The gaze of the Fengyi Sect Master fell upon Jiang Zhe, an indescribable emotion flashing across her eyes. In a clear and cold voice, she said, “Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, since we have reached this point, regardless of my Fengyi Sect’s original intentions, to Great Yong, we are already rebels and enemies. Even if Your Imperial Highness wishes to execute and exterminate my Fengyi Sect, there is no one to obstruct it. This seat has come solely to remind Your Imperial Highness of one thing. Although Your Imperial Highness holds the advantage at present, with this seat present right now, Your Imperial Highness will have to worry about your own safety.”
“The friendship between the Emperor and this seat was formed in times of tribulation. As a result, this seat can refrain from harming him. But there are still the two Noble Consorts, Princess Changle, you, the Prince of Yong, the Prince of Qi, Li Xian, and the loyal ministers and brave generals. If this seat desires it, none of you will be able to escape from the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. Although this seat’s disciples will also lose their lives here in the Hunting Palace, my Fengyi Sect still has some hidden strength, and will not completely collapse from this setback.1 To speak the truth, this was originally this seat’s selfishness. My junior apprentice sisters and maids were all veterans of a hundred battles. This seat gave them a new lease on life, as I was unwilling to once again be involved and take risks. In addition, this seat has also underestimated Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, believing that Wei Ying, Hanyou, and company would successfully and smoothly seize control of the Hunting Palace. Those I have not involved should be capable of responding to the Devil Sect’s provocations.
“Your Imperial Highness, you should be clear that regardless of who wins, Northern Han and the Devil Sect won’t let this opportunity slip by, otherwise Your Imperial Highness and the Prince of Qi would not have issued secret orders to tighten the security on the northern frontier, taking precautions against a sneak attack from Northern Han. If Your Imperial Highness is unwilling to give my Fengyi Sect a way out, then this seat can only begin the slaughter. Of course, this seat will definitely not allow Your Imperial Highness to survive. Afterwards, this seat will mobilize my sect’s remnants and cause chaos within Great Yong’s borders. When the time comes, with the situation unstable, Northern Han will seize the opportunity to invade, and Great Yong will be embattled by internal and external threats. Even if Your Imperial Highness were to survive, you would likely be filled with regret, hating your survival.”
Although her voice was plain, clear, and aloof, it caused everyone who heard it to be tremble with fear. By this point, Li Yuan had already pulled Noble Consort Zhangsun to her feet. In an even voice, he spoke, “Sect Master Fan, you must not let your emotions affect your decisions. Sect Master and Great Yong share the same interests. If the empire falls into peril, Sect Master will also suffer unexpected calamities. Although the disciples of your honored sect have made grave mistakes today, everything can be discussed. Sect Master, please calm down.”
Li Yuan speaking in such a manner caused an uproar in the entire audience chamber. Regardless of how great the Fengyi Sect Master’s martial arts, she was still a rebel. As a sovereign monarch, how could Li Yuan be so weak? Li Zhi frowned, glancing at Imperial Father. He stated, “Imperial Father’s words are what this Prince thinks. The Sect Master’s character is noble and benevolent,2 and it is possible that this rebellion was not a result of Sect Master’s instigation. As long as Sect Master makes the painful decision and hands these rebels over to be punished by this Prince, then if Sect Master is willing, Great Yong’s Imperial Clan is willing to construct a palace for the Sect Master to allow Sect Master to cultivate in peace.”
Although Li Zhi agreed with Li Yuan’s decision, everyone could hear that Li Zhi wanted the Fengyi Sect Master to personally execute all those who had participated in the rebellion and afterwards voluntarily placed under house arrest. When the time came, after the traitorous elements of the Fengyi Sect had been purged, they could only be a subservient sect of the imperial clan. Although the Fengyi Sect Master had participated in the rebellion, as long as she was controlled, based upon her status as a grandmaster, she could still awe and intimidate Northern Han’s Devil Sect. Li Zhi had no choice but to make this offer. The one responsible for monitoring the Fengyi Sect Master, Great Master True Compassion, had disappeared without a trace, while the Fengyi Sect Master had appeared at the Hunting Palace. Recalling Fan Huiyao’s status as the head of the three grandmasters of the age, then it is likely that Great Master True Compassion had likely encountered some mishap. If this were true, then if Fan Huiyao were to continue to betray Great Yong, then Great Yong would have lost someone able to contend against the Sovereign of the Devil Sect of Northern Han. As a result, although Li Zhi had an implacable hatred for the Fengyi Sect, he had no choice but to make this compromise.
