Volume 1, 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 rumor-mongering “spies,” doing barely enough to stabilize the morale of the soldiers. Shang Weijun had spent a long time presiding over governmental 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 walls 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 sounding, echoing throughout. The black-armored general accepted the bugle from one of his bodyguards 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 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, which could be heard from a distance. 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 on the horizon thousands upon thousands1 of black-armored horsemen charge forth. At the start, 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 formed into orderly military columns, the process 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 flood in every direction. The soaring killing aura and the imposing prestige of the Yong army could not but frighten the Jianye defenders.
A literate imperial guardsman 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 is 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 guardsman 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. The banner the Prince of Yong 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 stated, “That’s only natural. I, your elder, saw the Prince of Yong’s army when we were invading Shu back in the day. At that time, they were allied troops.”
Crack! A whip lashed against flesh. The imperial guard screamed in pain and collapsed to the ground. When everyone looked over, they saw an officer of the disciplinary group staring at them like a tiger eyeing its prey.3 In a stern voice, the officer reprimanded, “You dare disturb the army’s morale? If we were not confronting the enemy right now,4 this official would take your worthless life first.”
The imperial guard hurriedly scampered to his feet, humbled. “This little one does not dare, this little one does not dare.” Watching the officer walk away, the imperial guardsman 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 head. 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 Guard and asked, “The enemy only has twenty thousand troops. Can we sally forth to battle?”
“We don’t have any cavalry,” answered 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 Imperial 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 is low 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,” responded 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,” observed Li Zhi. “We cannot rely on 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 has found it difficult to stand on solid footing in Jianye. This is a ridiculous fact for the ages. In comparison, all of our Great Yong’s Imperial Guard were selected from the best of the best.”
“Although the Imperial Guard is an elite force,” claimed Sima Xiong in disagreement, “They pale in comparison to Your Imperial Highness’s personal guards. Although this is because the Crown Prince deliberately excludes our men from joining the Imperial Guard, who doesn’t know that only one warrior in a thousand is able to join Your Imperial Highness’s personal guards.”
Li Zhi smiled faintly, not refuting Sima Xiong’s words. His bodyguard 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 Guard, 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 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 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, 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 was 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 discernible, but some were cursing, while others were instigating the masses. Shang Weijun felt 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, filling 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 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 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 was ordered to remain in their homes. The entire city was deathly silent. Anyone who dared to leave their homes without permission was punished. Any Southern Chu soldier who dared resist was executed. Shang Weijun had originally intended to take advantage of the chaos to flee, but ended up being captured by the Yong army, and was 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 delivered, “Your Imperial 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,” responded the horseman. “Following the report from our agents, we were able to capture all of them. General Chen reports that the three thousand imperial guardsmen escorting Zhao Jia have all been separately annihilated. All of the imperial 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 cavalry, hurriedly came forward to welcome him, saluting with his sword.
“How is the situation?” asked Sima Xiong.
“General, after we surrounded the manor,” reported 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 or 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 gently and welcomed, “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. Wearing 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 very 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?”
Disdain 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 requested, “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 in the brush pot. 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 poem 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 poem. In a respectful and deferential voice, he introduced himself. “This general is Sima Xiong, serving as the commander of the Prince of Yong’s bodyguard. Under the Prince’s decree, I am here to give one’s respects to Sir. His Imperial Highness has said that he is busy with military matters today, but will come this evening, hoping that Sir will meet him.”
I indifferently said, “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 to 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 Imperial 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 Imperial Highness’s face and not blame us coarse individuals.”
I smiled faintly and suggested, “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,” returned Sima Xiong promptly. “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 instructed, “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 slightly and talking to myself, said, “No wonder His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, is famous around the world—even a mere commander of his personal guard understands etiquette, knowing when to advance and retreat.”
In a low voice, Xiaoshunzi muttered, “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 answered, “The world is Great Yong’s sooner rather than later. If I were to go in this manner, it would be inevitable that I would 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 bodyguard reported in. “Your Imperial Highness, Her Imperial 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 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 face, as she replied, “Older Imperial Brother, older sister Liang has become insane. Everyone else is outside.”
His brow furrowing, Li Zhi ordered, “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 in their eyes, as they knelt on the floor and paid their respects. Li Zhi had them rise and asked, “What has happened? What’s wrong with Liang Wan?”
The leader answered, “Your Highness, Liang Wan has pledged allegiance to His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince. In addition, this was the decision made by the Sect Master of the Fengyi Sect.”
Li Zhi’s expression grew stony. He had already guessed that this had happened, but he could not have even dreamed that the Fengyi Sect would be so unbridled and arrogant. He inquired, “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 Imperial 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 Imperial Highness, this subordinate has never dared to forget Your Imperial 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 bodyguards 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 Imperial Highness please take care of our families? Your Imperial 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?
- 成千上万, chengqianshangwan – idiom, lit. by the thousands and tens of thousands; untold numbers, innumerable, thousands upon thousands
- 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
- 虎视眈眈, hushidandan – idiom, lit. to glare like a tiger watching his prey; to eye covetously, wrathfully
- 大敌当前, dadidangqian – idiom, lit. facing a powerful enemy; fig. confronting grave difficulties
- 虎贲, huben – was a unit of Imperial Guard 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
- 耀武扬威, yaowuyangwei – idiom, lit. to show off one’s strength; to strut around, to bluff, to bluster
- 大街小巷, dajiexiaoxiang – idiom, lit. great streets and small alleys; everywhere in the city
- 人喊马嘶, renhanmasi – diom, lit. people shouting and horses neighing; fig. tumultuous, hubbub
- 残兵败将, canbingbaijiang – idiom, lit. ruined army, defeated general; scattered remnants
- 三品, sanpin – third ranked
- 水泄不通, shuixiebutong – idiom, lit. not one drop can trickle through; fig. impenetrable (crowd, traffic)
- 关爱备至, guai’aibeizi – idiom, lit. the utmost care; to look after somebody in every possible way
- 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.