Volume 4, Chapter 16: Regretful Parting of My Heart

Standing on the deck of his ship, Lu Can gazed at the sea that extended as far as the eye could see. Although it was a fine, sunny day, he felt grim and bleak inside. Though he had long known that that man was a major figure in the Great Yong court, receiving in no small measure the trust of the Yong imperial family and married a former queen, Princess Changle of Ning, Lu Can could not bring himself to direct a shred of hostility towards that man. It could be said that he understood that man quite well. When Jiang Zhe had served as his teacher, he was only in his teens. Naturally, he was not as profound as today. Lu Can knew that Jiang Zhe’s favorite thing to do was to goof off and be lazy. Aside from the stipulated times when Jiang Zhe was disinclined to oversee his studies, Jiang Zhe, from the beginning, would frequently leave the residence to stroll and sightsee. However, when all was said and done, the man was fond of peace and quiet. Towards the end, his favorite thing to do was to pick up an ancient text, steep a pot of tea, and read with great interest under the shade of a tree. But the man was also easy to entice. As long as Lu Can brought along a novel and delicious pastries, Jiang Zhe would be willing to do his homework for him or perform other trivial matters. Thinking of this, Lu Can could not help but laugh in spite of himself. However, the smile on his face quickly disappeared.

He knew of his master’s affairs. This master of his did not have any great aspirations. After he had become Southern Chu’s zhuangyuan, aside from being diligent in the establishment of the Palace of Sublime Culture and assisting the Prince of De in conquering the Kingdom of Shu, Jiang Zhe had basically treated his position within the Southern Chu court as a sinecure. As a result, when Jiang Zhe was dismissed from his post for directly criticizing the emperor in a memorial, Lu Can’s first thought was that Jiang Zhe intended to extricate himself and leave. However, Lu Can discovered that his master had not departed, staying in Jianye. At the time, Lu Can was filled with shame at his untoward thoughts. At the time, his master was already a Hanlin Academic. How could he be measured by the previous standard? However not long afterwards, when the Prince of Yong captured Jianye, his master had been taken captive to Great Yong. When Lu Can received the news that his master had pledged allegiance to the Prince of Yong and had been seriously injured by a Southern Chu assassin, there was nothing that he could do. This kind of situation eliminated any thoughts that Lu Can had of rescuing his respected master, because he already knew that Southern Chu had forever lost someone who could have been its pillar of the state.

Following these events, Lu Can had paid close attention to Jiang Zhe’s affairs. From beginning to end, the previously unknown1 Jiang Zhe had amazed the world with a single brilliant feat2 that reversed a desperate situation. Afterwards, he had abandoned high position and great wealth, eloping with Princess Changle. Although he had some regrets that Great Yong had fallen into the hands of a strong and forceful monarch, Lu Can had still silently prayed that Jiang Zhe could spend the rest of his life in peace. This was because Lu Can had heard that Jiang Zhe had striven his utmost in the service of the Prince of Yong and was already seriously ill.

However, not long ago, a letter dispatched by Jiang Zhe caused Lu Can to understand that before Great Yong had unified the world, Jiang Zhe would not completely retire into seclusion. Jiang Zhe’s fate and reputation were now closely tied to the Yong imperial family. As a result, the killing intent hidden in his heart finally erupted. Lu Can had only one intention. If Jiang Zhe continued to serve Great Yong, then Southern Chu would ultimately become a sacrificial offering. Lu Can could not watch as his family and country were destroyed. Regardless of whether the Southern Chu King was ignorant or enlightened, Lu Can could not permit the Southern Chu that his Lu family had served for three generations to become a spoil of war under Great Yong’s iron hooves. As a result, at the same time Lu Can acted out of self-preservation, he had resolved to eliminate Jiang Zhe. Lu Can did not have the complete assurance that he would be able to convince Northern Han to ambush and kill Jiang Zhe. However, he knew that this was the only opportunity and could not spare any effort. He was convinced that to deal with Jiang Zhe, one should not plan first and act later, but rather take the fastest action and launch the fiercest offensive, initiating a direct attack. Although he did not have complete confidence that it would be successful, Lu Can had discovered that Jiang Zhe was not vigilant against him. As such, he believed that it could be successful.

