The death of Ah Shina was the biggest secret of Yaocheng then. Save for Meng Fuyao and few others, only the Rong army that had assassinated Ah Shina knew.
Hence, Meng Fuyao did the roll call by herself, as how Ah Shina would. If Si Lei was really aware that Ah Shina had died, he certainly would havve suspected that the mayor's planned gathering was an ambush and refused it. In the end, his reaction had confirmed Meng Fuyao's suspicion.
Once she was certain of the issue, Meng Fuyao hesitated no further. With a drink, she had sent him on his way.
Yuan Zhaoxu smiled as he watched Meng Fuyao kill someone so suddenly. His eyes revealed that he was in deep thoughts; as if he had recalled something from the past, a look of astonishment faintly displayed itself on his face. Following which, he lightly tapped his fingertips to send out a secret signal.
The secret guard who was always by his side was ordered to be stationed at Si Lei's residence.
Si Lei's blood slowly spread on the floor, and the Rong leaders gradually recovered from a state of shock. Some were evidently angered, and as they were about to say something, Meng Fuyao abruptly and smilingly raised her wine cup once more.
"Everybody," Meng Fuyao started without even glancing at the corpse. "I have good news to share. A few days ago, I made a report to the imperial court. The Rong leaders in Yaocheng have been diligently governing and exercising control over the people all these years, which is considered a great contribution to our city. Therefore, the imperial court has specially made concessions, in which a portion of the agricultural tax paid by the citizens would be given as a 'governance prize' for the leaders. From today onwards, the leaders can follow the imperial court order - collect the taxes and keep a portion to yourselves... Oh, about Si Lei's portion... please discuss among yourselves as to how to you can split it up. I believe I will be given a satisfactory answer."
Again, a boisterous discussion broke out. However, this time around, it wasn't an uproar but a whirl of pleasant surprises. Yaocheng was a small town situated along the border, where the Rong and Han people farmed together. The Rong people were living in the mountains and fields were no longer leading a hunter's lifestyle. As a result, the leaders were also unable to enjoy the spoils-of-war. Most got by averagely, so now that there was this "governance prize", it meant that the imperial court had given them the power to collect taxes from their own ethnicity. What's more, they would be given a share of that belonging to Si Lei, the person who held the most power.
Those unhappy faces immediately lit up. In a split second, they were brimming with excitement and eagerness. The new mayor of Yaocheng, Meng Fuyao, who first presented the rod and then the sweets, quietly observed, somewhat mockingly.
Benefits led to fights. History had proven that galloping and vying for supremacy were ultimately all for benefits. Currently, the seven leaders were residing in a city that had no proper differentiation between the ethnic groups, and they had been mutually sharing power. Now that Si Lei's share was available, she had deliberately left it unassigned...
'You can fight! Fight and destroy yourselves. I'll have less to care about!'
Meng Fuyao sat on the high platform specially used for celebration. She overlooked the crowd below and felt good about herself.
She felt a little tipsy again, but nothing could be done about it. Meng Fuyao liked to drink and enjoyed being intoxicated. If she came across wine, she had to drink, and when she drank, she had to get drunk.
However, she wasn't dead drunk that night and was still aware of her status and mission. There was going to be an archery and horse-riding competition, and she wanted to pair the most outstanding lad with the most beautiful lady.
When Mayor 'Ah Shina' was around, Yao Xun had already brought him out to meet the people. Because he had "suddenly fallen ill and been demoted", and was not at his best condition, Meng Fuyao politely and modestly received him and staged a show where the duo pretended to share an amicable and harmonious relationship.
While acting, she inwardly praised a certain Mister Yuan, who had created an absolutely believable human mask. It was a pity that he wasn't that genuine a person.
The "former mayor" appeared waned and bleary-eyed but the six leaders were busily digesting the good news and plotting the next steps to secure their own benefits. No one had noticed the people on stage, and that was how Meng Fuyao smuggled her way through with the lie.
Meng Fuyao felt good about herself and her luck. Yuan Zhaoxu was indeed a handyman who had appeared at her doorstep. She squinted her eyes and looked at him while shifting her bottom outward, bit by bit.
Yuan Zhaoxu leaned on his chair lazily, looked at her with much interest and called out, "Mayor."
Meng Fuyao's brows raised in delight while looking at him. "Sir Yuan."
"Why do I have a feeling that you are intentionally avoiding me?" Yuan Zhaoxu spoke extremely slowly but got straight to the point. Without even looking at Meng Fuyao's expression he questioned, "Did you have a change of heart?"
"Eh..." Meng Fuyao was at a loss for words and was momentarily feeling conflicted by his question. After a long thought, she answered firmly," You are right. I've met a few good men recently and have been thinking of marriage."
"Oh?" There is no telling from the facial expression of Yuan Zhaoxu. He leaned closer to look at her. Her eyelashes were like feathers, almost sweeping the light off her bright and clean cheeks. "Who? Zhan Beiye? Zong Yue? Yun Hen?"
Meng Fuyao stared at him. 'Can you be less creepy? Is there anything that you don't already know? It makes sense for you to know about the first two but what about the last one? How did you find out about this adopted son of an aristocratic family in Taiyuan?'
However, that wasn't the crucial issue. The main problem was that she didn't know how to answer that question.
"Yes..." Meng Fuyao turned and, with amorous feelings, smiled at Yuan Zhaoxu, "These three don't seem bad, and I'm struggling to choose between them. What do you think, Sir Yuan?"
