The Prince of Yong dispatched scouts to find out what was happening. It wasn’t long before they returned to report. Hearing their reports, Li Zhi relaxed and stated, “In the years past when I was in the Ministry of War, I once considered what to do if turmoil erupted in the capital. As a result, I had the Imperial Guard train for this contingency. It seems like Qin Qing is truly a tiger cub from a martial family. He has handled this matter extremely appropriately. At present, it’s only a city gate that has been set aflame, while the chaos is concentrated around the eastern marketplace. As long as it is appropriately handled, the chaos will not grow and get out of hand.”
Just as I was celebrating that my cousin, Jing Shunqing’s Jiangnan Spring was located in the people’s marketplace, I began to worry about the inevitably thorough search that was to come. Xia Jinyi was still in Chang’an. From the Prince of Yong’s words, I could not help but exclaim in admiration, “Your Imperial Highness planned far ahead and is adept at military matters. This subject greatly respects your foresight. However, it is extremely strange that a riot would occur in the eastern marketplace. This subject cannot understand it.”
Gazing deeply at me, Li Zhi replied, “Suiyun has not had much exposure to the military. In this Prince’s view, it is my Great Yong who has been negligent. These years, the struggle to be heir apparent has only intensified, completely forgetting that the entire world is not yet fully pacified.”
I immediately understood. Clapping my hands, I exclaimed, “It must be spies from Northern Han. Southern Chu is too weak and its reestablishment is still under progress. Although some of the rebels have stated that they are from Shu, Shu has been peaceful under the governance of the Prince of Qing, let alone the fact that the Embroidered Union has been destroyed. Therefore, the only possibility is that these spies are from Northern Han. Just now, Your Imperial Highness mentioned that there have been alerts issued from the northern frontier. It is likely that Northern Han is of mind to violate the borders. This time, they first dispatched agents to throw Chang’an into turmoil. This is two birds with one stone. Not only can they stir up grievances from the common people and cancel out the effect of the Emperor’s sacrifices at the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor, they can also cause all of the disparate factions in Great Yong to become suspicious of one another. Just now, this subject harbored suspicions that the assassination attempt on Zheng Xia was a result of the Crown Prince taking out his anger on the Palace Attendant. If it weren’t the Eastern Palace catching fire and Zheng Xia’s report to the Emperor that the Crown Prince wasn’t in the Eastern Palace, it is likely that the Crown Prince would not have been placed under house arrest. Now, it seems like tonight’s events are all a result of Northern Han’s actions.”
Shaking his head, Li Zhi replied, “The people of Northern Han are doughty and intrepid. It is possible they dispatched assassins. However, their targets would probably only be military commanders. Why would they assassinate an upright and honorable civil official? It is unlikely that they would perform such a deed.”
Playing with the folding fan in my hands, I frowned and stated, “Tonight, three major incidents have occurred tonight—the Prince of Qing’s secret base in Chang’an has been destroyed, Palace Attendant Zheng was attacked by an assassin at the Vermillion Bird Gate, and the eastern marketplace has fallen into turmoil. The incident at the eastern marketplace is likely the result of Northern Han spies. Alas, I also overlooked them and didn’t expect that they would dare to be so unbridled. Now it seems that this is all an indicator that they will mobilize their army and invade. The Prince of Qing … as for targeting the Prince of Qing, within Chang’an, the ones with the greatest hostility towards the Prince of Qing is the Fengyi Sect. But this matter is relatively unimportant and wouldn’t affect matters if we guessed wrong the perpetrators. The major issue is: who attempted to assassinate Palace Attendant Zheng? To speak the truth, Palace Attendant Zheng is a loyal vassal of the Emperor and has the trust and confidence of His Imperial Majesty. Now that he has participated in the incident at the Eastern Palace, given his usual uprightness and honesty, it is likely that he is already dissatisfied with the Crown Prince. With this person by the Emperor’s side, it will only be of benefit to Your Imperial Highness. Could it be possible … could it be?” I no longer said another word. The conclusion that I had reached was too terrifying. Even I was afraid to think any further.
The Prince of Yong’s heart also jumped, but he did not voice those thoughts. Instead, he said, “Suiyun, that day, the Fengyi Sect Master used Roulan to test the waters. As we resolutely declined, it is likely that we must be careful of the Fengyi Sect’s assassins around the clock.”
