Chapter 36: My Ah-qiao is the best!
Seeing that Yan Wushi was treating Shen Qiao so intimately, Ruru couldn’t help but give a knowing smile. She had been taking care of Shen Qiao for many days and she admired him greatly for his behavior and morals. She hoped her master would treat Shen Qiao well. However, she had no idea how difficult it was for Shen Qiao to swallow that piece of candied fruit. It rolled and churned inside his stomach. He wished he could vomit it out and give it back to Yan Wushi, but that would not be in line with who Shen Qiao was. Therefore, he had to swallow it in the end, only to find that today’s medicine tasted more bitter than ever. Even the candied fruit didn’t help.
Yan Wushi looked at him with a smile, his chin resting in his hands. Seeing that the other person was on the verge of turning against him, he finally said slowly, “I went to the palace today to meet the Emperor of Zhou. He asked me to tell you that he wanted to see you.”
Shen Qiao was slightly taken aback. Yan Wushi had indeed succeeded in diverting his attention. “To see me?”
Yan Wushi said, “I’ll take you with me to the palace tomorrow morning. He will meet you around 8 am after the court meeting.”
“I’m just a countryside commoner right now. Does Sect Master Yan know why the Emperor wants to see me?”
“You can take a guess.”
Shen Qiao knew that the other person had a wicked character and would not answer easily. So he really began to ponder on it.
“I attended the birthday party at the Residence of Su just today. There was no way that the Emperor could have known about the fight between me and Duan Wenyang so soon, so it’s not about that. Is it because of Mount Xuandu then? Because Yu Ai received the invitation to preach in Eastern Tujue? Even though the Northern Zhou and the Tujue are allied and also connected by marriage, they’re still secretly guarding against each other. They’ve never trusted each other either. Is there something that the Emperor wants me to do?”
“You’re so smart!” Yan Wushi clapped his hands. “See? Even if I don’t tell you, you can still guess most of it yourself.”
Shen Qiao frowned. “What exactly does he want me to do?”
“You’ll know when you get there tomorrow. But there’s another thing I need you to do.”
Shen Qiao shook his head. “I can’t help if it’s anything immoral.”
“What’re you thinking?” Yan Wushi chuckled. His fingers brushed past the side of Shen Qiao’s face and landed directly on his lips in the end.
Shen Qiao didn’t pull himself back in time. His lips were rubbed a bit and were tinged with a thin layer of redness.
Only then did Yan Wushi finally continue, “Mount Xuandu flourished during the Qin-Han period. I heard that the first leader of Mount Xuandu was a wandering Daoist who was especially skilled at telling people’s fortune through the sound of their voices. Even Xu Fu was once a disciple of his.”
Shen Qiao laughed, “People love to tell and exaggerate fake stories. I don’t know if the founder of Mount Xuandu was related to the Marquis of Mingci, but physiognomy and fortune-telling are indeed essential skills for the Daoist sects. The so called voice-based fortune-telling sounds like an advanced skill, but it’s nothing special if you know about it. Voices are affected by people’s bodies, so you can tell a person’s state of health based on their voice. For example, if a person’s lung is full of heat, then their voice will be deep and husky like that of a hand bellow. It’s not hard to identify these things as long as one has some medical knowledge and knows about martial arts.”
As soon as he said it, Yan Wushi knew that Shen Qiao must have studied it before. “I want you to go and listen to Yuwen Yong’s voice.”
Shen Qiao frowned: “There should be many master physicians in the inner imperial palace. The most fundamental medical principle is the need to look, listen, question, and feel the pulse before diagnosing. If the Emperor of Zhou is really sick, is it possible that none of those doctors have found out about it? I’m sorry, but my skill is probably not good enough to offer much help.”
Yan Wushi explained, “In his early years, Yuwen Yong saw Yuwen Yu being poisoned to death by an imperial physician that Yuwen Hu had bribed. From then on, he has been against seeing a doctor. He wouldn’t easily call in the imperial physicians even when he’s sick. However, he has been managing the country and the government day after night for many years, and some diseases have already rooted in him since a long time ago. I’m afraid that his body is already damaged. I have some judgement in mind, but I still want you to have a listen.”
