Volume 2, Chapter 23: Returning Home with Honor

With the success of the negotiations, King Yang of Chu was granted a reprieve. In the fifth month, he accompanied the diplomatic mission and returned towards Southern Chu. Just as he entered Southern Chu, he was assassinated and buried at Jianye. The King was on the throne for four years, neglecting court affairs. He was intimate with vile characters and distanced himself from worthy and virtuous subjects, almost causing the country to perish and himself to be imprisoned. Southern Chu’s irreversible decline could be traced to this King.

—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of King Yang of Chu

Lu Can was overjoyed. He knew that as long as the Prince of Yong did not make things difficult for Southern Chu, then everyone else would be comparatively easy to take care of, either through bribes or through other benefits. Lu Can promptly expressed his thanks to the Prince of Yong. However, Lu Can’s expression did not change. He knew that the Prince of Yong would inevitably have some conditions. Therefore, he sincerely stated, “Your Imperial Highness is magnanimous. On behalf of everyone in Southern Chu, Lu Can thanks Your Imperial Highness. If you have any instructions, please speak forthrightly. No matter how difficult this matter is, Lu Can will exert all effort to ensure its success.”

The Prince of Yong dismissed all this with a laugh. He had obtained wealth from Southern Chu’s treasury sufficient to support his army for several years. As a result, he was not greedy. Moreover, in his eyes, Southern Chu’s populace would sooner or later become subjects of Great Yong. Therefore, he would not make things worse in this currently bad situation.1 If the hatred and enmity of Southern Chu’s populace was aroused, then it would not be beneficial to the future pacification of Jiangnan. As for ceding territory and paying reparations, those matters were the court’s business. He already knew that Imperial Father’s bottom line was fifty million taels of silver, paid over ten years. If this happened then Southern Chu would have no way of expanding their military on a large scale. However, if no other demands were uttered, then inevitably it would cause others to become suspicious, even causing the monarch and ministers of Southern Chu to become uneasy, creating worry that he himself would make things difficult. Glancing at Jiang Zhe, Li Zhi gave him an imploring gaze.

Receiving the Prince of Yong’s hint, my heart was stirred and I softly stated, “His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, has long admired Southern Chu’s outstanding literary works, expressing extreme envy whenever this lowly official spoke of the Palace of Sublime Culture. If General Lu is able to make decisions, delivering some of the duplicate copies of works in the Palace of Sublime Culture to His Imperial Highness, especially if you can include some works of renowned masters, then that would be great. If your distinguished envoy can fulfill His Imperial Highness’s desires, then His Imperial Highness can guarantee that he will not have Southern Chu cede a single inch of its territory.”

Lu Can stared back blankly. He was a military man and did not regard these books as especially important. To him, the Prince of Yong’s demands were not excessive. Using books, calligraphy, and paintings in exchange for the Prince of Yong’s concessions would ensure that Southern Chu would not suffer disastrous losses from these negotiations. It would be worth it if that was the case. It was only that the Palace of Sublime Culture was established by the former king. If this was done, then there would be those who would impeach him. Thinking of this, Lu Can could not help but hesitate.

Seeing through his thoughts, I lightly added, “Currently, the King Emeritus is still in Great Yong. If General cannot make the decision, you can ask the King Emeritus.”

Lu Can immediately sobered up. This was a great excuse! He was still too inexperienced. As a result, Lu Can cheerfully replied, “This envoy will agree to Your Imperial Highness’s desires on behalf of the King Emeritus. After this envoy has returned to Southern Chu, I will immediately dispatch people to deliver those works.”

Just as Li Zhi was about to agree, I spoke up again, “If that is the case, then the delay would be too long. Would your distinguished envoy please send a letter back? If these works can be delivered before the negotiations are concluded, then His Imperial Highness will definitely repay this favor.”

Lu Can shot a glance at Yang Xiu, questioningly. Yang Xiu was a scholar. He shivered as he glanced at Jiang Zhe. Jiang Zhe’s demanded works were all the cream of Southern Chu’s culture. This man’s foresight was really beyond ordinary. Thinking back to the fall of Chengdu, both Great Yong and Southern Chu scrambled to grab the records from the Ministry of Revenue. These were all the basis of governing a country. Although this time, Jiang Zhe did not demand Southern Chu’s household records and maps, the works that he demanded were far more precious. There were inevitably times when China was in a transition period between dynasties. Household records and maps could always be easily investigated. Only these resplendent cultural works would always be treasures that went back to the dim and distant past.2 However, Yang Xiu also knew that these conditions were not a problem for Southern Chu. At the very least, it was a lot better than ceding territory. After sighing with admiration in his heart, Yang Xiu nodded his head lightly.

