The brows of the elderly man tensed and locked up. Although the young man before his eyes seemed to be weak and cultured, however while his words were gentle, they carried with them a faint and indistinct deterrence, almost as if this young man did not regard his identity with much importance. He was a shrewd individual and knew that the people who could visit Jiangnan Spring were all distinguished persons. Then taking a look at the guards behind me, he saw that they were all experts of grave bearing with eyes emitting contempt. He could not help but speak, “Your distinguished self speaks reasonably. I wonder how to address your distinguished self?”
I smiled slightly, indicating towards the guard by my side. In a loud voice, the guard announced, “This person is the new major of the office of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies in the service of the Prince of Yong, Jiang Zhe, Jiang daren.”
The elderly man trembled. A major of the office of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies was one of the most important civil official positions under the Prince of Yong. The elderly man bowed respectfully and said, “This commoner, Sha Qingyuan, has offended the major. Would daren please forgive me?”
“One who does not know is not guilty,” I uncaringly replied before asking, “Who was that yellow-robed scholar to unexpectedly dare to frame this official?”
“That person is surnamed Xia and is called Xia Jinyi,” explained the elderly man, blushing. “In jianghu, he is a bandit known as the Dissolute Wastrel. He was once a disciple of the Kongtong Sect. Because of his licentious conduct, he was expelled from the sect. But as he did not commit any major mistakes, his martial arts weren’t destroyed. This person arrived at this one’s residence a few days ago, hoping to join the Guanzhong Alliance. This commoner saw that although this man was somewhat frivolous, he seemed intent upon rendering service to Great Yong. Therefore, he was accepted. Unexpectedly, this person was debauched, not only taking liberties with my daughter, but also stealing an item belonging to her. I originally only dispatched men to capture him, but unexpectedly ran into him here today. And was once again tricked by him to such an extent as to offend daren.
I thoughtfully nodded my head and responded, “May the Alliance Head do as you please. This man is so unbridled, if I were to capture him, I would definitely deliver him into Alliance Head’s hands, allowing Alliance Head to punish him as you please.”
Sha Qingyuan happily replied, “If that is the case, then much thanks to daren.”
Returning inside, looking at Chen Zhen and Han Wuji, I suddenly laughed lightly and said, “Who would have thought that there was someone who presumed to swindle me?”
Xiaoshunzi asked, “Young master, do you really want to capture him?”
“That’s right,” I replied with a smile. “We must definitely catch him. However, he must not be harmed. I want to use this person. Xiaoshunzi, do you have any way to catch him without anyone else knowing? This is a bit difficult. It doesn’t matter if unsuccessful. I will have other methods.”
“Young master be assured,” stated Xiaoshunzi, smiling. “Just a moment ago, I was focusing on protecting young master so did not touch him. However, I did leave the scent of the Chasing Spirit Fragrance on his body.”
Glancing at Chen Zhen, I watched as he opened his mouth and spoke, “Young master be assured. We have brought along the gnawing fragrance rats used in the pursuit. May I ask where young master plans on meeting this person?”
Thinking it over, I answered, “Think of a way to secretly deliver him here. Remember, don’t leave any traces. I will come tomorrow to see him. Remember, no one can know. Have his acupuncture points sealed and have him placed in a chest and brought over.”
Chen Zhen promptly acknowledged, “Young master be at ease. We can basically make decisions here. We will definitely not leave behind any traces.”
On the road back to the prince’s residence, I calculated whether the plan could be successfully implemented. The more I considered it, the greater the probability. Just as I was seated in the carriage repeatedly calculating, the carriage came to a sudden stop. My body shifted forward and would have knocked into the side of the carriage if Xiaoshunzi had not helped me. At this moment, a voice reported in from outside the carriage, “Daren, it was a man who collided with the carriage. This man suddenly charged out from the alley, alarming the horses. However, this man has already fainted. Oh! Daren, on this man’s back is a child and there are blade wounds on his chest.”
At this time, the sound of clashing swords and blades could be heard. Not long afterwards, some people informed, “Daren, there were several people who came chasing. We have captured two of them, but allowed one to escape.”
In a low voice, I ordered, “Bring the man back with us. Interrogate in detail. When finished, tell me everything.”
