Fang Wenshi was full of doubts, and didn't even know what to ask.
"The Dragon King left Shangguan Yun in the Land of Fragrance's camp?"
"It's better to have him as a hostage than nothing."
"Why not trade him for Shangguan Ru?"
"It wouldn't work. The Unique King doesn't care about the lives of the Shangguan family, and neither does Zhang Ji. So we can't threaten them with Shangguan Yun."
Fang Wenshi kept tapping his finger on his chest as he contemplated the situation, saying, "This is precisely our problem. First, it's very suspicious that Shangguan Yun would come to the door of his own accord. Second, what's the use of keeping him as a hostage if the Unique King and Zhang Ji don't care about him at all? So that makes it even more suspicious. Third, does the Dragon King … care too much about Shangguan Ru?"
Fang Wenshi carefully raised his third doubt. In his opinion, this was actually the core of all their troubles. If the Dragon King didn't care about her, the Dragon Army would not be affected, no matter whose hands Shangguan Ru fell into.
Gu Shenwei understood what his counselor was trying to say, and he had already thought of an answer, replying, "She's very important as she stabilizes the morale of the Land of Fragrance's army, and since the Land of Fragrance is crucial to the Dragon Army, she thus has to stay alive."
Fang Wenshi had touched upon the taboo topic and withdrawn in time. He didn't want to continue arguing with the Dragon King but in his mind, he still believed in his original view that Shangguan Ru was replaceable. That the Land of Fragrance could accept her meant they could also accept another woman or man as their ruler.
"Anyway, Shangguan Yun's behavior was strange. Does the Dragon King really intend to assassinate King Rizhu?"
"I won't assassinate any nobles of the Norland unless I'm attacked."
"What do we do then? Both King Kuari and King Rizhu want to use the Dragon King to kill each other, and we have to make a choice between the two."
"So before making a choice, I want to meet the Khan and see what he is thinking. The Royal Court is in such a mess and he seems to be ignoring it, unless …"
After spending all these days together, Fang Wenshi was finally able to catch up with the Dragon King's thoughts, and he immediately guessed what he was going to say. "Unless the Khan is already dead?"
Gu Shenwei nodded. This had actually started as a whimsical daydream of his but it had become more and more reasonable as time went by. He had stayed in the Royal Court for some time but he had never seen the Khan himself and had only looked on from far away at the passing carriage.
"Impossible, that's impossible." Fang Wenshi shook his head, and said, "This kind of matter cannot be kept secret. The lords are incompatible as fire and water and any of them can get close to the Khan. It's impossible that they would all keep it a secret after discovering such a thing."
"This is just a guess. Anyway, I must see the Khan right away no matter if he's dead or alive."
Fang Wenshi felt that the Dragon King was acting a little paranoid, so he reminded him, saying, "Has the Dragon King ever considered that Golden Roc Castle is actually waiting for you to meet the Khan in person and throw yourself into the trap? King Kuari is arranging a meeting, and he can complete all the procedures within three days."
"I can't wait. I have to stay ahead of my enemy. Even if it's a trap, I have to trigger it first."
Fang Wenshi looked puzzledly at the Dragon King, wondering what he could possibly gain by being so eager. "Is it because of … Shangguan Ru?"
"No, because this is my principle."
The Dragon King's tone suggested that the topic had already been decided, Fang Wenshi could only agree. He understood that the Dragon King's temperament was such that that no one could persuade him to change his mind once he had committed to an action.
"It isn't easy to handle this morning's warrior contest with King Rizhu's subordinates. Not only does the loser have to give up the treasured horse but he also has to call himself 'bastard.'"
"Has the meeting been arranged?"
Fang Wenshi was also busy last night. He had gone to see King Rizhu on behalf of the Dragon King, hoping to meet with him in private before the tournament.
"It has been arranged. It's in two hours, though the Dragon King can go now."
Gu Shenwei's meeting with King Rizhu was arranged to be a 'chance encounter,' which was witnessed by dozens of Norland officials as well as many more average passersby.
It was in the early morning at the noble district to the west of the Royal Court. The road was crowded with passersby who were going to the suburbs to watch the warrior contest. Yesterday, King Kuari had lost one saber and one sword, but today's loser was going to be humiliated in public, which greatly intrigued the audience.
The entourage of King Rizhu and the Dragon King came from different directions and stirred up a flurry of excitement even before they met. Many people stopped and thought that they would be able to enjoy some foreplay. They knew nothing of the alliances amongst the nobles of the Royal Court and only wanted to see King Rizhu lose his temper.
The meeting on the road was short, and the result was unexpected and a big disappointment to the invested audience.
"The Dragon King is an honored guest of the Norland and also a friend of the Naihang Tribe. We have had some minor misunderstandings before, but all that has been clarified and resolved now. The kung fu competition will be held as usual, but the challenge is canceled. As for calling oneself 'bastard', treat it like I was farting."
King Rizhu canceled the awkward challenge like this, causing catcalls of displeasure and sighs of disappointment to emerge from the crowd.
In order to avoid hindering the passage of the road, the two groups of people proactively stepped aside. The Land of Fragrance's camp was nearby, so King Rizhu was invited to watch the female soldiers perform a shooting exhibition and then stayed behind for a brief private talk with the Dragon King.
For the nobles of the Royal Court, the alliance between King Rizhu and the Dragon King had been an open secret. But it was not until this morning that the whole Royal Court realized that there had been a major change in the division of power between the ten kings. In the past, it was King Dari who had competed with King Kuari but now the former had been replaced with King Rizhu who had remained neutral for many years.
The warriors of King Rizhu set out ahead of time while the Dragon King's warrior, Shangguan Fei, was still sitting in the tent, hoping for a miracle.
