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The Vast Desert Chapter 14


Chapter 14 – Unstable Situation in the Desert

Frowning, Ji Bingyan said, “Twice she left a note, both are the same handwriting. Indeed the Stone Guanyin’s henchmen already penetrated the King of Qiuci’s side left and right.”

Emotionally moved, Hu Tiehua said, “Who do you think is her henchman?”

Ji Bingyan sighed and said, “It could be anybody; perhaps the golden-armored warrior inside his tent, perhaps his concubine, perhaps even them, father and daughter.”

Hu Tiehua stared blankly with eyes opened wide for half a day. Smiling wryly, he said, “I don’t want you to worry about me, whether I become Fuma or not, it does not matter. If you want to leave, let’s leave right now!”

Smiling slightly, Chu Liuxiang said, “If these several black characters on a piece of white paper can scare us away, even if we could keep on living, our lives will have no meaning anymore.”

Hu Tiehua’s eyes lit up, rubbing his fists and wiping his palms [idiom: eager to get into action or start on a task], he spoke loudly, “Now that is the way Chu Liuxiang talks. Good or bad, we must fight a desperate battle against her first.”

Chu Liuxiang spoke in heavy voice, “Now, since she must be coming here for us, we do not need to rush instead. We might as well wait here for her. Tomorrow you still tie the knot in marriage, three days later we, according to the King of Qiuci’s original plan – are going to take those pearls and white jade to make the exchange with her Star of Happiness.”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “Do you think she would really do the exchange?”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Naturally she won’t.”

Hu Tiehua could not help asking, “Since she won’t do the exchange, why do we do it this way then?”

Chu Liuxiang slowly said, “The King of Qiuci is able to casually give that Kitten Eye to you, yet he regards the Star of Happiness as more important than his life; obviously the worth of this Star of Happiness is in some kind of secret, right?”

“That’s right,” Hu Tiehua replied.

Chu Liuxiang continued, “The reason the Stone Guanyin is doing everything like this is naturally because she wants to find out what’s the secret behind this Star of Happiness, to see just how big is its worth …?”

Ji Bingyan suddenly interjected, “If the King of Qiuci put so much importance to this Star of Happiness, why did he entrust the ‘Five Tigers of the Peng Family’ to send it away?”

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Chu Liuxiang said, “Perhaps not sending it away, but the ‘Five Tigers of the Peng Family’ were bringing it back.”

Knitting his brows, Ji Bingyan said, “Are you saying that originally the Star of Happiness was not with the King of Qiuci here, but in somebody inside the Pass’ possession? And now that the King of Qiuci needs this object, he wanted someone to bring it back to him?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “That is naturally a possibility, isn’t it?”

Ji Bingyan said, “If that so, it is even more wrong; such a precious object, how could the King of Qiuci let it fall into other people’s hands? And if that person already obtained such a precious object, how could he be willing to part with it and send it back?”

Chu Liuxiang took a deep, deep breath and said, “Naturally there is some secret that is somewhat inadequate for the outsiders to know; perhaps it is really only the King of Qiuci, one person, who knows about this secret. Anyway, it’s useless for us to make wild guess, I just think that …”

He chuckled, and then said, “When it is necessary, perhaps the King of Qiuci himself will tell us.”

After going through such a day, even if they had layer upon layer of loads on their minds, but as soon as they closed their eyes, unconsciously they fell into a daze and was asleep.

No one knew how long they had been asleep, but suddenly there was a ‘whoosh!’ noise of the sleeves fluttering against the wind; someone was slipping inside the tent as fast as if he was flying. Unexpectedly, it was the Central Plains’ Xia Dao [lit. chivalrous thief] Situ Liuxing.

His qinggong was indeed not weak, plus he thought that everybody inside the tent must be sound asleep; who would have thought that as soon as he sprang in, he found himself to be surrounded by them.

It seemed like a man like Chu Liuxiang has never really fallen asleep.