I icily replied, “Your Imperial Highness does not wish to become a puppet. This subject is usually not fond of restriction from others. The Fengyi Sect Master is already an implacable opponent of Your Imperial Highness. From the reaction from the Shaolin Temple, it seems like it won’t be long before the Fengyi Sect will find itself utterly isolated.2 If Your Imperial Highness makes peace with the Fengyi Sect, we will have lost the difficult to come by popular will.”
The Prince of Yong loftily laughed and replied, “Although this Prince understands that the Fengyi Sect Master can allow me to ascend to the throne without any difficulties, but things in this world often cannot be acquired by taking shortcuts. This Prince is determined to unify the world and regulate the empire. How can be held under duress by others? Although the Fengyi Sect Master gave much thought to her words, it is a pity that this Prince is not someone to listen to her words.”
“Your Imperial Highness’s ambition is far-reaching,” I stated, saluting. “This subject admires this greatly. This subject hopes that I can witness Your Imperial Highness on the day when the world is at peace.”
Solemnly, the Prince of Yong responded, “Suiyun, you have helped this Prince greatly. In the future, this Prince will have to discuss state affairs with you. You will personally bear witness to the day when the entire world is at peace.”
I smiled slightly. Although I had obtained a cultivation method from the Shaolin Temple and had seen some improvements after cultivating, under the weight of this kind of demanding work, I did not know how long I would be able to live.
Gazing towards the horizon where flickering flames dyed the sky red, I uneasily asked, “Your Imperial Highness, the Princess has not gone with His Imperial Majesty to Qiaoshan. Is she at the Dustless Nunnery?”
The Prince of Yong shot me a glance. Seeing my absentmindedness, he shook his head lightly and answered, “Do not worry, there are men assigned to the defense of the Dustless Nunnery. Imperial Sister has an important status and is Imperial Father’s beloved daughter, and receives the respect and love of Great Yong’s common people. Therefore, no one would dare to be complacent. Is Suiyun worried?”
Blushing, I advised, “Regardless of whether there are men assigned to protect the Princess, Your Imperial Highness should dispatch subordinates to take a look.”
Smiling faintly, the Prince of Yong replied, “You shouldn’t be worrying about this. Presumably, the Princess of Yong has already dispatched someone to the nunnery.”
At this moment, a maid entered and reported, “The Princess of Yong has ordered this servant to report to Your Imperial Highness. The imperial bodyguard dispatched to look in on Princess Changle has returned. Supervisor Xiahou has already led men to protect the Dustless Nunnery. At present, the situation is chaotic. The Princess of Yong sent a letter to Her Imperial Highness, Princess Changle, urging Princess Changle to return to the palace. Princess Changle has already agreed and has asked the Princess of Yong to bring Roulan along to visit her in the palace.”
The Prince of Yong waved his hand to dismiss the maid, while I finally stopped worrying. I asked, “At present, who is assigned to protect this residence? Has Your Imperial Highness taken note of who it is?”
Breaking out into laughter, the Prince of Yong teased, “If this Prince has to wait for your reminders, it is likely that it will already be too late. At present, Pei Yun is outside. No need to worry. There is no one who can seize the opportunity to harm this Prince. Besides, didn’t you already order the household guards to go on alert?”
Blushing, I laughed. Earlier, I had privately ordered Sima Xiong to mobilize and place the household guard on alert. Surprisingly, this did not escape the Prince of Yong’s eyes.
Just as we were about to return to analyzing tonight’s events, Qin Qing’s messenger arrived and entered the residence.
Hearing the messenger’s report, the Prince of Yong’s face fell and he stated, “These spies are truly terrible. The eastern marketplace is a strategic location in Chang’an. The losses this time will be disastrous. Now, it appears that they are attempting to take advantage of the turmoil. Which of the merchants in the eastern marketplace do not have bodyguards protecting them? If this is allowed to continue, it is likely that the eastern marketplace will become nothing more than ash. This is unacceptable. This Prince must go promptly to handle this matter.”
I immediately stopped him and replied, “Your Imperial Highness, at present, the eastern marketplace is already in turmoil. If Your Imperial Highness is to go, it is of no consequence if Your Imperial Highness is able to quell the turmoil. However, if Your Imperial Highness were to fail, there are likely those will shift the responsibility of all of this on Your Imperial Highness. At present, staying calm and not making a move is better than taking action. Please think this over.”
