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Book 15 Chapter 12 - The Revival Of Prestige
The events that unfolded after the recovery of the Dian King's Mansion totally exceeded the expectations of Xiang Shaolong and the rest. The first to arrive and congratulate them was Lord Chunshen, followed by the maids, servants and warriors of the Dian King's Mansion who had been recently expelled. They were then followed by the representatives and even kings of each va.s.sal state who had come for King Xiaolie's funeral, the envoys of each o the Eastern states, and finally the famous generals and chancellors who had esteemed the Zhuang family all along. This kept Madam Zhuang and Xiang Shaolong busy with incessant receptions and parties.
At dusk, the Empress Dowager Li Yanyan summoned Madam Zhuang and Zhuang Baoyi, but did not include Xiang Shalolong. Xiang Shaolong knew that he had been successful in raising the power and prestige of the Zhuang family. With ease of mind, he left Madam Zhuang the mother and son under the escort of Lord Chunshen to enter the palace for the meeting with Li Yanyan and her two plus year-old crown prince. Fortunately, the two You sisters remained to receive and entertain the guests, reducing the chances for a slip-up on his part. As they were beginning to get dizzy and confused with the volume of guests, a servant announced: "Lord Longyang from Wei seeks an audience!" Xiang Shaolong was delighted and after exhorting the You sisters to continue entertaining the other guests, instructed the servant to usher Lord Longyang into the inner hall.
Lord Longyang was puzzled at this arrangement and could only stare blankly on seeing Xiang Shaolong once he arrived inside. Xiang Shaolong rose from his seat and welcomed him, saying: "This time I have fooled you again!" Lord Longyang could not believe it and widened his 'graceful eyes', and in a small voice said: "Xiang Shaolong!" Xiang Shaolong pulled him to a seat in a corner and laughed, saying: "Who else could it be?"
Lord Longyang delightedly said: "You know that Tian Dan has arrived here!" Xiang Shaolong smiled and nodded.
Lord Longyang sighed and said: "You have the ability to know everything about heaven and earth. The last time it was Dong Horse Fanatic, now it is Wan Ruiguang. You've caused me to be worried for you. When I arrived here three days ago to discover Tian Dan flaunting himself spiritedly, I thought you had been killed by him!"
Xiang Shaolong then explained everything, not knowing why he trusts this 'boyfriend' wholeheartedly. Lord Longyang is finally aware of Tian Dan's escape using a body double. In a flash of realization, he said: "No wonder the Liu brothers, Dan Chu and the others have all disappeared. I must say, though, you can be proud of yourself, having caused him to be so frightened as to slip away so ignominiously!"
Xiang Shaolong asked: "Is the Lord here to attend King Xiaolie's funeral?" Lord Longyang replied: "Of course it is so on the the surface, but in reality I hope to wrest the Chu people from Tian Dan's hands. We now know that Tian Dan, Li Yuan and Lu Buwei have made a secret pact to divide the whole world between themselves."
Xiang Shaolong said: "If the Lord helps me to kill Tian Dan, wouldn't it solve all problems?" Lord Longyang thought that this was reasonable, and nodding, he said: "If you can restore the crown prince of Dian to his throne, you will teach the Chu people to think twice about having malicious intents. Though the situation is so complicated! Eventually we will still need to deal with your Qin state, isn't this a great contradiction?" Xiang Shaolong replied: "That is a problem for the future. If we do not deal with Lu Buwei's plot, we will face immediate catastrophe. Therefore killing Tian Dan will definitely be beneficial for you and for me.
Lord Longyang forced a bitter smile and said: "I am afraid that under heaven, there is only one Xiang Shaolong that I cannot refuse. Soon you will be seeing a lot of old friends too!"
Xiang Shaolong said: "Thats got to be Han Chuang, right?" Lord Longyang said: "This person Han Chuang is not very reliable, its better not to reveal yourself to him, else he might betray you under certain circ.u.mstances."
Xiang Shaolong then asked about Zhao Ya. Lord Longyang said: "She has already followed your family members back to Xianyang. The crown prince has expended a lot of effort to do this because all along, Han Jing was not willing to let her go. Once women get jealous, they disregard the bigger picture."
