As night fell on the twenty-second day of the ninth month, the town of Pingyuan, fifteen li from the Hunting Palace, had become the main camp for the forces seeking to rescue the emperor. At present, all of the routes leading out from the Hunting Palace had been cut off. Sitting in the temporary command tent, the Prince of Yong despaired. He did not expect that he would escape his predicament under such circumstances. On the road, he had thoroughly gotten the full story from Qin Yong, Xiahou Yuanfeng, and others. Although there were some things that he still wasn’t clear about, Li Zhi had gotten to know the majority of what had transpired.
At the time, Li Zhi truthfully did not hold out much hope when Jiang Zhe had been left behind. Who could have imagined that this desperate crisis had actually been reversed by Jiang Zhe? When he heard the news that Xiahou Yuanfeng had brought both the fake edict and Imperial Father’s secret edict to issue them to Qin Yong, Li Zhi had already found this all inconceivable. What caused him even greater shock was that just as Qin Yong was hesitating with the fake and secret edicts, the supervisor of the crown prince’s imperial bodyguards, Zhang Jinxiong, assigned to escort and monitor Xiahou Yuanfeng, had actually produced a keepsake from Grand General Qin. In order to mobilize Qin Yong’s troops, Jiang Zhe had surprisingly used three messengers for security’s sake. In addition, the people that he had employed actually included trusted subordinates of the crown prince. The more they thought of this, the more frightened Qin Yong and Xiahou Yuanfeng became. Even Li Zhi believed that Jiang Zhe’s scheming was unfathomable.
In particular, when Li Zhi granted Xiahou Yuanfeng an audience alone, Xiahou Yuanfeng did not hide a single thing, explaining how he had guessed Jiang Zhe’s concealment in the Cherishing Fragrance Park, how he had gone alone to capture Jiang Zhe for selfish reasons, and how Jiang Zhe had braved death in order to capture him. Hearing his explanation, not only was Li Zhi left sighing with admiration, he also gained a favorable impression of Xiahou Yuanfeng. Although this man was somewhat treacherous and indecisive, he had profound and far-reaching insights. If he were properly employed, he would be a capable subordinate. As a result, he spent some time consoling Xiahou Yuanfeng.
Li Zhi also commended Zhang Jinxiong for his meritorious contributions. Moreover, Li Zhi clearly enunciated a promise to not look into the Kongtong Sect’s previous mistake. However, contrary to expectations, Zhang Jinxiong did not remain behind. He asserted that his betrayal was because he could not stand to watch the crown prince’s conduct in cooperating with the Fengyi Sect, and was unwilling to take part in the attacks against his former master. As a result, he asked personally to leave. Li Zhi was quite appreciative of the kind of person with a loyal and righteous character, thus personally wrote an order for Zhang Jinxiong, giving him permission to depart freely.
As for Qin Yong, he personally came to apologize for his offense, explaining that he was late to the rescue because of his hesitation, asking the Prince of Yong to punish him. However, Li Zhi did not blame Qin Yong. In the Prince of Yong’s mind, the troops under Qin Yi had always been loyal to the dynasty. If Qin Yong were to so easily support him, and had come to the rescue without orders, although he would be extremely grateful right now, he would be worried that he would face such a situation again in the future, and Qin Yong would misjudge the situation and make a serious mistake. From this, although Qin Yong was excessively cautious, he was the most suitable candidate to garrison and protect the capital region. Consequently, Li Zhi not only spoke warm words of comfort, he even awarded Qin Yong his personal sword, causing Qin Yong to be moved to tears.
After holding an emergency military conference, Li Zhi dispatched Xiahou Yuanfeng to lead some experts to infiltrate the Hunting Palace. Afterwards, the army would advance to attack. Coordinating attacks from within and without, they would eradicate all of the rebels. Among those who followed Xiahou Yuanfeng into the palace was Xiaoshunzi. This caused Xiahou Yuanfeng significant grief. At the time, when Xiahou Yuanfeng arrived at the Qin army camps to issue the decree, in order to prevent the information from being leaked, he had first issued the fake edict before the assembled Qin army officers before showing Qin Yong the secret edict in private. As a result, he was nearly smacked to death with one palm from Xiaoshunzi. This was nothing in and of itself. After Xiaoshunzi had interrogated him about the situation in the Cherishing Fragrance Park, hearing that he had struck Jiang Zhe with a palm, Xiaoshunzi had always kept a bone-chillingly ruthless look on his face. His gaze towards Xiahou Yuanfeng was filled to the brim with killing intent. Because of all this, how could Xiahou Yuanfeng not sweat in fear? At this moment, he could not believe that he once had the intentions of attaining Xiaoshunzi’s services.
Just as night fell, Xiahou Yuanfeng led a dozen or so martial arts experts dressed in black, approaching a corner of the Hunting Palace. This location was extremely close to the Jade Qilin Palace Hall that the crown prince had taken up residence. As a result, the men stationed here were the imperial guardsmen and imperial bodyguards commanded by Xiahou Yuanfeng. As a result, when Xiahou Yuanfeng revealed himself, he and those following him were easily able to enter the Hunting Palace. After that, Xiahou Yuanfeng arranged Imperial Guard uniforms for them. Once everyone had changed, they followed Xiahou Yuanfeng and made their way towards the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. Just as they passed by the Cherishing Fragrance Park, as Xiahou Yuanfeng expected, Xiaoshunzi insisted on going to check on Jiang Zhe. Xiahou Yuanfeng had prepared for this long ago. Because of the close proximity of the Cherishing Fragrance Park to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, and the possibility of alarming the Fengyi Sect, Xiahou Yuanfeng figured it was better to wait until Li Zhi’s army arrived before taking action. As a result, he expressed his approval.
As a result, everyone entered the Cherishing Fragrance Park. While the others went to the side chambers to rest, Xiaoshunzi and Xiahou Yuanfeng walked into the chamber. Xiaoshunzi was naturally the first one to burst into the sleeping quarters. But when Xiahou Yuanfeng caught up, he saw Xiaoshunzi gazing furiously at him. Xiahou Yuanfeng looked at his surroundings, not seeing Jiang Zhe or his servant. He could not help but be frightened. However, after thinking it over, he smiled and stated, “It is possible that Jiang Zhe hid somewhere else. There is no need for Lord Li to be excessively worried.”
Deeming his words reasonable, Xiaoshunzi’s expression gradually calmed. However, at this moment, he could hear someone quietly approaching these chambers. His heart jumped into his mouth. After waiting for a few moments, someone softly pushed open the door. Seeing Dong Que, Xiaoshunzi couldn’t but be overjoyed. He asked, “Where is the young master? Is he safe and sound?”
With a bit of a guilty conscience, Dong Que lowered his head, not daring to speak. Xiaoshunzi and Xiahou Yuanfeng both trembled. Xiahou Yuanfeng understood clearly that if he wasn’t able to obtain the antidote, glory, wealth, and rank would be useless to him. He hurriedly scrambled to ask, “What has happened to Jiang daren?”
Helplessly, Dong Que answered, “Young master has been seized by subordinates dispatched by His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi.”
This news was like a bolt out of the blue,1 shocking both Xiaoshunzi and Xiahou Yuanfeng. However, both of them were shrewd and they simultaneously inquired, “He hasn’t fallen into the hands of the Crown Prince or the Fengyi Sect, correct?”
Dong Que promptly responded, “No. I monitored them for an extended period of time. The young master is still at the palace hall that the Prince of Qi is residing in. The Crown Prince and his people definitely do not know his whereabouts.”
Both Xiaoshunzi and Xiahou Yuanfeng relaxed. Xiahou Yuanfeng glanced suspiciously at Dong Que, wondering why he was not accompanying Jiang Zhe. However, Xiaoshunzi knew the reason and he grimly declared, “I want to first take a trip to the Announcing Magnificence Park.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng stopped him, stating, “Their Imperial Highnesses, the Prince of Qi and the Crown Prince, are not united. Once the Prince of Yong’s army arrives, the Prince of Qi would definitely not dare to harm Jiang daren. If Lord Li were to go at this moment, it is possible that the Prince of Qi will use Jiang daren as a hostage against Lord Li.”
Xiaoshunzi also understood this point. But with Jiang Zhe in the Prince of Qi’s hands, he was extremely anxious that the Prince of Qi would use Jiang Zhe as a hostage to blackmail the Prince of Yong. As a result, Xiaoshunzi did not say anything, only using his resolute gaze to signify his unwillingness to compromise.
Xiahou Yuanfeng now had a headache. At this moment, Dong Que whispered, “After Xiahou daren departed, the young master’s condition worsened. This subordinate was powerless to help. The Prince of Qi will definitely provide treatment for the young master’s illness. If Lord Li were to rush over at this moment, then with one mistake, the young master would be harmed. It would be better to wait until the Prince of Yong arrives and the situation is resolved. I do not believe that the Prince of Qi would be so foolish.”
Although he gradually calmed down, Xiaoshunzi’s gaze towards Xiahou Yuanfeng became increasingly frigid. How could Xiahou Yuanfeng not understand Xiaoshunzi’s thoughts? Xiaoshunzi was blaming him for worsening Jiang Zhe’s illness. However, Xiahou Yuanfeng could only laugh wryly. It was quite some time before Xiaoshunzi sighed to himself. The problems had been brewing for a while2 … Jiang Zhe’s health was already extremely grave, having nothing to do with Xiahou Yuanfeng’s palm strike. Thinking this through, he gazed silently out the window, waiting for the opportunity to act. Young master, I hope that you will come out of this safe and sound …
At the crack of dawn, in accordance with the plan, Xiahou Yuanfeng and company quietly made their way towards the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. This location had the tightest security in the entire Hunting Palace. As they approached the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, Xiahou Yuanfeng had everyone hide, while he took the lead and walked towards the palace hall’s gate. The Imperial Guard stationed there immediately raised their alertness. After exchanging hand signals, Xiahou Yuanfeng could see the snow-white clothes of the Fengyi Sect’s swordswomen. Deliberately raising his voice, he shouted, “I am the Vice Supervisor of the Imperial Palace Guard, Xiahou Yuanfeng. On the Crown Prince’s order, I have come to seek an audience with His Imperial Majesty. Why aren’t you swiftly going in to report?”
The imperial guardsmen did not dare to slight Xiahou Yuanfeng. They knew that this man before them was a part of the crown prince’s faction. Regardless of what was going to happen, the crown prince was the future emperor. They naturally did not even consider offending him. It wasn’t long before Li Hanyou walked out, a look of vexation on her face. So much time had passed and yet news of the Prince of Yong’s capture or death had yet to reach the Hunting Palace. She was naturally extremely uneasy. Seeing Xiahou Yuanfeng, she impatiently asked, “Xiahou daren, didn’t you go to issue the decree? Why have you come here so early in the morning? What business do you have?”
Xiahou Yuanfeng laughed mysteriously and replied, “You will have to ask yourselves about this. Although Miss Wen’s martial arts are fairly good, she has yet to capture the Prince of Yong. However, my luck was quite good. At present, the Prince of Yong’s head has already been examined by the Crown Prince. The Crown Prince has ordered me to come report this matter to His Imperial Majesty.”
Li Hanyou suspiciously inquired, “If what you say is true, why isn’t the Crown Prince here himself to report this to the Emperor? Instead, why have you come? Where is the head? Why don’t I see it?”
Xiahou Yuanfeng glanced left and right, whispering, “Princess, you are being nonsensical about this matter. Both of us are well aware of what really is going on. If the Crown Prince were to bring the Prince of Yong’s head to seek an audience with the Emperor, it would be inconvenient if His Imperial Majesty were enraged and performed an inappropriate action. It would not be good if this news were to spread. Although this lowly official’s rank is petty and insignificant, I have spent years accompanying the Imperial Presence and am familiar with the Emperor’s temperament. Junior Mentor daren has sent me to reveal what has happened. Once the Emperor’s temper has passed and he has calmed down, the Crown Prince will personally come to have an audience with the Emperor. Princess must not disclose this information! At present, no outsiders know what is going on. I did not even bring back the troops that participated in the assault and execution of the Prince of Yong. Only after His Imperial Majesty has agreed to abdicate should we announce the Prince of Yong’s death.”
Li Hanyou frowned and asked, “What? You saw Lu daren?”
Xiahou Yuanfeng sneered. “Princess, this lowly official isn’t blaming you. Regardless of what happens, we are all in the same boat. Are you planning on casting him aside before everything has been resolved? This lowly official has no desire to make things difficult for your honored sect. As a result, Lu daren has not been released. But if I wish to discuss a few things with Junior Mentor Lu, not even Concubine Lan has any reason to stop me.”
Contempt flashed across Li Hanyou’s eyes. Although she found Lu Jingzhong extremely annoying, she could only begrudge that this was a reliable method. Seeing the two imperial bodyguards behind Xiahou Yuanfeng with their heads lowered respectfully, Li Hanyou declared, “You can come in, but these two cannot.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng’s complexion changed. “To speak impolitely, right now the Prince of Yong is dead. We are all in the Crown Prince’s boat. But who can tell when you people are going to rid of us when we’ve ceased to be useful? These two imperial bodyguards are my trusted personal guards with martial arts not worse than this lowly official. Without their protection, I have not the courage to enter the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall.”
Li Hanyou mistook these two as the Freezing Moon branch’s suicide troops, explaining why they refused to show their faces. Of course, this was the conclusion that Xiahou Yuanfeng had deliberately led her to make. As a result, Li Hanyou mocked, “You are actually quite cautious. Fine. We are only being careful and will not do anything that will betray righteousness. You can go in. But let me say this: if you try to play any tricks, I won’t let you off lightly. Right now, my senior apprentice sisters Yan and Xie are both inside. It will be impossible for the three of you to cause any waves. Oh, that’s right, where’s Wei Ying? Is he still patrolling?”
Xiahou Yuanfeng smiled and replied, “Who cares what he’s doing? He’s the prestigious son of the prime minister and yet still insists upon vying over meritorious service with us? Usually so sanctimonious; I do not respect him.”
Li Hanyou frowned and replied, “Aren’t you being too narrow-minded simply because Wei Ying was able to deceive you? In the future, you two will serve as ministers in the same court. It is best if you don’t have a falling out.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng sneered once more. Seemingly without speaking, he said, “As you command.”
Seeing him smiling insincerely, his handsome face scorning, Li Hanyou only took it as Xiahou Yuanfeng’s jealousy and just said, “All right. Go in. The Emperor and company are all resting in the heated room of the main hall of the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. We are not permitted to enter the main hall. Go ask for an audience by yourself.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng only relaxed after he had entered the grounds of the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. His gaze flicked over the surroundings. The defenses here were extremely tight. At the entrance to the western side hall was beautiful woman, resting her hand on her sword’s handle. She was gazing straight at him. Xiahou Yuanfeng recognized this woman. She was Yan Wushuang. Because she was not skilled a rider, she had not accompanied Wen Ziyan to pursue the Prince of Yong. Instead, she had come here to help Li Hanyou. Xiahou Yuanfeng smiled lightly, nodding his head in greeting at Yan Wushuang. She frowned slightly before returning to the side hall. Only then did Xiahou Yuanfeng walk to the entrance of the main hall. Knocking on the door, he announced, “This subject, Xiahou Yuanfeng, requests an audience with His Imperial Majesty.”
Within the main hall of the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, excluding the main audience chambers in front, were six heated rooms in the back. At present, Yong Emperor Li Yuan and company were resting inside of these warmed rooms. Only the imperial palace guards, Qin Yi, and Cheng Shu alternated the guard within the main audience chambers, taking precautions against a rebel attack. Hearing Xiahou Yuanfeng’s voice, Cheng Shu, responsible for the overnight watch, frowned. If it were Qin Yi on duty, he would have demanded that Xiahou Yuanfeng return at a more reasonable hour. However, Cheng Shu’s temperament was pragmatic. What would be the point of offending Xiahou Yuanfeng right now for no reason? As such, he walked to the entrance, ordering the imperial palace guards on duty to open the doors.
Once the door opened, Cheng Shu caught sight of Xiahou Yuanfeng accompanied by two individuals with their heads lowered. Just as he was about to speak, ordering Xiahou Yuanfeng to enter alone, one of the imperial bodyguards accompanying Xiahou Yuanfeng raised his head. Cheng Shu was startled for a second before immediately understanding. He firmly stated, “If you intend to play tricks with two subordinates, I, Old Cheng, will not let you, a rebellious subject, off.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng and company walked into the main audience chambers. The doors closed behind them. Cheng Shu wished to say something, but having experienced many things, he only declared, “His Imperial Majesty is still resting. Right now, there is no point in adhering strictly to the tenets of courtesy between liege and vassal. All of you, follow me.” Finished speaking, he led the three of them behind the main audience chambers. Although the imperial palace guardsmen found this a bit strange, they knew better than to ask questions.
The heated room that the emperor was resting in was heavily guarded on the outside. Noble Consort Yan and Princess Changle rested in a separate heated room. Cheng Shu led the three visitors straight to the entrance of the emperor’s heatedroom. All of the Imperial Palace Guard kept their eyes on Xiahou Yuanfeng, on high alert. Every one of them knew that Xiahou Yuanfeng was a part of the crown prince’s faction. At this moment, the door to the heated room opened and Leng Chuan walked out. Hostility shone in his eyes. He callously stated, “His Imperial Majesty wishes to know what has happened.”
The man in the imperial bodyguard uniform to the right of Xiahou Yuanfeng raised his head. Removing the helmet from his head, he stated, “Li Shun, of the Prince of Yong’s residence, has come on orders from His Imperial Highness to pay my respects to His Imperial Majesty.”
Leng Chuan’s eyes immediately brightened. He replied, “You are Demonic Shadow Li Shun?”
The eyes of the delicate looking youth were as cold as ice. Moreover, his voice was feminine. All of this matched Li Shun’s description. However, Leng Chuan still had doubts in his mind, as he gazed questioningly at Cheng Shu and the recently arrived Qin Yi. After the two had the chance to consider Li Shun, they confirmed his identity and nodded.
Leng Chuan reentered the heated room. After a few moments, he came back out and stated, “His Imperial Majesty summons Li Shun and Xiahou Yuanfeng. Grand General, Duke of Wei, please go in as well.”
Li Shun and Xiahou Yuanfeng walked in. Over these last two days, Li Yuan had been filled with anxiety, aging considerably. To guard against the unexpected, he had remained clothed even while sleeping. At this moment, he sat on the imperial bed. His eyes filled with helplessness, he inquired, “How is Zhi’er’s situation currently?”
Li Shun had spent many years in the Southern Chu royal palace, so naturally understood the proper etiquette of meeting the emperor. He advanced and kowtowed, responding, “This servant, Li Shun, has come on the orders of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, to pay my respects to Your Imperial Majesty. At present, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, has already rendezvoused with General Qin Yong. The rebel army in pursuit of His Imperial Highness has been completely annihilated. His Imperial Highness has set up camp at the town of Pingyuan. Later today, he will lead his army to besiege the Hunting Palace. But His Imperial Highness is worried about Your Imperial Majesty’s safety and has specially dispatched this servant here to report.”
Li Yuan was overjoyed. The dark clouds covering the sky finally began to disperse. He could not help but jump to his feet. He paced back and forth several times before he asked, “Xiahou, what’s the matter with you? Why have you brought the Prince of Yong’s messenger here?”
Xiahou Yuanfeng was shrewd enough to speak the truth. He answered, “Your Imperial Majesty, this subject has good relations with the Crown Prince only because he is the heir apparent. This subject has never had any intention of rebelling. As a result, when the Crown Prince dispatched this subject with the fake edict to mobilize General Qin Yong’s troops, I also brought Your Imperial Majesty’s secret edict handed me by Major Jiang, Jiang daren, of the Prince of Yong’s household. General Qin Yong was absolutely loyal, immediately dispatching troops to rescue His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong. After rendezvousing with His Imperial Highness, this subject was ordered to infiltrate the Hunting Palace to serve as the insider.” Although his words weren’t entirely true, no one was willing to uncover it due to his significant contributions.
Smiling, Li Yuan nodded his head. Until now, he had been distressed by this coup d’état. At this moment, now that everything was on the verge of resolution, he could not help but wonder why a major of the Prince of Yong’s household would ask for the imperial seal through Princess Changle. Could it be that the previous rumors circulating in the court about Changle’s feelings for that man were true? Even if he ignored that man’s status as a former surrendered subject of Southern Chu, Li Yuan had also heard that the man was always in poor health. Although Jiang Zhe had contributed significantly this time, enough to even marry Changle to him, how would he be able to bring Changle happiness if he were constantly sick? Forget about it, thought Li Yuan, deciding to use other methods to award Jiang Zhe. He wouldn’t dare to violate etiquette and ask Us to marry Changle.
Having made the decision in his mind, Li Yuan ordered that everyone be woken and proceed to the main audience chambers to quietly await the arrival of the Prince of Yong’s troops. After discussing things with Leng Chuan, Xiahou Yuanfeng arranged for several of the experts outside to infiltrate the palace hall through a hole in the defense. Combining forces, Xiaoshunzi and Leng Chuan took control of several dozen imperial guardsmen, allowing reinforcements to come in. Although this plan was risky, with the Prince of Yong about to attack, it was too late to worry about anything else. These reinforcements were temporarily hidden in the rear of the palace hall while Xiahou Yuanfeng hurriedly went to placate the already suspicious members of the Fengyi Sect.
Noble Consort Ji’s complexion was frosty. Standing before the entrance of the palace hall, she insisted on entering. Having spent years in the depths of the palace, she was long accustomed to the scheming and plotting of the harem. Hearing Yan Wushuang speak of Xiahou Yuanfeng’s arrival, although she found things to be reasonable and fair, she was suspicious of why Wen Ziyan had dispatched Xiahou Yuanfeng to take advantage. With the sense that it was best to kill first and ask questions later, than to allow any chance of reversal, she arrived at the main palace hall to investigate. Qin Yi and Cheng Shu blocked her passage, prohibiting her from entering. Although the two insisted that the emperor did not wish to see her, Ji Xia was determined to see Li Yuan and Xiahou Yuanfeng. To her, if Xiahou Yuanfeng spoke the truth, then at most, she would be offending Xiahou Yuanfeng. She couldn’t care less about the disciples of the Devil Sect. If there was a plot, then she had to seize this opportunity to retrieve the situation. As a result, her words became increasingly harsh. She summoned Li Hanyou, Yan Wushuang, and Xie Xiaotong. Although the three did not necessarily agree with Ji Xia’s opinion, they would not openly oppose Ji Xia’s decision in the face of a common enemy.
At this moment, a bugle sounded a long call outside of the Hunting Palace. The Prince of Yong’s troops had arrived. Two hours ago, taking advantage of the darkness, the army had silently3 and noiselessly marched on the Hunting Palace. Because there weren’t many individuals within the Hunting Palace deathly loyal to the Fengyi Sect, the Fengyi Sect had no alternative but to cease the patrols of the surrounding area. The Prince of Yong had made all preparations to ensure silence—everyone holding a coin in their mouths, removing the bells from horses, and muffling the hooves. As dawn approached, they surrounded the Hunting Palace. No one within had discovered their arrival. The Prince of Yong waited until the sun began to rise before he ordered the horns to be blown and the attack launched. Inside the Hunting Palace, the Imperial Guard already had serious misgivings and lacked fighting spirit. In comparison, the Prince of Yong’s troops had clear-cut objectives. In no time, they had successfully fought their way into the Hunting Palace.
晴天霹雳, qingtianpili – idiom, lit. thunder from a clear sky; fig. a bolt from the blue
冰冻三尺，非一日之寒, bingdongsanchi, feiyirizhihan – idiom, lit. three feet of ice does not form in a day; fig. trouble has been brewing for some time
偃旗息鼓, yanqixigu – idiom, lit. lay down the flag and still the drums; fig. stop all activities and be silent