(7) White monks
In the barracks of officer Zhang, Mulun discussed with him about the returning more than 200 monks of JingJiao back to Daqin until late at night. When she walked along the lake back to her yurt, she was exhausted. She saw the moon shadow reflected on the lake, and a gusty wind blew it away while she was watching. Mulun was overcome. She kneeled by the shore, thinking of her father. His cordial expression appeared on the lake after the water returned to calm. He smiled kindly: “Mulun, don’t be afraid! Go ahead, God is on your right, and I am on your left!”
Mulun was stirred up with emotions that she rarely obtained in her life. She bowed and clasped her hands. She regained faith and hope for the road ahead. She then no longer lingering. She hurriedly walked back to the yurt, for she only have three days before the exile.
In front of her yurt, Yueqiao was standing anxiously waiting. He saw Mulun was coming, he strode to her and said loudly, “Aunt Mu, I have something to discuss with you.”
Aunt Mu asked: “What is so important, can’t you wait until tomorrow?”
Yueqiao eagerly said: “No! I can’t wait, Aunt Mu, can you take me out of Tianshan!”
Mulun smiled first, then said precisely: “You are not a member of Jing Jiao. I can’t take you. You should go back to Central Plains with Qianqian and Ahwu!” After saying that, she was trying to skip him into the yurt. But Yueqiao asked again: “Is it possible if I became a monk of Jing Jiao?”
Mulun listened, she didn’t know whether it was joke. She looked back at him and said: “If you just want to escape from the choice of your life and become a monk, I shall never allow you.”
Yueqiao immediately responded: “I am not trying to escape anything. It has been my wish to be a monk.”
Mulun couldn’t help but look carefully at him, for a while she smiled powerlessly. “I am tired. Can we talk about it tomorrow?”
Yueqiao noticed that Aunt Mu was looked really exhausted, so he no longer argued, said, “Yes, we can.”
Mulun was confused enough to sleep well. She only slept a few hours and woke up. She hastily washed her face and changed. She must hurry up for today she has to discuss the matters of exile with the eight guardians. But once she lifted the curtain, she saw Yueqiao standing there already. He looked energetic and smiled cheerfully when he saw Mulun. Mulun shook her head and said, “I will come back for you later.” Then she strode ahead, but Yueqiao grabbed her shoulder, said angrily: “Aunt Mu, what you said is a lie!?”
Mulun was annoyed, and she has no time to waste for him. She didn’t refute, instead, she grabbed his arm, immediately bent forward and fell him off her shoulder. Yueqiao was slammed to the ground. He did not say a word, but bounced up right away to grab her shoulder again. Mulun curled up and flicked to the side. Yueqiao caught nothing then slipped to her left shoulder. Mulun shifted and pull his left leg, Yueqiao immediately fell over on his face. Yueqiao patted his butt and stood up again. Hence, he stood up and fell no less than ten times. He didn’t give up until Mulun was impatiently jumping over his head to avoid him. Yueqiao couldn’t stop her. He only can shouted: “If you didn’t promise me, I will never leave.” After saying that, he exhaled greatly and looked unconvinced.
Unexpectedly, he saw Qianqian stood in a distance, looking at him. At this time, there were many people outside the tents. They were staring at him too, but he did not care. He closed his eyes not to see them. Suddenly, his nose was itchy, he sneezed. When he opened his eyes, he saw Ahwu, holding a sedge to pick his nostrils. He said, “What are you doing? little devil!”
Ahwu sighed and said: “You big fool, big idiot, what are you doing? Why do you want to be a monk? Our old man has just lain in the ground. You don’t think about it. Our old man wanted you to pass on the blood, and bear children. Don’t you know that? and you turned around to become a monk…”
When Yueqiao heard this, he couldn’t help but refuted: “Ahwu, you can also pass on the blood and bear children!”
When he said that, Ahwu was so irritated. She stood up and said: “Do you know what he wanted me to do on the night he died?” Yueqiao asked doubtfully: “What?”
