Volume 6, Chapter 4: Shooting Willows in the Garden of the Golden Valley
The Prince of Jia of the second rank, Li Lin, was the third son of the Prince of Qi, Li Xian. His mother was the Princess of Qi, Lady Qin. Lady Qin committed suicide because of treason. The Prince of Jia lost his right to succession by association. At this time, the Prince of Qi was appointed to oversee the defenses in Zezhou and brought his son along with him into the army. In the twenty-seventh year of Wuwei, the Prince of Jia accompanied his father to the Eastern Sea and met Princess Changle of Ning. The Princess took pity on the Prince of Jia’s innocence and brought him back to Chang’an. Commending the Prince of Jia for possessing the bearing of his father and grandfather, Taizong commanded the Prince to serve as the Crown Prince’s study companion.
In the fifth year of Longsheng, the new Princess of Qi, the Princess of Jiaping, Lin Bi, gave birth to a son named Zhuo. Zhuo was named as the Prince of Qi’s heir. Because of the Prince of Qi’s great achievements, the Prince’s third son was given a principality of the second rank.—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Prince of Jia
Truthfully speaking, Lu Yun did not find it strange when he received an invitation from the Prince of Jia, Li Lin. After he had arrived in Chang’an, Lu Yun had made discreet inquiries into the Prince of Jia’s background. What he learned wasn’t anything secret. In fact, the Prince of Jia was publicly. discussed enthusiastically The Prince of Jia, Li Lin, was the third son of the Prince of Qi, Li Xian, and was born of the former Princess of Qi, Qin Zheng. Before certain events transpired, the Prince of Jia was incomparably distinguished. Unfortunately, because of Qin Zheng’s involvement in treason, although she committed suicide for her offenses, ensuring that the Prince of Qi and their son wouldn’t be implicated, Li Lin’s position as heir was lost since a child was dependent on their mother’s status. In addition, the Prince of Qi didn’t seem to care about this son of his. As a result, many assumed that Li Lin would never become much. Not only his half-siblings, even the prince’s residence’s servants bullied and humiliated him.
Who could have imagined that the Prince of Qi would actually value this son of his so much, taking his son along when he took command of the Zezhou army? Several years later, Li Lin met Jiang Zhe and Princess Changle in the Eastern Sea. From that point on, his fortune changed. Not long after Li Lin followed Princess Changle back to Chang’an, he was readmitted into the imperial clan and had become the crown prince’s study companion. This was the start of Li Lin’s path up. Even after the Prince of Qi had taken the Princess of Jiaping, Lin Bi, as wife, Li Lin’s position was unaffected. Although the Prince of Qi’s heir had become Li Zhuo, the Yong Emperor had subsequently issued an imperial edict bestowing a principality upon Li Lin.
With this, although Li Lin could not inherit his father’s principality, his position was far higher than those idle marquisates granted to those children born of concubines of princes. In addition, Li Lin was highly thought of by the crown prince and his future career would undoubtedly be smooth sailing. As a result, although Li Lin was still quite young, he had already become one of the influential characters who must be paid attention to.
However, what made the Chang’an population most enthusiastic was this Prince of Jia’s independent and special conduct. Although he was only eleven years old, he should be a child who didn’t know any better. However, this Prince of Jia was already well-renowned in Chang’an. Aside from accompanying the crown prince in his studies every day, Li Lin would roam around inside and outside of Chang’an, and was fondest of stirring up trouble. All of the children of the noble and aristocratic families of Chang’an were like mice meeting a cat when they saw him. In addition, there were imperial censors who had submitted petitions to impeach him. However, whenever the emperor heard it, he burst out into hearty laughter and compared Li Lin to Li Lin’s father’s youth, and vetoed all of the impeachment petitions.
With this, no one in Chang’an dared to offend the Prince of Jia. Fortunately, although this prince was imperious and domineering, he disliked bullying and humiliating the small and the weak. Frequently, he would stick his neck out for those suffering injustices. As a result, the people of Chang’an felt no antipathy towards him. As time passed, they actually felt that although the Prince of Jia’s temperament was poor, his intentions were good.
