The Grandmaster Strategist (一代军师) by Follow the Crowd (随波逐流)

edited November 2016 in Translations

Author: 随波逐流 (Follow the Crowd)
Genre: Alternate History, Politics, Romance, Tragedy, War, Wuxia
Translator: Tannhäuser
Synopsis: Of poor background, Jiang Zhe, styled Suiyun, has finally, after ten years of hard work, passed the imperial examinations and become a scholar within the Hanlin Academy. Unwittingly, he becomes involved in the succession dispute of the Great Yong Dynasty. He faces conspiracies and machinations, and countless battles of strength and wits. Intending to avoid court politics, he ultimately has no choice but to become involved. With no alternative, Jiang Zhe can only follow the crowd, joining the chaotic political turmoil. In this sinister world, he uses his intelligence and knowledge to provide for himself and his companions a stable environment to survive.

Hi all, I've decided to take up this translation project. I'm a bilingual Chinese-American who lives in New York. The webnovel is completed with a total of 228 chapters, 1.548 million characters. It is the eleventh most recommended webnovel on Qidian with 5.77 million recommendations.

A0132, known for translating Terror Infinity on the main site has previously translated three chapters, here. I will be starting from scratch. I hope to churn out 2-3 chapters a week (at minimum) based upon my availability and as my work schedule allows.

Dramatis Personæ:
Jiang Zhe (江哲) - the main character, a young scholar with preternatural senses, possessing intelligence and remarkable literary talent; hailing original from Jiaxing prefecture; at the beginning of the story he has just finished observing the rites after the passing of his father and serves as the family tutor for Marquis Lu
Lu Xin (陆信) - the Marquis of Who Suppresses Distant Lands, commander of the Southern Chu defenses at Jiangxia; his family is held hostage in the capital of Jianye
Lu Can (陆灿) - son of Marquis Lu
Li An (李安) - the Crown Prince of Great Yong, eldest son of Li Yuan
Li Zhi (李贽) - the Prince of Yong, second son of Li Yuan; masqueraded as Li Tianxiang (李天翔), a merchant from the Kingdom of Shu
Li Yuan (李援) - the Emperor of Great Yong
Liu Kui (刘魁) - hailing from Jiangning prefecture, ranked second (榜眼, bangyan) in the imperial examinations
Fu Yulun (伏玉伦) - hailing from Huaiyang prefecture, ranked third (探花, tanhua) in the imperial examinations
Zhao Sheng (赵胜) - King of Southern Chu, posthumously honored as King Ling of Chu (楚灵王)
Shang Weijun (尚维钧) - Prime Minister of Southern Chu
Prince Changle (长乐公主) - daughter of Li Yuan, Crown Princess of Southern Chu, later Queen
Zhao Jia (赵嘉) - the Crown Prince of Southern Chu, later King Yang of Chu (楚炀王)
Liang Wan (梁婉) - a gifted zither player, becomes adopted daughter of Zhao Sheng and Princess Mingyue of Southern Chu
Xie Xian (谢贤) - Academy Chancellor of the Hanlin Academy
Eunuch Wang (王公公) - a eunuch supervising the book repositories
Xiaoshunzi (小顺子) - a eunuch who Jiang Zhe befriends, becomes a powerful martial artist
Li Xian (李显) - the Prince of Qi (齐王), the sixth son of Liu Yuan
Qin Zheng (秦铮) - a woman masquerading as a man, serves as an adviser to Li Xian, a capable martial artist
Liu Piaoxiang (柳飘香) - the most famous courtesan of the Qinhuai River, owner of the Floating Fragrance Pleasure Boat
Zhao Jue (赵珏) - the Prince of De, a military commander of Southern Chu
Rong Yuan (容渊) - the most influential retainer in the service of the Prince of De
Tian Wei (田维) - the Shu general commanding the garrison at Ba Prefecture

Table of Contents:
Volume 1 - Southern Chu Zhuangyuan:
  1. A Destitute Scholar
  2. Attaining Top Marks in the Imperial Examination
  3. Hanlin Academician
  4. Appreciating Art, Overturning Injustice
  5. Battle over the Heir Apparent
  6. Yong Envoy, the Prince of Qi
  7. The Floating Fragrance Pleasure Boat
  8. Duel of Words at the Bright Moon Pavilion
  9. Military Retainer
  10. A Campaign of a Thousand Li
  11. Scheming Against One Another
  12. Chained Malicious Strategies
  13. Using a Song to Force Suicide
  14. Jade Shattered, Pearl Submerged
  15. Preparing to Build a Secret Camp
  16. Great Upheaval Cometh
  17. A Loyal Spirit becomes Distant and Indistinct
  18. The King of Southern Chu Declares Himself Emperor
  19. The Strategy to Invade Southern Chu
  20. Profiting from Other's Misfortune
  21. Learning the Truth
  22. Jianye Falls
  23. Becoming a Captive
  24. Distant Journey of a Thousand li
  25. Arrival at the Yong Capital
"宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操


  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 1 – A Destitute Scholar

    In the sixteenth year of Xiande,1 Suiyun2 leaves Jiangxia3 for Jianye4 to take the imperial examinations.

    - Southern Chu5 Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
    In the sixteenth year of Southern Chu’s Xiande era, the world remained under turmoil, though the situation had become clear. The majority of the territory south of the Yangtze River was occupied by Southern Chu, while the land north of the river was controlled by the Great Yong Dynasty.6 The city of Jiangxia was the strategic lynchpin of Southern Chu’s defenses against Great Yong. The residence of the garrison commander, the Marquis Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Lu Xin, was the center of these defenses and was heavily guarded at all times.

    Although my position as the Marquis’s family tutor was not low, I still had to obey military directives, and remained inside the study room to avoid getting caught in any troubles. While flipping through the pages of the book, I calculated the time remaining until lunch.

    As a ranking military commander, Marquis Lu had no choice but to leave his family in the capital of Jianye to serve as hostages. Only the Marquis’s fifteen-year-old son, Lu Can, was allowed by the imperial court to accompany his father as a personal guard. Although Lu Can was my student, as the son of a military family, he was also naturally educated in warfare. Today, the Marquis had called a military conference and had brought Lu Can along to listen and learn. I had no recourse but to remain in the study waiting for him to return, having agreed to eat together once the conference ended. Even though it was noon, none of those attending the conference had eaten yet. If I, a small family tutor, ate beforehand, Lu Can would likely kick up a racket and use the opportunity to plot against me. It was better to wait for him.

    Thinking of this point, I touched my stomach and sighed helplessly. How could a father and son differ so much? Whereas Lu Xin was generous and magnanimous, Lu Can fussed over minor matters. The last time Lu Can was punished by the Marquis, he saw me laughing. The next day, Lu Can tricked me into a brothel on the pretext of relaxation and completion of the traditional three year mourning period for my father. If I had not fled at the first opportunity, I would have lost my virginity.

    Bored, I flipped through the book, while allowing my imagination to run wild. Although the Marquis’s study was not bad, I had perused all of the books over the last three years. Unfortunately, since the family was a military one, the study room only contained easily obtainable books. I guessed that the they probably had the bookstore bring them a copy of everything. How else could they possess almanacs and yet have no books of value?

    I was counting the time by the size of the shadows when Lu Can’s attendant, Lu Zhong, arrived to inform me of the conclusion of the conference. Lu Xin had invited his subordinates to a feast. As Lu Can was allowed to join in, I did not have to wait for him. I gladly agreed. Not caring that the food had gotten cold, I swiftly began devouring my lunch.

    Just as I was enjoying my meal, a commotion broke out in the nearby hall. I did not pay much attention in the beginning, but the noise got louder and louder. Suddenly, I heard a voice shout out, “Capture the assassin, capture the assassin!” My heart skipped a beat. Oh crap, the assassin undoubtedly was targeting the Marquis. The Marquis was currently my patron; he mustn’t be killed. Knowing that I did not have the ability to protect the Marquis, I decided it was best to remain hidden. However, my heart remained apprehensive and I grabbed an elaborately crafted crossbow from the bookshelf. This crossbow was engineered by Southern Chu’s Ministry of Works7 and not only possessed a range of a hundred paces, but also could shoot up to five bolts in succession. Originally a gift to Lu Can from the Marquis, Lu Can did not like to use the crossbow, deeming the weapon insufficiently above board and gifting it to me instead. As I did not know any martial arts, I could not use a bow and arrow. This crossbow was definitely my favorite.

    Loading the bolts, I opened the window slightly. The study room was not far from the nearby hall. Outside, swords and spears filled the courtyard. A large group of soldiers in red surrounded two men in servant attire. Before long, Marquis Lu arrived with his subordinates, a bloodstained piece of cloth wrapped around his right arm, his face pale white. The Marquis's personal guard, Lu Ping, was nowhere to be seen. Lu Can supported the Marquis from the left, looking enraged. From the situation, I deduced that two assassins disguised as servants attending to the feast had attempted to accomplish their mission. It was likely that Lu Ping had performed his duty.

    I was focusing on the scene when the two assassins exchanged facial expressions. Suddenly, they took out two black beads and threw them on the ground, engulfing the space with white smoke. Just then, I noticed the murderous expression on the face of a deputy general standing close to Marquis Lu. A dagger slid out from his sleeve into his hand. Recognizing the situation, I yelled out, “My Lord Marquis, be careful!” At the same time that I cried out the warning, I fired the crossbow. A scream followed. After the smoke had dissipated, everyone saw that the two assassins remained surrounded. A deputy general was collapsed on the floor half a step behind the Marquis. A bolt had pierced his heart. Clutched tightly in his hand was a dagger with a blue colored edge (poison). Even a blind man could tell what the deputy general had been planning.

    The two assassins could not hope to escape the encirclement. Under the gaze of the Marquis, they fought to the death. After ordering his subordinates to deal with the corpses, he brought me to the White Tiger Hall.

    Giving me a complicated look, he spoke, “Thank you, Suiyun, for saving my8 life.”

    I replied modestly. “You are blessed for your virtues, and thus escaped harm. I9 merely caught it by chance.”

    “How did Suiyun know that that man would attempt to assassinate me8?” Marquis Lu suspiciously asked. This was something he could not understand.

    How? Of course because I saw it. But I could not say this. This was my secret defense mechanism. My six senses were sharper than normal people. To put it simply, I could hear the leaves falling within a hundred paces, I could see vivid details several li10 away, I could identify any taste with just a small sample, I could track a person eight to ten li with my sense of smell. Sometimes, I wondered if I was even human. I also knew that these acute senses could produce jealousy and hatred in others. You wouldn’t want someone listening to your private conversations. In order to protect myself, I had never let anyone know about my acute senses aside from my deceased father.

    Therefore, I lied, “It was a coincidence. I grabbed the crossbow in order to protect myself. When I saw the two assassins release the smoke, I realized that something was off. Regardless of their ability, there was no way that the assassins could escape. Releasing the smoke was undoubtedly to give someone else the opportunity to perform the assassination. I judged that there was another assassin near my Lord Marquis and cried out in panic. I realized that there was no one behind my lord at the time, giving the assassin an opportunity to complete his mission, so I fired the crossbow. Luckily my Lord Marquis’s was blessed with virtue, and I was able to kill the assassin.”

    Though skeptical, the Marquis nodded his head and allowed me to leave. Later, I learned that the assassins were dispatched by Great Yong. Bribing the deputy general, they wanted to assassinate the Marquis. With the Marquis dead, Jiangxia would have been leaderless. They would have seized the opportunity to attack. Who could guess that this perfectly planned assassination would fail? The Yong army could only retreat.

    Witnessing my cleverness, Lu Xin sought for me to remain and serve as one of his advisors. After thinking it over, I declined. Jiangxia was only a river away from Yong controlled territory. Battles were frequent. If they unluckily lost a battle, what was I going to do? Furthermore, if Great Yong learned that I was the one to save the Marquis, I would be killed by assassins. What could I do then? Of course, I could not give these reasons. Instead, I spoke of my father’s regret in failing to attain scholarly honors11 and of my decision to sit for the imperial examinations. Using such a high-sounding and dignified12 reason, no one could hinder my decision. Therefore, Lu Xin not only dispatched people to my home prefecture of Jiaxing to obtain qualification to take the exam, but also gave me travel expenses to head to Jianye two months in advance. For my safety, he even allowed me to travel with the supply personnel. With no alternative, I could only follow them eastward. On the way, I pretended to catch a cold. Stating that I wanted to rest and recuperate for two days, and with ample time still remaining, I took the opportunity to regain my freedom.

    I was not stupid. In the ninth year of Xiande, Southern Chu submitted to Great Yong, removing the title of Emperor and instead, using the title of King. There were currently rumors that the King wished to restore his imperial prerogatives. This decision would certainly antagonize Great Yong and spark war. Although I did not wish to go to war, I did understand much of the Art of War. Great Yong’s army was strong, while Southern Chu from the King to his officials drowned themselves with alcohol and fantasies.13 The generals and officers feared death. Even the famed general, Marquis Lu, had numerous subordinates who were cowards. Several times, the furious Marquis Lu wanted to execute these individuals, but could not do so due to the influence of their families and clans, and could only continue to allow them to serve. Taking the imperial examination at this time? Pfft, I did not want to serve as a minister of a subjugated state.

    Sitting on the deck of a boat with my arms around my legs, I comfortably enjoyed the cool evening river breeze. Aboard this type of mid-sized boat, the lower decks were filled with cargo, while the upper decks were partitioned into passenger cabins. It was certainly more comfortable than the specialized passenger boats, though more expensive. But with several hundred taels in my pocket, easily more than enough, I allowed myself to be extravagant for once. Gazing at the clear bright moon and the starry sky, I suddenly had a poetic inspiration and recited:
    “The grass by the shore gently sway in the breeze,
    The mast of the boat stands tall and alone at night.
    Stars fall to the fields that spread far and wide,
    The moon rises from the great river’s flow.
    Have my literary works not made any mark?
    A court official should retire when old and sick.
    What is a man without purpose and responsibility?
    A gull between heaven and earth.”14
    As I finished reciting the poem, I heard clapping and applause from behind me. Turning my head to look, I saw a young man standing there. Despite the dim light of the moon, I could see clearly with my heightened sight that he was a handsome and majestic young man. Even though he was wearing casual attire, his aura was not ordinary. I could not help but feel that he was more majestic than Marquis Lu. Moreover, he had an astonishing charisma that made one feel as if he was being cleansed by a spring breeze. It made me feel ashamed about myself. He possessed a normal physique that could be blown over by wind, with delicate handsome features. No matter how I looked, he seemed to be no more than a fragile scholar. This was a time of warfare and disorder. What most attracted girls were handsome gongzi 15 who were a master of both pen and sword. Even a barely literate warrior was more attractive compared to me as long as he looked slightly refined. How did I know? Of course, because the maids in the Marquis’s mansion never gave me a second look.

    I stood up and apologized, “My apologies for interrupting your rest.”

    The young man shook his head and said, “Don’t say that. I would have missed gongzi’s great poem. Is this gongzi’s work?

    While delighted at heart, I responded humbly, “This clumsy work is unrefined.16 I have embarrassed myself before your distinguished self.”

    The young man observed me for a long time before speaking, “Your literary talent is exceptional for one so young. You have my respect. My name is Li Tianxiang, a merchant from the Kingdom of Shu.17 I have come to Jianye on business. May I inquire as to gongzi’s name and reason for coming to Jianye?

    Even though the man spoke with a Shu accent, it sounded a bit off. Though what did other people’s business matter to me? Therefore, I replied politely, “My9 name is Jiang Zhe, styled Suiyun. I am traveling to Jianye for the imperial examination.”

    With a smile, Li Tianxiang said, “With gongzi’s peerless talent, the imperial examination will surely be easy for you.”

    I awkwardly smiled. If not for a lie, I did not even want to sit for the imperial examination. But I had ways to avoid passing the examination without complaints from anyone.

    Seeing my discomfort, Li Tianxiang changed the subject. With a sigh, he spoke, “This time coming from Shu, I saw the tense situation in the Central Plains18 and almost got caught in a battle at Jiangxia. These days, doing business is becoming harder and harder. A while back, the King of Southern Chu issued an edict increasing tariffs. Fortunately, the King of Shu dispatched an envoy to Southern Chu to negotiate. Otherwise, our cargo boats would lose money.”

    Casually, I replied, “The King of Shu does not have to worry. The fate of Southern Chu and Shu are closely linked.19 As long as this relationship is made clear, His Highness will definitely lower the tariffs, and maybe even offer trade incentives.”

    “Why is that?” asked Li Tianxiang with a smile, “I do not understand.”

    Rarely encountering anyone who would ask my opinion, I replied proudly, “We have to start with the current situation of the world. Currently Southern Chu and Great Yong are in a north-south stalemate. However, that’s only on the surface. Be it military strength or popular sentiment, Southern Chu cannot compare to Great Yong. Therefore, Southern Chu can only defend and has no means of attack. Hard tactics cannot last long as soldiers and the country weakens. At the same time, soft tactics will often harm one’s bottom line. Everyone knows that the kingdom is going to fall if this continues. That is why His Highness sued for peace and reduced his title, seeking respite from the conflict. However, the situation has changed. Sichuan20 under Shu’s governance has well prepared forces.21 Even though Shu’s geographic constraints limits control to a small part of the world, but compared to Southern Chu, Shu is in a position of strength. An alliance between Shu and Great Yong alliance would see Great Yong attack across the Yangtze, while the Shu forces can descend down from the upper reaches of the Yangtze. Southern Chu will surely perish. If Shu strictly adheres to its borders, Southern Chu can ally with Northern Han22 north of Great Yong. Once the Yong army marches south, Southern Chu can rely upon the natural barrier of the Yangtze River, while the Northern Han army marches on Great Yong. Within three months, the Yong army will withdraw.”

    Li Tianxiang’s face became respectful. It was some time before he responded, “If this is the case, will the world never to be unified? This will only cause we, the common people, to suffer.”

    Comfortingly, I said, “What I said is merely the most ideal situation. Currently, Southern Chu’s ruler and ministers have become arrogant, relying on the natural barrier of the Yangtze River, while in reality, danger lurks.23 As long as Great Yong has a sensible and wise minister, they have the possibility of unifying the world.”

    With curiosity, Li Tianxiang asked, “Did gongzi earlier not say that Great Yong will find it difficult to unify the world? Why now state that they have the possibility?”

    After organizing my thoughts, I said, “Although Great Yong is surrounded by danger, they have numerous advantages. With a wise emperor and capable officials, alongside an army of a million men, as long as they choose the right strategies, Great Yong will unify the world in twenty years. Under the current conditions, Sichuan is of utmost importance. Sichuan is easily defended and difficult to attack. If Great Yong were to conquer the world, they must first come to an understanding with Northern Han, calming their rear, and then sow discord between Southern Chu and Shu.”

    Unconvinced, Li Tianxiang asked, “Coming to an understanding with Northern Han isn’t difficult, but how is it possible to sow discord in the relationship between Southern Chu and Shu when their fates are so intertwined?”

    “How difficult can it be? Recently, I have heard Southern Chu court is seeking to revive the title of emperor. If Great Yong pretends to have its hands tied and unwilling to start a war, the ruler and officials of Southern Chu will be bewitched. Once Great Yong dispatches spies south, bribing Southern Chu officials to revive the empire, then the relationship between Southern Chu and Shu will become estranged. When the time comes, even Northern Han will be wary of Southern Chu. When the times comes, Great Yong only has to acknowledge Southern Chu’s emperor, dividing the world with the Yangtze River as the border and allying with Southern Chu to attack Shu. With the limited foresight of Southern Chu’s ruler and officials, they will be easily tricked. Even though Sichuan is difficult to attack, Shu is incapable of fending off the might of both Southern Chu and Great Yong. When the time comes, Shu will absolutely detest Southern Chu. As long as it uses the proper strategies, Great Yong will obtain the majority of Sichuan. At that point, Great Yong needs to simply attack from two fronts to conquer Southern Chu. Then, all Great Yong needs to do is prepare its armies24 for the final push to eliminate Northern Han. At this point, why should Great Yong worry about not unifying the world?”

    Li Tianxiang excitedly responded, “It looks like once Sichuan and Southern Chu ally, Great Yong will be unable to do anything. It’s a good thing that Brother Jiang is not a citizen of Great Yong. If you were to be employed by Great Yong, then my Kingdom of Shu will be placed in a precarious situation.”

    Lazily, I replied, “By no means will I go to Great Yong. I hear that they value military accomplishments more than anything. A fragile scholar like myself will find it difficult there. Once a few years have passed and I have saved up enough money, I will buy some land in the countryside and marry a virtuous wife. That’s the pleasure of life.”

    Li Tianxiang laughed, “Then I pray that sire’s25 wish comes true. However, I am curious. According to your plan, Great Yong shouldn’t need twenty years.”

    A bit sleepily, I replied, “Originally, it shouldn’t take so long. If Great Yong invades Southern Chu, the conquest should only take five to six years. However, I have heard that the Emperor of Great Yong is old. Although the Crown Prince, Li An, is the heir apparent to the throne, his military accomplishments and prestige pale in comparison to the second prince, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi. At the time of its founding, the Yong Emperor, Li Yuan, acknowledged his second son’s accomplishments and enfeoffed him as the Prince of Yong, using the same character as the empire. However, when it came to choosing the heir apparent, Li Yuan followed the time honored principle of anointing the eldest son of the first wife as heir apparent. This decision will inevitably lead to the turmoil of a succession crisis. Great Yong may even split in two. I only said twenty years on the presumption that the turmoil does not spread too much.”

    Lowering his head slightly to think, Li Tianxiang took some time before responding, “You’re right!”

    I did not understand the meaning of his words and was too lazy to think deeper about it. Bidding farewell, I returned to my cabin. The next day, when I heard that Li Tianxiang had disembarked in advance, I found it extremely strange.

    My original plans were not bad, but who knew that Heaven’s Will was unpredictable. The day I arrived at Jianye, I became a pauper.

    Thinking back on those days, it was the first time that I had come to Jianye and I was dumbfounded by the splendor and magnificence of the capital city. After finding an inn, I left to tour the city. At the Confucian Temple26 on the banks of the Yonghuai River, I met my lucky star, although at the time, I believed that I had met the bane of my existence.

    As I was walking along the streets, I witnessed a crowd gathered. Curious, I stepped forward and found a young boy selling himself into servitude in order to pay for his father’s funeral expenses. It reminded me of my own father’s passing when I had no money on hand. If I had not gotten the opportunity to work for the marquis, I would probably have ended up selling myself as well. Impulsively, I took out a hundred taels of silver and gave it to the young boy.

    Looking grateful, he respectfully asked, “Gongzi, once I bury my father, I will go serve you at once. Where does gongzi currently reside?”

    I smiled awkwardly, noticing the looks of jealousy from the crowd. Having already broken the rule of showing money in public, I was not going to tell anyone where I lived. Without replying, I left in hurry. In order to swiftly return to my inn, I kept my head low. Passing by an alley, I felt someone approach me from behind. As I was about to turn around, a hard object press against my waist. I obediently entered the alley. Afterwards, I was swiftly hit on the back of head. By the time I woke up, I was lying on the ground without any money left.

    Scowling miserably, I returned to the inn, grateful that I had earlier deposited ten taels of silver. This amount of money was enough to last me a month. What should I do? What should I do? Tossing and turning all night, I realized that the only solution was to take the imperial examination seriously to obtain the scholarly honors and become an official with salary and residence provided by the state. Southern Chu probably would not fall so fast. As soon as I had saved up enough money, I would resign. By that time, surely no one would bother someone with no official position.


    A style name or a courtesy name is a name bestowed upon reaching adulthood (traditionally during the coming of age ceremony at the age of 20) in addition to one’s given name. A man’s peers would call him by his style rather than his given name, as a sign of respect. The only people who have the right to call him by his given name are his elders and superiors, though they may also use his style name in order to show affection, respect, or simply refinement and courtesy on their own part. One may not be addressed by his style by his father or grandfather. For more information, refer to this article.

    1. 显德, xiande – lit. manifesting virtue
    2. 随云 – Jiang Zhe’s style, lit. Following Clouds
    3. 江夏 – Modern-day Wuhan
    4. 建业 – Modern-day Nanjing
    5. 南楚 – Southern Chu, a kingdom (king)
    6. 大雍 – Great Yong, an empire (emperor)
    7. 工部 – the Ministry of Works, one of the six ministries in Chinese bureaucracy, is in charge of government construction projects, hiring of artisans and laborers for temporary service, manufacturing government equipment (including weaponry), maintenance of roads and canals, standardization of weights and measurements, and the gathering of resources from the countryside
    8. 本侯 – this Marquis
    9. 晚生 – lit. this youngster, I (self-deprecatory, in front of elders)
    10. 里 – a li is about 500 meters
    11. 功名 – lit. scholarly honor; meant the titles awarded to individuals who passed stages of the imperial examination
    12. 冠冕堂皇, guanmiantanghuang – idiom, high-sounding, dignified, pompous
    13. 醉生梦死, zuishengmengsi – idiom, lit. as if drunk or entranced; in a drunken stupor
    14. This is a poem entitled “Nocturnal Reflections While Travelling” (旅夜书怀) by renowned Tang Dynasty poet, Du Fu. He is called the Poet-Historian or the Poet-Sage by Chinese critics and is compared to Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Wordsworth, amongst others.
    15. 公子 – honorific for young gentleman
    16. 不登大雅之堂 – idiom, lit. that a work (art, poem, etc.) is not fit for an elegant hall; meaning that the work is coarse, unrefined, and not presentable
    17. 蜀国, shuguo – Kingdom of Shu (king)
    18. 中原, zhongyuan – the Central Plains, refers to the cradle of Chinese civilization along the lower reaches of the Yellow River
    19. 唇齿相依 – idiom, lit. as close as lips and teeth; closely related, interdependent
    20. 蜀中 – an ancient name for Sichuan
    21. 兵精粮足 – idiom, lit. elite soldiers, ample provisions; well prepared forces / prepared for war
    22. 北汉 – Northern Han
    23. 危机隐伏 – idiom, lit. danger lurks on every side
    24. 养精蓄锐 – idiom, lit. to preserve and nurture one’s spirit; honing one’s strength for the big push
    25. 阁下 – polite way of referring to someone else
    26. 夫子庙, fuzi miao – lit. Temple of the Master; refers to a temple dedicated to the worship of Confucius (or Kong Fuzi, lit. Master Kong) and other philosophers of Confucianism
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 2 - Attaining Top Marks in the Imperial Examination

    In the sixth month of the sixteenth year of Xiande, Suiyun arrived in Jianye.  In the eighth month, he attained the top marks in the imperial examination, becoming the zhuangyuan1.  At the celebratory feast, a Yong envoy arrived to propose a marriage alliance.

    In the twelfth month, Princess Changle2 of Great Yong arrived in Southern Chu.  In the first month of the new year3, Princess Changle was wed to Southern Chu's Crown Prince, Zhao Jia.  Princess Changle was appointed as Crown Princess.

    Princess Changle, fifteen years old, was the daughter of Imperial Consort Gongsun, favored concubine of Emperor Gaozu4 of Yong.  As Princess Changle's birth coincided with the ascension Gaozu's ascension to the throne, she was much favored by the Emperor and was granted the title of Princess Changle.

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
    After leaving the examination5 grounds, I stretched my tired body. These last several days have worn me out. The individual examination room was narrow and small. As I did not have money for bribes, by the third day, the entire room had been engulfed by the smell of the chamber pot. If my father and I had not previously wandered far from home, and lived through some difficult times, I probably would not have been able to eat anything while in that room.

    Even though I was frugal with my money, I had not a single coin left in my possession. There was still half a month before the results were announced. What should I do until then? Perhaps I should sell calligraphy and paintings, or help others write letters.

    Returning to the inn, I calculated that my deposit would run out tomorrow. Taking the four treasures of the study,6 I decided to set up shop before the Confucian Temple. After talking with the owner of a teahouse and promising to help him write two letters, I was allowed to set up a stall in front of his store. Unfortunately, business wasn’t too great. Those who come here asking for help writing letters were all mostly illiterate and did not care about your skill in calligraphy. After waiting for a long while without any customers and growing increasingly anxious, a young housewife in a green7 dress walked over. Judging by her attire, I could tell that she was a widow. But she seemed to be only eighteen to nineteen years old. What a pity.

    Timidly, she said, “Sir,8 I 9 wish to file a complaint for a lawsuit.” 10

    Picking up the brush, I asked, “What kind of lawsuit? Who are you suing?”

    Blushing, she replied, “My9 husband was unfortunate and passed away. I9 wish to remarry, but my father-in-law will not permit it.”11

    After asking for some details, I wrote a few lines:
    Wed at seventeen, widowed at eighteen, in-laws are able-bodied, in a position that invites suspicion,12 should I wed or not?
    Baffled at the words that I had written, she asked, “Sir, just these words, aren’t they too few?”

    Proudly, I replied, “Rest assured, as long as you file the complaint, I promise you that the authorities will agree to your wish to remarry.”

    She gave me ten copper coins as payment. I looked at the coins gratefully and thought to myself, “Here is today’s dinner. I have to work harder.” Afterwards, once again, there was no more business.

    Before two hours13 had passed, the widow returned delighted, thanking me as soon as she saw me. “Sir, thank you for writing the complaint. Once the daren14 saw my lawsuit, he approved my wish.”

    Of course he did, I thought. The current Imperial Magistrate15 of Jianye placed a high value on ethics and morality. A widow remarrying would only cause her to lose her chastity. However, if she had an affair, then it would become a big problem. After the young widow left, my business became much better. By nightfall, I had earned enough money to pay for three more days of living expenses. Of course, I did not dare to write too many complaints for lawsuits. If someone wished to file a lawsuit, I would try to think of ways to dissuade them from doing so. Simply put, writing too many complaints for lawsuits would harm my reputation.

    After several days, I had earned enough money to able to stay in Jianye until the results were released. Closing the stall, I spent my days in the teahouse listening to other people converse. A pot of tea was enough to last me the whole day. Although I had closed the stall, if people were to look for me, I would continue to write letters for them. I had to pass the time anyway.

    After a few days, I had the urge to use what I had learned from the Book of Changes16 to help predict other people’s fates. Quite honestly, my predictions weren’t all that accurate. But with the help of my observations added by my keen senses, I swiftly became an oracle. Of course, I only wanted to earn enough money to use, so I limited my fortunes to three per day with one additional fortune told for free. Strangely, this swiftly piqued the interests of others and the money swiftly came rushing in. To protect my reputation, I changed my attire and even changed my appearance by adding some medicine to make my face look more yellow.

    On one particular day, noon was swiftly approaching. I had already told three fortunes and had decided to close up shop once I had told the free fortune. A young man rushed over in a hurry and asked, “Sir, I am a merchant. A few days ago, a fellow townsman brought word that my wife was about to give birth. But she was unwell. I rushed back, but have not yet returned home. I don’t why, but my heart is very uneasy. Would you17 help divine whether labor will go well and the gender of the baby?”

    Fiddling around with the divination tools, I calculated for some time before responding, “No problem, minor risks but overall safe. It may be risky for your sick wife, but as you both have performed good deeds, the labor should go well. You will have children of both genders. Laoxiong18 is really fortunate.”

    How did I know this? I actually did not. This was not something that one could predict, but surely I couldn’t say something unpleasant to hear and agitate him half to death. However, his face looked honest and considerate and his body looked healthy. From the tone of his voice, he had a good relationship with his wife. There shouldn’t be any problem having additional children. As for the health of his wife, I put it down to his absence. Without the husband present, of course a wife about to give birth would become unhappy. Once the husband returned, his wife would undoubtedly be happy and would give birth without any problems. I did not clarify whether child would be a boy or a girl, allowing me to prevaricate when the time came. Just as the young man was about to happily pay, I informed him that this fortune was free. As he was thanking me, a middle-aged man ran over and happily said, “Laosan19, you’ve returned! Sister-in-law20 has given birth to twins of mixed genders!21 Come quickly, come quickly!”

    The young man froze for a moment when he heard the news before suddenly running off. I took a deep breath. As I reveled in my good luck, I noticed the looks of admiration on the faces of others, and quickly became embarrassed.

    A man dressed in gray seated by the entrance stood and walked before me. Calmly, he asked, “Sir, please predict my fortune.”

    I raised my head and regarded him. He seemed to be about twenty-seven years old. He possessed a tall and vigorous body, and had a calm look on his handsome features. Behind him followed a middle-aged man dressed in green 7 and an attendant dressed in black. Hesitating, I responded, “I22 have already completed my divinations for today. This …”

    The gray-clothed man replied, “I know it would be difficult for sir, but I am leaving the capital tomorrow, thus would like for sir to help, however reluctant you may be.”

    I looked at the three individuals. I could see from the commanding expression on the gray-clothed man’s face that he was probably someone used to giving commands and being obeyed. Although the green-clothed man seemed somewhat disdainful, there was also a look of hope on his features. As for the attendant, there was a look filled with menace on his features. It seemed that I could not afford to offend them. After calculating the days and realizing that the results of the imperial examination would be released the day after tomorrow, I replied, “Fine,23 it’s almost time for me 22 to close up shop for good. This divination will be my last before I retire.”

    The gray-clothed man seemed surprised, thinking that I was retiring because of his actions. Puzzled, he could only ask, “I am about to embark upon a journey and would to know whether it will be ominous or auspicious.”

    After using the divination tools for some time, I replied, “The abysmal, water, six at the top. Bound with cords and ropes, shut in between thorn-hedged prison walls, for three years one does not find the way, misfortune.24 I am afraid that sire’s25 journey will be difficult with every step.” After concluding, I stole a look at his facial expressions and thought: people like you are usually confident; for you to waver with indecision, then the situation you face must be troublesome.

    His expressions dull, he asked, “May I ask what is the difficulty?”

    How could I know? Thinking, I concluded that the man must be a soldier from his demeanor. Of the two others, they must be an advisor and a personal guard, respectively. The gray-clothed man must be someone of influence. Is there something big happening in Southern Chu? Regardless, I only needed to be a bit ambiguous to respond. Thinking of this ambiguity, I replied, “In-fighting within, strong enemies without, things will be difficult. As long as sire is careful and prudent, there may be a way.”

    Although I was ambiguous, my words directly catered to the gray-clothed man’s mental and psychological state. Heaving a sigh, he turned and left. The green-clothed middle-aged man took out a banknote and left it on the table. When I took a look at the banknote when they had gone far away, I discovered that it was worth a thousand taels of silver. I almost yelled with surprise. Swiftly shoving the banknote into my clothes, I quickly closed up shop and left.

    After a few days on the fifteenth day of the eighth month was the day that the results of the imperial examination were released. I was a bit hesitant. If it was a few days earlier, I hoped for nothing more than to have a great result. But now, with a pocketful of money, I was a bit regretful of my earlier decision to take part in the examinations. As a result, I did not go to see the results. Instead, I stayed in my room, looking over the drafts of my poems. Soon afterwards, I heard firecrackers go off outside. A shop assistant and the owner of the inn excitedly pushed the door open and entered. In a loud voice, they said, “Congratulations lord 26! Lord, has come first amongst the three candidates of the imperial examinations, becoming the zhuangyuan! It is this small shop’s great fortune to be able to cater to you!27 Would the lord zhuangyuan please write a few characters for this humble shop?”

    Somewhat confused, I looked out the window, not knowing my future prospects. Then I thought, I might not necessarily chance upon the fall of Southern Chu. Furthermore, I had heard that the Hanlin Academy’s Library possessed over a million books and was the world’s largest library, I once again became happy. I had also heard that last year, the King of Southern Chu had issued an edict to collect books and calligraphy from all over the world in order to build the Palace of Sublime Culture.28 I probably would have the chance to participate.”

    That night, around 5PM, I brought my number plate to the examination grounds. The area outside of the entrance was filled with the new jinshi29, all of whom were dressed with new clothes and were in high spirits. When I arrived at the entrance, I realized that everyone was looking at me. A few even seemed to be jealous. Just as I was finding it strange, a scholar with a square faced and big ears approached, asking, “Is this brother 30 here to participate in the Qionglin Feast31 for new jinshi?”

    Nodding my head, I replied, “Yes, exactly. Pardon me , may I ask if there are any problems?”

    After hearing my words, the scholar revealed a look of respect before replying, “Turns out that the new zhuangyuan has arrived. Please excuse my lack of manners. I22 am Liu Kui, this examination’s second ranked bangyan.”

    Originally, seventy-nine new jinshi had gathered at the entrance before I had arrived, waiting only for me, the zhuangyuan. I finally realized why everyone seemed to have strange looks in their eyes. All the other new jinshi approached me to extend their greetings. Just as I was finding it difficult to handle everyone coming forward, the bell tolled three times. A ranking official leading a number of examiners exited the grounds, checking our number plates one by one. We were organized by rank with the zhuangyuan at the head, and led towards the palace. Behind me to the left and right were the bangyan and tanhua, respectively, with the rest of the seventy plus new jinshi behind them. As we walked through the streets towards the imperial city, the route was lined with the common people who cheered our progress. We entered the imperial city via the Chaoyang Gate.32 As the major gate to enter the inner city, typically only the Emperor was permitted to use this gate. The only other individuals who were permitted to use this gate were the new jinshi on their way to the Qionglin Feast. After entering the palace grounds, I noticed that other than the rock gardens and flora, I could hear the sounds of women giggling. Presumably, the court ladies were peeking at us.

    Reaching the Qionglin Garden, we were led to our assigned seats by the eunuchs of the Palace Directorate of Ceremonies.33 As we were seated, a eunuch cried out in a high-pitched voice, “His Majesty arrives!” I saw an old man dressed in dragon robes followed by a group of court ladies enter the garden. With everyone else, I prostrated myself on the ground, earnestly shouting, “Long live the King!”34

    The King weakly and without strength replied, “All35 arise.”

    After we all stood, the feast was considered to have begun. After we had all carefully adhered to every step of etiquette and ceremony, we could relax and taste the imperial meal. It was so delicious. If I could, I would definitely bring the cooks in the imperial kitchen home. As we all had the chance to eat and drink, everyone had become somewhat relaxed.

    King Zhao Sheng, placed down his chopsticks and spoke to the chief examiner, “Shi aiqing, please introduce this examination’s top three to us36 please introduce this examination’s top three to us37.”

    The chief examiner stood and saluted the King, replying, “This vassal38 obey your Majesty’s command.”39.” Afterwards, pointing at me, he said, “Reporting to your Majesty, he is this examination’s first tier, first ranked zhuangyuan, Jiang Zhe of Jiaxing.”

    I hurriedly left my seat and prostrated myself, saying, “This vassal, Jiang Zhe, greets your Majesty.”

    With a smile, Zhao Sheng replied, “Good, good. Definitely a young man with excellent abilities. Your responses to the prompts were not bad, especially your poem, Recollections Under the Moon. We have ordered it to be restructured into a song. We will soon let everyone hear it.”

    The chief examiner than pointed at the bangyan and tanhua, introducing them, “Reporting to your Majesty, these are the second ranked bangyan, Liu Kui of Jiangning, 40, and third ranked tanhua Fu Yulun of Huaiyang.”41

    Zhao Sheng praised each one by one before allowing us to return to our seats. Once we were seated, Zhao Sheng raised his hand and a group of women floated out from behind. Some played the flute, others the qin42, and lastly some began to dance. After a while, one of women slowly began to sing:
    “When will the moon be clear and bright?
    With a cup of win in my hand, I ask the clear sky.
    In the heavens on this night,
    I wonder what season it would be.
    I’d like to ride the wind to fly home.
    Yet I fear the crystal and jade mansions
    are much too high and cold for me.
    Dancing with my moonlit shadow,
    It does not seem like the human world.
    The moon rounds the red mansion,
    Stoops to silk-pad doors,
    Shines upon the sleepless,
    Bearing no grudge,
    Why does the moon tend to be full when people are apart?
    People experience sorrow, joy, separation and reunion,
    The moon may be dim or bright, round or crescent shaped,
    This imperfection has been going on since the beginning of time.
    May we all be blessed with longevity,
    Though thousands of miles apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon together.”43
    This was the poem that I had composed during the examination. Everyone in the gardens immersed themselves in the beautiful feelings engendered.

    Just then, a eunuch entered and reported, “Reporting to your Majesty, the Prime Minister requests an audience.”

    Zhao Sheng slowly replied, “What is it? We are enjoying the Qionglin Feast. If there are any other matters of state, let him handle it.”

    “The Prime Minister said it was urgent,” replied the eunuch.

    Zhao Sheng helplessly nodded and said, “Fine, let him enter.”

    Soon, an elderly man dressed in the robes of a yipin44 official hurriedly entered. When he saw Zhao Sheng, he prostrated himself. “Congratulations to your Majesty, Great Yong has dispatched an envoy to express the Yong Emperor’s decree, expressing a wish to foster a marriage alliance.”

    Although he had a look of happiness on his features, Zhao Sheng replied disbelievingly, “Is this true?”

    The elderly official replied, “It is true, the Yong Emperor has a beloved daughter who has reached marriageable age45 and is willing to marry her to the Crown Prince to serve as Crown Princess. From this point onwards, the two states will be allied and will forever be at peace.”

    Zhao Sheng happily said, “Today has witnessed two blessings for my Southern Chu. First, Southern Chu has acquired talented individuals capable of serving as pillars of the state. Second is this alliance with Great Yong. Come, quickly summon the Yong envoy for an audience.”

    After he finished speaking, Zhao Sheng quickly left. My life’s only Qionglin Feast thus finished with a whimper.46 However, the face of everyone who had heard the good news were filled with joy. I had some doubt. Why did Great Yong suddenly want to form a marriage alliance with Southern Chu? Was this similar to the plans that I had earlier drawn up? It couldn’t be possible, I thought as I shook my head

    The court was busy preparing for the marriage alliance in the subsequent several months. Following the regulations, I entered the Hanlin Academy, happily casting myself into the library. I faintly heard stories about the great beauty of the Yong Emperor’s daughter, the Princess Changle, and her favor before the Emperor. But I thought to myself, how beautiful could a young girl of fifteen be?

    After a few months of preparations and concluding the six traditional pre-wedding rites,47 the wedding between Princess Changle and the Crown Prince of Southern Chu was held on the New Year. As the new zhuangyuan, I had the fortune of the attending the wedding. As the ceremony concluded, the Crown Prince and Princess accepted the customary deferential greetings from the gathered court officials, I finally had the opportunity to see Princess Changle’s features. She was graceful, elegant, and stunning. Although a bit young and immature, she was truly beautiful. In comparison, the Crown Prince standing beside her, and although was already over twenty, was eclipsed. Of course, everyone lied that the pair were an “ideal couple matched by heaven.”48 Thinking that the Yong Emperor could not have been so heartless as to use his daughter as a pawn in a fake marriage alliance. I sincerely prayed that Southern Chu and Great Yong did not go to war and that relations remain harmonious, allowing me to live a few decades in peace.

    As I was sincerely praying, the musicians began to sing and play my work as a newly minted Hanlin academician, Sapphire Jade Plate:
    "Flowers bursting into bloom in the sky,
    Then scatter down as star-like rain.
    The scent of precious horses and ornate carriages fill the road,
    Notes from a phoenix flute hover in the air,
    The moon, like a jade wine cup, hangs in the sky,
    Fish and dragon lanterns dance in the breeze all night.
    Beautiful women wear ornaments of all kinds on their heads,
    They converse cheerfully and laugh heartily, leaving their secret fragrance behind.
    In the crowd for a thousand times, I failed to find my love,
    When suddenly turning back by chance,
    I find her standing alone in far end of the street in the waning light.”49
    As the court ladies began to dance, I raised my head and watched as Princess Changle turned her face slightly away. A lone tear slid down her cheek. My heart froze. This young woman must now spend the rest of her life far away from home, never to see her family again. That was if all things went well. If this marriage was fake (even though I hoped it was real, I was not certain), then this young woman would meet a cruel end.

    At this moment, I noticed the Crown Prince lower his head and whisper into the Princess’s ear. Although they were far away and the hall was filled with noise, I could faintly make out the Crown Prince informing the Princess that this Sapphire Jade Plate – Night of the Lantern Festival was the work of the imperial examination's zhuangyuan, Jiang Zhe. Following the Crown Prince’s gaze, she turned her head and looked upon me, smiling faintly. Her smile was like the flowers blossoming in the spring and my heart could not but tremble. Quickly lowering my head, I didn’t know why, but there was an odd feeling in my heart.

    1. 状元, zhuangyuan – the title of the individual who comes first in the imperial examinations; those who came in the top three of the were known as the yijia (一甲) or first tier and were titled as the zhuangyuan (状元), bangyan (榜眼), and tanhua (探花), respectively
    2. 长乐, changle – everlasting happiness
    3. 戊辰元月, wuchen yuanyue – first month of the fifth year of the sixty year cycle
    4. 高祖, gaozu –lit. Supreme Ancestor; typically a title used to honor the founding emperor of a dynasty
    5. 会试, huishi – the national level (and sometimes the final stage) of the imperial examinations; the huishi lasted three days with the examinees locked in solitary rooms
    6. 文房四宝, wenfang sibao – lit. four treasures of the study; refers to the brush, ink, paper, and ink stone used in Chinese calligraphy
    7. 青, qing – black, blue, or green colored
    8. 先生, xiansheng – sir, mister, teacher
    9. 奴家, nujia – I, my; lit. your servant, a form of humble self-reference for a female
    10. In dynastic China, literacy was not very high. As a result, scholars would frequently help others write documents, including helping them write out a complaint for a lawsuit. Without such a document, it was very difficult for a lawsuit to be filed with the authorities
    11. In traditional Chinese culture and the legal system dating back to the beginning of Chinese civilization, once a woman was married to someone, she became a part of that family. If the husband died, the wife would have to remain a widow throughout her life. If she wished to remarry, she would have to have the agreement of her in-laws before she can do so. Without permission, such a marriage would not only be deemed illegal, but the widow would be punished severely.
    12. 瓜田李下, gu tian xiao li– idiom, originates from a longer idiom 瓜田不納履,李下不正冠/瓜田不纳履,李下不正冠, lit. being caught with one’s hand in the cookie jar; a position that invites suspicion, in suspicious circumstances or surroundings
    13. 时辰, shichen – equivalent to two hours
    14. 大人, daren – a title used to refer to one’s superiors
    15. 京兆尹, jingzhaoyin – the prefectural magistrate assigned to the capital region; China was divided into prefectures (zhoufu, 州府), including the imperial capital, each with a prefectural magistrate (zhifu, 知府) assigned; the capital region (for Southern Chu, Jianye) was known as the 京兆 (jingzhao)
    16. 易经, yijing – the Book or Classic of Changes; also Romanized in the West as the I Ching; the oldest Chinese classic and an ancient divination text that uses cleromancy (using random numbers) to determine divine intent
    17. 您, nin – polite form of you
    18. 老兄, laoxiong – an informal way of addressing male counterparts
    19. 老三, laosan – informal way of referring someone who is ranked number third
    20. 弟妹 – younger brother's wife
    21. 龙凤胎 – lit. dragon and phoenix twins; the dragon was considered to be male, while the phoenix female
    22. 在下, zaixia – a humble way of saying I, me
    23. 也罢, yeba – nevermind, fine (indicating acceptance or resignation)
    24. 坎卦上六,系用徽纆,置于丛棘,三岁不得,凶 – this divination comes from the Book of Changes and is very bad and means, “A man who in the extremity of danger has lost the right of way and irremediably entangled in his sins has no prospects of escape. He is like a criminal who sits shackled behind thorn-entangled walls.”
    25. 阁下, gexia – your distinguished self, sire
    26. 老爷, laoye – lord, master; a humble way of addressing someone
    27. 蓬荜生辉, pengbishenghui – idiom, lit. your presence brings light (honor) to my humble dwelling
    28. 崇文殿, chongwen dian – Palace of Sublime Culture/Literature
    29. 进士, jinshi – title for those who successfully passed the highest level of the imperial examinations
    30. 兄台, xiongtai – polite way of addressing someone (male)
    31. 琼林宴, qionglin yan – lit. Jade Forest Feast; first begun by the Song Dynasty, this feast was given by the Emperor to honor the new jinshi; the feast was placed at the Qionglin Garden (qionglin yuan, 琼林苑)
    32. 朝阳门, chaoyang men – lit. Facing the Sun Gate
    33. 司礼监, silijian – lit. Directorate of Ceremonies; one of the and the foremost ranking directorates of the imperial court assigned to handle ceremonial matters including ascension to the throne, the death of the emperor, and the feast of the new jinshi
    34. 国主万岁万岁万万岁, guozhu wansui wansui wanwansui – lit. Long live the King; may His Majesty live ten thousand years
    35. 众卿, zhongqing – 众 means all, while 卿 are often a high ranking official that is worthy of being addressed with this honorific used by emperor; sometimes the emperor may refer to them as 爱卿 (aiqing)
    36. 酒过三巡,菜过五味, jiuguosanxun, caiguowuwei – lit. having drank and eaten our fill
    37. 孤, gu – the royal we; term used by Kings and Princes
    38. 臣 – subject or vassal
    39. 臣遵旨, chen zunzhi – lit. this vassal obeys your majesty’s command
    40. 江宁, Jiangning – a historical prefecture that is today a district of Nanjing
    41. 淮阳, Huaiyang – a prefecture centered around the area that is modern-day Yangzhou and Huai’an
    42. 琴, qin – the zither
    43. This is the majority of a poem by Su Shi, aka Su Dongpo, a Tang Dynasty poet famed alongside Du Fu. The poem’s original name is 水调歌头, 丙辰中秋 (geshui getou, bingchen zhongqiu).
    44. 一品, yipin – lit. first-ranked; in China, civil and military official hierarchy were divided into nine ranks (first to nine, with first being highest)
    45. 年方及笈, nianfengjiji – has reached marriageable age, has become an adult; in ancient China, girls reached adulthood at the age of fifteen
    46. 虎头蛇尾, hutou shewei – idiom, tiger’s head, snake’s tail; start strong, finish weak
    47. The six traditional pre-wedding rites include 纳采 (nacai, the formal proposal), 文明 (wenming, giving the 生成八字, shengchengbazi (the eight-character birth data used for astrological purposes) of the groom), 纳吉 (naji, placement of the eight-character astrological data upon the ancestral altar to confirm compatibility, 纳征 (nazheng, sending of the betrothal gifts to the bride and the return gifts to the groom), 请期 (qingqi, selection of an auspicious wedding date), and lastly 亲迎 (qinying, the wedding ceremony)
    48. 郎才女貌,天作之合, langcainümao, tianzuozhihe – lit. talented man and beautiful woman, a match made in heaven
    49. This is a poem by Song Dynasty poet, Xin Qiji. The name has not been changed. Baidu, China's premier search engine, takes its name from a line in the poem: “In the crowd for a thousand times, I failed to find my love, / When suddenly turning back by chance / I find her standing alone in far end of the street in the waning light.”(众里寻他千百度,蓦然回首,那人却在灯火阑珊处。)"
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 3 – Hanlin Academician

    In the ninth month of the sixteenth year of Xiande, Jiang Zhe enters the Hanlin Academy.1. Due to ranking first in the imperial examinations, he becomes a Hanlin Academy Junior Compiler,2 rated seventh-ranked qipin.3

    In the first month of the seventeenth year of Xiande, due to his erudition and reputation, Jiang Zhe was appointed to help establish the Palace of Sublime Culture.  Over a period of three years, Jiang Zhe was appreciated for his skill, his research and analytical ability, for often enduring sleepless nights and forgetting to eat, diligence and hard work.4 Not much later, he is promoted to the rank of Hanlin Academy Senior Compiler,5 rated lower sixth-ranked.6

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun

    What a blessing! Stretching, I raised the sole extant copy of a poetry anthology. These days, I spent my time in the library of the Hanlin Academy. This was definitely the world’s greatest library with many books that I had not yet read. I had read many books before and with my photographic memory, I only needed to read a book once to memorize its contents. I could even write out from rote memory complete essays. But no matter my abilities, there was no way for me to real the million plus books. I found and used the library register to identify books that I had not read, to read one by one. I was going to be staying at the Hanlin Academy for at least three to five years, and should be able to read most of the books that I had not had the chance to read before. Of course, I paid the most attention to those books indicated as the sole extant copies, as most of these works were masterpieces.

    This day, I was searching in the stacks for something to read when I noticed a book with yellow silk cover. From the exquisite cover, I presumed that it must be some masterpiece. When I opened the cover, I nearly fainted from shock. On the first page were eight words dripping with blood – “to train this godly art, first castrate oneself7.” I quickly closed the book and looked at the cover, seeing that it was called the Sunflower Manual.8 As I still wanted to marry and have children, I quickly threw the book aside.

    On the side, I noticed a copy of Zhuangzi’s Essentials for Nourishing Life 9 dating back to the Han Dynasty. Picking it up, I flipped through the pages. Although the contents were the characters on the pages were the same as I remembered, there were many notes and comments written wherever there were empty spaces. I liked to read other people’s annotations, as they embodied the hard work of scholars. Seeing that no one was around, I readily pulled over a nearby footstool and sat down. Leaving the stacks to find a proper seat would be a waste of time. I became engrossed. The annotations were likely written by a Daoist priest who was also a doctor, and contained the secrets to nourishing one’s life: what one could eat and drink, when to rise and to sleep, how to meditate before bed, how to exercise one’s qi, and sexual techniques. This was definitely my favorite. Don’t laugh at me! My greatest wish was to live comfortably without ailments and disasters, to wed a gentle and virtuous wife, and to have several cute children. Sexual techniques were definitely important. Haven’t you seen all those licentious individuals frequently live short lives? They did not know how to control themselves and did not know how to give their bodies proper nourishment. Just as I was becoming happy, I suddenly realized that I did not know if these annotations were correct. What was I to do? Thinking back and forth, I ultimately decided to find out myself. In the following month, I searched the entire library for texts on how to maintain one’s good health; some directly conflicted, while others matched. But who am I? A genius! I finally organized a set of methods that I began to use to properly maintain my health.

    First, when I woke up and opened my eyes, I would sit calmly, meditating and exercising my qi. Then, I exercised my body. Though I did not know any kung fu, I did know the basic exercises known as the Five Animal Play.10 Afterwards, I would eat a light breakfast without grease or strong flavors before heading off. If there was nothing at noon, I would return home to eat a nutritious lunch as late as possible. I would then take an afternoon nap. After waking up, I would do as I pleased. If there were any feasts or events at night, I would try to eat and drink as little as possible, and when home would drink some medicinal alcohol to cleanse my digestive system. After meditating for an hour, I would then go to bed. I had to sit, sleep, and walk in a particular fashion that wasn’t too particularly noticeable. Even though my current rank was low, I was busy enough that I could not constantly maintain this lifestyle; I tried my best to adhere. As for martial arts, I had no intention of training. Haven’t you heard of the saying, “good swimmers are more liable to drown”? If I knew martial arts, I would likely be dragged into some unimaginable scenario and possibly even die at a young age. It’s not like I wanted to live forever, living to the age of seventy was enough for me.

    I continued for two months and discovered a noticeable improvement in my body’s health. Previously, I had some small ailments and maladies, but they all disappeared. My mind became much more clear, and I felt that I had more energy while reading and writing.

    This day, I had just left the stacks to eat lunch. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wealthy enough to hire a cook and had to make my own food. As I was considering my lunch options, I ran into a colleague of the same year,11 Liu Kui. As he walked over smiling happily, he said, “Brother12 Jiang, how about it? Let’s go to the Bright Moon Pavilion together.”

    “Go to the Bright Moon Pavilion to do what?” I asked with curiosity.

    Surprised, Liu Kui replied, “What? You don’t know? We’re going to attend Princess Changle’s zither gathering.”

    “Zither gathering, Princess Changle?” I replied, even more confused.

    “Yes,” he replied, “No one in Jianye does not know that ever since Princess Changle came to our state to be wed, she has missed her homeland. In order to divert herself from her loneliness, she has organized this zither gathering. I have heard that she wishes to witness for herself the demeanor of Southern Chu’s scholars. I have also heard that Great Yong’s famed zither Fairy, Liang Wan, was part of her dowry. Liang Wan was purportedly a student of the Musical Sage, Wu Youzi, and is extremely refined. If she wasn’t a good friend of Princess Changle, she would not have come to Southern Chu. In addition, I’ve heard that Liang Wan has come to Southern Chu to search for a husband. Almost all the eligible scholarly bachelors want to take this opportunity.”

    Dumbfounded, I replied, “But isn’t Liang Wan part of her dowry?”

    “That’s nothing more than an excuse,” said someone off to the side, “I’ve heard that the Princess has already spoken to the Crown Prince. Liang Wan is her good sister. She must be wed to a gifted scholar of similar demeanor as the first wife.”

    Turning my head, I realized that it was the tanhua, Fu Yulun. Seeing that he had already changed into luxurious informal wear with a jade fzither at his wait, I could tell that he was definitely interested in Liang Wan. Remembering that he hailed from an influential family in Huaiyang, he definitely looked the part. I laughed in my heart. If Liang Wan was really so beautiful and talented, the Crown Prince would surely be interested. Of course, he must give face to Princess Changle. But once he ascended the throne and was permitted a harem, he could easily pick Liang Wan as a concubine. Right now though, he had to be circumspect, because of Princess Changle’s unusual status.

    I originally was disinterested. I was aware of my own shortcomings. Although my features weren’t too bad, they were nothing to brag about. Although I was talented, talent without a power backer meant that I had no way of ascending the ranks quickly. These years, with the world in turmoil, those generals able to command armies and battle were much more prestigious than we scholars. As Southern Chu emphasized scholars, its national strength wasn’t particularly strong and could not even compare to Sichuan’s Kingdom of Shu. If our navy wasn’t so strong, Great Yong would likely have already crossed the Yangtze. In summary, I, Jiang Zhe, was unworthy of attention and had no strong backing to protect me. Don’t even say that Liang Wan will take a fancy towards me, even if she did, I did not dare marry her. But I couldn’t not go, as it meant not giving face to the Crown Prince and Princess Changle face. I decided to go just this once. And although I was skilled with the four arts,13 I was not necessarily the best. I could listen to the zither. I could play some weiqi, but would most likely lose. My calligraphy was decent, but could not compare to those master calligraphers. As for painting, though I knew how to paint, I was better at appreciating. I had a maternal uncle who was a famed court painter. Countless treasures, works of calligraphy and paintings passed through his hands. In the past, I spent some time under his tutelage and having read many books, I would likely have entered the court in a similar capacity if my father had not taken me away.

    While indulging in these flights of fancy, I replied aimlessly to their words. We soon arrived at the Bright Moon Pavilion. The pavilion was originally the secondary manor of a high ranking official that was adjacent to the official residence of the Crown Prince built a few years ago. Afterwards, the Crown Prince decided he might as well purchase the manor. As the manor was small, but exquisite, the manor was connected to the official residence. It is said that upon arrival, Princess Changle fell in love with the manor and was allowed to use it as her place of relaxation. For Liang Wan to hold her zither gathering here was quite appropriate.

    After passing through a black side entrance, I carefully considered the small garden before me. Before me was a clear green pond, a dozen plum trees, and a small but refined two-story building. It was definitely the realm of immortals. No wonder it was beloved by Princess Changle. Thinking to myself as I walked, I considered the size of the building and wondered how many people could it hold? After I skirted the pond, I noticed that there was an open area before the building. The area was probably previously used for flora, but now had been cleared and a canopy erected. A thick layer of straw covered the canopy and within braziers were placed on all sides. One could smell the fragrant scent of wine. There were several rows of fur-coated seats. Although Southern Chu’s winters weren’t particularly cold, a light dusting of snow had fallen earlier in the day and the air outside was cool. It was comfortably warm within the greenhouse. There were a few dozen young refined gongzi dressed in various colors. While drinking fragrant wines, they appreciated the beauty of the fallen snow and the plum trees. Truly this was part of the wonderful life of being in the south. Walking closer, I could hear the discussion. Princess Changle’s zither gathering wasn’t just open to anyone. Besides the young newly enfeoffed individuals, the only others were the younger generation of influential families. All of them had some talent or they otherwise would not have come out of fear of embarrassing themselves. As a result, the number of attendees were lower than we expected. Although I regretted my attendance, I was dissatisfied by the reception. Picking a seat in the corner, I sat down and poured myself a cup of warmed wine, prepared to steal half a day’s worth of respite.

    It wasn’t long before the door of the small building opened and twelve beautiful and refined ladies dressed in court attire exited and lowered the beaded curtains. The ding-dong sound of jewelry could be heard and an alluring scent wafted out. One of the court ladies bent and saluted the interior before turning and speaking, “Her Highness, the Princess, commands, Lady Liang will remain in the building and play the zither. Regardless of poems or essays, or the four arts, as long as someone can gain Lady Liang’s favor, she will come out to greet one and all.”

    Everyone sat steadily in their seats, waiting with baited breath. Not long afterwards, the sound of the zither could be heard. It began softly, weakly, forcing everyone to listen closely. Slowly, the sound of the zither seemed to slowly hover in the air, almost like a butterfly meandering as it flapped its wings. The music slowly repeated almost like an endless rhyme, reminding one and all of scenes of high mountains and flowing streams. The sounds were fresh and smooth, giving birth to a soul-stirring feeling. Up to this point, I almost yawned with boredom. I had expected a zither master from Great Yong must be amazing, but at the end, was only so so. This kind of ability with the zither was not uncommon in Southern Chu. Just then, the music slowly lowered in volume, giving one the feeling of sleepiness. Suddenly, almost like the breaking of a silver vase, as the charge of cavalry, the sounds transformed and became like the sounds of an army of tens of thousands running unhindered across the lands. After this explosion, the music became resoundingly deep, as the killing intent was buried, and replaced by sorrow. A truly wonderful imagery of a battlefield filled with soldiers. I listened attentively. This was definitely worthy of being considered a great master of the zither. The sound of the zither slowly diminished, as calm was restored, signaling the end of the battle and the beginning of song and dance, allowing one to become intoxicated by the carefree and relaxed sounds.14

    When the piece finished, applause thundered. Afterwards, everyone produced their proud works to gain Liang Wan’s favor. However, her standards were very high and refused to come out. Afterwards, some of those with some brains turned their attention to me. One particular gongzi of an influential family half begged, half commanded, “I have long heard of literary brilliance15 of the new zhuangyuan, Jiang Zhe, who shook the world with the poem, Recollections Under the Moon. Would brother Jiang compose a poem and prevent Southern Chu’s scholars from losing face.”

    I was speechless. These folks insinuated that if I failed to produce a worthy poem, then I would have harmed our country’s reputation. Fine … This young man was the only son of the Prime Minister. I could not afford to offend him. Having listened to the music, I was already itching to compose a piece. Not bothering with brush or paper, I recited:
    “Affectionately whispering, a young boy and girl speak, in fondness or ire they call each other ‘dear.’
    Abruptly it changes to the heroic, brave warriors charging to the battlefield.
    Floating clouds of willow fluff without stamens, across the broad sky and vast earth accordingly fly and flutter.
    The raucous cries of hundreds of birds in a flock, suddenly see a solitary phoenix.
    It scrambles upwards inching until it no longer can go up, losing control it abruptly falls a thousand fathoms and more.
    Oh, ever since I’ve had two ears, I’ve never known how to listen to strings or fzithers.
    But since I’ve heard Mistress Liang play, I’ve had to rise from my seat in respect to one side.
    I wave my arm in order to stop him, soaking my robes tears gush down.
    Wan, ah! You are really capable, but don’t cause the emotional turmoil of the music to go straight to my belly.”16
    After a moment’s silence, all cheered. A few even rushed to ask for brush and paper to put to write down my words. Amidst this chaotic scene, the beaded curtains flew apart and from the building exited a woman clad in yellow with a green cape draped around her shoulders. This woman was about twenty years of age. She was taller than the woman of Southern Chu, and possessed an hourglass figure. Although she was wearing many layers due to the weather, her hidden beauty elicited everyone’s desires. I gazed at her face. Although she did not wear any makeup, her skin was as pale as that of snow. Coupled with a pair of carefully trimmed and painted eyebrows, and bright eyes that seems as clear as an icy spring, she was definitely a gorgeous beauty.

    Liang Wan’s gaze fell upon me. Smiling slightly, she paid her respects, “This must be the brilliant scholar of Southern Chu, this examination’s zhuangyuan. This servant17 likes your poetic verses very much.”

    Although I was a dazzled, I understood what was going on and hastily replied, “That this humble work can receive xiaojie’s18 praise is Suiyun’s blessing. In reality, the gifted scholars of Southern Chu number like the clouds. It is only that my19 creativity is a bit more agile compared to others. If xiaojie is interested in the gifted scholars of Southern Chu, then there is no harm in conversing with everyone.”

    Liang Wan’s beautiful eyes moved around, considering everyone. And so, everyone felt like they had been amnestied, hurriedly rushing forward and surrounding her. I didn’t say much afterwards. Soon, after seeing that Liang Wan had already begun to converse with everyone in a congenial manner, I slowly and subtly left. Just as I was about to leave through the side door, I felt something and turned. I saw that a window on the building was open. From within I espied a pair of crystal clear eyes were watching me. I pushed the door open and left. Who was that? I didn’t know why, but I could be feel that those eyes belonged to Princess Changle.

    Afterwards, I heard that Princess Changle had gifted the Bright Moon Pavilion to Liang Wan to serve as her residence. Liang Wan possessed a cheerful temperament. As long as a visitor could produce a worthy verse or song, or any of the four arts, she would greet them personally. As a result, many young men who admired her sought to see her. Although there were many who lusted after her, the presence of Princess Changle prevented anyone from using force. And with the rise in Liang Wan’s reputation and name, not many dared to offend her. Afterwards, even King Zhao Sheng adopted Liang Wan as his daughter. Although she did not enter into the royal family register, everyone called her Princess Mingyue,20 and her fame spread far and wide.

    As a lowly Hanlin Academician, I wasn’t going to look for trouble. Although I received several invitations from Liang Wan, I rejected them all using all kinds of excuses. If anyone were to ask, I would respond that the books possessed their own beauties. Although everyone laughed at my pedantry, they were happy that they had one less competitor. In order to prevent anything excessive, I enthusiastically engrossed myself in the books at the Hanlin Academy. I was therefore able to not only keep myself entertained, but also avoid others’ attentions. This led to an event that filled me with joy.21 In the first month of seventeenth year of Xiande, I was allowed to, by royal decree, to help establish the Palace of Sublime Culture. I quickly became a major force due to my photographic memory, ability to serve as an appreciator of antiques, and my wide knowledge. Not only was very effective in organizing the book collection, works of calligraphy, and paintings, I also was young and strong. If they did not use me, who were they going to use? This was the happiest period of my life. The Palace of Sublime Culture took three years from the issuance of the decree to the completion of the construction. I took part in its entirety, and enjoyed every moment of it.22

    Of course, while I indulged in the sea of books, something happened that I faintly believed would. Conflict arose between Southern Chu and the Kingdom of Shu, and became increasingly intense. I had no way of being involved and really was disinterested in the entire matter.

    Other than this, Princess Changle became pregnant, but unfortunately suffered a miscarriage. It was said that she was too young and wasn’t accustomed to living in Southern Chu. Afterwards, she moved out of the Crown Prince’s official residence to a royal residence located at Lake Mochou at the western outskirts of Jianye. The Crown Prince did not join her and, in fact, wasn’t even lonely. The ladies in waiting, who came as part of Princess Changle’s dowry, were all beauties from Great Yong and were all skilled in the bedroom. They swiftly became the Crown Prince’s favored concubines. The face of the person who told me of these details was filled with envy at the Crown Prince’s luck with women. I could only bitterly laugh. In my view, Princess Changle only moved to the royal residence on the outskirts of the city because she did not like the Crown Prince. As a princess of Great Yong, she was peerless beauty of blue-blooded nobility.23 Having been used as a tool in a marriage alliance with Southern Chu, she was in no mood to fawn over such a mediocre Crown Prince. Taking a malicious view, did Great Yong deliberately provide so many great beauties as part of the dowry to seduce the Crown Prince and prevent the princess from suffering?

