Volume 5, Chapter 28: Arranging Tasty Bait
On the tenth day of the fourth month, a military report reached the Yong capital only mentioning the crushing defeat the Yong army had suffered at the Qin River Valley. Receiving this news, Taizong furiously led an army to campaign against Northern Han, personally marching to Tong Pass.—Zizhi Tongjian, Yong Records Volume Three
Within Qinyuan, Duan Wudi rose to his feet after handling the diverse military administrative matters, stretching his stiff body. Ever since he was poisoned, although he had already recovered from his injuries, he still felt weak and tired. This time, having been assigned to garrison Qinyuan, he had busied himself with clearing and fortifying the Qin River Valley, just in case the Northern Han army was defeated and needed to retreat to defend the area. As a result, he had barely slept a wink these days. Military reports would arrive from the front lines every day, keeping Duan Wudi informed of the Northern Han army’s dogged pursuit and the Yong army’s rout. However, today, up till now, why hadn’t a report arrived?
Duan Wudi was extremely worried, but there was nothing he could do. This location was over a hundred li from Jishi. Although he had already dispatched scouts to investigate, if something had truly happened on the front lines, it was impossible for him to receive any information before early morning tomorrow.
After pacing back and forth in his study, when all was said and done, Duan Wudi remained uneasy. Suddenly inspired, he remembered an individual. The person’s status was not ordinary, making it possible that he had some of his own understanding of the confusing battle situation. Although that man would definitely not reveal anything lightly, there was definitely an opportunity to sound him out. Thinking of this, Duan Wudi summoned his bodyguards and walked to the dungeons behind the governor’s residence.
Duan Wudi slowly followed the limestone tunnel down. On both sides of the path were damp and gloomy walls, so much so that moss was growing on the walls close to the ground. Aside from the flickering flames of the torches, it was impossible to see any light. This was where serious criminals were imprisoned and heavily guarded. It was difficult for even a rat to escape. Arriving at the end of the tunnel, there was a steel door. However, probably because of the passage of time, it was covered with a layer of rust. When the two soldiers guarding the door bowed and saluted, Duan Wudi softly asked, “How’s the prisoner doing?”
One of the soldiers answered, “Reporting to the general, ever since he regained consciousness, he has remained silent without speaking. However, he has not tried to resist. At present, he can already sit, but he cannot yet walk.”
Duan Wudi nodded his head before ordering the soldiers to open the steel door. When the door opened, the thick scent of medicinal ingredients blended with a humid smell. Duan Wudi frowned slightly before walking inside. The prison cell was two zhang wide and only had a stone bed opposite the entrance. On the bed was a thick layer of straw, emanating a humid scent. Extending from the wall was an iron chain. The manacles and leg irons at the end of the chain were chained to the man sitting on the stone bed, severely hampering the man from moving beyond the limits of the iron chain.
The man wore a set of coarse prison garb with numerous bandaged wounds on his body. It was clear that he was seriously injured. The man’s long hair was scattered, including hiding his face. His features couldn’t be seen. However, through his scattered strands of hair, it could be seen that the right side of his face was covered with white cloth. This man cut a sorry figure. However, sitting there, his figure was ramrod straight and he had a calm, unruffled bearing. Although he was imprisoned, he had no wariness or dejection.
Duan Wudi frowned slightly. This man before him had been burned badly and being imprisoned in this dungeon was quite unsuitable. It was only that he was a ranking general of the Yong army and it was inconvenient for Duan Wudi to treat him well. Walking to the bedside, Duan Wudi inquired, “General Xuan, have your injuries improved?”
The man raised his head, lifting his right hand to brush away the long hair that covered his face to reveal a haggard appearance. His left cheek was covered with white cloth. Although he still had signs of burns, he retained his charm. It was Xuan Song, Xuan Changqing. He smiled faintly and responded, “So it is General Duan. This one’s injuries have not worsened. Many thanks to the general for sending army doctors to treat me.”
Duan Wudi sighed softly. On that day, when the Yong army had charged from the valley undaunted by dangers, their path had been sealed by the Grand General using bows and crossbows. Over ten thousand Yong troops had perished in the flames. When the Northern Han army had swept the battlefield, they had discovered Xuan Song buried under more than a dozen bodyguards who had used their bodies to protect him. It was a rarity for such a high-ranking Yong general to be captured these past few years. Long Tingfei had therefore issued orders for Xuan Song to be imprisoned and had further ordered army doctors to treat him.
