Book 31 Chapter 1 – Tang Emperor Li Yuan
The outside of the VIP lounge at the Dong Da Si was covered with Imperial Bodyguards, all were carefully selected, everyone had the back of a tiger and the waist of a bear; tall, straight, bulky, and dauntless. Their commanding officer was the deputy general Wang Mu. Guan Xiaoran knew him very well.
After reporting his name and surname, Xu Ziling had to follow the rule by shedding the sword hanging on his waist, and then under Wang Mu’s escort, he stepped over the threshold and climbed into the hall.
On the north side of the hall, there was a row of windows; outside the window was the garden where the snow was still swirling in the sky. Leaning against the window was a row of more than a dozen imperial tutor chairs, separated by small side tables.
Sitting in the middle was a man wearing rosy-colored plain clothes, his skin was white as snow, his countenance was delicate and handsome, he appeared to be in his thirties, but with just one glance Xu Ziling recognized him as the Great Tang Nation’s Revered Nine Five [i.e. the most revered position of the Emperor (Courtesy of kofvscapcom and Akolaw)], the Li Clan’s supreme leader Li Yuan. Not only because of the position he was sitting in, but more because everybody else was wearing upper-rank government official’s attire; so in contrast, his casual clothes actually gave prominence to his revered position.
Li Yuan’s handsome expression appeared to be a little tired, but under his thick eyebrows, his eyes were still bright, clear, and emitting a rather difficult-to-describe beautiful things like particular longing and pursuit of the future expression. Even though he was sitting in the chair, his waist was still straight and firm, so that his magnificent build appeared to have even more threatening grandeur. His hands holding the teacup were fine, slender, and steady. His entire body emitted out-of-the-ordinary stalwart power. As the master of a clan, certainly his spirit was out of the ordinary.
Intuitively Xu Ziling sensed that he did not like to show off his emperor’s airs, yet he still followed the protocol by kneeling down and kowtowing, while saying, “Xiaomin Mo Wei, paying his respect to Huangshang.”
Out of the four cabinet ministers accompanying Li Yuan on his left and right, other than Feng Deyi, Xu Ziling recognized another man, which was Pei Ji. In the past, when they stole the account book from the Dong Ming flagship and delivered it to Li Shimin, the two boys had the predestined affinity to share a meal with him. It was the same morning that Kou Zhong declined Li Shimin’s offer to join them, and determined to compete against him in contending over the world [see Book 4 Chapter 1].
With poised bearing, Li Yuan put down his teacup and spoke indifferently, “You may rise for Zhen [I, used by an emperor to refer to himself]! Wang Jiangjun may withdraw.”
Following the order, Wang Mu and two Imperial Bodyguards retreated outside the hall.
Xu Ziling slowly rose. He stood up with both hands hanging by his side; his expression was deferential.
Li Yuan’s eyes, emitting outstanding expression – fell on him. Nodding his head, he said, “This isn’t the Imperial Palace at all, everything is casual. Looking at your bearing and movements, I know that your body and bosom are filled with consummate knowledge, not at all an ordinary martial art practitioner. This time you, Mo Qing [a term used by the emperor for his subjects] came to Zhen’s Guanzhong, is there any specific cherished desire?”
Swept by his acute gaze, Xu Ziling’s body instantly generated reaction; only then did he realize that this master of a clan’s martial art skill was really unfathomably deep; no wonder he was able to raise sons like Li Shimin, Li Yuanji, and so on. He respectfully replied, “Mo Wei only wishes to be able to do well as my master Bu Ting instructed, in order to repay his kindness of recognizing my worth and employing me. In other things I do not have any extravagant desire.”
He has been watching Pei Ji’s reaction; as long as he could not see through his real identity, he could be considered passing the first Chang’an’s hurdle.
Expressing his overbearing quality as the Clan Master, Li Yuan tossed his head back and let out a long laughter. “Very well!” he said, “Zhen is most pleased with a loyal and righteous men. Listening to Feng Qing, you have witnessed Wu’s [also ‘I/my’] friend Yue Shan and Xi Ying’s dragon-war, tiger-battle. Please tell Zhen everything, do not leave out any detail.”
Inwardly Xu Ziling breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that Li Yuan did not suspect him at all, hence he could proceed according to plan.
