I’ve run out of Da Mo Yao illustrations, so I’ve decided to rotate as post topping pictures the leads of Da Mo Yao in their other period dramas. Yes, I know only Hu Ge is confirmed (with Wallace Huo out), and Liu Shi Shi is still not official. But right now I can’t imagine another C-actress playing Yu Jin. So my DMY chapter translations will feature ShiGe pictures galore, and I have to thank the Heavens that those two starred in so many period dramas so I have a great roster of pictures to choose from. They are so yum in period garb.
Storywise chapter 1 was actually a red herring of sorts. Normally meeting Yi Zhi Xie and Yu Dan, pretty compelling male characters, might lead one to wonder which guy is Yu Jin’s OTP. Turns out it’s neither of those guys, and this isn’t much of a spoiler to say so. Yu Jin’s future is not with the Xiong Nu, but is it in the desert or onward to Chang An? Luckily Tong Hua keeps her story moving briskly, with Yu Jin meeting both her fated men in chapter 2 in short order. From there, she makes a courageous decision to embrace her destiny.
Chapter 2: First Meeting
Brother Wolf gets up with the sun, his silver fur glistening in the light. He raises his head and lets out a long howl, the sound reverberating in the sky. I follow suit and let out a long howl, raising my hands high towards the sky, like I’m embracing the sun and embracing the new day. The birds all take flight into the dancing clouds. I laugh and kick Brother Wolf, “Race ya to the banks of the Yue Ya Spring”, taking off before my howls have even fallen.
In three years time, Brother Wolf is as tall as my waist. I call him (elder) Brother Wolf not because he’s older than me, it’s just what I decided to call him, When I rejoined the pack, he was just one year old and learning to hunt. But now he is the Leader of the wolf pack. Even though I constantly kick him when we are alone, but deep down I do respect him.
Brother Wolf sensed I was deep in thought. He bent down to drink and let out a few humphs. He sees himself as the world’s most handsome, most powerful specimen – the male wolves all bow to him and the female wolves all faint at the sight of him. Except when it comes to me. I don’t cow before him, which is sad for him. Perhaps he wonders why he was born in the same world as me.
To help identify the wolves, I once tried to name them numerically. Wolf 1, wolf 2, wolf 3, all the way to wolf 99 when I first arrived. But following Brother Wolf and my vast conquering strategy, I’ve totally lost track, with the last count I kept being wolf 19,999. And that was two years ago already. When I see a wolf and can’t remember its name, I decided to give up. One day Brother Wolf and I will surely conquer all the wolves. But not having a wolf’s keen sense of smell, it’s hard for me to remember all the wolf faces.
Would Papa be happy or sad to know that I’m using all the knowledge he taught me to conquer the wolves. If I had learned more and understood it all earlier, maybe I could have helped him, and things might be different today.
I start humming a ditty but Brother Wolf gives me a dirty look before closing his eyes. Like I don’t think he’s all that, he also never thought I was pretty. Compared to the glowing fur of the female wolves, I’m likely so ugly it hurts his eyes.
I glare at him back and continue to braid my hair and hum my tune. Looking at my reflection in the water, in three years time I’ve transformed from Papa’s ugly little girl into a pretty young lady. Perhaps I can’t call myself a lady, but I know I am beautiful. I made a face at my own reflection and nod my head in satisfaction. I let out a whistle to let Brother Wolf know we can set out. He gets up and we slowly jog off.
We are on the plateau of the Ming Sa Mountains, staring down at a traveling caravan getting ready to set up camp. Thinking of my remaining little bit of salt and my tattered skirt, I crouched down and smile seductively at Brother Wolf. He’s unaffected by my attempt to entrance him, looking more like he’s seen a monster. He takes a few steps back and furrows his brows and frowns. He shoots me a few sneers.
I growl low and soft to him, asking him to go back first. I plan to sneak into the caravan. He stares and indicates he wants to come along. I hug his neck and he closes his eyes, enduring my embrace. Since being without Papa, there is no one to hug me. But luckily I have Brother Wolf, who allows me to hug him even if he can’t hug me.
We two sneak into the caravan camp. It’s a small caravan with at most 10 people. I’ve never seen such a small caravan, leading me to wonder what their business could be. My delay due to pondering this caused the impatient Brother Wolf to nip me in the butt. I turn in angry embarrassment and pinch his ear. He realized I was genuinely angry and cocked his head, eyes wide in confusion. I let out a resigned sigh. The great and awesome King of the Wolves is here with me skulking about, so I’ll be the bigger person and let this one go. I warn him sternly not to touch my butt, or else I won’t let him eat roast meat. I return to scoping out the caravan.
A large black-robed Han man takes out a wheelchair. Another purple-robed man opens the door to a carriage, letting a flash of white hit my eyes. The white is not blinding like the snow, but is instead very warm and soft, akin to shading the yellow Autumn moonlight with a touch of white. A young man’s face becomes visible. His features are as clear as surface of a calm river, his form elegant like the magnolia tree. He sat there quietly but I felt like a brilliant moon had passed over the Sky Mountain and a spring breeze blew through the desert.
Transferring between the carriage and the wheelchair, the young man almost tumbled when the wheel slipped in the desert sand, but he stabilized the wheel and got on safely. The black-robed man shot others a glance so no one offered to help. What was normally a quick move took the young man a few minutes, but he remained smiling. Despite almost falling, his actions were elegant to behold, letting off an aura that he’s not going to give up.
He looked up at the mountains and the nearby spring, both of which have remained standing in this desert despite the passage of thousands of years of time. The views I see everyday suddenly feels calmed by the addition of his white-robe. I guess even the vistas can be lonely.
I was staring so intently at him that I nearly forgot my purpose. I jolted myself with a reminder, followed by doubt about whether I should steal or not. I decided there was no reason not to steal, plus this young man will surely attract everyone’s attention, giving me a prime opportunity.
The black-robed and purple-robed men are like twin towers standing behind the young man. Others hurried around setting up camp. I gestured for Brother Wolf to stay as I snuck over to the camels. I wanted to see what they were selling to decide if I needed anything. The salt I will have to wait until they start cooking to discover where it’s being kept.
The caravans in the Gobi Desert always use camels and I’m already used to being around them. I’ve never failed before with the stealth tactics I learned in the wolf pack. But I had forgotten about the horse used to pull the carriage, which had been released from the harness and was off eating grass. As I snuck near the camels, the horse suddenly let out a whine. I couldn’t believe this horse knew strategy, as it allowed the enemy to get close before alerting to its presence.
The two big men rushed to protect the young man while others surrounded me. I glared at the horse, which appeared to be amused. I decided to settle my score with it later and try to escape first. I rushed away when Brother Wolf suddenly appeared and blocked two big men from chasing me.
As Brother Wolf and I ran away, suddenly a gentle lazy drawl rose from behind me “If the young miss is sure she can outrun my cocked bow with seven consecutive arrows, then go ahead and try.”
I slowed and stopped for a few steps, while Brother Wolf ran back and growled low at me. He didn’t know the danger we were in. I furrowed my brows to indicate the he should run away. I turned to protect him.
The young man, holding an intricate small bow, lowered it when he saw me stop and turn. The purple-robed man pointed to the wolf logo branded on every camel and said “Are you blind or a courageous idiot? Daring to set upon us? Even the desert thieves stay far far away from from us.”
Brother Wolf had turned agitated because I wouldn’t leave. He jumped in front of me and held a vicious attack pose, ready to strike at any moment. They realized Brother Wolf was a genuine wolf and not a wolf dog, raising their alarm since wolves travel in packs. A pack of wolves can decimate any caravan. Too bad I was rash and decided to sneak in with just Brother Wolf in tow, with the rest of the wolf pack too far away to arrive in time even if called.
The young man raised his bow towards Brother Wolf, but his eyes remained fixed on me. I scrambled in front of Brother Wolf “Please don’t….hurt him, it’s me…..it’s my idea to steal from you……not him.” Since returning the pack, other than overhearing people talking in caravans, its been three years since I spoke with a human. I talked constantly to Brother Wolf, but perhaps I was nervous, because my words now come out in a stutter.
The young man gently asked “Just one wolf?” I thought with annoyance – if it was more than one, would I allow you to ask me all these questions. I quickly decided whether to lie or tell the truth, but recognizing that he didn’t appear easily lied to. My feminine instinct indicated that he already knew the truth, and just wanted reassurance for the people around him.
