Thousand Autumns - Chapter 30
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: I offered you food and a place to live, yet…
Shen Qiao said, "I've heard about this genius that Yi Bichen took in as a disciple in his late years since a long time ago, and that he was a prodigy in martial arts who had read through and learnt by heart every single script in the Chunyang Daoist Temple at the age of fifteen. However, instead of revealing him to the public, Yi Bichen sent him to travel alone in the Western Regions around the Kunlun Mountains. Looking at it now, Yi Bichen is indeed very forethoughtful. He has spent ten years polishing this sword. Once it is unsheathed, its splendor is guaranteed to shine!"
Yan Wushi asked curiously, "You always like to be the good guy. After this event, Mount Xuandu might even lose its title as the 'Number one Daoist Sect under the Heavens', yet you still gave Li Qingyu such high praise. Do you not feel sad for your junior brother's great loss and the humiliation your sect has suffered?"
Shen Qiao replied, "Yu Ai is rather conceited and tends to be extreme. It might be a good thing if he learns his lesson this time. Nothing stays as the top forever. There are ups and downs for a sect as well as a person."
Yan Wushi laughed, "You're indeed quite lighthearted."
Shen Qiao asked, "Didn't you say there was good news and bad news? What's the good news?"
"I already said the good news. Li Qingyu stole Mount Xuandu's limelight and greatly embarrassed your Brother Yu. Isn't that good news for you?"
Shen Qiao felt a bit speechless. "What about the bad news then?"
"The bad news is that what's been concerning you has come true at last. Yu Ai might actually have a deal with Tujue."
Shen Qiao frowned at his words. "How so?"
Yan Wushi deliberately paused for a good while. It wasn't until Shen Qiao couldn't help but lean forward with an eager expression did he finally explain slowly, "Right after the Jade Terrace Conference, Erfu Khan's envoy arrived at Mount Xuandu and asked if they could send a preacher to Eastern Tujue."
Shen Qiao knitted his brows even tighter.
Yan Wushi asked, "You know who Erfu Khan is?"
Shen Qiao nodded silently.
He didn't spend all this time doing nothing. Besides comprehending The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, he was also keeping an eye on the major events around the world.
With Tujue being a powerful country nowadays, even Northern Zhou and Northern Qi had to feign civility when dealing with them. But Tujue's social and political system was totally different from the Han system. Although Taspar Khan was already the highest ruler of Tujue, he also appointed his nephew and younger brother to supervise the Eastern and Western Tujue areas respectively.
And this Erfu Khan of the Eastern Tujue was exactly that Taspar Khan's nephew, Shetu.
It was said that he was an extremely ambitious and aggressive man whose ability and sagacity were not any less than his uncle Taspar Khan's — he was a person destined to rise above the ordinary.
Mount Xuandu was thousands of miles away from Tujue and hadn't been involved in secular affairs for years. It naturally stirred up a lot of speculations when Mount Xuandu started establishing a connection with Tujue immediately after it reopened itself to the public. It at once reminded Shen Qiao of Yu Ai's scheme with Kunye to make him fall off the cliff.
But what benefits could a close relationship with Tujue bring to Mount Xuandu?
Shen Qiao said, "He's asking a tiger for its skin."
Yan Wushi chuckled, "Not necessarily. With Tujue being so powerful right now, anyone who doesn't want to start a war has to make a concession. Didn't the Emperor of Zhou marry his Empress from Tujue as well?"
Shen Qiao shook his head. "The Emperor of Zhou seized his power from Yuwen Hu's hands and has reigned for many years since then. He must have experienced all kinds of difficult situations already. I heard that in order to break free from Tujue's control, he has been intentionally treating Lady Ashina coldly. So he's a wise man on that for sure. However, even though Yu Ai is also a smart man, Mount Xuandu has secluded itself for too many years. Not to mention that he is also overly confident about himself that he even wants to cooperate with the Tujue people, I'm afraid that he will end up bringing harm to himself."
Yan Wushi picked up the invitation which he left on the table not too long ago and pressed it against Shen Qiao's chest. "Now you're but a castaway disciple in the eyes of Mount Xuandu. Why even bother with it? Here's an invitation to a birthday party. I don't have time for it, but I'm sure you'll be interested."
The candle light was dim, and Shen Qiao didn't open his eyes to read it. He took the invitation and felt it with his hands for a while. His fingers were extremely delicate and smooth. From the thin layer of ink alone, he had already discerned the two characters on it -Su Wei.
