Volume 3, Chapter 26: Escaping the Hunting Palace

At the time, Taizong feigned an attack to the east before turning to the southwest. He was only fortunately able to escape with support from Pei Yun. The rebel army pursued him for a hundred li. On several occasions, Taizong was almost surrounded, only escaping with the protection and sacrifices of his subordinates …

—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of Taizong

Just before the Prince of Yong had broken out of the encirclement, Commander Pei Yun of the Northern Barracks of the Imperial Guard ran into an unprecedented crisis. While he was surrounded by layers of his fellow soldiers, he could only meet this enemy by himself.

With a light sigh, Pei Yun tore a piece off of his battle gown, binding the wound on his shoulder. Facing him was a graceful and handsome youth with a face like jade—Xiahou Yuanfeng. This youth was smiling as he faced Pei Yun. At Xiahou Yuanfeng’s side were four of the Fengyi Sect’s swordswomen. One of the swordswomen’s swords was covered with blood.

Surrounding these six individuals were Xiahou Yuanfeng’s subordinate imperial guardsmen. Beyond them, surrounding them were the imperial guardsmen loyal to Pei Yun. At this moment, the two sides were at an impasse. As a result, Xiahou Yuanfeng did not dare to excessively compel Pei Yun, otherwise the enraged imperial guardsmen loyal to Pei Yun would grind their bodies into pulp. At the same time, Pei Yun did not dare to order his subordinates to attack, as he would likely lose his life before they could break through.

Xiahou Yuanfeng smiled and stated, “Why is General Pei so obstinate? You were originally a subordinate of the Prince of Qi. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, is a supporter of His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince. How can the small kindnesses from the Prince of Yong match His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi’s heartfelt affection? If General is willing to pull back at the precipice, this subordinate can guarantee His Imperial Highnesses, the Crown Prince and the Prince of Qi, won’t make things difficult for you.”

Pei Yun smiled callously and replied, “This general is a military officer of Great Yong and do not accept indiscriminate orders. I do not believe that the Emperor would issue an edict to put the Prince of Yong to death. As such, there is no need for you, Xiahou Yuanfeng, to waste your words. Who doesn’t know that you and the Fengyi Sect are both members of the Crown Prince’s faction? The Crown Prince wishes to rebel, probably because he is worried that he would be deposed by the Emperor because of his notoriety.”

Two of the swordswomen suddenly twirled their swords, streaking through the air. Pei Yun’s figure twisted, dodging the blade edges. The two other swordswomen also attacked. The saber in Pei Yun’s hand formed an impenetrable defense. The five of them fought, the four swordswomen surrounding Pei Yun. Taking this opportunity, Xiahou Yuanfeng also pounced towards Pei Yun. The dazzling glint of steel was incomparably beautiful. The swords in the hands of the four swordswomen struck once again. Pei Yun’s martial arts were on par with Xiahou Yuanfeng’s. Facing five attacks, he was overwhelmed. At this moment, the imperial guardsmen nearby suddenly cried out. A wry smile appeared on Xiahou Yuanfeng’s face and he could only slow his offensive, allowing Pei Yun to just barely hold on.

Just at this moment, an azure figure penetrated through the encirclement, speeding by. Xiahou Yuanfeng felt as if a falcon or a wolf was targeting his rear. Hurriedly, he tried to turn his body sideways and fall back. A gust of wind created by a palm strike slammed into his back. Xiahou Yuanfeng was powerless to fight back, while the azure figure had already charged into the center of the four women’s sword formation. Pei Yun felt a yin-principled palm send him out of the formation. At this moment, the four swordswomen simultaneously let out a soft cry, striking with their swords, absolutely unrestrained as they attacked that azure-clothed individual. The azure figure flickered, his empty hands completely suppressing the four swordswomen’s ferocious and enchanting attacks. In less than ten exchanges, the azure-clothed man’s figure tore through the air. It was a feast for the eyes.1 Afterwards, four blood-curdling screams could be heard. The four swordswomen had been struck at their vital points, falling to the ground and dying. However, the four swordswomen’s crazed attacks also left their marks upon the azure-clothed individual’s body. The hems of his robes had been slashed into pieces.