“Just……this one.” My words relaxed everyone, who turned to look curiously at us, wondering how I could be companions with a wolf. The young man put down his bow and told me to control my wolf. I nodded and indicated to Brother Wolf to wait for my signal to attack. I asked the young man “So which arm are you going to cut off now?” I once overheard travelers discussing how they would cut off the arm of a thief as a warning.
The purple-robed man asked what I wanted to steal? I looked at my tattered skirt, compared to the exquisite clothes on the white-robed young man, and muttered “I want…..I want….a skirt.” The purple-robed man asked disbelievingly if that was all. I added that I also wanted salt. He humphed, promising ways to get me to tell the truth.
The young man cut him off “Please go bring the outfit that was given as a present. Then take out what salt we need for today, and give the rest o her.” The purple-robed man’s expression changed “Jiu Ye…..” [Ye is an honorific to mean lord, master, or sire – Jiu Ye thus means 9th Master.] He quieted once the young man gave him a look. Soon a man brought out a light blue outfit and handed it to me. I dumbly received it, and also accepted a small can of salt. I stared at the young man.
He smiled lightly and said “We are all men in this group, without any female clothing, except for this one. When we passed through Luo Lan, a friend gave it to me. I hope you like it.” I touched the fabric, which was as soft as a lambskin. This must be expensive silk, and knowing how precious this gift was, I ought to decline it. But I couldn’t and nodded my head sheepishly in accepting it.
He told me to leave. I paused and gave him a bow before taking off with Brother Wolf. A horse whine from behind caused me to turn back and glare at that horse. But I had accepted something, whereas Brother Wolf could care less about niceties. He turned back and let out a howl. The camels all collapsed, and while the horse didn’t collapse, it was quite nervous.
I let out a happy laugh. Without teaching it a lesson, the horse would believe it was a king of the desert. Brother Wolf leads tens of thousand of wolves, how dare the horse try to outsmart us. Perhaps it was the sound of my unbridled laughter, but the young man stopped and stared at me. His stare caused me to turn red and I quickly stopped laughing. He also quickly averted his gaze. He teasingly looked at Brother Wolf “This horse might not be a prize winner, but it was handpicked as a solid steed. Supposedly it can battle leopards and tigers, but perhaps that was just a baseless boast.”
I respond “Perhaps it’s not a baseless boast. The average leopard and tiger can’t even compete with my Brother Wolf.” I finish talking and hurry Brother Wolf away with me. He was staring at that solid steed with a tasty expression. If we don’t leave now, who knows what new mess will arise.
We walked far before I turned back to look. In the distance the white robe became an unforgettable sight in this desert. Regardless of whether he could still see me, I heartily waved goodbye before entering the mountains.
It’s only Brother Wolf and I next to the fire, the other wolves being afraid of the flames. Brother Wolf used to be afraid but I trained him to get used to it. The other wolves didn’t have the courage. My forcing the other wolves to get used to the fire only added to my terrible reputation amongst the wolf pack. I became the spooky warning mother wolves told their recalcitrant baby wolves who wouldn’t go to sleep at night. Hearing that they might be handed over to me, even the brattiest baby wolves dutifully did as they were told.
I opened the skirt, marveling at the dye used to get this magical blue color. The workmanship was exquisite, with intricate clouds embroidered on the sleeves. There is a sash draped with little seed pearls. Wearing it and walking, the sash and pearls will show off the elegant turn of the waist. The Luo Lan females must always wear a veil year round, so this outfit came with an accompanying blue face veil and a pearl band to secure the veil on the head. At home when the veil is not needed, it can be lifted behind the head and create another new look, with the black hair a contrast to the pearl band and the blue veil.
I ask Brother Wolf “Isn’t this skirt too expensive a present? Why did that Jiu Ye give such a gift to a stranger? All these years and I haven’t changed my inability to turn down pretty things….” Used to my nattering, Brother Wolf had already closed his eyes and gone to sleep.
I pinched his ears but he didn’t stir. I stop my grousing and curled up next to him, drifting off into deep slumber.
Another full moon night has arrived. I always wondered why wolves howl when it’s the full moon, which usually scares the living daylights out of desert travelers hearing the reverberating howling of the wolves. Under the blue-black night sky, the moon shines like water on the endless desert waves, bathing it in silver white light. I’m wearing my most precious blue skirt and ambling alongside Brother Wife.