He tilted his head and asked puzzledly, "I don't recognize the name."
"Su Wei, also known as Su Wuwei, is the Duke of Meiyang District, a position which he inherited from his father. He married Yuwen Hu's daughter, a relationship which should have implicated him, but he is rather talented. The Emperor of Zhou, who always favors talented people, wants to make use of his talents. Therefore, he is able to stay unaffected. However, he declined the offer, saying he was too ill for it, and studied at home instead. His mother's fiftieth birthday is in two days, and even the Emperor has sent over congratulatory gifts on his behalf."
"However," he suddenly changed the topic, "Su Wuwei has a brother named Su Qiao who's actually a martial artist. Guess who his master is."
Seeing that the other person was listening attentively, he tried to grab Shen Qiao's hands to play with once more.
But Shen Qiao was well-prepared and decided that he might as well put his hands behind his back. After a while, as if he found this action a little childish, he moved them back to the front and hid them inside his sleeves instead.
Yan Wushi clicked his tongue, "I offered you food and a place to live and provided you with so much information, yet you are so stingy that you won't even let me touch your hand!"
Shen Qiao was not moved by him at all: "There are countless beauties within the residence who would be more than willing to come up and serve you if Sect Master Yan lets them."
"Ah-qiao, you're such a boring person!"
Despite the complaints, he still told Shen Qiao: "Su Qiao studies under the Chunyang Daoist Temple. He's the senior martial brother of none other than that Li Qingyu who lost to Yu Ai."
Shen Qiao thought for a moment. "Li Qingyu is famous among martial artists. Even I have heard about him before. But I don't remember hearing much about this Su Qiao."
Yan Wushi explained, "He was born into an aristocratic family, so he naturally doesn't have a high-profile like Li Qingyu. Since Su Qiao and Li Qingyu are martial brothers, however, the latter might show up to Su Wei's mother's birthday party the day after tomorrow. Don't you want to meet this rising star who challenged all of Mount Xuandu by himself and nearly beat your brother?"
Shen Qiao felt the writing on the invitation with his hand, then nodded slightly. "I see. Much thanks, Sect Master Yan."
Yan Wushi laughed, "I've never dealt with the Su Family before. Just because of my high position, they had to send over an invitation for the sake of it. If you decide to go with my invitation, then bring a gift on my behalf, and that should show enough civility."
It was strange for someone like him to take notice of the problem of "civility", but Shen Qiao didn't put too much thought into it: "Alright."
Su Wei was born into the Su Family in the capital, a branch of a family that was considered notable. His Father, Su Chuo, was an important official of the Western Wei, and his wife was the daughter of Yuwen Hu. Speaking of it, she was actually the Emperor's niece. Although the Emperor of Zhou had sent Yuwen Hu to his death, he didn't involve the latter's family and even took good care of this niece of his.
At that time, most of the honorable families had marriage connections with the royal household, and the Su Family was no exception. It was Su Wei's mother's birthday, and guests streamed in to wish her longevity. Horses and carriages came and went in front of the residence, nearly causing a traffic jam. The Su Family had to send out a person to control the traffic so as to not block the other passengers on the road.
Shen Qiao came by carriage as well. The arrival of the carriage from the Residence of the Junior Preceptor immediately roused Su Wei who was receiving guests inside.
Yan Wushi didn't hold any actual position that dealt with political affairs in the imperial court, but the Emperor of Zhou trusted the Cleansing Moon Sect. It was said that the sect helped a lot in killing Yuwen Hu and successfully seizing the power. Su Wei was a typical scholar-official. He wasn't interested in politics, but he didn't want to make enemies either. Sending an invitation to Yan Wushi was but an act of courtesy — he didn't expect someone from the Residence of the Junior Preceptor to actually show up. After hearing the news, he immediately came out to greet the guest himself.
The moment the person in the carriage got down, Su Wei was somewhat taken aback.
Despite the few contacts he had with Yan Wushi, he knew the person in front of his eyes was definitely not him.
"May I ask who this is…?"
"I'm Shen Qiao. Sect Master Yan went to the Palace upon His Majesty's order. I've come over to send wishes on his behalf. Hopefully, Official Su wouldn't mind."
With his words, in addition to the carriage of the Residence of the Junior Preceptor he had arrived in, Su Wei was finally relieved and laughed, "I see. Mister Shen, this way please."