Arrogance flashed in Fan Huiyao’s eyes. Just as she was about to speak, she heard the sound of something shattering. She looked around, only seeing Jiang Zhe’s clear and stony expression. Princess Changle had risen to her feet, standing at his side. Her beautiful brows were furrowed, as she gazed with worry at Jiang Zhe. At Jiang Zhe’s feet was a sparking and transparent jade pendant, shattered into pieces.3 It was evident that Jiang Zhe had removed this jade pendant and intentionally dropped it onto the floor, allowing it to shatter. Li Zhi grew alarmed. Over these last two years, whenever he came across bamboo folding fans, ink stones, and other elegant objects, he always purchased them and sent them as presents to Jiang Zhe. This jade pendant was a present from a year ago. If considering quality, although precious, it was also fairly ordinary. Its rarity came from the delicate and refined way it was carved. A image of the Feast at Hongmen4 was carved on its back. Although, the image was extremely simple, its depiction was very vivid, almost as if physically and spiritually capturing the events of that day. Jiang Zhe was extremely fond of the jade pendant and always wore it on his body. He had to be filled with wrath to shatter it now.
Before Li Zhi could react, Jiang Zhe had already smiled and spoken, “Sect Master, today you are treading on dangerous ground. Zhe truly feels that Sect Master’s actions aren’t worth it. It is said that a ‘gilded individual does not stay in a dangerous area.’ What is the point for Sect Master to help these rebels? Great Master True Compassion is a grandmaster. Although, he is somewhat inferior to Sect Master, it will be impossible for Sect Master to get off lightly. I am somewhat knowledgeable about medicine. Although the medicine that Sect Master uses has given you a reprieve, if you wish to preserve your life, it is best if you don’t act blindly without thinking. Otherwise, even if Zhe’s meager life is offered with both hands, it will be impossible for Sect Master to leave the Hunting Palace alive. Xiaoshunzi. Currently, within this audience chamber, the Emperor sits on the Imperial Throne, while His Imperial Highnesses, the Princes of Yong and Qi, are both important figures for the stability of Great Yong’s empire. If I order you to disregard my safety, are you certain you will be able to save one of them?
Xiaoshunzi callously replied, “Young master, do not worry. Although this servant is incapable, I will definitely not permit the Fengyi Sect Master to do as she pleases.”
The smile on my face increasingly cheerful, I continued, “Sect Master, the lands under the Heavens belong to the sovereign, the ministers who govern it are the sovereign’s ministers. Regardless of anything else, the Fengyi Sect Master is still within Great Yong’s borders and is a citizen of Great Yong. Today, as long as one of three individuals—the Emperor and the two Imperial Highnesses—is to survive, then it will be impossible for your Fengyi Sect and any of your allies to survive. When the time comes, not only will Sect Master’s great reputation be lost here, the losses suffered by the Great Yong court will also be severe. Whatever the case, Sect Master has performed a great service in the founding of Great Yong. If Great Yong falls into peril from the Fengyi Sect Master rebellion, endangering the country’s existence, your name will go down in history in infamy, scorned by future generations. When that happens, what face does Sect Master have to face the common people of the world?”
Fan Huiyao’s face remained as calm as ever, almost as if she did not react in the slightest to Jiang Zhe’s words. However, Li Zhi’s eyes brightened. If the Fengyi Sect Master was already heavily injured, then this was the perfect opportunity to exterminate her. Li Zhi believed that Jiang Zhe had shattered his jade to remind him that he should not hesitate, pushing him to make up his mind. Emotions flickered in his eyes, as he secretly made several gestures with his hands. The soldiers and guards within the audience chamber swiftly formed three battle formations, separately protecting Li Yuan, Li Zhi, and Li Xian. Although everyone still had misgivings about enraging the Fengyi Sect Master, and had no thoughts about acting blindly without instructions, everyone had made up their minds to ensure the safety of these three individuals when the Fengyi Sect Master launched her attack. Even the imperial bodyguards and soldiers protecting the Prince of Qi had this mindset, willing to sacrifice their lives to ensure Li Xian’s survival. Everyone knew that outside of the Prince of Yong the only one capable of ascending to the Imperial Throne was the Prince of Qi.
Fan Huiyao sighed inwardly. Her gaze towards Jiang Zhe gained a bit of killing intent. At this moment, Xiaoshunzi and Leng Chuan simultaneously took a step closer to her. If Fan Huiyao were to attack, then these two would serve as the main force in obstructing her. Right now, I had already achieved my goal of restraining the Fengyi Sect Master. If pushed too far, she would likely be pushed to take risks out of desperation. If that happened, the results would likely be miserable. Thus, I said, “Sect Master, at present, although we loyalists can exterminate your Fengyi Sect, we still remember Sect Master’s great contributions to Great Yong. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, still hopes to reach an agreement with Sect Master. At present, the majority of your honored sect’s disciples have collapsed from a bewildering poison. They shall be the first to die. If Sect Master is willing to compromise, then it is possible to turn hostility into friendship.5 I can even make the decision to let these disciples who have participated in the rebellion off.”