Ahwu took out a silver bracelet from her belt and shook it in front of Yueqiao. “This is the relic of your mother. He was thinking to give it to Qianqian as a token of your engagement. You know that now! How could you just turned around to be a monk your fool head?”
When Yueqiao heard that the silver bracelet was actually the relic of his mother, he took it over and watched it carefully. The bracelet was exquisitely carved with a goat and a sheep, both of them bent their legs, looked so innocent. He was touched in a moment.
Ahwu was saying something about Qianqian, as she is still learning to weave a saddle mat and so on… but he couldn’t hear any.
Yueqiao looked up at Ahwu, her mouth just kept moving. He got an idea suddenly, he grabbed her hand and slid the silver bracelet into her wrist, smiled and said: “My mother’s relic of course reserved for her daughter as a dowry! Stupid girl!”
Ahwu looked at the silver bracelet on her wrist and listened to what he said. She felt so awkward. Her nose was sniffing, and eyes were watery. She was disturbed and annoyed. She was about to cry. She wanted to say he is a dog raised son of bitch. But his mom is my mon now, if I said that, isn’t it silly? So she just opened mouth but nothing she can say about him. She then slammed around, and dashed away.
The first day of the three days has passed, Mulun led the eight guardians to her yurt, and saw that Yueqiao was not there. She was wondered that he gave up so quickly this time. But when she walked into the yurt, she found him was inside the yurt. She was surprised and laughed. One of the elder guardian smiled and said: “Isn’t this brother the one today kneeling outside your yurt? How come he is inside now? He must be afraid of being rediculed.”
Yueqiao did not answer, but asked Aunt Mu: “Can I kneel here? I will not disturbed you, can I?”
Mulun smiled and said: “Yes, but please turn your face to the wall, we don’t want to be distracted.”
Yueqiao immediately did it. Mulun slightly shook her head, and the eight guaridians looked at each other and smile. They seemed didn’t mind about this young man. Mulun took out a scroll of silk from the bottom of pillow, the eight guardians immediately sat around her. Mulun slid the scroll opened and said: “This is the script of the Daqin Jing Jiao popular in China stele, which I and uncle Cao dictated from our memories. It only has the first half. Please helped me to look at it.” The eight guardians were circulating the scroll and they all sighed with astonishment: “It’s really a precious piece of our history in China. The Daqin temple in the captial of Tang, in its time of prosperity!”
One of the young guardian sighed with resent: “What a shame that the Empress betrayed her promise and even exiled us.”
Another female guardian with curly hair also said: “It’s really not what it used to be. When today’s dynasty sees us as thieves of initiating the chaos and violation. Time has changed unfortunately.”
A Han Chinese guardian has other opinion, said: “The Empress sent the officer of foreign affair to escort us to leave, treat us equally as a nation without punishing us. We should be grateful for her majesty.”
Mulun and the other guardians heard that, they were so disheartened and couldn’t say anything else, but just bowed and sighed. The young man faced to the wall abruptly spoke up: “Why are you just yearning for the past, why don’t you think about the future? After all, will there be better days?”
When the guardians heard of what Yueqiao said, they was wondering this young man has such a faith. The elder guardian asked: “How do you know that there will be better days after we went to the west of the Tianshan Mountains?”
Yueqiao asked Mulun first: “Aunt Mu, can I turn my face back?”
Mulun smiled and said: “Of course.”
Yueqiao quickly turned around with a brilliant smile before he answered: “I don’t know, but I believed it will be better. If the emperor of the Central Plains, or the Empress did not listen, you must not keep saying it to provoke them. Don’t you just make yourselves annoying? It is better to find those who love to listen to you. Aunt Mu! you often say that everyone is equal in the eyes of God? If there is no one listen to you in the Central Plains, then you should be happy to leave for the others. Why must you stuck here? The result is what you want them to listen, they don’t, and you neglect the ones who do want to listen. And you stuck here be resentful, don’t you?”
The eight guardians listened patiently and for a moment without respond. They looked at each other, seemed searching for approval from their expression. Then the elder one bowed and said: “Good! Good!”
He smiled kindly, said: “This little donor, really inspirited us positively.”
