Volume 5, Chapter 16: Walking Right into a Trap

On the twenty-fourth day of the third month of the first year of Longsheng, the fifteenth year of the sixty-year cycle, the Prince of Qi reorganized his army and advanced upon Anze. The Northern Han army retreated to defend Qinyuan …
—Zizhi Tongjian, Yong Records Volume Three

While I was comfortable soaking in the hot springs with my eyes closed, enjoying this hard-to-come-by leisure time, a bleak singing voice drifted over from the shore:

“Eagles flock not with the less sublime,

As it has been since the olden times.

A circle fits not with square design,

Their different ways could not be merged with mine.

Yet humbling the spirit and curbing the pride,

Bearing the shame and enduring the snides,

But remaining pure and honest til the dying days:

Such conduct the wise men of yore greatly praised.”1

I was so startled that I started and plunged into the spring. Ji Xuan was truly too excessive. He went far enough to make me red in the face during our previous discussions on the classics over the past two days. After all, he was a recognized master of the classics. I was more than willing to admit defeat. However, the venerable sir’s ill temper had grown with each passing day. If he had nothing better to do, he would frequently recite poetry and sing songs. This by itself was not problematic. All literati were fond of elegance and refinement; that was understandable. However, there was no need for him to constantly recite the poetry of Qu Yuan.

By reciting verses like “Long did I sigh and wipe away my tears, / To see my people bowed by griefs and fears” or “It is this that my heart takes most delight in, / And though I died nine times, I shan’t regret it,”2 he was clearly mocking me for turning my back to Chu and defecting to Yong. Fine. That I could endure. Once I had rendezvoused with main Yong army, there was no need for me to stay with him in the same place. In the future, I only needed to deliver him to the emperor’s side and ensure that I kept away from him.

After shooting the old man a nasty glare, I lost all interest in taking a bath. Turning to Xiaoshunzi standing on dry land, I remarked, “Help me get out. I want to get dressed.”

Under my influence, Xiaoshunzi had learned much about poetry and literature. As such, he was well aware of Ji Xuan’s overt and covert mockery. However, since I myself could do nothing about it, he could only watch. After all, this elderly scholar was not an extremely fierce enemy who was evil to the extreme. He was only an old man who was fond of his reputation. With Zhao Liang present, there was no way the old man would do anything too excessive. As a result, even if I suffered a bit, Xiaoshunzi was only there observing with amusement.

Seeing Xiaoshunzi snickering, I felt only gloom inside. After climbing out of the spring and putting on the clothing handed me by Xiaoshunzi, I spoke as I wiped the remaining water droplets off using a body towel, “Today is already the twenty-third. The Prince of Qi should have regrouped. Su Qing has gone out to scout for military intelligence. Presumably, we should be able to rendezvous with the army in a few days. When the time comes, have the Prince of Qi deliver the two of them to Zezhou. Out of sight, out of mind. What do you think?”

Something flashed in Xiaoshunzi’s eyes. He glanced in the direction of Ji Xuan, pacing in the distance, and Zhao Liang, standing alongside awkward. He sneered, “Young master is seeking trouble. Venerable Sir Ji’s temperament is stubborn. Were it not for Zhao Liang also being in our hands, he would likely not be so formal. If this kind of individual gains the Emperor’s deep trust and this elderly gentleman continues to shoot his mouth off, it will likely harm young master’s reputation. In my opinion, it is best to kill them. What’s the point of going to such trouble?”

I trembled in my heart. I stole a glance over. Seeing that the two of them shouldn’t be able to hear Xiaoshunzi’s voice, I whispered, “How can we do such a thing? If we kill them, I will likely have a notorious reputation amidst Northern Han’s scholarly circles. It’s nothing if I suffer as long as they are of use to Great Yong. Besides, Ji Xuan believes firmly in the principle of ‘If poor, they attend to their own virtue in solitude; if advanced to dignity, they make the whole kingdom virtuous as well.’3 At the time, his dissatisfaction with Liu Sheng founding Northern Han—refusing to submitting a petition to directly criticize nor holding a sinecure, instead going into seclusion—clearly shows that he is not a foolishly loyal individual. Right now, by ridiculing me, he is also showing the discontent in his own heart. He is seeking to sound out my character. If I bickered over this matter, wouldn’t that cause him to look down upon the entirety of the Yong court? As a result, I absolutely must not argue with him about this matter.”

