If Xia Jiang had uttered these words in order to take Yan Que by surprise and shock him, one could say that he had completely failed to do so. Though this old Marquis had once been volatile like the wind and clouds, today, there were few in the world who could compare to him when it comes to keeping calm and motionless like (still) water. Which is why even if the world’s most sinister pair of eyes were on him at this moment, they would be unable to read his expression. But actually, he really didn’t have any emotional response to these words.
“What is Xia xiong talking about? What prison raid?” Yan Que asked, his eyebrows raised, his face wearing a suitably surprised expression.
“Of course it’s to rescue Wei Zheng, that deputy general of Chiyu Battalion. The Xuanjing Bureau prison is impenetrable. If you hadn’t drawn me out, Prince Jing wouldn’t have dared to make a move.” Xia Jiang’s face was like cold iron as he looked at Yan Que, his gaze like ice. “When did Marquis Yan start working for Prince Jing? You have kept the truth hidden all these years, even I really thought that…..you had become so depressed that you had withdrawn from the world.”
“You have always believed yourself to be infallible, yet you have not rectified your own shortcoming of playing judge to others,” Yan Que’s eyes were piercing cold as he evaded the question. “For you, there is probably no crime that you are incapable of uncovering, only crimes that have not occurred to you. You are accusing a royal prince of breaking into prison to rescue a traitor with no basis or evidence. Xia Jiang, don’t you think you are a little crazy?”
“Did I accuse him unjustly? Isn’t he going to rescue Wei Zheng?” Xia Jiang raised his chin slightly and cast a sidelong glance at Yan Que, “What I fear is that he would pull back and ignore that Chiyan deputy general. But I believe that with Prince Jing’s temperament, he will not disappoint me.”
Yan Que thought for a while, and nodded lightly in agreement, “You are right, that seems to be Prince Jing’s temperament. But he is also not stupid. Your Xuanjing Bureau is like a dragon’s pool and tiger’s den. Even if he wanted to charge into the place, I’m afraid he would be powerless to do it.”
“Which is why you personally drew me away, Lord Marquis Yan,” Xia Jiang’s gaze narrowed faintly as he spoke. “Maybe it’s not just me. I heard that the skill of Prince Jing’s advisor is not insignificant. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if he managed to find a way to lure Xia Qiu and Xia Chun out as well. Without the three of us around, perhaps he would really risk everything to succeed in one attempt.”
“I remember a long time ago, when you had just completed your discipleship, you weren’t like this, constantly using your imagination to substitute for facts.” Yan Que heaved a sigh and said, “How did you become like this? Were we too stupid or did you become too clever?”
“Is it really just my imagination or have the Capital Patrol troops deployed around Xuanjing Bureau increased? Prince Jing seems to think that if he secretly deployed his troops in such a fragmented manner that he would be able to conceal it from me.” Xia Jiang’s smile was arrogant. “Too bad he is fighting a losing battle. I’m actually encouraging him to come, revealing flaws (along the way) to lead him along, giving him opportunities to take advantage of, to feed his confidence, to let him think that there is hope to succeed in rescuing that person, especially when he thinks he has someone on the inside……”
Yan Que glanced at Xia Jiang, his gaze hard and unmoving. For this old Marquis Yan, this was the most alarmed expression he could muster.
“I still haven’t discovered why Dong’er suddenly became suspicious, why she suddenly began to track down and look into that rotten old case. But it’s good that she has fallen to your side right at this moment. I was worried that there would be no way to further increase Prince Jing’s confidence, to get him to accelerate his move.” Xia Jiang stepped a little closer to Yan Que, as if he wanted to pierce through his calm exterior. “She has been back for three days and I still treat her the same as I had always done, not limiting any of her actions, but when she tried to find out the location of Wei Zheng’s cell through Qiu’er*, I devised a suitable way to divulge it to her, so that she wouldn’t think that anything was out of the ordinary. As for Prince Jing, with me as his inside accomplice, he would definitely think that his plan is proceeding very smoothly. So, success is more or less in the palm of my hands, don’t you agree?”
