The leader of the troops frowned and said, "Who are you? Why are you interfering in the authorities' affairs?"
"You are the authorities?" Liang Shaoqing started to notice the uniforms they were wearing. He frowned awkwardly and said, "I'm Liang Shaoqing. I was passing by and saw you fighting, hence I decided to find out more. I did not realize that all of you were officials. I'm sorry for the lack of respect."
"Liang Shaoqing?" The leader of the troops tried to recall, but could not think of anyone with the surname Liang, or anyone who would dare to meddle in the officials' affairs. He was enraged and said, "Idlers, scram to the side! Beware of the swords, they have no eyes!"
"Yes, yes," Liang Shaoqing hurriedly replied. As he turned to leave, he could not resist saying another sentence, "Killing is an insult to being civilized. Are there any misunderstandings between everyone that I could help to mediate?"
"You are looking for death!" the leader bellowed, raising his sword!
"Ah!" Liang Shaoqing panicked. He crouched on the ground and clutched his head.
"Idiot!" Chu Qiao shouted. She took out her dagger and threw it towards the leader, stabbing his neck. The man's eyes widened. He took two steps then collapsed on the ground!
"Elder!" The troops panicked and rushed towards their leader. Chu Qiao, capitalizing on the pandemonium, leapt onto the scholar's donkey and grabbed ahold of the donkey's reins. "Let's go!"
"Ah! Miss, why are you on my donkey? It's not appropriate for a male and female to be this close! Miss, why don't you…?"
With a thud, Chu Qiao delivered a blow to the man's chest. She kicked the donkey with both her legs and said, "Giddyup!" The donkey was able-bodied. It was not much slower than a normal warhorse.
After a short while, hoof sounds echoed from behind. Chu Qiao decisively took the rucksack at the back and threw it on the ground.
"Ah! Miss! That's my book, my luggage, my money, my work! Ah! Miss, that's my documents for passing the border!"
The donkey was agile. On the treacherous mountain road, it was faster than a warhorse. Soon, the enemy was left far behind.
As they ventured south, the weather got warmer. The donkey had galloped non-stop for over two hours in the scorching heat. Through the winding roads, followed by a bridge, the donkey finally collapsed on the ground, unable to get up.
Chu Qiao and Liang Shaoqing were thrown off its back. Chu Qiao was agile and managed to stabilize herself with a front flip. Liang Shaoqing rolled on the ground a few times before stopping. Before he stood up, he vomited everywhere. The smell was pulsating. He appeared messy.
"Are you alright?" Chu Qiao asked with concern.
The young scholar struggled to get to his feet. He panted while lurching over, stuttering, "You…you unreasonable woman. I rescued you out of goodwill, but you threw away all of my belongings away. Utterly…utterly ridiculous."
"Here," Chu Qiao gave him a white handkerchief and said, "wipe your mouth."
"Consider…consider myself unlucky." Liang Shaoqing panted and walked to his donkey. He wanted to pull the donkey up, but it refused to cooperate due to its fatigue. The young scholar was angered. He shouted, "Right. Now you are opposing me too?"
"It has run too much. It won't be able to get up for a while," Chu Qiao said. "What are you doing?"
Liang Shaoqing was enraged. "What am I doing? I'm going back to get my stuff!"
"Going back now is courting your own death."
"If I don't go back, I will really end up dead! With no papers, how will I go to Tang Jing?" Liang Shaoqing was riled up. "Additionally, I don't have any problems with them. I am a law-abiding citizen. Why would they make things difficult for me?"
Chu Qiao picked up her sword and squatted beside the collapsed donkey without looking him in the eye. Nonchalantly, she said, "If you don't want to live, go back then. Let's see if you can make it to Tang Jing alive.
"Hey, you saved me just now and carried me so far. Thank you!" she said to the Donkey. The young lady was all smiles, her eyes squinted. There were two small dimples on her face, making her look adorable, unlike the serious look that was usually on her face.
The scholar was startled by Chu Qiao, not daring to turn back even after a long time. As she spoke, he interrupted, "Madam, don't you think you should thank me instead? I rescued you, how could you thank a beast?"
"You saved me?" Chu Qiao raised her eyebrows, looking back at the nerdy scholar and laughing. "When? How did I not know?"
"Ah? Why are you so unreasonable? Is this how you treat your savior? Not even a word of thanks, but sarcasm instead?"
"Did you kill those officials, or save me from danger? You didn't do anything. Who are you to say that you saved me?"
"You…you…" Liang Shaoqing stuttered for a long while, before slowly uttering, "I tried to reason with them for the cause of justice, and then…"
"And then they reached nirvana? And let us go obediently?"
