Chapter 5 – The Muddleheaded Ruler’s End of the Road
Book 6 Chapter 5 – The Muddleheaded Ruler’s End of the Road
Yu Shiji intercepted them in front of Yangsheng Hall, Yang Guang’s personal chamber. With bitter and paled face he said, “We cannot have an audience now, His Highness is sleeping.”
Fei Yun anxiously said, “Saving people is as urgent as fighting fire; can’t we have Madame Gui’er [lit. imperial concubine] think of a way to wake him up?”
Yu Shiji sighed and said, “I have talked to Madame Gui’er earlier, she said His Highness did not sleep at all last night, he went up the dragon bed to rest only a moment ago. Just who do you think will have the guts to disturb him?”
Dugu Sheng also panicked, “What should we do then?”
After exchanging a glance with Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong calmly said, “Yu Daren, is it possible to ask Madame Gui’er, why did he stay up all night?
Yu Shiji understood his meaning; he went into the palace hall again.
Dugu Sheng helplessly said, “It looks like we’ll have to ask two Xiao Xiongdi to be a bit more patient and wait!”
Xu Ziling said, “Just don’t watch over us like prisoners.”
Fei Yun also beseeched them, “Of course not,” he hastily said, “As long as two gentlemen do not leave the Palace gate, you can do whatever you like to do.”
Dugu Sheng still did not feel reassured, he beckoned a young man from among his subordinates and introduced him to them, “This is Laofu’s [paternal] nephew, Dugu Xiong, let him accompany you strolling around!”
Xu Ziling remembered something; he said, “We have a friend who was enlisted to be a cook in the Palace, we want to ask a favor on his behalf, to have him return to his hometown and reunite with his family.”
Fei Yun’s mind was already someplace else; a bit impatient, he said, “Such a trivial matter, Xiao Xiong [little Xiong] can do it for you.” Finished speaking, he and Dugu Sheng went their separate ways.
This Dugu Xiong was approximately two, three years older that the two boys, his appearance looked quite good, his brows and eyes astute. “Shall we go to the kitchen first, then?” he inquired, “With Yu Daren in charge, nothing is impossible.”
“In that case, Dugu Xiong [this time it is ‘brother’ Dugu] please lead the way,” Kou Zhong said.
Dugu Xiong led the way. Whenever they encountered palace maids and beautiful servant girls, no one did not stare at Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys. With a hint of envy Dugu Xiong laughed and said, “Looks like Kou Dage and Xu Dage are extremely popular with the ladies.”
Very proud of himself, Kou Zhong laughed and said, “How long have Dugu Xiong entered the service as His Highness personal bodyguard?”
“Not even two months,” Dugu Xiong replied.
Xu and Kou, two boys’ hearts were shaken, thinking that in order to overthrow the Yuwen Clan, the Dugu Clan had the martial art masters in their whole nest to come out and have them transferred to Jiangdu. Maybe after rooting out Yuwen Clan’s influence, their next target would be Yang Guang.
After exchanging some greetings with a group of patrolling guards, Dugu Xiong said in a low voice, “I heard two gentlemen have defeated Yuwen Wudi, is there really such thing?”
Kou Zhong said in his heart, ‘Not only Yuwen Wudi was beaten and fled, even your family’s Dugu Ba was injured by Xiao Ling, yet you, this kid, still dare to be skeptical.’ However, his mouth said, “It’s just exaggerated rumor! The fact was that we were just lucky to escape alive.”
“That was quite remarkable,” Dugu Xiong said.
Xu Ziling seldom saw Kou Zhong made modest remarks; inwardly he praised him for being more mature that before.
Passing the imperial garden at the southeast corner of the Chambers of Imperial Concubines, the aroma of meat and vegetable dishes and cooked rice assaulted the three men’s nostrils.
Dugu Xiong said, “Please wait here for a moment, let Xiaodi get Lu Gonggong [term of respect to address a eunuch], the kitchen manager, so that gentlemen can ask him directly. As long as he knows that gentlemen are Yu Daren’s men, I guarantee he will do his best to help.”
