In the second year of Southern Chu’s Tongtian era, Jiang Zhe was traveling on the streets of Chang’an at night. While traveling, his carriage ran into the Prince of Qing’s guard, Ye Tianxiu and Marquis Jiang Yong of the Eastern Sea’s valiant subordinate general, Fang Yuanxin.…
—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
Xiaoshunzi raised the curtain of the carriage. The both of us saw that all twelve of the imperial bodyguards assigned to protect me had already drawn their blades, surrounding and protecting the carriage. Imperial Bodyguard Zhou Wu, who was clearing the way, pointed at the two men who had blocked the carriage and hollered, “Who are you to have the impertinence to block our travel?”
I gazed out from within the carriage, catching sight of two men standing before the carriage. One was in gray clothes; his appearance was elegant and he had a sword at his waist. The other man was dressed in black. Although his appearance was not bad, his skin appeared to be bronzed. His hands held onto the bridle of Zhou Wu’s horse. With one glance, I saw that his hands were covered with faint scars. My heart leaped into my throat. My gaze shifted and I saw that the man in gray clothes carried a young boy roughly six or seven years old in his bosom. Although this man’s clothing was ragged and he had an excited expression on his face, there wasn’t any sign of dread in his eyes.
At this moment, I heard Zhou Wu speak in a stern manner, “It is now the dead of night, and though we are traveling swiftly, it is difficult to injure anyone. Although this child appeared suddenly, I am confident that I am able to rein my horse in promptly. Why are you meddling in other people’s business?”
The man in black angrily replied, “Regardless of the time, how can you travel so rapidly in the city? If I hadn’t used all my strength to stop your speeding horse, it is likely that this pitiable child would have been injured by the horse hooves.”
Just as Zhou Wu was about to dispute the man’s assertions, Jing Chi arrived from the side. Shooting a glare at Zhou Wu, Jing Chi coldly stated, “As it is late at night, we didn’t expect for there to still be people on the streets, so we traveled quickly. This is our fault. I will apologize on behalf of this brother of mine. Since you two have the courage to meddle in others’ affairs, presumably the two of you are real men. Do you dare to come with us?”
The two men exchanged looks, clearly seeing the hesitation in each other’s eyes. Although the carriage escorted by these men was extremely plain and simple, they could see that the carriage was of excellent quality and was not something that an ordinary family could use. Moreover, although these guards were dressed in civilian clothing, their vigor and grandeur was not normal. Just by looking at their posture on the horses, one could immediately tell that they were military men. In addition, each and every one of them had extraordinary martial arts. At the very least, this squad of guards could only be from the family of a duke or marquis. The two men had aspects that were inconvenient to be revealed. Having exchanged intents, the gray-clothed man calmly stated, “Since you have already apologized, then that is enough. We still have some matters to attend to and will not bother you any further.”
Just as the two finished speaking and were preparing to leave, Jing Chi laughed aloud. With the wave of his hand, eight of the imperial bodyguards spurred their horses forward and surrounded the two men. The two men’s expressions changed greatly. The gray-clothed man’s eyebrows furrowed, while killing intent was revealed on the black-clothed man’s face. At this moment, Jing Chi spoke, “I have been in Chang’an for some time now. With one look, I could tell that the both of you are out-of-towners. This city is the Emperor’s capital. Within the imperial capital, even if outsider great bandits arrive here, they have to follow the rules. There aren’t many people who dare to walk about at night. After all, you would inevitably get into the trouble if you run into the Imperial Guard patrolling the streets. For the two of you to be so fearless, presumably the both of you have great martial arts and can come and go as you please.”
The gray-clothed man aloofly demanded, “What is this? Chang’an does not have a curfew. Traveling at night is our business. Are you using our meddling in other people’s affairs as a pretext to make a fuss? Do you wish to deliver us to the authorities?”
“That’s not the case,” denied Jing Chi with a laugh. “I only wish the two of you to come be our guest. If the two of you are innocent, I will not only apologize to the two of you, I will also like to befriend both of you. Afterwards, if you two run into trouble in Chang’an, as long as I am able to help, I will definitely do so.”