Xiaoshunzi nodded his head silently, no longer trying to convince me to kill the two of them. In fact, Xiaoshunzi probably understood the rationale. However, he treated me as his father and elder brother, and was unwilling to watch me be humiliated. I smiled wryly inside. There was another matter that I did not raise. In the minds of those scholars who were unquestioningly loyal and filial, my reputation likely was already quite notorious. It didn’t matter if Ji Xuan got included in the mix.

***

Gazing at the distant banner of the Prince of Qi, Su Qing finally breathed a sigh of relief. Spurring her horse forward, she said to the gate guards, “This general is Su Qing. On the orders of the Army Supervisor daren, I’ve come to seek an audience with His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi.”

When the officer on duty saw Su Qing and learned she was sent by Jiang Zhe, he immediately beamed with joy. Over these last several days, the Prince of Qi had been busy reorganizing the army. Although the prince had not flown into a terrible rage, his face was always gloomy, making all who saw him tremble with fear. Everyone also knew that the prince deeply respected the army supervisor. As long as the army supervisor was in good health, the Prince of Qi would definitely be happy and make the lives of the officers and soldiers of the Zezhou army a little easier. While the officer dispatched a messenger to report the news to the marshal’s tent, he sent his deputy to lead Su Qing into the camp.

Walking through the camp, Su Qing scrutinized the place. Although the Yong army was recently defeated, the Prince of Qi had set up this camp quite rigidly. The soldiers within had absolutely no dejection or dismay. The Prince of Qi truly deserved his reputation as a capable commander. Su Qing praised the prince in her head while retaining the calm on her features. This was the first time she had been granted an audience with the Prince of Qi after her identity had been exposed. She still felt uneasy. Although the Princess of Qi was a disciple of the Fengyi Sect, Su Qing was well aware that the relationship between the Prince of Qi and the Fengyi Sect was not a harmonious one. Although the Prince of Qi would not do anything to her because of the army supervisor, Su Qing was still on tenterhooks.

Entering the marshal’s tent, Su Qing finally calmed her nerves. Seeing the Prince of Qi standing there with his hands behind his back and smiling, Su Qing unknowingly relaxed. Stepping forward, she kneeled and declared, “This general pays her respects to Your Imperial Highness. The Army Supervisor daren is safe and sound. This is a letter daren ordered me to bring to Your Imperial Highness.”

Although Li Xian wore a smile on his face, his emotions were roiling on the inside as he gazed at Su Qing. His trusted subordinates had advised him to remove Su Qing or even have her arrested, ensuring that the court did not grow suspicious because of her presence. However, Li Xian did not hesitate to reject these suggestions. When did he, Li Xian, have to use someone else’s fate and reputation to prove his innocence? Su Qing’s existence made him remember many things. The youthful Qin Zheng was beautiful and intelligent. She was the first person he invested himself completely into in both heart and soul. There was also Wen Ziyan. Although she was entirely indifferent, she was one of the few individuals who Li Xian respected within the Fengyi Sect. Li Xian did not want Su Qing to suffer any unjust punishment.

However, he also understood well that he too was in a difficult predicament. His own previous personal conduct and behavior were enough for Li Zhi to imprison and condemn him without needing any excuses. If he were to truly protect Su Qing, the damage upon him would definitely not be slight.

