Book 11 Chapter 03 – Lady Hua Yang
Xiang Shaolong and Lu Buwei went ahead to pay their respects to King Zhuangxiang and the rest of his companions. Lu Buwei chuckled: “Shaolong has never met General Xu Xian!”
Xu Xian has the body of a typical Qin, tall and stocky. Just slightly shorter than Xiang Shaolong and Lu Buwei, he is dressed simply in official robes. If he puts on his combat armour, he will become the prestigious and fear-inducing Qin general.
Xu Xian’s eyes are lively but his cheekbones are too high and run in contrast with his straight nose, making his face slightly disorganised. Around thirty, he radiates calm and steadiness. After a few general exchanges with Xiang Shaolong, he plainly said: “I have heard of Grand Tutor’s fame a long time ago. Unfortunately, I was guarding the border and can only meet you today.”
Xiang Shaolong sensed that Xu Xian’s tone is icy and carry a hint of disdain. He did not seem to hold any respect for Lu Buwei at all. Xiang Shaolong could guess what has transpired and dare not extend the conversation.
Before Zhu Ji has a chance to speak up, the less enchanting and less graceful Lady Xiuli smiled: “General Xu is our famous general. Together with General w.a.n.g and Lu Gong, they are known as the three tiger generals of Qin!”
Xu Xian quickly expressed his modesty but no happiness can be seen from his face.
Xiang Shaolong a.n.a.lyzed the situation and committed it to memory. However, he still has no idea who Lu Gong is.
Xu Xian is on Lord Yangquan and Lady Xiuli’s side and obviously has no good feelings for Lu Buwei. He had even mistaken Xiang Shaolong to be Lu Buwei’s follower.
On the surface, Lu Buwei appears to be respectful and invited: “Only heroes can relate to heroes. Why don’t you have a drink at my residence and exchange pointers with Shaolong?”
Xu Xian smiled: “Premier is too generous!” Turning around, he bade farewell to King Zhuangxiang and left without giving a definite answer to Lu Buwei’s invitation.
Xiang Shaolong has a good impression of this gentleman who places his principles above his fear of authority.
Xiao Pan led Little Ben and greeted Grand Tutor Xiang. After paying obeisance, Little Ben asked: “Father is full of praises for Grand Tutor. When Grand Tutor is teaching Prince Zheng, can I watch at the side?”
Everyone burst out laughing after hearing him. Only Prince Chen glimpsed briefly at Xiang Shaolong before looking away. Prince Chen must have been influenced by the rumours spread by Lu Buwei’s enemies.
An attendant came to report that the Empress Dowager wishes to see Xiao Pan.
King Zhuangxiang immediately instructed Xiao Pan to visit Lady Hua Yang under the escort of the attendant and other palace guards. Although Xiao Pan is unwilling to leave, he does not have a choice and departed with disappointment.
King Zhuangxiang made some comments to Empress Zhu Ji and concubine Lady Xiuli before bringing Lu Buwei and Xiang Shaolong into the imperial study. It then dawned upon Xiang Shaolong that this is not an ordinary visit.
In the study, the King and the two men took their respective seats. All the palace guards were dismissed, leaving the three of them in total privacy.
Seated higher, King Zhuangxiang looked to Xiang Shaolong who is seated on his lower left and smiled: “Shaolong is an appreciative family man and a great friend as well. I wished to have a longer chat with you but that will have to wait. Have you rested well?”
Xiang Shaolong is full of appreciation for King Zhuangxiang and his genuine caring nature. Among all the Kings of the seven states, this nature hardly exists. He hurriedly gave his thanks and affirmation.
Lu Buwei is surprisingly quiet and giggled at Xiang Shaolong.
King Zhuangxiang’s eyes are shining with reflection as he softly sighed: “I have been held hostage in Zhao for a prolonged period and I had a rough time. Despite this, I managed to experience the sufferings of the commoners. As the King today, I still remind myself to understand what the common people are going through and create laws that benefit them. Ai! I also do not wish to start a war after I barely ascended the throne. However, Premier Lu is right. Offence is the best defence. If you do not attack others, others will eventually attack you. During these turbulent times, the only way to survive is to fight power with power. Ai!”
Xiang Shaolong was stunned. If not for Lu Buwei’s fanning the flames, King Zhuangxiang will not send his army against Eastern Zhou. In order to fully convince King Zhuangxiang, Lu Buwei must have proven that Eastern Zhou is collaborating with the other six states against Qin.
Unknowingly, he had lent Lu Buwei a big helping hand.
Lu Buwei intercepted: “This cannot be helped. The six states have ulterior motives towards Qin and are keen to limit our progress. Although Eastern Zhou is only made up of seven small provinces Henan, Luoyang, Guchen, Pingying, Yanshi, Gonghe and Zhongshi; we have to pa.s.s by their cities in order to reach the six states. Rather than let the six states occupy them and blockade us, it is better to attack first.”