“I think you are giving yourself too much credit.” Yan Que said without a trace of politeness, “I know that your Xuanjing Bureau prison is a formidable place, but all your key personnel are not around. Furthermore with Xia Dong on the inside, it would probably not be difficult for them to breach the place? Are you really not afraid that Xia Dong will bring men in to storm the dungeon and rescue Wei Zheng?
“You’re not wrong,” Xia Jiang nodded his head, “It’s a difficult problem. I am giving up the child to lure the wolf, yet at the same time I cannot truly give the child up completely. Wei Zheng is still very useful to me today. As long as he is still in my hands, no matter the circumstances or how many unforeseen changes take place, the odds would still be in my favor.”
Yan Que poked at the fire in the stove, then lifted the teapot cover and peered in to check the water, as if he hadn’t been listening.
“If the men Prince Jing deploys are fairly capable, Dong’er would indeed be able to lead them in to break into the dungeon.” Xia Jiang continued speaking, unconcerned. “But Lord Marquis Yan, do you really think that just because they manage to break into the dungeon, that they would find Wei Zheng?”
Yan Que replaced the teapot cover, his gaze finally becoming a little unsteady. He understood the implications of what Xia Jiang had just said.
After all the care that Mei Changsu had taken to devise a plan that could overcome the challenges of breaking into the Xuanjing Bureau dungeon, it would be a pity to discover that Wei Zheng was in actual fact not there.
Xia Dong was the best inside accomplice, but if this accomplice was a pawn placed there by someone else, then the more information and assistance received from her, the bigger the chances of defeat.
Xia Jiang appeared to be very pleased that he had finally made a crack in Yan Que’s ironclad expression, and persisted, “Marquis Yan, did Prince Jing tell you how he is going to absolve himself from blame after breaking Wei Zheng out?”
“I have no contact with Prince Jing,” Yan Que replied coldly. “Furthermore, I believe that Prince Jing isn’t doing anything against the law. Xia xiong, you think too much.”
“You still seem to lack judgment,” Xia Jiang spat out this comment then stood up, walked slowly to the window, pushed it open and propped it up with a rod. He took a deep breath, inhaling the cold wet air. “This temple halfway up the mountain is cool and refreshing compared to the city. No matter what kind of commotion ensues there, it will not reach here. Isn’t that a shame?”
“Why is it a shame? Why is it a shame that no commotion will reach this place?”
“Of course,” Xia Jiang replied indifferently, “It’s too far away to hear or see anything. We won’t know if things are beginning to get lively in Xuanjing Bureau right now.”
Yan Que looked at the shadow of the sun, it was at most just past noon. The rescue mission shouldn’t have begun yet. But the journey from the Taoist temple back to the city would take three hours, which is why there was no turning back.
“It’s a pity I have a good dungeon.” Xia Jiang turned back. “There is no Wei Zheng, but there is fire thunder concealed within. As soon as the fuse next door ignites……just imagine. As long as flesh and blood begin to fly, I don’t believe that Prince Jing would continue to remain calm after receiving such news. So many Capital Patrol troops surrounding Xuanjing Bureau, most of them under the leadership of Prince Jing’s most trusted officers. Do you think they could bear to just watch helplessly and do nothing? All it needs is for Prince Jing to be agitated, recklessly increase his force and throw more men into the fray, then the situation would naturally get more and more out of hand, and when it does, it would not be so easy for him to absolve himself of blame. As for me, I will definitely not give him any opportunity to clear himself of blame.”
Yan Que lowered his gaze and remained silent for a long while. Then raising his head, he said, “Xia xiong, I would like to ask you a question.”
“Have you ever thought, when the fire thunder fuse is lit, where would your apprentice Xia Dong be?”
Xia Jiang pressed his lips tight, his eyes emotionless. “Her recent behavior has disappointed me. She is no longer qualified to be a Xuanjing official.”
