A Step into the Past Chapter 209

339

Book 19 Chapter 3 – Yet Another Venomous Scheme

In the tug-of-war between officials and the crown, Huan Yi’s rapid-response army really was a crucial chess piece. If Xiao Pan was able to take it under his control, then anyone thinking about rebelling would have to worry about Huan Yi’s crack troops.

The people in the rapid-response army were all selected from outside the capital. They were kept apart from everyone else and formed an entirely separate body of their own. Unlike the Imperial Infantry, the Imperial Cavalry, or the city guards, they wouldn’t be so easily bribed or bought.

This was why Lu Buwei was extremely cautious towards them, using both soft and hard techniques to place his own people within the rapid-response army.

Fortunately, the two people he selected were Meng Wu and Meng Tian. His selection of these two candidates was also an attempt to please their father, Meng Ao.

Xiao Pan and Xiang Shaolong would naturally be ‘disadvantaged’ by this.

When Huan Yi made the request for two a.s.sistant commander slots to be opened under him, Lu Buwei and his men immediately and strongly recommended the Meng brothers for the positions. Xiao Pan put on an act of being hesitant and unwilling, before finally, ‘reluctantly’ agreeing.

Lao Ai was caught flatfooted. In those few moments, he was unable to immediately come up with candidates amongst his own people who had more military accomplishments and who came from more influential backgrounds than those two. He could only sigh in disappointment.

The marvelous thing was, this increased his animosity and wariness towards Lu Buwei all the more.

Naturally, Xiang Shaolong was laughing inside. Right now, his only desire was to spend the rest of his life in peaceful happiness after the Black Dragon made its appearance. By the time Xiao Pan ascended to the throne, Lu Buwei’s position would have been drastically weakened. With a single blow, they would lay both Lu Buwei and Lao Ai flat, and then he would naturally retire from office. Aside from his distaste towards war, he couldn’t bear to watch the six nations be flattened by the Qin juggernaut. And there was a third, hidden reason which even he himself wasn’t willing to clearly think about. It was Xiao Pan’s imminent ‘deterioration’.

The historical Qin Shihuang became brutal, tyrannical, and utterly despotic in all of his dealings. If he were to remain by Xiao Pan’s side, how could he bear to watch Xiao Pan devolve into such a person?

Thus, the only option he had was to avoid watching and depart.

He was affecting history, but history was also affecting him. As to the questions of cause and effect, of the chicken and the egg? Most likely, even Heaven wouldn’t be able to discern the answers clearly.

After the morning court ended, Lu Buwei was openly jubilant while Xiao Pan and the others were secretly so.

Xiang Shaolong was summoned by Xiao Pan to his study room. Together with Li Si and Lord Changping, they a.n.a.lyzed the plans behind the Black Dragon’s appearance in great detail before departing the palace.

As he pa.s.sed by the Qin residence, he couldn’t resist from sneaking in and seeking her yet again. He didn’t expect to find her ordering people to pack her belongings. When she saw him, she pulled him off to one side. A single tear trembling in her eyes, she said, “I was just about to send someone to find you. Lady Huayang has fallen ill. I’m going to go see her immediately. Alas!”

Xiang Shaolong seemed to be totally stunned. “You are leaving in such a hurry…”

Qin Qing leaned against his chest. “The benevolence which the Lady has shown towards me is weightier than a mountain. Over the past few years, her health has grown poorer and poorer. It’s amazing that she’s made it as long as she has. That is why Qin Qing must be by her side, no matter what, during these last few days that she will have. After this affair is finished, I will return to your side. Please don’t say anything which would make me feel even worse, alright?” Xiang Shaolong calmed himself. “Does the Crown Prince know?”

Qin Qing said, “I just ordered someone to go inform him and the Empress Dowager.”

What else could Xiang Shaolong say? He personally escorted her out of the city. They traveled for over ten li before reluctantly parting. By the time he returned to Xianyang, it was nightfall and gaudy lanterns had already been raised. He remembered his appointment with Lao Ai, and let out a helpless sigh. And then, he went to keep his appointment.

