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The Vast Desert Chapter 3


Chapter 3 – Travel Plan

Hu Tiehua rode on the horseback. Although this horse was also a choice colt [orig. a thousand pick ten thousand select], but it was as if the colt was both respectful and afraid of the black horse Chu Liuxiang was riding; no matter how Hu Tiehua whipped and urged, unexpectedly it did not dare to gallop side by side with the black horse. This way, Hu Tiehua had no choice but to ride behind Chu Liuxiang. He was sick in his stomach, his mouth continuously yelling and screaming, and he did not stop sighing.

But Chu Liuxiang did not show the slightest bit of discomfort. It’s just that since they left Ji Bingyan, he has not opened his mouth to speak at all.

Finally Hu Tiehua could not bear it anymore; he said, “Chu Liuxiang, you know what, I am starting to think that perhaps you are not really a true friend like I imagined.”

“Oh?” Chu Liuxiang responded.

Hu Tiehua loudly said, “Both of Dead Rooster’s legs are broken, unexpectedly you did not show any sign that you are feeling bad for him; I know you were not that kind of person before.”

Chu Liuxiang was silent for half a day. Suddenly he looked back, laughed and said, “How long have you known Ji Bingyan?”

Hu Tiehua replied, “Although not as long as you have, at least more than ten years.”

“Have you ever heard him say that many words?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Without even thinking, Hu Tiehua replied immediately, “Of course not! Anybody knew that to get the Dead Rooster to talk is much more difficult than to get him to invite us to dinner.”

“Have you ever seen him as excited as yesterday?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “Yesterday, when I saw him falling off his chair, I simply wanted to bawl my eyes out, but you … you practically did not even blink; unexpectedly you could still laugh.”

Chu Liuxiang also sighed; he spoke slowly, “You have known him for more than ten years; could it be that you still don’t understand his character? If his legs are really broken, would he say those many words, would he still be that excited?”

Hu Tiehua was stumped; he roared, “What do you mean?”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang said, “You still don’t understand what I mean?”

Hu Tiehua shouted, “Are you saying that he did what he did, he was only pretending and was just putting a show for us?”

Chu Liuxiang sighed again and said, “Did you notice those two Guniang who poured the wine for us?”

Hu Tiehua asked, “Are you talking about Ying Yan [lit. welcoming/meeting wild goose] and Ban Bing [lit. partner/companion to the ice]?” [Translator’s note: these names are play on words, the ‘Bingyan’ of Ji Bingyan’s name literally means ‘ice’ and ‘wild goose’, respectively.]

“That’s right,” Chu Liuxiang replied, “Did you notice their manner toward Ji Bingyan?”

Hu Tiehua roared in laughter and said, “Could it be that you are jealous [orig. drink vinegar]? The girls in the world, not every one is good toward Chu Liuxiang; occasionally there will be one or two who will not look at Chu Liuxiang in the eye.”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang said, “You saw how they treated Ji Bingyan; was that how you would treat a crippled person? Did you notice their eyes? Their expression when they were looking at Ji Bingyan?”

Hu Tiehua suddenly did not laugh.

Chu Liuxiang went on, “You are a man with ample experience with girls, and you are certainly not blind.”

Hu Tiehua mumbled, “That’s right! If a man cannot meet the needs of a woman, the woman won’t use that kind of expression to him, and a crippled man will never be able to meet the need of other people …”

And then he shouted loudly, “But why didn’t you tell me then?”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “Since he does not want to go, why would I want to force him?”

Hu Tiehua swore, “That d@mned Dead Rooster, not only he deceived me, he even made me so uncomfortable. He has the impertinence to use this kind of trick to deal with a friend of more than ten years.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Toward us, he can’t be considered too bad.”

Hu Tiehua roared, “You still say he is not bad?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “He said those many words, it was to express the shame in his heart, to express that he still thinks of us as friends; otherwise, he could just say ‘I’m not going’, and we can’t kidnap him for ransom; am I right?”

Staring at him, Hu Tiehua said, “He treated you like this, you are not angry at all?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “If you want to make friends, you have to understand his temperament. If he has any shortcomings, you ought to forgive him. For all the years that I’ve known him, I know what kind of person he is; why would I want to be angry at him …”

He laughed and added, “Besides, to have someone like him treating me as his friend, I am already very satisfied.”

