Volume 1, Chapter 17 : A Loyal Spirit becomes Distant and Indistinct.

The Prince of De was attacked by an assassin on the way. When he reached Xiangyang, he battled bitterly while wounded. Seeing the Prince of De return, the Prince of Qi was stopped and forced to retreat. Before ten days had passed, the Southern Chu King issued an edict, blaming the Prince of De for not doing his utmost on the battlefield and allowing the Yong army to withdraw. The Prince was grieved by this edict as it drilled into his heart, causing him to weep blood. He died in the middle of the night. The entire army wore white in mourning. The Prince was honored as a Virtuous Prince.…

—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of the Prince of De, Zhao Jue

In a calm voice, Zhao Jue said, “Golden Bow Zhangsun, Emei Qingshan, Silver Bow Duanmu, and Red Clothed Rakshasa. Seeing Silver Bow Duanmu here, Qiao Yan’er, the Red Clothed Rakshasa, must also be present. It’s difficult to believe that the both of you have infiltrated Southern Chu.”

Duanmu Qiu fingered the bowstring, replying, “There is no one who does not know that Great Yong will unify the world sooner rather than later. Almost all of the heroes of Southern Chu’s wulin1 have also joined Great Yong.”

Furiously, Zhao Jue retorted, “Shut your mouth!” This matter was something that hurt him deeply. Great Yong greatly esteemed military accomplishments and did not care about one’s origins. As a result, many members of Southern Chu’s jianghu chose to serve Great Yong. In comparison, in order to become a high ranking official in Southern Chu, one needed to come from a clean background. As such, the military strength of Southern Chu paled far in comparison to the military strength of Great Yong.

Qiao Yan’er’s long, shapely eyebrows rose as she reacted. “What great courage to dare to berate us! Senior apprentice brother Duanmu, cover me!” As she finished speaking, she drew a long sword from her back and leaped forward, blazing. Zhao Jue’s bodyguards drew their own weapons to meet her charge. These guards were all adept at fighting and killing, but Qiao Yan’er was a first-rate martial artist and did not show any dismay even though she was facing six by herself. In addition, Qiao Yan’er’s attacks were ferocious and comparable to the bodyguards’ unyielding power. Duanmu Qiu closely followed the battle. Shortly, he drew back the bowstring and fired an arrow. A flash of silver sped through the air and, demon-like, pierced through the throat of one of the guards.

Zhao Jue furrowed his brow. These two that he faced, one was skilled in close quarters combat, with the other was skilled in long-range attacks, cooperated with tacit understanding. He had only brought eight bodyguards and they would undoubtedly be killed one by one by these two assassins. Looking at the lone bodyguard who stood behind him, he whispered, “We will deal with Duanmu Qiu.”

The man nodded his head. The two rushed towards Duanmu Qiu at the same time. From afar, Duanmu Qiu saw them approach. He drew his bow and fired two arrows in one go, killing two of the guards fighting Qiao Yan’er. At this point, Zhao Jue had arrived before him and lunged forward with his sword. Using his qinggong, Duanmu Qiu dodged, avoiding Zhao Jue’s attack. Duanmu Qiu’s qinggong was mysterious. Zhao Jue and his guard could not do anything to harm him. However, Duanmu Qiu could not fire any further arrows, only using his silver bow to block the attacks. His silver bow was specially made, as even Zhao Jue’s treasure sword could not damage it. The battle was joined on two fronts. In reality, Duanmu Qiu’s martial arts could not even compare to Zhao Jue’s. He had wanted to escape several times and was blocked each time. But Zhao Jue could also not kill Duanmu Qiu. However, Qiao Yan’er held the advantage. If Duanmu Qiu could drag things out until Qiao Yan’er had killed the three guards she faced and come assist, then Zhao Jue would have no chance to escape. Just as Zhao Jue’s heart began to burn with worry, he suddenly saw two shadows from the corners of his eyes. The shadows were Daoli and Baiyi; the first carried a crossbow, the second a short sword. They were slowly and secretly approaching Qiao Yan’er. Just as Zhao Jue noticed these two, suddenly five glints of light shot out from Daoli’s crossbow. Qiao Yan’er’s reaction was quick, using everything to avoid the bolts. Just then, Baiyi launched an attack as swift as lightning with his short sword, lunging towards Qiao Yan’er’s body. Raging flames appeared in Qiao Yan’er’s eyes. The sword in her hands became an impenetrable defense, meeting Baiyi’s short sword. Baiyi stumbled backwards, both his hands bloody from the impact. Meanwhile, Qian Yan’er had been stabbed in the lower abdomen. Her face demonic, she hurriedly stopped the bleeding by hitting her pressure points. She yelled, “Senior apprentice brother!” She sent her sword piercing through the air at Zhao Jue. Zhao Jue dodged. Taking this opportunity, Duanmu Qiu used his silver bow to shoot five arrows in rapid succession to prevent the three guards facing Qiao Yan’er from killing her before firing another arrow to stop Zhao Jue. Afterwards, he hurriedly rushed to Qiao Yan’er’s side. Grabbing hold of her, Duanmu Qiu ran.

