Book 16 Chapter 08 – Fight Behind Closed Doors
Xiang Shaolong did not make a move, and solemnly shouted: “I, Wan Ruiguang have never drank wine with my enemies. This toast can be dispensed with. Whatever matter the va.s.sal lord has, please raise it!”
(Just a note that the word for va.s.sal lord 侯王 has been translated to Marquis in previous chapters. I am keeping the term va.s.sal lord to distinguish the Kings of va.s.sal states from the usual Marquis like Han Chuang.)
The whole banquets hall quietened down. Everyone could feel the mutual hostility.
The Qielan King gave a cold snort and glared furiously at the Yelang King.
As host, Lord Chunshen should have raised his voice to diffuse the situation, but he took it easy and looked on as if nothing was his concern.
Li Quan and Cheng Suning looked pleased with themselves, obviously knowing in advance that the Yelang King would cause trouble with Xiang Shaolong during the banquet.
That Yelang Prince Hua Qi glared at Xiang Shaolong with murderous intent.
The Yelang King nodded his head and shouted ‘good!’ twice before glaring sinisterly at Xiang Shaolong with his fierce eyes and said: “I heard that you Wan Ruiguang boasted in front of the Empress Dowager today that you wanted the Dian King Li Ling’s life. This King felt puzzled after hearing that. Wan Ruiguang, you have but fifty men with you and may not even be able to protecting the women and children. I would like to know what ability you have such that you have the guts to spout such lunacy. Wan Ruiguang, can you explain yourself?”
This speech provoked a round of laughter from the Yelang people, Li Quan, Huang Zhan and the rest, demonstrating his ability to humiliate with his words. [help!]
As the laughter died down, the hall became deathly silent and filled with explosive charge.
Li Quan, Cheng Suning, Huang Zhan, Huang Ba and the other core conspirators from the other camp could not help looking pleased with themselves.
Xiang Shaolong has seen enough of major events. He even disregards people like Lu Buwei, Tian Dan and such, so why would he fear a mere va.s.sal lord who thinks too highly of himself. He pretended to be surprised and said: “The va.s.sal lord loves to joke. The Dian King is presently in the Dian King’s Mansion, neither did he change his name to some Li Ling, has the va.s.sal lord been muddled by the three cups of watered wine?”
The Yelang King was stumped for a moment. Just as he was about to speak, Li Yuan guffawed out loud and said: “Va.s.sal lord Hua Ciwa not only made a mistake, he has also overstepped the authority the Great Chu allowed him by privately conferring t.i.tles and riches to traitors. What kind of relationship does the Yelang King have with this traitor who betrayed is sovereign?”
These words were even harder to refute.
While Li Lings seizure of the Dian King’s seat was with the tacit consent of King Xiaolie, it was never openly acknowledged. At this point, even the scheming and foresighted Lord Chunshen found it difficult to intercede.
The Qielan King was the Yelang King’s mortal enemy and took the chance to add fuel to fire, saying: “If one day, Hua Ciwa’s position is usurped by someone else, I can also enjoy the pleasure of privately conferring t.i.tles on people.”
The Yelang King flew into a shameful rage and said: “Whoever is sitting on the Dian throne now is without doubt the ruler of Dian country. This is an incontestable fact. Only ignorant people will quibble over this obvious matter.”
Everyone could tell that he was running out of arguments to justify himself.
Lord Longyang giggled delicately and said: “The va.s.sal lord’s words are lacking. It is said that if the name is not legitimate, the words will be untenable. Li Ling’s name is indeed not legitimate, that is why the va.s.sal lord’s words are not tenable. These words are said by the former sages. Are you saying that the former sages are also ignorant?”
The moment these words were spoken, the whole floor except Xiang Shaolong was startled. This was because Lord Longyang represented the Wei King and his position was venerable. Whatever he said was Wei’s position. For him to oppose Li Ling as the King of Dian is therefore a surprise.
Han Chuang also followed with a laugh and said: “What Lord Longyang said is reasonable. How can someone who murders his master in treason be treated as legitimate?”