After Dugu Xiong left, Kou Zhong said, “Chen Laomou [see Book 2, Chapter 10, ‘Grandpa Chen’] said: any imperial palace must have underground secret tunnel. We’d better try to find one, so that in time of emergency we can slip away a bit quicker.”
Recalling the dreadful situation when Li Mi attacked the Big Boss Mansion, Xu Ziling shivered inwardly. “How are we going to do that?” he asked.
Kou Zhong pondered, “Do you remember? Chen Laomou said that all tunnels must have ventilation. Inside the building, the outlets will be easy to conceal, but in open space, in the garden for instance, it will be easy to find. Ha! Of course Yang Guang built the tunnel for his own use. Therefore, as long as we are looking around that imperial garden just now, we’ll definitely find some tiny traces [orig. spider’s thread and horse track]. And then when something bad happens, we’ll flee from that tunnel!”
Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, “Your speculation, I agree one thousand percent. But since Xiao Fei might be the enemy’s spy, chances are Yuwen Huagu also knew about this secret tunnel. If we rush in and Yuwen Huagu waited at the exit and smoked us, we will be choked to death.”
Kou Zhong slapped his forehead. Dejectedly he looked at the magnificent scenery around the palace halls. Lowering his voice, he said, “You are right, flying to the heavens we don’t have the skill, fleeing to the earth we might meet dead end, the only way is to do it like the last time, find a place where we could hide for d@mn several days. This place is at least ten times bigger than the Big Boss Mansion; it should be easier to find a hiding place. But we must be careful lest Yuwen Huagu set the Palace on fire to vent his anger.”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “If the sky is falling, we’ll spread it out as our bedding. When the time of soldiers mutiny and troops rebel really comes, Yuwen Huagu will definitely deal with Yang Guang first, we will then take the opportunity to kill our way out of the siege. Don’t forget that we are now martial art masters.”
Kou Zhong roared in laughter, “I almost forget!” he said.
A smile escaped from the corner of Xu Ziling’s mouth, the scene from their childhood years seemed to reappear. In those days they were both open and candid, sometimes they would argue about a small thing over many days, but they would also burst in laughter for no apparent reason at all.
Kou Zhong said in low voice, “They are here.”
Xu Ziling had already heard the footsteps. Dugu Xiong’s footsteps were steady and even; not only his foundation solid, the path he took in training martial art was also of the profound, powerful and bold style.
That Lu Gonggong’s footsteps, on the other hand, were floaty, plus his left leg was a bit longer than his right, so one was heavy the other light, his center of gravity was a bit off.
Thinking to this point, even Xu Ziling himself was wondering why he could conjure up conjecture that many things purely based on one’s footsteps. If his skill improved some more, perhaps he could grasp even more things.
A person can always put an act, but the sound of his footsteps oftentimes can reveal the actual facts.
From a distance Kou Zhong already saluted and said, “Wishing Lu Gonggong good fortune, Xiaozi [I, the little one] Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, came with a specific purpose in mind to wish Lu Gonggong good health.”
Lu Gonggong, whose head looked like a snake’s head and whose eyes looked like rat’s eyes, smiled creepily and said, “We are all brothers, there is no need to stand on ceremonies, simply tell me what you need.”
Looking at him, Xu Ziling immediately lost his appetite, but on the surface he still maintained cordial expression; extremely deferential, he said, “How could we dare to tell Gonggong what to do? We only want to ask Gonggong about certain fellow by the name of Feng Qiang.”
Seeing Lu Gonggong’s blank expression, Kou Zhong explained, “He is a short and stout fellow, about forty, formerly opened up a stall at the eastern city market selling steamed stuffed buns; very famous.”
Lu Gonggong sighed and said, “I remember now, he had a beautiful mistress! Ay! Too bad he died.”
“What?!?” the two boys’ voice cracked.
