On the sixteenth day of the sixth month, at nearly 3 PM, Princess Changle returned to the imperial palace under the escort of the Imperial Guard and Imperial Palace Guard. While seated within her carriage, her beautiful face had a hint of anxiety and worry upon it. Just earlier, Xiahou Yuanfeng had requested an audience with her through her maid, Lü’e. Her original intention was to decline the meeting. But after recalling that, although Xiahou Yuanfeng was intent upon taking her as his bride, he did not continuously nag her after he was rejected. Thinking about this now, Changle considered Xiahou Yuanfeng to be more sensible compared to the gentle and cultivated Wei Ying. As a result, she had acceded to his request.
When she met with Xiahou Yuanfeng, he did not say anything in particular, only tactfully reporting, “Recently, this subject has received news that there are those who have been making a supreme effort to facilitate the wedding between Your Imperial Highness and Wei daren. Previously, after His Imperial Majesty bestowed the engagement, Your Imperial Highness rejected it, however, His Imperial Majesty has yet to retract his decree. As a result, there have been those who wish to compel the Princess to fulfill the engagement. Because Your Imperial Highness has been close to the Prince of Yong’s household over this past year, even though Your Imperial Highness has never been willing to become involved in the struggle, in the eyes of some, Your Imperial Highness supports the Prince of Yong. Therefore, there are those who wish for the Princess to swiftly be married. If this were to happen, then the Wei family’s position would remain neutral, while the Princess, as a virtuous married woman, would definitely not make trouble for your husband’s family. Those individuals are taking drastic measures. Who doesn’t know about Your Imperial Highness’s good relationship with the Prince of Yong’s household? Moreover, the Emperor dotes heavily upon the Princess. They do not want to see the Princess influence the Emperor’s decisions. Besides, the Crown Prince’s position as heir apparent is in danger. This is the situation in which they dare not ignore even the slightest detail. As a result, they view Your Imperial Highness’s wedding with great importance. However, they dare not use force. It is likely that they will use some underhanded methods. Princess must be extremely careful. Although Wei daren’s character is serious, he is deeply infatuated with the Princess and he could be easily manipulated by others.”
Princess Changle gazed out through the thin muslin screen of the carriage window. The streets of Chang’an were solemn and overawed, with imperial guardsmen everywhere. As her carriage moved, Changle could not help but feel extreme disappointment and frustration in her heart of hearts, remembering the scene when she was rescued from the Southern Chu palace by Great Yong’s intelligence network on the eve of Jianye’s desperate crisis. That day, when she gazed out the window, she had seen the normally bustling and prosperous streets of Jianye filled with frantic crowds of people. Today, as she gazed out at the hostile and tense atmosphere of Chang’an, she could sense no difference from what she had seen before.
On the eighteenth day of the sixth month, Emperor Li Yuan returned to Chang’an. This time, it was quite clear that Li Yuan’s mood was poor. Even when he accepted the kowtows of all of officialdom, his face remained ashen. After reluctantly stating a few words of praise to the Prince of Yong, Li Yuan hurriedly returned to the palace. Upon arriving, he immediately called for Wei Guan, Li Zhi, and Qin Qing to enter the palace for a conference. Conversely, the officials escorting the emperor back from Qiaoshan, Grand General Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Qin Yi, Duke of Wei, Cheng Shu, and the Prince of Qi, Li Xian, were all instructed to return to their residences to rest.
In front of the three men, Li Yuan angrily and violently threw a teacup onto the floor, shattering it into pieces. Li Yuan castigated, “You lot are truly capable. It was only a few days and yet what has happened to Our Chang’an? Palace Attendant Zheng was attacked by an assassin, chaos in the eastern marketplace, and fires in Chang’an. Good! Speak! How should We punish you lot?”
The three hurriedly kowtowed and begged for forgiveness. In fear and trepidation, Wei Guan answered, “Following orders, this subject was responsible for government affairs. This is entirely this subject’s dereliction of duty by allowing these incidents to happen. Your Imperial Majesty, please punish me heavily.”
Filled with shame, Qin Qing stated, “This subject has failed Your Imperial Majesty’s grace and was unable to ensure the peace in the imperial capital. First, the assassination attempt on Palace Attendant Zheng, followed by the turmoil in the eastern marketplace. Were it not for His Highness, the Prince of Yong, taking personal charge at the eastern marketplace, it is likely that the situation would have broadened and worsened. Your Imperial Majesty, please remove this subject from my office.”
