Xia Jinyi repeatedly begged bitterly, clearly explaining the entire situation to his senior apprentice brother. After Zhang Jinxiong had calmed down, he said, “Fine.… It seems that we need to first settle the Guanzhong Alliance. However, although I am the Supervisor of the Crown Prince’s imperial bodyguards, I am unable to mollify the Guanzhong Alliance. Only if the Crown Prince personally steps in … However, how can we have the Crown Prince be involved in this small matter?”
Xia Jinyi watched his senior apprentice brother anxiously. Zhang Jinxiong glared at him, pissed off and angry. Finally, he sighed and said, “You were originally talented. Even if you couldn’t surpass others, you would not be inferior to them. For a single woman, you would abandon yourself to despair …”
Xia Jinyi’s complexion became increasingly pale, no longer making any sound as he sat in a corner of the room, his expression stupefied.
At this moment, one of the imperial bodyguards suddenly said, “Supervisor, you shouldn’t be too worried. We should carefully investigate the matters that Brother Xia just brought up a moment ago. If there really are problems, we should report to the Crown Prince. If Brother Xia is able to perform great service, Supervisor can ask the crown prince to help. This matter is very easy to resolve. The problem related to the household of the Prince of Yong isn’t major. As long as Brother Xia’s dispute with the Guanzhong Alliance is resolved, it isn’t likely that they will continue to stick their nose in other people’s business. When the time comes, Brother Xia need only beg forgiveness.”
Zhang Jinxiong’s expression flickered as he spoke, “I almost forgot. Fine. Jinyi, let’s see if you are lucky enough.”
Xia Jinyi stared back blankly and asked, “What’s happened? Eldest apprentice brother, what meritorious service can this little brother perform?”
Zhang Jinxiong smiled and responded, “Let’s go. It’s too long a story to tell.1 When the moment comes, you will understand.”
The control that His Imperial Highness, the crown prince, exerted over Chang’an and his surroundings was quite vigorous. Over a period of a single night, Li An received a detailed report. Looking at his confidant and think tank, Junior Mentor Lu Jingzhong, Li An asked, “Lu daren, how do you think we should handle this situation?”
Lu Jingzhong twirled his beard and leisurely expounded, “Your Imperial Highness, the situation is clear. The Embroidered Union are the remnants of the Kingdom of Shu. Their former area of operation was in Shu and Southern Chu. Therefore, our Great Yong turned a blind eye to their activities. Now that the state of affairs in Southern Chu is in complete disorder, they seized the opportunity to increase their operations in Great Yong. In this subordinate’s view, they will not really be able to do anything. They only know how to plot and assassinate, coercing the poor, in addition to trafficking human beings. Originally, there was no need for Your Imperial Highness to be anxious about dealing with them. We may even have a use for them. After all, it was the Prince of Yong who destroyed the Kingdom of Shu.
“However, since they aren’t satisfied with acting in Southern Chu, then they will eventually cause difficulties in Great Yong. In this subject’s view, it will soon be the New Year sacrifices. Isn’t Your Imperial Highness striving to substitute for the Emperor during those sacrifices at the Imperial Ancestral Shrine? The Emperor has yet to make his decision. It would be better for Your Imperial Highness to make preparations and eliminate them in one stroke. Afterwards, petition the Emperor to request recognition. Then have Noble Consort Ji say a few words into the Emperor’s ears. If that were to happen, then Your Imperial Highness’s desires will definitely be realized.”
Li An celebrated when he heard Lu Jingzhong’s words and lauded, “Junior Mentor, as expected, is my think tank. This matter must be handled nimbly, preventing the Prince of Yong from learning of it and taking advantage. If we can substitute for the Emperor to sacrifice at the Imperial Ancestral Shrine, when that happens, who will dare suggest that our position as heir apparent isn’t stable?”
Lu Jingzhong smiled and stated, “If that’s the case, this subject preemptively congratulates Your Imperial Highness.”
Li An laughed and replied, “Oh, Li Zhi, Li Zhi … Who cares if you pacified Southern Chu and were promoted to the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies? As long as Our position as the heir apparent is stable, after all is said and done, you will only be a subject.” Towards the end, Li An was fuming with rage between gritted teeth.
Lu Jingzhong gazed at the crown prince who had lost self-control, contempt flashing in his eyes.
