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The Vast Desert Chapter 9


Chapter 9 – Princess Pipa

Rubbing his eyes with all his might, Hu Tiehua said, “Am I having a blurry eyesight?”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang said, “I hope this is not a mirage playing tricks on our eyes.”

They heard from among the forest tree on the oasis, unexpectedly there were bursts of laughter.

It was actually joyous laughter, but in the ears of these people who were about to die of thirst in this cruel and unfeeling great desert, the laughter sounded more mysterious and terrifying than anything.

Hu Tiehua tensed again, he said, “Could it be this is the Stone Guanyin’s secret hole? Other than those goblins that harm people, how could there be such happy people in the desert?”

He waited and waited, but no one else spoke, so he went on to say, “Besides, these past couple of days she did not come to give us trouble, could it be that she already predicted accurately that we are bound to find this place by ourselves?”

Chu Liuxiang was silent for half a day. He rose up to his full height and said, “You guys wait here, I’ll go take a look.”

Hu Tiehua also stood up and said, “I’ll go.”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “Could it be that your qinggong is higher than Chu Liuxiang?”

Hu Tiehua sat back down and stopped talking.

The oasis was not only beautiful, it was also not small. In this repulsive desert suddenly such a beautiful place appeared, it was almost like a fairy tale.

From time to time, there was a silver-bell-like laughter coming from among the verdant trees and leaves.

Could it be this was really a fantasy from the fairy tale, a demonic territory?

Could it be that hidden among the verdant trees and leaves were really people-eating female demons who specialized in luring solitary traveler to be devoured?

Heaving a deep, deep sigh, Chu Liuxiang cautiously flew over. Although his qinggong right now had weakened considerably, but undoubtedly it could still be considered the world’s first-class martial art master.

He lightly flew toward a branch.

Looking from among the thick foliage, he immediately saw a moving, puzzling scene, which was simply hard to believe.

The place had two clear and green pools, one big and one small.

At the edge of the comparatively larger pool, there were three gorgeous tents. Standing respectfully in front of the tents, there were unexpectedly several warriors wearing glorious body armor, holding golden dagger-axe in their hands.

This moment, the comparatively smaller pool was surrounded by several layers of cotton yarn curtain, which blocked the view from the other side. A beautiful young lady with long hair was bathing in the pool, in the nude.

Chu Liuxiang’s breathing nearly stopped.

At this very moment, although he was not in the mood to appreciate beautiful woman, but this naked young woman’s beauty still made him incapable of not appreciating it, made him incapable of not having his heart moved.

Beautiful naked body, under the illumination of gradually-tilting-to-the-west sun, it was simply like the most perfect statue, with droplets of sparkling and translucent water dripping along her perfect and without blemish neck, dropping on her white-jade like breasts, her laughter that sounded like silver bell, her smile that looked like a hundred flowers blooming in the spring days.

There were also three or four young women with their hair loose on their back; one had bath towel in her hands, another was holding cotton yarn clothes, yet another had the bath utensils, standing by the pool, laughing tenderly.

They were splashing water on each other; the splashing water was also sparkling with the golden rays of the sun.

Coming from the arduous, dangerous, enduring-thirst, reeking-of-blood – journey, Chu Liuxiang suddenly saw this scene, it was truly too difficult for him to determine whether he was still in the land of the living, or he was in heaven.

Under the current situation, even Chu Liuxiang did not know what he should do.

Originally the young woman was facing the other way, but this moment her bright and beautiful fluid glance suddenly turned toward Chu Liuxiang. Instantly Chu Liuxiang knew that his presence has been detected.

If some other girls found out that someone was peeping when they were taking a bath, they would definitely seek cover to conceal themselves. But after this young woman turned her fluid glance around, unexpectedly, like a lotus flower breaking the surface [idiom: surpassingly beautiful], she stood up gracefully.

Instead, it was Chu Liuxiang’s face that turned a bit red. He caught a glimpse of the young woman’s lithe and beautiful naked body then hidden inside the cotton yarn clothes that the young girl by the pool was holding. And then, unexpectedly she turned around to confront Chu Liuxiang, and spoke slowly, “Peeking person, haven’t you seen enough?”

