Li Zhi walked over, looking slightly worried. I knew he felt that he was being too demanding by disturbing me so soon after my recovery from a serious wound when it was still inconvenient for me to handle affairs. However, after thinking it over, having been in a coma for a month and a half, and these past several days had been prohibited from receiving guests by Sang Chen, the Prince of Yong must surely have many things to discuss with me. Therefore, I stood up with the support of Xiaoshunzi. In a clear and bright voice, I stated, “Your Imperial Highness, please come into the pavilion. Please forgive Jiang Zhe for being unable to welcome you.”
Li Zhi promptly walked over. “Suiyun, don’t come out. It’s windy outside.”
So speaking, he entered the pavilion. With a smile, he said, “This method isn’t bad, not only being able to taste tea and appreciate the flowers, but also not having to worry about the cold wind. Quickly sit down.”
The movements just now had already caused beads of sweat to appear on my head. Thus, I did not stand on ceremony, sitting down. Weakly, I said, “Your Imperial Highness, please drink a cup of tea before speaking.”
Li Zhi wanted to speak, but hesitated. He only spoke after drinking a cup of the fragrant tea handed him by Xiaoshunzi, “Suiyun, although I’m somewhat apologetic for bothering you, tell me, what should this Prince do right now?”
I smiled slightly and replied, “Your Imperial Highness has done well, seizing the opportunity to augment the protection of your household, obtaining the sympathy of His Imperial Majesty. Qin Qing, Xiahou Yuanfeng, and the Princess of Jingjiang all are suspicious. Over these days, Your Imperial Highness has likely been able to gain quite a bit of relief. It is likely that Grand General Qin will consequently become a bit partial towards Your Imperial Highness. After all, the suspicions against Qin Qing are the heaviest. What further matters have left Your Imperial Highness dissatisfied?”
Li Zhi blushed before he asked, “This Prince is just being anxious about how this matter should be concluded. In addition, this Prince does not know who the assassin was. Does Suiyun have any thoughts?”
“Although I saw the man who shot me with an arrow,” I calmly answered, “However, the distance was too great and I do not know his identity. Nevertheless, Your Imperial Highness, regardless of who it is, you cannot despair because of Suiyun. Your Imperial Highness should still find an opportunity to reconcile with Grand General Qin.”
Frowning, Li Zhi inquired, “You speak correctly, however if this was perpetrated by Qin Qing, how can this Prince allow him to remain alive? If we cannot investigate until the truth comes to light,1 this Prince will absolutely not let this matter go. Suiyun, you previously said that you had made some arrangements. How is the current situation?”
I glanced at Xiaoshunzi. During the days when Sang Chen was by my side, Xiaoshunzi had secretly gone out to meet with Chen Zhen once. Yesterday, he had reported to me. During this almost two monthslong time span, the crown prince had already made two transactions with the Embroidered Union. We had also earned quite a bit of money. Naturally, we did not forget to record the persons and process involved in the crown prince’s smuggling operation. This information had reached my hands yesterday. Nonetheless, at present, I had no intentions of using this chess piece, waiting to move only once the crown prince had returned to his bad habits.2
Thinking it over, I softly responded, “This matter will harm Your Imperial Highness’s clean reputation. It is better if Your Imperial Highness pretends that you don’t know anything.”
Li Zhi stared at me blankly. Hesitating, he said, “Suiyun, it’s not that this Prince is pretentious, but your conduct must not be too excessive. If it harms the empire and the common people, this Prince would rather give up on the position of heir apparent.”
I smiled slightly before reassuring, “Don’t worry, Your Imperial Highness. This subject will not do those kinds of things.” There was something that I did not say—if the Crown Prince wanted to do this, how does it involve me? There shouldn’t be anyone who was going to have me assume responsibility for the Crown Prince’s crimes, right? At most, I was the instigator. However, the Crown Prince was the one committing that heinous crime.
With relief, Li Zhi replied, “If that’s the case, then good. Suiyun, these are the intelligence reports from these last few days. Slowly look them over.”
I accepted the intelligence dispatches handed over by the Prince of Yong, beginning to carefully study them.
