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The Vast Desert Chapter 2

CSI

Chapter 2 – Rich and Noble Household

Hu Tiehua laughed aloud and said, “You only need to say a word, I will throw my head down for you, why can’t I abandon her?”

The two men laughed aloud as they walked out the door.

Who would have thought that the little woman [orig. furen, usually refers to older/married woman] suddenly flew, as if she was throwing herself out to pull Hu Tiehua’s sleeve, and cried aloud, “Are you going to leave just like this?”

Hu Tiehua was stunned. “We haven’t paid our bills?” he asked.

The little woman hissed, “Who wants your wine money? I want you.”

As soon as this sentence came out, Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua could only stare blankly.

Hu Tiehua stammered, “Then … then, why did you ignore me all along?”

The little woman said, “I ignored you, just because I know that you like me because I ignored you.”

Hu Tiehua was stunned again. Smiling bitterly, he said, “Chu Liuxiang, did you hear that? You must never, ever, think that a woman was an idiot. Whoever regards women as idiots, he himself is an idiot.”

Tears were already streaming down from the little woman’s eyes; she said, “Please, please don’t go. If you stay, I will marry you at once.”

The word ‘marry’ was just out of her mouth, Hu Tiehua already tore his sleeve, he bolted out like a rabbit being hunted by a tiger.

Although Chu Liuxiang’s movement was not slow either, although his ride was a precious horse, he still had to spend quite an effort to catch up with Hu Tiehua. Roaring in laughter, he said, “Don’t be afraid, she cannot catch you; she does not have such a good qinggong like Gao YaNan.”

Only then did Hu Tiehua relax his footsteps. Smiling wryly, he said, “Did you hear? Unexpectedly she knew that I liked her precisely because she ignored me. Even if you killed me, I would not have believed that such a woman unexpectedly could be so smart.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Even a more stupid woman will be smart in this aspect. Probably all her life she was waiting for a man like you to take the bait; therefore, don’t you think she would open her eyes wide to look around?”

Hu Tiehua heaved a long sigh. “Women!” he said, “I am afraid I’ll never be able to understand women in all my life.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “But women understand men. They know that great majority of men are contemptible individuals.”

Finally Hu Tiehua also roared in laughter; he said, “You are just trying to say that I am a contemptible individual.”

Chu Liuxiang also laughed and said, “Since you think so yourself, there is no need for me to deny it.”

He had already dismounted his horse, and by this moment he had already walked alongside Hu Tiehua for some distance. Suddenly he discovered that the direction Hu Tiehua was taking was not the way out of the Pass; he could not help asking, “Where are you going?”

“Lanzhou [prefecture-level city and capital of Gansu province]!” Hu Tiehua replied.

“Lanzhou?” Chu Liuxiang said, “But Hei Zhenzhu is at the desert outside the Pass; what are we going to Lanzhou for?”

Hu Tiehua replied, “If the two of us are going to the desert just like this, by the time we see Hei Zhenzhu, I am afraid we can’t even lift a finger; can we think about fighting then?”

Knitting his brows, Chu Liuxiang said, “I know that the desert is very dangerous.”

Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “Dangerous? Do you think these two characters ‘dangerous’ [xiong xian] can describe it? Those who have never been to the desert can’t even think, not even in their dreams, how terrifying the desert is.”

“Are you trying to scare me?” Chu Liuxiang said.

Closing his eyes, Hu Tiehua spoke slowly, “On the great desert that stretches as far as the eye can see, one human life is really too insignificant. Even if the celebrated Chu Liuxiang died in there, it can’t be considered anything.”

Chu Liuxiang blurted out laughing, “You can’t scare me,” he said.

Hu Tiehua did not pay him any attention; he slowly continued, “In there, the day is so hot that you could peel your skin off, but the night is so cold that your blood is freezing. A hill could turn into level ground in an instant, level ground could turn into a hill in the blink of an eye. When there is a rainstorm, the entire city could be buried under the sand. On top of that, there’s the frightening water. Reportedly, every sichen in the desert, there are at least ten people died of thirst.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “I have been to places more dangerous than that …”

Hu Tiehua opened his eyes and spoke loudly, “The only thing you were dealing with in the past was people, but now you are dealing with the power of the Heaven and the Earth. Besides, you know nothing about the desert, while that Hei Zhenzhu grew up in the desert; in terms of the timing, the terrain, the people, you don’t have any advantage at all. What makes you think that you could surpass him?”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “Good points.”

“Besides,” Hu Tiehua went on, “I am afraid you don’t even know where he is yet, am I right?”

Chu Liuxiang nodded and said, “That’s right!”

