“Here's to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.”
They were soon stymied by a large crowd at its doors. Only the presence of guards of the Ma clan prevented the loud, boisterous crowd from breaking down its doors to loot the place.
“Clear off this rabble!” Wang Hong growled and the Imperial Guard obeyed by shouting and shoving aside the civilians who ran away in panic. Those who protested or continued to linger were manhandled, resulting in blackened eyes, bloodied noses and broken teeth.
The Ma clan guards at the doorway eyed at Wang Hong warily. They were grateful for the dispersal, but now faced an even more daunting problem.
A few moments later a perspiring, barrel-chested merchant appeared.
“I heard you have some contraband here,” Wang Hong said roughly, humiliating the merchant by not returning the greeting.
Wang Hong sneered. “We shall see! Open up, I shall conduct an inspection personally!”
“Get out of my way!” Wang Hong snarled and Ma Jun drew back fearfully. Seeing the stout merchant cowering brought a sinister smile on Wang Hong’s face. The moment he stepped into the courtyard, he could smell the sweet aroma of wines.
But Wang Hong smiled scornfully. He was spurred by the tantalizing scent of alcohol. Having forcefully curbed his drinking over the past few days, how was he to resist?
He ordered his men to search the premises. Ma Jun the merchant panicked, waving his arms in despair as the dozen or so men stormed in.
Wang Hong smirked at General Yin. “Do you see now? Why give them face when we should be the ones demanding for it?”
Ma Jun brought out a slim bottle of wine and presented it to Wang Hong with both hands.
Ma Jun hurriedly shook his head. “No, of course not! This, this is just the first offering!” he explained. He quickly opened the bottle and a waft of fruity smells exploded.
“Just as the rumours say,” he cackled a moment later. He was about to take a swig from the bottle, but was suddenly reminded of Prime Minister Tong Xuan’s warning. He stopped himself and reluctantly passed the bottle to General Yin.
General Yin’s eyes widened. “Many thanks!” and took a deep pull from the bottle unceremoniously.
“How is it?” he asked cautiously as the general wiped his lips with the back of his hand.
Wang Hong had watched with a pained expression as the general drank, but he kept a close eye to see if there were any ill effects. Other than the faint blush of red in the general’s face, there was none.
Ma Jun could only clench his teeth and sob, the very picture of a distraught merchant. More bottles were brought out, and Ma Jun could only wring his hands and clutch at his sleeves in despair.
“I will have to taste to find out,” General Yin said slowly. It was just what Wang Hong wanted to hear: he needed someone to taste them all for poison and the so-called North Star had volunteered himself to do so.
Soon the courtyard became filled with intoxicating smells as General Yin opened each bottle and savoured each gulp.
“Fantastic!” Wang Hong praised and smashed the empty bottle down.
Wang Hong noticed it and sneered at General Yin. “Do you think I would covet yours when there are so many here?”
“And why not?” Wang Hong said and drained a second bottle that was also opened by General Yin.
“Your words ring hollow with that bottle in your chest,” Wang Hong said, full of contempt for the general.
Wang Hong laughed harshly. “How womanly of you! I am the law here!”
“Risk? What risk is there from these merchants?” Wang Hong asked loudly. By now he had drained his third bottle that had been tested by General Yin, and the empty vessel too joined its smashed brethren around his feet.
Suddenly the atmosphere turned cold. Wang Hong narrowed his eyes.
“Do you think I’m a mere fool? To lure me here with alcohol right at the time when I was trying to abstain myself, you think too lightly of me!” Wang Hong said with a leer.
Wang Hong threw back his head and laughed uproariously. “Gentlemen, the brave General Yin Yanzhao the North Star!” he barked to his men, pointing at General Yin insultingly.
“Nobody in their right mind would dare to fight you,” General Yin said. “Besides, you are the Commander of the Imperial Guard. Who would dare to kill you?”
“Who dares to kill me?” he mocked aloud.
Shocked, Wang Hong turned around but could not react any further. A spear thrust flashed and lodged itself in his throat. The great Commander Wang Hong fell over with a gurgling a mouthful of blood, a hole in his throat and his eyes wide in disbelief.
If he had a few breaths more, he would have recognized that the deathblow was delivered by Zhao Sunli the War Goddess. Perhaps then he would not be so discontented.
Driven to drink,
Provoked a strife,
And lost his life.