Lu Can promptly said, “Do not worry, Major. I will immediately send a letter back.”

After seeing off the Southern Chu envoy, I was already exhausted. Li Zhi thus bade his farewell and took his leave. As he walked, Li Zhi pensively said, “Suiyun is indeed astute. If we can obtain Southern Chu’s gathered ancient books, it will be of great benefit to Great Yong. After all, our Great Yong is adept at conquering territory and expansion. However, governing the country still requires cultural governance. An empire conquered on horseback cannot be governed on horseback. Suiyun is truly a great minister.”

Gou Lian matter-of-factly analyzed, “Your Imperial Highness, that Southern Chu envoy was neither servile nor overbearing. Moreover, he is a master of both brush and sword, and is the leader of the young military officers of Southern Chu. If the man is not eliminated, he will likely cause no end of trouble for Great Yong.”

Li Zhi smiled slightly and replied, “There’s no shortage of outstanding talents in the world. If this Prince were to kill each one I meet, I’m afraid that we wouldn’t be able to kill them all. Southern Chu is in decline. How can a single tree hold up the sky? Without a wise monarch, what use is a brave and resourceful general? Gou Lian, speak to Prime Minister Wei on my behalf. We must definitely send back Shang Weijun. No wonder Suiyun had me treat Shang Weijun well. It seems he knew that this would happen long ago. If Shang Weijun were to return to Southern Chu, then Lu Xin would not be able to hold power alone. After some time, the royal in-law, Shang Weijun will be able to control the court. When that moment comes, with a powerful minister within, I wonder who among these young talents can raise great waves.”

Gou Lian trembled inwardly. Although he greatly admired Jiang Zhe, he had not had the opportunity to watch Jiang Zhe’s methods. Now hearing Li Zhi speak, Gou Lian understood that Jiang Zhe planned this far ahead, causing him to completely respect Jiang Zhe. He glanced at the Prince of Yong. However, for His Imperial Highness to be so clever and see through and employ Jiang Zhe’s intentions, this would definitely cause the enemy to be scared out of their wits. No wonder His Imperial Highness spent such painstaking effort on Jiang Zhe. Now, it seemed that all of that effort was worth it. Thinking of this, the last shred of jealousy in his heart completely disappeared. As he cheerfully accepted the order, he advised, “There is no harm for Your Imperial Highness to give some benefits to Southern Chu. By giving Sir Jiang face, even if Sir Jiang doesn’t express his gratitude, he will still feel happy inside.”

“That’s right,” sighed Li Zhi in admiration. “Even if he is completely discouraged by Southern Chu, he still has affection towards his homeland. If this were not the case, then he would not have met the Southern Chu envoy. He is someone who greatly values sentiment. I’m afraid that when we attack Southern Chu one day, he will not willingly participate.”

“Do not worry, Your Imperial Highness,” replied Gou Lian, smiling. “If we cannot conquer a trifling Southern Chu, then wouldn’t it cause others to ridicule us subordinates? Your Imperial Highness has many capable civil and military subordinates. What is there to worry? However, Your Imperial Highness, both General Zhangsun and General Jing sent letters, stating that they have nothing to do in the army, requesting permission to return to Your Imperial Highness’s side. They have lingering fear3 over what happened days earlier. In addition, Your Imperial Highness does also require several generals by your side to protect you.”

“You’re right,” responded Li Zhi after thinking it over. “At present, I believe that there won’t be any changes in the army and should recall them back to my side. These days, without them, this Prince would always feel that although I am willing, I do not have the strength to implement things. Transmit an order on my behalf having them return to the capital. They are both under the jurisdiction of my Marshal’s household. No one will be able to say anything.”

Although the subsequent negotiations were mired in minor details, there were no obstructions. Southern Chu was eagerly hoping for the success of the negotiations, while Great Yong did not have anyone who wished to delay the talks. Since the Prince of Yong did not interfere, the crown prince was disinclined to show any interest. During this period of time, the Prince of Qi seemed to be in a terrible mood, practically never leaving his residence. Therefore, the negotiations proceeded exceedingly smoothly under the guidance of Prime Minister Wei Guan. The other members of the Southern Chu diplomatic mission were extremely delighted. However, there was a slight worry in Lu Can’s mind, feeling that these negotiations should not be proceeding so smoothly. Although everything was going off without a hitch, there were many details that needed to be ironed out, causing the matter to drag for almost a month before reaching an agreement.

