White Horse Neighing in the West Wind

Su Pu was greatly angered. With a tremendous roar, he leapt forward from behind A’man. With a flick of his sword, Chen Dahai had pointed it at Su Pu’s throat. Chen Dahai’s left foot kicked Su Pu’s leg, and the latter crashed to the ground. The long sword was still pointed at his throat.

Li Wenxiu stood at the side, watching intently. As soon as Chen Dahai truly intended to harm Su Pu, she would step in and save him. At this time, with her martial arts skills, dealing with Chen Dahai would be as easy as a flip of the palm.

But how could A’man have known that help was at hand? As the circumstances were pressing, she could only say, “Don’t hurt him; I’ll agree to your request.” Chen Dahai was jubilant, but did not move his sword away. He said, “You’ve agreed to leave with me tomorrow, and you’d better not go back on your promise.” A’man gritted her teeth, “I won’t go back on my promise; you can take the sword away.” Chen Dahai laughed uproariously, and said, “Even if you do go back on your word, you won’t be able to escape!” He then placed his sword back in its sheath, then picked Su Pu’s sabre up, and held it tightly in his hand. In this manner, the only person in the cottage with weapons was him, and he did not need to fear that they would resist him. He looked out of the window and said, “We can’t leave at this moment, so we’ll have to wait until the weather’s fine to exhume the grave.”

A’man helped Su Pu to one side. When she saw that his neck was bleeding profusely, she was in a flurry. She was about to tear off a piece of her clothes to bandage his wound when he removed a large handkerchief from his bosom, and said, “Use this handkerchief to bandage my wound then!” A’man received the handkerchief, and bandaged his wound properly. When she thought that she had landed in the clutches of this strong opponent, and did not know if she would have to opportunity to escape, she began to weep. In a low voice, Su Pu cursed, “Damnable bandit, damnable bandit!” He decided that if this bandit really tried to take A’man away, he would fight it out with him even at the risk of losing his life.

After the fight just now, the five people sitting around the fire felt extremely nervous. In one hand, Chen Dahai held the sabre; in the other, a bowl of wine. He would glance at A’man, then Su Pu from time to time. Outside the house, the northerly winds howled angrily, bringing up pieces of snow which hit the walls and roof of the cottage. Nobody spoke a word.

Li Wenxiu thought, “I’ll let this evil bandit have the time of his life first; there’s no hurry to kill him.” Suddenly, one of the pieces of firewood in the fire exploded with a resounding clap. The flame diminished slightly, then shone brilliantly, illuminating each person’s expression clearly. Li Wenxiu saw the handkerchief bound around Su Pu’s neck, and her heart trembled, and stared at it without blinking. Old man Ji spotted the strange light in her eyes, and also glanced at that handkerchief several times. He asked, “Where did you get that handkerchief from, Su Pu?” Su Pu was taken aback momentarily, then touched his neck, and said, “Are you talking about this one? It was given to me by that A’xiu who has since died. When we were young, we used to herd sheep together. There was a big grey wolf which came to attack us. I killed that wolf but also got bitten by it. A’xiu used this handkerchief to bandage my wounds…” When Li Wenxiu heard these words, her vision became blurry. Her eyes had by then filled with tears. Old man Ji walked into the inner rooms, and took out a piece of white cloth. He handed it to Su Pu, saying, “Please untie the handkerchief and let me look at it closely; you can use this piece of cloth to bandage your wound.” Su Pu asked, “Why?” While old man Ji was speaking, Chen Dahai kept staring at the handkerchief tied around Su Pu’s neck. Suddenly, he got up, sabre pointed, and shouted, “Do as you’re told!” Su Pu glared at him, refusing to move. A’man feared that Chen Dahai might use force, so she untied it for Su Pu, and gave it to old man Ji. Then she used the piece of white cloth to bandage his wound.

Old man Ji placed the blood-stained handkerchief on the table. He lit an oil lamp, and bent over to scrutinize the handkerchief. Chen Dahai stared at it for a while, then cried joyfully, “Yes, yes, this is the map of the Gao Chang Labyrinth!” He stretched his hand out and grabbed it, laughing heartily, over the moon in happiness.

