Book 7 Chap 2 – Guest from afar
Under everyone’s gaze, Li Yuan, who was dressed in grand robes and looks about 25 or 26 years old, stepped into the hall suavely under the accompaniment of Zhao Mu’s attendant.
Undeniably he is a very good looking man, fresh but with character. He has broad shoulders, slender waist, long legs, standing straight and tall with a long sword hanging from his waist, giving one the impression that he’s well versed in both scholarly pursuits and martial arts.
His eyes were alert and lively; obviously this is an intelligent person and not someone to be belittled.
Xiang Shaolong’s heart started pounding.
He has so many things to worry about that he’s not even sure himself.
The worst thing is that he may be able to tell from just one look that he is not the horse fanatic Dong Kuang, by then he can forget about leaving the Marquis residence alive.
Secondly is his relationship with Zhao Mu. If Li Yuan is the person sent by Chu’s Lord Chunshen to secretly liaise with Zhao Mu, then Zhao Mu will immediately realize the trap that Xiang Shaolong has set for him.
Besides, if Li Yuan knows that the Chu envoy still has not reached Handan, he’ll definitely guess that something happened along the way and this will arouse his and Zhao Mu’s suspicion.
Any one of these problems is enough to make their whole group perish.
Hai! How did someone like this end up appearing out of nowhere?
Li Yuan stepped into the hall, listening as Zhao Mu spoke to him and at the same time suavely acknowledging the guests seated on both sides with a slight smile.
Xiang Shaolong wished that Li Yuan would never finish his walk.
Ji Yanran is was alert and had long noticed that his expression seemed strange so she said with a smile, “Mister Dong! The State of Chu is really filled with talents. Not only has it produced a horse expert like you, there’s also the extraordinary Mister Li Yuan who is famed for his intellect and swordsmanship. His younger sister Li Yanyan is the latest beloved concubine of the King of Chu and I heard that she’s now pregnant. If she can bear a son, he will become the Crown Prince of Chu, so now everyone thinks that his future is limitless.”
Xiang Shaolong understood that it’s because of the maids behind hindering them, she deliberately used such a method to drop hints on Li Yuan’s background. She went to Chu before arriving in Handan, so naturally she knows about the latest news from Chu.
But he felt that when she mentioned Li Yuan’s name, her expression looked a little unnatural.
When Li Yuan saw Ji Yanran, his eyes immediately brightened and he came to their table and politely greeting Xiang Shaolong, “How do you do, Mister Dong! We may both be from Chu, but I did not expect that we only have the chance to meet here in Handan, which is a thousand miles away.”
Xiang Shaolong was slightly relieved that the most urgent problem is solved so he rose and returned the greeting.
Zhao Mu suddenly made a strange look at him, then looked at Li Yuan with a flash of murderous intent in his eyes.
Li Yuan was not too concerned about Xiang Shaolong as his gaze turned towards Ji Yanran, immediately filled with a captivating light as he said, “Miss Ji left without a word, giving me much grief.”
He lowered his voice so that other than Zhao Mu and Xiang Shaolong, other guests still thought that he was making polite talk.
Another load was off Xiang Shaolong’s mind as he realized that this Li Yuan is actually hara.s.sing Ji Yanran and it seems that they were once together in Chu, otherwise Li Yuan would not have spoken with such jealousy. It seems that this Li Yuan is a born romantic, otherwise why would be run after her through mountains and lakes all the way from Chu. Once he thought of this, he feels troubled again. Ever since Zhao Ya betrayed him, he no longer has the blind faith he used to have towards women. This Li Yuan is an outstanding person and so pa.s.sionate about love, how would he know if he would be able to s.n.a.t.c.h Ji Yanran away from his hands. If this really turns out to be the case, the blow to him will be even harder than the one Zhao Ya gave him.
After Ji Yanran stole a peek at Xiang Shaolong, she replied with a smile, “Mister Li, you’re too harsh with your words, how can Yanran bear it.”
Zhao Mu said with a smile, “So you two are old acquaintances, now that everyone is in Handan, why worry that there’ll be no time to catch up. Why don’t Mister Li join my table and enjoy the performances by the song and dance courtesans.”
Li Yuan smiled suavely and after giving Ji Yanran a meaningful look, followed Zhao Mu and seated himself between Zhao Mu and Zhao Ya.
Ji Yanran seems to have been moved that Li Yuan ran after her all the way to Handan. She lowered her pretty face, her eyes looking lost.
