Book 17 Chapter 08 – Expressing Love
The next day, Xiang Shaolong went to pay his respects to Lu Gong and Xu Xian before entering the palace to see Xiao Pan to report his duel with Guan Zhongxie. Finally, he went to see Qin Qing at the Qin Residence.
Qin Qing is in her garden admiring the snow and was delighted to receive him but shy at the same time. Hesitating to look straight into his eyes, she simply swept him off his feet.
Strolling in the snow shoulder to shoulder, there were no intimate actions but they can both feel the intimacy in each others’ heart.
Xiang Shaolong gently revealed: “At Lu Buwei’s birthday dinner next month is the day I will fight Guan Zhongxie to death.”
Shocked, Qin Qing wailed: “You! Why did you have to fight him?”
Xiang Shaolong answered: “This man is talented, intelligent and is holding the post of the Imperial Infantry Commander. If I do not eliminate him, we will have many days of trouble in the future.”
Lowering her hood, Qin Qing halted and whined: “If you lose… Ai! I am so worried.”
Xiang Shaolong turned around and leaned his head towards her, scrutinizing her flawless beauty and smiled: “If I happened to forfeit my life during the duel, what will you do?”
Her face becoming pale, Qin Qing shook: “Please do not speak like this. Do you think I am not frightened already?”
Xiang Shaolong insisted: “Grand Tutor Qin has yet to reply me.”
Qin Qing shot him a look and lowered her head, replying softly: “I will join you in death! Happy?”
Xiang Shaolong was shaken: “Grand Tutor Qin!”
Qin Qing shook her head and sighed: “To think I will actually say such things to a man. But I know you will not lose, right? Xiang Shaolong!”
Xiang Shaolong smiled: “Of course I will not lose! If I am not confident, I will just admit my loss. What can he do about it?”
Pausing, he added: “I am here today to sincerely invite Grand Tutor Qin to stay at the farm for a month. Because I need to disregard everything and focus on training to prepare for the duel next month. But I know I cannot forget about you and to avoid the pain of pining for you, I have to request that you be by my side.”
In an instant, even the root of Qin Qing’s ears is completely red. Lowering her head embarra.s.sedly, she clarified: “Xiang Shaolong, do you know that by making this request, it is as good as asking me to marry you?”
Xiang Shaolong reached out and held her white and tender shoulders before gently replying: “Of course I know. Please forgive my callousness but I want to win both your heart and your body. If either one is lacking, I will not accept it.”
Qin Qing struggled slightly and wailed: “Are you treating me like a piece of merchandise?”
Xiang Shaolong leaned forward and kissed her cheek, slowly saying: “Whatever. I just want you. We need not deceive ourselves any longer in the future and live life with so many restrictions. Some opportunities are lost forever if they are missed. I have thought very carefully and thoroughly before I come looking for you.”
Qin Qing’s head is so low that it is almost touching her chest. Whispering as soft as a mosquito, she asked: “When are you leaving for the farm?”
Xiang Shaolong was overjoyed: “Early tomorrow morning.”
Qin Qing softly pleaded: “Can you release me first?”
Stunned, Xiang Shaolong released his grip on her.
Qin Qing floated away like the breeze and finally stopped at a distance ten feet away from him. She officially state: “I will wait for you here tomorrow! See you then.”
Giving him a romantic and emotional look, she turned around and sashayed away.
An intoxicated Xiang Shaolong stared at her until she disappeared among the flower beds before composing himself and headed towards the Command Centre.
At the Command Centre main door, someone dashed out and detained him. It turned out to be Ying Ying and from her haggard expression, she must have had a bad night’s sleep. She started: “Official Xiang, I must speak to you privately.”
Xiang Shaolong has just expressed his love for Qin Qing and gotten the most wonderful answer. In a great mood, he nodded: “Let’s talk more inside!”
Ying Ying stubbornly shook her head: “No! Let’s take a walk outside the city!”
Alarm bells begin to ring in Xiang Shaolong’s head. With Xu Xian and Lu Gong dead, he is the man Lu Buwei wanted to kill next. Will this be a trap laid by Guan Zhongxie but executed through Ying Ying?
He decided otherwise because no matter how muddle-headed Ying Ying becomes, she will never harm him. He agreed: “All right!”
Turning around, he was about to instruct the Guardians to wait for him at the Command Centre when Wu Yan Zhu stated upfront: “Master Xiang, please forgive us for being unable to comply. The Madams have strictly instructed us to never leave your side.”
Xiang Shaolong was taken aback and relented: “Fine! You can follow behind me.”