A respectful response came from outside.
I smiled lightly and said, “No wonder the common people are fond of high positions and great wealth. Who doesn’t like people agreeing when commands are issued?”
In a soft voice, Xiaoshunzi inquired, “Should I go take a look?”
I shook my head and responded, “There is no need. It should not have anything to do with us. Have the Prince of Yong’s people investigate.”
On the morning of the next day, one of the guards from yesterday came in to report that the person we had rescued had already awoken. But because of his injuries, he was unlikely to live long. This person called himself Han Zhang. Apart from this, he refused to say anything else. Filled with doubts, I glanced at Xiaoshunzi. Was this the Han Zhang that we were acquainted with? Xiaoshunzi went out, returning shortly after, offhandedly informing me that it was the guard who had protected me while we were in Sichuan, Han Zhang.
I jumped to my feet and hurriedly rushed to where Han Zhang was recuperating. Han Zhang was lying on a bed within this clean and tidy room. His complexion was yellow. I stepped forward and checked his pulse at the wrist. Not long after, I removed my hand. He was already close to the end of his life. I lightly shook my head, pushing a pill into his mouth. Gradually, his complexion improved, becoming ruddy. He opened his eyes. Catching sight of me, vigor appeared in his eyes. I sat down beside him and calmly asked, “Brother Han, we have met too late. These days, you must have suffered injuries on top of injuries? In addition, you did not rest properly. I am already powerless to help. How did you fall into such dire straits? Do you have any final wishes? Tell me. Considering our acquaintance, I will do anything.”
Xiaoshunzi gestured for everyone to withdraw, standing behind me, impersonally gazing at Han Zhang. Han Zhang opened his mouth and asked, “Jiang daren, it is unexpected to meet you here. Have you already pledged allegiance to Great Yong?”
I smiled faintly and replied, “After Southern Chu took Shu, it also suffered a crushing defeat. Although there is the chance that Southern Chu can make a comeback, it can only struggle while at death’s door. That’s correct, I have already pledged allegiance to the Prince of Yong.”
Han Zhang sighed and replied, “That’s fine, that’s fine. Great Yong is rich and powerful. Those people are all shortsighted and have no chance of success. Daren, my mother-in-law and wife have both died. I beg you to look upon our former acquaintance to take care of my daughter, allowing her to grow up safe and sound.”
My expression moved, as I asked, “Tell me what has happened. Otherwise, how can I explain everything to your daughter?”
Han Zhang’s eyes gazed into the distance as he explained, “After leaving daren, Han Zhang did not return to farming. I was originally a disciple of the Qingcheng Sect and had trained in martial arts. In the face of grievances both public and private, I joined an underground organization resisting Great Yong, the Embroidered Union. Cough. However, the general garrisoning Sichuan, Marquis Lu, executed brilliant strategies, and we repeatedly suffered defeats. Afterwards, the union became crazy and began to brutally and ruthlessly massacre the common people of Shu. They claimed that if you refused to resist Southern Chu and Great Yong then you were a traitor. They somehow learned about the time that I spent in the Southern Chu army, and wished to kill me. It was useless no matter how I tried to explain the situation. I could only carry my daughter in my arms and escape. I originally thought that, as my wife was the daughter of General Tian and the younger cousin of the head of the union, she would not be harmed. But when I later captured one of the men chasing after me, I learned that my wife had died.… She died miserably, because the head of the union was my wife’s fiancé. That year, she had run away from home to avoid the marriage and married me instead. The head of union deliberately wished to kill me. After he raped my wife, he killed her. My mother-in-law committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling. At the time, you tried to persuade me to return to the countryside to live out my days in peace. I did not listen, resulting in today’s conclusion.”
Looking at Han Zhang’s mournful and desolate expression, I softly replied, “At the time, when you cried bitterly late at night, I already knew that you would not set yourself apart. However, you are a person from Shu, and there was no way for me to dissuade you from seeking to restore the Kingdom of Shu. From your standpoint, you weren’t wrong. You only picked the wrong companions. Be at ease. Your enemies will not meet good ends.”
Han Zhang’s eyes blazed with passion, as he wished, “Daren, please take care of my daughter. Do not tell her anything. I do not want her to be bound by her grievances, civic or private.”