When Xuan Song first regained consciousness, Long Tingfei had already led his troops and set off. Duan Wudi originally wanted to learn some of the Yong army’s military secrets from Xuan Song’s mouth. However, when Xuan Song awoke, he had remained silent and did not speak a word. Although he had no suicidal thoughts, Xuan Song had no intention of surrendering. Because Duan Wudi was busy with military affairs and Xuan Song had not recovered from his injuries, Duan Wudi did not have the time to concentrate on this matter. However, with the military situation unclear, Duan Wudi could no longer be merciful and lenient, and had to force Xuan Song to reveal what he knew about classified Yong army information.
Xuan Song gazed unenthusiastically at the lost in thought Duan Wudi. He was well aware of the visitor’s purpose of coming. Although he could not see the light of day in this dungeon cell, he could estimate the approximate date based on the meal deliveries. And combined with the days he had spent unconscious while seriously injured, it was probable that the Northern Han army had already been trapped. It seemed that Duan Wudi had yet to receive any precise information and only perceived that something was off. Having survived by the skin of his teeth, aside from lamenting the deaths of his soldiers, Xuan Song had no thoughts about sacrificing his life because of the words the Prince of Qi had spoken before departing. If he could make his return to the Yong army, it would be worth it even if he had to experience some humiliations. However, if the Northern Han generals wanted to obtain any classified information from him, then he would not allow it to happen. Although he still wanted to return to the battlefield to fight, how could he be someone who clung abjectly to life?
Reaching this conclusion, Xuan Song opened his mouth and asked, “Does General Duan know why I have continued to struggle while at death’s door?”
Stirred, Duan Wudi answered, “I believe that General Xuan is not someone who kneels and surrenders. You presumably hope to see Great Yong’s banners once again.”
Xuan Song smiled and replied, “Since childhood, I studied books on military tactics and strategies. Simply because my martial skills were average, as Great Yong’s military attached importance to horse archery and martial skill, although I wanted to become a general to lead an army into battle, I never had the opportunity. However, I was quite fortunate. First, I served as General Jing’s aide. General Jing Chi’s temper was always open-minded and was not bothered by handing me authority, allowing me to lead the troops. Afterwards, I obtained the recognition of the Army Supervisor daren and His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. In the Battle of Qinze, my name resounded throughout the world, only then becoming a general. This glory was acquired with difficulty. I will remember this forever. That is why, when Grand General Long incinerated the Qin River on that day, I was well aware that the chances of survival were low, but still led my troops to meet our doom.”
Duan Wudi frowned. “In fact, on that day, your Prince of Qi had already led your main force far away. Since there wasn’t enough time for all of you to retreat, what would have been the harm in surrendering? It is a pity that you, General Xuan, obstinately persist in making the wrong decisions, making twenty thousand brave soldiers die in the flames. General Xuan, how do you live with that?”
Xuan Song indifferently answered, “General Duan’s words are mistaken. Although I could have bent my knee to preserve my life on that day, are the brave soldiers of Great Yong individuals who cling abjectly to life and fear death? If that were the case, although we remain alive, we likely wouldn’t have the ability to face others. That is why I could not surrender. Don’t tell me that General Duan will value the lives of your troops and surrender in the face of desperate straits?”
Duan Wudi was left speechless. If he could do such a thing, what need would there be for him to keep fighting agonizingly against Great Yong? Even though he knew the unfavorable situation, he still did everything he could to fight back. There were some things that a person presumably could make a concession to, but that concession could not be made. He understood what Xuan Song was implying to not have baseless expectations of learning any military secrets. However, since this was the only way, how could Duan Wudi easily give up? After thinking it over, he could only take an indirect approach and hope that he could find some clues.
Reaching this decision, Duan Wudi respectfully stated, “I have been too hasty. General Xuan is a man of loyalty and righteousness, and would definitely not defile himself. I am also unwilling to seek self-embarrassment. However, this location is not suitable for you to recuperate. My intention is to invite General Xuan to my home to heal. I wonder what you think?”
