On the fifth day of the tenth month, while the Yong emperor was journeying back, Chang’an had already been pacified. After discussions between Zheng Xia and Shi Yu, both decided to conceal what had happened. As a result, although the popular sentiment in Chang’an was one of great anxiety, no one knew of the tumultuous events that had occurred at the Hunting Palace. On the sixth day of the tenth month, Zheng Xia led a number of imperial bodyguards and rushed to have an audience with the emperor. As Zheng Xia was meeting in secret with the Yong emperor, I was already long prepared. Although I could not know what they were discussing, I knew that Zheng Xia would not be muddleheaded.
Only when Zheng Xia entered the Yong emperor’s tent and noticed that the Yong emperor was safe and sound did he relax. After Zheng Xia had finished kowtowing, Li Yuan promptly explained everything that had happened. Li Yuan trusted Zheng Xia implicitly, telling Zheng Xia all of the details that he knew. Hearing everything that had occurred, Zheng Xia was left flabbergasted. However, he had always been adept with his resolution and decisiveness. After calming down, he asked, “Your Imperial Majesty, what are your intentions?”
“We are also extremely vexed,” expounded Li Yuan in distress,. “Both the Crown Prince and the Prince of Yong are Our sons. We naturally do not desire for brother to kill brother. However, this time, the Prince of Yong nearly lost his life, while We were also nearly murdered as well. It won’t do if we do not investigate this and harshly punish the perpetrators. However, for the Crown Prince to be like this, We are also at fault. Moreover, the Empress once tried to hang herself. Although she was saved by her maids, she is already at death’s door. Having been married for many years, We cannot steel Our heart.
“In addition, there’s also the Prince of Qi. This child also has greatly valued camaraderie. This is his virtue and also his shortcoming. Right now, he is indeed implicated in this affair. Regardless of what happens, he has to be punished. The only question is the severity. His temperament is so stubborn. We are worried that the Prince of Yong would place him under house arrest or demote him to a commoner out of anger. Wouldn’t this leave Us in a difficult situation?
“And then there’s Prime Minister Wei. Hearing your reports that he has not raised a ruckus, it seems like he truly had no idea about the rebellion. However, it would be too outrageous if the crime of treason is not punished with the familial exterminations. Lord Zheng, please Us think. How should all of this be handled?”
With a solemn expression on his face, Zheng Xia replied, “Your Imperial Majesty, at present, in this subject’s view, it is unimportant how these matters are handled. The most important matter is the father and son relationship between Your Imperial Majesty and His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong.”
Li Yuan’s mind shook with shock. After all was said and done, he had been emperor for many years now. He had also thought about their relationship, although at the back of his mind. However, he was still caught unprepared for Zheng Xia’s blunt words. He could not help but glower at Zheng Xia.
Without a hint of fear, Zheng Xia continued, “Your Imperial Majesty’s kindness to this subject is as heavy as a mountain. Were it not for Your Imperial Majesty and the empire, this subject would never utter such words filled with impropriety. If Your Imperial Majesty is willing to listen to this subject’s words, even if this subject shall be executed, this subject will endure such hardship gladly.”1
After hesitating, Li Yuan allowed, “Lord Zheng, speak … We know full well your loyalty and devotion.”
“Your Imperial Majesty, at present, it is already impossible to prevent the Prince of Yong from succeeding the throne,” observed Zheng Xia, shivering. “The Crown Prince plotted treason and rebelled. By rights, he shall be deposed. The Prince of Yong’s accomplishments are unrivaled in the founding of our Great Yong, and he is also the oldest of the remaining princes. This time, regardless of what Your Imperial Majesty intends, the position of heir apparent is already the Prince of Yong’s. Before, in order to safeguard the Crown Prince, Your Imperial Majesty had suppressed the Prince of Yong. It would be difficult for the Prince of Yong to not harbor resentment. Currently, even if the Prince of Yong seizes the opportunity to take the throne, there will be no one who will oppose it resolutely. To the subjects, loyalty and devotion to His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, is the same as loyalty and devotion to Your Imperial Majesty. But if this were to happen, Your Imperial Majesty would be placed in an extremely awkward situation. If Your Imperial Majesty were to personally punish the Crown Prince and company, it would inevitably lead to the Prince of Yong’s dissatisfaction. If the Prince of Yong nurses a grudge, even if Your Imperial Majesty were able to preserve the Crown Prince and the Prince of Qi for now, once Your Imperial Majesty passes, who knows what the Prince of Yong will do that day? If this matter is handed to the Prince of Yong to take care of and Your Imperial Majesty expresses your opinion, then the Prince of Yong would definitely care about Your Imperial Majesty’s thoughts. When the time comes, Your Imperial Majesty will definitely attain your desires and eliminate the estrangement between Your Imperial Majesty and the Prince of Yong.”
