The first chapter in volume 2 of Da Mo Yao starts off with a bang. Sometimes I find myself re-reading this chapter and then giggling like a loon. It was brilliant of Tong Hua to up-end convention and have her alpha male be the titular second male lead in volume 1, which worked effectively to keep him under wraps until he can explode off the page and simply sweep Yu Er away. I was so over Jiu Ye in volume 1 until it got to the epilogue, and then I felt like he was a really pitiful character. But for him to finally see the light only after reading Yu Er’s diary is just flimsy, as if that girl wasn’t effectively communicating enough how much she liked him. C’mon dude, that was weak, she was fairly begging you to love her back. I dislike seeing Yu Er so pleading, when her nature is confident and carefree. I noticed in volume 1 that the only times Yu Er acted however she wanted was whenever she was with Huo Qu Bing. That’s quite telling, no? Now it’s time to see if those two can collide and combust outside the confines of Chang An and the shadow of Jiu Ye looming over them.
Chapter 17: Kidnapping
A pitch black sky blankets the earth, on the wide road there is just the sound of horse hooves reverberating. I sit in the carriage and stare towards the East, where the grand city of Chang An is becoming farther and farther from me. Some time later, the sun rises over the East, just a few slivers, but it’s already brilliant, shining life on the horizon.
Slowly, in the clouds dotting the sly, a fiery explosion happens. A red round sun bursts from the flames and rises. In moments it has surrounded the vista and eliminated the darkness. There is likely nothing more astonishing than a sun rise, and I’m stunned by this view outside the window. My lingering sadness dissipates and I raise my arms with a long howl, welcoming the arrival of a new day.
My howling causes the horse to almost stumble, but the driver rights it and we continue on our way. I laugh, thankful it was just one howl, anymore and I’d be in the dirt right now with an overturned carriage. The day arrives and there are more travelers on the road, so I leave the carriage roof and go sit with the driver. He’s a very hearty person, allowing me to sit there. He can tell I know martial arts, and hate being cooped up inside the carriage, so why am I not riding my own horse. I explain I’ve never learned to ride.
He pointed to Xiao Qian and Xiao Tao flying overhead, indicating I have a way with animals. If I practiced, he’s sure I’ll be a quick learner. As we head West, what was normally verdant land seems barren and run down, and I sigh about the ravages of war on the common people.
The driver sighed “Isn’t that the truth. We’ve fought two wars with the Xiong Nu in the past year, with over ten thousand soldiers dead. How many wives lost their husbands, mothers lost their sons. Add to that a famine and money going towards war, where are the common people getting money to survive. When the battles are won, only the powerful are rewarded, and the common people continue to suffer.”
I am pleased with how thoughtful he was, and he explained that he is learned and during his many travels now as a driver, he’s had the chance to meet many people and hear different points of view. I ask if it’s true that there has been cannibalism in the region, and he confirms it happened during the early Han dynasty history when there were deadly natural disasters.
I discuss how Emperor Qin Shi Huang built the Great Wall and sacrificed tens of thousands of men, leaving him reviled in history. But scholars now understand that without the Great Wall, the Xiong Nu would have breached the border long ago and many more people would have died as a result. But he asks why we must suffer now for the greater good of people who come after us. He also has a point and I cannot refute it.
I ask if he knows about the story of how a Shan Yu of the Xiong Nu tribe greatly insulted Dowager Queen Lu? After the death of the first Emperor of Han dynasty Liu Bang, the Shan Yu sent a letter to Liu Bang’s Queen Yu. He said that since they were both widowers, they might as well just make do as a couple for the rest of their lives. It was a grievous insult, but since the Han Empire was still in its infancy and weak at that time, Queen Lu had to swallow her outrage and shame to be thus propositioned.
Since then, the Hans have send their princesses to be married to the Xiong Nu leaders to keep the peace. The hundred years of peace was purchased by the Han at the price of their most precious daughters, as well as offerings of gold. Our Han warriors are no weaker than the Xiong Nu, why must we bow to them and continue to supplicate before them?
He sighed, lamenting that he’s old now. If he heard me talk as a young man, he would immediately enlist with the Great General Wei or General Huo to go fight the Xiong Nu. I laugh it off, telling him that I was merely playing devil’s advocate to what he said, and throwing some thoughts around for discussion. He commented that while I look confident, perhaps I haven’t made up my mind about life. I’m just happy I have him for company on this long road to talk with.