He proceeded to ride with Ying Ying out of the city.
Riding out of the city gates, his spirits lifted considerably.
The rolling meadows have become a blanket of white snow and they spread out as far as the eye can see. Mother Nature is completely silent and only the snow is shimmering.
The Eighteen Guardians were riding two hundred steps behind them and were taking precautions against any ambushes.
Xiang Shaolong a.s.sessed Ying Ying.
Her charming body is even more mesmerizing which is probably due to Guan Zhongxie’s nourishment.
Xiang Shaolong wondered how will the already peerless beautiful Qin Qing turn out after his own nourishment?
With this thought running through his head, Xiang Shaolong is more certain than ever than he is only interested in Ying Ying as a friend and not as a lover.
Ying Ying softly asked: “Xiang Shaolong! Please do not fight Zhongxie. As long as you publicly announce that you do not wish to marry Lu Niang Rong and thus rejected the duel, no one will say that you are afraid of him.”
Xiang Shaolong agreed that this is an excellent solution. Moreover, he did appear superior during the hunting fair and with marriage as an excuse; no one will think that he is trying to avoid this fight. The problem is that he and Guan Zhongxie has already reached the point of no return, where neither can tolerate the presence of each other.
Just like him and Lu Buwei, only one man can continue living.
Not receiving a reply from him, Ying Ying raised her voice angrily: “You do not love Lu Niang Rong, what is the use of fighting over her?”
Xiang Shaolong was admiring the snow acc.u.mulated on the branches of the trees along the official roads. He lightly sighed: “Miss is really protective of Guan Zhongxie. Whatever you do is in his best interests.”
Ying Ying noticed the sarcasm in his voice and was incensed: “Do you think I am not looking after your interests too? While you are away for the past six months, Zhongxie has been practising his sword every day and was waiting for the day he could kill you. Do you think you can still defeat him?”
Xiang Shaolong did not take her words to heart and smiled: “So who do you think will win?”
Ying Ying was so angry her entire face is completely white. She cursed: “I wish both of you are dead.”
Xiang Shaolong laughed loudly: “Let’s return back to the City. You need not say any more.”
Stopping her horse, Ying Ying’s face is completely green by now. Staring at him furiously for some time, she softened and intimately coaxed: “It is all my fault for being indecisive. No wonder you are treating me like this. Please listen to me this time, ok?”
Xiang Shaolong seriously state: “Ying Ying, you better come back to your senses and look clearly at the harsh realities in front of you. This is not a personal feud but a fight that concerns the power struggle of the Qin Court and a compet.i.tion between Qin natives and foreigners. The losing party will stand to have their families annihilated. To Guan Zhongxie, you are just one of his p.a.w.ns but you are only good at disobeying your brothers’ orders to restrict you for your own good. Did you ever spare a thought for them? You are only stubborn, wilful and want others to pander to your selfish needs.”
Pausing for a while, he proudly remarked: “Death and defeat is common during fights and this is not the first time Lu Buwei and Guan Zhongxie are trying to kill me. But you only choose to live in your fantasy world and ignore genuine concerns. If you ever marry Guan Zhongxie, you better pray that Lu Buwei can successfully rebel but that would mean a tragic death for both your brothers. If Lu Buwei fails, you may be spared but all your kids with Guan Zhongxie will be executed. This is the truth and Crown Prince Zheng will not waver. All these circ.u.mstances are born out of Lu Buwei, Guan Zhongxie and Mo Ao’s schemes. Mo Ao is dead so now Guan Zhongxie is trying to kill me. Do you understand?”
Not paying any more attention to her, he left and re-entered the city.
Before he reached the Command Centre, Xiang Shaolong’s mind is already filled with Qin Qing. Imagining that he can get close to her physically tomorrow, his heart is burning with pa.s.sion and he wished that time could pa.s.s faster.
At the Command Centre, Teng Yi whispered: “Tu Xian will meet you at the usual place later.”
Xiang Shaolong was elated: “I was about to look for him!”
Sitting down, Teng Yi reported: “After winter, Meng Ao will attack Han. Your old friend Han Chuang is in trouble.”
Xiang Shaolong helplessly replied: “This is something beyond our control. If we are weak, Han will be attacking us instead. But as long as we are building the Zhengguo Ca.n.a.l, we will lack the resources for a grand campaign. For the next few years, we can only gain one or two provinces from the Three Allied States. By the time they really mount a campaign against the East, we would be long gone.”