Fortunately, aside from himself, the Zezhou army also had Jiang Zhe. When Li Xian first learned of Su Qing’s background, he was a bit anxious. Jiang Zhe seemingly gnashed his teeth with loathing at the Fengyi Sect. Being Wen Ziyan’s disciple meant that Su Qing was a direct lineal disciple of the Fengyi Sect. Li Xian had no certainty that Jiang Zhe would spare Su Qing’s life. In what was both completely beyond and within his expectations, Jiang Zhe had saved Su Qing. This action made Li Xian respect and trust Jiang Zhe even more. Of course, for an imperial prince, if Jiang Zhe’s decision was accepted by the court, this was a clear signal that it would cease to investigate those who were guilty of ties with the Fengyi Sect. This would let many people relax. Although Li Xian did not know how Li Zhi would decide, Li Xian knew that if he understood the significance, then Li Zhi would make the judicious decision.

Concealing what he was thinking, Li Xian accepted the letter Su Qing handed over. While it was said to be a letter, it was actually a white wax pellet the size of a longan fruit. In passing, Li Xian removed a piece of silk paper from his desk. After he had wrapped the pellet with the paper, he brought out a letter opener, and with practiced ease, cut the pellet. After the pellet’s skin had been broken, a green liquid seeped out from within, quickly soaking the silk paper. From within the pellet, Li Xian removed an even smaller honey-colored pellet. He used the silk paper to wipe away the green liquid before kneading the smaller pellet to pieces. From the fragments, Li Xian removed a silk fabric that was thin as gossamer. Li Xian performed these actions with extreme care, ensuring that the green liquid never touched his skin.

Entranced by what she had seen, Su Qing was filled with confusion and could not help asking, “Your Imperial Highness, what is going on?”

Not raising his head, Li Xian answered, “This is the Marquis of Chu’s design. There is a pellet within a pellet. Poisonous liquid fills the space between them. If someone unaware ground the pellet, not only would he be poisoned, he would also destroy the message within. The Marquis of Chu is known for his caution. Presumably this letter is of utmost importance and he is worried that it would be intercepted.”

Su Qing shivered inwardly. The Marquis of Chu was truly formidable. She had probably been sent to deliver this letter as a test. If she wanted to pry into classified information, she would definitely be poisoned and die. However, Su Qing did not have a hint of discontent in her mind. As Wen Ziyan’s disciple, Jiang Zhe allowing her to continue to carry a heavy responsibility was already exceedingly rare. Su Qing simply admired Jiang Zhe’s methods and did not bear any resentment.

Looking at the densely packed handwriting on the silk paper, Li Xian sometimes frowned and sometimes looked pensive. After some time, he finally shook his head and heaved a sigh before setting the message on the desk. In reality, Li Xian was not worried about this recent defeat. He had served in the army for some time and had been defeated on numerous occasions. He had the opportunity to tidy up after an even more devastating defeat before. As a result, after the defeat, he had been occupied with reorganizing the army and preparing to go into battle once again. Who would have thought that Jiang Zhe would think deeper and further than he? Even though it was clearly a defeat, Jiang Zhe had thought of a stratagem to exploit this defeat.

After reading the contents of the message, Li Xian felt himself abruptly grow cold. No wonder Li Zhi had been successful in the succession struggle. He had been able to acquire such a man’s loyalty. Li Xian was completely won over in this moment. Glancing at the aloof Su Qing waiting for his order, Li Xian smiled and said, “General Su, rest a day. Tomorrow, go see the Marquis of Chu and lead him back to the army. Tell him that I will handle the matter he has entrusted to me.”

Although Su Qing was at a complete loss, she immediately reported her compliance, having spent many years in the military. The night passed without incident. Of course, Su Qing did not know that the Prince of Qi had dispatched an eight-hundred-li express messenger to deliver a memorial to the emperor.

