Read A Step into the Past Chapter 264, Please!
Book 23 Chapter 11 – Meeting The King Of Qi
With a serious expression, Xiao Yuetan is helping to restore Xiang Shaolong original appearance while the latter is weighed down by troubling thoughts, causing the tension in the room to be very heavy.
Finally noticing Xiao Yuetan’s serious demeanor, Xiang Shaolong was thunderstruck: “What is bothering Elder Brother?”
Xiao Yuetan sighed with a breath: “I am only too familiar with Lu Buwei’s methods. He would never allow you to return to Xianyang alive. The more pleasant his words are, the more brutal the methods he will employ.”
Xiang Shaolong was instead worried about Xiao Pan’s ident.i.ty crisis, secretly blaming himself for being too slow to realize that the moment Lu Buwei and Lao Ai joined forces, this would be a loophole they would exploit sooner or later. To make it worse, he could not get other people to help out and get them involved in this matter.
Xiao Yuetan continued: “Given the current situation, it is difficult for me to lend a hand. On one side, we have Li Yuan, Han Chuang and Guo Kai who are scheming to get rid of you and on the other side, we have Lu Buwei and Tian Dan who wants to murder you. Your situation is a hundred times more perilous than before. If they can stage an accident, for example: a house collapsing or a ship sunk by huge waves and strong wind, it would be impossible for Crown Prince to hold anyone responsible.”
Xiang Shaolong thought of Lord Longyang, concluding that he could be the only person who can save him now. However, he did not understand why is he not back with any news yet? Logically, after he has tested Han Chuang, he should make his way back to give his report. Is there more than meets the eye? Contrary to his thoughts, he a.s.sured Xiao Yuetan: “At least I will be safe in Lin Zi because no one would dare to openly a.s.sa.s.sinate me.”
Xiao Yuetan reasoned: “That is hard to say. If Tian Dan arranged for someone to challenge you to a duel and kill you in the process, it would be an uphill task for Crown Prince Zheng to avenge you. How is your injury?”
Peering into the bronze mirror at his familiar and yet unfamiliar original appearance, Xiang Shaolong flexed his shoulder muscles and determined: “I should make a full recovery in a maximum of three days.”
Xiao Yuetan reminded: “It is no longer convenient for me to visit you on such a regular basis, for it may arouse Han Chuang’s suspicions. Aye. With these new developments, I am really worried.”
A subordinate came in at this time to report that Lord Longyang is here.
Receiving Lord Longyang in the East Hall and sharing with him the intention to end his masquerade, Lord Longyang was badly shocked and he professed in a troubled tone: “This has greatly complicated matters.”
Xiang Shaolong do not wish to expend further energy on this bothersome issue and questioned him about Han Chuang’s reaction. Lord Longyang firstly lowered his head and contemplated for a short while before raising his head and gazed at him, suggesting: “Is it possible that Cao Cuidao coincidently happened to be there when you are about to steal your sabre?”
Xiang Shaolong resolutely shook his head and affirmed: “Impossible. He personally informed me that someone has tipped him off. What did Han Chuang say?”
With his eyes glowing with distress, Lord Longyang replied in a low voice: “I proceeded accordingly to the plan and suggested to Han Chuang about hatching a plot against you but received an earful from him instead. It seems like he was not the one who betrayed Shaolong. Could Shaolong have forgotten somebody else he may have revealed this matter to?”
Xiang Shaolong could only think of Xiao Yuetan and immediately strike out this possibility. He quizzed further: “Is it possible for Han Chuang to see through Your Lordship’s ruse to test him?”
Lord Longyang attested: “I can feel that he is not putting on an act. We have been friends for so many years and it would be rather tough for him to successfully deceive me. This affair is indeed baffling.”
Xiang Shaolong grew hopeful. If Li Yuan, Han Chuang and Lord Longyang are on the same side of the fence as him, it would be a walk in the park for him to arrive safely in Xianyang.
Lord Longyang rea.s.sured: “Shaolong need not fret. No matter what happens, I will always been on your side. Why don’t we make plans to leave tonight? Once we have reached Wei, I will have a way to send you back to Qin.”
Xiang Shaolong was visibly tempted. He mused: “But what about Feng Fei and the others?”
Lord Longyang recommended: “If you can leave a letter to Han Chuang or Li Yuan, imploring him to watch over them on your behalf, I am sure they will follow your instructions despite whatever plans they already have in mind.”
Xiang Shaolong is even more motivated than before and asked about the road conditions. Lord Longyang swore: “For the past two days, the weather has become significantly warmer and absent of snow. The river should have thawed by now. I will use an excuse to deploy a ship to send you off and I guarantee that even if someone wishes to pursue you after your departure, it will only be a futile attempt.”
