Bai Ma Xiao Xi Feng
Tock tock tock, tock tock tock ÖÖ. In the rolling yellow sands of the great desert in the Muslim Region, the wind whipped the dust and stones high into the air. Two horses were galloping past, one in front of the other. The white horse in front had strong legs and a long body. On it rode a young married woman, who held a little girl, aged about seven or eight, tightly in her arms. The second horse was coloured a date red. On it crouched a man who was tall and thin.
An arrow protruded from the left side of his back. Blood flowed from his back onto the horseís back, and then onto the ground. He did not dare to pull out the arrow, for he was afraid that he would succumb to the pain and die immediately. But who does not die? But then, who would take care of his lovely wife and young daughter riding before him? Their ruthless enemies were close behind them.
His date-red horse had galloped for many miles, and was completely fatigued. Under its masterís unrelenting whipping and spurring, it was already breathless, and was foaming at the mouth. Suddenly, its legs gave way, and crashed to the ground. The man pulled at the reins with all his strength, but the horse only gave a sorrowful neigh, then trembled violently before dying of exhaustion. The young woman heard the commotion and turned back to look. She was shocked to see the date-red horse die suddenly, and cried, ďDa ge (Chinese for elder brother, although the man is the woman's husband, not brother), whatÖÖ what happened?Ē The man merely frowned and shook his head, only to realise that their enemies were now in sight.
The young woman turned her horse around, and guided it towards her husbandís side. When she saw the arrow sticking out his back, and the pool of blood that has formed, she immediately turned pale and nearly fainted. The little girl cried, ďFather, father! Thereís a arrow in your back!Ē The man managed a bitter smile, and said, ďItís all right!Ē Then he leapt up, and landed gently on the saddle, right behind his wife. Although he was seriously injured, his movements remained light and quick. The young woman turned to look at him, both sadness and concern written on her face. She whispered, ďDa ge, youÖÖĒ The man used his legs to spur the horse on, and grabbed the reins. The white horse sped on.
The white horse was strong and fine, but it had galloped for a long distance without rest, and was tired. Furthermore, it carried three people on its back. Without being whipped, the white horse ran as fast as it could, not caring for its own life. It was as if it knew that this was a matter of life and death.
But after galloping a long distance, it began to slow down......
The enemies were close behind. There were only sixty-three of them, but they had more than a hundred and ninety horses. As soon as their horses got tired, they would switch steeds. At this rate, they would catch up with their quarries in no time.
The man turned around, and saw the silhouettes of the enemies, amidst the storms of yellow sand. After a while, he could see their faces clearly. Gritting his teeth, he said, ďHongmei (Ďhongí is Chinese for rainbow, Ďmeií is Chinese for younger sister), I have something to request of you. Would you oblige my request?Ē The young woman smiled at him, saying, ďHave I ever disobeyed you in my entire life?Ē The man replied, ďGood. Escape with Xiuíer, prevent our flesh and blood from coming to harm; and also prevent this map of the Gao Chang Labyrinth from coming to harm.Ē His tone was resolute, as though he was giving an order.
The womanís voice trembled as she spoke. ďDa ge, give the map to them and weíll concede defeat. YourÖÖ your life is more important.Ē The man bent down and kissed her left cheek. In a gentle tone, he said, ďWe have braved innumerous storms together and survived, we may be able to survive this one. Not only do the ĎThree Heroes of Lu Liangí want this map, theyÖÖ theyíre doing it for you.Ē The woman said, ďTheyÖÖ they might spare us, seeing that we learnt under the same masterÖÖ I can beg themÖÖĒ But the man answered sternly, ďHow can we grovel at others for mercy? This horse cannot take all three of us. Now go!Ē With a loud cry, he fell off the horse.
The woman reined in her horse, and wanted to help her husband back up, only to see his angry face and hear him say furiously, ďGo quickly!Ē She always obeyed her husband, so she pulled at the reins, urging the horse forwards. But her heart had turned into frozen ice; it was not only her heart, but all the blood in her body seemed to have frozen into ice.