The next day, Su Qing began the return journey alone. By her reasoning, it would be better to bring along an additional thousand horsemen to escort Jiang Zhe back. However, the Prince of Qi had said that Northern Han’s spies had already withdrawn and that the region had already fallen into the Yong army’s hands. As a result, there was no need to go to such lengths. Moreover, Jiang Zhe had the Stalwart Tiger Guard by his side. Jiang Zhe would definitely be unwilling to have such a large force mustered. Su Qing naturally did not have any objections. She had exchanged blows with Xiaoshunzi and was able to conclude that Xiaoshunzi’s martial arts were on par with Duan Lingxiao’s. Even if Northern Han had planted assassins behind, would their martial arts be better than Duan Lingxiao’s? As a result, Su Qing was not worried. However, to safeguard against anything, Su Qing was extremely careful during her entire journey and only returned to Jiang Zhe’s hiding place after taking several detours.

After greeting the Stalwart Tiger Guard at the perimeter, she walked into the dwelling that served as Jiang Zhe’s residence. At the center of the courtyard stood a square table with two wooden chairs. Jiang Zhe was in the midst of playing weiqi with Ji Xuan. Although there weren’t enough medicinal ingredients to fully treat Ji Xuan’s illness, his condition had still gradually improved.

Very fond of weiqi, Ji Xuan would frequently drag Zhao Liang to be his opponent even when he was ill. Now that he had recovered somewhat, he needed to fulfill his addiction, especially since Jiang Zhe’s skill was only ordinary. Even if he played with a four stone handicap, Ji Xuan could still inflict a crushing defeat. Since it was impossible for him to resist with force, Ji Xuan was fond of using weiqi to strike at this youngster he found objectionable. Jiang Zhe was too embarrassed to decline and could only play with a bitter look on his face.

After setting down the stone in my hand and glanced at Ji Xuan’s proud and aged face, I mumbled to myself without resignation. However, when his cool eyes fell upon me, I immediately adopted a smile while I gathered up the stones. But honestly speaking, I was not angry. Although this old man’s temperament was strange and he frequently sought to embarrass me, aside from my earlier annoyance, I gradually began to grow fond of this feeling. For a long time, those at my side commonly either worshipped me as a deity or treated me as a venomous serpent or scorpion. Although there were a few who were close to me, who loved and attached great importance to me, there was no friend who treated me like a normal person. Although this old man was always foul-faced, I felt that he was actually someone worthy of being befriended. In addition, although he found my objectionable, there was no intense enmity. If that weren’t the case, Xiaoshunzi definitely wouldn’t have allowed him to be at my side. This old man was definitely worthy of being a friend despite our age difference. As a result, I willingly allowed myself to be bullied.

When Su Qing walked into the courtyard, this was the scene she witnessed. She could not help giggling before she advanced and reported, “Daren, this general has already met the Marshal. His Imperial Highness has said for daren to swiftly rejoin the army and further said that he will act in accordance with daren’s stratagem.”

Smiling slightly, I replied, “Venerable Sir Ji, please have your nephew begin to pack. After lunch we will depart.”

Ji Xuan’s hand shook. With the hand he was using to collect the stones shaking, a stone fell onto the board with a soft clank. His face expressing anger, he said, “This elderly one obeys.”

I knew full well that he was unhappy. However, at this moment, I could not say much to him. I shot a meaningful glance at Zhao Liang who stood to the side waiting in attendance. He stepped over and helped Ji Xuan away. Smiling, I instructed, “Xiaoshunzi, go and pack our belongings. Remember to bring along that one scroll of Ji Xuan’s. Venerable Sir has agreed to lend it to me for a few days. Oh, that’s right. Go inform Huyan Shou and have him prepare to depart.”

Xiaoshunzi smiled slightly. Gesturing with his hand, he summoned two Stalwart Tiger Guard to stay by my side and protect me. When his figure disappeared into one of the side buildings, I rose to my feet and said, “Let’s go and stroll by the lakeside. This is truly an excellent place. A pity there likely won’t be a chance in the future to return.”

One of the Stalwart Tiger Guard replied in a clear voice, “Daren, Lord Li is not present. It is best that we be extra careful.”

I impatiently responded, “There are no enemies here. What are you worried about? Don’t tell me that you can’t protect me? General Su, you have traveled such a long distance. Go to rest first.”

