The merry spirit of the Shanhe people remained days after the hunt. A great feast commemorated the bravery of fallen brothers, sons and husbands, and raised everyone’s spirits. Tables lined the streets of Yinying Yueguang, filled with delicacies from the finest of duck to the fluffiest water-chestnut cakes. The table even extended across the bridge and into the Lotus Palace, where the families of high nobility ate. This public gathering offered a great opportunity for Weishan.
On the last day of the feast, the emperor made an announcement. In Yinying Yueguang, he emerged from the balcony of a high-priced tavern in traditional blue and silver robes. Everyone hushed at the sight of formal colours.
“My fellow men and women of Shanhe. I have lead this kingdom for thirty-two years since my father’s early death and have promised to bring honour to his name and to the people. I sought to follow in his footsteps and ensure Shanhe is known to the world as a prosperous nation. Unfortunately, I have failed you. Our land is a formidable foe that struggles to grow crops for harvest and cater to the people. Due to this, we have been forced to rely on Linlong who steal from us. They demand high prices for a small bag of rice and refuse to feed Shanhe if we cannot pay! They spit on our customs and are ungrateful when they use our rivers to create life! I am ashamed to speak the very name of the kingdom! I will no longer be a disappointment to my people. I say we must face these barbarians with swords and fists!”
The people roared their loyalty to the emperor. The larger crowd muffled any disagreement from a minority. Weishan smiled, encouraging the rage and anger build towards Linlong. He could imagine the influx of army recruits. War was not too far away and his anticipation grew with each passing second.
The high spirits of Weishan continued long after the feast and remained during the war council meeting. Each man, including Hong Huli for once, entered the emperor’s personal study. The new meeting place hoped to confuse the Fox. They all sat at a table shaped like a flower; each petal provided room for a plate and tea.
“The birds are singing your victory across the land. Your speech was effective,” Joaolong complimented quietly.
Since the hunt, he looked closer to death than before. Instead of occasional fevers and illnesses, a constant sickly appearance remained in his face. The wound to his shoulder took its toll. It broke Yenay’s heart to see him like this. She turned into a stubborn and determined woman, using all her power to heal him. Weishan couldn’t stop her if he tried.
“You have won the kingdom over and have many willing to fight for your cause. What is the next strategy, your highness?” Cheng asked.
Weishan chuckled. “The plan is simple. We continue fuelling the people of Shanhe with rage and a justified cause of attack. General Su will train the new recruits and Hong Huli will be sent with the army for a surprise attack after winter passes.”
“Father! I am a notorious swordsman and should be training new recruits! Ànshù’s life is less valuable than mine and with his reputation, he should lead the attack!” Huli whined.
“Your presence is for morale. I suggested it to the emperor and he agreed as did the general. The men will fight harder if the heir to the kingdom battles alongside them whereas they will become lazy with Ànshù. It is a simple tactic to ensure this war ends quickly and efficiently,” Joaolong explained. “The men you will be with are well-trained and can protect you from harm. Meanwhile, Ànshù will continue hunting the Fox. The war may cause him to attack our emperor.”
Huli slammed his fist against the table and gritted his teeth. “You just want me dead! You blame me for your loss in the hunt!”
“Calm yourself, Crowned Prince. I suggest refraining from violence. It is unwise to be reckless and rude in a civil discussion. Your enemy is Linlong, not me,” Joaolong replied steadily and drank some ginger tea. Weishan admired this quiet strength.
“I agree with the Crowned Prince,” a councilman said suddenly. “Please rethink this, your majesty.”
Another council member spoke. “The prince is too valuable. He is one of the best swordsman in the land and it would be better for new recruits to learn from him.”
A fury bubbled in Weishan. The way they spoke felt like insults, as if he, the emperor, were stupid. How dare they. What had suddenly caused this confidence? He only tolerated Ànshù because of his use as a great weapon. He refused to let councilmen belittle him.
“Dying in battle is an honour and a privilege. To prevail brings greater fortune to our kingdom. You are suggesting the prince wants to abandon this belief,” Joaolong argued. “You also disregard the prince’s lack of experience guiding men in the art of weapons. The emperor has considered this and made a tactful decision.”
“I support Master Wang Joaolong. He speaks wisely and like the emperor, understands the best path to take,” Cheng said.
This sparked a louder counter-argument from the opposing councilmen. The noise sounded like buzzing flies to Weishan. He did not ask for opinions yet they still chirped. He was the emperor. He made the decisions.
“Hong Huli will fight and that is final! You all bicker like woman and made this meeting pointless!” Weishan yelled and threw his cup of wine to the floor. “We will continue the discussion tomorrow with the rest of the councilmen! I expect they will not be so defiant towards their ruler! If I hear such slander to my plans, I will make sure those who speak against me will be silenced forever! Meeting dismissed!”
Weishan didn’t wait for the men to bid him farewell and stormed out of the room. No one ever spoke to past emperor’s like that. Fear kept everyone tame. Tomorrow during the meeting, he’d install that fear by imprisoning a few men and removing some tongues. Then, he would have complete control again.