Volume 4, Chapter 17: Selecting a General to Establish Prestige

On the sixteenth day of the tenth month of the twenty-eighth year of Great Yong’s Wuwei era, Zhe arrived at the main army encampments at Zezhou, becoming the Army Supervisor. He beat an unruly general to establish his prestige, subduing the entire army and calming the minds of the soldiers …

—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun

Several days later, we finally arrived at the main encampments in Zezhou. Gazing from a distance at the concealed killing aura of the encampment, a feeling of pride welled up in my heart. At the top was the Prince of Yong, now emperor. In the middle was a slew of fierce and valiant generals. At the bottom was a mighty army of thousands and tens of thousands. If Great Yong was unable to unify the world, then it would mean that the Mandate of Heaven did not exist.

The Prince of Qi walked to the front of my carriage. With a smile, he stated, “Suiyun, you won’t be able to ride in a carriage this time. I have had people prepare a docile horse for you. There shouldn’t be any problems for you, right?”

Smilingly slightly, I replied, “There shouldn’t be any problems.”

Finished speaking, I climbed out of the carriage with Xiaoshunzi’s help and mounted the horse that the Prince of Qi claimed was docile. Although I had not yet completely recovered from my cold, it would not hinder my movements. My azure robes fluttered in the breeze, ensuring that my bearing appeared extraordinary, and I rejoiced in my heart that the sorry state from falling into the water during my escape was not seen by many people. Reining my horse in, I followed one length behind the Prince of Qi towards the encampment.

Although we were still several li from the encampment, the main gates had been opened. Two lines of horsemen in shining armor poured out from the encampment, lining both sides of the entrance. Afterwards, over a hundred sufficiently high ranking generals came out, personally urging their horses forward to welcome our arrival. Including their bodyguards, each and every one of them was aggressive and overbearing. In my view, they did not seem like they were coming to welcome us, but rather to challenge us.

Arriving before us, each and every general brandished their sabers as salute. Afterwards, they shouted in chorus, “Generals welcome the Marshal back to the encampment!”

Having spent some time before in the military, I was not startled by their roar. My gaze flitting over the faces, I memorized the appearance of each and every one of the generals. Some of them were quite familiar, having met them before in the Prince of Yong’s residence. It was only that I had little contact with the outside world during my time within the Prince of Yong’s residence, and I was not acquainted with them. However, I remembered the man at the front of these generals quite well. It was my student who disliked studying the most, Jing Chi. He was now the Prince of Qi’s deputy. Having not seen him for two years, his temperament seemed to be even steadier and calmer, losing some of his hotheadedness and recklessness. Half of the generals, however, were unfamiliar. I could see the fanatical loyalty in their eyes as they stared at the Prince of Qi. I had seen one or two of them by the Prince of Qi’s side before. Presumably, these individuals were the Prince of Qi’s trusted subordinate commanders.

It was clear that the generals were divided into two camps. There was a distinct separation between the two, as if a chasm yawned between them. A slight, wry smile curved from my lips. I did not know if the Prince of Qi was deliberately on unfriendly terms with those commanders who were loyal to the former Prince of Yong. If the Prince of Qi set his mind to it, at the very least, these generals would not brazenly form a separate camp.

Returning their salutes, the Prince of Qi asked in a loud voice, “Where is His Imperial Majesty’s Imperial Envoy?”

I understood why the Prince of Qi was in such a rush to meet the emperor’s envoy. Within the Great Yong military, those without a position in the military were not permitted to enter a military encampment. At present, I did not hold any military position. It was inconvenient for even the Prince of Qi to bring me inside.

In the wake of the Prince of Qi’s shout, someone proclaimed, “Presenting the Imperial Edict! Prince of Qi, Li Xian, and Marquis of Chu, Jiang Zhe, receive the edict!”

I raised my gaze and took a look. Ahead an official in dark red rode a horse out of the encampment, holding an imperial edict in yellow damask silk. Li Xian and I hurriedly dismounted. The incense burner table had been prepared long ago. Jing Chi led the generals in crowding around us, joining Li Xian and I kowtowing on the ground.

