You'll see why I took so long to translate this chapter. From this point on, it is just an endless amount of pain, pain and more pain, oh, not to forget, loads of tragedy too. While I didn't necessarily agree with Yun Ge's actions, I did understand her motivations behind it.
Updated: 16/12 Note: This chapter is too long, I'll have to split it into two.
Yu An woke early, when he saw Yun Ge and his majesty locked in an embrace, he assumed they were admiring the snow fall and didn’t dare to disturb them. Yet they didn’t move at all from dawn till noon. Yu An felt the first stirrings of unease and walked softly to the couple, lightly touching the Emperor. When he felt the icy coldness of the body, tears sprung to his eyes. He was reminded of the Emperor’s previous instructions and didn’t dare to hesitate, wiping his tears as he said gently “Miss Yun, his majesty….his majesty has departed. His subjects will handle things from now on as custom dictates, his majesty has specially instructed your subject to escort Missy out of Chang An.”
Yun Ge rose and rubbed her eyes, as if she was just roused from a dream, then smiled at Liu Fu Ling and curled up against him. “Ling Ge Ge just fell asleep. We want to sleep a little while longer. Leave us.”
Yu An knew that this matter couldn’t be delayed, with a clench of his jaw, he raised his hand and hit it against her head. This was when Yun Ge truly lost consciousness.
Fu Yu immediately stepped forward, intending to carry Yun Ge away, but her arms were firmly wound around Liu Fu Ling’s waist, no matter how he tried, she just wouldn’t let go. Mo Cha and Yu An bent down, trying to help move her hands away, and to their surprise, both martial arts experts had to use their full strength before her hands could be pried away from his body, one finger at a time. Mo Cha started to cry as she was prying her fingers away. Yu An wanted to admonish her but as he was about to speak, he felt like he was on the verge of crying himself, so he quickly swallowed his words. He emphasized each word as he spoke to Mo Cha and Fu Yu “I will leave Yun Ge to the both of you, once she crosses the border, General Zhao’s people will meet you there, and escort all of you to Xi Yu. You’ll have to bear the burden of the first part, once the dust has settled in Chang An, I will find you.”
Mo Cha and Fu Yu nodded through their tears “Rest assured, Supervisor!”
Liu Xun received news from Qi Xi, predicting the calmness to come and looking forward to the excitement in the future, and with a trace of sorrow. He walked one round around the house then with a sudden movement, pushed open the window. Somewhere during the day, the huge snowfall had stopped, and the grey skies that had been upon them cleared, the skies were as clear as crystal. The sun hung proudly in the sky, shooting golden rays, and the delicate world after a snow fall shone as brightly as jewels. Everything seemed to hint towards the end of a reign and the coming of a new ruler, and this new empire shall be headed by him.
Liu Xun called his lackey over, asking “Has there been any movement from Meng Jue these past two days?” His lackey replied “None, he has been gardening in his residence, occasionally venturing to the markets for a stroll.”
Ever since returning from Li Shan, he would visit Meng Jue once a week, as if they were close friends, plotting together each day, while in reality, he was only making idle chat. He didn’t expect Meng Jue to clearly side with him, but he wanted to plant the seeds of distrust in Liu He at least, and now, as long as Liu He had an ounce of suspicion, he wouldn’t dare to use Meng Jue. No matter how sound his suggestions were, he wouldn’t dare to use them. Liu Xun remained silent, then called “He Xiao Qi.”
“Your servant is here.” He Xiao Qi immediately bowed and waited for his instructions.
“Notify everyone that we shall proceed according to plan. Additionally, send someone to keep a close eye on Meng Jue.”
He Xiao Qi replied “Yes” and disappeared out of the house in a flash.
Just after noon, when the sun was still bright.
Meng Jue wasn’t doing anything substantial and was really gardening as Liu Xun’s spy reported.
A green jade Bagua map, with small black and white pebbles stacked inside. He placed two things that resembled garlic into the map, and used the pebble to hold it in place, then poured clear water into the map.
Ba Yue rushed in hurriedly and bowed by the door “Master, we have been keeping water at Li Shan for over a month and finally saw Fu Yu making his way down. He was very clever, I don’t know which passageway he used, but he didn’t appear straight from Li Shan. He was disguised as a poor scholar and drove a grey mule carriage. A woman sat beside him, disguised as his wife and an old lady lay inside the carriage. When they passed the checkpoints, we heard the woman sobbing that her grandmother had come down with a grave illness and sorely missed home, so they were sending their grandmother to her hometown. We nearly missed it, thank goodness Master has emphasized Fu Yu’s looks repeated and Sister Jiu was careful, so we didn’t lose them.” And so it seemed that Liu Fu Ling has passed on!
Meng Jue released the pebbles in his hands, but his heart was anything but relaxed.
If Liu Fu Ling intended to send Yun Ge out of Chang An, his first concern wouldn’t be whether they were skilled in martial arts, but whether they would be loyal and trustworthy. After all, this was a crucial period; all who would want to harm Yun Ge would be busy with more important matters and would probably overlook her. It would be too late when they’d thought of her. As long as they were loyal and did their job well, they would be able to send Yun Ge away; but if he chose the wrong person, once word got out, she would be in danger. If they were loyal, no one would know in the entire Wei Yang Palace besides Fu Yu. The outspoken San Yue asked “Master, when should we hijack the carriage?”
Meng Jue laughed “Who told you we were hijacking the carriage?”
San Yue shrugged, after monitoring Li Shan for more than a month, what were they supposed to do if not to hijack the carriage?
