Volume 3, Chapter 29: Overt and Covert Messengers
The footsteps stopped before the door to the sleeping quarters. After a moment, a sweet sounding was heard to speak, “Xiahou Yuanfeng requests a meeting.”
My heart shook. Glancing at Dong Que dropping a dagger into his right hand, I sighed. If Xiaoshunzi was present, Xiahou Yuanfeng would naturally be captured easily. But with only Dong Que was present, it was unlikely to happen, nigh impossible. According to Xiaoshunzi’s reckoning, Dong Que’s martial arts were only second-rate. Although they had greatly improved, if weapons were involved, his skills would be lacking. I only had him stay behind, not only because no one else was suitable, but was also because he had a bag full of useful tricks. This was what I was going to rely heavily upon. In any case, if a fight were to genuinely break out, Xiaoshunzi would likely be useless as well. As such, I figured that it was best to let Dong Que stay behind. However, the present situation was quite difficult.
I gave Dong Que a meaningful glance and replied, “Xiahou daren, please come in.”
The door opened and Xiahou Yuanfeng, in the yellow uniform of an imperial guardsman, walked in. After entering, he saluted and stated, “Last time, Xiahou will never forget daren’s grace of pardoning my life previously.”
I somberly replied, “Xiahou daren is being too courteous. Last time, daren reported the true culprit that attempted to assassinate me. This was daren’s kind intentions. How can I repay kindness with ingratitude? At present, daren is controls my fate. What is the point of mentioning matters of the past?”
A smile appeared on Xiahou Yuanfeng’s face, making him even more handsome and beautiful. He answered, “Although Wei Ying and company are quite intelligent, they are still quite lacking. If I were to conduct the search, I would definitely dispatch several individuals to monitor this palace hall, on guard against someone hiding in secret. At the very least, I would send someone to come back to search.”
Dong Que frowned. He understood this reasoning. However, time was pressing. He was afraid that Jiang Zhe would be harmed from having his acupoints sealed for too long.
Seeing this, Xiahou Yuanfeng’s expression became even gentler. His gaze fell upon the white damask silk handkerchief and jade pendant on the desk. He innocently inquired, “May I ask Jiang daren what you discussed with the Princess? In reality, at present, although the Prince of Yong has temporarily escaped from danger, Wen Ziyan is currently in pursuit. Without reinforcements, the Prince of Yong will inevitably be trapped sooner rather than later. This lowly official truly wishes to understand how Jiang daren would reverse this desperate crisis so as to live up to your status as the Prince of Yong’s chief adviser.”
The expression on my face gradually became tranquil. Always, whenever the situation became urgent, the calmer I became. Selecting a random chair, I sat down. Smiling, I replied, “Xiahou daren is the Crown Prince’s trusted subordinate. Why haven’t you brought the imperial bodyguards and imperial guardsmen to capture me? This would truly be an act of great merit!”
“Now that the Crown Prince is relying upon the Fengyi Sect,” explained Xiahou Yuanfeng with a smile, “Even when the Fengyi Sect placed Junior Mentor Lu under house arrest, the Crown Prince did not even dare to question that act. It would be useless even if I were to perform great meritorious service. Further, the Demonic Shadow is still alive. If I were to present you to the Crown Prince, it is likely that it wouldn’t be long before my life would end.”
I immediately went on high alert. This wasn’t a good enough reason for him to let me off. Time was of the essence. I had no intention of being entangled by him and thus said, “Although Xiaoshunzi’s martial arts are excellent, he is only one person. In the future, Xiahou daren’s position and rank will be lofty and prominent. What do you have to be afraid of? So what does Xiahou daren desire I do for you?”
A look of joy flashed across Xiahou Yuanfeng’s face. He answered, “My request is very simple. If Jiang daren is willing to gift the Demonic Shadow as my slave, then today, I will definitely risk my life to preserve daren.”
My mind exploded, and I nearly losing all reason. Fortunately, Dong Que nudged me in a timely manner. Enduring my rage, I responded, “Although Xiaoshunzi and I are nominally master and servant, we are as close as blood brothers. Xiahou daren’s request is too excessive.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng smiled slightly. “The Demonic Shadow treats Jiang daren as his father and older brother, devoted and loyal. Xiahou is extremely envious. Presumably if Jiang daren were my subordinate, the Demonic Shadow would obey my commands.”
