The Rise of Phoenixes (天盛长歌) - Chapter 16 (Fanfiction)

Chapter 16 - Stones Have Hearts Too

written by kakashi
edited by Bunny

“Please, Headmaster,” Ning Cheng implored Ziyan tearfully, “please stop him from drinking.”

This boy was always overly concerned for his Master, but this time, Ziyan was worried too. He had already been able to smell the wafts of alcohol and utter misery at the entrance to the Chu Residence. It had been days since the owner had shown his face and Headmaster Xin knew, the blow he had had to take at court against the Changs had knocked him off his feet.

The blow… and something else that was eating away at him.

After killing Chang Hai when his father had given him the opportunity, Prince of Chu had become overconfident. Throwing all caution to the wind, he had rushed ahead against all of Ziyan’s valuable counsel, becoming Head of the Censorate, investigating his uncle’s misdeeds, and making his move way too early, with only some meager, shaky evidence. It was the energy and cockiness of youth that led to such behavior, Ziyan knew it well - but Ning Yi had never been one prone to brainless actions. Until now.

In some ways, it was to be welcomed the Prince of Chu had been knocked down a few notches by Lord Chang Yuan of Minghai. Having your pride hurt was nothing in comparison to losing your life. And in this game, that was a risk that was always there, just one poisonous sip of wine away. Ning Yi’s devastating failure would teach him to proceed more cautiously and cunningly in the future. At least that’s what Ziyan hoped.

For why the Prince of Chu had suddenly turned into a fool… Ziyan had his suspicion. It made him very uneasy, more uneasy than the Chang family’s tight grasp on power and his Majesty’s reluctance to move against them forcefully.

“One, two, three, four... five, “Ziyan craned his neck to spot them all. “Five jars? How is that enough?”

Ning Yi smiled at him lopsidedly, waving his cup through the air in an inviting manner.

“Your Highness, it's not nice to drink alone!” Ziyan scolded the younger man. “Fine wine and good food need to be shared with friends.”

“There’s not enough wine in the world to make it go away,” the Prince of Chu murmured and looked at his empty cup, his expression turning sour.

Lowering himself down next to his protege, Ziyan ordered the hovering Ning Cheng: “Go! Get all of the Prince's fine wine!”

“Headmaster Xin,” the bodyguard complained, “you should stop him, not encourage him!”

“You heard him, go get it!” Ning Yi shouted angrily. “Why are you still here?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Ning Cheng said unhappily and disappeared.

“Ah,” Ziyan sighed after shaking the bottles and finding one that was still half-full, filling an empty cup and downing its contents in one go, “This is good wine indeed. Dahua is so strict at home, I cannot even have one sip per month.”

Briefly, Ziyan felt a pinch of pain in his heart. Not long ago, they had often gone to House of Lanxiang to drink. Zhuyin had still been alive then, gentle Zhuyin, whose presence had had such a calming effect on Ning Yi. The Prince had always been at his very best and humorous behavior around her, because he felt so sorry for her plight and wanted to make her smile. It felt like another lifetime when it had only been a few weeks.

“You… you came here to add insult to injury, right?” Ning Yi said sullenly.

Ziyan chuckled gravely. He understood, sometimes, to wallow in misery was all a bruised soul desired. He could certainly deliver on adding insult to injury today.

“Why do you say that?” he asked Ning Yi amiably.

“You want to gloat. I lost! Chang Yuan committed grave sins and got away with it. Ziyan, you were right. It’s what you want to hear and I admit it. You were right, I should have listened.”

As much as it satisfied him to hear those words, Ziyan hated the tears that were trickling down the Prince of Chu’s face as he uttered them. From the very first moment Ziyan had met Ning Yi, he had been in awe of his righteousness, which was just as shining and pure as his dead brother’s. So how could he not feel his pain like his own? The prince had a heart as big as the Empire he dreamed about - but a big heart meant big pain.

“Let's not talk about this, okay?” Ziyan suggested, taking care to sound more merry than he felt. “Let's just drink. There's no headmaster or prince in this place today. Let's not talk about your father or that jerk Chang Yuan. Drink! Wash away your sorrows to forget all your worries.”

“What if I want to forget everything?” Ning Yi asked, “forever? What if I never get back on my feet?”

