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The topic of debate was given by Grand Secretary Zeng Jing, merely at the beginning of which did Mr. Xie, who was invincible in debate in the Academy, realize what an unshakable mountain he had to confront.
After grooming, Prince Long Qing began to debate with a dignified look, not because he was fearful of his opponents, but because he respected the exchange of wisdom during debate, which meanwhile served as an appreciation to the courage of Mr. Xie to some extent. However, when the debate started, he directly revealed his uncomparably true level without showing any mercy.
Numerous words flew from between the lips of Prince Long Qing as if they were delicate lotus. Countless Classics from previous sages were cleverly cited and organized by him around the topic, which were then changed into a complex yet clear network. It took those listeners a long time of pondering to understand the meaning between the lines. What made the students more shocked and speechless was, Prince Long Qing was actually not using Classics from Haotian Taoism of West-Hill but just citing views from Classics in the Academy!
As Ning Que had judged, Xie Chengyun could just give a few rebuttals in face of the emotionless argumentation from Prince Long Qing, and soon after he was trapped in the ocean made by those lotuses of words where no mistakes nor indefensible points could be traced. What he could do was helplessly waiting for the network to be more and more intense with no way to fight back at all.
Ning Que was not skilled at seeking truth through citing the classic books to debate, nor would he become fond of it. Since the age of four, after realizing that those mathematical problems solved in Mathematical Olympiad class were totally useless in his begging career, he had firmly set himself a living standard: no matter how wonderful an idea or a thought was, if it couldn't help him in fighting or earning food, it would be meaningless to his life which didn't deserve a further study.
Hm... but calligraphy was an exception, because he loved it.
In short, he did not like debate, thus couldn't form a favorable impression of Xie Chengyun. As the one neglected by the Academy for six months, he found it difficult to have any sense of group honor, yet he was also unwilling to see that prince, who could remain devastatingly handsome with a poker face and continued to behave so arrogantly. So he hid himself in the dim corner with Sangsang who was also at sea of debate, enjoying wine and vegetable dishes regardless of what was happening at that side, waiting for the debate to end.
"Headmaster of Academy once said when all his disciples were gathered: If one can remain unchanged in the behavior within three years, then it can be called Tao."
At last, Prince Long Qing concluded his speech with the opinion expressed in an essay by the headmaster of the Academy thirty years ago, which at the same time ended this debate predominated by him.
The courtyard was shrouded with complete silence. All the students speechlessly watched the indifferent prince, not knowing what to say. Even those girl students including Situ Yilan and Jin Wucai were shocked with their back slightly damp. Such a thoughtful man with rigorous way of debate was really terrible, not to mention that what he cited were all from the Academy classics. What's more, he even used the doctrine of the headmaster of the Academy to draw a conclusion, then how could they bare-facedly continue to make trouble out of nothing?
Up till now, all those in the courtyard finally understood why Prince Long Qing gave people a sense of pride and indifference although he looked handsome and quiet with gentle manners and few words. He shouldn't be blamed for his arrogance. The problem was, others would naturally feel themselves inferior when confronting his strong capability. Then gradually the prince got used to this way of getting along with others and hence became a superiorly outstanding man without too many words.
"Before complaining that others always liked to climb over your back, you ought to think whether you took the
initiative to squat first." Ning Que looked at his classmates who were as still as a frozen quail, shaking his head and said, "You all treated me with such a loftiness, yet turn to be a hatrack now in the face of a tough one. How shameful you were."
Sangsang picked up the wine cup he had quietly handed over and took a sip, then she looked to the front and said, "It seems that Prince Long Qing is very powerful."
As if he were to answer the confusion of the little handmaiden, Priest Moli, vice president of Revelation Institute, looked at the students and complemented with great satisfaction, "The debating capability of Prince Long Qing is even greatly appreciated by the elder of Lanke Temple."
The atmosphere was somewhat embarrassing at the moment. The middle-aged general from Gushan Commandery who was sitting below Li Yu on the left suddenly laughed and said, "I, Zhang Jianxin, is a rough man, and can't understand what the prince and that young master were debating about. But I know, wine is a good thing to liven things up at a banquet. Today we all come to see Crown Prince Chong Ming off. In our Gushan Commandery, we don't have anything special, so I just bring dozens of vats of Nine-river double-distilled wine, and have called those lieutenants to carry them into the backyard. So I will invite you to have a taste."