The gray-clothed man tightly clutched the hilt of his sword, his expression grave. The man in black moved his hands to his waist. It seemed that they were about to act. However, the two of them could see that the men surrounding them watched them closely, while Jing Chi’s tiger eyes were filled with the power. A bloodlust that reached the skies had already completely enveloped the two of them. The two felt extremely uneasy. Even if they were able to charge out of the encirclement, it was likely that their whereabouts would be completely revealed.
Just as they were wavering, the curtain of the carriage was raised and a youthful looking man leaned out. This man had a black cloak draped over his shoulders, completely covering his clothes. This man’s appearance was of a delicate and handsome, weak scholar. Sticking his head out at this point of no return filled with bloodlust, this man smiled and ordered, “General Jing, stay your hand.”
The hearts of the two men leaped with anxiety, both of them glancing at Jing Chi, a look of understanding flashing in their eyes. The gaze that they directed at me, however, was filled with suspicion. With this, I was even more certain that my judgment was correct and thus smiled, as I declared, “This lowly official is a subordinate of the Prince of Yong, Major Jiang Zhe of the household of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies. Just now, my subordinates offended the two of you, I will apologize to you two on their behalf.” So speaking, I clasped my hands together and saluted them.
The two men bowed, at the same time, from the waist to return my politeness. An indescribable emotion flickered in the gray-clothed man’s eyes, as he said, “So it is actually Jiang daren. This one has long heard of daren’s name. Please forgive our crime of blocking your carriage.”
The man in black’s face expressed both alarm and joy, but he did not utter a single word. Glancing at him, I smiled and stated, “Brother Ye, Brother Fang needs to be careful in Chang’an. His Highness does not have any ill intent towards your master. However, if Brother Fang’s whereabouts are leaked, then it would be extremely inconvenient for His Highness to be lenient. Although Chang’an is good, it is not a place to stay long in. It is better if you two leave quickly.”
When I said the words, “Brother Fang,” the bodies of both men shook simultaneously, concentrating all of their energy to prepare to make their move. But when they heard my subsequent words, they relaxed. The man in black surnamed Fang hesitated before he bowed and requested, “Jiang daren, I was forced by circumstance to enter the capital. Would it be possible to speak privately with daren?”
I stared at him blankly. It was only by chance that I saw through the identities of the two men. That Ye Tianxiu was originally the Prince of Qing’s subordinate. He had frequently entered the capital in secret. I had seen a painting of his appearance before. I ought to recognize him. I had guessed that the other man was surnamed Fang. The man’s skin tone was peculiar, clearly someone who was exposed to strong sunlight all year round. Beyond that, his hands had traces of rope burns from frequently releasing and pulling up the sails. Lastly, combined with his close friendship with Ye Tianxiu, I was able to guess his identity. Originally, I only thought that a few kind words to express my benevolence would be enough to have them depart and prevent some uncontrollable incident from happening. Surprisingly, this Fan Yuanxin wished to speak with me. If news of our conversation were to spread, it would not be good. After all, Jiang Yong was still a rebel, even if the Prince of Yong had no intentions of making things difficult for him. However, seeing the beseeching look in his eyes, I softened and said, “Brother Fang, please climb aboard the carriage to converse.”
Fang Yuanxin glanced at Ye Tianxiu and muttered in a low voice, “Go back first.”
Quietly, Ye Tianxiu whispered back, “He is a trusted confidant of the Prince of Yong. You have to think this over carefully.”
With a wry smile, Fang Yuanxin replied, “The little master’s life is more important. We can’t worry about anything else. The Prince of Yong definitely won’t take advantage of another’s difficulties.”
Fang Yuanxin boarded the carriage. Ye Tianxiu hesitated and glanced anxiously at me before bowing to bid his farewell. Just as he was about to take the boy and depart, I raised my voice and said, “Wait a moment.”
Ye Tianxiu shivered inwardly before turning around and asking, “Does daren have any instructions?”
I smiled and observed, “Brother Ye is a transient guest here in Chang’an. It is better if this boy is handed over to me to handle.”
His worries relaxed, Ye Tianxiu accepted, “If that is the case, then I will entrust him to Jiang daren.” Finished speaking, he quickly disappeared into the night.
One of the imperial bodyguards urged on his horse, bending over to pick the child up and placing him on the horse. After obstinately struggling for a moment, he glared with hostility at the imperial bodyguard. The imperial bodyguard laughed aloud, patting the boy’s head.
