Volume 6, Chapter 3: Learning an Old Friend Has Come
In the fourth year of Longsheng, when the Princess took off her mourning garments, the Prince of Qi visited the Prince of Yongding’s residence to formally propose marriage. The Princess agreed. Taizong was delighted when he heard of this and personally bestowed marriage.
At the time, Emperor Gaozu was still healthy and was frequently worried after the Prince of Qi became a widower. Hearing of the wedding, Gaozu was delighted and personally presided over the ceremony. During the wedding banquet, Gaozu took the Prince of Yongding’s arm and said, “Our two families will always be in-laws.” Gaozu further betrothed the Princess of Duanyi1 to the heir of the Prince of Yongding.
The Princess of Duanyi was Gaozu’s fourteenth daughter and was born of the Lady of Bright Demeanor, Lady Duan. She was serious, virtuous, beautiful, and fifteen years old. The heir of the Prince of Yongding, Liu He, had an earnest and good temperament, was well-mannered, lived a simple life, and was nineteen years old. With a bond so formed, the Liu family’s future was secured.—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Princess of Jiaping
After entering the Prince of Qi’s residence from a side door, Li Lin handed his mount to one of the bodyguards. While he was thinking about returning to his section of the manor to bathe and change, one of the bodyguards stopped him stating, “Your Highness Lin, His Imperial Highness has instructed that you are to see him immediately upon your return.”
Li Lin hesitated for a moment. He both feared and admired his father. Of late, Li Xian was either busy with the business of the court or revolved around the twin younger brother and sister, and had fundamentally no time to worry about him. In Li Lin being summoned today, could it be that he had offended his father? At this point, he did not dare to hesitate too long. As such, he hurried to the reception hall within the inner residence.
Before he had even walked through the door, Li Lin could hear hearty laughter coming from within. Identifying the laughter as coming from his father, Li Lin snuck to the side of the hall. Through the half-closed window, he looked in. With only a single glimpse, Li Lin’s entire body froze. How is this possible? Isn’t the relaxed man with graying temples and ruddy cheeks sitting across from Father my uncle-in-law, Jiang Zhe? The two were playing weiqi. From how happy his father looked, Li Lin figured his uncle was being trounced. When had this Marquis of Chu of the first rank come to my home even though he never wanted attend court? He couldn’t already know what happened with Roulan, right? thought Li Lin, letting his imagination run wild as he considered surreptitiously running away and pretending he had never come home.
At this moment, Demonic Shadow Li Shun, inseparable from Jiang Zhe, looked over at the window and smiled, intentionally or otherwise. Li Lin dejectedly discovered that it was impossible for him to escape and could only slowly walk into the hall.
I smiled lightly, pretending I didn’t notice that Li Lin was peeking in through the window from outside. It was truly embarrassing to speak of it. Both of my children were quite intelligent and knew how to avoid being bullied by me. Roulan relied upon the empress and the crown prince. Disregarding the fact that Roulan had been personally raised by the empress and treated Roulan as her own daughter, even the crown prince treated Roulan as his own sister. His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, was not a problem. Although he was the heir apparent, I was after all his uncle and it wouldn’t do to be rude towards me. However, the empress was not someone I dared to provoke. If the Emperor Emeritus hadn’t suddenly collapsed, I likely wouldn’t even dare to lecture Roulan. As for Jiang Shen, let’s not talk about that cheeky child. It was fine if he spent ten months out of the year in the Buddhist temple lording it over, but he would go so far as to run over to his future father-in-law’s home whenever he could, especially after his baby fiancée Li Ning was born. I couldn’t see that little brat aside from the New Year.
Since the Prince of Qi had kidnapped my son, I naturally had to retaliate. As a result, the child Li Lin was out of luck and became my amusement. Even for Li Ning’s twin younger brother Li Zhuo, presently the Prince of Qi’s heir, I did not try teasing him. I was well aware of how formidable the Princess of Qi, the Princess of Jiaping, Lin Bi, was. At the time, when the Prince of Qi went to the Prince of Yongding’s residence to propose, it was done at my urging. When Lin Bi had wielded a sword and stormed into the Prince of Qi’s residence, I was also present. If I hadn’t advised Li Xian to kneel and beg forgiveness, Lin Bi likely would have killed Li Xian before committing suicide for her crimes. If this had really happened, the forced to surrender with difficulty Northern Han would probably have risen up again in revolt. If that happened, then the desire to incorporate Northern Han’s domain and populace within a few years would’ve become asking for the moon.2
Fortunately, I had made preparations ahead of time and had used this opportunity to reveal Long Tingfei’s last wish. Eventually, Lin Bi’s anger vanished. This also gave the Prince of Qi an excellent excuse and opportunity to pursue a beautiful woman. After three years of painstaking efforts, the Prince of Qi was finally able to fulfill his long-cherished dream.
