So, there may be a bit of a bumper crop this week. I’ve decided to clean up and post all my translated chapters to date before I forget the original Chinese versions. I had originally intended to do up a 1st rough draft containing almost literal translations of each chapter and then revisit them to ensure the translations were correct. But that ended up being too slow and tedious. Especially when there are still 40 chapters to go. So now, I’m trying to get my translations “first time right”. That means avoiding a backlog of raw translated chapters that need to be reviewed, edited and published in parallel. Though I have noticed that many have started reading the raw translations in advance! So, they probably aren’t all that bad readability-wise!
In any case, it’s ok if none of the above makes sense. It’s a long way to explain why you’re going to get a bumper crop this coming week. Enjoy!
When Xia Jiang entered the palace, he did not send anyone to notify Prince Yu of what had just taken place. It wasn’t that he had forgotten that he had a secret ally, but rather because according to the original plan, Prince Yu should already be in the palace.
The Liang Emperor’s health hadn’t been very good since last winter. He remained in Zhiluo Palace everyday, except for when he was attending to political affairs in Wuying Hall, and visited his other concubines only occasionally. When Prince Yu entered the palace, he was a little groggy from having just woken up from an afternoon nap and did not want to meet anyone. However, after he heard that Prince Yu was here specially to report an auspicious omen, he was delighted, and purposely went to Wuying Hall to meet him.
The auspicious omen that Prince Yu reported was a block of rare stone, acquired from Qinzhou. Rectangular in shape, three feet wide, five feet long and approximately two feet high, it was fine and smooth, inscribed naturally on it were the distinct words “Liang Sheng” (The Great Liang Emperor). Very rare indeed. Although the Liang Emperor wasn’t the kind of person who was especially interested in auspicious omens, he couldn’t help feeling happy when he saw it, and even lavished Prince Yu with words of praise. His mood was elevated and he ordered men to summon some old scholars from Taishi Academy* to look into records of auspicious omens from past dynasties. When the results were presented half a day later, they said that it was only during the period of the first Sage Emperor Wen that it was recorded, “Fen Waterfall, rare stone issued, Liang An** bestowed by heaven”. After the northern war, the Sage Emperor Wen was buried with this rare stone in Da’an. After hearing this, the Liang Emperor’s happiness increased from a 7-point rating to a full 10. As he looked at the stone, it became even more like a pearl, a very rare treasure. He instructed Prince Yu to carefully assign a craftsman to encase it within a red sandalwood frame and take it to Rentian Pavilion.
*The Taishi Academy is in charge of observing astronomical phenomena, compiling almanac and other astronomical and calendar affairs.
**Peace of Liang
Prince Yu smiled broadly from ear to ear in assent, while taking the opportunity to sing his father’s praises. “Father Emperor is virtuous as the sages, praised by all the people. Even the virtue of ancient rulers does not exceed this. Since this auspicious omen has been revealed, Heaven’s mandate is clear, why not comply with this heavenly sign and offer sacrifice on Mount Tai^? What does everyone think?”
This flattery of his was rather excessive and superfluous. The old Taishi Academy officials in attendance nearby could not agree with him but could only force their laughter. Although the Liang Emperor was very pleased to hear this, he actually understood that offering sacrifice to Heaven and Earth on Mount Tai was a very important event. Not many of the monarchs of past dynasties had the absolute conviction to dare execute this, which is why he only smiled without committing himself.
But in spite of this, this auspicious omen still made the Liang Emperor very happy. Not only Prince Yu, but the old scholars were also bestowed rewards. Everyone engaged in pleasant conversation and the atmosphere in the hall was very lively. Just at this moment, the eunuch* on duty suddenly entered to report, “Your Majesty, Director Xia requests for an audience.”
*interesting trivia: Hai Yan referred to him as “Little Yellow Gate”. Apparently this was a legit title for a eunuch of a certain rank.
The Liang Emperor laughed and said, “He has arrived just at the right time, as if he had an informer. Let him come in to have a look at this auspicious omen.”
Prince Yu had been wondering what was going on outside, uncertain of how events had unfolded. Once he heard that Xia Jiang had arrived, he was glad, yet at the same time a little nervous, and it took a lot for him to maintain his composure and keep the smile on his face natural.
