Chapter 78 – Seven Cups and Seven Steps
A boat drifted toward the bank of the river. It was still bright although evening was fast approaching. The waters were reflecting the sunlight, glimmering on the surface. A row of soldiers had gathered on the boat, every time their sword came in contact with the armor they were wearing, it produced a clanging sound that was rather fearsome.
The governor stood atop the highest point of the boat, watching the sun dip gradually towards the west. The governor sighed and turned around, asking an official behind him, “Has there been any movement from Ji Bei Hou?”
“Your excellency, Ji Bei Hou has been steadily losing power. When he went back to Hou Mansion it was said that his fury had been hard to contain. Since then, there have been no movement. As of now, the entire Hou Mansion seems like they’re consolidating their strength. Only just yesterday, the third master of Hou Mansion came under attack by assailants. Thankfully their guards repelled the assailants off, and nothing untoward happened.” The official said in detail.
“Eh, I know about that as well. These bandits are starting to get more bold, to dare to enter a city and make an attempt on someone’s life so brazenly. For this banquet, have you arranged for guards to ensure the protection and security of the guests?” The governor asked.
“Do not worry, your excellency. We’ve deployed the top soldiers to ensure the security of the banquet. Furthermore, there will be soldiers patrolling the perimeter at all times. Lastly, we’ve already conducted checks to ensure that nobody brought any sort of weapons.” The official reported.
“Okay, that shall do. Observe Ji Bei Hou closely for me over the next few days. An attempt on his son’s life adding to the fact that he’s been losing ground, it’s abnormally strange that he is this quiet. It’s making me uncomfortable. We’ve been at loggerheads for the past two years. And although our conflict was not to the point of taking each other’s life, I do have a clear understanding of what his character is like.”
“This man can persevere and endure for a long time. He is willing to sit still and wait for the opportune moment. Once he strikes, he aims to kill. We cannot afford to let that happen!”
“Your excellency, it’s wise to be prudent and safe. But please do not worry, for we have all the necessary personnel in position to react should anything go wrong. It’s now almost time for the night banquet, please prepare to start the banquet.” The official said, smiling.
The governor was a man of literature, and had hopes to recruit some prominent literary figures under his charge.
Under extended periods of peace, the authority of the governor was immense and deeply rooted. He wouldn’t have to resort to such measures to recruit officials. However, considering that the dynasty had just been established, and power struggles between generals and military men were rampant, obtaining wise advisors and strategists were of utmost importance. Not only because they were intelligent, but also because these men were revered back in their various counties and wielded significant influence.
During the last event held by Ji Bei Hou, the new Top Scorer was present and even composed the poem, –Let’s Drink Up– then. The governor was deeply regretful that the poem was not composed at his banquet, although all the dates have been fixed long ago. It’s been said that the Top Scorer has been turning down invitations to many banquets. It still remains to be seen if he will attend this banquet. The official glanced at the governor, who was twiddling with his beard, deep in thought.
The ox-cart was cruising along an alley. A bell was dangled from the neck of the ox, causing a “ding ding dang dang” sound to echo through the streets as the ox ran past. Pei Zi Yun was on the ox-cart, his eyes were closed and a sword lay on his lap. It was as if he was taking a nap, resting and conserving his energy, preparing himself for what was to come.
The driver tugged hard at the rope, restraining the ox as it halted, right beside the river. A short distance away, the boat where the banquet was to be held could be seen. The ox-cart driver then turned around and said softly, “Master Top Scorer, we’ve reached the bank of the river. The banquet is to be held on that boat there.” He said as he pointed.
Only when the ox-cart driver spoke did Pei Zi Yun open his eyes and concentrated hard. There will be an attack tonight, and although the attempt on the governor’s life was futile, that was all Pei Zi Yun knew, for everything else was blurred out by the original owner. He had no choice, but to take it step by step.
“Find a place around here to rest, I would need you to pick me up again later when the banquet has ended.” Pei Zi Yun instructed the driver. As to what will happen tonight, Pei Zi Yun wasn’t very clear and he intended to keep the ox-cart driver out of harm’s way.
“Yes, master Top Scorer.” The ox-cart driver replied, as he pulled the reins of the ox, guiding it to some quiet place to rest.
Pei Zi Yun touched the handle of the sword, before retrieving his invitation and walking towards the boat.
