White Horse Neighing in the West Wind

White Horse Neighing in the West Wind by Jin Yong was first serialised in the newspapers in 1961.

This novella is the only Jin Yong story that features a female protagonist. Its title has been translated as Swordswoman Riding West on White Horse and White Horse Neighs in the Western Wind. The first translation does not reflect what Jin Yong is trying to convey with the title. The second translation fails to capture the essence of the title. A slight change in the second title gives us a translation that embodies Jin Yong’s depiction.

Original translation by Junzi

Tock tock tock, tock tock tock… 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 horse’s 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 master’s 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, “Da ge (Chinese for elder brother, although the man is the woman’s husband, not brother), what… what happened?” 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 husband’s 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, “Father, father! There’s a arrow in your back!” The man managed a bitter smile, and said, “It’s all right!” 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, “Da ge, you…” 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, “Hongmei (‘hong’ is Chinese for rainbow, ‘mei’ is Chinese for younger sister), I have something to request of you. Would you oblige my request?” The young woman smiled at him, saying, “Have I ever disobeyed you in my entire life?” The man replied, “Good. Escape with Xiu’er, prevent our flesh and blood from coming to harm; and also prevent this map of the Gao Chang Labyrinth from coming to harm.” His tone was resolute, as though he was giving an order.

The woman’s voice trembled as she spoke. “Da ge, give the map to them and we’ll concede defeat. Your… your life is more important.” The man bent down and kissed her left cheek. In a gentle tone, he said, “We have braved innumerous storms together and survived, we may be able to survive this one. Not only do the ‘Three Heroes of Lu Liang’ want this map, they… they’re doing it for you.” The woman said, “They… they might spare us, seeing that we learnt under the same master… I can beg them…” But the man answered sternly, “How can we grovel at others for mercy? This horse cannot take all three of us. Now go!” 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, “Go quickly!” 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, “White Horse Li San has fallen!” 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, “He’s completely dead, what’s there to be afraid of? Quick, search his body.” 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, “Li San, you are a man of iron!” Suddenly, he swung the blade towards Li San’s 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…

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 husband’s angry howls, and was totally heartbroken. She thought, “Since he is dead, how can I live?” From inside her clothes, she removed a handkerchief woven from sheep’s wool and stuffed it into her daughter’s clothes. She said, “Xiu’er, you must take good care of yourself!” She then whipped the white horse’s buttocks before leaping from the saddle. The horse’s burden was immediately lessened, and it bore the little girl away swiftly. The woman was comforted when she thought, “This horse’s power is matchless, while Xiu’er is light; they will never be able to catch up with her.” In front, the little girl’s cries of “Mama, mama” faded into the distance, while the sound of hoof beats behind her became louder. In her heart, she prayed, “Oh Heaven, please ensure that Xiu’er will be like me, and marry a good man; even though we led a tumultuous life, we were happy together!” 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 ‘Divine Blade Shocks Guanxi’, was the bearded man who had killed White Horse Li San. The second, Shi Zhongjun, nicknamed ‘Plum Blossom Spear’, was a tall and skinny man. The youngest, Chen Dahai, nicknamed ‘Green Python Sword’, 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 San’s 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 San’s 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, “Since we’ve killed her husband, we must treat her very well from now on.” The westerly wind breezed through her clothes. It was exactly like a decade ago, when he saw her standing on their master’s 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 ‘Gold and Silver Little Swords Sanniangzi’ (‘Sanniangzi’ 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, “Shimei (‘shimei’ is Chinese for younger martial sister)!” Shangguan Hong replied, “Li San is dead!” Shi Zhongjun nodded, and said, “Shimei, although we have been separated for a decade, I… I still think of you every day.” Shuangguan Hong smiled, saying, “Really? You are lying to me again.” Shi Zhongjun’s heart was beating wildly. This smiling face, this tender voice, had remained unchanged for ten whole years. Gently, he said, “Shimei, from now onwards, I will take care of you and ensure that you will never suffer again.” A sudden strange light flashed in her eyes, and she said, “Shige (‘shige’ is Chinese for elder martial brother), you treat me so well!” 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, “Second brother suffered from lovesickness for ten years, now he has finally gotten his just rewards.” 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 Hong’s 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 Zhongjun’s 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, “Third brother, kill me quickly, so as to end my suffering.” 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 Zhongjun’s heart.

