Everyone could only watch on as Princess Changle was about to perish, when a figure suddenly, surprisingly, and miraculously appeared, putting itself in front of Princess Changle, defending her. In a split second, the sharp sword pierced his chest, blood splattering everywhere. In a heartbreaking voice, that man let out a miserable shriek, crying out the words, “Li Hanyou!”
Originally, when Li Hanyou pierced that man’s chest, she was extremely overjoyed. However, after clearly seeing the man’s appearance, she could not help but be shocked. Hearing that man’s shout filled with bitter resentment, Li Hanyou frenetically shook her head. She released the sword in her hand because it felt like scalding iron, and retreated several steps. But under that man’s blood-red eyes, she felt her legs weaken and she collapsed to the ground. At this moment, the man drew his own sword, brandishing and slashing at Li Hanyou. At any other time, this man’s martial arts were far worse than Li Hanyou’s, and Li Hanyou could easily avoid this attack. However, at this very moment, Li Hanyou was completely flustered. Whatever the reason, she could not personally kill this man. As a result, while Li Hanyou’s mind was in a complete daze, the sharp sword shot past her face, leaving behind a deep, fierce wound that cut to the bone. Only then did Li Hanyou return to her senses, rapidly retreating several steps, avoiding the fate of being beheaded. However, she let out a miserable shriek from the sharp pain on her face and deep concern about her appearance being destroyed. Hiding her face in her hands, she collapsed to the floor.
This change caused everyone, including the Fengyi Sect Master, to be astonished. Suddenly, a man cried out, “Qing’er!” It was the Grand General Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Qin Yi. He felt as if something had exploded in his head. Amidst the chaos, he could only see a sword in his beloved son’s chest. With large strides, he walked over, seeking to hold Qin Qing.
However, someone else’s movements were faster. Princess Changle cried out in sorrow, “Big brother Qin! You can’t die!” She was already holding Qin Qing with her arms. However, she wasn’t strong enough. Although she could, with difficulty, hold Qin Qing up, she was on the verge of falling over. Fortunately, Qin Yi arrived at this moment, pulling Qin Qing into his arms. The two supported Qin Qing, allowing him to slowly collapse to the foot of the dais.
The one who had stopped Li Hanyou’s blow was Qin Qing. Qin Qing was different from everyone else. The entire time, his eyes had not left Li Hanyou. At one moment, filled with loathing. At the next, the loving affection that they had shared. As a result, only he had paid any attention to Li Hanyou’s abnormal activity. For some time now, he had longed for death. Moreover, he knew that Li Hanyou’s swordsmanship was superior to his. If he were to use a weapon to block her attack, he would likely fail. As a result, he had steeled his heart and used his body to shield Princess Changle. Based upon his zealotry, he had surpassed the limitations upon the human body, successfully using his flesh to block that killing blow.
When the sharp sword penetrated his chest, Qin Qing could finally let loose the pent-up rage and hatred in his heart. As a result, he ignored the disparity between their martial arts skills. When he slashed with his sword, he did not have any excessive expectations that he would succeed. However, he had still managed to destroy Li Hanyou’s appearance.
Li Hanyou originally hailed from a poor family. As a result, she was not fond of the scent of incense. Although, in order to maintain the proper deportment of a princess of the imperial clan, she had never expressed her dislike, she would always do her best to stay as far away from incense as possible. Although the scent of the Leisurely Fragrance was lovely, for some reason, Li Hanyou did not like its scent. However, if she were to prohibit incense, she worried that she would be looked down upon. As a result, she would painstakingly seize opportunities to patrol or do things on the outside. Therefore, although she was also poisoned, the toxicity level was quite low. After she had taken a general antidote, she was surprisingly able to recover some of her martial arts. By then, however, the Fengyi Sect Master had arrived and begun to negotiate with Li Zhi. Li Hanyou was worried that the Fengyi Sect Master would abandon her and her apprentice sisters. In order to maintain her ability to resist, she had waited to act.
However, the more she listened, the more Li Hanyou became annoyed. Princess Changle had first transmitted the emperor’s secret edict before poisoning the Fengyi Sect disciples, causing all of her efforts to attain the glory, splendor, wealth, and rank that Li Hanyou desired to be wasted. If she could not kill Princess Changle, it would be difficult for her hatred to diminish. However, when she spoke to remind the Fengyi Sect Master, her words fell upon deaf ears.1 She had always been a proud and arrogant individual. Momentarily, hot anger muddled her mind, surprisingly seizing the opportunity to try to kill Princess Changle. Originally, this sword of hers could only succeed. To her surprise, her sword had been stopped by Qin Qing.
