The Assassins

One Spring evening, a man walked on a noisy street. He wore a little black square hat, a black long uniform jacket and a pair of black cloth boots. A brown ribbon was tied tightly on his waist, which made him look very slim, tall, and neat. A broad sword was hidden in its sheath and hung at his back.

He was the leader of a six-man police team that worked for the local government. Even though his town was small and usually there was nothing important to do, every morning he went to his office to manage the daily issues. That day he finished his work a little bit late, because his boss had taken too many hours to write to someone talking about a fish broth recipe.

He asked one team member to dispatch the letter, then he hurried home. “Mother must be waiting for me for dinner,” he thought, and sped up on the street. Then he heard someone call his name “Lin! Is it you?” He turned his head and saw a friend of his whom he hadn’t seen for years. Lin was surprised to see his friend, they chatted a bit, and he accepted his friend’s dinner invitation for the next day.

He arrived home. His mother was sitting in an armchair sewing a jacket. The dinner was on the table—Two vegetable dishes plus a small clay pot of chicken broth, all untouched. He bowed to his mother: “Mother, I am back. Sorry today I am late. You don’t need to wait for me for dinner. You can eat first.” His mother put down her sewing and looked at Lin lovingly: “Don’t worry my son, I am not hungry. I want to finish this summer jacket first. Pretty soon you can start to wear it. Try it on so I can check the fit.” Lin took off his hat and sword and put the jacket on. The mother examined. “The armpits seem slightly large. I will fix them.” Lin begged his mother, “Mother, it is good enough, no need to fix anything. In the future I can buy our clothes, or A Mei can do the sewing work. I don’t want it to tire you.” The mother sat back in the chair. “The clothes bought from outside are not good at all, plus A Mei already has enough work to do. I only hope you can have a new wife soon so she can take care of you. Qiu died more than two years ago; you are still young, only in your twenties. You should get remarried and have children; I will have no regrets if I can see my grandchildren before I die.” The mother’s eyes became moist. She used her sleeve to dry her eyes a bit, then called “A Mei, please heat up the food, we will begin to eat.”

A young maid showed up. She bowed to Lin and took away the food that was on the table. The hot chicken broth was served first; Lin ate heartily. Then the mother mentioned the fence that had been damaged by wind. Lin comforted her: “Don’t worry mother. I will fix it the day after tomorrow, because tomorrow I will have dinner with a friend. We haven’t seen each other for a long time and we just met on the street. He insisted on me having dinner with him, perhaps someone else will be there.” The mother nodded: “That’s okay my son. Just be careful and don’t drink.” 

Lin came back home the next day very late. He fell asleep heavily from drinking and was taken home by two other men. They helped the mother settle Lin in his bed, then left hurriedly. Just as the mother and A Mei were about to loosen Lin’s waist ribbon, a little parcel dropped on the floor. A Mei picked it up and handed to the mother. It was pretty heavy. The mother opened it and found some jewelry in it. They both were shocked. Suddenly, they heard someone knocking loudly on their door. The mother hid the parcel under Lin’s blanket and asked A Mei to open the door. There were three policemen, Lin’s subordinates. They entered the room and bowed to Lin’s mother: “Mama, sorry to bother you at such a late hour. Someone just reported that his jewelry was stolen, and he suspected that Lin did it. He met Lin at dinner, and he showed his jewelry only to Lin.” The mother replied calmly: “You all have worked with Lin for many years, have you heard anything like this happening to him before? He is drunk and the time is late; you can come back tomorrow morning and ask him when he is awake.” The policemen bowed again: “Sorry Mama, we have to search the room first, please understand that it is our duty.”

They searched the room. It wasn’t hard for them to find the little parcel. Lin was arrested and accused of theft.

