On the thirteenth day of the fifth month of the twenty-fourth year of Wuwei, Emperor Taizong paid a visit to Grand General Qin. When the Prince heard this, he called the Princess of Jingjiang to a meeting.…
—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Prince of Li
Xia Jinyi stood outside the door, bored, as he gazed off into the distance. Alas, why must I be the Crown Prince’s personal imperial bodyguard? Although from this day forward, he was capable of standing on equal footing with his senior apprentice brother, he was also someone quite rational. His martial arts weren’t that great and his scheming wasn’t too profound. Although he was somewhat clever, he didn’t have terribly great future prospects. If his power and authority were too great, then his abilities would not match his position, and he would fall. Finally, he treated people good-naturedly, befriending a bunch of scoundrels. Otherwise, no one would listen to his commands. Having served at the side of the crown prince for several months, although he was like a fish back in water, he was always frightened of one person. He had earlier heard that the man had sustained a serious injury and was dying. The thought had crossed his mind: wishing that man’s death and removing the other burden that he carried. However, one night, when he went out to frequent a brothel, he discovered a silver ring in a wine pot. On the ring was written the character, “Jiang.” At the time, he broke out in a cold sweat, immediately praying to the Heavens to prolong that man’s life. At the very least, that man wasn’t someone who would abandon him.
Now that time had passed, and he had become the crown prince’s trusted aide, while that man had escaped from danger, he had yet to receive any message from that man. It was almost as if they had never met before. It was very easy to be this kind of spy, only needing to be himself. However, Xia Jinyi wondered if he was really himself. He smiled slightly, almost as if he had returned to his youth. At that time, he was someone who was filial to his parents and honored his teachers and elders, praised for being a kindhearted youth. Suddenly, he shivered. Let it be.… The past was like smoke. What was the point of recalling those unpleasant events? His mind could not help but turn to tonight’s appointment with Xiu Chun. It was likely that he wouldn’t have the time. Xiu Chun was a good woman. Unfortunately, she was in an imperial household, and could not act on her own volition. A maid’s life and marriage were not in her hands. Moreover, with Cui daren dead, if the crown princess was also implicated … Not good. He needed to tell the crown princess of their relationship. After all, the crown princess was Xiu Chun’s mistress and had once promised Xiu Chun her freedom.
Thinking of this, Xia Jinyi calculated he would be free for at least an hour while the Princess of Jingjiang was in the meeting. There was no harm in speaking with the crown princess. However, as the Princess of Jingjiang was coming after meeting with the crown princess, the crown princess probably already knew what had happened.
Just as Xia Jinyi was letting his imagination run wild, he saw a woman in snow-white dress walking over from a distance. That exceptional magnificence and gorgeous appearance normally would cause one to feel both adoration and inferiority. However, Xia Jinyi did not have those feelings. His entire body became icy and rigid, a raging fire igniting in his chest. He felt like he was in hell. He could hardly think, and was a puppet as he paid his respects. He could hear himself say, “Princess, His Imperial Highness, Concubine Lan, and Junior Mentor Lu are already waiting inside.”
Afterwards, he went so far as to personally open the door for the Princess of Jingjiang, his gaze filled with matchless esteem. These displays were clearly the behavior of a lecherous, licentious, and vulgar man meeting an exceptional beauty. Only after Li Hanyou entered the chambers did Xia Jinyi speak to his fellow imperial bodyguards with difficulty, “I have a bit of a stomach ache. You lot stay here.” Following, he did not care for his colleagues’ good-natured ridicule as he hurriedly rushed to his own quarters. With great difficulty, he was able to return to his peaceful and independent cottage. Pushing open the door, he could see a sweet and graceful figure sitting on his bed. It was Xiu Chun. Presumably, she had been sent by the crown princess. Xia Jinyi suddenly pounced on Xiu Chun, tangling the two bodies and tumbling onto the bed. After the curtains were closed, his roughness caused Xiu Chun to cry out in fear. Before long, his rough panting and her painful groans were blended together.
