50. How Molo Stole Rose-Red
At the time of the Tang dynasty there were skilled swordsmen of different orders. The first were the sword- saints. These could change their shape at will and their swords struck like lightning. Before people knew what had happened to them their heads were rolling on the ground. However, these were high-minded men who did not readily get involved in worldly business. The second kind were the Sword-heroes. They would kill the unjust and help the oppressed. They carried a dagger concealed at the waist, and over their shoulder they had a leather satchel. By means of magic they could transform human heads into water. They could fly over the roofs and walk up and down walls, and came and went without trace. The lowest kind were the murderers, who could be hired by anyone Wanting to be avenged upon his enemies: to them death was an everyday occurrence.
Old Dragon-Beard no doubt came halfway between the first and second categories. But Molo, of whom the present Story tells, was one of the sword-heroes.
At that time there lived a young man called Tsui. His father was a high official and the friend of a prince. One day the father sent his son to visit a sick friend. The son was young and handsome and highly gifted. He went to do his father’s bidding, and as he entered the house three beautiful slave girls heaped red peaches upon golden dishes, poured sugar water over them and presented them to him. When he had eaten he took leave, and his noble one of the slave girls, called Rose-Red, to accompany him to the gate. As he walked along the young man continually turned his head to look at her. She smiled at him under her lashes and made signs to him with her hand. First she stretched out three fingers, then she turned her hand three times and finally she pointed to a little mirror which she wore on her chest. As they parted she whispered to him: ‘Do not forget me!’ When he got home his mind and thoughts were in turmoil. He sat there absentminded, like a wooden cockerel. Now he had an old servant called Molo, who was an exceptional man.
‘What is the matter, master?’ he addressed him. ‘Why are you so sad? Will you not confide in your old slave?’ so the young man told him what had happened and also mentioned the secret signs which the girl had made to him.
Mola said: ‘The fact that she stretched out three fingers means that she lives in the third courtyard. Her turning her hand three times signifies the number of three-times five fingers, that makes fifteen. And by pointing to her little mirror she meant that on the 15th, when the moon will be as round as a mirror at midnight, you are to go to her.’ These words roused the young man from his confusion and he could hardly contain himself with joy. But soon he was sad again and said: ‘The prince’s palace is cut off as if by the sea. How could one possibly penetrate into it?’
‘Nothing easier,’ said Molo. ‘On the 15th we will take two lengths of dark silk and veil ourselves in it, and I shall thus carry you there. However, there a fierce dog guarding the courtyard gate of the slave girl, and this dog is as strong as a tiger and as watchful as a god. No one can pass it. It must first be killed.’
When the appointed day came, the servant said: ‘Apart from me there is no one on earth Who can kill that dog.’
The young man was exceedingly pleased and gave him wine and meat. The old man then took a sledgehammer and was gone in an instant.
And before the time of a meal had elapsed he was back again and said: ‘The dog is dead, there is no obstacle left.’
At midnight the two wrapped themselves in dark silk and the old man carried the young man over the tenfold walls which surrounded the palace. They came to the third gate which was only ajar. They saw the gleam of a small lamp and they heard Rose-Red sighing deeply. The court-yard was deserted and silent. The young man lifted the curtain and entered. Rose-Red regarded him searchingly for a long while, then she leapt up gaily from her couch and caught him by the hand.
‘I knew you were clever and would understand my sign language. But what magic powers have you at your disposal to have penetrated here?’
The young man told her everything that Molo had done for him.
‘And where is Molo?’ she asked.
‘Outside the curtain,’ was his reply.
She called him in, gave him some wine in a jasper cup and said: ‘I come from a good family far from here. I am kept as a slave in this house under duress. I long to get away, for even though I have jasper chopstick to eat with and wine to drink from golden goblets, and velvet and silk to clothe myself in, and whatever jewels I desire—all these are but fetters and chains to me. Good Molo, you have magic powers, I entreat you, save me from this misery
and I will gladly serve master as a slave and remember your good deeds as long as I live.’
The young man looked at Molo. Molo Was ready to do as she desired. He asked permission to remove first of all her dowry in satchels and sacks. Three times he came and left again before he had finished. Then he took his master and Rose-Red upon his back and with them flew over the high walls. None of the watchmen in the prince’s castle had noticed anything. At home the young man concealed Rose-Red in the remotest room.
When the prince discovered that one of his slave girls Was missing and one of his fierce dogs had been killed he said ‘This must have been done by a mighty sword-hero.’ He then gave strict Orders not to allow any news of this to get out and to have the matter followed up secretly.
Two years had passed and the young man no longer thought of any danger. Thus, when the flowers bloomed in spring again, Rose-Red rode out of the city to the river in a light carriage. She was spotted by one of the prince’s servants. He reported this to his master, and the young man was summoned to see him. Unable to conceal the business, the young man told him the whole truth.
The prince said: ‘Rose-Red alone is to blame. I do not hold you responsible at all. But since she is now your Wife I Will pardon her too. But Molo Will have to pay for it.’
He thereupon ordered a hundred armed warriors to surround the young man’s house with arrows and swords and to seize Molo at all costs. Molo took his dagger and flew up to the top of the tall wall. He looked around him like a hawk. The arrows came at him as thick as rain, but none struck him, and in a moment he had disappeared; no one knew where he had gone.
More than ten years later one of his master’s servants came across him in the south, selling medicine. He still looked exactly the same as before.