On the fourteenth day of the ninth month of the twenty-fifth year of Wuwei, the Emperor issued an edict to hold the Autumn Hunt. With this, the rebellion began …
—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of Gaozu
With a look of high esteem, Jiang Haitao gazed at Jiang Zhe. Although still young, he knew full well this man’s value. Over these days, he had been recuperating in the guest courtyard. The Princess of Yong would frequently stop by to see him. She inevitably would speak of some things to him. Jiang Haitao was most curious about this sickly youth who seemed liable to die at any moment. Clearly, this scholar was on the verge of dying and yet he still did his utmost to save Jiang Haitao’s life. Moreover, apparently his uncle, the Prince of Yong, listened closely to his advice. As a result, Jiang Haitao had used the need to personally express his thanks as justification to enter the Cold Courtyard. Upon entering the Cold Courtyard, Jiang Haitao could immediately tell that the Prince of Yong valued this Jiang daren extremely highly. The defenses around the Cold Courtyard were strict and tight, likely even surpassing the defenses around the Prince of Yong himself.
With a faint smile, I gazed upon this youngster. He was still young and carried a childish innocence about him. I could immediately see through his intent from his pair of clear eyes. I could not help but have a favorable impression of this kind of lively youngster. However, at the same time, I also became suspicious. As the son of the Marquis of the Eastern Sea, how could he have such limpid eyes? After thinking it over, I skillfully inquired, “The Little Marquis is a tiger cub of a martial family. Presumably, you are adept at naval warfare. Have you come today to borrow the copy of Illustrated Treatise of the Seas in my collection?”
This question I posed was quite clever. To an ordinary individual, the Illustrated Treatise of the Seas was nothing more than an abstruse and difficult to understand, useless book. However, to the Jiang family, skilled at naval warfare and shipbuilding, it was absolutely priceless. This book had originally been lost. Prior to coming in first in the imperial examinations and becoming the zhuangyuan, I had accidentally chanced upon a fragment of the book. As far as I was concerned, this kind of rare book was priceless beyond measure. After I had entered Southern Chu’s Hanlin Academy, I had searched the academy’s extensive1 book collection and was able to collect some fragmentary records. Using my erudition and extensive knowledge as a basis, I fully repaired and completed the fragment. When I had presented this book to the Southern Chu court, no one paid it any particular attention, only delivering it to the Palace of Sublime Culture. Originally, this book, akin to buried treasure, would never have seen the light of day again. However, when Great Yong and Southern Chu were negotiating peace, the Prince of Yong included a demand for Southern Chu to present a portion of its collection of books and records. As a result, this book, the Illustrated Treatise of the Seas, returned to my hands. I had deep feelings of attachment to this book. As a result, I had deliberately kept it with me.
I did not know how, but news of the Prince of Yong’s possession of a solitary extant copy of this book spread like wildfire.2 In addition, news that the Prince of Yong had bestowed this book to me was also known. There were many learned and experienced individuals in Great Yong. As a result, there were many who visited to seek a look at this book. However, as I did not accept outside visitors, their wishes were unable to be fulfilled.
Today, this question that I was posing to Jiang Haitao was actually quite profound. If that man who fled to the Eastern Seas and proclaimed himself the Marquis of the Eastern Seas truly was as adept at naval warfare and farsighted as the intelligence reports proclaimed, then the existence of the Illustrated Treatise of the Seas would definitely catch his attention. If Little Marquis Jiang knew of this book, then Jiang Yong regarded this beloved son of his with great importance. If that was the case, then the expressions being revealed by this youth were fake. If he did not know a thing about this book, other than undeserving of training, it meant that Jiang Yong had deliberately indulged and pampered this son of his. However, I had seen that this child was sincere and innocent, possessing top-quality aptitude, a diamond in the rough.3 I would find it very difficult to believe either of those reasons.
Jiang Haitao sprang to his feet in excitement, exclaiming, “The Illustrated Treatise of the Seas! I have heard Daddy speak of it many times. Daddy even lamented that he could not take a look with his own eyes. Are you truly willing to lend it to me?” His expressions were impassioned, containing the gazes of a youth seeing an object that he loved. This caused him to appear to be even more open and candid.4
I was now full of curiosity. What kind of person was this little marquis? Thus, I commanded, “Dong Que, bring over that copy of the Illustrated Treatise of the Seas.”
