A Step into the Past Chapter 126

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Book 12 Chapter 05 – Grand Preparations

Dressed flamboyantly in his official robes, Lu Buwei strode in arrogantly into Zhu Ji’s Hall of Kindness. Xiang Shaolong hurriedly got up and greeted him.

Even livelier than before, he scanned Xiang Shaolong and nodded with a smile: “I am so happy to see you again.”

A simple sentence that hints strongly at many things! It hints at Xiang Shaolong’s sudden disappearance, his ‘disregard’ of the Qin court and the fact that he is able to stay alive!

He continued to pay his respects to Zhu Ji but did not kneel down, showing the special relationship he shares with her. With her support, he does not see himself as a subordinate any more.

Lu Buwei sat opposite Xiang Shaolong and smiled: “With shameless individuals coming in with evil intentions and creating trouble, these are trying times for the Qin Court. If Shaolong has nothing urgent, why don’t you stay in Xianyang City? I may have some tasks for you.”

Xiang Shaolong nodded in consent but secretly admired Lu Buwei’s psychological warfare. Using the present danger as an excuse, he forced Zhu Ji to cooperate with him.

Turning to Zhu Ji, Lu Buwei asked: “What are Empress and Shaolong talking about?”

A simple sentence like this betrayed Lu Buwei’s proud att.i.tude. After all, he is a subject of Empress Ji and who is he to question Empress Ji about her affairs?

Zhu Ji was not angry and plainly state: “I am just asking about his recent activities!”

Anger flashed his eyes as Lu Buwei coldly dismissed: “Shaolong, please leave us alone. I have something important to discuss with Empress.”

Xiang Shaolong was annoyed at his comment, indicating that he is not fit to join in their discussion.

He was about to take his leave when Zhu Ji interrupted: “Shaolong, hold your step. How can Premier Lu treat Shaolong like an outsider?”

Lu Buwei was shocked but put on a smile: “It is not that. He has no interests in court affairs and I do not want to burden him!”

Zhu Ji nonchalantly asked: “Premier Lu is so impatient; what can be so important?”

Xiang Shaolong and Lu Buwei knew that Zhu Ji is throwing her temper and is obviously siding with Xiang Shaolong. Lu Buwei will not be so foolish to continue reb.u.t.ting her and went along, smiling: “Empress, please do not take offence. I wanted to see you as I have an excellent recommendation for the Imperial Cavalry Commander.”

The Imperial Cavalry Commander is the next post after An Gu to work closely with the royal family.

Xianyang City is protected by three armies. They are the palace guards protecting the palace and the Imperial Infantry and Imperial Cavalry defending the city. The Imperial Infantry are foot soldiers and Imperial Cavalry are soldiers on horseback.

If you combine both Imperial Infantry and Imperial Cavalry, it will be the same as Xiang Shaolong’s City Commander back at Handan City. It is just a separation of armies.

There are thirty thousand foot soldiers, three times more than the cavalry. But if you compare the honour and rank, the Imperial Cavalry Commander is more prestigious than the Imperial Infantry Commander.

Zhu Ji coldly concluded: “Premier Lu need not recommend anyone. I have decided to promote Shaolong to be the Imperial Cavalry Commander. Except for him, there is n.o.body else I will trust.”

Lu Buwei could not imagine the normally-obedient Zhu Ji decided on this matter and did not offer any room for discussion. His face changing colour slightly, he glanced at Xiang Shaolong with surprise and checked: “Shaolong has changed your mind?”

Xiang Shaolong understood where Zhu Ji is coming from and she is indeed formidable. She did not want to live in Lu Buwei’s shadow forever. Now that Xiang Shaolong has gained the respect of the army and is the Imperial Cavalry Commander, he can check Lu Buwei’s influence. Thus, Lu Buwei dare not act hastily and disregard her and Xiao Pan. Through Xiang Shaolong, she need not always bend her will and support Lu Buwei blindly.

Xiang Shaolong knew that Lu Buwei is pretending to be concerned but is actually forcing him to give up this promotion. Then he can recommend the person he has in mind. Xiang Shaolong smiled: “As Premier Lu mentioned, it is trying times for Qin. I can only put my personal responsibilities and accept this challenging position.”

Anger shooting out of his eyes, Lu Buwei faked a smile and coughed: “Good. Since Empress thinks so highly of you, do not disappoint her!”

Zhu Ji plainly asked: “Does Premier Lu have anything else to say?”