The blue skirt hem moves with my footsteps, up and down, and the veil secured by the pearl head band billows in the wind. I take off my shoes to feel the still vaguely warm sand. The warmth seeps through my feet into my heart. Watching the endless horizon, I sudden have this sensation that the world belongs to me. I can extend my wings and be free here. I face the moon and let out a howl, and Brother Wolf immediately joins me. From the distance countless wolves start howling as well.
I think I finally understand why wolves howl at the moon. The moon belongs to us, the desert belongs to us, loneliness and arrogance and sadness, it all is released in the long howl towards the moon.
Brother Wolf and I find a resting stop high up. He plops down and surveys the entire desert. This belongs to him, he is the King of this domain. Even though I’ve a bellyful of wistful thoughts, I don’t want to disturb him right now. I sit down behind him and look up to enjoy the moon.
Brother Wolf sudden lets out a low growl. I look towards the distance but my eyes and ears are not sharp like his. From what I see it is still just calm in the desert.
After some time, I gradually hear a sound approaching in the night air. It’s coming closer, like a thousand horses thundering. Brother Wolf scoffs at me, indicating it’s not that many people. More time later, I can gradually make out a small caravan of ten or so people in the front with about one or two hundred riders in pursuit. It doesn’t look like an army, so it must be a band of thieves.
Brother Wolf looks annoyed these people disturbed his placid desert, but he lowers his head, not wanting to fight or get involved. The wolves have their wolf code, one of which is not attacking humans unless there is a dire necessity due to a food shortage or for self defense. Not because wolves are scared, but just to avoid more trouble.
I put on my shoes and fix my veil. Supposedly once the thieves set their sights on a caravan they are relentless. This battle outcome is obvious, especially with the number differential. Two caravan riders have already been cut down, their bodies trampled by horses that continue to pursue the rest.
Suddenly a horse is cut by a thief and the rider falls to the ground. Another rider turns back and pulls the fallen rider on the same horse and continues on with the speed now slowed down considerably. The fallen rider tries to get off, but the rescuing rider looks annoyed and chops the fallen rider’s neck with his hand, causing the fallen rider to go limp on the horse.
My eyes seem to be clouded by a veil of blood lust, and my nostrils seem to smell the sweet wetness of blood. Three years ago, the thundering sound of hooves, once again returns to my ears. I can’t help but stand up and blankly stare down.
Yu Dan and I are riding the most powerful horse in the entire Xiong Nu. After riding for two days and two nights, we still haven’t reached the Han dynasty or shaken the pursuers. Yu Dan’s guards slowly die one by one, until it’s just the two of us left. I’m afraid I will soon fall off the horse, not sure if it will hurt to be trampled under their hooves. Yi Zhi Xie, do you really want to kill Papa and us? If you kill Papa, I will hate you forever.
“Yu Jin, I am going to prick the horse flank with this knife and it will have a burst of speed. Once I shake the pursuing army, I will let you off the horse and you escape alone. When you were a child, didn’t you live in this desert like a wolf? You need to become a wolf again, you need to escape from the hunters behind us.”
“What about you? Papa told us to escape to the Central Plains together.”
“I have a horse! I can run faster than you. After I reach the Central Plains, I will come back for you.” Yu Dan smiles his usual broad smile. I look at his smiling face and suddenly become afraid. I keep shaking my head no.
Yu Dan forces me off the horse. I chase behind him in the desert, crying and wailing loudly “Please don’t leave me behind. Let’s escape together.” Yu Dan turns back and begs me “Yu Jin, please just let listen to me this once. Just listen to me one time. I promise to come back and retrieve you. So please start running away!”
I stare at him for a second before taking a deep breath and nodding my head vigorously. I turn and start running like crazy. Behind me Yu Dan turns his horse in the opposite direction. Turning around, under the moonlit darkness, the distance between us increases. He turns around to look at me, smiling as he waves at me. In the end we disappear separately into the darkness of the desert.
All I remember is that the horse ran very fast. But I forgot that the horse had already been running for two days and two nights, and was also bleeding. How long can it last? Plus the scent of the blood would lure those chasing after us to continue pursuing him, unaware that I had already run off alone.