    1. The Hanlin Academy (翰林院) was an academic and administrative institution founded originally in the Tang Dynasty. Membership in the academy was confined to an elite group of scholars, often-times individuals who placed high within the imperial examinations. These scholars performed secretarial and literary tasks for the court, eincluding drafting documents and the interpretation of Chinese classics. Membership in this exclusive institution often led to higher positions in government.
    2. 翰林院编修, hanlinyuan bianxiu – Hanlin Academy Junior Compiler, a lower-ranked academician
    3. 七品, qipin – seventh-ranked
    4. 手不释卷, shubushijuan – idiom, lit. always with a book in hand
    5. 翰林院修撰, hanlinyuan xiuzhuan – Hanlin Academy Senior Compiler
    6. 从六品, cong liupin – lower sixth-ranked
    7. 欲练神功,挥刀自宫, yulian shengong, huidao zigong – lit. in order to train this godly martial art, you must castrate oneself
    8. 葵花宝典, kuihua baodian – lit. Sunflower Treasured Book; the Sunflower Manual is a reference to Smiling, Proud Wanderer (笑傲江湖, xiao ao jianghu), a wuxia novel by Jinyong. The manual was created by a eunuch and is used by one of the deuteragonists, Dongfang Bubai
    9. 养生主, yangshengzhu – lit. Essentials for Nourishing Life, is the third chapter within the philosophical text known as Zhuangzi by Zhuang Zhou (aka Zhuangzi); the text utilizes stories, such as whimsical allegories, to illustrate how to live a full life.
    10. 五禽戏, wuqinxi – lit. five animal play; a set of qigong exercises developed during the Han Dynasty that mimics the movements of five different animals – tiger, deer, bear, monkey, and crane.
    11. 同年, tongnian – someone who passed the imperial examination in the same year; in Chinese officialdom, the most important relationships that one possessed were with one’s teacher and with colleagues who passed the imperial examination in the same year
    12. 年兄, nianxiong – lit. older brother; in this case, Liu Kui is politely referring to a 同年
    13. 琴棋书画, qinqishuhua – lit. zither, weiqi (go), calligraphy, and painting; these four arts were the main academic and artistic accomplishments required of an ancient Chinese scholar-gentleman
    14. 心旷神怡, xinkuangshenyi – idiom, lit. heart untroubled, spirit pleased
    15. 才华横溢, caihuahengyi – idiom, lit. brimming with talent (especially literary); brilliant
    16. This is a poem, originally entitled Listening to Reverend Ying Play the Qin (听颖师弹琴, 琴 means lute) is by the Tang Dynasty poet, Han Yu (韩愈) who has been described as having comparable stature to Dante, Shakespeare, or Goethe. The author of this webnovel changed the subject of Reverend Ying to Mistress Liang.
    17. 妾身, qieshen – lit. your servant (deprecatory self-reference for women)
    18. 小姐, xiaojie – lit. young lady (typically used in a respectful manner)
    19. The text here says 江某, jiangmou; Jiang Zhe uses this as a self-deprecatory way of referring to himself
    20. 明月公主, mingyue gongzhu – Princess Bright Moon; taking her name from the Bright Moon Pavilion
    21. 欣喜若狂, xinxiruokuang – idiom, lit. to be wild with joy
    22. 乐此不疲, lecibuqi – idiom, lit. to enjoy and never tire of it
    23. 金枝玉叶, jinzhiyuye – idiom, lit. golden branch, jade leaves; fig. blue-blooded nobility, particularly those who are imperial kinsmen or peerless beauties
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 4 – Appreciating Art, Overturning Injustice

    In the third month of the eighteenth year of Xiande or the sixth year of the sixty-year cycle, I had reached the age of twenty-two. After I had ranked first in the imperial examinations and become the zhuangyuan, there were many people who came to my home to play matchmaker. I declined them all, using the excuse that I was still young and wished to continue to study in order to better serve the government. Afterwards, fewer and fewer people came. Many of those with discerning eyes soon realized that even though I was a young zhuangyuan, there was little chance for me to rise in rank meteorically.1 In addition, I buried myself in books, almost as if I was obsessed. This kind of person did not meet the requirements set forth by the influential families. As a result, I was able to experience a rarely occurring peace and quiet.

    This day, as usual, I came to the Hanlin Academy to prepare for work. I saw a huge crowd gathered in the main hall. I was surprised. To know, even though I was a Hanlin Academician, there was still a hierarchy in the Hanlin Academy. Because I was the zhuangyuan, I was able to jump over a number of ranks (including Bachelor2 and Examining Editor3 directly to a zhengqipin4 rated position as a Junior Compiler. Above me were several positions including the Senior Compiler, Expositor, Reader, Expositor-in-waiting,5 Reader-in-waiting6, and Academy Chancellor 6. When I looked over, I saw a diverse crowd. Amidst the crowd, at the top was the Academy Chancellor, Xie Xian, while on the bottom was a Bachelor who had recently passed the imperial examination alongside me in the second tier. I was greatly surprised, especially by the presence of those who were ranked as the Expositor-in-waiting and above who usually spent their time accompanying the King, were all gathered here. Walking forward, I noticed Academician Yin and Academician Tian arguing heatedly. On the table in the middle was an antique painting. Next to the painting was a red piece of paper. On it was written: Green Hills Sage Riverside Painting.8 Everyone must be arguing over and trying to determine the provenance of the painting. After the King had decreed the establishment of the Palace of Sublime Culture, many people had donated their antique books, works of calligraphy and paintings, but real masterpieces were difficult to find.

    Academician Yin gracefully said, “This painting must be fake. The earlier works by the Green Hills Sage have always been of green landscapes with a gorgeous style. His later works were influenced by his beliefs in Buddhism and Daoism, and were primarily of ink landscapes filled with tranquil beauty. Although this painting is an ink landscape, the brushwork is rugged, the clouds and mists are too eye-catching, and the river are roiling. Therefore, I do not believe that this is a work by the Green Hills Sage.”

    Academician Tian did not show any weakness in his response, “Although what you say makes sense, but look … the paper used for this painting is carefully selected. Although well preserved, we can see that it is a work of the Green Hills Sage time period two hundred years ago. We can also see the presence of the seal of the Green Hills Sage. From the postscript, there should not be any problems.”

    The other officials were split on both sides, arguing incessantly. Interested in what was happening, I carefully scrutinized the painting for a long time. Only after accessing my memories and using my own experiences, did I make my judgment. Everyone saw that I had come. Because I had shown significant skill in appraising antique works and was a newly appointed official, the two arguing academicians invariably both turned to me. The Academy Chancellor coughed and spoke, “Suiyun, what is your view?”

    Walking to the table, I stood in front of the painting. Opening my mouth, I said, “First, looking at the characters on the painting. The upper section has the words: Brother Ke Ziyuan’s elegant pastime. The bottom section has the words: respectively manufactured the ninth day of the seventh month of the second year of Yuanyou, the 21st year of the sixty-year cycle. The four corners of the painting have signs pointing to the Green Hills Sage. On the top left has the zhuwen9 markings of the Ningquan Paint Engraving, the bottom left has the baiwen10 of the Linyuan Hall,11 the top right has the baiwen seal of an expositor of the Gezhang Pavilion,12 and the zhuwen seal of the Green Hills Sage. These four seals have all appeared on the other works by the Green Hills Sage. Academician Tian is amongst the best in identifying the provenance of seals, and is probably not wrong. From the contextual research, we can safely say that the Green Hills Sage was a famed scholar of the Jin Dynasty who was a zhengsipin 13 rated Expositor-in-waiting of the Gezhang Pavilion. After Western Jin was forced south by encroaching nomadic tribes, the Green Hills Sage was heartbroken and lived in seclusion at the Linyuan Pavilion in Sichuan. It is said that the sage was too poor to be able to rely on himself. Fortunately, he was able to receive financial assistance from the wealthy Sichuan merchant, Ke Ming, to survive through the years of warfare. If you look at the two seal markings from the Ke family, we can conclude that this painting was gifted to Ke Ming.”

    Taking a breath, I continued, “These seal markings all have historical antecedents. I have read the Green Hills Sage’s Sichuan Chronicles14. In the ninth volume, it states, ‘during the autumn equinox, Ziyuan15 organized a feast, and both host and guest enjoyed a wonderful time. As we bade our farewells, the Ke family asked for one of my unworthy works. To express my thanks, I painted the Riverside Painting. I have also researched the Ke family. Although the family has disappeared into oblivion, I have found mentions in the work of Tao Kai called the Shu Records16 written during the waning years of the Western Jin Dynasty. In the chapter on Shi Chong 17 states, ‘When Shi Chong was young, he was treated indifferently as laborer for the Ke family. When he later became wealthy, he conspired with eunuchs and slandered the Ke family as rebels, resulting in their complete extermination.’18 If you look at the bottom left, you can see that there is also Shi Chong’s Golden Valley Garden Treasure Depository seal. After Shi Chong and his family was also exterminated, most of his prized possessions ended up in the imperial court. On the middle left is the seal markings of the Prince of Changling.19 The Prince of Changling was a member of the imperial clan of the waning years of the Western Jin Dynasty and was much favored by Emperor Yuan of Jin.20 Emperor Yuan was the one who seized all of Shi Chong’s possessions. It is highly likely that this painting ended up in the hands of the Prince of Changling. If we consider all of these facts, especially with such a provenance, I believe that this painting is real.”

    The majority listening nodded their heads. Only Academician Yin was unable to accept these facts and said, “If everything you said is true, then how do you explain the painting style?”

    Smiling, I replied, “This is only my personal view. If there is something wrong, I hope that everyone can point it out. Before fleeing south, the style of the Green Hills Sage’s works was bright, cheerful, and intense. Therefore, he liked to paint green landscapes. But the years before he traveled south, his painting style slowly became increasingly tranquil. He used ink as the basis before using green color on top. It’s probably likely that he was already painting ink landscapes. During the years he spent in Sichuan, very little of the Green Hills Sage’s works have been handed down. It wasn’t until Eastern Jin was established did he focus on ink landscape paintings. But, at the beginning, he preferred to use dense ink to embellish and had a straight and rigid calligraphy style. From this we can see that his time spent in Sichuan was a period of transition for his painting style. This also explains why so few works exist from this time period. Immature works would frequently be destroyed by their creator. I have read of the Green Hills Sage’s penchant for doing so in the seventh volume of his Sichuan Chronicles.”

    Listening up to this point, everyone had accepted my judgment, the look in their eyes becoming fervently respectful. After all, someone of my wide knowledge was quite rare.

    After this incident, I was given additional work, most important of which was to enter the palace and go to the book repository to organize the official imperial documents. As we preparing to build the Palace of Sublime Culture, someone proposed that someone organize the histories of Southern Chu using the official imperial documents to be able to educate the younger generation of the imperial clansmen and aristocracy. Southern Chu had been founded for sixty years and experienced the reigns of two sovereigns, Zhao She, the founding Emperor Wu, and the current monarch, Zhao Sheng. Although I did not think there was much use, the rest of the Hanlin Academy all agreed and petitioned the King, delighting Zhao Sheng. Unfortunately, organizing the official imperial documents was a particularly troublesome task. Although I was a relatively new official, I was skilled. Academy Chancellor Xie Xian decided to give the responsibility to the Reader-in-waiting, Xia Song and assigned me to assist. Xia Song was already over sixty and was preparing to retire. As a result, I was the one actually with the responsibility, while Xia Song only worked for a few days before requesting a leave of absence and returning home to rest. The most troublesome aspect of his job was the need to enter the Palace Library and work in the book repository where all of the documents were stored. And, I could not enter freely and needed to be accompanied by the eunuchs assigned to these storehouses. As a result, I began to work less than a hundred zhang21 from the King. This was must be the true meaning of being very close and yet as far as ends of the earth.

    The eunuch supervising these storehouses was surnamed Wang. His hair was already white. To sit every day for twelve to fourteen hours was detrimental to his health. During the first day, I said, “Eunuch22 Wang, we will probably have to spend up to half a month here. You don’t have to be polite. Just find a low ranking eunuch to come help. If I need your assistance, I will come find you every few days.”23 Eunuch Wang was already getting up in years and had an idle position. Although the book repository were very close to the Imperial Library, the eunuchs of the Bureau of Ceremonies were all young and vigorous with the favor of the King. Eunuch Wang could not even get close to the King. As he was in no position to vie for the King’s favor, no one would bother to find trouble for him. So, he didn’t have to worry even if he wasn’t conscientious. Therefore, he dispatched a young eunuch, called Xiaoshunzi24, with less than a year’s experience to help me. This young eunuch’s intelligence and few years of schooling was very rare amongst eunuchs. Not everyone could have the education offered to those in the Bureau of Ceremonies.

    When I saw Xiaoshunzi, I froze. If I remembered correctly, this was the young boy I had met upon arriving in Jianye who was selling himself to bury his father. How did he now become a eunuch? As there was probably something sad, it was not appropriate for me to ask him. Since he didn’t recognize me, I pretended that he was a stranger. This young eunuch was not bad, not only ably organizing the four treasures of the study, but also able to quickly find the petition or imperial document that I needed. We worked together harmoniously. A job that should have taken twenty days would probably only take twelve to thirteen at the most.

    At noon on the third day, after lunch, as I was drinking light tea and preparing to take a brief respite, Eunuch Wang suddenly burst in assisted by two young eunuchs, yelling, “Xiaoshunzi, Xiaoshunzi, where did this young blasted servant go?” Curious, I looked at me, wondering what was going on.

    Seeing me, a smiling expression appeared on Eunuch Wang’s face, “zhuangyuan Jiang, you’re here too?”

    Rubbish, if I wasn’t here, where would I be? I wasn’t allowed to return home to take my afternoon nap. While I was thinking this, I said, “Gonggong, what’s happened? Has something happened to rile you up so?”

    Angrily, Eunuch Wang replied, “The little bastard Xiaoshunzi’s hands aren’t clean, he has stolen my beloved snuff bottle awarded this old servant25 by the previous emperor.”

    Opening his eyes wide, Xiaoshunzi kneeled on the ground, and said, “There is no such thing, this servant26 does not have the gall or the bravery to steal something bestowed by the emperor.” Having been castrated more than a year ago, before the age when children begin to physically mature, his voice was high-pitched. Now panicked, his voice became even more jarring.

    Clearly his throat, a young eunuch helping GonggongWang said, “How dare you talk back? Do you think we don’t know? You were originally a criminal found guilty of robbery. When Steward27 Wang lost something, I immediately thought of you. And as expected, when we searched your room, we found the snuff bottle.”

    His face green with fear, Xiaoshunzi prostrated himself and replied, “This servant didn’t do it, this servant didn’t do it. Someone is definitely trying to frame me.”

    Eunuch Wang furious replied, “Are you saying that I framed you or Xiaofuzi28 framed you?”

    Sweating with fear, Xiaoshunzi prostrated himself next to me, begging me, “Jiang Daren, you are someone educated, please help me explain to the Gonggong. These last several days, this servant has been helping by the daren’s side. How do I have the time to steal anything?”

    I was originally watching the scene unfold before me in high spirits, having already seen what was going on. I noticed that although Xiaofuzi was a good actor, I could see that his breathing was agitated and his heart pounding, I had already concluded that he was deliberately framing Xiaoshunzi. But Xiaoshunzi’s background was not clean, so I did not have any way of explaining the situation. I did not want to become involved in any palace disputes so I gave him a gave a brief and indifferent look and didn’t say anything. Xiaoshunzi quickly became agitated. Seeing that I didn’t say anything, Eunuch Wang ordered, “Have him bound and sent to discipline room. The sentence for the crime of stealing something in the Royal Palace is death. Have him beaten to death.”

    Suddenly remembering the scene that I witnessed where Xiaoshunzi had tried to sell himself to bury his father, my heart softened. Since this wasn’t something major and he was innocent, I quickly thought up a plan. I indifferently said, “Eunuch Wang, seeing this servant cry so hard, maybe he is innocent?”

    Hesitating somewhat, Eunuch Wang replied, “We did find the snuff bottle hidden in his room.”

    With a smile, I replied, “He has been following me the last few days. When was the Gonggong’s snuff bottle lost?”

    Thinking, Eunuch Wang said, “I used it last night. It disappeared around noon.”

    Deliberately furrowing my brows, I replied, “This is definitely difficult to determine. How about this? I29 am well versed in the Book of Changes, and am able to determine a man’s fate and identify injustices. Please allow me to perform a divination.”

    As a eunuch who has lived a life filled with bumps, Eunuch Wang was quite superstitious. His eyes lighting up, he said, “Daren can divine fate? Excellent! Please help this old servant perform the calculations.”

    Shaking my hand, I replied, “Such a small divination does not require calculations. How about this, since we are trying to detect injustice. Those suffering injustice have an upright state of mind. I have a method. Have the accused Xiaoshunzi and the accuser Xiaofuzi each take this medicinal pellet that I have concocted. After I’ve beseeched the Heavens, if they are innocent, then the will be unharmed. If they are guilty, then they will suffer stomach pain.” As I finished speaking, I retrieved a small jade bottle from within my robes. Pouring out two small pellets, I handed them to the two young eunuchs.

    Smiling, Eunuch Wang said, “Excellent, let this old servant witness the abilities of the zhuangyuan. You two, quickly swallow the pellet.”

    Without any hesitation, Xiaoshunzi swallowed the pellet. Xiaofuzi hesitated briefly before pretending to swallow the pellet. Instead, using a trick, he hid the pellet in his sleeve. Such good ability, I thought with a sigh. Afterwards, I pretended to beseech the Heavens. After about the time it takes for an incense to burn,30 Xiaoshunzi’s face swiftly turned white. Gasping in pain, he fell to the ground clutching his stomach. Nothing happened to Xiaofuzi. Gleefully, he said, “As expected, you were the thief. The lord zhuangyuan’s prayers have come true.”

    Hesitating, Eunuch Wang looked at me. Just as he was about to give the order, I smiled faintly and said, “Although I do have some ability, I have no way of to request the divine to punish you. I concocted this pellet to cleanse one’s stomach. Yesterday, I had heard that due to Eunuch Wang’s age, he suffers from indigestion. This kind of medicine is perfect for the elderly to use with lotus seed soup. If a young man with vigorous blood flow were to take this medicine, he would suffer from acute stomach pains. Xiaofuzi, where did you hide your pellet?”

    Frightened, Xiaofuzi backed away, only to see Eunuch Wang step in front of him with a single, big stride. Eunuch Wang caught hold of Xiaofuzi’s wrist and twisted. In pain, Xiaofuzi could do nothing as Eunuch Wang easily finding the pellet in Xiaofuzi’s sleeve. After Eunuch Wang released his grip, Xiaofuzi fell to the floor, frightened out of his wits. Indifferently, Eunuch Wang said, “Xiaoshunzi, quickly go to my room. There is a bowl of lotus seed soup on the table being cooled.”

    Nodding his head, Xiaoshunzi rushed out. After a while, he returned, a look of relaxation on his features. Smiling so that he was almost squinting, Eunuch Wang said, “Thank you, my lord zhuangyuan for thinking of this old servant.” Saying at the same time as he bade his farewell, he quickly took the bottle of medicine from my hands and departed. Not long afterwards, two middle-aged eunuchs came and took Xiaofuzi away.

    Thankful, Xiaoshunzi prostrated himself before me, saying, “Benefactor has now saved me twice. Even if Xiaoshunzi were to work tirelessly, there is no way that I can repay this kindness.”

    My eyes widening, it took some time before I could reply, “You still remember me?”

    Blushing, Xiaoshunzi replied, “Actually, this servant immediately recognized my lord zhuangyuan. I would forever remember the time daren so generously helped me.”

    A bit curious, I asked, “Then why didn’t you say so earlier?”

    He hesitated for a long time before replying, “This servant … this servant was lying when I earlier tried to sell myself in order to bury my father.”

    As my eyes widened, Xiaoshunzi continued, “This servant originally hailed from a scholarly family. When my father died, my uncle stole the inheritance and secretly sold me into theatrical troupe. This servant thus began to wander all over the world. As I could not take the troupe’s insults and fled with a few brothers. Without any livelihood, we could only beg, steal, and cheat. Last time meeting daren, I was working with an old beggar. He played my father, while I played the filial son. Daren generously helped. Two of our co-conspirators, blinded by greed, secretly followed daren …”

    Reaching this point, Xiaoshunzi became even more embarrassed. I instantly realized who had knocked me unconscious. Still a bit confused, I asked, “You had so much money, enough to live. How did you … how did you …” I couldn’t finish the question.

    Smiling, Xiaoshunzi replied, “It may have been retribution. We were threatened by others to be bandits and were captured by government soldiers. As we had tried to rob an imperial clansman and had committed numerous offenses, we were sentenced to death. As we were still young, the judge on the case gave us the chance of entering the palace as a slave. My comrades were unyielding and were sent to the execution grounds. I was afraid, and thus entered the palace.”

    Sighing, I said, “You weren’t afraid, you were brave. Although life is filled with bitterness, we still persistently try to stay alive. For you to live and to make light when speaking on this subject; to me that is brave. Those who take death lightly, are only running away from their responsibilities.”

    Suddenly, Xiaoshunzi kneeled again, tightly clutching my legs. I was in so much pain that I peed myself.

    Afterwards, this young man did his utmost to attend to me. I later learned that Eunuch Wang was a powerful martial artist and had taken Xiaoshunzi under his tutelage. Prompted by a sudden impulse and admiring his fortitude, I smuggled in a handwritten copy of the Sunflower Manual. Xiaoshunzi did not say anything, but in a serious manner, accepted my gift.

    Half a month later, I left the palace carrying the organized official imperial documents. More importantly, I gained a friend who would come visit me in the dead of night.

    1. 飞黄腾达, feihuangtengda – idiom, lit. the divine stead Feihuang gallops; to achieve meteoric success in one's career
    2. 庶吉士, shujishi – a position within the Hanlin Academy that does not necessarily have an official rank rating and is assigned to help monitor one of the six ministries of Chinese government; it typically is granted to those placed highly in the imperial examinations
    3. 检讨, jiantao – examining editor
    4. 正七品, zheng qipin – upper seventh ranked
    5. 侍讲学士, shijiang xueshi – expositor-in-waiting
    6. 侍读学士, shidu xueshi – reader-in-waiting
    7. 掌院学士, zhangyuan xueshi – the official who heads the Hanlin Academy
    8. 青山居士临江图, qingshan jushi linjiang tu – a 居士 is a Buddhist layman who has not become a monk
    9. 朱文, zhuwen – a seal that uses red characters
    10. 白文, baiwen – a seal that uses white characters
    11. 临渊堂, linyuan tang – lit. Facing Profound Hall
    12. 奎章阁, gezhang ge – was historically the royal academy of the Yuan Dynasty and of the Korean Joseon Dynasty; being portrayed in the story as also the royal academy of the Jin Dynasty
    13. 正四品, zheng sipin – upper fourth-ranked
    14. 蜀中纪事, shuzhong jishi – lit. Shuzhong Chronicles; Shuzhong refers to Sichuan
    15. Refers to Ke Ming (柯明), styled Ziyuan (子远)
    16. 蜀志, shuzhi – lit. Shu Records; refers to Sichuan
    17. 石崇, Shi Chong – a Jin Dynasty official; the sixth son of Western Jin’s Minister of the Masses, Shi Bao
    18. 灭九族, mie jiuzu – the nine familial exterminations refers to a punishment where the crimes of the individual becomes, by association, the crimes of the family, resulting in the complete execution of the criminal themselves; the criminal’s living parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings and siblings-in-law, uncles and aunts and their spouses, spouse, and spouse’s parents
    19. 长陵王, changling wang – lit. Prince of Changling
    20. 晋元帝, jin yuandi – Emperor Yuan of Jin, Sima Rui was the last Emperor of Western Jin and the first Emperor of Eastern Jin; in the face of encroaching nomadic tribes in the north, he was forced to move his court south of the Huai River
    21. 丈, zhang – about ten Chinese feet (3.3 meters)
    22. 公公, gonggong – a respectful way of calling eunuchs
    23. 隔三差五, gesanchawu – idiom, every few days
    24. 小顺子, xiaoshunzi – lit. little follower
    25. 老奴, laonu – lit. this old servant; used by elderly slaves, servants, and eunuchs to refer to themselves
    26. 奴才, nucai – lit. this servant; used by slaves, servants, and eunuchs to refer to themselves; also is used by their owners
    27. 管事, guanshi – steward; often used to refer to a supervisory eunuch; in this case Eunuch Wang is a supervisor of the book storehouses
    28. 小福子, xiaofuzi – lit. little fortune
    29. 下官, xiaguan – lit. this lower-ranking official; used by officials as a deferential way of referring to themselves when talking with higher-ranking officials; while eunuch ranks are not rated according to the system, this term was used to be polite
    30. A stick of incense took about 10-15 minutes to burn; faster during the winter, slower during the summer
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • I am here , HI :)
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 5 – Battle over the Heir Apparent

    In the third month of the nineteenth year of Xiande, the seventh year of the sixty-year cycle, Zhao Sheng passed and was posthumously honored as King Ling of Chu.1 Crown Prince Zhao Jia ascends to the throne, decreeing that the era name remain Xiande and raising Princess Changle as his Queen. Great Yong dispatched an envoy to extend their congratulations, gifting a thousand good horses, and countless gold and silk.

    With the matter of succession determined, the entire court began to consider who would become the heir apparent. The Minister Who Remonstrates and Advises,2 Luo Wenshu, advised the King’s third son, Zhao Long, be named as heir apparent.

    The former King had named Princess Changle as the Crown Princess. As the Crown Princess was childless, she dispatched the ladies who were part of her dowry to attend to the Crown Prince. The Crown Prince loved the beauties of Yong and favored them greatly, siring three sons and four daughters. Anxious, King Ling named the daughter of Prime Minister Shang Weijun as the Crown Prince’s second wife. After fourteen months, she gives birth to Zhao Long. After Zhao Jia ascends to the throne, Lady Shang is named as Noble Consort.3 Lady Shang was from a prestigious family, and was a woman of virtue. Government officials, according to the traditions of the time (Lady Shang’s social status reflected upon her son),4 petitioned for her son to be named heir apparent.

    When the Queen heard this, she furiously said, “Although we5 have no son, how do you know that we will never have any? And even if we have none, I have brought numerous ladies as part of my dowry, all daughters of prestigious families in Yong, who have given birth to two sons. Their social status is equal to that of Lady Shang. If an heir apparent is named, it must be the eldest son.”

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of King Yang of Chu6
    In the nineteenth year of Xiande, the King passed away. As this was the King, this was a significant event. Prior to the King’s death, we members of the Hanlin Academy had completed the bibliography detailing all of the works to be collected in the Palace of Sublime Culture and submitted for His Majesty’s perusal. While he was not able to witness the completion of the palace, the King should have died without any regrets.

    Without any controversy, Crown Prince Zhao Jia ascended to the throne, followed by setting a new era name and to issue a nationwide amnesty. The Hanlin Academy became awfully7 busy. There were also some important matters that we lowly ranked officials could not freely discuss, but still worried about; matters such as the appointing the Queen and heir apparent. There was no dissension about the choice for the Queen. Although Princess Changle had long lived in the secondary royal residence on the outskirts of the city to heal and had not conscientiously performed her duties, but as Southern Chu was a vassal of Great Yong and Princess Changle was the Crown Princess, she ultimately successfully took control of the harem. But the matter of appointing the heir apparent was a thorny issue. Princess Changle had no son. Although she was only nineteen years old, she had long been ill after suffering the miscarriage. Many were skeptical that she would be able to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Without an heir apparent, the state would not be peaceful. Therefore, the officials all wished that a crown prince be named. Zhao Jia had four sons and seven daughters. As Princess Changle had dispatched the court ladies from her dowry to attend to the Crown Prince Zhao Jia, most of his children were born of ladies from Yong. This raised the disapproval of the influential and powerful figures within the royal court. Thankfully, two years, the former King had married the Prime Minister’s daughter, Shang Zhilan, to the Crown Prince as his second wife. Although Zhao Jia especially favored the ladies of Yong, Consort Shang still became pregnant and gave birth to third son, Zhao Long. In the eyes of the ranking court officials, if it was a child of Princess Changle, then the child was naturally worthy of respect and honor, but the children of the ladies from Yong were not sufficiently pure. Therefore, they all requested that Zhao Long be named heir apparent.

    Although King Zhao Jia was extremely lecherous, he was still an intelligent individual. He naturally understood that the ranking officials were correct on this matter. Though he did not particularly like Lady Shang, he still named her a Noble Consort. He also agreed to name Zhao Long as heir apparent. But Princess Changle became furious, quarreling with the King. She returned alone back to the secondary royal residence on the outskirts of the capital. This put the King in a tough spot.8 Although he and Princess Changle were more frequently separated than together, but the princess was virtuous, allowing the court ladies from her dowry to attend to him. In addition, Princess Changle would frequently even select additional beauties to enter the harem. Therefore, he was extremely respectful, and perhaps even a bit fearful, towards her. In addition, that the endorsements towards Lady Shang being predicated upon her status as a native-born daughter could not brought to the surface. With no options, Zhao Jia temporarily halted plans to name an heir apparent. He hinted to the court officials that unless they were able to convince the Queen, an heir apparent could not be named.

    This was extremely difficult for the court officials to do. After being married to Southern Chu, Princess Changle had spent significant time at the secondary royal residence on the outskirts of the capital. Even if the court officials had the will to curry favor with her, there was no way to do so. As for the court ladies close to the Princess, almost all of them were now concubines much favored by the King. As their sons had no chance to become the heir apparent, they already resented the meddling of the court officials and were unlikely to make any attempt to convince the Princess. Ultimately, everyone’s eyes fell on one person – Liang Wan.

    Liang Wan was not only a close friend of the Princess, but also the adopted daughter of the former King. As she was unable to find a worthy husband, she maintained good relations with all of the outstanding civil and military talents in Southern Chu. Reasonably speaking, she was the perfect lobbyist, but she refused. As a result, the usually tranquil Bright Moon Pavilion saw heavy traffic9 come to and fro.

    Under these circumstances, I once again came to the Bright Moon Pavilion. I originally did not want to come, but I had received an invitation from Liang Wan. Though I had no intentions towards her, delusional imaginations were hard to avoid. Furthermore, to directly reject her invitation would be discourteous.

    I entered the pavilion and skirted the green pond. Pear trees were planted in front of the building. As it was the fourth month, the pear trees had blossomed. The petals were like the clouds and snow. Breathing in deeply, one could sense a delicate fragrance that gladdened the heart and refreshed the mind.10 Towards the female attendant guiding me, I asked, “Young lady, for what purpose has Lady Liang requested my presence?”

    The attendant wittily replied, “You will have to ask my Lady. I am only a lowly serving girl and wouldn’t know. This servant dare not accept daren’s courtesy.”

    I solemnly replied, “It is commonly said that the prime minister’s servants have a rank equal to that of a qipin11 rated official. Lady Liang is the former King’s adopted daughter and is a good friend of the Queen. Her power and influence probably even surpasses that of the Prime Minister. If we speak thusly, then your rank is at least of liupin12. This lowly official’s13 rank is merely rated at cong liupin,14 thus I have to be courteous.”

    Staring blankly for a moment, the female attendant giggled. In a low voice, she said, “This servant has heard my lady tell the Prime Minister that the only person who can convince the Queen is daren.”

    I stared blankly. When did I, a mere Hanlin Academy Senior Compiler, become able to convince a stately princess of Great Yong, the current Queen of Southern Chu? Half-believing the attendant’s words, I entered the building. I immediately caught sight of the presence of the Prime Minister and the Hanlin Academy Chancellor in the seats of honor, accompanied on the side by Liang Wan. I almost turned and ran, but realized that was not possible. Respectfully, I performed a salute and said, “This lowly official greets the Prime Minister and the Academy Chancellor.”

    Prime Minister Shang Weijun nodded his head and said, “Good, good. I have heard Xie daren say that you are hardworking and will soon be promote, definitely a pillar of the state. Lady Liang, the person you asked for has come. Lady has said before that Academician Jiang can convince the Queen. How is this possible?”

    I immediately turned to regard Liang Wan. We had no grudges past or present. Why would she conspire to entrap me? Under the gaze of her three guests, Liang Wan took a sip of a cup of fragrant tea before replying, “Speaking from the heart, your servant15 hails from Great Yong. Everyone understands the real reason behind all the discussion regarding naming an heir apparent. How can the Queen not understand? She has angrily left the royal palace and is now currently full of grievances. This servant has been favored by the Princess and is treated as a sister by her. If I were to convince her to accept the wishes of the King and the officials, would that not chill her heart? When the time comes, even if the Princess were to yield ground, there is no way that she would agree. Therefore, I, Liang Wan, definitely cannot go to convince her. But this servant has received the former King’s favor and am extremely grateful. I cannot, in good conscience, allow him to be unable to rest peacefully in the beyond. I must, therefore, intercede with all of my ability. Thinking matters over, I remembered that ever since the Princess arrived in Southern Chu, she has loved poetic verse. She would read them daily without rest. She regrets being unable to meet the poetic masters of the past as they have long since passed. But today, there is a comparable master of the verse in Southern Chu’s zhuangyuan, Jiang Zhe. Not only are Jiang Zhe’s poems heartrendingly beautiful, but both she and he and are in Southern Chu. She constantly wishes to meet him, but cannot due to the necessary separation between sovereign and vassal, and separation of the genders. She considers this to be one of her life’s regrets. This servant believes that if Jiang Zhe is granted an audience with the Queen to fulfill her long-cherished wish, and Jiang Zhe lobbies the Queen, she may be moved to agree.”

    I almost fainted. Am I an idiot? I am but a lowly zhuangyuan. In the eyes of the Queen, I am but a lowly courtier. How can I influence her? I urgently turned to look at the Prime Minister, hoping that he would stop this nonsensical thinking. But my hopes were dashed. The old bastard, Shang Weijun, had a look of deep contemplation on his features, while the Academy Chancellor nodded his head. As a result, I did not even have the chance to refuse before I was hauled aboard the carriage by Liang Wan to travel to the secondary royal residence.

    On the way, I turned to face Liang Wan and asked, “Lady Liang, has this lowly official ever offended you?”
    With a smile on her face, Liang Wan shook her head and replied, “Never.”

    “Then has this lowly official ever offended Great Yong?”

    With a look of disdain in her eyes, Liang Wan replied, “Never.”

    Suddenly I angrily said, “Since I am not a foe who has murdered your father nor a frivolous lover, why are you trying to cause my death?”16

    Liang Wan became alarmed before revealing a flower-like smile and said, “My lord zhuangyuan has become angry.”

    My serenity restored, I coldly continued, “Being unable to complete the task is a small matter; I fear that I will implicate Lady Liang.” Humph, if I was going to die, I am going to pull you down with me.

    Her eyebrows twitching, Liang Wan sweetly replied, “My lord zhuangyuan has misunderstood this servant. This servant’s plan will succeed.”

    I didn’t say anything further to her. I felt that there was no need to continue contesting what was a done deal. The previous angry reaction was merely mimicking the attitude of an ordinary person. In any case, even if I failed my mission, no one could accuse me of dereliction of duty. At most, I would be promoted at a slower pace. Seeing that I did not speak further, Liang Wan became more respectful. Her reaction made me vigilant. Although I had not seen her in several years, I was well aware of her comings and goings. From her behavior, it was highly likely that she was a spy from Great Yong. Otherwise, how could she not have found a husband in the last three years? Seeing her able to easily use money and power17 to her advantage, like a fish in water,18 she definitely was not an ordinary woman. Speaking ill, Liang Wan’s behavior was similar to that of a courtesan, the only differences being her customers were all ranking officials or gifted scholars, she had firm backing, and she didn’t sell her body.

    Liang Wan did not know that I was silently cursing her and began to chat with me. After more than four hours, the carriage finally arrived at Lake Mochou’s secondary royal residence. We successfully entered the residence after being searched by the royal guards. Without reporting ahead, Liang Wan pulled me along as she walked inside. The maids on either side probably knew that Liang Wan could not be provoked. Other than hurriedly entering to report to the Princess, allowed us to continue unimpeded.

    Entering the chambers, I saw Princess Changle dressed in a purple gown. She was reclined on a couch, reading a book. Seeing Liang Wan, she raised her head and said, “Older sister Wan’er19 has come.” Suddenly seeing me, her face blushed furiously and said, “Who dares enter our resting chambers without permission?”

    Releasing my arm, Liang Wan stepped forward and replied, “Princess, this servant has brought the one you wish to meet the most here. Why are you upset?”

    Staring blankly, Princess Changle thought of a person and asked in a surprised manner, “Is it Jiang Zhe, Jiang Suiyun?”

    Turning her head, Liang Wan said, “Jiang Zhe, quickly come and properly greet the Princess.”

    I had frozen in place when I entered the chambers. I had last seen Princess Changle during her wedding. She was dressed in all red, in the style of a princess of Great Yong. Although she was only sixteen, she seemed poised and luxurious. Today, she was wearing unadorned clothes and did not have any jewelry or makeup on. She looked delicate and elegant, lovely beyond description. Compared to the day of her wedding, having experienced numerous hardships, she had acquired a mature charm. My heart beat rapidly. I did not know why, but suddenly I had a wicked idea. If I were able to hug her, how wonderful would that be?

    Just as I was allowing my imagination to run wild, Liang Wan’s words jolted me out of my reverie and reminded me. I hurriedly stepped forward and greeted the Queen, “This vassal, Hanlin Academy Senior Compiler, Jiang Zhe, greets Your Majesty. Long live the Queen!”20

    Princess Changle revealed a look filled with both worry and joy. It was some time before she replied, “Please rise, Jiang daren. We like Jiang daren’s verses very much. Since we are meeting today, we would like your help. We hope that this will not be refused.”

    I replied tranquilly, “I dare not refuse.”

    Princess Changle noticed my cold indifference. Looking at me faintly, she continued, “These are the verses that we have copied and recited on a daily basis. Does Jiang daren know which verse we like the most?” As she spoke, she handed a book to Liang Wan who passed it to me.

    I took a look after accepting the book. It was definitely a handwritten copy of verses, each of the small characters extremely beautiful and graceful. Opening to the first page was the poem, the Patterned Zither.21
    “Mere chance that the patterned lute has fifty strings.
    String and fret, one by one, recall the blossoming years.
    Zhuangzi dreams at sunrise that a butterfly lost its way,
    Wangdi bequeathing his spring passion to the nightjar.
    The moon is full on the vast sea, a tear on the pearl.
    On Blue Mountain the sun warms, a smoke issues from the jade.
    Did it wait this mood, to mature with hindsight?
    In a trance from the beginning, then as now.”
    These verses that I recited was from a poem that I written at the age of fifteen upon the passing of my father. At the time, my father was dying. He gazed unceasingly at a painting of my mother, sometimes muttering, sometimes laughing lightly, but mostly there was faint sadness. Faint, because he was about to see my mother. As a result, there was happiness in his sorrow. For this reason, I did not force my father to drink the bitter medicine. Since there no way to prevent my father from dying, there was no point for me to force him to continue to endure seemingly endless suffering. I remember one night, kneeling before my father’s deathbed, promising that I would be able to take care of myself. With a gratified look, my father stopped breathing. The expression on his face was peaceful. I could help but begin to cry heavily. It wasn’t until today that I finally realized how painful it was to lose my father.

    Seeing my tears, Princess Changle could not sit still. Raising her head, she gave Liang Wan a look. Acknowledging the look, Liang Wan turned to me and offered a handkerchief.

    Wiping away the tears, I smiled faintly and spoke, “I have ridiculed myself before Your Majesty. This poem was written by this vassal when my father passed away. In life, my parents were extremely affectionate. When my mother passed, my father found it difficult to accept. On his deathbed, his mood became calm, for he knew that he was going to see my mother. I did not realize that the Princess would have a copy here.”

    Softly, Princess Changle replied, “When we celebrated reaching adulthood, someone brought this poem to us from Southern Chu. At the time, we did not know who Jiang Zhe was. When we later came to Southern Chu, I heard and liked the Recollections Under the Moon very much. From the Crown Prince, I learned that it was a masterpiece by the zhuangyuan, Jiang Zhe. From that point on, we have had older sister Wan’er to help me collect zhuangyuan’s poems. Over these years living deep within the royal palace, I have read zhuangyuan’s poems to relieve my melancholy.

    Kneeling, I said, “For this vassal’s poems to receive Your Majesty’s appreciation is this vassal’s fortune.”

    Seeing that I had calmed down, she asked, “We like this poem, the Patterned Zither, very much. But we do not understand the verse: ‘on Blue Mountain the sun warms, a smoke issues from the jade.’ Do jade from the blue mountain emit smoke when exposed to sunlight?”

    With a smile on my face, I replied, “This verse originates in a saying by the late Tang Dynasty poet, Sikong Tu, who said, “Dai Shulun once said that the scene presented by a poet is like the smoke which issues from fine jade when the sun is warm on Blue Mountain; it can be seen from a distance but not from up close.”

    In a flash, Princess Changle understood, replying “So that is why. We understand. We wonder if the zhuangyuan has any new poetry to share?”

    After thinking it over, I replied, “This vassal has been busy in recent days with official business and have not composed any worthy verses. If Your Majesty does not mind, please allow this vassal to record a verse that I playfully composed.”

    Extremely happy, Princess Changle called for an attendant to grind the inkstick against an inkstone. On a nearby table, I used the four treasures of the study to write out the topic of the poem: ‘Moving in the spring to Willow Manor to listen to the warblers.’ I continued by writing down the poem verse by verse:
    ‘The return of spring brings heaven harmony between rain and smoke,
    Countless strips drag through the ground.
    Several days under shady trees to restore one’s delicate color,
    For a time, a yellow bird occupies a tall tree branch.
    Flying to come along the journey through the clear skies,
    Hearing and doubting the news of the red snow song.
    Rising in spirals, the wind blows open the jade curtains,
    Hand in hand the golden shuttles pass on the branches.
    From morning, the sounds of sunset seem opportune,
    From the many northern hangings and southern shadows.
    A few strands vaguely bewilder the Han gardens,
    One sound as if to recollect Qin beauty.
    But to hold appeal and leisurely listen to each other,
    Not allowing rough unrestrained to cross on horseback.
    Pampered and smooth like pearls, born with a base tongue,
    Soft constantly as thread bound eyebrow nest.
    Under the concentrated lights one quickly sees the truth of receiving life,
    The talk of the young chick is overwhelmed as if facing death.
    To consider shadows but to suspect the intermittent sounds of the voice,
    To hear sounds and yet to recognize the whirling shadows.
    By what means are we to entertain the appearance of a general today,
    To fall down before the greatest respect to forward gold flat baskets.’22
    Walking forward, Princess Changle recited the verses in a low voice. After some time, she said, “The gifted scholars of Southern Chu are really extraordinary. We have read it and the articulation is excellent.”

    Seeing that Princess Changle was tired, I replied, bidding my farewell, “The Queen must be tired. This vassal dares not stay and wishes to bid my farewell. May the Queen please take care of yourself.”

    Smiling lightly, Princess Changle replied, “Thank you. Liang Wan, please escort the daren out.”

    Answering in the affirmative, Liang Wan came over and led me out. After we had gone far, she suddenly stopped, coldly asking, “Jiang daren, did you forget something?”

    Freezing momentarily, I suddenly remembered that I was to lobby the Queen over the issue of the heir apparent. Thinking it over, I indifferently replied, “Why has Lady Liang spoken in such a manner? Whether I lobbied or not is of no importance.”

    Angrily, she replied, “What? Do you vassals of Southern Chu think the Princess can be bullied?”

    Seeing through the bewilderment in her eyes, but made no effort to conceal anything and replied, “Surely Lady Liang must understand. The issue over naming an heir apparent has already been decided. The Queen understand this fact. To so readily agree would be to harm the prestige of Great Yong.”

    Her complexion heavy, she asked, “What are you bullshitting about?”

    Thinking it over, rather than allowing her to think that I was easily manipulated, it was better for her to realize that I was difficult to deal with, forcing her to remain at a respectful distance23 and preventing her from harming me in the future. Therefore, using a barely discernable voice, I replied, “For the Princess of Great Yong to be wed to Southern Chu was originally not something she did willingly. Therefore, the Queen cares little about winning the favor of the King. The Yong Emperor sent so many beautiful women as part of the dowry for the sole purpose of confusing the King and prevent the Queen from having to deal with a husband she does not like. As for Lady Liang, able to easily employ money and power to further your goals, are the perfect person to command Great Yong’s spies in Southern Chu. My lady is in a unique and subtle position, and are able to act with impunity. If the Princess were to handle this matter, it would be difficult for her to prevent others from finding out. To Great Yong, the Princess has already fulfilled her duties by being wed to Southern Chu.”

    Although Liang Wan made an effort to remain cool at any cost, her face paled and her eyes emitted a cold light.

    Hurriedly, I continued, “This lowly official is no more than a member of the Hanlin Academy. I have never shown and am disinclined to show an interest in these matters of state. But for my lady to involve me is not an intelligent decision. If something were to happen to this lowly official, it would be hard to prevent people from harboring suspicions regarding my lady’s motives.”

    Freezing momentarily, her face gradually regained its color, sweetly saying, “The Queen loves daren’s poems. From now on, once in a while, this servant15 will send someone to daren’s home to fetch your latest works. Surely, daren would be unlikely to refuse.”

    Calmly, I replied, “This lowly official comes from a poor background and do not have an official residence. I merely rent a house near the Hanlin Academy. Under ordinary circumstances, if my lady were to send someone to my home, they would be unable to find this lowly official. If my lady does not mind, this lowly official would be willing to send my new verses to the Bright Moon Pavilion to pass along to the Queen.”

    Liang Wan regarded me with an admiringly look before she said, “Okay. This servant still has to return to lobby the Queen. The carriage has been prepared. They will take daren to the Prime Minister’s residence to report on the mission.”

    I respectfully thanked her before boarding the carriage and departing.

    Late at night, I returned without incident to the city. Arriving at the Prime Minister’s residence, I told the extremely worried Shang Weijun the truth about what had transpired, “This lowly official was granted an audience with the Queen. Her Majesty does indeed like this lowly official’s poetry very much, asking many questions regarding poetic verse. This lowly official’s tongue is clumsy and did not know how to lobby the Queen. The Queen later became tired and this lowly official could only depart. Afterwards, Lady Liang told this lowly official that she knew that I could not say anything. Her Majesty wished for this lowly official to alleviate the Queen’s melancholy in order. The Queen is highly principled and long ago understood that only one person can be named the heir apparent. Annoyed, Her Majesty could not easily change her mind. Taking advantage of her cheerful mood, Lady Liang should be able to convince Her Majesty to change her mind. But Lady Liang also said that the King must personally go to bring the Queen in order for Her Majesty to be able to back off.”

    Filled with happiness, Shang Weijun replied, “Good, good. Academician Jiang is definitely a pillar of the state. I have already discussed matters with Academy Chancellor Xie. You have performed meritorious deeds in the establishment of the Palace of Sublime Culture. In a few days, you will be rewarded. Alright, go home and rest.”

    Fatigued, I returned home. Seeing that a single light, I knew immediately that Xiaoshunzi had come to see me. Lazily, I entered my bedroom and collapsed onto the bed, asking him, “How do you have free time today? If I remember correctly, you shouldn’t be free for another two days.”

    Xiaoshunzi smiled lightly and walked over. Pulling me up, he helped me undress and said, “I was originally supposed to be on duty today, but I overheard Prime Minister Shang tell the King that you had gone to the royal residence on the outskirts of the city, so I changed shifts with someone else. You must be tired from the trip. When I saw you enter the Prime Minister’s residence, I knew there was no danger, so I came over to prepare the bath. Once you have bathed, the midnight snack should be ready.”

    With my eyes half closed, he dragged me to the kitchen. Inside was a barrel bathtub seventy percent filled with water. On the stove was a snack being heated. In a low voice, I asked, “Did you follow me into the royal residence?”

    Helping me into the barrel, replied lightly, “My martial arts aren’t that good. The royal residence and the Prime Minister’s residence both have tight security.”

    Yawning, I replied, “Under my pillow there is a sword manual. I don’t know if it is useful, you should go take a look.”

    Indifferently, Xiaoshunzi replied, “I have already taken a look. Although the sword techniques aren’t bad, they are useless for me as they require rigid, yang-principled inner qi. As a eunuch, my inner qi is yin-principled.”

    Almost asleep, I replied, somewhat in a daze, “I understand. I will go back and search. The more powerful your martial arts, the safer I become.”

    Although Xiaoshunzi said something in response, I did not hear anything.

    Half a month later, the Queen returned to the main royal palace inside Jianye, and the King held the ceremony naming the heir apparent. The hundreds of officials all were rewarded. I was promoted to become a Reader-in-waiting rated as a cong wupin24.

    1. 楚灵王, chu lingwang – King Ling of Chu; 灵, ling means spirited; thus the Spirited King of Chu
    2. 谏议大夫, jianyi dafu – the Minister Who Remonstrates and Advises is an official who served as an imperial censor with the duty of protesting wrongful actions of the government and of the sovereigns
    3. 贵妃, guifei – the third highest rank in the harem
    4. 子以母贵, ziyimugui – lit. son’s position is based off his mother’s social status
    5. 哀家, aijia – royal we used by women
    6. 楚炀王, chu yangwang – King Yang of Chu; 炀, yang means molten and has a negative connotation
    7. 不亦乐乎, buyilehu – idiom, a quote from Confucius, lit. isn’t that a joy; extremely, awful in a sarcastic manner
    8. 焦头烂额, jiaotoulan’e – idiom, lit. badly burned about the head (from trying to put out a fire); fig. hard-pressed, under pressure
    9. 车水马龙, cheshuimalong – idiom, lit. endless stream of horses and carriages; heavy traffic
    10. 沁人心脾, qinrenxinpi – idiom, lit. to penetrate deeply into the heart; to gladden the heart, to refresh the mind
    11. 七品, qipin – seventh-ranked
    12. 六品, liupin – sixth-ranked
    13. 下官, xiaguan – lit. this lower-ranked official; used by officials as a deferential way of referring to themselves when talking with higher-ranking officials
    14. 从六品, cong liupin – lower sixth-ranked
    15. 妾身, qieshen – lit. your servant (deprecatory self-reference for women)
    16. Jiang Zhe is basically saying that since we have no grudges or grievances, why are you trying to harm me?
    17. 长袖善舞, changxiushanwu – idiom, lit. long sleeves help one dance beautifully; money and power will help you in any occupation
    18. 如鱼得水, ruyudeshui – idiom, lit. like a fish back in water; glad to be back in one’s proper surroundings
    19. 婉儿, wan’er – an affectionate way of calling Liang Wan by her given name
    20. 王后千岁千千岁, wanghou qiansui qianqiansui – lit. long live the Queen; may the Queen live a thousand years
    21. 锦瑟, jinse – this is a poem by the late Tang Dynasty poet, Li Shangyin. This poem was originally untitled, but ultimately took its title from the first two characters of the poem; the 瑟 (se) is a type of zither with 25-50 strings
    22. This topic and poem comes from an early Qing Dynasty book entitled 平山冷燕, pingshanlengyan
    23. 敬而远之, jing’eryuanzhi – idiom, lit. to show respect from a distance; to remain at a respectful distance
    24. 从五品, congwupin – lower fifth-ranked
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 6 - Yong Envoy, the Prince of Qi

    During the sixteen year of Xiande, the fourth year of the sixty year cycle, Prince De, Zhao Jue, was given a secret edict to travel to Hengjiang and prepare to raid Moling.  Before he could complete his mission, the secret was discovered by Great Yong.  A Yong envoy suddenly arrived in Southern Chu with the offer of the Princess Changle for a marriage alliance.  Confused, King Ling of Chu accepted and ordered a cessation of hostilities.

    On his deathbed, Zhao Sheng called the Crown Prince to his bedside and gave order, "Our eternal regret is failing to protect our ancestor's foundation and becoming a vassal of Yong.  If you have even a little bit of filial piety, you will do your utmost to restore our empire."  The Crown Prince swore to the heavens.  King Ling passed away.

    In the fifth month of the nineteenth year of Xiande, the seventh year of the sixty year cycle, the Prince of Qi arrived in Southern Chu to pay his respects and mourn the passing of King Ling.  Secretly meeting with the King, the Prince of Qi offered heavy inducements and expressed an interest in attacking the Kingdom of Shu, misleading the King.  The Yong envoy later colluded with the Southern Chu court officials and proceeded to raise the matter of invading Shu.  Southern Chu was later destroyed due to this mistake, although none understood the coming disaster, none understood the stakes involved. Later eunuchs heard the King sobbing speak to the Queen, "If we are to restore our empire, we would name thee Empress and would be willing to acknowledge Great Yong as our parent.  Today, the Prince of Qi has promised me the title of emperor, I hope that you would inform your father that Southern Chu will never turn our back upon Yong."  This matter was leaked.

    The Prince of Qi was the sixth son of Emperor Gaozu of Yong and elder half-brother of Princess Changle.  When little, he was naughty and mischievous.  Later seeing the Prince of Yong's achievements were unrivaled, he became aware and said, "I will surpass him."  He later became famous throughout the world for his martial merits.

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of King Yang of Chu
    In the fifth month of the nineteenth year of Xiande, Great Yong dispatched an envoy to pay its respects at the passing of Southern Chu’s King. I heard that the primary envoy was the sixth son of the Yong Emperor, the Prince of Qi, Li Xian. He was spoiled from youth, becoming extremely naughty and mischievous. He spent his days on falconry and hunting, and detested learning. In the seventy years since the collapse of Eastern Jin, the Central Plains had been torn asunder. Li Yuan’s father, Li Shang took the opportunity to rise and declared himself the King of Yong. After dozens of years of war, declared the foundation of the state of Yong. When Li Shang passed away, Li Yuan succeeded the throne. He was fond of the sensual pleasures, uneager to make any progress. That he changed was because of his second son, Li Zhi.

    From a young age, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, was known for his virtues. Twenty years ago, during the royal feast celebrating the beginning of spring, the nine-year old Li Zhi wore mourning robes, remonstrating forthrightly that Li Yuan was too conservative. Using vehement language, Li Zhi charged Li Yuan with failing to fulfill Li Shang’s final wishes, shaming Li Yuan. Not long afterward, Li Yuan declared himself Emperor and the era name was changed to Wuwei1. The state focused all its efforts on training the army and encouraging agriculture. In the third year of Wuwei, Li Yuan began to fulfill his new ambitions. Right before the army departed, Li Yuan used dripping blood to sacrifice to heaven and earth, vowing to never cease war until the Central Plains were conquered.

    At the time, Li Zhi was only twelve-years old, but accompanied his father on the campaign. Although he was a member of the imperial family, Li Zhi endured the same conditions as the common soldier and learned from the ranking military officers how to lead an army into battle. Although he was young, he was brave and heroic, constantly leading from the front and charging in to destroy formations. It is said that on one occasion when the encampment was raided by the enemy, Li Zhi was leading his personal guards and protecting the Yong Emperor out of the encirclement. After they had escaped, some soldiers were heard to yell, “Don’t leave us behind, Your Majesty!2” Dripping with sweat, Li Zhi turned his horse and charged back into to the encampment alone. Moved to tears, the soldiers began to fight to the death, forcing the enemy to withdraw. When the Yong Emperor returned to camp, although he had been badly wounded, Li Zhi still personally came out to welcome his father. Shedding tears, the Yong Emperor said, “This is my family’s thousand li colt3.”

    Li Zhi was not only courageous on the battlefield, but also extremely resourceful. After only a few years, he had become a general. In the ninth year of Wuwei, he defeated the greatest power in the Central Plains, the King of Xia, Yang Laosheng. Li Zhi paid a major role in helping Great Yong consolidate its position. As a result, he was enfeoffed as the Prince of Yong. When Li Zhi returned home at the head of his army to the Yong capital of Chang’an4, commoners lined the streets and all of officialdom came to welcome him. At the time, Li Zhi had yet to reach adulthood. To receive such glory and honor was something seldom seen in the annals in history. Later, in the tenth year of Wuwei, the ninth year of Southern Chu’s Xiande, Southern Chu vassalized themselves. Great Yong became the hegemon of the Central Plains.

    When Li Xian saw Li Zhi’s glory, he felt a sense of loss in his heart, telling his attendants, “I will surpass him.” At the time, Li Xian was sixteen-years old. Afterwards, he changed his bad habits, bitterly studying and diligently training martial arts. Two years later, after his personal request, he joined the army garrisoning the northern frontier. In the subsequent ten years, Li Xian participated in numerous bloody battles on the northern frontier with Northern Han. Although he could not compare to Li Zhi’s brilliance and martial prowess, Li Xian was still a dauntless and fierce general. In these last several years, Great Yong had tightly guarded its northern frontier, resulting in no conflicts in the north. Thus, Li Xian was able to return to Chang’an. He was close to the Crown Prince, Li An. While in Chang’an, he was the head of the aristocratic youths, constantly getting into trouble. If he wasn’t leading friends to visit brothels5, he would spend his days on falconry or hunting. His actions caused a great pandemonium6 in Chang’an. As he was a beloved son of the Yong Emperor and had numerous military accomplishments, no one dared to cause trouble for him.

    I read over this information seriously. After I had successfully “lobbied” the Queen, I began to accompany the King on a daily basis as a Reader-in-waiting. Although I was said to accompany the King, in reality, my job was to offer advice for the King to consider. On this occasion of the Prince of Qi coming to Southern Chu as an envoy, the royal court was in a complete mess. Seeing the intelligence report on the Prince of Qi, I realized that the number of Southern Chu’s spies in Great Yong was also quite numerous. Although the Prince of Qi was here to mourn the passing of the former King, we all knew that things weren’t so simple, as Great Yong had no need to send such an important personage. In my view, it was probably because the Prince of Qi had caused too big of a ruckus in Chang’an and had been sent out by the Yong Emperor to lie low until the fuss had died down. I read in the intelligence report that just a month earlier, the Prince of Qi had forcibly taken a woman from an ordinary family as concubine and had been impeached by the imperial censors. Although the Yong Emperor favored this son, he was still obligated to punish these kinds of actions. That the Prince of Qi was only fined a year’s salary clearly showed that he was being shielded from punishment. To be sent out under these circumstances could mean that he was being told to lay low until the fuss had died down. But all the other daren did not agree with this assessment, believing that for the Prince of Qi to be sent out as envoy meant that there was something major needed to be discussed.

    Currently, however, the circumstances seemed to support their views. After observing the proper mourning rites, the Prince of Qi requested a private audience with the King. The two were currently holed up in the Imperial Study. As I was on duty accompanying the King in the Imperial Study, I waited just outside. It wasn’t that I was deliberately eavesdropping, but my hearing was too good and I was able to hear the majority of their conversation.

    When he entered the study, Li Xian immediately got to the point and said, “Great Yong wishes to ally with Southern Chu to conquer the Kingdom of Shu together. What are the King’s views?”

    Zhao Jia froze for some time before replying, “The Kingdom of Shu and Southern Chu have long shared amicable relations, why would we attack them without reason?”

    Smiling, Li Xian replied, “Relations between states are dependent upon benefits. Although Sichuan has long been friendly with Southern Chu and see frequent trade between the two states, but Southern Chu is reliant upon Sichuan for its weapons and horses. I have heard that the Kingdom of Shu has charged your esteemed state’s7 a hefty price. A few years ago, when your esteemed state purchased some horses from Northern Han, you tried to transport them through Sichuan, but were blocked. If the former King had not dispatched persons to bribe Shu officials, more likely than not, those horses would not have been acquired. In addition, your esteemed state has been forced to agree to cease directly importing horses from Northern Han, and are instead required to use Shu as an intermediary. Have these things not occurred?”

    There was no sound within, but I could imagine that the King’s face was purple. I had heard of this incident and was curious why the Kingdom of Shu was so shortsighted to incur the hatred of Southern Chu.

    I heard Li Xian continue, “My Great Yong and Southern Chu are not only lord and vassal, but also in-laws. My sister, Princess Changle, is the beloved daughter of my Imperial Father, and is also now the Queen of Southern Chu. Our two states share the same interests8. The Kingdom of Shu is only reliant upon its advantageous geography that is easily defended and difficult to attack, refusing to be a vassal of Great Yong and treating the friendly Southern Chu so arrogantly. Looking at the trade between our nations, over the last few years, the tariffs levied on trade between Great Yong and Southern Chu has far surpassed that of trade with Shu. In the eyes of this Prince9, the Kingdom of Shu is in decline10 and is struggling at death’s door11. If our two states were to join together and attack Shu, my Imperial Father is willing to equal split Shu territories and divide the world along the Yangtze, forever ceasing conflict.”

    Zhao Jia’s breathing became increasingly agitated and took some time before he was able to respond, “To send troops into war, one must not be incautious, especially since the Kingdom of Shu is easily defended and difficult to attack. If we were to attack for a long time without success, it will be a waste of manpower and resources.”

    Li Xian seemed to hesitate for a moment before continuing, “Before this Prince departed, my Imperial Father secretly told me that to be able to conquer the Kingdom of Shu would stabilize Great Yong’s frontiers and allow me to be able to rest. If Your Majesty is willing to assist Great Yong, after everything is settled, my Imperial Father is willing tacitly accept Your Majesty restore the title of emperor.”

    Listening to this point, my heart howled with anguish. In the last several years, the court had long talked about restoring the title of emperor. I had even heard from Xiaoshunzi that the previous King, on his deathbed, had exhorted the King to restore the empire. This kind of incentive was too enticing.

    Sure enough, the King hesitatingly said, “This matter is difficult for us12 to decide at this time. How about this, we will solicit the opinion of our subjects.”

    Satisfied, Li Xian replied, “Then many thanks to Your Majesty for this audience. This Prince will now bid my farewell.”

    Zhao Jia hurriedly said, “The Queen and the Prince of Qi are brother and sister who have not met in years. She urgently desires a meeting. When will the Prince of Qi be free?”

    Smiling brightly, Li Xian replied, “This Prince has long wished to meet our younger sister, but have been constrained by my responsibilities, and must first deal with my duties before handling private matters. We will immediately go meet the Queen.”

    Happily, Zhao Jia said, “Why say request a meeting? We invite the Prince of Qi to go see the Queen together.” As he was speaking, I could hear the sounds of footsteps approaching. These two in-laws walked towards the entrance. I had long become discouraged. It looked like the King was going to attack the Kingdom of Shu.

    I decided to carefully observe this bossy and domineering Prince of Qi, to see what kind of person had forced Southern Chu to join Great Yong. Li Xian followed the King out. The twenty-six-year-old Li Xian possessed a handsome and heroic appearance. As he had spent extended periods in the military, his posture was erect like a mountain or a tree. He emitted a murderous aura of someone who had experienced the ups and downs of life13. As this was a formal audience, he was wearing the formal wear of a prince of Great Yong – golden colored silk robes embroidered with a coiled dragon. In these clothes, he seemed especially impressive and domineering. I shivered. This Prince of Qi must surely be vicious and merciless.

    As the Prince of Qi walked past me, he suddenly turned to look at me. I saw an icy cold light in his eyes. I hurriedly lowered my head and avoided his gaze. Although I had seen this kind of murderous look before, there was no reason to let him believe that I was unafraid. He seemed to pay attention to what I was doing. Has he received a report from Liang Wan? Great Yong was definitely powerful. A single Prince of Qi was so impressive. I wondered what kind bearing did the Emperor possess.

    That Li Xian noticed this young man was for one particular reason. He possessed a bestial instinct. While he was secretly conversing with Zhao Jia in the Imperial Study, he did not know why, but he felt apprehensive, as if someone was eavesdropping. But he also knew that there was no one within twenty zhang14. For someone to be able to eavesdrop from beyond twenty zhang, then he must possess superlative martial arts. He knew that this kind of person did not exist in Southern Chu. Walking out the door, he paid particular attention to the officials and eunuchs waiting outside. He noticed that although there were a number of skilled martial artists, they were definitely Southern Chu’s top fighters. Their positions would have prevented them from being able to hear anything. Although the several officials accompanying the King were far closer, clearly none of them knew martial arts. When Li Xian’s eyes fell upon Jiang Zhe and knew he wasn’t the eavesdropper, he was still startled. Although this young official was not too old, he possessed a poised bearing and had a calm expression. Li Xian knew the power of his martial bearing. Once in Great Yong, an official had caused offense. Just as his temper erupted, that official fainted from fright. All the other officials, civil or military, were all uneasy when greeting him. Even the Crown Prince was careful in his presence. Other than that person, Li Xian thought, since reached adulthood, this was the first time that he saw someone so calm in his presence. Thinking of this, his gaze couldn’t help but become more threatening. Although that young official seemed to admit defeat by lowering his head and avoiding his gaze, Li Xian did not know why, but knew that the young official did not fear him.

    Coming to this conclusion, Li Xian stopped and asked, “What is your name?”

    I observed Li Xian using my peripheral vision. Hearing his words and seeing his shoes stop right in front of me, I could only raise my head. I shot a glance at the King, using my eyes to ask for instructions. Smiling, the King said, “This is our Southern Chu’s number one gifted scholar, the zhuangyuan of the imperial examination of the sixteenth year of Xiande, Jiang Zhe. The Queen likes his poetry the most.”

    Suddenly understanding, Li Xin said, “So you are Jiang Zhe. Your poems are wonderful.
    ‘The southeast is topographically favored,
    With transport easy and unhampered,
    Qiantang15 has flourished in the three Wu16 area since antiquity. /
    Over the exquisitely adorned bridges the mist enshrouded willows flutter,
    Flapping in the wind are numerous verdant portieres
    Undulant are the tens of thousands of household residences. /
    Cloudscape treetops line the banks and shores.
    Winds hurling up heaps of snowdrifts in the air,
    The natural river gully extends endlessly. /
    Markets strewn with jewelry and ornaments,
    Making a parade of their silk and brocade every household vie to show off their luxurious splendor. /
    The three folded West Lake with her numerous enchanting mountain ranges and sierras.
    Teeming with fascinating scented autumn osmanthus flowers,
    And whiffs of lotus spreading miles afar. /
    On fine days, flute music everywhere makes the day seem much brighter,
    Songs from water caltrop pickers through the night make a delight of the vesper,
    The fishermen with hoar hair and the teenage lotus seed girl pickers all chime in to paint this picture with virility and glamor. /
    Here comes the intoxicated magistrate,
    Flaunting his official standard by a thousand escorting riders,
    Joining everybody with the fantastic music and scenery to savor. /
    Hoping to bring back to the court how ravishing Hangzhou is one day he has an audience with the Emperor.’
    This poem, Gazing Out Upon the Tide17, that you have written makes one yearn for the beautiful scenery of Jiangnan17. This Prince has come as an envoy and hopes to bear witness to the scenery of Southern Chu.”

    I stole a glance at the King’s gratified expression before modestly replying, “This humble work is fortunate to acquire the Prince’s appreciation.” Li Xian looked at me deeply before departing with the King. My back was soaked with cold sweat, because that look was filled with baffling madness that seemed to be filled with fiery enthusiasm. I suddenly wondered whether aside from loving beautiful woman, if the Prince of Qi also liked men. I shivered and determined to stay as far away as possible.

    Who could know that the heavens cared little about a person’s desires. The next day, I received a royal edict commanding me to accompany the Prince of Qi during the time that he was in Southern Chu. Oh my god, the heavens are heartless, I hissed, gazing upward toward the heavens. I decided to ask Xiaoshunzi if he had the time to protect me. Hatefully, Xiaoshunzi coldly replied, “I’m very busy. In any case, the Prince of Qi is handsome, you should just accompany him. Maybe, the Prince of Qi may bring you back to Great Yong to live comfortably.” I nearly fainted from anger and made a firm resolution to protect myself to prevent the Prince of Qi from making such a malicious thought a reality.

    When I arrived at the official posthouse19, I saw the Prince of Qi wearing light colored robes. Under the somewhat cold spring wind, the Prince of Qi was sitting in the courtyard laughing uproariously. At his side sat a beautiful young man in a dress that was as white as snow, gazing upon him affectionately. I almost turned and ran away. Thinking it over, I realized that this young man was more beautiful than even some of the greatest beauties. With a relatively average appearance, I, a mere Hanlin Academician should not have any problems. Therefore, I respectfully walked forward in greeting, informing the Prince that I had been dispatched by the King to lead him around the city.

    The Prince of Qi’s bright eyes considered me for some time, speaking, “Excellent! I have long heard that Jianye possesses many beauties. Who is the most famous courtesan along the Qinhuai River20?”

    My brow furrowed and I thought for some time before replying, “This vassal does not know. Your Highness, please allow this vassal to go and find out. I will definitely find out.”

    His eyes filled with laughter, the Prince of Qi said, “Never mind. If you were to go to find out, pretty soon all of Jianye will know. Everyone will say that I only know to frequent brothels21. If my Imperial Father were to find out, I will probably be reprimanded. Let’s go, accompany me tonight to take a look. We must definitely find the best courtesan.”

    I was overjoyed, thinking that everything will be alright as long as you go find women. Being engrossed in such base desires will only serve to bury you, I could care less if you decided to amuse yourself to an untimely death. I will definitely find the best brothel. Thinking, I decided to ask the official supervising the posthouse. He will definitely know.

    As dusk approached, I had already found the opportunity to learn everything there was to know about the Qinhuai River. If the Prince of Qi hadn’t wanted to travel incognito and prohibited attendants, I would have asked the official supervising the posthouse to bring us there. However, the Prince did not introduce the white-robed young man, only saying that he was surnamed Qin and telling me to call him Qin gongzi. But, no matter how I looked at the white-robed young man, he seemed to like a sheathed treasure sword, and could not be completely concealed.

    This was completely different from Xiaoshunzi who seemed dispirited and downcast almost like a withered radish. I almost believed that his martial art ability was declining, but I did not think that this was possible. He seemed to become increasingly unpredictable. When I returned home the day before yesterday, I found him waiting in my home, saying that he was not on duty that morning and had gone to Wuxi, almost eighty li, to amuse himself. He had brought some local cuisine such as soup dumplings and duck blood soup to serve as a midnight snack. I froze when I found that both were still warm. Although there was a container keeping the food warm, they could only have brought not more than two hours. Thinking of this, I got angry again. This little bastard knew that the danger I was in and refused to protect me. The next time I cook, I definitely won’t leave a share for him.