He had welcomed the person in, but he was also wondering deep inside.
Yan Wushi was from the pugilistic world-this Su Wei knew. The Cleansing Moon Sect was regarded as a demonic sect by many people-this he had heard about from his brother Su Qiao. But the person in front of him didn't seem like a martial artist or a court official. Despite appearing a little sickly, he still looked sage-like. Could he be some distinguished intellectual whom Yan Wushi was friends with?
He was not the only person who was wondering. The guests, seeing that the host had gone out to greet a blind man personally, were just as curious.
In Northern Zhou, Yan Wushi was a name that could strike people's ears like the roar of thunder, but only a few had actually met him in person. Many people thought Shen Qiao was the Sect Master of the Cleansing Moon Sect when they saw him walking next to Su Wei. When they saw that even Princess Qingdu, who was known to be rather serious and reserved, went over to talk to him, they grew even more curious.
Because of Su Qiao, not all guests present were officers from powerful families — there were some martial artists as well.
The leader of the Chunyang Daoist Temple didn't come himself, but he had sent his disciple, Li Qingyu. Li Qingyu had created a great sensation a few days ago at the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference on Mount Xuandu. There was not one person who hadn't heard of his name. Seeing that the Chunyang Temple was showing the potential of replacing Mount Xuandu, everyone wanted to seize the opportunity to make friends with the new high and mighty, so a lot of people had gathered around him as well.
Su Qiao and Li Qingyu had quite a close relationship. While the former introduced Li Qingyu to many family friends of the Su Family, the latter didn't forget to present his martial brother either as he talked to other pugilists.
Shen Qiao politely declined Princess Qingdu's invite to sit closer and remained in the seat the host had assigned him.
Since he represented Yan Wushi, his seat surely wasn't bad. The guest next to him, seeing that Shen Qiao had a problem with his eyes, specifically asked the servant girl to move the dishes to the right-hand side on Shen Qiao's table so he could eat more easily.
Shen Qiao appreciated his kindness, "Thank you so much. I'm Shen Qiao. May I know your name?"
The other person laughed, "You're very welcome, Mister Shen. That's not a big favor from me. All I did was throw in a few sentences. I'm from the Puliuru Clan. My name is Jian."
Puliuru Jian was sitting next to Shen Qiao, but he didn't ask Shen Qiao for his status or background, nor did he show any curiosity or concern over Shen Qiao's eyes. He only talked about the host, Su Wei, saying that he was a talented and renowned man who was also an expert in poetry and law. There was a lot of admiration and respect in his words.
Since they were talking about literature, they could not really avoid touching upon topics regarding the different schools of thoughts. Northern Zhou was heavily influenced by Buddhism. Before, during the reign of Yuwen Hu, Zen Master Xueting was even given the position of the Great Preceptor. Now, with Yuwen Yong on the throne, despite his efforts of trying to clear Yuwen Hu's influence, the people's bias toward Buddhism was not something that could be eliminated within a short amount of time. Puliuru Jian was a Buddhist himself, but he was also interested in Daoism and was not against it. He was obviously surprised by Shen Qiao's profound insight on Daoism. After they chatted for a while, he already felt like he was in sync with the person.
After they had become acquainted, seeing that Princess Qingdu had again sent someone to invite Shen Qiao over, Puliuru Jian teased, "Throughout the entire capital, only a few can make the Princess lower herself just to get to know them. You can't imagine how many people will be jealous of you if they knew about this."
Shen Qiao said, "I must have amused Brother Puliuru."
Puliuru Jian continued, "I heard that Su Wei's brother, Su Qiao, is from the Chunyang Daoist Temple. That must be the reason why so many martial artists have shown up here today."
Shen Qiao asked, "Brother Puliuru knows them all?"
Puliuru Jian replied, "I used to admire those martial artists for living a life free of constraints, and I even spent a few years loafing about on horses trying to be like them. So I recognize a few faces."
Shen Qiao asked, "Then could Brother Puliluru introduce them to me?"
Puliuru Jian replied briskly, "No problem!"