After a while, the satisfied Xia Jinyi finally released Xiu Chun, collapsing onto bed. Xiu Chun angrily rose up, but was astonished to find that the usually mocking and scolding man had tears flooding down his cheeks. His face was twitching, sinister to the extreme. However, Xiu Chun could see that this man was in despair and grief. In spite of her tired body, she pulled him into her embrace. The man shivered before hugging her tightly. It was a long time before Xia Jinyi pulled away and climbed out of bed. After calming down and making himself presentable, he softly said, “If the Crown Princess knows of Cui daren’s death, you must convince her to restrain herself. Right now, His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, is discussing how best to handle this matter. Be sure to have the Crown Princess prepare for any schemes. Concubine Lan has already been in there for quite some time.”
Xiu Chun silently gazed at this man who had suddenly provoked her before opening her mouth and asking, “Jinyi, what has happened? Tell me.”
Xia Jinyi smiled. “What can happen to me? His Imperial Highness was about to use me to handle a task. Don’t talk nonsense.” Finished speaking, he turned and departed. Watching his departing figure, Xiu Chun could not feel sad. It was the first time she realized that this seemingly frivolous, glib fellow had such deep suffering.
Exiting his quarters, Xia Jinyi transformed back into a dissolute, elegant handsome youth, so much so that no one could see any traces of his earlier aberrant behavior. He quickly rushed back to where the crown prince was holding secret discussions and caught sight of an imperial bodyguard rushing over. When this bodyguard saw him, he called out, “Old pal Xia! Please report that something major has happened! The Prince of Yong has gone to Grand General Qin’s residence. It’s already been four hours and he has yet to come out.”
Xia Jinyi’s heart jumped and he asked, “Was the Prince of Yong alone? Do you know the reason for his visit? I can’t just make such a vague report.”
The imperial bodyguard described, “The Prince of Yong brought along many guards and also brought along his three generals, Sima Xiong, Jing Chi, and Zhangsun Ji. He further brought along Jiang Zhe, Major Jiang. We originally thought that the Prince of Yong was picking a fight. Who doesn’t know that Qin Qing was involved in the assassination attempt on Jiang Zhe? As such, we originally intended to come report after the Prince of Yong left, as we assumed that he wouldn’t stay for too long. However, we didn’t expect that he would not leave even after so much time has passed. When our agents inside the Qin residence reported back that the discussions were quite cheerful, I immediately came back to report. I’m afraid that it’s a bit late. Old pal Xia, please put in a few good words for me.”
Xia Jinyi smiled as he replied, “Don’t worry. When have I made things difficult for you?” So speaking, Xia Jinyi turned and knocked on the door, requesting an audience. This time, when he pushed open the door and entered, he could see that the crown prince looked fearful, while Lu Jingzhong and Concubine Lan both wore heavy expressions. Only Li Hanyou maintained her graceful appearance.
Li An impatiently stated, “What’s the matter? Can’t you see that we are discussing something?”
Xia Jinyi promptly reported what had happened, avoiding major issues and dwelling on trivial matters. Hearing that the Prince of Yong had gone to pay a visit to the Qin residence, Li An’s complexion immediately sank. He waved his hand to dismiss Xia Jinyi before coldly stating, “He actually started to become lively. It seems that Imperial Father’s recent favor caused him to forget his own status. Junior Mentor Lu, you offered a strategy to drive a wedge between the Prince of Yong and the Qin family, but now they seem to be joining forces. Speak, what should we do?”
Thinking it over, Lu Jingzhong replied, “Although I did not foresee this development at the time, it is not difficult to handle. Since no animosity was sown between the Prince of Yong and the Qin family, then let us create hostility. What would happen if Your Imperial Highness were to accompany the Princess of Jingjiang and pay a visit to the Qin residence?”