This was a big weight off Xiang Shaolong's mind. Following up, he asked: "Who else is here from each country?" Lord Longyang counted on his fingers and replied: "From Zhao, it is Guo Kai. This guy is now highly favored. With him messing around, I think Lian Po will soon lose his position."
Xiang Shaolong knew that for him to be so certain, there must have been some affair behind in his words. He couldn't help but give a gloomy sigh, but his hands were tied.
Lord Longyang continued: "From Wei, it should be Prince Dan. Nonetheless it is certainly odd that to date there has been no news of him." Xiang Shaolong was also unable to figure this out. If Prince Dan's men had sent news using swift horses from the Wei border to Shouchun, they would have arrived seventy days before he did. There was no reason for the lack of news.
All the envoys had to make official correspondence before arriving. If there was as yet no news of Prince Dan, it was possible that he would not be able to arrive in time for the funeral in half a month.
Xiang Shaolong asked: "Did Qin send anyone?" Lord Longyang replied: "Qin has always had a close relationship with Chu, not to mention that it was a rare time of peace, of course they will send someone. The odd thing, however, is that the person sent is not Lu Buwei, but Premier Xu Xian."
Xiang Shaolong's heart was jolted, with a faint feeling of unease.
Lord Longyang was astounded and said: "Is there any problem? Why did Shaolong's expression turn so ugly?" Xiang Shaolong relied: "I do not yet know what is the problem. Could the Lord do me a favor? Find out which route Xu Xian is taking to Shouchun. This is an urgent matter."
Lord Longyang understood immediately and his color began to change, saying: "I will dispatch people to do this immediately. If they are pa.s.sing through my Great Wei, I will send soldiers to protect him. Humph! This could be a plot to implicate my Great Wei."
Xiang Shaolong hadn't thought of this point. It did not matter whether Xu Xian chose to go through Han or Wei, if Lu Buwei caused him to be a.s.sa.s.sinated in either country, a tempest would ensue. Lu Buwei could then send the Army to attack Han or Wei.
He did not think that Lu Buwei would remain so formidable after Mo Ao died.
Both men no longer had the mood to talk, and Lord Longyang left in a hurry.
It was dark by the time they had sent off all the guests.
Xiang Shaolong was so hungry that his stomach growled and he hurriedly returned to the courtyard of his residence. The two ladies Ji and Zhao had just had a bath and were waiting for him to come in for dinner.
The Dian King's Mansion was medium sized and composed of a master house with six courtyard houses surrounded by high walls.
Each courtyard house was composed of houses in a square with a courtyard in the middle. It was an inward looking design, with practically all doors and windows opening into the courtyard. There were trees planted all over the houses such that even though the hot summer was approaching, it was still very cool and shady.
The exits were all designed to face South, and the houses were symmetrical left and right with an obvious central axis.
The main buildings faced the main entrance, with wings left and right.
Xiang Shaolong and the guardians occupied two of the courtyard houses. The place was s.p.a.cious and wide yet cozy and snug and gave one the feeling of having returned home.
After Xiang Shaolong had had his fill, he heaved a sigh and started relating his conversation with Lord Longyang and his worries about Xu Xian. After listening, Ji Yanran was speechless.
Zhao Zhi said: "Premier Xu is one of Western Qin's two big 'Tiger Generals'. He should be able to defend himself!" Ji Yanran said: "The most worrisome thing is if there are Lu Buwei's spies amongst his men. Premier Xu will least expect the attackers to be soldiers that Li Yuan has hidden on the borders of Han and Wei. That is a dangerous situation."
She knitted her eyebrows again, saying: "Although Qin and Chu have a close relationship, sending someone from the king's clan would have been more appropriate. There has got to be a reason for this."
Xiang Shaolong said: "It is easy to find some political pretext like having to sign a peace treaty with Chu to force Xu Xian to come. Even though the Empress Dowager's dissatisfaction with Lu Buwei is increasing steadily, it is difficult to rely on this discredited person to do anything. This is because the Qin military has always looked down on this Empress Dowager."
Ji Yanyran has the utmost respect for Xu Xian, and worriedly sighed, saying: "At this point we can only resign ourselves to heaven's will!" At this moment, Zhuang Kong came over with an invitation, saying that Madam Zhuang had returned and would like to speak to him in person.