This Prince of Jia’s biggest interest was in recruiting warriors. If he ran into anyone with impressive martial arts, he would do everything he could to test that individual’s skills. If outstanding, the prince would often recommend the warriors to enlist in the army or stay at his side as a bodyguard. Although Li Lin was young, his vision was actually quite precise. Practically each and every person he took a fancy to was an outstanding genius. As time passed, the Prince of Jia’s recommendation letter was more useful than an official document from the Ministry of War. As a result, although the Prince of Jia would often make trouble out of nothing and create problems for people, those who were in the know understood that this was a golden opportunity rather than an inconvenience.
Although Song Jian and company had spent some time in Chang’an, they didn’t fully understand this matter. Rather, the locals of Chang’an knew the details comprehensively. When they heard that Lu Yun had offended the Prince of Jia, they instead repeatedly offered congratulations. They stated that as long as Lu Yun was innocent, then he would likely receive the opportunity to be advanced in rank. However, there were those who were worried for Lu Yun, because although the Prince of Jia was usually domineering, his actions that day were far from normal. When they learned that one of the people traveling with the Prince of Jia was the Princess of Zhaohua, Jiang Roulan, all of the locals had dubious expressions on their faces.
Only after Lu Yun questioned further for a long time did the locals explain that the Princess of Zhaohua was deeply beloved by the imperial family. Reportedly both the current crown prince and the Prince of Jia obeyed every single one of the Princess of Zhaohua’s instructions. If Lu Yun was more experienced, he would naturally understand the implication. However, since he had spent his entire life studying or training martial arts at home and at most spending time with the army, he only felt mystified after hearing this, not understanding the hidden implication.
However, whatever the case, the conclusion that Lu Yun came to was that the Prince of Jia would definitely not let him off regardless of good intentions or malice. The only method available to him was to wait for the Prince of Jia to act. If he met with misfortune and his identity was discovered, it was natural that he would have no hope of survival. However, if he was lucky enough, he could probably seize the opportunity to approach and assassinate his target. And so, after he received Li Lin’s invitation, Lu Yun agreed to go even though he was enraged that the bodyguards who had come to deliver the invitation were seemingly prepared to tie him up if he refused.
Traveling down Vermillion Bird Avenue, though the buildings on both sides of the road were stately and magnificent, too much for his eyes to take in, Lu Yun was not in the mood to sightsee. Ahead, he could see that they were about to enter Great Yong’s imperial city. This made Lu Yun both excited and terrified. On the road, he frequently saw patrolling imperial guardsmen. Lu Yun was aware that because of the emperor’s upcoming birthday celebrations, Chang’an’s security had been tightened. When the entourage arrived before the Vermillion Bird Gate, although the bodyguards joked cheerfully with the imperial guardsmen on duty at the gate, the bodyguards still handed over their command pendants to be verified. Lu Yun once again was saddened. He had once personally witnessed the loose security of the royal city of Jianye.
Behind the Vermillion Bird Gate was the Gate of Accepting Heavenly Mandate2 and the related avenue. On either side of the road were the government offices of the three departments and six ministries, which were tightly guarded by the Imperial Guard. The entire place was magnificent. After progressing halfway down the avenue, the bodyguards led Lu Yun and turned east onto the Auspicious Wind Gate3 Avenue. Only after passing through the Auspicious Wind Gate Avenue and traveling for some time did they finally arrive at Peaceful Encouragement4 Neighborhood. The Prince of Qi’s residence occupied twenty-five percent of the neighborhood. Because the Prince of Jia had yet to establish his own residence, he naturally lived with his father.
