Volume 5, Chapter 19: Turning Their Plan Against Them
In the fifteenth year of the sixty-year cycle, Northern Han’s Long Tingfei breached the dam upon the Qin River and flooded Anze. Great Yong’s Prince of Qi was defeated. The Marquis of Chu, Jiang Zhe, fled into the countryside, meeting Xuan by chance in the wilderness. At the time, Xuan was suffering from a grave illness. Zhe forcibly invited him to the Yong army’s camp, using his skill as a divine physician to treat the illness.
When Northern Han fell, Xuan was ordered to an audience with the Yong Emperor. When the Emperor promised him hefty compensation and high rank, Xuan declined under the pretense that a loyal subject does not serve a second master. After sighing for a long time, the Yong Emperor gifted Xuan with gold, silk, and land. Accepting the gold and silver, Xuan withdrew and established a school in Bashang.1 As a renowned expert of the Classics, Xuan had many students. Not caring for the family backgrounds of his students, Xuan taught them all without exception. His students spread throughout all levels of society and the court.
The Marquis of Chu was impish and lazy, frequently skipping court sessions on pretext of illness. However, everyone feared his intelligence and none dared to reprimand him, aside from Xuan. Each time Ji Xuan visited, he would use stern words to berate Jiang Zhe. Strangely, Jiang Zhe would hang his head and listen without trying to explain himself. This may be because the evil is not the equal of the good.
In the beginning, Xuan was a subject of Jin. On the Jin Emperor’s order, he was dispatched to serve as an Aide to the Magistrate of Taiyuan and was deeply valued by Liu Sheng. In the fourteenth year of Zhenyuan, the Jin Emperor abdicated, yielding the throne to Yong. At the same time, Liu Sheng also founded Northern Han. Sighing, Xuan said, “The State has collapsed and there are no loyal subjects in the world. I cannot reduce my integrity to serve another.”
In sorrow, Xuan returned to his hometown. Afterwards, when Yong unified the world and attempted to recruit Xuan with riches and honor, Xuan always refused, using the gifts that he received to help fund scholars with impoverished origins. Until his death, he lived in a simple tripartite divided courtyard house bestowed by the Yong Emperor and had a collection of ten thousand books. With no excess wealth, there weren’t enough funds for the funeral and burial, causing all who learned of this to sigh.Xuan was known throughout the world as a master of the Classics. Continuously serving Eastern Jin to the end, he did not serve a second master. His achievements are collected within this history.—Eastern Jin Dynastic Records, Biography of Ji Xuan
After seeing off Duan Lingxiao and Ling Duan, I immediately gathered my men and departed. It wasn’t a good idea to remain in a dangerous location for too long. Who knew if Duan Lingxiao would send other experts to try to intercept and assassinate me? Besides, this trip was already quite rewarding—bringing back Ji Xuan and Zhao Liang, forcing Duan Lingxiao to retreat in defeat without garnering any deep animosity. If we didn’t leave now, when?
Having suffered a shock and still ill, Ji Xuan was unable to ride a horse. Using a drug I had personally concocted, I put Ji Xuan into a coma before loading him into the lone, shabby cart in the hamlet. Zhao Liang remained by Ji Xuan’s side to attend to him. In this way, we rushed directly for the Prince of Qi’s army camps.
Seeing the massed banners within the army camp from a distance, I felt myself relax. Before we had even arrived at the entrance, the gates swung open. Like a tide, soldiers and horses poured out from within. Afterwards, the Prince of Qi, in a flame-colored battle gown, charged out of the camp upon a horse. I felt my mood warm. The Prince of Qi had always treated me well regardless of how haughty and willful his temperament. I was more amused than irritated by the way he teased me, intentionally or otherwise, going back to our first meeting in Southern Chu. I would absolutely not allow anyone to frame or treat this kind of straightforward man unjustly.
The Prince of Qi nudged his horse over, as I unhurriedly guided my horse forward to meet him. Xiaoshunzi had dismounted a while ago. In any case, as long as we weren’t galloping, I wouldn’t fall off. When we were several zhang apart, the Prince of Qi reined in his horse and studied me closely for quite some time before laughing heartily and saying, “Good, good! It seems you fled quickly, and are uninjured and did not suffer any hardships.”
