Volume 2, Chapter 18: Snatched from the Jaws of Death
After Suiyun had recovered somewhat, Sang Chen left Chang’an. Before he departed, the Prince of Yong bestowed upon Sang Chen five hundred kilograms of gold. Sir Sang declined. Jiang Zhe persuaded him, saying that gold and silk were not repayment for Sang Chen’s meritorious service, but rather as financial assistance for his profession. Moreover, Jiang Zhe pointed out that there were many poor patients in the world, requiring Sang Chen’s benevolent rescue.…—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
How did it feel to be snatched from the jaws of death? This probably could only be understood by those who have experienced it. Therefore, when I opened my eyes, although my entire body felt numb and the pain in my chest was difficult to bear, I could not help but reveal a faint smile. With difficulty, I moved my four limbs, once again inducing a spell of pain, even more confirmation that I was still alive and had not gone to the underworld. I groaned. Just as my hoarse voice left my lips, someone had already come over to pull aside the bed’s thin silk brocade drapes. Looking carefully, I noticed that it was an imperial physician about forty years of age. With difficulty, I revealed the slightest of smiles. Pleasantly surprised, the imperial physician turned and called out, “Daren Jiang has woken! Quickly report to Sir Sang!”
Subsequently, the sound of steady and calm footsteps traveled to my ear. Afterwards, I saw that familiar face above me.
Although we had not seen each for many years, there were not many changes to Sir Sang’s appearance—his hair was the color of ash, his appearance thin, his eyes always possessing that concentration and stolidness. That’s right, emotionless. In the eyes of the world, Sir Sang was a heaven-sent doctor able to work miracles, frequently bearing hardships to treat the illnesses of the poor. However, he was actually an inhospitable and emotionless individual. I had already seen this in the past. In his eyes, a patient was vague and indistinct. While he was single-mindedly focused when treating patients, understanding all the intricacies and changes of an illness, once the patient had recovered, then to Sang Chen they no longer had any relationship. If the patient were unfortunate and passed away, Sang Chen would not have a shred of sadness or grief. In Sang Chen’s eyes, the only divisions were between patients and the healthy. To him, patients were only the tool by which his medical expertise was measured by. If there were any exceptions, then that would be me.
I still remember when we first met years in the past. My father had asked Sang Chen to treat him. Sang Chen only took one look and informed Father that his illness was incurable; at most the treatment would extend his life by a few years. Originally, Father despaired, even going so far as to consider not getting treatment. It was I who convinced him otherwise, saying, “Although to an ordinary person several years are brief, to us father and son, it is essential. This child is still young, if I do not have a father, I would inevitably be left in dire straits. If Father goes like this, how would you be comfortable leaving the child like this? Would it not be better that father and son are interdependent and spend several more years together? If Father is in pain and suffering, this child would naturally not insist, but as long as this child is able to carefully tend to you, Father should not experience too much suffering.”
Father had only momentarily despaired. Hearing my earnest words, he decided to seek medical treatment. When Sang Chen heard my words, he only offhandedly remarked, “This child is considerate and shows good sense.” Finished speaking, he stayed to treat my father. During his months-long stay, he frequently taught me medicine. I had once heard him say that he never had any aspirations of practicing medicine to save people. To him, practicing medicine was a way to make a living. Although he said this in a cold and unfeeling manner, I was actually fond of his straightforwardness. Moreover, Sang Chen could not stand patients. Luckily, he was a man of few words, otherwise if the public knew that this medical sage of the apricot forest1 had such a mindset, it is likely that everyone would turn pale with great fear.
Seeing Sir Sang, I could not help but begin to weep. This was my only senior left on this earth. Sir Sang understood my thoughts. Walking over to take my pulse, he faintly said, “Suiyun, your injury is no longer serious. These days, you’ve taken many precious restorative medicines. Although they saved your life, they were unavoidably too vigorous. You will first have to slowly nourish. Once your injury is fully healed, I will carefully nurse you back to health.”