Huo Yuanlong sighed, “Who would have thought that ‘Gold and Silver Little Swords Sanniangzi’ would be so strong-willed?” Then one of his subordinates said, “We’ve searched White Horse Li San’s body, but there is no sign of the map.” Huo Yuanlong pointed to Shangguan Hong’s body, and said, “Then it must be with her.” After a detailed search, Shangguan Hong’s 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 Hong’s little bundles closely, and found a set of clothes belonging to a little girl. Realisation hit him, and he cried, “Eldest brother, we must go after that little girl immediately!” Huo Yuanlong replied, “Don’t worry, in this great desert, where can a little girl go?” Waving his left arm, he ordered, “Two of you stay behind to bury Second Master Shi, while the rest of you follow me!” 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, “In front!” 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 horse’s 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, “Third brother, this does not seem right!” 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, “Eldest brother, there seems to be an approaching sandstorm.” Huo Yuanlong replied, “yes, but we must catch that little girl before finding a place to shelter in…” 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, “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.

After Li Wenxiu dropped the bowl she was holding, the old man Ji walked up to her. Li Wenxiu rushed into his bosom, crying, “Grandfather, he…. he’s the bad man who was chasing me.” The old man smoothed her hair, and said gently, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid. He is not a bad man.” Li Wenxiu replied, “Yes, yes. He and his men chased us, and hit my father and mother.” The old man thought, “White 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.” 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, “This 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.” He suddenly cupped his right ear, as if listening intently, and said, “Someone’s here.” 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, “There’s nobody outside!” Suddenly, Ding Tong gave a hideous laugh and struck out at the old man’s head.

Even though the man was aged, his movements remained agile. When Ding Tong’s palm was inches away from his head, he slid to the side. With a backhand movement, he managed to grasp Ding Tong’s right wrist. Ding Tong’s 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 dagger’s sharp blade penetrated the old man’s left back.

Li Wenxiu yelled, “Oh no!” 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 Tong’s 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.

Li Wenxiu said in a trembling voice, “Grandfather, the knife is still in your… your back.” The old man Ji saw tears glistening in her eyes, and thought, “This girl certainly has a kind heart.” Li Wenxiu continued, “Grandfather, your wound… shall I pull the knife out for you?” She stretched her hand out to grasp the hilt. The old man’s face blackened, and said furiously, “Don’t bother about me.” His body swayed, and he held onto the table for support. He tottered towards his room, and shut the door with a slam. After seeing his sudden change in temper, Li Wenxiu became terrified. When she saw Ding Tong lying on the ground in a heap, she was afraid that he would revive and attack her, and wanted to run out of the hut. But she remembered that the old man was seriously injured, and since there was no one to care for him, she could not leave in him in the lurch.

She thought for a while, then went to his door, and knocked softly on it. When she heard no reply, she called, “Grandfather, Grandfather, are you in pain?” The old man replied roughly, “Get lost, get lost! Don’t disturb me!” The tone of his voice was so different from his usual amiable one. Li Wenxiu was too frightened to speak, and sat on the floor, petrified. Cradling her head in her hands, she began to cry. Suddenly, the door swung open. A hand stroked her hair gently, and said, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, Grandfather’s wound is nothing serious.” Li Wenxiu lifted her head, and saw that he was smiling, and was gladdened. Her tears became a smile. The old man laughed and said, “You were crying and now laughing, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” She hid her head in his bosom. She found parental love from this old man.

The old man knitted his brows, and scrutinised Ding Tong’s body, and thought, “There is no enmity between us, why did he try to harm me?” Li Wenxiu said, “Grandfather, how is the wound on your back?” The old man Ji had put on a long robe, and it was impossible to see how his wound was.

