In the twelfth month of the first year of Southern Chu’s Zhihua era, Jiang Zhe was held as a captive in the official residence of the Prince of Yong. Although the Prince treated him with courtesy and respect, Jiang Zhe’s will was unyielding. The Prince of Qi, Li Xian, fond of Jiang Zhe’s talent, urged the Prince of Yong to pardon him. The Prince of Yong had no alternative and could only allow his release. As Jiang Zhe had a noble and lofty character, the Prince of Yong saw him off with magnificent wine in a golden helmet bestowed by the Emperor. Jiang Zhe was moved to tears and unexpectedly capitulated to the Prince of Yong.…
—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
Subconsciously, I took the golden helmet. My entire mind was still filled with the scene of Li Zhi stopping me from drinking that poisoned wine. He was unexpectedly letting me go, letting the mad scholar who had repeatedly offended go, someone who was a like venomous stinger in one’s heart who could transform his entire great undertaking into dust. I did not know why, but tears began to fall one by one into the golden helmet and onto my white clothes. It seemed that I couldn’t move. I recalled the day when the Prince of De realized that I would not faithfully and loyally serve Southern Chu, and began to become vigilant against me. While I recuperated in Jianye, the Prince of De’s spies never stopped monitoring me. I remembered the last essay that I submitted. I had laid my heart bare to show my loyalty to Southern Chu. The only result was denunciation and dismissal. Previously, I believed that I couldn’t care less about what had happened in these incidents. Only today did I discover how deeply I buried them in my heart. This was something that I had no way of detecting or maybe I was unwilling to recall the sorrowful past.
With both hands, I picked up the golden helmet. I had no qualms about the splashing and dribbling liquid, drinking the fine wine within the helmet. In my mind, I thought to myself, This must be the reason why the Martial Marquis Zhuge strived his utmost for Shu-Han.2 Drinking all of the wine, I felt as if my chest was afire. Raising the golden helmet up high, I kneeled on the ground. In a clear and bright voice, I proclaimed, “Even if this subject offers my life in sacrifice, it will not be sufficient to repay the tiniest part of Your Imperial Highness’s deep favor. If Your Imperial Highness does not dislike this subject for my fickleness, this subject, Jiang Zhe, is willing to serve Your Imperial Highness.”
Li Zhi was initially downhearted and did not expect that I would suddenly pledge my allegiance. For a short period of time, he didn’t know what to say. It was Shi Yu who was clever, giving Li Zhi a gentle nudge. Li Zhi promptly stepped forward and pulled me to my feet. Emotional, he responded, “Sir, since you have changed your mind, this Prince … this Prince truly doesn’t know what to say. Quickly, quickly, quickly get up.”
How could I, a mere scholar without the strength to truss a chicken, resist? I was pulled to my feet by Li Zhi. My frame of mind had gradually calmed down. In a low voice, I recited, “If they had not met the kings, the two heroes would have wasted their life. / By chance they met Kings Tang and Wu, the clouds follow the dragon, while the winds follow the tiger.”3 Looking at Li Zhi, I softly stated, “Your Imperial Highness is magnanimous, sparing this subject’s life. This subject is unable to repay this great favor. Only by promising to spare no effort can this subject compensate Your Imperial Highness for the offense committed these several days.”
Li Zhi’s hands shook, looking at me in astonishment. He originally was rejoicing in his heart that he had not poisoned Jiang Zhe to death and thus lose such a talented individual. By my words, it was clear that I knew that he had poisoned the wine.
Looking at the uneasy expression on Li Zhi’s face, I smiled faintly and acknowledged, “There is no need to overthink this, Your Imperial Highness. If Your Imperial Highness had not stayed his hand, Zhe would not willingly serve.”
Li Zhi looked at Shi Yu. Shi Yu had already sent away all the servants. Hearing my words, at this moment, he could not help feel slightly fearful, turning to look back at Li Zhi.
I made no attempt to obfuscate the situation, continuing, “There is no need to worry Your Imperial Highness, Sir Shi. Formerly, Zhe shamefully rejected His Imperial Highness’s grace. For His Imperial Highness to want my death is to be expected. Now that this matter has passed and the situation has changed, this subject will not bear any grudges. May Your Imperial Highness not fault me for my arrogance these last several days.”
