Volume 2, Chapter 6: A Top Level Operative

I smiled and waved my hand, stating, “Chiji, provide a seat for young master Xia. You first withdraw and bring some tea and snacks. In all likelihood, young master Xia is already hungry.”

Chiji turned and left. Not long afterwards, he returned with a tray filled with tea and snacks before withdrawing. Xia Jinyi sat down and promptly began to devour the food.1 A short while later, he gave a satisfied belch. Having eaten his fill, he almost seemed to collapse in the chair. Looking at me, he spoke, “Daren please command me.”

I casually inquired, “Do you know my identity?”

Xia Jinyi blushed and responded, “I already know that you are a major in the service of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies. I have also heard your name from my senior apprentice brother. I have heard that you are Jiang Zhe, Jiang daren, the one who with one poem killed the King of Shu.”

I smiled and replied, “You forgot something else—I am from Southern Chu and was removed from my official position by the King. Today, I am dancing a different tune2 and am in service to the Prince of Yong.”

Xia Jinyi grinned. “That doesn’t concern me. Though Southern Chu looks down on you, however I have heard that the Prince of Yong attaches great importance to talented individuals. There is nothing wrong with daren pledging allegiance to the Prince of Yong.”

I calmly remarked, “All right, I originally intended to question you about your past, but after thinking it over, there is no need to do so. However, in the future, if there are any mishaps because you didn’t reveal any unusual enemies or unusual experiences now, don’t blame me for being unable to help.”

After thinking it over, Xia Jinyi replied, “This commoner does not have any particular experiences that I need to report. However, with my incompetence with both brush and sword, I do not know what I can do for daren.

I indifferently stated, “It’s very simple; you will pledge your allegiance to the Crown Prince. However, I want you to become the Crown Prince’s confidante.”

Xia Jinyi was stunned as he questioned, “Daren, I am a nobody, so how can I get close to the Crown Prince?”

I did not say anything. Picking up a piece of paper filled with densely packed words, I handed it to Xia Jinyi. After seeing the words on the paper, Xia Jinyi’s expression became unreadable, as he asked, “Daren, it’s this simple?”

I smiled and explained, “That’s right, I don’t want you to find out any secrets, and I don’t need you to be in communication with us. I only want you to follow my plan to acquire the Crown Prince’s favor. To speak the truth, with your temperament, although you can’t become a capable subordinate, you are more than capable of becoming a doted upon subject. I have already prepared all the conditions for you to become favored by the Crown Prince. After that, everything will depend on your ability to handle exigencies. You only need to adhere to one principle: to allow the Crown Prince to indulge himself. When the right opportunity presents itself, speak a few words to sow discord. However, remember that these matters can only involve the Prince of Qi. Outside of him, you must completely listen to the Crown Prince. You must do whatever wrongdoings that he wants you to commit. Even if you hear any giant secrets, even if they were planning to immediately harm the life of the Prince of Yong, you cannot pay any attention. Understand that today is the only time that we will ever meet. After today, even if we were to ever meet again, I shall never say anything that happened tonight.”

Although Xia Jinyi did not understand the meaning behind my words, he still nodded his head and stated, “I understand. Daren wants me to attain the favor of the Crown Prince. For everything else I will make my own decisions. I only need to try and please the Crown Prince, accompanying the Crown Prince to eat, drink, and play.”

I nodded my head and replied, “That’s correct. You can tell your senior apprentice brother about the intelligence reports on the Embroidered Union. At the very least, through this matter, you can enter the Crown Prince’s household, which allows you to acquire the Crown Prince’s favor. Everything thereafter will rely upon your own cleverness. I will give you three medicinal prescriptions. These prescriptions, all of differing dosages, are excellent aphrodisiacs and will cause the Crown Prince happiness. Present them to the Crown Prince in order. Remember to say that you personally improved the medicine. Since you have used bewildering incense before, then you should also be aware of the usage of aphrodisiacs. The Crown Prince does not dare allow the imperial doctors to prescribe such prescriptions. As a result, you should be able to acquire the Crown Prince’s favor without any problems.”

Xia Jinyi blushed and revealed, “Not hiding anything from daren, although this lowly one has not committed such sins as rape, I am familiar with the usage of bewildering incense. I can also understand the prescriptions provided by daren. They are definitely excellent medicines, increasing sexual delight without harming one’s body. As long as it is not overused, these medicines are extremely good drugs.”

“Fine. If that is the case then I am more at ease,” I replied with a smile before I inquired, “Do you have any more questions? After today, there won’t be any more opportunities to ask.”

