T/N: The title was first translated as “Best Blade in the World” and later “World’s Finest Blade.” However, after much deliberation, I’ve decided to just use “saber.”
As you already know, both saber and blade come from the same character: 刀 (dao). I had gone with the general term “blade” before because I thought it would be more all-encompassing as being the best/finest weapon. But considering how this novel is all about the dao weapon, and not just any bladed weapon, I think it would be more apt to use the word saber.
The world’s finest saber was a jiandao1This was mentioned before, but I decided to wait until this chapter to give a longer explanation about it. As I said in a previous note, the word jiandao is from the characters 尖刀, which is literally just sharp/pointy saber. In modern Chinese use, this simply refers to kitchen knives and the like. After much research and even consulting a dao expert about it, I suspect Priest here is just making up her own kind of dao weapon.
There is no “jiandao” in historical Chinese weapons. The closest to a jiandao from what I could find is this Tang era dao:
According to Baidu, a jiandao is simply a common term in Ming/Qing era novels used to describe an everyday-carry utility knife/dagger, which is pointy. It doesn’t really refer to any specific kind of dao. On a metaphorical point, Priest’s choice of the word jiandao could also be alluded to the fact that it is used to describe fearlessness. When one says a person has a jiandao in hand (手持尖刀), it is implied that they are not afraid to use it (this usually refers to a rogue or wicked person though).. It was said to be as thin as a cicada’s wings and as light as a goose feather that even a child could carry it.
Thin as it was, it had very little resistance. In the hand, it could be unimaginably fast, and therefore extremely sharp. It could split a strand of hair into three pieces lengthwise. It could also cut off a person’s head, and that person wouldn’t even notice that his head had separated from his body until a dozen steps later.
This saber was real, and its master once carried it across the entire continent.
Its master was born in the forest-covered North. He had travelled to the Far North, which was covered with ice fields, and to the East, which was lined by the sea and where he carved his name on a reef. He had even been to the South, where city-states stood in great numbers, and as well as to the south of the South…
The master of this saber was a beastman, but only when moving things and doing heavy jobs for a time would he remember to transform into a beast. He liked appearing as a human, hiding all his innate claws and fangs and standing up on his feet. When he didn’t speak or reveal his beast marks, he simply looked like a slightly taller sub-beast.
He was a saber master2刀客 (dāo kè) – Actually translated as swordsman, but since I’m using the word sword as a translation for the jian (剑) weapon, I feel reluctant to use that term. Besides, this person really only uses the saber, as implied in the next sentences., and he had always believed that the best blade only needed one sharp edge3Reminder: The dao/saber is single-edged (having one sharp side). In contrast, the jian/sword is double-edged.. It didn’t matter what its spine4刀背 – Contrary to the edge, this is the unsharp side of the blade. The spine is the thickest part of the blade body, and it provides strength to the edge. As a rule, the thicker the spine, the stronger the blade. Spine thickness is also important because it affects the balance of the blade (source) and hilt were, nor how heavy or wide it was.
The murder weapon at his waist was so delicate that it could immediately break at a light snap, yet this did not prevent it from being the first under the heavens.
This saber had gone through the wind and frost, chopped off the necks of countless people, and tore open the throats of countless beasts, blood-stained souls5魂魄 (hún pò) – The hun and the po are said to be the two types of soul every human has. It’s too complex for me to explain, so just read it on Wikipedia infiltrating its every groove.
One day, however, it still broke.
No blade in the world could remain uncurled forever. Even if its origin was extraordinary, and even if its master cherished it, it was still a deadly weapon for reaping life.
The elders say that these things were originally made from ordinary steel. However, from the time that it was made until the time it turned into unusable scrap metal, whenever it ends a life, it would be stained with so much negative energy and malice that it would gain a life of its own. As such… there would come a day that it would turn thin, dull like its own spine, unable to support all that evil anymore, and so there was no way it could ever last long.
The best blade would always break in the hands of its master.
The Great Elder of Azure Dragon tribe could always remember what that young man looked like. When he was brought before the Great Elder, he was covered in blood, and on his shoulder perched a bird that seemed to be enlightened, chirping and chattering.
The young man had a broken leg, and his left arm hung limply over his chest, twisted in an unnatural way. They could only carry him in. That young man, however, didn’t even react. He just looked down in a trance at his saber, which had been broken into two.