As he entered the Drunken Wind Pavilion, Wu Fu came to greet him, personally escorting him to the private courtyard which Lao Ai had reserved. Bowing, he said, “The Lord Inner Custodian came long ago.”

Xiang Shaolong casually asked, “Who else is here?”

Wu Fu said, “The majority of the people present are the Lord Inner Custodian’s guests. The only exception is Mister Pu.”

Astonished, Xiang Shaolong came to a halt. Losing his voice, he cried out, “Pu Hu actually came?”

At the moment, the two were standing on a small pathway outside of the courtyard with a grove. Many customers and serving girls were crossing by. Wu Fu pulled Xiang Shaolong aside, into the grove, checking to see if anyone was near, aside from the Eighteen Guardians. Only then did he say in a low voice, “Great General, would you be willing to hear a few sincere, heartfelt words from I, Wu Fu?”

Xiang Shaolong groaned to himself. Any who believed the ‘sincere, heartfelt words’ from a person like Wu Fu would surely be either an idiot or a r.e.t.a.r.d.

But of course, on the surface, he acted very interested. “Owner Wu, please feel free to speak openly.” At the same time, he made a few hand motions to Jing Shan and the others, ordering them to keep an eye on their surroundings.”

Wu Fu suddenly fell to his knees. Kowtowing, he said, “Wu Fu wishes to follow you, lord. In the future, I will be loyal to you, and you alone.”

Xiang Shaolong didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. When it comes down to it, Wu Fu is a person of means and stature, as the owner of the largest brothel in Xianyang.

For such a person to abase himself before Xiang Shaolong and ‘surrender’ to him…how to deal with such a man?

He hurriedly pulled Wu Fu up and said, “Owner Wu, you mustn’t act in such a way!”

Who would’ve expected that Wu Fu obstinately continued to cling to the ground? This fellow’s acting ability really was something. In a tear-filled voice, he said, “Wu Fu foolishly a.s.sisted in the plan to harm Great General Xiang. Now, I am filled with regrets, but it is too late. I only hope that in the future, I be allowed to whole-heartedly devote myself to you and do something on your behalf. If you, great sir, are not willing to agree to this, then why don’t you simply go and…alas!…go and kill me with a single chop of the sabre.”

How could Xiang Shaolong be unaware of Wu Fu’s intentions?

A lowly, base man like Wu Fu was like a man who had gra.s.s growing from his forehead. Whichever way the wind blew, he would follow.

In the past, he thought that Lu Buwei had the upper hand, and so he conspired to harm Xiang Shaolong. But now, he was slowly beginning to discover that Xiang Shaolong wasn’t a man to be easily crossed. And over the past few days, he was also beginning to discover that Xiang Shaolong and the Crown Prince were as close to one another as one’s lips were to one’s teeth, and that Xiang Shaolong had the support of Great Generals such as w.a.n.g He and w.a.n.g Ling. Moreover, Xiang Shaolong had triumphed over Guan Zhongxie and was himself promoted to the rank of Great General. If this continued, after Lu Buwei was defeated, he, Wu Fu, would be driven away from Xianyang, and in the worst case scenario, even his kinsmen might be affected. Considering the circ.u.mstances, the only solution was for him to profess undying loyalty towards Xiang Shaolong.

From this, he could also tell that Wu Fu had decided to place his bets on Xiao Pan in the compet.i.tion for military control.

Thus, although Wu Fu was a person whose eyes were solely fixed upon the marketplace, he had far better vision and foresight than many others.

Xiang Shaolong was silent for some time, before saying in a stern voice, “If you wish for me, Xiang Shaolong, to consider you one of my people, then you must prove your loyalty to me through deeds. In addition, in the future, you must serve me with whole-hearted loyalty. Otherwise, I definitely will not spare you.”

Kowtowing, Wu Fu said, “Great General, please trust me. In the end, I, Wu Fu, am an ethnic Qin. In the past, I was just foolish and muddle-headed. I thought that the Premier Mentor had the trust and affection of the Crown Prince, while you, Great General, were…were…” Xiang Shaolong didn’t know how many people in the past Wu Fu had pledged his loyalty to. How could he now so easily trust him? Filled with disgust, he shouted, “Stand up before talking!”

