A look of guilt flashed across Empress Dou’s face. However, it was quickly replaced with pride and conceit. Li Yuan replied, “Zitong,1 you have the honor and glory to be the Empress. Why would you do such a thing?”
Empress Dou laughed sardonically and shouted, “The honor and glory of an Empress? Humph! Your servant only knows that if my son is unable to ascend to the throne, then the only path before us is death! Now that Your Imperial Majesty has the intention of deposing the Crown Prince and enfeoffing the Prince of Yong, in what position will you place your servant and my son?” As she finished, her voice grew hoarse from the shouting, her tone hardening with intensity.
Li Yuan was astonished before he angrily inquired, “When have We stated that the Crown Prince is to be deposed? Who incited you with such words?”
Shame filled Empress Dou’s eyes and she avoided Li Yuan’s gaze. Noble Consort Ji laughed lightly and answered, “Everyone in the court knows that your mind has been wavering. In addition, the Crown Prince has committed a wrong and is worried of your punishment. As such, I had no choice but to persuade the Empress to take this action.”
Li Yuan’s eyes radiated disdain and he gazed at Qin Yi. In embarrassment, Qin Yi stated, “Your Imperial Majesty, this subject has also heard the rumors that the Crown Prince raped the wife of one of the subordinate ministers of the Eastern Palace, ultimately causing her death. However, this matter was inappropriate for this subject to bring it up. This is the authority of the censors.”
“What a bastard!” cursed Li Yuan furiously. “I had just ordered him to meditate and he still goes and performs such a shameless act! Since ancient times, if a liege is not a liege, a vassal not a vassal ... We will definitely …” Li Yuan abruptly fell silent.
He gazed at the empress. Her complexion pale, Empress Dou replied, “An’er tearfully complained to me claiming that if this matter were to reach the Emperor’s ears, it would likely be extremely difficult for him to maintain his position as heir apparent. Your servant only has this one son. Whatever happens, I cannot watch him stride into the abyss.”
Li Yuan gave a miserable laugh. “Good, good … married for so many years and yet you only care about that unfilial son. Fine … Fine …” His expression gradually grew grim, as he continued, “Ji Xia, Li Hanyou, if We are able to leave the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, your plan will likely fail.”
Smiling sweetly, Noble Consort Ji replied, “Your servant knows that Your Imperial Majesty has a hundred palace guards here. However, your servant will definitely not allow a single one of them to escape.”
Li Yuan laughed harshly. In a loud voice, he commanded, “Execute all of these rebels for Us!” As soon as Li Yuan’s voice rang out, the palace guards hidden around the palace hall charged out. Originally, Li Yuan empathized with them. All those palace guards not on duty were permitted to rest in the side halls of the palace. As a result, though the palace guards outside of the palace hall had already been eliminated, many palace guards still remained alive. Under Li Yuan’s command, Qin Yi and Cheng Shu stood before the emperor and Zhangsun, protecting the two of them. Leng Chuan leaped at Noble Consort Ji. Shrugging aside her court robes, Noble Consort Ji revealed a set of black-colored, close-fitting clothes. The two began to exchange blows, while the yellow-garbed imperial palace guards began to fight with the Fengyi Sect swordswomen. In an instant, the grounds before the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall became an abattoir.
In terror, Noble Consort Yan watched the scene play out. At this moment, Qin Zheng sprang forward, shouting out, “Mother Concubine, quickly retreat with the Her Imperial Majesty, the Empress, into the palace hall!”
Although Noble Consort Yan was ordinarily weak-willed, in this moment, she hesitated. She shouted, “Your Imperial Majesty, your servant did not know about this matter.” Finished speaking, she threw herself towards the emperor.
Qin Zheng was surprised. She began extending her hands to stop Noble Consort Yan, but ultimately could not bring herself to do so. Li Yuan frowned, gazing upon the frightened face of Noble Consort Yan. He knew that this concubine of his was always meek and weak. It was definitely impossible for her to become involved in this rebellion. Sighing, he allowed her into his embrace. Qin Yi and Cheng Shu went to intervene, but as subjects, they could not do anything to harm Noble Consort Yan. As a result, neither made any movements. With some hesitation, Noble Consort Yan entered Li Yuan’s embrace. Afterwards, Li Yuan handed her into the care of Noble Consort Zhangsun. The two noble consorts clung to each other for support, gazing down in fear at what was happening on the grounds before the palace hall.
