Volume 6, Chapter 2: Green, Beanlike Plums
Since submitting to Yong, the Princess accompanied the Prince of Yongding of the second rank west to Chang’an. At first, the Prince was worried that the Yong court would punish him and the Princess attended to him from dawn to dusk without leaving his side for a moment to calm the Prince.
The Taizong Emperor treated the Princess with profound favor. Every banquet hosted by the Emperor would see the Princess invited. Regardless of whether the guests were members of the imperial clan and aristocrats or important civil and military officials, none dared to irreverently speak of punishing her. Because of the Princess’s heroic appearance and extreme solemnity, none who met her dared to be disrespectful or frivolous.
After the Prince of Qi relinquished his military command and returned to the capital to serve as a military adviser, he admired the Princess’s loyalty and sacrifices. In a roundabout manner, he sent greetings to the Prince of Yongding, desiring to take the Princess as his wife. The Prince of Yongding was afraid of the Prince of Qi’s authority and pushed the Princess to agree. In anger, the Princess wielded a sword and entered the Prince of Qi’s residence. While the Prince of Qi knelt in apology, his close attendants informed the Princess of General Long’s last request. The Princess’s anger dissolved before she departed.—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Princess of Jiaping
While Lu Yun was gazing stupidly at the laughing, yellow-clothed youth, the three fine steeds brushed past. Just at this moment, the black-clothed youth expressed his surprise and suddenly reined in his horse to a halt. His black horse raised its head and whinnied, unexpectedly stopping in its tracks. From this, it could be seen how good of a thoroughbred it was and how good the black-clothed teen’s horsemanship was. His two companions only stopped after several zhang, showing their inferior horsemanship. As for the closely following four bodyguards, they were practically noiseless as they reined in their horses to a stop. The hands of all of the bodyguards dropped to the handles of their sabers, shadowing the three youths ahead of them.
The black-clothed youth towered atop his mount and pointed his whip at Yun Lu, asking, “Who are you? Where have you come from? Why have you come to Chang’an?”
Lu Yun’s heart pounded, not knowing what flaws that he had revealed. However, he was ultimately a descendant of a martial family and extraordinarily courageous. In the moment, he neither servilely nor overbearingly answered, “This lowly one is surnamed Yun, named Yun Lu. I hail from Southern Chu and have come with this caravan to Chang’an to search for my family.”
By this point, the other two young riders had already turned around and come back. Lu Yun took the opportunity to consider the three young horsemen. Earlier, the three individuals had been galloping, and because of the distance, Lu Yun had not been able to see clearly. Now that they were only separated by just over a single zhang, Lu Yun could clearly see the three youth’s appearances.
The yellow-clothed youth was not yet fully grown, possessing handsome features and skin that was as white as snow. Looking carefully, the youth was about eleven or twelve years old. Lu Yun made this conclusion based off of the youth’s riding ability. After all, if a ten-year-old child had such riding skills, then it would be truly shocking. Because this youth’s skin was delicate as powder and carried a lovable, pampered bearing, it was possible that people would believe that the youth was no more than nine or ten. Currently, the yellow-clothed youth was fiddling with an exquisite light-green whip, alternating between looking at Lu Yun and the black-clothed adolescent. The youth’s black eyes were filled with an intense curiosity.
As for the black-clothed adolescent who was staring with suspicion, although he was aggressive, speaking in a tone that belied his age and adopting an authoritative manner, when Lu Yun examined carefully, he saw that this youth looked rather young and immature and should be probably of similar age to the yellow-clothed youth. At the very least, the black-clothed youth wasn’t older than himself. It was only that the youth’s countenance carried a thickly baleful and dark aura. This greatly changed the youth’s expression. Combined with the youth’s tall stature, it made it seem as if the youth was a lot older.
The youth who brought his horse to a stop behind caused Lu Yun the greatest wariness. The youth seemed to be sixteen or seventeen years old. He appeared ordinary and had a refined and scholarly temperament. Although the horse he sat upon was rare, his clothing and the whip in his hands were common. Regardless of how it looked, he seemed to be no more than an ordinary teen. However, he had ridden alongside the two other youths and remained composed without a shred of timidity in his bearing. Lu Yun remembered that his father had once warned him that this kind of individual was the most dangerous and he needed to pay careful attention.
The black-clothed youth seemingly did not seem to pay much attention to Lu Yun’s answer. Pausing for a moment, the youth pointed his whip at the bow and quiver of arrows slung over Lu Yun’s shoulders and asked, “That is a top-quality iron bow and should have a draw weight of three dan. A large, eight chi person can join the army if they can use such a bow. Can you truly use such a bow?”
