A Step into the Past Chapter 114

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Book 11 Chapter 05 – a.n.a.lyzing the Situation

Three days before Lu Buwei is leading the army to invade Eastern Zhou; Xiang Shaolong left Xianyang with his team and travelled east towards the Yellow River. They were protected by one thousand elite Qin soldiers.

Except for Ji Yanran, Wu Tingfang, Zhao Qian, Teng Yi and Jing Jun, the other representatives from the Wu Family are the twelve elite brothers. Despite their limited number, everyone is highly skilled and should not be taken lightly.

From Lu Buwei’s side are Li Si, Xiao Yuetan and three hundred family warriors. These men report directly to Xiao Yuetan. Luckily, this talented man is on fantastic terms with Xiang Shaolong and there should be no conflict of power.

Of course there are Meng Ao’s sons Meng Wu and Meng Tian. Despite their young age, they are full of respect for Xiang Shaolong. Teng Yi and the rest doted on them as well.

The leader of the soldiers is Major Lu Xiong, a relative of Lu Buwei. He appears to be respectful towards Xiang Shaolong but he has shifty eyes and Xiang Shaolong did not have a good impression of him. Since they are travelling together, he can only pretend to be courteous towards him as well.

Compared to the trip to Zhao, they have more men but Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi felt that they were less powerful instead.

They reached the west bank of the river and will soon cross into Han’s border.

The river is flowing to the east and the surrounding hills are different in height. Overall, the scenery is mesmerizing.

The snow fall has resumed last night after stopping for five days. Everyone started to put on their fur coats. Dressed in their snow white fur coats, the three girls are as pretty as Barbie dolls.

They are happy to be part of the trip and pointed at the different sceneries and are chatting with enjoyment. Chun Ying and her three fellow maids are travelling behind them.

Along the way, Li Si mixed among the family warriors of Lu Buwei so as to avoid letting Xiao Yuetan learn about the special relationship he has with Xiang Shaolong.

At evening time, they camped on a high ground between the river and a red pine forest. They are prepared to cross the river tomorrow morning.

Lu Xiong sent a few hundred men to find wood to build rafts. Sounds of chopping wood and grunting can be heard from the forest.

While the maids are managing the tents, Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi strolled along the river.

Although the weather is extremely cold, the river did not turn into ice. Since the air is cold and the water is warm, the river water evaporates and crystallizes into ice on the tree branches along the river. It is a miracle to see these silvery white crystals hanging like a Christmas decoration.

With a beautiful picture laid in front of them, neither of them wanted to say anything.

As they stepped onto the soft snow, a light squishing sound can be heard. Looking at the snowy forest and the snowflakes dancing in the air, all their worries are gone with the wind.

Unknowingly, they have left the camp boundaries.

Footsteps can be heard from behind. As they turned around, Li Si appeared among the while background.

Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi caught each other’s eye, knowing that Li Si is not here for an idle chat.

Teng Yi laughed: “Is it cold?”

Li Si hands are hidden in the sleeves of his outer robe. When he breathes, the air leaving his mouth is whitish. He came directly in front of Xiang Shaolong. Looking up at the flying snow and looking back at the red pine forest, he shared: “This red pine tree is highly resistant to bugs and is very good for building houses or furniture. It can be made into turpentine as well and be used for lamps.”

Surprised, Teng Yi stated: “I was born in the wilderness and naturally knew about this tree. I did not expect Brother Li to know this as well.”

Li Si smiled: “Travelling ten thousand miles is better than reading ten thousand books. Since young, I love to travel and learn at the same time. I also make friends with capable people and learn from them. The more you ask the more you know. Brother Teng, please don’t laugh at me.”

Xiang Shaolong was impressed with his elegant speech, knowledge and experience. No wonder he can help Xiao Pan unite the world. Clapping him lightly on his shoulder, he suggested: “Let’s continue to explore this area!”

Li Si nodded his head happily and they proceeded to walk upstream.

Teng Yi pointed at the icicles hanging on the trees and commented: “When the sun is up, these icicles will fall to the ground like flowers. That will be a rare sight.”

Xiang Shaolong saw that Li Si is unresponsive. After a quick contemplation, he is certain that Li Si has something to say. He sincerely asked: “We are all brothers of the same family. If Brother Li has anything on his mind, feel free to say it!”