Li Yuan lowered his head and considered for a long time. Rising, he saluted Zheng Xia. Greatly alarmed, Zheng Xia promptly stepped away, stating, “Your Imperial Majesty, what are you doing? This subject cannot bear to receive such courtesy.”
Gratified, Li Yuan replied, “Lord Zheng’s wise words may be bitter, but they are spoken on my Li family’s behalf. If in the future, the father and son relationship between Us and the Prince of Yong is normalized, the lives of the Crown Prince and the Prince of Yong can be preserved. Then it will all be a result of lord’s contributions.”
Zheng Xia promptly and repeatedly expressed his apologies for the offenses. Li Yuan smiled and continued, “We and Lord Zheng have been liege and vassal for many years now. There is no need to be so clichéd and overly courteous. What’s more, although We were mistaken in some people, We were not mistaken about you, Lord Zheng. We know that Lord speaks forthrightly in remonstration considering Our needs. However, there are some matters where We need you to help Us make a decision. Tell me, what We should do going forward?”
Zheng Xia inquired, “Your Imperial Majesty, are you determined to preserve the Crown Prince’s life?”
Somewhat hesitant, Li Yuan responded, “Although the Crown Prince is a degenerate, he is, after all, Our son. We truly cannot bear to put him to death.”
Zheng Xia continued to ask, “Then what about His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi?”
Li Yuan resolutely answered, “Although Xian’er was too excessively attached to camaraderie and is unsuitable to succeed to the Imperial Throne, We truly treasure this son. We cannot permit Zhi’er to harm him.”
“If that is the case,” replied Zheng Xia solemnly, “Then Your Imperial Majesty must not shield the Crown Prince, otherwise it will be detrimental to the Prince of Qi.”
With astonishment, Li Yuan asked, “How so?”
“Your Imperial Majesty, considering his political and military achievements, the Prince of Qi cannot compare to the Prince of Yong,” answered Zheng Xia. “Considering age, he is younger than the Prince of Yong. As a result, without the Crown Prince present, then the Prince of Qi will have the opportunity to become a general and a subject. However, if the Crown Prince remains alive, then whatever happens, when all is said and done, the Crown Prince is the eldest son and bore by Your Imperial Majesty’s wife. Together, the Crown Prince and the Prince of Qi will have the possibility of rebellion. As a result, if Your Imperial Majesty were to shield the Crown Prince, even if His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, were to agree reluctantly, he would always be suspicious of the Prince of Qi. When the time comes, if someone were to sow discord, the Prince of Qi will die at the Prince of Yong’s hands sooner or later. At that moment, Your Imperial Majesty’s desire to preserve both sons will ensure that neither will be preserved. However, if Your Imperial Majesty were to abandon the Crown Prince, then it would be impossible for His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, to jeopardize the Prince of Yong’s succession. With that, the relationship between liege and vassal will be peaceful.”
After remaining silent for some time, Li Yuan said, “Lord Zheng speaks the truth. Since that is the case, then We can only ignore the fate of that unfilial son.”
“This is only from personal considerations,” continued Zheng Xia. “From a legal standpoint, the Crown Prince rebelled in an attempt to force Your Imperial Majesty to abdicate, and enticed Her Imperial Majesty, the Empress, to forsake virtuous conduct. These unfilial behaviors and conducts are a failure to one’s father and one’s liege. He also pursued and attempted to kill his younger brother. This is failing his duty as an older brother. How can he be forgiven for such sins? Your Imperial Majesty intends for the dynasty to persevere through the ages. If later generations are not warned of the consequences of such behavior, everyone will mimic the Crown Prince. Wouldn’t this ensure that the Imperial Clan be forever embroiled in internecine strife?”