What Lu Yun didn’t know was that in reality, with Li Lin’s command pendant, they could have directly entered through a corner gate of the imperial city and traveled straight through the street between the Victorious Enterprise5 and Honored Benevolence6 Neighborhoods to reach the Prince of Qi’s residence. However, the path taken had been specifically arranged by Li Lin. First, when all was said and done, Lu Yun’s identity was a bit unclear and it was best that such a shortcut not be revealed. Second, the tight security around the Vermillion Bird Gate would give Lu Yun a show of strength and take the opportunity to consider Lu Yun’s bearing. Of course, in Li Lin’s mind, all of this was directed at the Southern Chu teen, Yun Lu, and not the eldest son of Grand General Lu Can of Southern Chu, Lu Yun. As a result, although Lu Yun was quite rueful, he wasn’t deterred in the slightest. Consequently, when Li Lin saw that Lu Yun’s expression remained tranquil and indifferent, he could not help feeling somewhat amazed. After all, to a commoner, the prestige of the imperial city was enough cow and subdue their spirit.
Li Lin welcomed Lu Yun into his living quarters, the Garden of the Golden Valley. This was a relatively standalone garden and was originally the dwelling of the Prince of Qi, Li Xian. Originally, because of the hostility between Li Xian and his wife, Qin Zheng, Li Xian was unwilling to live in the inner residence and instead lived in the Garden of the Golden Valley. The Prince of Qi was originally the son who Li Yuan doted the most heavily upon. When Li Xian established his residence, the assets bestowed upon him by Li Yuan were the most out of all Li Yuan’s sons. Even Li Xian’s residence was larger and more luxurious than Li An’s and Li Zhi’s. Although Li Xian could share life’s joys and sorrows with the military, he was someone who was fond of luxuries. As a result, the Garden of the Golden Valley he lived in was sumptuously beautiful and magnificent.
After Li Xian and Lin Bi were married, with the harmonious relationship between husband and wife, Li Xian naturally moved back to the inner residence. After Li Lin had been bestowed with a principality, although he was young and had yet to establish his own residence, it was inappropriate for him to remain in the inner residence. As a result, Li Xian handed the Garden of the Golden Valley over to Li Lin.
Li Lin had a far more unrestrained temperament compared to Li Xian and cared little about the unique scenery of the garden. As a result, he had never changed the layout. Only because the crown prince and the Princess of Zhaohua were fond of visiting and staying over that Li Lin had been forced to make several renovations based upon their requirements.
When Lu Yun entered the Golden Valley Garden, he could not help feeling dazzled and stunned. Although the Lu family had been a military family for generations and had no worries about being fed and clothed, the family had always been known for their honesty and integrity. As a result, the furnishings weren’t much better than an average government official’s. However, when all was said and done, Lu Yun wasn’t unfamiliar with luxuries. In addition, since he wasn’t greedy for high position and riches, Lu Yun was able to calm his mind very quickly and followed the bodyguards to the Jade Cloud Pavilion.
Passing through the Golden Valley Garden was the Dragon’s Head Stream which flowed to form a green water pond. Ninety percent of the buildings in the garden were beside water. Beside the pond was piled a mass of rocks to form a hill. The man-made hill was twenty to thirty zhang in height and was covered with precipices, occupying several mu in area. Atop the hill near the cliff was a small two-story building. There was only a singular obsidian-paved and meandering path that led to the top of the hill. As long as a squad of imperial guardsmen was stationed at the foot of the hill, even a top-level expert would find it difficult to come and go as they pleased.
Following the mountain path, Lu Yun actually felt calm. Based on his experiences in a military family, he naturally knew that this was an easily defended and difficult to attack position, and also the perfect location to hold someone prisoner. However, thinking of how he was only an ordinary youth, Lu Yun felt as if no one would go to such lengths. As a result, he assumed that he was being brought to Li Lin’s dwelling. This in itself was a form of generous treatment.
Arriving at the top of the mountain, Lu Yun looked at the solitarily standing Jade Cloud Pavilion that had nothing around it. Although the artificial hill was covered with earth and soil, there were only some short evergreen shrubs planted. With one look, he could not discern any signs of the abundance of spring, but rather felt as if he were surrounded by the gloom of late autumn. The building appeared similar to the teen standing with his hands behind his back before the vermillion railing and overlooking the aqua colors of the pond—proud, aloof, and imperious.
