His entire face filled with stupefaction, Qin Qing sat within a room. Just now, after he had been delivered by Li Hanyou to the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall, once his acupoints had been released by his father, Qin Yi had slapped him. Qin Qing truly had something that he could not explain. What could he say? On multiple occasions, his father had warned him to prohibit Li Hanyou from having any contact with the Imperial Guard. However, he had failed to do so, allowing her to easily seize his military authority. Without the Imperial Guard under his command, then it would have been impossible for the Fengyi Sect to launch this coup d’état. Seeing that his son’s face was as pale as ash, Qin Yi’s fury only rose, fiercely and bitterly flogging him. Fortunately, the Duke of Wei had been able to intervene. Qin Qing remembered the comforting words spoken by the Duke of Wei to his father.
“Old Qin, there is no point in getting angry. After all, worthy nephew is young and ignorant. That Li Hanyou is a Princess. It is inevitable that worthy nephew was not wary. This is also your fault. You never properly guided him. Besides, this wedding was bestowed by the Emperor. For you to so deeply reproach him, the Emperor would inevitably be embarrassed if the Emperor were to learn of this.”
After this, his father had locked himself in a room and ignored what was happening. However, the pain in Qin Qing’s heart only intensified. He carefully recalled the period of time that he spent with Li Hanyou. That was a period of unending tender sentiments. That beautiful and dazzling woman had completely intoxicated him. He forgot the hardships of the bloody battlefield, forgot the bonds forged in blood with his fellow soldiers. With one glance from Li Hanyou, he could not bear to disobey her. However, Li Hanyou … she was always truly hypocritical in her affection towards him. If this weren’t the case, why hadn’t she even asked if he was willing to join her in rebellion? She had no intention of having him join the conspiracy. This was probably because she believed that he would absolutely not betray his family. This shouldn’t be the case … Didn’t she complain about this earlier?
Qin Qing didn’t know how he would answer if Li Hanyou were to ask him to join the rebellion. However, she had never posed this question. This was just like how she had delivered him back into his father’s care. Her eyes were filled with indifference, almost as if she treated him as a lifeless object. A difficult-to-restrain loathing welled up from his heart. Qin Qing blustered in a low voice, tightening his hands into fists. He gritted his teeth until blood flowed.
Within the Cherishing Fragrance Park, I had sunk into a predicament. This location had become forgotten by everyone. Although the Imperial Guard occasionally patrolled its grounds, they were not attentive and actually quite negligent. It seemed like the Fengyi Sect’s control over the Imperial Guard wasn’t strong. What’s more, Her Imperial Highness, the Princess, had prepared some food in advance, enough to feed Dong Que and I. As a result, I could wait out the conclusion of this rebellion in the Cherishing Fragrance Park. However, I unexpectedly fell ill. Thinking it over, there was nothing strange about it. When I arrived at the Hunting Palace I was already ill. After experiencing last night and today’s events, if it were a normal person, they would be fine. However, I could not prop myself up. Probably because I felt I had done everything that I needed to do, my spirit relaxed. As a result, I fell gravely ill.
However, after hurrying to the Cherishing Fragrance Park last night, although I could evade the patrols of the Imperial Guard controlling the palace gates, there was no way for me to bring along a large quantity of pharmaceutical drugs. Even a famous doctor would be powerless without medicinal ingredients. As a result, I could only take a few pills that I had concocted and fell into a coma. When I awoke, I saw Dong Que sitting off on the side, looking uneasy. In a whisper, I asked, “Dong Que, has Xiahou Yuanfeng left yet?”
Dong Que calmly replied, “Yes, he has. My senior apprentice brother accompanied him as an escort. Throughout, no one has come to the Cherishing Fragrance Park to arrest us. As a result, it seems like the young master’s plan was successful.”
Sighing, I wondered, “Didn’t I have you go hide somewhere else?”
“If I were to allow you to be captured,” answered Dong Que indifferently, “In the future, Lord Li would likely be the first person to find me and settle accounts.”
Smiling wryly, I spoke, “Surely, Xiaoshunzi isn’t that unreasonable of a person, right?”