Hearing this, Li Yuan was deeply frightened. He acknowledged, “Zheng Xia’s words are truly the logic of the world. Good, We are resolved to force the Crown Prince to commit suicide. By rights, the Empress should also commit suicide as well. However, remembering the years as a married couple, she will be demoted to become a commoner, allowing her to live and die as she will. As for the Prince of Qi, We will hand him to the Prince of Yong to punish.”
Zheng Xia solemnly stated, “Your Imperial Majesty is wise! These punishments will not only warn future generations, they will also ensure that the Prince of Yong will accept it wholeheartedly. Moreover, the Prince of Qi will not be excessively punished by the Prince of Yong.”
His mind clear and sober, Li Yuan added, “The punishment for the Crown Prince’s family has already been handled. Let all of this become custom.… There is another matter. After We have returned to the capital, I wish to enfeoff Lady Zhangsun as Empress. What does Lord Zheng think?”
At first, Zheng Xia was startled by this sudden decision before he quickly came to his senses. “Your Imperial Majesty is wise! This is all that it should be.” The liege and vassal exchanged looks and smiled, having reached a tacit mutual understanding.
Zheng Xia understood that anointing Noble Consort Zhangsun as empress was a truly wise decision. Right now, it was very clear that Li Yuan still needed to sit upon the Imperial Throne for a period of time. It would be problematic without someone supervising the harem. Moreover, in the future, when the Prince of Yong ascended to the throne, he also needed an empress dowager to display filial piety towards. Now that Lady Dou had already been deposed, with the death of the Prince of Yong’s birth mother long ago, and Noble Consort Ji as a rebel, then only Noble Consorts Zhangsun and Yan had the qualifications and the seniority to become empress. However, with the Prince of Qi also involved in the rebellion, Noble Consort Yan naturally also lost the qualifications to become the empress. As for Noble Consort Zhangsun, her status was respectable and prestigious. In addition, Princess Changle had also contributed greatly to pacifying the rebellion. As Princess Changle’s birth mother, then it would be logical for Noble Consort Zhangsun to become the new empress. Moreover, the cleverest part of this choice was that Noble Consort Zhangsun did not have any living sons and would not affect the Prince of Yong’s position as heir apparent. As a result, she could properly serve as a maternal model for the entire nation. Li Yuan considering all of this represented that he was already paving the road for the Prince of Yong to ascend to the throne. Moreover, this also represented that Li Yuan no longer had any fear of his second son. As a subject, Zheng Xia was naturally joyous. Moreover, this kind of matter could not be laid bare, only be hinted at. That was why liege and vassal exchanged looks and smiled.
After a while, the Yong emperor spoke, somewhat hesitatingly, “Zheng Xia, how do you view the deep love that Princess Changle feels towards Jiang Zhe?”
Zheng Xia cautiously inquired, “What are the intentions of Your Imperial Majesty and His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong?”
With dissatisfaction, Li Yuan responded, “Zhi’er once privately came to see Us, seeking to have Us betroth Princess Changle to Jiang Zhe. However, having seen Jiang Zhe’s extensive scheming mind and poor health, he is not a good match for Changle. As a result, We have already declined. However, Jiang Zhe contributed so greatly. If We are to continue to reject it, it will likely disappoint him.”
After thinking it over, Zheng Xia advised, “It doesn’t matter how this subject views this matter. On the one hand, Jiang Zhe was once a subject of Southern Chu, while the Princess was once the Queen of Southern Chu. It is in keeping with proper etiquette for Your Imperial Majesty to decline to betroth them. On the other hand, however, Jiang Zhe is at present a subject of Great Yong and has contributed mightily to the pacification of this rebellion, while the Princess is Your Imperial Majesty’s beloved daughter, holding a high and respected status. It would be understandable for a meritorious subject to marry a princess. All this will be dependent on Your Imperial Majesty’s intentions.”