Lu Yun walked to Li Lin’s side. He kneeled and stated, “This commoner, Yun Lu, pays his respects to Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Jia.”
Li Lin did not order Lu Yun to rise and distantly asked, “Do you know why this Prince has summoned you here?”
“This commoner has offended Your Imperial Highness,” answered Lu Yun, neither servile nor overbearing. “If Your Imperial Highness wished to administer punishment, this commoner does not have any complaints.”
Li Lin turned his head around and giggled. His grave and stern face was immediately replaced with a childish smile. Walking over, he helped Lu Yun up as he replied, “It seems I won’t be able to scare you. On that day, this Prince went a bit overboard and could not help humiliating you. However, since you lacked manners with the Princess of Zhaohua, it was no wonder that this Prince was so enraged. Today, this Prince has invited you to first, apologize, and second … this Prince wants to witness your archery.”
Even though Lu Yun still felt hostility, he felt himself warm up. He thought, It’s no wonder that the Prince of Jia has such a reputation at such a young age. He deserves to be the beloved son of the famous general of Great Yong, the Prince of Qi. Lu Yun rose to his feet and said, “Your Imperial Highness, please instruct me.”
Li Lin’s gaze turned away and he stated, “I don’t have a military training ground here. Zhaohua has refused to allow me to have one built. However, I only want to see your archery. It would be too bothersome to go to Princely Father’s training grounds. Can you hit that tree over there?” Finished speaking, Li Lin pointed at a distant willow tree that was next to the water. That location was a hundred fifty paces7 from the artificial hill. Combined with the difference in height, one had to be a great archer in order to hit the willow tree.
Lu Yun’s bow had been taken away by Li Lin’s bodyguards. Just as he was about to ask for it from Li Lin, one of Li Lin’s bodyguards arrived carrying a bow and quiver of arrows. The bow was decorated with rhinoceros horns. Within the gold covered quiver were twenty top-notch condor-feathered arrows. Seeing this bow, Lu Yun’s eyes brightened. Advancing, he picked up the bow and began to test it for a good while with admiration. After drawing the bowstring several times to test it, he removed three arrows from the quiver and loosed them. The three arrows shot through the air, hitting the same willow branch which had been floating in the air. Someone possessing this kind of archery skill could already be considered a divine archer.
Li Lin’s eyes radiated light, as he sighed at his inferiority. Seeing Lu Yun place the bow back onto the tray, his eyes still expressing a reluctance to part with it, Li Lin smiled and stated, “Good. Brother Yun, your archery is unusually good as expected. This bow was manufactured by the Ministry of Works and is a one in a thousand piece. Only this kind of treasured bow is befitting of your archery skill. This Prince will bestow this bow unto you. You must not decline.”
Lu Yun was extremely fond of this bow. In addition, he wanted to approach Li Lin. As a result, he bowed from the waist and replied, “Many thanks for Your Imperial Highness’s reward. This commoner is ashamed to accept it.”
Seeing Lu Yun so forthright, Li Lin was overjoyed as he said, “With your archery skills, how have you been reduced to life in the jianghu? I’ve heard that you no longer have any relatives left in your homeland. Is there any harm for you to remain at this Prince’s side to serve as a bodyguard? My Great Yong has always placed immense importance upon military skills. Your prospects here will be boundless. That will be better than serving as a flunky of that incapable ruler and treacherous officials of Southern Chu.”
Lu Yun was well aware that Li Lin had investigated the members of the caravan with the fake story he had concocted. Deliberately showing a hesitant look, Lu Yun responded, “This commoner hails from Southern Chu and finds it difficult to leave my homeland. Besides, it is likely that my background will be a hindrance.”