Qin Zheng stamped her foot before turning and joining Ji Xia in her fight against Leng Chuan. Having had the responsibility of ensuring Li Yuan’s safety for years, Ji Xia frequently collaborated with Leng Chuan. As a result, she was extremely knowledgeable about Leng Chuan’s martial arts. As for Qin Zheng, while she did not frequently use her martial arts, she had innate intelligence and her swordsmanship was excellent. The two trapped Leng Chuan. Although they could not defeat him, Leng Chuan could also not escape.
Currently, the imperial palace guards were in an extremely dangerous predicament. Although all of them had great martial arts skills and mostly hailed from the military, thus trained to fight cooperatively, the sword formation employed by the female disciples of the Fengyi Sect were truly ferocious and sinister, allowing them to coordinate their attacks and provide mutual support. Their vicious moves divided the imperial palace guardsmen. It wasn’t long before the grounds were covered by corpses and blood.
Li Yuan was deeply worried. He didn’t expect that the Fengyi Sect’s sword formation would be so formidable. What’s to be done?
While Li Hanyou was commanding the attack, she herself was also astonished by the martial arts of these swordswomen. It was a pity that there was no way for her to lead them in the future. Didn’t this mean that she was ultimately no more than a tool? As she calculated how to seize command of these swordswomen, she kept a close watch on everyone present. She saw that although Leng Chuan held the advantage against Ji Xia and Qin Zheng, he had no way of getting out. As for the thirty-six swordswomen that Li Hanyou had brought her, the “Heavenly Dipper Sword Formation” that they were using was quickly massacring the Imperial Palace Guard. It seemed that only way to end this quickly would be to take the emperor hostage. Leading Xie Xiaotong, Li Hanyou walked towards Li Yuan, their faces stone-cold.
Looks of worry appeared on both Qin Yi and Cheng Shu’s faces. If they were in battle, they would have nothing to fear. But this kind of jianghu fight was not their specialty. As a result, they had not even a shred of certainty that they would be able to handle Li Hanyou and that other disciple from the Fengyi Sect. Great Yong was very different from other states. The majority of the martial art experts were in the army, while the number of experts in the palace weren’t that many. Under normal circumstances, this wasn’t a problem, as the Fengyi Sect bore the burden of a significant portion of the protective duties. As a result, as soon as the Fengyi Sect rebelled, the defenses around the Yong emperor immediately weakened considerably. Of course, one of the main reasons why the Fengyi Sect had such an advantage was because of the brilliance of the swordsmanship of its disciples.
At this moment, Xie Xiaotong suddenly pulled on Li Hanyou’s sleeve and whispered, “Someone is raising a racket outside. Junior apprentice sister, we need to go take a look. Right now, no one can know that we are trying to coerce the Emperor.”
Li Hanyou frowned and replied, “You stay here, I’ll go take a look.”
Finished speaking, she rushed to the gates, almost as if she was flying. Outside were the three thousand imperial guardsmen that the Fengyi Sect controlled, tightly guarding the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall and its environs. Right now, outside of the gates stood a woman dressed in palace dress. In a stern voice, she declared, “We are an imperial princess and wish to go pay our respects to Imperial Father. Who dares to block my path?” This woman was Princess Changle. Behind her were several palace maids and eunuchs.
Li Hanyou’s eyes brightened. If she were able to take the princess hostage, then there would be no need to fear Li Yuan’s uncompromising attitude. Li Hanyou walked to Princess Changle’s side. Laughing humorlessly, she asked, “Why has Your Imperial Highness, the Princess, come here? Did no one try to stop you on the way?”
Princess Changle gazed at Li Hanyou, her eyes having an indescribable feeling to them. In a somber voice, she stated, “Witnessing the turmoil of the palace, We are worried about Imperial Father and Mother Concubine, and thus have come to pay our respects. Although there were those who dared to try to stop me along the way, who truly dares to make things difficult for Us? Li Hanyou, why are you here? Are Imperial Father and Mother Concubine well?”
