Holding the confession, I returned to the Phoenix Perch Pavilion, as I wished to see my adopted daughter, Roulan. Why was this? I always felt as if she was delivered to be my daughter by a manifestation of Piaoxiang’s spirit in the underworld. When I hurriedly returned to the Phoenix Perch Pavilion, I caught sight of the Prince of Yong sitting there, teasing little Roulan.
I stepped forward and greeted the prince, apologizing, “Your Highness has waited long. This subject was busy interrogating and getting confessions. This subject did not know Your Imperial Highness was here.”
Li Zhi smiled and replied, “I heard that Sir had adopted a daughter and especially came to take a look. How are things going?”
“Your Imperial Highness, this subject has discovered the forces of the Embroidered Union within Great Yong,” I reported with a smile. “I have interrogated them clearly. Although a night has passed and there inevitably are some changes, we should still be able to easily to eliminate them in one stroke1 if we desired.”
Li Zhi seemed to hesitate as he looked at me. Aware of what he was thinking, I stated, “This subject understands Your Imperial Highness’s intentions. The Embroidered Union is currently primarily wreaking havoc in Sichuan and Southern Chu. To them, Great Yong is a place used for recuperation and recovery. Therefore, Your Imperial Highness desires to temporarily allow the Embroidered Union to continue to exist.”
Li Zhi smiled wryly and replied, “To be quite honest, Sir, this Prince has long known the existence of the Embroidered Union. I merely have chosen not to get involved. But for them to be so unbridled and to wreak such havoc, if this were to spread that Great Yong allowed them to exist, then I’m afraid that Great Yong would have lost popular sentiment in the Hanzhong region and Sichuan.”
I bowed and stated, “Your Imperial Highness be at ease. This subject already has a plan, allowing a portion of the Embroidered Union’s strength to escape, but it requires the elimination of all of their strength in Chang’an. If this happens then it will be impossible to pull Great Yong in no matter how they try.”
“This method is good, so that we can avoid them taking advantage of the chaos in Chang’an,” responded the Prince of Yong. “When all is said and done, they are enemies of Great Yong. I have some intelligence reports. Combined with the confessions that you have acquired, it should be sufficient. This Prince will immediately issue the order to encircle and annihilate them.”
“What meritorious service can Your Imperial Highness render by eliminating this small Embroidered Union?” I questioned, shaking my head. “If Your Imperial Highness is at ease, please allow this subject to plan. We can not only eliminate the Embroidered Union’s strength in Chang’an, but also realize this subject’s ‘cutting out the heart’ stratagem.”
A look flashed in the Prince of Yong’s eyes, as he replied, “As this Prince has already conferred total authority, then I invite Sir to preside over this matter. If you need anything from this Prince, speak.”
I smiled and gave my thanks. At this moment, the Prince of Yong took a look at Roulan and spoke, “Sir is alone. Your daughter is young. It is inappropriate to care for her without a mother. During this period, the Princess has grieved over the heir’s coming departure to Youzhou and will undoubtedly feel the absence of her child. If Sir doesn’t object, how about allowing the Princess to take care of Roulan, so as to prevent Sir from worrying?”
Thinking it over, I stated, “If this happens, then it will be inconvenient for this subject to see my daughter.”
The Prince of Yong smiled and recommended, “If Sir misses your daughter, just have Xiaoshunzi go to the Princess and bring her to you.”
There were no qualms or issues with Xiaoshunzi coming and going from within the inner residence. This was definitely a good idea. Thinking it through, I acknowledged, “If that is the case, then this subject thanks Your Imperial Highness. The Princess will certainly be able to raise my daughter into a wise and virtuous lady from a prestigious house. Would Your Imperial Highness please bow in thanks to the Princess for me?”
The Prince of Yong looked at me for a while before suggesting, “Sir is already twenty-six this year. Why have you chosen to follow a solitary path?2 You should settle down and get married.”
The Prince of Yong’s words aroused the pain and suffering within my heart. I was silent for some time before answering, “This subject originally had a fiancée. However, she died before we could get married.”