That official read the imperial edict aloud and everyone listened carefully. The edict appointed Jiang Zhe, the Marquis of Chu, as the Army Supervisor, granting him the power to act at his discretion. Everyone within the main army encampment in Zezhou were under Jiang Zhe’s supervision. In reality, over these days, everyone within the encampments had faintly guessed the contents of the imperial edict. It was a special event for an army supervisor to be named. However, everyone knew about the challenging relationship between the emperor and the Prince of Qi. If it someone else were named, these generals would inevitably suspect that the emperor was anxious about and was preparing to act against the Prince of Qi. However, it was different to appoint Jiang Zhe as the army supervisor.

Those high up within the Yong army knew that Jiang Zhe was the emperor’s trusted strategist and knew some about Jiang Zhe’s affairs. Those who served the Prince of Yong naturally knew how formidable Jiang Zhe was and they trusted that Jiang Zhe’s arrival as the army supervisor would prevent the Prince of Qi from being disloyal. As for those loyal to the Prince of Qi, all of them knew that the only reason the Prince of Qi was allowed to redeem himself and garrison Zezhou was because Jiang Zhe had penned a letter of recommendation to the emperor. Moreover, this man was invited personally by the Prince of Qi. Even the stupidest individual could understand the Prince of Qi’s esteem for this man. As a result, although there was a chasm separating the two camps in the army, both sides could accept the existence of this army supervisor.

Although Jiang Zhe’s reputation was rather resounding, this kind of weak and feeble scholar was not a type of person that these generals could readily accept. Moreover, these generals were filled with feelings of fear and exclusion towards those holding the position of army supervisor. All of this, however, had nothing to do with Jiang Zhe.

After the imperial edict was announced and thanking the envoy, the Prince of Qi issued the order to hold a military conference. This was an important matter. Whenever the order was issued, anyone arriving after the allotted time would be executed. However, this time’s military conference was more intimidating than previous ones. Within the main tent, the Stalwart Tiger Guard and the Prince of Qi’s household troops stood opposite one another. Although the two sides had cooperated in battle and no longer took precautions against each other, there were still intentions of competing to see who was better. Both sides were overbearing. Those generals who removed their weapons and entered the tent could feel a chill run up their spines, their hearts beating rapidly. After amazement at first, these generals who had experienced numerous bloody battles were not intimidated by these personal troops, also revealing their murderous auras. This caused the atmosphere in the main tent to be extremely tense, almost as if a conflagration was about to ignite.

Li Xian smiled wryly inside. Glancing at Jiang Zhe, sitting at the first seat on the right side, he thought, If I were to suppress it by force, it is likely that I instead incite the tensions. Your responsibility is to mediate the balkanized situation within the army. Why are you still remaining on the side? As he thought this, he shot Jiang Zhe several meaningful glances.

I saw everything, thinking, If they were to start fighting, wouldn’t that make it seem like I’m incapable? I carefully glanced at the generals in the tent, my gaze falling upon Jing Chi. It seemed like I had to single him out as a point of attack. However, this was not treating him unjustly. With the Zezhou main army encampment split in half, he was the chief of those who were against the Prince of Qi. It wasn’t that this fellow was deliberately seeking power and authority. As it happened, he had an open character and inevitably was neglectful of proper etiquette. In addition, he was straightforward. In front of the emperor, he of course did not dare to be impudent. However, towards the former enemy, the Prince of Qi, he was a bit too casual. If it were someone else, it wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, he was a trusted general of the emperor. Within the Zezhou main encampment, he was only second to the Prince of Qi. For his conduct to be like this, everyone would assume that he was acting on the emperor’s orders to deliberately handicap the Prince of Qi. As a result, the antagonism of the two factions was solidified. As it happened, Jing Chi was someone who highly valued camaraderie. This kind of individual would always shield the shortcoming of his comrades. If the two sides were to truly cause trouble, Jing Chi would always be at the forefront, making it increasingly difficult for the Prince of Qi to handle matters. If the Prince of Qi were to ignore things,1 the morale of the army would be shaky, making it difficult to fight the enemy. If the Prince of Qi tried to set an example by punishing one of them, this Jing Chi was the emperor’s trusted lieutenant and wasn’t being intentional. If I did not punish Jing Chi today, it would be impossible for me to subdue the Yong faction’s generals. This was why I needed to single him out.