Zhao Jue finally relaxed. Looking at Daoli and Baiyi, he smiled and said, “Luckily you were here.” Just then, Zhao Jue observed that everyone had looks of shock and heartbreak. Zhao Jue immediately became alert and instantly rushed forward. But he was already too late. A sharp blade pierced through his armor into the small of his back. He was fortunate that he had reacted so quickly and was only stabbed in his waist. Zhao Jue’s bodyguards rushed forward. The fastest were Daoli and Baiyi. Daoli swept past Zhao Jue. A scream of pain could be heard from behind Zhao Jue. In the meantime, Baiyi supported Zhao Jue. From his clothes, he removed a wax pill. After grinding the pill down, Baiyi fed it to Zhao Jue. Zhao Jue only felt the sharp stabbing pain from his lower back. After crying out in pain, he passed out.

When Zhao Jue awoke, he found that he was lying down on a table within the tea shack. Daoli, Baiyi, and the bodyguards anxiously looked at him. The corpse of the bodyguard who had been helping him fight Duanmu Qiu was lying nearby. “To think that Great Yong had a spy by my side,” said Zhao Jue as he smiled wryly. “He has followed me for two years now.”

Daoli stepped forward and replied, “Your Highness, this lowly one has temporarily helped bandage the wound to stem the bleeding and has given you efficacious medication. Within one month, as long as Your Highness is calm and unstressed,2 Your Highness need not worry about your health. But Your Highness’s wound was grievous. If we return to Jianye and undergo my young master’s personal ministrations, then Your Highness should fully recover in half a year.”

Thinking it over, Zhao Jue responded, “By attempting to assassinate me on the road, it is clear that they do not want me to return to Xiangyang. If I do not return, then Xiangyang will likely fall into danger. We should continue on to Xiangyang.”

One of the bodyguards agonizingly spoke. “Your Highness’s wound is so severe. How can Your Highness go into battle? Your Highness should return to Jianye to recuperate.”

Zhao Jue nonchalantly answered, “No need to say anymore. How can this Prince emphasize myself to the detriment of our country? Depart immediately for Xiangyang.” Everyone could only follow his orders. Daoli and Baiyi looked at one another, their expressions filled with helplessness and admiration. When anyone tried to further persuade the Prince, he refused to listen. Daoli could only re-bandage Zhao Jue’s wound. Fearing for Zhao Jue, everyone originally did not hurry their horses along with their whips. But Zhao Jue feared for the safety of Xiangyang and hurried forth, not caring about the state of his wound. In the face of Zhao Jue’s decision, everyone was helpless. Trying to spin a positive outlook on the matter, they figured that if they did not get to the army encampments, then they would probably still face additional assassination attempts. They could only follow Zhao Jue and hurry towards Xiangyang.