Under Lu Jingzhong’s meticulous arrangements, the Embroidered Union’s Chang’an branch was swept clean three days later. All of its members were captured in one fell swoop. Some lower level officials were implicated. This was a successful encirclement and annihilation. After interrogation, it was learned that in the short term, the Embroidered Union was focused on gaining benefits from the chaos in Southern Chu to restore the Kingdom of Shu, and had no plans targeting Great Yong. However, under the heavy torture to extort a confession ordered by Lu Jingzhong, they quickly were able to attain the confession that the Embroidered Union was planning on assassinating the children of the Great Yong imperial household and important civil and military officials during the New Year. It was natural that after having attained his goal, Lu Jingzhong meticulously forged a detailed plan of assassination for the Embroidered Union. For a period of time, news of the elimination of the Embroidered Union and the thwarting of the Shu remnants’ conspiracy left the capital abuzz, adding some lustrous color right before the grand occasion of the New Year.
Setting aside first the reactions of all the various factions, I seized the opportunity to have Han Wuji offer shelter to the former acquaintance who had threatened him and dispatch an envoy from the main branch of the Embroidered Union. To the best of my knowledge, this envoy was a trusted confidant of the Head of the Embroidered Union, Huo Jicheng. Through him, I could establish a relationship with the Embroidered Union. From the information that I had collected, Huo Jicheng was the son of an important Shu minister. His natural disposition was cold-hearted and callous. He was abundantly resourceful. However, his temperament was somewhat arrogant, petty and narrow-minded. He lacked the talent for military tactics and strategies. Otherwise, the Embroidered Union would not have flourished in Great Yong, while experiencing only difficulties in Southern Chu. Originally, I had no intention of involving myself with matters relating to the Embroidered Union. However, Roulan was already my daughter. I really did not want her to one day risk her life and take vengeance. It was better for me to take care of matters.
Receiving the crown prince’s petition, Li Yuan was extremely happy. Although he had persisted in naming his eldest son as the heir apparent, Li An’s mediocrity had left him somewhat dissatisfied. This time, Li An had acted swiftly and unwaveringly, eliminating this malignant tumor. Li Yuan put down the petition and said to Prime Minister Wei Guan, “Beloved subject Wei, it seems that the Crown Prince is capable. It is merely that he previously had no opportunity to manifest it.”
Wei Guan bowed and responded, “Your Imperial Majesty speaks true.”
Li Yuan smiled and replied, “Beloved subject, there have been many ministers who have petitioned that the Crown Prince be allowed to follow us to perform sacrifices at the Imperial Ancestral Shrine together. What do you think?”
Wei Guan properly analyzed, “The Crown Prince has already been anointed as the heir apparent for several years and has received the Mandate of Heaven. For the sake of the empire, he should be allowed to sacrifice to the heavens and the earth with the Son of Heaven. This subject also thinks that it should be so. With the Prince of Yong was enfeoffed as the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies, the grace granted him already reached the extremes. Your Imperial Majesty should steady the Crown Prince’s position, preventing future turmoil.”
Li Yuan nodded his head and replied, “Your suggestion is quite appropriate. How about this? This time, have the Crown Prince substitute for us and go to the Imperial Ancestral Shrine to offer sacrifices. Then allow him to accept the customary deference of all of officialdom in the Hall of Magnificent Culture.2 Prepare an edict for us.”
When the Prince of Yong learned of this edict, his face was as heavy as lead. Without consulting with anyone, he walked towards the Cold Courtyard on the west side of his manor. Jiang Zhe disliked the Perched Phoenix Courtyard as being too luxurious. After taking a look through the entire outer residence, he selected the most remote courtyard. After putting everything in order, he moved in. Nearing the courtyard, Li Zhi could see the imperial bodyguards hidden in concealed positions. Satisfied, he nodded his head. He had intentionally ordered that the defenses here be reinforced. Walking through the entrance of the courtyard, Li Zhi could see that the courtyard—originally filled with weeds and a jumbled mess of vegetation—had already been quite elegantly tidied up. He nodded his head in satisfaction. This courtyard was originally a guest courtyard. However, because its position was remote, no one paid much attention to this courtyard aside from the two or three servants and maids and the guards patrolling at night. As a result, the courtyard gradually became neglected.