Xuan Song naturally understood that Duan Wudi was taking a circuitous route. Even if he were unwilling, it was difficult for Xuan Song to block Duan Wudi’s kind intentions. Besides, he was not a pedantic individual. As a result, Xuan Song simply smiled and replied, “If that’s the case, I can only express my thanks.”
A slight feeling of delight appeared within Duan Wudi before he ordered his bodyguards to help Xuan Song from the dungeon to a room with tight security in his residence. Regardless of whether he was capable of softening Xuan Song’s resistance, Duan Wudi was already full of respect.
Unfortunately, bad news arrived too quickly. When scouts returned to report the appearance of a massive Yong army south of Jishi and that General Long had already been surrounded, Duan Wudi was essentially stunned. On pins and needles,1 he read over all of the available intelligence. Helpless, Duan Wudi discovered that all of Northern Han’s mobile forces had been trapped. As for himself, he only had a few tens of thousands of foot soldiers. They could serve to defend a city, but they were powerless when it came to providing assistance.
Feeling like all of his vigor had been sapped from his body by this terrible news, he pondered how to handle the issue in a daze. He issued orders to have the news sealed before immediately dispatching a secret report to His Royal Majesty about the situation and strengthened Qinyuan’s defenses. After he completed all that he could do, Duan Wudi walked to where Xuan Song was detained.
By this moment, Xuan Song had already changed into a set of clean robes. Propped against an armrest in the bed, he convalesced. When Duan Wudi walked in, Xuan Song was reading an ancient text with great interest. Hearing the arrival of Duan Wudi’s footsteps, Xuan Song looked up, seeing the grave expression on Duan Wudi’s face and the piercing icy killing intent in his eyes. Stirred, Xuan Song guessed that news of the Northern Han army’s encirclement had already arrived. Setting down the book, Xuan Song faintly said, “General Duan, you look uneasy. Is something wrong on the front lines?”
Duan Wudi gazed deeply at Xuan Song before stating, “General Xuan is a ranking general of the Yong army and has received the trust of the Marquis of Chu. Could it be that you don’t know what has happened?”
Tranquilly, Xuan Song answered, “The Marquis of Chu’s wisdom and resourcefulness are profound, hiding the might of over a million men in his mind. How could I know of his stratagems? However, when it comes to calculating, there is no one in Northern Han who is his match. Although the Grand General employs troops in an ingenious fashion, he unfortunately has limited manpower. Even if he were to win nine battles out of ten, one sole defeat would result in the fall of your country.”
Duan Wudi felt sorrow. The original shred of unrealistic delusion he had disappeared without a trace. Duan Wudi’s hand dropped to the hilt of his sword hanging at his waist, wishing that he could kill the man before him. But after a long while, he withdrew his killing intent in the end and coldly stated, “The Grand General has a hundred thousand elite horsemen with him and is supported by the Princess of Jiaping. Although he has been surrounded, it will not be easy for him to be annihilated. The battle may not necessarily be irretrievable. It is better that General Xuan not become prematurely happy.”
Scorn flashed across Xuan Song’s eyes as he replied, “The Grand General has led his light cavalry in a long-distance pursuit. He has at most two days of provisions with him. I wonder how long he will be able to hold out.”
A faint light of hope twinkled in Duan Wudi’s eyes. According to the intelligence he had received, before Long Tingfei had been surrounded, the supply ships carrying provisions had already entered the pocket and joined Long Tingfei’s army before the envelopment was closed. Although it was impossible for the Northern Han navy to break out of the encirclement, Long Tingfei should have roughly half a month’s worth of provisions. If rationed, they could drag the situation out. Although the Northern Han army had been surrounded, there was still hope that it could break out. Of course, he was unwilling to reveal these details to Xuan Song. However, in order to continue to fish for information, Duan Wudi mocked, “There is no need for General Xuan to worry about the provisions that the Grand General possesses. It is only that a vast Yong army has been marshaled for this campaign. Although its importance has yet to be revealed, this matter is already known throughout the world. When the time comes, I’m afraid that the Yong Emperor will be filled with regrets.”
Xuan Song knew that Duan Wudi was hinting at Southern Chu’s covetous eyes and Hanzhong’s instability. However, these matters were not something that he could handle. As a result, he could only laugh and say, “The Daizhou army has come south. I wonder how the situation is at Yanmen Pass.”
