A Step into the Past Chapter 169

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Book 15 Chapter 11 – Shouchun, The Chu Capital

After the old Chu capital Ying was taken by the Qin general Bai Qi, Chu’s King Qu retreated East in defeat. Twice they moved their capital, getting further away from Qin.

The land East of the River Huai originally belonged to the Chen state, but was conquered by Chu. As a result, King Xiang absorbed Chen’s soldiers, numbering a hundred thousand. After recovering their former strength, they seized fifteen cantons back from Qin, and regained their impetus.

Yesteryear when they united the other four states to attack Qin and defeated Meng Ao’s soldiers, the Qin people sealed their pa.s.ses and did not dare to face their attack. It appeared that overnight, Chu had regained the position of hegemony they enjoyed during the Spring and Autumn era.

In the end, even though Chu had lost a large piece of their territory, their territory was deep so it was difficult for the Qin people to continue attacking. This allowed Chu to rise again despite their retreat.

Shouchun is situated to the North of the Huai river. Compared to two other strategic posts Cai Cheng and Jia Jiang, it had better communication links. The Chu people also had deep foundations in this area, with no shortage of manpower and natural resources. Therefore they had another grand occasion (setting up a new capital). At that time, they really had greater momentum than all the other Northeastern countries. The capital Shouchun is especially big, with walls that look like a winnowing basket. The city is more than thirty miles wide, and the outer walls are fifty miles wide. It could be said to be one of the greatest cities of that time, its scale being second only to Xianyang. It was also protected by four city walls. With more than twenty thousand households, it was unusually prosperous.

In addition, the river valley was fertile, hence there was abundant food. This caused Shouchun to become Chu’s most bustling metropolis after succeeding Ying as capital. All the most important buildings were concentrated in the central inner castle; the palace, the court arena, government storehouses, government treasury, temple of the ancestors, the earth deity and the harvest deity, and lodging houses for high officials and foreign emissaries were all in this area. The outer city is criss-crossed with streets, with an orderly distribution of residences, mausoleums, guest houses and shops.

Shouchun’s city defenses are tight. At the entrance of the city wall, there is a portcullis that could be raised or lowered. It is surrounded by a moat and is guarded by Chu soldiers day and night. All who pa.s.s through the city gates must pay taxes.

As Xiang Shaolong and his party approached the pier outside the city, they were cut off by a Chu warship. Only after inspecting Madam Zhuang’s credentials did they allow them to anchor at the pier. They were still not allowed to go ash.o.r.e while another group of officials entered the city to make a report.

They could only wait onboard the ship patiently.

At this moment, Xiang Shaolong had changed into a loose-fitting gown to disguise his healthy and beautiful body. His hair and beard was mottled with grey patches to simulate premature aging. His complexion was pale and his eyebrows were so thick as to obscure his eyes. Compared to the former Dong Horse Fanatic, he now looked even more unlike Xiang Shaolong.

After waiting half a day, they finally saw a convoy of carriages leave the city towards them. They were led by a big fatty, wearing official dress. He was about fifty with slender eyes and a big nose. He looked a little like a second generation lord whose spirit and body had been corroded by wine and women.

Madam Zhuang was waiting respectfully on board the ship, and spoke quietly to Xiang Shaolong who was beside her: “That fatty is Lord Chunshen Huang Xie.”

Xiang Shaolong’s heart took a turn. In the beginning he still thought it was some kind of lackey from Huang Xie’s house, how was he to know that it was Huang Xie himself?

Amongst the four princes of the Warring States era, Xiang Shaolong has only met Prince Xinling. Nonetheless it looks like Huang Xie has the worst appearance amongst them. No wonder he is the least famous of the four princes.

As he thought about how Zhao Mu, who did not look like him at all, tried to kill him, he felt a little quesy.

Ji Yanran who was on his other side said: “He seems to have grown a little fatter since the last time I saw him.”

Xiang Shaolong finally awoke to the fact that Ji Yanran had been here, and trembled. If Chunshen spots her, since he was the enemy who killed his son, they will be exterminated immediately.

Thankfully Ji Yanran and Zhao Zhi look nothing like the original after they had been made up and had put on Chu style clothes.