“If you two are to meet again,” observed Dong Que, laughing, “Young master should be worried about how to explain staying behind. You sent him off to rescue General Pei, but didn’t tell him that you were staying behind. I believe that Lord Li is probably infuriated right now.”
My heart trembled in fear. It wasn’t much if Xiaoshunzi became angry, however, what I was interested in was what he was doing at this moment. However, he was not one to worriedly rush back. After all, if the Prince of Yong failed, then I would truly have no place to escape, no matter how large the world was.
“Young master, at present, the state of your illness is quite serious,” stated Dong Que, hesitating a moment. “Even if Qin Yong is able to rush over and rescue the Imperial Presence, at the very least, it will take at least a day before he can arrive. Moreover, without several days, it will be impossible to pacify this rebellion. If your illness continues, it is likely …”
I understood his anxiety. However, there were no means currently to get treatment. We were not presently within the Prince of Yong’s residence. I was presently preserving my life. Feeling dizzy, I collapsed once again back onto the bed. Concerned, Dong Que stated, “Young master, this can’t continue. If this drags out a few more days, your life will likely be lost.”
I laughed helplessly, not having the energy to utter any more words. I fell unconscious again.
At midday, Qin Yong walked out of his main tent, stretching his muscles and bones. This time, the Grand General had handed over all of his authority to himself. He could not be remiss in the slightest. He wondered the situation of the Autumn Hunt. Their Imperial Highnesses, the Prince of Yong and the crown prince, were already archenemies. If it weren’t for this reason, the emperor would not have issued an edict to Uncle Yi to station his army a hundred li from the Hunting Palace.
Qin Yong looked to the skies determine the time. Just as he was about to return to his tent, a soldier suddenly came to report. Someone named Li Shun had come to see him. Qin Yong was greatly alarmed. He knew who Li Shun was. But why had a trusted subordinate of the major of the Prince of Yong’s household come to see him? It had to be known that this army of his could only listen to the commands of the emperor. Hesitating, he stated, “Invite him to the main tent to meet me.”
Qin Yong believed that it would be sufficient for him to gather together all of his personal guards for him to survive if that man were here to assassinate him. As long as he prepared archers, it would even be possible to kill that man.
When Li Shun walked into the main tent, Qin Yong shivered when he caught sight of the state of the youth’s clothes. The usually elegant and clean youth was completely covered in dried bloodstains. His face was heavy. After gazing at his surroundings, Li Shun’s revealed a merciless and unfeeling light. Qin Yong forced a smile and declared, “Lord Li, please take a seat. I wonder why Lord Li is not at the Hunting Palace attending to Jiang daren and, instead, here within my camps seeking a meeting with me? Furthermore, arriving in such a sorry state?”
Xiaoshunzi grimly gazed at the guards on both sides of the tent and replied, “I have not come to assassinate you. If General Qin is willing to speak in private with me, then that would be for the best. Otherwise … I’m afraid that I can only commit offenses.”
The guards on both sides erupted in anger, simultaneously drawing their weapons, waiting for Qin Yong’s command before acting. However, Qin Yong knew Li Shun’s formidability. If this eunuch were annoyed, it was possible that he would immediately kill Qin Yong. Qin Yong knew that even if he was fortunate to escape, his personal guards would all die miserably. Further, behind this person were Major Jiang of the Prince of Yong’s household and the Prince of Yong himself. He could not afford to offend either of them. Besides, having seen Li Shun’s sorry appearance, Qin Yong knew that something perilous had happened. As a result, Qin Yong waved his hand and ordered, “All of you, withdraw.”
The personal guards rapidly withdrew from the tent. Rising to his feet, Qin Yong walked right in front of Li Shun and asked, “Lord Li, please tell me the truth. What has happened in the Hunting Palace?”
Xiaoshunzi stared at him and answered, “The Crown Prince has rebelled. The Prince of Yong has already managed to escape and has specially dispatched me to invite General to go and rescue the Imperial Presence.”
Qin Yong sucked in a breath and asked, “How is this possible? Command of the Imperial Guard rests in the hands of uncle.”
