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Translator: Henyee Translations Editor: Henyee Translations
The next day, Duodun showed off his vigorous energy, with no trace of the normal hangover after a night of revelry. He decided to immediately cross the next line and gain the loyalty of the Court Attendants Army.
King Shengri’s suicide had solved an awkward problem. Duodun had shown great respect to this elder brother of his. Not only did he arrange the funeral in person, but he also ordered the whole army to stand in silent vigil.
At noon, the body was cremated. King Shengri ascended to heaven to accompany the Khan, which satisfied the desire of the Court Attendants Army. Then, Duodun delivered a mournful eulogy, recalling their family’s history and praising the Khans who had already become legends. He claimed that their divinity had been inherited by all the descendants of the Khans through their shared blood. The deaths of King Shengri and the previous kings were, therefore, not a simple matter. They were like branches of the big tree that was the Khan’s family; their death signified a whole branch dying off, and also the beginning of many more new buds appearing.
After listening to the speech, which was retold later many times, Fang Wenshi returned to the tent and said to the Dragon King, “It’s nothing but boastful talk without much meaning. Even a random scholar from the countryside could do better than him. Is that what Duodun is relying on to win people over? So naive.”
“That can’t be Duodun’s only trick. I’m afraid that we’ll have to do something,” Gu Shenwei replied. The charm of a speech was not only in the words the speaker said, but also in the calmness, toughness, and vision that the speaker gave off. Duodun had just shown the typical demeanor of a king, which would have a subtle influence on the listeners.
Fang Wenshi sighed and had to admit that Duodun was more tactful than he had imagined. “Hmm, the Dragon King is right. We can’t just sit back and do nothing. When Duodun flatters some people, he’s bound to arouse the dislike of others. Just let me handle it. Fortunately, I’m prepared. The Dragon King can just wait for the result. Do not let people think that you are trying to copy Duodun.”
Gu Shenwei was truly unskilled at the tactics Duodun was employing, and he would only expose more of his weaknesses if he forced himself to try.
Fang Wenshi made himself busy.
As he strode in the camp, Fang Wenshi noticed that many soldiers were excitedly packing their bow and arrows while discussing the upcoming Sun Shooting Contest. He couldn’t help but frown, thinking that this must be another trick played by Duodun.
Fang Wenshi walked into Mo Lin’s tent and directly asked, “Do you know what the Sun Shooting Contest is about?”
Mo Lin had come here with the Dragon King, but he was not very familiar with this counselor. So he was quite surprised at the other side’s casual question. “Uh, it’s a tradition of the Norland. When the kings die, the Sun Shooting Contest will be held to select the best marksman.”
“Sun Shooting? The ten kings of the Royal Court all have the character ‘Ri’ (Sun) in their titles. You guys really do not shy away from death.”
“The death of a king is like the sunset. The original purpose of holding the Sun Shooting Contest was to find the ‘murderer,’ and all the marksmen participating would be sacrificed to the dead lord. Then the Khan changed the tradition. Since then, the marksmen were no longer buried and instead given handsome rewards.”
Fang Wenshi kept shaking his head. “That’s incredible. Before that, did everyone rush to miss the target?”
“No, it was considered an honor. The soldiers often rushed to join the contest and the winner would die without hesitation.”
“Murderer? Voluntary martyrs? That can’t be true.”
“The Norland people have their own beliefs.”
Fang Wenshi smiled and shook his head. “You’ve only heard of it but never seen it before, right? I know where the legend comes from.”
Mo Lin looked seriously at the fat fellow who had barged in uninvited. “I saw it with my own eyes. The Khan abolished the martyrdom, but some people still refused to give up on the tradition. At the funeral of the previous King Kuari, his confidant won the title of marksman and then immediately committed suicide with a saber. It took place only ten steps away from me.”
Fang Wenshi smiled awkwardly before saying, “It can’t be fake since you saw it with your own eyes, but I’m afraid that King Shengri probably has no such loyal and brave subordinates.”
“What can I do for you?” asked Mo Lin, who did not want to discuss the customs of the Norland with a foreigner any longer.
“The Sun Shooting Contest is obviously Prince Duodun’s idea. Several lords had died in the Royal Court previously, but no one had organized this contest. King Shengri lost his power long ago, but his death is now causing a great commotion. Prince Duodun must want to take this chance to win the people’s support and seize military power from Shulitu.”
“The Dragon King sent you here?” asked Mo Lin. He preferred dealing with the Dragon King directly.
“No. I advised the Dragon King to prepared himself well and to allow me to solve the problem.”
“Cut to the point then.” Mo Lin said coolly.
Fang Wenshi shook his head habitually. Mo Lin still had the pride of a wing guard, which was troublesome but also a good thing. “I’d like to know—actually, the Dragon King also wants to know—what are the thoughts of the soldiers of the Court Attendants Army.”
“The young king has mixed all the soldiers together, so there are no more ‘soldiers of the Court Attendants Army.’”
“Although you say that, more than half of the soldiers in the army are court attendants. As far as I can tell, their friendship and relations with each other have never been severed. The ordinary soldiers are still in awe of them and are even more willing to obey them than ever before.”
Mo Lin thought for a while and replied, “Wait for my news.” Then he walked out of the tent.
Fang Wenshi still had much to say, but Mo Lin had already left, leaving him alone in a daze. He shook his head while muttering, “Being proud and insolent because of one’s talent, it turns out that kung fu practitioners are the same as scholars. Alas, I haven’t shown such pride in a long time.”
The Sun Shooting Contest was about to begin. Fang Wenshi rushed to see Azheba.
Azheba dressed himself up and was just about to go out when he saw the counselor. Startled, he quickly walked to the door and glanced outside before quietly saying, “What are you doing here?”