Compared to the other countries, the women’s clothes of Chu look extra s.p.a.cious and gorgeous. A long cheongsam that drags on the ground, with a white c.u.mmerbund on the waist, an oblique collar, pleats extending to the back, broad sleeves and lower hem, hats on top of the head with a ribbon under the chin. All these together with their heavily powdered faces gave the Chu women an exotic air.

As for the two ladies’ hairdo, they were managed by Madam Zhuang and her two sisters. The fringes were neatly combed and the hair braided from the temples and pulled behind the head and the neck, forming two knots at the top of the head.

Just with this change of hairstyle, Xiang Shaolong failed to recognize them in a moment of confusion, much less with the slightly grizzled hair which caused them to look older by twenty years.

The five ladies’ Chu style dresses were differentiated by their colours; vermillion, purplish red, firefly gold, plain green and natural indigo. In addition, there was embroidery with dragons, phoenix, birds and other motifs accompanied by twigs and branches, leaves and gra.s.s, flowers and plants, and geometric lines. The compositions were unique and vivid. This was a good ill.u.s.tration of the Chu people’s rich imagination, colorful mythology and culture.

Men’s clothes were relatively plain. The robes were long with uncovered legs. With a right overlapping lapel that intersects with the collar and wide loose sleeves, a tight cuff, with lines from the robe to the cuff, relying on deep black, white and other colours to emphasize the design. The most eye-catching was the c.u.mmerbund, with different contrasting and alternating colours mixed together.

All the guardians changed into the uniform of Chu warriors. Jacket over the waist, crimp legged trousers, boots, with emblems sewn on the prominent places. Their hairstyles were all changed and they were all wearing Chu hats. They looked fairly interesting.

At this moment, Lord Chunshen arrived at the sh.o.r.e, made a signal to the men and invited them onsh.o.r.e.

Madam Zhuang, a.s.sisted by the two stout female servants, gracefully led the party ash.o.r.e.

Perhaps Xiang Shaolong was overly sensitive, but he saw Lord Chunshen’s narrow eyes brighten, firmly staring at her lovely waist, seeming to l.u.s.t uncontrollably after the delicately beautiful Madam Zhuang, who looked like she could be broken by a light wind.

Huang Xie and his men descended their horses one after another.

Madam Zhuang has just paid her respects when she bitterly wailed: “The Lord needs to decide on behalf of your servant!” Huang Xie immediately flailed his arms and legs and said: “Princess Wan, please do not be troubled. The government will give everything due consideration later.”

Next his two squinty eyes flitted over Xiang Shaolong, seeming to be wary of a skilled person, said: “Its an honor to finally meet Mister Wan, and indeed he displays great talent. this Lord is delighted.

Xiang Shaolong understood the principle that with a famous reputation, one did not need to be timid. Even though this Lord Chunshen indulges in wine and women, the moment one sees his eyes, one is able to tell that he is deep and shrewd, completely unlike his external appearance. He promptly controlled his voice and replied in his recently acquired Yunnan accented fashionable Zhou language of Chu: “Lord’s formidable name shakes the whole earth. It should be Ruiguang who feels honored.”

As Huang Xie’s vision flitted across Ji Yanran and the various women, Madam Zhuang stopped wailing and introduced each member of the party.

Huang Xie realized that Ji Zhao the two women had “entered the sunset years” and did not pay them anymore attention, instead sizing up Youcui and Youning the two women spiritedly. Lastly, his vision rested on Madam Zhuang. His voice turning gentle, he said: “Princess should first come to my home and rest. We can then discuss everything else at leisure.

Xiang Shaolong suddenly thought that if she had not met himself on this trip, Madam Zhuang and the two You sisters could only have relied on s.e.xual entrapment. This was because given Lord Chunshen’s present display, it was clear that he was not really interested in helping them return to their country. One could make that conclusion just by seeing how he paid no attention to Zhuang Baoyi.

There were a few people behind Huang Xie who looked like lackeys. The rest were all valiant warriors.

Amongst the lackeys, there was one who was tall and big, with a beautiful beard that reached his chest. He had a long face with a crooked nose, extremely thin lips and two shining benevolent eyes that gave one a sense of amazement. He was carefully sizing up everyone, especially the exiled young heir apparent of Yunnan Zhuang Baoyi.

