AOH – Chapter 42

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CHAPTER 42: SUMMONS

ZHANG LIAO BAO

It has been many months since I escape the attack at the pleasure house. The pleasure house was attacked by some bandits who came down from the hill and wreak havoc in the small city.

I now work at the Palace of Happiness, one of the many palaces in the Forbidden City.

I sneak here posing as some scribe after one of the people that try to catch me for stealing his knife is searching the city upside down from me.

He seems like a great master in the martial arts world.

I work here as a scribe for some nobles officials. I write their contract. This is all thanks to Drunk Wei. If not for his teaching….

Wherever he is now, though I suspect he is in Hell right now, he surely would be very happy to know what he taught me is not wasted.

In the palace there are many interesting thing.

Women, gold and entertainment all around.

There is the palace maid, beautiful and slutty palace maid, the princesses, most of them slutty the other is a sadistic bunch, the mistresses of the Emperor, though of course I knew my boundary so I didn’t approach them.

I don’t want to get killed, cut into a thousand pieces and fed to the dogs.

Though I do approach the palace maid, mostly for gossip and as companion in a cold night, huddled in my room and fucking until morning.

It is a secret of course.

Today I just got to my room after finishing writing some contract of trade between some people from Dukedom of Alan, someone from the faction of Alderam.

I heard about the war in the South of Vern. The Spear and the Shield. The war between the two brothers.

In Vern itself there are problem.

The Blood Brotherhood an organization that tries to install an Eastian Emperor into the throne is moving silently and stealthily, gathering allies.

In Vern to be honest, there is a lot more Eastian people than Caelum

But for thousands of years it is the Caelum that rules. The bloodlines remain strong.

I’m an Eastian but what do I care? As long as the people are happy and the country is prosperous I don’t really care.

There is also Lord Bradley who is a commander in the Empire, a noble lord of some great noble Houses who is stationed and watching the border who I heard is planning a rebellion but since there is not any proof not even the Emperor can do anything.

Tomorrow the Princess from the Dark Lands Arianna is coming, a secret meeting to try open back relation between Human Continent though from the rumours I heard from the palace maids it’s more like the Emperor want to see this famed beauty.

It is a lesson that Kings, Emperors and great heroes apparently never learned.

How many great beauties has ruined nations, pit friends against friends, making brothers killed brothers, bring an entire Empire to crumble.

Like Leliana relationship with Levitia or Igrayne with the 4 brothers of Dragon slayer or even the story of Alexander the Divider and her Empress Catherine.

They never learn. How dangerous beauty really is. It is not wise to worship beauty. You can admire it, love it, fuck it but you must never ever worship beauty or romanticize it.

I do not know the Emperor personally but I know his attitude. If he likes the Princess he might even ask her for her hand.

And that wouldn’t serve the Empire benefit at all. But it is not my problem to worry about.

I was about to go to sleep when suddenly I hear the commotion

‘INTRUDER! INTRUDER!’

Then I heard chasing and suddenly the whole Palace is in an uproar.

I stay in my bed of course. Even if I go out what could I possibly do?

Then in half an hour after that it seems like everything settled. Calm come again, and the uproar quieted, the guards began making rounds again.

The intruder must have escaped or captured.

I was about to resume my sleep when suddenly I heard a creaking sound at my door, then I could swear a shadow passed by me.

The candles went out.

‘Silence!’ He whispered. I felt the cold knife at my neck

I was itching to grab my own knife, an Enochian steel I stole from the pleasure house when I was running away from the bandit attack

‘Fine, fine. Calm down’

‘Who are you?’ I asked

He breathes hard and panting clearly tired and exhausted.

‘Silence’ he said

I silenced myself. It seems he is checking the environment

‘Let me sit down’ I said ‘I won’t yell for the guard not unless I want to die don’t you think?’

‘Considering you can avoid the palace guard you must be an exponent of some honorable school so I who am a lowly person who learn no martial art is surely not a threat.’

He is silent behind my back. He is thinking about it I believe.

‘Sit down then but one scream and your life will end’ I nodded and he loosen his grip on my neck.