Fan Huiyao laughed icily and replied, “As expected, Major Jiang is a great schemer. I wonder if Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, has the same intentions?”
Li Zhi shouted, “Major Jiang’s words are this Prince’s decision.” Even though he said this, he was filled with misgivings. Jiang Zhe’s words were a bit ambiguous, almost as if he did not wish for the Fengyi Sect Master to hand over her rebellious disciples. Wasn’t this being too generous? However, he was a firm believer in Jiang Zhe’s planning. As a result, he did not make any effort to stop Jiang Zhe’s machinations.
Fan Huiyao sighed lightly. She clearly understood Jiang Zhe’s intentions. Jiang Zhe did not care about her disciples, only desiring to hold her here. If she were to leave behind these trusted disciples, how would she continue to serve as the Fengyi Sect’s master? She would definitely find herself isolated and alone. In addition, Jiang Zhe pointed out the seriousness of her injuries, so the Prince of Yong would definitely sacrifice anything to ensure her death. When the time came, the losses suffered by the Fengyi Sect would be disastrous, while she would very likely be unable to leave here alive. But if this were to happen, Jiang Zhe probably felt distress at the heavy cost needed to kill her, thus pointing out her inability to kill all three of the most important individuals within the audience chamber, then pointing out the seriousness of her injuries, before finally hinting that with an expert like Xiaoshunzi present, there would be no way for her to leave the Hunting Palace alive. After making these three points, he had then compromised, agreeing to let off the remaining Fengyi Sect disciples, having her commit suicide to beg the world for forgiveness.
Fan Huiyao considered many things in her mind. If she was not injured, she could naturally come and go as she pleased. If that were the case, then Jiang Zhe’s objective would become a joke. Unfortunately, Great Master True Compassion’s Buddhist cultivation was unparalleled in this world. She had only defeated him after suffering heavy injuries. Although the old monk had been forced to make a promise to return to the Shaolin Temple to recuperate and would not obstruct her in the short term, by hurrying to the Hunting Palace to salvage the desperate situation, her internal injuries had worsened considerably. If she had not taken that life-saving pill, she likely would have been powerless to take any action. However, even with the help of medicine, if she were to fight arduously, then there would be only one result for her—her cultivation wasted, her arteries broken. With the presence of an expert like Xiaoshunzi, it was impossible for her to kill the Yong emperor and his sons. In the end, not only would her life be lost, it would also be impossible for her disciples to escape alive.
She forced a slight smile onto her face. Fan Huiyao shook her head. She was such a majestic heroine of the age and yet had fallen into such dire straits because of a feeble scholar without the strength to even truss a chicken. She had originally believed that she could rely upon her majestic prestige as a grandmaster to compel the Prince of Yong to yield. Who could have thought that Jiang Zhe had noticed the seriousness of her injuries? That’s right … how could she forget Jiang Zhe’s master of medicine? The pill that Xiaoshunzi had fed him, the Nine Revolutions Heart Protection Pill, was the best evidence. Moreover, if she hadn’t taken the same pill prepared twenty years ago by that man, it would likely have been impossible for her to even remain standing.
Although no one could see the expression on the Fengyi Sect Master’s face because of the mask on her face, everyone heard her silence, realizing that Jiang Zhe’s words weren’t false. Some of the clever ones understood Jiang Zhe’s intentions. But was forcing the Fengyi Sect Master to commit suicide even possible? Everyone automatically discarded this notion. As a result, they still tried to guess Jiang Zhe’s true intentions.
After a while, Fan Huiyao sighed softly and stated, “It is possible to compromise. As long as Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, is willing to allow my remaining disciples to depart and not issue the order to pursue for seven days, then this seat is willing to accept this condition.”
I glanced at Li Zhi, seeing the puzzlement on his face. And yet, he still lightly nodded his head. As for Li Yuan, he never had any intentions of enraging the Fengyi Sect Master. Naturally, he would not speak any dissenting. Emotions flashed across my eyes and I stated, “His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, does not have any objections to this condition. However, neither the Crown Prince nor Wei Ying are disciples of your honored sect. They cannot be included.”
Fan Huiyao uncaringly replied, “Li An is from the imperial clan. This seat will not bother with him. However, Wei Ying is this seat’s honorary disciple. He must depart as well.”