Su Qing didn’t know why, but she had feelings of anxiety and fear. She subconsciously refused, “Daren, it is best to allow this general to come along.” As soon as she uttered these words, she saw a glimmer of light flash across Jiang Zhe’s eyes, revealing a look of interest.

I glanced at Su Qing, wondering if she had guessed something. However, it wouldn’t be proper for her to be by my side. As such, I still declined, “There is no need. General Su, go to rest first.” Hearing the commanding tone in my voice, Su Qing had to accept the order and withdraw.

Walking to the hot springs, I gazed at the waters that were so clear I could see the bottom, the lake waters that were the color of luminous jade. This remote and desolate location, that had hot springs that created this paradise, was truly enough to make one fear nature. My arrival here after the defeat was probably a favor granted me by the Heavens. The more I thought, the fonder I became of this location. Leaning down, I used my hands to gently stir the warm waters of the lake. Ripples slowly spread out, shattering my reflection. I could not help softly reciting, “The jade waters gush out to warm the lake, washing away the dust of ten thousand years in the prosaic world.”

Right after I recited these two verses, I heard someone clapping his hands behind me and saying, “What a good poetic feeling! I have often heard that the Marquis of Chu’s poetic skill is matchless in the world. Meeting you today, your reputation is truly deserved. Marquis Jiang, you should not have any regrets if you died at such a lovely location, correct?”

Smiling faintly, I thought, You’ve finally arrived. Knowing that this man would not immediately act, I straightened and turned around. I saw that the two Stalwart Tiger Guard, who had been following me, stood there completely frozen. Behind them was a formidable looking man with an unfamiliar appearance in the uniform of a Stalwart Tiger Guard. His look and bearing were extraordinary, and he had an arrogant aura that could seemingly reach the Heavens. Laughing brightly, I crisply returned, “So it is Duan Lingxiao, elder young master Duan, who has come personally. Zhe was unable to come out to welcome you; truly a breach of etiquette.”

At this moment, figures began to shimmer in the distance, as the guards urgently rushed over having discovered that I was in danger. The fastest was a figure in azure. In a flash, he had come within twenty zhang.4 Just as this figure was about to get closer, Duan Lingxiao harshly shouted, “If anyone dares to pass this line, I will immediately kill the Marquis of Chu.” Before he had finished speaking, a sharp internal energy burst out of his body and drew a line in the ground fifteen zhang5 away.

Xiaoshunzi halted his movements, icy killing intent radiating from his eyes. However, he did not cross the line. By this point, Huyan Shou and Su Qing had also arrived, also stopping behind the line. All of them had anxious complexions and frenetic expressions.

Contrary to how everyone else felt, I calmly smiled and spoke, “I have long heard that the Devil Sect’s prime disciple has an extraordinary bearing. Earlier, elder young master killed many of my Great Yong’s officers and soldiers. To this day, Zhe has this carved in memory. Today, elder young master has probably come to take my life, correct?”

At this moment, Duan Lingxiao was not in a rush to act. He had long since known that if he tried to kill Jiang Zhe, his actions would definitely raise the alarm. As a result, he was in no rush to try to escape. With his skilled martial arts, as long as he did not fight head-on, not be ambushed by a formation, and with the support of disciples from his sect, it wouldn’t be difficult for him to escape. In addition, he was a single zhang6 from Jiang Zhe, while Demonic Shadow Li Shun, who had the strongest martial arts, was fifteen zhang away. At such a distance, even if his master acted personally, it was impossible to prevent Duan Lingxiao from killing that weak and feeble scholar. As a result, he was in no hurry. After all, he was also quite curious about this Jiang Zhe.

Seeing that he would not act, at least for now, I found myself relaxing. If a fight erupted, it would be impossible for us to have a calm and even-tempered conversation. I glanced at the two Stalwart Tiger Guard standing there frozen. Seeing the rage on their faces, dripping with sweat, and yet unable to budge, I asked, “Elder young master Duan, why did your distinguished self not kill these two bodyguards? Although Zhe is quite grateful, I also find it quite strange.”