Xia Jinyi hesitated for a moment before he asked, “Daren, are you sure that I will not betray you?”

I smiled casually and quipped, “Betray me? With what can you betray me? I’ve given you intelligence to make a meritorious contribution. I gave you prescriptions to win the favor of the Crown Prince. I am not asking you for anything. As for keeping the Crown Prince company as he plays around, if the Crown Prince were virtuous, you would not have any place to use your talents. Even if the Crown Prince learns that I am having you sow discord between him and the Prince of Qi, does the Crown Prince actually fully trust the Prince of Qi? Therefore, if you are smart enough, you will follow my instructions. You will not only win the Crown Prince’s favor, you will also not meet with a fatal disaster. Otherwise, Xiaoshunzi …”

From his bosom, Xiaoshunzi pulled out a tael of silver. With practiced ease, he ground the tael into flecks with his hand. Xia Jinyi swallowed hard, turning to look at me.

I continued, “However, I cannot fully trust you. How about this: write a written pledge, stating that you are a spy sent from the Prince of Yong. You will leave it here with me. If you don’t keep the secret, I will allow the Crown Prince to see this written pledge. When the time comes, not only will the Prince of Yong wish to kill you, the Crown Prince won’t let you off. As for this attendant of mine, he can easily kill you. You can only forget what happened tonight. Bringing my present and prescriptions with you, you can easily please the Crown Prince, acquiring the glory and riches that you so desire. But do not forget that if you do not have the ability to acquire the Crown Prince’s favor in two months, then I’m sorry, before I make a substitution, I must first have you slaughtered.”

Xia Jinyi kneeled to the ground and declared, “This lowly one will definitely not forsake daren’s trust. Daren be at ease, this lowly one is only pleasing His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, and will not have any guilt.”

I smiled and said, “Good, write the written pledge now. I’m waiting to see your good performance. Remember, after everything is done, you will be implicated. However, be at ease. I will arrange an escape route for you.”

Xia Jinyi lowered his head and replied, “This lowly one understands.” Finished speaking, he stepped to the desk and wrote the written pledge. He knew that if he didn’t leave this written pledge behind, he would immediately be killed.

“Come,” I called out after he finished writing. When Chiji entered the room, I indifferently ordered, “You will first return to the inn to rest. Didn’t you make an appointment at the Jiangnan Spring restaurant tomorrow with your senior apprentice brother? During the meal, you need only say that you found traces of the Embroidered Union, remnants of the Kingdom of Shu. Afterwards, the Prince of Yong’s guards will upon my orders come arrest you and deliver you to the Guanzhong Alliance. However, I believe that your senior apprentice brother will save you.”

Xia Jinyi’s heart jumped. Without any alternatives, he could only say, “Young master’s preparations are so comprehensive. This lowly one will definitely not make any mistakes.”

I waved my hands before I spoke, “All right, you must return in the way you can. I will not see you off.”

Xia Jinyi immediately became stupid, opening his mouth, as if he wished to say something. But after thinking it over, he dejectedly3 followed Chiji out.

After Xia Jinyi departed, Xiaoshunzi indifferently asked, “Young master, should I put away the written pledge?”

I smiled slightly as I ignited the written pledge using the flame of the lamp. When Xiaoshunzi looked at me with bafflement, I nonchalantly stated, “What use is this written pledge? Even if it was given to the Crown Prince, doesn’t it make real the Prince of Yong’s crimes? If Xia Jinyi is intelligent, he will not betray us. If he is really that stupid, we will not suffer any losses. However, I believe that he will not betray us.”

Looking at the lamp light, I smiled again. With this kind of convenient arrangement, if Xia Jinyi were to betray us, then he would truly be the stupidest idiot in the world.

Xia Jinyi once again had his acupuncture points sealed and placed into the chest. In the wee hours of the morning, he was returned to his room in the inn. On the road, Xia Jinyi repeatedly thought over what he should do. He was not someone to scrupulously abide by honor. However, after thinking it over, the other party only gave him the opportunity and the method to gain the crown prince’s favor. His own reputation was poor, his martial arts mediocre. By missing this opportunity, it was very likely that he would be unable to acquire the high position and wealth that he had dreamed of day and night.4 Even if he were to reveal everything, what would happen? At present, no one did not know that the Prince of Yong’s star was bright. He was only a nobody.… How was he capable of shaking the Prince of Yong’s position? Recalling Chiji’s methods—that such a lowly attendant was so fierce and ruthless—then his master’s methods could only be imagined. The best path before him was to listen to their words and acquire the crown prince’s favor within two months.

