Cold Sands ch3
Continuing on to the excitement! Enjoy.III Peril
What a sword!
The moment it leaves its scabbard, a chilling sensation comes rushing forth. I coolly position it in front of my neck and watch as a few strands of hair get snipped off near my ear.
Only such a sword would be fit to be the sword of a prince! And to be able to use such a sword to end my life, I wouldn’t ask for it any other way.
I hear the clattering of metal and shouts of men but nobody comes forth. They probably know of the wonders of this sword. I steady my nerves and look straight at Murong Yu’s surprised expression.
“What do you think you are doing!” he thunders and reaches over.
“Don’t move!” I warn.
I hear my own raspy dry voice; I watch him as if looking through to his heart.
I lift my head up at the sky and annunciate each syllable, “I, Han Xin, am naught but a mortal. I had not wished to face you in a battle nor have I wanted to achieve any marvelous deeds. If I were to choose, I would rather not be of royal blood or the grand nephew of any empress dowager, the nephew of any Minister of Personnel!”
He holds my gaze but does not response.
“But, hear my words, Murong Yu, I would never betray my country so don’t ever think you will get anything from me!”
The sun is so warm, so warm it’s intoxicating. But my heart is so cold, so cold like the blade that’s inches away from my neck.
He contemplates and calls out my name lowly, “Han Xin, just put the sword down first.”
I narrow my eyes. “Murong Yu, I’m not afraid but if I have to go through interrogation again, I don’t think I would make it out alive. Dismemberment by horse or being dragged to death out in the desert… I don’t want to tempt any of them…”
My voice trails off and I feel my arms quivering but I pull that blade closer, inch by inch, without hesitation.
He chews his lips as he watches my every move.
I feel the frigid metal against my neck but no fear.
Watching that pair of somber eyes within arm’s reach turn darker with each passing moment, I say my final words: “So, I only wish to die…with dignity!”
I hope I don’t bring shame to the Han name by dying for my country like this.
I feel skin being sliced open. I let out a wild laugh and put more force on the sword. Warm liquid gently flows down.
Almost at the same moment, a red-tasseled spear sweeps across, knocking the blade away. I dodge instinctively away from the spearhead and the sword goes flying. Instantly, numerous weapons pin me to the ground.
Murong Yu tosses the spear away and grabs my jaw. His smile has faded.
“No one ever defies my wishes and that includes you, Han Xin. My permission is needed before anyone dies around here!”
I press my lips tightly in an attempt to suppress my fury.
“It would be a pity coming this far if I cannot even subdue a low-ranking enemy officer, now would it not?” he continues as his gaze grows colder by the second.
What did he mean by that?
His midnight black eyes outright mock me.
My insides tighten.
I hate those looks.
Those looks that I’ve had to take for as long as I can recall.
Those looks that you wouldn’t even give to a rat.
I’ve been thrown into the prison again but this time around I get better treatment. A doctor has come to check on my wounds the past few days and the food isn’t moldy anymore.
I take a deep breath in and immerse myself in water, not giving a care in the world, not to Murong Yu or what they have planned for me. I mean, having a bucket of bath water after long days of interrogation to wash off the dried blood and plastered dirt is just fantastic.
But would it kill them to heat up the water?
I put on some clean garments and pull back my wet hair using the water as a mirror then stroll out the prison doors and past the guards with a smirk, feeling more refreshed than ever.
Candlelight flickers and feminine perfumes mixed with alcohol and sand waft out from Murong Yu’s tent. He lies on a ta, eyes closed, slightly distracted. A few strands of hair hang loose lazily on his shoulders. His clear fair skin can be observed from the open collar of a snow-white robe. A woman barely wearing anything is beating his back lightly with a seductive smile.
So, this is what comes from one raised by the royal family. The beauty behind him can’t even compare to his exquisite complexion. Tsk tsk, if he was a commoner, he’d probably be… Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves. From the looks of it, they’ve already had plenty of fun in here.
Snapping out of my reverie, I notice that he has opened his eyes and his lips curve slightly upwards.
“I have discovered that you enjoy daydreaming quite a bit, Deputy General Han,” he says before taking a sip from the green jade cup handed to him by the woman.
I wanted to say a smart retort but stayed silent because nothing good came to mind.
He gives a look to the woman and her smile disappears. She steps down from the ta and shuffles grumpily out of the tent.
“What appears to be the matter, Deputy General?” he inquires after putting down his cup. “Nothing for me today?”
“No common language, I’m afraid,” I reply casually.
He gives an amused chuckle in response before taking another sip and unintentionally glancing over me.
“What a loyal subject. Unfortunately the other prisoners have not exactly been.”
I glance up at him cautiously. He looks smug and puts down his cup but remains on the ta.
“See, we caught another soldier today. He was much more cooperative than you; just a few whippings and he gave us everything,” he brags.
Another soldier? Just wait until I get my hands on him.
