The Southern Outpost at Tianshan – Dragon War in the Wilderness, Part 4


This time I will finish volume 1 of Yi Huang’s Dragon War in the Wilderness (黃易的“龍戰在野”).  We pick up where we left off with Longying fighting Can Shichan’s men in a snowy forest.  Longying nearly wipes out the whole group since his opponents don’t have great skill in martial arts.  Can is panic stricken, and he and his men flee for cover.  Longying uses his undulating technique to continue fighting, and this chapter gives a detailed description of the fight, including the various weapons the men use such as the lances and axes, spraying blood and wounds and casualties.  Someone starts shooting at Longying, and his horse swiftly carries him to safety.

Three days later, Longying enters the Tianshan Mountains, where the weather is turning warm and damp.  He travels through a grassy plain and thinks of Huang Yuanwu, who went to Tianshan to look for a tribe.  Along the way, he notices the herdsmen’s white yurts, smells the scent of sheep’s milk tea, and sees cows and sheep grazing as well as herds of wild horses, deer and rabbits.  He is far from the war here.

Then he comes across a lone person along the side of the road who doesn’t seem to be a member of the enemy’s group, yet he makes Longying uneasy and suspicious.  He concludes there is something demonic about this man.  He stops to talk with the man, who seems to know who he is and who Can is.  The man’s name is Futai, and he tries to correct Longying’s negative impression of him. Futai spent 3 years in religious seclusion, and he wants to team up with Longying, who is adamantly against such an alliance.  Futai concedes that Longying wouldn’t trust him easily.  They seem to part on amiable terms.

The next day, Longying passes through Tianshan, taking a path Futai recommended to him.  This part has a very beautiful description of the landscape, including the way a burst of wind sends snowflakes in all directions.  Nearly losing his footing, Longying becomes disoriented and gets lost.  He waits out the snow on a high hillock, thinking of Futai, and decides to move on to the mountain’s southern outpost where there is a large and famous inn that Futai recommended to him.

When he arrives at the large hall, he enters and is hit with the scent of sheep’s milk tea, roasted meat, biscuits and body odor.  The room has 15 tables full of around 200 people, so the atmosphere is lively.  The host is a man sitting at a table with more than ten young, pretty women.  Longying doesn’t understand all of the varieties of languages being spoken, but a woman grabs the front of his robe, stopping him as he enters.  She is an “evil” Huihe woman who speaks to him in Turkish or some mixed dialect of it, demanding money before he has even come in the door.  He tries to stall her for time.  The woman is pretty but has an evil expression.  She calls him a poor Han devil and wants his pack.  They get in a little scuffle since she wants what apparently is the entrance fee.  He slips through the crowd to another table where two Han are sitting.  One of them is holding a small cord over the flame in the lamp at the table in some kind of contest.  The cord snaps, and one of the men wins.

A young woman in a red dress with red hair and green eyes approaches the winner of the contest with a basket for payment.  The evil Huihe woman also appears near Longying looking for her money, too.  He can’t seem to get away from her, and she grabs at his neck, then pulls him forward by the belt and pushes on his shoulders.  In response, he kisses her hand to embarrass her enough to leave him alone.  She is startled and backs away.  He teases her about giving her the money.

After he gets away from the Huihe woman, Longying sits down across from a warlord named Bozhen, who saw how he resolved the conflict with the Huihe woman and now has an idea of Longying’s character. The people in the hall around them are gambling, and they’re quite rowdy.  The woman in red, Shanxin, comes up beside the table with her square basket and challenges Longying in Chinese to some kind of gamble.  After some time staring at Longying, Bozhen suggests they play the burning string game, and Longyin and Bozhen joke around with Shanxin a little.  He realizes as they talk that the southern outpost is under Huihe control with the Turks running amok.  Thinking a bit about Futai, he wonders why the strange man directed him to a place with such fearsome people.

