Hou Dong spurred on his horse, leaving a cloud of golden dust in his wake. He narrowed his eyes and pulled up the black cloth hanging from his neck to cover his face, cursing under his breath. Finally, he reached the top of the dune and halted his horse.
His gaze roamed over the next stretch of the desert and picked up on a blotch of green in the distance. He couldn’t help but heave a sigh of relief. He certainly hadn’t expected things to turn out this way when he accepted the mission to escort the merchants’ caravan. Well, this wasn’t the time to complain. He’d bring it up later.
Hou Dong took the red flag out of his bag, tied it to the tip of his spear and waved, signaling his men accompanying the caravan. He glanced back and spurred his horse on again when they signaled in response, rushing toward the oasis in the distance. Ah, he couldn’t wait to look at something other than this blasted sand for a few hours!
With his goal in front of his eyes, he urged his horse to go faster and soon, the first breeze that wasn’t fucking hot caressed his face. His expression lit up and he leaped from his horse as soon as it reached the oasis.
Surveying it from up close, the place was bigger than he had thought. What had looked like a single palm tree with a shrub and a pool of water turned out to be several lines of trees with wide leaves that shrouded the ground in shadows, letting a few patches of grass thrive. It couldn’t be called lush but it was much better than anything he had seen in the desert so far.
Hou Dong pulled down the cloth covering his face and strode over to the pond filled with sparkling water. When he passed by the palm trees, he even discovered a hut on the other side. Hou Dong nodded to himself. It looked as if it had been built with sand but he didn’t care. This was a place where a man could rest well. "Haish, a pity that there’s still those merchants! They’ll probably hog it all to themselves." He didn’t really care about having a roof above his head. How often had he and his men slept under the stars? But not having to see the sand for a while would have been nice.
He shook his head and followed the slight slope down to the pond. Just when he wanted to crouch down and scoop up some water, he noticed somebody on the other side. "Oh?" Hou Dong straightened up again. The person was lying on the ground, not moving even in the slightest. His honey-colored hand was stretched toward the water as if he had wanted to get to the pond but never reached.
Hou Dong narrowed his eyes and circled the pond, keeping his eyes on the person and glancing at the surroundings. If this was a ploy to rob merchants … He certainly wouldn’t fall for it! He whistled lowly and his horse came trotting over. He grabbed the spear that was still hanging from the saddle and bridged the last gap between them.
The person on the ground still didn’t get up. Hou Dong turned his spear with a swift movement and poked him with the other end. He didn’t get a reaction. His brows shot up and he stepped closer, nudging the person with his foot instead. The person still stayed quiet. If this was a scheme to lure in victims, then this guy took his job rather seriously. Hou Dong glanced around and finally gave the person a shove, making him roll onto his back.
Hou Dong tsked. "What a waste!"
He crouched down and reached out to the delicate neck, feeling for a pulse. Ah, it wasn’t too late yet! He scooped the person up in his arms, his fingers clenching when the black hair brushed against the back of his hand. Ah, it felt like the finest silk. Letting this boy die would be a waste …
Hou Dong carried him over to the edge of the pond and scooped up some water. He moistened his lips first and touched his cheeks and brow to cool him down. His gaze couldn’t help but flit over the honey-colored skin. Mn, letting such a beauty die would be an affront against the gods that had blessed this god-forsaken desert with it in the first place.
He scooped up another handful of water and tried to make him drink. Unfortunately, the beauty remained unconscious and only a few drops managed to pass his lips. They probably hadn’t even reached his throat.
Hou Dong frowned and unwillingness welled up inside him. He had found this beauty before he breathed his last. There was no way he’d let him die right in front of his eyes!
He picked the beauty up and pressed him against his chest, giving a wry smile. "Sorry if you were saving your chastity for someone but you’ll have to bear with it." He scooped up another handful of water, taking it into his own mouth before he bent down and pressed his lips onto those of the beauty. The water flowed over and this time not a single drop was wasted.