“Then I won't get my back on my feet either!” Ziyan bellowed. “Let our dream about the regime and the empire go to hell! Let's drink!”

“Ah,” Ning Yi sighed with a sad smile. “Thank you for your loyalty. I will forgive you because of it.”

The Prince of Chu’s dark eyes briefly met his. Ziyan frowned and pressed his lips together. Of course, Ning Yi was already aware of what he had asked the Emperor only today, without previous consultation. There was no anger in those eyes, only hurt, which made things much worse. Had Ziyan liked doing what he had done? No. But he would also have done many other things in the futile hope that his ill-fated infatuation would go away and a sufficiently clear-headed and cold Prince would return.

“Your Highness,” Ziyan sighed. “If you think I shouldn't have done that, I'll go ask His Majesty to take back the order and let Feng Zhiwei go back to the palace. Back to the dangerous palace and back into your worst nightmares.”

It sounded overly dramatic even to his ears, but with the Changs upping their game these days, it was indeed better to stay away from the palace as far as possible.

“It is fine. Qingming Academy is a good place,” Ning Yi said quietly. “Director of Studies is a good position. And yet… you must consult with me next time if it is about her. I insist.”

Naturally, Ning Yi did not like that Feng Zhiwei would once more play a role in the game for succession to the throne. A golden box, containing an edict, probably with the name of the prince the Emperor wanted to be the successor to the throne in it. It was only to be opened when the Emperor turned 100 - or in case of his death. An excellent ploy. A wicked plan. For would it not clearly reveal the greedy and discontent ones?

“No matter who the Emperor wants to harm with his plan, it is a good opportunity for us,” Ziyan said resolutely. “We have to take advantage of it.”

“Naturally, you already have a plan,” Ning Yi nodded and looked towards the door with a frown, probably wondering where Ning Cheng had disappeared to. The boy had courage, was he ignoring his master’s orders?

“Of course. While you were wallowing in self-pity, I have plotted all day and all night.” Ziyan shook the sleeves of his robe with flourish.

“Then tell me,” the Prince of Chu said. He seemed to be sobering up by the minute and Ziyan wasn’t sure that was a good or a bad thing.

“You need to get married.”

Ning Yi’s eyebrows shot up. Definitely sober now. Definitely not a good thing, judging by the wary look he gave him. Ning Yi was a vengeful man and Ziyan was sure he would have to pay for this.

“Poor me. Father is playing tricks on me. Now, you are too,” Prince of Chu scoffed, a dangerous glitter coming into his eyes.

“How can you say that? Bedroom fun, marriage, and having children are the best things in life. It's for your own good.” And it will make you forget what you cannot have. It’s for the best, he added in his head.

“Do you dare say you want me to get married just for your plan?”

“Listen to me,” Ziyan implored, but didn’t he already know how this conversation would end? The Prince of Chu’s head was harder than stone. “Hu Shengshan's granddaughter, Yao Ying's daughter, and Chunyu Hong's niece, are all excellent girls with good backgrounds. If you marry one of those girls, you'll be related to favored officials. They'll treat you like family.”

“Like family?” Ning Yi slammed down his cup so hard that Ziyan flinched. “They can help me turn the name in the golden box into Ning Yi. That's what you mean.”

“I like how clever you are! Yes,” Ziyan smiled.

“Then, if I marry all three of them, won't I be invincible in the palace?” followed by the sweetest of smiles.

“All three of them?” Ziyan gulped, trying not to imagine himself with three young women at the same time. “Marrying all three? That's a great idea. Three wives... I'm just worried that your tiny body won't be able to--”

“You have five wives,” Ning Yi interrupted him. “Does that mean you have a great body? Looking at you, I cannot believe that.”

“You are not taking this seriously,” Ziyan sighed.

“Very seriously. But let's talk about this later.”

That’s how this conversation usually ended, exactly like this.

“What? No! Your Highness, listen to me. You're 27 years old now, right? You've been alone for so long. You must be lonely. I just want Your Highness to be able to enjoy one of the best things in this world. Look at Dahua and me--”

“That's enough. I told you, we'll talk about this later.” Now he sounded angry. Ziyan knew to be careful when he heard this tone from a royal’s mouth, but with this one, he was ready to take his chances for a little longer.