The corner of King Zhuangxiang’s mouth curled up in a bitter smile and he did not reply at once. The atmosphere is filled with tension.
Lu Buwei officially state: “A single wrong step can cause the whole country to be annihilated. Please do not hesitate. Xiaocheng has just pa.s.sed away and Han is at its weakest point. This is a golden opportunity which must not be missed. Otherwise, the consequences will unbearable.”
King Zhuangxiang simply said: “I understand. Premier, please proceed to attack Zhou!”
Facing Xiang Shaolong, he added: “I have discussed with Premier Lu. The elimination of Zhou is akin to chopping off an arm for Han’s King Huan Hui. There is not much we can do to appease him. Instead, we will focus on the other states. I know that Shaolong is an intelligent man. Therefore, we will leave everything to your discretion.”
Lu Buwei reminded: “Among the five states, Zhao and Yan are at war and we can ignore them for the time being. Regarding the other three states, we must not neglect Qi and Chu. We must wholeheartedly convince them that the attack on Zhou is an act of deterrent and not expansion. Between these two states, it is much easier to negotiate with Chu. Shaolong can present our good intentions to King Xiaolie. If you can sign an alliance treaty, it will be even better. Our Prince Zheng is growing up and it will be good to find a wife for him. I heard that King Xiaolie’s teenage daughter is a great beauty and is only slightly older than Crown Prince. If you can fix a marriage agreement for them, the Chu will definitely be appeased.”
Xiang Shaolong is nodding his head but his heart is groaning; Isn’t this bringing calamity to Chu’s little princess? Moreover, Xiang Shaolong has to lie through his teeth and bring harm to the other party. Although he is not so innocent that he has never cause harm to others but whenever he plots against someone, he had a valid reason and a strong motive. Take Zhao Mu’s capture as an example. It is for personal revenge and also self-preservation, unlike this mission which is to strike the potential enemy first.
To console himself, he thought: Tian Dan, Li Yuan, Prince Xinling, Han Chuang and Lord Longyang are all plotting and harming people every day to benefit themselves and their own countries.
He could not help but smiled bitterly.
King Zhuangxiang has been scrutinising his facial expressions. Understandingly, he commented with a tinge of guilt: “I can tell that Shaolong is a hero and does not employ dirty tricks and schemes. Like you, I hated these trying times where you have to kill or be killed. Ai! There are many things I am doing against my will but they have to be done.” Ending, he sighed loudly.
Lu Buwei frowned: “Is Your Majesty referring to Lord Yangquan?”
Helplessly, King Zhuangxiang nodded: “After all, he is the younger brother of the Empress Dowager. If not for his past effort in getting the Emperor to acknowledge me as his successor, the Empress Dowager may refuse to accept me. Now that I have to confront him, the Empress Dowager will be very upset.”
Lu Buwei left his seat and kneeled down, promising: “Rest a.s.sured Your Majesty. I will do my utmost best to handle this matter. Unless the Left Premier is really staging a rebellion, I will not act. We can try to hide this matter from Empress Dowager and not disturb her peaceful lifestyle.”
Witnessing this, Xiang Shaolong could only join Lu Buwei in kneeling in front of King Zhuangxiang. In his heart, he admired Lu Buwei’s tactic. Lu Buwei is highly versatile and knows how to please King Zhuangxiang. No wonder he can remain in his good books for so long.
He naturally knew that Lu Buwei is lying. Given his treacherous methods, he can easily force Lord Yangquan to rebel. By then, he will have acquired Lord Yangquan’s authority and killing him or not is inconsequential.
King Zhuangxiang is expectedly happy. When the two men have returned to their seats, he joyfully proclaim: “With Premier Lu’s promise, I can put my mind at ease.”
Lu Buwei informed Xiang Shaolong: “Although you have been here for almost a year, the time spent at Xianyang is limited and there are many things you are unaware of. Nonetheless, you need not be distracted with these matters. I have prepared everything for you. In three days, you will leave for Wei in order to coincide with our plan to attack Eastern Zhou.”
Xiang Shaolong sighed to himself and consented.
An attendant came to report that Empress Dowager Lady Hua Yang wishes to see Xiang Shaolong. The three men are equally shocked.
Under the attendant guidance, Xiang Shaolong arrived at the giant palace on the east. Stepping into one of her chambers, he noticed that besides Xiao Pan, Qin Qing whose beauty rivalled Ji Yanran is also present and is seated on the right of Lady Hua Yang. He hurriedly kneeled down to pay his respects.