I try to act as calm as possible and I take a seat.

‘Tea?’ I asked.

I did not look at his face not to mention the night is dark and the candles are out because of his swooshing

He sits in front of me and I lower my gaze.

‘Look at me’ he said.

The moonlight illuminates the room. I look at him.

He has a scar in his left eye, and he has long arm, his left hand is holding a gleaming knife illuminated by the moonlight, and he has quite the long arm, which would give him an advantage if he is a swordsman, his hair are curly, his face complexion is pale and a drooping eyelid.

He has blood dripping from his cloth, though I suspect it is not his blood. He looks normal….alright not normal.

More like a killer, an assassin. He has a lisp but his words are still persuasive.

‘Tea?’ I asked again

‘It’s fine. Just sit down.’

I nodded. Then after a brief silence he looked at me again and ask me

‘Why do you serve the Court?’

‘Whatever do you mean kind sir?’

‘You’re an Eastian right?’

‘Yes’

‘Then why serve the Caelum race?’

I looked at him again. He must be Eastian

‘The Blood Brotherhood?’

‘How do you know?’ he said alarmed

I chuckle a bit

‘You reveal much in your tone and prejudice against me, kind sir’

‘I’m not kind. And I’m not a sir. And how do you know?’

‘Ah,’ I said ‘but you are. If you’re not kind you would have slit my throat and be done with it. But no you did not. Instead you let me live, probably, if I have to hazard a guess it is because I’m an Eastian. Which means you are also an Eastian. And a sir you are. You escaped those city guard which means you have knowledge in fighting probably a squire and your derision and apparent hate towards the very name of Caelum make it  rather easy for me to guess who you are and what you are planning’

He looks amused.

‘Ah, page boy you are very observant’

‘I’m a scribe.’

‘Are you really?’ He said his tone is amused.

‘If you’re so good then please hazard a guess why did I come to the Forbidden City tonight?’

‘Hah, should I? Maybe I shall not’

‘Why?’

‘If I guess correctly you might kill me for maybe you will find me a threat.’

‘But if you did not answer I could also kill you’ he said, grinning

‘How about this kind sir? If my guess is right you will let me live, and I will let you hide in this room until you want to leave but if I’m wrong then you can kill me and I will blame no one but my poor observational skill’

He ponders this.

‘You are quit the conversationalist and the talker. You’re very calm too. Pity you work for the Caelum race.’

‘Well, to each their own.’

‘Heh, fine I agree to your term.’

‘Do I have your word?’ I said

‘Yes, you have my word but will you believe a killer word?’ he said posing me a question

‘I believe you to be an honorable man for you fight for our people, sacrificing your life for such a noble cause’

‘You believe our cause are noble yet you still work for the Caelum race’

I laughed a controlled laugh

‘We can argue all day why I work for the Caelum people or I could guess your intention coming here’

‘Hah, you’re right. Fine say it. Speak your mind’

I scanned him.

‘From the black clothes I believe you came here stealthily and in secret, probably pay passage to some Eastian palace workers to let you in, many I knew who would welcome some gold, and correct corruption is rampant’ I said clearly recognizing his shocked face

‘and from that knife carving I believe you want to kill the Emperor and then you will install a King of our people in the throne. The carving is meant to claim you are responsible, that the Imperial authority is weakening and you want to use it as a plea for the Eastian people to rise with you. Though, that would be a futile quest. A rash and illogical decision to barge in this vast city. Your mission from the start is doomed. Seeing the blood that is dipping from your cloth and seeing you suffer no injuries could only conclude that the friends you brought with you to storm the place is either captured or killed, is it not? Am I right? Or am I wrong?’

He smiles.

‘You are quite clever, scribe’

‘My name is Zhang Liao Bao.’

‘Offering names?’ He asked

‘You are a great hero for our people, it is only right I pay respect.’

Flattery.

Who knows if I did this he would not kill me when he is about to leave?The palace guards are so far away from here, so even if I yell now, it’s not like they will hear it.

So better get to know him, placate his feeling make him feel like a hero then maybe he will spare me.