Lu Yun felt himself relax. So it was his bow that had aroused this youth’s attention. In a grave tone, he replied, “Since youth, this lowly one has been fond of martial life. My strength is relatively sufficient and can barely use this iron bow. Originally, I was rather proud. However, over the course of the journey, I have seen countless young warriors drilling with the bow on the training grounds throughout Great Yong. Many of them can wield this kind of bow. It may be assumed that this lowly one is only finding it strange due to my lack of experience.”
The black-clothed youth’s bladelike eyebrows rose as he said, “You are actually quite glib. It is unfortunate that you have chosen the wrong target. I am the Prince of Jia of the second rank, Li Lin. How can I not interrogate you? Are you going to follow me out of your own free will or do I have to have you arrested and brought to the Prince’s residence? If you try to flee, this Prince will issue an arrest warrant to the Imperial Guard. When the time comes, I won’t be so courteous.”
Lu Yun was enraged and could not help curling his hands into fists. Regardless of his identity, wasn’t the black-clothed boy taking advantage of his position to bully others by forcibly dragging him back to his residence without any evidence? After thinking it over, he suddenly remembered the identity given by the boy. This youth was in fact a prince of the second rank. Although Lu Yun didn’t quite know the youth’s actual identity, he had no doubt that the boy was undoubtedly a member of the imperial clan. Although he heard the suspicion in the boy’s tone that could not be confirmed, if he could obtain this boy’s confidence, then he presumably would have a way of approaching the Marquis of Chu, Jiang Zhe.
Suddenly at this moment, the yellow-clothed youth indignantly interjected, arms akimbo, “Li Lin, if you continue not listening, I’ll look for elder brother Jun and have him badly punish you. If I hadn’t begged elder brother Jun to allow you to come out, you’d probably be studying with elder brother Jun.”
The youth’s voice was clear and soft. Although the youth’s arms were akimbo and the youth was scolding, the youth’s playful pouting and moving appearance swept Lu Yun’s mind away. Unexpectedly he became dazzled and stunned,1 unable to shift his gaze.
At this moment, the reproached Li Lin noticed that Lu Yun was staring obsessively. A raging fury ignited and soared within Li Lin as he ferociously lashed out at Lu Yun. Lu Yun was an utter mess and was caught completely off guard. The whip stung Lu Yun’s shoulder. In an instant, Lu Yun’s clothes were cut apart and blood began to seep out. Lu Yun let out a cry of pain, reaching for his bow as he glowered at the black-clothed youth.
Seeing this, the several bodyguards spurred their horses forward, glaring with hostility at Lu Yun. Lu Yun shivered. Barely suppressing his anger, he stated, “Regardless if you are a prince of the first or second rank, you are too overbearing .”
Seeing the fury on Lu Yun’s face, Li Lin also could not help feeling a bit uneasy and felt that he had gone too far. After all, his companions’ appearance and temperament were both quite exquisite. This Southern Chu youth had only taken a few looks. What was the point of getting offended? However, why had he suddenly gotten so heated? However, no matter how remorseful he was, he could not lightly bow his head and apologize, because of his family background and natural temperament.
At this moment, the yellow-clothed youth saw the blood on Lu Yun’s body. Shouting loud enough to shake the world, the youth reprimanded, “Li Lin, you’re too much! I will have Uncle Prince of Qi ground you.”
Then the youth jumped off the horse and walked to Lu Yun’s side. The youth took out a handkerchief and said to Lu Yun, “Don’t take offense. My little brother Lin has such a temperament. He has no ill will.” Finished speaking, the youth took out a bottle of wound medication from an embroidered sack at his waist and prepared to help Lu Yun bind his injury.
While Lu Yun was being a bit indecisive and could not bear to refuse, a bodyguard walked over and spoke, “Princess, it is best that this subordinate helps this little brother with his injury.”
Lu Yun shivered inside at the revelation that this youth was a girl. It was no wonder her appearance was so delicate and supple. After remembering that the bodyguard hailed her as a princess and realizing that she was likely also a member of the Yong imperial clan, Lu Yun’s emotions flew all over the place, not knowing whether to feel panic-stricken or disappointed. Lu Yun suddenly pushed the yellow-clothed girl aside and scolded, “Don’t cry crocodile tears!”
Pushed aside, the girl stumbled and nearly fell to the ground. She had been spoiled and indulged since childhood. When had she ever been so wronged? If it not for her desire to apologize for her naughty and mischievous “little brother,” why would she have helped an unfamiliar youth with his injury? Who would have thought that the youth would be so rude? For the moment, she could not prevent the shedding of tears.
