Volume 5, Chapter 41: Longing for Seclusion in Nature
On the twentieth day of the fifth month, an emissary from Daizhou arrived at Jinyang. Learning the bad news, the Princess of Jiaping wept in grief until she shed tears of blood. She was heard to say, "Carrying out Father's instructions, the Lin family exists for Daizhou, Daizhou does not exist for the Lin family." So speaking, she ordered her two elder brothers to lead the Daizhou army out of Jinyang to surrender. Hearing this, the Later Ruler sighed and shed many tears. The Later Ruler was unwilling to stop the surrender from happening and sent someone to tell the Princess that she could surrender as well. The Princess halted this and replied, "I have received great favor from Your Royal Majesty and have no regrets if I die. How can I turn my back?"
When the Yong Emperor learned that the Princess had not surrendered, he was filled with indescribable lamentation and continually dispatched emissaries to Jinyang to persuade Northern Han's surrender. Seeing the Yong Emperor's sincerity, the Later Ruler surrendered.—Zizhi Tongjian, Yong Records Volume Three
Right at this moment, the surrounding barbarians began to flee. The surviving ten or so Lin family sacrificial troops raised their heads to look and caught sight of a unit of cavalry in blue-gray armor wantonly massacring the utterly routed barbarian army. The iron hooves thundered and there was a sea of banners. The vanguard of the Yong army had arrived. The dust kicked up permeated the air. When the Yong horsemen neared Lin Tong and company, they flowed off to the sides. One of the Yong officers spurred his horse and galloped over. At his side and taking the lead was a tall youth in the armor of the Daizhou army. He loudly asked, "Tong'er, Tong'er, where's Father?"
Lin Tong had mixed feelings of the delight at narrowly escaping and an uncertain future. Seeing this youth, all of her thoughts vanished. She loudly and sorrowfully shouted, "Eldest brother, eldest brother! Daddy is up on the walls! There has been no sound for some time. I'm afraid, I'm afraid …"
The youth let out a snarl, turning to throw himself at the blocked passages and get up the walls. The Yong officer sighed lightly and gestured with his hand to send some of the Yong soldiers to follow the youth. The officer solemnly declared, "This general is Li Jue and currently serves as Great Yong's Deputy General of the Formidable Might1 Army. Under the command of His Imperial Majesty, I have come to reinforce Yanmen. I wonder if any of you have the ability to serve as the army's guide to pursue the barbarians?"
Wiping away her tears, Lin Tong resolutely answered, "I am Lin Tong and am willing to serve as General's guide."
Li Jue frowned and replied, "It may be difficult for the Princess to do so after such prolonged fighting. In addition, doesn't the Princess want to go check on Veteran General Lin?"
Lin Tong again replied resolutely, "Lin Tong's life has long been out of these hands. It is a blessing from the Heavens that I have been able to survive to this day. Lin Tong can do nothing about Father's fate. However, if we allow the entire barbarian army to retreat, I would not have any face to meet the elders of Daizhou even if Lin Tong died. General, please do not worry. Lin Tong can hold up!"
Seeing that Li Jue was still somewhat hesitant, Chiji interjected, "General Li, please be reassured, this one is Wang Ji and is willing to serve as the guide for the army alongside my wife. This one is familiar with the topography outside of Yanmen Pass and will be helpful in the pursuit of the enemy. General, please do not worry about us, husband and wife."
A dazzling light shone in Li Jue's eyes as he immediately clasped his hands and said, "So it actually is the Marquis of Chu's subordinate, young master Chiji. I apologize for not recognizing you. This general once attended upon the Sir at the Cold Courtyard. When I headed out, the Marquis of Chu once had this general pay attention to the young master's whereabouts. Seeing the young master unharmed, this general is greatly comforted. With young master leading the way, presumably we can definitely ensure that the barbarians will have no way of escaping."
Chiji issued a soft cry and could not help asking, "Has my young master also arrived at Xinzhou?"
Hearing this, Lin Tong could not help becoming angry. By chance, a Yong soldier had come over leading a warhorse. Lin Tong silently elbowed Chiji in the ribs. While Chiji was still in pain, Lin Tong remounted and galloped off in the direction where the barbarians had fled. Chiji did not bother to talk further with Li Jue and promptly chased after Lin Tong. This caused all of the Lin family's sacrificial troops to share knowing smiles. Several of them who had the strength to still fight also spurred their horses to follow and help guide the Yong army.