Duan Wudi started. He was well aware of the tensions with the situation at Daizhou. However, this was not something that he was capable of affecting. Thinking of this, Duan Wudi could not help but smile wryly. He was only an ordinary general so it was difficult for him to control the entire situation. Now that the situation had become very dreadful, he was even less capable of turning around the hopeless situation. The only thing he could do was request for help from His Royal Majesty and spare no effort in the defense of Qinyuan.
Watching the faintly miserable figure of Duan Wudi depart, Xuan Song smirked. He was well aware of this man’s thoughts. Unfortunately, could Northern Han’s hopeless situation be turned by a few individuals? It was only that Xuan Song did not know if he would be able to return to Yong alive. It was possible that the Northern Han court would order his execution to signal their firm, uncompromising determination.
Within the Yong capital, in the Bright Terrace Pavilion, Lady Huang of Complete Beauty, Huang Li, had happiness drawn on her face. One needle at a time, she was focused on embroidering a bright yellow dragon robe. Over these days, the emperor doted on her greatly, resulting in repeated copulations. She had never been a woman with her own definite opinions and schemes, and had long ago cast aside her previous vexations. Every day, she took great pains to think of ways to curry favor with Li Zhi, hoping to gain additional doting. While she was focused on her embroidery, her trusted maid, Chan’er, walked in with a tray full of refreshments.
Seeing Huang Li’s focused expression, contempt flashed across Chan’er’s eyes before she quickly replaced it with a smile. Stepping forward, she curtsied and said, “My Lady’s embroidery has reached perfection. The cloud dragon on the robes seems to be capable of flying forth. When His Imperial Majesty sees it, he will definitely be extremely delighted.”
Lady Huang smiled lightly and replied, “My embroidery cannot compare with that of my elder cousin’s. She was the best embroiderer of Shu. The dragon robes that she embroidered were truly vivid and realistic.”
When she had spoken these words, a clear and bright voice laughed from outside, “Is that so? Is beloved concubine being too modest? In Our eyes, your embroidery is already quite good.”
Huang Li happily raised her head and caught sight of Li Zhi walking in. Following closely behind him was Song Wan. She promptly stepped forward to pay her respects, but was stopped by Li Zhi. Picking up the half-sewn dragon robe, Li Zhi examined the fine embroidery, asking, “What, your elder cousin’s embroidery is more outstanding?”
With brilliant, sparkling eyes, Huang Li answered, “That is a matter of course. Of the four great embroidery styles in the world,2 the best embroiderer of the Suzhou style3 is Southern Chu’s Gu Xiuniang, the best of the Hunan style4 is Great Yong’s Xue Lingyi, and the best in the Fujian style5 is Fujian’s Yue Qingyan. As for the best embroiderer of the Sichuan style,6 she is your servant’s elder cousin, Song Ying. In my youth, your servant once studied embroidery with my cousin. It is only that your servant’s innate talents are inferior to hers. If elder cousin was in the Yong capital, your servant would definitely ask her to embroider a dragon robe for Your Imperial Majesty.”
Li Zhi pensively asked, “Yue Qingyan of the Fujian style? Is she the Marquis of Eastern Sea’s daughter-in-law?”
Bewilderment appeared in Huang Li’s eyes as she answered, “Your servant does not know. I have only heard that she was Fujian’s Yue Qingyan, fondest of imitating calligraphy and painting in her embroidery. The calligraphy and painting style is quite similar to the original works. It is just that Miss Yue is a well-bred young lady from a prestigious house and has only produced a few works. If any pieces were produced, they would frequently be treasured without being exhibited. As a result, your servant has never been able to see them.”
Smiling, Li Zhi said, “If she is truly the individual We are thinking of, then it will be easy. In the future, We will have her gift you one of her embroidered works. However, your elder cousin is also a famous embroiderer. Where is she at present?”
The look on Huang Li’s face changed and she stole a furtive glance at Li Zhi. Bowing her head, she responded, “Your servant’s elder cousin originally was the Shu King’s seamstress. After Shu fell, she was dismissed and returned home. Two years ago, she was taken as a concubine by His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qing.”
