Volume 5, Chapter 1: Startling, Frightening News

Under the illumination of the candle, while the entire sky outside was filled with ice and snow, inside it was as warm as spring. With an outer robe draped over my shoulders, I sat at a table, studying the map upon it. I hesitated, unable to come to a decision, not knowing whether Ling Duan and Qiu Yufei had been able to make it back to Northern Han. Although both of them had unwavering temperaments and I was of mind to allow them go, the matters of the world were fickle and changeable. If neither of them returned, it would have been a waste of my mental and physical energy.

The sputtering of the lamp oil woke me from my reverie. I suddenly laughed in spite of myself. The plan across the border was proceeding extremely smoothly. Even if Qiu Yufei and Ling Duan were unable to return, the impact wouldn’t be that great. In the last dozen or so days, I had Great Yong agents in Northern Han sow discord between Shi Ying and Duan Wudi. At this very moment, Shi Ying had presumably already reported Duan Wudi’s crimes to Long Tingfei. After reading through the available intelligence on Shi Ying, aside from battle, he was someone unwise to the ways of the world. If it weren’t for Long Tingfei’s appreciation and protection of him, if he didn’t die on the battlefield, he would likely be abandoned upon it. It was only someone like him who would have a dispute with another one of Long Tingfei’s trusted subordinates, Duan Wudi.

A strange thought suddenly appeared in my mind. If Long Tingfei acted inconsistently with what my plan needed and continued to trust Shi Ying, and Qiu Yufei and Ling Duan were unable to bring back sufficiently detrimental information about Shi Ying, would Duan Wudi, the calmest of Long Tingfei’s subordinates, be sacrificed? If I could accomplish this, it would be a wholly unexpected reward. However, I did not dare to have such extravagant hopes. Duan Wudi’s command could be described as cautious and careful. It was extremely difficult to charge this kind of individual with a crime punishable by death. I was not greedy. Moreover, Duan Wudi’s continued existence had his benefits. I did not want the Northern Han army to lose its taste for battle. One of the reasons why the Northern Han army could fight so valiantly and savagely was because of the existence of this kind of general who excelled at defense.

It was possible that my plan would fall through and Shi Ying escape the calamity. However, the events that I was engineering were enough to create estrangement between the commander-in-chief and his subordinate generals, leading to shaky morale. Speaking from the heart, having the numerical advantage, my plan would only serve to reduce the casualties suffered. Based upon the Prince of Qi’s command style and the worsening situation for Northern Han, it was only a matter of time before Northern Han was fully defeated. It was only that if the losses suffered were too grievous Great Yong’s efforts to reunify the world would slow drastically. Most importantly, if this war were to last several years, when could I return home?

Feeling somewhat tired, I stretched my back, preparing to go to bed. Just then, I heard Huyan Shou report from outside, “Daren, a messenger from the Princess has come from the capital. Does daren want to receive him?”

I was greatly startled. Why did Changle send a messenger? All of her letters were delivered using the post system. Even with confidential matters, she would use the communications system used to transmit military information. Could it be that something had happened, forcing Changle to send a messenger? That shouldn’t be the case … Although Southern Chu was making unusual moves and the Hanzhong region was unstable, there was a galaxy of talents in the court. Although His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qing, was untamable, he should not be trying to so brazenly defy the Yong court. I did not take these matters seriously. After all, the enemy that I was currently facing was Northern Han. If the emperor could not even handle such a situation, then he did not deserve to be considered as a virtuous monarch.

Regardless, I promptly summoned the messenger. When the tent flap was opened, the cold wind penetrated the tent, making me shiver. A handsome looking and fair-skinned youth walked in evenly. It was Dong Que who had come personally. I grew increasingly worried. I had left Dong Que by Changle’s side to serve as a capable assistant. As an imperial princess living outside of the palace, it would have been extremely inconvenient for Changle if she didn’t have Dong Que’s help. Him personally coming meant something exceedingly significant had happened. Moreover, it was likely a personal matter.

Dong Que stepped forward and saluted me. I shot a meaningful glance at Huyan Shou who had followed him inside. Huyan Shou discreetly withdrew from the tent. Although he was responsible for monitoring me, he knew that there were some things that he did not poke his nose into. As he was leaving, I tiredly said, “Go call Xiaoshunzi over.” Huyan Shou promptly voiced his agreement, although his complexion became increasingly anxious. He could sense the peculiar atmosphere.

Seeing Huyan Shou depart, Dong Que kneeled and reported, “This subordinate received a secret report from the Hanzhong region. The situation is urgent and forced me to come and report the matter to the young master.”