I rolled my eyes. Was he praising or mocking me by saying that I had fled quickly? With an annoyed tone, I replied, “It’s all due to Your Imperial Highness’s good fortune. After fighting a few more years alongside Your Imperial Highness, I will likely be the Army Supervisor best at fleeing.”
Upon hearing my words, all of the assembled generals exchanged looks of amazement. Usually, even though the Prince of Qi and the Marquis of Chu were always fond of jokes, they were always courteous and polite in public. Who would have thought that the two would banter right before the entrance to the camp? After this defeat, many of the generals were worried that the court would take disciplinary action. All this changed after seeing the two superiors joke, causing everyone to relax.
From the corners of his eyes, Li Xian watched as the generals relaxed, which made him feel delighted. Over these last several days, he had been worried about the defeat and was also worried about Jiang Zhe’s safety. He could not help becoming melancholic, creating a nervous atmosphere within the army camp. As a result, Li Xian had deliberately come out to welcome Jiang Zhe and speak a few words in jest. Sure enough, it had a clear impact, making the atmosphere loosen. Seeing that he had achieved his goal, Li Xian did not tarry. Pulling on Jiang Zhe’s cloak, Li Xian said, “All right, let’s head in to talk business. How was it? Did the journey go off without a hitch? Did you accomplish anything?”
Li Xian knew that Jiang Zhe had sent Su Qing back in the hopes of attracting assassins. Now that Jiang Zhe had returned safe and sound, Li Xian naturally wondered how many assassins had been ensnared. If the results were good and made public, then it would serve to boost morale.
Although I understood his intentions, I could not say that I had deliberately released Duan Lingxiao and Ling Duan. As a result, I only played things down, “Although there were several assassins, they weren’t any important characters. Don’t tell me that I should’ve brought their heads back?”
As we spoke, the two of us entered the camp on our horses. Dismounting in front of the marshal’s tent, we walked in. Xiaoshunzi led the Stalwart Tiger Guard off to arrange tents, in addition to Ji Xuan and Zhao Liang. As both Huyan Shou and Su Qing held positions as generals, the two of them followed the assembled generals and entered the marshal’s tent. With this, the first real military conference after the defeat at Anze began.
Although we had just suffered a disastrous defeat and the generals were somewhat disappointed, with how long the war had gone on for, victory and defeat were commonplace. As our main force had not suffered heavily, the generals were calm and stress-free. Although I was not a military man, I understood everyone’s attitude. Although I admired the lack of arrogance after victory and the lack of despair after defeat, I could not help but smile wryly inside after recalling how they probably had all suffered multiple defeats at Long Tingfei’s hands.
“Although we suffered a grave defeat at Anze,” stated Li Xian with a smile, “The Northern Han army was not able to get off scot-free. At least the fortifications at Anze have been destroyed. Moreover, Duan Wudi’s troops have suffered heavy losses. Homeless refugees number in the hundreds of thousands. Although the Northern Han army withdrew all of the refugees to Qinyuan and adopted a scorched earth policy, their provisions will be consumed at a rapid pace with so many refugees. It is not necessarily the case that they have the advantage.
“Although we have been defeated, our main force remains. This Prince has already submitted a request for reinforcements. In a month’s time, a reinforcement fleet will arrive. When the time comes, our supply train will stabilize, allowing us to wage war against the enemy. At present, the enemy has retreated to Qinyuan. That is where Northern Han’s main force is located. This Prince is resolved to fight the decisive battle against Long Tingfei at Qinyuan. I wonder, what does everyone think?”
Everyone knew that the Northern Han army had retreated to Qinyuan. As such, if they didn’t attack, were they going to wait here? Of course none of them had any objections. However, Xuan Song had private worries. Rising, he spoke, “Marshal, it is said that an army marches on its stomach.2 Although a fleet is coming to reinforce us, they do not address our immediate needs.3 Although Anze and Qinyuan are separated by a mere hundred li, the path is dangerous and difficult, winding ruggedly through the mountains. The costs of transporting provisions by land will be enormous. Although we presently have enough provisions to last half a month, the follow-up resupply probably won’t arrive in time. It is best to temporarily station our troops at Anze, dispatching a few generals to repair the roads and prevent the Northern Han army from descending south. We can launch our assault when our reinforcements arrive. What does the Marshal think?”
