In the fifth month of the twenty-fourth year of Wuwei, the Emperor bestowed the title of Imperial Princess upon the Princess of Jingjiang, and arranged for her to marry the son of Qin Yi, the Grand General Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Qin Qing. In other words, further empowering the Prince.…
—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Prince of Li
On the road back, the Prince of Yong stated gravely, “Don’t worry, Suiyun. Someday in the future, I will definitely kill Lu Jingzhong for you.”
I smiled calmly and replied, “Why is Your Imperial Highness so enraged? Your Imperial Highness should be happy instead. Lu Jingzhong is strong on the offensive but neglects defense. Advising the Crown Prince, he is able to come up with three stratagems with each step. However, those three stratagems are difficult to combine and work in concert. Isn’t this a good thing? Moreover, can the eggs remain unbroken when the nest is totally ruined? That subject does not take to heart this man. This subject is concerned about Li Hanyou. That woman’s intelligence is outstanding. Each and every one of her actions is able to affect the will and sentiment of others. She was the winner this time. I’m afraid that Qin Qing will probably be unable to escape. Wasn’t Your Imperial Highness also tempted?”
Li Zhi could not help but blush with shame, as he denied, “Suiyun is joking.”
My expression did not change, observing, “This woman is a disciple of the Fengyi Sect and is also a noblewoman of the imperial clan. What is rare is that her profound scheming is concealed from view. Her appearance and bearing carry not a single of hint of pride or haughtiness. It’s understandable for Qin Qing to shift his affections to her. I believe if it weren’t for Grand General Qin making excuses, their marriage would have already happened. Your Imperial Highness should be careful of her. If she is married to Qin Qing, then his status will increase. In the future, the one who can harm Your Imperial Highness’s ambitions is that woman.”
“If Qin Qing marries her, then things will likely turn for the worse,” worried Li Zhi anxiously, “Although Grand General Qin is just and impartial, if the marriage were to proceed, then …”
Although Li Zhi did not finish, I already understood the meaning of his words. I waved my hand and replied, “Don’t worry, Your Imperial Highness. Although Qin Qing is the Grand General’s eldest son, he does not have the ability to influence his father. With the subtle influence caused between father and son, it is improbable that they will make things difficult for Your Imperial Highness. Moreover, Qin Yong is the Grand General’s closest subordinate. If we are able to rope over that man, then Your Imperial Highness will have no need to worry.”
Li Zhi inquired, “Qin Yong is completely loyal to the Grand General. How are we going to draw him to our side?”
I smiled and responded, “Leave this matter to this subject. If Your Imperial Highness were to get involved, it would instead cause the Crown Prince and the Grand General to become unhappy. This subject has a way to have him unwittingly serve Your Imperial Highness.”
“This matter will be handed to you,” accepted Li Zhi, nodding his head. “There is another matter. The Embroidered Union is so aggressive and unbridled. Imperial Father will surely dispatch a general to destroy them. This Prince wants to recommend Zhangsun Ji. With his capability and outstanding martial arts, he is the prime candidate. What do you think?”
“If General Zhangsun were to take charge of this matter,” I explained, “Then whatever evidence he finds tying the Embroidered Union to the Crown Prince will be met with skepticism. If this subject’s anticipation is correct, the Crown Prince will recommend the Prince of Qi to handle this matter. After all, His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, does not have a capable military commander under his command.”
Li Zhi asked, “If that is the case, then wouldn’t it mean that there will be no evidence found whatsoever?”
“In reality, the Crown Prince and Your Imperial Highness are both too anxious,” I responded with a smile. “The Embroidered Union’s raid on the military storehouses is only a small rebellion. If it weren’t for the Crown Prince having a guilty conscience, why would he be so anxious to dispatch people to quell their rebellion? Initially, Your Imperial Highness was not actively involved in this matter. At present, the Crown Prince’s involvement is not yet exposed. However, if this matter were exposed by Your Imperial Highness, then it would inevitably cause His Imperial Majesty to suspect Your Imperial Highness’s motives. The Crown Prince’s recommendation of the Prince of Qi will only serve to make this matter more conspicuous.1 Cui Yang’s death has already alarmed all levels of society. The matters involving the Ministry of Revenue have not yet been revealed. If the Crown Prince were to recommend the Prince of Qi, there is no harm for Your Imperial Highness to suggest that there is no need to dispatch such a high-ranking commander to handle something so trivial. Have Qin Qing handle this matter. If Qin Qing performs meritorious service, then it would be proper and expected for His Imperial Majesty will bestow a marriage. Presumably, His Imperial Majesty will also feel that the neutral Qin family is most appropriate. I believe that the Emperor will not reject this candidate.”