Zhuang Kong, who was behind Xiang Shaolong, saw him noticing the man and said softly: “That is Fang Zhuo!” As Xiang Shaolong nodded faintly, Madam Zhuang’s melodic voice said: “We should not bother the Lord. You servant wishes to return to Yunnan’s Prince’s mansion.

Xiang Shaolong and the rest felt a little startled, and only then did they realize that the Zhuang family had an official residence in Shouchun.

Lord Chunshen betrayed an odd expression. He gave a dry cough and said: “Can we discuss this matter after we’ve retuned to my home?” Madam Zhuang’s lovely body trembled a little. The delicate eyes behind the veil gazing at Lord Chunshen, said: “Lord, please may I know what is the matter?” Lord Chunshen sighed and said: “Since the upheaval in Yunnan, Princess and the Little Prince hid in Qin, the Yunnan Prince’s palace maids and servants have all dispersed. It was empty for a few years, but recently the Left Magistrate Li Chuangwen coveted the place, forced his way in and moved into the Prince’s mansion. Although this Lord tried to negotiate with him many times, he held onto the late king’s tacit promise and completely disregarded me. This Lord was also exceedingly dissatisfied.”

Madam Zhuang’s delicate body trembled severely and furiously said: “Where is heaven? The Lord must seek justice for your servant.”

Lord Chunshen let out a bitter smile and softly said: “Sooner or later the Lord will teach this kid a lesson, but right now the situation is delicate. It is not advisable to act rashly. Princess is travel-worn, why don’t you come to my home and rest first!” Xiang Shaolong quietly called for joy. There are countless people now in Shouchun who want to see Zhuang Baoyi dead. Nonetheless, because of the involvement of the ten over va.s.sal states, n.o.body dares to make a move. Therefore as long as they can make a reasonable stand, they can wreak havoc. Riding on the wave, he laughed loudly and said: “I appreciate the Lord’s good intentions. This time our return to Shouchun is precisely to get some justice. If we are timid and fearful, how can we accomplish this big task of returning to our country? The Lord please return home first. We have our own plans.”

Lord Chunshen was startled and looked at Xiang Shaolong.

Wan Ruiguang is South Yunnan’s famous general and even more is the South Yunnan people’s famous leader, gifted in both civil and military arts. He has a definite position in Chu. But unbelievably, he is so daring, showing clearly that he means to retake the Yunnan Prince’s mansion.

Madam Zhuang’s delicate body froze, and she almost raised her voice to stop him. Fortunately she remembered that Xiang Shaolong was an extraordinary man who possesses extraordinary methods, swallowing her words back into her stomach.

Lord Chunshen was worthy to be called one of the four great princes in the Warring States period. After muttering irresolutely for a while, replied: “This arbitrary and absurd act by Li Chuangwen was unpleasant to many people. It is because the Li clan interceded that the va.s.sal states sent an envoy to lodge a formal protest, just that the late king sat on the issue. If General Wan does retake the Prince’s mansion, n.o.body will dare say anything. Its just that there are many experts amongst Li Chuangwen’s family commanders. It is hard to predict the outcome if a conflict arises. General Wan had better think twice (actually in Chinese it is think thrice, but I think we should use the common English phrase). It is inconvenient for this Lord to partic.i.p.ate directly.”

Xiang Shaolong was exultant. Since the circ.u.mstances was such, it was even more difficult to pa.s.s up this opportunity to demonstrate the Zhuang family’s power and prestige. Once the common people realize that they have the ability to return to their country, because Yunnan is the chief of Chu’s va.s.sal states, even if the one holding power is Li Yuan, under the serious circ.u.mstances, he would have no choice but to help them settle this debt.

He coldly shouted and said: “On the contrary, I will go, even if up against countless people. Could the Lord first dispatch people to inform Li Chuangwen, saying we want the Yunnan Prince’s mansion returned immediately. We will use ‘diplomacy first then violence’.” This celebrated phrase from Meng Zi was something he learned in secondary school. Luckily the present circ.u.mstances allowed him to employ it, giving his study practical application.

A mysterious light shone in Lord Chunshen’s eyes and he said: “Mister Wan is truly a towering figure. I, Huang Xie, am convinced. Come men!” Fang Zhuo voluntarily stepped forward and greeted, saying: “Let your servant take care of this matter!” Xiang Shaolong secretly laughed. Of course Fang Zhuo was going to tell Li Chuangwen and his experts how to give them a stiff battle.