Returning to his own bed, after his sealed acupuncture points were released, Xia Jinyi sat up. He slowly calculated how to proceed until noon had arrived, before walking out of the inn and once again arriving at the Jiangnan Spring. The waiters saw that although there weren’t any changes in his complexion, his eyes were extremely odd. Who let him offend the Guanzhong Alliance yesterday and now have lunch with someone from the crown prince’s household.

Entering the elegantly decorated reception pavilion, Xia Jinyi quickly caught sight of several brocade-clad men seated together and chatting happily. He stepped forward, bowing deeply towards the square-faced, middle-aged man seated at the chief seat and spoke, “Eldest apprentice brother, I, your little brother, have arrived late. Would eldest apprentice brother please forgive me?”

The middle-aged man was named Zhang Jinxiong. He was thirty-seven. His appearance was extremely upright and proper. His clothes from head to toe although gorgeous, were quite ordinary. His sleeves were extremely wide. He was a twenty-seventh generation disciple of the Kongtong Sect and had learned outstanding martial arts. There were already faint rumblings that he was already the top candidate to be the next generation’s sect master. Originally, he was completely focused on diligently training his martial arts and did not listen to the slightest distracting thoughts. Outside of following his sect’s orders to handle matters, he rarely left the sect. However, two years ago, an envoy from the Fengyi Sect had personally come to the Kongtong Sect. After talking through the night, Zhang Jinxiong was dispatched to Chang’an to become a fourth-rated blade-carrying imperial bodyguard. Zhang Jinxiong had an upright temperament and would never agree to exceeding propriety. Therefore, he quickly gained the crown prince’s confidence and became the supervisor of the crown prince’s household’s imperial bodyguards. Under normal circumstances, he never paid any attention to political maneuvering and outside of his responsibilities defending the crown prince’s household, he would diligently train. He would occasionally go out and drink a few cups with some friendly imperial bodyguards. Although his temperament was strict and severe, his generosity and magnanimity, and his just and fair behavior, let him receive the complete respect of his subordinates. To speak strictly, he was not the confidante of the crown prince, as a lot of the matters that the crown prince did not wish to make public were handled by others. These matters were handled by Vice Supervisor Xing Song.

When he caught sight of Xia Jinyi, Zhang Jinxiong’s face revealed a smile. He gently said, “You’ve come, come sit. These are all my subordinates. Once you’ve entered into the Crown Prince’s service, you should invite them to look after you.”

Xia Jinyi stepped forward and bowed, as he said, “Older brothers, this little brother is skilled with neither brush nor sword. Fortunately, I am somewhat clever. If you older brothers do not despise me, if there are any errands that needed to be run, hand them over to this little brother.”

A slim middle-aged man smiled and replied, “We have long heard Supervisor Zhang mention that you little joker are proficient in dining, wining, whoring, and gambling.5 However, you aren’t diligent when training. If it weren’t for your loyalty to your friends, and knowing when to advance and when to retreat, Supervisor Zhang would not even allow you to call him senior apprentice brother.”

Without blushing and without his heart palpitating, Xia Jinyi replied, “It is only natural that senior apprentice brother cares about me. At that time, I did not follow good examples and was expelled from my sect. If it weren’t for senior apprentice brother pleading for leniency, my martial arts would have been crippled long ago. Come, allow little brother to salute senior apprentice brother. In the future, would senior apprentice brother and all the elder brothers please take care of me? This little brother will absolutely not stir up any trouble.”

Everyone laughed as they drank a cup of wine. Zhang Jinxiong was naturally pleased with his junior apprentice brother’s words and actions, while the several imperial bodyguards did not mind this youth who could not threaten their positions. Following, the well-trained servants delivered exquisite dishes. One of the imperial bodyguards picked up his chopsticks. With a smile, he said, “Southern Chu’s specialties as expected have unique flavor. However, the names are too strange. Look at this dish … although it is extremely delicious, it is actually called ‘beauty’s liver.’”

Xia Jinyi smiled and replied, “This dish is made from duck pancreas. That is stir-fried duck gizzard and chicken breast and winter bamboo shoots, using duck oil and a high flame. The name has historical antecedents. Reportedly, at the time, a famous scholar of Southern Chu was hosting a banquet at a local famous restaurant called ‘Autumn Rivers Pavilion.’ Unknowingly, the restaurant’s chef accidentally left out one course. If this were allowed to happen, then the restaurant’s reputation would have suffered. After looking high and low, that chef caught sight of the pink and tender color of the duck pancreas floating in the water. He combined it with chicken breast and stir-fried it using high heat and duck oil. The outcome received the guests’ approbation. When asked the dish’s name, the waiter who had delivered the dish saw the milky white color and the glossy fresh tenderness, and speaking without thinking called it the beauty’s liver. As a result, the dish became known by this name. In fact, Southern Chu has another dish called ‘Xi Shi’s tongue.’”