Regardless of how heartless Li Hanyou was, Qin Qing was her husband. Even if she did not have any true feelings for Qin Qing, their relationship was still there. She had no desire to assume responsibility for murdering her husband. In reality, she had initially intended to wait until the rebellion had been successful to use her power and influence to force Qin Qing to take her back. After all, Qin Qing was a perfectly suitable candidate as a consort. Even if Qin Qing refused to accept such favors and she desired to kill him, she wouldn’t personally do so. Naturally, there would be those willing to do so.
Under the heavy guilt and shock from killing her own husband, combined with the chaotic state of her mind, Li Hanyou actually forgot to evade, allowing her face to be marred by a deep wound.
These unforeseen changes caused the tense atmosphere intensify. Everyone gripped their weapons tightly, preparing for the explosive beginning of a melee.
By now, Fan Huiyao’s qi and blood flow had stabilized. She callously stated, “Li Zhi, do you desire for this seat to begin slaughtering?”
Li Zhi’s body trembled. Speaking one word, one sentence at a time, he ordered through gritted teeth, fuming with rage, “No one is allowed to move indiscriminately!” Under Li Zhi’s command, the bloody melee that was about to erupt was forcibly suppressed. However, the atmosphere in the audience chamber was stifling, causing no one to dare breathe heavily.
In a daze, I gazed at Qin Qing. Opening my right hand, I discovered that my right hand was dripping with blood. Just now, when Princess Changle was being attacked, I could only watch on helplessly, completely forgetting everything else. After I came to my senses, I discovered that the fingernails of my right hand had pierced the skin of my right palm. Sparing no effort, I rose to my feet, urgently requesting, “Xiaoshunzi, help me go over.”
With an ashen complexion, Xiaoshunzi came over, helping me walk to Qin Qing’s side. As of now, Qin Qing was unconscious. Kneeling on the floor, I checked Qin Qing’s pulse. After quite a while, I raised my head, catching sight of Princess Changle’s tear-filled eyes and the look of hope in Qin Yi’s eyes. Helplessly, I shook my head and said, “General Qin has been pierced in the heart and lungs. There is no way to reverse the situation. If Grand General is willing, this lowly official can use acupuncture to allow General Qin to regain consciousness for a short period of time.”
Feeling as if his life was departing, Qin Yi was left speechless for a moment before he replied, “Daren, please use acupuncture.”
I sighed, accepting the meteorite hairpin from Xiaoshunzi, using it to poke Qin Qing several times. After a short while, Qin Qing coughed several times, opening his eyes. Trembling, Qin Yi’s hand gently caressed Qin Qing’s face. Tears flooded down his aged face, as he said, “Qing’er, this is all father’s fault. In the past, I was always busy and away in battle, and was unable to provide a proper education for you, allowing you to be deceived and toyed with by others. And now, you’ve …” Qin Yi could not continue.
There was no more resentment in Qin Qing’s eyes, only peacefulness and calm. He serenely replied, “Father, this is all because this child was fond of a beautiful woman, causing both His Imperial Father and Father to fall into such a desperate situation. Right now, this child understands the mistakes that I have made and will die to atone for my sins. Father, please do not feel sorrow for this child.” His words were incredibly coherent, while his face grew flushed. Everyone knew that these were the last moments of lucidity before death.2 Qin Yi found it difficult to endure the sorrow and grief that he was feeling, but he did not know what to say.
Qin Qing’s gaze fell upon Princess Changle. He smiled and said, “Your Imperial Highness, Qin Qing was originally childhood sweethearts with Your Imperial Highness. However, Qin Qing was blunt and stupid, unable to understand the painstaking efforts and sacrifices on the part of Your Imperial Highness for the country and the people. Contrary to what is expected, I actually spoke words of harsh criticism. No wonder Princess became disappointed with Qin Qing.”
In a gentle voice, Princess Changle replied, “Big brother Qin, there is no need to speak of matters of the past. You are still Our Big Brother Qin. Although Changle once blamed you, you ignored the bitterness of our past and saved my life. Changle does not know how to thank you properly. Big brother Qin, if you have any outstanding affairs that need to be settled, please feel free to tell Changle.”
Qin Qing’s eyes dimmed somewhat. He remarked, “Your Imperial Highness, Qin Qing was incompetent and neglected my duties, causing such a disaster to fall upon my family. I beg the Princess to remember my honored father’s past loyalties and ask His Imperial Majesty and His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, to blame the Qin family because of Qin Qing.”