He tells me that to get to Xi Yu, the faster route is to Dun Huang city, then passing through Long Xi, on to Xiu Zai, Zhang Ye, and finally past Xiao Ye Shi. I hear the words “Long Xi’ and immediately tell him to not head there, even if we end up taking a longer way. I’ll even pay him more. He agrees and we bypass Long Xi and head directly to Liang Zhou.
When we arrive at Liang Zhou it is already completely dark. We find a clean inn to spend the night, with my requirements very low except for needing hot water and a big tub to take a bath. Life in Chang An is too comfortable, so three days on the road and I’m covered in dust and feel unbearable.
After changing water twice, I finally feel relaxed and clean. There are many hot springs outside of Chang An, but in the future I won’t have any hot springs to soak in. The hot springs in the Qing Estate……don’t think about it, don’t think about it, forget everything in Chang An.
Suddenly there was a gust of cold air that blew into the room. I notice the door has been opened a crack “Girl, don’t boil anymore water, I still have another bucket I haven’t used.”
The door closed with a sound. I picked up my silk sash with the gold bells and sent it flying to catch on the bucket of hot water. When the bells are released, I can’t seem to pull it back. I’m perplexed, what did it get hooked on? I remember telling the serving girl to put the bucket behind the paper screen so that I can retrieve it easily. How did it get stuck? I didn’t misjudge the location!
Without a choice, I decide to stop being lazy and walk over there to grab it myself. I stand up in the tub, but give the sash one more jerk for good measure. The hot water bucket doesn’t fly over, and instead the entire paper screen falls over with a resounding thud.
Huo Qu Bing is standing there, dressed all in black, his figure ramrod straight. He’s holding my gold bells in his hand, staring at me with an expression of frigid darkness.
I am so shocked that I stand there for a good second, before reacting and diving back into the tub with a horrified yelp. I was just thinking the water was getting cold, but now my body is on fire.
Thank god I asked for an extra deep tub earlier, so now with my body submerged it’s not as likely to be revealing anything. I huddle in the tub and stare wide-eyed at him.
His expression remains the same, his eyes staring directly at me without blinking. That kind of coldness, even across this distance I can feel the frost radiating from him. All my shame disappears under the piercing gaze of his frigid stare.
He’s really angry this time. No, He’s really, really, really angry this time. The angrier the other person is, the more I need to remain calm. When the enemy has the advantage, one can’t upset him more. Otherwise I don’t even know where to look to collect my bones.
I swallowed and forced myself to be calm “Don’t insult my vanity. Under these circumstances, you ought to have a man’s normal reaction. Either look at me lasciviously like a pervert, or try to be a gentleman and pretend to look elsewhere.”
His expression still remains unchanged, just giving me one more icy glare before he suddenly threw the gold balls towards my head. I’m afraid to catch it with my bare hands, so I grab a robe from next to me and send it flying towards the gold balls. In the air the two form a Z, and I manage to defuse the velocity with which Huo Qu Bing threw it at me. If his strength is correlated to his anger, this time he’s extremely mad.
After I retrieve the gold balls, I realize that the robe I grabbed was my night clothes. I lose my pretend cool and hurriedly pull the robe into the water, and I huddle even deeper inside the tub. The water has turned cold, the clothes are next to me, but I can’t put it on. I can only stick my head out of the tub and look around, finally giving Huo Qu Bing a pitiful look.
His sarcasm is biting “You want me to have the normal male reaction, why don’t you have the normal female reaction when a woman is caught in the bath by a man?”
Did he not think I was embarrassed? I was afraid of making him even more furious so I suppressed it, but now it comes right back out “Are you sure you want me to have the normal female reaction? You won’t stab me in the back afterwards?”
“It doesn’t feel good to stay in the cold water, does it?” He smirked.
I look at him, and suddenly start screaming “Help!…..Help!……There is a peeping tom…..a peeping tom……”
His looked stunned and his eyes are finally not just reflecting icy coldness. “Now you should have the normal reaction” I pointed my finger at the window “Under these circumstances, you ought to be escaping through there.”
Footsteps sound on the hallway outside and get closer. “Where is the peeping tom?” “The sound came from the inside room.” “But a 40 year old woman is staying there” “How do you know a peeping tom might not like an older flower” “Yeah, some might like my experienced allure, and what do you mean I’m 40?” “Stop arguing, we need to help the girl, a young one is staying inside so we should kick the door in.” “But if we kick the door in, we’re no better than a peeping tom, let’s knock first.”