“In your eyes, is that all she is? Since she was a child, she had been following you, learning your knowledge and skills, a disciple who always respected and obeyed you. Is that all she is now? You’ve always used, deceived, and used her over again, to the extent that when she finally became aware of the truth and you could no longer use her, you would destroy her……” Yan Que said each word and each line sadly and helplessly. “How unfortunate Xia Dong is, to have been your disciple, and how unfortunate she is, to not have clearly seen your true colors in time.”
“Your words are starting to sound unpleasant,” Xia Jiang was not moved in the slightest. “Why, are you getting impatient? If you have any regrets it is still not too late. Marquis Yan, in those years, you had already chosen the wrong side. Don’t tell me you are still thinking of making the same mistake?”
“Right or wrong, it’s all in the heart. You think that I am wrong, but I have never thought you were wrong.” Yan Que shook his head and sighed. “But I want to let you know, you can choose to ignore ties of affection, but it would be best not to look down on them, otherwise you would be defeated by them.”
*ties of affection – qing yi (ref to footnotes, Chapter 121)
Xia Jiang threw back his head and laughed. He laughed for a very long time before he stopped, and when he had caught his breath, he said: “All these years, have you grown only in age? How can you still spout such naive words? Actually all of you will be the ones defeated by these ties of affection. By right you should all have been victorious but you all gave it up. This was how it was back then, so it is now……”
Yan Que turned again to look at the shadow of the sun, drank up his last cup of tea and stood up.
“What are you doing?”
“I can leave already. I cannot stand staying here with you for another moment.” Yan Que replied without looking at Xia Jiang. He made his way out to the courtyard without looking back. Xia Jiang did not expect him to end the conversation so abruptly and leave so suddenly. He was surprised but also a little suspicious. He followed and saw Yan Que getting into his sedan, giving orders to return to the city. There was nothing unusual about it, but he felt even more uneasy.
But what was it? Xia Jiang pinched (the corners of) his eyebrows and pondered a while. Yan Que’s final words suddenly flashed in his mind.
“I can leave already……..”
What Yan Que said was “can” leave already, and not “I wish to leave already”. Could it be that he “could not” leave before that?
But why “could not leave”? What mission did he have? His mission today was obviously to lure him away from Xuanjing Bureau!
At this revelation, a flash of light suddenly shone in Xia Jiang’s head, and a thought arose. His facial expression suddenly changed and he moved impatiently, flying straight to the front gate of the temple. He did not expect to see his horse foaming at the mouth and lying limp on the ground, the place quiet and deserted with no one around. There seemed to be no hope of finding another horse.
Having no other choice, Xia Jiang grit his teeth and made a quick decision. He made his body light* and quickly ran in the direction of the city.
*using the same martial arts technique “qing gong” practised by Su Tianshu’s men from the earlier chapter
However, no matter one’s skill in martial arts, even if he could run faster than a fine horse for a while, he would be unable to sustain such a speed for a long period of time, which was why even though Xia Jiang’s internal energy was deep and he was skilled in the art of breathing, it was almost four hours later when he finally arrived at Xuanjing Bureau’s main door.
By this time, the prison break was clearly completed, but without any evidence of flesh and blood, nor piles of rubble. The dungeon was still very much there and the fire thunder fuse was damaged. The Xuanjing Bureau soldiers on location seemed to be at a loss, with the two junior commanding officers looking vexed. As soon as they saw Xia Jiang, they immediately hurried towards him, anxious to give him a report of the situation, but they immediately stepped back in fright after seeing their Director’s expression.
Actually these two junior commanding officers who were charged with this heavy responsibility were talents whom Xia Jiang had been taking notice of recently, to the extent that he considered suspending the master-disciple tradition that Xuanjing Bureau had been practising for generations to promote a few more people to the job*. As such, this day’s defeat was not due to their incompetence, but rather the error of the person behind the planning.
*presumably of rank similar to disciples like Xia Dong, etc.
