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The Vast Desert Chapter 30


Chapter 30 – The Heart of a Woman

Ji Bingyan halted his steps far away, and spoke heavily, “We’d better not come over.”

“Why?” Princess Pipa asked.

Ji Bingyan replied, “Looking at the situation, these people are definitely not ordinary shepherds.”

Frowning, Hu Tiehua said, “That’s right; these people look like a team of disciplined, strict and impartial troops. Could it be that they are the patrolling troops sent out by the Qiuci rebel ministers?”

“They are not Qiuci people,” Princess Pipa said.

“How can you be sure?” Hu Tiehua asked.

Princess Pipa laughed and said, “In this vast desert, there are at least a dozen different tribes. In your eyes, these people might look more or less the same, but in just one glance I am able to tell their differences.”

“In your opinion,” Chu Liuxiang asked, “Who are these people?”

Princess Pipa chuckled and said, “Even if they are robbers, we don’t need to be afraid of them, am I right?”

“That’s right,” Hu Tiehua immediately echoed, “We now just want to ask them to buy a few pots of water, a few camels; if they are being unreasonable, refusing to sell to us, we simply grab what we need and be done with it.”

Laughing coldly, Ji Bingyan said, “You make it sound so easy.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “It is so easy, isn’t it?”

Ji Bingyan said, “Have you looked at the way they are holding the saber? Their posture when they are walking? Did you see that in just a short period of time they managed to setup the camp and put the guards in place, properly and in perfect order, and that the camels and horses are not frightened?”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “I am not blind, how could I not see?”

Ji Bingyan said, “Since you have seen it, you ought to know that these people of the other side are all veterans of a hundred battles, warriors who have undergone a thousand hammers and a hundred refinements, absolutely not comparable to ordinary roving bandits of the wilderness. On our side, we only have eight people; furthermore, three are seriously injured and thus incapacitated, at least we have to spare two people to protect them …”

He stared at Hu Tiehua, and spoke heavily, “Therefore, from our side, only three can really fight. With three people’s strength, we want to seize camels from among their several hundred warriors, veterans of a hundred battles, what do you think our chance of success is?”

Rubbing his nose, Hu Tiehua said, “Although the chance is not high, at least we have fifty- or sixty-percent.”

Ji Bingyan sternly said, “Only fifty- or sixty-percent, and you want to take this risk?”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “There are things with only ten- or twenty-percent chance that I have tried, yet nobody was ever able to remove my head.”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “That’s just because your luck was not bad, but this is not the time for us to take our chances.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed. “That’s right,” he said, “Right now our strength is very limited, while the things that we need to do are not a few, we must not have anybody sustaining any injury. As long as there is one point of danger in this matter, we should not do it.”

Ji Bingyan said, “In normal times, even if you want to use your head to strike a rock one-on-one to see which one is harder, nobody will care. But now, my life is very useful; if for the sake of a few camels, several pots of wine, you want to stake your life, even if you think it’s not a big deal, I still think that this is not worth it.”

“Besides,” Chu Liuxiang added, “Even if you and I can be lucky, these people must be dissatisfied and unwilling to let go. We already have enough adversaries right now, if you add this group of people, it is really a bit unbearable.”

Smiling wryly, Hu Tiehua said, “From what you said, whatever the case, these people must not be offended, am I right?”

“Exactly,” Ji Bingyan replied.

Rolling his eyes, Hu Tiehua said, “But what if they are coming to offend us?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Chu Liuxiang already caught a glimpse of five or six people coming toward them. Inwardly he could not help sighing, but on his face he was still smiling, as he said word-by-word, “Even if they are coming to offend us, we only have to endure.”

There were actually five men coming their way, all wrapped in very thick wind blanket, wearing blue turban on their heads; tempered by the wind and the frost and the scorching sun, their swarthy complexion was coarser than sandstone, but their eyes were as sharp as an eagle’s. Their muscles were bulging, they were gripping the hilt of their sabers with both hands, as steady and sturdy as a rock.

Although their clothes were oversized, their movement was very light and quick, and vigorous. As Chu Liuxiang was looking at them, they were already in front of him.