Li An’s heart jumped, suddenly recalling the engagement between Li Hanyou and Qin Qing. Although it had yet to receive Qin Yi’s consent, both Imperial Father and Mother were pleased by it. If this matter were to be successful, the Prince of Yong would not trust the Qin family no matter how they preferred him. Li An could not permit them to get any closer. Fine. Since that matter has already been resolved, then it was time to go pay a visit to the Qin residence. Thinking this through, Li An rose to his feet and said, “Is Princess willing to accompany me to the Qin residence?”
Li Hanyou blushed, murmuring, “Hanyou follows orders.”
Li An immediately ordered Xia Jinyi to arrange a carriage. Li An sat with Lu Jingzhong in his carriage, while Li Hanyou traveled in her own carriage. On the road, Li An gravely said, “This Li Hanyou is indeed highly intelligent, surprisingly able to come up with a plan that allows us to have it both ways, stating that Cui Yang detected someone stealing and selling military equipment, therefore privately went to investigate, and unfortunately was discovered and killed by the corrupt officials. If this turn of events spreads, then Cui Yang’s reputation would not be marred, allowing the Crown Princess and us no further worry about being implicated. Afterwards, we can casually select a few scapegoats in the Ministry of Revenue and also blame the Minister of Revenue for failing to supervise. Next, we would vouch for him and allow him to redeem himself for his faults. If this happens then both men would be preserved and we can slowly handle this in the future. This idea is not bad … but why are the Junior Mentor and Concubine Lan both so unhappy?”
Lu Jingzhong smiled wryly. “Your Imperial Highness, although this plan allows us to have it both ways, in reality, this plan primarily preserves Cui Yang’s reputation. If that were the case, then Concubine Lan would be unhappy as the position of the Crown Princess and the heir would be as steady as a mountain. Concubine Lan invited her own junior apprentice sister to come lend a helping hand but didn’t expect that the Princess of Jingjiang would be honest and loyal. That is why Concubine Lan is so annoyed. The reason why this subject is so unhappy is because Li Hanyou’s wisdom and knowledge are outstanding. On the surface, she is acting as a mediator, but in reality she has caused animosity between Concubine Lan and me. I believe that the Princess of Jingjiang will explain to Concubine Lan that I am Your Imperial Highness’s confidant and cannot directly oppose me. They are from the same sect and will easily come to an understanding. When the time comes, this subject will be attacked on all sides.1 How can I not worry when the Princess has such schemes? Your Imperial Highness, the Fengyi Sect can only serve as outside help and cannot be controlled. If Li Hanyou’s actions were the Fengyi Sect Master’s command, then this subject will have to block Li Hanyou’s marriage to Qin Qing.”
Li An’s brow furrowed. “But if this isn’t allowed to happen, how can we suppress second brother’s arrogance? The matter involving the Ministry of Revenue must immediately be taken care of. If second brother takes the opportunity to cause trouble, then I will lose control of the Ministry of Revenue.”
Lu Jingzhong sighed. “This subject is also finding this situation difficult. In the next few days, Your Imperial Highness will expose the illegal actions of the Ministry of Revenue. As Your Imperial Highness controls the Ministry of Revenue, for something like this to happen, although it is explainable, His Imperial Majesty will inevitably be angry. Therefore, Your Imperial Highness can only rely on the Fengyi Sect to suppress the Prince of Yong. We’ll think of some plans once everything settles down. In reality, roping in the Qin family has its benefits. It is only unfortunate that the Fengyi Sect will also take advantage.”
Li An hesitated before saying, “Li Hanyou is also an imperial kinswoman, so she wouldn’t go so far as to be partial towards her sect, right?” His voice was completely lacking in confidence.
“Your Imperial Highness speaks true,” replied Lu Jingzhong with a wry smile, while a profound and queer expression appeared on his face, although the crown prince did not notice, focused as he was on wrecking the relationship between the Prince of Yong and the Qin family.