Lord Chunshen and his party all looked at each other. Who would have thought that the Wei and Han representatives would both ridicule the Yelang King.
The ten bodyguards who came with the Yelang King all placed their hands on their sword hilts, looking like they wanted to bite people’s heads off.
Guo Kai was completely baffled, not being able to figure out why Lord Longyang and Han Chuang would want to help ‘Wan Ruiguang’.
After Xiang Shaolong saw Shan Rou again, he body was charged with strength and his hand tingled with expectation. He sn.i.g.g.e.red: “At present this Wan only has the sword on his person and a few steadfast and loyal men, really nothing much to show. If the va.s.sal lord is interested, wouldn’t it be a lot simpler to send someone forward to verify my ability?”
n.o.body could predict that he would turn the tables and take the initiative, openly inviting a fight. The hall was so silent that one could hear a pin drop. The loudest noise was the Yelang King’s panting. He was evidently exploding with rage.
With a violent bark, the Third Prince Hua Qi sprang up from the Yelang King’s mat. He carried a battle axe in each hand. He clashed the two axes together with a loud clang, then loudly declared: “The Yelang King’s third son Hua Qi invites Wan Ruiguang to the arena for a contest.”
Xiang Shaolong was greatly pleased and was just about to step out to deal a heavy blow to this kid. Who would know that the Jing Shan who was behind him was itching for a fight even more than he was. He dashed out and bowed, saying: “Your servant is Wan Shan. Would Master Wan please grant me permission to do battle?”
Xiang Shaolong was extremely pleased in his heart. Firstly, Jing Shan’s combat ability was second only to Jing Jun, so he should have no problem with this kid.
Secondly, he wouldn’t have to worry about arousing the Qielan Princess Nuo Caicai’s interest and having to entertain her tonight after killing the Yelang kid.
Nonetheless, he wasn’t going to let Lord Chunshen off so easily. Smiling at him, he said: “The Lord should understand that this contest is not just some ordinary bout. It is easy for blood to be drawn and lives to be taken, spoiling the festive spirit and could even break into an all-out riot. If the Lord objects, I will not accept this challenge.”
The Yelang King still mistook this for cowardice, and sn.i.g.g.e.red, saying: “Life and death is fated. If you Wan Ruiguang have the ability to touch a strand of my son’s hair, I , Hua Ciwa will not quarrel endlessly over this.”
How would Lord Chunshen ruin his grand plan for tonight just with two sentences from Xiang Shaolong? He chuckled and said: “Since the Third Prince has this interest, how could Huang Xie be the one to dampen the spirit? General Wan had better decide for himself.”
Hua Qi hefted his axes and made a stance, seemingly unburdened by the weight of the axes, clearly an exceptionally strong man. He shouted explosively: “If you Wan Ruiguang kowtow and admit your mistake, we can let this matter drop.”
Xiang Shaolong chortled and said: “Good!” After signaling to Jing Shan to take his life, he said: “Swords and sabers are blind! Everybody please be careful!”
Jing Shan exulted and rushed forward with big stride. He stood ten feet from Hua Qi with his sword still sheathed.
Huang Zhan suddenly stood up and shouted: “Wait!”
Everyone was startled and turned to him.
Xiang Shaolong took the chance to scan the floor to look for Shan Rou, only to find that all the servant girls had retreated to the back of the banquets hall and were standing with Lord Chunshen’s family warriors. How could he spot this cunning and clever buddy in such a short time?
Huang Zhan’s voice carried over: “If General Wan’s side loses this bout, will he again send his underlings to die on his behalf?”
These two words were really overbearing and unreasonable. Even those who did now know what was going on could tell that Lord Chunshen and the Yelang King had joined hands to bully Xiang Shaolong.
Nonetheless, n.o.body dared to say anything. Only the Qielan King sneered and said: “This contest has yet to be decided, isn’t Master Huang’s words premature?”
As Xiang Shaolong and Li Yuan looked at each other and laughed, the former lazily said: “What wise opinion does Master Huang have?”
Huang Zhan shouted harshly: “Shouldn’t the next bout be between you and me?”