280px-west_tian_shan_mountains

The Tian Shan Mountains, Photo by Chen Zhao

In the next chapter, Bozhen invites Longying to be their guest for the night.  As they talk, Longying notices a round table near the wall with seven or eight people at it, including an attractive woman of about forty dressed like a noble and the very handsome, elegant man with her.  Longying does give Bozhen the few strings of cash that he does have, which is far less than he owes, then he talks a bit with another man Jie Tianxing, though Longying himself is going by his real name at the outpost, which is Xiaopu.   Jie explains this is a festival, and he offers him one of the women who hang around him, but Longying sees Bozhen waiting for him at the door, chatting with some Turkish peddlers.  He declines Jie’s offer, saying he has other matters to attend to and excusing himself.

When he gets to the door where Bozhen is waiting, he feels the cold wind blowing, and he looks into the large courtyard just outside of the hall where the guest rooms are located.  At the center of the courtyard is a canopy over a stove where a number of Han are roasting a deer that Bozhen caught.  They go over to get some meat.  They talk about Shanxin and her horse.  Since Longying thinks about Snow while they are discussing this, it seems she also has a strong bond with a horse, and something happened to the horse.  Longying realizes he said something foolish when he was joking with her.  He asks what happened.  Bozhen explains that Shanxin is Kyrgyz, that the men tattoo their hands while the women tattoo their necks and backs after marriage.  The men are afraid of their women because they are so shrewish.  This part seems fairly out of place in the text, but here’s a quick take on the Kyrgyz people:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyrgyz_people

Apparently, raiders kidnapped Shanxin’s horse five days earlier and gave her a ransom note asking for money within three days.  She was heartbroken since the ransom was so high.  Now she’s now afraid her master will return and discover what happened.  Longying seems reluctant to get involved since he considers the Turks murderers, but Bozhen tries to reassure him.  It becomes important at this point that Longying is using his real name Xiaopu, not one of his aliases, which he doesn’t want to reveal to Bozhen because it could become a problem.

A Chinese man comes out of one of the guest rooms and goes across to the hall’s door.  Bozhen tells Longying this is Shanxin’s business partner, and they observe that Shanxin’s face turns pale when she sees him coming, knowing he isn’t bringing good news.  Shanxin then shows Bozhen a letter, and they talk about how the horse is being kept at a location within 100 li of the outpost.  They decide to start looking for the horse the next morning. Longying asks Shanxin what language the letter is in, and she says it’s a northern Gobi dialect, explaining that it tells them where the thieves will be taking the horse and at what time so they can exchange the horse for the ransom money.  Bozhen asks Longying to help with the exchange.

The door to the hall opens, and tens of people spill out into the cold, snowy night.  They look at Longying.  Bozhen sees them and tells Longying they are Shatuo tribesmen.  The discussion turns to someone named Shengdu and his assassination team.  Perhaps they are among the Shatuo men coming out of the hall, but I’m finding topics change abruptly in this story, and people move quickly from one place to another with lots of new names coming up in conversations, so I can’t quite break it down for you what the connection is.  They get into a fistfight because Longying gets offended, and the Shatuo man fighting with Longying is described in more ugly, less neutral terms at this point.  Everyone is surprised at Longying since the Shatuo is in Shanxin’s entourage and also because Longying’s fist was like a spear.  His fist ripped the man’s clothing and put a hole in his chest!

Some of the men try to help the Shatuo man Longying injured, and Longying tries to smooth over the situation by saying it’s easy to kill men but harder to save them.   Jie Tianxing appears and tells Longying that no violence is permitted at the southern outpost.  In reality, Longying had perceived a few of the men in that crowd were actually the enemy.  I’m wondering if Longying is using his undulation technique quite often during these mundane conversations to sense people in some fashion.  Bozhen and Shanxin only glare at the intrusion of Jie into the situation with his pair of women in tow. More people pour out of the hall.  They chat about some other characters who seem to have just popped up in the middle of the action, but it’s interesting that the women around Jie speak a mixture of Huihe and Turkish.  This is a very cosmopolitan area, and that’s also the general reputation of the Tang Dynasty as a whole.  The novel does reference the large number of dialects spoken quite a few times at this stage of the story, less so of course whenever it was describing Longying’s men at war.