The Great Tang’s Imperial Palace constituted two sections, the Imperial City and the Palace City. The former was the site of various Great Tang central government’s ministries and agencies, the latter was where the royal family govern the county and live their everyday life.
In between was a public-square-styled big street, which width reached more than a thousand paces, cutting across east to west. All the change of emperor’s reign, amnesty, New Year’s Day, winter solstice, big imperial assembly, military parade, receiving prisoners, and so on, were held here; hence it was also called ‘the outer imperial court’.
The Imperial City, Imperial Palace’s main entrance was the three gates, located on the north-south central axis.
Exactly due south at a distance from the Imperial City was the city wall’s main gate, the Ming De [lit. highest virtue] Gate, which was connected to the Vermillion Bird Gate by the biggest street in Chang’an, the Vermillion Bird Boulevard.
The main south gate of the Palace City was the Cheng Tian [lit. carrying the heaven] Gate. The section of street connecting Cheng Tian Gate and Vermillion Bird Gate was called the Heavenly Street.
Black Tortoise [lit. Xuan Wu, see also footnote Book 30 Chapter 11] Gate was the main north gate of the Palace City. Outside the gate was the Palace City’s rear courtyard, the ‘West Inner Park’.
The Vermillion Bird, Cheng Tian, Black Tortoise, three gates formed the principal axis of the Imperial City and the Palace City, which were fortified by strong defensive structure and strict security guards.
Furthermore, the Xuan Wu Gate was the location of Imperial Court’s Imperial Bodyguards headquarters; it had robust military strength. Anybody who could gain control over the Xuan Wu Gate would be akin to gaining control over the Imperial Palace, even the entire capital.
Taiji Palace was where the Tang Emperor Li Yuan was rising and lying down, working and resting. The East Palace was the Crown Prince Li Jiancheng’s dwelling place. The western Yeting Palace was Li Shimin’s home. Li Yuanji’s Wu De Dian [lit. martial virtue palace hall] was located inside the ‘West Inner Park’ north of the East Palace.
Inside the Taiji Palace, there were a total of sixteen main halls; the most important four palace halls were the Taiji Hall, Liangyi [heaven and earth/yin and yang] Hall, Gan Lu [sweet nectar] Hall, and Yan Jia [extended praise] Hall, all were built on the central axis between Cheng Tian Gate and Xuan Wu Gate.
Taiji Hall was also known as ‘Zhong Chao’ [middle/central royal court], which was the main building within the Great Tang Palace. Each month, on the first two day of the month, Li Yuan received his ministers here, to deal with government affairs.
North of Taiji Hall was Liang Yi Hall, acting as the ‘Nei Chao’ [inner royal court]. Only a small number of trusted aides and cabinet ministers, who were dealing with strategic decision – were entitled to enter and participate in the national politics and major affairs, which in many cases were discussed in here first. Only after the decision has been made would the issue be raised in the ‘Zhong Chao’ and discussed by whom and how the policy would be carried out.
Kou Zhong, the Divine Doctor, along with Chang He and Feng Liben, entered the Imperial City via the An Shang Gate, which was the east gate of the south side of the Imperial City.
On both sides of the street, official institutions stood in great number. On the left there were Taichang Si [ministry of ceremonies], Dafu Si [lit. big government ministry (no idea what it is)], Shangshu Sheng [lit. provincial government minister (again, no idea)]. On the right there were Tai Miao [grand ancestral shrine], Shaofu Jian [Minor Treasurer Supervisor], Du Shui Jian [lit. capital water-work supervisor], Dong Gong Pu Si [lit. east palace servant office], and so on.
He paid special attention to the Du Shui Jian, simply because this department was in charge of all the waterway traffic in Chang’an, hence it had very important relation to his treasure hunt at the Yue Ma Bridge.
Although he had not even seen the Yue Ma Bridge’s shadow, he already had firm believe that the entrance to the buried treasure was most likely under water at the base of the bridge, otherwise the treasure would have been discovered early on.
When entering the public-square side street dividing the Imperial City, even though Kou Zhong was accustomed to seeing spectacular scenes, he was still in awe of the grandeur of this long street in public-square style dividing north and south, and passing through east to west – that he gasped in amazement, especially at the multi-storied building above the Cheng Tian Gate. He could imagine the scene when the House of Tang was holding any celebration outside the imperial court, the Emperor and his nobles would ascent onto the upper level of the Cheng Tian Gate to preside over the assembly, and could not stop his blood from boiling.