The Great Elder took one look at his broken saber and knew that this was not a man to be slighted. He told his tribesmen to treat him as an honored guest, then asked a doctor to look after him.
After a few days of care, the doctor told the Great Elder that the man’s leg was only recently injured. The bone was broken, but it could heal on its own. But as for his left hand, it wasn’t certain how long ago it had been injured. It could be considered crippled, and he probably wouldn’t be able to do any more meticulous work with it in the future.
The young man seemed as if he had travelled a long way. He lived in Azure Dragon tribe for five or six days, and although he was a little indifferent, he was very polite. Whenever the Great Elder went to see him, he was able to say a few words to him. Other than that, he was always fiddling with his broken saber.
The Great Elder glanced at the saber’s hilt, then understood at once. He asked, “You use a left-handed saber?”
The man looked down at his left hand, which had been tied into a ball but was too numb to feel any pain, and nodded his head slightly.
The Great Elder sighed, not knowing what to say. But then the young man suddenly spoke, “Elder, you are old and have seen many things. Why do you say people always go the wrong way in spite of themselves? Why do you sometimes feel that there won’t be a good result even when the flowers are lovely and the moon is round6花好月圆 (idiom) – Everything is wonderful; perfect happiness? Why would you ignore the person who treats you well, thinking that it’s only expected, and day after day is so dull that you can’t even remember it, while those who failed you would be unforgettable for a lifetime, hating them so much that they’d be carved into your bones and engraved in your heart? Why is it that all we can remember are the bad things?”
The Great Elder was stunned for a moment, then habitually turned around the old domino in his hand that had been rubbed smooth, and said, “Perhaps because it’s rare?”
The man asked, “Rare?”
The Great Elder said, “All you’ve encountered in your life are good things, so when you encounter one or two bad things, they’ll be etched in your memory. Likewise, if all you’ve encountered in life are bad things, then you would remember the one or two good things.
“Xiongdi, the man and the saber are different. Those scimitars7弯刀 – literally, “bent saber” that you use on horseback look as if they spiral out, but in fact, the blade moves in a straight line. However, people are different. If a man is blindfolded and walks, he will walk into a circle. As you walk, you won’t know where you’re going. If you can still tell right from wrong, then you’re not bad.”
The man fell silent and rubbed the back of the broken saber with his uninjured fingertips.
The Great Elder went on to say, “I have never been outside of this small tribe in my life. In terms of experience, I can’t compare with you who have travelled far and wide. It’s just that this old man is much older and has walked in more circles. Slowly, I learned what I am and also learned to not take some things to heart, which is why I’m not as confused as you young people.”
After a while, the man said softly, “Oh, forget it. I’m not leaving. I’m tired of it.”
He held out his hand to the Great Elder and asked, “Can you show me your domino?”
The Great Elder tossed the domino over to him. The man held it in his palm, ran his fingertips over the ancient engraving, and read out the words engraved on the back: “Chang an… Chang an. That’s a good wish8Chang (长) means “forever,” An (安) means “peace.” And yes, this is our MC’s name.”
After speaking, he used a small dagger to carve these words on the hilt of his broken saber, then limped to his feet and walked outside where it was already snowing. He said, “My saber was forged using divine iron that dropped from the Ninth Heaven. It was born extraordinarily, and it shouldn’t have broken without a sound. Can I take your ‘chang an’ as a sword inscription?”
The Great Elder then watched him kneel down, dig a hole, and bury the broken saber.
Born earth-shattering, but died on a nameless mound.
For some reason, an unspeakable sadness welled up in the Great Elder’s heart, as if the man cupping the soil mixed with snow was not burying a scrap saber, but a peerless hero that had arrived at the end of his road.
Since then, the man stayed in Azure Dragon tribe. His legs gradually got better and he began to move freely. He was also no longer full of thorns and began to greet people with a smile. After getting to know him, everybody only felt that he was someone who’d talk about anything and everything when he was drunk and that he was very easy-going.
He often went out hunting with the warriors and studied the use of different herbs with the doctor.
His left hand still couldn’t muster much strength though, so the Great Elder was worried at first. But later he found out that even though the man could only use his non-dominant right hand, he was still the most capable warrior. Everyone admired those who had ability, and he soon integrated into the life of this tribe… It was just that, although everybody was familiar with him, they could never figure out what he was thinking.