Hou Dong pulled back and looked at the youth in a daze. Even though he had moistened the beauty’s lips first, they were still chapped. Who knew how long he hadn’t drunk anything? Hou Dong reached for the pond again, continuing to feed the water to the beauty in the same way. Their lips touched and their bodies brushed against each other when he moved. Hou Dong’s own throat felt dry and he couldn’t help but swallow a few mouthfuls of water himself. It didn’t help at all.
He glanced at the person in his arms and his free hand twitched. He hesitated but finally reached out and touched the beauty’s flat stomach, his fingers gently brushing over the light fabric of his robe. Mn, come to think of it … that was one thin robe …
"Hahaha!" The boisterous laugh of a merchant pulled Hou Dong out of his thoughts.
His lips curled in displeasure and he took his hand back, scooping up another handful of water and continuing to moisten the beauty’s skin instead. He took the time to touch his whole face, his own body trembling faintly.
The beauty’s face was as if carved from heated beeswax, clearly shaped but looking oh so soft. He felt the urge to slide his fingers over this skin to test whether every part was as lovely as the face he had touched.
Hou Dong forced himself to retract his hands when he heard the other people catch up and run over to the pond. He just carefully held the beauty in his arms and waited for the people to sate their thirst and leave. Shouldn’t those merchants want to rest in the house? Well, then please go and do so! He certainly didn’t want to have them around.
The merchants indeed went to drink first and replenished their water reserves. Unfortunately, they didn’t turn to leave afterward. Instead, they got up and stretched their bodies as if they had had a very difficult journey behind them with being accompanied by their servants and all.
Hou Dong’s brows furrowed. These guys! He had been unhappy originally because these bastards had failed to provide him with accurate information. Being disturbed while taking care of the beauty, he felt even angrier. He should ask for a hefty sum when they finished this journey. And if they refused to pay up, he would show them why nobody dared to mess with Hou Dong and his men!
One of the merchants finally pointed over at the house. "Let’s go and rest up. We can stay here until tomorrow morning."
Another one of them nodded. "Indeed. I wouldn’t have been able to take it any longer if we still had to continue through the desert for even an hour more."
Behind them, Hou Dong’s men showed disgusted expressions. They had also been there when these merchants came to negotiate with their Master so they had heard every word. The bastards had only said that they needed some men to escort them and their goods on their journey but the regular mercenary groups were all occupied and they had expensive valuables with them so they couldn’t trust just anyone. They hadn’t mentioned the desert and the price they had offered wouldn’t fit this kind of journey either.
If Hou Dong hadn’t always insisted that his men had to be prepared for every kind of situation, they might have died on this journey already. After all, they wouldn’t have had enough food and wouldn’t have been prepared for the bandits of the desert either. And these merchants still had the gall to say they couldn’t see the sand anymore? It really made them want to punch their faces once or twice!
The first few merchants finally left for the house and Hou Dong turned back to the youth in his arms, his eyes unable to leave the beautiful face. He wanted to reach out again and touch that skin, caress his cheek … He indeed reached out but he only brushed through that inky-black hair, giving a light sigh. Ah, this kind of temptation was too much for him. He was only a man, alright? You couldn’t present him with such a beauty and expect him to hold back, could you?
He pulled him a little closer, tightening his grasp around the youthful body. The beauty seemed to feel that somebody was close by. He inclined his head to the side and his fingers twitched, his hand reaching out to the person close by as if seeking for help. Hou Dong reached out and clasped that hand, squeezing it to reassure the beauty. The young man’s taut expression relaxed and he sighed, whatever thoughts he might have had seemingly coming to a rest.
Hou Dong couldn’t help but feel that it was a pity. Not that he didn’t hope the beauty could rest up a bit but … he really would have liked to look into his eyes. Couldn’t he open them for at least a moment? Which color would they be when he did? A light honey-color just like his skin? Or inky-black like his hair and the thick eyelashes? He really wanted to find out. He had to find out. He might go crazy if he couldn’t.