When Zhao Jue finally entered into Xiangcheng, it was already dusk on the second day. Taking advantage of nightfall and support dispatched by Rong Yuan, Zhao Jue was able to successfully enter Xiangcheng. Daoli and Baiyi discussed the matter. Daoli continued to stay by Zhao Jue’s side to help tend to the Prince’s wound. He had primarily studied medicine under Jiang Zhe. While he was not particularly skilled, he was far superior to Xiangyang’s army doctors. Baiyi quickly returned to Jianye to report back to Jiang Zhe.

When I heard the news about Zhao Jue’s injury, I could not help but heave a heavy sigh. Before Zhao Jue had left on the campaign, I was already uneasy. And now that Zhao Jue was going to battle while carrying the heavy wound that he had suffered, did this mean that my premonitions were correct? Although Zhao Jue was suspicious of me, he was a good superior. I hesitated for some time before deciding to go to Xiangyang myself.

For my safety, I brought along Chen Zhen and the seven operatives that were by my side. After rendezvousing outside of Jianye, we rode with the fastest possible speed towards Xiangyang. Because I could not ride very well, I sat in a horse-drawn carriage. Although the trip was bumpy, for me, it was better than riding a horse. Along the way, I received reports from the Secret Camp that the Prince of Qi, Li Xian, had attacked Xiangyang on a large scale, but Zhao Jue had personally led the defenses from the battlements. As a result, the Yong army suffered heavy losses and could not achieve victory. Although I was still far from the battlefield, I was still able to ascertain the situation. After several days, the Yong army had suffered forty thousand casualties, nearing what I believed was the Prince of Qi’s limit.

Sure enough, when I was two hundred li from Xiangyang, I received news that the Yong army had withdrawn. According to reports from the Secret Camp, the Yong army had most likely completely retreated from within Southern Chu’s borders. Due to this retreat, I would run head long into the Yong army. In order to keep away, I gave the order to stay in a small village for the time being. The soldiers of the Yong army did not commit any offenses as they marched and were unlikely to pillage this village. At noon of that day, the Yong army marched on the road outside of the village. Before they arrived, Yong scouts entered the village and ordered all of its residents to stay at home. I had already changed into a commoner’s garb, while my subordinates were all dressed like farmers. As a result, we did not arouse any attention. In reality, the Yong army had no intention of entering the village and only needed to control the road. But just as I was waiting for the Yong army to pass, I suddenly heard a clamor erupt outside. Afterwards, someone banged on the door, yelling, “Everyone inside come out. This place has been commandeered by the military.”

Chen Zhen quietly walked over to my side, using his eyes to ask me what to do. After thinking it over, I shook my head. Pretending to be panicked, Chen Zhen walked over and opened the door. In an imploring fashion, he pleaded, “Army sires, spare our lives! Army sires, please spare our lives!”

The person banging on the door was a soldier wearing black armor. From his attire and sword, one could tell that this man wasn’t an ordinary soldier. He looked around the room, as he replied, “No need to panic. We only need to use this room. You go stay in the side chambers. Don’t move and don’t make any sound.”

I stood, leading Chiji out. Suddenly the soldier stopped me and inquired, “What is your name? Have you attained scholarly honors?”

Calmly, I replied, “This youngster is Jiang Suiyun, a simple poor scholar. I have not attained any scholarly honors. Does the army sire need anything?”

Across the soldier’s eyes flashed a look of hesitation before he came to a sudden realization, yelling, “Come quickly! Capture all of them! They are enemy spies!” Following his command, a squad of soldiers charged in. Using their swords and spears, they surrounded us. Chen Zhen hurriedly retreated a few steps, standing before and protecting me. He did not make any sudden moves. He knew that in this moment, he could not be rash.

Adopting a puzzled expression, I asked, “Why does army sire think that we are enemy spies?”

A look of indescribable coldness flashed across the soldier’s eyes, and he declared, “It looks like you still refuse to admit it until forced to face the grim reality.3 From your bearing and mannerisms, you are definitely someone who has lived a life of luxury. In addition, you have a superior attitude. If you weren’t an enemy spy, why did you say you had not attained scholarly honors?”