I was already satisfied that I was able to ensure that Li An stayed behind. Thus, I said, “Since this is the case, there is nothing that we can say. However, this location is not fit to rest in. The Sect Master must monitor the Emperor and the Imperial Highnesses for seven days. Surely, we cannot spend it here? If Sect Master is willing, we can prepare a quiet and peaceful location for the Sect Master to rest in. What does the Sect Master think?”
Fan Huiyao’s heart suddenly skipped a beat and she answered, “There is no harm in doing so. However, this seat requires that hostages stay by my side, otherwise if you break this agreement, wouldn’t this seat have no one to kill?”
I had prepared for this long ago. Calmly, I responded, “The Emperor is an honored and prestigious existence, while the Prince of Yong must control the situation. The two Noble Consorts and Her Imperial Highness, the Princess, have all endured a terrible fright, how can we allow them to continue to feel apprehensive? The various generals must constrain their troops. As for the ministers of court, even if they are willing, I’m afraid that Sect Master will remain suspicious. If the Sect Master is willing, both His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, and I can serve as hostages. If His Imperial Majesty and His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, take any actions that violate our agreement, Sect Master can take our two lives as compensation.”
With a slight smile, Fan Huiyao acquiesced, “Major Jiang is skilled at picking people. That’s fine. This seat agrees to have you two serve as hostages. However, I must state this clearly … if His Imperial Majesty and His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, desire to leave the Hunting Palace within this seven-day period, don’t blame this seat for refusing to adhere by this agreement.”
Li Zhi glanced at Li Yuan before speaking, “Since Sect Master has spoken thusly, this Prince and Imperial Father will not leave the Hunting Palace in the next seven days to show our sincerity.”
At this moment, everyone felt that Jiang Zhe truly possessed ability and wisdom surpassing others. Although they did not understand what kind of agreement he had made with the Fengyi Sect Master, they understood that the Fengyi Sect Master had, at least, been temporarily placated. Seven days would be sufficient for the appropriate arrangements to be made. When the time came, no matter how the Fengyi Sect Master tried to cause trouble, the losses suffered would be greatly reduced. Moreover, being able to negotiate an appropriate resolution was the best case scenario. After all, at present, everyone was worried that the Fengyi Sect Master would begin a slaughter. As for those rebels, they could be taken care of in the future.
Moreover, the two hostages picked by Jiang Zhe were extremely clever. He, himself, was willing to be a hostage, displaying the loyalty and fealty in his heart. As for the Prince of Qi, it was an opportunity for him to atone for his crimes. It could be assumed that he would not reject the opportunity. In addition, the Prince of Yong would definitely not have the heart to sacrifice Jiang Zhe, while Li Yuan would not sacrifice the Prince of Qi. With this, these hostages would not only allow the Fengyi Sect Master to be at ease, it would also not cause discontent among those selected to serve as hostages. As a result, even if they ultimately could not punish the rebels, being able to completely purge the Fengyi Sect’s forces within the imperial court ensured that the gains outweighed the losses.
Just as everyone had let out a breath and relaxed, Li Hanyou suddenly shouted, “Master, Master! It was Li Zhen, Jiang Zhe, and Xiahou Yuanfeng who spoiled our affairs! Master cannot let them off!”
Fan Huiyao glanced at Li Hanyou, disappointment appearing in her eyes. She replied, “Hanyou, stop speaking. Major Jiang, presumably, my disciples were poisoned at your hands? I wonder how you were able to poison them and if you have the antidote?”
Prepared for this long ago, I calmly answered, “This one has been worried about this long ago. If His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, were to mobilize troops to come rescue the Emperor, what would happen if your honored sect attempted to seize His Imperial Majesty and use him as a hostage? We would surely refrain from attacking, in fear of harming innocents. What then? In order to smoothly rescue His Imperial Majesty, this one asked Princess Changle to dispatch trusted subordinates to switch out the incense burned in the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall to a Leisurely Fragrance from the southern frontier starting yesterday. The scent of this incense gladdens the heart and refreshes the mind. If one were to smell it, one would feel vigorous, with a clear mind. In truth, this was all down to luck. The majority of the Fengyi Sect disciples come from rich and powerful families, and would not stop incense from being burned. However, if the Leisurely Fragrance were to be continuously breathed in for a day or more, and then the scent of the Crow’s Head Straw was breathed in, also specially produced in the southern frontier, it would cause one’s limbs to grow weak. The reason why this one insisted upon coming to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, even when ill, was to bring the refined ointment manufactured from powdered Crow’s Head Straw. I then had Xiaoshunzi use his internal energy to send out the scent. As everyone’s smell was confused by the medicinal fragrance on my body, no one noticed the scent of the Crow’s Head Straw as a result. Moreover, the Princess long ago mixed the antidote into the drinks consumed by His Imperial Majesty and all of the daren. That is why only your honored sect’s disciples were poisoned.”