Lu Buwei was infuriated but dare not argue with her, knowing that he has crossed the line earlier. He reported: “Qi Chancellor Tian Dan, Chu Imperial Uncle Li Yuan, Zhao General Pang Junyu arrived in Xianyang City yesterday. They hope to meet Empress and Crown Prince before attending the late king’s funeral.”

Zhu Ji coldly hissed: “We are still dressed in mourning clothes. What is there to see? Wait till the late king is buried first!”

This is the first time Lu Buwei is being admonished by Zhu Ji in such a manner and knew that it was due to Xiang Shaolong. He hid his feelings well and did not reveal any discontentment. After exchanging a few more words with Zhu Ji, he left.

The Hall of Kindness is completely noiseless.

After a long while, Zhu Ji sighed: “I have secretly ordered everyone who saw you speaking to King Zhuangxiang to keep it a secret. Violators will be sentenced to death. Buwei should be ignorant about this matter.”

Xiang Shaolong was grateful: “Thank you Empress!”

Zhu Ji sighed: “Shaolong! I am so tired. So what if I have everything? I just cannot bring myself to be happy.”

Xiang Shaolong knew that she is trying to get him to comfort her. He advised: “Empress must pull yourself together. The Crown Prince still needs your guidance and care.”

Under such circ.u.mstances, he cannot bring up Lao Ai’s issue.

Firstly, he cannot explain how he could forecast Lao Ai seducing her. Moreover, if Zhu Ji wants him to replace this future Lao Ai, he will be in trouble.

He knows that history can never be changed.

Zhu Ji was quiet for a while and softly added: “You must be careful of General Pang from Zhao. He is famous for his strategies and is very articulate. He is the new City Commander and is the most prestigious general in Zhao after Lian Po and Li Mu. For him to come personally, he must be here to spy on our army strength. Ai! I really do not know what Buwei is planning. Now, he is very close to the six states as if nothing has happened.”

Xiang Shaolong is not bothered with this General Pang that he has never heard before. If not for Guo Kai’s intimacy with Zhu Ji in the past and dare not come, this man will not even have the chance to come to Qin.

Both of them do not know what to say next.

After some unimportant exchanges, Xiang Shaolong bade his farewell. Zhu Ji is unwilling to let him go but is afraid of rumours and let him leave.

The moment he left the Empress palace, An Gu stepped up welcoming: “The Crown Prince wants to see Grand Tutor.”

Xiang Shaolong walked with him towards the Crown Prince palace.

This head of the palace guards whispered: “After Grand Tutor has seen the Crown Prince, can you make a trip to General Lu Gong’s residence?”

Xiang Shaolong understood his meaning and nodded in agreement.

An Gu did not say anything else. He escorted him to the Crown Prince study room and left.

With a heavy expression, Xiao Pan was seated on a long sofa north of the study room. Waving the usual courtesies aside, he got Xiang Shaolong to sit in front of him and viciously declare: “Grand Tutor! I want to kill Lu Buwei!”

Xiang Shaolong was flabbergasted and exclaimed: “What!?”

Xiao Pan detailed in a low voice: “This is a violent man who forgets about father’s benevolence and is worse than wild beasts. He claims to be a pioneering official in the rebirth of Qin and even planted his own son to be the next King of Qin. Without his death, I cannot consolidate my power as King.”

Xiang Shaolong had intended to contact Xiao Pan, Li Si and w.a.n.g Jian to make trouble for Lu Buwei. He was astounded that Xiao Pan brought this up before he could. Hesitating, he asked: “Have you spoken to Empress about this?”

Xiao Pan answered: “Empress and Lu Buwei are deeply embroiled. If I told her, I will be scolded instead. Grand Tutor! With your invincible sword skills and intelligence, killing him should be easy right!”

Xiang Shaolong thought of Guan Zhongxie and felt that he is overrated by Xiao Pan but he could not say this to him. He sighed: “If we killed him, what will be the consequences?”

Showing the mature side of him, Xiao Pan detailed: “First, I will make you the Imperial Cavalry Commander. I will select a few loyal men and entrust them with important positions. If we can consolidate our power, we do not need that traitor. I am only afraid of Empress. If she works with him, we will be in trouble.”

Xiang Shaolong questioned: “Do you love Empress?”

Xiao Pan was stunned and nodded.