“This Prince did not know this,” replied the Prince of Yong after freezing momentarily. “However, marrying and having children is the most important aspect of filial piety.3 Sir cannot spend the rest of your life alone and in pain. This Prince will have the Princess help Sir find a virtuous woman. I wonder what Sir thinks?”
Feeling relieved, I smiled. “This subject’s temperament is carefree, acting according to my wishes, just short of cutting off all ties and becoming a recluse. I’m also unwilling to fail to live up to the expectations of a good woman. There is no need for Your Imperial Highness to trouble yourself over this.”
The Prince of Yong shook his head. Heaving a sigh, he spoke, “Let’s talk about this matter later. Sir, go do what you were doing. This Prince is convinced that Sir will provide me with a satisfactory outcome.”
I bowed and advised, “Your Imperial Highness, please be at ease. Within a few days, Your Imperial Highness will be able to place a reliable agent beside the Crown Prince.”
Xia Jinyi had never before been so frightened. He was by nature frivolous and was sometimes too impulsive. As a result, he had offended the elders of his sect and been driven out. He had hoped to advance himself within the Guanzhong Alliance and yet had offended Lady Sha. For lack of a better option, he had begged for help from one of his senior apprentice brothers. This senior apprentice brother, while proper in temperament, had a decent relationship with him and was currently serving as the supervisor of the guards of the crown prince’s household. Without any options, he could only ask his senior apprentice brother to recommend him, otherwise he did not have the ability to pass the imperial examination nor did he have any way of going to battle to fight. What could he rely upon to make something out of himself? Unfortunately, before he could even meet with his senior apprentice brother, he had been surrounded by the Guanzhong Alliance. Without a choice, he had use trickery to escape. Who could have imagined that the person he had framed was actually a major in the service of the Prince of Yong? This matter had originally left him extremely discouraged, but his senior apprentice brother informed him that he would be allowed to stay if the crown prince knew what had happened to harm the Prince of Yong’s face. He was wild with joy and could not help himself, drinking a few cups too many.
When he returned to the inn, his extreme joy turned to sorrow. Someone attacked and overwhelmed him. He did not know their origins. He had been tightly bound, while his two hands were chained together using steel manacles and his mouth was covered, before he was stuffed into a chest. When he could no longer detect the shaking and bumping, no one had come to let him out. Being tied for so long, Xia Jinyi felt his limbs grow numb, as blood flow was restricted. The most painful part was that he could not straighten his body no matter how much he tried or wanted to. This left him in endless suffering. He would be willing to pay any price if he were allowed to straighten his body. In other words, his willpower had already disappeared.
Finally, he could hear the sound of footsteps. Someone opened the chest. In the man’s hand was an oil lamp, the light falling on Xia Jinyi’s face causing him to subconsciously close his eyes, preventing harm to his eyes accustomed to the darkness. After a moment, Xia Jinyi opened his eyes, looking at the delicate and handsome looking youth standing before him. The youth looked no more than fifteen or sixteen years of age and was looking curiously at Xia Jinyi. Xia Jinyi’s eyes revealed a beseeching and inquiring look.
The youth indifferently said, “This lowly one is Chiji and has been ordered to come to take care of young master Xia. If young master Xia cannot receive this lowly one’s approval, then you will be buried here. If fortunate enough to pass, you will be permitted to meet my master. Young master Xia, if you are to shout loudly, this lowly one can only immediately kill you. Therefore, young master should conduct yourself with dignity and be careful.”
Finished speaking, the youth placed the oil lamp on a nearby table before stepping forward and removing the rag in Xia Jinyi’s mouth. Xia Jinyi took a deep breath and begged, “This little brother, please let me out first. If I don’t stretch my body, I fear that I will become handicapped.”
Seeing the enemy, Xia Jinyi’s consciousness gradually returned to normal. He was already prepared to start a battle of wits with this enemy. Although he found it odd that his enemy was actually a youngster, however, Xia Jinyi was extremely clear that the most fearsome people in jianghu were monks, women, and children. As a result, he held no contempt or scorn.