Hu Tiehua angrily said, “But I am not as magnanimous as you are; I …”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “You think you are a true friend yourself? We have been friends for that many years, unexpectedly you could sneak away and leave without saying goodbye, for seven or eight years straight you did not even see me; do you think others should not be angry at you?”

“But I … I am not like him …” Hu Tiehua stammered.

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “You’re right! You are not like him. When a friend is in trouble, you absolutely will not shrink back. But you also have your shortcomings, just like Ji Bingyan also has his strong points.”

Stroking his nose, Hu Tiehua could no longer speak.

When all is said and done, he was worthy to be Chu Liuxiang’s old friend. Chu Liuxiang’s shortcomings of stroking his nose, he was able to mimic perfectly.

At noon, they found a place to stop for lunch. Chu Liuxiang was thinking of discussing how to proceed with him, who would have thought that when he looked back, Hu Tiehua unexpectedly disappeared.

Chu Liuxiang only smiled wryly; he was only waiting.

Even if he worried, what good would that bring?

Hu Tiehua was more intense than raging inferno, he was wilder than a wild horse, he was more stubborn than a mule; how could Chu Liuxiang not understand all that?

Naturally he quickly guessed where Hu Tiehua had gone. From here, Lanzhou was no more than two sichen away. If the horse was fast, one sichen would be enough.

Before dusk, Hu Tiehua already came back.

And he did not come back alone.

Chu Liuxiang saw that behind the horse he was riding, there was another horse. But Hu Tiehua held both horses’ reins.

Two persons were sitting on the horse at the back. These two persons were unexpectedly Ying Yan and Ban Bing.

Their shiny hair, which was originally worn in a bun, had already been blown by the wind. Their beautiful countenance was also full of frightened expression. Their delicate small hands had been bound by Hu Tiehua.

Chu Liuxiang had been looking from the door of the small shop, but after seeing the men and horses – he walked back into the shop instead, and sat down with his back toward the door.

The two horses quickly galloped to the door before Hu Tiehua abruptly dismounted from his horse, while seizing this opportunity to rein in the horse behind him, and helped the two women got down from the horseback.

The horse was a good horse, Hu Tiehua’s skill was so pleasant to look at, so strong and powerful, plus the two women with bound hands were stunningly beautiful, so all the people on the street had their eyes on them. Were it not for they were afraid of Hu Tiehua’s skill, probably everybody would have swarmed over.

But Chu Liuxiang did not turn back; he practically did not cast even one glance toward Hu Tiehua.

Hu Tiehua hesitated; trying to end the awkward silence, he said, “I am back.”

“Hmm!” Chu Liuxiang said.

Hu Tiehua went on, “I also brought two guests back.”

Chu Liuxiang stood up, pulled a couple of chairs, and then with a smile on his face he let the two frightened girls to sit down. And then his countenance sank again, but he still ignored Hu Tiehua.

Hu Tiehua only asked for a pot of wine. He poured the wine himself, he drank himself. But his mouth blurted out, “I know you are not happy, but Ji Bingyan really is not a good friend. If I did not expose his cheap trick, I am afraid I won’t sleep peacefully for the rest of my life.”

Chu Liuxiang finally could not help sighing. “But why do you bother to deal with them [feminine]?” he asked.

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “This is the only method I could come up with.”

“When you leave, was Ji Bingyan taking a nap?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Hu Tiehua replied, “I know that this old weakness of his cannot change; therefore, I went there after making accurate calculation; sure enough, he was sleeping. I thought that as long as I could invite these two Guniang over, he would certainly come.”

He could not help laughing heartily and said, “This is exactly like you. Someone took Su Rongrong and the others away, you did not spare any effort to give chase to the desert. Honestly speaking, this method of mine was borrowed from Hei Zhenzhu.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “Unavoidably this method is too cruel.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “He is that kind of person; without using a cruel method, how can we deal with him?”

He stood up. Slowly raising his clasped hands to greet the two girls, who were listening with eyes opened wide – he laughed and said, “This time, although I wronged two Guniang, but this can also prove his kindly feelings toward two Guniang. Therefore, two Guniang will still reap some benefit from this.”

Pursing her lips, Ying Yan laughed and said, “In that case, Jian Qie [lit. lowly servant (deprecatory self-reference for women)] ought to be grateful to Gongzi instead.”