A lively light danced in his eyes, as Li Zhi replied, “Moreover, this ploy will drive a wedge between the Qin family and the Fengyi Sect. If the Fengyi Sect is determined to obstruct the investigation, then the marriage will definitely not proceed.”
I smiled. “Regardless of the result, there will be no benefit to Your Imperial Highness. To speak the truth, this subject really didn’t expect that the Embroidered Union would have such methods. Although Huo Jicheng is a perverse and disagreeable character, he is a firm and decisive man. No wonder, the Embroidered Union has been able to survive to this day.”
“Suiyun, this Prince feels that the current situation is entirely within your grasp,” sighed Li Zhi. “Fortunately, you have always been working behind the scenes for this Prince’s benefit, otherwise this Prince really could not sleep and eat peacefully.”
Seeing that my face actually revealed a bleak and desolate look, Li Zhi asked with alarm, “Suiyun, what’s wrong? Has this Prince misspoken?”
I smiled slightly, discarding the disappointment and frustration in my heart. Although I had an untreatable illness, as long as I focused on convalescing, it was still possible for me to live a hundred years. Although this fighting and scheming could only shorten my lifespan, I should be able to ensure that the Prince of Yong’s ascension to the imperial throne within a few years. When the time came, with the size of the world, would I really be unable to find a place to convalesce? In a low voice, I recited, “Green and limpid the water of the lake, the ancients gone. / Hearing boating songs, not knowing where the boat has gone.”
“Who composed this poem?” asked Li Zhi with a smile, “For it to be so carefree and leisurely?”
Without thinking, I answered, “This is a poem that this subject once saw in a book. I do not know who composed it. Your Imperial Highness, presumably the Emperor will very quickly summon Your Imperial Highness to an audience. Your Imperial Highness should go back to change and prepare. Since this subject has promised to instruct General Jing, then there’s no need for him to accompany Your Imperial Highness to the palace.”
Li Zhi smiled. “Okay. This Prince wants to see how Suiyun makes something of that stubborn and naughty disciple.”
I also smiled, inquiring, “If I have him compose a poem by himself, I wonder what rewards Your Imperial Highness will bestow on this subject?”
After thinking it over, Li Zhi replied, “This Prince can’t think of anything appropriate at this moment. You do not like money or jewels. Books and scrolls, you have read aplenty. If Suiyun requires anything, there is no harm in speaking it. This Prince is willing to fetch anything to serve as your reward.”
I respectfully stated, “Your Imperial Highness is too courteous. There is only one thing.… Last time, Your Imperial Highness flew into a terrible rage when this subject was almost assassinated, because Vicious Killer was introduced by Jiangnan Spring. Although Your Imperial Highness did not shutter and seize the assets of that restaurant, Your Imperial Highness still had the Imperial Capital Magistrate investigate rigorously. Over these days, Jiangnan Spring cannot be at peace. This subject asks Your Imperial Highness to grant a favor and forgive this subject’s younger cousin.”
Li Zhi immediately remembered. That day, he had flown into a rage. If it weren’t for Guan Xiu’s reminder that Jing Shunqing was Jiang Zhe’s cousin, it was likely that the Jiangnan Spring would be completely shuttered and seized. But after being implicated, the Jiangnan Spring’s business was quite miserable. After Jiang Zhe’s life was saved, Li Zhi had forgotten about this matter. Now that Jiang Zhe brought this up again, Li Zhi could not help but be somewhat embarrassed. Promptly, he confessed, “This Prince has been so busy that I’ve forgotten about this. In reality, I have already everything investigated and your younger cousin was not involved with the assassination attempt. This Prince will immediately dispatch someone to inform the Imperial Capital Magistrate. However, this can’t be considered as a reward. How about this? If you can teach Jing Chi how to compose poetry, then this Prince will bestow this upon you.” As he spoke, he removed a green jade pendant from his waist, fiddling with it.
I knew that this jade pendant was bestowed by the emperor and was a top-quality piece of jade. Its value was higher than a thousand catties of gold. This was an extremely precious stake for our gamble. I thus smiled and said, “This subject knew about this situation for a while now. Originally, this subject wished to have my younger cousin be taught a lesson, teaching him the meaning of the word ‘caution.’ However, two days ago, my virtuous sister-in-law came to tearfully beg for my help. It is already difficult for her as a woman far from her native land. Now that she has come to earnestly beseech my help, I can’t even give her face.”