Hou Dong leaned closer, taking a deep breath. The beauty actually emitted a foreign smell. It reminded him of wood or maybe a spice, a deep, slightly rough smell that he wouldn’t have expected. It reminded him a little of the incense they were burning back in Hua country.
"Ah? What’s that?" Just when Hou Dong wanted to take another deep breath to enjoy the beauty’s scent, one of the merchants that had stayed behind to make sure that the goods hadn’t gotten damaged on the last part of the journey came over. His eyes lit up when he saw the slender body in Hou Dong’s arms. His gaze brushed over the dark hair that shimmered in the sunlight, the fine features of his face, and the graceful arch of his neck. The merchant’s lips split into a wide grin and he even rubbed his hands. "Hehe, Mister Hou, you wouldn’t have found this beauty here in the oasis, would you? Was he unconscious the whole time?"
Hou Dong didn’t deign to answer the question. Did this guy take him for an idiot? He hadn’t had a beauty with him when they started on this journey, had he? So where should he have found him if not here in the oasis?
The merchant didn’t mind his rude behavior. Wasn’t this guy just a warrior? It was normal for that kind of person not to know how to behave politely. They just didn’t have any manners. It was to be expected. He came closer and knelt next to Hou Dong, reaching out to touch the unconscious youth.
Hou Dong curled his lips in disgust. He wanted to pull the beauty away but where could he shift him to?
The merchant grabbed the youth’s arm, his fingers roughly brushing over the honey-colored skin. His grin got even broader. "What soft skin! Who would have thought with that color?"
Hou Dong harrumphed. Who would have thought? Please! Even though the beauty’s skin was slightly darker than the usual skin tone in their Hua country, it was obvious this wasn’t due to him doing hard labor and instead just because of him having lived somewhere else. Otherwise, his skin wouldn’t have been this even with that slight gloss to it. Damn, even after walking through the desert for an unknown amount of time, this youth still looked this beautiful! That definitely wasn’t what somebody looked like if they had to work outside every day.
The merchant didn’t take note of Hou Dong’s expression and continued. His hands brushed over the youth’s arm and then reached for his chest, jerking the fabric of the robe aside. He looked at the skin below the clothes and clicked his tongue. "Not bad! His skin tone is quite even."
Hou Dong’s expression darkened even further. Quite? He’d like to know where it wasn’t even! He wanted to push the bastard off but the merchant didn’t think of letting it be yet.
"Aiya, Mister Hou, don’t be like this! Let me appraise him further. I think I have somebody in mind that would pay a good price for him. I just need to check some more things."
Hou Dong tensed. Pay a good price? He couldn’t mean … "Mister Zai, what are you talking about?"
The merchant finally took his hands back and curbed his smile, even though the skin around his eyes still crinkled in happiness. "Well, obviously, we’ve found him here in the desert and saved his life. It’s only right that he belongs to us now, no? And he’s quite exotic too with that dark skin. Basically a rarity! A beauty like that … a lot of men would pay a hefty sum to own him."
Hou Dong gnashed his teeth. What was this bastard saying? Since 'we’ve found him'? It was him! Him alone who had found him! He had saved the beauty’s life! These bloody merchants had nothing to do with it!
The merchant smiled noncommittally when he saw Dou Hong’s expression. "Is there something Mister Hou wants to say?" He couldn’t imagine it. These warriors would only get their remuneration at the end of the journey. They wouldn’t dare to make trouble before that. Furthermore, a single beauty wasn’t worth it to risk their pay. Even if it was an exotic beauty like this.
Well, if that Hou Dong did make trouble, then they might be able to agree on some terms. Even though a virgin would be worth more, there was no way for him to prove that the youth was untouched anyway. So why not let this warrior have him once? He could deduct some of their pay and still sell the youth. And with his looks, the boy could still fetch a good sum after being done once. After all, this type of beauty was hard to come by.