Li Si smiled: “Both brothers are farsighted and knowledgeable. What is your opinion of the six states?”

Teng Yi laughed: “Brother Li is a scholar and we are unrefined boors. Why don’t you enlighten us instead?”

Li Si expressed his modesty and explained: “Both brothers must not laugh at me. I love to fantasize but there is something I cannot explain. The six states are Qi, Chu, Yan, Zhao, Wei and Han. Except for Han who is always the weakest, the other five states have had a period of prosperity and power and many talented men in service. Why have they been unable to unite the world?”

Both Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi are flabbergasted. This theory sounds simple; if you cannot defeat the other states, you cannot conquer their lands. But to find a really convincing reason is harder than it looks.

Li Si stopped speaking. Watching the river flow below him, his eyes shone with wisdom. Recollecting a memory, he leisurely said: “On an evening three years ago, I witnessed a strange event at the border of Wei and Chu. There was a bunch of frogs stuck in a dry well. For some reason, they begin to fight among themselves. There were some stronger frogs who won every fight. When all the weak frogs are dead, the strong frogs begin fighting among themselves. By then, all the frogs are weak and injured. Even the last frog died because of excessive bleeding. I was enlightened that the six states are like the frogs in the well. Limited by the environment and fighting relentlessly, they will be defeated and killed. I was motivated to relocate to Qin to try my luck. There was only one thing on my mind: Only Qin, the frog who is watching the fight outside the well, will be the last and final winner.”

Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi nodded in agreement. This a.n.a.logy explains why Qin can eventually catch up and annihilate the other six states. Qin is further away in the west and is unaffected by the constant inter-state battles.

Li Si has been deprived of a chance to showcase his talent. Now that he has started speaking, he continued to reveal: “Originally, Chu has the best chance to conquer all the lands. Chu is in the south where the land is the most fertile. After King Zi Hui conquered Chen, Cai, Qi and Ju province, they gained a huge amount of territory. But because they have plenty of resources, they lead very comfortable lives and the population became extravagant and rotten. Although they are rich, they lack quality. They have a huge army but neglect their training so the army cannot withstand a real war.”

Teng Yi nodded his head: “Well said, Brother Li. The people of Chu are arrogant and unrealistic. The recent generations of kings have been hugely unpopular and the Chu officials are always busy fighting or scheming among themselves. The citizens have lost confidence in their government and many parts of their city are in a state of disrepair.”

Xiang Shaolong thought of Li Yuan and Lord Chunshen and sighed.

Li Si continued: “If we only focus on military competency, Zhao is the most promising among the six states. They have over two thousand miles of territory, thousands of chariots, tens of thousands of soldiers and horses. They are protected by mountains in the west, River Zheng in the south, River Qing in the east and facing Yan in the north. When Zhao’s King Wuling ascended the throne, he abolished traditions and revolutionised the army uniforms and methods of war. Zhao was invincible. Unfortunately, he is succeeded by incompetent leaders and Zhao can only rely on Lian Po and Li Mu to hold off the enemies. The battle of Changping is most regrettable. Like the frogs in the well, no matter how strong you are, once you have a bleeding wound, you will bleed to death.”

Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi are feeling perplexed. Is Li Si here to exhibit his observations?

Teng Yi spoke up: “Han has always been weak. Yan is facing the Xiong Nu in the north and Qi, Chu in the south. Although Prince Dan of Yan is highly talented, he’s hands are still tied. Prince Xinling of Wei and Tian Dan of Qi are the remaining talents who can still pose a threat to us. What does Brother Li think?”

Li Si smiled: “No matter how strong they are, they are still two injured frogs in the well!”

Pausing for a while, he calmly explained: “Prince Xinling’s injury is that the Wei King is prejudiced against him and limits his progress. Tian Dan’s injury is the att.i.tude of the Qi citizens.”

Xiang Shaolong remembered that Li Si has studied under Qi’s Xunzi, he was curious and requested: “Please elaborate!”

With his two hands behind his back, Li Si continued to walk upstream.

Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi caught each other’s eyes. They felt that this down and out scholar seems to have become a different person who is on top of the whole world. They hurried to his two sides.