Reaching this conclusion, I smiled and asked, “Marshal, this Army Supervisor is a newcomer and does not understand the state of the army. What is the current military situation?”

Li Xian was startled, thinking, Why is Suiyun so energetic today? When I wanted to speak with him about this yesterday, he was disinclined to listen, always stating that it was better to wait until the conference to speak of it. Why was he voluntarily asking about it now?

Just as he was about to reply, I shot him a meaningful glance. Li Xian immediately shut his mouth. All the gathered generals below the marshal’s dais were not simple coarse fellows who were bold but foolhardy.2 As a result, although the Prince of Qi did not answer my question, they were all also left speechless. Only Jing Chi, after many years apart, was aching to give me his personal respects, but had not yet had the opportunity to do so. Now, seeing me pose a question and the Prince of Qi remain silent and not answer, Jing Chi only felt that the Prince of Qi was deliberately trying to make me look awkward, and since he was second only to the Prince of Qi, he opened his mouth and answered, “Reporting to Sir, this general …”

Just as he began to speak, my face suddenly became quite grim. In a loud shout, I asked, “Jing Chi, the Army Supervisor and the Marshal are speaking. Why are you casually interrupting?”

Jing Chi was dumbfounded, promptly trying to explain himself, “Sir, this general had no intention of interrupting. It was only that the Marshal did not respond. That is why this general spoke up.”

I coldly rebuked, “Ridiculous! Within the army, there is only one Marshal! I am speaking with the Marshal. The Marshal did not permit you to speak on his behalf and you dared to speak. No wonder I have heard that you throw your weight around3 and do not respect your superiors. Seeing you today, I can see that it is indeed the case. If you were not like this on an everyday basis, why would you have the nerve to scramble to respond before the Marshal?”

At first, Jing Chi felt a bit wronged. However, he had long gotten used to repeatedly mulling over the multiple layers of my words. Thinking it over, he felt beads of sweat flow down his back. Thinking back to the last several years, although unintentional, he had many disputes when it came to military matters with the Prince of Qi, sometimes going so far as to force the Prince of Qi to change his mind. Although sometimes his words were correct, he was often rude. No wonder the generals of the Qi faction would always make trouble for him. Jing Chi was not stupid. He remembered the instructions from the emperor when he left the capital, telling him to properly serve under the Prince of Qi. But in comparison, his conduct was completely different. No wonder Sir Jiang had spoken these words of reprimand. After thinking it through, the feelings of resentment in his heart completely vanished. Instead, he was scared witless. He understood the formidableness of Sir Jiang’s methods and his steely heart quite well. With a plop, Jing Chi dropped to his knees. With fear and trepidation, he replied, “This general acknowledges my crime. Sir, please punish me.”

I thought, As expected, this Jing Chi still fears the remnant of my prestige from the olden days. It looks like I selected correctly when I singled him out. My gaze swept over the rest of the tent. I saw the unease on the faces of the generals of the Yong faction. It seemed that they had caused no end of trouble for the Prince of Qi these last few years. As for the Qi faction, all of them were elated. I deliberately revealed an icy look, stating, “This Army Supervisor is here on the Emperor’s orders to oversee all you generals. Jing Chi is guilty of being disrespectful to his superiors, harming the army’s morale. His crime is unpardonable. Huyan Shou, drag him out and behead him!”

The generals below the dais were immediately thrown into an uproar. The Yong faction generals all gazed at the grim-faced army supervisor, wondering if Jiang Zhe was conspiring with the Prince of Qi to eliminate Jing Chi. However, this army supervisor was personally appointed by the emperor … he shouldn’t be partial to the Prince of Qi, right? As for the generals of the Qi faction, although they hated and resented Jing Chi, they had fought together for years. They understood him quite well. Although they were hostile towards him, they could not help but admit that he was a hard to come by general. If he were executed, it would be quite regretful. At this moment, Huyan Shou, with a stony expression on his face, had stepped out with two of the Stalwart Tiger Guard and were about to drag Jing Chi out of the tent.