Yueqiao appreciated to his praise, but he felt that it is better to take an action. Then he smiled and said: “If you want to be good, you can do it anytime, anywhere. Why must you divide the Western Region and the Central Plains? There is no territorial boundaries in the eyes of God. Is there a distinction between Han Chinese and westerners for him?”
The guardians were speechless when they were asked about that. Neverthless, they were not so afraid about the exile. The Western Regions that many of them were actually never been, but indeed was what they belong to originally. They should have no reason afraid of going back. Thereupon, the eight guardians and Yueqiao asked and answered until late at night.
Mulun sent the eight guardians away, and then came back to the yurt. She looked at Yueqiao again. She saw the unprecedented confidence in his eyes, she believed this is what they need the most for now. She sat down behind the desk and said sternly: “Yueqiao, do you know that the Empress was a Nestorian believer? ”
“Nestorian?” Yueqiao never heard about that.
Mulun explained: “Yes, that is the name of Jing Jiao in Daqin, the Roman Empire.”
Yueqiao nodded significantly, but nothing else to say. He now realized that what he wanted to be a monk of Jing Jiao was actually nothing he knows about. He listened patiently.
Mulun then continued: “Where much farther than you can imagine. I am afraid your confidence won’t last long enough before the half way.”
Yueqiao blinked but still silent. Mulun went on talking: “The Empress, her maid name is Gao Tao Tao. She was one of the elected future wife of a young prince of the Great Song. When she was 14 years old. Before she was married, she followed her father, a officer of foreign affair, stationed in the Western Regions. When she met my father, she immediately took the precepts after listening to the teachings. She made a vow of resurrecting the status of Jing Jiao in the Central Plains, if she one day became the Empress and was in power. Later she really became an Empress, but she didn’t realize her oath, on the contrary, she drove away the Nestorian monks from the capital. Yueqiao, you have to understand, today you are confident, you made a vow, but do not know what it is. One day you regret, and it would be too late.”
Yueqiao listened carefully to every word that Mulun said, knowing that she said everything was for him. She did not want him to make a wrong decision because of impulsiveness. For her thoughtfulness, Yueqiao prudently reconsidered about his decision. He was not saying a word but just standing in front of her. Mulun was extremely patient, waiting without making anymore comment. Yueqiao actually was not thinking much, nothing seemed really bothering him. He has no struggling either. He felt that his heart was as calm as a mirror. It was just clear, without any trace of dust. To be a monk was a long-awaited appeal from his heart. He was always sure about it but just the matter of time.
It is the time now. If it was not, there will be never. If there was one year I can live, I will put it all! He said to himself.
Then he looked at Mulun again. She looked solemn, calm and relaxed. Yueqiao stood straight up and smiled and nodded. “I decided.”
Mulun blinked, and then he said: “I will not regret it.”
The next morning, Mulun gathered all the Nestorian monks at the south end of the lake to hold a tonsure ceremony for Yueqiao. The white cloaks fluttered on the lakeside, like a piece of white clouds descending from the sky, half floating next to the lush reeds. The monks were sitting, mediating, bowing and chanting. The eight guardians holding the incense cages, standing in front of the altar. On the grassland, everyone was watching. Even outside the barracks of officer Zhang, he was observing with dozens of civil and military officials, together to testified this solemn religious ceremony.
When everyone was silently waiting, a figure quickly swept through the grassland. It was Ahwu. She was rushing to the patriarch’s yurt and shouted: ” Yueqiao is going to be a monk today, now …”
She saw a few mothers in the yurt surrounding Qianqian, and the floor was covered with blankets and wool. Nobody seemed care what she said.
Qianqian was still weaving her saddle mat without looking at her. Ahwu sneakily walked to her side and whispered: “Qianqian! Have you heard what I said? Yueqiao is going to be a monk, and once his hair was shaved, it is too late.”