Her voice was clear, gentle, and mellow, like the black-naped oriole in the valley. But her accent was somewhat not fully proficient, just like when a Wunong young woman was learning to speak Jing [capital city of a country] language for the first time.

Chu Liuxiang sighed inwardly. Smiling wryly, he leaped down from the tree. In all his life, he had never felt more awkward and embarrassed than this moment.

He really did not wish to be known as Dengtu Zi [famous lecherous character] peeping at others taking a bath; he did not wish even more to meet such a beautiful young woman in this kind of situation.

But he must not run away even more. He only had to brace himself to walk over.

The young woman looked at him up and down several times. Her eyes, which were originally full of anger, appeared to become a little more gentle. Staring at Chu Liuxiang, she said, “Your gut is indeed not small; unexpectedly you did not run away.”

Chu Liuxiang said with a wry smile, “Although it was absolutely intentional, Zaixia already feel deeply ashamed. If I ran away, won’t I lose face even more?”

The young woman’s fluid glance flickered, she said, “So, you admit your guilt?”

“Absolutely,” Chu Liuxiang replied.

A smiling expression appeared in the young woman’s eyes; she spoke slowly, “You are brave enough to admit you guilt, you still deserve to be called a man; but do you know what your crime is?”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “Guniang [Miss] should have covered this side with cotton yarn curtain as well.”

The young woman’s eyes grew big as she stared at him and spoke angrily, “You peeked at me bathing, could it be that you are now thinking of putting the blame on me?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Zaixia unintentionally broke through here, how would I know that there was a beautiful woman taking a bath here?”

“And if you knew?” the young woman asked.

After muttering to himself irresolutely for half a day, Chu Liuxiang said, “If Zaixia already knew that there was a beautiful woman like Guniang taking a bath here, and knew that there was one side here that is not covered by cotton yarn curtain …”

“You won’t come over here?” the young woman asked.

Chu Liuxiang chuckled, he said, “Even if Zaixia’s two legs were broken, perhaps even if I had to crawl, I would still crawl over here.”

This time the young man was really stunned – this hateful man, how could he have such a thick face, such big guts?

Practically, not even in her dream would she think that there was a man who talked like this. She should have been angered, but she could not get angry. She wanted to laugh, but was holding back.

The several girls that had their hair down finally could not hold it any longer. They giggled out loud.

After laughing, they felt that they should not laugh. Straightening up their faces, they said, “Such an audacious man, you have the impertinence to talk to Gongzhu [Princess] like this?”

Gongzhu’, these two characters indeed made Chu Liuxiang a little surprised. Slightly bowing down to pay his respect, Chu Liuxiang said, “Zaixia should not have talked like that, but Zaixia is a man, moreover, a man who has never lied.”

Rolling her fluid glance, the Princess slowly said, “I never thought that among the Han people there’s a man who dares to speak the truth. I only heard that in your place, someone who has the courage to speak the truth would be held in contempt instead.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed inwardly. He himself also realized that most people in the world would rather look upon hypocrites with a full mouth of lies but unwilling to look upon genuine lowly person who speak forthrightly without any scruples.

But on the surface he only had indifferent smile as he said, “In Gongzhu’s place, are you holding people who tell the truth in highest regard?”

“Hmm!” the Princess said.

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “In that case, Gongzhu ought to forgive Zaixia and declare me innocent.”

The Princess fixed her eyes on him for a long, long time. Suddenly a spring-flower-like smile appeared on her face, she said, “Perhaps not only I would forgive your guilt, but also see you as an honored guest. However, it depends on whether other than big guts, you also have other skill.”

Grabbing her hair with her delicate and beautiful hand, she turned around and said, “Since a moment ago you did not run away, do you dare to follow me now?”

From time to time, there was the sound of lighthearted music and joyous laughter coming from the gorgeous tent. The warriors with dagger-axe in their hands, standing respectfully outside the tent – were staring at Chu Liuxiang with their eagle-like eyes, but this moment the beautiful Princess already entered the tent, and was beckoning Chu Liuxiang to follow.

Chu Liuxiang smiled; patted the demon-like warrior’s shoulder, he swaggered in. He had already prepared inwardly that no matter how dangerous the tent was, he would not be surprised. In fact, in this seeing-ghost desert, he was prepared for the worst in everything.

