Read A Step into the Past Chapter 235, Please!
Book 21 Chapter 6 – Hard To Move A Single Step
When Xiang Shaolong opened his eyes, all he could see nothing but utter darkness. Although he was unable to differentiate between night and day, his head still felt dizzy and he wanted to continue to sleep.
He had been startled awake by the sound of someone speaking. At first, he felt shock, thinking that someone had discovered him. Then, he saw that the tunnel remained unchanged, with the sound coming from one corner of the secret room. Only then did he understand that the voice was coming from one of the copper tubes.
Since the copper hearing tube could be used to overhear what was being said in the secret room, of course it could be used to overhear what was being said in the room above.
Xiang Shaolong took out one of his few remaining matches, struck it, and lit one of the lamps. The copper tube suddenly appeared in front of him.
It was located next to the entrance, glimmering under the light.
Xiang Shaolong roused his spirit and carefully snuck towards the hearing tube, then pressed his ear against it.
He heard a male voice laugh lecherously, “Your body has become more and more voluptuous. No wonder his royal highness was so enraptured with you the other day.”
An unwilling female voice replied, “High Lord, if you were to decide to give me to his highness, I would rather go ahead and commit suicide.”
Xiang Shaolong inwardly praised this woman, who deeply understood how men felt. Even though she knew and accepted the fact that she was to be gifted to someone else, she still put on an act of being unwilling to acquiesce.
Indeed, the sound of a gentle, lingering kiss could be heard from upstairs.
The female coquettishly said, “High Lord, didn’t you have a banquet that you needed to attend? Yet you insist on teasing me right now instead.”
As he listened, Xiang Shaolong suddenly felt a great sense of shock.
If this was time for a dinner banquet, he must have slept for half a night followed by a full day. He must have slept for at least twenty or so hours. How could he still be so sleepy? For a time, he forgot to eavesdrop on the two above as he pondered this.
He came to the sudden realization that although the tunnel had openings, there still wasn’t much airflow. If he hadn’t been startled awake, it was very possible that he would have died of asphyxiation in his dreams.
He suddenly heard three words, ‘Xiang Shao Long’ enter his ears. He hurriedly began to listen again. That high lord said, “The city is in a total state of uproar right now. All banquets, large or small, have been cancelled thanks to that Xiang Shaolong. His highness has ordered that any residence found to be harboring Xiang Shaolong without reporting him will suffer the penalty of having their entire family line exterminated. Hah, there’s no corpse worth more money than that of Xiang Shaolong’s. The head by itself is worth five hundred taels of gold. Everyone has exhausted themselves searching for this fellow.”
The woman said, “In my humble opinion, he must have left the city long ago. Otherwise, how could it be possible that with all of Daliang in such an uproar and searching for him, neither hide nor hair of him can be found?”
Sighing, she added, “This person is so formidable. He comes as he pleases and goes as he wishes. n.o.body can stop him.”
That high lord sighed along with her. “It was easy enough for him to slip away, but he’s caused Lord Fan to be exhausted on his account. Since today he was unable to capture Xiang Shaolong, as the city watch commander, all of the responsibility is now coming crashing down on his head. Just now he came to beg for my help to ask his highness for forgiveness. But right now, the King is filled with rage. I’m not so stupid as to draw trouble to myself.”
He added, “Xiang Shaolong really came at the most inopportune time. He wore me out and forced me to miss Feng Fei’s exquisite performance. I hear that tomorrow she will be going to the country of Qi. Who knows when she will be back? Tomorrow I simply must go send her off.”
Only then did Xiang Shaolong learn that the head of the Three Famous Courtesans, Feng Fei, was currently in the city of Daliang. His heart was moved, and he had no desire to listen any further. Leaving the treasury room, he snuck out of the tunnel and hid himself near the grove outside of it, so as to breathe some fresh air.
It really was around the sunset time outside. Even a few specks of snow could be seen drifting down.
Right now, the only safe place for him was this tunnel. But if he were to be found again, it would be impossible for him to escape.
Lord Longyang clearly had yet to divulge the fact that they had met, as if he had, that high lord from just then would have mentioned it. But even though this was the case, this wasn’t of much help to him.
He thought of Feng Fei again.
This beautiful woman with a unique aura. If she were willing to help, maybe she could bring him out of the city.
But they had only met once and their relationship was very shallow. Would she risk her own life to save him? What was even more headache-inducing was the fact that he didn’t even know where she lived.
Even if he knew, to sneak into her room would be a trivial matter. As he continued to think, his heart grew numb. Just at this moment, the sound of a dog baying came from the inner courtyard.
Xiang Shaolong was shocked. He hurriedly dived into the tunnel again. Based on his memory of the above-ground structures, he rushed out of an exit and arrived at a garden within a courtyard house.
Lights were seen coming from the front of the courtyard house only. The other parts of the house were all dark and unlit.
Xiang Shaolong guessed that the vicious dog was still leashed within the inner courtyard and had yet to be released. Relieved, he moved about freely.