Fang Yuanxin entered the carriage and immediately saw a refined and feminine looking young man seated within staring at him callously. The icy gaze caused Fang Yuanxin to feel as if his entire body had been drenched by a bucket of ice-cold water, penetrating straight to the heart. He immediately knew that this man’s identity—Demonic Shadow” Li Shun. This man was an expert with martial arts that were sinister and astonishing to the extreme, and yet was willing to serve as a servant.
Seeing that Fang Yuanxin looked as if he was sitting on pins and needles,1 I shot a meaningful glance at Xiaoshunzi. The killing intent being emitted from Xiaoshunzi’s immediately vanished. Fang Yuanxin felt his breathing relax, realizing the extraordinariness of the Demonic Shadow. Only after seeing Fang Yuanxin had calmed down did I inquired, “What is it that Brother Fang wishes to speak to me about?”
With a saddened expression, Fang Yuanxin asked, “Since Jiang daren already knows my identity, then daren should also know who my master is?”
I smiled slightly and responded, “I naturally know. It is only that General Fang must know that your master, at present, is still Great Yong’s criminal anointed by the emperor. Why would you wish to speak with me? If this matter were leaked, it is likely that I wouldn’t be able to let you go even if I wanted to.”
Fang Yuanxin answered, “It is specifically because Jiang daren intends to protect me that I dare to discuss this matter with daren.”
Recalling the words that he had exchanged softly with Ye Tianxiu, I was moved. With a smile, I inquired, “May I ask what matter requires this one’s help?”
“I dare not keep daren in the dark,” replied Fang Yuanxin. “My master is almost forty and only has one child. Unexpectedly, a few days ago, the little master went to sea and was bitten by a ‘rouge jade’ sea snake. The little master is close to death. Although my master has a number of famous doctors under his banner, they were all helpless in the face of this crisis and could only watch as the little master was tormented on a daily basis by the poison. Although his life was preserved with difficulty, he can neither live nor die. My master dispatched his subordinates to search for famous doctors everywhere. However, all of them said they were powerless. Ultimately, my master could only pin his hopes on being able to find the Medical Sage, Sir Sang. However, after appearing in Chang’an, Sir Sang has since disappeared. I have arrived in the capital under orders to find his trail and was unable to find a single shred of news. However, I have heard that Jiang daren once studied medicine under Sir Sang and reportedly has profound medical ability. I wish to ask daren to use your skills to save my little master. Not only will I be moved to tears in gratitude, even my master will not forget daren’s kindness.”
“General Fang, let’s first ignore the opposing positions that we stand on,” I said, furrowing my brows. “And let’s also ignore whether I truly have the ability to save little master Jiang’s life. Ever since I was injured by the assassin, my body has been extremely weak and frail. Without His Highness, the Prince of Yong, and this servant of mine’s meticulous care, it is likely that I would have died long ago. If I rush to the distant Eastern Sea, it is likely that I will die before I arrive there. What’s more, the Prince of Yong employs me as his advisor. I cannot leave Chang’an even for a moment.”
Fang Yuanxin knew that Jiang Zhe did not speak a single word of falsehood. His master’s identity could be ignored for now. After all, if Jiang Yong were willing to surrender to Great Yong, he would inevitably be placed in an important position by the Yong emperor. However, although Jiang Zhe’s complexion wasn’t bad, the signs of his poor health and frailty were quite evident. If he were to rush to the distant Eastern Sea, it was likely that he would probably collapse from illness even before he arrived. However, the little master also could not go to Chang’an. After thinking it over for a long while, Fang Yuanxin still felt that things were extremely difficult. Originally, he had wanted to kidnap Jiang Zhe. However, when he arrived in Chang’an, he had learned that this Jiang Zhe was highly valued by the Prince of Yong. Even his master was unwilling to brazenly oppose the Prince of Yong. In addition, Fang Yuanxin was able to ascertain today that Jiang Zhe’s protection was indeed tight. There was no way for him to kidnap and bring Jiang Zhe out of Chang’an.
I paid especial attention as I observed Fang Yuanxin’s complexion. At the beginning, he was a bit vexed. Afterwards, he emitted a trace of bloodlust before being replaced with despair. How could I not understand his intentions? However, I absolutely could not leave Chang’an at this time. I would have referred him to Sir Sang if Sir Sang had not already stated that he would no longer practice medicine, and his secluded location was a secret that could not be revealed to outsiders. The only thing that could be done was to have his little master come to Chang’an. It was only that if the child were to come to Chang’an, then it was likely that he would never have the opportunity to leave. This sticking point would make things extremely difficult even for Jiang Yong.