Killing an enemy that could be said to be a traitor should be a matter that leaves one filled with satisfaction. However, why did his heart ache so painfully? Staring up at the sky, Lu Can sighed heavily.

***

Under the same empty sky, Lin Bi was filled with disappointment and frustration. She knew that according to the arranged plans, this moment should be when the Prince of Qi and Jiang Zhe were ambushed by Shi Ying. One was a commander-in-chief of the massive Yong army who had halted the spearhead of the Northern Han army. The other was a strategist who could reach the Heavens with intelligence and had resourcefulness as profound and deep as the ocean. If the two of them died, at the very least, Northern Han could sleep soundly without worries. Originally, Lin Bi should be full of excitement. However, she could not dispel the tension that she felt. The impressions that the two of them had given Lin Bi were both quite good.

Although the aura of death around the Prince of Qi was too heavy and he had a temperament that was too ruthless, Lin Bi could sense the deep, tragic sorrow within Li Xian’s heart. Moreover, the Prince of Qi was inherently a passionate individual. This caused Lin Bi to gain a favorable and appreciative view of him. She had even gone so far as to compare Li Xian and Long Tingfei. Although Long Tingfei was obviously superior to Li Xian, Lin Bi could faintly feel that Long Tingfei was too perfect. Within her esteem and adoration was a sense of inferiority. She felt that if she weren’t the Princess of Jiaping, then she would not have the qualifications to marry Long Tingfei. This was one of the reasons why she had intentionally delayed marrying him. In comparison, Li Xian was different. Li Xian had his surpassing virtues and also had distinctly obvious flaws, causing Lin Bi to feel as if he someone approachable and lovable. In addition, the aura of desolate gloom that Li Xian frequently exposed caused Lin Bi to feel tender pity in her heart. Before, Lin Bi had only considered Li Xian to be an enemy thus did not notice this. But now that Li Xian was about to lose his life, Lin Bi involuntarily recalled Li Xian’s voice and smiling face.

As for that rumored sinister and terrifying strategist, Jiang Zhe, Lin Bi was left completely bewildered. She remembered his elegant and graceful bearing when they had first met, causing anyone who saw him to be filled with spontaneous3 feelings of respect and admiration. She further remembered the childish nature that he revealed within the Hearing Surf Pavilion, showing his childish and innocent side. Lin Bi could feel that this kind of individual was probably misunderstood by many people or perhaps he truly was a harmless individual indifferent to fame and gain. Only when someone offended him would he reveal his malevolent and menacing side.

There was also that gentle and serene Princess Changle. Lin Bi could sense that she found joy in peace. The previously bumpy road that Princess Changle had taken seemed to practically have disappeared. However, Lin Bi understood that this was what was especially deserving of respect. How many women in this world were capable of calmly facing the scars of their past? And how many women were willing to abandon readily obtainable power, riches, and honor to follow a sickly and weak paramour and embark upon a journey with indistinct and hazy prospects?

In addition, there was Roulan, that little girl who was doted upon and yet did not show any hint of haughtiness, and the poor Jiang Shen who did not yet understand things and had been callously sold off by his father. Lin Bi only felt a sharp pain in her heart. She was destroying their happiness!

After wallowing in her sorrow, Lin Bi collected her gloomy thoughts, telling herself that regardless of how amiable and respectable those two were, they were Northern Han’s enemies. Their deaths could be exchanged for the survival of countless numbers of Northern Han’s officers and soldiers. She gradually recovered her mental tranquility. Lin Bi whispered, “This is fate … If I am defeated, then I am willing to accept all of the consequences.”