Although filled with misgivings, the Yong faction generals saw the uniforms on the Stalwart Tiger Guard, immediately recognizing them as the emperor’s Imperial Guard. They could not help but wonder if the emperor wanted to kill Jing Chi. They did not dare to obstruct them. Some even began to worry. If Jing Chi refused to die so pointlessly and raised a ruckus, things would become a mess. If that happened, they would have no way of pleading for leniency. However, outside of their expectations, the usually raucous Jing Chi actually only waited to be taken away with a bitter expression on his face.

If it were someone else, Jing Chi would naturally not resign himself to being arrested. However, during the time that he had spent in the Cold Courtyard, I had already trained him quite well. In front of me, Jing Chi did not have the courage to resist. Further, Xiaoshunzi stood behind me. Jing Chi knew Xiaoshunzi’s abilities and methods quite well. As a result, he was even more unwilling to try and resist. He could not even shout out that he was wronged. He knew of my methods. During the time he had spent in the Cold Courtyard, he had been further disciplined for willing to argue strenuously. As a result, Jing Chi had long ago formed preconceived notions in his heart. If he did not quibble over his innocence, it was possible that nothing would happen to him. If he were to argue that he was wronged, he would commit another offense. Thinking of the hand-copied works that he had left behind in the Cold Courtyard, Jing Chi could not help but tremble from fear.

Once Huyan Shou and the two Stalwart Tiger Guards had pulled Jing Chi out, Li Xian began to wonder. What’s going on? Jing Chi has been taken out already … don’t tell me that Suiyun truly wants to execute him and not put on a show? Li Xian could not help but glance at Jiang Zhe, stating, “Suiyun, to execute a general before we have even begun to fight would unavoidably be a pity. How about sparing him this time?”

I indifferently responded, “The army is governed by ironclad regulations. Being irreverent to the commander-in-chief is a capital offense. If everyone is like this, wouldn’t that mean the army no longer has regulations?”

At this moment, the gathered generals realized that the situation was not good. The army supervisor was determined to kill Jing Chi. The Yong faction generals hurriedly came over to plea for leniency on Jing Chi’s behalf. However, this time, they first saluted the Prince of Qi before speaking. With a glance from the Prince of Qi, those generals of his faction also came forward to plea for leniency. Only then did I mildly reply, “Since all of the generals are pleading for leniency on his behalf, I will spare him this once. Transmit my order: have Jing Chi beaten twenty times with staves. In the future, if he dares to slight his superiors, he will be executed without pardon.”

After the military command was issued, in a few moments, Huyan Shou and company brought back the bloody and scarred Jing Chi. Only then did I withdraw my angry look, impassively stating, “Jing Chi, you have been punished. In the future, you are not permitted to commit such an offense again. His Imperial Majesty has appointed you as the deputy commander, how could you be so muddleheaded and disturb morale? The prior conduct ends today. From now on, you are not permitted to do anything on your own initiative, otherwise even if His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, does not concern himself, I won’t let you off.”

Although Jing Chi had been punished, he rejoiced. Since he had already been punished, then Sir would not continue to be mad at him. As a result, he cheerfully promised. Seeing his response, I knew that although he would obey, there was still wariness in his heart. Hit by a spark of inspiration, I stated, “Jing Chi, just now you were punished according to military regulations. For better or worse, you were my student for many years. You can be considered as my disciple. As your master, I also wish to punish you for being rude to your superiors. If you do not want to accept this punishment, you can cut off our ties as master and disciple. If that’s the case, I will no longer care about you.”

Hearing this, Jing Chi promptly replied, “Sir, please do not hesitate to punish me. Disciple will not have any complaints.” He treated being my disciple as a great honor. How would he be willing to be expelled as my student? Further, if our ties as master and disciple were severed, even if he ignored my current status, he would still be ridiculed by everyone else.