Xiang Shaolong chuckled: “Master, don’t be so impatient. Its not to late to speak of this again after this bout. Begin the fight!”
Hua Qi has lost his patience waiting. He bellowed a battle cry like thunder and raised both battle axes, looking extremely bold and powerful. He brandished his axes in a series of severe chops and hacks, and swept towards Jing Shan like a breaking wave flying into the sky. He was certainly an arrogant general who thought himself above all. Everyone was moved with his display. Even Li Yuan was worried for Jing Shan. Nuo Caicai was even more nervous, her hands clasping her chest.
Jing Shan was calm and fearless, and his sword flashed out like lightning, carrying with it the deadliness of a viper. His steady yet swift movements looked like rolling winds in the clouds. Jumping, leaning, hacking and thrusting, every move was aimed at the enemies openings and vulnerabilities. Together with his flashing speed and his graceful dancelike footwork, he seemed to be using nothing but a defense and counter-attack strategy.
The sound of clashing axes and swords rang without pause. Jing Shan periodically advanced and retreated. Hua Qi could not glean one bit of advantage.
The countenance of the Yelang people and Lord Chunshen changed instantly. They could not imagine that some random person from Xiang Shaolong’s entourage could contend with Hua Qi, the number one warrior in Yelang. Moreover, his arm strength was clearly greater than Hua Qi’s, how could they not fear and despair?
By this time, Hua Qi had exhausted his strength. Since his axes were heavy, he became momentarily sluggish. As he waned, Jing Shan waxed and his sword exploded forward, forcing Hua Qi back two steps.
Hua Qi was greatly embarra.s.sed and rashly counter-attacked in a mad fury.
Jing Shan gave a long demonic laugh and moved forward like a flash of lightning. He unexpectedly raised his sword hilt towards the axe coming at his temple, blocking Hua Qi’s most powerful right-handed axe attack. He then bent low, letting Hua Qi’s left handed axe fly over his head. The sword in his hand moved as if electrified, shooting towards Hua Qi’s stomach from an oblique angle.
Hua Qi was scared stiff and both axes flew from his hands while he suddenly retreated.
Jing Shan sheathed his sword and coldly watched Hua Qi retreating.
From the time the two men started fighting, the entire banquet floor was quiet without a whisper. This moment everyone focused on Hua Qi’s body. They all knew that he had been injured seriously but just didn’t know whether he was in mortal danger.
Hua Qi retreated another two steps before emitting a heart rending shriek and collapsing on the ground with a loud crash.
The Yelang King frantically stood up and yelled madly: “My son!”
The Yelang people had already dashed out as a group to examine the Hua Qi lying on the ground. They couldn’t help but see the fountains of blood gushing from his chest and stomach.
Jing Shan nonchalantly return to his mat. As be pa.s.sed by Nuo Caicai, he reached out, hugged her and kissed her on the mouth before letting her go.
At this moment, Lord Chunshen, Huang Zhan and the rest all left their seats to take a look at Hua Qi.
The Yelang King suddenly let out an earth-shaking cry and stood up from Hua Qi’s side. He pointed his finger at Xiang Shaolong and screamed: “Wan Ruiguang! This blood debt for killing my son, I shall demand from you ten million times.”
Most of the people on the banquet floor looked disdainful. They all despised the fact that he had so quickly reneged on his earlier claim that life and death were fated and that he would not pursue any grudge.
Lord Chunshen personally pulled the Yelang King back to his banquet mat. Hua Qi’s corpse was carried out the back door. The floor was still covered with blood, presenting a ghastly sight.
The festive atmosphere had naturally evaporated, but n.o.body blamed Xiang Shaolong because the whole matter was evidently the work of the Yelang King and Lord Chunshen. Everyone also knew that the best was yet to come.
The Qielan King broke the tense and silent atmosphere with a loud laugh, saying: “That General Wan has such a divine subordinate is cause to celebrate. The General is sure to be able to accomplish your objective of reclaiming your land soon.”
The Yelang King stared at the Qielan King with his blazing eyes, but was angered speechless.
