A Soldier's Story
by Yang Pan
translated by JohnD
I am a soldier, a soldier defending the city.
Xiangyang has tens of thousands of soldiers like me. Plenty of them are residents of Xiangyang, but some of them have come from very far away. We all have only one intention: not to let the Mongolians capture Xiangyang.
Xiangyang's most esteemed people are Hero Guo and Lady Guo. These past ten years or so, they have risked death to defend the city. If it were not for them, Xiangyang would have fallen long ago.
Hero Guo is a great man; he never mistreats us. And his wife? I'm not sure, but I feel she wants to hold the city mainly for Hero Guo. When she looks at people, you always feel that she can see through you, making me feel uncomfortable. Hero Guo and Lady Guo have a daughter who is nothing like her parents. She stirs up trouble all the time. One Lunar New Year, she even let Hero Guo's two disciples throw firecrackers at me. I suspect that she is someone Hero Guo picked up from someplace else.
Everyone says that Lady Guo is the most beautiful woman in Xiangyang. I don't dare say it, but in my heart there is one still more beautiful than her, a girl who sells hot noodle soup on the east side, called Moli.
Moli is eighteen this year, three years my junior, but she's about the same height. When she laughs, her eyes are like two crescent moons. Moli is cordial to everyone, unlike Lady Guo, who always keeps a certain distance from us soldiers. Every morning I like to go to the east side to have a bowl of noodle soup. If I'm on duty, I go in the evening. I've gone so often that Moli knows me.
"Why do you come so far just for a bowl of my noodles? Do they not sell noodles on the west side?" She would ramble on and on, but I wouldn't answer, silently eat my noodles.
Little by little, she understood. She then gave me more noodles than others, even specially adding a bit of coriander powder. The bright green coriander contrasted with the red hot peppers was really something--just like Moli.
This year, the Mongolians attacked again. One of the princes led the army. I heard his surname was Hu. Nobody cared, though. All these years defending the city, and this Hu fellow thinks he can capture us?
But, when the battle started, it was very difficult. This Mongol army was different from before; it was like each and every one of them was fighting for his life. We fought from the top of the wall as wave after wave charged in, and wave after wave attacked. The bodies piled up by the city walls like a stack of firewood. Maybe one day I will also lie there like a stick of firewood. After the battle, I never went to Moli's stall to eat noodles. Though in my heart I wanted to go, there was no way to do it; everyone just gritted their teeth and carried on the best they could. Like Second Brother Zhao, who hadn't slept for three or four days.
One day, while I was looking down through the arrowslit when Captain Liu called to me from behind. He said there was someone here who had come to give me something. I looked back and saw that it was Moli! She had brought hot noodle soup all the way from the eastern side of the city to western side of the city to see me. From the east side all the way to the west side, such a long distance!
I lowered my head, and bite by bite ate my noodles, my tears dripping down into the soup and blending with the green coriander powder and bright-red hot peppers. Before Moli left, she said, "I don't care about others, but you must survive so you can come back and eat my noodles." I nodded and promised I would.
Three days later, some people arrived in the city. One was a youth by the name of Yang, and the other was a girl dressed all in white.
When everyone saw the girl, they all said she was an immortal maiden. They were right, but Moli is the only immortal maiden for me.
As soon as that Yang fellow arrived, he performed an extraordinary service by saving Hero Guo on the top of the city walls. Everyone said he was unbelievably extraordinary. But, I felt there was something about him I couldn't put my finger on that made people sad to look at him. Every time he looked at the girl beside him, it was like he was looking at someone he would never see again--the same look Moli gave me that day on top of the city wall. I had a strange thought: his whole life was lived for this girl, and he would end up dying for her.
And me and Moli? If we didn't have these hindrances, would we be able to live together until we're both white-haired and old? In the midst of the smoke and flames of war, I inwardly ask myself these questions. But I don't have a definite answer.
Several days later, Hero Guo's two stupid disciples were captured while trying to assassinate the Mongol commander. At first, it wasn't such a big loss; Xiangyang was now rid of two good-for-nothings, and we could go on defending as usual. But Hero Guo wanted to rescue them personally. No Hero Guo, no Xiangyang. And everyone knew it. But he still had to go. Such is the lot of the hero. And that young Yang fellow went with him.
I don't know why he went with him. Because he had saved Hero Guo once, everyone believed that he could save him again? I watched quietly as they left. When I saw the youth's eyes, I suddenly felt lighter. That look was not the look of someone who was going to his death. That look was instead brimming with hope. After that, I thought they would return.
And they did return, only wounded. I was the first to discover them, because at that time I was on guard duty, still watching the main road, scanning as far as I could see into the distance, because I still believed they would return safely.
The doctor said that if it had been fifteen minutes later, they would have been in serious danger.
For the first time in my life I felt proud. I had saved Hero Guo, which was tantamount to saving all of Xiangyang--tantamount to saving Moli. Lady Guo was also very grateful. She had me promoted and transfered down from the city wall. She said to wait until her husband's wounds had healed and then he would thank me personally. I thought, this time I should be able to live and go eat Moli's noodles.
The next day, early in the morning, a fire alarm was raised within the city. The place that was on fire was none other than Hero Guo's residence. I grabbed a bucket and ran over to his house. Hero Guo's wounds had not yet healed, and if there should be some mishap then Xiangyang was done for--and also Moli.
The fire wasn't large, but the flames were intense; it was clear someone had intentionally started the fire. From within the dense smoke came the sound of swords clanging. The enemy was attacking. I was just thinking how I could go in there and rescue Hero Guo when my body suddenly went numb and I was being carried away on someone's shoulders, and a hat was placed on my head. It was that young guy, Yang! He had given me a hat to put on, Hero Guo's hat. I knew what he had in mind.
His plan was correct. Hero Guo was Xiangyang's savior, and me, I was just a plainclothes soldier of no importance. No one would care whether I lived or died--except Moli.
The enemy had really come. I heard the sound of their fighting. Suddenly, I heard a sound and something sharp cut across my back, followed by a burst of intense pain. He carried me on his back and ran a few steps, and then I heard someone say in a gloomy voice, "Surrender, boy!" Then, "Here is Guo Jing!" He handed me over to the enemy, and then his foot lashed out and kicked me and the enemy soldier off the wall.
The person still holding me said in a loud voice, "I've caught Guo Jing! I'm Mongolia's greatest warrior!" Then two people grabbed my hands and feet. The three people vigorously pulled.
In a daze, I faintly heard Moli's voice..."I don't care about others, but you must survive so you can come back and eat my noodles."
This story is from a November 2003 issue (#40) of 今古傳奇 武俠版.