He then started pointing people out to Shen Qiao, "Su Qiao you already know, and next to him is Li Qingyu. Together they are referred to as the Two Jades of Qingcheng, although in terms of fame, Li Qingyu is slightly more famous. You must have heard about his impressive acts on Mount Xuandu a few days ago. The one talking to them right now is Zhangsun Cheng, a disciple of the Zhongnan Sect. The Zhongnan Sect is but a small sect, but Zhangsun Sheng is also the descendent of a noble family. He excels in marksmanship and few can compete against him. As for the person in yellow next to him, his name is Dou Yanshan."
Shen Qiao let out a surprised gasp, "The chairman of the Six Harmonies Association?"
That night in the Beyond Clouds Monastery, many parties tried to get their hands on the Book of Free Will of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. However, what the Six Harmonies Association had taken pains to escort was smashed to powder just like that by Yan Wushi. It was true that Yun Fuyi and the others also heard what Shen Qiao had read aloud, but after they returned, how could they guarantee there was no mistake in what they had written down? Yan Wushi's action had successfully put people's trust to trial ー Dou Yanshan must have hated him to the bones.
Seeing that it was not Yan Wushi but Shen Qiao who had walked in, he only cast a glance at Shen Qiao and remained in his seat, not showing any intention of coming over to exchange courtesies.
Puliuru Jian continued, "Zen Master Xueting was once granted the position as the Great Preceptor by Yuwen Hu. Because of this, even though Yuwen Hu is already dead, there is still a deep connection between him and the Su Family. So to say, he should have come today, but somehow he still hasn't shown up yet, not even sending a disciple over, which is rather strange."
"And the man and the woman over there should be from the Jade Cloud Sect of Mount Tai and the Glass Palace of Fangzhang Island. Those two sects have a good relationship with the Chunyang Temple, and they probably showed up because of it."
"The rest are nothing remarkable, just some nobodies from ordinary sects. Knowing them wouldn't help you much, so I won't waste my breath on them."
Actually, among the people he didn't mention were also a lot of experts who were quite famous in the circle, but they all became "nobodies" in Puliuru Jian's mouth. "Strong authority governs" — this rule in the pugilistic world was expressed to its fullest at this moment. They might be like a duck in water on their own small pieces of land, but the people Puliuru Jian dealt with on a daily basis were all experts from the top class of the Zhou, so it was natural for him to think nothing of those.
Shen Qiao took note of every person he mentioned. He was far from them, and because of his bad eyes, he couldn't even make clear of those people's faces. He could only remember them by the shape of their figures, the color of their clothes, and their manners.
While they were talking, two more people entered the room. Shen Qiao found them a little familiar. After they finished exchanging greetings with the host, they looked around and their eyes happened to come into contact with Shen Qiao's.
Xie Xiang was slightly startled and only nodded at him, but Zhan Ziqian who was next to him was already walking over. "Mister Shen, so you're here too!"
Shen Qiao laughed, "It's Brother Zhan. What a coincidence!"
"Yeah!" Zhan Ziqian had a good impression of Shen Qiao and wanted to sit next to him to talk more, but Xie Xiang came over and said, "Brother, the host has assigned the seats already. Isn't it rude to sit around randomly?"
Zhan Ziqian was forced to halt his step. "It's a great fortune to be able to meet Mister Shen here today. In fact, I have a favor to ask Mister Shen. Could you please stay for a moment after dinner?"
Shen Qiao was not related to the Linchuan Institute in the slightest, and neither was Zhan Ziqian aware of his identity. They were just two strangers coming together by chance, and Shen Qiao really couldn't think of anything that the other person needed to ask him for help about, but he still nodded, "Sure."
As soon as Xie and Zhan left, Puliuru Jian said, "The Linchuan Institute is preeminent in Southern Chen and regards itself highly. You can tell just by looking at that Xie Xiang. This time, Zhou wants to ally with Chen to attack Qi, and they must have come together with the envoy from Chen. However, once they are in Chang'an, it's no longer up to them. You don't have to be so courteous to them."
Shen Qiao laughed, "Xie Xiang is a bit arrogant, but Zhan Ziqian is quite amiable."
The fact that Xie Xiang still remembered to maintain a battle circle as small as possible during their fight the other day clearly indicated that he was just arrogant, but not vicious in nature. Under such a contrast, Shen Qiao didn't find the aloofness Xie Xiang had displayed in front of him hard to bear.
While they were still chatting, the dinner had already started.
People all over the country have sent over their congratulations that Ah-qiao didn't spit blood this chapter.
Yan Wushi: I see— (meaningfully)
Shen Qiao: I have a bad feeling…