Li Hanyou gazed upon Princess Changle, seeing that her usually clear and neutral complexion had suddenly added some of the majesty and prestige of an imperial clansman. No wonder no one dared to stop her progress. After all, the imperial guardsmen outside had only been duped by her fake orders. No wonder Princess Changle was able to arrive at the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. However, this was also good. Li Yuan doted heavily upon Princess Changle. It was likely that she could utilize the princess to force Li Yuan to surrender. If Li Yuan truly wished to fight to the death, the situation likely could not be settled. Consequently, Li Hanyou bleakly stated, “The Prince of Yong has rebelled, Jingjiang has specially come to protect the Imperial Presence. Your Imperial Highness, the Princess, please …”
An inhospitable and severe look flashed in Princess Changle’s eyes, as she replied haughtily, “Good, We were just about to go see Imperial Father.”
Finished speaking, Princess Changle moved forward, walking into the grounds of the palace hall. The several palace maids and eunuchs behind her hurriedly followed in her footsteps. The imperial guardsmen moved to obstruct them, but were prevented from doing so by Li Hanyou. She concluded that it was better for them to come in rather than be left outside to babble nonsense.
Entering through the gate, as soon as Princess Changle saw the blood and bodies on the grounds, her pampered body was on the verge of collapse. At this moment, Noble Consort Zhangsun caught sight of her daughter. In alarm, she cried out, “Zhen’er!” Just as she was about to descend the steps, she was blocked by Li Yuan.
Li Yuan gazed at Li Hanyou, standing beside Princess Changle. Furiously, he bellowed, “Li Hanyou! You are also a member of the imperial clan! We have even bestowed the title of Imperial Princess upon you! None could have guessed that you would be so filled with ingratitude!”
Hearing the emperor’s words, the faces of Qin Yi, Cheng Shu, and Princess Changle all abruptly changed. As for Li Hanyou, although she was humiliated and angry, she carefully expressed herself. Smiling, she replied, “Your Imperial Majesty, if you are willing to back down, your servant would rather die ten thousand times than dare to offend you. Otherwise …” Li Hanyou’s eyes fell upon Princess Changle.
By now, Princess Changle had regained her composure. She did not even glance at Li Hanyou. In a loud voice, she shouted, “Imperial Father! This child has something to report! Would Imperial Father please temporarily restrain your anger.”
Li Yuan’s heart jumped. Seeing that the current state of affairs was to his disadvantage, he heaved a heavy sigh and replied, “Fine … Changle, let’s hear what you have to say. Everyone, withdraw!”
Li Hanyou was overjoyed. After all was said and done, she did not fear that Li Yuan would have the opportunity to escape. She waved her hand. The swordswomen all quickly retreated behind her. The imperial palace guardsmen fortunate to survive withdrew to the front of the steps to the palace hall, protecting Li Yuan and company. Only Empress Dou stood all alone off to the side.
After glancing at Li Hanyou, Princess Changle gravely stated, “This matter can’t be discussed in public. Jingjiang, if you don’t have any objections, there is no harm for us to enter the palace hall to discuss this matter.”
Li Hanyou only desired the situation be resolved as quickly as possible. As such, she was more than happy to show her magnanimity. She smiled and replied, “Rightly so.”
Li Yuan, Qin Yi, and company were all jubilant. With this, they could use the building to set up a defense. All of them could not help but respect Princess Changle. Immediately, the swordswomen of the Fengyi Sect surrounded the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. With great care, Li Hanyou entered the palace hall. The remaining imperial palace guardsmen took positions controlling all of the entrances. Li Yuan took his seat upon the dragon throne with Qin Yi and Cheng Shu on his left and right, respectively. Standing before them were Li Hanyou and Noble Consort Ji. The atmosphere in the hall was oppressive. No one knew what to say.
At this moment, Princess Changle rose to her feet. After paying her respects to Li Yuan, she stated, “Princess of Jingjiang, regardless of how you are quibbling, you are presently besieging Imperial Father. This behavior is an act of rebellion against the Emperor.2 Regardless of whether it is the Crown Prince or second brother, neither would be willing to tolerate such an act. Moreover, isn’t your motive to temporarily force Imperial Father to stay within the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall? If you use force, Imperial Father will likely not be able to accept coercion. What good would that be to you? If you are able to calm your heart and discuss this situation with Imperial Father, and make a few demands, wouldn’t that be superior to continuing the fight? What’s more, second brother has already escaped. The most important task before you isn’t to be entangled here.”