Old man Ji’s right arm twitched, as if he wanted to snatch it back, but finally managed to restrain himself.

Then they heard someone call from far away, “Su Pu, Su Pu…” Then someone else called out loudly, “A’man, A’man…” Su Pu and A’man leapt up together, crying in unison, “Father is looking for us.” Su Pu rushed to the door and was about to open it when he felt a sudden coolness at the back of his neck. A long sword was next to his neck. Coldly, Chen Dahai said, “Sit down and don’t move!” Su Pu had no choice but to sit down dejectedly.

After a while, the two people’s footsteps approached the entrance. They heard Su Lu’ke say, “Is this that thieving Han’s home? I’m not going inside.” Che Erku answered, “Not going inside? Where will we seek shelter from the blizzard then? My ears and nose are so frozen that they might drop off.” Su Lu’ke was holding a gourd of wine, and had been drinking along the way to drive away the coldness. By this time he was almost drunk, and muttered, “I’d rather lose my head to frostbite than enter a Han’s home!” Che Erku said, “You can stay outside and freeze to death in the blizzard then. I’m going in.” Su Lu’ke answered, “We haven’t found my son or your daughter, so how can we seek shelter in a Han’s home? You… you don’t have an ounce of heroism.” Che Erku said, “We didn’t see any sign of them on the way here; they must’ve sought shelter somewhere, so there’s no need to worry about them. The two old ones might just freeze to death even before the two young ones are found.”

Su Pu saw Chen Dahai hide by the door, his sword drawn. As soon as someone entered, he would immediately stab that someone. The situation was extremely precarious, so he cried, “Don’t come in!” Chen Dahai glared at him and shouted, “If you make any more noise, I’ll kill you immediately.” Su Pu knew his father was in a dangerous situation, so he grabbed a stool and threw himself towards Chen Dahai. Chen Dahai turned his body to avoid the blow. With a swish, his sword pierced Su Pu’s leg. Su Pu yelled loudly, and fell over onto the ground. He was quick and agile; afraid that his enemy would deliver another blow, he quickly rolled over, covering quite a distance. Chen Dahai did not pursue him, but continued to guard by the door with his drawn sword, thinking, “I can easily settle this Kazak lad in the twinkling of an eye, so I’ll let him live a little longer. But I must quickly defeat the two people outside.”

They heard Su Lu’ke speaking loudly outside, “If you enter that damnable Han’s home, I’ll hit you!” As he spoke, his fist hit Che Erku’s chest. Normally, if he was dealt a heavy blow by Su Lu’ke, he would not retaliate as he knew Su Lu’ke was a drunken man. But this time, the wine in his stomach also gushed upwards, and he stretched his leg out to catch Su Lu’ke leg. Su Lu’ke was already in an unstable position, so he stumbled, and immediately fell down. But he took advantage of his fall to cling to Che Erku’s leg. The two men fought each other, rolling about in the snow.

Suddenly, Su Lu’ke grabbed a handful of snow from the ground and stuffed it into Che Erku;’s mouth. Cher Erku scratched and scrabbled madly, while Su Lu’ke was so amused that he laughed heartily. Che Erku spat out the snow. With a resounding punch, he caused Su Lu’ke’s nose to bleed profusely. Su Lu’ke did not even feel any pain, and continued to laugh, but grabbed hold of Che Erku’s hair, refusing to let go. Both men were Kazak warriors, their names known for a thousand li around, but when they fought each other in a drunken state, they were exactly like naughty children fighting.

Su Pu and A’man were extremely anxious. They both hoped Su Lu’ke would win, for then he could stop Che Erku from entering. They heard a never-ending volley of crashes and knocks coming from outside. You hit me, I hit you; they laughed and scolded, full of drunken words. Suddenly, the wooden door flew open with a rumbling crash. The icy wind blew snow into the house; then Su Lu’ke and Che Erku who were hugging each other, also rolled into the cottage. The sudden opening of the door trapped Chen Dahai behind it, preventing him from dealing his blow. Su Lu’ke and Che Erku continued to fight even though they had entered the cottage.

