Chapter 31: May I ask Sect Leader Shen to please be a witness for us?
At this time, all guests had more or less arrived. The hall was filled with talented and distinguished people including members of the royal family, offsprings of notable clans, and even martial artists from a number of sects. This scene was hard to come by, and its happening was all because of the different identities of the two Su Brothers.
During this time, the culture was still quite open. Everyone had their own dinner table, and male and female guests were allowed to stay in the same room with only a small screen placed in the middle of the hall as a symbolic separator. The female guests were taken care of by Su Wei’s wife, while Su Wei’s mother, Lady Qin, sat at the head table. Next to her on each side were the two Su Brothers, Su Wei and Su Qiao. Servant girls streamed in and out with exquisite food and fine liquors, and for a moment, cheerful chatter could be heard everywhere. Everyone was having a good time.
Along with the music coming out from the lutes and the pipes of the musicians, dancer girls started swinging around trippingly. Shen Qiao couldn’t see very clearly, but he could still make out the lithe, graceful figures of those girls and their flapping ribbons — They were almost like a group of fairies descending to the earth, walking on paths covered with fresh flowers. The dance was divine, but there was a touch of unconscious glamour in it, completely distinctive from the now-popular Hu style and Rong style. Nor did it in anyway resemble the kind of dance in Southern Chen that was present in poetry verses such as, “Lowering her head and hiding her face behind her sleeves, the jade hairpin drifted amidst the autumn wind.” The guests were all amused by the fresh style and applauded one after another. After a couple rounds of wine, some of the guests who were fond of dances even started nodding to the rhythm.
Realizing that Shen Qiao was quite into the dance, Puliuru Jian explained, “This dance music is from Kucha. It’s called ‘Little Heaven’. The Kucha people are devout Buddhists. After the country was destroyed, their music spread to the Central Plains, so this song also has a Buddhist taste to it.”
Enlightened by this new information, Shen Qiao laughed, “No wonder these dancers all have their shoulders and bellies exposed and wear so many accessories. So it’s the Kucha Style!”
Puliuru Jian laughed back, “That’s right.”
Just as everyone was enjoying their good time, a servant hurried in from outside. He ran up to Su Wei and whispered something in Su Wei’s ears. Su Wei’s face stiffened, and he gave a signal.
With a long, sharp note, the dance suddenly stopped and the music disappeared. The guests, as if just awoken from a boundless paradise, all turned to the host puzzledly.
Su Wei got up and cupped his hands at them. “The news of my mother’s birthday has reached the Empress, and Her Highness has specially sent over a representative with congratulatory gifts. Please wait for a little bit, everyone. I’ll come back to entertain you all after I greet the messenger.”
Just as the Empress of Zhou’s last name Ashina suggested, she was from Tujue, a wife that the Emperor of Zhou had taken just for the sake of befriending the country. She never had contacts with the Su Family, and the Emperor of Zhou had already sent gifts for Mrs. Su’s birthday, so generally speaking, the event had nothing to do with her, yet out of everyone’s surprise, she decided to send over gifts as well.
This turn of events successfully confused everyone present. They all looked at each other, baffled.
The messenger was from the Empress, so the host was obliged to go out and greet him. The music had stopped, and everyone was sitting upright in their seats with their necks stretched towards the entrance.
Su Wei tidied the hem of his robes. Just as he was about to head out, a crisp laugh came from outside: “There’s no need to trouble the Duke of Meiyang District. I’ll come in myself!”
It was a rather unfamiliar voice that most people in the hall didn’t recognize. All they thought was how rude the person was. Only Shen Qiao slightly frowned. A bad feeling started to grow inside him.
The person who came in was a lofty, bearded young man. Despite the Central Plains style clothing he was wearing, there seemed to be something swift and fierce about him.
His eyes were sharp and bright with an extreme aggressiveness in them. He didn’t look at Su Wei after he came in. Instead, he surveyed the room.
Except for the martial artists, everyone who was seen by him turned their eyes to the side. None of them said anything, but they all felt somewhat uncomfortable.