“You are overthinking this,” replied Li Lin with a smile. “My Great Yong accepts people from many sources8 and never minds the trifles of their backgrounds. Ignoring the fact that you hail from Southern Chu, the two countries have been at peace for years. And though the two countries have fought on the battlefield, even the former officers and soldiers of Northern Han have been placed in important positions even if their hands were covered with the blood of the people and soldiers of Great Yong.”
Pretending to have the lump in his heart removed, Lu Yun cheerfully spoke, “If that is the case, this commoner thanks Your Imperial Highness for your recognition and support.”
“This is because of your skill,” reiterated Li Lin. “You are still young and it is inconvenient for you to enlist in the army. How about this? You can remain at this Prince’s side for now to serve as a bodyguard. After a few years, if war erupts, accompany this Prince into battle so that you can accrue merit. In a while, carefully write down your background and history, and hand it over to the supervisor of my bodyguards. Once the Intelligence Management Section of the Ministry of War has verified your identity, you will be added to the rolls.”
Lu Yun shivered inside. Although this young prince was fond of talent, he was not naïve or gullible. However, Lu Yun thought to himself, Without an extended period of time, it will be impossible to verify the truth of my background. Moreover, although Lu Yun had faked his identity, it was not complete rubbish. He had claimed that he hailed from Jiangxia’s Yunqiao9 village and had lost both of his parents. He also claimed that he had an uncle who had left home many years ago and reportedly had been seen in Chang’an. That was why Lu Yun had come to Chang’an. Yunqiao village truly existed in Jiangxia. Although it had nothing to do with Lu Yun, as his ancestral home was located in Wu Commandery.10 Because his grandfather had garrisoned Jiangxia for many years, Lu Yun was quite familiar with its environs. In addition, because Southern Chu bordered such a powerful neighbor in Great Yong, countless border villagers had been forcibly moved to Great Yong. As a result, Lu Yun’s false identity was not without basis and there could be a youth from Yunqiao who had left his home village to seek out his relatives.
Furthermore, Lu Yun had claimed that since he had not performed the ceremony of reaching adulthood, he did not have a given name and only had a milk name, Erlang.10 If this name was called out in the villages of Southern Chu, there would likely be five or six out of ten people who would respond.
Because of all these factors, Lu Yun was not worried that his real identity would be discovered. Even if some problems were found, by Lu Yun’s own reckoning, Li Lin would not have him executed as a spy. Moreover, even if he could not succeed over this timespan, he would still have the opportunity to flee. That was why Lu Yun had bowed his head and voiced his submission, not revealing a hint of panic.
Seeing him submit, Li Lin did not find it strange. Although Lu Yun’s display that day had been extremely, icily arrogant, the disparity in their statuses was quite large. As long as he treated Lu Yun with respect, Lu Yun would naturally not be overly pretentious. The display before him was as expected. Thinking of how he was going to recruit a remarkable young bodyguard, Li Lin smiled and declared, “Yun Lu, there is no need for you to stand on ceremony. The rules of this residence are not as strict as others’. Once your identity is verified, this Prince will bring you to meet my Princely Father. He also wishes to take a look at your skills.”
Lu Yun shivered inside. The Prince of Qi’s reputation was enough to make babies cry at night in Southern Chu. During the two battles in the Jingxiang region, the Prince of Qi had massacred countless persons. And now that he had pacified Northern Han, the gossip in Southern Chu treated the Prince of Qi’s name as a byword for butcher. Of course, in Lu Yun’s mind, the Prince of Qi was one of his father’s opponents. If he had the opportunity, he had significant expectations.
In the following days, Lu Yun was allowed to stay at the Jade Cloud Pavilion. The Jade Cloud Pavilion was where Li Lin lived. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t allow the inexperienced Lu Yun stay there. However, since there were no important documents located there, Li Lin had always arranged for persons with similar statuses as Lu Yun’s to stay with him. This not only served as a form of detainment, but also had implications of trust and confidence.