“Xiahou daren, you’re too pleased with yourself,” I sternly declared. “You should not have come personally.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng glanced at Dong Que. Shaking his head, he knew. “He is not my match. If I did not know that Li Shun had not guarded the Prince of Yong and escaped, I would not have come alone to capture you. Jiang daren, do not worry. I will definitely not deliver you to the Fengyi Sect or the Crown Prince. Jiang daren’s ability and wisdom are outstanding. Xiahou only desires to respectfully listen to your advice.”
At this moment, Dong Que suddenly made his move. A glint of steel flashed, piercing towards Xiahou Yuanfeng. Calmly and nonchalantly, Xiahou Yuanfeng unsheathed his sword to meet this attack. The two dueled within the sleeping quarters, crisscrossing the room. The swords resembled shooting stars and lightning. However, neither individual wanted to disturb anyone else. As a result, they constrained themselves. It wasn’t long before Dong Que was gradually pushed onto the back foot. His specialties weren’t in martial arts. Against an expert like Xiahou Yuanfeng, Dong Que didn’t have a single chance for victory.
After several exchanges, Xiahou Yuanfeng had pierced Dong Que’s thigh. The moment that Dong Que fell to the floor, Xiahou Yuanfeng suddenly saw from the corner of his eye that Jiang Zhe had a dagger in his hands, stabbing it towards his own chest. Anxious, Xiahou Yuanfeng immediately jumped and threw himself at Jiang Zhe. To him, Jiang Zhe could not die. At this moment between life and death, Xiahou Yuanfeng suddenly glimpsed a cold glint shoot out from Jiang Zhe’s waist. Xiahou Yuanfeng was greatly startled. When he went to evade, he realized that he was in midair and it was impossible for him to dodge. Moreover, that glint was not only as fast as lightning, the angle that it shot out from was extremely difficult to handle. Although Xiahou Yuanfeng made every effort to evade it, he was still hit. Xiahou Yuanfeng subconsciously slammed out with his palm. Jiang Zhe fell over backwards. Xiahou Yuanfeng suddenly felt his entire body grow limp, painful, and powerless, and collapsed to the floor. At this moment, Dong Que hurried over in a panic, bending over to check on Jiang Zhe.
It was some time before I awakened. Seeing Dong Que’s panicked expression, I whispered, “I’m fine. Has he been captured?”
Dong Que smiled. “Young master’s concealed weapons are truly ferocious and difficult to deal with. Xiahou Yuanfeng could no longer move even a finger after being hit.”
Only then did I relax. Just now, I had racked my brains, trying to figure out a way to escape the present predicament, especially since I understood that Dong Que was not Xiahou Yuanfeng’s match. The only advantage that we could exploit was that Xiahou Yuanfeng was alone. I wasn’t a fool. Xiaoshunzi’s martial arts and intelligence were both rarely seen in the present age. This kind of talent was wasted as my subordinate. There were undoubtedly countless individuals who found this unfair for Xiaoshunzi and wanted to recruit him. The only reason most of them did not act was because of the Prince of Yong. Xiahou Yuanfeng was wildly ambitious and unexpectedly wished to try to scheme to acquire Xiaoshunzi’s services. However, it was because of this reason that he could not hand me over to the Fengyi Sect. Since he had come alone, then the only thing that I could do was capture him. Only then would I be safe. At the same, however, this was also the most difficult to accomplish. How could I, a weak and feeble scholar without the strength to even truss a chicken, capture an expert?
Fortunately, I had finally come up with a plan. Since he had something he wanted from me, then he couldn’t allow me to commit suicide. As such, just when Dong Que was defeated, I raised the dagger to kill myself. To him, my actions were in accordance with my status as the Prince of Yong’s chief strategist—rather die than be humiliated. As a result, he had come quickly to stop me. Even if he were to use some other methods to knock the dagger from my hands, he would still rush over to ensure that I didn’t continue to commit suicide. I had seized the opportunity to fire a poisoned needle from the jade belt at my waist. Originally, the poison on the needle was highly toxic. However, a few days ago, I switched to a newly concocted numbing agent, capable of forcing a person to collapse weakly to the floor in one breath. The only issue was that its effectiveness was rather brief. Of course, I also needed to run into suitable danger before I could use it. Even though Xiahou Yuanfeng was able to hit me with his strike, fortunately, he had already lost all of his strength, allowing me to preserve my life.