Li Hanyou’s expression changed. She naturally understood the meaning behind Princess Changle’s words. However, would Li Yuan be willing to accept her demands? She glanced at Noble Consort Ji, a questioning look in her eyes. Noble Consort Ji smiled and replied, “Changle is truly a sensible individual. We do not have many demands and only ask that Your Imperial Majesty and Grand General Qin hand over your command tallies, allowing us to mobilize and command Grand General Qin’s army. After everything is settled, the Crown Prince will naturally come to ask for Your Imperial Majesty’s forgiveness.”
Li Yuan and company all looked furious. Just as they were about to reject the demands, Princess Changle spoke up, “This matter is of utmost importance. The decision cannot be made without careful consideration. How about you first go outside and wait for a moment, allowing us the time to discuss this matter.”
Thinking it over, Li Hanyou agreed, “I will give you the time it takes for a stick of incense to burn.1 Is that enough?”
Although Li Hanyou’s demand were very onerous, Princess Changle immediately voiced her acceptance, “That is enough time. Would you please wait outside and allow Us to persuade Imperial Father? Noble Consort Yan, don’t you wish to inquire of sixth brother’s situation?”
At present, Noble Consort Yan was truly at wit’s end. Hearing Princess Changle’s words, she asked, “Zheng’er, where is Xian’er? We do not believe that he would participate in such a despicable enterprise.”
With a look of shame and embarrassment, Qin Zheng glanced at Li Hanyou. Li Hanyou indifferently ordered Qin Zheng, “Go explain things to Her Imperial Highness.” Finished speaking, Li Hanyou turned and walked out of the palace hall. Smiling, Noble Consort Ji called for Empress Dou and Noble Consort Yan to talk in a side hall. At present, the only ones left in the palace hall were Princess Changle, Li Yuan, and company.
Seeing that everyone else had left, Li Yuan inquired, filled with misgivings, “Changle, what are you trying to do?”
Smiling slightly, Princess Changle answered, “Imperial Father, the present situation is extremely dangerous. However, second brother has already escaped. Soldiers coming to save the Emperor will soon come. If something were to happen to Imperial Father, then the empire will truly be thrown into disorder. As such, there is no harm for Imperial Father to temporarily bear with this patiently. Presumably, before they manage to capture or kill second brother, they will not dare to act against Imperial Father. As such, Imperial Father can temporarily preserve a portion of our fighting strength in the event that they are driven to desperate action and harm Imperial Father and Mother Concubine.”
Li Yuan sighed. “How do We not understand this principle? However, their demands are too severe. If We were to hand over the command tallies, not only would your second brother’s life be in peril, even We would be in danger.”
“Imperial Father, there is no need to worry about this,” replied Princess Changle. “We can give them the command tallies and imperial edicts that they require. However, the man commanding Grand General Qin’s army has to be a trusted subordinate of the Grand General. Don’t tell me that there isn’t a private token? When the time comes, combined with Imperial Father’s secret edict, wouldn’t that be enough?”
Qin Yi suddenly raised his eyebrows, his eyes wide, and stated, “Your Imperial Majesty, this is feasible. Qin Yong is my nephew and is absolutely loyal to the imperial household. Your Imperial Majesty, please write a secret edict with Your Imperial Majesty’s private seal. He will definitely recognize it as real. Combined with a private token from me, he will definitely mobilize to come rescue Your Imperial Majesty.”
Li Yuan was overjoyed and praised, “Good! Changle is truly meticulous.” However, when he took a look, he could not find brush or paper nearby.
From within her bosom, Changle removed a white damask silk handkerchief and said, “Imperial Father, it is enough to use your private seal. In a little while, there will naturally be someone who will compose the edict.”
Li Yuan’s expression was filled with hesitation. At this very second, he could not bring himself to trust anyone. Seeing this, Princess Changle hurriedly reported, “Imperial Father, this child has no other way. If Imperial Father were to write this edict, then it would not see the light of day. Imperial Father, you must know that this child has always been at loggerheads with the Crown Prince. Don’t tell me that I would work with them.”
Li Yuan glanced at Princess Changle. At long last, he plucked the ornamental signet thumb ring from his hand. After dipping it in ink, he pressed it upon the damask handkerchief. Princess Changle quickly picked up the handkerchief and glanced at Qin Yi. Without hesitating, Qin Yi handed a jade pendant to Princess Changle. This piece of jade was extremely ordinary. Princess Changle could not help be filled with misgivings.
Qin Yi explained, “This was a birthday present from Yong’er to me. He will definitely recognize it.”