Today, Qin Yi was honored and favored to the utmost. Just as he was feasting with the Prince of Yong in the rear gardens, a servant came to report that the crown prince had arrived. Qin Yi flashed a slight wry smile. Who could have thought that while he tried to mind his own business and keep his hands clean,2 he actually became a spark of contention between the two princes. Regardless of what he thought, he could only lead everyone to welcome this unexpected guest.
After Li An descended from the carriage, he saw Qin Yi and the Prince of Yong hurriedly walk over. The two stepped forward to pay their respects, each kneeling and greeting the crown prince.
Li An extended his hands, helping them rise, stating, “There is no need for second brother and Grand General to be overly courteous. Today, we have come to accompany the Princess of Jingjiang to pay an official call upon the Grand General and Lady Qin. Unexpectedly, second brother is also here. Hanyou, come pay your respects to the Grand General.”
In the wake of Li An’s words, an extremely beautiful woman in snow-white attire descended from the other carriage. Walking in front of Qin Yi, she kneeled and said, “Hanyou pays my respects to the Grand General. My father has repeatedly mentioned fighting alongside General in the past. A few days ago, Hanyou delivered some meager gifts on behalf of my father, but was tactfully declined by the Grand General, presumably because the general is angry that Hanyou paid an official call so late. It is only because Hanyou has recently always been in the palace accompanying the empress. Would the Grand General please forgive me?”
With a calm and tranquil expression, Qin Yi smiled and replied, “This subject and the Prince were indeed brothers-in-arms. But because of imperial command, the Prince is stationed outside the capital, while I am in the capital to accompany the Emperor; therefore we have not met for many years. I appreciate Princess’s kind intentions. The gifts you delivered were rejected for no reason, aside from the fact that excluding the Emperor’s rewards, I never accept anyone else’s gifts. The Princess is overthinking matters.”
When everyone arrived in the rear gardens, servants under Qin Yi’s orders had already switched out the food and drink. Li An sat down in the seat of honor. Raising his gaze, he looked out. The Qin residence’s rear gardens were quite different—no flowers and no pavilions. The entire space was leveled out and covered with limestone and surrounded by trees, becoming a small military drill ground. Weapons racks and weights lined the entire grounds. In a corner of the grounds were placed several military drums. With today’s lovely spring sunshine, Qin Yi had organized a feast on the grounds underneath a large tree, having his personal retainers and warriors compete to liven things up. It was liveliest a while ago, as the Prince of Yong’s subordinates competed with Qin Yi’s retainers, with a flagon of wine rewarded to each winner, while nothing happened to the loser. Everyone was from the army; no one had much in the way of scheming. The Prince of Yong and Qin Yi would not become hostile because of these contests.
Unfortunately the atmosphere could not help but grow somewhat cold with the crown prince’s arrival. Qin Yi had his retainers withdraw and also had a servant invite Lady Qin over to accompany the Princess of Jingjiang. Finally, everyone present was used to the machinations and shenanigans of officialdom, leaving a tranquil environment.
Some of those present were busy chatting to determine the other party’s behavior. While echoing the crown prince’s words, Lu Jingzhong, intentionally or otherwise, took note of the Prince of Yong’s Major, Jiang Zhe. Throughout, this man was leisurely chatting with Qin Qing and Qin Yong, accompanied by the Prince of Yong’s three subordinate generals. Lu Jingzhong strained his ears to listen, making out that the discussion was regarding the art of war and strategies, landscapes and geography. He was not knowledgeable in these matters. At the same time, Lady Qin was chatting with Li Hanyou. Li Hanyou was unrestrained, leaving Lady Qin with a favorable impression. Originally Qin Qing was listening to Jiang Zhe and company converse, but soon it was clear that his mind was elsewhere, as his eyes frequently fell upon Li Hanyou. As the crown prince, the Prince of Yong, and Qin Yi were deep in conversation, Qin Qing gradually grew bolder and began to chat with Li Hanyou. Lady Qin seemed to look favorably on this, frequently serving as their proxy.
