Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 9 Nie Yinniang

No. 9 Nie Yinniang: [foiled] Jing Jing Er and Kong Kong Er, [but] ended up with a mirror polisher.

Nie Yinniang, daughter of famous Hebei general Nie Feng during the time of Jiyuan in Tang Dynasty. When she was ten, a Buddhist nun came to the general’s house to solicit charities. When she saw the girl she was delighted “Great general, may I take this girl to train her?” Enraged, the general shouted at the nun. Seeing this, the nun merely said “Even if the general locks her in an iron safe, I can still take her.” That night, as predicted Yinniang disappeared. Shocked, the general sent men to look for her everywhere. Days and days passed, there was no trace of her. Every time the couple think about this, they could only break down and cry.

Some five years later, the nun returned with Yinniang, telling Nie Feng: “I’m done training her, you can have her back now.” Then she disappeared. The whole family felt both great elation and sadness. Asking her what she learned, she prevaricated: “initially there was a lot of reading of scriptures and reciting of incantations, then not much afterwards.” Not satisfied, Nie Feng wanted more details. “If I told you the truth, I’m afraid you wouldn’t believe me”, she said. “Tell us the truth anyway”, said the general. So Yinniang told them:

“When the nun first took me away from the home, we travelled I don’t know how far. We went to a quiet, remote place, there was a big cave there. There’s no one around, only dense foliage and the many apes. There were already two girls there, also ten years old. Both of them bright, with clean, delicate features. I didn’t see them eat anything, but the way they fly about on the high cliffs, they were as quick, agile, and surefooted as the apes.

The nun gave me a pill. She also gave me an extremely sharp sword about two feet long, and told me to climb the precipices with the other two girls. Gradually my body felt as light as the wind. After a year, I could take down an ape with one stroke every time. After that it was the tigers and leopards, each time bringing their heads back to the cave.

After three years I can fly. I can strike down eagles and falcons without ever missing. Gradually my sword became shorter and shorter, eventually down to just five inches. In the air or on the ground, no birds or beasts could see me coming.

In the forth year, the nun asked the other two girls to stay at the cave, while she took me to a big city, I don’t know which one. She pointing to a person who passed us by, and listed his various offenses. She handed me a dagger made of ram horn, about three inches long: ‘bring me the head of that man, but let no one see you. Strike him down as easily as you struck down the birds of prey.’ So I did it, in broad daylight, in the middle of a busy market, yet no one saw it. I put his head in a leather pouch and returned to the master’s room. She took out some powders and dissolved it into a puddle of clear liquid.

In the fifth year, the nun said to me: ‘there is this big government official, he harmed so many innocent lives without slightest provocation. Go there tonight and bring back his head.’ So I went to his house, easily slipping though the tiny gap between the locked doors, and lay over the beam near the ceiling. I returned around dawn with his head. The nun lost her patience: ‘why so late?’ I said ‘I saw him playing his adorable child, I just couldn’t do it then, hence the delay.’ The nun scolded me ‘Next time kill what they love first, then take them.’ She told me I had to be decisive whenever my life is in danger. I thank her for her wisdom. The nun then said ‘I’ll just open up the back of your skull where you can secret this dagger. Don’t worry, it will do no harm. Whenever you need it, you can access it directly from there. Your training is over, you can go home now.’ As we parted, she said ‘After this, we can only see each again after another twenty years.’”

Hearing all this, Nie Feng could not help but shudder inside. Later, whenever night falls, Nie Yinniang would disappear, returning at dawn. At the point Nie Feng was too afraid to ask. Because of this, gradually he did not dote on her as before.

Then one day, a young mirror polisher was plying his trade in front their house, Yinniang pointed at him and said “this man can be my husband.” Again, the general was too afraid to object, and so Yinniang was married.

Outside of polishing mirrors, this young man has no talent for anything else. Good thing then the father-in-law provided for them lavishly, setting them up in one of the outer rooms in his mansion.

Several years later, general Nie passed away. The commanding general (warlord really) of Hebei had heard about Yinniang’s unusual abilities, so he hired her, showered her with high salary and many gifts.