I sighed softly and ordered, “Bring his daughter here.” Xiaoshunzi left for a short moment before returning with a one-year-old infant in his arms. The baby girl laughed, reaching out with her hands towards her father, wanting to embrace him. On her lovely and adorable face, her large black eyes were as clear as spring water. I saw the emotions swirling on Han Zhang’s face, but he had no strength to sit up. I extended my hands and pulled the baby girl into my arms. I could not help but lightly kiss her face.
“Daddy!” called out the baby girl suddenly, extending her hands to grasp the head-covering wrapped around my hair.
I joyously looked at the baby girl and spoke, “Brother Han, your daughter is very bright and also very adorable.”
Han Zhang somehow managed to find the energy to sit up. On the bed, he bowed and begged me, “Daren, I know this matter is difficult, but I beseech to daren take care of this child and properly raise her.”
I was shocked. Just as I was about to refuse, I glanced at the child’s beautiful silhouette and found that I couldn’t speak those words. My mind suddenly thought about the child that Liu Piaoxiang and I would’ve had if she had not died. The child would have been this big. My heart softened and I responded, “I am alone and do not have a wife. If Brother Han does not despise my current situation, then this child will be my adopted daughter. I will certainty treat her as my own. Brother Han, what is this child’s name?”
Grateful, tears fell down Han Zhang’s face like rain. In a low voice, he stated, “Daren, Han Zhang was originally an orphan. Even my surname was only obtained after I followed my master. If daren does not despise her, please treat this child as your own. Do not tell her of her origins.”
I looked at Han Zhang. Through his sorrowful and heartbroken eyes, I could see the true love he had for his daughter and the heart filled with remorse. I gently replied, “Fine. My humble wife, Lady Liu, met with disaster and perished. I will tell this child that she is my own daughter. Her name will be Jiang Roulan.”
“Many thanks to daren. Roulan, Roulan …” repeated Han Zhang, his heart filled with gratefulness before he warned, “Daren, the Embroidered Union Head Huo Jicheng’s methods are vicious and sinister. Daren must be careful.”
Finished speaking, Han Zhang closed his eyes, no longer breathing. At this moment, both of Roulan’s hands were still extended towards her father, asking to be hugged. I hugged her into my embrace. A lone tear rolled down my cheek. Amidst this chaos of war, how many bitter and painful matters occur? Suddenly, Roulan began to cry loudly, seemingly knowing that her father had left this world.
I summoned the household’s supervisory eunuch, Chang En, having him organize Han Zhang’s funeral. I also had him find a wet nurse and several maids to care of Roulan. I first handed Roulan to the maids, determined to interrogate the captured criminals. Since they were chasing Han Zhang to kill him, they must be related to the Embroidered Union. Strangely, they were so savage and wild in Chang’an. How could I let them off and not question them thoroughly?
Inside the dismal dungeons in the prince’s residence, under the guidance of the jailer, we walked through the limestone corridors. On both sides were thick and heavy wooden doors. There was only a small window about a man’s height with steel bars. Located at the end of the corridor was the torture chamber. Walking down the platform, one could see two men of average height, but extremely sturdy looking, rigidly tied to the wall with straps and iron chains. There were no wounds on their bodies. It seemed that they had not been tortured. Pleased, I nodded my head. If they carelessly and recklessly used torture, on the contrary, it would reduce the torture’s effectiveness. It seemed that the Prince of Yong’s household was extremely cautious. I looked at the torture instruments placed all around, seeing that they were all caked with blood, causing the torture chamber to reveal a sinister and dreadful atmosphere.
I looked at the two men. Contrary to what one might expect, I was skilled in torture. Originally, in order to deal with Liang Wan, I had consulted all the available works until I was finally able to make a suitable harvest. I discovered that the most important factor of torture was destroying a person’s confidence. Thereafter, they will answer anything that is asked.
Looking at the dozen or so jailers and single secretary in the room, I smiled and said, pointing to one of the men, “Bring him over here.” Two jailers stepped forward, and with practiced ease, untied him from the wall. Afterwards, they twisted the man’s arms behind his back, binding them. Their technique was skilled, not permitting the man any chance of resisting. The man was dragged before me. One of the jailers grabbed the man’s hair, forcing him to raise his head to allow me to clearly see his appearance. This man’s appearance actually seemed upright. However, his expression revealed grave and vicious tendencies.
