撫着酒杯,黯然道:「沒想到小王爺如此早夭。」

提起小王爺,朱菡也不甚傷感,只淡然道:「傭兒短命,雖是可悲,卻避過了將來做個亡國皇帝的宿命。」

朱菡此語一出,白衣人心中一凜,正色道:「你到底是甚麼人?好像能知過去未來。」

朱菡還是沒有正面回答,不過慨嘆道:「朝代興替,自古而然,國可破,家可亡,人可逝,但親情是沒有東西可以替代的,傭兒死後,我反覺得他又回到我膝下,就像小時候那樣,聽我說故事。」

白衣人聽罷,沉吟一會,才微笑道:「朱菡?你實在有太多未解之謎。」

朱菡聽了,燦然一笑,道:「千千姑娘,人人都是個謎,我們又有誰看得清誰呢?」

千千頷首淺笑道:「說的也是,好比冰上一角。」

朱菡接道:「是的,誰能勘破情迷?一切都是鏡花水月,一面兩影。唯有明心見性,方能不受迷惑。」

千千聽罷,眉梢一揚,道:「世事紛紜,人心多變,千千早已看透,但…」一瞥才接道:「請恕千千愚昧,但有一事,始終未能放下。」

「何事?」朱菡問道。

「朱菡之謎不解,實在難以釋懷?」千千馬上答道,一頓,見她還是一臉淡然,便故意問道:「你到底是誰?你對松狐島的輕功劍術,甚至内功皆無所不知,對其精髓瞭如指掌,甚至更勝一籌,似是由你所創,我若不是看了妙音徒弟虎橋在峨眉金頂所作之事,也不敢貿然問你。」

朱菡略笑道:「你懷疑我也是偷學了松呼島的武功?」

千千立即解釋:「不敢。以娘娘的造詣,絕不是虎橋之輩可比擬。但事必有因,你與松狐島似有很深厚的淵源,而我身為島主,你說能不耿耿於懷麽?」

朱菡淺笑輕聲,道:「好吧!你既然一定要知!」說着從懷中取出一物,遞給千千才正色道:「舊事我不願再提,但這世上,另有一人,她知道我的過去,你拿了此物,讓她一看,她就會告訴你一切有關我的事。」

千千一看,是個很薄的盒子,把在手中,輕如鴻毛,打開一看,果然就是一條羽毛。朱菡便道:「這是黑孔雀的冠翎,黑孔雀只產於天竺,中土非常罕有。」

說到黑孔雀,千千不禁頷首,心中讚嘆,記得當年岐王手稿所言,也曾提及。便問道:「那麽,這個人如今在哪兒?」

朱菡亮聲答道:「她在昆侖山北西海子旁玉樹林中,她的名字叫露珠。」

千千立即問道:「露珠?你知道昆侖山有多遠嗎娘娘?你叫我千里迢迢去什麽玉樹林找一顆露珠?你不是作弄我麽?」

朱菡莞爾一笑,不做囘應,只輕聲吟道:「譬如朝露,去日苦多,何以解憂,唯有杜康…」

千千忽如暮鼓晨鐘,當頭棒喝,自覺太過拘泥不往。半晌才寬然笑道:「是的,去日苦多,唯今是樂,別讓好酒空對月,舊事任他塵封了吧!我們還是飲酒為上。」說罷,舉杯自飲,一飲而盡。

朱菡立即舉杯囘敬道:「好句唯今是樂!」

兩人便不再囉嗦,乘着明媚的月色,與江上清風,倒壺傾觴,盡情痛飲,撫桅而唱,擊筑而歌,直至天亮。千千醒來,但見秋山朝霞,朱菡已經離去,卻留下她是黑羽翎。

 

 

 

 

 

(五)祭祖

雖只有半輪明月,今夜卻異常皎潔,照亮了堅冰峰下載德台九座幽塚,松狐島八位姐妹聚在爹娘墳前,準備拜祭爹娘和祖先,惜華和惜英擺好香果鮮花,惜耀燃點起白蠟燭,交給惜表和惜輝,插在每座島主墳前,燭光搖曳,照亮每位島主墓碑上的名字。

蠟燭都點好,放好,八姐妹沉默無語,一同舉頭望月,見缺月高掛,難道今夜人月不圓?

忽若一縷雪煙,飄飄而下,姐妹們臉上掠過一抹暖意,耳畔便有人聲響起,朗然念道:「履霜堅冰,踏雪無痕。」

白衣女子從堅冰峰如雪花飄下,腳尖輕點松枝,擻下斛斛玉塵,落在載德台軟如綿絮的新雪上,也不留半點痕印,驀然呈現在八位姐姐眼前,含着淺笑道:「我沒有來遲了吧!」

諸位姐姐一擁上前,細心把她打量,摸摸她的頭髮,捏捏她的下巴,惜陽才豪聲笑道:「你果然還沒死!」

千千靦腆笑道:「害你們為我傷心了。」

惜輝拉着千千的手來到爹娘墳前,乍見墓旁有個小小香塚,插了一根木頭,上面竟寫着:「松狐島第十代島主任振衣衣冠塚。」

千千失聲一笑,既驚且慨,惜輝已道:「十年前我曾到襄州城青天寨尋找你,卻見焦土殘垣,我便到襄州衙府去打探你的消息,那人竟跟我說你已死在亂軍之中,我問他那屍骸呢?他說早就與亂黨一同火化,他還給了我一條絹帕,說是你的遺物,我就帶回來埋在這香塚裏。」

千千聽罷,暗想:難道那絹帕就是滕大哥送我的定情信物?唉!兜兜轉轉,物是人非。不禁又想哭,又想笑,擁着惜輝顛聲道:「八姐,是我不好,害你們為我難過了。」

說着,姐妹們一刻相擁而泣,又歡喜,又心酸,惜陽便拉着千千道:「快點在爹娘墳前跪下,告訴他們你平安回來了。」

九姐妹便一同在任萬里和柳依依墳前下跪,恭恭敬敬叩了三個響頭,上香,奠酒,祭祀就告完畢,姐姐們隨即圍着千千噓寒問暖,經歷了十數載生離死別,今日死而復生,失而復得,更懂得珍惜這份骨肉之情,倫常之愛。