Li Jue also found this amusing. In reality, he had not seen Jiang Zhe. Over a fortnight ago, he had entered Daizhou under orders. Everyone in Daizhou knew that the Lin family were enemies with Great Yong. However, with Yanmen engulfed by bloody battle, no one had the heart to send the news of the Yong invasion. They were all worried that, if Lin Yuanting learned of this, he would sacrifice himself in order to protect the province's commoners. As a result, they had spontaneously organized to stop the Yong army's offensive. Although Li Jue had repeatedly declared that he was going to reinforce Yanmen, the people of Daizhou still believed that Great Yong was trying to profit from their misfortune. In trying to not harm the Daizhou population, progress was difficult for the Yong army. The Yong army was in a constant state of tension as it reached Daijun.2 At this time, the entire populace of the commandery believed that Li Jue intended to assault the city where the Lin family's ancestral shrine existed. Currently, Eldest Princess Anqing, the Marquis's wife, was within the city. Li Jue was put in an extremely difficult situation.
Just as Li Jue was finding it difficult to explain himself, he ran into Lin Chengyi who had come prepared to ask to surrender. Almost at the same time, Jiang Zhe's emissary also arrived to report of Chiji's presence at Yanmen to help the Lin family defend the pass. Although, Li Jue did not know why one of Jiang Zhe's retainers would be at Yanmen. However, having once guarded the Cold Courtyard, Li Jue could only exclaim in admiration at Sir Jiang's brilliance and foresight.
Guided by Lin Chengyi, the vanguard of the Yong army hurried to Yanmen without any obstructions. Li Jue was well aware that the emperor thought extremely highly of the Lin family, and had thus madly galloped north. He especially burned with anxiety when he came across the retreating remnants of the Yanmen defenders. Arriving just in time to save Lin Tong and Chiji from imminent peril, Li Jue rejoiced greatly. Though it seemed likely that Lin Yuanting had met with disaster, Lin Tong had been personally appointed by Lin Yuanting to command the Daizhou army. Cooperating with her would ensure that Daizhou would be pacified. In this regard, Lin Tong was far more important than Lin Chengyi. This was quite clear due to Lin Yuanting handing over command to his youngest daughter rather than his eldest son. In addition, having traveled day and night with Lin Chengyi, Li Jue could see that Lin Chengyi did not have the talents to serve as a commander-in-chief even though he was skilled at horse archery and had a straightforward temperament.
At this moment, a grief-stricken wail echoed from atop the walls. Li Jue sighed softly. He watched as Lin Chengyi charged down, mounted his horse, and charged out of the pass. Li Jue saw that Lin Chengyi face was streaked with tear stains and splattered with blood, making him feel pity. Li Jue shot a look. One of Li Jue's bodyguards on close terms with Li Chengyi took advantage and used his sword's pommel to knock Li Chengyi unconscious.
Just then, one of Li Jue's lieutenants came down from the walls. Arriving before Li Jue's horse, he shook his head and exclaimed in admiration, "General, the Daizhou army is truly composed of heroes. Atop the walls is hell. The three thousand Snow Wolves and all of the Daizhou defenders are practically all dead. However, one of the Daizhou commanders named Lin Yuanchong is still alive and there are several Daizhou officers and soldiers who were seriously injured. Although none of them can speak nor move, there should be no harm to their lives. This subordinate has already dispatched army doctors to provide treatment. Lin Yuanting has died in battle surrounded by the corpses of the Snow Wolves and the Daizhou army. In this general's view, he used himself to lure the enemy and had set an ambush around him to kill the enemy army."
Li Jue also gasped with admiration inwardly. He replied, "All right. Let's also go pursue the enemy and ensure that no one can look down upon our army." Finished speaking, Li Jue spurred and whipped his horse to charge out of Yanmen Pass.
After being separated for two hundred years, elite cavalry from the Central Plains once again tread upon barbarian soil. This time, they had pursued the barbarians for three hundred li.3 With the guidance of the Daizhou army, Li Jue smashed the core of the barbarian army.