When the pursuing enemies saw the man fall from his horse, they all cheered, ďWhite Horse Li San has fallen!Ē Some ten people guided their horses towards him, while the rest continued to chase the woman.
The man lay on the ground in a fetal position, not moving at all, as if he were dead. Someone lifted a spear, and pierced his right shoulder. When the spear was removed, blood spurted from the wound, but White Horse Li San did not move one bit.
The leader, a bearded man, said, ďHeís completely dead, whatís there to be afraid of? Quick, search his body.Ē Two men leapt off their horses to search his body. There was a sudden flash of white light. White Horse Li San twirled his long blade, and with two strokes he had killed both men.
Nobody had expected Li San to have feigned death, managing to bear the pain of being stabbed a spear, then suddenly attacking them. Half a dozen men backed their horses away. The bearded leader waved the blade in his hands and shouted, ďLi San, you are a man of iron!Ē Suddenly, he swung the blade towards Li Sanís head. Li San used his blade to ward of the blow. But both his shoulders were injured, and his arms contained no more strength. He retreated three steps, and then spat out a mouthful of blood. A dozen men brought their horses forwards, lifted their blades and spears, and brought their weapons down ÖÖ
White Horse Li San had been a hero all his life. To his death, he refused to yield. Before he finally collapsed, he managed to kill two more enemies.
Far away, the young woman could hear her husbandís angry howls, and was totally heartbroken. She thought, ďSince he is dead, how can I live?Ē From inside her clothes, she removed a handkerchief woven from sheepís wool and stuffed it into her daughterís clothes. She said, ďXiuíer, you must take good care of yourself!Ē She then whipped the white horseís buttocks before leaping from the saddle. The horseís burden was immediately lessened, and it bore the little girl away swiftly. The woman was comforted when she thought, ďThis horseís power is matchless, while Xiuíer is light; they will never be able to catch up with her.Ē In front, the little girlís cries of ďMama, mamaĒ faded into the distance, while the sound of hoof beats behind her became louder. In her heart, she prayed, ďOh Heaven, please ensure that Xiuíer will be like me, and marry a good man; even though we led a tumultuous life, we were happy together!Ē she straightened her clothes and smoothed her hair. In a short while, around ten horses rode up to her, led by Shi Zhongjun, one of the Three Heroes of Lu Liang.
The Three Heroes of Lu Liang were sworn brothers. The eldest, Huo Yuanlong, nicknamed ĎDivine Blade Shocks Guanxií, was the bearded man who had killed White Horse Li San. The second, Shi Zhongjun, nicknamed ĎPlum Blossom Spearí, was a tall and skinny man. The youngest, Chen Dahai, nicknamed ĎGreen Python Swordí, was small in size but strong and capable. He was originally a horse thief from Liaodong, and later settled in Shanxi. He hit it off with Huo and Shi, and they eventually opened Jinwei Protection Agency in Taigu Province, Shanxi County.
Shi Zhongjun and Shangguan Hong, Li Sanís wife, were fellow disciples learning from the same master. They had been learning martial arts together since childhood.
Shi Zhongjun had always loved his petite and gentle younger martial sister. Their master had intended to play matchmakers, and their fellow martial siblings had treated them as an engaged couple. But Shangguan Hong had a chance meeting with White Horse Li San, and they fell in love at first sight. But her family would not allow them to get married, so Shangguan Hong eloped with him. Shi Zhongjun was extremely upset, and fell seriously ill. From then on, his temperament changed. Yet his love for his younger martial sister did not cease, and he never did get married.
After parting for ten years, the Three Heroes of Lu Liang met Li San and his wife again, in the process of fighting for a map. Sixty enemies pursued Li San and his wife from Ganliang all the way to the Muslim Region. Shi Zhongjun, filled with jealousy and hate, was extremely ruthless when he attacked. He was the one who had shot the arrow protruding from Li Sanís back.