After a short while had passed, the Illustrated Treatise of the Seas that I had compiled and edited was brought over. Before handing it to Jiang Haitao, I smiled and stated, “However, I can’t lend it to you for nothing. Every section that you finish reading, I will ask you some questions. If your answers are acceptable, I will allow you to continue reading. If you can’t answer my questions, then I won’t let you continue to read.”
Composed, Jiang Haitao replied, “Although Haitao is young, I have followed Father for years. Although there are some things that I am not clear about, I do know a little about them. As long as Jiang daren’s questions aren’t too difficult, Haitao is confident that I will be able to answer.”
“I naturally won’t make things deliberately difficult for you,” I confirmed, smiling slightly. So speaking, I gestured for Dong Que to take the book out of its box and place it on the desk. Jiang Haitao knew he could not personally flip through the pages of this kind of precious book. Excited and filled with expectation, he moved a chair over to the desk, while Dong Que stood at his side, turning the pages for him.
After he had finished reading a section, I asked him a few questions. As expected, he was ready with his answers.4 Although some of his answers were superficial, it was already quite outstanding for someone of his young age. What left me greatly astonished, however, was that he had his own understanding and views about several sections. During the compilation and editing process, I ran into a significant amount of areas where information was lacking. Even though I was able to add information about maritime affairs from other sources, there were several sections that I was unsure about. As a result, I had marked those sections clearly, identifying the source of the information, as well as including my own understanding and judgment. I deliberately questioned him about these sections. Several of his answers were far more accurate compared to my determinations. Over the next few days, we would discuss these sections daily, feeling boundless joy.
Ultimately, not only did I learn that Jiang Haitao was naturally suited as being a naval commander, I also arrived at another conclusion. Aside from maritime affairs, he was a straightforward individual with virtually no other interests. If assigned to explore or fight on the seas, he would be an extremely capable commander. However, regarding other matters, there was no point in counting on him. Presumably, Jiang Yong was both gratified and vexed at his son’s interests. Smiling slightly, I wrote a short note and had Dong Que collect it, which he did so in an exasperatingly slow fashion. Over these last few days, I had written several notes that I had him collect. However, Dong Que was extremely intelligent, not peeking at a single note or asking me my intentions.
This day, I was within the garden, appreciating the beauty of the blooming chrysanthemums. The Prince of Yong walked towards and faced me. In a gloomy voice, Li Zhi said, “Suiyun, things could happen at any moment.”
I smiled faintly and replied, “Your Imperial Highness, please explain.”
“Imperial Father has announced that the day after tomorrow, the court will proceed to the Hunting Palace to hold the Autumn Hunt,” answered Li Zhi. “All of the imperial kinsmen in the capital are to attend. The Prince of Qi has submitted a petition begging off due to illness, however, Imperial Father has demanded that he take the journey even if he is ill.”
I pensively observed, “It seems like the Emperor is also being very careful. I wonder why the Emperor is holding the Autumn Hunt now.”
Sighing, Li Zhi revealed, “These last few days, many seemingly inconsequential events have occurred. It truly is difficult to explain in a few words … This Prince originally believed that there was no need to bother Suiyun … but now, looking back, I do have to trouble you.”
“For Your Imperial Highness to treat Zhe so affectionately,” I replied properly, “If Zhe cannot help Your Imperial Highness at the critical moments, then wouldn’t I be letting down Your Imperial Highness’s great kindness? Your Imperial Highness, please speak forthrightly.”
Sighing again, Li Zhi explained what had happened these last few days. Since I fell ill on the third day of the ninth month, while I was recuperating, the Prince of Qi only made small moves without end. However, as a military expert, the Prince of Yong soon discovered that the sole objective of the Prince of Qi’s troops was to lay in ambush.
Today, Li Yuan had issued an edict to hold the Autumn Hunt. The accompanying Imperial Guard numbered twenty thousand and would be commanded by Grand General Qin Yi. Of these numbers, ten thousand were from the Eastern Barracks, commanded by Qin Qing and assisted by Huang Sha and Sun Ding. Both of these assistant commanders each led five thousand imperial guardsmen. Of the rest, five thousand guardsmen from the Southern Barracks were commanded by Yang Qian, assisted by Huyan Jiu; and five thousand guardsmen from the Northern Barracks, commanded by Pei Yun and assisted by Xiahou Yuanfeng. The crown prince, the Prince of Yong, and the Prince of Qi were required to accompany the procession. In addition to this, Empress Dou, Noble Consort Ji, Noble Consort Zhangsun, Noble Consort Yan, Princess Changle, Li Zhen, and the Princess of Jingjiang, Li Hanyou, all accompanied the emperor. Left behind to defend the capital were Prime Minister Wei Guan and the recovered Palace Attendant Zheng Xia. Responsibility for the capital’s security was left to the Commander of the Western Barracks of the Imperial Guard, Tan Yi. In addition, the number of court ministers accompanying the imperial procession were innumerable. Of those deserving of my attention were the Duke of Wei, Cheng Shu, the Princess of Qi’s father, Attendant Gentleman of the Imperial Secretariat Qin Wuqi, the newly appointed to the Imperial Secretariat, Wei Ying, and the Crown Prince’s Junior Mentor, Lu Jingzhong.