“You always say that,” he complained. “It's an important issue. Let's talk about it! Or…,” Ziyan sighed inwardly, for he knew how this part of the conversation would go too, “do you have someone you like? You promised, no secrets. Tell me. Who is it?”

“Ziyan,” Ning Yi evaded the trap skillfully, “let me tell you. If Yao Ying's daughter and Hu Shengshan's granddaughter are just tools to fulfill my goals, isn't it unfortunate for them?”

“Not at all. They have to get married eventually and if they could marry a prince like you…”

He stopped when he saw Ning Yi’s expression. Whom was he trying to fool? Did he really think Ning Yi would see reason and forge alliances through the bedroom too?

“You regret it, don't you?” he challenged him.

“What do you mean?” Ning Yi turned his head away evasively.

“What do I mean? You know exactly what I mean. When you had just left Zongzheng Temple, His Majesty arranged for you to marry Qiu Yuluo. We worked very hard to make him take that back. Now, you regret that decision.”

Silence descended upon them. For the first time, Ziyan realized with a sinking feeling, Ning Yi did not even try to contradict him. No talk about “pawns” and stones. He just looked even sadder than before.

If only there had been more wine. When Ning Yi spoke, he sounded much too sober. “Too bad that at that time, Yuluo wasn't really Yuluo, and I wasn't myself either. If everything was fake, why would I regret it?”

But his tone said it all. A lovesick prince… it was not at all something Ziyan wanted to deal with.

“Your Highness, listen to me,” he said sternly. “The fake Yuluo is no better than the real one. She's not a good match for you. You know why. Forget her. Move on. Focus on our plans. The golden box is a great chance for us to turn the tables again.”

Ning Yi sighed deeply. “I hear you.”

“And are you listening?”

“I am listening, Ziyan. I am listening. But let’s forget all this. Let’s drink until we pass out. NING CHENG!” Ning Yi shouted at the top of his lungs. “Bring me my wine this very instance or find yourself without an employer ever again!”

Ah, but sadly, Ziyan thought, the Prince of Chu had been right. There might not be enough wine in the world to make this go away. Big hearts, big emotions. This would not end well. It could not.


Zhiwei still could not believe it. Uprooted once more! Why would they not leave her alone? What grave crime had she committed in her previous life to deserve such treatment?

“His Majesty kicked me out of the palace,” she told Nanyi and Huaishi in despair, “and sent me back to Qingming Academy as Headmaster! We need to pack.”

Huaishi looked confused, but as usual, he stayed calm and positive as he processed the new information. “Not everyone can manage Qingming Academy. It could be a way to honor your intellect?”

Zhiwei wrung her hands, a sure sign she was nervous. “I'm just really worried.”

“What are you worried about?” Huaishi asked, throwing a slightly irritated look towards the motionless Nanyi who might as well not have been part of the conversation at all.

“I'm not talented enough,” Zhiwei lamented. “What if I ruin Qingming Academy's reputation? All those young men from influential families! They will not listen to a word I say!”

Headmaster Xin, who claimed he wanted to spend more time writing the chronicles of Tiansheng and therefore couldn’t be Headmaster anymore, had not wanted to give her real advice how to manage a school. He had only told her that it was a bad thing to be too smart sometimes. Because, so his reasoning, those who were smart thought too much. Thinking too much would complicate things. Complicating things could lead people astray. Straying from paths would often bring disaster and bad luck upon a person.

She snorted. All those fancy words when sending her to Qingming clearly served one simple purpose.

“May I ask you something?” she blurted out. “Do you think I won't be a good wife?”

Huaishi blinked in confusion.

“No,” Nanyi stated drily.

What the… “What do you mean, Gu Nanyi? Am I not a woman?!” Zhiwei knew better than to be offended by Nanyi’s antics, but she found it very hard at this moment.

“No,” he repeated turning his head to look at her with his dead eyes.

“Aya,” Huaishi sighed. “What did Headmaster Xin say to you?”

“Oh well,” Zhiwei sighed. “Nothing much. He just made it clear he wants me to stay away from Ning Yi.” And upon a moment of reflection, she added quickly. “As if I want to be close to him. Ridiculous!”

But Headmaster Xin’s words resonated in her head and made her think about those things she had forcefully kept out of there in the last few days.

Never get in the way of Headmaster Xin, he had said, his tone even, his meaning unmistakable. I appear to be kind, but I'm indifferent inside. Whether you become an obstacle in my path or a stepping stone to me, I don't need to worry about you. I'll just kick you away.