On the surface, Li Hanyou was absorbed with currying favor with Lady Qin and dealing with Qin Qing. However, her eyes would frequently fall upon Jiang Zhe and Xiaoshunzi standing behind him. She had long ago received news from the Fengyi Sect. She had already gone over this weak and haggard looking youth’s conduct in Southern Chu. Who would have expected that such a renowned, erudite youth would become so vicious when using stratagems? Pacifying Shu and sowing discord in Great Yong … If it weren’t for the death of the Prince of De, this man would probably inflict significant damage to Great Yong. It was a pity that the Fengyi Sect only took notice of him after the Prince of Yong had taken him captive and brought him back to Great Yong. Only after careful investigation would one realize that this man was an incomparable genius. In order to exterminate the Prince of Yong’s assistants, her sect had ordered her to personally assassinate this man. Unfortunately, she had failed.
As for that Li Shun, Li Hanyou immediately felt powerless. Considering age, she was a few years older than him. Considering background, her master was one of the three grandmasters of the era. However, this youth’s martial arts unexpectedly surpassed hers. According to the intelligence that she had received, this youth’s martial arts far exceeded hers. Within the Fengyi Sect, aside from the sect master, there were probably only six or seven seniors capable of defeating him. What caused her to feel indignant was that such a young and excellent martial artist was surprisingly willing to become a servant of a scholar without the strength to even truss a chicken. Considering his present obedient countenance, one would believe that he was actually a well-trained servant. This left her truly furious.… If only she was able to acquire this kind of expert! Li Hanyou sighed. This man was a cripple, leaving the Fengyi Sect’s Divine Phoenix Cultivation Technique completely useless.
Seeing Li Hanyou sigh, Qin Qing could not help but inquire, “Why is the Princess sighing?”
Li Hanyou stirred. “I, your servant, also heard my Royal Father speak of military matters. Unfortunately, Royal Father does not allow me to participate. General Qin and everyone are practically famous generals who survived numerous battles. I wonder if it’s possible to explain some of the particulars of battle.”
Qin Qing smiled. “Princess is a disciple of the Fengyi Sect. Unfortunately, you are also an imperial kinswoman. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any difficulties for you to go to the battlefield. Although this general once fought on the battlefield, however if I were to speak of those details, it would spoil the fun.”
Seeing that Lady Qin had an unhappy look on her face, Li Hanyou promptly said, “I don’t really wish to listen to those stories about fighting and killing. I have only heard that the signal fires of the Gobi Desert are picturesque, the Sichuan scenery enchanting, while the Southern Chu has endlessly beautiful vistas. I wonder if any of those locations are comparable to Great Yong’s. Which are more touching?”
Although Li Hanyou’s voice wasn’t too loud, everyone could hear her words and could not help but begin to ponder her question. Everyone present had extensive knowledge and experience. Although they had not been to all those locations that Li Hanyou had spoken of, they had been to most of them. If they were asked which location had the best scenery, it was difficult to answer. Even if they had some idea, it wouldn’t do to speak without corresponding evidence.
Although Li An could not ascertain the motives for Li Hanyou’s words, he adopted an approach to target a common enemy,3 and said, “This is a good topic. Since we are leisurely gathered here today, it would be depressing to only discuss military matters. It would be better to discuss our own experiences. How about we play a drinking game? Everyone must speak of a lovely scenery, utilizing a poem from our forebears to serve as proof. If one cannot speak clearly, then you will be punished by drinking three cups of wine.”
众矢之的, zhongshizhidi – idiom, lit. target of a multitude of arrows; the butt of public criticism, attacked on all sides
洁身自好, jieshenzihao – idiom, lit. clean-living and honest; to avoid immorality, to shun evil influence, to mind one’s own business and keep out of trouble, to keep one’s hands clean
同仇敌忾, tongchoudikai – idiom, lit. working against a common enemy; joined in opposition to the same adversary