In the subsequent twenty years, the rebuilt Daizhou army repeatedly raided deep into the Asian Steppe, throwing the various barbarian tribes into chaos. The Gele tribe was nearly exterminated. From that point forward, the barbarians ceased to raid for a full fifty years, not daring to even peek at Yanmen Pass. As a result, the northern frontier was impregnable. But this is a historical aside. After the victory at Yanmen Pass, the top priority that needed to be confronted was how to face the Yong army which had completely controlled Daizhou.
Of the current Daizhou, there were a mere thousand troops remaining. Their leader was Crimson Cloud Princess Lin Tong. Although its military strength was scant, from Li Jue's experience since entering Daizhou, if the Lin family disregarded everything to mobilize the masses of Daizhou to resist the Yong army, then the resulting conflict would be difficult and bitter. Lin Yuanting had been forced to bitterly hold Yanmen Pass without reinforcements, partly because each of the Daizhou commanderies and counties were defended by locally trained militias who did not participate in major fighting and partly because of the pressure exerted by the entry of the Yong army into Daizhou.
When Lin Tong returned to Daizhou, Li Jue wished he could urge Lin Tong to meet the Yong emperor at Xinzhou. However, he did not want to incite anger from the populace. Now that the barbarians had been repelled and the entirety of Daizhou learned the grievous news of Lin Yuanting dying in battle, everyone had come to offer condolences and pay their respects. As far as the eye could see, the whole of Daizhou wore white mourning robes. How could Li Jue try and press Lin Tong under these circumstances?
When Eldest Princess Anqing learned of the deaths of her husband and beloved son, and news of the entry of the Yong army, she fell ill and was confined to bed. Able to hobble about with a cane, Lin Yuanchong oversaw the funeral arrangements with his status as an elder of the family. Lin Chengyi, Lin Tong, and Chiji kept watch by the coffin. Unconsciously, everyone had cast the need to meet the Yong emperor to the back of their minds. Even Chiji had no wish to face Li Zhi. Who knew how the Lin family would ultimately be handled? Under these circumstances, Li Jue could only helplessly report the matter to the Yong emperor and wait for an imperial edict on how to proceed.
On the fourteenth day of the fifth month, an exhausted Chiji walked towards the funeral hall with heavy feet. Funeral ceremonies had always been extremely complicated, even putting aside Lin Yuanting's high status. None of the various customs could be lightly overlooked. Because the Lin family's brother and sister were not adept at handling these matters, and Chiji was the only one familiar with outside communication and matters, he could only rush about in his identity as Lin Yuanting's son-in-law. In comparison, Lin Chengyi and Lin Tong, aside from mourning at their father's coffin and receiving all of the guests who came to pay their respects, had nothing else to do.
Just now, a soldier came to report that there were abnormalities with the Yong army stationed outside of Daijun. Chiji smiled wryly. At present, there was no way of confronting the formidable and elite Yong cavalry stationed outside. Besides, even if there were some way, could he truly become an enemy of Great Yong?
Entering the funeral hall, Chiji saw the haggard-looking Lin Tong gazing in a trance at the coffin and memorial plaque in front of her. Lin Chengyi was expressionless as he kneeled on the foremost mat. Within the hall were all of the surviving officers of the Daizhou army and Daizhou's civil officials. Because the common people from all of Daizhou's commanderies and counties had all paid their respects, the funeral hall was no longer as bustling as prior. These officers and officials were all whispering amongst themselves. There were some things that ultimately needed to be faced. However, no one had the heart to raise this matter with the Lin family's brother and sister.
Chiji sighed lightly and walked to Lin Tong's side. In a gentle voice, he said, "Tong'er, these last several days have been too exhausting for you. You should go to the back to rest."
Lin Tong raised her head and looked. Grief flashed across her eyes as she replied, "Husband Ji, I will lead all of the officers to Xinzhou for an audience with the Emperor and formally submit our surrender. I will not renege on something I promised my father. You have no need to worry that I will become enemies with Great Yong. Whatever the case, the Yong army contributed heavily to the successful defense of Daizhou."
