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Naturally, inside the pastry was an essential, first-rate poison that Fan Xian had meticulously prepared for the journey northward.He presumed that his companion, owing to his ident.i.ty, also felt it beneath his dignity to cheat. Seeing that he had seen through it, Fan Xian gave a pained smile. "I was confident that this drug powder had no unusual taste to it at all. How did you detect it, Master Xiao?"Xiao En looked at him and slowly closed his eyes. "You are a student of Fei Jie. No matter how you may try to distinguish yourself, you cannot escape his shadow. I consumed Fei Jie’s poison in your prison for decades. He and Chen Pingping could not bring themselves to kill me. They could only use poisons to damage my body’s meridians. If you had eaten pastries from a vendor for over a decade, and then one day, that vendor had a new apprentice who made a pastry, although it might taste of scallion, I think you would still be able to taste that vendor's product."Fan Xian felt a slight admiration deep in his heart. He sighed. "Perhaps every vendor's flour and water quant.i.ty is different.""Correct." Xiao En smiled. It was a smile that could make one feel a chill. "Poison is the same. For an old b.a.s.t.a.r.d like me, sampling poison is not a case of detecting flavor, but simply feeling with the mouth."
Fan Xian opened his mouth, wanting to speak, though ultimately just sighed and smiled. "It's like eating poison as if it were simply plain cooked rice." Since Xiao En had tasted the poison in the pastry, and yet still ate it calmly, it appeared as though the poison was useless. "There are three grandmasters specializing in the poison in all the land," he said with a smile. "My teacher is one. Another one is already dead. I almost forgot that you were the third, Mr. Xiao. It appears I rather overestimated my own capabilities."Xiao En moved his wrist, and his iron chains clanked. Fan Xian placed fresh water into his hand. Having drunk the water bowl dry, Xiao En suddenly closed his eyes and smiled. "If I wish to relieve myself, then what is to be done?""There is a chamber pot in the carriage.""The sun is quite nice outside.""It has already set behind the mountains.""It is also nice to see the evening sky in the Kingdom of Qing.""It gets cold at night. You are old, sir. It is best that you rest inside the carriage."The old man spoke softly, his eyes closed, and the young man replied with a smile. Xiao En opened his eyes calmly. "I have spent many years in prison, seeing only a crack of light from the door. Master Fan, will you allow me to go out and look?"Fan Xian shook his head resolutely. But a smile still hung on his face. "It is dangerous.""I am not dangerous," said Xiao En gently. "Since you have already reached an agreement with the north, anyone with even the slightest wisdom would know that it would be my smartest choice to peacefully follow the diplomatic mission.""Mr. Xiao," Fan Xian replied calmly, "on the road out of the capital, the safety of the diplomatic mission throughout its journey is the responsibility of the city garrison. I think you can guess why the Kingdom of Qing wishes to exchange you with Northern Qi. It is quite a humiliating affair. So I am worried that if you were to get out of the carriage wearing your leg-irons and manacles, it is possible that a volley of arrows might suddenly be launched from afar, turning you into the hedgehog."Xiao En knew that this young enemy was not telling falsehoods. He smiled. "Can it be that you do not wish to kill me? If I return to the north, then within three years, I will have wreaked unbearable damage upon your nation."Fan Xian shook his head, his self-confidence showing through the smile on his handsome face. "I am not of the older generation, so my respect for you is solely a product of legends. I never presumed that you would return to the north and cause as much damage as you did in the past. Of course, if I could kill you, it would be the simplest way of dealing with you, but by comparison, I consider exchanging you as a bargaining chip to be more important. So do not be concerned. I will protect your life until you arrive in the Northern Qi city of Shangjing and are handed over to those friends of yours."Xiao En was silent.Fan Xian smiled. "Until now, I had no way of precisely determining your current strength, so I have been extremely careful throughout the journey. As for you leaving the carriage, I have enough power at any time to ensure that should you try to leave , I can respond quickly and appropriately."Xiao En smiled, still saying nothing.Since the secret poisoning had been seen through, and clearly had no effect, it seemed time for a more uncivilized approach. Fan Xian exhaled and stood up, stepping over the iron chains firmly bound to Xiao En's hands, and tied a length of black cloth around Xiao En's elbow, softly but impolitely patting the back of his hand.Then he removed a small box from inside his jacket, opened it, and took out a sharp and slender needle. The thin syringe had been skillfully hollowed out. The back end of the needle bulged. It wasn't clear what material it was made from, but it could be presumed that it was used to store medicine. Xiao En's eyes went blood red and he looked Fan Xian in the eye coldly. Fan stepped steadily closer, carrying the needle.There was a sudden eruption of a strange feeling in the carriage. Fan Xian sensed a slight sweetness on the tip of his nose. The