Huang Zhan returned from the back of the hall and walked towards the center of the arena with his hand on his sword hilt. He soberly said: “Wan Ruiguang! It is now our turn.”
Li Yuan asked in a puzzled tone: “This matter is truly puzzling. It is clearly a matter between Dian and Yelang. Why is Master Huang acting as if someone has killed your parents? My hand is also very itchy. Why don’t I play along with you instead!”
Everyone including Lord Chunshun’s countenance changed at these words. This meant that Li Yuan and Lord Chunshen are now openly at war.
Huang Zhan knew that his sword skills were still inferior to Li Yuan’s. He could only bitterly endure this and coldly said: “This does not concern Premier Li. Wan Ruiguang! Are you going to send someone else to do your battle again?”
Xiang Shaolong smiled sardonically, saying: “Master Huang is blinded with anger and is not in shape for a duel. Moreover, as I have said before, I will not touch the young master unless the Lord permits.
All the guests’ attention naturally shifted to Lord Chunshen.
Lord Chunshen could only keep his bitterness to himself.
At this point, if he doesn’t strike, everything will cease, but if he does strike, the situation will only come to an end when someone dies.
This Wan Ruiguang’s underling was already so formidable. The man himself must be unfathomable.
The problem was that the Yelang King had already sacrificed a son. If he did not let Huang Zhan battle, how was he to account to the Yelang King?
He couldn’t help regretting not springing his surprise attack earlier. If he used underhanded methods under the present circ.u.mstances, he will gain the ridicule of the whole world.
In reality, the ambush he arranged tonight was just a back-up, not necessarily to kill Xiang Shaolong and Li Yuan on the spot. He only hoped to delay things till morning so that he can coordinate his a.s.sault with Dou Jie. If he killed Li Yuan just like that, it would be difficult for him to prevent Li Yanyan from mobilizing the Royal Guards in a counter-attack.
As he was frantically considering all this, Huang Zhan had already said: “Will dad please allow your son to go to battle!”
Lord Chunshen silently heaved a deep sigh and nodding his head, said: “Be careful, son!”
The entire banquet floor perked up. The majority of the guests hoped to see Huang Zhan perish under Xiang Shaolong’s sword.
This person has always relied on his father’s protection, fearlessness rampaging through Shouchun, both hands reeking with blood. It was just that n.o.body could contain him!
Xiang Shaolong chortled and stood up. He moved outside the arena and patted his sword hilt lightly three times. This was the coded signal for his men to prepare their collapsible crossbows.
At the same time he said indifferently: “It would be the best for the Lord to withdraw his permission. Master Huang’s heart is now filled with animosity and a murderous spirit. I would like to be merciful, but it will be difficult.”
Everybody felt that his tone was boastful. Nonetheless just seeing his casual posture, they could see his world dominating might. Huang Zhan was a far cry compared to him, hence everybody also got the feeling that his tone was justified.
Huang Zhan did not wait for Lord Chunshen’s reply and barked: “Who wants you to be merciful?”
Brandishing his sword, he ploughed forward in a mad dash.
Xiang Shaolong knew that he has always relied on his prestige to go on a rampage, regarding no one. That is why he deliberately provoked him to anger. He has now been suckered by Xiang Shaolong’s ploy. He focused his mind and Blood Wave left its scabbard.
The sound jolted the entire field.
Xiang Shaolong stood proudly with his precious sword. Huang Zhan staggered back unsteadily with his sword. He was actually forced into retreat just by Xiang Shaolong’s one move.
Xiang Shaolong gave a long laugh: “Master Huang! How about stopping the fight now?”
Lord Chunshen stood up and shouted: “Son!”
The hands of Lord Chunshen’s warriors who standing at the back all strayed to their sword hilts, greatly increasing the tension in the hall.
While everyone’s eyes were focused on the arena, Jing Shan and his party used this golden opportunity to load their crossbows under the table.
All the banquet guests were stupefied.
Huang Zhan has always used his bravery and and strength to gain the reputation of being Chu’s number two swordsman after Li Yuan. Who would have known that he would be forced into such difficulty, cutting such a sorry figure after only one clash. Who would not be shocked?
