Chapter 3 – Sui Emperor Yang Guang
Book 6 Chapter 3 – Sui Emperor Yang Guang
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling climbed onto the carriage; accompanied by Big Sister Xiao and Xiang Yushan, they entered the city. Susu, accompanied by Yun Yuzhen, was riding on another carriage; they had different arrangement.
Afraid that the Yuwen Clan might obtain information and thus prevent the two boys from entering the Palace, Dugu Sheng personally came out to meet them.
Surprisingly, this Dugu Clan martial art master – who ranked second only to Dugu Feng – had a rather unremarkable appearance. He was about fifty, short and wiry, and looked a bit like an old monkey. But his eyes, which looked half open and half close, were deep and bright; the taiyang acupoints on his temples were protruding high, so that people immediately knew that he was not someone to be trifled with.
Toward Kou and Xu, two boys, he was polite, but kept his distance; however, he was quite amiable toward Xiao Huan and Xiang Yushan, evidently he did not have too high of a regard toward Kou and Xu.
Under the escort of Dugu Sheng and about a hundred imperial bodyguards, the party entered the city of Yangzhou.
Returning to their hometown, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were immediately overwhelmed with unbearable itch; they really wished to slip outside right away to look for their old friends and foes and say hello, also perhaps to see if Yan Laoda [see Book 1 Chapter 1] was still alive and well.
Xiang Yushan whispered in the two boys’ ears, “We are really lucky, today Yang Guang happens to be in the Palace. You don’t know it, but since becoming the Emperor, he never stopped, always going on a tour or a military expedition, infuriating the heavens exasperating the people, angering the gods and distressing the ghosts; otherwise, the people would not have rebelled.”
Big Sister Xiao sighed and said, “Now he is giving the western capital Chang’an to his grandson, Dai Wang [wang – king/prince] Yang You, and the eastern capital Luoyang to another grandson, Yue Wang Yang Dong, while he himself is hiding in here, so scared that he even abandoned the Luoyang’s sixteen-courtyard madams. To his surprise, however, Du Fuwei attacked Liyang, Li Zitong is also moving to Jiangdu. Basically there is no happy place for him on the earth.”
Irritated, Xiang Yushan said, “Dai Wang Yue Wang, one is twelve, the other eleven, unexpectedly they are in charge of western and eastern capitals; won’t the true power fall into the hands of high-ranking ministers such as Yang Shichong and the others? If any mishaps happen to Yang Guang, the world will be ten times more chaotic than right now.”
Listening to this, Kou Zhong’s eyes lit up, and Xu Ziling could see it clearly.
The carriage suddenly stopped.
Dugu Sheng spoke from outside the window, “His Holiness has just gone to Lin Jiang Palace, we must change our itinerary.”
After ascending the throne, Yang Guang issued a decree to build the city of Yangzhou, which formerly was under his stewardship as the Zongguan, and changed its official title to Jiangdu. Not only the city was expanded, numerous palaces arose, parks and garden embellished it, north of the city, where there were mountain on one side and water on the other, he also established Gui Yan, Hui Liu, Song Lin, and the others, the so-called ‘Shu Gang Ten Palaces’.
But perhaps the most magnificent was the Lin Jiang Palace, which was built by the shore of Yangtze River. Whenever Yang Guang was prompted by a sudden impulse, whether it was morning or evening, he would go there to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Yangtze River.
When Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had an audience with this muddleheaded ruler of the historically shortest, and the fastest to disappear, dynasty, he was having a drinking party on a palace balcony overlooking the Yangtze River, accompanied by his favorite concubines Xiao Yu and Zhu Gui’er [gui means imperial concubine, so I don’t think it was her actual name], completely oblivious of the ups and downs of the chaos of war outside.
Kou Zhong and the others alighted from their carriage at the square in front of the Palace, which was tightly guarded by the Imperial Guards. After a thorough body search, which was personally conducted by Dugu Sheng, to make sure that they did not bring any weapons, he led them into the Palace. However, Xiang Yushan and Big Sister Xiao had to remain at the gate.
As Dugu Sheng was leading them through the corridors and pathways, they could hear the surging water of Yangtze River, mingled with faint melodious music from the continuously stretching palaces ahead.