    I already had learned that Jianye’s best brothels were the Beautiful Scenery Pavilion, the Xiaoxiang Courtyard22, the Red Harmony Pavilion, and the Floating Fragrance Pleasure Boat. The Beautiful Scenery Pavilion was known for its sexual prowess; Xiaoxiang Courtyard was known for its song and dance; the Red Harmony Pavilion was a combination casino, restaurant, and brothel; and lastly the Floating Fragrance Pleasure Boat was led by Qinhuai River’s number one courtesan, Liu Piaoxiang23. As the Prince of Qi often frequented brothels and as an imperial clansman would not visit someplace too vulgar, he would definitely want to meet Liu Piaoxiang. Full of joy and expectation, the Prince of Qi said, “Excellent! This Prince most definitely wishes to bear witness to Jianye’s number one courtesan’s elegance.” I was pissed off beyond belief. He was definitely messing with me. Otherwise, he would not have had me ask around.

    Although the official charged with supervising the posthouse knew that it was the Prince of Qi who wished to go to the pleasure boat, he still looked at me with a dubious expression. Hell, I was still a virgin!

    1. 武威, wuwei – martial prestige
    2. 殿下, dianxia – Your Majesty; used to refer to princes
    3. 吾家千里驹, wujiaqianliju – horses were beloved for their ability to travel great distances without rest; the Yong Emperor is using this term to praise his son’s abilities
    4. 长安, Chang’an – lit. everlasting peace; was the capital of China for hundreds of years; modern-day Xi’an
    5. 走马章台, zoumazhangtai – idiom, lit. to go to the brothel on horseback; to visit prostitutes
    6. 鸡犬不宁, jiquanbuning – idiom, lit. not even the chickens and dogs are left undisturbed; causing a great commotion or causing pandemonium
    7. 贵国, guiguo – your esteemed state
    8. 休戚相关, xiuqixiangguan – idiom, lit. to share the same interests; to be closely related; to be in the same boat
    9. 本王, benwang – this prince, referring to oneself in the third person
    10. 日暮西山, rimuxishan – idiom, lit. the sun sets over western hills; fig. time of decline; the end of an era
    11. 苟延残喘, gouyancanchuan – idiom, lit. to struggle while at death’s door
    12. 孤, gu – royal we used by kings and princes
    13. 千锤百炼, qianchubailian – idiom, lit. after hard work and numerous revisions; having experienced the vicissitudes (ups and downs) of life
    14. 丈, zhang – measure of length, ten Chinese feet (3.3 meters)
    15. 钱塘, Qiantang – refers to Hangzhou
    16. 三吴, sanwu – lit. three Wu; was used by the Eastern Jin Dynasty to refer to its most important territory around the area that is the southern bank of the Yangtze River Delta
    17. This is a poem by Song Dynasty poet, Liu Yong. Entitled Gazing Out Upon the Tide, Southeast Advantageous Position (望海潮·东南形胜, wanghaichao dongnanxingsheng)
    18. 江南, Jiangnan – lit. south of the river; refers to the geographic area south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River (southeastern China)
    19. 驿馆, yiguan – in the capital, the posthouse served to house visiting dignitaries; outside the capital, the posthouse served as a relay station akin to the Pony Express and as an officially run inn used by those traveling on government business
    20. 秦淮河, Qinhuai River – a river that runs through Jianye (modern-day Nanjing) and is famous for its many brothels and its courtesans/prostitutes
    21. 寻花问柳, xunhuawenliu – idiom, lit. to enjoy the beautiful spring scenery; fig. to frequent brothels; to sow one’s wild oats
    22. 潇湘, xiaoxiang – another name for the Xiaojiang River in Hunan Province
    23. 飘香, piaoxiang – floating fragrance; Liu Piaoxiang shares her given name with her pleasure boat
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 7 – The Floating Fragrance Pleasure Boat

    I accompanied the Prince of Qi as we walked along the street. In high spirits, he gazed about at the scenery. Although I wasn’t particularly familiar with the area, I could still serve as a tour guide. In order to get to the Qinhuai River, we must pass through the bustling splendor of the Qinhuai Avenue. The avenue was brightly lit on both sides with the doors of each brothel and wine shop open. Each had pimps flanking their entrances with beauties standing in the doorway using all kinds of seductive language to entice customers. Everyone in our party had handsome appearances, especially the Prince of Qi, who had an extraordinary bearing. We could be especially favored customers. As a result, a number of pimps and prostitutes came forward and tried to entice us within. I noticed then that there was a dozen or so men dressed in ordinary clothes, intentionally or unintentionally, surrounding and following us. They kept away all of those attempting to get close and seemed to be protecting the three of us. The dozen or so men seemed to be ordinary, but were all tall and sturdy. Through their thin clothes, one could see their toned muscles. The way that they walked seemed to leave no traces on the ground. I figured that these individuals must be the Prince of Qi’s personal guards. Go figure … how could a dignified royal prince out traveling not have any guards protecting him? Since he had guards with him, I did not have to worry about my safety. I relaxed. The scenery that had previously left me embarrassed no longer made me nervous.

    We didn’t walk far before we arrived at banks of the Qinhuai River. At this intersection with the particularly wide river, there were a dozen or so boats moored. Amongst them was a boat that was especially large. Although this boat was lit with bright lights, no music or sounds of drinking and games could be heard like the other pleasure boats. At the banks of the river were a number of launches. To a seductive woman manning one of the launches, I yelled, “Boatwoman, take us to the Floating Fragrance Pleasure Boat.”

    Smiling, the boatwoman raised her head and replied, “The gentlemen have arrived late, the pleasure boat may already be full tonight. Can the gentleman not see that the pleasure boat is hanging up its lanterns? It’s preparing to weigh anchor.”

    Sullenly, the Prince of Qi glared at me, while I calmly said, “We have already made a reservation. Thank you, boatwoman for your advice.” Hearing my words, the Prince of Qi eased up. The three of us boarded the launch. The dozen or so guards also boarded their launches. After zigzagging through the maze of boats, we soon arrived at the pleasure boat.

    After we had boarded the boat, a beautiful woman gorgeously and provocatively dressed welcomed us enthusiastically. She first smiled without saying anything before greeting us, “Aiya!1 If it isn’t the lord zhuangyuan! When this servant first heard that the lord zhuangyuan had reserved a cabin, I assumed it was an imposter. Who doesn’t know that Jiang daren does not like this kind of place filled with temptations.”

    Prying my eyes away from our ample bosom, I replied with a laugh, “Madam must surely be joking. I am but a mere lowly Hanlin, I normally would not have the financial resources to visit the Floating Fragrance Pleasure Boat. Today, I am accompanying a distinguished guest here to bear witness to Lady Piaoxiang. Madam must take good care of him.”

    The madam had long caught sight of Li Xian. Having seen many customers come and go, she immediately knew that Li Xian was a seldom seen wealthy customer. Promptly beaming with joy,2 the madam began to act submissively to ingratiate herself.3 She walked before the Prince of Qi and bowed, saying, “This honored guest has come from afar, this madam is late with my welcomes. I hope that this honored guest will forgive me, this (person) …” She glanced at me.

    Understanding, I immediately introduced the pair, “This is young master Li and this is young master Qin.”

    In a tender voice, she said, “Please come in, honored guests. Lady Piaoxiang’s mood today is excellent. If you are lucky, you may have the fortune of gaining the lady’s favor.”

    The three of us were led by the madam into a spacious and elegant cabin. The guards were led to nearby cabins, leaving us to be accompanied by the female attendants. The cabin was refined and elegant, brightly lit by lanterns. Overlooking the window was a large round table. The majority of the space was empty, leaving room for song and dance to please the guests. On the right side of the cabin was a small doorway covered by a bead curtain. One could faintly discern that it was a bedroom. It looks like this was a top class cabin. Inside the door was line eight beautiful attendants. When we entered the cabin, they helped us remove our cloaks and outer garments. The three of us sat down before the table with our backs to the window. Like butterflies swarming around flowers, the attendants soon began to flow in and out, setting a wide array of tea, snacks, and alcohol. The three most beautiful attendants sat down by our sides. Originally, the madam had planned that we be attended to by two beauties each, so that we could hold one in each arm. The beautiful young master Qin refused the attentions of the beauties and sat down beside the Prince of Qi. The madam was experienced and knowledgeable, so did not exhibit any unusual attitudes. My heart trembled. This couldn’t be real, right? That young master Qin must be a catamite.4 I had only suspected this fact earlier, but seeing what had happened, I immediately felt my entire body tremble loathingly. Young master Qin noticed my abnormal behavior and glanced at me coldly, his eyes filled with murderous intent. Only when he turned his head away did I heave a sigh of relief, making a firm resolution to acquire a few powerful martial artists to accompany me by my side. As a palace eunuch, Xiaoshunzi wasn’t free to do as he pleased. But where was I going to find loyal guards? If they were really so strong, it was unlikely that they would listen to orders from a mere lowly Hanlin Academician.

    Accompanied by the female attendants, we slowly sipped the wine, waiting for the arrival of Lady Piaoxiang. The attendants were uneasy. Who could blame them? As a frequent customer of brothels, the Prince of Qi would constantly leer and fondle the female attendant by his side. Young master Qin on the other hand was ice-cold, completely ignoring the attendant by his side and would frequently look ferociously at the attendant beside the Prince of Qi. I was warm and observed polite etiquette, but maintained a respectful distance, leaving the beauty at a loss.5 At this awkward moment, the cabin door opened and a beautiful woman leisurely entered. The woman had no makeup on, but her beautiful face was like the most gorgeous of sceneries. Her crystal-like skin was delicate, but had a faint reddish blush, as if she had just taken a warm bath. Her black hair, flowing like waterfall, seemed to mirror the light. Her eyes could easily distinguish between right and wrong, seemingly as bright as the brightest star in the night sky. She wore a comfortable gown. Among the women of Southern Chu, she was slim and graceful. If one were to consider her appearance and temperament, although she was beautiful, her type of beauty was commonly seen. What was rare was that she possessed a natural charm.

    This woman supplely entered the cabin, sitting before the three of us. Her beautiful eyes regarding us, she said, “This is the first time that the three honored guests have come to see Piaoxiang, but I have come late and have made the three guests wait.” Her voice penetrated deep into the spirit and bone, eliciting a feeling of overwhelming joy. The face of young master Qin and I both reddened. Even the Prince of Qi’s face showed a strange expression. The young woman’s eyes paused briefly upon the Prince of Qi as she continued, “Piaoxiang has heard that the Prince of Qi is a hero that is rarely seen, and is a towering figure who is appreciative of the beauty,6 why are you so shy today?” Although I wasn’t surprised that Piaoxiang was able to ascertain Li Xian’s identity, but I wanted to see how he would react.

    Surprised at first, Li Xian smiled without restraint and replied, “Oh! You are definitely an intelligent young woman. Have you met this Prince before?”

    When Piaoxiang saw that Li Xian made no attempt to hide his identity, there was a look of approval in her eyes, answering, “Although Your Highness is dressed in the garb of Southern Chu, you don’t seem to like to wear silk. On your feet, you are wearing a pair of brocade boots favored by the elites of Great Yong. In addition, Your Highness possesses a particular grace and imposing demeanor. Lately, this servant has heard that Your Highness, the Prince of Qi, has come to Jianye. I would be surprised if Your Highness were not to come visit. As for this Academician Jiang, he is a rarified company. If he were not here accompanying Your Highness, then Piaoxiang would probably never have the opportunity to meet him.”

    Hearing her words, I blushed. I had once received an invitation from Piaoxiang, inviting me to visit the Floating Fragrance Pleasure Boat. But as I had no money, I had declined the invitation. Originally young master Qin seemed to gaze upon the Prince of Qi with resentment, but now he looked at me with a faint smile, glad that I had previously rejected Piaoxiang’s invitation. I hurriedly replied, “Lady Liu is joking. This lowly official does not have financial resources. How could I have the qualifications to visit here?”

    Piaoxiang stood and leisurely approached me. Sitting down on at my side, she grasped my arm and said, “Really now … Don’t tell me that the lord zhuangyuan believes that we women of the pleasure quarters have not even a shred of true feelings? Can Piaoxiang not love the zhuangyuan’s talent and give one’s heart?”

    I almost laughed. If Piaoxiang did not love money, then it was unlikely that she was the number one courtesan in Jianye. I knew that many of Jianye’s dignitaries were Piaoxiang’s guests of honor. But I had also heard that Piaoxiang was an unusual woman. If you were not wealthy, you could not hope to attain her. At the same time, however, even if you were wealthy or powerful, you still may not be able to attain her. The King’s uncle, the Prince of Han,7 Zhao Delong, was once a guest of the Floating Fragrant Pleasure Boat. He had attempted to stay the night. Who knew that Piaoxiang disliked him. Regardless of how Zhao Delong attempted to ingratiate himself, she refused to allow him to stay. Finally, Zhao Delong attempted to use his power and influence, but lo and behold, Piaoxiang would rather die than submit. As he could not use force, Zhao Delong could only leave. He later tried to make things difficult for Liu Piaoxiang, but was unable to do so because of her many distinguished guests. Later, people asked her why she refused to attend to the Prince of Han. Even though he was over fifty, he was still handsome and energy was beyond that of an ordinary person. Liu Piaoxiang coldly laugh and replied, “Although this servant is no more than a lowly courtesan, I understand the meaning of loyalty, piety, benevolence, and righteousness. That Zhao Delong once led an army into battle, but due to his cowardice, lost the battle. His subordinates fought bitterly in order to protect his life. But he repaid such kindness with malice,8 impeaching his subordinates for disobeying orders and adversely affecting the operation. These subordinates were executed by beheading. Who in Southern Chu does not know about this incident? It is only because of his status and power that no one dares to denounce him. This servant, though only a lowly courtesan, still despise this kind of cowardly villain.” After these words were spread far and wide, everyone despised the Prince of Han and looked upon Piaoxiang favorably. Soon afterwards, the Prince of Han became depressed and died. As a result of this incident, Liu Piaoxiang’s name became renowned throughout the world. From this, she became Jianye’s number one courtesan. In reality, it wasn’t that no other courtesan was superior to her, it was that no one could compare to her straightforward and chivalrous temperament.

    When I had heard of this tale, I admired her deeply. But because of financial barriers, I did not dare come see her. If I knew that she would not have taken my money, I would have come long ago. Seeing my intoxicated manner, young master Qin gave me a despising look. That ice-cold gaze immediately snapped me out of my reverie, remembering that I was here accompanying the Prince of Qi. I extricated my arm and respectfully said, “Thank you, Piaoxiang, for your appreciation.”

    Liu Piaoxiang looked at me angrily before standing in huff and moving to sit beside the Prince of Qi. That kind of angry and yet still beautiful expression left the three of us dumbfounded. Afterwards, Liu Piaoxiang did not give me a second look, proceeding to converse freely with the Prince of Qi, and occasionally with young master Qin as well. Her methods were brilliant, seemingly cordial and familiar, and yet not excessively wanton. Even the normally cold young master Qin had a faint smile on his face.

    Liu Piaoxiang was definitely a peerless beautiful woman. After drinking a few cups of wine, she stood and called. From outside, a woman in green entered carrying all kinds of musical instruments. Amidst the music, she began to dance. That kind of enthusiastic dance as if she was igniting her life force left me completely intoxicated. When I carefully regarded her face, I could tell that she had completely invested everything into the dance. My heart was moved. When she stopped, I watched her look at me. As our eyes met, I could see a hint of elation in her gaze. She walked over and sat down lazily next to the Prince of Qi. That kind of languid beauty made me want to immediately take her to bed.

    At this point, the madam entered the cabin. With a smile on her face, she said, “It is getting late. Would Jiang daren and Qin daren come to the neighboring cabins to rest. If you see any female attendants you like, don’t hesitate to invite them.”

    My heart felt sour. I hurriedly stood and bade my farewell, requesting that the Prince of Qi rest well. Freezing momentarily, young master Qin suddenly stood and left. I hurriedly followed him out.

    After sending away the attendants, I laid down on a bed with my clothes on in a comfortable and yet not large cabin. My imagination ran wild, filled with the beautiful image of Liu Piaoxiang. Listening to the gurgling sounds of water outside my window, I slowly began to fall asleep. Just as I was half-asleep, I suddenly felt someone’s hands removing my clothes. My heart shivered, thinking that I was being ambushed by the Prince of Qi. I hurriedly opened my eyes. Just as I was about to yell out, I noticed an exquisite9 face before me. It was Liu Piaoxiang. My entire body softened and I could no longer yell out. Seeing that I was awake, Liu Piaoxiang smiled sweetly. With delicate movements, she removed her clothes, revealing her elegant and delicate jade body. Unhurriedly, I extended my hands, holding her in my arms. Still somewhat hesitant, I asked in a stammer, “The Prince of Qi.”

    Liu Piaoxiang giggled and replied, “You didn’t know? That young master Qin is a woman. Before I could even undress, she couldn’t wait and rushed inside. I quickly left the room to the two of them. My great zhuangyuan, what are you waiting for?”

    Although I had learned sexual techniques, I had never touched a woman in my life and did not know what to do. Understanding, Liu Piaoxiang in turn held me, helping me undress. I felt my body intertwine with the soft and warm body of a woman. I lost myself, reveling completely in passionate lovemaking.

    As I fell asleep tired, Liu Piaoxiang rested for a moment before sitting up. Wrapping her clothes around her, she called for two female attendants to enter the cabin. With delicate touch, the two attendants helped me wash and change. I did wake up for a brief moment, I was too lazy to move even half a finger. When I finally woke up, I was lying upon the clean bed and wearing black pajamas. I gazed upon the deeply sleeping figure of Liu Piaoxiang beside me. My face suddenly reddened and I couldn’t say a single word. Opening her eyes, Liu Piaoxiang laughed lightly and asked, “Is my lord zhuangyuan unhappy to lose your virginity to this courtesan?”

    My face and ears red, I replied, “Will you marry me?”

    At first, Liu Piaoxiang seem to laugh at me in ridicule before suddenly realizing that I was being seriously, she sighed and replied, “No we can’t.”

    “What? Does it require money? How much? I will figure out a way,” I anxiously asked.

    Liu Piaoxiang’s pursed her lips and smiled, replying, “It’s not that. I long ago earned enough money to buy my freedom.”

    Dejected, I asked, “Then, you refuse to marry me because I’m unworthy?”

    Surprised, Liu Piaoxiang replied, “You are a Hanlin Academician. Even if I become your concubine, it will harm your career. You really want me to marry you?”

    Indifferently, I replied, “That’s not important. If need be, I can resign from my position. I’m not particularly interested in being an official. I have accrued some savings over the last several years and can purchase a few hundred mu10 of farmland. It’s just, I’m afraid that you wouldn’t be used to that kind of poor, but upright kind of life.”

    Revealing a smile that I could not even describe with words, she replied, “I know you are being sincere and don’t have even a hint of hesitation. I have seen countless numbers of people. I originally hoped to return to a normal life, but when I had earned enough money to regain my freedom, I suddenly realized that there was no one I could marry. I loathe to even look in the face of those dissolute lechers. If it was someone honest, I would dislike him for being dull and boring. Although there are several who I admire wholeheartedly, but if I were to marry them, once I become old, they would abandon me. I can’t help but be frightened. Oh, meeting you today and seeing how you sincerely appreciated my dance, I knew that you understood that I have dedicated myself to my craft. That is why I personally came to accompany you. I am fortunate that you are a gentleman who treats me sincerely. However, it won’t do. I, Piaoxiang, am frivolous and cannot play the traditional roles of a wife.11 I am like the swallow of Jiangnan, in love with the bustle of the city, in love with my freedom, and do not wish another cage to trap myself. Lover Jiang,12 it may be possible that I will experience countless more men, but you must remember that you are the one most beloved in my heart. You must not avoid Piaoxiang out of dislike, and come see me from time to time.”

    My heart throbbed with pain. I could hear from her words that she was speaking sincerely without any intention to fool me. There was no man capable of keeping this kind of unusual woman forever. Holding her delicate hands, I replied, “Piaoxiang is famous in the capital. Though Jiang Zhe is but a lowly official, if I were to come frequently, it would cause an uproar. When we part today, though it may not be an eternal parting, it will be difficult for us to meet again. Piaoxiang, Piaoxiang, the way we have forgotten ourselves in these rivers and lakes, far surpasses anything else. If we are to meet again in the future, I only hope that you won’t treat me like a stranger.”

    Liu Piaoxiang’s delicate body shook. She understood the meaning behind the young man’s words. He would not secretly meet with her. If they were not to be man and wife, then he would not come back to find her. But she was satisfied. In this world of hypocritical shows of affection, she had found genuine love.”

    When I walked out of the cabin and saw the satisfied Prince of Qi and the blushing young master Qin, I respectfully said, “Your Highness, we should return to the posthouse to rest.”

    Smiling, the Prince of Qi looked upon me and replied, “How about it? Were you successful last night?”

    I felt apprehensive. Did he know that I was with Piaoxiang? I smiled indifferently, deliberately acting mysteriously. The Prince of Qi looked at me suspiciously. It looked like I had enjoyed myself last night. The same probably was true for his personal guards. After we stepped on dry land, I could not help but turn my head and look back. The Floating Fragrance Pleasure Boat was extremely peaceful. Buried there was my first love.

    After escorting the Prince of Qi back, I hurriedly returned home. On the table, I saw a note. On it was written, ‘You let loose last night, but were unaware that others were watching you like a tiger with its prey. One cannot fully comprehend the intentions of the Prince of Qi. I took care of the one he had sent to watch you.” My hand trembled. Xiaoshunzi was truly loyal. But I did not know how I acquired sufficient virtue for him to treat me so well.

    At the same time, within the posthouse, the Prince of Qi had a heavy look on his face. Below the dais stood an embarrassed guard. The Prince of Qi coldly asked, “You said you were not watching Jiang Zhe? Why is this?”

    His entire face panic-stricken, the guard replied, “Your Highness, I beg your forgiveness. This vassal was originally following orders and was keeping an eye on Jiang Zhe from the cabin across the hall. I don’t know why, but I suddenly fell asleep.”

    The Prince of Qi’s expression became even more grim, but he did not blame the guard, allowing him to depart.

    Sitting beside him, young master Qin faintly said, “I’ve already investigated. He was hit in his pressure points. To be able to hit his pressure points in such a small enclosed space without being detected, this person’s martial arts are above mine.”

    Unconvinced, the Prince of Qi said, “But I can see that Jiang Zhe does not know any martial arts. Has he attained the realm of Returning to the Natural State?”13

    Her brow furrowing, young master Qin thought for some time before replying, “In the world today, there are only three people who have attained such a realm of cultivation – my master, the True Compassion Elder of the Shaolin Temple, and the Devil Sect’s sovereign, Jing Wuji. This Jiang Zhe is so young. I do not believe that he has reached such a stage.”

    Looking pensive, the Prince of Qi said, “Second elder brother and Liang Wan both told me to keep an eye on this Jiang Zhe. I originally disapproved.14 But from what we’ve witnessed, I feel that this person is unfathomable.15 What happened last night made it even more difficult to come to any conclusions. The elites of Southern Chu definitely cannot be underestimated. It is fortunate that he is biding his time16 and seemingly will not become one of our obstacles.”

    Lowering her head, young master Qin replied, “If you feel that he is trouble, I can help you.”

    Shaking his head, Li Xian replied, “How can we lightly kill this kind of person? In addition, we may not necessarily succeed.” As he spoke, in his eyes flashed a dazzling light.

    1. 哎呀, aiya - interjection of wonder, shock or admiration
    2. 眉开眼笑, meikaiyanxiao – idiom, lit. brows raised in delight eyes laughing; beaming with joy, all smiles
    3. 曲意逢迎, quyifengying – acting submissively in order to ingratiate oneself
    4. 娈童, luantong – catamite (boy used as a homosexual partner)
    5. 手足无措, shouzuwucuo – idiom, lit. at a loss to know what to do; bewildered
    6. 怜香惜玉, lianxiangxiyu – idiom, to have tender, protective feelings for the fairer sex; to be appreciate of beauty
    7. 韩, Han – note, different character from Northern Han (北汉)
    8. 恩将仇报, enjiangchoubao – idiom, lit. to bite the hand that feeds one; to repay kindness with malice
    9. 如花似玉, ruhuasiyu – idiom, lit. delicate as flower, refined as precious jade; exquisite
    10. 亩, mu – Chinese land measurement equal to one fifteenth of a hectacre
    11. 相夫教子, xiangfujiaozi – idiom, lit. to assist one’s husband and educate the children; basically the traditional roles of the wife
    12. 郎, lang – gentleman, young man, husband; Liu Piaoxiang is basically addressing Jiang Zhe as her lover
    13. 反璞归真, fanpuguizhen – to return to one’s true self; to regain the natural state
    14. 不以为然, buyiweiran – idiom, lit. not to accept as correct; to object, disapprove, take exception to
    15. 深不可测, shenbukece – idiom, lit. deep and immeasurable; unfathomable depths, incomprehensible, enigmatic and impossible to predict
    16. 韬光养晦, taoguangyanghui – idiom, lit. to conceal one’s strengths and bide one’s time; to hide one’s light under a bushel
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    8 – Duel of Words at Bright Moon Pavilion

    In the seventh month of the nineteenth year of Xiande, the Prince of De, Zhao Jue, returned to Jianye. The King questioned him regarding the invasion of Shu. At the time, Prime Minister Shang Weijun wholeheartedly supported the invasion, and was joined in agreement by the entire court. With all his power, the Prince of De his opposition to the invasion, causing the King to hesitate. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, Liang Wan, the adopted daughter of King Ling, held a banquet at the Bright Moon Pavilion, inviting the Prince of De to attend. Also in attendance was Prime Minister Shang Weijun; the Prince of Qi, Li Xin, of Great Yong; and the Prince of Qi’s adviser, Qin Zheng. Jiang Zhe was also invited. Later generations reading this will wonder why Jiang Zhe would attend the banquet given his lowly rank and the important matters of state being discussed. Some would say that he was already disloyal and duplicitous. Considering the available evidence, this is not the case.

    After the banquet, the Prince of De angrily departed. Jiang Zhe chased down the Prince of De and spoke several words, leaving the Prince silent. During the later court assembly, the Prince of De held his peace and. Some will say that the Prince cease to oppose the invasion was the fault of Jiang Zhe, who bears the heaviest blame for this terrible blunder. But when the Prince’s colleagues and subordinates learned what Jiang Zhe said, they all understood his predicament.

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of King Yang of Chu
    The Prince of De, Zhao Jue, returned. The chaos surrounding the debate around the invasion of Shu seemed to calm. When Zhao Jue returned, he immediately went to pay his respects to the former King. When the former King had passed, Zhao Jue was garrisoning the border and could not return to mourn. The court’s political situation had calmed. As Zhao Jue was a major military commander, the debate over the invasion of Shu must listen to his opinion, thus he was recalled back to the capital. After he had tearfully paid his respects, Zhao Jue was granted an audience with the King. Before the King, Zhao Jue did not mince his words,1 forcibly arguing against the invasion. Zhao Jue was extremely influential in the royal court. As a result, many stopped discussing the invasion, although even more individuals one by one came to visit him and exhort him to change his mind, especially Shang Weijun and a number of the court’s luminaries. But, the Prince of De would not agree.

    On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the Princess Mingyue, Liang Wan, invited the Prince of De to a banquet. She simultaneously invited the Prince of Qi, Li Xian, and Prime Minister Shang Weijun. Everyone understood her intent. In reality, I was disinterested in the affairs of these individuals of power and prestige who held a state’s authority, but why must I attend? I did not know whether to cry or laugh as I looked at the Prince of Qi. Just as I said I was a lowly official, arguing that I did not have the qualifications to attend, the Prince of Qi’s face did not change, as he replied, “It’s only a banquet organized by Lady Liang. You were sent by your King to receive me. You naturally must participate.”

    Although I had the heart to decline, but in the face of murderous intent emitted by the Prince of Qi, I could only agree to attend. With said that you cannot bend before martial power? Let them try and stand before these personal guards who had survived numerous battlefields.

    The Prince of Qi was second to arrive. This banquet was being held at the Bright Moon Pavilion. It was the depth of summer and the heat was intolerable. All of the building’s windows were open wide. On all sides were buckets filled with ice, helping to cool the building. Liang Wan was wearing a light yellow dress and was seated in the host’s position. Shang Weijun was wearing silk robes and was seated on the left in the second seat. After him sat a black-clothed Confucian scholar. He was likely Shang Weijun’s adviser, Nian Yuan. When Shang Weijun saw the Prince of Qi arrive, the Prime Minister strode forward to welcome the Prince with a smile from ear to ear. Seeing my presence, his brow furrowed. I hurriedly took the opportunity to say, “This lowly official was ordered by royal edict to accompany His Highness, the Prince of Qi. Since daren is here, please allow this lowly official to withdraw.”

    Shang Weijun revealed a satisfied smile, praising my discretion. I believed that I had succeeded in my scheme and was getting ready to depart when the Prince of Qi grabbed my arm and with a terrible smile, said, “Don’t go. Shang daren, Academician Jiang is an official dispatched by your King, a Reader-in-waiting, and also a gifted scholar and distinguished persona of Southern Chu. How about we let him listen in?”

    Shang Weijun’s brows furrowed, but ultimately could not afford to offend the Prince of Qi. He gave me a warning look, reminding me to not say anything.

    The Prince of Qi was seated at the first position on the right side with young master Qin seated below him, followed by me. I could not sit on the left side as I was only allowed to stay because of the persistence of the Prince of Qi. We did not wait long before we heard clear and bright laughter from outside the door. A large and handsome man dressed in the garb of a prince entered. As King Ling had departed for less than a year, he still wore white garb that denoted he was in mourning.2 This man was the Prince of De, Zhao Jue. Behind him followed a middle-aged Confucian scholar dressed in green and a black garbed warrior carrying a sword. When I saw Zhao Jue, I almost yelled out in surprise. He was the man in gray that I had made a divination for prior to passing the imperial examinations. If he was the Prince of De, then that year, he was proceeding to garrison the frontier at Hengjiang and was preparing to raid Moling. No wonder I divined misfortune. Thinking back to that day, the words I told him – ‘in-fighting within, strong enemies without’ – coincided with reality. This Prince of De was the younger brother of King Ling and was a prominent military official. To think that I once divined his fate. I wondered if he remembered me?

    Zhao Jue carefully swept past everyone in the room one by one. That he paused as he considered me did not mean that he did not have any memories of me, but rather he was suspicious of my identity. He sat down in the first position on the left. The warrior sat down protectively behind him, while his adviser took the last position on the left. As I had left a seat between young master Qin and myself, I was directly across from the adviser. As our eyes met, I smiled ingratiatingly, while his perceptive gaze considered me inquiringly.

    After Zhao Jue was seated, female attendants delivered tea and snacks before retreating from the room. Standing, Liang Wan said, “This servant was entrusted by the Prince of Qi and Prime Minister Shang to invite the Prince of De to attend this banquet. Although this servant should, by all rights, not involve myself in matters of state, but all of these daren require someone to wait upon them. As a result, this servant can only stay behind. This is a matter of importance for both my Great Yong and for Southern Chu. As this servant was born in Great Yong and has received great favor from the former King, I vow to keep everything discussed here a secret.”

    Smiling faintly, Zhao Jue replied, “Lady Liang is the adopted daughter of the former King and can be considered as Zhao Jue’s niece. Zhao Jue, naturally, believes the young lady. May Your Highness, the Prince of Qi, and Prime Minister Shang enlighten me as to the nature of this meeting.”

    Li Xian regarded Zhao Jue, smiling as he said, “I have long heard that the Prince of De is the number one famed general of Southern Chu, commander in chief of the Southern Chu armies. Meeting you today, I can say that you are indeed elegant and lofty with an extraordinary charm. Although I, Li Xian, am a royal prince, but I am a mere lowly general in the army. If we were to consider our ranks, Li Xian would be beneath Your Highness. How could I dare presume to enlighten Your Highness? But, the Prince of De has opposed the discussion of the invasion of Shu. This opposition does not match the famed general moniker. Would the Prince of De explain?”

    Indifferently, Zhao Jue replied, “Although the Kingdom of Shu is at fault for refusing to submit to Great Yong, but the King of Shu is a former vassal of Eastern Jin and alongside Great Yong equally vassals in the imperial court. There was no such distinction of lord and vassal. Now I do not understand how Great Yong can use Shu’s refusal to submit as the rationale for an invasion. Even if Great Yong considers this reason to be sufficient, however this is not enough for Southern Chu. Although we have submitted to Great Yong, we have never been willing to accept Great Yong’s orders.”

    Smiling, Li Xian replied, “The Prince of De’s words are mistaken. My Great Yong’s sovereign and vassals are sagacious. That King of Shu’s secession and refusal to submit cannot be tolerated. If Shu had submitted to Great Yong, then we Great Yong would not be attacking the Kingdom of Shu. It is said that an emperor’s enmity can be avenged even if nine generations had passed. At the time, Shu took advantage of Great Yong’s founding to attack Qinchuan,3 sacking and pillaging as they went. When the former Emperor of my Great Yong heard the news, he cried tears of blood. If we cannot avenge this enmity, how can we consider ourselves human? Later on, when Great Yong attacked Southern Chu, Shu once again launched an attack. Although they have shown kindness to Southern Chu, they have inflicted terrible losses upon Great Yong. In the territory that formerly belonged to the state of Qin during the Warring States period, ruins spread for thousands of li and the common people could not survive. Afterwards, the Kingdom of Shu even extorted countless treasures, silk, and beauties from Southern Chu. Considering this view, the Kingdom of Shu is a hidden vicious wolf. Under normal circumstances, it lives in seclusion, but once it espies discord, it would inevitably come out to bite. Prince of De speaks up for Shu today, but the time will inevitably come when Southern Chu will be swallowed by this kind of friendly state who forgets friendship and only knows its own interests.”

    Coldly, Zhao Jue replied, “Although I am lack talent, but I understand how without lips, the teeth would feel cold.4 I’m afraid that once Shu has been destroyed, it will be Southern Chu’s turn.”

    Li Xian was at a loss for words. He of course knew that once Shu was successfully invaded, Southern Chu would be the next target. He just didn’t expect for Zhao Jue to be unafraid to offend Great Yong and get straight to the point. As a prince of Great Yong, he could not casually lie. At this point, young master Qin spoke up, “These words are incorrect. The so-called interdependency requires mutual dependence and sharing common interests. Nowadays, the Kingdom of Shu repeatedly provokes Southern Chu, treating friends as enemies. The teeth are as sharp as knives, and the lips are gnawed until they bleed. I do not understand what mutual interdependency the Prince of De speaks of.”

    Zhao Jue smiled faintly. His adviser set down the folding fan in his hand and replied, “Although Southern Chu and the Kingdom of Shu have a few disputes, none of them have been disgraceful humiliations.5 In the ninth year of Xiande, after Great Yong pacified the Central Plains, you dispatched an army south to the Yangtze. If it were not for the assistance of the Kingdom of Shu, attacking Qinchuan, Great Yong would not have called for a ceasefire. Even so, my Southern Chu submitted to Great Yong. This kind of humiliation deserves to be remembered. Although our two countries are on amicable terms, and we are marriage relations with the marriage of Princess Changle and our King, but your country continues to train a navy in preparation for southern invasion. I wonder if Your Highness can explain this?”

    Smiling, Li Xian replied, “Although our two countries are on amicable terms, but your state still possesses numerous individuals such as the Prince here who cannot forget the enmity between our two countries. These individuals are definitely not in the minority. If my country did not train a navy, I fear that your military would have crossed the Yangtze to attack. The Prince of De has long garrisoned the Yangtze, how can you not know this? Furthermore, my country has long tried to be friendly. My Imperial Sister is the beloved daughter of my Imperial Father. And yet she has come to Southern Chu to be married to your King. The last several years has not only seen frequent contacts from both sides, but also trading and marriage relations unlike the Kingdom of Shu who has chosen to close off its borders and seal the country. My country has long held military discussions and will attack Shu to eliminate this hidden danger.6 We only ask that Southern Chu assist.”

    Coldly smiling, Zhao Jue replied, “Preposterous!7 Over the last ten years, my Southern Chu has paid a yearly tribute in money and silk, and yet your country refuses to sell us weapons and horses. Why would you do this if you truly wish to be friendly? Furthermore, although the Queen is a princess of Great Yong, but these are matters of state? Why must we consider the qualms of a married woman? Duke Wu of the state of Zheng once married his daughter in order to attack the state of Hu.8 I do not dare to forget this story.”

    Young master Qin angrily responded, “The Prince of De has insulted my country. Enough is enough. After careful consideration, Your Highness’s worries are not without merit. Please allow my lowly self to explain. My country’s prohibition on the sale of weapons and horses is not directly at your country, but rather because of the hostilities along our northern frontier. With our frontier forces so occupied, how would we dare to sell weapons and horses? Furthermore, your country has long occupied Jiangnan, an area of rivers and lakes. If your country does indeed not wish to attack Great Yong, why would you need horses? Are you going to use them to attack Shu?”

    Zhao Jue was at a loss for words. Shang Weijun hurriedly tried to change the subject, “Your Highness and young master Qin have both misspoke. We are not gathered here today for an emotional dispute. Would the two honored personages please not bear any grudges.”

    Zhao Jue and young master Qin raised their teacup respectfully with both sides and sipped, signaling the cessation of the debate.

    Taking a breath, young master Qin said, “My country plans against Shu because of its obstinate refusal to submit. Although we were once allied, they have repeatedly broken the alliance. Most hatefully, my country does not produce enough salt and we must purchase salt from Sichuan, but the Kingdom of Shu has repeatedly raised the price. Sichuan possesses abundant salt, and yet chooses to use such unscrupulous means to amass wealth. We cannot tolerate this situation continuing. If our two countries attack Shu together, we are willing to divide Sichuan, using the river as the border. At that point, Southern Chu’s military strength will be greatly increased. While Great Yong still has a menace upon its frontiers, while Southern Chu completely controls the entirety of the Yangtze River. By then, what will there be to continue to make you anxious? If Your Highness, even under these circumstances, cannot be reassured and believe that Southern Chu cannot fight against Great Yong, then Your Highness may be better served surrendering. Does Southern Chu only wish to control a mere Jiangnan with its life and death determined by others?”

    Although Zhao Jue remained silent, he shook his head. He understood that the combat ability of Southern Chu’s soldiers was relatively poor. If they were to attack Shu, the majority of the territory would probably fall into the hands of Great Yong. What equal division of the spoils? By that time, the territory will belong to whoever conquered it. Everyone looked at each other, everyone seeing the determined expression on Zhao Jue’s face. No matter how glib a tongue would not be able to change his intentions. A vexed look could be seen to flicker across Li Xian’s eyes before he glanced at Liang Wan. Standing, Liang Wan said, “Everyone is tired today. If no one objects, would my honored guests descend downstairs to eat. This servant has prepared pickled plum soup to help alleviate the heat.”

    Shang Weijun stood and said with a smile, “Lady Liang’s banquet must definitely be attended. Please.”

    Zhao Jue also stood. Looking at young master Qin, he asked, “May I ask this honored personage’s name? What position do you hold in Great Yong?”

    Paying his obeisance, young master Qin replied, “This one is Qin Zheng in the service of the Prince of Qi.”

    With a smile, Zhao Jue said, “Young master Qin’s tongue is as sharp as a sword, gaining Zhao Jue’s admiration. There are some matters that no matter how eloquently spoken cannot surpass strength and interests. My Southern Chu has already acknowledged that we do not have the ability to be treated as an equal with Great Yong. If Great Yong were to attack the Kingdom of Shu, my Southern Chu will prepare its troops in order to defend itself.”

    Seeing Zhao Jue’s stubbornness, young master Qin could only smile bitterly as he replied, “The Prince of De has made his decision and sticks by it, and will not be swayed by mere words. Qin Zheng was impetuous and begs for forgiveness.”

    Zhao Jue nodded his head slightly and said, “This Prince has many military matters to deal with, thus must depart. Would everyone please forgive me.” Everyone didn’t think that Zhao Jue would be so determined and had planned originally to continue to lobby him when he had gotten tipsy and merry. At this moment, they had no alternative but to escort him out.

    As everyone was exchanging glances, my mind moved. Rising from my seat, I said, “All the daren are weary, please allow this lowly official to escort His Highness out.” The Prince of Qi and others were not in the mood to take other. Shang Weijun agonizingly replied, “That will be fine.”

    I followed Zhao Jue out. Zhao Jue was somewhat tired. I carefully considered this merely thirty-year old prince. The pressure on him in these last few years must have been acute. In the three years since our last meeting, the hair on his temples were slightly white. He continued to exude a firm and indomitable spirit. This was Southern Chu’s main pillar. I was not only filled with admiration, but also felt sad for him. His painstaking efforts was not understood by others. I could not understand how he had this kind of courage.

    Feeling my gaze, Zhao Jue indifferently asked, “Who are you?”

    Respectfully, I replied, “This lowly official is Jiang Zhe, a Hanlin Reader-in-waiting, tasked with accompanying the King.”

    Surprised, Zhao Jue asked, “You are Jiang Zhe? Why were you with the Prince of Qi?”

    I hurriedly explained, “This lowly official was ordered by the King to receive the Prince of Qi. Today, the Prince of Qi forced this lowly official to be present. This lowly official had the fortune of hearing Your Highness’s teachings, and am truly fortunate.”

    Although Zhao Jue felt that it was strange, he didn’t investigate in-depth. With a pained voice, he said, “I have read your poetry, they are very well written.
    ‘Drunk, I contemplate the sword under the lamp,
    Awakened, bugles ring through the camps.
    Recalling a scene of soldiers drinking and savoring roasted beef in their widespread camps,
    With military music played out by various instruments they are entranced,
    In the autumn cool a grand parade advances.
    Warriors on coursers speed by, with bows fully drawn, hotly after their enemies’ end,
    On the twangs of the bows into dismay the enemies sank.
    I vow to restore His Majesty to sovereignty with my morale greatly enhanced,
    Earning myself renown and success that never end.
    Deplorably old I’ll be before any achievement attained.’” He was seemingly intoxicated by the concept of this Dance of the Cavalry9 poem that I had written while I was in Jiangxia. He unconsciously stroked the hair on his temples. After some time, he asked, “Do you think that we should attack the Kingdom of Shu?”

    Seeing that there was no way around, I replied, “Before this lowly official can express my opinion, please allow this lowly official to ask three questions?”

    Zhao Jue looked at me with amazement before replying, “Ask away.”

    A look of grief flashed in my eyes as I asked, “First, would Your Highness please tell me who in Southern Chu, from the King to the common people, understands the rapacious designs of Great Yong?”

    Zhao Jue replied after being silent for some time, “There aren’t many. Even my trusted subordinates advised me to attack Shu.”

    “Second,” I continued to ask, “Would Your Highness please tell me if Great Yong were to attack Shu and Shu were to request for our help, would our Southern Chu dare to dispatch troops?”

    Distressed, Zhao Jue replied, “We would not dare. Our King would inevitably sit and watch Shu be destroyed.”

    Even though I understood his pain, I chose to continue to ask my third question, “Third, if Your Highness continues to oppose the invasion of Shu, but the King has already made his decision and chooses to use a different general, I wonder if Southern Chu has a more capable general than yourself?”

    My three continuous questions were each increasingly penetrating. Zhao Jue felt himself break out in a cold sweat at them, staring fixedly at me.

    Lowering my head, I said, “Nowadays, our country cannot act autonomously. If Your Highness persists in your opposition, the King will dispatch another to attack Shu. Our country’s soldiers and generals are no match for those of Great Yong or Shu. If we use up too much of our limited resources in attacking Shu, at that time, Great Yong will be able to easily destroy Southern Chu like a knife through hot butter.10 If Your Highness were willing to lead the troops personally, then we may be able to acquire a portion of Sichuan’s critical points to serve as a base. As long as we are able to use Longyou11 and Guanzhong12 as a buffer and properly defend the Xiangfan13 region, Great Yong will be restrained. Southern Chu will receive at least ten years’ worth of benefits. As long as Southern Chu is patient and waits for the right opportunity,14 then we may not necessarily not be able to conquer the world.”

    At first, Zhao Jue’s face revealed a look of sorrow that gradually calmed, before finally being replaced by a look of unwavering determination. He replied, “Jiang daren is truly an incomparable minister. If I am to lead the army to attack Shu, would Jiang daren be willing to serve as my adviser?”

    You must be joking? I didn’t want to go to war. Therefore, I indifferently answered, “This lowly official does not understand military matters or strategy, and dare not obey. If Your Highness has any questions, this lowly official will not hide anything and will speak frankly.”

    Zhao Jue looked at me stunned, unable to understand why I had rejected such a good opportunity. In a heavy voice, he replied, “Everyone bears responsibility with the fate of our country in the balance.15 Since Jiang daren is a vassal of Southern Chu, how can you not spare no effort for our Southern Chu? You should think it over.” After finishing, he led his people away.

    I resentfully watched Zhao Jue depart. What a fellow to repay kindness with malice. I just advised you, and this is how you repay me? To want me on the battlefield was really complete nonsense. What’s to be done? I bitterly began to think of who I could ask to help so that I need not join the army on its campaign.

    1. 直言不讳, zhiyanbuwei – idiom, lit. to speak bluntly; not to mince words
    2. Under traditional Chinese funeral rites, family members of the deceased are required to observe the proper mourning rites which include avoiding bright colored garb, wearing white garb. Traditionally, the rites were observed for direct family members for up to twenty-seven months (rounded up to three years). As the Prince of De is the younger brother of King Ling, he must observe a minimum of nine months of mourning.
    3. 秦川, qinchuan – refers to the region that is now modern-day Shaanxi and Gansu
    4. 唇亡齿寒, chunwangchihan – idiom, lit. without the lips, the teeth would feel cold; fig. intimately interdependent
    5. 奇耻大辱, qichidaru – idiom, lit. extraordinary shame and humiliation
    6. 心腹之患, xinfuzhihuan – idiom, lit. calamity within one’s bosom; hidden great danger or trouble
    7. 岂有此理, qiyoucili – idiom, lit. how can this be so?; preposterous, ridiculous, absurd
    8. This is an apocryphal story of how Duke Wu of Zheng (郑武公, Martial Duke of Zheng) conquered the state of Hu (胡国) during the Spring and Autumn Period. He first married his daughter to the ruler of Hu. During the wedding celebrations, Duke Wu asked his advisers who he could invade. One of his advisers suggested Hu. Angrily, Duke Wu stated that the two states were brothers and state of Zheng could not invade. The ruler of Hu was happy and later the state of Hu ceased to defend against Zheng. Seizing the opportunity, Zheng invaded and conquered Hu.
    9. This is a poem by Song Dynasty poet Xin Qiji entitled Dance of the Cavalry (破阵子)
    10. 势如破竹, shirupozhu – idiom, lit. as easily as breaking bamboo; like a knife through hot butter, irresistible force
    11. 陇右, longyou – aka Longxi (陇西) refers to the area that was once part of the Hexi Corridor connecting China proper with the Silk Road
    12. 关中, guanzhong – lit. the land within the passes; refers to the territory originally controlled by the state Qin during the Warring States Period
    13. 襄樊, Xiangfan – refers to the two neighboring cities of Xiang and Fan that were combined in 1949 to form the city of Xiangyang
    14. 卧薪尝胆, woxinchangdan – idiom, lit. to lie on firewood and taste good; to suffer patiently, but firmly resolved on revenge
    15. 国家兴亡,匹夫有责, guojiaxingwang, pifuyouze – idiom, everyone bears responsibility for the prosperity of the nation
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    9 – Military Retainer1

    In the eighth month of the nineteenth year of Xiande, Southern Chu allied with Great Yong. On behalf of Great Yong, the Prince of Qi swore a sacred oath.2 The Prince of De, Zhao Jue, was named Chief Commander. Receiving the order, he set off for battle. Before he departed, Zhao Jue appointed Jiang Zhe as a military retainer to serve as a counselor on military matters. Worried that the Prince of De’s authority was too great, the King also ordered the court eunuch, Wang Hai, to supervise the army.

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
    Damned Zhao Jue. He truly wanted me to serve in the army. I originally intended to ask others to help, but Zhao Jue now held a high ranking position3 as the Chief Commander. I could only hold back my tears as I handed over my duties in the Hanlin Academy to another, joining the army that was heading west to invade Shu. However, I was comforted by the news that Xiaoshunzi was also accompanying the army. Just before we departed, the King dispatched Wang Hai, a supervisor within the Bureau of Ceremonies, to supervise and oversee the army. Although the utilization of eunuchs of supervise the army was a sign that Southern Chu would ultimately fall, I was happy as Xiaoshunzi was part of Wang Hai’s entourage of eunuchs. I could not but thank the heavens for their blessings. With Xiaoshunzi’s protection, I probably won’t have to face any dangers. But it was best if I could find some guards to protect me as well. I was prepared to discuss this matter with Xiaoshunzi. After I had identified a few candidates, Xiaoshunzi would then test your abilities. I had no intention of being guarded by useless people.4

    For this invasion of Shu, Southern Chu’s army was split in two. One army would travel up the Yangtze River through the Three Gorges under the command of the Marquis Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Lu Xin. The other army would be personally commanded by the Chief Commander, Zhao Jue, and travel by land to Bazhou.5 The two armies would meet up at Luocheng.5 As a retainer of the Prince of De, I naturally accompanied his army. But I still held a grudge. The entire march, I stayed hidden in the carriage of the army supervisor, Wang Hai. Wang Hai was a fellow clansman of the Eunuch Wang who supervised the palace book repositories. He treated me quite well, constantly bringing up how Eunuch Wang had benefited greatly from the medicinal pellets that I had concocted for him. Understanding his intent, I agreed to help Wang Hai concoct one or two types of medicinal pellets for his own personal use. Xiaoshunzi obediently attended to us. Greatly satisfied with Xiaoshunzi, Wang Hai smiled and said, “This little fellow is the lowly servant saved by my lord zhuangyuan? Everything about Xiaoshunzi is good, except for one matter. He is hardworking, eloquent, and literate, but has no will to better himself. Other lowly servants would compete to the bitter end for assignments and would do anything to be able to directly attend to the King. In comparison, this little fellow is willing to that kind of good assignment and accompany me6 to suffer hardships in the army.”

    I could not help but to regard Xiaoshunzi for a moment, feeling guilty. This little fellow was always thinking of me. Obediently, Xiaoshunzi said, “Gonggong7 shouldn’t say such things. gonggong and Eunuch Wang are related. Under normal circumstances, when you see this lowly servant you usually bestow rewards. This time, gonggong has received the attention of the King and have been appointed as army supervisor. Once we win and return to the capital, this kind of meritorious service will be rewarded. At that time, I will also be rewarded. Otherwise, why would people say that one can find riches and honor in danger?”

    Wang Hai smiled widely, almost to the point where his eyes were closed. Just as the three of us were enjoying ourselves talking, an orderly approached the front of the carriage. He yelled, “Jiang daren, the Prince has summoned you to discuss official business.”

    I had no choice but to exit the carriage. From one of palace guards accompanying Wang Hai, I took the reins of a horse. After climbing on top, I inexpertly rode forward. My riding ability wasn’t all that great and was learned in a panicked and hurried fashion. With difficulty, I arrived next to the mounted Zhao Jue. Clasping my hands together, I greeted the Prince, “Your Highness, this lowly official has arrived per your summons.”

    Seeing the sorry figure that I cut on the horse, Zhao Jue smiled and said, “Jiang daren, you should learn how to ride properly. Otherwise, you would find it extremely difficult to follow the army.”

    I almost gnashed my teeth. It wasn’t like I wanted to accompany the army. But as I was a subordinate, I could only lower my head and reply respectfully, “This lowly official will do as you bid. Is there anything that this lowly official can do? I await Your Highness’s orders.”

    Slowly, Zhao Jue allowed his horse to begin to move forward, indicating that I should follow. In a fluster, I urged my horse to follow. After we had proceeded for some distance side by side, Zhao Jue said, “Jiang daren still hold a grudge against this Prince?”

    I faked a smile and replied, “This lowly official dares not. This lowly official is paid by Southern Chu. How dare I refuse the government’s order?”

    Smiling bitterly, Zhao Jue continued, “It isn’t that this Prince wishes to make things difficult for daren. For this campaign against Shu, we must acquire the greatest benefit while paying the lowest cost possible. War is within this Prince’s ability and purview. I will not trouble daren. But after we have pacified Shu, we must reach an accord with Great Yong on the division of spoils. If at that point we do not have someone like Jiang daren, who understands the reality of our predicament, sagacious and unwavering, we would likely suffer disastrously. Therefore, this Prince could only trouble Jiang daren.”

    Feeling aggrieved, I thought, “It’s only bandits dividing the spoils. You probably won’t wait until you’ve won to divide them.”

    As if reading my thoughts, Zhao Jue continued, “In addition, I have seen sire’s ability and wisdom. Jue also wishes to listen to your teachings and learn. In this time of calamity for our country, I wish that Jiang daren will also spend some time thinking about military matters as well and make contributions to our country.”

    Hearing these words, I thought deeply and realized the truth behind his words. As I was already accompanying the army, I might as well take the opportunity to learn about military matters. Coming to this conclusion, I bowed low, signaling that I had accepted his suggestion. Smiling faintly, Zhao Jue gave his horse a whip and sped forward. My own mount seemed to wish to follow and twisted its body in an impatient matter. Scared, I swayed from side and side. Luckily one of Zhao Jue’s personal guards helped steady me. Blushing furiously, I thanked him, vowing to learn how to properly ride a horse.

    Setting down the brush, I massaged my shoulders. I had been handling military matters ever since we had camped. After speaking with Zhao Jue, I began to participate in the handling of these issues. I did not spend much time before I went from a complete novice to someone adept and skilled. I learned how to set up camp, how to organize and structure an army, and how to reward and punish accordingly. Most importantly was handling documents and properly organizing intelligence reports. In comparison to my work at the Hanlin Academy, these military matters were just as difficult. Amongst Zhao Jue’s retainers was a Confucian scholar hailing from the Heishan named Rong Yuan, who was greatly valued. He would frequently be beside Zhao Jue offering his advice. These assorted tedious matters were handled by the other aides. My participation reduced their workload, especially as I was able to quickly familiarize myself with their system of documentation. Relying upon my photographic memory and keen judgement, I quickly became highly valued, especially when it came to analyzing intelligence reports. They had originally only wanted me to try, not knowing that analysis of a few pieces of broken intelligence8 was my specialty. I did not have to take any notes and regardless of how tedious the intelligence, I could understand the context just from reading it over once. As a result, those retainers decided to hand all of the intelligence analysis to me, having me organize the reports for Zhao Jue to consider. It was only after this did I become one of the most important aides to Zhao Jue, second only to Rong Yuan.

    Looking at the color the sky, I realized that night had fallen long ago. Seeing as the army still needed to march on tomorrow, I quickly collected the organized intelligence reports, prepared to deliver them to Rong Yuan. Feeling a bit thirsty, I picked up the teapot on the table. It was already empty. I shook my head ruefully. Just then, I heard a slight cough come from outside the tent before Xiaoshunzi entered holding a food box. In an indifferent tone, he said, “Jiang daren, Army Supervisor Wang knows that you are busy handling military matters. He has asked me to bring you some midnight snacks and also wanted me to thank you for providing him with the medication yesterday.”

    From the tone of Xiaoshunzi’s voice, I knew that there were others outside my tent. Smiling, I replied, “Please extend my thanks to Army Supervisor Wang on my behalf. In reality, the Army Supervisor is too used to living in the palace. These last few days, he has been exhausted and couldn’t sleep properly, thus harming his body. The medication I provided should help the Army Supervisor sleep and allow him to quickly regain his energy.”

    After placing the food box on the table, Xiaoshunzi said, “Daren, please eat while the food is still warm.”

    Shaking my head, I replied, “I need to first deliver some documents. You should first go back and rest. Tomorrow, the army will continue onwards.”

    Xiaoshunzi pushed a small folded piece of paper into my hand before saluting and departing. Unfolding the paper, I read the words written: ‘It is difficult to come and go while within the army. Zhao Jue has numerous skilled martial arts beside him. Rong Yuan seems to be jealous of daren. Today, he told Zhao Jue that daren is too intimate with the Prince of Qi and likely to be in collusion. In order to be safe, daren should not be allowed to handle important military matters. Zhao Jue half believed him.”

    I smiled indifferently. This kind of situation was difficult to avoid. My sudden emergence9 could not but worry Rong Yuan. However, it didn’t matter if his slander was successful. I wasn’t particularly interested in being placed in an important position by the Prince of De. I walked out of the tent. Accompanied by a soldier assigned to me, I proceeded to Rong Yuan’s tent, delivering the documents. He accepted them, speaking a words of encouragement as if he trusted and appreciated me. It really was a matter of not judging a book by its cover.10 I sighed in my heart as I left his tent. Outside, the weather was cold.

    After half a month of advance, the army arrived at border of the Kingdom of Shu. Afterwards, our sieges were successful. But after ten days, we arrived at Ba Prefecture. Originally, I was suspicious of how weak Shu’s defenses were. Later, I learned that Shu did not have enough troops to defend everywhere and could only heavily garrison important areas where there was rugged terrain or mountain passes. As for Ba Prefecture, it was our army first major barrier. After Ba Prefecture was a difficult and dangerous road with twenty passes,11 all of them easily defended and difficult to attack. The real war will begin soon.

    On the twenty-third day of the eighth month, the Southern Chu army arrived before the city of Ba Prefecture. Riding a docile horse especially chosen by the Prince of De, I considered the high and wide city walls of this prefectural city. On the walls, there was a sea of swords and spears. There were a countless number of Shu soldiers, all solemn, standing upon the walls. One look and I could see that they were an elite army. Holding the reins of his horse, the Prince of De stood at the front of the Southern Chu army, coldly regarding the city walls. Above, amidst the soldiers stood a general wearing red armor. From my eyes, I concluded that he was about fifty years old. He had a bold appearance, was short of stature, and had a beard that covered his chin and upper lip. This person yelled aloud, “Southern Chu and my Kingdom of Shu are allies! Why have you broken this alliance without reason and come to attack us?”

    The Prince of De laughed faintly before replying in raised voice, “The Kingdom of Shu holds a small bit of territory and sets up an independent regime. Today, Great Yong has established its empire in the Central Plains and yet Shu refuses to pay its obeisance. What are your intentions? My Southern Chu is a vassal of Great Yong and have been ordered to attack. First, I am following the Emperor’s orders. Second, I have come to avenge the years of Shu’s bullying. Listen well, the warriors of my Southern Chu! The Kingdom of Shu relies upon its advantageous geography to constantly mistreat our border citizens. They use trade to unilaterally raise prices in order to plunder money belonging to our people. Today, my Southern Chu has raised this army and come forth to defeat Shu and take revenge!”

    After he had finished speaking, he raised his whip. The Southern Chu army cried out in a singular voice and the drums beat like thunder. A unit of a thousand men began to shout and advance. Each soldier carried a shield and a sword, protecting the ladders as they charged towards the city walls. Taking advantage that the archers on the wall could not shoot directly downwards, the Southern Chu soldiers quickly set the ladders against the wall and began to climb. Another twenty or thirty soldiers pushed a battering ram before the city gates and began to ram the gates. After only a few hits, the drums atop the city walls sounded and a wave of tree trunks and rocks began to dropped. The ladders and the ram were destroyed, causing a number of Southern Chu soldiers to fall from a great height, splattering their bodies.

    I became nervous when I saw this. But I saw that others – the Prince of De, the generals, and the other retainers – remained tranquil and calm with no sign of nervousness. Afterwards, a gong was beaten to signal the retreat and the attacking soldiers gradually returned. I had been watching carefully. The vast majority of the soldiers had not even begun to climb the ladders. As a result, the number of deaths and wounded were far less than I had thought. After a while, the Southern Chu army launched a second attack, while the city defenders began to hit back.

    This day, the Southern Chu army launched twenty attacks, but were all half-hearted.12 The city defenders were also extremely cautious and did not wastefully use up all of its rocks and tree trunks. As the time approached nightfall, the Southern Chu army launched a ferocious attack that seemed unstoppable.13 The soldiers fearlessly climbed the ladders and were able to gain a foothold upon the city walls. A bloody battle began upon the city walls, but ultimately the Southern Chu forces were beaten back.

    Watching all this unfold, my mind was rattled. Today’s attacks should probably have cost us two to three thousand men. Although our losses weren’t heavy, that kind of dreadful imposing manner left me disturbed. That night, I tossed and turned restlessly in bed. The losses from the siege would only grow and become heavier. I had learned that there were many more such city walls that needed to be taken. If each and every city required heavy casualties, then the end result would be extremely miserable.

    The next day, the siege was extremely bitter. Just after the sun had arisen, the soldiers had pushed forward several dozen catapults. With one order, they began to fire massive boulders against the city walls. As the Ba Prefecture’s city walls were tall and thick, they did not shake. However, crushed and broken rocks began to fly across the city walls, and the shouts of the city defenders began to waver. Pulling back my gaze, I watched the massive boulders crush and blow apart countless defenders. I saw the defenders brave the flying boulders to return fire. The catapults on the city wall were extremely powerful. Even though it was difficult to aim, the boulders that they fired destroyed only half of our catapults, but they also inflicted terrible losses upon our soldiers, crushing and blowing apart many men. The corpses began to pile up. Although the battle between the catapults lasted only about thirty minutes, my hands and feet were already ice cold, blood and flesh filled my eyes. My eyesight was too good, even seeing the gloomy and mournful expressions on the face of the soldiers as they died. Probably as a result of lacking sufficient boulders, the firing speed of the catapults slowed before ultimately stopping. Southern Chu troops pushed forward archer towers and carried ladders as they renewed the attack. Although the archer tower was shorter than the city walls, they were high enough to stop the wall’s return fire. Countless arrows flew through the air in beautiful arcs before piercing through flesh and blood. The blood of both sides began to intermingle upon the city wall. As the Southern Chu soldiers attacked, they were met with oil and lime.14 Just as the hard-pressed Southern Chu soldiers began to fall, a countless numbers of torches appeared on top of the city wall and were thrown down. The area below the city became a sea of fire. Only a small number of nimble and agile soldiers were able to escape, while everyone else was surrounded by flames and burned to death. The scene was appalling.15 The miserable screams of those caught within was world-shaking.

    Seeing this, I really hated that my senses were so acute. I could not endure it and could only turn my horse and charge towards the back. I found a secluded area and vomited until I tasted bile in my mouth. When I straightened, I caught sight of an armored Xiaoshunzi standing before my horse. He handed me a canteen of water to allow me to rinse my mouth. After my state of mind had calmed, I asked, “Why did you come? Shouldn’t you be accompanying Wang gonggong?”

    In a low voice, Xiaoshunzi replied, “I told the gonggong that I did not what war looked like, so I came to take a look. Wang gonggong was also worried, so he agreed to my suggestion.”

    Regarding the distant battlefield, I replied with lingering fear in my voice, “It’s so frightening. I should leave.”

    As I was about to urge my horse along, Xiaoshunzi grasped my horse’s bridle and stopped me. “daren, you mustn’t. Although I am ignorant, I do know that if daren were to act so cowardly now, then you will never be able to hold your head high in front of the army’s officers and soldiers. Furthermore, after today, daren may still have to go to war. Will you hide every single time?”

    I was ashamed after hearing his words. Compared to Xiaoshunzi, my will was far less resolute. Giving him a look of gratitude, I urged my horse back to the frontline. When I returned to Zhao Jue’s side, the officers and retainers accompanying him looked at my pale face with approval. In a favorable tone, Zhao Jue said, “Suiyun possesses ample courage. When this Prince first fought on the battlefield, my response could not even compare to yours. Everything will become better nce you’ve experienced numerous battles.”

    I bowed from my seat upon my mount, asking, “Your Highness, this lowly official does not understand military affairs, but it seems like our siege is not going particularly well?”

    Forcing a smile, Zhao Jue replied, “You’re correct. Ba Prefecture is one of Shu’s most important strategic defenses. Its commander is a good general and its soldiers are brave. The city defenses and supplies are both plentiful. It is difficult to capture. This Prince is deeply concerned. Thankfully, the subsequent twenty or so cities should be easier.”

    “Then, in Your Highness’s view, how long would it take to capture?” I continued to ask.

    After some calculations, Zhao Jue replied, “It will be pretty good of we are able to capture Ba Prefecture within half a month.”

    I also calculated. Great Yong’s advance from Yangping Pass through Dongchuan to attack Jiameng Pass would also require them to attack numerous difficult positions. But, Great Yong were well prepared. If our Southern Chu were to seize the advantage, we must use a stratagem. In my mind, I began to go over the information that I had previously read. How could we resolve the immediate problem?

    I could not think of anything. I began to go over the information regarding Ba Prefecture one by one. I gazed into the distance, focusing on the, the red armored general issuing commands on the city wall. Under his commands, the city defenses were watertight. Whenever the Southern Chu troops showed an opening, he would immediately spot it and ruthlessly exploit it.

    Hold up a moment … someone who pursues closely and is ruthless … I suddenly remembered some information about the commander of the garrison: Tian Wei, upholds rigorous military discipline, a valiant and good commander, adept at defending cities, able to defend as if he was a mountain, especially adept at raiding and attacking enemy encampments. No wonder the Prince of De set up the defenses of our encampment so strictly and tightly. Our opponent was someone adept at raiding encampments. Slowly, a crafty scheme began to form in my mind. Would it be successful? After thinking it over, I spurred my horse alongside the Prince of De and informed him of my views in a low voice. At first hesitant, the Prince of De gradually became intrigued. After some time, he smiled faintly and nodded his head before ordering our army to retreat. The bloodiest day of the battle for Ba Prefecture ended.

    1. 幕僚, muliao – are personal retainers who serve as advisers for officials
    2. 歃血为盟, shaxueweimeng – idiom, lit. to smear the lips with blood when taking an oath; to swear a sacred oath
    3. 一人之下,万人之上 – lit. refers to someone who holds a position below one person and above everyone else; in this context, refers to someone whose authority and power is just below the King
    4. 酒囊饭袋, jiunangfandai – idiom, lit. wine sack, food bag; useless persons only fit for drinking alcohol and eating food
    5. 巴州, Bazhou – modern-day Eastern Sichuan and Chongqing
    6. 雒城, Luocheng – modern-day Guanghan
    7. 公公, gonggong – a phrase used to refer to eunuchs
    8. 只言片语, zhiyanpianyu – idiom, lit. just a word or two; a few isolated phrases
    9. 异军突起, yijuntuqi – idiom, lit. to emerge as a new force to be reckoned with
    10. 人不可貌相, renbukemaoxiang – idiom, lit. you can’t judge a person by appearance
    11. 关, guan – refers to fortresses used to defend strategic locations, typically easily defended and difficult to attack due to natural rugged terrain
    12. 浅尝辄止, qianchangzhezhi – idiom, lit. to dabble and stop; to attempt half-heartedly
    13. 如火如荼, ruhuorutu – lit. like wildfire; unstoppable
    14. The highly flammable substance, not the fruit
    15. 惨不忍睹, canburendu – idiom, lit. spectacle too horrible to endure; tragic sight, appalling scenes of destruction
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 10 – A Campaign of a Thousand Li

    The words that I told the Prince of De were very simple, “Your Highness, this area is filled with towering mountains and precipitous ridges. There surely must be alternative paths that we can use as a detour. Even if we can’t find a detour, we can pretend that we intend to make our way around the pass, luring the enemy out to battle. We do not fear if they are brave and good fighters. We only fear that they obstinately defend the city without any intention of sallying forth. Rather than continuing to forcibly besiege the city, it would be better to lure them out. Furthermore, as Tian Wei is such a good commander, he is unlikely to be willing to simply defend the city.”

    Although I only said a principle, the Prince of De, as an experienced commander, immediately thoroughly understood. In addition, it was impossible for us to capture the city today. It was better to return to our encampment to fully discuss the matter.

    Of course, in the subsequent conference, I didn’t say anything. I was still unfamiliar with military issues. I was only skilled in intelligence analysis, relying upon the combination of my experience and knowledge. Furthermore, Rong Yuan was already unhappy with me. Continuing to seek the limelight would only serve to fan the flames of his resentment. It was better to offend a gentleman than to offend someone with a vile character. I remembered this fact very well. But these retainers were all capable. I made a simple suggestion and they were able to consider all kinds of scenarios before fixing any oversights. They came up with three plans before ultimately coming up with feasible plan. The more I observed them, the more I respected them. Maybe it was because my admiration was too obvious, the other retainers seemed to become a bit embarrassed. Even the looks that Rong Yuan gave me became more gentle.