Chiji did not respond, only gently patting Lin Tong's sweet shoulder. What could he say? Even though he knew that this young woman had spoken these words in pained distress, he could only watch. Right when everyone in the funeral hall heard Lin Tong's words and were feeling dispirited, a soldier from outside reported that someone had come to pay their respects.
Frowning, Lin Tong asked, "Wasn't an order issued long ago to permit all those who have come to pay their respects to directly enter?"
The soldier answered, "Reporting to the Princess, the visitors aren't from Daizhou. This subordinate can see that they are distinguished."
"What are you afraid of? Do we have any misgivings at this stage?" inquired Lin Tong with a tired smile before stating, "Invite the guests in."
The soldier voiced his compliance and retreated. It wasn't long before a column of individuals directly entered the funeral hall.
The people of Daizhou all stared. The funeral hall had been established for several days now. In that time, essentially all the people in Daizhou with a measure of prestige and influence had come to pay their respects or had sent someone to pay their respects on their behalf. Who would come to pay their respects now? As their gazes fell upon the guests, everyone sensed they were far from ordinary.
They were four in total. The man at their head was dressed in plain, unadorned clothes and was roughly thirty-five or thirty-six years old. His appearance was formidable and graceful with a magnanimous bearing, walking with large strides like a prancing dragon or tiger. His bearing made it impossible for anyone to dare to look him head on. Half a step behind this man was a gray-haired man with white temples. However, his appearance was refined and elegant, dressed in the plain robes of a scholar. He seemed carefree and at ease.
Behind the two men walked a pair of men side by side—an average-looking middle-aged man and a sinister and handsome young man. Both of them wore azure clothes. From their clothes and their position, it would seem that the two of them were attendants. However, in the eyes of the Daizhou individuals, the middle-aged man's footsteps did not seem to shift a single particle of dust and there was a faint, lively light in his eyes. Whoever met his eyes felt as if their soul had been pierced. As for the azure-clothed young man, although it seemed like he did not know martial arts, a glance made people feel like their entire body was being frozen over by the coldest winter solstice.
Everyone exchanged looks of dismay, not knowing the four newcomers' identities. At this moment, cries of alarm rang out. Everyone turned to look and saw that both Lin Tong and Chiji had let out cries. Chiji's face expressed astonishment and franticness, while Lin Tong's face also showed alarm.
At this moment, after the middle-aged man who had led the guests lit some incense, he clasped his hands and paid his respects to the memorial plaque without bowing or kneeling. However, everyone present found it proper and normal, though none understood why. Lin Chengyi, Lin Tong, and Chiji all kowtowed to return the greeting. While Chiji still appeared terrified, tears flowed down Lin Tong's face and her features trembled.
Then, the plainly dressed scholar also lit incense and paid his respects. When the family members were returning the greeting, Chiji retreated a step, indicating that he dared not accept the greeting. Lin Tong glanced at Chiji before sighing lightly and also took a step back, returning the scholar's greeting alongside Chiji. Practically all of the Daizhou officers and officials present knew of Chiji's identity. Witnessing this, an inconceivable notion appeared in their minds and their eyes showed vague bewilderment toward the two guests who had come to pay their respects.
Now, the two azure-clothed men had paid their respects together. After the ceremony was completed, the middle-aged man at the head of the guests sighed deeply and declared, "We have long heard of the Lin family who has defended the northern frontier for generations, and their ardent and incomparable courage. Regretfully, We have come too late and could not personally see Veteran General Lin. Today, We have come personally to pay our respects for the sake of reducing the regret in Our heart. Young General and Princess, please curb your grief. Henceforth, We still require the Lin family to stand guard over the north."
Everyone present was thrown into an uproar. Unexpectedly, Yong Emperor Li Zhi had personally come to pay his respects to the departed. Now that Daizhou had already fallen into the Yong army's hands, it was at Great Yong's mercy. Who could have thought that Li Zhi would still treat the Lin family with such courtesy in spite of the situation? How could they not be moved to tears? The eyes of some of those present fell upon the gray-haired youth. Having white hair in his youth, possessing such graceful bearing, and having received serious courtesy from both Chiji and Lin Tong, who else could he be but the Marquis of Chu, Jiang Zhe? Becoming aware of Li Zhi and Jiang Zhe's identities, everyone knew that the two azure-clothed individuals were both experts accompanying their masters. The sinister, handsome-looking youth was most likely the world-renowned Demonic Shadow Li Shun.
