Volume 6, Chapter 7: Where is the Good Life?1
In the second year of Longsheng, Qing was summoned to Chang’an and was conferred a marquisate.In the seventh year of Longsheng, Qing married Huyan Shou, Vice Commander of the Stalwart Tiger Guard, with the Emperor personally issuing an edict to voice his approval. As the couple had no relatives, the Crown Prince was ordered to personally officiate.—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Marquis of Cheng
As time passed slowly and the lamplight still glowed, Lu Yun grew anxious from waiting. Suddenly, he heard a soft sigh and felt a vibration from the platform. The man atop seemed to be walking inside. Just as Lu Yun was becoming elated, he heard the surprised voice of a woman say, “General Duan, it is indeed you!” Then Lu Yun sensed someone walk onto the platform. From the sound of the footsteps, he figured there were two people coming over. Lu Yun suddenly felt the urge to weep.
Lu Yun heard the man speak coolly, “Your Royal Highness, it has been a long time. Xiao daren, I trust you have been well since last we met.”
Lu Yun was shocked. Only now did he realize that the woman was the Princess of Qi, Lin Bi. As for Xiao daren, wasn’t he that Supervisor Xiao who was part of the Princess’s entourage? From the other guards to the Prince of Jia, Lu Yun had heard that Supervisor Xiao hailed from Northern Han and had accompanied the Princess into the Prince of Qi’s household. Reportedly, even though he had impressive martial arts, Supervisor Xiao usually didn’t concern himself with matters of the household nor did he appear in public.
Lin Bi sighed and replied, “I knew that you would be like this even before I came. Do you loathe me for failing to continue to resist until complete defeat and death?”
“In reality, everyone knew for a long time that Jinyang could not hope to hold out,” said Duan Wudi coldly. “When His Royal Majesty decided to surrender, his actions helped the hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians. As subjects, we must abide by his decisions. Although everyone has obtained high posts and wealth in the blink of the eye, forgetting those people of Qinzhou who sacrificed themselves for the country, this is normal. Let alone someone who has forgotten old emotions to marry a mortal enemy and enjoy the honor and glory of a princess.”
Lin Bi did not speak, just heaving a deep sigh filled with melancholy. The other man asserted, “Duan Wudi, you have gone too far. Do you not understand Her Royal Highness’s painstaking efforts? If the Princess did not marry, would His Royal Majesty be able to enjoy glory and splendor? All of us who surrendered would also live life on tenterhooks. The Princess only married without hesitation on behalf of the people and ancestral temple of Northern Han. What’s more, there are General Long’s dying words to consider. How can you be so rude?”
Duan Wudi raised his voice and said in irony and mockery, “Is that so? When I went to Qinzhou to pay my respects to the General, I heard a rustic song propagated among the populace: ‘The former Princess of Han, now the Princess of Qi. The dead general gazes from afar, his tomb saddening.’”
The platform fell silent, though Lu Yun could sense the tension in the air above. Its stifling nature nearly made it impossible for him to breathe. However, he had conflicting feelings. On one hand, he sensed that this General Duan was not someone weak and amiable, but rather a wolf in sheep’s clothing, strong and decisive. At the same time, Lu Yun believed that the Princess of Jiaping was not as horrible as General Duan was making her out to be. So he listened carefully, waiting for following developments.
All of a sudden, a breeze kicked up, causing the lamps on the platform to be extinguished in an instant. The river was immediately plunged into darkness. Delighted, Lu Yun stopped eavesdropping. Instead, he dove into the water and swam upstream. In a few moments, after he had left the platform behind, the lamps were relit.
Looking back, Lu Yun could see that there were three people standing atop the platform. Lin Bi in garb befitting her status as a princess—a bright yellow cape lined with fur—while her eyes were filled with melancholy. Behind her, sure enough, was the thin and gloomy Supervisor Xiao. Opposite the two of them stood a plain-clothed, middle-aged man bearing a scholarly appearance, his face marred by hardships he had suffered. Although this man merely stood there, his ramrod straight body seemed like a pine or poplar tree. The cold fury on his face and his overpowering aura made it impossible to think that he had spoken in such a tender and forgiving manner.