Fan Huiyao smiled faintly and replied, “Major Jiang is deserving of being the disciple of the Medical Sage, skilled at mixing poisons. This seat admires you greatly.” Afterwards, she caught sight of pride flash across Jiang Zhe’s eyes, a feeling of gratification welling up from within. It seemed like Jiang Zhe was only human, inevitably feeling pride from being praised. This would be of benefit to her future acts. Consequently, she grew increasingly amiable as she said, “Since that is the case, I would like to ask Major Jiang to deliver the antidote to allow my disciples to leave at the earliest opportunity.”
I glanced at the Prince of Yong, using my eyes to ask for instructions. Li Zhi nodded and stated, “Suiyun, hand over the antidote to the Sect Master. However, Sect Master, please have the disciples of your honored sect hand over their weapons, otherwise this Prince does not dare to be unconcerned.”
Disdain flickered across Fan Huiyao’s eyes, as she replied, “This is only natural. If Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, is worried, you can briefly send the Emperor away.”
Overjoyed, Li Zhi agreed, “Since Sect Master is so magnanimous, this Prince will accept your kindness. Changle, quickly go with the two Noble Consorts and accompany Imperial Father to rest in a side hall.”
Princess Changle hesitated momentarily, glancing at Jiang Zhe. She said, “Changle obeys.” Finished speaking, she walked towards the raised dais. She intended to go and support Li Yuan.
None guessed that when she was halfway there, a chilling glint of steel would shoot out and a beautiful voice shout, “Li Zhen! Accept death!” The originally collapsed on the floor Li Hanyou suddenly jumped up, pointing her sword and lunging for Princess Changle’s chest. This was completely unexpected. Who could have thought that the poisoned Li Hanyou would be able to do such a thing? Initially, everyone’s attention had been on the Fengyi Sect Master. Who was paying attention to the poisoned Fengyi Sect disciples? Moreover, no one could have expected that right after the Fengyi Sect Master had compromised and reached an agreement, Li Hanyou would act. At this moment, Leng Chuan and Xiaoshunzi were a dozen or more meters away. Although the two simultaneously cried out in alarm and charged forward, there wasn’t enough time for them to prevent Li Hanyou from stabbing Changle. Of the other experts guarding the Yong emperor, many were dead or badly injured. Even those unharmed had paid no attention to Li Hanyou. As a result, no one was actually able to save Changle in time.
On the Fengyi Sect’s side, Wei Ying, Xiao Lan, and Feng Feifei had retreated to guard the poisoned disciples upon the arrival of the Fengyi Sect Master. They were even more powerless to stop Li Hanyou. In addition, Princess Changle was the primary culprit in dashing their dreams. The thought of rescuing Princess Changle did not cross their mind. The only one who had the power to save Princess Changle was the Fengyi Sect Master. However, when she was about to act, Fan Huiyao felt the qi and blood in her chest roil. In order to not expose any flaws, she could only helplessly maintain a calm expression on her face, watching on with faked indifference. At this moment, she was calculating how to prevent Princess Changle’s death from affecting the agreement that the two sides had reached.
一蹶不振, yijuebuzhen – idiom, lit. one stumble, unable to rise; fig. a setback leading to a total collapse, ruined at a stroke
光风霁月, guangfengjiyue – idiom, lit. light breeze and clear moon; fig. noble and benevolent character
四分五裂, sifenwulie – idiom, lit. torn apart into four to five pieces; fig. shattered into pieces
鸿门宴, the Feast at Hongmen was an event that took place at the fall of the Qin Dynasty and the beginning of the Chu-Han Contention. Xiang Yu invited Liu Bang to a feast. At the time, Liu Bang had just conquered the Qin heartland, effectively destroying the Qin Dynasty, while Xiang Yu had been embroiled in a bloody battle against a massive Qin army at Julu. The feast was held with the purpose of assassinating Liu Bang. One of Xiang Yu’s cousins, Xiang Zhuang, put on a sword dance. Knowing what would happen and disagreeing with the plot, Xiang Yu’s uncle, Xiang Bo, intervened. Afterwards, Liu Bang made an excuse and was able to flee. As a result, this event became used figuratively to describe any event that was ostensibly held for joyous reasons, but had treacherous intentions.
化干戈为玉帛, huagangeweiyubo – idiom, lit. to exchange weapons of war for gifts of jade and silk; fig. to turn hostility into friendship