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Translator: Henyee Translations Editor: Henyee Translations
As General Zhesu’s giant iron tower-like body swayed and stepped into the tent, the crowd all uncontrollably squished together to make room for him.
“Well, there are a lot of acquaintances here. Come, greet the newly elected King Rizhu of Naihang Tribe,” Zhesu said in a tough tone as if he would break anyone who dared say no.
The crowd finally noticed that was another man standing beside the huge Zhesu. He was short, stout, and had a pink-white face. Compared to General Zhesu, he looked more like an adult-sized baby in leather armor. Someone recognized that he was a son of the former King Rizhu, Chaquelag.
Gu Shenwei was a guest and a foreigner, so he remained silent. The strange thing was that Shulitu, Duodun, and many other officers also kept their mouths shut; they only looked at each other and all felt embarrassed and dissatisfied.
The pink-white ‘baby’ spoke in a gruff voice, the complete opposite of his pueril image. “All branches of the Naihang Tribe have elected me as King Rizhu. Does anyone disagree?”
The new King Rizhu was just as aggressive as General Zhesu — they seemed to have come to fight, not attend the banquet.
No one spoke until, finally, Duodun chuckled and replied, “General Zhesu, you seem to have forgotten something.”
“There’s a living man at last. Duodun, tell me, what have I forgotten?”
Zhesu addressed Duodun disrespectfully by his direct name, but Duodun did not appear angry. He looked at the new King Rizhu and said, “The Naihang Tribe is not a branch of the Khan’s royal lineage. The Khan was magnanimous enough to confer the title of King Rizhu to the people of the Naihang Tribe, but he didn’t say that this title could be passed down from one generation to another.”
Among the ten titles of “king” in the Norland, only the title of “King Rizhu” was conferred on an outsider. It was indeed against the rules for the Naihang Tribe to appoint a successor of their own accord.
Zhesu had expected that someone would question the decision. With his right hand resting on the shoulder of the pink-white ‘baby,’ he said in an irrefutable tone, “That’s why I’m here. Aren’t there many people who want to be the new Khan? The Naihang Tribe will support the one who acknowledges our King Rizhu first.”
The pink-white ‘baby’ seemed to have memorized many words and hastily poured them out as soon as he had a chance. “The Naihang Tribe has 100,000 soldiers stationed ten miles away. And there are another 100,000 soldiers among Luoluo’s troops. As long as I give the order, they will all immediately return to me.”
Amongst all the tribes of the prairie, the Naihang Tribe had the largest territory and an even larger population. They outnumbered even the populace of the many kings and princes. Both Shulitu and Duodun had sent someone to verify the man’s words. The scouts reported that Zhesu had brought at least 70,000 to 80,000 horsemen this time, which was a powerful force that could not be ignored.
As for Luoluo in the east who had risen to prominence in the border area, his soldiers had come from various sources, but a large number of them were indeed from the Naihang Tribe.
Zhesu and the new King Rizhu, therefore, had nothing to fear. Without any greetings, they had made threats as soon as they entered onto the scene.
Shulitu’s importance had become increasingly marginalized over the past few days, and now, with his head down, he shrank away again, appearing even more cowardly. Duodun seemed to have become the real commander-in-chief of the army, and he needed to stand out and respond to the threats to consolidate his status. So he walked up to Zhesu and said in a conciliatory tone, “General Zhesu, Liman asked me to send his best wishes.”
“Hmm, my son has grown up and can choose his own master. He has already pledged allegiance to you and I have no problem with that. Since we father and son have our own lords to serve, we are already strangers. What’s the point of greeting each other?”
Seeing that Zhesu neither listened to reason nor bowed to force, Duodun felt a bit awkward. “This welcome banquet was especially organized to treat the two of you. We can talk about these matters in private later. I promise that the Naihang Tribe will not lose anything.”
Zhesu sized Duodun up and asked, “So, are you the one who wants to be the next Khan?”