千千驟然想起一個人,便道:「你們有宓姨的音訊嗎?」

聼她提起宓姨,惜輝便道:「宓姨已於數年前病逝。」

聼得宓姨已逝,千千難免一陣感慨,雖知人情常變,生死有期,還是心生掛念。六姐惜表便解釋道:「十年前我與八妹重返松狐島,發現橋斷牆傾,一片頹垣敗瓦,連宓姨也不見蹤影,便到處打聼,方知宓姨遷到山下村莊居住,那時她還健在。」

千千聼後,只是莞爾而笑,卻不再追問。

七姐惜光便接道:「我們才知道青城山之後,松狐島發生了那麽多事!後來我和八妹、六姐合資把家園重建,幾年前才把草廬重新蓋好,雖然沒有以前的規模,也總算是個家啊!」

千千這才記起當年答應過宓姨的事,怎料她一去就十五年,而今松狐島真的重建了,她卻只感到一陣莫名的空虛,眾姐姐見千千只是含笑,不言不語,暗暗生怪,二姐惜春便道:「那你們還站在這兒幹甚麼?還不快點帶九妹去看看!」

說罷,眾姐妹便把東西收拾好,就擁着千千回懷玉峰去。

松狐島九姐妹同時施展輕功,飛躍於雪嶺之間,松濤之上,有如九隻離巢歸燕,插翅飛翔,倏然就回到懷玉峰。千千看見懷玉峰峭壁下一棟新蓋的草廬,門前還掛有木坊,寫着寸草軒三字,才忍不住哭了出來,姐姐們也沒有勸她,只拉着她的手進了草廬,點了燈,眼前一亮,草廬裏的擺設和千千以前的房間大致相同,窗外還可看到飛泉掛瀑,清晨還可聽到唧唧猿啼,夏天有蟲聲伴睡,秋夜也可窗前窺月。

眾姐姐齊聲道:「九妹,你就在這裏住下,像以前一樣。」

千千擦着眼淚,卻沒有回答。大姐惜陽忽然正色道:「千千,聽說你今天的武功已在松狐島之上了,若然你想自立門戶,我們也不會反對,絕不會勉強你一定要繼承松狐島,但如果你願意留下,今天又是個新開始,若不然,你有別的地方去,你也就去,松狐島還在這裏,這是永遠不會變的事。」

聽了惜陽這番話,眾姐妹一時靜了下來,千千也是低頭無語,片刻才抬頭微笑道:「我想先去看看爹的書齋。」

惜陽便拍拍她的肩頭,笑道:「你去吧!爹的書齋如今就只有你能去了。」

千千一臉茫然,獨自走出草廬,姐姐們還在身後注視着她,感覺好生怪異。

惜輝驟然想起一件事,便喊道:「等一等。」回頭就拿出狐尾劍交給千千,千千把狐尾劍一手接住,心裏陣陣鼓浪,道:「這…我該如可處置?」

惜陽便道:「這狐尾劍是你湘子劍的手下敗將,你愛怎樣處置便怎樣處置!」

此語一出,眾姐妹便哈哈大笑,因為她們都清楚大姐這樣說,完全是開玩笑,但對千千而言,卻隱藏了太多太多說不出的慨歎與無奈,這個結果是她當初離開松狐島時從未想過的。

 

來到冷松斷橋前,夜月清輝,照着峭壁上層層堆雪,幾株枯松倚掛,悄悄守護着爹的書齋。千千把狐尾劍用絹布包裹,斜繫於肩頭上,正欲飛度斷橋時,驟聼一聲呼喊:「九阿姨!」

千千回頭一看,見九千追着過來,朗聲道:「我沒說錯吧!你果然就是我九阿姨。」

千千微笑道:「不錯,你還在你娘肚子裏的時候,我們就見過面了。」

九千嘻嘻一笑道:「九阿姨!你現在沒有死了,娘說我可以改回我本來的名字,不用再叫九千了。」

「夏月?」

「是啊!做回姜夏月,我感到不知輕鬆許多呢!」

夏月天性自然,說了才知道說錯了,但見九阿姨嘴角含笑,並無惱怒,才鬆一口氣,半晌,千千才問道:「名字是父母親對孩子的期望,夏月這個名字有甚麼特殊的意思麼?」

夏月又調皮笑道:「我看就沒甚麽期望了,我出生時,我爹看見了月光,剛巧又是夏天,就隨口說吧了,沒甚麼特殊意義的。」

千千聼罷一笑,看這孩子聰明靈俐,活潑可愛,又善解人意,明白事理,回想起自己小時候,倒像隻大笨牛,不禁搖頭一笑,才問道:「這是你第一次來松狐島麼?」

夏月點頭道:「是啊!」

千千便道:「那我帶你到處看看!」

夏月高興地跳起來叫道:「好啊!」然後才問:「去那裏看?」

千千看着斷橋對面的書齋,正色道:「到外公的書齋去。」

夏月看外公的書齋在斷崖的另一邊,相隔那麼遠,眼前又是萬丈深谷,怎可能過去,便搖頭道:「還是算了,掉下這懸崖去,不是粉身碎骨麼?」

千千眸光乍閃,道:「不用怕,我帶你過去。」

夏月看着這九阿姨,臉上有一種過人的氣魄,頑強的信念,是她不曾有過,也不需要的,她從來就沒有想過要幹些甚麼超越自己的事,她覺得身邊的事情,已經夠好了。但這九阿姨臉上那份自信,有種令人不能抗拒的力量,便笑道:「好吧!去就去囉!」

千千即一手抓起她得胳臂,搭在自己肩上便道:「我揹你過去!」

說着,已飛身躍起道:「你把我抱緊,怎樣也不能放手啊!懂嗎?」

夏月連忙把她緊緊抱住,閉上眼睛,不敢往懸崖下看,瞬間,兩人便翻身飛躍懸崖之上,夏月只感到一時天旋地轉,人好像在鍋子裏給亂炒亂翻一樣,不到片刻,兩人便停在書齋草廬前,夏月鬆開了手,滿腦星花,腳步輕浮,一下子站不穩,便摔倒地上,問道:「啊!這是甚麼魔法,那樣厲害?」

千千正色道:「這是筋斗雲蹤脚。」

夏月搖搖晃晃站起來,笑道:「啊!原來就是聞名已久的筋手雲豬腳麼?」

夏月平時貪玩跟外公的武功借諧音改了個渾名,沒想到一時說漏了嘴,立即伸伸舌頭,以為九阿姨這回定會生氣,豈料她沒有生氣,不過呵呵大笑一聲。千千這一笑後,竟有種如釋重擔的感覺,松狐島這個名字長久以來在她肩上的壓力好像忽然消失了。