Wu Fu continued to kowtow. “Tonight, even if this humble one has to risk life and limb, I still need to tell the Great General about Lao Ai’s vile plot.”

Xiang Shaolong knew from the very beginning that Wu Fu must have a card which he was preparing to play. That was why Wu Fu was willing to come to him and pledge loyalty. But he hadn’t expected it to be related to Lao Ai. Half-believing, half-doubting, he said, “If Lao Ai is planning something, how would you possibly find out?” Wu Fu said, “Please allow me to explain this matter fully.”

Xiang Shaolong growled softly. “If you still refuse to get up, I will immediately turn and walk away.”

Wu Fu was so terrified that he leapt to his feet.

Xiang Shaolong pulled him deeper within the courtyard, to sit beneath a small bridge. “Speak. But say not a single word which is false. Otherwise, you won’t live to see the next sunrise.”

Ashamed, Wu Fu said, “This humble one wouldn’t dare to deceive you, great sir, Great General.”

After pausing for a moment, Wu Fu focused on the subject at hand. “The Inner Custodian has recently received a guest from Qi called Mao Jiao. This person has reached the acme of fame in his chosen field of medicine.”

Xiang Shaolong was shocked. Wasn’t Mao Jiao the spy which Xiao Pan had sent into Lao Ai’s services? How did he get caught up in this affair? Could he actually be a double agent?

Wu Fu saw that he was silent and uncommunicative. How could he guess the reason behind it? He thought that Xiang Shaolong didn’t believe him, and so spoke more forcefully. “This person was once the Imperial Physician to the King of Qi. He is a man of real talent and genuine learning.”

Frowning mightily, Xiang Shaolong said, “Lao Ai is going to use him to poison me? That is probably more difficult than using actual a.s.sa.s.sins.”

In a hushed voice, Wu Fu said, “The person Lao Ai is going to poison is the Crown Prince.”

Xiang Shaolong involuntarily cried out, “What?!”

Wu Fu solemnly and cautiously explained, “Ever since that day I met the Crown Prince, I have been unable to forget that lofty, hegemonic air he carries about him, capable of overcome the entire world. When the Crown Prince’s gaze swept across me, I felt incapable of hiding anything from him. The most impressive, hardest to accomplish feat was that when he was faced with beautiful women, he maintained his presence, unlike the likes of Lu Buwei and Lao Ai, who immediately lose their bearings. Thus, last night, when Meimei came back from accompanying Lao Ai and jauntily told me that Lao AI would soon be able to overthrow Lu Buwei, I immediately grew anxious, although she told me no more.”

Xiang Shaolong felt as though he was slowly beginning to be convinced by this person whom he had always held in contempt.

The main point of doubt was that at the moment, Lao Ai didn’t have a strong enough base of supporters and a.s.sistants. If he were to a.s.sa.s.sinate Xiao Pan at this point in time, there would be little direct benefit for himself and Zhu Ji. It would also be of no benefit to Lu Buwei. Both Lu Buwei and Zhu Ji’s source of authority ultimately sprang from Xiao Pan.

Xiang Shaolong calmly said, “If Lao Ai were to dare engage in an act of treason which would result in his entire clan being exterminated, how could he easily let others know?” Wu Fu said, “The relationship between Meimei and Lao Ai is not a superficial one. They have been intimate for many years, but in the past, because of Lu Buwei, they could only meet furtively. Now, although he has become the Inner Custodian, he still isn’t able to overcome Lu Buwei. And now, with Lu Buwei intending to take her as his concubine, how could Lao Ai not grow desperate? It’s very natural for him to expose some secrets to her.”

Xiang Shaolong had learned long ago of the intimate relationship between Dan Meimei and Lao Ai. Deep inside, his belief increased by a few more points. Frowning, he said, “What benefit would a.s.sa.s.sinating the Crown Prince bring Lao Ai?”

Wu Fu solemnly said, “In order to a.s.sa.s.sinate the Crown Prince, there’s no need at all for him to use an expert doctor like Mao Jiao. Many of the Crown Prince’s aides are Lao Ai’s men. What’s more, if anything happened to the Crown Prince, everyone would place the blame squarely on Lu Buwei.”