Gesturing my hand for him to get up, I replied, “There is no need to be overly courteous. We’ll discuss this once Xiaoshunzi has arrived so that you don’t have to repeat yourself. Does the Princess know about this matter?”

Dong Que responded, “The Princess did not pry. However, she had subordinate bring a letter.” So speaking, he handed a letter to me.

Taking advantage of the short period before Xiaoshunzi arrived, I opened the letter and read it. Changle did not know about the collaboration between the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets and the Embroidered Union, and never showed any interest in the mysterious people at my side. As a result, there wasn’t anything particular in her letter, only speaking of the rapid progress of Huo Cong’s studies. Roulan had accompanied him and begun to study as well, no longer as mischievous and fun seeking as before. Shen’er was vivacious and adorable. There were no disturbances at home. However, I was able to sense the faint anxiety between the lines. After all, we had been married for a few years. Although there were some things that I kept hidden from her, because Dong Que needed to come personally, Changle probably had noticed that something was off.

After reading the letter, my heart and mind had calmed down. Regardless of what had happened, it was useless for me to become nervous and tense up. After a few moments, Xiaoshunzi lifted the tent flap and entered. Days earlier, when Qiu Yufei had attempted to assassinate me, although I was intentionally letting him off, Xiaoshunzi was deeply dissatisfied with the Stalwart Tiger Guard’s response to a peak level expert. As a result, whenever he had the free time, he would go to their camp and spar with them. Even at night, some of those guards received special training. I frequently saw the guards serving by my side with bloody noses and swollen faces.1 I was somewhat sympathetic. However, after remembering that Qiu Yufei was only a disciple of the Devil Sect Sovereign and there were experts above him within the Devil Sect, I did not speak up for the guards, only providing them with top-quality medication.

When Xiaoshunzi arrived at my side and caught sight of Dong Que, he frostily asked, “What has happened?”

Dong Que answered, “Subordinate received a report from Sir Chen. The Prince of Qing has eliminated all dissidents in the Hanzhong region. Aside from the civil officials loyal to the court, all of the spies from the Bright Inspection Department by the Prince of Qing’s side have been exposed. Fourteen of them were executed, two of them surrendered, and only one escaped. Under the pretext of capturing spies from Southern Chu, the Prince of Qing has isolated the Hanzhong region. The lone escapee has been rescued by Sir Chen. However, as we don’t have any cooperation with the Bright Inspection Department and because of tight seal, Sir Chen did not dare take any risks and could only place that man under house arrest. That man does not know of our people’s identities and has not been willing to entrust us with delivering the intelligence to the Yong capital. Moreover, the Prince of Qing has begun to become closer with former officials of the Kingdom of Shu and rebellion factions, even dispatching an emissary to the Embroidered Union, demanding that we pledge our allegiance. He has agreed to support the son of the former Shu King as monarch, reestablishing the Kingdom of Shu.”

I frowned and inquired, “Isn’t the entire former Shu royal family in the capital?”

Dong Que shook his head and responded, “The Prince of Qing’s emissary revealed that when the King of Shu surrendered Lady Golden Lotus had two pregnant palace maids escape with the King’s keepsakes, hoping to ensure that the King of Shu’s lineage was not severed. One of the palace maids gave birth to a boy. Reportedly, that boy has fallen into the Prince of Qing’s hands. The Prince of Qing claimed that they have the identification keepsake from the King of Shu proving that boy’s identity. The Prince of Qing’s emissary has promised that the Prince will make a blood vow and will not usurp the Kingdom of Shu’s throne.”

I felt a headache oncoming. Although I held contempt for the Prince of Qing’s narrow-mindedness and pettiness,2 if he were to truly rebel, it would be beyond my expectations. After all, he was a prince of the Yong imperial family and held an honorable and respected position. Even if he were to rebel, it would be to attempt to seize the Yong Imperial Throne. Who would have thought that he wanted to become a regent for the Kingdom of Shu? However, after a while, I could only respect his determination. He was preparing to enthrone a puppet King of Shu. Then he would cooperate with Southern Chu and Northern Han to make things difficult for Great Yong, hopefully partitioning Great Yong’s territory. This man was actually willing to let go of the important Central Plains.

