Desert sandstorms come without warning. There was a sudden gale, and seven or eight men were blown off their horses. Huo Yuanlong called, “Everyone get off their horses and crowd together!” 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 men…
Although Huo Yuanlong and Chen Dahai were brave men, they trembled in the face of such a great sandstorm. Both thought, “We 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.” 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, “Whoever spots the girl and her white horse will receive fifty taels of gold!” 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 ‘Three Heroes of Lu Liang’. 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, “There must be a source of water in this oasis, and even if it is uninhabited, our men and horses may rest here.” 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, “A Kazak could defeat a hundred cowards; a hundred Kazaks could rule the Muslim Region.” Ding Tong had heard of this proverb, and thought, “Since I’m now among the Kazaks, I must be extremely careful.” 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, “I’ll take a look at this hut first.” 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 horse’s 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 San’s steed. He could not control himself from yelling out, “The white horse, the white horse! Here it is!” 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, “That beast!” Calming his nerves, he peered through the window once again. At that same moment, a face peered back at him. Dong Tong’s nose touched the other man’s nose. The other man had a wrinkled face, but his eyes were bright. Shocked, Ding Tong toppled backwards, and shouted, “Who are you?” The man replied coldly, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” The man spoke in Chinese.
Ding Tong regained his composure. Smiling, he said, “My 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 Master’s name?” The old man said, “My surname is Ji.” Ding Tong kept smiling and said, “To 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?” The old man Ji said, “How many men do you have with you?” Ding Tong replied, “I am alone.” The old man humphed in disbelief, and his cold gaze scanned Ding Tong’s 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, “If you want a drink of tea, use the front door. There’s no need to climb in by the windows!” Ding Tong laughed and said, “Yes, yes!” 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 Tong’s. 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 horse’s 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 “White Horse Li San”, and her mother was “Mama”, and that she had overheard their pursuers addressing her mother as “Sanniangzi”. As for why she had come in the Muslim Region, she had no answer. The old man Ji muttered, “White Horse Li San, White Horse Li San, isn’t 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?” 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.