A palanquin brought the Prince of Qi slowly and sedately to the Jade Qilin Palace Hall that served as the crown prince’s abode. Now that he was restrained by drugs and could move with difficulty, Li Xian was unable to walk long distances. The Jade Qilin Palace Hall was on the eastern side of the Hunting Palace. The palace hall that the Prince of Qi resided in, the Announcing Magnificence Park, was located on the western side. There was several li between the two. As such, he could only take a palanquin. The warriors carrying the palanquin were four of the Prince of Qi’s trusted subordinates. Even the Princess of Qi could not casually order them about. Leading two of her maids, Qin Zheng walked in front of the palanquin, guiding it along.
The group arrived at the Jade Qilin Pavilion Hall. The security here was strict. Hearing of the Prince of Qi’s arrival, Xiao Lan personally came out to welcome them dressed in close-fitting clothes. Seeing Qin Zheng help Li Xian out of the palanquin, Xiao Lan stepped forward and saluted. “Sixth brother-in-law’s arrival will definitely make His Imperial Highness extremely happy.”
Uncaringly, Li Xian said, “At present, Li Xian is no more than a prisoner. How am I worthy of such great courtesies?”
Xiao Lan then appeared to be awkward. However, she immediately wiped it away with a smile and replied, “Sixth brother-in-law, this is our error. Sixth brother-in-law, please forgive us. His Imperial Highness is waiting inside for you.”
Li Xian entered the palace hall, seeing Li An standing at its center with his hands behind his back. The Crown Prince’s Junior Mentor Lu Jingzhong stood in attendance to the side. Although Lu Jingzhong had already been placed under house arrest by the Fengyi Sect, with the urgency of the present situation and under the crown prince’s request, the Fengyi Sect could only release him. They could only limit him to the Jade Qilin Palace Hall. Probably because of this reason and because the crown prince had not cared enough to protect him, Lu Jingzhong’s seemed somewhat aloof and haggard.
Seeing Li Xian arrive, Li An amicably walked over. Grasping his brother’s hand, Li An stated, “Sixth brother, you’ve come. This time, you have to help your older brother. You understand that your older brother can’t turn back anymore. If I do not ascend to the throne as emperor, I will be imprisoned and forced to commit suicide. Your wife is also a rebel. If you aren’t willing to do your utmost when the time comes, there is no way that you will be able to escape responsibility if your older brother were to unfortunately fail.”
With an even expression on his face, Li Xian replied, “Your little brother is aware of the present state of affairs. However, hasn’t Crown Prince already dispatched a fake edict to mobilize the Qin family army?”
Li An was startled. Blushing with shame, he answered, “When all is said and done, the Qin family isn’t under my personal command. If something unexpected happens, they will be extremely difficult to control. Your older brother’s seat upon the Imperial Throne will only be safe once your troops arrive, sixth brother.”
With a smile that wasn’t a smile, Li Xian replied, “Since that is the case, would the Crown Prince please remove the poison in my body and allow me to take command of my army?”
When Li Xian spoke those words, Li An was immediately left speechless. He glanced at Xiao Lan, a look of awkwardness on his face. At this moment, Lu Jingzhong spoke up, “Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi’s body is priceless. At present, the Prince of Yong is still at large. If Your Imperial Highness were to take risks with your life, if something unexpected were to happen to you, wouldn’t it cause the Crown Prince concern? It is better to stay here. So long as Your Imperial Highness provides a letter ordering your army to undertake a forced march to rush here, it will be enough. I wonder if Your Imperial Highness is willing to serve the Crown Prince.”
Li Xian grimly returned, “Who doesn’t know that the Prince of Yong’s army is keeping a close eye upon my troops? If my troops were to move, they would likely be disturbed. Isn’t Junior Mentor worried about overreaching?”
“The Prince of Yong’s personal army is stubborn and pigheaded,” observed Lu Jingzhong with a smile. “Although the Crown Prince has already dispatched people to pursue the Prince of Yong and the Qin family’s army will soon become involved, if the Prince of Yong is regrettably allowed to rendezvous with his troops, it will undoubtedly severely complicate the situation. Only because of this does the Crown Prince desire that Your Imperial Highness dispatch troops to help annihilate the troops under the Prince of Yong’s command. The army under Your Imperial Highness’s command is close in number to those of the Prince of Yong. The quality is also equal. We believe that Your Imperial Highness will definitely be able to attain success quickly, perhaps even in the first battle.1 Even if Your Imperial Highness is unable to attain an immediate victory, since the Crown Prince has already dispatched an edict commanding the Qin family army to capture and kill the Prince of Yong, once successful, they will bring the Prince of Yong’s severed head to help Your Imperial Highness’s subordinates pacify the rebellion. When the time comes, Your Imperial Highness will have performed the greatest meritorious service in saving the empire from danger. The Crown Prince will surely reward you heavily.”