Heaving a sigh, I mentally went over the information about the Prince of Qing that I had read. A faint outline formed in my mind. It seemed like the Prince of Qing had had these thoughts for many years now. He had been willing to endure silently, previously assuming an incompatible posturing with the Fengyi Sect, and then taking advantage of the emperor emeritus and the current emperor’s sympathy to occupy the Hanzhong region and build an army. Now, he was taking advantage of Great Yong’s preoccupation with the invasion of Northern Han to secretly rise in rebellion. It seemed that, to him, it was better to be a warlord than to be an imperial prince of Great Yong. His hatred of Great Yong did not rest solely upon the Fengyi Sect; the true target of his loathing was likely the imperial family of Great Yong. It may be assumed that, to him, Li Yuan’s compensation after the death of his mother was no more than a humiliation that he would always remember, signaling that the imperial family of Yong had dismissed and abandoned him for the sake of the Fengyi Sect.

These years, he had performed a good job garrisoning the Hanzhong region, deliberating adopting cordial relationship with the former officials of the Kingdom of Shu for the purpose of relying upon their support and strength to rebel. Although from the current situation he had yet to prepare completely and would not publicly rebel, if there were the slightest gap, he would launch a direct, lightning strike against the Yong hinterlands. The Hanzhong region was far too important. Thinking back on it, it was likely his incitement that caused Concubine Sima to act so outrageously in the palace. He was borrowing Concubine Sima’s death to raise the discontent amongst the important families of the Kingdom of Shu. Right now, to give the Prince of Qing face, the emperor had not publicly revealed Concubine Sima’s crimes to the world. Through the Prince of Qing’s actions, Concubine Sima’s death became the Yong court’s exclusionary policy towards the people of Shu. As such, the people of Shu, having lost the power to resist, would naturally depend upon the Prince of Qing.

After thinking all of this through, I could not help rejoicing at my decision to keep the Embroidered Union separate from Great Yong. Right now, it was known to everyone that the Embroidered Union was an unpredictable opponent of Great Yong composed of the people of Shu. Moreover, I had deliberately had Chen Zhen bring in those characters who wanted to restore the Kingdom of Shu. It was better to use the Embroidered Union to restrain them than to allow them act on their own, reducing the damage that they could cause.

After thinking it over, I asked with puzzlement, “If the Bright Inspection Department’s spies in the Hanzhong region have been completely controlled, wouldn’t that make Xiahou Yuanfeng a bit too incompetent? I believe that he definitely has a backup plan. He is not someone who would stake everything on one throw. However, with the tight lid that the Prince of Qing has upon the information, were it not that the Embroidered Union employs natives of Sichuan, this information would not likely have been transmitted out. The court probably still does not know of the Prince of Qing’s rebellion, correct?”

“We aren’t clear about this,” answered Dong Que. “We have always remained at a respectful distance from the Bright Inspection Department. However, the Prince of Qing’s methods were truly brilliant. It is just as the young master has said; he has cut off communications between Hanzhong and Guanzhong. Even if the Bright Inspection Department still has manpower in Hanzhong, it is impossible for them to transmit any information. We were able to receive the information by delivering it through Sichuan to Southern Chu’s Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets before it arrived in the Yong capital. In addition, Sir Chen believes that the Prince of Qing will allow the two surrendered members of the Bright Inspection Department continue to transmit fake information. With this, Chang’an probably does not yet know of what has happened in the Hanzhong region.”

Rising to my feet, I gestured for Xiaoshunzi to bring out a map of the Hanzhong region. After muttering to myself for a bit, I said, “If the Prince of Qing were to rebel, right now is not the best time. Next spring, when we are in a brutal battle with Northern Han, is the golden opportunity for him to rise in revolt. This matter is already inevitable. Even if the court were to learn of this matter, it would be impossible for them to reverse the situation. Dong Que, go immediately pay a personal call upon Chen Zhen and have him agree to join the Prince of Qing. Once the Prince of Qing has rebelled, I want the Embroidered Union to become the Prince of Qing’s biggest help. Since the situation is irreversible, we must take advantage of the situation. Be sure to tell Chen Zhen that the Kingdom of Shu has already fallen and it will be impossible for it to be restored by the Prince of Qing. I won’t get involved with his handling of the matter. I only want him, when the time comes and my order arrives, to completely destroy the Prince of Qing’s faction in one stroke.”

Dong Que’s eyes radiated light. He did not expect that Jiang Zhe would handle this matter in this fashion. He asked, “Young master, are we not going to inform the court of this matter?”