I could not believe that this soldier was so astute. I could not help but look at him up and down. Just as I was trying to figure out how to handle the situation, a horseman galloped over. From atop his mount, he said, “Haven’t you finished preparing the house? His Imperial Highness urgently needs to be treated!”

The soldier hurriedly replied, “General, this household is suspicious.”

Before the soldier had even finished speaking, the general looked at me. He froze briefly before smiling and said, “I thought it was someone else … so it is Academic Jiang, Jiang daren. To think we would meet here.”

When the general had arrived, I was already smiling wryly. I could only reply, “So it is the Prince of Qi’s bodyguard, Sir Huang. To think we would meet under such circumstances.”

In a proper manner, the general stated, “When His Highness was sent as an envoy to Southern Chu, daren attended to him by royal edict. You were considerate and respectful. I am extremely grateful. Now, the two countries are at war, and daren is a ranking official of Southern Chu. Why are you here in this small village in the middle of nowhere?”

My mind raced. He had stated that the prince needed someplace to be treated. I said, “To tell the truth, this lowly official has learned that an old friend is gravely ill. None of the medications taken have been successful. This lowly official understands some medicine and has come all this way to treat him.”

General Huang revealed a look of pleasant surprise. He voiced, “So Jiang daren is skilled in medicine.… The Prince of Qi was hit by an arrow. The army doctors can do nothing. We can only rush back to Great Yong. But the traveling has made the wound worse. Jiang daren, please take a look at His Imperial Highness.”

I gladly replied, “Doctors have a caring heart. This lowly official dares not refuse.”

General Huang then ordered someone to request the Prince of Qi’s presence. All the soldiers had strange looks on their faces. I overhead one of them ask General Huang in a low voice, “He is an official of Southern Chu, will he sincerely treat His Imperial Highness?”

In a low voice, General Huang whispered back, “At the time, we became acquainted with Jiang daren while we were in Jianye. His character is amiable, free, and easy. He cares not for a person’s identity or status. His Imperial Highness has said he is incredibly broad-minded and open, and must not be scorned. His Imperial Highness took care of him. I believe that he will not forget this friendship. In addition, he is now in the hands of our army. I don’t believe he would dare do anything.”

It didn’t take long for the Prince of Qi’s carriage to arrive. General Huang had the prince carried into the house. The prince’s face was flushed red. He was in a coma. I stepped forward and checked his pulse. After muttering to myself, I said, “His Imperial Highness was hit by a Southern Chu poisoned arrow. The formula for the poison was acquired from southern barbarians and uses the venom from vipers. If it weren’t for the Prince’s strong internal energy, sturdy build, and the prompt consumption of a generic poison antidote, he would have died long ago. Right now, the toxicity of the poison has sharpened. If we do not treat him, he will die within three days.”

Everyone was shocked. A middle-aged general coldly asked, “If that is the case, do you have a way to save him?” I looked at the man with an inquiring look. The general replied, “This general is Fan Wencheng, the general under the Prince of Qi charged with his protection.”

I smiled faintly before replying, “General should not worry. This lowly official has come at the opportune moment. As long as I use acupuncture on the Prince and prescribe a direct antidote, the Prince’s life will be saved. However, after this, the Prince will need to recuperate for half a year.”

Generals Fan and Huang both revealed cheerful looks. Under their careful gaze, I used my needles on the prince. It took two hours before I finished the complicated process of using the needles upon the acupuncture points. Afterwards, I wrote down a prescription for the antidote. The army was fully prepared and had all of the medicinal ingredients, especially as my prescription did not call for any rare ingredient. It didn’t take long for the prince’s face to return to normal after taking the medication. His sleep became calmer. Thanking me profusely, General Huang escorted me to the side chambers to rest. Seeing me, Chen Zhen asked in a low voice, “Daren, will they let us go tomorrow?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I indifferently replied. “The Prince of Qi is an intelligent man. If he does not allow us to leave, I have my ways to take his life.”

At dawn the second day, the Prince finally woke. General Huang immediately called me over to check the prince’s pulse and condition. Lying in bed, Li Xian smiled as he looked at me. After I had concluded that the poison in his body was no longer a concern and only required the consumption of medicine, Li Xian said with a smile, “To think that we would meet by chance here. Thanks to daren, this Prince’s life has been saved. Jiang daren should just simply follow me back to Great Yong.”