He thought, ‘One day, the person ascending the upper level to preside over the celebration will be me, Kou Zhong, and not Li Yuan or any person from the Li Family.’
The three dismounted from their horses at the Zhong Ming [heavy brightness] Gate outside the East Palace, and stepped into the East Palace. The East Palace guards were in formation on either side of the gate, the security was very tight.
Passing through the Zhong Ming Gate, they reached the Xian De [prominent virtue] Gate. Inside the gate was the main hall of the East Palace, Xian De Hall, followed by Chong Jiao [lofty teaching], Li Zheng [beauty upright], Guang Tian [light of the sky], Cheng En [continuing grace], and so on, palaces. On both sides there were Yichun Yuan [proper spring courtyard], Chong Wen Guan [lofty culture (office) building], Jixian Guan [amassing worthiness], and other palace halls and building and pavilions.
Xian De Hall was where the Crown Prince Li Jiancheng received the civil and military officials, as well as supervisors of the country and government inspectors. But this time Li Jiancheng received Sha Tiannan, father and sons, at the Yichun Courtyard.
Although Sha Tiannan was a wealthy party, he was, after all, a foreigner, hence receiving him in the Yichun Courtyard inside the East Palace garden was more appropriate.
Until this moment Kou Zhong still did not know the location of the Chang
Lin Gate where the Chang Lin Army was stationed; his guess was that it ought to be around the north main gate of the East Palace, just like the Xuan Wu Gate of the Taiji Palace.
Amidst the falling snow, Kou Zhong called out from in front of the building’s door, “Mo Xiansheng Yixin is here,” with loud and clear voice as he stepped into the Yichun Courtyard.
Li Yuan was listening with rapt attention, as well as interrupting the narrative to ask for more details in certain key points. When Xu Ziling finished, Li Yuan said in great astonishment, “A man’s temperament determines the style with which he makes his move. I did not expect Yue Shan to become such a calm, collected, and detached person; it is indeed hard to believe.”
Xu Ziling felt that Li Yuan’s remark was only a comment to his narrative, and not something that he expected him to answer, thereupon he only hung his head and did not answer.
His description of the course of events in the battlefield just now had been well-prepared in advance; the decisive battle between he and the ‘Heavenly Lord’ Xi Ying was described completely from a spectator’s frame of mind and angle of view. From time to time he also intentionally described subtle junctions in which he was unable to see the mystery within it, so that Li Yuan would not be able to see his real ‘brilliance’.
Responding to Li Yuan’s comment, Pei Ji said, “This clearly proved that Yue Shan has really mastered the Huan Ri Da Fa, so he shed his mortal body and exchanged his bones to become another person. Otherwise, why would he abandon his saber?”
Heaving a deep sigh, Li Yuan said, “However, Zhen still feels unbounded melancholy! Recalling Zhen and Yue Shan Dage fighting side by side in the past, going through life and death, vicious danger together, and only then were we be able to completely annihilate the band of horse thieves under the leadership of Xiao Xuanfeng [little tornado] Ma Jun, who wreaked havoc in northern territory. At that time, Yue Xiong’s Ba Dao [overbearing saber] was awe-inspiring and formidable. Thinking about that difficult-to-repeat experience, Zhen really feel deep regret.”
Inwardly Xu Ziling was shaken; in the memoir that Yue Shan left behind, Yue Shan described in details Ma Jun’s martial art skill and the course of events in the battle where he beheaded him, but not a word about Li Yuan was mentioned; clearly there was a reason behind it that Xu Ziling did not understand. If he could not figure it out, he might reveal flaws in front of Li Yuan in the future.
Feng Deyi laughed and said, “Chen [I, your servant (used in addressing the sovereign)] thinks that Huangshang need not be concerned over this matter. Yue Gong [honorable gentleman] abandoning his saber is a clear sign that his martial art cultivation has reached another astonishing breakthrough, otherwise he would not be able to put Xi Ying to death.”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Li Yuan said, “Another thing that Zhen feel strange is that Yue Xiong has always disdained to have any dealings with demonic school’s people; how could he suddenly join hands with the Fat Merchant An Long and the Going-Against-The-Tide You Niaojuan to deal with Xi Ying and Bian Bufu, two men?”
