Ultimately, Wei Ying walked towards Princess Changle. Just as he arrived at the princess’s side, he suddenly heard the sound of rushing footsteps outside. Wei Ying jumped with surprise, promptly retreating off to the side. At this moment, the palace hall’s door was pushed open vigorously. With ten maids and eunuchs, Noble Consort Zhangsun barged into the palace hall. Seeing the scene before her, a scowl appeared on Noble Consort Zhangsun’s face. She did not utter a single word, only waving her hand. A eunuch walked over and covered the incense burner, while several maids walked beside the bed and helped Princess Changle up. Afterwards, a palanquin, for use within the palace, was brought in. The maids helped Princess Changle within and swiftly took her away. Confused, Wei Ying stepped forward and spoke, “Noble Consort has finally arrived. Has that little eunuch reported the Princess’s fainting? Did Noble Consort see Miss Lü’e and realize that this subject took the wrong path?”
Suspicious, Noble Consort Zhangsun replied, “We received a report that Changle ran into danger. As a result, We hurriedly rushed over to surprisingly find Wei daren not worrying about rumors and staying alone in the same palace hall with Changle. Why have you s poken such words just as We were about to hold you responsible?”
As Wei Ying calmly explained everything that happened, Noble Consort Zhangsun’s facial expressions changed several times. Eventually, she stated, “So that is the case. Wei daren also had kind intentions. However, Changle is a widow which means it is inconvenient for her to be alone with men. By rights, daren should have stayed outside to avoid arousing suspicion. Head Maid Zhou, go bring Lü’e back to the Jade Phoenix Palace Hall. Wei daren, you carry an imperial edict and thus should go complete your duties.”
When Noble Consort Zhangsun finished speaking, and was about to turn and depart, Wei Ying quickly spoke up, “I wonder if this subject is permitted to come by later to pay my respects.”
Noble Consort Zhangsun hesitated momentarily, but remembering the incense wafting out from the burner was an aphrodisiac, she finally icily replied, “There is no need. Daren is an outside subject and should, by rights, avoid arousing suspicion.”
Gazing at the departing Noble Consort Zhangsun, Wei Ying felt his entire body grow cold. He knew that he had lost forever the beautiful woman that he yearned for in his dreams.
Returning to the Jade Phoenix Palace Hall, Noble Consort Zhangsun summoned an imperial physician to check on Princess Changle’s condition. After taking a look, the imperial physician reported that anxiety and fury had struck the princess’s heart. Combined with the princess’s frail condition, she had fainted. Although Noble Consort Zhangsun found this diagnosis strange, since Changle had been in quite good health this past year, she could be at ease after learning that there was no danger to her daughter’s life. However, at this moment, she absolutely loathed Empress Dou. For her good daughter to be like this after an audience with the empress, how could she not feel unbearable distress? However, there was no way for her to exact vengeance. That woman was the empress. The crown prince was her son. What could Noble Consort Zhangsun do? The more she thought, the more infuriated she became. At this moment, seeing Lü’e be brought in by her head maid, Noble Consort Zhangsun indignantly cried out, “Lü’e! We have trusted you implicitly to allow you to personally attend to the Princess. Although you are still young and have yet to be raised to the position of head maid, We have not treated you poorly. Why have you bitten the hand that feeds you and set up the Princess?”
Lü’e repeatedly proclaimed her innocence, explaining, “This servant has never had such a thought. Your Imperial Highness, it was because of the urgency of the situation. In addition, Wei daren is a consort approved by the Emperor. This servant truly had no intention of setting up the Princess.”
Noble Consort Zhangsun ferociously and furiously reprimanded, “You dare to quibble? Regardless of the Wei Ying’s status, you have been by the Princess’s side for quite some time now. Do you not know the Princess’s intentions? If We arrived a second too late today, Changle’s reputation and integrity would have likely been irreparably damaged. Even if she were unreconciled and unwilling, she could only marry Wei Ying. Regardless of Our and the Emperor’s intentions, attaining Changle’s consent is of the utmost necessity. You lowly servant, behaving so unscrupulously! If Changle’s reputation and integrity were damaged, even if you were to die a thousand times, you would have to bear the full brunt of the blame. Head Maid Zhou, drag this lowly servant out and have her beaten well.”
