Experiencing vertigo, I slept the entire journey to the Hunting Palace. The Hunting Palace was used by the Yong imperial clan every year for the Autumn Hunt as the temporary imperial residence. It was located at the foot of Mount Li1 and had several dozen palace halls and courtyards. The Imperial Guard set up their encampments on three sides, surrounding the temporary imperial residence. The emperor naturally resided at the main palace hall, the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. The empress, and Noble Consorts Ji and Yan, resided in the nearby palace halls. Noble Consort Zhangsun and Princess Changle resided in the Cherishing Fragrance Park located on the eastern side of the Hunting Palace. There were chrysanthemums everywhere in the park. Li Yuan was intentionally seeking to mitigate the depression that Princess Changle had been experiencing these last several days. The crown prince took up residence at the Jade Qilin Palace Hall on the eastern side, while the Prince of Yong took up residence at the Elegant Peace Pavilion located on the western side. The Prince of Qi took up residence in the Announcing Magnificence Park on the west side.
Knowing that I could not bear to be constantly on the move, I specially took medication so that I was in a deep sleep the entire journey. Only after we had settled down in the Hunting Palace did I finally awaken.
Xiaoshunzi informed me that the emperor had already issued an edict proclaiming that due to the fatigue from the journey, he excused all of the princes and ministers from going to pay their respects. It would be sufficient for everyone to pay their respects tomorrow morning at the beginning of the Autumn Hunt. I inquired, “Is there any intelligence about the Crown Prince or the Fengyi Sect?”
“Nothing yet,” replied Xiaoshunzi, “Aside from Grand General Qin leading General Qin to personally set up the defenses, there isn’t anything else abnormal.”
Accepting the deployment map from Xiaoshunzi, I took a look. Grand General Qin was deserving of his reputation as a famous general. The defenses that he had laid out were nigh impregnable. Protecting the emperor were three thousand imperial guardsmen from the Eastern Barracks commanded by General Qin. Protecting the eastern side of the Hunting Palace was Commander Yang of the Southern Barracks of the Imperial Guard. Protecting the western side of the Hunting Palace was Commander Pei Yun of the Northern Barracks of the Imperial Guard. Responsible for the palace itself was Supervisor Leng Chuan of the Imperial Palace Guard. Passage from the western side of the Hunting Palace to the center of the palace required one to pass through the Moonlight Gate, while passage from the eastern side of the Hunting Palace required one to pass through the Concentrated Assembly Gate. Both of these gates were strictly controlled by the Eastern Barracks of the Imperial Guard and the Imperial Palace Guard. It would be extremely difficult to rise in revolt.
However, I smiled wryly. Grand General Qin was still too partial to his son. With these arrangements, although Qin Qing was under his control, Grand General Qin was also giving his son the opportunity to perform meritorious service if something were to happen.
In the dead of night, the Prince of Yong and I sampled tea and discussed the current state of affairs. I was a bit uneasy, while the Prince of Yong was actually quite calm and steady. He had experienced a countless number of risks and would not be overly vexed by such events. As the first watch of evening passed, Sima Xiong suddenly came in and reported, “Your Imperial Highness, Wei daren has come to issue an edict.”
The Prince of Yong and I were both left dumbfounded. Wei Ying had come. After thinking it over, this wasn’t surprising. This time for the Autumn Hunt, the emperor had only brought along Wei Ying to help draft edicts for him. All of the other civil officials had not been brought along. Further, in recent years, Wei Ying was greatly favored by and always accompanying the emperor. The number of edicts that Wei Ying had drafted for the emperor was innumerable. The Prince of Yong did not find this the least bit strange. If his Imperial Father had promulgated an edict, it would naturally be Wei Ying who would come to deliver it. I accompanied the Prince of Yong and walked to the main hall. We saw Wei Ying standing there in a set of purple robes with a ribbon. He was elegant and had a graceful bearing. Seeing the Prince of Yong, Wei Ying smiled and stated, “Your Imperial Highness, this subject has come with His Imperial Majesty’s oral directive to issue His Imperial Majesty’s command. Would Your Imperial Highness please kowtow to accept the edict?”
After glancing at me, the Prince of Yong kowtowed. I swiftly followed behind him. While Jing Chi and Sima Xiong also kneeled as well, they glared at Wei Ying like a tiger stalking its prey. With the present situation, no one dared to be slack. Wei Ying did not react at all to the tense situation, only stating, “The Emperor’s oral directive, summoning the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, to an audience with the Emperor at the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall.”
Li Zhi voiced his acceptance of the emperor’s order. Rising to his feet, he smiled and inquired, “Wei daren, does Imperial Father have any instructions? Earlier today, didn’t Imperial Father tell all of us that there was no need to pay our respects?”