Holding her face, weeping, Princess Changle declared, “Big brother Qin, do not worry. We will definitely plea for leniency on behalf of the Qin family before Imperial Father and older brother.”
At this moment, Li Yuan spoke up, “Qin Qing, you save Our beloved daughter. In addition, if it weren’t for the Qin family’s contributions to the rescue of Our Imperial Presence, we would not have been able to so swiftly pacify this rebellion. We will only reward the Qin family. How can We blame them? There is no need for you to worry.”
Qin Qing’s gaze turned to Li Zhi. In a serious demeanor, Li Zhi stated, “General Qin, this Prince vows here to never charge the Qin family with any crime without cause. General Qin Yong saved this Prince’s life, while the elderly general has been known for his wholehearted loyalty. You have also saved my sister. This Prince’s heart is completely filled with gratitude, and will definitely not repay kindness with ingratitude.”
Only with these promises did Qin Qing finally relax. Reaching out his hand, he grabbed onto Jiang Zhe’s hand. In a weak voice, he said, “Brother Jiang, I, Qin Qing, have always looked down upon you. However, today, I was completely won over. Her Imperial Highness, the Princess, has endured a pitiful fate. You must not turn your back on her. Do not hesitate to advance because of your different statures and supposed proper etiquette.” As he spoke, his voice fell away. Outside of me, it was unlikely that there was that many people who heard what he had said.
I grieved. Although I had long known of Li Hanyou’s real identity, I had never thought of reminding Qin Qing. I had watched idly as Qin Qing had fallen deeper and deeper in love with her. Utterly remorseful, I murmured, “General Qin, do not worry. My feelings for the Princess are sincere. I will definitely not forsake her. As long as Jiang Zhe is alive, I will ensure that the Qin family does not encounter disaster.”
Hearing my whispered promise, a satisfied smile appeared on Qin Qing’s face. Taking another look at his father, he stated, “Father, this child is going to take his leave.” As he finished speaking, Qin Qing’s eyes closed, his breathing weakened. In the blink of an eye, he had departed for the underworld.
Qin Yi shouted, “Qing’er!” The grief-stricken shout combined with Li Hanyou’s mourning cries traveled a long distance. With raging hot anger in his eyes, Li Zhi callously stated, “Sect Master, Li Hanyou chose this moment to murder. It would be quite unreasonable for her to be let off. Sect Master, please hand over Li Hanyou to this Prince for punishment.”
After remaining silent for a moment, Fan Huiyao replied, “The one she killed was Qin Qing. Since Princess Changle is in good health, there is no need for you to make things difficult for her. In the future, how you pursue her is your business.”
Li Zhi was somewhat hesitant. If Li Hanyou were let off so easily, it would be a terrible let down to the Qin family. Although Qin Qing had first made a mistake, it was the Qin family that had rescued the emperor. At this moment, holding his son’s corpse in his arms, Qin Yi abruptly stated in a heavy voice, “Your Imperial Highness, there is no need to worry about this elderly subject. His Imperial Majesty’s safety is more urgent. Allow Li Hanyou to leave. In the future, there will be ample time3 to exact revenge.” His voice was full of grief and sorrow.
Still hesitating, Li Zhi glanced at Jiang Zhe. Contempt and scorn flashed across my eyes, as I gravely stated, “Your Imperial Highness, please do not betray the Grand General’s kindly intentions.” Li Zhi heaved a sigh and spoke no more.
Fan Huiyao shook one of her fingers and pointed. Li Hanyou immediately collapsed, losing consciousness. Xiao Lan came over and took the antidote from Xiaoshunzi, handing it to the Fengyi Sect members. It wasn’t long before all of them could move again. However, to guard against all eventualities, all of their weapons had been taken away. Fan Huiyao stonily ordered, “You will first go to the rendezvous point that this seat arranged earlier and wait. This seat has already left behind a handwritten command there. You all only need to follow that command. If this seat is unable to continue to exercise command over the Fengyi Sect, then Ling Yu will take the position of Sect Master. Wei Ying will hold the position of a Guest Retainer. Ji Xia will take the post of Enforcement Elder. Junior apprentice sister Ji, inform Ling Yu that the three of you must work together towards a common purpose and must not contest control of sect.”
All of the members of the Fengyi Sect solemnly and respectfully saluted, obeying, “We solemnly comply with Sect Master’s orders.” Afterwards, Ji Xia led them away.
