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Li Wenxiu held the bird with both palms, and felt its soft body, and its rapid but faint heartbeat. Using three fingers from her right hand, she stroked the feathers on its back gently. Opening her palms, she said, “You can go! But next time you must be more careful, and not get caught again.” The bird spread open its wings and flew back into the grass. Puzzled, the boy asked, “Why did you release the bird? Didn’t you exchange the jade bangle for it?” He held onto the bangle tightly, as if afraid that Li Wenxiu would want him to return it. Li Wenxiu said, “Now the bird can fly and can sing freely, and it is happy.” The boy cocked his head and looked at her and queried, “Who are you?” She responded, “My name is Li Wenxiu, what’s yours?” The boy said, “My name is Su Pu.” After speaking, he jumped up and yelled at the top of his lungs.
Su Pu was two years older than Li Wenxiu. He was very tall, and looked rather mighty as he stood in the pastures. Li Wenxiu said, “You’re very strong, aren’t you?” Su Pu was very pleased, for this little girl’s casual comment described what he was most proud of. He pulled a short knife from his waistband, and said, “Last month, I used this knife to attack a wolf and nearly killed it. Unfortunately, it escaped.” Li Wenxiu was startled, “You’re that powerful?” Su Pu felt even prouder of himself, and said, “One night, two wolves came to prey on my family’s sheep. My father wasn’t home, so I grabbed a knife to chase the wolves away. When the larger wolf same my flaming torch, it escaped. But with one blow, I injured the other wolf.” Li Wenxiu asked, “You injured the smaller one?” Su Pu felt embarrassed, but nodded. He quickly added, “But if the larger wolf hadn’t escaped, I would’ve killed it with one blow.” Although he said this, he wasn’t really certain that he could do it. But Li Wenxiu believed him wholeheartedly, and said, “The bad wolves want to bite the little sheep, they deserve to be killed. Next time you kill a wolf, could you please inform me so that I can take a look?” Su Pu said cheerfully, “All right! When I kill a wolf, I’ll skin it and give its pelt to you.” Li Wenxiu said, “Thank you! I’ll make Grandfather a wolfskin mat, for he has given his own mat to me.” Su Pu replied, “No! You use the one I give you, and return your grandfather’s mat to him.” Li Wenxiu nodded, “That is as well.” In both their little hearts, unfulfilled hopes of the future were no different from incidents of the past. They both dreamed of killing a wolf, but acted as if the wolf was already dead.
In this way, the two children became friends. Su Pu, with his ruggedness and boldness characteristic of Kazak men, and Li Wenxiu, with her gentleness and kindness characteristic of Han women, got along very well.After a few days, Li Wenxiu sewed a little pouch and filled it with malt candy, and took it to Su Pu.
The gift had given this little boy a surprise. After exchanging the little bird for a jade bangle, he already felt that he had gotten an advantage. Kazaks are born honest, and so was Su Pu. He felt that he should provide some form of compensation for Li Wenxiu. Thus, he spent one night on pastures, and caught two Tianling birds. The next day, he gave the birds to Li Wenxiu. However, his generous gesture was misintentioned. Li Wenxiu spent a long time talking to Su Pu before he realised that she liked Tianling birds to be free, and not suffering in captivity. Su Pu finally understood. However, at the bottom of his heart, he felt that her kindness was rather silly, eccentric and laughable.
As the days passed, Li Wenxiu’s parents did not appear as frequently in her dreams as before, and the traces of tears on her pillow gradually lessened. More smiles appeared on her face, more songs came out from her mouth. Whenever she and Su Pu herded sheep together, they could hear young couples’ ‘question-and-answer’ love songs from far away in the pastures. Li Wenxiu found these sentimental songs pleasant to her ears. After listening to them frequently, she could hum them without difficulty.
Of course, she did not understand what the songs meant. Why would a man fall head over heels for a woman? Why did a woman admire a man so? Why did hearing your sweetheart’s footsteps make your heart beat violently? Why did graceful figures cause people to suffer sleepless nights? But she could sing these songs well with her clear, melodious voice. Those who heard her all said, “This little girl can sing very well, just like a Tianling bird from the pastures.” During the freezing winter, the Tianling birds had all migrated south in search of warmer quarters. But Li Wenxiu’s songs still reverberated throughout the pastures, “Oh, my beloved herder, may I know how old you are? When you wander in the desert alone at night, would you mind if I accompany you?” At this point, there would be a short pause in the singing. All those who heard the singing thought in their hearts, “After hearing this beautiful voice, who wouldn’t want to be your companion?” Then the singing would continue, “Ah, my dear, please don’t be angry, it is hard to know who’s good and who’s bad at once. For the Gobi Desert to become a garden, it only thing needed is a well-matched couple.” Flowers bloomed in the hearts of those who listened, and even the coldest, cruellest hearts were warmed, “If a well-matched couple gets together, the Gobi Desert would naturally become a garden, and nobody would be angry with you.” The older people became younger by two decades, while the hearts of the youths filled with joy. But Li Wenxiu did not understand the meanings of the love songs she sang.
The one who listened to her songs the most was Su Pu. He did not understand the hidden meanings of these love songs from the pastures, until one day, they met a wolf in the snow.
The appearance of this wolf was extremely sudden. Su Pu and Li Wenxiu were sitting, shoulder to shoulder, on a small hill, watching the sheep scattered all over the pastures.
As usual, Li Wenxiu was telling him stories. Some of these stories were told to her by her mother, others were told to her by old man Ji, and the rest she made up. Su Pu liked the old man’s thrilling stories the best, and disliked the childish tales which Li Wenxiu made up the most. But a suspenseful story retold a few times would lose its suspense, thus he was forced to listen patiently to how the little white rabbit could not find its mother, and how the little spotted dog helped it look for its mother. Suddenly, Li Wenxiu toppled backwards with a loud cry. A huge grey wolf was baring its sharp teeth at her throat.
The wolf had crept quietly towards them from the back, so both children had not noticed it. Li Wenxiu had learnt some martial arts from her mother, so she instinctively tilted her head backwards, avoiding the wolf’s bites aimed at her throat. When Su Pu saw how huge the wolf was, he was so frightened that his legs softened. But he immediately thought, “I must save her!” Grabbing a short knife from his waistband, he threw himself forward, and stabbed the wolf in the back.
The grey wolf’s bones were very hard, and the short knife slid down its back, cutting only a little skin and flesh. But the grey wolf was realised that it was in danger. Letting go of Li Wenxiu, it opened its large mouth wide and leapt upwards. Its forelegs landed on Su Pu’s shoulders, and it attempted to bite his face.
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