“Your Imperial Highness’s words are incorrect,” I lightly replied. “This lowly official is a subject of Southern Chu. How can I surrender to Great Yong? If Your Imperial Highness remembers the grace of saving your life, please feel free to kill this lowly official.”

“Do not be angry, daren,” responded Li Xian hurriedly. “How can I forget the life-saving grace? If daren is unwilling, then I will not force you.”

I became happy. I had long known that Li Xian greatly admired his older brother, the Prince of Yong. The Prince of Yong was someone who greatly emphasized emotions and friendships. Under these circumstances, Li Xian would not make things difficult for me. As long as I said those words, the Prince of Qi could not show ingratitude. That is why I treated him without setting any conditions.

Seeing that my temper had cooled, Li Xian continued, “I have heard that daren is journeying to help treat a friend. I wonder if this Prince knows who this person is?”

Seeing the suspicion in Li Xian’s eyes, I indifferently answered, “Your Imperial Highness naturally knows who this person is. He is Southern Chu’s Prince of De, Zhao Jue.”

“So you are going to treat him,” said Li Xian furiously. “Preposterous! Do you think that this Prince will allow you to go treat him?”

I icily explained, “Great Yong and Southern Chu are at war. The Prince of De was ambushed and nearly assassinated while traveling. And while he lived, he was injured. Since I have treated Your Imperial Highness, then I am not worried that Your Imperial Highness will one day launch another invasion. I did not know Your Imperial Highness so dreaded the Prince of De to go as far as to allow him to die by the hands of assassins.”

Li Xian was silenced. It was some time before he spoke. “I expect that even if the Prince of De fully recovers, he will be unable to block the crack horsemen of my Great Yong. Fine … you can go take care of him. Tell him, I will definitely have him die by my hands.”

I bowed slightly, signaling that I would follow his orders.

Three days later, it was only after the Prince of Qi’s injury had improved was I allowed to depart. When I was getting ready to leave, he told me from his carriage, “Jiang daren, Southern Chu will sooner or later be destroyed by my hands. When the time comes, Jiang daren can come find me. This Prince will protect Jiang daren’s property and life.” I remained silent. Whether he took my silence to be in agreement or in refusal, was up to him.

After separating from the Prince of Qi, I hurried day and night before finally arriving at Xiangyang. Baiyi was acquainted with the general assigned to the city gates. My entourage and I were quickly allowed to enter the city, and we rushed directly to the home that the Prince of De was staying in. When I arrived at the entrance, I heard the sound of bitter crying. I froze for a moment before I madly rushed in. All of the soldiers guarding the entrance recognized me and allowed me to pass unimpeded. When I charged into the Prince of De’s bedroom, I found Rong Yuan fallen over on the ground bawling. On the bed, Zhao Jue’s face was as pale as a sheet. Daoli stood beside the bed, his complexion filled with sorrow. Seeing my arrival, Rong Yuan lamented, his voice choking with emotion, “Suiyun, you have arrived too late.”

Losing self-control, I yelled, “Daoli, how did it come to this? How were you unable to keep him alive?”

Daoli crept to my side and reported, “Daren, this lowly one has helped medicate the Prince to good effect. Even after seven days of personally overseeing the city’s defenses, his wound did not worsen. Who knew that the King today would issue an edict lashing out at the Prince? After the Prince saw the edict, he was greatly angered, continuously vomiting blood. Not an hour ago, he … he passed.”

Continuing to shed tears, Rong Yuan came forward and sobbed, “Suiyun, do not blame him. He did his best.”

I coldly asked, “Where is the edict?”