“So that is the case,” replied Li Zhi, his eyebrows wrinkling slightly. “Song Wan, does the Prince of Qing have listed such a woman among his principal wives?”
Glancing at Huang Li, Song Wan answered, “Reporting to Your Imperial Majesty, no such woman exists. Presumably, she is only a concubine of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qing. That was why this was not reported to the Directorate of the Imperial Clan.”7
Li Zhi nodded his head as he grinned. “There is no harm. On another day, We will issue a decree bestowing the title of secondary wife upon Lady Song.”
Overjoyed, Huang Li kowtowed and replied, “Your servant kowtows in thanks to Your Imperial Majesty’s favor on behalf of my elder cousin.”
Raising her to her feet and seeing her radiant, gorgeous features shining with boundless delight, Li Zhi softened and pulled her into his bosom. Huang Li was weak and powerless, as she blushed. Song Wan and Chan’er tactfully withdrew.
Just as the two were entangled, Song Wan suddenly burst in with a nervous look on his face. Kowtowing, he reported, “Your Imperial Majesty, Zezhou has sent an eight-hundred-li emergency report.”
The annoyance on Li Zhi’s face was immediately replaced by alarm. Releasing Huang Li and forgetting that he was in the bedchambers of one of his concubines, he walked over to accept the military report. After reading its contents, he tottered and was on the verge of collapse, while his complexion was as pale as snow. It was some time before he flicked his sleeve and departed with Song Wan following closely behind. Huang Li was greatly alarmed, promptly kneeling to send Li Zhi off.
Once Li Zhi had departed, a panicked Chan’er walked in, asking, “My Lady, why has His Imperial Majesty departed in such a rage? Could it be that My Lady’s attendance was not satisfactory?”
Huang Li shook her head and answered, “That’s not the case. His Imperial Majesty suddenly received a report from Zezhou and immediately departed. From the expression on His Imperial Majesty’s face, it is presumably something on the front lines that has infuriated the Emperor.”
Chan’er’s expression shifted, as she said, “For His Imperial Majesty to be so infuriated, My Lady should make discreet inquiries to avoid unintentionally touching upon a sensitive topic with the Emperor.”
“But how are We to make inquiries?” asked Huang Li with concern. “If We overly focus on this matter, We will likely receive Her Imperial Majesty’s criticism.”
“What’s difficult about this? Isn’t My Lady grateful for Her Imperial Majesty’s care?” Chan’er suggested, “There is no harm in going to see Her Imperial Majesty and stating that the Emperor suddenly departed in great anger and that you are worried that the anger will harm His Imperial Majesty’s health, hoping that Her Imperial Majesty would go check on him. Afterwards, My Lady would need only ask Her Imperial Majesty what was going on. Her Imperial Majesty is merciful and amiable, and will definitely not conceal things from My Lady.”
Thinking that this was the case, Huang Li rose and instructed, “Help Us dress and put on makeup. We will pay Our respects to Her Imperial Majesty.”
Overjoyed, Chan’er promptly stepped forward to help Huang Li. Huang Li could not see the malicious smile at the corner of her maid’s mouth.
Once Huang Li had returned from the empress’s palace, her face was etched with worry. To Chan’er, she complained, “What’s to be done? Zezhou has suffered another defeat, because the Daizhou army has appeared. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, retreated in defeat for thirty li before his army was incinerated. It also seems that the fate of a general who served as the rearguard is unknown. Wasn’t His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, a capable general? Doesn’t he also have the help of that immensely intelligent and wise Jiang daren? How could he have been suffered such a miserable defeat? Her Imperial Majesty said that the Emperor has summoned important ministers in preparation to personally campaign. Alas, His Imperial Majesty is a priceless personage. There is surely no need for the Emperor to take the field personally. The court has plenty of generals. Although General Zhangsun was sent a few days ago to defend against Southern Chu, aren’t there still General Qin and others?”
Chan’er consoled, “My Lady, His Imperial Majesty was formerly Great Yong’s best general. If he campaigns personally, he will definitely be successful. My Lady, how about finishing the embroidery on the dragon robe as fast as possible? If you can finish it before His Imperial Majesty sets out so he can try it on, then wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
Hearing this, Huang Li repeatedly nodded. Promptly, she picked up the incomplete dragon robe and her needle began to fly. Seeing that Huang Li was focused, Chan’er stealthily snuck away on the excuse that she was checking on the imperial kitchen. That night, news of Li Zhi’s decision to personally take the field arrived at Hanzhong.