Firstly, Xiang Shaolong is desperate to go home and secondly, Lin Zi is not an ideal place to continue loitering. He ultimately agreed to Lord Longyang’s offer and finalized the details of his escape tonight. At this point in time, Han Jie and Dan Chu arrived together and announced that it is time to enter the palace and meet the King of Qi.
This is the first time Xiang Shaolong is entering Small City from Big City as he headed north towards the palace on a carriage. Along the way, he observed that the buildings are much more imposing compared to the largely residential Big City.
Lined along both sides of the highway are enormous mansions of the rich and powerful or high-ranking officials, coupled with numerous state buildings, all radiating with a luxurious and grand aura, majestic and magnificently designed.
The two men Dan Chu and Han Jie are behaving very respectfully on the surface, courteous and accommodating. Dan Chu even provided a travel commentary and introduced the various sights and buildings along the way.
Arriving at the palace, Lu Buwei and Tian Dan came up together and welcomed him as per standard diplomatic courtesy.
Concluding the usual pleasantries, Tian Dan, who still retained his heroic air, let out a chuckle: “Regardless of Great General’s ally or enemy, everyone is full of admiration for Great General. The world would be a much more boring place without someone as earth shattering as Great General.”
Regaining his past grandeur, Xiang Shaolong smiled: “Life is but a game. Witnessing Chancellor Tian’s open mindedness, Shaolong should be the one expressing admiration.” At the same time, he observed that Tian Dan is already displaying signs of aging and vulnerability, a far cry from his young and valiant days.
Putting on an act of sincerity and intimacy, Lu Buwei suggested: “We are all old friends and since the Great King is anxious to speak to Shaolong, let’s talk further at the welcoming banquet Chancellor Tian will host for Shaolong.”
King Qi Xiang will be meeting Xiang Shaolong at the most outstanding structure within the palace: Henggong Pavilion. It is also the same place where Feng Fei will be performing and the birthday banquet will be held three days later.
Henggong Pavilion is the most remarkable cl.u.s.ter of buildings within the royal grounds. It is situated at the northwest area of Small City and is only 800 feet away from the Small City west wall. It can be considered tall and overwhelming. The rectangular shaped pavilion measures 250 feet in length from south to north and about 200 feet in width from east to west. It stands at a height of about 50 feet and its brilliance is unimaginable. From the top of the pavilion, one could view the colossal parade square located between Henggong Pavilion and Golden Imperial Palace that could accommodate ten thousand soldiers executing their drills.
Henggong Pavilion itself is quite unique and resembles a pyramid with a flat top. There are two storeys at the tip of the pavilion and the three corners of east, west and north is inclined at a sharp angle while the south side is less steep. From the bottom to the top of the pavilion are one hundred stone steps and on the pavilion top, grey bricks are stacked in a certain manner to create a distinctive pattern. In the middle of the pavilion top is a squarish stage about 5 feet tall and the flooring of the stage is lined with mosaic tiles, exuding an impressive and elegant sensation.
The King of Qi is waiting at the lower deck of Henggong Pavilion, which is also known as Dianjiang Hall, to meet Xiang Shaolong. Accompanying him are First Prince Tian Sheng and Second Prince Tian Jian.
King Qi Xiang is around seventy years of age, short and overweight. With a lethargic expression, he looks as if he will breathe his last anytime.
Both princes Tian Sheng and Tian Jian are of medium built and share limited resemblance. Despite their royal heritage, they are ordinary looking and do not possess the bearing of a King. If held in comparison, Tian Sheng has the typical playboy look who had overindulged in alcohol and women while Tian Jian is much more energetic looking.
The ambience is unexpectedly relaxing and friendly.
After paying their respects, Xiang Shaolong and Lu Buwei sat down in front of the King of Qi but at a lower level while Tian Sheng, Tian Jian and Tian Dan sat at the side.
Using his blurred eyesight to scrutinize and a.s.sess Xiang Shaolong, the King of Qi then began to laugh and articulate from his elevated throne: “In the past when Zhang Yi visited Chu as a guest, he attended a banquet where they are showcasing the national treasure of Chu, a jade disc. The jade disc was pa.s.sed around and was abruptly stolen. Someone suspected Zhang Yi to be the culprit and gave him a beating. When Zhang Yi got home, he asked his wife if his tongue is still there. He declared that as long as he still has his tongue, there is nothing he would fear. Ha…”
(jade disc http://www.google.com/search?q=和氏璧&s…w=1439&bih=780 )
Everyone laughed along in a fl.u.s.tered manner although they do not have a clue why he is sharing this story.