Several years later, the commanding general (Marshal of Weibo) came in conflict with Marshal of Chenxu Liu Changyi. Marshal of Weibo ordered Yinniang to assassinate Liu. But Liu was an extraordinary person himself, gifted with foretelling future events. He knew Yinniang would come for him.

One morning, Liu sent his subordinates to wait for Yinniang at the city gates with the following instructions: “You will see a couple riding on donkeys. The man will be on the black donkey, the woman on white, one will be slightly ahead of the other. When they reached the city gate, there would be a magpie making a lot of noise. The man will shoot at it but misses, and the woman will take the slingshot from him, and shoot down the bird with a small stone. When you see this, go invite them here. Tell them it is my wish.”

Liu’s men saw it happen exactly as Liu foretold, and extended the invitation to the young couple. The couple said “Marshal Liu truly had divine powers, how else could he see through us? Of course we would like to meet him.”

When they met Liu, they bowed to Liu “We deserve ten thousand deaths for the offenses we intended.” Liu said “Everyone has to serve their master, that is completely normal. Compared to Marshall of Weibo, it should be clear what type of person I am. Why not stay with me? My desire is genuine, please do not worry about any ulterior motives.” Yinniang knew Marshall of Weibo cannot compare to Liu, so she replied with alacrity: “We see that marshal is in real need for assistance. Out of admiration for you, of course we are willing to stay and serve.” Liu asked about their needs. “Two hundred wen (pennies) would be more than enough” came the reply. Liu’s servants start to prepare quarters for the couple, only then they noticed the donkeys were missing. Liu sent them to look everywhere, but no one can find them. They didn’t know that inside Yinniang’s cotton bag, there were two paper-cuts in the shape of donkeys, one black and one white.

A month passed by. Yinniang told Liu: “Marshall of Weibo does not know I am with you now. I have not sent him any messages. Surely he will send others. Please cut off some strands of your hair, tie it with red silk, and have me deposit it secretly by his pillow tonight. This will tell him I will not return to him, and that you are not afraid of him.” Liu did as he instructed.

Before dawn, Yinniang returned: “The message has been delivered. The night after tomorrow he will surely send Jing Jing Er to assassinate you and me. I will do everything I can do deal with him, so please do not worry.” Possessing a largeness of spirit, Liu showed neither fear nor concern, leaving everything to Yinniang.

The day after, around midnight, two long streamers, one red and one white, could be seen dancing around marshal Liu’s bed posts, clashing on occasion. After a long time, a man fell out of thin air, stumbling forward onto the ground, the head rolling away from the body. Yinniang appeared as well, “Jing Jing Er has been killed.” She took out some powders can dissolved the body, hair included.

Yinniang told Liu “The day after the great master Kong Kong Er will come. His skill is such that man cannot see him in action, demons cannot follow his path. He can enter darkness from emptiness, he is formless as well as shadowless. My skill is so low level I cannot even approach such realm, so here it’s all going to be up to your luck. We can but place precious Myanmar jade around your neck and cover that with quilt. I shall transform into a tiny insect, and listen from your intestine. We have no other options. There is no place to hide from Kong Kong Er.”

Liu did as Yinniang advised. Around midnight, he was not yet deep in sleep when he was jolted by a loud, clear, harsh sound around his neck. Yinniang jumped out of Liu’s mouth, congratulating him “The marshal is out of danger. This man is like a brilliant bird of prey, if he missed on his first strike, he would flying high and far from the scene, deeply ashamed of the miss. It is not even an hour, but he’s already more than a thousand miles away.” Taking off the unbreakable jade neck brace, the marshal can see there’s a deep line left behind by the dagger.

Saved again by Yinniang, marshal Liu treated them with even more generosity.

In the eighth year of Kaiyuan, Liu was summoned to the capital by the emperor. Yinniang did not want to go. “I want to go travel the word and seek out high-level people. I only ask that you provide my husband with an easy position under you.” Liu granted her requests. After that they never saw each other again. When Liu died, Yinniang showed up before the coffin and cried. Afterwards, she disappeared again.