Puliuru Jian let out a surprised gasp and whispered, “Look at the spirit in his eyes. He’s probably a Xiantian expert already. How come I’ve never seen him in Chang’an before?”
Su Wei asked, “All members in the Su Family couldn’t be grateful enough for Her Majesty’s favor to us. May I please have your name?”
The man replied with a smile, “I’m Duan Wenyang. Duke of Meiyang District, there’s no need to be so courteous. Your mother is well-known for her compassion, and the Empress has long been hearing about it. It’s just that she hasn’t yet had the chance to meet her. Her Highness heard that today is your mother’s birthday, so she specifically asked me to present this small token of congratulations.”
Su Wei cupped his hand at him. “We appreciate the Empress’s consideration. Anyone who comes is our guest. Messenger Duan, if you have time, why don’t you come in and have a seat?”
Since the man was representing Empress Ashina, Lady Qin and Su Qiao, who were standing behind Su Wei, also bowed toward Duan Wenyang.
However, Duan Wenyang suddenly smiled, “I can wait a bit more before sitting down. Actually, there’s something else I would like to ask Lady Qin about.”
Su Wei knew that his mother, unlike Duan Wenyang, was born in a prestigious family and had never been to Tujue. They couldn’t have been related in the least, so what could it be that Duan Wenyang wanted to ask her about? Slightly confused, Su Wei commented, “Messenger Duan, you may go ahead.”
Duan Wenyang asked, “Lady Qin, someone has asked me to send you a greeting on his behalf. He would like to know if you still remember an old friend who had been waiting for you in Tujue’s royal palace thirty years ago?”
Su Wei and Su Qiao were taken aback. They couldn’t help but turn to their mother.
Lady Qin’s expression stayed just as calm as ever as she kindly replied, “Young man, I’m afraid you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”
Duan Wenyang’s laugh sounded bright and clear: “I know Lady Qin won’t admit it so easily, but do you really want me to tell everything in front of the public?”
There was no way that Su Wei hadn’t realized by now that the man was specifically targeting his mother. His tone dropped immediately: “Mister, aren’t you being a little too rude? Don’t tell me that the Empress has sent you over not to deliver the present but to nitpick us? There are no past grudges between the Empress and the Su Family, nor do we have any contacts. Why would the Empress act so impolitely on my mother’s birthday party? I’ll report to the Emperor myself about what happened today. Now, servants! Show our guest the way out.”
The servants hurried over upon Su Wei’s order and were about to drag Duan Wenyang away. However, the man only slightly flipped his sleeve and they all fell to the ground.
Guests got up one after another as they all looked at Duan Wenyang in shock. Some of them looked rather unhappy and were ready to scold him on the host’s behalf.
Su Qiao shouted angrily,“How dare you pick a fight here?! Do you think the Su Family will let you walk all over us like this?”
He was about to launch an attack.
However, Duan Wenyang suddenly took a step back and said loudly, “Wait a second! I have something to say. You can do whatever you want if you just let me finish first. This is something of great importance. All of you are honorable people of virtue and prestige. I would like to hear your judgement as well whether it was me being deliberately provocative or Lady Qin having a guilty conscience!”
Before anyone could react to what he had just said, he continued: “Lady Qin, could you please return my master’s keepsake?”
Su Qiao was greatly enraged: “You Tujue bastard, making slanderous accusations at my mother! My mother was born of a noble family in the central Shanxi Plain. How could she possibly be related to Tujue? If you can’t explain it clearly today and restore my mother’s reputation, you won’t be able to get away easily even if you wanted to!”
He drew the sword out of its sheath. A killing intent was hiding underneath its water-like glimmers.
Li Qingyu walked out from the crowd and said, slowly and imperturbed, “One can eat the wrong food, but one should never speak the wrong words. Lady Qin is my senior brother’s mother, and I respect her just like I respect my own mother. If you insist on deliberately defaming her, the Chunyang Daoist Temple will not let it go.”