Che Erku laughed, “Aren’t you inside now?” Incensed, Su Luke tried to choke Che Erku with his arm, yelling, “Get out, get out!” The two men were struggling on the floor. One man wanted to drag the other out, while the other man wanted to suppress the other party, to prevent him from moving. Suddenly Su Lu’ke began to sing, and yell, “You can’t defeat me, I’m the top Kazak warrior, Su Pu’s second, Su Pu’s future son will be third… You, Che Erku are fifth…” Chen Dahai saw that they were two drunkards, and decided that he need not fear them. Then the wind blew strongly, sending sparks from the fire flying everywhere. Chen Dahai shut the door forcefully.

Su Pu and A’man saw their fathers rolling towards the fire, and rushed over to help them, crying out in unison, “Father, father.” But they were both heavy men, and could not be helped up easily. Su Pu cried, “Father, father! This man is a Han bandit!” Although Su Lu’ke was thoroughly drunk, but these ten years he had not forgotten the deep hatred he felt towards the Han bandits. As soon as he heard the words ‘Han bandit’, his mind cleared. Leaping up, he cried out, “Where is the Han bandit?” Su Pu pointed at Chen Dahai. Su Lu’ke wanted to grab the sabre at his waist, but after his struggle with Che Erku, the saber had fallen in the snow outside. Coming into contact with air, he cried, “Where’s my sabre? Where’s my sabre? I will kill him!” Chen Dahai flicked his sword and pointed it at Su Lu’ke throat, ordering, “Kneel down!” Angered, Su Lu’ke threw himself forward. But he had lost his strength after drinking much wine. Before he could leapt in front of the enemy, he had crashed to the ground. Chen Dahai laughed coldly, and slashed down, and Su Lu’ke’s shoulder began to bleed. Su Lu’ke yelled in pain, and wanted to get up and fight. But both his legs seemed as soft as mud, and he was completely unable to stand up. With an angry roar, Che Erku got up and rushed towards Chen Dahai. Chen Dahai thrust his sword forwards, piercing his right leg. Che Erku immediately fell down.

Old man Ji turned to look at Li Wenxiu, and saw that her expression was calm, with absolutely no hint of fear.

Chen Dahai laughed coldly, “You Kazak dogs, today I shall kill all of you.” A’man rushed forwards, blocking her father. In a trembling voice she said, “I promised to leave with you, so you cannot kill them.” Che Erku was furious, “No! You cannot leave with this bandit dog, just let him kill me:” Chen Dahai removed a goat’s leash from the wall, and placed the hoop around A’man’s neck, and laughed evilly, “Good, you are my prisoner, my slave! You must swear that you will never betray me from this day onwards, then I will spare these Kazak dogs!” Tears rolled down A’man’s face. She thought, “If I don’t agree to his request, my father and Su Pu will be killed.” So she swore, “Great Allah above, from this day onwards, I am the slave of my master. I will listen to all his commands, and never dare to escape, or dare to disobey his orders! Or else, I will land in a burning pit after my death, and suffer for all eternity.” Chen Dahai laughed uproariously, extremely pleased with himself: he had obtained the map of the Gao Chang Labyrinth and this beautiful young girl. He was happier than if he had become an immortal. He had stayed in the Muslim Region for a long time, and knew that the Kazaks were pious Muslims, and woukld never dare to break an oath made in the name of the Great Allah. Pulling at the leash, he said, “Come over and sit at the feet of your master!” A’man felt greatly humiliated, but could only walk over to his feet and sit down. Chen Dahai stroked her hair, and A’man began to cry.

Su Pu could not control himself, and leapt up, throwing himself at Chen Dahai. Chen Dahai’s sword shot out, pointing at his chest. If he moved forwards by half a chi, the tip of the sword would pierce his chest. A’man called out, “Su Pu, get back!” Su Pu’s eyes blazed. He gritted his teeth and stood there. After quite some time, he retreated, and sat on the ground dejectedly.

Chen Dahai poured a bowlful of wine, and took a mouthful. He took out the handkerchief, then placed it onto his knees for scrutiny.