These days, the crown prince’s side had been quiet.3 After all, he was the arch-enemy of the Prince of Yong. At this moment, even if he were kick someone who was down, he couldn’t do so too brazenly, as the emperor was still alive. This time, the emperor was also very suspicious of the crown prince. Therefore, there were inevitably some warnings. As a result, the crown prince endured silently, staying in his residence to satisfy his carnal pleasures, enjoying himself immensely. The man helping the crown prince satisfy his urges was a newly favored imperial bodyguard named Xia Jinyi. Although Xia Jinyi was licentious, he was a real genius in this field, training the songstresses and dancers of the crown prince’s household to become extremely outstanding—their songs enrapturing the soul, their dances seductive. The crown prince was left captivated,4 spending every day ensnared by the intoxication of rouge and powder. Were it not for the concubine, Xiao Lan, on the inside and Junior Mentor Lu Jingzhong without, it was likely that the crown prince’s residence would have become a chaotic mess. Reading this, I could not help but smile slightly. This was a small beginning that would have profound effects. Even before he had ascended to the throne, the crown prince was enjoying the pleasures of life. It seemed like my goal had been achieved.
However, the crown prince’s attitude was a puzzle. The intelligence reports sent by Chen Zhen stated that the crown prince was occupied with smuggling military equipment. The two transactions had given the crown prince a taste and he was preparing a third transaction. The Embroidered Union was also extremely satisfied. However, all good things must end. Although the benefits were moving, so long as we tampered with the transaction, we could cause them to begin to fight amongst themselves. It’s likely that the crown prince had handed control of this smuggling operation to Lu Jingzhong to handle. In this way, it can be assumed that the crown prince’s scheming was not ordinary. If something were to happen, even if the investigation reached Lu Jingzhong, it would at most be the crown prince failing to strictly control his subordinates. The crown prince could submit a memorial stating that he was indulging in feminine charms and had been deceived by his subordinates. With merely this level of scheming, no matter how deep it was, the crown prince was no more than an ambitious and ruthless character. To want to become the ruler of all the people, how could he shift responsibility to others?
There were also intelligence on the several suspects involved in my assassination. Qin Qing had been locked by Grand General Qin in their family’s residence, prohibited from coming out. Reportedly, Grand General Qin had used family discipline, beating Qin Qing so badly that he could not get out of bed.
Every aspect about Xiahou Yuanfeng was the same as always. This in itself was abnormal. His residence had strict protections. In addition, it was inappropriate for the Prince of Yong to disturb the emperor’s most favored imperial bodyguard without proof. Therefore, we had no idea what he was doing in secret.
The Princess of Jingjiang, Li Hanyou, was sent to have an audience with the emperor by her father. As her father, the Prince of Jingjiang, did not have any sons, his daughter was permitted entrance to the capital to extend congratulations on his behalf. However, Li Hanyou’s identity as a disciple of the Fengyi Sect was somewhat bothersome. Moreover, the Princess of Jingjiang was always accompanying the empress. Reportedly, it was because the Prince of Jingjiang wished to find a good husband for his daughter, thereby entrusting this matter to the empress. Supposedly, the empress intended to marry Li Hanyou to Qin Qing. Reading to this point, I trembled. If the Fengyi Sect sunk their claws into Qin Yi, then this would be too terrifying. It seemed that regardless of whether or not Qin Qing took part in the assassination, there was no way that we could punish him. I carefully recalled to mind that day’s assassin, remembering everything about him. Suddenly, everything became clear.5 Regardless of who this assassin was, he was definitely not Qin Qing. Reminded of that day’s situation, I finally understood that someone was first trying to sow dissension before assassinating me, then shifting the blame onto Qin Qing. It was coincidence that Vicious Killer was first. I did not even have to think to know who was trying to sow dissension.
Finally confirming the opponent, I looked towards Lu Jingzhong’s name. This man was truly formidable. It was likely that their goal was to form a grudge between the Prince of Yong and Qin Yi. I was likely the target because I was the Prince of Yong’s newest trusted aide. Could I be considered as an innocent victim of the calamity that I suffered this time? However, for the Prince of Yong to be so anxious, it seemed like there was no way for me to hide myself. That man’s scheming was truly formidable. However, his shortcomings were very obvious. If I were the one employing stratagems, it would not be as simple as merely inciting discord. Instead I would have the opponent voluntarily jump into the trap. It was likely that Qin Yi and Qin Qing absolutely hated the one stirring up conflict. However, I found it odd that in order to sow strife, they would utilize the fake rumor about there being a relationship between Princess Changle and myself.