The King of Qi gladly added: “Based on his tongue (eloquence) which was not severed in the beating, he was made a marquis and eventually became the Chancellor. Based on the sword in your hand, Great General Xiang was promoted to Great General. A tongue in the past, a sword in the present. Both have been used to achieve greatness.”
This is the first time Xiang Shaolong is confronted with the weird imagination of the Qi populace. He responded: “The Great King has made an excellent comparison.”
Tian Sheng laughed: “However, Great General has switched to using the long dagger he created and has abandoned his sword.”
The King of Qi shot Tian Sheng a glare and countered with annoyance: “Are you hinting that I am ignorant? I have already sent someone to retrieve Great General’s precious weapon.”
This time round, it is Xiang Shaolong’s turn to feel extremely awkward. He opened his mouth and wanted to say something but did not know how to express himself. He cannot possibly reveal that he himself has already stolen his sabre and even received a stab from Cao Cuidao’s sword. Concurrently, he could see for himself the hostile relationship between the King of Qi and First Prince Tian Sheng. No wonder Tian Dan made a last minute turnaround and switched to Tian Jian instead. But judging from Tian Dan’s feeble appearance, he would not outlive King Qi Xiang for long.
King Qi Xiang is in the mood to chat and began talking nonstop: “Ever since the late King launched the campaign ‘Dominate Barbarians and Be their King’, we, Great Qi, bear the ambition to surround the world, living peacefully regardless of whether one is civilised or uncivilized. When Qin underwent reform to introduce the rule of law, the two countries Qi and Qin have become the two large states with one in the east and one in the west. It is obvious that cooperation is mutually beneficial and estrangement will only bring about harm. This time round, with Imperial Uncle making a personal trip and Great General as a guest, it serves to reinforce the close ties between the two States. This is the best present I could ever ask for.”
Within the hall, every person has a different expression written on his face. Tian Sheng who had just been reprimanded by his King father kept his head low and was fearfully quiet. Tian Jian’s eyes are shining with pa.s.sion as he stared at Xiang Shaolong. Lu Buwei may be laughing along but his body language is very unnatural. Tian Dan is still maintaining his deep and unfathomable outlook, possibly concealing a hidden agenda.
At this moment, a nearby official walked up to the throne. Kneeling down, he pa.s.sed a letter to the King of Qi and whispered a few words to him.
Surprised at the words he heard, the King of Qi looked over to Xiang Shaolong and revealed: “Grandmaster Cao says he has already returned the precious weapon to Great General. He has also a letter here that he wishes me to pa.s.s it to Great General.”
Tian Dan was taken aback: “What is going on? Has Great General met up with Grandmaster Cao?”
Feeling exceedingly uncomfortable, Xiang Shaolong gingerly nodded his head.
The King of Qi got the inner official to pa.s.s the letter to Xiang Shaolong. After opening and reading the letter, Xiang Shaolong smiled: “Since Grandmaster Cao has a favourable opinion of Great General, he has invited Great General to Qixia College’s Stargazing Pavilion on the day after the birthday banquet to exchange pointers. It is truly an honour for Great General.”
While the faces of Tian Dan and Lu Buwei flashed quickly with delight, the King of Qi trembled excessively and his face turned ashen white.
Xiang Shaolong was secretly humoured. Three days later he would be safely in the territory of Wei; even if others jeer at him for being afraid of Cao Cuidao, he would not give a hoot.
There are only two men he dreaded meeting. One of them is Li Mu and the other one is the fear-inducing Cao Cuidao.
The minute Xiang Shaolong left Henggong Pavilion, he was intercepted by Xie Ziyuan. Dragging him to one side, Xie Ziyuan gasped: “Great General has deceived Little Brother thoroughly, so you…”
Firstly winking at Xie Ziyuan (to hint that it is inconvenient), Xiang Shaolong then paid his respects to Tian Dan and Lu Buwei: “Great General dare not bother the two of you any further and will leave the palace by myself!”
Tian Dan nodded: “Let’s find some time to catch up over the new few days.” Finishing, he left with Lu Buwei.
Scrutinizing Xiang Shaolong’s chiseled features, Xie Ziyuan sighed: “Brother Xiang is indeed handsome looking and outstanding.”
Shoulder to shoulder, the two men strolled out of the palace gate. Xiang Shaolong plainly state: “Brother Xie is certainly well-informed.”
Xie Ziyuan proudly affirmed: “Nothing in the palace can escape my detection.”