What he implied was that even if Su Wei didn’t present a memorial to the Emperor about what happened today and ask for an explanation through political means, the Chunyang Daoist Temple would also take it on. In that case, from now on, Duan Wenyang and his sect would have enmity with the Chunyang Temple.
After Li Qingyu went up Mount Xuandu by himself and defeated Lian Sheng, He Siyong and several others, he lost to Yu Ai by only half a move. Thus, the Chunyang Daoist Temple had potentially surpassed Mount Xuandu already in terms of influence. Not to mention that their Sect Leader, Yi Bichen, was also ranked among the Top Ten. Therefore, what Li Qingyu just said actually carried a lot of weight.
However, Duan Wenyang’s expression didn’t change at all. He was still smiling as he said, “The old saying says that with justice on one’s side, a person can travel to any place he wants, while without it, one can hardly move an inch. I heard that people in the Central Plains are reasonable, and that’s why I came here to ask for justice. Don’t tell me that you are just going to abuse your power and bully me anyway despite the right and wrongs! Lady Qin’s maiden name is Ning, and her courtesy name is Shuanghan. Am I right on that?”
The Su Brother’s hearts sank together with his words. They were both surprised and bewildered. He might have heard their mother’s maiden name somewhere, but her courtesy name was known to only a few people, much less Empress Ashina. Where did this strange Tujue man hear it from?
Duan Wenyang started explaining slowly, “Thirty years ago, Qin Shuanghan traveled far to the Tujue regions and became a disciple under my master. Taking advantage of his favor and trust, one night, she stole my master’s keepsake and returned to the Central Plains. Now, my master has asked me to find this person and retrieve the keepsake. I have been searching long and hard for her ever since I arrived in the Central Plains. To my surprise, during my accidental encounter with Lady Qin in Chang’an, it suddenly occurred to me that the Qin Shuanghan whom I couldn’t find anywhere was precisely the Duke of Meiyang District’s mother, Lady Qin!”
He then laughed, “These years, Lady Qin hides well indeed. Who could have thought that a person like you who rarely leaves her courtyard nowadays was once that renowned Alishavelei beyond the Wall!”
Su Qiao shouted, “Nonsense! My mother has never been to Tujue or anywhere outside the Wall. If you need to look for someone, go do it yourself. Don’t throw random dirt at the Su Family! You think you can humiliate us so easily?”
Duan Wenyang raised his eyebrows and asked aloud, “Lady Qin, are you just going to outrightly deny what you’ve done? If I remember correctly, the ring on your right hand is our holy relic and also the keepsake which represents the identity of my master. The engraving on it is a golden lotus characteristic to our clan. Are you saying that this is but another coincidence?”
This sudden turn of events startled everyone. All of them turned to look at Lady Qin’s hand.
There was indeed a ring on her finger, jeweled with a crystal. There seemed to be some golden patterns underneath the gem, brilliant and lustrous under the light, making it quite a scene.
Su Wei realized that this accident wouldn’t end up well today and blamed himself inside for not stopping Duan Wenyang the moment he came in.
Princess Qingdu asked with a deep voice, “No matter what your need is, today is Lady Qin’s birthday. We’re all here to cheer and celebrate her longevity, yet you have to come disturb us at such a time. You said you were ordered by the Empress. Then why don’t you come with me to the palace right now? Let’s ask her directly. I really want to know why the Empress would send you to ruin another person’s birthday party!”
Duan Wenyang was just as calm. “The Empress has sent me to deliver the present. I’ve already delivered it, and therefore I have already finished her order. The current business is related to my master. The Emperor is wise and just. Even if His Majesty hears about the ins and outs of the story, I’m sure he wouldn’t stop me from asking Lady Qin for what should have belonged to us!”
He added proudly, “Not to mention, with the fame of my master, he doesn’t need to purposely make life difficult for Lady Qin!”
Li Qingyu asked, “Who is your master?”
Duan Wenyang pulled a smile, “It’s Hulugu!”
The name created an even greater uproar among the guests.