I smiled slightly and replied, “You also know that although there are strict rules governing my disciples, there is only one punishment for someone like you. Xiaoshunzi, in a moment, follow him to his tent and supervise him as he copies the military regulations a hundred times. Be sure to prevent him from goofing off and have someone substitute for him.”

Li Xian could not help but begin laughing, as he said, “Suiyun, I have long heard that you are fond of punishing General Jing with copying books. Seeing today’s scene, I believe it.”

With a bitter look, Jing Chi acquiesced. Glancing at the Prince of Qi, he thought, I dare not oppose him again. It’s fine if I’m punished by copying military manuals and regulations. If Sir becomes enraged, what can I do if he punishes me by copying the Four Books and the Five Classics?

Following this, the Prince of Qi introduced me to the generals of his army. I paid particular note to several of them—Fan Wencheng and Huang Ling, the commanders of the Prince of Qi’s household troops; Xia Ning and Luo Zhang, the fierce and valiant generals under the Prince of Qi. These four were the Prince of Qi’s trusted lieutenants. That year, Crown Prince Li An couldn’t even mobilize them with the military tally. As for the former subordinates of the Prince of Yong, although I recognized a few of them. At present, Zhangsun Ji was in Guanzhong, Pei Yun was garrisoned at the northern banks of the Yangtze River, and Sima Xiong commanded the Imperial Guard. Currently, I could not meet them here. As for those present, although I had heard of them before, it was difficult for them to pique my interest.

Afterwards, the Prince of Qi issued the order for the entire army to hold a competition, instructing each general to make preparations. From his speech, he hinted that after the competition the army would mobilize to attack Northern Han. All of the generals had found these last few years difficult to endure. Hearing this news, they were naturally inspired, all hoping to seize victory in the competition and serve in the advance guard in the coming campaign.

Once all of the generals had withdrawn, I had intended to return to my tent to rest, but was forcibly pulled by the Prince of Qi to his own tent. Since I couldn’t do anything to prevent it, I might as well sit back and enjoy it.4 In any case, I could only take up residence in my tent after Xiaoshunzi and company had properly tidied it for me. Therefore, I reclined comfortably on the Prince of Qi’s large bed, while the Prince of Qi looked at me with a smile that was not a smile on his face. It seemed like he was waiting for me to ask him a question.

Instead, I pretended to be deaf-mute, almost as if I did not know that he was waiting for me to ask about the coming campaign. In reality, after thinking it over carefully, if it weren’t for the emperor and the Prince of Qi both wanting to conquer Northern Han, what was the rush to resolve the tensions between the two of them? If this wasn’t the case, there would have been no need for the emperor to personally write a letter to me and go so far as to dispatch his own Stalwart Tiger Guard to urge me on my way. In addition, the Prince of Qi would not have been in such a rush to invite me from seclusion. Otherwise, it wouldn’t matter if I rested for a few more years.

After a short while, Li Xian finally smiled wryly and stated, “Suiyun, stopping pretending to be a deaf-mute. Please tell me what you think about my decision to mobilize and campaign?”

I pretended to be startled, asking, “Your Imperial Highness, why are you speaking these words? According to Great Yong’s customs, the Army Supervisor is not permitted to get involved in war. Your Imperial Highness should discuss these matters with the generals and advisers in the army.”

Li Xian felt his breathing stagnate. However, he was intelligent. After thinking it over, he replied, “Suiyun, you know the importance of garrisoning the frontiers. Without an imperial edict, you won’t be allowed to return to the capital.”

I was startled, responding, “I know that is the case.”

A sly smile appeared on Li Xian’s face as he said, “If we remain in a stalemate with Northern Han, let alone a year or two, even if it’s three to five years, I have my ways of preventing you from returning to the capital. I wonder if Shen’er will recognize you when the time comes.”

