A Rare Respite (Part 1)
“They’ve left? Where are they off to?”
“After you killed Zuowan Wanqu, Xiacang Anxi’s bandits were eradicated, quickly spreading your name. Nanjiang’s rulers have always perceived Shaman Monarch Palace as a threat, let alone Shaman Monarch. They have no choice but to answer your call no matter how reluctant they are. They’re currently on their way.
“I can’t believe you didn’t let me join in something so fun. In my opinion, executing their leader and leading the military there wasn’t the best plan. If it were me, I’d kill Zuowan Wanqu, then impersonate him to use the bandits. I’d then march them up Wanyu and beat the location of fengqi shenmu out of him.”
You’re more ruthless than Gegewu!
Young Shiyi could’ve pulled the surprising idea off because she could speak Nanjiangnese. If it were me, I’d only unmask my cover. Plus, common torture or threats were nothing to a man who had lived for a century.
“All four of them have agreed to come? How long until they arrive?”
“At the latest, three days. At the earliest, tomorrow,” Young Shiyi answered.
From the moment I took Zuowan Wanqu’s head, I started deliberating how to leverage the execution to maximise my gains. That was what led me to the envoy I rescued on my first day on Mount Wanyu.
As the brother of Feiyi’s King, the envoy was highly respected. When I saved him from Gegewu’s execution force, he gratefully showed his golden teeth and said something nice. He generously gifted me a big chest of valuables as a token of appreciation. Instead of accepting it, though, I demanded, “I want all the chests.” He actually let me have all the chests without a care in the world. I considered him a sagacious guy because he kept trying to sell me on all the benefits of opening trade channels with Western Regions.
Anyhow, when I visited him after killing Zuowan Wanqu, I outright demanded, “I want to see your King.” I didn’t expect him to kowtow or his eyes to become waterfalls. Only later did I learn that, by Shaman Monarch Palace’s rules, requesting an audience with a monarch was the equivalent of forcing the monarch to abdicate. Gegewu had already removed three monarchs in the past, each of which succeeded a meeting between him and the stripped monarch. If Ah Neath was included, then Gegewu actually removed monarchs from four states already.
Anyone who opposed the decree was classified a dissident that every state’s military would immediately put down. If the armies of the other states were to mobilise their armies, then Gegewu could play fair or dirty to remove the monarch.
When the envoy first beseeched me to not exile his brother from the throne, I didn’t understand what he was saying, so I told him, “Shut up and do as I say.”
Since I didn’t show any mercy, he snapped. “Feiyi is not the biggest threat if we are talking about states that are trying to revolt! Your Majesty, please rethink your decision! This one knows Qiu state is secretly building an army and forging weapons while pretending they are poor!”
I didn’t expect him to snitch, so I didn’t have a measured response. Instead, I figured, why not keep digging if he was going to sell the others out?
Mistaking my stupefied visage for indifference, he reluctantly disclosed, “This one also knows major secrets of two more nations. Both of them harbour ill will!” The man spilt everything; he even told me when and how many times a monarch would go glare as they passed by a Shaman Monarch shrine.
“Tell all four of them I want to see them together.”
The envoy kept his mouth in the shape of the number zero as he got back into his carriage and went on his way. I thought I wouldn’t have my way due to his dispirited posture when he left. I never imagined they’d respond so promptly.
Young Shiyi jovially pointed out, “While Sanggongmo City is the second largest city in Wanyu, this must be the first they will bear witness to such a big gathering. Your Majesty, you sure are esteemed.”
“Of course.” I touched my face to see if my skin was any thicker. After all, I wouldn’t want it to be as thick as my shifu’s.
Don’t say it!
Boss Shen brushed aside the curtain and came in with a stack of old books, some of which were so old that they were fragments of their original selves. “What are these books you told Sima Huai to collect? It’s bloody heavy!”
I bolted over to take the books off Boss’ hands. “Ahaha, just as a menu cannot be without pork shoulders and man cannot be without pork, man cannot live without reading. I am born studious. The sages of old say one m-”
“Stop. Cut the crap. I’d bet my fortune on you not understanding these ancient texts of Nanjiang.”
Why ask a question you already have the answer to?!
“From what I can tell, some of the pages in some of the books would be enough to feed a village for a year. Where did you have Sima Huai rob the books from?”
“We didn’t rob! Don’t you know Mount Daluo’s reputation?! I had him thieve them from Ah Neath’s library.”
Black and White Reflection didn’t have the information I wanted answers to, so I pinned my hopes on Baimu holding the answers. Baimu protected their secrets and intelligence strictest out of the twelve states. Ah Neath concentrated on reading these books even when Qiushui was plotting her assassination. If there’s nothing valuable in there, I’ll quit pork shoulders!
Boss and Young Shiyi didn’t see this coming. I couldn’t hold a candle to Young Shiyi and Boss’ analytical skills.
Yangyang was unlikely to read between the lines of the text. How would Young Shiyi do it? Hence, I spent an entire night trying to decipher what I could.
I grabbed the oldest, fragment book and got up.
“Where are you off to?” Boss asked.
“Going to consult an all-knowing individual.”
Boss’ confused face was too cute to resist a pinch. Her timing with her inkstone was, once again, impeccable.
As I cried “ow”, I sped out, disappearing before Boss had time to see me abscond. Her blush burned through her cheeks; her face felt comparable to a hot oven. She dipped her head down and didn’t utter another word.
A Rare Respite – The title is a rewritten version of the line “偷得浮生半日闲” from “Written on a Wall of Crane-forest Temple” by Tang Dynasty poet Li She. It’s lost in translation, but the rework is a way of demonstrating one’s competence in Chinese, similar to how you need to have a decent grasp on English in order to use part of a proverb to say something else instead of having to quote it word for word.
“Just as a menu cannot be without pork shoulders and man cannot be without pork…” – Ming Feizhen makes a pun joke here off the saying that “A man would rather live without meat than reside somewhere without bamboo,” bamboo and pork sharing the same pronunciation here. To many distinguished men, bamboo is a symbol of virtue and integrity; it’s always closely related to people of positive spirits.