Hearing Xuan Song speak, Li Xuan knew that this was the proper way of dealing with the present situation. However, he could not adopt such a plan. Just as Li Xian was pondering how to phrase his rebuttal, I spoke up leisurely, “General Xuan speaks correctly. However, our army has arranged a rendezvous with General Jing at Qinyuan. Although we don’t know the situation, based upon General Jing’s hastiness, he will likely arrive at Qinyuan within ten days. If our troops do not arrive at the rendezvous at that time, not only will we not be able to pincer Northern Han, if Long Tingfei takes advantage and first defeats General Jing, then this war will drag on.4 Although we have difficulties with our provisions, they should be able to last twenty days. As for the supply train, Zhe is willing to take personal responsibility and ensure that the army does not starve.”
Xuan Song found my response reasonable. Although he was still uneasy, Xuan Song could not directly oppose the decision with the commander-in-chief and the army supervisor saying the same thing, especially as he did not have definite reasons for his opposition and had been advanced by Jiang Zhe to his present rank as general. Just like this, the army’s continued march north was decided. Not knowing why, Xuan Song stole a furtive glance at Jiang Zhe and saw the faintly languid smile on his face. Xuan Song immediately realized that some grand strategy was unfolding and that he did not yet have the qualifications to learn of it.
After all of the generals had been sent away to make preparations, Li Xian frowned and said, “Suiyun, I’ve already done as you asked and sent a request for reinforcements. It should reach the Emperor in these next few days. However, our army only suffered a minor setback. Why did you claim a major defeat within the petition, needlessly requisitioning provisions and reinforcements?”
I smiled lightly. At present, it was best to keep this matter hidden from Li Xian. I had not informed him of the Prince of Qing’s moves, as it was the emperor’s wish. Neither of us wanted to see Li Xian be distracted. Besides, it was already enough that Li Xian had participated once in internal discord between brothers. I did not want the Prince of Qi participate in such an affair again. As a result, I only tranquilly replied, “This is the Emperor’s wish. At present, there are some within the court who are treacherous. If the military situation changed, these individuals would definitely stir up havoc. Rather than allowing them to wreck our plans, it is best to allow them to expose their true visage as soon as possible. Therefore, since we are destined to lose several battles, isn’t it best to seize this opportunity to submit a request? No matter how sensitive their ears, they will definitely be fooled and hoodwinked.”
Li Xian trembled inside. How could something be happening within the court? Could it be that even with Imperial Brother’s methods, he can’t stably administer the Empire and someone dares to cause trouble? With the loyalties of the Qin and Cheng families, Li Xian came to the conclusion that he was the only one who could potentially revolt. Li Xian had overlooked Li Kang, not taking his third brother seriously. After all, what could Li Kang do with Hanzhong and the few troops that he had? Besides, Li Kang’s standing within the military was much lower than Li Zhi and Li Xian, let alone many of the ranking generals. No matter how he racked his brains, Li Xian could not think of the one who would rebel. Although he knew that the emperor and Jiang Zhe had exchanged secret correspondence, Li Xian had simply assumed that his elder brother was worried about him, thus having Jiang Zhe surreptitiously report military matters. Since he trusted that Jiang Zhe wouldn’t harm him, Li Xian chose to feign unawareness. Besides, he was disinclined to pay attention to the goings-on within the court. Very few high-ranking officials were aware of what was going on in Hanzhong. As such, it was no wonder that Li Xian could not find an answer to his questions.
Seeing his misgivings, I smiled and said, “It isn’t anything significant, only the remnants of the Prince of Li and the Fengyi Sect. There are those who have seized the opportunity to assail Your Imperial Highness. That is why the Emperor does not want Your Imperial Highness to know to prevent suspicions.”
Hearing this, Li Xian found himself relaxing. In any case, these kinds of rumors had never stopped since he arrived in Zezhou to command the army. Since Jiang Zhe had spoken in such a manner, Li Xian found himself relieved, only resentfully stating, “It doesn’t matter if His Imperial Majesty doesn’t believe me, as long as it doesn’t hamper our invasion of Northern Han. Once we have captured Jinyang, Imperial Brother can do as he pleases, whether it be removing me from my position or punishing me.”
I smiled wryly inside. The grudge between Li Xian and the emperor was difficult to resolve. However, there was nothing I could do to help. It already wasn’t an easy thing to have Li Xian recover his past liveliness. However, I also had to reply. With a hint of complaint at heart, I deliberately mocked him, “Zhe had always assumed that I would be the only one unable to see the magnificent feat of conquering Southern Chu. Who would have thought that Your Imperial Highness also does not wish to lead an army south?”
