Chapter 152: The rules are set, the stakes are huge
A drinking contest for the new guests!
Everyone in the crowd seemed to be hooting and clamoring. The North and South Lords stood up one after the other, eager to have a go. After watching the underdog Han Yunxi earn all that attention, they knew they'd get their share of fame too if they beat her in a drinking game. If they couldn't be more famous, they could at least draw even.
Wasn't the entire purpose of attending the Plum Blossom Meet to make a name for oneself? If the women could attract a crowd of admirers for their accomplishments, the same could be said for the men. Fame and reputation were naturally good prospects for profit.
"Esteemed wangfei, since everyone's so hospitable, let's not disappoint them!"
The North Lord Zhangsun Che smiled as he walked forward, lightly fanning himself. His free and easy elegance, combined with his bewitching, ambiguous smile, entranced quite a few females. Han Yunxi wasn't affected at all after bearing witness to the truly bewitching Gu Qishao.
Once the North Lord made his move, the South Lord Li Muge was unwilling to be outdone. He took delicate steps to follow the first male into the center of the assembly. His half-opened fan shielded his face, which was more delicate and pretty than a girl's, as he grumbled flirtatiously, "Esteemed wangfei, to be able to compete in a drinking game with you is fortune that xiaosheng has cultivated over three lifetimes. Please don't disappoint xiaosheng and hurt his feelings!"
Han Yunxi narrowly avoided throwing up after listening to him speak. This North and South Lord were one evil after another, a perfect match!
"Imperial Aunt, why are you so unhappy? So what if you try a bout? I never knew you were so afraid of losing!" Princess Changping urged, too anxious to wait.
Finally, Han Yunxi stood up, calm and composed. "Of course I can compete in a bout. But we should still make clear how we're competing, and what happens to the winners and losers."
Fortune or misfortune, there was no avoiding it. She was ready to go ahead regardless despite the troublesome setting. Without experiencing it first, she couldn't be sure that she'd lose. Today, she would give it her all to convince the crowd and become the Plum Blossom Meet's sole and greatest victor. See if they try to trouble her then!
Princess Changping was thrilled when Han Yunxi agreed. She stood up in turn as well. "You three new guests can compete with each other. The winner can defend the title against all challengers, while the loser..."
Princess Changping didn't finish before Han Yunxi cut in. "The loser can take off their pants and run around Xuanwu Street!"
Princess Changping choked with surprise at these words, breaking into a coughing fit. The surrounding spectators all gave a start, while many unmarried girls suddenly felt their faces turning red. Even the men exchanged glances in disbelief.
Han Yunxi, ah, Han Yunxi, last time you bet with Mu Liuyue to take off one's outer robes. This time you've chose taking off one's pants! Are you still a woman? That's really merciless! You're so certain that you'll win?
But Han Yunxi added on another requirement. "These rules don't just apply to us three new guests, but any challengers to come our way. Those who win can defend their title, but those who lose will also have to strip and run through the streets!"
Either she wouldn't play, or she'd play and raise the stakes!
Hearing Han Yunxi's add-on, a few women who had been itching for a try suddenly turned pale-faced as their hearts began to pound. Victory or defeat wasn't certain, but with this kind of stipulation, they'd be risking themselves if they competed. Who would dare try such a thing in public?!
Mu Liuyue had lost all her standing and reputation from such a bet despite being Princess Changping's best friend, despite someone taking her place to fulfill the bet, and despite her illustrious background! If one of them lost, wouldn't they meet with an even worse end? Silence descended onto the crowd. Even the ostentatious North and South Lords kept quiet, their expressions filled with incredulity.
Excellent. Just then, everyone had been raring to have her go. Now it was Han Yunxi's turn to urge them on. She raised an eyebrow towards the North and South Lords and grinned. "These two lords, since everyone's in such a good mood, we might as well play big. You're not scared, are you?"
North Lord Zhangsun Che couldn't stand being provoked. He hesitated briefly before he caved in, face wreathed with smiles. "Why would I be scared? As long as esteemed wangfei gives the word, this one will have the honor of keeping you company 'til the end!" At best, Han Yunxi's still a woman. She might have stood out before, but as a well-behaved female, how many chances has she had to drink wine? How good can her liquor capacity be?
She probably outlined such frightful conditions to scare everyone off. Others might fall for her trick, but not him! If a woman like her could afford to play, why not a man like him? Otherwise, what would people think if the news got out?
A man versus a woman, just who was afraid of whom?
Hearing the North Lord agree, South Lord Li Muge couldn't easily refuse, either. Though he was very unhappy and lacked the nerve, shrinking back now would only draw unflattering comparisons and turn him into a joke.
"Very well, esteemed wangfei. This one will accompany you to the end as well," Li Muge finally said a line that actually sounded manly.
Han Yunxi was very satisfied and gave them both a thumbs' up, her movement easy and cool. It was filled with a confidence that unsettled her onlookers as they guessed amongst themselves. Could it be that this woman had an excellent stomach for liquor? Was this another one of her hidden depths?
After settling things with the two lords, Han Yunxi turned towards Princess Changping. "Changping, who else is participating? Should we take down their names first?"
Princess Changping looked towards the crowd, but besides the men who'd never planned to compete from the start, there was only the rest of the females, all sitting with their heads lowered. For a second, Princess Changping suddenly felt as if she had no face and angrily called out a named. "Shangguan Qing'er, what about you?"