The gathered imperial bodyguards all repeated the name in amazement, “Xi Shi’s tongue.”

Xia Jinyi smiled and continued, “In reality, it’s only the tongue of a mussel. Reportedly, the flesh is fat, white, and tender, and is a delicacy of this world. However, it is only available on the coast.”

One of the imperial bodyguards smiled and said, “As expected, Brother Xia is quite knowledgeable. If there’s the opportunity, we should definitely try this Xi Shi’s tongue.”

After Xia Jinyi’s mind turned, he spoke, “In reality, this little brother loves the delicacies of Sichuan. I have heard that Chang’an has several restaurants that specialize in Sichuan cuisine. The Red Cloud Pavilion and the Xi Shi Pavilion all make pretty good Sichuan cuisine.”

One of the imperial bodyguards sneered, “Brother Xia has said that he has already become familiar with Chang’an. This time, however, you have exposed yourself. I am a local, how can I not know the restaurants of Chang’an? The Red Cloud Pavilion is indeed a Sichuan restaurant. Their Taibai duck is one of the best in the world. However, the Xi Shi Pavilion is one of the most famous brothels. I understand clearly that the pavilion’s beauties are seductive beyond belief. In addition, there are many women from Southern Chu. Reportedly, they were all trafficked here from Southern Chu. Although the food and drink aren’t bad, they have no distinguishing characteristics. I have heard that the owner is one hundred percent from Great Yong. How can it have outstanding Sichuan cuisine?”

Xia Jinyi deliberately looked amazed as he commented, “Oh? You don’t know? Little brother has roamed the world. I know the owner of the Xi Shi Pavilion. He is He Tieshan from the Qingcheng Sect. Although his swordsmanship is pretty good.… Hehe … Eldest apprentice brother, you know that little brother later became a disciple of a Taoist priest from the Heavenly Capital Temple. As a result, little brother frequently sell medicinal pills and what not. It was coincidental, but I got to know Old He. That was about five or six years ago. Purportedly, he was a Supervisor of some Shu prince. Surprisingly, he is now a big businessman. However, to speak the truth, although we people of the jianghu must find ways to make money, there aren’t many people like him who would force honest women into prostitution.”

Everyone’s expression, including Zhang Jinxiong’s, all changed. In a heavy voice, Zhang Jinxiong asked, “You didn’t recognize the wrong person, right?”

Xia Jinyi smiled and replied, “How is that possible? Senior apprentice brother knows my abilities. When little brother first arrived in Chang’an, I took shelter with the Guanzhong Alliance. Once when I went out to take a walk, I ran into Boss He in front of the Xi Shi Pavilion. It was only because that place was too expensive and little brother was embarrassingly short of money that I didn’t go in.”

Seeing Zhang Jinxiong’s ashen complexion, Xia Jinyi found the situation extremely laughable. His words were only seventy percent truthful. The remaining thirty percent were made up. He had met this Boss He and he had traveled to Sichuan before. Even him selling medicine was true. However, Boss He had never bought medicine from him. He also did not know that this Boss He was an expert from the Qingcheng Sect or a supervisor in the household of a Shu prince. This information had all been provided by Jiang daren of the Prince of Yong’s household.

Seeing that the room’s atmosphere was amiss, Xia Jinyi did not wait for his senior apprentice brother to interrogate him, gesturing that the dishes immediately be served. Just as a jar of fine wine was being delivered and Zhang Jinxiong was about to interrogate Xia Jinyi, a cold and solemn voice could be heard from outside, “Xia Jinyi, quickly come out and be bound. This one will exempt you from death.”

Xia Jinyi revealed an expression of panic, looking at Zhang Jinxiong. Zhang Jinxiong glanced at him before speaking in a raised voice, “Who is it that is making a racket out there? This one is a fourth-rated blade-carrying imperial bodyguard, the Supervisor of the Crown Prince’s imperial bodyguards, Zhang Jinxiong.”

From outside, a shout of surprise could be heard. Subsequently, a man could be heard bellowing in a loud voice, “This one is the fourth-rated blade-carrying imperial bodyguard, the Vice Supervisor of the Prince of Yong’s imperial bodyguards, Hu Wei. Zhang daren, this official is acting under orders to arrest the criminal who disturbed Major Jiang of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies’ household, the Dissolute Wastrel, Xia Jinyi. For what reason is Zhang daren here?”