With this, Princess Changle relaxed. “Grand General, it is likely that General Qin Qing has already been imprisoned by the Fengyi Sect. In a moment, there is no harm to request that he be delivered here.” Qin Yi’s expression darkened and did not reply.
At this moment, Li Hanyou shouted, “Time is up, We are coming in.” Coming in this time, Li Hanyou’s face was as cold as ice. It seemed that she definitely wanted an outcome.
Neither servile nor overbearing, Princess Changle spoke, “Jingjiang, Imperial Father has already agreed to your demands. However, we also have our own conditions.”
“As long as they are reasonable and fair, they can be discussed,” replied Li Hanyou surprised, her eyebrows raising.
Smiling, Princess Changle said, “These conditions aren’t difficult to meet. Number one, before second brother returns or the Fengyi Sect returns with second brother’s head, you may not come and harass Imperial Father again.”
Li Hanyou straightforwardly accepted, “There is no problem with this condition. Before the rebels are eradicated, we would naturally not come to harass His Imperial Majesty.”
Princess Changle serenely continued, “As for the second condition … it is likely that General Qin Qing is under your control. There shouldn’t be any problems in delivering him here, right?”
Li Hanyou laughed callously. To the Fengyi Sect, Qin Qing was already useless. As such, she granted, “This also won’t be a problem. In a little while, We will deliver him.” Although she did not reveal any of her expressions, everyone within the palace hall who were experts at reading body language immediately saw through her thoughts. As a result, their loathing only grew.
Smiling slightly, Princess Changle continued, “This third condition is for Us. Mother Concubine and Our maids are all within the Cherishing Fragrance Park. At present, the entire Hunting Palace has fallen into chaos. We wish for those maids to be brought to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall. I wonder, is this possible?”
Li Hanyou, herself, knew that Princess Changle could not be permitted to return to the Cherishing Fragrance Park. Nodding her head, she agreed, “This is only natural. We will immediately dispatch someone to bring them here.”
Princess Changle interjected, “Wait a moment! Please bring this one along. When We departed the Cherishing Fragrance Park, We gave the order that without Our orders, none of them are permitted to take even half a step from the Cherishing Fragrance Park. Have this servant transmit my command so as to prevent any unnecessary arguments.”
Li Hanyou was going to object, but hearing this last sentence, she found it reasonable. There were some things that were better to allow people to know about and hear, but definitely not allow them to see. If these things were known by everyone, it would be an inconvenience to kill and silence all of them in the future. Li Hanyou glanced at Noble Consort Ji. Seeing her nod her head lightly, Li Hanyou replied, “That’s fine. We’ll bring him along.”
Princess Changle smiled. “Then would Jingjiang please go fulfill these conditions. If there aren’t any problems, once General Qin Qing and Our maids arrive, Imperial Father will hand over the command tallies.”
Rage flashed in Li Hanyou’s eyes as she asked, “What will happen if We fulfill Our promises and the Emperor reneges on the deal? What will happen then? We do not have that much time to be entangled by you.”
Li Yuan coldly snorted. Remaining calm, Princess Changle expressed, “If that is the case, then We will put Our life into your hands.”
Pleased with herself, Li Hanyou smiled and conveyed, “Good, a word spoken can never be taken back.”4 Finished speaking, she held out her right hand. Smiling faintly, Princess Changle walked over and raised her slender, white hand. The two clasped their right hands together, signifying the sealing of the vow. As they exchanged glances, their eyes met, both revealing grim and heartless looks.
Princess Changle smiled faintly. Taking out a jade pendant wrapped in a snow white damask silk handkerchief, she handed them to Xiaoliuzi, instructing, “Tell Head Maid Zhou, tell her to bring our people over here.”
Li Hanyou looked carefully. The majority of the handkerchief was revealed openly. There was no sign of characters or ink. As a result, she did not step forward to examine it. After all, it was inappropriate for her to overly offend the imperial household. Whatever else happened, the Fengyi Sect still needed the imperial household to exercise control over the empire.
Accepting the jade pendant and handkerchief, Xiaoliuzi respectfully withdrew. Gesturing with her hands, Xie Xiaotong followed the little eunuch with two of the swordswomen.
Princess Changle could finally breathe. She had finally finished the task that that man had entrusted to her. With a smile on her face, she gazed at Li Hanyou and stated, “It’ll probably take a bit. Would Jingjiang like to drink a cup of tea?”