Wei Ying and Feng Feifei followed right behind Ji Xia. Two of the Fengyi Sect’s swordswomen picked Li Hanyou up and followed them out. Just as Xiao Lan was about to leave, Li An, who had always remained paralyzed on the ground, suddenly and frantically reached out and grabbed onto Xiao Lan. He said, “Beloved concubine, bring Us along!”
Xiao Lan hesitated for a moment, gazing up at the Fengyi Sect Master. The Fengyi Sect Master unfeelingly shook her head. Lowering her head, Xiao Lan looked at Li An. The current Li An had completely lost the prestige and bearing of a member of the imperial clan. Loathing grew from Xiao Lan’s heart. She forcefully kicked Li An away before leaving in a relaxed fashion. Li An was in so much pain that snot and tears flowed. Li Zhi frowned. Waving his hand, he had several imperial bodyguards walk over and drag Li An to the side, to prevent him from remaining a disgrace.
At this moment, Qin Zheng walked towards the exit with her head down. She too had to leave. As a rebel, if she didn’t go, the only road before her was death. However, she was deeply apprehensive in her heart. Without the Prince of Qi’s handwritten command, it would be impossible for the Prince of Qi’s army to attack the Prince of Yong’s army. As a result, she had cooperated with her apprentice sisters and forced the Prince of Qi to personally write that missive. In order to be absolutely safe, the one who went to deliver the command was her father, Qin Wuqi. However, it was now clear that the Prince of Qi was not sincere in his allegiances, otherwise Jiang Zhe would not have been able to hide at the palace hall that the Prince of Qi was staying at. That handwritten command definitely had problems. Her father had likely already been imprisoned by the Prince of Qi’s subordinates. If she were to rush to the Prince of Qi’s army, even though there was no way for her to command them to retrieve the situation, there were high hopes that she would be able to rescue his father. The affection between husband and wife was already as thin as paper. It was impossible for her to rescue her beloved son from within the capital. The only hope she had was to rescue her father. Right now, Qin Zheng had no desire to lose the few relatives she had alive.
After taking a few steps, Qin Zheng subconsciously turned around and looked. Behind rows of weapons, the Prince of Qi stood with his hands behind his back. The prince’s expression was placid, staring fixedly at Qin Zheng. His eyes were filled with gratitude and elation. Qin Zheng felt a twinge of love, understanding that Li Xian was happy that she was able to escape. Recalling her own conduct that caused the Prince of Qi to not know what to do in the future, remembering her beloved son in the Prince of Qi’s residence in Chang’an, she slowed her steps. Seeing this, the Prince of Qi suddenly turned his head away, no longer looking at Qin Zheng. However, Qin Zheng could see his entire body shaking. It was clear that he did not want her to worry about his safety and stay behind.
Qin Zheng’s mind was completely blank, only remembering the books on womanly conduct that she had read as a child, the exhortations of listening to one’s husband after being married. She had always greatly scorned those exhortations. However, at this moment, she finally realized the real meaning behind those words. If a married couple could not be of one mind, then there could only be pain, suffering, and disputes. Thinking of the current distress being experienced by the empress and Noble Consort Ji; thinking of Noble Consorts Zhangsun and Yan’s willingness to sacrifice their lives to shield Li Yuan; thinking of Qin Qing, dead by Li Hanyou’s hands; Qin Zheng ultimately stopped. Her gaze stupidly fell upon Li Xian again. Although this man had brought her much misery, if it weren’t for her continued refusal to cut off her relationship with her sect, how could the results be like this? Even after she had brought him such suffering, this man still refused to delineate a separation between the two of them. Having such a husband, how could she let him go? At this moment, Qin Zheng deeply regretted her failure to single-mindedly attend to her husband.
Just then, Xie Xiaotong turned her head and called out, “Senior apprentice sister, quickly!”
Fan Huiyao’s brows furrowed and she asked, “Zheng’er, what are you hesitating for?”
Coming to a decision, Qin Zheng turned around and kowtowed. She said, “Master, please forgive this disciple for being unable to listen and obey to your commands.”
In a cool voice, Fan Huiyao replied, “Zheng’er, you have always been confused. Master has never blamed you. Right now, don’t tell me that you still have excessive expectations in your heart? Hoping that His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, can save your life?”