Meng Jue instructed “Ba Yue, instruct the men to protect the carriage in secret, till the carriage is safely out of Han territory.” Ba Yue replied “Yes.” “If anything were to happen, no matter what, no matter what, you must protect the person in the carriage.”
Master had always been known for his succinct speech, for the words ‘no matter what’ to be repeated twice, Ba Yue knew the importance of this mission and knelt “Master, rest assured, I understand.” Meng Jue watched him leave, and then returned to tend to another pot of daffodils. San Yue sighed “Master, am I to remain idle today again?”
Meng Jue spoke without even looking up from his pot “Don’t even think about it! Help me collect pebbles, neither too big nor small and arrange them according to colour.”
San Yue’s expression changed, reluctantly taking her position by Meng Jue’s side, choosing pebbles from a wooden pot.
A servant entered to announce “Master, my lord Marquis has arrived.”
Liu Xun had been paying him daily visits and Meng Jue’s servants were all used to his coming and going. When San Yue heard the announcement, she wiped her hands clean and retreated to prepare snacks even without Meng Jue’s prompt.
Meng Jue smiled blandly “Show him in.”
He had barely said the words when Liu Xun strode in and after taking in all the colorful jade pots, ceramic pots, he smiled “Meng Jue, do you really plan to dust your hands off the happenings outside Chang An is almost about to descend into chaos and you’re still here growing daffodils.” Meng Jue asked “What is happening?”
Liu Xun answered “I’ve heard that his majesty had passed away in Li Shan. Yu An is suppressing the spread of the news but Huo Guang had already got wind of it and is currently summoning the important officials to discuss who should be the successor. If everything proceeds according to plan, by tonight, after the official announcement of his majesty’s passing, Huo Guang and a few other officials will invite Uncle to the palace.” As he spoke, Meng Jue had already planted another pot of daffodils. He said lightly “His majesty passing on was only a matter of time, and within everyone’s expectations. Huo Guang choosing the Prince of Chang Yi, also falls within many people’s expectations. These are all things that could have been predicted, so wherefore the chaos?”
Liu Xun didn’t reply, for it was indeed as Meng Jue said. Since the late Emperor left no sons, so the successor could only be chosen from among the Emperor’s brothers, and nephews. Huo Guang will never choose the hard to control Prince of Guang Ling, and definitely not the descendants of the Prince of Yan who dug his own grave; the only suitable candidate would be the weak, frivolous Liu He. Between the two of them, naturally Huo Guang wouldn’t be choosing the most suitable person to be Emperor, but rather, the person who would be the easiest to control. Liu He was well known for being frivolous, and was free-spirited; Huo Guang would naturally lean towards a useless candidate. Liu Xun sat silently for a moment then smiled, “When Uncle succeeds the throne, he will definitely lift you high. I should congratulate you.”
Meng Jue looked at Liu Xun and smiled “As a subject, naturally I would be loyal to the Emperor.”
Liu Xun nodded and stood to leave. Meng Jue didn’t try to hold him back.
Fu Yu was driving a mule carriage, while Ba Yue was riding on a thoroughbred horse. Catching up to Fu Yu was a simple matter. However, just in case, Ba Yue had sent Jiu Yue a letter through a pigeon carrier, conveying Meng Jue’s instructions.
By the time the sun was about to set, Ba Yue had already caught up to the Qin Ling Mountain Range, and estimated he was about to catch up to Jiu Yue. He heaved a sigh of relief but tensed when he suddenly heard the sounds of men fighting in the mountain valley, urging his horse to go faster. He navigated through some tight turns when he saw a few hundred men completely dressed in black surrounding the carriage, forcing it to a corner.
Fu yu and Mo Cha were protecting the carriage to their best ability, not daring to make a single wrong move. Jiu Yue brought her men to protect one side of the carriage, while another ten men in grey protected the other side. Ba Yue saw that they fought with skill and Master had reminded him earlier so he guessed they were eunuchs from the palace. The men in grey were clearly more well versed in martial arts but the men in black seemed to have already knew what moves they were about to make, and came well prepared, wielding thick knives that were mainly used to deal with the flexible swords. Furthermore, they moved in threes, working effortlessly to kill each of the men in grey. Jiu Yue had lost half her men and Ba Yue quickly called out the hidden code, informing her to rescue the person and escape.
Yun Ge woke up in the midst of a bloodbath, when she drew the curtains back and saw the scene in front of her, she thought she was still in a dream, staring dumbly at everyone, unable to understand the situation. Jiu Yue saw Yun Ge and finally understood why Master was so insistent on them protecting the carriage. He turned to Fu Yu, “There are too many people, we can only save Yun Ge.”
Fu Yu and Mo Cha looked at each other and said unanimously “As long as missy is able to guarantee our mistress’ safety, we will be eternally grateful.”
Jiu Yue reached for the dazed Yun Ge and dragged her off the carriage. Fu Yu and Mo Cha immediately charged forward without a care of their own safety, ensuring Jiu Yue’s escape.
Jiu Yue flung a rope and anchored it to a large tree beneath the mountain pass. With one hand holding on to Yun Ge, she pushed her along the rope away from everyone. The men in black thought they already had Yun Ge, not expecting Jiu Yue’s move. With this turn of events, they became even more vicious. In a short while, all the men in grey lay dead. The men in black immediately chased after Yun Ge; Ba Yue brought his men to stand guard at the mountain pass, blocking their chase. Jiu Yue whistled and Ba Yue’s thoroughbred horse fly towards them.
With a flick of her hand, she landed on the horse and took its reigns, all in an instant.