Hou Dong gritted his teeth but didn’t say anything. He just turned away and pretended he hadn’t seen anything. He noted this further slight down in his heart though. These bastards! They should better not anger him again or he would pay them back in a way they would never forget!
The merchant nodded with satisfaction when he saw that Hou Dong didn’t dare to retort. This was the way to go! How dare a warrior they had hired to guard their caravan talk down to him? They were the ones paying them! He huffed and turned back to appreciate the beauty that was still resting in Hou Dong’s arms. "Bring him into the house. Since we’re going to sell him, we should make sure that he’s in good condition." He got up and waited for Hou Dong to carry the youth but Hou Dong didn’t get up. The merchant frowned. "Didn’t you hear me, Mister Hou?"
Hou Dong furrowed his brows. "I did. But if you haven’t noticed already, he is severely dehydrated. He needs rest and water more than anything else. It’s better to let him stay here." Furthermore, he was only paid to guard the caravan, not to do any other tasks. This merchant shouldn’t get ahead of himself.
Mister Zai looked at the beauty’s face and the pond and finally nodded with another huff. "Very well then, you make sure that he doesn’t die. Such a beauty is only worth something if he still has at least one breath left to last a night." With that, he turned away and went into the house.
Hou Dong snorted and ignored him. There were much better things to focus on. Ah, would the beauty open his eyes before they left this oasis?
His men came over, crowding around him to take a look at the beauty.
"Ah, Master, that really is a beauty! Did I hear that right? The merchants want to claim him and sell him off?"
Another one snorted in response. "Even if they want to, they can forget about it! It was clearly our Master who found him! Why should we leave him to these old farts?"
"Right, right, why should we? Even if we leave him to them, we should at least have a taste for ourselves first, shouldn’t we?" The first man reached out only to find himself faced with Hou Dong’s glare. "Uh … I guess we won’t have a taste either?" He scratched his head and backed off, hurriedly hiding his hand behind his back and laughing awkwardly. "These merchants, really! So daring! Actually, the one saving him was our Master! Naturally, only our Master deserves to have such a beauty to himself!"
Hou Dong just looked at him. This guy! If he didn’t get anyone into trouble, he wouldn’t be happy, would he? He shook his head and turned back to the beauty in his arms. The youth still hadn’t woken up and Hou Dong couldn’t help but worry. Who knew how long he had been in the desert? Giving him that bit of water and moisturizing his skin might not be enough.
He turned around and waved at one of his men. "Duan Bao, you come here. Take a look at him and see how he’s doing." This time Hou Dong put the beauty down and shifted to the side. He wouldn’t give him to these merchants for even a moment and he would certainly take some precautions if the person who wanted to touch him was Sun Jin, that pervert, but otherwise, he trusted these men with his life.
Since he had already established that he was interested in this beauty and wouldn’t accept anyone else making a move on him, he didn’t feel that there was anything wrong with letting them get close. Especially not now when the beauty’s life might depend on it. Among all his men, Duan Bao was the one who knew the most about medicine. He wasn’t a full-fledged doctor either but it was the best they would get out here in the desert. Everything else would have to wait until they got to their destination.
Duan Bao knelt beside them and carefully picked up the beauty’s arm, feeling for his pulse. Intently focusing for a few minutes, his brows scrunched up.
Hou Dong couldn’t help but get anxious. Did this mean that things were looking bleak? Could it be the beauty wouldn’t even make it? He glanced at the beautiful face again and gulped. Yes, maybe he had gotten a little ahead of himself. He didn’t know if this person was alright. Even if he was, he didn’t know if the beauty would have any interest to get to know him any better. Why was he caring so much anyway? There were many beauties around. Somehow, he couldn’t shake the feeling that this person was special though. He had never seen anyone like him.
Maybe it really was as the merchant had said. Maybe an exotic beauty like that was able to make a man’s heart beat faster. Well, he was also a man. It wasn’t a wonder that he would react like this, was it?