Wei Ying responded, “Originally, the Emperor was extremely exhausted. However, after napping, his vigor was restored. The Empress and several Noble Consorts are accompanying him right now, jointly sipping tea and chatting. Just now, the Emperor thought of something and decided to summon the Princes and Princess Changle to attend a family feast. This subject has already gone to issue the edict to the Crown Prince and Princess Changle. Now, I’m going to invite the Prince of Qi.”
Feeling a bit reassured, the Prince of Yong replied, “Wei daren, please go to issue the edict. This Prince will go immediately to see Imperial Father.”
Finished issuing the edict, Wei Ying saluted and departed. With a smile, the Prince of Yong turned to me and said, “Wei Ying has the talent to be a prime minister. In the future, he can be placed in an important position.”
Just as I was about to agree, I could feel a chill fall over my body for some odd reason. Wei Ying’s performance could be said to have been perfect. However, why did I feel like something was inappropriate? In my subconscious mind, I had bent my ear and listened attentively with all my strength. At this moment, Wei Ying had already walked out of the Elegant Peace Pavilion. Just then, I heard the sound of his breathing relax. Afterwards, I heard a soft laugh. That was a laugh filled with satisfaction.2
I suddenly began to think of many things. Why was the neutral Wei family always deathly calm, while the Fengyi Sect used all of its strength to entice the Qin family? Although it could be because the Qin family had control of a section of the military, this should not mean that they would make no moves towards the Wei family. I then remembered that after the fire in the Eastern Palace, the crown prince’s imprisonment was supervised by Wei Ying. In a meeting before the Imperial Presence, Palace Attendant Zheng had clearly and definitely denounced the crown prince. Soon afterwards, he was nearly assassinated at the Vermillion Bird Gate. The night of slaughter in Chang’an, the ones who attacked the Prince of Qing’s subordinates and attempted to assassinate Palace Attendant Zheng were both men. Wei Ying’s martial arts were actually quite good. This was something that Xiaoshunzi had unintentionally revealed during one discussion. The more I thought, the more I felt that we had fallen into a trap. What would happen if Wei Ying or even the Wei family was collaborating with the Fengyi Sect?
I resolutely issued a command, “Xiaoshunzi, go take a look outside and see if there is an ambush. Remember, do not reveal your presence.”
Hearing my words, the expressions on the Prince of Yong and company’s faces all changed greatly. Xiaoshunzi’s complexion grew cold and his figure disappeared into the night. After a short while, he returned. His complexion somewhat pale, he dryly reported, “There are imperial guardsmen from the Eastern Barracks lying in ambush at the Moonlight Gate. There are Fengyi Sect disciples present everywhere. I managed to catch sight of Wen Ziyan, but I did not dare get any closer.”
The Prince of Yong’s complexion rapidly paled. It was some time before he stated, “Wei Ying is colluding with the Fengyi Sect.”
During this short period of time, I had already understood many things. My expression grew distant and calm, and I lightly fanned myself with my fan. I placidly replied, “This was my miscalculation. Wei Ying’s status means that many individuals in the Hunting Palace will take his words as the Emperor’s edict. In addition, I have already seen through the Fengyi Sect’s plan. They used the Prince of Qi’s army to draw our attention, while their real plan is to use the Imperial Guard.”
Li Zhi’s bladelike eyebrows rose and he asked, “How could the Imperial Guard be used by them?”
“Your Imperial Highness and I both made a mistake in our thinking,” I answered, smiling wryly. “If they cannot obtain control over the Imperial Guard, then the Fengyi Sect cannot urge them into rebellion. The only ones that can control the Imperial Guard are Grand General Qin and Qin Qing. At present, I know full well that Qin Qing cannot possibly exercise control over the entirety of the Imperial Guard and so overlooked one detail. There is another individual who can control the Imperial Guard … that individual is the Emperor.”
Both Sima Xiong and Jing Chi cried out in alarm. Ignoring them, I continued, “As an imperial princess and as the daughter-in-law of the Qin family, if Li Hanyou were to carry the Emperor’s edict and claim that she has been granted control over the Imperial Guard, what do you all think will happen?”