Dressed in luxurious and glamorous clothes, Lady Hua Yang is in her mid forties and she glows with a unique royal charm. Age is catching up to her and her makeup cannot conceal all her wrinkles. Despite all this, Xiang Shaolong can easily visualize the days when she is the favourite woman of King Zhuangxiang’s father and her beauty was envied by all.
On her right, the widow Qin Qing is as emotionless as ever. She appears to be unconcerned about everything under the sky. Even Xiang Shaolong’s presence did not draw a single reaction from her.
In a gentle and peaceful voice, Lady Hua Yang hailed: “Grand Tutor please rise!”
Xiang Shaolong stood up nervously. He does not know what this powerful Qin Empress Dowager has summoned him for. Respectfully lowering his head, he dare not face her straight on.
After an uncomfortable silence, Lady Hua Yang gently said: “Grand Tutor, please raise your head.”
Xiang Shaolong obeyed and raised his head to face this Lady Hua Yang who is seated on a raised platform. He intentionally did not look at Qin Qing and Xiao Pan.
Their eyes met.
Lady Hua Yang’s eyes lit up and sighed: “Such a talent, you are indeed a dragon among men. Do not mistake me for judging by appearances. If you are full of integrity, you will radiate a similar aura. If you have been upright all your life, your eyes will shine with righteousness. When I first saw His Majesty, I could tell that he has a kind heart and will be a good king who loves his followers. He is far better than the other wilful and arrogant candidate to succeed the throne. I confessed to the late King that I was fortunate to enter the palace and serve him but did not have the luck to produce an heir for him. I wished for the late King to decree Zhuangxiang as my son to fulfil my dream. The late King granted my wish and I was officially appointed as his mother. Other people mistook me for being selfish but they have no idea that there is a deeper meaning to it.”
Xiang Shaolong was flabbergasted as he could not imagine this Lady Hua Yang to be such a street smart heroine. She had chosen the right man to rule Qin. The only issue is that she has neglected Lu Buwei the ambitious man. After all, Lu Buwei’s interest to dominate the whole world may not be in Qin’s best interests.
Lady Hua Yang sighed: “Grand Tutor Xiang, please be seated. Ai! Three days later, it will be the late king’s death anniversary so I am slightly emotional. Please do not take offence.”
Xiang Shaolong sat down with uncertainty and he was served tea by an attendant. Within the chamber, the atmosphere was peaceful and tranquil. Outside the chamber, the landscape is ever changing as the white snow acc.u.mulates wherever they land.
Qin Qing the cla.s.sic ancient beauty has her head lowered and remained silent throughout. She looks like she do not require anything more in life but still be very satisfied and at peace.
She resembles a white lotus that can only be admired from afar. If one has any evil thoughts about her, it will only ruin her perfect composure.
Until now, Xiang Shaolong did not have a single clue why Lady Hua Yang summoned him. Unable to hold back any longer, he glanced over to Xiao Pan. Xiao Pan has been staring at him and shook his head slightly to a.s.sure him that there is nothing to be worried about.
The chamber is so quiet that no one wants to be the first to destroy this stillness.
Just as Xiang Shaolong is preparing to spend his time admiring the lovely interior design of the chamber, Lady Hua Yang softly remarked: “Today, my main purpose to summon you is to see what kind of man would Ji Yanran, whose fame is equal to Qin Qing, will fall in love with. I have finally gotten a satisfactory answer!”
Xiang Shaolong was finally enlightened and expressed his modesty.
The silent Qin Qing at last speak up in a voice that is more melodious than the singing of the forest birds: “Miss Ji has been here for some time but I have yet to meet her. Can Grand Tutor Xiang make an arrangement for us to meet? The Empress Dowager wishes to meet her as well. I heard that Mister Zou Yan is a top philosopher. If he has the time to make the journey here, I will receive them with sincerity.”
By hearing how she represented Lady Hua Yang to invite both persons shows Qin Qing’s high standing within the Empress Dowager’s palace.
Xiang Shaolong had to look over to her. The moment their eyes meet, this beauty tried to avoid his gaze.
Irritated, Xiang Shaolong smiled: “Does Grand Tutor Qin’s guest list includes myself as well?”
Qin Qing was taken aback. A hint of displeasure can been seen on her face. She continued to avoid his gaze and kept her head lowered.
Lady Hua Yang laughed: “Grand Tutor Xiang, please excuse Qing’er. After losing her husband, she does not come into contact with any young men.”
Xiang Shaolong apologised: “I am really sorry for offending you. Will Grand Tutor Qin please forgive me? I have to return home and prepare for my mission. If there is nothing else from Her Majesty, Shaolong hereby asks to take his leave.”
Lady Hua Yang was roused and asked: “When is Grand Tutor Xiang leaving?”
Xiang Shaolong told her accordingly. After a short contemplation, Lady Hua Yang checked: “Does Grand Tutor Xiang’s trip includes the State of Chu?”