Suddenly, old man Ji asked, “How do you know this is the map of the Gao Chang Labyrinth?” He spoke in the Chinese language. Chen Dahai thought, “Since all of you are going to die anyway, there’s no harm in telling you.” He had searched for twelve years, and his heart’s desire had finally been fulfilled. Full of joy, he would not be comfortable if he did not get it off his chest, so he would have talked about the matter to himself had old man Ji not asked him about it. Holding the handkerchief with both hands, he said, “We have proven beyond doubt that the map of the Gao Chang Labyrinth was in the possession of White Horse Li San and his wife. Since we could not find it on their bodies, it must be with their daughter. This handkerchief belonged to that little girl surnamed Li, and there are mountains, rivers and roads depicted on it, so naturally it must be the map.” He pointed at the handkerchief, and said, “See, this handkerchief is made of silk. Those depictions of the mountains and rivers in the desert, are sewn in the middle using cotton thread. The silk is yellow silk, while the cotton thread is yellow thread. Normally one would not be able to see it, but once it is stained with blood, the cotton thread absorbs more blood than the silk, and the two can be told apart.”

Li Wenxiu gazed at the handkerchief. As he had said, once the yellow silk handkerchief was stained with blood, its depictions could be seen clearly. The areas which had not been stained with blood remained yellow. On the day that Su Pu was bitten by the wolf, he had bled only a little, and only revealed one corner of the depictions. But tonight, he had suffered a wound from a sword, revealing a large part of the depictions. Only then did she realise that this handkerchief actually hid such a great secret. Chen Dahai calculated, “If these few people join forces to deal with me, and all rush at me at once, that would be unthinkable. While these two Kazaks are still drunk, I’ll kill them first, to ensure the success of my plan.” He walked slowly towards Su Lu’ke, and suddenly pulled out his sword, sending it down on his head. The dealing of this sword blow was so sudden and the movement so quick that Su Lu’ke had no chance to avoid it. Su Pu gave a loud cry, and attempted to leap forward to save his father, but there was no time to do so. Chen Dahai’s sword was about to strike Su Lu’ke’s head, when he heard a sudden swoosh. An object was thrown towards his face, travelling at a high speed. In his haste, he did not bother to harm Su Lu’ke, and quickly leaped to the left. With a loud cling clang, the object hit the wall and was immediately smashed to smithereens. It was actually nothing but a tea bowl. After he had calmed his nerves, he realised that the person who had thrown the tea bowl at him was none other than Li Wenxiu.

Chen Dahai was livid. All along, he saw that this Kazak lad was skinny and fair, just like a woman, and thus ignored him. Whoever knew that ‘he’ would actually dare to swat flies on a tiger’s head? With his sword drawn, he pointed at her and scolded, “Little Kazak dog, are you tired of living?” Li Wenxiu slowly unbuttoned her Kazak coat, and removed it, revealing the Han-style short coat she wore inside. In the Kazak language, she declared, “I am not a Kazak. I am a Han.” Her left hand pointing at Su Lu’ke, she said, “This Kazak uncle thinks that all Hans are bandits and evildoers. I want him to know that not all of us Hans are bandits, we have good people too.” Everyone had clearly seen that if not for Li Wenxiu throwing the bowl to save Su Lu’ke, he would have died from the blow from Chen Dahai’s sword. After hearing what she said, Su Pu was first to reply, “Thank you very much for saving my father!” Su Lu’ke remained very stubborn and shouted, “You are a Han, I don’t need you to save me, just let this bandit kill me.” Chen Dahai stepped forward, and asked Li Wenxiu, “Who are you? You are a Han, so what are you doing here?” Li Wenxiu smiled a cold, small smile and said, “You do not recognize me, but I recognize you. The people who robbed Kazak tribes and caused the deaths of many Kazak were your gang of Han bandits.” As this point, her voice became bitter, and thought, “If not for your gang of bandits committing so many evil deeds, Su Lu’ke would not hate us Hans to the core.” Chen Dahai answered loudly, “So what if it was me?” Li Wenxiu pointed at A’man, and said, “She is your female slave, I want to seize her, to be my female slave!” Everyone was surprised to hear these words.