Seeing my smile, Li Zhi wondered, “Suiyun, if you are to lose, what is your stake?”
After thinking it over, I answered, “This subject has already received many rewards from Your Imperial Highness. I can’t show my sincerity if I do not use something special. If this subject were to lose, this item shall be forfeited.” As I finished speaking, I removed the jade belt at my waist.
Li Zhi looked over with misgivings. Although this jade belt appeared to be nice-looking, it was only a leather belt with jade pieces sewn onto it. Although it was ornate, the jade was not exquisitely refined, nor were the jade of high quality. How was it worth serving as a stake? However, he would not haggle and thus said, “This will do. If you lose, I will take this jade belt.”
I smiled slightly. At present, I had no intention of informing Li Zhi that I had recently designed this belt. It had only been fetched back by Xiaoshunzi a few days earlier. Inside the belt was a mechanism that was able to fire three poisoned needles dipped in a highly toxic poison. This belt had been prepared for my own protection. If another assassin were to come, then I would have the opportunity to strike back. This jade belt was quite precious. Moreover, it was a special design by the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets.
As we were speaking, we had already arrived back at the Prince of Yong’s residence. Just as we arrived at the entrance, we saw a mounted imperial bodyguard gallop towards us. In his hand, he was holding an imperial edict. Seeing the Prince of Yong, the bodyguard dismounted from his horse and kneeled, proclaiming, “Your Imperial Highness, His Imperial Majesty has summoned you to enter the palace.”
Li Zhi promptly replied, “Please allow this Prince to change and I will immediately enter the palace.”
The imperial bodyguard quickly rose to his feet and withdrew, saying, “Understood.”
Idle, I returned to the Cold Courtyard. Following behind me was not only Xiaoshunzi, but also the unwilling Jing Chi. With great difficulty, he had escaped from the headache inducing drinking game and itched to find a place to train his fists and feet and loosen his muscles and bones. Who could have imagined that he would be summoned to the Cold Courtyard?
Jing Chi gloomily watched Jiang Zhe from behind, once again moaning bitterly in his heart. This weak and feeble scholar had unexpectedly received His Highness’s decree to exercise control himself. He usually looked down on these scholars. Although there were plenty of civil officials serving under the Prince of Yong, the majority of them were advisers adept at military strategies and Jing Chi would actually remain at a respectful distance.2 However, he had never seen this scholar put forward any plans or offer any advice, hiding in the Cold Courtyard all day long, panting for breath to the point of near death if he were to walk a few paces too many. However, the Prince of Yong truly trusted this scholar greatly, having Jing Chi and others listen to his commands. Last night, Jiang Zhe had dispatched him to handle that matter that he could not make heads or tails of. Even now, Jing Chi was still confused.
Following them into the Cold Courtyard were the imperial bodyguards assigned to protect Jiang Zhe. They had all accompanied Jiang Zhe on this recent outing. Practiced in rapidly defending vital locations, these imperial bodyguards immediately transformed the Cold Courtyard into an impenetrable fortress. Jing Chi’s mouth twitched. This Jiang Zhe was truly once bitten, twice shy. At this moment, Jing Chi suddenly felt a chill. Raising his head to look, he caught sight of a pair of icy eyes staring at him. Xiaoshunzi had seen the expression on Jing Chi’s face and was using his eyes to serve as a warning. Jing Chi shivered inwardly. He greatly admired Xiaoshunzi’s martial arts and promptly lowered his head.
Returning to my chambers, I called Jing Chi in. Picking up a couple copies of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, I placed it on the desk. Serenely, I said, “If you can memorize the contexts of this book, I will let you out.”
Stupefied, Jing Chi looked at that thin book, an agonized smile appearing on his face.
I smiled and stated, “My health is poor. I won’t be able to teach you today. Starting tomorrow, I will teach you every day for one hour. The remaining time, you must transcribe and copy the contents of my teachings. I know that you can recognize some characters. Oh, right … you can recite and transcribe in the room next door. Xiaoshunzi will supervise you. All right, bring your luggage and move into the Cold Courtyard.”
Jing Chi was greatly astonished. Just as he was about to decline, he saw a resolute look in the weak scholar’s eyes and could not help but reply, “Yes, daren.”
After Jing Chi had departed, Xiaoshunzi asked, dissatisfied, “Why is young master wasting time on such a coarse individual? Wouldn’t it be better to spend the time resting?”