The evil Huihe woman from earlier appears again to speak to the group.  It turns out her name is Cuiniang, and Longying continues to flirt with her – she seems more interesting to him than the other women at the outpost in spite of her sour demeanor.  Cuiniang accuses Longying of thinking she’s some sort of wanton slut.  She seems kind of offended that he’s even talking to Jie’s women and makes some suggestion that Longting should get together with Shanxin.  Shanxin asks her if she’s crazy and suggests Cuiniang is attracted to Longying!   He asks Cuiniang if he can give her a small kiss as a present before he leaves on his horse.  This ruffles Jie’s feathers since he has been trying to get Longying interested in one of the two women with him, but he changes the subject to the whereabouts of the kidnapped horse. Cuiniang angrily tries to pull Longying away to get something to eat, but Longying answers Jie’s question, sepculating that the horse could be hidden somewhere in the outpost.  Cuiniang warns them against robbery at night as Longying heads for the guest rooms.      

The novel then describes the guest room area, which is rather large with multiple buildings that have 200 guest rooms that can hold up to three people each, allowing for 600 guests to stay there.  It had been used by the Tang armies at one point.  The courtyard has a lot of verandas and pedestals, gardens, and so forth.  It does seem like a really comfortable place to stay with lots of nice features rather than a rugged, isolated fortress.  Then the conversation continues between the same set of characters, which seems to me to be a lot of bickering and teasing.  They just moved the location of their antics.  Longying actually tells Cuiniang she’s beautiful after they tease her some more about being in love with him,and they are also still trying to figure out where the horse could be hidden.

They get distracted by three men who pass through the second row moon gate.  At some point, Longying takes the opportunity to get close to Cuiniang and kiss her again, but  Cuiniang is of course a little scandalized by his behavior, reacting as if she were stung by an insect and pulling away from him.  Shanxin retires for the night, and Bozhen suggests Longying find some wine for them to share, though Longying doesn’t take him up on his offer.  As the rest of them say good night, Cuiniang grabs Longying. They stand at the end of a bridge and talk, and she pulls at his arm with both of her hands, wanting to know if he really is going out in the morning to look for what she calls a fake camel.  She probably means the stolen horse.  They talk for awhile, but he leaves her abruptly to go back to the hall.

Most of the tables in the hall are empty, and Longying gets a bowl of sheep’s milk tea just as he told Cuiniang he would.  Jie Tianxing appears, and Longying invites him to sit down.  During this conversation, they use different names.  Jie starts calling him Longying and introduces himself by his Turkish name, Ji Chenzi.   It’s all so complicated.  They end up talking about Can Shichan and his men.  When Ji leaves the hall, Longying’s old friend Huang Yuanwu enters with a Huihe general, Sheng Jiangyun, who takes the seat where Ji had been and mentions he had guessed he was Longying from Cuiniang’s description.

A familiar figure enters the hall as they are talking, and Longying is shocked.  It’s Futai, and he asks Longying to come with him immediately.  They go out of the outpost far enough to see thousands of Turkish troops coming out of the southern forest towards the outpost’s flatlands.  Longying suggests there is more than 10,000 of them and asks Futai what is going on.  The novel ends in the middle of their conversation, which does continue at the start of volume 2, which we will look at some next time since this story arc continues for at least a few chapters in it.

Below is another postcard that came with volume 2.  I assume it is Longying since he has a bow and arrow.

Longying Card0001

Postcard with Volume 2

Part four of a five part series.

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About Lady Xiansa

Lady Xiansa is a writer, linguist, artist, and dancer. She has been a core volunteer for the Silk Screen Asian Arts Organization since 2007 and has provided content for Pitt JCS anime events since 2011. She has taught both ESL and Beginning Korean. Her novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, won the Bronze Award for Young Adult Fiction E-book in the 2016 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards.
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