Yan Que’s mission was really only to get Xia Jiang to leave the city, nothing more. But the purpose of luring him out was not to make the prison break easier, but rather to prevent him from having the opportunity to detect abnormalities on scene and adjust his plan in time.
That’s because Xia Jiang’s experience was too extensive. For example, at this moment, all it took was one look at the scene for him to realize that Prince Jing’s men did not actually storm into Xuanjing Bureau, that there must have been an ulterior motive for him to have devoted so much effort into feigning an assault, and that the purpose was of course to draw the attention of those present away from the actual place of operation.
But Xia Jiang didn’t have time to delve deeper. One look at the situation in Xuanjing Bureau at that moment told him that things weren’t looking good, so he immediately leapt astride the closest horse and wielding the whip, hurried away towards the city centre.
The two junior officers glanced at each other, still confused, not knowing what to do next. For the two of them, the plan had originally been very clear and effective. First allow Xia Dong to bring men into Xuanjing Bureau, then wait for them to approach the dungeon before starting the offensive. Once the majority of the men were close to the entrance to the dungeon, ignite the fire thunder. The first half of the execution was relatively smooth, but when those men began to approach the dungeon, they detected a change in the situation. The men did not continue to advance, but instead seemed as if they were preparing to enter the adjacent compound. In order to prevent the men from discovering the fire thunder, they had advanced the offensive, but their opponents’ combat power was unexpectedly strong, and a deadlock had ensued. Then these men who had supposedly come to break into the prison did not even enter the dungeon’s outer courtyard, but instead began to immediately break away. The Xuanjing soldiers who were designated as sweepers once they had set off the fire thunder also did not effectively seal the passageway. When the enemy deployed their medicine powder, poison insect powder and smoke pills all at one go, it then became very difficult to capture any of them, especially since the courtyards were so closely connected to each other, so they were ultimately able to break their way out. To add to that, the Capital Patrol officers outside appeared just at this moment to arrest the robbers of the grand heist, and after all that confusion had passed, not a trace was left of the men.
This entire prison break was a chaos, passing by like loud thunder with small raindrops. It was a far cry from the fierce and terrible situation it was originally meant to be, and thus, a trap laid in vain.
But as these two junior officers were looking at each other helplessly, Xia Jiang had arrived posthaste in the city centre, rushing directly into the central courtyard of the Imperial Court of Justice office. By some good fortune, the official registrar had a keen sight and recognized the very disheveled Xuanjing Bureau Director. He immediately held back the two office guards who were advancing to obstruct him, and stepped forward to offer his salutations while ordering his men to send for Zhu Yue, the Deputy of the Imperial Court of Justice.
Xia Jiang didn’t even look at him, but immediately charged to the east side of the Imperial Court of Justice where its prison was located. It was still peaceful here, but this peace did not put Xia Jiang at ease. This place was different from Xuanjing Bureau, it had too many weak points that could be breached easily.
“Open up, quickly!” The jailer had come forward to greet him, but just as he was about to inquire, he heard this command. Catching sight of the signal from the official registrar behind Xia Jiang, he quickly took the key hanging from his waist and opened the main gate. Next came the inner gate, a narrow lane, the inner prison, then the water dungeon. Xia Jiang forged ahead at great speed and finally arrived at a small heavy black iron gate with only a tiny opening.
This time, it was Xia Jiang who took out a key from his own body to open the iron door. The black shadowy figure of a man was curled up on the floor, arms and legs tightly bound in shackles. Xia Jiang took hold of his hair, turned his face upwards, looked intently at him with the faint light of an oil lamp, then breathed a sigh of relief.
But just as he breathed this sigh of relief, he suddenly realized that he had committed an extremely stupid mistake, even more stupid than the failed trap that he had set earlier.
This chapter was difficult to translate, simply because one cannot read it and not feel like throttling Xia Jiang! How could anyone be so stubborn and obtuse?!? There were also a lot of details which I found challenging to translate as I didn’t always manage to grasp them fully, so I have tried to reproduce them to the best of my ability, based on my own impressions upon reading.