While I was thinking, Xiaoshunzi suddenly notified me, “Young master, we have already arrived at the Vermilion Bird Gate.”
Hearing this, Fang Yuanxin immediately paled. He knew that he could only leave now. Sadly, he said, “I will return and report this matter to my master. This matter is of great importance. I am unable to make the decision.”
“Why is Brother Fang in such a rush to depart?” I asked, coming up with a plan. “Since you are willing to speak with me, then there is no reason not to meet with His Highness, correct? His Highness is broadminded, his temperament honest and generous. It is possible that he may have a way of helping your little master. At the very least, I can guarantee that His Highness will not prevent Brother Fang from departing.”
Fang Yuanxin was startled. He understood that even if Jiang Zhe was willing to treat the little master, this matter would still require the approval from the Prince of Yong. Thinking of the deep kindness of his master, Fang Yuanxin was willing to risk his life. Thus resolved, Fang Yuanxin stated, “If that is the case, then I can only ask that daren Jiang helps me obtain an audience.”
With a solemn expression, I replied, “Do not worry, General Fang. I guarantee that you will safely depart from Chang’an.”
Just as Fang Yuanxin was about to respond, the expression on Xiaoshunzi’s face suddenly changed. In a unfeeling voice, he stated, “There is someone following us.”
“How many people?” I asked, “When did they start following us?”
Xiaoshunzi responded, “They attached to us after we met with General Fang. Originally, they kept their distance from the carriage. Just now, they suddenly got a lot closer. Oh! I understand! There is a patrol of the Imperial Guard coming.”
My heart leaped with fear and I asked, “Who commands those imperial guards?”
Xiaoshunzi pulled open the curtain and glanced out. In a low voice, he said, “Daren, it’s General Qin commanding this Imperial Guard patrol. They will very quickly meet us.”
With a cold smile, I inquired, “Xiaoshunzi, will Qin Qing search the carriage?”
Xiaoshunzi’s brows furrowed and he responded, “This carriage belongs to the household of the Prince of Yong. Rationally speaking, he wouldn’t search it.”
“According to the law, he has the authority to search all carriages traveling at night,” I replied with a slight smile. “Of course, if it was based upon my status, there is no need for an inspection. However, if he were really to search this carriage, then it would be inconvenient for me to stop him. Presumably, those following us were originally tailing Brother Ye and Brother Fang. Unexpectedly, they ran into me. Those following us are quite firm, hoping to use this method to falsely accuse me of the crime of communicating with the enemy.”
With a frown, Xiaoshunzi wondered, “It is inconvenient for young master to refuse the inspection and we also cannot harm the Imperial Guard. What can we do?”
“First have Jing Chi deal with them,” I instructed with a smile. “It would serve the opposite effect if I were in a rush to appear. It is a pity with regards to Qin Qing.”
At this moment, the squad of Imperial Guard arrived before us. At their head was a valiant and formidable-looking man. He was Qin Qing. Urging on his horse, he advanced and in a loud voice questioned, “General Jing, why are you personally escorting this carriage? Who is it within the carriage?”
In a grave voice, Jing Chi replied, “So it is Commander Qin. This general is under orders to protect Major Jiang. I bear a heavy burden at present and cannot stand on ceremony. Would General Qin please forgive me?”
With a smile, Qin Qing said, “What are you saying? Although Qin Qing’s rank is higher, General is a brave commander who has fought on the battlefield. Who doesn’t know that you are the bravest commander under His Highness, the Prince of Yong, adept at killing enemy commanders and seizing standards? Qin Qing is only a younger superficial student, and dares not accept general’s courtesy. Now that it is already late at night, would it be possible for me to see Major Jiang? Qin Qing bears the heavy responsibility for ensuring the security of the Imperial City and dares not be slack. Would you please forgive me?”
“Although it is proper and expected to perform an inspection,” frowned Jing Chi, “However, this is a carriage belonging to the Prince of Yong’s household. Within is also the major. Why is General Qin determined to search it? The night breeze is very cold and recently, the major’s health has been poor. It is possible that he will come down with a cold. It is inconvenient for him to meet you.”