This was the first time that the two boys entered such a richly ornamented, brightly decorated, splendorous and majestic building. Momentarily their eyes were unable to take it all, and they were quite at a loss.
Kou Zhong whispered, “Now this is what I call glory, splendor, wealth and rank.”
“Don’t talk!” from the front, Dugu Sheng coldly shouted.
Kou Zhong jumped in fright and immediately shut his mouth.
Xu Ziling mused in his heart, ‘Only ghosts are willing to live in such noisy, raucous, tacky, and irritating place like this. For me, it would be enough if I can live deep in the mountains, in a thatched hut in a secluded valley, with beautiful scenery and birds and beasts as my company.’
There were Imperial Guards everywhere, with checkpoints at every entryway; without Dugu Sheng leading the way, it would be impossible for them to move a single step.
When the Wangjiang Tai [Riverview Balcony; ‘wang jiang’ means ‘looking at the river’] was in sight, an official appeared ahead and stopped them.
The man looked gentle and handsome, about thirty-five, thirty-six years old. Upon introduction by Dugu Sheng, they found out that he was the interior minister Yu Shiji, one of Yang Guang’s most trusted courtiers.
Noticing his unstable, floating footsteps, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew that not only this person did not know martial art, his body was scooped empty by wine and women, so that his appearance looked like he was too weak to stand up to the wind.
Normally, an interior minister ought to be a high-ranking eunuch, but this person’s appearance did not have a real eunuch flavor, making it difficult for them to make correct assessment.
After sizing up the two boys, Yu Shiji said to Dugu Sheng, “It’s really them.”
Dugu Sheng nodded in affirmative.
It was only then did Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling find out that Yu Shiji was involved in this matter. If that was the case, then Yang Guang’s other favored minister, the Imperial Censor Fei Yun, ought to be key personnel in this operation, which was directed toward the Yuwen Clan, as well.
After carefully examining the two boys again, Yu Shiji said, “Give the account book to me first, the two of you may wait in the side chamber. When the opportune time comes, this official may take you to appear before His Highness.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged glances; they were unwilling, but finally had to hand the account book over to Yu Shiji.
Yu Shiji immediately flipped the pages. When he reached certain page, he suddenly laughed aloud and said, “General Sheng, this time we really obtain a treasure. I want to see how much longer Yuwen Clan will be able to shine.”
Hearing that, Dugu Sheng smiled while twisting the tip of his moustache.
The two boys waited in a room by Wangjiang Tai for nearly two sichen [4 hours]. They waited until the sun was about to set, still no Yu Shiji or Dugu Sheng to take them to see Yang Guang.
The palaces, as well as the courtyards, were tightly guarded by Imperial Guards, making them feel like prisoner in the palace hall.
Xu Ziling sat quietly in a corner. Looking at Kou Zhong, who was pacing back and forth restlessly, he frowned and said, “Could you be a bit more patient?”
Kou Zhong halted in front of him; he sighed and said, “Maybe we were wrong; now even the account book has been taken away, and I still don’t know how we are going to leave this place.”
“Don’t worry!” Xu Ziling said, “As long as we are still useful, they will rely on us. These people put the cart before the horse, they don’t care that outside the chaos is turning the sky and the earth upside down, they are thinking of fighting with other people around instead. No wonder the rebels’ momentum is growing day by day.”
After a short pause, he went on, “What worries me most is Su Jie; after meeting that muddleheaded ruler, we must find a way to leave this place and rendezvous with Su Jie, and immediately go as far away as possible. Whether Yuwen Clan is toppled or not, we must not tarry in this place too long.”
Kou Zhong sat down by his side; he said, “You are right. If Yang Guang issues in imperial decree to search and confiscate the Yuwen Clan’s possession and have their entire family exterminated, it will incite a tempest; Yuwen Huaji and the others will definitely fight will all their strength. If that happen, it would be strange indeed if Jiangdu does not turn into a mess.”
Xu Ziling added, “Don’t forget that Ol’ Die and that Li Budong are glaring at Jiangdu like a tiger watching its prey. As soon as they know that Jiangdu in chaos, they will immediately deploy their troops to attack. Ay, this thought is really frightening!”