笑着,便大步踏進書齋,隔着竹籬,驟見書齋內,三面書架前坐着一個身影嶙峋的老人,不禁輕輕叫了一聲:「爹!」眼睛一眨,身影便消失了,才知道是幻象,便索然繞過竹籬到書齋後堂去,用掌風推開書架暗門,把狐尾劍重新放回原處,暗想:狐尾劍既是不露鋒芒,自甘潛藏,留在這裏,該是最好的歸宿。走出了秘室,把書架封好,看一切各歸其位,卻見爹的書桌上竟然放了一本書。連忙上前查看,見此書番開,頁紙發黃,舖滿了厚厚的塵埃,似是有人番開之後便一直放在這裏,千千好生奇怪,夏月在旁便問道:「嗯!這書有甚麽好看?」

千千舉袖把塵拂開,乍見書上有兩行文字畫了朱批,寫着…

夏月便讀了出來:「學而不思則罔,思而不學則殆。人無完人,盡其在我。」

千千即時舉目四望,低聲叫道:「爹!」但見庭院白雪堆積,粉牆撲朔,月色反照淡淡的藍光,那裏有人囘應,刹那一陣冷冷熱熱,百感交煎,身在情在,試問怎麼看破?怎麼參透?

夏月本應是少年不識愁滋味,卻又對周遭事物有深刻的感受,該是甚麼苦惱都沒有,卻又好像甚麼苦惱都懂,見九阿姨忽的呼爹喊娘,便道:「你很想念外公是麽?」

千千老實答道:「是的。」一頓才嘆道:「我以為他還在。」

夏月興奮地問道:「是因為那本書?」

千千便正色答道:「不錯,記得當年離開這裏之前,我與宓姨把書齋收拾乾净才走,這桌上是應該沒有書的,這書是甚麽時候放在這裏不重要,重要的是打開的那頁,正是他第一次教我讀書時的那頁,他分明就是要給我看的。」

「譁!好神奇啊!」夏月跳起來道:「那麽外公是真的還活着嗎?」

千千含笑搖頭道:「這個似乎已經不重要了。」她從容而寬懷,環視書齋四周,不覺自言自語道:「現在想來,當日我與妙音在這裏決一死戰的時候,爹就在旁觀看,宓姨跌下懸崖不死,也當然是他所救。難怪宓姨裝傻扮痴為他掩飾,把我戲弄。」

雖是自說自話,夏月都聼到了,笑道:「哈哈!宓姨是誰呀?連九阿姨都敢戲弄?」但九阿姨沒有答,只自個兒含笑傻想:那麽!當虎橋在這裏偷學松狐島的武功時,爹也是在旁觀看,卻不阻止,任由他偷,看來他真的超脫了…永不見於人世,死的只是塵世間的他,這些年,如果他還活着,一定過得挺逍遙自在吧!

夏月一直盯着九阿姨,又再問道:「你在笑甚麽?你還沒有答我,宓姨到底是誰呀?」

千千這才看看她,答道:「宓姨是我從小照顧我的人,她待我如親生子女一樣。」

夏月眸光一掠才道:「聽說外祖母生下了九阿姨就死了,如果是我,生下了女兒就死了,也會保佑她在這世上有人愛她如親生,代替母親所不能給她的愛。」

千千驚訝地盯着夏月,她小小年紀竟可說出這番話來,對母親的心事那麼瞭解,小時候的千千就全然不懂,不覺咽聲道:「你將來一定會是個好母親。」

夏月好像早就準備好要當個母親了,認真道:「是啊!我將來要有好多好多子子女女,兒兒孫孫,我喜歡小娃娃,小寶寶呢!」

千千打趣笑道:「那你要趕快成親才行了。」

夏月點點頭,正色道:「不錯!我明年就成親了。」

千千瞧她說得那麼認真,知道不是開玩笑,雖有點吃驚,也甚感快慰,妙然笑道:「是不是你那個南風表哥呢?」

說起南風表哥,夏月低頭羞澀一笑,才答道:「我跟南風表哥從小就認識,婚事早就定了,南風表哥明年就二十歲,大姨丈和大姨娘常常催促我們成親,所以…」

千千瞧她嬌羞裏滿載歡欣,喜不自勝,想起那個赤南風在金頂論劍的表現,胸懷磊落,有情有義,確是個可以負托終身的人,見她嫁得如此佳婿,衷心為她感到高興,卻故意問道:「你很喜歡你那個南風表哥,是麼?」

夏月嬌嗔一笑道:「他…他也很喜歡我啊!」

千千見她對情郎如此信任,又那麼坦率,看來這對小情人定能白頭偕老,終身為伴,兩情不渝,便正色道:「夏月,我衷心恭喜你!」

夏月抬頭看了九阿姨一眼,輕聲說了句:「謝謝!」乍見她眸子裏一絲幽怨,眼簾一沉,轉身便走,夏月跟隨她步出了書齋,見她站在書齋前,不知在看些甚麼,才問道:「九阿姨,你還要去那兒?明年我成親之日,你會不會回來看我!」

千千轉過頭來,看着她期待答案的那種誠懇真摯,最終還是無奈答道:「大概不會了。」

見夏月笑容頓消,毫不掩飾失望之情,便揚眉笑道:「就算我不能來,你也不用失望,我現在就先送上賀禮…」說着便解下身上佩劍,雙手遞過去道:「這劍就當作是送給你和南風的新婚賀禮吧!」

夏月一看竟是那柄光芒四射,震驚武林,在金頂大敗狐尾劍的湘子劍,一時呆住,不敢接劍,道:「不行!這劍如今已是名震天下的第一劍了,這禮物太貴重了,我不能收下。」

聽得湘子劍竟糊裏糊塗成了天下第一劍,千千只感世情荒誕,往往出人意表,她繼承了松狐島,一心想重震松狐島威望,將松狐島武學發揚光大,怎料松狐島的武功卻被自己親手擊敗,眾目暌暌之下,勝負已定,如今,那柄滕寬柔杜撰出來子虛烏有的甚麼湘子劍竟被奉為天下第一劍,武林至尊,看在千千眼裏,簡直是個天大的笑話。

