I took A’Du and walked outside the king’s tent in a hurry. The Great Chanyu’s big tent was called the king’s tent, which was made of countless pieces of cowhide and painted with gorgeous floral decorations. The auspicious sentences of blessing were written on the snow-white canopy, and the gold powder that filled in those strokes was dazzling under the sun in the autumn, which made people dare not see them directly. While those golden shadows of these strokes were reflected on the ground, one could recognize one or half sentence that praying for the blessing from heaven. In that golden light, I narrowed my eyes to see the familiar but strange figure in front of the tent. Although he was in a common robe from Western Liang, he didn’t look like our people. He turned his head and smiled at me. Sure enough, he didn’t belong to Western Liang, but a man from Central Plains.
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It was Gu Xiao Wu, the merchant who sold tea.
I couldn’t help but ask him, “What are you doing here?” “To marry you.” I looked at him with a stunned look. After a long while, I smiled and asked him, “Hey, you come here to sell tea again?” Gu Xiao Wu didn’t answer me this time but slowly moved the object on the ground back and forth with his tiptoe.
I saw that thing and got so shocked that my chin was about to fall.
It was a huge black wolf, almost twice as big as a common wild wolf, just like a little pony. Even though it was already dead, its eyes kept open, as if it was ready to swallow people at any time. While around its left eye, there was a circle of white hair which seemed to be painted with snow-white mare milk. I rubbed my eyes and remained stunned for a while, then I squatted down and pulled off a hair on its left eye, which was white from head to tip. As sure as fate, it was white hair.
At this time, those nobles of Tujue already gathered in front of the king’s tent. They looked at this strangely huge wolf in silence, then some bold children rushed up and pulled out the hair on its eyes as I did, looking it at the direction of the sun. Then they shouted, “It’s white! It’s white!” The noisy voices of the children made me feel uneasy, while the voice of grandpa came directly from the crowd, “Whether or not he belongs to Tujue, he is a true warrior.” The crowd gave way to the Great Chanyu, and grandpa slowly walked out. He looked at the wolf on the ground and nodded. Then he nodded to Gu Xiao Wu and said, “Good!” To win the praise from the Great Chanyu was even more difficult than to melt the snow on the top of Tian Gen mountain. However, Gu Xiao Wu killed the White-Eye Wolf King; as the Great Chanyu had promised, anyone who could kill the White-Eye Wolf King would marry me.
I didn’t expect this person to be Gu Xiao Wu. I followed him and kept asking him how he killed the White-Eye Wolf King.
He understated, “I happened to meet a pack of wolves while I was hawking tea with tea merchants. Then I killed that wolf.” I couldn’t believe it with my mouth slightly opened. It was said that the King of Yuezhi didn’t find the White-Eye Wolf King with thirty thousand cavalries in the Tian Gen mountain. However, had Gu Xiao Wu, who passed by while peddling tea killed the White-Eye Wolf King?
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However, the Great Chanyu must keep his words. There were lots of discussions about the princess of Western Liang going to marry Gu Xiao Wu, who was a tea merchant from Central Plains. Gu Xiao Wu was regarded as a hero, but I still believed he was just bluffing. However, He Shi got drunk that day and they shouted at each other, which resulted in a match.
Their competition was shooting bats on the prairie at night, which was very boring. The one who hit more bats would win.
Only those who had shot bats before knew how difficult it was.
The Turks all believed He Shi would win, but they made a bet on this match. I was also sure He Shi would win, though the bones in his right hand were fractured. Even if He Shi shot with his left hand, nobody in Tujue could match him in this respect.
The match spread rapidly and widely, everyone knowing it in less than half a day. Others said He Shi wanted to marry me. After all, he was the most powerful warrior and might be the most potent general in the Great Chanyu’s army in the future. As for me, although I was the princess of Western Liang, everybody realized the Great Chanyu loved me the most. If He Shi married me, the Great Chanyu would trust him more.
I didn’t think He Shi had such strange ideas. I thought A’Du might had told him that I was unwilling to marry Gu Xiao Wu.
Although I vaguely thought Gu Xiao Wu was not a usual tea merchant, I hope I would not marry so young.
Singing the hymns, the Turkic priest dripped the sheep blood into two bowls and handed them to He Shi and Gu Xiao Wu, who were about to have a match. Both of them drank it up at one draught. They were going to slug it out tonight. He Shi was an illustrious hero in Tujue and Gu Xiao Wu was regarded by many Turks as a hero thanks to his killing of the White-Eye Wolf King. Everyone thrilled to see their match. However, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know who I hoped to win.
If Gu Xiao Wu won, did I have to marry him?
If He Shi won, was I going to marry He Shi?
Thinking of that, I was shocked. On behalf of me, He Shi just wanted to teach Gu Xiao Wu a lesson to make him less arrogant.
It reminded me of He Shi punished the boys who sang outside A’Du’s tent. If they were too noisy, He Shi would figure out a way to calm them down. Gu Xiao Wu killed the White-Eye Wolf King, but no one was convinced. However, he didn’t care about that at all, just openly telling grandpa that he wanted to marry me.
That’s why He Shi wanted to teach him a lesson.
Even the Great Chanyu heard about their competition. Quite excited, he also wanted to have a look. I was upset, following grandpa in the crowd to the riverside. The warrior guarding the Great Chanyu’s tent took arrows and piled them at the feet of Gu Xiao Wu and He Shi. He Shi was about to use his own bow, but when he saw Gu Xiao Wu empty-handed, he said to Gu Xiao Wu, “I will lend my bow to you.” Gu Xiao Wu nodded, but the Great Chanyu said with a smile, “In our Tujue people’s camp, we may lack everything but bows.” The Great Chanyu gave an iron bow to Gu Xiao Wu. I was worried about him. This iron bow was heavier than common bows. Gu Xiao Wu looked so gentle and frail that it might even be difficult for him to tighten the bowstring. He Shi also thought of this, but he didn’t want to take advantage of Gu Xiao Wu. He said to the Great Chanyu, “Let him use my bow. The Great Chanyu, please give this bow to me.” The Great Chanyu shook his head, saying, “I won’t marry my granddaughter to a man who can’t even tighten a bow.” The onlookers laughed. Many of them didn’t believe that the White-Eye Wolf King was really killed by Gu Xiao Wu, so they poured scorn on him. Gu Xiao Wu took the bow, plucking the string with his fingers as if he was playing a guzheng¹. The bowstring vibrated, making the onlookers laugh even louder. He was a fair-skinned gentleman, like the Central Plains musicians Tujue nobles bought. Just now he really played the bowstring, which made the Tujue people look down on him much more.
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The evening closed in, bats hovering above the river. The Great Chanyu nodded and said, “Get the competition started.” He Shi and Gu Xiao Wu both had a pile of hundred arrows at their feet. The one who shot one hundred bats first would be the winner. He Shi first pulled back his bowstring. Although he used his left hand, every arrow reached its mark, which dazzled the others. In just one blink, bats dropped from the sky one after another. However, Gu Xiao Wu acted unhurriedly, notching five arrows to his bowstring.
I called Gu Xiao Wu by his name. Although I didn’t know if he could shoot, he should know that only one arrow should be notched a bowstring each time. Gu Xiao Wu looked back and smiled at me, then drawing back his bowstring.
1. The zheng or guzheng (literally: ‘ancient zheng’), also known as a Chinese zither, is a Chinese plucked string instrument with a more than 2,500-year history.