Within the Magnificent Culture Palace Hall, ever since the arrival of the important ministers of the court, all of the eunuch attendants and palace maids had been expelled. In fear and trepidation, these eunuchs and women did not know why the emperor had suddenly exploded in anger. If the emperor was further enraged at this moment, their lives would likely be in peril. Even in the eyes of a virtuous and wise monarch, their lives were nothing. The Son of Heaven’s anger was no small matter.
However, these individuals could never have anticipated that the atmosphere within the palace hall was not as tense as they expected. In reality, Li Zhi had a smile on his face as he sat behind the imperial desk and read the secret petition submitted jointly by Prince Li Xian of Qi and Marquis Jiang Zhe of Chu. The petition had been delivered through secret channels. Zheng Xia, Shi Yu, Dong Zhi, Guan Xiu, Gou Lian, Qin Yi, and Cheng Shu had all been summoned by Li Zhi. This formation was enough to make everyone believe that an emergency military situation had truly appeared on the front lines. Even Qin Yi and Cheng Shu, when receiving the summons, were filled with unease. Only when they heard the classified story did they relax.
Setting down the petition, Li Zhi joyously declared, “As expected, sixth brother and Suiyun did not fail to live up to Our expectations. At present, the Northern Han army has already been trapped and the war is decided. Defying countless hardships and perils, sixth brother risked life and limb. We are truly gratified.”
Smiling, Shi Yu stated, “Your Imperial Majesty has spent a long time planning this campaign against Northern Han. Although General Zhangsun was sent off on the pretext of reinforcing General Pei, Your Imperial Majesty put great thought into ensuring that the three hundred thousand troops were able to hurry to Zezhou without being discovered. Now that the Northern Han army’s main fighting force has been enveloped, it will be impossible for Long Tingfei to break out, no matter how ingenious his leadership, against the methods of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. In addition, since the core of the Daizhou army has also been trapped, this will be of great benefit to our future conquest of Daizhou.”
Frowning, Qin Yi interjected, “I have met Daizhou’s Lin Yuanting before. That man is heroic and valiant, unyieldingly loyal. It will be difficult to have him surrender. However, Daizhou’s Lin family has performed admirable service for the common people and the lands, and their prestige resounds in Daizhou. If the Lin family refuses to surrender, Your Imperial Majesty will probably be placed in an awkward situation.”
Gou Lian explained, “Although the Duke of Xin’s anxieties are reasonable, the Lin family has an outstanding reputation because they spent generations defending Daizhou and resisting the barbarians. To them, the most important matter is defending their homeland. That is why they were originally dissatisfied with Northern Han’s First Ruler when he declared independence. Ultimately, they still surrendered, because they weren’t willing to have enemies on two fronts. As long as Daizhou and Jinyang are separated, once we have conquered Jinyang and Northern Han falls, when all is said and done, the Lin family will yield. It is possible they will resist Great Yong’s regime. However, they will not become an enemy of the imperial court.”
“Although that is the case, We do hope that the Lin family will be willing to surrender and pledge allegiance to Great Yong,” said Li Zhi, nodding his head. “The Lin family has defended Daizhou for generations, contributing enormously by resisting the barbarians. In the future, when Great Yong unifies the world, we will need capable generals to garrison Daizhou. The Lin family is the best candidate. We have already sent a letter to the Prince of Qi, commanding him to preserve the life of the Princess of Jiaping. As for the Daizhou army, his primary focus is to get them to surrender.”
Zheng Xia respectfully stated, “Your Imperial Majesty is wise. Although there is resentment towards the Daizhou’s Lin family for setting up an independent regime, that family has been loyal to its duties for generations and has no wild ambitions. If they can be brought into the fold, they will definitely serve as an important shield on the northern frontier. However, it will be best to compel the Northern Han royal family to surrender and then target the Lin family by asking the current Northern Han King to persuade them. If we pressure their borders with a large army, the Daizhou army will definitely resist vigorously. If the losses suffered in war are too heavy, it will not be beneficial to our pacification of Daizhou.”