Lu Gonggong put on a grieving look on his face, he said, “That guy was bull-headed, he frequently argued with the other people in the kitchen, someone framed him up by putting some two-fen long [approx. ¼” or 6mm] sharp fishbone inside the steamed buns served to His Highness, implicating a lot of people that even I nearly suffered several floggings. Along with him, more than 300 people were beheaded, most probably the fellow who framed him up was also among those people. Ha! It’s really preposterous.”
Xu Ziling’s handsome face turned white. Kou Zhong hastily asked, “How about his mistress?”
Acting as if he has seen through the worldly affairs, Lu Gonggong sighed and said, “When His Highness wanted to kill someone, when was the last time he did not have the entire family executed? Oh! No! I heard that Feng Qiang’s pretty mistress was given to someone who took a fancy on her, thus she escaped the tragedy. As for the particulars, I know nothing about it.”
Dugu Xiong asked, “Who might have information about this matter?”
Lu Gonggong laughed creepily and said, “Naturally the guy who was in charge of the execution, Dou Xian.”
The three men looked at each other in dismay. Dou Xian already fled out of the city, how could they find him to ask about this matter?
They waited until afternoon that day before Yu Shiji sent someone to tell them that they could see Yang Guang now.
Kou Zhong pulled Xu Ziling two steps back; he said, “This muddleheaded ruler will kill people as soon as he is unhappy. If something happens, we split up and run away first, and meet again at the pagoda on the southeast corner. If necessary, we could jump down from the pagoda into the moat outside the city wall, and escape underwater.”
Xu Ziling was emotionally moved, “That is really the best thing we can do under the circumstances,” he praised, “You, this kid, have made a lot of progress.”
Kou Zhong proudly said, “We also have a bit of luck; because of that scoundrel Li Butong’s messing up, we did not need to heal that Xiang kid’s illness, as a result, we now have more bargaining chip to control that Xiang kid. Otherwise, we would not feel comfortable letting him take Su Jie away.”
Xu Ziling casually asked, “Did you ask where Yun Yuzhen went?”
Kou Zhong lowered his voice, “My guess is that Dugu Ce is somewhere nearby, hence she went to have a tryst with him, and did not have enough time to come back this morning. Of course! She never expected that we would leave Linjiang Palace.”
Chapter 5, Part 2
“And you are still this happy?” Xu Ziling asked in amazement.
Kou Zhong glowered at him; he irately said, “I am not going to marry her, why should I be unhappy? I really don’t care. Ha!”
Dugu Xiong cleared his throat and turned around, “His Highness does not like people making an unnecessary racket. Gentlemen … hey!”
Kou Zhong pretended to be surprised, “Of course! Other than His Highness’ own dragon voice, ha!”
Xu Ziling said in low voice, “Our current business is urgent!”
The Emperor’s Private Chamber Palace in sight, Fei Yun was waiting in front of the Palace’s gate, beckoning them to come faster.
The three men unleashed their qinggong to fly over. Fei Yun’s expression looked heavy; he said, “Your guess is not bad, Madame Gui’er said that last night His Highness was pestered by Xiao Fei in some kind of game so that in his excitement he did not sleep a wink. I just now remembered that when I made my report to His Highness yesterday, this s1ut also deliberately teased His Highness by kissing him, so that His Highness did not hear what I said.”
Kou Zhong said, “In that case, I am sure that Yuwen Huagu will make his move tonight.”
“Have you found Sima Dekan’s troops?” Xu Ziling asked, “Are they nearby?”
Fei Yun shook his head and said, “After his troops left the city, they disappeared, making me very nervous. Ay! I was so busy looking for women that I did not have time for anything else.”
Xu Ziling’s countenance changed, “How could you do such thing that offends Heaven and reason?” he said.
