The journey back to Luoyang, although not short, took them longer than Wu Haocun had anticipated. They had to evade recognition, thus if there was potential to encounter any government officials or Pan soldiers then the group had to find an alternate route. Ultimately, after many days of meandering on bumpy and obscure roads, the three found themselves about twenty li from Luoyang on a hot and humid day. The weather was quite miserable, and one would hope for just the tiniest breeze to alleviate the harsh condition. Unfortunately for the trio, there was no welcoming breeze. They continued to sweat and their horses were too exhausted to continue in the heat. They jumped down from their horses and settled under the large oak tree that was located close to a pond.
Feng recognized the pond and realized that they were close to her brother’s home. The water level in the pond was usually much higher than it was currently, but because of evaporation from the extreme heat these past few days, the water level had dropped about a quarter of its usual level. Feng frowned, for she had miscalculated their steps. She thought she knew all the routes to her brother’s home, but because they had to take so many detours, she erred in assuming that they were going farther away from her brother’s home. She prayed that her brother and sister in law were currently no where close by. Her plan to misguide Wu Haocun would backfire if either one of them showed up. This pond was where the locals commonly gather to wash their clothes or even bathe as it was one of the few big ponds in their community. Perhaps if she rushed Wu Haocun and Huo Yuan then she would not have to worry about anyone from the area recognizing her. Fortunately, the day was so hot that no one wanted to step outside of their home to face the blazing sun. She looked in the horse’s direction and knew that her plan to leave immediately would be in vain. They simply had no energy left and no desire to leave the shade provided by the large oak tree overhead.
She suddenly heard Wu Haocun exclaim, “It’s been so long since we all took a bath. Let’s not waste this glorious pond.” She quickly turned to look in the opposite direction, sat behind the oak tree, and replied, “I prefer to stay under this shade.” She suddenly felt a breeze, only to realize that Huo Yuan had approached her and sat next to her.
Huo Yuan yelled, “Hero Wu, I will join you in a moment after I rest momentarily.” He stayed silent before he stated to Feng, “What are your intentions?”
Feng raised her eyebrows, “What do you mean?”
Huo Yuan responded, “Don’t think Hero Wu and I haven’t noticed that you’ve been leading us in circles? He hasn’t mentioned anything about it, but he will soon. It looks like he’s running out of patience with this game of yours.”
“No, he doesn’t know that you’re a girl, but he knows that you are leading us no where. I don’t think you’re a bad person, but you are behaving very suspiciously.”
Feng held her breath as Huo Yuan spoke. And she thought she was being so cunning in deceiving them.
Seeing her stay silent, Huo Yuan continued, “If you don’t reveal your motives, then I will not hesitate to help Hero Wu force you to find those two people.”
Feng finally broke her silence and asked quietly, “Do you even know who those people are?”
The truth was, Wu Haocun couldn’t fully trust Huo Yuan and thus did not share any information about the people he was searching for, including their names.
Huo Yuan shook his head.
Feng continued in panic, “One of them is my sister in law. I don’t know what he wants from her. There is a large reward for anyone who finds her. How can I do that to my dear sister in law?”
“Sima Cuifen is your sister in law?”
Feng turned her head to the voice and saw Wu Haocun towering above them. She tried to stand up and run away, but Wu Haocun somersaulted above and landed directly in front of her then hit her acupuncture point, causing her to be immobilized.
Huo Yuan ran towards them, “Hero Wu, what…”
Wu Haocun raised his right hand, “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt her.” He turned to Feng, “Yes, I heard everything and know about your secret. Where is Sima Cuifen?”
Feng sternly said, “Kill me if you must. I will not tell you anything.”
Haocun smiled, “I promise I will not harm her. I have no interest in rewards. Finding her is of utmost importance to the political state of Donghai. I beg you.”
He began to kneel down when Feng shouted, “Don’t. Please swear to me that you will not harm her and I promise to bring you to her.”
Wu Haocun took an oath, “I, Wu Haocun, swear that I have no bad intentions towards Sima Cuifen. If I go back on my words, then I hope lightning strikes me one hundred times.”
Feng was satisfied with his oath. She ultimately guided them to her brother, Tang Baozhi’s home. The home was a simple but quaint shack. Although a little run down, there was an air of coziness and warmth. As one entered the front yard, one could see a small vegetable garden to the right and a few chickens freely running around and pecking on the corn in the middle. To the left were a few clothesline with some wet clothes hanging on it. The main entrance to the house was very plain but clean. As a matter of fact, it was the only part of the house that looked new because it was in fact, a new door that Tang Baozhi had just bought with the money that Sima Ying gave them. The couple was in dire need of a new door as the old one couldn’t be shut tightly. With this new door, they felt more secure when they went to bed.
Feng approached the door and knocked three times, but no one opened the door. She knocked a few more times and still, nothing. Feng frowned. Her brother may be hunting at this hour, but her sister in law was usually always home.
Seeing how perplexed and worried Feng looked, Wu Haocun pushed open the door and was surprised to face Chen Biyu.