The one at the front of the group had a full dark greenish black beard on his face, his pair of deep eyes emitted some kind of will-o’-the-wisp-like gloomy bluish-green colored light, he swept everybody with his gaze, and then stopped without blinking at all on Chu Liuxiang’s face. Even if there were eight hundred men wearing the same outfit, without needing a second glance he already recognized which one was the leader.

With a smile on his face, Chu Liuxiang raised his hands in salute and said, “Qiguata.”

He blabbered a string of sentences, which was actually the common greetings when herdsmen in the desert meet each other, just some usual greeting paying one’s respect and saying hello. He had practiced for quite a long time, and was confident that he was able to utter these greetings fluently.

Who would have thought that this man appeared not able to make sense of even a single word of what he was saying. He only stared at Chu Liuxiang for half a day, and suddenly said, “Where did gentlemen come from? Where are you heading?”

On the contrary, he was speaking standard official language [orig. guanhua, bureaucratic language/Mandarin].

Chu Liuxiang could only smile wryly and said, “Zaixia [plural] came from Zhangjiakou [prefecture level city in Hebei], coming here to do some small business; who would have thought due to unfamiliarity with the area, not only camels and horses are lost, we also suffered injury, therefore …”

He spoke nonstop, but the man only looked at him indifferently; he neither interrupted nor refuted. But Chu Liuxiang himself was unable to continue.

He himself also felt that what he said was really hard to believe.

There were eight of them, men and women, some were ugly some were handsome, but no matter who, as soon as he saw them, it would be hard to believe that these people were here to do business.

Finally Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “To be quite honest, Zaixia are the Central Plains’ Wulin people. This time going out of the Pass; originally was to look for three friends, who would have thought that a new branch grows out of a knot, we encountered some trouble.”

This time he was telling the truth, but these men were still staring coldly at him, as if they did not believe even one word.

The greenish-black-bearded man swept his gaze over their faces again and said in heavy voice, “What kind of trouble did you encounter?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “This matter, start explaining and it’s a long story; moreover, it does not have anything to do with gentlemen.”

The greenish-black-bearded man spoke sternly, “How do you know it has nothing to do with us? From here going north-south or east-west for several thousand li, inside and outside, no matter where, no matter what happened, it might be related to us.

“Oh …” Chu Liuxiang said, “But I wonder who gentlemen are? Are you …”

The greenish-black-bearded man shouted, “Now it’s time for me to ask you, not you asking me.”

Chu Liuxiang already found out that this person was very difficult to deal with; he could not help starting to rub his nose. This was his chronic problem; Hu Tiehua was even infected by him.

The greenish-black-bearded man suddenly pointed to Yidian Hong and Qu Wurong; he spoke sternly, “These two were injured not too long ago; who injured them?”

Hu Tiehua already lost his cool long ago; he shouted, “His hand was cut by me by accident.”

The greenish-black-bearded man laughed coldly; he said, “Gexia’s two eyes are still intact, how could you cut off a friend’s hand by accident? This kind of excuse, I am afraid even a three-year-old kid will find it hard to believe.”

Hu Tiehua angrily said, “Do I care if you believe me or not? As long as I am telling the truth, you are free not to believe.”

The greenish-black-bearded man sternly said, “Your own remarks, before and after, are inconsistent; how could you win the trust of other people?”

He suddenly waved his hand and shouted, “Men, search them!”

Amidst his shout, the four men behind him were already flashing out.

Hu Tiehua was so angry that his face turned blue; he threw his head back and howled with laughter, saying, “You want to search me? Nobody has ever searched me in my life!”

Chu Liuxiang suddenly grabbed his hand tightly and said with a smile, “There is always the first time for everything.”

“Can you bear the way he spoke?” Hu Tiehua spoke in cracked voice.

Chu Liuxiang only smiled; he did not need to say anything.

Following his gaze, Hu Tiehua looked around, only to discover that when they were speaking, several dozens men were already surrounding them. Hu Tiehua suddenly also laughed and said, “If Chu Liuxiang can bear it, why can’t Hu Tiehua do it?”

Ji Bingyan also laughed; he said with a smile, “The kid finally grows up to become an adult; this is indeed worthy of celebration.”