Lin’s friend, whom Lin met on the street and went to dinner with, claimed to believe his innocence. He said he felt sorry for inviting the guy who accused Lin; he scolded and almost fought with him, but it was useless. Due to the high value of the jewelry that Lin was accused of having stolen, Lin was facing a sentence of ten years imprisonment. Lin’s mother and friend did all they could to try to prove his innocence or beg for a lighter punishment, but they failed. 

One day right before Lin’s sentence, dramatically, the complainant withdrew his charge against Lin. He didn’t explain the reason, he just said that he chose to forgive Lin’s theft. 

Lin was released. But due to this incident, he lost his position as a policeman. He looked for other jobs without success—It was just a small town, and he was a man who was accused of committing theft. This despite the fact that he was always a nice person, helped others a lot, and held the first rank of Kung Fu. 

Lin stayed at home for three months after being released from jail. His mother planned to go back with Lin to the village where they had lived during Lin’s childhood. They still had some land there, so they could live on farming. Lin apologized to his mother for all of the troubles. He didn’t steal the jewelry, his friend pushed him to drink just one cup then he fell asleep. He didn’t know what happened afterward. 

One day his friend showed up. He hadn’t appeared since Lin was released. He congratulated Lin on regaining his freedom, and he offered Lin a job opportunity: It was in a neighboring town, the person’s name who wanted to hire him was Silver Fox. Lin had heard about Silver Fox before; he was a very rich merchant with a deep background—It was said that he was involved with some big mafia bosses.

Lin refused. He told his friend that he just wanted a simple job, or he would go back to his village and live there as a farmer. His friend persisted: Lin should meet Silver Fox at least once. He also told Lin that Silver Fox was the person who paid off that guy to withdraw the charge against Lin—He had paid a lot of money for that, and he just wanted to make friends with Lin. 

Finally, Lin was persuaded. He went to meet Silver Fox and accepted his offer without letting his mother know. He just told his mother that he had found a temporary job for couple of months. After that, they could leave the town for the village in Winter. His mother believed it.

The job Silver Fox offered was a short term one: Starting with three months, then if Lin wanted to continue, they could extend the period. But Lin’s responsibilities were quite unclear. He went to Silver Fox’s secret place every three days. Each time he either just stayed in the garden with nothing to do, or sometimes when Silver Fox’s son came, he taught the son Kung Fu. The son loved Kung Fu a lot, but he wasn’t talented enough to perform well. Even though Lin had taught him for nearly two months, the progress he made was minimal; he only knew a few garish poses. Lin believed that Silver Fox didn’t really mind how well his son could do; his main purpose was to find out if Lin’s Kung Fu was as excellent as he had heard.

Then one day Lin’s mother talked about his new job. She felt that something was fishy: Lin’s current employer paid Lin very decent money, plus frequently he asked his men to send some expensive fabric and gold to Lin’s home as a gift. But it seemed that Lin didn’t really do anything significant for him. She thought Lin should have a talk with his employer and find out what was his plan for Lin; otherwise he shouldn’t take any more money from him. Lin agreed.

One evening before Lin was dismissed by Silver Fox, he told Silver Fox his concern. Silver Fox laughed. He told Lin that he admired Lin a lot. He thought Lin was a very straight, honest and loyal man--That’s why he spent a lot of money to rescue him. He also discovered that Lin’s Kung Fu was even beyond his expectation. He wanted to be Lin’s friend, and share those good things with Lin because that was his way to show appreciation. 

Then he told Lin that he had some trouble with someone whose name was Eagle. From his reliable channel, he was told that Eagle planned to kill him. So, before Eagle acted, he wanted to strike the first blow. Among all of the people he knew, nobody could take this mission except Lin. Eagle had a lot of body guards but none of them could compete with Lin, and he would arrange everything for Lin so the only thing Lin needed to do was just stab Eagle in the heart then escape. He was sure that, according to Lin’s capability and Eagle’s routine, Lin could do this in a wink. After that, he would pay Lin a lot of money so he could support his mother and himself to live comfortably in the countryside, and he would never bother Lin anymore. But of course, if Lin was afraid and didn’t want to do him this small favor, he also accepted it, and he would prepare for the day that he would be killed by Eagle.