Everyone shivered. I continued, “Li Hanyou is already quite influential in the Imperial Guard. Over these last two years, even though Qin Qing could not command the entirety of the Imperial Guard, at the very least, the Eastern Barracks rested in his direct control. Li Hanyou, as an Imperial Princess, could easily bribe several thousand guardsmen since those imperial guardsmen are the Qin family’s direct subordinates. In addition, Wei Ying is a ranking minister who is accompanying the Emperor to draft edicts. The Crown Prince is also the heir apparent. As long as they take control over the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, they will prevent the Emperor’s edicts from being transmitted. If that is the case, then Your Imperial Highness will become isolated and without help. At present, Your Imperial Highness’s army is over a hundred li away. We are at the tender mercy of others.”3
Sima Xiong, Jing Chi, and company were greatly alarmed. However, the Prince of Yong coolly observed, “Since Suiyun has already seen through the arrangements made by the Fengyi Sect, presumably you already have a way to fight back.”
Sighing, I responded, “Sure enough, Your Imperial Highness knows well the mind of this subject. The only flaw in their plan is that they absolutely cannot arouse our suspicions. As a result, they have not dared to eliminate General Pei beforehand. At present, the only path before Your Imperial Highness is there. This is also why they have faked an edict, summoning Your Imperial Highness to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. They intend to ambush Your Imperial Highness at the Moonlight Gate, killing Your Imperial Highness with one blow. If that time comes, General Pei can only bend his head and follow orders. After all, General Pei is responsible for the lives of his entire family. Right now, due to Your Imperial Highness’s good fortune, this subject was able to see through their plan. As a result, we have an opportunity ahead of us. Your Imperial Highness, please follow this subject’s instructions to proceed.”
“Suiyun, this Prince trusts that you have a way,” replied Li Zhi serenely. “At present, this Prince’s life is in your hands. Issue the commands.”
Bowing, I said, “This subject’s failure to detect the enemy’s ruse was all due to this subject’s grief. This subject is already quite fortunate that Your Imperial Highness has not blamed me for failing my duties. Many thanks to Your Imperial Highness for believing in this subject’s judgment.”
Li Zhi returned my bow, soothing, “Would Suiyun please not worry excessively? Today’s danger is also a result of this Prince prohibiting Suiyun access to some of what was going on. Suiyun, please issue your commands. This Prince will definitely obey orders.”
I straightened my back and detailed my plan, “If that is the case, then this subject will exceed my place and take matters into my own hands.4 At present, Your Imperial Highness must break out of the encirclement and escape. Before breaking out, Your Imperial Highness must rendezvous with General Pei. This subject believes that General Pei is still safe and sound. According to the Fengyi Sect Master’s conduct, she will not inadvertently alert us to the danger that we face. General Pei’s martial arts are quite good and he has the trust and support of his imperial guardsmen. If they were to use force, Your Imperial Highness would likely become suspicious. As a result, right now, Xiaoshunzi will immediately go to see Pei Yun, so that he can rendezvous with Your Imperial Highness, combining forces to break out of the encirclement. There will definitely be assassins from the Fengyi Sect hidden by General Pei’s side. Xiaoshunzi must ensure General Pei’s safety, otherwise there will be no hope for Your Imperial Highness to escape. Right now, the fake edict should not yet have been issued to the entire Imperial Guard. As such, there shouldn’t be any problems for Your Imperial Highness to escape. However, before rendezvousing with General Pei, Your Imperial Highness must rely upon your household guard and the experts from the major sects of jianghu. The decision of the rendezvous location should be Your Imperial Highness’s.”
Pointing at the deployment map, Li Zhi stated, “At present, we can only break out from the southwestern corner. Xiaoshunzi, inform General Pei that we will rendezvous here. A bonfire will be the signal for action.”
Nodding his head, Xiaoshunzi once again disappeared into the night. I spoke again, “After Your Imperial Highness escapes, deliver this item to the closest army commanded by Qin Yong. This item was originally prepared by this subject for the worst.5 I did not expect that it would come into play. With this item, at the very least, Qin Yong will not attack Your Imperial Highness.”
At this moment, Sima Xiong walked in and reported, “Your Imperial Highness, we are all ready. It is only that …” He looked at me, wanting to say something, but hesitating.
With a faint smile, I spoke, “Your Imperial Highness, this subject will not be able to accompany Your Imperial Highness and escape.”
The Prince of Yong was greatly alarmed. Grasping one of my hands, he replied, “Suiyun, what rubbish are you saying? You don’t even have the strength to truss a chicken. If you stay behind, you will inevitably be harmed. How can you not leave with me?”
“Your Imperial Highness, Suiyun is debilitated,” I explained, smiling sardonically. “For Your Imperial Highness to escape, it will inevitably require everyone to go as fast as possible. If this subject were to accompany Your Imperial Highness, it is likely that I will die on the road.”
Shaking his head, Li Zhi tried to change my mind, “Do not worry, this Prince will convey you using a carriage. Besides, you will only have the opportunity to live if you escape with this Prince. If you stay behind, there is no doubt that you will die. The Fengyi Sect will absolutely not let you off!”