Xiang Shaolong guffawed: “In this case, are you aware that Cao Cuidao has just issued a challenge to Little Brother, fixing the duel at Qixia’s Stargazing Pavilion four days later? In addition, no one is allowed to witness the battle.”
His face losing colour, Xie Ziyuan was petrified: “What should we do? Aye, to think you can still smile at a time like this.”
Xiang Shaolong of course knows that he can still smile because he is going to slip away tonight and it would be a different outcome four days later. He consoled: “Worse to worse, I will just discard my sword and admit defeat. Will he still kill me after that?”
Xie Ziyuan was horrified: “Wouldn’t Yingzheng be upset if Brother Xiang really abandon the fight?”
Only now did Xiang Shaolong realize that he is representing the glory of Qin and forsaking the fight is certainly not an option. However, escaping for his life is a totally different perspective.
After all, anything is better than dying under the merciless blade of Cao Cuidao. Suppressing his voice, he a.s.sured: “Brother naturally has a way to resolve the problem. Brother Xie need not worry for me.”
Xie Ziyuan bitterly laughed: “I would be lying if I say I am not worried. Grandmaster Cao’s sword skills have reached an immeasurable level and countless well-known master swordsmen are like children challenging adults when dueling him; they can barely defend themselves.”
Xiang Shaolong deeply understood that sensation. Arriving at the carriage parking lot, an attendant pulled the carriage door open for the two men to board.
After they sat down, the horse carriage started to move.
Xiang Shaolong enquired: “Where are we heading?”
Xie Ziyuan disclosed: “To see Zongsun Long. He wishes to apologise to Brother Xiang in person.”
In his heart, Xiang Shaolong can feel his emotions stirring. Life has its ups and downs; human feelings have its warmth and coldness. What an apt description!
Ever since he has resumed his Xiang Shaolong persona, the entire environment seems to have changed. Within the Song & Dance Troupe, everyone is worshiping him like a deity and going all out to get into his good books.
On the other hand, as Shen Liang, he can witness the more genuine side of their characters.
Xie Ziyuan added: “Once the Zongsun father and son knows that you are Xiang Shaolong, they are exhilarated and quickly begged me to plead with Brother Xiang, inviting you to join hands with them to oppose Lu Buwei. With Brother Xiang on our side, the Second Prince may change his mind once again.”
Xiang Shaolong suggested: “Can Brother Xie arrange for me to meet the Second Prince today? I am doing this not for the Zongsun father and son but for Brother Xie.”
Xie Ziyuan was visibly touched and decided: “Brother Xiang is a true friend indeed! I shall fix the appointment to be tonight!”
Looking at the streets through the window, Xiang Shaolong observed the people of Qi busy sweeping snow off the roads and property. The harsh winter is nearly over.
Contradicting their usual habits, Zongsun Long and his son are waiting for them at the door with overwhelming friendliness.
Xiang Shaolong has become their only savior.
To the people of Qi, there is nothing more critical than maintaining good relations with Qin. Only then can Qi occupy the lands of their nemesis Yan without any distractions and slowly expand their territory and eventually uniting the lands.
The reason why Tian Dan can wrest control of Tian Jian from the hands of Zongsun Long is purely because he has Lu Buwei, this ace card.
If Xiang Shaolong who wields greater influence over Yingzheng compared to Lu Buwei decides to stand on Zongsun Long’s side, Tian Jian need not switch sides to Tian Dan who had previously supported his own brother.
With this given circ.u.mstances, Zongsun Long is naturally treating Xiang Shaolong with utmost hospitality.
Seating themselves in the main hall, Zongsun Long firstly apologise to Xiang Shaolong. Before he could say anything more, Xiang Shaolong declared ahead of him: “Whether privately or officially, I, Xiang Shaolong, will do my best for Brother Xie and Master Long. There is no need for any pleasantries.”
Zongsun Long father and son were deliriously happy.
Xie Ziyuan wondered: “Little Brother will enter the palace immediately and seek an audience with Second Prince to make the necessary arrangements for tonight’s banquet. Where is a good place to hold it?”
Zongsun Long decided after a quick a.n.a.lysis: “Why don’t we have it at Jade Orchid Brothel? Over there, the ambience is more relaxing”
Xie Ziyuan was ecstatic: “Yes. That is a very good place.”
To Xiang Shaolong, Zongsun Xuanhua presented: “Xuanhua has specially selected a batch of top rated swordsmen and will a.s.sign them to Great General to use at your disposal. Their integrity and character are above suspicion. While Great General is in Lin Zi, they will only take orders from Great General.”