Teng Yi sighed: “I know that Third Brother has no interest in war but sooner or later, you will have to field an army too. This is something inevitable.”
Xiang Shaolong smiled: “I have to depend on Second Brother then. I am sure that you are so familiar with the Mozi warfare that you can even memorise it from the back to the front.”
Teng Yi laughed: “You really love to exaggerate.”
Xiang Shaolong inquired: “Is Little Jun out on patrol?”
Teng Yi chided: “He is not so diligent and is out with Lu Dan’er. I told him that you are willing to propose marriage on his behalf and he was so happy that he forgot all about work.”
Xiang Shaolong decided: “The Lu Family is still in bereavement. Let’s talk about this after I killed Guan Zhongxie! I am going back to the farm tomorrow. Second Brother must spar with me if you are free.”
Teng Yi suddenly recalled something: “Shaolong, do you remember the Weinan Martial Arts School?”
Xiang Shaolong searched his mental database and remembered this Martial Arts School was run by this man called Qiu Risheng. In the past, he was conspiring with Lord Yangquan and once sent one of his top fighters ‘Scarface’ Guoxin to ambush Jing Jun and injured him badly. He himself was almost a.s.sa.s.sinated by them on the streets.
He nodded: “What about them?”
Teng Yi explained: “After Lord Yangquan was eliminated by Lu Buwei, Qiu Risheng sensed that times are unfavourable so he slipped away. Recently, he resurfaced and is conspiring with Lao Ai. He has been quite prominent lately and is heavily recruiting warriors. Little Jun is itching to lay his hands on them. I am sure there will be some conflict sooner or later.”
Xiang Shaolong knew better than anyone that Lao Ai is a despicable cad and expected him to conspire with other ruthless men. He plainly stressed: “Second Brother must watch Little Jun carefully and we must not act rashly. We will only counter them when the Black Dragon shows itself and we have consolidated our power.”
Teng Yi smiled: “Leave this to me. Little Jun has never disobeyed my orders. Third Brother is sharp indeed to predict that Lao Ai will be dissatisfied with his lowly position and possess wild ambitions. For him to accommodate Qiu Risheng, it is as good as clashing with Lu Buwei.”
Xiang Shaolong nodded: “When the Crown Prince has consolidated his power, he will have Lord Changping and Li Si to advise him, w.a.n.g Jian and Huan Yi to lead his army. With the Palace Guards, Imperial Cavalry and Imperial Infantry in their hands, we can retreat back to the farm and watch Lu Buwei and Lao Ai fight to death.”
Teng Yi frowned: “But if this goes on, the Empress and Crown Prince will be enemies one day.”
Xiang Shaolong bitterly smiled: “This is fate which n.o.body can change. We are helpless too.”
Teng Yi was about to say something when an attendant reported that w.a.n.g Ci sent someone to summon Xiang Shaolong to see him at the General Residence.
Both men were stunned as w.a.n.g Ci did not have any dealings with Xiang Shaolong.
Arriving at the General Residence, Xiang Shaolong and the Eighteen Guardians noticed that the courtyard in front of the main building was loud and lively. There were nearly a hundred strong men watching w.a.n.g Ci practise his archery.
Despite the cold and frosty weather, w.a.n.g Ci braved the chill and mounted his strong bow. His three continuous arrows. .h.i.t the bull’s eyes and earned loud cheers from the crowd. This Great General truly lives up to his reputation as one of Qin’s famed general. Noticing Xiang Shaolong, he smiled broadly and waved to him. Putting on a fur coat and his shining eyes a.s.sessing Jing Shan and the Guardians, he casually remarked: “I heard that these Guardians are very highly skilled. Since they are free, why don’t they exchange a few friendly pointers with my men?”
Xiang Shaolong is in no position to reject him and agreed reluctantly.
w.a.n.g Ci smiled and led him into the main hall.
The hall is wide and s.p.a.cious while the walls are decorated with animal skins and weapons. There is a killing aura in the air.
The strangest thing is a seven facade screen south of the hall. The screen has completely blocked the incoming path from within the building. It looks out of place and Xiang Shaolong is reminded of the time when he was peeping at Chu Empress Dowager Li Yanyan. He was discovered by her because of a footprint on the floor so he naturally looked towards the floor. Immediately, sweat poured down his back and his limbs became icy cold.
There were many water marks on the floor. Needless to say, there are many men who have entered the hall from outside and are now hidden behind the screen. As their shoes are tainted with snow, the water marks are left on the floor. They were there because he has arrived and this is a setup meant for him.
They naturally do not have any good intentions.