“If Jiang Zhe’s health was better, it would be nothing for Us to wed them,” mulled Li Yuan after thinking it over. “However, at present, We cannot but be worried. Let’s set this matter aside for now.”
Seeing that it was getting late and Li Yuan was becoming a bit tired, Zheng Xia stated, “Your Imperial Majesty, since everything has already been discussed appropriately, then Your Imperial Majesty should rest.”
“We have already made up Our mind,” said Li Yuan, smiling. “In the future, all major affairs of government will be handled by the Prince of Yong. We want to spend a few years in comfort. Lord, do not leave just yet. Draft an edict for Us before you go to rest.”
On the seventh day of the tenth month, Li Yuan returned to the capital, issuing three edicts in succession. First, he ordered the crown prince to commit suicide, granting him the posthumous title of Li, meaning “tyrannical,” while the empress was demoted to become a commoner. Second, the Prince of Yong was anointed as the crown prince with supervisory duties over the affairs of state. Third and last, Li Yuan enfeoffed Noble Consort Zhangsun as the empress, picking a day to hold the ceremony. In addition, for her contributions, Princess Changle was bestowed ten thousand households as her income and granted the title of Princess of Ning. A residence was specially built for her.
The Yong emperor’s swift and decisive actions shocked many people. The court either believed that the Prince of Yong had seized the opportunity to blackmail the emperor or that Li Yuan had been frightened and had lost interest in the affairs of state. No one knew that this was all a result of the words of Palace Attendant Zheng Xia.
After the Prince of Yong took control of the government, he began what was known in the histories as the “Prince of Li’s Treasonous Incident.” A large-scale purge began. Numerous high-ranking officials and distinguished personages found guilty of involvement in the former crown prince’s rebellion were all imprisoned. Aside from these individuals, the total number of people implicated was innumerable. For a short while, the entire court was filled with dread and worry. Only a few individuals figured out that the Prince of Yong’s purge was well controlled.
The majority of the court ministers implicated came from powerful local aristocratic families. Although these families had made significant contributions to the founding of Great Yong, they now lorded over their territories, seizing land and even going so far as to build a private army. Faintly, one could discern that they were setting up independent regimes. This time, the Prince of Yong was seizing the opportunity afforded by the former crown prince’s rebellion to employ the soldiers under his command to practically completely destroy these families. They employed both subtle and overt methods, frequently annihilating or imprisoning members of those aristocratic families. After all, these families could not avoid having some ties with the Fengyi Sect and Wei Guan. As for the members of the ancillary branches of the families and the commoners who attached themselves to the families, the Prince of Yong did not lightly charge and punish them.
Having undergone the war between the Embroidered Union and the Fengyi Sect, many of these aristocratic families had already been massacred. Now that the Prince of Yong was borrowing the nominal purpose of investigating the former crown prince’s treason, it left these families trembling like cicadas in the cold of winter. None of them dared to stick their heads out, allowing the Prince of Yong to break them in turn. Within a month, the Great Yong court had a completely new look. Very quickly, the Prince of Yong’s administration of Great Yong was able to return to normal operation with the officials brought back from Youzhou by Shi Yu and those lower ranking officials willing to work. With blood, the dust upon Great Yong’s court was washed away.
Within all of this, there was a type of court officials who were the first to be purged. These officials’ daughters or wives all had relations with the Fengyi Sect. The lightest punishment was demotion. A bit more severe was dismissal. There were those who were sent to the execution grounds. Many of the Fengyi Sect’s disciples were originally young ladies from important families. Most of them entered the Fengyi Sect in order to improve their status and position. As a result, the majority of them completely cut off their ties with the Fengyi Sect. If these women were able to receive their fathers’ and brothers’ protection, then they would be able to spend the rest of their lives in peace. Although there were some wives and daughters who were abandoned, on the whole, the majority of them were able to make fresh starts. But if the women hailed from impoverished households, and able to marry into distinguished or aristocratic families because of the Fengyi Sect, their fates were quite miserable. They were either divorced by their husbands or completely neglected. However, with the appearance of the butcher’s knife, their miserable and resentful cries were completely covered by the bloody purge.