This question, who could possibly answer it? The hall fell silent.
Li Yuan suddenly asked the minister by Feng Deyi’s side, “About sending men to seek Yue Shan, does Shu Da make any progress?”
The minister who was called Shu Da shook his head and said, “That kind martial art master like Yue Gong, if he wanted to conceal his whereabouts, I am afraid nobody will be able to find him.”
Xu Ziling knew the time has come. On the surface he intentionally revealed a wanting-to-say-something-but-hesitating look. Sure enough, it did not escape Li Yuan’s acute eyes; he said, “Mo Wei, do you have something to say? Don’t be afraid, just speak it up boldly.”
Reverently and respectfully Xu Ziling said, “On my way to the capital, Xiaomin caught a glance of Yue Lao at Heng Xian. At that time he was in a hurry; in the blink of an eye I already lost his track, but it still left deep impression in Xiaomin’s heart.”
The minister who was sitting by Pei Ji’s side, who all along has been silent, short and stout in stature, with an eternal smile hanging on his face, suddenly said, “Yue Lao must also be thinking about the days where he joyfully crisscrossed the northern territory with Huangshang, hence he is going to Guanzhong to reminisce about the old days with Huangshang.”
A faraway look of remembrance appeared on Li Yuan’s face, but it was quickly replaced by sorrow; shaking his head, he said, “He can’t possibly forgive Zhen, never! Although in the end both of us were defeated. Ay! The past is like fleeting smoke, in a flash it is already fifty years!”
Inwardly Xu Ziling broke into cold sweats, thinking that if he followed his original plan of rushing to find Li Jing, definitely Li Yuan would be able to immediately see through his scheme. And he also knew that Li Yuan’s guess was totally accurate. Yue Shan would never forgive Li Yuan; otherwise, Yue Shan would definitely mention Li Yuan in his memoir.
It was precisely because he detested Li Yuan that he did not mention a single word about him. Xu Ziling began to understand Li Yuan’s character; his indecisive style was not because he lacked charisma, or perhaps because he did not have enough determination; rather, it was because he valued emotion too much, one of them being hardship and delight, which showed his attachment and pursuit of beautiful life.
After gaining this notion, immediately Xu Ziling’s favorable impression toward this Great Tang Emperor greatly increased.
Pei Ji again consoled this Great Tang Emperor, who did not conceal the emotion in his innermost being at all, saying, “The older one gets, the more he would regard past events as unimportant. It’s been more than fifty years! Yue Gong shouldn’t care about old affair anymore. If Huangshang agrees, Weichen [this small official] could send out informers all over the city; if Yue Gong entered the city, Huangshang would immediately know. At that time Huangshang could take control again.”
After muttering to himself irresolutely for half a day, Li Yuan’s dragon-eyes looked at Xu Ziling, he said, “It is not appropriate for this matter to be publicized, otherwise I am afraid it might make Ba Dao unhappy. Mo Wei, since you have seen Yue Shan, you can pay attention in secret on Zhen’s behalf. But this matter is for you, one person, to know and to carry out. Here’s five taels of gold for your reward. You are dismissed!”
Xu Ziling mused that although five taels of gold was not an unimpressive amount of wealth, but compared to Bu Ting’s fifty taels of gold bonus, it paled into insignificance by comparison [lit. minor magician in the presence of a great one (idiom)]. Thus it was clear that Li Yuan was not an extravagant monarch at all.
After kowtowing, he left the hall.
Crown Prince Jiancheng stood up from his seat, and delightedly met Kou Zhong, who was coming in from Yichun Yuan straight into the hall. The other people immediately followed his example in a great rush. The startled Kou Zhong cried out for his Niang inwardly; he braced himself to ‘deal with’ Li Jiancheng’s whole new level of respect for him. What made him scared and on edge were Dugu Feng, Dugu Ce, and Dugu Feng, these three ‘old acquaintances’; if they recognized his real identity, even if he had know-it-all-under-the-heavens ability [idiom: exceptionally talented], he would only end up nursing a grievance in the Yichun Yuan.
Kou Zhong put the posture and footwork that he had repeatedly practiced for the last three days into practice; he also applied his power to restraint the divine light in his eyes, as well as changed the size of his throat, disguising himself as a dull-witted, boorish citizen who, seeing His Highness the Crown Prince, he lost control over his hands and feet in fear and respect. Without waiting for Li Jiancheng to arrive, he dropped to his knees and kowtowed, “Xiaoren pays his respect to Taizi Dianxia.”
