Under the flying hooves of the horse, the ground rapidly fades towards the back.
With three of his brothers Wu Zhuo, Teng Yi and Jing Jun, Xiang Shaolong is riding at full speed on the fresh and crisp grassland that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Under the blue sky and white clouds, about half a mile in front of them, a herd of nearly one thousand wild horses are startled and instantly fled towards the north.
The four men started shouting. Squeezing the abdomen of their horses to change directions, they continued the pursuit.
Xiang Shaolong and his fellow riders divided themselves into two teams.
One team started flanking the wild horses from the side, forcing the leading alpha horse to change their flight path while the other team persisted in hounding the horses from the back.
After a short chase, the herd is intimidated by their horsewhips and had no choice but to jump into the river and swim towards the opposite shore.
Reining his horse to a stop, Xiang Shaolong thundered: "Kids! It is time to display your talents."
On the opposite shore, more than a hundred men suddenly appeared with ropes in their hands, enthusiastically waiting for the horses to walk right into their arms. Among them are Wu Guo, Wu Yan Zhe, Zhao Da and Liu Chao.
Observing his brothers and men capturing wild horses with plenty of excitement, Xiang Shaolong praised: "First Brother is truly talented in picking a good territory. This location comprises of countless rivers and streams which is useful for farming and drinking. With bountiful water supply, fertile soil and limitless grazing grass, this is a piece of paradise."
His eyes scanning the endless fields around him, Wu Guo inhaled a breath of fragrant grass smell and chuckled: "When I first came here, I did not feel good because I have this impression that we are forced to come here, like a self-imposed exile. But after living here for so many years, only death can force me to leave this place."
Jing Jun suddenly barked to the men on the opposite shore: "That pure white horse! I want that pure white horse!"
Teng Yi was tickled: "This fellow, Dan'er has given him three sons and two daughters and yet, he himself is like a kid who has never grown up."
At evening time, the men are satisfied with a rewarding day and started riding back to the hunting camp.
Ji Yanran, Qin Qing, Wu Tingfang, Zhao Zhi, Tian Zhen, Tian Feng, Zhou Wei, Shan Lan, Lu Dan'er and the other ladies are sitting on a slope, overlooking a group of more than thirty boys and girls aged between ten and fifteen years old. The children are riding their horses and playing polo on a grass meadow.
The air is filled with laughter.
One of the children is Xiang Bao'er.
He is much more brawny compared to the other kids. Wearing a beautiful cap made from eagle feathers, coupled with his thick brows and large eyes, he is already an outstanding character.
At this moment, he happened to bend down from his horse and use his mallet to dribble the ball. Under his skillful maneuvers, no one could snatch the polo ball from him.
Beneath their feet, like a shimmering green carpet, the boundless grass prairie seems to extend all the way to heaven.
A distance away, more than a hundred tents are clustered together. As the smoke rises from the cooking stoves, more than ten ladies are starting a fire and preparing a meal for their husbands and sons to enjoy later.
Nearby, the two men Tu Xian and Xiao Yuetan are sitting on the ground and chatting idly with each other. Occasionally, they would throw a glance at the polo-playing children.
The game is now reaching a point of excitement and the spectating ladies clapped and cheered nonstop. Among them, Wu Tingfang and Lu Dan'er cheered the loudest.
Out of the blue, Qin Qing nudged Ji Yanran who is sitting down beside her. She joyfully exclaimed: "Hubby is back."
Shifting their gaze to the edge of the horizon, the group of ladies spotted more than a hundred black dots that are gradually becoming bigger and bigger. The sound of hoof beats is also faintly discernable.
Feeling in the mood, Ji Yanran stood up and hollered in her shrill voice: "I am going out to welcome our victorious warriors; who is with me?"
The children have already abandoned their game. With some of them riding ahead and some riding at the back, they are heading towards the approaching horsemen.
The sound of hoof beats reverberated thorough the air.
Ji Yanran's invitation is instantly taken up by everyone. Running to and mounting their horses, it wasn't too long until the ladies met up with their partners on the grasslands. Together, they rode back to camp.
Riding in front, the children are proudly leading the way back.
Slowing cantering beside Ji Yanran and Qin Qing, an emotional Xiang Shaolong gushed: "Heaven is indeed kind to us. In the past, I cannot imagine myself leading such a blissful and worry-free life."
Qin Qing sighed: "Because of our past experiences, we are able to appreciate the value of living freely on the grasslands. Unlike that little fellow Bao'er; he kept whining and expressed his desire to return to the Central Plains and see the world."
Wu Tingfang nagged: "In the future, you better not tell him any more stories about the Central Plains, especially about Chu. Bao'er has developed a liking for that place, how mysterious!"