This time, however, the Prince of Yong did not take my advice. Shaking his head, he replied, “Suiyun, this Prince is an Imperial Prince of Great Yong and commander-in-chief of the three armies. This very moment is when I should be serving the dynasty and its people. How can I split hairs over my personal gains and losses? The sooner the unrest in the eastern marketplace is pacified, the lesser the losses. Zhangsun Ji, Sima Xiong, pick a hundred household guards and accompany me to the eastern marketplace. Suiyun, you must handle the many affairs of this household with care. Between Great Master True Compassion and Xiaoshunzi, one of them must always be at your side.”
When I was about to continue to dissuade him, I raised my eyes and looked. Seeing Li Zhi radiating health and vigor, his imposing manner oppressive, I was surprisingly left speechless. I could only lower my head and reply, “This subject obeys. Please do not worry, Your Imperial Highness. I will have Xiaoshunzi remain in the inner residence to protect the Princess of Yong and my daughter. With Great Master True Compassion by your side and General Pei outside, there is no need for Your Imperial Highness to worry.”
Smiling faintly, Li Zhi hollered, “Bring this Prince’s golden armor! This Prince wants to see who dares to disrupt my Great Yong’s capital.”
The imperial bodyguards waiting outside shouted in chorus. It wasn’t long before the Prince of Yong’s personal guards delivered his golden armor. Not hiding from anyone, Li Zhi took off his civilian robes and put on the golden armor. Above it, he put on a battle gown made from Sichuan brocade silk. Li Zhi walked out, his strides like a prowling dragon and tiger, extremely vigorous. When his personal guards, who had accompanied the Prince of Yong through hundreds of battles, saw the prince walk out with such an imposing manner, as if he were returning to the battlefield, they immediately kowtowed and roared, “Long live Your Imperial Highness, long life!”
I could clearly sense the bloody, violent atmosphere coalesce. I could not help but be moved by the heaven-soaring lethality and heroic spirit. In a loud voice, I cried out, “I offer best wishes for Your Imperial Highness’s success. This subject will prepare a feast in the residence to await Your Imperial Highness’s triumphant return.”
Laughing heartily, the Prince of Yong replied, “All soldiers, have you heard Major Jiang’s intentions to hold a feast to await our triumphant return? We must go and return quickly, so that we can drink the entire night!”
Fully prepared, the imperial bodyguards marched out of the main gate of the residence, escorting the Prince of Yong’s warhorse. In a split second, the horse like a dragon and the man like a tiger, charged out of the residence, quickly disappearing. The only thing that could be seen was the dust being kicked up and the gradually diminishing sound of horse hooves.
I watched until the Prince of Yong’s figure had disappeared, my mind occupied with a multitude of thoughts. Although the Prince of Yong had not taken my advice, I was not even the slightest bit annoyed. Only this kind of man deserved to become the emperor, to become my lord.
At this moment, Pei Yun, commanding the Imperial Guard assigned to protect the Prince of Yong’s residence, nudged his horse over. Hailing me, he said, “Daren, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, is deserving of his reputation as a famous general of this generation. Simply taking a look at His Imperial Highness’s household cavalry, one can see the strict way His Imperial Highness commands the army. It is a pity that Pei Yun does not have the opportunity to fight under the command of His Imperial Highness.”
I smiled slightly. “You will have the opportunity one day. Recently, Northern Han has been making some moves and the northern frontier is in danger. His Imperial Highness is preparing to petition the Emperor to tour and inspect the frontier. If you are willing, you can ask to accompany His Imperial Highness.”
His eyes brightening, Pei Yun thought over the feasibility of this plan. However, when Pei Yun’s subordinates heard this news, it left all of them thinking different thoughts.
I snickered inwardly. By using this method to spread the news, I had no fear that the crown prince’s faction wouldn’t promptly come up with a plan to prevent the Prince of Yong from returning to the army. Suddenly, I remembered something. This time, Northern Han conspired to cause havoc in Chang’an. Although they made a great show of strength, the reality was not as large as what was imagined. Unless, they had ulterior motives … If I were planning this operation, how would I set it up? Thinking this matter over, I suddenly remembered something. Greatly alarmed, I promptly requested, “General Pei, I need to borrow your help.”
Alarmed, Pei Yun replied, “I await daren’s instructions.”