千千還是把劍遞過去,毫不留戀,道:「不貴重,拿得起,放得下,又怎會重呢?」

夏月仍是瞪大眼睛,不敢相信,凝視着九阿姨眸子裏那絕不言悔的眼神,才緩緩伸手把湘子劍接過來,道:「嗯!這劍果然不重!我爹那柄就很沉了。」

千千交出了劍,心裏好不輕鬆,笑道:「不老山莊不死劍法也是名震江湖,你不是要跟我說你不懂劍法吧!」

夏月裂嘴一笑,嘻嘻道:「這當然不是,但我對刀劍不是很感興趣。」

千千接道:「你喜歡易容術。」

夏月眼眸閃亮,笑道:「嗯!你怎麼知道的?」

千千看這孩子如此聰慧,卻不自覺,凡事淡然處之,雖懂人情世故,卻不失天然本質,甚是喜歡,便道:「夏月,我把劍送你,沒有理由不傳你劍法。」

「劍法?」夏月又是一驚,失聲道:「你是說…一招了?」

千千正色道:「不錯!」說着,乍見書齋門前擱了一根竹條子,暗想:難道就是當年給爹敲了幾十下手背的竹條子?偷偷一笑道:「今天輪到我了!」

說罷,挑起竹條子,便翻舞起一招了來,見夏月還在發呆,便喝道:「你還等甚麼呢?拔劍吧!」

夏月知道今天這劍法不學不成了,雖然自己不愛練劍,但想到南風表哥是個劍癡,學了之後,給他看也好啊!便立即拔出劍來,跟着九阿姨的步法,專心地學了。

沒想到她悟性甚高,看一遍便學會。千千把竹條放回原處,心滿意足道:「一招了只有一式,所以一出劍就絕不反悔,絕無退路,婚姻之事,也該如此。這套劍法送給你們當新婚賀禮,也算合適吧!」

夏月聼了,誠心誠意道:「謝謝九阿姨。我絕對不會反悔的,我是真心喜歡南風表哥的。」

聽了夏月這番愛的告白,千千含笑領受,衷心祝福。朗然道:「時候不早了,我們回去吧!」

 

兩人才回到懷玉峰寸草軒,眾位姐姐正圍着桌子擲骰子,七嘴八舌,亂蓬蓬鬧哄哄的說個不停。惜輝看見她倆回來便喊道:「嗯!你們怎麼去那麼久?飯菜都涼了。」

說着便把眾姐姐從熱閙的骰局中喚醒,道:「嗯!九妹她們回來了,先吃飯吧!不要玩了!」

眾姐姐才停了手,惜光手裏還握着骰子,笑道:「八妹,你不是怕整個不老山莊都要輸給我,才用九妹來做藉口吧!」

眾人聽了,又加上幾分醉意,便哈哈大笑起來,惜輝只是笑笑,也不跟她爭辯,大姐惜陽便叫道:「好了!等下再玩吧!」

說着,眾人已圍着另一桌子,桌上放滿了各種各樣姐姐們的拿手菜式,花枝招展,千嬌百媚,堆滿一桌,千千看了,只是微笑,也不知該說些甚麼了。姐姐們便一同舉杯向千千敬酒,大姐惜陽正色道:「九妹,今天是你的生辰,但那麼多年來,我們從來不曾為你慶賀過生日,今天難得我們久別重逢,就趁此良晨佳景,跟你大大的慶賀一番。」

說着,眾姐姐齊聲道:「祝你年年有今日,歲歲有今朝。」

千千含笑不語,只撿起酒杯,回敬她們,眾人舉杯乾了,便開懷大笑,拿起筷子就吃,當夜眾姐妹飲醉食飽,擲骰投壺,通宵達旦。

清晨,松狐島依樣雲煙浩漫,惜輝醒來,見眾姐姐,釵橫鬢亂,倒睡一旁,唯獨不見了九妹千千,乍見女兒夏月身旁放了一柄長劍,細心一看,原來是湘子劍,便立即走出草廬,但見細雪紛飛,天上人間,一片白茫茫。

不禁歎道:「她畢竟…」

忽覺身後站了一人,正是大姐惜陽,見她負手而立,仰望天際,喃喃道:「都是因為我那句笑話吧!她畢竟還是過不了自己。」

千千在松狐島度過了她的三十五歲生日後,便從此在江湖上銷聲匿跡,再沒有人聽說她在甚麼地方出現過,或幹過甚麼驚天動地的事了,不管是任振衣,還是醜婆婆,也就此遺世絕塵,音訊杳然。

 

 

 

(六)隱居

長溝流月去無聲,彈指間,七載光陰又過。

長年受遼國壓逼蹂躪的女真人,終於起來反抗,與遼國發生激烈的衝突,女真族內部也戰事連連,死傷無數,許多女真族人和逃兵就躥入高麗,再經海道流亡到大宋沿岸境內,偷竊殺人,強暴婦女,造成滋擾,這些女真人一但被大宋官民抓到,不問情由,就會被當場打死,然後丢到渤海裏去。

一個深秋夜,遼宋邊境海岸一個小村莊,漁民收網戴月而歸,就各自把門關鎖。不敢出門。冷月斜照下的幾棟茅房,顯得更是蕭疏。這個沿海的村落,一向平靜,但最近幾乎夜夜有强盜,晚晚喊殺人。

一個婦人才剛入睡,就被喊殺之聲吵醒。她推窗一望,見聲音來自魚郎夫婦的茅廬,便披衣起床,出門觀看。千千當年離開松狐島之前,夏月給了她一塊布,上面用碳畫了一張地圖,原來是魚郎在金頂留下的地埗。千千按圖尋路,讓她找到了這個村莊,重遇魚郎,就這樣生活了下來。