Fei Yun was about to flare-up, but he struggled hard to press down his temper. With a wry smile he said, “I just went to the prison to look for some female prisoners so that if His Highness is excited and want to see it, I will have somebody to hand over to him. This is called ‘looking up to peek into the superior’s emotion’; otherwise this official’s head would have been separated from its body.” [Translator’s note: I am not sure about this part, I simply translate it as is. I am sure it is referring to something else, but for the life of me, I can’t remember. EDIT: I just remember something: could it be that it was a reference to Fu Junchuo?]
Full of regret, Kou Zhong said, “His Highness memory shouldn’t be too good; perhaps he has already forgotten about it.”
Fei Yun agreed, “He often forgets things,” he said, “But I am afraid that as soon as His Highness sees you, he might recall this matter. If he asks about it, it will be terrible!”
“What are we waiting here?” Xu Ziling said, “Time is of the essence here.”
With a bitter expression Fei Yun said, “His Highness and the Imperial Concubines are taking a bath at the Long Life Pool, and then after they are done, they will eat something first, and won’t be ready in one or two sichen. Even if we get in we will still have to wait. Very well! Please follow this official.”
Seeing Fei Yun’s attitude to them was a lot friendlier, although knowing it was a fake, Kou and Xu, two boys felt a lot better; they followed him into the main hall of the Emperor’s Private Chamber Palace.
It was the first time the two boys saw such a splendorous and majestic hall; the carpet underneath their feet was thick and soft, the furnishing was carefully selected for quality, no expense was spared, the painting and decoration hanging on the wall were all priceless treasures, dazzling to the eyes of the beholders.
Kou Zhong pointed at something and whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear, “Must be brought down here from Guanzhong, Luoyang.”
Dugu Xiong heard him; he nodded and said, “Kou Xiong guessed correctly.”
Not a soul was in sight in the Hall, slanting shafts of sunlight came from the western windows; it was a picture of peace and quiet.
On the southern end of the Hall, there was a padded couch carved with dragons and inlaid with gold and silver; naturally it was Yang Guang’s dragon seat.
After asking to be excused, Dugu Xiong went out of the Hall, leaving the three men waiting painfully.
Fei Yun was restless; they endured painfully for a couple of sichen until the sun was starting to go down before Yu Shiji came in a hurry to announce the good news, “They are done! His Highness is putting on clothes, Madame Gui’er has persuaded His Highness to receive us.”
The three men had already stood up, hearing him, they sat back down dejectedly.
A moment later palace maids came in to light the dozen or so palace lanterns hanging all around the Hall; they also closed the doors and windows, and lighted the fire stove at the four corners of the Hall. And then Yang Guang’s procession arrived.
Several dozen eunuchs and palace maids trooped in and divided themselves into two rows. After a moment of commotion, they all stood erect and waited.
And then Dugu Sheng walked in, leading a large number of Imperial Bodyguards to guard all the entrance and exits. After everything was in place, he whispered to the four men, “I am sure Madame Xiao is our problem; just now she was pestering His Highness to go to Linjiang Palace to watch the sunset. Humph!”
“His Highness is here!” Fei Yun hissed.
They heard the sound of drum and music from far away. With palace maids and eunuchs leading the way, Yang Guang, accompanied by more than a hundred imperial concubines, leisurely came in. He and Xiao Fei and Zhu Fei were riding on plush sedan chairs, which were carried by strong porters; even their leg muscles were saved.
Everybody crouched down on the floor to welcome this muddleheaded ruler’s sacred self.
It was not until Yang Guang half reclined on the couch and all the imperial concubines were sat properly around him that everybody chanted ‘long live’.
As if he did not see Kou and Xu, two boys, Yang Guang heaved a deep sigh and said, “Zhen knows that there are a lot of people out there who are fighting for Zhen’s title. Ay! If worst comes to worst, I want to be like Chen Houzhu, who, after the country fell, he could be Duke of Changle, and continued his drinking party.”
Everybody was stunned; why did he make such an ominous talk?
Xiao Fei, who sat on Yang Guang’s right, laughed tenderly and said, “Your Highness is really talkative; some people always exaggerate about those mobs; Your Highness must not believe every word they say.”