Kou Zhong did not know what to think.
While they were busy with their own thoughts, Yu Shiji came in. With him was a big, fat official, whose face was wide, his eyes thin, his nose long like a wine gourd; in short, a crafty villain look.
Yu Shiji excitedly said, “Two Xiongdi, come meet Imperial Censor Daren.”
Hearing him addressing them as ‘brothers’, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were rather flattered. Thinking that this must be Yu Shiji’s partner Fei Yun, they hastily paid their respect according to the way Big Sister Xiao taught them.
Fei Yun assumed an amiable appearance; he said with a chuckle, “Two Xiao Xiongdi have rendered great merit, these days this official will present a memorial to His Highness, he will reward you heavily.”
“Let’s strike while the iron is hot,” Yu Shiji continued, “High Highness ought to see the account book. Right now we are going to take two Xiao Xiongdi to have an audience with His Highness, but you must not mention anything about the account book. Even if His Highness ask, you must pretend not to know there is such thing.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in dismay; they understood that the great merit of obtaining the account book would be falsely claimed by these two crafty and fawning despicable men.
Fei Yun laughed and said, “Two Xiao Xiongdi must be men who understand reason. Just serve us well, and I guarantee you will enjoy endless glory, splendor, wealth and rank. We are here!”
The two boys looked at each other with bitter smile; they could only follow behind the two men helplessly.
Chapter 3, Part 2
Fei Yun, who was leading the way, suddenly lowered his voice. The two boys quickly focused their power to listen, immediately they were able to hear every single word. He said, “In one day we received three emergency dispatches from Luoyang. Wang Shichong is really shameful; did he want us to lose our heads? I burned all the documents.”
“There is another headache,” Yu Shiji said, “Just now the Imperial Guard Commander Sima Dekan ignored me when I tried to stop him, he forced himself into the Wangjiang Tai to see His Highness, reporting something about someone exploiting the Imperial Guard army provisions, that the soldiers don’t have enough to eat and are hungry. And most of them came from Guanzhong, they knew that the Li Clan is raising an army to rebel, so they worried that their hometown is in trouble; batch by batch they ran away from Jiangdu, so he wanted His Mahesty to issue an imperial decree to pacify the heart of the people.”
Fei Yun laughed and said, “Fortunately the person who exploited the army provisions is His Highness himself, we are simply carrying out his order, so he cannot put the blame on us. Hee hee … did His Highness have Sima Dekan, that fellow who showed no understanding of the times, flogged?”
Yu Shiji replied, “I don’t know if His Holiness has changed from his excessive stubbornness? Or perhaps he knew that the Imperial Guard Minister General Dou Xian has also led his troops to flee, so he clearly knew that the situation is serious. He only ordered Sima Dekan to immediately pursue Dou Xian and have him come back here, or else he will have to present his own head. I really wish Dou Xian could go a little faster!”
Meanwhile they had reached the steps leading to the Wangjiang Tai. Yu and Fei, two men stopped talking. Listening to them, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling behind them were aghast. Yang Guang definitely was a muddleheaded ruler, otherwise how could he let treacherous court officials like Yu Shiji and Fei Yun emerge?
“Citizen Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling have arrived!” The herald at the gate announced as the two boys followed Yu Shiji and Fei Yun toward the stone steps leading to Yang Guang’s dragon throne. They kneeled three times and kowtowed nine times [my dictionary has this additional information: formal etiquette on meeting the emperor]. After the ritual was performed, the herald announced again, “You may rise!”
The two boys followed Yu Shiji and Fei Yun stood up, and focused their attention to look. Immediately they were taken aback.
They saw the twenty-zhang wide dragon platform was packed with beautiful imperial concubines; there were at least fifty, sixty women, like the starts cupping themselves around the moon [idiom from Analects], surrounding the elevated dragon throne, busy feeding fruits to the Great Sui Emperor Yang Guang.
Dugu Sheng stood erect with straight face under the platform, leading the Imperial Guards standing around the platform, separating Yang Guang from Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling.
After stroking an imperial concubine’s breasts by his side, Yang Guang looked down the platform. As if he did not see Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling at all, he looked at Fei Yun and said with a laugh, “Fei Qingjia [term used by the emperor for his subjects] is here, quickly help Zhen [an emperor referring to himself] solve this problem.”