Lin sat in his seat silently. Then he raised his eyelids slowly and asked Silver Fox “I know that I owe you a debt of gratitude which I shall never be able to repay. Without you, I would still be in prison and my mother would starve. Even though this mission sounds simple and easy, everything has two sides. I have no other family but a mother. If, unfortunately, I will be killed or captured, will you help me to take care of my mother?” Silver Fox held Lin’s hands. He appeared to be moved by Lin’s words and the tears sparkled in his eyes: “Don’t worry, my dear brother. I don’t think that will happen. But if it’s the case, I will care for your mother devotedly as my own. Even if something happens to me and I die before her, I will let my son and my grandson continue to do so until the last day of her life.”

Lin asked for a few days to consider Silver Fox’ request. Three days later, when he came back to Silver Fox’s place, he took this mission.

As Silver Fox told, everything had been well prepared: Five days later Eagle would host a party; a lot of guests would be invited, which included one of Silver Fox’s secret contacts. Lin would be brought in by this contact and act as if he were one of the servants. Since every one in this party would be frisked and no weapons would be allowed, the only thing they could do was hide a small dagger in Lin’s hair as a hair pin. Silver Fox had a such dagger; he showed it to Lin and let him practice a bit. It was about one inch wide and seven inches long—Long enough to stab into an adult man’s chest. The blade was paper thin, but strong—It could penetrate steel easily without being damaged. It was a legendary dagger. When it was pulled out from the sheath, it looked as cold and shiny as ice; then when you waved it quickly, it acted like a flash of light. People called it “Willow Leaf Dagger”. It was the ideal weapon for a close kill, even if the target was wearing armor. Silver Fox asked Lin to take the dagger with him. But Lin worried that his mother might see it and question him, so it would be better for Silver Fox to keep it until the very day. Silver Fox placed it back into the drawer of his writing table; he left the drawer unlocked.

That day came. Everything went as planned, until Lin caught his chance—Eagle was talking with his guests laughingly and his both hands were at his back. Lin pulled out the dagger, rushed to him, and stabbed it toward Eagle’s heart as fast as possible. It happened in an instant, but the dagger bent against Eagle’s armor which he wore under his outer jacket! Lin had to fight with his fists; he killed two bodyguards and took their weapons; he still kept chasing Eagle. More and more bodyguards gathered—Lin was captured.

The party was cancelled due to this incident. Eagle was injured but not terribly. Lin was locked  up and almost beaten to death, but he didn’t say a word. Eagle was very impressed by him, both his Kung Fu and his loyalty. He tried to persuade Lin to work for him even if he still chose not to reveal his employer’s name. Lin refused—He didn’t accomplish his mission; he couldn’t further fail Silver Fox; in addition, he didn’t want to put his mother in danger.

Lin was executed by Eagle’s command, in a fast and less painful way. His body was delivered to his home in an expensive coffin. Eagle sent someone to offer Lin’s mother some money, but she refused. With a great sorrow, she buried her son in their ancestral grave.

Silver Fox’s men never showed up—not even once —after Lin’s death, at either the funeral, or his mother’s house.

Lin’s friend attended the funeral. A few days later, he came back to meet Lin’s mother again. He had been in a deep self-torture since he knew that Lin was dead. As a friend, he felt guilty. He felt his pain would be reduced if he told Lin’s mother the truth and begged for her forgiveness, which was: 

Silver Fox forced him to set the trap to invite Lin for dinner and later accuse him of the theft; Silver Fox purposely hired Lin and treated him nicely; 

Sliver Fox had planned for a long time to find someone like Lin to kill his enemy Eagle because they had some business competition; 

Silver Fox’ dagger had bent because it was not the original dagger. Silver Fox’s son loved the original dagger and he didn’t want his father to give it to someone; so he replaced it with a hastily made copy. The son didn’t know his father’s plan, and he didn’t know what the purpose of the original would be;

Even if the dagger was the original, the party had been guarded so well by Eagle. Thus whether Lin was successful or not, he could not have escaped alive. Silver Fox knew that, and he also lied to Lin about the danger;

Eagle suspected Silver Fox was responsible for this whole incident, but he had no evidence, so he chose to be quiet for now.