I laughed deeply and replied, “Xiahou Yuanfeng is not an ordinary person. I do not believe that the entire strength of the Bright Inspection Department has been completely eliminated. Although the information will arrive late, the court will very quickly learn of this matter. In fact, I actually hope that you can stop the news from reaching Chang’an. These years, the Emperor has always been on his guard against Hanzhong, maintaining many troops between Hanzhong and the capital. Even if the Prince of Qing were to rebel, he would not see immediate results. I am fully confident that we will conquer Northern Han in one year. Even if we fail, we can ensure that Northern Han will have no strength to retaliate. When the time comes, with the Embroidered Union serving as the insider, the Prince of Qing will be destroyed. We may even receive other benefits. Dong Que, when you meet Chen Zhen, be sure to remind him that if he and Supervisor Han wish to re-establish Shu they must be prepared to face my wrath. Baiyi, Yulun, Shanzi, and Quhuang control the Embroidered Union. If there are any changes, pass along my secret command and have Chen Zhen be taken into custody.”

Dong Que said, “Young master, do not worry. Sir Chen is loyal to the young master and will definitely not do something stupid.”

“I am only taking precautions in advance,” I spoke, nodding my head. “All right. You’ll have to exhaust yourself a bit. I want you to travel to Hanzhong tonight. You need not stay long here. The Prince of Qi is not someone who can be dealt with halfheartedly.”

Silently nodding his head, Dong Que gazed at the thin and feeble looking silhouette under the lamplight. He thought, This man is not fated to lead a carefree and leisurely existence.

After Dong Que had departed, Xiaoshunzi suddenly asked, “It’s fine if others aren’t informed. However, if you don’t inform the Emperor, he likely will blame the young master in the future.”

Smiling wryly, I remarked, “It isn’t appropriate as of now. Even if the Emperor learned of this matter, I’m afraid that he would act in haste in order to protect the Prince of Qing. I cannot tolerate3 such a thing happening. If the Prince of Qing is not eliminated, it will be difficult for Great Yong to find peace. Moreover …” I paused briefly, revealing a secretive smile, continuing, “The day before yesterday, the Emperor sent a secret edict, furiously reprimanding me for putting myself in danger. Although he had kind intentions, when did I ever lightly accept such anger? In addition, I was mocked by the Prince of Qi. As a result, I intend to make the Emperor worry for a few days in retaliation.”

Xiaoshunzi smiled wryly, gently shaking his head. Although his master was already thirty, he would frequently show his childish side, making him unsure of how to react. However, with this, Xiaoshunzi’s previous grievance over what had happened days earlier disappeared without a trace. He sternly advised, “Young master, since that is the case, we must be decisive against Northern Han. The situation cannot be allowed to drag out.”

“That is true,” I agreed, nodding my head. “I had no choice but to voice my intentions to conquer Northern Han this year. Daizhou is an important, strategic location defending against the barbarian tribesmen. If the barbarians attack Northern Han, we will not only have to intensify our attacks, we will also have to slow our offensive out of fear that the King of Northern Han will recklessly allow the barbarians to descend south. As long as the barbarians do not intend to invade, with the wisdom of the Northern Han royal family, they will definitely not perform any action that will lead them to be denounced.”

Xiaoshunzi thoughtfully asked, “Did young master dispatch Chiji to the barbarian lands to confirm this matter?”

I smiled slightly and answered, “Chiji returned and reported to me that with the bountiful plants and water on the prairie the various barbarian tribes will not be in the mood to launch a large-scale invasion. As a result, last year, Daizhou only suffered minor raids and did not see any major battles. However, this winter, the barbarian lands suffered heavily from the snow. This was a conclusion I reached based upon my observations of the meteorological phenomena and of the information available about the barbarian lands. This spring, the barbarian tribes will definitely launch a large-scale attack. However, I have already made the proper arrangements. Before the snow has melted next spring, the barbarian lands will be afflicted by a plague. Of the livestock, no more than one in ten will survive. With this, although the barbarians will want to attack, their lack of strength will permit Daizhou to resist their incursions. Once we have launched our attack upon Northern Han, if the King of Northern Han is truly so deranged as to fight us using the barbarians, then the Lin family of Daizhou will definitely stand up and resist. Second, with the weak strength of the barbarians, after our army has conquered Northern Han, we will be able to easily drive them off. If we drag this invasion out to next spring, allowing the barbarians to recover, they will definitely invade in order to make up for their losses. When the time comes, if we are still attacking Northern Han, we will be attacking in concert with the barbarians. Not only will this damage Great Yong’s reputation, it will also hamper Yong’s future governance of the Northern Han lands. As a result, we must conquer Northern Han in this coming year. To achieve this goal, the matters relating to Hanzhong and Southern Chu must be set aside. In reality, as long as the Emperor makes suitable arrangements for the young age of the Southern Chu King and the doubts of its people, and the narrow-mindedness of the Prince of Qing, it will not affect the campaign against Northern Han.”

