The Hunting Palace had gradually calmed down. Although the Prince of Yong’s escape was a major problem for the Fengyi Sect, it also greatly reduced the strength of the resistance within the Hunting Palace. Wei Ying, controlling the Imperial Guard, very quickly seized control of the entirety of the palace. Of the remaining imperial guards, aside from the three thousand imperial guardsmen that the Fengyi Sect directly manipulated and used to control the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, Xiahou Yuanfeng’s one thousand imperial guardsmen took over responsibility for defending the Jade Qilin Palace Hall where the Crown Prince resided. The other Imperial Guard units had been completely mixed up and dispatched to separately guard and exercise control over various parts of the Hunting Palace. All of the ministers that had accompanied the Imperial Presence were placed under house arrest, even those supportive of the Fengyi Sect were no exception. Of course, none of these ministers wanted to be involved in the turmoil and harm their reputations.
Wei Ying dispatched squads of Imperial Guard to patrol the grounds of the palace. He had to make sure that there weren’t any remnant resistance forces. The originally refined and elegant features carried with them a faint bloodlust, completely devoid of his previous composed poise.
At this moment, he was extremely anxious. However, he could not help but think about what had happened earlier. The relationship between the Wei family and the Fengyi Sect was a secret known to no one else. Who would believe that Madam Wei was actually the sworn sister of the Fengyi Sect Master? After Wei Ying was born, the Fengyi Sect Master took a fancy to him, secretly passing martial arts to him. Wei Ying did not fail to live up to the Fengyi Sect Master’s expectations, becoming an outstanding talent skilled with both brush and sword. Because the Wei family had always taken a neutral stance, no one knew that Wei Ying was the Fengyi Sect’s only male honorary disciple.
As Wei Ying grew up, he had gradually drifted apart from the Fengyi Sect. After all, as the son of the prime minister and as an acclaimed outstanding youth, his future prospects were boundless. If he maintained an intimate relationship with the Fengyi Sect, it would likely arouse suspicion from and exclusion by the imperial household. As a result, he practically never displayed his martial arts, wholeheartedly focused on becoming a ranking minister. However, just as he was flushed with success, a previously unimagined psychological shock occurred.
Regardless of whether it was the crown prince’s plan or the Fengyi Sect abusing its position for private gain, he had become the prince consort selected by the emperor, Princess Changle’s fiancé. Honestly speaking, he did not have any feelings for Princess Changle. After all, to his modest exterior and arrogant heart, Princess Changle was not the wife that he yearned for in his dreams. But he knew full well what it meant to take a princess as his bride. As a result, he cheerfully accepted the emperor’s arrangements. However, with this, the psychological shock arrived. Princess Changle would rather become a nun than marry him. This caused the always successful Wei Ying to be filled with an unprecedented anger. It was during this year that he began to once again become close with the Fengyi Sect. However, during this entire process, he had always kept his face hidden. Outside of the Fengyi Sect Master, no one else knew that this Wei daren who received the emperor’s grace would actually become the Fengyi Sect Master’s personally appointed protector.
At the beginning, Wei Ying did not want to rebel, going so far to delay implementing the Fengyi Sect Master’s decisions on several occasions. It was very easy for him to become the prime minister in ten years. There was no need to risk his life and his entire family. However, when the Fengyi Sect Master first proposed that plan, there was no way for him to refuse. Obtaining Princess Changle had become the only way for him to advance his status in the imperial household. As a result, he had followed the Fengyi Sect Master’s plan and participated in that farce. He went so far as to use his elegant and refined scholarly exterior and bearing, his soft and sweet words to win the affection of Lü’e. This was all because whenever Princess Changle deliberately avoided him, she would send Lü’e to make excuses. Wei Ying seized these opportunities to steal the young maid’s heart. On that day, Lü’e, intent on ensuring Princess Changle’s marriage to the Wei family, pretended to be confused. Were it not for the timely arrival of Changle’s mother, Princess Changle would likely have been forced to marry him. However, after the events of that day, Wei Ying knew that he had lost the opportunity. Seeing that his road to a lofty position be cut off halfway, Wei Ying finally made the difficult decision. As long as he was able to ensure the crown prince’s ascension, then based upon his meritorious service, it would be extremely easy for him to marry a princess.
However, the results were undesirable. He did not know how the Prince of Yong had seen through his flawless performance and had surprisingly and successfully broken out. This caused him great panic. Although Li Hanyou had already gone to force the emperor to surrender the command tallies in order to mobilize the Qin army and pursue the Prince of Yong, what would happen if things were to fail? Wei Ying had never experienced this kind of vexation and anxiety. As a result, as the resistance was being eliminated, he was unprecedentedly ruthless. On the road, he had already executed a dozen or more officials who had the courage to resist. Blood completely covered the entirety of the Hunting Palace.