Three men patted their clothes; unexpectedly they laughed together and said, “Come and search then!”

Chu Liuxiang added, “Not only Zaixia has nothing on me, even my purse can be considered as empty as having just been washed. After gentlemen search me, I am sure you will be very disappointed.”

Who would have thought that the four men who had just been walking over now unexpectedly halted their steps? The greenish-black-bearded man’s raised hand had never gone down either.

Chu Liuxiang was just feeling a little bit strange, the greenish-black-bearded man suddenly said, “Gexia’s purse is really as empty as having just been washed? Could it be that not even a single black pearl is in it?”

As soon as he said that, Chu Liuxiang’s eyes lit up.

Hu Tiehua only heard the two characters ‘pearl’ [zhen zhu], he suddenly remembered that he still had the ‘Star of Happiness’ in his purse. Immediately he put down his hands and spoke loudly, “What exactly are you searching for? What the hell are you up to?”

The greenish-black-bearded man laughed aloud and said, “Even if Xiaoren has guts as big as the sky, I would not dare to hit Chu Xiang Shuai’s head.”

Hu Tiehua was stunned. “You recognize him?” he said, “Is his reputation really this big?”

The greenish-black-bearded man did not answer, but he knelt down to salute, saying, “Not knowing is not guilty, but I hope Chu Xiang Shuai will forgive Xiaoren for being rude.”

Chu Liuxiang hurriedly helped him up, while his mouth asked, “Your are Hei Zhenzhu’s …”

The greenish-black-bearded man said, “If Xiao Wangye [young king] could see that Chu Xiang Shuai is safe and sound, I don’t know how happy he is.”

Hearing that this man was the Black Pearl’s subordinate, everybody could not help but was amazed and delighted at the same time; they searched by wearing out their iron shoes without finding it, unexpectedly they found it without spending any effort at all.

They heard the greenish-black-bearded man sighed before continuing, “It’s a pity that Chu Xiang Shuai is here, but Xiao Wangye had entered the Pass.”

“Entering the Pass?” Chu Liuxiang blurted out, “When did he enter the Pass?”

The greenish-black-bearded man replied, “Because Xiao Wangye was afraid that Chu Xiang Shuai might be in danger, many days ago, he went into the Pass to check for information about Chu Xiang Shuai.”

Chu Liuxiang also could not help showing confused look on his face. “He is afraid I am in danger?” he said, “He is checking for information about me?”

The greenish-black-bearded man said, “Xiao Wangye saw that Pearl Colt coming back with empty saddle, he decided that Xiang Shuai must be in danger; he simply could not wait any moment, and immediately left urgently.”

He suddenly laughed mysteriously and said, “Xiao Wangye is showing deep concern over Chu Xiang Shuai, could it be that you, Xiang Shuai did not know it?”

Hearing his explanation earlier, Chu Liuxiang was stunned on the spot; he simply did not pay attention to the meaning behind what he said. After pondering for half a day, he sighed and said with a wry smile, “That horse is indeed a divine colt, how could ordinary people be able to control it? I should have thought that it might throw off the bridle and run away, coming back to look for its old master.”

Hu Tiehua could not help asking, “We have so many people but failed to find him, yet his horse found him first instead?”

The greenish-black-bearded man said, “In the desert, who does not know that that Pearl Colt is Xiao Wangye’s mount? Whoever finds it will definitely send it back to Xiao Wangye.”

He suddenly chuckled and said, “Although the number of bad guys and bandits in the desert is not a few, but within thousands of li, who would dare to have ideas about Xiao Wangye’s beloved horse? Even that mystical, unfathomable Shi Guanyin would not dare to provoke us with no reason.”

At the mention of the Stone Guanyin, everybody’s countenance changed. But the greenish-black-bearded man smiled and continued, “Gentlemen may not know it, in addition to us, these former subordinates of Lao Wangye [old king], I don’t know how many people in the desert are willing to die for Xiao Wangye. Although Shi Guanyin’s martial art is formidable, but if she offends Xiao Wangye, no matter what she wants to do here in the future, I am afraid it will be very difficult to accomplish.”