Xiang Shaolong thanked: “Brother Zongsun is really considerate. However, can this arrangement be postponed until tomorrow?” In his mind, he was thinking that he’ll be long gone by tomorrow.
Zongsun Xuanhua respectfully consented: “We shall adhere to Great General’s instructions.”
He then frowned: “I heard my Master has issued a challenge to Great General. This is indeed troubling. Xuanhua will pay his respects to Master later and will try to persuade him to retract his challenge.”
Xiang Shaolong shook his head and dismissed: “There is no need to go to such an extent. Your Master’s decision is something even your Great King is unable to influence. Moreover, Little Brother is interested to try out Grandmaster’s Cao ultimate swordplay.”
Zongsun Long anxiously stammered: “Grandmaster Cao may be a nice and approachable person but once his sword leaves its sheathe, he becomes a heartless fighter. If Great General happens to meet with some misfortune, that will… Aye!”
If he had not tasted Cao Cuidao’s prowess before and someone like Zongsun Long is speaking as if he would surely lose, Xiang Shaolong would be greatly offended. Presently, he obviously would not react the same way. He laughed: “I have my ways of keeping myself safe. Master Long need not fret.”
Zongsun Xuanhua had a brainwave and exclaimed: “Why don’t Martial Sister and myself visit Master together? He is most fond of Martial Sister and may make an exception, altering the duel to a friendly match just to exchange pointers.”
Xiang Shaolong has his own plans and smiled: “I really do not require any help from you. Brother Zongsun is a fellow swordsman and should understand how a swordsman think!”
Deflated, Zongsun Xuanhua nodded: “Great General is truly one of a kind. Master has lost interest in dueling a long time ago and only Great General is able to stir his fighting spirit. It must be partly due to Great General’s precious sabre.”
Zongsun Long reminded: “Brother Xiang is remarkably famous. In my opinion, I think Xuanhua had better warn the two troublemakers Ma Chenjia and Min Tingzhang. It would be hard to resist if they come forward and challenge Brother Xiang too.”
His eyes blazing with a chilling aura, Zongsun Xuanhua coldly grunted: “If they are thinking of dueling with Great General, they will have to contend with me, Zongsun Xuanhua, first.”
Since he is running away tonight, Xiang Shaolong leisurely proclaimed: “It is all right as I could use some practice with my sabre. Brother Zongsun is too kind.”
With a mixture of hero worship and admiration, Zongsun Xuanhua respectfully and solemnly suggested: “Now wonder the whole of Xianyang is in awe of Great General. Just be simply observing Great General’s open mindedness and indomitable aura, one can deduce that Great General’s sabre skills have attained a G.o.dly state. Xuanhua can only admit defeat. Nevertheless, if there is an opportunity, Xuanhua hopes Great General can give Xuanhua some pointers.”
Xiang Shaolong exposed: “Brother Zongsun is really itching for a fight or is he trying to gauge Little Brother’s skills in order to decide to beg your Master to let me off or not?”
With Xiang Shaolong seeing through his ruse, Zongsun Xuanhua’s face turned red and he awkwardly insisted: “Great General must be kidding. Xuanhua is sincere in learning from Great General.”
Zongsun Long abruptly apologized: “I, Zongsun Long, would like to use this opportunity to bare my soul to Great General, hereby swearing that I no longer bear any ulterior motives towards Miss Feng Fei. If I break my word, may I, Zongsun Long, die in the wilderness with an exposed corpse. Will Great General please relay this message to her and tell Mistress I, Zongsun Long, is truly sorry.”
Xiang Shaolong had an idea and checked: “Little Brother may have to leave Lin Zi before Mistress. I may have to trouble Master Long to protect Mistress on Little Brother’s behalf.”
Thumping his chest, Zongsun Long swore: “You can count on me, Zongsun Long. Great General can put your mind at ease.”
The aggressor is now the protector. Life is indeed unpredictable.
Xie Ziyuan’s body shuddered once and he recommended: “Why don’t Brother Xiang find an excuse to return to Qin before the duel with Grandmaster Cao? That would solve everything without a hitch.”
Zongsun Xuanhua was the first to praise: “You can lie that your Father in law is sick. With this justification, no one would blame Great General for missing the appointment.”
In his mind, Xiang Shaolong could not agree more and this scenario best depicts: Only a hero will recognize another hero. Pleased, he ended: “We shall decide further after discussing with Second Prince tonight.”
Noting that he did not reject this idea, the other three men could finally calm down.
Xiang Shaolong stood up and bid farewell. Zongsun Long ‘reluctantly’ send him all the way to the main entrance before the other two men, Zongsun Xuanhua and Xie Ziyuan accompanied him back to Tingsong Villa.