There was an official standing on the bank of the river, accompanied by several secretaries. There were two rows of soldiers standing on each side, watching everyone who walked past intently.
Several officials who were invited to the banquet were stopped by the soldiers in front. They were searched to ensure that no weapons were being brought onto the boat. Only after this was done were they permitted to enter.
“Student Pei Zi Yun.” Pei Zi Yun handed the invitation over before saluting.
“So Top Scorer Pei is here too.” The official looked at this High Scholar before him, and saw a sixteen years old youth, who looked clean and tidy. Who would have expected this person to compose –Let’s Drink Up–, and shock the entire city?
Smiling, he said, “Can I request for Top Scorer Pei to remove his sword.”
Although Pei Zi Yun was a Top Scorer and thus was entitled to carry a sword with him, this was an event held by the governor. The rules were made by him, and if he wasn’t permitted to carry a sword, he would not be able to. Pei Zi Yun paused, before retrieving the sword. A bailiff walked over to accept the sword from him. Only after was Pei Zi Yun allowed to board the boat.
Once he stepped onto the boat, he realized that it was huge. There were four floors and everything was made up of entirely wood. Everywhere he looked, he noticed that there were armed soldiers around. There was a flag flying in the wind. Many officials and scholars were talking and boasting about their own accomplishment. This was a scene of wealth and prosperity where important people of the country gathered.
He then walked into the boat, where he noticed a stage was built. Atop the stage was a dancer performing with red streamers in her hands. Many officials were seated below the stage, watching the performance with great interest.
Pei Zi Yun observed his surroundings carefully. He noticed that the windows were all wide open, as wind entered. There was no ceiling on the second floor of the boat, it was completely empty. A person standing on the second floor was able to watch the performance on the first floor. There were bright lanterns and red clothes hung everywhere on the boat, making for a very colourful scene.
Pei Zi Yun furrowed his eyebrows. In an environment like this, there was no way to escape or defend himself in the event of an attack. It was probable that the governor did not even remotely anticipate that pirates could spring a stealth attack from the sea, and overwhelm the entire boat. However, Pei Zi Yun could not speak of such things.
He took a few steps forward scrutinizing his environment again. Apart from the officials who were present at the banquet, there were many other renowned literary people, High Scholars and even some Elementary Scholars that Pei Zi Yun met before at the Hou Mansion banquet.
A young man then walked over and bowed, “Master Top Scorer, it’s a rare opportunity to get to see you. We met the last time at Hou Mansion’s banquet. I must say, your talents are extremely unique and developed. I wonder if we will all get to glimpse upon your wonderful works once again.”
Pei Zi Yun glanced at him and recalled that this man was surnamed Li, a renowned literary figure. He was particularly well-known within the city for his works. High Scholar Fu had introduced the both of them to each other at the Hou Mansion banquet. Pei Zi Yun smiled, “It must be Mister Li. Regardless of whether we’ll see good works tonight, we have to first get some wine. For there can be no poetry without alcohol.”
“Ha ha, Master Top Scorer is right, indeed. Please take a seat here. We’re all from the same city. Let’s talk about poems suitable for this event.” He then dragged Pei Zi Yun to a table nearby as they sat down together.
The night was getting deeper and wine was being passed around to everyone. The crowd was getting noisy with their discussions and small talk. All of a sudden, someone shouted, “The governor, his excellency, is here!”
“It looks like we have to hold our conversation for now.” Li Ming giggled and sighed. Several soldiers marched in as an official announced the arrival of the governor.
The sound of cheers and drum rolls were extremely loud. Pei Zi Yun blinked several times and gazed at the setting sun, while the river turned red, reflecting the color of the sky. A pair of fully armored soldiers drew their swords and stood at attention. As the rest of the soldiers remained in two rows facing each other. They all carried a fearsome aura on them.
A moment passed before everyone bowed at the same time, “Respects to the governor.”
The governor laughed, “It’s my pleasure to have all of you here with me. Please be at ease. Anyway, we’re here to discuss literature and poetry today, and not ranks.”
He spoke a little bit more, before getting the banquet started.
As the banquet got underway, the waiters and servant started getting busy while serving dishes and wine. Just as Pei Zi Yun was about to start eating, someone came up to him, holding his wine glass, “Master Top Scorer, I heard you saying something about not composing a poem without any wine. Now that the wine has been served up, I shall toast you three cups, and you better have a good poem for me.”