Xiang Shaolong started feeling even more uncomfortable.
The music started, a group of over a hundred song and dance courtesans came to the middle of the hall and started singing and dancing with their colorful outfit flitting in the air, giving both auditory and sensory entertainment.
Xiang Shaolong was slightly startled, only to see Ji Yanran looking at him deeply with the corner of her eyes, filled with her love and longing.
At this time the dancers have blocked the view from the direction of Li Yuan, Zhao Mu and Zhao Ya and everyone else were concentrating on enjoying the performance. The music also helped to cover their conversation so that others can’t hear them. It is indeed a good opportunity to talk secrets.
Xiang Shaolong revealed a slightly unnatural smile.
Ji Yanran rolled her eyes at him and said, “Can you not show me such a lack of confidence? You don’t know how much I’ve been missing you!”
Xiang Shaolong was secretly thinking that this is called ‘once bitten, twice shy’. He asked quietly, “Where are you staying?”
Ji Yanran quickly told him and added, “Don’t look for me, let me look for you. Lord Longyang has always suspected that there’s something going on between us so there’s still people watching me even here.”
Xiang Shaolong knows that she is smart beyond others and has excellent ways of accomplishing things so he’s not worried that she will slip up. He nodded his head in agreement.
Ji Yanran suddenly stopped talking and recollected herself.
Xiang Shaolong was alert and immediately pretended to be totally engrossed with the performance.
It turned out that the dancers have now gathered to the middle of the hall into a small circle inside a larger circle, curving and flexing their bodies into various attractive poses, so the line of sight between Xiang Shaolong and Zhao Mu is now unblocked.
Zhao Ya is obviously quite interested in Li Yuan, constantly trying to make him talk. Xiang Shaolong was secretly livid on seeing it but even he does not know why he still has such feelings of jealousy towards her.
Li Yuan conversed with her politely but most of the time he was looking at Ji Yanran.
The Marquis of Pingshan, Han Chuang is obviously interested in Ji Yanran as well, looking at her intensely from time to time, as if he wants to eat her up.
All of those who had thought of wooing this world famous Learned Lady felt inept once they saw the appearance of Li Yuan and gave up the idea of wooing her. Besides, Ji Yanran seems a little interested in him as well. If not for Li Yuan’s unique status and his extremely excellent swordsmanship, maybe someone would have wanted to kill him long ago.
Right until the end of the feast, the two of them could not find another opportunity to speak.
Ji Yanran left first with Zou Yan and was resolute in her rejection of Li Yuan’s offer to accompany her. Of course she’s making use of this to ill.u.s.trate her stand towards Xiang Shaolong, which makes Xiang Shaolong and others who are interested in her extremely happy.
After Li Yuan left dejectedly, Xiang Shaolong was thinking of slipping off but was dragged by Zhao Mu to accompany him on sending off the guests at the main door.
Before Guo Zhong left, he reminded him about the feast at his house the next night.
When it came to Zhao Ba and Zhao Zhi’s turn, the latter took a deep look at him before leaving with Zhao Ba whereas Lord Longyang’s flirtatious look as he left gave him goose pimples.
In the end only Zhao Mu, Zhao Ya, Guo Kai, Le Cheng, Han Chuang and Xiang Shaolong were left.
It seems that Han Chuang is waiting for Zhao Ya and Xiang Shaolong can’t help but feel furious, deliberately choosing to ignore Zhao Ya whose pretty eyes kept flitting over to him.
Han Chuang told Zhao Mu excitedly, “Besides the State of Yan, everyone else is here.”
Although what he said seems to be without any head or tail, Xiang Shaolong knows clearly what he meant and also knows that he has mistaken Li Yuan to be the representative from Chu who has come to discuss how to attack Qin in the meeting held by Lord Dongzhou.
The situation is actually very interesting.
Amongst the 6 states, the ones who places the most importance in joining forces are naturally the states of Han, Zhao and Wei who are at the forefront of strong Qin.
Qi is also very anxious over the plan to join forces against Qin, because if the 3 states fall, the next target would undeniably be Qi, before the Chus.
Now that Han Chuang thinks that even Chu has sent an envoy over, of course he’ll be ecstatic over it.
As for Yan, it is still recovering from the attacks launched by Lian Bo of Zhao, and their position has fallen greatly in the eyes of the other states so it doesn’t matter if they come or not.
