"Thank you, Father!" Zhao Che replied, kowtowing heavily on the ground.
The lords and officials, seeing the situation, simultaneously applauded Zhao Che's bravery.
Yan Xun sat below and continued to sip his tea, not uttering a single word. His eyes slowly squinted.
"The Seventh Brother is brave. He defended the borders of the Xia Empire all these years. He is indeed a rare talent. With the Seventh Brother stationed in the northern border, there is no cause for worry." The Third Prince, Zhao Qi, nodded slowly. He had a natural expression, devoid of any jealousy or frustration. Regardless of his intentions, it was befitting of his status as a royal.
After Zhao Che thanked him, he retreated along with his subordinates. The mood slowly came back to life. The various warlords belonging to different clans started to showcase their prowess in martial arts through horse duels, archery, and sword fights. Mouth-watering delicacies, mostly barbecued meat from wild animals, were served. They were fragrant and tempting.
The Ba Tu Ha family, from the northwestern region, came from afar to grace the occasion. Amongst the people present, other than a few uncles not biologically related to the family's lineage, there were only Zhalu and Zhama. Just then, Zhalu had led the warriors in his clan in showcasing certain wrestling moves infused with the style of the northwestern people, earning the adulation of the crowd. Zhama led a group of young ladies with desirable figures in performing exquisite horsemanship. Although their moves were not outstanding, it was inevitable that a crowd of pretty young ladies would win huge amounts of praise.
The Xia Emperor was in a joyous mood, bestowing the ladies with 20 layers of silk from Huai Song. This evoked yet another thunderous reaction from the crowd.
Zhama thanked the Xia Emperor with a smile. She got up and said, "Your Majesty, I feel that it's meaningless to keep on performing. In the northwest, martial arts duels are allowed during banquets. As this is my first time coming to Zhen Huang, may I request Your Majesty to grant me the permission to issue a challenge to a certain someone?"
As she was still a young lady of about 16 or 17 years old, she sounded naive as she spoke, inducing subconscious spurts of laughter within the crowd.
The Xia Emperor, seated above, appeared perplexed. However, he questioned with a tinge of pleasure, "In this case, who are you planning to challenge?"
"I've long heard that the maidservant under the Prince of Yan Bei is very skilled. However, I have not had a chance to see it for myself. How about we have a duel, as everyone is in a good mood today?"
As she finished her sentence, all eyes fixated on Yan Xun in the back of the tent. Those who knew about the battle naturally knew about the entire sequence of events. For those who did not, they thought that Zhama was intentionally trying to start a conflict. After all, the Ba Tu Ha and Yan Bei lineages had been adversaries for the longest time. Duels like this between the two families were frequent even before Yan Shicheng's demise.
Before the Xia Emperor had spoken, Yan Xun stood up and remarked, "She's still young. She only knows a bit of martial arts. She does not dare to embarrass herself in front of Your Majesty. Princess Zhama is skilled and adept in horsemanship, please do not make things difficult." He was wearing a white robe embroidered with flowery patterns. He had the air of a prince with his jet-black hair and fair complexion.
"Prince Yan, deception is a capital offence. Moreover, Princess Zhama is also 16 years old. Given her status as a princess, it would be an honor for the maidservant to be able to spar with her. You giving excuses like that, isn't that akin to not appreciating others' good intentions?" From the fourth table of the front row, a young man beside Wei Jing interrupted the ongoing conversation. This person's name was Wei Qingchi. He was a figure that had recently rose to prominence in the side family of the Wei clan. He was eloquent and did not fumble his words. Yan Xun had crossed paths with him at a few banquets. However, he did not expect him to openly oppose him today.
"Qingchi is right." Wei Jing laughed and added, "Prince Yan, a gentleman must oblige. It is rare that a princess from the Northwestern Plains has such interest. In this case, you might as well grant her request, lest Old General Batu accuses the royals of Zhen Huang of bullying his daughter in future." As he spoke, others agreed.
The Xia Emperor looked at Zhama and said, "Please go ahead and do as you wish."
Yan Xun frowned. As he was about to retort, Chu Qiao suddenly stood up from behind, tugged at Yan Xun's sleeve and nodded silently. Yan Xun looked solemn, but he knew that he did not have a choice today. If he continued to plead his case, he could be subject to attacks from others. From under his sleeve, he held Chu Qiao's hand tightly. He remarked softly, "Be careful."
Taking off her long outer robe, Chu Qiao walked to the center of the arena. Bowing towards the north, she turned her head and said to Princess Zhama, "In this case, please pardon me."
Everyone's eyes fixated on this young lady at this instant.
Seven years ago, the eight year old Chu Qiao and Yan Xun were in the same boat. They broke three of Wei Jing's fingers on Jiu Wai Street and made their escape from Zhen Huang, using him as a hostage. Thereafter, they engaged in combat with guards in front of Jiu You Platform and narrowly escaped. These memories were still freshly etched in the minds of these people.
An eight year old child had demonstrated such bravery and capability at that time. Seven years later, what kind of capability did she possess? Even though she was only a lowly maidservant, she represented the entire lineage of Yan Bei.
Everyone in the Xia Empire knew that even though the lineage of the royal Yan family had ended with the death of Yan Shicheng seven years ago, minor officials continued to govern the empire. The Yan lineage was still widely despised in the Northwestern Plains. Due to the continued intervention of the Quan Rong clan, the Xia Empire was unable to eradicate Yan Bei. This was the main reason that the Xia Emperor did not dare to eliminate Yan Xun all this time. In addition, behind the scenes, there was a mysterious force providing support to Yan Bei economically. Without complete confidence in uprooting Yan Bei totally, Yan Xun was still recognized as the Master of Yan Bei.