I inadvertently laughed, the He Xi people are so different than the Chang An people. These folks are just like the cutest wolves in the wolf pack. Huo Qu Bing’s expression is weird and then he walks straight towards me. Before I can scream, he pulled me right out of the tub. My body is wrapped in a towel and then completely enclosed by a blanket.
I’m angry, and frustrated, and embarrassed and I rage “You’re shameless!”
The noise outside the door quiets. But before the door is kicked in, Huo Qu Bing does behave like a normal person ought to in this instance, and he jumps out of the window. But I’m not sure if carrying me as he jumped was normal or not?
The moment he left the inn, a soldier immediately walked up to him. Based on his dress, it’s not a low ranking soldier either. He averts his eyes, pretending that he’s not seeing or hearing the me that is heaved over Huo Qu Bing’s shoulder and currently screaming obscenities at him. He respectfully said “General, these are the two fasted mounts in Liang Zhou.”
Huo Qu Bing swings on the horse and tucks me into his arms. I stopped yelling at him, worriedly asking “Where are you going?”
“Going back to Long Xi. By dawn we should be able to take a bath and be relaxed eating breakfast on the streets of Long Xi.” He replied.
“Are you insane? I’m not going to Long Xi. My bags are at the inn, and my Xiao Tao and Xiao Qian. Let me go.” I squirm in the blanket like a silk worm, trying to sit straight so I can argue with him.
“Someone will deliver your bags. I’m in a rush so I have no time to mess around with you. If you don’t behave, I’m going to knock you out. You choose. Stay awake or get knocked out?”
His words are icy cold and hard as a rock, he is clearly not joking. I quieted for some time before looking for another avenue out “I’m not comfortable like this. I want to stick my arms out.”
“I’m quite comfortable with you like this. You arms are better behaved in the blanket. If you’re comfortable, that will mean I’m uncomfortable.”
“Huo Qu Bing, you are a horrible lascivious shameless……”
“Did you hear me? I called you a pervert. You’re also a……a jackass…..and a……muttonhead….” I threw out every single insulting phrase I had ever learned in Chang An.
When you are facing a brick wall, insulting and trying to punch it, but the brick wall has no reaction, in the end the end it’s myself that gets tired. I wearily and docilely rest in his embrace. The horse slowed down “I need to change horses” and before his words finished, he had jumped off one horse and onto another.
I was shocked “When you came, did you change horses like this?” “Yes.” “Aren’t you tired? Even the new horse is tired.” “When chasing the Xiong Nu army through the desert, not sleeping for three days and three nights is not uncommon. Chasing you is easier than chasing the Xiong Nu.”
I wondered “How did you get the news so fast?” He explained “Don’t forget that you are still in Han territory, and there are a lot of army bases in the He Xi region. Housekeeper Chen sent the fastest courier to bring your letter, which arrived in my hands that very evening. Tracking you took a bit of time, otherwise it wouldn’t have even taken three days.”
“That damn Hong Gu, not listening to my orders.” “She hasn’t even berated you, and you are yelling at her? How can a general desert the army, that is a capital offense.”
“I’m tired” and I brazenly tried to change the subject. “Close your eyes if you’re tired, you’ll be able to sleep well tomorrow” and he adjusted my position so that I was leaning on him more comfortably.
“This isn’t comfortable, I can’t fall asleep.” “You’re obviously not tired enough, if you were, you would be able to sleep even when riding a horse.” “Have you slept like that before?” “Yes.” “You won’t fall asleep right now?” “No.” “That’s fine. I don’t care if you tumble off a horse, just don’t let me suffer.” “Relax and sleep” His voice was calm, no longer angry or furious.
I huffed at him. Even though it wasn’t comfortable, I actually nodded off. It was almost sunrise when we arrived at Long Xi. He just tossed me on a carpet and left without saying a word. Ay, he’s still angry!
My body is sore, but I have no time to pity myself. I start plotting how to escape. The key is how to sneak away under Huo Qu Bing’s watchful eyes. Once I enter the desert, I will become like a speck of sand. No matter the person, no one can find me.
I rolled around on the ground and managed to untie the outer sash. I dragged the blanket around looking for something to wear, but there was nothing. No wonder he just tossed me down and left. I was hopping around like a rabbit when he returned. He had bathed and changed, though it was still all black. The somber color on him looks wild and powerful, making him even more handsome.