Xiaoshunzi explained everything that had happened. Although there were many conjectures in his explanation, they were all based upon fact. Learning of the urgency of the situation, Qin Yong crumpled into a chair. Problems occurring with the Imperial Guard … a rebellion instigated by the Fengyi Sect … Without thinking, Qin Yong knew that if all this was true, then the problems likely all stemmed from Qin Qing. However, was this all real? He could not mobilize his uncle’s army based upon a single person’s testimony. If the rebel was the Prince of Yong, then this was all likely a trap.
Xiaoshunzi could clearly see Qin Yong’s hesitation. An austere chill flashed in his eyes, as he ruthlessly stated, “What is General Qin still thinking about? His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, only wants you to go rescue the Imperial Presence, not save the Prince. Although His Imperial Highness is in a dire situation, if you were to rescue the Imperial Presence, then His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, would also be able to escape from danger. Moreover, Grand General Qin and General Qin Qing are both within the Hunting Palace. I’m afraid that their lives hang in the balance.
Hesitating, Qin Yong replied, “Without the Emperor’s edict and the Grand General’s command tally, it is a death sentence if this general were to mobilize these troops without explicit approval.”
“A death sentence?” sneered Xiaoshunzi. “Right now, the Emperor and the Grand General are both in the hands of the enemy. If General Qin is a stickler for protocol,1 it is likely that it will be too late for regrets.”
Firmly, Qin Yong declared, “I will dispatch men to investigate. Please forgive this general for being unable to immediately dispatch troops.”
Xiaoshunzi’s head drooped, killing intent flashing across his eyes. However, he knew that if he used force, it would definitely arouse Qin Yong’s disgust and would further delay the rescue of the Hunting Palace. However, with each passing moment, the greater the danger increased for the young master. It was a long while before Xiaoshunzi removed a brocade pouch from within his bosom, handing it to Qin Yong. With a sigh, he stated, “General Qin, please take a look at its contents.”
Accepting the brocade pouch, Qin Yong opened it and took a look. His complexion abruptly paled. Within were a silver hairpin and an ordinary green jade pendant. His entire body trembling, he asked, “You … how do you have these things? This is my mother’s hairpin and the jade pendant that my mother gifted to my adoptive brother, Liu Hua. Are you threatening this general?”
With a hint of exhaustion, Xiaoshunzi replied, “We have never been fond of using this kind of method. However, we have no other choice right now. Liu Hua’s real name is Hualiu and is a subordinate of my young master.”
Qin Yong’s entire body shook, very fiercely questioning, “Liu Hua … he is your spy? Who could have expected that the Prince of Yong would be concerned about a nonentity such as me?”
Xiaoshunzi neutrally explained, “General Qin is too modest. The importance that the Grand General attaches to you is greater than Qin Qing. Qin Qing is leaning towards the Crown Prince and has deep ties to the Fengyi Sect. My young master was worried that the Grand General would abandon his neutrality and thus arranged for someone beside the General. General is the most trusted subordinate of the Grand General. If something were to happen to the Qin family, in order to reassure your honored mother, you would inevitably divulge some things. The young master has no wish to disturb the Grand General and thus ordered me to arrange for someone by your side. Moreover, my young master thinks highly of you. He has stated that your competence exceeds Qin Qing. That is also why he had Hualiu come to your side. Hualiu is one of the ‘Eight Stallions’ in the service of my young master. Unless it were someone critical, my young master would not dispatch one of them to monitor.”
Qin Yong had a hint of gloom in his eyes. He somberly inquired, “Are you telling me that the youngster that my mother and I love and cherish is actually a swindler and a spy?”
“That is not the case,” sighed Xiaoshunzi. “In reality, before we departed, I paid a visit to Hualiu. He begged me to not harm your mother no matter what happened. He told me of your past. He was aware of his helplessness, but your mother treats him as her own. He is willing to accept any punishment so that we do not make things difficult for your mother. As a result, he fetched these two items, so that we do not disturb your mother.”
