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“Which girl did you give your wolfskin to? Good boy, you are young but know that you should give the first animal you killed to your sweetheart.” Every time he roared out a sentence, Li Wenxiu’s heart would throb violently. When she listened to Su Pu tell stories, he had told her about the Kazaks’ customs. Every youth would give his beloved sweetheart the precious first animal he had killed, as an indication of affection. When she heard Su Lu’ke’s yelling, her face flushed, and her heart burst with pride. They were too young to understand true love. But indistinctly, they felt the sweetness and bitterness of first love.
“You must’ve given it to that Han girl who was punished by Allah; that wretch called Li something, right? If you don’t tell the truth, let’s see whether you are stronger, or your father’s whip stronger?” She heard a series of swishes, and the sounds of a whip hitting flesh. Many Kazaks, like Su Lu’ke, strongly believed that whipping could produce strong, valiant men. One could not use gentle methods to discipline one’s son. His grandfather whipped his father in this way, his father whipped him in this way, and he would also whip his son in this way. But the love between father and son did not weaken because of this. When men dealt with other men, with friends and relatives they used fists and whips, with enemies they used short blades and long swords. But for Li Wenxiu, her parents never spoke a harsh word to her face since young. If their faces lost their smiles and tender looks, it was already a painful punishment to her. She could feel the pain of each whipping, thinking, “Su Pu’s father must hate me to the core. He is beating his own son so badly; would he beat him to death?” “So, you refuse to answer? Will you answer or not? You must’ve given it to that Han girl!” The whip continued its relentless whipping. At first, he gritted his teeth, trying to bear with the pain. Later, he cried, “Father, stop whipping, stop whipping, I’m in pain, I’m in pain!” Si Lu’ke said, “Then you’d better tell the truth, did you give the wolfskin to that Han girl? Do you know that your mother died in the hands of those Han bandits, and your elder brother was also killed by them? Do you know that they call me the bravest Kazak warrior, but my wife and son were still killed by Han bandits? Why wasn’t I home that fateful day? Why couldn’t I find these bandits and take revenge for your mother and elder brother?” At this time, Su Lu’ke’s whip was no longer disciplining his son, but venting the wild fury in his heart. Every time he whipped, it was as if he was whipping his enemies. “Why can’t those cursed bandits have a showdown with me using swords and spears? Why don’t you answer? How can I, Su Lu’ke, the bravest Kazak warrior, be unable to beat several Han crooks…” The child whom Huo Yuanlong and Chen Dahai’s men killed was his most beloved eldest son. The wife, who had been insulted and killed by the men, had been his sweetheart since young, and they had grown up together. And he was considered the bravest Kazak warrior for more than two decades. Whether it was comparing strength, fist fighting, or horse racing, he had never lost to anyone.
Li Wenxiu pitied Su Pu for being beaten by his father, and felt that his crying and yelling was also very pitiful. “He is whipping so hard; he must not love Su Pu any longer. He doesn’t have a son anymore, and Su Pu doesn’t have a father anymore. It’s all my fault; me, this Han girl who was punished by Allah!” Suddenly, she began to pity herself.
She could not bear to hear Su Pu’s cries any longer. So she returned to the old man’s hut, and removed the wolfskin from underneath her bedding, and looked at it for a long time. She was separated from Su Pu’s tent by more than two li of land, but it was as if she could hear Su Pu’s cries, and the swishing of Su Lu’ke’s whip. She liked this piece of wolfskin very much, but she could not keep it.
“If I keep this wolfskin, Su Pu will be beaten to death by his father. Only Kazak girls, girls from the Islamic faith can keep this big piece of wolfskin. Among all the many Kazak girls, who is the most beautiful? I like this piece of wolfksin a lot, it was from the wolf Su Pu killed, the wolf which he risked his life to save me from. Su Pu gave it to me, but… but his father will beat him to death…” The next morning, a bloodshot-eyed Su Lu’ke came out from his tent. He heard Che Erku hum mountain folk songs loudly. He cocked his head and gazed at Su Lu’ke, a curious expression on his face. He was smiling, and there was goodwill in his eyes. Che Erku was a famous Kazak warrior, and people from a thousand miles away knew his talent in taming wild horses. He was extremely swift when he ran. Some said that no steed could outrun him within a distance of one li. Even if he lost to the horse after running more than one li, he would lose only by the length of a nose. When the nomads in the pastures sat around fires chatting, many said that Che Erku would’ve won if his nose wasn’t that flat. Su Lu’ke never had a good relationship with Che Erku. Su Lu’ke was very famous, for his swordfighting and fist fighting skills were invincible. For this, Che Erku was secretly jealous of him. He was younger than Su Lu’ke by six years. Once, they competed in swordfighting. Che Erku lost, and suffered a long gash in his shoulder. He said, “Today I have lost, but after five years, or even ten years, we’ll compete again. Su Lu’ke replied, “In another two decades, we’ll compete again. But then, my strokes will not be so light!”
But today, there was no hostility in his smile. Su Lu’ke’s fury had not subsided, so he glared angrily at him. Che Erku laughed, “Old Su, your son certainly has good taste!” Su Lu’ke said, “Are you talking about Su Pu?” He grasped the hilt of his knife, shooting Che Erku a poisonous look, thinking, “You’re ridiculing me because my son gave his wolfskin to a Han girl.” Che Erku was about to say, “If I’m not talking about Su Pu, do you mean you still have another son?” Instead, he smiled and said, “Of course I’m talking about Su Pu! The boy is quite good-looking, and he’s quite capable too. I like him.” Whenever a father hears other people praising his son, he would obviously feel pleased. But he was used to bickering with Che Erku, so he retorted, “Are you envious of me? Too bad you are unable to bear a son.” But Che Erku did not get angry. Smiling, he said, “My daughter A’man is not that bad either, otherwise why would your son take a fancy to her?” Su Lu’ke spat, “Stop showing off, who says my son has taken a fancy to A’man?” Che Erku grabbed his upper arm, saying, “Follow me, I’ll show you something.” Su Lu’ke was puzzled, so he walked shoulder to shoulder with him. Che Erku said, “Your son killed a big grey wolf some time ago. For a young boy, that is extraordinary. When he grows up, won’t he be exactly like his father? The father is a hero; the son is a good man.” Su Lu’ke did not answer. He suspected that Che Erku was laying a trap for him to fall into, thinking, “I must be extremely careful from now on.” They walked for more than three li before reaching Che Erku’s tent. He went closer. Wasn’t that the big grey wolf which Su Pu had killed? He clearly recognized that it was the first wild animal which his son had killed. After a moment’s confusion, he was pleased yet perplexed, “I blamed A’pu wrongly, and gave him such a heavy beating last night. So he had given the wolfskin to A’man, not to that Han girl. Stupid boy, why didn’t he tell the truth? Children are easily embarrassed and don’t dare to tell the truth. If his mother was still around, she would’ve restrained me. Ai, children would always pour out their problems to their mothers…..”
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