Is this man made out of steel? From Liang Zhou to Long Xi round trip and he doesn’t looked remotely tired. I stare at him “Are you giving me clothes to wear?”
He tossed a package on the pallet and then walked out without a word. Why was it a set of black men’s clothes? It even came with a white cloth to bind my chest. I railed at him for knowing even this. Even though this isn’t ideal, having something to wear is better than nothing. I sigh and start to dress.
It’s my first time wearing male attire, but I managed to put it on correctly. I walk around a few times and find myself rather charming. Huo Qu Bing has pulled open the door flap and is laughing at me “Fix your hair first before you start preening” reminding me that my hair is a mess.
Even though I can plait beautiful braids, I’ve never done a male hairstyle before. After trying for some time, I still can’t do it properly. Huo Qu Bing, who has been sitting behind me this entire time watching me, suddenly starts laughing. I violently use my hairbrush to hit his reflection in the mirror. If I can’t hit him, hitting his reflection takes out some of my anger.
He suddenly took the hairbrush from me, and before I can ask why, he’s already grabbed my hair and started combining the mess I made. His touch is gentle as he fixes my hair. Looking at the two of us in the mirror, this image seems so familiar. Many years ago, there was also a man who loved me that carefully brushed my hair and taught me to braid it. My nose started reddening and tears came to my eyes. I lowered my head and stared at the ground, letting him fix my hair and secure it with a jade circlet.
“There is still some time, I’ll take you to the streets of Long Xi to walk around and grab a bite.” He lightly said and didn’t wait for my response before walking out.
I ask if the chef in the army base isn’t good? “Any chef who cooks for me is the best in the Palace, but the little local Xi Yu dishes you like isn’t his specialty.” I take a few steps and suddenly grab his arm “Is Li Gan at this base?” He stared at me “He’s not here” and I’m relieved and let go of his arm. “What exactly did you do to Li Gan that makes you so guilty around him?” I retort “Nothing, I didn’t do anything to him that I need to feel guilty about.”
He looked at me but didn’t continue. As I walked, I continuously checked out the army base set up. Huo Qu Bing casually drawled “You seem to be quite energetic. Why don’t you think about what you want to eat. If I wake up tomorrow and can’t find you, I will order that every single army commanded by me change its food source to wolf meat. I will also request that all Xi Yu kingdoms and their citizens use wolf meat to welcome the Han army.”
I angrily spit out “You wouldn’t dare!”
He calmly said “Try me.”
I glare at him but he doesn’t seem to mind, instead smiling and walking forward. I continue to bore holes in his back. He walked further but didn’t turn around, though his footsteps seem to slow. It’s dawn and the Spring wind is mild. His figure, dressed in all black, doesn’t seem to fit with the Spring light, giving off a sense of isolation.
My heart softened and I hurried to catch up to him. When he heard my footsteps, he didn’t stop or turn around, but suddenly his figure seemed to blend into the warm Spring light. Even though I’m much shorter than him, but we’re still taller than most people walking on the streets. We’re suitable to be deemed dashing young men. Perhaps it’s my brilliant smile, and the contrast to his icy cold look, but all the ladies and girls keep staring at me. I smile when I meet their eyes, the older ones smiling back and the younger ones averting their eyes with a blush.
Strolling on the street, I’m having a great time. If Chang An was a place where people were open, then Xi Yu is a place were people are bold. A flower girl threw a bouquet of plum blossoms in my arms, causing everyone to laugh and tease her. I remember that I’m pretending to be a man, so I bow to the flower girl. Huo Qu Bing, who is still poker faced next to me, tosses some money to the flower girl. She huffs and throws it back to him “Who wants your money? That was my gift to that gentleman.”
It was likely the first time someone has angrily thrown money back at Huo Qu Bing, so he’s startled for a moment. The crowd chides him for not understanding the Long Xi people’s warmth. I drag Huo Qu Bing away and check out a few places before sitting down to eat. I see the forty-some lady owner and ask her for two bowls of fish noodles, but I call her big sister. She looks shocked and then pleased, smiling even more broadly when I give her the plum blossom bouquet. After we ate, Huo Qu Bing tried to pay but she refused to accept, saying she can afford to treat me to two bowls of fish noodles.
Since leaving the army base, Huo Qu Bing hasn’t said anything to me, but suddenly he starts to laugh “I never knew you had the ability to eat free food.” I proudly smile back at him.