air was filled with the smell of blood, faintly red, coming from Xiao En's angry body.The guards and the officials of the Overwatch Council outside the carriage immediately felt that something was amiss inside it, and silently rushed forth, drawing their weapons. Keeping watch outside the carriage, w.a.n.g Qinian turned his head and frowned, then waved his hand dismissively at them to indicate that there was nothing wrong.In the carriage, Fan Xian slowly withdrew the needle from the back of Xiao En's hand, using a cloth to wipe the tip. He raised his head and smiled. "Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Xiao."Unsure which acupoint the needle had pierced, and unsure what drug he had injected him with, Xiao En's astonishing and imposing manner had already diminished greatly. Even his face appeared to have become more withered."My respect for you is as an elder," said Fan Xian, stooping to step out of the carriage. "But remember, right now, you are not the spymaster of Northern Wei, neither are you the one who struck fear into hearts across the land. You are merely my prisoner, and nothing more. If you try to escape, I have many ways to kill you.""Master, there is no need to be so cautious," said w.a.n.g Qinian, accompanying him as he sat beneath a tree by the side of the road. He saw the fatigue on Fan Xian's face. "If Xiao En wishes to regain his freedom, then he should co-operate with us in pa.s.sing the border to Northern Qi."Fan Xian shook his head. "You don't understand. For someone like Xiao En, given that he has been imprisoned for nearly 20 years, what else is there? Look into his eyes. Other than resentment what else is left? A terrifyingly clear vision, and a burning ambition. If he only seeks freedom, then he will cooperate with us. But if he seeks more, he will think of a way to flee. In the Overwatch Council prison, he was watched closely, and didn't have a chance. But on this slow road north, there are too many opportunities. So I want to think of every single way possible to weaken his strength and his resolve while still keeping him alive.""Why does he want to escape?""Because the regime now in the north is not the regime of Northern Wei - the one he served for many years and was even imprisoned for - but rather that Northern Qi." Fan Xian smiled. "Although the royal family of Northern Qi is the House of Zhan, and Commander Zhan Fengqing and Xiao En had good relations at the time, there has been a change of dynasty. Xiao En has been imprisoned for many years, and is not sure how the current northern royal family sees him. If the royal family of the north considers him to still be of use, then he will be treated as an honored guest. But if he is of no use, do you think that the royal family of Northern Qi would be mad enough to allow such a terrifying spymaster to establish himself in Shangjing once more?"Then why does Northern Qi wish to trade Master Yan for Xiao En?""Because of two people," Fan Xian explained cursorily. "One is Zhuang Mohan, and the other, I presume... is the famous northern general Shang Shanhu.""Master, you presume that the reason that Xiao En would risk an escape is because he does not trust the royal family of Northern Qi?"Fan Xian thought of what Wu Zhu had told him, and sighed quietly. "For people in our profession, no one can be trusted. As for Xiao En, he undoubtedly has other ideas, but I am unable to guess at them. All I know is that he must reach Shangjing alive. It is that simple.""Where could Xiao En make his move?""Before we cross the border. If we cross the border into Northern Qi, even if he escapes, he is also the responsibility of Northern Qi. Since Xiao En wants to have Northern Qi recognize his position, he cannot break the agreement," said Fan Xian calmly.He suddenly stood up. "We cannot go to the relay station today," he ordered. "We will make camp in the countryside."His subordinates received his order, and each went to his own team to organize setting up camp. w.a.n.g Qinian looked at Fan Xian, somewhat puzzled. Fan Xian shook his head. "We must train ourselves and adapt. After leaving Cangzhou, there will be no relay stations we can use in the north. We must take advantage of our closeness to the capital and get the subordinates used to the situation as quickly as possible.""A battlefield operation is not playing house." w.a.n.g Qinian, seeing his master's concern, tactfully began to play the supporting role.Fan Xian quietly clapped his hands together and waved him away with a smile. Then he sat quiet and alone beneath the tree, looking at the carriage and thinking about the old man inside."I hope you don't change your name to Shawshank." When he had injected him with the needle in the carriage earlier, Fan Xian had still been somewhat nervous. He didn't know whether or not Xiao En might have flown into a rage. After some investigation, he still did not know how much strength was left in this ninth-level master - one of only a handful in the world - after his years in prison. But he knew that before he caught sight of his best opportunity, the fearsome Xiao En would be honest.The mountain wind blew past the tree behind Fan Xian, blowing past the cold wet patch of sweat on the clothes on his back. Some time later, he stood up, his face expressionless, and headed toward Si Lili's carriage. The character "Xiao" in Xiao En’s name is also used to spell the word "Shawshank" in Chinese, as in "The Shawshank Redemption", a movie about an escaping prisoner.