Lin’s mother had sensed that there was something wrong and fishy, but she had never thought it could be so dangerous and bloody. She forgave Lin’s friend—Her son had died, and there was nothing else she could do. Young people were always foolish, naive and willful, which made it easy for them to be fooled by others. If her son had told her about what was going on, then everything would be different. The young had to struggle through in their own ways and learn life’s lessons by themselves; nobody could protect them forever. Only sometimes the cost would be too high. 

She asked Lin’s friend for Silver Fox and Eagle’s addresses and told him that she wanted something from them. Lin’s friend gave them to her—He thought that she might just want some money or apology. He offered to accompany her to go there, but she refused.

After Lin’s friend’s visit, Lin’s mother went to see Eagle immediately. Surprisingly, Eagle agreed to meet her without hesitation. He explained to her about what had happened that night, and he showed her the bent dagger. He complimented Lin on his capability and loyalty. He explained that, after Lin turned down his offer to work for him, he had to kill him—Because Lin set a bad example for others who might want to assassinate him; Lin killed his two body guards; And even if he released Lin, Lin’s employer would kill Lin anyway. 

Lin’s mother sat quietly and listened carefully. When Eagle finished, she responded: “I appreciate everything you have told me. You offered me money for my son’s funeral, and you didn’t mind meeting an old woman like me. It isn’t your fault—Either you or my son, at least one would be killed. My son was foolish and let someone take advantage of him. He shouldn’t have taken that job in the first place.” She stopped for a while, then she continued: “Lin’s father died when he was five years old. He is my only child. He has always been quiet and not very smart at book learning. So I thought it might be good for him to learn some Kung Fu to protect himself. He did that very well, but I never knew that one day it would cause his death. Perhaps a young man like him holding the first rank of Kung Fu is always dangerous—Lin couldn’t master its responsibility well. Lin would be happier and safer had he just been an ordinary man. You killed my son, I don’t hate you; I only hate that person who trapped him.”

She begged Eagle to give the bent dagger to her, so she could keep it at home to memorialize her son. Eagle asked someone to wrap the dagger well and handed it to her in person. He told the mother that she could come to see him whenever she wanted, and if she had any problems or requests, just let him know and he would feel honored if he could help.

Forty-nine days after Lin’s funeral, his mother disappeared. 

Three years later, Silver Fox was found dead in his study with a dagger in his chest. His servants said that the previous night their master came back home late and was very drunk. He was laid in the bed of his study, then everyone left. He stayed alone until the morning, when they found he had been murdered. Nobody knew who did it.

But Silver Fox’s son recognized the dagger that killed his father was exactly the same as the one with which he replaced the authentic “Willow Leaf Dagger”, just resharpened. Silver Fox wore regular sleeping clothes so it could pierce his chest easily. This dagger was part of the attempted assassination of Eagle, therefore, Silver Fox’s son had to keep his mouth shut.

Coincidently, that night one old maid of Silver Fox’s disappeared mysteriously. She had come there three years ago and begged for a job—As long as they would feed her. Silver Fox’s housekeeper thought she looked clean and decent, so he kept her to help in the kitchen. 

The housekeeper wondered: Did she kill Silver Fox? Had she stayed for three years just waiting for an opportunity? But for what reason? And who was she? Wasn’t she just a poor old woman?

Rumor had it that Eagle hired Lin’s mother to kill Silver Fox, but I don’t believe that. Do you?





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