He continues “You look like a boy when dressed like one, even when you walk you don’t resemble a girl. I can relax and let you stay in the army base, you can be my personal bodyguard.”
I sass back “You need to be careful. If you upset me, I can turn into your assassin at anytime.”
“Is Long Xi fun?” he asks, and I answer it’s fun. “If it’s fun, then it was worth coming. Can you stop being mad now?” I wearily reply “The legs are on my body, leaving is bound to happen. How long are you going to keep me here?”
He was silent for a moment “Until you lose all hope and don’t want to leave, or until I give up. Then I might let you go….or I might never let you go.”
I angrily kick the ground and shook my sleeve at me before stomping away. A Xiong Nu man was selling knives on the side of the street, in an area that is sparsely populated, and he’s not being very loud in soliciting customers. I was about to walk past when my eyes lit on something he was selling. I immediately turned back and he saw me staring at a knife. He put what he considered a good knife in front of me, but I just pick up a very uniquely designed knife. It was exactly like the knife I played with as a child. I ask him “Where did you get this knife?”
He stuttered and tried to explain in broken Han that he got it from someone, who got it from someone else. I sighed. During the commotion back then, who knew which guard got a hold of it and thus it passed out of the court. So many years later, through so many different hands, it’s back in mine. I ask how much to buy it, but he keeps wanting to sell me a better knife. Huo Qu Bing impatiently just tosses money at him, more than what he thinks it is worth. I tell the seller that this knife is worth much much more than that, so he should keep the money.
Most people would only see this intricately designed knife with a dull blade and think it is just a lady’s accessory. But they don’t know that it was a custom knife maker who was the best in the Xiong Nu world who crafted it. Years ago, the Crown Prince of the Xiong Nu summoned that man, who used all his skill, to make this knife.
I clicked on a trap button in the knife, and then remember my anger from last night, so I raise my head towards Huo Qu Bing and huff “Let’s see if you dare be mean to me again!” before stabbing the knife into my chest. The knife seller gasped and Huo Qu Bing’s face lost every ounce of color. He wrenched me forward but it was already too late. The entire knife was buried in my chest and all he could do was hold my collapsed body in his arms.
I snuck a peek at him, wanting to scare him for a bit longer, but his hands, his entire body, was shaking, and the trembling actually made my heart hurt. I hurriedly got up and pulled the knife out with a giggle. When my hand touched the knife tip, it completely retracted into the handle. “Did you suddenly turn into a moron? It’s not like you haven’t killed a person before. When the knife enters the heart, how could there be no blood?” He stared at me and then roared “I am indeed a moron!” before turning around and storming off.
I ran after him “Please don’t be mad. My mischievous side suddenly came out so I wanted to joke around with you.” He refused to talk to me and continued to walk quickly, so I just followed behind him continuing to apologize. But he wouldn’t even turn to look at me.
If he wasn’t so concerned about me, with his battlefield experience, how could he not have seen that it was a joke? I remembered how pale his face looked and I feel really terrible and guilty. I softly explained “I know you’re not mad that I was joking around with you. You’re mad that I took a risk with my life to play that joke. What if the knife hadn’t work liked I expected?” I sighed “This knife was a gift for me from a childhood friend. I used it to scare my Papa, how could I not recognize it? There is also a compartment inside that an hide fresh blood, so when you stab it in your heart, blood gushes out and makes it look real. When I saw the knife back there, all I could think of was my childhood, and my naughty personality from back then came back out. I can’t believe so many years later, I actually found a childhood toy on the street.”
Perhaps it was the first time he had ever heard me talk about my childhood, so Huo Qu Bing’s expression warmed a bit “You had a Papa?” I played with the knife in my hand “Did you think I was born this way? Of course I had a Papa who raised me.”
He was silent and then said “Having a father, sometimes its like not having a father.” I knew he was thinking of his birth father Huo Chong Ru, who got his mother Wei Shao Er pregnant out of wedlock which resulted in Huo Qu Bing. He refused to marry her and wed another woman. Huo Qu Bing grew up without a father, and until after Wei Zhi Fu married the Emperor that his mother was married to Chen Jang and became Mrs. Chen. It was then Huo Qu Bing had a father in name. I tried to change the subject and started chattering about this and that with respect to this knife. When I saw his face ease, only then did I relax.
When we returned to the base, he asked “Want to catch up on sleep?” I shook my head, I wasn’t sleepy anymore. He led me to the stables and a fourteen year old boy soldier came out with a horse “Li Cheng might be young but he is a skilled rider. You need to quickly learn to ride from him.”
