Chapter 13.2: Tiger Cub

Meanwhile, the horse archery contest was about to end. 

Surprisingly, Sheng Chumu and Lu Qi were both able to hit all fifteen targets. Even the Emperor took notice of Sheng Chumu’s spectacular performance. After learning that Sheng Chumu was Sheng Xiaojing’s eldest son, he was surprised but also glad. 

When the horse archery contest ended, Sheng Chumu and Lu Qi had the highest scores and the both of them set to compete in the final round.

A few palace servants pulled two horses towards the arena. Sheng Chumu observed one of Lu Qi’s underlings coming from the same direction and could not help feeling suspicious as his eyes narrowed. The Lu family’s father and son pair was vicious. At this critical juncture, the opponent’s servant went to the stables. This could not just be a coincidence. He thought of something and called his own guards. He instructed them to find a horse that had a similar pelt colour. He ordered them to swap the horse with the one that he was supposed to use. 

Very soon, the drums started to beat, signalling the start of the contest. Sheng Chumu and Lu Qi stood at opposite ends. Whipping their horses, they dashed towards each other. In the beginning, the two seemed to be on par in terms of strength as they exchanged blows. Dust and soil circled around the fight and the Emperor nodded in satisfaction at the intensity of the battle. All of a sudden, Sheng Chumu’s horse seemed to lose its footing, causing him to appear to loosen his grip on the reins. Lu Qi caught onto the opportunity and rushed forward, excited to attack. 

Unexpectedly, Sheng Chumu turned around sharply and threw a blow towards Lu Qi’s chest. Without time to react, Lu Qi fell off his horse. Silence engulfed the arena as the winner had been decided.

After a moment, Sheng Xiaojing cheered loudly, “Brilliant!” Everyone regained their senses and praised Sheng Chumu’s actions.

“Aiyo, Duke Chen!” Sheng Xiaojing boasted towards Lu Yunji, “I heard your family proudly opened a gambling bet with a ten to one winning odds against my son winning. My Duke Lu Residence followed along and bet our land contract, house deed, market agreements and gold. When we get our winnings, we will be able to have feasts for every meal for a few years. I have to thank you for your generosity, Duke Chen. Tonight, I will personally head to your residence. Do remember to place your orders.” 

Sheng Chumu’s two younger brothers had really listened to their elder brother and stole their house’s valuables out to bet. Madam Sheng was furious while Sheng Xiaojing urged them on. He even took out his own personal stash. Today, the Duke Lu Residence was rich because of the bet. This was what it meant to win on the surface and still have substance. Feels good!

Lu Yunji acted like he did not care but he was bursting inside. He could not believe it. It was as if Sheng Chumu was an entirely different person. He was too careless. 

The Emperor was oblivious to the fight between his two beloved officials and called Sheng Chumu. He wanted to test Sheng Chumu further. He asked Sheng Chumu how many grades of armor he could pierce through.

Sheng Chumu immediately understood what the Emperor meant and bravely asked to try.

The internal attendants cleared the grounds and set up a seventh grade armor a hundred meters away. Sheng Chumu drew his arrow and shot at it without hesitation, instantly piercing through the seventh grade heavy armor. This time, the crowd cheered wildly for him. Sheng Chumu was not surprised. He had gone through numerous beatings to achieve this result in Wudi Manor. 

The Emperor was satisfied. “That was a good shot. It was able to pierce through the seventh-grade armor. From today onwards, I want to see who dares to call you Chang’an’s top playboy.” 

Sheng Chumu laughed lightly, “I have corrected my playful ways already.” 

The Emperor nodded. “Know your mistakes and you can correct them. Duke Lu can retire with ease with such an outstanding son.” 

“Your Majesty, I am very happy with my son. However, Duke Chen’s son is not bad either. He came in second after all.” Sheng Xiaojing could finally let go of all his bottled up anger against the Lu family. 

“Admittedly, my son cannot compare to Duke Lu’s son. Sheng Chumu is outstanding in all aspects of horse riding and archery and he takes after Duke Lu in the past. It is Your Majesty’s blessing that we have such great talents. I request for Your Majesty to make Sheng Chumu an assistant general under me. I believe that in a few years’ time, I can nurture him to become a silver bullet for Great Tang!” Lu Yunji devised a plan very quickly. 