Xiaoshunzi frowned, looking down at the dead swordswomen. Their attacks were crazed and ferocious. If several of them acted together, their might would be greater than Li Hanyou and company. It seemed like these women were the Fengyi Sect Master’s trump card. Xiaoshunzi’s gaze fell upon Xiahou Yuanfeng, killing intent concentrating.

Xiahou Yuanfeng shivered. By this point, his internal energy had already been restored. He promptly stated, “Fine,” before he charged outwards.

As Xiaoshunzi was about to raise his fists and follow, Pei Yun had already shouted out, “Lord Li! Now is not the time! It is more important to save His Imperial Highness!”

Not saying a word, Xiaoshunzi frowned again. Pei Yun did not make a move to stop him. The Imperial Guard and Imperial Palace Guard under Xiahou Yuanfeng’s command were all martial art experts. There was no need to make their move here. If they were entangled, they would likely be too late to save the Prince of Yong. Pei Yun was extremely clear. If that side had not already made their move on the Prince of Yong, there was no way that Xiahou Yuanfeng would not have acted against him. Moreover, hadn’t Xiaoshunzi arrived to ask for help? Was there any other reason?

Xiaoshunzi then immediately informed Pei Yun, “Wei Ying is a part of the Crown Prince’s faction and issued a fake edict. His Imperial Highness wishes to break the encirclement and wants you to go provide support.”

Pei Yun immediately issued the order to depart. He was highly knowledgeable about the terrain of the Hunting Palace. Combined with Xiaoshunzi’s guidance, it wasn’t long before they were able to catch sight of the raging bonfire and the sounds of battle. Pei Yun looked behind him. Earlier, Commander Huang of the Eastern Barracks had delivered the deployment map that scattered the four thousand imperial guardsmen supporting Pei Yun around the western side of the Hunting Palace, while concentrating the thousand imperial guardsmen supporting Xiahou Yuanfeng. Although Pei Yun had misgivings, he did not foresee that a full-scale revolt would actually happen. As a result, even though he had issued the order to mobilize, there were only a little over two thousand imperial guardsmen following him to go protect the Prince of Yong. Would they be able to help the Prince of Yong break out of the encirclement with such few troops? Pei Yun was deeply worried.

Pei Yun and Xiaoshunzi arrived at the corner gate located at the southwest of the Hunting Palace just when the Prince of Yong’s advance had been blocked by the outermost defensive line of imperial guardsmen. The imperial guards here had been directly under the command of Grand General Qin and were commanded by Vice Commander Sun Ding of the Eastern Barracks. Sun Ding did not have any ties with the Fengyi Sect. However, as he was deploying his troops earlier, one of Qin Qing’s personal guards had come with Qin Qing’s command tally to issue strict orders. Regardless of the night’s events, not a single soldier was permitted to leave from this direction. As a result, although they were half believing the shouts from the Prince of Yong’s soldiers that the crown prince was rebelling, since the Prince of Yong did not have an imperial command or Grand General Qin’s command, the imperial guardsmen positioned here could absolutely not permit the Prince of Yong to leave from here. The two sides began to argue vehemently before fighting erupted. However, the situation was at an impasse.

The Prince of Yong only had slightly over a hundred cavalry with him. No matter how formidable they were, there was no way for them to break through the defensive line that the turncoat Imperial Guard had established. Just as the skirmish reached its climax, the figure of Wen Ziyan and company, chasing after the Prince of Yong, appeared.

Pei Yun did not have time to care that he was outnumbered. In a loud voice, he shouted, “Your Imperial Highness, this general, Pei Yun, has come to escort you!”

A look of relief flashed across the Prince of Yong’s grave and stern face. Without Pei Yun’s imperial guardsmen, it would likely be nigh impossible for him to escape from the Hunting Palace. He roared back loudly, “Pei Yun! Cut open a path for this Prince!”

Accepting the order, Pei Yun signaled with his hand. Numerous imperial guardsmen surrounded and protected the Prince of Yong and his household guard, charging towards the palace gate.