    The next day, the Prince of De dispatched soldiers in all directions to gather firewood, trying to find an alternate route. He then ordered the half of the remaining soldiers to remain in their tents to rest, while the rest of the soldiers stood in formation facing Ba Prefecture, neither attacking nor retreating. They would occasionally feign an attack. As soon as the city defenders reacted, they would withdraw. After noon had passed, the resting soldiers would swap with those who were facing Ba Prefecture.

    On the third day, the Southern Chu soldiers feigning attacks upon Ba Prefecture began to get busy. If they weren’t digging trenches, they were practicing martial arts to loosen their bones and muscles. In addition, the army’s war drums were pushed before the city. The soldiers would pound the war drums and shout every hour.

    On the fourth and fifth days, the city defenders had become increasingly exhausted and numb. Even though Ba Prefecture was an important strategic city that served as the Kingdom of Shu’s door, the city only had ten thousand defenders because of the friendly relations between Southern Chu and Shu. As a result, there weren’t enough troops.

    On the sixth day, the Shu soldiers within the city began to grow uneasy. There was also good news on the search, as our soldiers found a small path that would allow us to detour around Ba Prefecture. At this time, the second part of our plan began. The Southern Chu army began to assemble the troops, preparing the troops and horses as if they were getting ready to launch another assault. The city defenders quickly became nervous and additional soldiers could be seen on the battlements. When night fell, the Southern Chu soldiers quietly began to withdraw. This was discovered by Shu agents. They quickly came to the conclusion that the Southern Chu was preparing to take a detour around Ba Prefecture. To the Shu soldiers, for the Southern Chu to take a detour was equivalent to us cutting our own escape route and supply line. But Tian Wei possessed a fiery warlike temperament. The only reason he chose to strictly defend was because he didn’t have enough troops. Although Southern Chu had fifty thousand soldiers, they were the best available. Therefore, the pressure upon Tian Wei was quite heavy. The last several days, he had seen that something was wrong. He had discussed the situation numerous times with his subordinates and all believed that the Southern Chu army would inevitably take a detour around Ba Prefecture. Some of the generals suggested that if Southern Chu were to go around Ba Prefecture, they would have to attack them from the rear. If the Southern Chu army were to be destroyed, then the officers and soldiers of Ba Prefecture would be punished. This left a shadow in the hearts of the defenders. Finally, Tian Wei gave the order to attack Southern Chu’s supply troops, while the Southern Chu army was still going around Ba Prefecture.

    For fifty thousand Southern Chu to take the side path, their travel speed was quite slow. It didn’t take long for Tian Wei to catch up to the Southern Chu army. Twirling the broadsword in his hand, he screamed, “Southern Chu brigands! Where do you think you’re going?”

    Just as he screamed, he led five thousand cavalry charged forward into the rear of the Southern Chu army like a sword. The Southern Chu army scattered and ran. Tian Wei ordered his subordinates to burn the supply wagons. In a split second, flames erupted on all sides. Amidst the flames, Tian Wei laughed aloud heartily. He gave the order to continue to attack, intending to completely defeat the Southern Chu army.

    At this time, the scattering Southern Chu troops revealed a division of white armored infantry, steadily advancing towards Tian Wei. Tian Wei’s heart grew cold, recognizing these troops as the Prince of De’s personal guards, normally tasked with protecting the center of the army. For them to appear here, was this a trap? Tian Wei turned his head to regard his surroundings. The fires burning the supply wagons were already extinguished. Behind the advancing infantry, Tian Wei could see a banner with the character, Zhao, and a dragon embroidered upon it. Tian Wei was both anxious and worried. If this was an ambush, then the only result would be defeat. But he soon had second thoughts. The soldiers before him were the personal guards of the Prince of De. This meant that the Prince of De was likely close by and he had the opportunity to kill the Prince of De. Unable to resist this kind of enticement, Tian Wei gave the order to advance. Although Tian Wei’s cavalry held the advantage, Southern Chu’s infantry were trained to fight cavalry. The first row kneeled and extended the spears in their hands forward to face the cavalry. Behind them, soldiers notched their bows and fired arrows. Taking advantage of the narrowness of the path, they were able to block Tian Wei’s attack. After fighting for some time, Tian Wei saw that he could not win and ordered a retreat.

    The mounted Shu troops were able to quickly extricate themselves and withdraw. It didn’t take long before they were far away. Tian Wei rejoiced. This was, at the very least, a small victory. Just as they had withdrawn a dozen li, suddenly they were attacked by Southern Chu troops from both flanks. Caught in the middle, Tian Wei could only order his troops to run the gauntlet and continue to retreat. Tian Wei’s heart was around cold. Over the course of a dozen li, they were constantly ambushed by Southern Chu soldiers. Although there weren’t many Southern Chu soldiers, they sniped at the retreating horsemen from within dense forests or behind large boulders. If this wasn’t a mountain valley, then it was likely that Tian Wei’s several thousand cavalry would have been wiped out. It took more than an hour before Tian Wei finally caught sight of Ba Prefecture. He only had three thousand horsemen remaining. Just as he arrived before the city, Tian Wei saw the fiery red Shu banner float down from the battlements, while the Prince of De’s yellow dragon banner was slowly hoisted. Tian Wei watched as the Shu soldiers on the battlements were chopped down. Under the cold glint of the flashing swords, Tian Wei caught sight of a person who seemed to be completely out of place. This person, dressed in a set of light robes, seemed to be a young scholar and was directly looking at him with eyes filled with pity. Amidst the blood and flames, his clothes were spotless. He stood atop the battlements and yet there seemed to be some distance separating him and the other Southern Chu soldiers. He almost seemed to be battlefield apparition.

    Before the siege had concluded, I had mounted the city walls. This time, under my advice, the Southern Chu army had left behind ten thousand troops. This was something that I had thought of after the conference while reading the military manuals right before I fell asleep, and was quickly approved by the Prince of De. While we were digging trenches, we had also dug a number of large holes. While we were pretending to take a detour around Ba Prefecture, ten thousand soldiers hid themselves within the holes. The holes were covered by tarpaulin with soil on top. Enemy agents only noticed that our encampments were empty and did not notice the holes that we were using to hide soldiers. After Tian Wei had led his cavalry out of the city, we took advantage of the defenders’ neglect and immediately launched an attack. The complacent defenders were quickly defeated.

    I mounted the battlements in order to witness the conclusion of this battle. As I was originally outside of the city with the other retainers, I feigned worry over the vengeance Tian Wei would wreck with his troops upon those waiting outside. Based upon this reason, we entered the city under heavy guard to protect us from any stragglers. I then mounted the battlements on the pretext of observing what was going on outside. Beaming, Xiaoshunzi dispatched two royal guardsmen to follow me. Although these royal guards were assigned to protect Army Supervisor Wang Hai. Wang Hai knew that Xiaoshunzi was a skilled martial artist and was on close terms with me, and so agreed. From what Xiaoshunzi told me, these two guardsmen’s martial arts were pretty good, and could protect me until reinforced by the Southern Chu soldiers.

    I walked through the sea of blood, careful that no blood stained my clothes. But because of the river of blood at my feet, my shoes became soaked with blood. I was lucky, however. My clothes were unstained. By the time I endured the scents and screams, and mounted the battlements, the last few Shu soldiers were cut down. I looked down from the battlements and caught sight of the returning Shu cavalrymen. The red armored general stared up at the city blankly. Behind him, smoke and dust roiled, seeing my country’s forces approach. Suddenly, the red armored general yelled a command and charged with his cavalry. Afterwards, I watched as these horsemen were first surrounded, weakened, and then defeated. From a distance, I caught sight of the red armored general use his sword to cut his own throat, cursing as he died.

    I shuddered on the inside. War was very different from the easy and light way it was chronicled in the history books. In the eyes of the ten thousand Shu soldiers garrisoning Ba Prefecture, we were a malicious enemy who intended to kill them, and to steal their cities and land. But what were we supposed to do? At this time, I profoundly despised this war. In order to fulfill the interests of Great Yong and Southern Chu, the Kingdom of Shu must be annihilated. Using a river of blood to acquire joy for those above … was it really worth it?

    Afterwards, I fell ill. The blood, the bloody-curdling screams left me unable to sleep, unable to eat. Amidst the hurried march of the army, my illness grew progressively worse. Later, one evening, I was visited by Xiaoshunzi. He pulled me up and said, “I understand why you fell ill. You should collect your cheap sympathy. Our two sides have become enemies. We are at war. If we were to lose, we would lose our lives and be unable to return home. What traditional virtues,1 what four social bonds?2 I only know that I need to stay alive. For you, I need to stay alive. What about you? At the very least, you need to stay alive for me. Remember, you saved my life. If you do not allow me to repay this debt, I definitely will not allow you to die.”

    Seemingly in a trance, I looked at the tears that flowed down Xiaoshunzi’s face and replied, “Xiaoshunzi, brother. I know that you treat me as a real brother. But I constantly bully you, and yet you continue to take care of me, continue to protect me. I am about to pass. You should not feel sorrow. You don’t owe me anything.”

    Xiaoshunzi slapped me ferociously and said, “Why do you think I follow you? You have never looked down upon me and have treated me as a person. You are my teacher. You have helped me learn martial arts. Without you, there is no one else that would even glance at me. If you were to die, I will follow you. We will continue to be brothers in the next life, allowing you to always be there for me.”

    My tears flowed freely. That’s right. How could I die? I still have a brother. If I were to die, Xiaoshunzi would become alone. I always knew that Xiaoshunzi always came to see me because I treated him like a person, someone of flesh and blood. I never considered him as a lowly eunuch or as someone faceless. Humph! The Kingdom of Shu was nothing. Your people to dying had nothing to do with me. Let alone the Kingdom of Shu. Even if Southern Chu were destroyed did not matter to me one bit. Over these last few days, while I was gravely ill, other than Xiaoshunzi and the army doctors, I did not see anyone else. Although the Prince of De came to see me twice early on, he soon forgot about me. With difficulty, I pushed myself upright and said, “Bring me two pills from the white porcelain bottle in my bag.” Xiaoshunzi hurriedly followed my orders. With difficulty, I took two of the pills and said, “I am going to rest for a while. Tomorrow morning, prepare a sumptuous breakfast for me.”

    Three days later, after going to a coma for three days, I awoke and finally was able to eat the breakfast that Xiaoshunzi delivered. I walked out of my tent and looked up at the sunny and cloudless sky. I extended my arms and took a deep breath. I told Xiaoshunzi to inform Army Supervisor Wang that I was going to ride in his carriage as I had just recovered.

    During the dozen days that I was ill and confined to bed, the Southern Chu advance had proceeded relatively smoothly. That we were able to capture Ba Prefecture was a heavy blow to the confidence of the smaller fortresses along the way. Using the strategy of using heavy assaults and soft deception, our army’s progress was faster than anticipated. We did not know how Great Yong was doing on their front as we received no information on the subject. Over the following days, as I had only just recovered, I wasn’t assigned too many duties, frequently using the leisurely free time to write verses. I did not say anything more. Although the Prince of De remorsefully came to check upon me, I refused to forgive him. He originally had treated me as important. But once I fell ill, he was quick to discard me. As a result, I indifferently expressed my thanks. As I was frequently with Army Supervisor Wang, I did not have to worry about the Prince of De making things difficult for me. I was precisely so narrow-minded. What about it?

    Amidst this, the Southern Chu army arrived before Luocheng, rendezvousing with the earlier arriving navy. Luocheng was the protective defense of the Kingdom of Shu’s capital, Chengdu. Here was gathered an army of fifty thousand Shu soldiers. The famed Shu general, Wei Xian, commanded twenty thousand troops before Luocheng close to the mountains, while Grand General Long Bu commanded Luocheng’s thirty thousand troop garrison. The combined Southern Chu army and navy had quickly attacked Fushui Pass. The garrison had fought bitterly for several days before abandoning the pass and retreating. The combined force encamped at Fushui Pass. The Prince of De knew that the coming battle would be long and protracted, and only carefully deployed the defensive forces, while ordering the navy to cruise the Fushui to isolate Luocheng from any reinforcements. As Luocheng’s northern gate was against the Fushui and the southern gate against the mountains, the Prince of De used his navy to transport his army to attack Luocheng from the east and west. But in the face of the support by Wei Xian on the outside, Southern Chu could not gain the advantage even after several days of bloody conflict. Seeing the exhaustion of his soldiers, the Prince of De decided to withdraw his troops. Aside from occasional moves by the navy, he rested his troops by the Fushui and prepared to renew the battle. Although we were far from Southern Chu, we could rely upon the waterborne supply line and Sichuan’s abundant resources. As a result, we did not lack any supplies. However, the war entered into a stalemate.

    On the twenty-seventh day of the eleventh month, we finally received news regarding from the Great Yong front.

    Great Yong had dispatched the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, at the head of two hundred thousand troops. As they had bribed the garrison commander of Yangping Pass, they were easily able to capture the pass. The Great Yong fought and continuously won numerous battles, using only two months to capture Nanzheng. Although the eastern Sichuan region3 was also a part of the Kingdom of Shu, the vast majority of Sichuan’s prosperity was located in the western region.4 As a result, the people of the eastern Sichuan region were resentful. When Li Zhi entered the region, he ensured that his soldiers committed no offenses.5 He quickly destroyed any remnant Shu forces and also cleared the region of any bandits. After not even three months, the eastern Sichuan region was fully pacified. Afterwards, Li Zhi led his army against Jiameng Pass. If Jiameng Pass were to fall, then there would be nothing standing in the way between the Great Yong army and Chengdu.

    Facing enemies on two fronts, the King of Shu, Meng Yun, found himself in an emergency situation where he found himself not having enough troops to defend everything.6 Jiameng Pass had ninety thousand troops defending it. He further dispatched twenty thousand troops to defend Luocheng. As a result, Chengdu had no troops. On the twelfth day of the eleventh month, the twenty thousand reinforcements entered Luocheng under the assistance of Long Bu and Wei Xian.

    When the Prince of De saw the report, his face grew dark. Even if Great Yong were to retreat, their control over Yangping Pass ensured that they controlled the Hanzhong region. While, if he did not capture Luocheng, then there was no way he could defend against the Shu army. He did not want to retreat to Ba Prefecture, as it would mean giving up all the captured territory. As a result, Southern Chu was even more anxious to attack. But having faced off for several days, there was little to no progress made. How could this not cause him to be worried? A consolation was that our reinforcements had also arrived, increasing our total force to ninety thousand men. At minimum we would not be forced to retreat in defeat. Under these circumstances, facing the two front attack by Great Yong and Southern Chu, Shu would ultimately fall. The problem was that Southern Chu may not end up with Chengdu.

    For me, these few days passed quite leisurely. Aside from eating my meals, I wandered all over. Of course, in the face of Shu’s agents and assassins, I made sure to not stray too far from the encampment. In addition, I could not be too leisurely, otherwise it would catch other’s envy. In any case, I wasn’t able to do anything to intervene. Taking advantage of my illness, Rong Yuan took over my duties using my illness as an excuse. According to him, I was still lying ill in bed. But I didn’t bother to bicker. In any case, it wasn’t like we would lose in this coming battle.

    Taking advantage of my idleness, I took the opportunity to speak with Xiaoshunzi about finding personal guards. Xiaoshunzi thought for quite some time, finding it extremely difficult. He did not know many skilled martial artists to introduce to me. According to him, all of the skilled martial artists that he had ever fought, he had killed. In addition, these guards must be loyal. This was more difficult. He suggested selecting a eunuch that he could take as a disciple and train to later protect me. I rejected this suggestion. One reason was that this proposal would take too long. Another reason was that eunuchs could not constantly leave the palace. Thinking for some time, Xiaoshunzi said, “How about this … after a few years, I will feign my death and leave the palace to come stay by your side.”

    I originally had decided to nod my head, but I realized that things would become problematic if Xiaoshunzi were to be recognized. I said in a straightforward said, “How about this … I am prepared to resign when I return to the capital. Since you don’t seem to like living in the palace, we can both leave to travel the world.”7

    Thinking it over, Xiaoshunzi replied happily, “This isn’t a bad idea. I have long wanted to travel everywhere. I have long grown sick of Jianye. Where should we go?”

    After thinking, I replied, “In any case, the Kingdom of Shu is going to be destroyed. If Great Yong and Southern Chu remain at peace, we can go travel to Great Yong. Once war erupts between Great Yong and Southern Chu, we can go to Northern Han. If Great Yong goes to war with Northern Han, we can return to Southern Chu. Over the next several decades, there is plenty of time for us to travel everywhere. If at any point, we become fed up with traveling, we can find someplace to settle down.” Xiaoshunzi’s face was filled with yearning.

    Just as we were planning out our futures, Xiaoshunzi suddenly pounced without warning in the courtyard’s shrubbery. His silhouette was like a demon, matchlessly agile. From within the shrubbery, a gray silhouette shot out. The two silhouettes combined before separating. Xiaoshunzi retreated several zhang before his silhouette turned, flipping through the air, pouncing once again. The other person hurriedly fought back, but was hit in the chest by Xiaoshunzi and was cast to the ground.

    Seeing Xiaoshunzi nod at me, I walked lightly over. This person was a young man of twenty with ordinary appearance that could easily disappear into a crowd. He was wearing the uniform of a Southern Chu soldier, but I could see that the uniform was not the right size. In addition, I could smell the faint smell of blood. This man was a Shu agent. Under normal circumstances, I should hand him over for two reasons – first to gain merit, second this was my duty. But I did not want the Prince of De to learn of what I had said earlier. My mind immediately produced a desire to kill. I gave Xiaoshunzi a look. Understanding my look, Xiaoshunzi raised his palm and was getting ready to strike the man’s head.

    The man painfully opened his eyes and saw Xiaoshunzi’s actions. He rolled with difficulty. Xiaoshunzi laughed coldly, flipping his palm and continuing to strike at the man’s head. Seeing the grief and indignation in the man’s eyes, I did not know why, but I called out, “Hold your hand.”

    Xiaoshunzi’s palm had reached the man’s head when he heard me call out. He abruptly retracted his palm, retreating to my side. Solemnly, I said, “Brother, I must kill you. If you have any last wishes, I can fulfill them.”

    An emotional expression on his face, the man replied, “Please release my wife.”

    I was stunned. When did I steal his wife? I don’t seem to have done such a thing.

    1. 仁义道德, renyidaode – idiom, lit. compassion, duty, propriety, and integrity; the traditional virtues (often used in a sarcastic and hypocritical
    2. 礼仪廉耻, liyilianchi – the four social bonds (四维, siwei): sense of propriety, justice, integrity, and honor
    3. 东川, Dongchuan – lit. eastern Sichuan region; refers to the region around Hanzhong that is today a part of Shaanxi province
    4. 西川, Xichuan – lit. western Sichuan region; refers to Sichuan
    5. 秋毫无犯, qiuhaowufan – idiom lit. not harming a feather; soldiers not committing the slightest offenses
    6. 捉襟见肘, zhuojinjianzhou – idiom, lit. pulling on the lapels exposes the elbows; strapped for cash, unable to make ends meet
    7. 浪迹天涯, langjitianya – idiom, lit. to roam far and wide; to travel the world
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 11 – Scheming Against One Another1

    The young man coughed several times. He looked at me filled with hope. With no alternative, I had Xiaoshunzi bring him into my room. There, I asked, “This official is untalented, but is still an educated scholar. I can say with confidence that I have never stolen any married women. I wonder why you believe that your honored wife is here with me.”

    The man looked at me, unconvinced. He replied, “Although this lowly commoner,2 Han Zhang, is a citizen of the Kingdom of Shu, I am neither an official nor a soldier. I am an ordinary farmer. This lowly commoner’s wife hails from a prestigious house, possesses a beautiful appearance, and of noble status. Three years ago, because she was unhappy with her betrothal, she left her home. By chance, she married me. A few months ago, my humble wife learned her mother was ill and returned home to visit her family. Because this lowly commoner was busy with the fall harvest, I could not stay long and returned home early. Who knew that Great Yong and Southern Chu would invade Shu. My humble wife’s father was the garrison commander of Ba Prefecture, Tian Wei. He was unfortunate to perish. My humble wife and my mother-in-law were captured. When I heard that Ba Prefecture fell, I traveled day and night. I learned that they had been rewarded by the Prince of De to his military retainer, Jiang Zhe. As a result, I have followed you all the way.”

    Confused, I turned to look at Xiaoshunzi. Revealing a look of realization, he replied, “Daren, you were ill at the time. The Prince of De saw that Tian Wei’s daughter was elegant and beautiful. He rewarded her to daren because of your proposed strategy. At the time, daren was in a coma, so I accepted her on your behalf. She is currently staying with Army Supervisor Wang. Over these last few days, because daren only recently regained your health, this lowly servant wished attend to you for a few days. I saw that Lady Tian was quite thoughtful when attending to Wang gonggong, I decided to allow her to attend to him, allowing everyone to be happy.”

    I finally understood why Xiaoshunzi was always by my side. I asked, “How have they been treated by Wang gonggong?

    Respectfully, Xiaoshunzi replied, “Be at ease, daren. Lady Tian is ingenious and nimble. Wang gonggong even wishes to adopt her as his daughter. As for the elder Lady Tian, she has been mourning the death of General Tian, so she is not too well.”

    When Han Zhang heard this news, exposing a look of unrestrained happiness. But not before long, the look was replaced by an expression of suffering. Thinking it over, I realized that Han Zhang was not a Shu agent. But he had heard what I had said earlier. Should I still silence him? Having thinking it over, I realized there was no need to do so. It was unlikely that he would inform the Prince of De what I had said. While I was hesitating, Han Zhang was at death’s door. I hurriedly took a small case filled with needles. I took out a golden needle and used acupuncture before I helped him take some medication. Under the medicinal effects, he fell asleep. Towards Xiaoshunzi, I said, “I could do nothing to avert the death of Tian Wei. With the two countries in a state of war, casualties cannot be avoided. But his wife and daughter are innocent. Go arrange matters. When we have captured Luocheng and the roads are free of obstacles, release the three of them to return home.”

    Xiaoshunzi replied, “Yes, when the time comes, I will explain everything with Wang gonggong. He will not be unhappy. But it’s a pity … Han Zhang’s martial arts are quite good. This lowly servant does not underestimate myself. Even among the skilled martial artists in the royal guards, few can take my attacks and live. It would be good if we could keep him by your side as a personal guard.”

    Thinking that it was unlikely, I replied, “I am an official of Southern Chu. He is a family member of a general of Shu. In addition, he has a wife and mother-in-law. How can he become my personal guard? You are indulging in fantasies.”

    Xiaoshunzi replied, “This is not impossible. His wife is now daren’s servant. If you allow him to remain and reunite with his wife, he must surely be grateful. But I understand that daren requires someone loyal. It won’t be good if we force this man to stay behind.”

    I nodded my head and replied, “That’s right. It would be better to be without rather than accept someone substandard.3 If he is disloyal, it would be useless to have him remain. But for us to capture Luocheng will require at least two more months. We can use this time to figure out a way to leave. We can allow him to remain at my side as a personal guard and prevent anyone from being suspicious at our relationship.”

    Xiaoshunzi agreed and said, “That’s good as well. This will prevent me from being always worried about daren’s safety.”

    When Han Zhang woke, it was already late in the night. He could feel the qi in his four limbs and hundred bones was vigorous,4 and could not feel any of the heavy internal wounds that would have cost him his life. He didn’t move, but he could sense that he was in a small room. He couldn’t sense anyone nearby. Just as he was about to sit up, a cold hand gently pressed down on his chest. Then he saw a spark as someone lit a candle. Under the faint light of the candle, he saw the young man who had injured him earlier stare coldly at him, his eyes filled with killing intent. Han Zhang smartly ceased to move. He did not want to die without reason, especially when he had learned the news about the safety of his wife.

    Seeing that he was completely calm, he revealed a cold smile, and said, “I am named Li Shun. The Jiang Zhe that you wish to find is my master. Master has already decided that once the battle for Luocheng is concluded, he will release your mother-in-law and wife. Until then, you must remain and serve as his personal guard.”

    Han Zhang hesitated for a moment. He was ultimately a citizen of the Kingdom of Shu. He was a bit reluctant to serve as a personal guard of an official of an invader.

    Retracting his palm, Xiaoshunzi smiled faintly before departing.

    The next day, he led Han Zhang to meet Wang gonggong. Wang gonggong was more than happy to fulfill them. The Ladies Tian were my servants and agreed to allow Han Zhang to remain by my side. Of course, I also informed the Prince of De of this matter, to prevent him from thinking that Han Zhang was a Shu spy. Thinking it over, especially as there were undoubtedly quite a few individuals surreptitiously monitoring me, I told Xiaoshunzi to keep away for now.

    Of course, this was the first time that I had the opportunity to meet the servants awarded me by the Prince of De. Lady Tian was named Tian Suying. She indeed possessed an elegant appearance, and a vigorous and heroic spirit, definitely the daughter of a family of generals. From Han Zhang, I learned that Tian Suying also knew martial arts, and that her skills were not below that of Han Zhang. This time she did not escape because of her mother. I took a cold breath. What could I do if Tian Suying were to assassinate Wang gonggong? When I asked Xiaoshunzi, he did not hesitate to tell me that Wang gonggong was protected by numerous guards. In addition, he had already warned Tian Suying. If she dared to act, her mother would not survive. It wasn’t as if they could escape Fushui Pass.

    I immediately looked at Xiaoshunzi in a different light. This little fellow was tight and cautious. If he were willing, he could easily become the top ranking eunuch supervisor. When I suggested such a course to him, he replied with contempt, “What good is there to attend to the King? One has to be servile and fawning. If one is even the slightest bit not careful, he will be beheaded. You are different. If you really got angry with me, all you would do is scold me. You have to be careful that I will bite back.”

    Under his cold and secluded, my heart grew cold. I immediately began to think back to whether I was too excessive with him. Thinking it over, I didn’t think that there was any such occasion. However, regardless of what, I had to remember that this little brat was a skilled martial artist.

    At this moment, Chengdu had fallen into chaos. The Shu Prime Minister, Shen Jun, led Grand Generals Fan Hu and Meng Da to defend Jiameng Pass. Great Yong frequently attacked the pass. The defending soldiers of Jiameng Pass found it difficult to sleep.5 In addition, Grand General Long Bu and General Wei Xian were defending Ba Prefecture. They did not dare to relax. The center of Sichuan did not have a single soldier. Over the last few months, the King of Shu, Meng Yun’s black hair had become white. He deeply resented Southern Chu for breaking the alliance, but also hated himself for offending Great Yong. Thinking it over, he could think of no solution to pushing back this invasion. Afterwards, an important official suggested that as the Hanzhong region was already lost, why not negotiate a peace with Great Yong. If Great Yong were to withdraw its troops, then Southern Chu would not continue to attack Shu by itself. Although the King had adopted this strategy, he could not decide who to send as envoy. The Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, was famed throughout the land. If they were to send someone ordinary, then they could hardly say much. Later, the Kingdom of Shu’s wild scholar, Yang Can, nominated himself. Yang Can traveled day and night, arriving before Jiameng Pass. Jiameng Pass were brightly lit by flames. Calm and unruffled, Yang Can rested one night. The next day, he left the pass and proceeded towards the Yong encampment, handing over his credentials. Not long afterwards, he was invited into the marshal’s tent by the Prince of Yong.

    Yang Can was a famed wild scholar of the Kingdom of Shu, known for his conceit, contempt for others,6 and his condescension.7 But upon seeing the strict organization of the Prince of Yong’s camp. Before the Prince’s tent, it felt as if there was a majestic tiger. He could not help but feel a chill in his heart. He tidied his appearance and entered the tent. He saw a man in martial attire seated behind the marshal’s table. The man had a poised appearance there. Although he seemed to have a gentle deportment, one could detect a faint but awe-inspiring aura. The Prince of Yong was thirty-one years old. Although he had fought on the battlefield for years, there wasn’t a hint of killing intent. He was wearing a set of light armor in black with a brocade gown on top. He had a nature and serene expression on his face, almost as if he was sitting idly at home and not leading an army on the battlefield. To his left stood a dozen or so generals, all of whom had steady, but fierce and tough auras. To his right stood a dozen or so individuals dressed either in the garb of civil officials or in the plain garb of a retainer. One could clearly see that he had many civil and military officials among his subordinates.

    Yang Can entered the tent. He remained standing and did not kneel. In a loud voice, he said, “The envoy from the Kingdom of Shu, Yang Can, greets Your Highness, the Prince of Yong.”

    The eyes of the generals widened and glowered at Yang Can. One general who looked particularly forthright shouted, “A mere envoy, why do you not kneel before His Highness?”

    Raising his voice, Yang Can replied, “Although Yang Can is but a commoner, I am a citizen of the Kingdom of Shu. Although His Highness is respected and honored, he is a subject of Great Yong. Today, Yang Can is here on behalf of the King of Shu. How can I kneel and bow?”

    A refined looking adviser around the age of fifty replied in a cultivated voice, “The Kingdom of Shu is about to be destroyed. My Great Yong’s two hundred thousand troops are before the pass. Why does your distinguished country’s King dispatch an envoy instead of seeking victory?”

    Yang Can politely replied, “My country’s King knows that he has offended Great Yong. At this critical juncture,8 how can we not be frightened? And yet, as long as the Kingdom of Shu does not fall, as a subject of Shu, I dare not dishonor our national prestige. If Great Yong forgives us, allowing the Kingdom of Shu to become a vassal and pay yearly tribute. Although Yang Can may be arrogant, how dare I not be respectful to an upper country’s important official?”

    A young adviser of ordinary appearance, but possessing of an aquiline nose and a deep-set pair of eyes, coldly said, “The Kingdom of Shu is about to be destroyed. Jiameng Pass is about to fall. I wonder what the Kingdom of Shu can offer to sue for peace. My country can soon achieve total victory; why should we allow you to continue your wretched existence?”

    Upright and afraid, Yang Can replied, “Although the Kingdom of Shu has suffered a grave defeat, but Jiameng Pass and Luocheng both remain in our hands. It is not if we can attain security. If your distinguished country is determined to destroy my Kingdom of Shu, my King is more willing to offer the entirety of Sichuan to Southern Chu. Once Southern Chu attains the fertile land of Sichuan and continues to hold onto the lands of Jingxiang,9 no matter how strong Great Yong may be, you can only watch Southern Chu become stronger. If you are willing to suspend hostilities and call a ceasefire, my Kingdom of Shu is not only willing to become a vassal of Great Yong, but is also willing to cede the Hanzhong region. My King deeply hates the King of Southern Chu for betraying our alliance. Even if we were to bear a grudge, we can only avenge ourselves upon Southern Chu. Great Yong has gained half of the world, and can watch my Kingdom of Shu and Southern Chu mutually fight. Would this not be pleasing?”

    Hearing this, everyone fell silent, muttering to themselves. These last few days, they had attacked Jiameng Pass repeatedly without success. Some of them even had the notion to retreat. But with the strategy already determined, everyone’s eyes turned to the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi.

    Li Zhi smiled faintly, asking, “We wonder how are the people of Sichuan?”

    Yang Can clearly replied, “My Sichuan possesses many talented individuals, with civil officials with talent comparable to Xiao He,10 military officials with the valor comparable to the Hegemonic King,11 and ability to scheme comparable to Zhang Liang.12 My Sichuan has many talents, all loyal and righteous. Although Yang Can am untalented, I am willing to emulate Tian Heng’s brave subordinates.13 There are others who are willing to emulate the actions of Nie Zheng and Jing Ke.14

    Li Zhi’s eyes flashed an undetectable cold light, before he continued to ask, “Now in the service of the King of Shu, how many are like you?”

    Yang Can replied, “Those versatile with civil and military talent, both wise and brave number in the hundreds. Those like one, innumerable.”

    Li Zhi asked, “If that is the case, what position do you hold?”

    Yang Can replied, “Under the King, we are rich and have talented citizens in abundance. I am but a wild person who belongs to the bucolic countryside, enjoying the pleasures of life all the time.”

    Smiling faintly, Li Zhi said, “Your honored envoy has come from afar and must be tired. Please temporarily return to the pass. If there is a response, we will dispatch a messenger.”

    Yang Can bowed and bade his farewell. Before he had gone far, a white robed scholar quietly exited the tent. He had fine eyebrows and large eyes, and had a distinguished bearing. He called out to Yang Can, “Sir Yang is a wild scholar of Sichuan. Why did you switch from arrogance to deference?”

    Yang Can replied, “I was first arrogant for the purpose of showing my unyielding resolve. I was deferential afterwards for the sake of the Kingdom of Shu.”

    The white robed scholar fell silent for some time before he replied, “This one is Xuan Song of Great Yong, styled Changqing. If you have any matters that need to be entrusted, you can send me a letter. As long as it does not pertain to matters of state, Changqing will spare no effort.”

    Yang Can thanked him before returning to Chengdu via Jiameng Pass to report on the completion of his mission.

    In the subsequent half a month, the Yong army did not attack, greatly reducing the pressure on Jiameng Pass.

    It didn’t take long for the information was reported to the Prince of De, Zhao Jue, by Southern Chu’s spies. Zhao Jue became irate. He did not have an easy time during this time period. Even after so long, he could not capture Luocheng. Long Bu definitely deserved his reputation as a Grand General of Sichuan, frequently taking advantage of circumstances to sally from the city and attack, forcing the Southern Chu forces to retreat in defeat. Wei Xian was adept at raiding encampments. A small raid would occur every three days, a major raid every five days disturbing the soldiers’ rest. Long Bu and Wei Xian’s cooperation prevented the Southern Chu forces from making even an inch of progress in the last month. The supply line was constantly harassed by the early routed Shu army. Zhao Jue had run of ideas and was already distressed. At this time, he heard this astonishing bad news. If the Kingdom of Shu and Great Yong were to make peace, then the end of Southern Chu was near.

    At this point, he remembered Jiang Zhe. This young zhuangyuan had a peculiar personality. Zhao Jue had forced Jiang Zhe to accompany the army. He did not show an interest when Jiang Zhe suffered a shock and fell ill, but one could not blame Zhao Jue. Regarding the first matter, Zhao Jue considered Jiang Zhe as a subject of Southern Chu. As he was talented, how can he not render services to the country? As for the latter matter, Zhao Jue was busy with military matters, marching and fighting. How can continuously besieging cities be an easy thing? In addition, Jiang Zhe was quite indifferent to military matters after he had recovered from his illness. First, Zhao Jue believed that Jiang Zhe was slack because he had not fully recovered. Second, he had perceived the deliberate exclusion by his retainer, Rong Yuan, towards Jiang Zhe. Zhao Jue did not want to destroy the relationship that he had long cultivated with Rong Yuan, especially since Rong Yuan was extremely proficient in military strategy. Rong Yuan was his irreplaceable right-hand man. As a result, in comparison, he was indifferent to Jiang Zhe. As a result of these reasons, relations between Zhao Jue and Jiang Zhe became increasingly distant. However, today, at the end, Zhao Jue once again realized Jiang Zhe’s importance. Jiang Zhe was far superior to everyone not only because of his analytical and organizational ability, but also because Jiang Zhe possessed a farsighted15 strategic sense. From the battle for Ba Prefecture, Jiang Zhe was adept at planning out a battle’s purpose in advance and could find the point of breakthrough from within a vast ocean of information. Although his strategic planning required someone prudent and meticulous to enact, his abilities were already rarely seen. Now that he was facing a strategic decision that was difficult to deal with. He finally thought of Jiang Zhe. But what about Rong Yuan?

    Just as Zhao Jue was feeling distressed, Rong Yuan came to see him. Upon catching sight of Zhao Jue, he kneeled on the ground, begging for forgiveness. Stunned, Zhao Jue hurriedly helped Rong Yuan up. Zhao Jue asked, “Why has Sir Rong performed a big rite?”

    Ashamed, Rong Yuan replied, “This subordinate is petty, deliberately excluding talented individuals. My crime cannot be forgiven. These last few days, this subordinate has wracked my brain trying to think of a strategy to defeat the enemy, but cannot think of any effective methods. If Jiang Zhe were here, he would likely thoroughly investigate16 and come up with a strategy. Your Highness, please allow this subordinate to go and personally beg the zhuangyuan’s forgiveness, so that we can unite17 and break Luocheng.”

    Exulting, Zhao Jue replied, “Sir recognizes his mistake, this is wonderful. Zhao Jue was also mistaken, neglecting a famous scholar. The two of us should go see Jiang Zhe together and can acquire his forgiveness, to ask Jiang zhuangyuan to come up with a strategy to break this stalemate.”

    Speaking, he handed the intelligence report in his hand to Rong Yuan. Rong Yuan took a look, his face immediately becoming ugly. He naturally understood the dangerous situation that they faced. If the Kingdom of Shu were to become a vassal of Great Yong, once Shu were to recover, then they would definitely take vengeance upon Southern Chu. Thinking of this, Rong Yuan hurriedly urged Zhao Jue to go see Jiang Zhe together.

    At this moment, I was immersed in the comfort of life as a guest. After learning that Tian Suying knew martial arts, Wang Hai agreed to return Tian Suying and her mother to me. Their entire family’s reunion was naturally joyful. Tian Suying treated me indifferently, as I was a ranking official of Southern Chu and was the prime offender that had come up with the strategy that defeated and killed her father. I did not know that Southern Chu’s sky was filled with black clouds.

    Just as I was write down a verse, I heard someone ask from outside my door, “Is Jiang daren here?”

    1. 钩心斗角, gouxindoujiao – idiom, lit. to fight and scheme against each other
    2. 草民, caomin – lit. straw person; used by commoners to refer to themselves when facing those individuals holding an official position
    3. 宁缺勿滥, ningquewulan – idiom, lit. better to have nothing (than substandard choice); would prefer to go without than accept a shoddy option
    4. 真气蓬勃, zhaoqipengbo – idiom, lit. full of youthful energy; vigorous, energetic, a bright spark
    5. 目不交睫, mubujiaojie – idiom, lit. the eyelashes do not come together; fig. to not sleep a wink
    6. 恃才傲物, shicai’aowu – idiom, lit. to be inordinately proud of one’s ability; to be conceited and contemptuous
    7. 目中无人, muzhongwuren – idiom, lit. to consider everyone else beneath one; so arrogant that no one else matters, condescending
    8. 兵临城下, binglinchengxia – idiom, lit. soldiers at the city walls; fig. at a critical juncture
    9. 荆襄, Jingxiang – refers to one of the nine ancient provinces of China that is modern-day Hubei and Hunan
    10. 萧何, Xiao He was an adviser to the founding Emperor of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang. He was the dynasty’s founding prime minister
    11. 霸王, bawang – lit. Hegemonic King; refers to the Hegemonic King of Western Chu, Xiang Yu, who battled Liu Bang for control of the world after the fall of the Qin Dynasty
    12. 张良, Zhang Liang was the primary strategist in the service of the founding Emperor of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang
    13. 田横, Tian Heng was a member of the royal family of the state of Qi. After the fall of the Qin Dynasty, Tian Heng attempted to restore the state of Qi and served as chancellor before attempting to become king himself. After being defeated, he fled from the mainland. After the founding Emperor of Han Dynasty attempted to force him to surrender, Tian Heng refused and committed. Tian Heng had five hundred loyal retainers who stayed with him till the bitter end. They followed Tian Heng and all of them committed suicide as well.
    14. 聂政, Nie Zheng and 荆轲, Jing Ke were famed assassins during the Warring States Period
    15. 远见卓识, yuanjianzhuoshi – idiom, lit. visionary and sagacious; farsighted
    16. 抽丝拨茧, chousibaojian – idiom, lit. to spin silk from cocoons; fig. to make a painstaking investigation; to come up
    17. 戮力同心, lulitongxin – idiom, lit. concerted efforts in a common cause; united and working together
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 12 – Chained Malicious Strategies

    In the twelfth month of the nineteenth year of Xiande, the Southern Chu army was battling before Luocheng. At the same time, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, was battling before Jiameng Pass. Before long, there were rumors that Great Yong and the Kingdom of Shu intended to make peace. The Prince of De, Zhao Jue, became extremely uneasy. He asked Jiang Zhe for a strategy and secretly discussed the matter for some time. The next day, the Chu army assaulted the city with extreme urgency. On the nineteenth day of the twelfth month, General Wei Xian was killed in an ambush. Dawn of the next day, the Chu army once attacked the city. Long Bu mistakenly listened to an intelligence report and sallied forth from the city to chase and was lured into an encirclement. After battling for an entire day, men and horses tired, the Prince of De personally proceeded forward to call for surrender. Long Bu refused. In anger, he committed suicide. The Prince sighed in admiration. He personally collected Long Bu’s remains and buried them before Luocheng.

    On the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, Jiameng Pass learned the news of Luocheng’s fall. The Shu army lost all desire for battle. On the twenty-eighth day of the twelfth month, Jiameng Pass fell. From then on, the Kingdom of Shu was defenseless. There were those who say that Jiang Zhe offered two stratagems – capturing city and sowing discord. Afterwards, he had a chance encounter with Rong Yuan, a former retainer of the Prince of De, who inquired of this matter. Afterwards, Rong Yuan muttered to himself for some time. When later questioned, he refused to speak any of the particulars. Not long afterwards, Rong Yuan passed away. When others came to mourn, Rong Yuan’s son was said to speak on behalf of his deceased father that Jiang Suiyun was a genius, but unfortunately the Prince of De dared not use him …

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
    I set down my brush. Han Zhang left the room and opened the courtyard gate, seeing a general dressed in yellow golden armor and a white cape. Behind him to the side stood a black robed scholar. Behind them were a troop of white armored personal guards. Han Zhang had stayed within the Southern Chu army for almost a month now. How could he not know the identity of the person before him. Apprehensive, he stepped aside. Zhao Jue gave him a glance before entering house. Rong Yuan made a gesture before following. The personal guards immediately surrounded Jiang Zhe’s study room.

    I didn’t hear Han Zhang announce the visitor. Just as I was feeling strange, I saw Zhao Jue entered the room. According to propriety, I stood and bowed, saying, “For what reason has Your Highness come to my humble abode? Please excuse Suiyun for not coming out to welcome you, may Your Highness forgive me.”

    Zhao Jue first returned my greeting before replying, “Zhao Jue has been busy with military matters of late and have not had the opportunity to inquire after Jiang daren’s health. Please forgive me.”

    I replied indifferently, “Your Highness holds a strong army within your grasp, having to deal with ten thousand matters on a daily basis. How do you have the free time to worry about this lowly official? May I ask what is the reason for Your Highness’s visit today?”

    Zhao Jue glanced at Rong Yuan who hurriedly stepped forward and said with remorse, “Jiang daren, I have slighted you before, please forgive me.”

    I naturally replied, “There is no need for Sir Rong to be so courteous. For the two gentlemen have come personally, there must be a military matter of extreme importance. Please speak forthrightly.”

    Rong Yuan gave an ashamed look before saying, “The Kingdom of Shu has dispatched an envoy to seek an audience with the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, to request to make peace. Li Zhi has not agreed, but also has not declined.”

    As he spoke, he handed a hefty pile of intelligence reports. They were extremely detailed, including the entire contents of the conversation between Li Zhi and Yang Can. After I read through them, I could not help but smile. This Yang Can was very similar to my first student, Lu Can. They had similar personalities, using both threats and enticements. But it was such a pity. I sighed heavily before speaking, “The Kingdom of Shu has many talented people and yet the King of Shu does not know how to use them. And yet, even though Kingdom was in peril and yet all of these individuals refused to abandon Shu. No wonder people say that the people of Shu are loyal and righteous.”

    Zhao Jue asked, “What is it? Has Suiyun already seen that Great Yong won’t accept the Kingdom of Shu’s peace offering?”

    Smiling, I replied, “If the Prince of Yong was willing to agree to peace, he would have asked questions to ascertain the benefits. However, the Prince of Yong inquired after Sichuan’s talents. He clearly intends to win the support of these talents to govern Sichuan. Therefore, the Prince of Yong will not agree to peace.”

    Furrowing his brows, Zhao Jue said, “But why would the Prince of Yong allowed this information to spread? If our Southern Chu were to learn of this, it seems somewhat …”

    In an indifferent voice, I replied, “The Prince of Yong is indeed capable. He deliberately allowed these rumors to be spread with the purpose of allowing our Southern Chu to learn of this. From what this lowly official knows, over the last few days, our Southern Chu has not earnestly attacked the city. I believe that Your Highness wishes that the Prince of Yong would fight a bloody battle to capture Jiameng Pass. At that point, the defenders of Luocheng will be affected and cannot be fully devoted to defending the city. When the time comes, we can easily take Luocheng.”

    Zhao Jue and Rong Yuan exchanged a look. This was the strategy that they had adopted after secret discussions. They could not believe that I had seen through it so easily. The two did not say a word, but tacitly agreed. I continued, “I believe the Prince of Yong also is worried about his own losses, and has therefore used these rumors to force us to resolve this battle as soon as possible. Alas, the Prince of Yong is truly fearsome. Even if we are able to see through his intentions, what can we do? At worst, the Prince of Yong agrees to make peace with Shu, forcing us to directly face the entirety of Shu’s anger. Great Yong can tolerate Shu’s existence. As long as they control Yangping Pass, they can control the entire Hanzhong region. But to date, after bitter fighting, we have only gained control of the difficult and dangerous road into Sichuan. Our gains do not make up for our losses. We do not have the ability nor do we dare to drag this out. If Shu recovers, they will attack Southern Chu for our betrayal. At this time, this lowly official has three strategies – high, middle, and low.”

    Hearing my words, Zhao Jue became disconcerted. He asked, “What are the three strategies? Will daren please explain in detail?”
    I straightforwardly replied, “The low strategy would be to continue our current path. If Great Yong becomes impatient and first captures Jiameng Pass, then we have achieved our original goals. The only problem is if Great Yong in a fury changes its mind and decides to make peace with Shu. At that point, we will be completely defended. Under this strategy, victory and defeat are completely in the hands of the Prince of Yong.”

    Zhao Jue sadly said, “If victory and defeat are completely in the hands of others, aren’t we completely at their mercy?1 What is the middle strategy?”

    In a heavy tone, I continued, “The middle strategy would be to launch a concerted attack on Luocheng. As long as we are able to capture Luocheng, Great Yong will also forcibly attack Jiameng Pass. At that point, Shu will fall. We will attain more than we had planned, but would also lose will be far greater than we had planned.”

    Zhao Jue’s brow furrowed. He did not want to suffer too many casualties and thus had not made a concerted effort to attack Luocheng. In a heavy voice, he asked, “Then what is the high strategy?”

    I smiled faintly as I replied, “We will use surprise to attack and capture the city. Our losses will not be too much. At that point, as long as restrain ourselves during the division of spoils, we will have completely achieved our goals.”

    Zhao Jue’s brow smoothed over, as he asked, “But how are we to use surprise to capture the city?”

    I was well prepared2 and replied, “Luocheng’s garrison is split in two with one army garrisoning the city and the other army encamped outside the city. The two forces are able to assist each other. If we want to win, we must destroy the city’s external help. I recommend that we urgently attack the city. The enemy forces camped outside of the city will conflagration. The outside enemy forces will immediately believe that Luocheng is in danger and come to reinforce. We can set an ambush along their path and completely annihilate this army. With external help eliminated, we can turn our attention to dealing with the city garrison. Afterwards, we will once again launch another attack against the city. We will then use soldiers dressed in Shu uniforms to feign an attack our supplies, allowing them to believe that there are still Shu soldiers outside to help. We will pretend that our supplies have been destroyed and hastily retreat, enticing the city garrison to sally forth and chase us. We can place an ambush to cut off their path of retreat, tempt and then kill the enemy’s main commander. When the time comes, it won’t take long for Luocheng to fall.”

    Listening to this point, Zhao Jue crushed the teacup in his hand. This strategy was maliciously accurate. He used a brand new look to regard me. I couldn’t make heads or tails of his gaze. Zhao Jue finally confirmed that this cultured and refined young zhuangyuan was actually someone who was so profoundly scheming and capable of such guile. Zhao Jue couldn’t help but feel a chill. He was a straightforward and upright3 person. Although he had used stratagems before, he had never used such a treacherous chained stratagem that called for an ambush and a targeted killing of an enemy commander. He unnaturally bade farewell to Jiang Zhe and went to prepare for battle.

    At dusk of the sixteenth day of the twelfth month, the Southern Chu army began to furiously attack Luocheng. Not long afterwards, a blaze was ignited. Wei Xian naturally and mistakenly believed that Luocheng was in danger. He hurriedly sped over. They were ambushed along the way by Southern Chu forces. Wei Xian fought to the bitter end and was personally killed by Zhao Jue. The Shu army scattered. The Chu army tightly controlled the roads, to prevent any information from reaching Luocheng.

    At dawn of the seventeenth day of the twelfth month, the Southern Chu forces once again attacked. Grand General Long Bu commanded the garrison in beating off several attacks, suffering heavy casualties. When time reached the around 1PM, the Southern Chu army was suddenly thrown into chaos before quickly assembling and retreating. Atop the battlements, Long Bu saw that the Southern Chu encampments at Fushui Pass were aflame. At this point, Zhao Jue dispatched one of his trusted aides disguised as a Shu army scout to report to Long Bu with the news that Wei Xian had destroyed Southern Chu’s supplies. Exulted, Long Bu saw that the retreat was disorderly and personally led cavalry to give chase. Seemingly defeated, the Southern Chu army scattered. Long Bu gave chase for twenty li. His return route was cut off by a Southern Chu force hidden in the mountains. The Southern Chu army drew together and surrounded Long Bu on all sides.3 Leading seven thousand elite horsemen, Long Bu charged at all sides. Battling all night, his entire battle gown was soaked with blood. He was wounded over a dozen times. Finally, he could no longer continue. His personal guard were all dead and he was completely surrounded with no hope of escape. The Prince of De personally came forward to try to persuade Long Bu to surrender. Long Bu laughed loudly and replied, “My Kingdom of Shu only has decapitated generals, how can there be any who bend their knees and surrender?” Finished, Long Bu slit his throat. Sighing with admiration, Zhao Jue ordered that he be buried with honor.

    On the eighteenth day of the twelfth month, the Southern Chu forces retreated to Fushui Pass to undergo reorganization. On the nineteenth day, they launched another attack against Luocheng. With their commander dead, the defenders were unable to properly defend the city and at dusk, surrendered.

    On the twenty-third day of the twelfth month, Jiameng Pass received news of the fall of Luocheng. Its garrison fell into complete disorder. Chengdu was now completely exposed to the Southern Chu forces. On the same day, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, assaulted the pass on a large scale. The pass’s defenders had lost the will to fight. On the twenty-fifth day, Jiameng Pass fell. Prime Minister Shen Jun was captured. At this point, the Kingdom of Shu was defenseless.

    When the King of Shu, Meng Jun, received the news, he fainted several times. Within the royal audience chambers, he tearfully said, “Sixty years have passed since the ancestors founded this kingdom. Today, everything has vanished into thin air. Although we will die, I dare not face my ancestors.” He asked for the advice of the officials. Someone advised surrender. Thinking it over, Meng Jun returned back to the palace. The court officials could only look at one another before scattering.

    The twentieth year of Xiande, the eighth year of the sixty-year cycle, during the first month of the new year, the courts of Great Yong and Southern Chu celebrated the victory. In contrast, everyone in Shu was gloomy, waiting for the Great Yong and Southern Chu forces to reorganize and rendezvous before Chengdu.

    Everyone in the army was celebrating. I drank a couple of cups of wine in the marshal’s tent before departing, returning to my tent. Laying down on the bed, I somewhat confusedly thought over the future. The strategy that I had proposed was only known by Zhao Jue. I had asked that my participation not be revealed. He agreed, probably because he viewed my proposed strategy as too vicious. What he didn’t know was that I had already planned to leave Southern Chu. If anyone were to find out that I was the strategist behind the victory at Luocheng, I probably will never be able to live peacefully. Victory did not bring much joy. I knew that Han Zhang wept bitterly last night, even though he made sure he wasn’t too loud and deliberately avoided his wife.

    In reality, compared to my strategy, that employed by the Prince of De was the one that was vicious, forcing others to be his catspaw.4 At the time, I left out one detail. The Prince of Yong had another motive. He would use the opportunity to collect details on Southern Chu’s intelligence network, identifying those individuals who were working for Southern Chu. When the time came, he could easily eliminate these individuals. Ah … what kind of scheming was this? I didn’t deliberately leave out this detail when I advised the Prince of De. If he could not understand this simple fact, then his thinking was too sluggish. Furthermore, I did not want to offend Great Yong. Alongside Zhao Jue’s fear and exclusion, I lost any intention of serving him.

    Alas, I had hoped that Southern Chu would have someone capable of restoring the dynasty, but unfortunately, Zhao Jue was no Guan Zhong5 or Yue Yi.6 He seemed to be a bit like Bao Shuya,7 too clearly differentiating between black and white, good and evil. He did not understand the need to mask one’s brilliance and be one with the dust of the earth.8

    There was really no hope for Southern Chu, I thought with bitter anguish.

    In the first month of the twentieth year of Xiande, the two armies did not rush to advance, instead taking the time to reorganize themselves, consolidating control over the captured territories and waiting for spring. To the Kingdom of Shu, this was their final winter. While the Kingdom of Shu had lost almost of its military power, the situation was difficult to appease. I had long bore witness to the conceit and stubbornness of the people of Sichuan. In just a month, there were seven rebellions and twenty-three assassination attempts. Of course, I was not targeted, as I was not famous. The majority of Sichuan’s famed scholars refused to yield. They could not resist, but they could still silently reject. The situation was quite dangerous, causing Zhao Jue’s hair to whiten. We had won, and yet the situation was challenging. Finally, we reached a unified opinion. If the King of Shu surrendered, everything would be for the best. After discussions, both Great Yong and Southern Chu agreed to advance together upon Chengdu upon the first day of the second month.

    Before we departed, Zhao Jue met with me. He liked to meet with me in private, disliking publicly seeking my advice. It was probably because my stratagems were often too vicious. But, I was quite fond of this kind of meetings. This method was particularly safe, as no one would notice me. Let alone the fact that I thought up numerous strategies, all of them somewhat vicious. I, therefore, had allowed Han Zhang to leave. It was too dangerous to leave a citizen of Shu by my side. If he felt that killing me was worth losing his entire family, I would become disastrous for me.

    In order to protect me, Xiaoshunzi racked his brains. From within the Southern Chu prisons, he found a good candidate. This man was named Chen Zhen. He was a Shu secret agent and assassin. He was captured after Luocheng fell. As we discovered that he had attempted to assassinate our officers, he was to be punished by death. This person was especially vicious, naturally cold disposition. He was someone who cared for nothing except for himself. If it weren’t for the fact that Luocheng fell so suddenly, he would have fled long ago. Xiaoshunzi settled on him because of his naturally cold disposition. He had me ask Zhao Jue to save him. Feeling that he had not rewarded me for my service, Zhao Jue agreed. Xiaoshunzi used a secret method to leave marks upon him. I was still worried and had Xiaoshunzi feed him a slow acting poison that I had concocted. Chen Zhen was also informed that the antidote was in Xiaoshunzi’s hands. In this way, I had a bodyguard. According to Xiaoshunzi, this man would not choose honor over life9 and kill me. Someone who cherished his life and having taken measures to prevent betrayal was the best guard.

    Zhao Jue sat down and hesitatingly said, “We are about to attack Chengdu. When the time comes, without the buffer that is the Kingdom of Shu, how can we face Great Yong? The King has issued a secret edict, ordering us to not offend Great Yong.”

    I had already prepared a mental outline and said, “This lowly official believes that the biggest issue will be in Chengdu. Whoever takes the King of Shu captive will be the biggest beneficiary. We should not contest this point with Great Yong. There is no point. This lowly official has an idea to ensure that the King of Shu does not fall into the hands of Great Yong. This idea will be sufficient. In addition, I have heard the reason that the King of Shu has distanced himself from talented persons and being intimate with vile characters is because he doted on one of his concubines, Lady Golden Lotus, and the eunuch, Zhang Quan. I have heard that Lady Golden Lotus is a great beauty. We should allow the entirety of Shu’s officialdom and harem to be taken by Great Yong. If the Prince of Yong were to bring them to Chang’an, then Lady Golden Lotus’s beauty will surely gain the Yong Emperor’s favor. Through this, we will have laid a spark in the Great Yong imperial harem. If the Prince of Yong were to kill these individuals, although the loss would be regrettable, their deaths will surely infuriate the Yong Emperor. Older individuals love beauty, especially this Yong Emperor, who isn’t a particularly wise and capable sovereign. Regardless of success, we will have driven a wedge between the Yong Emperor and his son.”

    I continued, “Of course, there are things that we must acquire. Immediately after we have entered the city, Your Highness must dispatch someone to the Ministry of Revenue10 and gather all of the available records, including census data, maps, and books. They will be of particular help in our governance of Sichuan. Of course, we must also plunder gold, silver, and jewels. On the one hand, plundering these treasures will serve to help conceal our seizure of important revenue and census records. Second, we can use these treasures to properly reward the army and provide kickbacks to the King. Aside from these, we shouldn’t worry about anything else. Allow Great Yong to deal with those official residences of Shu officials.”

    Zhao Jue nodded his head at my words. “Jiang daren mentioned driving a wedge between the Yong Emperor and his son. Can you explain in deeper detail?”

    Since I was going to leave Southern Chu, I didn’t conceal or hide anything. I therefore replied, “Everyone knows that the Prince of Yong and the Crown Prince, Li An, are battling over being named the heir apparent. As the Great Yong relies upon martial might and merit as its foundation, Li An is in an awkward position. The Prince of Yong’s successful invasion of Shu will surely garner great merit. Li An will undoubtedly be so resentful hateful that he is gnashing his teeth. We can use this opportunity to dispatch agents into Great Yong to spread rumors that the Prince of Yong will use the Hanzhong region to declare independence.”

    Having spoken this much, Zhao Jue already understood, he looked at me deeply, filled with fear. He deeply and respectfully said, “Jiang daren’s good idea can ensure decades of peace for Southern Chu. Does daren require anything? Zhao Jue will definitely help you to the best of my abilities.”

    Thinking it over, Zhao Jue was likely offering me a path to promotion. I replied, indifferently, “This lowly official is travel-worn and has acquired a lasting ailment. I wish to be able to return home and resign from my position. If I can acquire the approval of Your Highness and offer a suggestion to the King, then I cannot be thankful enough.”

    Zhao Jue’s brow furrowed, thinking. Jiang Zhe was such a deep schemer. It was a good think if he was disinterested in power, but if he were to leave and end up joining another country, then he would be a danger to Southern Chu. As a result, Zhao Jue categorically objected, “Jiang daren’s words are mistaken. Sir’s ability and wisdom are outstanding. Zhao Jue is about to rely on you, how can you leave and go into seclusion? If Jiang daren does not like the complicated government affairs. This Prince will report to the King and be supported in the Hanlin Academy. If there are no matters, then you will not be troubled.”

    What? My eyes widened and my mouth opened. How did things turn out contrary to my wishes? That night, I vented my grievances to Xiaoshunzi. Xiaoshunzi patted his forehead and replied, “Heavens! Daren, how do you not understand the intentions of this royal clansman? You are such a talented individual, even if they would dare to let you go, they fear that you would join Great Yong or Northern Han. Who told you to be reveal your talents? It looks like that you can’t resign. From now on, you will probably likely have to make sure to hide your abilities and bide your time. When the right opportunity comes, you will have the chance to abandon your post.”

    Blushing, I shot a look at Xiaoshunzi, expressing my shame and respect.

    On the fifteenth day of the second month, Southern Chu and Great Yong rendezvoused at Chengdu. The two armies tightly surrounded Chengdu. The Prince of De went forth to meet with the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi. I could not hold back my curiosity and was interested in meeting this heroic individual. I followed Zhao Jue along. Arriving before the main encampment, I looked carefully at the forbidding terrain11 and the hidden killing intent of the camp, causing me to be filled with praise. The Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, welcomed us at the entrance to his camp. From afar, I already noticed that he was standing at the entrance. He was wearing the attire of an imperial prince, and seemed to be naturally poised and noble. Although he was only standing there, doing nothing, it felt like all of the imperious and powerful aura of the Great Yong camp was gathered on this single person. One hundred paces from the camp entrance, the Prince of De dismounted from his horse and proceeded on foot. I followed his example. Nearing the camp, I saw the Prince of Yong smile faintly and come forward to welcome us. At this time, I finally discovered a shocking fact that left me inconsolable. I actually recognized the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi.

    1. 人为刀俎,我为鱼肉, renweidaozu, woweiyurou – idiom, lit. to be the meat on somebody’s chopping block; fig. to be at somebody’s mercy
    2. 胸有成竹, xiongyouchengzhu – idiom, lit. to plan in advance; having a card up one’s sleeve; forewarned is forearmed
    3. 光明磊落, guangmingleiluo – idiom, lit. open and candid; straightforward and upright
    4. 火中取栗, houzhongquli – idiom, lit. to pull chestnuts out of the fire; to be somebody’s catspaw
    5. 管仲, Guan Zhong was a chancellor of the state of Qi during the Spring and Autumn Period. Through his reforms and skillful diplomacy, Qi became the most powerful state in China.
    6. 乐毅, Yue Yi was a general of the state of Yan during the Warring States Period. Forging an alliance between the states of Zhao, Wei, Chu, Han, and Qin, he almost completely conquered the state of Qi (except for two cities).
    7. 鲍叔牙, Bao Shuya was a famous official of the state of Qi. A capable administrator, Bao Shuya recommended his good friend, Guan Zhong, to Duke Huan of Qi, convincing him to put aside personal enmities for the common good.
    8. 和光同尘, heguangtongchen – comes from the fifty-six chapter of the Dao De Jing; to mask one’s brilliance and be one with the dust of the earth
    9. 舍生取义, sheshengquyi – idiom, lit. to give up life for righteousness; to choose honor over life; would rather sacrifice one’s life than one’s principles
    10. 户部, hubu – the Ministry of Revenue was in charge of gathering census data, collecting taxes, and handling state revenues
    11. 虎踞龙盘, hujulongpan – idiom, lit. where tigers crouch and dragons coil; fig. forbidding terrain
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 13 – One Song to Force Suicide

    With difficult, I resisted the dread in my heart and lowered my head. Yes, I was feeling dread. This Li Zhi was the so-called merchant that I had met on my way to Jianye in order to take the imperial examinations, Li Tianxiang. Heavens! I had actually explained to the Prince of Yong how to conquer the world! In addition, I even explained the internal threats facing Great Yong. Is it possible that the Prince of Yong has really listened to my advice to first destroy Shu and then to target Southern Chu? It’s simply impossible. The Prince of Yong was extremely talented, a fine soldier and statesman. He must have thought of this plan long ago.

    At this moment, the Prince of Yong had come forward to welcome us. After politely greeting the Prince of De, Li Zhi spoke in a genial voice, “The Prince of De has battled all the way here. The journey must have been exhausting. Breaking through Ba Prefecture, conquering Luocheng. Just from these two battles, one can see Your Highness’s reputation as a famous general.”

    Zhao Jue’s face became slightly red, as he replied, “For the Prince of Yong to praise me so, you flatter me too much.1 Today, our armies have rendezvoused. All that Shu has left is the single city of Chengdu. I wonder what the Prince of Yong intends?”

    Li Zhi replied, “Chengdu can be easily captured, but this city is the capital of the Kingdom of Shu. There are tens of thousands of citizens within this bustling city. If our two armies were to attack, the people of the city will be harmed. This Prince has already prepared a manifest calling for its surrender. What does Your Highness think?”

    Zhao Jue indifferently replied, “I have no objection to calling for their surrender, but are we having the King of Shu surrender to Great Yong or to Southern Chu?”

    Confident that he was speaking supported by reason,2 Li Zhi replied, “As Southern Chu is a vassal of Great Yong, the Kingdom of Shu rightly should surrender to Great Yong.”

    Prepared for this answer, Zhao Jue indifferently replied, “If that is the case, then I request the Prince of Yong dispatch an envoy to convince Shu to surrender. If Shu refuses to do so, our two armies will begin to assault the city tomorrow.”

    Smiling, Li Zhi replied, “This ought to be the case. Gou Lian, Sir Gou, is an envoy under my banner. I have already requested that he undertake this mission. Does the Prince of De agree?”

    Zhao Jue could not help but look at me. Seeing that I did not object, he replied, “Sir Gou Lian has served the Prince of De for many years. To my knowledge, he has served as an envoy to numerous warlords and should be capable of persuading Shu to surrender. I await the good news. Alas, I have many military matters to deal with and will return to my camps to await news.”

    Seeing that Zhao Jue agreed with his decision, Li Zhi then asked that Zhao Jue leave behind a trusted commander or retainer to serve as a liaison to consult over military matters. After thinking it over, Zhao Jue agreed that there was such a need. He turned to look at those who were accompanying him. Although all of us were trusted, but the vast majority could only help to pass along information. There was only Rong Yuan and Jiang Zhe able to actually to discuss military matters and to fight for Southern Chu’s interests with the Prince of Yong. Zhao Jue could not do without Rong Yuan, so he calmly replied, “Whether there will be war or peace has yet to determined. This Jiang Zhe is my assistant. I will have him stay behind. Any deviations can be discussed with him.”

    Only then did the Prince of Yong glance at me, as if he was just seeing me for the first time. I felt a chill envelop my entire body. Zhao Jue was an idiot. The Prince of Yong so easily tricked him. I did not believe for a second that Li Zhi intended to discuss military matters. It was very likely that the real motive was to have me stay. As my eyes watched Zhao Jue depart, the Prince of Yong invited me to his tent to chat, while waiting for the envoy to return. Restless, I followed the Prince of Yong inside the tent. My personal guard, Chen Zhen, was halted at the entrance and prevented from entering. Sitting in the marshal’s seat, Li Zhi saw that I was reserved and uneasy. With a smile, he said, “Why is Jiang daren so uncomfortable? We can be considered as old friends. There is no need to be overly polite.”

    I cursed him in my heart for some time before replying, “That day, this lowly official greatly offended you. I did not know that it was the Prince of Yong travelling incognito. May Your Highness please forgive me.”

    Li Zhi watched me sit and replied, “What offense are you talking about? At the time, this Prince had traveled under disguise to Shu, to observe the military conditions and popular mood in Sichuan, and had the fortune of meeting gongzi. Listening to the words of a sage is superior to studying books for ten years. If my Great Yong unifies the world, then Jiang gongzi will have performed a deed of great merit for the empire.”

    I was so angry that I almost fainted. If I performed such a deed for Great Yong, didn’t that mean that I had performed a crime against Southern Chu? If these words were to spread, wouldn’t it result in my death? I hurriedly tried to explain myself, “The Prince of Yong is a veritable storehouse of ideas. This lowly subject’s plan must already have been within Your Highness’s grasp. For Your Highness to push these meritorious deeds upon this lowly subject, Suiyun dare not accept it.”

    The Prince of Yong smiled faintly. He did not continue to dance around the subject, instead directly said, “Upon hearing gongzi’s plan and of your intentions to serve Southern Chu, this Prince originally thought about playing the role of a bandit and kidnap gongzi back to Great Yong. Alas, my whereabouts were discovered by others. These individuals desired to assassinate me. As I did not have many guards, I feared that I could not ensure the gongzi’s safety and was forced to let the opportunity slip by. That gongzi is an official of Southern Chu leaves me, Li Zhi, to wring my hands and lament the loss.”

    Listening to his words, I quickly understood what was going on. Even if his identity was discovered by Shu or Southern Chu, there was no one who dared to harm him. There was only one person who wished to have him assassinated. Thinking of how talented Li Zhi was and yet was unfortunately the second son, and as a result could not inherit the throne. In addition, he had to face his older brother’s jealousy and assassination plots. It left one to lament his misfortunes. But for me to lament was one thing. For him to lament being able to attain my services was a completely different matter. If he had taken me away, I would have likely suffered a disaster, suffering a violent death. Although I was thinking this, I could not directly say it. Instead, I chose to reply, “This must mean that this lowly subject does not have the fortune of serving Your Highness. It must be heaven’s will.”

    Li Zhi looked at me, his eyes filled with a smiling expression. He said, “That day, we met by chance. When we met again today, Jiang gongzi had already become the trusted military adviser to the Prince of De. You must have contemplated many ideas for the Prince of De. The Prince of De and his subordinate retainers and generals are all orthodox soldiers or strategists. And yet, both the battles for Ba Prefecture and Luocheng practically completely relied upon luring to kill and ambush stratagems. They must surely be Jiang gongzi’s brilliant schemes.”

    I felt my entire body become rigid. I could only bitterly smile and reply, “This lowly subject does not understand anything about military matters. I only spoke of principles. It was all due to the Prince of De’s wisdom and resolution, determining the strategies, that we were able to be victorious.”