Li Xian was startled and urgently responded, “What are you saying? You’re talking about a southern invasion? Has the Emperor already had such thoughts?”
With a baffled tone, I answered, “What of it? Once Northern Han has been conquered, can a southern invasion be far off? The Emperor’s ambition is to unify the world and cannot condone leaving Jiangnan unconquered.”
Suddenly seeing the light, Li Xian despaired, “So that is the case. I do not know if Imperial Brother will send me to command the southern invasion. However, when the time comes, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have any chances. At the least, I will definitely lead a troop of cavalry to attack Xiangyang. After all, I suffered two defeats there. As for command of the main invasion force, Pei Yun is a likelier candidate. After all, he has continuously commanded the garrison forces along the Yangtze River all these years. Furthermore, once the Eastern Sea surrenders and pledges allegiance, Haitao is also another potential candidate. However, Suiyun, why aren’t you going? When the time comes, it is impossible that His Imperial Majesty won’t use your talents.”
A hint of helplessness appeared in my eyes, as I replied, “Once the northern frontier is pacified, the foundations of Great Yong’s empire will be established. Southern Chu will be conquered sooner rather than later. Zhe has long grown tired of the affairs of the world. If His Imperial Majesty is benevolent and allows me to retire, I will return to the Eastern Sea. If His Imperial Majesty does not do so, Chang’an is also a fairly good place to call home. Having turned my back upon Southern Chu and pledged my loyalties to Yong, I have already betrayed many deceased friends. If I invaded Chu at the head of an army, I probably wouldn’t have the face to return to my homeland.”
Li Xian could not help inwardly cursing his own stupidity for failing to realize such a simple fact. He promptly replied, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t go. Southern Chu is secretly weak. There will be no need for you to participate.”
Southern Chu weak? I sneered slightly. I had received news about the results of the negotiations a few days ago. Having consented to allow Southern Chu to cease its reparations, it would only take them a few years to recover their strength with the wealth of Jiangnan. Were it not for the incompetence of the Southern Chu monarch and his ministers, it wouldn’t be an easy thing for Great Yong to conquer Southern Chu. Besides, Lu Can was also present. Having myself suffered at his hands, he was definitely not easy to handle.
Sensing the oppressive mood, Li Xian changed the subject and said, “Suiyun, since you have personally asked to serve as the quartermaster, you have to be careful. If the provisions cannot be maintained, even if you escape a death sentence, you likely will still be punished even though you are the Army Supervisor.”
In response to his words, I thought, If there aren’t sufficient provisions, I will only be punished. But if I went to Qinyuan, when the defeat happens, I likely won’t be able to escape. It is better to hide behind our own lines. However, there was no way that I would dare to speak these words aloud. Although the Prince of Qi also believed that the Yong army would suffer another defeat, he still hoped to be able to win an impressive victory against the Northern Han army. If I uttered such words, he would probably be enraged. In fact, I was quite curious as to whether Long Tingfei would handle the attack according to my calculations. Although the odds were fifty-fifty, it was still best that we suffered a defeat. Otherwise, if the enemy slowly retreated north and fought a bitter war of attrition, before our army arrived at Jinyang, Li Kang would likely already arrive before the walls of Chang’an. In the worst case, Southern Chu would also seize the opportunity to advance north. As a result, if Long Tingfei retreated in defeat from Qinyuan, I would have to completely redo the entire strategic plan.
Having spent so long in the marshal’s tent, it began to feel stuffy. Thinking that my tent had probably already been set up, I bade farewell from the Prince of Qi and walked out. As I gazed up at the dusky sky, I found myself wondering whether that request for reinforcements had arrived in the capital and if it had caused any waves.
“Sleeping alone on a pillow, worried,Gazing at the shining, solitary moon through the window.In the deep and dark of night, my mind is heavy.Alone, sitting up and draping clothes around my shoulders to count the cold stars.At daybreak, a hundred wishes turn to dust,All that is left is a lonesome figure.Clear tears raining like leaves falling from a parasol tree,Hearing the sound of the night watch to wreck the mood.”
In the depths of the harem, within the Bright Terrace Pavilion, a gorgeously beautiful woman in the garb of a palace lady was gently stroking a silver guzheng and softly chanting a song filled with unspeakable sorrow about Beauty Yu.5 Although she lived a life of extravagance and was surrounded by luxury, the life was lonesome and desolate, unable to depend on anyone. With the desolation within depths of the palace, the woman frequently sang and plucked the strings of the guzheng.