Several eunuchs dragged the weeping Lü’e out. Head Maid Zhou followed them to supervise Lü’e’s punishment. Tiredly, Noble Consort Zhangsun sat down. Gazing at the nearby lady-in-waiting Tian, she spoke, “That girl Lü’e has always been doted upon by Us and thus was specially dispatched to serve upon Zhen’er. Who could have thought that she would be so foolish? We intend to have her driven out tomorrow. What do you think?”
Lady-in-waiting Tian’s raised her eyebrows in surprise. In a low voice, she murmured, “Your Imperial Highness, Lü’e has accompanied you for many years and has waited upon the Princess for such a long time. She certainly knows some of the Princess’s intentions. If she is driven out, she is likely to babble nonsense and harm the Princess’s pure reputation. To handle this matter, Your Imperial Highness brought along experienced and honest maids and eunuchs. They will definitely not talk nonsense. Right now, aside from Lü’e, only Wei daren knows of this matter. This servant believes that Wei daren has not the courage to talk nonsense. If rumors were to spread, the Emperor surely wouldn’t let him off lightly. As for this Lü’e, she cannot be permitted to leave and speak irresponsibly.”
Although Noble Consort Zhangsun was amiable and kind by nature, having spent so many years in the depths of the palace and holding the position of noble consort, how could she not understand that lady-in-waiting Tian’s words were reasonable? She hardened her heart. In order to preserve Changle’s reputation and integrity, she did not care if Lü’e was innocent or guilty. Noble Consort Zhangsun did not say a word, only glancing slightly at lady-in-waiting Tian. Understanding, lady-in-waiting Tian left the palace hall, shooting a look at Head Maid Zhou who took the hint.1 Not long afterwards, the miserable shrieks from outside came to an abrupt end. Head Maid Zhou returned and disclosed, “Reporting to Your Imperial Highness, Lü’e could not endure the punishment and has already died.”
Sighing, Noble Consort Zhangsun replied, “Have her buried properly. Publicly report that she became ill and died. Be sure to properly provide financial support to her family.”
Lady-in-waiting Tian, having returned, spoke up again, “Your Imperial Highness, the little eunuch who came to report this matter, Xiaoliuzi,2 should also be transferred to Your Imperial Highness’s side to prevent him from leaking anything.”
Noble Consort Zhangsun’s jaw quivered and she stated, “That child. Fortunately he was there. If he did not come to report, it is likely … Alas … Changle is willing to die to preserve her chastity. When she wakes, she would likely rather die in order to wash away this humiliation than to marry. Go make arrangements. Since this child was so intelligent and faithful, arrange to have him stay by Changle’s side and have him keep an eye on things and ensure that these double-crossing servants don’t harm Changle.”
Lady-in-waiting Tian smiled. “This servant will go make the arrangements. Your Imperial Highness, do not worry.”
At this moment, a palace maid entered and reported, “Your Imperial Highness, the Princess has awoken.”
Noble Consort Zhangsun promptly entered Changle’s sleeping quarters. She saw Princess Changle’s complexion was dark and gloomy. Seeing her mother alive, tears fell from Changle’s eyes like rain. Feeling piercing pain in her heart, Noble Consort Zhangsun walked over. Pulling Changle into her embrace, Noble Consort Zhangsun spoke, “Zhen’er, what wrongs have you experienced? Tell your mother. If someone dared to be rude towards you, even if mother has to sacrifice my life, I will take revenge for you.”
Princess Changle was pained for quite some time before she finally stemmed her tears, explaining everything that had happened. The more she listened, the more enraged Noble Consort Zhangsun became. She knew that her daughter had entrusted all of her pining into her folding fan. Now that it was destroyed, it was no wonder that she fainted from grief and indignation. But the perpetrator was the Fengyi Sect Master. Not even the emperor could do anything to her. Thinking it over, Noble Consort Zhangsun came to a decision and stated, “Zhen’er, do not worry. Your second brother has irreconcilable differences with them. You will have the day when you will be able to exact your revenge. It is only a folding fan. I will have the Prince of Yong gift you with another one.”
