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Read A Step into the Past Vol 14 Chapter 7

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Book 14 Chapter 07 – Exchanging Pointers On The Duelling Ground

Four young lads were riding handsome horses and entered the a.s.sembly ground from the east. When they arrived at the centre of the grounds, they picked up speed and strung an arrow to their bow at the same time. It was a neat formation and the crowd of ten thousand people is cheering for them. Just as everyone expected them to shoot their arrows at the target boards, the four men actually flipped upside down and fire their arrows while they were positioned under the horses’ belly. Zng! All the four arrows managed to hit the centre ring of the target board while one arrow nearly hit the bull’s eye. While the arrows are still quivering on the target board, the four men have flipped back onto their saddles and rode across the grandstand, saluting Xiao Pan and Zhu Ji. The crowd burst out into loud cheering and applause.

Most of the crowd were seated on the slope between the a.s.sembly ground and the royal tents. As they are looking down from a higher place, they actually enjoy a better view compared to those at the stands.

After the four riders have left, everyone was still fascinated by their amazing performance. Since no one is confident of performing a better show, the stage was unoccupied for the time being.

Xiao Pan stood up from his grandstand and threw four arrows down to the four riders.

The four men are mad with glee. They leapt down the horse and picked up the arrows. They proceeded up the grandstand to receive their rewards from Xiao Pan.

Xiang Shaolong, his three wives, two maids, Teng Yi, Qin Qing and the Eighteen Guardians were seated on the slope and watching the activities from afar. They are finally beginning to understand the importance of this hunting fair to the people of Qin.

It is equivalent to the Olympic Games of the modern world.

Every ambitious man will use these three days to showcase his talent so as to win military promotions and gain the favour of the royal family as well as the various high ranking officials.

The really capable ones will even win the affection of girls from prestigious families like Ying Ying and Lu Dan’er. They will stand to benefit in their love life and career paths.

The annual hunting fair is a highlight of Qin. But not everyone is eligible to partic.i.p.ate. Except for the royal family and families of high ranking officials, other partic.i.p.ants must go through a selection by their various departments before they can take part in the hunting fair.

Among his three wives, Wu Tingfang is the most boisterous. She clapped and shouted nonstop at the performances.

Xiang Shaolong was about to say something to Teng Yi when he noticed his brows furrowed. Curious, he implored: “Is something bothering Second Brother?”

Teng Yi composed himself and replied in a deep voice: “I was just wondering – Lu Buwei has such a confident demeanour; isn’t he concerned that Lu Gong, Xu Xian and you might summon the Qin army to annihilate him? Although he is protected by first rate fighters, they are only numbering around one hundred. Even with a few more Guan Zhongxie, he is considered careless about his personal security.”

Xiang Shaolong guessed: “I think he is sure that I cannot manipulate the palace guards to attack him. Moreover, the Crown Prince will protect him as the new Premier Mentor and he knew that we will not act hastily.”

Teng Yi shook his head: “This is unlike Mo Ao’s usual methods. From the start, they have always been one step ahead of us while we are struggling to defend ourselves from them. In such a crucial juncture, it is less likely that they will be neglectful.”

Xiang Shaolong agreed that his words make sense and began to think deeply too.

Teng Yi stared at the grandstand opposite them where Zhu Ji and Lu Buwei are sitting and shifted his gaze to Prince Dan and Tian Dan beside them. He mused: “It is such a grand occasion. Why is Tian Dan’s favourite general Dan Chu absent?”

Xiang Shaolong gestured Wu Yan Zhu and Wu Shu to his side and instructed them to spy on the Qi people, smiling: “It is no use thinking about it. Let’s spy on them and see what is going on.”

On his other side, Wu Tingfang elbowed him: “That’s great! Hubby! Look! It is Little Jun!”

Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi were rejuvenated and looked down to the a.s.sembly ground.

Under Jing Jun’s leadership, a few hundred cavalry soldiers rode out. Half of them are from the Wu Family Elite army. Everyone has a lance in their right hand and a shield in their left hand. Using only their legs to control their horses, they performed a variety of stunts and poses.

Jing Jun is even more imposing. Barking command after command, he directed his men with utmost confidence, evoking loud cheers and whistles from the crowd.

The female warriors were squeezed on one side of the crowd and they acted as Jing Jun’s cheerleaders under the leadership of Ying Ying and Lu Dan’er.

