Book 18 Chapter 05 – The Day Before The Fight
Carrying the two boxes, Xiang Shaolong returned to the Command Centre. In his own room, he opened them up and discovered two well-embroidered gowns inside. His heart is filled with warmth.
In this male dominant society, it is not easy for woman to achieve true happiness. Guo Xiu’er and Li Yanyan are two good examples. Despite their regal status, they cannot pursue what their hearts truly desire.
Their fates are still in the hands of men.
Filled with immeasurable emotions, he was distracted by an attendant sent by Teng Yi to summon him.
Xiang Shaolong composed himself and went to the main hall.
Teng Yi reported: “Another conflict has occurred. Some men from the Weinan Martial Arts School are shipping some weapons into the City and were stopped at the gates by the guards. A dispute broke out and the head guard was injured. The men were detained by Guan Zhongxie but Lao Ai showed up personally and Guan Zhongxie had to release the men. Seems like Lu Buwei is also tolerating Lao Ai’s antics.”
Xiang Shaolong smiled: “I want to see how far he can tolerate. Right! Help me inform Little Jun that his marriage to Lu Dan’er shouldn’t be much of an issue. After my duel, we can officially seek her hand in marriage.”
Teng Yi was overjoyed and hurriedly sent someone to inform Jing Jun.
Xiang Shaolong advised: “With Lu Dan’er as his wife, he should be satisfied. Second Brother must watch him carefully and not let him visit the brothels anymore. Presently, Xianyang City is a dangerous place with Lu Buwei and Lao Ai fighting it out. We better not get involved.”
Teng Yi bitterly laughed: “I have spoken to him countless times but this kid loves to flirt, socialize and entertain. If you really want him to stay in the house, we have to resort to breaking both his legs.”
Xiang Shaolong sighed.
Jing Jun will get into trouble later but as long as he is not injured or killed, Xiang Shaolong can still bear with him. He nodded: “Since this is the case, let’s get more men to escort him. If he runs into a fight, at least he is not out-numbered.”
Teng Yi reasoned: “If he becomes the son-in-law of the Lu family, his status will be greatly elevated. Lu Gong has tremendous influence over many civil officials and military leaders. Everyone will have to give him face. After his marriage, anyone would have to think twice before provoking him.”
Xiang Shaolong secretly thought that if Lu Gong is still alive, he may oppose this marriage as Jing Jun is not a Qin native.
Teng Yi continued: “As long as Jing Jun doesn’t step into Drunken Wind Brothel, everything should be fine. Currently, Lao Ai and Lu Buwei are indirectly using Drunken Wind Brothel as their contending ground. Poor Wu Fu.”
Xiang Shaolong thought of the complicated relationship between Dan Meimei and Lao Ai.
After Qin Qing and Ji Yanran, Dan Meimei is next in terms of beauty. She is prettier than Ying Ying, Lu Dan’er, Wu Tingfang and Zhao Zhi. Even if Lu Buwei and Lao Ai are absent, other men will try their best to secure her for their private pleasure.
Somehow, he did not have the least bit of affection for her. It may be due to his experience with Zhao Ya, Lady Pingyuan and Empress Jing that he has a fear of beauties who lie with their eyes wide open.
Teng Yi slapped his forehead: “I nearly forgot to tell you something. Housekeeper Tu wanted to meet you at the old place at the ‘jia’ hour. I am sure he has something important to tell you.”
Xiang Shaolong nodded: “I think Lu Buwei is really going to rebel.”
Two hours later, Xiang Shaolong and Tu Xian met up again at their secret spot. Tu Xian’s hair is turning grey since they met two months ago. He must have been working under high amounts of stress.
After both men got seated, Tu Xian raised his thumb: “Shaolong is a genius to make Meng Ao and Lu Buwei suffer a tragic loss. Meng Ao is especially embarra.s.sed but Lu Buwei dare not blame him. With this defeat, their plans are in disarray.”
Xiang Shaolong knew that his guess is correct. Lu Buwei is a temperamental person and patience is not one of his virtues. He would not stand by and watch Xiao Pan grow in power each day. He joked: “Is he ready to rebel?”
Tu Xian coldly smiled: “He is not capable of rebelling yet but he knows how to wrest power from others. Originally, he has two parts (Meng Ao & w.a.n.g Ci) of the military supporting him. With your death, Lao Ai the fake eunuch can only do so much and w.a.n.g Jian c.u.m An Gu are too far away to be of a.s.sistance. But he just cannot get rid of you and now, w.a.n.g Ci has deflected to your side. Last night, he blew his top and cursed you and w.a.n.g Ci nonstop in front of Guan Zhongxie and Meng Ao. This man is without a conscience and has never reflected on all the horrendous crimes that he has committed.”