What made Wei Ying enraged was that Li Hanyou, Xiao Lan, and company had privately discussed and decided to imprison the Crown Prince’s Junior Mentor Lu Jingzhong within the Jade Qilin Palace Hall without informing him. The reasoning of these female disciples was that Lu Jingzhong would definitely become an enemy in the future. Rather than permit Lu Jingzhong to disrupt things, harming the Fengyi Sect’s interests, it was best to take this opportunity to have him killed. Fortunately, Wei Yin had arrived in time. But what was done could not be undone.1 Since they had already offended Lu Jingzhong, he could not go on to offend Li Hanyou and Xiao Lan. Helpless, Wei Ying could only agree to have Lu Jingzhong placed under house arrest. Seeing how the female disciples of the Fengyi Sect did not carefully consider the present conditions, cutting off an arm before success had even been attained, Wei Ying was filled with implacable hatred.
As he patrolled, Wei Ying racked his brains to come up with a way to control the situation. When he arrived before the Cherishing Fragrance Park, his heart suddenly skipped a beat. To him, regardless of the benefits that he would receive from a successful rebellion, none of it was as important as taking Princess Changle as his bride. Arriving here, he suddenly realized that Princess Changle was probably extremely frightened and anxious with the chaos outside. If he were to seize this opportunity to comfort her, he may be able to ease the princess’s worries. Thinking this, he made a detour and headed for the Cherishing Fragrance Park’s entrance. The imperial guardsmen stationed there weren’t controlled by the Fengyi Sect or part of the crown prince’s faction. However, seeing Wei Ying, no one dared to obstruct his progress. After all, none of them were fools. They were well aware of what had happened within the Hunting Palace. But with the emperor and Grand General Qin missing, these imperial guardsmen did not risk any rash moves. After all, this was internal strife within the imperial household. If they supported the wrong person, they would likely lose their lives. In their eyes, Wei Ying was the emperor’s emissary. After all, he had jurisdiction over the golden pendant that controlled the Imperial Guard. Entering the Cherishing Fragrance Park, Wei Ying felt a bleak chill in the air. The chrysanthemums within the park carried a hint of desolate death. Walking to the steps leading to the princess’s sleeping quarters, he shouted, “This subject, Wei Ying, seeks an audience with Her Imperial Highness, the Princess.”
The quarters within were silent. It was a good while before a pretty and dignified palace maid of more than thirty years age walked out. She replied, “Head Maid Zhou of the Jade Phoenix Palace Hall pays my respects to Wei daren. Her Imperial Highness, the Princess, has already gone to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall and is no longer here.”
Wei Ying was startled. “The Hunting Palace is in chaos right now. Why would Head Maid Zhou permit the Princess to go to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall?”
Head Maid Zhou kowtowed to the ground and answered, “How would this servant dare to obstruct the Princess’s movements? The Princess was worried about the safety of His Imperial Majesty and the Noble Consort, thus headed towards the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall.”
A look of disappointment crossed Wei Ying’s face. Suddenly, he discovered that Head Maid Zhou’s expression was somewhat frenetic. Wei Ying suddenly recalled that although the Prince of Yong had escaped, Jiang Zhe did not accompany him. At the very least, no one had seen him. Wei Ying had personally overseen the search of the charred ruins of the palace hall that the Prince of Yong had taken up residence and had not discovered a single corpse. If that was the case, then it was highly likely that Jiang Zhe was still within the Hunting Palace. Part of the reason for his personal inspection and patrol of the palace grounds was to find that person’s whereabouts. However, what he could not determine was whether the man had really stayed behind. As a result, he did not conduct a full scale search. After all, the Fengyi Sect’s current dominance was no more than an unrealistic rosy view.2 If someone were to make a clarion call, the Imperial Guard would likely become uncontrollable. Recalling the rumors of the love affair between Princess Changle and that Jiang Zhe, Wei Ying realized that if the rumors were true, Jiang Zhe likely hid within the Cherishing Fragrance Park. Thinking this, a sneer appeared on Wei Ying’s face and he declared, “Since that is the case, allow this official to search the Cherishing Fragrance Park. At present, the rebels within the palace have not been fully eradicated. This official cannot bear the responsibilities if the Princess were to be frightened.”
