Chapter 24

In Eightpoints Village Yong'r Frightfully Changes Faces

And in Zhengzhou, Pu Ji Chases Down a Fare

On the Fairies' Pillow does a fairy dream pass by
Of the grandest paradise up in an ancient sky.

If this pillow were to be presented unto me
I'd be content to spend my life just sleeping blissfully!

As the story continues, Fei Jiangshi has just destroyed the little pillow, silently gazing upward while dashing it down on the floor.

"Oh, no!" shouted the boys in one voice. There it lay smashed to dust on the floor. As they sulked and sifted through the bits they caught sight of a little line of things stirring, not quite little wasps or butterflies, appearing and disappearing and then suddenly flying out the window and up onto the eaves of the roof. And when Fei Jiangshi went up to the roof of the ground floor for a look he found a troop of three-inch-tall pixies piping and strumming with all the known musical devices. There were also some holding a teapot, glass and fan, as well as one with a wand, altogether more than twenty little fairies, just like a line of tiny wooden figures. Each was beautifully powdered and rouged. That little troupe of heavenly fairies just sat there on the roofbeam at the top of the eaves facing Fei Jianshi and together greeting him in what sounded like the tongue of orioles and swallows.

"We are a group of palace maids from an earlier court, banished into that place by order of the Mystery Girl of Ninth Heaven. How grateful we are to you, kind sir, for setting us free like this. It's a totally joyous feeling!"

They then performed a serenade in fine harmony, so soft and dolorous. They finally rose slowly up off of the roofbeam and gradually disappeared into the northern sky.

Fei Jiangshi had never seen anything so strange in his life. He just stared, speechless, for awhile. When he went to examine the shattered bits he found the finest little paintings of mountains and water, pavilions, towers and trees. The pillow had been made of clay, with no cloth covering and no external clue of such finery inside. There had certainly been no indication that it was a pillowful of living fairies! He then ordered the three boys to come kneel before him and answer some questions as to its origin. One of them pointed at his son and spoke.

"He told us that Professor Chen had given it to him and promised to pick it up again tomorrow. We kids don't understand what all this is about. We only know that when you sleep on it you receive a lot of happiness. There's a fairy landscape to see, beautiful sounds to hear and fairy wine to drink. I myself read the words 'Ninth Heaven's Playing Fairies' Pillow' on it and stated feeling really creepy, and that's what we were talking about that when you came in, sir."

He heard much the same story when he asked again. Fei Jiangshi didn't believe it, and so he locked the three boys up in an empty room and waited until Professor Chen's arrival the next morning. He would then find out the facts and be truly angered.

The following day Chen Shan finally had some free time on his hands in which to call upon Squire Hu over in Pingan Street. First, however, he went to see Fei Jiangshi to get the little pillow back. When Fei Jiangshi heard that Professor Chen had indeed come, he hurriedly invited him in to sit in the study.

"Have you given a little pillow to my boy?" he asked.

"You already know about it?" he asked, surprised.

"There was something really weird about that pillow of yours. Tell the truth, Professor, where did it come from? And when you're finished, I've got more to tell you."

"Years ago, in the house of Hu Dahong over in Pingan Street I taught his young daughter, a girl named Yong'r. In time she married, already three years ago. Well, very early yesterday morning I ran into her outside of town, and she told me she'd run off because of some trouble at her husband's house. She gave me the pillow to take to her mom and dad. I was busy yesterday and didn't even have the time to look it over, so how could I have known that it was a bit strange?"

"And you have not yet delivered it, if I understand!" Fei Jiangshi then related every bit of the strange series of events arising from the pillow, from his son's dream down to his smashing it to bits, and then he told of how the distrist magistrate had just issued a wanted poster offering a reward of three thousand strings of cash for the arrest of the sorceress Hu Yong'r. That pillow the professor had been holding, he said, had been evidence that should have been turned over to the prosecutors, but instead that object of the spirits had been dashed to oblivion.

Chen Shan was scared out of his skin. "I live in a small country village far from the city, and I hear nothing there of government business. I didn't know any of this until you told me. What a dangerous mistake I've made! But I wonder why the magistrate has accused Hu Yong'r of being a witch? Please fill me in, as you must know something about the case."

Fei Jiangshi then told of how Zhang Qian and Li Wan had shot Han'ge off of the top of the Anshang Gate tower and of the inconclusive interrogation of the Hu and Jiao family heads. As he listened to the story, Chen shan shivered from his hair down to his very bones.