Zhao Mu gave a cold snort, “I’m afraid Li Yuan’s trip here has got nothing to do with the secret meeting.”
Han Chuang laughed, “He is now the most popular person with the King of Chu and I heard that his sister’s beauty can take down a country. The King of Chu has no son yet so if she manage to give birth to a Crown Prince, Li Yuan will become the uncle of the future King. Therefore if he can help put in a few good words, do we need to worry that the King of Chu won’t take part in the grand scheme this time.”
An icy cold look flashed past Zhao Mu’s eyes again, even the scar on his face looks a lot deeper.
Xiang Shaolong could see everything clearly as a bystander and knows that Zhao Mu is filled with unhappiness and hatred towards Li Yuan.
Guo Kai said with a smile, “Is Lady tired? Let Marquis Pingshan send you back!”
Han Chuang said to Zhao Ya politely, “I wonder if I can have the honor?”
Guo Kai and Le Cheng both understood his meaning and smiled. Han Chuang’s question is akin to asking Zhao Ya if he could have the pleasure of her company again tonight.
Zhao Ya seemed a little embarra.s.sed and looked towards Xiang Shaolong.
Whereas Xiang Shaolong looked towards the square outside the door, where 4 horse carriages and numerous Zhao soldiers were respectfully waiting.
Zhao Mu remembered that he had promised Xiang Shaolong to help him with Zhao Ya and even if tonight is not the night, but if he allows Han Chuang to ‘take away’ Zhao Ya in front of him today, it’ll be a loss of face as well. So he said, “Marquis Pingshan please return early to rest, I have to enter the Palace with Lady later to meet his Majesty.”
Han Chuang has no choice but to leave.
Zhao Mu told Guo Kai and Le Cheng, “I still have some things to discuss with Mister Dong, both of you can leave first!”
Guo Kai made an eye at Xiang Shaolong behind Zhao Mu’s back, asking him to be careful before leaving with Le Cheng, laughing and chatting as they walked.
Only Zhao Mu, Zhao Ya and Xiang Shaolong was left and the atmosphere was a little awkward.
Zhao Mu told Zhao Ya, “After I finish a few words with Mister Dong, he’ll accompany you back to your residence!”
Zhao Ya’s pretty face changed as she pouted, “Don’t I know how to go back on my own?” After which she stared angrily at Zhao Mu and Xiang Shaolong before she stepped out of the door, into her carriage and left, leaving behind Zhao Mu and Xiang Shaolong looking at each other, both suffering a great loss of face.
Zhao Mu smiled wryly, “Some women are like a wild horse that can never be tamed, very difficult to ride on.”
Xiang Shaolong agreed, “Only such women are challenging enough.”
Zhao Mu pulled him away and they walked along the corridor that’s leading towards the inner residence. Although it’s now deep into the night and very quiet, the Marquis residence is still brightly lit, and looks as if it’s still day.
They only sat down when they reached the inner hall where Zhao Mu had shared with him the Yue beauties, the sisters Tian Zhen and Tian Feng, in the past.
After the maids served them tea, they retreated.
Zhao Mu seemed troubled and said after a moment of silence, “You should know the relation between my father and Li Yuan, right!”
Xiang Shaolong was secretly lamenting that he is now impersonating as Lord Chunshen’s trusted aide, who is here to help Zhao Mu dream about being King so of course he can’t say that he has no idea. But the only thing he knows is that Li Yuan’s sister is called Li Yanyan, and he could only remember her name because the two words in her name is the same as Ji Yanran, otherwise he would have forgotten even her name as well.
He went on bravely, “Is Marquis referring to Lady Yanyan’s matter? I have always been doing work for his Highness, so I have never met Li Yuan. All these were told by his Highness personally.”
Unexpectedly Zhao Mu actually nodded his head and sighed, “It’s exactly this matter. Don’t think that Li Yuan looks good and nice, but his level of manipulation, even all the thousand odd men and guests under my father’s residence cannot hold a candle to him. And don’t think that he only came here because he was chasing after Learned Lady Ji and have the mistaken impression that he is a hopeless romantic. I’m sure there is a reason behind this. No one else is more manipulative or ambitious than him. Humph! Seems that Father did not reveal to him the secret about me, luckily so!”
Xiang Shaolong knows that the danger is not over and if he lets Zhao Mu ask him a few more questions, his ident.i.ty will immediately be revealed. So taking the hint from what was said, he added, “I really have no idea why his Highness would trust Li Yuan so much?”