Listening to him speak, I felt like I was hit by a bolt out of the blue. Shit! How did I forget about this? If we do not conquer Northern Han, I won’t be allowed to return to the capital. Thinking of Zhen’er, Shen’er, and Roulan, I could not but become worried. After thinking for some time, I impulsively started laughing. I replied, “Your Imperial Highness is truly Zhe’s bane. That year, in Southern Chu, I was extremely wary of Your Imperial Highness. When Your Imperial Highness’s bodyguard unsheathed his saber and put it against my throat, I immediately yielded. At present, while I do not fear Your Imperial Highness’s killing intent, Your Imperial Highness has used my family to threaten me, not letting me be a leisurely and carefree Army Supervisor. I wonder, am I here to suppress Your Imperial Highness or is Your Imperial Highness suppressing me?”

Li Xian smiled wryly. “That’s because you haven’t made preparations to deal with me, otherwise I would probably still be counting money for you after you’ve sold me off. All right … quickly think … The Emperor’s intentions this time is to eliminate Long Tingfei. As long as he dies, Northern Han will be destroyed sooner rather than later. However, Long Tingfei has never lost a battle that he has commanded. Although this Prince is prideful and conceited, I know full well that there aren’t any certain chances of victory. If I were to wage a war of attrition against him, the losses would likely be disastrous. When the time comes, with Great Yong grievously weakened, how will it be able to deal with Southern Chu?”

Seeing the Prince of Qi’s sincerity, I told myself, Fine … what’s the point of being stuck here? I will have plenty of opportunities to exact retribution upon the Prince of Qi. In addition, since I have arrived within the army, if I ignored military matters, it would likely be unjustified before the emperor. It is best to conquer Northern Han.

I collected my thoughts and inquired, “When compared to Long Tingfei, who is better at war between Your Imperial Highness and him?”

Thinking it over, the Prince of Qi answered, “This Prince is adept at leading from the frontline and formations. When it comes to strategy, I am not Long Tingfei’s equal. In addition, that man’s innate military skills are truly outstanding. This Prince should be inferior to him. However, that is only because he has plenty of troops and talented generals. This Prince is confident that no matter how talented Long Tingfei is, it is impossible for him to completely defeat me.”

I shook my head and replied, “Your Imperial Highness is only partially correct. Long Tingfei’s strategy and tactics are indeed superior to Your Imperial Highness’s. These last few years, he has repeatedly attacked Great Yong, either returning victorious or, at worst, retreating completely unscathed. Northern Han’s army is known for its bravery and fighting skills. Long Tingfei also has several generals under his command. Combined with knowledge of the present circumstances and knowing when to advance and retreat—this is why Great Yong has repeatedly been defeated by Long Tingfei. However, if Your Imperial Highness battles Long Tingfei, you are not necessarily his inferior. It is only that Your Imperial Highness is focused on eliminating Long Tingfei. That is why you’ve have been led around the nose by him.”

The Prince of Qi was somewhat bewildered, asking, “Suiyun, don’t you also believe that the main reason for our defeats by Northern Han is because of Long Tingfei?”

“That is indeed the case,” I voiced with a smile. “If Northern Han did not have Long Tingfei’s support, it would have been conquered by Great Yong long ago. However, this does not mean that we need to deal with Long Tingfei in order to deal with Northern Han.”

Thinking it over, the Prince of Qi inquired, “Could it be that you want to sow discord between Long Tingfei and the Northern Han court? I’m afraid that won’t be possible. At present, Long Tingfei is greatly trusted and is a future son-in-law of the Northern Han King. Even if you want to sow discord, it won’t be an easy thing.”

“It won’t be easy to sow discord,” I answered, shaking my head. “Right now, the Northern Han King is not a worthy and virtuous monarch. However, he has one virtue, the courage to allow his subordinates a free hand and to trust them. For Long Tingfei to have such a liege to serve is his good fortune. It would be useless to use the discord ploy on Long Tingfei. Even if it was useable, it would consume a significant quantity of time.”

The Prince of Qi asked, “If that is the case, what are Suiyun’s intentions?”

Smiling faintly, I explained, “Though there are countless permutations to Long Tingfei’s leadership, however, those superficial changes will not depart far from the original principle.5 When commanding troops, he is fond of combining proper and genius tactics together. He frequently leads the main army himself, while dispatching an auxiliary army. He would either personally lead the main army to attack or command the auxiliary army to attack our flanks and supply line. Although our troops number many, we are frequently at a disadvantage when facing him.”