I furrowed my brows “Not learning.” He furrowed his brows and silently stared at me.
Suddenly the sound of thunderous clapping reached us. He still stared at me silently, and I stared right back at him. The clapping got more and more urgent, and he finally sighed. He leaped on the horse and took off. I quizzically asked Li Cheng “Why did he take off?”
He looked at me like I was an idiot “The General has to go count the troops! In about three to four days, the army will be deploying for battle with the Xiong Nu.”
I wrinkled my nose and walked away, but Li Cheng quickly stopped me “General ordered me to teach you to ride a horse.” I retort “I’m not learning.” and want to walk around him, but he tightly grasped my arm “You must learn. If you don’t learn, I can’t fulfill my orders.” I rolled my eyes “So? What does that have to do with me?” He was starting to sweat “If I can’t finish, the General will have a bad impression of me. Then he won’t let me on the battlefield to fight the Xiong Nu.”
I sighed and tried to get him to release me, but who knew this little pipsqueak had this much strength. He pleaded with me “How can you not know how to ride a horse? The Xiong Nu are vicious. If you can’t ride a horse, if something happened you would be in danger. You would be a burden to everyone.”
My hand was about to strike his neck when it stopped. If something happened, the first person I would burden would be Huo Qu Bing “You’re still a kid. Why are not at home and here in the army?” His face stiffened “Last Fall, the Xiong Nu came to my city and killed my parents and sister.” I was silent and then slapped his shoulder “Little teacher, let’s go learn to ride a horse. But remember not to be impatient with me, or laugh at me, or call me stupid. Otherwise beware of my fist.”
He rubbed his eyes and nodded. From morning to noon until it was pitch black, other than having lunch and a short break, I learned to ride a horse. From the horse’s back to the ground, I repeatedly alternated between those two places. In the beginning he complimented me “Brother Jin, you may look like a dandy, but you are a strong feller.”
Gradually, his expression changed from admiration to awe to shock and finally to fear. Until the end, when he cried and begged me not to ride anymore. I stumbled into the tent, where Huo Qu Bing was studying a map. He saw my ragged state, raised his eyebrows and looked at Li Cheng. The kid cried and looked at me like I was a lunatic, explaining how I was coming along in riding. After Huo Qu Bing got the update, he smiled and asked Li Cheng to prepare a bath.
When Li Cheng took off, I immediately flopped on the pallet. My bones felt like it was about to collapse, and I was so weak I almost slid right on the floor. Huo Qu Bing sat next to me and touched my bruises “Does it hurt?” I kept my eyes shut and coldly huffed “Why don’t you take a couple dozen tumbles and let me know?”
He ordered me to turn around face down. “When you learn to ride for the first time, your back and waist will be sore. I’ll massage it for you.” In thought about it and turned around “Go light, my left shoulder really hurts.”
He lightly massaged my back and softly said “Riding a horse takes time to learn, why the rush? It’s like you want to learn to ride in one day.” I humphed “Who told me this morning to quickly learn to ride?” “I thought you wouldn’t do your best unless I said that.” I humphed again and didn’t respond. He continued “The army leaves tomorrow.”
I sat up in shock and turned my head to look at him “Leaving tomorrow? I just learned to ride fast, I can’t even turn or stop yet. If I’m not careful I’ll fall down. But….but I guess I can try. I think I’ll use a rope and tie myself to the horse so that I won’t fall off.”
Huo Qu Bing laughed at me “Stop being so insane. Who ever heard of a newbie learning to ride fast by the first day. You’re just using your martial arts skills to let that horse run wild, because you know you won’t die. If I let you tag along with the army, you’ll splinter the brigade. You don’t need to come with me, stay here and learn slowly.”
I gave him a questioning look and flopped back on the pallet “You’re not afraid of me running away?” He didn’t answer and a soldier brought a bath in. When the soldier saw me on the pallet, he pretended he didn’t see anything and quickly averted his eyes.
“Go wash! There are no maids here in the army, so just make do. If you care for it, I’d be glad to assist you.” and he pulled me up. I coldly huffed at him and then sauntered over to bathe, letting down the curtains.
“Yu Er, is something wrong with your mouth lately?” I was undressing and replied “What could be wrong?” “Instead of answering, you constantly humph and huff all the time, reminding me of a certain barnyard animal.”