But some people aren't like that. Some people get attached to the stone. That puts me in a dilemma whether to kick the stone away or not.

His Highness and this stone met at House of Lanxiang. They seemed like a good match. But the opportunity has passed when the stone didn't want to get married or have a family. There is no way back. Do you understand?

“How could a stone have a heart?” she murmured under her breath. And if it had one, who would even care? Stones were placed on Go boards, were kicked away or thrown into the river to drown. But he was attached to this stone? So much that Headmaster Xin had to intervene? Could she believe it? What did it mean?

She went about packing some of her meager belongings, wondering what the Prince of Chu was doing at the moment. She had not seen him in a long time, ever since that night at court when his pirate witness had turned on him in favor of the Lord of Minghai. She would have liked to comfort the visibly crushed Ning Yi afterwards, but there was no way she could go to his residence to do that. There were eyes on her all the time, making her sweat and fret about every word she said and every step she took.

“That man is here,” Gu Nanyi said at the door, startling her.

“Has Prince Helian come back again?” Zhiwei groaned. How inconvenient.

“No, the other man.” Gu Nanyi said. He wrinkled his forehead a little and turned his eyes up to think. “He says his name is Mister Liulang,” he then recalled.

Zhiwei suddenly felt very short of breath.

“L… Liulang?” she stammered.

“It’s that Prince of Chu,” Gu Nanyi thought it necessary to explain. “His name isn’t Liulang. Should I throw him out?”

“No!” Feng Zhiwei cried. “You cannot throw out one of the royal descendants, Nanyi, never! Prince Helian is a different story, I fear he even likes the challenge.”

Gu Nanyi did not look like he understood at all, but he shrugged.

“Did you lead the Prince of Chu to the guest room?”

“No,” Nanyi said as if the thought alone was hugely offensive. “I made him wait at the gate.”

Zhiwei groaned inwardly. Ning Yi would make her pay for this, she just knew it! “Can you go find Huaishi,” she implored him, “he must be in his room. Tell him to prepare some tea and snacks for us!”

Gu Nanyi shrugged again.

“Is that a yes?” she asked rather irritated.

“Yes,” her bodyguard confirmed reluctantly.

Her heart beating very fast, she scurried towards the gate. There he was, looking at some red flowers in her garden as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. His personal guard Ning Cheng stood to the side, scowling viciously, holding a large bundle in his hands on top of his sword.

“Your Highness, I am sorry for giving such grave offence,” Feng Zhiwei bowed deeply, “I should have been here to welcome you properly. Please forgive my guard, he does not know better.”

“No offense, no offense,” Ning Yi smiled regally, “and no ‘Your Highness’ today. I am a tailor and I have come to do what tailors do.”

When Feng Zhiwei realized he was wearing the same robe he had worn when they had… she gulped… kissed, she turned very red. Her embarrassment only made his smile a little broader and Ning Cheng’s scowl deeper.

“If you want to follow me, Your Highness,” she coughed and indicated the way with her hand.

“Mr. Tailor, if you will,” Ning Yi repeated, still smiling. “You are even allowed to curse at me.”

“M… Mister Tailor,” she gulped, hurrying towards her guest room and trying to get her composure back. What the hell did he want here? It was not good that she was feeling so confused, she would be much too easy a prey for him.

“Having foresight, I have brought some wine with me,” Ning Yi said, after taking a seat and looking at the empty table with raised eyebrows. “Sit. Drink with me.”

Ning Cheng put down the bundle rather violently, earning him a cold look from his master. More carefully, the bodyguard took out a bottle of wine from the folds of some fabric and put it on the table.

“Very nice,” Ning Yi nodded while looking around.

“Your Highness,” Zhiwei said nervously, still not understanding why he was here and what he was planning to do to her, “my temporary residence is nothing compared to yours. What are you so interested in?”

“It seems like a very fine house to live in. And yet, you are leaving already.”

Yes, because of you, she thought angrily. It was just so unfair. She had really grown attached to this place!

“Being happy and living a good life is no protection against royal orders,” she scoffed. “It was a nice place. Definitely better than the pavilion in your residence at midnight.”