Hu Tiehua said, “In that case, you practically have no way of finding him. Do you think the desert is just as big as your yard? In there, the sky is connected to the ground, the earth is linked to the heavens, so that you basically cannot tell east from west, north from south. Besides, the language that those shepherds speak in the desert, you practically don’t understand a word. If you want to go around in there, leaving everything to chance, two circles over and you will lose your way, unable to get out for seven days, and then you will die of thirst!”

And then he stared hard at Chu Liuxiang, and spoke loudly, “You have always had the clearest mind, how come this time you are so anxious like you have turned crazy?”

Chu Liuxiang was speechless for half a day. Finally he said with a wry smile, “I have indeed become crazy of anxiety, but I still have to go. If you don’t …”

Hu Tiehua angrily said, “You, this old stinky bug, you think I am scared?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “So you mean …”

Hu Tiehua roared, “What I mean is, if we want to go, we must do it successfully. We can’t simply throw our life away like a fool. We have to be calm and cool-headed, soon we will be able to choke that kid’s throat.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Are you being calm and cool-headed now?”

Hu Tiehua could not help laughing either; he said, “I see that you suddenly become like an enthusiastic, impulsive kid; I really can’t help but angry. We are adults now; when adults do things, they have to do it like adults do.”

Smiling bitterly, Chu Liuxiang said, “These past few days, indeed my heart is a bit chaotic.”

Blurted out laughing, Hu Tiehua said, “You can think about other people this much, it can clearly be seen that you are still a lovely person, not at all like what others say, that you are a fox, a viper.”

He roared in laughter again and said, “But if we want to rescue your people back, we must become a fox, a viper. In that kind of place, lovely people don’t last long.”

Chu Liuxiang looked at him. Shaking his head, he said, “I may be able to become a fox; but viper … even I cannot become one, let alone you.”

Hu Tiehua laughed again and said, “Therefore, we are going to look for someone who could become a viper.”

“Who?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

“Dead rooster,” Hu Tiehua replied.

Chu Liuxiang blurted out, “Are you talking about Ji Bingyan? Do you know where he is?”

“He is precisely in Lanzhou,” Hu Tiehua replied.

“Are you saying that he is very familiar with the desert?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “You may not know, but he has made a fortune; his wealth was coming from the desert. After you guys parted ways, he went to the desert. In less than five years, he has become the most astute businessman in the desert, the biggest millionaire.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled; he sighed and said, “And you are still a pauper.”

Hu Tiehua smiled ruefully and said, “I have already said, the more people are no good with women, the more successful they are in business.”

Chu Liuxiang roared in laughter and said, “So you think you are very good with women?”

Lanzhou was the most prosperous city in the northwest, as well as the place where the wealth of the northwest was concentrated. The tycoons of the northwest, most lived here.

In this kind of place, among the people, wealth could not be considered much, but by the time you really have enough wealth, people would still feel deep veneration for you.

Ji Bingyan was precisely the man that could make people feel deep veneration for him, which goes to show that an ultra-rich man like him, no matter where – are very few.

Actually, he did not do any fixed business; as long as it was a business where he could make money, he would stick his foot in it. From all kinds of businesses in Lanzhou, if there were ten taels of profit that day, then one tael would be his.

This kind of man, who did not know him?

Therefore, Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua did not have any problem in finding the place where he lived.

A big and tall, huge like a deity – gatekeeper took them into a courtyard deep with trees and foliage; two youths, wearing white clothes untainted by even a speck of dust – took them into a spacious and gorgeous reception room. Everybody was treating them in refined and courteous manner, there was no flaw to be criticized, even though they were not dressed as well as the gatekeeper.

A few heavy bamboo curtains were hanging in the reception hall. The humid heat of the autumn was already separated outside the curtains. Blown by the breeze, the heavy bamboo curtains seemed like a swallow circling in the air.

Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “This is the air of a rich and noble household. Although inwardly those servants are looking down upon us, on the surface they are still refined and courteous. It looks like our Dead Rooster was born to be wealthy, unexpectedly he does not look like a nouveau riche at all.”

Chu Liuxiang’s eyes were looking at the reflection of the flowers on the window, his ears were listening to the sound of water outside the window, his hands were holding a small cup of green tea, which aroma assailed his nostrils; he suddenly said, “I’ll say, this will be very difficult.”

“What’s very difficult?” Hu Tiehua asked.

Chu Liuxiang replied, “Are you saying that you still don’t understand his style of conduct? You want to pull him out of this kind of place into the great desert under the storm and the scorching sun, I am afraid no one can do it.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “That’s right! He is indeed, from head to tail, a hundred percent self-made man; he had never asked for anybody’s help, but also never have the intention to help anybody. But don’t you forget, he is, after all, our good friend.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Friends can never be compared with oneself.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “Don’t worry, I always have a way to ask him to go with us. If worst comes to worst, I can set this house of his on fire; let’s see if he wouldn’t go?”