Princess Changle sobbed, “Mother Concubine, it is better if we don’t cause trouble. Jiang … his health is poor. If he were to hear of this, he would inevitably become enraged, harming his body and causing this child to be very worried. It is best if this matter is concealed from him.”
Noble Consort Zhangsun smiled wryly and replied, “You, child … always thinking of others. Fine, mother won’t go tell them. However, I have to inform your Imperial Father of what has happened. You cannot be so wronged. Even if we can’t take revenge for you, we can ensure that your Imperial Father won’t force you to get married again.”
Continuing to weep, Princess Changle said, “I will rely upon Mother Concubine to make all the decisions.”
Leaving the Jade Phoenix Palace Hall, Noble Consort Zhangsun sobered from her indignity and wrath. Regardless of how the emperor doted upon Changle, neither Empress Dou nor the Fengyi Sect Master were people that she and her daughter could offend. If she were to go and search for justice, it would only cause the emperor to be placed in an awkward and embarrassed position. The more she thought, the sadder she became. Ultimately, Noble Consort Zhangsun decided that she had to inform the emperor of this matter. She knew that the emperor was handling government affairs in the Imperial Study at this moment. And so, she hurriedly rushed to the Imperial Study. After receiving permission, she stepped in. But seeing Noble Consort Ji seated beside the emperor, Noble Consort Zhangsun could feel herself tremble inside.
Watching Noble Consort Zhangsun arrive, Li Yuan smiled and stated, “Aiyah! Why has beloved concubine has also come today? It just so happens that We are going to have dinner with the Fengyi Sect Master in a little while. Beloved concubine should come along. You are also an old acquaintance of the Fengyi Sect Master and can take the opportunity to reminisce.”
The indignation that Noble Consort Zhangsun had felt froze. She knew that the emperor would definitely not give her and her daughter justice. She could only force a smile onto her face and report, “Your servant is here to report to Your Imperial Majesty that Changle suddenly collapsed. Your servant hopes to deliver Changle to the Dustless Nunnery to recuperate for a few days.”
With great alarm, Li Yuan replied, “When We saw her a few days ago, her face was glowing.3 How did she suddenly fall ill? Has an imperial physician been summoned?”
Just as Noble Consort Zhangsun was about to reply, Noble Consort Ji spoke up, “Your Imperial Majesty, Changle’s health was always poor. In your servant’s view, would it not be better to wed Changle and use the luck from the marriage to counteract her bad luck?”
Hearing her words, Li Yuan nodded his head slightly. “Beloved concubine speaks reasonably. Zhangsun, what do you think? Changle’s wedding has already been dragged out. It would be good if her luck can be improved.”
In an icy voice, Noble Consort Zhangsun answered, “The Emperor’s intentions are good, however, Changle’s temperament is obstinate. She has always refused this engagement. It is likely that if Your Imperial Majesty is to issue this edict, Changle will take to her bed and never leave it again.4 If Your Imperial Majesty is thinking of Changle, it is better to allow her to leave the palace to be nursed back to health.”
Li Yuan was not slow to react. Seeing the indignation on Noble Consort Zhangsun’s face that she dared not openly express, Li Yuan could not help but think back to the empress and Noble Consort Ji who constantly urged him to have the princess be wed these last few days. With this, he understood clearly. At the time, when Changle was wed to distant Southern Chu, she did so without any complaints or discontent, causing him to feel guilty to this day. Now, he naturally was unwilling to force her to marry again. After careful consideration, Li Yuan could not but grow angry. Thus, he instructed, “Beloved concubine, please send Changle to convalesce in the nunnery. Also, pass along my edict. Have Roulan accompany Changle. Changle has always been fond of that child. This should help relax her heart.”
Overjoyed, Noble Consort Zhangsun acknowledged, “Many thanks to Your Imperial Majesty. Your servant will send Changle out of the palace to convalesce.” Finished speaking, she turned and left the imperial study.
Noble Consort Ji was a bit unhappy. Li Yuan glanced at her and spoke plainly, “Changle has already sacrificed much for Great Yong. We only desire that she spend the rest of her life according to her wishes. In the future, do not speak of this wedding ever again. Allow her to make her own decision. I believe that Changle won’t do anything that is improper.”