According to the results of the negotiations, Southern Chu became a vassal of Great Yong, paying an annual tribute and paying respects at the Great Yong court every year. For the defeat, Southern Chu must pay reparations totaling sixty million taels of silver, payable over twelve years. In addition, the two countries agreed to set up a mutual market city. Because of the nearly yearlong war, both capitals required goods from the other country. However, the tariff on Southern Chu’s goods entering Great Yong was increased by five percent. All of the captive members of the Southern Chu royal family and the civil and military officials were permitted to be ransomed, although each price was different. There was a need for hostages to be left behind. The ultimate choice was Zhao Jia’s eldest son, Zhao Xi. His mother was one of Princess Changle’s maids. The other hostage was Zhao Jia’s young brother, the Prince of Jian, Zhao Yun. As for Zhao Jia’s favorite concubines, more than half requested that they be allowed to remain in their homeland. Lu Can did not haggle over this matter. Their future livelihood would naturally be taken care of by Great Yong. Lu Can actually wished that all of these women would return to Great Yong, but two of the Yong concubines wished to follow Zhao Jia back to Southern Chu. Their youth had been left behind in Southern Chu, therefore, they would rather return to a land filled with hostility towards them than refuse to leave their children.

On the twentieth day of the fourth month, several hundred carts filled with the works demanded by the Prince of Yong arrived in Great Yong. The Prince of Yong dispatched two generals to accept those works and had them escort the carts to Chang’an. Of these two generals, one was Zhangsun Ji, known in jianghu as Golden Bow Zhangsun, matchless with bow and arrow. He was the best archer in the Yong army. Coming from an impoverished background, he had enlisted in the army at a young age. In the army, he trained his entire body, assiduously training a set of archery skills on the battlefield. It was a cinch4 for him to take a life beyond five hundred paces. His inseparable golden bow was a reward personally bestowed by the Prince of Yong. Employing specially made arrows, he was able to shoot and kill enemies beyond a thousand paces. The other man was called Jing Chi. This man’s temperament was a bit impulsive and reckless, but his ability to kill enemy generals and seize enemy standards were without equal, and was the most valiant general under the Prince of Yong. By having these two men handle such a trivial matter, all those with discerning eyes could see that the Prince of Yong’s intention was to have them enter the capital.

On the twenty-fifth day of the fourth month, the Southern Chu diplomatic mission began to journey back south, escorting the King Emeritus and the ransomed court officials. Great Yong was extremely deferential, Crown Prince Li An personally seeing them off for thirty li on behalf of the Yong emperor. Princess Changle personally poured wine to see off Zhao Jia at the ten li resting pavilion. However, Yong Emperor Li Yuan had issued an edict stating that he wanted to have Princess Changle stay a few more days as she had been away from home for so long. However, all knew that the Yong emperor had no intention of allowing Princess Changle to return to Southern Chu. During the negotiations, the Southern Chu envoys had once mentioned that King Zhao Long would be willing to venerate his father’s legal wife5 as the Queen Mother. This offer was tactfully declined by Wei Guan. However, the Southern Chu diplomatic mission was hung up on this matter. After all, their most important objective this time was to bring back all of the captive Southern Chu ministers.

On the day of departure, there was an additional individual that attracted everyone’s attention. He came out with the Prince of Yong to see off the Southern Chu contingent, a subordinate official of the household of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategist, Major Jiang Zhe. Although he had only just recovered from a serious injury and seemed on the verge of collapse as he walked, no one dared to view him with contempt. Everyone knew what one of his attendants, Li Shun, had done. Moreover, everyone in the world knew of the care and affection the Prince of Yong had for him.

I stepped forward. For the last time, I performed the proper ceremony between a liege and his vassal. Zhao Jia stared at me vacantly, seeming to have already completely forgotten who I was. Under the whispered directions of a eunuch, Zhao Jia spoke in a dignified manner, congratulating me for being employed by Great Yong, wishing that I would forget my previous animosity to ensure that the two countries remained on good terms. My mind was completely calm. This man had never been a monarch that I respected. This time, I was only here seeing him to finish things once and for all. When all was said and done, I doubted that he would even be able to return to Southern Chu alive. Were it not for His Imperial Majesty wishing to eliminate this son-in-law of his as early as possible, why would these negotiations terminate so swiftly?