Seeing Pei Yun, Wen Ziyan immediately knew that the situation was dire. She repeatedly leaped through the air, moving in the direction of the Prince of Yong. Her martial arts were excellent and she had, in the past, regularly fought on the battlefield. As a result, she was able to dodge all efforts by the Imperial Guard to block her. Very quickly, she was able to close in on the Prince of Yong. Right then, an azure figure dropped down from high up in the sky. Wen Ziyan stabbed up with her sword. With his bare hands, that azure figure reached out to try to catch Wen Ziyan’s sword. Wen Ziyan exploded with anger at being so underestimated, concentrating her internal energy at the swordpoint. She suddenly heard a crunch. Her treasured sword, capable of slicing any metal and chopping jade, had actually shattered. While Wen Ziyan was still paralyzed by the shock, that man’s palm smashed into her chest. Possessing a steel mind, Wen Ziyan thrust again with her broken sword, in the hopes of ensuring that both sides suffer. The man’s attacks became somewhat sluggish.

In the midst of the battle, the two began to fight. Wen Ziyan could finally clearly see the man’s appearance. He was the Demonic Shadow, Li Shun. Wen Ziyan shook. If he were killed, then the Prince of Yong would not have any reliable experts by his side. As a result, she steeled her heart and concentrated fully on fighting him. At this moment, one of the snow-white robed swordswomen threw her sword to Wen Ziyan. Taking the sword, Wen Ziyan fully exhibited the prowess of the Fengyi Sect’s heaven-shaking Gale-Wind Sword Style. The swift sword that enabled the transcendence of the limits of the human body quickly covered up the heaven-soaring flames and reflections of the other weapons in the battle. As for Xiaoshunzi, his movements were uncanny and peculiar, barely discernable within the glinting of steel. This kind of duel, under normal circumstances, would naturally leave spectators filled with admiration and a desire to submit. However, currently, everyone was too occupied to notice.

Under Jing Chi, Sima Xiong, and Pei Yun’s assault, the Imperial Guard positioned at the perimeter of the Hunting Palace could no longer hold on. Although Commander Yang was a fierce general, facing the attacks of three of the top thirty of Great Yong’s most ferocious generals, he ultimately could not hide the flaws in his defensive lines any longer, as his formation revealed an opening. The Prince of Yong and his subordinates were all veterans of many battles. With one glance, Jing Chi let out a yell and galloped forward, his lance sweeping away all those who opposed him, killing an Imperial Guard officer. With this, the turncoat Imperial Guard’s morale dropped. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the Prince of Yong issued an order for everyone to charge forward. And so, a thousand or so cavalry were able to break through and escape from the Hunting Palace, disappearing into the night. In less than an hour, more than half of Pei Yun’s subordinate imperial guardsmen were killed within the walls of the Hunting Palace. At this moment, several Fengyi Sect disciples had closed in. Wen Ziyan hardened her heart, determined to ensure that Xiaoshunzi not be allowed to escape.

Xiaoshunzi’s heart was quite calm. Although his martial arts were excellent, he would likely lose in the face of the brutal assaults by so many swordswomen. Moreover, those imperial guardsmen assisting the Fengyi Sect had gradually surrounded him as well. It would be too late if he did not take this opportunity to leave. Thinking of this, his figure strangely and suddenly floated into the sky. Having not expected this, the swordswomen’s attacks missed and revealed openings. By this time, Xiaoshunzi had already hurtled towards Wen Ziyan. At rapt attention and with a calm aura, Wen Ziyan struck with the power of thunder. Xiaoshunzi’s right hand raised, a hairpin clenched between his index and middle fingers. At the same time that Wen Ziyan’s sword streaked past Xiaoshunzi’s ribs, the hairpin streaked past Wen Ziyan’s cheek. Wen Ziyan only felt a cold air assault her senses and subconsciously turned her head away. In this way, she was able to escape losing one of her eyes, while Xiaoshunzi had seized the opportunity to zoom past her. Kicking a mounted imperial guardsman off of his horse, Xiaoshunzi jumped on and spurred the horse onwards, chasing after the Prince of Yong.

Fury blazing from her eyes, Wen Ziyan shouted, “Staunchly follow them! Even if you have to chase them a hundred li, the Prince of Yong must die!” Finished speaking, she accepted the handed-over reins of a horse. Mounting, she took the lead to chase after the Prince of Yong.