Rising to my feet, I glanced at Xiahou Yuanfeng’s sinister looking face. I was still a bit worried. I had given my beloved hairpin made of metal from a meteorite to Xiaoshunzi. Normally, he did not use weapons, but for his safety, when he broke out of the encirclement last night, I had given him my hairpin. To him, that hairpin was far more formidable than any other weapon in the world. As a result, I plucked a hairpin that was thirty percent gold and seventy percent steel. I pricked several of Xiahou Yuanfeng’s hidden acupoints. With this, I could guarantee that Xiahou Yuanfeng would not be able to strike back. Right now, I was the one in control of the situation.
After a while, Xiahou Yuanfeng was able to move again. However, he could feel that his entire body did not have an ounce of strength. Smiling wryly, he stated, “I did not expect that Jiang daren would have such methods.”
I modestly replied, “I was only successful because I was able to catch you off guard using a vile character’s tricks.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng had a calm expression on his face, almost as if I was his prisoner rather than the other way around. He smiled and asked, “I wonder how Jiang daren wishes to handle me? If this lowly official were to suddenly disappear, it is likely that people will not let matters be.”
I glanced at him serenely. “There is no need for you to worry. After I kill you, I can hide you in the secret compartment here. In this way, there is no need for you to worry that your corpse will be discovered. Maybe they will even believe that you secretly ran away. With the Prince of Yong’s escape, there are those who are truly afraid.”
Hearing my words, Dong Que immediately opened the secret compartment of the bed. I instructed, “Dong Que, avoid shedding blood to prevent the suspicion of others being aroused by the stench of blood.”
Smiling, Dong Que acknowledged, “This subordinate obeys.” Finished speaking, he extended a finger and unhurriedly moved to seal Xiahou Yuanfeng’s death acupoint.
Xiahou Yuanfeng clearly understood that these two were only trying to frighten him, otherwise there would have been no need for Jiang Zhe to place restrictions upon his martial arts. However, fear still rose from deep within. That Dong Que had a cold-hearted expression. With one look, Xiahou Yuanfeng could tell that he was a ruthless character.
At this moment, Jiang Zhe spoke up again, “I have never killed anyone with my own hands. How about you kill him?”
With this, Xiahou Yuanfeng was unable to bear it any longer. He understood that these strategists were typically those who stayed away from these affairs.1 If he were to die like this, then it would truly be a shame. Beads of sweat flowing, he cried out, “Jiang daren, please spare my life. This lowly official is willing to surrender.”
Jiang Zhe did not make a single sound, only smiling indifferently. Dong Que’s finger closed in on until it reached Xiahou Yuanfeng’s death acupoint. Xiahou Yuanfeng could feel his courage disappear. When he was about to open his mouth to speak, Dong Que covered Xiahou Yuanfeng’s mouth with one of his hands. Xiahou Yuanfeng felt himself grow dizzy. It was a moment before Xiahou Yuanfeng recovered his senses. Dong Que had only used twenty percent of his strength. Because of this, Xiahou Yuanfeng did not die, although his complexion was deathly pale. He had never ever before been this close to death.
Sitting back down, I gazed at Xiahou Yuanfeng, watching him regain his composure. I could not help but sigh with admiration. This man was truly talented. He had profound schemes, able to take temporary setbacks.2 It was a pity that he was a member of the crown prince’s faction. Somewhat pityingly, I gazed at him. Now was not the time for me to be merciful. If there was even the slightest accident, then the Prince of Yong would truly be consigned to eternal damnation.
Seeing that Jiang Zhe’s indifferent eyes carried a hint of pity within them, Xiahou Yuanfeng trembled. Although he had been frightened half to death, he could tell that Jiang Zhe was only trying to vent his rage. However, right now, he could tell from Jiang Zhe’s eyes that he was going to die. He quickly shouted, “Jiang daren, please consider the kind intentions behind my revelation of the assassin’s identity that day and also consider Yuanfeng’s loyalty to the Princess.”
I had originally issued the execution order. Hearing his words, I could not help but be startled. Xiahou Yuanfeng hurriedly continued, “It was this lowly official who reported to the Princess that the Fengyi Sect had designs upon her. When the Princess met with danger in the palace, although it was not this lowly official who rescued her, if the Princess had not been prepared in advance, how would she have been so fortunate to escape?”