Only Xiang Shaolong can understand him. Xiao Pan has gradually shifted his love for Lady Ni to Zhu Ji.

Xiao Pan is right. Zhu Ji knew that King Zhuangxiang was poisoned by Lu Buwei but did not hold it against him.

Xiang Shaolong explained: “I want to kill him more than you do. You should have guessed that he was the real culprit who caused Princess Qian’s death. But before we have built up our strength, we should not act hastily. Moreover, the Qin military system is extremely complicated and it is hard to manage them. With a group of them supporting Prince Cheng Chongqiao, it is better for us to bear with him for the time being.”

Xiao Pan brightened up and asked: “So Grand Tutor has agreed to be the Imperial Cavalry Commander?”

Xiang Shaolong bitterly smiled: “I have just promised Empress!”

Xiao Pan was pleased: “I am relieved to have Master by my side.”

In this moment, he became a kid again.

His expression turning heavy again, he added: “Grand Tutor’s foresight is unparalleled. Study Attendant Li Si is the best example. His thinking is totally unlike other people and taught me that if we can grab hold of this opportunity and utilise our strengths well, we can expand out territories and eventually unite the world. So I must not let this heartless cad Lu Buwei control the Qin Court and affect my grand plan.”

Xiang Shaolong finally realised Li Si’s influence on Xiao Pan. He cannot regard Xiao Pan as a child anymore. Under the influence of the Qin Palace politics, he has become another person. And in the future, he shall be the first Emperor of China.

Xiao Pan coldly inquired: “How long to I have to wait?”

Xiang Shaolong calmly forecast: “The best time to act is at your coronation on your twenty-first birthday.”

This is right, because this is history.

Xiao Pan was mortified: “I would have to wait for another eight years!? Wouldn’t Lu Buwei be beyond control by then?”

Xiang Shaolong reasoned: “During this time, we can use him to eliminate those men who oppose your rule and at the same time, we can nurture your own organization and weaken his at the same time.”

Pausing, he emphasized: “For politics, you can let Lu Buwei handle them as long as Xu Xian is there to keep him in check. You must do your best to gain the respect of the military. Let Lu Buwei be the bad guy and we remain as the good guys. With control of the military, Lu Buwei will not be able to escape your clutches. It has been proven time and time again that governing authority comes after military might.”

Xiao Pan’s body shook heavily as he repeated: “Authority after military.”

Xiang Shaolong kicked himself for saying too much and continued: “There are two men who are loyal to us. They are w.a.n.g Jian and w.a.n.g Ben. They are terrific generals whom every King wishes to possess. With them leading your army, Lu Buwei is nothing to be afraid of.”

In a daze, Xiao Pan asked: “What about you?”

Xiang Shaolong commented: “I will do my best to help you but in the end, I am still an outsider. You must win the hearts and minds of the Qin military and use them to consolidate your power.”

Xiao Pan frowned: “But Lu Buwei has Meng Ao fighting for him and has made his two sons Meng Wu and Meng Tian a.s.sistant generals to a.s.sist Meng Ao in his battles. What can I do to counter them?”

Xiang Shaolong replied: “That is why Lu Buwei wanted to get rid of me. If Meng Ao discovers that his two sons nearly died under his scheming, how do you think he will feel? The two Meng brothers will eventually come to our side. You can use them to help you and it can even lessen Lu Buwei’s suspicions.”

Xiao Pan was delighted: “There is no one better than Grand Tutor. I know what to do.”

After further discussion, Xiang Shaolong took his leave.

Compared to Lu Buwei’s new Premier Residence that is still being constructed, Lu Gong’s residence is far from the Qin palace. Lu Gong invited Xiang Shaolong into a private chamber where an attendant served him tea and left them alone. Lu Gong smiled: “I heard that you are a descendant of Qin. However, there has never been anyone surnamed Xiang here. May I know which tribe do you belong to?”

Xiang Shaolong was in a dilemma and lied: “My surname came from my mother. I did not know who my father is, not to mention which tribe he came from. All I know that he was a Qin soldier. Ai! What a mess.”

Lu Gong, the advocate of Qin, did not suspect anything and nodded: “The people of Zhao are not as imposing and powerfully built as you. Your type of figure is not even seen often in Qin. You must be a mixed blood. I am good at judging people. Hei! From the first time I met you, I know that you are a righteous man.”

Xiang Shaolong found himself understanding him better. Amused, he praised: “Lu Gong has great eyesight and I cannot hide anything from you.”