Beckoning him to follow me, I stated, “General Pei, come with me.” Finished speaking, I did not bother to check whether he was following and hurriedly rushed to the Cold Courtyard. According to my calculations, there should be enough time. I could not help but rejoice that I had remembered. Even if my fears were groundless, it was better safe than sorry.
When Li Zhi arrived at the east gate to the eastern marketplace, Qin Qing had taken charge of the Imperial Guard positioned here. Qin Qing had become extremely anxious while waiting. Seeing the Prince of Yong arrive, Qin Qing urged his horse forward to the prince’s side. In a loud voice, he declared, “Your Imperial Highness, it’s already completely in chaos inside. This general has already announced that if they do not cease, I will forcibly suppress the turmoil. However, no one has been willing to obey. May I ask Your Imperial Highness if this general is permitted to use force?”
Icily, Li Zhi replied, “Gathered in the eastern marketplace is Chang’an’s essence. Almost all of Great Yong’s largest merchants have shops located in the eastern marketplace. If destroyed indiscriminately, it is likely that it will harm Great Yong’s economic lifeline. It is better if this Prince handles this. Qin Qing, are you willing to temporarily hand over command of the Imperial Guard to me?”
Wiping away the beads of sweat on his forehead, Qin Qing acknowledged, “This general obeys.” Finished speaking, he rapidly transmitted the order. The imperial guardsmen all rejoiced. They had all heard the Prince of Yong’s prestige long ago. Many had even witnessed the heroic appearance of the Prince of Yong going into battle. Under the leadership of their officers, the ten thousand or so Imperial Guardsmen cried out in unison, “We obey Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong’s commands. Long live Your Imperial Highness.”
When those fighting chaotically in the eastern marketplace heard the shouts of the Imperial Guard, many could not help but slow down their movements. At this moment, those close to the east gate let out cries of alarm. Seated upon a horse, a poised man, dressed in golden armor and a red Sichuan brocade silk battle gown with gentle expression, appeared before the Imperial Guard. At his side were two generals. One was dressed in black armor with a straight mouth and an upright appearance. The other had long eyebrows and phoenix eyes, his face pale and whiskerless. He wore azure-colored armor. In the hands of the black-armored general was a steel lance weighing no less than twenty catties. At his waist was a saber. One could immediately tell with one look that he was a valiant general. As for the azure-armored general, he carried two silver spears in his hands. On his back was a golden colored bow. On his saddle were four pouches filled with arrows. One could detect the faint, murderous aura and grave bearing from the two generals and the accompanying valiant soldiers, making it seem like the golden-armored general’s bearing was even more unhurried and calm.
Most of the men within the eastern marketplace had traveled extensively and were familiar with all of the famed generals and bigwigs of Great Yong. With one look, they immediately knew who had arrived. With this, they no longer had the strength to wield the weapons in their hands, as they became anxious and frightened, afraid that His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong would give the order to forcibly suppress the turmoil.
Looking around, the Prince of Yong could see that the bearings of the rioters had weakened. In a loud voice, he proclaimed, “At present, spies have risen in revolt and sowed discord. As citizens of Great Yong, how can you help the enemy?3 If you have no intentions of rebelling, then you must sit down on the ground, your hands wrapped around your knees! Sima Xiong, count to ten for this Prince! After ten, if there is anyone still standing, shoot them dead with arrows! In years past, this Prince traveled unhindered throughout the world, besieging cities and conquering lands, how can I be hindered by this tiny eastern marketplace?”
As he spoke, Li Zhi used his internal energy. As a result, everyone heard his words clearly.
At this moment, Sima Xiong roared, “All soldiers, shout with me! His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, has commanded that if you are not a spy, you must immediately sit down on the ground, hugging your knees with both hands! After a count of ten, any still standing will be killed without mercy!”
It wasn’t long before the order was transmitted. With shouts like rolling thunder, the soldiers bellowed the Prince of Yong’s command thrice. Everyone in the eastern marketplace could hear it clearly. At this moment, Sima Xiong raised his long lance and pointed it up at the sky. In a powerful voice, he began to count, joined by the soldiers. Their cries shook the Heavens and the Earth. Every number he counted, Sima Xiong would raise his long lance. Soon, all it took was for him to raise his lance and a number would echo out.