Although Changle did not wish for Jiang Zhe to learn of what had happened that day, things did not turn out as she wanted. I had already learned, in detail, what had happened. In the harem, where the Fengyi Sect was extremely powerful, there were several little eunuchs who had the courage to disturb the trap that the Fengyi Sect had set. Xiaoliuzi, originally named Liu Jie, was one of the honorary disciples that Xiaoshunzi had taken.
At the time, I had wanted to plant a few people in the imperial palace. However, this was easier said than done. At present, power and influence in the harem was controlled by the crown prince and the Fengyi Sect. If the spy’s identity were exposed, not only would I be punished, even His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, wouldn’t be able to escape responsibility. Just over a month after I found myself in a difficult position and discussed this matter with Xiaoshunzi, he informed me that he had already completed this task. His method was simple. On the outer ring of the palace, in the remote palace halls, he had selected a number of little eunuchs with satisfactory aptitude. Xiaoshunzi came from such a background himself and naturally understood their suffering. As a result, based upon his status and martial arts, he was able to quickly acquire their adulation and approval. Afterwards, he had taught them some martial arts. With this, they became Xiaoshunzi’s honorary disciples. Knowing some martial arts, and with Xiaoshunzi’s frequent advice, they were like pieces of sculpted jade, revealing lustrous radiance. Very quickly, they were able to take responsibility and perform duties. Although this method wasn’t the best and had the potential for future trouble, I could only approve it in the face of a lack of better alternatives.
When I had learned that the emperor had once discussed the crown prince’s scandal with Changle, I specially had Xiaoshunzi make arrangements for his honorary disciples to be mindful of the princess’s safety. That was how they were able, at the moment of imminent peril, to warn Noble Consort Zhangsun to save the princess. And also because of this reason, I learned of what had happened that very night. Although there were some things that were impossible for Xiaoliuzi to witness firsthand, it was enough for me to guess what had happened.
Hearing of this incident, I felt a sharp stabbing pain in my heart, continuously vomiting blood. Xiaoshunzi was greatly frightened, promptly summoning a doctor. My condition only stabilized in the middle of night. Lying in bed, I was reminded of Piaoxiang’s tragic death. The grief in my heart was difficult to endure. Fengyi Sect, oh Fengyi Sect … that day, you murdered my Piaoxiang … today, you wish to harm the princess. If I cannot eradicate you, I will not die in peace!
Waking up the next day, I saw on Xiaoshunzi’s expression that he was blaming himself for informing me of this incident. In truth, I would have found out sooner rather than later. After some time had passed, the Prince of Yong and Shi Yu came to visit. His face etched with deep concern, Li Zhi anxiously inquired, “Suiyun, how did you suddenly fall ill?”
Seeing the Prince of Yong’s worried complexion, I could not help but be touched by his anxiety. However, the wound that was causing such grief and pain was hidden in the deepest and most hidden parts of my heart. It was almost my most forbidden sore spot. I was absolutely unwilling to reveal this matter to anyone. As such, I could only smile and reply, “I have caused Your Imperial Highness to be worried. It is only Zhe’s old ailment recurring. As long as I rest a few days, I will get better. How are the current state of affairs outside, I wonder?”
Li Zhi anxiously answered, “Suiyun should rest well. There aren’t any urgent matters that need to be taken care of.”
Smiling wryly, I responded, “I’m afraid that things will have to be delayed a few days. Although I have diagnosed and treated the Little Marquis’s poisonous wound, I am right now powerless to use acupuncture on him. Xiaoshunzi, use the acupuncture techniques that I taught you to first treat Little Marquis. In this way, the effects of the toxicity can be postponed. Feed him the prescription that I prescribed yesterday for seven days. Afterwards, I will personally expel the toxins in his body. These days, the Crown Prince and the Fengyi Sect will be discussing their coming rebellion with the Prince of Qi. Your Imperial Highness should keep a close watch on their activity. Although this subject’s illness has recurred, there won’t be any major problems. Would Your Imperial Highness please not worry? Please deliver the intelligence reports as usual every day. If this subject were to relax and become complacent right now, it is likely that the situation would become uncontrollable. If that were to happen, then I will have failed Your Imperial Highness’s kindness to me.”