Using his grappling hooks and his nimble hands, at a single go he traversed multiple houses. Dodging several servants, he first snuck into the kitchen and procured sufficient provisions for himself along with a kettle of hot tea before sneaking back into the tunnel. After filling his stomach, his fighting spirit became vigorous again.
Neither the tunnel nor Daliang itself was a place that he could stay for long.
But he still had yet to come up with a method to leave the city safely.
When all of the servants and scouts had finished searching the entire city without any success, they would surely guess that he had hidden himself in some secret location.
There was no lack of intelligent men in the nation of Wei. Lord Longyang himself was an extremely perceptive person. Sooner or later, he would think of the secret pa.s.sages and the listening tubes that pa.s.sed by the former Lord Xinling’s manor and would also come to the conclusion that there might be still-undiscovered pa.s.sageways in the tunnels. If he were to only occasionally pop out to steal some food or snacks, it shouldn’t be a problem, but in the long run, suspicions would still be raised.
After thinking of these two problems, he made up his mind that within two days, he must leave the city. Else, he could forget about leaving ever again.
After making sure that the bedroom above the treasury was empty, he snuck up, opened a chest, and took out a set of winter garments and cloak. Just as he was preparing to leave, the sound of footsteps could be heard coming from outside the room, followed the sound of someone sitting down and faintly laughing.
Xiang Shaolong’s heart was moved, and he edged closer to the door. Pulling it slightly open, he snuck a peek outside.
He was absolutely shocked at what he saw.
Three people were seated outside, followed by nearly ten close confidantes. Everyone’s face showed signs of worry.
One of them was actually Lord Longyang.
His face was ashen pale, and he seemed to have suddenly aged many years. He looked wane and pallid, and no longer seemed like the ‘liquid, gentle beauty’ of before.
Of the other two, one was an army general in military regalia, while the other was middle-aged man in a minister’s garbs.
The general was the first to speak. “We came to speak with you, Lord Pingqu, regarding our efforts to locate Xiang Shaolong.”
Xiang Shaolong’s heart grew cold. He knew that Lord Longyang must have already deduced that he was hiding here.
Surprised, that Lord Pingqu said, “General Fan, how has your search for Xiang Shaolong ended up here in my residence?”
As soon as he opened his mouth, Xiang Shaolong recognized him as the man who was taking liberties with his concubine the other day.
The reason that they were speaking in the inner rooms rather than in the main room showed that they were afraid of the news leaking out.
That showed that they had already concluded that he was hiding here.
He suspected that this General Fan, the commander of the city watch of Dalian, had already ordered men to surround the entirety of Lord Xinling’s manor.
But he still wasn’t concerned, because the exit near the hidden grove was far from Lord Xinling’s manor and would definitely not be easy to discover.
Lord Longyang sighed. “General Fan is willing to use his own head as the guarantee that Xiang Shaolong has yet to leave the city. If he is still hiding in the city, the most likely hiding place would be here.”
Xiang Shaolong heard him speaking in such a dispirited manner and knew that he felt tormented by the fact that he had to capture his ‘old friend’. He couldn’t help but sigh along with Lord Longyang.
Lord Pingqu’s expression changed. “Impossible. Long ago, I ordered my servants to search every inch of the manor. If he was here, he couldn’t have hidden from me, much less the noses of my hounds.”
General Fan said, “We have questioned the former subordinates of Lord Xinling. We verified that in the past, Xiang Shaolong must have used some sort of tunnel-like pa.s.sageway to escape. But no one knows where the entry point and exit point are.”
Lord Longyang added, “Lord Pingqu, you could go and ask every single person in the manor if they had noticed any food or clothing gone missing. From this, you would be able to determine whether or not Xiang Shaolong is hiding here.”
Xiang Shaolong secretly praised this move as being formidable. How could he dare to stay behind and listen for any longer? He hurriedly snuck back down again and closed the lid, covered it with the previous woven mattresses, then returned to the tunnels.
And then, without a second thought, he snuck out towards the direction of the hilly grove.
In the midst of the snowy night, he could see soldiers light torches as they moved in the direction that he was hiding. The light of the torches and the howls of the dogs were enough to freeze a man’s blood.
Xiang Shaolong put all of the stolen food in one large parcel, put the parcel on his back, then went on the road he had once taken to escape with Zhao Qian, moving in the direction of the nearby houses.
He looked around as he walked, secretly groaning.
All of the nearby roads had soldiers sealing off the pa.s.sageways. Even the rooftops all had sentries installed, focusing their attention on any and all activity within Lord Xinling’s manor.
Xiang Shaolong felt as though it had become hard for him to take a single step. He fell down within an underbrush next to the road.
But he quickly decided that this wasn’t a safe plan either.
A troop of fifty Wei soldiers was headed in his direction. Poking their spears into every bush, they were carrying out an all-encompa.s.sing search, as thorough as a flood of mercury.
Xiang Shaolong had no other options. Before the light had reached him, he clambered towards a nearby street and hid underneath the eaves of a roof.
Because this building was a floor lower than all the surrounding buildings, no sentries were set on its roof.