Since everyone had learned of the identities of the guests, they all turned to look at Lin Tong. With the Yong emperor coming personally, Lin Tong should step forward and kowtow to display her loyalty as the commander-in-chief of the Daizhou army. Only this action truly represented Daizhou's surrender to Great Yong. However, Lin Tong was in the prime of her life. Everyone was worried that she would be unwilling to bend her knee and surrender. If the Yong emperor were provoked to anger, the Lin family would probably face annihilation.
To everyone's surprise, Lin Tong advanced forward and got on her knees with an extremely calm expression. Kowtowing, she declared, "For Your Imperial Majesty to wear mourning and come pay your respects, the whole Lin family is grateful. Father's last command was for this subject and company to submit to Great Yong. Guilty subject Lin Tong temporarily commands the Daizhou army. Today, before my father's coffin, I vow that the people and soldiers Daizhou pledge their allegiance henceforth without any second thoughts. It is only that two of my elder brothers and my elder sister are all in Jinyang. They are as yet unaware of this fact. This guilty subject cannot make my elder brothers and sister comply. Your Imperial Majesty, please forgive me. Mother's status is different. If Your Imperial Majesty intends to blame her, Lin Tong asks to bear the punishment for her."
Hearing Lin Tong's words, although the truth, everyone was restless, worried that the Yong emperor would be furious. However, Li Zhi only smiled slightly and replied, "The Princess of Jiaping is a heroine of the age. We will take care of the entire Daizhou army that is trapped in Jinyang. There is no need for you to be concerned. As for your honored mother, although she is the eldest princess of Northern Han, she has nothing to do with the affairs of state. Further, she is Marquis Lin's widow. Why would We blame her for no reason?"
Only now did Lin Tong feel her entire body relax. Earnestly and sincerely, she kowtowed. "Your Imperial Majesty is magnanimous. This subject, Lin Tong, leads the officers and soldiers of the Daizhou army in kowtowing to Your Imperial Majesty. Long live Your Imperial Majesty!"
Everyone kneeled to pay their respects, performing the full kowtow.4 It wasn't long before news filtered out of the funeral hall and the earthshaking shouts of "long live Your Imperial Majesty" were heard by the gathered Daizhou soldiers and common people outside, some close and some distant. In the beginning, the loud shouts came from the area around the Lin residence. Toward the end, the entire city was shouting. The voices rose up to the skies. Only at this moment did the Yong generals, waiting on alert outside of the city, finally rid the heavy load on their minds. With this, Daizhou had finally and unconditionally surrendered to Great Yong.
Chiji finally felt relieved after days of tension. Remembering the scene when he took leave from the young master to go to Daizhou, it seemed like a lifetime ago. Who could have expected that he would actually survive, Daizhou's Lin family was not purged by the Yong army, and he would marry Lin Tong? This made him think he was living a dream. Chiji could not help gazing at Jiang Zhe. When his eyes met that pair of gentle and calm, serene eyes, Chiji could see that Jiang Zhe's eyes showed warmth and kind approval. He could not stop from shedding hot tears.
On the twentieth day of the fifth month, an emissary sent from Daizhou reached Jinyang. At the time, Jinyang was already completely surrounded by the Yong army. When she learned her father had died in battle, Lin Bi fell to her knees and wept. The entire Daizhou army changed into mourning clothes. The Later Ruler of Northern Han, Liu You, issued an edict to establish a funeral hall to remotely pay respects to the spirit of the departed.
Afterwards, Lin Chengshan and Lin Chengyuan led the Daizhou army, under Lin Bi's orders, out of Jinyang to surrender to Great Yong. Some within the Northern Han court voiced an intent to bar the Daizhou army from leaving the city to prevent negatively impacting military morale and popular sentiment, but were blocked by the Later Ruler. As a result, the Daizhou army was able to successfully leave the city. Subsequently, Lin Bi resigned from her position as the commander-in-chief of the Daizhou army to remain behind in Jinyang, desiring to exist or perish alongside Jinyang.