Xiang Shaolong nodded. “The situation is indeed as you describe.”

Wu Fu saw that Xiang Shaolong was beginning to believe him. He began to grow excited, but lowered his voice as much as possible. “After Meimei spoke those words which aroused my suspicions, she retired to her room. I knew that she was not the type of person who could keep a secret, and that she would go speak to her closest, most trusted friends about it. And so I eavesdropped for an entire night, before I finally learned just a little bit more.”

Seeing Xiang Shaolong’s eyes grow wide, Wu Fu awkwardly explained, “Xiang Shaolong, please don’t misunderstand. It’s an old trick to install copper hearing tubes and other eavesdropping devices in the rooms of the courtesans. She doesn’t know about it at all. It’s fortunate that this was the case, as I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to uncover Lao Ai’s plot.”

Listening to this story, Xiang Shaolong’s gaze grew dazed and his mouth became slack. If Wu Fu hadn’t personally explained this to him, he would never have realized that when the Four Beauties of the Drunken Wind Pavilion were engaged in ‘flipping flowers and overturning islands’, someone might be listening with one ear respectfully pressed against the hearing mechanisms.”

8:25

Wu Fu continued, “Meimei told her confidante, Xiu Ju, that Lao Ai was going to have Mao Jiao prepare a special medicine which, if taken several times, would cause a person to become stupid and dull, and do nothing but want to sleep all day. As long as the Crown Prince is administered this medicine a few times, it will be very difficult for him to handle the affairs of state during the morning court. By then, the Empress will control all the power of the court. If Lao Ai wants there to be wind, there will be wind; if he wants there to be rain, there will be rain.

Xiang Shaolong was instantly covered in cold sweat.

This scheme really was extraordinarily vicious. The most ingenious part of it was that anyone suspicious about the matter would turn his attention towards Lu Buwei. After all, Lu Buwei had done something similar in the past.

Just as his heart began to tremble, Wu Fu continued, “Actually, Meimei feels something for you as well, great sir. It’s only because you paid her no mind at all that her love for you has turned to hate. I’ve raised her since she was young; ever since she was a child, she’s been arrogant and proud. She pays no mind at all to most people. Many people have offered to buy her and give her freedom, but she’s refused. But now, it looks as though she has wholeheartedly decided to follow Lao Ai.”

At this point in time, how could Xiang Shaolong possibly be bothered to worry about whether or not Dan Meimei is interested in him? Lowering his head, he asked, “Is Yang Yu intertwined with Xu Shang? Isn’t she Guan Zhongxie’s woman?”

Wu Fu sneered, “Guan Zhongxie has always considered women to be nothing more than s.e.xual playthings. How could he be bothered to care about Yang Yu? Little Yu has always been a very sentimental person. I think she’s more interested in you than in Xu Shang! If you are interested, sir, I can give her to you. Aside from Gui Yan, all four of the women listen to me.”

Xiang Shaolong couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t say these things to intentionally flatter me. Why is it that Gui Yan doesn’t listen to you?”

Wu Fu forced out a laugh. “This girl has always been stubborn. Ever since Mo Ao’s death, her temperament has totally changed, and she thinks of nothing besides avenging him. She won’t even listen to my entreaties. I only hope that you, great sir, won’t be bothered to deal with her.”

Xiang Shaolong didn’t expect that Wu Fu had a benevolent side to him as well. Smiling, he said, “Relax! If I wanted to deal with her, I would’ve done so long ago.”

Realizing that he shouldn’t stay here too long, he grew solemn. “I will report this matter to the Crown Prince. When the day of Lao Ai’s demise comes, we naturally will not forget this meritorious service which you rendered.”

Overflowing with thanks, Wu Fu fell down and prostrated on the floor once more.

Xiang Shaolong pulled him up. Only then did he leave the courtyard to meet his appointment with Lao Ai.

He couldn’t help but feel many emotions at once.

For Lao Ai to act in such a way, he most certainly must have Zhu Ji’s concurrence.

It’s said that even vicious tigers won’t consume their own offspring. Who would’ve that for her lover’s sake, Zhu Ji would be willing to harden her heart and harm her “own son”?