Before ten was reached, some of those crowded around the east gate had already sat down. At this moment, someone yelled, “They are all liars! We are only battling to defend ourselves! But they, in order to conceal this matter, will treat us as rebels.”
With this shout, some of those in the crowd began to lose their heads from fear. Just as it seemed like the situation would get out of control, the Prince of Yong laughed callously and ordered, “Zhangsun Ji, kill all those rumor-mongering spies for me.”
Before the Prince of Yong had even spoken, Zhangsun Ji had already strung his bow. Hearing the Prince of Yong’s order, he notched an arrow and fired into the crowd, nailing a man to the ground. This action immediately intimidated everyone. Even at the start, the rioters looked with panic-stricken eyes upon the fully armed and armored soldiers.
In a strong voice, Li Zhi shouted, “This man was babbling nonsense with the goal of inciting chaos. If this Prince were to treat you all as rebels, I would have given the order long ago to annihilate you. At present, this Prince is willing to believe that you all have been hoodwinked. As long as you adhere to my commands, this Prince will absolutely not investigate further.”
Finished speaking, the Prince of Yong urged his horse forward. Sima Xiong, Zhangsun Ji, and the hundred household guards glared at their surroundings as they escorted the Prince of Yong forward. Wherever they went, Li Zhi continually declared his amnesty in a loud voice. The common people of Great Yong all held the Prince of Yong in high esteem. All of them obediently sat on the ground, even going so far as to make a path for the prince. Li Zhi advanced at a measured pace, following the main avenue through the eastern marketplace. Zhangsun Ji firmly held onto the bow in his hands as well as an arrow. If anyone dared to utter any words of instigation, he would fire an arrow. His archery was peerless and his vision keen. As a result, he did not mistakenly a single innocent man.
Although Li Zhi had a light smile on his face, his eyes exuded an icy and penetrating prestige. With one gaze from him, all those who remained suspicious and held onto their weapons could not help but loosen their grips. Following behind the Prince of Yong, the Imperial Guard, formerly blocked outside, easily entered the eastern marketplace, collecting the weapons of those who had sat down before allowing them to return to their residences under escort, prohibiting from coming out again. The eastern marketplace was very large. Li Zhi traveled down each of the major avenues that crisscrossed through the marketplace. Wherever he went, all those who intended to take advantage and make trouble were immediately scared witless by the Prince of Yong’s gaze, even though the Prince of Yong was unarmed and defenseless, almost as if they forgot the formidable generals and soldiers escorting the prince. After traveling throughout the eastern marketplace, although there were several locations where there were those who brazenly refused to follow orders, these individuals were swiftly executed by Zhangsun Ji’s archery and the blades of the household guards. The Prince of Yong’s grave prestige caused the turmoil that they wished for to disappear like smoke.
Only as dawn approached did the Imperial Guard fully take control of the entirety of the marketplace. Fortunately, many influential merchants had locked their doors and stayed inside, only having their subordinates guard their shops. As a result, irreparable damage was avoided. Only then did Li Zhi relax. It wasn’t that he couldn’t steel his heart and forcibly suppress the turmoil. But after thinking about the consequences, Li Zhi did not dare to act. Now that the situation was back under control, the only thing that could be done now was to investigate these rioters. It was certain that the spies from Northern Han would be discovered.
Towards Qin Qing, Li Zhi ordered, “General Qin, now that everything is under control, this Prince will return control of the Imperial Guard back to you. Be sure to take care of the remaining matters. If there are any difficulties, you can come see me in my residence. In addition, report this matter to Prime Minister Wei. This Prince is going to go back and get changed. Now that the situation is roughly settled, this Prince still has to enter the palace to report this matter to the Empress and Consorts.”
Filled with admiration, Qin Qing replied, “This general pays my respects upon seeing Your Imperial Highness’s prestige today. Do not worry, Your Imperial Highness. This general will definitely handle this matter properly.”
Li Zhi smiled slightly. Just as he about to bid his farewell and depart, a squad of Imperial Guard walked by, escorting several bound men. Li Zhi stayed his horse, glancing over. He instructed, “Be sure to keep a good watch over these men. They must be carefully interrogated.”
Just as Qin Qing was about to reply, the men suddenly cried out, “Li Zhi! Surrender your life!” So speaking, the men flexed their arms, shaking the ropes off. The several swift and fierce men and that squad of Imperial Guard all bounded towards Li Zhi.