He had just finished speaking, they heard light cough from outside the bamboo curtain. Four very young girls wearing clothes as white as snow carrying a soft couch came in. A man was lying of the soft couch, propping himself with his elbow, his mouth opened wide in a big laugh and said, “Chu Liuxiang, Hu Fengzi [crazy Hu], I never expected that you, two drunkards, actually haven’t forgotten me.”

Although he was laughing to his heart’s content, his pair of eyes were still as sharp as ferocious eagle.

Lazy, sluggish, indecisive; although most people usually have some shortcomings, but no matter when, no matter who, nobody would be able to find the slightest amount of this kind of expression on his sharp, prominent angular face. His entire being was like an astute, strong and acute incarnation.

Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua already laughed heartily to welcome him. Hu Tiehua said with a laugh, “Your airs seem to be getting bigger and bigger; seeing old friends coming, you don’t even stand up.”

Ji Bingyan laughed indifferently and said, “If you can make me stand up, I will give all these to you.”

Hu Tiehua was stumped for words; he stared blankly at the legs covered in soft felt. “Your legs?” he blurted out.

Ji Bingyan sighed and said, “My pair of legs can no longer be used.”

Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua were both stunned! Finally Hu Tiehua could not help screaming and shouting, “When did this happen? Which d@mned b@st@rd did this? If I don’t smash this b@st@rd’s pair of eyes into pulp, my surname is not Hu.”

Smiling bitterly, Ji Bingyan said, “If you want to avenge me, it seems that I will have to disappoint you.”

Hu Tiehua angrily roared, “If Chu Liuxiang and I cannot avenge you, I’m afraid no one in this world can avenge you.”

Ji Bingyan sighed and said, “No one in this world can avenge me.”

“Why?” Hu Tiehua roared.

Ji Bingyan replied, “Because the one paralyzing my two legs was not anybody at all; it was the desert! It’s the d@mned sun of the desert, the d@mned wind …”

He smiled bitterly and went on, “I wandered around the desert for five whole years. How I passed those five years, I am afraid no one could imagine it. Once, unexpectedly I was buried alive under the sand, until two days later, I was rescued by a camel caravan. Although that d@mned desert has given me riches that I cannot spend in my lifetime, it also gave me rheumatism all over my body. Now, the rheumatism is just flaring out from my legs, that’s all.”

Listening to that, Hu Tiehua was stunned speechless again. He said sadly, “Ji Bingyan, oh, Ji Bingyan! I always thought that you were made of iron; I always thought that nothing in the world could harm you. Who knew …”

Suddenly he kicked a chair nearby, sending it flying away, and roared, “D@mned desert! Why is there such a cursed [orig. seeing ghost] place on earth? Why must we go there?”

Ji Bingyan blurted out, “You are going to the desert too?”

Chu Liuxiang heavily nodded his head and replied, “Precisely.”

Ji Bingyan sighed and said, “Take my advice: never go to the desert for the rest of your life. You may rather go to the underworld than to the desert. Believe me, that place is not someone who is in his right mind ought to go to.”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang said, “Who said right now I am still in my right mind?”

Startled, Ji Bingyan said, “Don’t tell me that there is something on earth that could make Chu Liuxiang’s head dizzy?”

Hu Tiehua briefly explained what happened, and then he said, “Originally we were going to ask you to go together with us. After hearing the tale about how you get rich from the mouth of the travelers who had been to the desert, I originally thought that you have conquered the desert. Who would have thought that now you …”

Suddenly Ji Bingyan grabbed the felt covering his legs and hissed, “But now with my two legs, I … unexpectedly I can only see with my own eyes my friends go … go …”

Unexpectedly, all of a sudden this cool-headed man got excited, as if he wanted to struggle to crawl up, but it seemed like his legs could not move, as if they were made of a block of wood; he fell off from the soft couch.

Hu Tiehua hurriedly helped him up. Seeing an old friend became like this, Hu Tiehua practically wanted to cry, but his mouth laughed aloud and said, “No need to feel bad; without you going, Old Stinky Bug and I can still make the desert the-sky-and-the-earth-turning-upside-down like always. You just wait here to see how we give vent to anger on your behalf!”

His eyes were already brimming with tears of excitement. Rubbing his eyes, he laughed aloud and said, “If you think that without you going with us it would be the same as us throwing away our lives, there must be something wrong with your head. Old Stinky Bug and I are not Da Guniang [big miss] who are too weak to stand up to the wind.”

Covering his face with his hands, Ji Bingyan’s body did not stop shaking.

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “But if you don’t bring the wine out, even if I have to carry you, I am going to take you into the desert.”

Finally Ji Bingyan’s shaking subsided. He also laughed aloud and said, “Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua have been here for so long, how come I haven’t prepared good wine for them? I really deserve to die …” [Translator’s note: ‘gai si’, which I translated as ‘damned’, the literal translation of is ‘ought to die’.]