In fact, it wasn’t that I wanted to take such risks. There was no better option. After the Northern Han royal family surrendered, there were demands within the Yong court that they be completely eliminated . Fortunately, they were overruled by Li Zhi. Speaking of, Li Zhi was truly an enlightened and magnanimous monarch. Although the Northern Han royal family had offered its capitulation and the country fallen, the Liu family’s influence in Northern Han was deep-rooted. If the Liu family became restless, Northern Han would be restless. Although it would be easy to eradicate them, the consequences would’ve been dire. Not only would the Lin family’s be discontented and have thoughts about rebellion, the same would be the case for the Northern Han officers and soldiers who had returned to civilian life after Northern Han’s surrender. In addition, there was the secluded Devil Sect. None of these groups would cease their resistance once the Northern Han royal family was eliminated and would in fact unyieldingly make things difficult for Great Yong. However, if the Liu family’s influence was permitted to continue, it would have consequences for Great Yong’s imperial authority.
Ultimately, I found an alternative approach3 and suggested the strategy of incorporating the Northern Han royal family. Since the Northern Han royal family was prestigious and illustrious, and possessed popular sentiment, the best plan was to assimilate them into the Yong imperial family. Each and every daughter of the Liu family would be taken as wives by the imperial clan, while the sons of the Liu family would take wives from the imperial clan. If this continued, the Liu family would become inseparable kin from the imperial family in at most three generations. When that time came, then their glory and humiliation would be linked. At that point, would the proud soldiers and fierce generals of Northern Han make trouble for their former masters? Even if the enmity between the people and soldiers of the two countries did not cease, as long as intermarriage was encouraged and their blood mixed, even the deepest grudge would fade away as people become related.
In order to implement this strategy, the most important part was the marriage between the Prince of Qi and the Princess of Jiaping. The Prince of Qi commanded the troops who quashed Northern Han. Although the net was ultimately closed by His Imperial Majesty, to the people of Northern Han, Li Xian was the main culprit in the fall of Northern Han. As for the Princess of Jiaping, she simultaneously was the spiritual leader of Daizhou’s Lin family and the main pillar of support for the Northern Han royal family. She was also Long Tingfei’s former fiancée. It could be said that she was the only leader acknowledged by the Northern Han military. Only if she were married into the imperial family would Great Yong’s imperial family be able to fully relax, ensure that the Liu family could feel relieved, and win over the Lin family.
However, in order to achieve this goal, Lin Bi could not have any reluctance. Forcing her to marry was wholly different from her agreeing of her own volition. For this objective, I had advised the Prince of Qi. Finally, Lin Bi agreed to the marriage. The process had been far more challenging than the planning to subjugate Northern Han. Li Xian’s reputation for debauchery was no help. During his “courtship” of Lin Bi, I had been able to see all of his clumsiness. Fortunately, he was ultimately able to fulfill his wish.
Just as Li Xian and Lin Bi were getting married, the Emperor Emeritus delivered the final blow, betrothing the Princess of Duanyi, who had just reached marriageable age, to the heir of the Prince of Yongding and the former Crown Prince of Northern Han, Liu He. Liu He’s temperament was earnest and good, and he had no interest in power. If Northern Han still existed, he would not have made a competent heir. However, as the heir to the Prince of Yongding, his personality was the most suitable for Great Yong’s intentions.
Once these two weddings were completed, the results were immediate. Many of those ministers and generals unwilling to serve Great Yong all took up official posts or rejoined the army. With the incorporation of the warriors of Northern Han, the losses sustained by the Yong army during the invasion of Northern Han gradually replenished.