I questioningly gazed Sir Sang. He smiled slightly and stated, “You are wondering about the Prince of Yong and that little fellow who continuously used his internal energy to prolong your life? The Prince of Yong has been worn out these last few days. I’ve already had him go back to rest. Reportedly, His Imperial Highness has not yet woken from his sleep. That attendant of yours is truly loyal. However, seeing that he had exhausted his internal energy and yet still refused to go rest, I gave him a pill to have him rest obediently. When he wakes up, it’ll be the perfect opportunity for him to advance his cultivation. I will properly supervise him as he goes into seclusion to cultivate. You, child, have a congenital deficiency that prevents you from attaining any success in martial arts development. He, however, is a martial arts cultivating genius. Although the martial arts that he trains in are truly exquisite and extraordinary, to attain such a high level is due to his outstanding innate gifts. My martial arts do not yet have an inheritor, so how about I teach him? You are a half-disciple of mine. He is loyal and devoted to you. It would be the same if I taught my skills to him.”
I could not help but be overjoyed. Although I did not know the depths of Sir Sang’s martial arts, from his tone, one could clearly understand that they were not ordinary. As I was thinking it over, I realized that the Prince of Yong must have been exhausted, otherwise he would not be sleeping for so long. I could not help but feel somewhat anxious. Promptly, I reached out to grasp Sir Sang’s hand. In the palm of his hand, I wrote the word, “prince.” Sir Sang smiled slightly and observed, “No wonder His Imperial Highness treats you so intimately and generously. I’ve already gone to take a look. Do not be worried.”
Only then did I relax. At this moment, a maid brought over a bowl of medicine, carefully helping me consume it. After taking the medicine, I felt sleepy and lost consciousness soon after. For the next several days, I spent the time sleeping and drinking medicine. Only after seven days passed did I no longer require that kind of fortified medicinal broth, and I could I finally lie in bed clear-headed and awake.
I touched my somewhat stiff pair of legs, wishing that I could get out of bed to walk. However, I was prevented from doing so by Sir Sang. Xiaoshunzi had originally intended to come to attend to me but who could have imagined he was blocked by Sang Chen with one sentence: “There are plenty of martial arts experts in the world, do you wish for your young master to suffer this kind of injury again?” At present, Xiaoshunzi was in seclusion cultivating. It seemed that although Sang Chen’s internal energy cultivation methods were poles apart from the methods developed by Xiaoshunzi, Sang Chen’s study of martial art techniques were more profound than Xiaoshunzi’s. As a result, he was not present to nag me. At least there was no one causing a disturbance by begging for forgiveness.
The Prince and Princess of Yong brought over Roulan to see me once. After that, Sir Sang banned them from coming to see me again, stating that I needed to rest properly and avoid being vexed by external matters. From that point on, aside from dispatching someone over to check on my condition, the Prince of Yong did not come again. From Sir Sang, I learned that the Prince of Yong was personally reorganizing the residence’s defense, as the previous defenses had too many gaps for experts from jianghu to exploit. Although taking the time to convalesce had benefits to my health, it was unavoidably quite gloomy. I was not even allowed to touch my beloved books. Sir Sang only gave me several Taoist scriptures, filled with tranquility and the concept of non-doing,2 for me to peruse with the purpose of ensuring that my mind was serene. They did have benefits; otherwise how would the worries in my mind greatly lessen? Having experienced life and death, I began to view many affairs with serenity. Even Piaoxiang’s shadow no longer constantly lingered in my heart. Even when she came to mind, it was mostly sweet happy thoughts, not brokenhearted suffering.
After another six days had passed, Sir Sang finally allowed me to get out of bed. Xiaoshunzi had at this point also returned to my side. With his support, I lightly took my first step since my recovery, feeling as soft and weak as cotton. I could barely walk a circle around the room before I had begun to gasp for breath. It was already the middle of the third month and some of the flowers in the garden began to blossom. Although there was a hint of chilliness in the spring breeze, the wind was already no longer piercing. Xiaoshunzi had servants surround a pavilion in the courtyard on three sides with thick brocade curtains to block the spring breeze. Within the pavilion, Xiaoshunzi laid down a thick Persian rug and placed a soft couch, table, and chair. I comfortably lay down on the soft couch, wrapped in the silver foxskin coat that had been bestowed upon me by the Prince of Yong last winter. Sir Sang sat in the chair, his eyes partly closed. Xiaoshunzi was off to the side, steeping tea. I downed in one gulp the cups of hot tea he frequently delivered into my hands, my entire body feeling comfortable from my limbs to my bones.