Lu Gong sighed: “It will be great if I can really see everything. But I have miscalculated many things, including the early death of the late king. Ai!”

Xiang Shaolong quietened down.

Lu Gong stared sharply at him but in a calm and slow manner, asked: “What is the relationship between Shaolong and Lu Buwei?”

Once again, Xiang Shaolong was taken aback at his frankness and replied: “Why is Lu Gong interested?”

Lu Gong plainly state: “Shaolong need not deceive me. Lu Buwei and you are not on the best of terms. Otherwise, the Wu family need not hide in the countryside farms. Speak your mind! The Wu clan are the descendents of our Qin n.o.bles. From our point of view, they are way better than Lu Buwei the outsider.”

After such a long time in Xianyang City, this is the first time Xiang Shaolong has experienced Qin’s racism. He sighed: “It’s a long story. After I propose Xu Xian to be the Premier, Premier Lu has been holding a grudge against me.”

Lu Gong smiled: “How can it be so simple? In Xianyang City, you are his number one enemy. Don’t tell me you have no idea!”

His eyes shining with deep thoughts, he slowly added: “All along, there have been rumours saying that the Crown Prince is not King Zhuangxiang’s son but Lu Buwei’s. At first, we discard them as lies spread by people who are opposing Lu Buwei and Empress Ji. Now, the healthy King Zhuangxiang suddenly died without a clear reason and we are forced to reconsider this issue.”

Xiang Shaolong can feel a gigantic headache coming. Lu Gong is the most respected man in the Qin military and his words represent the thinking of the Qin military leaders. If they regard Xiao Pan as Lu Buwei’s illegitimate child and supported Cheng Chongqiao instead. Lu Buwei and Xiao Pan will both be destroyed.

Lu Gong mused: “We must verify this issue before we can plan our next step. Just like we are not sure what is going on between you and Lu Buwei, so we pet.i.tioned to promote you as the Imperial Cavalry Commander to test Lu Buwei’s reaction. Surprisingly, the test is very successful as Lu Buwei is the only man who objects your promotion.”

Xiang Shaolong finally comprehends the complications of politics. When he first heard about it, he thought Lu Gong and the military are in favour of him. Now, he knows the real reason and motive.

Lu Gong shook his head and bitterly smiled: “Actually, only they themselves know what is going on and it is rather difficult to prove their relationship. Not impossible but difficult.”

Xiang Shaolong had a big shock and asked: “Is there a way to test?” He was also puzzled that Lu Gong is discussing this with him. After all, isn’t he close to Zhu Ji and Xiao Pan and may warn them beforehand?

Lu Gong mentioned: “We need Shaolong to help us with the testing.”

Xiang Shaolong was staring at him in amazement when he recalled Zhu Ji’s words and realised: “You want to conduct a blood test!”

Lu Gong seriously explained: “This is the only way to satisfy us. We shall put a drop of blood of each person into a silver bowl filled with a special chemical. It is a foolproof method.”

Abruptly, Xiang Shaolong’s thumping heart slowed down. As light as an astronaut in s.p.a.ce, he nodded: “I will get the blood from Crown Prince. Lu Gong had better prepared a witness to see me drawing the blood personally from him. This way, there will be no tricks.”

It is Lu Gong’s turn to be amazed.

He looked for Xiang Shaolong as he is the closest to Zhu Ji after Lu Buwei. In addition, he is the one who personally saved them from Handan City. More or less, he should have an idea about the relationship between the three of them. If he hesitates about the blood test, Lu Gong will guess that something is amiss and know which Prince he will support.

Unexpectedly, Xiang Shaolong readily agreed and even wants him to provide a witness.

Both men were silent for a minute and Lu Gong decided: “Fine! I will get Lu Buwei’s blood. If the Crown Prince is Lu Buwei’s son, what will Shaolong do?”

Xiang Shaolong plainly state: “I am positive that the Crown Prince is the late king’s own flesh and blood. The test will prove everything.”

All of a sudden, his biggest headache has been resolved.

The blood test will ‘prove’ that they are not related and the Qin military will fully support Xiao Pan unlike now.

But with Zhu Ji’s support, Lu Buwei can continue to expand his influence and control the politics.

As Xiang Shaolong was wondering about the efficacy of this blood test method, he thought deeper and kicked himself for thinking too much. History has proven that Xiao Pan will be Qin Shi Huang.