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The Vast Desert Chapter 21


Chapter 21 – The Maggot That Clings to The Bone

The man with a businessman appearance continued with a laugh, “Zaixia was afraid Zhuangshi [lit. hero/fighter/warrior] met some unexpected mishaps, but Min Jiangjun [General Min] said that with Zhuangshi’s swordsmanship, nothing to worry about. Ha ha …! It still seems that it was Min Jiangjuan who has the ability to make discerning judgments.”

Stroking his beard, Wu Juxuan laughed and said, “Hong [lit. big/great, a surname] Xianggong [lord/master, but ‘xiang’ itself can mean ‘prime minister’, while ‘gong’ is a term of respect for an elderly gentleman] has lived at the xuan ge [both words mean pavilion with a view/two-storied pavilion] for a long time, nowhere near martial art matters, naturally you did not know Hong [lit. red] Xiong’s swordsmanship. Taking the commander-in-chief’s head in the middle of a million army is as easy as feeling in his pocket and take it out.”

Slapping the table, General Min laughed heartily and said, “I am just hoping that Hong Zhuangshi is not going to take the head of this Commander’s.”

His Han language was extremely fluent. It should be noted that although Qiuci was a prosperous small country, it also belonged to the Han Family as a vassal state. These people occupied important posts in the government, how could they not understand Han language?

Yidian Hong looked at them coldly; suddenly he said, “You already came, why didn’t you go inside the inn to meet me?”

Wu Juxuan laughed and said, “It’s inconvenient to talk too much inside the inn. Besides, there was some incense-burning karma between Ban Tian Feng and Min Jiangjun.”

General Min laughed aloud and joined in, “Not to conceal anything from you, the source of this karma with Ban Tian Feng is a fierce general under this Commander’s command. After he was done being a robber, he had done not a few of things for this Commander. If Zhuangshi is looking for him to give him trouble, wouldn’t it be too much of an inconvenience if this Commander came in?”

“Humph!” Yidian Hong responded.

Turned out the robbers were in collusion with the General; what else could he say?

However, the girl in red giggled and said, “You should know that most of the funds and provisions for Min Jiangjun’s troops is borrowed from Ban Tian Feng!”

The hunchback mused secretly, “So that’s how it is. Now that the important thing has been accomplished, afraid that he might come for a cup of soup [idiom: one’s share of the action], you had him killed to close his mouth.”

He saw Yidian Hong was giving him a quick glance, and then speaking in heavy voice, “Who is this woman? Why did you want her to …”

With a smile on his face, Wu Juxuan cut him off, “Could it be that jiannei [my humble wife] has offended Hong Xiongdi?”

Yidian Hong could not help but startled, “She … she is your wife?” he asked.

The girl in red laughed tenderly and said, “Are you surprised? When I married him, a lot of people were surprised, they all said a fresh flower is being stuck into … stuck into …” In the end she could not say the two words ‘cow manure’, but doubled up in laughter.

Wu Juxuan’s countenance did not change; he was still smiling as he said, “Presumably Hong Xiong’s great service has been accomplished, but I wonder where is that muddleheaded king’s severed head?”

“The severed head is still on his neck,” Yidian Hong replied.

General Min and Hong Xianggong looked at each other, their countenance changed. “How could it be possible that Zhuangshi did not succeed?”

“Humph!” Yidian Hong responded.

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Wu Juxuan said, “Could it be that that muddleheaded king already got wind and hid away?”

“Hmm!” Yidian Hong responded.

General Min and Hong Xianggong heaved a long sigh simultaneously, but Wu Juxuan only laughed indifferently and said, “There’s no harm in that; in any case, sooner or later his head will be the object inside Hong Xiong’s bag.”

Casting a glance toward the hunchback on the side, he asked, “I am just wondering who these two gentlemen are?”

The hunchback answered on Yidian Hong’s behalf, “We actually did not have anything to do with that muddleheaded king, it’s just that he spent money to invite us over; we don’t know where that muddleheaded king is hiding.”

Wu Juxuan smiled and said, “Hong Xiong took them prisoner, could it be that you want to force their confession?”