Becoming the Khan was, of course, Duodun’s ultimate goal and ambition, but he had to act cautiously before fully seizing control of the military power. So he turned around and grabbed Shulitu, saying, “Everyone has the right to inherit the throne as long as he’s a descendant of the Khan. In this tent, only we two are qualified.”
Zhesu’s eyes fell on Shulitu. “You are the grandson of King Riying. The old King Riying and my lord were close friends and fought shoulder to shoulder for many years. You will support the Naihang Tribe for sure, won’t you?”
“The strategy of King Riying’s tribe has never changed,” Shulitu replied noncommittally.
Zhesu hummed his assent and seemed satisfied. Then he turned to the pink fat ‘baby’ beside him and said, “This is the little King Riying. He’s our friend. Go ahead.”
King Rizhu strode over, opened his arms, and hugged Shulitu. “From now on, we are brothers till the day we die.”
The Norland people did not care much about seniority. Shulitu could accept the enthusiasm, but couldn’t bear the physique of the other side. His body swayed, and he tried to spread his arms to hug the other side back, but his arms fell short and he could only pat the new King Rizhu’s back and reply, “Brother.”
Duodun looked upon the two coldly and said, “He’s not just King Riying. He already has several…”
“I don’t care about the other titles.” Zhesu interrupted with a wave of his hand. “We only acknowledge King Riying. The Naihang Tribe values loyalty and will not forget the friendship of the last generation. Little King Riying, you also won’t forget, will you?”
“No.” Shulitu said hastily as he finally broke free from the arms of the pink-white ‘baby.’
“If you were the Khan, would you grant the Naihang Tribe the title of King Rizhu?”
The contentious problem had fallen into Shulitu’s hands, who had no choice but to play dumb like a child. With his eyes wide open, he looked at Zhesu blankly as if he did not understand what the other party was saying.
Granting someone who was not a lineal descendant the title of “king” was a very serious matter in the Norland. Even the Khan had to overcome many obstacles to confer the title of King Rizhu onto Chaquelag, who had been required to complete a series of great feats to receive it.
Neither Shulitu nor Duodun dared to publicly promise this. Although they could please the Naihang Tribe by doing so, it would arouse the jealousy and resentment of many of the other tribes.
The tension in the air was palpable. Zhesu fixed his eyes on Shulitu. It seemed that he would not give up unless he received a definite answer.
The purpose of inviting Zhesu here was to deal with Duodun. Shulitu didn’t expect that this reckless general was not going to be easy on anyone.
“I… How could I be the Khan?” Shulitu finally came up with a perfunctory remark.
“I was asking ‘if.’” Zhesu still pushed hard.
Gu Shenwei couldn’t keep silent any longer. He went forward and said, “The Khan told me some of his thoughts about the Naihang Tribe.”
Zhesu abruptly turned his head. Although he believed that the Dragon King didn’t murder the former King Rizhu, he still hadn’t forgiven the Dragon King for his inaction. “You? Why would the Khan have talked to a foreigner about the Naihang Tribe?”
“No one can guess what was on the Khan’s mind. He told me some things about the Naihang Tribe and said a lot. Do you want me to repeat it?”
“I don’t believe what foreigners say.”
“It’s alright. Many people are familiar with the Khan here, but I’ve only seen him once. As long as I repeat what he said, everyone will immediately know if I’m telling the truth or not.”
As a man who looked reckless but was actually very careful, Zhesu could act as recklessly as a robber when it suited him, but also knew when he should make a compromise if necessary. After glancing at the three in front of him, he laughed and said, “Since it was a private chat between you and the Khan, why say it publicly? Damn, I thought I would be treated to a party upon arriving. Come on, bring the wine out. My tongue has become numb from so much talking.”
The storm settled and the banquet began. Soon, everyone had forgotten about the unpleasant incident at the beginning and revelled in drinking. Both Zhesu and the new King Rizhu were unrestrained and frank prairie men who competed in drinking with the crowd. Even though it was only the two of them against everyone else, they didn’t seem to be in a disadvantageous position at all. They still stood quite firm until the end of the party and even pressed everyone to go to the Naihang Tribe’s camp for dinner the next day.