The thieves appear to enjoy this game, not attacking directly but circling the caravan and enclosing everyone. Seeing this, I made a sudden decision. This time I would change the fates. I shoot Brother Wolf a look and let out a howl into the distance. Brother Wolf got up and shook himself off and then let out a howl towards his pack.
Suddenly howls arose everywhere as wolves began to appear one by one. More and more appear until their eyes in the darkness appear to be the lights leading the way to hell. Not sure which ethnicity the thieves are, but I don’t understand their language. They quickly stop encircling the caravan and gather together to look for a way out. But the wolves have surrounded everyone. The wolves look at them, with the thieves unwilling to attack knowing the relentless battle to come.
The caravan group also assembles, and even though the numbers are small, it’s clear they have a strong desire to survive. I start to suspect my initial assessment. Facing deadly thieves and fierce wolves, how can a regular caravan of merchants gather together so efficiently?
The howling has stopped and the thieves have also fallen silent. In the silence, there is irony, knowing that the hunter thieves have so quickly become the prey. They are probably thinking about using fire, but there are no kindling nearby.
The thieves are about to light a fire when I pat Brother Wolf on the back. “Looks like they don’t want to kill anyone anymore. Let the pack open a path for them to leave.” Brother Wolf puts on his most powerful stance and orders the pack to clear a path.
Initially in the confusion no one saw us standing up high, but when Brother Wolf let out a howl to order the pack, everyone turned towards us. Brother Wolf boldly walked forward until he was standing at the ledge and looking down on everyone. His proud stance, with his glittering silver fur, gave off a powerful aura.
I angrily kick him, knowing how he loves to show off. Ay, who knows how many female wolves’ hearts will be broken right here tonight.
The pack has already opened a path but the thieves remain rooted to their spots, staring as us and then at the pack. I got impatient and yelled in Han language “Already gave you a chance to live, why haven’t you taken it and left?” The thieves are silent for a moment and then let out a whoop, getting off their horses and bowing down to us on their knees. I realize the thieves are both afraid of the wolves but also in awe of the wolves’ prowess. The thieves get back on their horses and follow the path to leave.
After the dust settled, I howl towards the wolf pack, telling them to disperse and keep doing whatever they were doing. They don’t respect me like they do Brother Wolf, so they humph at me and bare their teeth a bit before dispersing. To a human’s ears, it was probably a lot of randomly howling.
I look at the caravan and have no desire to converse with them. I signal Brother Wolf and we get off the cliff and take off. Suddenly I hear horse hooves behind me “Thank you, young lady, for saving our lives.” I nodded my head but kept on running, hoping to lose them.
“Young lady, please wait! After being pursued by the thieves, we’ve lost our way. Can you give us directions?”
Hearing this, I ask Brother Wolf to stop and turn to face them. Their horses refuse to get closer when Brother Wolf is here. I walk forward and they quickly get off their horses. With my Luo Lan outfit, they perform a Luo Lan formality towards me, asking me in Luo Lan language how I am doing. I take off my veil “I’m wearing a Luo Lan outfit but I am not a Luo Lan citizen. I also don’t understand their language.”
A man asked “You are a Han” I thought about it. Am I? Papa said his daughter must be a Han person, so I supposed I am a Han. I nod my head.
A voice spoke up from the back “We are spice merchants from Chang An. May I ask where, young lady, you are from?” Looking towards him, I recognize that he was the person who did the saving (turning the horse around to rescue the fallen rider).
To my surprise, he turned out to be a young man of sixteen or seventeen. His physique is as straight as a reed, with a strong masculine aura. Sharp eyebrows followed by dark eyes that shine like the stars are currently studying me. He smiles, with an expression like he doesn’t have a worry in this world. I avoid his piercing gaze and look at the ground.
He can sense my discomfort, but he continues to just stare at me without a care. A middle aged man next to him steps up and laughs “Our utmost gratitude to you. Young lady, with your rich attire and uncommon presence, normally we ought not offer shallow material gifts, but we happen to have a pair of pearl earrings that would be a great complement to your outfit. If you don’t mind.” He puts a box before me.
I shake my head “I have no use for this. If you have any female clothes, I could use a set.” The men turn and give each other looks. “If you don’t have any, that’s fine. Where do you want to go?” The middle aged man spoke “We want to go to Dun Huang city, and from there return to Chang An.” I inform them “From here until the Min Sa Mountain Yue Ya Spring is a four day trip. I will lead you only to there.”