Of course, the ones manipulated by Li Zhi and I included the Prince of Qi, Li Xian. In order to court Lin Bi, Li Xian had tactfully given up his military authority. No one could permit either of them any military authority, especially after the wedding ceremony. At present, he was no longer involved with the army. This gave the emperor the opportunity to reorganize the military and retake all military authority. Because of this, Great Yong no longer possessed any force capable of opposing imperial authority. Although this was a bit unreasonable towards Li Xian, this was a result of both sides accepting. Li Xian wasn’t the only one willing to give up power and authority for the sake of a beautiful woman. Besides, although I had schemed to take away his military authority, his influence within the army remained. Moreover, his marriage with Lin Bi gave him the most realistic guarantee. Unless the one in power wished to completely overthrow the country, regardless of who sat on the throne, none would lightly act against Li Xian. Further, when the invasion of Southern Chu began, he would not be excluded. Regardless of the person, they would be satisfied at the military contributions at having participated in both the subjugations of Northern Han and Southern Chu.
Having racked my brains to facilitate this balance, it could be said that I toiled and contributed greatly. However, Li Xian didn’t respond faithfully to my help. Before Lin Bi had dug her claws in, the present Prince of Qi—who was only below one man within the Yong court—had utterly sold me out, giving me a rather guilty conscience whenever I met Lin Bi. The only spot of joy was that no one in Northern Han believed that I was guilty for the deaths of Long Tingfei and company. After all, to them, it was quite embarrassing to have lost at the hands of a weak and feeble scholar. As a result, Li Zhi and Li Xian became the scapegoats for my strategies. In any case, no matter what, I wasn’t the one who ultimately acted.
However, at the same time I felt at a disadvantage, I had come up with a way to vent my anger—to bully Li Lin. But honestly speaking, were it not for my cherishment and pity, I would not tease him. After all, he had lost his mother because of me. As a result, he had spent his childhood in the military. In the wake of the births of Li Ning and Li Zhuo, Li Lin no longer had any connection to his father’s principality. Unlike his other unvalued brothers, Li Lin, as the son of the former Princess of Qi, was more miserable. In order to make it up to this child, I had suggested to the emperor that Li Lin be made a prince of the second rank. Since he was presently Crown Prince Li Jun’s study companion, if there weren’t any mishaps, Li Lin should become Li Jun’s right-hand man. This should be sufficient compensation for his loss.
While I was sipping tea and letting my mind wander, Li Lin walked in. With the amount of time that had passed, even a tortoise would have crawled over. With his head lowered, after walking in and paying his respects to Li Xian, he sought to hide in the corner of the hall.
I smiled and asked, “Lin’er, why are you trying to hide? Are you not going to pay your respects to your uncle?”
Hearing this, Li Xian frowned and asked, “Lin’er, what are you doing? Do you not understand proper etiquette?”
I lightly shook my folding fan to stop Li Xian and inquired, “Lin’er, did you make some mistake so that you’re afraid to see me?”
Li Lin hurriedly responded, “No, no. I didn’t make Roulan cry.” When he uttered these words, Li Lin nearly bit his tongue. Not knowing why, when he saw Jiang Zhe’s smile that wasn’t a smile, Li Lin felt himself panic and could not help sneaking a look at these two elders.
Scowling, Li Xian replied, “What? You made Roulan cry? What happened? Quickly explain yourself. Then shut yourself in your room and think about your mistakes. There will be no dinner for you.”
A pained look appeared on Li Lin’s face, too scared to answer. At this moment, I smiled and interjected, “I thought it was something significant. Roulan, that girl, is too spoiled. It’s no big deal if someone annoys her, so that she doesn’t become increasingly domineering. Sixth brother, you shouldn’t be like Her Imperial Majesty and spoil that girl rotten. Lin’er, tell me, what happened. If that girl was making trouble without reason, I will punish her when I return.”
Li Lin almost shed tears. Fortunately, this wasn’t Roulan’s fault. If Jiang Zhe had seized this opportunity to punish Roulan, he, Li Lin, would likely be punished. Afterwards, he would be further berated by the empress. In the end, his elder brother crown prince would likely restrain and keep him at hand for ten days to half a month. The imperial palace was full of rules and was unbearably stuffy beyond description. Seeing Jiang Zhe looking at him like a tiger eyeing its prey, Li Lin promptly explained everything that had happened today, avoiding the important and dwelling on the trivial.
Hearing Li Lin’s narration, Li Xian frowned. It wasn’t that he was blaming Li Lin for being overbearing. In any case, Li Xian was well aware that his son wouldn’t go overboard. At most, the Southern Chu youngster would suffer a bit. In his youth, Li Xian had been far more domineering and unbridled compared to Li Lin. Pensively, Li Xian spoke, “You say that this youth was no more than twelve or thirteen and could use a three dan draw weight bow? When it comes to archery, even among the expert horse archers of Daizhou, a youth like him would be one in a thousand. I wonder about his accuracy. It is no wonder that you took note. Lin’er, pass along my orders and have that youth brought to me. I want to test his skills.”