Dugu Sheng said in low voice, “Just now under King of Yue, Dong Zhi’s order, Yuan Shan submitted urgent dispatch, saying that Li Mi is leading million troops, advancing toward the eastern capital, that he already occupied Luokou Storehouse; asking His Highness to respond immediately, otherwise the eastern capital will fall.”
It was new information to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling.
To their surprise, however, Yu Shiji proudly said, “Fortunately this official responded quickly; saying that if that thief’s power were really that great, Yuan Shan would have been killed along the way, how could he have reached Jiangdu? Therefore, on behalf of Your Highness, I already drove that fellow away.”
Hearing that, Kou and Xu shook their head and sighed. Since there really was an emperor like this, naturally there would be treacherous court official like that. If Yang Guang was unwilling to face the fact, how could he believe Yu Shiji’s blatant lie?
They heard Yang Guang’s voice, “How’s the situation of the robbers outside? Fei Dafu [senior official], give Zhen the truthful report.”
Calm and composed, Fei Yun bowed and said, “Your Highness please understand, the robbers’ strength is decreasing day by day.”
Yang Guang sat up straight; frowning, he said, “Decreasing by how much?”
Inventing crazy nonsense, Fei Yun said, “Only ten percent of their former strength.”
Yang Guang breathed a sigh of relief. As if he had just remembered something, he asked, “Yuan Shan said Tang Guo Gong [Duke of Tang State/Country] Li Yuan is rising in rebellion in Taiyuan; is there really such thing?”
Fei Yun jumped in fright; he dropped to his knees and said, “Nowadays people on the outside often deliberately start rumors and create trouble; let Weichen [this humble official] investigate clearly, and then submit report to Your Highness.”
A cold humph coming from the palace gate, followed by a shout, “Liar!”
The crowd was startled; they all turned their eyes toward the voice. To their shock, they saw Yuwen Huaji in full military attire striding in. On his side was a lofty, handsome middle-aged man.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s eyes immediately shot out deep hatred, but at the same time they cried out in their heart that the situation has turn to the worse.
Dugu Sheng, Fei Yun and Yu Shiji’s faces immediately turned colorless. They have already ordered their people that if Yuwen Huaji and his cronies wanted to enter the Palace, they must obtain their permission first, yet right now they did not hear anything until he appeared in their presence; therefore, it was very clear that the situation was far from good.
It was only now that the Herald at the door announced, “Right Guard Garrison General, accompanied by Junior Supervisor, is seeking audience with the Emperor.”
As if they did not see Fei Yun, Kou Zhong, and the others, the two men walked into the middle of the palace hall. After kowtowing and paying their respect to the Emperor, they straightened up and stood facing the people in opposition to them.
Dugu Sheng moved in front of Yang Guang. The Imperial Guards at the dragon throne’s left, right and rear tensed up.
Yang Guang seemed unaware of the ‘swords drawn and bows bent’ situation in front of him; he asked in astonishment, “Why did General Yuwen say that Fei Qingjia is a liar?” [Translator’s note: according to the dictionary, the term Qingjia (used by the emperor for his subjects) was only used from Tang Dynasty onwards.]
Fei Yun dropped on his knees and cried, “Your Highness, please decide for Weichen, Weichen is loyal and devoted to Your Highness, if there is one word of lie, let Weichen’s dead body lie around in the wilderness.”
A mocking smile appeared on the corner of Yuwen Huaji’s mouth; for the first time he saw Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, a deep, cold murderous aura flashed in his eyes, as he said indifferently, “Previously Du Fuwei was at Shandong, Changbai; now he has reached Liyang. Previously Li Mi barely occupied Wagang, but now he has Xingyang, and is taking over Luokou. Previously Li Zitong could not be considered anything, but now he is mustering his troops north of Jiangdu, ready to move south anytime. The reason Your Highness has never heard anything of these is simply because you are surrounded by treacherous court officials. There are changes everywhere, you never received the memorials. Thieves are really so many, but someone wantonly lied that their number is decreasing. Since Your Highness heard that the thieves are few, the troops dispatched are not many, hence they are heavily outnumbered. The bunch of thieves’ momentum is growing day by day, so much so that Tang Guo Gong Li Yuan rising in rebellion, everybody under the heavens heard about it, only Your Highness is kept inside the drum.”