At some point, Jiang Zhe had a stroll throughout the outer residence. When he saw this courtyard, Supervisor Chang was initially extremely ashamed, intending to heavily criticize those servants attending to this courtyard, but was tactfully persuaded otherwise by Jiang Zhe. Jiang Zhe was fond of this courtyard’s tranquility and decided to move in. His temperament was calm and harmonious. As long as there weren’t too many people walking about, he would be content. Li Zhi was very attentive, specially asking Supervisor Chang to learn Jiang Zhe’s preferences from Li Shun, so as to allow Jiang Zhe to reside here comfortably. Therefore, although Li Zhi was anxious, when he saw these elegant surroundings and the well-trained servants, he smiled slightly.
Entering the building where Jiang Zhe spent his everyday life, Li Zhi caught sight of Jiang Zhe presently sitting before a chessboard considering a scenario. Jiang Zhe had a leisurely temperament. This quite spacious room was laid out with a living room at the front and sleeping quarters in the back. In between was a folding screen that served as a partition. One could barely discern an elegant and pure bed and curtains. The small front living room wasn’t too big, but it was fully furnished, including a chess platform, a zither platform, a couch, bookshelves, and a desk. It was extremely cozy and stylish, evoking a dense scholarly taste.
Seeing Li Zhi enter, my opponent, Xiaoshunzi, stood and bowed in greeting. I was still racking my brains thinking about my next move. Alas, I was the one who taught him how to play weiqi, but now when I played him, I would lose more than I won. At this moment, I heard Xiaoshunzi announce, “Young master, His Imperial Highness has come.”
I raised my head and saw Li Zhi’s countenance filled with worry. Surprised, I inquired, “Your Imperial Highness, what has happened?”
Li Zhi sat opposite me and in a pained voice responded, “Imperial Father has issued a decree. This year, the Crown Prince will substitute for the Emperor and offer sacrifices at the Imperial Ancestral Shrine. If this happens, the Crown Prince’s position as heir will be stabilized. Sir, tell me what should this Prince do about this? Alas … Sir, the Crown Prince eradicated the Embroidered Union’s strength in Chang’an. It would have been great if we had been able to take action sooner.”
I smiled and replied, “Has Your Imperial Highness forgotten? Our original plan was to lay low. Now that the Crown Prince’s position as heir has been stabilized, this will allow him to become pleased with himself, whetting his desire. Since this has happened, isn’t this for the best? Your Imperial Highness need not worry. After the New Year, Shi Yu will be dispatched to escort the heir to Youzhou. This way, the Emperor and everyone else will all be under the impression that Your Imperial Highness is preparing an escape route. In this way, the Crown Prince will feel free to coerce Your Imperial Highness, while the Emperor will consider Your Imperial Highness’s meritorious service and begin to protect Your Imperial Highness. If this happens then Your Imperial Highness will be safe and secure. As a result, the Crown Prince’s patience and fortitude will decrease so much so that resentment and loathing will be generated towards the Emperor.”
Li Zhi was an intelligent person. He immediately understood and said, “So these were already within Sir’s grasp. This Prince actually was excessively anxious. Sir, has the person you mentioned already been appropriately arranged?”
I softly reminded, “Your Imperial Highness please remember, we have never arranged any one. Your Imperial Highness is a vassal, while the Crown Prince is a liege. How can a vassal arrange to plant someone beside the Crown Prince?”
Li Zhi knowingly smiled and asked, “Sir, in the New Year, Imperial Father will certainly host a banquet with all of officialdom. Sir is already a major in the household of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies, a fourth-rated official. You have the rank to be granted an audience with the Emperor. In addition, Imperial Father has mentioned meeting you. I wonder what Sir thinks.”
I was originally disinterested. However, I wanted to take the opportunity to meet the crown prince and all the officials. As far as I was concerned, this was extremely useful. As such, I nodded my head and replied, “This subject also wishes to meet the outstanding talents of the court.”
Within a secret chamber in the manor inside the city were two middle-aged men with gloomy complexions. One was seated, while the other was lying down. The looks on their faces were filled with anxiety and melancholy. The seated middle-aged man looked at the dim light of the oil lamp. Suddenly, he spoke, “Boss Gong, is that friend of yours trustworthy?”
The middle-aged man lying down smiled and replied, “Leader Liu, you can be at ease. The one surnamed Han was formerly a secret operative within the army. He was an assassin who treated human life as grass.3 Although I am unaware of how he got rich, you can see that he has not disclosed our presence. Without this secret chamber, we would have entered Great Yong’s dungeons long ago.”