All they need to do is to push the screen over and shoot out with their crossbows and he will be a dead man.
w.a.n.g Ci took up the host seat right in front of the screen and gestured him to sit down on his right. There is no way that he can make the first move and attack w.a.n.g Ci first.
His mind thinking furiously, he gritted his teeth and sat down. In the process, he secretly retrieved five flying needles and hid them in his giant hand.
He has never been so close to death.
w.a.n.g Ci is truly intelligent to get his men to occupy the Guardians so that he is alone and defenceless.
Why does w.a.n.g Ci want to kill him?
w.a.n.g Ci is unlike Meng Ao and is a Qin native. He may be an admirer of Lu Buwei but will eventually be loyal to Xiao Pan.
Thinking about this, he had an inspiration.
Two maids came up to serve tea and excused themselves. When only the two of them are left, w.a.n.g Ci suspiciously a.s.sessed him for a while before sighing: “This year has been pretty eventful. First, Lord Gaoling rebelled and Xu Xian and Lu Gong died one after another. I find it hard to accept these facts myself.”
Xiang Shaolong does not understand the meaning behind his words so he kept his silence.
Pain shooting out of his eyes, w.a.n.g Ci lamented: “It is Lu Gong’s dream to see Qin conquer the six eastern states and unite the world. Just when things are taking a positive turn, his life ended. This is truly tragic.”
Xiang Shaolong could not help but added: “As long as we are having internal conflict, it is impossible for us to unite the world.”
His eyes flashing, w.a.n.g Ci mentioned in a deep voice: “This is the reason why I looked for Shaolong. Since Premier Mentor came to Qin, he conquered Eastern Zhou with General Meng Ao and built the three new provinces. Those are strategic locations and now, we are able to threaten Daliang and show off our might to the eastern states. If not for this campaign, it is difficult for Meng Ao and me to attack the three Allied States and conquer Taiyuan from Zhao. When the Five Allied Army came to attack us, it was thanks to Shaolong’s trickery that Prince Xinling was forced to step down and our danger pa.s.sed. After that, Lu Gong, Meng Ao and I attacked the Allied States and established the Eastern Provinces. Now, Qin is even more prestigious than before. But right at this point in time, our country is rocked by internal strife and our hands are tied. Shaolong, what do you think we should do?”
Xiang Shaolong finally understood that w.a.n.g Ci is trying to mend fences between him and Lu Buwei. He is away fighting most of the time and is not clear about the power struggles in the Qin Court. Ultimately, he has declared his loyalty to Lu Buwei and it is hard to convince him to switch sides. If Xiang Shaolong insisted on his way, the attackers behind the screen may just kill him without the least hesitation. At the same time, he can tell that w.a.n.g Ci is not blindly following Lu Buwei’s orders.
After some contemplation, he calmly replied: “In the present times, everyone remembers Tian Dan when we speak of Qi, Empress Han Jing when we speak of Zhao and Lu Buwei when we speak of Qin. The Kings of these states seemed to be non-existent. This is called: Thick trees carry thick branches, remove the branches and the tree is powerless. With officials carrying too much power, the King of the State is powerless like the branchless tree…” He just learned the last four lines from Li Si and managed to put them to good use in this desperate situation.
An impatient w.a.n.g Ci interrupted: “This is due to circ.u.mstances and not the will of men. The King is young and the country is powerful. Without officials managing the state, the country will be ruined. We have adopted the policy of utilising talented men, paying them handsomely and given them critical posts. Since Xiao gong begun our dynasty, we have capable men like Shang Yang, Zhang Yi, Fan Qiao and now we have Premier Mentor. If not for them, Qin will not enjoy our present success today.”
Xiang Shaolong comprehended w.a.n.g Ci’s train of thought and was wondering if he should tell him about Lu Buwei murdering King Zhuangxiang and Xu Xian when w.a.n.g Ci continued: “Lu Gong and Xu Xian has always suspected Premier Mentor of poisoning the two late kings and even suspected that Crown Prince Zheng is Lu Buwei and Empress Ji’s illegitimate son. It is now proven that Crown Prince Zheng is not related to Lu Buwei so all these are just blatant rumours.”
Xiang Shaolong was blown away, realising that behind every gain, there is a loss too. The blood test has indirectly caused w.a.n.g Ci to not suspect Lu Buwei the traitor at all. In turn, he has become the main culprit in w.a.n.g Ci’s eyes and a stumbling block in the way of Qin’s unification of the world.
w.a.n.g Ci sighed again: “Premier Mentor is a most talented individual. Just by reading his Spring-Autumn Annals and his reward hanging on the city gates, I believe he has surpa.s.sed Shang Yang.”