Chen Dahai was stunned momentarily, then laughed loudly, saying, “All right, if you’re good enough, then try to seize her.” He waved his sword. The blade trembled and made a buzzing sound.

Turning her head, to A’man she said, “You have swore an oath in the Great Allah’s name, to be his female slave for all your life. If he is unable to defeat me, you will be seized by me, and be my female slave for all you life, am I right?” When Kazaks fought with people of other races, they would treat captured prisoners as slaves. There were specific instructions regarding this in the Islamic Quran. The status of a slave was no different from a domesticated animal; he had no freedom to act on his own, and was bought and sold in accordance with his owner’s wishes. If his owners were defeated by someone else, his property, domesticated animals and slaves would be taken by others. After hearing what she said, A’man thought, “Since I am already a female slave, I’d rather acknowledge you as my owner than follow this evil bandit and be tormented by him.” So she nodded her head and answered, “Yes, it is so.” She added, “You… you won’t be able to defeat him. This bandit’s martial arts are excellent.” Li Wenxiu replied, “You needn’t worry about that, if I cannot defeat him, then naturally I will be killed by him.” She clapped her hands, and to Chen Dahai she said, “Come on then!” Amazed, Chen Dahai said, “You are fighting me with bare hands?” Li Wenxiu said, “Why would I need any weapons to kill an evil bandit like you?” Chen Dahai thought, “Everyone here is my enemy, if I linger a moment longer, I will be in more danger. If he wishes to overestimate himself, then that would be excellent.” He shouted, “Beware the sword!” His sharp sword was thrust out, displaying the stroke, ‘Poisonous Snake Exiting its Cave’. The sword was sent towards Li Wenxiu’s chest, and was travelling at a powerful speed.

Old man Ji called, “Quick, get back!” He thought that Li Wenxiu would have great difficulty in keeping him off. Li Wenxiu’s body jerked, lightly and silently avoiding the blow. She rushed to Chen Dahai’s left. Lifting her left elbow, she hit his waist. Chen Dahai called out, “Good!” His sword made a circular movement , and sliced towards her arm. Li Wenxiu kicked out with her right foot and hit his wrist. This stroke, ‘Flying Swallow Beneath Leaves’, was one of Hua Hui’s unique strokes. Li Wenxiu had mastered it only after seven to eight days’ of painstaking practice. Chen Dahai quickly drew back his wrist, but was too slow. His wrist was painful; it had been hit. As the other party did not use much force, Chen Dahai’s sword did not slip from his hand. He gave a loud roar, and leapt back a step. Old man Ji gave a cry, completely surprised. Chen Dahai stroked his wrist, and leapt forward with his sword drawn, duelling with Li Wenxiu. At this time he did not dare to look down on this weak, skinny youth any more. Seeing that the youth’s martial arts were remarkable, he immediately used his Green Python Swordplay. Each stroke was vicious and determined to stab the youth to death. Li Wenxiu had reiceved training from her master Hua Hui, her movements were quick and agile while her strokes were unusual. However, she has never sparred with others before, and had absolutely no experience in handling enemies. At first she was spurred on by hatred, and wanted to kill this evil bandit to avenge her parents. Later, she became more familiarized with her enemy’s swordplay, and her mind calmed gradually.

Old man Ji’s cottage was already narrow, and there was a fire burning in the hall. The two of them leapt around and dueled about the fire. The blade of the sword and fists seemed to come into close contact very often, and it was as if every blow from Chen Dahai was able to take Li Wenxiu’s life. But she was always able to hit back or dodge, and managed to counteract all his strokes. Su Lu’ke and the rest watched, their mouths wide open. Old man Ji became more and more fearful as he watched, and his body trembled uncontrollably.

When the pair became fully engrossed in duelling, Chen Dahai displayed the stroke ‘Divine Snake Spitting’, the tip of the sword pointed at Li Wenxiu’s throat. Li Wenxiu bowed her head, and leapt from under the sword. Her left arm clasped her enemy’s right arm, sending his long sword flying outwards. Her hands grabbed hold of the gold and silver daggers at Chen Dahai’s waist. With a pull and a push, there was a ringing noise, and the daggers had pierced both his armpits.