她看見魚郎家附近有火光搖曳,心中忐忑,暗道:魚郎的女人連年小產,最近才平安生了小魚兒。弱女幼兒,一旦出事…想到這裏,便趕緊飛身到郎魚家中查看。發現茅廬窗下有燈影,門戶半開,千千頓感不妙,趨前一看,見門前竟有血跡,她冷靜的沿血路尋找,見一男人倒在血泊中,不幸竟真是魚郎。千千探他脈息,才死去不久,心中一慟,馬上回身飛入茅房,但願一對母子無事,卻見母親仰臥桌面上,面色發藍,是給人捏死的,千千一抓拳頭,又不見魚兒蹤影,心念他的安危,就聼到門外傳來嬰兒喊聲。千千衝門而出,向着哭聲尋找,走到海邊一片白楊樹林。乍見有嬰兒放在籃中,被吊在樹上。千千正欲飛身撲救,卻被一人身影擋住。她翻身落地,見月光之下,站了一個身材高大的漢子,他手執長劍,冷冷地瞅着她。千千心裏一沉,看來這不是一般的强盜殺人,此人的出現,讓七年的退隱生涯變得全無意義,道:「虎橋!是你殺了他們?」

虎橋立即答道:「不是。」他從樹蔭裏移出半步,讓他的面目更清晰,才接道:「他們是女真人殺的。」

千千冷笑道:「你殺了人也不敢認麽?」

虎橋淡然道:「我做了一定認,我為何要殺這些無相干的人?」一頓才接道:「是那個男人發現了一個偷雞的女真人,那個女真人就把他殺了,他的女人又殺了那個女真人,另一個女真人就追她到了房間,我進去看的時候,她已經死了,我看這嬰兒哭啼,就把他抱起,帶到這裏來。」

千千耐心地聼了,覺得很荒謬,緊鎖眉頭道:「你看着他們被殺?那你為何不救?」

虎橋錯愕地笑道:「女真人跟宋人互相殘殺,跟我一個大夏人有什麽關係?」

千千比他更錯愕,卻無話可説。半晌才問道:「那你來這裏幹什麽?」

虎橋眼睛一亮,正色道:「我來找你決鬥,一報當年金頂被你羞辱之恥?」

千千恍然,厲聲道:「決鬥是你我兩人之事,爲何累及無辜,快把嬰兒放下。」

虎橋略笑,道:「你放心,他在樹上很安全,你跟我決鬥完了,誰活下來就去把他放下。」

千千哭笑不得地看着此人,瞧小魚兒在樹上不哭不鬧,看來並無受傷,略為安心,便慢慢與他周旋,故意問道:「哦!是這樣,但如果是我死了,你也會放他下來嗎?」

虎橋不加思索就答道:「當然。」

千千又問:「但這嬰兒父母已死,就是你放了他,他又怎麽活下去?」

虎橋楞了楞,沒想到她會這樣問,千千又道:「如果我死了,你可以答應我把他撫養成人嗎?」

這麽一問,虎橋更沒想過,他又踏出一步,正眼看着千千,認真的考慮了半天,才答道:「好。我答應你。」

千千覺得此人繞有意思的,雖然對武功野心勃勃,但對其他事情,卻又不大介懷,他承諾撫養魚兒,看得出是有誠意的。

虎橋便問道:「你為何對自己這樣沒信心?」

千千淡然道:「我隱居七年沒練過功,劍法早已生疏。」

虎橋立即道:「那我給你三個月時間練功,我們再定日期決鬥。」

千千仰天一笑道:「是誰把你教得那麽正直無私?」

虎橋眸光一收,不答話。

千千又道:「三個月後,你要再找我不容易了。」

虎橋暗笑,揚言道:「像你這樣的人,你以為藏得起來麽?無論你隱居在哪裏,都會有人覺得你不一樣,而且,我有這嬰兒在手,如果你不現身,我就殺了他。」

千千笑意盡斂,瞪眼道:「不用等三個月,我今夜就看你有什麽本事?」

虎橋緊握劍柄道:「這七年來,我已沒再使用松狐島的武功,但我自創了一套劍法,我要再領教你的一招了。」

千千只道:「好。」

虎橋見她兩手空空,便問道:「你的劍呢?」

千千答道:「我以經把劍放下。」

「那我們怎麽比武?」虎橋驚詫地問。

千千早已慣了無劍,反覺安然,道:「你的劍就是我的劍。」

「你這是什麽意思?」虎橋大惑不解。

千千便道:「劍無分你我,它可殺我,也可殺你。」

虎橋被她這麽一說,心中暗抖。忽然又聼嬰兒哭啼之聲,更是心神不定,他輕移步履,手握劍柄,盯着任振衣一刻不放,暗道:我就不相信,我的劍怎會變成你的劍。便緩緩把劍拔出。乍見劍鋒露出了光芒。

千千便讚嘆道:「好劍。」

虎橋冷笑一聲,便向她揮劍刺來。千千身法稍動,閃退了三招。忽的凌空轉身,越過虎橋,虎橋舉劍追刺,卻被千千抓住了手腕,只一霎那,長劍經已易手。虎橋手中無劍的一瞬,他極度恐懼,不用多久,一陣痛楚代替了恐懼,他高聲呼喊,雙腕已被割了兩度深深的傷口。他跪倒地上,全身抖震,看着血如泉涌的雙手。

此時,嬰兒哭聲不絕,千千連忙擲下長劍,飛身上樹,把魚兒取下,抱在懷中,見他哭聲漸停,再現笑容,才放下心頭,卻又想起,魚郎夫婦已死,小魚兒頓成孤兒,深感痛悲。

虎橋見任振衣抱了嬰兒,就要離去,便追前問道:「你…你爲何不殺我?」

千千便停步,囘頭答他的話,正色道:「你看這嬰兒笑得多美,他還不知道自己的父母已死,我又何忍在他面前再開殺戮?」

虎橋不甘,怒道:「我既敗在你手,你就要殺了我,你懂不懂江湖規矩?」

千千冷笑道:「虎橋!你活下去吧!我見你方才答應我撫養魚兒,是有誠意的。你不是一個我非殺不可的人。你武功雖然已廢,你還是好好的一個人,日後會怎樣誰都不知道,何必現在就求死?」說罷,見他平靜了下來,便抱着魚兒,轉身離去,剩下虎橋坐在地上,盯著自己的劍發呆。

 

千千離開了村莊,也不知要往那兒去?帶着一嬰兒,能去哪兒?她走過了一山頭,天色漸見明亮,昨夜看來下了一場早雪,把整片枯黃的山頭染白,像一個歷盡風霜的人一夜白頭。

她抱着魚兒,坐下來休息,懷中的魚兒又哭了,千千正自惆悵,冰天雪地,滿眼蕭瑟,要去那兒找東西給他吃呢?唯有把手指頭放到魚兒嘴裏讓他吮,暫解饑餓之感,看他吮着阿姨的手指頭,片刻竟就停了哭聲。千千抱着魚兒,繼續漫無目的前行,就來到一處狹道,狹道兩邊峭壁陡立,長了一列高聳的龍爪槐樹,有幾隻飛鷹正在盤旋,樹頂禿枝仿有鳥窩,飛鷹在上空看守,巢中定有鳥蛋,為了不讓魚兒餓死,千千決定去偷鷹蛋。