    Solemnly, Li Zhi replied, “Sunzi’s Art of War states that ‘A general who wins a battle must consider many things in his mind before the battle is even fought. The general who loses a battle considers few things beforehand. More calculations lead to victory, few calculations lead to defeat, let alone those who make no calculations at all. It is by attention to his simple point, we can foresee who is likely to win or lose.’3 For gongzi to be adept at these calculations, already makes you a exceptional talent. For Li Zhi to meet gongzi is akin to King Wu of Zhou having the fortune of meeting Jiang Ziya4 and Emperor Gaozu of Han meeting Zhang Liang.5 Southern Chu have no ambitions and hide in Jiangnan, its officials seeking calm, its soldiers seeking amusement. Although the Prince of De is both a fine soldier and statesman, he does not possess the bearing of a monarch. Gongzi is no more than a mere literato in Southern Chu, but if you join Great Yong, you can become my right hand.”6

    Wasn’t he being too unbridled by openly recruiting another country’s officials? I took the opportunity to ask a question in reply, “I have heard that Shi Yu, Shi Ziyou is the leading strategist in service to the Prince of Yong. Whenever the Prince of Yong leaves the capital, he handles all of the government affairs under your jurisdiction. In your mind, he must surely be your left hand?7

    Although he did not understand what I was getting at, he still replied, “Ziyou is adept in handling government affairs. Ziyou overseeing my rear echelon allows Li Zhi to employ my forces capably.”

    Unflinchingly, I continued, “What if Shi Zhiyou was a subject of another country and was treated indifferently by his monarch, and was easily persuaded to surrender. Would Your Highness still place him in such an important position?

    Li Zhi became dazed at my words. Smiling bitterly, he could only reply, “If that were the case, Li Zhi dare not trust Ziyou.”

    Smiling, I continued, “Does Your Highness understand this lowly subject’s difficulties now?”

    Sighing, Li Zhi replied, “Southern Chu is not a worthy perch, let alone the perch of a phoenix.8 Southern Chu treats you like an ordinary person. I treat you as befitting a high minister. Suiyun is still unwilling to join my Great Yong?”

    I stared stupidly at Li Zhi. I really a bit regretful. If at the time, Li Zhi had kidnapped me, I would undoubtedly have been quite unhappy and perhaps even harbor a grudge against him. But it would have likely allowed me to not have to worry about Southern Chu. But that was not the case. I had become an official of Southern Chu. Throughout the years, my career had progressed smoothly and I had learned much while serving in the Hanlin Academy. Southern Chu had treated me well. Under these circumstances, I could not join Great Yong and later watch Southern Chu be destroyed. Thinking of this, I sadly said, “Although Southern Chu treats me as an ordinary person, I cannot betray it. As long as Suiyun is a subject of Southern Chu, I will continue to serve Southern Chu.”

    Heaving a soft sigh, Li Zhi asked, “If Southern Chu were to be destroyed by Great Yong, what then?”

    Thinking it over, I replied, “I believe that I am incapable overturn fate. If Southern Chu is destroyed, as long as Great Yong does not charge me with a crime, this lowly subject intends to travel the world, living in the wilds.”

    Unenthusiastically, Li Zhi said, “During this invasion of Shu by Southern Chu, you took part in the handling of military affairs. Your abilities have captured the attention of others. Although Zhao Jue cannot use your abilities to the fullest, he will most assuredly continue to use you to advise him. When the time comes, no matter what you think, Great Yong will not allow such a talent to be let off.”

    I looked at Li Zhi with admiration. The Prince of Yong was extremely intelligent. From just a few words, he could deduce so much. Without any intention to hide anything from him, I replied, “I will come up with a strategy for the Prince of De that will give Southern Chu several years of peace.”

    Suddenly a brilliant light flashed by in Li Zhi’s eyes. He replied, “If I guess correctly, this plan is related to the King of Shu. If the King of Shu is willing to surrender to Great Yong, this will become Southern Chu’s greatest danger.”

    Making no attempt to mask my intentions, I replied, “That is correct. If the King of Shu were to surrender, I have a plan to have him die. At the very least, I can prevent Great Yong from taking advantage.”

    Revealing a look of deep thought, Li Zhi asked, “If Shu refuses to surrender, our two armies will attack Chengdu. It is possible that the King of Shu dies by our hands or by his own. But if he surrenders, you really have a way for him to die while in the hands of Great Yong?”

    I knew that he did not believe me, but I still resolutely9 replied, “Precisely so.”

    Li Zhi stood and paced in his tent before replying, “Okay. If you are truly able to do so and cease to strategize for Southern Chu upon your return, and are not present in Jianye when Great Yong destroys Southern Chu, this Prince promises to allow you to pass out your remaining days in peace.”

    I exulted, this was an edict that would save my life. I hurriedly stepped forward to express my thanks. Li Zhi asked meaningfully, “If the King of Shu safely arrives at Great Yong, what then?”

    “If that is the case, Suiyun is willing to serve Your Highness,” I replied without hesitation.

    Laughing, Li Zhi replied, “Good, good. That’s settled then.” As he spoke, he raised his right hand. My heart warmed and I raised my own right hand. We slapped our hands together as a pledge.

    For the purpose of insurance, I continued, “If this lowly subject wins, after I have returned to Southern Chu, if Your Highness has any difficulties with issues not pertaining to Southern Chu, this lowly official is willing to help advise.”

    Li Zhi froze again. He originally thought that if I had the ability to kill the King of Shu while in his hands, then he would have to let me off. But he had yet to decide whether to use his forces in Southern Chu to trap me. He could not believe that I had made such a suggestion. He could not help but gasp in surprise. He was silent for a good while before he replied, “Okay. Let’s first see if the King of Shu is willing to surrender?” With that, he returned to his marshal’s seat and sat down.

    I did not know what else to say, so I sat down as well and waited for Gou Lian to return.

    When the sun set, Gou Lian returned, reporting to Li Zhi. The King of Shu would exit the city to surrender at noon tomorrow. Both of our faces revealed looks of happiness. The gamble that would determine my fate thus began. After discussing with Li Zhi the details about how our two armies would cooperate tomorrow, I returned to the Southern Chu camps. The Prince of Yong personally escorted me out of his camp, leaving me overwhelmed by his favor.

    The next day, the King of Shu, wearing white as a sign of mourning, led his officials and his sons to surrender to Great Yong ten li outside of the city. After accepting the surrender, our two armies split and entered the city through the western and eastern gates. Having come to a mutual understanding, there were no disputes. The only incident occurred at the Ministry of Revenue where Rong Yuan ran into the Prince of Yong’s retainer, Cui Luan. Both men had been tasked with taking the revenue and census records. Neither side were willing to stand down. After arguing for some time, the Prince of Yong and the Prince of De personally came to an agreement to divide the records in half. Although this was a pity, half was better than having none. Secretly, Zhao Jue asked me how were we going to sow discord between the Shu King and Great Yong now that the Shu King had surrendered. The Shu King’s surrender to Great Yong was a big problem facing Southern Chu’s governance of our portion of Sichuan. I was ready with a plan. I informed Zhao Jue that all that needed to be done was to host a banquet before the King of Shu departed for Great Yong.

    Having experienced the complicated negotiations and division of the spoils, the Prince of De decided to depart and return back to Jiangnan. According to proper etiquette, the Prince of Yong suggested that a banquet be held in honor of the Prince of De’s planned departure. This was to be expected. The Prince of De naturally had to attend the banquet. In addition, the King of Shu would also appear at the banquet to bid the Prince of De farewell. Within the luxurious Shu royal palace, the generals and advisers of Great Yong and Southern Chu sat facing either side, painting the town red. The King of Shu sat just below the Prince of Yong followed by the surrendered officials of Shu. Their complexions were all ugly, especially that of the King of Shu. Although he wasn’t even fifty, he had a wan and sallow appearance, his hair all white. If one said that he was seventy, he would be believed.

    After everyone had partook in the wine, Zhao Jue followed my plan and suggested that a banquet with only alcohol but no song or dance was too boring, proposing that the ladies of the Shu court sing and dance for our entertainment. Although those representing Great Yong believed that Southern Chu was as weak and soft as expected, they did not have a good reason to prevent it, allowing the ladies to come forward to entertain us. The zither music of Shu was like violent waves or swift thunder, while the dance of Shu brought forth the vigor of a woman’s graceful bearing. Those Shu officials who were about to leave Sichuan fought back tears, while the generals and advisers of Great Yong and Southern Chu applauded.

    Seeing that the time had come, I shot Zhao Jue a look. Understanding, Zhao Jue stood and said, “Witnessing Shu’s music and dance today is extremely moving. My Southern Chu is cultured and refined. How can we not present song and dance to please our friends? Unfortunately, our army does not have any ladies. This one will have to use his crude mastery of the zither to please our hosts. This is Jiang Zhe of the Hanlin Academy, a talented scholar of Southern Chu. For today’s occasion, he has especially composed a poem, inviting everyone to appreciate.”

    Li Zhi’s heart jumped. Over the last few days, he had assigned a heavy guard to protect the King of Shu, but did not see a single Southern Chu assassin. After today, the King of Shu would head to Great Yong. He had already guessed that I would make my move today, but what he did not expect was for me to only present a newly composed poem. If he was to prevent Zhao Jue from personally playing the zither, he would undoubtedly anger the sovereign and subjects of Southern Chu for his rudeness. Although he knew that he had to prevent it, he could only agree.

    I stood, paying my respects to everyone. Zhao Jue sat and began to softly pluck the zither strings. A clear and sweet melody was released by the zither. It was the music of Dance of the Cavalry. In a clear voice, I sang:
    “For sixty years my country and home,
    Three thousand li of mountains and rivers.
    The phoenix pavilion and dragon tower reaching up to the Milky Way,
    Jade trees and jasper branches forming a cloudy net.
    Not once did I touch sword or spear!

    Suddenly I became a captive slave,
    Frail my waist, gray my temples, grinding away.
    Never shall I forget the day I bade farewell at the ancestral shrine,
    The court musicians played farewell songs,
    My tears streamed as I gazed at the court maidens.10
    After I finished singing the song, the entire hall was silent. Li Zhi’s heart chilled, knowing that I had already acted. He looked at the King of Shu. The King’s face was numb and haggard, revealing a look of inconsolable sorrow. The Shu official within the hall were either crying heavily or glaring angrily. After some time, the King of Shu, Meng Jun stood and said, “This lowly King is exhausted from drinking. Would Your Highness, the Prince of Yong, allow this lowly King to return to palace chambers to rest.”

    The Prince of Yong, Li Zhi’s face became pained. He wanted to stop the King of Shu, but he couldn’t say anything. After heaving a heavy sigh, he replied, “Your Highness can return to your chambers to rest. Please do not think too much of this. His Imperial Majesty will not indifferently treat Your Highness.”

    Meng Jun did not reply, only taking a look at the gathered individuals in the hall. When his eyes fell upon me, I could sense the despair and hatred in his eyes. How could you have a favorable impression of someone who tore up your beautiful dreams? The King of Shu left his seat, his subjects rising and kneeling to bid their farewell. Smiling bitterly, Li Zhi looked at me, filled with admiration and with anger. He raised his cup in a toast before downing the contents in one gulp.

    Not long afterwards, a eunuch tearfully entered the hall. Kneeling, he informed us all, “The King has taken poison and died.”

    “Good, good. Jiang zhuangyuan is indeed ferocious. A single Dance of the Cavalry was enough to take the life of a King,” said Li Zhi with a laugh before continuing indifferently, “This Prince will soon return back home and has many military matters to take care of. I bid everyone farewell.” So saying, he left.

    Zhao Jue and Rong Yuan’s backs were soaked with cold sweat. Although they were delighted that the King of Shu had committed suicide, they were also worried about offending Great Yong. I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. Although I went overboard in forcing the King of Shu to commit suicide, it was still necessary for him to feel shame. Li Zhi’s words before he departed seemed to express his hatred and displeasure towards me. From a different point of view, I could pass my days peacefully when I returned to Southern Chu. However, his words also meant that I would become famous. There was no way for me to conceal my identity and live incognito. That this Li Zhi could strike back under these circumstances showed just how fearsome he was.

    Mounted upon his horse, Li Zhi finally completed the final dispositions for Shu and was preparing to return back to Great Yong. Although the King of Shu had committed suicide, the Queen and the heir apparent were still alive. Presenting them to ancestral shrine would be sufficient. The Southern Chu army had already left the day before. According to the agreement, the Hanzhong region belonged to Great Yong, while the Sichuan region belonged to Southern Chu. In reality, Great Yong controlled Jiameng Pass and Southern Chu controlled Luocheng, leaving Sichuan as a buffer. His strategy had already achieved success. It was only that Southern Chu had gotten no few advantages. Li Zhi smiled bitterly. He deeply regretted not taking the risk to kidnap Jiang Zhe.

    His retainer, Tan Shuo, rode forward and said, “Why did Your Highness not prevent the King of Shu from committing suicide and for no reason allowing Southern Chu to become pleased with themselves?”

    Li Zhi glanced at him. He knew that his retainers and his subordinate generals all had doubts. He indifferently replied, “It was too late. If the King of Shu did not commit suicide even under those circumstances, he would have been despised by the people of Sichuan. Even if he lived, he would be no better than a walking corpse.”

    Fan Qun, a fierce general under Li Zhi, angrily replied, “This was definitely Zhao Jue’s crafty scheme, having that zhuangyuan write those verses to ridicule the King of Shu.” Everyone else agreed with the opinion, although several retainers argued that Jiang Zhe’s poem was a masterpiece.

    Li Zhi smiled faintly, but did not speak. In his heart, he thought, “How do you know this? In reality that Jiang Zhe was the mastermind. But he acted ingeniously. No one will think that it was his idea. This Jiang Zhe is definitely worth this Prince spending time on.” Looking at the sky to tell time, he said, “Let’s hurry. Allow them to be full of themselves for now.”

    On the sixteenth day of the second month of the twentieth year of Xiande, the King of Shu, Meng Jun, wore white mourning clothes and surrendered. Shu was destroyed.

    On the second day of the third month, the Prince of Yong hosted a farewell banquet for the Prince of De. The King of Shu, Meng Jun, attended. The banquet did not lack in the song and dance of Shu. The Prince of De personally played the zither, commanding Jiang Zhe sing his new verse. Jiang Zhe sang Dance of the Cavalry. Hearing the words, the King of Shu was shamed and retired. Taking poison, he died. He was forty-seven years old. People hailed Jiang Zhe’s piece as the Heartbreak Poem or as the Suicide Poem.

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
    1. 愧不敢当, kuibugandang – idiom, lit. I’m ashamed and dare not (accept the honor); fig. I do not deserve your praise
    2. 理直气壮, lizhiqizhuang – idiom, in the right and self-confident; bold and confident with justice (reason) on one’s side
    3. These are the closing lines of the first chapter of Sunzi’s Art of War – Laying Plans.
    4. 周武王, King Wu of Zhou (lit. the Martial King of Zhou) overthrew the Shang Dynasty and founded the Zhou Dynasty. 姜子牙, Jiang Ziya was King Wu’s strategist and later prime minister of Zhou.
    5. 汉高祖, Emperor Gaozu of Han (lit. the Supreme Ancestor of Han) was the founding emperor of the Han Dynasty who reunified China after revolts destroyed the Qin Dynasty. 张良, Zhang Liang was his chief strategist.
    6. Basically, Li Zhi considers Jiang Zhe to be capable of being his Right Prime Minister. In China, left was superior/senior to the right. Meaning that Jiang Zhe would be Li Zhi’s second most important adviser.
    7. Left is senior to right; in Western parlance, the right-hand man.
    8. This comes from a Chinese proverb: ‘a wise bird chooses its perch; a wise man chooses his master.’ Basically Li Zhi is suggesting that Southern Chu doesn’t deserve someone like Jiang Zhe, who he considers to be a superlative talent (comparable to a phoenix).
    9. 斩钉截铁, zhandingjietie – idiom, lit. to chop the nail and slice the iron; fig. resolute and decisive, unhesitating
    10. This poem was composed by the third and final ruler of the Southern Tang state during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, Li Yu. Li Yu was an incompetent ruler, neglecting everything in favor of poetry. In 975, after a yearlong siege of his capital, Li Yu surrendered. He was taken captive to the Song capital. This poem reflects the regret and shame that he felt when he was taken away. This type of poem is called a ci (词), a poetic form that uses a base set of certain patterns to compose its verses. The pattern used in this poem is known as “Dance of the Cavalry,” the same as the poem in Chapter 8 by Song Dynasty poet, Xin Qiji.
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited December 2016

    Chapter 14 – Jade Shattered, Pearl Submerged

    From a distance, I caught sight of Jianye. I was overwhelmed by emotions. I had finally returned. Thirty li away from the city, the King and all of the civil and military officials came forward to welcome us subjects who had performed meritorious service and were returning in triumph. We all dismounted and kneeled to pay our respects to the King. The King exulted, holding the Prince of De’s hand, he said, “Royal Uncle has performed a great deed for our country. We have prepared a banquet to celebrate Royal Uncle’s meritorious deeds.” After I followed the army into the city, I could not be feel that someone was looking at me intently from the upper floor of a nearby restaurant. However, I could not sense any malicious intent.

    After the celebration banquet, I hurriedly brought along Chen Zhen and returned to my home. I had received plenty of rewards for my services during this campaign against Shu. As a result, I had long ago decided to buy an estate on the outskirts of the city, especially as the Prince of De had agreed to help me get around the regulations and allow me to stay at home to convalesce. I was no longer restricted to living within the city walls. Before I had returned, Xiaoshunzi had already returned with Wang Hai. He had already picked out and purchased an estate for me, acquiring the deed from the seller. Last night, he had come to the posthouse to meet me and gave me the details. Following the information provided, Chen Zhen and I quickly found the place. The estate was a secluded and elegant small grange, and within included the pavilions and kiosks of a typical Chinese garden. Xiaoshunzi had already hired a number of servants and had them clean the estate from top to bottom.

    After I had taken a bath, I entered my study room. Inside, Xiaoshunzi had already arranged my books. I had just picked up a history book to read when Chen Zhen entered. “Daren, there is someone outside asking to meet you.”

    I froze momentarily. I had just moved here and had yet to register this address with the Ministry of Personnel.1 How could there be someone paying me a visit?

    Seeing my puzzlement, Chen Zhen explained, “When daren returned, you rented a carriage. When the coachman went back, someone asked him where daren was living.”

    I thought of a proverb, those who worked in those service positions should be killed regardless of guilt to seal their mouths.2 Sure enough, this was the case. At the same time that my mind was thinking of this, I asked, “Where is the visiting card?”

    Chen Zhen presented me with the visiting card with both hands. To speak frankly, originally, although he was obedient, I could sense that he looked down upon me. But after I had written a poem and forced the King of Shu to commit suicide, his temperament changed, becoming reverent and respectful. I accepted the visiting card and opened it. Upon it was written the three characters of Liu Piao Xiang. I hurriedly said, “Is that person still here?”

    Chen Zhen replied, “This lowly person has allowed them to wait at the gatehouse.”

    I hurriedly replied, “Quickly allow them to come in … wait … I will personally welcome them.” As I said, I promptly rushed out. Arriving at the gatehouse, I saw a green robed scholar with a heavy black cloak draped over her shoulders and covering her whole body. She wore a bamboo hat with a black veil, hiding her features. But I recognized her from her figure and bearing. Without caring about the two serving girls dressed as boy attendants, I rushed over and grasped her two hands, crying out, “You’ve come! Was it you watching me from upstairs earlier today?”

    One of the attendants coldly replied, “Ever since my lord zhuangyuan departed for war, my family’s young miss has been extremely worried and troubled.3 She even stopped going to the pleasure boat. If my lord zhuangyuan did not return today, the young miss would probably still refuse to leave her home.”

    With great difficulty, I resisted the joy in my heart, continuing to hold Liu Piaoxiang’s delicate hands. I replied, “I knew it, I knew it, you also love me.” I watched as Liu Piaoxiang removed her bamboo hat, revealing her pale and sallow features. I was left speechless for some time before I stepped forward and hugged her tightly to me, saying, “You treat me so, even if Suiyun is to sacrifice my life,4 it will be insufficient to repay a beauty’s heavy grace.”

    Liu Piaoxiang faintly replied, “After you left for war, I was uneasy day and night, worried about your safety. Seeing you return in triumph today, I was finally reassured. I originally did not want to come see you, but I wanted to personally come and ask you how you were.”

    I gratefully replied, “In reality I wanted to come see you, but I thought that you may not necessarily want to see me.”

    “Okay! You two, stop being so pedantic,” said the attendant with a smile, “This lowly servant is going to worn to death.”

    Liu Piaoxiang and I looked at one another and smiled. Supporting her with a hand, I led her inside. The two attendants were naturally left for others to take care of.

    Late at night, I watched Liu Piaoxiang’s sleeping posture. I rose and picked up paper and brush. My brush moved like flowing water as I began to write. At this moment, Liu Piaoxiang awoke. Walking over, she hugged me from behind. With a smile, she asked, “My lord zhuangyuan is writing another poem.”

    With deep love, I looked at her briefly before embracing her at the waist and pulling her onto my lap, allowing her to take a look at my new work. Tying up her hair, she picked up the draft. It was poem entitled Immortals at Magpie Bridge:
    As slender clouds form clever shapes,
    Shooting stars convey the lovers’ complaints.
    They secretly ferry across the wide Celestial River.
    In this moment, gold wind and jade dew meet,
    With more ecstasy than any human would encounter.

    Their tender feelings are like soft water,
    But the reunion is short as a dream.
    Unbearable to go back across the bridge built by magpies.
    If love lasts long between a couple,
    They don’t need to be together morning and night.4
    “Ah!” she exclaimed in a quiet voice before looking at me with eyes filled with passion. How could I resist such enticement? I picked her up and carried her back to bed, spending the whole night satiating our passion. When I awoke the next day, the beautiful woman was gone. My heart ached painfully. Don’t tell me that she still is unwilling to marry me? But she has already stopped receiving customers. Did this not mean she wished to marry me? I saw a newly written short verse on my desk.
    On a spring day,
    Blown apricot blossoms fall upon my head.
    On the pathway, there is a young master,
    Amply distinguished and accomplished.
    Long to be his wife,
    Though pitilessly I’m disclaimed,
    I would not feel shame.5
    Extremely grateful, I kneeled on the floor and prayed, “Heavens bless me, Piaoxiang really wishes to marry me!”

    What purity? What reputation and integrity? For an exceptional woman like Piaoxiang to marry me was my great fortune. She wasn’t someone to be infatuated by fame, money, or power. Nor was she interested in a stable home life. After I had figured out a way to leave Southern Chu, I will bring her to wander the world and her see all of the sights. Accompanied by a beauty while touring the world … such a life was comparable to that of the immortals! When we were both tired from our wanderings, we would settle down in somewhere with enchanting sceneries and live out the rest of our days. What a delightful future!

    I hurriedly rushed to the Ministry of Personnel. There, I learned that the King had promoted me. I was now a Hanlin Expositor-in-waiting. In addition, the King had already agreed to allow me to rest at home to convalesce. After completing all of the paperwork, I happily went to a jewelry store. After perusing its wares for half a day, I did not find anything worthwhile. Piaoxiang was used to seeing all kinds of jewelry and definitely would not be interested in such vulgar objects. I made my own design and had the jewelers make a golden hairpin and a golden bracelet. Seeing my design, the jewelers requested permission to purchase my design for their own use. I rejected their offer. I intend to give these pieces to Piaoxiang. How could I allow them to copy the design? However, I did agree to give them two other designs. In any case, it was to simply earn money. There wouldn’t be any problems as long as they did not spread the news that I was the designer. Although my design required the exquisite craftsmanship of a master artisan, the time required would not miss my deadline.

    I couldn’t blame them for their seriousness. The hairpin that I had designed was not an ordinary hairpin, but a real phoenix hairpin – a phoenix pecking the hanging tassels – and required three sparkling and translucent real pearls from the southern seas that radiated brilliant light. The eye-catching ability of the combination of a golden hairpin with pearls and emerald green tassels could be imagined. Even more astonishing was that I asked that a phoenix be carved on each of the pearls that were as small as a grain, but lifelike, 6 and located beside the opening of each pearl. If one weren’t to look carefully, you wouldn’t even notice that they were there. As for the body of the hairpin, the phoenix’s mouth was open and held a jeweled ring that could move. This kind of exquisite golden hairpin was difficult to obtain no matter how high a cost you were willing to pay. If Zhao Jue had not privately rewarded me for my contributions, I would not have the financial ability to obtain it.

    As for the bracelet, my design called for the main body of the bracelet was formed by ten strips of golden thread spiraling together. On each golden thread hung a little bell. The point where the threads joined together was covered by a lotus. On each little bell was carved a small lotus. This was my vow to Piaoxiang, telling her that in my heart she was as pure as a lotus.

    After busying myself for most of the day, as night approached, I returned home with Chen Zhen. Just as I arrived at the entrance to my home, I suddenly saw one of Piaoxiang’s serving girls rush before me crying bitterly. I froze, not knowing what had happened. I did not know why but an ice cold chill spread from my heart. It was only after some time did I hear myself speak in a stiff and rigid voice, “What has happened?”

    Crying, the attendant replied, “The young miss was extremely happy when she returned home this morning, preparing to release all of her servants. The madam of the pleasure boat sent someone over saying that an honored guest had come to see the young miss. Young miss did not agree to go, saying that she no longer wished to take any customers. But the madam said that this guest had a background that could not be offended. The madam begged the young miss to go and save her life. Remembering how the madam took care of her, the young miss went, believing that all she needed to do was to meet the guest and half-heartedly attend to them. When the young miss sheds her lowly status, she would be able to properly walk away from her previous life. Who knew … who knew that the young miss would go but not return. At dusk, someone suddenly delivered the young miss’s corpse, saying that the young miss had suddenly fallen ill and died.”

    Listening to this point, I suddenly gave a miserable scream and collapsed to the ground, fainting. I awoke to find Xiaoshunzi’s anxious face before me. Grabbing him, I asked, “How could this happen? How could Piaoxiang die?”

    Xiaoshunzi sadly replied, “I brought Lady Liu Piaoxiang’s body back. After carefully examining her body, Lady Liu Piaoxiang was raped and then killed using an insidious yin internal energy to jolt and snap the arteries and veins of her heart. Although efforts were taken to clean and cover it up, but the wounds on her lower body and the traces of internal energy could not be concealed from me.”

    With great pain and suffering, I closed my eyes. If Piaoxiang wasn’t trying to remain faithful, how could this have happened? With my eyes closed, I continued to ask, “Who was it, who killed her?”

    Xiaoshunzi replied, “I’ve already investigated. The madam said that it was Liang Wan who sent people that there was an honored guest that wanted to meet with Lady Liu. The madam thought that Liang Wan would not harm Lady Liu, and could not afford to offend a guest who was from Great Yong, and thus reluctantly had Lady Liu go. I’ve already investigated Bright Moon Pavilion, but did not see any honored guest. But I did capture one of the servants and after interrogation learned that Lady Liu was indeed killed at the Bright Moon Pavilion. If I’m not mistaken, it’s likely that Liang Wan was the murderer. I ambushed her to test her martial arts. Her internal energy was the same as the energy traces left on Lady Liu’s body.”

    ”Liang Wan! Good, good,” I replied distressed, “Xiaoshunzi, help me up so that I can go see Piaoxiang.”

    Xiaoshunzi helped me to a side room. Inside was a coffin containing Piaoxiang’s body. I looked at her seemingly still living appearance, I cried loudly full of wrath and regret. She was really dead. My beloved. The woman that I was going to marry was murdered. In a pained voice, I screamed the name, “Liang Wan.”

    Over the following days, I was numb like a walking corpse. After properly burying Piaoxiang, I fell ill. This illness lasted half a year. I had not fully recovered from the illness that I had suffered in Sichuan and it returned with a vengeance. Afterwards, I only began to recover after re-cultivating qigong to maintain my health. Although my appearance also recovered, one could clearly see sorrow on my face.

    After I fell ill, I had heard that Zhao Jue had been rewarded by the King, receiving permission to carry his sword into the palace and exempting him from kneeling.7 It’s no wonder, the Prince of De was the Royal Uncle and was the Chief Commander. At this point, there was really any further titles or positions that could be bestowed. I persisted and wrote Zhao Jue a letter that Chen Zhen delivered. Not long afterwards, Zhao Jue submitted a memorial declining these honors, arguing that as he was already the Royal Uncle, he already had honor and glory. There was no need for these rewards. If the King felt that meritorious service must be rewarded in order to protect the state’s dignity, then land and treasure would be sufficient. Extremely happy, the King heavily rewarded the Prince of De. After a while, the Prince of De requested permission to defend the Jingxiang region. The King gladly approved.

    Before he departed for the Jingxiang region, the Prince of De came to see me. Seeing my deeply ill, he specifically ordered the royal physicians to heal me. After he arrived in the Jingxiang region, he would often send medicine and supplements. From Xiaoshunzi, I learned that the Prince of De had also dispatched people to keep an eye on me. I could care less, especially since I was in bed recovering. It was unlikely those spies would be keeping track of those individuals by my side. As for Xiaoshunzi, there were very few people who could keep track of his whereabouts.

    There was something that left me worried. The King had originally wanted to restore the empire and declare himself emperor. He faced strenuous opposition from the ranking officials who argued that with Shu newly conquered and having suffered heavy losses, Southern Chu should wait. The King was extremely unhappy. Afterwards, he received a letter from the Prince of Qi. Only then did he sadly abandon these plans. From then on, the King drowned himself in alcohol and women, especially indulging himself with the court musicians from Shu. Accompanied by literati, he would drink and make merry, composing poems. He also had all of the calligraphy, paintings, and books recorded and delivered to the Palace of Sublime Culture. Although I admired this last action of his, the rest of his behavior was that of an incapable ruler, including handing over all government affairs to Prime Minister Shang Weijun. The King argued that with his Royal Uncle handling external affairs and Prime Minister Shang handling internal matters, he could drink and feast from dawn till dusk. Under the leadership of the King, many officials began to increasingly do as they pleased. I sent people to collect the poems and verses that they had composed and found that they were all gaudy in nature, all of them too horrible to even read.

    Fortunately while Southern Chu was in a drunken stupor, Great Yong was also finding it difficult. Rumors of the Prince of Yong’s intentions to declare independence reached the ear of the Crown Prince, Li An. Li An personally went before Yong Emperor Li Yuan to complain tearfully. Li Yuan recalled the Prince of Yong, keeping him idle. For the last half year, Li Zhi had stayed in Chang’an, unable to find peace. He faced several assassination attempts. After I had heard this news, a mysterious person came to call upon me. The man was travel-worn and claimed that he was a guard for the Prince of Yong. I accepted the Prince’s letter. In the letter, the Prince lamented that he had been slandered, most likely the result of one of my strategies. Recalling my early promise to help advise him when needed and since this matter had nothing to do with Southern Chu, the Prince asked for my help to protect himself. I flashed a faint, but bitter smile. The Prince of Yong really was using everything to acquire me. After thinking it over, I wrote a letter in response. For my safety, I used my left hand to write the characters, purposely leaving out the header and the closing inscription:
    Take the advantage and strike first, with strong external enemies, there will be no internal misery.
    The Prince of Yong was indeed highly intelligent. I later learned that during a banquet hosted by the Yong Emperor, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, drank poisoned wine. Afterwards, Li Zhi unceasingly vomited blood. If it weren’t for the coincidental presence of the Medical Sage, Sang Chen, in Chang’an, Li Zhi would likely have died. Because of this, the Yong Emperor erupted with indignation, implicating numerous individuals. Li An could only restrain himself. Soon afterwards, Northern Han began to plunder the frontier. Li Zhi immediately memorialized his father, requesting permission to defend against Northern Han. The request was swiftly approved. The Yong Emperor wished to temporarily separate his two sons, allowing both of them time to calm down. After hearing the news, I smiled faintly. To me, this was killing two birds with one stone. The battle between Prince of Yong and Northern Han will likely last for several years. With Crown Prince Li An in control of the supplies, he will likely make things difficult for Li Zhi. In this way, Great Yong will be constrained, preventing them from launching a campaign south. When the time came for me to take revenge, with the backing of the Prince of Yong, as long as my methods were brilliant, no one would make things difficult for me.

    While I was ill, Xiaoshunzi personally investigated the murder of Piaoxiang. Ultimately he told me that if I wanted to kill Liang Wan, he could take advantage of some of the holes in the defenses and murder her. I refused. Although Liang Wan could not be forgiven for her crimes, there was another culprit who took part in Piaoxiang’s murder. While Liang Wan was guilty, her main role was to serve as his procurer (of women) and to clean up after him. This person’s identity was definitely not ordinary. Under normal circumstances, Liang Wan would never reveal it. I knew that although this woman was a radiant beauty,8, she was as venomous as a snake or a scorpion. Even if I were to capture her, I could not have her obediently divulge the other killer’s name. I must place her in a situation will die with regrets.9 Only then, will I be able to force her to speak the truth. Because of this, I currently could not kill her.

    Liang Wan was truly malicious. After Piaoxiang’s death, to pull wool over others’ eyes, I hid myself, only allowing the madam to secretly bury Piaoxiang. I had indicated to Chen Zhen to have Piaoxiang’s savings be split, giving the madam one portion, while splitting the rest between Piaoxiang’s serving girls, helping them leave Jianye and start new lives. This was the result of the secret discussions between Chen Zhen and the madam. Although the madam knew that Piaoxiang was to be married, she had no idea who was going to be husband, let alone remembering my existence. Seeing that the husband was so generous, the madam was happy. After she arranged everything, Liang Wan’s assassins arrived. Liang Wan had earlier dispatched agents to keep an eye on the madam. Seeing that the madam took care of everything clearly and orderly, Liang Wan did not strike immediately, waiting until everything was settled before sending assassins to kill the madam. Seeing that Liang Wan did not send anyone to target Chen Zhen, I was able to confirm that Piaoxiang did not divulge who I was. Xiaoshunzi secretly followed the assassins back and personally watched and listened to them report back to Liang Wan. In Liang Wan’s eyes, the trail of evidence had been completely severed. For her, the departure of Piaoxiang’s serving girls, was the best way to settle this matter. Finding and then killing them all would likely arouse suspicion.

    After listening to Xiaoshunzi, I took a deep breath. Liang Wan, you truly deserve death. Regardless of your background, I will definitely ensure that you meet a tragic end.10

    After some time, my health gradually improved. One night, I set an incense burner table in the rear courtyard to properly pay my respects to Piaoxiang. Thinking back to our affection, I felt as if my spirit was broken and my mood grew morose. I silently prayed, “Beloved, you and I fell in love at first sight, bound by deep understanding and emotions. Who knew that fortune was as unpredictable as the weather, and my love would suffer calamity and perish, the jade shatters and the pearl submerges, leaving nothing of your beautiful image, making it difficult to find a trace of your lingering fragrance. If beloved’s spirit is there, help me find the true culprit and along with his accomplice, Liang Wan, kill them both to comfort beloved’s departed spirit in the underworld.”

    After finishing my prayer, I picked up a small brocade box on the table. Inside were the golden hairpin and bracelet that I had intended to gift to Piaoxiang. Seeing these pieces of jewelry made me miss their owner even more. I became more melancholic. Inside the box was a jade finger ring. Piaoxiang had specifically found this ring with the intention of gifting it to me. I made the decision to gift her jewelry to her serving girls, leaving only this ring behind. This finger ring had been purchased by Piaoxiang. Originally, she loved its dark green color and luster, and its pure texture. It was slightly too big for her and she could not wear it, leaving it in her jewelry container. I placed the finger ring on my middle finger. This was an item left to me by my beloved. Also inside the box where two poems that had been written the last time I had seen her. Taking them out, I began to read them. When I read her poem, reaching the sentence, “I long to be his wife, / Though pitilessly I’m disclaimed, / I would not feel shame,” I could not but shed tears in silence.

    1. 吏部, libu – the Ministry of Personnel was in charge of appointments, merit ratings, promotions, and demotions of officials, as well as granting of honorific titles
    2. 车船店脚牙,无罪也该杀, chechuandianjiaoya, wuzuiyegaisha – those who work as coachmen, boatmen, waiters, menial laborers, trade intermediaries, should be killed even if they are innocent. This means that these individuals are untrustworthy and can easily be bought. They should be silenced to prevent any secret information from leaking out.
    3. 分身碎骨, fenshensuigu – idiom, lit. torn body and crushed bones; fig. to die horribly; to sacrifice one’s life
    4. This is a poem by the Song Dynasty poet, Qin Guan and is about the mythical love story of “the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.” Their love was forbidden and they were banished to the opposite sides of the Celestial River (symbolizing the Milky Way). Once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, they are reunited by a bridge of magpies for one day. The tale is celebrated throughout Asia as the Qixi Festival in China, the Tanabata Festival in Japan, and the Chilseok Festival in Korea.
    5. This is a poem entitled “Thinking of Imperial Land” by the late Tang Dynasty and early Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms poet, Wei Zhuang.
    6. 栩栩如生, xuxurusheng – idiom, vivid and lifelike; true to life, realistic.
    7. Both of these are great honors, as it meant eliminating two of the most important aspects of propriety when a subject is before a King or Emperor – being unarmed and kneeling to properly pay one’s respects.
    8. 艳如桃李, yanrutaoli – idiom, lit. beautiful as peach and prune; fig. radiant beauty
    9. 死不瞑目, sibumingmu – idiom, lit. to die with being able to one’s eyes; means dying with regret
    10. 死无葬身之地, siwuzangshenzhidi – lit. to die without a burial site; to die a pauper; to meet a tragic end
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 15 – Preparing to Build a Secret Camp

    Standing some distance away, Chen Zhen saw my grief. He stepped forward and said, “Daren, please restrain your grief and accept fate.1 If Master Li2 were to find out that daren was so grief-stricken, he will think that this subordinate has been taking care of daren.”

    I glanced at Chen Zhen, seeing the clear worry in his eyes, I faintly replied, “Do you still hate Xiaoshunzi and this official?”

    Chen Zhen calmly replied, “This lowly one has never blamed daren. At the time, this lowly one was imprisoned and tightly bound with my life about to end. If it weren’t for daren’s rescue, this lowly one would have died long ago. Since this lowly one is from Shu and daren is an official of Southern Chu, to worry about my loyalty was justifiable. This lowly one was uneasy at first, especially with my life and death in another’s hands. But over these days, this lowly one has gotten the antidote without fail. There have been no additional demands or difficulties. As long as this lowly one is loyal and dutiful, I will certainly not be harmed. Therefore, this lowly one has no complaints.”

    I looked at him. He was actually quite astute. I continued to ask, “The strategies I proposed captured both Ba Prefecture and Luocheng. I also forced the King of Shu to commit suicide. Do you not hate me?”

    Chen Zhen hurriedly kneeled, replying, “This lowly one was only a mere spy in Shu. My entire life was dedicated to those with power and influence, and riches and honor. But until the day that Shu fell, I was still a mere spy without power over my own life. When Shu existed, this lowly one did not betray it. After Shu fell, nonentities like myself still need to live. For daren, as a subject of Southern Chu, to present strategies to defeat Shu is a matter of course. Although this lowly one is a citizen of Shu, I do not carry have the responsibility of taking revenge for Shu. Although this lowly one is by nature, merciless, I believe that if a country cannot even protect its own citizens, then there is no need for that country to continue to exist.”

    I smiled faintly and said, “Your temper matches well with mine. In reality, Southern Chu will also be destroyed, though only at a later time. When that happens, what will you do?”

    Chen Zhen replied, “Although I do not know what relationship daren has with Great Yong, I believe that when that time comes, daren will be able to protect yourself. Although Chen Zhen is untalented and has experienced the sorrow of seeing my country be subjugated. When that time comes, I only wish to be able to safely pass my days. Chen Zhen is confident that I will not sell my master to seek honor.”

    I shook my head. This fellow was intelligent, not saying even one tactful word. He must have understood my temperament. If he said these words while we were in Shu, he would have likely lost his life long ago. In passing, I took out a pill from within my robes and said, “This is the antidote. If you take it, it will completely remove the poison within your body. You will no longer have to take medication on a monthly basis.”

    Without any hesitation, Chen Zhen took the pill before replying, “This subordinate is willing to vow my loyalty and devotion to daren.”

    Seeing how frank and straightforward he was, as if he was forewarned, I asked, “Did you know long ago that I was the one who poisoned you?”

    Smiling, Chen Zhen replied, “This lowly one knew long ago that daren poisoned me. Typically, those who use poison are all extremely self-confident. If it was Master Li who poisoned me, he would not have left the restrictions on my body.”

    This man was quite astute, I thought. I realized that I needed to be candid with him and so said, “Since that is the case, I might as well be frank. If I only wanted a personal guard, I would only need you to spare no effort to protect my life and not require your loyalty, as you are only a temporary replacement for Xiaoshunzi. But if I want you to perform tasks for me, you must be trustworthy and loyal. From now on, this official is surrounded and watched by a pack of wolves. I face many multiple layers of danger and if I am careful even in the slightest, I could very well lose my life. If a subordinate of mine is neither trustworthy nor loyal, there is no point having him stay. If you are unwilling, I will have Xiaoshunzi remove the restrictions on your body, allowing you to leave. If you are wholeheartedly willing to serve me, I will treat you as a trusted aide. After I have achieved success, I will also arrange something suitable for you and will not treat you unfairly. However, I may not be able to provide you with meteoric success. What are your thoughts?”

    Chen Zhen kneeled again and replied, “This lowly one is homeless and has no dependents. If I were to leave daren, I can only be a mere bandit.3 I will be captured again, sooner rather than later. I have observed that daren is capable of handling difficult tasks with ease,4 someone who will make great contributions.5 If daren does not dislike me, this lowly one is willing serve daren.”

    I helped me up, believing him for now. I asked, “If that is the case, I would like to ask you. How should we proceed?”

    Chen Zhen showed a look of excitement as he replied, “If daren wishes to take vengeance for the mistress,6 no matter how we proceed, we require a force that we absolutely control. Right now, other than this lowly one, Master Li is not free to do as he pleases. Our strength is far too weak. If we collaborate with others, in the event that our interests conflict, daren will likely be restricted.”

    I lightly nodded my head. The spies of Shu indeed lived up to their name. Right now, of utmost importance was to create my own force to protect myself and to eliminate my enemies. In order to raise my own military force, required sufficient capital. Where was I going to get the money?

    Over the following few days, I hid in the study room thinking over how to establish this force and to maintain its existence. I flipped through some books and let my imagination run wild. This force could not be too large, as it would draw attention, and would require money and supplies. At the same time, it could not be too small or it would not be of use. Most importantly, I needed my own income.

    A few days later, Xiaoshunzi came over. After learning my plans, he advised that we start small. We emptied our savings of the rewards that we had received for the past campaign against Shu. We secretly purchased an estate near where I lived and brought over several twelve- to thirteen-year-old teenagers to train. Following my requirements and opinion, these teenagers were basically orphans, and were obstinate and tenacious children. These teenagers would first be trained by Chen Zhen in basic martial arts before being provided with a training program by Xiaoshunzi using the manuals that I had previously given him. According to Xiaoshunzi, after two years of training, these trainers would be considered as second-rate martial artists. Combined with specialized assassination and espionage training, which was Chen Zhen’s specialty, these individuals could be of use.

    I also thought of a plan to earn money. Thinking back to the jewelry that I had designed, not only were the designs exquisite and could be crafted by first-rate artisans, resulting in their approbation. Although I was not particularly adept at these craft design, but I was knowledgeable, and had read books that were wonderful and exquisite. In batches, I made several designs – including mechanisms, jewelry and apparel, and even some elaborate toys. My favorite was a clock that was a modified pendulum clock that I had seen in a book I acquired from Persia. All of these designs were all manufactured in partnership with the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets, in which we received ten percent. The person representing the Pavilion was named Han Wuji, one of Chen Zhen’s colleague. He had luckily escaped Chengdu after the fall of Shu. Because of Great Yong’s strict governance, he had come to make a living in Southern Chu. As he was a skilled assassin, plotter, and schemer, there weren’t many options for him and as a result, he almost died from hunger. When Chen Zhen was searching for orphans, he found Han Wuji and saved him. Seeing that this person had a moral backbone and did not kill or rob for a living, I allowed him to become the Manager of the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets. I had him secretly use my designs to find collaborators. At first, he had to personally meet with others. Afterwards, whenever I had come up with a new design, he only had to organize a small auction and invite merchants to bid. The winner would acquire the design and resources. As long as they managed to keep this information strictly confidential, they would have exclusive production rights. The reputation of the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets spread in secret. No one made its existence public, especially as the merchants would lose their right to bid in the auctions and a way to make money. The invitations from the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets became a symbol of one’s strength and also a symbol of trust. Without a good reputation, even if possessed more than sufficient strength, one could not receive an invitation.

    At first, this was all for money, but after a while, it became increasingly meaningful. Through the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets, I could learn many secrets. Many people were willing to trade for my designs using all kinds of secrets. Of course, I made sure that Han Wuji was cautious and careful, ensuring that he did not slip up and wasn’t followed. Han Wuji performed very well. As my force began to grow stronger, I dispatched a group of twelve individuals to listen to Han Wuji. Through this, the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets became one of the reputable secret organizations in Southern Chu.

    After more than a year, seeing that earnings were sufficient, I began to reduce designs, only producing one per month and only permitting those who had previously collaborated to bid. Later on, these merchants established the Heavenly Secrets Trade Association, which meant they were an Association collaborating with the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets. To join, the Association required recommendations from three members and the approval of the Pavilion. The Heavenly Secrets Trade Association quickly became the most powerful trade Association in Southern Chu. Through a share of the stock, I was able to receive ten percent of the Association’s profits. In the first year alone, I received six hundred thousand taels of silver. The participating companies all had good reputations, ample finances, and influence. Although I wasn’t able to control their operation, to lose my designs and cooperation would be devastating. As a result, I was able to ensure their cooperation as long as it wasn’t anything to overboard like rebellion.

    Aside from this, I began the work of training my “Secret Camp.” The Secret Camp was the name I gave to my personal forces. I taught them how to read and write. Although they weren’t required to be able to compose poems or verses, they had to be familiar with relatively famous literature. As I couldn’t have assassins around me, I had to teach them the proper etiquette and master how to act roles that were suitable to be at my side and for my position.

    After careful review by Xiaoshunzi, Chen Zhen, and me, I divided the Secret Camp into four groups. The first group was called the Tiger Group. This group was the main strength of the Camp tasked with resolutely attacking and breaking the enemy. All of them were skilled with various Jianghu martial arts and were able to kill those who were stronger fighters. At the same time, they could form up into formation to encircle and kill the enemy, as well as serve as defenders and reinforcements. They were able to fill the role of bodyguards and soldiers.

    The second group was called the Dragon Group. Although this group had few members, all of them were skilled in special techniques. I had taught them all of my skills, and each of them were skilled with one or two of these skills. Some were skilled at calculations and arraying formations, some skilled in underwater combat, and some skilled in architecture. All of these individuals were capable of taking charge and operating independently. They would often be dispatched to perform various separate tasks and were members of the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets under Han Wuji.

    The third group was called the Covert Group and were skilled in hiding and assassination. This group would never appear in my presence and would only undertake missions I assigned. As this group had no future prospects, I arranged for them to serve me for ten years without fettered by any relationships. Once ten years had passed, I would provide them with generous rewards and allow them to return to a normal life. Of course, if they wished, they could remain in my service and due to the nature of their work, receive suitable remuneration each time they completed a mission.

    The fourth and last group was called the Hidden Group. All of them were well trained spies and undercover agents, capable of using all of kinds of disguises to obtain information. They did not specialize in martial arts. Instead, they were highly trained in subterfuge and disguises.

    After training concluded, I carefully chose eight operatives to serve by my side. All of them were capable members of each of the groups and were all disguised as my servants. These individuals were under my direct command, serving as my protection and to more easily execute my orders. To more conveniently command them, they were all given the surname, Jiang. Their given names in order were Chiji, Daoli, Baiyi, Yulun, Shanzi, Quhuang, Hualiu, and Lü’er.7 Their names were their ranking. If there were any losses or eliminations, then their replacement would assume their name.

    Although these children were still young, but under Xiaoshunzi’s tutelage, all of them were skilled martial artists. Although Xiaoshunzi could not teach them his own martial arts, but they were provided with the martial arts that Xiaoshunzi had organized. When they were sparring, the children were keen to prove themselves and stubborn. In order to ensure that they were able to receive more moves from Xiaoshunzi, they would train bitterly to meet the standards. Those who did not meet the requirements or wavered under the pressure, had their martial arts crippled by Xiaoshunzi and their memories wiped by medicine that I provided. This was done in front of the children. Xiaoshunzi had been clear with them. If they failed to meet the requirements, then they would be secretly arranged to become shop assistants or waiters, and other kinds of relatively stable occupations. Under the tutelage of Xiaoshunzi and myself, these children only knew to be loyal to me, and did not have any sense of belonging to either Southern Chu or Great Yong. I finally had built a force that belonged to me.

    The next step after finishing building the force was to make use of it. Seeing that Southern Chu’s situation was still relatively stable, I formulated a plan to be executed by Chen Zhen where the children would take turns completing different missions, transforming them to become more mature, merciless, and calm and ruthless. Of these missions, there were two of particular importance. The first involved one of the collaborating companies. Blinded by greed, they attempted to take my shares. As a warning to the others, I had the Secret Camp move out. The Hidden Group was tasked with intelligence, the Cover Group was eliminated all of the hired martial artists and managers of the company, the Tiger Group launched a lightning assault and executed all three hundred members of the company, and the Dragon Group using legal contracts to take back everything we deserved. I personally drew the plan for this cold-hearted, yet meticulous operation. The results were apparent. No one dared to mess with the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets again. Although many innocents were killed, in my view, their deaths were a form of deterrence. From this, people who dared to offend or betray me would have carefully the consequences.

    After this operation, the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets was able to successfully go underground. People were not apprehensive of mystery. For the Pavilion to dare to perform such an operation, one could see that the Pavilion represented blood and cruelty. Those who wished to take from me, would have to worry about my vengeance. As a result, the Pavilion’s position became stable.

    The second operation as both private and public. Great Yong’s spy network in Southern Chu had taken notice of the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets. Liang Wan planned an operation and dispatched people to threaten and make promises to a merchant associated with the Pavilion, using him to gain a spot in the auction and using collaboration to control the Pavilion. But she was too greedy. Although this merchant was able to collaborate with the Pavilion, but the probing and following from Yong spies were discovered by the Dragon Group. The Hidden and Covert Groups carefully investigated the matter. After receiving their report, I organized a meeting, claiming that the Master of the Pavilion would appear. Receiving this news, Liang Wan dispatched her capable subordinates to attend the meeting. They were encircled and killed. This time, a masked Xiaoshunzi personally killed two of Liang Wan’s most powerful martial artists. The merchant was disqualified from participation in the Association and was forced to pay a year’s worth of profits as a penalty. Although he was not bankrupted, he had lost his reputation and a significant sum of money, ruining him in one stroke.8

    I was not only able to protect the Pavilion’s reputation, once again demonstrating the Pavilion’s supreme stature and a resolution of inviolability, but also I was also able to heavily damage Liang Wan’s arrogance. I was left perfectly satisfied.

    When I heard the report about Liang Wan’s losses and received Xiaoshunzi’s personal report about the reprimand and punishment Liang Wan received from Great Yong, I coldly said, “This woman forgot her duties. She is responsible for spying on Southern Chu’s military situation and popular sentiment, not to develop her own forces without permission. If Southern Chu’s court weren’t so stupid and weak, she would have been captured and killed long ago. If I didn’t want to keep her alive, I only need to send a letter to the Prince of De. Zhao Jue would use the military to completely eliminate her.”

    Daren, when do you intend to move against her?” asked Xiaoshunzi.

    I indifferently looked off into the distance and replied, “Wait. The time is quickly approaching. Great Yong can no longer rest easily. Xiaoshunzi, we lost an operative during this operation. You must improve their martial arts, as I continue to improve their intellect. We can’t afford any losses right now, as we don’t have a year or two more to waste.”

    I looked at the intelligence reports in my hand collected from Great Yong:
    The Prince of Yong has been victorious in his campaign on the border against Northern Han and will soon return in triumph.
    The Prince of Qi has been diligently training troops.
    Great Yong’s Ministry of War9 has been raising troops.
    The Yong Emperor has once again reinstated the former Navy Chief Commander, Ren Haiwang.
    Although all of this news seemed trivial on their own, from them, I could see many things. Looking off into the distance at the dark clouds on the horizon, I knew that a storm was coming. Although the coming storm will be violent, I may even flounder and capsize, I fully intended to take revenge for her. Looking at the finger ring on my middle finger, I smiled faintly.

    1. 节哀顺变, jieaishunbian – lit. restrain your grief and accept fate; is a common condolence phrase used in China
    2. Referring to Xiaoshunzi aka Li Shun
    3. 杀人越货, sharenyuehuo – idiom, lit. to kill somebody for his property; to murder for money
    4. 举重若轻, juzhongruoqin – idiom, lit. lift heavy as if it was light; means being able to take care of difficult tasks with ease
    5. 草木同腐, caomutongfu – idiom, lit. to be rotten like grass and wood; fig. to not have any accomplishments
    6. Mistress as in the wife of the master
    7. These names are the names of the eight horses who pulled the chariot of King Mu of Zhou when he dreamed of traveling to heavenly paradise and taste the peaches of immortality.
    8. 一蹶不振, yijuebuzhen – idiom lit. to stumble, unable to rise; a setback leading to collapse, ruined at a stroke
    9. 兵部, bingbu – the Ministry of War was in charge of the appointments, promotions, and demotions of military officers, the maintenance of military installations, equipment, and weapons, as well as the courier system
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited December 2016

    Chapter 16 – Great Upheaval Cometh

    The second month of the twenty-second year of Xiande, the tenth year of the sixty-year cycle, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, again defeats Northern Han. The King of Northern Han is forced to issue an edict recalling the General Who Dominates Distant Lands, Long Tingfei, from mourning.1 Long Tingfei possessed remarkable talent, fighting desperately,2 he blocked Li Zhi at Yanmen Pass.3 Although he did not suffer many casualties, Li Zhi was forced to retreat. In the third month of the same year, Great Yong and Northern Han negotiated peace.

    At the start of the fourth month, the Prince of Qi, Li Xian, led an army south, amassing troops before Xiangyang. At this time, the Prince of De commanded the defenses at Xiangyang and heavily defeated Li Xian. Subsequently, rumors spread throughout the Southern Chu royal court that Great Yong was attacking Chu because the Prince of De was training troops in preparation for a northern campaign. The King believed these tales and recalled the Prince of De back to the court. On the fourth day of the fifth month, Li Xian again attacked Xiangyang. Regretful, the King dispatched the Prince of De to rush back to Xiangyang with haste …

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of the Prince of De, Zhao Jue
    With my arms behind my back, I stood before the window, looking up at the cold moon. Xiaoshunzi stood behind me, while Chen Zhen stood by the doorway. Xiaoshunzi said, “Daren, how are you going to reply to the Prince of Yong’s letter? The messenger is still waiting.”

    “Write a letter on my behalf,” I indifferently replied, “Simply say that the Prince of Qi won’t be able to win. With the Prince of De present, even if the Prince of Yong himself comes, it won’t be an easy task to break through the defenses established by the Prince of De in the Jingxiang region. I am a subject of Southern Chu, there is no reason for me to take refuge in Great Yong. It looks like Great Yong will soon attack. Chen Zhen, send operatives to keep a close eye on Liang Wan. They will soon make their move.”

    At this point, we heard a knock on the door. After seeing me nod my head, Chen Zhen opened the door. A teenager of about fourteen or fifteen entered. Kneeling with one knee, he said, “Young master, an urgent message, the Prince of Qi, Li Xian, has begun to attack Xiangyang.”

    I smiled faintly. Li Xian knew the Art of War. If the Jingxiang region was to fall into the hands of Great Yong, then contact between Sichuan and Jiangnan would be cut off. After that, Great Yong could either nibble away or swallow Southern Chu whole. But I believed in the ability of the Prince of De. The defenses of the Jingxiang region were strict and well organized.

    Over the subsequent few days, the court discussed the Great Yong invasion heatedly. Those officials were all afraid, and at the same time, indignant. Some indignantly demanded condemnation of Great Yong. The vast majority, however, were wondering how Great Yong was offended. Some were even willing to dispatch a memorial to Great Yong, seeking forgiveness and requesting that Great Yong withdraw its army. Ultimately, Prime Minister Shang Weijun was quite determined, requesting an envoy be dispatched to Great Yong to enquire as to the reason for its invasion. Although this idea received the approval of the entire court, all of the civil and military officials of the court were uneasy. In the following days, many secretly visited the Bright Moon Pavilion to acquire a guarantee of safety. I made no effort to stop this. If even the ranking officials of Southern Chu had lost faith, what was I to do?

    I had Xiaoshunzi bring out the map laying out the troop dispositions at Xiangyang. I studied it careful. Xiangyang was composed of two cities of Xiangcheng and Fancheng that were on located on opposite sides of the Han River. There was a pontoon bridge across the river connecting the two cities. Both cities had deep moats and high wall. If the enemy were to attack, they would assuredly suffer casualties and be unable to capture the cities. If the enemy were to attack either city, troops could utilize the bridge to quickly reinforce the attacked city. In addition, with the support of the navy, Xiangyang was difficult to attack and easy to defend.

    When the Prince of De first arrived at Xiangyang, he dispatched a messenger with a map laying out Xiangyang’s defenses to gain my opinion. I did not give a clear and direct response. Instead, I replied with a design for a pontoon bridge. The originally wooden bridge had been badly damaged by time and would be difficult to repair. I advised that two rows of stakes be driven into the river. Each stake was a piece of lumber several meters long and were driven into the riverbed. Each stake was attached with iron chains and were covered with wooden planks, forming a pontoon bridge that can be repaired at any time. I also provided a mockup for fishnets with bells to the Prince of De. These fishnets were placed around the pontoon bridge and cast into the water, protecting it from individuals launching a sneak attack from underwater. I only gave the Prince of De a design schematics and a fishnet. How they were to be utilized was the Prince of De’s own decision and had nothing to do with me. Looking over the defense information, if the Prince of De was defending Xiangyang, then it would not easily fall. Did the Prince of Qi not know that Xiangyang was easy to defend and difficult to attack?

    On the fourteen day of the fourth month, Li Xian, the Prince of Qi, gave the order to attack the city. The assault was ferocious as the Yong troops did not worry about casualties, throwing themselves fearlessly at the city walls. The Prince of De ordered the navy to use the Han River to launch volleys of arrows and bolts at the Prince of Qi’s foot soldiers, forcing the Yong troops to withdraw. The Prince of Qi tried twice again to attack, ordering up catapults to force back the navy, and advancing his army upon the city. He attacked the northern gate of Xiangcheng day and night. Seeing the danger, he led three thousand cavalrymen out of the southern gate and launched a surprise attack on the flank of the Yong army. The Yong army were not prepared for the Southern Chu garrison to sally forth from the city and were caught by surprise. The entire army was thrown into confusion. Li Xian commanded five thousand cavalrymen to stop the Prince of De. Zhao Jue lured these horsemen into an ambush at the eastern gate where they were met with rocks and tree trunks, and forced to retreat. Furious, Li Xian commanded twenty thousand troops to guard the flanks while he personally led eighty thousand troops in a continuous and alternating attack on the northern gate. The northern gate fell into grave danger. The Prince of De did not rest and personally supervised its defense, waiting for the right moment. When he observed the Yong army exhaust themselves in the attack, he gave a signal for the Fancheng garrison to launch a surprise attack upon the rear of the Yong army. Attacked from two sides, Li Xian’s army suffered grievous casualties and was forced to retreat. Zhao Jue chased the Yong army for thirty li and only withdrew after inflicting heavy losses. After three days of battle, the one hundred and fifty thousand Yong army had suffered sixty thousand dead and wounded, while the seventy thousand Southern Chu army had lost twenty thousand men. This was a Pyrrhic victory. After the Yong army withdrew, Zhao Jue immediately dispatched an envoy to report the victory to the court and to request reinforcements.

    Within the court, upon receiving the report Zhao Jue’s memorial, the King was both joyous and worried. He opened his mouth and said, “My honored subjects, although the Royal Uncle has won, but the strength of the Yong army is ten times ours. What should we do?”

    Shang Weijun respectfully replied, “Reporting to Your Majesty, although the alliance was betrayed by Great Yong, but our army is far outmatched by the Yong army. We should take this opportunity to dispatch an envoy to Great Yong and negotiate a peace.”

    All the other officials agreed in succession with Shang Weijun. At this time, an attendant reported on the arrival of an envoy had returned from his mission to Great Yong. King Zhao Jia hurriedly ordered for the envoy to brought into the audience chambers. This envoy was named Fu Yulun, the tanhua of the royal examinations from the sixteen year of Xiande and was currently serving in the Ministry of Rites.4 Fu Yulun hurried kneeled and reported, “By royal decree, this subject went to Yong on a diplomatic mission. Before I could pass into Great Yong, I was stopped by the Prince of Qi, Li Xian. He claimed that his campaign against Southern Chu was to cleanse our court of disloyal subjects. I have here a letter from the Prince of Qi to Your Majesty.”

    Zhao Jia hurriedly had a eunuch accept the letter and bring it to over. The contents of the letter were as follows:
    The Prince of Qi of Great Yong salutes the King of Southern Chu. This campaign was launched was not for any other reason than because of the Prince of De, Zhao Jue who has rapacious designs. He garrisons Xiangyang and trains his army, always keeping an eye upon the frontiers with Great Yong. Furthermore, he has with designs upon Great Yong. As long as this man is not removed, there will never be peace between Great Yong and Southern Chu. This Prince and Your Majesty have the relationship of a nephew and uncle, and am unwilling to harm Your Majesty. If he is not to be trusted, then he must be recalled to court. He will come up with all kinds of excuses and refuse to return.

    I keenly remember the promise that was made on my last trip to Southern Chu. Once Your Majesty restores the empire, that person will raise his army and rise in revolt. When that occurs, Great Yong will not be able to intervene. If Your Majesty takes away his command, our two countries will return to peace. If Your Majesty believes Zhao Jue’s slanderous lies, then this Prince will have no alternative but to come to Jiangnan to hunt with Your Majesty.
    After Zhao Jia read the entire letter, his entire body grew cold. If he believed the words in the letter, then he feared that it was an attempt by the Prince of Yong to sow discord. But he couldn’t say that he didn’t believe the letter either. Ever since Zhao Jue had returned from the campaign against Shu, he had constantly requested money and grain for the military. He was personally overseeing the defenses at Xiangyang and refused to return to the court. Did he have the intent to revolt? Zhao Jia also realized that Zhao Jue had a far superior reputation and jealousy grew in his heart. Indifferently, he replied, “Royal Uncle has won and should return to the court to receive his just rewards. By our edict, we recall the Prince of De to return to court.”

    When Zhao Jue in the distant Jingxiang region received this edict, he refused to return. He memorialized the King that he could return because of pressing military matters. Originally Zhao Jia was only somewhat suspicious of his uncle, but upon seeing Zhao Jue’s refusal to return, this suspicion grew. In succession, Zhao Jia issued several edicts. In the beginning, Zhao Jue used the excuse that a general on the field could refuse an order. But ultimately, as each successive edict became increasing incisive, even the court officials began to believe that Zhao Jue had ill intentions. Without any alternatives, Zhao Jue turned over the defenses of the Jingxiang region to Rong Yuan and returned to Jianye with a few of his guards. When they were still dozens of li from Jianye, Zhao Jue and his entourage were stopped by an ordinary looking man who delivered a letter to Zhao Jue. Zhao Jue opened the letter and read its contents:
    For my lord to not return in the beginning was a mistake. For my lord to return now is compounding that mistake. Under current circumstances, my lord should return to Jingxiang, taking upon your command to protect yourself.
    After reading the letter, Zhao Jue heaved a sigh before burning the letter. To the messenger, he said, “Thank your master on my behalf. Tell him that I, Zhao Jue, is not someone who would rebel.”

    The messenger silently backed away and left.

    When he arrived in Jianye, Zhao Jue arrived before the gates of the royal palace to seek an audience but was arrested and placed in the dungeons by Zhao Jia’s decree. Although Zhao Jue penned a memorial explaining the reasons for refusing to return, but to no avail. In Zhao Jia’s heart, if he was not worried about Li Xian refusing to withdraw, he would have long punished his uncle. When Zhao Jue was imprisoned, suddenly numerous memorials appeared requesting that Zhao Jue be put to death. Fortunately, Zhao Jia was not so muddled as to agree. He released Zhao Jue and placed him under house arrest.

    Those memorials were my idea. After I received word from Chen Zhen that Zhao Jue refused to rebel, I came up with this plan. Although Zhao Jue was a loyal subject, he was also far too foolish. If he had immediately returned upon the King’s edict, Zhao Jia would know that he had wrongly blamed him. Zhao Jue would have been able to quickly return to Xiangyang. Since he didn’t return immediately, and yet still returned made it seem like he had a guilty conscience. Even if Zhao Jia was wise, there was no one that he wouldn’t become suspicious. Never mind the fact that Zhao Jia was no more intelligent than an idiot. After Zhao Jue was imprisoned in the dungeons, I was placed in a difficult position. According to my plans, in reality, it was better for Zhao Jue to continue to be imprisoned. From this, an opportunity for me to abandon my post and leave would quickly materialize for me to take advantage of. But thinking of Zhao Jue’s painful support of Southern Chu, I found that I could not explain the pain that I was feeling and I could not steel myself. Even if Southern Chu were to be destroyed, I must allow those who love this country to show their loyalty. Thus, I wrote a letter to Rong Yuan, having him conspire with officials to request that Zhao Jue be put to death. My messenger was swift. Not long after Zhao Jue arrived at Jianye, Rong Yuan’s people arrived. These individuals provoked those officials who feared Great Yong to memorialize the King. Zhao Jia was not so muddled. He originally did trust his uncle. Seeing all these individuals wish to kill Zhao Jue, Zhao Jia immediately became suspicious. Zhao Jue’s life was preserved. Now, we only had to wait before he would be dispatched back to Xiangyang. His return would rely upon Great Yong’s help.

    Sure enough, not long afterwards, the Prince of Qi once again attacked the Jingxiang region. This Prince of Qi was too impatient. If it was the Prince of Yong, he would likely have waited patiently to see what would happen. Rong Yuan was capable and was able to stabilize Jingxiang’s defenses. When the eight hundred li urgent report arrived from Xiangyang, the King was immediately realized the truth and hurriedly dispatched Zhao Jue back to Xiangyang. Not caring about anything else, Zhao Jue led his personal guards and rushed back. Not long after leaving Jianye, he saw a delicate and scholarly young man sitting in the pavilion positioned ten li from the city.5 A pot of wine and two cups were placed on the stone table within the pavilion. Behind the young man stood an ordinary looking middle-aged man. Outside on each of four corners of the pavilion stood two fifteen- to sixteen-year-old teenage manservants. Smiling faintly, Zhao Jue dismounted from his horse and entered the pavilion. Bowing deeply before the young man, he said, “Zhao Jue is extremely grateful and indebted to Suiyun for this rescue. Today for my lord to see me off, Zhao Jue is ashamed.”

    I stood and returned his bow. I replied, “Your Highness possesses great fortune and virtue. Those treacherous persons and vile schemes naturally would not be able to harm Your Highness. Your Highness’s trip to Jingxiang has only remote prospects. As such, Suiyun purposely has come to see Your Highness off.”

    One of the manservants stepped forward and poured two cups of wine for us before retreating back to the side. Seeing that the manservant’s movements were lively and had an elegant appearance, Zhao Jue could not but be curious. He said, “Over these last few years, Suiyun has lived like a prince. One look at these manservants and one can see they possess the demeanor of someone from a great family. They even seem to possess a scholarly air.”

    I smiled calmly and raised cup, saying, “I advise my lord to drink this cup of wine and wish you safe travels on this trip to Jingxiang.”

    Zhao Jue raised his cup and drank its contents in one go, replying, “It is a pity that Suiyun refuses to come to Jingxiang with me. If I were to gain Suiyun’s help, then Jingxiang will be absolutely safe.”

    I smiled lightly and replied, “Isn’t Your Highness looking too lightly upon Sir Rong?”

    Zhao Jue rose and replied, “That’s enough. You can see someone off for a thousand li, but ultimately we must part ways. The war in Jingxiang is urgent. I must urgently hasten on. I must bid farewell. When I have defeated the Yong army, we will meet again to drink our fill. If I am to die, then I ask only that Suiyun offer sacrifices at my grave.”

    Hearing these words, the cup in my hand almost slipped out and fell. Earlier, I had made a divination for Zhao Jue. After two years, I had gradually become increasingly adept at divination. After bathing and burning incense, I made a divination for Zhao Jue. The divination was ominous and seemed to imply that he would die prematurely on the road. Now hearing the ominous words in Zhao Jue’s speech, my heart grew cold. As Zhao Jue mounted his horse and was readying to leave, I suddenly said, “Your Highness, I have two subordinates. Although they are young, they are skilled martial artists. Please allow them to accompany Your Highness to Xiangyang on my behalf as a form of regret at being unable to accompany Your Highness myself. Daoli, Baiyi, greet His Highness.”

    Looking at the two youngsters, Zhao Jue forced a smile and replied, “Suiyun, this is a long and wearisome journey. You mustn’t make things difficult for these children.”