On the grandstand, Lu Gong and the other military leaders nodded their heads in acknowledgement and praise. Once in a while, they will pa.s.s favourable comments.

In these warring times, only a well-trained army can gain their attention.

Zhao Zhi happily cried: “Little Jun is really something!”

Suddenly, the soldiers split into two groups and carried out a mock attack on each other. As the horses brush past each other, sounds of weapons clashing can be heard. After a few exciting demonstrations, everyone in the crowd has shouted until their voices were hoa.r.s.e.

After the final clash, both groups combined into one group and face the grandstand resolutely. At the head of the group is Jing Jun armed with a shield and a lance. He first stood up on his saddle and executed a somersault over the horse’s head. While in mid air, his shield was moving rapidly to protect his body while he pierced his lance several times at an invisible enemy. When he finally landed, he kneeled down in a swift motion and paid his respects to Xiao Pan. It was a fluid movement altogether and there was no sign of breathlessness from him.

The crowd exploded into their biggest cheers and applause since the beginning of the night performances. Even the cold Qin Qing could not hold back and cheered for Jing Jun too.

Xiao Pan saw that he is Xiang Shaolong’s sworn brother and is highly-skilled at the same time. Delighted, he actually jumped up, withdrew his personal sword and threw it down to the ground.

Jing Jun picked up his sword joyfully and howled another command. The cavalry troops marched neatly out of the a.s.sembly ground while he himself ascended the grandstand to claim his reward.

Xiang Shaolong could see that the crowd is still high after Jing Jun’s performance. He turned his head to Ji Yanran and suggested: “If Talented Lady Ji will perform her incredible spear technique, I guarantee that the crowd will cheer loudly for you.”

Ji Yanran and Qin Qing looked at him at the same time. With two of the world’s most beautiful faces looking at him simultaneously, Xiang Shaolong was aroused.

Ji Yanran batted her eyes at him: “Yanran only needs Hubby’s love and not the crowd’s cheering.”

Xiang Shaolong shifted his gaze to Qin Qing. She shot him a look and turned her face back to face the a.s.sembly ground.

After a few performances by the Palace Infantry and the Palace Cavalry, Ying Ying’s female warriors took to the stage.

They may not be as well trained as Jing Jun’s cavalry army but the two hundred young girls have their fair share of horse riding and archery experiences. Viewing their performance is also one of life’s pleasures.

Among the crowd, the girls are clapping non-stop and the guys are even more generous with their cheering. Naturally, the cheering is even louder than the cheering for Jing Jun.

A gong was sounded.

Lu Gong stood up and paid his respects to Empress and Crown Prince. He proceeded to announce the main event of tonight – the Sword Duel.

As the crowd became serious, he solemnly barked: “Whoever can win three consecutive fights will be rewarded with ten taels of gold from the Crown Prince. You may even win a promotion. Gentlemen, show us what you are made of!”

Under thunderous applause, two men scrambled out.

Lord Changping and several palace guards stepped forward and helped both men put their armour on and each man is given a wooden sword.

After the two men bowed to each other, they began fighting. Within three strokes, one of the men was. .h.i.t by his opponent.

A gong was sounded and Xu Xian the referee announced the winner.

After ten over fights, only a young man named Huan Qi managed to win three consecutive fights and he earned loud cheers from the crowd.

Xiang Shaolong is trying to locate Guan Zhongxie among the crowd. To Teng Yi, he checked: “Will Second Brother enter the fight later to test Guan Zhongxie’s skills?”

Teng Yi smiled: “Why not?”

Both men exchanged a smile as another man entered the duelling ground. It is Lao Ai.

There are not many people who recognized him but they were impressed with his st.u.r.dy built, imposing air and alert expression. It was only until he announced his position and name did everyone realised that he is the Empress’s pet Inner Custodian Lao Ai.

In this instant, another man entered the duelling ground. Everyone is surprised at the challenger. Apparently, it is the expert swordsman Lu Chan. This man is one of the best fighters from Lu Buwei’s group after Guan Zhongxie.

Teng Yi observed: “This will be spectacular. Lu Buwei is purposely out to ruin his reputation and put him down.”

Xiang Shaolong focused on the grandstand and noticed the concerned expressions of Xiao Pan, Zhu Ji, Lu Gong, Xu Xian, etc. He was glad that Lu Buwei is now officially opposing Lao Ai. If not for the body armour, Lu Buwei would have instructed Lu Chan to injure Lao Ai’s groin and destroy his usefulness to Zhu Ji.