I smiled peacefully. Walking beside the Prince of Yong, I whispered a sentence into his ear, leaving him dumbfounded. An expression of contemplation appeared on his face. Not waiting for him to comprehend fully, I declared, “Your Imperial Highness, you absolutely must not tarry! I will have Dong Que stay behind to protect me. If Your Imperial Highness is able to fight your way out of the encirclement, even if this subject were to fall into enemy hands, I will survive by a thread. Your Imperial Highness, right now, both the Prince of Qi’s and your armies are too far away. Grand General Qin’s army has become the crux of our plans. Please believe that this subject will do my utmost to win over the Grand General’s assistance. The Grand General is an experienced military commander. He will not resign himself to being constrained.”
At this moment, Sima Xiong walked closer and reported, “Your Imperial Highness, it’s already close to the scheduled time. Your Imperial Highness, please make a quick decision.”
I solemnly stated, “General Sima, His Imperial Highness’s safety is in your hands. Zhe places this important responsibility into your hands.”
Saluting me, Sima Xiong acknowledged, “Even if this general’s body is ground to dust, I will protect and ensure that His Imperial Highness will be able to fight his way out of the encirclement.”
Gazing at Jing Chi, I declared, “Jing Chi, you are a ranking general at His Imperial Highness’s side. This time, you carry a heavy responsibility. You cannot slack.”
With an agonized smile, Jing Chi replied, “If I do not strive my utmost, Sir, please punish me by ordering that I copy several books.”
Although everyone had heard me claim that I had a way of ensuring my survival, they all knew that there was no guarantee. While they fought their way out, they had a thirty percent chance of survival. If I stayed behind, my chance of survival was virtually nil. Searching their souls, they understood that they could not bring me along and escape. The guilt in their hearts filled them with rage and bloodlust.
Li Zhi gazed at Dong Que, this taciturn youth. In a heavy voice, he stated, “Dong Que, if you are able to ensure that Suiyun is reunited with this Prince, this Prince will definitely bestow hefty rewards upon you. Even if you have committed any crimes before, this Prince will not punish you for them.”
His expression unchanging, Dong Que did not speak a word in response, only saluting lightly. In comparison, I was smiling ironically. It seemed like the Prince of Yong had become suspicious of Dong Que’s identity.
With big strides, Li Zhi walked out of the palace hall. Sweeping his eyes over his armed-to-the-teeth subordinates, he declared, “It is this Prince who has implicated all of you. Right now, the Crown Prince is plotting treason and intends to murder this Prince. Everyone accompany this Prince in breaking out of the encirclement! This will be extremely difficult and there will be few survivors. There is no way that Zhi can repay all of you for your loyalty and service, and can only vow today that if this Prince is able to escape, all of you will be this Prince’s blood brothers6 and will be heavily rewarded. If anyone is afraid, you can stay behind and surrender. This Prince will absolutely not blame you.”
Everyone knew that they could not cry out in loud voices in response. In heavy and low voices, they resounded, “The Crown Prince is tyrannical, the Emperor is being hoodwinked. Your Imperial Highness carries Great Yong’s empire upon your shoulders. We subjects will offer our lives as sacrifice, ready to risk life and limb.”
Li Zhi waved his hand. Under Sima Xiong and Jing Chi’s protection, he mounted his horse. Spurring it into a gallop, he sped away. The only ones left in this large Elegant Peace Pavilion were Dong Que and me. Glancing at Dong Que, I smiled and asked, “Are you afraid?”
Dong Que uncaringly replied, “If even young master is unafraid, what is there for Dong Que to be afraid of? What are young master’s arrangements?”
At this moment, deafening war cries could be heard in the distance. Picking up a torch, I ignited the flammable materials that Sima Xiong and company had prepared. Under the light of the fire, my pale complexion seemed to have a bit of color.
Outside of the Elegant Peace Pavilion, Wen Ziyan and Yan Wushuang were lying in wait with fifty Fengyi Sect swordswomen. They were monitoring this palace hall. Wei Ying had already returned to the Moonlight Gate, carrying the fake edict to order the imperial guardsmen stationed there to prepare to ambush the Prince of Yong. Based upon the Wei family’s prestige and the emperor’s edict, although these imperial guardsmen had misgivings in their hearts, they could only comply. After all, to them, the object of their loyalty was the emperor. Even so, at this location closest to the Elegant Peace Pavilion, Wei Ying had still arranged for these Fengyi Sect disciples to take charge of this unit of Imperial Guard so as to reduce the chances for the Prince of Yong to escape.
