The White Hun Tribe, three days later.
Szlamy and Xia Lei returned with the sword of Attila, and Dayetia was dead. These two events rocked the White Hun Tribe and caused some upheavals. As the tribe’s marks-woman and the most valiant of their warriors in every battle, Szlamy was highly regarded among the tribe’s warriors, and these warriors were in approval of Szlamy succeeding the position of chieftain. There were supporters of Dayetia in the tribe too and these raised voices of doubt and objection. The two sides clashed and the air was thick with opposition.
The recording from the listening device Xia Lei had planted on Dayetia wsa of great help when it got to a crucial moment. As chieftain, Dayetia had schemed to sell off Xia Lei, who had brought back their sacred relic for them, to the Americans. She had also implicitly allowed the Ika Tribe to do what they pleased to Szlamy before killing her. There was yet another upheaval in the tribe when Dayetia’s conversation with Abutulu was made known. The voices of doubt and objection went quiet and Szlamy, logically, became the new chieftain.
The men in the tribe started slaughtering pigs and goats in preparation for the ceremony to appoint Szlamy as chieftain.
Xia Lei used the satellite phone to call Shi Bo-Ren and update him on the progress of the mission.
“So the higher-ups mean for us to return to China while you stay behind?” Tang Yu-Yan spoke only after Xia Lei ended his call with Shi Bo-Ren. Her eyes were full of worry.
Xia Lei laughed dryly. “It’s what your godfather means. You get ready. Take Ning Jing and the rest and leave. Long Bing and your brother will meet you. You won’t have to bother about me. I’ll go back to China once I’ve completed my mission.”
“But how can I just leave you here alone?”
“It’s fine. I’ll be careful,” said Xia Lei.
“Are you staying behind to finish the work that Ning Jing and the others started?” Tang Yu-Yan was quick-witted and quickly guessed at least some part of it right.
Xia Lei nodded. “Yes. It’s your godfather’s order. Only I can do this, and it won’t work otherwise.”
“I can stay and help you. We’ll leave after we finish the task,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
This was not a bad suggestion and it was better to have an assistant; Xia Lei was tempted to agree to it.
Du du du, du du du…
The satellite phone rang all of a sudden.
It was Long Bing. “Get Tang Yu-Yan on the line.”
Xia Lei handed the satellite phone to Tang Yu-Yan. “It’s Long Bing. She’s asking for you.”
Tang Yu-Yan took the phone and talked with Long Bing.
Xia Lei watched Tang Yu-Yan. It was a pity that he could only hear Tang Yu-Yan’s voice but not Long Bing’s.
“All right. I’ll make preparations right away. I’ll arrive at the specified position after six hours.” Tang Yu-Yan replied, then handed the satellite phone to Xia Lei.
“Xia Lei, be careful. Tang Yu-Yan will take our people out of the White Hun Tribe very soon and to the specified location to wait for our plane. Keep a satellite phone with you and maintain contact. Retreat immediately when you’ve completed your mission,” said Long Bing.
“Sure.” Xia Lei hung up.
“I need to move now or we won’t get to the place where the plane’s going to pick us up.” Tang Yu-Yan looked at Xia Lei with a bit of sadness in her eyes. They had gone through life-and-death situations together, and also had some blush-inducing incidents between them. These were all precious memories which were not easily forgotten.
“Take care. See you in China.” Xia Lei looked back at her too.
Tang Yu-Yan suddenly drew close and gave Xia Lei a tight hug.
Strong arms, warm, yet soft pressure, and a fragrance which filled his nose - Xia Lei grew nervous. He didn’t know if he should reach out and put his arms in a hug around her waist.
“Promise me you’ll come back alive,” said Tang Yu-Yan by his ear. She released him.
Xia Lei came back to his senses and nodded.
A while later, Ning Jing and the experts from China were gathered and prepared to leave the tribe with Tang Yu-Yan.
“Aren’t you leaving?” Ning Jing looked at Xia Lei in astonishment when she heard that he was staying.
Many White Hun women were close by watching but Xia Lei did not worry about them understanding Chinese. “I’m staying to finish up the work you couldn’t complete,” he said.
“Then I’ll stay to finish it with you. This is my field of specialty. I can be of help.”
“No, you have to leave. This is an order from the higher-ups. Many people have died because of you guys. The higher-ups have arranged everything so the plan will be disrupted if you don’t go. Do you still want to be in a bad situation and need others to come rescue you again?” Xia Lei’s tone was stern.
“I…” Ning Jing was conflicted but also felt that what Xia Lei said was fairly logical. She was undecided.
“Don’t be silly. Go back. I’ll be fine. I’ll come visit you when I’m back.” Xia Lei’s tone was much softer.
“You must come back.” Ning Jing suddenly mustered her courage and threw herself in Xia Lei’s arms. Her softness pressed against Xia Lei as she hugged him tightly around his waist.
She was a weak woman, and Xia Lei was a head taller than her. She looked even smaller in Xia Lei’s arms, like a little bird in a human’s hold.