Hearing this, Head Maid Zhou was greatly alarmed. She knew that the Cherishing Fragrance Park could not be searched. Just as the fires erupted, an unexpected guest had suddenly arrived at Princess Changle’s sleeping quarters. Although Head Maid Zhou had never met this guest before, she knew of this person’s identity—Jiang Zhe, Major Jiang. He was a gifted scholar of Southern Chu and a trusted adviser of the Prince of Yong, and was also the man in Princess Changle’s heart. Supporting him was a handsome-looking youth with an icy aura. Head Maid Zhou had heard that Jiang Zhe had a former Southern Chu eunuch by his side. However, no matter how she considered, this youth did not seem like a eunuch.
The two had come secretly and had surprisingly directly barged into the princess’s sleeping quarters. At the time, Head Maid Zhou was the only one accompanying the princess. After arriving, that pallid and feeble-looking scholarly youth had her and his servant wait outside, while he had a secret and long conversation with the princess. Afterwards, Princess Changle had brought along a few palace maids and that little eunuch, Xiaoliuzi, and departed for the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. As she departed, she exhorted Head Maid Zhou to take good care of Major Jiang and to ensure that he wasn’t discovered. However, now that Wei Ying wished to search the Cherishing Fragrance Park, what was to be done? The princess had stated that Wei Ying was a part of the rebels.
The changing expressions on the head maid’s face were all observed by Wei Ying. He was both overjoyed and deeply jealous. If he could capture Jiang Zhe, then he would be able to grasp all of the Prince of Yong’s secrets. When he was about to enter the palace hall to conduct the search, he suddenly remembered the existence of Demonic Shadow Li Shun. If the Demonic Shadow was by Jiang Zhe’s side, then wouldn’t he be walking into a trap? Wei Ying had not received Wen Ziyan’s report and did not know that Xiaoshunzi also had already escaped. The Demonic Shadow was only loyal to Jiang Zhe. This fact was known by virtually everyone. The people who wrung their hands at this fact were innumerable. Wei Ying did not have the courage to face that kind of expert. Steeling his heart, Wei Ying commanded, “Assemble the Imperial Guard and have this palace hall surrounded. Also go to Concubine Lan and transfer over a few swordswomen.”
At the start, in order to avoid suspicion, Wei Ying had not left any of the Fengyi Sect’s swordswomen by his side. However, right now, without those fierce and tough swordswomen, he did not dare to barge into the palace hall.
Within the Cherishing Fragrance Park, in the princess’s sleeping quarters, I sat on the soft couch, calculating the probability of success. However, with the tangled and complicated state of affairs, it was extremely difficult to determine. Although I did not exactly know why the Imperial Guard had changed sides, I believed that this was all a result of the Fengyi Sect mobilizing their strength in the harem, stealing the command tallies and isolating the emperor from the outside world. With this, the Fengyi Sect would be able to seize the advantage. Afterwards, they could use fake edicts to mobilize the emperor’s entire strength to encircle and annihilate the Prince of Yong. No one could have expected that something like this could happen at a location where the emperor had assembled all of his forces. This was probably the result of my underestimation of the Fengyi Sect’s power within the harem after being so successful in our previous confrontations. However, this was not the moment to be thinking about this. Princess Changle was the only way for me to completely reverse the current, undesirable situation. Otherwise, no matter how I exerted myself, the only result that I could hope for was a zero-sum scenario where neither side won. Great Yong would not be able to survive such a result.
In addition, having gotten my hands on the emperor’s secret edict and Grand General Qin’s token, the most important thing to do now was to how to safely deliver these items. Although I had already chosen a candidate, I did not have the least assurance of success. If it failed, then everything would be consigned to eternal damnation. That wouldn’t do. A ruthless look shone in my eyes. If the man was inappropriate, I must immediately have him killed and absolutely not give him the opportunity to divulge any secrets. When the time came, I could only have Dong Que take care of things. However, Dong Que’s safety was not assured. He would likely be stopped and killed by the Fengyi Sect.
Just as I was racking my brains, the window frame rattled and Dong Que nimbly entered. In a low voice, he reported, “Young master, everything is settled. He will arrive shortly.”
In a grave voice, I asked, “Is he reliable?”
“Young master, do not worry,” soothed Dong Que. “After undergoing the incident at the Eastern Palace, my senior apprentice brother was placed under house arrest by Li Hanyou. He was only released today by the Crown Prince. My senior apprentice brother has already been disheartened by the Fengyi Sect and the Crown Prince. As a result, using righteousness and responsibility, I was able to acquire his agreement.”
Relaxing, I inquired, “Did he recognize you?”