Qin Qing’s expression changed. Turning his head, he asked one of his personal subordinates in a low voice, “Major Jiang is not to be trifled with. Why is the princess determined for me to search his carriage? If the Prince of Yong is angered and informs Father, it is likely that I will be blamed.”
The imperial guardsman replied in a low voice, “Emperor’s son-in-law, don’t worry. Our men saw a rebel within this carriage. We aren’t intentionally making trouble for Major Jiang. If we were, then the grand general would definitely not approve. However, if that rebel enters the Prince of Yong’s residence, it is likely that the consequences will be endless. As long as General takes that man away for questioning, Major Jiang will be in the wrong, and will definitely not dare to obstruct us. When the time comes, as long as General does not speak, presumably even Major Jiang will not take the initiative to try to worry about a criminal.”
Qin Qing continued to hesitate. However, recalling that his wife’s intelligence surpassed his own, he believed that she would not be wrong. As such, he spoke in a loud voice, “This is a mere formality and won’t take long. There should be no harm to Major Jiang.” So speaking, he urged his horse forward to lift the curtain of the carriage.
Two imperial bodyguards simultaneously advanced to block his path. All of the imperial bodyguards knew that there was someone within the carriage that could not be exposed. Qin Qing’s bladelike eyebrows rose, as he stated, “What? Are you trying to obstruct this commander from executing official business?”
With a humorless smile, Jing Chi replied, “If you are allowed to search the carriage, then wouldn’t the entire court know of General Qin’s great abilities tomorrow? Unexpectedly daring to search the carriage belonging to the household of the Prince of Yong. When the time comes, the one without face will be me.”
“If it was the Prince of Yong present, this general would naturally give way,” rebuked Qin Qing angrily, “However, it is Major Jiang who is within the carriage. Since that is the case, then this general has the authority and power to search it. If there is no guilty conscience in your heart, what is the harm in allowing me to take a look within?” So speaking, he waved his hand. The squad of imperial guardsmen surrounded the carriage. Qin Qing gazed at Jing Chi frostily. If Jing Chi were to say a single no, Qin Qing would immediately advance to conduct the inspection by force.
Fang Yuanxin trembled inside, his hand once again dropping to his waist. He was originally a rebel. If he were to fall into the hands of the imperial guardsmen, it was likely that he would not survive. Consequently, he was determined to fight with his life on the line. Inwardly, he could not stop blaming himself. He should not have taken the risk of boarding Jiang Zhe’s carriage. It wasn’t important if he himself were to die. If the only person who could save the little master was also implicated, then he could not absolve himself even if he died.
I shook my head slightly, lightly pressing down on Fang Yuanxin’s hand. If I couldn’t handle this simple matter, then did I deserve to be the Prince of Yong’s chief strategist? Glancing at Xiaoshunzi, I removed a gold pendant from my waist and handed it to him. Although I had many ways of handling this situation, this method was the simplest and most direct. In order to calm this General Fang’s mind, it would be better to use force to bully2 Qin Qing. Unfortunately, Qin Qing was too stubborn. If it was someone else, they would absolutely not dare to search a carriage belonging to the household of the Prince of Yong. Not just anyone was capable of being impartial and incorruptible.3 It could be only said that Qin Qing was too naïve.
Xiaoshunzi took the gold pendant. Pulling aside the curtain, he exited. It wasn’t long before I smiled faintly. This gold pendant was truly useful, truly a good object deserving of the serious manner in which the Prince of Yong had lent it to me.
In China, there are multiple ways of saluting. In jianghu and common usage, a typical salute involves making a fist with the right hand, while either using the left hand to wrap around the right fist or the right fist is held against the open left palm. Females switch this around. It’s also switched around to denote the start of an argument or fight. In polite society, salutes were made holding the two palms forward together, the fingers overlapping somewhat.
如坐针毡, ruzuozhenzhan – idiom, lit. as if sitting on pins and needles; fig. to be in an uncomfortable situation
仗势欺人, zhangshiqiren – idiom, bullying others on the strength of one’s powerful connections or position
铁面无私, tiemianwusi – idiom, lit. iron-faced and without regard for personal matters; fig. impartial and incorruptible