Standing atop the walls, Wei Ying frowned slightly. Within this Hunting Palace, the Imperial Guard under their direct control merely numbered five thousand. All of the other Imperial Guard forces could simply be used to help them defend. The tasks of surrounding the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall and trying to kill the Prince of Yong could only be assigned to trusted and loyal imperial guardsmen. With this, the numbers were a little tense. Thinking it over, he had still sent two thousand imperial guardsmen to follow Wen Ziyan and chase the Prince of Yong. The remaining three thousand imperial guardsmen ought to be enough to control the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall and keep an eye on the other imperial guardsmen.

What a pity! Gazing at the roiling dust charging off into the distance, Wei Ying wondered how the Prince of Yong had discovered the trap, allowing him to escape from the Hunting Palace. The hiccup with the Prince of Qi had thrown all of the original plans into disarray. Although Qin Zheng had managed to steal the Prince of Qi’s command tally, which mobilized the army, it was insufficient to have them directly attack the Prince of Yong’s army or surround the Hunting Palace. They would definitely refuse such orders, declaring that they would need to see the Prince of Qi’s direct orders, otherwise they would absolutely disobey. Wei Ying decided that he needed to ply the Prince of Qi. Now that the Prince of Yong had escaped, if he were to rendezvous with Grand General Qin’s army, it would be impossible for his side to win without the reinforcement of the Prince of Qi’s army. As he contemplated, Wei Ying frowned gravely. Seemingly every contingency had been planned for before this rebellion. However, no one could have foreseen that the Prince of Yong would have so quickly seen through the fake edict. How did this happen?

As dawn approached, hoofbeats and the snorting of horses could be heard from within the mist. Wen Ziyan had relentlessly led the turncoat imperial guardsmen in pursuit of the Prince of Yong throughout the entire night, unwilling to let the prince escape. Even though the Prince of Yong was a skilled military tactician, he had no other alternative but to continue fleeing. Initially, the Prince of Yong wanted to travel without worrying about pursuers. However, he had broken out of the encirclement in a hurry. There were even instances when two men shared a horse, while those pursuing had commandeered horses from other Imperial Guard units. On average, each of the pursuers had two horses and could switch horses at any time. With this, their speed was far faster than the Prince of Yong’s escort. Without any other choice, the Prince of Yong could only take a circuitous route, repeatedly setting ambushes and raids against those chasing, hoping to annihilate them. However, the two commanders leading the charge were Commander Huang and Wen Ziyan. Huang Sha was a veteran general, while Wen Ziyan was an assassin that had appeared and disappeared at will on the battlefield. Of the two, one was cautious and skilled at the art of war, while the other had transcendent martial arts and was the perfect scout. The entire journey, the Prince of Yong could find nothing to take advantage of.

It was impossible to make something out of nothing.2 The Prince of Yong was at a disadvantage regardless of military strength or speed. His better tactics were canceled out by the opponent’s merciless military force. The Prince of Yong had never been in such a difficult situation before.

Only at daybreak, when the Prince of Yong had deployed all of the experts in an ambush at the mouth of a valley was he able to inflict comparatively heavy losses upon his pursuers, allowing the Prince of Yong, who had been fleeing through the night, to breathe a sigh of relief.

The Prince of Yong thoroughly understood. The pursuing Imperial Guard were definitely those who would loyally listen to the Fengyi Sect’s commands. Although they were not many in number, in comparison, his troops were even fewer. Unless he could rendezvous with the rest of his household guard, it would be extremely difficult for him to escape this most dangerous situation in his life. The present priority was to meet up with his own troops. The Prince of Yong could not bring himself to believe that Qin Yong would help him. Right now, the Fengyi Sect had clearly seized control of the command tally. When the time came, Qin Yong could likely only listen to the Fengyi Sect’s fake edicts and act. As such, the most important objective right now for the Prince of Yong was to converge with his personal troops commanded by Zhangsun Ji and Dong Zhi.

At this moment, a horse galloped over from the distance. Seeing the horse near, everyone trembled. Although it was only a single horseman, if it were Wen Ziyan or one of the Fengyi Sect’s swordswomen acting as scouts, then their whereabouts would immediately be discovered. If they could not rest for a moment, they would likely collapse from exhaustion. As the horseman approached, an imperial bodyguard with sharp eyes cried out, “Your Imperial Highness, it’s Li Shun, Lord Li!” Only then did everyone relax.