The youth smiled slightly, lifting Xia Jinyi out of the chest and placing him on the ground. As such, even though Xia Jinyi was still tightly bound, he could stretch out and straighten his body. A comfortable groan issued from his mouth and his eyes closed, almost as if he wanted to have a good nap.
The youth smiled and gave Xia Jinyi a kick, speaking, “Old fellow, did you forget something? Your fate is still in my hands.”
Xia Jinyi opened his eyes and replied, comfort covering his entire face, “Little brother, I am no more than a wastrel in jianghu. If your honored personage had no use for this one, there would be no need to expend such effort to kidnap me here. I believe that little brother would likely be punished if you were to casually kill me.”
The youth suddenly sat down on the ground beside Xia Jinyi and stated, “You speak correctly. Unfortunately, my master’s temperament is arrogant and proud. If you are a good-for-nothing loser, then he will definitely not use you. Therefore, you have to convince me to bring you to meet him. If you cannot convince me, then it doesn’t matter even if I were to kill you. In any case, you aren’t the sole candidate.”
Xia Jinyi shivered. The youth before him, although young, spoke as if he was extremely experienced. In addition, there wasn’t a single emotion when he spoke of murder. Trying to feel out the situation, Xia Jinyi inquired, “Little brother seems young … have you killed many people?”
Chiji smiled and responded, “I dare not conceal this.… To protect myself at the time, this lowly one killed eight or nine people. Later, in my master’s service, I’ve killed men, women, the old, and the young. The most pitiful was when we were forced to kill many innocents. Among them were several pregnant women. To tell the truth, I really did not want to kill them at the time, but who let them stay at a location they shouldn’t have? On one occasion, this lowly one didn’t kill anyone, but they were still all killed.”
Although Chiji spoke ambiguously, there were no lies in his words. During the Secret Camp’s training period, they frequently fought against one another. If someone suffered too many defeats, their memories would be wiped and they would be sent away. Later on, they said that these people had all already died. In the view of these operatives, losing the memory of the Secret Camp was worse than death. As for working for the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets, killing was difficult to avoid. Only with the incident involving Liang Wan did they not kill anyone. However, the only ones to escape alive were Princess Changle and the mind-wiped Liang Wan. One couldn’t consider this as benevolent.
Xia Jinyi could hear that Chiji’s voice was completely filled with sincerity and without a single shred of boasting. Xia Jinyi knew immediately that he had run into a cold-blooded and ruthless demon. Forcing a smile on his face, he replied, “So that is the case. Then I cannot compare with little brother. Although I have the moniker of a wastrel in jianghu, I haven’t killed that many people. When all is said and done, my martial arts aren’t that great and it is troublesome to kill someone. Under which conditions would little brother let me off?”
Thinking it over, Chiji answered, “This is difficult. Although I don’t have any money, I do not lack for funds when I need to spend money. Although my martial arts isn’t great, it is sufficient. As for high position and great wealth, although everyone wants it, I am still young. It won’t be too late even if I vie for it in ten years’ time.”
As he spoke, his tone gradually became cold. From his bosom, Chiji pulled out a small dagger and gestured towards Xia Jinyi’s throat. With a smile, he continued, “All right, speak. Tell me what you can give me.”
Xia Jinyi immediately uttered, “Don’t be hasty, little brother. I have an idea … It seems like little brother is fifteen or sixteen years of age. The children of great families have already been married. I can tell that little brother’s bearing is not ordinary. Even if you don’t hail from a great family, you should still marry a pampered and virtuous lady from a great family. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be burying yourself in darkness? I may not have any other abilities, but I am really good at wooing women. Moreover, no one knows more about the outstanding women than me. If little brother has such intentions, there is no harm in allowing me to advise you on how to take a beautiful wife. How about it?”
Chiji looked at Xia Jinyi for some time. He suddenly giggled. “Having seen you flee for your life while being chased all over by Lady Sha, who would have thought you had such abilities? Let me hear your ideas.”