Somewhat embarrassed, Li Xian replied, “That is indeed the case. Every single time, he either tasks Tan Ji to harass my main army’s flanks or has Shi Ying raid far behind our lines. In order to face Long Tingfei, I have always been afraid to split my army. Even if this is the case, if we relax even for a moment, we will still leave flaws for Long Tingfei to exploit. These last few years, Northern Han has repeatedly invaded, their tactics and plans ever-changing. I cannot understand how Long Tingfei is able to command that auxiliary army so freely and effortlessly.”

“You are overestimating Long Tingfei,” I said, smiling faintly. “No matter how capable he is, he cannot clone himself like an immortal to command that second army. Hasn’t Your Imperial Highness frequently witnessed Long Tingfei utilizing Tan Ji to command that army? Although Shi Ying is capable of sallying forth alone, he frequently retreats after one attack. He cannot compare to Tan Ji’s hard-to-fathom swiftness. We should say that Tan Ji is also a talented field commander. It is only that his brilliance is unfortunately buried by Long Tingfei.”

Li Xian pensively nodded his head. “You speak correctly. Even if Long Tingfei had three hands and six arms, without a capable lieutenant, it would be impossible for him to win every battle he fights. How could I forget this? It is only because the majority of Great Yong’s generals have been defeated at Long Tingfei’s hands that we are restrained by fear, forgetting the importance of those commanders by his side.”

I coldly stated, “Long Tingfei is the soul of the Northern Han army. His subordinate commanders are his wings, hands, and feet. Since Long Tingfei cannot be easily defeated, then our first objective is to sever his wings and break his hands and feet, whittling his will and striking at his confidence. After suffering repeated attacks in this manner, even if Long Tingfei is a goshawk, he will fall into a bird net. Even if he is a tiger, what can he do? What does Your Imperial Highness have to fear about him escaping Great Yong’s control?”

Hearing this, the Prince of Qi felt a chill run up his spine. It was a good while before he spoke, “How should we proceed?”

I did not answer him, rising to my feet. I said after a long time, “If Your Imperial Highness is willing to follow my plan, I can promise that within one year, Long Tingfei will be captured and Northern Han will declare vassalage. I wonder if Your Imperial Highness is willing to obey?”

Collecting himself, the Prince of Qi replied, “Li Xian will obey with all of Sir’s commands.”

I continued, “This matter cannot be leaked, otherwise if Long Tingfei is on his guard against our methods, we will have to waste more effort. As a result, aside from Your Imperial Highness and me, no one else can know the truth of what is happening.”

Smiling, the Prince of Qi recited, “That is only natural. ‘If a ruler does not keep secret [his deliberations with his minister], he will lose that minister; if a minister does not keep secret [his deliberations with his ruler], he will lose his life; if [important] matters are not kept secret, that will be injurious to their accomplishment.’6 This Prince naturally understands the importance of keeping this confidential.”

Satisfied, I expressed, “Since that is the case, I will take the first step. The competition ten days later is the perfect opportunity. I wish to select an individual.”

A light flashed across Li Xian’s eyes, although he did not speak a word.

***

The competition ten days later was extremely lively and boisterous. This time, the Prince of Qi had ordered that the competition be one of battle formations. Each unit selected a thousand soldiers to use wooden weapons to fight. The result of the competition left everyone greatly surprised. Because he had only recently recovered from his beating, Jing Chi did not participate. In fact, I prohibited him from taking part; since he was already the deputy commander-in-chief, how could I allow him to compete against the other generals?. As a result, Jing Chi’s troops were commanded by Adjunct Xuan Song. Although Xuan Song was adept at handling military secrets, his martial arts weren’t great and he rarely led troops into battle. As a result, everyone thought that he could only lose. Who could have expected that Xuan Song would be a capable battlefield commander? After over a dozen rounds, he was never defeated. Even if he did not win, he would be able to fight to a draw.