Hearing this, I could not help laughing. Like father, like son. Although Shen’er was not like me, Li Lin resembled the Prince of Qi quite closely. Seeing that Li Lin was about to leave to transmit the order, I stopped him by stating, “Wait a moment. Wouldn’t it be too shocking for a prince of the first rank like you to get involved in such a trivial matter? The children’s business should be left to them to resolve. Lin’er, although you are young, you have already been enfeoffed by the court as the Prince of Jia of the first rank. This matter will be in your hands. Only, you are not permitted to act with utter disregard for human life. This matter will be handled at your discretion.”
Li Lin was overjoyed. Even now, he was still thinking about that Southern Chu teen. The only reason he didn’t do anything was because of Roulan. Since Jiang Zhe had now taken charge, he could do as he pleased. Itching to go, he wished he could immediately capture and bring back that youth.
Seeing Li Lin’s urgency, Li Xian scolded, “Complete lack of patience. What are you so anxious about? Since that person claimed that he’s come to search for his relatives, could it be that he would depart so quickly? Besides, if he fled, as long as a single military order is issued, what fear is there that he’ll be able to escape to Southern Chu? Today, your maternal aunt and company will come to pay their respects to your stepmother. For tonight’s banquet, your mother has already decreed that no one will be permitted to be absent.”
Li Lin could only fearfully voice his obedience. However, he snuck a glance at Jiang Zhe. With this, Li Lin finally knew why his uncle had come. Li Lin’s maternal aunt’s husband, General Wang Ji, was his uncle’s retainer. If Wang Ji came to Chang’an, he would immediately pay his respects to Jiang Zhe after reporting in at the Ministry of War. Presumably, Li Lin’s stepmother wanted to see her younger sister and brother-in-law, and had forced his uncle to come to the Prince of Qi’s residence.
Li Lin could not help but snicker inwardly. Although his uncle had an awe-inspiring reputation, acting absent-mindedly before the emperor, he would actually be fearful of the Princess of Jiaping. Truly and extremely ridiculous. Li Lin could not understand how his uncle had toyed so easily with the ruler and subjects of Northern Han.
At this moment, I was no longer in the mood to pay any attention to what Li Lin was up to. To be proficient at archery, be able to draw a three dan bow at such a young age, and be named Yun Lu? Lu Yun? Humph! Did he really think that this kind of child’s play could fool me? But why had he come to Great Yong? Surely, he wasn’t here to pay his respects to his father’s master. Besides, I’d heard that Lu Can deeply cherished his eldest son, Lu Yun. Presumably, this was all that youth’s own idea.
I needed to inform Hualiu and ensure that Lu Yun wasn’t arrested as a spy. Since this boy had already come, I had to fulfill my responsibility as his elder. It was best to teach him a small lesson, having Li Lin and Roulan deal with him. Combined with Huo Cong grasping the overall situation, no unexpected misfortune should result.
Thinking of Huo Cong, I could not help revealing a perfectly satisfied grin. Huo Cong was the disciple I was proudest of, and would certainly be my superior in the future. I was scatterbrained by nature, and although I had studied many things, I was a master of none.4 Further, although I had some restraint, I frequently could not stop from revealing my brilliance. As for my other disciples, each of them had their shortcomings. Lu Can was overly straightforward, loyal, and honest, and would suffer as a result. Jing Chi had too coarse a temper, sometimes becoming too impetuous and difficult to control. Although I was fond of his guileless nature, it was unlikely that he would become a top general, unfortunately. The eight elite operatives of the Secret Camp each had their expertise. However, they were ultimately limited by their experiences and aptitude. Although each of them could take on responsibilities, none of them could fully oversee the entire situation.
As for my children, although Roulan was intelligent and quick, it was all because I deliberately did not want to expose her to cruelties of the world. I did not want her to be too outstanding as a girl. I only wanted her to happily enjoy her whole life. As for Shen’er, it was best to not mention him. He probably inherited thirty percent of my intellect, but had also inherited one hundred percent of my laziness and cheekiness to the point that I felt sorry for Great Master True Compassion. How could this kind of silly little fellow bear the responsibility of becoming a protector of the Shaolin Temple? However, fortune favors fools. With his nature, he would probably be very fortunate throughout his life.