Lu Yun did not have time to waste thinking about this. With time short, he spared no effort as he continued to swim upstream.
Atop the platform, Lin Bi calmed down. In a tranquil and composed manner, she stated, “General Duan is right to criticize me. There are some things I can explain to you, even though it isn’t necessary. However, as you were one of Tingfei’s trusted lieutenants while he was alive, I will trust you as one of my own. That is why I do not wish to keep you in the dark. You are correct. I, Lin Bi, have indeed accepted a compromise to marry the enemy who killed my fiancé. It is impossible to cover this up. However, I have never regretted my decision. At the time, with the country ruined and the people starving, I could have committed suicide to join my fiancé or could have vowed never to marry. I believe that no one would try to compel me to marry. However, I wasn’t alone. I was the Princess of Northern Han, commanding general of Daizhou. It would have been a small matter if I had died, but the result would have been that the enmity between Great Yong and Northern Han would have continued unabated without hope of resolution. Do you want to see the populace of Northern Han once again suffer the discrimination and humiliations of the early years of the Eastern Jin Dynasty? You do not understand why Tingfei affianced me that day on the battlefield. It wasn’t that he looked down upon me, Lin Bi, that I would be unable to enjoy happiness after his death and needed to entrust me to someone else in order to be reassured. Rather, he knew that Northern Han was on the verge of collapse. The only way to protect the land and the populace was to surrender. He had probably foreseen that Great Yong wished to force our surrender and that His Royal Majesty would ultimately do so. That’s why he left me a letter to make posthumous arrangements, requiring that I do not abandon my responsibilities because of hate. My marriage was Tingfei’s wish.”
Duan Wudi furiously said, “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe that General Long would do such a thing! What letter did he leave for you? Let me read it.”
Giving a brief smile, Lin Bi took out a yellowed pouch embroidered with mandarin ducks from her bosom. Upon it remained unfaded bloodstains. She handed the pouch to Duan Wudi.
Duan Wudi’s hands shook as he accepted the pouch. He was well aware that this pouch was a token of love given by a woman to her beloved. Years ago, Su Qing had also given him such an item. However, when they cut ties thirteen years ago, she had thrown the token into the fire to be destroyed. These pouches would frequently contain a tuft of fine black hair to denote the woman’s wish to always be by their beloved’s side.
Duan Wudi opened the pouch and as expected he saw a tuft of hair within. Then he saw a white silk cloth. Taking it out, he unfolded it. Upon it was a letter written in blood with characters like reinforced steel, matching Long Tingfei’s handwriting.
When my beloved sees this letter, Tingfei will have given his life for the country. Although he dies without regrets, he worries still about the country of our Han2 people. With no heirs, I can only entrust this matter to my beloved. Beloved must bear a heavy burden3 and must not sever the relationship between lord and subject because of hate.
Duan Wudi’s hands shook and the silk cloth fell to the ground. Walking forward, Lin Bi picked it up. Gazing upon the silk, sorrow flashed in her eyes as she said, “This letter written in blood was secretly handed to Xiao daren by Tingfei to be handed to me at the appropriate time. After Maternal Uncle capitulated, Xiao Tong handed the letter to me. At the time, I did not understand his intentions. I only understood later when I learned that Tingfei had affianced me on the battlefield. It is possible that Tingfei had been deceived for some time. However, he was clear-headed when he was facing death. He had foreseen what events would happen and understood the predicament that Maternal Uncle could face upon surrendering. The only way to resolve this quandary was through marriage. I, Lin Bi, had the misfortune of being a Princess of Northern Han and Maternal Uncle’s only pillar of support. If I did not marry into the Yong Imperial Family, it would be impossible to eliminate the mutual hostility. I do not know whether he was too heartless, having the heart to have me marry another for the sake of His Royal Majesty and the continuation of the Northern Han Royal line. Thinking back now, Tingfei’s suicide that day was not because of his unwillingness to suffer the humiliation of being taken captive, but rather to display his complete loyalty. H‑He actually knew that he had no recourse but to die.”
“General,” cried Duan Wudi in sorrow, raising his head. Then he asked, “Your Royal Highness, who else knows about this?”