Xiang Shaolong chortled: "Every person has his or her own dreams. Because our dreams are fulfilled, we are contended with our lives. Bao'er is merely pursing his dream! We should never try to stop him from pursing his interests and must never force him to live according to our expectations of him."
Ji Yanran is exhilarated: "Hubby's words are really moving. Bao'er's dream is to become an eagle in the sky, able to spread his wings and fly to any place he desires."
Zhao Zhi guffawed: "Everyone is pampering him without any reservations! In my opinion, Little Zhen and Little Feng are the worst culprits!"
Teased by Zhao Zhi, Tian Zhen and Tian Feng are covering their mouths and giggling. Happiness is written all over their faces.
As if she suddenly remembered something, Ji Yanran smiled: "I nearly forgot to tell you something, Father of Bao'er. Bao'er finds his name too childish and wishes to change it."
Unconcerned, Xiang Shaolong was thrilled: "As long as his surname is Xiang, he can choose whichever name he wants."
Pretending to be angry, Wu Tingfang protested: "The name Bao'er is my suggestion; it is his birth name!"
Ji Yanran continued: "Noting his love for eagles, I recommended him to use the name Eagle (Ying)."
Xiang Shaolong burst out laughing: "Xiang Ying! That's quite a nice name!"
Qin Qing gently rebuked: "As a father, you do not understand your son well enough. He finds the word 'Eagle' too aggressive and beast-like. Moreover, others will make jokes about his name. He has decided on the word: Yu."
Violently shaken, Xiang Shaolong reined his horse to a stop and unconsciously shouted: "What!"
The ladies, Teng Yi and the rest were stunned into stopping with him. All the attention is now focused on Xiang Shaolong.
In his mind, Xiang Shaolong is experiencing wave after wave of tsunamis.
Isn't he the man who fought against Liu Bang for control over the entire China? And who eventually committed suicide by jumping into River Wu with the beauty Yu Ji? The one and only Chu Great Conqueror Xiang Yu?
What is going on?
Could it be merely a coincidence in their names?
Taking time into account, the probability is quite strong.
From the records of history, the Qin dynasty ended after two emperors.
Thirty seven years after Yingzheng became the King of Qin, he died of illness at Saqiu when he was touring the southern provinces. After him, the second Emperor perished three years later. At that point in time, Xiang Shaolong's son Xiang Yu is in his early thirties, the prime of his youth.
The cries of everybody brought Xiang Shaolong back to his senses.
Ji Yanran suspiciously probed: "Does Hubby dislike this name? But Bao'er loves it. If you want him to change his mind, leave us out of it. You can speak to him directly."
Recomposing himself, Xiang Shaolong started contemplating. Should he issue a warning to his son Xiang Bao'er? For example, when Bao'er meets a man named Liu Bang, he should unsheathe his sword and kill him at once.
But on the other hand, even though Xiang Shaolong is fully aware of historical developments, at the end of the day, he is unable to change its path.
Destiny is something that cannot be altered by mere willpower and effort.
Humans believe they are charting their lives; that is precisely because they are unaware of their actual fate. In fact, they are simply living their lives according to fate.
Only Xiang Shaolong is able to fully comprehend this insight.
One of his 'son' Xiao Pan built the Great Qin empire while his other 'son' Xiang Yu personally destroyed the same empire.
Qin Qing frowned: "What is Hubby thinking about!"
Abruptly breaking out into laughter, Xiang Shaolong replied: "I have thought through it and came to an understanding."
Teng Yi's voice sounded: "What did Third Brother understand?"
Xiang Shaolong joyfully exclaimed: "From this day onwards, Xiang Bao'er shall be Xiang Yu."
The crowd rolled their eyes in unison.
With a baffled expression, Ji Yanran enquired: "What is there to understand about changing one's name?"
From her back, Xiang Shaolong leaned forward to her face and inhaled her fragrance. He laughed: "I understood one point. If you succeeded, so what? And if you failed, so what? Success and failure are irrelevant. The most important thing is to lead a fulfilling and extraordinary life, inscribing your everlasting name in the records of history. That indeed, is a life worth living!"
Even more puzzled than before, the crowd could never guess that he is referring to his own son eventually becoming the legendary and illustrious Chu Great Conqueror Xiang Yu.
Letting out a burst of heroic laughter, Xiang Shaolong prodded his horse and started chasing up to Xiang Yu and the other children.
Everyone swiftly resounded and nudged their horses in pursuit.
Under the magnificent and colourful sunset, the humans and horses seemed to have merged into one body with Mother Nature, depicting a heavenly and ecstatic painting.
~~~ END ~~~