Volume 3, Chapter 3: Flattery

In the fifth month of the twenty-fifth year of Wuwei, the Princess of Jingjiang and Concubine Lan desired to kill the imperial bodyguard, Xia Jinyi, for flattering his lord. They were stopped by the Prince. From then on, hostility was engendered, with the Prince against the Concubine and Princess.

—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Prince of Li

Xiao Lan’s long, shapely eyebrows furrowed, her expression frigid. In a cold voice, she declared, “Good, you dare to quibble. In that case, We will explain things clearly to you. Do you need to have Us explain to you everything that you have done in this last year? As a subject, you not only do not know to admonish your lord’s behavior, you only know how to flatter and curry favor, instigating the Crown Prince so many deeds that are contrary to proper rites. Do you not deserve to die? As a subject, you are disloyal. As an individual, you are unrighteous. Since you are such a disloyal and unrighteous individual, if you have the least bit of conscience, you would slit your throat and commit suicide. Could it be that you still need Us to take action for you?”

With a calm expression, Xia Jinyi replied, “This subordinate is no more than a wastrel from jianghu. I am unlearned and do not possess exceptional martial arts. My only expertise is insignificant. His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, saved this subordinate’s life. This subordinate is unable to return the favor and can only spare no effort to help ensure the Crown Prince’s happiness. If this can be considered as disloyal, this subordinate has nothing to say. As for being unrighteous, this subordinate actually accepts that charge. However, this subordinate is only wholeheartedly loyal to the Crown Prince. Since time immemorial, loyalty and righteousness ofttimes cannot be both met. Moreover, this entire world belongs to the Emperor—those who command these lands are all vassals to the Emperor. Even if the Crown Prince acts out of line, what is the big deal? Were this not the case, why would you have to kill so many people to silence them instead of placing righteousness over family?”

Xiao Lan was immediately at a loss for words. At this moment, Li Hanyou smiled humorlessly and said, “What a formidable mouth on this flunky! His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, is the lord, while you are a subject. His Imperial Highness can err, but you cannot. You are damaging His Imperial Highness’s great ambitions. We are disinclined to reason with you. Senior apprentice sister, there is no need to speak further with this flunky. Let us quickly ask the Crown Princess to issue the order. While the external affairs will naturally be handled by the Crown Prince, the matters within this household are the responsibility of the Crown Princess.”

Xiao Lan immediately saw the reason in Li Hanyou’s words. In a loud voice, she ordered, “Quickly report to elder sister, saying that Xia Jinyi, the flunky that has been confounding his master, has been bound, and we await elder sister’s instructions.”

Xia Jinyi smiled joylessly. In his head, he thought, This Concubine Lan’s scheming is quite profound. Using someone else to do the dirty work is not bad. However, he had not a shred of fear. To him, death was something that he had been seeking all along.1

Li Hanyou’s brows furrowed. She originally thought that this Xia Jinyi was no more than a social climbing,2 vile character. Whenever that kind of person’s fate hung in the balance, they would frequently become servile3 and beg for a way out, completely lacking moral integrity. However, today this youth only had a slight sneer on his face, not only refusing to beg for forgiveness, but also not supplicating himself. This caused Li Hanyou to become extremely worried. Did this man have some method of protecting himself? Or was this his natural attitude? In either case, his outrageous conduct that offended Heaven and Earth was likely to have ulterior motives.

***

Within the resting chambers of the Crown Princess, Lady Ciu, Xiu Chun was kneeled upon the floor, begging piteously. Lady Cui helplessly stated, “We know that this Xia Jinyi is your paramour, and would frequently speak on Our behalf before the Crown Prince. How would We not be grateful? However, Concubine Lan spoke reasonably. His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, is Our husband and is also the one We depend upon. What will We be able to do if something happens to the Crown Prince? Xia Jinyi has instigated His Imperial Highness to lead a dissolute lifestyle outside this residence. If this information were to be spread, it is likely that it would enrage and offend the Emperor. We do not have any alternatives.”

“Your Imperial Highness, this servant isn’t speaking ill of Concubine Lan,” replied Xiu Chun tearfully. “Over these years, has Concubine Lan ever taken Your Imperial Highness seriously? Has she ever asked for Your Imperial Highness’s views about any matters? One of her orders has greater power than a thousand words from Your Imperial Highness. Why has she now remembered to have Your Imperial Highness give the order? What’s more, no matter how bad Jinyi is, he is completely loyal to His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, and is also extremely respectful to Your Imperial Highness. Has Your Imperial Highness not sensed that over these days? Regardless of the situation, he would always speak up for Your Imperial Highness. Last year, when Your Imperial Highness’s brother passed, if not for his notification, Your Imperial Highness would still be completely in the dark.4 If it were not for Your Imperial Highness wailing and begging His Imperial Highness, it is likely that criminal charges would have fallen upon Your Imperial Highness’s brother. Although everything ends with death, what would happen to Your Imperial Highness’s family? Furthermore, it is possible that that incident would have implicated Your Imperial Highness and the young heir. If solely considering Jinyi’s loyal intentions, Your Imperial Highness should help him.”