These reports were not especially detailed, presumably because the original intelligence was all in the Prince of Yong’s study. After all, the Prince of Yong was unwilling to tire me out. As a result, the majority of these reports only had a few lines. I did not waste any further time thinking. These reports were all related to the investigation of the assassination attempt on me. I had the patience to wait for the details of something that had happened already. Currently, it was sufficient for me to only know the present situation.
Laying these reports down, I smoothly stated, “Your Imperial Highness, this subject now understands what happened. There is no need for Your Imperial Highness to worry. These next few days, there is no harm for Your Imperial Highness to visit the palace. Only with Your Imperial Highness relaxing a little would this subject have the opportunity to act. The assassination attempt was not because of some personal grudges; therefore, this subject will not retaliate. As long as Your Imperial Highness prevails, this subject’s hatred will naturally be avenged.”
“Suiyun already knows?” Li Zhi happily inquired, “Then who was it that attempted to assassinate you? This Prince will definitely not let him off easily.”
I smiled placidly and replied, “Your Imperial Highness, this subject does not have any proof and as such cannot be sure who it is. However, it is enough to know that I don’t plan on letting them off lightly. Your Imperial Highness should briefly not relent, delaying the Grand General for a period of time. If this matter is resolved now, then I’m afraid that the Grand General will not be able to obstruct the marriage between the Princess of Jingjiang and General Qin. If there are suspicions on Qin Qing, then the Grand General can tactfully and politely refuse.”
Finally able to take a tremendous weight off his mind, Li Zhi rejoiced, “It’s good as long as it wasn’t Qin Qing.”
I promptly added, “Your Imperial Highness cannot disclose this, even going so far as to express hostility to the Grand General. Only by doing so can we cause our enemies to relax their vigilance. The Grand General will not blame Your Imperial Highness because of this.”
Li Zhi nodded his head. “Since we’ve finished discussing business, there are two other matters that this Prince must inform you about. The first is that Imperial Father permitted me to augment the security of this residence. I already had Sima Xiong go select carefully from the army. Originally, this Prince had always believed that warriors should display their might on the battlefield. Therefore, the guards of this residence were not specially selected, causing Suiyun to suffer a serious injury. This time, this Prince decreed that a large competition be held in the army, selecting a thousand men to serve as the residence’s guards. This Prince has already split eight hundred men out of the thousand into eight companies named after the eight trigrams, assigning them the security of the residence. From now on, the Prince of Yong’s residence will be governed by military law. Anyone caught shirking his responsibilities will be punished with death. In addition, the remaining two hundred men are the best among them. I have already arranged fifty of them to serve as your personal guards. Many of them are jianghu disciples with fairly good internal energy cultivation, absolutely capable of blocking an assassination attempt by an accomplished expert. You will govern the rewards and punishments of these individuals. There is no need to ask this Prince for approval.”
I warmed. A competition held in the Yong army was an extremely solemn and grand occasion. It was split into three contests: horse archery, cavalry combat, and hand-to-hand combat. A victor needed to win all three contests. To win this kind of grand competition required innumerable bloody battles before success. For the Prince of Yong to use the grand competition to select bodyguards meant that those selected were all warriors who were one in a thousand. Moreover, surprisingly, more than half of those assigned to me were from jianghu. It seemed like this time the Prince of Yong had spent quite a bit of blood and sweat.
I immediately expressed my thanks to the Prince of Yong. During this time, the look on Xiaoshunzi’s face changed and changed again. Finally, he could not bear it any longer, stepping forward and bowing. “This servant spoke rudely earlier, offending Your Imperial Highness. Would Your Imperial Highness please forgive me?”
I was startled. Although I had noticed long ago that something was amiss, I did not realize that he had somehow inexplicably offended the prince. I directly inquired, “Xiaoshunzi, what’s going on? How did you offend His Imperial Highness?”