Rong Yuan sighed heavily before pointing at a nearby table. I walked over and picked up the yellow damask silk edict to take a look. My chest tightened and I felt depressed. There was a taste of sweetness in my mouth before I vomited blood. The words on the edict were frigid:

Royal Uncle is well versed in the art of war. Commanding one hundred elite soldiers and possessing the natural barriers around Xiangyang, how have you been unable to achieve victory after fighting for so long? How are you allowing the Yong army to come and go as they please? Can it be possible that Royal Uncle is in communication with the enemy? May the Chief Commander empathize with the weary and poor state of our nation’s power—resolve this in the shortest time possible.

I dropped the edict, pushing aside Chiji and Daoli who had stepped forward to prop me up. Looking at the table, I noticed that there was a memorial placed upon it. I picked the paper up and unfolded it. Rong Yuan seemed to want to stop me, but ultimately decided to stand still. I lowered my head and read the document. Although the handwriting was neat and careful, there were traces of blood all over.

Jue is an honored member of the royal clan and possesses mediocre talent. I was recognized by the former King and considered a confidant. I commanded armies and spared no effort. However, to no avail, my body has many illnesses, unable to meet high aims, perishing along the way to my eternal regret. Now, Great Yong has invaded and Southern Chu is weary and poor. This, honestly, is a battle for our country’s survival. Jue is about to die and does not dare not to give loyal advice and direct criticism. My Southern Chu, ever since the marriage alliance, has been afraid. Every time that Great Yong even breathes, the court officials are afraid of war and beg for peace. But Great Yong has designs upon us and is unlikely to consent. The King should join with talented subjects, avoid vile characters, neglect the harem, diligently handle governmental affairs, focus upon military matters.… At a distance, ally with Northern Han, and close by, resist Great Yong. Only thus will Southern Chu will be protected. Xiangyang’s defenses are extremely important. Rong Yuan is this subject’s confidant. He is talented and adept in military matters. Jue’s former subordinates can be entrusted to him. Will the King please issue an edict ordering this person to temporarily defend Xiangyang, so as to ensure nothing befalls Xiangyang? The Marquis Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Lu Xin, is loyal and ardent, and is conscientious. He can be entrusted with the position of Chief Commander. Jue sheds tears as he writes this memorial, not knowing whether my words will be heeded.… Jue dies regretfully.

I lowered the memorial back onto the table. Thinking of how Zhao Jue’s heart was filled with grief and he drilled into his heart, weeping blood to write this memorial, tears rained down my face like rain. I wondered, “Why was the Prince so obstinate? If he had listened to my advice, using my army to become independent, how could this have happened?”

Rong Yuan stepped forward and replied, “Before His Highness passed, he remembered daren. He originally wished to recommend daren to defend Xiangyang, but after thinking it over, he said, ‘Suiyun is magnanimous and refined, without equal in this world. To no avail, he places his own safety before principles4 and is most certainly unwilling to die for this cause. Sir Rong, please pass this along to Suiyun. Tell him that one day when Southern Chu is destroyed, please consider Jue’s feelings and help ensure some of Southern Chu’s royal clansmen live.’”

I was silent for some time before softly saying, “Sir Rong, please restrain your grief. The King is not a heartless person. He will be regretful upon seeing the Prince’s memorial. The matter of Sir garrisoning Xiangyang will surely be approved. Suiyun has become disheartened and will soon resign and go on a long journey. If we are to meet again, we will speak our thoughts freely.”

After finishing, I turned and left. Arriving at the entrance to the courtyard, as I was pulling aside the carriage curtains and entering, I heard in the distance earth-shattering and heaven-shaking cannon fire. There were twelve in total … signaling that the commander had died. Closing the curtains, I distantly ordered, “Leave.” The carriage began to move. After some time, I pulled back the cover of the carriage window, looking at the gloomy skies outside. For the first time, I could distinctly feel that Southern Chu … was finished.

Footnotes:

武林, wulin – the martial arts community
心平气和, xinpingqihe – idiom, lit. heart calm and even-tempered; calm and unstressed
不见棺材,不掉泪, bujianguancai, budiaolei – idiom, lit. to not shed tears until one sees one’s coffin; lit. refuse to admit until forced to face the grim reality
明哲保身, mingzhebaoshen – idiom, lit. a wise man looks after his own hide; to put one’s safety before matters of principle

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