Chu Liuxiang could not help heaving a deep sigh. He said, “It seems that the name ‘King of the Desert’, these four characters [sha mo zhi wang] is not empty.”

Hu Tiehua suddenly said, “Based on what you said, if we rode that Pearl Colt, wouldn’t we see your Xiao Wangye early on?”

The greenish-black-bearded man sighed and said, “If gentlemen rode that Pearl Colt, Xiao Wangye could not possibly be anxious. He knew Chu Xiang Shuai cherishes this colt so much; hence he decided that if Xiang Shuai is not in danger, you could not possibly let it come back with empty saddle.”

Glowering at Ji Bingyan, Hu Tiehua spoke unhurriedly, “This is called a clever person may become the victim of his own ingenuity [idiom]; trying to be smart but becoming clumsy instead. From this, it can be seen that sometimes adults do things that are not as smart as children’s.”

Ji Bingyan’s face did not show any emotion at all; he only stared coldly at the greenish-black-bearded man, and spoke as coldly, “Listening to your explanation, your Xiao Wangye is actually very concerned about Chu Liuxiang?”

On his face, the greenish-black-bearded man also showed some kind of mysterious smile. He said, “Indeed very concerned.”

Ji Bingyan sternly said, “Then why did he kidnap Chu Liuxiang’s close relatives? What for?”

Unexpectedly the greenish-black-bearded man was stunned, “Kidnapping Chu Xiang Shuai’s relatives? How could there be such thing? I am afraid Gexia misunderstood.”

His expression serious, it seemed that unexpectedly it was not a pretense at all.

Turning pale, Chu Liuxiang said, “Could it be that Rong’er and the others really did not come here?”

Muttering to himself irresolutely, the greenish-black-bearded man said, “Rong’er …? Xiang Shuai means one Su Guniang, one Li Guniang, one …”

He had not finished speaking, Chu Liuxiang already urgently said, “It’s them all right. Have you seen them? Where are they now?”

The greenish-black-bearded man replied, “Su Guniang and the others, naturally they went with Xiao Wangye to enter the Pass together.”

“They … they are all right?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

The greenish-black-bearded man laughed and said, “These three Guniang are all smart, vivacious, and beautiful. Furthermore, they always have a smile on their faces, as if they never knew any distress on the world, so that others would also forget any anxieties in their hearts.”

His eyes suddenly turned to Ji Bingyan and he said, “But how could Gexia say that they were kidnapped by Xiao Wangye?”

By this time Ji Bingyan was a bit confused himself; unable to restrain his emotions, he also rubbed his nose, “Are you saying they weren’t?” he said.

The greenish-black-bearded man smiled and said, “Naturally they weren’t. The three of them are not only Xiao Wangye’s honored guests and esteemed visitors, they are practically very close with each other; the four of them are even inseparable in sleep. I don’t know how else I can explain it to you.”

As soon as he said that, everybody was stunned. Chu Liuxiang, Ji Bingyan, and Hu Tiehua looked at each other in dismay; they could not say even a word.

After half a day, Hu Tiehua finally sounded him out, asking, “Did you say they sleep together?”

The greenish-black-bearded man laughed and said, “Practically they live on the same carriage, lying in the same bed.”

Hu Tiehua sighed. He looked at Chu Liuxiang, smiled wryly and said, “It looks like this Xiao Wangye’s ability is indeed not small.”

Chu Liuxiang only felt that his mouth turned a bit bitter; he did not know what to say.

Suddenly they heard Princess Pipa asked, “Your Xiao Wangye, is he a man? Or a woman?”

The greenish-black-bearded man appeared to be stunned; laughing involuntarily, he said, “Naturally she is a woman. It’s just that Lao Wangye did not have Shaoye [young master of the house], therefore, since she was little he dressed her like a boy, plus he told Xiaoren [plural] to address her as Xiao Wangye … Could it be that Xiang Shuai did not know it?” [Translator’s note: this is hard to carryover in English. Chinese sentences sometimes do not have the subject, and in the original, the pronoun being used above was mostly generic/gender-neutral ‘he’.]