Duan Bao finally put the beauty’s arm down and turned to his Master. "Well, he’s not doing too well. I guess he’s been in the desert for several days without food and maybe even without water. We should move him to the shade for now and keep him cool. He’ll also need some water but we have to make sure it won’t be too much. Otherwise, his body won’t be able to take it in his current condition."
Hou Dong raised his brows. "That’s all?"
Duan Bao shrugged his shoulders. "That’s all. At least that’s all I can think of. I’m not a doctor." He got up and went away while shaking his head. Why did their Master always forget about that? If he wanted somebody who could answer that kind of question, he would need to get a real doctor! Furthermore, he had never been in the desert before. How would he know how to deal with such things?
He did go to search for a big leaf though. Hadn’t he said to keep the beauty cool? Well, somebody would need to arrange for a breeze then. Otherwise, there was no way to keep cool in the desert. Well, here in the oasis, it was a little better but still not ideal. Ah, come to think of it, they probably shouldn’t let him lie on the ground either. The sand should be unbearably hot.
Ah, their Master had really picked the perfect place to find such a person. But, well, it was still good. At the very least, they might not get into trouble again just because their Master got the glorious idea to hunt for some young man in the next city. Just how many families had they pissed off like that already? If the beauty managed to hold his attention, then they would have one less worry. Ah, keeping that person alive was the most important task now!
Duan Bao finally found what he was looking for and plucked a big leaf off one of the palm trees, carrying it back to the side of the pond. His Master was still sitting there foolishly, the beauty already pressed up against his body again.
Duan Bao sighed. "Alright, just move him over to the tree there. It’s not like there’s a lot of shade around even here. And I guess it’s cooler by the side of the pond anyway." He motioned at the tree and handed the leaf to Sun Jin at the same time. "Here, you take this and fan him."
Sun Jin looked at the leaf and then up at Duan Bao. "What?"
Duan Bao shook his hand as if waving the leaf. "Fan! Didn’t I say he had to be kept cool? Do you feel any breeze here? No? Then go ahead and fan!" He harrumphed and walked away to search for some bandages that he kept in the bag tied to his horse’s saddle. He brought them back and handed them to one of the other guys. "Put them in the water and then wring them out. They can be put on his skin to cool it down a bit. We’ll see if it helps."
The other man nodded and went to do as he was told. Meanwhile, Hou Dong had shifted the beauty into the shade below the tree. He still didn’t let him out of his arms though. He could only hope that this would be enough. And then, he would somehow need to show the stupid merchants that there was no way they would get this person. In the worst case, he’d really have to ditch them somewhere in the desert and accept that they wouldn’t get any pay for this mission. Well, he didn’t mind but who knew if his men would be alright with this?
Hou Dong couldn’t help but look at them. He could tell that all of them were dissatisfied with the current mission. None of them wanted to go on. Well, he couldn’t blame them. This wasn’t the kind of mission they were used to doing. Escorting some merchants would normally be beneath them. They had only agreed because of the circumstances. Now that the circumstances had turned out to be different from what they had thought, his men were naturally angry.
He could understand. He had at least found a beauty now. But what had his men to show for? The pay they had been promised wasn’t enough to make up for the hardships they had had to suffer even remotely. So, he couldn’t expect them to just put up with this, could he? Even if they finished the mission and he gave his part of the remuneration to them, it still wouldn’t be enough to make up for much.
Hou Dong sighed and brushed the beauty’s hair to the back. He would definitely take him home. That was his reward for the mission. As for the others, he would figure something out. "Let’s wait until he wakes up. After that, I’ll talk to those merchants again. I definitely won’t let you go home with empty hands."
His men nodded. Even though they had stuck with the merchants after accepting the mission, that didn’t mean they were happy. If not because they were worried about their Master’s reputation, they would’ve made trouble way sooner. Hearing that their Master was finally willing to go and teach those bastards a lesson made them inwardly rub their hands in glee. Those guys deserved that. Nobody could tell them whatever they wanted and expect them to put up with it.
Well, it seemed they still needed to wait for the beauty to wake up.