Qianqian then looked at Ahwu, but there was no expression on her face. At this time, they heard the rings and chants from the other side of lake. Qianqian began to feel something in her heart since two days ago they walked back from the cliff. There was a hint of mourning, slightly pushed her to be aware of. She stood up, put down her saddle mat, rushed out of the yurt. She ran into the water, watching the other side of lake. Her feet were soaked in the water but she didn’t notice. She was concentrating on searching something. Finally she saw a person wearing a white cloak, kneeling in front of the altar. Aunt Mu was standing by him. Then something black was dropping down from this person’s head. It doesn’t take very long. This person became bald. His head like a melon, shining under the sun. Qianqian could see clearly even from a distance. Aunt Mu then held the seven colors glass cup in both hands, carefully passed it to the man next to her. The man drank and passed it over when the sound of chanting was echoing. After the person drank the cup, he raised and turned it around, surely, he is Yueqiao. He was accompanied by two monks, walking into the water, and was immerged in it. After he raised again. He then officially became a monk of Jing Jiao.
The three-day period reached the last day. On this day, everyone was busy. Mulun and officer Zhang shuttled through the tents to appease the monks. Some of them were old and crippled, some were sick, and some were weak. They were crying and complaining. They have been already missing the Central Plains where was warm and prosper. They don’t know what would happened beyond the Tianshan Mountains.
Qianqian was still weaving the saddle mat with the mothers. She has to finished it today and gave it to Yueqiao. Since she came back from the cliff that day, she has not said a word to him. Thinking of he is leaving tomorrow, she was nervous and dropped the shuttle on the ground again. She picked it up, looked up, saw Mulun and the Officer Zhang standing in front. Qianqian stood up to greet them.
Mulun said: “Qianqian, tomorrow after we left. You will also return to Central Plains with Officer Zhang. With the care of Officer Zhang along the way, you will be surely safe. You must take care yourself, and don’t worry about us.”
Qianqian was hearing but not listening, her eyes have already turned red. She just bowed without answering. The Officer Zhang looked at Qianqian, wondering what a young Han woman was doing here in this wilderness. He said politely: “I am assured that she will be safely back home. She is the civilian of the Great Song. Certainly I will try my best to escort her back to Central Plains.” After that, the two stepped forward and bid thee farewell to the patriarch.
Qianqian sat down again, pick up the saddle mat then finished up the last few stitches. She looked at it with a sigh of relief. She had never done such a thing in her life. Now the person she wanted to present, is leaving her very soon. The mothers saw Qianqian finally completed the mat. They praised her kindly. Qianqian didn’t know what they said, but she was appreciated.
Suddenly, some whispering blown into her ear: “Qianqian!” She casually looked back, it was really him. Qianqian picked up the saddle mat, walked slowly towards him. She did not look at anything, but his head shell, frowned: “There is really none of any tiny hair.”
When she said that, she wanted to touch it. Yueqiao immediately dodged aside, said gravely: “This donor, please be imprudent!”
Qianqian took back her hand, sneered: “What a big deal? Just a fool’s monk head. I don’t care to touch.” She tapped the saddle mat into his arms, then walked out of the yurt. Yueqiao holding the mat, chased her outside and asked, “What is this?”
Qianqian knew that there was no reason to be angry or regret for now. So she soothed her face and said: “This is a saddle mat. I particularly weaved it and give it to you.”
Yueqiao looked at this saddle mat attentively. He was very moved, said: “Thank you, but I don’t need it. We don’t have enough horses, so I will walk!” Qianqian was looked a little disappointed. Then he added: “But of course, I will take it with me.”
He had a thought appeared at this time, maybe he should give her something too, but right away he denied it. Tomorrow, I will be gone. I wish her to forget me immediately, why should I give her something to remember me? Therefore, he changed the topic: “Do you know that I am not calling Yueqiao anymore?”
Qianqian wondered: “Do not call Yueqiao? Then what are you called?”
Yueqiao proudly raised his eyebrows, smiled and said: “Yes, I am now called Isaac, in Daqin, it means he laughs.”
Qianqian heard with her eyebrows dancing, shouted, “What? I said? Who said? So hard to remember? How can I call?”
Looking at the sinking face of Yueqiao, Qianqian sighed and said: “Can I continue to call you Yueqiao?”
Yueqiao returned to smile, blinked, and solemnly said: “Only You can.”