Lady Cui sighed. “That’s right. That man has truly been respectful to Us. Over this year, it has been extremely difficult for the Crown Prince’s concubines to see him, while it has been easy for Us. All of the supplements and snacks we sent to the Crown Prince elicited return messages. Moreover, every month, His Imperial Highness would spend several days in the palace. I know that Xia Jinyi has put much thought into his conduct.”

The expression on Xiu Chun’s face greatly improved, as she continued, “Your Imperial Highness, this servant is going to say something that I should not say.… Over this year, although His Imperial Highness has not treated Your Imperial Highness especially well, he has also not completely snubbed Your Imperial Highness, continuing to pay visits to Your Imperial Highness’s chambers. No matter how dissolute His Imperial Highness has become, it has not harmed Your Imperial Highness’s status. But if Your Imperial Highness were to issue the order to kill Xia Jinyi, once His Imperial Highness returns, he will surely become enraged. When the time comes, that woman will only say that it was Your Imperial Highness’s decision. It is likely that from that point on, His Imperial Highness will cease to come to Your Imperial Highness’s chambers. When the time comes, who will benefit? That woman has coveted Your Imperial Highness’s position for quite some time now. Even if Your Imperial Highness does not consider yourself, you must consider the heir. In the future, when the Crown Prince ascends to the throne, let alone now, without a trusted individual beside the Crown Prince, how will Your Imperial Highness be able to deal with that bunch of foxes?”

The more she listened, the more frightened she became. She stated, “Xiu Chun, you speak the truth. We were almost deceived by that slut. Immediately transmit my order: Imperial Bodyguard Xia is the Crown Prince’s trusted confidant. It is not suitable for Us to punish him. First, have him be taken into custody. Once the Crown Prince returns, have His Imperial Highness handle his punishment.”

Xiu Chun was overjoyed, promptly going to transmit the crown princess’s order personally. Hearing the crown princess’s response from Xiu Chun, Xiao Lan’s elegant facial features became ugly. Angrily, she rebuked, “What a cheap maidservant! Have you been causing mischief?5 Why has elder sister changed her mind? I have long heard rumors that you and this flunky are having an illicit affair. Now, We can see that those rumors are true. Fine. We will not ask others to help. Today, I must beat you two to death.”

A look of fear appeared on Xiu Chun’s face. She was originally worried about Xia Jinyi’s safety and thus had come personally to transmit the order. Unexpectedly, Xiao Lan wanted to punish her also. Xiu Chun was frightened, not daring to make a single sound. However, although she was ashamed, the expression on her face was obstinate and unyielding, refusing to beg piteously for forgiveness. Xia Jinyi coldly stated, “Both His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, and Her Imperial Highness, the Crown Princess, have long known about this subordinate’s relationship with Xiu Chun. It is only that Her Imperial Highness is fond of Xiu Chun, while His Imperial Highness is fond of this subordinate. Therefore, we did not urgently wish to get married. This subordinate dares not dare accept the words of illicit couple.”

Li Hanyou’s complexion abruptly changed. She callously said, “What’s the use of yammering on with them? Senior apprentice sister, they’re stalling for time.”

Xiao Lan immediately rose to her feet and called out, “Come! Use punishment! Beat this illicit couple to death for me.”

Li Hanyou cruelly stated, “That servant girl has her own mistress. For her to lack honor and shame, she should be punished by her mistress.”

Xiao Lan replied, “Have you lot heard clearly? Deliver Xiu Chun back. Tell elder sister that I am allowing her to discipline this servant girl of hers. Why haven’t you lot made your move yet? What are you waiting for?”

Two imperial bodyguards walked over, carrying red-lacquered punishment staves in their hands. At the same time, several palace maids dragged Xiu Chun away. As she struggled, Xiu Chun wept and yelled, calling out, “Darling Xia, darling Xia!” However, the palace maids had great strength. Quickly, Xiu Chun was dragged far away and her voice could no longer be heard.