Also draining his cup in one swallow, Sir Sang smiled faintly and said, “The tea sent by His Imperial Highness is indeed quite good. Suiyun, the Prince of Yong treats you as a minister of state. It seems that you are unwilling to follow me into a life of seclusion.”
I stared back confused, inquiring, “Why does Sir speak thusly? Can it be that you do not agree with Jiang Zhe for serving the Prince of Yong?”
“I deign not take notice of these mundane matters of the world,” responded Sang Chen with a slight smile. “The Prince of Yong is not someone muddleheaded. There’s nothing wrong with you serving him. It is only out of consideration for your health that I wish for you to resign from your post and live a life of seclusion.”
I tranquilly asked, “From now on, can my body no longer endure toil and hard work?”
“Suiyun, although your injury was serious, as long as you are carefully nursed, you will be revitalized in a few years,” replied Sir Sang, shaking his head. “Over these next few years, as long as you are a little bit careful, there shouldn’t be any major problems. It is only that diseases of the heart are difficult to treat. The arteries and veins of your heart have been damaged by the seven emotional states.3 If you cannot maintain the tranquility in your heart, submerging yourself in your convalescence, I’m afraid that after ten years your situation will become hopeless. If I have diagnosed it correctly, you must have experienced great joy and terrible sadness while you were physically and mentally exhausted. As a result, you have injured your heart. Furthermore, you have never stopped feeling aggrieved and sorrowful, thereby acquiring this chronic ailment. Although your medical expertise is not bad, even the best doctors cannot treat themselves, leading to your present condition.”
Hearing this, Xiaoshunzi’s complexion paled. Not saying a word, he gazed at Sang Chen. Sang Chen shook his head slightly, heaving a sigh, speaking no more.
Having walked out of a life and death crisis, and now hearing this news, I, strangely enough, didn’t feel the slightest bit of sadness in my heart. I smiled serenely and said, “This is Jiang Zhe’s destiny. Even if I, Jiang Zhe, once thought about living in seclusion, now that I have received such kindness and grace from the Prince of Yong, if I cannot repay it, it would leave me anxious for the rest of my life. Moreover, if my mind is unsettled, what’s the use of cultivating deep in the mountains? This disciple dares not conceal that I bear the burden of taking revenge for my murdered wife. If this hate is not wiped clean, I will not rest peaceful. How can I live a life of seclusion? However, ten years’ time is sufficient. This disciple is confident that I have my vengeance and help the Prince of Yong ascend to the throne. After that moment comes, I will lead a wandering existence, facing life and death with serenity, regarding riches and honor as transient. Wouldn’t that be gratifying? To live such a life, what regret would I have, were I to die?”
At first, Xiaoshunzi was pale and wan. But when he listened to the end, his expression became tranquil and placid. Sang Chen glanced at him, inquiring, “Are you going to also allow your master to mess about?”
Xiaoshunzi respectfully replied, “The young master is fond of this. This servant can only act according to his wishes. At most, this servant can follow him to the underworld. Presumably, it will be unlikely for the young master to be lonely.”
Although he spoke thusly, I was not moved. After undergoing a near-death experience, my way of thinking had changed. If Xiaoshunzi were to die for me, then I only felt that I would have a friend and companion in the underworld. Moreover, with my methods, it wouldn’t be difficult for me to ensure that he remained alive. Therefore, I only glanced at him, smiling slightly, acknowledging the pains he was taking. For him to speak in such a fashion was merely his way of making me try hard to live a few years longer.
“Fine. I’ll follow your line of reasoning,” said Sang Chen with a slightly wry smile. “However, I will take charge of your health during this period. Afterwards, everything will rely upon you.”
“What? Does Sir still wish to wander?” I asked suspiciously. “Sir is already so old. Is there really a need for Sir to wander the four corners of the world?”
Sang Chen indifferently replied, “Although I am getting old, I am unwilling to become involved in the disputes of the mundane world. This place here is like the roaring seas. I cannot compare to you youngsters and am unable to stand these stormy seas. However, my age is getting up there. This time, I intend to return to my homeland to live in seclusion. If you have any matters in the future, you can come find me at Penglai4 on the Eastern Sea.”5
I nodded my head and agreed, “Sir speaks correctly. After the situation is stabilized, I also wish to sail the seas to gaze upon the glorious landscape of the mountain of immortals.”