Naturally these words would not let any cat out of the bag.
Zhao Mu gave a cold snort, “Father is what you’ll call ‘an intelligent man will ultimately make a mistake due to too many responsibilities’, and the bottom line is all about women. That’s right! You just came from Chu, did Li Yanyan give birth to a boy or girl?”
Xiang Shaolong now has some vague understanding but is unable to describe the whole thing so he can only say, “I only heard she was about to give birth.”
A dangerous cloud loomed over Zhao Mu’s face as he said angrily, “I did not expect Li Yuan to actually use the same devious trick as Lu Buwei. Father refused to believe my words. If Li Yuan gains power in future, how could he possibly agree to let Father control court affairs. This time Father is really letting the wolf into the house.”
If Xiang Shaolong still does not understand, then he’s better off staying at home. Zhao Mu talked about women hindering matters, and said that Li Yuan is copying Lu Buwei’s plan and Lord Chunshen letting the wolf in. With these clues, he can make an accurate guess as to what is happening. He hurriedly sighed as well and said, “And who knows if this Li Yanyan is really Li Yuan’s sister.”
Zhao Mu replied, “That seems to be the truth. Besides when Father was on close terms with Li Yanyan, Li Yuan has no chance to meet Li Yanyan at all and Father had sent people to check on their relationship as siblings as well.” He looked at him suspiciously and added, “You should be knowing all these!”
Xiang Shaolong was secretly cursing, so it turns out that the child in Li Yanyan’s stomach does not belong to Li Yuan, but to Lord Chunshen. Da.mn! How could he have known that the situation is so full of twists.
He replied calmly, “How could I not know. It’s just that the person in charge of the investigation is called He Quan, and this person is only good at bootlicking. He’s quite slipshod when it comes to other matters so I was afraid that he’ll be tricked by Li Yuan.”
All these are just nonsense he made up, but the aim is to gain Zhao Mu’s trust. There’s even the name of a person, so Zhao Mu would certainly believe him.
This evil fiend was indeed taken in and said sternly, “That is not where the problem lies. There should be no doubt that they are siblings. I didn’t expect Father to be so careless.”
This time Xiang Shaolong is really enlightened and have figured out the relantionship between Li Yuan, his sister and Lord Chunshen.
This Li Yuan is really formidable. He first offered his sister to Lord Chunshen and after she became pregnant, let Lord Chunshen gave this beauty who is pregnant with his child to the King of Chu who is without a son. Then the child that will be born will have a bigger chance of becoming the Crown Prince. They are re-enacting the plan of Lu Buwei giving Zhu Ji to King Zhuangxiang.
After he got this clear, Xiang Shaolong was relieved and said, “Now that Li Yuan has offered himself here, this is a great chance to get rid of him. By then Li Yanyan won’t be able to escape from his Highness’s clutches.”
Zhao Mu said seriously, “This can never be done, otherwise it will create an avalanche of problems and even I will not be able to extricate myself. Besides his swordsmanship is excellent and extremely cunning. The family warriors accompanying him this time are all highly skilled. If something goes wrong and your man gets captured by him, even I will not be able to save you.”
Xiang Shaolong smiled icily, “Do not worry, I will wait until he leaves the border of Zhao before I strike.”
Zhao Mu saw how much effort he is making and clasped his shoulder joyfully, saying with a frosty smile, “One need not necessarily use swords to kill, let me mull over this matter. That’s right! Do you really understand the nature of horses, otherwise you may reveal your shortcomings tomorrow in front of Learned Lady Ji. Hai! This is the first time I’ve met such a beauty, a pity…”
Xiang Shaolong replied, “Marquis please do not worry, how can I pretend to be a horse fanatic if I know nothing about horses?”
Zhao Mu replied, “I’m afraid Zhao Ya is not possible tonight, why don’t I send you a few other beauties!”
Xiang Shaolong replied, “Forget about it for tonight, we still have to go to Learned Lady Ji’s place early tomorrow morning. Are we going separately?”
Once Zhao Mu remembered that he can see Ji Yanran again tomorrow, he was immediately energized and said, “I’ll pick you up to go together.” He added with grat.i.tude, “All thanks to you for today.”
Xiang Shaolong knows that he was referring to the female a.s.sa.s.sin and after saying a few humble words, bid his farewell.
Zhao Mu sent him right to the main door and only turned back into his residence when he saw him going up the carriage and riding out under the accompaniment of his family warriors.