The Yong army encircled the city, but did not launch an assault. Up until the fifteenth day of the sixth month, the Yong emperor had sent five emissaries to persuade Northern Han to surrender and promised to protect the ancestral shrine of the Northern Han royal family. By this point, Northern Han only controlled Jinyang. With the army and commoners trapped within the city, although Lin Bi presided over military affairs and ensured that the Yong army had no holes to exploit, the entire Northern Han army knew that Daizhou's surrender was inevitable.
The Later Ruler questioned his important subjects. None of them could answer. Thereupon, he proceeded to the Orchid Terrace to speak with State Mentor Jing Wuji. The two's secret discussions proceeded through the night and prevented anyone else from hearing any news.
On the eighteenth day of the sixth month, the Later Ruler dispatched an envoy to the Yong encampment to submit his surrender. The next day, he led the royal clan and the entire court out of the city to surrender in mourning garb. With this, Northern Han was subjugated after existing for twenty-four years. Li Zhi issued an edict, appointing the Later Ruler as the Prince of Yongding,5 sending him to be settled back in the Yong capital. The surrendered Northern Han royal family were all granted Yong nobility and also moved to the Yong capital. Only Lin Bi, the Princess of Jiaping, was conferred the title of princess after being praised by Li Zhi for her loyalty and leadership. Of Daizhou's Lin family, even though Yuanting had died, he was still honored as the Marquis of Daizhou. His eldest son, Lin Chengyi, inherited the marquisate. His daughter, Crimson Cloud Princess Lin Tong, was given command of the Daizhou army and stationed at Yanmen.
After that, Li Zhi appointed Xuan Song as Military Commissioner6 of Jinyang as well as appointing the commoner, Zhao Liang, to assist as Magistrate of Jinyang. Li Zhi further established the Northern Pacification Army with Jing Chi serving as its commander in charge of two hundred thousand troops to garrison the former Northern Han provinces and commanderies. Furthermore, Jing Chi was constrained by Xuan Song. With this, the north was relatively pacified.
Many of Great Yong's court officials repeatedly submitted memorials, urging Li Zhi to return to the capital. On the second day of the seventh month, Li Zhi returned triumphant to Chang'an. Prince Li Xian of Qi, Princess Lin Bi of Jiaping, and Marquis Jiang Zhe of Chu accompanied the imperial presence back to Chang'an.
Within the imperial carriage, Li Zhi raised a cup and smiled while toasting, "Suiyun, having not seen each other for many years, your skill at weiqi has not improved in the slightest."
Looking at the broken state on the board, I shrugged and replied, "It's not that this subject's skills haven't improved, but rather that Your Imperial Majesty's have become increasingly consummate. Your Imperial Majesty, presumably you have already set aside all your differences with His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. What does Your Imperial Majesty think of the happy occasion I've mentioned?"
Li Zhi chuckled, "If sixth brother truly has that ability, We will be willing to preside over the wedding. In short, the Princess cannot be shortchanged. It is Chiji and Lin Tong's marriage that I could never have anticipated. That boy turned into an outstanding talent under your tutelage. Surprisingly, he abandoned high position to meet death alongside the younger Princess and received Lin Yuanting's permission to marry. With him at Daizhou, We are very relieved. Even if the Lin family is arrogant and obstinate, We can lead them by the bridle."
I placidly replied, "This was something that Chiji exchanged for with his life. Although I let him depart that day, I was truly angry. However, on the whole, he ultimately still considered me his master. That was why I gave him the opportunity. There would naturally have been no problems if he had died at Yanmen. If we met again one day, I resolved to help him fulfill his tragic love. Otherwise, even if he became the Marquis of Daizhou's son-in-law, it would be easy for me to take his life."
Li Zhi glanced at me. Shaking his head, he remarked, "Don't be stubborn. Didn't you submit a memorial to watch as Daizhou was embroiled by war for the purpose of forcing Us to make up Our mind to reinforce Daizhou? Furthermore, what about that letter you sent to Li Jue? You were probably the one most worried about Chiji's safety. Allowing him to become involved in the grueling fighting at Yanmen was merely to give him the opportunity to win the affection of a beauty. At the least, that little fellow was truly courageous and did not fail to live up to your expectations. We have already appointed him as a general and will allow him to serve in Daizhou to watch the border."