“Humph!” I crawled into the tub and didn’t bother to respond. He laughed outside “Anymore humphing, and I’ll call you little piggy from now on.” I comfortably laid down in the tub and closed my eyes, letting my weary bones coalesce back together.
“Yu Er, stay here in the army and wait for me to come back. I’ll try my best to be fast. The quickest will be a few days, the longest will be ten days or more. I won’t let you wait too long.” I don’t respond so he continues “I hear wolf meat is really unappetizing. I don’t want to force myself to eat something disgusting.”
I loudly humphed “Since you already decided, why are you asking for my thoughts?” He called my name but then a soldier arrived announcing that a package was delivered, plus a cage with two pigeons. I immediately opened my eyes, my two little ones are finally here.
“General, everything in the inn has been brought here. The two pigeons have refused food and water since last night, and when we try to force feed them, they become vicious.” Those two little things, why are they that stubborn? After hearing this, I can care less about the hot water and quickly climb out to dry myself, rushing to go see them.
Huo Qu Bing said “No worries, they’ll be fine when they see their owner.”
“General, there is another matter. When we were leaving the inn, someone was asking around about the young lady staying in room number 2, and where she went……” The voice suddenly lowered and I tried to lean over to eavesdrop but couldn’t make out what they were saying anymore.
When I heard footsteps leaving the room, I rushed out “Xiao Tao, Xiao Qian, Xiao Yu is here!”
Crouched inside their cage, Xiao Tao and Xiao Qian both quickly got up. I opened the cage and let them out, seeing their food and water are still full. I put some seeds in my hands and Xiao Tao immediately started eating. Xiao Qian cocked his head at me, as if wondering why I abandoned them. I coax him to drink first, telling them not to blame me, blame HIM. I turned to give Huo Qu Bing a glare.
Huo Qu Bing walked over to me and watched them eat “Who knew these two pigeons were so emotional and stubborn. They would rather go hungry than eat from someone else.” I cleaned Xiao Tao’s feathers and laughed “Of course, in this entire world, other than me and Jiu…..” I stopped myself and took a deep breath, with a forced laugh “They only know me, they will not eat from anyone else.”
I wish I could smile more naturally, smile like I’ve forgotten everything. But I know I can’t, and my smile looks worse than crying. So I stop smiling and just quietly look at Xiao Tao and Xiao Qian eating their seeds. Huo Qu Bing suddenly stood up and walked to his table and lowered his head to look at the map.
I suddenly remembered earlier and asked “When my package was delivered, what was that about someone looking for me?”
Hup Qu Bing was drawing on the map and appeared not to have heard me. I asked again, and he responded without even raising his head “When you suddenly disappeared, the driver you hired was worried about you and looking for you.” I felt touched that he would worry about me.
Xiao Qian and Xiao Tao finished eating and returned to their cage to rest. I ask Huo Qu Bing “You didn’t rest at all yesterday, and you’re leaving first thing in the morning. Aren’t you going to sleep?” He tossed his brush and stretched “I do need to get a good night’s rest, otherwise it will be after this battle before I get another chance to sleep soundly.”
I yawned “Where am I sleeping?” He pointed to the inside room “You sleep in there, I sleep out here.” He ordered the room cleared and we went to bed. Laying on the pallet, I was about to think about all the crazy things that happened to me since yesterday, but I was so exhausted I just fell asleep immediately.
Right in the middle of a great sleep, I suddenly feel someone on the pallet, startling me awake. I immediately knew who it was and I turned around, facing outward. My eyes remained closed and I asked “What time is it? You’re leaving? But the sun hasn’t even come up yet?”
His low voice murmured “I’m leaving.” In the dark, his face comes closer and closer to mine, and I can feel his warm breath. My heart starts beating faster and faster, and I’m too scared to open my eyes. I keep my eyes closed and pretend I’m still half asleep.
“If you need anything, ask Li Cheng to get it done. Don’t be in such a rush to learn to ride a horse. Stay in the army base as much as you can. If you get bored then go find ladies to flirt with in the town. But remember always wear your male clothes.” I softly agreed and he didn’t say anything else, just silently sitting there looking at me.
After awhile, he lightly stroked my head “I’m off” and he stood up and walked outside. I couldn’t help myself and called out “Huo Qu Bing.” He turned around and looked at me. I slightly raised myself off the pallet “Please be careful.”
In the darkness came a smile as brilliant as the morning sun “I definitely will!”
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