“Hmm!” Yidian Hong responded.

General Min asked, “Why didn’t Zhuangshi interrogate them at that time?”

Yidian Hong replied, “I only kill people, I don’t force confession.”

Wu Juxuan laughed and said, “Zaixia is not able to kill people, but forcing confession, I can ask a couple questions.”

He slowly walked over to the two men, looked down and said with a laugh, “Two gentlemen’s honorable names and great surnames?”

The pockmarked face said, “No need to ask, we are merely insignificant soldiers.”

Although the rope binding him was tight, naturally it was just for a show; with their power, they could shake their arms free any moment.

They came in order to investigate what was true and what was false, but this moment they could not see anything anymore. The pockmarked face has already been eager to give it a try, it’s just that the hunchback has not made any move, he had no choice but to wait as well.

Wu Juxuan laughed and said, “Since these two gentlemen have absolutely nothing to do with that muddleheaded king, plus they have no enmity with us, in Zaixia’s opinion, it would be better to just let them go!”

Yidian Hong said, “They have been given to you, do whatever you please.”

Wu Juxuan laughed and said, “Since that’s the case, let Zaixia loosen their rope first and we’ll talk later.”

As he spoke, he leaned over to untie the rope. The pockmarked face and the hunchback felt it was inappropriate for them to make their move. Who would have thought that Wu Juxuan suddenly make his move like the wind? Left and right, his hands suddenly sealed seven, eight acupoints on each of the two men’s body.

Turned out this nothing-special-to-look-at famous noncommissioned officer was unexpectedly a first-class martial art master.

His countenance changed, Yidian Hong asked, “What are you doing?”

He was about to rise to his full height when he felt a dagger already pressed against the back of his neck; the tip of the blade was as cold as ice, the girl in red’s voice was soft as she spoke with a laugh, “Since they have been given to him, then he could do whatever he pleases! Right?”

Yidian Hong knew that as soon as he moved, the blade would penetrate his neck all the way to his throat.

The hunchback however, remained calm and collected; he spoke with a cold laugh, “Friends’ trick is very exquisite; however, using such skill to deal with two insignificant soldiers who are bound by the ropes, wouldn’t it be making a big fuss over a minor issue?”

Wu Juxuan calmly said, “Can you call the magnificent Chu Xiang Shuai an insignificant soldier?”

As soon as the words came out, Yidian Hong’s heart sank down. Yet the hunchback roared in laughter and said, “Chu Xiang Shuai? If I am Chu Xiang Shuai, would I be tied by a rope like this?”

He seemed to think that this matter was really ridiculous, he laughed so hard that tears were streaming down his face.

Wu Juxuan quietly looked at him. It was not until his laughter subsided that he spoke indifferently, “Such a trivial piece of rope, how could it tie Chu Xiang Shuai? After Chu Xiang Shuai investigated clearly what is true and what is false on our side, you may shake your arms any time; am I right?”

Finally that ‘hunchback’ could not laugh anymore; he really had not thought that this Wu Juxuan was such a formidable figure.

Wu Juxuan slowly went on, “Could it be that Chu Xiang Shuai still refuse to admit? Could it be that you want Zaixia to wash Chu Xiang Shuai’s face for you?”

Chu Liuxiang could not help but said, “Friend does have good eyesight, but I wonder how did friend see the flaw?”

Wu Juxuan smiled and said, “Chu Xiang Shuai’s disguising skill is amazing, unparalleled under the heavens. But no matter how exquisite one’s disguising skill is, there are places on one’s face that can never be changed.”

“Oh?” Chu Liuxiang said.

Wu Juxuan said, “Xiang Shuai should have known that one’s facial appearance, skin color, voice, can all be changed, so much so that one’s height can be altered. But the distance between the two eyes can never be changed. Although Xiang Shuai’s disguising skill is wonderful, unparalleled in the world, you are helpless to change the position of the two eyes, right?”

Casting a glance toward Ji Bingyan, Chu Liuxiang said with a laugh, “I never thought that I would encounter a great expert today.”