When he heard Li Wenxiu mention this incident, his face showed rage, as if his being stabbed had been a great insult. Roughly, he said, “Why are you so longwinded?” The white horse outside the hut gave a long neigh, and then a short moan. The old man took a bucket of yellow dye from the firewood shed. The yellow dye was used by shepherds to mark their animals, so that their animals would not be mixed up with others’. The dye was resistant to the elements and could not be removed easily. Using a brush, he painted the horse’s entire body with the yellow dye. Then he went to the Kazak tents to beg for an old set of clothes belonging to a Kazak boy, and told Li Wenxiu to change into them. Li Wenxiu was intelligent, and said, “Grandfather, you want to prevent the bad men from recognizing me, right?” The old man Ji nodded, and sighed, “Grandfather is old. Ai, I was stabbed by him just now.” This time, he brought up the incident by himself, but Li Wenxiu did not dare to reply.

The old man Ji buried Ding Tong’s body, and slaughtered his horse, destroying all the incriminating evidence. Then he sat at the front door, sharpening a long blade on a whetstone.

His efforts were not in vain. That night, Huo Yuanlong and Chen Dahai’s men charged into this oasis, pillaging and plundering without restraint. Normally, there were no bandits in this area. Thus, even though the Kazaks were brave, they were caught unprepared. The strong men had all gone to the north to hunt down the wolves which harmed their cattle and goats, leaving only the old, the weak, the women and the children to look after their tents. Seven Kazak men were killed, while five women were kidnapped. The men also barged into the old man’s hut, but they were not suspicious of the old man and the little Kazak boy. Li Wenxiu’s face was smeared with dirt and mud, and she cowered in a corner. Nobody noticed that her eyes shone with hatred. But she saw clearly that her father’s sword was hanging at Huo Yuanlong’s waist, while her mother’s daggers were stuck in Chen Dahai’s waistband.

Her parents always carried these weapons about their persons. She was young, but could guess that her parents had met with a terrible fate.

On the fourth day, the Kazak men returned from the north, carrying with them a pile of dead wolves. They immediately organised themselves into several contingents and went after Huo Yuanlong’s men for revenge. But the Kazaks lost trace of them in the huge desert. They only found the five women who had been kidnapped. They were reduced to five corpses, all stripped bare, and all of them had died miserably. They also found the bodies of White Horse Li San and Shangguan Hong, and brought all the corpses back. Li Wenxiu threw herself onto her parents’ bodies, and sobbed uncontrollably. A Kazak lifted his boot and gave her a hard kick, and scolded roughly, “These Han bandits who have been punished by Allah!” The old man carried Li Wenxiu home, refusing to dispute with the Kazak. In her little heart, Li Wenxiu thought, “Why are there so many bad men around? Why are they all bullying me?”In the middle of the night, Li Wenxiu awoke from her sleep crying. When she opened her eyes, she saw someone sitting at the side of her bed. She cried out in alarm, and sat up. But it was only the old man Ji, gazing at her with eyes filled with affection. He stretched out his hand to stroke her hair, saying, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, it’s only Grandfather.” Li Wenxiu’s tears rolled down her face like a broken thread of pearls. She lay in his arms, and her tears wet his clothes. The old man said, “Little girl, since your parents are dead, you may acknowledge me as your real grandfather, and live with me. Grandfather will take good care of you.” Sobbing, Li Wenxiu nodded. Then she remembered the bad men who had killed her parents, and the ferocious Kazak who had kicked her.

The force of this kick had been great, causing a large swelling at her waist. She asked, “Why is everybody bullying me when I did not do anything bad?” The old man Ji sighed, and said, “In this world, the people who always get bullied are the ones who never commit evil deeds.” He poured her a bowl of warm junket from a clay flask, and watched her finish drinking it. Then he covered her snugly with a quilt, and said, “Xiu’er, that man who kicked you is named Su Lu’ke. He is a good, honest man.” Li Wenxiu’s eyes widened, bewildered. She said, “Is he… he a good man?” The old man nodded, saying, “Yes, he is a good man. Like you, two of his nearest, dearest ones died in a single day. One of them is his wife; the other is his eldest son. They were killed by those evil men, so now he believes that the Hans are all bad people. He scolded you in Kazak, saying that you were ‘these Han bandits punished by Allah’. But you mustn’t hate him, for like you, he is grieved in his heart. No, he is much older, and the grief he feels is much greater and deeper than yours. Li Wenxiu listened, stunned. She did not hate this bearded Kazak man, and was only frightened by his fierce looks. Suddenly she recalled that his eyes had filled with tears, but they had not fallen. She did not understand why adults’ grief would be greater and deeper than children’s, but could not refrain from sympathising with this Kazak man.