Shen Qiao thought about it and replied with a light nod, “Alright then.”
A smile crept across Yan Wushi’s face: “My Ah-qiao is the best!”
Shen Qiao showed no expression.
Yan Wushi said, “I have a gift for you.”
With a clap of his hand, someone came in from outside: “Master, is there anything you would like?”
Yan Wushi ordered, “Bring me that sword case that I keep in the study.”
The servant girl nodded. Soon, she returned with the sword case and offered it to him with both hands.
Yan Wushi took it over and ran his hand through it a few times. Then he smiled and placed the sword case into Shen Qiao’s arms.
Shen Qiao was a little confused at first. He groped it to open the lock on the sword box. When his fingers touched the sword in it, his heart skipped a beat with delight: “The Grieving Celestial Sword?”
“Do you like it?” Yan Wushi asked, smiling happily.
“I’m really grateful that Sect Master Yan has taken good care of it.” After Shen Qiao fell off the cliff and woke up, the Grieving Celestial Sword was no longer with him. He asked Yu Shengyan about it then, but the other person’s reply was very vague so he never asked again. After all, the sword was not necessarily in Yan Wushi’s hands. He could have lost it when he fell. Even if Yan Wushi did have it, Shen Qiao would be too ashamed to use it with his strength at that time.
But how could he not be happy about having it back? His master gave the sword to him when he was seven and it had never left him, not even a moment, ever since. Wherever he was, the sword would be there too. It was so much more than sword to Shen Qiao. Holding the Grieving Celestial Sword in his hands, he felt it back and forth with his palm. His joy was so obvious that even his face seemed to be layered with a mild radiance as if he was a figure carved from white jade.
Everyone liked beautiful people, and Yan Wushi was no exception. Even though he had no particularly tender feelings toward the fair, it didn’t prevent him from enjoying the sight of one. He started teasing the person immediately.
“Make that smile again.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
The smile vanished from Shen Qiao’s face, and he even pursed his lips. Seeing this, Yan Wushi had no choice but to stop regretfully, “Ah-Qiao, who are you showing this long face to? I’ve returned the sword to you intact. How are you going to thank me for it?”
Shen Qiao had also learned to be sly by now, “I thought that Sect Master Yan returned the sword to me because I agreed to go with you to meet the Emperor in the palace.”
Yan Wushi laughed and said indulgently, “Alright, whatever you say.”
Shen Qiao did not respond to his momentary crazy behavior. He suddenly said, “My root meridians are already damaged. Just like you said, even with the help of the remaining scripts of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, it’s going to be extremely difficult to restore them to their previous level. However, I have no intention to destroy my Daoist foundation and go down the Demonic path. If you want to raise me to be your opponent, I’m afraid that you may not see the result in another eight or ten years. If Sect Master Yan permits, I would like to leave the Country of Zhou after my meeting with the Emperor.”
Yan Wushi did not take him seriously: “After you leave the Country of Zhou, where else can you go? Without my protection, if a group of people come and fight you in turns, you will only be placing yourself at the mercy of others in your current condition.”
Shen Qiao said, “There are countless ways to practice Daoism, but ultimately, there are only two, and that is to withdraw oneself from worldly affairs or to experience and live amongst them. As I’ve decided to find my “Way” inside the mortal world, I’ll have to experience all the trials and torments rooted in the various desires of people in order to achieve that. Although I’m not particularly capable right now, I can still think of something to protect myself. If I rely on Sect Master Yan for shelter all the time, then how is it any different from staying on Mount Xuandu?”
It was just this kind of expression. He had already sunken to the depths of a slough of mud, covered in grime. Anyone could step on him, but still he thrashed and fought to get on his feet and began climbing upwards step by step. The betrayal by his family and friends, his kindness that was repaid by enmity — he did not seem to weigh any of it in his heart.
It truly……made people itch to step on him once more to see just how much he could endure before falling to pieces.
Wouldn’t this face, when covered in tears and pleading piteously, look even more beautiful?