Xiang Shaolong recalled that she is of Chu royalty. When King Zhuangxiang first met her, Lu Buwei dressed him up as a Chu citizen to remind Lady Hua Yang of her Chu origins. That is also the reason King Zhuangxiang changed his name to Zi Chu (Son of Chu). Xiang Shaolong reported that he will make a trip to Chu as well.
Lady Hua Yang sighed: “Within these two days, I will send someone to pa.s.s something to Grand Tutor. When Grand Tutor is in Chu, please help me to pa.s.s the item to Lady Xiu. Ai! If not for my health, I really hope to make a trip back to Chu personally.”
Xiang Shaolong consented and left without looking at Qin Qing anymore.
Ten odd steps away from the chamber entrance, Xiao Pan ran out of the chamber after him. The palace guards protecting him are running over as well.
Xiao Pan faced the palace guards and ordered: “Stand where you are and stop following me!”
All the palace guards instantly halted to a complete stop and remained motionless.
After Xiao Pan showed his authority, he pretended that nothing has happened and led Xiang Shaolong into the garden. With his two eyes turning red, he cried: “Master! I killed Zhao Mu! Please do not hold it against me. This is the last time I am addressing you as Master. I will not dare to do it in the future.”
Xiang Shaolong was getting worried about the power of the future Qin Shi Huang. He was taken by surprise at this news and he reconfirmed: “You killed Zhao Mu?”
Holding back his hot tears, Xiao Pan coldly revealed: “I whispered into his ear who I really am and that I am killing him to avenge my mother. With that, I stabbed him in the centre of his heart. Grand Tutor taught me that this is the surest way to kill somebody. Hng! The terrible way he died is really pleasing. Mum can finally rest in peace.”
Xiang Shaolong is freezing all over.
Xiao Pan was 13 when he left Handan City. As a 14 year old, not only does he have the guts to kill, he knows exactly how to kill a man for sure. Even though he is avenging his mother’s death, his cruelty and his indifferent att.i.tude is chilling to the bone.
Xiao Pan noticed that Xiang Shaolong is keeping quiet. He thought that Xiang Shaolong is upset with him and hurriedly said: “Grand Tutor need not worry. After I killed him, I jumped into the Empress’s bosom and cried that I have taken revenge for her instead. I guarantee that n.o.body will find out. They all had the impression that I loved my Empress mother greatly.”
Xiang Shaolong was tongue-tied and could not find an appropriate reply.
Xiao Pan softly said: “But I really care for Empress!”
Xiang Shaolong finally uttered: “We must not be alone for too long. Your parents and Premier are waiting for us to have lunch together…”
Xiao Pan held onto his sleeve and pleaded: “Grand Tutor! Can you visit me before you leave?”
Xiang Shaolong nodded in agreement before they left the Empress Dowager palace.
Back in the Wu Residence, it is nearly evening.
As he alighted from the horse carriage, an attendant reported that Li Si is here to look for him. Presently, he is waiting in the guest hall. Xiang Shaolong rushed over to see Li Si.
After the usual courtesies, a seated Li Si gratefully thanked: “Due to your recommendation, Li Si is able to accompany Grand Tutor to visit the six states. I do not know how I can repay your kindness. Ai! Life in the Premier residence is causing me to lose my 5ex appet.i.te.”
Xiang Shaolong did not expect him to sprout vulgarities. He smiled: “Brother Li need not thank me. It is me who will need to rely on Brother Li! When you are more familiar about the six states, it will help in the progress of your career.”
Li Si hesitated for while. Unable to endure any longer, he had to ask: “I had thought it over many times but I still do not know why Grand Tutor has such high aspirations for me? I have always been deprived of an opportunity to showcase my talent…”
Xiang Shaolong laughed and patted his shoulder: “I have never made a mistake in choosing the right people. Has Brother Li packed your luggage?”
Li Si’s face turned light red and he awkwardly replied: “The moment I received the order from Premier, I got everything ready for the trip.”
Both men look at each other in the eye and suddenly burst out laughing, knowing what each other is think about.
To this future Grand Premier of Qin, Xiang Shaolong invited: “Since you are here, why don’t Brother Li stay for dinner?”
Li Si chuckled: “There are many days ahead of us and we will certainly dine together during the trip.”
Xiang Shaolong understood that he wants to avoid raising Lu Buwei’s suspicions and did not repeat his offer. While sending him to the main door, he took the chance to ask: “Is Brother Li clear about the situation in Xianyang?”
Li Si answered in a low voice: “Let’s talk more on the road.”
Watching as he gradually disappeared from sight, Xiang Shaolong was feeling really ridiculous and crazy for him. The current Li Si is lowly regarded by everyone and down on his luck but who could have guessed that in the future, he will be the Grand Premier of Qin?