Xue Houyang invited Teng Shang for a drink but didn’t set a banquet in one of the tent. Instead, he set up a fire in an open field, put a small table next to it topped with a few simple small-dishes and several large jars of wine.
The table was very low, but Xue Houyang didn’t let people to bring him some chairs, he just sat down there on the ground next to the table. Teng Shang might look like a literati but he wasn’t the unreasonable type. After all, he was a man grown on a battlefield and had shed many of his enemies’ blood. Teng Shang also followed Xue Houyang and sat down on the ground.
Xue Houyang pulled the seal off a wine jar and filled two wine cups to the brim, then said, “Tomorrow, we’re already going to enter the capital city, I haven’t even arrange a more hearty welcome. I hope Minister Shang doesn’t blame me.”
“How would I blame you?” Teng Shang smiled as he took one of the cup and drink the wine in one gulp, “Someone who offers to have a farewell drink before my execution can be considered a special friend. How could I blame you?”
[T/N : Burrnn! This one has a sharp mouth!]
Xue Houyang stilled for a moment, then filled Teng Shang’s cup again before saying, “I see you already know what this wine is for.”
“I’ve always been one who know myself. Having Marquis Wannian biding me farewell, now my whole life has been worth it.” Teng Shang said calmly.
It was mid-autumn, a few days before the 15th day of 8th month. The weather was getting colder. There was no forest in this part of capital city’s outskirts; the blowing wind brought a thick dust with it and made the fire dance frantically. There was a sense of desolation in the night.
[T/N : The 15th day of the 8th month lunar calendar is the day of mid-autumn festival or harvest festival.]
Teng Shang wasn’t a person who make a fuss over small inconveniences; he didn’t mind the dust clinging to his clothes.
Xue Houyang watched the other man for a long time, until Teng Shang noticed and looked down to examine his clothes. Teng Shang said, “Is there something wrong with me?”
“No… It’s not that.” Xue Houyang drew back his gaze.
The two men drank three more rounds of wine and had started to get a little drunk. The cold weather was still bearable, and the wine warm them up.
Suddenly, Xue Houyang said, “Minister Shang, do you remember, many years ago… Teng Wang was organizing a hunting activity, and you saved a little child from being accused as an assassin.”
Teng Shang didn’t immediately answered; it was clear he didn’t really remember. But after thinking for a long time, he thought he had an impression of the accident. Smiling, he said, “How does Lord Marquis know about that? Do you perhaps have a thousand eyes? It’s been a long time ago… At that time, the previous Teng Wang was still alive. He’d mistakenly accused a little child as an assassin, he’d been ready to have the child executed. But I had such a soft heart…”
“You shouldn’t have had such a soft heart.”
Hearing Xue Houyang said that in a cold voice, Teng Shang suspected he’d had too much drink. His head was throbbing and his mind was sluggish. He said, “Why do you say that?”
Xue Houyang stared at the other man, seemingly hesitating. In the end, he only said, “Your kindness has costed the death of many of your soldiers. I’m just afraid you’ll regret it.”
Teng Shang stared; his sight was blurry because of the wine. After staring at Marquis Wannian for a long time, an answer slowly came to his mind, making an uncomfortable feeling spread across his heart. His voice was hoarse as he said, “Why?”
“Because that little child that you saved was me.”
Teng Shang’s heart hurt like it was being crushed under a heavy stone; hurt until he couldn’t form a word. After a very long time, he cleared his throat twice and forced a smile, “Indeed… Indeed I regret it.”
Xue Houyang gave a knowing look with his eyes. He stood, and with his back to Teng Shang he added, “I don’t know if Lord Minister had heard about this. Once, a fortune-teller had said that my character was ruthless, that I would bring a disaster someday. At that time, I was still very young, my temper hadn’t matured yet. In a fit of anger a ran away, but I would’ve never expected of meeting you.”
Teng Shang let out a pained laugh. He also wouldn’t have expected saving a child, and later meeting him; finding he’d grown into an enemy’s Great General.
Teng Shang had no idea what to say.
Xue Houyang turned around, bent over to pick up his wine cup and proceed to drain it in one go. Then he threw the cup on the ground laughing, “I know you thought I dragged you here for a drink to prevent you escaping, but on the contrary, I wanted to send you off… You can go.”
Teng Shang also stood up. The wine rushed through his head, making his limbs unsteady he almost fell. He laughed, “Go? Where would I go? Lord Marquis wants to let me go, but I don’t have anywhere to go… You might think that if I go I’ll be grateful to you, but imagine this; if I saved your life and as a repayment, right now I want you to change side and lead your army to face and kill Xue Junliang, will you be willing?”
Teng Shang might be drunk, but his voice wasn’t small. Beside the open field they were standing, there were some soldiers on night patrol. At Teng Shang’s words, the soldiers stopped walking and pointed their sharp spears towards the bonfire on alert.
With a shallow smile, Teng Shang said, “You will definitely refuse, so how would I be willing to go… But I thank Lord Marquis for the good intentions.”
Xue Houyang only stared intently at Teng Shang and said nothing. The two people continued exchanging shots of wine, empty jars of wine piling next to them.
All night, Teng Yun couldn’t close his eyes, yet Xue Junliang seemed to fall asleep rather quickly. Teng Yun slept at his side, kept staring at the wall and didn’t dare move; his back had started to feel numb.
He didn’t know how long he’d stayed like that when suddenly he felt something heavy fell upon his waist. Xue Junliang apparently had placed one arm over Teng Yun’s waist and leaned his whole body against Teng Yun’s back.