At the side, Li Yuan was perceptive. He knew that Huang Zhan’s mind was clouded with violent rage. Xiang Shaolong’s sword move was also sophisticated. He struck precisely when the opponent’s equilibrium was the weakest. That was how he achieved this seemingly mystical result. It was also demonstrably clear that Xiang Shaolong’s arm strength was greater than Huang Zhan’s.
Huang Zhan had retreated up to twelve steps before he could stop. Who would have thought that Xiang Shaolong would repeat his words: “Master Huang! Let this matter go!”
How could Huang Zhan withdraw after such great humiliation? He violently screamed: “I will slaughter you!” He pounced forward again.
While the opponent was halfway there, Xiang Shaolong moved forward suddenly and with a rapid attacking move, mercilessly bore over, meeting strength with strength.
The sound of a girl cheering and clapping sounded out suddenly. It turned out to be Nuo Caicai solitarily doing a cheerleader’s act.
Because this was not some casual fight, everyone was holding their breath and keeping quiet. Nuo Caicai’s clapping and cheering was really jarring, but n.o.body had the interest to pay her any attention.
The clashing sound of metal on metal rang out continuously.
The two men swept past each other.
Xiang Shaolong stopped abruptly and still with his back to Huang Zhan, he sheathed his sword.
Huang Zhan rushed forward another five steps before emitting a heart rending and miserable shriek. His word fell to the ground and with his left hand clutching his right, he knelt down. At this moment everyone realized that his right hand had been cut off neatly at the wrist, and had fallen along with his sword.
Xiang Shaolong faced heavenwards and laughed: “Anyone who wants to kill me, this person shall serve as a warning.”
Lord Chunshen screamed: “Wan Ruiguang!”
Xiang Shaolong said without turning his head: “I warned the Lord many times not to let your son enter battle. Its a pity that the Lord wanted to kill me too badly. You can only reap what you sow. Who can the Lord blame?”
The Yelang King suddenly stood up and barked: “Kill him!”
Lord Chunshen also yelled: “Every debt has its perpetrator. Everyone please remain at your tables.” He picked up his cup and hurled it against the floor. “Peng!”
The cup disintegrated.
The ten over men behind Lord Chunshen rushed forth like a tide. Seven of them remained by Lord Chunshen while the other eight rushed towards the center of the hall and helped Huang Zhan up.
The other family warriors rushed forth from all four sides of the banquet hall, forming a human wall to cut Xiang Shaolong and Li Yuan off from the other guests while surrounding them at the same time.
Lord Chunshen’s family warriors who were originally behind the two men Xiang and Li retreated to the two sides instead. More than twenty of them went towards the Qielan King’s banquet mat to dissuade them from getting involved.
The sound of swords leaving their scabbards sounded unceasingly.
Lord Chunshen laughed from behind the human wall and said: “Didn’t expect this right? If you order your men to lay down their arms, maybe I will spare your wretched lives.”
Li Yuan remained calmly seated on his mat. He did not seem to notice the gleaming swords surrounding him. Sneering, he said: “The Lord is really audacious. Aren’t you afraid of injuring the guests accidentally? Are you thinking of mounting a rebellion?”
Xiang Shaolong stood tall with a peaceful look and laughed out loud, saying: “Huang Xie, you are gravely mistaken.”
Lord Chunshen sn.i.g.g.e.red and said: “We shall see!”
With a “Peng Peng!” sound, all the doors were shut.
Xiang Shaolong saw Lord Longyang, Han Chuang and the rest grasping their sword hilts one after another. He announced: “Everyone, please do not get involved or stand up. I will settle this with Huang Xie. Make your move!”
At this moment, Jing Shan and the forty-eight men were all still seated on the banquet mats. They were all completely expressionless, causing those who looked at them to feel a sense of chill.
Lord Chunshen yelled: “Attack!”
The hidden door behind Jing shan and the rest opened. A few tens of men with lances came out and attacked towards Jing Shan and gang.
The guests could not imagine that Lord Chunshen would have this trick up his sleeves. Nuo Caicai was the first to exclaim hoa.r.s.ely.
Only then did Jing Shan and the rest start moving.
The forty-eight men spread out like a fountain, rolling on the floor and springing up. Forty-eight flashes of light flew from their hands. It turned out to be flying daggers concealed in their hands.
In the midst of miserable cries, the incoming men were hit by the daggers and fell to the ground.
Only then did they use the crossbows. Flights of crossbow bolts flew out accurately and unerringly, causing the defenseless attackers coming in to fall down in rows. The attack melted like ice.
The forty-eight men rapidly loaded their bolts with lightning quick movements, firing ceaselessly. They not only drove those attacking from the hidden door back out, they also forced those family warriors already in the hall to the back, protecting the rest of the banquet guests.
Before long, the ground was littered with enemies groaning in pain and lying their own blood. The situation was extremely wretched.
Xiang Shaolong and Li Yuan rushed towards Lord Chunshen. The ten odd family warriors tried to block them.
Jing Shan, Wu Shu and the rest of the forty-eight men spread out across the banquet hall, commanding all the strategic positions, merely using the crossbows to shoot any enemy soldiers who dared to attack. All the guests remained completely still in their seats, not daring to budge, afraid to endanger themselves in the crossfire.
Li Yuan’s sword stabbed into Huang Ba’s chest in a lightning move. Just as he was kicking aside the corpse, Shan Rou’s shriek carried over the milieu: “Everyone stop! If not I will slaughter Huang Xie.”
Both sides looked towards Lord Chunshen only to discover that he had been forced to a corner by a servant girl. A sharp dagger was pressed against his neck. His face was ashen like a corpse.
The entire battle scene froze.
Xiang Shaolong and Li Yuan simultaneously rushed over and shielded her from both sides.
Shan Rou sternly shouted: “Throw down your swords!”
All the family warriors looked at each other at a loss of what to do. Huang Zhan was seriously wounded, Huang Ba had been killed. There was no one left to lead them.
The Yelang King madly yelled: “Kill them for me!”
When his men jumped up, two rows of crossbow bolts had already flown towards them. Including the Yelang King, the ten over people were all struck dead.
n.o.body else dared to move an inch.
Shan Rou yelled again: “Still haven’t abandoned your swords?!”
It was not clear who started first, but with a sonorous “Keng Qiang” sound, the ground was covered in discarded swords in an instant.
Jing Shan and the rest forced all the family warriors to the area behind Lord Chunshen’s host seat. Shan Rou, Xiang Shaolong and Li Yuan forced Lord Chunshen towards the side of the main entrance.
Li Quan and Cheng Suning were seized and trussed up together with Lord Chunshen.
The special forces soldiers demonstrated a high level of efficiency, some advancing and some retreating, every movement was tidy and orderly, with no confusion at all.
Everyone could only stare mutely at this unimaginable outcome.
Li Yuan leaned over to Xiang Shaolong’s ear and intimated: “Only now do I understand what is meant by ‘To capture the thieves, first capture the king (ringleader)’. I submit to Brother Xiang!”
Xiang Shaolong chuckled to himself and turned towards the one and only unique woman Shan Rou who was staring straight back at him. He laughed, saying: “Elder sister is formidable.”
The lovely Shan Rou snorted at him, immensely proud of herself.
Lord Chunshen asked in a trembling voice: “What do you intend to do?”
Xiang Shaolong greeted the floor of quests and said: “I, Wan Ruiguang am deeply sorry for causing everyone some false alarm. All the esteemed guests may leave. Nonetheless, please wait for a short while and allow us to open a route for you.”
Before he had finished speaking, the sound of slaughter could be heard outside the hall. It was a while before the noise died down again. Everyone’s countenance changed.
A knock on the door transmitted a coded signal. Wu Yan who was in charge of the door flung it open. Lou Wuxin rushed in and said: “I have not failed my mission!”
Li Yuan laughed and said: “Everyone may leave now. We will secure the area for you.”
He exultantly looked at Xiang Shaolong. Both knew that victory was in their grasp tonight.