Her face was streaked with tears. Standing nearby next to the incense burner, a beautiful palace maid promptly handed over a silk handkerchief. Using the handkerchief to wipe away her tears, the woman said, “Chan’er, wouldn’t it be wonderful if We hadn’t departed from my homeland and endure such a dreary existence?”
Hearing her mistress’s dissatisfaction, the palace maid immediately turned and walked outside. Only after confirming that all of the other palace maids were far away, she returned and whispered, “My Lady, it isn’t appropriate to speak thusly. If someone heard these words and reported them, My Lady would definitely be unable to handle the consequences. As long as we endure for another few months, once His Imperial Majesty has forgotten about that matter, based upon My Lady’s appearance and skills, you will definitely be able to make a comeback.”
Hearing these words, the woman’s head drooped and tears fell again. She replied, “We are also a daughter of an aristocratic family. If Shu had not fallen and We had entered the Royal Palace, We would not have fallen to such a lowly state. Instead, I have now been delivered to the Great Yong harem by Father and have experienced such humiliation. In the beginning, His Imperial Majesty treated me quite well. Immediately after We entered the harem, We were conferred the title of Lady of Complete Demeanor. Although this was likely because of Father, We were still quite favored. However, after Lady Sima was beaten to death, His Imperial Majesty took out his anger upon the daughters delivered by the aristocratic families of Hanzhong, becoming estranged with Us. A few days ago, when We were ill and unable to pay Our respects to the Empress, We don’t know who sought to incite trouble, causing His Imperial Majesty to issue an edict reproaching Us for neglecting proper etiquette, demoting Us to Lady of Complete Beauty.
“This was originally a baseless accusation. We thought that it would be worth it if We could quell His Imperial Majesty’s anger. However, in the months since, We have not been able to see His Imperial Majesty’s countenance. Even with the palace banquets, We are prohibited from attending. At present, this Bright Terrace Pavilion is desolate and miserable, and is no different from the Cold Palace. How can we endure such a miserable existence? We would rather enter the Cold Palace. When an amnesty is proclaimed, We will be able to return home to see Our parents.”
A distant cold light flashed across the eyes of Chan’er, the palace maid. However, she soothingly said, “My Lady, there is no need to worry. The day before yesterday when My Lady went to pay her respects to Her Imperial Majesty, didn’t Her Imperial Majesty hint to My Lady that she had already admonished the Emperor, stating that His Imperial Majesty went too far to take out his anger upon My Lady because of Lady Sima. Perhaps, His Imperial Majesty may change his mind over the next few days.”
The beautiful woman only gave a deep sigh under her breath. Hailing from an aristocratic family, she had long been accustomed to seeing women striving for favor. How could she believe that the empress would speak up on her behalf? The mistress and servant pair conversed for a time and wept for a time. Just as they were feeling disheartened, one of the eunuchs assigned to the pavilion animatedly hurried over. Kneeling down at the door, he reported, “My Lady, wonderful news! His Imperial Majesty has issued an edict and will spend the night at the Bright Terrace Pavilion! Eunuch Song gonggong has come to issue the edict and asks that Your Ladyship make preparations to welcome the Imperial Presence.”
The woman was overjoyed, nearly tottering as her pampered body rose to its feet. In a low voice, she asked, “Chan’er, We have not misheard, correct?”
Revealing a look of joy, the palace maid kneeled and answered, “Congratulations to My Lady. This servant has long said that His Imperial Majesty is a wise and sagacious monarch, and will definitely not take out his anger on My Lady.”
The woman promptly replied, “Chan’er, quickly accompany Us to accept the edict.” Finished speaking, she took the silk handkerchief washed by clear water handed her by the maid and carelessly wiped off the tear stains on her face before she quickly exited to accept the edict.
Within the main hall of the pavilion, a eunuch stood solemnly. He was the emperor’s personal attendant, Song Wan. In fact, Song Wan was still young and looked to be no more than seventeen or eighteen years old. His appearance was proper and guileless, with a docile and well-behaved demeanor. However, once one remembered that he had become one of the emperor’s closest attendants from a mere cleaning eunuch in two years, one would immediately realize that he was not so simple. What was even rarer was that Song Wan had a steady temperament. Although the favor he received from the emperor was not less than that of the Chief Eunuch Supervisor, Chang En, Song Wan was cautious and prudent, never offending anyone rashly. As a result, he had good relations with many in the palace.