Teng Yun stiffened. He shifted to the side a little bit, but the other person actually followed. If not for Xue Junliang breathing evenly, he’d thought Xue Junliang deliberately followed him.
Teng Yun stayed still for some time until he felt the other person stopped moving, then he shifted again. The person behind him actually followed him again.
Suddenly, Xue Junliang chuckled. Sure enough, he wasn’t asleep. His arm tightened around Teng Yun’s waist to pull Teng Yun closer and into his bosom. He laughed, warm breath blowing softly into Teng Yun’s ear, and said, “Something wrong with me that make Aifei avoiding me?”
His low whisper sounded loud and clear inside this very quiet palace, but Teng Yun didn’t answer; pretending not to hear Xue Junliang’s question and closing his eyes. He’d already retreated to the farthest side of the bed; nowhere else to go.
Xue Junliang didn’t take offense, instead he put one hand under the blanket to pat Teng Yun, as if patting and urging a child to sleep. Gently he said, “Just sleep.”
Early the next morning, Jiang Yu called out for Xue Wang from outside the room. There was no sound from Xue Junliang. When it was getting late, she called out again louder, still no one responded.
When Da Wang was inside his wife’s room, no one dared to go inside. But the people outside had started to get anxious. Today was, after all, the day Teng Country’s Eldest Princess entered the Palace. Early this morning, Marquis Wannian had led his troops entering the capital city and now he’d already entered the Palace, waiting for Xue Junliang to arrive at the morning court.
In fact, Xue Junliang had been awake for a long time. He did not move, still holding Teng Yun in his arms, as if he had all the time in the world.
Teng Yun was also awake; he didn’t sleep a wink last night. As time passed, Jiang Yu’s voice got louder and louder; indicating her anxiousness. Yet, the person behind him didn’t make a move.
Teng Yun had already guessed what the other person was playing at, so he didn’t say anything.
Xue Junliang’s purpose was no one other than getting up late, letting the envoys from Teng Country wait, also letting everyone know that yesterday His Majesty slept in the Empress’ palace, indulging in pleasure until he forgot his duties. In His Majesty’s eyes, a little princess from an insignificant Teng Country wasn’t important; she was nothing.
After a time, from outside could be heard the loud sounds of a drum. Only then, Xue Junliang slowly woke up and called Jiang Yu in.
Jiang Yu hurriedly rushed inside. She knew the sound of a drum playing was not a trivial matter. In Xue Country’s Palace, there was a very big drum. Its sound could be clearly heard even from the farthest corner of the Palace.
The drum was used to remind the king of his duties. If after one shichen, Da Wang didn’t show up at the morning court assembly, his subjects would start to play the drum. The drum would be played again once every one incense time. After the drum was played three times, Da Wang would be abolished and replaced by a new king.
[T/N : One shichen is about two hours of modern time. One incense time is the time needed to burn one incense stick, about 10-15 minutes.]
But Xue Junliang didn’t move hurriedly nor slowly; giving Jiang Yu a hard time. He washed his face and rinsed his mouth, then changed his clothes, before letting the servants bring his sedan chair to the front gate.
Before he left, Xue Junliang also reminded Xiu Yao to take good care of the Empress; the medicine should be had in time and the soothing ointment should be applied regularly; if the medicine was too bitter, let the kitchen make some sweet dishes for the Empress.
Xiu Yao was grinning from ear to ear, every time she looked at Teng Yun she smiled knowingly. Half giggling, half probing, she asked, “Empress… Your body… Um, are you feeling okay? Is there anywhere you feel uncomfortable? I think you look a little pale, are you tired? I’ll prepare a bath for you.”
If Teng Yun found Xiu Yao’s words weird, her ambiguous smile made her words even weirder. Xue Junliang must have said something ambiguous to Xiu Yao, and she must’ve definitely misunderstood.
“No need for a bath, I’ll just simply wash my face and rinse my mouth.”
He bathed only last night. Although Teng Yun’s body was now a woman’s body, he didn’t feel the need to bath too often; it might be bad for the skin.
[T/N : Ugh! Men!]
Xiu Yao was taken aback, “No need for a bath? Your Majesty.. that.. If you don’t bath, you… You need to clean it properly… It…”
Teng Yun felt a headache coming. He did look pale, but it was because he was tense all night he couldn’t sleep. With Xue Junliang sleeping next to him, how could he relax?
Xue Junliang eventually made it to the morning court assembly. He received Teng Country’s ambassador, Teng Shang, and arranged a newly built palace for Teng Country’s Princess. The palace actually had been built for some time, but it was never lived, so he assigned the palace for the new consort.
The new palace wasn’t very far from the Empress’ Yunfeng Palace.
Though Teng Yun wasn’t close with the Eldest Princess, they were after all blood-related. He thought about seeing Teng Qianyi, but he didn’t dare to. He didn’t know what identity he should use to meet this relative of his.
The marriage was scheduled for two days after the Mid-Autumn Festival.
These past two days, Xue Junliang often stayed at Yunfeng Palace, which was good for the new consort; it was very convenient for if she wanted to inquire any information.
Teng Yun’s existence became one of Xue Junliang’s Qi pieces, helping him maintain the relationship between Xue and Feng Countries, also keep Teng Country in check.
Xue Junliang might not be good at cultivating his moral and spiritual character, but he was indeed good at Qi. His move was systematic and careful in defeating his opponents.