After watching the Southern Chu diplomatic contingent travel off into the distance, and just as I tiredly wished to return to my carriage, I noticed two individuals watching me attentively. One was Princess Changle. Having not seen her for some time, her expression was placid, and compared to her appearance on the day of the competition, she seemed to be thin and pallid. The other person was a young woman in a bluish-white court dress. She looked to be just over twenty and was an absolute beauty, her features noble and pure. Her build was lanky, her figure graceful. She stood beside Princess Changle. Princess Changle was beautiful and elegant, and could already be said to be a stunning beauty. However, the woman standing beside Princess Changle snatched away all of the radiance with her splendor. What caused me to pay attention wasn’t this woman’s beauty, but her pair of clear and icy eyes. Those eyes haunted my dreams. She was the assassin who almost killed me.

In a low voice, I whispered, “She must be Li Hanyou, correct?”

The Prince of Yong had already reached my side. Quietly, he confirmed, “That’s her. The Empress has had her take care of Changle. Therefore, she came with Changle.”

When Xiaoshunzi learned that that woman was Li Hanyou, a dazzling cold light immediately flashed in his eyes. He stared intently at Li Hanyou, remembering every detail about this woman.

After I boarded the carriage, I pensively thought, This kind of proud and beautiful woman was the partner that the descendants of rich and powerful families yearned for even in their dreams. Would Qin Qing be able to reject her?

On the seventh day of the fifth month, information arrived that the King Emeritus of Southern Chu was assassinated not long after crossing the Yangtze River. The assassin used martial arts from Sichuan’s Li (历) Family. The assassin left behind a message written in blood, “The beautiful territory is my home, my country is destroyed and its people starving. Today, I have taken recompense.” After Zhao Jia’s death, several of his favored concubines committed suicide and were buried alongside him.

Setting down the intelligence report, I let out a soft sigh. It was likely that the emperor had handed the assassination of Zhao Jia to the crown prince. The crown prince’s faction was truly capable, having the Embroidered Union Head Huo Jicheng go assassinate Zhao Jia, completely removing any ties between the assassin and Great Yong. Such easy success was presumably due to those favored concubines playing the role of insiders. Huo Jicheng would acquire both fame and fortune, while Great Yong was also perfectly satisfied with this result. Alas, it was a pity for Lu Can. As the primary envoy and holding responsibility for escorting the King Emeritus, by allowing Zhao Jia to be assassinated it was likely that he would not be able to free himself from the blame for quite some time. Regardless of who came up with this plan, he was definitely a deep and ruthless schemer. The only thing that I did not know was whether the plan came from the crown prince’s faction or from the Fengyi Sect. On the paper, I wrote down two names: Lu Jingzhong and Li Hanyou. The planner should be one of these two individuals. Although I had never had the opportunity to watch Li Hanyou’s methods, seeing her decisiveness and ruthlessness when she attempted to assassinate me was enough for me to understand that she was not an ordinary woman.

Just as I was thinking about this, Li Zhi entered the study. With a gloomy expression, he said, “The Crown Prince did well. Today, Imperial Father bestowed upon him a hefty reward. Not only was the assassination this time flawless,6 it also completely removes suspicion from Great Yong. I’m baffled.… When did the Embroidered Union become a supporter of the Crown Prince? Although the Crown Prince only stated that he surreptitiously passed on a message to the Embroidered Union and supplied some other help, however, I do not believe that the Embroidered Union is so easily utilized. I must properly investigate the Embroidered Union’s relationship with the Crown Prince.”

I immediately understood. The crown prince intended to act against the Embroidered Union. Presumably, he was already prepared to stop. In any case, through the mutual market, the crown prince had the ability to make large profits, no longer needing to take risks by smuggling. I glanced at Xiaoshunzi, signaling him with my eyes. Xiaoshunzi’s voice secretly traveled to my ear, “Young master wishes for me to speak to Chen Zhen to have the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets disengage itself?”

I nodded my head slightly. Xiaoshunzi softly withdrew. Puzzled, Li Zhi asked, “Suiyun, what’s going on? Are you keeping something from me?”