A look of amusement came over his beautiful face and curved his lips upwards in a most interesting way. “They say, ‘Women and villains are the hardest to deal with’. It's very true! You hold grudges, don't you? But people say I hold grudges too.”

So he was here to make her life difficult. Of course, what else. Grudges? There were so many between them, she wouldn’t venture a guess what he was referring to.

Huaishi came rushing in with a tray, greeting the Prince properly as soon as he had put it down.

“Those will do,” Ning Yi said after inspecting the tea cups. He uncorked the wine and poured some in. “You may leave us,” he said haughtily. Huaishi shot her an alarmed look, but she just shook her head helplessly. Ning Cheng still scowled but complied wordlessly, following Huaishi out.

“Director Wei,” Ning Yi said after sipping from his cup elegantly. “I'm here to visit you and gift you some clothes for your new position.”


“You do not need to look at me like I am going to eat you,” Ning Yi said, sounding almost offended. “Have a drink.”

“If I must.”

“It’s my best wine. There was only one bottle left.”

“I am no expert.”

He chuckled. “Director Wei, you've been influenced. The way you talk is just like Gu Nanyi!”

“The fewer words you say, the fewer mistakes you make. Gu Nanyi is a very sensible man,” she murmured.

“If you hope to make me leave if you are so rough with me, you are mistaken,” Ning Yi said, his eyes sparkling. “I find myself liking it more and more.”

Another one? Would she ever understand men? Zhiwei sighed.

“Just tell me what it is you want,” she said tiredly.

“Rulers of a country need to be strict and indifferent,” he said, getting up. “That's how they become great. They shouldn't be too emotional.”

Her heart started beating very fast again when he took her hand and pulled her up.

“Put your arms up,” he ordered her and when she complied, “stay like this.”

He bent down to take out two set of clothes from the open bundle. One was a festive robe for scholars. The other a dress for women.

“You cannot...,” she gasped.

“But I was at Zhongzheng Temple for a long time,” he continued unabashed. “I was not taught well and speak carelessly. And I do things my way. I want to make you a gift, Feng Zhiwei and that is what I am doing.”

He started to measure the length of her arms like it was the most natural thing in the world. Seeming pleased with what he found, his hands went to her waist, pulling the leather band around it, but without touching her. He nodded. He then stepped behind her and put the measure around her neck, pulling it tight. Feng Zhiwei did not think he was here to murder her, but it made her nervous, especially since he took his time, standing still and doing nothing except breathing for quite a while. No murdering happened and after the neck was done, he measured the length of her legs.

“My guess was very accurate,” he said, sounding highly pleased.

Walking over to the bundle, he lifted up the robe. “Here. Put it on,” he said and presented it to her, “it should fit you very well.”

The fabric was light, the color almost silver. Beautiful. And different. It would not easily be recognizable as one of his clothes. Had he taken extra care to put her at ease? That wasn’t like him at all.

“I couldn’t…” she whispered, but her treacherous hand had already grasped the beautiful fabric and pulled it tightly towards her chest, as if it was afraid he could change his mind.

Will he step outside? She wondered as she walked behind the folding screen. Of course not. Prince of Chu sat down again at the table and poured himself another cup of his wine.

Slowly, Feng Zhiwei opened her belt. But her hands were shaking and before she could catch it, its weight slipped from her fingers and it fell to the floor with a clang. Her face on fire, she shrugged out of the green robe she was wearing. It wasn’t particularly cold today, but she still shivered violently. Hastily, she pulled the silver robe over her head, at first not finding the sleeves, making an utter fool of herself.

“Do you need help?” Ning Yi chuckled.

Insufferable! Picking up the belt from the floor, she stepped out from behind the folding screen quickly.

Her insecure glare was met with an appreciative smile. Smoothly, Prince of Chu got up and came in her direction. If only her heart would not constantly start beating so frantically when he was close. Such an inconvenience!

“Excellent,” he said in a low voice. “Let me…” he took the belt from her hand before she could react and stepped so close, she could feel the warmth radiate off his body.

His hands went around her waist, fastening the belt, way more expertly than she would have expected a prince to be at clothing other people. Just when he had taken the measure of her neck, he took his time after pulling it tight. She focused her eyes on the base of his throat, where the white collar of his inner robe disappeared underneath his outer robe.