Jiu Yue was about to turn the horse away when the men in black pushed the captured Fu Yu and Mo Cha forward. Their leader cried out “Miss Yun, we only want you. Are you willing to see so many people die for you?” Mo Cha and Fu Yu lay limp against the men, knowing that their bones were probably broken, but they stubbornly said “Let us be!”
Ba Yue was fighting against all the men in black who surged forward as he shouted “Jiu Mei, leave quickly! Master will definitely seek justice on my behalf!”
Jiu Yue nodded and turned the horse away. Yun Ge asked dazedly “I…..Why am I here? Ling Ge Ge…” She turned towards Mo Cha and Fu Yu “Mo Cha? Fu Yu?”
Mo Cha screamed “Leave quickly! Let us….ah!”
The man in black held Mo Cha’s chin and with a slash of his sword, Mo Cha gasped as fresh blood flowed from her mouth. They’d cut off her tongue. “Ah!” Yun Ge screamed and collapsed against Jiu Yue. Jiu Yue urged her horse forward while Yun Ge held her hand, crying “Stop, please stop….” While turning back repeatedly. Jiu Yue ignored her, keeping a firm hold on Yun Ge while she urged the horse to increase its speed.
The man in black laughed coldly “How cold hearted is Miss Yun! Ever since you entered the palace, it was Mo Cha who cared after you, her efforts have been a waste on you.” As he spoke, his sword danced across her neck and blood burst forth! With deft strokes, that man in black sent Mo Cha’s head flying across the air towards Yun Ge. Yun Ge opened her mouth, but no sound came forth. Fear and despair were displayed clearly in her eyes.
The man in black grabbed Fu Yu and raised his knife for the slaughter.
Yun Ge suddenly lifted her head and howled. That desperate, chilling cry rang throughout the mountains. The birds in the mountains flew away in fright, the horses the men in black brought all fell to their knees at the cry. Although Jiu Yue’s horse didn’t kneel, it jerked as it tried to throw them off its back. Jiu Yue was alarmed, this horse was a pure breed Ferghana horse, the king of the horse breeds, and had been personally brought up by Master. It was extremely mild and obedient, but Yun Ge’s cry actually caused this horse to go against its master’s orders.
“Just as you have taken Mo Cha’s life, I vow to take yours in future. If you touch Fu Yu, I will make you regret even being born.”
He had been well used to all the various curses being thrown at him, but Yun Ge’s tone actually caused chills down his spine, and his knife hovered at Fu Yu’s throat. He cackled coldly “As I’ve said earlier, we only want you. If you stay behind obediently, these people shall naturally be spared.” Yun Ge made a soft sound and at it, the horse stilled and turned back, bringing Yun Ge and Jiu Yue towards the men in black. Jiu Yue couldn’t get the horse to obey her no matter how she tried.
The horse stopped behind Ba Yue and the battle Ba Yue’s men and the men in black were engaged in quieted, although their weapons were still drawn and they still eyed each other warily.
Yun Ge told Jiu Yue “Let me go.”
Jiu Yue read the stillness in Yun Ge’s eyes and shivered, unconsciously releasing her hold.
Yun Ge hopped off the horse and walked towards the men in black “Let Fu Yu go.”
The men in black moved quickly, flinging Fu Yu to Jiu Yue while grabbing Yun Ge up the horse, disappearing into the night.
Yun Ge was unnaturally quiet, showing no resistance, but their master had instructed them before hand and the man in black didn’t dare to treat this Missy lightly, so he still handed her the pill they’d prepared and lifted it to her lips. “This is only something to knock you out, allowing you to sleep.” Yun Ge swallowed the pill without a sound
The winter was severe, cold and biting.
The silk that covered the window was in tatters, in only took one gust of the northern wind for the bitter cold to seep into the house. There was neither fire pit nor stove in the house, and when Huo Cheng Jun entered, she thought there wasn’t any difference in temperature. Her maid, Xiao Li laughed “This place is humble for Missy.” Huo Cheng Jun looked coldly at Yun Ge, curled up on the pallet “On the contrary, I think this place is too luxurious.”
Xiao Li immediately changed her tune “Yes, yes, your servant thinks it is too luxurious too.”
“Wake her up!”
Xiao Li had already guessed Huo Cheng Jun’s intentions and commanded men to pump cold water and poured the whole bucket on Yun Ge.
The effect of the drug diminished in the bitter cold, but she was still weak. She struggled to sit and showed no surprise when she saw it was Huo Cheng Jun.
Huo Cheng Jun smiled and walked up to her, looking down on her condescendingly. Yun Ge’s eyes were calm, too calm, with none of the fear and panic she wanted to see. Huo Cheng Jun glanced at Xiao Li; Xiao Li understood her meaning and carried a bucket of cold water, walking gleefully to the pallet. She slowly poured the water down from Yun Ge’s head. Yun Ge hadn’t eaten in two days and still weak from the drug, she couldn’t resist at all. She had also given up the futile struggle. She didn’t beg or curse, only allowing the icy cold water to flow from her head, looking calmly at Huo Cheng Jun with detachedness in the depths of her eyes. Huo Cheng Jun had long waited for this day, eagerly anticipating Yun Ge’s pathetic downfall. When it finally was coming true, she felt that her hatred didn’t dissipate one bit. Looking at Yun Ge now, she felt a fresh wave of bitterness and hatred, laughing with more and more abandon, “Bring me the horse whip.” Xiao Li immediately went to carry out her orders.