But when he entered the hall, Xia Jiang’s appearance gave both the Liang Emperor and Prince Yu a shock. One because he had never seen the Xuanjing Bureau Director in such a dishevelled state, the other because he was surprised that Xia Jiang was so good at putting up such a performance, his face exhausted and angry, as if it was completely genuine.
“Minister Xia, what’s the matter with you?” The Liang Emperor’s keen perception detected a major issue, and his face immediately sank.
“Your Majesty! Your subject came to confess his guilt. Please forgive your subject for being incompetent……” Xia Jiang kneeled on the ground, his eyes red. “Today, Xuanjing Bureau and the Imperial Court of Justice suffered surprise attacks in succession by rebels. Your subject resisted with all his might but was unsuccessful. That Chiyu Battalion traitor Wei Zheng…..they have broken him out by force!”
The Liang Emperor could not believe his ears and he hesitated before asking curtly, “What are you saying?”
“That traitor Wei Zheng, he has been taken away by force!”
“Taken…..taken away?!” The Liang Emperor slapped his palm on the table in front of him, his expression deathly pale and his hand trembled as he pointed at Xia Jiang, “Explain clearly. How could this have happened? Under the Son of Heaven, storming into Xuanjing Bureau to snatch a traitor by force. This…isn’t this a rebellion?! Who? Who is rebelling so wantonly?”
“Your Majesty,” Xia Jiang touched his forehead to the floor, kowtowing as he said, “These traitors were cunning and fierce, Your subject……although your subject was well aware of the situation, he didn’t manage to obtain concrete evidence, so dare not speak carelessly.”
“You are well aware of the situation and you still want to keep it to yourself? Speak! Tell me, quickly!!”
“Yes,” Xia Jiang sat up straight and wiped the beads of sweat dripping from his chin. “After your subject apprehended Wei Zheng, someone sympathized with him and came to his defense. Your Majesty is well aware of this. During the sudden fierce and cunning attack to rescue the traitor, the soldiers from the Capital Patrol flooded the streets and lanes. Not only did they not assist your subject to capture the traitor, on the contrary, they created a great confusion with the excuse of arresting bandits, thus making way for the rebels and restricting my Xuanjing Bureau soldiers. As such, your subject was unable to pursue and attack.”
“How can that be possible?” Prince Yu interjected at this point, his expression of alarm completely unfeigned. He had been completely caught off guard with the words “he has been taken away” but fortunately he was quick on his feet and immediately got back into character, saying intentionally, “In ordinary times, Prince Jing is not very sensible, but he cannot go so far as to be as reckless as this! Seizing a criminal by force is a big crime. Moreover Wei Zheng is a traitor. Could it be that Prince Jing has gone mad?”
The Liang Emperor felt all the blood rush into his head. His forehead burnt hot while his arms and legs were ice-cold, and he was speechless for a time. Gao Zhan hurried over to pat him on the back and rub his chest. After a while he ambled over slowly, still trembling all over, and said with a husky voice, “Traitors! All traitors! Go and summon Prince Jing here! Go quickly!”
“Quickly go and summon Prince Jing to court by imperial edict!” Prince Yu followed suit, instructing them to expedite the order, after which he hurried to the Liang Emperor’s side, solicitously handed him a cup of tea and massaged his back. “Father Emperor, your health is important, you must take care of yourself……this is the kind of person Prince Jing is, you know that well.”
“Recognizing neither Emperor nor father*! He has really disappointed me.……” In a short span of time, the Liang Emperor went from being ecstatic to feeling angry and dejected. If Prince Jing had continued to remain an overlooked and forgotten prince, perhaps he would have been a little more relaxed, but because he believed that he had treated Your son with so much favour, his heart filled with so much anger for having been let down this way, and he could not hold it back.
*The literal translation was “no emperor no father”. It essentially implies that Prince Jing has no respect for nor recognizes the authority of the emperor nor the father. I’ve retained it as it is repeated in the next chapter.
The few old scholars who had been summoned to turn a pile of outdated books and papers inside out did not expect to have encountered such a big affair. They were all silent as cicadas in cold weather*, kneeling in their positions, not daring to move. They considered asking for leave to withdraw, but Prince Yu kept speaking (to the Emperor), trying simultaneously to both comfort and instigate him, so they had to keep waiting until Prince Jing’s arrival was announced before they had the opportunity to ask for leave to withdraw.