Yun Shiji bowed and laughed to flatter him, “Your Highness, these two …”
“Zhen knows,” Yang Guang impatiently cut him off, “Other matter can wait.”
Under the illumination of the palace lantern, Yang Guang’s countenance looked worse than Xiang Yushan before his illness was cured; he was so pale that he looked like a dead person. His age looked to be only around fifty, his head and shoulders stood tall; although he was wearing bright-colored nine-dragon gown, with a tall crown on his head, he gave a depressing impression of a dead person wearing burial clothes.
Anybody could see that his destiny already nearing its end, his days were numbered.
Fei Yun hastily said, “Your Highness, please reveal it to us!”
Yang Guang sighed and said, “Zhen really don’t understand, what’s not good in Jiangdu? To the south facing the Great River, undulating hills, pleasant scenery, since ancient times has been number one scenic spot in Jiang Huai; yet troops are running away these days, even Dou Xian has personally fled. Qingjia, what do you think is the reason?”
This time even Fei Yun and Yun Shiji were left speechless, other people need not be mentioned; they were quiet out of fear, afraid that they might incur unexpected calamity.
Fei Yun could not but respond; clearing his throat, he said, “There must be some people spreading rumors, instigating the morale of the troops. Weichen [this small official] must investigate clearly, and then report to Your Highness.”
Yang Guang let out a cold laugh and said, “Who could instigate the morale of Zhen’s troops? Zhen has fought to the south and attacked to the north, pacifying the land under the heavens, three times went on military campaign to Gaoli [Korea], my military power unrivalled, admired by officers and soldiers. Zhen really cannot believe they would believe idle talk. Quickly investigate this matter thoroughly.”
Kou Zhong could not refrain from nudging Xu Ziling with his elbow, while putting up a ‘I don’t want to hear the truth’ expression on his face.
Although Yang Guang did not seem to look at him, unexpectedly he saw that; angrily he shouted, “Why is that little one’s expression so strange? He has the audacity of being disrespectful to Zhen.”
Fei Yun and Yu Shiji’s soul flew away and scattered, afraid that before these two witnesses could testify, Yang Guang already had their heads chopped.
Kou Zhong secretly signaled Xu Ziling, ready to break out the siege and flee for their lives, to create a gap they could exploit to get out. This moment he did not even want to kowtow; he said with a giggle, “Most probably it was because Your Highness is too profound that you are able to think that deep. We are only simple ant people, naturally our thought process is also a lot simpler. Just a moment ago Xiaomin [small/lowly citizen] was not able to penetrate Your Highness’ enigmatic thought, that’s why I knitted my little face.”
Everybody cried out inwardly, Yang Guang hated it very much when people used sarcasm against him; this time Kou Zhong was really courting death.
Under these circumstances, Zhu Gui’er, who was serving Yang Guang eating fruits by his side, also did not dare to speak up to help Kou Zhong.
Dugu Sheng sighed inwardly; if he had to personally behead these two boys, he really did not know how to explain it to the Baling Bang people.
Everybody waited with bated breath; sure enough, Yang Guang’s countenance sank and he said coldly, “What profound or simple? Kid, what is exactly your point?”
Kou Zhong remained calm, while quietly gathered his mysterious power; he said indifferently, “What kid was thinking was that if everybody is able to think like Your Highness, supporting the left and holding on to the right, yet they still want to desert the army, then they are not real men.”
At this point, no one did not consider Kou Zhong to be a criminal on the death row, because what he did was exactly what he should not do in front of Yang Guang, i.e. ‘telling the truth’.
Yang Guang was startled; and then he slapped the arm of his dragon throne and laughed so hard that his body swayed back and forth. Like speaking to a child, he said, “That is indeed simple! That is indeed simple!”
Everybody’s heart went up and down following the sound of his laughter, because he loved laughing madly before killing someone.
Xu Ziling nodded slightly to Kou Zhong, reminded him to be ready to slip away any moment.
The laughter suddenly stopped.