Shaking her head, Lin Bi answered, “This matter concerns Tingfei’s reputation. Aside from Xiao Tong and me, no one else knows. I originally intended to burn this letter, but only kept it so that you could read it if you returned. You are the only surviving member of Tingfei’s four lieutenants. If I cannot obtain your understanding, I will always be uneasy. In the afterworld, Tingfei would not be able to rest easy either.”
“Your Royal Highness suffered so and yet faced my reproachment,” said Duan Wudi sadly. “Your Royal Highness, please forgive me.”
To his surprise, Lin Bi shook her head and replied, “No, you are right to criticize me. Although I agreed to the marriage, it was for Tingfei and Northern Han’s peace and tranquility. If it weren’t for Li Xian’s wholehearted love, I would not have married him. If I, Lin Bi, wanted to marry, there are plenty of candidates within Great Yong’s Imperial Family. Even if I wished to enter the Imperial Palace, I could easily become an Imperial Consort. I only accepted Li Xian because he is a hero equal to Tingfei. These years, I have not suffered, as Li Xian’s feelings for me run deep. I have never regretted my decision.”
If she had said this earlier, Duan Wudi would have sneered in response. But now, Duan Wudi was comforted. It had been a foregone conclusion that Lin Bi was to marry into the Yong imperial family. That she could marry a good man, a heroic figure, was great fortune among all this misfortune.
Removing the muslin covering from one of the lamps, Lin Bi fed the silk letter to the fire. Afterwards, she said, “Wudi, with matters being so, there’s no need to speak of it further. With everything finally calm now, the Great Yong Emperor has not treated us unfairly. Both Tingfei and I have always esteemed your talent and character. What harm is there to serve the court, such that you do not waste your life? In the past, Maternal Uncle treated you unjustly. If you can be enfeoffed as a marquis and become a general, my mind would rest much easier.”
Having returned to his calm, amiable manner, Duan Wudi clasped his hands and bowed, saying, “Wudi understands Princess’s deep affection. However, Wudi has long become disheartened. Besides, he has never wished for power, riches, or honor. In his travels, Wudi has seen the country as prosperous and the people at peace and is quite satisfied. Therefore, I’m going to return to Qinzhou. General Long committed suicide and died for the state, General Su died in the Yong capital, General Tan died upon the battlefield, while General Shi was persecuted to death. Of the former generals of Qinzhou, only Wudi alone remains alive. Even though Wudi is shameless, he’s unwilling to serve the Emperor of Great Yong. Wudi is alone without a care in the world, unlike Princess who bears the burden of ensuring the safety of thousands of people. As such, Wudi is determined to return to Qinzhou to live in seclusion. But this matter has not yet been formally approved by the Marquis of Chu. Wudi hopes that Your Royal Highness can speak up on his behalf.”
Lin Bi sighed softly. Hearing such words uttered, she naturally knew that Duan Wudi’s intentions could not be altered. In truth, she had no desire to prevent Duan Wudi from going into seclusion. She was only worried that Jiang Zhe would not allow him to go. Jiang Zhe was extraordinarily vicious to his enemies and would never give them any chance of survival. If Duan Wudi were to seclude himself in the countryside without the land being completely unified, he would likely become a danger. She did not know if Jiang Zhe would be willing to let Duan Wudi off. If Duan Wudi were to return in ten years, such a headache probably wouldn’t exist. However, Lin Bi knew the pain of being far from one’s homeland too. Though she lived in Chang’an, she still regularly imagined Yanmen Pass at night. Let alone the fact that Duan Wudi had traveled far out to sea.
She ultimately sighed softly again and said, “I’ll speak to Marquis Jiang about your situation. He should respect me. Wudi, where in Qinzhou are you going to seclude yourself?”
“There are too many people who recognize me in Qinzhou,” answered Wudi quietly. “I do not wish to cause any problems. Back when General Tan was buried in his homeland, I personally attended the funeral. That was a good place. At the time, I stated that I would retire to seclusion there. Returning this time, I met several of my former subordinates. They have all returned to civilian life. When I mentioned that I desired to settle down in General Tan’s homeland, they all set forth ahead of me. At present, they are presumably clearing the land and sowing the fields.”