Xiaoshunzi waved his hands, indicating that the jailers bring over a chair, allowing me to sit. I smiled and inquired, “So you are the traitors who dared to charge my carriage?”
A look flashed in the man’s eyes and he denied, “Daren, this commoner did not collide with your carriage. It was your guards who forcibly captured this lowly one.”
“That father and daughter pair were being chased by you, no?” I nonchalantly asked. “If it weren’t for you, how could someone have collided with the carriage? Speak, who are you people? Don’t even think about leaving this place if you are unwilling to speak the truth. If you obediently confess, I will only deliver you to the Imperial Capital Magistrate to be held accountable.”
The man’s expression changed. If he were really handed over to the Imperial Capital Magistrate, although he was guilty of murder, however, the gravest sentence handed down would be execution after the arrival of autumn.1 During the intervening months, there was the chance of escape. In a mournful tone, the man answered, “This commoner was murdering for money.2 Who could have thought that we would bump into daren’s carriage?”
I did not indicate whether I believed him or not, removing a hairpin from my hair. This hairpin was a treasure that Chen Zhen and company had found in a secret chamber after eliminating the traitorous company on my orders. Although this was only a hairpin, it was manufactured from mysterious metal from a meteorite that fell from the heavens. It was incomparably sharp. Even the hardest diamond would be easily pierced through by it. However, the hairpin was too small. As such, it was useless to the average martial arts expert. Although Xiaoshunzi could easily use steel needles as weapons, his temperament was arrogant and proud. Aside from his two hands, he refused to use any other weapons. Ultimately, I kept the hairpin. One couldn’t say for sure when one might have a use for it. As a matter of fact, I could use this hairpin as an acupuncture needle, although it was a bit too crude. It was highly suitable for use as a torture instrument.
With a smile, I inquired, “You’re willing to confess?”
The man continuously nodded his head.
“Without using torture, I never believe anyone’s confession,” I stated callously. Finished speaking, I lightly stabbed the man several times with the hairpin.
The man’s complexion suddenly changed greatly. His face was at one moment, green; at the next, red. His body trembled violently. If there weren’t two jailers holding onto him tightly, he would have probably already collapsed to the floor. What was most frightening was that he did not even make a single sound. One could only see that his forehead was sweating like a pig.3 The man raised his head, his eyes filled with mournful sincerity.
I continued to look at him leisurely and contentedly with the demeanor of a cultured and refined scholar, as if there wasn’t anyone or anything struggling painfully before me. When employing torture, the most important factor was to attack the mind. It seemed as if I had let him off so lightly, but in reality I had made a show of strength. Thus in a while, if he dared to randomly beat around the bush with his testimony, I need only say that he will suffer crueler and more violent torture, inevitably causing him great dread. Moreover, he would believe that I could accomplish this.
After a short period, I could see that the man’s consciousness was already gradually becoming hazy and unclear. With a soft wave of my hand, the hairpin once again stabbed into the man’s body. The man’s body gradually relaxed. From his mouth, a feeble moan was heard. However, this wasn’t his fault. After removing the pain, the body would relax to an extreme extent. The voice that had been forcibly suppressed a moment ago was finally released. I instructed the jailers to bring cold water and had it carefully poured down the man’s throat. His consciousness gradually returned. Seeing me, his eyes could not hide the dread within them.
I smiled and asked, “Alright, the words you say now should be somewhat trustworthy? May I ask of your name? Where are you from? Why were you chasing after that father and daughter pair?”
The man answered, “This lowly one is Qiu Xing and was originally from Shu. After the fall of Shu, a large part of Sichuan fell into the hands of Southern Chu. Marquis Lu Xin was brutal and tyrannical, and thus was forced into exile to Great Yong. Because I did not have any savings, I sought to murder for money. These are really words from the bottom of my heart. Daren, please believe them!”
I looked at Xiaoshunzi and offhandedly asked, “Is this man’s confession reliable?”
“I don’t think it’s reliable,” replied Xiaoshunzi unmoved.
I smiled and asked, “Why so? He seems to be quite honest and guileless. He shouldn’t want to be subjected to further cruel torture.”