Huo Cheng Jun took the whip from her and smiled “Leave us.” She flexed the whip and with a strong crack of the whip, aimed it at Yun Ge. Yun Ge subconsciously tried to dodge, but because she was still weak, there was no way she could have dodged it. Her clothes tore with a rip as the whip made contact. “I should have whipped you hard with this many years ago! Running into me on the street, killing my precious horse, all without remorse!”
The whip cracked once more.
“This is because I saved you but you repaid my gratitude with enmity!”
“This is because…..because….” Huo Cheng Jun was unable to voice out the deep scar in her heart, concentrating all her hurt and shame into that one vicious whip.
“This is because of all beatings of the plank my brother endured!”
“This is for the slap my mother gave me!”
“This is because of Liu Fu Ling. You even blocked my entry to the palace! After spending countless time and energy preparing that dance, I became a laughingstock!”
Huo Cheng Jun’s whippings became more and more frenzied, no longer holding back, one lash of the whip after another. It didn’t quell the flames of hatred and anger in her heart at all, but only served to stoke the flames.
A man in black rushed into the house and with low, measured tones; he said “Miss Huo, my master still has use for her.”
The haze of anger cleared and when she looked at the state Yun Ge was left in, she felt like she had never been more satisfied. She smiled “I’ll leave you with half your life today. In a few days, I’ll send you off to be reunited with Liu Fu Ling.” Covered in bloody marks, Yun Ge shivered violently.
Huo Cheng Jun wanted to say more when the man in black interrupted her “Miss Huo, this is not a place for you to linger, please return! If anyone sees you, the consequences…” He let the words trail, only making a ‘please’ gesture. Huo Cheng Jun saw the logic in his words and flung the horse whip aside, still smiling as she left.
The water she had been doused with mixed with Yun Ge’s blood and turned into ice on her pallet; it seemed as if there was blood red crystals littered all over. Yun Ge lay limp on the blood crystals, her back crisscrossed with the marks of the whip. Her whole back had been whipped still her flesh was exposed, and blood flowed freely. It was hard to imagine that these scars were caused by a pretty, delicate noblewoman. A snake’s venom or a hornet’s sting is nowhere as poisonous as a vicious woman’s heart! The man in black shook his head and went to check on Yun Ge.
Despite enduring so many lashes of the whip, not a sound was heard from Yun Ge. He thought that Yun Ge had fainted from the pain but when he flipped her over; he saw that her eyes were wide open and expressionless. As he shook her, her wounds started to bleed afresh, but she still showed no reaction. The man instructed Xiao Li, standing guard outside “Aren’t there many women locked in this place? Find a woman to help clean her wounds, and fetch a fire pit.” Xiao Li scoffed “Am I the mistress, or are you the master? Didn’t you hear what Miss Huo said earlier? My future….”
He cut her off “I only know that if she were to die now, you and I will be buried with her.”
Xiao Li weighed the importance of her future against her life, finally deciding her life was more important, she went off cursing, ordering men to bring dry clothes, blankets and build a fire, while she went off in search of a woman with some medical knowledge.
Huo Guang asked Shang Guan Xiao Mei to write an edict, ordering Liu He to enter the capital. The imperial edict arrived at the same time as a note from Meng Jue. “Deal with this calmly and give the impression of weakness, ascension is your priority. Kill Liu Xun in a swift move.”
His lips curled in a smile, as he burnt Meng Jue’s note and commanded his servants to prepare for his entrance in the capital.
An official, Wang Ji, who served at Liu He’s court since young, asked “My lord, pardon me for my impertinent question, but do you have any intention of entering the capital?” Liu He understood that he was hinting at something else, and replied “As it looks now, do I have room to choose? Her majesty has already written an edict to summon me to the palace for the funeral, can I reject her?” Wang Ji still persisted stubbornly “Your subject only wishes to understand my lord’s intentions.”
Liu He smiled “I don’t know, I’ll just take things as they come.”
Wang Ji fell silent for a moment, then said “Your subject understands, I’ll go get ready, for…..sigh!” He heaved a long sigh “I will order a few more men to accompany my lord into the capital.” He turned to leave when Liu He called out to him, thinking as he started to call out the names of those he wished to follow him, Wang Ji hurriedly started to write them all down.
Liu He named about ten people at one go before stopping, and grinning, said “I want all these people with me, the others….the others may be left at your discretion! However, you are not to name more than twenty people, I still need space for my wives and servants! The more people we have, the more restrictions there’ll be.” In Wang Ji’s eyes, he saw a helplessness that this prince was beyond rescue, but he could only acquiesce to Liu He’s request and retreat from the hall.
As Liu He watched Wang Ji leave, his smile faded, to be replaced by a chill, an inexplicable lonliness. When he cocked his head, he saw Hong Yi behind the curtains looking straight at him, confusion and anxiety plain in her eyes. He suddenly laughed, gently calling “Hong Yi!” Hong Yi walked over with small steps and knelt in front of him. She was about to start gesturing when he held her hand still “I know you want to ask ‘why did you choose those people to accompany you?’”
Hong Yi nodded. The ten people Liu He had named were the people that the Prince of Yan had placed by his side, some were Shang Guan Jie’s people and some were Huo Guang’s and also the Prince of Guangling’s people. If they weren’t this person’s spy, then they were called to someone else. “Naturally, I’ll have my own reasons for bringing them; I also have my own reasons for not bringing my own people. The risk this time is great, and I don’t wish for my own people to walk into the fire with me, so I can only bring all these sneaky little creatures with me.” Hong Yi mulled over his words, but she still didn’t understand. She only stopped asking because she knew this was done deliberately by him, so she smiled sweetly and pointed at herself.