Fei Jiangshi served his guest breakfast. Afterwards, Chen Shan thanked him effusively and left on his way, not stopping at Squire Hu's home as he had first intended. Fei Jiangshi opened the room in which the three boys had been confined. "From now on," he admonished, "not a word about that pillow to anyone! If word of it gets out I'll take you three and turn you in as sorcerers!"

The three insisted that they wouldn't dare. And from that point no more was said by anyone about the affair of the Playing Fairies' Pillow.

Now let's get back to another thread of the story. After she left Professor Chen, Hu Yong'r travelled alone for a day. It was already twilight when she spotted an old woman in a grass matt shed pouring tea. Yong'r entered the little tearoom and sat for a rest while the woman gave her a cupful to drink. "Where is this place?" she asked, "and where does the road lead?"

"This here is Banqiao Eight-sided Village," replied the woman. "Pass on through there and you'll pick up the main road to Zhengzhou."

"My mom and dad are there, and I'm on my way to check up on them,"

"When evening comes you'd best pass the night in an inn in the Eight-sided Village. It's quite near here actually. It isn't safe to travel alone at night, you know."

Yong'r then conjured up ten coppers and paid for the tea, thanked the old woman and had walked onward another two li or so when she spotted a youth...

Less than six foot tall, twenty-two or three years of age, mustache and beard around his mouth. Slim waisted with broad shoulders, long arms and body, he wore a turbin wrapped up like a papaya pit and a white cloth gown that shown as if made with silver threads in it. Wrapped round his waist was a mottled red and green band, while on his feet were leather shoes with many straps. He carried a pack upon his back and trailed an umbrella. Well, that youth caught sight of Yong'r as she walked along with no lady's hat on her head. Her hair was tightly coiled all round, set with two pins, and she wore a long gown. She looked quite attractive, actually.

"Where are you headed, young lady?" he called out to her.

"Oh, hello brother!" she answered. "I'm hurrying back to my parents in Zhengzhou!"

Now, that fellow was a young drifter. "I'm headed down the road to Zhengzou too, and it's been hard going all alone. And you're a lady...why are you by yourself? Let's you and me travel together, huh?" He then began trying to scare her with frightening tales.

"Hey, little girl!" he said, as they came to a small wood. "This forest is really awful. There's a tiger in there that comes out. If two people pass together it's harmless, but if you were alone it would fly out and attack you!"

"Well, in that case I should hope you'd save me with your strength!"

The youth stopped at every shop they passed along the way, buying them treats with his money. Walking and resting in turn, it was soon twilight. "Brother!" said Yong'r. "It's late. Is there an inn ahead where we might spend the night?"

"Well little girl, I'll tell you what! A month ago two military spies from the Liao Tatars were caught here, and the district government issued orders to the inns forbidding them from accomodating any individual travellers. So it looks like you and I are out of luck!"

"If we can't get rooms, how can we rest tonight?"

"If you we do as I propose," said the youth, "we can get a place to stay."

"I'll go along with whatever you say, brother!"

"All right, girl. Well, it isn't true I know, but if we were to pose as husband and wife we could get a room."

Yong'r was silent. "This boy and I have never seen each other!" she thought. We're just floating leaves passing in the night. And he's got no nice words, just ghost stories to scare me with, taking me so lightly. But I, Hu Yong'r, am the one to feared!"

"Brother!" she replied. "Er...oh, I suppose it'll be all right."

"Fine!" answered the youth. Before long they came to the Eight-sided Village and passed a few inns before stopping at a guest house in the town center. The youth went in to negotiate.

"Have you got an empty room for my wife and me to sleep in?" he asked.

"Sorry, no rooms left!" said the inkeeper's son.

"Please, sir, we need a room, any kind of of room. Isn't there anywhere we can sleep here?"

"The rooms really are all taken, but there's one of them with two beds and only one person in it. But he's a bearded old maker of leather shoes...I was afraid it wouldn't suit you and the lady..."

"Please. let us have a look!"

The innkeeper's boy then led the youth and Yong'r to the room, pushing the door panel aside so they could see. "What's there to be afraid of?" said the youth. He's sleeping alone way over there. We two can sleep on the opposite bed."

"As you don't seem to mind, why don't you just go ahead!" said the host.