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “Gexia left without saying goodbye, and you came without any notice, isn’t it too mysterious?

While wiping the sweats on his brow, Situ Liuxing forced a laughter and said, “Zaixia indeed has an urgent matter to report, but I hope three gentlemen would forgive my guilt of bold intrusion.”

Ji Bingyan quietly stared at him for half a day before his face relaxed.

Hu Tiehua already laughed and said, “Whatever urgent matter you have, sit down first and speak up slowly!”

“Last night Zaixia left without saying goodbye,” Situ Liuxing began, “it was really because I was secretly following that ‘Merciless Killer’ Du Huan’s tracks. Zaixia always feel that this person is harboring unfathomable motives, he must be harboring some crafty scheme.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “You are after all a Jianghu veteran, your insight is indeed not bad.”

Situ Liuxing said, “He seemed to be in a hurry; I followed behind him all the way, but he did not notice at all, he was simply traveling north urgently. After walking for about more than half a sichen, I found out that there was, unexpectedly, a black tent behind a sand dune.”

Ji Bingyan’s eyes like a torch, he spoke with a cold laugh, “Without anybody telling me, there could only be one person inside such a tent, the ‘Black Monkey’ Sun Kong. Based on Gexia’s martial art skill, if you want to spy on him secretly, I am afraid it would be difficult for you to come back alive.”

Smiling bitterly, Situ Liuxing replied, “Naturally Zaixia also know that there must be many martial art masters inside that tent, how could I dare to be careless? Seeing Du Huan entering the tent, I did not know what to do. Who would have thought that right that moment I suddenly saw a fast horse rushing over? The bow was bent, the arrow was prepared, ‘Whoosh!’ the arrow shot into the tent. Without stopping at all, the horse galloped away.”

Ji Bingyan spoke with a cold laugh, “Based on Sun Houzi’s hearing ability, when the horse was still a hundred zhang away, he ought to be able to hear it already, how could he allow the horse to gallop in front of the tent? How could he let the man shoot the arrow?”

Situ Liuxing replied, “That horse appeared to be a dragon-type precious-colt. Furthermore, unexpectedly the horse’s hooves did not have any iron horseshoe at all; when it treaded on the sand, unexpectedly it did not create any noise, it was not inferior to any first-class qinggong master.”

Casting a glance toward Chu Liuxiang, Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “Perhaps that horse is about the same as your black pearl [Hei Zhenzhu] horse.”

Smiling, Chu Liuxiang said, “There are a lot of fine horses in the desert … Gexia, please continue.”

Situ Liuxing said, “As soon as the horse flew past, three people shot out from inside the tent like arrows to run after the horse. Zaixia knew that if I did not take the risk at this time, later on I would not have another chance at all.”

Gexia’s guts is indeed not small,” Ji Bingyan commented coldly.

Situ Liuxing said, “Zaixia quietly walked around to the back of the tent. Because there were also several horses around, the horses’ neigh was more or less able to cover Zaixia’s movement.”

Hu Tiehua clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “Indeed you are worthy to be the Xia Dao [see above] whose name shook the Central Plains; your action is surely that of an old-hand, old-feet.”

Situ Liuxing blushed; he continued, “Zaixia crouched low on the ground to quietly lift the bottom of the tent just a hair. I saw inside the tent, other than Du Huan, there were two Qiuci nobles wearing golden crown and brocade gown, and a sullen-looking Han.”

Ji Bingyan cast Chu Liuxiang a glance. Frowning, Chu Liuxiang said, “Could it be that in the rebellion in Qiuci this time, there are Han people being involved?”

Situ Liuxing said, “Those three men picked up the arrow that was being shot inside from the table, unexpectedly there was a piece of paper wrapped around the arrow. One of the Qiuci men looked at the note, but presumably although he can speak Han, he does not know Han characters, thereupon he handed the piece of paper to the sullen-looking Han man, asking him to read the words on the note.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “If it was not so, you would not know what is written on the note; it seems like your luck is not bad at all.”