From outside the window, came an intriguing birdsong. The sound came from far away, but could be heard clearly. It was sweet, yet sad, like a young girl singing a soft, melodious song.

Li Wenxiu cocked her ears and listened. The birdsong gradually faded away in the distance. Her grieving heart was momentarily comforted. Lost in thought, she said, “Grandfather, this bird sang really well.” The old man Ji replied, “Yes, it sang really well! That was a Tianling bird (‘tian’ is Chinese for sky, ‘ling’ is Chinese for bell), and its birdsong is like silver bells from heaven. These birds only sing at night, and rest in the day. Some say these birds were once stars which fell from the heavens. Some Kazaks say that the most beautiful, most melodious-voiced girl from the pastures died, and her body turned into these birds. Her beloved stopped loving her, and she died from broken-heartedness.” Perplexed, Li Wenxiu asked, “She was the most beautiful and had the best voice, why did he stop loving her?” The old man Ji thought for a while, and sighed, “There are many things in this world which children cannot understand.” Then, the Tianling bird far away in the pastures began to sing again.

The birdsong evoked both sweetness and sadness in people’s hearts.

Henceafter, Li Wenxiu lived in the old man’s hut, helping him cook and herd goats. They were like grandfather and granddaughter.

At night, when Li Wenxiu awoke from her dreams, she listened to the Tianling birds sing. Their birdsong lulled her back to dreamland. She dreamed of the willows and peach blossoms in Jiangnan, her father’s embrace and her mother’s smiling face… Autumn passed, winter passed, and Li Wenxiu lived her days peacefully. She learnt how to speak Kazak, and learnt about the matters of the pastures.

The old man Ji knew how to brew strong and fragrant liquor which the Kazak men loved to drink.

He knew how to cure domestic animals’ diseases. The animals which the Kazaks could not cure were always healed by him.

These animals were the Kazaks’ life. Although they did not like the Hans, they could not do without him. Thus, they exchanged their cattle and goats for his wine, and invited him to cure their sick animals.

The Kazaks would move their camp around the pastures from time to time. Sometimes, the old man would follow them; sometimes he would stay in his hut, waiting for their return.

One night, Li Wenxiu heard a Tianling bird singing again. Its song became softer as it flew further away. Finally, she could not hear anything. Li Wenxiu got up quietly, and got dressed. She went outside to rein her horse. Afraid that she would wake the old man up, she led the white horse for a long distance before mounting it. She rode in the direction of the birdsong.

The night sky above the pastures was very high and very blue, and the stars shone brightly. The green grass and little flowers emitted a floral fragrance.

The birdsong was clearer now. It was both sweet and charming. As she listened, Li Wenxiu’s heart sang with joy. Gently, she got off the horse, and allowed it to graze on the grass freely. She lay on the grass, facing the sky, enjoying the song.

The Tianling bird sang a short while, and then flew a few zhang away. Li Wenxiu followed it by crawling on the ground. She heard the bird beat its wings, and saw this small, pale yellow bird pecking for food on the ground. It pecked a few mouthfuls, and flew a short distance off, and found some more food.

The Tianling bird was pecking away merrily. There was a sudden ‘clap’. A black object flew up from the middle of the tall grass, and covered the Tianling bird.

Li Wenxiu’s gasps of horror were mixed with a boy’s shouts of delight. A Kazak boy jumped out from the tall grass, crying out proudly, “Caught it, caught it!” He used his coat to contain the bird. Its frightened chirps could be faintly heard coming from inside the coat.

Pages: 1 2 3 4