Those remarks were straight forward yet polite. Nine-river double-distilled wine produced in Gushan Commandery was not the ordinary wine. It was a kind of high spirit brewed by double distillation, which was used by an emperor of the Tang Empire to soften the mind of the barbarians in grassland and corrupt the strong will of the tribes there, which thus had helped to receive a miraculous effect. Since then, it had become a secret craft under strict protection of the Empire and was often used as a stake to bargain with the tribes of the grassland and rarely served for consumption.
The reason why the nine-river double-distilled wine was rarely served for consumption and was even not chosen as tribute wine by the palace was that, it was not easy to brew the wine, and the more important was, this wine was so strong that an ordinary brawny man would be drunk after drinking only one bowl of the wine. Although it met the generous and brave temperament of the Tang people, it would be too unpleasant to fall drunk after just an unscrupulous sip of it when you were laying against a rail, enjoying the wine and the breeze and thinking yourself to be grand and unrestrained. Therefore, the Tang people had to painfully abandon it.
The rarely-seen double-distilled wine from Gushan Commandery was separated into smaller steans and sent to all the tables. Then more refined wine sets were offered, making the previous tension slightly relieved. But no one had expected that the general from Gushan Commandery called Zhang Jianxin asked for the maidservant to change the small wine cup in front of him for a big bowl. After filling the bowl with the spirit, he stared at the eyes of Prince Long Qing, asking in a muffled tone, "I do not know whether the West-Hill Divine Palace forbid drinking?"
Prince Long Qing looked at the small wine cup in front of him, shaking his head with a seemingly smile. This was the first time his expression was different as gentleness and indifference appeared on his handsome face, revealing another sense of charm, thus making those girls dizzy with fascination again despite the fact that they were just now annoyed at him for his discredit of the Academy's reputation.
General Zhang suddenly looked serious. He raised his left hand to hold the bowl with both hands and solemnly said, "Back then, I once fought against the cavalry of Yan Kingdom at the foot of Min Mountain. Now nearly ten years has passed and the two countries have formed a good relation. So with this bowl of wine, I want to propose a toast to Prince Long Qing, hopefully you won't mind. But the wine is too strong, and in grassland it says after three bowls of it, one cannot ride a horse. I do not know whether you, the prince, can drink, or either, dare...to drink?"
This utterance made the room still again.
In the corner, Ning Que looked at that direction and shook his head, saying, "Is that a compelling or just a farce? Vulgar, so vulgar! Guys from military troops of Tang who have withdrawn from the front line are so honest or perhaps stupid. The prince is a genius at the peak of Seethrough State, thus you should initiate a drinking game with him! It is just like gambling with your young master, me, in the dice game. It's exactly seeking for abuse."
While speaking, he emptied the bowl previously filled with rice wine and poured the fine wine of the Gushan Commandery from the stean into the bowl. He then carefully covered it with his sleeve and handed it to Sangsang behind him. The double-distilled spirit was indeed extraordinary, the fragrance of which gradually filled
filled out in an instant. Sangsang used to be calm but now she even couldn't refrain herself from showing delight, even her eyes burning bright.
In the depth of the courtyard, The Grand Secretary Zeng Jing found the scene embarrassing, thus standing out to debarrass it. He slightly patted the folding fan in his hand, looked at General Zhang Jianxin and suggested with a sudden seriousness, "Now, for the sake of our good relation, how about drinking together?"
Under such seriousness from a Grand Secretary, even the commanders from Tang frontier troops dare not to disobey. However, for some unknown reason, Zhang Jianxin persisted in holding the bowl with both hands as if nothing had happened. He looked at the Prince Long Qing coldly, saying, "Whether we drink together, or just serving it between we two, I was just wondering... whether the prince will drink."
Taking a sip of the spirit, Ning Que tightly frowned because of the spicy taste. When he heard those words, he felt something like taking just one dipper of water to drink from three thousand miles of water, which meant being single-minded to love, was indicated.
He furrowed as he stared in that direction, figuring the fact that general surnamed Zhang previously claimed himself to be rough... perhaps was just a disguise which deliberately compelled the prince to drink through a vulgar way. Using coarse and crude manner to fight against the adversary's elegance and arrogance would be a surprise trick under the current situation that the Empire's reputation was constantly hurt. Perhaps it was Li Yu who had implied him secretly.
However, just like debate, one of the two basic elements that made Prince Long Qing proud of himself, these things had nothing to do with Ning Que. When realizing that Sangsang loved this double-distilled spirit very much, he was busily pouring the wine out of the can and then secretly handed it to Sangsang sitting behind him. Next he secretly stole wine from a classmate next to him to feed Sangsang and tirelessly repeated the whole process with caution and happiness.