Situ Liuxing said, “Zaixia heard that old man read in loud voice, ‘The Star of Happiness is already in my hands, if thou want to get this object, prepare five thousand taels of gold, five hundred pearls, and fifty jade annulus, go straight toward the northeast for fifty li, to make the exchange with me. If thine intention is not sincere, this object will be thus returneth to the King of Qiuci’s hands.’”

He only recited half, Chu Liuxiang, three men were already emotionally moved.

Hu Tiehua shouted, “Good kid, unexpectedly he wants to do business with both parties. Could it be that this Star of Happiness and Qiuci country …”

Ji Bingyan immediately interrupted him by asking coldly, “After those two Qiuci men heard it, how was their expression?”

“Their expression was immediately changed greatly,” Situ Liuxing replied, “Just then, the three people who went out to chase returned. Not only the men in the tent had their lips sealed and not saying anything about this matter, they even quietly hid the piece of paper.”

“Did the men who give chase catch up?” Hu Tiehua asked.

Situ Liuxing broke into a smile, he said, “They did not. One of them, whose appearance looks like a monkey, did not stop cursing and swearing, saying that the horse must be a ghost horse, otherwise, he would be able to catch up even with his eyes closed.”

Hu Tiehua blurted out, “Sun Houzi considers his own qinggong to be absolutely high, this time unexpectedly he fell head first over a horse; naturally he is so angry that he turned mad.”

Situ Liuxing said, “I knew that this man must be a martial art master, hence inwardly I was anxious that he would detect my presence. Fortunately, after a moment of discussion, this gentleman Sun Hou took Du Huan and the others, three men to go on an assassination mission.”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “Gexia knew that they were going to commit a murder, why didn’t you come here to sound the alarm?”

Chuckling, Situ Liuxing said, “Zaixia knew with three gentlemen in here, even if they had ten times more men, they could forget about succeeding. Therefore, I thought I would stay there to listen on why this Star of Happiness is so valuable?”

Hu Tiehua said, “I did not expect you to think that highly of us.”

Situ Liuxing said, “After those four men left, the two Qiuci men immediately argued with the Han man. One said that they ought to immediately prepare the pearl and jade annulus, to go make the business deal with that person. The other said that the business term was too demanding, the real value of the Star of Happiness could not possibly be that high, so they ought to wait quietly and watch for any changes to avoid being duped.”

Chu Liuxiang and Ji Bingyan looked at each other. Although their mouth did not say anything, in their heart they knew that even until this moment, those three men of the opposite site still did not know the secret of the Star of Happiness, hence they still worried about personal gains and losses, and were arguing endlessly. They were afraid that if they took the deal, they might be duped, but if they did not take the deal, they were afraid this object might be really very advantageous to the King of Qiuci.

Situ Liuxing already continued, “I was feeling strange, why would these men consider such a trivial piece of precious stone to be so important? Who would have thought that this moment unexpectedly someone patted me gently on the shoulder?”

Speaking to this point, there was fear on his face; it appeared that he still had lingering fear over this matter, he even wiped the beads of sweat on his forehead before heaving a deep sigh and continuing, “Since making my debut when I was young, although my martial art skill is not high, but Zaixia has been doing this line of business, my eyes and ears cannot but become exceptionally keen. Who would have imagined that this man was already behind me, yet I did not even perceive his shadow.”

Emotionally moved, Chu Liuxiang said, “I did not expect that other than Sun Kong, there is such a martial art master in here.”

Situ Liuxing said, “That time my shock was really no small matter; by the time I looked back, that person was already more than ten zhang away, and he was beckoning to me. I knew that even if I did not want to go, I simply could not; hence I could only brace myself and come over …”

Cold sweats were flowing steadily from his head; smiling wryly, he went on, “It was not until I saw this man’s face that I knew that I had just really collected my life back.”