After counting on my fingers, the only one left was Huo Cong who could be considered my best disciple. He possessed fortitude, vast breadth of mind, had his own definite opinions, and could adapt to circumstances. Even though he read extensively, he focused on the classics and histories. What was rarest was that he was willing to be normal and to tolerate patiently. I was merely a prisoner entrapped in glory and wealth. Because I was fettered due to the beautiful camaraderie of the mundane world, I would not be permitted freedom when all was said and done. As for Huo Cong, he was capable of secluding himself and was the only person capable of inheriting my legacy. As a result, although I clearly knew that there were questions about his background, I kept him by my side. First, I was fond of talents. Second, if this kind of talent could not be kept at my side, then he would be quite dangerous.
At this moment, one of the four bodyguards who protected the Prince of Qi, Tao Lin, ran over, reporting, “Reporting to Your Imperial Highness and Marquis Jiang, the Princess and Ceremonial Consort5 Wang have arrived. The Princess of Jiaping requests the pleasure of your presences.”
Exchanging looks, Li Xian and I smiled. Walking side by side, we strode to the Silver Peace6 Hall of the prince’s residence. Right as we walked into the hall, we saw the naturally beautiful Princess of Jiaping holding onto and making small talk with Lin Tong. As for Chiji, he stood solemnly next to them. In Lin Bi’s presence, he was always reserved.
Seeing my arrival, Chiji promptly walked over and kowtowed, stating, “Chiji’s heart is at peace seeing that Sir’s complexion is the same as before. En route, I met with Daoli. He asked me to pay his respects to Sir. Originally I wanted to go see Sir first. However, when we entered the city, I heard from Supervisor Xiao that Sir was also here at the residence of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi.”
I could not help feeling a bit resentful. Why was this little fellow touching on this sore spot? Showing a chilling grin at the corners of my lips, I replied, “It’s nothing. I only came today to play weiqi with the Prince of Qi. Chiji, how are things? I heard that you were injured half a year ago? Are you healed up now?”
Hearing this, Lin Tong answered with deep worry, “Sir, although Husband Ji’s arrow wound has healed, he still aches whenever it’s rainy or windy. I wanted to request Sir to help take a look.”
I smiled and said, “Don’t worry, don’t worry. This is only because his channels were injured. Have him stop by. He will be fine after a few acupuncture treatments. In passing, I can hand down this acupuncture technique to him. Chiji has good aptitude when it comes to medicine even though he later became a veterinarian.”
In my mind, however, I was thinking about the matchless nature of my “Seizing Spirit Acupuncture” technique. It would be easy to remove Chiji’s ailment. It was just that this technique was originally designed as a torture method and would be quite painful. Of course, with my skills, I would naturally not make any mistakes.
Lin Tong happily nodded her head to express her thanks. Just as I was secretly feeling pleased, I saw Lin Bi callously glance at me with a faint warning in her eyes. Frightened inside, I hurriedly avoided her gaze, secretly thinking, Chiji would definitely not tell them the truth.
By this time, the banquet had already been served. Pulling along Lin Tong, Lin Bi headed out with Li Xian following. Seeing that Chiji’s expression was somewhat odd, I realized that he had some secret information to report. I thus purposely fell a step behind. As expected, Chiji whispered into my ear, “Sir, Daoli asked me to report that General Duan has already returned. According to Sir’s instructions, Daoli has delivered General Duan to the property in the Southern Mountains. He should arrive in Chang’an in the next few days. When the time comes, he will have some comparatively detailed news.”
I shook inside. After Northern Han had surrendered, I had thought about summoning Duan Wudi back. Unexpectedly, he had already sailed out by that time. After that, he had disappeared without a trace. Who would have thought that he would finally return? How should I treat this opponent I felt guilty towards?
Footnotes:端仪, duanyi – lit. proper ceremony 痴人说梦, chirenshuomeng – idiom, lit. lunatic ravings; fig. nonsense, pipe dream 另辟蹊径, lingpixijing – idiom, lit. to take an alternate route; fig. to find an alternative, to take a different approach, to blaze a new trail 博而不精, bo’erbujing – idiom, lit. extensive but not refined; fig. jack of all trades but a master of none 仪宾, yibing – ceremonial consort, a noble title granted to the husbands of the women of the imperial clan 银安, yin’an – lit. silver peace