Helpless to refuse, Li Zhi could only reply, “Suiyun, only do what you can.5 Ziyou, discuss things with Suiyun and see if you can share some of the burden. His health cannot fail at this time.”
Nodding his head, Shi Yu concurred, “Your Imperial Highness, do not worry. This subject will be sure to provide all my help to Suiyun.”
During the days that I was recuperating, the intelligence continued to flow. Since the return of the Prince of Qi, the crown prince’s faction had wholeheartedly thrown themselves into the plan, while the Prince of Qi had secretly begun to mobilize and move. It seemed like the Prince of Qi was now a participant of the crown prince’s faction. Although this was a bit unexpected, it was mind-numbingly obvious that the Fengyi Sect was preparing a mutiny and rebellion. As a result, we did not abandon our plan.
The Prince of Qi’s abnormal moves could not be concealed from the Prince of Yong and Grand General Qin. However, the two could also not prevent it from happening, as the Prince of Qi’s troops in Chang’an were mobilized and moved using all sorts of dignified and pompous reasons, and no one could ascertain their objectives. As a result, the armies of the Prince of Yong and Grand General Qin all raised their alertness levels. Storm clouds were approaching6 Chang’an.
Within the Cold Courtyard, after my health had gradually improved, I exhausted myself treating Jiang Haitao with acupuncture to the point that I almost collapsed again. However, this time, the Prince of Yong prohibited me from exhausting my mental and physical strength. After trying to argue, I helplessly rested. In any case, the Prince of Yong was knew well about the troop dispositions around Chang’an. As a result, I could focus on my recovery. If there were anything truly urgent, the Prince of Yong would still have to come and seek my advice.
On this day, I was going over the intelligence that had been collected in the last few days. Dong Que walked in and reported, “Young master, Little Marquis Jiang has come to request an audience.”
Setting down the scroll, I wondered, “What is it? He can already climb out of bed? He truly has good foundations. He recovered surprisingly quickly. Oh, that’s right, how is that situation developing?”
A hint of ridicule on his face, Dong Que replied, “It likely can’t be concealed any longer. His frame of mind is probably poor. As a result, Lady Huo has returned home with wan and sallow appearances. The Eastern Palace Reader-in-Waiting Shao Yan, Shao daren, has already gotten suspicious.”
I smiled placidly and ordered, “Since that is the case, conclude this business. Remember, it is best if this scandal leaves the capital abuzz.”
Bowing, Dong Que responded, “This subordinate understands. There is also another matter. Lord Li just returned before he rushed off again, stating that the Prince of Qi is being controlled.”
Hearing this, I was first dumbfounded before I laughed. “So that’s why the Prince of Qi’s subordinates have been so lively recently and yet completely lacked the Prince of Qi’s experienced and ferocious style. So he is being held hostage to control his subordinates.7 Fine. This way is also good. When the time comes, it’ll be easier to sweep them away. When Xiaoshunzi returns, have him come see me. Tell him that I won’t die so easily. If there is anything, he should inform me. At most, I shall have him handle matters and I won’t waste my breath.”
Speaking to this point, I could not help but smile wryly. At present, the Prince of Yong and Xiaoshunzi had combined forces to prevent me from seeing reports from the outside. Although they were doing what they thought was best for me, how could I rest easy?
Dong Que bowed and voiced his agreement, turning and departing. Not long afterwards, Jiang Haitao walked in. Although he had only just recovered from the toxins, his face had a healthy, rosy color. In addition, his stride still had a sense of frivolity. He seemed to already be extremely lively. After he had entered, he bowed and saluted me, stating, “Haitao greatly thanks Jiang daren for the grace of saving my life, causing daren’s old illness to recur. Haitao is truly uneasy. As a result, have come specially to pay my respects.”
Pointing at a nearby chair, I replied, “Normally, the Little Marquis is a blood relative of His Imperial Highness. Thus, Zhe should not accept such great courtesy. However, I have toiled mentally and physically to treat you. It wouldn’t be improper to receive such great courtesy from you. Little Marquis, please sit. Is anything that the Little Marquis wishes to discuss with me?”