Yang Guang coughed twice, while allowing Zhu Gui’er and Madame Xiao to wipe the tears on the corner of his eye. When they were done, he looked down at Kou Zhong and said, “As the Emperor, Zhen is buried in ten thousand affairs every day, so that my brain is a bit slow, causing damage to the country and suffering to the people. This time you, kid, spoke out the root cause, Zhen immediately think of countermeasures. Guards!”
All the imperial concubines were laughing and giggling tenderly to flatter him.
Dugu Sheng was still thinking that his fear finally happened; bowing down, he responded, “Dugu Sheng is here!”
Yang Guang was stunned, “This matter cannot be done by Qingjia. Guards!”
Everybody looked at each other; they did not understand, whether in the imperial court or in Jianghu, Dugu Sheng had a resounding prestige, why was he not qualified to do such a simple thing as putting these two boys to death?
Fei Yun and Yu Shiji braced themselves and responded in chorus, “Your Highness, please reveal your wish!”
Yang Guang cheerfully said, “Immediately go around the surrounding area and collect all widows, unmarried women, even Buddhist nuns and Taoist priestess, anybody who is fit to accompany Zhen’s troops, to boost the morale of the troops.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s countenance immediately changed; was he going to kill a lot of people?
Who would have thought that Fei Yun and Yu Shiji immediately clapped and cheered, lauding the brilliance of the Sage’s idea. Amidst the roar of applause, Yang Guang smiled proudly while twisting the tip of his beard; his Sage’s heart was greatly comforted.
Xu Ziling could not help shouting, “Your Highness!”
Yang Guang let out a cold snort, “Enough!” he barked, “Today Zhen have spent too much time dealing with national affairs, you are all dismissed!”
The herald at the door shouted, “Court’s dismissed!”
“Thank heavens and thank the earth,” Yu Shiji muttered under his breath. Together with Fei Yun, they dragged Kou and Xu, two boys, out of the Palace.
Leaving the Wangjiang Tai, Kou Zhong broke free from Yu Shiji’s grab and said, “We have not said anything about our business, how can we leave?”
Wiping the cold sweats on his brow, Fei Yun angrily said, “We almost get killed because of you, this slave who spoke recklessly. Humph!”
Kou Zhong’s eyes shot a cold ray, “What did you call me?” he said.
Fei Yun was agitated; he nearly flew into rage, but Yu Shiji interrupted him, “We are on the same side, what’s passed in passed, why do we have to argue about it?”
Turning to Kou Zhong, he said, “Your head is still on your neck, just consider yourself lucky, do you still have to blab around and show off? Right now let this official make arrangement for you to rest, I’ll pick several palace maids who are pretty and considerate to serve you. When the time is right, we’ll arrange for you two to have an audience with the Emperor.”
Xu Ziling deeply detested these two big treacherous court officials, he said grimly, “Just with that one account book plus two gentlemen with silver tongue it is enough to kill Yuwen Huaji, even if we stayed here, there won’t be any good; we have decided to leave.”
Fei Yun was still glowering at Kou Zhong, as if he wanted to eat him alive. But just looking at his belly, he probably could eat at least half of Kou Zhong.
Chapter 3, Part 3
Yu Shiji stepped in between Fei Yun and Kou and Xu, two boys; he tried to persuade using all possible arguments, “This is just a minor misunderstanding, two Xiao Xiongdi must not let emotions dictate your decision.”
Kou Zhong stared coldly at Fei Yun for a moment, and then he calmly said, “Xiao Ling is right, we have to go! If you insist on us, two brothers, staying, I don’t even know what I might say next time we see His Highness.”
With a cold laugh Fei Yun said, “You dare to threaten us.”
Yu Shiji stared hard at Fei Yun, but at the same time he signaled him to keep calm and not be impatient, to deal with these two boys later. And then, putting up a smile he said, “Two Xiao Xiongdi did not know it, but although the account book has been given to His Highness, but as for when he will actually thumb through it, even His Highness himself did not know.”
Xu Ziling was taken aback, “So Yu Daren has not told His Highness?” he asked.
“Of course I have,” Yu Shiji replied, “But His Highness acted as if he did not hear it; he was busy kissing and petting with Imperial Concubine Xiao, and simply told us to put it down, so that he could look at it when he has time. Therefore, we still have to rely on two gentlemen. Hey! I heard from Yushan that Yuwen Huaji is your big enemy, we all have anger against a common enemy, don’t be concerned over this kind of small things!”