抱着魚兒走到峭壁下,一層薄雪覆在枯黃的秋草上,露出短短草頭,千千用袖子掃去岩石上的雪粉,岩石平滑冰冷,魚兒吮着手指又睡着了,千千生怕驚醒了他,悄悄把手指頭抽出,見魚兒小嘴噘起,那模樣真可愛,千千徬徨的才綻出一個燦爛的笑容,她撿了一些枯草鋪在石上,才把魚兒輕輕放下。舉頭再看崖壁間一線藍天,便旋身飛起,踏着一邊峭壁,飛上隘道,瞬間已登上崖頂,再兩個筋斗便翻上了樹頂,單臂援着一根樹幹,悄悄伸頭探看鳥窩,就見三隻巨大鷹蛋。兩隻飛鷹在樹頂繼續盤旋,千千迅速掠了一粒蛋兒,連忙放進袋中,便翻身落下,一頭飛鷹突地長嘶,俯身下衝就要啄她的頭,千千腳跟一蹬,隨手折斷一根樹枝,向那飛鷹刺去,飛鷹長嘶一聲,從她身上滑翔過去,就拍翼回到樹頂,繼續盤旋。

婦人摸摸袋中的鷹蛋還在,丢了樹枝,就飛身而下,乍見魚兒身邊站了個人,那人低頭看着魚兒,手裏拿着什麽在晃,千千一驚,倏的張臂下衝,伸手就撲向那人肩膀,怎料那人竟把魚兒抱起,瞬間從地面騰升,躍到另一邊懸崖去,千千撲了個空,定神一看,見那人身穿麻布長袍,大斗篷把頭部完全覆蓋,此人身法俐落輕盈,如鵝毛雪花,無聲無息,不露痕跡,千千眼睛一亮,霎時記起在峨嵋金頂救走虎橋的那人,便馬上旋身飛越,伸手去扯他斗篷,隨着一陣空谷冷風,那人斗篷滑下,露出光禿禿的頭顱,看他囘身一轉,站在峭壁之上,手裏還緊抱住魚兒。

千千躍上高崖,輕身落地時,那人正抬頭看她,千千才把他容貌看清。那人光頭,虯髯,高挺的鼻樑上兩個深邃的眼洞,瞳眸灰濛,如沉在深海裏的明珠,失去了往昔的光澤,卻溫柔得教人斷腸心碎,他低頭注視着魚兒,手裏拿着個小皮囊,正在喂哺他。小魚兒吮着吮着,不知在吃甚麼,吃得那麼快樂。

千千站在十步之遙,靜靜地欣賞這美麗的一刻,臉容輕泛微波,眼眸閃閃動人,又一陣冷風,吹起兩鬢蒼浪,歲月如梭,別後二十五年,今日重逢,恍如隔世!

 

 

 

 

 

 

(七)昆侖

 

十三載光陰似箭,宣和七年,大宋聯金滅遼之後不久一個金風颯颯的秋日,撲面黃沙迎着兩匹駿馬,騁馳在太行山西黃土高原之上,飛越幽深的溝壑,穿過浩瀚荒煙,直奔山西不老莊。勒馬莊前,兩馬同聲嘶鳴,家丁已連忙走回莊裏傳報,喊道:「莊主!開封皇甫大俠和隴西宇文大俠有急事求見。」

姜笛與夫人眉頭一皺,惜輝正想:奇了,六姐夫在開封,三姐夫聽說到了金國做買賣,為何忽然一同到來?

姜笛已站起道:「快請!」

回頭與夫人對望一眼,便低頭歎氣道:「自從金國聯宋滅遼之後,與大宋關係更為緊張,遲早會出亂子,我看三姐夫這趟從金國回來,就急於見我們,定是聽到甚麼消息。」

說着,皇甫呈祥和宇文簪星便急步邁進廳堂,見了姜笛和惜輝,互相噓寒問候一番,家丁奉上了茶,兩人才坐下,臉色一沉,皇甫呈祥便開門見山道:「襟弟,我今次來是有一個很重要的消息告訴你。」

姜笛問道:「是否與金宋兩國有關?金人何時揮軍南下?」

此語一出,皇甫呈祥和宇文簪星互看了一眼,宇文簪星便反問道:「難道姜老弟也收到風聲?」

姜笛撫鬚一笑道:「自從金人滅遼後,那一天不是風聲鶴唳?如今大宋與金國接鄰,大宋這塊肥豬肉已到嘴邊,還不趕快咬一口麼?」

皇甫呈祥和宇文簪星聽他這麽一說,臉上緊張的神情才稍微鬆馳,兩人啜了口清茶,皇甫呈祥才道:「襟弟不問世事,消息還蠻靈通的,但是,你又可知金人已磨刀霍霍,準備把這塊肥豬肉剁成肉醬呢?」

驚此一語,姜笛與惜輝又對望了一眼,宇文簪星便接道:「皇甫大哥在金國做買賣時,聽那買家說這是最後一單交易,皇甫大哥問他為甚麼,那人說很快他就可直接到開封府去買貨,不用中間接頭人,言語間暗示大宋將淪為金國領土,態度十分傲慢。」

皇甫呈祥接道:「後來我花了不少銀両買通了金國的官員,才知道金人正加緊練兵,預定過了重九就大舉揮軍南下。」

聽到這裏,姜笛和惜輝臉色才微微一變,惜輝歎道:「沒想到那麼快?」

宇文簪星正色道:「金人比遼人更為殘暴,此次大軍南下,就是要滅我大宋,所到之處姦淫擄掠,殺人放火,勢必血流成河,雞犬不留,山西位於其南侵必經之路,不老山莊又如此聲威赫赫,將必成為金人擄掠的目標…」