Fang Wenshi also attended the banquet. As soon as the guests took their leave, he and the Dragon King went to meet Shulitu together to discuss countermeasures.
Shulitu was too drunk to sit up, his face bright red. As he laid on the couch, he said, “I’m sorry, I really can’t sit up.”
“Just lie down,” said Fang Wenshi. “Zhesu looked really tough. Dragon King, did the Khan really mention the Naihang Tribe in front of you?”
“Yes. The Khan was worried about the power of the consorts’ side, especially the Naihang Tribe. He hoped that the new Khan would solve this problem.”
Fang Wenshi shook his head and said nothing. But Shulitu, who was lying drunk on the couch, said, “This must be what the Khan would say.”
“How do you know?” Fang Wenshi wouldn’t let any loopholes by. “You only met the Khan when you were little and you don’t know much about him.”
Shulitu struggled to sit up and then said, “My grandfather and father used to meet the Khan a lot. In fact, the Khan’s true thoughts were well-known. It’s just that King Rizhu was too powerful and didn’t commit any blatant crimes, so the Khan didn’t know where to start.”
“Then why the former King Riying was still willing to ally with King Rizhu?”
“It was a gamble. My grandfather couldn’t get the Khan’s position, so he wanted to find a backer for our tribe after the new Khan succeeded the throne.”
“No wonder Zhesu didn’t want the Dragon King to speak. The people of the Naihang Tribe are obviously aware of it.”
“Exactly,” Shulitu said as he nodded. “So I can’t acknowledge the new King Rizhu’s position because people will then say that I betrayed the royal family. Well, Zhesu is really troublesome. Even if the Naihang Tribe wants to succeed the king’s title, they have to perform a meritorious service first. Was I wrong… to invite him here?”
It had been Shulitu’s idea to invite Zhesu, but he was a bit regretful now.
“It’s all right. Your headache is also Duodun’s headache. Since he wants to be in the limelight, let him play upfront then.”
“Hmm. But I’m afraid…” Shulitu looked at the Dragon King with a little drunkenness in his eyes still. He appeared so calm that he didn’t seem like a child at all. “I’m afraid that the morale of the army will be shaken if I retreat any further. The Norland people all admire the strong and none of the soldiers are willing to follow… a person like me. It would be much better if the Dragon King were a member of the royal family.”
“Haha,” Fang Wenshi laughed. All of their problems would be solved if the Dragon King were a descendant of the Khan.
Gu Shenwei wasn’t envious of Shulitu’s identity of being the Khan’s descendant at all. “You must not retreat any further. You have to give Duodun tit for tat at the banquet tomorrow.”
Shulitu gaped and said, “Me? How could I possibly… I can’t even handle the people around him.”
“Nie Zeng will help you deal with Duodun’s underlings.” Gu Shenwei had lent Nie Zeng to Shulitu as a bodyguard. Although the teenager wasn’t a kung fu master yet, he was skilled enough to deal with a few prairie men. “The key is that we cannot let Zhesu think that you have given up the fight for the throne.”
“What if Zhesu forces the young king and Duodun to state their positions again?” As soon as he blurted it out, Fang Wenshi answered the question himself. “Ah, just play drunk. You are a child anyway and you can’t drink much.”
Shulitu thought that this was not a good idea. “I have another way. The key is Duodun. He’s still the biggest problem. No matter how ambitious the Naihang Tribe is, they won’t seize the throne.”
Gu Shenwei had been thinking about it for a long time. Although it had been Shulitu’s idea to invite the Naihang Tribe here and Fang Wenshi had perfected it, they were still lacking something that would force Zhesu to confront Duodun. That was, until he thought of one person.
“I’ll invite the Second Consort here.”
The Second Consort had come from the Naihang Tribe, but was obsessed with Duodun. Gu Shenwei thought that she might be able to stir things up.
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