Li Jiancheng swiftly rushed forward, before Kou Zhong’s knees touched the ground, he already pulled him up, and said with a chuckle, “Heaven blesses me, Li Jiancheng. Mo Shen Yi [divine doctor] arrives in appropriate time. No need to be overly courteous, Mo Shen Yi is Li Jiancheng’s honored guest, you are exempt from all court custom and propriety.”
Kou Zhong inwardly said, ‘That would be best; Laozi is not interested in kneeling and kowtowing to you, this kid.’ However, naturally on the surface he put on an act of being overwhelmed by favor from superior. Not daring to look even half a glance toward the other people who were swarming along with Li Jiancheng, he pretended to be trembling with fear, and spoke with quivering voice, “Xiaoren does not dare! Hey … Xiaoren …”
Li Jiancheng pulled his arm and cheerfully said, “Sit down first, talk later! Sit down first, talk later!”
Kou Zhong was seated by Li Jiancheng’s side. This Great Tang’s Crown Prince introduced everybody in the hall to him one by one. In addition to the Sha Family father and sons, four men, he recognized Dugu Feng, Dugu Ce, and Dugu Feng, Chang He, and Feng Liben. Those that he met for the first time were Wei Zheng [real historical character mentioned by Shen Luoyan, see Book 29 Chapter 9], Wang Gui, and Xie Shufang, three men.
Wang Gui and Xie Shufang ought to be Li Jiancheng’s trusted aides. Wei Liuyuan was Li Mi’s chief imperial strategic adviser, only it was not clear whether it was because Li Mi’s close relationship with Li Jiancheng that Wei Zheng joined Princelings faction.
Kou Zhong was too busy to perform an in-depth investigation on this matter. As long as Dugu Feng and the others did not grow suspicious toward him, he could consider himself lucky, so how could he have time to think about other things?
Under everybody’s gaze, Kou Zhong received the fragrant tea offered by a palace maid and hurriedly drank it up.
Li Jiancheng cheerfully said, “I heard from Sha Weng [elderly man] that Mo Shen Yi’s medical expertise in using needle is a consummate skill handed down in your family; I wonder if you have heard about some kind of symptom where the patient is hot and feeling agitated, the skin goes numb, the ears buzzing and the body loses strength, the qi from under the navel reverses its direction to rushing upward, both feet icy cold …”
Kou Zhong knew that he was most concerned about Zhang Jieyu’s strange illness, because if he could cure her, not only he would win Li Yuan’s favor, he would also advance one step further in power with this Li Yuan’s doted concubine, with whom he already had an extremely close relationship. Plus Kou Zhong was like riding a tiger – it was difficult to get off, hence he had no choice but to confront this issue head on.
Pretending to be just recovering from the shock, he pondered over it for a moment before answering, “The whole body feels edgy and hot, but only the feet are icy cold, this could make ordinary physician have his hands bound and is unable to do anything about it, simply because there are two possible causes of illness. The skin is numb, the qi rushing upward, this looks precisely like two illnesses clash over and invade the body. But Your Majesty may rest your heart at ease, you may leave this illness to Xiaoren, I guarantee that when the needle arrives, the illness will be eliminated.”
He was opening his mouth without thinking, inventing crazy nonsense, and was full of words, completely throwing caution to the wind, taking the to-succeed-or-die-trying attitude; thinking that by relying on his sacred qi with healing characteristic from the Secret to Long Life, how could he not improve Zhang beauty’s condition somewhat?
Greatly delighted, Li Jiancheng said, “If that’s the case, then I ask Mo Shen Yi to immediately use your needle to treat the patient. While Fu Huang [father emperor] is at Dong Da Si, if we could bring the dying back to life relying on Divine Doctor’s magical hands, we could make Fu Huang inexplicably pleasantly surprised.”
Bracing himself, Kou Zhong followed him standing up, thinking that whether he would mingle in Chang’an as a dragon or as a snake, it would depend on this his mother’s one stint.
 Taiji – the Absolute or Supreme Ultimate, the source of all things according to some interpretations of Chinese mythology.
 Yeting – Lateral Courts in the imperial palace (housing concubines and administrative offices).