“You want to go too?” Liu He tenderly but firmly shook his head. “No, you have to wait her for my return. Once I have cast off the problems Chang An is causing me, I’ll bring you out to play. Hong Yi grew anxious and was about to gesture a request when Liu He made her sit on the pallet, and placed his head on her lap “Just let me rest for a while, I’ve still got many things to do later.” His voice was heavy with weariness. Hong Yi’s eyes filled with pity, and she threw her own concerns aside, what was most important right now was that he was tired.
She gently removed his headdress and smoothed his hair, allowing him to rest more comfortably.
Liu He jauntily set off for the capital with an entourage of over two hundred people.
Although he brought quite a few servant girls with him, none of them had served him since young, so Liu He wasn’t expecting much comfort on this trip. Strangely, whatever he wanted to eat, or use, just appeared throughout the trip without him having to utter a single word. At first, he didn’t think too much about it since he was preoccupied with other matters, he just assumed that they were obedient and rewarded them greatly. Later on though, he started to pay more attention to this strange occurrence.
At dawn, he realized that the robe the servant girls had brought was just the thing he wanted to wear today, and the food they served was just what he wanted to eat today, then realization struck. Who else will be able to accomplish this feat in the entire world? There was anger, but he was also strangely moved. Liu He sat in front of his table, and after picking up a dish, he asked “Did you make all these yourself?”
The servant girl thought she’d be rewarded again and happily answered “Yes”. He smiled and asked again “Did you make these yourself?” A silver of hesitation entered her voice. “Yes.” “You made all these?” Her voice was now as small as a gnat “Yes…..” Liu He remained smiling “I’ll ask one last time, did you make these yourself?” Immediately, she got down on her knees “Your servant knows her mistake! I ought to die! I shouldn’t have been overcome by greed…..”
He couldn’t be bothered to hear her pleading for mercy and addressed the person outside loudly “Hong Yi, are you still not going to enter to accept your punishment? Must I pass the order for them to be executed?”
Hong Yi entered, wearing the uniform of the guards, and knelt in front of Liu He, with no remorse, nor fear, only determination was displayed across her face.
Liu He contemplated her for a while, and all the admonishing he wanted to administer disappeared. With a wave, he ordered the kowtowing servant girl to leave and turned to Hong Yi. “Stand up.”
Hong Yi remained kneeling.
Liu He knew she wanted him to allow her to stay and he grew angry. He completely ignored her, starting to eat his breakfast. When h was done, Hong Yi was still kneeling on the floor. Liu He thought of the time when she was forced to on loose gravel when she was young. She was only eight or nine years of age then, and she knelt for a day and a night, till her knees were scraped open, but still endured the pain stoically. He thought of installing Hong Yi at a guesthouse outside the palace once he entered the capital, separate from everybody, so that no matter what happens, she wouldn’t be involved. He sighed and schooled his face into a severe expression “I want to drink tea!” When Hong Yi heard his words, delivered so coldly, she burst out laughing and jumped up, excitedly rushing off to prepare the tea.
“Hang on, first, get rid of whatever you’re wearing. It’s hurting my eyes!”
Hong Yi smiled and nodded vigorously, walking away with a skip in her step.
Liu He looked at her and shook his head, muttering to himself “What kind of prince am I? How am I always giving in to a young girl!”
Liu Xun was once the leader of the youxia, with many capable men at his disposal. Liu He thought that his trip to the capital will not be smooth, but contrary to his expectations, they didn’t run into a single difficult throughout the trip, safely arriving in Chang An. All his subjects rejoiced, but Liu He couldn’t find it in himself to. For Liu Xjun to dare to let him enter Chang An, it would mean that he had something else in mind, then he thought of the words Liu Fu Ling said to him before his passing and only felt disheartened and down.
When Liu He arrived in Chang An, Huo Guang and the other important subjects travelled out to welcome him to the city. Although everyone knew Huo Guang’s intentions, but because there was no proper ascension as of yet, so everything was done in accordance of a border prince etiquette, no one dared to cross the line.
Along the way, Liu He stirred up each place he visited. Every time he travelled past somewhere, he had to know where the most interesting things were, and would search for it; and anything that was delicious had to be presented to him, until the civilians started grumbling and calling him a locust.
All the court officials sighed but Huo Guang was contented, and this cemented his determination to see Liu He enthroned. To everyone though, his attitude was perfunctory, allowing the Censor-in-chief Tian Guang Ming to take charge of all matters.
The imperial guards of Chang An and of the palace were all the Huo family’s people, together with the support of the troops of Guan Zhong, with just one command, 10,000 soldiers will be able to rush down to Chang An in a day. Huo Guang felt confident that all was within his control, and would proceed according to plan, allowing Liu He to ascend the throne as per rules dictated. Once Liu He was safely on the throne, court affairs will naturally fall to his hands; his ambitions and dreams, long hidden for many years, will finally see the light of the day.
Heaven will never bend to man’s will though, and things slowly started to spiral out of control.
First was the loss of the national and militaryy seals. He ordered men to search Wei Yang Palace, Li Shan and every person he could suspect, but they just couldn’t find the national and military seals. Without them, when the Emperor ascends the throne, how would they proclaim the edict to the world? Without the military seal, how could the troops be moved?
There were only a handful of people Liu Fu Ling trusted, and through the process of elimination, Huo Guang guessed that the seals must have been taken by the supposedly missing Yun Ge, and immediately ordered for her to be found, no matter the cost.
Even before the Yun Ge matter was settled, another piece of bad news arrived.
The Xiong Nu leader Lu Li of the Right had deployed troops, sniffing around Guang Zhong.