I knew he has given his word, but if there is something I leaned in the pleasure house, words are winds.

‘My name is Wang Liao Ming. ‘

‘I’m honored’

‘Will you hide me in this room?’

I looked at his knife. Do I look like I got a choice?

‘I will. I have no intention of letting my own people get killed in the palace.’

Or I might get killed myself. HE smiles and he ordered me to sleep.

I went to sleep knowing that tomorrow I will still meet him. My new life began.

*************************************************************************

ROCKSTILL

1014 LIGHTMONTH

‘Should I accept it Silas?’

Silas is reading the letter from Vern. His eyes squinted under the candle light. Silas is in one of the room in  this castle. Yesterday I got a letter from Vern, an offer, a deal.

No one knows about this letter but me.

And now Silas. The content of the deal tempt me but I need counsel and Silas is a good counsel, his wit and conclusion serve as his weapon in the court though his apparent fondness for the Vermont’s do make us clash opinion sometimes in the court.

‘What about you my liege? What are your thoughts? Do you want it?’

He said putting down the letter back at the wooden table. He has finished reading it

‘What do you think of its offer, Silas?’

‘Tempting, but all bad things are’

‘Bad things? Explain to me ‘

He coughed a bit, clearing his throat

‘Vern offer his assistance to attack Alderam from the back and we can then attack him directly marching to the north while they will mobilize their troops to their south thus trapping Alderam forces’

‘Is it a good idea?’ I asked

‘It is. A fine idea. Your victory will be swift and painless’

‘Then how it is bad?’

‘It is bad my liege for after the war. After the war do you not think that the Vern will want something else?’

‘And what do you think he wants?’

‘Our fealty, my liege. Your fealty to be exact, enabling him to once again creating Empires of old under Vern.’

‘Would it be so bad?’ I asked ‘We win, and I still rule’

He laughed in the chamber

‘Rule you will. But you will rule in a land filled with rebellion, people plotting your death behind your back more than they are now, friends turns to enemies, faction sprouted like mushrooms, and uneasiness will follow you until you reach death door my liege’

‘Why do you threaten me?’ I said slightly wounded by his words

‘I’m telling you the truth. They kneel to the crown my liege, this crown. Not the Crown of Old. This crown. Force unto them an Emperor, than you will endure all this horrors and much more.

‘But if we keep going at this pace the war might get even more severe. The people will suffer’

Silas smile a proud smile

‘Using our forces is wiser. More time consuming but the reap will be joyous indeed. So cast of your doubt my liege. Think not of this offer from the Empire. Stay true to our course and believe in your subjects.’

I looked at him. ‘Are you sure?’

‘I have faith, my liege and sometimes that enough’

I smile

‘Thank you Silas for giving me advice. Now I can go to bed with a light heart.’

 I rise from my chair and was about to blow out the candle when Silas called me again.

‘My liege’ suddenly he said

‘What about the matter with Ser West?’

We both were arguing about this matter in the court in the morning

‘Will you not cease from this talk Silas?’

‘Not until a decision has been made’

I sit back down

‘Will I have to, always, accommodate the Vermont’s? He asks for Ser West and I have to hand him? The young lord has me at his beck and call. It is true, oh, how true your words. The Vermont’s are really powerful and audacious! Does he not put me in their eyes? 5 words in his letter. Bring West to my castle, the letter said’

‘My liege as you know the young lord is not a man of many words.’

‘But I’m his King!’

‘Aye, but do not forget my liege who seat you in that throne of yours. As easily his family seat you in that throne, he can easily unseat you’

‘Is that a threat?’

‘A reminder.’ I looked at him, glaring at him

He then sighed.

‘My liege I know your opinion of me. You believe me to be an ardent supporter of the Vermont’

‘Do you deny it?’

‘No, I do not. But my liege that is only because I truly believe he is truly loyal to you. The young lord and his family is only thinking on how to strengthen your rule. I could not, by my honour and dignity let their names be smear and tarnished by rumours and false words spread by irresponsible people. Can you not see my liege?’

‘See? See what!’