Xiaoshunzi was initially far behind. In addition, his riding proficiency paled in comparison to those following the Prince of Yong. As a result, he had decided to remain hidden. Changing into the armor of an imperial guardsman, he had followed behind Wen Ziyan and company. Although he only had one horse, he had used qinggong to lighten the horse’s burden. Only in this way was he able to keep up with the Imperial Guard commanded by Wen Ziyan. He originally had planned to seize the opportunity to assassinate Wen Ziyan. However, these imperial guardsmen were elite soldiers of Great Yong and it wasn’t that easy for him to infiltrate them. Although Xiaoshunzi had seized a couple of opportunities to kill, when the imperial guardsmen were trying to find the Prince of Yong’s whereabouts and when they were watering and feeding their horses, the results weren’t that great. The last time he had attacked, he had been surrounded and besieged by Wen Ziyan, the Fengyi Sect disciples, and the Imperial Guard. Fortunately, he was skillful and sly and had prepared an escape route beforehand, enabling him to escape. Seeing that his attacks weren’t having any effect, Xiaoshunzi resolved to catch up with the Prince of Yong. Based upon his superior tracking skills and luck, Xiaoshunzi was finally able to catch up to the Prince of Yong. From a distance, he was overjoyed when he caught sight of the Prince of Yong’s golden armor. Finally, he would be able to see the young master again. He was extremely worried that Jiang Zhe would be harmed during the chaos of battle.

But the closer Xiaoshunzi got to the Prince of Yong and his escort, the more uneasy he became, while his complexion became increasingly merciless and severe. Arriving before the Prince of Yong, he asked bluntly, “Why isn’t the young master here?”

If anyone else were asking in such a manner, even if the Prince of Yong was of mind to explain, he would have exploded with anger. After all, the difference between a liege and his vassals, between a superior and his subordinates, needed to be adhered to. However, not even the Prince of Yong could become angry at Xiaoshunzi for asking this question in such a severe tone. Everyone knew that this man had only one master. He had obeyed Jiang Zhe’s orders to transmit an order to Pei Yun. Only with this was everyone able to successfully break out of the encirclement. As of now, Xiaoshunzi was covered with blood. Compared to his usual spotless appearance, this left everyone unable to become angry with him. Calmly, the Prince of Yong answered, “Suiyun stayed behind in the Hunting Palace.”

Hearing these words, Xiaoshunzi’s expression greatly changed and killing intent exploded forth. A merciless light suddenly shone in his eyes, and he ferociously glared at the Prince of Yong. Everyone subconsciously moved forward to protect the Prince of Yong. At this moment, Jing Chi stepped forward and stated, “Lord Li, this was Sir Jiang’s own decision.”

Xiaoshunzi glanced at Jing Chi, his gaze softening. After all, this Jing Chi had spent years within the Cold Courtyard. He had personally monitored Jing Chi’s studies and was quite familiar with this man’s character.

Seeing that Xiaoshunzi’s mind gradually calmed, Jing Chi urged his horse forward and whispered some words. A strange look flashed across Xiaoshunzi’s face. After bowing and saluting, he stated, “This servant has offended Your Imperial Highness. Your Imperial Highness, please forgive me.”

“That you are able to understand is enough,” replied Li Zhi with a smile. “This Prince was also worried that even if we were able to bring Suiyun along, he likely wouldn’t survive. In this way, he still has a chance of surviving. If you are worried, there is no harm for you to rush back to the Hunting Palace. Based upon your martial arts, you should be able to ensure Suiyun’s safety.”

With a stern countenance, Xiaoshunzi placidly requested, “No, this servant asks for the order to personally go see Qin Yong.”

Startled, Li Zhi inquired, “Why is this? Are you not worried about Suiyun’s safety?”