Yan Wushi laughed, “I will not stop you if you want to leave, but I suggest you postpone it for a little. During this period of time, Zhou and Chen have agreed to form an alliance. The Linchuan Institute was in charge of escorting Chen’s envoy here. Now the Emperor of Zhou is also going to send an envoy to Chen with the written reply to Chen’s request for an alliance. He’s afraid that the Country of Qi will intervene, so he has asked the Cleansing Moon Sect to escort the messenger. I was going to hand the job to Bian Yanmei, but then I decided to go myself since I wanted to meet Ruyan Kehui.”
“The leader of all Confucian sects, one of the Top Three experts in the world, is going to fight a duel with me. Don’t you want to see it with your own eyes?”
However detached Shen Qiao was, he could not resist a temptation like this. He did appear slightly moved by the suggestion: “Have you already sent the challenge letter to Master-in-Charge Ruyan?”
“Why would I need a letter?” Yan Wushi sneered, “Ah-qiao, you’re not a confrontational person, but do you really think that other people will be the same as you? If Ruyan Kehui knows that I will be south of the Yangtze River, how could he not try to meet me? If he defeats me, it would raise his reputation by no small amount. If I lose to him, the reputation of Cleansing Moon Sect will be damaged, and our influence in the Northern Zhou will be affected as well. Without the Cleansing Moon Sect, whether it’s those who want to seize glory and wealth or those who want to destroy Yuwen Yong’s trust in me, they will all have a good opportunity to take advantage of. And who knows how many people would like to take part in such a lucrative business!”
Shen Qiao thought about it and agreed. Even though he didn’t approve of Yan Wushi’s style in handling things, he did admire his accomplishments in martial arts very much. Slightly fascinated, he replied at once, “The two greatest masters in the world crossing swords is an event that anyone would look forward to seeing. If the news is released beforehand, even if the location is set inside the most unfathomable forest or on the most remote mountain, the place would still be packed with those falling over each other in their haste to witness the duel.”
But Yan Wushi just had to shoot back at him, “Oh, you mean just like the time when you lost to Kunye on Half-Step Peak. You lose your face, and the whole world gets to know it immediately after.”
This man was seriously too acrimonious. Shen Qiao immediately shut his mouth and spoke no more.
Yan Wushi burst out laughing. “But this idea isn’t bad at all. Confucian scholars enjoy lecturing people with endless and lofty speeches. I’ve always disliked how mouthy Ruyan Kehui is. If I can defeat him and then force him to swear in front of everyone to never speak again, he’d probably prefer I kill him instead!”
Early the next morning, Shen Qiao followed Yan Wushi into the palace.
The Emperor of Zhou even took Shen Qiao’s eyes into consideration. He sent a carriage for them, allowing them to head directly to Qian’an Hall without any interruptions. As such, they could avoid the journey from the palace entrance to the main hall.
In fact, the Central Plains had been under war for hundreds of years ever since the end of the Han Empire. First, there was the chaos of the Three Kingdoms period, and not long after the Jin Dynasty unified the land, a battle broke out again, forcing Jin to move its capital southeast. After that was another hundred years of chaos between the Sixteen Kingdoms. Without a grand unification, the rulers simply had no manpower or financial resources to build large palaces, as nobody knew when their country would be attacked. Those kings who had some degree of accomplishment would often choose to put their resources into war in order to seize more land and wealth, just like what the previous emperors of the Northern Zhou did. As a result, the Northern Zhou’s palace was not very big, unlike that of the Weiyang Palace or Changle Palace during the Han Dynasty.
The present Emperor of Zhou, or Yuwen Yong’s reputation, was somewhat polarized. He lived a simple lifestyle and cared for the people, but at the same time, he was also mistrustful and harsh on his officials. After he came to power, he banned both Buddhism and Daoism. Later, he even distanced himself from Confucianism and became an advocate of the Legalist School which had been gradually declining ever since the demise of the Emperor Wu of Han. At the same time, he also relied on the Cleansing Moon Sect to secure his power, and was therefore criticized by many people. After Shen Qiao left Mount Xuandu, he had heard both praises and criticisms regarding Yuwen Yong along the way, and it seemed like there was a large amount of criticism directed at him, surpassing even the praises for him.