The two imperial bodyguards walked to either side of the kneeling Xia Jinyi. One of the two whispered, “Her Imperial Highness is observing us, please forgive us subordinates for not holding back.” As he finished speaking, one of the punishment staves had already heavily smashed onto Xia Jinyi’s shoulder and back. Xia Jinyi felt his back burst out in sharp, stabbing pain, immediately understanding that these bodyguards were acting decisively. With a few hits, his back would be broken. But facing his absolutely detested enemy, Xia Jinyi absolutely refused to beg for leniency and forgiveness. Closing his eyes, he did not speak a single word, gritting his teeth and waiting the following painful strike.

Strangely, that strike never came. Opening his eyes, Xia Jinyi caught sight of a large, sturdy looking individual with his eyes wide open and glowering, tightly holding onto the punishment staves. With surprise, Xia Jinyi called out, “Senior apprentice brother!” This man was his senior apprentice brother, Zhang Jinxiong. At this moment, Zhang Jinxiong exuded a terrifying and imposing aura, his eyes filled with bloodlust. Xiao Lan’s expression sank as she asked, “Supervisor Zhang, what are you doing? How dare you have the impertinence to be so rude to Us?”

Zhang Jinxiong coolly replied, “Xiao Lan, there’s no need to use your identity to suppress me. Status-wise, you are the mistress and I am the supervisor. However, I, Zhang Jinxiong, am a disciple of the Kongtong Sect, while you, Xiao Lan, are a disciple of the Fengyi Sect. Originally, when the envoy from the Fengyi Sect arrived to form an alliance with the Kongtong Sect, I came to help you on the order of my master. However, how has this junior apprentice brother of mine obstructed you? Could it be that you do not take me, Zhang Jinxiong, seriously? Or is it that you believe that I will look on while you beat him to death?”

Xiao Lan was furious. Just as she was about to speak, Li Hanyou had already spoken up in a frosty voice, “Hero Zhang, let Us speak a fair word. First, regardless of whether this man is an unworthy disciple of your Kongtong Sect, what has he done while attending to His Imperial Highness? Have you not heard any rumors? Killing him will remove his evil nature from this world. You are the future master of the Kongtong Sect, and should cherish purity. How can you shield such a vile creature?”

Zhang Jinxiong uncaringly replied, “Princess of Jingjiang, don’t think that I am a fool. Even if Jinyi has sinned, his crimes do not deserve death. If you truly have the ability, go convince His Imperial Highness. Although this junior apprentice brother of mine is a useless good-for-nothing, he is not a bad person. Even if he is acting as an accomplice to the true villain, you should go kill the villain. Instead, you two are making things difficult for my junior apprentice brother. Truly wonderful scheming.”

Xiao Lan could no longer endure, suddenly jumping to her feet and bounding forward. Although she did not have a sword in her hands, her sleeves were like the drilling strike of a snake or dragon. Her figure appeared before Zhang Jinxiong, already striking out. Zhang Jinxiong did not dare to be neglectful in the slightest, throwing up a fist in defense. This fist’s intent was to strike first, using solidity to combat emptiness. It was exactly the martial art only taught to the direct disciples of the Kongtong Sect, Divine Gates Fist. The fist and sleeve slammed into one another, forcing Xiao Lan to retreat one step. She trembled inside. Ordinarily, she was conceited due to the unique characteristics of the Fengyi Sect’s cultivation techniques. As a result, her internal energy was quite strong. Surprisingly, this direct disciple from the Kongtong Sect had such strong and solid internal energy. This being the case, her fear grew and she withdrew, jumping back. At this moment, Li Hanyou had already unsheathed a sword and tossed it to her. Grabbing the sword out of mid-air, Xiao Lan guarded with her other, empty hand, putting her arm up defensively. Instantly, her expression grew solemn and grave, while her bearing relaxed.

Mentally, Zhang Jinxiong praised the disciples of the Fengyi Sect as living up to their reputations. Wielding a sword caused Xiao Lan to appear severe, fierce, and malicious. Her qinggong was quite good. In the blink of an eye, the entire chambers were filled with the glint of steel. Zhang Jinxiong’s pair of iron fists were not weaker in the slightest. The Kongtong Sect’s martial arts were already mysterious. The two directly assaulted each other without regard for defense. In the span of a few short seconds, the two had already exchanged dozens of blows. Although Xiao Lan’s swordsmanship and qinggong were extraordinary, she was after all only a woman and had spent years living a life of luxury. How could she be a match for the pure energy of Zhang Jinxiong’s martial arts and ample fighting experience? Gradually, she fell onto the back foot.