“Why did you say that?” Ji Bingyan asked.

Situ Liuxing sighed and said, “Were it not for this person and I have had predestined affinity to meet once in the past, this moment I would not be alive and meet gentlemen.”

“So he just let you go like that?” Hu Tiehua asked.

Situ Liuxing said, “Not concealing anything from three gentlemen, two years ago I was in Luoyang on a case, but was unfortunate to come across this person. Fortunately that time I was making my move for the purpose of saving a family, an orphan and a widow’s lives, hence he let me off. This person’s behavior is very strange, as long as he let you off once, even if later on you offend him, he would definitely not harm a single strand of hair on your body.”

Hu Tiehua clapped his hands and said, “This kid is indeed a hero [orig. haohan – strong and courageous person].”

Frowning, Ji Bingyan asked, “Could it be that this man is also an assassin that the Qiuci rebels invited over?”

Situ Liuxing sighed and said, “Precisely!”

Emotionally moved, Ji Bingyan asked, “Who exactly is he?”

Hanging his head, Situ Liuxing said, “Zaixia has sworn heavy oath that I would never reveal his name; I can only inform three gentlemen that before tonight he will come to assassinate. This man’s martial art is immeasurably high, three gentlemen must –by all means – be exceptionally careful!”

Ji Bingyan sternly said, “Since he had shown kindness to you, why did you come to warn us?”

Heaving a deep sigh, Situ Liuxing said, “A year ago, Jiaxiong [(polite) my elder brother] inadvertently acquired a fortune. We brothers were thinking that from then on, we’d wash our hands and retreat in hiding; who would have thought that unexpectedly the then Bangzhu [gang master/leader] of the Gai Bang [Beggars’ Union] NanGong Ling found out about this matter. Not only he robbed and took away our belongings, he even randomly killed Jiaxiong and chopped off his corpse. Although Zaixia knew who committed this treacherous assault, but … but …”

He rubbed his eyes and continued sorrowfully, “But Zaixia’s martial art skill was not NanGong Ling’s match. If I wanted to broadcast this matter, Gai Bang was like the sun at noon [idiom: to be at the peak of one’s power]; who in Jianghu would believe me?”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “That’s right, at that time NanGong Ling was in dire need of funds; if there was a huge sum of wealth could be obtained, he would do anything to get it.”

Situ Liuxing said, “This as-deep-as-the-ocean-blood-debt, originally Zaixia thought that there was no hope of revenge. Who would have thought that this time Chu Xiang Shuai singlehandedly uncovered NanGong Ling’s crafty plots and machinations, which was no different than washing away Zaixia’s deep-enmity-great-hatred? This matter shook the world, no one did not know. Zaixia shed tears of gratitude toward Chu Xiang Shuai, regretfully Chu Xiang Shuai is like divine dragon redressing the heavens, all along Zaixia did not have the opportunity to personally prostrate in gratitude for his big kindness.”

He suddenly looked up and fixed his gaze on Chu Liuxiang, and respectfully said, “Zaixia is also aware that Xiang Shuai is roaming the earth, unwilling to reveal his track; but Zaixia has confidence in myself that my two eyes are not blind, and are still able to recognize the real person.”

While his mouth was saying those words, he already respectfully kneeled and bowed to the ground.

Chu Liuxiang hurriedly helped him up and said with a laugh, “It does not matter whether Zaixia is really Chu Liuxiang, but toward your kind intention, I am very appreciative.”

Situ Liuxing laughed sadly and said, “In today’s matter, both sides are Zaixia’s benefactors; Zaixia really does not have any face to stay here, I wish for three gentlemen to understand Zaixia’s secret trouble.”

He again bowed to salute, and then said, “Henceforth Zaixia is asking to be excused, I wish we’ll meet again someday …”

His words still lingered in the air, he already turned around and left hurriedly.