The seated middle-aged man heaved a sigh and said, “Be that as it may … look at our current situation. We are in a precarious state, while he is a rich person. I cannot be at ease with his enthusiasm.”
Just as Boss Gong was about to retort, the door to the secret chamber opened. A clear and bright voice could be heard to say, “Commander Liu, your suspicions are really not small. I am now rich. If it weren’t from consideration that we are subjects of the Kingdom of Shu, who would bother to worry about your business? You must know that if my master knew of this, then even if I wouldn’t die, I would still lose a layer of skin.”
“It was a slip of little brother’s tongue. I apologize,” said Commander Liu as he promptly rose to his feet before he asked, “I wonder which person is Brother Han’s superior?”
Han Wuji smiled and stated, “This isn’t a secret. I am currently the Chief Manager of the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets. Our pavilion master does not have any pleasures aside from gold, silver, and other valuables. Therefore, regardless of location, regardless of who, as long as there is money to be made, there will be other influences.”
Commander Liu’s eyes lit up as he replied, “So it is the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets. Who doesn’t know that the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets is a latent power in Southern Chu? Of Southern Chu’s major merchants, out of ten, three or four are members of the Heavenly Secrets Trade Association. Surprisingly, Brother Han has such a respectable position in the pavilion. Quite admirable.”
Han Wuji indifferently stated, “There’s nothing to it. To tell you the truth, the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets is difficult to fully comprehend. Although I am the Chief Manager, in reality I am only someone who appears personally to handle affairs. The real power and authority aren’t in my hands. Aside from matters relating to money, little brother can make few decisions. In fact, little brother is of mind to do business with your noble union.”
Commander Liu’s expression jumped as he asked, “Brother Han please speak. So long as it is of benefit to our Embroidered Union, once little brother goes back, I will facilitate it at all costs.”
Han Wuji’s expression became somewhat furtive, as he considered. “Your noble union wishes to rebel. It probably urgently requires weapons and provisions. If little brother can help, what do you say?”
Commander Liu was greatly surprised as he exclaimed, “What? Can you really help? If so, our union head will certainly give his profound thanks. In the future, if we are successful, there will be benefits for brother Han.”
Han Wuji smiled and replied, “You must know of the strength that our Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets has in Southern Chu. Recently, those Southern Chu ministers have already determined that the third prince, Zhao Long, will become King. At the beginning of next year, he will ascend to the throne. At present, Southern Chu has a thousand things it needs to do.4 The Yong army wreaked havoc for almost half a year and also plundered Jianye. To speak something unpleasant to hear, the Southern Chu treasury has been emptied, while they have also lost much military equipment and supplies. They are incapable of replenishing these losses. However, Southern Chu is a land of milk and honey5 after all. This year’s foodstuff production is still fairly good. At present, Southern Chu is short of money. Great Yong prevailed and acquired plentiful spoils of war. However, Great Yong has suffered a drought and is short of food supplies. If you are courageous enough and make the right connections, you could steal and resell Great Yong’s military equipment and horses to Southern Chu, exchanging them for foodstuffs and cotton, and bring them back to Great Yong. Not only can we satisfy your own needs, you can also make a killing.”
Commander Liu’s frowned and stated, “I fear that this won’t be that easy. At present, we just suffered losses in Great Yong. I’m afraid that we don’t have the ability.”
Han Wuji smiled understandingly. “Who doesn’t know that the Crown Prince’s actions are directed for the Prince of Yong? This business deal will result in tenfold to twentyfold profits. You only need to dispatch someone to the Crown Prince, saying that they are willing to pledge allegiance to the Crown Prince, begging him to let you off. As long as the Crown Prince doesn’t pursue the matter, no one will continue to pay attention to you. At present, the Ministry of Revenue is in the hands of the Crown Prince. You can say that Great Yong’s military logistics are controlled by the Crown Prince. So long as the Crown Prince approves, this business will be extremely easy. After a few days have passed, after the Crown Prince has tampered with the Ministry of Revenue, wouldn’t these missing items be made up for? When the time comes, over a million shiningly white taels of silver will enter the Crown Prince’s pocket. Why would he be dissatisfied?”
Still frowning, Commander Liu replied, “Great Yong is already his. Would he really attach such importance to this amount of money?”