The Emperor was drawn in by his proposal and he gave his order, “Duke Chen has made many contributions and is loyal to the country. I am proud and glad. The generals that have served me in the past are now old and the new generation must take over. Sheng Chumu, I appoint you as General Dingyuan. You will serve Duke Chen as his assistant general and follow his lead to bring prosperity to the country.” 

Sheng Xiaojing froze, cursing Lu Yunji in his head. How vicious, was he trying to kill his son? 

Sheng Chumu acted smoothly as he accepted the royal decree. He was thinking of making a contribution and then asking His Majesty to bestow marriage for him and Fu Rou.

 

Candles were burning as the palace gradually became silent.

The new moon was out tonight and there were little stars in the sky. A small light, like a firefly, suddenly appeared at the end of the pitch black corridor. When the light came nearer, it turned out to be a candlelight. As the candle was covered with a translucent cloth, it could only make out two hazy figures. If one were not focused, one would not be able to spot them.

“Head Seamstress Fu, you are really lucky. Recently, the Emperor and Empress has been advocating to be frugal and a lot of corridors are not lit at night. If not for this, there would be no use begging Chief Cao.” The one speaking was Yang Bo.

When Fu Rou heard that Sheng Chumu was going to be sent out to battle, she gave up her winnings and begged Chief Cao to help her think of a way to meet Sheng Chumu. Chief Cao was initially troubled on how he would pay Fu Rou. But now, in less than an hour, all he needed to do was to pull some strings and get someone to open one of the palace gates. 

“Thank you, Yang Bo.” Fu Rou was filled with gratitude.

“It is nothing, you don’t have to thank me.” Yang Bo admired Fu Rou. She was one of the few capable people. “Later when you meet him, hurry and say what you need to say. Just say a few short sentences. Even with Chief Cao, this is still against the palace rules and if we get caught, the punishment is death.”

Fu Rou lowered her head and made a sound of acknowledgement. She could hardly hide the excitement in her eyes. They had already reached the gate and Sheng Chumu was on the other side.

Yang Bo opened a small door and greeted the guard that was standing guard outside. The guard had made sure that there would not be anyone at this time. They then stood as a lookout. Yang Bo let Fu Rou out.

A black figure immediately rushed in front of her before coming to a stop. Fu Rou looked at the face, still slightly bruised from the fight. Her fingers curled into a fist to conceal her concerns as a warm smile appeared on her face.

“Rou’er!” Sheng Chumu was excited. Yang Bo jumped and immediately shushed him. “Oh my god, lower your voice.”

Sheng Chumu listened to him and lowered his voice. “I thought I wouldn’t get to see you before I leave.”

Fu Rou bit her lip. “I am scared.”

Sheng Chumu held onto Fu Rou’s hand and realised that she was clenching her fists. He gently pried opened her fingers and placed his palm against hers. “I am not scared.”

Glancing at Yang Bo by the side, Fu Rou took back her hands. Sheng Chumu murmured, “After you entered the palace, you won’t even let me touch your hands. Luckily I managed to kiss you that night and got some benefits.”

Fu Rou muttered, “As long as you return safely, I will let you take advantage of me all you want.”

Sheng Chumu’s ears perked up. “What?”

“Nothing.” Fu Rou took out a spice pouch. “Here.”

Sheng Chumu took the spice pouch and flipped it over, examining the embroidery. “What love letter have you hidden in this?”

Fu Rou laughed. “Indecent.” He was so smooth. Even when he goes to the battlefield, he should be able to survive.

Sheng Chumu grinned. “You haven’t seen me when I am indecent. When I get back, you will find out.”

Fu Rou stared deeply into his eyes. “Are you promising me that you will return?”

Sheng Chumu raised his hand up to the sky. “I swear.”

Yang Bo noticed that the guards patrolling the area were heading towards them soon as he rushed them. “Let’s go. Stop being clingy. You said what you needed to say and gave what you wanted to give. It is not like you can leave together.” 

Seeing how Fu Rou did not move, Yang Bo's heart pounded and he had no choice but to drag her with him.

Fu Rou kept looking back, unwillingly to leave. She silently mouthed the words - I will wait. Sheng Chumu held the spice pouch tightly in his hands and brought it to his heart, nodding wordlessly. They solemnly exchanged promises. 

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