After Li San had perished in the great desert, Shi Zhongjun arrived to see Shangguan Hong standing, alone, on a great expanse of land. He felt a tinge of regret, ďSince weíve killed her husband, we must treat her very well from now on.Ē The westerly wind breezed through her clothes. It was exactly like a decade ago, when he saw her standing on their masterís practicing arena. Shangguan Hong used two daggers as weapons. One had a gold hilt; the other, a silver one. This earned her the nickname of ĎGold and Silver Little Swords Sanniangzií (ĎSanniangzií means something like wife of San). She was smiling, and did not hold any weapons.
Hope filled his heart, and his chest felt hot. His pale white cheeks became tinged with a blush.
He placed his spear on the saddle and leapt off the horse, calling, ďShimei (Ďshimeií is Chinese for younger martial sister)!Ē Shangguan Hong replied, ďLi San is dead!Ē Shi Zhongjun nodded, and said, ďShimei, although we have been separated for a decade, I ÖÖ I still think of you every day.Ē Shuangguan Hong smiled, saying, ďReally? You are lying to me again.Ē Shi Zhongjunís heart was beating wildly. This smiling face, this tender voice, had remained unchanged for ten whole years. Gently, he said, ďShimei, from now onwards, I will take care of you and ensure that you will never suffer again.Ē A sudden strange light flashed in her eyes, and she said, ďShige (Ďshigeí is Chinese for elder martial brother), you treat me so well!Ē She fell into his arms.
Shi Zhongjun was overcome with happiness, and hugged her tightly. Huo Yuanlong and Chen Dahai grinned at each other, thinking, ďSecond brother suffered from lovesickness for ten years, now he has finally gotten his just rewards.Ē Shi Zhongjun smelt a faint fragrance, and was dazed. But he felt Shangguan Hong hugging him, and could not believe that this was really happening. Suddenly, he felt a pain assail him in the stomach, as if someone had stabbed him with a sharp object. He gave a yell, and moved his hands, trying to push Shangguan Hong away, but she clung on to him for dear life. Finally, both of them collapsed to the ground
Both Huo Yuanlong and Chen Dahai were shocked by the sudden change of events. They immediately leapt off their horses to attempt to save Shi Zhongjun. When they lifted up Shangguan Hongís body, they saw a small golden-hilted dagger sticking out from her chest, where a pool of blood had formed. The silver-hilted dagger was protruding out of Shi Zhongjunís belly. Shangguan Hong was determined to die with her husband. She had hidden the daggers in her clothes; one was pointing inwards and the other, outwards. As Shi Zhongjun embraced her, both of them were stabbed simultaneously.
Shangguan Hong died immediately, while Shi Zhongjun was barely alive. The thought that his terrible fate was caused by his younger martial sister pained him even more than his bodily wounds did. He called out, ďThird brother, kill me quickly, so as to end my suffering.Ē Chen Dahai realised that Shi Zhongjun could not be saved, and glanced at Huo Yuanlong. Huo Yuanlong nodded. Chen Dahai gritted his teeth, and plunged his sword into Shi Zhongjunís heart.
Huo Yuanlong sighed, ďWho would have thought that ĎGold and Silver Little Swords Sanniangzií would be so strong-willed?Ē Then one of his subordinates said, ďWeíve searched White Horse Li Sanís body, but there is no sign of the map.Ē Huo Yuanlong pointed to Shangguan Hongís body, and said, ďThen it must be with her.Ē After a detailed search, Shangguan Hongís body yielded nothing but some pieces of silver and several spare sets of clothes. Huo Yuanlong and Chen Dahai glanced at each other, feeling both disappointed and puzzled. They had chased Li San and his wife from Ganliang to the Muslim Regions, and had keept a close watch on them all the time. If the map had changed hands, they would have noticed it immediately. Also, since Li San and his wife were willing to sacrifice their lives for the map, they would not have given it to others so easily. Chen Dahai examined the objects in Shangguan Hongís little bundles closely, and found a set of clothes belonging to a little girl. Realisation hit him, and he cried, ďEldest brother, we must go after that little girl immediately!Ē Huo Yuanlong replied, ďDonít worry, in this great desert, where can a little girl go?Ē Waving his left arm, he ordered, ďTwo of you stay behind to bury Second Master Shi, while the rest of you follow me!Ē He pulled at the reins and rode away. With much hubbub, the remaining hundred horses continued the chase.