But since they had Madam Zhuang and Zhuang Baoyi these two politically sensitive figures with them, no matter how many experts Li Chuangwen had, he would not dare to insult the widow in front of the mult.i.tudes. When its one to one, he will teach him who’s boss.

The Yunnan Prince’s mansion is in the heart of the inner castle, next to the king’s palace. The entire street was filled either with guesthouses for foreign envoys or offices of the va.s.sal states’ envoys. That is why Li Chuangwen’s forced taking of the Yunnan Prince’s mansion was extremely offensive, being King Xiaolie’s ploy to reduce the say of the va.s.sal states and their power.

As King Xiaolie is already dead, Li Chuangwen’s actions have lost all support, indirectly furthering the Zhuang family’s cause to recapture the official residence.

All along, the court of the Chu king has always made the excuse that Li Ling’s rebellion was an internal affair of Yunnan, having nothing to do with the Chu court. Of course they did not officially recognize Li Ling’s position so as to avoid provoking the other va.s.sal states into disgust and secession.

If the va.s.sal states were to submit to a strong Qin, Chu will lose the protective screen of the Southwest, thus greatly endangering the country.

With the backing of these advantageous situtations, Xiang Shaolong is resolved to free his hand and create an epic work. The first person to be operated on will be Li Chuangwen.

Since he was not able to raise his hands and kill for real, Xiang Shaolong had borrowed a bundle of heavy wooden staves from Lord Chunshen and hidden them under Madam Zhuang’s carriage before heading for the Yunnan Prince’s mansion.

When they reached the Yunnan Prince’s mansion, they found the gates wide open. More than two hundred warriors lined up on the field in front of the mansion. The display was indeed meant to intercept and intimidate their trivial delegation of just over forty people which included women and children.

It is the afternoon and the streets thronged with people, with no shortage of high ranking chancellors and ministers who live in the area, and also dignitaries from the Northeastern states and va.s.sal states here to pay their respects to the late King Xiaolie. Seeing this kind of warlike display, everyone gathered round the mansion to watch the spectacle. Within a short time, there gathered a mult.i.tude of people. The atmosphere was boisterous.

With a solitary Xiang Shaolong at the head, the group determinedly tried to enter the Yunnan Prince’s mansion.

There was someone on the stairs leading up to the mansion, shouting: “The approaching group please halt. Why are you breaking into my mansion?”

Xiang Shaolong and his party orderly and slowly dismounted their horses. The opposing two hundred over soldiers sealed off all their routes in a pincer movement. The main force was concentrated at the front gate of the mansion.

The sign at the top of the platform had been changed into horizontal tablet that said “The Honourable Magistrate Li’s Mansion”. He laughed coldly: “Who has plundered and occupied my Yunnan Prince’s official residence? Report the name to me Wan Ruiguang.”

That person, clearly being Li Chuangwen, was dressed in martial dress and looked quite powerful. Its a pity that he looked tacky and vulgar and his eyes were disproportionately small. His hands grasped his sword hilt and, laughing aloud, he said: “This is really laughable. The Yunnan king was unable to rule his country and was killed by his people five years ago. Where did you find this Yunnan king?”

Xiang Shaolong’s worries decreased even more. Even the people of the Li clan do not dare to admit brazenly that Li Ling has succeeded the throne to avoid the calamity of having all the va.s.sal states’ revolt.

At this moment, Madam Zhuang and the women and children are still in the carriage, being protected by the Ji and Zhao the two women guardians while Zhuang Kong and his party are outside guarding the carriage, allowing the rest to make their moves without worry.

Xiang Shaolong’s eye gave a cold flash, and he shouted loudly saying: “What audacity! The heir apparent of my house is here. Who dares claim the king of Yunnan is not here? You, the mad man who has occupied the Yunnan King’s residence by force, do you dare to follow me to debate this in front of the great king, to verify the state seal and official doc.u.ments proving that Yunnan belongs to my family’s heir apparent?”

Li Chuangwen smiled sardonically and said: “You are the mad man. Who knows if you are a confused official or a thief, manufacturing some false evidence to brag and swindle people. Quickly get lost. If not I will break all your dog legs.” The street immediately burst into an uproar. All the observers expressed dissatisfaction with Li Chuangwen’s harsh and barbaric ways. It was apparent that this person was normally despotic and unreasonable, offending many and pleasing few.