He had never been so busy before in his life. He had just removed the seal on his acupoints not long ago after a busy night's work where he didn't even close his eyes, but now he was about to enter the kung fu competition's field under the watchful eyes of the crowd. Although the challenge had been lifted, the Dragon King had still demanded that he win the contest.
"You have to be the champion of the warrior contest." The Dragon King had dropped this command onto his shoulders, regardless of whether he was willing or unwilling, able or unable to carry it out.
Caught in the middle of a crowd of guards and entourage, Shangguan Fei didn't have a chance to express his attitude to the Dragon King. It seemed that the kung fu competition today hadn't been arranged in advance so he wasn't sure he would win. In addition, the after effect of last night's internal energy competition hadn't yet completely disappeared, so he felt like he could only exert half or so of his power.
The Dragon King had given him a pill, though he only held it in his hand and dared not eat it.
Old Man Mu, who had not yet recovered and was lying on the bed next to him, became dispirited again for not being able to torture the old Taoist as he pleased. But his attitude toward Shangguan Fei was much friendlier than before, as he said, "That's a good thing. The disciples of Waning Moon Hall used it to stay awake, filled with life and vigor for several days straight."
"And then what?" Knowing that this was a pill of Waning Moon Hall, Shangguan Fei became more unwilling to eat it.
"Then they take a good rest. Give it to me if you don't want it." Old Man Mu licked his lips. The only thing he missed about Waning Moon Hall was the pills, so sweet and delicious that he could eat them for dinner.
Shangguan Fei handed the pill to Old Man Mu but suddenly retracted his arm and threw the pill in his own mouth. "Whatever, I've already suffered through Qi deviation."
"It's really unreasonable of you to be afraid of killing people in an aboveboard manner."
"I don't have advanced kung fu skills like you, so I might be the one killed."
The guard outside was calling for Shangguan Fei. The Dragon King and King Rizhu were still talking but they had to move out ahead of time as well.
"The Dragon King doesn't even go to the game but still asks me to win," Shangguan Fei complained, full of discontent, especially so today as his savior last night was Shangguan Yun and not the Dragon King, which made him feel bitterly disappointed.
"Are you a toddler?" Old Man Mu said in surprise, before bursting out laughing.
"No, the support I have increases and decreases depending on if the Dragon King is there." Shangguan Fei really had a child's mindset, one that felt that his performance had not been appreciated by his parents.
"Hey, your performance depends on your own kung fu level. It has nothing to do with other's support."
The guard outside called again, forcing Shangguan Fei to stand up as he muttered, "You have better martial arts skills. Of course, you would say so."
"Do you want to learn it?"
Shangguan Fei had gone to the door before turning around upon hearing this, he appeared to be more puzzled than surprised. "You've gotta be kidding me. You must be bored and have nothing else to do."
During his stay at the Land of Fragrance, Shangguan Fei had wholeheartedly wanted to worship Old Man Mu as his Master, hoping to use his power to protect himself. Unfortunately, Shangguan Fei, who had called him 'Master' and 'Grandpa' more than a dozen times, had received nothing in the end.
"Who says I'm free? Even if I wanted to make fun of anyone, it wouldn't be you."
Shangguan Fei didn't have much enthusiasm at the moment. After all, he didn't want to learn kung fu but instead wanted to find a backer in the first place. But Old Man Mu had now lost most of his power, and though he could still be considered a kung fu expert, he was no longer the 'big tree' Shangguan Fei wanted to take shelter under anymore.
"It's hard to quench my thirst with far away water. Let's wait until today's fight is over."
"Idiot, this old man is very capable. Can't I make you master it faster?"
Shangguan Fei was skeptical and said, "There are less than three hours before the kung fu competition starts."
"Go out and tell them to wait a quarter of an hour, I'll make you a top-ranked expert, and even a hundred warriors won't be a match for you."
"How come you …" Shangguan Fei still had a lot of doubt in his mind but he didn't want to waste time, so he ran out of the tent to explain the situation to the guards.
AS he laid in bed, Old Man Mu thought that he was so stupid to not think of Shangguan Fei until now.
Shangguan Fei ran back in high spirits, "Master… Mu."
"Just call me by my name."
"Yes. Old Man Mu, let's get started now."
"No rush. Although this old man has sworn to the good girl to not kill again, I haven't reached the point of becoming a Buddha or saint who would offer free help."
"Heh heh, of course. You want the Daoless Divine Power, don't you? Help me become an expert and defeat the other warriors. No, not tonight. I'll pass it to you after I become the champion of the warrior contest."
Shangguan Fei also knew how to bargain.
Old Man Mu stretched himself out and yawned, "There's no hurry. Besides, I don't want the Daoless Divine Power. Teach me the Three-in-One Power of the Dragon King."
Shangguan Fei scratched his head, revealing a confused expression, "There are hidden dangers in this set of internal energy manual. Even now I have Qi deviation. Do you still want to learn?"
"I have to try it myself and find out what the hidden dangers are in order to help cure you."
Shangguan Fei was overjoyed but immediately became more dubious. Today's Old Man Mu was like a different man, so friendly as if he had an ulterior motive.
Seeing that Shangguan Fei was still puzzled, Old Man Mu could only make it clearer. "Idiot, haven't you realized it? The fist technique you developed after mastering the Three-in-One Power is a heaven-made match with my Five Hole Punch. Once we master them all, who would be a match for you or me?"
Thinking of the heart-rending fist technique, Shangguan Fei's heart trembled and he couldn't decide whether he really wanted to learn it or not.
Outside, several tents away, Gu Shenwei was also beating around the bush as he talked with King Rizhui, hoping to find evidence about whether the Khan was dead or alive.