When the two hid themselves in the dim corner of the courtyard to steal wine, the situation in the courtyard had changed again. Most people thought that Prince Long Qing would neglect that invitation of a wine competition from the Tang general out of his constant indifference and arrogance, yet only perceived a sudden flash of light smile from between his delicate eyes and brows. With a slight wave of his right hand, the stean appeared in his hand soundlessly and stirlessly.
Soon after, Prince Long Qing lifted up the lower part of the stean, from which crystally clear wine flew out accompanied by its spicy fragrance and filled the big bowl instantly. Not waiting for wine to overflow, he raised his left arm as quickly as a whirlwind to send the bowl to his lips and drunk the wine up at the same speed as that of a whale inhaling water or of a tornado. How degage he was!
General Zhang Jianxin looked somewhat stupefied, as if he hadn't expected that Prince Long Qing, who was well-known for his indifference, solemnness and arrogance, should turn to be so casual and unrestrained in the face of his invitation of a wine competition. Then after a moment of distraction, he realized he was still holding the bowl, thus immediately sent it to his lips and drunk it up.
However, just when he was about to withdraw the bowl from his lips, he found that Prince Long Qing on the other side of the table had unnoticeably poured himself a second bowl of wine, handsomely drinking it up again.
Then the third bowl, the fourth bowl, the fifth bowl... Even in the grassland, there were tales about Nine-river double-distilled wine from Gushan Commandery, after drinking three bowls of which one could not ride a horse. Now that Zhang Jianxin dared to the prince to compete drinking this wine, he would naturally be an expert in drinking. However, he finally failed in this competition with the prince who constantly swallowed wine without turning a hair. Finally he flopped to the ground with flush face.
Then maidservants carried the generals Zhang away, who was filled with fumes of wine. All those from Tang Empire sitting in the courtyard felt ashamed. Inviting others to have wine competition was in itself a vulgar thing to the extreme, what's worse, the extraordinarily-refined prince who looked as handsome as those in the pictures should win a complete victory at last. It was not only vulgar to the extreme, but also a shame to the extreme.
Holding his eighth bowl of wine, Prince Long Qing gradually drunk it up, rather than putting it down at the flop of his opponent. Then he calmly looked at the others and said with a trace of weary smile from deep of
deep of his heart,
"In my life, I first worked hard to seek Taoism and was then in charge of judicature. In terms of wiping out the remaining forces of Devil's Doctrine, and punishing the betrayers of Taoism and heresies and evil doctrines, I was always harsh and strict, never allowing any mistake to be made. So far it could be said that no other objects were able to stir my heart with only one exception, that was, fine wine."
"Wine can help us to feel the way of nature and understand the mystery of the enigmatic world. It is a fine gift given by Haotian. So I always think that if cultivation is used to dispel the effect of wine, it will be a reckless waste of the valuable gift. Although I like drinking wine at a very young age, I seldom drink it. After I left Capital Cheng during my childhood... "
He calmly glanced at the crown prince, his elder brother who seemed to be forgotten by everyone in the courtyard and continued, "... I have only drunken four times these years, one of which was at the Royal Palace of Yuelun Kingdom. I was misunderstood by some people in that affair with Lu Chenjia, so they in turns competed drinking with me. The wine was not as strong as it was today and we didn't stop until all the wine steans in the palace were emptied. During the following three days, the palace was filled with fumes of wine yet I was not drunk."
"Wine is an extremely fine product, and meanwhile a devil music that can erode one's bone, so I rarely drink, unless I have to, such as under that situation in Yuelun Kingdom, or today's compelling from that general." He indifferently continued, "Or perhaps there are wines worthy of drinking, such as this fine double-distilled wine from Gushan Commandery, or there are opponents worthy of drinking with."
Then, Prince Long Qing once again filled the bowl in front of him and lifted it with a single hand. He looked at Xie Chengyun sitting below and said, "This bowl is to the bravery of Prince Xie."
Xie Chengyun slightly stiffened, and then with a sorrowful sigh in his heart, he changed for a big bowl, filled it with wine and drunk it as a response from the distance.
Then Prince Long Qing poured another bowl of spirit. Turning to Wang Ying sitting beside Xie Chengyun, he calmly said, "Wang Ying from Lin Chuan, you've already known Etiquette since the age of twelve, I have read your notes on Etiquette which was written the year before last year."