Lin Bi sighed softly another time. Today alone, she had sighed more than she had ever in the last several years. After Tan Ji died, he had been overlooked by Northern Han although they had bestowed rewards. His funeral could be considered quite bleak and meager. After Northern Han fell, Great Yong had conferred posthumous titles to the dead Northern Han generals. However, because Tan Ji had wantonly slaughtered his way through Zezhou, he had been ignored. Presumably, Tan Ji’s grave had gone unattended for a long while. A general who had once risked life and limb for Northern Han now faced such desolation in death. It was just that the dead were already gone, while the future had worth; thus few cared about such matters. After all, Tan Ji had an extreme character. Who would have thought that Duan Wudi remembered him? How could Lin Bi not feel shame?
Turning to leave, Lin Bi spoke with determination, “General Duan, do not worry. As long as I, Lin Bi, am alive, I won’t allow anyone to bother you. Every Qingming, I hope that you will burn incense on my behalf at General Tan’s tomb. It is the Liu family and I who have let General Tan and you down.”
After suffering untold hardships, Lu Yun finally arrived at the last waterside pavilion. Having soaked in the ice-cold water for so long at the fifth pavilion, his limbs had long since fallen numb. He had nearly failed to get past the last stretch of water from the fifth pavilion. Seeing that the layout of the final pavilion was similar to the fifth one, he finally smiled. Earlier, while passing the sixth pavilion, he had seen the Princess of Qi’s maids. As a result, this last pavilion had to be Jiang Zhe’s dwelling. Seeing the slightly ajar door and the dim yellow light coming through the crack at the bottom of the door, Lu Yun carefully took measure of his surroundings. Not seeing any guards on duty, he quietly climbed onto the terrace. Lying prostrate, he peeked under the crack.
Brocade felt blankets carpeted the floor and heavy muslin curtains covered the four walls. Amid the scent of sandalwood floating lightly in the air was a game board, a table with a zither, and bookshelves crammed with books. Across from a beautiful screen, he could make out drooping brocade canopies. This room was luxurious and cozy. In a glance, Lu Yun ascertained that this room was Jiang Zhe’s residence. However, the interior was silent, as if no one inside. He felt as if no precautions had been taken, and if he snuck inside, he would be able to wait for Jiang Zhe’s return and suddenly attack. He then rejoiced to himself. However, he quickly had second thoughts. If he were to enter in such a manner, he would leave behind water stains. When Jiang Zhe returned, the guards would immediately discover the tracks. On the other hand, if he remained outside on the terrace, he would immediately be discovered by any patrolling guards. Considering these options, he knitted his brows together.
Lu Yun unintentionally flicked his gaze away and saw some garments bunched up atop a wooden bench behind the screen. His mind racing, he removed his dark outer layer of clothing and wiped away the drops of water all over his body, shoving the dark clothing underneath the rug at the entrance. After that, he entered the pavilion and picked up one of the garments. This garment was unremarkable and probably would not be discovered missing for the meantime. He then walked behind the screen and hid underneath the bed. Clutching his dagger, he waited for Jiang Zhe to return and go to bed.
After a short period of time passed, the door on the other side opened and two people entered. Lu Yun could only see the two people’s legs. The person in front wore servant’s robes. The person to the rear wore a set of luxurious robes that dragged on the floor. Neither of them walked into the inner chamber behind the screen. The person in luxurious garb sat down upon a brocade mat and inquired, “Has the Princess finished speaking with General Duan?”
Lu Yun trembled inside, recognizing the voice as Jiang Zhe’s. Jiang Zhe’s voice was elegant, carrying a gentle and carefree tone, completely lacking the arrogance of someone wielding power and influence.
The second person respectfully answered, “The Princess had Xiao daren pass a message along.”
This man’s voice was ice-cold and merciless, though containing a shred of gentleness, almost like a breeze in the depths of winter. Guessing that this man was “Demonic Shadow” Li Shun, Lu Yun slowed his breathing further, afraid to reveal a hint of his presence.
The man sitting rose to his feet and said, “Since the Princess has summoned me, we should head over. General Duan has presumably made up his mind.”
From outside, someone coldly said, “There’s no need anymore. Marquis Jiang, I, Lin Bi, have already arrived.” Two individuals pushed the door open and entered. From the voice, Lu Yun knew that the newcomers were Lin Bi and Xiao Tong.