    Without emotions, I replied, “They are skilled in horsemanship and archery, and will not delay Your Highness.”

    Zhao Jue originally wished to continue, but seeing that I was persistent and with time pressing, could only raise bid farewell and whip his horse into a gallop.

    Zhao Jue rushed along his way, switching horses mid-journey. He originally was worried that the two children sent along by Jiang Zhe would be unable to keep up. But whenever he looked back, he saw that the two children were completely vigorous and spirited, and so no longer worried about them. After urgently traveling, there was only three hundred li left. After switching horses again, they would be able to arrive at Xiangyang. While mounted, Zhao Jue stretched his waist and said, “That’s enough. There’s a tea shack up ahead. We will rest there. After eating lunch, we will ride all the way to Xiangyang in one go. How about it?” Everyone was happy. They madly rushed the last several days and were exhausted. Although there still needed to travel, to be able to rest awhile was still good.

    Hearing Zhao Jue’s commands, Daoli was the first to dismount. After a few steps, he entered the tea shack and ordered that a few tables be prepared with hot tea. Although the tea shack was small, there were a few small dishes of salted vegetables and peanuts. Daoli had them served as well. Following his orders, the shopkeeper became frantically busy and quickly prepared a few tables. Baiyi cleaned a bowl and filled it with water, and retrieved towel from his bag. Once Zhao Jue sat down, Baiyi stepped forward to help the Prince wipe away the grime from the travels. Although Zhao Jue was a royal clansman, he had been fighting upon the battlefield for years, he had not lost the opportunity to experience the pleasure of being from a powerful family. Seeing these manservants so capable, Zhao Jue was joyous at heart. After he had sat down, he drank a cup of hot tea and began to eat voraciously. When he stopped, he saw that Daoli and Baiyi had already finished and were organizing fodder for the horses. Zhao Jue could not help but say, “What a pair of capable children! Jiang zhuangyuan is indeed tremendous to be able to train his servants to such a level.”

    One of his personal guards laughing replied, “If Your Highness likes them, then simply inform Jiang daren and have them serve you.”

    Although Zhao Jue knew that manservants (let alone maid servants and concubines) were frequently used as gifts by aristocrats, he still shook his head and replied, “A gentleman does not steal another’s love. These two children were not casually trained.”

    Everyone laughed faintly. Just as Zhao Jue was ordering everyone to get back on the road, one of his personal guards suddenly screamed in pain. As everyone looked in his direction, they saw that an arrow protruded from the man’s back.

    Everyone were trained soldiers and quickly hid behind barriers, only to hear clear laughter. A man clothed in white stepped out from the nearby forest. He was extremely handsome. His large, cultivated body could be seen to tightly cling to his white warrior outfit. A silvery white bow was slung over his left shoulder and a similar colored quiver was hung at his waist. Regardless of attire or the bow and arrow were extremely exquisite. Their owner was clearly someone fastidious. Zhao Jue’s heart grew cold, as he asked, “Is the person approaching the Silver Bow Wastrel, Duanmu Qiu?”

    The man in white smiled and replied, “This lowly one is indeed. I heard that Your Highness has arrived here and have purposely come to pay my respects. If Your Highness does not mind, I hope that Your Highness would be willing to rest at my humble abode.”

    Although the words seemed to be harmonious, Zhao Jue knew that they were spoken in a haughty manner. He coldly replied, “This Prince is busy with military matters and dare not delay. Your distinguished self has ambushed us. You must be here to assassinate this Prince.”

    Feeling it beneath his dignity, Duanmu Qiu replied, “This one has never been willing to ambush anyone. If that were not the case, then that arrow would have taken Your Highness’s life. The dead man is only a greeting from this one. I believe that Your Highness will not blame me.”

    Zhao Jue coldly replied, “This Prince treats his subordinates as if they were brothers. For your distinguished self to so lightly disparage the common soldier, no wonder you do not serve within the Yong army. No one in this world doesn’t know about the Golden Bow Gongsun and the Silver Bow Duanmu. General Gongsun serves under the Prince of Yong and commands soldiers upon the battlefield, never meeting defeat, while you, Silver Bow Duanmu, can only rely upon your bravery to battle in jianghu.”

    Zhao Jue’s words stabbed directly into Duanmu Qiu’s heart. His eyes began to exude an icy cold murderous aura. He coldly replied, “This one is only here to prevent Your Highness from escaping. It looks like it won’t be acceptable if I do not act. I wonder how many arrows can Your Highness avoid?”

    A spoiled sound was heard, “This young lady can guarantee that you will not be shoot him to death.” With those words, a young beautiful woman in red also exited the forest. She was gorgeous, but her eyebrows extended to her temples and she was covered with a baleful aura, as if she was a female Luocha.6

    Zhao Jue could only smile bitterly as he said, “So you have come as well. No wonder … you martial brother and sister were always inseparable.”

    Coldly, the woman replied, “The Prince of De knows who I am? I am extremely honored.”
    1. 夺情, duoqing – lit. to steal one’s emotion; in ancient China, those observing mourning could not hold court offices unless a sovereign issued an edict recalling them into service. These edicts were typically only issued for high ranking or important officials, and required the approval of the Ministry of Personnel
    2. 力挽狂澜, liwankuanglan – idiom, lit. to pull strongly against a crazy tide; fig. to try hard to save a desperate situation
    3. 雁门关, Yanmenguan – lit. Wild Goose Pass; is a pass located along China’s northern frontier. Originally built by King Wuling of Zhao during the Warring States Period, it is today a part of the Great Wall of China and is located in northern Shaanxi
    4. 礼部, libu – the Ministry of Rites was in charge of state ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices; it also oversaw registers for religious priesthoods and the reception of envoys from tributary states and handled foreign diplomacy
    5. 十里亭, shiliting – lit. ten li pavilion; these pavilions were positioned ten li away from the city along major roads to serve as points where people could welcome and bid farewell to travelers
    6. 罗刹, Luocha – demon in Buddhism
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 17 – A Loyal Spirit becomes Distant and Indistinct

    The Prince of De was attacked by an assassin on the way. When he reached Xiangyang, he battled bitterly while carrying his wounds. Seeing the Prince of De return, the Prince of Qi was stopped and forced to retreat. Before ten days had passed, the Southern Chu King issued an edict, blaming the Prince of De for not doing his utmost on the battlefield and allowing the Yong army to withdraw. The Prince was grieved by this edict as it drilled into his heart, causing him to weep blood. He died in the middle of the night. The entire army wore white in mourning. The Prince was honored as a Virtuous Prince …

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of the Prince of De, Zhao Jue
    In a calm voice, Zhao Jue said, “Golden Bow Gongsun, Emei Qingshan, Silver Bow Duanmu, and Red Clothed Luocha. Seeing Silver Bow Duanmu here, Qiao Yan’er, the Red Clothed Luocha, must also be present. It’s difficult to believe that the both of you have infiltrated Southern Chu.”

    Duanmu Qiu touched the bowstring, replying, “There is no one who does not know that Great Yong will unify the world sooner rather than later. Almost all of the heroes of Southern Chu’s wulin1 have also joined Great Yong.”

    Furiously, Zhao Jue replied, “Shut your mouth!” This matter was something that hurt him deeply. Great Yong greatly esteemed military accomplishments and did not care about one’s origins. As a result, many members of Southern Chu’s jianghu chose to serve Great Yong. In comparison, in order to become a high ranking official in Southern Chu, one needed to come from a clean background. As such, the military strength of Southern Chu paled far in comparison to the military strength of Great Yong.

    Qiao Yan’er’s long, shapely eyebrows rose as she said, “What great courage to dare to berate us! Senior apprentice brother Duanmu, cover me!” As she finished speaking, she drew a long sword for her back and leaped forward like a blaze. Zhao Jue’s personal guards drew their own weapons to meet her charge. These guards were all adept at fighting and killing, but Qiao Yan’er was a first rate martial artists and did not show any dismay even though she was facing six by herself. In addition, Qiao Yan’er’s attacks were ferocious and was comparable to the personal guards’ unyielding power. Duanmu Qiu’s eyes closely followed the battle. Shortly, he drew back the bowstring and fired an arrow. A flash of silver sped through the air and like a demon pierced through the throat of one of the guards.

    Zhao Jue furrowed his brow. These two that he faced, one was skilled in close quarters combat, while the other was skilled in long-range attacks, cooperating with tacit understanding. He had only brought eight personal guards and they would undoubtedly be killed one by one by these two assassins. Looking at the lone personal guard who stood behind him, he said in a low voice, “We will deal with Duanmu Qiu.”

    The personal guard nodded his head. The two rushed towards Duanmu Qiu at the same time. From afar, Duanmu Qiu saw them approach. He drew his bow and fired two arrows in one go, killing two of the guards fighting Qiao Yan’er. At this point, Zhao Jue had arrived before him and pierced forward with his sword. Using his qinggong, Duanmu Qiu dodged, avoiding Zhao Jue’s attack. Duanmu Qiu’s qinggong was mysterious. Zhao Jue and his guard could not do anything to harm him. However, Duanmu Qiu could not fire any further arrows, only using his silver bow to block the attacks. His silver bow was specially made, even Zhao Jue’s treasure sword could not damage it. The battle was joined on two fronts. In reality, Duanmu Qiu’s martial arts could not even compare to Zhao Jue’s. He had wanted to escape several times and was blocked each time. But Zhao Jue could also not kill Duanmu Qiu. However, Qiao Yan’er held the advantage. If Duanmu Qiu were be able to drag things out until Qiao Yan’er had killed the three guards she faced and come assist, then Zhao Jue would have no chance to escape. Just as Zhao Jue’s heart began to burn with worry, he suddenly saw two shadows from the corners of his eyes. The shadows were Daoli and Baiyi; the first carried a crossbow, the second a short sword. They were slowly and secretly approaching Qiao Yan’er. Just as Zhao Jue noticed these two, suddenly five cold lights shot out from Daoli’s crossbow. Qiao Yan’er’s reaction was quick, using everything to avoid the bolts. Just then, Baiyi launched an attack as swift as lighting with his short sword, piercing towards Qiao Yan’er’s body. Raging flames appeared in Qiao Yan’er’s eyes. The sword in her hands became an impenetrable defense, meeting Baiyi’s short sword. Baiyi stumbled backwards, both of his hands bloody from the impact. Meanwhile, Qian Yan’er had been stabbed in the lower abdomen. Her face demonic, she hurriedly stopped the bleeding by hitting her pressure points. She yelled, “Senior apprentice brother.” She sent her sword piercing through the air at Zhao Jue. Zhao Jue dodged. Taking this opportunity, Duanmu Qiu used his silver bow to shoot five arrows in rapid succession to prevent the three guards facing Qiao Yan’er from killing her before firing another arrow to stop Zhao Jue. Afterwards, he hurriedly rushed to Qiao Yan’er’s side. Grabbing hold of her, Duanmu Qiu ran.

    Zhao Jue finally relaxed. Looking at Daoli and Baiyi, he smiled and said, “Luckily you were here.” Just then, Zhao Jue observed that everyone had looks of shock and heart break. Zhao Jue immediately became alert and immediately rushed forward. But he was already too late. A sharp blade pierced through his armor into the small of his back. He was fortunate that he had reacted so quickly and was only stabbed in his waist. Zhao Jue’s personal guards rushed forward. The fastest to were Daoli and Baiyi. Daoli swept past Zhao Jue. A scream of pain could be heard from behind Zhao Jue. In the meantime, Baiyi supported Zhao Jue. From his clothes, he removed a wax pill. After grinding the pill down, Baiyi fed it to Zhao Jue. Zhao Jue only felt the sharp stabbing pain from his lower back. After crying out in pain, he passed out.

    When Zhao Jue awoke, he found that he was lying down on a table within the tea shack. Daoli, Baiyi, and the personal guards anxiously looked at him. The corpse of personal guard who had been helping him fight Duanmu Qiu was lying nearby. “To think that Great Yong had a spy by my side,” said Zhao Jue as he smiled bitterly, “He has followed me for two years now.”

    Daoli stepped forward and replied, “Your Highness, this lowly one has temporarily helped bandaged the wound to stem the bleeding and have given you efficacious medication. Within one month, as long as Your Highness is calm and unstressed,2 Your Highness need not worry about your health. But Your Highness’s wound was grievous. If we return to Jianye and undergo my young master’s personal ministrations, then Your Highness should fully recover in half a year.”

    Thinking it over, Zhao Jue replied, “By attempting to assassinate me on the road, it is clear that they do not want me to return to Xiangyang. If I do not return, then Xiangyang will likely fall into danger. We should continue on to Xiangyang.”

    One of the personal guards agonizingly replied, “Your Highness’s wound is so severe. How can Your Highness go into battle? Your Highness should return to Jianye to recuperate.”

    Zhao Jue indifferently replied, “No need to say anymore. How can this Prince emphasize myself to the detriment of our country? Depart immediately for Xiangyang.” Everyone could only follow his orders. Daoli and Baiyi looked at one another, their expressions filled with helplessness and admiration. When anyone tried to further persuade the Prince, he refused to listen. Daoli could only re-bandage Zhao Jue’s wound. Fearing for Zhao Jue, everyone originally did not hurry their horses along with their whips. But Zhao Jue feared for the safety of Xiangyang and hurried forth, not caring about the state of his wound. In the face of Zhao Jue’s decision, everyone was helpless. Trying to spin a positive outlook on the matter, they figured that if they did not get to the army encampments, then they would probably still face additional assassination attempts. They could only follow Zhao Jue and hurry towards Xiangyang.

    When Zhao Jue finally entered into Xiangcheng, it was already dusk on the second day. Taking advantage of nightfall and support dispatched by Rong Yuan, Zhao Jue was able to successfully enter Xiangcheng. Daoli and Baiyi discussed the matter. Daoli continued to stay by Zhao Jue’s side to help tend to the Prince’s wound. He had primarily studied medicine under Jiang Zhe. While he was not particularly skilled, he was far superior Xiangyang’s army doctors. Baiyi quickly returned to Jianye to report back to Jiang Zhe.

    When I heard the news about Zhao Jue injury, I could not help but heave a heavy sigh. Before Zhao Jue had left on the campaign, I was already uneasy. And now that Zhao Jue was going to battle while carrying the heavy wound that he had suffered, did this mean that my premonitions were correct? Although Zhao Jue was suspicious of me, he was a good superior. I hesitated for some time before deciding to go to Xiangyang myself.

    For my safety, I brought along Chen Zhen and the seven operatives that were by my side. After rendezvousing outside of Jianye, we rode with the fastest possible speed towards Xiangyang. Because I could not ride very well, I sat in a horse carriage. Although the trip was bumpy, to me, it was better than riding a horse. Along the way, I received reports from the Secret Camp that the Prince of Qi, Li Xian, had attacked Xiangyang on a large scale, but Zhao Jue had personally led the defenses from the battlements. As a result, the Yong army suffered heavy losses and could not achieve victory. Although I was still far battlefield, I was still able to ascertain the situation. After several days, the Yong army had suffered forty thousand casualties, nearing what I believed was the Prince of Qi’s limit.

    Sure enough, when I was two hundred li from Xiangyang, I received news that the Yong army had withdrawn. According to reports from the Secret Camp, the Yong army had most likely completely retreated from within Southern Chu’s borders. From this retreat, I would run head long into the Yong army. In order to keep away, I gave the order to stay in a small village for the time being. The soldiers of the Yong army did not commit any offenses as they marched and was unlikely to pillage this village. Noon of that day, the Yong army marched on the road outside of the village. Before they arrived, Yong scouts entered the village and ordered all of its residents to stay at home. I had already changed into a commoner’s garb, while my subordinates were all dressed like farmers. As a result, we did not arouse any attention. In reality, the Yong army had no intention of entering the village and only needed to control the road. But just as I was waiting for the Yong army to pass, I suddenly heard a clamor erupt outside. Afterwards, someone banged on the door, yelling, “Everyone inside come out. This place has been commandeered by the military.”

    Chen Zhen quietly walked over to my side, using his eyes to ask me what to do. After thinking it over, I shook my head. Pretending to be panicked, Chen Zhen walked over and opened the door. In an imploring fashion, he said, “Army sires, spare our lives! Army sires, spare our lives!”

    The person banging on the door was a soldier wearing black armor. From his attire and sword, one could tell that this man wasn’t an ordinary soldier. He looked around the room, as he replied, “No need to panic. We only need to use this room. You go stay in the side chambers. Don’t move and don’t make any sound.”

    I stood, leading Chiji out. Suddenly the soldier stopped me and asked, “What is your name? Have you attained scholarly honors?”

    Calmly, I replied, “This youngster is Jiang Suiyun, a simple poor scholar. I have not attained any scholarly honors. Does the army sire need anything?”

    Across the soldier’s eyes flashed a look of hesitation before he came to a sudden realization, yelling, “Come quickly! Capture all of them! They are enemy spies!” Following his command, a squad of soldiers charged in. Using their swords and spears, they surrounded us. Chen Zhen hurriedly retreated a few steps, standing before and protecting me. He did not make any sudden moves. He knew that in this moment, he could not be rash.

    Adopting a puzzled expression, I asked, “Why does army sire think that we are enemy spies?”

    A look of indescribable coldness flashed across the soldier’s eyes, he replied, “It looks like you still refuse to be convinced until forced to face the grim reality.3 From your bearing and mannerisms, you are definitely someone who has lived a life of luxury. In addition, you have a superior attitude. If you weren’t an enemy spy, why did you say you had not attained scholarly honors?”

    I could not believe that this soldier was so astute. I could not help but look at him up and down. Just as I was trying to figure out how to handle the situation, a horseman galloped over. From atop his mount, he said, “Haven’t you finished preparing the house? His Highness urgently needs to be treated!”

    The soldier hurriedly replied, “General, this household is suspicious.”

    Before the soldier had even finished speaking, the general looked at me. He froze briefly before smiling and said, “I thought it was someone else … so it is Academician Jiang, Jiang daren. To think we would meet here.”

    When the general had arrived, I was already smiling bitterly. I could only reply, “So it is the Prince of Qi’s personal guard, Sir Huang. To think we would meet under such circumstances.”

    In a proper manner, the general replied, “When His Highness was sent as an envoy to Southern Chu, daren attended to him by royal edict. You were considerate and respectful. I am extremely grateful. Now, the two countries are at work, daren is a ranking official of Southern Chu. Why are you here in this small village in the middle of nowhere?”

    My mind raced. He had stated that the Prince needed someplace to be treated. I said, “To tell the truth, this lowly official has learned that an old friend is gravely ill. None of the medication taken have been successful. This lowly official understands some medicine and have come all this way to treat him.”

    General Huang revealed a look of pleasant surprise. He replied, “So Jiang daren is skilled in medicine … the Prince of Qi was hit by an arrow. The army doctors can do nothing. We can only rush back to Great Yong. But the traveling has made the wound worse. Jiang daren, please take a look for His Highness.

    I gladly replied, “Doctors have a caring heart. This lowly official dare not refuse.”

    General Huang then ordered someone to request the Prince of Qi’s presence. All the soldiers had strange looks on their faces. I overhead one of them ask General Huang in a low voice, “He is an official of Southern Chu, will he sincerely His Highness?”

    In a low voice, General Huang replied, “At the time, we became acquainted with Jiang daren while we were in Jianye. His character is amiable, free, and easy. He cares not for a person’s identity or status. His Highness has said he is incredibly broadminded and open, and must not be scorned. His Highness took care of him. I believe that he will not forget this friendship. In addition, he is now in the hands of our army. I don’t believe he would dare to do anything.”

    It didn’t take long for the Prince of Qi’s carriage to arrive. General Huang had the Prince carried into the house. The Prince’s face was flushed red. He was in a coma. I stepped forward and checked his pulse. After muttering to myself, I said, “His Highness was hit by a Southern Chu poisoned arrow. The formula for the poison was acquired from southern barbarians and uses the venom from vipers. If it weren’t for the Prince’s strong internal energy, sturdy build, and the prompt consumption of a generic poison antidote, he would have died long ago. Right now, the toxicity of the poison has sharpened. If we do not treat him, he will die within three days.”

    Everyone was shocked. A middle-aged general coldly asked, “If that is the case, do you have a way to save him?” I looked at the man with an inquiring look. The general replied, “This general is Fan Wencheng, the general under the Prince of Qi charged with his protection.”

    I smiled faintly before replying, “General should not worry. This lowly official has come at the opportune moment. As long as I use acupuncture on the Prince and prescribe a direct antidote, the Prince’s life will be saved. However, after this, the Prince will need to recuperate for half a year.”

    Generals Fan and Huang both revealed cheerful looks. Under their careful gaze, I used my needles on the Prince. It took two hours before I finished the complicated process of using the needles upon the acupuncture points. Afterwards, I wrote down a prescription for the antidote. The army was fully prepared and had all of the medicinal ingredients, especially as my prescription did not call for any rare ingredient. It didn’t take long for the Prince’s face return to normal after taking the medication. His sleep became calmer. Thanking me profusely, General Huang escorted me to the side chambers to rest. Seeing me, Chen Zhen asked in a low voice, “Daren, will they let us go tomorrow?”

    “It doesn’t matter,” I indifferently replied, “The Prince of Qi is an intelligent man. If he does not allow us to leave, I have my ways to take his life.”

    Dawn of the second day, the Prince finally woke. General Huang immediately called me over to check the Prince’s pulse and condition. Lying on bed, Li Xian smiled as he looked at me. After I had concluded that the poison in his body was no longer a concern and only required the consumption of medicine, Li Xian said with a smile, “To think that we would meet by chance here. Thanks to daren, this Prince’s life has been saved. Jiang daren should just simply follow me back to Great Yong.”

    “Your Highness’s words are incorrect,” I lightly replied, “This lowly official is a subject of Southern Chu. How can I surrender to Great Yong? If Your Highness remembers the grace of saving your life, please feel free to kill this lowly official.”

    “Do not be angry, daren,” replied Li Xian hurriedly, “How can I forget the life-saving grace? If daren is unwilling, then I will not force you.”

    My heart became happy. I had long known that Li Xian greatly admired his older brother, the Prince of Yong. The Prince of Yong was someone who greatly emphasized emotions and friendships. Under these circumstances, Li Xian would not make things difficult for me. As long as I said those words, the Prince of Qi could not show ingratitude. That is why I treated him without setting any conditions.

    Seeing that my temper had cooled, Li Xian continued, “I have heard that daren is journeying to help treat a friend. I wonder if this Prince knows who this person is?”

    Seeing the suspicion in Li Xian’s eyes, I indifferently replied, “Your Highness naturally knows who this person is. He is Southern Chu’s Prince of De, Zhao Jue.”

    “So you are going to cure him,” said Li Xian furiously, “Preposterous! Do you think that this Prince will allow you to go to cure him?”

    I coldly replied, “Great Yong and Southern Chu are at war. The Prince of De was ambushed and nearly assassinated while traveling. While he lived, he was injured. Since I have treated Your Highness, then I am not worried that Your Highness will one day launch another invasion. I did not know Your Highness so dreaded the Prince of De to go as far as to allow him to die by the hands of assassins.”

    Li Xian was silenced. It was some time before he replied, “I expect that even if the Prince of De fully recovers, he will be unable to block the crack horsemen of my Great Yong. Fine … you can go take care of him. Tell him, I will definitely have him die by my hands.”

    I bowed slightly, signaling that I would follow his orders.

    Three days later, it was only after the Prince of Qi’s injury had improved was I allowed to depart. When I was getting ready to leave, he told me from his carriage, “Jiang daren, Southern Chu will sooner or later be destroyed by my hands. When the time comes, Jiang daren can come find me. This Prince will protect Jiang daren’s property and life.” I remained silent. Whether he took my silence to be in agreement or in refusal, was up to him.

    After separating from the Prince of Qi, I hurried day and night before finally arriving at Xiangyang. Baiyi was acquainted with the general assigned to the city gates. My entourage and I were quickly allowed to enter the city, and we rushed directly for the home that the Prince of De was staying. When I arrived at the entrance, I heard the sound of bitter crying. I froze for a moment before I madly rushed in. All of the soldiers guarding the entrance recognized me and allowed me to pass unimpeded. When I charged into the Prince of De’s bedroom, I found Rong Yuan fallen over on the ground bawling. On the bed, Zhao Jue’s face was as pale as a sheet. Daoli stood beside the bed, his complexion filled with sorrow. Seeing my arrival, Rong Yuan said, his voice choking with emotion, “Suiyun, you have arrived too late.”

    Losing self-control, I yelled, “Daoli, how did it come to this? How were you unable to keep him alive?”

    Daoli creeped to my side and replied, “Daren, this lowly one has helped medicate the Prince to good effect. Even after seven days of personally overseeing the city’s defenses, his wound did not worsen. Who knew that the King today would issue an edict lashing out at the Prince. After the Prince saw the edict, he was greatly angered, continuously vomiting blood. Not an hour ago, he … he passed.”

    Continuing to shed tears, Rong Yuan came forward and said, “Suiyun, do not blame him. He did his best.”

    I coldly replied, “Where is the edict?”

    Rong Yuan sighed heavily before pointing at a nearby table. I walked over and picked up the yellow damask silk edict to take a look. My chest tightened and I felt depressed. There was a taste of sweetness in my mouth before I vomited blood. The words on the edict were ice-cold:
    Royal Uncle is well versed in the art of war. Commanding one hundred elite soldiers and possessing the natural barriers around Xiangyang, how have you been unable to achieve victory after fighting for so long? How are you allowing the Yong army to come and go as they please? Can it be possible that Royal Uncle is in communication with the enemy? May the Chief Commander empathize with the weary and poor state of our nation’s power, resolve this in the shortest time possible.
    I dropped the edict, pushing aside Chiji and Daoli who had stepped forward to prop me up. Looking at the table, I noticed that there was a memorial placed upon it. I picked the memorial up and opened it. Rong Yuan seemed to want to stop me, but ultimately decided to stand still. I lowered my head and read the document. Although the handwriting was neat and careful, there were traces of blood all over.
    Jue is an honored member of the royal clan and possesses mediocre talent. I was recognized by the former King and considered a confidant. I commanded armies and spared no effort. However, to no avail, my body has many illnesses, unable to meet high aims, perishing along the way to my eternal regret. Now, Great Yong has invaded and Southern Chu is weary and poor. This, honestly, is a battle for our country’s survival. Jue is about to die and does not dare not to give loyal advice and direct criticism. My Southern Chu, ever since the marriage alliance, has been afraid. Every time that Great Yong even breathes, the court officials are afraid of war and beg for peace. But Great Yong has designs upon us and are unlikely to consent. The King should join with talented subjects, avoid vile character, neglect the harem, diligently handle governmental affairs, focus upon military matters … at a distance, ally with Northern Han, and close by, resist Great Yong. Only so will Southern Chu will be protected. Xiangyang’s defenses are extremely important. Rong Yuan is this subject’s confidant. He is talented and adept in military matters. Jue’s former subordinates can be entrusted to him. Will the King please issue an edict ordering this person to temporarily defend Xiangyang, so as to ensure nothing befalls Xiangyang. The Marquis Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Lu Xin, is loyal and ardent, and is conscientious. He can be entrusted with the position of Chief Commander. Jue sheds tears as I write this memorial, not knowing whether my words will be heeded … Jue dies regretfully.
    I lowered the memorial back onto the table. Thinking of how Zhao Jue’s heart was filled with grief and he drilled into his heart, weeping blood to write this memorial, tears rained down my face like rain. I said, “Why was the Prince so obstinate? If he had listened to my advice, using my army to become independent, how could this have happened?”

    Rong Yuan stepped forward and replied, “Before His Highness passed, he remembered daren. He originally wished to recommend daren to defend Xiangyang, but after thinking it over, he said, ‘Suiyun is magnanimous and refined, without equal in this world. To no avail, he places his own safety before principles4 and most certainly unwilling to die for this cause. Sir Rong, please pass this along to Suiyun. Tell him that one day when Southern Chu is destroyed, please consider Jue’s feelings and help ensure some of Southern Chu’s royal clansman live.’”

    I was silent for some time before faintly replying, “Sir Rong, please restrain your grief. The King is not a heartless person. He will be regretful upon seeing the Prince’s memorial. The matter of Sir garrisoning Xiangyang will surely be approved. Suiyun has become disheartened and will soon resign and go on a long journey. If we are to meet again, we will speak our thoughts freely.”

    After finishing, I turned and left. Arriving at the entrance to the courtyard, as I was pulling aside the carriage curtains and entering, I heard from the distance earthshattering and heaven shaking cannon fire. There were twelve in total … signaling that the commander had died. Releasing the curtains, I indifferently said, “Leave.” The carriage began to move. After some time, I pulled back the cover of the carriage window, looking at the gloomy skies outside. For the first time, I could distinctly feel that Southern Chu … was finished.

    1. 武林, wulin – the martial arts community
    2. 心平气和, xinpingqihe – idiom, lit. heart calm and even-tempered; calm and unstressed
    3. 不见棺材,不掉泪, bujianguancai, budiaolei – idiom, lit. to not shed tears until one sees one’s coffin; lit. refuse to be convinced until forced to face the grim reality
    4. 明哲保身, mingzhebaoshen – idiom, lit. a wise man looks after his own hide; to put one’s safety before matters of principle
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 18 – The King of Southern Chu Declares Himself Emperor

    In the seventh month of the twenty-second year of Xiande, Great Yong dispatched an envoy to negotiate peace. Southern Chu’s sovereign and officials, all fearing the war continuing, agreed. Afterwards, there were some within the court praised the King as an enlightened sage1 under whose leadership Shu was conquered and Great Yong was repelled, and should take the imperial throne. The King, addled by these words and believing in the Prince of Qi’s previous agreement, approved. The decision was made to take the imperial throne on the first day of the eighth month. A memorial was dispatched to Great Yong, expressing a willingness for the two countries to be brothers.

    At the time, many sensible court officials penned memorials to remonstrate, enraging the King. Many were censured and sternly rebuked. Jiang Zhe was among them. Jiang Zhe had penned Remonstration on Taking the Imperial Throne Memorial. This memorial was deep and to the point, its language impassioned, as it severely criticized the King for his wrongdoings. In anger, the King ordered Jiang Zhe executed. The eunuchs advised, “Jiang Zhe is the best of Southern Chu’s gifted scholars and cannot be punished without careful consideration.” His anger quelled, the King instead issue an edict, “Force him to retire, never permit him to be granted government office again.” Jiang Zhe accepted the edict. When advised to temporarily bear this punishment and wait for the opportunity for the King to have his mind changed, Jiang Zhe only replied, “Be it thunder or rain, all are the King’s grace.” He withdrew calmly and unhurriedly, attaining everyone’s respect.

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
    Seeing my freezing expression, Chen Zhen had a look as if he wanted to say but couldn’t say it. I indifferently asked, “What do you want to say?”

    After hesitating, Chen Zhen asked, “Daren, you have good relations with Great Yong. Why are you so hurt by the death of the Prince of De?”

    I was silent for some time before replying, “Great Yong is a golden age with the number of talented individuals it possesses, its military is powerful, and it has an enlightened monarch and virtuous ministers. It can be said this opportunity to unify the world lies in Great Yong’s development. Although my Southern Chu possesses many capable sons,1 it emphasizes civil and neglects military. In addition, the people of Southern Chu are feeble scholars. These drawbacks are not easily eliminated. From the beginning, I knew that Southern Chu would be destroyed by Great Yong. The only question was when. Therefore, when I participated in the royal examinations, I already had no intention of spilling my blood, sweat, and tears2 for Southern Chu. I was only a poor scholar. There is no chance for me to be able to grasp complete authority in Southern Chu. Even if I were to reach a position where I was only below the King, Southern Chu does not have the conditions for me to achieve my grand plans. Furthermore, I know myself well. I cannot neither bring peace and stability to a region through good governance, nor can I determine the fate of a nation through feats of martial valor. I am adept at putting forward plans and ideas3 to plan victory from far away.4 Without an enlightened monarch and virtuous ministers, I would be unable to play a role. But I ultimately am from Southern Chu. And yet, I am not resigned to watching Southern Chu decline and fall. When I first met the Prince of De, I wished that he was the enlightened monarch of my heart. Unfortunately, he was not. He was only a loyal subject, not an ambitious and ruthless character. He treats the virtuous well, but does not know how to use them. He recognizes the wicked, but does not know how to remove them. As a result, he used up everything and died within the military camps.”

    “Of the people of Great Yong, I have met the Prince of Yong and the Prince of Qi. The Prince of Yong has the demeanor of a sovereign and will inevitably be a generational virtuous monarch. Although the Prince of Qi is hot-headed and impulsive, he has the talent to be a hegemon. I have not met the Crown Prince, Li An, but for him to be able to compete with the Prince of Yong for so long, he must surely also be an extraordinary individual. I am only an ordinary person. As such, I have been unwilling to offend either the Prince of Yong or the Prince of Qi for the sake of preserving my life.”

    “For what purpose has daren offered advice to both the Prince of De and the Prince of Yong?” asked Chen Zhen.

    “I originally did not have to tell explain my reasons,” I indifferently replied, “But seeing as you willing to serve me, then there is no harm in me explaining it to you. The advice that I offered the Prince of De has already achieved their objectives. The strategies to take the cities need not be explained. The discord stratagem has also successfully attained its goal. Why do you think this invasion of Southern Chu was commanded by the Prince of Qi?”

    Thinking it over, Chen Zhen replied, “It must be because Crown Prince Li An is worried that if the Prince of Yong’s achievements are too great, he will be difficult to control.”

    Closing my eyes, I replied, “Correct. When I forced the King of Shu to commit suicide, the purpose was not to make it more difficult for Great Yong to control the Hanzhong region, but rather the Shu King’s concubine, Lady Golden Lotus. Sure enough, once Lady Golden Lotus arrived in Great Yong, Yong Emperor Li Yuan was bewitched by her beauty and had her brought into the harem. If the Shu King were still alive, the Yong Emperor would be constrained from doing so. The Prince of Yong would face the Emperor’s anger for his direct criticisms. Why do you think the Prince of Yong was so stuck and unable to handle the Crown Prince’s attacks?”

    In a doubting voice, Chen Zhen replied, “But no one has heard anything about the Prince of Yong admonishing the Emperor.”

    I smiled and replied, “For this kind of matter, how can the Prince of Yong directly admonish the Emperor? Alas, even if it was a secret admonishment, he would not be able to avoid being reprimanded by his father. Beyond this basic information, the Prince of De did not anything else. When the Prince of Yong dispatched an envoy requesting my help, I had him pretend to be poisoned and take the opportunity to have a command on the northern frontier. Although this has ensured the Prince of Yong’s status and safety, it has also advanced the discord between him and his father and brother. This is the entirety of my discord stratagem.”

    Chen Zhen looked at me with surprise, as he replied, “This subordinate did not know the reason why daren would formulate a plan for the Prince of Yong even while ill.”

    “You shouldn’t too highly admire me,” I replied, shaking my head, “In reality the conflict between the Prince of Yong, and the Yong Emperor and Crown Prince, was already acute. I only added fuel to the fire. In addition, the Prince of Yong’s predicament isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Once the Prince of Yong comes to the decision to seize the imperial throne, then Great Yong will no longer have any obstacles towards unification. My actions have only won some time for Southern Chu. If Southern Chu was strong, then the Prince of Yong would have no alternative but to slow down his plans. For Southern Chu to survive for another twenty to thirty years isn’t impossible. But the King has personally destroyed his own defenses.5 With the death of the Prince of De, Southern Chu does not have any general capable of resisting Great Yong. Rong Yuan does not have a sufficiently broad mind or tolerance. Lu Xin is stupidly loyal and lacks strategy. The court officials are all shortsighted. Those who are somewhat talented are either wallowing in alcohol and sex, or have hidden themselves. Chen Zhen, even if Great Yong suffers internal strife, I believe that Southern Chu will fall within a few years. But with Great Yong suffering internal strife, I believe that Southern Chu will be able to maintain a remnant piece of its strength and maintain its separate regime in Jiangnan and Sichuan. Without at least ten years, it will be impossible for Great Yong to acquire Jiangnan without too badly damaging the region.”

    Memorizing my words, Chen Zhen asked, “Then daren, what is our next step?”

    “Southern Chu can no longer do anything,” I indifferently replied, “When I return, I intend to resign. After that, we will wait in Jianye. I believe that it won’t take long before I will have the opportunity to take revenge.”

    “What about after vengeance has been wrought?” Chen Zhen continued to ask, “Both the Prince of Yong and the Prince of Qi both highly regard daren. If Southern Chu were to be destroyed, I’m afraid that two Highnesses will both come to recruit daren. How will daren handle this situation?”

    I was silent for a while before replying, “I once thought that I would be willing to serve Great Yong. But I have come to realize that I cannot do so. After Southern Chu falls, I naturally wish to peacefully live out the rest of my days. If the Prince of Yong and the Prince of Qi are unwilling to let me go, then I can only leave the Central Plains. If I were unfortunate enough to be captured by them, I have no intention of dying for Southern Chu. When I have wrought my vengeance, I will have my forces be turned over temporarily to your control. To Great Yong, my force is insignificant. But if they were by my side, they will be noticed and will likely be annihilated. If they were to be hidden, they may be able to save my life one day.”

    Hesitating, Chen Zhen asked, “Daren, why not turn the force over to Master Li?”

    I shook my head and replied, “Xiaoshunzi is of greater use by my side. His martial arts are high and has a detailed mind. He is my confidante cum friend. If he were outside, he would not be sufficiently calm and unable to hide my outside strength.”

    Chen Zhen cheerfully nodded his head, replying, “If that is the case, then this subordinate will do as you bid.”

    I returned to Jianye in silence. I learned that the King, as expected, regretted what had happened and accepted the Prince of De’s proposal. Rong Yuan was appointed to the position of the Vice Minister of War6 to defend Xiangyang. Lu Xin was appointed to be Chief Commander. When he returned to the court to accept staff and battleaxe denoting his position, I found that his bearing had deteriorated one bit from years past. His son, the little Marquis Lu Can, my student, had become a twenty-one-year-old youngster filled with power and grandeur. I had heard that over these last few years, Lu Can had become his father’s subordinate serving in the vanguard. He was courageous in battle and resourceful. The opinion of him within the Southern Chu army was highly positive. Not long after I had returned home, Lu Can called, I was his teacher after all. He excitedly told me that he had benefited greatly from my idle teachings of the art of war. Lu Can had come in hopes of learning more from me. Seeing his expression brimming with enthusiasm, I differently told him, “In those days, I was only an armchair strategist,7 the little Marquis should ask for guidance from the lord Marquis.” After I had seen Lu Can off, I felt pain in my heart. My old student was now a Southern Chu general. Thinking of what he would have to face in the coming days, how could I not feel grief? After pondering it over, I had Chiji deliver to Lu Can the battle formations that I had organized, having him pass on the message to not share that I was the source of this information. These formations may allow him to win a few victories. Although the end result would be more deaths, but that was his fate and also Southern Chu’s fate. This may be my final contribution to Southern Chu.

    Not long afterwards, someone petitioned the King, praising him for his brilliance and martial prowess. Within the last few years, Southern Chu under the King’s leadership had conquered Shu and had now also repelled the Yong invasion. After considering his virtue and ability, the King should ascend to the imperial throne and declare himself emperor, and directly compete with Great Yong. Zhao Jia was too easily flattered. After hearing these words, he unexpectedly also believed that this was Heaven’s Will, forgetting the blood and tear stained memorial from Prince of De who he had persecuted to death. The King quickly issued an edict asking for the opinion of the entire court. The result was that the court officials, dazed by victory, agreed and in succession, petitioned the King urging him on.

    After hearing of this, I, who had originally intended to resign, contemplated a good while before I penned the Remonstration on Taking the Imperial Throne Memorial. After this memorial was submitted, the King was indignant as expected. Within this memorial, I clearly explained in an outspoken fashion that although we had won a victory in our invasion of Shu, Great Yong had attained more benefits than we had. In addition, the disparity in strength of the militaries between the two countries were extremely clear. I further explained that the recent victory against Great Yong was a result of the Prince of Qi taking a straightforward and unyielding approach, as well as Xiangyang’s strong defenses. With the Prince of De dying while in the army, Southern Chu no longer had any comparable ranking military officers. On top of this, Great Yong had not suffered any real damage. If the King became Emperor, then Great Yong can consider Southern Chu as a rebel vassal and use this valid reason to continue to attack. When that time comes, Southern Chu would be in the wrong. By then, Southern Chu would not have the strength to repel Great Yong’s attacks. Within this memorial was written my rarely revealed genuine views, as this was to be my last memorial before I left Southern Chu. If the King was willing to accept my opinion, then I would rather present my ability and wisdom to Southern Chu. I would not regret it even if were to die on the battlefield because of my loyalty to Southern Chu.

    Unfortunately, what I thought would happen came true. The King became indignant and almost gave the order to have me executed. Fortunately, I had prepared for all exigencies. Beforehand, I had Xiaoshunzi bribe all of the eunuchs. They were able to mollify the King’s anger, and as a result, I was stripped of my rank. I was already thinking about formally tendering my resignation … but I had wanted to take this final gambit. Sure enough, I was removed from office. In this way, Southern Chu and I no longer had any entanglements, the gratitude and grievances all cleared up.

    When the edict was read to me, I had difficulty maintaining a calm and tranquil expression on my face. I almost laughed. Thus, Great Yong no longer had any reason to assign me any fault and cannot use pardoning me as a reason to force me to capitulate. The official tasked with issuing the edict was a colleague of the same year, the bangyan, Liu Kui. He was now serving at the side of the King. He had penned this edict for the King. Filled with regret, Liu Kui said, “Older brother Jiang, you should not be depressed. Although the King has stated that you will never be employed, this incident will no longer be an issue. We will put in a few words on your behalf. Older brother Jiang has sincerely devoted yourself for the sake of Southern Chu. When the time comes, the King will reinstate you.”

    I did not take notice of his efforts to comfort me. I only indifferently replied, “Be it thunder or rain, all are the King’s grace. This lowly official does not dare to have a single complaint. A few years ago, I followed the army into Sichuan and as a result, contracting an illness. I have spent these years recuperating at home. I originally should not be holding a sinecure position.” After I escorted the visitor out, I indifferently said, “Let’s go, let’s go home.”

    I led Chen Zhen and company out. We had not yet left the Ministry of Personnel when I saw Liang Wan gesturing at me from her carriage. Seeing my gloomy face, Chen Zhen said in a low voice, “Daren, no, young master, don’t forget …”

    I stopped him from continuing. Stepping forward, I asked, “So it is Lady Liang. What instructions do you have?”

    Liang Wan smiled and said, “This is not the place to have this conversation. Will the zhuangyuan please board the carriage to converse.”

    I smiled faintly and boarded the carriage, telling Liang Wan, “Fine, will the lady please escort me … to the northern gate will be sufficient.”

    After seeing me board, Liang Wan ordered the carriage to go. Smiling, he said, “This time, the lord zhuangyuan spoke forthrightly in order to remonstrate the King, and this was the result. Truly pitiful. In the past, Bi Gan cut open his heart8 and Zixu was thrown into the river,9 and yet were laughed by the entire world. They were treated inhumanely. If the lord zhuangyuan does not refuse, I have acquaintances in Great Yong and am willing to recommend daren to become an official in Great Yong.”

    I smiled faintly and replied, “Milady is now a confidant of the Queen of Southern Chu and was the adopted daughter of the former King, and yet does not worry about Southern Chu and serves Great Yong. I can’t help but find this be saying one thing but meaning something else.”10

    With a despising look, Liang Wan replied, “Who cares about the Southern Chu’s status and position? The lord zhuangyuan is an intelligent person. The Prince of Qi has praised you several times. If you choose to dance to a different tune,11 then you would surely gain rapid promotions12 without limit.”

    I smiled faintly without saying anything. My left hand spun the finger ring on the middle finger of my right hand. This was the item left me by my deceased beloved. It was some time before I replied, “Milady has been in Southern Chu for years. Although you have made outstanding contributions, all of it relied upon the strength of Great Yong. Now relations between Southern Chu and Great Yong are broken off. When the time comes, Milady please take care of yourself.” After I finished, I ordered the carriage to stop. After exiting the carriage, I indifferently said, “This is loyal advice upon parting, hope that Milady will not blame me.”

    Baffled, Liang Wan watched me leave. She did not understand why I refused to surrender, and yet, still try to convince her to be careful. After thinking it over, she thought that maybe I was waiting for a good offer. Fine, after Great Yong had crossed the river, then there was no fear that I wouldn’t surrender. Having thought it through, she ordered the carriage to continue onwards.

    After I exited the carriage, I recalled that the beautiful13 woman that had been so close to me, and felt disgust and loathing. This kind of woman truly deserved to have her body dismembered and shattered. If Great Yong really relied upon her to command the spies in Jiangnan, then I would highly doubt the intelligence of Great Yong’s leaders. After thinking over the rumors, I recalled that there were stories that Liang Wan had not married because she had sexual relations with the King. According to my knowledge, Liang Wan had played a major behind the scenes role in the King’s decision this time. She had played an indispensable role. She was definitely an outstanding spy, bribing court officials and spreading rumors. I had made no attempt to stop her actions. The King now took her words as decrees. Considering this, then Great Yong would consider their opponent when using people. As a result, the leader of the spies in Southern Chu ended up being a beautiful female spy.

    After me, there were others who petitioned the King with memorials attempting to stop his ascension to the imperial throne, including the Hanlin Academy Chancellor Xie Xian and Minister Who Remonstrates and Advises Luo Wenshu. Their petitions were all ignored by the King. Some were demoted, some were dismissed. Luo daren attempted to use his death to serve to admonish the king. But even after his blood dyed the royal dais red, the King did not wake up to reality. I did not participate in these disturbances, as I was now only a commoner.

    Just like this, on the first day of the eighth month, the King formally declared himself Emperor, changing the era name to Zhihua.14 I thought back to the decision made by the King to continue the Xiande era name when he succeeded the throne. At the time, I thought it was strange. It seems likely that the King had wanted to change the era name after he had declared himself emperor. From this, it was apparent that the King had a great and lofty goal. It is a pity that his ambition did not match with his abilities, and did not have any patience. This Zhihua era name was likely the era name for the subjugation of the nation.

    Meanwhile, in Great Yong, in the estate of the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi was looking at the intelligence report in his hands. He said, “Liang Wan is too unbridled. She does not understand the need for cautious speech and careful action. If it weren’t for her sect, I would not indulge her so much.”

    The refined middle-aged man with a black beard sitting beside him replied, “Your Highness, the Fengyi Sect15 is the leader amongst Great Yong’s righteous sects and made outstanding contributions to the founding of Great Yong. Now their female hands have stretched too far. Even though Liang Wan is under the command of Your Highness, she repeatedly acts on her own initiative. She even has close relations with the Crown Prince and the Prince of Qi. In addition, the Prince of Qi’s primary consort, Qin Zheng, is the junior apprentice sister of Liang Wan. I fear that they are preparing for the Crown Prince to succeed the throne.”

    The Prince of Yong coldly replied, “There is no need to suspect. I have already received intelligence that the Fengyi Sect through their disciple, Imperial Father’s favored concubine, Noble Consort Ji to directly advise Imperial Father that I have maintained an army to defy the court. If I were to ascend to the throne, then I would murder my brothers. In addition, she has said that the Crown Prince, although is somewhat less competent, will be able to govern well as long as he is assisted by virtuous officials. Humph! This is only because I refused to take one of their disciples as consort. A bunch of women, deluded to think they can control the world. I, Li Zhi, am not a puppet or clay figurine.”

    Deeply worried, the middle-aged man replied, “But the Fengyi Sect possesses formidable strength. What should we do if they attempt to obstruct Your Highness’s ascension to the throne at all costs? Alas, this subordinate am not adept at scheming and strategizing, and cannot help Your Highness.”

    A look flashed across Li Zhi’s eyes, as he replied, “If that man is willing to serve me then we will be able to deal with the Fengyi Sect. In truth, I do not fear the Fengyi Sect’s martial prowess. Although they all possess formidable martial arts, we have already gained the support of the Shaolin Temple and other famous and upright sects. At the least, we can prevent the Fengyi Sect from being able to use its martial prowess. I am worried about their ability in their adept use of money and power, and their ability to sow dissension. If we are incapable of using stratagems, allowing them to continue to develop, then I fear that Great Yong’s empire will fall into the hands of these women.”

    “I have frequently heard Your Highness speak of Jiang Zhe,” replied the middle-aged man, “This subordinate extremely longs to meet him. Is Your Highness certain that he will serve you?”

    Li Zhi smiled bitterly, replying, “How do I put it … To gain him as a subordinate is very easy. However, to gain his loyalty so that he serves willingly is very difficult. This person’s thoughts are difficult to read. In addition, he is uninterested in high position or great wealth, the empire or the people. This kind of indifferent individual, how can I acquire his wholehearted support? I have received a report that he submitted a remonstration memorial and has been dismissed from office. Reading the contents of his memorial, I could not but be apprehensive. He understands the situation between Southern Chu and Great Yong as if it was the back of his hand.16 If I cannot gain this kind of person, it will be the greatest regret of my life.”

    The middle-aged man accepted the memorial that Li Zhi had passed over. Take a long time to read it over, he finally raised his head and said, “Your Highness, you must immediately dispatch someone to Southern Chu. If we cannot acquire this person, then our hopes and ambitions will never be fulfilled. In addition, the Fengyi Sect are not blind. If they bear witness to this person’s talents, they will inevitably recruit him. If he becomes a retainer of the Crown Prince, we will be in grave danger.”

    “I believe that the Fengyi Sect does not have the ability to persuade him,” said Li Zhi with a faint smile, “The ‘serve country and people’ performance that the Fengyi Sect are adept at using will not be able to move him. It is also impossible for Li An to have him surrender. Contrary to what you might expect, it is actually the Prince of Qi who is extremely likely to have him surrender and swear allegiance. This time, the Prince of Qi has sent a letter in secret, speaking of how he met Jiang Zhe while campaigning in Southern Chu. Jiang Zhe saved his life. Although the Prince of Qi is hot-headed and impulsive, he is sincere when treating people. If Jiang Zhe were to follow him, the Prince of Qi will follow his every advice.17 That would be our greatest crisis. Right now, the Prince of Qi is recuperating. I have already petitioned Imperial Father to immediately attack Southern Chu. As long as I am the first destroy Southern Chu, then Jiang Zhe will fall into my hands. Ziyou, we really ought to dispatch people to Southern Chu; not to convince him to surrender, but to know Jiang Zhe’s movements. To convince him to swear allegiance, outside of this Prince, no one will be successful.”

    Just then, a personal guard in a loud voice sought an audience from outside the door. After he entered, he kneeled and reported, “Your Highness, His Imperial Majesty has called for Your Highness to enter the Imperial Palace to discuss the matter of attacking Southern Chu.”

    1. 人杰地灵, renjiediling – idiom, lit. illustrious hero, spirit of the place; a place derives reflected glory from an illustrious son
    2. 呕心沥血, ouxinlixue – idiom, lit. to spit out one’s heart and spill blood; to work one’s heart out; to shed blood, sweat, and tears
    3. 出谋划策, chumouhuace – idiom, lit. to put forward plans and ideas, to give advice
    4. 决胜千里, jueshengqianli – idiom, to be able to plan victory from a thousand li away
    5. 自毁长城, zihuichangcheng – idiom, lit. to personally destroy the Great Wall; the Great Wall served as one of China’s defenses against ‘barbarian’ incursions from the north, to personally destroy the Great Wall meant that you were personally destroying the defenses
    6. 兵部侍郎, bingbu shilang – Vice Minister of War, the second ranking official in the Ministry of War
    7. 纸上谈兵, zhishangtanbing – idiom, lit. military tactics on paper; fig. theoretical discussion that is worse than useless in practice; armchair strategist
    8. 比干, Bi Gan was an uncle of the last King of the Shang Dynasty, Di Xin. Bi Gan was known for his kindness and virtue. Listening to the slander of the women in his harem, Di Xin ordered Bi Gan executed in order to see whether his heart had seven openings.
    9. 伍子胥, Wu Zixu was a colleague of 孙子, Sunzi. The pair served the state of Wu during the Spring and Autumn Period in the service of 阖闾, King Helü of Wu. After Helü’s death, his son 夫差, Fuchai inherited the throne. Fuchai was not trusted by Wu Zixu. Wu Zixu had seen the long-term danger of 勾践, Goujian, the King of Yue. After Wu conquered Yue, Wu Zixu advised Fuchai to execute Goujian. But Yue had bribed another official of the state of Wu named Bo Pi. Concerned with the safety of Wu, Wu Zixu asked Fuchai to take action. Fuchai ordered him to commit suicide. Before he committed suicide, Wu Zixu asked Fuchai to remove his eyes and have them hung on the battlements so that he could watch the Yue army capture Wu. Wu Zixu died and his body was thrown into the river
    10. 心口不一, xinkoubuyi – idiom, lit. heart and mouth at variance; keeping one’s real intentions to oneself, saying one thing but meaning something different
    11. 改弦易辙, gaixianyizhe – idiom, lit. change of string, move out of rut; dramatic change of direction, to dance to a different tune
    12. 青云直上, qingyunzhishang – idiom, lit. rising straight up in a clear sky; rapid promotion to a high post; meteoric career
    13. 花容月貌, huarongyuemao – idiom, lit. countenance of a flower, face like the moon; beautiful
    14. 至化, zhihua – lit. to arrive at change
    15. 凤仪门, fengyi men – Fengyi Sect, lit. Phoenix Ceremony Sect
    16. 了如指掌, liaoruzhizhang – idiom, lit. to know something like the back of one’s hand; to know something inside out
    17. 言听计从, yantingjicong – idiom, lit. to see, hear, and obey; to take advice, to take somebody at his word
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 19 – The Strategy to Invade Southern Chu

    Li Zhi followed the eunuch into the Imperial Palace. He had submitted a memorial calling for an invasion of Southern Chu a few days earlier, but had received no response. Today, now that his Imperial Father finally had called him into the Palace, he could not help but feel overjoyed at the turn of events.1 The official discussion was held at the Imperial Study Room. After Yong Emperor Li Yuan sat behind the imperial desk, his eyes faintly narrowed. His expression was not at ease. Behind him to the side sat a beautiful young woman wearing court garb. In front of the desk in the first seat on the left sat Crown Prince Li An, followed by Prime Minister Wei Guan, and Cheng Shu, the Duke of Wei. On the right hand side, aside from the first empty seat, sat the General Who Pacifies Distant Lands, Qin Yi, and the Prince of Qi, Li Xian. Although Li Xian’s face was pale white and looked sickly, he seemed quite vigorous.

    Crown Prince Li An was thirty-six-years-old, older than the Prince of Yong by two years. But, he had never trained any martial arts and did not have Li Zhi’s glowing and outstanding appearance. Although he seemed to properly maintain himself, and did not look old, but one could discern a shred of exhaustion in countenance. He watched Li Zhi enter the room, a look of jealousy flashing across his eyes. Without consulting with anyone, Li Zhi strode before the imperial desk and kneeled, reporting, “This child2 salutes Imperial Father.”

    Li Yuan replied, “Zhi’er, why are you so late in arriving?”

    Smiling, Li Zhi replied, “Before this child arrived, I just received an intelligence report from Jiangnan. Therefore, I organized the report before bringing it here so that Imperial Father can take a look.”

    Li Yuan gave Li An a baffled look, asking, “An’er, didn’t you already present the intelligence report on Jiangnan?”

    Li An smiled and replied, “Presumably second brother does not yet know that I have already received the intelligence report on Jiangnan.”

    Across Li Zhi’s eyes flashed an ice cold smile, as he replied, “The intelligence report received by Your Highness, the Crown Prince, is from Liang Wan. The source of this child’s intelligence report is different and therefore, presumably, has details that Imperial Father does not yet know.”

    Li An’s expression trembled. He had acquired control over the Jiangnan intelligence network with great difficulty having used every possible means.3 He could not believe that Li Zhi still had his own intelligence sources. How could he not be resentful? He coldly replied, “So that’s the case … Just a few days earlier, sixth brother was attacking Xiangyang. If second brother had shared these intelligence reports, then surely sixth brother would not have been so badly defeated.” He was only concerned with striking a blow at Li Zhi and forgot that Li Xian’s mood. Sure enough, a look of cold fury flashed across Li Xian’s eyes.

    In a composed fashion,4 Li Zhi replied, “This younger brother5 only realized, after sixth brother’s first campaign against Xiangyang met with defeat, that our intelligence network in Jiangnan was incomplete. The map that we received regarding Xiangyang’s defensive positions was extremely rough and undetailed, undoubtedly the result of Xiangyang’s garrison commander making changes to the map before submitting it to the Ministry of War. From this, we can conclude that the intelligence network controlled by Lady Liang has already caught the attention of Southern Chu’s knowledgeable and experienced individuals. It is only because they are safeguarded by the sovereign and vassals of Southern Chu that they have not been eliminated. Thus when we formally go to war with Southern Chu, our intelligence network will inevitably be destroyed. Facing this obstacle, this younger brother could only establish a new network. Finally, at least, there has been some achievement. That Your Highness, the Crown Prince, does not know the details is because the new network has only just gotten results. Thus, could not help sixth brother in time.” Speaking to this point, Li Zhi looked at Li Xian and bowed faintly to signal his apology. Li Xian lowered his head slightly, signaling that he did not mind.

    From the moment Li Zhi entered the chambers, he had been crossed verbal swords with the Crown Prince. Seeing that they had temporarily stopped, everyone (outside of the Young Emperor, the lady sitting behind him, and the Crown Prince) all stood to properly greet Li Zhi. The Prince of Qi, Li Xian, had originally wanted to stand as well, but seeing the anger in Li An’s eyes, remained seated. Li Zhi sat down at his own seat at the first position on the right, greeting everyone one by one. From the moment Li Zhi had criticized Liang Wan, the beautiful woman’s expression became as cold as ice. When Li Zhi had sat down, she opened her mouth and said, “From the meaning of Your Highness’s words, my junior apprentice niece Liang has toiled under bitter hardships in Southern Chu, and yet has missed out on much?” Seeing her speak, Li An lowered his head slightly, the corner of his mouth twitching to form a smile.

    Li Zhi bowed slightly as he replied, “Lady Noble Consort, this child dares not evaluate Lady Liang’s contributions. That year when Princess Changle was wed to Southern Chu, both Imperial Father and I pitied Changle. She has a gentle and soft temperament. As a result, Lady Noble Consort dispatched Lady Liang to accompany Changle to Southern Chu. Li Zhi cannot be thankful enough. Over these years, our successes in Southern Chu have in large part due to Liang Wan’s meritorious service. It is only that the current situation has changed. Lady Liang has basically already placed herself out in the open. Thus, this child had no choice but to ensure that we do not lose access to information from Jiangnan in the event that Lady Liang is forced to withdraw.”

    The woman’s tender and dimpled face revealed a faint smile, as if she accepted Li Zhi’s explanation. All the men in the study could not help but be mesmerized by her smile which was like the plum blossoms after snowfall. But since she was a Noble Consort, everyone quickly averted their eyes.

    Seeing the atmosphere shift, Li Zhi continued, “Since Imperial Father has already received the intelligence report brought by His Highness, the Crown Prince, then must be aware of the Remonstration on Taking the Imperial Throne Memorial?”

    From on his desk, Li Yuan picked up a copied manuscript and replied, “Indeed, this Jiang Zhe is sure enough an extraordinary individual. The Crown Prince and the Prince of Qi have both recommended him to me. I have read his poems, especially his Dance of the Cavalry. A single poem forced the King of Shu to commit suicide. Definitely an exceptional talent. Today, after seeing this memorial, I not only believe that he is a gifted scholar, but also an able minister. If Southern Chu were to put him into an important position, then it would be a disaster for Great Yong. Now that this person has been dismissed from office, presumably he can be recruited over.”

    “Imperial Father is correct,” replied Li Zhi with a faint smile, “This man does indeed possess an extraordinary ability. This child in Sichuan and sixth brother in Southern Chu have both met him. Unfortunately, this man cares not about fame or fortune, and furthermore is a loyal subject of Southern Chu. I’m afraid that he would not be willing to surrender and pledge allegiance.”

    Li Yuan nodded and replied, “That’s true. We are also worried about this. Seeing this man’s memorial, he must be a loyal subject of Southern Chu. But as the proverb says, ‘a virtuous subject chooses a master to serve.’ I have seen the freedom and easiness within this man’s poetry. He should not be a stubborn man, right?”

    Listening to his father’s words, Li Zhi understood that Li Xian had not told Li An about meeting Jiang Zhe in Xiangyang. Therefore, Li Yuan would not conclude that Jiang Zhe would potentially not serve Great Yong. Li Zhi glanced at Li Xian and saw his brother’s uneasy countenance. Li Zhi smiled faintly and continued, “That is true. This time, I thoroughly investigated Jiang Zhe after seeing his submitted memorial. I found that this man maintained close ties with the Prince of De. In Sichuan, he served as a close aide to the Prince of De. Reportedly, while he was recuperating at home over the last two years, he maintained constant communication with the Prince of De in Xiangyang. When Liang Wan dispatched assassins to kill the Prince of De, it was this man’s servants who saved the Prince. In addition, he personally traveled to Xiangyang to see Zhao Jue for the last time. This child has also found that the newly appointed Chief Commander of Southern Chu, Lu Xin, also knows Jiang Zhe. Before passing the imperial examinations, Jiang Zhe was the teacher of Lu Xin’s son, Lu Can. Therefore, this child fears that this man will not easily surrender and pledge allegiance.”

    Li Yuan listened to keen interest, while Li An and Noble Consort Ji secretly exchanged looks. It seemed that they did not attach much importance to Jiang Zhe. Li Yuan looked to Wei Guan and asked, “Minister Wei, what is your view?”

    Wei Guan replied, “There is no need for Your Imperial Majesty to be worried. Southern Chu is exhausted. The south will be pacified within a few years. When the time comes, there will be peace6 and men of merit will naturally flock to serve Great Yong. This person, Jiang Zhe, from his poetry we can tell that he is not a stubborn individual. Why would he be unwilling to serve the Emperor?”

    Hearing his response, Li Yuan beamed and replied, “Minister Wei speaks the truth. Although this man is deserving of being put in an important position, there is no need to overly trouble ourselves over him. When Southern Chu is conquered, We only need to issue an order decreeing he become an official in the court.”

    Li Zhi glanced at everyone, noticing that Li An and Noble Consort Ji had indifferent expressions, while Li Xian’s eyes were filled with derision. Li Zhi knew that he had achieved his goal. He had purposely esteemed Jiang Zhe in front of everyone in order to conceal the importance he attached to this man. To be able to entice Jiang Zhe in secret, it would be difficult to escape the attention of Li An and company. It was better to be upfront about it, expressing how he valued the man. As a result, everyone’s eyes would focus upon Jiang Zhe’s talent and not realize his importance. In addition, they would not oppose him over an “ordinary” scholar. The only one able to see through his scheme was Li Xian. Li Xian also understood Jiang Zhe’s talent, but he probably also wished to recruit Jiang Zhe for himself, so held his silence. After this, Li Zhi only needed to compete with Li Xian over Jiang Zhe.

    Achieving his objective, Li Zhi asked without restraint, “Imperial Father has called this child to discuss the matter of attacking Southern Chu. Does Imperial Father have any plans?”

    “This time, Great Yong has suffered heavy losses at Xiangyang,” replied Li Yuan, “I am worried that from now on Southern Chu will be difficult to control and intend to dispatch you to command an army to attack Southern Chu. Southern Chu taking the imperial title has given us the best excuse. Last time, we used the excuse that the Prince of De had designs upon Great Yong. That reason was too far-fetched. This time, our invasion will be proper and to be expected. What does Zhi’er think?”

    “Imperial Father is correct,” replied Li Zhi, “The Southern Chu army is now quite chaotic. According to this child’s original plan, our army should redouble the siege, cutting off Xiangyang’s connection with Jiangnan and spending a few years to slowly whittle away at Southern Chu’s military strength. But if were to give them room to regain their breath, their army would have the opportunity to re-stabilize. Without a decade or more, we will not be able to conquer Southern Chu. If Imperial Father permits it, this child wishes to take a gamble and strike a heavy blow at Southern Chu, causing them to lose the will to oppose our Great Yong. After that, we would pacify every resisting force one by one. Although this plan may end up being protracted, but within three years, this child can promise that Southern Chu will be absorbed by Great Yong. And then we will use another twenty years to acquire popular sentiment. What does Imperial Father think?”

    Li Yuan understood the meaning behind Li Zhi’s words. According to his view, the best and most perfect plan would be sweep away all opposition in one go. But the current Southern Chu was still capable of resistance. To be able to conquer Southern Chu in three years at the cost of twenty years of chaos, which would unlikely spread to the Central Plains, would be worthwhile, especially as Li Yuan’s desire to establish glorious achievements outweighed everything. He ultimately agreed with Li Zhi’s suggestion.

    Cold fury flashed across Noble Consort Ji’s eyes. She knew that because of this, Jiangnan would be in chaos for several years, creating great hardship to the common people. But she made no attempt to stop this, because she knew that Li Yuan had already made his decision. She once again confirmed that the sect mistress’s decision was correct. Although the Prince of Yong possessed great skill and strategy, in comparison, the mediocre Li An was more suitable to become the sovereign of Great Yong.

    Seeing that Li Yuan had agreed, Li Zhi raised the finite details. According to current intelligence, Southern Chu’s forces were spread out across a wide area. Because of the fighting, Southern Chu had reinforced the defenses in Sichuan, trying to prevent Great Yong from breaking through Sichuan and descend down the Yangtze River. In addition, Xiangyang had been attacked twice, suffering heavy casualties. In order to reinforce these two fronts, Southern Chu’s Ministry of War had pulled soldiers from other locales and were barely able to make ends meet, especially as they still needed to garrison the defenses along the entirety of the Yangtze River. Li Zhi suggested that Great Yong launch attacks and sieges on two fronts in Sichuan and Xiangyang, focusing Southern Chu’s attention there. Afterwards, he would personally lead an elite cavalry unit to directly pierce through the Yangtze River defenses and close in on Jianye. Under normal circumstances, Jianye could not be captured without a siege lasting several months, more than enough time for reinforcements to arrive to save the city and cut off the cavalry unit’s lines of supply and retreat. However, Jianye currently had few soldiers guarding the city. Combined with the agents inside the city, Li Zhi was confident that he would be able to capture Jianye in only a few days, and later kidnap the Southern Chu King and the court officials back to Great Yong. When the time came, Southern Chu would be leaderless. The combination of its capital being captured and its King kidnapped would be a severe blow to the morale of Southern Chu. Even if Southern Chu chooses a new monarch, it will be incredibly difficult for them to continue to oppose Great Yong. Afterwards, Great Yong can use Zhao Jia to pacify Jiangnan. Although this plan would nominally require more time to complete and would cause significant problems, Li Yuan hoped that Southern Chu would submit sooner rather than later. As a result, he approved the plan.

    Although Li An was unfamiliar with military matters, he knew what troubles this plan would cause. But he also knew that if Li Zhi was really successful in conquering Southern Chu, then his own hopes of becoming the heir apparent would be greatly reduced. Having failed in his campaigns against Southern Chu, Li Xian believed that this plan would enable him to regain some face. As a result, neither prince made any objections. Although the Cheng Shu, the Duke of Wei, and Qin Yi, the General Who Pacifies Distant Lands, both had some misgivings about the plan, they both understood its profoundness. They also knew that there wouldn’t be any use to objecting. Just this way, this invasion plan that would be castigated by later generations as not adhering to the art of war was approved. Outside of Li Zhi and Shi Yu, no one else knew that Li Zhi’s actual target was Jiang Zhe.

    After the discussion had concluded, Li Yuan sighed and said, “Zhi’er, you must ensure Changle’s safety in this attack on Jianye. You must bring her back. She has already sacrificed too much for Great Yong. We have her down.”

    Li Zhi sighed faintly as well. Princess Changle was the beloved daughter of his Imperial Father. Her mother was Noble Consort Gongsun who was widely known for her virtues. Changle herself was dignified and tender, and as a result much favored and loved by Imperial Father. Noble Consort Gongsun’s son, Li Xian,1 had died protecting Li Yuan from assassins. Her other son, the Fourth Prince, Li Jin, had died at a young age. Therefore, Imperial Father had tried to comfort Noble Consort Gongsun by promising that after Changle had reached marriageable age, she would be able to choose her husband. At the time, Changle already had someone she admired, but due to the need to form a marriage alliance with Southern Chu, their Imperial Father could only order Changle be married to then Crown Prince of Southern Chu, Zhao Jia. When she learned this news, Noble Consort Gongsun had begged the Emperor while weeping, saying that Southern Chu and Great Yong would become enemies sooner rather than later. If Changle were to be married over, then how would she be able to survive? But Imperial Father’s decision had been made. The look of despair in Changle’s eyes when she departed for Southern Chu had left an unforgettable mark upon Li Zhi. Li Zhi had ingeniously arranged for the court ladies from Yong to purposely steal Zhao Jia’s favor and prevent Zhao Jia and Changle from having too much emotional entanglement. But upon learning about Changle’s life in Southern Chu, Li Zhi lamented greatly. This was especially the case when Changle became pregnant. The decision had long been made to abort the child, especially as this child would have a cruel fate before it. Li Zhi could imagine clearly Changle’s grief and despair.