In a heartless voice, Xiaoshunzi explained, “If something were to happen to my young master, this servant would sacrifice my own life to slaughter the families of all of his enemies. However, now that young master’s fate hangs in the balance, if young master’s plan is to fail and he has already fallen into the enemy’s hands, then he will have no way of surviving. It would be useless for me to rush to his side. If the young master is still alive, then this servant cannot rescue him by myself. Since that is the case, I can only do my utmost to let the young master escape danger at the earliest opportunity. At present, Your Imperial Highness is alone with a small force here. Your pursuers will arrive within an hour. It is likely impossible for either Your Imperial Highness’s or the Prince of Qi’s army to arrive. Both sides are keeping an eye on the other, leaving neither able to break away. As such, Grand General Qin’s army is Your Imperial Highness’s only chance of survival. However, it is impossible for Your Imperial Highness to command the Qin army. If the Crown Prince’s faction is able to seize control of the command tally and imperial edicts, even the Qin army will become Your Imperial Highness’s enemy. The only thing that can be done now is to force the Qin army to obey Your Imperial Highness. Only then can victory and the rescue my young master be attained. This matter can only be handled by me, Li Shun. My young master has already arranged someone beside Qin Yong. I am the only one knowledgeable about this. Although the young master did not speak of this, I understand full well his intentions.”

Li Zhi’s spirits were roused and he responded, “So that is why … The two of you, master and servant, are both individuals filled with wisdom and bravery. Since that is the case, this Prince will place this heavy responsibility onto your shoulders.” So speaking, he handed a silk pouch to Xiaoshunzi.

Accepting it, Xiaoshunzi did not open it, only neutrally remarking, “Your Imperial Highness, be careful. Even if the Qin army is able to mobilize to assist Your Imperial Highness, it will still take some time before they can arrive. Although Your Imperial Highness’s art of war and strategy are superb, Wen Ziyan has a well-trained and powerful force under her command. She also has extremely outstanding martial arts. Your Imperial Highness is in for an exceedingly arduous journey. However, if Your Imperial Highness is able to survive for two days, this servant can guarantee that the Qin army will arrive to rescue Your Imperial Highness. There is no need to speak of what would happen if this servant were to fail. This servant and my master will accompany Your Imperial Highness in death.”

“This Prince has always known of your abilities,” replied Li Zhi. “You only need to do your best. This Prince is somewhat certain that we will survive two days.”

Saluting lightly, Xiaoshunzi turned and spurred his horse, departing. Watching his figure recede into the distance, Li Zhi shouted in a loud voice, “We’ll rest for a while longer before we hurry onwards. If we can rendezvous with General Zhangsun, at the very least, we can be safe and sound. Even if we cannot rendezvous with the main army, we definitely cannot fight Wen Ziyan head on.”

Everyone simultaneously voiced their affirmative, all of them seizing this opportunity to rest. Gazing towards the rising sun, Li Zhi murmured, “Suiyun, this Prince can only rely upon you …”

***

Concurrent with the instant the Prince of Yong had broken out of the encirclement and escaped, the entirety of the Hunting Palace had been disturbed. At the time, Li Yuan was dining with the empress and his noble consorts. Frowning, he stated, “Leng Chuan, what is going on outside?”

Complying, Leng Chuan walked out of the palace door. Seeing the blazing flames in the distance, he trembled with fear. A fire erupting in the Hunting Palace was definitely not a normal occurrence. Further, he could hear the sounds of battle. Promptly returning inside, he reported, “Your Imperial Majesty, it seems like a rebellion has broken out. Your Imperial Majesty, is there a need to summon Grand General Qin?”

At this moment, heavy footsteps came approaching from without. A solemn voice rang out with a request. “Qin Yi and Cheng Shu request an audience with Your Imperial Majesty.”

Li Yuan immediately replied, “Come in!”

Following Li Yuan’s command, Qin Yi and Cheng Shu hurriedly walked in. Getting straight to the point, Li Yuan inquired, “Lord Qin, what is going on?”

Wearing a grave face, Qin Yi asked, “Your Imperial Majesty, is Wei Ying here?”

Startled for a second, Li Yuan then responded, “Tonight, We have had no need for his services to draft any edicts and had him retire to rest.”

His expression changing greatly, Qin Yi stated, “Just now, Wei Ying came to issue an edict, stating that Your Imperial Majesty summoned this subject and the Duke of Wei. However, just as we arrived here, we discovered that turmoil has engulfed the western side of the palace.”

Li Yuan furiously questioned, “What is going on? We did not have Wei Ying issue any decree! Lord Qin, did you see an edict?”

Smiling wryly, Qin Yi replied, “He claimed that it was Your Imperial Majesty’s oral directive, summoning this subject to discuss the defenses of the Hunting Palace.”