Yu Shiji also dropped down on the floor and cried, “Your Highness, please do not listen to slanderous information, the one rising in rebellion is him.”
Yang Guang looked confused; he hurriedly said, “Two Qingjia please stand up first, Zhen will never let you be wronged and suffer injustice.”
Yuwen Huaji and Yuwen Shiji let out a cold laugh in disdain. Watching this sight, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s heart sank, realizing that Yuwen Huaji had seized control over the situation.
Fei Yun, two men, were still unwilling to crawl up; they cried even harder, “Yesterday Weichen presented an account book to Your Highness, it was …”
Yuwen Huaji laughed aloud. “What account book?” he said, “Is it this thing?” He pulled out something from his bosom; it was precisely the account book.
This time even Yang Guang knew that these two men did not come with good intention. “Guards!” he angrily shouted, “Arrest them!”
Amidst miserable scream, the imperial guards by the door fell to the east and collapsed to the west, blood splattered everywhere, a group of men rushed in, led by several men wearing general’s armor. These men immediately joined Yuwen Huaji, two brothers, and occupied half of the hall’s space nearest to the main door. The crowd of imperial concubines’ flower-like countenance turned pale as they scrambled to hide.
Dugu Sheng and his several dozen of Imperial Guards rushed forward and formed a barrier in front of Yang Guang.
Fei Yun and Yu Shiji were so scared that their tears dried out instantly; they crawled and rolled to hide behind Dugu Sheng.
Only Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stood where they were, in the middle between the two opposing troops. Fortunately by this time everybody’s gaze was focused on Yang Guang that nobody paid them any attention.
“Sima Dekan!” Dugu Sheng shouted loudly, “Are you rebelling? Still haven’t put down your weapon?”
Unexpectedly, Sima Dekan – who was the leader of the attacking troops – laughed and said, “Officers and soldiers are thinking of returning to service, this old general only wanted to submit memorial asking His Highness to return to the Capital. General Dugu’s words are too heavy.”
Yang Guang stood up. Pointing his finger, he shouted, “Zhen’s treatment to you has never been ungenerous, why did you force Zhen doing something that I am unwilling to do today?”
Yuwen Huaji let out a cold snort and said, “Your Highness abandoned the ancestral shrine, traveling all over the place continually: outside, sending military expedition, inside, excessive extravagance, sending the strong to perish under the edge of blades, the old and weak to the gutter, the four citizen classes [i.e. scholars, farmers, artisans and merchants] lost their industries, robbers rise in masses, yet still fully employing traitors to flatter, concealing a fault and refusing sound advice. If you are willing to execute the treacherous court officials by your side, come back to the Capital, Chen [‘your servants’, used by official when speaking to the emperor] are still willing to vow loyalty and devotion, and will strive our hardest for the imperial court.”
Yang Guang’s countenance changed. “Indeed you are rising in rebellion,” he shouted, “Who’s the provocateur?”
‘Qiang!’ Yuwen Shiji pulled the saber hanging on his waist, “The people’s grievance has reached the Heaven, why need a provocateur?”
Yang Guang shouted at the top of his lungs, “Kill them all for me!”
Kou Zhong pulled Xu Ziling away. Utilizing their power they flew backwards. ‘Bang’, they broke through the window and ‘Crash!’ they landed outside.
Meanwhile the sound of battle inside the Palace Hall shook the heavens, intermingled with the scream and wails of the imperial concubines, palace maids and eunuchs. The chaos was just like the sky has fallen.
Once again Kou and Xu, two boys were caught in the middle of heavy siege.