Everyone looks concerned and worried, with the exception of the young man, who continues to look at me with a self-satisfied half smile on his face. The middle aged man explained that they lost most of their provisions, so their supply might not last until reaching the Yue Ya Spring. I explained my estimate was my travel time. Since they have horses, we can cut down one or two days time. Everyone looks relieved.
They decide to rest now and eat, replenishing their energy after being chased by thieves for a day and a night. They ask my opinion. “I spend all day wandering this desert. I have nothing to do, so do what you wish.” I secretly was shocked at how this small band of people were chased by thieves for one day and one night. If the thieves weren’t more familiar with the terrain, who knows which party will be victorious.
I ordered Brother Wolf to leave, but make sure a few small wolves trail me. He didn’t understand my weird relationship with humans, so he just licked my hand before bounding away.
The caravan takes out food and water, while I sit a distance away, wrapping my arms around my knees on the sandy dune. There are many people, but an awkward silence pervades. I can sense they are not an ordinary merchant caravan, but that has nothing to do with me. I care not to probe into who they really are. Plus they are slightly apprehensive about me, not sure if it’s because I am with the wolves, or because my identity is suspicious. I’m wearing a lavish Luo Lan outfit, appearing in the Xi Yu desert but claiming to be a Han person, without any explanation of where I came from.
The man who wanted to give me the earrings walked over and offered me a biscuit. The delicious scent caused my mouth to water and I shyly accepted it and thanked him.
He laughed “It is us who need to thank you. You can call me Uncle Chen.” He pointed around and started introducing everyone. When he finished introducing everyone except one, he looked toward the silent young man sitting before us, who didn’t speak immediately. I shot him a wary look and he gave a small smile and said “Call me Xiao Huo.”
I saw everyone smiling and staring at me. “My name is Yu…….Jin Yu. You can call me Ah Yu.” Other than running into Jiu Ye near the Yue Ya Spring, this is the only other time in three years I’ve interacted with humans. As my name was coming out, I decided to give myself a new one. From now on, there is no Yu Jin, there is only Jin Yu.
After resting, the caravan readies to leave. They let two smaller people ride one horse and give one to me. “I don’t know how to ride a horse.” Everyone looks at me until Xiao Huo speaks up “You can ride with me!” After he said that, everyone looks at me in alarm.
I hesitate, and then nodded my head. Everyone’s worried look disappears, but they shoot me apologetic looks. Even though the people of the Xi Yu region are more open, an unfamiliar man and woman sharing a horse is still rare. Xiao Huo appears to be fine with it, only smiling at me and bowing “Thank you, Ms Jin Yu!”
After Xiao Huo gets on the horse, he pulls me up. As I hold his hand, I think to myself that this is a hand that holds a sword and whip on a daily basis, with deep callous. From it comes a sense of strength and determination, and from where his callous is, this man must have practiced archery for many years. Sitting behind him on the horse, our bodies are ramrod straight. Others looking at us know they can’t hurry us along, so the pace progresses slowly.
Xiao Huo finally spoke up “We can’t be like this. If I shift the horse, you’ll fall down for sure.” Even though his words appear casual, his voice with a hint of nervousness betrays him. I secretly smile and my awkwardness turns into teasing him for being not as sure of himself as he appears. I shift a little and reach out to grab his clothes. “This will do.”
He immediately urged his horse into a gallop and so did everyone else. After awhile, he suddenly mumbled in a low voice “You’ll have to think of another way. If you keep tugging on my clothes, I will enter Dun Huang city with my arms bare.”
I actually already realized that I was tugging his clothes down, and purposely wanted to see what he would do about it. All I did was prepare for the possibility of falling off the horse. I tamped down the urge to laugh and said “Why do I have to think of a solution? Why can’t you think of one?”
He laughs softly “I do have a solution, but if I say it, you’ll think I’m taking advantage of you. Which is why I asked you for a solution.”
I replied “I don’t have any good ideas, so tell me yours. If it’s good we’ll do it, if not then you’ll just end up with a bare arms!”
He didn’t say a word, suddenly turning around and grabs my arms, wrapping it around his waist. I’m not comfortable on a horse so I don’t dare make any big struggle. What he did forced my entire body forward until I was pressed completely against his back. With that, he was holding one of my arms while my other arm went around his waist. With the movement of the horse causing our bodies to be tightly pressed against each other, it was as intimate as could be.