And there was more … The emperor’s edict only permitted the Princes of Yong and Qi to bring a hundred household guards with them, and also declared that during the Autumn Hunt, everything would adhere to military discipline with the Grand General Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Qin Yi, as the commander-in-chief. It seemed like the emperor understood clearly the tense circumstances.
After the Prince of Qi had failed in his attempt to be excused from the Autumn Hunt, his army ceased to make movements. However, the Prince of Yong believed that the army could force march a hundred li in one night without problems and could ambush the emperor as he returned to Chang’an. In addition, the reasons given by the Prince of Qi for mobilizing and moving his troops were actually quite ample. Of course, the Prince of Yong had also made his own preparations, ready to check the Prince of Qi’s forces at a moment’s notice. However, if this were to happen, then it would lead to all-out civil war.
However, the Prince of Yong and his subordinate commanders were confused as to why had the Prince of Qi had agreed to accompany the emperor and take part in the Autumn Hunt. With him not present, there was no one else that could command his army to attack the emperor.
Looking at the intelligence reports in my hands, I could not help but frown. The occurrence of such a result was within my expectations. Just yesterday, the Prince of Yong had sent a secret letter to Grand General Qin, explaining Li Hanyou’s suspicious history. Although there was no clear evidence, it was obvious that Li Hanyou was separated from childhood from her parents before being discovered by the Fengyi Sect Master and delivered to the Prince of Jingjiang’s household. At the very least, this information would raise Grand General Qin’s suspicions. There were some things that one would rather believe existed than not. I had already learned the result. Once the letter reached the grand general’s household, Cheng Shu was invited over. Afterwards, Qin Yong was also summoned. Although there was no way for me to know what was discussed, Qin Yong was dispatched to hurry to Grand General Qin’s army to take command. In reality, during the Autumn Hunt, the troops that Qin Yi could mobilize were those that Qin Yong now commanded. Originally, I had no hopes that they would believe the contents of the letter, only desiring that they make preparations. This result was already beyond my expectations.
In addition, just yesterday, the wife of Eastern Palace Reader-in-Waiting Shao Yan, Lady Huo, hung herself from the ceiling. Then, overnight, news broke of the crown prince raping the wife of a subject, causing the woman to commit suicide. Although it was only gossip on the streets, when compared with the crown prince’s previous conduct, practically everyone believed it to be true. Although the emperor had not yet learned of this scandal, it was impossible to keep it hidden once the Autumn Hunt concluded. As a result, if the crown prince could not force the emperor to abdicate during the Autumn Hunt, then i it would likely be extremely difficult to escape his fate of being deposed.
I sighed. Although the crown prince was being forced by me to rebel, why were the arrangements made by the Fengyi Sect so odd?
Initially, I had suspected that the Fengyi Sect would arrange for the Prince of Qi’s forces to break into the emperor’s temporary residence. After all, the crown prince and the Fengyi Sect could probably control at least a portion of the twenty thousand imperial guardsmen. In the face of a sudden attack from within and without,6 my plan was to allow Grand General Qin to discover signs beforehand and be given the opportunity to set a trap. Once the Prince of Qi’s troops arrived, with the appearance of both Grand General Qin and the Prince of Yong, there would be no way that the Prince of Qi could control the situation. Afterwards, with the cooperation of experts from all of the sects of jianghu, we would eradicate the Fengyi Sect in one fell swoop.