All of this coincided with the Yong emperor’s birthday celebrations. The entire court bustled with the preparations. Because of this, Li Lin essentially entered the imperial palace every day to accompany the crown prince. As Lu Yun’s identity had yet to be verified, he naturally was not permitted to enter the palace. Although Li Lin wasn’t present, Lu Yun was always kept company by Li Lin’s other bodyguards who tactfully dissuaded Lu Yun from seeking to leave the Garden of the Golden Valley. Fearful, Lu Yun had no alternatives.
After several more days passed, it was the Yong emperor’s birthday celebration. While the entire empire celebrated, Li Lin had been retained by the crown prince in the Eastern Palace. Lu Yun could only remain trapped and worried. He itched to abandon his assassination plan and flee. However, because the Prince of Qi’s residence was heavily guarded, Lu Yun had no real way of moving freely. In the end, he gave up, deciding to remain within the Jade Cloud Pavilion and not head out. Presumably he didn’t have the opportunity to approach his target because of the questions with his identity.
The third day after the Yong emperor’s birthday, Lu Yun was summoned by Li Lin who had returned from the palace. When Lu Yun walked in, he saw a middle-aged official standing there with his hands behind his back. Li Lin sat in the master’s seat reading a piece of silk paper. This time, Li Lin was not wearing his usual black clothes and instead wore the formal apparel of a prince of the second rank—an almond-yellow robe and a golden cap on his head. Although Li Lin was young, he was already quite tall and seemed to be quite majestic. From his appearance, the aura of the imperial clan could be sensed.
Seeing Lu Yun walk in, Li Zhi smiled and handed over the paper to Lu Yun. He declared, “Although not completely in the bag, there aren’t too many problems with your identity.”
Restraining his amazement, Lu Yun accepted the paper. Upon the paper in small characters were written the information about a youngster from the Lu Village of Southern Chu’s Jiangxia. The boy’s father was a retired, low-ranking officer and his mother hailed from a scholarly family. Because of illness, the boy’s parents had both died. While the boy’s extended family scattered to the winds, there was a paternal uncle who was unaccounted for. The boy had trained in the military arts since a young age and was skilled in archery. Three years ago, when the boy left his home village, he had not yet undergone the ceremony of adulthood and was known by his milk name, Erlang. However, because he had no family remaining, he did not know how old he was.
Seeing all this, Lu Yun nearly let out a cry of alarm. How could he have expected that someone like this truly existed? Although there were some differences with his narration, they could more or less be overlooked. At the same time that he was mentally rejoicing that his identity wouldn’t become an obstacle, Lu Yun could not help but secretly pay his respects to the Heavens.
Li Lin took back the paper and stated, “It is no wonder you are so skilled in archery. It turns out you inherited your father’s skills.11 Since there are no problems with your identity, you can stay by my side. As it happens, I need to send off the Crimson Clouds Princess and Ceremonial Consort Wang as they return to Daizhou. You can follow me.”
Lu Yun was stirred. If the Crimson Clouds Princess was being seen off, then the Prince of Qi and the Princess of Jiaping would definitely go as well. Being able to see so many famous generals of the era, Lu Yun revealed a look of anticipation.
Footnotes:金谷园, jinguyuan – lit. garden of the golden valley 承天门, chengtianmen – the Gate of Accepting Heavenly Mandate; the former name for the Gate of Heavenly Peace (天安门, Tiananmen) 景风门, jingfengmen – auspicious wind gate 安兴, anxing – lit. peaceful encouragement 胜业, shengye – lit. victorious enterprise 崇仁, chongren – lit. honored benevolence 海纳百川, hainabaichuan – idiom, lit. all rivers run into the sea; fig. accepts people and advice from many sources, tolerant and forgiving 云桥, yunqiao – lit. cloud bridge 吴郡, Wujun – an ancient commandery that is modern-day Suzhou (苏州), Jiangsu Province (江苏) 二郎, erlang – lit. second son; a nickname typically given to the second son of a family 克绍箕裘, keshaojiqiu – a line from The Analects that states that a child inherits his father’s career