    Thinking of this, Li Zhi resolutely replied, “Imperial Father be at ease. This child will definitely bring back the Imperial Sister. Imperial Sister has sacrificed much for Great Yong. This child will definitely ensure her safety and bring her home.”

    “After she has been brought back and some time has passed,” replied Li Yuan with a sigh, “We will find her a new husband so that her youth is not completely wasted by being a widow.”

    Everyone seemed to hesitate. Finally, Wei Guan spoke, “Your Imperial Majesty’s intent is well, but if Zhao Jia is brought back as a hostage, we will be required upon his name to control Southern Chu. The Princess is still the Queen of Southern Chu. If Your Imperial Majesty finds a new husband for the Princess, Southern Chu’s officials and subjects will definitely hate Great Yong.”

    Furious, Li Yuan replied, “Don’t tell me that Our daughter must suffer hardship forever?”

    Wei Guan was at a loss for words. In his view, whether Princess Changle was happy was irrelevant. But he did not dare to utter such words.

    “Imperial Father, Minister Wei speaks with good reason,” said Li An trying to smooth things over, “How about this? We will first select a suitable husband for Imperial Sister, allowing them to be secretly betrothed. After a few years and Southern Chu is pacified, when Zhao Jia is no longer of any use, we can formally wed Imperial Sister and her new husband.”

    Li Yuan faintly nodded his head and replied, “Let it be so … This matter must not be revealed. Let’s first wait for Changle to return. Okay, We are tired. You can all go.”

    Li An, Li Zhi, Li Xian, Wei Guan, Cheng Shu, and Qin Yi all rose and bade their farewell. Noble Consort Ji supported Li Yuan and left the Imperial Study. As everyone left individually, Li Xian did not leave with Li An. Instead, he deliberately stayed behind and spoke to Li Zhi, “Second older brother, do you believe that Jiang Zhe will definitely serve you?”

    Li Zhi indifferently replied, “What? Does sixth younger brother also want him as a subordinate?”

    Seeming eager to get involved, Li Xian replied, “Second older brother, when I met that Jiang Zhe, I felt like we were kindred spirits. You have so many civil officials and military commanders under your command; give this Jiang Zhe to me.”

    Li Zhi smiled faintly and replied, “You believe that if he doesn’t serve me, that he would be willing to serve you?”

    “I believe that this fellow has a clear view of things sometimes,” replied Li Xian, “If he is willing to serve me, I will take him as my teacher and listen to his every word. He will definitely agree, so long as second older brother does not fight over him with me.”

    Li Zhi smiled bitterly. He had not thought that Li Xian would be so break with propriety and befriend Jiang Zhe. Li Zhi was not willing to compete with his brother, so he said, “Right now, we’re not even certain if he’s willing to surrender and pledge allegiance to Great Yong. We’re competing too early. Oh right, when are you and Lady Qin getting married?”

    “I’m not in a rush, since the status is already confirmed,” replied Li Xian with a smile, “Qin Zheng’s master and father both want it to be soon and so the wedding is set for next month.”

    “If that is the case, then I might not be able to get back in time,” replied Li Zhi with a smile, “You have delayed her for so many years. You’re lucky that Lady Qin waited for you.”

    Li Xian scoffed and replied, “If it wasn’t for Noble Consort Ji urging Imperial Father to issue a decree, I originally wanted to wait a little longer. There are so many beautiful women out there, I don’t have enough time for all of them. Last time in Southern Chu, I met Liu Piaoxiang, definitely a natural extraordinarily beautiful woman. If it weren’t for Qin Zheng, I would have been able to get my hands on her. On your trip to Southern Chu, second older brother, you should go see her. She is definitely a woman of peerless elegance. That Liang Wan is such a hypocritical woman and cannot even compare to her. Women, what use is there for them to worry about the state and common people?”

    Li Zhi replied with a smile, “Fine, fine. I will tell younger sister-in-law and let her know that you look down on her.” Li Xian hurriedly begged to be spared.

    Although Li Zhi’s face carried a smile, his heart was cold. Li An had now gotten the backing of the Fengyi Sect and was also supported by Li Xian. If Li Xian matured, then Li An would be able to completely oppose him without needing the protection of Imperial Father. Thinking of the increasing dangerous situation around him, Li Zhi once again made the determination that he must acquire Jiang Zhe. He required someone who would be able to completely overcome all of the heavy obstacles before him.
    The ninth month of the first year of Zhihua, the Prince of Yong presented a plan to pacify Southern Chu. He led four hundred thousand troops south. The news rocked the Jingxiang region …

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, the Biography of King Yang of Chu
    1. 喜出望外, xichuwangwai – idiom, to be pleased beyond one’s expectations; overjoyed at the turn of events
    2. 儿臣, erchen – lit. this child subject; translating as this child
    3. 千方百计, qianwanbaiji – idiom, lit. thousand ways, a hundred plans; by every possible means
    4. 不慌不忙, buhuangbumang – idiom, lit. calm and unhurried; composed, to take matters calmly
    5. 臣弟, chendi – lit. this younger brother subject
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 20 – Profiting from Other’s Misfortune1

    I was not surprised when I learned the news that Great Yong had launched attacks upon Sichuan and Xiangyang simultaneously. In my view, in order to invade Southern Chu, a two-pronged assault was absolutely necessary. Although this plan would take some time to implement, but as long as Jianghuai region,2 one would need not fear that Southern Chu would not be pacified. So when I heard the news that the Prince of Yong had led twenty thousand cavalrymen in a direct attack on Jianye, I was dumbfounded. I immediately took out the maps and reviewed for some time. The longer I tried to analyze the situation, the more confused I became. The Prince of Yong had great skill and strategy, so why would he employ such a tactic? Although he would be able to capture Jianye, he would be unable to hold it permanently. Even if Southern Chu’s sovereign and officials were captured, the court would absolutely select a new monarch or even possibly seize the throne for themselves. In addition, with this plan, Southern Chu would almost definitely fragment. In order to pacify its entirety would require the difficult task of taking all of its cities one by one. If this happened, then without twenty years, Jiangnan would absolutely be unable to be pacified. After thinking hard for quite some, I still could not understand the reasons behind Li Zhi’s actions.

    Considering the situation from a different perspective, I immediately realized that war was only a continuation of politics by other means.3 What benefits would Li Zhi gain? But as much as I tried to think this through, the only benefit I could think of was the chaos in Southern Chu would make it difficult for Crown Prince Li An to make things difficult for Li Zhi at will. But even if Li Zhi conquered Southern Chu in one go, this had nothing to do with becoming openly hostile against Li An. I didn’t believe that Li Zhi would be unable to beat Li An. No matter how much I pondered the matter, I could not understand. With many doubts, I lowered the intelligence report in my hands on the table. Even if the situation was unexpected, I could still take advantage and execute my own plans. Thinking of this, I indifferently called out, “Chiji.”

    Chiji, who had been organizing the maps for me, raised his head and looked at me.

    “Deliver a message to your Master,” I ordered, “Have him come see me tonight.”

    “As you command,” replied Chiji before turning and leaving.

    At night, Xiaoshunzi quickly arrived. I sat behind the desk. Chen Zhen and Han Wuji stood before the desk on the left and the right. After them stood the eight operatives of the Secret Camp standing before me to the left and right. Once Xiaoshunzi had entered the room, he immediately walked over to my side. That was his position. Right now, Chen Zhen was the commander of the Secret Camp and Han Wuji was the head manager of the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets. Although Xiaoshunzi did not have a clear status, everyone knew that he was my stand-in and had the authority to issue orders on my behalf. In addition, Xiaoshunzi was the martial arts master of every operative in the Secret Camp. All of these operatives were extremely respectful towards Xiaoshunzi. This combination provided Xiaoshunzi with a sublime and transcendent status. However, he treated me the same as before, willingly serving as my servant and follower.

    Seeing that everyone had arrived, I said, “Everyone, I established the Secret Camp and the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets for the sole purpose of waiting for this day. The time has come. Today, I ask that everyone unite and work together4 to complete the great undertaking of vengeance.”

    “Young master need only issue commands,” replied Chen Zhen, “If it wasn’t for the fact that young master was willing to wait, we would have killed Liang Wan even if it would have cost us our lives.”

    Everyone else only calmly listened. According to my established customs, when it wasn’t their turn to speak, they weren’t allowed to speak. Chen Zhen was the commander of the Secret Camp. Outside of Xiaoshunzi and Han Wuji, everyone else were his subordinates. If it wasn’t necessary, Xiaoshunzi wouldn’t say a word. Han Wuji’s status was below Chen Zhen and he wouldn’t casually interject.

    I looked at Han Wuji and asked, “Has the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets made all the preparations?”

    Han Wuji bowed and replied, “Young master be at ease. But because of the news that the Yong army is approaching Jianye, many merchants have begun to flee. The portion that was instructed in advance are within our grasp.”

    I nodded and replied, “Before, I’ve always waited for an opportunity. Only when Great Yong and Southern Chu have completely fallen out has the opportunity finally presented itself. This opportunity stems from Princess Changle, the Queen of Southern Chu. From the beginning, I have felt that the Yong Emperor greatly favored and loved this Princess. One only has to consider the court ladies that were part of her dowry and consider the lukewarm relationship between Princess Changle and the King. From this, we can see that it was only necessary for the Princess to come to Southern Chu. To prevent the Princess from being in a difficult situation, I believe that the Yong Emperor never had the intention of allowing Princess Changle to have too much emotional attachment to the King.”

    Listening to my words, Xiaoshunzi was puzzled and suspicious at first before his expression gradually became bright and clear. He said, “Young master is correct. Serving in the court, I know that the Queen does not interact with the King except out of necessity. The Queen would always stay at the secondary palace as much as possible. Even if she is in the Royal Palace, she is melancholic, never competing for the King’s favor. Before, I always thought that the Queen was virtuous, but now I believe that she was acting as the young master said, she has no intention of staying in Southern Chu.”

    I slapped my hand on the table and replied, “Indeed, if it weren’t that the Yong Emperor loved this daughter, he does not need to care about her moods and would have used her to properly beguile the King. This would have resulted in a better reward. Since he so treasures Princess Changle, then before Great Yong and Southern Chu completely falls out, he will rescue the Princess. Liang Wan will certainly take charge of this rescue. Liang Wan does not fear death, but if something happens to Princess Changle then I fear that her fate will be worse than death. As such, we should take advantage of their escape from the palace to trap them. For the sake of the safety of the Princess, Liang Wan will have no alternative but to confess. As long as she confesses, whether she lives or dies is unimportant, and I will be able to attain my vengeance. But Princess Changle will have numerous skilled martial artists protecting her. We must be absolutely certain in our actions and must not allow her to escape. Xiaoshunzi, you are the main strength this time. Are you certain of success?”

    Thinking it over, Xiaoshunzi replied, “Young master be at ease. Based upon my current martial arts, it may require some effort to capture them, but it would be a piece of cake to kill them. As long as young master’s plan is meticulous, I can guarantee that they will not be able to escape.”

    I happily replied, “Excellent! Hualiu and Lü’er, you two will lead the Hidden Group. Make sure to grasp their movements. Baiyi, Yulun, Shanzi, and Quhuang, you four will lead the Tiger Group and the Covert Group to trap their main forces. Chiji and Daoli, you two will lead the Dragon Group and be responsible for coordination and deal with the aftermath. The specific arrangements will be made by Chen Zhen and Han Wuji. Depart immediately. Xiaoshunzi, you will first follow the Queen. As long as we hold this thread, Liang Wan will absolutely be unable to escape.”

    While I was nervously reading all the intelligence reports to determine the best course of action, the court had fallen into chaos. Emperor Zhao Jia’s eyes were red from lack of sleep. Indignant, he yelled, “What have we heard on a daily basis? That my Southern Chu is well prepared for war. But now Great Yong has penetrated our defensive lines. In less than six hours, the Yong army will arrive before the city. Quickly speak, what’s to be done? What’s to be done?”

    Prime Minister Shang Weijun replied, “Your Imperial Majesty need not worry. The Yong army is only composed of light cavalry and they have traveled far. By the time they have arrived before Jianye, they will already be a spent force.5 Although Jianye does not have a large garrison, it does possess fifty thousand Imperial Guardsmen. As long as we are able to defend the city for a period of time, reinforcements will surely arrive.”

    At this time, a ranking official stepped forward and said, “Your Imperial Majesty, although Prime Minister Shang’s words are reasonable, the Yong army is composed of elite soldiers. If we are unable to defend Jianye, then it will be a great danger to our country. In this subject’s view, Your Imperial Majesty should temporarily shift the Imperial Presence someplace safe, returning to Jianye to reorganize when the enemy army has retreated. Your Imperial Majesty should not be placed in danger lightly.”

    When these words were spoken, the court officials stepped forward to agree one by one. Under normal circumstances, if these weren’t painting the town red, they were frequenting brothels. After Zhao Jia succeeded the throne, he had become estranged with all the virtuous subjects, while the number of vile characters grew. Many virtuous subjects had been demoted or dismissed because of the dispute over ascending to the imperial throne. As a result, under the current urgent circumstances, one could not find any capable ministers present to discuss these matters of state. Although Shang Weijun was relatively ordinary, this time he was comparatively wise. But he could not face the anger of the multitude. Ultimately, he could only say, “If that is the case, Your Imperial Majesty can temporarily shift your Imperial Presence. Please allow this elderly subject to command the Imperial Guards and defend Jianye. In addition, I ask Your Imperial Majesty to permit the Crown Prince to supervise the governance of this country.”

    Zhao Jia agreed again and again, “Good, Jianye will be entrusted to the Prime Minister. But the Crown Prince is only four-years-old. He would serve no purpose staying behind.”

    Shang Weijun believed that without a prince staying behind, they would be unable to defend Jianye from the Yong army. He could only request this over and over again. Although Zhao Jia did not have a profound affection for this son of his, all of his other sons were from Yong women. He naturally had to be a bit attentive. But seeing that the Yong army would soon arrive, Zhao Jia was ultimately unwilling to delay. He hurriedly led a group of trusted ministers, concubines, and several thousand Imperial Guardsmen, fleeing an hour before the Yong army arrived.

    Before Zhao Jia had even left the city, Shang Weijun gave the order to raid and seize the Bright Moon Pavilion. He further dispatched guardsmen to surround the palace, placing Princess Changle, who had remained behind, under house arrest. Although Zhao Jia was like a monkey with a hat in taking the Imperial Title,6 but because the aftermath of the war between Great Yong and Southern Chu had not been resolved, he had not promoted his Queen to become Empress. From Li Xian’s first campaign against Xiangyang, Zhao Jia had brought the Queen back to live in the Palace. It was only because of fear of Great Yong’s strength that he did not place the Queen under house arrest. However, Princess Changle grasped the big picture and did not take a single step out of the Palace. In reality, the house arrest ordered by Shang Weijun was only to feign an appearance. Who was to know that the Imperial Guardsmen would report that the Bright Moon Pavilion was completely empty, while Princess Changle had disappeared, while all of the court ladies were locked in a single room. Shang Weijun turned pale with fright. He knew that he had lost the protective talisman. Not worrying about the city’s defenses, he ordered those fighters that he trusted to have Consort Shang and the Crown Prince changed into commoner garb and led to safety. After that, Shang Weijun mounted the battlements to personally take charge of the defense.

    At this time, within a farmhouse in the northern outskirts of Jianye, the scene was filled with naked swords stained with blood. Liang Wan wore green colored commoner garb. A short sword was in her hands. Although the sword was unmarked by blood, Liang Wan’s forehead dripped with sweat. Behind her, seated upon a chair, was a woman with a wan and sallow, but clear and attractive complexion. She was also in commoner garb. Behind her stood a pretty maid with a short sword in her hands. To the left and right stood a dozen or so Great Yong spies dressed as farmers. All of them were injured. The floor was covered with bloodstained arrows and crossbow bolts.

    Liang Wan could not believe her current predicament. After she had brought Princess Changle to this hidden farm, her force had been caught off guard and attacked. She could only retreat into the farmhouse, only to discover that the two individuals she had left there earlier had been captured and were bound tightly. The legs of the two individuals had suffered grievous cuts before being treated. Liang Wan had led her spies out several times to break the encirclement, but had been blocked by volleys of arrows and crossbow bolts. Once, Liang Wan had relied upon the soft armor that she was wearing to charge out. But just as she had left the courtyard, she was stopped by four masked men wielding sabers. Although the martial arts of these masked men were, in Liang Wan’s eyes, only second-rate, they were bold and powerful with ferocious blade techniques. In addition, they cooperated well and were using a blade formation to entrap Liang Wan for a period of time. Seeing that the arrows and crossbow bolts were flying towards her, Liang Wan could only break through and retreat back into the farmhouse.

    Unfortunately, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. She was becoming increasingly confused. Those surrounding her were definitely elite soldiers. At the very least they were comparable to the best soldiers of Great Yong. In addition, those martial artists who had stopped her were not easily found. In the current Southern Chu, how could there be such an elite unit near Jianye? Even if they were Southern Chu spies, why had they only now taken action? They could have acted when she had rescued the Princess from the Palace. From the beginning to the end, Liang Wan could not understand who was surrounding her. But she knew that they absolutely must hold out. For safety, they had not revealed this location to the Yong army. If they could not hold out until the arrival the Yong army, then not only would she lose her life, but also the Princess would be finished. If something happened to the Princess, even if she were to die, Liang Wan would be unable to quell the Yong Emperor’s anger. When the time came, the Fengyi Sect would have to bear this anger.

    As Liang Wan was thinking, one of her subordinates informed her in a low voice, “Lady Liang, they have finally awoken.”

    Liang Wan was delighted. Although the two that had been left here had suffered numerous injuries, they had not died. They had been in a coma, unable to wake. They must have taken some medicine. She walked over and hurriedly asked, “What happened? Who attacked you?”

    One of the men licked his parched lips and replied, “Milady, only one person came. He was dressed in black and had his face covered. He didn’t say anything. But his martial arts were extraordinary. Using only one stance, he injured both of us. That person originally wanted to kill us, but was stopped by another. The second person should not know any martial arts, as his footsteps were weak and his breath deficient. He gave the order to leave cut wounds on our legs. After that, we fainted.”

    Liang Wan listened to their words, but found them useless. Just then, a cold voice could be heard from outside, “Those in the farmhouse, listen up! We have run out of patience! If you do not come out within the time it takes for a stick of incense to burn, we will burn the farmhouse down!”

    “If you set fire to the farmhouse,” replied Liang Wan in a loud voice, “Aren’t you worried that you’ll attract others’ attention?”

    It was silent outside for a moment before the man replied, “Southern Chu is too busy worrying about itself to care about others, while Great Yong is still more than an hour away. We have plenty of time. The longer you take to think, the more severe the punishment will be. If you surrender now, we can guarantee that at the very least, you all will not die painfully.”

    Liang Wan could only feel cold sweat flood down her back. For the first time, she regretted that she had not brought more men here. As she was hesitating, several straw bundles were thrown next to the doorway. A lit fire starter was thrown over. Quickly a blaze was started. Without any alternatives, Liang Wan could only yell out, “We’re surrendering!”

    The two straw bundles were pulled away. A man of average height in black garb and with his face covered stepped into the doorway. His hands were empty, weaponless. But Liang Wan could feel the faint pressure being exuded from his body. Her left hand was holding the flying daggers at her waist. But at this moment, she did not have the courage to throw the daggers. The black garbed man spoke in a feminine voice, “Raise your hands and walk out one by one.”

    Liang Wan jolted. She had heard this kind of voice before – it was the speech of a eunuch. But they should be from Southern Chu. Summoning her courage, she threw down her short sword. She raised her hands and collected her disordered hair. Lithely, she walked towards that man. She knew that this person could be a eunuch. Even if he wasn’t, he probably trained in a particularly malevolent and feminine internal energy. If that was the case, then his temperament was probably also insidious. As a result, Liang Wan dared not use her beauty to bewilder him. Instead, she would present the image that she was yielding and compliant. She held her two hands behind her back and walked towards that man. Just as she was passing him, her body moved like a viper and slid back, sending the dagger in her right hand piercing towards the man’s throat. This was an impossible to defend attack, but the man’s right hand softly slashed forward, and Liang Wan lost feeling in her wrist lose feeling. Afterwards a pale white and ice-cold palm extended forward and grasped her throat. Liang Wan could only feel that the hand was as nauseous and dreadful as a viper. Afterwards, she lost consciousness.

    When Liang Wan awoke, she found that she was in the dark. She perked her ears and listened, but she could not detect anyone near her. She tried to move her body, but found that her hands were tightly bound behind her. She still had her martial arts and there wasn’t anything strange about the condition of her body. She rejoiced and took a breath. She did not make any more movements, as she did not want to attract any attention. Just then, an ice cold voice spoke, “You’ve awoken, young master wants to see you.”

    After that, bright lights were revealed. Liang Wan involuntarily closed her eyes. Two men brought her to her feet. From her senses, Liang Wan could tell that the two were still young. Without letting her walk on her own, the two brought Liang Wan into a spacious room without windows. This was a secret chamber. Torches were mounted on the four corners of the room. Seated in the chair in the center of the room was a black garbed masked scholar. On the four walls were hung all of Liang Wan’s subordinates held in place with five iron chains. There was no sign of torture on their bodies. Liang Wan also saw another man standing next to the seated black garbed man scholar. From his two hands, Liang Wan was able to recognize him as the person who had captured her. Outside of this, there were six men in black standing in the corners. Liang Wan was brought to the wall facing the scholar. With practiced ease, the two men chained Liang Wan’s wrists, ankles, and waist to the wall. The chains were tightened and Liang Wan was immobilized. Another man in black stepped forward and using a bucket, splashed Liang Wan with cold water. Liang Wan’s entire body was soaked, revealing the beautiful outline of an exquisitely developed and mature woman. She was equally ashamed and angry. Although she was already twenty-seven, she was still a virgin. How could she take such humiliation? The men in black all looked her without restraint. Even her subordinates could not help but steal glances.

    “Who are you, really?” asked Liang Wan indignantly, “Why are you making trouble for my Great Yong?”

    The black garbed scholar indifferently replied, “This one is not making trouble for Great Yong. Liang Wan, I am here for you. Everyone else were unfortunate to be fish in the same pool of water.”

    Liang Wan shivered in her heart. These past few years, she had been in service to Great Yong. How could there be individuals here to avenge a personal vendetta? Seeing the hesitation in her subordinates’ eyes, she replied, humiliated and angry, “What do you do with the two other ladies?”

    She did not dare reveal Princess Changle’s identity, but the black garbed scholar said, “You are speaking of Her Highness, Princess Changle? Her Highness, Princess Changle, has nothing to do with this matter. This one greatly sympathizes with the Princess’s bitter experiences. As such, she has been arranged to stay in a different room. But her female guard’s martial arts were extremely similar to yours. She tried to seize an opportunity to mount a sneak attack and has been mistakenly killed by my subordinates.”

    Shivering inside, Liang Wan said, “You are really vicious. My junior apprentice sister was only nineteen. Who would have thought that you would be so cruel?”

    The black garbed scholar did not say anything. The man who stood behind him spoke in a dark and gentle voice, “Who cares if we mistakenly kill one person? If you are unwilling to answer our question, I will make you wish you were dead.”

    Liang Wan furiously said, “Who are you, really? What rancor do you have with me?”

    The black garbed scholar coldly replied, “I will only ask you one thing, did you kill Liu Piaoxiang?”

    Liang Wan immediately stared back blankly. There was no way that she could foresee that she would be asked this question.

    1. 趁火打劫, chenhuodajie – idiom, lit. to loot a burning building; to profit from somebody’s misfortune
    2. 江淮, Jianghuai – refers to the region between the Yangtze and the Huai Rivers
    3. This is an aphorism by the Prussian general and military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz.
    4. 戮力同心, luliltongxin – idiom, concerted efforts in a common cause; united and working together
    5. 强弩之末, qiangnuzhimo – idiom, lit. an arrow at the end of its flight; fig. spent force
    6. 沐猴而冠, muhou’erguan – idiom, lit. a monkey wearing a hat; fig. worthless person in imposing attire
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 21 – Learning the Truth

    I looked at Liang Wan. I had spent much time thinking of how to capture her and I had dispatched numerous operatives. Finally, I had found where she was planning on hiding the Princess. After she had entered the trap, I had surrounded and entrapped her using military formations before using superior martial arts and threats on the Princess’s life to ultimately capture them. Although the entire process seemed simple and smooth, I had, in actuality, spent too much thinking about this. In order to force Liang Wan to confess, the method I used was to have her feel like she was helpless. Only by having her lose her confidence, could I have her obediently confess. Otherwise, if she were to see that I was not willing to harm the Princess, everything would be useless.

    Gloomily, Liang Wan asked, “Who is she to you?”

    “Piaoxiang and I had promised to wed,” I replied indifferently, “The night before she died, she was with me. Unfortunately, in order to finish things, she agreed to the madam’s request and died an unnatural death.”

    Liang Wan looked at the men before her, quickly searching through her memory, trying to think of everyone who had ties with Piaoxiang. Although there were many officials who visited Piaoxiang, none of them matched with the behavior of the man before her. She once again thought back to the scene right before Piaoxiang’s death. At the time, she had entered the room and found that Liu Piaoxiang was bathing. Piaoxiang’s beautiful appearance carried a burning anger. When she saw her, Piaoxiang coldly said, “To think that Princess Bright Moon is only so-so. To one’s surprise, you would deceive and humiliate a lowly lady like myself.”

    Liang Wan remembered that she had tried to tactfully mollify Piaoxiang. Liu Piaoxiang replied in an ice-cold voice, “There is nothing that I can say about those of you with high status. It would be useless even if I were to file suit. You can be relieved. I have my own life that I will live.”

    Piaoxiang was clearly expressed her forbearance, and yet in Liang Wan’s heart, she felt a chill in her heart. She did not believe that Liu Piaoxiang, who had previously insulted the Prince of Han, Zhao Delong, would let the matter go. If this matter was spread by Liu Piaoxiang, then her own reputation would become sullied, causing her to lose her ability to have standing in Southern Chu. To lose such standing would cause her to lose the enterprise that she had painstakingly built up to someone else. She had ultimately acted, killing Liu Piaoxiang before she could leave.

    Seeing Liang Wan search her memories, a monstrous rage bubbled forth from my heart. If she had not killed Piaoxiang, then she would not think so much. I coldly said, “Have you remembered?”

    Liang Wan looked at me, thinking in her heart, “So the reason Liu Piaoxiang was willing to compromise and was willing to not retaliate was because she wished to reunite with her lover. It seemed like her lover’s status wasn’t too high. Otherwise, Liu Piaoxiang would not be willing to agree to not retaliate.”

    Just as Liang Wan was continuing to think, the black clothed man with an ice cold voice stepped forward and walked in front of her. In one move, he ripped apart her bodice. Liang Wan felt cold air against her chest, as half of it was revealed for all to see. Liang Wan cried out in shame. Understanding that this was a warning, she could only speak, “Since it has reached this point, I believe that sire has sufficient evidence. Correct, I killed Liu Piaoxiang.”

    She admitted it. I ferociously looked at Liang Wan and continued to ask, “Good. Tell me who is the bastard who had you humiliate Liu Piaoxiang and then deal with the aftermath?”

    Liang Wan only now understood why she was still alive. She was originally an extraordinarily intelligent woman. Now that she had an opportunity to take advantage of, she smiled faintly and replied, “So sire wishes to know about this. I am the only one who know about this matter. May I ask sire, what price you are willing to pay for this information?”

    “I knew long ago that you would make this a transaction,” I replied indifferently, “But why would I act if I did not have sufficient confidence? Lady Liang, regardless of how important or illustrious your status, you have fallen into my hands today. I can do as I please. If you are willing to reveal that person’s identity, I promise you that you will die peacefully. But if you are unwilling, I have a thousand ways of having you die with regrets.”

    Liang Wan coldly laughed and replied, “I know, against a woman, there are many ways to harm her. You can allow every single man in this room to dishonor me. You can use all kinds of torture upon me. You can destroy my appearance. But you should know that I, Liang Wan, possess a state of mind like iron. Regardless of how you harm me, as long as I refuse to speak, then the person who dies with regrets will be you. If you are willing to fairly negotiate, then I promise you that I will one day reveal that person’s identity.”

    I lightly clapped my hands, replying with a smile, “Good. Truly deserving of being the leader of Great Yong’s intelligence network.” Turning to my subordinates, I asked, “Tell me, was my original caution correct?”

    In a cold voice, Chen Zhen replied, “Young master indeed possesses extraordinary intelligence. This subordinate admiringly pays our respects.”

    I walked to Liang Wan’s side and in a cold voice, said, “I knew long ago how you would react. You have the conviction and willingness to die. I also believe that you would endure all of the cruel tortures. This one is knowledgeable in medicine. I can allow you to experience life’s greatest suffering and humiliation. These people are all your subordinates. I can have them come satiate their lust upon you. When that time comes, what face do you have to be their superior?”

    With difficulty, Liang Wan endured the dread in her heart. She replied, “I know that you can accomplish such a deed. I have heard that there are those who are skilled in the use of aphrodisiacs. Women who have taken these drugs suffer a fate too horrible to contemplate. But as long as I remember that I was drugged, then I would not have to lower my head in shame.”

    I coldly replied, “You can kill everyone to silence them anyways. After that, no one will know about this, right?”

    Liang Wan indifferently replied, “How could I?” But from her eyes, one could see that that was her intention.

    I smiled faintly and continued, “You are still a virgin, but I believe that you are not a woman who has avoided immorality.1 If that is the case, why do you not have any lovers? Is it that you view all men with contempt? Or is it that you already have a sweetheart? Or is it that to you, being a virgin is extremely important?”

    Suddenly Xiaoshunzi said, “Young master, the martial art that she has trained in should not require her to be a virgin. I believe that she has a sweetheart or her purpose is to be a specific individual’s wife. As such, she must protect her virginity.”

    Watching Liang Wan’s expression, I replied, “Maybe that is the case. Come, bring the wine. Have her drink it.”

    Carrying a jug of wine, Daoli and Baiyi stepped forward. Baiyi pinched Liang Wan’s nose, while Daoli poured the contents of the jug down her throat. Their movements were practiced, leaving Liang Wan no chance of resisting. But still, almost half of the wine poured down her throat to her chest. Liang Wan waited for them to release their hands and then coughed several times. While her chest was freezing, her throat was scorching hot. Her face was red from almost suffocating from the wine. Liang Wan could feel everyone’s eyes fall upon her. Although she was ashamed, she understood that whether life or death, honor or disgrace all rested on this moment. As such, she persisted in staunchly raising her head to look at the black clothed scholar. In her mind, she thought that if she could not control herself, then she would swallow her throat to commit suicide. Even if she was stopped, these people would know her resolve.

    After not much time had passed, Liang Wan did not feel the effects of an aphrodisiac. Instead, Liang Wan felt her spirit bright and vivacious, as if she was in the realm of the immortals. Gradually, Liang Wan felt lazy, itching to lie down and sleep. But just as she moved, she could not do anything because of her bindings. At this time, a gentle voice whispered into her ear, “Lady Liang, do you wish to rest?”

    Liang Wan moaned lightly and replied, “I wish to sleep.”

    The voice continued to ask, “You have been in Southern Chu for so long. You must have bribed many high ranking officials and have many spies under your command?”

    Her expression misty, Liang Wan replied, “Indeed, the Prince of Yong sent me here to protect Her Highness, the Princess. Afterwards, he had me take command of the intelligence network in Jiangnan. It is a pity that I could only disappoint his deep favor. Master has said that the Crown Prince is the rightful Son of Heaven.”

    “Who is your master?” the voice continued to ask.

    Impatiently, Liang Wan replied, “My master is of course the Sect Master of the Fengyi Sect.”

    “Oh! So who was it that had you invite Liu Piaoxiang to Bright Moon Pavilion?”

    Liang Wan only said, “It was,” before she suddenly awoke. With a cold light in her eyes, she looked at me and coldly said, “What did I say?”

    Just then, one of her subordinates coldly replied, “You said that you betrayed the Prince of Yong and threw in your lot with the Crown Prince. Ahhhh …” A black clothed man punched the subordinate in the lower abdomen, silencing him.

    I looked at the deathly pale face of Liang Wan and said, “You have even revealed your betrayal, what else is there that you can hide?”

    Liang Wan flashed a cold smile and replied, “Although I indiscreetly revealed that matter, at most all I need to do is to overtly serve the Crown Prince. My only bargaining chip is the identity of that person. So if you are not willing to pay the price, I will absolutely not reveal that man’s identity. In fact, why are you wasting so much effort on a mere prostitute? There are innumerable beautiful women in this world. My Fengyi Sect has many beautiful, extraordinary senior and junior apprentice sisters. If sire is willing, Liang Wan is willing to play matchmaker.”

    I indifferently replied, “Although Piaoxiang had the misfortune of falling into prostitution, her heart was like the brightest moon of the highest Heavens. Although Lady Liang has usurped the title of Bright Moon, but your very actions cannot even compare to that of a prostitute.”

    Liang Wan was so angry her complexion became ashen. I sighed lightly. Liang Wan was indeed difficult to deal with. I had deliberately mentioned aphrodisiacs. As a result, everyone believed that he had forced her to drink an aphrodisiac. In reality, the wine was laced with a hallucinogen. This kind of hallucinogen’s greatest weakness was that if the user was prepared then it would be useless. I had previously allowed captured Great Yong spies take this hallucinogen, but even without any preparation, they did not utter a single word. Therefore, I first misled Liang Wan as to my motives to reduce her vigilance. Subsequently, while she was defending against an aphrodisiac, I had fed her a hallucinogen and had her answer several questions. Unfortunately, Liang Wan strictly guarded against matters of life and death. Ultimately, I was unsuccessful. But I was not discouraged. This was only one step in my original plans. To this point, Liang Wan had already understood my interest in the matter. Thus when I revealed my trump card, she would be agreeable to change conditions.”

    I laughed lightly and said, “It looks like Lady Liang is unwilling to speak. If that is the case, I can only offend you.”

    “I want to see what other methods you have,” replied Liang Wan arrogantly.

    I faintly replied, “I want to invite Milady to listen to a good performance.” Thus speaking, I waved my hand. Chiji bowed before turning and opening the stone door behind my chair. Behind the door, everyone could see a copper mirror placed on one side. From the flickering light reflected in the mirror, one could see a large bed with tasseled screen curtains. On the bed sat a young lady in white. It was the Princess Changle. From the angles, Princess Changle must be in the room behind the stone door. Chiji walked into the room and closed the stone door behind him. All of the Great Yong spies looked at me with hideous looks in their eyes. It seems like they understood what I was planning to do. With a gesture, a hidden copper tube on the stone door was revealed. At this moment, everyone could hear the voices being transmitted through the copper tube.

    “Who are you? What are you trying to do to us … me?”

    “No, don’t come over here, don’t come over here.”

    After that, everyone could hear the sound of silk ripping followed by the weeping and struggling sounds of young lady.

    “Stop! Stop!” cried all of the Yong spies. Only Liang Wan did not say a word, her face hideous.

    I gestured towards the copper tube. Although no more sounds could be heard, everyone became even more anxious. They all struggled mightily. Some even began to curse.

    I coldly said, “Lady Liang, if you do continue to refuse to reveal what I want you to say, then you must know what Princess Changle will suffer. You must know that if His Imperial Majesty, the Great Yong Emperor, learned that his beloved daughter experienced such torment because of you, how he would treat you, how the Crown Prince would treat you, how the Prince of Yong would treat you.”

    Liang Wan raised her head in despair. She knew that she had fallen into a deep trap. This person was as terrifying as a devil. From the methods he employed against her, Liang Wan could conclude that he was a fiend with deep and profound thoughts. He was absolutely capable of performing such a terrible deed. There was only thing he would do, harm her life. As he dared not bear the consequences of her remaining silent.

    In an agonized voice, she spoke, “Have your subordinates stop. If the Princess has not been harmed and you promise to not harm me, I will tell you everything you wish to know.”

    I indifferently replied, “Speak quickly. My subordinate’s temperament isn’t hurried. As long as you speak now, then there’s still time. As for your life, I promise that I will not take your life today and will not harm you.”

    Distressed, Liang Wan replied, “I can only believe you. That person was the Crown Prince, Li An.”

    My brow furrowed, coldly replying, “What are you bullshitting about? When did the Crown Prince of Great Yong come to Southern Chu?”

    “The Prince of Qi promised the King of Southern Chu that he can ascend the Imperial Throne upon the successful conclusion of the campaign against Shu,” replied Liang Wan in an unperturbed fashion, “But went back on his word.2 If a suitably person of high status had not come to placate the Southern Chu, if this matter was made public, it would have harmed Great Yong’s prestige. As a result, His Highness, the Crown Prince, secretly came to Southern Chu. Outside of Zhao Jia, he did not mean with anyone else. Before he had left, the Crown Prince had heard the Prince of Qi mention that he must see Liu Piaoxiang. I originally thought that Liu Piaoxiang was only a prostitute, who would willingly attend the Crown Prince upon meeting him. Who knew that after Liu Piaoxiang arrived, she only sang one song before wanting to depart. His Highness, the Crown Prince, was furious and raped her. Afterwards, he had me take care of the aftermath. I only killed Liu Piaoxiang.” Liang Wan told a small lie. Although Li An had told her to take care of things, he had not told her to kill Liu Piaoxiang. He only believed that it would be sufficient to pay additional money. It was precisely Liang Wan who feared that Liu Piaoxiang would spread the news about what had happened, destroying her reputation and result in the Crown Prince receiving blame. As a result, Liang Wan had killed Liu Piaoxiang to silence her forever. To Liang Wan, Liu Piaoxiang’s death was nothing.

    I looked at Liang Wan. Having finally learned the reality of what had happened, I was practically completely disheartened.3 How was I to take vengeance upon the Crown Prince of Great Yong? Liang Wan could see the change in my demeanor and said, “If sire is willing to allow bygones to be bygones, Liang Wan can promise that you will rise in rank meteorically.”

    I coldly replied, “You speak the truth?”

    “You can only believe me,” replied Liang Wan coldly, “If you do not believe me, then you can go against your word and have me killed.”

    I didn’t make a sound. Before determining the veracity of her words, I would not kill her. Liang Wan understood this point, thus dared to say so.

    Suddenly one of the Yong spies said, “Sire, you have not yet let off the Princess.”

    I didn’t say a word. Chen Zhen opened the stone door. In the copper mirror, everyone saw the Princess still sitting there. The only difference was in her posture. Chiji exited the room and closed the door.

    I looked at the spies and explained, “Everyone be at ease. Her Highness, the Princess, has had much adversity in her life. How could this one harm her? This subordinate of mine is skilled in vocal mimicry and has incurred everyone’s ridicule.”

    The spies all relaxed. That the Princess had not been harmed left them extremely gratified. On the other hand, Liang Wan looked at me venomously and said, “So it is you, I know who you are! Jiang Zhe, you are Jiang Zhe!”

    Her words was like the cold wind blowing, quieting everyone. My subordinates were quiet because my identity had been revealed, while the Yong spies were astonished as they all knew about me, the talented zhuangyuan.

    I coldly asked, “How did Lady Liang identify me?”

    Arrogantly, Liang Wan replied, “From your voice. I finally remembered where I had heard your voice before. In addition, when you were speaking of the Princess, your eyes were tender, filled with sympathy and pity. Back then, when you met with the Princess, you had the same look.”

    Admiringly, I looked at Liang Wan and replied, “Formidable, indeed. Lady Liang is a worthy representative of Great Yong’s intelligence network to unexpectedly see through me, a person you have not had much contact with.”

    Liang Wan’s expression was strange. She coldly replied, “Jiang Zhe, you have seized the Princess, committing a grave crime. Someday, if you are willing, I will recommend you to the Imperial Court of Great Yong. At that point, your future career prospects will be boundless. There is no point in harming your future prospects for the sake of a woman.”

    I coldly smiled, replying, “Lady Liang, you are truly too terrifying. It is said that ‘The fangs of a green bamboo snake, / The sting on a wasp’s hind part— / Neither will such venom make / As a ruthless woman’s heart.’4 I only truly believed these verse today. Not bad. I won’t kill you and I won’t harm you. I will only take your memory and your intellect.”

    Xiaoshunzi walked over and forced a pill the size of a longan fruit into Liang Wan’s mouth. Although Liang Wan wanted to resist, Xiaoshunzi’s ice cold hands caused her to lose the courage to struggle. I indifferently looked at her terrified eyes and said, “I did not kill you, nor did I harm a hair on your body. After taking this pill, you will forget everything. Although I cannot guarantee how much you would forget, I can promise you that you will never remember what has happened today.”

    Liang Wan looked at me with dread. She knew that I would not easily let her off, but she would never have thought that I would use such a method. She cried out, “I have lied to you! What I told you isn’t true!”

    I coldly replied, “Lady Liang, if you were really concealing another person’s identity, then would be necessary to use the Crown Prince’s name to fob someone off?”

    Liang Wan only felt that she recalling everything that had happened to her – the joy of her childhood, the bitter training of her youth, the surprise and feeling she felt when she first met the Prince of Yong, the scheming in Southern Chu, and lastly the look of regret in Liu Piaoxiang’s eyes before she died. After that, everything gradually disappeared. At the end, Liang Wan’s face revealed a smile like that of a child, filled with innocence.

    I indifferently said, “You have killed my wife. I have destroyed your entire life. Although this does not balance things out, you have been punished for your crime. Lady Liang, if we are not to meet again, then I hope that you will live a good life. But if you are unlucky and we meet again, I can only take your life to comfort my departed wife’s soul in heaven.”

    I raised my eyes. Aside from Xiaoshunzi, everyone had looks of dread in their eyes. Even though Chen Zhen, Chiji, Daoli, and the other operatives had all seen me use this kind of pill to wipe the memories of the youngsters that I did not meet the standards, I had only used a small dose in those cases. As a result, those youngsters had only lost two to three years of their memory. They had not seen such a case such as this where Liang Wan had her entire memory erased. I smiled faintly, it was good that they had fear in their hearts. I glanced at the Yong spies and indifferently said, “You know my identity. I’m sorry, but I cannot allow you to leave.”

    One spy replied, “You will feed us such a drug?“

    I shook my head and replied, “This kind of drug is worth more than its weight in gold. I will not be willing to randomly use it. I must take your lives. In any case, you have spent years in Southern Chu. For me to kill you does not cross the line.”

    Looks of solemnity and tragedy flickered across the eyes of these spies. One of them replied, “Sire is a ranking official of Southern Chu and possesses animosity because of national and personal reasons. Originally it is nothing for you to kill us. But since sire pities Her Highness, the Princess, we ask that sire not hand over the Princess to Southern Chu and allow us to bring Her Highness to the Prince of Yong. We will die without any resentment.”

    I looked at the man and replied, “Today’s matter must not be revealed to anyone, be it the Heavens or your parents. For you to know these secrets, even if I spare you, the Crown Prince will not spare you. If you are capable of keeping your promises, I can return your weapons to you and allow you to escort Her Highness, the Princess, to the Prince of Yong. When that mission is completed, you must commit suicide to keep this secret.”

    The man’s eyes revealed pleasant surprise, as he asked, “Sire is willing to trust us?”

    In a proper tone, I replied, “I believe that a warrior of Great Yong will follow through on his promises. Breaking the promise will cause me to look down upon the Prince of Yong. You have all seen my methods. You must know that it isn’t difficult for me to assassinate someone. The Prince of Yong will be the price of you breaking faith.”

    Thinking it over, the man replied, “Sire’s methods are grim and ferocious, and your plans are meticulous. If you wished to assassinate the Prince of Yong, you would probably have at least fifty percent chance of being successful. Fine, our worthless lives aren’t insignificant. Completing the mission is of utmost importance. We only ask that sire allow us to report to the Prince of Yong the relationship between the Crown Prince and Liang Wan.”

    I indifferently replied, “That is fine. However, you may not reveal anything about my subordinates, my wife, and I.”

    The man agreed. I smiled faintly and turned to leave. The following matters would be handled by Chen Zhen. Xiaoshunzi followed me out and asked, “Will they fulfill their promise?”

    I nodded my head and replied, “I have never misjudged anyone. They are all firm and unswerving warriors.”

    1. 洁身自好, jieshenzihao – idiom, lit. clean-living and honest; to avoid immorality, to shun evil influence
    2. 出尔反尔, chu’erfan’er – idiom, by Mencius, former definition: to reap the consequences of one’s word; modern: to go back on one’s word, to contradict oneself, inconsistent
    3. 万念俱灰, wannianjuhui – idiom, lit. every hope turns to dust; completely disheartened
    4. This is a line from 封神演义, Fengshen Yanyi, aka Investiture of the Gods.
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 22 – Jianye Falls

    While I was in the secret chambers forcing a confession, Jianye had already prepared its defenses under orders from Shang Weijun. Although the news that the Southern Chu Emperor had fled was deliberately leaked, causing the Imperial Guardsmen to lose their will to fight, Shang Weijun had executed a hundred rumormongering “spies,” doing barely enough to stabilize the morale of the soldiers. Shang Weijun had spent a long time presiding over government affairs. As a result, the Imperial Guardsmen were willing to listen to his orders. However, a mere fifty thousand soldiers were not sufficient to defend the city, creating tremendous difficulties for Shang Weijun. Afterwards, he could only urge all the young men within the city to mount the battlements and prepare for battle. When Great Yong’s advance scouts arrived, Jianye was ready for battle.

    The next day, as the eastern morning sun was exposed through the clouds, as dawn broke, several thousand valiant horsemen in black armor began to approach from afar. At their head was a general in black who guided his horse to the top of a small hill, gazing upon the city of Jianye. All the other horsemen spread out. Shortly, they all seemed to have disappeared, leaving the general and a dozen or so personal guards. After a short period of time, one could hear the faint sounds of bugles calling spreading all over. The black armored general accepted the bugle from one of his personal guards and put it to his lips, blowing loudly. The sound was impassioned and mournful. The soldiers on the city battlements all felt their moods become abnormally strained, crying out with fear. Although the defending commanders repeatedly berated their subordinates, one could still hear frightened shouts sound frequently.

    The distant Yong horsemen seemed to stand as still as a dense and awe-inspiring forest of tall trees, making no sounds. After a while, one could hear the sounds of the earth trembling could be heard from a distant place. This sound was the rumbling of several tens of thousands of horseshoes trampling the earth. The vibrations were extremely painful to the ear. It wasn’t long before everyone saw from the horizon charge forth thousands upon thousands1 of black armored horsemen. In the beginning, it seemed as if the cavalry were formed into scattered groups of three to five horsemen. As they approached, one could see that the scattered groupings form into orderly military columns, the process was natural and unforced.2 The cavalry came to a sudden stop a thousand paces away from Jianye’s city walls.

    From within the formation, a horseman clad in golden armor and wearing a black cloak slowly spurred his horse out. Following behind him was a personal guard brandishing a large banner. On the banner stitched in blood red were the words, “Grand General of Heavenly Strategies Li.” At the same moment that the banner was unfurled, the sound of bugles began to sound like a great flood from everywhere. The soaring killing aura and the imposing prestige of the Yong army could not but frighten the Jianye defenders.

    A literate Imperial Guard squinted his eyes as he gazed upon the banner. Sighing, he said, “Grand General of Heavenly Strategies Li … the Prince of Yong has come. I’ve heard that he was the most formidable Yong prince. Can we really defend Jianye?”

    Standing next to him was a newly conscripted soldier. Apprehensive, he asked, “Wasn’t it said that it was the Prince of Yong commanding the Yong army? Who is this Grand General of Heavenly Strategies Li?”

    The Imperial Guard rolled his eyes at the greenhorn, “What do you know? The Grand General of Heavenly Strategies is the Prince of Yong’s official position; the Prince of Yong is his title. It is that the banner the Prince of Yong’s always displays is that of a Grand General. Some say it’s because the Prince of Yong feels that his Grand General official position was the product of his own sweat and labor. As a result, he attaches great importance to this position. Other than this banner, he has a golden dragon banner that he only uses when encamped or when he has won a victory.”

    Envious, the new soldier replied, “Big brother surely knows a lot.”

    Please with himself, the Imperial Guard replied, “That’s only natural. I, your father, saw the Prince of Yong’s army when we were invading Shu back in the day. At that time, they were allied troops.”

    Bang was the sound of a whip lashing against flesh. The Imperial Guard screamed with pain and collapsed to the ground. When everyone turned their head, they saw an officer of the supervisory group staring at them with a tiger eyeing his prey.3 In a stern voice, the officer said, “You dare to disturb the army’s morale? If we were not confronting the enemy right now,4 this official will first take your worthless life.”

    The Imperial Guard hurriedly climbed to his feet, replying, “This little one does not dare, this little one does not dare.” Watching the officer walk away, the Imperial Guard spat a mouthful of bloody phlegm on the ground, fiercely cursing the officer under his breath before turning his attention back to the scene below the city walls.

    Shang Weijun stood on the battlements, gazing down upon the brave and strong army that was before the city. He calculated in his heart. Although the enemy was strong, they only numbered twenty thousand. If they could sally forth and capture the Prince of Yong, then the current perilous situation would be alleviated. Thinking of this, he turned to the Vice Commander of the Imperial Guards and asked, “The enemy only has twenty thousand troops. Can we sally forth to battle?”

    “We don’t have any cavalry,” replied the Vice Commander, “It is best that we remain inside defending the city.”

    Shang Weijun’s brow furrowed. Just then, the enemy soldiers outside the city began to holler, trying to incite battle. Shang Weijun quickly issued the order to prevent any soldier from foolishly leaving the city and had the logs and rocks prepared to defend the city. They all waited for the enemy to attack.

    Looking at Jianye from a distance, Li Zhi smiled faintly and said, “I knew that they wouldn’t dare to come out from behind the city walls.”

    Beside him, Sima Xiong, the commander of his personal guards, asked, “Your Highness, we only brought cavalry. How are we going to attack the city?”

    Li Zhi smiled and replied, “Be at ease. I have no intention of using cavalry to attack the city. Although Jianye’s defenses are formidable, unfortunately the morale of its defenders are lax and disorganized. I have already prepared agents inside the city. Today, we only need to stay here and take a look. That’s right, have the troops we dispatched reaped any benefits?

    “They have,” replied Sima Xiong with a smile, “Your Highness has said that the sovereign of Southern Chu may try to flee before we arrive, and thus dispatched General Chen to block their escape. Our scouts have reported that Zhao Jia has indeed fled. If we are able to bring their captured monarch before the city walls, I wonder if they will obediently surrender?”

    “Whether we will be able to capture their sovereign will be based on luck,” replied Li Zhi, “We cannot rely upon it. It’s best we think of something to take the city. Were it not for Shang Weijun being completely hopeless with military affairs, our agents would have been unable to prepare plants inside to help us. Each and every Southern Chu general and soldier valiant and skilled in war have found it difficult to standing with solid footing in Jianye. This is a ridiculous fact for the ages. In comparison, all of our Great Yong’s Imperial Guards were selected from the best of the best.”

    “Although the Imperial Guards are an elite force,” replied Sima Xiong in disagreement, “They pale in comparison to Your Highness’s personal guards. Although this is because the Crown Prince deliberately excludes our men from joining the Imperial Guards, who doesn’t know that only one warrior in a thousand is able to join Your Highness’s personal guards.”

    Li Zhi smiled faintly, not refuting Sima Xiong’s words. His personal guard consisted of three thousand elite cavalry. All of them were a unit of huben5 filled with soldiers willing to die. This time, the twenty thousand troops he had brought were being regarded as the basis for the expansion of his personal guard. Their elite training far surpassed that of the Yong Imperial Guards, not to mention the regular Yong army.

    This day, Li Zhi only ordered his army to strut around6 before the city. Shang Weijun did not dare to sally forth from the city to give battle, causing the morale within the Southern Chu army to become increasingly depressed. As dusk arrived, Li Zhi gave the order for his army to retreat ten li away from the city to encamp and rest. Seeing Li Zhi withdraw, Shang Weijun could finally relax. He returned to his official residence. He tried to figure out if he was too cowardly by sending away Consort Shang and the Crown Prince to hide, and considered bringing them back tomorrow. He absentmindedly ate some food and went to sleep with his clothes on in his study. But his sleep was restless, woken repeatedly woken by nightmares.

    Shang Weijun suddenly awoke from his nightmares, his forehead covered with sweat. Afterwards, he heard the distant sounds of shouts and cursing. He sat up. Just then the door to the study had been pushed open and a servant rushed in. Seeing that the Prime Minister was awake, the servant called out in an appalled voice, “Daren! Something has happened! The Imperial Guard has revolted!”

    Shang Weijun jumped to his feet and opened the window. He could clearly hear the screams outside. Some were screaming “the enemy has entered the city” and some were screaming “the sovereign has already fled, why are we sacrificing ourselves for him?” The majority of the screams weren’t discernable, but some were cursing, while others were instigating the masses. Shang Weijun’s heart was as cold as ice. Suddenly, he saw flames erupt all over the city, the blazes soaring to the Heavens. Shang Weijun looked at the fires stupidly, not knowing what to say.

    In the middle of all this, the Yong army had launched a sneak attack on Jianye’s western gate. The gate had been opened and the elite Yong cavalry charged into the city, filled the entire city7 with horsemen in black clothes and armor. Illuminated by the flames, their arrival was as terrible and frightening as demonic monsters. On every street one could hear the tumultuous hubbub8 of soldiers. In the beginning, Southern Chu soldiers had rushed to the western gate in the hopes of driving the Yong army out of the city, but in the face of the cruel slaughter perpetrated by the Yong army, the Southern Chu soldiers quickly broke and the streets were filled with the scattered remnants9 fleeing for their lives. The chaos was so much that some of the Southern Chu soldiers even began to break into residences to slaughter and massacre. Within the fire, Jianye shuddered and groaned.

    After daybreak, the Yong army had gained full control of the city and began to reestablish order in the city. All of the surrendered Southern Chu soldiers were expelled from and forced into camps outside of the city where they were imprisoned. All of the soldiers who had taken advantage of the chaos were executed, their heads hung publicly. All of the common people of the city were ordered to remain in their homes. The fires had been brought under control and extinguished by the Yong army.

    In control of the gates and the key points of the city, the Yong army began to interrogate the residents of the city. Each and every member of the Southern Chu imperial clan and every single individual holding a position rated at sanpin10 were all arrested and imprisoned in the imperial dungeons. Everyone else were ordered to remain in their homes. The entire city was deathly silent. Anyone who dared to leave their homes without permission were punished. Any Southern Chu soldier who dared resist were executed. Shang Weijun had originally intended to take advantage of the chaos to flee, but ended up being captured by the Yong army, and at this moment, imprisoned in the imperial dungeons.

    When noon approached, Li Zhi entered the city. Looking at the bloodstained streets, Li Zhi smiled faintly and said, “If it weren’t for the incompetence of Southern Chu’s sovereign and officials, it would not have been so easy for us to capture Jianye.”

    Cautiously surveying their surroundings, Sima Xiong replied, “Your Highness, this subject has already received a report, there are only court ladies and eunuchs left in the Palace. All of the ladies sent from Great Yong are there, but all of the children they produced have been taken away. Consort Shang and the Crown Prince were not in the Palace. After investigation, it is likely that they were sent away by Shang Weijun.”

    Thinking it over, Li Zhi replied, “As for the Yong ladies, send someone to ask them if they are willing to return back to their home country and have them prepare to leave. If we capture Zhao Jia, have them continue to attend to him. If he is not captured, then allow them to return to their homes. Shang Weijun is the father of Consort Shang, and is of extreme importance. He must not be allowed to commit suicide. Take good care of him and bring him along when we go back. As for the other officials, don’t worry about them. Release them when we leave.”

    As the two were slowly making their way through the city, a horseman rushed forward. When he was close to the two, he reported, “General Chen’s scouts have reported in. They have captured Zhao Jia.”

    “They’ve captured him?” asked Li Zhi, pleasantly surprised, “Where is he?”

    “General Chen personally led a unit to pursue,” replied the horseman, “Following the report from our agents, we were able to capture all of them. General Chen reports that the three thousand Imperial Guards escorting Zhao Jia have all been separately annihilated. All of the royal clansmen have been captured. Zhao Jia was easily captured. They are being escorted to Jianye and should arrive tomorrow.”

    “Order General Huang to lead a unit to reinforce General Chen,” commanded Li Zhi, “Zhao Jia must be brought safely to Jianye.” After giving the order, Li Zhi smiled faintly and continued, “Finally accomplished the mission. If we were unable to capture Zhao Jia, then this trip would have been in vain. Sima Xiong, do you remember the task I entrusted to you? I am a bit ill at ease. You will immediately go personally and ensure that location’s safety.”

    Sima Xiong replied in the affirmative. Having his second in command ensure the Prince of Yong’s safety, he hurriedly galloped forth, filled with suspicions. Before they had even entered the city, the Prince of Yong had ordered him to dispatch soldiers to a location on the northern suburbs of the city, placing that location under strict guard. Sima Xiong knew indistinctly that the location was the residence of a Southern Chu official, but he did not understand why the Prince would value this person over everything else.

    Arriving at the northern suburbs, Sima Xiong espied a small manor from a distance. It was surrounded outside by over a hundred horsemen, impenetrable.11 As he approached, Sima Xiong saw that the plaque on the entrance read, “Concealed Cloud Manor.” Although Sima Xiong was only a coarse, unsophisticated soldier, he could tell that the calligraphy of the words was delicate and elegant. As he guided his horse forward, Colonel Duan, the officer in command of the horsemen, hurriedly came forward to welcome him, saluting with his sword.

    “How is the situation?” asked Sima Xiong.

    “General, after we surrounded the manor,” replied Colonel Duan, “A young boy came out to ask our purpose. I answered that we were following the orders of the Prince of Yong. The boy returned inside. After that, there was no more activity.”

    Sima Xiong shook his head, filled with misgivings. He did not know the reason for the Prince of Yong’s orders, even to go so far as to have him personally deliver a message. He dismounted from his horse and stepped forward, knocking on the door. Not long afterwards, the door opened and a delicate manservant about fifteen to sixteen-years-old opened the door. With a calm demeanor, he asked, “Does the army sire have any instructions?”

    “This general is Sima Xiong,” replied Sima Xiong, “I am here on the orders of the Prince of Yong to come seek a meeting with Jiang Zhe, Sir Jiang.”

    The manservant smiled faintly and replied, “Please come in, general.”

    Sima Xiong followed the manservant inside. As he walked, he felt his entire state of mind become free of worry. Although this manor wasn’t large, it possessed several pavilions and kiosks separated by either small flowing streams or shoots of bamboo, giving off a fresh and clean, yet elegant sense. The manservant’s footsteps were light and quick, leading Sima Xiong down a limestone pathway. It didn’t take long before they arrived at a small pavilion hidden within a bamboo forest. Standing before the entrance to the pavilion was a delicate looking young man who carried a gloomy and cold aura. Carrying a smile on his face, the young man greeted Sima Xiong, “General has come from afar … my house’s young master should have come personally to welcome you. However, the young master is a scholar of Southern Chu, making it inconvenient for him to lower his status by coming forth to welcome you. Would the general please forgive this disrespect?”

    When Sima Xiong heard this man’s voice, he first felt a chill before shivering. His hand fell and grasped the grip of his sword. This man before him was delicate and refined looking, but his voice was so feminine and sharp. Having accompanied the Prince of Yong for years, Sima Xiong knew that there was only one kind of person who had these characteristics. Filled with suspicion, he asked, “Who are you? Why are you here?”

    A cold light flashed across the young man’s eyes, as he replied, “This servant is Li Shun. I was originally in service within the Southern Chu Palace. Because I was on friendly terms with Jiang daren and I cared not for palace intrigue, I found a way to disengage myself and leave. I am currently attending by the young master’s side. Unexpectedly, the general has become suspicious.”

    Half believing the man’s words, Sima Xiong replied, “Please bring me to meet Jiang daren.”

    Li Shun turned and opened the door to the pavilion, allowing Sima Xiong to enter. Sima Xiong glanced at Li Shun before entering the pavilion. Inside, Sima Xiong immediately caught sight of a refined and elegant looking young man seated behind a desk, looking at him indifferently. On the desk before him, was an open book, several manuscripts, and an ink-stained brush placed on the brush holder. It looked like before Sima Xiong had arrived, the man was writing.

    When Sima Xiong saw this young man, he suddenly remembered that he had met him before. Three years ago in Sichuan, he had met this young man in the Yong encampments. At the time, this young man had accompanied Southern Chu’s Prince of De. This man had even spent some time in deep conversation with the Prince of Yong. Afterwards, during the banquet, this young man had used the Dance of the Cavalry verse to force the King of Shu to commit suicide. Unfortunately, he only remembered that the person was an aide to the Prince of De and did not know that this man was the Jiang daren that he had come to meet.

    Sima Xiong reflexively used a military salute to greet this young man. This person was someone that Sima Xiong greatly respected, even though he did not understand why the King of Shu would commit suicide after hearing that verse. In a respectful and deferential voice, he said, “This general is Sima Xiong, serving as the commander of the Prince of Yong’s personal guard. Under the Prince’s decree, I am here to give one’s respects to sir. His Highness has said that he is busy with military matters today, but will come this evening, hoping that sir will meet him.”

    I indifferently replied, “I am no more than a commoner. My current situation is tantamount to house arrest. What qualifications do I have to refuse a meeting with the Prince of Yong? However, I do not know what crimes I have committed. I am a mere sipin reader-in-waiting. I have heard that only sanpin and above officials are imprisoned. So why am I, a lowly sipin rated official, also be imprisoned?”

    “Jiang daren is taking things too seriously,” replied Sima Xiong awkwardly, “His Highness only seeks to look after sir in every possible way.12 His Highness feared that sir would be bothered by the chaos and so dispatched soldiers for sir’s protection. Sir, please do not take offense. If there is anything dissatisfactory, I hope that sir will consider His Highness’s face and not blame us coarse individuals.”

    I smiled faintly and replied, “Since general has come, Xiaoshunzi, pour him a cup of tea. Would the general please sit here for a while?”

    “Sir, there is no need to be overly courteous,” replied Sima Xiong hurriedly, “This general does not dare disturb sir. If it is convenient, it is sufficient to prepare a side room so that this one can take care of some military matters.”

    I glanced at him and replied, “Daoli, lead this general to the guest room to rest.”

    Daoli answered in the affirmative as he stepped forth from behind me. Bowing in greeting to Sima Xiong, he said, “General, please follow me.”

    Sima Xiong glanced at the servant that he was practically unaware of a moment ago before bidding his farewell and departing.

    I smiled faintly and talking to myself, said, “No wonder His Highness, the Prince of Yong, is famous around the world, even a mere commander of his personal guard understands etiquette, knowing when to advance or retreat.”

    In a low voice, Xiaoshunzi said, “Who knew that the Prince of Yong would pay so much attention to you. Do you think we should leave immediately?”

    I shook my head and replied, “The world is Great Yong’s sooner rather than later. If I were to go in this manner, it will be inevitable that I will become an imperial criminal. It is better to wait until he explains everything.”

    Li Zhi arrived at the Southern Chu Palace, ordering his subordinates to completely seal the separate palace hall, only selecting a side palace hall to work in. While handling military matters, he waited for news of Princess Changle. Fortunately, it didn’t take long before a personal guard reported in, “Your Highness, Her Highness, the Princess, has already safely returned, and is waiting outside.”

    Li Zhi exulted. He strode towards the entrance, crying out, “Changle, Changle! You’ve come?” Following the sounds of his yells, a young woman in unadorned garb rushed inside. Li Zhi wrapped his younger sister in a bear hug. With a smile, he said, “Younger Imperial Sister, you have finally returned to second older brother’s side. From now on, you no longer need to be afraid of anything. That’s right, where are the men who escorted you? Where is Liang Wan?”

    A frightened look flashed across Princess Changle’s eyes, as she replied, “Older Imperial Brother, older sister Liang has become insane. Everyone else is outside.”

    His brow furrowing, Li Zhi replied, “Have them enter.”

    Following his order, a dozen or so men entered. All of them were dressed in commoner’s garb and had haggard looks. The two men at the end were dragging along a crying Liang Wan. When they saw the Prince of Yong, looks of gratitude flashed across their eyes, kneeling on the floor and paying their respects. Li Zhi had them rise and asked, “What has happened? What’s wrong with Liang Wan?”

    The leader replied, “Your Highness, Liang Wan has pledged allegiance to His Highness, the Crown Prince. In addition, this was the decision made by the Sect Master of the Fengyi Sect.”

    Li Zhi’s expression grew cold. He had already guessed that this had happened, but he could have even dreamed that the Fengyi Sect would be so unbridled and arrogant. He asked, “How did you learn this? Furthermore, what has happened to Liang Wan?”

    The leader thought it over. If he were to speak, it was likely that he would say something that should not be revealed. If that terrible person were to truly become His Highness’s enemy, then the already surrounded and isolated13 Prince’s predicament would become even more dangerous. He hurriedly paid his respects and replied, “Your Highness, this subordinate has never dared to forget Your Highness’s patronage while in Jiangnan. Today’s matter, this lowly one has no choice. Please take care of this lowly one’s family.”

    So saying, he pulled out his sword and cut his own throat. Just as he drew his sword, the personal guard in the palace hall all suspected that the man was an assassin. Just as they were moving forward to prevent the assassination, they were left dumbfounded that the man had committed suicide. Li Zhi was extremely shocked and just as he turned to question the others, he saw them say in unison, “Would Your Highness please take care of our families. Your Highness, please take care.” So saying, they raised their swords and cut their throats. For a moment, the entire hall saw a sea of blood spurt forth. Frightened, Princess Changle cried out before covering her face, not daring to look.

    Li Zhi was deeply puzzled, staring blankly at the strange scene before him, not knowing what to say. When he asked Princess Changle, she only knew that they had been captured. Not a hair on her body had been harmed. Not long afterwards, these spies and she had been released. Liang Wan had become insane. When Princess Changle asked the spies what had happened, they remained silent and said nothing. Hearing Princess Changle’s words, Li Zhi became even more confused. What the hell happened?

    1. 成千上万, chengqianshangwan – idiom, lit. by the thousands and tens of thousands; untold numbers, innumerable, thousands upon thousands
    2. 行云流水, xingyunliushui – idiom, lit. moving clouds and flower water; fig. very natural and flowing style of calligraphy, writing, etc.; natural and unforced
    3. 虎视眈眈, hushidandan – idiom, lit. to glare like a tiger watching his prey; to eye covetously, wrathfully
    4. 大敌当前, dadidangqian – idiom, lit. facing a powerful enemy; fig. confronting grave difficulties
    5. 虎贲, huben – was a unit of Imperial Guards that originated during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty. This specific unit was trained were elite cavalrymen tasked with the protection of the Emperor while he was traveling outside of the capital
    6. 耀武扬威, yaowuyangwei – idiom, lit. to show off one’s strength; to strut around, to bluff, to bluster
    7. 大街小巷, dajiexiaoxiang – idiom, lit. great streets and small alleys; everywhere in the city
    8. 人喊马嘶, renhanmasi – diom, lit. people shouting and horses neighing; fig. tumultuous, hubbub
    9. 残兵败将, canbingbaijiang – idiom, lit. ruined army, defeated general; scattered remnants
    10. 三品, sanpin – third ranked
    11. 水泄不通, shuixiebutong – idiom, lit. not one drop can trickle through; fig. impenetrable (crowd, traffic)
    12. 关爱备至, guai’aibeizi – idiom, lit. the utmost care; to look after somebody in every possible way
    13. 四面楚歌, simian Chuge – idiom, lit. on all sides, the songs of Chu; fig. surrounded by enemies, isolated and without help; this idiom is referencing the fate of the Hegemonic King of Western Chu, Xiang Yu, during his final battle against the founder of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang. In the Battle of Gaixia, the Chu army was surrounded and heard the enemy sing songs of their homeland. The Chu army believed that their homeland had already fallen and lost the will to fight.
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 23 – Becoming a Captive

    In the tenth month of first year of Zhihua, Li Zhi launched a surprise attack against Jianye. Helped by spies, Jianye fell on the first night. All of the officials were captured. That day, Princess Changle returned to the Palace, all of the guards escorting her were dead. That night, Li Zhi traveled incognito and visited the Concealed Cloud Manor, promising Jiang Zhe high rank and generous salary. Jiang Zhe refused. The next day, the captured King of Southern Chu was brought back. Li Zhi issued the order to plunder Jianye. After several days, with numerous Southern Chu reinforcements sent to rescue the King approaching, Li Zhi retreated. Within the retreating army was a significant number of the members of the royal clan and many of Southern Chu’s civil and military officials, including Jiang Zhe. At this time, Jiang Zhe had already retired …

    - Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
    Having settled Princess Changle down, Li Zhi traveled incognito to the Concealed Cloud Manor, his mind filled with questions. Because of the army’s hurried march, Li Zhi had not brought a single one of his advisers. As a result, the pain that he felt having no one he could discuss matters with caused Li Zhi to want to meet the person that he considered to be his Zifang.1 When he arrived at the Concealed Cloud Manor, Li Zhi’s mood calmed. He had carefully thought about how he was going to acquire Jiang Zhe as his subordinate, trying to figure out a way to resolve this while he rode. But no matter how much he pondered, there was no way that was dependably certain. Jiang Zhe, this person, was someone rarely seen without anything that could be taken advantage of. Ultimately, Li Zhi made the decision. Whatever the means, he must bring Jiang Zhe with him. Otherwise, he would have come to Jianye in vain.