“It isn’t me being lenient or compassionate,” answered Duan Lingxiao with a smile. “It is only because I have heard that the Marquis of Chu is a master at using poison. In the past, you used poison to control the members of the Fengyi Sect. In addition, I want to have a conversation with Your Lordship. As a result, I have allowed those two to remain alive. I hope the Marquis of Chu will restrain yourself and not hastily use poison in order to not take those two’s lives.”

A look flashed in my eyes as I replied, “Elder young master Duan, don’t tell me that you’ve forgotten that they are my bodyguards. They are at my side to ensure my safety. Even if I harmed them as well, there will be no one capable of blaming me. Even they themselves would think this way as they went to the underworld.”

Enthusiasm flashed in the eyes of the two bodyguards. It seemed they absolutely agreed with my words. Although Duan Lingxiao could not see their expressions, based upon the changes in their breathing, he knew that the two bodyguards were wholeheartedly loyal. However, he was not worried in the slightest, as he replied, “If it were someone else, this could be possible. However, I do not believe that Marquis Jiang has such a temperament. Against the enemy, you are naturally heartless and merciless. However, to your own people, you are softhearted and lenient. This is the conclusion I reached after poring over all of the intelligence regarding Your Lordship. In addition, if this weren’t the case, Yufei couldn’t have escaped from Your Lordship’s hands. I definitely do not believe that Your Lordship will use an extremely toxic poison and disregard these two’s lives.”

I was at a loss for words momentarily. Although Qiu Yufei’s case was a coincidence, after thinking it over, I truly was not fond of being malicious to those people who served at my side. Regardless of all else, if I had not made any preparations and run into today’s events, even if I could use poison, I would find it difficult to do so. After all, these two bodyguards had followed and protected me since the days I had spent in the Cold Courtyard. Placing them in danger once again this time, I was already restless at heart.

Seeing the expressions on my face change several times, Duan Lingxiao knew that he had reached the crux of the matter. As such, he calmly said, “Marquis Jiang helped His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, upon the Imperial Throne before abandoning power and authority to go into seclusion in the Eastern Sea. I admire this. A pity Your Lordship could not cast aside the feelings of gratitude and loyalty between a sovereign and his subjects, and abandoned your leisurely life to support the Prince of Qi in an attack against my Northern Han. Although I admire Sir’s talents, we can only meet at this border between life and death. If Your Lordship is willing to return into seclusion and cease advising Great Yong, I can let off Sir this once.”

Letting out a light sigh, I replied, “In my eyes, prestige and great wealth are transient. It is only that I am most afraid of death and cling desperately to life. If Great Yong is unable to unify the world, it will be impossible for me to live in peace. I can only appreciate, but not accept, elder young master’s kind intentions. However, is the elder young master speaking these feigned words to weaken the fighting will of my subordinates? In fact, I do not even have the strength to truss a chicken. There is no real need for elder young master to waste such efforts.”

“Your Lordship is overthinking matters,” stated Duan Lingxiao with a sigh. “I simply do not want my fourth brother to grieve. Before he left for the Eastern Sea, he handed a book to me. He said that, even though he had no alternative but to try to kill Your Lordship, he deeply respects Your Lordship. I am well aware of Yufei’s aloofness and the few friends he has in this life. As a result, I also cannot bear to harm Your Lordship’s life. However, although your army has been defeated, its strength has not been harmed. But at this moment, Your Lordship cannot rely upon the protection of the army. This is the only opportunity that Northern Han has to weaken your army. Originally, if Your Lordship was willing to agree to return into seclusion, I was willing to invite Your Lordship to rest in Jinyang. Such a pity that my kind intentions have been declined by Your Lordship. As such, there is only death.”