Huo Guang was torn between going to war or not. If they chose not to fight, the consequences would be unpredictable; if the Xiongnu tasted the sweetness of success, they might round up even larger troops to attack; but if they fought, the Guan Zhong troops would be delayed by the Xiongnu troops, in case of any change in situation in Chang An, they would definitely not be able to rush over.
Even before he could make that decision, bad tidings came from Wu Sun.
In order to divide Xi Yu and foil the Xiongnu’s repeated attacks, the late Emperor Liu Che had given away the Prince of Chu’s granddaughter Princess Jie You to marry into Wu Sun.
Princess Jie You was a brave and smart girl. Ever since she went to Wu Sun, she had convinced the King of Wu Sun to cultivate a good relationship with the Han Dynasty, and join forces with the neighbouring Xi Yu countries to defeat the Xiong Nu, diffusing the threat that had plagued the Han Dynasty for many years.
Recently, the King of Wu Sun, Khan Weng Gui Mi had passed away from an illness, and the Xiong Nu forged an alliance with Western Qiang to use this opportunity to attack Wu Sun. They had already captured E Shi and Che Yan with ease. The nobles in Wu Sun who had been disgruntled with Wu Sun’s alliance with the Han Dynasty had already crowned a new king with Qiong Nu blood. They intended to first kill Princess Jie You, then swear allegiance to Xiong Nu.
Princess Jie You gathered her sons, daughters and troops loyal to the late King and was engaged in a deadlock with the new King’s troops. She sent someone with news to the Han court, pleading for their assistance.
She had yet to find out that Liu Fu Ling has passed on so all her letters were addressed to his majesty Liu Fu Ling.
Huo Guang was lost in thought after reading Princess Jie You’s letter. Ever since she left the Han court, they had not heard from her. With her strong-willed personality, unless it concerned the lives of many, she’d never write a letter to plead her case.
Huo Guang’s brows were constantly knitted in worry while Liu Xun was so happy he clapped and said “The heavens are on my side!” “Khan Weng Gui Mi really died at an opportune time!”
He held Li Yuan in high esteem but he was also wary. Li Yuan was only a few years older, but carried himself with the stability and poise of someone with much more experience. The timing, geography, people, everything had been factored in his plans! Thank goodness that this person, although not a friend, was definitely not a foe. There were only two roads Huo Guang could choose: one, opt for a fast battle, settling the business of the new emperor as soon as possible. For only with a new emperor on the throne can they then send reinforcements to Princess Jie You; two, ignore the fate of Princess Jie You, give up on Wu Sun and contain the voices of those who oppose Liu He at court until Liu He smoothly takes over. However, upon giving up Wu Sun, that would mean that all those years spent cultivating ties with Xi Yu would go to waste, and Which also meant that he would be giving up on the lives of all the Han civilians who live on the western border, leaving them at the mercy of the Xiong Nu and Qiang people.
He Xiao Qi asked “My lord, which route do you think Huo Guang will choose?”
Liu Xun lightly said “Huo Guang is an official with power, but he isn’t a corrupt official. To an Emperor, he wouldn’t be a good subject, but to the people, Huo Guang is a good official. He has served in court for more than 30 years and has never once let down the people of Han. Each time Liu Fu Ling tried to reform the system, he would throw his weight behind it, strongly arguing for it. Without his support, the Han dynasty might have already turned out like another Qin dynasty. He can never give up Xi Yu, or else this would pose an even greater to the Han dynasty. Huo Guang understands this more keenly than anyone else. Furthermore, Princess Jie You isn’t just a low born maiden, she is a proper princess. If Huo Guang doesn’t rescue her, the borders princes will stir up a storm.”
He Xiao Qi “I’ve heard that the two relatives who accompanied Princess Jie You out into the frontier were Huo Guang and Li Ling. It is too much of a coincidence that Li Yuan is now using Princess Jie You to force Huo Guang’s hand. I’m afraid he might have ulterior motives.”
Liu Xun laughed coldly “We were never friends, only mutually using each other to achieve our own ends. All will be good as long as I achieve my aims.”
A servant reported “Zhang He has arrived”; and He Xiao Qi bowed and retreated.
Liu Xun and Zhang He talked about fairly innocuous things, before he casually asked about Huo Guang and Li Ling.
Zhang He seemed to respect Li Ling immensely. Although Li Ling was a King of the Xiong Nu, he spoke of him with reverence “…..Li Ling was the grandson of The Flying General Li Guang, Huo Guang was the brother of the General of Calvary – Huo Qu Bing. They were both of uncommon birth, and only seventeen, eighteen years of age then. Handsome, well versed in both martial arts and the arts, they both caught the attention of the late Emperor. Back then, many young maidens in Chang An…” Zhang He laughed awkwardly, embarrassment creeping into his word “Looks like I’ve really grown old, dredging up such matters without even being prompted.”
Liu Xun smiled “If one wasn’t wild in his youth, then he has wasted it! The eldest son of a senior official at my uncle, Emperor Xiao Wu’s  court was in his prime, I bet he was famous around Chang An for being charming.” “I don’t mind being compared to others, but I can never match up to those two. I was a lot older than them, but I was only an unimportant official; they were the two subjects who had the late Emperor’s ear, entering and leaving the forbidden palace like it was their own residence. Their lives were far different from my own, so I do not know much.” Zhang He sighed, a weary, heavy sigh “Who can predict life’s ups and downs? The two most outstanding figures in Chang An, one ended up marrying a Xiong Nu princess, becoming a Xiong Nu king, with thousands of men at his disposal. The other grew in power in the Han dynasty, second only to the Emperor himself…” Within his words, there were so many what-ifs; if Li Ling didn’t leave, then maybe the situation the Han Dynasty was finding itself in now wouldn’t have happened, and Huo Guang wouldn’t have grown out of control.