However, the current situation was very different from my predictions. The nearest troops under the Prince of Qi were more than two hundred li from the Hunting Palace, while Grand General Qin’s closest troops were within a hundred li. The Prince of Yong’s troops were also more than two hundred li away. If this was the case, I absolutely did not believe that the Fengyi Sect would be able to rebel successfully with just its sect master and disciples. Moreover, the Fengyi Sect Master was still at the Roosting Cloud Nunnery and had made no preparations to take part in the Autumn Hunt. In my predictions, the Fengyi Sect Master would accompany the emperor. With the current situation completely different, I was embarrassed and at a complete loss.7 How would the situation develop? As expected, the Fengyi Sect Master was truly out of the ordinary. The Prince of Qi’s forces were numerically inferior to the Prince of Yong’s. If the two armies were to fight, and without the presence of the Prince of Qi, then it would be impossible for the Prince of Qi’s army to win. At present, with the Imperial Guard controlled by Grand General Qin, it was impossible for an armed rebellion to become successful. If that was the case, what was the Fengyi Sect Master relying upon to rebel?
I could not compare to the Prince of Yong and his subordinate commanders when handling the military. After repeated discussions, we could not find a trace of how the crown prince would successfully rebel and force the emperor to abdicate. However, if the rebellion were doomed to fail, then they would absolutely not take such risks. Ultimately, I could only suggest for Zhangsun Ji to take command of a unit of the Prince of Yong’s troops and prepare to advance at a moment’s notice to stop the Prince of Qi’s army, while Jing Chi and Sima Xiong would accompany the imperial procession. Shi Yu and others would remain in the capital to oversee everything. Great Master True Compassion dispatched fifty experts from various sects to serve as the Prince of Yong’s guards, expressing that this was the shared intent from all of the major sects in jianghu. At the same time, he would personally take responsibility for keeping an eye on Fan Huiyao. In reality, for experts of their level, even if they were separated by several li, they could still detect each other’s presence. As a result, we were not worried that the Fengyi Sect Master would suddenly disappear. As for Xiaoshunzi and Dong Que, both of them were to accompany me. Although I had not fully recovered from my illness, the coming storm was too important to remain behind in Chang’an. How could I not go?
Although we could only wait and see how the situation would develop, I still had Xiaoshunzi transmit my order. The entire Secret Camp was mobilized, ready to respond to any changes at any moment. I was not worried about this. They were all experts who could respond readily to any situation. Moreover, I gave the Prince of Yong’s household command pendants, allowing them to move as they pleased.
Firmly clenching my fists, I reminded myself that I needed to believe in myself. Even if the situation were to suddenly change, I would be able to remedy the situation or turn the tide.8 Moreover, I could not identify any flaws in the arrangements that the Prince of Yong and I had made.
Within the Roosting Clouds Nunnery, Fan Huiyao stood with her hands behind her back under the moon. Behind her, standing on both sides, were her trusted disciples—Wen Ziyan, Xiao Lan, Feng Feifei, Xie Xiaotong, Yan Wushuang, and Li Hanyou. Aside from the insane Liang Wan, the wounded Ling Yu, and Qin Zheng accompanying the imperial procession, everyone else was present. Behind these disciples stood a hundred swordswomen. All of them wore snow-white clothing. These women were the core force that the Fengyi Sect Master had painstakingly trained, all of them adopted by the Fengyi Sect Master at a young age. The Moon Heart Sutra that they trained in was missing a key component, leading them to become emotionless and desireless, their hearts as cold as ice. In their eyes, there were only loyalty and slaughter.
It was a good while before the Fengyi Sect Master spoke in a neutral voice, “The Autumn Hunt is when we will act. This operation must be successful, otherwise my Fengyi Sect will be consigned to eternal damnation.”
Wen Ziyan callously replied, “Master, do not worry. All of the proper arrangements have been made. If we still do not succeed, then it will be because destiny was against us.”
“I have never believed in destiny,” expressed Fan Huiyao grimly. “Ziyan, remember, although I cannot participate personally, all of you have to work together sincerely. Hanyou and Xiaotong, you two will be responsible for the Emperor. When the time comes, Qin Zheng will listen to your orders. Xiao Lan and Feifei, you must cooperate with the Crown Prince to suppress and eradicate all those who oppose him. Ziyan and Wushuang, you two will be responsible for besieging and annihilating the Prince of Yong’s faction. This seat still has to take care of that meddling busybody, True Compassion, and cannot go with you.”
Everyone kneeled with one knee on the ground, proclaiming, “Disciples obey.”
Fan Huiyao did not indicate for them to rise, continuing, “There is someone else who will cooperate with you. He is an honorary disciple that this seat took.”