Next to them, Tang Yu-Yan wrinkled her brows, then a small wry smile appeared in the corners of her lips. She had hugged Xia Lei and this archaeology professor was doing the same thing. She abruptly thought of a line from an old song - Just how many close little sisters do you have?
Xia Lei was embarrassed by this hug from Ning Jing because he’d noticed the strange look in Tang Yu-Yan’s eyes, and the gazes of all the White Hun women around them. Practically everyone in the tribe knew that he was the man of the new chieftain, Szlamy. These women would definitely be curious about their relationship when seeing Ning Jing hug him like this.
Bang bang bang!
Sudden gunshots shattered the peace, scaring Ning Jing. She hurriedly let go of Xia Lei to see what had happened.
The one who had fired was Szlamy. The baby-faced H-cup chieftain was unhappy. “I’ve already allowed you to leave so why aren’t you leaving? If you’re not leaving then stay and feed the goats.”
The women of the tribe smiled in schadenfreude. They knew why she was so angry. The new chieftain had just one man, so how could she allow another woman to hold him and hug him?
“We’re going.” Tang Yu-Yan responded quickly. She pulled Ning Jing with her and turned to leave.
Ning Jing looked back at Xia Lei, her eyes full of reluctance.
XIa Lei waved to tell her to leave quickly.
Tang Yu-Yan led the experts on a route along the river and they walked slowly out of their sight.
Szlamy went to Xia Lei’s side and took his hand with a smile. “Let’s dance and celebrate.”
Xia Lei laughed. “What dance? I can’t dance.”
“You’ll learn quickly. It’s simple.” Szlamy pulled Xia Lei along in a dance.
It was indeed a simple dance. Step, jump, turn, and that was it. It was like a folk dance of the Tibetan Zhang group*. Soon, the women of the tribe joined the dance and they shot in the sky as they danced. Ear-piercing gunshots rang out continuously and breasts, big and small, jiggled like no tomorrow. As the only male in the dance, Xia Lei felt very strange and had this worry that these women would suddenly wash over him like a wave, drowning him…
Dayetia’s head had been placed in a wooden coffin and an old horse accompanied her in her grave. The Hun were a horseback minority group and it was a mark of status to have a horse buried with the dead. Dayetia had been killed by Szlamy and her head chopped off but her funeral was still rather grand.
Night descended and the ceremony and celebration came to an end. Xia Lei had drunk quite a bit of the tribe’s fermented horse milk and he felt heavy-headed yet light-footed. Two female warriors supported him, brought him to a room and put him on a bed, then removed his shoes and socks. Xia Lei did not want them to tend to him but he was in no state to defy the two strong women. They also discussed his merits while taking off his shoes and socks; Xia Lei didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
Xia Lei looked around the room after the two warrior left. It was not Szlamy’s house - it was much more spacious and luxurious. He then spotted clothing which Dayetia had worn and things she had used. This was Dayetia’s room.
It made sense. Szlamy was now chieftain. Of course she couldn’t stay in her old, rundown little house. The home of the previous chieftain was hers to live in now - this was also some sort of symbol of her status.
Xia Lei looked around in the room and found an ancient book in a drawer. The cover of the book was treated skin and it had a layer of grease on it. Except for some wear and tear in the corners, it seemed to be complete.
The writing on the cover was ancient Hun and Xia Lei couldn’t read a word of it. He was curious, so he flipped through its pages. The pages were old, yellowed, but the words and drawings on them were still fairly readable. Unfortunately, the words were all in ancient Hun and he did know how to read them.
He then saw some hand-drawn map in the book. He took a closer look and was surprised to discover that this was a map of the ancient ruins. The map showed walls, the palace, streets, weapons storage and the places where warrior lived and trained.
His gaze suddenly focused on a place in the palace. His left eye twitched and a hidden pattern in the map was enlarged. He was thunderstruck when he saw the image clearly.
The pattern consisted of two letters - AE!
“This…” Xia Lei scrambled to find an explanation but his brain came up empty. All his thoughts has been swallowed and he couldn’t find anything to explain it.
The sound of footsteps approaching jolted him back to reality. He hurriedly put the ancient book back in its original spot and swiftly went back to lie on the bed.
The door opened and Szlamy walked in. Her steps were unsteady and she was chattering. “I’m not drunk! You hags wanna get me drunk? Hahaha… I’d drink you to your graves if I weren’t rushing to be a bride!”
Szlamy kicked the door shut behind her and came stumbling over to Xia Lei.
Outside the house came a trotting of steps, as if a flock of sheep was passing by.
Xia Lei looked through the walls and was shocked to see that it was already surrounded by the women of the tribe. They were laughing and chatting, jostling at the best spots at windows and doors, waiting for some great show to start.
Xia Lei wanted very much to turn into a bird in that instant and fly out from the roof.
His imagination was great and detailed but his reality was miserably stark. He stayed on the bed.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
*Tibetan Zhang folk dance - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxkWGqTJxgI