A Step into the Past Chapter 183

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Read Novel A Step into the Past Chapter 183, Pleae!

Book 17 Chapter 01 – Hatred Caused By Love

In their half a year apart, Xiao Pan has matured further, becoming even more adept at hiding his feelings.

Leaving the commander-in-chief’s residence, Xiang Shaolong followed Xiao Pan back to the palace. Teng Yi, Ji Yanran and the rest returned to the Wu residence. Lu Gong’s funeral arrangements would be arranged by the ceremonial official appointed by Xiao Pan.

They entered the study. When Xiao Pan and Xiang Shaolong had been left alone, Xiao Pan slapped the table and said in fury: “Ten thousand deaths is not enough to atone for this traitor’s guilt.”

Xiang Shaolong sat down forlornly beneath him and said somberly: “Why was Xu Xian sent to Shouchun?”

Xiao Pan appeared fearful of being blamed and explained: “Lu Buwei had exhorted me to ally with Chu and Qi to attack the three Jin states. He persisted in asking for Xu Xian to travel to Chu to repair relations and even wanted me to take a Chu princess as my wife. Empress Dowager could have been confused by Lao Ai as she strongly supported Lu Buwei together with w.a.n.g Wan, Cai Ze and the others. I was not able to resist them and had no choice but to agree. At that time I thought that Lu Buwei only wanted to keep Xu Xian away from Xianyang for a period of time to deter Lu Gong from hara.s.sing him. Who would know that the Chu people would be so reckless, actually daring to a.s.sa.s.sinate the envoy who was representing me.

For the first time, Xiang Shaolong felt hatred for Zhu Ji. He was pained to silence.

Lu Gong, Xu Xian and w.a.n.g Chi had always been the three pillars of the military. Now only w.a.n.g Chi remained. Worse, this person was close to Lu Buwei. The status quo he had painstakingly created had been destroyed overnight.

Presently, amongst the military and the government heavyweights, he could barely count on one person w.a.n.g Ling to be on their side. The rest like Meng Ao were part of Lu Buwei’s inner circle. Du Bi too had ulterior motives. This was the most precarious situation he had encountered since coming to Qin.

Xiao Pan sighed and said: “The biggest headache now is the vacant Left Premier’s post left behind by Xu Xian. Lu Buwei has recommended w.a.n.g Wan, and Empress Dowager is leaning towards this proposition. It is very difficult for me to object. In terms of experience and seniority, no one besides Cai Ze is more qualified than he is to become the Left Premier.”

Xiang Shaolong replied: “This matter is critical. No matter what we do, we must not let the Left Premier position fall into the hands of Lu Buwei’s men, else the Qin court will be safely in Lu Buwei’s pocket within three years.”

He turned towards Xiao Pan and queried: “Does Crown Prince have a candidate in mind?”

Xiao Pan replied: “If it was up to be, I would go against convention and promote Li Si. He is ten times as talented as w.a.n.g Wan.”

Xiang Shaolong shook his head and said: “Going by ability, there is no problem with Li Si, but he is not a native of Qin. Even if no one objects, you should not promote an outsider thus before you have stabilized your own position. This will only put you at odds with the Qin community.”

Xiao Pan was silent for a while before nodding his head, saying: “Master is right. We should not do so at present. Ai! Its good that you are back! Finally there is someone to help me think through plans.”

Xiang Shaolong gazed at Xiao Pan for a while before saying: “You have already done very well to drag things up to this point.”

He stood up and started pacing, but his mind remained a blank. He mumbled: “The candidate must first be a Qin native, and then must be someone we trust absolutely. The next criterion must be that he is young and have high ideals, so as not to be easily bribed by Lu Buwei. At the same time, he must clearly understand our relationship with Lu Buwei and must also have the support of the military. Where can we find this person?”

Xiao Pan sighed and said: “This person is you my Master. But I already know that you will refuse.”

Xiang Shaolong jumped once and said: “I know! This person is Lord Changping!”

Xiao Pan was startled for a while before cupping his head and saying: “Isn’t he a little soft?”

Xiang Shaolong replied: “Of course he’s a little soft. But this tactic is called ‘feigning one thing and doing another’*. The feint is Lord Changping. The real person in the shadows is Li Si. Lord Changping is a n.o.ble kinsman of the King. Even w.a.n.g Wan will find it difficult not to give in to him!”

* The actual phrase used here is ‘Openly repairing the plank road while secretly crossing the river Wei at Chencang’. Its a reference to a stratagem used by Liu Bang in 206BC against Xiangyu of Chu (reference from MDBG.net). Its meaning is close to what is written above ‘feigning one thing and doing another’.

Xiao Pan asked in bafflement: “I understand what ‘repairing the plank road’ means, but what the heck is Chencang?”

Xiang Shaolong secretly berated himself for slipping once again. This is because this incident would only happen during Chu and Han’s conflict many years later. Xiao Pan had naturally never heard of it. He could only invent some nonsense, saying: “That refers to an obsolete and unused warehouse that n.o.body notices**. In short, Li Si is the true Premier while Lord Changping is the figurehead.”

** Chéncāng 陈仓 is the ancient name of Bǎojī city 宝鸡市 (reference from MDBG.net). XSL is a.s.sociating the word chén 陈 with 陈旧 chénjiù meaning ‘obsolete’, and the word cāng 仓 with 仓库 cāngkù meaning ‘warehouse’. Hence XSL’s rubbish explanation above. This is also how I try to decipher more obscure Chinese idioms and phrases. Please do not ever try to learn Chinese from my translations. And never ever use what you see here when doing business in China. You have been warned =)

Xiao Pan was still hesitant and pointed out in doubt: “Lord Changping’s treasured sister is very close to Guan Zhongxie. If Yingying is married to Guan Zhongxie, won’t that present some problems?”

Xiang Shaolong replied: “This might have been a problem previously, but now as long as the Changping brothers know that Xu Xian was murdered by Lu Buwei, it would be useless for him even if Guan Zhongxie marries their mother.”

Xiao Pan laughed bitterly from his belly and said: “Master should not provoke me, this is not the time to be laughing.”

As Xiang Shaolong thought about Xu Xian and Lu Gong, his enthusiasm diminished and he said solemnly: “This is but the first step. The second step is to recall w.a.n.g Jian and use him to counter w.a.n.g Chi, Meng Ao and Du Bi. I am sure that he will become the cornerstone of our Great Qin’s military someday. Throwing in Huan Qi and w.a.n.g Ling, they will be even more formidable than Xu Xian and Lu Gong.”

Xiao Pan stood up abruptly and replied: “How do we get past the Empress Dowager? She is sure to reject this because of Lord Changping’s lack of experience.”

Xiang Shaolong thought for an instant before saying confidently: “Allow me to persuade her personally.”

Xiao Pan shook his head and cautioned: “Empress Dowager is no longer the Queen mother of last time. After Lao Ai obtained her favor, Empress Dowager has become even more infatuated with him. She also feels that I am becoming less obedient to her. I believe that Master’s influence over her is no longer what it used to be. Also, Lu Buwei has been courting Lao Ai, else mother would not be supporting him.”

Xiang Shaolong smiled and said: “Then I should speak to Lao Ai! I cannot believe that he would be willing to allow Lu Buwei to become more powerful. Now that I am back, he is no longer alone. He should now have the guts to betray Lu Buwei.”

Xiao Pan nodded and said: “Lets do as Master says. If all our methods fail, we can just summon Lu Buwei and Guan Zhongxie into the palace and have Master kill them with the sword once and for all. After that we can trump up some charge and pick up the pieces.”

Xiang Shaolong was shocked and replied: “What kind of plan is this? The bulk of the military strength is now with Meng Ao. If we do this, the outcome would be unpredictable. Moreover the palace is steeped with Lu Buwei’s spies. If anything goes wrong, we will be the ones to lose out.”

Xiao Pan sighed and was speechless.

Xiang Shaolong remembered Prince Dan and asked about his situation.

Xiao Pan nonchalantly replied: “Lu Buwei has invited him to his new official residence and detained him there. It is unknown whether he is alive or dead. His subordinates have been placed under house arrest in the guesthouse. They are not allowed to step out of the gates. Guan Zhongxie’s men are guarding the place. I did not feel that this was a big deal and I had too many things to worry about, hence I did not get involved.”

Xiang Shaolong beheld him in astonishment, trepidation rising from the bottom of his heart.

Qin Shihuang is Qin Shihuang after all, promoting expedience while discounting benevolence and righteousness. Just based on Xiao Pan’s manner, one could tell that he had no qualms about having Lu Buwei kill Prince Dan. This would after all remove one of the obstacles n the way of his future unification of China.

As he reflected on this, he realized that to move Xiao Pan in this matter, he would have to appeal to benefit.

After he thought for a while, he heaved a long sigh and said: “Doing this, Crown Prince is actually elevating the other party and putting himself down.”

Xiao Pan stared blankly for a while and said: “So even this a problem?”

Xiang Shaolong forthrightly said: “If Crown Prince remains aloof on this matter, the prestige that Crown Prince painstakingly created by quelling the rebellion at the royal hunt will dissipate, causing people to think that the only one in charge in Xianyang is that stinking Premier Mentor Lu Buwei. It is said that when two countries battle, envoys are not to be harmed. Prince Dan has come from afar to attend the funeral of your late father. He has been seized by Lu Buwei, but the charge will be leveled at you. Will the Eastern six kingdoms trust you in the future if you do not observe righteousness and justice? ”

Xiao Pan was startled and said: “Why does Master sing the same tune as Li Si? Looks like there is some reason there. But what if Prince Dan has already been killed by Lu Buwei?”

Xiang Shaolong shook his head and replied: “How could Lu Buwei be so willing to kill Prince Dan? This matter is clearly directed at me. On the other hand, it is also to help that devil Tian Dan defeat Yan.”

He paused for a while before giving a cold snort, saying: “Mo Ao was killed publicly by me, removing the old scoundrel’s chief tactician. Worse, his prestige was damaged. As someone who is paranoid about winning, how could he swallow this? Still he did not have a way to deal with us directly. His only method was to use Prince Dan. At the most I would barge into the residence demanding the person. He would then be able to kill me or stick some charge on me.”

Xiao Pan cooly said: “Still, this matter had the tacit approval of mother. Lu Gong and Xu Xian voiced opposition many times but were always suppressed by mother and the scoundrel Lu. Hei! It is also difficult for me!”

Xiang Shaolong felt a headache coming. Xiao Pan was right. Zhu Ji has definitely changed a lot this half a year.

Xiao Pan said: “From tomorrow, Master must attend the morning court. Ai! The number of people who dare to oppose Lu Buwei are diminishing by the day.”

He paused and then continued: “Is there anyway to recall An Gu?”

Xiang Shaolong shook his head and said: “The bulk of our Great Qin’s military strength is now concentrated at the border. The seven cities are in the hands of Meng Ao, w.a.n.g Chi and Du Bi. The rest belong to w.a.n.g Jian and An Gu. If we recall both w.a.n.g Jian and An Gu, we will lose all out external support. This is something we must never do.”

Using this as a segway, he asked: “What has come of Huan Qi’s effort to build a contingency force?”

Xiao Pan was reenergized and replied: “The two of them Huan Qi and Little Ben have been traveling all over the country, personally selecting talent. They now have an army of close to ten thousand. Li Si has given this division the name ‘Rapid Response Division’. It sounds appropriate.”

He snorted again and said: “Nonetheless Lu Buwei has hindered Huan Qi in many ways. On the surface he agrees to everything, but in secret he opposes everything. I wanted to promote Li Si by one grade to become a minister-of-state in the government and military, but was stiffly blocked by Empress Dowager and Lu Buwei. I am unable to move a single step. Master needs to think of a plan for me.”

Xiang Shaolong was vexed. He was without Xu Xian and Lu Gong while the enemy had Meng Ao and w.a.n.g Chi. He was himself unschooled in top level military and civil administration. How was he to overcome Lu Buwei?

Thinking to this point, his heart jolted, calculating that if he could swing Meng Ao over, everything would be solved. While it would be difficult to instigate Meng Ao to rebel, he had a chance because Lu Buwei had once tried to murder Meng Ao’s two sons. Nonetheless he must first win over Meng Wu and Meng Tian. His heart was stirred and he had already formulated a plan.

Xiang Shaolong summed up: “The matter of utmost importance right now is to capture the position of Left Premier for our man, and then to increase w.a.n.g Jian’s profile to counter the two men Meng Ao and w.a.n.g Chi. I will take care of Prince Dan personally.”

They continued discussing the details especially on Prince Dan’s situation before Xiang Shaolong left Xiao Pan’s study.

As he stepped across the study door, he did not know where to go for a moment.

He desired most to return to the Wu residence to see Zhao Ya. Nonetheless, in the name of righteousness and justice, he needed to console Prince Dan’s subordinates Xu Yize and the rest. However, the most critical person he had to talk to was actually Lao Ai, to instigate an alliance against Lu Buwei.

After a while of indecision, Li Si’s voice sounded in his ear saying: “Official Xiang!”

Xiang Shaolong recovered his spirit and joyfully cried: “Brother Li!”

Li Si grabbed him in one hand and led him to the imperial garden through a side door.

It was now afternoon and the sky was covered in heavy clouds, suggesting a blizzard.

As they arrived at a small pavilion, Li Si released him, sighed and said: “The scoundrel Lu is truly formidable. After a few moves, we are now at a great disadvantage again. Hei! Has Tian Dan been killed?”
Xiang Shaolong nodded his head.

Li Si’s eyes brightened and he said excitedly: “This is greatly beneficial to Great Qin’s future plans to unify the world. And Lu Buwei can no longer count on his mutual support to control the six Eastern states.”

Xiang Shalong seized the opportunity to ask: “Besides the military’s Meng Ao and w.a.n.g Chi, what kind of strength does Lu Buwei have?”

Li Si replied forlornly: “Lu Buwei has comparatively weak troops-wise. At least within Xianyang, our strength is superior to his.”

Xiang Shaolong furrowed his eyebrows and said: “I am unfamiliar with the court process, can Brother Li explain its ins and outs to me?”

Li Si looked at him in shock for a while before nodding his head and saying: “If you need a detailed explanation, I am afraid that Official Xiang will not be able to return home tonight. At a high level however, there are three levels in the hierarchy. At the top is naturally the Crown Prince together with supporting minor officials like me. We form the inner court. Hei! Just the inner court is extremely complex.”

Xiang Shaolong replied: “I am actually familiar with the inner court. Brother Li does not need to explain. Under the Crown Prince is the Right Premier and Left Premier. What is the difference in authority between the two?”

Li Si patiently explained: “To answer this, we need to start with Shang Yang’s political reforms during the time of Duke Xiao. Then, the two highest officials under the monarch were the Commons Chief and the Grand Vizier***. Until King Huiwen came, Shang Yang held both positions, effectively unifying the control of the military and civil government in one person. His achievements were spectacular, arousing even the jealousy of his master King Huiwen who finally executed him through dismemberment by horses. From then on, power was concentrated in the King. The civil government and military was separated, with a Premier installed to manage the former and a Great General to command the latter. The Premier headed hundreds of officials. The administrative load on him became too heavy and the post was divided into the Left and Right Premiers, with the Right Premier managing the civil government and the Left Premier managing military affairs. The former was akin to the previous Commons Chief and the latter akin to the Grand Vizier.”

*** I’ve decided to translate these two terms broadly. They are actually just official t.i.tles under Shang Yang’s reforms. Don’t know what the real English equivalents are. The Grand Vizier or 大良造 is supposed to be the highest official position in the Qin state.

The more Xiang Shaolong listened, the more confused he got. He asked: “If that is so, why is Lu Buwei so insistent on controlling the military?”

Li Si laughed bitterly and replied: “It has always been difficult to separate the civil government and the military. Since both the Left and Right Premiers report directly to the King, whenever there is a decision to be made by the King, both Premiers must be consulted. Now with the Crown Prince still young and the Empress Dowager personally holding court. The situation is even more complex.”

Xiang Shaolong felt even more confused and frowned, asking: “In that case, how do these two Premiers operate?”

Li Si languidly replied: “The Left and Right Premiers govern the country though the four inst.i.tutions. The four inst.i.tutions are the Army and Government, the Judiciary, the Tax Authority and Public Works. They are controlled by the four cabinet ministers, the Minister of War, Minister of Justice, Minister of Education and Minister of the Sky. Presently the Left Premier manages the Military and Public Works while the Right Premier manages the Judiciary and Tax Authority. Lu Gong was originally the Minister of War. This position is now glaringly vacant.”

Xiang Shaolong was about to query some more when an inner palace attendant arrived outside the hall, greeted and announced: “The Empress Dowager requests the pleasure of seeing Official Xiang!”

Xiang Shaolong and Li Si glanced at each other, both realizing something was wrong.

Thick snow started floating down at this moment.

Inside the Empress Dowager’s inner palace, Zhu Ji was sitting high atop the phoenix dais. Four palace maids and four servants stood at her left and right. Palace guards lined up on both sides up to the entrance of the palace hall.

The moment Xiang Shaolong saw this troop arrangement, he knew that he was at a disadvantage. This is because Zhu Ji is clearly indicating that she did not want to engage in private conversation. She is also indicating that her heart is with Lao Ai, since she is demonstrating that she does not want to meet him alone, avoiding Lao Ai’s jealousy.

Indeed, after Xiang Shaolong had paid his respects and recovered, Zhu Ji looked at him with chilly eyes and coldly said: “Official Xiang, are you disregarding me the Empress Dowager? Returning after half a year, you do not even meet me for a greeting.”

Xiang Shaolong knew that the only effective move was to use the soft to overcome the hard. He sighed and said: “Empress Dowager, please calm down. The reason……”

Zhu Ji interrupted him, saying: “No matter what you say, I am not going to calm down. Xiang Shaolong, tell me what you and Crown Prince are stirring. You are so secretive and sneaky in everything, keeping me in the dark. When Lord Gaoling rebelled during the hunt, you clearly had prior information. Why didn’t you inform me?”

At this point Xiang Shaolong knew she was merely sore about an old issue, so he laughed bitterly and said: “This minor official has a thousand things to say, but finds it difficult to say a word with so many ears listening. Is it right for me to speak so freely of the Late King or the Crown Prince or Premier Lu or Premier Xu?”

Zhu Ji’s beautiful eyes gazed at him deeply for a time. She then softened and heaved a sigh, saying: “Alright! Everyone please get out. Anyone who dares to eavesdrop is to be killed without mercy.”

In the blink of an eye, all the servants and guards had cleared out of the hall, even closing the palace hall door and all the side doors.

The Zhu Ji who was sitting on the phoenix seat heaved another sigh and with a softened voice said: “I already knew it was impossible to corner you. Speak!”

Xiang Shaolong took two steps forward and bracing himself, sat on the steps of the dais. He blandly said: “Lu Buwei killed Xu Xian and harmed Lu Gong. If he is able to kill me, the next will be Official Lao.”

Zhu Ji saw that he was actually so rude as to sit on the steps of the dais on his own accord. She had wanted to reprimand him, but was overwhelmed by his startling words. She shook dramatically, saying: “What did you say?”

Xiang Shaolong buried his head in his palms and said solemnly: “Any obstacle in Lu Buwei’s path to power will be kicked away by him sooner or later. He can sacrifice anyone and anything other than himself. Empress Dowager should understand this even better than I do.”

Zhu Ji’s breathing became heavy and only said after a long while: “The Chu people have sent the severed head of Lord Chunshen over, begging for forgiveness over Xu Xian’s death. What does this have to do with Lu Buwei? If you do not make yourself clear, I will not spare you.”

Xiang Shaolong became furious and whipped his body around sharply, staring at Zhu Ji. He said: “What did Lord Chunshen stand to gain by killing Xu Xian? If not for Tian Dan’s instigation and Lu Buwei’s background support, even if there was much to benefit from it, would the Chu people be so audacious? Heng! You will not spare me? Just get someone to come and behead me then. See if I Xiang Shaolong will crease half a hair on my eyebrow.”

Zhu Ji’es eyes emitted an intensely cold killing aura, but after contending a time with his gaze, she was defeated. She lowered her gaze and lightly said: “Just take it as if my words were too extreme. Whats the use of getting so angry?”

Xiang Shaolong saw that it was a good chance to back down, but decided to vent his anger anyway. He said forcefully: “The position of Left Premier is now being coveted by everyone. If it falls onto Lu Buwei’s hands, not only will I Xiang Shaolong die without a proper burial, the person beside Empress Dowager will not live to his old age.”

Zhu Ji gently said: “If Shaolong is willing to be the Left Premier, I will support him with all my power.”

Xiang Shaolong regained his calm and smiled while shaking his head, saying: “It is not for me, but for Lord Changping.”

Zhu Ji was startled and objected: “How would the people accept Lord Changping? Why don’t you consider w.a.n.g Ling?”

Xiang Shaolong replied: “This is because we need w.a.n.g Ling to replace Lu Gong in managing the Army, to better master w.a.n.g Chi, Meng Ao, Du Bi and their men. Even though Lord Changping is a little lacking in virtue and seniority, he is still a scion of the royal family. Appointing him as Premier is the best way to pacify the hearts of Great Qin’s military. Empress Dowager should remember that two of the three tiger generals of Western Qin have gone. The remaining one w.a.n.g Chi is not only leaning towards Lu Buwei, his standing is still below that of Meng Ao. Now everyone is currying favor with Lu Buwei. When everyone has fallen in with him, will Empress Dowager and Crown Prince have a place to stand?”

Zhu Ji stared at him for a while before saying forlornly: “Why can’t I ever prevail over you? But this is no small matter. I need to mull on this. Please retire first!”

Xiang Shaolong knew that she was going to discuss this with Lao Ai and cringed in his heart. Still, he could not do a thing and left in frustration.