“This was all this child’s failure to supervise,” apologized Li Zhi, also greatly remorseful. “Several days ago, this child had received reports from the northern frontier. However, this child did not take those reports seriously. Now having investigated matters clearly, we can confirm that this was all the work of Northern Han spies seizing the opportunity to cause trouble. This child is Imperial Father’s personally appointed Marshal of Heavenly Strategies. My guilt cannot be forgiven.”
As Li Yuan stared at the three falling over each other2 in begging for forgiveness, he suddenly felt extremely exhausted. He collapsed onto the throne. In his mind, he blamed these incidents on their struggle for power and authority. However, Li Yuan also clearly understood that this was all a result of his own machinations. Although he had nominally named his eldest son as heir apparent to adhere to proper rites, he had ulterior and selfish motives for doing so. He had always been jealous of Li Zhi’s intelligence and capability. However, Li Yuan also knew that of his children only this son was capable of excelling him. But because of all kinds of reasons, he had still selected Li An. Could it be that he was wrong? Li Yuan suddenly recalled his desire to kill after he had received an eight hundred li urgent message.3 But now, he did not know who he could kill.
As a civil official, there was no point in blaming Wei Guan. Although Qin Qing was guilty of dereliction of duty, after thinking it over, Li Yuan realized that there was no way for Qin Qing to actually be able to take charge of the present Chang’an. Moreover, he had appointed Qin Qing to command the Imperial Guard because he was easy to use. As for the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, how could Li Yuan blame him? Li Zhi had spent the last several years in a dangerous situation and had been forced to conceal his strength and bide his time. When these incidents had occurred, Li Zhi had just come out from the Fasting Palace. Further, without Li Zhi disregarding life and limb to save a desperate crisis, it was likely that aside from Chang’an being in ruins, the city would have become a slaughterhouse. In addition, he had nearly been assassinated as well. By rights, he should be commended. But if he were commended, what was to be done about the crown prince? Would he have to be deposed? Although Li Yuan was extremely disappointed about the crown prince, he was quite unwilling to have Li An deposed lightly. Li Yuan understood very clearly that if such a thing were to enter the official histories, it would only serve to blacken his own reputation, let alone the fact that a pompous and dignified reason was needed. However, there was no way that outsiders would be permitted to learn of the crown prince’s current offenses.
Reaching this conclusion, Li Yuan tiredly waved his hand and declared, “Fine.… Wei Guan will forfeit a year’s worth of his salary. Qin Qing will be demoted one rank and will continue to serve temporarily as the Commander of the Imperial Guard in order to use meritorious service to make up for his offenses. Having performed meritorious service by making sacrifices at the secondary altar and successfully quelled the turmoil, the Prince of Yong should, by rights, be rewarded heavily. However, since there is further room for advancement, We will bestow three thousand taels of gold upon you.”
Li Zhi kowtowed. “This child thanks Imperial Father for this reward. However, this child does not lack gold and silver. There have been many casualties among the common people because of this incident in Chang’an. This child hopes that Imperial Father will use these rewards to provide emergency relief to the commoners. This child would be greatly indebted.”
Li Yuan gazed deeply at Li Zhi, both delighted and worried. Smiling, Li Yuan replied, “Zhi’er is truly deserving of the appellation of a virtuous prince. All right, We approve. You have suffered a shock from being attacked by an assassin, and should go back to your residence to rest properly.”
“Imperial Father, from these incidents in Chang’an and the reports from the northern frontier, it is likely that Northern Han is stirring,” stated Li Zhi promptly before explaining his request, “If Imperial Father permits it, this child wishes to inspect the northern frontier.”
An indistinguishable light flickered across Li Yuan’s eyes as he replied, “We will think this matter over. Go make preparations.”