Xia Jinyi relaxed. He could tell that Chiji’s killing intent had already dissipated. With a smile, he quipped, “Little brother, you shouldn’t disparage me. When it comes to it, Lady Sha is not bad, but she cannot be taken as wife. I only stole her dudou4 and she chased me everywhere intending to kill me.”
Hearing this, Chiji’s mouth fell open. Looking at Xia Jinyi, he stuttered, “You stole her … you stole her … that thing …”
Xia Jinyi smiled. “What’s strange about this? I, your elder … no, this young master found her objectionable—a mere young lady stirring up all the young men in the Guanzhong Alliance into seeking her hand. I, your elder, am so dissolute and confident; that little girl enjoyed hearing me talk rubbish. But if you were to cross this line, her face would immediately become stern. Who cares that she is a disciple of the Fengyi Sect? Therefore, I, your elder, might as well employ bewildering incense to cause her to faint. I personally went to her sleeping chambers and stole her dudou. Haha! Even if she wants to kill me, your elder, she dares not speak the reason. Little brother, I, your elder, remind you that the disciples of the Fengyi Sect cannot be married. Each and every one of them are usually irreproachable, entirely relying upon their beauty to seduce men. I don’t believe it … without any hints from a girl, why would so many men tenaciously chase after you? They are all adept at loosening the reins to grasp them better.5 I, your elder, have the ability pursue beautiful women, but cannot compare to their ability to tempt and seduce men. Most annoyingly, even if you were really successful, they would be obedient under ordinary circumstances, but if you do not follow their intentions, they would swiftly become hostile. Let me tell you, marrying an illiterate country bumpkin is superior to marrying a disciple of the Fengyi Sect.”
Chiji stared blankly at the chatty Xia Jinyi and expressed, “Your story is so terrifying. Have you really experienced such matters?”
Xia Jinyi stared back blankly for a moment before his expression suddenly underwent huge changes. It was a long while before he spoke, “No I haven’t, I haven’t. I’m only a jianghu wastrel. Those disciples of the Fengyi Sect are either married into the families of ministers or into influential families in wulin. How could there be any involvement with me?”
Chiji looked at Xia Jinyi’s awkward complexion and asked, “Do you not fear that I have any connections with the Fengyi Sect?”
Cold sweat dripped down Xia Jinyi’s back. In a split second, he returned to normal. With a smile, he responded, “How could that be possible? Although the Fengyi Sect can order about some men, someone with little brother’s elegant temperament should not be someone infatuated with beauty.” In his head, he thought, The Fengyi Sect couldn’t have extended their hand to instigate such a half adult.
Chiji smiled tranquilly and questioned, “Since you aren’t fond of the Fengyi Sect, why are you seeking refuge with the Crown Prince? Who doesn’t know that the Crown Prince is in the same boat as the Fengyi Sect and it is the Prince of Yong who isn’t bound to the Fengyi Sect?
With a wry look, Xia Jinyi explained, “Little brother, as they say, wearing clothing and eating meals are the most important parts of life. You should know that I cannot till the fields and farm, and cannot go into battle. If I wished to serve as a bodyguard, no one would care for my temperament and appearance. If I were to become a thief or burglar, to speak the truth, my martial arts aren’t enough to deal with the constables of Great Yong. I’m afraid that I would become a parasite and sit in prison for several years. As for pledging allegiance to the Prince of Yong, I fear that I do not have such good fortune. The Prince of Yong wants people with ability. I fear that I won’t be able to muddle my way in. The Crown Prince is more relaxed and takes things much less seriously. In fact, I originally wished to pledge allegiance to the Prince of Qi, as I have heard that the Prince is fondest of places of joy and beauty. Who can say, I may be able to obtain the Prince’s appreciation and recognition. However, after I came to Chang’an, I heard that although the Prince of Qi liked to visit prostitutes, the warriors beside him had all experienced bloody battles. The kind of person that I am is not enough.”