***

On the road leading to Chang’an, as the princess’s traveling entourage meandered along, Princess Changle gazed uninterestedly at the distant sky. This time, the Great Yong court had given Princess Changle the proper respect. Under Prince Li Kang’s protection, Princess Changle was escorted into the Great Yong territory. Emperor Emeritus Li Yuan and Yong Emperor Li Zhi had each issued an edict, announcing to the world:

In the eleventh year of the twenty-fifth year of Wuwei, when We were still reigning, worrying about the loneliness of Princess Changle of Ning’s widowhood, We bestowed marriage between the Princess and Major Jiang Zhe of the household of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies. Because the Major was ill and bedridden due to worrying about the state and from arduous work, We could not bear to watch him stay such and allowed the two of them to marry in private. The six wedding rites and the official documents from the Ministry of Rites are all complete. Now that the son-in-law has recovered, We are filled with longing, specially recalling him back to the court.

By the command of the Emperor Emeritus!

Commandant of the Attendant Cavalry Jiang Zhe has performed many meritorious deeds in service to the country. Today, he is enfeoffed as the Marquis of Chu of the fourth rank, receiving as salary the tax revenue from three thousand households. His official residence will be set at Princess Changle of Ning’s official residence. The Princess’s heir, Jiang Shen, is enfeoffed as the Duke of An with tax revenue from five thousand households. The Princess’s eldest daughter, Roulan, is enfeoffed as the Princess of Zhaohua4 of the second rank with tax revenue from a thousand households.

By the command of the Emperor!

These two edicts not only lightly concealed Princess Changle’s elopement, it had also granted Jiang Zhe a marquisate of the fourth rank. Even barely one-year-old Jiang Shen had been granted a dukedom of the first rank. This was already the highest rank afforded to an in-law of the imperial family. Even Jiang Zhe’s adopted daughter was made a princess of the second rank. With these rewards, even those ignorant could see that the Jiang Zhe couple was deeply favored by the Yong imperial family. As a result, no one dared to bring up what had happened in the past.

However, Princess Changle felt extremely indifferent. When they had originally left, she had already abandoned everything. If it weren’t for the instability of Great Yong’s situation, no matter how hefty the rewards, Princess Changle would have refused to return Chang’an and been unwilling to allow her husband to return to officialdom. However, Princess Changle also understood the difficulties involved. At present, her husband had already headed directly towards the northern front line. If she were to stay in the Eastern Sea, ignoring the fact that Jiang Zhe would worry about his family’s safety, the imperial family would undoubtedly worry about control over the northern army. If she did not enter the capital to serve as a hostage, even if she and Jiang Zhe were trusted by Imperial Brother, then it would be unavoidable that the court ministers would secretly impeach Jiang Zhe. To prevent these individuals from becoming suspicious, it was better to voluntary. As a result, Princess Changle had long decided to return to Chang’an.

Princess Changle sighed softly. If she had any other choice, she would rather remain in the Eastern Sea and completely ignore the matters of the world. Unfortunately, this was not possible. At this moment, Roulan animatedly jumped into the princess’s imperial carriage, asking, “Mother! Where’s Shen’er? Look at the garland that I made for Shen’er!”

Taking a look at the exquisitely made garland, Princess Changle smiled. “It’s quite beautiful. Were you taught by Lin’er? I saw you whispering something with him a moment earlier.”

Roulan blinked. “That’s not the case! Little brother Lin only knows how to play with weapons. How would he know how to plait a garland? I was taught by the Head Maid. Just now, I saw that little brother Lin seemed very lonely and so went to speak with him. Who let third uncle be so excessive, preventing little brother Lin from sitting in the same carriage as me? Stating that I am a princess, and while little brother Lin is yet a member of the imperial clan, he does not hold a noble title. Third uncle also said something about avoiding arousing suspicion, prohibiting us from sitting in the same carriage.”

A stern and frigid look flashed across Princess Changle’s eyes. She unenthusiastically instructed, “Lan’er, go tell your third uncle that since Shen’er has been taken by Great Master True Compassion, I am a bit lonely sitting in this imperial carriage alone, and want Lin’er and you to come sit with me.”

Overjoyed, Roulan replied, “I’ll go tell him right now!” Finished speaking, she bounced vivaciously off of the carriage and animatedly ran towards the Prince of Qing’s carriage. She naturally was closely followed and protected by imperial bodyguards.