Don’t touch me, she thought in panic, when in truth, she was hoping he would. She could feel the warmth of his hands even though they were only resting on the clasp of her belt and she feared her knees would buckle if he moved them anywhere else.

Feng Zhiwei noticed the quickening of his breath and was sure he was looking at her face, thinking about doing that kissing thing again, but she could not… dared not look up, because she was not sure she would be able to deal with what she would see in his eyes and quite sure she would not be able to resist, even if resisting was exactly what she had to do. So she took a step back. Then another. And another.


Now she looked up.

But she wasn’t safe at all. His eyes were burning like two coals, looking at her with an intensity that had her swallowing compulsively.

“Sh… should I put on the other dress?” she stammered, belatedly realizing that she would have to take off much more than just an outer robe to put it on, realizing that she had already once gotten naked with him in the room. How could she ever have been so careless and naive?

But he had already turned around eagerly, snatching up a light blue dress with artful embroidery and white ribbons and holding it out to her wordlessly in apparent anticipation. Very quickly, she scurried to where he stood, took it from his hands and rushed behind the screen, avoiding to look at him.

Of course he did not possess enough propriety to leave the room this time either. Zhiwei listened to him walking up and down nervously before he sat down again. The clicking of ceramic on wood told her he had emptied his cup. Then another.

“If you let me wait for too long, I will get drunk again,” he said. “But I do not want to be poisoned this time, it was greatly unpleasant.”

Pfft. As if she had done it at her own volition! Holding grudges indeed. Feeling miffed, then taking heart, Feng Zhiwei started to undress. First the belt. This time, she held on to it firmly and put it on top of the folding screen. Then his silver robe - when would she have an opportunity to wear it? Then the tunica. Then the trousers. Then the upper undergarment.

Only Ning Yi’s sharp intake of breath made her realize that she had thrown it all on top of the screen for him to see. Standing half-naked in the cool room, only a thin paper screen between them, she felt hot all over. How could she possibly be this frivolous and not even feel ashamed? Instead, she listened to his breathing, trying to imagine what he was thinking.

She had no way of knowing. Suddenly, feeling panicked at his lack of reaction, she started to cover her nakedness with his clothes hastily, half afraid he would take her dawdling as some kind of invitation to come closer, half disappointed when he did not move at all. It was greatly confusing, these fears and wishes that she had at the same time.

The silk caressed her skin like she imagined his fingers would, so soft and pleasant. The ribbons were situated in places she could easily reach, at least at the front... and since she put no particular care into tying them and did not even want to think about how to get to those at the back, she was ready more quickly than it was convenient because her courage was all but gone and she felt stupid just standing there doing nothing, waiting for it to come back.

As she stood there, she became aware how awfully quiet it was in the room, had Ning Yi lost his patience and left?

Feng Zhiwei stepped out from behind the screen to check, but he was still there. He had buried his face in his hands, looking almost as defeated as he had when the Lord of Minghai had walked away laughing. Her heart contracted in sympathy.

Ning Yi looked up at the rustling of the fabric. His entire face transformed in front of her eyes. All the guardedness, all the cunningness, all the wickedness melted away like snow on the first warm spring day. A look of deep wonderment took its place.

Had she ever before seen a man look at her like this? Had she ever wanted a man to continue looking at her in this exact way for the rest of her life? Put a city, a country between them and she would still feel it, this pull, this certainty that the world would be different with him by her side.

What a dangerous thing to think. Somebody would drown this stone in the deepest part of the ocean if ever they found out.

Realizing how strange she must look in such a splendid dress with her hair in a man’s bun, she suddenly felt awfully self-conscious. Looking to the side nervously, she wished he would leave so that she could go and hide in a hole in the ground until he lost interest and went away.

“Open it,” he said hoarsely and got up. “Your hair.”

Without even the slightest wish to resist his command, her hands went up to her bun and pulled it apart until her hair tumbled down freely and at its full length.

They stood there looking at each other for what felt like a long, long time until he pressed his lips together and sighed.

“I regret it,” Ning Yi said very quietly, making her heart contract painfully. “I regret it very much. Take good care of yourself, Feng Zhiwei. If only I could turn you into a Queen - so that you’d never have to be a pawn again.”

But at that moment, she only wished to be his stone. A stone he was attached to. A stone with a heart. A stone he would pick up from time to time and place it on his Go board - to ensure he would win.

Chapter 17