Li Si is unaware that he is now the centre of attention. Raising his head, he breathed heavily with pride and explained: “Qi is only good at boasting. Hei! Seriously, I used to indulge in some boasting as well. Don’t even talk about the other schools; right in the place where I studied, there are thousands of scholars. If they debate about politics, arts, philosophy, etc, no one is their match. If we talk about fielding an army to fight a war, no one has the interests or the ability. Tian Dan may have risen to power and prevent the destruction of the country but circ.u.mstances have changed. Those empty-talkers are just not bothered to challenge him.”

Turning to face Xiang Shaolong, he suggested: “Grand Tutor’s mission is to prevent the six states from allying. If we focus on Qi first, it will be much more effective. As long as Qi cowers like a tortoise, Chu will not act rashly. With Qi and Chu out of the picture, Zhao and Yan embroiled in a war, what can Wei accomplish on its own?”

Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi are stunned. They finally understood the real intention of Li Si’s words. He is hinting that the first target should be Qi instead of Wei.

They were anxious to meet up with Zhao Ya and Zhao Zhi but this matter is too important. Personal issues that do not affect the mission have to be put aside. With this turn of events, they have to rea.s.sess their entire planning.

Xiang Shaolong sighed: “Brother Li is wise and farsighted. I am truly enlightened by your words. Let’s change our route to Qi and then to Chu and complete our mission.”

They proceed to discuss about Qi’s issues before returning back to camp.

Xiang Shaolong immediately summoned Xiao Yuetan and Lu Xiong into his tent. He instructed them to change the first destination to Qi but did not explain why.

Xiao Yuetan seriously stated: “In this case, I will immediately send someone to notify Qi about our arrival. Zhao is not as weak as Han. Shall we make ourselves known and ask for permission to cross their country? If we just cross without informing Zhao of our presence, we may incur their anger.”

This advice sounds reasonable. Xiang Shaolong has decided to change the journey without much consideration as there is limited time for him to think about all the details. Listening to Xiao Yuetan’s words, he could feel a headache coming and is momentarily undecided.

The relations between Zhao and Qi are strained. If he went ahead to conspire with Qi and ignored Zhao, Empress Jing may be annoyed and send Li Mu after them. Then they will be in deep 5.h.i.t.

Lu Xiong’s countenance changed slightly and commented: “Premier Lu has indicated that the first destination should be Wei’s capital of Daliang. The entire journey has been planned accordingly. If we just change our plans because of Grand Tutor, it may affect our strategies and the morale of our army. The roads ahead are treacherous. Can Grand Tutor stick to the original plan instead?” Xiang Shaolong thought that he is over sensitive but he does have some misgivings too. He did not know what to say and kept quiet.

Xiao Yuetan chose to side with Xiang Shaolong and reminded: “I am afraid that General has misunderstood Premier’s intention. Premier has instructed us that when we leave Xianyang City, Grand Tutor will a.s.sume full leadership and responsibilities. Since Grand Tutor has decided to change the destination to Qi, there must be a deep meaning behind it. General Lu should make his arrangements accordingly.”

Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi were surprised that Xiao Yuetan is so harsh on Lu Xiong.

Lu Xiong’s reaction is even stranger. Respectfully, he nodded: “I am muddle-headed. I will immediately discuss this with Qu Dou Qi. Once I have the initial arrangements, I will report to Grand Tutor and Mister Xiao again.”

Xiao Yuetan watched as he left. His eyes full of disdain, he let out a cold snort.

Xiang Shaolong remarked: “Brother Xiao seems to be dissatisfied with this man!”

Shaking his head, Xiao Yuetan sighed again: “Given Premier Lu’s brilliance, I cannot understand why he has chosen this man to lead the army. Lu Xiong is incompetent and often takes short cuts to achieve his goals. As a result, many of us are not won over by his conduct and refuse to submit to him. In the past when Master Tu and I were running errands for Master Lu, this group of clansmen are nowhere to be seen. When Master Lu was appointed as Premier, they start to come forward to acknowledge him. Ironically, Master Lu gave them a good share of responsibilities.

Xiang Shaolong finally comprehended their relationships between one another.

Within Lu Buwei’s subordinates, there are generally divided into two camps. One camp is lead by Master Tu and Xiao Yuetan while the other camp consists of Lu Buwei’s clansmen, including Lu Xiong. They are bickering with each other for Lu Buwei’s recognition.