Xiaoshunzi silently pondered my words for some time before he asked, “Does the young master want me to assassinate Long Tingfei? If he were to die, it would be impossible for Northern Han to reverse the situation.”

I had just picked up the teacup and taken a sip when I heard him ask such a question. I could not help spew tea from my mouth. I promptly replied, “Don’t talk nonsense. Ignoring the fact that Northern Han has a grandmaster, even if they didn’t have one, I would not send you to perform this task. This kind of assassination mission is used by weaker parties to allow them to attain victory through a surprise move. At present, the Yong army’s troops are formidable. There is no need for you to perform such a task. Moreover …”

My complexion gradually became grave, as I continued, “Long Tingfei is a famous general of Northern Han. The citizenry of Northern Han greatly respects their heroes. While it is understandable to weaken an enemy, if we cannot defeat them on the battlefield, the people of Northern Han will definitely not wholeheartedly accept Great Yong’s governance. If Long Tingfei died by assassination, for the next several dozen years, the people of Northern Han would probably try to outdo one another in taking revenge for him. Only by killing him on the battlefield can we ensure that the people of Northern Han lose faith in their ability to resist.”

In an placid fashion, Xiaoshunzi consented, “Since the young master has spoken thusly, then forget about it. I was just thinking that it was excessively rude for Northern Han to send assassins and only wished to retaliate.”

Revealing an odd smile, I replied, “There will definitely be an opportunity if you want to retaliate.” Suddenly, the Prince of Qi’s abhorrent figure flashed across my eyes. I suddenly came up with an idea. Maybe, as I retaliate against Northern Han for trying to assassinate me, I can also simultaneously obtain revenge on someone who was the bane of my existence.

***

Surrounded by imperial incense in the depths of the palace, Li Zhi sat at the imperial desk, staring at the memorial before him. His brows were tightly knit as he handed the memorial to Shi Yu, sitting in the first seat to his left. Xiahou Yuanfeng was below, his eyes lowered in submission and his expression extremely respectful. Li Zhi sighed and said, “Xiahou Yuanfeng, although your Bright Inspection Department was late with the news, they were still ultimately able to pass along the information. Alas, third brother is truly too foolish. He is a member of the Imperial Family. As long as he acts according to his station,4 he will be one of the top influential members of the court. And yet he is avaricious and insatiable, deluded into thinking that he can rebel. Does he truly think that he can seize the Imperial Throne? Regardless of status or merits, he is even below sixth brother, let alone Us. Xiahou Yuanfeng, do you no longer have anyone useable left by the Prince of Qing’s side?”

Xiahou Yuanfeng reported, “This subject deserves death. Aside from two agents, the Bright Inspection Department’s personnel in Hanzhong have been completely eradicated. There is one individual whose fate is yet unknown. However, this subject does not believe that he will return alive.”

His expression becoming grave, Li Zhi replied, “If a rebellion to occurs in Hanzhong, Great Yong’s strength will reverse to before it conquers Shu. Although Li Kang, that traitor, has yet to launch his rebellion, once battle is joined next spring in Zezhou, he will inevitably do so. However, since We were once able to conquer Hanzhong, We will not fear him today. Ziyou, in your view, should We temporarily cease our invasion of Northern Han?”

Rising to his feet, Shi Yu answered, “Your Imperial Majesty, this subject believes that we must not do so. Right now, Southern Chu, the Prince of Qing, and Northern Han have surrounded our Great Yong. If we blindly focus on defense, it will only serve to weaken Great Yong’s strength. If we cannot defeat one of the three parties, Great Yong will fall into grave danger. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, and the Marquis of Chu, Jiang Zhe, have both submitted memorials stating that Northern Han is conquerable. Your Imperial Majesty, it is best to temporarily appease the Prince of Qing while simultaneously increasing precautions taken against the Hanzhong troops. Although Hanzhong is of mind to declare independence, the Prince of Qing’s subordinates are all officers and soldiers of Great Yong. In addition, the citizens of Shu may not necessarily firmly believe in the Prince of Qing. As such, it will be impossible for the Prince of Qing to immediately launch an attack. Your Imperial Majesty can briefly placate the King of Southern Chu by reducing their hefty payments. When the time comes, Lu Can, by himself, will not be able to act on his own initiative and attack Great Yong, allowing us to maintain the southern defensive line without any problems. At the same time, we must also attack in the north. Your Imperial Majesty should issue an edict calling for the Prince of Qi to be diligent and attentive. With the Marquis of Chu’s support, Northern Han will be conquered.”