In her head, Princess Changle thought, When he left, Suiyun asked me to take good care of Lin’er. How can I watch him be bullied? She could not help but be a bit furious at her third brother whom she had rarely seen before.

At this moment, it was as if the sky was being washed, as a flock of autumn geese traveled past with ear-splitting cries. Hearing them, Princess Changle did not know why, but she felt her heart tighten. She could not help but look north. Had her husband arrived at the army encampments?

***

“Achoo!” I sneezed greatly. Then I heard the Prince of Qi’s snickering. I glared ferociously at him. If I had truly died to that lance, even if he wanted to cry, it would be impossible to do so. My survival was all a fluke. Because I had recognized that I would meet with danger at any moment on the battlefield, I had specially designed a set of gold-thread clothes to protect myself. I had seen its wonderful design within ancient books. It was manufactured by combining purple gold granules with black, refined soft copper. After smelting, they were transformed into purple gold thread. This kind of purple gold thread was as fine as human hair and was incomparably flexible, and was capable of holding objects that were a thousand or more catties in weight. This purple gold thread and the hair of the golden ape of the Western Regions were combined into a thread that was used to weave an undergarment that was as thin as a cicada’s wing. One would barely notice it if worn, but it allowed its wearer to be impervious to damage.5 Not only was its manufacture extremely complicated, it had also taken strenuous effort to acquire the materials. But in order to ensure my safety, I had spent thousands, if not tens of thousands, of gold and silver and countless thought.

Even with this, I was still filled with anxiety and had designed an azure cloak that had three pieces of cowhide woven between its fabric. That was material that was used in making leather armor. Although not as invulnerable as my gold-thread clothes, it was capable of protecting my entire body and was better than having nothing at all.6 Although I spent quite a bit of money and thought, it was ultimately worth it.

Although that lance had pierced towards my back, knocking me off of the drawbridge, I was not harmed. Even the force was reduced by half. Of course, this was also because the Northern Han soldier who had attacked me had not much strength left. It was only that at the end of autumn the water was penetratingly cold. Moreover, the water of the moat was intermixed with bodies and blood. With my ineptitude at swimming, I was barely able to stay floating on the surface. As a result, I had suffered greatly after falling into the water. If Xiaoshunzi had not seen me fall in from afar and known that I was uninjured, promptly rushing over to rescue me, it was likely that even though I wouldn’t have been stabbed to death, I would have drowned. After all, the Prince of Qi and the soldiers probably all assumed that I was dead from that strike. They had not yet been able to react so quickly.

After suffering, when I was pulled out of the water, I dizzily vomited the water that I had drunk as if there were no tomorrow. I had completely lost all face before the Prince of Qi. How could I not be depressed? In addition, having had a soak in cold water, and with my constitution not that of an ordinary person’s, I caught a cold. Truly an unfavorable start to our campaign.

A look of worry flashed across Xiaoshunzi’s eyes, as he inquired, “Young master, should we rest a few days before continuing? Your health has always been poor. Without proper care, this subordinate can definitely not be at ease.”

“That won’t do. This is not a safe location,” I languidly replied. “Although the Northern Han army has retreated, we still need to be on our guard against the arrival of their main army. It is best that we hurry onwards towards the main encampment. Moreover, the departure of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, from his camps was something that he hid from his subordinates. Right now, it is likely that everyone knows. If His Imperial Highness does not return to his main encampment to take charge,there will likely be detrimental effects upon the army. Do not worry, I only suffered a bit. When we arrive in the main encampment, I will be able to convalesce. It is better to be trapped on the road. Oh, that’s right, has the hand furnace been heated?”

Xiaoshunzi promptly handed over the handheld furnace that he had prepared. I held it against my bosom, wrapping my cloak tightly around me. I replied, “I’ll have a good sweat on the road. There is no need for you to worry about me. Wake me up once I have arrived at the main encampment.” Finished speaking, I lay down comfortably within the carriage, closing my eyes.