Wu Juxuan said, “Furthermore, as long as you pay attention, you will discover that no one in the world with the distance between the two eyes exactly the same as someone else’s; it’s just that the difference is extremely tiny.”

“In that case,” Chu Liuxiang said, “Gexia has already measured the distance between my two eyes?”

Cupping his fist, Wu Juxuan said with a laugh, “Guilty as charge [orig. lacking in manners].”

Chu Liuxiang said, “But why don’t I remember ever seeing Gexia?”

Wu Juxuan laughed and said, “Such an insignificant soldier like Zaixia, even if Xiang Shuai has seen me, you would have forgotten about me long ago.”

“In that case,” Chu Liuxiang said, “It would be better for someone not to have too much of a reputation.”

Surprisingly, at this very moment, he was still able to laugh, while Yidian Hong and Ji Bingyan were about to go crazy really quickly. Yidian Hong’s body suddenly shot forward, while his right leg kicked backward.

His lower body skill has really reached the stove-fire-has-turned-bright-green state [allusion to Daoist alchemy; fig. (of an art, a technique etc.) brought to the point of perfection]. When his body pounced, he brought it almost parallel to the ground; who would have thought that the tip of the blade was still pressed against his neck, unexpectedly he failed to cast it off?

The girl in red’s body was already hanging from the ceiling of the cabin, she laughed and said, “I have already become the maggot that clings to your bones; you will never be able to get rid of me.”

Looking at Wu Juxuan, Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “You married a wife who can entangle people like this, your days must be extremely unbearable.”

Laughing indifferently, Wu Juxuan said, “It’s a pity that I am afraid Gexia’s days will be even more unbearable.”

It was a dark cabin under the main cabin of the boat; so dark that when you stretched out your hand, you cannot see the five fingers in front of your face. The sound of the bottom of the boat rubbing against the sand came up in waves, like sharp needles piercing the ears.

It does not matter who, but anybody laying down in such a place could not possibly feel comfortable, yet Chu Liuxiang and Ji Bingyan, who paid particular attention to comfort the most – were clearly locked up in this place.

For some reason, Wu Juxuan did not want to kill them immediately; he did not kill Yidian Hong either, as if he felt that killing them now would be a pity.

Chu Liuxiang sighed. “Wu Juxuan! Wu Juxuan!” he muttered, “Who the hell is this character? How could he recognize me in just a glance?”

Ji Bingyan spoke with a cold laugh, “Do you think you disguised yourself very well? Inside the mirror room on your boat, you may be able to dress yourself up until nobody could recognize you; but this time, even I can recognize you in just a glance.”

“Naturally you can recognize me,” Chu Liuxiang said, “But don’t you forget, how well do you and I know each other? Who is this Wu Juxuan? How could he be so familiar with me?”

Ji Bingyan was silent for half a day. “Could it be that he is Hei Zhenzhu?” he asked.

“Absolutely not,” Chu Liuxiang replied.

“Even in time like this, you are still this confident?” Ji Bingyan asked.

Chu Liuxiang said, “Naturally Hei Zhenzhu can also disguise himself to change his appearance; but martial art skill cannot be pretended. I just looked at this Wu Juxuan’s sealing acupoint technique, I knew that his martial art skill is a lot stronger than Hei Zhenzhu’s.”

Ji Bingyan stopped talking. But burst of chatter and laughter came down from the cabin above. Since this boat was mostly made of bamboo, naturally it could not be soundproofed. Since Chu Liuxiang and the others would die soon, naturally other people did not have to have any misgivings toward them.

After nobody knew how long, the boat suddenly stopped. They heard General Min said, “Is this where you and Shi Furen [Madame Shi] agreed to meet?”

Other words, they did not want to pay attention, since the friction noise of the bottom of the boat against the sand was really maddening, making them wished that they could stop their ears; but as soon as General Min spoke those words, Chu Liuxiang, Ji Bingyan, and Yidian Hong’s ears immediately perked up.

They heard Wu Juxuan said with a laugh, “It is right here, I am sure.”