Smiling wryly, Dong Que responded, “It seems like my transformation was truly enormous. Although senior apprentice brother had misgivings, he was unable to recognize me. He would not have believed a word I said if I did not have the Prince of Yong’s golden pendant.”
I smiled slightly. “That’s good. Moreover, in a moment, please do not take offense. I need to place some restrictions on your senior apprentice brother’s body. I have no choice in the matter. This is the only way for the Prince of Yong to reverse the present state of affairs. I cannot treat this lightly.”
Nodding his head, Dong Que replied, “Senior apprentice brother will understand. Moreover, I’m greatly understand. As long as the Prince of Yong is able to escape, even if he is temporarily inferior, he will be able to reverse the desperateness of this situation shortly. It is only that the losses will be quite severe. Considering the Kongtong Sect’s interests, senior apprentice brother will agree with young master’s arrangements.”
Just as I was about to reply, I heard the sounds of footsteps and Head Maid Zhou’s anxious voice. She said, “Wei daren, you can’t search the Princess’s sleeping quarters. This is truly too discourteous!”
A mournful sound issued from my mouth. Why was Wei Ying here? Was I fated to die? I promptly considered the sleeping quarters. I was single-mindedly focused on dealing with the Fengyi Sect, completely forgetting the need to find a hiding spot. A slight, wry smile appeared on Dong Que. Stepping forward, he grabbed ahold of me, pointing lightly at the bed. With a look of bafflement, I looked at him. He stepped forward quietly and patted his palm several times on the picturesque disarray of the bed. Then the bed board silently slid open, revealing the secret compartment underneath. The compartment was barely enough to fit a single person. My eyes widened. Why was there a secret compartment here? Ignoring my puzzlement, he picked me up and sealed several of my acupoints. I only felt my consciousness grow hazy, barely able to discern being shoved into the secret compartment. Afterwards, I slipped into darkness.
Wei Ying had imperial guardsmen shoo all of the Cherishing Fragrance Park’s palace maids and eunuchs into a side hall, while he personally led people to begin the search. Receiving his command, Xiao Lan had dispatched Feng Feifei over. The crown prince’s location was currently tranquil and calm. Naturally, there was no need to leave so many people there. Wei Ying and Feng Feifei supervised the search, but did not find anything. At long last, the two’s eyes fell upon the princess’s sleeping quarters. Wei Ying hesitated. If he were to truly search the princess’s sleeping quarters, regardless of whether he was able to find anyone, Princess Changle would likely harbor resentment towards him. At the same time, however, if he were able to find someone, then it was likely that he could force the princess to surrender. Consequently, Wei Ying spoke to Feng Feifei, “This is the Princess’s sleeping quarters. It is inconvenient for me to search it. Third Miss, please do so in my place.”
Feng Feifei smiled slightly, a soft and graceful smile appearing on her elegant face. Lightly arranging the hair on her temples, she softly replied, “If we can capture Jiang Zhe, Master will be extremely pleased.” She believed that Wei Ying was afraid of Demonic Shadow Li Shun, and thus she felt scornful. Wielding her sword, she entered the sleeping quarters.
The Cherishing Fragrance Park had always been used as the residence for noble consorts or princesses. With lower statues, concubines and imperial clansmen did not have the qualifications to reside here. Entering the sleeping quarters, Feng Feifei felt that these chambers were magnificently decorated, refined, and noble. Feng Feifei smiled faintly. Although she was nominally also a princess, Junior Apprentice Sister Hanyou’s assigned residence was far inferior to these chambers. Feng Feifei carefully searched the entire sleeping quarters, but did not make a single discovery. Although she was not adept at concealed mechanisms and weapons, she could confirm that there weren’t any secret rooms or hidden passageways. At last, her gaze fell upon the bed. This bed was made from sandalwood and was extremely fine, exuding a graceful fragrance. Walking close to the bed, Feng Feifei carefully examined it. This entire bed was blended together into one piece. There was no chance that there were any secret mechanisms. Feng Feifei gazed upon this bed with a look of envy in her eyes before finally walking out of these chambers.
Seeing Wei Ying, she shook her head. Vexed, Wei Ying frowned. He had once again, for no reason, offended Princess Changle. Truly, his losses exceeded his gains. Just at this moment, Xie Xiaotong and two Fengyi Sect swordswomen arrived with a little eunuch. Seeing Feng Feifei, Xie Xiaotong excitedly reported, “Third sister, we are close to success on our end!” So speaking, she hurriedly explained everything that had happened in the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. Her words were clever, explaining everything clearly.