Just as they were anxiously waiting for things to develop, the main gate to the Elegant Peace Pavilion suddenly burst open. In golden armor and carrying a lance, the Prince of Yong shouted in a loud voice, “The Crown Prince is plotting a rebellion and intends to murder me! This Prince is the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies; how can I be harmed by such vile characters!?! All those who are citizens of my Great Yong must not be instigated by those crafty scoundrels!”
Finished speaking, under the escort of Sima Xiong and Jing Chi, Li Zhi led a hundred cavalry and charged out. This Hunting Palace was only used for the Autumn Hunt. As a result, the roads within were acceptable for horses to travel upon. Wen Ziyan was startled watching these men charge out.
Wen Ziyan was able to react quickly. Determining the direction of their charge to be the Moonlight Gate, she believed that the Prince of Yong intended to plead his case before the emperor. Coming to this conclusion, she decided to cut off their retreat and attack them from behind. She whistled lightly and led the imperial guardsmen to encircle the Prince of Yong’s cavalry from behind.
Laying in ambush at the Moonlight Gate, Wei Ying heard the Prince of Yong’s shouts and Wen Ziyan’s light whistle. Shivering inwardly, he immediately issued the order to prepare their bows. He personally led a thousand imperial guardsmen forward to meet the Prince of Yong’s charge. After all, he had to guard against and prevent the Prince of Yong from breaking out in another direction. The Prince of Yong was adept at the art of war. Wei Ying did not believe that Li Zhi would take this path.
Under the moonlight, a black arrow slammed into the azure armor of an imperial guardsmen. Jing Chi let out a loud cry, the lance in his hands flickering through the air, blasting aside those mounted imperial guardsmen who blocked his path. Sima Xiong’s lance was not idle either, causing blood to splatter in all directions. The Prince of Yong screamed, “This Prince is Li Zhi! Who dares block my path!?!” The saber in his hand flickered, beheading an imperial guardsman. The imperial guardsmen behind him naturally stepped into the breach to replace his fallen comrade,7 without a hint of fear. However, facing Great Yong’s military deity that they admired, their combativeness was quite low. In a just a few minutes, the spearhead formation that the Prince of Yong commanded had broken through the Imperial Guard’s blockade. Standing in a distance, Wei Ying frowned. It was inappropriate for him to take action as he had to maintain his status as an imperial emissary. At this moment, Wen Ziyan’s figure appeared. As swift as lightning she neared the Prince of Yong’s flank in a few steps. Then her sword stabbed towards the Prince of Yong.
Just then, the Prince of Yong issued an order. The cavalrymen clearly approaching the Moonlight Gate suddenly and unexpectedly changed directions and charged towards the southwest. If an experienced military officer were in command, he would likely have prepared a contingency for this. However, neither Wei Ying nor Wen Ziyan were experienced military commanders. They also did not expect that the Prince of Yong would discover the conspiracy and so rapidly break out of the encirclement. As a result, they were both left dumbfounded, watching as the Prince of Yong broke the Imperial Guard’s weak rear defensive line.
In a loud voice, Wen Ziyan cried out, “The traitor is seeking to rendezvous with Pei Yun. We cannot let him off! Give chase!”
At this moment, a fire erupted in the Elegant Peace Pavilion. The blaze spread quickly, smoke and dust covering the eyes. The Prince of Yong’s spearhead formation charged past the Elegant Peace Pavilion, directly galloping towards the gate located at the southwest corner of the Hunting Palace. Just as the Prince of Yong passed the Elegant Peace Pavilion, a sword, like lightning, appeared, directly lunging at the Prince of Yong. One of the Prince of Yong’s household guards jumped, chopping down with the saber in his hands. The light of the sword and saber were extinguished. The guard fell from midair, blood splattering everywhere. As for that sword, it was too late for it to attack again. The Prince of Yong had already escaped the encirclement of the Elegant Peace Pavilion.
The sword returned to its sheath. A woman dressed in plain, unadorned clothing swiftly retreated, dodging the strikes from the guards following behind the Prince of Yong.
Wen Ziyan shivered. Yan Wushuang’s attack had failed. At this moment, if they were to mobilize all of the Fengyi Sect’s swordswomen, although they could entangle the Prince of Yong, the losses suffered would definitely be disastrous. She would not begrudge these casualties. Further, there was likely no hope for the Prince of Yong to rendezvous with Pei Yun. When that moment arrived, when the Prince of Yong was trapped in an impossible situation, it would be the perfect opportunity for her to utilize the swordswomen of the Fengyi Sect. As a result, Wen Ziyan did not send out the swordswomen but instead allowed the Prince of Yong to fight his way southwest.