Liang Shaoqing was rooted to the spot, speechless. Chu Qiao shook her head and stood up. She walked in front of him. Although she did not even reach his shoulder, she reached out her hand to pat his shoulder. "Having a sense of justice is good, but you need some brains. If you don't have that, then don't meddle in other people's affairs. If not for this good beast, we both would have died today."
The young lady laughed sheepishly, reaching for her pocket and fishing out two bank notes that could be used universally within the Xia territory. She said, "Your stuff is irretrievable. I'll compensate you with the silver I have. Sorry for delaying your errands. It's not safe here. I can escort you to the town below. How about that?"
"Hmph!" Liang Shaoqing knocked the bank notes out of Chu Qiao's hands, raging, "I'm a man, seven feet tall. I am standing and can walk, what do I need to be scared of? Being with you is not safe! You are young, yet are already being hunted by the officials. If you are not a bandit, you are a repeat criminal." The scholar walked to the donkey's side and pulled it to its feet with astonishing strength. He led the donkey down the mountain, step by step.
Chu Qiao stood in her original position, smiling at the scholar who was leaving. She picked up the banknotes on the ground and shouted after him, "Bookworm! Don't you want this money?"
Liang Shaoqing waved his hand, not turning back. "Over my dead body!"
His words continued to ring in her ear. Four hours later, at Dong Guo Town's market for horses and slaves, she saw the man again, breaking out in uncontrollable laughter.
"Miss, do you want to purchase a slave? This one is good. He is well-built and capable, able to do the tasks of four men. This one used to be a martial arts instructor, but was enslaved due to his past mistakes. He is skilled and literate. Eh? Your judgement is good. This one is handsome. Although he is skinnier, he is suitable to be a page boy. It befits your status, Miss."
The slave seller continued to recommend his choices to Chu Qiao. She smiled, and scanned the other slaves before setting her sights on Liang Shaoqing, whose face had turned utterly red. "Boss, how much for him?"
"That?" The boss was a smart person. His eyes turned and he pulled Chu Qiao to the side, saying, "That man was just caught by the city guards. He has no papers, and still dared to fight the city guards. He was just dragged here to be sold. He has no slavery documents either. Miss, please quote a price. If I deem it to be reasonable, I'll sell him to you."
After some bargaining, Chu Qiao dragged Liang Shaoqing along the street. The woman was demure; the man, albeit a little pathetic, looked cultured. They attracted stares as they walked down the street. Seeing the mark on Liang Shaoqing's back, and that he was tied up, further sounds of discussion emerged.
"Hey! Untie me quickly!"
Chu Qiao turned back lazily, asking jovially, "Do you talk to your master like that?"
"What master? I'm a scholar, but you purchased me with money. It's an insult to me! If not for you, I wouldn't have landed in this state…"
"Wrong!" Chu Qiao interrupted him. "Firstly, I did not ask you to meddle in others' affairs. Secondly, you are not my savior. It was me that saved you, bookworm. Thirdly, I offered to give you some money, but you refused outright. If you were able to pay the toll, you would not have been captured and sold as a slave. Hence, you landed yourself in this plight. I had nothing to do with it."
"You, you ungrateful woman. I-I…"
With a slicing sound, the ropes fell onto the ground. Chu Qiao smiled and offered the two banknotes to him. "Let's part ways here. Don't get caught by others again."
"A gentleman keeps his promises and has his own principles. I will not take your money, even if I die!"
As Liang Shaoqing's shadow vanished in the street, Chu Qiao shook her head and smiled. If not for her tight schedule, she would have retrieved his belongings for him. However, the circumstances did not allow it. He could only count his blessings now. She had made a huge mistake by entering the city to buy a horse. She could not delay anymore.
She had blown her cover at Tang Ma Ridge, causing an influx of spies over the entire southeast region. Originally, she would have taken two days to reach her destination. However, with the constant hiding, she took five days to arrive instead. After five days, Chu Qiao arrived at the city of Xian Yang, less than 50 miles from Bai Zhi Pass.
There were only two ways to enter the Tang Empire from Bai Zhi Pass. The first way was to take the main path, and enter Bai Zhi City from the gates at Bai Zhi Pass. To take this route, a document endorsed by both empires needed to be produced. Even if the person was a spy, a large amount of money was needed to bribe themselves into the Tang Empire. Bai Zhi Pass was the most heavily guarded entrance in the northern part of the Tang Empire. Chu Qiao would not have the required documents. She did not intend to break through the gates at the pass, hence ruling out this method.