*keeping quiet out of fear
When Prince Jing came in, his appearance was the same as usual. He was meticulously dressed with a calm demeanour, every move imbued with the vigor of a soldier. Although the Liang Emperor’s expression was obviously different from normal, he only passed a mildly surprised glance at him before immediately making his usual salutations.
“Your son greets Father Emperor.” Prince Jing kowtowed. The Emperor remained silent for a very long time, and he was forced to maintain this prostrate posture in the middle of the hall, his body deathly still. As long as the Emperor did not speak, nobody else dared to utter a sound either.
The tense atmosphere stretched on, to the extent that it was more uncomfortable than if the Emperor had shouted and scolded violently. Xia Jiang stood with his mouth pursed, his eyes deep in concentration. Prince Yu wasn’t as calm and composed as him, but managed with some effort to control his breathing, occasionally stealing a glance at Father Emperor’s expression.
The Liang Emperor’s eyes were now nailed violently onto Prince Jing. Although he was being watched so closely, Prince Jing did not notice this because he was still bent over.
The silence was long drawn, so long drawn until Prince Yu couldn’t stop his body from quivering. But the Liang Emperor remained expressionless, and Prince Jing remained as still as carved stone. His body was flat on the floor, propped up by only his arms, and he didn’t show any sign of trembling.
But his calm and cool composure ultimately infuriated the Liang Emperor. He suddenly erupted upwards, grabbed the tea cup from the table and threw it at Prince Jing, cursing furiously, “You unfilial son! Up till now do you still not feel any remorse?”
Prince Jing did not dodge out of the way. The teacup glanced off his head, flew past and broke into pieces on the pillar behind. It had evidently been thrown with some force.
“Father Emperor please calm your anger. Disciplining Jingyan is a small matter compared to the injury to yourself,” Prince Yu hurriedly stepped forward to soothe him. Then, putting on his big brother role, he turned to Prince Jing and reprimanded him, “Jingyan, quickly admit your error and beg for Father Emperor’s forgiveness.”
“Your son was summoned to court to make his salutations. As your son has not completed it, and he is not aware of any crime or how it came about, your son dares not arbitrarily make this request.” Prince Jing remained prostrate on the floor and said, “Father Emperor has always known that your son is stupid, so your son requests Father Emperor to please instruct him and make clear his crime.”
“Very well!” The Liang Emperor raised his hand and pointed at him. “I will give you an opportunity to defend yourself. Tell me, the raid to break Wei Zheng out of Xuanjing Bureau today, how do you explain it?”
Prince Jing sat up straight, cast a glance at Xia Jiang and expressed surprise as he asked, “Has Wei Zheng been rescued?”
“Is Your Highness saying that you didn’t know?” Xia Jiang interjected coldly.
“I truly did not know.” Prince Jing replied expressionlessly, then turned towards the Liang Emperor, “Xuanjing Bureau reports directly to Your Majesty. Since it is not under your son’s supervision, why is your son being asked to explain what happened at Xuanjing Bureau?”
The Liang Emperor snorted and said plainly, “Wasn’t it you who arranged for men to rescue Wei Zheng?”
Both of Prince Jing’s thick eyebrows leapt upwards, and his expression immediately changed, “Father Emperor why do you say such a thing? Rescuing a traitor is a great crime. Your son would not dare to act so arbitrarily. Who made such a report? Your son would like to request for a confrontation (in court).”
Xia Jiang definitely had not counted on Prince Jing admitting his guilt so easily. Upon hearing this, he immediately looked towards the Liang Emperor for guidance. As soon as he was given the go-ahead, he stepped forward and said, “This old minister admires how righteous Your Highness is. But the facts are there and it is impossible to deceive. Your Highness, you have deployed a large number of Capital Patrol troops in front of Xuanjing Bureau these few days, yes?”
“I didn’t deploy troops only in the areas surrounding Xuanjing Bureau. They were deployed across all significant locations across the capital in order to arrest the bandits of the grand heist. His Majesty is aware of this.”
“To arrest the bandits of the grand heist? That is a good excuse.” Xia Jiang sneered, “Then please tell me, Your Highness, with all this fanfare, after so many days, have you caught them?”
“Speaking of this, I was intending to have a proper discussion with Director Xia.” Prince Jing raised his chin in an imperious manner, “I was actually about to enter the palace to make a report. We had actually discovered the whereabouts of the bandits today, and as we were giving chase, Xuanjing Bureau’s soldiers suddenly appeared everywhere. As a result, the bandits dispersed, making this a futile effort. I would like to request for Director Xia to give me an explanation on this matter here and now.”