The earlier mentioned Qu Dou Qi is another army Major. A true-blue Qin citizen, he is Meng Ao’s trusted follower. Despite being Lu Xiong’s a.s.sistant, his prestige and accomplishments in the army are far better than what Lu Xiong can ever hope to achieve.

You cannot avoid confrontations.

Even a small faction of one thousand men can create such complicated issues.

Xiao Yuetan enquired in a low voice: “Shaolong, why did you suddenly change the travelling route? Are you concerned that Lord Yangquan has collaborated with Han to ambush us on the roads?”

Xiang Shaolong had not thought about that. If he told Xiao Yuetan about his secret conversation with Li Si, it may raise some suspicions. He took the chance to divulge: “This is one of the reasons. I went to find Mister Li earlier and questioned him about the situation in Qi. The people of Qi are easily persuaded so I decided to proceed to Qi first.”

Xiao Yuetan was jubilant: “I see. Shaolong is really good at judging people. Li Si has travelled widely and is well-informed about many people and places. It is too bad that he has not gained the favour of Premier nor given opportunities to perform.”

He added: “Now I understand why Shaolong requested that Li Si join us on this trip!”

Teng Yi interrupted: “Is Lu Xiong reliable?”

Xiao Yuetan sighed: “This is hard to say. Basically, everything is going along well but if something happens, no one is above suspicion.”

Pausing for a while, he added: “Shaolong is my personal friend and I am not afraid to let you know about this. A big disagreement came about when we were planning our manpower for this trip. Master Tu and I wanted you to head this mission while Lu Xiong’s clansmen wanted Madam Lu’s brother Zhu Meng instead. After Premier reconsidered the importance of this mission, he decided to follow our recommendation but the relationship has deteriorated already.”

Xiang Shaolong thought that he did not mind not being chosen for this trip. But it is too late now. He has already started his mission and wasted his energy. Sighing together with Xiao Yuetan, he smiled bitterly.

Xiao Yuetan sincerely pleaded: “Master Tu and I knew that Shaolong is no someone who hankers after fame or fortune. However, we are now at loggerheads with the clansmen headed by Zhu Meng. Shaolong must help us vent our frustrations.”

Xiang Shaolong realised that he is a hot favourite with Master Tu’s camp and found it hilarious.

Outside the tent, sounds of weapons clashing and cheering can be heard. Puzzled, the three men went outside to take a look.

On an open s.p.a.ce outside the main tent, an armoured Ji Yanran was engaging Meng Tian in a spear duel. The fight is tremendously exhilarating.

Wu Tingfang, Zhao Qian, Meng Wu, Jing Jun and the elite brothers are cheering at the side. The atmosphere is extremely lively.

Ji Yanran may have gained the upper hand but Meng Tian persisted hard to deflect her blows.

Teng Yi could not imagine that this seventeen year-old is such a good fighter and cheered for him as well.

Meng Tian saw Xiang Shaolong watching the fight. Motivated, he attacked three times in succession and gained some advantages.

Ji Yanran parried his strong spear to the side. When Meng Tian lost his footing, she retreated and sheathes her spear on her back. She smiled charmingly: “In time to come, I will not be your match!”

Meng Tian hurriedly expressed his respects and modesty and everyone was exhilarated.

Sounds of footsteps can be heard. With a proud look on his face, Lu Xiong was leading an irritated Qu Dou Qi towards them.

The three men exchanged glances, knowing that Lu Xiong has stirred up trouble and instigated Qu Dou Qi to reject the changes.

The two of them came in front of Xiang Shaolong. Before they could speak, Xiang Shaolong intercepted with a smile: “Since the journey started, I have yet to know Major Qu better. Come! ”

He turned around and entered his tent.

Qu Dou Qi is taken by surprise and followed him in.

Just as Lu Xiong was about to enter the tent as well, he was detained by Teng Yi. He courteously invited: “General Lu must have some idea about the new travel plan. Grand Tutor has ordered me to go through the details with general. Why don’t we talk about it in my tent?”

Lu Xiong can only follow him helplessly to his tent.

Only Xiao Yuetan was left there smiling and stroking his beard.