A hint of joy flickered in Feng Feifei’s eyes, as she replied, “It is hard to imagine that Princess Changle is so sensible. Alas, our side has just searched the entirety of the Cherishing Fragrance Park. Could things change because of this?” As she spoke, she worriedly and resentfully glanced at Wei Ying.
Wei Ying smiled slightly. When all was said and done, Feng Feifei and the other members of the Fengyi Sect were only women. Although sufficiently savage, they were insufficiently firm and unyielding. No wonder the Fengyi Sect Master did not have them take charge of this rebellion. At the same time, however, Wei Ying did not want to offend them. As such, he dimly replied, “If we warn these servants, what do we have to fear that they will divulge this? After a few days have passed, it would be useless if they say anything. In addition, it is impossible for Princess Changle to return here. As a result, she temporarily won’t learn of what has happened here.”
Nodding her head, Xie Xiaotong spoke, “Go handle matters.” These words were directed at Xiaoliuzi. Nodding his head in panic, Xiaoliuzi rapidly ran to see Head Maid Zhou.
So instructed, the maids and eunuchs of the palace hall quickly began to pack. Noble Consort Zhangsun and Princess Changle had brought a lot of items along with them. It would take some time for everything to be packed. Disinclined to watch them work, Wei Ying and Feng Feifei spoke a few words to Xie Xiaotong before departing. After Wei Ying and company left, the Imperial Guard also withdrew. At this moment, within the chrysanthemum thickets, a figure rose to its feet. He had a thin silk cloak wrapped around him, its color extremely close to that of the chrysanthemums. Those imperial guardsmen and Wei Ying did not pay it any attention. After all, their goal was to find a feeble scholar without the strength to truss a chicken.
Quietly, the man slipped into the princess’s sleeping quarters. When he arrived, Xiaoliuzi and Head Maid Zhou were already waiting. Seeing the man come in, Xiaoliuzi asked in a low voice, “Where is the young master?”
Dong Que pointed at the bed. Head Maid Zhou relaxed. This bed had been secretly manufactured in the palace and had a secret compartment inside. However, this fact was not known by everyone. Furthermore, the Cherishing Fragrance Park was rarely used each year. As a result, there were even fewer people who knew of the existence of a secret compartment. Noble Consort Zhangsun was one of those who knew. She had jokingly revealed its existence to Princess Changle. Last night, when Jiang Zhe had sought refuge here, even though he did not think of the possibility, Princess Changle had anticipated that the palace hall would be searched. As a result, she had revealed the secret compartment’s existence to Dong Que. So focused on reversing this desperate situation, Jiang Zhe did not pay any attention to this conversation.
Relaxing, Head Maid Zhou nodded her head. Now was not the time to let Jiang Zhe out. Xiaoliuzi handed over the white handkerchief and jade pendant given him by Princess Changle to Dong Que, explaining simply the situation. Afterwards, he helped Head Maid Zhou pack the princess’s belongings and quickly left the sleeping quarters. It wasn’t long before they followed Xie Xiaotong and departed the Cherishing Fragrance Park. Behind them, the gates were locked and no one paid any further attention to this location.
Only then did Dong Que pat the bed again. The feebly breathing Jiang Zhe was brought out of the secret compartment. Seeing Jiang Zhe’s pale complexion, Dong Que hurriedly released his acupoints, murmuring, “I hope that there aren’t any problems. This method was already the gentlest possible.”
As I regained consciousness, I saw Dong Que’s anxious face. Shaking my head, I whispered, “Have they left?”
Dong Qure replied, “Young master, do not worry. Wei Ying has already left. This is what the Princess delivered.” So speaking, he handed over the white handkerchief and jade pendant.
I unfolded the handkerchief and looked at the seal stamped upon it. Smiling slightly, I instructed Dong Que to bring me a brush and ink. Swiftly, I wrote a few words upon it:
The Crown Prince has rebelled, Qin Yong is to obey the Prince of Yong and proceed to the Hunting Palace to rescue the Imperial Presence. There is no need to adhere to other fake edicts and command tallies.
Setting down the brush, I smiled and stated, “There will be no need to worry as long as these two items are delivered into Qin Yong’s hands. That’s right, can your senior apprentice brother serve as the emissary to issue this edict?”
Just as Dong Que was about to reply, we heard the sound of footsteps outside. We were both alarmed. Could it be that Wei Ying had come back?
木已成舟, muyichengzhou – idiom, lit. the timber has been turned into a boat already; fig. what is done cannot be undone
镜花水月, jinghuahuiyue – idiom, lit. flowers in a mirror and the moon reflected in the lake; fig. an unrealistic rosy view, viewing things through rose-tinted spectacles