Zhang Jinxiong ferociously glared at Xia Jinyi. Xia Jinyi paled, repeatedly bowing with hands in front. Zhang Jinxiong joylessly replied, “Hu daren, please come in to speak.”

The door opened and a formidable, austere, and severe looking large man entered. He wore the brocade dress of a court official. Not even bothering to look at Xia Jinyi, he stepped forward and saluted Zhang Jinxiong, speaking, “Zhang daren, this official is acting under orders to arrest a criminal. Would daren please facilitate matters?”

Zhang Jinxiong’s expression was tranquil as he inquired, “Although this junior apprentice brother of mine acts willfully and causes trouble, how did he trouble Hu daren to come here?”

Hu Wei responded, “Zhang daren is unaware but this official is currently tasked with guarding the Marshal household’s major, Jiang Zhe, Jiang daren. Yesterday, Jiang daren was here drinking wine. Coincidentally, a clash occurred between Xia Jinyi and the Guanzhong Alliance. Your junior apprentice brother unexpectedly tried to frame and shift the blame, almost causing conflict between Jiang daren and the Guanzhong Alliance. Daren gave the order demanding that your junior apprentice brother be captured and delivered to the Guanzhong Alliance. Therefore, would Zhang daren please facilitate matters.”

Zhang Jinxiong’s heart grew heavy. He naturally knew that the major of the household of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies was one of the highest ranking and most important subordinates of the Prince of Yong. He was only a lowly supervisor of the imperial bodyguards; there was no way that he could stop this from happening. However, looking at his junior apprentice brother’s pale complexion, he coldly stated, “Since junior apprentice brother Xia has not violated the law and you are not from the Imperial Capital Magistrate, you do not have the qualifications to arrest him. Besides, if this official were to allow you to take him in my presence, this official would no longer have the face to remain by the Crown Prince’s side.”

Hu Wei’s brows were tight and stern. His Imperial Highness had instructed him to absolutely comply with the commands of the major. If he were to violate such instructions, it was likely that he would be punished. However, Zhang Jinxiong also spoke reasonably. The household of the Prince of Yong and the household of the crown prince were like oil and water. Everyone understood this. If Zhang Jinxiong allowed him to take this Xia Jinyi away, then he would have severely harmed the crown prince’s face. If this were to happen, the Prince of Yong would likely be unhappy with his behavior. After thinking it over and unable to find a way, he glanced at Zhang Jinxiong. Although Zhang Jinxiong’s temperament was upright and proper, he was not a fool. He could also see Hu Wei’s difficulties. After thinking it over, Zhang Jinxiong spoke, “Fine, how about this … Allow me to bring this junior apprentice brother of mine back. I will absolutely not allow him to leave Chang’an. After a few days, I will personally go to the Guanzhong Alliance to resolve this matter and also apologize to Jiang daren. However, today, I absolutely cannot allow you to take him away.”

Thinking it through, Hu Wei understood that this was the only way to resolve this problem and thus said, “Since Zhang daren is serving as the guarantor, this official will allow him to go free while I go back and report to the major and make new plans.”

Finished speaking, he saluted and bade his farewell. Zhang Jinxiong personally escorted him off. After all was said and done, the Prince of Yong and the crown prince had not yet fully fallen out. It was best that full consideration be given to each side’s face. In addition, Zhang Jinxiong himself was not someone lacking in manners.

After seeing off Hu Wei, Zhang Jinxiong glowered at Xia Jinyi and said, “This is good … Last time you spoke vaguely … So you actually severely offended the Prince of Yong’s household. How can this matter be resolved?”

Note:

In China, there are multiple ways of saluting. In jianghu and common usage, a typical salute involves making a fist with the right hand, while either using the left hand to wrap around the right fist or the right fist is held against the open left palm. Females switch this around. It’s also switched around to denote the start of an argument or fight. In polite society, salutes were made holding the two palms forward together, the fingers overlapping somewhat.

Footnotes:

狼吞虎咽, langtunhuyan – idiom, lit. to wolf down one’s food; to devour ravenously; to gorge oneself
改弦易辙, gaixianyizhe – idiom, lit. change of string, move out rut; dramatic change of direction, to dance to a different tune
垂头丧气, chuitousangqi – idiom, lit. hanging one’s head dispiritedly; dejectedly, crestfallen
梦寐以求, mengmeiyiqiu – idiom, lit. to yearn for something even in one’s dreams; to long for something day and night
吃喝嫖赌, chihepiaodu – idiom, lit. to go dining, wining, whoring, and gambling; to lead a life of dissipation

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