Exquisite chinaware, adorned with exquisite and tasty dishes, white jade carved into wine cup, filled to the brim with amber-colored wine, in the eyes of a gluttonous drunkard, it could already be considered the loveliest scene on the earth; not to mention pouring the wine by their side were two beautiful women, worthy to get a couple more glances from any man.

But Chu Liuxiang did not use his usual appreciative manner to appreciate their beauty, simply because these women were treating Ji Bingyan with such an intimacy that even the blind would be able to feel.

He was drinking an old friend’s good wine – how could he let the old friend drink vinegar [i.e. jealous]?

Hu Tiehua did not look at the women either; he was just doing his utmost to eat and drink. Most people, when their mood was not good, would drink the wine to vent their anger.

Not only did he eat by himself, he also poured cup after cup for Ji Bingyan. He figured that as long as one could still eat, one could still drink, even if his leg was broken, it would not matter much.

He suddenly laughed aloud and said, “Ji Bingyan, don’t worry; I know you are not going to die. A man who could drink this much wine would live at least another thirty years.”

Ji Bingyan smiled and said, “Wine is not drank using legs, is it?”

Hu Tiehua roared in laughter and said, “That’s right! Your legs may be broken, but other parts are still fine. Now I can finally feel relieved.”

Ji Bingyan suddenly sighed. “But I am a little uneasy,” he said.

Hu Tiehua’s eyes grew big, he asked, “Why are you uneasy?”

Ji Bingyan said, “The two of you are thinking of going to the desert just like this?”

“As soon as my tummy is full, I am leaving,” Hu Tiehua replied.

Ji Bingyan slowly said, “The two of you are going to the desert just like this, I guarantee that you cannot survive more than ten days.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “How long can others survive? We can survive just as long. Unless the desert is full of dead people; otherwise, we can survive just as well.”

“This is different,” Ji Bingyan said, “People who live in the desert have long ago been tempered to be as strong as iron; so strong that you cannot even imagine. And you …”

Hu Tiehua angrily said, “You think Chu Liuxiang and I are not as good as other people?”

Ji Bingyan sighed and said, “Your martial art skill and intelligence are naturally a lot higher than theirs, even much higher than anyone else in the world. But your heart, your guts – have long been softened by wine and meat, by women, by too comfortable livelihood. Life in the desert is no longer something that you can adapt to.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “You think we pass our days in comfortable life?”

Ji Bingyan slowly said, “Your life is at least ten times more comfortable than anybody living in the desert. For fear of using up the water in their body, they are able not to talk for several days, neither do they move; can you do that? When they are hungry, they could eat lizard like eating ham; can you do that? When they are thirsty, they can dig a hole one zhang deep in the sand using their bare hands just to suck the water from the sand underground. Relying on this bit of water, they can survive for three days; can you do that? So much so that they can drink camel’s urine; can you do that? You only sniff the smell and you will immediately spit it out, and if you spit it out, your death will come even faster!”

He spoke to this point in one breath; Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua could not help but were stumped for words.

Ji Bingyan sighed, and then he continued, “The people in the desert, in order to survive they do things that you guys cannot do; not only that, you won’t dare to even think about doing it.”

Smiling wryly, Hu Tiehua said, “At least I really do not dare to drink urine.”

Ji Bingyan said, “In time of need, if you do not dare to drink, then you will die. They dare to drink; therefore they can keep on living. Therefore, they are stronger than you. This is the problem of survival; it has nothing to do whatsoever with martial art skill or intelligence.”

Chu Liuxiang was silent for half a day. He spoke slowly, word-by-word, “Some things, even if you know that you will die, you still have to go and do it.”

Ji Bingyan sighed and said, “Naturally I know as well that when Chu Liuxiang is determined to do something, nobody can stop you. But if you must go, you can’t just go like this.”

Chu Liuxiang asked, “How should we go?”

Ji Bingyan replied, “You must prepare a lot of things.”

“Prepare what?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Ji Bingyan replied, “You have to prepare at least five camels, to carry fresh water, foodstuff, lodging equipment, as well as some bits and pieces. Although you might think that those are useless, when the time comes, those will be useful things. You also have to find an old hand to take care of the animals …”

He laughed and continued, “These things, naturally you need not worry on your own. By tomorrow at dusk, I will have everything prepared properly.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “But this time we are not going on a scenic tour, neither are we going to seek a happy and prosperous life; you absolutely must not spoil us. Animals, I can take care of them myself. Just two horses, several bags of water and foodstuff – that should be enough. If you could prepare some wine for Hu Fengzi, we will be even more grateful.”

Ji Bingyan sighed. He muttered to himself, “Chu Liuxiang, oh, Chu Liuxiang! I never thought that you would still be as bullheaded as ten years ago.”

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