說到這裏,看姜笛還只淡然一笑,便停了下來,姜笛才道:「不老山莊在太行山西已有百年基業,萬頃農田,人口眾多,一時說要連根拔起,也不知可以搬往何處?」

宇文簪星連忙道:「到南方去啊!我與惜表準備舉家遷往金陵,七妹與夏侯兄在江都,她們說可以全力接應,我們來多少,她就接多少。」

惜輝聽了,莞爾一笑道:「七姐真是豪情。」

皇甫呈祥道:「金人暴虐,一旦南侵,定必生靈塗炭,對武林中反對勢力也定當全力殲滅,襟弟,這樣的事可在一夜之間發生,百年基業也可毀於一旦,正所謂留得青山在,那怕沒柴燒呢?你好好考慮。」

姜笛聽了皇甫呈祥一番語重深長的話,連忙站起,拱手道:「皇甫兄、宇文兄,千里迢迢特來報訊,小弟若再不知好歹,就太辜負兩位一番隆情,我定會好好考慮的。」

皇甫呈祥和宇文簪星也立刻站起,拱手作揖,想到時局動盪,戰事一起,烽火連天,受罪的又是無辜的黎民百姓,到時,山河四分五裂,一家人要像以往一樣常常聚在一起,就不容易了,一時氣氛變得十分凝重。

皇甫呈祥道:「那就好了,我也要趕回開封府打點一切,姜老弟、惜輝弟妹,你們保重了。」

惜輝聽他道來,竟有今日一別,後會無期之感,不禁一陣悵然,站起來,各言珍重,長揖拜別,就此分手。

送走了皇甫呈祥和宇文簪星後,姜笛和惜輝各坐一隅,各懷心事,良久沒有對話。最後還是姜笛先說話,道:「夫人,我知道你是捨不得月兒,若然我們移居到南方,金人又真的大舉南侵,一旦南北斷裂,月兒身處塞外邊陲,日後要見面就很難了,是嗎?」

惜輝很感激夫婿那麼瞭解自己的心情,她又豈能不瞭解他的想法呢?上前握住夫婿的手,柔聲道:「但是,三姐夫說得也沒錯,若然不老莊落入金人的管轄範圍,以你的脾氣,我恐怕最終還是死路一條,到時不也一樣永遠見不到月兒!」

姜笛聽夫人如此說道,頓時放下愁懷,展顏一笑,夫妻對望,暗想:一起生活三十多年了,還有甚麼心事是對方不知道的呢?忽然,兒子寶山、媳婦和孫兒一起衝進來呼喊道:「爹!娘!你們看誰來了!」

兩人轉頭一看,見月兒、南風帶着兩個孫女兒就站在眼前,惜輝一時以為自己老眼昏花,連忙擦擦眼,才知道是真的,即上前把月兒擁抱,哭道:「月兒!娘還以為再看不到你了。」

剛說了,月兒的小女兒,才只有七歲,便笑道:「外婆,你明明是看到了,怎麼還說再看不到呢?」

眾人聽小女兒天真一語,都失聲大笑,化悲為喜。姜笛便趕緊問道:「你們為甚麼會突然回來的呢?」

南風正色道:「是爹和娘叫我帶月兒回來的。」

姜笛聽了,慢慢坐下才問:「難道九天門也收到甚麼消息?」

南風點點頭,接道:「九天門素與夏、金的官員有秘密的交易往來,我爹收到可靠消息,金兵將在十月初十大舉南侵,直逼開封,金人野心勃勃,殘暴不仁,我娘怕一旦戰亂,生離死別在所難免,知道你們只有月兒一個女兒,一定牽腸掛肚,就叫我們回來,她說生就一起生,死就一起死。」

聽了最後那句話,眾人心頭一凜,姜笛又站起來,看着一家人如今全都在了,便正色道:「好!我們一起走。」

 

姜笛盡快遣散了所有家僕和雇農,讓他們各自有所安置,便匆匆整理行裝,帶着一家三代,離開這個祖父輩苦心經營了一百年的莊園,臨行前,夫妻倆回眸細認,心想兩人年紀老邁,本來死在這裏也不後悔,可是,念到兒孫承歡膝下,又怎忍生別離呢?一行人,簡馬輕車,破曉時分,冒着寒霜,踏上漫漫前路,翻越太行山,緩緩向東行。而在這不久之前,有另一個家庭,早已離鄉遠去,踏出大宋國土,經過一年多的長途跋涉,抵達了昆侖山。

 

兩年前,月橋和千千帶着剛滿十歲的魚兒踏上一段遙遠的路程,他們去了吐蕃,一個曾經與唐帝國鼎足而立的皇朝,但在北宋卻不是很多人知道,因為她於唐末已經滅亡。千千與月橋三人站在向北的高峰上遠眺,是一片渺無人跡,連鳥也飛不過的不毛之地,但這就是千千萬里尋源的盡頭,她站在疾風中翹首遠望,道:「好乾净的一片無人之境,松狐島的武學就是源出於此,所以才會至真至純。」

月橋逆風而立,道:「這裏就是造物主開始工作的第一天吧。 」

千千微微點頭,便亮聲便道:「魚兒,你上前跪下。」

魚兒便乖乖上前下跪,疾風呼呼似號角長鳴,吹得他兩耳欲聾。

婆婆便揚聲道:「魚兒,從今天開始你就是松狐島第十一代傳人了,你向着祖師爺叩個響頭吧!」

魚兒天真的問道:「祖師爺?在哪兒?」

千千眼珠一溜,才道:「你自己想像一下吧!」

魚兒正搔頭搔腦,不知如何想像,爺爺便笑道:「祖師爺,若是人,就是在你之前的人,若是地,就是在沒有樹木走獸之前的地,在天,就是沒有日月星辰之前的天。」

魚兒忽爾像明白了,笑道:「那就是甚麽都沒有之前的之前。」

月橋哈哈一笑道:「大概是這樣吧!反正誰都沒看過,只要你信就行了。」

看魚兒一片天真地點頭,千千甚感欣喜,與月橋相看一笑才續道:「不錯,大概就是這樣,你只要有天真的信心,就可以繼承松狐島,你明白嗎?」

魚兒立即答道:「明白。」

千千便舉目向天,亮聲地說,刮耳的風聲也被她壓了下去,道:「魚郎!天地人,松狐島,你不要問她在哪,她就在天地之間,你不要問她是誰,你自己就是,繼承她,你要保持真純,你不需要完美,盡你所能就夠了。」魚兒聽了,懇切地點頭,答道:「我知道了,婆婆。」千千便把他扶起。