“Am I not welcome here?”
“No, I… I’ve returned to Prince Duodun and it’s no longer acceptable for me to meet the Dragon King’s men in private.”
“I’m not here on behalf of the Dragon King.”
Hesitatingly, Azheba said, “Go ahead then. What is it?”
“Are you going to attend the Sun Shooting Contest too?”
“No. Only soldiers are allowed to participate.”
“Right, it’s better for ordinary soldiers to act as sacrificial objects.”
Azheba’s face shifted slightly. “No one will be buried alive this time.”
“Never mind that. I didn’t come here for the Sun Shooting Contest either.”
Azheba suppressed his anger and said, “I’m very busy. Prince Duodun doesn’t wait for anyone.”
“One word, just one word,” Fang Wenshi said as he raised a single finger. Compared to Mo Lin, Azheba was much easier to deal with.
“I hope that you still remember that the young king Shulitu once saved your life.”
The Court Attendants Army had once wanted to burn Azheba to death. It was Shulitu who had saved his life, and Azheba would of course not forget that. “What is the counselor trying to say?”
Upon noticing Azheba’s tone soften, Fang Wenshi felt his task had been accomplished. “It’s good to be loyal, of course,” said Fang Wenshi smilingly. “But one should consider which is more important: repaying the favor of one’s lifesaver or being loyal.”
This time, Fang Wenshi left the tent first and left Azheba alone.
There was something that Fang Wenshi hadn’t mentioned. Shulitu might be credited with rescuing Azheba but he hadn’t done it alone. The Dragon King had helped greatly behind the scene. Without the Dragon King’s efforts, Shulitu wouldn’t have succeeded even if he risked his life a hundred times. After all, he was just a twelve year old kid.
Azheba knew this, and he wasn’t an ungrateful person. Fang Wenshi was looking forward to seeing how this young officer would show his gratitude.
Liman was also a useful pawn, but he was being watched over closely at Duodun’s side. Fang Wenshi couldn’t meet him in private.
The Sun Shooting Contest began. Over a dozen horses with wooden targets ran up and down the pen. The first group of a couple dozen players would shoot from horseback from about sixty or seventy paces away. Everyone’s arrow had a special mark on it, which would be used to count their number of hits. Meanwhile, they would also compete in horse racing. Those who ran too slowly or shot a horse would lose the corresponding amount of points.
Fang Wenshi wasn’t interested in shooting. After watching the contest for a while from the crowd, he switched and started observing Duodun and Shulitu.
Duodun had tossed aside his noble identity of prince and was cheering, swearing, and throwing wine bowls like an ordinary soldier for his favored shooter. His friends were also as frantic as he was, shoving each other back and forth while waving their hands; their actions all showed a deep friendship between them.
Like a small boat in a raging sea, Shulitu’s thin body couldn’t support him against the strong grown-ups, and he was forcefully pushed into swaying back and forth. Occasionally, his little face, full of fear, could be seen from between the big arms.
Just as Fang Wenshi had expected, Azheba was standing behind Shulitu. It was exactly with his support that Shulitu was barely able to stand firm.
Liman, who had been reduced to a commoner, was the only bystander in the clique, behaving so courteously that he didn’t even seem like a man of the Norland.
After Shulitu excused himself from the field, Fang Wenshi also pushed his way out of the crowd.
Sweating profusely, Shulitu took off his armor and collapsed onto the soft couch, gasping for breath. He appeared very happy to see the counselor. “Mr. Fang came just in time. Please tell the Dragon King for me that I’d like to meet him alone when there’s a chance.”
“There’s always a chance,” said Fang Wenshi with a smile. He had spent nearly two months with this kid and had seen him mature greatly during that time. Although he was still unable to compete with Duodun, he was no longer that childish royal child.
Shulitu dismissed his entourage and said, “Please advise me, Mr. Fang.”
“What is it?” Fang Wenshi pretended to be confused.
“I’m wondering if I should hand the army over to Prince Duodun now.”
“What?” Fang Wenshi cried out in surprise, and then he realized he had been tricked. Shulitu was obviously luring him into revealing his true feelings. He didn’t expect that he would actually be fooled by a little kid so he smilingly shook his head and responded, “Why do you want to hand over the army, Your Highness?”
“Duodun is older than me, smarter than me, stronger than me, and more welcomed than me. In short, he’s better than me in all aspects. To defeat Prince Luoluo in the east, Duodun is more suitable for the position of commander-in-chief than me. And you’ve heard it too: ‘All the kings who died in the Royal Court are stepping stones.’ I don’t want to be a dead stepping stone so I have to take initiative, right?”
“Not really. Although Prince Duodun resembles the Khan in many aspects, he’s being melodramatic. If all of the Khan’s descendents are his stepping stones, then what are the soldiers and generals? Tools that can be casually thrown away after they break? We’ve seen Luoluo’s army, earnest and orderly. They are indeed an iron army. Now look back at Duodun. If he keeps faffing around like this, he may win the popularity of the people but will ultimately lose military discipline. It’s impossible to compete with Horsewhip Luoluo.”
Shulitu finally began to speak his mind. “But Duodun has many supporters.”
“It can’t be more than those of Your Highness and the Dragon King’s.
Shulitu thought for a while and finally made up his mind. “I need a good bodyguard.”
“The Dragon King will provide you with one.”
“It’d better be Nie Zeng. I like him a lot.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem.”
Shulitu rose to his feet and started pacing back and forth, his fatigue seemingly swept away. “I have an idea. I hope Counselor Fang can give me some advice on it.”
Surprised, Fang Wenshi said, “What a coincidence. I also have an idea and need Your Highness’s help.”
The two looked at each other and smiled at the same time.
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