My ears started to burn up. With embarrassment and outrage, I held his waist but straightened my body. “Is this how you Chang An people treat a person who rescued you?” He answered with annoyance “It’s better than letting you fall off a horse.” I can’t find a proper retort so I just give a cold humph and sat there silently. But my anger continued to boil, so I tighten my arm to choke his waist. But he acted like there was nothing different, only purposefully urging the horse on. I thought to myself, this guy sure can endure pain. And after awhile, I felt bad and slowly released my hold on him.
Once again riding a horse with someone, my mind started to drift. Plus I didn’t sleep last night, so like I did when I was small, I instinctively grabbed Xiao Huo’s waist and rested my head against his back as I fall sleep. When I suddenly woke up, my face is burning hot and I immediately straighten my body and want to let go of him. He can sense my intention, only holding down my arm even more firmly “Be careful and don’t fall down.” I force my embarrassment away and pretended nothing is wrong, slowing letting go of his waist. But inside I feel this inexplicable feeling.
After a day of hard riding, we stop for a rest. Xiao Huo sees me with my head lowered and not talking. He walks over and sits down next to me. He smiles “I see that you are a very perceptive person, so why do you trust me so much? Aren’t you worried I would sell you?”
My face turns red again and I glare at him. I get up and move elsewhere to sit down. It is odd. I can tell their identities are suspect, but I have this gut feeling that he won’t harm me. This person’s proud arrogance means he wouldn’t do anything underhanded.
Xiao Huo brought some food over and sat down next to me again. He passed me some biscuits. I gave him a warning glance and silently accepted the food. The little bit of caution in his eyes also dissipate, leaving only a twinkling gaze.
Due to missing their homeland, the folks start discussing life in Chang An, painting it as wondrous and lavish. With wide clean streets, great artisans, bustling markets, talented scholars, seductive performers, courageous generals, elegant ladies, fragrant wine, and delicious food. The best of everything on earth can be found in Chang An. It’s like everything one could possibly want is right there.
I listen intently with conflicting emotions. That place feels familiar yet foreign. If I follow Papa’s wish, perhaps I would already be living there with Papa right now, and not wandering the Gobi Desert all alone.
When there are a lot of people, Xiao Huo doesn’t talk much. He just silently listens to everyone’s descriptions. Only when we are alone on the horse does he say to me “The Chang An they describe is the glittering side of it. Not everyone experiences the wonders they describe.” I indicated that I understood what he is trying to convey.
Two days later, we say our farewells at the Yue Ya Spring. I suddenly have a new idea. When they want to thank me again, I boldly ask them for money, as payment for leading them here. Xiao Huo stops for a moment and then smiles. He tossed a bag of coins to me. It looks like he wants to say something, but he doesn’t. He finally tells me “Chang An is not like Xi Yu, you have to be careful.” I nodded and left with the bag of coins I earned in hand.
After walking a distance away, I finally give in and turn back around. I thought I would see a departing back, but to my surprise he didn’t leave. He sat on the horse, watching me off from a distance. Our eyes met and his face registered the look of happy surprise. My heart thumped, and then I quickly turned my head and hurried off.
Since separating from Xiao Huo’s caravan, I followed the wolf pack from the Gobi to the great grassy plains, and from the plains back to the desert. At night I would hold the pack of coins, lost in thought. I will miss Brother Wolf and the wolves, the yellow sandy desert, the verdant land and the Hu Yang Forest. But am I to spend the rest of my life living here with these wolves? Just like Papa said, I am a human, I cannot be a wolf anymore.
After much deliberation, I decided to leave. Brother Wolf’s life will have peaks and valleys, with innumerable challenges in the future. Perhaps the largest wolf kingdom in the history of the Xi Yu territory awaits him. But my life is just starting. My chance to live was hard to come by. So no matter if the future holds sour or sweet, spicy or bitter, I decide to taste it. Just like those herding songs sing about, a precious blade needs sharpening and a great set of pipes need to keep singing. A life without any experience is sure to be dreary, like a night sky without any stars.
I want to go to Chang An, to see the Han dynasty Papa spoke so much about. Perhaps I can become the beautiful Han lady of Papa’s dreams.