Xiang Shaolong thought of something and questioned: “Did w.a.n.g Ci tell Lu Buwei about the blood test Lu Gong did on Crown Prince? The one that proved Crown Prince is not related to Lu Buwei?”
This is the first time Tu Xian heard about the blood test. After hearing the details, his face changed colour: “Shaolong, you are mad. Even I dare not gamble that Crown Prince is the son of Lu Buwei or not. If he is indeed Lu Buwei’s son, wouldn’t all the hard work go down the drain?”
Of course Xiang Shaolong will not tell him the truth. He sighed: “If I appear hesitant, Lu Gong and the rest will begin to suspect that Crown Prince is that traitor’s [email protected]/* */ child, right? I am also glad we placed a right bet this time.”
Still fearful, Tu Xian took some time to compose himself before commenting: “I am sure w.a.n.g Ci did not tell Lu Buwei about this matter. Every time he got into trouble, he will curse Zhu Ji. He hates Zhu Ji for not telling Crown Prince the truth about him being his real father. It is really strange. With Lu Buwei’s intelligence, how can he make such a mistake? When he gave Zhu Ji away, he had the intention to make his own son the King of Qin… How can there be a mistake? In the past, he did tell me once that the Crown Prince is his own flesh and blood.”
Xiang Shaolong cannot help but asked: “But Zhu Ji told me personally that even she cannot be sure whether the Crown Prince is Lu Buwei’s son or King Zhuangxiang’s son.”
Tu Xian lamented: “Even if she knew, this ambitious woman will not tell the truth. If the Crown Prince is still close to her, she will not rely on Lao Ai. At the end of the day, it is just a fight for power.”
Xiang Shaolong was shaken as he had never thought of Zhu Ji this way.
If someone else said these words, he would not pay any attention but Tu Xian knew her all the way back when she is still a courtesan in Lu Buwei’s residence.
The ‘Ji’ is Zhu Ji refers to her profession, which is courtesan.
When King Zhuangxiang is in power, she behaved herself well, knowing that she can enjoy wealth and power. Moreover, her own son is the future King of Qin so she has nothing more to ask for.
When Lu Buwei murdered King Zhuangxiang, she saw through him and did not want to depend on him alone. She tried to win Xiang Shaolong to her side but discovered that he is loyal to Xiao Pan and the late King so she got together with Lao Ai. First, she can satisfy her 5exual needs and second, she can cultivate her authority through him.
Recently, she found out that her son is really holding different views so she hardened her heart and submitted wholeheartedly to Lao Ai and even become pregnant for him. Ultimately, she refuses to give up her authority.
After a.n.a.lyzing things from this angle, Xiang Shaolong can feel his burden lightening and his guilt towards Zhu Ji lessened greatly.
His mood improving, he enquired: “What does Lu Buwei plan to do now?”
Tu Xian revealed: “As long as you are around, Lu Buwei dare not let his guard down. With w.a.n.g Ci supporting you and Crown Prince, Meng Ao does not have the confidence to do anything too. If there comes a day when both w.a.n.g Ci and Meng Ao are out at war, we should be extra careful. Meng Ao possesses the military seal and can come back anytime. With Lu Buwei’s eight thousand family warriors, they can find any excuse and kill whoever that opposes them. I think Shaolong knows this better than me.”
Xiang Shaolong nodded with a smile.
Tu Xian continued; “At the present moment, Lu Buwei and Meng Ao are pining all their hopes on the duel tomorrow night. If Guan Zhongxie manages to win, you will be killed for sure. Shaolong must think twice before you act.”
Xiang Shaolong laughed loudly: “The bigger the hopes, the bigger the disappointment.”
Still worried for him, Tu Xian sighed: “Excuse me for being frank. For the past six months, Guan Zhongxie has been practising nonstop. He is at his peak regardless of sword skills or fitness. Shaolong need not gamble your life with him. The impact of this duel is bigger than you imagine.”
Xiang Shaolong is aware of his true concern for him. Grabbing his shoulders, he promised: “Please have confidence in me. You will enjoy a good show tomorrow.”
He took the chance to ask: “How is Third Mistress doing?”
Tu Xian sighed: “Within the Premier Mentor Residence, she is the only person I care for. She treats me better than the others. Unfortunately, she is the daughter of that traitor. These few days, she has been worrying a lot. I can see that she prefers Guan Zhongxie over you. Initially, I thought that she had really wanted both of you to fight again but recently, I learnt that it is Lu Buwei and Guan Zhongxie’s conspiracy. During the hunting fair, you may seemed to have gain the upper hand but privately, Guan Zhongxie insisted that he did not wish to kill you so he let you off that night. Otherwise, you would have lost for sure. Hei! That is why I have tried many times to persuade you not to fight if you can help it.”
Xiang Shaolong whispered: “Honestly speaking, that day, I did not show my true prowess so Guan Zhongxie managed to survive. Tomorrow, I will give it my best shot.”