Cheng Shu hurriedly interjected, “Your Imperial Majesty, it is likely that someone is intending to rebel. We must quickly mobilize the Imperial Guard and Imperial Palace Guard to protect Your Imperial Majesty.”

Qin Yi’s expression sank. The individual responsible today for the protection of the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall was Qin Qing. Why had he not seen this son of his when he had arrived? Not caring to even ask Li Yuan for instructions, Qin Yi charged out of the palace hall. Bellowing, he roared, “Qin Qing! Qin Qing! Quickly get your ass over here!”

However, Qin Yi quickly discovered that aside from the responses from the imperial palace guards, the imperial guardsmen did not utter a single word, as they stood with their hands resting on the hilts of their sheathed sabers. As for Qin Qing, he had disappeared without a trace. Qin Yi’s mind gradually became heavy. He had never before so hated himself for his overindulgence. How could he not have expected that the Fengyi Sect had likely extended their tendrils into this unit of imperial guards after being commanded by Qin Qing for so long. What an incompetent, unfilial son!

By this point, Li Yuan had walked out of the door to the palace hall. In a loud voice, he shouted, “Why aren’t you going to summon General Qin Qing?”

At this moment, beautiful laughter floated over from a distance. A group of women neared, led by Li Hanyou. At her side was Qin Zheng and another beautiful young woman. All three wore bluish-white, close-fitting clothes and had swords in their hands. Behind them were thirty-six swordswomen in snow-white clothing, formed into four columns. Each woman emitted bone-chilling killing desire. Moreover, their strides were vigorous and in perfect unison, serving to multiply their killing intent.

Li Hanyou walked to the steps leading to the palace hall. Kowtowing, she stated, “Your Imperial Majesty, under the Crown Prince’s command, your servant is currently suppressing the Prince of Yong’s rebellion. His Imperial Highness was worried about Your Imperial Majesty’s safety and has dispatched your servant to come to protect Your Imperial Majesty.”

His complexion gloomy and cold, Li Yuan grimly asked, “Do you truly believe that you will be successful?”

Leng Chuan walked to the emperor’s side. Li Yuan grimly continued, “It is impossible for you to control the entire Imperial Guard. As long as We make a public appeal, those imperial guardsmen will immediately change sides!”

Li Hanyou sneered. “Your Imperial Majesty speaks the truth. The Grand General has been strict with the soldiers under his command. As a result, it is true that we do not have any way of controlling the entire Imperial Guard. Even right now, we can only control roughly five thousand imperial guardsmen and still need to dispatch two thousand of them to chase after the Prince of Yong. However, they are enough. As long as we prevent Your Imperial Majesty from leaving the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, then your servant can control the entire Imperial Guard.”

Li Yuan’s complexion changed greatly. He replied, “You have stolen Our golden pendant?”

“Your Imperial Majesty is truly wise,” mocked Li Hanyou, smiling. “The only ones who can completely control the Imperial Guard are Grand General Qin, himself, and Your Imperial Majesty’s golden pendant. At present, Grand General Qin is confined here, while Your Imperial Majesty’s golden pendant is in our hands. Your Imperial Majesty, you are already powerless. Once we have exterminated the rebels, the Crown Prince will naturally personally come to beg for forgiveness.”

Li Yuan’s entire person trembled. An incomparable wrath almost left him unable to stand steadily. He sternly asked, “Who was it that stole Our golden pendant?”

At this moment, the empress and three noble consorts walked out of the palace hall. The empress’s face was as cold as ice, Noble Consort Ji’s face had a slight smile upon it, Noble Consort Zhangsun quaked, while Noble Consort Yan expressed alarm and terror all over her face. Li Yuan’s gaze fell upon Noble Consort Ji. Impossible! He was always on strict guard against her. If so, who was it? Noble Consort Zhangsun would absolutely not perform such an act, as she did not have any reasons to do so. Noble Consort Yan was tender and gutless. If so, then there was only one possibility … Li Yuan’s gaze fell upon the empress.

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:

目不暇接, mubuxiajie – idiom, lit. too much for the eyes to take in; fig. a feast for the eyes
巧妇难为无米之炊, qiaofunanweiwumizhichui – idiom, lit. the cleverest housewife cannot cook without rice; fig. you can’t make something out of nothing

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