Yet there was not the slightest bit sign of danger inside the tent. In fact, inside the tent was arguably the least dangerous place in the world.

Outside the tent, there was a soft and beautiful meadow, while inside the tent, the ground was covered in carpet, which was ten times softer and ten times more beautiful than any meadow in the world.

There were several low tables arranged on the carpet, and there were fresh fruits and food and drink piled on the tables, as well as several people dressed in fresh clothes, sitting happily on the carpet, drinking wine. The happiest was a man wearing red robe, dragon beard on his face [orig. qiu – young dragon with horns], and golden crown on his head. He was perched behind a low table in the middle, his left hand was holding a golden cup, but his right hand was wrapped around the slender waist of a beautiful woman. Roaring in joyous laughter, he said, “Gentlemen, please take a look; isn’t our Princess Pipa more beautiful fresh from the bath?” [Translator’s note: pipa is Chinese lute, with 4 strings, a large pear-shaped body and a fretted fingerboard.]

His gaze turning toward Chu Liuxiang, he laughed and said, “But my good daughter, who is this guest that you bring along? As far as I remembered, within several hundred li of here, there is no man as handsome as him!”

Princess Pipa pursed her lips and laughed. Graceful like a swallow she came over to her Diedie’s [daddy] side, and stooped over to whisper something in his ear.

While listening to her, the man in red robe nodded, but his eyes never left Chu Liuxiang. Although there was a smile on his face, there was some kind of terrifying dignity in his eyes.

Chu Liuxiang also looked at him with a smile on his face; inwardly he was happy.

He thought that the wine here was very fragrant, the food was very good, the girls were very beautiful and lovely, it seemed like this old man could not possibly be a bad person even more.

That was when four golden dagger-axes, fast as lightning, stabbed him from behind.

Four golden dagger-axes, two on top, two on the bottom. The dagger-axes were nearly two ­zhang long. Although the martial art skill of the warrior brandishing the dagger-axe could not be considered high, their strength was not low. The long dagger-axe stabbing out, it was like a viper coming out of its cave.

For a man who, for two or three days had not eaten a single grain of rice and drank a drop of water, evading such malicious concealed weapon was practically impossible.

Clearly the tragedy of bloodshed was about to happen, but the several people sitting on both sides, drinking wine, did not even look this way.

It seemed that whatever it was, nothing could move these several people’s heart.

Only Princess Pipa’s eyes were wide open. She saw the four golden dagger-axes almost reached Chu Liuxiang’s back, but Chu Liuxiang did not even react the slightest bit. She could not stop her eyes from revealing a panic-stricken and remorseful expression. Her slender body also seemed to be wavering.

Only to hear two ‘zheng!’ noise of gold and iron collided against each other.

Chu Liuxiang still has not moved, neither did he look back. But somehow, unexpectedly the four golden dagger-axes were clamped under his ribs.

The four warriors wearing golden armor were bumping into each other; their hands were so numb that they were unable to raise it. Only then did the people drinking wine on both sides start to size Chu Liuxiang up; only then did their eyes reveal astonished look.

The old man in the red robe already clapped his hands and laughed heartily, saying, “Good martial art skill! It is indeed good martial art skill! My daughter indeed did not misjudge you.”

Chu Liuxiang spoke indifferently, “But Zaixia has misjudged you. Zaixia really did not see that Gexia [your distinguished self] may plot against other people.”

The man in the red robe laughed aloud and said, “You must not blame me; it has nothing to do with me.”

Pulling Princess Pipa’s hands, he laughed and went on, “It was my daughter who wanted to test you. She said that if you could dodge a strike, you would be her distinguished guest.”

“And if Zaixia failed to dodge?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Pursing her lips, Princess Pipa laughed and said, “In any case, you have now dodged it, so you have become my guest. A guest should never be angry with the host.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed. He also smiled bitterly.