Whenever there were big celebrations in the tribe, he’d just show up for a bit, have a drink, and then leave, never staying for too long. Except for the Great Elder, he was merely a nodding acquaintance towards everyone. His face wasn’t bad, and many beautiful unmarried girls secretly liked him. They would send someone to probe him, making the other young men jealous for a while. However, he would all push them away lightly.
He was idle everyday. Sometimes he would sit with the Great Elder for a while, listening to him sing some old songs handed down from ancient times. Sometimes he’d be alone with his bird, sitting outside in front of the small soil bag9土包 – A slang (?) for a mound and drinking, or silently exercising his remaining right hand.
At this time, this man who loved to talk and laugh would look like he had a lot of things weighing on his mind. His gentle features during the day would be condensed with an indescribable ferocious aura, terrifying people like how a sleeping beast would occasionally open a slit in its eye.
As for the man’s name, he seemed to have mentioned it, but it had been a while, so everyone just called him “the right-handed man.”
Spring and summer passed, and the Northern continent ushered in another frigid winter.
On this day, a group of people found their way to the Azure Dragon tribe. The guard on duty informed the Chief and the Elders, but didn’t dare let those men in. They were all beastmen in ironclad armor, and each with a murderous look between their brows. Although their words were polite and they claimed to be just looking for someone, who knew what they’d actually do?
The guards were only two men who had just reached adulthood, and they were nervous to death, fearing the other party would suddenly take offense. But to their surprise, these people were actually easy to talk to. Since they weren’t let in, then they didn’t go in. They good-naturedly sat down in place and waited for their Chief and Elders.
The Chief soon came out with a group of Elders. On this day, it so happened that all the warriors in the tribe were out hunting. The Chief didn’t want to start any conflict, so he asked politely, “Gentlemen, who are you looking for?”
The leader of the group had a small layer of snow fallen on his head, and it looked as if his hair had gone white. He lowered his head and said in a courteous and even somewhat whispered tone, “I heard that Bei Shi is here. He is my xiongdi, and we have been looking for him.”
Hearing this, the Chief was puzzled, and he asked an Elder, “Bei Shi? Who’s Bei Shi?”
The Great Elder whispered, “It’s the ‘right-handed man.’”
These words originally didn’t mean much; eight out of ten people used their right hands. However, the expressions of the group of men immediately changed when they heard this. Even the leader was a little flustered, and he couldn’t help but raise his voice and ask, “What… What happened to his left hand?”
The Great Elder said, “It cannot be cured. He went out hunting today and should be back soon. If you all don’t mind, you can wait inside. It’s too cold. I’ll have someone boil a pot of hot wine for you guys to drink.”
The leader’s expression turned very ugly. After being stupefied for a long time, he shook his head, declined the kindness of the Great Elder, and said, “Thank you all, but we… we will just wait here for his return.
When the Chief and Elders saw that he had spoken so, they stopped persuading them. In the dead of winter, no one wanted to accompany this group of madmen who had come from afar just to be frozen here. So they turned to go back, but then the leader stopped the Great Elder and asked, “Elder, is his left hand really…”
The Great Elder said, “It cannot be cured.”
The man’s eyes dimmed for a moment and he no longer spoke.
However, on that day, Bei Shi did not return with the warriors who went out to hunt. He seemed to have gotten the news first, but nobody knew how he got it. Those men who went out with him only brought back a big bird, who seemed to know these men who were about to turn into snowmen.
Without waiting for the man to speak, it fluttered its wings and jumped onto the leader’s shoulder, affectionately nuzzling its face against the man’s chin which had already turned blue from the cold.
The man who had gone out with Bei Shi pointed to the bird and said, “Oh, is this bird yours? The right-handed xiongdi left me a message for the owner of the bird. He said he didn’t have the face to see you, so he left. You don’t have to look for him. If you need him in the future, ask the bird to send him a message. He is ready to die, so if it’s nothing important, don’t look for him. Otherwise, you really won’t know where he’ll be next time… En, what else?”
The young beastman warrior scratched his head but couldn’t remember, so he spread out his hands and said, “Well, that’s all.”
Those men who had come looking for Bei Shi left before dark, lost in thought. The guards watched the big bird being held in the arms of the leader, his solid arms protecting it from the wind and snow, as if it wasn’t a bird he was holding, but some rare treasure.
The Great Elder never saw that right-handed man again in his life. Every now and then, he’d walk around the cottage where he had lived, look at the nameless saber mound, and sigh with sorrow. No one will ever listen to him sing those old songs with obscure words and unknown origins ever again.