“Glaring at me will not help anything,” he laughs amusingly. “I just wanted to inform you of the inevitable defeat of Rope Hill Creek.”
He fixes his robe a bit, steps down from the ta and stops in front of me. His gaze wanders over me; his smile ambiguous. “Well, well, well, you certainly look sharper with some fresh garments.”
I turn away and avoid his gaze.
“You were so skilled with your words. Why are they so few today? Honestly I am not quite accustomed to it.”
“The fuck you want with me?”
He stops, shocked, and then guffaws while I wait patiently.
“After all this torture, this is what you wanted right? Now that you’ve had your wish, grant me mine. I merely wish for a quick end.”
“I recommend you listen carefully to my words because I do not repeat myself,” he whispers as he leans in, “Rope Hill Creek will fall, at the latest tomorrow night. You just accompany me and behold, Han Xin, its destruction.”
His gaze burns into me and makes my teeth grind against each other. He gets up and tries to leave with a peculiar expression but I grab onto his sleeve.
“Tell me,” I speak, trying hard to not show my worry, “who spilled?”
“You will know,” he teases, “sooner or later.”
He turns around with an arrogant look.
“I believe there is someone more befitting of that than me, Han Xin,” he remarks.
The candles in the prison burn depressingly, accentuating the eeriness and desolation.
I bury myself furiously into the grassy bundle. Dim light casts in from the windows. This sort of environment normally makes you drowsy but I am extremely alert.
Murong Yu said at the latest tomorrow night but if General Zhou is there I doubt the Pass will fall that soon. Even though the majority of forces are placed at Hill South Pass, Rope Hill Creek has been a heavily-guarded, elaborately planned point.
According to my knowledge, if…
My head drops. What does it matter what I know if I’m stuck in here?
I’d rather ride off to somewhere faraway and live a free life. I will live on and leave this place alive, I quietly tell myself, leave Great Rui alive and live on for a free life.
I hear some shuffling from the cell across from mine. I squint and catch a glimpse of a tenebrous figure through the dim firelight scuffle out from a grass pile.
No way! That looks like-
The figure wavers and jumps onto the cell door.
“Han Xin!” he calls.
Something clicks in my head.
After waiting for that guy to finish crying and wipe his snot, I snap at him, “Are you fucking done?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he sniffs.
This guy is Xie Zhen, the only son of the Minister of Defense, Xie Yun. I only hold the title of a dandy but this guy is the real deal. Drinking, prostitution, gambling; name it, he does it. With his father there to protect him, he raped and killed a young woman and it was only after they discovered she was the daughter of an influential family that his father hurriedly sent him to the army to get away from the heat. Karma’s a bitch, isn’t it?
It’s obvious that Xie Zhen has been interrogated. You wouldn’t call it a bloody mess but it was definitely hard to look at. His hair is all tangled up, whip marks cover his face and purplish red marks peek out from the gashes in his clothes.
I turn helplessly to the ceiling, suddenly bummed out.
My god, why did this guy have to be here?! What did I do to deserve this?
He sniffs and looks at me pathetically. “So they got you, too, huh.”
I give him a shrug for an answer.
“It’s just you?” I edge towards the cell door and ask.
He shakes his head. “There’s a coupla brothers locked up too but only I got beat.”
“O’course, ya idiot, just look at what your armour’s made of,” I groan. “Where’re they?”
“We just got here,” he points to the back, “o’er there, they’re all over there.”
Then he scans me up and down. “Did you not say anythin’, Han Xin? But then how come you’re not hurt? Just look at me, look at all this.”
You little boob. You were probably having fun with the army hostesses when I was getting beat-
Wait! Seeing that pathetic face of his, I put two and two together.
“Tell me, Xie Zhen, it was you who spilled the beans, wasn’t it?”
I just want to reach over and rustle that motherfucker up.
He starts trembling and the colour drains from his face. He drops his gaze and stays silent.
“Xie Zhen, ya little cunt. I swear I’mma kill ya if you-”
He looks up, face pale as a ghost, lips twitching nonstop. “They were gonna kill me, Han Xin. I couldn’t stand it. My dad only got me. I’m his only kid. If I died there won’t be anyone to take care-”
“Save your bullshit!”
It’s damn unfortunate that we’re this far apart because I really want to slap some sense into him. A couple of good kicks in his guts would be nice, too.
“If those Yan bastards make it into the capital, well, you can get some incense and just go straight to your old man’s grave!”
I whip my head away in anger. My heart seems to drop down an abyss.
“I didn’t say much though. I only told’em there’s a small path two hundred li upstream and that it’s not guarded very-”
“Why didn’t you tell’em everyone in the capital is gonna fuckin’ die!”
He pipes down and looks down again. For a while the only sound is the crackling of the torch.
After a long silence, he stutters, “S-so, Han Xin, wha-what do we do now?”
“Your mom!” I yell, nearing the end of my fuse.
“If you fucks don’t get to sleep soon I swear I’mma go down there and beat you ‘til you are!” a guard shouts from the entrance.