That little girl had rode for quite a long time, and was now more than twenty li away. But on the great, flat expanse of desert, one could see up to ten li away. Even though the girl was a long way ahead, they would eventually catch up with her.
The chase lasted till evening. Suddenly Chen Dahai cried, ďIn front!Ē Far away, they could see a black speck moving at the horizon. That white horse was strong, but it had not stopped galloping since morning, and was exhausted. Huo Yuanlong and Chen Dahai kept switching steeds, and rode closer to the girl.
The little girl, Li Wenxiu, lay on the horseís back. Exhausted, she had already fallen asleep. She had not eaten for a day, and the burning sun had parched her lips. The white horse seemed to have humanly intelligence, and knew that the pursuing men would harm its little mistress. Summoning up all its energy, it ran, towards the blood-red setting sun. Suddenly, it reared up, and neighed. It had detected a strange smell, and its neigh could not mask its fright.
Huo Yuanlong and Chen Dahai had excellent martial arts skills, and the long journey had done them no harm. Suddenly they felt a tightness in their chests, and found it hard to breathe. Huo Yuanlong said, ďThird brother, this does not seem right!Ē Chen Dahai looked around, taking in the surroundings. In the northwest, close to the setting sun, rose misty yellow clouds. Purple light flashed in the yellow clouds continually. The view was strange yet beautiful. None of them had ever witnessed such a sight.
The yellow clouds kept enlarging. In a short while, it had covered nearly half the sky. At this time, most of the men were dripping with perspiration, and were breathing heavily. Chen Dahai said, ďEldest brother, there seems to be an approaching sandstorm.Ē Huo Yuanlong replied, ďyes, but we must catch that little girl before finding a place to shelter inÖÖĒ He had not even finished his sentence, when a gust of strong wind blew, bringing with it a large amount of yellow sand. His mouth and nose were filled with sand, and he was unable to continue speaking.
Desert sandstorms come without warning. There was a sudden gale, and seven or eight men were blown off their horses. Huo Yuanlong called, ďEveryone get off their horses and crowd together!Ē They tried their best to weather the sandstorm. But in the boundless desert, being attacked by a colossal sandstorm, is like a tiny boat in the middle of a huge sea. There was nothing they could do but submit to the will of Heaven.
The sandstorm was increasingly violent, and an increasing amount of sand covered the horses and menÖÖ
Although Huo Yuanlong and Chen Dahai were brave men, they trembled in the face of such a great sandstorm. Both thought, ďWe originally intended to find that Gao Chang Labyrinth, and journeyed from Shanxi all the way to this great desert. Yet it seems that we will perish here.Ē The roar of the wind sounded like a thousand demons calling out together.
The sandstorm raged for a night, and eventually died down the next morning.
Huo Yuanlong and Chen Dahai climbed out from beneath the sand, and counted the remaining men and horses. They had not suffered great losses: two men and five horses had died. However, everyone was extremely tired, and there was no sign of the little girl riding on the white horse. She had probably been buried by the sandstorm. If strong men versed in martial arts were unable to withstand the storm, what chance did a delicate little girl have?
The men built fires and started cooking, and rested for a while. Then Huo Yuanlong announced, ďWhoever spots the girl and her white horse will receive fifty taels of gold!Ē The men who had followed him to the Muslim Region were actually wandering pugilists from around Ganliang. They would do anything for money, and fifty taels of gold was not a small sum. The men cheered, and fanned out in search for their quarries. All of them thought of only three things: the white horse, the little girl and the fifty taels of gold.
Some of them went towards the west; others, towards the northwest; and the rest towards the southwest. They arranged to meet at a place which was located sixty li due west, at nightfall.