Liu Xun couldn’t glean anything of importance from this so he changed the topic, starting to discuss business matters. To Zhang He, he said “I will find a way to let the Prince of Guang Ling apply more pressure on Huo Guang, as for General Zhang…” Zhang He nodded, showing that he understood. “Rest assured, my lord marquis. Before the dust has settled and the winners revealed, my brother will never dare to assist Huo Guang. I have already warned him harshly, and he is a smart man. He knows his limits. However, the Prince of Guang Ling is stubborn and strong willed, how are you going to make him bend to your will?” “I have my own methods; all you have to do is to wait for this to end.”
Zhao Cong Guo just happened to enter then, catching the last part of Liu Xun’s statement. He laughed “My lord marquis, you are finally making a move. We were all getting antsy from your lack of words and movement!”
Liu Xun quickly stood to welcome him “General, you have arrived at the right time. You’ve always had troops stationed at Xi Bei and I was just about to ask how the situation was like in Wu Sun.” Zhao Cong Guo froze for a moment, his respect for Liu Xun growing immensely. In this time and place, he was not just focusing on the throne but also worrying about the situation at Wu Sun. This new master definitely held lofty ambitions! “The Wu Sun matter, if you say it’s difficult, then it really is difficult, but if you say it’s easily resolved, it will be easily resolved. As long as there is an imperial edict, ordering me to deploy my troops, I have full confidence that I will be able to help Princess Jie You defeat the rebelling army.”
Liu Xun was worried because of the deeper meaning behind the conflict, “On the surface, the conflict arises from those looking to protect their power against those who advocate a reform. In actuality, it is the nomads against the farmers; it is the fight of the Xiong Nu and Qiang tribe against our empire. Our current dynasty is unstable; we don’t have the strength to go up directly against the Xiong Nu and Qiang. Even if the rebel troops lose, we cannot deny the influence of the Xiong Nu and Qiang within Wu Sun. It is hard to predict whether Princess Jie You will smoothly regain control of Wu Sun.” Zhao Cong Guo chuckled loudly “My lord marquis, you worry because you have never met Princess Jie You. She is no normal lady, as long as the situation in Wu Sun stabilizes and with our support, she will definitely rise up again to crush the influence of the Xiong Nu and Qiang within Wu Sun.”
Liu Xun slapped his hand on the table, satisfied “That’s it then! We must do our best to let Princess Jie You sit on the throne of the Dowager Queen in Wu Sun.”
Zhang He laughed as he reminded Liu Xun “You need to first succeed the throne yourself before you can help others sit on it.” Zhao Cong Guo nodded.
Liu Xun laughed “Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. I’ll leave it to General Zhao then.” Liu Xun clasped his hands towards Zhao Cong Guo as a sign of respect “I must trouble you to get in touch with all sources of power to start publicly opposing Liu He’s ascension. No matter what Huo Guang does, we must never give in. If he intends to mobilize troops, then you must prepare to fight! In one sentence, our strength must never be weaker than his!”
Zhao Cong Guo had a trait unique to soldiers – he never waved. Fight? How to fight? Even if he commanded the Xi Bei troops, what about the grain? What about the logistics? And what reason should he give to mobilize the troops? How will he account to everyone? He merely accepted commands, executed them, and will never question them. “Your subject will start preparing immediately.” He bowed and left in a hurry.
Huo Guang’s troubles were not yet settled when news came that the Prince of Guang Ling had heard some rumours and was saying that Liu Fu Ling died too suddenly in the prime of his youth. He said he was worried about rouge officials in court and requested to enter the capital to guard the body. He had even started to gather the troops in Guang Ling.
Huo Guang spoke to Zhang An Shi regarding this matter, hoping to increase the number of troops stationed near Guang Ling, commanding them to be on high alert, never to let the Prince of Guang Ling leave his feudal land, or else the other imperial princes of the border will be clamouring to enter the capital too, sending the empire reeling into instability.
Zhang An Shi’s answer left Huo Guang helpless. “Regarding the movement of troops, I can only be commanded by the Emperor, and the military seal.” Embedded in his answer was he wasn’t going to let Huo Guang dictate troop movement; if he wished to wage war on the Prince of Guang Ling, either produce an imperial edict or the military seal!
Huo Guang resolved not to bother about the national and military seals. He would first get Liu He on the throne, at least then he could ask Liu He to write an edict as the Emperor. He didn’t expect to face such strong opposition from various powerful officials. Zhao Cong Guo even unsheathed his sword in the imperial hall, loudly admonishing Censor-in-chief Tian Guang Ming, saying that he was a corrupt and vile official, trying to choose a useless emperor to govern the country. After witnessing such strong objection, those neutral officials quickly grew uneasy, mumbling that they weren’t sure, especially Chancellor Yang Shang. He even pretended to be sick just to avoid any conflict.
While the powers at court were locked in a deadlock, there would be no way Huo Guang will be able to convince everyone to agree for Liu He’s ascension anytime soon. The situation was precarious now, all it needed was one slight push to result in civil war. Liu He wasn’t concerned about these people creating conflict, whiling the days away at Wei Yang Palace drinking and enjoying women, going so far as to drink and sing in front of Liu Fu Ling’s coffin, causing the court to go atwitter.
Ridiculous rumours started to spread among the civilians, hinting that Huo Guang was choosing a useless Emperor like Liu He so that he might usurp the throne in future. Songs and odes about that started to spread like wildfire.