The winds from outside the tent blew onto the young lady's light green sleeves. Chu Qiao, with her black brows, jet-black hair, and a frail-looking complexion, was not the most alluring person. However, the calmness and decisiveness she exuded were enough to command the respect of any man.
This was the first time Chu Qiao stood in front of everyone in the royal chamber of the Xia Empire. As a maidservant, she accepted the challenge of Princess Zhama, probably the most prominent figure in the northwest.
Zhama looked at the young lady who had just embarrassed her earlier on. She smiled coldly and said in an arrogant manner, "I have not recovered since performing my horsemanship techniques earlier on. This is an unfair challenge. How about this? I will ask my servant to spar with you first on my behalf. If you defeat him, I'll spar with you."
The crowd was surprised to hear these words. Zhao Song could not tolerate it anymore. Ignoring Zhao Qi's frown, he stood up and said, "Father, this is unfair. "Princess Zhama is of high status. Sparring with a maidservant is beneath her in the first place. Moreover, she has just finished her performance."
"Thirteenth Prince, it's only a maidservant, there's nothing unfair about it," Zhao Zhong Yan laughed and remarked nonchalantly.
Wei Jing smiled and looked at Chu Qiao with evil in his eyes. "The Young Prince is absolutely right. It's only a maidservant, this is just for pure entertainment."
"All of you…"
"Thirteenth Brother!" Zhao Qi hollered, "Sit down."
Seeing that the Xia Emperor did not object, Zhama turned back and spoke to one of her well-built servants sitting in the back. "Tu Da, you go and entertain this young lady."
As the big man stood up, everyone exclaimed in surprise. This man was well-built and stood over seven feet tall. He had fierce, big eyes, and he was muscular. Chu Qiao seemed insignificant when she stood next to him.
Everyone instantly understood Princess Zhama's intentions. This was not a sparring contest but premeditated murder. However, no one raised any concerns; after all, in their eyes, it was just like Wei Jing described: it was just a maidservant, this was just for pure entertainment.
Chu Qiao looked up and stared at Tu Da calmly. She knew that as she fought, Yan Bei's reputation was at stake. This was the first time in many years that Yan Xun had appeared in front of the Empire's officials. If she lost, it would cripple Yan Bei's morale. The unconditional loyalty of Yan Bei's soldiers was the basis as to why Yan Xun was alive and well today.
She took a deep breath, walked out of the imperial tent, and made her way towards the center of the stage. She walked to the weapon rack at the side and picked up a spear. She held it in her hands, felt its weight a few times, turned back and asked, "What weapon are you using?"
Tu Da clenched his fists and knocked them together a few times, producing a deafening sound. He remarked arrogantly, "My fists are my weapons."
"Be careful, weapons have no eyes after all."
A gust of wind suddenly blew towards Chu Qiao's direction. Tu Da let out a booming roar just like a thunder strike!
The young lady took a few steps back. As she stepped away from where she was standing, a giant fist slammed into the ground, drilling a big hole in it. The snow scattered from the impact, forming a layer of mist.
Cries of surprise echoed from the crowd. The strength that this man used signalled his intent to kill the young lady. Many young and middle-aged ladies, seeing this, turned pale with fright. They covered their eyes, not daring to see what was unfolding in front of them.
Chu Qiao picked up her spear but did not have a chance to showcase her skills. Tu Da possessed astonishing strength but was also quite agile. He pounced forward towards Chu Qiao, like a ferocious tiger.
Zhao Song watched on with a nervous look on his face. Although he knew that Chu Qiao was highly skilled, how could she be a match for an opponent of such stature? The young prince made up his mind. If things did not look good, he would intervene and rescue Chu Qiao.
In the blink of an eye, the two of them had exchanged a few blows. The frail-looking young lady had not retaliated, instead looking to avoid a direct confrontation with Tu Da. As everyone thought that she was about to lose, Tu Da hollered loudly and rushed at Chu Qiao. He had a savage look on his face, filled with murderous intent. As the strong winds blew, the torches burned brightly in the night sky. Everyone gasped in unison, thinking that Chu Qiao would definitely perish at the hands of Tu Da.
In the crowd, Yan Xun's expression became less tense. He held his wine cup tightly in his hands and brought it to his lips. He took a sip of wine and let go of the cup. The cup smashed into a few pieces and scattered onto the floor.
Everyone that was spectating the battle instantly became flabbergasted. The young lady, who was previously trying hard to escape, turned back. Her steps were unique; her agility was obvious. She twisted her waist, using her abdominal strength to somersault in the air. The spear was dragged back along with her motion. With all her might, she thrust it forward! With a piercing sound, fresh blood spewed everywhere and cries of agony started to echo.
The strong, whistling winds blew at the young lady's silky hair. The spear had embedded itself into Tu Da's chest. However, it was not stuck deep in his chest. Chu Qiao was intentionally merciful and she was not willing to kill.
With another sound, Chu Qiao withdrew her spear. She nodded lightly and said, "Thank you for going easy on me." Finishing, she turned around and bowed towards the north again.
The audience gave a thunderous round of applause! The Xia Empire valued martial arts prowess. Seeing that such a young lady had defeated a giant of such stature with such ease, everyone cheered in awe.
However, at that instant Tu Da bellowed. He clenched his fists and charged at Chu Qiao, whose back was facing him!