Xiaoshunzi blushed with shame. “Just now His Imperial Highness received a report that the Vicious Killer has finally revealed tracks. Moreover, he has already fought his way out of encirclements twice. I wish to go and kill that man to avenge young master. However, I was simultaneously worried about young master’s safety and could not help but mock His Imperial Highness, ‘If it weren’t for General Pei being a guest at the Cold Courtyard, it’s likely that young master’s life would have been lost already. Vicious Killer was only a mere assassin and yet was able to come and go as he pleased in the Prince of Yong’s residence. Now he was being unbridled outside. Truly thoroughly discrediting6 the warriors of Great Yong.’”
Hearing this, I could not help breaking out in a cold sweat. I promptly rose to my feet and apologized, “Xiaoshunzi is ignorant and offended Your Imperial Highness. Would Your Imperial Highness please forgive him?”
Li Zhi waved his hand, gesturing for me to return to my seat. Smiling wryly, he stated, “This Prince has let down you master and servant pair. The imperial bodyguards handpicked this time by this Prince will definitely be able to ensure Suiyun’s safety. Moreover, this Prince has already issued a command: Henceforth, a grand competition will be held every three months. Those ranking in the last ten must compete with the newly selected imperial bodyguards. If they cannot win, they will be dismissed from their post. Suiyun, although how you handle your personal guards is your own affair, candidate replacement cannot be decided by you. Xiaoshunzi, your martial arts are exemplary, far surpassing this Prince’s reckoning. From now on, you have the authority to dismiss anyone from Suiyun’s personal guards as long as you find them unsuitable. You must not act according to Suiyun’s temperament. At times, he is too kindhearted. Even if someone is unqualified, he still is likely unwilling to speak up.”
Xiaoshunzi repeatedly nodded his head. A few days earlier, he had once suggested that I should bring some of the men from the Secret Camp in. However, the strong point of the Secret Camp was secrecy. In the face of a pitched battle, it was likely that they were no match for these experts from the army. Moreover, it was not suitable for the Secret Camp to be exposed. Therefore, I did not agree. At this moment, seeing that my safety was ensured, Xiaoshunzi beamed with happiness. “This servant would boldly like to request permission to personally select young master’s bodyguards.”
“Okay. In the future these people will most likely listen to your orders,” consented Li Zhi, nodding his head. “There won’t be any problems if you selected them. These couple of days, Sima Xiong is distributing assignments to them. There is no harm for you to go take a look.”
Xiaoshunzi quickly nodded his head, eyeing me for instructions. I knew that after he had ensured my safety, he would immediately go off to chase and kill Vicious Killer, and thus I did nothing to obstruct him. On the contrary, I said, “Go handle this matter quickly. So much time has passed without a trace of Vicious Killer’s movements. For him to suddenly reappear now that my life has been saved, I really want you to interrogate him thoroughly.”
Xiaoshunzi nodded his head at once in agreement, swiftly walking off. It seems that he was already anxious and impatient.
Watching Xiaoshunzi walk away, Li Zhi sighed and observed, “What a faithful and true servant. Suiyun, you are truly fortunate.”
I smiled. “Before Your Imperial Highness, he is only being obedient because of Your Imperial Highness’s face. He is usually quite impudent.”
Seeing that Xiaoshunzi’s figure had disappeared, Li Zhi changed his countenance and said, “Suiyun, I know that you are keeping some things from me. I am unwilling to investigate because I believe that you won’t harm me. However, if I do not ask, then I cannot trust you completely.”
Although I knew that the Prince of Yong could not be completely ignorant of my affairs, I was still uneasy when things came to a head. The thought of him having a reckoning with me crossed my mind. Anxiously, I stole a glance at him. Li Zhi had already continued, “For this Prince to uncover this matter, it’s not for anything else. If you have any trusted confidants, there is no harm in having them come serve by your side. If another assassination were to happen, I’m afraid that Suiyun would not be so fortunate. I know that you once had several attendants with fairly good martial arts by your side. However, I have never seen them with you. I do not blame you for concealing them from me. If you weren’t careful in all respects, how would you able to defend yourself in these troubled times? It is only that your safety is of paramount importance. You should not conceal things from me so that they can’t be at your side to protect you.”