Qin Zheng ignored the Fengyi Sect Master. She shouted, “Qin Zheng is a consort of a prince of Great Yong. I do not know what it means to be loyal to my country and instead have rebelled. As a daughter, I was unable to admonish my father to be loyal and righteous, causing my father to perform inappropriate tasks on his daughter’s behalf. As a wife, I failed to scrupulously abide by the dictates of womanhood, failing to play the traditional roles of a wife and rebelling against natural human relationships. As a mother, I have failed to serve as an example, unable to raise my beloved son with benevolence, to the point that my child is now implicated because of me. Imperial Father and second brother, His Imperial Highness has always been loyal to the dynasty. Even using intimidation and coercion through any methods available on the part of the Crown Prince and this guilty wife, we were unable to mobilize a single soldier subordinate to His Imperial Highness. Imperial Father, second brother, and all of the generals, please recognize this. Qin Zheng has performed such disloyal, unfilial, heartless, and unjust acts, and does not have the face to remain alive on this earth. Imperial Father, please forgive His Imperial Highness.”
Hearing these words, Li Xian cried out in alarm, “Zheng’er, you mustn’t do anything foolish!” Just as he was about to leap forward to stop her, he was prevented from doing so from the multitude of soldiers between them. In addition, Li Xian’s internal energy had not yet recovered. There was only enough time for him to take a few steps forward before a golden hairpin appeared in Qin Zheng’s hands.
The sharp hairpin was aimed at her throat. Qin Zheng smiled a splendid and sweet smile. This hairpin was a gift from Li Xian after they had married. Then, in an instant, the golden hairpin pierced her throat, blood gushing forth. With this, Qin Zheng died.
Li Xian could only rush over and pull Qin Zheng’s beautiful body into his embrace. Flustered, he attempted to use his hands to try and stem the flow of blood. But with the way that the blood was gushing forth, how could he stem it? In a voice filled with sorrow, he cried out, “Zheng’er … Zheng’er … You cannot die! It is all because I failed you. I should not have allowed them to dictate your life.” However, at this point, Qin Zheng was no longer breathing.
Li Xian’s gaze fell upon the Fengyi Sect Master, his eyes radiating boundless remorse and wrath. To his side, someone spoke some words to him, but he did not hear a single syllable. Picking up his wife, he did not look at anyone, staggering as he made his way towards the exit. When all those who thought to stop him saw Li Xian’s bloodstained clothes and his eyes brimming with despair, grief, and indignation, they silently retreated. Li Zhi sighed softly. Gesturing with his hand, several of his trusted subordinates followed Li Xian out.
When Li Xian’s figure had disappeared, Li Zhi candidly stated, “Fengyi Sect Master, are you satisfied? Without you sowing discord, how could the relationships between father and sons, between brothers, become like this? Right now, your honored sect’s disciples have all departed. Sect Master, please temporarily take up residence at the Autumn’s Return Abode. In the next seven days, this Prince will definitely not dispatch anyone to pursue and kill your disciples. However, Sect Master must also scrupulously abide by your promises and is not permitted to take a step out of the Autumn’s Return Abode.”
“Even without my sect’s participation,” retorted Fan Huiyao frankly, “Don’t tell me that you, the Prince of Yong, would be willing to renounce the Imperial Throne? Right now, the Throne is yours for the taking. The Crown Prince plotted treason and rebelled, forever losing his qualifications to ascend to the Throne. The Prince of Qi is also suspicious. From this day forward, you can kill or imprison them as you will. As for your Imperial Father, I wonder if you are going to force him to abdicate?”
“There is no need for Sect Master to waste your time thinking about these matters,” riposted Li Zhi, “These matters are the affairs of my imperial household. If Sect Master is still worried, at most, this Prince can come and be Sect Master’s hostage.”
Fan Huiyao took a look around, seeing the resentful gazes on the faces of everyone in the audience chamber. She was filled with disappointment and frustration. Slowly, she replied, “This seat has already made a promise. It is sufficient to have Major Jiang and His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, serve as my hostages. However, let me say this clearly. It will be impossible for Your Imperial Highness to dispatch men to pursue and kill my disciples without my knowledge. In the next seven days, if someone departs from the Hunting Palace, this seat will absolutely not let matters lie.”
Li Zhi did not respond. His gaze fell upon Jiang Zhe. He saw the doggedness and resolution in Jiang Zhe’s eyes. Those eyes were filled with hatred and death. I nodded my head resolutely. Li Zhi’s heart leapt. Could it be that Jiang Zhe already had a way of completely destroying the Fengyi Sect? As a result, Li Zhi calmly stated, “This Prince agrees to this condition. Sect Master, after you …”
置若罔闻, zhiruowangwen – idiom, lit. to turn a deaf ear; fig. to pretend not to hear
回光返照, huiguangfanzhao – idiom, lit. final radiance of the setting sun; fig. flash of lucidity or activity before death
来日方长, lairifangchang – idiom, lit. the future is long; fig. there will be ample time for that later, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there