What kind of person was Hulugu? Twenty years ago, he fought against Qi Fengge, the best martial artist at the time. This fight was known throughout the pugilistic world, and it was still discussed enthusiastically by people even till today. Hulugu lost and was forced to swear not to enter the Central Plains again in the next twenty years. It turned out that he kept his words. For twenty years, he had never set foot again on the Central Plains.
When a person’s martial arts reached the level of Qi Fengge and Hulugu’s, they wouldn’t easily lose their life even if they were defeated. Even though Qi Fengge was the best martial artist at that time, Hulugu wasn’t far from him. It was impossible for Qi Fengge to kill him, so he could only make him take an oath.
According to Yan Wushi’s way of doing things, if he had the chance to make the other person take an oath, he might have asked Hulugu to kill himself, thus eliminating the root for future troubles. But that obviously wasn’t Qi Fengge’s style. He sensed Tujue’s ambition towards the Central Plains, but he also respected Hulugu as a grandmaster of the generation and didn’t want to humiliate his opponent. Therefore, he only set a twenty-year covenant.
Twenty years later, Qi Fengge was no longer in this world, but Hulugu didn’t come back to the Central Plains either. He only sent two of his disciples. One of them was Kunye who defeated Shen Qiao on Half-Step Peak, while the other suddenly dropped by the Residence of Su and said that the Su Brothers’ mother was actually a disciple of Hulugu.
The first event was no longer considered news. Mount Xuandu had already changed hands after Shen Qiao’s fall. As time went by, people stopped paying attention to the whereabouts of the former sect leader. Only at times when the battle was brought up would people sigh over the fact that Qi Fengge had no qualified successor to carry on his legacy.
However, the second event was now happening right in front of them, an event which could be counted as earth-shattering.
Regardless of its credibility, Lady Qin’s reputation was already hurt by the story. Su Qiao flew into a rage. He didn’t waste time on any more nonsense and was going to shut Duan Wenyang’s mouth with his sword.
At this time, Lady Qin, who was shielded by the Su Brothers with their bodies, suddenly asked, “If Hulugu wants his keepsake back, why doesn’t he come himself but send you?”
It sounded like she actually acknowledged the truthfulness of what Duan Wenyang had just said.
Su Qiao was shocked. He turned back and looked at his mother in denial: “Mom, you…”
Lady Qin shot a glance at him and replied coldly, “You? Do you know what this keepsake is for? The golden lotus is the symbol of Tujue, and it’s also the holy relic in Zoroastrianism. With this ring, Hulugu could order all experts in Persia, Tuyuhun, Yutian, and Tangut to gather together in Tujue and help the Tujue Khan invade the Central Plains. Back then, Northern Zhou hadn’t even established itself, and the Eastern and Western Wei were in endless war against each other. Both countries were greatly weakened. They could no longer hold against Tujue if the latter were to launch a massive invasion to the south. I took away his keepsake, so Hulugu was not able to pose himself as the orthodox of Zoroastrianism anymore. For Tujue, without the power to command all experts beyond the Great Wall, it was like losing one of its arms. Was there anything wrong with what I did?”
The Su brothers were completely dumbfounded. They didn’t know that their mother had such a history.
After Lady Qin finished, she turned back to Duan Wenyang and said, “This ring indeed belonged to Hulugu, and I was the one who brought it back to the Central Plains. However, it has been so many years. Hulugu has never once sent anyone to take it back. Why did he suddenly decide to send you after thirty years?”
Duan Wenyang replied calmly, “This was my master’s last wish before he passed away. As his disciple, I’m obliged to finish it for him.”
Lady Qin’s body shook slightly, but it didn’t seem like she was surprised in any way. After a long period of silence, she only said five words: “So that’s why. That’s why!”
Duan Wenyang said, “Since Lady Qin has already admitted it, things will be easy then. Could you please hand back the ring so my master’s last wish can be fulfilled?”
Afterwards, as if he suddenly remembered something, he looked around and fixed his eyes on Shen Qiao as though he had just noticed him. “What a coincidence! Sect Leader Shen also happens to be here! In this case, may I ask you to please be a witness for us?”