Somewhat ashamed, I lowered my head. If the Prince of Yong had not raised this subject, then the relationship between us lord and vassal would naturally have been harmonious. But I did not expect that the Prince of Yong would piece things together and would rather cause me to misunderstand to ensure my safety. The gratefulness in my heart almost caused me to tear up. Remembering how the Prince of De had not forgotten his suspicions towards me even onto death, although I greatly esteemed his loyalty and righteousness, I could not help but feel bitterly disappointed. In comparison, the Prince of Yong treated me in such a manner, so if I was not able to have him ascend to the Imperial Throne, how could I be at ease? I needed to do more. At worst, if my achievements were only so great as to worry him, then I simply needed to depart and go into seclusion.
However, although we had come to a tacit understanding, I did not say anything too much, only stating, “This subject will solemnly respect Your Imperial Highness’s admonishments.”
Seeing that I had grasped the meaning of his words, Li Zhi cheerfully responded, “This time, after learning that you sustained a heavy wound, both Princess Changle and the Prince of Qi showed great concern and care for you. Imperial Sister sent over the Ningpo figwort and bear gallbladder bestowed upon her by Imperial Father, while the Prince of Qi also sent over a bear gallbladder. If it weren’t for these medicines, it is likely that this Prince would not have been able to preserve your life. Oh, that’s right! Roulan returned from the palace two days ago. Changle is extremely fond of Roulan, frequently wanting to bring your daughter to the palace to keep her company.”
Somewhat puzzled, I inquired, “This subject is aware of the Prince of Qi’s intentions. I do not know why Princess Changle treats this subject with such deep affection. Furthermore, why has Roulan entered the palace again?”
Li Zhi cast a glance at me. “Imperial Sister is fond of your poetry. As for Roulan, it was the Princess of Yong who brought her into the palace. After suffering this injury, it was Imperial Sister who bestowed medicine to help prolong your life. Since your life has been preserved, then you should thank her for this great favor. The Princess of Yong saw that your injuries were severe, thinking that it would be best if she brought Roulan into the palace to thank Changle on your behalf. Roulan is your adopted daughter. Expressing gratitude on your behalf is in accordance with etiquette.”
Bewildered, I nodded my head. Why was Princess Changle treating me so generously and kindly? Was my poetry really that great?
Li Zhi glanced at me, laughing before he continued, “Oh, that’s right! In addition, Changle has had me tell you, ‘thank you.’ However, I don’t know the intent of these words.”
I shivered inside. Thanking me? Could it be possible that she knew that I had let her off that day? Impossible. If that was the case, wouldn’t the affair involving Liang Wan be known by everyone? Comforting myself, I said, “This subject is not entirely clear about the deeper meaning behind Her Imperial Highness’s words.”
Seeing that I looked somewhat tired, Li Zhi said, “All right, this Prince will not delay your rest. Be sure to not exhaust yourself.”
I was truly getting tired and thus saw off Li Zhi without moving. Two maids came over to help me up. These two maids had been attending and caring for me for some time now. Although I did not like being attended to by maids, I did not drive them away. After I had laid down in bed, I gradually entered the land of dreams. However, my sleep wasn’t that peaceful, the memory of that assassin shooting an arrow into my chest frequently playing in my mind, leaving me anxious and frightened. As a result, I tossed and turned. I had a dream that Xiaoshunzi had captured and brought Vicious Killer before me, allowing me to personally kill him. Afterwards, the assassin from that day would appear, still possessing those clear and lucid eyes, still having those fair white hands, notching and arrow and pulling back the bowstring. Suddenly, I would be startled awake. In the darkness, I indifferently stated, “I know who you are. It’s impossible to be anyone else. Li Hanyou, humph!”
水落石出, shuiluoshichu – idiom, lit. as the water recedes, the rocks appear; fig. the truth comes to light
积重难返, jizhongnanfan – idiom, lit. ingrained habits are hard to overcome; fig. bad habits die hard
偃旗息鼓, yanqixigu – idiom, lit. lay down the flag and still the drums; fig. to cease, to stop
神魂颠倒, shenhundiandao – idiom, lit. spirit and soul upside down; infatuated, head over heels in love, captivated
豁然开朗, hourankailang – idiom, lit. suddenly opens up to a wide panorama; fig. everything becomes clear at once
颜面扫地, yanmiansaodi – idiom, lit. for one’s face to reach rock bottom; to be thoroughly discredited