The soldiers pa.s.sed. Just as he was dithering over whether or not to sneak into the building, the sound of hoof steps could be heard.
A gaudily-decorated carriage was coming from the direction the soldiers had gone towards, with cavalrymen escorting it front and behind.
Watching the situation, Xiang Shaolong landed on the ground again. Dodging and hiding behind a nearby tree, he quickly climbed up onto a particularly thick branch, tightly gripping the ice-covered branch with his hands.
If it weren’t for the fact that it was snowing heavily right now, he wouldn’t have dared to take this risk.
This could be described as a gamble.
If just a single person amongst those ten plus cavalrymen lifted their heads, they would definitely see him.
But when it was snowing ferociously, everyone would lower their gaze towards the ground instead.
Just as it seemed as though his heart would leap into his mouth, the carriage arrived directly beneath him.
Xiang Shaolong first gently set unwrapped the package on his back, then gently tossed it slightly in front of the top of the carriage. He then gently swung his legs down, resting them on the package, before letting his hands slip as he dropped down.
Because of the cushioning package, he landed on the carriage noiselessly. Just by bending down, he had accomplished something which was nearly impossible under any other situation.
The carriage continued to move forward into this ancient, snow-filled capital, slowly and unhurriedly.
He had no idea as to where the carriage would take him, but he knew that for now, he had escaped a dangerous place.
As they pa.s.sed one of the gates, not only did the sentries not block the carriage’s path, they even saluted respectfully as they allowed it to past beyond freely.
The status of the person inside the carriage surely was not that of an ordinary person. Otherwise, how could they be so courteous and respectful?
Right now, even he was curious as to what sort of n.o.bleperson sat inside the carriage below.
The sound of a sigh seemed to drift in from the carriage.
His curiosity aroused, Xiang Shaolong pressed his ear against the carriage. But the acc.u.mulated ice and snow froze him so much that he immediately abandoned this idea.
Instead, he turned around and stared around himself.
As he stared, he was struck dumb.
My heavens! It appeared as though the carriage was winding its way through the streets in the direction of the palace.
Escorted by the guards, the carriage pa.s.sed onto the drawbridge, through the moat, and into the inner palace.
In this era, regardless of size or stature, all palaces were considered forbidden zones.
All kings would exhaust themselves and their resources in making their palace an exceptionally centralized military stronghold, a castle within a castle.
This was designed to prevent invaders from attacking, but also to prevent traitors from rebelling.
Now that Xiang Shaolong had managed to get himself into the royal palace, it would be very difficult for him to leave.
Both startled and exulted, he entered the palace. He continued to lie on top of the carriage, unmoving. He allowed the snow to cover him completely. If it weren’t for that, any of the sentries on top of the palace walls would see him right away and he would have nowhere to hide.
But this was precisely what worried him the most.
A huge blizzard like this was very rare. It would be very difficult for him to use this trick again to leave the palace.
Hiding underneath the snow, he pressed his face against his supply package. This could be said to be his sole remaining source of comfort.
Although he couldn’t see anything, he could still hear sounds.
From the sound of the horse steps and the carriage wheels, he surmised that they were in the winding paths within the palace. They should be headed in the direction of the inner palace.
The carriage finally came to a halt. The cavalrymen all dismounted. Footsteps could be heard from all directions, followed by the inner palace maids saying in chorus, “May the Queen live ten thousand years!”
Xiang Shaolong nearly let out a cry of shock. He couldn’t resist from lifting his head up slightly and sneaking a peek.
The carriage door swung open.
Underneath the snow, Dan Meimei’s familiar, alluring back, dressed in gaudy clothes, wearing a ‘phoenix headpiece’, appeared in front of his eyes as though stepping out of a dream.
A maid raised an umbrella over her head while offering her elbow for support. They slowly ascended a set of palace steps, followed by the palace maids and the guards in two rows. The sort of dignified aura she now had made it impossible for others to believe that she was a prost.i.tute in Xianyang who was plucked at will by powerful officials.
Watching her back slowly disappear into the distance as she ascended the stairs, Xiang Shaolong felt a hundred emotions in his heart.
Although he knew that Dan Meimei wouldn’t betray him, it was very difficult for him to come into contact with beauty who had now become a Queen.
It was too risky. And maybe Dan Meimei would betray him after all, just like Lord Longyang.
The sound of whips being cracked.
Xiang Shaolong continued on this free-of-charge tourist trip.
Right now, the carriage was definitely headed towards the stables. After the four strong horses were unsaddled, the carriage would be sent to the warehouse where all the snow would be brushed off. If he didn’t leave before that, his hiding place would be exposed.
Just as Xiang Shaolong was despairing over how he would leave the carriage, the carriage arrived at a place where trees lined both sides of the road.
Xiang Shaolong inwardly exclaimed that heaven was a.s.sisting him. He carefully began to rise, readying his package.
At a moment when he saw that the carriage driver was wholly focused on the road ahead, he stood up.
The snow on his body slid off like sandstone. He reached out and grabbed a vertical branch, immediately escaping this carriage which had taken him out of one dangerous situation but delivered him into another.