To the side, Li Hanyou frowned slightly. If it were someone else, it was likely that they would have given Zhang Jinxiong face. However, this Xia Jinyi was completely out of her expectations. Although he was social climbing, his temperament was unexpectedly so obstinate, not only refusing to acknowledge his mistakes, but also not revealing a single shred of remorse or dread. If he were permitted to escape today, he would definitely harbor a grudge. Over this past year, the crown prince had already become aloof and distant towards Xiao Lan. If this person was allowed to stir up trouble, it was likely that it would affect the Fengyi Sect’s ability to influence the crown prince. Thinking of this, Li Hanyou’s expression grew bleak. Offhandedly, she stated, “Hero Zhang, Supervisor Zhang, it seems that you are determined to protect this hoodlum. Fine. Allow Hanyou to experience your martial arts.”

Finished speaking, Li Hanyou glided forward, launching herself towards Zhang Jinxiong’s back, arms raised, fists outstretched. At this point, Zhang Jinxiong was busy fighting with Xiao Lan. In addition, Li Hanyou’s martial arts were better than his. Just at the moment that Zhang Jinxiong would have been grievously injured, Xia Jinyi suddenly leaped at Li Hanyou like a madman. A gleam of disdain flashed in Li Hanyou’s eyes, as she punched down with one fist. Like a kite with its string cut, Xia Jinyi slumped to the ground. Li Hanyou saw that although blood was trickling out of Xia Jinyi’s mouth and he had a mournful expression, his eyes still exuded belligerence. Li Hanyou landed. Just as she was about to attack Xia Jinyi again, Xia Jinyi laughed ruthlessly and lifted one of his cuffs, causing a silvery light to blink out. Li Hanyou trembled in her heart, suddenly remembering that the disciples of the Kongtong Sect were all trained to use several types of concealed weapons to protect themselves. She quickly ducked at the waist, avoiding the concealed weapons. The silvery light did not hit the wall and instead disappeared. With a humorless smile, Li Hanyou quipped, “Let’s see if you have any other talismans to protect yourself.”

So speaking, she advanced again. Xia Jinyi once again raised his hand and shot out something. This time, Li Hanyou extended her lily-white hands to block, revealing a silver wrist guard, which caught that silvery light, now embedded. Then, she pulled out the silvery light and took a look. It was a five cun6 long needle with triangular heads on each side, manufactured from sharp, polished steel. If this kind of concealed weapon were to hit, blood would not stop flowing from the injury location. Li Hanyou mercilessly stated, “Good, We will allow you to suffer the consequences of your own actions.”7

Finished speaking, she flicked the needle out, sending it flying towards Xia Jinyi. The speed was incomparably fast. Seeing that there was no way for him to avoid it, a look of bitter resentment and loathing appeared on Xia Jinyi’s face as he gazed towards Li Hanyou. This kind of deep-rooted hostility caused Li Hanyou to not help but feel cold. Just as the dual-edged needle penetrated into Xia Jinyi’s chest at the heart, an enraged voice could be heard from outside. “Desist!”

Hearing this voice, not only did Li Hanyou’s expression change, even Xiao Lan and Zhang Jinxiong could not help but stop at the same time. At this moment, the door to the hall was kicked open and Li An furiously strode in. Just as Li Hanyou was rejoicing that she had already killed Xia Jinyi, she saw Xia Jinyi had already frantically rolled towards the crown prince. Prostrating before the crown prince, Xia Jinyi burst into tears and begged, “Your Imperial Highness, please quickly save this subordinate’s life. Concubine Lan and Her Imperial Highness want to kill this subordinate.”

Li Hanyou stared at Xia Jinyi blankly. How did this man not die? The crown prince hastily asked, “Are you okay? When We heard the news, We immediately hurried back. At least, We arrived timely.”

At this moment, Xia Jinyi pulled open his outer robes, revealing that he was wearing a protective mirror before his heart. At present, the protective mirror had been completely split apart by the dual-edged needle. Xia Jinyi tearfully lamented, “This subject almost would never see Your Imperial Highness again.”

Li An immediately became infuriated. “Li Hanyou, the matters of Our household do not require your interference. You … You may go.”

Li Hanyou sighed. “Your Imperial Highness, since you refuse to accept sincere advice, what can your servant say? It is only that this person cannot be left alive. Would Your Imperial Highness please reconsider?”

Li An remained unmoved and frigidly replied, “We got it. Go.”

Li Hanyou paid her obeisance. Sighing again, she departed. Xiao Lan’s expression was somewhat tense. Stepping forward, she hemmed and hawed, “Your Imperial Highness, your servant was only …”

Before she could even finish, a eunuch entered from outside. Entering, the eunuch said, “Mistress Lan, the Crown Princess has sent word …”

Before the eunuch finished speaking, he saw that the crown prince’s face was completely ashen. The eunuch was so frightened, he collapsed onto his knees. Li An coldly asked, “What has the Crown Princess have you speak of?”

Trembling, the eunuch reported, “Her Imperial Highness said, since Concubine Lan is so presumptuous as to conceal your punishment of Your Imperial Highness’s close imperial bodyguard from the Crown Prince, and even bound Our maid, then We will petition Her Imperial Majesty, the Empress, to allow you to become the Crown Princess.”

Hearing this, Li An could no longer restrain himself. With a shove of his hand, everything on the table was swept onto the floor, creating a great mess. In an absolutely furious voice, Li An said, “Xiao Lan, you’re good, not only punishing Our confidant without permission, but also trying to force the Crown Princess to yield her position. We will petition Imperial Father tomorrow to divorce you. We are not fit to have a lofty disciple of the Fengyi Sect as a concubine.”

Xiao Lan was greatly alarmed, promptly stepping forward and kneeling on the ground, bending her head. She implored, “Please quell your anger, Your Imperial Highness. It is entirely your servant’s fault. Please see it in your heart to pardon your servant, since your servant was only thinking about Your Imperial Highness’s well-being.”

Although Li An was extremely incensed, he did not forget the importance of the Fengyi Sect. If he were to drive off Xiao Lan, it was likely that his position as the crown prince would immediately not be safe. He could not help but hesitate. At this moment, Xia Jinyi suggested, “Your Imperial Highness, it is all this subordinate’s fault, offending Concubine Lan. The Crown Princess also became angry with Concubine Lan because of this matter. If Your Imperial Highness permits it, this subordinate will apologize to Concubine Lan. I’m sure that Concubine Lan will spare this subordinate.”

Li An glanced at Xiao Lan. Having already recognized that this was a way out of the situation, Xiao Lan promptly replied to Xia Jinyi, “We will not blame you. From this point on, you must be cautious with your words and conduct.”

Xia Jinyi immediately consented. Pleased, Li An stated, “That’s good. Concubine Lan, go apologize to the Crown Princess. If you provoke her anger, neither Imperial Father nor Mother will be happy.”

Xiao Lan was already extremely regretful that someone had a hold of her weakness. She promptly agreed, “Your servant will immediately go. Please do not worry, Your Imperial Highness.”

Li An nodded his head with satisfaction. “That’s fine. Xia Jinyi, why aren’t you going back with Us yet?”

Xia Jinyi swiftly rose to his feet and followed the crown prince out. Before he departed, he shot a look of gratitude to his senior apprentice brother. Only when Xia Jinyi had gone far did Zhang Jinxiong state with an icy expression, “This subordinate bids his goodbyes.”

Xiao Lan hastily apologized, “Supervisor Zhang, this is all Our mistake, please do not take it to heart so that our two sects’ friendship is not harmed.”

Zhang Jinxiong casually remarked, “Your Imperial Highness is royalty, while Jinxiong is a subject. How dare I take this matter to heart? This junior apprentice brother of mine is from a pitiful background. It is possible that his conduct and behavior is improper and inappropriate. However, his nature is kind-hearted. Would Your Imperial Highness please be lenient?”

Xiao Lan smiled slightly and inquired, “Do you really not know what he has done?”

Zhang Jinxiong coldly responded, “This is exactly what Jinxiong wishes to speak to Your Imperial Highness about. Does the Fengyi Sect really believe it’s worthwhile to support and protect this kind of lord and master? Jinxiong will report this incident back to my sect. Your Imperial Highness, please search your heart. Is Jinyi truly at fault for what has happened?”

Xiao Lan’s expression became grave and heavy. She did not respond as she watched Zhang Jinxiong’s departing figure. In a low voice, she murmured, “This time, I’ve truly miscalculated. I must properly remedy the situation, otherwise what can I do if Master blames me?”

Footnotes:

求之不得, quizhibude – idiom, lit. seek but fail to get; fig. exactly what one’s been looking for
趋炎附势, quyanfushi – idiom, lit. to curry favor; playing up to those in power, social climbing
奴颜婢膝, nuyanbixi – idiom, lit. servile and bending the knee; fawning, bending and scraping to curry favor
蒙在鼓里, mengzaiguli – idiom, kept inside a drum; fig. completely in the dark
搬弄是非, bannongshifei – idiom, lit. to incite a quarrel; fig. to sow discord between people, to make mischief
A 寸, cun is roughly 2.31 cm or close to an inch in length
自食其果, zishiqiguo – idiom, lit. to eat one’s fruit; fig. suffering the consequences of one’s own actions; to reap what one has sown

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