Qin Yong relaxed a bit. Although Li Shun’s words were not backed by any evidence, he could sense that this man felt that lying was beneath his dignity. Somewhat reassured, he put away the brocade pouch. He could not trust Li Shun’s words as confirmation that his mother would not be threatened. However, at the very least, he could confirm that Li Shun was not someone who casually killed others. At the same time, Qin Yong also knew that neither Li Shun’s master, Jiang Zhe, nor the Prince of Yong were these kinds of people. But what would happen if he were to refuse to mobilize his army?
Seeing the deep worry etched onto Qin Yong’s face, Xiaoshunzi sternly stated, “I know that I’m placing you in an awkward situation by having you mobilize. However, if someone is dispatched from the Hunting Palace to issue an edict, what would you do? You must not follow orders.”
Qin Yong frowned and inquired, “Are you going to have me reject the orders even if it is the Emperor’s imperial edict and the Grand General’s command tally?”
Xiaoshunzi callously responded, “If you are unwilling to consent to this point, then there is nothing more to discuss.”
Raising his head, Qin Yong saw the clear signs of killing intent in Li Shun’s eyes. Helplessly, he stated, “I will first dispatch someone to pay my respects to Uncle. If everything is normal, even if you are to coerce me, I will not mobilize.”
Xiaoshunzi’s expression grew frosty and stony. He had known long ago that Qin Yong wasn’t someone that could be easily threatened. At present, the only thing that he could do was to strive for the best outcome. By ensuring that Qin Yong didn’t comply lightly with the orders from the Hunting Palace meant that his task was basically completed. In addition, if Qin Yong were to dispatch men to the Hunting Palace, then they would quickly be able to discover the abnormal state of affairs. Although this would delay the mobilization by one day, they could still have the chance to rescue the young master. Right now, the only thing that he could do was hope that his young master and the Prince of Yong would both successfully survive this rebellion.
Glancing outside for the time, Xiaoshunzi neutrally declared, “If tomorrow at this time, you still refuse to mobilize, then I can only offend you.”
Qin Yong callously replied, “I know that your distinguished self’s martial arts are high. However, I will definitely not commit any rebellious acts. If my men do not discover any abnormalities, even if your distinguished self uses force, I will not submit. I have tens of thousands of troops here. If your distinguished self tries to cause trouble, even if I will inevitably die, your distinguished self will also be buried here.”
Xiaoshunzi laughed pitilessly. “Prepare quarters and food for me. I am already extremely tired.”
Helplessly, Qin Yong shouted, “Someone, come!” Several of Qin Yong’s personal guards entered the tent. In a severe voice, Qin Yong ordered, “Prepare a tent for him and follow his orders. Remember, without this general’s express orders, no one is to take a single step into his tent.”
Xiaoshunzi laughed faintly. Rising to his feet, he walked out, stating, “There is only one day and one night. General Qin should quickly dispatch someone.”
Heaving a sigh, Qin Yong ordered, “I will immediately dispatch someone to the Hunting Palace to pay my respects to the Grand General.”
At nightfall on the twenty-first day of the ninth month, the present Hunting Palace was completely under the control of the Fengyi Sect. Although the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall remained in the emperor’s control, everyone knew that if the Fengyi Sect were to launch an attack, it would be impossible for the emperor to escape. However, the Fengyi Sect had its own difficulties. If the emperor were to die, the Prince of Yong could righteously mobilize the entire empire to eradicate rebels. As a result, the Fengyi Sect had to preserve Li Yuan’s life until the abdication ceremony was completed. Consequently, the Fengyi Sect had not the courage to excessively coerce Li Yuan. As for Li Yuan, he was in an unprecedentedly vulnerable position. Although he had brought plenty of imperial palace guardsmen with him this time, they were at a severe disadvantage when compared to the Fengyi Sect. Surrounded by the turncoat Imperial Guard that the Fengyi Sect had painstakingly acquired, Li Yuan and his court were completely cut off from the outside world. As for the loyalist Imperial Guard, their commanders had been gathered by a fake edict from Wei Ying and placed under house arrest. Without their commanders, these imperial guardsmen did not dare to act on their own initiatives. With this, Li Yuan, who held supreme authority within Great Yong, was completely incapable of transmitting his edicts beyond the walls of the palace hall he currently was in. Even though he could dispatch his Imperial Palace Guard to force their way out and transmit his orders, if they were assaulted by the Fengyi Sect, even if Li Yuan were able to preserve his life, Noble Consorts Zhangsun and Yan, Princess Changle, and others would not survive. As such, both sides reached a stalemate. Before changes in the outside world had occurred, there was no way that there would be activity here within the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall.