Only after a long, long time later that Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “Other people mingling in Jianghu for ten years, their enemies will already be all over the world. But everywhere Chu Liuxiang goes, he will meet people who want to pay a debt of gratitude to him. So, it seems that it is still better to kill a bit less people.”

Frowning, Ji Bingyan said, “Situ Liuxing already knew that you are Chu Liuxiang, yet he still warned you to be exceptionally careful. It is thus clear that in his eyes, he believes that this person’s martial art skill is not inferior to you, Chu Liuxiang, at all.”

Emotionally moved, Hu Tiehua said, “That’s right. For the last many years, we really have not seen anybody who is able to fight a desperate fight against Chu Liuxiang. If he really came today, we really have to play a round or two with him.”

Blurted out laughing, Chu Liuxiang said, “Don’t you forget, today is your wedding day; no matter how many people came, just leave it to Ji Bingyan and me to handle it, you are going to enter the bridal chamber in peace!”

Rubbing his nose, Hu Tiehua said with a laugh, “If the number of people coming is too much, you guys should let me share the pain?”

Ji Bingyan laughed calmly and said, “You have a bride that look like that, you are still afraid it’s not enough to satisfy your cravings?”

Hu Tiehua was just thinking about picking up a pillow and throwing it at him, already there were five, six people carrying tall crown and auspicious clothes, bowing and walking in, saying, accompanied by a smile, “The wedding ceremony has been prepared, would Fuma Ye please change into the auspicious clothes, ready to salute the bride.”

Blurted out laughing, Chu Liuxiang said, “Gentlemen’s movement was very quick.”

Hu Tiehua stared at the tall hat, his eyes grew big. After staring for half a day, he suddenly raised his hands high while standing on the bed, shouting, “If you guys really want me to wear this hat, you might as well chop me off with a saber!”

But no matter wearing what kind of hat, it will always feel better than being chopped off with a saber.

In the end Hu Tiehua still wore the tall hat, and changed into the auspicious clothes. Looking at his own reflection in the mirror, he suddenly felt that his appearance was not as ugly as he imagined.

The bride was also wearing tall crown and auspicious clothes, plus a thick red cloth covering her face.

Looking at the red cloth, inwardly Hu Tiehua was very pleased with himself; he snickered inwardly and mused, “Today you finally are not able to play a joke on me anymore?”

The originally already one-hundred-percent gorgeous tent, today was decorated even more grandly, richly, and beautifully. The King of Qiuci’s face was shining red, yet all along his Wangfei was not showing her track. Maybe because the Wangfei was not present, there was not a single female inside the tent. The bride hurriedly retreated to the back, and she was promptly received by the attendants and was led inside.

Turned out this was unexpectedly the marriage custom of the Qiuci country; even during her own wedding, female guests were not allowed to appear in public. Furthermore, after the bride entered the bridal chamber, the groom had to defend his property to the death outside, waiting for others to force him to drink wine. In the desert, the cold wind was as sharp as a blade; if the shepherds did not prepare several catties of roast blades [not sure, 烧刀子, perhaps a type of wine] in their bosom to defend against the cold, it was simply impossible to hasten on with their journey.

Here, everybody considered heroic drinking as a beautiful thing. The more the groom drinks, the more well-regarded the wedding ceremony is. Therefore, afterwards, ten out of ten bridegrooms would have to be carried into the bridal chamber.

This was the occasion after Hu Tiehua’s own heart. In all his life, he was most afraid that he would not have enough wine to drink. Someone pouring him wine was something that he sought, but failed to get.

They saw four big men with naked upper body, carrying a delicious-smelling roast camel into the tent. With the silver knife in his hand, the King of Qiuci cut open the camel’s belly. Unexpectedly, inside the camel’s belly there was a roast sheep. And inside the sheep’s belly, there was a roast chicken.

In the desert, this was precisely the most solemn, most sumptuous imperial feast.