Yong'r was boiling mad inside. "On top of everything," she thought, "this creep comes along! I don't even know him and he asks for a room for us as husband and wife. Well, I'll just teach him what sort of magic a wife can do!" And here is a poem:

How laughable the drifting youth just wandering through life
Looking at a girl he met as if she were his wife.

Wealth and lovely faces, fancy quarters and good wine
Are things all known to lead a man across temptation's line!

Apparently this youth had never heard the old saying about never loving another's wife or riding his horse, for evil desire arose in him as soon as he spotted that attractive wife out on the road.

"Can you get us some washwater?" he asked the young innkeeper.

"Yes, yes," answered the clerk, suddenly remembering the other guest. "This couple has just come in from Kaifeng," he explained to the shoemaker, "but the other rooms were all full. There was just this one bed left so we had to give it to them."

As long as I've still got a bed to sleep in let them feel at home!" he answered.

Yong then exchanged greetings with him. "Sorry to trouble you!" said the youth.

"Don't worry about it!" replied the man, who had some doubts. "These two don't look like folks from the capital," he thought. "And they don't seem at all to be a married couple. There's something funny between them... But then what is it to me? Let them be!"

"Make yourself comfortable!" he said heartily.

The youth sat with Yong'r upon the bed. When the innkeeper's boy brought the basin of water the youth washed his feet and then called for a cup of oil and a lamp. The bearded one had no requests but just bade them goodnight and went to sleep, planning to rise early.

"Sis!" said the youth, turning to leave the room. "Out on the road we thought only of the distance and cold, not closeness and warmth! Let me go out for some wine and food for us!"

"I can't stand this creep's rudeness!" said Yong'r. "While he's out getting the drink I'll just play a little trick on him!" Then, chanting a bit of whatever mumbo-jumbo and breathing over the form of the man in the next bed, she stroked her face a bit and tranformed herself into a swarthy bearded one just like the shoemaker, while he changed into Yong'r. The fake man then layed down to fake sleep.

As it happened the young lad bought the wine and treats and carried it all back to the inn. He was congratualating himself on his good luck that day, having met such a fine housewife. Why, he thought, the folks in the hotel took him for her husband and he'd been lucky enough to bed down with her for the night. The fellow opened the door and placed the wine jug on the table. But when he picked up the lamp and looked down at the sleeping figure on the bed, it was none other than the shoemaker! "What's happening here?" he thought, full of fear and uncertainty. "How did he change over to our bed?" And checking the other bed he then found the woman there! "I think I got too much sun today!" he gasped. "I'd better lie down." Once on the bed he reached out with both arms to embrace her.

"Oh, sis!" he murmered, "I've brought wine! Get up, let's go!"

Now the old shoemaker awoke with a start and leapt out of bed, throwing the youth to the floor and beating him with his fists.

"What have I done to you, sir?" shouted the lad.

"Who is your wife?" roared the bearded one. And indeed, when the youth looked carefully he saw that it had indeed been the old shoemaker all along.

"I've made a big mistake!" he hurriedly acknowledged. "I'm so sorry!"

The innkeeper's son heard the commotion, ran over and burst into the room. "What's going on here?" he asked.

This guy was climbing all over me and calling me 'sis'," the man complained.

"Now there, you aren't blind!" said the keeper. "You're bed is over there!" He then stormed out, leaving the shoemaker asleep as before.

That lad had taken quite a beating. "It must have been my unlucky star tonight!" he thought. "I could have sworn I saw the woman, but it really was him." He then noticed the girl asleep on the other bed. "Little girl!" he pleaded. But as he looked closely, what did he see but one with bright red hair, emerald green eyes, a pale face and fangs like a wolf! He screamed out in ghastly horror and fell to the floor.

Now, the junior innkeeper was just having his supper up front when he heard the cries of ghost coming from the room, and rushing to investigate found the youth where he lay. He was just helping the stricken lad to his feet when the shoemaker woke up. Then all the guests in the inn came rushing to the rescue, some gawking with their tongues out in surprise and others sucking their thumbs out of dumb curiosity. The youth was at the end of his rope, nerves rubbed raw after an evening of surprises. "How fightening!" he gasped as he came around. "There's a ghost here! A ghost, I tell you!"