Sang Chen hesitated for a moment before speaking, “Suiyun, is your foe the Fengyi Sect?”
I trembled, as I softly inquired, “Why does Sir speak so? The Fengyi Sect is the leader of wulin, the spiritual leader of the orthodox sects, and a founder of Great Yong. How could I become enemies with them?”
“There is no need for you to be anxious,” replied Sang Chen uncaringly. “I do not have any relationship with the Fengyi Sect. When the master of the Fengyi Sect became famous, I was already forty years old. Although she sought to invite me as her guest several times, I never agreed. This time, she came calling to seek my help in treating a patient. I took a look and immediately knew that that Liang Wan was affected by a poison made from the ‘Severed Grace Grass.’ There is no cure for the Severed Grace Grass. In addition, the only people in this world who know about this medicinal ingredient are only you and I, the two of us. Therefore, I knew that it was your doing. However, you have never done anything without reason. As a result, I did not tell them, only stating that they could only take care of Liang Wan, who one day would return to normal, only losing her memories of the past.”
Still somewhat worried, I asked, “Sir won’t blame me for being so cruel?”
Sang Chen smiled faintly before he replied, “I have never shown an interest in the everyday affairs of the world. It is only that this Severed Grace Grass is too unavoidably sinister and vicious. You should not use it again from now on.”
I continued to question him, “How does Sir regard the Fengyi Sect?”
Sang Chen looked at me deeply before he answered, “The master of the Fengyi Sect is a pitiable person. Those wicked persons all have a piteous side. It is understandable if you are forced to act, however you cannot harm your own body. If there is enmity, you only need to remember who your enemy is. As for that enmity, it is better forgotten. It will only burn out your heart and destroy your bones. Only by forgetting will you be treating yourself well.”
Relieved, I gave a short bow. “Many thanks for Sir’s teachings.” The only person in this world capable of causing me to capitulate had already shown clearly that he would not get involved in my affairs. In that case, there was really nothing for me to worry about. Although I did not know the past between Sir Sang and the Fengyi Sect Master, it was presently inconsequential.
Sang Chen heaved a sigh. Whenever he saw this child, he would feel as if their temperaments were agreeable. Although their ages were akin to a grandfather and his grandson, and he really treated this child as his own grandson, he also knew that he could change this child’s intentions. Fengyi Sect Master Fan Huiyao had held long discussions with him while drinking wine. That woman was a lofty and radiant existence. Although he was used to living alone, his heart had once been stirred by her, even going so far as to gift her the extant fragment of the Moon Heart Sutra. If he had not given her that fragment, then it was likely that she would not have her present accomplishments. At the very least, her rise would be slowed by at least ten years. He had never regretted his decision, because to him, martial arts weren’t important. In order to protect this child who would confront the Fengyi Sect sooner or later, he had transmitted all of his martial arts to Li Shun. Presumably, this would allow Li Shun to better protect Jiang Zhe.
“I am going to take my leave,” stated Sang Chen indifferently, glancing at Jiang Zhe. “You must properly take care of yourself.”
I promptly replied, “It was too rushed today. It would be better if Sir stayed a few more days, so that I can send Sir off for a distance.”
Sang Chen smiled slightly, saying, “There is no need. Your health is poor. There is no need to send me off.”
At this moment, from a distance, a lively voice rang out, “What? Who is going?”
Raising my head, I looked over. It was actually the Prince of Yong, leading Sima Xiong over. I thus spoke, “Your Imperial Highness, Sir Sang is getting ready to leave.”
Li Zhi quickly said, “How can Sir be so hurried? This Prince has yet to repay Sir for saving my life last time. This time, you’ve saved Major Jiang. If you do not stay for a few days, I’m afraid that everyone will say that this Prince’s hospitality was inconsiderate and dissatisfactory.”
“There is no benefit to staying longer,” replied Sang Chen unconcerned. “Suiyun no longer has any major issues. This decrepit old man has matters waiting to be handled. Therefore, I have no alternative but to take my leave.”
Seeing that Sang Chen was firm and determined, Li Zhi knew that he could not force him to stay. He thus ordered a servant to bring a gold jewel that was worth five hundred kilograms of gold, declaring, “This Prince does not dare to forcibly detain Sir. Would Sir please accept this gold jewel? This is not to express my gratitude, but rather to serve as Sir’s traveling expenses.”