Li Zhi was overjoyed. Before he had come, Jiang Zhe had sat down with him and had a long talk. If the emperor had immediately agreed with his suggestion, then he, Li Zhi, would have no way to become the heir apparent in an aboveboard manner. Although it was said that a dragon prances in the abyss, the tiger roars in the jungle, to be carefree and leisurely, that also meant that Imperial Father had no intention of ever allowing him to become the heir apparent, otherwise he would absolutely not be permitted to leave the heart of the empire at this hour. If this was the case, Jiang Zhe believed that the throne could only be wrested through martial might. That was not what either Jiang Zhe or Li Zhi hoped for. However, if the emperor were to insist that Li Zhi remain in the capital, then it meant that Li Zhi had a fifty percent chance to be designated as heir apparent by the emperor. The other fifty percent was in the event that Li Yuan was jealous and suspicious of Li Zhi, and absolutely would not permit him to return to the army. But if the emperor were to hesitate, then congratulations, this meant that the emperor was gravely disappointed with the crown prince. As long as Li Zhi handled matters carefully and appropriately, then it wouldn’t be difficult to obtain the position as heir apparent.
The aspect regarding Jiang Zhe that Li Zhi admired the most was Jiang Zhe’s ability to see through another’s thoughts at first glance. However, this did not include the people by his side, such as Xiaoshunzi or Roulan. This was probably what it meant to be able to perceive the tips of an animal’s hair and yet unable to see Mount Tai.4 Jubilant and joyous, and yet unable to express it, Li Zhi hurriedly bade his farewell and returned home.
When he returned to his residence, Li Zhi was naturally delighted. When Wei Guan returned to his residence, no one dared to criticize him. Only Qin Qing was restless and jumpy.5 He did not know how he would be punished by his father. After thinking it over, Qin Qing decided to seek out Qin Yong to accompany him to meet his father so as to reduce the punishment that he would receive. Thinking of this, Qin Qing did not return to his prince consort’s residence and also did not go directly to pay his respects to his father. Rather, he first went to Qin Yong’s residence. Although Qin Yong had been raised in Qin Yi’s residence, ten years ago, he had moved out, reportedly because his mother was not used to the dignity of the grand general’s residence. Before he had gotten married, Qin Qing would frequently spend time at Qin Yong’s home. In reality, Qin Yong’s residence was not far from the grand general’s residence. Born impoverished, even though Qin Yong’s mother was already aged, she was healthy, and was fond of cultivating a vegetable garden and raising chickens. Qin Yong had also hired several female servants to take care of his mother. As a result, both mother and son lived quite comfortably. Qin Qing was extremely fond of Qin Yong’s mother’s cooking, finding it tastier than the dishes prepared by the famed chefs of the grand general’s residence. But after he had gotten married, Qin Qing had gradually distanced himself from this life.
As he was deep in contemplation, Qin Qing spurred his horse forward. It wasn’t long before he arrived at Qin Yong’s home. Hopping off his horse, Qin Qing stepped forward and knocked heavily upon the door. From within, a voice full of vitality called out, “Coming! Has big brother returned?”
Qin Qing was left stupefied. What was going on? Did Brother Yong move? Before he could think this through, the door had already opened and an elegant youth roughly sixteen or seventeen years of age stuck his head out. When he saw Qin Qing, he also stared stupidly at Qin Qing, asking, “Your Excellency, who are you looking for?”
Hesitating somewhat, Qin Qing inquired, “Is Qin Yong here? I’m his younger cousin.”
“Foster mother is always speaking of General, constantly saying that you are the fondest of her cooking,” responded the youth, his eyes brightening. Finished speaking, he turned his head and yelled, “Foster mother, foster mother! Qin Qing, General Qin has come!”
From within, the sound a cheerful voice could be heard. “What General Qin? Here, he’s your older cousin. Hua’er, why haven’t you allowed Qing’er to come in yet?”
The youth laughed happily and pulled the door open. Confused, Qin Qing led his horse into the home. After tying the horse to a large tree in the courtyard, Qin Qing spoke to the smiling, aged woman standing on the steps, “Auntie, I haven’t been able to come pay a visit recently. Have you been well?”
The old lady replied, “I’ve been well. It’s just your Brother Yong. So busy that he frequently can’t come home. Fortunately, I have Hua’er as company.”
Puzzled, Qin Qing inquired, “Is this little brother your foster son?”
“He is called Liu Hua,” answered the old lady with a smile. “He is originally from Jiangnan. He was orphaned at a young age and was left homeless. A few years ago, he worked for a merchant. As a result, he had the opportunity to study a bit and gained some experiences. Afterwards, he drifted to Chang’an, but unfortunately fell ill. Fortunately, your Brother Yong discovered him ill on the roadside and so brought him back. I saw that this child was clever and thoughtful, and so took him as an adoptive son. He doesn’t have any other attributes, aside from being thoughtful and hardworking. At present, he is a shop assistant at a silk weaver, and has already risen to become a foreman. Unlike your Brother Yong who only knows to hang out in the barracks and hasn’t found a daughter-in-law for me so that I can hold and embrace a grandchild.”