For me to speak thus, I was trying to not expose their faults. Since I had decided to serve the Prince of Yong, I needed to carefully consider the nature of the relationship between a liege and his vassal. If we clearly remembered the Prince of Yong thinking about poisoning me and my deliberate efforts to provoke him, then inevitably there would be suspicion and animosity in the future. For me to speak of these matters now, then the Prince of Yong would not feel that he had treated me unfairly and will not begrudge me my offenses. In the future, the relationship would naturally be harmonious. Don’t say that I was overthinking this. Since antiquity, many rulers have been ridiculed for getting rid of their vassals after they had served their purpose. However, to speak clearly and definitely, these deaths were not only the result of the fear of the rulers, but also subjects exceeding the limits on a subject. Thus, hereafter, I made sure to leave an escape route for myself.
Sure enough, after Li Zhi’s expression had changed several times, he spoke in a cheerful voice, “It’s all good as long as Sir does not blame this Prince. I willing to appoint Sir to become a major under the household of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies, working alongside Ziyou to assist this Prince.”
I once again kneeled on the floor to offer my thanks. With a wry smile on his face, Li Zhi stated, “There is no need for Sir to stand on ceremony. I regard Sir as a friend who I can seek advice from. Sir must not hold our relationship at such a distance.”
With a smile, I replied, “The necessary ceremony between a superior and his subordinates cannot be discarded. How can Suiyun lack in manners? But if Your Imperial Highness does not blame Suiyun for failing to exhibit proper etiquette, then Suiyun can only be impolite.” This was my real intention. Since I had pledged allegiance to the Prince of Yong, I would inevitably see him every day. It was quite painful to be continuously respectful and deferential. In any case, I would not have to spend much time considering etiquette before the Prince of Yong succeeded the throne.
Having achieved my goals, I instructed resolutely, “Your Imperial Highness, Suiyun also wishes to have an in depth conversation with Your Imperial Highness, but not right now. Would Your Imperial Highness please send someone to notify the Prince of Qi with the news that Suiyun’s old ailment has suddenly relapsed, and can only remain here to recuperate. The Prince of Qi will inevitably come to call personally. Suiyun boldly asks Your Imperial Highness to personally attend to the concoction of the medication. This is the first thing that needs to be done. Secondly, although Suiyun is somewhat familiar with Great Yong, I am unfamiliar with and do not clearly understand the tangled confusion of power and influence within the court. Would Your Imperial Highness please collect all of the intelligence reports and deliver them to me? After Suiyun has had the opportunity to review the information, I will discuss with Your Imperial Highness in detail later tonight. Thirdly, Guan Xiu and the others are still unaware of what has happened today. There will inevitably be suspicions and animosity in their hearts. Would Sir Ziyou go and inform them? There is no harm in somewhat obfuscating what has happened today so as to manifest Your Imperial Highness’s benevolence and high mindedness, and to pacify the hearts and minds of the advisers. These three matters are of the utmost importance.”
Hearing my words, Li Zhi’s eyes lit up, as he replied, “Suiyun indeed thinks meticulously. This Prince will immediately follow your instructions. This Prince will immediately accompany Sir back to the guest courtyard. Ziyou, you first go inform the Prince of Qi.”
Shi Yu and I glanced at one another, smiles on our faces. Shi Yu hurried departed, while I began to hold a performance, having the Prince of Yong support me as we exited the hall. Seeing me exit, the incomparably anxious Xiaoshunzi, who been waiting for me, hurriedly rushed over. Glancing coldly at the Prince of Yong, he asked, “Young master, what has happened?” So speaking, he replaced the Prince of Yong and supported me.
I quietly replied, “Xiaoshunzi, do you have any way for me to become temporarily ill? I have to meet the Prince of Qi.”
When Li Xian arrived at the Prince of Yong’s residence, he was full of happiness. However, cold water was poured over him. When Shi Yu informed him that Jiang Zhe’s old ailment had relapsed, Li Xian’s first instinct was that the Prince of Yong was forcibly holding Jiang Zhe. But after thinking it over, Li Xian realized that his brother’s methods wouldn’t be so clumsy. Regardless of what had happened, Li Xian requested that he be allowed to see Jiang Zhe. Leaving Qin Zheng in the carriage, Li Xian made a beeline for the guest courtyard. His heart was filled with resentment and anger. But when he entered the room, he caught sight of Jiang Zhe reclined on the bed. Jiang Zhe’s entire face was pale. Meanwhile, his second brother was concentrating his attention on carrying a bowl of piping hot medicine, blowing on it. Seeing Li Xian arrive, Li Zhi smiled slightly before stating, “Sixth brother, Sir Jiang spent all of last night in deep conversation with my retainers. Today, when I was seeing him off, Sir drank a few cups too many, and unexpectedly his old ailment relapsed. I fear that he won’t be able to leave.”
Li Xian looked at Jiang Zhe’s pale face and angrily replied, “Isn’t this too coincidental? He just fell ill and you’ve already prepared and concocted the medicine.”