Seeing Lady Huang of Complete Beauty walk over, Song Wan respectfully issued the imperial edict. Finishing, he was prepared to withdraw, turning a blind eye to Lady Huang’s somewhat chaotic dress and makeup. Although Lady Huang was extremely joyous, she did not dare to be discourteous. After accepting the edict, she personally saw the eunuch off. As she escorted him out, she removed a piece of fine jade from her waist and slipped it into Song Wan’s hands. She said, “Gonggong is His Imperial Majesty’s close attendant. In troubling gonggong to come personally, We are truly grateful. We have nothing of value and can only gift this jade to gonggong enjoy at your leisure.”
Song Wan accepted the jade, his face beaming with a genuine smile. Only then did Lady Huang satisfactorily halt her footsteps. Chan’er, the palace maid, saw all this clearly. Song Wan’s eyes were clear, completely lacking any look of greed. The maid knew that Song Wan’s eyes were quite sharp and he did not attach unnecessary importance to Her Ladyship’s jade. However, Chan’er knew what was going on. Serving at the emperor’s side, there were innumerable people who wished to curry favor with Song Wan. Her Ladyship had no intent of hoping to bribe this man and would be perfectly satisfied if Song Wan did not cause any trouble.
That very night, Li Zhi’s imperial presence arrived at Bright Terrace Pavilion. This Lady of Complete Beauty’s name was Huang Li and was a precious daughter of Hanzhong’s Huang family. The most important family of Hanzhong was the Sima family. Second to the Sima family was the Huang family. That was why Huang Li was conferred the title of Lady of Complete Demeanor upon entering the harem. Although she was not as beautiful as Lady Sima, she was skilled at playing the guzheng and writing poetry. In addition, because she had an agreeable personality, the favor afforded her was not inferior to that of Lady Sima. However, who could have expected that a tumultuous affair would occur, resulting in Lady Sima being imprisoned within the Cold Palace before being beaten to death by Princess Changle of Ning. As a result of this, the emperor had taken out his anger upon Huang Li. Not only was she demoted, she also failed to see the imperial countenance for several months.
Although she had an agreeable temperament, the women of aristocratic families still had tempers and she could not help having complaints. Who would have thought that the empress had indeed advised the emperor and Huang Li had been able to see the imperial countenance after only two days? Huang Li could not help feeling overjoyed. During this night, she was careful, afraid that she would fail to curry favor if she did not attend to the emperor properly. Li Zhi seemed to also feel some remorse and was several-fold more affectionate. After intercourse, Huang Li attended to Li Zhi as he bathed before the two went to sleep.
During fourth watch,6 Song Wan who was on duty outside suddenly and hurriedly entered the bedchambers. Walking to the bedside, he softly called, “Your Imperial Majesty, Your Imperial Majesty.”
Roused from his dreams, Li Zhi sat up and asked, “What has happened to cause you to come awaken Us at this hour?”
In a low voice, Song Wan answered, “Your Imperial Majesty issued instructions that if any urgent messages arrived from the northern frontier to report immediately regardless of time. Just now, the Sixth Prince’s eight-hundred-li express report has just arrived. Our army has suffered a heavy defeat at Anze.”
Hearing this, Li Zhi broke out into a cold sweat, instantly getting out of bed. Draping robes around his shoulders, he took the report handed over by Song Wan. Walking to a lit lamp, he carefully began to read it. The further he read, the graver his countenance became. It was some time before he said, “Since we have already suffered a defeat, we can only act belatedly. Immediately summon Qin Yi, Zheng Xia, and Shi Yu to discuss business in the Magnificent Culture Palace Hall.”
Finished speaking, Li Zhi hurriedly got dressed with the help of Song Wan. Just as he was about to leave, Li Zhi suddenly remembered something. Turning around, he gazed back toward the brocade-veiled bed. His expression somewhat uneasy, he regretfully said, “Aiyah, in a rush, We forgot that we weren’t in the Palace of Heavenly Purity.”
After he had spoken, Li Zhi walked to the bed. In a low voice, he called out, “Beloved concubine, beloved concubine.”