Turning to Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong asked, “What do you think we should do?”
Xu Ziling was well aware that unless they fought the problem on their face, they would never leave this dreadful place. If it were only the two of them, they could always forcefully break through and leave it to fate. However, having to worry about Susu’s safety, they could only endure and keep the tone of their voice in check.
“Very well!” he reluctantly said, “But we only want to rest, no need for any palace maids to serve us.”
Yu Shiji breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Not a problem at all. Everything will be as you wish.”
Kou Zhong lay down on a long padded bench by the window, listening to the rushing water of Yangtze River; his thoughts wandering far away, he said, “Being the emperor really knows how to enjoy life.”
Sitting by his side, Xu Ziling was leaning against the window, gazing at the starry sky of the dreary winter night. “Seeing Yang Guang like that, you still want to be the emperor?” he asked in disbelief.
Kou Zhong sprang up; he came over to Xu Ziling. Half kneeling, he also gazed upon the night sky outside. He said, “Since we have to pass this long night in the Palace, can’t you let me, Kou Zhong, to reveal a little bit of my heartfelt wishes?”
“Don’t lie!” Xu Ziling said guardedly.
Kou Zhong was startled, “When did I lie to you?” he asked.
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “This is at least the second lie. The first lie was ‘I, Zhong Shao, only touched Beautiful Shifu’s slender lily-white hands’.”
Kou Zhong’s thick face blushed; he said, “You must have asked that Poniang this kind of embarrassing question about which part of her Laozi has touched, didn’t you?”
Not yielding a single step, Xu Ziling let out a cold laugh and said, “So you finally admitted that you have lied to me?”
Kou Zhong was peeved, “This kind of passionate love thing, naturally I cannot tell all the gory details to you.”
Xu Ziling said indifferently, “I don’t seem to recall hearing Zhong Shao said that he likes her?”
Kou Zhong let out a bitter laugh, “Just consider me afraid of you!” he admitted, “All right! I was not totally honest, hee hee … I have never been an honest person; at least you, Ling Shao should know it better than anyone.”
Xu Ziling understood that Kou Zhong realized that he [Xu] has seen through his [Kou] heart, and knew that it was time to stop. Going back to the original topic, he asked, “So what kind of heartfelt wishes do you want to reveal to me?”
Kou Zhong roared in laughter as he stood up. Sitting on the arm of the chair, he put his hand on Xu Ziling’s shoulder. His tiger eyes flashed mysteriously, he turned his gaze toward the garden scenery under the night sky outside the window. His voice heavy as he said, “Although I said those things, I do not really want to be an emperor; rather, I only want to join the hard-to-come-by game of power struggle over the world. A game where there is no rule, where the ideas of compassion, duty, propriety and integrity are only lip service, but not being used to govern real action in real life. Anybody with enough power, anybody whose fist is stiff enough, will be able to call himself a king.”
Xu Ziling was silent for half a day, finally he said slowly, “I understand what you mean; since you were young you were always unwilling to be left out, you always need stimulation and challenges, you need other people to respect you, to fawn on you. You are never afraid of anyone …”
“Wrong!” Kou Zhong cut him off, “I fear nothing in Heaven or Earth, but I am scared of you. If you became my enemy, I won’t be able to sleep in peace.”
Xu Ziling said indifferently, “At that time, wouldn’t you try to eliminate me by hook or by crook?”
Kou Zhong laughed so hard that he almost choked; gasping for breath, he said, “First of all, you can’t possibly become my enemy, at most you’ll just ignore me! Even if I, Kou Zhong, can be merciless toward anybody, but I can never be heartless toward you. Good Xiongdi, let’s not indulge in flights of fancy, let’s think about how to get away and go find Su Jie! Looking at that dead fatty’s expression, after our business with Yang Guang is done, I guarantee that by the time we step out of the Palace gate, there will be several hundreds sabers and axes on every side, ready to chop us, two silly bugs, into minced meat sauce.”
Xu Ziling made an eye signal to him, and then he stretched and yawned, “I am dead tired,” he said, “Go to sleep!”