Li Zhi casually uttered, “Ever since he arrived at my residence, Sir Jiang has had to take medicine practically on a daily basis. This has become routine. Therefore, this brother of yours has instructed that medicine be ready at all times. It’s fortunate that this was the case. Sir suddenly fell ill today, if it weren’t for this medicine, I fear that Sir would have to be confined to bed for several days.”
With difficulty, I opened my eyes, cursing Xiaoshunzi in my heart for his zealous and excessive conscientiousness. My entire body felt freezing from the yin energy that he had inserted into me. Any movement was difficult. Weakly and without any strength, I spoke, “Ever since Suiyun became ill in Sichuan, this ailment would frequently flare up without concern for time. Unexpectedly it would flare up today, really wronging Your Imperial Highness.” Finished speaking, I coughed several times.
The Prince of Yong lightly tasted the medicine before reporting, “It’s done.” So speaking, he allowed Xiaoshunzi to help me sit up, while he personally fed me the medicine.
After I had taken the medicine, my complexion became somewhat better, and I said, “Your Imperial Highnesses, after taking this medicine, Suiyun will have to take a nap. I hope that Your Imperial Highnesses will not take offense.”
The Prince of Yong promptly replied, “Please rest well, Sir. This Prince will go now.”
I gently nodded my head, giving him a look that seemed to express how moved I was before I gradually fell asleep.
Rising to his feet, the Prince of Yong whispered, “Sixth brother, we should not stay here bothering Sir. Let’s go outside to talk.”
Leaving the courtyard, Li Xian spoke, a look of stupefaction on his face, “This is Heaven’s will. It seems like second brother has won.”
With a smile, Li Zhi responded, “Sixth brother is overthinking this. Once Sir Jiang has recovered, he will naturally go to your residence.”
Li Xian smiled coldly and replied, “He fell ill opportunely. The majestic Marshal of Heavenly Strategies, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, personally fed him medication. I would have been baffled if he were not moved.”
In his head, Li Zhi grumbled that he had been sincere in treating me from the beginning and yet I was still unwilling to pledge allegiance. When he opened his mouth, he said, “Sixth brother is overthinking this.”
Abruptly, Li Xian flicked his sleeves, turning and leaving. After leaving the Prince of Yong’s residence, he did not board his carriage. Instead, he appropriated a horse from one of his personal guard. Venting his anger, he ferociously gave his horse a whip, causing the steed to neigh before dashing off. Li Xian completely ignored the calls and shouts behind him, departing angrily.
Within the courtyard, I had Xiaoshunzi remove the yin restrictions that he had placed on my body. With a smile, I stated, “My entire body is covered in cold sweat and stinks of alcohol. Quick, I want to take a bath.”
Smiling, Xiaoshunzi replied, “I’d already prepared it long ago. How can I not know young master’s temperament?”
Looking at him, I asked, “You’re not going to ask why I changed my mind?”
“The distance was only a dozen or so zhang,”4 Xiaoshunzi offhandedly explained. “I could hear clearly. Xiaoshunzi has never questioned young master’s decisions. Young master, be at ease. As long as Xiaoshunzi is alive, no one will be able to harm young master.”
Hearing the tranquil and calm, and yet firm and resolved tone of his words, I warmed. I replied, “Naturally. Xiaoshunzi, you have to practice well. In officialdom, I can put my own safety above all else, but there is another realm in this world. If there is a peak expert martial artist trying to assassinate me, I would have to rely upon your skills.”
A look of fervor flashed in his eyes, while he calculatedly responded, “Young master, be at ease. I have already mastered the sword manuals that young master gave me earlier. Although there are some opponents that I cannot defeat, no one will be able to easily pass me.”
I nodded my head. Xiaoshunzi never bragged or said empty words. However, I still had my doubts and asked, “I remember that some of the sword manuals required pure yang internal energy. How can you use them now?”
Xiaoshunzi flashed a slight smile, as he replied, “Young master is a master of the Book of Changes. How can you not know that when yin reaches the extremes, yang is produced?”
I looked at Xiaoshunzi, unable to cover up the cheerful and happy look on my face. Although I did not understand a thing about martial arts, I still knew that Xiaoshunzi’s martial arts had already reached a new realm. In my heart, I thought over what I had heard. Reportedly, training martial arts required more than twenty years before reaching this higher realm. How was Xiaoshunzi, who was only a little over twenty, already so formidable? Was he really a martial arts genius? I did not know that my wild imaginations were correct. Xiaoshunzi was innately intelligent and clever, and had a resilient temperament. The martial arts that he practiced conformed to his body’s condition. In addition, having followed me for years, he had achieved no small attainments in arts and sciences. This combination resulted in his present accomplishments. Although he was still far from the three grandmasters, he had already far surpassed the average peak experts.