This man spoke very loudly and chose his words very carefully as if to undermine Pei Zi Yun. Many people heard word that Pei Zi Yun’s poetry and essays were extraordinary and were unconvinced and jealous of the attention. When this man eavesdropped on Pei Zi Yun’s conversation, he decided to approach him and ask for a literary piece.
Pei Zi Yun rolled his eyes. This man didn’t look too proper, with his untidy dressing and his lack of tact. Pei Zi Yun laughed coldly, “When it comes to composing a poem, not only must there by wine, but there has to be inspiration as well. After seeing your face, I’ve lost all inspiration. Even if there’s wine there shan’t be any poems.”
This man carried a provocative tone about him and spoke with weird intonations, “Bah, what rubbish with the lack of inspiration. What are you talking about, there’s wine around but you still refuse to compose a poem. It must be that you don’t have the ability to compose a poem then.”
The man’s voice was getting louder. Pei Zi Yun was extremely vexed. Regardless of which world he was in, there was always going to be people like this. As long as a person was skilled in one way, there was always going to be someone who’s jealous of his ability and would vex and provoke him.”
“Brainless idiot.” Pei Zi Yun looked away and ignored everything he said. Who are you that I should compose a poem at your whim and fancy. And if I do, what face would I have left?
The ruckus attracted the attention of many people around. The governor looked up and asked, “Who’s that young man over there?”
“Your excellency, that youth was the same person who excelled in the Hou Mansion’s banquet and composed the brilliant poem, –Let’s Drink Up–. He was the Top Scorer in the previous High Scholar examination.” The official beside the governor laughed and said, “Actually you’ve met him before, although you’re quite some distance away now.”
It was very common for people to exchange poems and to have met each other in other banquets. The governor paid no mind and instructed, “Please bring the Top Scorer up here.”
Following the governor’s orders, the official walked down over to where Pei Zi Yun was seated, “Master Top Scorer, the governor invites you up to dine with him.”
Pei Zi Yun gladly accepted the invitation. The man who had provoked him earlier looked on with fierce anger, and obvious discontent.
Pei Zi Yun approached the governor. Today was the first time in both his lives that he had met the governor with specific intents. This was a person who was gifted in literature as well. He was well built and was about forty years old. He bore a scholarly look, and yet it was clear that he ruled with authority. Seeing Pei Zi Yun approach, the governor smiled, “Top Scorer Pei, I’ve been hearing your name plenty of times during these few days. I’ve even heard of the poem you composed titled –Let’s Drink Up–. Word of it has been spreading all over the nation. I wonder what amazing works will you create here today.”
At this point, someone shouted, “Your excellency, when the Top Scorer entered, he said that he would only compose poem when there was wine.”
It was the man who had provoked him earlier and had followed him all the way up. Hearing the exchange between the governor and Pei Zi Yun led to his outburst.
“Shut up. The governor is speaking, who are you to interrupt him. Get lost from here now.” The official beside the governor stood up and scolded him harshly. Only then did the man realized he had made a mistake and went back to his seat, his head hanging in shame.
The governor wasn’t affected by this at all. He then smiled and said, “What idea does Top Scorer have in mind?”
Pei Zi Yun laughed, “–Let’s Drink Up– was composed because my cup was never dry. I drank three straight cups and was immediately inspired. If the governor, his excellency, were to pour me three cups I shall compose a poem as well.”
Speaking words like these to the governor was indeed crazy. The official beside the governor turned pale and was about to start chiding Pei Zi Yun.
The governor knew that Pei Zi Yun had already joined a sect, and had no dreams to pursue a career as an official. He then stretched out his hand to stop the official from saying anything. Still smiling, he said, “That’s not difficult at all. However three cups is too little. The last time you had three cups and you composed –Let’s Drink Up–. Today I shall pour seven cups and we shall see what poem you compose.”
The governor motioned for the official beside him to bring the wine jug. He then poured seven consecutive cups and said, “Please!”
“Ha ha, this wine comes from good grain. Grains were picked. They were weighed. Soaked in Spring Water. Made into Wine. Poured into my cup. I shall drink more tonight.” Pei Zi Yun laughed as he took the cup and drank it all in one gulp. Everyone present cheered.