Xiang Shaolong could only control his feelings and follow Zhuang Kong out.
Madam Zhuang is wearing a 'Swallow Tail Coat'. The long coat-tail of the garment is cut in a triangular shape and folded over, simulating a swallow's tail, hence its name.
She is reclining on a couch beside a louvered window at the central courtyard. She was in high-spirits as she watched Xiang Shaolong enter. Her fine hair was drawn in a weighted bun and fastened with a golden hairpin which shimmered under the lamplight, accentuating her grandeur, grace and allure.
Her waist was girded with a strand of distinctly shaped jade ornaments, increasing the magnificence and prosperity befitting her status as a n.o.blewoman.
After Zhuang Kong left, Madam Zhuang stood up and moved in front of Xiang Shaolong's. Smiling sweetly, she said: "Your servant came back a long time ago, but wanted to take a bath and change her clothes before meeting you. Can you smell the bath fragrance on my body?" Saying that, she proudly stuck out her silky bosom. Xiang Shaolong figured that the women from the Tu clan of Southern Dian were especially liberal, straightforwardly and brazenly luring men. He also figured, though, that this was also her way of thanking him. He laughed faintly: "Seeing Madam's demeanor, one can tell that this trip to the Chu palace reaped a good result, is your servant wrong?" Madam Zhuang raised her pair of jade-like hands and pressed them against the pit of her stomach, and smiling enchantingly, said: "Shaolong, your pulse is racing."
As Xiang Shaolong was beginning to feel embarra.s.sed, Madam Zhuang released her hands and glided towards the window in a movingly graceful and delicate step. With her back to him, she glazed at the moonlit courtyard, and gently said: "Xiang Shaolong truly enjoys a well-deserved reputation. With just one dazzling move, you have shaken the entire Shouchun. Now n.o.body dares to look down on us few stateless women and children. All the va.s.sal states have made clear their position, supporting our return to our country. The only obstacle is actually the Chu court."
Xiang Shaolong had to make a move in the five steps it took for him to walk behind her. He asked: "How was Li Yanyan's att.i.tude towards you?" Madam Zhuang replied: "I a.s.sumed initially that Li Yanyan would be a very formidable person, but besides being beyond my expectations, she merely came across as a gentle and emotional person, even hinting at some unspeakable grief and sadness. She is of course a rare beauty, even being comparable with your Talented Lady Ji. What surprised me the most, though, was that she was closer to Lord Chunshen than Li Yuan. This is truly difficult to understand."
Xiang Shaolong was dazed as he heard this. Could Li Yanyan be such a pitiful character? Madam Zhuang turned around and leaned against the window. The corners of her mouth broke into an enchanting smile, with the tips of her eyebrows and the corners of her eyes exuding limitless charm. With both shoulders rising lightly, she said: "Li Yuan and Lord Chunshen are both interested in your servant's body. What should your servant do?" Xiang Shaolong forced a smile and said: "What does Madam want me to say?" Madam Zhuang laughed in distress, saying: "I have seen the likes of such men countless times. If your servant had not fallen for you, in order to secure their support, she would not have been miserly with her body. Now instead, she feels like seeking your opinion first. Under heaven, there is no one else able to gain your servant's confidence."
As Xiang Shaolong was considering whether she was trying to confuse him, Madam Zhuang took a step toward him and pasted her body into his bosom and embraced his waist with all her strength, her pert face buried in his broad shoulders. She moaned: "Embrace me, ok? I need a big strong man to support me."
He would be lying if he said he wasn't moved under such a circ.u.mstance, when such a n.o.ble, lovable and charming rarity threw herself into his arms. Xiang Shaolong could not help but embrace her firmly and caressing her well rounded and elastic back muscles, gently said: "Madam does not need to do this. Even if we do not have a physical relationship, I, Xiang Shaolong, will never break a promise. I am determined to help the young crown prince ascend the throne.
Madam Zhuang looked up and smiled sweetly, saying: "Do you think your servant treats you like other men? No! You are wrong! I saw you in a dream last night. Ai! Its a pity that our fling of pa.s.sion will have to end once my son ascends the throne. When I think of this I can't help feeling that there is no more joy in this life."