Chu Liuxiang could only desperately rub his nose. Hu Tiehua could not help roaring in laughter. Only Princess Pipa’s countenance turned extremely unsightly. She stared at Chu Liuxiang and said, “It seems that there are really not a few people are concerned about you.”

Outside the tent, the cold wind was like a blade, but inside the tent, it was as warm as the springtime. On top of that, there was the aroma of the roasted meat and goat’s milk wine. Hu Tiehua practically forgot all his worries. Only Chu Liuxiang did not look to be too happy; he only felt that there were simply a lot more questions than answer.

Ji Bingyan was staring at him for half a day. Finally he could not help asking, “What exactly is going on here? Have you figured it out now?”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang said, “Still not quite understand.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “You’d better repeat this matter from beginning to end in details, let us figure it out for you.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed. He said, “This matter began when I asked Hei Zhenzhu to notify Rong’er, to tell her to go back quickly, only because that at that time I might meet the disaster of being killed at any moment, so I really did not have energy left to take care of her.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “Apparently this Hei Zhenzhu not only brought your words back, but also personally escorted Rong’er back. The two of them chatting along the way, they have become friends.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “Looking at the situation, I am afraid that that is indeed the case.”

Hu Tiehua said, “But how could this Hei Zhenzhu persuade Rong’er and the others to come with her outside the Pass? And why did she do that? Could it be just to make you anxious?”

Knitting his brows, Chu Liuxiang said, “That is precisely the point that I am not able to figure out. Rong’er and the others are usually very well-behaved.”

Princess Pipa suddenly laughed coldly and said, “Although you are usually always on the run, but they are always at home waiting for you. Therefore, you always assume that they ought to be at home waiting for you, am I right?”

Chu Liuxiang sighed, “They practically has nowhere to go,” he replied.

“How do you know that they have nowhere to go?” Princess Pipa asked, “Even if they are your watchdog, every now and then they would sometimes go out for a ride …” She threw her ‘not impressed’ face [orig. curling her lips; 2012 Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney came to my mind] at him and said with a cold laugh, “If I were Rong’er, and knew that you are so not worried about me, I might think of a way to make you worry for once. I waited for you several dozens times, several hundreds times, I should let you wait for me once.”

‘Clap!’ Hu Tiehua slapped his palm and spoke loudly, “That is so right. The heart of a woman, in the end only women can understand. If you let a woman know that you absolutely do not have any worry about her, she might think of a way to torture you. Even if she has unswerving devotion toward you, she would not be willing to let you have that kind of thought about her.”

Princess Pipa coldly said, “This is only because women know that men are contemptible individuals. When a man knew that a woman has unswerving devotion toward him, he would feel that this girl is not interesting, and immediately will go find someone else.”

Hu Tiehua roared in laughter and said, “Although this remark in unavoidably too harsh, but it is not completely without any logic behind it.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “In that case, are you saying that they came with Hei Zhenzhu out of the Pass this time, is to make me anxious about them?”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “Even if at the beginning they did not have this thought, but with Hei Zhenzhu feeding the fire on the side, they might be persuaded to do so.”

“But why did Hei Zhenzhu persuade them in the first place?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Princess Pipa again scowled at her and said with a cold laugh, “You still don’t understand this logic.”

Princess Pipa turned her head to look away from him; she spoke coldly, “When a man’s mouth says he doesn’t understand, in his heart he must understand it very well.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “But I really don’t understand.”

Princess Pipa said, “Although she [sic; not sure if it refers to Su Rongrong or Chu Liuxiang] did not know that Hei Zhenzhu is a woman, but Hei Zhenzhu knew that he is a man, right?”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “There is no doubt about this; except for female orangutan, no woman would imagine that he has that many shortcomings on him.”

‘Pfft!’ Princess Pipa could not help giggling, but she immediately returned to her wooden face and said with a cold laugh, “Such a handsome man like him, such a confident and at ease man like him, just how many are they in the world? Hei Zhenzhu’s fragrant heart, perhaps it has already been peeled out by him like peeling a chicken egg long ago, but our passionate and romantic playboy here clearly has turned into a slow-witted man, unexpectedly he does not understand anything.”

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