“From this man’s appearance and character, he is someone loyal and candid, firm and courageous,” I replied calmly. “If he can learn some of the Art of War, then His Imperial Highness will have acquired an additional loyal and high-ranking general. This man most highly values camaraderie. In the future, I will also be able to acquire some safeguards. What’s not to like about this? Pass down the command: the Secret Camp must dispatch individuals to get close to Qin Yong. The best would be gaining Qin Yong’s trust and confidence. Hualiu and Lü’er are both handpicked operatives from the Hidden Group. Have Chen Zhen select one of them to perform this task. The ruckus caused by the Embroidered Union will be very large. We should pull back. You, Chen Zhen, and Han Wuji can consider how to deploy everyone else. However, at least half of the Secret Camp must be ready to listen to my commands. Arrange for the other half to become concealed amongst the common people. In the future, we will have a use for them.”
Xiaoshunzi nodded his head, quietly replying, “I will take care of this matter tonight. We have been preparing for quite some time now; it won’t be too difficult. Young master, Li An and Lu Jingzhong were both extremely rude. If young master were not occupied with important matters, I would have taken their lives long ago.”
In an tranquil voice, I stated, “Someday in the future, I will definitely send you to take their lives.”
That very night, I learned of the contents of the debate before the imperial throne. Sure enough, Qin Qing was appointed to exterminate the Embroidered Union. Although the crown prince had pulled out all the stops to dispatch the Prince of Qi, what the Prince of Yong said was reasonable—there was no need to dispatch an imperial prince to exterminate the small Embroidered Union. In addition, the choice of Qin Qing completely conformed to the emperor’s intentions. After the Prince of Yong returned, he told me that he had noticed that the crown prince and the Prince of Qi had both secretly dispatched men. As for whether the Fengyi Sect dispatched anyone, the Prince of Yong did not yet know. However, we both knew that the Fengyi Sect would not sit idly.
During the following period, I was occupied with instructing my uninterested disciple. Although Jing Chi would become drowsy whenever he caught sight of books, there was no way that he would be as naughty and mischievous as Lu Can. Therefore, as I lectured about books, I also used real life examples to raise his interest. Although Jing Chi found everything extremely dull in the beginning, his interest was quickly piqued. Although he did not understand the art of war, the years spent in the military caused him to be able to ask difficult questions based upon his personal experiences. In this way, whether he asked or I answered, both of us received great benefits. After two to three days, Jing Chi was already listening to my teachings in high spirits. Every morning, he would wait outside my chambers for me to get out of bed. In the afternoon, I would force him to transcribe books. Surprisingly, he persisted. Though his handwriting left me not knowing whether to laugh or cry. However, I was finally able to roughly explain Sun Tzu’s Art of War to him. Although because of his temperament, he was never able to understand the thirteenth chapter on Intelligence and Espionage, I did not make any unreasonable demands. Sun Tzu’s Art of War was wide-ranging and profound. Even I dared not claim that I was a master of all of its contents, let alone this man. My mind recalled the period when I taught the Art of War to Lu Can, he was able to infer the whole matter after hearing one point. However due to his obstinacy, probably because of his family background, Lu Can was always filled with doubts whenever I spoke of the eleventh chapter, The Nine Battlegrounds. Moreover, although his strategic ability was extraordinary, his understanding of the sinister and vicious nature of man was quite lacking.
This day, I had Jing Chi write down the Art of War from his memory. Watching him dripping with sweat as he wrote, I once again regretted my decision to allow him to use my desk. Fine … Out of sight, out of mind.3 I closed my eyes and laid down on the soft couch, gradually falling asleep. Suddenly, the sound of urgent footsteps could be heard approaching from the distance. I quickly opened my eyes, only seeing Li Zhi filled with anger enter the chambers.
I smiled slightly and ordered, “Xiaoshunzi, bring some tea for His Imperial Highness to help His Imperial Highness’s anger dissipate. What has happened to cause Your Imperial Highness to become like this?”
When Li Zhi caught sight of Jiang Zhe, for some unknown reason, his anger gradually vanished. Further catching sight of Jing Chi staring at him blankly, his face covered with ink marks, and the disorder on the desk, Li Zhi could not help but snicker. After he sat down, he accepted the teacup from Xiaoshunzi, taking a sip. With the sip, the last of his anger disappeared. Jing Chi promptly rose to his feet to bid his farewell. With a smile, I said, “You are not permitted to goof off. Go next door to continue to write. If you peek at the book, don’t blame me for punishing you to copy books until your hair turn white.”