She suddenly left his embrace and pulled him to a seat beside her. Her expression turned solemn and she said: "Li Yanyan has verified the legitimacy of me and my son's status, but Li Yuan is using the excuse of pressure from a strong Qin to avoid sending troops to a.s.sist us mother and son. I do not know if Lord Chunshen is afraid of offending the Li clan, but he is vague and indecisive. Every other party's verbal support is just that. They are unlikely to lend substantial a.s.sistance. Our fate hence lies in Shaolong's hands.
To comfort her, Shaolong softly said: "I have a large and powerful army at the Qin-Chu border. At the appropriate time they can dress up as Dian people and invade the Dian capital. If I manage to kill Tian Dan, though, I will need to slip away immediately, else it will be difficult for me to leave Shouchun. At this point, the only way for Li Yuan to deal with you is to keep you under house arrest in the Chu capital. This way, he will also be able to play with your body, killing two birds with one stone."
Madam Zhuang's countenance changed, saying: "I haven't considered this problem."
Xiang Shaolong couldn't help hugging her shoulders, and softly said: "The most critical thing for you to do now is to look like a 'damsel in distress'. Might as well play along with Li Yuan and Lord Chunshen, pretending that you will be helpless if the Chu court does not send troops. You will be able to fool everyone this way."
Madam Zhuang nibbled her lip and said: "Are you suggesting that I should sacrifice my body? I was originally set on this course of action, but with you around, I no longer feel like doing it."
Xiang Shaolong discerned that her feelings for him were genuine, and since he is used to philandering, couldn't help but kiss her cheek, gently saying: "What is easily obtained is not treasured. You must be ambiguous with those who have designs on you, periodically leading them on and periodically resisting them. By the time their pa.s.sions boil over, we would have left the Chu capital long ago. If I cannot kill Tian Dan before the Chu king's funeral, I will have no choice but to give up and wholeheartedly help you return to your country."
Madam Zhuang had an intoxicated expression, and said in a m.u.f.fled voice: "The more I interact with you, the more I realize how fearsome and formidable you are. Yet you are also a pa.s.sionate and righteous hero. This is such a contradiction. Shaolong Ah! I have fallen into your hands so easily, do you despise me?" Xiang Shaolong thought: I have yet to enter the room and mount the couch, how does this count 'as falling into my hands'? Of course he could not actually say that, and so he softly said: "Before the crown prince returns home, we cannot have a physical relationship. That will cause us to wallow in an ocean of l.u.s.t, causing us to neglect the important matters. We must 'endure hardship to accomplish our ambitions'. Only by working a.s.siduously and whetting ourselves, can we succeed in this great cause."
Madam Zhuang almost moaned: "You have beautiful women in your house, how can that be called 'enduring hardship'? Using this to describe me is just about right. Shaolong ah! Wu….."
Xiang Shaolong gave her fragrant lips a lingering kiss, saying: "If a woman is s.e.xually satisfied, she will show it in her expression, and philandering old hands like Li Yuan and Lord Chunshen are sure to notice. It will then be hard for Madam to play her tricks with them. This is an extremely subtle matter. Madam must listen to what I say."
Madam Zhuang came to her senses, straightened her body and said: "Your servant understands, but please do not forget your promise. When the matter of returning to our country is accomplished, I will not let you go."
Xiang Shaolong gave her another lingering kiss, then left for his own courtyard, intensely wishing for Ji Yanran the two ladies. Only they can appease the l.u.s.t that this outstandingly foxy and amorous woman has stirred up in him. In this dangerous place where life and death hangs on a hair, he did not wish for anything to affect his grand plan, and that includes male-female relationships.
If he is not able to kill Tian Dan in the next fifteen days, he will slip away immediately and without the slightest hesitation.
As important as killing Tian Dan is, it cannot compare to the lives of Ji and Zhao the two ladies and the guardians, not to mention his family members Wu Tingfang and Xiang Bao'er, and the tragic Zhao Ya who was bitterly awaiting him at his home.
It is only now that he understands the meaning of the saying 'Heros have it difficult'.