Lu Chan has a rigid face, a fierce demeanour and is dark-skinned. Whoever sees him would be frightened by his appearance. After they have put on their armour, both men circled the a.s.sembly ground once and are viewing each other with caution.

Ji Yanran sighed: “Lu Buwei is familiar with Lao Ai’s strengths and weaknesses. Since he sent Lu Chan, he must have a high chance of winning.”

Xiang Shaolong saw the Lu Chan is expressionless and hard to fathom. He nodded: “This man’s strength should lie in forceful attacks. Lu Buwei must have wanted him to attack Lao Ai relentlessly and make Lao Ai lose face in front of everyone. This will lower Lao Ai’s standing in the eyes of Zhu Ji and the people of Qin.”

Before he can even finish speaking, Lu Chan roared and attacked Lao Ai.

Qin Qing praised: “Official Xiang is truly a genius to make such accurate predictions.” No one spoke out anymore as everyone is fixated on the intense fighting.

Sounds of the wooden sword swishing through the air filled everyone’s ears. Everyone held their breaths as they witnessed the most intensive fight since the beginning of the duels.

Lao Ai may realise that his arm strength is not as good as Lu Chan or he is out to waste Lu Chan’s energy. He did his best to avoid his blows and did not meet his attacks head on.

Until Lu Chan’s fourth stroke brushed past his head did Lao Ai roar loudly and deflected his blows. He focused on defending and deflecting his blows rather than attacking him.

Lu Chan’s killing aura grew and he changed his sword styles, attacking Lao Ai mercilessly.

Lao Ai changed his sword styles too and defended himself well. He deflected his blows and retreated at the same time. After circling the a.s.sembly ground a few rounds, their steps were still firm and did not show any signs of exhaustion.

It is truly different when expert swordsmen fight.

Ying Ying’s female warriors are impressed with Lao Ai’s handsome looks and began cheering for him. Whenever he executed a skilful defensive stroke, they will cheer wildly for him. Teng Yi sighed: “Lu Chan has been tricked!”

Xiang Shaolong knew what he meant. Lu Chan and Lao Ai’s swords skills are about the same level. Lu Chan has superior arm strength while Lao Ai is more agile. From the ongoing battle, it appears that Lao Ai is gaining the upper hand while Lu Chan is losing his energy very quickly. When he is exhausted, it will be Lao Ai’s opportunity to defeat him.

Zhao Zhi was astonished: “Why didn’t Lu Buwei send Guan Zhongxie?”

Xiang Shaolong looked over to her and noticed the Tian sisters nervously keeping their eyes closed as they were too afraid to watch the fighting. He cannot hold back but smiled: “Sending Guan Zhongxie will be the final straw.”

Lu Chan is anxious to win and increased the intensity of the fight. Everyone is taken aback by his ferocity and their eyes followed his movements. Sounds of heavy clashing of the wooden swords filled the air.

Lao Ai suddenly stopped retreating and yelled madly. Like an angry dragon rising from the sea, his sword sliced forward and with a loud ‘Pak!’ he actually forced Lu Chan to retreat half a step. He continued with a flurry of attacks that sent Lu Chan into a defending position. Loud cheers and whistles were heard from the crowd.

Teng Yi shook his head and sighed: “There are so many advantages if you are handsome.”

Lao Ai’s attacks became more and more fearsome and his sword is almost everywhere, forcing Lu Chan to take several steps back. But Lu Chan has high endurance. Despite being at a disadvantage, he did not panic and everyone is also impressed with his resilience.

Out of the blue, Lao Ai ceased his attacks and took a few steps back. He bowed: “Brother Lu is highly-skilled. I cannot hope to defeat you.”

The entire crowd quietened down.

Lu Chan was stunned for a while before he returned his greetings. Both men then paid their respects to the grandstand.

Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi glanced at each other. They did not expect Lao Ai to end this beautifully. He gave face to Lu Buwei and at the same time, he retreated when he was gaining the upper hand. Otherwise, if Guan Zhongxie challenges him in the next round, he will be in deep 5.h.i.t.

Xu Xian decided that it is a draw and rewarded each man with five taels of gold. The crowd was slightly disappointed.

Fortunately, the next fighters were all experts from the cavalry army and the palace guards. After several battles, the last fighter is Great General w.a.n.g He’s a.s.sistant General Bai Chong who has beaten two challengers. If he can win one more round, he will win the ten taels of gold.