Chen Dahai gave a horrifying cry, and lost his grip on his sword. He stumbled backwards, his back against the wall and could only pant. The two swords were so deeply embedded in his armpits that only the hilts could be seen. The tips of the daggers pierced through his back. His muscles were broken, and both his arms had not a single iota of energy. He wanted to stretch his right hand to pull out the dagger in his left arm, but how could he lift up his right arm? One could hear all the people in the cottage cheering loudly, yelling, “The evil bandit is defeated, the evil bandit is defeated!” Even Su Lu’ke began to yell. Su Pu and A’man embraced each other jubilantly. Only old man Ji continued to tremble, gritting his teeth quite audibly.

Li Wenxiu knew he was afraid as he was worried for her. She walked over and clasped his large rough hands. Placing her lips at his ear, she said in a low voice, “Grandfather Ji, don’t be afraid, this evil bandit could not defeat me.” She realized his palms were ice cold, and he still trembled terribly.

Li Wenxiu turned her head, and saw Su Pu embracing A’man tightly. In her heart, the original happiness she felt from her victory melted into thin air in a twinkling. She felt herself trembling. Old man Ji’s palms were no longer cold, but her own palms had also become ice cold.

She let go of old man Ji’s hands, and walked over to take hold of the long leash still around A’man’s neck, and coldly said, “You are my female slave, and will have to follow me for the rest of your life.” Su Pu and A’man both felt coldness in their hearts, and their four arms embracing each other loosened. They knew this was a Kazak rule passed down for generations, and a destiny they could not resist. Both their faces turned deathly white! Li Wenxiu sighed, and removed the leash from A’man’s neck, saying, “Su Pu likes you, I… I will not let him be sad. You belong to Su Pu!” As she spoke, she gave A’man a gentle push, allowing her to lean on Su Pu’s bosom.

Su Lu’ke struggled to stand up, and his large hand clapped Li Wenxiu’s shoulder heavily. He said, “Even among Hans, there are actually good people. But… but, I’m afraid that you are the only one!” Che Erku called out, “Bring wine, bring wine. I’ll treat everyone to wine, treat the good Kazak people to wine, treat the good Han people to wine, to celebrate the capture of that evil bandit, eh! Where’s that bandit?” Everyone turned their heads, only to see that Chen Dahai had disappeared. A while ago everyone had been concentrating on Li Wenxiu and A’man, giving the bandit to chance to escape from the back door. Su Lu’ke was furious, and cried, “Let’s chase him quickly!” He opened the door, and a strong gust of wind blew into the cottage. His legs had no strength, his body swayed and he fell to the ground. Combined with snow, the frosty wind was fierce and unbearable. Everyone felt breathless. A’man said, “I doubt he’d be able to go far in such a great snowstorm. He’ll definitely die in the snow if he tries to struggle on. Let’s wait until the storm has died down tomorrow, before going into the snow to find this evil bandit’s corpse.” Su Pu nodded and shut the door.

Su Lu’ke stared at Li Wenxiu. After quite a long time, he said, “Little brother, you are a Kazak, are you not?” Li Wenxiu shook her head and answered, “No, I’m a Han!” Su Lu’ke said, “Impossible, if you are a Han, why did you attack that Han bandit and save us Kazaks?” Li Wenxiu replied, “Among the Hans, there are bad people, but there are also good people. I… I am not one of the bad people.” Su Lu’ke muttered, “There are good people among the Hans?” He shook his head slowly. But his life and that of his son’s, were saved by this young Han. He had no choice but to believe.

He had hated Hans his entire life, but now this belief was wavering. He was furious at himself for being so drunk last night and was thus unable to battle with that Han bandit. Instead, he needed another Han to come and rescue him. In his entire life, when something critical happened, he was always so unfortunate, always so unlucky. But when that bandit’s long sword had struck his head just now, that young man had arrived in the nick of time to rescue him. Could this be considered misfortune? Could this be considered bad luck?

When dawn broke, the snowstorm finally died down.