“We have the same intentions,” replied Li Zhi. “This time, We are determined to take the field personally. Although We also wish to lure the enemy, the primary objective is to pacify Northern Han. Although the Prince of Qi is gallant, he is not the least bit concerned when it comes to politics and governance. As for Suiyun, his health is poor and cannot bear the heavy load. There will be many things that need to be done and require Our decision-making after Northern Han has been conquered.”
Zheng Xia and company did not object to Li Zhi’s decision to personally take the field. Not only was Li Zhi renowned as Yong’s martial deity and victory inevitable, but also because of the Prince of Qi, Li Zhi going personally to Northern Han was more beneficial than detrimental. Although the Prince of Qi’s accomplishments were poor this time, if it not for the risks he had taken to lure the Northern Han army into a trap, the present situation would not have resulted. Once the Prince of Qi had annihilated the Northern Han army, he would be able to advance north upon Jinyang. The deed of capturing the Northern Han capital would be too heavy for the Prince of Qi. It was more appropriate for both Great Yong and the Prince of Qi if Li Zhi personally commanded the last battle in the conquest of Northern Han. Besides, Li Zhi campaigning personally also served the purpose of luring the snake out of its burrow. Rather than allowing the Prince of Qing to rise in revolt at Great Yong’s weakest moment, it was better to have him do so when the imperial court wanted him to do so.
While Li Zhi was discussing the situation with his officials, Song Wan noiselessly walked into the hall, handing over a secret petition. After taking and reading it, Li Zhi’s bladelike eyebrows rose. He said, “It’s Xiahou Yuanfeng’s report. He has already finished making all of the arrangements and can act at any moment. This petition is asking for Our instructions.”
Hearing the name Xiahou Yuanfeng, everyone could not help frowning slightly. Although he had become trusted by the Yong emperor, in everyone’s eyes, the former handsome youth who was beautiful as jade had already become a dark shadow. Xiahou Yuanfeng’s sinister and malevolent methods had caused everyone to denounce him. However, everyone was well aware of the importance of the Bright Inspection Department in Li Zhi’s eyes. In addition, behind Xiahou Yuanfeng was Jiang Zhe’s shadow. Although Jiang Zhe had not interfered with the business of the Bright Inspection Department, Xiahou Yuanfeng had pledged his services to the Prince of Yong through Jiang Zhe. Furthermore, Xiahou Yuanfeng’s deputy, Liu Hua, was formerly one of Jiang Zhe’s trusted attendants. Besides, Xiahou Yuanfeng was extremely deferential towards Jiang Zhe both overtly and covertly. As a result, everyone had treated him as a part of Jiang Zhe’s faction. Even though this was the case, hearing that this concealed danger was about to be eliminated, pleased looks appeared on everyone’s faces.
Setting down the petition, Li Zhi still possessed slight worries. Within the petition, Xiahou Yuanfeng had hinted that he wanted to take the opportunity to assume control over Jiang Zhe’s secret forces in the former Shu territories. Li Zhi thought that, once Hanzhong had finally fallen into his control, he did not want such an autonomous and independent force to remain. Moreover, regardless of how much control Jiang Zhe exercised over the Embroidered Union, it was still a rebel organization. Li Zhi’s only worry was whether this would dissatisfy Jiang Zhe.
Footnotes:坐立不安, zuolibu’an – idiom, lit. agitated sitting or standing; fig. restless, fidgety, on pins and needles There are four major styles of embroidery in China—Suzhou, Hunan, Guangdong, and Sichuan. The Suzhou style (苏绣) is known for its beautiful patterns, elegant colors, meticulously subtle and refined stitches, and consummate craftsmanship. The Hunan style (湘绣) is known for its elegant black, white, and gray colors, emphasizing the contrasts in light, dark, and shadows like Chinese ink paintings. Better known as the Guangdong style (广秀), it is known for its intricate and symmetrical patterns, vibrant colors, stitching, and defined weave. Its style is like western paintings. The Sichuan style (蜀绣) is the oldest embroidery style in China and is painstakingly refined. The stitching is even and the colors delicate. 宗人府, zongrenfu – was a court directorate that was assigned to maintaining the imperial genealogy, keeping all records of and overseeing the extended imperial family