Xiang Shaolong felt that the present fighters are all men from prestigious backgrounds, causing all his cavalry soldiers to hold back from partic.i.p.ating. He commented to Teng Yi: “Guan Zhongxie should be fighting soon!” Teng Yi reminded: “Not so fast! There is still Zhou Zihen!”

Before his sentence ended, a short and stout Zhou Zihen stepped out of the crowd and entered the duelling ground.

Everyone witnessed Bai Chong’s double victory and guessed that he will too defeat this nameless man. Energized by this thought, they cheered even louder and the atmosphere is electrifying.

As everyone watched on, Zhou Zihen lifted the wooden sword and tested its weight. Abruptly, he brandished a dagger and swiftly sliced downwards. The end of the long sword was severed off, leaving only one and a half feet of sword length.

Everyone was blown away by his way of shortening his sword. Moreover, he used a small dagger to sever the heavy wooden sword in one blow and it takes a very sharp dagger to achieve that. Everyone was flabbergasted.

Zhou Zihen begged Xiao Pan’s pardon: “Please forgive me as I am used to using short swords.” Xiao Pan’s interest was piqued and he gestured his approval.

Bai Chong has a suspicious look on his face as he brandished his sword and awaited his attack. With a serious expression, he was ready to counterattack anytime.

In his heart, Xiang Shaolong deemed him to be a coward.

There is a saying: An inch shorter is an inch of danger. If Zhou Zihen is using such a short sword, his sword skills would be unorthodox and hard to defend against.

With only these two fighters, Lu Buwei is already instilling fear in others. Moreover, he still has Guan Zhongxie the champion swordsman.

Zhou Zihen snorted and moved forward at lightning speed. His wooden sword has morphed into a flurry of quick sword stances and his sword seemed to be everywhere. Clashing head on with Bai Chong, this is the first time anyone has seen such a queer move.

Bai Chong was stunned and roared. He took half a step back before sweeping his sword horizontally across.

Du! Zhou Zihen’s short sword parried away Bai Chong’s long sword while his entire body crashed squarely into Bai Chong’s chest.

Bai Chong was taken by surprise and suffered a heavy blow to his chest. He lost his grip on his long sword and he fell down in a sitting position.

n.o.body expected Bai Chong to lose in one blow and everyone forgot to cheer.

w.a.n.g He and Bai Chong were disgraced while Lu Gong and the other generals were embarra.s.sed. It was an awkward moment.

Finally, Lu Buwei took the lead in clapping and cheering for Zhou Zihen.

Like a dishonoured man, Bai Chong stood up and walked away.

Xiang Shaolong sucked in some cold air. He deduced that Zhou Zihen is someone well-versed in fighting at close proximity and he may have a hard time fighting him himself.

The atmosphere was tensed as Zhou Zihen proudly stood at the centre of the duelling ground, awaiting the next challenger. After some time, there were still no takers. Xiang Shaolong caught sight of Lu Buwei talking to Zhu Ji and he must have been bragging about his skilful subordinate. He had a brainwave and inquired: “Where is Little Jun?”

Teng Yi had the same inspiration that only Jing Jun’s agility can counter Zhou Zihen and groaned: “I do not know where he has sneaked off to. Without our consent, he dared not fight.”

At this time, Xu Xian announced from the grandstand: “If there are no more challengers, we will a.s.sume that Zhou Zihen from Premier Lu Residence has won three consecutive fights.”

The crowd became so quiet you can hear a pin drop.

Xiang Shaolong sighed to himself. If Zhou Zihen ‘won three consecutive fights’, the military would lose face as they cannot even defeat someone from Lu Buwei’s forces.

At the instant, someone shouted: “Where is Commander Xiang?” The moment the shout ended, the crowd of ten thousand people were chanting his name.

Ever since his duel with w.a.n.g Jian, he has been the number one swordsman in the eyes of the people of Qin. Moreover, he is a ‘Qin native’. With this outsider arrogantly waiting for a challenger, everyone naturally hope that he will take the stand and regain some glory.

Cries of ‘Xiang Shaolong’ filled the mountains and valleys.

Xiang Shaolong saw that everyone around him was now staring at him. He was agonized. Even without his leg injury, it will be a difficult task to overcome Zhou Zihen. Now that his movement is limited, what should he do?

———-

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