Wang Ying was no older than fifteen, who were still too young to understand the previous strives at the banquet, thus never expecting that he himself would be mentioned. Therefore, he couldn't help feeling excited and happy when he heard that Prince Long Qing who had conquered all those present with his charisma should read his notes on Etiquette. So he hurried to lift the little wine cup in front of him and drunk it up.
Unsurprisingly, after a moment, both Xie Chengyun and Wang Ying slumped on the stable because of the strong alcohol. However, they drunk the wine in such a peaceful way that no one in the Academy felt annoyed. Instead, Zhong Dajun and those sitting below him all filled their cups with the wine and waited for Prince Long Qing to mention them.
Holding his bowl of spirit, Prince Long Qing looked at the other students, showing no further intention to make a toast, instead, he sent the bowl to his lips and slowly drunk the wine up. Then he put down the bowl without taking a look at those sitting below. The other Academy students would naturally feel unpleasant, and even Ning Que, who had filled his bowl following the trend, was out of sorts. The good impression of that guy formed just now had all gone all of a sudden.
Prince Long Qing looked at the empty bowl with a faint smile and slightly sighed, "The Academy... what a big fame it has, I only hope that the real Academy won't disappoint me."
"How conceited you are!" Li Yue somewhat scoffed at him and said, "If you do not know what the real Academy is, how can you come to be a hostage from such a long distance? How can the hierarch Lord and the three Great Divine Priest allow you, such a big wig in charge of the Judicial Department of the Divine Hall, to quit the job and study in the Academy?"
After a short while of silence, Prince Long Qing looked up and calmly answered, "You are right, Your Highness."
Li Yu quietly looked at him and suddenly said, "Long Qing, I admit that you are really talented and have the capital of being proud. But now that you are in charge of the Judicial Department and have a good knowledge of Haotian doctrine, you should be well aware of the principle that one should let nature take its course and be free from forcibly insisting on. But why do you force yourself to be against your own will and pretend to be so arrogant?"
Prince Long Qing remained silent for quite a long time after being questioned, a gloss gradually found on his handsome face. He then replied slowly but firmly, "Our country is weak and we haven't found a solution, so what I can do is to behave more proudly."
He made the reply calmly and frankly, which made it clear that Yan Kingdom was too weak to be an opponent of the Tang Empire, and he, a royal member of the Yan Kingdom and meanwhile a disciple from West-Hill, should remain proud though as a hostage in Chang'an. Only in this way could he continuously remain strong despite of the weakness of his mother country.
Then he continued, "As for not drinking, it has nothing to do with pride. It is just because I cannot find an opponent in drinking."
Situ Yilan could not help retorting him in a whisper, "Men's ability should be shown on the battlefield, rather than in wine game. What is the use of drinking so much wine?"
"This lady is right." Prince Long Qing calmly replied, "Only good debaters can debate with each other, and good drinkers drink with each other. Today we don't have a debate competition, then naturally we won't have competitions in drinking."
Who could debate with Prince Long Qing? The most excellent debater Xie Chengyun had been totally defeated. Who could drink with Prince Long Qing? He has swallowed nearly ten bowls of the spirit, and claimed that he never got drunk in his life.
Then another period of embarrassing silence followed. What an unbearable shame it was for the Tang Empire and the Academy to be stunned by a person from West-Hill Divine Palace with nobody daring to challenge him! Li Yu slightly clenched the silk handkerchief in her slender hand and was about to leave. Suddenly she heard a sound of gurgling from the corner.
At the moment the courtyard was in audible silence, and even the sound of a needle falling to the ground could be heard. So the actually subtle sound of gurgling was comparatively amplified, which attracted all those in the courtyard and made them puzzled.
The sound was like a spring flowing through a waterway made by phyllostachys pubescens and then falling into the icy streams, or like the long-necked stork freshly waking up in the morning who was proudly combing its feathers around the neck in the grass of the wetland. It sounded pleasant and attractive.
Everyone, including Situ Yilan, gazed wide-eyedly at Ning Que sitting in the dark corner. They carefully listened to that sound of gurgling coming from behind him, looking somewhat confused.
A moment later, Sangsang, the small-figured handmaiden dressed in a maid costume, kneeled out from behind Ning Que, holding an empty bowl with both her hands. Then she was stunned to find that she was in the spotlight, and not knowing why, everyone in the courtyard looked at her as if they were looking at a god.
Sangsang felt very unaccustomed when she found she was stared at by so many pairs of eyes. Then she raised his right sleeve to wipe his mouth and gingerly put the bowl down on the table in front of Ning Que, and then quietly returned to her original place.
It was only until now did others find that beside the square table in the corner neatly placed four wine steans.