“Indeed, the villain sues his victim before he himself is prosecuted…..” Xia Jiang gritted his teeth slightly, “Your Highness, do you think that by doing this, you can confuse those listening?”
“Exactly who is suing who first, there is no need to mention.” Prince Jing retorted coldly, “Director Xia, you know this yourself.”
Xia Jiang’s pupils contracted and pierced him with a cold stare. Just as he was about to speak, someone suddenly came from outside, panting hard, saying, “Reporting to Your Majesty, this servant received orders from niang niang*, there is an urgent matter to report…..”
*By default, the generic use of this before the Emperor refers to the Empress
After listening to the squabbling, the Liang Emperor who was already quite upset, responded angrily, “What urgent matter can she have? She will have to wait!”
Prince Yu’s eyes shifted, and he moved a little closer to the Emperor, saying quietly, “Father Emperor, niang niang is usually sensible and has never caused Your Majesty any alarm without good reason. From that servant’s frightened manner of speaking, perhaps it is truly an urgent matter.”
“Yes,” Xia Jiang chimed in, “Based on how His Highness Prince Jing is speaking, this cannot be dealt with properly in such a short period of time. This old minister also feels it’s best to listen first to what urgent matters niang niang has.”
“Ng.” The Emperor nodded as he called out, “Ask him to come in.”
Gao Zhan announced his entry with a sharp voice. A eunuch in black clothing entered, his body curled downwards. Falling to his knees, he said, “This servant pays respects to Your Majesty.”
“What is the matter?”
“Niang niang commanded this servant to submit a petition to Your Majesty. Concubine Jing niang niang has been engaging in traitorous affairs in Zhiluo Palace, and has been apprehended on site by (Empress) niang niang. Because she is Your Majesty’s beloved concubine, niang niang dares not punish her arbitrarily, and so has requested Your Majesty to head over to deal with her personally.”
The Liang Emperor was quite taken aback. He suddenly got up and overturned everything on the table before him. Tea, food, utensils, all fell onto the floor, splashing tea onto his imperial robe. All the frightened eunuchs and imperial maids in attendance in the hall quickly came over to clear up. Gao Zhan also hastily took a handkerchief and wiped the front of his robe clean.
“Say it one more time,” The Liang Emperor paid absolutely no attention to this chaos, his burning eyes fixed on that messenger eunuch, “Who is it? Concubine Jing?”
The trembling eunuch responded, “Yes……it’s Concubine… Concubine Jing niang niang……”
“Traitors! Traitors…….both you mother and son……truly traitors!” The Liang Emperor trembled as he said these few words over and over again. All of a sudden, he descended the throne with large strides and kicked Prince Jing to the ground. “How well have I treated the both of you! Both of you, heartless and ungrateful!” His anger was still unabated and his leg kicked out again, twice.
“Your Majesty…..would you like to set out now?” Gao Zhan asked in a low voice after hurrying over to support the Liang Emperor’s unstable body.
The Liang Emperor his chest tightened and he wheezed slightly. He calmed down a little after taking a few breaths and pointed his finger at Prince Jing, cursing at him, “You little beast! You will kneel here! Once I have put your mother in her place, I will come and deal with you!”
Xia Jiang and Prince Yu exchanged quick glances after the Liang Emperor’s departure, both seeming to be very pleased with the timing of this development. To avoid being caught out, however, both of them bowed in an inconspicuous manner and did not speak anymore, but watched silently and smugly as the Liang Emperor walked swiftly out in anger.
*polite bow as the Emperor departs
^There was too much talk of that stone and its significance for my liking, but I guess this one’s for the history buffs! Click here for a brief write-up of that sacrificial ritual.
This chapter really made me laugh out loud! “One had never seen the Xuanjing Bureau Director in such a disorder, the other was surprised that Xia Jiang was so good at putting up such a performance,…..” and those old scholars who were there only to “turn a pile of outdated books and papers inside out” never expecting to be caught up in this drama! Ah, it’s all these little nuances and little details that make reading the book so gratifying!
Prince Jing and his father also aren’t so different in their pig-headedness. That long drawn out battle of wills – so he is his father’s son, too, after all.