Sang Chen lightly refused, “Suiyun is an old friend of mine. If it weren’t for Your Imperial Highness not stinting on precious medicines, I’m afraid that he would have died long ago. I cannot thank Your Imperial Highness enough. How dare I accept this?”
With this, the Prince of Yong refused to let him go, repeatedly beseeching Sir Sang to accept it. I knew Sir Sang’s temperament. Unwilling to see them stay deadlocked, I thus urged, “Sir, you should accept this money. I’m afraid that it won’t be good if it is disseminated that His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, refuses to even give traveling expenses. Moreover, Sir frequently treats poor patients. They don’t have money to purchase medicine, causing Sir to generously6 help others. Sir should accept this money from His Imperial Highness on their behalf.”
My words hit the nail on the head. Although Sir Sang’s heart was as cold as ice, he would nevertheless still treat patients whenever he ran across them. It was only natural and unavoidable that he had to foot the bill on occasion. Therefore, his purse was always empty. Fortunately, the people he had saved numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Wherever he went, there were people who would willingly accommodate him. However, these people probably didn’t realize that Sir Sang completely did not remember who they were.
Sang Chen felt that Jiang Zhe’s words were reasonable, thus accepting the money before he took his leave. The Prince of Yong personally saw him off, while I was prohibited from tagging along and could only look on helplessly as Sir Sang walked out of the Cold Courtyard. Alas, I had only this senior left on earth. We were together for only a few days and already had to separate. The emotional pain of parting inevitably burst forth into my thoughts. Those overwhelmed by the sorrow of parting could only carry on.
After seeing Sang Chen off on my behalf, Xiaoshunzi quickly returned. With a look of hesitation, he said, “Young master, is there a need to investigate the association between Sir Sang and the Fengyi Sect? I don’t recall seeing this matter in the intelligence reports.”
“There is no need,” I replied collectedly. “I am clear about Sir Sang’s personal character. Since he said that he won’t get involved, he won’t get involved. If we kill the Fengyi Sect Master, Sir Sang will not take offense so long as we do not employ excessive methods against the Fengyi Sect. What’s more, what kind of person is the Fengyi Sect Master? Even if we were able to completely destroy the Fengyi Sect, we may not necessarily be able to harm her.”
Xiaoshunzi’s expression changed, as he asked, “If the Fengyi Sect Master were to escape in the future, then wouldn’t there be no end to the trouble? We have to figure out a way to tie her down.”
I looked at Xiaoshunzi, smiling slightly. I spoke, “I have a way, however, everything depends on you. If you can defend against one hundred moves from the Fengyi Sect Master without being defeated, then I will have the chance of success.”
With unswerving determination, Xiaoshunzi promised, “Do not worry, young master. I will accomplish it.”
I smiled, nodding my head. “Why hasn’t His Imperial Highness returned? He surely came over today because he had something to discuss with me.”
Xiaoshunzi’s expression immediately became extremely odd. It was quite some time before he responded, “Just a moment ago, His Imperial Highness received some news. Therefore, he did not come back. Presumably, he will come over shortly.”
Just as he finished speaking, I had already caught sight of Li Zhi’s figure, preventing me from questioning Xiaoshunzi closely as to why his expression was so uneasy.
- 杏林, xinglin – lit. forest of apricot trees; a reference to the 3rd Century Chinese physician, Dong Feng (董奉) who in lieu of payments asked that his patients plant apricot trees, later generations came to describe the medical profession and doctors poetically as ‘those of the apricot forest’
- 无为, wuwei – is the Taoist concept of non-action or non-doing, the idea of letting things take their own course
- 七情, qiqing – lit. seven emotional states: joy (喜), anger (怒), anxiety (忧), rumination (思), grief (悲), fear (恐), and fright (惊)
- 蓬莱, Penglai – named after the legendary island of the Eight Immortals, it is a prefecture city in Shandong; purportedly Qin Shi Huang sent off Xu Fu with five hundred matching pairs of boys and girls to search for the land of immortals
- 东海, Donghai – lit. the East(ern) Sea; refers to sea east of Mainland China, the East China Sea and the Sea of Bohai
- 解囊, jienang – lit. to loosen one’s purse; fig. to give generously to help others