After changing into a set of azure robes, I followed Shi Yu to the Prince of Yong’s confidential study in a cheerful frame of mind. This study was located on the right side of the manor and was heavily guarded. Here, within an ordinary room, was collected all of the secret and classified documents within the manor. Other than the Prince of Yong and Shi Yu, no one else was permitted to enter without permission. Attending to the study were four pages who were eighteen or nineteen years of age. All four individuals had fitting demeanors, their gaits strong and vigorous. One could see that they were the Prince of Yong’s trusted and personal aides. After some time had passed, and they were given a command, they would become the Prince of Yong’s capable subordinates. Mentally, I praised the Prince of Yong as truly remarkable before entering the study. Within, I began to examine the information that I needed to know. Although Xiaoshunzi had delivered intelligence reports from Chen Zhen, the information that they had provided could not compare to the comprehensive information here. The pages left here to wait upon me were extremely efficient. I asked for documents following the directory. They were able to immediately retrieve them. Although I was a bit unused to not having Xiaoshunzi at my side attending to me, it didn’t really matter. Later on, I would be working in my own study. With my photographic memory, I only needed to take one look at the things here.
Li Xin again stole a glance at the twenty-something year old handsome youth, curiosity filling his heart. Li Xin’s father was originally a personal guard to the Prince of Yong. During an assassination attempt on the prince, Li Xin’s father was killed, leaving him behind as an orphan. Seeing that the orphan had no one to depend on, Li Zhi had the orphan brought to the manor to be taken care of. After several years, the orphan’s diligence, studiousness, loyalty, and mental agility gained Li Zhi’s recognition. The orphan was bestowed the surname, Li, and was allowed to enter the confidential study. Although conduct here was strictly restricted, having access to this confidential information and serving at the prince’s side provided profound benefits. Moreover, the Prince of Yong had said long ago that once they reached adulthood, they would be allowed to go out and become officials. Li Xin was very clear that this was an excellent career path. Of course, the price was his eternal loyalty, thus he took great pains to be cautious and prudent. As a result, inquisitiveness was the biggest shortcoming. There was once a page who had stolen a glance at a document, violating the rules. When the Prince of Yong found out, the normally good-natured prince abruptly erupted in anger, ordering the page be beaten to death. Li Xin would always remember that tragic incident and as a result, never presumed to exceed his bounds. He understood that he ought not guess at this youth’s identity. But the moment he discovered that the Prince of Yong was waiting for this youth in the other study, he could not help but be curious.
Within the other study, although Li Zhi was perusing a military manual, he could not stop feeling ill at ease. Turning to look at Shi Yu, he spoke in a caring voice, “Ziyou, you should go ahead and rest. It is sufficient for this Prince to wait by myself. You must not exhaust yourself!”
Shi Yu smiled and replied, “Today, once Jiang Suiyun pledged allegiance to Your Imperial Highness, he acted swiftly and decisively. He first had the Prince of Qi give up before relieving the hearts and minds of the advisers, filling Ziyou with admiration. Therefore, I wish to know what kind of strategies and tactics he would offer to Your Imperial Highness. My eagerness is not below that of Your Imperial Highness’s.”
Li Zhi also smiled as he replied, “That’s right. I am really looking forward to the strategies and tactics that he would propose. You thoroughly understand the present situation. This Prince is trapped in a net. The more I struggle, the tighter the net. I really want to know what methods he has to allow this Prince to escape this encirclement. Thinking it over, this Prince can’t help but break out in a cold sweat. If I really poisoned Jiang Zhe to death, it is likely that there would really be no reprieve, no survival.”
“That’s right,” agreed Shi Yu. “Luckily, Your Imperial Highness was benevolent and high minded. Otherwise, how could Jiang Zhe have submitted willingly? This subordinate has thought it over. I fear that our inclinations and minds were all within his grasp. I’m afraid that today’s poisoned wine was very likely Jiang Zhe putting Your Imperial Highness to the test.”
Puzzled, Li Zhi inquired, “But if this Prince had not acted in the nick of time,5 would he have really drunk the poisoned wine?”
Shi Yu smiled wryly and responded, “This subordinate is incapable of knowing what he had planned. But since things did not progress to that stage, there is no need for Your Imperial Highness to trouble further.”
Li Zhi also smiled and concurred, “That’s right. Why should this Prince worry about matters of the past? Ziyou, I fear that he will not come out soon. How about we play a game of weiqi to pass the time?”