Li Zhi’s gaze fell upon Xiahou Yuanfeng. Seeing the disagreement on his face, Li Zhi asked, “Xiahou Yuanfeng, what is your view?”

Xiahou Yuanfeng respectfully replied, “Although this subject is not well versed in military matters, this subject knows the necessity of handling internal threats before external ones. Although Southern Chu and Northern Han are enemies, they are only minor problems. If we do not attack them, they likely won’t attack us. However, the Prince of Qing’s rebellion is a major internal threat. If his rebellion is not suppressed, the court will be restless. In this subject’s view, it is best to postpone the northern campaign for now, appease Southern Chu, and focus on dealing with the Prince of Qing.”

Smiling slightly, Li Zhi spoke, “Xiahou Yuanfeng speaks the truth. The Hanzhong rebellion must be suppressed. However, by completely focusing on this internal strife We will truly fall into Southern Chu and Northern Han’s trap. Xiahou Yuanfeng, at present, the Prince of Qing does not dare to brazenly rise in rebellion. You must think of ways to dispatch men to recruit double agents and sow dissension. There is no need for Us to teach you how to perform these tasks. Since We have ascended to the Throne, We established the Intelligence Management Section to manage the army. We will issue a secret edict, creating the Southwest Regional Department, bearing responsibility for gathering military intelligence on Hanzhong, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou. For now, the Southwest Regional Department will be assigned to you. Treat the Prince of Qing like the former King of Shu. Can Great Yong not repeat what it once did?

“Ziyou, have Gou Lian go on a diplomatic mission to Southern Chu. The heavy responsibility of placating the King of Southern Chu will fall upon his shoulders. The people of Chu dread Great Yong. Gou Lian must ensure that Southern Chu does not dare to start a war. By himself, Lu Can will be unable to reverse the situation. As for the north, I have no worries. However, Ziyou, write a letter on my behalf to Suiyun. We do not believe that he doesn’t know about the present situation in Hanzhong. Have him stop hiding things. We will not be softhearted. As such, have him come up with a plan.”

Although Shi Yu only knew the general outline of what was going on, he knew that Jiang Zhe had a private force that had never been handed over. The emperor had actually tactfully accepted this fact. As a result, Shi Yu could only nod his head and voice his consent.

Hearing this, Xiahou Yuanfeng felt his heart stir. He was not all that familiar with many matters relating to the Prince of Yong prior to the prince’s successful seizure of succession. However, from the emperor’s tone, it seemed that Jiang Zhe had his own private personnel in Hanzhong. If that was the case, then that was excellent news. He was originally worried that it would be impossible for him to properly reestablish the intelligence network in Hanzhong. Suddenly, he thought of something. Probingly, he asked, “Your Imperial Majesty, four days ago, the Supervisor of Princess Changle’s residence suddenly traveled north. Reportedly, he went to Zezhou.”

Li Zhi and Shi Yu exchanged knowing smiles. Shaking his head, Li Zhi replied, “This Suiyun. Always needing to be so mystifying and secretive, seldom trusting others fully.”

Smiling Shi Yu replied, “This is also because of Your Imperial Majesty’s tolerance, otherwise with Marquis Jiang’s temperament, who else would have the magnanimity to employ him?”

Glowing with vigor and spirit, Li Zhi said, “The most pleasing act of Our life was acquiring Jiang Zhe. Ziyou, have that letter delivered by eight-hundred-li express, otherwise, who knows when that man will give Us a definite response.”

With a smile on his face, Shi Yu agreed. Xiahou Yuanfeng accompanied them with smiles, once again appalled at Li Zhi’s trust and favor towards Jiang Zhe, and once more rejoicing at the decision that he had made at the time.

Footnotes:

鼻青脸肿, biqinglianzhong – idiom, lit. bloody nose and swollen face; fig. badly battered
心胸狭窄, xinxiongxiazhai – idiom, lit. narrow-minded; fig. petty, ungenerous
姑息养奸, guxiyangjian – idiom, lit. to tolerate is to nurture an evildoer; fig. tolerant and indulgent
安分守己, fanfenshouji – idiom, lit. to be content with one’s lot; fig. to know one’s place, abide by the law and behave oneself

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