Originally, Li Lin was looking on detachedly, thinking about how to curry favor and save the situation. However, upon seeing Lu Yun act so discourteously, Li Lin couldn’t endure his fury any longer. Pointing with his horsewhip, he cried, “This little thief dares to offend the Princess of Zhaohua! Arrest him and bring him back to the residence to be punished!”
Lu Yun was also feeling guilty at treating a kind young girl in such a manner. Hearing Li Lin’s words, he felt it was like a clap of thunder on an otherwise clear day. The Princess of Zhaohua was a title he knew. In order to assassinate Jiang Zhe, he had pored over the documents in his father’s study and learned that the Marquis of Chu, Jiang Zhe, had an adopted daughter named Jiang Roulan. This adopted daughter was beloved by the Yong imperial family and had been anointed the Princess of Zhaohua. However, Lu Yun had never expected that the young girl before his eyes would actually be Jiang Zhe’s daughter and his father’s junior apprentice sister. Even if the relationship of master and student was ignored, this young girl’s father was a traitorous subject of Southern Chu and was an enemy Lu Yun wished to assassinate. However, not knowing why, Lu Yun felt empty inside, even forgetting to resist when two bodyguards walked over to arrest him.
At this moment, Li Lin bellowed with rage at Roulan, “Look, it’s you who are being too soft. This little thief is clearly a spy from Southern Chu! As for the ones accompanying him, deliver all of them to the Capital Magistrate to have them properly interrogated to see if there’s anything suspicious about them!”
By now, Song Jian and company, all grumbling internally, could only step forward to beg forgiveness. “Your Highness, we are all merchants who abide and observe the law. This little brother is definitely not a spy. Your Highness, please forgive him.”
His face cold, Li Lin ignored him. The bodyguards exchanged looks and helplessly shook their heads. One of them untied a bugle horn and prepared to issue a warning call to summon the patrolling Imperial Guard.
At this moment, Roulan, brought to tears by Li Lin’s scolding, shouted, “Li Lin, are you finished? If you continue causing trouble, I will ignore you from now on. You were clearly the one who provoked him, making him treat me rudely! What? Why are you worsening your bullying?”
Li Lin was also enraged. Pointing at Roulan, he answered, “I’m helping you vent your anger and yet you aren’t grateful. Who are they to you for you go to such trouble? Are you being lenient because they are from Southern Chu? Don’t forget, though Uncle-in-law is from Southern Chu, you are not! You hail from Great Yong!”
Hearing this, Roulan covered her face and began to cry loudly. As she cried, she replied, “You-you’re talking rubbish! Clearly, you’re the one being unreasonable and are fond of showing your airs as a prince! I don’t want to see you running amok and yet you still scold me. Boohoo! I will never pay attention to you again!” Finished speaking, she mounted her horse and pulled the reins of her horse to prepare to depart.
Li Lin panicked as he guided his horse to block Roulan. Opening his mouth to apologize, he found he could say nothing in front of so many eyes and could only perspire profusely in anxiety.
At this moment, the youth who had watched with the cool eye of an observer indifferently spoke up, “Stop quarrelling! This isn’t something major yet the two of you are squabbling like children and making a mockery of yourselves. Lan’er, the Prince of Jia only wants to help vent your anger and wasn’t intentionally trying to enrage you. Do you not know the Prince’s temperament? As long as there aren’t any problems with this little brother’s identity, no one will make things difficult for him. At most, he will be inconvenienced for a few days. If you weren’t being so meddlesome, the Prince likely wouldn’t have been so enraged.” Roulan listened in a daze before eventually bowing her head in silence. The scowl on her face gradually vanished.
The teen then turned to Li Lin and said, “Prince of Jia, Lan’er has a good-natured temperament and is not fond of seeing you bully others. That is because she treats you as her closest kin. Chang’an is full of children of influential officials. Have you ever seen her so noisy with them?”
Hearing this, Li Lin’s expression gradually softened and he quietly replied, “Big brother Huo, it’s my fault. I shouldn’t have been burning with eagerness and made things difficult for this person.” Finished speaking, Li Lin waved his hand to have the bodyguards release Lu Yun.
Lu Yun gently massaged the rope burns on his wrists, feeling as if he were in a dream. At this moment, the teen surnamed Huo nudged his horse forward and said, “Little brother, although the Prince of Jia was a bit over the top, you were also rather arrogant. Although it is said that a person must have a backbone, how can you be so headstrong when you are out traveling the world alone? Besides, my family’s Lan’er treated you with respect the entire time. You should not have taken out your anger on someone who didn’t deserve it, like her. Here is twenty taels of silver for your injury and your fright. Do not refuse as this is due etiquette and friendliness.
“Since you have come to Chang’an to search for your relatives, you undoubtedly have your own problems. If you run into any problems, you can go to the residence of Senior Princess Changle of Ning to seek me out. I am named Huo Cong. But you probably won’t be able to enter the Imperial City. It will be fine as long as you give word to the guards on duty at the Vermillion Bird Gate.”