With this, Qin Qing understood and gazed towards Liu Hua. He saw that this youth had delicate features, his eyebrows like the moon, his eyes like the stars, a smile on the corner of his lips. Whoever saw him would find him amiable and adorable. Qin Qing could not help but have a favorable impression. With a smile, he said, “Since you are auntie’s foster son, then you can call me Fourth Brother. Of our generation, Brother Yong is the eldest, while I am number four.”
Liu Hua cleverly spoke, “Little brother pays his respects to Fourth Brother. Is Fourth Brother here to find foster brother? Just now, the Grand General summoned foster brother.”
Starting to panic, Qin Qing inquired, “How was Brother Yong’s facial expressions? Was he worried about being punished by my dad?”
Almost bursting out in laughter, Liu Hua hurriedly expressed, “There were no abnormalities on Brother Yong’s face. He only said that he wouldn’t be returning this evening, having foster mother and I to not wait for him.”
Within his mind, Qin Qing felt apprehensive. Of course Qin Yong wasn’t coming back. At the very least, he would have someone to accompany him in kneeling within the ancestral hall. Thinking of this, Qin Qing did not dare to waste any more time and said, “Auntie, don’t worry about me. I need to go back to pay my respects to Father.”
Smiling, the old lady agreed, “That’s right. You two brothers are the same. Yong’er also said that he needed to see the Grand General today right before he was summoned.”
The more he listened, the more flustered Qin Qing became, promptly and hurriedly bidding his farewell. Mounting his horse, he spurred it to a gallop and headed to the grand general’s residence. What he did not see was that the youth who saw him to the door had a strange funny look in his eyes.
Qin Qing was completely weighed down by anxiety, wanting to return home as soon as possible to avoid his father’s temper from increasing, and yet, also worrying that once father saw him, he would be beaten and ordered to kneel in the ancestral hall. Like this, he returned to the grand general’s residence. Just as he walked through the door, a family retainer reported that the master had ordered that, upon arrival, the young master was to head straight for the study.
Qin Qing shivered. To him, his father’s study was the most terrifying place in the entire residence. Each time he made a mistake, the first thing his father would do was to call him into the study. However, there was no way for him to slip away now. He had no alternative but to feign calmness, arriving at the door to the study. Just when Qin Qing finally summoned up the courage to push the door open and enter, he was left stupefied by what he saw. In casual dress, Qin Yi was poring over a map in deep discussion with Qin Yong. Seeing Qin Qing arrive, Qin Yi only glanced at him slightly before continuing to speak with Qin Yong. Listening carefully, Qin Qing discovered that his father and cousin were discussing how to rearrange Chang’an’s defenses to prevent these incidents from happening again. Qin Qing could not help but feel shame. Not daring to interrupt, he listened to his father and cousin discuss how to arrange the defenses. Before, the primary duty of the Imperial Guard was to defend the Imperial City, while law and order within Chang’an was the responsibility of the Imperial Capital Magistrate. As a result, the Imperial Guard was left somewhat unprepared when the recent incident had erupted. Although this was partly a result of Qin Yi, the actual commander of the Imperial Guard, not being present, the Imperial Guard’s ability to react was lacking. Therefore, Qin Yi was determined to rearrange the Imperial Guard’s defenses and modify its training regimen.
After the two finished their discussion, Qin Yi picked up a teacup and took a sip. He casually asked, “Is there anything you want to say to your father?”
Qin Qing’s heart jumped, as he promptly said, “Father, this is all due to Qing’er’s incompetence. Father, please punish me.”
Smiling slightly, Qin Yi remarked, “Now that you already are the Prince Consort of Jingjiang, I can no longer supervise you. I do not blame you for the recent incidents. You are still young and your prestige is lacking. Your handling of this to such a result can be considered as barely acceptable. What I want to ask you is why days earlier you stopped the carriage of Major Jiang of the Prince of Yong’s household. These days, I have been waiting for you to come to explain the situation. However, until now, you have yet to explain yourself.”