Li Xian stared intensely at Lu Jingzhong, mentally cursing the man’s maliciousness, the man who desired to force his army to fight against the Prince of Yong’s elite soldiers. Even if his troops were fortunate enough to win, they would suffer disastrous casualties. The majority of the troops commanded by himself and the Prince of Yong were on the frontiers. The only other troops stationed near the capital and its environs were the Qin family’s army, loyal only to the emperor. As long as they controlled Imperial Father, they could guarantee Li An’s ascension to the throne. However, Li Xian did not lay bare the man’s malicious scheming, merely stonily replying, “Fine. This Prince will write a letter to mobilize my troops. However, Your Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, must agree to a few of this younger brother’s conditions.”
Li An was overjoyed, as he agreed, “Sixth brother, don’t hesitate and reveal them.”
With an icy expression on his face, Li Xian stated, “First, regardless of how we struggle for the Imperial Throne, calamity should not fall upon the women and children. I do not care about the fate of second brother, but second sister-in-law and nephew may not be touched.”
“Pulling out weeds without digging up the roots,” mentioned Li An, frowning slightly. “Sixth brother is too tenderhearted. If second brother were to win, the only path for our women and children is death.”
Li Xian was silent and did not speak. Seeing Lu Jingzhong give him a meaningful look, Li An could only acquiesce reluctantly, “Fine, I’ll listen to you.”
Li Xian smiled slightly and continued, “The second condition: if elder brother ascends to the throne, you cannot depose sister-in-law and the heir because of the Fengyi Sect’s contributions.”
Frankly and straightforwardly, Li An consented, “There is no problem. We also think this way.”
Li Xian imperviously continued, “The third condition. I know that Your Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, was frequently dissatisfied with this younger brother. I ask that Your Imperial Highness not settle accounts afterwards.”
Li An awkwardly replied, “Why would I do such a thing? Sixth brother’s help will be invaluable for my ascension to the Imperial Throne. We will definitely not return kindness with ingratitude.”
Nodding his head, Li Xian continued, “There is also another small condition. Right now, I am being controlled by drugs. It is challenging for me to even climb out of bed. I want the poison in my body to be removed.”
Li An glanced at Xiao Lan. After hesitating for a moment, Xiao Lan spoke, “Your servant only has an antidote that will temporarily alleviate Your Imperial Highness’s condition. If Your Imperial Highness desires to regain your martial arts, I’m afraid that you will have to wait until my master arrives.”
Li An glanced at the Prince of Qi, worried that they would fall out because of this reason. Surprisingly, Li Xian only uncaringly replied, “This Prince is only melancholic about being forced to lie in bed and is in no rush to recover my martial arts.”
Xiao Lan relaxed, taking out a pill and handing it to Li Xian. Accepting it, Li Xian swallowed the pill. After a short while, he felt his energy gradually recover. Walking to the desk, he wrote a letter. Finished, he turned and left.
Walking on the imperial pathways, Li Xian’s expression looked relaxed and comfortable, almost as if he didn’t have any cares in the world. He did not deign to sit in the palanquin, walking at a leisurely pace back towards the Announcing Magnificence Park. Seeing him in a cheerful mood, Qin Zheng also felt delighted, accompanying him as they slowly walked back.
As a result, no one paid attention to the four warriors carrying the palanquin. They deliberately slowed down their pace and even actually diverted from the path, approaching the Cherishing Fragrance Park. This location was already quite desolate and isolated. There weren’t many imperial guardsmen stationed here. Picking out a hidden spot, the four warriors hid the palanquin before jumping over the wall into the Cherishing Fragrance Park. After they entered, one of the four waited outside as a lookout while the other three entered the palace hall. After searching carefully, one of the men arriving at the princess’s sleeping quarters made a signal. The other two quickly came over. One of three lightly pushed open the door before immediately jumping out of the way.
Within, Dong Que had heard a noise. Trembling from head to toe, he turned to look. Two warriors had already jumped into the chambers. Cursing his luck and wondering if their location had been betrayed, Dong Que was confused as to why there were so few warriors. Not daring to make a sound and unable to worry about the unconscious Jiang Zhe, Dong Que unsheathed his sword and attacked.
Both of the warriors were first-rate experts, simultaneously drawing sabers and counterattacking. Both sides were silent as they exchanged several blows. Dong Que gradually began to bleed from the injury that he had sustained at the hands of Xiahou Yuanfeng, unable to keep up. The last warrior had also leaped into the room. Avoiding the three fighting, that warrior dodged to the bedside. He lowered his head to check Jiang Zhe’s appearance. After a short moment, he raised his head and signaled with his hand. The expressions of both warriors shook, their bladesmanship becoming even more ruthless and severe. The last warrior whispered, “We are the subordinates of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. Regardless of your status within the Prince of Yong’s household, you must know that His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, has never held any malice for Jiang daren. Right now, you are in grave danger. Why not temporarily rely on His Imperial Highness’s protection?”
Dong Que’s jaw quivered, his swordsmanship becoming messy. Observing this, the two warriors stayed their hands and stopped attacking, only on guard against Dong Que. Dong Que also stopped, gazing at the warrior beside the bed. Although that warrior had spoken in an amiable manner, Dong Que saw that his hand rested upon his saber’s handle as he stood by Jiang Zhe’s bedside. Dong Que understood that he did not have any way of resisting. However, he also knew that his identity could not be exposed to the light of day. Meeting the Prince of Qi would bring more harm than good.2 After pondering for a moment, he suddenly turned and rushed out of the sleeping quarters. All of the warriors were surprised, not expecting that this man would flee. When two of the warriors chased after Dong Que and reached the door, they discovered that Dong Que had already disappeared without a trace. After discussing the situation, the three warriors determined that regardless of anything, Dong Que would not go to inform anyone. Since Jiang Zhe was already in their hands, it was best that they return quickly.
They picked the unconscious Jiang Zhe up and hid him inside the palanquin. Afterwards, they nonchalantly2 carried the palanquin back to the Announcing Magnificence Park. No one paid them any attention throughout their journey.
Returning to the Announcing Magnificence Park, they followed the Prince of Qi’s instructions and hid Jiang Zhe in a side chamber. Then one of the warriors went to report to the Prince of Qi. Qin Zheng had already returned to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. As a result, the only ones left beside the Prince of Qi were Qin Zheng’s two maids. Because of the Prince of Qi’s cooperative attitude, they did not dare to oppose Li Xian and were shooed out.
After listening to the warrior’s whispered report, Li Xian frowned slightly. Although he was trapped here, his access to information was not restricted. Not only did Qin Zheng keep him up to date, he had several trusted subordinates within the Imperial Guard. Naturally, he had known long ago about the Prince of Yong’s escape, Princess Changle’s mediation, and Wei Ying’s search of the Cherishing Fragrance Park. As a result, he was able to judge that it was very likely that Jiang Zhe hid in the Cherishing Fragrance Park. Therefore, he had borrowed the opportunity of meeting with the crown prince to send his subordinates to search the Cherishing Fragrance Park. However, the current situation was extremely strange. Why had Jiang Zhe’s guard deserted? This did not make any sense.
Before he was able to speak, the warrior whispered, “Your Imperial Highness, Jiang daren’s breathing is incredibly weak. If he is not treated, his life will likely be in danger.”
Li Xian was shaken. “Have the imperial physician diagnose and treat Jiang Zhe. Remember, be careful. Make sure that the Princess of Qi doesn’t find out.”
Nominally ill, Li Xian had brought along an imperial physician with him to the Hunting Palace. At present, the physician was resting in a side chamber. At this moment, the imperial physician was greatly vexed. He was not a member of the crown prince’s faction. Now that he had fallen into such a predicament, if something were to happen, he would likely be treated as a rebel. However, he did not dare to violate the Prince of Qi’s orders. When he arrived in the chambers that Jiang Zhe was resting in and saw Jiang Zhe, the imperial physician’s entire body trembled. That year when Jiang Zhe was nearly assassinated, he was one of the imperial physicians who had gone to treat Jiang Zhe. Naturally, he recognized the Prince of Yong’s trusted adviser. The present situation was confusing. The Prince of Qi was clearly a member of the crown prince’s faction. Why was he hiding one of the Prince of Yong’s advisers? However, he knew that it was best to pretend to be deaf and mute. Stepping forward, he checked Jiang Zhe’s pulse. His brows immediately furrowed, and he stated, “This daren was originally already ill, and did not properly convalesce. At present, his heartbeat is extremely feeble. If he is not given proper treatment, he likely won’t survive the night. I’ll make a prescription using liquefied ginseng. As long as he rests properly, his illness should be treatable.”
The warrior was overjoyed, replying, “Imperial Physician Qiao, please treat him properly. If something were to happen to this man, His Imperial Highness wouldn’t let you off.”
Imperial Physician Qiao repeatedly voiced his promises. He had brought a complete collection of medicinal ingredients with him for this trip. As expected, after feeding Jiang Zhe some medicine, Jiang Zhe’s complexion gradually improved and became ruddy. His breathing also deepened, his expression becoming tranquil. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Imperial Physician Qiao remarked, “Finally out of the woods … However, daren’s body is extremely weak and requires careful nursing.”
The warriors exchanged glances. They had heard of the poor health of an adviser of the Prince of Yong. In addition, their master esteemed him exceedingly highly. Who could have expected that it would be a feeble scholar like this who could die at any moment?
A night passed without incident. At dawn, Jiang Zhe’s eyes finally opened. The warriors immediately reported this to the Prince of Qi, Li Xian.
Feeling as if someone was calling my name, I opened my eyes with difficulty. In reality, when I fainted last time, I doubted that I would wake again. Although I was completely without strength at this moment, I still had to thank the Heavens. In a whisper, I muttered, “Dong Que … Dong Que …”
From my side, a voice came over, “Suiyun, you’ve awoken.”
I shook inside. This voice was very familiar, but it was definitely not Dong Que. Turning my head, I looked, seeing the Prince of Qi quickly walking in. I subconsciously glanced at my surroundings. Smiling wryly, I observed, “So Zhe has already become a prisoner. I do not know how I arrived at Your Imperial Highness’s residence.”
Li Xian laughed bitterly before he sat down in a chair beside the bed. He replied, “Meeting you today—it feels like a lifetime has passed since our last meeting. Presumably, Suiyun has already planned everything and victory is already within second brother’s grasp.”3
I tried to sit up with difficulty, but was unable to do so, feeling my limbs completely lacking in strength. The Prince of Qi hurriedly came over to prop me up. Only then was I able to sit up. I asked, “What time is it right now?”
Li Xian casually remarked, “Today is already the twenty-second day of the ninth month. It is almost 7 AM.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed like the troops coming to rescue the emperor would arrive soon. I hoped that the Prince of Yong would be safe and sound. With a calm expression on my face, I inquired, “How did I come here? What happened to the guard at my side?”
Li Xian smiled and responded, “Yesterday, I dispatched men to the Cherishing Fragrance Park. As expected, they found you hiding there. Right now, aside from this Prince and a few trusted subordinates, no one else knows that you are here. As for your guard, he acted strangely. Seeing you fall into my subordinates’ hands, he actually fled.”
I breathed another sigh of relief. If Dong Que were to meet with the Prince of Qi, based upon Li Xian’s supreme intuition, Dong Que’s identity would likely be exposed and he would be in danger.
Somewhat lamenting, Li Xian declared, “Suiyun, you have shed your blood, sweat, and tears for my second brother. But if weren’t for the timely arrival of my men, you likely would have lost your life. Why go to such ends? If you had followed this Prince that day, it would have been impossible for you to fall into such a state.”
I smiled faintly. “Zhe has received extraordinary favor from His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong. At this moment, if I relaxed, wouldn’t I betray the Prince of Yong’s grace?”
An unhappy look appeared on Li Xian’s face. “This Prince is confident that if you are willing to enter my service, this Prince’s grace to you will not be less than that of second brother’s.”
I could not help but recall my efforts to force the Prince of Yong to act and his ultimate decision to let me off. It seemed like just yesterday. After a moment, I replied, “Your Imperial Highness’s natural disposition is straightforward and outspoken, possessing talents surpassing others. Zhe admires you greatly. It is a pity that Your Imperial Highness made a misstep and is now trapped in an impossible situation. However, with regards to matters of the past, there is no point in discussing them. I wonder. Has Your Imperial Highness taken steps this time to make up for your mistake?”
Li Xian smiled wryly and stated, “Last night, I agreed to their request, writing a letter ordering my troops to mobilize.”
Startled, I said, “Your Imperial Highness must know that at present, your troops are already powerless.”
Li Xian heaved a sigh. “My actual order was for them to not make a move. They won’t do a thing. As for who will win between big brother and second brother, it’ll be based on themselves.”
“Your Imperial Highness was able to pull back from the precipice,” I respectfully conveyed, “Garnering this subject’s complete admiration.”
Somewhat melancholic, Li Xian expressed, “After this ends, regardless of who wins, there would be no difference to this Prince’s destiny. If second brother were to win, this Prince would like to request something of daren.”
With a grave and solemn expression, I agreed, “Your Imperial Highness has saved this subject’s life. If this lowly subject is able to accomplish it, even if I have to sacrifice my life, I will not hesitate in the least. Your Imperial Highness, please speak your request.”
“I know that to the victors go the spoils,” professed Li Xian with a sigh. “If the Crown Prince is victorious, second brother’s entire family will definitely perish. Although the Crown Prince agreed yesterday to let them off, I know the Crown Prince’s character. Even if he will temporarily hold off because of me, he will always seek an opportunity to exterminate them. At the same time, if second brother were to win, nothing good will happen to big brother’s family. However, they are all my blood. I honestly cannot stand aside and do nothing. I hope that Suiyun can advise second brother to let off the Crown Princess and the heir, simply demoting them to the status of commoners. Second brother has always been magnanimous. He may agree. If second brother agrees to this condition, I am willing to hand over my military authority to him.”
Silent for some time, I then asked, “Your Imperial Highness won’t spare a thought for your own consort and heir?”
Li Xian’s complexion changed greatly, not speaking a word for some time. Finally, he answered, “I know that this is an impossibility. Zheng’er is directly involved in the rebellion. If second brother is victorious, regardless of the empire’s laws or family regulations, Zheng’er will not be able to escape. Even our son will also be implicated. Perhaps Imperial Father will spare my life after taking note that I did not participate in the rebellion. But with the death of my wife and child, what right do I have to continue to keep living, enjoying peace, riches, and honor?”
I stared at Li Xian, knowing that he spoke the truth. Neither the Princess of Qi nor his heir could escape being punished. However, it was inappropriate for me to say so. I could only state, “Right now, victory and defeat have yet to be determined. There is no need for Your Imperial Highness to be overly worried.”
“This Prince does not dare to have any extravagant hopes,” said Li Xian, smiling wryly. “Seeing that you, Suiyun, are so calm and composed, I can tell that the Crown Prince’s chances of victory are slim.”
Seeing off the Prince of Qi, my mind began to contemplate a million different things. Before today, all my efforts had been focused on how to increase the Prince of Yong’s bargaining chips. I did not pay attention to anything else. The development of the present situation already had nothing to do with me. If the Prince of Yong were to be defeated, then naturally, there would be nothing that I could say, only die for his cause. But if the Prince of Yong were victorious, how should the future be handled? When the time comes, the Prince of Yong would definitely ask for my opinions. My views would affect the life and death of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lives. I could not be careless.
I believed the crown prince naturally deserved death, while the Fengyi Sect could not be permitted to continue to exist. Because of Wei Ying’s involvement, regardless of Wei Guan’s stance and awareness, he would still be implicated. However, if the prime minister, possessing countless students, were not handled properly, the foundations of the empire could be shaken.
And there was still the most crucial individual, the Prince of Qi. Even though the Prince of Qi’s support allowed the crown prince to become arrogant and unbridled, causing the entirety of the Prince of Yong’s household to bear deep resentment towards the Prince of Qi, the Prince of Qi’s temperament was straightforward and upright, valuing friendship and righteousness. Furthermore, he had the hard to come by talent to become a commander-in-chief. It would be Great Yong’s loss if he were executed or demoted. However, the Princess of Qi’s personality was fierce, and she was also a vicious and merciless individual. As a result, the Princess of Qi would become an intractable problem between the Princes of Yong and Qi. If the Prince of Qi were to be let off lightly, then it likely would cause no end of trouble in the future. Truly an impossible situation. After careful consideration, I suddenly smiled. These matters would naturally be handled appropriately by the Prince of Yong and Shi Yu. There was no need for me to trouble myself over it. Thinking this, I gradually relaxed, drowsily falling back to sleep. Everything should be concluded tomorrow or the day after.
旗开得胜, qikaidesheng – idiom, lit. to win a victory on raising the flag; fig. to start on something and have immediate success, speedy success; win in the first battle
有害无益, youhaiwuyi – idiom, lit. harmful and without benefit; fig. more harm than good
稳操胜券, wencaoshengquan – idiom, lit. grasp it and victory is assured; fig. have firm assurances of success