Lu Yun had calmed down. Lu Yun could not figure out this teen’s identity, as he was on such close terms with the Princess of Zhaohua, while addressing Li Lin by his princely title and being addressed in turn as big brother. This made this young man’s identity even more confusing. However, since he lived in Jiang Zhe’s residence, this teen probably had a close relationship with the Jiang family. Furthermore, having witnessed him so easily pacify Li Lin and Jiang Roulan’s raucous dispute and his courtesy, Lu Yun’s anger likely would have vanished even if he didn’t have any malicious intentions. It was just as his father said: this kind of man was truly terrifying.
Bowing, Lu Yun acknowledged, “Many thanks for brother’s advice. This was a result of this lowly one not being wise to the ways of the world and offending both the Prince and the Princess. Please forgive me. Yun will stay for some time in Chang’an. If there the Prince or the Princess has any questions, feel free to summon this lowly one. If there are any commands, this lowly one will absolutely fulfill them.”
A light flashed across Huo Cong’s eyes as he smiled and replied, “If so, that is for the best.” Finished speaking, he mounted his horse. With a smile, he saluted.
By now, Li Lin had already become impatient and galloped off, closely followed by Roulan. Before she departed, Roulan still flashed a smile at Lu Yun. Even though she still had tear stains on her face, her smile was like a blossoming spring flower. No one could find a trace of unhappiness on her face. Afterwards, the Huo surnamed teen and the bodyguards all followed and departed.
Having escaped a calamity, the merchants of the caravan either grumbled or lectured Lu Yun. However, Lu Yun did not take their words to heart. At this moment, he was calculating how to best use today’s chance encounter. These figures he ran into definitely all had close ties with Jiang Zhe. With just a glance, Lu Yun could tell that the Prince of Jia, Li Lin, was a firm and savage boy. If Li Lin found something odd, no definite evidence would likely be needed for him to be arrested and undergo torture to obtain a confession. As for that Huo Cong, he was likely someone with deep schemes. Leaving aside the bodyguards at Jiang Zhe’s side, these two youths were enough to make Lu Yun extremely wary. In comparison, the Princess of Zhaohua, Jiang Roulan, was a proud girl who had been thoroughly doted upon. Combined with her kindheartedness and naïvety, she would definitely not become an obstacle. It was possible that she could even lend a helping hand and give Lu Yun the opportunity to approach Jiang Zhe. Right after Lu Yun thought this, he suddenly felt self-loathing. When had he become such a treacherous individual to actually think of using a girl as a tool for assassinating her father?
Ignoring Lu Yun’s self-condemnation, the three youths galloped back to Chang’an. Li Lin only saw Roulan to the entrance of her home before fleeing in fear, not looking back. He had no wish to be on hand as Roulan told on him. The second he imagined his paternal uncle-in-law’s smile that contained a strange light, Li Lin felt a chill run up his spine. Speaking of which, this paternal uncle-in-law’s temperament was truly baffling. He was obviously heavily trusted by uncle emperor yet he would oft live in seclusion in the Cold Courtyard with pretext of being ill, frequently leading to uncle emperor and Li Lin’s princely father seeking him out for advice.
This by itself was nothing. After all, those were important matters of state and Li Lin wasn’t inclined to pay them any attention. In any case, there was no need for him to worry. The only thing Li Lin found difficult to accept was that his paternal uncle-in-law’s greatest pleasure came from teasing his son and daughter, Jiang Roulan and Jiang Shen, for years without tiring. At present, Roulan relied upon the support of the empress and the crown prince, and had nothing to worry about. As for Jiang Shen, he had long ago learned to hide in the Floating Clouds2 Temple without returning home even at such a young age. If he had to return home, Jiang Shen would always go to Li Lin’s home. This was especially the case after Li Lin’s younger sister, Li Ning, was born, as Jiang Shen was even more unwilling to return home. What was truly despicable was that, when paternal uncle-in-law realized he couldn’t tease his own children, he had somehow targeted Li Lin. Every single time Li Lin visited, he would often be teased on the flimsiest of excuses.
Having brought Roulan to tears, Jiang Zhe would definitely not allow this opportunity to slip by. Thinking of this, Li Lin sincerely wished that he would never see this uncle again. Li Lin was baffled at how he had originally believed his uncle to be a genial man. Perhaps it was because he didn’t know better due to his young age.
Footnotes:目眩神迷, muxuanshenmi – idiom, lit. to be dazzled and stunned; fig. bedazzled 浮云, fuyun – lit. floating clouds; fig. fleeting, transient