Jing Chi promptly made a solemn vow. He could not forget what had happened last time I had tested him when I had punished him by forcing him to copy the Art of War ten times. He didn’t sleep a wink that night.
After Jing Chi had departed, I softly asked, “What has happened?”
Li Zhi coldly expounded, “Qin Qing is truly capable. The Embroidered Union was greedy for accomplishments and repeatedly launched raids. Qin Qing deliberately let them do as they pleased for a time before launching a strike and completely defeating the Embroidered Union. Although some remnants were able to escape, they are no longer a threat. Unfortunately, Huo Jicheng was able to escape. Although this is a fly in the ointment,4 it is still acceptable. The captured Embroidered Union rebels have all confessed to the smuggling operation collaborating with officials from the Ministry of Revenue. Qin Qing was honest and just. After he obtained all of their confessions, he delivered it with all of the witnesses to the Emperor. However, as this evidence was circumstantial, as no one could testify to the Crown Prince and Cui Yang’s involvement, and Huo Jicheng had escaped, therefore the Crown Prince completely ducked responsibility. He claimed that the officials of the Ministry of Revenue had formed a conspiracy to defraud the state, while Cui Yang was acting on his orders to investigate the rumor of the smuggling operation and was thus killed by the Embroidered Union. Ultimately, Imperial Father only had him going into seclusion to reflect upon his mistakes. Originally, the Minister of Revenue, Liang Jinqian, was to be relieved from his post, but Imperial Father was persuaded otherwise by Prime Minister Wei. Liang Jinqian has been temporarily allowed to remain at his post to atone for his faults. This, in itself, is nothing. Imperial Father then took the opportunity to bestow marriage between Qin Qing and Li Hanyou.”
I asked, “The Emperor’s predisposition towards the Crown Prince has not just been for one day. There is no need for Your Imperial Highness to worry. It is likely that all of the ambitious scholars in the world now know the Crown Prince’s true colors. With this, we have already achieved our objective. However, why is the marriage between Li Hanyou and Qin Qing being arranged in such a rush? Did the Grand General not object?”
Li Zhi sighed. “Li Hanyou actually privately followed Qin Qing to put down this rebellion, and even saved Qin Qing’s life from the hands of assassins from the Embroidered Union. The two are already together. It would be impossible for the Grand General to prevent this union from happening no matter how he wishes to prevent it. How can the purity of a princess of the imperial clan be besmirched? Imperial Father even specially bestowed the title of Imperial Princess upon Li Hanyou. Qin Qing is now the Commandant of the Attendant Cavalry.”
With a sigh, I inquired, “Wasn’t Your Imperial Highness prepared for this situation long ago? Why are you so indignant?”
Li Zhi was silent for a while before he responded, “Imperial Father issued an edict, betrothing Princess Changle to Wei Ying.”
My hand shook, the folding fan in my hand dropping to the floor. After a while, I leaned down and picked up the folding fan. Then I said, “This isn’t anything major. Your Imperial Highness knew of the Emperor’s wish to find a worthy husband for the Princess. Wei Ying’s character and talent are both incredible. What is even rarer is that his temperament is gentle and honest. Didn’t Your Imperial Highness look favorably upon him?”
In an agonized voice, Li Zhi stated, “Suiyun, do you really not know of Imperial Sister’s intentions? Why does she always keep your poems with her, never letting them leave her side morning and night? Why do you think she went so far as to send the millennium-old Ningpo figwort to continue your life? Why do you think that she treats Roulan as her own when the Princess of Yong brings her to the palace? Are you really so blind to these matters? Do you know that when Imperial Sister learned that Imperial Father betrothed her to Wei Ying, she actually went so far to cut her long hair and wish to become a nun? In anger, Imperial Father told her, as long as she gave a name, regardless of whom it was, Imperial Father would allow that person to become the imperial son-in-law. However, she did not say a word and has been placed under house arrest in the palace. Suiyun, if you have the mind, this Prince will stake everything and bring you into the palace to propose marriage. Are you willing?”
欲盖弥彰, yugaimizhang – idiom, lit. trying to hide something makes it more conspicuous; a cover up only makes matters worse
敬鬼神而远之, jingguishen’eryuanzhi – idiom, lit. to respect Gods and demons from a distance; to remain at a respectful distance
眼不见，心不烦, yanbujian, xinbufan – idiom, lit. what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve; out of sight, out of mind
美中不足, meizhongbuzu – idiom, lit. everything is fine except for one small defect; the fly in the ointment