Xiaoshunzi respectfully analyzed, “Young master, the clothes on this man’s body were all manufactured in Great Yong. It seems that he has already stayed in Great Yong for an extended period of time. On him was a banknote worth a thousand taels of silver. If he was content with his lot in life, the money he has is sufficient for him to pass the rest of his days free and unfettered. That father and daughter pair did not even have ten taels of silver on them. How can this be murdering for money? Moreover, they were so arrogant and unbridled as to dare to commit murder in broad daylight in Great Yong. If they didn’t have a patron, even if this servant dies, I do not believe it for a moment.”
I smiled warmly. With a satisfied look, I looked at the man and said, “Okay, I would have been bored if he had confessed honestly.”
Everyone, including the jailers, all looked at the elegant and refined looking youth. His gentle smile somehow made everyone feel chilly. Everyone believed that the scholar had always intended from the start to use torture, and had no intention of obtaining an oral confession.
Afterwards, the hairpin in my hand once again stabbed into Qiu Xing’s body. His body began to curl up and twitch. This time, the two jailers were unable to restrain him. After looking on for a while, I spoke, “Bring a cup of tea.” Hearing me speak, the man’s original expectations of being reprieved were dashed and a look of despair flashed across his face.
Xiaoshunzi glanced at him, the expression on his face seemingly somewhat sympathetic. Opening his mouth, he said, “The tribute tea newly delivered by His Imperial Highness takes quite some time to be steeped.” At this moment, the hopeful Qiu Xing immediately lost consciousness.
I once again stabbed Qiu Xing’s body. After Qiu Xing had been woken up by a bucketful of cold water, he gazed blankly at me. I indifferently stated, “It doesn’t matter. Bring over the tea set. Boil a pot of water right here to steep the tea. Before you’ve finished, I will test out several new acupuncture torture techniques.”
Qiu Xing could no longer endure, howling and wailing from the pain. He tried to throw himself at my chair, but was tightly restrained by the two jailers. In a loud voice, he begged, “Daren, spare my life! This lowly one is willing to confess. This lowly one is an assassin for the Embroidered Union. I beseech daren to spare my life! This lowly one is willing to confess to anything!”
I glanced at him indifferently and replied, dissatisfied, “You’re willing to confess to anything? How can you so lack a backbone?”
Tears and mucus flowing profusely, Qiu Xing begged, “Daren, spare my life! This lowly one is willing to confess. I beseech daren to stop torturing me.”
Bored to death, I shook my head and instructed, “Bring him to the side room and have him confess. If he even tries to conceal anything or to beat around the bush, bring him back here. Bring the other one over.”
Seeing my excited look, the other man, who had long been scared out of his wits, quickly shouted out sorrowfully, “This lowly one is Shang Wei and am willing to confess.”
I shook my head and remarked, “That won’t do. Wouldn’t it be too unfair if you aren’t tortured?”
At this moment, Xiaoshunzi’s voice traveled to my ear. “Young master, you’re overdoing it. You aren’t taking note of the expressions and emotions in the jailers’ eyes. They think that you’re a cruel and brutal evil spirit.”
I smiled lightly and spoke with a double meaning, “It doesn’t matter. While we’re waiting for the confession, I can first test your fortitude. If you are willing to listen to instructions, at most, I will use fewer needles. How about this? In a moment, I will ask you again when his confession is produced. If you can find oversights or omissions in his confession, I will let you off. If you can’t find anything, I will have to torture you. For the moment, how about you try the side dishes first.” Finished speaking, I stabbed my hairpin into Shang Wei’s body.
After four hours had passed, I left the torture chamber satisfied, leaving behind the terrified and alarmed jailers, and two barely alive Embroidered Union assassins.
In the northern parts of China, farmers only had one crop a year. As a result, they were frequently idle during the autumn and winter after the harvest. To serve as a deterrent, magistrates would often execute criminals after the harvest had been collected. This practice would spread throughout China during the Tang Dynasty.
谋财害命, moucaihaiming – idiom, lit. to plot and kill somebody for his property; to murder for money
汗如雨下, hanruyuxia – idiom, lit. sweating like rain; to perspire profusely, to sweat like a pig