“Humans were drinking alcohol five-thousand years ago, and we're still drinking it now. Alcohol is humanity's friend. Can I abandon a friend?”
It was also escorted by a powerful contingent of guards. In fact, the ratio was completely disproportionate: the merchant had employed an entire company of men to defend a single wagon.
The escort guards brusquely kept curious spectators at bay and rode ahead to open a wide path for the wagon.
“Only the best wine from Tianxin City. It is a special blend that is only made once every ten years,” the guard replied proudly.
The guard smiled and was about to respond when another, older guard came over to knock his head in a reprimand.
The older guard snorted in satisfaction of his powers, but the same onlooker who had questioned the previous guard now turned his attentions to him.
“None of your business,” the older guard said brusquely.
“This is a special tribute from the Tianxin City branch family of the honourable Ma clan,” the guard confided. “Every ten years, the Ma clan would have a gathering in a different city for wine tasting and to decide the next premium recipe to be officially entered into their roster. This time it happens to be in the capital.”
The guard nodded. “Of course! Every branch wants their own blend to win. Expect to see more wagons like this over the next few days, they will be coming from all over the country.”
“What do you know about brewing wine?” the guard sneered. “It takes time to research and develop new blends. Ten years of preparation is nothing!”
The guard looked at him contemptuously. “How old are you? The last competition was ten years ago, did you even have hair down there back then?” he asked.
The news spread across the capital, with the details distorted and exaggerated with each telling as more wagons streamed into the capital. Fanciful descriptions of heavenly nectars fit for the gods soon reached the ears of Wang Hong.
“A wine competition right when I have sworn off drinking? Somebody is trying to set me up!” he said to himself, proud to have seen through the ruse.
Wang Hong only saw General Yin fleetingly when he had escorted the Jin ambassador the royal banquet. General Yin himself was completely forgotten after Lord Aidi’s dramatic entrance and subsequent humiliation by Huang Ming.
“What brings you here, general? Shouldn’t you be preparing to escort the Jin ambassador back north?” Wang Hong asked directly.
All of a sudden, Wang Hong had the impression that General Yin Yanzhao was a meek person and not at all like the warrior oft-told in stories. Combined with the faint impression of him from the royal banquet, Wang Hong thought that those stories were simply exaggerated.
“Well, what is it?” Wang Hong asked.
“What? It is a real thing? I thought it was just rumours!” Wang Hong said with astonishment.
“Explain!” Wang Hong demanded impatiently.
“He actually went to the competition? How was the wine?” Wang Hong asked, leaning forward in his seat.
It caused Wang Hong to gulp.
General Yin shrugged. “My father never told me the details, but it seemed he had saved a Ma family caravan in the past as it travelled the north.”
There was a sad, wistful smile on General Yin’s face. “As you are aware, my father died in battle. While I do crave the wine, my first wish is to make an offering over his grave. He said it was the best drink he had ever tasted, and I thought it was suitable as a libation.”
“I am sorry to have troubled you with this trifling matter,” General Yin said apologetically.
General Yin cupped his hands. “I am humbled by your praise. But since you did not receive an invitation, this is all moot.”
“I have not, as they are quite secretive. This is the first time in ten years that I have heard the Ma clan surfacing so near, which is why I dared to impose on you,” General Yin said.
“But the competition is a closed, private affair. We should not offend them,” General Yin replied hesitantly.
General Yin’s eyes widened. “You are very astute, Commander Wang Hong,” he praised.
How right he was! Look at how this Yin Yanzhao was grovelling before him, all for the sake of a drink for his dear, departed father!
Even a general is employed,
To play the part of a decoy.