Hong Xianggong laughed aloud and said, “Wu Xiansheng do things, naturally it can’t be wrong; however … I wonder if this Shi Furen has the intention to sincerely work together with our humble nation?”

Wu Juxuan laughed and said, “If she did not have the intention, even if you and I wanted to see her, I am afraid it would be even more difficult than ascending to the sky.”

“Ah!” General Min said, “Could it be that her martial art skill is stronger than Xiansheng’s?”

Wu Juxuan laughed and said, “Zaixia’s little bit of martial art skill, if you want to compare it to Shi Furen’s, it is indeed like the autumn firefly to the bright moon. It is simply cannot be compared.”

General Min laughed and said, “In that case, with this Shi Furen helping our humble nation, henceforth we will be able to sleep peacefully.”

“Precisely so,” Wu Juxuan replied.

Hong Xianggong laughed and said, “Speaking of which, we are still relying on Wu Xiansheng’s vigorous effort. Were it not for Wu Xiansheng, how could Shi Furen be willing to form friendship with common mortals like us?”

“That’s right, that’s right,” General Min said with a laugh, “After all the great merits have been reported this time, from the top, Guowang Dage [big brother the king (of a country)], to the bottom, this commander, as well as Hong Xianggong, we won’t forget Wu Xiansheng’s favor.”

Wu Juxuan laughed aloud and said, “Zaixia, a mere grass citizen [hoi polloi], can serve a sovereign king, I already feel extreme honor and favor from the superior.”

The girl in red laughed tenderly and said, “You don’t have to pretend to be polite; after this mission is accomplished, aren’t you going to ask Hong Xianggong and Min Jiangjun to give you a part time job as a government official, so that I can comfortably pass half of my lifetime in peace and good fortune?”

Hong Xianggong roared in laughter and said, “After this mission is accomplished, naturally Dasao [oldest sister-in-law] is bound to be a one-pin [the highest rank in imperial times] lady.”

The four laughed heartily together, followed by the sound of wine cups clinking against each other.

Listening to this point, Chu Liuxiang’s heart sank even deeper.

Now they knew that unexpectedly this Wu Juxuan was in collusion with the Stone Guanyin; not only that, but he also acted on behalf of the Stone Guanyin to pull some string with the rebel ministers of Qiuci. With great difficulty these people obtained the kingship of the Kingdom of Qiuci, but perhaps this time it would be tantamount to offering the country with both hands to the Stone Guanyin and Wu Juxuan.

A man like Wu Juxuan, naturally his objective was not merely ‘a part time job as a government official’. Even if the position of Commander-in-Chief or the Prime Minister was given to him, perhaps it was no more than satisfying his cravings.

However, under such circumstances, where did the Black Pearl stand?

He has been living in the desert for a long time; could it be that he was also the Stone Guanyin’s subordinate?

Now that the Stone Guanyin was coming, perhaps Chu Liuxiang and the others’ fate would be decided immediately.

Ji Bingyan suddenly said, “Chu Liuxiang, you have always been very confident; this time do you think you still could walk out alive?”

Chu Liuxiang smiled slightly and said, “There were several times when other people’s blade was pressed against my neck, but I am still alive until now.”

Ji Bingyan spoke with wry smile, “Chu Liuxiang, ah, Chu Liuxiang, under what kind of situation would you be in despair?”

Chu Liuxiang replied with a laugh, “As long as others have not chopped my head, I will never despair.”

Suddenly they heard the cry of the eagles, followed by the rustling noise of the sand moving along the ground.

Sitting up straight, Yidian Hong said, “She’s here!”

Ji Bingyan said, “Turns out Shi Guanyin’s ride is also this kind of ghost ship.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “I’ll say there is an eighty-percent chance that this ship was provided by Shi Guanyin.”

During these few exchanges, the other ship must have arrived; they heard sound of footsteps on the cabin overhead, obviously Wu Juxuan and the others came out together to welcome the newcomer.

Knowing that the Stone Guanyin was about to come on board, unexpectedly Chu Liuxiang and others seemed to be intimidated by some kind strange magical power; their hearts were jumping incessantly, they did not dare to open their mouth.