"They are not bad." Yuan Zhaoxu looked into her eyes without blinking. "One is a brave and noble fighter from a heroic generation, and the other, a physician, would suit you, a lady who has a lot of shortcomings. The young fellow from the Yun family is a little complicated, but he treats you quite well. In short, they are all good."
Meng Fuyao lifted her eyes to look at him and couldn't understand the deep, mysterious expression in his eyes. She wanted to open her mouth to speak, but felt an astringent taste in her throat, which entered her mouth. It was bitterer than the wine she had tasted earlier.
Yet, she smiled even wider than before. She boldly approached Yuan Zhaoxu and affectionately hit his arm. "Can't tell, but you do actually plan quite a bit for me, huh?"
"If your heart isn't with me, what's the point of pleading?" Yuan Zhaoxu asked, calmly drinking his tea. "I have crossed half of Wuji Nation and rushed from Zhongzhou to Yaocheng, only to receive those few sentences from you, what else can I do but to give up?"
Meng Fuyao was speechless, her eyes as open as a dead fish. 'Is he... is he angry?'
She was stumped for words, and Yuan Zhaoxu remained silent as well. The atmosphere turned stiff and almost suffocating.
Yuan Zhaoxu lightly tapped his fingers on the armrest, its rhythm sounding like a song. He raised his head slightly to gaze at the gold and yellow-tinted clouds flitting across the horizon, thinking back to many, many years ago where he had played that exact tune. He had only played it once in his entire life and hadn't imagined at that point that he would get to perform it once more for others.
He smiled briefly, but the expression in his eyes cooled down gradually. His hardened look had blossomed into something faintly chilly.
Again, that expression made Meng Fuyao feel a little guilty. She turned her head in embarrassment. Unexpectedly, she heard a cheer from below and immediately saw a figure on a horse that made a detour before galloping away, fast as lightning. The horseman was holding a bow and shooting arrows, and incessantly executing different tricks: straight shot, lateral shot, inverted shot, lying across the horse's belly shot, jumping onto the horse's head to shoot. Numerous tricks and skillful techniques had been engaged from different angles, but every arrow hit the bull's eye without fail, evoking cheers from the dumbstruck audience.
After all, 10 arrows were shot, the horseman proudly halt on the horse. He turned his head — his facial features were filled with heroic spirit and his physique was tall and sturdy. He was a strong, ferocious young man. He raised the bow in his hand and flashed past Meng Fuyao abruptly.
Thinking that he was paying his respects, Meng Fuyao smilingly waved her hands to accept it.
He raised his hands again.
Again, Meng Fuyao waved her hands, but slightly strangely this time around. 'Isn't he being a little too enthusiastic? Why that look in his eyes?'
That young man raised his eyebrows, snorted loudly, raised up the bow in his hand and waved energetically at Meng Fuyao for the third time.
Meng Fuyao raised her hands halfway and felt something amiss... 'This doesn't seem like a greeting...'
Yuan Zhaoxu, who was by her side, explained casually, "It is the Rongsmen's way of issuing a challenge."
Meng Fuyao glared at Yuan Zhaoxu before standing up and commenting angrily, "Damn, how dares this stupid watermelon come challenge me?"
She strode off the stage. Not taking a single look at that young man who was full of arrogance, she went straight to the center of the public square, immediately stirring the excitement of the citizen.
That young man, Tie Cheng, was acknowledged as the best archer in Yaocheng and purportedly, no rival had been able to beat him. He was deeply respected by the Rong people, who at that moment were staring at Meng Fuyao with disdain.
'Such a scrawny novice. Becoming a mayor through connections within the imperial court, and then overestimating his own capabilities. How dare he accept the challenge of our godly archer!?'
Excited to see how this novice was about to be humiliated in front of their godly archer, the Rong people attempted to squeeze their way to the front. They wouldn't want to miss the chance to mock her firsthand.
Tie Cheng gazed at Meng Fuyao, not attempting to conceal his interest and contempt at all. With a loud voice, he said, "With all respect to you, Mayor, I, Tie Cheng have never lost once in this festival. If you allow me to lose once, I will offer my life and soul to you for the rest of my life!"
'Blah, blah, blah.. Who cares about your life and soul!' Meng Fuyao ignored his words and entered the crowd without hesitation.
Yuan Zhaoxu, who was still on the stage, leaned over to look and waved his hand. Right away, a few men who wore ordinary clothes blended into the crowd, ready to protect her at all times.
With large strides, Meng Fuyao approached that young man. Not saying anything further, she snatched the bow in his hands, and with the last arrow in his quiver, she nocked that arrow. Standing firm to the ground, with the right techniques, she took aim.
Someone sniggered immediately. Tie Cheng could shoot the arrows while moving. Shooting on the move was a hundred times harder than shooting from a fixed spot. This weakling had already lost in this aspect.
Meng Fuyao pretended not to notice it but felt a little melancholic and jittery. Her nervousness seemed to have transformed into a sharp arrow that was blocking her chest and suffocating her. She laughed grimly while slowly pulling the bow. Amid the jeering, she took aim.
Within her line of vision, the iron arrowhead projected a straight line, toward the infinitesimal bull's eye that was instantly being magnified. The tunnel vision allowed Meng Fuyao to fix her eyes on the target, but her mental concentration was gradually dispersing.