A man with a pale face and a nose like eagle beak wearing green clothes sitting on the left suddenly laughed coldly and said, “Friend has good and talented skill, I wonder which divine figure are you?” [Just wanted to show you the complexity of the way the Chinese addressing other people …]

Stroking his nose, Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Zaixia Liu Xiang [77-6 BC, Han Dynasty scholar and author, different characters from Chu Liuxiang’s name], only no more than a no-name-soldier-insignificant-pawn.”

“Oh …” the man in green replied. He looked down again, no longer paid any attention to Chu Liuxiang. ‘Liu Xiang’, this name was really nothing; he felt that it was not worthwhile to make acquaintance with such person.

But all along Princess Pipa was always looking at Chu Liuxiang. This moment she suddenly laughed and said, “Since you are already a guest here, why not sit down?”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “When Zaixia is standing, my guts is a bit bigger.”

Princess Pipa laughed sweetly and said, “If you were shocked a moment ago, how about if I relieve your shock now?”

She sat cross-legged, while a young girl brought her a bent-neck, four-fret pipa, which she laid across her knees. Her delicate hands lightly moved.

Suddenly ‘zheng cong’ wonderful sound was heard, like rolling pearls and coiling jade, like nichang [rainbow colored clothes worn by the Eight Immortals, the same ‘nichang’ as in Lian Nichang of White Hair Demoness] dancing lightly. In the whole earth, only the sound of pipa was heard, there was no longer any other sound.

Since the Tang dynasty, the Central Earth has no shortage of pipa master. Jiangzhou’s [district of Chongzuo, Guangxi] Sima Bai’s carefree ‘Pipa Xing’ [Song of the Pipa Player, long poem by (according to dictionary) Tang poet Bai Juyi] was a family tradition, recited together as a family, considered to be the most perfect song to be passed on from generation to generation.

But Central Earth’s pipa was straight-necked, with four frets on the neck and thirteen frets on the body, so that the note-range was expanded and more gorgeous, and the position of the instrument was straight in the bosom.

This moment Princess Pipa held the instrument close to her body while stroking and plucking. The bent-neck, four-fret pipa was also a lot more simple and crude compared to the Central Earth ones, so that originally Chu Liuxiang did not expect to hear such a wonderful tune.

Princess Pipa looked at him and spoke with a sweet smile, “What do you think?”

Chu Liuxiang heaved a deep sigh and said, “I did not expect that in such a faraway and hard-to-reach land, there is such a beautiful music.”

The man in red robe laughed aloud and said, “What’s so strange about it? Pipa was originally from our country, which was being imparted to Han soil.”

“Oh?” Chu Liuxiang said.

The man in red robe said, “Have you ever heard the name ‘Su Qipo’?”

Chu Liuxiang suddenly straightened up his body; emotionally moved, he said, “Is it possible that Gexia is the King of Qiuci?”

The rays of light in the man in red robe flashed, stroking his beard, he laughed and said, “Finally you figure it out.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “During the Five Dynasties’ Northern Zhou’s Emperor Wu, from the Qiuci land, Su Qipo carried the skillfully hand-crafted Pipa, following the Tujue Empress entering the Han soil. All the imperial court and the ordinary people [i.e. all levels of society] were intoxicated, the story that captured the imagination was spread far and wide even until today. Although Zaixia’s knowledge and experience is low, I do have a slight knowledge of this matter.”

The King of Qiuci clapped his hands and said, “A small country of the Western Regions, we only have this insignificant talent that is slightly enough to brag about. I did not expect that today we came across an intimate friend. Come, come, come, let me honor you with three cups.”

Suddenly they heard someone hollering, “Old Stinky Bug! You are here!”

And then, there was a string of yelling and swearing, followed by screams of shock and pain, and a ‘Splosh!’ the sound of something fell into the water. Hence Chu Liuxiang knew that someone had been thrown into the pool by Hu Tiehua.

The pale-faced man in green stood up suddenly; frowning, he said, “Who dares to be this impudent in here? Let me go and see.”

With a smile on his face, Chu Liuxiang said, “Terribly sorry, that is Zaixia’s friend.”

The man in green looked at him up and down several times; finally he slowly sat down.

The King of Qiuci already laughed and said, “Fine thoroughbred horse does not associate with crossbow horse; your friend must also be an amazing person; please ask them to come on!”