Tu Xian was astonished; “Really?”
To comfort him, Xiang Shaolong sprouted nonsense: “Of course! Otherwise, why did I only defend and not attack during the second round?”
Tu Xian eyed him suspiciously before adding: “Lu Buwei and Lao Ai are in an arms race now. Both of them are recruiting talented men all over the states to be added to their army of family warriors. Besides absorbing the Weinan Martial Arts School, Lao Ai managed to recruit this man named Han Jie. This man is rumoured to have learnt the essence of Ji Xia Sword Saint Cao Quidao’s sword skills and even Guan Zhongxie considers him to be a significant threat. Shaolong must be careful when dealing with this man. He is a top a.s.sa.s.sin and several high ranking officials of Qi have fallen under his sword.”
Xiang Shaolong has seen how Han Jie fights and admits that he is capable of contending with Guan Zhongxie.
Tu Xian revealed: “Among Lu Buwei’s latest recruits, the most outstanding ones are Xu Shang, Lian Jiao and Zhao Pu. Xu Shang is the best swordsman among them and is now Guan Zhongxie’s sparring partner. His skill is not far from Guan Zhongxie’s level, only losing to him in terms of arm strength. However, his sword skill is very creative and agile which covers up this weakness. Lu Buwei has the intention to make him the a.s.sistant Imperial Infantry Commander.”
Xiang Shaolong laughed: “Lu Buwei can plan all he wants but let’s see if they can come into fruit. Right! Any news from Xiao Yuetan?”
Tu Xian cheerfully divulged: “A talent is a talent wherever he goes. Yuetan is now named Biantan and is recognized for his abilities. At present, he is serving the Chancellor of Han. I am happy for him.”
After further discussion, they parted.
That night, Xiang Shaolong, Teng Yi and Jing Jun the three brothers are having dinner at the Command Centre. Knowing that his marriage is secured, Jing Jun is especially happy and proud.
Xiang Shaolong took this chance to advise: “If there is nothing important, do not go to Drunken Wind Brothel. Lu Buwei and Lao Ai are fighting over Dan Meimei and we should not get involved in their fight.”
Jing Jun was stunned and awkwardly confessed: “Coincidently, Lord Changwen has an appointment with me to go there for drinks tonight. Yang Duanhe and Bai Chong will be accompanying us. Ai! I will tolerate everything and I guarantee I will not get into trouble.”
Teng Yi scolded: “You can refrain from provoking others but won’t others provoke you? Don’t forget that you defeated Zhou Zihen during the hunting fair. Because of this, every follower of Lu Buwei bore grudges against you and will do their best to make things difficult for you. With Guoxin and the rest also against you and with Lao Ai supporting them, you must understand that you are still alive because of your a.s.sistant Imperial Cavalry Commander Post. Otherwise, you would have been mincemeat long ago. Up till now you still have no idea how foolish you are.”
Jing Jun dare not speak back to Teng Yi and looked pleadingly at Xiang Shaolong.
Seeing that he is still young and immature, Xiang Shaolong’s heart softened. He suggested: “Since we are quite free, why don’t we all join in the fun and see what is really going on?”
Teng Yi was petrified: “Third Brother must not forget your duel tomorrow night. If you went out merry making tonight; will Yanran and the rest forgive you?”
Xiang Shaolong laughed: “I want to intentionally let Guan Zhongxie know that I am not bothered by the duel tomorrow. This will make him complacent and think that he will win for sure. As long as we bring Little Jun back home early, there shouldn’t be any problem. Otherwise, I cannot get to sleep worrying about this [email protected]/* */”
Jing Jun was touched: “Third Brother treats me the best. No! Second Brother treats me well too.”
Following that, he jumped up and exclaimed: “I must look for Lord Changping. If all of us are going but we leave him out, he will hold it against me.”
Looking at Jing Jun sprinting away, both men can only smile bitterly.
After talking for some time, Xiang Shaolong sent someone to inform his wives that he will be back home late. Just as they were about to leave, Huan Yi showed up.
This young and capable general has tiredness written all over his face but looks more cheerful than before. It must be due to the fact that he can finally put his talents to good use.
Seeing the two men, Huan Yi kneeled down immediately.
Both men hurriedly helped him up.
Teng Yi was surprised: “Little Yi, why are you not busy training the new army? Did you travel throughout the night to Xianyang City?”
Huan Yi replied: “With w.a.n.g Ben managing them, there is nothing to worry about. It is my top priority to come back and cheer for Official Xiang’s duel tomorrow. Ai! I spent many hours before finally convincing w.a.n.g Ben to stay behind. I came back with Left Premier’s permission so I did not break any rules.’
Teng Yi laughed: “I see. I heard that there are many people like you who have come a long way from where they are in order to take part in the birthday celebration tomorrow.”