    After calming down, Li Zhi entered the Concealed Cloud Manor. According to his instructions, the Yong army had not done anything to disturb the manor’s master, but they had already controlled the entire manor. Guided by Sima Xiong, Li Zhi walked towards the rear courtyard’s Coiling Fragrance Garden, where Jiang Zhe would loiter every day. Li Zhi could see that the entire courtyard was filled with hidden Yong soldiers. Somewhat concerned, Li Zhi glanced at Sima Xiong and asked, “Was sir Jiang dissatisfied with this arrangement?”

    In a low voice, Sima Xiong replied, “Sir Jiang seems to have turned a blind eye towards us. There are very few people inside the manor. Outside of one Li Shun, there are only four young servants. Their names are very strange, they’re called Chiji, Daoli, Hualiu, and Lü’er. These servants are all extremely obedient and have not caused any problems. However, this general feels that Li Shun is very strange. He is a eunuch.”

    Li Zhi stopped his footsteps for a moment, replying, “Chiji and the others are the names of eight horses of King Mu of Zhou. It seems like sir Jiang is indeed a brilliant literary talent. As for that Li Shun, this Prince has heard whisperings of this person. From our spies within the Southern Chu army, there was a eunuch under the Army Supervisor who was on close terms with Jiang Zhe. I originally thought that this was a mere personal friendship, but now it looks like this man’s relationship with Jiang Zhe is not ordinary. But no matter, it’s only a single eunuch. There is no need to make things difficult for him, so as we don’t offend the sir.”

    In a low voice, Sima Xiong continued, “That Li Shun, this general feels as if he is not ordinary. Every single time I’ve met him, I feel fear in my heart.”

    Li Zhi glanced at him and indifferently replied, “Oh … if that’s the case, then keep an eye on him.” As they were speaking, they arrived at the Coiling Fragrance Garden. At the entrance, Chiji and Daoli sat at the cloister before the door, conversing in low voices. Seeing Li Zhi and others arrive, they rose from their seats and stood respectfully.

    With a smile, Li Zhi asked, “Is sir Jiang inside?”

    “The young master was feeling under the weather today,” replied Chiji respectfully, “He went to bed after eating dinner.”

    Hearing these words, Sima Xiong became angry. In a low voice, he said, “Your Highness, this general has already informed him that Your Highness will come to meet him. This person is too discourteous!”

    Li Zhi gestured with his hand for Sima Xiong to stop speaking. Smiling faintly, he said, “So sir Jiang has already gone to bed. Has sir’s body always been so poor?”

    Respectfully, Chiji replied, “Ever since young master returned from Sichuan, he has been confined to bed. A few days ago, his condition improved, but with the death of the Prince of De and the young master’s dismissal because of his memorial, young master’s old illness has recurred. If Your Highness has any instructions, this lowly one will invite Steward Li over. I wait Your Highness’s instructions.”

    Sima Xiong’s hand wrapped around the grip of his sword, staring at Chiji in rage. In comparison, Chiji was respectful and proper, a smile on his face, without any sign of fear.

    After thinking it over, Li Zhi replied, “That works. This Prince will meet with Steward Li.”

    Having spoken, Li Zhi walked to a nearby pavilion and sat down. Looking at the courtyard filled with green bamboo, Li Zhi was contented. Daoli and Chiji delivered tea and snacks, attentively attending to Li Zhi. It wasn’t long before Xiaoshunzi arrived. Respectfully performed the proper courtesies when greeting an imperial prince, he said, “This servant, Li Shun, respectfully greets Your Highness. The master of this household was discourteous due to his ailment and cannot personally come to attend to Your Highness. I pray that Your Highness will forgive this discourtesy.”

    Li Zhi raised his head and considered the eunuch before him. Li Shun’s appearance was definitely not ordinary. Back home, Li Zhi had met many eunuchs, but regardless of their status, regardless of whether they were arrogant or docile, they all had a singular shared trait – they all had the look of inferior individuals in their eyes. In comparison, this Li Shun’s eyes were cool and indifferent. Although his actions were humble, Li Zhi could sense a certain pride in this eunuch, a pride that came from being to dictate life or death. Li Zhi could remember clearly. He had seen this kind of look before. That was the first time he had met the Master of the Fengyi Sect. That year, he had accompanied his Imperial Father on his campaigns. Once, while they were marching, the Master of the Fengyi Sect had come like the wind to converse with Li Yuan. The resulting discussion was congenial. Not long afterwards, Great Yong received the support of the righteous sects of wulin, while Imperial Father gained a Noble Consort Ji by his side. Li Zhi would always remember the eyes of the Master of the Fengyi Sect. They were a pair of eyes filled with tender mercy and compassion for all living things. But Li Zhi would always remember when he was leading an army to attack Yang Laosheng, the King of Xia, after the Master of the Fengyi Sect had provided assistance in helping kill Yang Laosheng’s generals, the Master had revealed a monstrous and conceited aura. It was at that moment that Li Zhi developed the intentions to be vigilant against the Fengyi Sect. Seeing Li Shun’s temperament, Li Zhi suddenly understood that this individual before him was a peak martial arts expert. Moreover, this individual had the potential of becoming a worthy opponent for the Master of the Fengyi Sect.

    Thinking of this, Li Zhi spoke in a gentle voice, “This Prince has heard some stories regarding Steward Li. If this Prince is not mistaken, Steward Li participated in the Sichuan campaign?”

    Li Shun shot Li Zhi a look of surprise before replying, “Your Highness unexpectedly knows about some of the matters relating to this lowly servant. This servant and the young master have been friends for years, and am indebted to the young master for his frequent care and consideration. As Jianye has fallen into chaos, this servant decided that I might as well abandon that fake glory and splendor, and idly serve at the young master’s side. If Your Highness wishes to find fault in this servant as someone from the Palace, then this servant naturally dares not resist.”

    Li Zhi gestured with his hand and with a smile, replied, “Although the two countries are at war, it should not affect unfortunate people such as yourself. Let alone the fact that you are now in service to Sir Jiang. Someday in the future, this Prince may require Steward Li to sing my praises to Sir Jiang. Is Sir Jiang extremely angry?”

    A sliver of favorable impression flickered across Li Shun’s eyes, as he replied, “Although the young master was forced to retire, he has after all served Southern Chu for years. Now, seeing the country in peril, if the young master was joyful, it would not fly no matter where he goes. In addition, the reason behind Your Highness’s campaign is unclear. My young master remains perplexed despite much thought.2 If Your Highness is willing to tell this lowly one and allow this lowly one to pass the message, it may cause the young master to smile.”

    Li Zhi’s heart was moved. Was it possible that Jiang Zhe did not completely reject him? With honesty, he replied, “In the eyes of Sir Jiang, this campaign against Jianye would be viewed as acting willfully and making trouble. In reality, this campaign was caused by internal strife within Great Yong.3 On a daily basis, Li Zhi feels like he’s walking on thin ice.4 If I am unable to receive the assistance of Sir Jiang, I fear that I will not live long. Would Steward Li pass along Li Zhi’s intentions. Sir Jiang must be invited to come back to Great Yong with this one, regardless of method. If Sir Jiang continues to refuse to show any concern, then I fear that I will be unfortunate and cannot listen respectfully to his teachings.”

    Li Zhi bowed respectfully and replied, “Your Highness greatly values the young master. This servant respectfully bows in thanks on behalf of the young master. May I ask Your Highness, my young master only loves the beauty of mountains and rivers, and has no interest in saving the world or its people. Not to mention, he has no wish to achieve or accomplish any goals. For what reason does Your Highness wish my young master to shed his blood, sweat, and tears? Even if he does serve, he would likely be eliminated once he has served his purpose.”5, 6

    Li Zhi rose to his feet and sincerely replied, “I cannot guarantee that the ruler and his ministers will be mutually safe, but Li Zhi am definitely not someone who envies the virtuous and talented, and am not someone like the King of Yue who only knows how to share trials and tribulations, without sharing riches and honors.7 This Prince knows that Sir Jiang is disinterested in riches and honor, glory and splendor, as well as the opportunity to make contributions and accomplish goals. But if the world falls into chaos, Sir Jiang will not be able to live the rest of his days in peace. Right now, Great Yong is facing imminent internal strife, while Southern Chu is leaderless and will likely soon fall into chaos. Although Northern Han is stable, they emphasize martial prowess and denigrate culture and education. If Sir Jiang’s name is spoken to the people of Sichuan, the vast majority would be filled with thoughts of vengeance rather than thoughts of admiration. It is not that this Prince is using threatening words, if my Great Yong is unable to unify the world, then the world will fall into chaos, with no place left in peace. If Sir Jiang is willing to lend this Prince a helping hand, this Prince can guarantee that Sir can live in peace in Great Yong. Zhi is willing to share glory and splendor with Sir.”

    Thinking it over, Li Shun replied, “Your Highness’s words are filled with sincerity. This servant will pass on all of your words to the young master.” Having spoken, Li Shun bowed deeply before withdrawing. Li Zhi continued to sit in the pavilion, his heart filled with expectation and hope. From Li Shun’s words, Li Zhi could feel that Jiang Zhe wasn’t completely refusing. It was only that he was filled with apprehension.

    After some time had passed, Li Shun returned. Bowing, he said, “Young master has asked this servant to communicate with Your Highness. The matter of service concerns the young master’s lifelong reputation, and cannot randomly make the decision. Your Highness is busy with military affairs. Young master invites Your Highness quickly return to the encampments. Young master said that as Your Highness should not mistreat the capture Shang Weijun, Lord Prime Minister Shang. Lord Prime Minister Shang is the father of Noble Consort Shang. Now that the Crown Prince and Consort Shang has fled, if Your Highness wishes for the difficulty of the later campaign to conquer Southern Chu to be reduced, then it is better to not hunt them down. The sovereign has already fled. If Your Highness has already captured him, then that is for the best.”

    Speaking to this point, Li Shun glanced at the Prince of Yong. Li Zhi replied, “Zhao Jia will be brought to Jianye tomorrow.”

    Li Shun continued, “The sovereign is incompetent and is easily persuaded by slander. Now that he has captured and the country will find it difficult to continue to exist, everyone will disparage him. There is no point for him to remain in Southern Chu. But if he is brought back to Great Yong, he will not live enough for him to have the chance to return. When that comes, the people of Southern Chu will hate Great Yong. In the past, King Huai of Chu died as a prisoner of the state of Qin,8 enraging the people of Chu. Later there was the saying, ‘although Chu only has three clans, it will be Chu to destroys Qin.’9 Years later, the Qin Dynasty was indeed destroyed by the people of Chu.”

    Hesitating, Li Zhi replied, “But if I cannot bring back the captured Zhao Jia and all of officialdom from this campaign against Jianye, how am I to report back to Imperial Father?”

    Li Shun indifferently replied, “Young master understands the difficulty that Your Highness faces. As such, he also said that the Southern Chu can be brought back to Great Yong as a last resort. But he cannot be harmed rashly. Your Highness must immediately withdraw your army and call for a cessation of hostilities, negotiating with Southern Chu. Have the new monarch cede territory to show his sincerity, while also giving him the opportunity to redeem the captured sovereign and officials. One, this will greatly reduce Southern Chu’s strength. Two, this will prevent the formation of an indissoluble and deep enmity with Southern Chu.”

    Li Zhi considered these words for some time before replying, “Please thank Sir Jiang for his good advice. Regardless of whether Sir is willing to serve Li Zhi, Li Zhi cannot thank Sir enough.”

    Watching Li Zhi’s back as he departed, Li Shun revealed a faint smile. I had purposely had him receive the Prince of Yong, having him use his insight to judge whether Li Zhi was deserving of my service. His answer was, Li Zhi was worthy.

    Listening to Xiaoshunzi’s detailed report, I laid down the book in my hand and faintly said, “It looks like Li Zhi believes that I will fall into his hands.”10

    Xiaoshunzi replied, “Young master, what is your view?”

    I indifferently replied, “His Highness, the Prince of Yong, had one phrase that was extremely tempting. If the world is in chaos, where will I be able to find a place to live in peace?”

    “What’s more, there is still Crown Prince Li An,” replied Xiaoshunzi, “If that person is really Li An, then young master’s vengeance will have to borrow the Prince of Yong’s strength.”

    I sighed and replied, “That’s right. Killing Li An may not be difficult. What’s difficult is how to handle the aftermath. However, I don’t want to follow Li Zhi so easily. Back then, I once thought about sparing no effort in serving the Prince of De, but the existence of Rong Yuan caused me to give up that idea. Li Zhi is indeed an enlightened monarch, but I wish to see if he is supported by virtuous subjects. How about this … I will not agree to serve him, allowing this matter to temporarily drag out. I believe that we will be taken to Great Yong as captives.”

    Xiaoshunzi’s face was filled with bitterness, as he replied, “Wouldn’t this be too humiliating? Young master is willing to go so far as to be a captive. Unwilling to become the guest of honor, and yet willing to become a prisoner.”

    I smiled faintly and replied, “I’m afraid that if I become a guest of honor now, in the future, I won’t even have the chance to become a prisoner.”

    This next day, Zhao Jia was brought back to Jianye by the Yong army. Meeting the Prince of Yong, Zhao Jia repeatedly and bitterly begged, “We have never had the intention of rebelling against Great Yong. We hope that Your Highness can consider the face of the Queen and give Us a way out of this predicament.”

    Li Zhi replied with mild words, only saying that Imperial Father longed to see his daughter and daughter-in-law, wishing to reunite with them in Great Yong. Zhao Jia begged bitterly, but ultimately, he could only shed tears and agree. He then asked to see the Queen, Princess Changle, but was prevented from doing so by Li Zhi with the excuse that Changle had received a shock and was inconvenient to meet her.

    A few days, after Jianye had been completely plundered, Li Zhi left Jianye, bringing along with the Southern Chu King, royal clansmen, members of the royal harem, and many officials. On that day, the Southern Chu sovereign and ministers cried bitterly, losing their voices. The common people seeing them off, looked at one another and also shed bitter tears, but could only hold back the tears and swallow one’s cries in the face of the elite Yong horsemen. Sitting on his horse, Li Zhi looked upon the ice-cold reception on either side of the road and could only bitterly smile, saying, “It looks like Southern Chu has not yet lost popular sentiment.”

    Sima Xiong, who was following Li Zhi, replied, “That’s true. But they don’t have the courage to resist. Otherwise, we only have twenty thousand soldiers. Even if every person only slashed at us once, we would be finished.”

    Li Zhi faintly replied, “The people of Southern Chu are feminine and soft, but we cannot underestimate their strength. If we were to coerce them too fiercely, I fear that they will risk their lives to make things difficult for us. They are adept at schemes. At that time, we will be surrounded by thistles and thorns everywhere.”

    Hearing the words, ‘people of Southern Chu are feminine and soft,’ Sima Xiong could not help but snort coldly and replied, “The southerners really have reserved minds. Your Highness has treated that zhuangyuan, Jiang Zhe, as one would treat the wise and sagacious. But he still refuses to surrender. Now that Your Highness is bringing him back as a captive, see if he is still so pretentious.”

    Li Zhi could not help but bitterly smile again and again. He didn’t expect it either. After that day, he had gone to see Jiang Zhe several times. Jiang Zhe refused to discuss matters deeply with him, either citing his illness or hurriedly withdrawing at the first encounter. Li Zhi had repeatedly inquired after Jiang Zhe’s intentions from Li Shun. Li Shun replied evasively, only faintly revealing that Jiang Zhe was unwilling to go to Great Yong to become an official. Ultimately, Li Zhi had no alternative but to forcibly include Jiang Zhe on the list of captives, bringing him back to Great Yong. He had personally gone to see Jiang Zhe to report this deed. Jiang Zhe only smiled indifferently, as if he was not resentful. When they departed, Jiang Zhe only brought along Li Shun. He had presented silver money to everyone else and had them disband. Without a care for the world, he had come to the prisoner encampment. He was acquainted with many of the other officials. Although the relationships were not deep, the relationships were congenial. He was calm and composed, helping improve the mood of many deeply worried officials. Li Zhi was worried that he would thoroughly offend Jiang Zhe, finding it difficult to eat and sleep. But with the Southern Chu reinforcements advancing upon Jianye and the Yong army finding it difficult to resist, Li Zhi could only give the order to leave Jianye.

    Princess Changle also accompanied the Yong army north. Although she had received a fright, as soon as she remembered that she was returning to Great Yong, her frame of mind became more cheerful and carefree. But as they were preparing to leave Jianye, Li Zhi could sense that Princess Changle wanted to say something but was hesitating to do so. Her expression was somewhat filled with fear. Li Zhi inquired a few times but the Princess only gave perfunctory responses. But Li Zhi could see that Princess Changle did not seem to care about the safety of Zhao Jia, and was not excessively concerned. In any case, when they returned, Noble Consort Gongsun was there to figure out what was going on. As for the insane Liang Wan, she was like an infant. If she wasn’t crying and causing a ruckus, she was frolicking about. Li Zhi did not have any martial artists from the Fengyi Sect in his army and could have his subordinates keep a strict eye on Liang Wan, while dispatching some court ladies to take care of her.

    Thinking about everything that he had faced, Li Zhi really found that there were many agonized difficulties that he could not speak of. This campaign against Jianye, Li Zhi wondered if he made the wrong move. At the very least, the benefits before him could, in time, become an antidote-less poison that he personally takes.

    Amidst the gathered crowd watching the Yong army withdraw, Chen Zhen and Han Wuji coldly watched the elite Yong horsemen. In a low voice, Han Wuji said, “In reality, it isn’t difficult to rescue young master. But young master is stubbornly refused.”

    Chen Zhen faintly replied, “You don’t understand. Young master and the Prince of Yong have been in constant communication. Although the majority was because of Southern Chu, I can see that the young master views the Prince of Yong highly. This time, the Prince of Yong is here to quench his thirst for talents. From what Chiji has said, this campaign was clearly launched for the sake of acquiring the young master. How can the young master not be grateful for this high regard? It’s only that the young master remembers the Prince of De and still has some sentiment towards Southern Chu, and was thus willing to become prisoner.”

    Han Wuji coldly replied, “In reality, the young master’s heart is too soft. At the time, the young master spared no effort in serving Southern Chu. If it weren’t for the young master, our Kingdom of Shu would not have so easily fallen. That Prince of De did not wholeheartedly trust or rely upon the young master, and yet the young master is stubbornly unable to let it go. That day, he personally traveled to Xiangyang to save the Prince of De. Alas, the King of Southern Chu is so mediocre and incompetent, forcing the Prince of De to his death and causing the young master to grieve and fall into despair.”

    Chen Zhen heaved a sigh and replied, “That’s right. After returning from Xiangyang, the young master’s old ailments relapsed. It was only because of Lord Li’s consoling that the young master no longer grieved.”

    In a pained voice, Han Wuji replied, “The young master with Southern Chu and us with the Kingdom of Shu, have all experienced the same kind of grief. Although you ordinarily boast about your cold detachment and ruthlessness, I don’t believe that you don’t have any longing for the Kingdom of Shu.”

    Chen Zhen was silent for some time before replying, “The Shu King treated me harshly and mercilessly, and yet, thinking back, I still reminisce a bit about it. Southern Chu’s treatment of the young master can be considered as excellent. It is no wonder that the young master cannot bear to abandon it.”

    1. 子房, Zifang – was the style name for Zhang Liang, strategist to the Supreme Ancestor of Han, Liu Bang
    2. 百思不得其解, baisibudeqijie – idiom, lit. to remain puzzled after pondering over something a hundred times; to remain perplexed despite much thought
    3. 祸起萧墙, huoqixiaoqiang – idiom, troubles start inside the house; there is internal strife afoot
    4. 如履薄冰, rulübobing – idiom, lit. as if walking on thin ice; fig. to be extremely cautious; to be skating on thin ice
    5. 鸟尽弓藏, niaojingongcang – idiom, lit. the birds are over, the bow is put away; fig. to get rid of somebody after they’ve served their purpose
    6. 兔死狗烹, tusigoupeng – idiom, lit. to boil the hound once it caught the rabbit; fig. to get rid of somebody after they’ve served their purpose
    7. This refers to King Goujian of Yue (越王勾踐). Goujian was enslaved by King Fuchai of Wu. During these years, the state of Yue was run by ministers such as 文种, Wen Zhong and advisers such as 范蠡, Fan Li. Goujian was eventually released back to Yue and attacked the state of Wu, destroying it. After the victory, Goujian killed or exiled all of his former supporters.
    8. 楚怀王, King Huai of Chu was a King of the state of Chu during the Warring States Period. In 299 BC, while attending negotiations with the state of Qin, King Huai was captured and held hostage. While he later managed to escape, he was recaptured, ultimately dying three years later while in captivity
    9. 楚雖三戶, 亡秦必楚, chusuisanhu, wangqinbichu – a Chinese expression denoting the hostility that the state of Chu had for the state of Qin. The state of Chu was one of the most difficult opponents of the state of Qin (later Qin Dynasty). After Chu fell to the Qin armies in 223 BC, its people were implacably hostile towards the Qin governance. After the death of Qin Shi Huang, Chu rose in revolt on several occasions. The Hegemonic King of Western Chu, Xiang Yu, and the founding Emperor of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang, both hailed from Chu.
    10. 势在必得, shizaibide – idiom, lit. to be determined to win; is confident that he will win and acquire the item/person
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • edited November 2016

    Chapter 24 – Distant Journey of a Thousand Li

    After several days of rapid march, the Prince of Yong rendezvoused with the other Yong armies. The Prince of Yong’s army of tens of thousands of troops gradually and methodically retreated back into Great Yong. The other Yong forces tasked with blocking the Southern Chu armies forced them to watch from afar as we withdrew. As a result, the subsequent march was unhurried and comfortable. As a prisoner, I received special treatment and was not required to live with the other captives. The Prince of Yong had given the order to allow Xiaoshunzi and I to live alone in a tent. Although it was only an army tent, it was nevertheless comfortable with the floor covered with embroidered fabric and the walls wrapped in thick animal pelts. As a result, the autumn winds were unable to penetrate inside. At one corner of the tent was a bed large enough for two to sleep in. On the other side was a square pinewood table with two seats. On the table was placed a purple granule tea set. In the middle of the tent was an elaborate and yet practical copper stove. Right now, there was a pot of water placed upon it, causing the entire tent to be comfortably warm.

    Hearing the water come to boil, Xiaoshunzi helped me make a pot of hot tea with practiced ease. I stretched my body and began to sit up. The incidents over the last few years had left me with many uncured ailments. Although I persisted in practicing the deep breathing exercises to maintain good health, but my illness would still recur from time to time. I had once thought about properly seeking medical treatment. But psychological diseases were difficult to treat, especially as doctors found it difficult to treat themselves. As a result, I was sickly the last several years. Although I would frequently use the excuse to recuperate, but my body was truly unwell. Xiaoshunzi helped me sit up, complaining, “Young master is always unwilling to convalesce. This trip to Great Yong is exhausting. I fear that young master’s illness will recur.”

    I sighed and replied, “Is there any other way? You know how I fell ill. The majority of it is psychological. In reality, I am already much better. It is only that this journey has reminded me of the campaign to invade Sichuan years ago. Unfortunately, the Prince of De has already passed away.1 Now that I am already personally in Great Yong army encampments, recalling past events, I cannot help but wring my hands. Alas …”

    At this moment, a clear and bright laugh could be heard from outside the tent before a voice said, “I have heard that Sir Jiang is unwell. This Prince has come to especially visit.” Following the laugh, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, entered. He was wearing the garb of an imperial prince. Following behind him were two advisers. The three men entered the tent. With difficulty, I rose from the bed. Li Zhi had already walked over and pushed me back to bed, saying, “Sir does not need to get out of bed. I have heard that Sir has fallen ill. Zhi has been busy with military affairs and only now was able to take the time to pay a visit. This is really ill-mannered.” So saying, he sat down beside the bed, looking at me with concern.

    Seeing the two scholars had already sat down, I politely greeted them, “Suiyun’s old ailment has recurred and cannot leave the bed. Sirs, please forgive me. I have long heard that the Prince of Yong’s side is full of talents.2 I am unaware of how to address you two, sirs.”

    The older scholar, possessing a delicate appearance, was over fifty-years-old rose from his seat and replied, “Guan Xiu of Beihai3 greets Sir Jiang. Sir’s literary talent is acclaimed throughout the world. I have had the opportunity to read Sir’s verses and are deserving of their great reputation, and cannot bear to roll them up.”

    The other was a white garbed scholar who had slender eyebrows and long eyes, and possessed a distinguished and accomplished bearing. He smiled and said, “That day, Sir used the verse Dance of the Cavalry to force the King of Shu to commit suicide. To this day, this one still recites it in my heart. I4 am Dong Zhi.”

    I faintly replied, “I have long heard of the advisers in the service of the Prince of Yong. Guan Xiu of Beihai is adept at the organization of army provisions and military equipment. Dong Zhi of Luoyang is adept at troop movement and disposition. There is also a Gou Lian of Yingchuan5 who is a skilled envoy. These three individuals are known as the three distinguished heroes. Today, you two indeed justify your reputation.6 It is a pity that I am meeting only two of the three distinguished heroes. Suiyun can only sigh at my limited and shallow fortune.”

    Dong Zhi smiled and replied, “Brother Gou is not in the army presently, so he is not here today. He also highly esteems Sir. That day, Sir followed the deceased Prince of De and came to the Yong army encampments. Coincidentally, the three of us were not with the army. Afterwards, we hurriedly parted ways and did not have the opportunity to sit side by side and have a comprehensive conversation. Since Sir has also come under the banner of His Highness. Presumably, we will have the opportunity, going forward, to raise our wine cups and chat.”

    I looked at Li Zhi, smiling faintly. I did not refute Dong Zhi’s words, so as to avoid his face from becoming unsightly. I only indifferently said, “Although Suiyun is constantly ill, but my consciousness is still energetic. If brother has any questions or inquiries, feel free to ask Suiyun. Suiyun will answer as best as I can.”

    After speaking for a short period of time, they saw that my vitality was worn out and after bidding farewell, departed. Li Zhi repeatedly exhorted me to rest well, stating that he had already prepared a carriage to carry me on the journey. He further exhorted Xiaoshunzi to take care of and told him to seek out Guan Xiu if there was anything needed.

    Waiting until they left, I laid down on bed. With a smile, I said, “Contrary to what one might expect, the Prince of Yong’s advisers were quite sincere. But in my eyes, I fear that Gou Lian is narrow-minded. Otherwise, why didn’t the Prince of Yong bring him along?”

    Xiaoshunzi smiled and replied, “Young master is intelligent this time. That Gou Lian is also within the encampments, but his temperament isn’t good. Thus, the Prince of Yong did not invite him along so as not to immediately offend young master.”

    The Prince of Yong and his two advisers exited the tent. With a sigh, Li Zhi said, “I was originally under the impression that he was faking an illness. Unexpectedly, he is actually bedridden. Alas, his health is poor and I have forced him on a long journey. No wonder, he always treats this Prince so indifferently.”

    “Your Highness need not be worried,” replied Dong Zhi soothingly, “I saw that although this person is bedridden, his drive is excellent. Presumably, he has not become resentful because Your Highness brought him along. Although I cannot clearly see through this man’s intentions, when I mentioned that he was serving Your Highness, he did not directly refute it. It can be clearly seen that this man isn’t someone who will not surrender.”

    Li Zhi smiled bitterly and replied, “Jiang Zhe, this person, is adaptable and flexible. 7 Even if I were to forcibly confer upon him a position, he may not necessarily refuse. But to want him to serve loyally, that is a difficult matter. At the time, the Prince of De regarded quite highly, but perhaps there was some degree of reluctance. As a result, he refused to accompany and serve in the army. Even though the Prince of De was the Royal Uncle of Southern Chu, he was so offhandedly. I am worried that he would also treat me in a perfunctory manner.”

    “Your Highness be at ease,” replied Guan Xiu, “Although this person’s heart is as cold as ice, he nevertheless is still filled with hot blood. Otherwise, he would not have submitted that memorial. As long as Your Highness treats him with sincerity, you will certainly acquire devotion and loyalty. I have heard that he distanced himself from the Prince of De was mostly because of the Prince’s retainer, Rong Yuan. I am worried about Gou Lian’s temperament. This person seldom submits to others, always seeking provocation. I’m afraid that Gou Lian will offend Jiang Suiyun.”

    “Brother Guan is overthinking matters,” replied Dong Zhi, “I actually believe that if Gou Lian had come, I’m afraid that there will be unexpected results. Although Jiang Zhe, this person, has a cultured and refined exterior, he has an innermost being is that of someone arrogant and obstinate.8 This temperament is quite similar to brother Gou. I believe there won’t be any harmful consequences.”

    Just as the three discussing this in length, the person they worried about arrived at the entrance to my tent. Gou Lian was extremely proud and arrogant. When he had learned that Li Zhi had especially brought Jiang Zhe back by force, and showed concern and care for him. Gou Lian was quite upset. This time, Li Zhi had brought Guan Xiu and Dong Zhi to check on my illness and yet did not bring Gou Lian along. Gou Lian was even more uncomfortable. For someone of his intelligence and wisdom, how could he not know that Li Zhi and the two other advisers were worried that he would offend Jiang Zhe. This made him feel even more not resigned to. Therefore, Gou Lian took advantage of Li Zhi and company departing not long before, to arrive before my tent. I was still a “captive” of the Yong army. Although Li Zhi had commanded that I be left alone, Gou Lian had a high status within the army. As such, the soldiers watching over me did not block him, allowing him to enter my tent.

    With one look at the young man with an aquiline nose, I had guessed at his identity. Watching his complete lack of manners as he regarded him for half a day, I waved my hand to stop stem Xiaoshunzi’s rage. I smiled and asked, “Excuse me, may I ask if it is the Tongue as Sharp as a Sword, Gou Lian, Gou Yongquan?”9

    For a moment, Gou Lian was at a loss for words, before replying, “It is hard to imagine that Jiang Suiyun who with one song took the life of the King of Shu would recognize me, this nobody. I am truly extremely honored. I wonder if the lord zhuangyuan who once mocked the King of Shu with the lines, ‘Suddenly I became a captive slave, / Frail my waist, gray my temples, grinding away,’ knew that such a day would come? I see that brother has a wan and sallow appearance and has a disorganized and ill body. This should be considered as ‘frail my waist, gray my temples, grinding away,’ no?”

    I faintly replied, “I have long heard that brother Yongquan was formerly the retainer of Xuzhou General Zhang Chen. Zhang Chen established a new regime and commanded his troops to set up an independent regime. At the time, brother Yongquan received favor and honor while in his service. Later, His Highness, the Prince of Yong, led a punitive expedition against Zhang Chen. Under orders, sire was dispatched as an envoy to the Yong camps. Who knew that you would be subdued by His Highness’s awe-inspiring majesty. When you returned, you convinced General Zhang to surrender. Afterwards, sire served as an envoy on the Prince of Yong’s behalf without ever failing. I wonder if this is because of your original failed diplomatic mission on General Zhang’s behalf and consider being convinced by another to surrender as a humiliation, and from that day forward, sire studied assiduously and tirelessly, later gaining many accomplishments?”

    Gou Lian’s face became red. Although the matter of him convincing Zhang Chen to surrender was an anecdote often told with praise, the reality was that he had gone to convince the Prince of Yong to withdraw his troops and ended up becoming the Prince of Yong’s mouthpiece to convince Zhang Chen to surrender. This was unavoidably an incident where he had failed his mission. He could not believe that someone would draw blood with one prick.10 Blushing with shame, he replied, “The Prince of Yong has the appearance of a dragon and phoenix. He has a high and refined magnanimity. How can he be swayed by mere words? For this lowly one to fail in my mission isn’t something strange. Moreover, this one helped rescue General Zhang saved from difficult circumstances. This meritorious service is able to make up for that earlier mistake. As for your distinguished self, since you know that Great Yong is the legitimate regime, why do you serve an illegitimate regime?”

    I smiled and replied, “Brother Yongquan’s words are incorrect. I stated that General Zhang was illegitimate, because at the time, the Central Plains would be united in no time. Popular sentiment had already submitted to Great Yong. General Zhang relied upon military might, showing no understanding of the times, and was therefore disparaged. As for my Southern Chu … although it is a small country, its history is longer than that of Great Yong. Suiyun was once the zhuangyuan of Southern Chu, a jinshi who tested in the first tier. I have served for many years in the Hanlin Academy, receiving great favor from the King. How can I abandon my monarch and change my loyalty to Great Yong? Suiyun am aware of honor and shame. My former master is still alive, how can I curry favor to serve a new master?”

    Gou Lian rolled his eyes, replying, “Since your distinguished self is determined to serve Southern Chu. The King of Southern Chu is currently in our encampments. Zhao Jia has bent his knee and is serving my Great Yong. Why is your distinguished self so pigheaded? Let alone the fact that I have heard the saying that a virtuous subject chooses his master. Zhao Jia is incompetent and muddleheaded, forcing the death of a virtuous prince. In comparison, my master, His Highness, the Prince of Yong, is modest and open-minded,11 and respects the wise. His actions are clear and decisive. He is known throughout the world for his benevolence and righteousness, and sagacity. Why is your distinguished self such a stickler for tradition12 and unwilling to surrender and pay allegiance to? To act to such extent will be laughed at by the entire world.”

    I laughed coldly and replied, “Although a virtuous subject chooses his master, I have never heard of virtuous subjects who serve new masters when their old masters remain alive? In the olden days, Yu Rang loyally served Zhi Bo only after the Zhonghang family was destroyed. The Zhonghang family treated Yu Rang as a mere ordinary follower, and yet Yu Rang did not abandon them.13 What’s more, Suiyun served not just Zhao Jia, but the entire Southern Chu royal family. The former King appointed me to the Hanlin Academy. The Prince of De used me as an aide. This kindness is before my eyes. How can I serve a new master upon seeing high position and great wealth?”

    Gou Lian uprightly replied, “Although your distinguished self’s words are precious, but your distinguished self has been dismissed long ago. Why do you remain so foolishly loyal?

    I replied indifferently, “In the olden days, Bi Gan cut open his heart, but his aspirations did not change. Qu Yuan was dismissed from office, and yet when he heard the misfortune of King Huai of Chu, he threw himself into the river.14 Suiyun is not a sentimental person and dare not imitate the behavior of our worthy predecessors. Moreover, to covet glory and splendor is one thing, but to surrender and serve a new liege to acquire riches and honor, I dare not do so.”

    Hearing this, Gou Lian could only kneel and bow, replying, “Sir’s character is lofty and unsullied, this one admires greatly. However, His Highness has the disposition of a ruler. If sir misses this opportunity, then it would be a great pity. But sir is bedridden, Yongquan dares not forcibly compel. We are still a thousand li away from the Yong capital. May Yongquan stop by from time to time and respectfully listen to your teachings.”

    I smiled and replied, “Brother Yongquan is famed throughout the world. It is Suiyun who should be asking for guidance. The journey has been lonesome, if your distinguished self has time, there is no harm in coming to hold conversations deep into the night. Although Suiyun has extensive knowledge, I am not familiar with the four arts. I have heard that your distinguished self is famed for your skills in these four arts, I hope that sire would offer guidance.”

    After learning that Gou Lian had visited me, he was originally extremely concerned, immediately sending someone over to mediate the situation. Who knew that when the person arrived, he found Gou Lian and I conversing congenially. Hearing of this, Li Zhi’s face beamed with joy.15 From then on, he would frequently have his retainers keep me company. I did not refuse their company. After spending many days in close contact and deep conversation with the Prince of Yong’s retainers, I gained a great respect for the three. Guan Xiu was extremely proficient in handling tax documents, money, and food supplies, while Dong Zhi was a master of the art of war and formations. Once we started conversing, our conversation went like an unceasing torrent. As for Gou Lian, he was versatile and able, and our conversations were the most congenial. It was only that he had a competitive personality and always liked to argue over complicated issues with me. My mood was pretty good and combined with Xiaoshunzi’s attentive care, I gradually began to recover while on the journey.

    I had favorable impressions of all three and they treated me with great respect.

    Guan Xiu was adept with performing the duties of a quartermaster, handling money and supplies for the army. He was the Prince of Yong’s Registrar. But when he discussed matter with Jiang Zhe, he found that no matter how difficult the subject, this young man understood the problem thoroughly. When the young man occasionally spoke, his words would directly hit home. Afterwards, Jiang Zhe unintentionally revealed that he had once handled documents while in the service of the Prince of De. Only then did Guan Xiu understand how this Hanlin Academician would comprehend such tedious matters. He had originally believed that Jiang Zhe was only a simple aide in the military administration of the Prince of De.

    Dong Zhi was adept with the art of war. When he debated issues with Jiang Zhe, he found that this young man was familiar with all kinds of formations, dating back into antiquity. Even parts he was not familiar with, Jiang Zhe was able to explain them in clear and logical detail. When questioned about how he knew all this, the young man smiled and replied that he had read many books on warfare while serving the Marquis of Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Lu Xin, and had collected books on warfare and battle tactics. Dong Zhi originally believed that Jiang Zhe was only capable of theoretical discussions that were useless in practice. But when he practiced battlefield tactics and strategies against Jiang Zhe, Dong Zhi found that his opponent’s strategies were bold and imaginative,16 unable to find any discernable logic. Every single time, Jiang Zhe’s troops would suddenly appear in the most unimaginable locations. But when he later analyzed these movements, Dong Zhi realized that they were sensible and reasonable, extremely clever and wonderful. After being convinced, Dong Zhi could not help but be competitive. He began to discuss the military equipment used in war. Who could imagine that Jiang Zhe was even knowledgeable about these matters. Although Jiang Zhe did not say much, the times he did speak were enough to force Dong Zhi to reflect on the matter for a long time, quickly deciding to study and improve military equipment.

    Gou Lian admired Jiang Zhe the most. He originally was conceited by his erudition, but unexpectedly Jiang Zhe had participated in the establishment of the Palace of Sublime Culture while in Southern Chu, and had read a countless number of books. Every single time they debated literary works, Jiang Zhe would quote from many sources, leaving Gou Lian flabbergasted. As for debate techniques, although Jiang Zhe did not use them frequently, whenever Gou Lian became complacent and proud, Jiang Zhe would only need to say one sentence and cause Gou Lian to be completely convinced.

    What caused the most admiration was not Jiang Zhe’s talent, but the way that he conducted himself, indifferent to fame or gain, behaving completely natural. Their discussions with him were like the spring wind bringing forth cleansing rain. They saw Jiang Zhe’s brilliance, and also saw that he was not overbearing. Only when night deepened, did they feel something different, as cold sweat dripped down their backs. Afterwards, the three’s competitive spirit was enflamed. In the face of this spirit, Jiang Zhe would frequently nimbly retreat, leaving the three’s fiery zeal transformed into a spring wind, only later discovering that Jiang Zhe had no intention to take up the challenge.

    The journey of a thousand li, although long, would eventually come to an end. As the army was nearing the Great Yong capital, the three advisers requested an audience with Li Zhi, requesting that the Prince of Yong must absolutely acquire Jiang Zhe as a subordinate. Gou Lian was especially intense in his words, saying, “If Your Highness is unable to acquire this man as a subordinate, it will be an extreme pity. This man’s talent is superior to ours by several-fold. If we were to become his enemy, I fear that even our corpses won’t have any place to be buried.”

    With a bitter look on his face, Li Zhi replied, “Sirs, how does this Prince not know this man’s importance? But every single time this Prince tries to persuade him, he would remain silent and not respond, leaving this Prince without any means.”

    “There is no need for Your Highness to be so worried,” replied Guan Xiu, “This person highly respects Your Highness and has no ill intent towards us. Under ordinary circumstances, he should not continue to refuse. This trip back to the capital, we should place this man under house arrest at the official residence of the Prince of Yong, and slowly convince him. There has to be a way. In addition, Shi Ziyou is magnanimous and high-minded, and should be capable of talking him around.”

    Li Zhi sighed and replied, “We can only do this … If Shi Ziyou cannot persuade him, then this Prince, this Prince … alas, this Prince bear to lose …”

    Guan Xiu and the other two looked at one another, all of them understood that Li Zhi’s killing intent had been stirred.
    Rain drips and dribbles outside these curtains, spring withers away.
    The thin silk quilts could not stand the frigid dawn.
    What once dream I dreamt of being a minor guest, I clench to those pleasures in vain.

    I must not lean alone by the railings, I do not mourn these lands.
    A land I left so lightly yet so hard to return again.
    As blossoms shatter on the rippling waters, spring is spent; heaven on earth remains.17
    With my outer wear draped over my shoulders, I stood before the window within a posthouse. Tomorrow, I would arrive at the Great Yong capital. I recited this “Waves Scouring the Sands,” my heart filled with boundless loneliness. The more that I thought back to the mesmerizing landscapes of Southern Chu, the more my heart would bring memories of the past. Xiaoshunzi walked to my side and spoke in a low voice, “Young master, over these past several days, you have subdued the advisers serving Li Zhi, and yet you continue to refuse to respectfully and favorably treat Li Zhi. If Li Zhi’s killing intent is stirred, what will you do?”

    “Xiaoshunzi, you don’t understand. Before, I was willing to accept the circumstances and adapt. It did not matter who I served. Even before the Prince of De, my service was desultory. But the Prince of Yong’s heart is like a mirror. If I were to serve him, if I cannot serve him with sincerity,17 then the Prince of Yong will not be satisfied, and will not help eliminate the dangers he faces. For me to exhaust all my abilities for him, I must test his bearing and magnanimity. I am deliberately pressuring him to kill me. If he were to ultimately let me go, then I have found a wise liege lord and master to serve. If he ultimately tries to kill me, then he is no more than a hegemon.18 Rather than worry that he would kill ministers who had performed meritorious service, it is better to test whether he is broadminded and open now. If he ultimately releases me, then I believe that when the time comes, I will be able to receive a respectable end. If he were to try to kill me, then I can take the opportunity to fake my death and escape.”

    A look of anxiety appeared on Xiaoshunzi’s face, as he replied, “Young master … His Highness, the Prince of Yong, has enormous power and influence. If he wished to kill you, how will you be able to escape? Although my martial arts are pretty good, I dare not guarantee that I will be able to rescue young master.”

    I smiled faintly and replied, “I believe that in the Prince of Yong’s mind, he will not kill a scholar famed throughout the world. He will not come at me overtly. Using poison is the best method. I have already prepared a precious poisonous pill. When the time comes, I will take the pill. My body will become rigid like a corpse. To bring away a living person is difficult. To steal a corpse should be quite easy. When I have escaped, I will hide in the Yong capital and wait for the opportunity to avenge the death of my beloved wife. After that, Xiaoshunzi, you and I would be able to travel the world, living incognito. Wouldn’t this be wonderful? People constantly say that it is better to travel ten thousand li than to read ten thousand books. I am greatly looking forward to this.”

    Relieved, Xiaoshunzi replied, “If that is the case, then I would rather the Prince of Yong tries to kill young master, so that young master is not tied down and forced to shed your blood, sweat, and tears for him.”

    I smiled faintly. Not just anyone was qualified to have me shed my blood, sweat, and tears. To speak the truth, I’m afraid that no one would be able to pass my test. Wise lieges had unspoken thoughts that if a person could not be used, then that person must die. Alas, the Prince of Yong was someone that I greatly respected, I thought regretfully.

    1. 驾鹤西归, jiahexigui – idiom, lit. to fly on a crane to the Western Paradise; fig. to pass away
    2. 人才济济, rencaijiji – idiom, a galaxy of talent; a great number of competent people
    3. 北海, Beihai – an ancient prefecture that is now modern-day Changle County, Weifang, Shandong Province
    4. 晚生, wansheng – lit. this youngster, I (self-deprecatory, in front of elders)
    5. 颍川, Yingchuan – modern-day Xuchang, Henan Province
    6. 名不虚传, mingbuxuchuan – idiom, lit. name is not in vain; a fully justified reputation; enjoys a well-deserved reputation
    7. 随遇而安, suiyu’er’an – idiom, lit. at home wherever one is; ready to adapt, flexible, to accept circumstances with good will
    8. 桀骜不逊, jie’aobuxun – idiom, arrogant and obstinate; unyielding
    9. 永泉, Yongquan – Gou Lian’s style, lit. Perpetual Spring (small stream)
    10. 一针见血, yizhenjianxie – idiom, lit. to draw blood on the first prick; fig. to hit the nail on the head
    11. 虚怀若谷, xuhuairuogu – idiom, lit. receptive as an echoing canyon; modest and open-minded
    12. 抱残守缺, baocanshouque – idiom, lit. to cherish the outmoded and preserve the outworn; conservative, stickler for tradition
    13. 豫让, Yu Rang was a famous assassin of the Spring and Autumn Period. He was originally in service to the Zhonghang family, but Zhonghang Yin did not treat him well. After the Zhonghang family was destroyed, Yu Rang served Zhi Bo. Zhi Bo greatly appreciated Yu Rang. Zhi Bo and his family was later destroyed. Zhao Xiangzi especially hated Zhi Bo and used his skull as a drinking cup. Yu Rang swore revenge and attempted to assassinate Zhao Xiangzi, but failed. Admiring his loyalty, Zhao Xiangzi gave Yu Rang his robe. Yu Rang stabbed the robe three times before committing suicide.
    14. 屈原, Qu Yuan was a minister of the state of Chu. He was slandered and dismissed from office by the King Huai of Chu. Learning that King Huai of Chu had been captured and that the Chu capital of Ying had fallen, Qu Yuan wrote a lengthy poem entitled “Lament for Ying” before wading into the Miluo River holding a rock to commit ritual suicide.
    15. 喜形于色, xixingyuse – idiom, face light up with delight; to beam with joy
    16. 天马行空, tianmaxingkong – idiom, lit. like a heavenly steed, soaring across the skies; bold and imaginative, unconstrained in style
    17. This is a poem written by the last ruler of the Southern Tang state, Li Yu, to the ci, “Waves Scouring the Sands” (浪淘沙). This poem was written by Li Yu while he was prisoner of the Song Dynasty in Bianliang (modern-day Kaifeng) and laments his former life as the ruler of Southern Tang.
    18. This is a negative reference comparing Li Zhi to the Hegemonic King of Western Chu, Xiang Yu, who lost to the founder of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang. Xiang Yu was known for his unwillingness to listen to advice and pettiness.
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • Thanks for the translation. I'm loving it.

  • edited December 2016
    Thanks for your support! Don't forget that you can hover over the footnotes to read them!

    Chapter 25 – Arrival at the Yong Capital

    The second day of the eleventh month of the twenty-third year of Great Yong’s Wuwei era (the first year of Southern Chu’s Zhihua era), the Prince of Yong returned to court victorious. The King of Southern Chu, Princes, Royal Harem, and Royal Clansmen in front, and Southern Chu officials behind, were presented as prisoners at the Imperial Ancestral Shrine …

    - Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of Taizong1
    I did not see the grand and majestic welcome that the Prince of Yong received from all of officialdom, as my current status was that of a guest. Unpleasantly, I was a captive, but I did not have the mind to be presented as a prisoner at the Imperial Ancestral Shrine nor did I have the honor. As such, I was accompanied by Gou Lian and entered the city in a carriage before the army arrived. After passing through the Gate of Illustrious Virtue,2 I opened the window of the carriage and saw a grand avenue that was forty zhang3 wide. On each side of the avenue was a row of locust trees. But because it was winter, there was no greenery. On either side of the avenue was small gutters that were as wide as small brooks. Where these gutters intersected with other gutters, they were covered by small stone bridges. Although it was the dead of winter, one could feel the heat emanating from the gutters. Water did not stop flowing. In comparison, the snow and ice accumulated on the trees clearly displayed the severity of winter.

    In a low voice, I recited, “A country formed by a thousand li of mountains and rivers, the Imperial city’s walls have nine layers. / Not seeing robustness of the Emperor’s residence, how can one know the Son of Heaven’s honor and prestige?”4

    Gou Lian smiled and replied, “Since antiquity, the land within the passes has been the territory of monarches. Chang’an collects historical relics and lies in strategic location. To the south, there are the many peaks of the central section of the Qinling Mountains. To the north, the roads wind endlessly through mountains, echoing the remote Qinling Mountains. The Jing, Wei, and six other rivers encircle Chang’an. The eight hundred li long plains of Guanzhong possesses the resources of a monarch. Great Yong rules Chang’an as its capital, possessing the atmosphere of a sovereign. Great Yong will unify the world; its might cannot be stopped. Southern Chu established its capital at Jianye. Jianye does not possess sufficient imperial aura. Establishing the capital in such a location is frequently the sign of a country’s decline within one generation.”

    I merely smiled and did not reply. I was clear about the feebleness of Southern Chu. I was also clear about Great Yong’s power. But this was not the reason why I must surrender and pledge allegiance to Great Yong. A flash of bewilderment flashed across Gou Lian’s eyes. Never before, did he have such a headache. Regardless of how he tried to persuade and reason, this young man before him would either simply agree or smile without saying anything. However, from beginning to end, he could nothing to convince this young man to serve the Prince of Yong. Gou Lian wondered if he was too anxious. But if he wasn’t able to convince this young man, if the Prince of Yong found the situation intolerable and decided to execute this man, wouldn’t it be a great pity? Gou Lian had suggested earlier that Jiang Zhe be placed under house arrest and slowly attempt to convince him. Alas, the Prince of Yong only bitterly smiled and did not say a word. It seemed as if time was of the essence. Why was this the case?

    I pointed outside the window and pointed the passing sights to Xiaoshunzi, “Look, this is the Vermilion Bird Avenue. This avenue is the longest road in Chang’an, going from north to south. The Vermilion Bird Avenue ends at the northern limits of the city. Great Yong’s Imperial Clan reside in the Palace City and the Imperial City. The official government offices of the Six Ministries rest within the Palace City. Our current location is the Outer City. Chang’an’s Outer City borders the Palace City and the Imperial City to the east, west, and south.5 The Outer City has eleven avenues traveling south to north and fourteen avenues traveling east to west. The avenues crisscross the Outer City and divides the interior into one hundred and ten residential wards. Among these, the three north-south and three east-west avenues pass through the city gates, serving as the city’s main transportation arteries. As for the current Vermilion Bird Avenue that we are traveling on, this avenue is the most important roadway in and the central axis of the city. The Vermilion Bird Avenue terminates at the Vermilion Bird Gate.6 From there, one can travel through to the Palace City.”

    “Hearing Sir Jiang’s words speak in such a way,” replied Gou Lian with a smile, “It almost seems like your distinguished self was the host.”

    I replied indifferently, “If we were to discuss Jianye’s situation, I fear that brother Yongquan would know more than this one.” Gou Lian could only smile bitterly again.

    I looked at crowd bustling with activity outside the window of the carriage. This city’s prosperity was even superior to that of Jianye. However, in comparison, Jianye was filled with scholars and ladies indulging in luxury and opulence. Here in Chang’an, the city was filled with impassioned scholars, and imposing and heroic warriors. One could detect the air of prosperity everywhere. I smiled. I was really fond of this city. Although I was fond of Jiangnan and it was my homeland, it would not use this as a reason to dislike Chang’an. Southern Chu was now something in my memories.

    The carriage quickly arrived at the Vermilion Bird Gate, Gou Lian lifted open the screen and revealed the command medallion of the Prince of Yong. Upon catching sight of the medallion, the Imperial Guard guarding the gate respectfully stepped down. Just as Gou Lian was about to give the order for the carriage to continue, a clear and bright laugh could be heard from in front of the carriage, before a voice could be heard to say, “Sir Gou, is there an honored guest of the Older Imperial Brother within the carriage?”

    Gou Lian raised his head and looked out, seeing that there was a luxurious carriage in front. The carriage was embroidered with golden dragon brocade. Behind the raised screen of the carriage, one could see a young and handsome youth accompanied and attended by two dainty concubines. This youth was waving towards him. Greatly astonished, Gou Lian replied, “Your Highness, the Prince of Qi, why are you not attending celebratory feast and instead leaving the city?”

    Li Xian under the support of his concubines descended from his carriage, replying, “The celebratory feast hasn’t even started. It must wait for Imperial Father to offer sacrifices at the Imperial Ancestral Shrine. This Prince has called in sick long ago. I have heard that second brother brought back an honored guest. I believe that he must this Prince’s old friend. No matter what, I must come welcome him. Is it Jiang daren? This Prince is Li Xian.”

    I had no alternative. Although I clearly knew that he was here to disrupt things, his urgency was beyond my expectations. I stuck my head out and replied, “So it is Your Highness, the Prince of Qi. Have you come to mock this prisoner?”

    Li Xian walked closer and in a clear voice, replied, “What rubbish … Jiang daren is an exceptional gifted scholar. Let alone Older Imperial Brother, even my Imperial Father would not allow sir be bound and imprisoned. Although the memorial submitted by Older Imperial Brother contained daren’s name, but when Imperial Father saw the list, he not only crossed out daren’s name, but also ordered Older Imperial Brother to take good care of daren without any slights or neglects. After a few days, Imperial Father even wishes to call daren for an audience. I have managed to ask Imperial Father for a decree. If daren is willing, my official residence of the Prince of Qi waits respectfully upon daren’s arrival.”

    Gou Lian’s brow furrowed. No wonder the Prince of Yong had difficulties. So he knew that someone would come to fight over Jiang Zhe. Hurriedly, Gou Lian replied, “Your Highness, His Highness, the Prince of Yong, has long ago commanded me to take good care of Jiang daren. The Prince of Qi must not snatch the opportunity to play the host.”

    Li Xian replied rudely and unreasonably, “Even if Older Imperial Brother was here, he would not make things difficult for this Prince. Jiang daren, formerly in Southern Chu, you entertained this Prince under orders. This time, it’s this Prince’s turn to play the host.” So speaking, he extended his hand to grab me. Afterwards, Li Xian felt his wrist gripped by an ice-cold hand. Turning, he saw Xiaoshunzi’s ice-cold smiling expression. Li Xian could only choose discretion and withdraw his hand. In a light and quick voice, he said, “Since Sir Gou insists, this Prince can only let it be. After a few days, Jiang daren must come and stay for a period of time at my residence.”

    I smiled faintly and nodded my head, replying, “If there is the opportunity, I will naturally impose upon Your Highness.” Deeply worried, Gou Lian looked at me, wanting to say something, but hesitating.

    At this moment, within the Golden Hall, was filled with revelry of liege and vassals. After the captives had been presented to the Imperial Ancestral Shrine. Li Yuan, according to the ceremony formulated by the Ministry of Rites. Li Yuan cleansed his body, announced a general amnesty, received the customary deference from all of officialdom, reviewed the troops, and other elaborate and convoluted ritual ceremonies. Finally, the celebration feast at the Golden Hall began. After the feast began, Li Yuan issued a decree ordering Zhao Jia and Princess Changle to enter the hall. To this Zhao Jia who continuously begged for forgiveness, Li Yuan only indifferently said a few words, “Between a father- and son-in-law, there is deep and profound affection. There will not be any added offenses.” So saying, he allowed Zhao Jia to reside temporarily in the posthouse. When Li Yuan saw Princess Changle, his cheeks were covered with tears. After Princess Changle had paid her respects, he grabbed Changle’s hand and regarded her up and down. Seeing her thinned appearance, and no longer innocent and unaffected, Li Yuan was greatly distressed. Towards Changle, he said, “Imperial Daughter, you have suffered hardships. Imperial Father has let you down. Your mother and others are waiting for you in the palace chambers. You should first pay them a formal visit. Imperial Father will come see you a little later.” Escorted by a crowd of court ladies and eunuchs, Princess Changle was brought back to the palace chambers.

    Only then did Li Yuan raise his wine cup. In a loud voice, he declared, “Today, the Prince of Yong has returned victorious! Although We are happy with the Prince of Yong’s meritorious service in attacking the guilty, We are even happier that he brought back Our beloved daughter, Changle. We do not have a good capacity for alcohol. All honored subjects should toast the Prince of Yong on Our behalf. Today, a ruler and his ministers are at revel. If you are not drunk, you are not allowed to return home!” The ministers within the hall all loudly proclaimed ‘long live the Emperor.’ Simultaneously, they raised their golden cups, all of them beaming with happiness. Li Zhi had already washed away the dust of his journey and was seated just after Crown Prince Li An, accepting the toasts of the ministers. Although Li An, seated in the seat of honor, did not cease to talk and laugh, but cold light repeatedly flickered across his eyes. He absolutely detested Li Zhi to the bottom of his heart. Originally, he had arranged for the Prince of Qi to attack Southern Chu. Who knew that the Prince of Qi would suffer heavy casualties. He had no choice but to allow Prince of Yong Li Zhi to gnaw on this hard bone. Unexpectedly, the Prince of Yong launched a sneak attack against Jianye, capturing the sovereign of Southern Chu, causing Li Yuan to become wild with joy, while causing Li An to become endlessly indignant.

    Especially painful for Li An was that Liang Wan had returned a complete idiot. With great difficulty, he had gained the allegiance of the head of the Southern Chu intelligence network, Liang Wan. All of the effort he spent on Southern Chu had vanished like smoke. How could Li An not be dejected and embittered? Looking at Li Zhi filled with pride over his success, Li An maliciously thought, “If this Prince cannot obtain the Imperial Throne, you, Li Zhi, will also not gain one’s desires.”

    Just as Li An was gnashing his teeth in anger, the palace chambers was in chaos. The Empress, Lady Dou, was the mother of Crown Prince Li An. Noble Consort Gongsun was the mother of Princess Changle. There was also the mother of the Prince of Qi, Noble Consort Yan. Lastly, there was Noble Consort Ji. These four had gathered as they had learned that Princess Changle’s carriage had entered the Imperial City. These women were waiting here anxiously. Over these last several years, Noble Consort Ji had cried her eyes out. Her sons had all died, while her only daughter was wed to distant Southern Chu. Hearing that the Prince of Yong had brought back her daughter, Noble Consort Gongsun had long ago become restless. Not long afterwards, the sound of footsteps could be heard coming from outside. Several eunuchs and court ladies entered the chambers to report that the Princess was waiting outside. The Empress, Lady Dou, hurriedly ordered, “Waiting for that? Quickly have the child come in.”

    After a short moment had passed, Princess Changle entered, wearing unadorned clothing. Holding back her tears, she paid her formal respects to the Empress. Afterwards, she dived into her mother’s embrace, crying heavily. Noble Consort Gongsun was also crying her heart out. She looked at Princess Changle’s wan and sallow countenance, she spoke, her words filled with grief, “My Zhen’er,7 you were wed to Southern Chu at the age of fifteen. For six years, mother has burned incense and prayed every day. On the one hand, I hoped that my child’s marriage would be harmonious. On the other, I worried that war between the two countries would bring disaster to you, child. Now, you have finally returned safely. Mother’s heart is finally calm and orderly. Zhen’er, rest at ease, Your Imperial Father has agreed to choose another worthy husband. This time, mother will personally take responsibility and will definitely find a husband that has everything one can wish for.”8

    The Empress, Lady Dou, shed tears as she spoke, “Good child, you have suffered much hardship while in Southern Chu. We have also been extremely worried and troubled.9 This time, We have already spoken with the Emperor. You have sacrificed too much for Great Yong. No one will be allowed to involve you in any plans. If you settle upon someone, We will help you with the choice.”

    Covering her face, Princess Changle replied, “Your Imperial Highness, Mother Consort, Changle complied with an imperial order to wed to Southern Chu. Although I have now returned, I am still the Queen of Southern Chu. Even if this child has no honor and shame, how can I remarry while my husband is still alive? Would Your Highnesses and Mother Consort make the decision and allow this child to remain beside my mother peacefully for a few years so as to properly display my filial piety to Imperial Father and Mother Consort.”

    The Highnesses looked at one another. The situation was indeed awkward. Regardless of what they thought, Changle had married the King of Southern Chu. They could not just simply have her remarry. Noble Consort Gongsun could not help but remember her two deceased sons, and now her only daughter had experienced such hardships, and cry bitterly without end. At this moment, Noble Consort Ji walked over to Changle’s side. In a soft, consoling voice, she said, “There is no need for Princess to be so sad, the Emperor will naturally arrange everything appropriately and satisfactorily, and will not permit Princess to be embarrassed.” The Highnesses knew that Noble Consort Ji took part in matters of state. Seeing her speak thus, they were all relieved. All of them were women of the harem and how seen all kinds of treacherous and murderous acts. Since the Emperor intended to take care of the matter, then Zhao Jia would naturally not have long to live. Hearing these words, Changle could not help but feel her intestines twist. Although she had no affection for Zhao Jia, he had always treated her with respect. Now that things had reached this stage, she had become an evil and poisonous married woman who harmed her husband. She could not help but shed tears like a gushing spring.

    Noble Consort Ji had a carefree temperament, bantering at will, and at long last was able to eliminate Princess Changle’s worried countenance. A smile across her face, Noble Consort Gongsun said, “Zhen’er, mother has already reorganized and cleaned the Jade Phoenix Hall that you used to live in. Come, bid farewell to Her Majesty and the Highnesses. Let’s go take a look at your home.”

    The Empress and others all smiled, allowing Noble Consort Gongsun to help Changle settle down. Noble Consort Ji said, “Aiya! Having only older sister take care of things by herself, makes it seem as if we don’t also love Changle dearly. This younger sister am still young, allow me to help.”

    Noble Consort Ji was originally the most arrogant and proud. Seeing that she was deliberately ingratiating herself, Noble Consort Gongsun naturally could not refuse. The three bade their farewells and walked towards the Jade Phoenix Hall. Everything within this palace hall had been changed. Noble Consort Gongsun’s personally selected court ladies and eunuchs were already there waiting for their mistress to arrive. Princess Changle’s luggage had already long ago. Under the guidance of the female attendants who had accompanied the Princess to Southern Chu, everything had been unpacked and stored. Changle supported Noble Consort Gongsun, listening to her mother’s chatter. Together, the mother and daughter were enjoying domestic bliss. Noble Consort Ji followed them to the side, uttering a few words of consolation from time to time. She knew exactly what to say, not leaving the mother and daughter pair feel the discomfort of being accompanied by an outsider.

    After some time, due to her age and to her excitement, Noble Consort Gongsun was exhausted. Worried about her mother’s health, Princess Changle wished to escort her back to her bedchambers. Empathizing with her daughter’s toil, Noble Consort Gongsun refused her offer, having her rest well, returning to her chambers by herself. Making an excuse, Noble Consort Ji remained behind. The Princess had misgivings. Although she had lived in Southern Chu and she lived an uncomplicated life, but the position and environment can change the temperament of people. In her position, she had long acquired the temperament to lead the world by her womanly example. As such, she calmly waited for Noble Consort Ji to reveal her true intentions. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Noble Consort Ji dismissed all the servants and solemnly asked, “Princess, Liang Wan has attended to Princess for many years. How did she return like this? My niece rushed about for years. For her to befall such a fate, how can it not cause Us pain?”

    Changle’s heart jumped. Her older brother, Li Zhi, had interrogated her about Liang Wan for a long time. She had long heard that Noble Consort Ji originated from jianghu. She also faintly knew that Liang Wan was recommended by Noble Consort Ji. As such, she did not hide anything, explaining what she had experienced.

    Noble Consort Ji listened intently. When she heard that Liang Wan had sneak attacked the black clothed man and had been captured in one move, her face revealed a strange look, as she asked, “Princess, are you saying that Liang Wan did not even have the opportunity to retaliate?”

    Apologetically, Princess Changle replied, “We also could not understand. It felt like that man only extended his hand and was able to capture older sister Liang.”

    “Did this man in black have any special characteristics?” asked Noble Consort Ji.

    Princess Changle recalled her memories. At the time, she was terrified to the bottom of her heart when she saw Liang Wan captured. Afterwards, the spies were forcibly bound one by one. Then, the man in black had walked before her. With a gesture, he killed her maid, who had been murderous intentions. As the man in black stood before her, Changle clutched her golden hairpin tightly, ready to commit suicide. But she heard a feminine voice indifferently say, “There is no need for Your Majesty to worry. We are not from Southern Chu. Would Your Majesty please follow us to someplace? Afterwards, we will deliver you to see the Prince of Yong.”

    So speaking, the man had supported her. At the time, the only thing she could think of was the death of her maid. In addition, unrelated men weren’t allowed to touch her noble body. As such, she extremely frightened. To her, the man’s voice was like that of the devil. She shivered as she thought about shoving her golden hairpin through his throat, but was stopped by the man. With a grudging voice, the man said, “Relax, Your Majesty. My master has no malice towards Your Majesty. I am a eunuch, and cannot profane Your Majesty’s purity and innocence.”

    So speaking, he hit Princess Changle’s pressure points and covered her eyes. The Princess lost all feeling. While she was under house arrest in the secret chambers, she was attended to by this man in black. She was convinced that this man was castrated so much so that she could tell from his familiarity with etiquette that he was someone from the Southern Chu Palace. As a result, she did not believe that his promise of freedom. Only until that day, she finally saw the spies who were protecting her. They had kneeled before her, begging for forgiveness. Beside them was the infantile Liang Wan. Under their protection, she was able to meet her Older Imperial Brother. She could only stare blankly as they committed suicide, their blood splattering all over the palace hall.

    From beginning to end, she did not know what had happened. While she was being escorted back, no matter how she questioned, they only begged for forgiveness. Gradually, she understood that their suicide was a demand from the man in black. They had agreed only to protect her. Reasonably speaking, she should despise the man in black, but strangely enough, there wasn’t a trace of hatred, because those people were not disrespectful in the least. For them to leave her alive was a risky matter, since at the very least, she had heard their voices and knew that there was a eunuch amongst them. But she did not reveal this information to her brother. Although they had made no demands of her, by not killing her, they had extended their kindness.

    Seeing Princess Changle deep in thought, Noble Consort Ji became somewhat impatient. But she knew that it was likely that the Princess had remembered something, so she continued to wait patiently. After some time, when the Princess spoke, it was as if she was in a dream, “We only remember that they seemed to operate like an army unit. They maintained strict discipline and scrupulously abided by etiquette towards Us. Other than that, there weren’t any special characteristics. That man in black wasn’t too tall. His eyes were cold. That’s it …”

    “Were those people from Great Yong or from Southern Chu?” asked Noble Consort Ji faintly.

    Princess Changle gave a strange look at Noble Consort Ji before replying, “They shouldn’t be from Great Yong, as they did not seem to be as tall and lofty as the people of Great Yong.”

    A cold and faint smile appeared on Noble Consort Ji’s face, as she replied, “Princess has had an exhausting trip. Please rest well. We bid our farewell.”

    1. 太宗, Taizong – lit. Great Ancestor, a posthumous name, likely refers to Li Yuan
    2. 明德门, Mingde Gate – lit. Gate of Illustrious Virtue; this was the main southern gate of the city of Chang’an, modern-day Xi’an
    3. 丈, zhang – ten Chinese feet (3.3 meters); about 132 meters wide
    4. This is a poem by one of the four greatest poets of the Tang Dynasty, Luo Binwang (骆宾王), entitled “On the Imperial Capital.”
    5. Chang’an was divided into three sections – the Outer City, the Imperial City, and the Palace City. The Outer City was main residential and commercial areas of the city. The Imperial City was the administrative center of the city and of the empire, containing the residences of important officials and imperial clansmen, as well as the official government offices. The Palace City housed the Imperial Palace and served as the home of the Emperor and his immediate family.
    6. 朱雀门, zhuque men – Vermilion Bird Gate; this was the southernmost gate of the Imperial City
    7. Princess Changle’s name is Li Zhen
    8. 称心如意, chenxinruyi – idiom, lit. after one’s heart; gratifying and satisfactory, everything one could wish
    9. 寝食难安, qinshinan’an – idiom, lit. cannot rest or eat in peace; fig. extremely worried and troubled
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操

    Chapter 26 – Unceasing Repercussions

    On the third day of the of eleventh month of the twenty-third year of Great Yong’s Wuwei era (the first year of Southern Chu’s Zhihua era), the Emperor issued a decree, giving specials honors to the Prince of Qi. Everyone knew that the intentions of this decree was directed at the Prince of Yong …

    - Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of Taizong
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
  • absolutely brilliant...thank you for the translation; while it is text heavy; the plot intrigue is fantastic... loving it
  • Thanks!  Really appreciate it!  This novel is quite hefty per chapter, averaging about 6-7k characters (translated to almost 5k words)!
    "宁我负人,毋人负我" - 曹操
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