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Tock tock tock, tock tock tock… In the rolling yellow sands of the great desert in the Muslim Region, the wind whipped the dust and stones high into the air. Two horses were galloping past, one in front of the other. The white horse in front had strong legs and a long body. On it rode a young married woman, who held a little girl, aged about seven or eight, tightly in her arms. The second horse was coloured a date red. On it crouched a man who was tall and thin.
An arrow protruded from the left side of his back. Blood flowed from his back onto the horse’s back, and then onto the ground. He did not dare to pull out the arrow, for he was afraid that he would succumb to the pain and die immediately. But who does not die? But then, who would take care of his lovely wife and young daughter riding before him? Their ruthless enemies were close behind them.
His date-red horse had galloped for many miles, and was completely fatigued. Under its master’s unrelenting whipping and spurring, it was already breathless, and was foaming at the mouth. Suddenly, its legs gave way, and crashed to the ground. The man pulled at the reins with all his strength, but the horse only gave a sorrowful neigh, then trembled violently before dying of exhaustion. The young woman heard the commotion and turned back to look. She was shocked to see the date-red horse die suddenly, and cried, “Da ge (Chinese for elder brother, although the man is the woman’s husband, not brother), what… what happened?” The man merely frowned and shook his head, only to realise that their enemies were now in sight.
The young woman turned her horse around, and guided it towards her husband’s side. When she saw the arrow sticking out his back, and the pool of blood that has formed, she immediately turned pale and nearly fainted. The little girl cried, “Father, father! There’s a arrow in your back!” The man managed a bitter smile, and said, “It’s all right!” Then he leapt up, and landed gently on the saddle, right behind his wife. Although he was seriously injured, his movements remained light and quick. The young woman turned to look at him, both sadness and concern written on her face. She whispered, “Da ge, you…” The man used his legs to spur the horse on, and grabbed the reins. The white horse sped on.
The white horse was strong and fine, but it had galloped for a long distance without rest, and was tired. Furthermore, it carried three people on its back. Without being whipped, the white horse ran as fast as it could, not caring for its own life. It was as if it knew that this was a matter of life and death.
But after galloping a long distance, it began to slow down……
The enemies were close behind. There were only sixty-three of them, but they had more than a hundred and ninety horses. As soon as their horses got tired, they would switch steeds. At this rate, they would catch up with their quarries in no time.
The man turned around, and saw the silhouettes of the enemies, amidst the storms of yellow sand. After a while, he could see their faces clearly. Gritting his teeth, he said, “Hongmei (‘hong’ is Chinese for rainbow, ‘mei’ is Chinese for younger sister), I have something to request of you. Would you oblige my request?” The young woman smiled at him, saying, “Have I ever disobeyed you in my entire life?” The man replied, “Good. Escape with Xiu’er, prevent our flesh and blood from coming to harm; and also prevent this map of the Gao Chang Labyrinth from coming to harm.” His tone was resolute, as though he was giving an order.
The woman’s voice trembled as she spoke. “Da ge, give the map to them and we’ll concede defeat. Your… your life is more important.” The man bent down and kissed her left cheek. In a gentle tone, he said, “We have braved innumerous storms together and survived, we may be able to survive this one. Not only do the ‘Three Heroes of Lu Liang’ want this map, they… they’re doing it for you.” The woman said, “They… they might spare us, seeing that we learnt under the same master… I can beg them…” But the man answered sternly, “How can we grovel at others for mercy? This horse cannot take all three of us. Now go!” With a loud cry, he fell off the horse.
The woman reined in her horse, and wanted to help her husband back up, only to see his angry face and hear him say furiously, “Go quickly!” She always obeyed her husband, so she pulled at the reins, urging the horse forwards. But her heart had turned into frozen ice; it was not only her heart, but all the blood in her body seemed to have frozen into ice.
When the pursuing enemies saw the man fall from his horse, they all cheered, “White Horse Li San has fallen!” Some ten people guided their horses towards him, while the rest continued to chase the woman.
The man lay on the ground in a fetal position, not moving at all, as if he were dead. Someone lifted a spear, and pierced his right shoulder. When the spear was removed, blood spurted from the wound, but White Horse Li San did not move one bit.
The leader, a bearded man, said, “He’s completely dead, what’s there to be afraid of? Quick, search his body.” Two men leapt off their horses to search his body. There was a sudden flash of white light. White Horse Li San twirled his long blade, and with two strokes he had killed both men.
Nobody had expected Li San to have feigned death, managing to bear the pain of being stabbed a spear, then suddenly attacking them. Half a dozen men backed their horses away. The bearded leader waved the blade in his hands and shouted, “Li San, you are a man of iron!” Suddenly, he swung the blade towards Li San’s head. Li San used his blade to ward of the blow. But both his shoulders were injured, and his arms contained no more strength. He retreated three steps, and then spat out a mouthful of blood. A dozen men brought their horses forwards, lifted their blades and spears, and brought their weapons down…
White Horse Li San had been a hero all his life. To his death, he refused to yield. Before he finally collapsed, he managed to kill two more enemies. Far away, the young woman could hear her husband’s angry howls, and was totally heartbroken. She thought, “Since he is dead, how can I live?” From inside her clothes, she removed a handkerchief woven from sheep’s wool and stuffed it into her daughter’s clothes. She said, “Xiu’er, you must take good care of yourself!” She then whipped the white horse’s buttocks before leaping from the saddle. The horse’s burden was immediately lessened, and it bore the little girl away swiftly. The woman was comforted when she thought, “This horse’s power is matchless, while Xiu’er is light; they will never be able to catch up with her.” In front, the little girl’s cries of “Mama, mama” faded into the distance, while the sound of hoof beats behind her became louder. In her heart, she prayed, “Oh Heaven, please ensure that Xiu’er will be like me, and marry a good man; even though we led a tumultuous life, we were happy together!” she straightened her clothes and smoothed her hair. In a short while, around ten horses rode up to her, led by Shi Zhongjun, one of the Three Heroes of Lu Liang.
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