Chiji thought it over and agreed, “What you say isn’t wrong. The people of wulin are fond of exquisite martial arts skills. You members of the Kongtong Sect attach great importance to strange and unusual martial arts. If you were to go into battle, I fear you would not even be capable of becoming a common general. Moreover, not everyone wishes to join the military. With your frivolous temperament, I fear that it wouldn’t take long before you are punished by military law.”
Xia Jinyi concurred, “That’s right! Although I don’t have any ability, I still understand myself quite well. If I am able to stay a few years in service to the Crown Prince, it should be superior to drifting about in jianghu.”
Chiji looked at him before he finally smiled gently and spoke, “Although there aren’t any benefits to letting you off, I really don’t want to kill you. All right, I believe you can be allowed to see my master. A word of warning: my master is usually benevolent and amiable. However, once he gets serious, you best hope that you die quickly.”
Xia Jinyi suddenly laughed, as he replied, “Much thanks to little brother for the warning. I have always adapted to the circumstances.”
At this moment, in another room, I couldn’t help but laugh. Through the copper tubes, I could hear Xia Jinyi’s words. My mood became happy. At this moment, Xiaoshunzi suddenly also laughed. I asked, “What is it? Do you also feel that he is really interesting?”
Restraining his laughter, Xiaoshunzi responded, “Young master, this servant is going to say something impudently.… He really resembles you. If it weren’t for young master’s brilliance, I feel that he actually resembles you.”
I originally was somewhat annoyed, but when I carefully thought about it, I could not help but laugh. Thinking it over, it was true. I became even more interested in this Xia Jinyi. In addition, I was even more certain that my plan would be successful.
A short moment later, Xia Jinyi was escorted in by Chiji. Chiji had released Xia Jinyi from his fetters, allowing him to walk. However, he was intelligent enough to not dare to resist, otherwise it would have been unlikely for him to arrive in my presence. After nearly a day’s worth of torment, Xia Jinyi’s stomach was rumbling from hunger and his clothing were disheveled. His handsome appearance was covered with grime. With difficulty, he walked in. Chiji gently nudged him. Raising his head, Xia Jinyi caught sight of the black-clothed man sitting behind the desk and the handsome servant behind him. Afterwards, he obediently kneeled to the ground and announced in a low voice, “This commoner greets Your Excellency, the Major.”
This was outside of my expectations and I looked at him. Although he had seen me once from a distance, that he was able to remember me left me pleasantly surprised. I smiled and spoke, “Young master Xia, you hail from the Kongtong Sect. From what I can see, you’re not someone who would commit a major offense. Why were you expelled?”
Xia Jinyi raised his head and looked at me, straightforwardly answering, “Daren, I wonder how this lowly one can be of service? Daren can interrogate me if this lowly one is up to the task. If I cannot, this lowly one is unwilling to casually to talk about my past events with anyone.”
I once again seriously looked at him and indifferently stated, “I require a chess piece. It is best if this chess piece has its own ideas and thoughts. In other words, I want a clever and nimble chess piece. You are very suitable.”
Revealing a splendid smiling expression, Xia Jinyi inquired, “Then I don’t need to die?”
I also smiled and responded, “If you are sufficiently intelligent, not only will you not die, after this matter is successful, I will give you a way out.”
The two of us looked at one another and smiled. At this moment, an indistinct voice floated into my ear. It was Xiaoshunzi speaking, “You two really resemble one another.”
I could not help but shoot a supercilious look at Xiaoshunzi. Although this method of secretly transmitting voices was very useful, it shouldn’t be always used to bully me!
一网打尽, yiwangdajin – idiom, lit. to catch everything in one net; to eliminate in one stroke, to solve the problem with one fell swoop
孤家寡人, gujiaguaren – idiom, lit. one who is cut off from others; one who has chosen to follow a solitary path; used to refer to an unmarried person
In Chinese culture, for men to not be married and have no sons to continue on their family name was considered as the biggest failing of filial piety.
肚兜, dudou – is an undergarment that is a traditional Chinese form of the bodice
欲擒故纵, yuqinguzong – idiom, lit. in order to capture, one must let loose; to loosen the reins only to grasp them better