The innkeeper's son grabbed hold of two of the gawkers. "This is a peaceful and respectable place I run!" he shouted in their faces. "Where in this inn is there a ghost? Who called you all out here just to ruin my dinner?" He then lifted the lantern for a closer look. "Well, where's the ghost?" he asked wryly.

"It's that woman on the bed!" exclaimed the terrified youth. "She's the one!"

"You sure aren't making very much sense tonight, kid!" said the junior innkeeper. "In case you've forgotten, that's your wife!"

"She isn't my wife!" he blurted out. "I ran into her on the road and we agreed to find a room together by posing as husband and wife. But when I came back here after buying us some wine the bearded man seemed to be in her place. So I lay down with her on the other bed but it really had been the man all the time and I got beaten up by him!" He really wasn't making sense. "Then when I got back to the girl she had red hair, green eyes and a pale face with the fangs of a she-wolf. She'd been a demon all along!"

The onlookers were aghast at the tale, but there in the lanternlight they saw a young wife as beautiful and elegant as the finest cut jade. "You're seeing things!" shouted the group. "You're nuts! How can you say this fine woman is a demon?"

"All of you!" said Yong'r. "How can you put up with this child's nonsense? I was on my way to Zhengzhou alone, seeking out my mum and dad! This masher ran into me on the road and latched on all the way frightening me with scary tales. And he also said that because some enemy spies had been caught, lone travellers couldn't get into the inns to sleep. He forced me to pretend to be his wife to get a room with me. And now here he is calling me a ghost! After a whole evening of his wild ghost tales I can't even imagine what is really going on in his mind!"

Cries then went up of "This creep is too much!" and "It's time for you to go before we break every bone in your body!" The innkeeper's son lifted the youth up by the scruff of the neck and ran him out of the place, slamming the gate behind. Now, outside in the dark shadows that youth didn't dare move for fear of being spotted by one of the military patrols and turned in for deadly interrogation. It was all he could do to huddle in somebody's doorway until morning.

At dawn the youth left his shelter. "I'd better stay alone," he thought. He walked on for six or seven li and was just coming to a small grove when he spotted Hu Yong'r among the trees, greeting him.

"Brother!" she called out. "That wasn't very nice of you last night, taking me to that inn and then accusing me of being a demon. Now, take a good look at me by daylight! Do I look like a ghost?"

"Look, sister," he answered warily. "When we were together last night you gave me a couple of good scares. I don't think you are a good person go just go off by yourself and don't bother me!"

"Last night you only wanted me to pretend to be your wife, and now you're afraid of me. But then I've had a good scare myself, and I'd like you to stay!"

"It's broad daylight! What's there to be afraid of?"

"Brother, remember when you told me yesterday about that tiger that attacks people?" She then pointed ahead of her. "Isn't that it coming out?"

Suddenly from out of the forest shot a tiger with bulging eyes and a white forehead. The youth struck out at it, slipped and fell. "This is the last day of my life!" he thought as he lost consciousness. When he came to after a long, still silence the giant cat was nowhere to be seen, and neither was the woman.

"I've always enjoyed practical jokes but this is going too far, the way she got me beaten up by that guy and then scared the bejabbers out of me, well, it's really shaken me up. And now this morning she goes and summons that monstrous tiger. Why, she had me thinking I was a goner, just for fun. I don't know whether she was a sorceress or a demon! If I were to run into her again it would be too much for me. I'm calling it quits and heading back to Kaifeng!" He then whirled around and took off. And here is an ancient air about it:

Like the finest flower was the beauty's lovely face
But travelling alone she cried of solitude apace.

Then suddenly upon the road a youth she chanced to meet
Who asked where she was headed in a voice so very sweet.

To see her mum and dad in Zhengzhou did she tell the lad
Alas for single men and women rooms could not be had.

They posed as man and wife although the lad dreamt it was true
Who'd guess instead of joy such awful things she'd put him through.

Unable to discern the shape upon the other bed
He held the bearded man and fists rained down upon his head.

Then the woman changed herself into a fearsome ghost
The beauty all along had been a real demon host.

By hateful fists was he then thrown out in the street for good
Next morning he was shocked to meet the girl inside a wood.

Into a wild tigress could the beauty change her face
For from the start she had been of a wild demon race.

The youth was blinded by his lust and didn't use his brain
He thought he was her loving drake and suffered so much pain.

Many real heroes couldn't spurn a beauty's hand
What chance had such a silly boy to ever understand?

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