It becomes dead silent again as if no one has ever spoken a word. No thoughts form. A wave of exhaustion hits me and I lean over and fall asleep. But my sleep is light and I seem to hear muffled speech and footsteps from somewhere outside. After a while, the noises become clearer and louder.
I shoot up and push against the door, trying hard to see down the corridor. The torch is going to die soon and doesn’t illuminate much, not even the figures of the guards can be seen. Then I get down on the ground and hold my breath, listening for any sounds. There seems to be some sporadic beats of hooves, clinks and clanks of weapons and shouts. I peer out the little window and catch a glimpse of a fiery red sky.
I do a double take.
Murong Yu’s about to start the invasion! What do I do?! I panic like a cat on hot bricks
As I glance at the steel lock, I hit on an idea. But then again, it’s been a while since…
See, Uncle had a library full of books where I used to hide when my cousins picked on me. I used to spend entire afternoons there, reading. I didn’t have the keys to it but I learned how to pick locks from some kids on the street. And so, those books accompanied me through my pathetic childhood.
I glance up nervously towards the guards as I wipe off my cold sweat. Hearing nothing out of the ordinary, I hurry with my hands. The lock falls off with a soft click. I let out a deep breath and ease out the cell after not seeing any signs of the guards.
My blood starts boiling but I turn around nonetheless, and Xie Zhen’s puppy dog eyes are watching me with hope from behind the bars.
Oh, for crying out loud.
After he wiggles out like a wet eel when I open the doors for him, I sneak around the back and bust the others out too.
The flame on the wall flickers and the prison gates remain in the shadows. Just as we arrive a guard appears out of nowhere but all of us tackle him to the ground before he gets a chance. I quickly grab the torch off of the wall and toss it with a jug of the guard’s liquor on a pile of dry hay. The dry hay, with the help of the alcohol, starts burning furiously.
If we’re lucky we can escape tonight while Murong Yu is planning an attack. I don’t have any more time to hope－it’s now or never!
There’s not a soul outside the prison. The prison is positioned near the back of the Yan camp so the dozen of us just starts racing out of that hell hole in the cover of the night.
Someone shouts ‘Fire!’ from behind us and hell breaks loose in an instant. People come rushing with buckets of water－let’s hope we still have a chance to escape!
The night is atramentous and the fog is impenetrable.
The chaos has been tossed far behind us and there are sounds of water ahead. I can’t help but feel relief; if there’s water we can trace it back to the Great Rui camp.
I get everyone to stop for a rest after quite a distance.
“Han...Xin, you sneaky…bastard. You know…how to pick locks,” Xie Zhen squeezes between pants after he plops down on the ground.
Too tired from running, I merely shake my hand and pant furiously while holding onto a tree. After an adequate rest I call out to them.
“C’mon, if we can just get to camp we can rest all we want.”
The party travels along the river. The forests and undergrowth are thick near the banks and blocks out quite a bit of the moonlight, adding complications to our trek.
“So, hey, Han Xin,” Xie Zhen squeezes next to me and says cautiously, watching my reaction, “After we get back, could’ja maybe pretend you didn’t hear anything I said back there?”
“Of course. I won’t snitch,” I sniff.
He looks as if he just won the lottery so I add bitterly, “Go back and tell General Zhou everything yourself. What do you gotta worry about with a father like yours?”
His entire face scrunches up. “Everyone knows General Zhou’s famous for being strict! Even if he doesn’t cut my head off, I’ll die from the stick.”
I don’t bother with replying and push on ahead. After a couple of hours the sky’s already beginning to lighten and wash out the moon. Here, the water splits into two and forces us to stop.
I’m genuinely stumped.
So, I’ve never actually been here before. I only know there’s a camp by Rope Hill Creek and you can find it if you follow the river. But this…
“Xie Zhen!” I scan around the group and pull him out. “Where did you come from? You know which way to go?”
He takes a few steps and surveys the surroundings. “It’d be the one that flows east but do you know which way’s east now?”
I consider and shake my head. The moon has disappeared and the sun hasn’t risen yet, so which direction would east be?
I turn around and see a dozen tired faces staring back at me. I remain silent and pace back to where Xie Zhen is. We watch the water wash past us to some faraway place.
Life or death lies upon this one choice.
After a long time Xie Zhen says quietly, "I think you should make the choice, Han Xin."
Barely a moment later, the sound of hurried hooves resonate from behind us. Amidst the chaos, a sharp twang rises above the rest. Glancing to the side all I see is a single wolf-tooth white-feathered arrow.
Dairytea's comment: What's going to happen next?! I hope everyone is enjoying the story so far. Be sure to thank our translator, ayszhang, for his hard work! (He's also made a donation for our group to getting more Chinese BL novels to translate. Thank you, ayszhang~ )
ayszhang says: This is what a 'ta' in Imperial China actually looked like! It was used for sitting (on the knees) as well as sleeping.
Cold Sands - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.