“The real dragon sinks, while the fake one rises. A storm brews, the capital descends into chaos.”
Huo Guang’s worries increased, he sought out Liu He, intending to warn him, but when he saw Liu He’s eyes still sleepy with drink and his lazy demeanour, he stalked off angrily.
Xiong Nu, Xi Yi, the Qiang tribe, Wu Sun, Prince of Guang Ling, and now the dark undercurrents running through court. With each day the empire is without an Emperor, nothing goes right.
Huo Guang’s headache increased.
Huo Cheng Jun pushed open the door to the study and saw her father staring at the curved knife on the wall, lost in thought.
Huo Guang quickly hid the letter in his hand “Cheng Jun, is something wrong?” Huo Cheng Jun walked up behind him, massaging his shoulders to release the tense knots in his shoulder. “Daddy, since the Emperor’s death, you haven’t rested. Rest early today!”
Huo Guang spoke, weary and helpless “Men plan, while the Heavens laugh at us! The king of Wu Sun couldn’t choose a more horrid time to pass away, not right now at this crucial time.”
Huo Cheng Jun said “Daddy, don’t fret so. As long as a new Emperor ascends, you will be able to issue an edict through him and everything will work out eventually.”
“I still haven’t figured out where the national and military seals have been spirited off to. If Yun Ge had them with her, she should be using them to carry out the late Emperor’s orders, not disappearing out of Chang An. No hide or hair has been seen of her, what was his majesty thinking?”
Huo Cheng Jun thought for a while before saying “Daddy, don’t you think his majesty was really odd? Why didn’t he issue an edict, clearly naming a successor?”
Huo Guang didn’t reply. He had thought of this very question too, even making preparations in secret, planning to handle everything with a heavy hand; but now that no edict was left, all his plans fell apart. This Liu Fu Ling had never once placed his chess pieces according to the rules!
“Daddy, who do you think his majesty intended to be his successor?”
“Looking at things as they stand now, it should be Liu Xun. If it was Liu He, Zhao Cong Guo would never have voiced such strong objection, the national and military seals wouldn’t have disappeared. Sigh!” Huo Guang heaved a long sigh “It’s all because of my soft heartedness back then, or else there wouldn’t be any need today to…”
Huo Cheng Jun didn’t understand. She carefully thought about it before venturing to say “Daddy means to say that you’ve always known about Liu Xun.”
Huo Guang scoffed “If it weren’t for me, do you really think that all of Crown Prince Ju’s men would have been able to avoid the executioner’s knife? If I hadn’t reassured Shang Guan Jie that Liu Xun was died, do you think he would have been able to live as Liu Bing Yi outside Chang An?”
Huo Cheng Jun carefully asked “What does Daddy intend to do now? Should we think of a way to capture Liu Xun, getting the location of the seals from him?”
Huo Guang shook his head “It wouldn’t be with him. If Liu Xun had them, why would Chang An be locked in a stalemate?” Huo Guang thought as he spoke “I think I was wrong from the very beginning. I always assumed he would choose Liu Xun. Maybe to his majesty, there might have been a difference between Liu Xun and Liu He, but this difference wasn’t worth the lives of the civilians to fight for. His majesty saw them as we see them, no matter who ascends the throne, there would be advantages and disadvantages, no one person is so good that we Huos will stake our lives to support him. His majesty might probably only have a preference but because he was afraid of civil war, he didn’t place all his chips on just one person, giving a time frame, waiting for someone to gain the upper hand. Then his choice would be that person.”
Huo Cheng Jun said “Then we should be patient. Now, Daddy still has the upper hand, once the time limit is up, Yun Ge will naturally appear bearing the national and military seals.”
Huo guang sighed “I’m sure his majesty didn’t expect such a situation when he planned this, or else with his personality, he would have never done it this way. Our empire has spent close to a hundred years of hard work to achieve what we have at Xi Yu today; it cannot all go to waste! I might be able to wait, but the Han dynasty can’t! The people of Xi Bei will not be able to wait either!”
Huo Cheng Jun’s breath caught in her throat “Daddy means to say you want Liu He to succeed the throne immediately? I’m afraid it will be difficult…..”
Huo Guang shook his head, a smile curving on his lips “Daddy intended to pick a handsome husband for you, but….sigh! Although Liu Xun might not surpass Liu He in terms of looks, it would be easier for you to be Empress.”
Huo Cheng Jun coloured at his words, still massaging his shoulders, saying “Daddy, I was being serious, but you still teased your daughter like this! I don’t care who will become emperor!”
Huo Guang’s mind was made up, everything wouldn’t be a problem going forward. With that, he relaxed a lot more.
Huo Cheng Jun sat beside him “What about Liu He? Although he hasn’t succeeded formally, many people have already thought of him as Emperor.”
Huo Guang frowned. It was some time before he said “I must have been blind. For Liu Fu Ling would never have chosen a frivolous person to pass his empire to!” If he installed Liu He on the throne, then dethroned him, Liu He will definitely grow resentful. None of the people with Liu He could be spared as well. Now that he has decided to get rid of the problem, he must do it thoroughly, for it might fester and grow only to manifest again, and he will be on the losing end.
When he heard the servant outside announce “The Chamberlain for National Treasury Tian Yan Nian has arrived”, he turned to Huo Cheng Jun “Go back! I will settle this problem, all you have to do is just wait to enter the palace and become Empress.”
Huo Cheng Jun’s face was flushed, she softly answered “Yes”, and rose to leave.
 Liu Che – Emperor Han Wu Di’s posthumous title