The King of Qiuci cut open the chicken’s belly and using his silver knife, he picked a grease-soaked chicken egg from inside the chicken’s belly. Stroking his beard, he laughed heartily and said, “This egg is the most auspicious; it has always been prepared for the most distinguished guest to taste. Today is the auspicious day of a marriage celebration, so it is not just an ordinary auspicious day at all. The distinguished guest who is going to eat this auspicious egg will not only have great luck, great profit [idiom: everything is thriving], furthermore, the next bridegroom will definitely be him.”

While Chu Liuxiang was thinking that this was all very interesting, unexpectedly the King of Qiuci already walked over to him in large strides and dropped this auspicious egg on his plate. Raising his hand, he shouted loudly, “Everybody, why haven’t you offer a toast to our most distinguished guest today?”

Everywhere the crowd burst into cheers, the sound of applause was thunderous. Chu Liuxiang just picked up the egg with a smile on his face, suddenly he discovered that under the lantern light, unexpectedly the tip of the King of Qiuci’s silver knife emitted some darkish color.

Inwardly he was shocked, but on his face, he showed neither the slightest word nor movement. Others thought he had eaten the egg, while in fact the egg had slipped into his sleeve.

He heard Ji Bingyan sighed lightly and said, “The things of the world are really amazing; unexpectedly Xiao Hu [little Hu] really become the Fuma [reminder: emperor’s son-in-law] of a country. Have you ever thought about that?”

Chu Liuxiang replied with laugh, “Finally this wild horse gets a master; we really should be happy for him. It’s just that … tonight you and I must be particularly careful; me must never get drunk.”

Ji Bingyan suddenly laughed and asked, “Can you see what this is?” He quietly stuffed a piece of paper into Chu Liuxiang’s hand.

The paper was greasy, thus the handwriting was somewhat fuzzy. Unexpectedly written on it were these words, “Since today is your daughter’s wedding day, I’ll let your head stay on your neck for another day. By dusk tomorrow, I will come again to fetch it, hoping that you would keep it properly until then, do not disappoint me.”

Looking at this, unconsciously Chu Liuxiang was stunned.

Laughing indifferently, Ji Bingyan said, “Although this person’s writing and words are not as smooth and elegant as yours, but the tone is really somewhat similar to yours. It’s just that what he wants is unexpectedly someone else’s head; practically he is a lot more ruthless than you.”

“Where did you get this note from?” Chu Liuxiang asked in heavy voice.

Ji Bingyan replied, “It was stuck on that roast camel. Just now when I went out, I happened to see it, hence I swiped it along the way.”

Although he spoke it in sketching-in-light-shades manner, but if he was not being careful and already paid attention to everything, how could he notice such a small thing the midst of such a chaotic situation, a small piece of paper stuck on such a big roasted camel, and just ‘happen’ to see it?

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang said, “Luckily you saw it; if it fell into this Wangye’s hands, I am afraid he would be so scared that he would faint right away; won’t that greatly dampen the spirit?”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “Xiao Hu rarely has a family; if you and I cannot let him happily entering the bridal chamber, we really might as well buy some rope and hang ourselves.”

Chu Liuxiang spoke heavily, “Even if this person did not come, we definitely won’t have less danger today; you and I must not see things too lightly. The food and drink that are delivered to us by anybody must not enter our mouth even more.”

Ji Bingyan’s eyes shone, he stared at Chu Liuxiang for half a day. Suddenly he frowned and asked, “Could it be that the auspicious egg is poisonous?”

Chu Liuxiang had not answered, there were seven or eight men coming to toast him.

Ji Bingyan spoke heavily, “I am going to guard outside. Whenever you can get away, come out to meet me.”

Without a drop of wine moistening his lips, he hurriedly went out.

But Hu Tiehua has been drinking until his face was completely red.

He could make friends with men like Chu Liuxiang and Ji Bingyan, his luck was indeed not bad.

If a man has such good fortune like him, no matter when, drinking a few more cups would not matter.

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