At first, Qin Qing was left dumbfounded. Afterwards, he suddenly clarified, “So it was this matter … if Father did not raise it, I would have almost forgotten it. To speak of it, I am still a bit annoyed. That day, there was definitely a rebel hidden inside the carriage, but Jiang Zhe used the gold pendant to force me to cease my search. If Hanyou had not told me to cease causing further trouble, I would have secretly petitioned the Emperor …”
Qin Yi’s face bore a furious expression upon hearing Qin Qing’s words, his fingers trembling, almost unable to hold onto the teacup. It was a good while before he spoke, “I did not know that you had such ability and wisdom. Good. You are truly a good son.”
This time, Qin Qing was seriously frightened. He had been terrified of his father for a long time. He promptly kneeled on the floor. In a trembling voice, he atoned, “Please calm down, Father.” However, his expression revealed his bewilderment, clearly not knowing what he had done wrong.
With a heavy heart, Qin Yi shook his head. On this earth, there were no closer relations than between a father and his son. It wasn’t that he did not wish for his son to become outstanding, to become a leader of men. However, Qin Qing was so ignorant and stubborn, frequently unable to see things clearly. This kind of natural endowment was enough for a military officer, but not for someone who was in the middle of the political intrigue of the court. At present, with his help, Qin Qing would be safe and sound. But if he were to pass, who would take care of his son? Even if Li Hanyou would advise Qin Qing on the basis of their relationship as husband and wife, it was likely he would be no more than putty in her hands. If he had known this would happen, Qin Yi would absolutely not have agreed to transfer his son back to the capital. Resisting his anger with great difficulty, Qin Yi spoke, “You unfilial son. Are you truly that capable to provoke the Prince of Yong’s household without worrying? Regardless of whether there was a rebel aboard Major Jiang’s carriage, even if it was true, you do not have the qualifications to interfere.”
“But that was the truth,” stammered Qin Qing. “Hasn’t father always said that upon taking responsibility of the Imperial Guard, one must be fair and aboveboard, unafraid of influential bigwigs?”
“I had you be fair and aboveboard, unafraid of influential personages, in order to protect the innocent!” screamed Qin Yi furiously. “Not to make trouble for the Prince of Yong! At present, who doesn’t know that the Prince of Yong’s meritorious contributions to Great Yong are unmatched, but because of the Crown Prince’s fear, a wall has been built up between the brothers? We, as subjects, can only watch on without interfering. Since ancient times, there is no good or evil in the struggle to become heir apparent. As long as they do not harm the common people and innocents, why are you, the little fellow, getting involved? It’s fine if you are helping the Princess of Jingjiang’s close friend seek justice and make trouble for Pei Yun, even though Pei Yun did nothing wrong. However, you should not have publicly and openly caused trouble for the Prince of Yong’s household. Furthermore, it is likely that there was someone in the carriage that was inconvenient for you to see. Even if there was no one and they permitted you to search it, wouldn’t that cause the prestige of the Prince of Yong’s household to cease to exist? When that time comes, no matter how magnanimous the Prince of Yong is, he will be unable to pardon your rudeness.”
Qin Qing was not utterly stupid. Hearing Qin Yi’s words, his face turned scarlet, not knowing what to say. Heaving a sigh, Qin Yi continued, “Besides, there are some things that aren’t as simple as they appear. You say that man is a rebel, but you forget that man is also the Emperor’s blood relative. If you were to report this matter, ought the Emperor get involved or not? How can you casually meddle in these matters? Fine. I won’t say anything further. Go to the ancestral hall to reflect upon your actions. How can you be so obedient to the words of a woman? Humph!”
At this moment, someone reported from the other side of the door, “Older Brother Qin, the Emperor has issued an edict.”
Dumbfounded, Qin Yi asked, “What edict?”
That man pushed open the door, revealing himself as the Duke of Wei, Cheng Shu. With a solemn expression, he proclaimed, “The Emperor has issued an edict. A few days earlier, the Crown Prince was recuperating within the Imperial Palace. Now that he has recovered somewhat, he can return to his residence to continue his recovery. For now, he does not need to head to the Eastern Palace to handle government affairs. The Prince of Yong’s contributions this time have been brilliant. Under normal circumstances, he would be heavily rewarded. But upon his request, his rewards are being used to relieve the suffering of those affected. In addition, the Prince of Qi will depart the capital tomorrow. On behalf of the Son of Heaven, he will inspect the northern frontier and safeguard against an offensive from Northern Han.”
Savoring this information for some time, Qin Yi replied, “The Emperor’s decision truly provides food for thought.”