Therefore, Shen Qiao hesitated for a moment when Yuwen Yong politely summoned him into the hall and asked, “I heard that Mister suffered a lot during this period of time as you wandered amongst the common folk. I’m sure you must have witnessed a lot of hardships among them. Now I wonder, how I am viewed in the eyes of the people?” However, he still decided to tell the truth, “There are praises, but there is criticism as well.”
Yuwen Yong laughed out loud, “What are they praising me for? And what are they criticizing me for?”
Shen Qiao answered, “They praise Your Majesty for advocating simplicity instead of luxury, and for cleaning up political corruption. Meanwhile, others criticize Your Majesty for exterminating Buddhism and Daoism, and for treating people with harshness and promoting military affairs.”
Yuwen Yong asked, “Mister, you were the sect leader of Mount Xuandu. Since I banned both Buddhism and Daoism, I was your enemy too. Do you not hate me for it?”
His questions came one after another in a pressing and aggressive manner, as Yan Wushi only coldly watched without any intention to help Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao asked, “May I venture to ask Your Majesty why you banned Buddhism and Daoism?”
Yuwen Yong explained, “People who blindly believe in Buddhism and Daoism would donate all of their savings to the temples and just idle away, hoping for a windfall in their next life. Buddhist and Daoist institutions have collected massive amounts of donations and farmlands. They take farmers under their names to avoid paying taxes and levy grains produced by the fields as their own. If this goes on, the court will not be able to collect any grains in the long run, while Buddhism and Daoism will continue to grow more powerful with no fear of the law and eventually become the sources of turmoil. It will be like what happened sixty years ago, when Faqing claimed himself to be the new Buddha and led a group of people to rebellion.”
Since ancient times, royalty had greater power over religions. Whenever a religion became large enough to threaten the Emperor’s rule, it was the time for the current ruler to start destroying and prohibiting the practices. However, the Daoist sects had been caught in the crossfire this time. For the sake of preventing future problems, Yuwen Yong simply just banned both Buddhism and Daoism altogether.
As for Confucianism, Yuwen Yong originally decreed that Confucianism would be ranked first among the Three Schools. However, when he personally wrote a letter inviting Ruyan Kehui over to give a lecture in Chang’an, the other person politely turned him down. The act greatly enraged Yuwen Yong, and he directly banned Confucianism together with the other two, successfully offending all Three Schools.
After he finished, Yuwen Yong stared at Shen Qiao, asking, “Mister comes from a Daoist Sect. You must also feel that what I did was wrong?”
Shen Qiao said, “Dao is like water, benefiting all living things while keeping none for itself. The law of Dao is to be what it is. People who follow the law of Dao should soften their own glare and unify themselves with the ordinary. Only those who comply to the natural order of things and sense the common feelings shared among people can achieve the real Dao.”
In other words, those Daoists who benefited themselves through harming others were at most the scums amongst the Daoist sects. They could not be the representatives of Daoism.
Yuwen Yong’s harsh look relaxed as he saw that Shen Qiao was different from those Daoists he had met previously. They had tried every possible way to speak on behalf of the banned Daoism, while Shen Qiao didn’t hesitate at all before answering, and his stance was clear and firm. Yuwen Yong said joyously, “I’ve heard the name of Mount Xuandu for a long time, but only till today did I finally have the fortune to meet Mister. As expected, you live up to your reputation. Every passing day I only hear those people speaking on behalf of Buddhism and Daoism, but I should really let them listen to what you just said! The thing that I’m destroying is not true Daoism, but those who swagger and swindle in the name of the immortals. Those people don’t benefit the country or its people. It’s better to wipe them out early than late!”
His words were extremely murderous-sounding.
It was not easy for Shen Qiao to reply to him. Although he was not that kind of thieving Daoist, he was still a believer in Daoism, and so he could not show obvious support for Yuwen Yong’s savage words.
Yuwen Hu wasn’t expecting to hear any flattering words from him in the first place. He looked at Shen Qiao who was sitting at his lower left, and his voice softened, “The moment I saw Mister, I felt like we were old friends. Mister’s bearings are highly admirable. I want to help Mister re-establish the foundation of Daoism and rebuild the Daoist sect, and I would like to seek Mister’s opinion on that.”