"Princess, Qing'er's stomach doesn't feel well today. I don't even dare eat too many of the pastries, let alone drink. Perhaps next time," Shangguan Qing'er refused in a low voice.
"Su Yingxue, let's count you in?" Princess Changping asked again.
Su Yingxue was so frightened that she hastily waved her hand. "Princess, I don't have good capacity for liquor, you know that."
Princess Changping was thoroughly shamed. She angrily asked a few more people, but all of them refused. The ones who had been clamoring before had all shriveled up and hid away. They weren't the same as the North and South Lords! Everyone knew their liquor capacity was good, so it was highly possible that they'd win against Han Yunxi. But the rest of them were just women!
Seeing Han Yunxi so confident, who knew what hidden depths she still had? What if she won? Who would dare risk it? And if the North or South Lord won, they were sure to lose anyways!
Even if by some miracle they won, they'd still have to accept challengers vying for their position. Who could promise that they'd win every single time?
This was nothing but a bet that would guarantee losses!
Princess Changping was about to ask some more when Han Yunxi stopped her. "Changping, why don't you participate as well?"
Anxiety filled Princess Changping at the question. She'd been asking after others the whole time that she forgot about herself! No way she'd participate! How could she risk such a thing? Left in an awkard situation, she could only pretend to look at the skies. "Forget about me. Look, it's already getting late. It's possible it'll be dark by the time you three finish, so how about you guys start first."
Han Yunxi, you're too arrogant and conceited. Do you really think you're all that just because you stood out a bit before? And yet you dared to make this kind of gamble.
The North and South Lords weren't easy to deal with. Otherwise, she wouldn't have risked imperial mother's wrath to invite them here. It's fine if nobody else could beat them. As long as Han Yunxi agreed to participate and got drunk, everything could be taken care of. As for the gamble itself, that was just Han Yunxi herself courting death!
After confirming that no one else would compete, Han Yunxi finally relaxed a bit in her heart. She'd put out such a high stakes gamble just so others would draw back. Right now, her only opponents were the North and South Lords. If she could win against them, it'd solve her problems!
To make the competition between three contestants fair, the resting period was removed. There were no one-on-one matches to determine a victor or drinking order. Instead, everyone started drinking at the same time. The winner would be the one who drank the most wine within a certain amount of time. A table was brought it and wine set on the table. Then the contest began!
The other guests jumped for joy when they didn't have to compete, restoring the mood to its previous enthusiasm. Everyone cheered for the three contestants, though all of them were in favor of the North and South Lords. Han Yunxi calmly sat at the table, unaffected by their shouts.
Each one of them had their own chair and table, upon which were set full of wine jugs. More jugs were piled by on the side, and each table had its own servant girl to deliver wine onto the table. The presiding party was, of course, Princess Changping. She exchanged a significant glance with Murong Wanru before excitedly walking out to raise her hands and silence the crowd.
"The time limit will be within one stick of incense. Whoever finishes off more wine jugs will be the winner! Everyone here will stand witness!" Princess Changping announced loudly.
The North and South Lords were fond of such regulations. With their capacity for liquor, a single stick of incense was enough for them to beat anyone here! They darted a disdainful glance at Han Yunxi before meeting eyes with each other. Both of them were clear that each other was the real opponent.
"Imperial Qin Aunt, I'll confirm once again. This is fine with you?" Princess Changping asked on purpose.
Han Yunxi carefully studied the North and South Lords as if searching for something, before replying, "We can start."
"Good!" Princess Changping personally lit the incense stick. "Begin!"
At her words, the three people moved at the same time. The North and South Lord picked up their wine jugs and started pouring the contents into their mouth. Han Yunxi was no exception. With a limited timeframe, there were no shortcuts to winning beyond racing against the clock to drink! In the beginning, the competition was all about speed. By the end, it'd rely on one's capacity for liquor. Those who could drink quickly in the beginning could probably drink more to begin with. By the end it'd truly test their liquor capacity!
All three moved swiftly to empty jug after jug of wine, the remnants which were smashed on the side. The competition was fierce from the start, making it hard for the spectators to make a sound in case they disturbed them. Shortly afterwards, the distance between the contestants began to grow. The North and South Lords had both polished off five jugs, while Han Yunxi was around two jugs behind.
She'd already emptied out two jugs beforehand in an impressively short time for a woman, but right now she was in a race. Nobody cared or sympathized with her when they were so intent on the winner and losers.
Smash! North Lord Zhangsun Che broke his sixth jug. A smash followed right behind him as the South Lord did the same. Meanwhile, Han Yunxi was still in the middle of her third jug.
"Looks like Qin Wangfei won't catch up!"
"She's dropped behind so much already in the start, she'll only fall further back if this keeps on!"
"Exactly, it's a test of capacity later on in the race. The alcohol hasn't set in yet, but it will in a while. By then she won't be able to drink any more."
Very quickly, commentary rose from all sides...
 xiaosheng () - a way of referring to oneself, usually used by a young student or scholar. In light of Li Muge's frequent visits to the theater, xiaosheng may reference one of the main divisions of male roles in Chinese opera. A xiaosheng actor typically played the parts of young students, scholars or warriors and never wore a beard; he also speaks and sings in a mixture of high falsetto and tenor.