Qianqian has just settled down her bouncy eyeblows, another call from behind : “Yueqiao!”
Looking back, it was Ahwu. Yueqiao stepped over and said sternly, “I told you, don’t call me Yueqiao anymore!”
Ahwu said: “What should I call you then? Big bald monk?”
Yueqiao knocked on her head said: “Of course you call me brother!”
Listened to that, Ahwu couldn’t help but thinking of the old man. She couldn’t believe that Yueqiao really became a monk. Even she heard from Aunt Mu, the priests in Daqin actually were allowed to get married and have children, but the monks of Jing Jiao followed the customs of Buddhism in Central Plains. That is why they call themselves monks. Maybe he would changed his mind after arrived Daqin. Ahwu was hoping. Then she laughed and turned to talk to Qianqian, said: “You know! What I get today? She showed a clay bottle to Qianqian, said happily: “This is the precious rosemary wine. I have spent two day of flattering the officer Zhang to make him grant me one. Tonight, come to my yurt, we drink it off!”
Qianqian didn’t answer. Her heart was still occupied. Then Ahwu turned to Yueqiao: “Brother, you come along too tonight!”
Ahwu was inviting, and Qianqian was yearning. Yueqiao saw it. He didn’t say anything for a long while. Just wandering his eyes between them. Then he scratched his bald head, glanced at Qianqian, before he said indifferently: “I will not drink alcohol for now.” Qianqian understood. She was disappointed but only nodded. When the three were in the silence of bashfulness. Yueqiao clasped his hands and whispered: “Two donors, forgive me!” then slowly retreated and left.
Qianqian was standing still, do nothing, say nothing. Ahwu patted her shoulder and smiled: “Don’t care for such a big fool bald head! See! we have wine and meat, come on! Let’s have a good time.” Ahwu and Qianqian then went to the yurt. They started drinking with a large bowl. Ahwu deliberately got her drunk, hoping that she will fall asleep deeply. Then when they leave tomorrow, she won’t be too sad.
In the early morning, the misty fog shrouded the entire pasture. The monks had already got up and quietly set off. Although no one had said a word, but more than two hundreds people moving around together, it was inevitable to make some noise. Qianqian was drunk but she didn’t fall asleep actually. She was just lying down, listening to every sound on the grassland. The first person woke up, the sound of flipping the curtain. Now the horses are gathered together, the hoofs are supressing, and occasionally some whispering, then she hasn’t heard anymore noise. Qianqian thought, “They are really going to sneak away like this, as if they had never been here!”
Finally, the brigade set off to the valley, gradually drifting away, gradually disappeared. Only the sound of morning gust blowing the tents was heard. Qianqian abruptly sat up, felt cold and lonely. Two lines of tears slipped, then she rushed out of the yurt. She only saw a flock of herons flew across the tents of officer Zhang on the other side of lake, and a couple poles of flag they left in front of her. Qianqian couldn’t stand such a loneliness. How can she cut it off without feeling pain. She ran inside the mountain, rushed to the cliff where she was the last time with Yueqiao alone. She was looking over the valley and saw a group of people slowly moving by the creek. Qianqian glimpsed the front were Aunt Mu and Ahwu. They were riding on the horses, then she shouted: “Aunt Mu! Ahwu!”
Her voice was echoed in the valley. Aunt Mu heard it clearly. She turned back and smiled at Qianqian. Ahwu also waved to her and shouted: “Qianqian! you take care!”
Qianqian was stumbling on the edge of the cliff, following the marching. She only saw a sea of white cloaks. All of them were exactly the same. They were all looking down with the hoodies on their head. She couldn’t distinguished Yueqiao from them. She was just crying while stumbling, calling his name: “Yueqiao! Yueqiao!”
With no response, then she sat down, whispered and wept. Suddenly, she saw a white figure stopped and looked back. It was him really! Qianqian leaned over a rock, stretched her neck, Seeing that he was making face to her. Qianqian broke into laughter and wiped away her tears. The two smiled silently. Yueqiao turned his face back and instantly dissolved into the white sea of monks with the dust of history.
The fourth chapter is finished