I respectfully answered, “Your Imperial Highness, this subject has something to report. The Embroidered Union has indeed collaborated with the Crown Prince.” I began to simply explain the military equipment smuggling operation between the Embroidered Union and the crown prince. Frowning, the Prince of Yong listened to me speak for a long time. Suddenly, unable to take it anymore, he said, “Preposterous! Actually going so far as to mess with military equipment! Suiyun, how are you so clear about this matter? Are you somehow involved?”

“This is this subject’s secret,” I replied with a smile. “However, this subject has all of the evidence in my hands. Although this was a trap set by this subject, this subject only supplied an opportunity. I did not have the Crown Prince do this.”

Li Zhi dejectedly collapsed into a chair. It was quite a while before he spoke, “You’re right. If the Crown Prince were not willing, who could force him to do anything? Okay. I’ll listen to you. Since the Crown Prince conducts himself in this manner, then he cannot blame this Prince for forgetting brotherly feelings. Military equipment and supplies are so significant and yet he still dares to do such a thing? Do you feel that we can achieve success in one go? I feel that it’s not likely.”

“There is no need for Your Imperial Highness to worry,” I responded. “This matter is naturally insufficient. However, constant perseverance yields success.7 Would Your Imperial Highness please believe in this subject’s judgment? If this matter were to be exposed, it would be sufficient if Your Imperial Highness impartially handles matters. There is no need to excessively threaten the Crown Prince. In this way, this subject can take the next step.”

Li Zhi smiled and asked, “Are you always so secretive?”

I gently replied, “This subject is adept at crafty plots and machinations. If things are revealed, then inevitably it will cause Your Imperial Highness worry. It is better to leave the scheming to this subject. If Your Imperial Highness is not worried, then this subject would like to mobilize some manpower to handle some matters.”

“You don’t need to ask for my approval,” declared Li Zhi. “No matter who you order within this residence, there is no one who dares to disobey.”

I lightly nodded my head, expressing my gratitude. At this moment, Li Zhi looked at the intelligence reports on the table that I had been reading through. Somewhat hesitant, he said, “Suiyun, you must know that some things are inevitable and necessary.”

I softly nodded my head, my expression completely clear and composed. Slowly, I stated, “This subject knows. King Zhao Jia did not fulfill his responsibilities as a monarch. Before the fall of Jianye, he should have committed suicide to apologize for his crimes. It is only that although the King was muddled, he was not a villain. Although he had not made any contributions over these years, he also did not do any outrageous acts that offended the Heavens and reason. He simply should not have been King. Now that his spirit has already returned to Southern Chu, then he should die without any regrets.”

Finished speaking, I rose to my feet and walked out of the study. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, I then casually picked a bamboo leaf and began to play it. The trembling, simple music was low and plaintive, mournful. All who heard it could not but feel heartbroken. Finished playing one song, I stopped. My expression gradually became tranquil. Did I still have affection for Southern Chu? Moreover, there was no need for me to grieve for that incapable ruler. While thinking this, I could not help but be distressed. When all was said and done, that man was once my king. Moreover, he was the monarch of Southern Chu. How could I not grieve to see him die under such a conspiracy concocted by Great Yong? Suddenly, I began to regret forcing the King of Shu to commit suicide. Regardless of what else he was, he was still the King of Shu. For him to die under my brush, it was no wonder the people of Shu hated me so much.

Li Zhi had been standing at a distance, watching me. He only now walked over. In a muted voice, he said, “The Southern Chu works have already arrived. Why don’t you go take a look? And also meet my trusted lieutenants?”

I bowed slightly. “I dare not disobey such an order.”

Footnotes:

雪上加霜, xueshangjiashuang – idiom, lit. to add hail to snow; one disaster on top of another, to make things worse in a bad situation
源远流长, yuanyuanliuchang – idiom, lit. source is distant and the flow is long; fig. something goes back to the dim and distant past
心有余悸, xinyouyuji – idiom, lit. trepidation remaining after trauma; to have lingering fears
探囊取物, tannangquwu – idiom, lit. to feel in one’s pocket and take something; fig. as easy as pie, in the bag
嫡母, dimu – lit. a father’s first and legal wife; as the primary wife, her status in the family was only second to her husband; her children (especially in royal/imperial families) were given first rights to succession of their father’s title and inheritance; all children of concubines also treated this person as their mother
天衣无缝, tianyiwufeng – idiom, lit. seamless heavenly clothes; flawless
水滴石穿, shuidishichuan – idiom, lit. dripping water penetrates the stone; fig. constant perseverance yields success, persistent effort overcomes any difficulty

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