Hearing this, I softened. That day, Princess Changle had informed me of the Fengyi Sect’s designs via the Princess of Yong. However, the Prince of Yong and I had both assumed that the Fengyi Sect would use threats and promises, not expecting that they would employ such a despicable method. Were it not for the preparations that Xiaoshunzi and I had made beforehand, it would have been very difficult for the Princess to escape from the trap. With this, I would have to thank Xiahou Yuanfeng’s kind intentions. I once again gazed at Xiahou Yuanfeng. I sighed and stated, “Xiahou daren, you have truly performed meritorious service for the Princess. However, you must also understand that with the present state of affairs, what can you use to persuade me to let me feel that letting you off would be of benefit to me?”
Xiahou Yuanfeng racked his brains for a method to survive. It wasn’t long before his eyes fell upon the desk and the square handkerchief with a secret edict written upon it. His eyes brightening, he suggested, “Outside of this lowly one, there is no more suitable candidate to deliver those items. That is the Emperor’s secret edict, correct? With the Princess’s intelligence, there is no way that she would perform any worthless task.”
I placidly replied, “However, you aren’t the only one who can deliver those items.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng laughed. “Although they have already gotten their hands onto the Emperor’s edicts and Grand General Qin’s command tallies, for them to mobilize the army requires someone to issue the edict. I do not know who the Prince of Yong’s spy beside the Crown Prince was. However, the Crown Prince will only allow one of his most trusted subordinates to go issue the edict. It would be inconvenient for the Fengyi Sect to appear. At present, the Crown Prince does not have many trusted subordinates. Of them, the foremost is Junior Mentor Lu Jingzhong. I am the apprentice nephew of Lu Jingzhong. Aside from me, who would be the most suitable to perform this task?”
Hearing his words, I could not help but frown. He was correct. Although Zhang Jinxiong had offered to undertake the task, he was not as appropriate of a candidate as Xiahou Yuanfeng. But how was I to trust this Xiahou Yuanfeng? I gave him a look of suspicion. At this moment, a bird call came from outside. Dong Que’s expression changed. Glancing at me, he stated, “Young master.”
I knew immediately that Zhang Jinxiong had arrived. I nodded my head lightly as a signal.
Dong Que walked out of the sleeping quarters. A large man with a grand and heroic appearance stood under the moonlight. Seeing Dong Que, his expression relaxed. He whispered, “I only have a moment. Just now, His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince began discussions with Junior Mentor Lu. They plan to dispatch Xiahou daren to issue an edict. I will accompany him as an escort. Using the excuse of finding Xiahou daren, I was able to come here.”
Dong Que’s heart leapt, as he whispered back, “Would Supervisor Zhang please wait a moment? As of now, Xiahou Yuanfeng is being controlled by my young master. Daren, please come to a side chamber to speak.”
Zhang Jinxiong was greatly surprised. He understood how powerful Xiahou Yuanfeng’s martial arts were. If the two of them were to fight, although he wouldn’t lose, it would also be extremely difficult to defeat Xiahou Yuanfeng. Surprisingly, Xiahou Yuanfeng was now controlled. He could not help but feel even more admiration for that Jiang Zhe, Jiang Suiyun.
Dong Que led Zhang Jinxiong into a side chamber before he returned to the princess’s sleeping quarters. He whispered a few words into Jiang Zhe’s ears.
I was deeply astonished when I heard his words. I did not know if this was the Heavens showing concern. Thinking it over, I removed several pills from a secret compartment on my jade belt. After looking at them for some time, I selected one of the pills. Gazing at Xiahou Yuanfeng, I stated, “Once you have taken this pill, I will be convinced that you are truly forsaking the darkness for the light. You must know that I am a disciple of the Medical Sage. It isn’t that this kind of poison doesn’t have an antidote, but without ten to fifteen days, it is impossible to be concocted. While the Crown Prince can give you the prestige and wealth that you desire, so can the Prince of Yong. But if you wish to survive, then you only have one road before you.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng hesitated for a moment. However, he was always an unwavering individual. Further, if he did not take this poison pill, he would likely never have the opportunity to leave the Cherishing Fragrance Park. Consequently, he immediately took the proffered poison pill and swallowed it. Seeing that he swallowed the pill, I continued, “There is something else. Since both you and the Fengyi Sect are working together for the Crown Prince, then you must know Liang Wan, correct?”
Xiahou Yuanfeng was stunned for a second. He replied, “This lowly official knows her. However, reportedly, Liang Wan has completely lost her mind. Although the Fengyi Sect has not breathed a word of this to anyone,3 I heard Junior Mentor Lu speak of it.”