Huan Yi informed: “On my way, I ran into Po Hu from Tunliu. His entourage is amazing, with over five hundred family warriors and a large group of courtesans. But I do not like this man at all.”
Lord Changping’s voice sounded out: “I do not like this man too. Great minds do think alike.”
The three men are talking at the main gate. Turning around, they saw Lord Changping and Li Si coming towards them. The number of their armed escorts is three times larger than usual.
Huan Yi dared not be as friendly towards Lord Changping compared to Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi. He quickly paid his respects and kept quiet.
After the usual pleasantries, Li Si sighed: “Thinking about your duel tomorrow, the Crown Prince and I are not in the mood to work. Suddenly, Little Jun came to look for Lord Changping, saying that all of you are going to Drunken Wind Brothel to have a pre-celebration for tomorrow’s victory. I am bored to death so I thought I come along too.”
He whispered: “The Crown Prince is here too!”
Xiang Shaolong, Teng Yi and Huan Yi were blown away. Looking towards the group of riders, they finally spotted Xiao Pan between Jing Jun and Lord Changping. This future Qin Shi Huang has put on a fake moustache and dressed in a normal warrior clothes, nodding and smiling at them.
Before Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi can react, Huan Yi had already kneeled down and tried to kowtow. Lord Changping dragged him up and hissed: “Crown Prince has strict orders that no one must pay respects to him. This is to hide his ident.i.ty. Violators will be severely punished.”
Huan Yi frantically stood up.
Reining his horse, Xiao Pan laughed: “It is getting late. Let’s make a move.”
Xiang Shaolong and the rest quickly mounted their horses and accompanied Xiao Pan towards the lighted streets and Drunken Wind Brothel.
Only Xiang Shaolong dared to ride side by side Xiao Pan.
In a great mood, Xiao Pan joked: “Will Master blame me for fooling around despite being the Crown Prince?”
Not wanting to spoil his mood, Xiang Shaolong laughed: “Even if you are King, you should also find time to relax.”
Xiao Pan is only afraid of him. Since he has given the green light, he teased: “When I heard that Master is going merry making on the day before the duel, I have nothing but admiration for you. That is the sign of a true hero. Empress summoned me earlier and wanted me to stop this fight, saying that your chances of winning are not high. Hng! In this world, only I know that Master is invincible.”
Xiang Shaolong acknowledged that Xiao Pan has hero-worshipped himself since young. His invincible image has been deeply imprinted in his mind and n.o.body can alter this. Luckily, he created the Hundred Battle Sabre and the Hundred Battle Sabre Play. Otherwise, he will be feeling very stressed now. He simply replied: “Looks like Crown… Hei… What should I call you instead? Otherwise, your ident.i.ty may be leaked.”
Enthusiastically looking at the normal houses and pa.s.sersby, Xiao Pan easily replied: “Call me Qin Shi! Qin is my country and Master mentioned that I will be the Qin Shi Huang who will unite the world. All right. Call me Qin Shi. This is such a nice name.”
While Xiang Shaolong was stunned at this development, Xiao Pan summoned Lord Changping and got him to notify everyone of his new name.
Turning back to him, Xiao Pan asked: “What did Master want to say?”
Xiang Shaolong suppressed the incredulous feeling he had upon hearing the two words: Qin Shi. He thought for a while and remembered his earlier question: “I wanted to ask if you will be going to Lu Buwei’s banquet tomorrow.”
Xiao Pan was puzzled: “Do you need to ask this question? How I wish tonight is tomorrow night! Empress will be there too. n.o.body in Xianyang City will give this fight a miss. I heard that there are many people who are gambling on the results of the duel. Hng! According to Lord Changwen’s report, most people believe that Guan Zhongxie is well prepared and has a higher chance of winning but I know that the resulting victor will be Master.”
Xiang Shaolong was tickled, thinking that gambling is already so widespread now. Perhaps it is just a basic human nature to try their luck.
With the large signboard of Drunken Wind Brothel in sight, Xiao Pan became even more excited and updated: “The Po Hu fellow whom Huan Yi mentioned is Tunliu’s richest man. It is often said that he is the second richest man in Qin after your Wu Family. He specializes in salt and iron business and his business is very successful. This man is very ambitious and used to work with Lord Yangquan. Now, he is quite intimate with Du Bi. We must be careful of this man.”
Lord Changping rode forward and enquired: “Crown… Hei! No! Brother Qin, are we going to a quiet spot of our own or are we going to the main hall to partic.i.p.ate in the rowdiness?”
Xiao Pan naturally replied: “Of course we are going to the main hall. I even wanted to see the four top beauties. I want to personally see how beautiful they are that so many men have fallen head over heels over them. ”
With these words, Xiang Shaolong and Lord Changping exchanged a look, thinking that there is no way to stay low profile tonight.