During the years of Kaicheng, Liu’s son Liu Zong was on his way to Lingzhou to assume the post of governor when he ran into Yinniang in Sichuan. She looked exactly the same, still riding the white donkey. The old friends were delighted to see other. Examining Liu Zong’s face carefully, Yinniang warned him: “there is impending disaster, better forget about this post for now.” She took out a pill and made Liu Zong take it. “If you abandon this path you’re on immediately and return to the capitol, you can still save yourself. My medicine can only guarantee your safety for one year.” Liu Zong did not really believe her. He prepared many lavish gifts for her, none she accepted. Seeing that he would not heed her warning, she just drank. She left in an intoxicated state.

A year later, as Yinniang predicted Liu Zong died in Lingzhou. After that no one has seen Yinniang again.



后五年,尼送隱娘歸。告鋒曰:“教已成矣,子卻領取。”尼歘亦不見。一家悲喜。問其所學,曰:“初但讀經念咒,余無他也。”鋒不信,懇詰。隱娘曰:“ 真說又恐不信,如何?”鋒曰:“但真說之。”曰:“隱娘初被尼挈,不知行几里。及時,至大石穴之嵌空數十步,寂無居人,猿極多,松蘿益邃。已有二女,亦各十歲,皆聰明婉麗,不食。能于峭壁上飛走,若捷猱登木,無有蹷失。尼与我藥一粒,兼令長執寶劍一口,長二尺許,鋒利,吹毛令剸,逐二女攀緣,漸覺身輕如風。一年后,刺猿百無一失。后刺虎豹,皆決其首而歸。三年后能飛,使刺鷹隼,無不中。劍之刃漸減五寸。飛禽遇之,不知其來也。至四年,留二女守穴,挈我于都市,不知何處也。指其人者,一一數其過曰:“為我刺其首來,無使知覺。定其膽,若飛鳥之容易也。”受以羊角匕首,刀廣三寸。遂白日刺其人于都市,人莫能見。以首入囊,返主人舍,以藥化之為水。五年,又曰:“某大僚有罪,無故害人若干。夜可入其室,決其首來。”又攜匕首入室,度其門隙,無有障礙,伏之梁上。至瞑,持得其首而歸。尼大怒曰:“何太晚如是!”某云:“見前人戲弄一儿可愛,未忍便下手。”尼叱曰:“已后遇此輩,先斷其所愛,然后決之。”某拜謝。尼曰:“吾為汝開腦后藏匕首,而無所傷。”用即抽之,曰:“汝術已成,可歸家。”遂送還。云后二十年,方可一見。鋒聞語甚懼,后遇夜即失蹤,及明而返。鋒已不敢詰之,因茲亦不甚怜愛。忽值磨鏡少年及門,女曰:“此人可与我為夫。白父,父不敢不從,遂嫁之。

其夫但能淬鏡,余無他能。父乃給衣食甚丰,外室而居。數年后,父卒。魏帥稍知其异,遂以金帛署為左右吏。如此又數年。至元和間,魏帥与陳許節度使劉昌裔不協,使隱娘賊其首。引娘辭帥之許。劉能神算,已知其來。召衙將,令來日早至城北,候一丈夫一女子,各跨白黑衛。至門,遇有鵲前噪夫,夫以弓彈之,不中,妻奪夫彈,一丸而斃鵲者。揖之云:“吾欲相見,故遠相祗迎也。”衙將受約束,遇之。”隱娘夫妻曰:“劉仆射果神人,不然者,何以洞吾也,愿見劉公。” 劉勞之。隱娘夫妻拜曰:“合負仆射万死。”劉曰:“不然,各親其主,人之常事。魏今与許何异,顧請留此,勿相疑也。”隱娘謝曰:“仆射左右無人,愿舍彼而就此,服公神明也。”知魏帥之不及劉。劉問其所須,曰:“每日只要錢二百文足矣。”乃依所請。忽不見二衛所之,劉使人尋之,不知所問。后潛收布囊中,見二紙衛,一黑一白。




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