Su Lu’ke and Che Erku immediately set off to gather their tribesmen to pursue that Han bandit. His footprints clearly showed in the show. Furthermore, he had suffered serious injuries and could not have gone far. It would be best if he attempted to rendezvous with the other bandits. That way, they could finally take revenge after twelve years.

Three hundred of the most able-bodied Kazak men formed the first batch of pursuers. The remaining two batches set off in succession. There was of course no need to mobilize so many men just to catch one Chen Dahai, but their real motive was to exterminate the Han bandits who had been terrorizing the pastures.

Su Lu’ke and Che Erku were the vanguards. They wanted the remaining tribesmen to maintain a distance of ten li between them and follow them slowly, to prevent Chen Dahai from realising their presence and abandoning his rendezvous with his fellow bandits. Su Pu had suffered injuries last night, but since his condition was not serious, he wanted to accompany his father. A’man also insisted on accompanying her father, but everyone knew that she did not want to leave Su Pu’s side. Che Erku picked two of his disciples to follow him. One was the agile Sang Si’er, and the other was a young man as strong as a camel. His nickname was “Camel”, and that was what everyone called him, resulting in everyone forgetting what his actual name really was.

Li Wenxiu also wanted to join the vanguards, and Su Pu was the first to welcome her. After what happened last night, Li Wenxiu had become a hero, respected by all. Che Erku did not object to her taking part. Su Lu’ke was a little unwilling, but could not bring himself to voice his opposition.

Old man Ji seemed to have been thoroughly terrified by the events of the previous night. When he was drinking sheep’s milk in the morning, he accidentally dropped the milk bowl and broke it. Li Wenxiu poured a bowl of tea for him. When his trembling hands received the bowl, he splashed the tea onto his clothes. When Li Wenxiu asked after him, the light in his eyes revealed both fear and anger. Abruptly, he returned to his room, and shut the door with a loud bang.

The ground was covered with a deep layer of snow, and it was hard to ride. The seven-man vanguard went on foot, following footprints in the snow all the way. Chen Dahai’s footprints went in a straight line towards the west, as if towards the Gobi Desert. Although both his arms were injured, his legs were still very agile. The six Kazaks suddenly recalled the legendary demons which supposedly inhabited the Gobi Desert, and could not help but have some misgivings.

Su Lu’ke said loudly, “Even if we know that we are going to meet demons today, we must still go and capture the bandits. Su Pu, are you going to seek revenge for your mother and brother or not?” Su Pu replied, “Of course I will go with Father. A’man, you’d better return go home!” A’man said, “If you can go, I can go too.” But her heart said, “If you die, do you expect me to live on alone?” Su Lu’ke said, “A’man, you’d better accompany your father home. Che Erku is extremely timid, and is most afraid of demons!” Che Erku gave him a hard stare, and rushed to the front.

The thing which people feared the most in the Gobi Desert was the lack of water for miles. Once the supplies of fresh water which they brought along were exhausted, they would undoubtedly die of thirst. But after the snowstorm, one could pick up snow at a bend of the body. This alleviated their main worry. Although they were unable to ride, they did not need to bear the hardship of having yellow sand being blown into their faces. They travelled towards the west, and could see that Chen Dahai’s footprints were becoming more evident. Later, his footprints were uncovered by snow, and were obviously left after the snowstorm had died down.

Che Erku muttered, “This evil bandit is quite capable, he survived despite being trapped in a huge snowstorm.” Su Lu’ke suddenly cried out, “Eh, there are another person’s footprints!” Pointing to the footprints, he said, “This person made each step in that bandit’s footprints, if one wasn’t observant enough he wouldn’t have spotted it.” Everyone looked carefully, and saw that every footprint consisted of two layers, one deeper and the other shallower.

Everyone started speculating, unable to comprehend the significance of this observation. Luo Tuo suddenly said, “Don’t tell me it’s a demon?” This was what everyone wanted to say but didn’t. As soon as the words had left his mouth, everyone could not help but shiver.

The party steeled their nerves and continued travelling west. The deep snow hindered them and made their progress slow. That night, they camped in the snow. They swept aside the snow and dug pits in the ground. Wrapped in wool carpets, they lay in the pits, and did not know coldness at all.

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