After both sides exchanged greetings, Lin Bi opened with, “Marquis Jiang, I hope you’ll be lenient and let General Duan off. Are you willing?”
Composed, Jiang Zhe responded, “I understand well Your Imperial Highness’s affection for an old friend. It’s just that General Duan used to be a ranking general of Northern Han. Both the Emperor and His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, focused their attention upon him. Although His Imperial Majesty did not blame me for the day I let General Duan go, he still sighed incessantly, lamenting that I’d let off such a capable general.”
“Even if you’d tried to forcibly detain Duan Wudi, you would have only detained a disheartened individual,” said Lin Bi coldly. “He absolutely will not surrender.”
“I understand this well,” said Jiang Zhe evenly. “Each and every member of General Long’s subordinates within the Qinzhou army are loyal to the Liu family and bear deep enmity for Great Yong. Furthermore, General Duan is a man of principle.4 He would not have surrendered that day. That is why I ultimately let him go. Fortunately, he is someone who keeps his promises and did not betray my leniency.”
Her tone easing, Lin Bi asked, “Since that is the case, why are you making things difficult for him now? He won’t turn into an enemy of Great Yong. All he wants is to retire into pastoral seclusion.”
“If that’s the case, it’s a waste of General Duan’s talents,” said Jiang Zhe with a smile. “If he were willing to surrender, he would certainly be enfeoffed as a marquis and become a general. What can one have against this?”
“General Duan was never someone who sought honor and glory,” replied Lin Bi helplessly. “He desires to seclude himself in General Tan’s homeland. If you are uneasy, you can arrange for surveillance. Now that he is downhearted, he shall be of no use even if you forcibly detain him in the court. He is the only survivor of Tingfei and his four subordinate generals. It is impossible for him to surrender. You should understand the enmity between the people and soldiers of Qinzhou and Zezhou, which will require many years to defuse. Since General Duan has no intention of antagonizing Great Yong, it would be improper if you forcibly place him under house arrest.”
Seeming to ponder it for some time, Jiang Zhe eventually said, “Since Your Imperial Highness has spoken up on his behalf, I will indulge him this once. However, Your Imperial Highness must guarantee that General Duan will never have any thoughts about rebellion.”
“All of us have already surrendered. Would he really raise a banner in rebellion?” Lin Bi said camly. “He simply wants to seek a place to call home. No matter how good foreign land is, it is not one’s homeland. He probably did not account for your continued remembrance of his existence when he decided to risk returning.”
Jiang Zhe sighed, “A loyal and righteous person is forever etched into the hearts and minds of the people. How could I forget? It is good that General Duan hopes to seclude himself in General Tan’s homeland. Bleak since his passing, General Tan’s tomb will finally be taken care of. This is for the best.”
At this, Lin Bi coldly replied, “Didn’t you also agree when General Tan’s name was stricken from the rolls of those honored every spring and autumn in the Martial Temple?5 If you had been willing to speak up then, how could he have befallen such a posthumous fate?”
“I have always admired General Tan’s character,” Jiang Zhe distantly said. “Although the sacrifices every spring and autumn are precious; would General Tan even care about them given his temperament? Rather than have people offer sacrifices with rancor and irreverence, it is better that he be allowed to sleep peacefully in a quiet place.”
Lin Bi was overcome with sadness, realizing that his words were quite reasonable. With the hour growing late and since Duan Wudi’s affairs had been dealt with, she rose to take her leave. Before she turned to go, Lin Bi suddenly asked, “Sir Jiang, Southern Chu’s Lu Can is your disciple. Sometime in the future, when the two countries are at war, how will you deal with him? Will you also do your utmost to cut him down?”
Seemingly hesitating for a moment, Jiang Zhe replied, “Of course I hope I can protect him. Unfortunately, this disciple of mine has a determined nature. I’m afraid that it will be to the death. Although I also hope he can retire into seclusion like General Duan, I’m afraid that’ll be impossible.”
Although Jiang Zhe did not answer the question directly, his intentions were quite clear. Lu Yun felt a chill run through him, his grip on the dagger tightening.
At this response, Lin Bi smiled before turning and departing.