‘Someone is plotting in this castle wall to sour your relationship with the Vermont’s using their tongue casting the Vermont’s as disrespectful, treasonous family. Who whispers these words to your ears?’

‘No one whispers words to my ears!’

‘Are you sure my liege? Or is this sinister forces work so silently, so bold that he is in front of you all this time?’

‘The young lords know manners and etiquette but why did he sent me such short words?’

‘For he treated you like a friend, my liege. He believes you will understand his intention. Right now you have not done anything to be regretted about but if you start distrusting the very same family that came to your defense, who gambled their life for you, raise their banners for you, win your battles for you, the very same family that seat you in this throne, then sooner or later he too will no longer trust you. And then and only then tragedy will happen. More bloody than the bloody feast. Tragedy at its best. Oh how that story will be remembered. Song will be sung, tales will be told’

Silas has always has a penchant for the dramatic.

I calm myself.

‘Do you then know who is the one spreading the false words and whisper things into my ears?’ He nodded

‘Who is it then?’

‘That I could not tell. You must spot them by yourself for even if I tell you, your hearts will be full of doubts, doubting whether what I tell is not another plot.’

‘Then are you saying you do not plot in my court?

He chuckled

‘I do plot my liege. Hundreds and hundreds of plots, alliance created, alliances broken, promise forge, promise broken, but against you? I dare not entertain such treasonous thought. Plotting against Kings and great noble is not the level of courtiers. We are here because of you. Some are task in counseling you like me and Baldwin, some in entertaining you and other for other purposes. Our life and well-being depends on the King so we do not plot against you, we plot against each other to gain your trust, to gain your affection and attention.’

‘Then who would want to plot against me?’

‘People who stand to gain something my liege.’

Then he looked at me. Just looked at me pitifully.

‘Why do you look at me like that?’

‘I pity you my liege. How heavy the burden you bear but not many understand the heaviness of such burden. Acquiesce to the Vermont my liege. Show that you trust them. Do not let doubt and fear creep in your heart. I have seen you in your throne and I could observe you are very uncomfortable in the throne but I saw this. I saw that even though you might not possess great wit like your father and even his cunningness, or the charisma like your brother or the bearing of a king like the young lord, you possessed something unique and special in these dirty games of politics’

‘And what is that?’ I asked curious what did he see in me.

‘Your faith and kindness. Have faith. Trust and you too will be trusted. You have a making of a great King. In times of these wars you cannot shine. But I believe in peace, you shall make a great king, one that is kind and wise, who deliberates his decision who will stress peace and justice.’

‘Why do you believe me so, Silas?’

He looked outside the windows seeing the crescent moon.

‘Do you mind if I tell you my story?’

‘I would not mind’

‘I came from a farmer family my liege. A pig farmer. My life is peaceful but we are poor. My sister died of the Winter Cold. My other brother died of consumption. But then the Vermont rule. And they rule wisely. Settlements turn to village. Village turns to cities. And their family is charitable helping giving cheap education, giving food and gold to the less fortunate and invests in my father ideas and so a few years later my father idea bear fruits and I became a son of a trader. I am used to lived then, in the small world that felt like paradise, in the city that the Vermont created, socializing with traders sons and merchants, learning foreign language from Asteros sailors and whalers from Vorthy. Acro a city which is peaceful and happy and then the war came. Duchess Julia, the beautiful fair lady sent me here to serve you for I was one of the most accomplished in the school. So I halted my studies in the university and came here. But I saw how dirty the game is played, here in this castle walls, the war in the courtroom, of words and intrigue, secret war between courtiers, smiles that hide blades, words that drip poison, so I make allies here, make alliances, collect information and rise here as one of your trusted counsel. But why? To counsel you from the snakes that slithers your court, the one who hides themselves in shadow whispering doubt and fear. Believe this my liege. You are a King. And one day you will be a great King.’

‘You did not answer my question Silas?’ I asked as I saw he is already rising from his seat and about to get out of the room

He turned back and said

‘But I did my liege. You just did not understand it yet. And with that I bid you good evening, my liege’

Then with a knowing smile he goes out of the room

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