“Indeed you should be grateful to me,” Hu Tiehua said, “Otherwise, I am afraid for the rest of your life you won’t be able to see Ji Bingyan’s anxious expression …” Speaking to this point, he could not help roaring in laughter again.

Chu Liuxiang also could not help laughing heartily; he said, “Speaking about the thickness of the face, I am afraid I can’t even compare with you.”

Laughing tenderly, Ban Bing said, “Since that’s the case, would Gongzi please untie Jian Qie’s hands? If you won’t let Jian Qie pour a couple of cups for Gongzi, how could we express Jian Qie’s gratitude to Gongzi?” [Translator’s note: in this entire sentence, both Jian Qie and Gongzi are plural.]

However, not only Ji Bingyan did not rush over in one sichen, he did not rush over in two sichen, even to the middle of the night, he still did not rush over.

Ying Yan and Ban Bing gradually could not laugh anymore. Speechless, Ban Bing said, “Perhaps Gongzi has guessed it wrong; perhaps he is not as concerned toward Jian Qie as Gongzi imagined.”

Hu Tiehua began to worry as well, but his mouth laughed and said, “Don’t worry, he will definitely come.”

“And if he did not?” Ying Yan asked.

Hu Tiehua was stumped; turning his head around, he looked at Chu Liuxiang.

Chu Liuxiang said, “Don’t look at me; this is your business.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “Of course this is my business; you think I am anxious? I have calculated accurately; he will definitely come …”

Ban Bing said, “But if he wanted to come, shouldn’t he be here a long time ago?”

Hu Tiehua could not laugh anymore; he stammered, “Perhaps … maybe he is unable to find the way.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “He sent us off to be on our way, how could he not know the way?”

Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “That’s true!”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Unless he still did not know that this is your doing.”

Hu Tiehua said, “I deliberately left a few clues in there; even if others could not see it, perhaps by the time he was five, Ji Bingyan could already see it.”

Frowning, Chu Liuxiang said, “If that’s the case, why hasn’t he come?”

Ban Bing said, “If he really does not come, what do Gongzi want to do with Jian Qie?”

With pained expression on his face, Hu Tiehua said, “This … This, I …”

Rolling her eyes, Ying Yan suddenly said with a laugh, “He does not come, that’s fine too; Jian Qie will simply follow Gongzi!”

Hu Tiehua sprang up and blurted out, “Absolutely not!”

Ying Yan said, “Could it be that Gongzi dislike Jian Qie for being too ugly?”

Hu Tiehua said, “I … that’s not what I meant at all; it’s just that … just that …”

“So what did Gongzi mean?” Ying Yan asked.

Ban Bing added, “Gongzi kidnapped us, but you don’t want us; we … how could we conduct ourselves in the future?” Speaking to this point, her eyes grew red, as if she was going to cry at any moment.

Hu Tiehua anxiously said, “Good Guniang, I am begging you, you must not – by any means – cry; when I see a girl crying, I will be at a loss even more.”

Her eyes red, Ban Bing said, “Then, why does Gongzi not want us?”

Hu Tiehua jumped and shouted loudly, “I just wanted that Dead Rooster to throw himself in; I did not mean to steal his wives. I … even though I like you, but …”

Her countenance brightened, Ban Bing said with a laugh, “If Gongzi likes us, we must follow Gongzi.”

Ying Yan also spoke sweetly, “In any case, he does not care about us at all; why would we still want to follow him?”

Hu Tiehua anxiously rubbed his hands, while Chu Liuxiang, without any qualms at all, was still sitting quietly, sipping his wine with a smile on his face. Hu Tiehua darted over and grabbed his cup away; he roared, “Chu Liuxiang, you still haven’t thought of a way to help me?”

Chu Liuxiang laughed leisurely and said, “I have already told you: this is your own business. Besides, with two such smart and beautiful girls willing to follow you, I should be happy for you!”

Hu Tiehua shrieked, “Chu Liuxiang, you, this old stinky bug, I don’t care what ghost idea you are playing in your heart, but if you don’t come with me to send them back, I will stake my life against you!”

Along the way, Ying Yan and Ban Bing did not stop giggling.

Ying Yan said with a laugh, “If you just want to send us back, why did you kidnap us in the first place?”

Ban Bing also said with a laugh, “If not for seeing how anxious you are, I will not go back at all.”