They heard the girl in red spoke slowly, “Dizi [disciple] Changsun Hong [red] kowtows in salute to Furen.”

Chu Liuxiang did not guess incorrectly; this woman was indeed the Stone Guanyin’s disciple. Stone Guanyin unexpectedly allow her disciple to marry Wu Juxuan, it may be assumed that this man Wu Juxuan was really not simple.

Half a day later, the footsteps moved into the cabin again.

Hong Xianggong said, “Wansheng [junior, self-deprecatory term used in front of elders] have long admired Furen’s reputation, unexpectedly I can really see you today. It is indeed … indeed an extreme honor.”

This man was originally very eloquent, but this time he had to speak haltingly before he was able to finish his speech. General Min was stammering even more; he could not even say anything clearly.

These two were originally men who had seen big spectacles, yet seeing this Stone Guanyin, they were still inevitably very nervous. It is thus clear that the Stone Guanyin’s elegant bearing must be overwhelming, so that people did not dare to stare directly.

Only after their polite greeting and compliments were finished did a graceful, touching, as-smooth-as-satin voice spoke slowly with a laughter, “Two gentlemen are Tian Huang’s aristocrats, your meritorious deed high and unrivalled, in the future your names will rise high to the pavilion of the firmament. What kind of person Jianqie [lowly (female) servant] is, so that two gentlemen are this courteous, making Jianqie has no place to stand?”

The voice seemed to be coming directly above Chu Liuxiang’s head.

Thinking that this moment, this person, whose beauty was like a fairy, whose mystery was like a demon – was sitting right above his head, Chu Liuxiang really could not describe the feeling in his heart.

He really wished that he could rush upstairs immediately to take a look at this demon among the fairies; what kind of person she really like? What kind of mysterious magical power she really possessed?

Above, some more words were being exchanged. General Min could not help asking, “I wonder if Furen bring that Star of Happiness along?”

The Stone Guanyin asked him instead, “I wonder if Min Jiangjun know the secret of this Star of Happiness?”

“This … I don’t know yet,” General Min replied.

The Stone Guanyin said, “Since Jiangjun does not know its secret, this ‘Star of Happiness’ will be, at most, nothing more than a piece of precious stone. Even if Jianqie presented it to Jiangjun, what use will it be to Jiangjun?”

Apparently General Min was stunned.

But Hong Xianggong was laughing apologetically and said, “However, Wansheng [plural] also know that if this precious stone fell into the muddleheaded king’s hands, immediately its worth will be substantially different. Therefore, Wansheng absolutely must not let it fall the muddleheaded king’s hands.”

The Stone Guanyin smiled and said, “But Jianqie has decided to make an exchange with the muddleheaded king.”

General Min and Hong Xianggong seemed to be shocked; they blurted, “This … this is absolutely unacceptable.”

With a smile on his face, Wu Juxuan interjected, “Two gentlemen need not be surprised. Furen is returning the ‘Star of Happiness’ to the muddleheaded king, she has another intention.”

“What … what intention?” General Min asked.

Wu Juxuan said, “Only because in all the world, only the muddleheaded king knows its secret, and he would rather die than revealing the secret. If we wanted to know this secret, we have to wait until this thing is back to that muddleheaded king …”

Hong Xianggong suddenly gained an understanding, “This moment he is already at the end of the line [orig. mountain and river exhausted (idiom)]; after obtaining this object, he would certainly use it immediately. At that time, if we wait in the dark to spy on him, we would know its secret.”

Wu Juxuan laughed and said, “After all, Hong Xianggong is an intelligent man.”

General Min immediately burst into loud laughter as well; he said, “This moment that muddleheaded king already has no strong-hand bodyguard; it would be extremely easy for us to take back that ‘Star of Happiness’ any time. This is called ‘In order to capture, one must let loose’ … Ha ha! Excellent! Excellent!”

Speaking to this point, he suddenly stopped for half a day, before continuing, “Fortunately we failed to kill him; otherwise, wouldn’t this secret follow him to the underworld? The old man lost his horse, but it all turned out for the best. It seems like our luck is not bad at all.”

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