In reality, the Prince of Yong wasn’t so ruthless and merciless. There were some officials who were part of the crown prince’s faction or students of Wei Guan. As long as there was no clear evidence of their complicity or participation in the rebellion, and possessing of ability and talent, then they would not be purged. Under the purges guided by the Prince of Yong, the sole force that would not be purged was the military. The Prince of Yong had issued the order that the officers and soldiers of Great Yong had made heroic contributions2 on the state’s behalf. As such, the Prince of Yong prohibited the purge from affecting the military. Even if he discovered that some of the generals had intimate relations with the Fengyi Sect, as long as they wrote a detailed repentance letter, they would be absolved. As a result, the Prince of Yong’s purge did not endanger Great Yong’s foundation, and instead actually increased the strength of its military, as many younger individuals of aristocratic families and members of jianghu all joined the military in order to avoid being implicated. After the crisis had passed, Great Yong’s military was actually strengthened significantly.
On the ninth day of the tenth month, Zheng Xia took a bottle of poisoned wine, white damask cloth, and a dagger to the Brocade Peace Palace Hall where the crown prince was placed under house arrest. This was the second time that the crown prince had been imprisoned here. Last time, although Li An was also apprehensive, with Wei Ying’s secret help, as well as the Fengyi Sect, Lu Jingzhong, and company’s help, he knew what was going to happen. However, this time, Li An did not have any support to lean upon. Locked within the palace hall, he could neither eat nor drink. He was already at his final breath.
Just as Zheng Xia was about to enter the palace hall, he suddenly caught sight of a group of individuals walking over. Based on the embroidered character on the lantern they carried, they were from the Prince of Yong’s household. As they neared, Zheng Xia saw that Jiang Zhe was at their head. Standing behind him in attendance was Li Shun. Surrounding him was a ring of imperial bodyguards. The security was extremely tight.
Stepping forward, Jiang Zhe saluted Zheng Xia and stated, “On His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong’s orders, this lowly official has come to see off the Crown Prince. Palace Attendant daren, please allow it.”
Zheng Xia frowned. “This is in contravention of proper rites. Do you have the Emperor’s edict?”
A hint of murderous intent flared in Jiang Zhe’s eyes. He whispered, “Palace Attendant daren, there is no harm for this lowly official to tell the truth. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, does not know that I have come. I have used His Imperial Highness’s golden pendant to swindle my way past the Imperial Guard and Imperial Palace Guard to arrive here. This time, I must see the Crown Prince. If Palace Attendant daren does not allow it, then Jiang Zhe can only force my way in.”
Hearing Jiang Zhe’s words, Zheng Xia was greatly startled. He carefully studied Jiang Zhe, seeing the willingness to die rather than yield in Jiang Zhe’s eyes. Although Zheng Xia scrupulously abided by proper etiquette, he was not a completely obstinate man. Could it be that this man had assisted the Prince of Yong to force the crown prince because he had an irreconcilable hatred towards the crown prince? This man’s scheming was sagacious and vicious. If I am determined to refuse his request and he is to harbor resentment, it would inevitably give birth to future disaster. It would be fine if he seeks to harm me … but in the event that this man seeks to sow discord between the Emperor and the Prince of Yong, then it would be my sin. Thinking of this, Zheng Xia stated, “Since you’ve come on the orders of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, this official can allow your presence. Major Jiang, come in with this official.”
Revealing a hint of joy on his face, Jiang Zhe gestured, having the imperial bodyguards remain outside. Accompanied only by Xiaoshunzi, Jiang Zhe followed Zheng Xia inside. Originally, Zheng Xia had two eunuchs that knew martial arts by his side to safeguard against the crown prince’s refusal to commit suicide. Now seeing that the situation had reached such a state, in order to prevent these eunuchs from seeing something they weren’t meant to see, Zheng Xia had them wait outside as well.
The three of them walked into the Brocade Peace Palace Hall. Within, they saw Li An curled up and shivering on the bed. Zheng Xia could not help but sigh lightly, while Jiang Zhe’s face was stony.