Ding Tong, one of the men, mounted a horse and rode towards the northwest. He had worked in the Jinwei Protection Agency for seventeen years. Although his martial arts skills were not spectacular, he was capable and experienced, and was an invaluable help to the ĎThree Heroes of Lu Liangí. After riding for twenty miles in a single breath, he saw not a trace of his companions. Alone in the great desert, he suddenly felt lonely and afraid. Riding up a sand dune, he looked around, and saw a patch of green situated in the northwest, where seven or eight tall willows grew. He was pleasantly surprised to find a lush oasis in the middle of the barren desert. He thought, ďThere must be a source of water in this oasis, and even if it is uninhabited, our men and horses may rest here.Ē His horse also saw the oasis. Instantly, its strength was multiplied by a hundred times. Without even needing Ding Tong to spur it on, it immediately galloped towards the oasis.
After riding about ten li, he reached the oasis, and saw that it was boundless. Cattle and goats were everywhere. Six to seven hundred tents were pitched, close together, at the western end.
Ding Tong was amazed by such a sight. Since he had stepped into the Muslim Regions, all the tribes he had seen had around thirty to forty tents grouped together. This was the first time he had seen such a huge tribe.
By looking at the design of the tents, one could deduce that they were Kazaks.
The Kazaks were the bravest people among all the different tribes living in the Muslim Region. Both men and women grew up on horseback since childhood. All the men carried blades, and their riding, shooting and swordfighting skills were excellent. There was a proverb which said, ďA Kazak could defeat a hundred cowards; a hundred Kazaks could rule the Muslim Region.Ē Ding Tong had heard of this proverb, and thought, ďSince Iím now among the Kazaks, I must be extremely careful.Ē At the foot of a small mountain in the northeast was a lone thatched hut. The hut had walls made from mud, and a roof made from grass. Its design resembled the brick huts built by the ethnic Han people. The only difference was that the thatched hut was cruder. Ding Tong thought, ďIíll take a look at this hut first.Ē So he rode towards the thatched hut. His horse had not eaten for a day and a night, so it moved slowly, eating two mouthfuls of grass every time it took a step.
Ding Tong kicked the horseís belly, and the horse immediately galloped towards the hut. Squinting, he could see a tall white horse, with strong legs and a long mane, tethered behind the hut. It was White Horse Li Sanís steed. He could not control himself from yelling out, ďThe white horse, the white horse! Here it is!Ē He leapt off his horse, and removed a short, sharp knife from his boot, and hid it in his left sleeve. Quietly, he moved to the back of the hut. As he was about to peer into the house through the window, the white horse began to neigh, as if it had spotted him.
Ding Tong thought angrily, ďThat beast!Ē Calming his nerves, he peered through the window once again. At that same moment, a face peered back at him. Dong Tongís nose touched the other manís nose. The other man had a wrinkled face, but his eyes were bright. Shocked, Ding Tong toppled backwards, and shouted, ďWho are you?Ē The man replied coldly, ďWho are you? What are you doing here?Ē The man spoke in Chinese.
Ding Tong regained his composure. Smiling, he said, ďMy surname is Ding, and my given name, Tong. I stumbled onto this place accidentally, and must have given Old Master a shock. May I know Old Masterís name?Ē The old man said, ďMy surname is Ji.Ē Ding Tong kept smiling and said, ďTo meet Old Master Ji in the desert is like reuniting with relatives. May I be so bold as to ask for a cup of tea?Ē The old man Ji said, ďHow many men do you have with you?Ē Ding Tong replied, ďI am alone.Ē The old man humphed in disbelief, and his cold gaze scanned Ding Tongís face. Ding Tong felt uneasy, but could only force himself to smile.