From this moment forward, he wouldn’t feel any more guilt towards Zhu Ji at all.

When they reached the private courtyard, Xiang Shaolong ordered Jing Shan and the others to remain outside, while he and Wu Fu strode into the main pavilion.

Six placemats were arranged in two lines within the pavilion. When Lao Ai saw Xiang Shaolong walk in, that treacherous thug revealed a look of joy on his face. He led Pu Hu, Han Jie, Ling Qi, Lao Si, and the others in rising to their feet. All of the accompanying girls instantly prostrated on the floors as well. It was a very grand and solemn welcome.

Xiang Shaolong paused for a moment, sweeping the room with a vigorous gaze. All four of the Four Flowers had arrived. Bai Lei was accompanying Pu Hu, Dan Meimei and Yang Yu were both by Lao Ai’s side, while Gui Yan was seated next to Lao Si. Han Jie and Ling Qi both had different girls accompanying them. Although they couldn’t compare to Bai Lei, they were definitely above-average.

Seeing that they hadn’t yet started the banquet, Xiang Shaolong knew that everyone had been waiting for him. Apologetically, he said, “Please forgive me for the sin of being tardy. But please do not punish me with wine either; otherwise, although I’m the last to arrive, I’ll be the first to leave.”

Hearing his clever, pearl-like words, everyone roared in laughter. Delicate female laughter intermingled with the coa.r.s.e, heroic laughter of the men, carrying with it an indescribable, intoxicating allure.

Wu Fu led Xiang Shaolong to his seat, next to Lao Ai’s. Lao Ai happily laughed, “For Great General Xiang, well-known to rarely appear in houses of l.u.s.t, to be willing to grace us with his presence gives us ravenous, l.u.s.tful wolves a great deal of face. How can we quibble about whether or not the Great General arrives late or leaves early?”

Xiang Shaolong sat down. His seat was directly opposite that of the great traitor, Pu Hu. The latter raised his gla.s.s. “This toast isn’t a punishment, but a congratulatory toast. That night, I lost so much money that I even forgot my old man’s name. I forgot to congratulate the Great General for his victory as well! Allow me to offer you this toast in recompense.”

Everyone raised their cups in salute.

Xiang Shaolong hesitated for a moment as he suddenly thought of Mao Jiao. If he were to tell himself that he wasn’t concerned, he would be lying to himself.

Wu Fu pretended to bow down, while seizing the chance to whisper, “The wine is fine. All of it is newly opened.” Only then did he bow out.

Perhaps it was all in his head, but Xiang Shaolong could feel that the gazes of Meimei and Yang Yu were different from before as they watched him. It seemed as though the gazes weren’t just filled with hate, and had love as well.

Putting his cup down, Lao Ai first introduced the two remaining girls. The girl by Han Jie’s side was Dan Fu; the girl by Ling Qi’s side was Hua Ling. He laughed, “Please don’t blame me for trying to monopolize the ladies. Of the two ladies by my side, one of them came here with the express purpose of accompanying you. I’m just taking care of her on your behalf while you weren’t here. Now, I’ll return her to her proper host. Sir, please take your pick!”

Xiang Shaolong naturally wouldn’t treat women as commodities to be traded, but this was simply how people of the age viewed things. Flowers with owners were private property; flowers without owners were commodities to be traded. Thus, Dan Meimei and Yang Yu were both happy to obey, without any intention of disobedience. They even revealed traces of a smile as they gazed at Xiang Shaolong, looking slightly compet.i.tive as they awaited Xiang Shaolong’s selection.

Xiang Shaolong wasn’t sure what to do. It would’ve been best if he hadn’t listened to Wu Fu’s words. After he had, he wasn’t sure how he should treat the two girls.

But he knew quite well that although it wasn’t necessary to “avoid them like a serpent’s tongue”, he should still “maintain a solemn, respectful distance”. Laughing, he said, “How would ole Xiang dare to seize Official Lao’s fortune? For you to have all the beauties to yourself is a very wonderful thing. It would be better if I called for another girl instead.”

