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To whom belongs the sword

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The sword

Liu was informed that Xiang had come to the encampment, alone and on foot, possibly not to seek mercy and some compromise, but the final resolution of what had driven them and their involvement in the future of China.
He drove his chariot to observe the situation. Xiang was standing by a tree, surrounded by soldiers wanting his death and the reward they had been promised: Xiang saw Liu and acknowledged his presence. You knew I would be compelled to come, and you are in control here, and I hate you for that. He remembered the first time he had seen Xiang, and thought him an arrogant nobleman, then when they spoke a little later realised that the man was completely self-confident and at ease with the situation in which he found himself, and envied that. You are the same now, confident in what you have decided upon - whatever that may be.
He called out to the soldiers to kill Xiang - who fought on regardless, with courage and some success, despite his injuries and the physical toll of fighting. I will give you the mercy stroke if need be, I owe you that, for the friendship that was once between us, and all that brought us to this situation. You would have done the same for me had the circumstance arisen, for the same reasons as I. Did you know how close I came to death with your arrow shot?
Then Xiang paused, sword upraised, looked across and called out that he was giving Liu his death. He grinned and drew his sword across his throat, dropped his arm and remained standing for a few moments - Liu watched the blood trickle down the sword before Xiang collapsed and the soldiers went in.
It was not meant to happen like this. All Liu could think about now, as the soldiers surrounded Xiang's body - he could not bear to watch - was the time he had promised his own life to the other man.
A few moments later a soldier came up to Liu's chariot, holding Xiang's bloodied sword, gently as if it were alive, and offered it. He - and probably the other soldiers - respected Xiang as a warrior and for what he had achieved.
Liu desparately did not wish to take the sword, but knew he had to - if he did not it would be a dishonourable act, and perceived as such.
He would have Xiang fittingly buried, and do what he could for his family and clan.


What should he do with Xiang's sword? It was a fine weapon, though made to suit Xiang's height and capabilities, and under other circumstances Liu would have accepted it, as a commemoration and acknowledgement of who and what Xiang had been. Giving it to the swordsmith to be incorporated into other weapons was not an answer, and it was too late to bury it with its owner. Leave it as a known weapon and it might well become a symbol, in a way that the man's armour and other possessions would not be, for some future opposition leader, more successful than Xiang had been.
Liu looked at the sword rack in the presence room, noticed there was an empty space: answer found for now if nothing were said, and it would remain hidden in plain sight.


Han Xin joined Liu, saw Liu contemplating Xiang's sword which he had taken from the rack. He was one of the few people who recognised the weapon for what it was.
Liu recalled various conversations he had with the strategist, who had assessed Xiang's problems as being due to his relative youth, his lack of administrative skills and knowledge of how to treat his allies. Liu accepted that there was probably some truth in the statements - his own previous experience in Pei county had been useful to some extent in his subsequent activities.
'No, you can't have the sword,' Liu said suddenly.
'I had not said anything about it.' Han Xin's expression indicated his thoughts had been in that direction.
'You changed sides.'
'For good reasons... Many soldiers and scholars and others have done so in the past, moving between the kingdoms and leaders as it suited them...' Han was slightly wrong-footed by the discussion, and knew he was.
'You could have done more for Xiang.' Liu knew he was being somewhat petty in his choice of words - and Han was partly in the right.
'I tried...' Han's expression showed he understood what Liu actually meant.
'I do not trust you - and I do not trust you with this sword,' Liu said coldly. 'I will not kill you - I promised: I will make use of you, if you have a role in the world as it now is, but I will not protect you.'
'What should I do?' Not a rheotorical question. Han had not planned for this future.
'Enjoy your life if you can: write something and place it in the records for future officials and scholars to discover, if you wish, but you ... just leave me now.'
'You do not have the reach for that sword, your sons are too young, and if known about it presently has too much power associated with it to be given to your subordinates - perhaps find some ruler to the west who has not the inclination or the resources to invade China.'
'Just go!' Liu responded, more angrily than he intended to show himself to be, not least because he recognised the truth in the statement. He would have to learn more about the dominions beyond China, whatever became of the sword.
Han Xin went to the door and turned. 'I know my likely fate, accept and regret it. We, Xiang, and others, never expected the fates and opportunities that came to us, and it is partly by chance you won. My final advice to you - live long enough for one of your sons to be old enough to succeed you properly or ... some will fight for power and others will regret the consequences. And keep the sword where it can be found by Xiang's successor, whoever that may be and whether they know its previous significance.' He then left.
Liu Bang realised he was gripping the sword tightly enough to hurt, as he accepted the validity of the comments. Who would Xiang's successor be, and when would he emerge?
Xiang Yu - I understand why you gave me your death.