After Zheng Xia read the edict, Xiaoshunzi brought over the tray that he had taken from the eunuchs and walked over, placing the bottle of poisoned wine, white damask cloth, and dagger on the table. Li An only let out a miserable shriek as he retreated. As expected, he was unwilling to commit suicide.
Walking close to him, I whispered, “Your Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, does Your Imperial Highness remember Liu Piaoxiang of Southern Chu?”
Li An’s eyes were filled with confusion. It was only some time before he replied, “We remember. We once had the fortune of copulating with her. Didn’t Liang Wan send her back long ago? Jiang daren, please plea for leniency on Our behalf to second brother. As long as Our life is spared, We are willing to spend the rest of Our life in imprisonment or leave home and become a monk.”
I felt blood and qi seethe in my chest. Who could have expected that Liang Wan had still managed to lie to me that day? So the true murderer who had killed Piaoxiang was actually her. As for this Li An, although he had brought about her death, he not was not the murderer. However, the more I pondered, the more resentment I felt. If it weren’t for his lust, if it weren’t for Liang Wan’s desire to ensure that his identity remained secret, how could Piaoxiang have been murdered? Reaching this conclusion, I turned to glance at Xiaoshunzi. I stated, “His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, is unwilling to be on his way. Help him.”
Xiaoshunzi glanced at Zheng Xia. In passing, he picked up the bottle of poisoned wine, walking forward and grasping onto Li An. With ease, he forced Li An to drink all of the poison. Very quickly, Li An stopped breathing, his complexion the color purple, with expressions of defiance and remorse on his face. No one would know what he regretted.
I only felt empty inside. Having avenged Piaoxiang, I surprisingly was at a loss of what to do next. Just then, Zheng Xia spoke significantly, “Jiang daren, the past is the past,3 while the future can still be shaped.4 Do you understand?”
I glanced at Zheng Xia. Stepping forward, I saluted him, stating, “Zheng daren, do not worry. Although Zhe has some selfish motives, I have never sought to incite His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, to ignore the relationship between brothers. It is only that the Crown Prince was guilty of monstrous crimes,5 thus Zhe would absolutely not allow myself to see my personal enemy off.”
Although Zheng Xia only heard just the few words of what I said, he could tell what was true and what wasn’t. However, he also knew that was done today could not be undone. There was no point for him to meddle; it was enough to warn this youth to not cause harm upon the situation for the sake of personal vengeance.
Just as the three were about to depart, commotion came clamoring from outside. Arriving outside, they discovered the Prince of Yong hurriedly rushing over. After seeing Zheng Xia and Jiang Zhe, Li Zhi’s facial expression relaxed and he stated, “Zheng daren, this Prince dispatched Jiang daren to see off the Crown Prince to exhaust the last of our brotherly affection. Zheng daren, please do not take offense.”
Zheng Xia could not help but find all of this a bit ridiculous. However, he knew better than to expose all of this, only replying, “This is normal. Why would this subject take offense? His Imperial Majesty is still waiting for this subject’s report. Your Imperial Highness, please …”
Once Zheng Xia had departed, the Prince of Yong walked over and grimly glared at Jiang Zhe. Li Zhi said, “Suiyun, you’re truly extremely daring, having the impertinence to fake my command. There will be a reckoning after we’ve gone back.”
Then he whispered, “Suiyun, for you to have some a load on your mind, why didn’t you tell this Prince? You are truly … alas …”
Feeling warmth infuse my body, I turned my head away, hiding the tears spilling from my eyes. In a low whisper, I returned, “This subject dared not allow my selfishness to harm Your Imperial Highness’s interests. Your Imperial Highness’s love and protection moves this subject to tears. In the future, I do not dare to hide anything from Your Imperial Highness.”
Li Zhi sighed. “Let’s go.… If it weren’t for Xiahou Yuanfeng seeing you enter the palace this late at night, this Prince would not yet have learned of your rash actions. Fortunately, Zheng daren did not blame you.”
After saluting again to express my apology, I followed His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, out of the palace grounds. The entire journey, I felt great gratitude. I would never be able to completely repay His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, for his great grace.