Finding it somewhat humorous, the Prince of Qi glanced at me. Untying his own cloak, he draped it over me. Afterwards, the Prince of Qi jumped off of the carriage and mounted a warhorse. Seeing the distressed looking Huyan Shou, he asked, “Huyan Shou, what is it? Since yesterday, I’ve seen bitterness on your face.”

Huyan Shou replied bitterly, “When this general departed, His Imperial Majesty ordered me to properly protect Jiang daren. His Imperial Majesty had also stated that if something were to happen to Jiang daren, I would be severely punished. At present, not only has the daren suffered significant misery on the road, he has also fallen into the water and caught a cold. The Emperor will undoubtedly be infuriated by our failure to properly protect the daren.”

“This Prince does not have any methods to help with this matter,” remarked the Prince of Qi before comforting, “However, there is no need for you to worry. Do you think it is likely that the Emperor will dispatch anyone else? Further, you have suffered grievous casualties protecting Suiyun. At present, although Suiyun has had a fright, he has not been seriously injured. Regardless of what has happened, you have performed meritorious service. Besides, the Emperor has always been clear with regards to reward and punishment. In the future, as long as you perform your duties and have Suiyun speak a few good words on your behalf, don’t tell me that the Emperor will blame you?”

Hearing this, Huyan Shou felt a sense of relief. He could not help but give the Prince of Qi a look of gratitude. Just now, his mind was jumbled. With the Prince of Qi’s advice, he naturally understood what to do. It is normal to run into the enemy. We have already performed a great service by protecting His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, and Jiang daren. His Imperial Majesty’s wisdom is boundless; he makes clear his rewards and punishments. He would not set blame without reason.

Aboard the carriage, I could clearly hear what they were saying. Although the distance was a bit far, as far as I was concerned, it was no problem for my preternatural senses. I could not help but heave a sigh. The Prince of Qi, Li Xian, as expected, showed sincere concern and care for his subordinates. Even though Huyan Shou was originally the Prince of Yong’s trusted subordinate, as long as someone was his subordinate, the Prince of Qi would not discriminate and treat everyone favorably. It was no wonder that the Prince of Qi was able to acquire the intense loyalty of his troops, causing the ire of the important ministers of the court.

When it came to talent and bearing, Li Xian was not in any way weaker than the current emperor, Li Zhi. However, Li Xian had two major flaws—his stubbornness and extremism. Although these were flaws, they could also be considered strengths. Li Xian was the leader of the military officers of the Yong Dynasty because of his indomitable spirit. Since Li Xian began leading troops again, it was not that he hadn’t suffered losses, but rather he was never weighed down by these defeats. Combined with his mastery of battle formations and his fierce character, Li Xian would always personally serve as the rearguard. As a result, even if he were defeated, it would not be disastrous. In addition, Li Xian was quick at learning from his losses. Whenever he regrouped and made a comeback,7 he would inevitably be more ferocious than before, giving his opponents interminable headaches. After so many years of campaigning, although Great Yong had as many fierce and valiant generals as the clouds, other than Li Zhi, the only other individual capable of controlling the unruly commanders and soldiers of the army was the Prince of Qi, Li Xian.

Comparing the two brothers, Li Zhi was more careful and meticulous, all-conquering. He was deserving of his reputation as Great Yong’s military deity and leader. In comparison, Li Xian was Great Yong’s sharp blade, the idol of the officers and soldiers of the army. But because Li Xian suffered both victories and defeats in battle, he was always unyielding and indomitable, always leading from the front and commanding the rearguard in retreat, gaining the esteem of his subordinate soldiers. Li Xian’s great effort and progress was seen by all. Towards the majestic and respected Prince of Yong, the soldiers were mostly filled with reverence. In comparison, towards the Prince of Qi, there were hints of familiarity. If regarding the heart and mind of the army, the Prince of Yong’s subordinates were naturally loyal to him and only him. The Prince of Qi’s subordinates were the same way. During the chaos of the coup d’état, if the Prince of Qi had resolved to directly confront the Prince of Yong, even though the Prince of Yong would ultimately have most likely won, the strength of Great Yong would inevitably have declined precipitously as a result. This factor was what kept the Prince of Yong and me up at night during those chaotic days. Were it not for repeated unforeseen events, it was likely that before the coup d’état, we would have assassinated the Prince of Qi.