A cold stare, and an embarrassed smile lasted only a moment. The old man Ji said, ďIf you want a drink of tea, use the front door. Thereís no need to climb in by the windows!Ē Ding Tong laughed and said, ďYes, yes!Ē He walked to the front door and entered the hut. The hut was sparsely furnished, but the furniture was neat and tidy, and the floor had been swept clean. Ding Tong sat down and looked around. A little girl, holding a bowl of tea, walked out from a back room. Her eyes met Ding Tongís. Shocked, the girl dropped the bowl. Crash! The bowl shattered.
Ding Tong was overjoyed. Huo Yuanlong had promised a reward for the capture of this little girl. After he had spotted the white horse, he had expected that the girl would be in the hut. But seeing this little girl for himself made him extremely happy.
During the sandstorm last night, Li Wenxiu had fainted on the horseís back. The white horse had detected the smell of water and grass. Braving the sandstorm, it had galloped to this oasis. When the old man Ji saw that she was dressed in ethnic Han clothes, he quickly saved her. In the middle of the night, Li Wenxiu awoke. Not seeing her parents, she began to cry. Seeing that she was very adorable, he felt great pity for her. He asked her how she had come to this desert, and who her parents were. Li Wenxiu replied that her father was called ďWhite Horse Li SanĒ, and her mother was ďMamaĒ, and that she had overheard their pursuers addressing her mother as ďSanniangziĒ. As for why she had come in the Muslim Region, she had no answer. The old man Ji muttered, ďWhite Horse Li San, White Horse Li San, isnít he a chivalrous robber (meaning something like Robin Hood, I had no idea how to translate the original Chinese phrase) from Jiangnan? What is he doing in the Muslim Region?Ē He let Li Wenxiu drink a large bowl of junket, then put her into bed. The old man recalled events which occurred a decade ago, his trend of thought rising and falling, causing his sleeplessness.
Li Wenxiu slept till daybreak. After she woke up, she pleaded with Grandfather Ji to take her to find her parents. At the same time, Ding Tong was wandering around suspiciously, and peering into the window. Grandfather Ji had noticed everything.
After Li Wenxiu dropped the bowl she was holding, the old man Ji walked up to her. Li Wenxiu rushed into his bosom, crying, ďGrandfather, heÖÖ. heís the bad man who was chasing me.Ē The old man smoothed her hair, and said gently, ďDonít be afraid, donít be afraid. He is not a bad man.Ē Li Wenxiu replied, ďYes, yes. He and his men chased us, and hit my father and mother.Ē The old man thought, ďWhite Horse Li San and I are neither kith nor kin. Therefore, even if he has made some enemies, it is best that I do not get mixed up in his affairs.Ē Ding Tong gave a sidelong glance at the old man, and saw that he had a full head of white hair, and not a strand was black; he was also tall and big, but was hunchbacked, and was obviously aged. So he thought, ďThis old man must be at least ninety years of age, if not a hundred. If there is no one else in the hut, then I can easily knock him unconscious, and take the girl and the white horse away before new problems start cropping up.Ē He suddenly cupped his right ear, as if listening intently, and said, ďSomeoneís here.Ē Then he strode towards the window.
The old man did not hear anything, but after hearing Ding Tong speak so vividly, he walked to the window. The only thing he saw were the cattle and goats bending their heads and munching on the grass. It was quiet everywhere, and there was no sign of any stranger. He asked, ďThereís nobody outside!Ē Suddenly, Ding Tong gave a hideous laugh and struck out at the old manís head.
Even though the man was aged, his movements remained agile. When Ding Tongís palm was inches away from his head, he slid to the side. With a backhand movement, he managed to grasp Ding Tongís right wrist. Ding Tongís movements were just as quick. Although he was unable to free his right hand, he used his left hand to grab a dagger hidden in his clothes. There was a flash of white light, and the daggerís sharp blade penetrated the old manís left back.
Li Wenxiu yelled, ďOh no!Ē She had spent two years learning martial arts from her parents. When she saw the old man get stabbed, she leapt forward, and punched the small of Dong Tongís back with her little fists. At this moment, the old man used this left hand to strike his belly with great force. Ding Tong gave a grunt, and crumpled to the ground. He spat out some blood, then died.