Blushing, I laughed and did not speak any further.
Pouring a cup of imperial wine for me, Li Zhi handed it over and said, "Suiyun, because of your hard work, the Northern Han Royal Family lost its last support and had no alternative but to surrender. If we truly had to spill blood to take Jinyang, not only would our army have suffered heavy losses, it would also have been impossible for Jinyang to recover without several decades. Now that Northern Han has surrendered, Great Yong has obtained its soldiers, land, and revenue. After honing our strength for a few years, we will be able to head south to attack Southern Chu. Sir has made enormous, important contributions. Please, drink this cup."
Accepting the cup of imperial wine, I downed it in one gulp. Smiling, I stated, "Your Imperial Majesty, Northern Han has already been pacified and the surrender memorial from the Eastern Sea has already reached the court. There is no need for this humble subject to participate in the invasion of Southern Chu. Can this subject be allowed to return to the Eastern Sea to convalescence temporarily?"
Hearing this, Li Zhi's face grew stern as he answered, "That will not be allowed. Ignoring the fact that We will not permit you to leave the court again, don't tell me that you aren't going to pay your respects to your father- and mother-in-law after being married to Changle for so many years? The Empress Dowager is waiting for you to go pay your respects. She is constantly worried about your health and anxious that Changle will suffer hardships. Without seeing you, the Empress Dowager will definitely not be at ease. As for Imperial Father, he had already been softened by Roulan's sweet and honeyed words when I left the capital. The Emperor Emeritus has decided to no longer blame you. If you miss this opportunity, you will have no hope of being accepted by Imperial Father. Moreover, don't you wish to see Changle, Roulan, and Zhen'er? Imperial Father and Mother definitely won't allow any of them to leave. Unless you decide to go back to the Eastern Sea alone, you will never leave Chang'an again in this lifetime."
A pained look appeared on my face as my last hopes were carried away by the wind. Such a shame, I thought, thinking about my comfortable and peaceful Tranquil Sea Manor.
Seeing the dejection on my face, Li Zhi also found it difficult to bear. Just as he was about to console me, urgent footsteps thudded from outside. At the window of the imperial carriage, someone reported in fear and trepidation, "Your Imperial Majesty, an eight-hundred-li express military report."
Both of us frowned. Taking the document, Li Zhi simply scanned it before heaving a sigh. Gazing at me deeply, he stated, "Suiyun, none of your disciples are normal."
I shook mentally. What did that mean? I immediately snatched the report from his hands and read. After finishing, I could not help but smile wryly. The contents of the report were clear. On the twenty-seventh day of the sixth month, Lu Can's light cavalry had seized Jiameng Pass. From that point, the strategic entrance between Sichuan and Hanzhong had fallen into the hands of Southern Chu. There were two ways to attack Southern Chu—following the Yangtze River from Sichuan or crossing the Yangtze River to fight. At present, the Jingxiang region was impregnable and both sides could rely upon the natural barrier of the Yangtze River. That little fellow, Lu Can, was quite formidable. On the surface, he was checked by Shang Weijun and prevented from doing anything. But in reality, he had taken advantage of Great Yong's negligence to abruptly invade Hanzhong. That fellow had only managed to capture Jiameng Pass by colluding with the remnants of the Prince of Qing. Now that Southern Chu occupied half of the world, the prospect of unifying the realm was now delayed indefinitely. With this, when could I return to seclusion?
I could not help heaving a deep and profound sigh. Lifting my cup, I slowly drank the pure and raw imperial wine. My gaze penetrated the thin muslin screen to look at the vast world outside of the imperial carriage. The world was frequently surprising and unexpected. What was the point in worrying?
Footnotes:威武, weiwu - lit. formidable might 代郡, Daijun - lit. Dai commandery; a commandery was a former administrative division that is akin to a modern-day prefecture 162 kilometers (about 100 miles) 三拜九叩, sanbaijiukou - lit. three kneelings and nine kowtows; the full kowtow involves kneeling from a standing position three times, kowtowing three times each kneel 永定, yongding - lit. eternal calm 节度使, jiedushi – regional military governors that were introduced to counter external threats; they contributed to numerous rebellions during the Tang Dynasty and the dynasty's eventual fall