“Since Your Imperial Highness is interested,” replied Shi Yu, “This subordinate will naturally accompany. Would Your Imperial Highness please be lenient?”
The two exchanged smiles, bringing forth the board and began to play. After a while, a page named Li Zhong entered the study, reporting, “Your Imperial Highness, when this subordinate delivered the tea, I saw that Sir Jiang was somewhat moody. Sir even asked where his servant was.”
Li Zhi stared blankly for a moment before glancing at Shi Yu. His mind racing, Shi Yu spoke, “Your Imperial Highness, this subordinate has seen that Jiang Zhe relies heavily upon that Li Shun and seemingly can’t bear to be parted for him even if it’s for a short moment. As for Li Shun, he is dedicated and loyal to Jiang Zhe. It would be better to allow Li Shun to go in and serve Jiang Zhe, especially as Li Shun will inevitably have access to classified information.”
Thinking it over, Li Zhi agreed, “Correct, Li Shun, this person, is not an ordinary individual. The friendship and camaraderie between master and servant are extremely deep. Li Zhong, dispatch someone to bring Li Shun to attend in the study.”
After a while had passed, Li Zhong once again came to report, “Your Highness, Sir Shi, Sir Jiang was extremely happy. Li Xin reported that Li Shun abided by the rules, only focusing upon attending to Sir Jiang and never paying any attention to the contents of the documents.”
With this, Li Zhi finally set aside his worries and spoke, “That’s good. Ziyou, it’s your turn.”
Looking at the board, Shi Yu smiled and said, “Your Imperial Highness’s state of mind was elsewhere. It looks like this subordinate will win this game.”
With a wry smile, Li Zhi looked at his trapped white stones and replied, “That’s right, this Prince has lost.”
“This was because Your Highness was not focused,” stated Shi Yu. “There is no need for Your Imperial Highness to worry yonder. Your Imperial Highness should be careful and not let this subordinate win the next game.”
Collecting the stones, he said, “Fine, watch this Prince cause a bloodbath with my attacks.”
The two gradually engrossed themselves in playing weiqi. When the third game had ended, Shi Yu rose to his feet and looked out the window. At this moment, dawn was about to break. It was pitch-black outside the window. Looking at the board, Li Zhi stated, “This Prince has won by half a stone.”
With a smile, Shi Yu replied, “Your Imperial Highness’s skill is not ordinary. As long as Your Imperial Highness is somewhat attentive and diligent, this subordinate will suffer a crushing defeat.”
At this moment, Li Zhong entered the room and reported, “Your Imperial Highness, Sir Shi, Sir Jiang requests a meeting with Your Imperail Highness.”
Hearing this, Li Zhi didn’t even bother collecting the stones and jumped to his feet. Concerned, he asked, “How does he look?”
”Although Sir looks tired,” answered Li Zhong, “His bearing is extremely serene. He even bantered with this lowly one, jokingly saying that he would have this lowly one drag Your Imperial Highness from your sleeping chambers.”
Feeling his heart, suspended in the air the entire night, calm down, Li Zhi breathed out deeply and responded, “Not bad, not bad.”
Looking out the window, Shi Yu exclaimed with pleasant surprise, “Your Imperial Highness, look!”
Li Zhi raised his head and looked over. Outside the window, the sunshine of daybreak had already penetrated through the thick clouds. The sky to the east was already becoming brighter. With a smile, Li Zhi exclaimed, “A good omen! Let’s go and see Sir Jiang.” So speaking, he walked out of the room. Seeing the heroic disposition of Li Zhi’s gait, Shi Yu could not help but feel relaxed, and followed the prince out.
风虎云龙, fenghuyunlong – lit. tiger’s wind, dragon’s cloud; a reference to line 5 of Hexagram 1 (乾, the Creative) from the Book of Changes aka the I Ching that states that the ‘clouds (breath of the heavens) follow the dragon, while the wind (breath of the earth) follow the tiger’
武侯诸葛, the Martial Marquis Zhuge is one of the posthumous names that Zhuge Liang is known by. This sentence references Zhuge Liang’s loyalty and dedication to Shu-Han starting with Liu Bei and culminating with his death.
This is a poem by the Song Dynasty reformer, Wang Anshi, set to the ci, ‘Waves Scouring the Sands.’ This poem speaks of Yi Li and Jiang Ziya who helped King Tang of Shang and King Wu of Zhou found the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, respectively.
A 仗, zhang is about 3.3 meters. A dozen or so zhang is at least 39.6 meters.
悬崖勒马, xuanyalema – idiom, lit. to rein in the horse at the edge of the precipice; to act in the nick of time