千千滿懷恩惠,從懷中取出朱菡當年留下的羽毛盒子,把黑羽翎取出,對魚兒說:「這是松狐島始祖的信物,你如今繼承了島主,這信物我就交給你,將來你就交給下一任島主,一代一代的傳下去,知道嗎?」

魚兒才說知道,便伸手去取,忽然突風乍起,把羽毛卷到天上,千千和魚兒飛身去掠,但羽翎太輕,吹到山崖上一棵枯樹去,魚兒的輕功還未能飛得那麽高,便囘到地上來。

月橋便道:「那麽高,就只有你婆婆才拿得到,讓她去吧!」才說,囘眼一看,卻見千千從高崖上掉下,看她身體軟綿綿,似是昏迷。月橋大驚,連忙飛身把她接住,帶囘地面。一看,見她臉色發藍,嘴唇發紫,雖有神智,氣息微弱,探她脈搏,即道:「你中毒?」

千千微微張眼,道:「是天蠍子。」便昏迷過去。

 

千千醒來,身處一個山洞,月橋正在運功替她逼毒。千千轉過頭來,見他一臉汗珠,面色臘黃,想必已運功多時,便道:「月橋,我好多了,你休息一下吧!」

月橋見她終於蘇醒,才停止運功,但心底知道她的毒還未清除。把外衣披在她肩上,讓她靠着墻壁休息,才問道:「這天蠍子到底是什麽毒,怎麽我運功數日,竟還是逼不出來?」

千千能夠再看見月橋很高興,不料他一開口就問這些掃興的事,便道:「你別浪費内力了,這天蠍子的毒不是用内功就可逼出。」

「你怎麽知道?」月橋連忙問道。

「我是看一本書知道的?」千千説得有點怪怪的。

「看書?甚麽書?又是什麽解毒天書?」月橋輕鬆地笑了一笑。千千這才認真答道:「這天蠍子之毒,是西域才有,是百毒之王。但也不是沒有解藥的。」

月橋一聼有解藥,便喜道:「那在哪兒才找到解藥?」

千千看了月橋一眼,笑道:「雖然是有解藥,但要七天之内找到。」

「七天?」見月橋臉色一沉,千千便問:「怎麽了?」一頓,再問:「我昏迷了多少天了?」

月橋不答,坐在一旁的魚兒便哭着臉道:「婆婆!你已經昏迷了六天六夜了,今夜已經是第七夜了。」

千千聼了也不震驚,淡然道:「那就難了。」

月橋忽而抬頭道:「難什麽?你都怕難麽?還有幾個時辰,你告訴我在那兒找到,我們馬上去找。」

千千看了看他,又看了看魚兒,半天才道:「是西海旁,玉樹林裏的一顆露珠。」

「什麽?」魚兒摸不着頭腦。月橋站起身來,還是說:「我去找。」

千千便拉着他的麻布衣,輕聲道:「找什麽?倒不如陪我說說話吧!」

月橋眼圈一紅,無奈坐下,千千便道:「這天蠍子是西域獨有,而且為數不多,能讓它咬到,都算是天緣。」

月橋聼了黯然合十道:「真是天意嗎?你怎麽就認命了?」

千千撇然道:「不認又怎了,不咬都給它咬了,總算把黑羽翎拿囘。」從懷中取出黑羽翎,放囘盒子,才對魚兒道:「你拿好!」

魚兒連忙上前把羽翎盒子收好,婆婆又取出一物,道:「這也給你的。」

魚兒一看,是一支白玉梅花簪,他遲疑地說:「婆婆!這…是給女人的用的。」

婆婆笑道:「傻瓜頭,這不是給你的,是給你的媳婦兒。」

魚兒摸着腦袋瓜子,道:「媳婦兒?哪兒來的媳婦兒。」

「現在沒有,將來就會有了,你是松狐島島主,你的媳婦兒就是島主夫人。」千千理所當然的說道。

魚兒不明所以,但只乖乖的收起。千千便道:「我口渴,魚兒,你去找點水囘來,好嗎?」

魚兒聼了,馬上站起就去。

千千看魚兒去了,才囘頭看着月橋,見他神色黯然,便問道:「你知道我這輩子最愛的是什麽嗎?」

月橋抬眼一望,便答道:「松狐島。」

千千深情對看,含淚笑道:「不。」一頓才正色道:「是你們。」

月橋聼罷,緩緩地釋放了一個微笑,並不答話。千千挨着墻,看洞外星光無數,便道:「月橋,你可以把柴火弄熄,我想看清楚今夜的星星。」

月橋馬上去撥開燃燒中的柴枝,洞内突然變得幽暗,洞外一片星空卻驟然明亮,他坐囘千千身邊,靜靜地與她一同觀看。

過了片刻,月橋才道:「其實,在你昏迷的那幾天,我已準備你要走的。」

千千淡然道:「聼了你這句話,我就安心了。」

月橋略笑:「人人都有這一天,我自己都準備好,只是還輪不到我。」

千千低聲道:「自從與你重遇,我天天都快樂,還有小魚兒,看着他一天一天地長大,真是一件奇妙的事。」

月橋道:「但你太慣他了,他太依賴你。」

「是啊!這樣不行,他以後怎在江湖上立足,你要對他嚴厲一點。」千千的聲音越見低迷,像是從遠方傳來。

「呵!壞人都讓給我做了?」月橋聲音也有點沙啞。

等了一會,千千才囘應:「因為你才懂得愛。」

月橋道:「世上有一件東西比愛更大,就是慈悲,正所謂誰報佛慈恩,從來就只有佛慈悲我,那有我慈悲佛?」

又等了許久,千千都沒再囘應。月橋這才轉臉看她,在炭火殘焰照耀下,她的臉仍是透着微紅。

不久魚兒囘來了,這裏沙灣石河,乾旱異常,叫魚兒哪裏去找水來,他找了大半天,又累,又餓,又渴,也沒找到一滴水,便只好囘來,才進了山洞,爺爺正把火光重燃,魚兒便看見婆婆躺在地上,睡了。

 

兩年之後,魚兒和爺爺終於囘到中土,才知道金人已揮軍殺入汴京,擄走皇帝一家上下數百人,宋室一片錦綉江山,亡於異族手裏。

 

全書完2007年4月1日

凌晨4時