Looking at Hu Tiehua’s pained expression, Chu Liuxiang could not help laughing as well; he said, “Hu Tiehua, I hope you learned your lesson: the girls in the world, not every one is as easy to deal with as Gao YaNan. You think Gao YaNan is easy to deal with, just because she likes you.”

Hu Tiehua smiled bitterly and said, “That’s right. From now on, I no longer dare to say that I know how to deal with women. Right now I really wish I could kneel in front of Gao YaNan, to kiss her feet.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed heartily and said, “You can understand this truth, all in all, there’s still hope for you.”

Scowling, Hu Tiehua said, “Since you are so smart, do you know why Ji Bingyan did not come?”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “If he already calculated that you will send them back, why would he still come?”

Hu Tiehua did not speak for half a day. And then he slowly said, “If he really thinks so, then he is wrong! There are really not many stupid people on earth, but some people are not willing to do things that are too smart; that’s all.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “That is precisely the reason Ji Bingyan could get rich, while you never have any money. That is also the reason why everybody says that you are so adorable.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “Turns out I am adorable; I did not know it until today …”

His laughter suddenly stopped. Simply because a long line of caravan suddenly appeared in the distance. There were carts, there were horses, there even seemed to be seven or eight camels.

This moment it was already very late at night. On the street, practically there was not even a single ghost shadow. This large caravan, why did they hasten on with their journey this late at night?

Hu Tiehua’s eyebrows were deeply knitted; the blood coursing through his body was love-to-meddle-in-other-people’s-business blood. If he came across a strange thing, not letting him to go to the bottom of it was practically more unbearable to him than killing him.

Chu Liuxiang looked at him and said with a laugh, “What thought is running around in your mind right now?”

With a frown on his face, Hu Tiehua stroked his chin and muttered, “In the dead of the night, driving these many carts, horses and camels, naturally they want to evade other people’s eyes and ears. In my opinion, if these people are not bandits, then they must be robbers.”

“Are you thinking of black eating black [to do the dirty work on another villain]?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “It was you who put this idea in my head!”

Raising his rein, he urged his horse to meet the caravan.

He saw that although the caravan had many horses, camels they also have several, but there were only two men. One was sitting on a cart, driving it. The other was actually a dark, austere big man.

The big man was holding a whip, which was about one zhang long – in his hand, but he was wearing old sheepskin sleeveless garment, exposing his skin, which was darker and more rugged than iron.

He was walking at the end of the line. Although he was alone, he was able to handle the more than a dozen beasts of burden so that they obediently, one following the other – walked along the road. Unexpectedly not a single one running or screaming around, and not a single one walk out of the line, as if they were veterans that have undergone a long period of training.

The large cart looked totally weird as well; it was square-shaped, just like a coffin. The doors and windows were tightly closed, so that nobody could see what was inside.

The more Hu Tiehua looked at it, the more he felt that this caravan was weird, even demonic; they neither looked like robbers or bandits, nor did they look like merchants, much less like an escort company.

He could not help urging his horse toward the iron-tower-like big man; laughing, he tried to strike up a conversation, “Friend, you are urgently hastening on with your journey in the middle of the night, aren’t you afraid of hardship?”

The big man only stared at him, but did not speak.

Only then did Hu Tiehua notice that this man’s face was unexpectedly like air-dried tangerine peel, rough with bumps and depressions, without even half a cun of smooth and clean place.

Looking at his pair of eyes again, it was as grey as the sky, practically the white and the black of the eye could not be distinguished clearly. No one could imagine that unexpectedly there was such a pair of living human being eyes like this.

Although his eyes were staring at Hu Tiehua, it seemed like he was not looking at Hu Tiehua at all. His eyes appeared to be brimming with evil air, but they also seemed to be hollow, without anything inside.

In the dead of the night, suddenly coming across such a person on the road, it was really not an interesting thing. Hu Tiehua wanted to laugh, but he simply could not laugh.

But he simply had to go to the bottom of this matter; it’s just in his nature. The more others ignored him, the more he wanted to investigate clearly. Turning the horse around, he chased after him and spoke in loud voice, “Only people with secret motives [orig. with a ghost in his heart] are unwilling to answer other people’s question. Friend, you are not a man with a ghost in his heart, are you?”

This time the big man did not even stare at him; practically he was ignoring him completely.

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