When she finished speaking, a man walked out from a room within. When the gaze of Ziyan and others fell upon his uncovered mask, all of them revealed looks of astonishment.
Fan Huiyao distantly stated, “He is a Protector of the Fengyi Sect. This time, you must listen to his suggestions.”
Wen Ziyan and the others swiftly understood something that they had been puzzled about for some time. However, they did not express this understanding, only showing their respectful and solemn agreement.
Gazing out upon the vast and indistinct landscape veiled by the night, Fan Huiyao spoke again, “No matter how the Prince of Yong and his subordinates try to guess, they will not be able to anticipate this seat’s arrangements. Humph! Do they really think that this seat does not know of their desire to compel the Crown Prince to rebel? Only the Crown Prince and Lu Jingzhong would believe that the Emperor is preparing to depose the Crown Prince. How can they forget that this seat has had dealings with Li Yuan for so long? I understand Li Yuan’s personality. Although he already has the intent to depose the Crown Prince, he has yet to come to the final decision. However, this will be fine. If Li Yuan wavers, it will undeniably be detrimental to our interests. Further, even if the Crown Prince is successful in his rebellion, there will be no end to the troubles. In the future, he will be forced to rely even more heavily upon our sect. All of you, listen up … after this operation succeeds, our Fengyi Sect will be the behind-the-scenes master of Great Yong. Therefore, all of you must do your utmost.”
Wild ambition welled up in the eyes of Wen Ziyan and others. As women, they were about to complete an undertaking that no one else had been able to accomplish. Was there anything else that could fill them with more pride and arrogance?
Within the Prince of Qi’s residence, behind multiple layers of screens, Li Xian languidly laid on a soft couch. His expression was completely aloof and detached. Uneasy, Qin Zheng walked over, holding a bowl of ginseng soup. She stated, “Your Imperial Highness, please take some ginseng. Tomorrow, you will set out to take part in the Autumn Hunt. It is best if you turn in early.”
Li Xian gazed at Qin Zheng. With a smile of ridicule, he replied, “Good! Princess of Qi, you are truly formidable. With one bowl of medication, you leave me without the strength to even truss a chicken. It seems that you are truly loyal and devoted to your sect and have forgotten the Confucian moral injunctions for women.”9
Shedding tears, Qin Zheng cried, “Your Imperial Highness, your servant is truly acting for your benefit. Before, although your servant approached Your Imperial Highness under orders, your servant has always treated Your Imperial Highness with wholehearted sincerity. However, I cannot rebel against my master. Moreover, she is correct. If the Crown Prince were to ascend to the throne, then Your Imperial Highness would be able to reach the highest position in court. Your servant and our child will be safe and sound. If the Prince of Yong were to ascend to the throne, not only would the lives of your servant and our child be in danger, even Your Imperial Highness would be harmed by the Prince of Yong sooner rather than later. If not for Your Imperial Highness’s sake, your servant would never harm you.”
Li Xian laughed agonizingly. “Am I really so duplicitous? Although I am scolding you, I also hope that you succeed, otherwise, our entire family will truly journey together to the underworld.”
Moved, Qin Zheng murmured, “That won’t happen, that won’t happen. We will definitely succeed. Master definitely will not fail.”
Li Xian sighed. Would it really be so easy? He suddenly recalled that thin, weak, and scholarly face.
It was impossible to know how many found it difficult to sleep on this night.
浩如烟海, haoruyanhai – idiom, lit. vast as the open sea; fig. extensive (library)
不胫而走, bujing’erzou – idiom, lit. to get around quickly even though it doesn’t have legs; to spread like wildfire
浑金璞玉, hunjinpuyu – idiom, lit. unrefined gold and unpolished jade; fig. a diamond in the rough
胸无城府, xiongwuchengfu – idiom, lit. having nothing hidden within the bosom; fig. open and candid
对答如流, duidaruliu – idiom, lit. able to reply quickly and fluently; having a ready answer
里应外合, liyingwaihe – idiom, lit. to act in concert within and without; fig. to act together
不知所措, buzhisuocuo – idiom, lit. not knowing where one had gone wrong; fig. embarrassed and at a complete loss
力挽狂澜, liwankuanglan – idiom, lit. to pull strongly against a violent tide; fig. to try hard to save a desperate crisis
三从四德, sancongside – the Confucian moral injunctions are namely: to obey in turn, three men: father, husband, and son, and adhere by the four virtues of morality (德), charm (容), courtesy in speech (言), and proficiency in needlework (功)