Shen Qiao said, “This poor Daoist doesn’t really understand what Your Majesty is referring to. May Your Majesty please explain it in more detail?”
Yuwen Yong had always been a decisive and straightforward person. He didn’t like to talk in roundabout ways either, “Junior Preceptor Yan has already told me that you would not have been defeated on Half-Step Peak that day if you hadn’t fallen as a victim to their treachery beforehand. If that’s the case, then the Purple Mansion of Mount Xuandu has no right to depose you from the sect leader position. Even if there’s no room for you over there, there will always be other places for you. Since Mister couldn’t stay on Mount Xuandu, why not re-establish the Daoist orthodoxy of Mount Xuandu over here in Chang’an? I’m sure that with Mister’s superior talent, you will shine no matter where you are.”
Shen Qiao finally exposed his astonishment.
Yuwen Yong was very direct about it. He wanted Shen Qiao to start a sect in Chang’an and set up another Purple Mansion of Mount Xuandu. He was originally the justified sect leader appointed by Qi Fengge. It was official, and no one would be able to say that he was a fake.
However, there would then be two Purple Mansions of Mount Xuandu, and the new sect established by Shen Qiao and the other Mount Xuandu would be standing in opposition against each other far across the land.
What Yuwen Yong implied was to support Shen Qiao with the power of the imperial court. However, this help would not come for free. Shen Qiao’s new sect was bound to be weak in its founding stages, and because of that, he would have to rely on the support from the court. Therefore, Yuwen Yong would actually be using Shen Qiao to plant his own voice and influence among the Daoist sects.
Of course, Shen Qiao would benefit from it too. If he agreed, he would immediately be on equal footing with the other sects. Yan Wushi could no longer treat him like a plaything at his hand.
He again looked at Yan Wushi, that lazy and casual way of sitting could only belong to the leader of the Cleansing Moon Sect. His expression was just like his posture, loose and relaxed, a faint smile hanging off his lips, as though Yuwen Yong’s words posed no threat to him. Instead, he seemed to show more interest in Shen Qiao’s reply.
Shen Qiao did not contemplate for too long and he spoke directly to Yuwen Yong, “I thank Your Majesty for your suggestions, but my moral conduct is not adequate enough to accept this offer. I’m afraid I cannot live up to your high expectations.”
Yuwen Yong was both a little startled and unhappy. In his opinion, even though his desire for consolidating his rule could be inferred from his suggestion, for Shen Qiao, it could only be advantageous for him.
Meanwhile Yan Wushi snorted: “I’ve long told Your Majesty that Ah-qiao was a gentleman who would rather break than bend. He would never accept Your Majesty’s suggestion. Your Majesty did not believe me and still wanted to bet on this. Now that Your Majesty has lost, has Your Majesty decided on what to do about it?”
With his interruption, Yuwen Yong resigned, “I don’t understand. Mister has fallen so far — don’t you want to pull yourself together? Are you willing to give up Mount Xuandu, allow everyone to misunderstand you, and think that you’re useless?”
Shen Qiao only replied with a smile.
No matter how unhappy Yuwen Yong was, he could not arrest someone just because they didn’t accept his suggestion, and so he could only give up, “Never mind. Mister can take your time and mull over it. If you ever regret it, you can come tell me any time.”
Then he smiled at Yan Wushi, “To the Junior Preceptor, there are no treasures that are unattainable. The only thing in this palace that can be considered precious is that volume of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. You’ve already read it before, so how could the rest be worth anything to you? Why don’t you give me a way out and let me take care of today’s lunch for the both of you?”
With his aggressive personality, it was rare for him to be able to talk casually with others. The only reason he could treat Yan Wushi like this was because Yan Wushi was also a powerful man just like him. Yuwen Yong recognized it and admired him for it, and so he was even more respectful towards Yan Wushi than he was to his court councilors.
Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao had their lunch inside the palace before they left. As soon as they exited the main entrance and got into the carriage sent from the Residence of the Junior Preceptor, Yan Wushi asked, “How was it?”
Shen Qiao frowned. “Judging by his voice, I’m afraid that there has been heat in his liver for a long time. A long period of dryness is destructive. He might not be able to live for long.”