Within the Announcing Magnificence Park, the Prince of Qi lay in bed. He had a dull expression. Qin Zheng walked in. With a wave of her hand, she dismissed her two trusted maids. For Li Xian’s safety, she did not allow Fengyi Sect disciples to monitor him, assigning instead two of the maids who she had trained to attend to and monitor the Prince of Qi. Removing the sheathed sword from her waist, she sat down in a chair. Her eyes were filled with bafflement. After a long time, seeing that Li Xian refused to open his mouth, Qin Zheng smiled wryly and asked, “Does Your Imperial Highness not wish to know Mother Concubine’s present situation?”
A stony light flashed across Li Xian’s eyes and he replied, “Mother Concubine scrupulously abides by the womanly virtues and would definitely not betray Imperial Father.”
Forcing a smile, Qin Zheng confirmed, “It is as Your Imperial Highness stated. Mother Concubine did not even hesitate when she chose His Imperial Majesty. Your servant does not understand. To a mother, isn’t the most important thing her son? Don’t tell me that Mother Concubine doesn’t take your life and death, honor and disgrace seriously?”
Smiling faintly, Li Xian asked, “For a wife, are there things that are more important than being loyal to her husband? Imperial Father is Mother Concubine’s husband and is also Great Yong’s monarch. How could Mother Concubine betray him?”
Qin Zheng retorted, “But hasn’t Her Imperial Majesty, the Empress, betrayed His Imperial Majesty? In addition, why must women be loyal to their husbands, while men can take as many concubines as they want, leading a loose lifestyle?”
Seeing Qin Zheng’s accusing gaze, Li Xian could not help smile. He recalled their first meeting and how fond this woman was of arguing. However, that sliver of tender sentiment immediately disappeared. He was unwilling to argue over these trivial matters. Changing the subject, he asked, “How is the frame of mind of His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince? Now that second brother has escaped, the Crown Prince is likely extremely vexed right now, correct?”
Collecting herself, Qin Zheng answered, “Senior apprentice sister Wen has lead several thousand men to pursue the Prince of Yong. No matter how formidable they may be, it will be impossible for them to escape. As for you, what’s to be done? After the Crown Prince ascends to the throne, if he recalls how you refused to help at this hour, your position as an imperial prince will likely be unstable.”
Li Xian glanced at Qin Zheng with a look of indifference. He inquired, “Has Li Hanyou and company sent you to lobby me? Haven’t you already taken my command tally? Shouldn’t you be able to mobilize my troops?”
Qin Zheng grew embarrassed. It was a long while before she responded, “It is enough to mobilize and move the army.2 However, your trusted lieutenants have all stated that only with your personal presence in the army will they be willing to go encircle the Prince of Yong’s army. You must know that the Prince of Yong is thinking of ways to rendezvous with his troops. If you are to personally write a letter, even if the Prince of Yong is able to rendezvous with his troops, then victory is still possible without your direct assistance. Your Imperial Highness, you are now in the same boat as us. Don’t tell me that you still refuse to submit?”
Li Xian stirred. After a moment, he replied, “Allow me to meet with the Crown Prince. If we are able to have a proper discussion, then I will write this letter for you. You surely must understand that I have arranged code words with my subordinates. It is impossible for you to forge a letter from me.”
A look of joy appeared on Qin Zheng’s face. “If Your Imperial Highness is willing to obey the Mandate of Heaven, there is nothing that your servant will not comply with.”
Li Xian smiled distantly, hints of ridicule appearing on his face.