Princess Pipa however, covered her mouth and said with a laugh, “Later on, you must tell me, why do people call you ‘Old Stinky Bug’?”

Although Hu Tiehua already threw two very-impressive-looking warriors in golden armor into the pool, and beat the other three until they had bloody nose and swollen face, but the more he thought about it, the more he felt he had not vented his resentment enough.

He thought that this time Chu Liuxiang really did not have enough yiqi [spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice/code of brotherhood]; while drinking wine in here, he let his friends fight desperate battle on his behalf.

It was not until several cups of wine had entered his belly that his emotion started to level up; especially since the girls pouring wine for him were so pretty. In fact, they were so pretty that he practically could not get angry.

Now, Chu Liuxiang also discovered that the people drinking wine in here were not nobody – unexpectedly these five people were Wulin figures with outstanding reputation.

The three sitting on the left were, surprisingly the renowned experts ‘Longyou Jian’ [Longyou is a county in Quzhou, Zhejiang, lit. dragon roam] Wu Family brothers, and the solitary bandit whose prestige shook the two rivers, Situ Liuxing.

The pale-faced man in green’s reputation was even more resounding; unexpectedly he was a well-known in Jianghu – the vicious-and-merciless, when two-ways-black-and-white-see-him-they-had-a-headache – ‘Shashou Wuqing’ [Merciless Killer] Du Huan.

It was said that his record in killing, very few people could match. Others feared him like they feared a viper or a scorpion, but he himself felt very proud. Yet when Chu Liuxiang heard his name, he could not help frowning.

Only a man sitting next to Du Huan called Wang Chong, whose face was full of sickly look, dispirited and downcast – not only his appearance seemed to be unimpressive, even his name has never been heard before. But contrary to expectation, Chu Liuxiang felt that this man was the most pleasing to the eye.

After the King of Qiuci finished his introduction, he raised his cup and said with a laugh, “Xiao Wang [little/lowly king] has no other good point, in all my life I only treat my guests well. These five gentlemen are honored guests that Xiao Wang invited from afar, the three of you ought to have heard their resounding reputation.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “The five gentlemen’s resounding reputation, indeed I have long looked forward to meeting them. Come, let me salute each one a cup.”

He actually never ‘looked forward to meeting them’ at all; he was just looking for an opportunity to drink.

The King of Qiuci turned to Ji Bingyan and asked, “Now only Gexia’s great name that has not been consulted.”

Without even looking up, Ji Bingyan replied, “Ji.”

The King of Qiuci asked, “Ji? As in female courtier ‘Ji’?”

“Hmm!” Ji Bingyan replied.

“What about courtesy name?” the King of Qiuci asked.

This time Ji Bingyan did not even say one word; he simply used his finger to draw two characters in the air, just like the characters written on talisman to repel the ghosts; nobody could figure out what was written.

The King of Qiuci stared blankly; he laughed aloud and said, “Gexia is indeed very quiet.”

Hu Tiehua also laughed aloud and said, “His greatest skill is precisely shutting his mouth and not talking.”

The King of Qiuci’s eyes flickered, he said, “What about Gexia?”

He then immediately explained with a smile on his face, “In all my life, Xiao Wang’s best skill is to make friends with martial art talents. Just now your friend has already revealed a skill, if Gexia is interested in letting Xiao Wang to broaden my horizons, Xiao Wang will be extremely happy.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “Zaixia has drank Wangye’s [master king] wine, I should play a hand or two for Wangye to see; only too bad that other than drinking wine, Zaixia only has a few catty of clumsy muscles.”

The King of Qiuci’s countenance brightened; clapping his hands and laughing, he said, “Wonderful! Wonderful! Turns out Gexia is a strong man.”

He suddenly clapped his hands. As soon as the clap was heard, from the purple curtain at the back of the tent, a big man, totally bald without any hair, naked from the waist up, but wearing sparkly golden feet binding – came out.

In all his life, Hu Tiehua has seen not a few big men. His own stature could not be considered small either. But compared to this big man, he practically looked like a small kid.

Other than the Four Vajra [Guardian Deity] Warriors in the temple, or perhaps the Hong Huang Giant in the pictures, he really could not think about anyone who could be compared to this big man.

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