The two girls immediately put on an appearance of disagreement, even acting like spoiled children with Lao Ai, filling the entire pavilion with just the right aura of spring love. At the same time, they gave face to both Lao Ai and Xiang Shaolong. They really lived up to their reputations as the two top girls of the place of pleasure.

Pu Hu laughed loudly. “Master Xiang really is formidable! With this masterstroke, he’s managed to avoiding both of our girls and causing them to be disappointed. If I, Pu Hu, had known long ago about how talented you were, I wouldn’t have made the wrong judgment at your duel, exhausting myself while losing all of my money. I have to rely on Master Ao’s financial a.s.sistance, now, to be able to afford a bit of intimacy with my dear Little Lei.”

After speaking, he gave Bai Lei, whom he held in his arms, a kiss on the lips.

Bai Lei not only refused his advances, she even snaked her arms up his thighs and gave him a hard pinch, arousing everyone’s amus.e.m.e.nt and causing great laughter.

Perhaps it was because he was now aware of Lao Ai’s plot, but Xiang Shaolong simply couldn’t connect with the merriment and pleasure at the pavilion. When he thought of how he was back in the 21st century at those places of drunken debauchery, he realized how formidable he’d become.

To this point, he still wasn’t sure what Lao Ai and Pu Hu’s connection was. Logically speaking, Pu Hu should be Du Bi’s man, who in turn supported Cheng Qiao, who had the backing of Madame Xiuli. He should be at loggerheads with Lao Ai, who belonged to the faction of the Empress Dowager. But now, he acted as if he were old friends with Lao Ai, causing others to feel strange.

And Pu Hu’s eyes were filled with craftiness and wisdom; clearly, he was a man of ambition who was bold. But the appearance he put on in front of others was that of a lecherous, alcoholic businessman! From this, one can tell that this person wasn’t simple at all.

Ling Qi, seated next to Pu Hu, laughed. “Boss Hu is always so humorous. Who doesn’t know that your wealth has exceeded that of Qin or Zhao, and is only increasing day after day?” Pu Hu sighed. “When it comes to doing business, how can I compare to the Great General’s father-in-law? He’s even taken into his possession the territories of Quezhong, Bashu, and Hedong. Even if we ignore his holdings in livestock, his trade in mulberries, flax, fish, plates, copper, iron, and other goods turns enough profit to astonish and frighten. How could a humble, small-time businessman compare?”

Lao Ai couldn’t help but laugh. “Boss Pu, you aren’t trying to arouse General Xiang’s sympathy and have him urge Boss Wu to return his winnings to you, are you?”

At this, even Xiang Shaolong couldn’t help but laugh. This man really did have a talent for charming others.

Ling Qi laughed. “Boss Pu’s supreme headquarters is in Sanchuan, which has always been the province of Emperors. The others, such as Shangyang, are all too far away. Sanchuan is a fertile, rich province, with huge amounts of commercial traffic and a flourishing economy. Boss Pu, for you to complain in such a way, isn’t this the same as the saying, ‘Another man’s woman is more desirable than your own’?”

These words once more provoked everyone into a round of loud laughter.

Xiang Shaolong secretly raised his guard against Lao Ai’s strategic advisor by a few more notches. Just from these few words, one could tell that he was a man with vision and knowledge.

Mao Jiao, whom Xiao Pan had appointed to be a spy, hadn’t yet appeared. Most likely, it was because he had arrived too soon and had not yet had a chance to penetrate this inner circle. Only after he harmed Xiao Pan would his situation improve.

At this moment, Gui Yan, who was accompanying Lao Si, let out a sharp cry. It turned out Lao Si hadn’t been able to refrain from making a move against her, rubbing her arms and legs.

The Four Flowers of the Drunken Wind Pavilion were the most famous courtesans of Xianyang. People of slightly lower status would find it easier to enter heaven than to touch a single finger of theirs.

Even powerful officials like Lu Buwei and Lao Ai had to exhaust all of their skills in order to enter their fragrant rooms.

From this, one could tell that the price of their bodies was not an ordinary one. For Lao Si to be so hurriedly lecherous, one could tell that this gentleman was nothing more than a common, vulgar person. The only reason he was able to come here was because of his connection to Lao Ai.