The Prince of Qi’s stubbornness and extremism made him become the most annoying opponent for the enemy army. When fighting against the Prince of Yong, the enemy would most likely face with defeat. As a result, the war would usually be determined by a single battle. But when facing the Prince of Qi, although the enemy could attain victory, as long as they weren’t able to capture or kill the Prince of Qi, then they would face unending and extreme counterattacks as retribution. That kind of pressure was enough for an enemy commander to wish they had been defeated at the beginning. For the Prince of Qi to be able to stop the prodigal Long Tingfei, aside from his military talents, he relied upon his firm and unwavering will, preventing Long Tingfei from being successful in one strike. From the beginning, Li Xian had suffered defeats in every battle that he had fought against Long Tingfei. However, as time passed, as the two fought to a stalemate, everyone could see the Prince of Qi’s progression.

However, this distinctive merit became an obvious flaw when it came to political and family matters. Were this not the case, the Prince of Qi would not have ended up in such a predicament. According to my investigations and determinations, at the time, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, had steeled his heart to support Crown Prince Li An in order to become the chief seat in the Yong military. In addition, his marriage to Qin Zheng had the feel of a political marriage. However, Li Xian did display true feelings for Qin Zheng, while Qin Zheng plainly could not cut off her connections with her sect. This had violated the Prince of Qi’s bottom line. The Prince of Qi, used to monopolizing power, pledged allegiance to the crown prince in order to seize military authority even though he knew Li Zhi should inherit the throne. In addition, because of Qin Zheng’s weakness and hesitation, he had dismissed her from his heart. If the Prince of Qi weren’t so obstinate, he would have vowed loyalty to the Prince of Yong, preventing today’s situation of mutual distrust and suspicion. If the Prince of Qi weren’t so extreme, he would not have been estranged from Qin Zheng. If he had been willing to treat Qin Zheng sincerely or if he had been able to convince Qin Zheng to abandon her sect, then Qin Zheng’s blood would not have been shed at the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, and no tragedy of a married couple separated by life and death.

On the other hand, if the Prince of Qi weren’t so stubborn and extreme, single-mindedly following the crown prince and cooperating with the Fengyi Sect, and drifting from the crown prince and the Fengyi Sect because of scorn and grudges, the result of the coup d’état could have been quite different.

It was because of the Prince of Qi’s eccentric temperament that he had landed into today’s predicament. I had long heard of the mourning within the Prince of Qi’s heart because of the death of his consort, Qin Zheng, always refusing to remarry. This was one of the reasons why rumors of the discord between the emperor and the Prince of Qi were able to disseminate throughout the lands. But in my eyes, the Prince of Qi’s emotions towards Qin Zheng, while having the feelings of a married couple, were not necessarily truly, unforgettable deep love. It was more likely that the Prince of Qi could not let go of the shame and regret he felt about relinquishing his abandonment of his contest against the Fengyi Sect, allowing Qin Zheng to fall in too deeply to the point of committing suicide. This kind of frame of mind was probably why the Prince of Qi had sunk into an intractable problem that he could not get out of.

In fact, I always felt as if the Prince of Qi’s repeated refusal of the emperor’s good intentions was not because of his unwillingness to reconcile with the emperor. He was likely hampered by this intractable problem and did not have a suitable way out of the embarrassing situation. However, this could not be dragged out. After all, the emperor was the emperor. He could bear patiently for a year or two … but not necessarily eight to ten years. Further, even if the emperor was willing to wait patiently, those important ministers of the court would repeatedly petition remonstration memorials. No matter how much the emperor trusted His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, and did not believe he would rebel, he could not be too arbitrary. When the time came, the Prince of Qi likely would not be allowed to command troops. Wouldn’t this result fill the Prince of Qi with even greater resentment? I was unwilling to see this kind of commander-in-chief if destroyed gratuitously. In addition, if the Prince of Qi and the emperor were reconciled, he would undoubtedly be unshakably loyal and devoted to the emperor. This result would ensure that Great Yong’s empire would be impregnable.8 If that were to happen, I would be able to retire into seclusion without any anxieties.