I had heard of this Xuan Song before. Not long after he had entered into the Prince of Yong’s service, he was dispatched to Jing Chi’s unit to serve as adjunct. After Jing Chi was detained for years in Chang’an, his troops were commanded by Xuan Song. Surprisingly, he was actually so capable. As I exclaimed with admiration, I asked the Prince of Qi, “Your Imperial Highness, this kind of talent should be allowed to serve as a general. Why is he still only an adjunct?”

“Having been colleagues for several years, who in the army does not know of Xuan Song’s abilities?” answered the Prince of Qi awkwardly. “However, Great Yong’s regulations state that if you are unable to go into battle and lead from the frontline, you cannot become a general. Although Xuan Song is skilled at military affairs, he was originally an adviser and a scholar. As a result, he cannot be allowed to command an army.”

I could not help but smile, replying, “The reason that the Eastern Jin Dynasty declined was because they viewed the military with scorn and used scholars to command troops to the extent that they were unable to resist barbarians and pacify rebellions. Afterwards, the situation became increasingly disorderly as the high-ranking military officers set up their independent regimes. This was the harm caused by stressing civil matters and neglecting the military.7 Right now, Great Yong has probably set all these regulations prohibiting civil officials from commanding armies. However, it is surely an overcorrection.8 To prohibit this kind of talent from commanding troops is a complete waste. No wonder when I looked through the after action reports from the last two years that Jing Chi’s troops were like a raging inferno at attack and as firm as a boulder in defense. I always found it strange. Given Jing Chi’s temperament, he would be an unrivaled and valiant, frontline general when attacking. But when having him defend, he likely will fail. So he had such an assistant. Even with this kind of contribution he is willing to serve as Jing Chi’s lieutenant, not having the qualifications, to this day, to enter the main tent and take part in military conferences. Truly a pity.”

Hearing my words, the Prince of Qi could not help but flush with anger. In fact, if Li Zhi were commanding the army, he would likely have made an exception for Xuan Song and promoted him to the rank of general. While Li Xian wouldn’t go so far as to make things difficult for Li Zhi’s former subordinates, he was disinclined to promote an officer who was loyal to Li Zhi and alter the longstanding regulations.

Pretending to not notice the expression on his face, I added, “But this is of use. This time, Xuan Song will come in handy. After he has performed such a great service, Your Imperial Highness can legitimately and justifiably nominate his promotion to general and allow him to lead his own unit.”

Li Xian promptly replied, “This Prince will listen to you … listen to you.”

I laughed lightly, looking into the distance. There, Jing Chi was pulling on Xuan Song and saying something. They were too far away and I could not hear clearly. However, seeing Jing Chi’s joyfully slapping his chest with satisfaction was truly ridiculous. Xiaoshunzi suddenly appeared by my side out of the blue. Transmitting his voice, he informed me, “General Jing is telling Adjunct Xuan of his close ties with you, claiming that he has a way to allow Adjunct Xuan to become a general and lead his own army.”

I could not help but be excited. Surprisingly, Jing Chi had such broadmindedness and vision, leaving me to consider him with a whole new level of respect.

Footnotes:

置之不理, zhizhibuli – idiom, lit. to pay no heed to; fig. to ignore, to brush aside
有勇无谋, youyongwumou – idiom, lit. brave, but foolhardy
飞扬跋扈, feiyangbahu – idiom, lit. act bossy and domineering; fig. throwing one’s weight around
既来之,则安之, jilaizhi, ze’anzhi – idiom, lit. since I’ve come, then I might as well be comfortable; fig. since I couldn’t do anything to prevent it, I might as well sit back and enjoy it
万变不离其宗, wanbianbuliqizong – idiom, lit. many superficial changes but no departure from the original stand
君不密,则失臣;臣不密,则失身;几事不密,则害成。, junbumi, zeshichen; chenbumi, zeshishen; jishibumi, zehaicheng – a line that appears in many Chinese texts, including the Book of Changes (易经) and the Analects (论语) that speak of the importance of secrecy
重文轻武, zhongwenqingwu – idiom, lit. to value letters and belittle arms; fig. to stress civil matters and neglect the military
矫枉过正, jiaowangguozheng – idiom, lit. to overcorrect; fig. to overcompensate, hypercorrect

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