Chapter 10: Zhang Lu

Extremely annoyed with any and all who are interrupting his sermon, Zhang Lu breathes a sigh of relief when Hui Zhong arrives on the scene with his guards. He steps down from the platform, moving through the crowd toward where Hui Zhong is. The audience parts, some of them in awe of his presence, others looking at him with skepticism, most of them undecided about what to think.

Bowing low at his thick waist, Zhang Lu strokes his thick beard and speaks in a soft and somber tone.

Zhang Lu: My lord, I was just giving a sermon for the people of Puyang, as is my right to do so. It would appear that some of my fellow officers disagree with some of the practices of my way. I did nothing save to speak to the citizens of this fair city, and illustrate to them the true path according to my beliefs. I did not beat this man by my hand, nor by the hands of my followers. He beat himself on his own accord, for he is one of my followers. Are the people of Puyang not allowed to practice their own form of religion if they so choose? My lord, I joined you in the belief that I would be able to lead my followers and teach my tenets within your cities. In exchange, I would offer my services to you in any way possible.

He shrugs his broad shoulders.

Zhang Lu: My lord, I am sorry for causing a scene, but my comrades are challenging the rightness of what I believe in. They are entitled to their opinions, but if they continue to heckle me while I attempt to spread my word, I am afraid I will have no other choice but to leave this kingdom and find a new home to teach my religion. I do not want to leave you, Lord Hui, for you have been kind to me, but I cannot betray what I know in my heart to be true.

Dian Wei followed Hui Zhong wearing no armor and shirtless save for the white tiger cloak. His trust spear was in his hand and a pair of battle taxes now rested on his hip. Ziman was his lord's shadow and wherever he went, so did Ziman.

For the most part he ignored what Zhang Lu said and concentrated on the growing mass and anyone armed near his lord. No one was going to sneak up on his lord this day. No one.

He Bi smiled and bowed respectfully to Lord Hui Zhong before replying.

He Bi: Good day to you sir, I was only in your city passing by as I tend to wander the lands in search of Wang Huang often. I happened upon Zhang Lu and this.....beaten man and I tried to stop it. I'm sorry if I have offended you, but I can leave if you so wish it. I was only doing my job as a good standing citizen of China. If you would be so kind, I beg your leave to bring this man to a local doctor to tend to his horrible wounds.

He Bi kept bowed so as to show his respect for Lord Hui Zhong.

Hui Zhong listened to all that was said. He stole a look to his side, thankful that Dian Wei had shown up even though he hadn't been summoned. He had intended to leave the tiger man at home and handle this grim task himself, but after seeing the doughty fighter beside him, he realized that now, as Lord of Qingzhou, he could not endanger himself so willy-nilly.

Hui Zhong: My people, is what Master Gongqi said true? Has this man beaten himself of his own accord, with no prompting from Master Gongqi whatsoever?

As if to ensure that the people were to answer him, he placed himself between the crowd and Zhang Lu, the soldiers all watching the crowd, ready to act, while Hui Jian eyed the other officers present, the faint hint of a sneer on his face. Hui Ling was simply watching Zhang Lu.

What in?! Lord Hui Zhong! Murder Master...Gongqi? Who's that? Oh, maybe he means that preacher...Wait, HE works for Hui Zhong too?!

Kagayaki, shaken, begins to sweat a bit at the sight of his lord, but slowly closes his eyes and calms himself. He opens them shortly after, and begins to speak. Kagayaki: Murder? What gave you that idea? I admit I have done some reckless things before, but I wouldn't just kill someone who I know nothing about in an instant. I do admit I am not pleased by his...methods, and I might have gone and yelled at him a bit had you not come, but I had no idea he also serves you. I am truly sorry, and will remember not to watch his work in the future.

Sort of confused, and scared, he bows low anyways, hoping he will not get yelled at for that, too.

Out of the corner of his eye, Kagayaki spots Ishida Sun, and remembers a conversation they had earlier.

Ishida Sun: If you insist on receiving no reward, then I thank you for tutoring me for free. I will remember to repay the favour to you one day.

If things get messy, maybe that one day will be today?

Awaiting Hui Zhong's repsonse, Kagayaki remains bowed, but is now ready to spring into action, if the need be.

As Kagayaki turns from a tiger ready to pounce to a kitten nestling at the feet of Hui Zhong, Zhang Lu smiles. However, his eyes flicker with annoyance at He Bi's testimony of what has happened.

Zhang Lu: My lord, this man is a follower of mine. He came to me to purify himself. I merely took his penance as means to illustrate to these good people what must be done, according to my beliefs and the beliefs of my followers, in order for them to be cleansed of their sins. I told him he had to beat himself, for that is what my sect believes leads to a soul devoid of wretched stains. If you have a problem with these beliefs, Lord Hui, I've already offered to move my followers from your cities and seek a new home for me and my flock...

Hui Zhong sighed, obviously troubled.

Hui Zhong: Master Gongqi, I would like to honor your beliefs. I would like to believe that such an incident will not happen again, but it is quite apparent that you favor the arena of public display to spread your message. And while I would like to believe that perhaps a compromise could be reached wherein such displays are not accessible to the whole city, to my whole staff at a given time, and to my whole populace, your attitude speaks to the contrary. That said, Master Gongqi, if your beliefs are unrelenting and closed to compromise, then you may take your followers and leave. For my own beliefs in maintaining the harmony of my kingdom are unrelenting as well, and you disrupt this harmony greatly by placing yourself above my staff.

Zhang Lu just responds with a curt nod of his head.

Zhang Lu: Very well, Lord Hui. If your cities are not open cities, where your citizens can only practice the beliefs you approve of, then I cannot help but agree that my followers would be better off in a different city. I can only hope and pray that you are able to find balance and harmony within your own life, Lord Hui, so that you. and your people, will know prosperity and not know suffering.

He waves a hand, and a man on a horse comes bounding up to the platform. He dismounts promptly, and Zhang Lu steps off the platform and on to the saddle.

Zhang Lu:I will be silent now. I have promised not to preach in your cities, and so it shall be.

He waves his hand again, and a long procession of followers begin a trek out of the city, toward destinations unknown...

Zhang Lu has left the service of Hui Zhong! He is now a free officer!

Cao Jiao eyed the procession with keen interest. A small grin played upon his lips, though he was sure to hide it from those who may be watching.

Cao Jiao: It seems Zhang Lu is the first of many to finally take action..

Kagayaki is one lucky *******. Is Cao Jiao plotting his revenge?

Chapter 11: Chapter 11

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