Instead of feeling angered, I began laughing. If I had agreed to go into seclusion out of fear for my life, Duan Lingxiao would likely have “invited” me to Jinyang and even gone so far as to vow to not harm my life in the name of the Sovereign of the Devil Sect. However, if I, as an Army Supervisor of Yong, the Commandant of the Attendant Cavalry, and Marquis of Chu, were truly coerced to Northern Han’s capital, how would I have the dignity to see Princess Changle and the emperor? The Devil Sect truly had an enormous appetite. Unfortunately, although I, Jiang Zhe, was afraid of death, I was not someone who sought to drag out an ignoble existence. On that day, I could fearlessly risk my life to drink the Prince of Yong’s poisoned wine. Why would I allow myself to fall into such a life and death situation? Even if I had not made preparations beforehand and waited for Duan Lingxiao to fall into the trap, I would not willingly allow myself to be held hostage.

Recovering my frosty ruthlessness, I rhetorically asked, “Elder young master Duan, do you wonder why Su Qing returned alone to escort me back?”

Duan Lingxiao suddenly shivered inside. The thin and weak, young figure before him suddenly began to radiate an awe-inspiring prestige and killing intent, making him sit up and take notice. While paying attention to the movements around him, Duan Lingxiao answered, “It is presumably because your army believes that our spies have all already retreated to the north.”

I shook my head. “That is not the case. Throughout my entire life, Zhe is most accustomed to hitting someone who is down. As a result, I inevitably measure others, even gentlemen, from the viewpoint of a vile character. It is also because Zhe’s temperament is arrogant and expected your army to use this opportunity to try to assassinate me. Rather than waiting to be assassinated, why not lure you out? I expected long ago that the assassin would be elder young master Duan. Xiao Tong’s martial arts are inferior to Xiaoshunzi’s, and he also commands your army’s intelligence network. He cannot lightly put himself in danger. As a result, only elder young master would be the one to act.

“However, the entire surrounding area is wilderness, while our hiding place is difficult to locate. If I were elder young master, I would also keep an eye upon my army’s camp, because I would definitely reestablish contact with them. That is why I dispatched Su Qing to deliver the message. First, Sire recognizes Su Qing. Second, with Duan Wudi at Anze, you probably learned that Su Qing is at my side. Sure enough, everything went according to plan. Elder young master followed Su Qing here. With the layered protection of the Stalwart Tiger Guard, if Sire wishes to assassinate me, you have to wait until the number of bodyguards at my side has been reduced to the lowest level. As such, I sent Xiaoshunzi away and only brought along two bodyguards to this location. Sure enough, Sire acted according to my expectations. After changing into the uniform of one of my bodyguards, you infiltrated this far in order to assassinate me. I wonder, are the bodyguards you ran into still alive?”

Duan Lingxiao’s heart grew cold. His activities the last several days had seemingly been personally witnessed by Jiang Zhe. He once again concentrated his senses. However, he still could not sense anyone present within two zhang.7 As he racked his brains, he freely answered, “They are naturally dead. However, the Stalwart Tiger Guard was truly formidable. Even though I personally acted, one of them was still able to sound a warning. However, in order to avoid alarming everyone, I only killed three of them. Presumably, Your Lordship won’t feel too distressed about this.”

In fact, I felt a throbbing pain in my heart. Although I had long known that some sacrifices would have to be made, I still felt guilty at heart. I could not help covering my face and saying, “Fine. All of you, move.”

Footnotes:

This is an excerpt from the famed poem entitled Encountering Sorrow or The Lament (离骚) by the famed poet Qu Yuan (屈原), of the Warring States Period. Qu Yuan was an official of the state of Chu who committed suicide out of loyalty in lament at the dire straits of Chu with its King captured and imprisoned by the state of Qin.
These are also verses from Qu Yuan’s Encountering Sorrow. In short, Ji Xuan is mocking Jiang Zhe for failing to live up to the standards of Qu Yuan who remained loyal to his home country even after its ruler was captured.
This is a line from Mengzi or Mencius (孟子).
58.8 meters (about 193 feet)
44.1 meters (about 145 feet)
2.94 meters (about 10 feet)
5.88 meters (about 19 feet)

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