In a rare move, the Prince of Qi had retreated one step, seeking my help to rescue him from the embarrassment. How could I allow such a good opportunity to slip by? The emperor was also an astute individual. Although he and I had not had any communications beforehand, we shared the same thoughts. This time, we, liege and vassal, were going to work together again. We would definitely be able to have His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, willingly give in. Moreover, this was also completely coincidental. Since the Prince of Qi, such an arrogant and obstinate individual, was extremely fond of Shen’er to the point of agreeing to take another wife, as long as the Prince of Qi was touched, I had ways of melting the ice around his heart. Thinking of the beautiful future prospects, I could not help but laugh softly. Once the relationship between the two brothers, liege and vassal, were harmonious, it should have nothing to do with me, right? As for right now, they only lacked a way out of their embarrassing situation. Then I shall just inconvenience myself this once, playing the role of a way out for them. As for military matters, I had no intentions of meddling.

Just as I was happily reveling, Huyan Shou suddenly knocked on the moving carriage’s door, stating, “Young master, the Emperor’s edict has already arrived at the main encampment. His Imperial Highness wants to know if we should speed up our journey.”

I frowned. Since the ambush, the Prince of Qi no longer worried about secrecy. In a single night, he had sent out several dozen military orders. Right now, the entirety of Zezhou and Zhenzhou were in a state of panic. Ignoring everything else, there were now several thousand troops escorting us with more arriving in a continuous stream under the Prince of Qi’s orders. This kind of mobilization required significant money and supplies. With the marching orders set, if we were to increase our speed, it would affect the military arrangements that had been made. In addition, it was likely that we would have to travel as light cavalry. I would not be able to endure such punishment.

Just then, Xiaoshunzi spoke up softly, “I believe that the Prince of Qi also does not want to speed up our journey.”

My heart leapt. After thinking it over, I realized that was the case. From the phrasing of the Prince of Qi’s question, he did not want to be accused of slighting the imperial envoy, thus having me reject it. I laughed inwardly. This Prince of Qi was also scheming. Although he intended to use me as a shield, seeing that he intended to also reconcile with the emperor, I should help him. Reaching this decision, I stated, “Please inform His Imperial Highness that we should still follow our itinerary. It is likely that I am also named in the edict brought by the Imperial Envoy. If we were to rush, my life would likely be endangered.”

As expected, after I had spoken, the Prince of Qi did not come to disturb me any further. If as before, the Prince of Qi would probably have either increased the speed without even asking me or completely ignored me, stuck in his old ways. As far as I was concerned, his changes were heartening. At the very least, the Prince of Qi would not act willfully. However, he would have to pay a hefty price to use me as a shield and I had every intention of collecting.

Footnotes:

默默无闻, momowuwen – idiom, lit. obscure and unknown; fig. an outsider without any reputation, a nobody, an unknown quantity
一鸣惊人, yimingjingren – idiom, lit. to amaze the world with a brilliant feat; fig. become an overnight celebrity
油然而生, youran’ersheng – idiom, lit. to spring up unbidden; fig. arising spontaneously
昭华, zhaohua – lit. bright magnificence
刀枪不入, daoqiangburu – idiom, lit. impervious to sword or spear; fig. invulnerable, untouchable
聊胜于无, liaoshengyuwu – idiom, lit. something is better than nothing
卷土重来, juantuchonglai – idiom, lit. to return in a swirl of dust; fig. to regroup and come back even stronger, to make a comeback
固若金汤, guruojintang – idiom, lit. secure as a city protected by a wall of metal and a moat of boiling water; fig. well-fortified, invulnerable to attack, steadfast, solid, impregnable

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