It is a very famous Chuanqi in the Tang Dynasty. Below is a full English translation of the story.
During the reign of Emperor Dezong in the Tang Dynasty, there was a man named Cui Sheng(崔生). His father was a prominent official who had a close relationship with high-ranking ministers of the time. Cui Sheng himself served as a guard in the palace. One of these high-ranking ministers fell ill, and Cui Sheng’s father instructed him to visit.
Cui Sheng was young, handsome as jade, straightforward in character, serene in demeanor, and eloquent in speech. When the minister summoned him, a lady attendant raised the door curtain, ushering Cui Sheng into the room. After paying respects to the minister, Cui Sheng conveyed his father’s concerns. The minister was fond of Cui Sheng and invited him to sit, engaging in conversation.
At that moment, three extraordinarily beautiful attendants stood before them, carrying golden utensils filled with fresh peaches soaked in syrup. The minister directed a maiden in red silk to offer a bowl to Cui Sheng, who, feeling bashful in the presence of the maiden, hesitated to eat. The minister then instructed the maiden to feed Cui Sheng with a spoon. Reluctantly, he ate, and the maiden giggled.
Cui Sheng expressed his intention to take his leave, but the minister said, “In your leisure time, you must visit me often. Don’t distance yourself from an old man.” He instructed the maiden in red silk to escort Cui Sheng out.
As Cui Sheng turned to leave, he saw the maiden extending three fingers, followed by three consecutive hand turns, then pointing to a small mirror on her chest, saying, “Remember.” She didn’t say anything further.
Upon his return, Cui Sheng relayed the minister’s sentiments to his father. However, upon returning to the academy, he became enchanted and distraught. His face grew thin, his speech diminished, and he seemed absent-minded, lost in thought all day. Despite this, he composed a poem:
“Mistakenly wandering atop Penglai’s peak,
The celestial beauty moves her starry gaze.
Through crimson doors half-opened, moonlight spills,
Reflecting on jade snow, worries bereft.”
Those around him couldn’t grasp the poem’s meaning.
At this time, in Cui Sheng’s household, there was a Kunlun slave named Mo Le(磨勒). He visited Cui Sheng and asked, “What burdens your heart so heavily that you bear this resentment? Why won’t you confide in me?” Cui Sheng replied, “This is something within me. How could you possibly understand?” “Tell me, I can relieve your sorrows, no matter how difficult. I can make it happen.” insisted Mo Le.
Feeling that Mo Le’s words were exceptional, Cui Sheng shared his experience with him.
“This is a trivial matter. Why didn’t you speak of it earlier? You’ve brought this upon yourself.” Said Mo Le.
Cui Sheng then recounted the hidden message of the maiden in red silk.
Mo Le then explained. “It’s simple. ‘Three fingers’ signify that the minister has ten court attendants, and she belongs to the third one. ‘Turning palms three times’ indicates fifteen days from now. The ‘small mirror on her chest’ refers to the full moon on the fifteenth day. It’s a meeting invitation.”
Cui Sheng, elated upon hearing this, asked, “How can I untangle the knots in my heart and fulfill my desire?”
Mo Le smiled. “Two days from now, on the fifteenth night, take two pieces of green silk and fashion a tight-fitting garment. The minister’s home is guarded by fierce dogs at the court attendant’s gate. Ordinary people can’t enter; even if they do, they’ll be mauled to death. That dog, vigilant as a deity, fierce as a tiger, is the Caozhou Meng Hai’s hound. In this world, no one but me can kill it. For you, I’ll slay it.”
Cui Sheng then prepared wine and meat to reward Mo Le.
On the appointed night, at the third watch, Mo Le took a club and left. Within the time it took for a meal, he returned, saying, “The dog has been killed. There are no obstacles now.” After the third watch, Cui Sheng changed into the tight green garment. Mo Le carried him, flying over more than ten layers of courtyard walls, until they reached the court attendant’s place. The door was unlocked, lights still on, and the maiden in red silk sat there, sighing as if waiting.
The maiden was bare of adornments and makeup, filled with grievances and sorrow. She was reciting a poem:
“In the deep cave, the warbler laments her beloved,
stealing beneath the flowers to untangle her jewels.
The azure clouds drift, breaking off the sound of words,
alone leaning on a jade flute, sorrowing like a phoenix.”
The palace guards were all asleep, and the surroundings were quiet.
Cui Sheng slowly lifted the door curtain and entered.
After a while, the maiden recognized him and hastily jumped off the bed, grasping Cui Sheng’s hand, saying, “I knew you were clever and would decipher my hidden message, so I used hand signals that day. But I didn’t know how you, sir, had such divine skills to reach this secluded place.”
Cui Sheng recounted Mo Le’s suggestion and how he was carried here.
The maiden asked, “Where is Mo Le?”
“Outside the curtain.” Replied Cui Sheng.
He called Mo Le inside, and they toasted with golden cups filled with wine.
The maiden told Cui Sheng, “My family was once affluent, living in the north. The minister used force to coerce me into becoming a court attendant. Unable to end my life, I lived in misery, despite the luxurious lifestyle—feasting on delicacies, adorned in silks and satins, surrounded by gold and jade. This wasn’t my wish; it felt like a prison. Mo Le possesses such extraordinary skills; why not help me escape? Even if my wish is fulfilled, I’ll have no regrets, willing to serve you as a servant by your side. But I don’t know what plans you have?” Cui Sheng remained silent.
Mo Le said, “Since the lady is determined to escape the tiger’s den, it’s a trifling matter.”
The maiden was overjoyed. Mo Le took the maiden’s belongings out thrice, then said, “It might get late; dawn might approach.” Mo Le carried Cui Sheng and the maiden, flying out of the high walls and courtyards, undetected by the minister’s guards. Upon returning, they hid in the academy.
At daybreak, the minister’s household noticed the dead dog. The minister was astonished, saying, “With high walls and tight security, someone flew in without a trace. Surely, it was the work of a knight-errant. Keep this matter quiet to avoid trouble.”
The maiden secluded herself in Cui Sheng’s home for two years. During the blossoming of spring, she rode in a carriage to tour Qujiang. However, she was recognized by the minister’s people, who informed the minister. Puzzled, the minister summoned Cui Sheng to inquire. Afraid and unable to hide, Cui Sheng explained everything in detail, attributing it all to Mo Le’s guidance.
The minister said, “It’s the maiden’s fault, but she has served you for years. I can’t blame her. Still, I must rid the world of this menace.” He ordered fifty soldiers armed to besiege Cui Sheng’s residence and capture Mo Le. However, Mo Le, wielding a dagger, flew over the high walls as light as a feather, swift as an eagle. Despite the rain of arrows, none struck him, and in no time, he vanished without a trace.
Cui Sheng’s household was in panic. The minister, feeling regret and fear, stationed many armed servants for protection, patrolling every night for over a year.
Over a decade later, someone from Cui Sheng’s family saw Mo Le selling medicine in Luoyang market, looking just as he did before.
Original text in 《傳奇》: