Volume 3, Chapter 34: Bitter Fighting at Dawn’s Frost

When the rebellion occurred, the majority of the participant disciples from the Fengyi Sect were women who Fan Huiyao had painstakingly trained over the last dozen or so years. The majority of those disciples who had risked life and limb1 in the war alongside Fan Huiyao had either died on the battlefield or now lived a life of monasticism. Because this rebellion was Fan Huiyao’s own decision, they were not participating. Li Hanyou and company, although their martial arts and intelligence were fairly decent, they had never experienced any significant setbacks. For a moment, they were left bewildered as to how to respond, and could only watch helplessly as the Hunting Palace’s defenses were broken. However, Ji Xia was different. She had previously accompanied Li Yuan in fighting all over the world, immediately understanding what was going on. She did not even bother discussing the situation with Li Hanyou and company. She whistled long and loud, like the cry of the phoenix reaching the highest reaches of the Heavens. This was a signal for all of the disciples of the Fengyi Sect to assemble. Li Hanyou immediately understood Noble Consort Ji’s intentions. Now that troops had arrived to rescue the emperor, the only way for the Fengyi Sect to accomplish its goals was to seize the emperor and attempt to break out. As a result, Li Hanyou shouted, “Attack! We must capture the Emperor!”

Hearing Li Hanyou’s commanding shout, Qin Yi and Cheng Shu took a step back. Just as Li Hanyou was about to storm into the palace hall, a sinister palm flew straight at her. When she went to block it, her heart jumped, and she backflipped and retreated. The attacker walked out of the entrance. Although he wore the uniform of an imperial bodyguard, his appearance was delicate and handsome, his eyes as frosty as ice and snow. It was Demonic Shadow Li Shun, whom everyone had thought had escaped.

Li Hanyou felt great fear and could not help retreat several steps. She saw several additional individuals in dark clothes follow Li Shun out. All of them were full of spirit and energy, nimble and vigorous. Li Hanyou steeled her heart, not caring about anything else. She shouted, “Two senior apprentice sisters, all junior apprentice sisters, attack together!”

Yan Wushuang and Xie Xiaotong simultaneously unsheathed their swords and attacked, followed closely by the swordswomen of the Fengyi Sect. Just as battle was about to be joined, Xiaoshunzi asked grimly, “Do you all wish to meet Wen Ziyan in the underworld?”

His words were filled with killing intent, as chilling as the coldest winters. He had also chosen the perfect moment to speak. Although Li Hanyou and company had all somewhat guessed that something must have happened to Wen Ziyan, having their fears confirmed frightened and discouraged them. Their movements could only be sluggish. Taking advantage, the men in black’s defense of the entrance was stabilized. Annoyance glimmered in Li Hanyou’s eyes. Right now, it was impossible to resolve all of this quickly.2 Li Hanyou and the disciples of the Fengyi Sect could only raise their swords and advance, trying to fight their way inside.

At the same time, the sound of battle could be heard outside of the perimeter wall of the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. Desperate fighting erupted at the entrance to the palace hall. Although the fighting power of the Fengyi Sect’s swordswomen was formidable, the doorway wasn’t that wide, making it impossible for the sword formation to fully deploy. Further, opposing them was an expert of Li Shun’s level. Although they had managed to seize the advantage, they were unable to charge inside. At this moment, the door to a side palace hall was pushed open and Qin Zheng walked out, supporting Empress Dou with one arm.

Qin Zheng had heard the battle cries outside, and trembled, feeling as if she had fallen into a frozen cave. Thinking of the Prince of Qi, completely powerless to protect himself in the Announcing Magnificence Park, what would happen when the coup d’état failed? She momentarily forgot what she was supposed to do.

At this moment, a sharp whistle came from outside. Ji Xia frowned and commanded, “Qin Zheng, why aren’t you going to support them?” Only then did Qin Zheng regain her composure, leading some swordswomen in a charge at the palace gates.

Concurrent to when the Prince of Yong launched his attack upon the Hunting Palace, the Jade Qilin Palace Hall fell into chaos. Li An was terror-stricken.3 Grabbing onto Xiao Lan, he ordered, “Beloved concubine, quickly save Our life.”

Xiao Lan’s own mind was also in a mess. At this moment, they heard Ji Xia’s sharp whistle. At wit’s end,4 Xiao Lan could only hold onto Li An and sprint towards the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall.

At that time, the Prince of Yong’s troops had yet to penetrate the walls of the Hunting Palace, but prior to when they arrived at the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, a crack unit of horsemen under Qin Yong’s personal command had arrived and begun to battle the imperial guardsmen stationed there. Xiao Lan panicked, seeking to charge into the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. However, Qin Yong, knowing full well the already intense pressure inside, ordered his men to form a spearwall and use arrows to obstruct Xiao Lan’s passage. Seeing carnage before him and feeling arrows fly past him, Li An was scared out of his wits. He shouted, “I surrender! I surrender!” Right now, he couldn’t care less about his status as the crown prince and was almost about to kneel on the ground to beg for forgiveness. Accompanying Xiao Lan over were the crown prince’s imperial bodyguards. They were either craven and cowardly5 or long dissatisfied with the crown prince. Seeing the crown prince so useless, they all lost the will to resist. Some shouted their surrender, while retreating to the side. Some abandoned everything and slipped away. It wasn’t long before the crown prince only had women from the Fengyi Sect by his side. Although Qin Zheng had exited the gates of the palace hall, she was also blocked and unable to provide support to Xiao Lan and company.

At this moment, the surroundings gradually fell silent. Under the Prince of Yong’s orders that took into account the many imprisoned court officials, the army entering the Hunting Palace only surrounded the locations that did not have put up any resistance. Right now, aside from the traitorous forces battling around the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, there was no other resistance.

Dragging the crown prince along, Xiao Lan fought desperately. However, the loyalist imperial guardsmen around them increased exponentially. Although the swordswomen were formidable, they only wielded swords. In the face of the veteran Great Yong soldiers using the greater reach of the long spears to attack, the swordswomen were only able to defend themselves in the middle of the formation. At this very second, Xiao Lan had never been so regretful in her life. If she were not dragging Li An with her, she could have charged into the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall long ago.

By the time the Hunting Palace was tentatively pacified, the Prince of Yong received the reports and rushed to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. He caught sight of Xiao Lan and Feng Feifei standing on either sides of the crown prince, protecting him. Around them were the bodies of Great Yong’s soldiers and the Fengyi Sect’s swordswomen. The appearances of both Fengyi Sect disciples were dismal and it seemed as if they were on the brink of death. Seeing Li An cowering on the ground without a hint of the deportment of a member of the imperial household, Li Zhi frowned. It was fortunate that none of the soldiers had attacked Li An. It seemed that aside from being splattered with blood, Li An had no injuries on his body.

Li Zhi shouted, “Fengyi Sect rebels, listen up! If you surrender, you may yet live! If you continue to resist, don’t blame this Prince for being ruthless.”

Feng Feifei looked around. The turncoat imperial guardsmen were on the verge of collapse. And at this moment, her own apprentice sisters fighting bitterly were losing ground and unable to hold on. If Xiao Lan and she did not seize this opportunity to charge into the grounds of the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, then they would never have the opportunity to do so. Steeling herself, she grabbed onto Li An and used him as a hostage, brandishing him about. Since the soldiers did not dare to attack Li An, he could be used as a shield. As expected, the soldiers held back, having no option but to yield before her. In a short while, the only two Fengyi Sect members located outside of the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall were able to charge towards the gates.

As this matter concerned the crown prince’s life, Qin Yong did not dare take responsibility and make the decision. Although the crown prince had risen in revolt, his death and punishment were the sole purview of the imperial household, and outside that of Qin Yong’s. As a result, he looked to the Prince of Yong, waiting for the prince’s order.

Hot rage boiled from deep within Li Zhi. Feng Feifei’s actions left him fuming with fury between gritted teeth.6 Although he absolutely loathed and despised the crown prince, regardless of what had happened, the crown prince was still his older brother. Originally desiring to shoot them full of arrows, Li Zhi ultimately changed his mind. They wouldn’t be of much use even if the three of them were able to enter the grounds of the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. How could he allow his older brother to die under these circumstances? A prince naturally had to die in a manner befitting his status. As a result, Li Zhi did not make a sound, allowing those three to charge into the grounds.

Although Xiao Lan and company were able to arrive at the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, behind them, Qin Yong had directed his subordinates to rush in after them. Currently, with the attacks from Ji Xia, Xie Xiaotong, Li Hanyou, and the twenty Fengyi Sect swordswomen, they were able to fight their way into the palace hall, although Xiaoshunzi and other experts desperately tried to block them.

Under Qin Yi, Leng Chuan, and company’s protection, Li Yuan sat on the Imperial Throne. Noble Consorts Zhangsun and Yan and Princess Changle all hid behind the throne under the protection of the imperial palace guards. As the disciples of the Fengyi Sect charged into the audience chambers, Xiaoshunzi and company no longer continued fighting zealously, swiftly retreating to the front of the throne, setting up a steadfast defensive formation. Behind Li Hanyou and company, the already smashed and dilapidated doors had been broken into fragments by that last rush. Li Hanyou moved forward, surrounding the men defending Li Yuan. Outside were the soldiers of the Prince of Yong, afraid of accidentally harming innocents. If a melee broke out, the members of the Fengyi Sect would be captured or killed. However, if something were to happen to Li Yuan, the two noble consorts, and the princess, no one could afford bearing the blame. In this brief lull, the entire audience chamber was silent. No one dared to breathe loudly. The atmosphere was utterly oppressive.

At this point, the Prince of Yong made his way through the crowd. His grim gaze flickered past the Fengyi Sect and Li An, landing upon Li Yuan. Li Zhi saluted and stated, “Imperial Father, this child was late to the rescue. Imperial Father, please forgive me.”

Gratified, Li Yuan replied, “Zhi’er, it is good that you are safe and sound. General Qin, We are greatly comforted that you have adhered by the secret edict and come to rescue Us. All right. There is no need to worry about Us. Kill all of these rebels for Us.”

Li Zhi smiled wryly. Although Li Yuan had said those words, he did not dare to commit such acts. Li Zhi promptly expressed, “Imperial Father, there is no need to worry. Right now, these rebels have already fallen into the trap. Imperial Father, please take care of your health. Once this child has captured them, this child will hand them to Imperial Father for punishment.”

Li Hanyou ruthlessly interjected, “Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, you shouldn’t be pleased with yourself! Although we have failed, both His Imperial Majesty and the Crown Prince are both still here. If Your Imperial Highness wishes to seize this opportunity to commit patricide and fratricide, then you can naturally give the order to attack. When the time comes, you can eradicate all the obstacles before you and legitimately succeed the throne. If not, then it is in your best interests to negotiate with us so that you can preserve the lives of your father and older brother.”

Although necessity demanded that Li Zhi agree to the negotiations, he was fed up with Li Hanyou’s conduct. After gazing at all of the disciples of the Fengyi Sect, his eyes ultimately landed upon Noble Consort Ji. Smiling slightly, Li Zhi stated, “This Prince wonders what views that the Noble Consort has? If the demands are too severe, I’m afraid that even if Imperial Father and this Prince agree to them, the soldiers behind me won’t. A treasonous act of rebellion like this is punishable by the nine familial exterminations. If this Prince is too permissive, it would elicit criticism from the ministers of the court and make myself look like a fool before the entire world.”

From a misty look, Noble Consort Ji’s gaze became sinister. She callously replied, “If punished by the nine familial exterminations, then won’t both the Emperor and you also be unable to escape punishment? It’s rubbish to discuss future criticism. As long as you allow us to leave unharmed, we would naturally not harm the Emperor.”

Anger flashed in the Prince of Yong’s eyes, as he asked, “If this Prince were to allow you to leave, would you really be willing to leave like this?”

Ji Xia was startled. If they were to leave like this, if the Prince of Yong were to renege on the agreement, then wouldn’t she and the disciples of the Fengyi Sect all die? What promises? She did not believe that the Prince of Yong wouldn’t seize this opportunity to hit someone who was down. At this moment, Li Hanyou haughtily suggested, “What’s so difficult about this? If Your Imperial Highness is willing to open a path and allow Princess Changle to serve as the hostage, wouldn’t this satisfy both sides?”

Finished speaking, Li Hanyou stared at Princess Changle, her gaze murderous. Li Hanyou was extremely intelligent. The secret edict that Li Yuan had mentioned had directly led to the arrival of Qin Yong’s army and Xiahou Yuanfeng’s betrayal. But how did the secret edict end up in Xiahou Yuanfeng’s hands? Only Princess Changle had been able to send someone out of the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. Seeing that the glory, status, and wealth that she yearned for disappear like smoke, Li Hanyou absolutely loathed Princess Changle. In addition, although Li Hanyou also had the status of an imperial princess and personally had faith in her talents and good looks, compared to an actual imperial princess, she still felt fear and jealousy inside. As a result, she had proposed to use Princess Changle as a hostage. Although she had her own selfish motives, hearing her suggestion, all of the members of the Fengyi Sect found this to be an excellent idea. Everyone knew of Li Yuan’s doting upon Princess Changle. She was the perfect candidate to serve as a hostage.

Li Yuan and Li Zhi were both indignant. Both of them felt guilt over Princess Changle’s marriage to Southern Chu. How could they allow her to become a hostage? As a result, they spoke in unison, “Out of the question.” With these words spoken, the atmosphere in the audience chamber immediately tensed. However, oddly enough, when Li Yuan and Li Zhi’s eyes met, the pair suddenly felt that they had never been so close before. Li Zhi, seeing the uncompromising looks on the faces of the Fengyi Sect disciples, could feel a headache coming. He could not help but think about Jiang Zhe. I sent people to find Jiang Zhe. Why hasn’t he been found yet? If Suiyun were here, there may be a way to resolve the current standoff.

Before he had entered the Hunting Palace, Li Zhi had arranged for several of his trusted subordinates to look for Jiang Zhe. Unafraid of death, Jiang Zhe had stayed behind, planning strategies while far from the battlefield7 to reverse the difficult state of affairs. At present, Li Zhi was grateful towards Jiang Zhe to the extreme. As a result, he had issued the order to immediately report back when Jiang Zhe was found. However, up until now, he had received no news. The Prince of Yong grew increasingly worried about Jiang Zhe’s safety.

While the Prince of Yong successfully broke into the Hunting Palace, I was closely monitored by four warriors. The trusted imperial bodyguards of the Prince of Qi all worried that the Prince of Yong would cease the chaos to harm the Prince of Qi. As a result, they had long ago tried to persuade the Prince of Qi to go into hiding. However, the Prince of Qi had played down the problem and rejected their suggestion. Without any other choice, they could only keep an eye on me, potentially using me as a hostage. They all knew of the weight that I had in the heart and mind of the Prince of Yong. Once the Prince of Qi was able to see the emperor, the emperor would not take the Prince of Qi’s life as he had not taken part in the rebellion.

***

After a spell, the noise outside gradually dissipated into silence. After some additional time had passed, someone knocked heavily on the door. Trembling with fear and trepidation, one of the eunuchs attending to the Announcing Magnificence Park stepped forward and opened the gate. When the gate opened, a squad of soldiers burst in, pushing the eunuch to the side. These men rapidly seized control of the entire Announcing Magnificence Park. With long strides, a youthful general marched into the main palace hall. With his hands behind his back, the Prince of Qi stood at the window, gazing out in the direction of the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall.

The youthful general gave a military salute. Although there were suspicions that the Prince of Qi had also rebelled, he was different from the crown prince, the prestige that he had in the army quite high. His bravery, ferocity, and straightforwardness garnered the admiration and respect of the troops. Although he was dissolute and lecherous, and had a bad reputation of changing women at will, he had never stolen another man’s wife or concubine. Moreover, although he had many concubines in his household, he never limited them through cruel punishments or family regulations. Each and every one of his concubines and maids, as long as they wanted, were allowed to leave his household and marry someone else. Not only would the Prince of Qi not make things difficult for them, he would even provide them with generous dowries.

The reason for this custom used by the Prince of Qi was a story that captured the imagination of the common people. At the time, someone had delivered a female dancer to the Prince of Qi’s household. She was extremely beautiful. However, after a few times, the Prince of Qi grew bored of her. By coincidence, the dancer’s childhood sweetheart had also entered the Prince of Qi’s household to serve as an imperial bodyguard. Reunited, their old affection was reignited and the two began to have an affair. This was discovered by another imperial bodyguard who had intended to force himself onto the dancer, but had been directly refused by her. As a result, he angrily reported this matter to the Prince of Qi. As expected, the Prince of Qi summoned the two childhood sweethearts to call them to account. After finding out the truth, the Prince of Qi ordered that the imperial bodyguard be dragged out and beaten. At the time, everyone assumed that the Prince of Qi would kill the lovers. However, outside everyone’s expectation, after beating the imperial bodyguard, the Prince of Qi married the dancer to him. Afterwards, he recommended the imperial bodyguard become a military officer. As for the imperial bodyguard who had reported the affair, he was driven out of the Prince of Qi’s household. Then, when the Prince of Qi set this custom, a retainer admonished him, arguing that this would impugn the prince’s dignity. None expected the Prince of Qi to laugh and reply, “Who doesn’t know that this Prince swaps women at will? Wouldn’t it be too pitiful for these women to remain alone within my household? It would be better to allow them to marry and reduce the burden upon this Prince’s finances.”

Although many civil officials denounced the Prince of Qi’s decision, this act only served to increase love and affection of the soldiers in the army. As a result, the Prince of Qi would frequently hold banquets for the brave soldiers of his army, allowing his concubines and dancers to come attend to them. There was no lack of examples where these women married soldiers.

As a result, although this general had come under the Prince of Yong’s orders to take the Prince of Qi into custody, he did not have any hostility towards the prince. He declared in a booming voice, “This general, Tian Long, has come on the orders of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, to protect Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, has ordered that Your Imperial Highness not go out in order to prevent giving any opportunities for the rebel forces to take advantage of.”

The Prince of Qi turned around. While his complexion was pale, the expression on his face was quite calm. He calmly asked, “How is the situation at the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall?”

Tian Long was startled and answered, “This general does not know.”

At this moment, Tian Long’s lieutenant walked over and whispered, “In a side chamber, several of the Prince of Qi’s imperial bodyguards refuse to lay down their weapons and surrender.”

Tian Long glanced at the Prince of Qi, as he muttered back, “What? Do I need to teach you how to handle them?”

The deputy awkwardly replied, “They have taken a man hostage, claiming that he is Major Jiang, Jiang daren, of the Prince of Yong’s household.”

Tian Long was greatly alarmed. For him to be dispatched to imprison the Prince of Qi, he naturally had to be trusted. As a result, he obviously knew the importance of Jiang Zhe. The Prince of Yong had specifically instructed everyone to ensure Jiang Zhe’s safety if they were to discover his whereabouts. Wary, Tian Long glanced at the Prince of Qi and asked, “Your Imperial Highness, could it be possible to ask Your Imperial Highness to order your subordinates to cease their resistance?”

Li Xian smiled slightly. “This Prince wishes to go to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. I wonder if General is able to make the decision to permit me to do so?”

A look of awkwardness appeared on Tian Long’s face. He did not have the authority to permit the Prince of Qi to go to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. However, with Jiang Zhe taken hostage by the Prince of Qi’s subordinates, what could he do? At this moment, a gentle voice spoke from outside, “Your Imperial Highness, why are you doing all this?”

Although the man was clearly out of breath, his voice was incredibly resolute. Tian Long and his deputy gazed out, seeing a scholar in azure robes walk over, helped by two of the Prince of Qi’s imperial bodyguards. The other two imperial bodyguards held sabers in their hands and served as escorts. Within the scholar’s hands was a golden pendant, that golden pendant from the emperor that had the words carved on it: “as if We are present.” Originally this golden pendant was not necessarily of any use. However, on the lower right corner were the words, “Bestowed by the Emperor upon the Prince of Yong.” This signified that this pendant was bestowed upon the Prince of Yong by the emperor himself. As a result, no one dared to attempt to obstruct it.

Tian Long immediately knew that this scholar was indeed Major Jiang Zhe of the Prince of Yong’s household. He promptly walked forward and paid his respects.

I signaled with my hand, having the two officers withdraw to the side. I spoke, addressing the Prince of Qi, “Your Imperial Highness, at present, the situation has already been decided and is irreversible. Why are you determined to go to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall?”

Li Xian plainly replied, “It is because that the situation has been decided that I

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