At this point Xiang Shaolong deliberately exhibited a timid att.i.tude and said: “If you still do not believe me, I will personally visit the Empress Dowager to fight for some justice right now.” In order for Li Chuangwen to seize power, how could he spare them? He laughed heartily and said: “Do you think it is that easy for you to leave? I will first tie you up and then bring you to the Empress Dowager!”

Another round of heckling came from outside the mansion. Li Chuangwen was really too much. Xiang Shaolong already knew that Li Chuangwen would not let the matter drop so easily, and also knew he coveted the the seal of state and other items that he mentioned just now. With a cold laugh, he made a hand signal.

At this moment, the Li mansion soldiers on both sides have already started closing in on them.

Wu Shu and the rest immediately drew out the long staves from the bottom of the horse carriage and quickly tossed them to all the men.

Li Chuanwen finally felt that something was wrong, and gave a big shout: “Attack!” Xiang Shaolong, who had long been grasping his big staff, threw off his outer robe and exposed the warrior’s outfit underneath. He jumped forward, leaping left and beating right. The enemies swords were being knocked out of their hands. In the midst of miserable cries, the encircling soldiers were counter-attacked by the guardians. One by one the enemy soldiers fell in the boiling confusion. Breaking arms and legs sounded in quick succession.

The thousands of spectators had the ‘robbing the rich to give to the poor’ mentality and had always hated the evil Li Chuangwen, fueling the momentum of Xiang Shaolong’s party.

This group of enemy warriors had been cloistered and coddled all along. There was an unbridgeable gap between their battle ability and that of Xiang Shaolong and his guardians. In addition, the latter were able to exploit the heavy staves’ one tactical advantage, which was their length. Even though the enemy outnumbered them more than ten to one, the former could not react to the swift attacks and were utterly defeated.

After Xiang Shaolong and the guardians knocked down the seventy odd enemy soldiers in the field with their ‘swifter than thunderbolt’ methods, they regrouped and attacked up the stairs towards Li Chuangwen and his remaining hundred over soldiers.

Li Chuangwen could not imagine how formidable his attackers were and hysterically brandished his long sword while desperately ordering his underlings to rush forward to hinder the enemy.

Xiang Shaolong was like a tiger that had been let out of its cage. He was stepping on the enemies groaning on the ground and annihilating those remaining with his staff. He even sent two people flying more than ten feet before ascending the uppermost section of stairs.

Wu Shu and the rest of the guardians all gave a gratifying shout, beating down every enemy soldier they ran into. All who engaged them had their legs broken, falling in all four directions covered in blood. More than ten were even beaten half to death on the spot.

Xiang Shalong flew towards Li Chuanwen like wind. One by one, all the remaining enemy warriors realized their own peril and scrambled out of his way.

Li Chuangwen was greatly alarmed by the situation and retreated into the inner mansion under the protection of ten over of his household commanders.

As Xiang Shaolong kicked down another person, he rushed into the main hall of the mansion, man and staff as one moving like a tornado.

Outside the mansion lay more than a hundred fallen Li mansion soldiers.

When Li Chuangwen finally turned around, Xiang Shaolong, Wu Shu, Wu Guang, Jing Qi and the others had already arrived like his shadow. With an imposing air like the rainbow, they beat down the panicking soldiers in front of Li Chuangwen as if they were chopping melons and dicing vegetables.

Li Chuangwen stood on the spot staring blankly, and while still grasping his long sword, he did not know how to respond and could not help but abandon his resistance.

Xiang Shaolong withdrew his staff, stood back and smiled, saying: “It appears you are not only a madman, but also a cowardly man!” Li Chuangwen’s expression flitted back and forth, but eventually sheathed his sword and harshly retorted: “I am great Chu’s magistrate, if you dare to touch one of my hairs……”

Before he had finished speaking, Xiang Shaolong made a hand signal and two wooden staves heavily struck his calf bone, producing the sound of breaking bones. Li Chuangwen fell to the ground miserably.

Xiang Shaolong then ordered: “Throw all the wild thieves who are occupying my Yunnan Prince’s mansion out onto the streets.” All the guardians acknowledged with a loud shout.