Xiang Shaolong decided to show hand: “How can there be any piece of work that is so good that it cannot be improved on? I think people fear his authority and dared not correct his work. There is something I will say but I am afraid that you will not believe me. Xu Xian may be killed by Chu but it was instigated by Tian Dan. Now why would Tian Dan do such a thing? We only need to do some self-reflection and ask ourselves: Who will gain the most from his death in Qin? I believe General can easily guess who the mastermind is.”
w.a.n.g Ci was shaken: “Do you have any proof?”
Xiang Shaolong bitterly smiled: “How am I going to produce any proof? But Lu Gong was so incensed over this murder he died of anger. On his deathbed, he begged Crown Prince and me to avenge him. Given the present circ.u.mstances, General must choose to be loyal to Crown Prince or Lu Buwei. There is no other choice. Lu Buwei has been propagating his Spring-Autumn Annals because he wanted to spread the influence of Officials holding power. If I possess any selfish motives against Lu Buwei, I would not have rejected the position of Premier twice and allowed others to be promoted.” He is on the brink of death and did not bother to conceal any details.
w.a.n.g Ci’s face changed colour and his eyes shone sharply, scanning him with suspicion.
Xiang Shaolong coldly exchanged stares with him with neither hostility nor fear. In his mind, he was thinking of how to flip the table to block the arrows and escape with his life.
w.a.n.g Ci’s gaze shifted up and he stared at the main pillar supporting the hall. His eyes are filled with contemplation and he unsteadily commented: “Xu Xian, Lu Gong and I have always admired you Xiang Shaolong. Otherwise, I would not have asked you over for a discussion. For the time being, I am unable to agree with your theories. Nonetheless, my loyalties lie with the Crown Prince. I will try to talk to Premier Mentor personally and hope that he will not end up like Shang Yang who is executed by five horses running in five separate directions and tearing his body apart.”
Xiang Shaolong was astonished: “You must never do this. If Lu Buwei senses that General is having doubts about him, he will try to get rid of you. All I desire is for General to follow your righteous principles and support all the policies that will benefit our country. That is a blessing to us already.”
w.a.n.g Ci was moved: “Shaolong, you are definitely not an unscrupulous man. If you are trying to convince me to turn against Lu Buwei, you will not leave here alive. Meng Ao has told Lu Buwei everything you told him today. Based on that, you have displayed insubordination and Lu Buwei can actually annihilate your household.”
Xiang Shaolong sighed with relief at this close shave. He has been too reckless and did not expect Meng Ao to be dead loyal to Lu Buwei. It is also clear that w.a.n.g Ci has been ordered by Lu Buwei to kill him.
If w.a.n.g Ci is his killer, even Xiao Pan and Zhu Ji are powerless to hold it against him.
w.a.n.g Ci bitterly laughed: “So I can either choose to kill you or fight beside you. There is no third option. If I join hands with Meng Ao, you are just a measly Cavalry Commander who cannot resist us. But relax! You did not try to get me to counter Lu Buwei but Lu Buwei is dead set on killing you. But as long as I disagreed, he dare not act on his own. Hng! If I choose to take precautions against him, what can he do about it?”
Xiang Shaolong sighed with relief but could not resist clarifying: “I thought General mentioned that it is hard to accept my theories. Why did you still change your mind?”
His eyes shining with humour, he warmly answered: “Because I suddenly remembered that Shaolong came to see me without any reservations and speak with reason in a guilt-free manner. In addition, the late King, Crown Prince, Xu Xian, Lu Gong, w.a.n.g He, Lord Changping and w.a.n.g Jian have all treated you with trust, love and respect. It is all because of your selfless att.i.tude. So I was suddenly enlightened and did not commit a serious error. I still have my doubts about your words but I will not trust Lu Buwei as whole-heartedly as before.”
Xiang Shaolong was feeling emotional.
In this moment, he knows that the power vacuum left behind with the deaths of Xu Xian and Lu Gong is now being filled by w.a.n.g Ci who has miraculously switched sides to support them. Otherwise, it is hard for him to stay alive, not to mention deal with Lu Buwei.
w.a.n.g Ci has abandoned his plan to kill him as he finally realises that Xiao Pan and Lu Buwei has come to a stage of non-reconciliation. At the end of the day, he has chosen to support his own King. After all, he is a Qin native and would never conspire with outsiders to harm his own country.