Han Wuji sneered, “Who doesn’t know that right now, the Crown Prince is being watched above by the Emperor and is eyed covetously below by the Prince of Yong? You shouldn’t consider his identity as respectable. I’m afraid that his enjoyment and pleasure cannot even match us merchants. Moreover, don’t tell me that he doesn’t want to raise and maintain some fearless soldiers and advisers. He has many places where he needs to spend money. To tell the truth, we have plenty of methods in Southern Chu. However, in Great Yong, we will have to rely upon you. Don’t conceal anything from me … this time, although some ministers were implicated, the Crown Prince was not vicious. Your real patron is unscathed.”6
“You wait. I will go back and discuss this with the union head. Although my position is not high, the union head trusts me,” said Commander Liu, firmly nodding his head before asking, “However, how will I find you?”
“I will provide you with a way to contact me,” answered Han Wuji. “My master only wishes to get rich and doesn’t care about any affairs of state. As long as you do not harm our interests, everything can be easily dealt with regardless of whether you’re plotting rebellion or restoring the kingdom.”
Commander Liu said, “Brother Han be at ease. We are not foolish. Who doesn’t love gold, silver, and other valuables? What’s more, once this method is connected, it will be of great benefit to us.”
The two exchanged glances and laughed, the sound repressed and furtive.
Within the Cold Courtyard of the residence of the Prince of Yong, I was lying down on the soft couch, looking at the scroll in my hand. Because I felt the manor’s classified study was too restrictive, I lately only spent half a day there. Afterwards, I would plan and strategize within the Cold Courtyard. Watching me think, Xiaoshunzi suddenly asked, “Young master, is it okay to let the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets get involved?”
Hearing his questioning, I casually replied, “There was no other way. In the future, this matter will most assuredly have problems arise. If someone from the Prince of Yong’s household were to take part, not only would it not be able to fool the Crown Prince’s spies, it would also invite disaster. Do you think that the Prince of Yong would allow military equipment to be stolen and sold off?”
Worried, Xiaoshunzi asked, “The Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets will get in touch with Southern Chu merchants, while the Embroidered Union will contact Great Yong’s Crown Prince, and afterwards smuggle foodstuffs and military equipment. After this, the pavilion will likely be unable to appear. Moreover, young master’s relationship with the pavilion will not be able to be concealed from the Prince of Yong. Would the young master’s cousin be implicated?”
I smiled lightly and said, “What are you afraid of? Nominally, the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets will sell off all of the shares that it owns before mishap occurs. I have already had them set it all up, separately dividing the shares to be received by the members of the Secret Camp. Before our contract expires, the profits will continue to be mine. When the contract expires, these properties will be theirs. In this way, I can fulfill the promises that I had made at the time. In any case, the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets was originally only a tool to make money. After this, all of my properties, minus the part distributed to the disciples of the Secret Camp, will be in the millions. At that point, the pavilion will not have a further reason to exist.”
“It is young master that is brilliant,” said Xiaoshunzi with a smile before stating his worries, “But it is unlikely to be able to conceal the smuggling foodstuffs and military equipment from the Prince of Yong.”
I indifferently replied, “When the Prince of Yong discovers this, I will have him endure silently. Without this leverage, how will we be able to depose the Crown Prince?”
Sitting up, I pushed open the window, looking out at the pitch-black sky. I coldly stated, “The strategies that I, Jiang Zhe, employ rely upon the sinister nature of the human heart. If the Crown Prince did not have any selfish motives and was wholeheartedly serving the state, then this stratagem of mine would not work. Xiaoshunzi, you must remember: once a person has been blanketed, it’s not that they can’t be splashed by the water, but rather that their intentions are impure. If the Crown Prince is really worthy and virtuous, possessing the bearing of a sovereign, then my plan would be virtually useless. If he were to consequently lose the throne, it is not because I had been vicious, but rather that he did not have the good fortune and magnanimity to become the Son of Heaven.”
说来话长, shuolaihuachang – idiom, lit. start explaining and it’s a long story; complicated and not easy to express succinctly
文华殿, wenhua dian – the Hall of Magnificent Culture
杀人如麻, sharenruma – idiom, lit. to kill people like scything flax; human life as grass
百废待兴, baifeidaixing – idiom, lit. many things waiting to be done; a thousand things to do
鱼米之乡, yumizhixiang – idiom, lit. land of fish and rice; fig. fertile region, land of milk and honey
安然无恙, anranwuyang – idiom, lit. safe and sound; to come out unscathed