Li Zhi finally breathed a sigh of relief after calling several times and seeing that Huang Li remained fast asleep. He ordered, “If something like this happens in the future, if We are with a concubine, remember to remind Us, especially since Lady Huang of Complete Beauty is from Shu.” As he reached the end, Li Zhi’s voice became increasingly cold. Song Wan promptly apologized for his offense in terror. After that, the two of them softly and quietly departed.
Once Li Zhi’s figure had departed, Huang Li opened her eyes. At this moment, her forehead was covered with beads of sweat. Earlier, she had woken when Song Wan had come in. However, when she heard that this pertained to classified military secrets, she smartly feigned sleep. It was fortunate that she had done so. Otherwise, Li Zhi would likely have immediately placed her under house arrest and perhaps even have her exiled to the Cold Palace. Thinking of how paper thin a monarch’s favor was, Huang Li could not help sobbing.
At this moment, Chan’er walked in. Chan’er was a palace maid Huang Li had brought with her and was always loyal. As a result, Huang Li did not hide anything from her. Huang Li called Chan’er over and explained the entire situation, shedding tears, “Chan’er, His Imperial Majesty is so suspicious. What should We do?”
The palace maid tactfully mollified, “My Lady, after time passes and His Imperial Majesty learns of My Lady’s feelings, he will definitely not be suspicious of My Lady.”
Huang Li continued to weep without stop. Only when the sky began to brighten did she drowsily fall asleep. Once Huang Li fell asleep, Chan’er revealed a frigid and harsh look in her eyes. Taking advantage of the chaos with the palace attendants and other maids busy, she headed toward the imperial kitchen on the pretext that Huang Li wished to eat a few dishes of her native cuisine. After speaking with the imperial cooks, Chan’er returned to the Bright Terrace Pavilion. No one noticed that she had slipped a piece of paper into the hands of an elderly eunuch within the kitchens.
Over the subsequent days, Li Zhi and the important ministers had completely covered up news of the defeat, practically without any leaks. There was not a hint of rumors within Chang’an. However, some people clearly saw that Li Zhi was marshaling troops. At the same time, through completely unknown and secret channels, news of the defeat at Anze had already reached the Prince of Qing. Li Kang had been anxiously waiting for this opportunity. Reading news of the defeat at the northern frontier, Li Kang could not help reveling. However, he prudently did not immediately rise in rebellion. After all, based upon the intelligence that he had gathered, the defeat suffered this time was not that serious. However, he took this opportunity to test the loyalties and capabilities of the Embroidered Union by investigating the particulars of the recent defeat.
Several days later, the information the Embroidered Union delivered utterly satisfied the Prince of Qing. Not only was the entire nature of the defeat explained, they had managed to discover some of the details the Prince of Qing did not know. Huo Yi explained that this information had been deduced by a number of clues discovered by the Embroidered Union’s spies within Chang’an. After all, the Prince of Qi’s army had completely isolated the entire north, making it impossible to infiltrate anyone inside to gather intelligence. Li Kang had also received information from the Devil Sect. After comparing the two, there was no one outside of the direct actors who knew more about the defeat at Anze. And with this, Li Kang was able to verify the Embroidered Union’s loyalty and capability. In this way, he could hand over power and authority to the Embroidered Union. After all, when it came to reconnaissance and intelligence, the Embroidered Union had the advantage and ability.
- 霸上, Bashang – a location roughly ten kilometers outside of modern-day Xi’an, known for where the Feast at Hongmen occurred and where the tomb of Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty was located
- 三军未动，粮草先行, sanjunweidong, liangcaoxianxing – idiom, lit. before an army can advance, it must be well provisioned; fig. an army marches on its stomach
- 远水不解近渴, yuanshuibujiejinke – idiom, lit. distant water does not cure present thirst; fig. something far away won’t be able to address immediate needs, the aid comes too slow to be of any help
- 旷日持久, kuangrichijiu – idiom, lit. delayed for a long time; fig. protracted, drawn-out
- 虞美人, Yu Meiren – lit. Beauty Mei is a nickname for Xiang Yu’s concubine, Consort Yu (虞姬). In 202 BC, on the verge of defeat and in despair at the Battle of Gaixia (垓下之战), Xiang Yu drowned himself in alcohol and sang a song in sorrow. Consort Yu performed a sword dance and sang a song in return. To ensure that Xiang Yu was not troubled with love for her, Consort Yu committed suicide after finishing.
- The fourth of the five night watches, between 1:00-3:00 AM.