The relationship between Lao Ai and Lao Si was similar to that of Lu Buwei and the deposed Lu Xiong. Appointing one’s relatives to a high position was a common act in this day, but it also led to disaster and failure.

Suddenly, Xiang Shaolong felt a sense of regret.

Previously, for a brief moment of joy, he pulled down Lu Xiong. This was an unwise decision. If he remained in the position of City Guard Commander, he could be used to tie down Guan Zhongxie.

When he recalled this, he made a decision to himself, that no matter what, before Lao Ai’s fall, he must ‘be kind’ to Lao Si.

Lao Ai angrily glared at Lao Si before raising a cup in apology to Gui Yan. Only then did this beautiful woman who hated Xiang Shaolong return to being demure and alluring, even though later, she would most certainly curse out Lao Si in front of her sisters.

Xiang Shaolong suddenly thought of Wu Fu’s ‘precious treasure’ which would enable to eavesdrop on the girls. He felt it was both preposterous and laughable.

In order to improve the atmosphere, Pu Hu sighed, “In terms of business ac.u.men, the Premier Mentor is the real expert. The section on farming in his ‘Lu Family Annals’ is filled with broad wisdom and tremendous knowledge. It discusses how to fertilize the soil, how to utilize every corner of the field, how to spread out seeds, exterminate weeds, wipe out pests, apply manure, how to properly plow and aerate the soil, and the proper seasons for planting. From this, we can tell that his experience really is remarkable.”

Han Jie sneered. “If I had as much money as him, I could put out a ‘Han Family Annals’ for fun. Right now, Qin is filled with so many people of talent. What can’t we produce?”

Xiang Shaolong knew that Pu Hu had no good intentions, and was purposefully increasing the enmity between the Lu faction and the Lao faction. He couldn’t help but secretly be covered in cold sweat.

When he came up with their plan to use the ‘Five Eternal Elements’ to counter the ‘Lu Family Annals’, he had stopped thinking about the Annals. Actually, the creation of the Annals was an epochal event which had deeply affected the thinking of all intellectuals and philosophers of this era. It was an entire doctrine and ideology, which could best be described as the “Lu Family Doctrine”.

Thus, even if Lao Ai’s plot succeeded, the person who stood to benefit in the end most likely would still bu Lu Buwei, and not Lao Ai.

Under the auspices of the court and the commoners, Lu Buwei could easily generate the momentum to push his power past that of Zhu Ji. By the time he formally took the position of Imperial Regent, based on his influence in both the civil sector and the military sector, great disaster would befall both Lao Ai and Xiang Shaolong.

Just as he was pondering all of this and as his mind was swimming across the vastness of the void, a warbling, oriole like voice could be heard. “Great General Xiang, your mind seems to be absent. There is wine, but it moistens not your lips; is your honored self lacking in rest?”

Xiang Shaolong was startled awake and saw that everyone’s eyes were on him, while the person who had spoken was Yang Yu, whom Wu Fu has described as very sentimental. Using the opportunity to ‘push the boat along with the current’, he said, “Last night, I had a few too many cups of wine. Even after I woke up, my head still hurt and my legs were still wobbly…heh!”

Just as he wanted to use this as an excuse to slip away, Lao Ai interrupted, “If Master Mao hadn’t been summoned to the palace by the Crown Prince to deal with his illness, we could call him here to take a look at you. Master Mao is an ill.u.s.trious, famous physician. I’m sure he has medicine to cure a hangover.”

Xiang Shaolong was immediately covered in cold sweat.

For Xiao Pan to summer Master Mao into the court, he must be using illness as an excuse to receive a report. But Mao Jiao was a tool which Lao Ai was using in his plot. If, using flowery words or secretive actions, he was able to deceive Xiao Pan into drinking the poisoned medicine, it would be a calamity.

Although he realized that Xiao Pan was Qin Shihuang, and thus should not be turned into an idiot by others so easily, how could he be at ease, given how difficult it might be to predict certain things? When he thought of this, his heart was so anxious, it felt set aflame. He immediately rose to his feet and saluted everyone present. “Everyone, please forgive me. I just remembered an urgent task which I must immediately deal with.”

Everyone stared at him in astonishment.