I smiled faintly. “This one is the one who used medicine to poison Liang Wan’s mind that day.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng’s eyes widened noticeably. In disbelief, he gazed at me and declared, “That’s impossible! Don’t tell me that you were already in the service of the Prince of Yong!?!”
I was a bit confused by his words, but soon understood the meaning behind his words. Thus, I smiled and answered, “That matter is unrelated to His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong. Liang Wan was my personal enemy who murdered my wife. I dealt with her for the sake of revenge.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng’s heart trembled as he gazed at Jiang Zhe. At this moment, he sincerely believed that Jiang Zhe had the power to kill him with a single move. However, with this, he actually calmed down. He inquired, “But how this one can serve?”
Somewhat distrustful, I responded, “Why is Xiahou daren speaking in such a manner? It seems that you are even more concerned about this matter than me.”
“At present, since I am basically controlled by daren,” replied Xiahou Yuanfeng with a smile, “Then I have boarded the Prince of Yong’s boat. Since that is the case, I would naturally hope that the boat I am on is as steady as possible. It would be best if I am able to perform as much meritorious service as possible, so that I will not lose this opportunity to be promoted.”4
Relieved, I smiled. If Xiahou Yuanfeng wished to be promoted and be given a noble rank, I would be a lot more reassured. I signaled to Dong Que and had him bring over that handkerchief, solemnly handing it to Xiahou Yuanfeng. With a sober expression, Xiahou Yuanfeng accepted the handkerchief. With a deep salute, I stated, “This is His Imperial Majesty’s secret edict. You must deliver it into General Qin Yong’s hands and have him come rescue the Imperial Presence.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng returned the salute. “Daren, do not worry. Xiahou Yuanfeng will definitely not fail this matter entrusted to me. Daren, please speak some words to the His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, on my behalf.”
After Dong Que saw Xiahou Yuanfeng off, he returned and asked, “Young master, he really left?”
To him, I replied, “Please invite Supervisor Zhang here.”
After Zhang Jinxiong had also departed, I finally breathed a sigh of relief. It would be fine if Xiahou Yuanfeng did not betray me. But if Xiahou Yuanfeng was keeping his real intentions to himself,5 then there was no way that he would believe that I would have arranged for another messenger. Only in this way would I not need to worry about Zhang Jinxiong’s safety. Moreover, my original intentions to place restrictions upon Zhang Jinxiong’s body had been canceled. Since I charged him with the task of being a covert messenger, I had to express my trust in him. To a disciple hailing from famous and upright sect, this would cause him to do his best. Already having an overt messenger in Xiahou Yuanfeng, there was no need to place any restrictions to control the covert messenger. Besides, after all was said and done, Zhang Jinxiong was worth trusting, regardless of his moral character or his sect. The Kongtong Sect had already drifted away from the Fengyi Sect. Not long ago, the major personages of the Kongtong Sect had contacted the Shaolin Temple, expressing their willingness to cooperate. Even if Xiahou Yuanfeng ultimately returned with people to take me captive, there was no need for me to worry. As long as Qin Yong could be summoned, my safety wasn’t too important. In addition, I believed that Grand General Qin’s jade pendant would be more convincing than the emperor’s secret edict. Aside from there, there were still the measures that I had prepared beforehand.
Feeling that all of my strength had been drained, I lay down on the bed, thinking about whether there were any further plans that I could make. In any case, the best option for me was to stay here. Only in this way would Xiahou Yuanfeng believe that I trusted him. Even if he were to betray me, he would not suspect that there would be another messenger.
Footnotes:君子远庖厨, junziyuanpaochu – idiom, lit. a nobleman stays clear of the kitchen; fig. a nobleman who has seen a living animal cannot bear to see it die, hence he keeps away from the kitchen能屈能伸, nengqunengshen – idiom, lit. able to stoop or stand erect; fig. able to take temporary setbacks讳莫如深, huimorushen – idiom, lit. carefully concealed and avoid mention; fig. not breathe a word to anyone加官进爵, jiaguanjinjue – idiom, lit. be promoted and made a noble; fig. to be advanced in rank and made a higher official心口不一, xinkoubuyi – idiom, lit. heart and mouth at variance; fig. keeping one’s real intentions to oneself, saying one thing but meaning something else